Sydney Food Diary: Dimitri’s Pizzeria, Surry Hills

Dimitri’s Pizzeria is an absolute institution in Surry Hills. I remember it from my first days in Sydney, from 1999 onwards, though I’ve somehow never managed to make it in. But recently, I was drawn in by their chalk signage advertising good Italian wine when we were looking for a cheap meal. I was surprised at the combination of the restaurant looking classic, but also contemporary, and the menu too: an emphasis on the organic and homemade (in the pizza dough, the pasta).

I asked the friendly owner and he said he took it over many years ago (eight?) from the original owner. We split a pizza and it was totally delicious, and we had a very interesting chilled organic wine, called Rosso Carbo, a 2017 from Abruzzo. A bit pricey for the wine (I didn’t check the prices before ordering it) but very nice.

The other thing I find amusing about the place is that it has always glowed from the inside out, red neon combined with a high overhead lighting over the pizza ovens. Depending on where you sit, you too may glow in red light for the duration of your meal. It’s charming, cosy and very Surry Hills.

 

Dimitri's Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Corduroy, Surry Hills

I have to admit that what I loved most about Corduroy, the first time I came here, was that I couldn’t see the name anywhere. I’m not sure if I just didn’t look under the counter in the front or if they didn’t have a sign at the time. It just seemed like it was so cool that it didn’t even need a name.

These days, the name is more visible, and it’s just a sweet and relaxed place to either grab a takeaway coffee or sit at the handful of tables in the back. I’ve had a handful of large lattés in the last few weeks here and they’re always perfect.

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

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Sydney Food Diary: Chulin Chinese Cuisine & Deli, Chippendale

On Broadway, among all of the restaurants that seemed to be aimed at university students, some from Taiwan, one Malaysian, Indonesian, really a melting hotpot of mostly Asian cuisine, is the Chulin Chinese Cuisine & Deli. I hunted it down after eating at Gingko in Darlinghurst, reading that the owners are the same. But this is night and day.

This is a very casual spot with humble food and prices to match, rather than the high-end Eastern Suburbs interpretation of food from the same city, Harbin, in the far north of China, near the Russian border.

My dining companion had actually visited there and said it’s not really a foodie hotspot. But between him, and the internet, we ordered a few dishes that seemed more typical of the region.

Also, I was thankful he speaks fluent Mandarin. My attempt to ask whether the restaurant was BYO was met with absolute incomprehension. I was pretty impressed that the restaurant is so clearly targeted at Chinese students that the staff seem to speak almost no English at all.

So, I love a sausage, and these are obviously influenced by the Russians. They weren’t identifiable to me as Asian or Russian, just a tasty plate of red-coloured sausage. The dumplings are typical apparently, and they were fine too.

I have to say that the green onion pancake was one of the tastiest I’ve had lately. Very savoury. Very crispy. And finally a typical dish from the region is stir-fried potato, eggplant and peppers, the name I think translates to Three Treasures of the Earth.

It really was quite interesting, the eggplant and potato are fried so hot they have a light and delicate texture, combing in the sauce nicely with the peppers. The specialties that we missed seem to be smoked meats (chicken, beef and pork) and pork knuckle. I’m not sure I’ll be rushing back though. It was interesting, but didn’t excite me.

Chulin Chinese Cuisine & Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Madame Shanghai, Darlinghurst

After being so impressed in October of 2017, I decided to bring my hubby here for their Valentine’s Day special dinner. It was a glorious evening, and they had the windows open, which apparently they can’t do very often: if it’s too windy it’s mayhem. So, a lovely atmosphere. I think the decor is great here. The staff are friendly and professional.

There were many small courses, an oyster for me and some salt and pepper squid for my better half, very delicately done. Some pretty dumplings. A smoked turkey and cabbage salad with fresh mint; I felt it should have worked better than it did. It’s hard to elevate coleslaw, basically.

Some sashimi with ribbons of cucumber. A glass of Taittinger to start with… we followed it up with sake, served in the traditional wooden boxes (and I purported to know how to drink out of them and didn’t pay attention and still spilt sake on my lap…). The last dish was a beef rib, very tender, the one rib laid on the plate as decoration (we thought it was a spoon at first), the meat cut off the bone. And to finish, a miso-glazed cheesecake with passionfruit centre, and some crunchy sugary bits. This was a highlight. For some reason though, while I thought everything was very good, I didn’t find it great like last time. I’m not sure why: no standouts really. Perhaps the dessert. It was a little rushed, as we had an early seating and I imagine they were trying to fit in someone after us. Maybe I should have followed the champagne with one of their very interesting cocktails.

 

Still, it was a nice evening out. We went to Zambo last year (or was it the year before?) and it was 100% couples, including many who looked like they were newly dating. But this was a much more relaxed event; at least three tables of Galentine’s Day diners, and the rest of couples of various ages and sexual orientations.

Review below from October 2017:

To start with, Madame Shanghai is simply a very beautiful space to dine in. Gorgeous lighting and decor, I did feel transported elsewhere. Neither of us could decide what to choose so went with the chef’s choice… Each dish was tasty and interesting and consistently good. We started out with cocktails, and these definitely have a twist here with inventive Asian ingredients and themes, and moved on to a tasty glass of wine.

The serving size was just enough and the waiter even asked us if we wanted more… The surprise was the dessert, as Asian desserts really are different than Western ones (usually much less sweet and with different textures). So, to get two really luscious and rich Western-style desserts was a good surprise: and these were really good.

Such a good experience I didn’t feel like taking photos of each course. Perhaps next time. I’m also tempted to come back for yum cha. And to try Lotus, of whose restaurant empire this belongs.

Madame Shanghai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Ho Jiak, Chinatown

This ain’t no hawker stand. While the restaurant is cannily designed to feel like you’re in an outdoor market, the dishes are refined, unbelievably tasty and for most Sydneysiders will be a revelation, tasting the best of Nonya cuisine, from Penang, Malaysia – Chinese cuisine that came to Southeast Asia taking on Malay and Indonesian influences.

My favourite memories of food are never about being hungry. Or sustenance. They combine a strong emotion – excitement, pride, love, nostalgia – with the bodily sensations of taste and smell and sight. There was no better guest to take to Ho Jiak then, on the kind invitation of owners William Xie and Junda Khoo, also the amazing head chef, than my friend Lai Heng whose grandmother cooked Nonya food. She was familiar with all the dishes we ordered, able to help with explanations in addition to what we learned from Cassandra, our able host, and Junda, and found the lunch an emotional as well as sensory experience.

It was Friday lunch and there was a line up outside the door. Ho Jiak has a mother ship location in Strathfield and their Chinatown location has only been open about a month, so it’s great they’re doing well already. Lai Heng pronounced herself, mid-meal, in heaven and deemed many of the dishes the best she’s ever had in Sydney, but more so, brought back to the happiest memories of childhood and family. And yet for me, there was excitement with dishes new to me, though the flavours were familiar.

Let’s start with the Beef Rendang. This is a pretty known dish but at first bite (of a huge, generous portion), I thought: this is not regular. It has heat, but not too much; it’s a beautiful balance of spice. But the meat, simply, was incredible, more than tender and melt in your mouth, as any good beef rendang is, but something higher quality. I was right! Junda tells me they only use a high grade of wagyu beef (4?); and Lai Heng confirmed it’s the best Rendang she’s had in Sydney. At $30 it reflects the quality and the size of the portion; when I come here, I’m going to order it no matter how much other food we order. I’ll just take home the leftovers!

Sam Wong Dan is a good contrast ($15), three kinds of eggs: century, silky and duck. A humble egg dish. Steamed eggs, done well, take on a light, creamy, delicate texture, and here there were many textures with the addition of the century egg. As explained in the menu, Junda learned to cook from his grandmother in Penang; this in fact the inspiration for the whole restaurant. This dish tastes of home cooking and love. A humble dish elevated. Out of some great dishes, this was my favourite.

Lai Heng tells me that Pai Tee, delicate pastry shells that you fill with turnip and crab (or vegetables, or shrimp) is so difficult to make that she’s never seen it on a menu in Sydney, and in fact, the last time she had it was at her wedding! Perfect little appetizers ($17).

Razor clams are rare in restaurants in Sydney (first photo, up top). I think I’ve only had them as part of high-end tasting menus in Europe, and very occasionally in British Columbia, my home province, at a Chinese restaurant or elsewhere. I love them: they’re crazy. Clam goodness elongated to the shape of a long thin crayon. We ordered them with the Kam Heong option, so they were stir fried with dry shrimp and belachan, and surprise, a perfect bed of crisp green beans were underneath ($25). This was such a treat and luxurious to have these. If you like molluscs, I implore you to try this dish.

