Monday, September 26, 2011
If you've ever been mesmerised by the blackboard at Cafe Sopra, entranced in a "can I order everything?" spell, then you will want to visit Honeycomb. It's the new venture for chef Andy Bunn, who is responsible for this city's dependency on his rightly famous Banoffee Pie. I'm not sure that any dessert could overthrow that incredible creation, but the Parfait ($14) at his new eatery is a heavyweight contender – dusted with a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of chocolate shavings and hiding rocky treasure deposits of honeycomb, it is insanely good.
So far, this just-opened restaurant is serving only breakfast and lunch (panini, pasta, salad and a seasonal mixed-fruit juice that your waiter spent four hours hand-squeezing), but will also operate for dinner once it lands a licence (hopefully in a few weeks' time). Andy Bunn's menu at Cafe Sopra was unmistakably brilliant (and explains the eatery's neverending queues and evergrowing outlets), so getting another mealtime to experience his flair is something to highly anticipate. A lot of appetites are banking on that paperwork to be resolved soon.
Honeycomb, 354 Liverpool St, Darlinghurst NSW (02) 9331 3387, www.honeycombrestaurant.com.au
Monday, September 12, 2011
"It's like a bar meets a '50s house party."
That's Will's take on Hinky Dinks, which has just opened opposite the fire station in Darlinghurst. The retro-charged design, by Luchetti Krelle, is so convincing that some patrons find themselves mentally propelled back into their grandparents' home – although, back in the day, it's highly unlikely your Nan ever served you a drink called Gypsy Blood or Corpse Reviver.
"Cocktails first, questions later" is one motto at Hinky Dinks and that is part of its fun. This place is run by two friends who met while working at Longrain: Jeremy Shipley (who you might see blitzing drinks behind the bar, when he's not moonlighting as ambassador for Bacardi) and Dan Knight (one-time sommelier for Sake and The Cut Bar & Grill and ex-general manager for The Corner House – he's the charmer with the smart haircut working the floor). Their likeable drinks menu ($15-$18 for single orders) gives you plenty of good reasons to work your way through your glass, from the sweet and zippy Gypsy Blood to the fruit-cup fun of Hinky Fizz (served with house-made strawberry and prosecco sorbet) and warning-label territory of the Zombie, a rum and absinthe concoction that's so heavy-hitting, you're only allowed a maximum of two a night ("Hinky's rules!"). If you start to feel like the living dead after going there, don't worry, you can always order the Corpse Reviver No. Blue to reverse the effect. And given that you could imagine grown-up versions of Betty and Veronica sitting at the Hinky Dinks bar, it seems apt that there's a Frozen Bourbon Milk Sundae on the menu.
The mini candy-striped box of rosemary popcorn given to guests on arrival and the occasional tray of finger food that crowdsurfs the room adds to the "house party" feel of Hinky Dinks. Your appetite isn't limited to those mini-bites though – the bar menu by Onde's Laif Etournaud covers snacks ("peckish"), substantial plates ("hungry") and sweet tooths ("indulgent"). The Pan-Fried Olive and Parmesan Sandwich ($9) is so very good – who knew that the simple combination of tapenade and cheese on toast could be such genius? Other orders we enjoyed: the Crisp Polenta with Roast Tomato and Salsa Verde ($20), Chicken Braised with White Wine, Tomatoes, Olives and Cavalo Nero ($22) and Crostini with Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil & Goat's Cheese ($8) – yep, tomato is a tad over-represented on the menu, but I don't mind at all. Just watch out for those cherry tomato halves that keep making a getaway everytime you try to wedge crostini into your mouth without causing clumsy ingredient spillage. After the guilty pleasure of the cheese toastie, the Roast Beetroot Salad ($14) felt like the nutritionally correct thing to order, and while the hazelnut, goat's cheese and beetroot are a good, classic combination, am I the only one who finds watercress such a high-maintenance pain? When I see that overtangled green – it feels like a gardener needs to weed my plate. Maybe that's just my vendetta against that out-of-control leaf. Everything else, though, was excellent (especially the fat, gold polenta chips).
And I wonder what Proust would've thought of the Warm Madeleine ($10), made to order, placed snugly against strawberry slices and ready to dip in Tasmanian bootrytis riesling? Our opinion was pretty obvious from how quickly we cleared the plate (and Will's quick-sip dispersal of the remaining riesling once there were no more sweets left to dunk).
This place is named after Michael 'Hinky Dink' Kenna, a crooked American politician who bought off the homeless with drinks at his bar, in return for securing their votes. Despite that history, this Sydney joint relies less on cynical electioneering and more on genuine charisma and appeal. The cute interior, with its supercharged pop colours, feels like an inviting hangout, and despite its period references, there's nothing museum-like about it at all (in fact, the '50s fridge in the corner still hums and keeps produce snap-cold). The retro graphics throughout, by Sydney designer, Hilbert Ho add to the sass and charm. This great bar covers all the vote-winning "issues" (fun drinks, table service, good menu, nice staff, appealing space) that should hopefully earn it a landslide victory with the public. It's currently open from Wednesday-Sunday, 5pm-12am, but like any good "house party", I wish it'd keep going even later than that.
Hinky Dinks, 185 Darlinghurst Rd (opposite the fire station), Darlinghurst NSW (02) 8084 6379 www.hinkydinks.com.au
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Sequels are meant to be disappointing, but my second year reviewing for Good Food Guide was infinitely more fun than any overlong Hollywood franchise. My "places to cover" list took me from Cabramatta to Palm Beach and I was even lucky enough to write up two restaurants that ended up in the hat-earning categories.
The awards took place last night and there were many genuine surprises (and zero thanking of God, though there was one 14/20 joke and one namedropping mention that David Chang was in the room). The big winners were Sepia (graduating to three hats and Restaurant of the Year) and Porteno (jumping in with two hats and Best New Restaurant). And, as if their charm and culinary smarts weren't enough, unofficially, I thought Porteno's crew also scored Best Dressed of the night, with everyone's favourite hostess Sarah Doyle blitzing the stage in an awesome vintage-style, confectionery-striped outfit.
As the night went on, I found that almost every win would fork into one of two default reactions from me: "so glad that place did well!" (Porteno) or "I badly want to go there" (Sepia). I think that's a good sign of who scored top honours.
I'm really happy that Duke Bistro, District Dining, Gastro Park, Biota Dining and Vini gained their first ever hats (especially Vini, which has been such a long-time favourite). It is also great to see lots of brilliant new eateries land in the Good Food Guide - The Dip, Orto Trading Co. and El Capo, just to name some of the staggering 78 additions. And there were lots of interesting category wins, from Favourite Breakfast for Three Blue Ducks to Favourite Vegetarian Menu for Bilson's (how things have changed since that infamous incident where Tony Bilson "placated" a disappointed vego diner with a voucher to a buffet at Govinda's). I did think 121BC would get Best Bar with Food, but that went to The Owl House (yes, another one to try).
Major kudos to editors Joanna Savill and Terry Durack, regional editor Barbara Sweeney and production editor Paul McLean (the one force in the world that makes sure we get our reviews in our time) for producing a great lifeline for anyone hungry in this town. Hope you enjoy rediscovering Sydney through the 900 entries in the Good Food Guide, as I will.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
From the wall of origami felt to the meringue with strawberry paper, there's so much to like about The Bridge Room, a new restaurant that's opened near Circular Quay.
Not only is the Strawberry Marshmallow Meringue ($18) a joy to eat, the given instruction that you need to smash it open with your spoon – to get to the yogurt jackpot inside and scramble it with the strawberry ripple and "paper" – only adds to the unquestionable fun.
The Bridge Room is run by Ross and Sunny Lusted, and their travel-heavy past with Amanresorts adds an international touch to the menu. Sunny mentioned how she was struck by how resourceful people were in Asia – when caught offguard by the rain, locals would pluck out a banana leaf to use as an impromptu umbrella – and every ingredient here is revitalised in ingenious ways. Instead of being cast off, carrot tops are used in a salsa verde or stock, while coconut husks in the fruit salad are turned into ash for another dish. Similarly, the interior shows the pattern and grain of timber offcuts, lined up like wooden licorice allsorts.
The return of Ross Lusted (ex-executive Rockpool chef) to Australia has sparked much excitement (I think there were three prominent mentions of The Bridge Room in Good Living before the restaurant even opened), but for me, the biggest endorsement comes from my friend Brendan. Now working in radio (he showed me the ropes at FBi!), Brendan used to cook for a living (Bourke Street Bakery, Harbour Kitchen & Bar, Forty One) and tells me that Ross is the best chef that he has ever worked with.
And accordingly, the food is so very good. There are heirloom carrots "in funky colours", cooked beautifully over a Japanese robata grill; the playful meringue, a popular raw wagyu shoulder and also some great off-menu choices. In a recent Good Living story, Ross Lusted talked about his appreciation for vegetables, inspired in part by Sunny ("who was raised vegetarian and remains predominantly so") and working in Asia, where many people keep to a meat-free diet for religious or financial reasons. So even if no vego mains are listed on the menu, do ask and you might get to try a beautiful dish of Japanese brown rice, livened with ginger, chilli and a zippy, brisk chiffonade – it's like a play on chicken rice. I know brown-rice-anything sounds excitement-proof, but this main unlatches surprising flavours from deceptively simple ingredients. A previous diner had described it as the best vegetarian dish he'd had.
What makes The Bridge Room stand out is the fact it's not tailgating trends or relying on triple-barrel hype or battle-tested favourites. Everything here is beautifully modulated, well-throught-through and original – whether it's the sculptural wall of felt installed by Tobias Partners, the crockery pieces that Ross Lusted has designed himself or what ripples with flavour on your plate. Unlike other high-profile restaurants, there's nothing "loud" here – but everything speaks volumes.
The Bridge Room, 44 Bridge Street, Sydney NSW (02) 9247 7000, www.thebridgeroom.com.au