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Food News - Crumpets By Merna

Getting bored with your usual breakfasts? Consider dropping into Carriageworks Farmers Market and visiting Merna Taouk from Dessertmakers tomorrow morning for some homemade crumpets.

Merna is famous for her homemade desserts, which she first started making with Pierre Issa back in 2008, in a shared company called Homemade Fine Foods. Pierre later branched out into making everyone’s favourite butter, Pepe Saya, while Merna continued making her range preservative free of home-style desserts in Tempe.

In January 2013 Merna launched Dessertmakers, a range of crumbles and puddings that are sold frozen so they can remain preservative free. Merna’s latest initiative is small-batch artisan crumpets. I found them exciting because I’d long given up supermarket crumpets because I don’t like eating a chemical soup of preservatives.

Crumpets By Merna are a little bit doughier than the Tip Top Golden Crumpets I remember, though there's nothing in Merna's ingredient list that your grandmother wouldn't recognise. I road-tested my crumpets in three different ways – starting straight up with Pepe Saya butter and honey. My only disappointment was they didn't fill up with butter and honey, because the holes don't travel straight down through the crumpet’s height in shafts. They worked better in my second savoury attempt, served up with well-charred bacon and gently scrambled eggs.

My favourite way to eat these crumpets was as a stand-in for dense tattie scones in a Scottish style fry-up with black pudding, fried eggs and tomato, all doused in Prickle Hill Worcester Sauce.

My home kitchen experimentation is nothing on what the experts came up with when they encountered Crumpets By Merna. Trafalgar St. Espresso in Annandale served them under a smear of labna and a vibrant heirloom tomato salad.

At East Coast Lounge in Chowder Bay, they decked a solo crumpet out with ricotta, berries, honey and macadamias for fifteen bucks; while at Pilu at Freshwater, they’re piled into a stack with smoked pancetta, homemade ricotta and truffle infused abbamele (honey). (Thanks to Rob Locke @foodwinedine for use of these restauarant photos.)

Merna will be dishing up her crumpets with toppings at Carriageworks Farmers’ Market every Saturday from 8am-1pm. You can also pick up a 6-pack of Crumpets By Merna ($20) to take home with you.

Carriageworks Farmers' Market
245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh
Ph: (02) 8571 9099

Travel - Little Beach Boathouse

There’s no denying that Little Beach Boathouse occupies an enviable location. It sits at one end of a perfect little golden sand beach, lapped by the gentle aquamarine waters of Port Stephens.

Despite the area being a holiday favourite for Sydneysiders, this particular beach seems to have escaped the level of over-development you will find in neighbouring Nelson Bay.

Restaurants occupying picture postcard locales can be disappointing, often relying upon the view to lure in customers, over careful consideration about what they’re putting on the plates. They can also be overpriced. I'm pleased to report in this case, I liked this spot enough to dine twice over the course of the one weekend.

Separated into a restaurant and wharf-side bar, Little Beach Boathouse gives you two different ways to dine.

The upstairs restaurant space is white and simply decorated, cleverly allowing the view to be the hero. The lunch menu is succinct and focused upon the bounty of the sea, though there are pork, chicken or lamb options for those who require them.

A chalkboard menu offers a local Kingfish Ceviche ($19) with lime, avocado salsa, cucumber and brik pastry wafers for crunch. It’s simple but satisfying because it highlights nothing more than the beautiful flavour and texture of the freshly caught fish.

Port Stephens is also an oyster producing area, so it’d be wrong not to get a Mixed Oysters ($35/12) showing off the local Sydney rocks. They’re cleanly and reasonably recently shucked, then dressed three ways – natural with yuzu, with soy and shiso dressing, and Kilpatrick. I find it hard to pick a favourite, and the underlying oyster quality is good.

The Boathouse Prawn Cocktail ($19) lightly renovates the Australian classic with four plump whole local prawns. There’s the expected iceberg lettuce, judiciously applied Boathouse cocktail sauce, some smashed avocado and more sumac-sprinkled brik pastry. I like that this version doesn’t stray too far from the Aussie classic, merely corrects the over-zealous saucing and avoids brutalisation of quality prawns.

We round out our light shared lunch with a salad and slices of Local Turkish Bread ($8) rubbed with confit garlic cloves and dragged through local Hunter Valley olive oil and vinegar.

