Rascal brings something new to Sydney Road: a serious cellar, an ambitious team and a sophisticated place to unwind with a glass of something and a couple of snacks. Led by Elliott Pinn, a chef with Doot Doot Doot and Sepia part of his pedigree, this wine bar looks the part. Bentwood stools, dark walls and timber furniture are accented by native Australian flowers and touches of red neon in a gorgeous heritage building.
It’s a good idea to order some charcuterie. Everything is made by Pinn and his team and the selection might include breasola, wattleseed salami or mortadella. Paired with a sour beer or one of the sherries on the list, it’s a neat way to end the day or start dinner.
The crab toast is also a winner. Brioche is lightly toasted, spread with a crab-flecked seaweed butter, then dusted with furikake, the nori and dried bonito working wonders with the crab meat. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will enjoy the mead-roasted carrots. Small bite-sized boats are loaded up with a thick layer of goat’s curd and crushed macadamias in a rich yet meat-free bar snack. Unfortunately, the dial is turned a little too far towards sweet. It’s a problem that plagues the cauliflower, too. The menu promises “Cauliflower, tamarind, pistachio, curry oil”, but instead of a savoury hit of curry, the tamarind’s sour notes and an attempt to balance them with sweetness translate to a dish that’s reminiscent of Warheads lollies.
In other dishes, there’s no battle: it’s a straight-up assault of fat, salt and cream. Smoked potato and lamb neck with gai lan sounds great on paper. In the Rascal universe, smoked potato is whipped into a cream, the fat in the lamb neck dominates and gai lan is shredded for the sake of presentation but at the expense of any light relief. A dessert where roast pear is supposed to headline is a confusing mix of OTT flavours. The pear is pureed into a rich cream which is joined by a too-salty miso ice-cream and topped with a too-sweet crumble.
The most successful dish is lightly charred slivers of pumpkin that share the limelight with tender yet crisp tendrils of cabbage. Light and bright sorrel brings it all together. It’s an original, triumphant trio, with the added bonus of being a pumpkin dish that doesn’t involve goat’s cheese and/or nuts, a win for vegetarians tired of the same old flavour pairings.
The kitchen at Rascal still has a few creases to iron out. But there’s potential there, and clearly a desire to add something new to Brunswick. While we wait for the team to find its feet, why not do so at the bar with a glass of cava and a piece of crab toast?