It's no coincidence that I seem to have taken up residence at Sydney's pubs of late. Everyone loves a cheap eat and Sydney's watering holes have taken up the challenge with gusto. The Abercrombie offers $10 weekday lunches, The Norfolk has $4 mini burgers on Mondays; and at the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel you can score a 1kg steak on Thursdays for only $20.
On Tuesday nights you're best off heading to The Carrington, when head chef Jamie Thomas expands his Iberian-themed tapas menu with a selection of $3 pintxos blackboard specials.
The pintxos specials change every week, but there are usually five in total, available individually or served altogether on a wooden paddle for a fifteen dollar bargain.
Front bar at The Carrington
Pintxos (pronounced PIN-choss) are traditionally bite-sized snacks designed to be enjoyed with wine or beer. In Spain these are usually sitting on the counter of the bar, each snack speared with a toothpick for easy self-service. At the end of the night, patrons are simply charged by the number of toothpicks they have collected throughout the evening.
Ordering pintxos from a menu does break from the original spirit of impromptu snacking, but until Sydney gets its own version of Naked for Satan, we're not complaining.
The Carrington offers seven items on the standard pintxos menu, ranging in price from $4 to $6. Add five blackboard specials and there are twelve to choose from. We debate over which ones to order, and then, in what has become a disturbingly common pattern, order one of everything. No, make that two!
Pintxos for everyone!
We've barely made a dent in our beers before our order starts arriving thick and fast from the kitchen. It's a chaotic scramble for space as our two tables are soon covered in dishes, much to the bemusement of the couple next to us ("Hey, are you guys like food bloggers or something?").
Chicken liver parfait and pear chutney $4 each
A terracotta dish holds a bounty of marinated olives, glistening beneath the lights like Mediterranean jewels. However we're soon distracted by the chicken liver parfait, spread thickly on toasted baguette slices but quite mild in flavour, garnished with a chunky and sweet pear chutney.
Chargrilled skirt steak skewer $3 each blackboard special
The chargrilled skirt steak skewers are our first blackboard special, a small metal skewer speared with cubes of flavoursome, if a touch chewy, beef.
Sobrasada and honey $4 each
Sobrasada is a pork and paprika paste that is a Majorcan specialty. It's reminiscent of chorizo, and the addition of honey works well with the natural sweetness of pork, muting a little of the underlying spiciness.
Smoked eggplant and white anchovy tostada $3 each blackboard special
Our second $3 special is the tostada, daubed with a smokey eggplant puree and then topped with a solitary white anchovy and a sliver of chargrilled red capsicum. The white anchovy, staked with a toothpick, is a delight - tangy, salty and delicate on the tongue.
Have I mentioned the toothpicks? I'm enamoured at first sight, sturdy spears set with a carved wooden bead that seem a shame to discard after one use.
Kingfish pastrami on rye $4 each
I savour the wafer-thin slices of kingfish pastrami on their own, separating it from the bed of coleslaw which is a little heavy with mayonnaise for my liking. The pastrami has a yielding softness, firm but still pliable, with a pepper crust accenting its smokey brine flavour.
Tomato bread and Iberico $4 each
Okay I confess, I do like to eat my food separately sometimes. Case in point: Iberico ham. This sensual shaving of porcine bliss should not be bitten or eaten with other components, in my opinion. I pluck the Iberico off the top and unfold it languidly into the mouth, appreciating its sweet and fatty silkiness uninterrupted. I revel in the way it melts on the tongue as its gentle saltiness swells across the palate. Closing your eyes is entirely optional.
Happily enough, this pintxos combination is easily converted into a two-course affair. The hunks of bread have been toasted on the grill, giving an incredible charcoal flavour that I relish, moistened by fat slices of juicy ripe tomato and a caper berry to finish.
Manchego and rosemary tortilla $3 each blackboard special
And if you're the kind of person who eats wafers by the layer, then the manchego and rosemary tortilla is your kind of bliss. It's a impressive construction of microscopically thin potato slices, baked to a creamy softness. This is the kind of dish I want to spend quality time with, peeling back each layer one slice at a time.
Meatball slider $6 each; calamari slider $6 each
Classic beef cheek slider $3 each blackboard special
A wooden board of sliders can't fail to raise a round of smiles, the perky bricohe buns brushed with glaze and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
We start with the meatball slider --distinct with herbs -- before moving onto the beef cheek slider, filled with shreds of slow cooked beef that are rich and gelatinous. The blackboard special calamari slider is my favourite, a simple affair of tender deep-fried calamari married with buttery soft bun, squiggles of mayonnaise and peppery rocket leaves.
Paella ball with calamari $3 each blackboard special
Perhaps I squealed like a Japanese teenager when I clapped eyes on the pair of paella balls. How could I not when it looks like a baby octopus has been tipped upside down, its tentacles flailing mid-air?
Inside the paella ball
The paella ball is a variation on The Carrington's paella onigiri, the same squid ink rice formed into a ball and made into a mini arancini. The squid ink rice has the sweetness of the sea, the soft grains contrasted with a protecting orb of panko crunch. There's much to like, a mix of textures and flavours, crowned with the gently fried tentacles that we dip into the smooth puddle of spicy tomato sauce.
Carrington Mess $14
There's no dessert on the bar menu, but staff are happy to let us order from the Beba Y Cena restaurant menu. We finish with the Carrington Mess, an impressive construction of cream, berries, brown sugar meringue and passionfruit sorbet layered into a glass. The sorbet is tart enough to make you wink, but eaten together with the meringue, fruit and cream, it's a refreshing end to the meal.
Chef Jamie Thomas at the pass
Chef Jamie Thomas will usually tweet preview pics of the weekly specials every Tuesday afternoon. Follow him @jamiecarrington and @carringtonhotel.
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565 Bourke Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9360 4714
Pub open Monday to Saturday 12pm-12am; Sunday 12pm-10pm
Restaurant open 7 days 12pm-10pm
Tuesday $3 pintxos specials available 6pm-10pm (as at 29/04/12)
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4/30/2012 12:30:00 a.m.