The Boathouse Salad ($9) is a bit of a bargain. As well as the usual assorted greens, it’s full of juicy peach slices, crumbled Binnorie goats’ cheese, shaved fennel and candied walnuts, making it a pleasure to eat.

The downstairs bar puts you right on the water’s edge; water that’s so clear and beautiful, I have to physically restrain myself from throwing myself into it.

The seating options are varied, from chairs to indoor and outdoor bar stools, to tables on a deck by the water’s edge.

Australian craft beers, like Murray’s Angry Man ($8) and the Pigs Fly Pale Ale ($8) are cool and refreshing, wherever you decide to sit.

The menu downstairs is partially derived from the upstairs list, with the same Boathouse Salad ($10) eating slightly less well for an extra buck.

Turkish Bread ($9) down here comes with marinated Sicilian olives and a compelling Kalamata olive and feta tapenade.

While I’m not sure you can call the Chicken Karage Sliders ($18/3) “sliders” in the traditional sense, this trio of half-burgers decked out with crisp-fried chook, ‘slaw and sriracha mayo. were tasty if less attractive and more bready than their small-bun cousins. Yeah okay, I'm an upstairs kind of gal.

Little Beach Boathouse
4 Victoria Parade, Nelson Bay
Ph: (02) 4984 9420

Little Beach Boathouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Dish: Sri Lankan Street Food

There’s a queue on the street at the quieter north end of Glebe Point Road. Perhaps lured in by the simpering Broadsheet review, the crowd are here to try Sri Lankan Street Food at a second outlet for Toongabbie favourite, Dish.

While the Western Sydney restaurant is known for value and authenticity, owner and chef Manjula Fernando has made some menu adaptations to accommodate his impressions about the diners of Glebe. While he is probably correct in assuming he needed to lose the bain-marie and cook-to-order, I am less convinced by the decision to tame the fiery cuisine.

We start with Beef Kottu Roti ($19), which feels like Sri Lanka’s answer to pad Thai and Chinese fried rice. It takes flaky roti bread and chops it up with vegetables, beef and eggs on a flat hotplate, where the chopped pieces of bread stand in for noodles or grains of rice. The resulting mix is drizzled with a runny curry sauce, and has the feeling of genuine poverty cuisine where leftovers are cleverly re-imagined. Bulked out with cabbage, it gets a bit boring after a while, with only subtle heat and spice to play with.

From the open kitchen packed with staff you’ll get a glimpse of the hopper production line. The team of chefs swirl a batter made of fermented rice flour and coconut milk into a row of heated pans until it’s bubbling on one side and crisp on the other, creating the signature bowl-shaped thin crepes.

The Hopper Pack ($19.90) gives you three hoppers to play with, including one filled with a fried egg. They're accompanied by some sweet caramelized onion relish called seeni sambal, and a katta sambol that seemed light on both chill and pungent dried maldive fish.

You can also choose your own pot of curry; with the gentle, white fish curry capturing our attention.

As you’ll see with the hoppers and kottu roti, eggs are used extensively to bulk out smaller amounts of protein in Sri Lankan cuisine. You'll also find them in the Egg Roti with Onion and Chilli ($9.50), which as a result, is dense and filling with a pleasant bit of green chilli bite.

While it read well on the menu, the Prawn Curry ($24) was a bit disappointing. The prawns were flavourless, and the watery curry (this is a common feature of Sri Lankan curries) wasn’t compelling on well-separated Rice ($3/person) or as a dip for our aforementioned roti.

Even a double helping of Pol Sambol ($3.50) couldn't rescue it. With coconut being a key building block of Sri Lankan cuisine, this spicy scraped coconut dish was a meal highlight, mostly because it was the first dish that had any real heat. I wish it had arrived earlier in the meal.

My other disappointment was the banana leaf wrapped Lamprais ($19.90) that I’d visited the restaurant to try wasn’t available, despite being listed on the regular menu. You can however BYO, so I'd call this Glebe newcomer a bit of a mixed bag. Hopefully time will show Fernando that the diners of Glebe can handle the authenticity he offers to Toongabbie.

Dish: Sri Lankan Street Food
381 Glebe Point Road, Glebe
Ph: (02) 8626 2169

Dish: Sri Lankan Street Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Event - Contained

With small houses being all the rage, there's no better time to jump on a ferry and check out Contained.

