March 2023 update: Although Lana's tasting menu has increased in price a little, you can still get a taste of the high life for under $100. Three courses is capped at $89 – and add a dessert for a total of $99.
Read on for our original review...
Call it fate, serendipity or sheer dumb luck, but just as Sydneysiders have finally regained their appetites for dining out, with lockdowns and surges and on-again-off-again restrictions behind us (we hope), the Inner City’s hospitality offering has exploded with a glut of new restaurants vying for our custom. One of the most intriguing trends of this culinary boom is an uptick in a particular breed of hospo entrepreneurism, riffing on the model Justin Hemmes pioneered at Merivale’s Ivy HQ on George Street. These stand-alone hospitality hubs provide a high-end one-stop solution for an evening out, allowing punters to casually drift from a pre-dinner cocktail in one venue to their meal in another, perhaps followed by a nightcap or two, all under one roof. On the fringes of Barangaroo, Shell House has showcased the concept across four venues since opening in 2021, and now Hinchcliff House, at the self-described "urban neighbourhood" of the new Quay Quarter, has followed suit, with four levels of drinking and dining excellence in a respectfully restored 1870s wool warehouse.
The most refined of these four venues (although every space in the building has a sophistication of its own) is Lana, an Italian-ish up-market osteria heroing seasonal seafood with low-waste principles. The interiors offer a masterclass in the power of subtle design and judicious lighting. Exposed beams and raw brickwork speak to the building’s 19th-century heritage, while slender wall sconces and carefully placed downlights offer pools of light amidst the moody shadows between tables. The focal point of the room is a sprawling bar clad in dusky pink marble, gently backlit to draw your gaze, while on the opposite wall, the open kitchens add a disarming undercurrent of action and informality to the vibe. It’s an achingly chic yet cosy ambience; unmistakably luxe but without bragging about it. The service follows suit, with immaculately presented front of house staff that are friendly and navigate through tables that love to chat or would prefer to keep it to a minimum.
Seasonality is key at Lana, and head chef Alex Wong’s menu is constantly shifting, leaning on the best available local produce. So, even though the venue’s soul is Italian, you’ll find plenty of Antipodean and Asian flourishes.
On paper, this is a set four-course menu for $79 (add beverage pairings including a pre-dinner aperitif for an additional $70), but the reality gives you far more bang for your buck. A palate cleanser of yuzu, lemon myrtle and soda sets your tastebuds on high alert for a quartet of “snacks”. First a pairing of shellfish bites with Japanese inclinations: an Abrolhos scallop sashimi immersed in a persimmon dressing with shiso; and a Spring Bay mussel Catalana with a yuzu kosho mayonnaise and tomato salsa. Hot on their heels are two more canapes that are closer aligned to Italian cuisine: a leek tart and a saltbush hashbrown topped with a crisp crown of Margra lamb culatello.
It’s an inspired way to start the meal – a proud flex of Wong’s virtuosity with taste and texture and an at-a-glance synopsis of the culinary story that is about to unfold. Each mouthful is a precocious leap from salty to sweet, soft to sharp, the first two snacks delivering a fearless wallop of flavour, while the second pair lean into more familiar territory, less extrovert and more reassuring that you’re in skilled yet sensible hands. All of this is scene-setting, placing the diner in exactly the right frame of mind for the meal: ‘Come at me flavour; I trust you chef.’
The first course – an ink tortelli of coral prawn, mascarpone and sea urchin – is a complex creation. The perfect taste of the sea exists in a near-infinitesimal zone between umami and brine, a hint of sweetness, entwined with a quiver of mineral mystery. It’s all too easy for that flavour profile to stumble into the rock pool, taking you to the ocean you’re happy to paddle in but don’t want to find on your plate. This delicately crafted dish dares to push that balance right to the edge of the ocean, stopping just shy of the shore.
After a sequence of such intricate morsels, the served-to-share main course is a bit of a shock, but not an unwelcome one. The two generous fillets of Murray cod, served on a rich sauce of verjus, salmon caviar and charred cos heart, with a side of butter lettuce and green tomato salad with a black sesame dressing, seems a deliberate change of tack. There’s an unapologetic frankness to this course, no mercurial interplay of surprising elements to explore, just good eating, faultlessly executed. Wong knows when to pull his punches, and while some might assume the main course should be the major coup of the meal, the ease of this dish allows for conversation, for your focus to lift from the calibre of the cooking and engage with your dining partners without disrespecting the kitchen. Even the way it’s served, to share, prompts a social moment.
There’s a whimsical symmetry to the pair of desserts that finish the meal. Once again, Japanese influences are prominent, in a sparkling confection of yuba, white miso and a brittle scrunch of caramelised pineapple, that much like Wong’s snacks, nimbly ducks and weaves through an assault course of bright and muted flavours and textures. To conclude, a final palate cleanser – a slice of piel de sapo, infused with yuzushu and lime sugar. Like the refreshing yuzu beverage that began this odyssey into Wong’s Japanese-Italian fusion, it leaves the mouth cleansed and primed. What for, you may ask? Well, there are three other venues in the building for you to try, after all.