When I want to drink Japanese whisky I head to Tokyo Bird. And this Surry Hills small bar is making it hard not to want to drink whisky on Tuesday 22 December with their inaugural Christmas Whisky Dinner ($135/person). Attendees will quaff five Japanese whiskies from both major distilleries – Suntory Whisky and Nikka Whisky - and independent Japanese whisky distilleries, which are not available in the local market. They’ll be matched to an array of dishes to stop you falling over. Book quickly – while they are doing two sittings (6pm/8.30pm), the bar is tiny.
Taking two products which are synonymous with Tasmania – whisky and pinot noir – and merging them into one excellent drink, the Hellyers Road Single Malt Whisky Pinot Noir Finish ($92.80), was a stroke of brilliance. The resulting whisky, finished in premium pinot noir casks, has some upfront sweetness from the marriage, so it suits a post-meal cheese platter application. I found it benefited from a splash of water to extend the palate length, ensuring you get to savour all those barley characteristics that Hellyers Road are famous for. This whisky was also included in the Top Ten – Value for Money whiskies at the UK’s Global Whisky Master Awards alongside more mass-produced spirit brands like Jameson 18 Year Old.
Amie Barbeler keeps her finger on the pulse of new Sydney bars this week...
I'm sitting in a glamorous L.A .country club. No wait, maybe it's a yacht club. In Darlinghurst. And I'm eating lobster mac 'n' cheese and drinking bubblegum-infused cocktails that have been delivered to me by a girl who looks fresh off the tennis court. Confused? Me too. "We like to think of the Darlo as a new age social club," the manager tells me, which does not actually clear up anything at all.
Identity crisis aside, I was stoked to see the bar snack offerings included Lobster and Truffle Mac'n'Cheese ($24), which for the record, tastes every bit as obnoxiously decadent as it sounds.
The cocktails are bespoke and beautiful, and then you have the curious candy cardiac arrest that is the flame-grilled fiery Bubbarita ($19) – a bubblegum flavoured margarita with a Hubba Bubba infused foam.
Novelty drinks, lobsters, tennis skirts, fire and live music... I'll be back.
Darlo Country Club
235 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9380 4279
More than just a menu change, this year Chef Gallery have changed their logo, livery and launched a unique art initiative showcasing Chinese (or Chinese-inspired) art, curated by Simon Chan.
Responsible for the gleaming red chair, artist Laurens Tan explained that China is “the nation or the culture that underwent the most change in the last two decades.”
His piece The Depth of Ease represents the contrast between the new, seemingly comfortable Chinese life, and the underlying tension of living where people can be “executed for breaking rules that don’t exist.”
The beautifully photographed menu may also create tension between real and conceptual, with King Prawns with Wasabi Mayo and Fish Roe ($24.90) not quite living up to the artfully scattered ideal.
You’ll experience no such disappointment with cold entrees like the Chinese Mixed Vegetable Salad ($9.90) with shimeji mushrooms, black fungus and bamboo shoots.
Tom Yum Rice with Chicken ($16.90) overwhelmed with intense lemongrass, but...
...the requisite noodle demonstration focused our attention where it matters – on the extraordinary Handmade Noodles ($16.90)...
...with beef brisket and mince.
Roast Deboned Duck ($29.90) with lychees was over-sweet, but cooked so beautifully, nobody cared.
The subversive new Piggy & Eggy Fairyland ($24.90) dessert tray offers the opportunity to stab your bun in the mouth so it vomits custard… artistically.
Alex Harmon was excited about getting to go Greek this week...
Hellenic street food in a sleek modern restaurant, that’s the premise of Zeus, the second joint in the Sydney empire.
Like their god, the food is lightning fast, and there seems to be a staff member for every guest on this busy Sunday.
While their ‘paleo lunchbox’ is popular, we go down the traditional path and go gunning for gyros, the signature Uncle Tzimmy ($10.50) with chicken and chips wrapped up in fresh pita hits the target.
Eyeing off the open rotisserie of meat, we order from the ‘nude’ menu, this is pots of char-grilled meat (not healthy stuff like I originally thought), the Lamb ($18/200g) does not disappoint, especially with the Tzatziki ($6.50) and House-made Pita ($3).