From Balmain Wharf it's a short but picturesque trip out to Cockatoo Island to view this new restaurant, bar and stylish boutique accommodation, all built from repurposed shipping containers.

Casually saunter past the glamping tents, and head on down to the water’s edge at the south eastern corner of the island.

Put together by the folks behind Perth's ‘The Mantle’ - Anatoly Mezhov and his partner Irene Polo - this clever encampment is even serviced by its own urban farm. It's mostly done because supply lines to Cockatoo Island can be a bit shit, but in  time it might even mean you can pick up some surplus vegetables while you're here.

The Mantle team have also brought over a restaurant partner from their Fremantle-based, historic warehouse hub.

Don Tapa are known for South American fusion cuisine, which takes Latin cuisines as a starting point, and melds in indigenous bush foods that they'll also be growing on the island.

If the Quinoa Ensalada ($18) is any indication, you’re going to be very happy. I tried a sample pot of this salad blending cachaca (white rum) marinated pineapple, quinoa, and smoked coconut, and couldn’t take my fork out of the well-balanced, texturally interesting mix.

The short but exciting menu contains everything from empanadas to tamales, as well as a Ceviche di Hiramasa ($20) with a good level of chilli against the tender, raw kingfish.

Maybe they breed them tougher in Perth, but this is a far cry from the chilli-light South American food you normally find in Sydney.

Never fear, Inner West darlings Young Henrys and Archie Rose Distillery are on-hand to douse any fire Don Tapa create in your hole.

Wines from The Urban Winery will supplement the on-tap beers, and smooth gin and tonics.

It's okay to sample the whole range, since you clearly won’t be driving to or from the island (just note the ferry times home as you arrive, or you'll be fronting for an expensive water taxi).

As for the small houses aspect I mentioned earlier, Contained also gives you the possibility to get marooned on Cockatoo Island for a two-night stay inside a repurposed shipping container.

The two suites are both designated adults-only and come complete with everything you’ll need to cuddle up for forty-eight hours somewhere in the middle of Sydney Harbour.

I’m talking a queen-size bed, mini-bar, air-conditioning, coffee machine, wifi, a tablet with Netflix and your own deck pointing at the ocean.

What more could you possibly need?

Well, how does your own shipping container pool sound?

It's easy to imagine kicking back with a cocktail in hand in this private pool (shared between the two suites), enjoying the unmistakably industrial backdrop and tunes wafting over from the Contained bar. And who knows what else you'll get up to once everyone else wanders back to the ferry stop and leaves!

Contained is slated to be a six month pop-up, and these suites will undoubtedly be popular, so I suggest booking quickly. The restaurant will be open for lunch and early dinner Wednesday to Sunday evenings, with Friday and Saturday evenings running until 10pm.

You can also enjoy a special dinner with Darwin chef/restaurateur Zach Green who will be collaborating with Don Tapa on Tuesday 6 and 13 March. The nights are called A Night At Wareamah, in reference to the Aboriginal name for Cockatoo Island, home to the saltwater Wangal clan. At the six-course dinner, the indigenous chef will honour the history and the voice of Wareamah, starting with a smoking ceremony and including stories about how indigenous food is gathered and caught. Tickets will set you back $123.18 and are available on EventBrite.

Contained Sydney
Cockatoo Island
Ph: (0452) 396 073

Contained Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Vizio Caffè e Cucina

The welcome at Vizio Caffè e Cucina feels warm and syrupy. It’s a family-run business headed up by the Fuscaldo family, the people behind Portobello Caffe in Circular Quay, and Ragu Pasta & Wine Bar in Westfield Sydney.

Their latest venture is set on the lower part of William Street, close to the Australian Museum.

General Manager Matia Zoffoli, who married into the family, leads an engaged and enthusiastic Italian team who are keen to convey both food and culture.

This sentiment is echoed in the beverage list – one of the best I’ve seen – that lays out so many ways to drink, you are likely to have trouble choosing.

While their aperitivo selection of nine Italian and two Australian liqueurs each drunk as The Spritz begs a “bitter” exploring, I couldn’t take my eyes off their signature cocktail list. It’s an all-thriller-no-filler selection of innovative and unique cocktails, including one that uses smoked buffalo mozzarella.

