Restaurant Review: Sparrow

I don’t know if I really want to write this blog, since I am not sure I want you to go and make it more difficult for me to get a table at my new favourite restaurant – Sparrow Kitchen and Bar (Italian/Spanish/Australian).

I happened to pass by Sparrow while walking up O’Connell Street on a gorgeous day in early January, and I thought happily, “Hey….this is new!”  The place has enormous street appeal- a shady garden with herbs in terracotta pots and a nice view leads into a spacious but cosy dining room.  At the far end there is a marble-topped bar with a wood-fired pizza oven, and big windows that open out onto the street.  The decor blends modern and vintage aesthetics, combining old-fashioned timber architectural details with sleek tables and funky clay ceiling lamps.   The place just oozes taste and quality; the blend of formal and casual (Riedel glassware on the tables, but barstools on the footpath) is perfect like a cashmere jumper worn as a sweatshirt and tossed in the back seat of the car, if you know what I mean.

Sparrow opened just before Christmas and they say they have been flat out since then.  And not surprisingly – their lovely space is open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and feature an extensive range of  reasonably priced food and grog, highlighting local products.  It is one of those places where you are equally comfortable in a suit and tie as you are in jeans, and you can splash out and spend $300 on dinner for two or just have a no-cook pizza weeknight with a carafe of cleanskin and a salad for around $45.

I made a booking for Tuesday night the following week.  Despite the already filling dining room, we were greeted the minute we stepped in the door and were invited to have a seat at the bar while they set a table for us (we had booked for the garden but changed our minds as soon as we arrived, “no worries” they said.)  We shared the always delicious mix of Coriole olives, I had a glass of the Spanish sparkling, and Groggy had a schooner of the McLaren Vale Ale.  The bartender told us that their intention  is to change the taps periodically to feature local artisan brews (so we of course plugged the Lobethal Bierhaus, in the hopes that we can beef up their presence in our fair city.)

We wandered over to our table at our leisure and then we had the joyful challenge of choosing from the expansive menu.  They have a long and creative list of tapas, pasta, thin-crust gourmet pizzas, seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes – pretty much anything anyone could want.  I even checked out the kids’ menu (which has their darling sparrow logo on the back  for the kiddies to colour in with the coloured pencils displayed artfully in glasses next to the register) and was impressed that they went beyond the usual array of fried things for kids, offering a  steak for $14 and featuring veggies and salad among their sides.  While we were deciding, we had a bread plate for two, a changing palette of locally baked artisan breads accompanied by French butter (I don’t want to love French butter.  I have a personal duty to buy locally, but man,  what is it that the French do to their butter?  They make something so ordinary so sublime.  And so I guiltily gobbled it up, almost with a spoon.)

Groggy went for a selection of tapas, including the duck doughnut (pretty good, but a little on the gooey side), the smoked eel croquettes (lovely and mild), the blood sausage  (excellent, maybe a bit too light which for some would be a good thing in the land of blood sausage) and the octopus carpaccio (stunning).  I had the rocket and green bean salad which was beautifully executed with fresh peppery rocket and perfectly cooked crisp-tender beans, laced in a lemony vinaigrette , and the pissaladiere pizza, a lovely marriage of sweet onion confit, creamy SA goat’s cheese, salty anchovies and fresh thyme. This is where we discovered the Bress Shiraz (read here how we benefited from Dan the sommelier’s expansive wine knowledge). I finished with the lemon tart: a tapas size, tiny, perfect serve for the sort of person who just wants a bit of sweet to end the meal, which is us.  Not being a caffeine-at-night sort of person, I also ordered a glass of the  NV Chandon brut, which, while a nice drop, wasn’t the right choice (I should have consulted Dan, see below.)

