As restaurateur Michael Fegent prepares to open his sprawling Argentinian restaurant Casa Esquina in Balmain on Thursday, February 15, he has a nibble at recent controversial comments that the suburb is, well, boring.
Until recently, Fegent says, he might have agreed with the sentiment. Fegent, who lives in the area, believes the peninsula is finally emerging from a long hospitality slump, pointing to the recently opened Dry Dock Hotel and Chez Blue restaurant on Darling Street as evidence the area is on the rise again.
And then there’s his own project. As a local, he felt there was a gap in the market for a venue with plenty of outdoor space, and somewhere you can get a great piece of meat.
During the height of the COVID pandemic, the restaurateur behind Tequila Mockingbird in Paddington and hatted city venue Esteban snapped up the Balmain building where Efendy and L’Unico restaurants previously traded.
With 116 of the restaurant’s seats in the courtyard and on the balcony (its capacity is 212), he ticked his first box.
Then last year Fegent and Casa Esquina head chef Will Quartel headed to Argentina, spending nearly a month immersing themselves in the culture and cooking. They rounded out that education in the Australian outback, fine-tuning much of the menu on a campfire.
“I love fire,” Fegent says. “Argentinian barbecue, that connection with the fire and the environment around you. The use of timber, the smoke absorbing into the meat.”
Unsurprisingly, you can order a steak at Casa Esquina. Fegent says they want the produce and cooking to do the talking, rather than swamping the meat in sauce.
Fugazzeta (stuffed Argentinian-style pizza) also made the opening menu, along with suckling pig, wagyu beef tongue pastrami, and a sweetbread and prawn paella. Fegent points to a couple of early favourites: whole baby pumpkin stuffed with mushroom risotto, and kangaroo and maraschino cherry empanadas. “Aussie empanadas,” Fegent quips.
The handsome bones of the landmark corner building on Elliott Street still shine in a ground-up restoration and revamp. There’s a long ground-floor bar, a wine cellar private dining room, and a colour palette focused on earthy tones of terracotta, green and cream..
“It’s not just about the food,” Fegent says. “People want to sit in a restaurant and escape their reality.”
Open Tue-Sat 11am-midnight; Sun 11am-10pm
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