Obviously I had to order this drink, named for the former King of Italy, Umberto I ($18). Blended with basil infused Malfy gin and clear tomato water, this cocktail drinks like a Bloody Mary dressed in sheep’s clothing. Strangely, I was even more taken with Palma ($18) which, through judicious use of roasted capsicum, pineapple, Red Okar and turmeric soda, still managed to showcase Arette tequila.

You could enjoy either drink with the colourful Burrata and Eggplant Salad ($20).

The lightly creamy Umberto I would play nicely against the salad’s imported artisan burrata and heirloom tomatoes; while the Palma's smoky tequila will complement the dish's clever smear of smoky eggplant puree.


Beer is another highlight with more than fourteen on offer, including a wide range of Italian craft beers. Brewfist “La Bassa” ($11) from Lombardia in Northern Italy is a nice place to start – a quaffable Italian lager with grassy hops and enough bitterness to keep it from being boring. Mastr Birrai Umbri 14 ($18) has more going on, including some of that banana-like ester I’m not quite so fond of.

Formaggi and salumi each command their own page of the menu, allowing you to construct a platter that best addresses your personal meat and cheese proclivities. The resulting platter is a feast for the eyes and palate, with presentation, freshness and good storage notching it up into one of the best cheese boards I’ve had in Sydney.

Your must-tries are smooth, spreadable and spicy Nduja ($7.80/50g) from Byron Bay; sharp yet sweet Testun al Barolo ($9.40/50g) coated in pressed red wine grapes; and Pecorino al Tartufo ($9.40/50g), which had more truffle intensity than any other truffled cheese I’ve tried.

Punctuating each cheesy exploration with equally good olives, I muse this is probably what will drag me back to Vizio Caffè e Cucina soonest.

Topped with Avruga caviar and gooey stracciatella cheese, freshly made Prawn Ravioli ($30) is a sophisticated modern Italian dish. While it sounds rich and decadent, the sauce contains just a whisker of cream, with the intensity further tamed by bright cherry tomatoes and broccolini. Restraint means the focus remains where it should be - on the silky and technically precise pasta purses of tasty, toothsome prawn-meat.

We finally get to wine with the Filleto di Manzo ($39) – a 250g grass fed Black Angus beef fillet. It’s a cracking beef dish enhanced with sour carrot purée, burnt leek and roast heirloom carrots that is as eye-catching as it is delicious. If I wasn’t so gaga about being given a new way to explore and understand wine, I am sure I’d have cooed over the charred edges and centre you could split with a fork.

However I was too busy learning about skin contact, first with Swinging Bridge Amber Field Blend 003 ($10/100ml), a soft and accessible ‘orange wine’ (that is also from Orange) that sits on the skins for twenty days. Next I tried a wine from Matia’s home region, Emilia-Romagna, called Vej Bianco Antico 2014 ($12/100ml). This wine spends 9 months on skins producing a complexity that I could talk about for days, and flavours I’ve never experienced before in a wine. I tried a few more wines, each presented with tiny tasting notes you can even take away with you, but this list and this restaurant begs for further exploration.

Vizio Caffè e Cucina
Shop 1, 52-58 William Street, Woolloomooloo
Ph: (02) 9358 2231

Vizio Caffè e Cucina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Parma Darlinghurst

Making the jump from William Street nearly fifty years ago, Bar Coluzzi, has an impressive history in Darlinghurst. Along with its neighbour Latteria, it has created a little outdoor oasis for middle-aged Italian men along the popular café strip. With Latteria jumping two doors down to slightly more spacious digs, Parma Darlinghurst has slotted into its former digs.

Owner Josh Ewan was a Latteria regular, so he felt confident about taking on the long and extremely narrow space. The new venue’s name is a nod to the area’s tradition, and stems from a desire to fit into the vibrant Italian coffee culture the strip has become synonymous with. While Parma Darlinghurst is Josh’s first café, he has plenty of hospitality experience under his belt, though none in the last five years.

At 10am on a Sunday, the three cafes are alive with a vibrant blend of old and new Darlinghurst. Their outdoor seating blends into an almost communal affair, where it’s hard to pick where one café ends and the next one begins. At Parma Darlinghurst there are hipsters in matching Hawaiian prints; families with kids mucking around on scooters; fit types in barely-there active wear; visible tattoos on both staff and clientele; and a pampered Papillion catching my eye from the collection of diminutive Darlo dogs.

