Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way. Dragoncello is Italian for tarragon, one of the fines herbes of French cuisine. Alluding to the grand culinary traditions of Italy and France is just about right for this Surry Hills newcomer, as there is serious, masterful clout at work in the kitchen. This is largely due to the oversight of executive chef Roy McVeigh, formerly of the five-star Berowra Waters Inn, the Bather’s Pavilion, and Bennelong. Under his watchful eye, only fresh and foraged produce gathered from Dragoncello’s three Sydney gardens (one’s upstairs at their Cleveland Street premises) make it into their innovative, sometimes experimental, modern Australian dishes.
The menu at Surry Hills’ Dragoncello begins modestly, but remains mind-blowing throughout. Small plates include a Sydney rock oyster mayo (a love letter to McVeigh’s Berowra Waters Inn, perhaps) with crispy potato skins, confit leek, and a citrus leaf gel. Curious entrees include a modern Australian fusion of eggplant, Korean kimchi, and smoked and pickled octopus. At each turn in the menu, you can sense that this Cleveland Street restaurant is keeping true to its ethos of foragability, which immediately lends itself to seasonality and so to freshness. The restrained selection of mains are indicative of this; try the vegetarian celeriac, pickled kohlrabi, apple and nasturtium pesto, mushroom and walnut crumb and take a stroll through the forest of the senses.
Modern Australian cuisine is perhaps nowhere else in Sydney better represented than with Dragoncello’s composed cheese option of Pyengana cheddar with quince and Vegemite on rye. Yes, Vegemite. It’s a cheeky addition to the menu at what is clearly one of Sydney’s new leading lights in innovative cuisine. Those looking to make a proper night of it in Surry Hills can always opt for a set menu, or keep an eye out for Dragoncello’s events and hosting parties. Sommelier Stuart Sanders has in the past shanghai’d some friends from his favourite wine estates to pair up fine wine with a superlative tasting menu curated by McVeigh. You’ve been warned, the offering is superb, and Dragoncello’s Cleveland Street premises have limited seating; with the buzzz mounting you’ll want to book early.