Sydney, Sydney, Sydney. I went there for four days a few weeks ago to visit my brother and my friends. We went a little berserk, food and drinkswise. Details below.
Jed's Food Store
96 Glenayr Avenue, North Bondi (map)
(02) 9365 0022
The lovely Miss N was hosting me in Bondi, and one morning we went down to her local, the ultra-laidback Jed's Food Store. I can recommend the Zapatista Eggs (Chiapas style scrambled eggs and corn tortilla, served with pickled cactus and white corn, coriander, avocado, crumbled cheese and green salsa for $16.50). For a bit of extra kick, season to taste with any of the FOUR El Yucateco hot salsas on offer.
Bodega Tapas Restaurant & Bar
216 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills (map)
(02) 9212 7766
Despite my obsession with Ben Milgate, Elvis Abrahanowicz and Sarah Doyle's Porteño, I'd never been to the rockabilly tapas restaurant where it all started five years ago, Bodega. New head chefs Nic Wong and Joel Humphrey have taken over from Ben and Elvis, and the food continues to impress the critics and draw the crowds.
My lunch date had to cancel on me at the last minute due to a work crisis but I was happy to go by myself. I perched up at the bar, drank Rosado and chatted up the cute staff.
I was planning on a seafood-only lunch, but the dapper waiter suggested I try a chipotle pulled pork steamed bun. I hesitated. Chipotle, pulled pork and steamed buns - thanks, Mr Chang - are three "on-trend" (ugh) ingredients that are all rapidly becoming as damn ubiquitous as macarons.
But boy, the Bodega chipotle pulled pork steamed bun ($6) shakes you by the lapels and shows you who's boss. The soft sweet bun and juicy pork neck fall apart in your mouth, punctuated beautifully by the pickled carrot and miso mayo. A must-order.
Another must-order? The signature dish, the Bodega "fish fingers" ($18). Kingfish sashimi on fat fingers of charred garlic toast, sprinkled with cuttlefish ceviche and mojama, topped with tiny slivers of raw onion. Strong flavours that somehow balance perfectly AND show off the freshness of the sashimi.
The other dish I tried was the mussels and harissa with fried bread ($20). I guess I was expecting the "fried bread" to be more charred fingers of a bread loaf, but to my surprise I was presented with a deep fried hunk of dough more akin to youtiao, the traditional congee accompaniment. It turned out to be an inspired foil for the mussels and their rich, spicy juices. Gahhhh, so good.
If I'd ordered dessert at Bodega, I'd've been all over the dark chocolate aero with beetroot sorbet and buttermilk grantita like a rash.
55 Liverpool St, Sydney (map)
(02) 9283 8792
I'd read good things about The Dip (yes, named after the green liquid that nearly killed Roger Rabbit), the canteen serving up American-inspired munchies in a tiki-esque corner of underground bar/club Goodgod. Pictured below is the the Southern Smoke ($12), a 12 hour smoked pulled pork sandwich with BBQ beans, apple & cabbage slaw and spicy BBQ sauce, and Lev's Dawg ($12), a smoked kosher hot dog with chipotle mayo, fresh tomato salsa, grilled yellow peppers and American mustard on a steamed bun. To be honest this food didn't grab me the way I'd been expecting/hoping it would, as it was stodgy and surprisingly bland. Maybe we ordered badly - I hear the two desserts, the Ice Cold Guac and the Cookies & Cream, are ten kinds of awesome.
El Loco Mexican Cantina Y Barra / The Excelsior
64 Foveaux St, Surry Hills (map)
(02) 9211 4945
El Loco is the name of Dan Hong's Mexican cantina, grafted onto the back of pub and former live music venue The Excelsior. Before visiting I was feeling uneasy about what my grumpy Sydney friends termed the Merivale hipsterfication of what used to be one of the few small (150 capacity) live music venues left in inner Sydney... but on the other hand I'd loved the food at Dan Hong's other restaurants Lotus and Ms G's, and my friend Matt had said the El Loco tacos were the best he'd had in Australia.
Sorry Matt - we tried a bunch of tacos, including pollo, tofu and pork al pastor ($5 each), and they got the thumbs down. The al pastor was particularly disappointing, with dry, tough meat (not nearly as tender and juicy as I've had in the past prepared in this manner) and a chalky, slightly stale tortilla. I'd wanted to like them, but I didn't.
52 Waterloo St. Surry Hills (map)
(02) 9699 2518
By contrast, I loved what I tasted at El Capo (the OTHER Latino-inspired restaurant starting with 'El' that opened in Surry Hills this year). On the Saturday afternoon I met up with the lovely Lee Tran Lam from the Sydney food blog The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry and we did the El Loco/El Capo double feature.
Latino but not Mexican, El Capo markets itself as serving 'good food for bad people'. The narco cinema fitout includes seats made from bundles of counterfeit drug money, and walls emblazoned with pictures of guns, cars and a rooster-headed pinup with a hunting knife. It was mid-afternoon by the time we sidled in, so we grazed on plantain chips and Colombian empanadas ($7, $10) and drank horchata almond milk ($4).
But the dish that blew both of us away was the three milk cake, which is part of the evening menu (but we sweet-talked them into serving it to us in the afternoon). It involves milk sponge soaked in buttermilk, two shmears of dulce de leche plus a host of other goodies, which have changed from when LTL first visited and wrote her review. Ours had mango purée, ice cream, malt powder, double cream, scorched meringue, fresh strawberries and blueberries plus sensational freeze dried raspberries. One helluva dessert for only $13.