At Latteria, they’re living up to the suburb’s reputation for left-of-centre with Lord Claude The Blind Cat and his mate Cecil - two cats made famous for their strong marriage equality stance - perched on stools and lapping up babycinos from cups placed rigon the table. It’s a pretty charming scene that reminds me – over a healthy Green Juice ($7.50) - of why I loved living in Darlinghurst for more than a decade. With apple, celery, lemon and kale, the ice-cooled juice is a pleasant way to drink your daily greens.

Coffee is by The Black Lab Coffee Co. and is solid across both a regular Latte ($3.50) and a Strong Flat White ($4). We sip them while marvelling at the intensity of working in such a difficult space, as floor staff climb a mounted ladder to get avocadoes down from the floor-to-ceiling storage.

The green and perfectly ripe fruit gathered by their hard labour adorns our well-presented Pickled Chilli Chorizo Scram ($18). Accompanied by Brickfields toast, it’s a tasty scrambled eggs update, with chorizo and cleverly pickled chillies gentling the intensity to a level acceptable to breakfast. Parma ham is the venue's obvious menu omission, though you can add Prosciutto San Daniele ($5.50) to anything you please.

For those eating on the go, the Breakfast Burrito ($16.50) is popular for a reason, though it wants for a little more salt. It's tasty without being too heavy, because it’s mostly scrambled eggs accentuated with bacon, flavoursome black beans, avocado, chilli jam, and the same decadent cheese blend you’ll find on the Parma Five Cheese Toastie ($10). I’ve earmarked this dish for an artery-hardening lunch somewhere down the track at this welcome addition to Darlo's little Italy.

Parma Darlinghurst
320B Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9356 8248

Parma Darlingurst Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Travel - Bent On Food

Wingham is a little off the beaten track if you’re heading north on the Pacific Highway. Those who do opt to take the twenty-kilometer detour will find a picturesque town set around a town square containing Central Park. In the park you will see a huge log that pays homage to the area's woodcutting period. Facing the park you’ll find a number of historic buildings, running from a 1907 Victorian-style School of the Arts to an 1884 state heritage-listed Post Office. Despite the architectural beauty, Wingham is a sleepy place that seems to have escaped much of the adaptive reuse that often reinvigorates heritage towns.

Despite this there is one food business worth looking at: Bent On Food. It is run by Donna Carrier, who grew up in the region, and is a staunch advocate for locally produced food and wine, as you’ll easily ascertain from her menu and well-stocked shelves.

The product range is a particular standout; with products I’ve rarely seen, like pear and calvados jam, to ones I regularly covet, like Barefoot Farm’s amazing pecans from their farm in Eltham. The shelves and soft rainbow of mismatched chairs give the room a retro general store aesthetic. On the room’s chalkboard, and on the menu itself, Bent On Food, name their local suppliers.

I’m chuffed to see my favourite Germanic butcher, Mentges Master Meats from neighbouring Taree, is supplying the bacon, ham and kranksy. In the Bent on Food Big Breakfast ($19.90), they have morphed this spicy sausage into a breakfast-friendly offering with a clever diamond cut that offers more charred surface area. Rudi’s bacon also impresses - you'll find it buried underneath the pale and fairly flavourless Idlewilde eggs. Mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes round out this packed but not ridiculously proportioned plate.

For a less overwhelming breakfast Free Range Eggs ($12) are presented any way you like them on toasted local sourdough with spinach and Bent On Food’s own tomato relish. You can supplement this dish with your protein (or proteins) of choice, with Mushrooms ($4) catching my dining companion’s eye.

Spicy Corn Fritters ($18) caught my eye. They turned out to be the American-style deep fried versions, rather than the pancakes this dish usually entails.

With fluffy interiors, the crisp sweet corn fritters went quite well against Rudi's bacon, poached egg, sliced avocado and compelling puddles of bush tomato chutney.

Doppio or Nothing coffee from Port Macquarie on the coast scrubbed up all right in a strong Flat White ($4.50) but was fractionally burnt in my Piccolo Latte ($3.50).  While I like that it’s local, it’s not a coffee I’d rush out and purchase. The lure of a small onsite farmers market every Tuesday however will probably drag me back to this cafe, which is arguably the best in the Taree/Manning Valley region.