We went back another night, with some friends.  I had the gorgeous, rich sweet /savoury pappadelle with chicken livers and sage, Groggy had the braised goat (which he liked but he said he wished he’d ordered my pasta.)  Our companions had the tuna tartare, the octopus carpaccio (again, yum yum),  the goat pizza, and the fusili, all of which garnered rave reviews.   We finished with the crema Catalana, which was creamy and perfect, and the peanut butter and chocolate doughnut which I was told was amazing and was apparently too good to share.

Groggy and I also shared the generous tomato and bocconcini salad.  Before I ordered, I asked our server, “Are the tomatoes really good?”  And she assured us they were, but to my disappointment, they were just those same weak, tasteless tomatoes you get everywhere, which in the summer in South Australia seems particularly silly.  I personally feel that if you can’t get great tomatoes, you shouldn’t serve them.   If there had been enough basil or vinaigrette or bocconcini to hide the inferior tomatoes, they might have done it,  but they were trying a dish to highlight tomatoes that just didn’t have the character to pull it off.  Please note that this is a bit of a crusade of mine.  If you find somewhere that serves good tomatoes, please let me know.

(An aside – except for this one snafu, we have been very impressed with the service at Sparrow.  Very friendly and personable, professional but relaxed.  They actually check back shortly after you have been served to make sure you like everything, and I know that the restaurant has dinners so that the staff have tried the menu so they know what they are talking about.  I admit that I am a difficult patron and ask endless questions about how this was made or where that was from, and the staff was unfailingly cheerful and helpful throughout. We are particularly fond of Dan the sommelier who speaks to our hearts when he discusses matching our meal with his obviously beloved selection of interesting wines.  Do be sure to take advantage of his knowledge and enthusiasm.)

Three other very small negatives, in case the owners stumble upon our blog: the beautiful Riedel glassware was streaked with our oh-so-sad South Australian water.  It would be good to see them polished with a cloth to properly display your lovely wines.   And twice the clean up wasn’t as stringent as one might like – once we had to have our table wiped again as it was sticky with something, and another time there was a scattering of breadcrumbs on the banquette next to me when I was seated.   And perhaps you might be able to tuck in a changing table in the loo to accompany your high chairs in the dining room?  Those of us with dining-out babies would really appreciate it.

Okay, I have already exceeded what Groggy tells me is the ideal blog length, so I’ll say no more.  Except don’t eat at Sparrow – leave more space for me.



~ by Foodie on 31/01/2009.

7 Responses to “Restaurant Review: Sparrow”

  1. […] pleasure of being introduced to the hand-crafted loveliness of the Bress Heathcote Shiraz 2005 at Sparrow Kitchen and Bar (more on the restaurant itself in a future post). For someone used to the big, bold and earthy […]

  2. We just visited Sparrow again tonight, and the glassware was shiny and clear. So, disregard the suggestion to polish them up!


  3. >what is it that the French do to their butter?

    They feed their dairy cattle more grain and soya beans than grass. Most European dairy producers operate this way. It’s even more environmentally unfriendly than just having cows iand feeding them grass, unfortunately . . .

    It will be hard for us to visit this place and not lament the Cibo Ristorante, which closed in June 2006 after a couple of decades of operation. I really hope that Sparrow can last longer than Number 10, which occupied the site for less than a year between Cibo and Sparrow and was gone so quickly we never even got around to eating there.


  4. Thanks very much foodie ,keep coming along and i’ll keep finding new wines for you.
    Dan the sommelier.Leave it to me that’s what i do.!

  5. […] nothing, much to Foodie’s chagrin; see her comment about her quest for a good tomato in the Sparrow post). And they had this funny little area in the restaurant that was sort of outside-ish, closed […]

  6. Thanks Dan, we certainly will!

    One sad thing about Sparrow- they allow smoking on their veranda. How very passé. C’mon Sparrow- why ruin the meals of the the non-smoking majority so a few people can give themselves and everyone around them cancer?

  7. […] Foodie and I were having a nice break from the Little Dictator (because Foodie’s mum is in town) and decided to avail ourselves of the fleeting freedom by booking a table at our newest favourite restaurant – Sparrow Kitchen and Bar. […]

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