Merivale’s most recent opening, The Paddington, brings new life to a once vibrant part of Oxford Street, with a star chef and signature fit-out. We take a long lunch to see if it lives up to the hype.

A nother day, another new venue.

That’s the life of Merivale hospitality maestro Justin Hemmes, who, in his most recent debut, transformed a dank old pub on a decaying Sydney strip into a glamorous all-day drink-and-dine operation, revitalising the area and securing one of the city’s foremost chefs to oversee the kitchen, too.

The Paddington, formerly Paddington Arms, swung open its doors early November 2015 and, according to online accounts, attracted out-the-door queues from the get-go for Ben Greeno’s already social media-famous roast chicken.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll know him by reputation – previously head chef of Momofuku Seiōbo, Greeno wowed Sydney with his ultra-refined, super-creative cooking at the David Chang-backed three-hatted restaurant. You won’t, however, find any of that showmanship here.

Simplicity done well is The Paddington’s modus operandi, both in fit-out and in fare. So beware, if you’re hoping for flash or fireworks… I told you so.

Let’s begin with the menu, a classic collection of share plates centred around the venue’s $50,000 rotisserie grill.

For starters, think freshly baked, superbly crusty baguette with whipped butter, plus roast chicken croquettes made from the trimmings of the aforementioned brined, roasted Bannockburn chooks, and kingfish lightly cured in redcurrant juice and olive oil, and paired with radicchio.

The former would make a Frenchman proud; the latter two, disappointingly, were neither here nor there, and at worst, discordant.

Come mains, we opted for the recommended hits. The whole roast chicken, jointed, and served with a bistro-style green salad and a generous portion of shoestring fries is fantastic value at $38 for the whole bird, and was as juicy, moist and tasty as reports had promised.

Memorable? Yes. Phenomenal? No.

Meanwhile, a perfectly cooked, delectably tender fillet of Wagyu beef arrived sliced with mustard greens and broccoli.

As did a king trout, roasted whole, then portioned and served with asparagus, mushrooms and spinach, all wonderfully sweet and just a little smoky from the hot coals.

We ordered a side of roasted carrots, cut into knobby chunks and laid over a bed of pumpkin seed praline. It was caramelised and still with bite. A star dish, and a must-order.

Similarly, desserts are presented with little fanfare: chocolate mousse with salted caramel arrived in a nondescript bowl, and a plain-looking, small, round pistachio cake looked naked on the plate, even with a dollop of crème fraîche.

But, like their savoury counterparts, they delivered on flavour, relative size-to-price and overall satisfaction.

Greeno isn’t the first chef to trade in foams, gels and smears for casual cooking and it’s a trend I, personally, am a huge fan of.

But, while there’s little to fault on the food front, there’s also little to highly commend it, and you can’t help but want a little more fanfare or flair to the dishes.

The same is true of the interior. It’s light-filled and pretty with its white tiles and Hamptons appeal, but it also lacks a little je ne sais quoi or daring.

Casual and pleasant is great, don’t get me wrong – our party of eight spent an entire afternoon and into the early evening eating, chatting and having a merry old time.

Even with a few bottles between us, we walked out full with only $70 less in our pocket.

That’s stellar. But, you can’t help but wonder whether Greeno’s talents are being wasted somewhat and whether, this time, Merivale is playing it a little too safe.

The Details: The Paddington

Where: 380 Oxford St, Paddington, NSW,

Verdict: Fabulous value at around $70 per person for a bunch of filling, tasty share plates and affordable wine. A great option for groups, but less appealing for an exciting dinner for two.

Score: 3.5/5

We rated: The service, from the ease of booking to the on-site attentiveness. Plus, the convivial atmosphere.

We’d change: There was nothing to dislike, but a little more excitement in the dishes would not go amiss.

Notes: Open from 12pm–12am Sunday to Thursday and 12pm–3am Friday to Saturday.

All AT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.

Australian Traveller issue 68

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