Bent On Food
95 Isabella Street, Wingham
Ph: (02) 6557 0727

Bent on Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - The Wren

Roadside fruit stalls have become something of a rarity in the Sydney metropolitan area, so it was a delight to encounter not one but three on my journey to The Wren in Dural.

After inspecting the orderly rows of boxed stone fruit and ripe, growing figs, it was a pleasure to see some of these locally grown ingredients make their way onto the cafe's menu.

The Wren is a relative newcomer to the Hills District, having been opened by locals Reuben and Amelia Barthow in August 2017. With varying shades of blue, the Scandinavian inspired interior both references the colour of the namesake bird, and provides cool, calm respite from the hot, still day.

The curved lines of the white moulded plastic seats with their blonde wood frames are repeated in the shape of the branded coffee machine. Cloud art in deepening shades of blue graces one wall, while on the other mirrors stationed over a brown leather banquette serve to open out the compact space.

Overhead there’s more wood with a golden inlay replicating the stylish counter design. The tables are adorned with earthenware blue Maldon salt, pepper and raw sugar containers; and the staff are clad in faded blue denim aprons.

By the time your curved tumbler of Green Juice ($7) lands, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in Denmark. With apple, pear, mint, Kale and coconut water, this healthy juice is a definite winner, arriving at the table cool from the welcome addition of ice. Garnished with chocolate covered honeycomb, my dining companion’s Caramel Milkshake ($7) is simple, frothy, and indulgent.

There's also coffee from Alexandria-based specialty roaster Mecca, and more surprising, a couple of breakfast-friendly cocktails, with one featuring Sydney gin standout, Archie Rose. If you're dining later in the day, you'll also find a small but inviting selection of wines that include the Torbrek Woodcutters Rose ($12/glass) and Pol Roger NV Brut ($19/glass).

We kick off with an eye-catching Mushroom Duxelle ($17), which here is taken to mean whole (rather than minced) mushrooms sautéed with garlic and parsley, served on lightly charred sourdough. Micro herbs, edible flowers and cherry tomatoes brighten up the plate while shaved Pecorino cheese, walnut dressing and a drizzle of white truffle oil help to give this vegetarian dish a satisfying, savoury centre.

While I’m not sure what makes the Korean Fried Chicken Burger ($18) ‘Korean’ – being that it is adorned with apple ‘slaw, chilli mayo. and aged Cheddar cheese – I am sure that it was delicious!

An intriguing turmeric-based chicken marinade done before the chook is battered and fried, really adds to the burger’s flavor. Sandwiched between soft milk buns, this burger eats a fraction sweetly from the mayo. and apple ‘slaw, but that’s nothing some sriracha can’t fix. Friendly staff brought some out immediately upon request. Presented here with fries on the side, portions here are adequate, with most dishes coming with optional add-ons in case you are hungry.

While the Italian term crostini literally means little crusts, The Wren's Grilled Haloumi Crostini ($19) is served on a slice of toast. The nicely cross-hatched cheese is topped with a grilled poached peach that’s to die for. The promised arugula (rocket) and strawberry salad turns out to be mixed leaves, but who wants to stand on terminology when the marinated strawberries are so red and perfectly ripe? Scattered with seeds and drizzled with Beechworth honey, this plate is a feast for all of your senses. If this is what café food tastes like when you live on Sydney’s outskirts amongst our remaining market gardens, I’m inclined to make the trip out this way much more often!

The Wren
Shop 5/22-24 Kenthurst Road, Dural
Ph: (02) 8919 4680

The Wren Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Riley St. Garage

Riley St. Garage is housed in a 1934 art deco parking station and garage that was designed for Drive Yourself Lessey’s Limited by the architectural partnership Wilshire & Hodge. With two ground levels, Lessey's Garage, as it was colloquially known, once incorporated a garage, machine shop, car wash and service station – basically your one-stop shop for all things automotive.

As the days of full-service parking garages moved behind us, Frank Lowy used the space as a personal parking area for his Westfield executives. In 2013, the heritage listed building with its beautiful stepped brick façade, was morphed into the form you see it now.

