Hovering above Chatswood Train Station, The District will change how you think about food courts.
Inspired by our Asian neighbours, the colourful hawker outlets are arranged in indoor ‘laneways’ with nooks of low-lit communal dining scattered throughout.
At one end a radio tower and busy train-lines provide a commanding, yet utterly industrial, view.
For movie buffs, the brutalist angled concrete girders will summon up parkour possibilities, including scenes The Hunger Games and District 13.
A range of cuisines are represented across the hawker outlets. Cheers Cut is a Taiwanese outlet famous for fried chicken; while Ippudo is your Japanese go-to spot for a ramen fix. Chum Tang is a new venture for Chef Taweenrach (Pla) Rojratanavichai, of Khao Pla fame; and there's also the opportunity to try the baked buns with BBQ pork that helped shoot Tim Ho Wan into previously unheard of Michelen Guide fame.
To get your sweet fix, there's cocoa fun at The Choc Pot and frozen pineapple sorbet at Passion Tree, though it's hard to resist the super-kawaii charm of Hello Kitty Diner.
Too full from my earlier adventure at Simmer Huang to do much more than marvel at the fitout, I have earmarked the burgers (designed by Chur Burger's Warren Turnbull) for a later date.
However it was too difficult to resist curling up in a booth with some Smoked Lemonade ($4.50). This clever piece of Americana is made by smoking lemons then cooling them and making lemonade. It screams tailgate parties and begs for sneaky addition of bootleg bourbon, against a plate of fried chicken and waffles from their wider menu.
Equally entertaining is a Salted Pretzel Milkshake ($8) sucked from a striped straw in a Hello Kitty branded handled jar. Yeah I know, I usually hate drinks in jars, but somehow here they're totally okay. The crunchy salty pretzel pieces are a nice touch, making this sweet, ice-creamy drink quite adult friendly.
Hello Kitty Diner
The District, Podium Level, Chatswood Interchange, 436 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood
Hovering above Chatswood Station, The District is a futuristic food court you’re going to want to visit. Suppressing the urge to parkour, I explored the colourful indoor ‘laneways’ on foot - earmarking a few Asian street food outlets for a return visit.
Tonight I’m eating at Simmer Huang, a Chinese mega-chain that boasts more than 500 restaurants worldwide. Their mainstay is the “simmer pot” - their own offshoot from the traditional Chinese hot pot.
Simmer pots are cooked at your table by enthusiastic Simmer Huang staff.
Even better: after you get bored with your main dish, staff return to your table to hand-stretch noodles. They throw them into your leftovers with broth, creating a second steaming course of soup.
Touted as a “fourth generation” restaurant for the chain, this is the first Simmer Huang outlet to include a bar. The cocktail list may see you raise an eyebrow at ingredients like osmanthus, Chinese hawthorn sugar, peanut soup and jujube tea, but they’re surprisingly well handled across the inexpensive range of drinks.
In Plum Blossom ($13), 12-year-old Glenlivet whisky is combined with Aperol, osmanthus, smoked plum juice, and lemon juice, then garnished with edible white fungus. It’s clever because it still allows the whisky to speak. Under The Hawthorn Tree ($13) takes the same whisky and teams it with Chinese hawthorn sugar, hibiscus tea, Crème de Mure and sea salt, then lengthens it with sparkling apple juice into a tall, balanced and refreshing drink - one I like even more. However if they’re too weird for you, there’s always Tsingtao ($6.50) beer.
I’m here to try Three Cup Chicken ($44.90) designed in partnership with former MasterChef Australia contestant (and fellow food blogger at A Table For Two), Billy Law.
Available until March 7, this dish takes its inspiration from the Jiangxi province of Southern China, and is named for the three key ingredients - Shaoxing rice wine, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Billy's suggested three-cup sauce is used as a marinade for the chicken, which is then treated to Simmer Huang’s own secret saucing.
Extra ingredients like Pancakes ($6.90) are thrown into your pot by staff just before serving; and the dish’s heat level is left totally up to your discretion - just select ‘salty’ if you don’t like chilli. My dish was cooked ‘hot’ and had a reasonable kick. Keep your eyes peeled for jujubes (wolfberries) which were my favourite dish element.
One simmer pot is a big meal for two people (it would better suit groups of four), however my endless quest for new things saw me start my meal with juicy Red Pears ($6.50) marinated in red wine, and...
...an even better Sour Bowl ($6.50) with jellyfish, peanut, cucumber and preserved eggs. They both help prepare your palate for your simmer pot.
Handmade Noodles ($6.90) are stretched at the table, and added when your simmer pot is turned into a soup. At this point you can also throw in any manner of vegetables from Potato ($5.90) to Lotus Root ($5.90), though the dish would probably most benefit from something green, like lightly bitter Garland Chrysanthemum ($5.90) leaves.
This is one-pot cooking kicked up to a whole new level, and definitely worth a look.
The District, Podium Level, Chatswood Interchange, 436 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood
Ph: (02) 9411 3335
If the words ‘pool bar’ fill you with elitist visions of Ivy-like horror, you’re going to find The Old Clare Rooftop Pool & Bar a breath of fresh air. Filled with Chippendale’s arty types, it’s more quirky than fashionista, even attracting Bob Carr on the evening I attended.
On the way up to Level 4, take a stroll around the hallways to take in in the artfully framed remains of the former Carlton & United Breweries Administration Building. It's an interesting mix of old-meets-new, with nifty views of Central Park’s garden walls juxtaposed against heritage brick facades.
The rooftop itself gives you a perspective on Sydney you’ve probably not seen before. Take it in over an imaginative and palate-cleansing twisted gin and tonic. Made on Tanqueray gin lengthened with Fever-Tree Indian Tonic, my favourite combination proved to be the G +T with Lemon & Islay Drops ($16). Now if being outdoors calls for something longer, there’s the Chamomile Highball ($18) combining more Tanqueray with elderflower, chamomile and lemon soda; or everyone’s favourite Pimm’s ($18) brimming with summer fruit.
Bartenders will happily throw your cocktails into plastic if you’re keen on donning your togs and kicking back in the rooftop lap pool. Yes, you heard me right, you can drink alcohol and swim! Whilst lauding the bar that lets adults actually be adults, I hopped into the waist deep lap pool and enjoyed my drink, all without even having to be an overnight hotel guest! That said, after getting the lowdown from a friendly Newtown couple enjoying a staycation (with a surprise upgrade to a suite) the rooms are on my list to experience.
This bar is also perfect to combine with dinner at one of The Old Clare Hotel’s three restaurants – Silvereye, Kensington Street Social and Automata – or with a stroll under the lanterns through the inexpensive Asian hawker outlets in neighbouring Spice Alley.
The Old Clare Rooftop Pool & Bar
Level 4, 1 Kensington Street, Chippendale
Ph: (02) 8277 8277
Chalder Street is light industrial, with no redeeming architectural features.
You’ll either think Google Maps is playing up, or I’ve given you a bum steer; however your trust is amply rewarded inside this unreconstructed warehouse space.
Timber tables, concrete walls and floors are quickly forgotten when a warm slice of Knafeh ($6.50) – a sweet cheese pastry – is delivered along with an equally warm smile from owner Dorrie Krahe.
Her well-mannered children play quietly as she loads up our table with a Lebanese breakfast feast, beginning with...
...Ful Medames ($8.50) - fava beans cooked in tahini sauce - served with fabulously pliable flatbread.
Buttered almond shards and freshly minted yoghurt make the Fatteh ($9) here a firm favourite, served in a mound of crisp Lebanese bread with scattered chickpeas.
It’s the perfect creamy foil for the more intensely flavoured Eggs and Spiced Mince ($12).
Robust with chocolate notes, the Du Liban house-roasted coffee scrubs up well in an Iced Latte ($4), though it’s hard to go past a luxurious pot of Golden Milk ($4.50) made vividly yellow by blended turmeric, ginger and white pepper.
Za’atar manoush – Lebanese style pizzas - wrapped around a variety of meat or vegetable fillings, are the mainstays of the lunch menu.
Or you can load up on pastries from orderly rows of Shanklish ($4.50) (cheese) pies or mini pizzas topped with Sujuk ($5) (spicy Turkish sausage) or Cheese and Tomato ($3.50).
While the little pizzas don’t look all that fancy, they’re baked using organic flour, making them puffy and flavoursome when warmed up in your home oven.
14 Chalder Street, Marrickville
Ph: (02) 9550 3569
After gaining experience opening ‘Maze’ restaurants globally with the Gordon Ramsay Group, Jason Atherton began amassing his own restaurant empire under The Social Company moniker. His latest venture, Kensington Street Social, is the third big hitter to open in The Old Clare Hotel.
And while Atherton won’t be in the kitchen personally, this “chef’s chef” as Matt Moran dubbed him at the launch party, has appointed Rob Daniels (who he worked with at Maze London and Maze One & Only Cape Town) as Australian Executive Chef.
Running from breakfast to dinner, this spot is pitched as The Old Clare Hotel’s everyday dining destination, down to supplying room service to the in-house guests.
As you’d expect, the menu is wide ranging (though not dauntingly long) ticking off all the standard proteins, with some Paroo Kangaroo ($33) thrown in.
It celebrates the bounty of our wide brown land from coast to coast, moving from Queensland Spanner Crab ($21) with rhubarb and frozen cucumber gazpacho, to Western Australian Marron ($51). The Sea Urchin Rice, Moreton Bay Bug Tail, Bisque ($25) read better than it ate, with my favourite briny gift of the sea – sea urchin roe – getting somewhat buried.
The two dishes you shouldn’t leave without trying are ‘English Breakfast Tea and Toast’ ($14/2) and Vine Tomato ($16).
The former, served on a dainty stand, combines a seamless wild mushroom consommé with tiny toasts dabbed with Gentleman’s relish and bone marrow; while the latter injects a whole tomato with burrata, and garnishes it with 25-year old balsamic vinegar at the table.
Sommelier Lindsay Carr has put together a great wine list that showcases Australia’s key regions, including winemaker Gary Mills’ excellent 2015 Jamsheed ‘Pepe Le Pinot’ ($69). This slightly funky pinot noir over-delivers, belying its price point at the lower end of the wine list; but before you get stuck into the grapes, check out the imaginative cocktail list.
Sweet-toothed fans will appreciate Cereal Killer ($18) combining Ketel One Vodka with Froot Loop milk, Aperol and apricot brandy, in a mini glass carton with striped straw. Hipster Breakfast ($18) also scratches that morning-after-the-night-before itch with banana bread-infused Pampero rum, salted butter foam, and cold drip coffee. It drinks like a foamy espresso martini with more herbal Fernet-Branca than banana coming through. And while we're talking liquid breakfast, if you choose to whet your whistle with the Vegemite Martini ($19), crumble in the whole dehydrated Vegemite wafer to really grubby it up.
Your post-dinner tipple, Rye Society ($18), takes Bulleit Rye Whiskey, marmalade and earl grey tea, froths it with egg white and includes a bergamot atomiser to spray while you drink. And if ever there’s somewhere you should stay on for dessert and cheese, this is the place. Your first stop should be the utterly delightful, airy Yoghurt Mousse ($16) with lemon curd, malt meringue and a clever basil ice cream centre, and the creamy Berry’s Creek Riverina Blue ($15) layered inside caramelised puff pastry with Davidson plum jam.
If you’re lacking room, you can roll dessert and cheese into a single plate of Buffalo Ricotta, Lemon Thyme Peaches and Honeycomb ($16) and consumed it with the 2013 Bream Creek Late Picked Schonberger ($11/glass) – bliss!
Kensington Street Social
3 Kensington Street, Chippendale
Ph: (02) 8277 8533
Amie Barbeler is back for 2016 and got so excited by burgers, she didn't even get to the alcoholic drinks!
"I'd be lying if I said this burger wasn't making me extremely moist," my date whispered, waggling her eyebrows... as she mopped up a pool of burger juice from her lap.
Cheekyburger, which now dominates the back of The Chippendale Hotel, serves up American style food that isnt just cheeky... it's downright food porn.
Think unapologetically juicy burgers, novelty milkshakes and fries drowning in cheese... all designed to be consumed in Cheekyburger's funky and vibrant outdoor space.
Although a good third of the Cheeky Porker's ($15.99) juice might have ended up on my date's pants, she declared it the best pulled pork burger she had ever eaten. While she worked her way through hers, I couldn't resist the Philly Cheesesteak ($15.99) – meat, cheese and bread. I have no regrets.
We washed our burgers down with Soda Floats ($6.99) before ending the night sharing the delicious Cheeky Banana Split ($9.99) – which was worth making belly room for, despite my pants feeling like they might tear in half if I made any sudden movements.
Burgers, sunshine and tunes... can't go wrong.
Cheekyburger at The Chippendale Hotel
87-91 Abercrombie Street, Chippendale
Ph: (02) 9310 5133
Well into its second year, The Stinking Bishops’ nighttime popularity continues unabated – especially on those pesky no reservation Friday and Saturday nights – proving that Sydney will queue for a decent cheese board. As for me, I prefer to fly under the radar on stolen Friday arvos to secure my own calcium hit.
A Three Cheese ($29) extravaganza with condiments and a plentiful basket of stuff to stick ‘em on gives you free reign to make your own selections from their ever-changing board.
On the floor, co-owner Jamie Nimmo is warm, knowledgeable and very happy to point you in the direction of a full-flavoured Brie, like the mushroomy yet buttery Brie Fermier from France. And even a confirmed turophile like me, encountered cheeses I hadn’t tried, including a gentle Swiss Toggenburger and pungent Gres D’Alsace, with a thin, moist, edible washed rind.
Nimmo is also in full command of the short but interesting wine list, adeptly matching the mineral-rich Bouchard Aine Chablis ($14.50/glass) to a tumbled jar of House-Pickled Mussels ($12).
Charcuterie Boards ($17/2) are generously proportioned, and presented with pickles and slices of Brickfields bread.
Super smoky wagyu beef and a rum and chilli salami are all you’d need to round out a meal, perhaps with a salad and some Pub Pickled Eggs ($2.50/each) on the side?
The Beetroot, Cucumber and Rhubarb ($17) salad wants for some dressing, but does stay true to the things-that-are-good-with-cheese theme with scattered crisp, pickled rhubarb pieces throughout.
Throw in a cleansing Sierra Nevada Pale Ale ($8.50) and you have a queue-free way to kick-start any weekend.
The Stinking Bishops
Shop 5 - 63/71 Enmore Road, Newtown
Ph: (02) 9007 7754
Slotting in somewhere between the flagship The Meat & Wine Co. restaurants and the casual Ribs & Burgers eateries, Hunter & Barrel is the latest dining initiative for the Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group. At every level, their restaurant fitouts - handled by Melbourne-based operation, One Design Office (ODO) - are over-spec’d for the price point; and, housed in the old Chinta Ria rotunda, this hunters' chalet is no exception.
It’s dripping in natural textures, from brown leather upholstered chairs with strategically draped (fake) furs, to wine barrels, dangling shrubbery, and weighty wooden tables. Appropriate to the location in please-all Cockle Bay, the meat-centric menu is geared towards sharing, whether that be from board, skewer, coals or pot (though the stew-based selections may have to wait until winter).
High quality charcuterie on the Hunter’s Platter ($28) provides a good foil for exploring the barrel-aged cocktail offerings presented by Group Beverage Manager, Joel Davis.
Joel learned the hard way that using brand new barrels can make a barrel-aged Negroni quite assertive, but his resulting drink - The Solera Negroni ($16) - is made smooth by cleverly blending barrel-aged and fresh Negroni mixes, at least while those barrels wear in.
When your meat-laden mains land you can either double up on fiery elements with The Smoked Margarita ($28/2) for two, served in a smoke-filled Calle 23 Tequila Blanco bottle...
...or opt for a refreshing pint of Young Henrys Natural Lager ($10).
With sides and salads all conveniently priced at eight bucks, you can assemble quite the feast.
Juicy Coal Roasted Chicken ($22), flavoured quite simply with lemon and rosemary, suits Cast Iron Button Mushrooms ($8) with garlic butter, and Grilled Cauliflower ($8) topped with almonds and a creamy white garlic sauce.
Dripping with herb and black pepper butter, the Coal Roasted Rump ($29) was a flavoursome piece of beef, which only wanted for a slightly longer resting period.
Airy Golden Syrup Dumplings ($10), enhanced by a small jug of pouring cream, were easily the best I’ve tried; leading me to believe this accessible spot is worth noting down for functions and family-friendly eats in downtown Cockle Bay.
Hunter & Barrel
Tenancy 303, Cockle Bay Wharf, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9264 9888
Most muesli makes my jaw sore from chewing before I fill up. Add to that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of sultanas, but I still like things to be interesting; which usually leads me to add things like blueberries, just to avoid getting bored. Old Mother Hubbard’s Unique Mueslis made me rethink all these niggling complaints. It won me over by not being punishingly chewy. Owner/chef Ray Ray Baker explained that this is because: “We double roast everything to get the right crunch and to allow different cooking times for certain ingredients.”
The product range is named for Ray Ray's beloved Nan, Marjorie Hubbard, with whom they began cooking with as a kid. “She was so warm and precise with her view toward food. To eat was not only sustenance, it was healing, and cooking was, above all, fun. I learned from her about growing produce, how to prepare it to obtain the best flavour and health benefits,” said Ray Ray.
Despite training as a chef in Ryde, and cooking at a range of venues from the legendary Tharen’s Restaurant in Kings Cross (which Ray Ray laughingly explains “was an eye opener for a small town kid”) to The Town Hall in Balmain, epilepsy meant, “a chef’s life was no longer viable”. However the drive and creativity in the kitchen remained, and was put to good use when Ray Ray's wife Asha was pregnant and couldn't eat much, resulting in the creation of the first version of the Signature Blend.
Loaded with cashews, pecans, almonds coconut, puffed quinoa and chia seeds, Hubbard’s Signature Blend ($15/500g) is wonderful (and pleasantly free from my nemesis: sultanas). Ray Ray tells me it also “ticks most of the boxes when it comes to a health-based muesli,” by being “gluten, soy, rice, and refined sugar free.” They took a long time sourcing the right organic produce, and are also proud the product is vegan-friendly too. You’ll find it’s delicious when eaten with milk, but also sings against fresh fruit, like this season’s luscious cherries.
With the addition of raw cacao, another part of the Hubbard’s range: Alex’s Chocolate Bär Blend ($18/500g), should appeal to those who like chocolate without all the sugar in commercial chocolate cereals.
Old Mother Hubbard’s Unique Mueslis can be found at the growers markets in Blackheath and Springwood, the community market in Leura, and Maloneys Grocers in both Coogee and Surry Hills. You’ll also find it (and the founder Ray Ray Baker) at Petty Cash Cafe in Marrickville (details below), where it's on the menu with yoghurt and poached fruit.
Next on Ray Ray's agenda is “perfecting a muesli bar, as well as working on a new winter blend that will be packed with a warming blend of spices that not only taste great but will aid in keeping ones immunity strong.” Sounds like it will be the perfect locally made, artisan addition to any well-stocked kitchen pantry.
Old Mother Hubbard's Unique Muselis
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Petty Cash Cafe
68 Victoria Road, Marrickville
Ph: (02) 9557 2377
Pop your poodle skirt over a crisp crinoline, or pull on your penny loafers with wide cuffed jeans, and head on down to the latest rockabilly hang – Miss Peaches on a Thursday night.
With tunes provided by Rockin’ Marc Rondeau supported by a rotating roster of live rockabilly bands, like bad boy Pat Capocci on the night I visited, you’re sure to have a blast!
The rockabilly element makes it the most clean-shaven room in Newtown, and the eats are about 85% less pretentious than most places you can eat Creole food in Sydney.
In fact, if hipsters have adopted the stylings of Southern cuisine, this place reflects its soul.
A juicy slab of Brisket ($24) brined in Archie Rose Rye and honey, is served up simply with red eye gravy, pickled cucumber and golden tater tots, on vintage green & white speckled enamel tin plates.
Likewise the Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf ($19), made extra tasty by a combination of pork shoulder and beef brisket, and a clever secondary sear, is whacked onto a plate with super-creamy stone ground grits and another excellent gravy.
Hopefully you spied the row of Lillie’s Q’s Barbeque Sauces at the counter when you ordered? They’re all excellent additions to your meal - but Hot Smoky eats best.
If you’re hungry throw in Baked Brie ($16) with credible cornbread for dipping and a peach salad for balance, in lieu of fairly ordinary Braised Greens ($8) that beg for some bacon fat.
A solid drink offering backs up this soul food kitchen, running the gamut from classic homemade spiked sodas like the Watermelon Fizz with Don Julio Blanco Tequila ($10); to Boilermakers that team a beer with a shot of whisky.
In the latter category, Jordan’s Boilermaker ($21) pairing a limited edition Sierra Nevada ‘River Ryed’ IPA with Michter’s Rye, is a great match.
The deliciously long beer list is arranged into mild, medium, strong and intense, which should encourage safe experimentation, and hopefully lead to swing dancing.
Your night simply wouldn’t be complete without classic Beignets ($4.50) or Agent Cooper’s favourite, Cherry Pie ($8); both served with a lovely smile from the energetic and enthusiastic floor team, who clearly love working this night.
201 Missenden Road, Newtown
Ph: (02) 9557 7280