By Vivienne Pearson
Last time I was at Barrio, it was in the final stages of construction before opening as part of the Habitat, the new neighbourhood of live/work spaces, gallery-style shops and co-working.
This time, I was there to eat. And drink.
Co-owner Tristan Grier (of Harvest and Sparrow fame) fell on his sword at the opening by taking responsibility for the delay to Barrio’s liquor licence. It has now arrived so a full bar and cocktails are on offer, much to the delight of Dan Wylie, another co-owner, whose cocktail pedigree covers Sydney and New York.
‘It’s very exciting,’ Dan says. ‘Our cocktails will be based on classics with a bit of a twist. They will change seasonally and I’ll use a lot of fresh juices.’ For example, fresh lavender will add a twist to a Collins, and fresh fennel juice would be used in place of Pernod in a Corpse Reviver #3.
Two themes will clearly link the drink and food menus. ‘We want to source interesting Argentinian wines to complement the food,’ says Dan, speaking of the Argentinian focus of the food, led by Fransisco Smoje. Some of the cocktail ingredients – like smoked thyme – will be prepared over the wood-fired oven and open-flame grill that is at the heart of the kitchen.
Diners have the opportunity to watch the flames, an activity that is both mesmerising and warming. The food that emerges is complex in flavour, belying the simplicity of ingredients.
I try the Feed Me menu, an option where you (after discussing any dietary needs) allow the chefs to select dishes for you. This is a great option if you can’t decide, or if you want to focus more on your dining companions than the menu.
After some tasty starters (faina, a chickpea flatbread, and an inhouse-made chorizo with pickled cabbage and fennel), I move onto grilled beef ribs, which is cooked slow over the embers of the fire. ‘It is simple but blows people away,’ says Dan.
For me, the winning dish was from the specials menu, a roasted mirror dory fish with shishito mojo verde (the Argentinian version of salsa verde, a herb-rich green sauce) and celeriac scordahia (a super-smooth presentation of the white root vegetable).
This was all finished off with a dark chocolate marquise with citrus caramel. My notes scrawl: ‘a melt-in-your-mouth slab of gorgeousness’.
This is a menu with a difference. I had to ask many questions about dish names and ingredients. The most out-there dish will be on my list for next time (it’s on the breakfast menu). The arroz cubano is a black bean mole with brown rice, fried egg and banana. ‘It actually works!’ says Dan.
The team at Barrio includes many longtime locals, who are loving the opportunities the new venue provides. ‘Fransisco’s style is very refreshing,’ says chef Shannon Smerdon. ‘It’s all heart. We’re all here to cook nice food; there are no hierachy or egos.’
Though Barrio is now fully functioning, the construction is not completely over. A ‘green wall’ between the two main buildings is planned as part of the response to concerns about noise. ‘It will stop noise bouncing between the buildings,’ explains Dan. ‘Until this is tested, we are operating with our windows closed and without outdoor dining – we’re doing everything we can.’
Barrio. At Habitat, Porter Street (off Bayshore Drive), Arts & Industry Estate. Mon to Wed 7am–3pm, Thurs to Sat 7am–9pm, closed Sundays. www.barriobyronbay.com.au,