Pony Dining fires up fine fare
Man has cooked over open fire for thousands of years. Today, diners are hungrier than ever for the distinctive flavour, texture and aroma that can only be achieved by the power of flame.
It’s this special, delicious touch to contemporary cuisine that is the drawcard of Pony Dining.
Located off one of Sydney’s oldest laneways in The Rocks, Pony Dining has been refurbished to sharpen its appeal to locals and tourists alike keen to sample chef Neil Nolan’s signature dishes, such as seared kangaroo with raspberries, pickled currants and pepperberry dressing.
More than a mere source of heat for cooking, the massive open flame grill dominates the open-plan kitchen space. It also creates a feast for the senses of diners – flames leap and flicker, fat sizzles and spits, and a delicious waft of char-grilled meat and vegetables envelops the dining space.
Born in Ireland, Nolan emigrated to Australia 20 years ago and cooked at Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain Lodge and the Blue Mountains’ Blackheath before joining Pony Dining at its inception in 2006 and becoming head chef in 2010.
Working with an Argentine-style wood fire grill for the first time in his career, Nolan’s early menus reflected Argentinean influences but he has since developed his own style over the years inspired by the Mediterranean, South East Asia and, of course, Australia.
“Pony Dining was one of the first Sydney restaurants to cook over wood and now, I would never want to cook with any other medium,” he says.
To fuel the constantly-roaring grill he chooses ironbark timber sourced from the Blue Mountains and Queensland, ostensibly for its slow-burning qualities but also the distinct smoky flavour it gives.
“Cooking over wood imparts a unique flavour as opposed to a gas fire, a distinct and earthy taste that I just love,” Nolan says.
It’s not only the meats – or ‘proteins’ – that get the woodfired treatment. Vegetables, salads and even desserts may see time over the open flame before they’re served to customers keenly anticipating tastes to match the delectable aromas wafting from the kitchen.
“We might char-grill a firmer head of lettuce or cucumbers as the basis for a salad, or pineapple or cinnamon for a dessert. There’s actually not much we don’t do over the fire,” Nolan admits.
The restaurant sits on the site of a former bond warehouse in one of Sydney’s most historic precincts, a short walk from the CBD and the international ship terminal, and footsteps away from the southern end of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and its famed BridgeClimb.
Pony Dining seats up to 110 patrons and was recently fully renovated to include a new bar area, refashioned pony-hide cladding, fresh greenery, and additional seating to its alfresco dining area. The extra outdoor space features a 10-metre-long communal table and several high-top tables.
The renovation also includes a new winter lunch menu created by Nolan with the business lunch in mind. “Our lunch menu is a completely different dining experience to our dinner menu,” he says.
“While the wood fire grill is still at the heart of everything we create, the menu is lighter and offers a good price point for those coming in for a business lunch or for tourists who are exploring The Rocks.”
Pony Lounge and Dining
Cnr Argyle Street and Kendall Lane
(02) 9252 7797