Tokyo Bird, Surry Hills
Tokyo Bird is a small laneway bar in Surry Hills, known for its extensive collection of whisky and its yakitori menu. Not being a whisky enthusiast, I decided to settle for a cocktail instead. One sip of my Matcha milk punch cocktail and I was in heaven. It was like drinking a delicious matcha latte with a hint of alcohol, and the matcha cookie on top made it all the more irresistible.
The food menu is primarily bar snacks with a Japanese twist. The Lotus root chips were expertly fried. Thin and crispy, we gobbled them up in a flash with the chilli mayo.
The Cold udon noodle is another simple yet very tasty dish, with a lovely creamy sesame dressing.
The Katsu chicken nuggets were another deep fried highlight!
Onto the yakitori and we decided to try the Chicken tsukune which are essentially meatballs. The meat was moist and flavoursome, and I enjoyed dipping it into the sweet soy sauce mixed with the cured egg.
The Nasu (eggplant) yakitori was a little small but it had great umami flavour and I loved the texture.
Tokyo Bird is definitely a bar that puts as much effort into its food as the drinks. The food is kept simple but they definitely manage to make the ingredients shine.
Born by Tapavino, Sydney CBD
Tapavno is one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney so I was delighted to hear the same team had opened Born by Tapavino in Barrangaroo, with a nod to the flavours of Barcelona. One of the things I loved most about my travels in Spain was the seemingly endless supply of Serrano ham. At Born by Tapavino, they have a wide selection of jamon with different accompaniments to choose from. We opted for the Jamon with the spiced plum and goat's curd. The strong flavours of the spiced plum were balanced out by the goat's curd and the slices of jamon were simply delicious.
I love churros for dessert but I think I prefer these Manchego churros. Filled with delicious cheese, the churros was topped with a crunchy, spicy, chorizo crumb - an explosion of flavour!
The Pan-fried King prawns were tasty and beautifully seasoned, but for $28, I was expecting a bigger portion.
We also ordered one of the specials of the night, Duck breast with caper and raisin puree, chargrilled waldorf and jamon crumb. The duck was perfectly cooked, still pink on the inside. The caper and raisin puree really livened up the taste buds and I loved the jamon crumb for the added punch of flavour and for the texture.
For dessert, we shared the Mil hojas 'thousand leaves', turron parfait and sour cherry compote. The 'thousand leaves' was a crunchy caramelised wafer thin disc and went beautifully with the nougat parfait. The sour cherry sauce really tied the whole dish together.
The tapas style menu is great for sharing, allowing you to try many dishes and great with a glass or two of Spanish wine (of which they have a very extensive menu of).
Popina, Circular Quay
In the newly refurbished Gateway building in Circular Quay lies Popina, a collaboration between Salt Meats Cheese and Shuk. The meeting of Italian and Middle Eastern influences results in some exciting dishes.
We started off with the Stracciatella with figs, smoked almonds and apricot vinaigrette. Stracciatella is a soft, creamy cheese that's at the centre of burrata and is a perfect match for the slices of the sweet, ripe figs. The almonds added a crunchy texture and it was all tied together by the zingy apricot vinaigrette. This dish definitely put a smile on my face.
For a taste of South America, we had the Beef Empanadas which were served piping hot, straight from the oven. I enjoyed the crispy pastry and the juicy filling, but the sauce could have done with a little more oomph.
The next dish of Yellow fin tuna with Kibbeh nayyeh looked striking thanks to the wafer thin slices of watermelon. I wasn't sure about the flavour combination on paper but was convinced once I had a taste.
From the mains section, we opted for the Raviolidi ricotta with lamb backstrap and pistachio crumb. The ravioli with the creamy ricotta filling was delicious and the lamb was cooked perfectly to medium rare, but I did wish there was a bit more of it!
For dessert, I couldn't go past the Aljafor, a Dulce de leche mousse sandwiched between the buttery, crumbly shortbread and accompanied by a scoop of coconut ice cream. Both the mousse and ice cream were silky smooth and it was a great way to finish off the meal.
