Photographs by Thomas McGovern
Although I have been writing about food for a long time, I must admit I had no idea what to expect from Flinders Lane. Aussie food? What’s that all about?
And now I know. There are nods to culinary traditions from Australia’s British settlers, as well as those from the Greek and Italian communities that followed. Plus a strong influence from India and Southeast Asia. It all comes together in fresh, eclectic and interesting ways. (Be warned: The menu does take some time to digest, but since it’s online, we suggest a peek before your venture there.)
And yes, kangaroo is served, but more on that later.
Co-owner Chris McPherson explains that when he and Chris Rendell decided to open an Australian restaurant in New York City a few years ago, they named it after one of their favorite narrow lanes in their hometown of Melbourne. And when it came time to open a second location, 184 Summer St. seemed the perfect fit since it sits on a “lane” that leads into a parking garage, a path they share with the movie theater.
The décor is sophisticated and charming, yet slightly edgy, with floor-to-ceiling windows, lots of wood and subway tiles, pops of color mixed in with metal and black chandeliers, an open kitchen (complete with an eating counter), and an inviting bar. On first impression, there’s an air of fun, and you are made to feel welcome by the knowledgeable and friendly staff, including McPherson, who is there most of the time to answer any questions and make sure things are running smoothly.
Now, back to that kangaroo. There was one offering, a starter salad starring this marsupial, which was simply grilled, thinly sliced and served with a mint, cilantro and chili-lime dressing. The result was an explosion of flavors that included a warm kick. (The current winter menu now serves kangaroo as a main course, with root vegetables, smoked yogurt and tangy sumac. Another intriguing blend of flavors to look forward to.)
If you’re a fan of scallops, try the Flinders Lane version, melt-in-your-mouth sweet, and immense. The scallops are served with braised hijiki (seaweed), pea shoots and a chili-cashew relish, making it a spectacular dish. Other starters we tried included the sausage rolls, pork encased in a light puff pastry served with peppery sambal mayonnaise. Our group shared one plate of these, and we all vowed we’d each get our own next time. Rounding out the first course were steamed buns, filled with a rich, juicy pork belly and presented with bright, pickled slaw and hoisin mayo. What a savory revelation, with its complementing textures and flavors, this rich yet delicate dish turned out to be.
(We passed on the oysters but early diners take note: Get there before 7 p.m. for $1 oysters. The varieties change; my editor was there recently and enjoyed a half dozen from Wellfleet.)
Our main course only elevated our Aussie experience. Case in point: Our group argued over which one of us chose the best entrée, something that has never happened before. Let’s start with the handmade tagliatelle, a perfect pasta to pair with braised lamb shoulder, tomato sauce and gremolata. This combo was very light yet comforting, as we imagine the gnocchi on the menu, served with wild mushrooms, peas and Pecorino, would also be.
Add that endorsement to another for the roasted snapper, a big, lovely piece of perfectly cooked, flaky fish set atop a nest of baby bok choy and scallions swimming in the most fragrant soy-ginger broth, complete with large slices of fresh ginger. (The current menu now offers this preparation with branzino.) Of course, we also had to try Australian rack of lamb served with a tomato kasundi (chutney) and dusted with the Egyptian spice blend, dukkah. Lovely. Flavorful. Tender. Perfection!
Our final shared main, coconut curry laksa, bowled us over with its huge shrimp and chunks of crab. Blended with tofu, bean sprouts and rice noodles, it was served in a magnificent sweet-and-spicy coconut curry broth, an ambrosia guaranteed to warm up even the coldest night.
Speaking of sweet, be sure to order the sticky date pudding with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce for dessert. It is decadent but surprisingly subtle and intricate. For chocolate purists, save room for the brownie with an ever-so-moist-it-practically-oozes interior. So hard to resist.
We’ll be back, and next time we will order “Feed Me,” a five-course dinner at $55 a person. Brunch is also calling us, because that will be our chance to sample the Australian staple vegemite, which they serve on sourdough (or gluten-free) bread with plum jam. Sure, we hear vegemite is an acquired taste, but when you’re sampling a culture’s food, you owe it to yourself to give the unusual a try. We’re so glad we did.
184 Summer St.
Mon.–Thu., 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; 5–11 p.m.
Fri., 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; 5 p.m.–midnight
Sat., 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Sun., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.