Freshen up with roasted Corn Cobs ($9.50) smeared with kefalotiri (a deliciously salty Greek cheese). The owners are also behind the popular Crust pizza chain, so they know how to please an audience I think, as I devour the Tarama ($6.50). I could seriously eat this fish roe dip with a spoon.
Alas I sensibly save room for the Chocolate Loukoumades ($9) - Greek doughnuts with chocolate hazelnut sauce and house-made ice cream that were the envy of the bustling room.
With scooters outside ready to deliver to the neighbouring suburbs, I think, maybe we need to move house.
Zeus Street Greek
2/34 Morely Avenue, Rosebery
Ph: (02) 8315 5610
Some restaurants manage to slide effortlessly into the fabric of the Sydney dining scene, simply by encapsulating the type of food we want to be eating right now.
One Ford Street, tucked in behind the Cricketers Arms, is one such restaurant, serving up fresh and unfussy, modern Italian food.
Chef Sam Bennett (ex-Fix St James) packs a surprising amount of flavour into his Panzerotti ($12/2) – fried mini calzones stuffed with quail, cabbage and barley.
Though, on an evening that shot straight past balmy, it’s his Market Fish Carpaccio ($16) that commands my attention. The kingfish is skilfully handled with a simple lemon, olive oil and fresh horseradish vinaigrette.
Slightly salty Spelt Pappardelle ($24) with gremolata and sausage cacciatore is surpassed by...
...crisp skinned Bass Grouper ($32) served in a halo of pipis, cabbage, tarragon and prosciutto.
Gleaming, ripe heirloom Tomatoes ($18) shine against chickpea crisps, wild onions and goat’s cheese.
It’s the type of dish that makes me wish I were sitting in the garden courtyard surrounded by hanging plants despite the unseasonable warmth.
Coolly collected staff (who cleverly steered me indoors) also make ordering from the Italian wine list a breeze, landing a fruit-driven 2013 Ocone ‘Flora’ Falanghina ($52).
Bennett’s time at Bourke Street Bakery means you should definitely finish with an airy Tiramisu Éclair ($6/each).
One Ford Street
1 Ford Street, Balmain
Ph: (02) 9818 4232
Amie Barbeler might not always choose the right shoes, but she does love a Mojito...
Be prepared to wade through a sea of suits before you arrive at this luxe drinking den, tucked away at the far end of Martin Place Bar.
Moore Street Den adds a swish new hidden dimension to this bustling CBD bar, making it the perfect place to unwind with a few of your closest strappy-heeled corporate Barbie buddies over a few cocktails and nibbles after a busy day of city life.
Thankfully, my lack of fancy footwear didn't stop me from enjoying the bar's offerings, and after a few irresistibly fresh Mojitos ($18), I had forgotten all about the fact that I was the only person in the lounge sporting shoes with laces.
While I drank, I picked at the bar's Charcuterie Board's ($24) spread of pickles, olives, goats cheese and grilled Italian bread, and eavesdropped on a dire conversation about detoxing. More bread for me then, I guess.
Moore Street Den
Rear, 51 Martin Place, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9231 5575
Woolpack Hotel & Lounge
Nutritionist and cattle farmer, James Bjorksten, is producing some of the best grass-fed beef I’ve eaten under the name of Hereford Red Beef. The cream coloured fat is simply magnificent, leading to a super-tasty steak that literally melts in your mouth.
I discovered this producer on a recent trip through Orange and kicked myself for not loading up on more. Cue: second trip to Orange for more. It’s ethically raised by third generation cattle farmers, and seasonally produced – meaning they’re not reliant upon grain to ‘finish’ their cattle. James’ top tip for avoiding grain-finished beef is to look for yellowy-cream fat – pure white fat points to grain feeding.
If you don’t fancy a drive to A Slice Of Orange to buy Hereford Red Beef, it has recently been put on the menu at Redfern’s Woolpack Hotel. Owner James Henty tells me they’ve just launched their first new menu in three years: “Our seven years trading in Redfern has seen the food culture mature. There is still a market for the $12 Schnitzel night, alongside premium steak. There are plenty of dedicated carnivores in the inner city, and they seriously love it.” They found Hereford Red Beef through the Instagram account of Union Bank Wine Bar in Orange (which is owned and managed by a previous Woolpack staff member). It’s currently on the menu as a Premium Scotch Fillet ($29) or a Rump Steak ($22), which James tells me “is great eating”.