Porteño / Gardel's Bar
358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills (map)
(02) 8399 1440
On the Friday night I went to my favourite Sydney restaurant with J and Miss N.
I've written about Porteño before so I won't repeat myself. I will say though that I'd never tried their famous 8 hour woodfired pig before, and it was EXQUISITE. Ditto for the grilled radicchio with root vegetables, pancetta and hazelnuts, ditto for the shaved fennel salad with apricot, black olives and amontillado dressing, ditto for the smoked mackerel with palm heart, avocado and pickled celery. We drank an excellent bottle of 2010 Trapiche Broquel Torrontes.
Oh and we couldn't resist the postre chaja (South American style pavlova) and the leche quemada (burnt milk custard with orange jam and chocolate ice cream).
And another thing... Gardel's Bar, the upstairs cocktail bar? Also brilliant. We went up there after dinner and downed several cocktails. My favourite was the El Niño, made by a friendly bartender who was as excited about The West Winds Gin as I am.
4/50 Holt St (enter via Gladstone St), Surry Hills (map)
(02) 9699 1582
While we're on the subject of excellent Sydney bars let me mention 121BC, a wonderful new cantina/enoteca specialising in biodynamic wines from Italy. LTL and I wandered in after our El Loco/El Capo expedition to stickybeak in the wine shop, only to find a Montepulciano wine tasting going on in the 121BC bar. We joined in, and I got to talk about the Palio, argue about DOCG and practice my Italian with Alan from Italian Wine Importers. Looking forward to revisiting the enoteca for a bite to eat and several glasses of wine next time I'm in town.
Basement 275 Clarence St, Sydney (map)
(02) 9264 3004
Grandma's Bar, the scene of the crime where I ordered a Mai Tai served in a tiki mug so ridiculously enormous you needed two hands to lift it. The bartender MAY have accidentally set fire to the benchtop in the process of making my drink.
185 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst (map)
(02) 8084 6379
On my last night I went out to dinner with my brother Buster and his lady friends. Before our meal, we stopped in for a cocktail at the recently-opened, retro-inspired bar Hinky Dinks.
Don't know which one I loved more - that gorgeous vintage (and fully operational) fridge sitting on checkered linoleum, the rosemary popcorn that arrived complimentary at the table upon arrival, or my cocktail, El Presidente. Bacardi 8, Martini Rosso and bitters, mixed and then house-aged in American oak before being served on block ice with a citrus garnish. Ay. Hinky Dinks also has an appealing food menu: see LTL's blog for details.
5-9 Roslyn St, Potts Point / Kings Cross (map)
(02) 8068 1017
The restaurant I went to with Buster and his friends was Gastro Park, the extraordinary new restaurant opened by former Pier head chef Grant King in the skankiest part of Kings Cross. It's billed as the playground of good food and it is exactly that - the ideas are fresh and imaginative, the culinary techniques are technical, the presentation is playful and service (especially from front of house manager Martijn de Boer and sommelier Timothee Servajean) is cheeky, charming and hilarious. It's some of the most exciting food I've tasted all year. Never mind the off-putting name: if you visit Sydney, GO.
This blog post is already ridiculously long, so I'll keep the descriptions of some of the dishes we had brief. Loved the texture that the enoki mushroom stems gave to the warm sashimi of scallops with soy, ginger & bonito dressing ($18). Another 'snack' we enjoyed was a saddle of roast wild hare wrapped in a beetroot tube, with lashings of shaved foie gras and a startling red cabbage granita ($18).
One of my favourite savoury dishes was the sweet onion purée and mushroom consommé "macchiato", topped with a juicy caramelised veal sweetbread impaled on a twig of rosemary ($9).
Two of the girls we were dining with ordered an entrée described on the menu as "textures of duck with local wild mushroom tagliatelle" ($28), including smoked duck, duck ham, roast duck and a film of duck jelly.
I didn't get to taste the saddle of lamb with textures of artichokes and mushrooms ($42) that Buster's girlfriend ordered, but I did try Buster's crispy scaled snapper with smoked potato purée, calamari crackling and ink sauce ($39). This dish has got everyone talking about the fact that rather than scaling the fish, King has made the scales themselves a feature, pushing them back and coating them in hot oil until they're crispy and edible. The calamari crackling, looking like giant black mottled prawn crackers, was another elegant touch.
It's not pictured, but the potato mash we had with Madeira sauce and freshly shaved truffle was OUTRAGEOUS.
And oh, the desserts. The five of us shared three of them. The nitro pavlova ($20) came out looking like a delicious giant clam, hiding a guava sorbet centre and surrounded by pieces of pineapple and coconut bubbles. I also loved the sticky pain perdu with caramelised apple and balsamic ice cream ($18).
But the star dessert was the white chocolate sphere ($22), which arrived shrouded in liquid nitrogen. Cracking open the sphere with a spoon unleashed two rich creams (one mandarin, one honeycomb) that started oozing across the plate. The plate was also dotted with cookies 'n cream components (some nitrogen frozen) plus a couple of minuscule violet macarons no larger than my little finger tip. A fitting climax to a brilliant meal.
Thanks to Miss N for hosting me and the rest the Sydney crew for showing me such a good time!