In short: Flavour and quality focussed offerings, passionate and inspired chef, warm and relaxed atmosphere. Tip: Try the Gnocchi with pumpkin, wood roasted corn, goats curd, hazelnut and for dessert the Bailey’s Caramel Cheesecake.
Update May 2017
The Coco and Vine team were invited back to sample the new autumn menu that is launching at Pony Dining in the month of May. In conjunction with the new lunch menu, we also had the opportunity to take in the refurbishment of the restaurant which maintains the intimacy inside with a injection of warmth and texture.
Outside, there are longer dining tables which allows guests to dine and enjoy their meal while still being able to bask in hive of activity that is The Rocks.
As you will see in the dishes in our review, there’s a nice blend of quick eats combined with more sophisticated offerings that cater to those looking to impress clients or enjoy a long celebratory lunch. As ever, the focus is on quality ingredients, local produce and utilising what’s in season. The basis of every dish is the wood fire grill. Our host and head chef Neil Nolan explains that while wood fire has long been the domain for meats, he applies the same techniques to vegetables and seafood.
Kicking of a delicious lunch experience at Pony Dining is wood fired grilled bread, eggplant, yoghurt and pomegranate. No vegetable loves fire more than eggplant, and I love the smoky flavours that come through. The eggplant is smooth with tangy hits from the yoghurt and pomegranate seeds. Wood fired bread is delicious and soft and has me coming back from more.
Restaurants and cafes across Sydney are rolling out burrata and aren’t we glad! Soft and creamy, Pony Dining source their burrata from a local producer La Stella Latticini and it marries so well with roasted fig, ham, and balsamic vinegar. In season figs are luscious and sweet, and to contrast, the ham and vinegar complements to provide a dish that’s beautiful to look at and delivers an array of delightful flavours.
Two sandwich style dishes reflects the new approach to the menu. First off is a brisket panini with kohlrabi slaw, house bbq sauce. Who wouldn’t like slow cooked beef that is tender with a nice hit of smokiness to the meat. Kohlrabi slaw add a nice texture to the sandwich and sweetness and more smoky flavour from the bbq sauce completes a truly delicious roll.
A second roll on the autumn menu is Pony Dining’s take on a Vietnamese roll with a Vietnamese style pork belly panini, carrot, cucumber, hot and sour dressing. What does an Irishman know about Vietnamese roll? Well a quick discussion with Chef Nolan reveals he’s quite the connoisseur of Vietnam’s most famous sandwich. He’s tried the best rolls across the city and he will consume a couple Vietnamese rolls each week. After launching into the roll, my fears are allayed, with that crisp pork belly hitting the highest notes. That’s a nice level of heat from the dressing and cooling of the palate comes from the carrot and cucumber.
You know what they say about drinking on empty stomach and all that. With the starters providing a delicious introduction, it’s time for Jake to weave his magic with a colourful array of cocktails. His flair and experimentation continues from our previous visit and we are introduced to new creations.
Castaway chef is a collaboration of sorts between Chef Nolan and Jake. Caramelised grilled pineapple sits in a syrup which is infused with vanilla and allowed to sit for upwards of 2 weeks. Spliced with coconut tequila, lime and with mint salt the result is a cocktail that’s light like summer, with a muted sweetness of the pineapple, sour and creamy flavours. It does pack a subtle alcoholic kick, but you’ll only feel it if you go at it hard!
Another beautifully presented cocktail that reminds me of summer days past is a sour pink grapefruit. Belvedere pink grapefruit, homemade lemoncello, pink grapefruit syrup, and citrus juice are the in the mix to deliver a zesty cocktail. A refreshing drink filled with citrus flavour. The syrup is balanced by the sourness that comes through from the limoncello. A refreshing cocktail that partners well with the Vietnamese style pork belly.
With the happiness factor on an upward trajectory after an injection of alcohol we are presented with a plate of gnocchi, pumpkin, wood roasted corn, hazelnuts and goat curd.Great technique is shown with the gnocchi. Delightful, soft pillows which are so flavoursome. I am a big fan of the pumpkin and corn which you guessed it, has been done over woodfire. The flavour from cooking over the fire adds an extra dimension of flavour over an oven bake. It’s one of my favourite dishes on the menu where fire and a couple of humble vegetables really do take it to another level.
For the steak lovers, Pony Dining delivers, with a 250g Rangers Valley grain fed rump steak, South American salsa and served with shoestring fries. A beautifully presented, clean looking plate of food where the black angus steak sourced from Rangers Valley is the hero. Cooked medium rare over the fire, with a perfect caramelised crust, it’s all a steak should be and more, juicy and perfectly seasoned. A salsa injects a spicy herbaceous punch. For that special lunch treat this steak dish is hard to go pass.
At Pony Dining, salad lovers aren’t forgotten and their Greek style chicken salad with a lemon chilli vinaigrette is delicious yet healthy. Crispy yet juicy tender chicken is packed with flavour, and I enjoyed the textures from the cauliflower and the wood fired kale. It’s full of colour and spiced up with the vinaigrette. It’s also a generous dish filled with protein that will power you through the rest of the day.
From the flame licked meats and vegetables and breads, we move to a duo of sweet treats. A beautiful roasted pineapple cheesecake, ginger nut biscuit, caramel, lime and mint. The sweet tropical flavours of pineapple meet the warming textures of the gingerbread biscuit. Baby mint leaves and lime adds freshness and caramel is a little luxurious and binds together the flavours perfectly.
To complete our feast at Pony Dining is a baked apple crumble. As we move into winter, this is the perfect dessert to finish off the meal and at Pony Dining, this dessert is perfect for cuddling up with a loved to one to share as it’s served in a deep dish and is generous. The crumble is crunchy with a nutty base comprising apple and macadamia nut mix that is perfectly caramelised. Textures of crumble are softened up with silky smooth crème anglaise and to top it off, cinammon ice cream with its sweet yet aromatic woody flavour. Talk about perfect endings!
Pony Dining brings diners the best of both worlds with their lunch menu. Whether you are after a quick sandwich, or a more measured and refined lunch offering, Chef Nolan has fashioned a lunch menu for you. With friendly staff that know each and every dish, a great location right in the middle of The Rocks, Pony Dining continues to be the constellation that burns brightly with an injection of smoke and fire!
For Sydneysiders, The Rocks district of the city is often seen as the domain of tourists soaking up our rich colonial history, but for those foodies in the know, there are also some bright stars in Sydney’s culinary constellation that add equally rich flavours to its quaint cobbled streets. One of the brightest points of light is Pony Dining The Rocks.
For me, the best part of being a foodie is being able to sit down and get to know the people behind the amazing culinary creations. Our visit to Pony Dining in The Rocks, rekindled that fascination with the passion behind the plate in meeting the delightfully genuine and tremendously talented Head Chef Neil Nolan. To have the opportunity to chat at length about his vision and motivation for the menu is a real treat and Chef Nolan’s open attitude to his creative process clearly results in a stronger connection with Pony Dining’s customers.
We’re here to sample the range of flavours that Chef Nolan and his team have imagined into reality, but it never hurts to wet the whistle to prepare our palates for the pleasures to come. In the hands of the skilled bartender Jake, a cornucopia of cocktails appears, but a highlight is the spectacle of the Captain Cook’s Rum Punch, with a mix of five rums! Jake’s mesmerising bartending performance is reason enough to order this delicious drink alone.
And so begins the amazing range of entrees, or “small plates” on the Pony Dining menu, that blanket our table. The Half Shell Hervey Bay Scallops with ginger and shallot dressing are delicate morsels of tender and subtly seasoned sea flavours. Fresh beyond doubt, the accents of ginger and shallots never overpower the true essence of the premium scallops.
Roasted Heirloom Beets sparkle with a vibrant array of colour and texture. This artful expression of beetroot offers up dark ruby red and golden crisp variations on the versatile beet. A heavenly burrata mozzarella is flourished with olive crumb and hazelnut, making it a plate that had the whole table silent in delicious contemplation.
With a nod to a distant carpaccio cousin, the Seared Kangaroo accompanied by bright raspberries, pepperberry dressing, and pickled currants, creates a dish that is not only inspired but also uniquely Australian.
Cheese never fails to please at any table, so when the Double Baked Gruyere Soufflé arrived, the smiles were evident. The buoyant soufflé, adorned in decadent gratings, cradled the flavours of the contained fire roasted hazelnuts, romesco, and fig relish. To use a clichéd, yet fitting epithet… devine!
The Cone Bay Barramundi served with clams, glistens in a rich coating of macadamia butter. With barramundi being of subtly flavoured flesh, the freshness of the meat is complimented perfectly by the accompanying influences of the nuts and sea essence of the clams.
Topped with delicate, grilled enoki mushrooms and spiced with chilli bean sauce, the Ranges Valley Flank Steak is a grain fed and deftly prepared cut. Not only is it tender and juicy, there’s a spark of smoky spiciness as it touches the tongue.
One look at the Dry Aged Rib Eye On The Bone and it’s clear that Pony Dining are taking advantage of everything their Argentinian wood fired grill can impart to a prime piece of beef. Chef Nolan clearly knows his way around quality ingredients and his passion for sourcing the country’s best cuts from dedicated suppliers lights up his face as he describes his close partnerships with providores of equal passion. Chef Nolan’s tip for this dish is to spread the rich split wood fired bone marrow on each morsel of meat…. Needless to say… yum!
Sweets for the sweet, as my Nanna used to say… We start a devilishly decadent trio with the Coconut Sago. Flanked by fresh pineapple and black sesame ice cream, if you love sago as much as I do, then it only gets better in this mosaic of perfectly paired flavours.
Apple and Macadamia Crumble with toffee apple ice cream. Just read the name of this dessert and if you think I need to add more detail to convince you to try it, then it’s clear that you weren’t paying attention in reading comprehension class at school!
Ok so here we are… the end of an epic culinary journey through highlights of Pony Dining’s inspired creations, but I hope you’ve saved some room for one final gem. Bailey’s Caramel Cheesecake is a fitting crescendo to the meal. Sprinkled with peanut brittle crumb, the Pony Dining team have somehow struck the ideal balance of lightness and decadence. There’s a silky smoothness in the mouthfeel, but the creamy body of the dessert never leaves you with an overly rich or cloying sense. Add in the snap and crunch of the peanut brittle and I can’t think of a better way to wrap up Chef Nolan’s gastronomic guided tour.
* Coco & Vine dined as guests of Pony Dining.