It's a funny thing the old restaurant business. It wasn't that long ago that I was bemoaning the death of the Sydney restaurant scene, and how close this tidal wave of bad news came to taking our little restaurant under. Since then, instead of getting better, things actually took a turn for the worse. I hadn't even factored SARS into my September 11 and the Restaurant trade article. The health implications, and immediate devastation to families touched by SARS are all too sadly obvious. What might not be so obvious at first are the effects such a scourge can have on industries further down the line, such as travel, airlines, flow-on tourism, hotels and us - the restaurants.

24 hours is all it took. One full day to go from under-patronized horror to full-on, can't fit any more customers in mayhem. What caused this amazing about face? A simple newspaper restaurant review, that's what. Such is the fickle nature of the dining public that any unsolicited press, whether it be good or bad, can drive the punters through your front door in droves. It was amazingly good luck that this review came along when it did, because I reckon another month of quiet like we had faced for most of this year might have quite possibly closed our doors for good - plenty of better restaurants than ours have suffered such a fate this year.

The review isn't available online, so I hope you'll forgive me the indulgence of reprinting the entire text here. Brian, my executive chef has been slogging away at this place for 8 years, and I've been doing the same for close enough to 6. We are both entirely dedicated to the place, so I am going to shelve the modesty and dance for a minute in our media-led glory.

Another cause for celebration was the forum it was published in. There are restaurant reviews, and well, there are restaurant reviews. Every Tuesday, The Sydney Morning Herald publishes a food, wine and fashion supplement called Good Living. Each week, on page 6 is a full-page restaurant review written by Matthew Evans that is without quibble the most influential article on dining published anywhere in this town. Everyone reads it - heck, we read it every week, just to see what is going on around the town. Well, just under 2 weeks ago now, on Tuesday May 27th, it was our turn in the sun - and I haven't seen an about-face in trade like this in my entire cooking career.

To give you an idea of our prices, one American dollar will buy you roughly $1.52 in the Australian currency quoted below. So that AU$29.50 steak below is about US$19.50.

This is what they had to say about us.

Palisade Restaurant

Good Living, 27th May 2003

Ah, what a beautiful thing. Perfectly rested steak, where the inside is juicy and pink (that's the way I ordered it) and the outside seared and flavoursome, thanks to caramelisation from the grill.

The magic, however, is in how all those succulent, meaty juices stay inside the steak and don't end up pouring out of the beef and into the sauce. The trick is to rest the meat and you'd be surprised just how many restaurants get this simplest of techniques wrong.

I'm here at the Palisade Hotel, the tall pub that stands out like an asparagus spear in Millers Point, the other side of The Rocks, to the west of Observatory Hill.

We've got the best table in the house, which isn't hard to snare considering there are only two other tables dining. From our window we can see the rejuvenation of Walsh Bay and Millers Point and behind, our wonderful Harbour Bridge.

Palisade is the stomping ground of Brian Sudek (and longtime offsider Matthew Quinn). He's been here for eight years, ever since he moved (originally with Annie Parmentier, now at Castlecrag's Lunch) from Beach Road at Palm Beach. It has been a long while since I ate here but not a lot seems to have changed.

I easily find the pub, then find the narrow, greeny blue stairs to the restaurant and arrive at a series of cute, old-fashioned rooms with smudgy yellowy walls, a fireplace and humorous paintings.

Tonight the adept, lone waiter is sporting the remnants of a mohawk and is less than gazelle-like as he moves over the pine floorboards. Not that he needs to move fast on a quiet night like this.

To our white paper-covered table he delivers three seared sea scallops ($19). They're paired with chewy, lightly spicy preserved eggplant, which is very lemony and very good.

Silky textured fresh pappardelle (ribbon pasta, $17) comes smothered in a tomatoey sauce, full of gelatinous chunks of oxtail meat. A fine dice of preserved lemon on top adds sparkle to the flavours, cutting the richness and adding a fineness that takes the dish from good to wonderful.

Deceptively simple cooking appears again, this time in the roasting of Thirlmere spatchcock with green olives ($26.50), served with a dollop of goat's cheese and roasted tomato. One of the reasons I love spatchcock (young chicken) is because it has more skin to meat. And I love this one because the skin is browned before being spread with green olive puree and the meat is moist, naturally fresh and sweet. I'm not sure it needs the goat's cheese but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Then this. The quintessential steak. A few slices of Diamantina beef are from what appears to be the butt of the fillet (the fat rather than thin end, $29.50). They're served with an onion and muscatel grape-graced agrodolce sauce, which is the new sweet and sour to you and me.

Yes, I've had better meat and I've had better sauces. But rarely at this price. This is food you want every day: something cooked better than you could do at home, using produce you'd spend all day trying to buy and served with casual charm in a room with glimpses of the bridge.

Even the side dishes aren't relegated to mediocrity. The skinniest, youngest beans I've seen in a long time come mingled with snow peas in a mustard vinaigrette dressing, scattered with crushed pistachios ($7).

Dessert is a little lower key. Rhubarb and vanilla ice-cream terrine ($13) comes as two pink and cream triangles, like the best bit of Neapolitan ice-cream, with a few strands of tender, sweet-sour rhubarb for interest.

A couple of cracked meringues ($13) are a bit chewy but you can blame the humidity. They're draped with a dreamy, delightfully balanced, sour and sweet passionfruit curd but could do without the hard, white-centred strawberries on top.

There's no heavy analysis needed here, no desire to kick the tyres and open and shut doors, as it were. This is food you want to devour.

Would you drive across town for it? Probably not but since most suburbs don't have food like this, you certainly might linger after work. Sure, they could give the window ledges a bit of a wipe but Palisade is the perfect pub for its place. It serves satisfying food, cooked remarkably well - it's enough to make you feel as well-rested as that steak.

The Summary

Still going strong after eight years, Palisade serves well-cooked food that puts many fancy-pants newer places to shame. Prices and flavours are the sort that make you wish it was your local.

Matthew Evans