As we enter Vincent in Barton, I can see very clearly that the writing is on the wall.
I suspect that there are a lot of complex words put together in this part of town, but the writing on this wall is the wine list, displayed gloriously in size 96 font printed onto scrabble tiles for all to admire.
Size 96 is probably wise as it's an older crowd tonight; the types that may have played scrabble back in the day and now write government policy during it. The couples and tables of four are placed neatly like chess pieces around the symmetrical dining space and the chit chat is calm and sophisticated.
The room is wrapped in Dick Tracy-like blinds and for a moment I feel like we are characters in the classic mystery game, Cluedo (admittedly, a very brief moment). When we first dined here six years ago, the wine was a very strong focus for Vincent and the focus is still there, although possibly not quite as sharp as it once was.
Let's focus on the first two glasses of wine. My opening move is a glass of Vincent Fontaine Viognier ($19) from Beaujolais, which has a lovely oily texture with dried apricot and crushed almonds on the palate - a rare treat indeed given the minuscule amounts of viognier planted in that region.
My companion stays local, with a glass of Lark Hill Riesling ($15), that tastes a bit like squeezing a granny smith apple through a tennis racquet. It's fresh, crisp and crunchy delicious.
The entrees are dealt to the players (that's us) and we land a plate of banana pepper with corn, creme fraiche and gruyere cheese ($21) and scallop with black sesame, yuzukosho, shiso and katsuobushi ($26). The banana pepper is a Mexican inspired dish composed of fresh buttery corn, creamy-textured crème fraiche and is almost perfect but for the lack of chilli oil on the plate.
We ask our host why the chilli oil is so subtle and she says that it's not to everyone's taste. It's kind of a hotel-like approach, but I think a banana pepper deserves its own sidekick, and a restaurant needs to make its own statement with flavours. The scallops are tender and well seasoned, coated with a black sesame tempura, fried perfectly, with bonito-like katsuobushi flakes dancing over the top.
The main course brings the best dish of the night - red snapper with Jerusalem artichoke, vongole and garlic ($38). This fish was swimming recently and the artichoke purée is textured like a thick wave with garlic studded vongole surfing on top, like mini hungry hippos.
Colonel Mustard would love this dish and it would have been amazing to have our thrice cooked chips with jalapeno mayo ($15) arrive alongside, but they have missed the boat by around 10 minutes. We eat them by themselves and they are grand - more like Mr Potato Heads than chips but gloriously chunky, fluffy and crunchy nonetheless, in a Heston-like manner.
Lamb rack with kipfler potato, maple, fetta and herb crust ($39) is delicate and small but the price of lamb at the moment is like Mayfair on the monopoly board. The flavours work in harmony with each other and the cooking is on point.
We have added a side of broccoli with passionfruit dressing ($10) and in all honesty, the mind boggles as to why. Chips should come with fish, but broccoli (we receive broccolini) should not come with passionfruit.
Charles Melton plays by the rules though, so we double down on a couple of his great new releases including the grenache based rose ($14) which is like a fresh box of Turkish delights and the La Belle Mere GSM ($17) which has Christmas cake spices and dark fruit character, making the lamb taste a lot more generous than it may have been without the wine.
On that, there is no sommelier on tonight and our designated waitress is filling in on short notice, as a few of the regular staff are away for the long weekend. She worked here years ago and now has a career in the public service, but it's a reflection of the pressure on staffing in the industry that the daytime policy writers also have to pour the wine in the evening.
Dessert is a choice of just three and we roll the dice with Baileys dark chocolate mousse, brownie, peanut and coffee ($17) and yuzu parfait with raspberry, oats and pistachio ($16).
The mousse is over whipped and presents with a texture that is heavy and grainy, with way more than a subtle lick of Baileys. The parfait has a lot going on and we ask what the sticky green blobs are, but the staff don't have a "Cluedo". We eat less than half the desserts but there is little investment from the team to find out why.
Not that they didn't care; they were lovely in their service, but the art of reading the customer is not a trivial pursuit. Vincent tries hard to win, but some rules can be bent and others that really shouldn't be broken. With a little more focus, it could really be hard to beat.
Address: 48 Macquarie Street, Barton
Phone: 6273 7773
Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 12pm to 10pm. Saturday, 6pm to 10pm.
Owner: Hanna Kim
Chef: Hanna Kim
Noise: Hard surfaces make for higher than average noise, but still fine.
Outside seating: None
Dietary: Mention when booking online
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