Originally built in 1897 and surviving largely intact for well over a century, the Subi has just undergone an extensive 18-month long renovation, completely reworking the interiors and introducing a new rooftop bar. Gone is the al fresco area complete with glittering fairy lights.
Gone are the ground floor toilets. Gone are the impressive overhead light sculptures from the main restaurant. Also gone is the shabbiness that crept up over the last few years.
Instead, the restaurant now opens up onto the Courtyard: a new lounge and bar area with a soaring industrial roof-space, and a few tokenistic trees.
Looking down at the Courtyard Bar from the mezzanine
The flash new toilets are now located on the first floor an interesting choice for a pub and are accessed via a mezzanine walkway that connects both the new lounge area/restaurant and the Front Bar, which has also had a rather dapper makeover.
The new rooftop bar (not as large as you'd expect given the multi-million dollar price tag), is decorated with metal pots of sunny happy flowers, a contrast to the dark elegance of the new Stellar Lounge.
But we were here for the food, and it had been a while since I had last eaten at the Subi. Although yawningly empty at midday, by half past twelve, the restaurant was full and people beginning to spill out into the courtyard. Popular with business people and ladies who lunch, this seems to be a place to be seen. And the prices are swoonworthy.
The main menu is the same regardless of whether you are here for lunch or dinner (there is a separate breakfast menu) and as such, prices range from $14 entrees to $42 mains. There is a section dedicated to dishes for sharing (such as beef cheek, toasts and salsa verde $16 and Japanese crumbed tiger prawns $17), entrees and the mains: eleven dishes ranging from sausages, peas and mash ($26.50) to half a roast duck ($34.50). Some of the dishes are new, some like the slow cooked lamb shoulder parpadelle - have been on the menu since Adam was a boy.
Vegetarians are a bit hard come by at the Subi, with only one veggie choice each on the mains, entr้e and specials menus. There are a few sides that you could easily top up with, not to mention the desserts.
I ordered the char-grilled chicken and green lentil salad with caramelised pear, bacon and walnuts ($27.50). Any concern I had over the lentils were quashed by the perky flavourings, perfectly cooked half chicken (it was a very small chicken) and scattering of fresh salad leaves and pears. The walnuts were a bit light on, but the dish was well balanced and I would order it again in an instant.
Others at our table ordered the Korean style slow cooked pork belly with mushrooms, kimchi apple crisps and black rice ($26.50) from the main menu, and the BBQ strip loin with baby potatoes, chorizo, field mushroom and saffron aioli ($38) from the specials menu.
Neither were as taken with their meals as I was, although they both said their meals were 'very good', they were not blown away. Maybe I was just impressed that someone got me to eat lentils without complaining. That's pretty impressive.
Another impressive thing was our waiter, a very charming and helpful moustachioed man who didn't bat an eyelid when we told him his tip should go towards his Movember fund raising.
Less impressive was the flat champagne that was served to the birthday girl. She sent the first glass back. She sent the second glass back. The third glass came from a new bottle and was sufficiently fizzy.
Desserts are not cheap, but they are worth a look. I ordered the profiteroles ($13.50) which I thought would be a light option to end my meal. Excuse me while I let out a button. Three profiteroles each with a giant scoop of vanilla icecream came drizzled with a decadent and delicious warm hazelnut and chocolate sauce. It was an enormous serve that easily could have done the three of us. Surprisingly, the citron tart with cr่me fraiche and berries ($16) was more expensive and a lot smaller.
All in all, we enjoyed our lunch at the Subi. The rooms certainly feel a lot more open and airy, and I imagine the rooftop bar is fabulous on a warm night. I am not convinced about the giant dried flower arrangement in the wall, and I wish they had bought new chairs for the restaurant while they were spending up big on the renovations, but the food is still top quality, and the service certainly sparkled.