Architect Richard Alexander from RAD Studios cleverly maintained as much of the original industrial warehouse elements as possible, including the ornate steel beams lit with fairy lights that catch your eye as you enter the expansive room.

The room’s centrepiece is a large 30-seat bar with curved edges that fit with the period. While you can sit there, or on a long brown leather banquette running most of the length of the space, it’s hard to beat the sheer comfort of the plump leather window seats.

Sinking into this kind of seat calls for a whiskey, and the Service Manual answers this call with a Smoked Old Fashioned ($20). It arrives in a mirrored box and unfurls its smoky curls upon opening. Makers Mark, Ratu Spiced Rum, maple syrup and bitters give the cocktail a butterscotch edge that makes it smooth and compelling. Smoke’s also a feature in the sharper Pinarita ($19) though to a much smaller extent with maple smoke mingling with El Jimado Blanco Tequila, Pierre Ferrand Curacao, lime and spiced pineapple cordial in this margarita update.

Sipping cocktails gives us a moment to take in the details of the space - the art deco fonts on the menu, thematic black overalls on the staff, and the whole walk to the lower ground washrooms complete with rusted car doors, hubcaps and retro brown leather and wood chairs.

Even the washroom interiors keep to the theme.

You'll find with blue-green tiles, bevelled edged mirrors, brass taps over stark concrete basins, and repurposed medicine cabinets full of toilet paper in the cubicles.

Drawing upon an international resume taking in London, Hong Kong and Dubai, Executive Chef Regan Porteous has designed a succinct menu focused upon shareable plates.

The raw bar is prominently featured, as is their oyster service, though with it being spawning time I just dabbled in a few of the signature Smokey Soy Truffle Oysters ($4/each) utilising small, slightly creamy Pacific oysters. To prevent myself from just ordering all the raw dishes as is my want, I opted for seeing ten of Riley St. Garage's greatest hits in the $100 Banquet ($100/head). Starting with the aforementioned oysters, this menu keeps pace with modern time-poor dining proclivities by serving the dishes in five distinct waves rather than a long, drawn-out dish-by-dish process.

The second wave is raw dishes, starting with Smoked Kingfish Sashimi ($18). Served with pickled daikon and dabs of pistachio puree, smoking makes this a textually interesting, almost smallgoods like update of Sydney’s ubiquitous raw kingfish dish.

Torched Steak Tartare ($18) is big on umami, with barley miso and nori crackers adding up to something that’s as salty as mermaid tears. That’s not to say it isn’t compelling as a piece of punch-you-in-the-face drinking food, particularly against the 2015 The Story Marsanne Roussanne Viognier ($87/bottle) . The intensity of the dish brings up the rich white  wine's gentler Viognier side.

Hot entrees start with better than average Soft Shell Crab Bao ($12/each) with crisp battered crab, tart wet pickles and spicy mayo. encased in a thinner than usual steamed bun. It eats well, without dripping down your arm, but stays firmly in the realm of salty drinking food.

Crystal Bay Prawn Tortellini ($24) get their salt fix from bursting sea plants and a sauce that speaks of butter, shiro miso and shellfish. While the pasta itself is slightly thick, this dish still feels technical and precise.

We end this wave of dishes with some fairground charm - Chorizo Corn Dogs ($6/each) that you bite from a stick and twirl through tangy Dijon mayonnaise. It feels nicely lowbrow in such a fancy looking place, and that's part of the charm of Riley St. Garage - it's as much a bar as it is a restaurant.

When the main course lands, you realise that this isn’t going to be a degustation where you’ll want to stop for Maccas on the way home. The 800gm Dry Aged Riverine Rib-eye ($76) stompers you into submission against creamy béarnaise, jus and a helpful serve of mustard our sympathetic waitress rustles up.

The well-rested sliced beef is accompanied by a vat of silky Truffled Mash ($9) and Charred Cos ($9). The lettuce sits in the liminal zone between cooked and raw, with a garlic emulsion and a snowy cap of Pecorino cheese.

By the time we finish this hot beef injection, I feel like a cigarette and I don’t even smoke. I suffice with Express Yo’ Self ($19) an espresso martini updated with bourbon, Irish whiskey, rum liqueur and coffee liqueur. The post-coital cocktail drinks frightfully smoothly despite all the additional booze – and is garnished with a very credible honeycomb.

No need to get possessive about the crunchy golden rock either, you’ll find plenty on your icy Dessert Platter ($20/$50/$80) once you get over marveling at the blue flames and ball of coconut sorbet perched on chiseled ice. Final warning: the creme brûlée will fuck you up. Nothing exceeds like excess, and this little pot full of buttery, rich custard is going to finish you completely. 

Riley St. Garage
55 Riley Street, Woolloomooloo
Ph: (02) 9326 9055

Riley St Garage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Song Kitchen

When an estimated 17% of Australian women (1.6 million) report experiencing domestic violence at the hands of their intimate partner*, you’d expect adequate Government funding to address this issue would be a given. Yet despite much rhetoric from this Liberal Government, there are constant threats to cut funding to this already overstretched sector. YWCA NSW doesn’t want to watch their vital programs and services that support women and children experiencing domestic violence to fall over at the whim of changing Government priorities. So, since 1984, they’ve run a ‘profit for purpose’ fundraising model with their Y Hotels in Sydney, where the profits they make from these ventures go directly into programs and services.

In 2016 the YWCA NSW rebranded their Hyde Park hotel as the Song Hotel, and last February they renovated its food offering. What I’m about to describe is a restaurant experience that comes with a feel-good factor, where we, as diners, are able to address some of the failings of our Government simply by eating out…

Song Kitchen represents a total transformation of the hotel’s former cafeteria-style eatery, into a stylish bar and dining room.

The upstairs bar makes the most of the available natural light, while the sunken dining room creates intimacy while still retaining height and a sense of spaciousness.

While there is interconnection with the Song Hotel, the separate entrance and quirky architecture ensures you don’t feel like you’re dining in a hotel lobby.

Since we’re drinking to combat domestic violence, it should be easy to justify a pre-dinner cocktail. The Mariachi Margarita ($18) answers the call admirably, with a well-balanced blend of Epsolon Blanco Tequila, muddled green chilli, lime and agave syrup served with a salt rim. It’s spicy without becoming ballistic. Their Jazz Sazerac ($18), based on Bulleit Rye, is a particularly smooth rendition of this robust, absinthe-spiked drink.

In the kitchen you’ll find Charlotte Gonzales, who honed her solid French bistro technique in Merivale’s Fred’s. The menu she has created keeps Song Kitchen’s role as a hotel restaurant in mind. It's full of likeable, accessible dishes like Grilled King Prawns ($22). Plated simply, the trio of charred crustaceans are garnished with romesco salsa, a smoky, garlicky red capsicum sauce with a hint of chilli, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lime.

The Kingfish Ceviche ($19) is more about showcasing texture than look. The diced kingfish retains a toothsome bite against tart finger lime, crisp radishes, and popping grains.


The wine list also stays faithful to the YWCA’s core values, with the products of female winemakers and estate owners making up half the list. With Corn Fed Chicken Breast ($32) next on my dining agenda, I chose Damien North’s 2015 Journey Wines Chardonnay ($12.50/glass, $29.50/half bottle, $59/bottle). It’s tight, citrusy and austere with a whisker of cashew nut creaminess.

The wine opens up slightly when my simple, accessible chicken dish lands. It's comfort personified with silky mash, crisp broccolini and a savoury jus gras that to my mind could be reduced fractionally to give it a less watery, more gelatinous pan juices type of mouth-feel.

My dining companion hits up a 2015 Calabria Vermentino ($8.50/glass, $19/half bottle, $38/bottle) from Griffith NSW against a classic 250g Grain Fed Scotch Fillet ($35) and chips. The lemon and petrochemical notes in the wine aren’t quite my cup of tea, but they do cut the fat on this rich sliced steak and creamy Bearnaise combination. The steak is tender, and the shoestring fries are compellingly crisp and oil free.

We wind up our night with a Crepes Suzette ($14) that makes me wonder why it was that this classic dessert ever fell out of favour? With folded, caramelised crepes, a juicy orange caramel and a sphere of vanilla ice cream flecked with Madagascan vanilla, it’s an easy, well-executed win.

When teamed with the exceptional and informative service of Manager Melanie Bolton, Song Kitchen is a credible restaurant with a big purpose that deserves to be taken seriously.

Song Kitchen
5/11 Wentworth Avenue, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9285 6244

The Song Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato