Feeling a little bit dusty from hosting a dinner party the night before, we took a fast trip to the South of France last weekend with brunch at LoLuk Bistro. This newcomer to Darlinghurst continues the run of fine Gallic tradition sandwiched between the same heritage-listed sandstone walls that housed Le Pelican for the last ten years.
While owner Luc La Joye has already built a dinner trade, he’s only just opened the restaurant for a very civilised all-day brunch (10am-4pm) on weekends. The light-filled dining room with French doors opening onto Bourke Street really lends itself to daytime dining.
We’re soon very happily situated in white, farmhouse style chairs, with a well-balanced Bloody Mary ($16) in one hand and a smooth Caffe Migliore coffee in the other. Badoit mineral water helps to ease our headaches, while we take in our surroundings. One wall is given over to French booze ads depicting key destination in this region – Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo. While most of us may never see them, these glittering destinations along the edge of the Mediterranean Sea are instantly familiar from movie and television screens, as spots where the super-yachts of the rich and famous drop anchor.
On the other wall, wooden boards, stamped with the red eagle of Nice, depict scenes of country life in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. This is the region where brothers Luc and Loïc grew up, and they’ve tried to bring over some of the area’s traditional French cuisine. It begins with the family’s extra virgin olive oil from Domaine des Gorges du Régalon sitting on the tables, along with wonderfully aromatic grinders of black pepper.
I tried out both on my Omelette du Pays ($16) a super-simple folded egg affair served with crisp, well-dressed salad and house-made foccacia.
The LoLuk Croque Madame ($18) combines a baked ham and Gruyere sandwich with a fried egg, throwing in some thin slices of tomato to break up the richness of the béchamel. The sauce has been judiciously applied, making this one of the more easy to eat versions of this all-too-often stodgy dish. They’ve even served it with a different salad, undressed to better complement the richness of the dish. It allows you to go to town on their excellent olive oil.
With cooking this simple, there's nowhere to hide mistakes, but I'm hard pressed to find any. Colour me impressed enough to have already chosen what I’ll be ordering from the dinner menu on my return visit - Magret de Canard, gnocchis provençaux ($36). That’s duck breast with Provençal gnocchi in case you were wondering.
2/411 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 7900 6251
A yakitori bar in Haberfield almost seemed like an oxymoron. This sleepy Inner West suburb is better known for Italian, with famous Sydney pizzeria, La Disfida joined by Italian pastry giant, Pasticceria Papa, and a host of other Italian restaurant neighbours. Well I can confirm it’s no apparition - Yakitori Jin is a brand new, tastefully appointed dark wood kushiyaki restaurant, situated right on Ramsay Street, Haberfield’s main drag.
The wood-heavy fit-out is aesthetically pleasing, with one side of the restaurant taken up with counter seats along the long, glassed-in yakitori grill.
At one end, Japanese whisky, sake bottles and jars of their house-made umeshu clue you in that the drinks list is going to be a highlight of your visit. Closer investigation reveals the Sydney sake drinker's unicorn: Dassai 23 ($45/150ml) among their list of junmai daiginjo sakes.
By visiting at lunchtime, I sadly eliminated myself from being able to eat the kushiyaki I was craving – while their website doesn’t indicate it, they have a different lunch menu of bento boxes and donburi (rice bowls). Curbing my disappointment with a pretty Agadashi Tofu Bento ($19), I tucked into six plump squares of deep-fried tofu, presented with a little flask of tentsuyu broth to pour over them at the table.
It’s a complete meal with rice, salad, salmon sashimi and a side of tempura, with a bowl of miso soup passed separately.
My dining companions tucked into donburi – rice bowls – in two different flavours. Chicken Katsu Donburi ($14) presents panko-crumbed chicken, fried egg and Japanese accompaniments (nori, pickles, shallots and sesame seeds) on rice.
The Oyako Donburi ($14), which literally means parent and child donburi, presents the chicken and the egg together on rice. Here the egg is gleaming white and gelatinous from being poached, allowing you to crack it and mix it through your chicken and rice. Both rice bowls are flavoursome, and accompanied by steaming bowls of miso.
What I liked about Yakitori Jin were the traditional touches, like being greeted with an oshibori (wet towel) upon arrival to clean my hands. I will definitely be returning by night to get my clean hands on their yakitori…
101 Ramsay Street, Haberfield
Ph: (02) 8057 2780
Confession: I’m generally a green apple eater. There’s something about red skins that I don’t usually enjoy… well that is until I met the Kanzi apple. A recent European immigrant, the Kanzi apple has recently been licensed to a limited number of Australian growers located across our usual major apple growing regions including Orange, Batlow, Yarra and the Adelaide Hills. Kanzi apples were created by crossing juicy, sweet Gala apples with tangy Brawburn apples. The resulting fragrant red and cream apples are both sweet and sour, with lots of acidity. They’re not at all floury, like some apples can be. They’d make great toffee apples, though they’re excellent eating just as they are.
I tried some of my Kanzi haul sliced with a white mould cheese and they were a treat. They also hold their shape very well through cooking, making them ideal for threading onto pork and apple skewers that you whack onto the barbeque.
Pick up your own Kanzi apples from discerning green grocers, like Harris Farm, between now and June.
There’s no better advertisement than aroma for a Korean barbeque restaurant. I discovered Jang Tur Charcoal B.B.Q. when I was in Canterbury reviewing Bon Japanese Restaurant. The heady aroma of barbequed meat stayed with me for six months, so we eventually found our way back to Canterbury to give it a whirl. The front entrance on Canterbury Road is in a state of disrepair. Gold window tint gives the interior an otherworldly feel as we peer inside before entering through the heavy door. Locals in the know seem to use a back lane entrance that takes you down a dimly lit side passage from somewhere near the Aldi carpark. I mentally note it down for next time...
We’re directed to a table that’s been constructed by laying a round stainless steel tabletop over a red metal drum. In the centre it has a recessed charcoal grill that’s quickly filled with a pot of hot coals, then topped with a thick wire grill.
The room is minimally furnished, with Korean alcohol posters providing most of the decoration.
We obediently order a bottle of creamy white Korean Rice Wine ($12) to share, which arrives quickly with fresh green salad and a bowl of kimchi.
Even more exciting, a steaming bowl of gaeranjim (Korean steamed egg soup) arrives as part of our banchan (the side dishes that are generally provided free with your barbeque). It’s a bubbling pot of fluffy eggs mixed with seasoned stock that eats a bit like a savoury soufflé.
We tuck into it on rice while we wait for our Beef Galbi ($22), or marinated beef ribs, to barbeque.
They arrive as two long, thin flaps, each connected to short rib bones that we roll straight onto the grill. We eat these smoky pieces of beef dipped in seasoned sesame oil or a sauce made from doenjang, Korean soybean paste that’s also great on the accompanying cucumber and carrot sticks.
You can also wrap up your beef rib ssam style in cabbage leaves. Don’t be afraid to grab the bone to gnaw off the coveted last pieces.
Sliced Chilli Spring Onion ($3) provide an inexpensive, and surprisingly great, palate break with slightly sweet, chilli flecked, shredded spring onions.
We tuck into them while we’re cooking thin slabs of Marinated Chilli Pork Ribs ($22).
They cook a bit slower than the fattier sheets of beef rib, but the end result is no less delicious. We leave sated, with our hair and clothes reeking of barbeque. We’re smiling from the warmth of this family-run restaurant, and the fact that our hip pocket is only just over sixty dollars lighter. Well-played Canterbury, we’ll be back.
Jang Tur Charcoal B.B.Q.
169 Canterbury Road, Canterbury
Ph: (02) 9787 4561
Everyone you speak to about Fusion Seven seems to simper; it's clearly the darling of the Port Macquarie dining set. Though what I found on a recent visit to the area was a restaurant that gets a lot of things right, but at the same time, struggles to convey a raison d'être. Rather than fusing one cuisine with another, the menu reads like an oddball collection of dishes from a competent, well-travelled cook. In a home setting, these exotic ingredients would be segues to stories, but in a restaurant, you’re left to piece that story together alone...
My meal began with a Japanese prawn ‘cocktail’ that tangles three local crustaceans with green leaves, puffed rice, cubes of yuzu jelly, lotus chips, shredded nori and mirin-roasted macadamias. While I liked the individual elements, I also wanted to shake them off to appreciate the quality of the prawns. It's fine to mock those Seventies-style iceberg lettuce prawn cocktail presentations, but what they did get right was allowing the diner to appreciate the colour, texture and flavour of great Australian prawns (well once you scraped off the overbearing sauce...).
Purple plum jam curbs the irony flavour of grilled kangaroo fillet, but goes so far you might as well be eating beef. It’s served in a generous mound with pearl cous cous, braised red onion and radicchio, under a feathery dusting of salted cured egg yolk. This dish is a perfect match to the 2015 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir ($120) which is a reasonable buy here, because you’d be hard pressed to find it in a bottle shop for much less than eighty bucks.
Port Stephens mahi mahi scrubs up well inside Tunisian brik pastry, with Korean gochujang (red pepper paste) adding a splash of interest on the globetrotting plate. It's accompanied by hand-cut sweet potato chips and an Italian-esque fennel salad.
Grilled grass-fed beef rump served tagliata (sliced) on saffron potatoes with a cucumber and palm heart salad caters to my Mother-in-law’s plainer tastes, though she found the beef a bit too chewy.
Putting gently spiced lentils inside a deep-fried tofu pocket and then cooking it tempura style is certainly an innovative way to make a vegetarian main exciting. While I commend the chef on actually putting out a balanced vegetarian meal, I’m scratching my head to find a connection between the tempura stuffed tofu, pickled jalapeño slices, and the roast pumpkin, grilled green beans, pear and eggplant salad it was perched upon.
What Fusion Seven does get right is the desserts. Both the apple pie ice cream and the frozen mango parfait were pretty collections of flavours, textures and colours.
However for a meal where Three Courses ($85/head) comes in just shy of a hundred bucks per person on food alone, I want a bit more than complimentary (albeit great) house-made bread.
The space itself has a café feel.Toilets are a "grab the key" affair, and on tiny tables in a half-empty restaurant, ambling service required prompting to clear away empty plates and unused glasses. This grates a little more when a fifteen percent surcharge is whacked onto your already expensive meal on the Easter Long Weekend.
Fusion is a difficult brief. It’s challenging to honour two (or more) different cooking philosophies while still keeping the produce you’re working with central to the dish. Regional restaurants are also very different beasts to city ones. Regional chefs have to get conservative diners – like my Mother-in-law – over the line on whatever jaunt they’re taking away from meat and three veg. Whatever a city slicker like me believes, this restaurant has definitely won the hearts of Port Macquarie, and in a regional area, that might be all that matters.
6/124 Horton Street, Port Macquarie
Ph: (02) 6584 1171
For a fun treat on a cold night, take a wander through Chinatown and see if you can dodge the spruikers and spot the little window sandwiched between Emperor’s Garden Restaurant and Emperor’s Garden Cakes and Bakery. Despite the Hay Street address, you enter it from the Dixon Street pedestrian mall.
It should have a bright yellow sign saying Emperor’s Puff.
Join the queue and wait for your turn at the window where you can watch the machine clinking and clacking its way through making your order. Emperor’s Puffs ($5/18) are about the best way you can spend thirty-five cents, though most buyers opt for paper bags of three (for a buck) or containers of eighteen (for five bucks).
Don’t come expecting something highbrow or gourmet – this is a simple doughy snack filled with custard. The outside eats like a crisp, savoury pancake. What I liked about them is they aren’t overly sweet. They’re best eaten hot, but buyer beware… coming straight off their quaint cream puff machine, their custard innards can be scorching!
100 Hay Street, Haymarket (enter Dixon Street)
Ph: (02) 9211 2135
Contemporary India provides the inspiration for Masala Theory, a riotously coloured new entry to Surry Hills. Wall-sized, full colour murals attempt to capture the hybrid of traditional and modern elements that now characterise Indian life in cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
The brightly painted walls are distressed into a finish that looks right at home in hip Surry Hills. Interior designer Alice Pamment has completed the visual spectacle of this place with a dangling collection of neon pushbikes, Indian street signs and shiny tiffin lunchboxes.
The food at Masala Theory follows the model pioneered in Sydney by restaurants like Indu. They’re rolling out a contemporary Indian menu that's less about the part of India the chef and owner are from, and more about presenting a collection of contemporary takes on dishes plucked from across India.
We kick things off with Beetroot Poriyal ($5.90), a diced mix of beetroot, curry leaves and spice with a big hit of mustard seeds. It’s topped with grated coconut, and throws in puffed lentils for hipster value. It’s healthy, homey and works as an appetite stimulant in this context.
After falling in love with pav (genuine Mumbai street food) at Bombay Street Kitchen in Glebe, I was a bit disappointed with the Wada Pav ($12.90/2) here. The slider-style sesame seed-topped bun distracted from the soft, mildly spiced potato patty and gentle coconut chutney. Hot pickled green chillies provided the only real flavour, and I’m not even sure why the mint chutney was on the slate at all; it’s better employed on the Three Sisters Chat ($14.90).
This sculptural masterpiece is created using crisp, battered spinach leaves inserted into a bed of bean and chickpea. It’s all drizzled with sweetened yoghurt, and lashings of date-tamarind and mint chutneys, and is coolly refreshing on a warm day.
Salli Botti ($26.90) – Chef Rushabh Rupani’s take on goat curry – strikes me as a little thin. It’s cooked in a way that emphasises the tender pieces of goat, but it lacks the richness and intensity that I want from a curry. It’s a shame because I like the flavours, and even enjoy the textural addition of the crisp potato stick topper. Eaten on Steamed Rice ($4.90) it’s overtaken by the sharp, cheesy intensity of a Chilli Cheese Coriander Naan ($6).
Despite celebrating their two-month birthday on the recent long weekend, the usual Liberal Government bungling bureaucracy means their liquor licence is still in the pipeline. This means you’ll be either bringing your own booze, or trying out their list of non-alcoholic beers. Personally I’d rather be drinking a blend of grain, hops, yeast and water that makes up alcoholic beer, over the chemical shitstorm that’s in non-alcoholic beers like Arcobrau-Radler ($8). Alternatively, they’re making Aam Panna ($9) an intriguing green mango drink with a round, salty mid-palate, which might tickle your fancy.
Ending on a Smoked Beetroot and Buttermilk Pannacotta ($13.90) topped with candied nut praline and toffee shards, is a nice reminder of owner Yashpal Erda’s message: Indian food isn’t trapped in a time-warp.
545 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9699 9444
Plastic garlic braids, grape vines and shiny mandarins dangle from leafy green trellises. Oversized wine glasses filled with red liquid adorn the tables; and a black and white photo of New York takes up one whole wall.
Newtown newcomer, Planet Italy, has nearly all the hallmarks of one of that city’s red sauce restaurants, located in Little Italy in lower Manhattan. All that is missing here are Chianti bottle candleholders, and red and white-chequered tablecloths.
Appropriately, I’m soon tucking into a prawn-topped Chicken Parmigiana ($19.90), made in the popular Italian-American style, swimming in a lake of red sauce. It’s one option from a short menu arranged into traditional and gourmet pastas, and chicken or veal dishes.
By way of entrees, owner/chef Michael Michael trialled a self-service antipasto bar, but the all-you-can-eat enthusiasm of early diners means you now get your Antipasti and Salad Bar ($12.90) dished up for you.
The red sauce connection continues onto chalkboard specials, popping up in Barramundi in Smoked Salmon Creamy Sauce ($33). Tomato cream sauces are touch and go for me at the best of times, and smoked salmon doesn’t really do this version any favours. To my eye, the whole lumpy concoction takes away from what could be a nice fillet of fish.
Pork Belly with Roasted Fig and Red Wine ($33) is more successful, though my surprising meal highlight are fluffy Wedges ($8.90) served up healthily on an odd collection of raw vegetables.
As the new kid on a very competitive strip, just down the road from well-established players, like The Italian Bowl, pushing a similar shtick, Planet Italy is going to have its work cut out for it.
Where it might win favour with families is in the well-priced Mother’s Day menu, offering up three courses for just under thirty bucks each.
Note: This piece also appeared in Ciao Magazine.
229a King Street, Newtown
Ph: (0420) 784 164
A steady stream of tradies collecting food to-go clues me in that Fat Pigeon is already meeting a need in the Marrickville market. While the name, logo and font selection might have you screaming gentrification and cursing hipsters, what you will find within is surprisingly old-school.
In fact the only thing that takes it beyond the tiled Greek-run takeaway stores of my childhood memories is the addition of a few fancy high tables with bar stools, allowing you to choose to eat-in. The menu covers the same barbequed chooks, burgers, fat cut chips and beer-battered hoki fillets that I remember, albeit with local craft brewery Young Henrys providing the ale. You'll also note Fat Pigeon list provenance on the menu, with the free-range chooks coming from the Hunter Valley, and the burger mince sourced from free-range cattle in the Southern Highlands.
As well as the aforementioned battered'n'fried, you can consume your daily fish requirements in grilled Barramundi ($12.50) dished up with chips and salad from their fresh daily counter selections.
For their more well-to-do neighbours, they also offer up lobster mac’n’cheese and Po’Boys ($15.50/each). I tried the barbequed prawn version that offers up four grilled (tail-on) prawns on a crisp sesame-seed covered bread roll with shredded lettuce, creamy mayo. and a fresh pineapple chilli relish that lacked the expected kick. It’s a bit too light on the crustaceans to seem like good value – maybe that’ll learn me for getting a little bit fancy! However the warm welcome will likely see me return to try out their less highbrow selections in the future.
128 Addison Road, Marrickville
Ph: (02) 9569 3216
Monday night took a sharp left turn when we walked into Jumak.
It’s a homely Korean spot tucked on a pedestrian mall running between Pitt Street and what was George Street, before it became an endless construction zone. Two minutes after walking in the door we’re sculling makgeolli with a Korean man called Jimmy Carter. He’s wearing a rusty blood-coloured two-piece and a fisherman’s hat.
Two cups in, after finding out I have Scottish origins, his friend Young is singing a word-perfect rendition of Danny Boy, and Jimmy Carter is dancing. The restaurant doesn’t bat an eyelid - with their name meaning ‘tavern’ in Korean, they’ve clearly seen it all before.
A little dusty ourselves, we order my current Korean obsession: fire chicken. Here it’s called Stir Fried Chilli Chicken Hot Plate ($37) but on the picture menu it looked pretty familiar. We throw in a Rice Cake ($3) and Cheese ($3) addition to help balance the heat.
A few minutes later, we’re shocked to find out that, for the first time, the resulting dish will be left to our own drunken cooking skills. This clearly calls for more Kook Soon Dang ($12) rice wine.
Fortified, we attempt to take our collection of raw ingredients to something resembling fire chicken.
For some sustenance through the long cook, we order some Korean fried chicken. Here it’s called Shake Shake Chicken ($16/half) because it arrives in a bag with a sachet of flavouring you shake it with. Being too drunk to comprehend this, my dining companion rips open the bag and we end up pouring our cheddar butter powder over the chicken instead. It's perfectly-disgusting, utterly compelling, deep fried drinking food against tinnies of Korean Hite Beer ($5).
By this time we're pretty chuffed with ourselves, because our dish is actually starting to resemble fire chicken. We're taking selfies with Jimmy Carter and Young, and even the potatoes we were worried about ever softening, are starting to look cooked. We throw in the cheese and ddukbokgi (rice cakes), and end up eating about half (the serve is massive) of a very tasty, stick-to-your-ribs rendition of fire chicken.
I don’t envy their staff cleaning up after us though; our table looked like a scene from the Korean War. Maybe drunk people shouldn't be trusted to cook their own fire chicken...
8 Central Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9261 0111