Popina brings together a great melting pot of flavours from around the globe and offers great service too. Definitely a great addition to the dining scene in Circular Quay!
Mercado, Sydney CBD
Tucked away in the basement behind George Street in Sydney's CBD is Mercado, a Spanish restaurant showcasing the talents of former Nomad chef, Nathan Sasi. From our table, we could see all the mouthwatering food leaving the open kitchen and I couldn't wait to dig in.
We started with the Ortiz Anchovy Tart with roasted bull horn peppers. The tart is made up of a crispy thin sheet of pastry, and allowed the anchovy and the soft and sweet peppers to shine. This little morsel definitely left me salivating for more.
The Zucchini flowers were fried to perfection with a crunchy batter and filled with beautiful, house made goat's curd. I enjoyed the mojo rojo sauce which gave it a little kick of heat.
Our waitress recommended the Truffle mortadella, which was velvety smooth and simply delicious. The truffle flavour was pronounced without being overpowering. It goes beautifully with the slices of sourdough baked inhouse and the sweet and slightly spicy guindillas peppers.
The next dish of Pippies in a saffron and tomato broth with garlic crutons was deliciously moreish. The pippies were sweet and plump, and the crutons were very handy to soak up the flavoursome broth.
The Turkish ravioli had a soft and silky texture, with a roasted pumpkin filling and dressed with yoghurt, burnt butter sauce and crispy sage leaves. I wasn't expecting such a top quality pasta dish at a Spanish restaurant but it was definitely one of the highlights of the night.
The Smoked lamb ribs were beautifully seasoned and had a wonderful sweetness from the peach molasses. The meat slid off the bone at the slightest touch. The salt bush provided a little relief from the richness of the ribs, not that I am complaining.
I had seen the Porchetta rotating on the spit roast in the kitchen so was eager to try this dish. The sheer size of the pork was impressive as it lands on our table, definitely one to be shared! Crispy crackling, amazingly tender meat paired with a vibrant romesco sauce - it is another must-order!
After the meat fest, we had no more room for dessert but I can't wait to return. The dishes are kept simple, with only a few ingredients on the plate, but each plays a key role in the flavour and texture of the dish. Service was attentive but not obtrusive, it made for a great dining experience.
Bodega, Surry Hills
Bodega has been a feature of the Surry Hills dining scene for many years but only recently did I finally pay this Latin inspired tapas joint a visit. Located on an alleyway near Central Station, the venue was packed on a Tuesday evening.
The Hot cross bun with corned beef, smoked oyster mayo and kimchi stood out on the menu. It was a lovely mix of sweet, salty and spicy and makes me wonder why we don't have hot cross buns more often in restaurant menus! it makes for a refreshing change from all the brioche burgers that are popping up all over the place!
Bodega's Fish Fingers are definitely not the deep fried varieties you may find in the frozen food section of a supermarket. Instead, it is beautiful slices of Kingfish on charred toast with cuttlefish ceviche and grated mojima. It had beautiful flavours and was wonderfully balanced.
Steak tartare is one of my favourite things to eat and the Bodega version had a wonderful texture. The plantain chips were super crispy and great accompaniment to the tasty tartare.
Our final dish of Corn tamale with miso eggplant and avocado is an interesting fusion of South American and Japanese influences. The corn tamale smelled delicious and was surprisingly filling. The miso eggplant is a perfect mix of salty and sweet and I loved the gooey texture.
All in all, Bodega delivered in terms of flavour and service. It's another must visit in the Surry Hills dining landscape.
Restaurant Hubert, Sydney CBD
Walking down the spiral stairs of Restaurant Hubert past thousands of miniature spirit bottles, you are transported into another world: the red drapes, candlelit tables, timber paneled walls and a baby grand piano catches my eye. It feels warm, romantic and full of character. It's hard to believe this used to be the site of a Chinese restaurant with a pagoda and a fishpond!
We started with the Ouefs en gelee, made with soft egg yolk, bonito jelly, trout roe and avruga. It's a rich, textural dish and had the umami flavours that are more commonly associated with Japanese dishes.