229 Chalmers Street, Redfern
Ph: (02) 9698 2077
When I arrived at Gelatony, Antonino Lo Iacono was making gelato. This might not sound surprising, but with so many places buying in product or importing the base, it’s important.
When we sit down over a Flat White ($3.50) he brings me the smoothest gelato I’ve ever tasted. “You make gelato today for tomorrow,” says Tonino, explaining the pistachio flavour will develop overnight. Tonino started making gelato in Italy in 1984, however here he’s most famous for running Gelateria Caffe 2000 in Rozelle. “When I closed, they cried,” said Tonino. “I’m very proud, very happy, because the community accepted us – me, my wife and my daughter – straight away. When we came from Italy we didn’t know anyone, and I tell people Balmain is my second family.” Thankfully his cousins Nicola and Valerio convinced him to re-open at the rear of Da Vinci’s in Summer Hill.
What you’ll find are simple, well-executed flavours – chocolate, fior di latte, lemon, passionfruit, hazelnut – available by Cup ($5) or Cone ($5).
There are also a few special flavours, like my favourite: Orange Yoghurt ($5), or Lemon Zest with Fig Marmalade and Dark Chocolate ($5), which won a judges’ special mention at the 2015 Gelato World Tour. Tonino’s top tip for gelato exploration: first try fior di latte to taste the naked milk, then lemon to investigate acidity balance.
Rear, 25 Lackey Street, Summer Hill
Ph: (0409) 265 000
Ryan Kennedy uncovered this Brazilian newcomer in an unlikely location...
Run by husband and wife team Luiza and Marcello Guzzo, Justine Grill sits unexpectedly on a leafy corner of Hunters Hill.
Exposed brick, white paint and dark wood fit out a cosy, modern interior that feels a bit like a rural gastropub.
To start, Crispy Quail ($25) is too tempting to go past, and sufficiently moreish to result in unbecoming bone-gnawing.
The choice of two main steaks (it is Brazilian after all) produces a blushing Beef Eye Fillet ($36) with jammy shiitakes and potato fondant - ideal with a peppery glass of Willows Shiraz ($57/bottle) from the South American-studded wine list.
The standout, however, is the Moqueca Bahiana ($33), a northern Brazilian curry with chunks of barramundi and mussels.
It is both rich and indulgent while still being gently spiced and aromatic.
Both the Honeycomb Parfait ($15) and Chilled Apple and Rhubarb Crumble ($15) are elegant dishes to finish with, balancing decadence with freshness; so it seems unfortunate that the latter is garnished with a syringe full of crème anglaise.
Indeed, the showy flourishes of technical prowess on some of the dishes don’t seem to add much (see: foams, gels), but they’re sins I’m prepared to forgive for another mouthful of that delicious moqueca.
54 Alexandra Street, Hunters Hill
Ph: (02) 9817 6289
Granted you could view this new Westfield Bondi Junction opening simply as an excuse not to schlep into the city from the Eastern Suburbs for your regular Cantonese fix...
...however if you scratch beneath the surface, there’s more than meets the eye.
Alongside the usual suspects from the Guangzhou region in the southern part of China, you’ll find wider Chinese influences, and dishes specific to particular places.
Typhoon Lamb ($34.80) – or more accurately ‘escape from typhoon’ lamb - for instance, comes from Hong Kong, a place often besieged by typhoons.
The dry spiced cooking method is applied to Australia’s favourite protein – lamb cutlets – cutting the fat with lively ginger, garlic and chilli.
Live seafood is another specialty, with Wok Fried Live Pipis in XO Sauce (Market Price: $78/kg) impressing for both plump, briny bivalves and an XO sauce that’s far from insipid.
Throw in a bed of crisp pan-fried Vermicelli ($15) noodle cakes to unlock its full potential.
The 2014 Yabby Lake ‘Single Vineyard’ Chardonnay ($73) will see you through a well-battered and cooked Garlic Snow Crab (Market Price: $138/kg), with enough acidity to extend to...
...Braised Pork Belly ($29.80) in dark soy.
Branch out from ubiquitous Chinese spinach dishes with the Seasonal Vegetables in Chef’s Master Stock with Dried Scallop and Goji Berry ($24.80) – I bet you’ll like it too!
Shop 6010/11 Westfield Bondi Junction, 500 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction
Ph: (02) 8866 2999