Panama Dining Room is so unexpected and so cute. Sitting on my wishlist for ages, but conveniently being passed over, I finally scheduled a visit with Caryn, as we had been eyeing off the $1 oyster happy hour deal, to check out this hidden little spot on Smith Street.
Well, it's not super hidden, but it's not entirely obvious as well. Caryn and I had to question ourselves as we climbed several flights of stairs to get up, barren of decor or any indication that we were going the right way, other than the slim rectangle signage above the door.
But opening that door at the end of the corridor reveals a quirky, somewhat retro and bustling little spot.
The patterned wallpaper, soft glowing lights, old school arched floor to ceiling windows, worn white bricks and an eclectic mix of chairs, the combination was a little funny, but I love it all together. On one side of the room beer and cocktails flowed from the bar freely, and the other side where we were, tables were neatly arranged, wine glasses all in a row.
Our waiter was soft spoken and so attentive, chuckling at our enthusiasm for $1 oysters, which we swiftly ordered a dozen of. They were a touch warmer than I would have liked, but still plump and sweet.
Panama Dining Room sported a delicious looking cocktail menu, so Caryn and I dove in to indulge. I think I might've had the Green Mamba, gin muddled with cucumber, elderflower and lime…but don't take my word for it…it disappeared pretty quickly…!
We started our meal with marinated wild foraged mushrooms with confit garlic and served with crunchy flat bread. I was initially surprised that these were served cold, but after getting over that (pretty quickly), I loved how sweet the mushrooms were in the marinade. A little vinegary, sweet, and oh I am a sucker for pine mushrooms. Just perfect, especially since we were in the heart of mushroom season!
I naturally could not resist the chicken liver parfait with truffle and port wine jelly, cornichons and toast. The parfait was delightfully rich, and the toast so, so crunchy. What's to dislike? The serve was pretty big though and between the two of us, we did struggle through it a bit.
Our mains were rich and hearty, perfect for the nippy and drizzly July weather we were having.
A huge slab of beef cheek, that lazily fell apart upon touch, sat upon a creamy bed of mashed potatoes in a shallow moat of jus, and decorated with delicate little chanterelles. Do I need to say much more? Pure comfort food, at it's absolute best.
The chestnut gnocchi with pumpkin and parmesan puree, morel mushrooms, spinach and salted ricotta was also delightfully hearty. I loved the richness of flavour in the gnocchi, a subtle nuttiness and earthiness coming through. With everything on it though, it was a very, very rich and filling dish.
And of course, Caryn and I could not resist the hand cut fries with a side of truffle, parmesan and chive aioli, which totally blew our minds. Although we couldn't finish our mains…we did do a very good number on those fries. Sure, not the usually crispy goodness that I like, but lots of flavour. Mmhmm.
Although we very much wanted dessert, by the time we got through all of our food, we basically rolled back down the flight of stairs and out onto the street. I couldn't believe how full we were!
It's always so lovely to have a great experience, somewhere where you really don't know what to expect, which is exactly what we had at Panama Dining Room. If we weren't so lazy, Caryn and I would probably be there at least once a week, hoeing into those $1 oysters at 6pm...
Level 3/231 Smith Street
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