We couldn't go past the Duck liver parfait with maple syrup jelly. It was deliciously creamy and intense in flavour. The maple syrup jelly helped cut through the fattiness of the parfait. I simply couldn't stop eating it.
We were recommended by our waiter to order the Malakoff, it's everyone's favourite, we were told. It was hard to argue with that after taking a bit into the golden crust and being rewarded with a gooey ball of Gruyere cheese with a hint of mustard. Definitely one you don't want to share with too many people!
Just as impressive was the Steak tartare, a quintessential French dish. The wagyu topside had a great texture, mixed with the egg yolk, chives, capers and cornichons. It was topped by a generous mountain of fries.
For mains, the whole chicken or duck sounded tempting but a bit too big for our table of three, so we opted for the John Dory provencal. The basil and olive oil sauce was just simply outstanding and really the star of the dish, going perfectly with the poached John Dory fillets and the pippies.
The sides were just as impressive. The Pommes Anna is basically crispy layers of potato served with a buerre blanc sauce. It's hard not to love carbs when they're done like this!
We were intrigued by the Kimchi gratin and it did not disappoint. It packs a punch in terms of flavour and heat.
Onto desserts and we started with the Melon en surprise: a Santa Claus melon hollowed out melon balls with sorrel jelly, finger lime and young coconut sorbet. It's an incredibly refreshing dessert with a light sweetness and I loved the pop of the zesty finger limes.
Our second dessert was the Le Grand Macaron. The tartness of the raspberries was balanced by the sweetness of the rice cream and it was another joy to eat.
Hubert is a wonderful sensory experience and definitely lived up to the hype. I will definitely be back to try the Roast duck, of which they only have a limited quantity per day. Bookings are limited to group of 6+ but you can always take a seat at the bar whilst waiting for a table.
Sitting above Kensington's Spice Alley is Mekong, serving a melting pot of cuisines from all the South-East Asia countries along the Mekong River. Dishes from Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are all represented. The restaurant is split into two parts, a more casual eatery serving predominantly Vietmanese food downstairs and the full service restaurant upstairs.
We started with their signature Squid Ink Dumplings. The squid ink dumpling skins were very delicated, encasing a Thai crab meat and prawn filling. It was served with a amazingly fragrant chicken pho broth poured from a teapot. The broth really elevates the flavour of the dumplings and was definitely the highlight of the dish.
Next was the Thai grilled pork neck wrapped in betal leaf with housemade tamarind sauce. These little parcels packed plety of flavour and the pork neck had a lovely sticky caramel texture.
The Lao crispy omelette was stuffed with sliced pork roll, sour pork, morning glory and accompanied with a soy chili sauce. Another tasty dish but not as memorable as the preceding two.
With the aim of tryig as many dishes as possible, we ordered the Indochine shareplate. The highlights were the Lao sour pork sausage and the Vietnamese rice flour cups with prawn, sweetcorn and cucumber relish.
Onto the mains and the quality food just kept on coming. The Sweet lemon rumdul, a Cambodian beef rib curry with sweet potato and lemongrass paste was utterly delicious. It makes me wonder why there aren't more Cambodian curries on menus in Sydney. The beef fell apart at the slightest touch and the sauce was wonderfully rich.
Next was the more familiar Thai red curry with duck confit. The duck was exceptionally cooked - juicy and moist on the inside whilst retaining its crispy skin. The cherry tomato, and pineapple added some freshness to the creamy and aromatic sauce.
For a lighter dish to offset all the curries, we had the Young Ginger, a stir fry with Vietnamese black soya chicken. It was well executed and the quality of the produce was clearly on show.
The Royal Seafood Amok is one of the more famous dishes of Cambodian cuisine and Mekong's intepretation is definitely on point. It's a coconut based yellow curry with a ton of seafood - here, it was served with barramundi, scallops, prawn and pipies. The seafood really soaked up the flavour of the sauce and we had no trouble finishing this off.
Luckly, we still had room left for dessert. The Bangkok ice cream bowl was just the refreshing dessert I was after. It consists of Coconut ice cream with pomegranate, sweet corn, roasted peanuts and palm seeds sitting on a bed of coconut sticky rice and served in a coconut shell. The Coconut ice cream is the best I've ever had. It's super smooth and creamy, and packed with coconut flavour. All the other accompaniments just fitted wth the ice cream perfectly. It definitely left a smile on my face.
Of course, one dessert wasn't enough. The Basil panna cotta with raspberry puree, walnut and lemon meringue was another flawless essert. Strawberry and basil is a great flavour combination and the puffed rice and walnut gave the dish a great crunchy element.
The food at Mekong was very impressive, both in taste and presentation. It's wonderful to see the cusines of Laos, Burma and Cambodia featured along the most common varieties. It's a bit more expensive than your average South East Asian restaurant but well worth it. My only gripe is that the menu is a bit hard to decipher as the title of the dishes aren't very descriptive e.g. 'Grandma in the garden' or 'Full moon' but I can overlook it when the food is so delicious.
The team from Automata has opened a brunch pop up, and it's every bit as delicious. Taking residence in the Old Clare Hotel, it's definitely not your run of the mill cafe menu.
The classic Eggs Benedict has been given a modern twist, with the addition of black pudding. The hollandaise sauce was divine and the houseade black pudding made it even more indulgent.
Who says you can't have fried chicken before lunch? Auto.Lab's Fried chicken, ube waffle with smoked maple syrup sounded too good a combination to resist. The waffle took on a lovely colour from the ube (purple yam) and the fried chicken was perfectly cooked - what more can you ask for.
Amazing food in a great location. It's a pity that it's only a pop-up, Get in quick before it closes on Dec 24th!
Norsk Dor, Sydney CBD
I have fond memories of my travels through Scandinavia, although I remember the price of a meal was near astronimical, especially on a uni student budget. I was very excited to discover a Nordic restaurant has opened in Sydney, called Norsk Dor.
To get to the restaurant, you must first find the nondescript entrance on Pitt Street, walk down a very long flight of stairs followed by an equally long, stark hallway. Inside the restaurant is a dimly lit, intimate, warm space, complete with kangaroo skin throws draped across the back of the timber dining chairs.
We started with the Gravlax topped with roe, dill and mustard. It was fresh and light, complimenting our other starter, the roasted Bone Marrow.
The roasted Bone marrow was delicious, I only wished there was a little bit more of it. The dish is served with a glass of akvavit (a Scandinavian liquer similar to Cognac) to cut through the fattiness, but it was a little too strong for me. The homemade rye bread, on the other hand, was great to sample the bone marrow with.
The Venison sampler is one of Norsk Dor's signature dishes and it had so much going on. It was a great dish for sharing. The venison was done three ways: there was the pulled venison topped with potato crisps; the seared tenderloin paired with a carrot puree and my favourite, the smoked backstrap. The smokiness really permeated through the meat without being overpowering, and the meat was perfectly cooked. I liked the fresh fig and blue cheese but not sure whether it really belonged to this dish.
We got the Hasselback potato as a side. This is another Scandinavian specialty, where cuts are made into the potato before it's roasted and served topped with rye crumb. It had a lovely crunch but I found that it lacked a bit of seasoning.
The Swedish chocolate cake, on the other hand, was moist and light, with an intense chocolate cake. Served with ice cream and berries, we scraped the plate clean!
The other dessert we tried was the Mulled wine poached pear with beetroot sorbet and anglaise. Great combination of flavours and definitely a perfect dessert for winter.
Norsk Dor is a welcome addition to the Sydney food scene and we had a lovely dining experience. The staff were incredibly friendly, some of the best customer service I have had in a while.
Note: Since my dining experience here, Norsk Dor has changed their menu structure and now offers a set menu that changes daily.
Sepia, Sydney CBD
One of the most memorable dining experiences ever was at Sepia several years ago. I had a chance to go back recently and was understandly super excited, but a tad nervous that sky high expectations might not be matched. I clearly needn't have worried.
The trio of amuse bouche of Saikou salmon, smoked scarlet prawn and Hiramasa kingfish looked absolutely divine. Encased in the perfectly spherical Saikou salmon were smoked salmon roe, bursting with flavour. The Kingfish wrapped in the wafer thin tatami iwashi (a blanket of dried little fish) was perfectly balanced with the jamon cream. The smoked prawn with carrot powder dumpling was incredibly delicate, but did not have the wow factor of the other two morsels.
The first course was the Spanner crab, sake vinegar jelly, brown butter emulsion, pea and horseradish. There was theatre at the table with the use of liquid nitrogen forming horseradish snow sprinkled over the dish. The crab meat was so sweet and tender (having been cooked in butter at 70 degrees). The fine sheet of sake vinegar jelly draped over the crab meat added some tangy notes, pairing wonderfully with the creamy brown butter emulsion which reminded me of the buttery base of a cheesecake. All the flavours worked really harmoniously together and did not overpower the spanner crab.
The next course of Sea scallop, macadamia nut cream, quail egg looked incredible as it arrived at our table. The scallops were sweet and plump, delicately matched with a smooth macadamia nut cream. The 'wreath' of scallop crackling with flowers added a nice textural touch to the dish.
The Charcoal grilled black lip abalone was very tender to eat, with almost a 'meaty' texture. The dashi cream and wakame oil gave it a great depth of flavour.
Continuing the seafood theme, the Bonito with roasted chicken cream, smoked soy and caviar was on point for flavour. The star of the dish for me was the luscious roasted chicken cream - made from the roasting of several chickens with butter, white wine and herbs.
The next dish of Seared uni with smoked bone marrow, cauliflower, yuzu kosho and toasted milk bread was small in size but ginormous in flavour. All the components worked well together and really enhanced the flavour of the uni.
Onto the mains: we started with the Roasted Aylesbury duck breast. It would be hard to find a more perfectly cooked piece of duck - perfectly pink and tender. The mulberry vinegar really gave the dish a slight acidic kick, balanced perfectly with the sheep yoghurt.
The David Blackmore wagyu with Jerusalem artichoke, miso and pine mushrooms was one of my favourite dishes of the night. Apart from looking spectacular, the wagyu was incredibly tender and buttery, combining so well with the sweet, creamy miso. The pine mushrooms on top were just absolutely bursting with flavour.
Even though I was starting to feel a bit full, I couldn't go past the optional cheese cost of Comte and pear jelly. The dish looked amazing - the pear was lying on a bed of shaved comte, interspersed with walnuts and celery. The pear was actually made of sorbet and inside was a mix of liquid cheese with pear jelly. It's probably the most inventive cheese course I've ever had. But be warned - it's best to share the cheese course as it is quite a lot of cheese!
Getting us in the mood for dessert was the Raspberry, salted white chocolate chantilly with wild strawberry syrup. I thought the texture would be similar to granita, but it was a bit more creamy and melted away as soon as it entered my mouth.
The first dessert of Milks involved eight different textures of milk - incredible! The smorgasboard of flavours and textures, ranging from coconut yoghurt to sheep milk sorbet and milk cake was amazing.
Now for Sepia's signature dessert - the Winter Chocolate Forest. The Chocolate Forest is an absolute joy to eat. Every spoonful, you discover a different flavour and texture combination. There's the aniseed flavours of the fennel fronds and the licorice juxtaposed against the smooth blackberry sorbet, the sweetness of the rose jellies and of course, the rich chocolate soil.
One more thing - Sepia has an incredible tea menu and if you want something other than wine, I would highly recommend it. The teas were served hot then poured over a jug full of ice. I can't recall exactly the varieties we tried but they were delicious and refreshing, well worth trying.
It's hard not to be wowed by Martin Benn's Sepia. The meal was nicely paced, service was impeccable and every dish was beautifully presented. The food is exceptional and each plate of food is a wonderful showcase of balancing flavours and textures. Sepia will continue to be one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney.
Find me on instagram: