Friday, 4 August 2006

paua shells out the goods

555 Crown Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
T: +61 2 9319 2976

I toyed with the idea of organising another “girls’ night out” for a few months. Back in November 2005 I promised a newly found friend that I’d organise one soon. It only took 8 months. Oopps.

What is the “girls’ night out” you may ask? Well it’s an occasion where I invite along a bunch of girls who either don’t know each other well or who have never met before, I arrange a dinner location and we get together and eat, drink and chat. Basically it's an opportunity to meet new people in a welcoming environment.

The first was co-hosted with my sister back in 2004 at the GPO's Post Cocktail Bar and then another in 2005 at a wonderful South-East Asian restaurant, RQ, in Surry Hills.

Finally last Wednesday I hosted the first 2006 girls’ night out at Paua, also in Surry Hills.

Owner, Alice Hyde, patiently emailed me back and forth while I kept swapping dates and even extended their set price menu to our larger group ($35 for 2 courses, $45 for 3 courses).

Alice was very accommodating put me at ease, although the chopping and changing on my part did mean some people were chomping at the bit to try the restaurant out.

The restaurant window was covered intriguingly with a dark fuchsia curtain and the pink theme ran throughout the restaurant and even the website. Cute little menus were stuck together with tiny clips decorated with paua shell, the restaurant namesake.

Some felt the New Zealand name, seafood mascot and pink interior did not suit the modern Mediterranean food that the owners were aiming for. It's a valid point and something I'd missed since I rarely drill down further than the surface level of decor and design.

Our table was arranged in an excellent square shape that fit two people per side, allowing everyone eye contact with each other. It was a perfect set-up for conversation and made the evening flow.

Hyde, a former Chef de Partie at Smiths of Smithfield (London), was in the kitchen and service came in the form of a sweet and unobtrusive waiter who was very kind and eager to please.

Unfortunately he did make a few small blunders. For instance the menu included an escabeche of quail which he described as a North African dish, and while it is true that escabeches are served in North Africa, the dish originates in Spain. Oh, I know I’m being pedantic. I’m a big wanker.

My order of soup entrée and duck main were confused for a duck liver pate entrée and the Spanish stew main, a small error which should sit squarely on my shoulders for procrastinating the decision, asking too many questions and ordering out of course sequence. The waiter fixed the confusion and delivered my correct entrée almost instantaneously, which impressed me.

It was clear that nothing was too much trouble for them and this attitude and willingness pleased us all.

Another small blunder came later in the night when the chef dropped one of the desserts just before serving. The person who missed out was given a freebie in the meantime, which made up for the accident in our books.

Overall I rate the service well even if we all noticed it was a little green. The waiter was very accommodating and went out of his way to make our night enjoyable. Unfortunately we were the only diners in the restaurant all night, which was surprising given how much coverage this restaurant has received, included solid reviews two years running in the Sydney Good Food Guide. Maybe it was just a slow night?

So, what did we order?

Entrée ($16)
1 x Jerusalem Artichoke Brulee w Caramelised Beetroots
1 x Provencal Fish Soup w Rouille & Croutons
2 x Rabbit Bisteeya - rabbit spiced w saffron & cinnamon and enriched w egg in filo pastry

Main ($25)
3 x Duck Leg Confit w Radicchio, French Beans & Cumquat Compote
2 x Pork Belly w mashed potatoes
3 x Zarzuela - Catalan seafood stew of fish, prawns and tomato

Dessert ($12)
1 x Warm Golden Pudding w Creme Anglaise
4 x Chocolate Fondant w Chocolate Ice cream
1 x Cheese w Chilli Figs & Lavoche
1 x Creme Brulee

$35 for 2 courses
$45 for 3 courses

My entrée of Provencal Fish Soup was very dark and had the texture of a thick pumpkin soup. It was heavily accented by the flavour of shellfish which I suspect were blended through it (shells, heads and all). I enjoyed it, but it was almost borderline – the saltiness, pungency could easily have been too overpowering and I imagine it could have been off-putting for some people. The accompanying rouille was lovely and spiced heavily with chilli.

My main of duck leg confit had a good flavour, but was unfortunately a little dry. Pairing the sweet duck with bitter radicchio was an excellent combination and was topped off perfectly with candied cumquat compote.

Chocolate fondant was deliciously rich and cakey, although the centre did not have the typical runny centre I prefer. I suspect it had been cooked a little too long, but that didn’t effect the bittersweet flavour. Chocolate ice cream was deliciously light and cut through the richness perfectly.

After coveting the potential of dining at Paua for so long, I was a little disappointed with the food (as were others that had anticipated this outing) but overall, I was pleased with the experience. I felt Paua did an excellent job of serving our group. I also got the feeling that the food I ate might not be typical of Paua’s potential so I would be willing to try it again. Value for money is great, especially for this level of comfort on Crown Street.

Of the six other girls that dined with me, two others volunteered their input too:


Having taken a week off work, a little Wednesday night sojourn with six other nice girls (I'm not quite ready to be called a lady) sounded very good. Given my holiday status, I was probably the main consumer of the red wine, so perhaps you should take my review a little less seriously than the others...

All in all, I'd say it was absolutely delicious and a great friendly restaurant where nothing was too much trouble. I went for the three courses and started with a little rabbit pastry number. Crisp filo combined with aromatic cinnamon all complemented the rabbit meat.

Most foodies would probably argue against ordering game for entrée and main, but my theory is go for whatever you don't cook at home! So it was on to duck confit for main. Duck is always a favourite, but I've never before had it on a bed of radicchio. Usually I find duck accompanied by mash potatoes or something stodgy, and the crisp slightly bitter radicchio perfectly complemented the richness of the meat. I really enjoyed this dish, and it left me feeling satisfied but not "stuffed"! Just lucky, as I was on to the golden syrup pudding for dessert.

I don't know why, but around lunch time that day I'd had a sudden craving for one of my mum's traditional English golden syrup puddings. I haven't had one of these puddings in years, and I can't tell you what made me think about it, so imagine my delight to find it on the menu! And not just any old pudding, but a delicious saucy rich treat! Oh yes, this one was good and there was certainly no holding back on the syrup. I was suitably impressed!

I'm already planning my next visit to Paua, so thank you to Anna for introducing me to the restaurant. Honest prices, quality food, cosy atmosphere. A great recipe for a good night.


For a cold and dreary midweek mid winter catch up, Paua provided the perfect setting. Nestled behind the curtain, seated amongst the tea lights and bright canvases, the deliberations began: two courses or three…? Entrée and main or main and dessert...? As a pescatarian w a penchant for ice cream my decision was easy. For the carnivores the decision making process took a little a longer. Fortunately our waiter was friendly and helpful, water and wine glasses were refilled without asking and he was keen to answer all our (many) menu queries.

My zarzuela (Catalan seafood stew) was tasty although a little lacking in zing and much to my delight, unlike the majority of fish stews, I managed to discover more than one king prawn. I think I got three or four in total, no mean feat considering servings were an average size.

Dessert was delicious, fairly small portions but perfect for that little bit of sweetness to end the evening. Chocolate fondant was slightly soft in the middle without being too gooey and the scoop of chocolate ice cream provided a delicious compliment.

All in all a wonderful night! Good company, delicious food and wine and attentive wait staff who aren't eager to kick you out the door as soon as the last morsel leaves your plate.


  1. those photos look like you used a flash!!

  2. they say you shouldn't use a flash on food, but when restaurants are so dark it's impossible not to!


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