As a “grill house”, we were interested to try one of their specialties. We tried the fish ($25), bar cod, which came with two very tasty sauces. I couldn’t quite figure out the marinade, a balance of sweet and spicy and a bit sour; the grilled, charcoal flavour was sensational. Lai Heng said the sambal belachan, the deep red sauce, was the best she’s tasted, and certainly not store bought.

Finally, Kiam Ah Nui squid, battered in salted duck egg yolk with butter and curry leaves… ($25) I’ve had this salted duck egg yolk mixture at Malacca Straits (with their addictive eggplant dish) and I can’t get enough of it. It’s so moreish. The squid was very tender.

It’s of note that Junda likes his wine and recommends on the menu which different kinds of wine or drink might pair well with particular dishes. I’ve seen this rarely in an Asian restaurant, and I love a white wine paired with the spice of an Asian dish. Our pinot grigio (and then pinot gris… this was a Friday lunch for the ages) went very well with the food. Ah, we also loved the beautiful porcelain dishes they serve on, and they have their own branded cutlery too.

The menu is not only extensive but intriguing. I wanted to try everything so this will be a tough one, when I return, wanting to try new dishes yet I’d reorder everything we had! We were invited upstairs at the end of lunch; there’s a space for special occasions, and it’s decorated to look like Junda’s maternal grandmother’s house, rather than the hawker theme of downstairs.

It reminded me of the Chinese family association’s headquarters in Chinatown in Vancouver that my Dad used to take me to visit as a kid, up some dark and rickety stairs (here the set of stairs was brightly lit but a similar set) to rooms with ornate wooden chairs and framed photos of ancestors. I like the vibe and would consider it for an event or special dinner; there’s even one room which basically looks like a big Chinese family dining room.

Or course, one ends a meal with dessert. Ho Jiak offers an afternoon tea where you can have sweets (and savouries), washed down with tea or… champagne. Sounds like a fun way to spend the afternoon. We were treated to a selection of traditional desserts. An expert grandma and her assistants come in EVERY MORNING to make them.

These were delicate and tasty,  the slightly sticky texture of the sticky rice and various coconut variations. They reminded me of some Thai desserts that I’ve had (and certainly not like any of the Cantonese desserts that I’ve had..) Love the crazy blue colouring on the rice in the middle treat.

Between the desserts, the main dishes, my dining companion and our hosts, I finally understand Nonya cooking, Chinese techniques of cooking but with ingredients, like coconut and various spices, that you wouldn’t get in China. The southeast Asian flavours, like in Thai food, chili, lime, are muted here; there’s often a savoury, pungent, earthy note, say to the richness of the Rendang or the razor clam sauce. With so much xenophobia in the world, multicultural societies and their results, like amazing cuisine, can give me a Kumbaya moment.

Junda, William and Cassandra. Thank you for an amazing meal and experience. I’ll be back… with friends!

Ho Jiak Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Concrete Duck, Darlinghurst

My brother, visiting from Hawaii, asks why there are so many restaurants and bars that have the word “duck” in them in Sydney. It’s true we’d walked by Holy Duck, but I didn’t think we’d passed by the Duck & Swan Hotel, the Duck Inn or Three Blue Ducks during his visit, but I think Sydney will forever be associated with Duck pubs.

In any case, Concrete Duck took over from Kantine in mid-2015, which I’d thought of at the time as the only clearly gay restaurant in Sydney’s gay neighbourhood of Darlinghurst. It’s not that they advertised as such, but located behind Taylor Square, it just seemed to be the default place whenever gay friends or visitors wanted to go somewhere in the neighbourhood that was… well: gay.

Concrete Duck doesn’t seem quite as gay. A Saturday morning: my large latté was perfectly fine, so I’ll have to rely on my pals for the main review (and I’m always happy to have guest reviewers). They said that the food, for dinner, is pretty consistently good, though the service can be kind of dazed and confused. However, the breakfast this morning was a failure, smashed avocado with gluten-free toast at $15 was sad all around.

It’s not a bad place to watch the world go by though. If I try the food, it will definitely be for dinner, and not for breakfast…

Concrete Duck Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Drinking in Sydney: The Lansdowne, Chippendale

The Lansdowne is a good choice if you’re in the neighbourhood, coming out of Glebe, or having eaten in that crazy strip of Asian restaurants, catering for students, on Broadway. We stopped by on a Tuesday night and it was pretty quiet. A fun, casual vibe. Amusing rules next to the pool table. A handful of local hipsters.

I thought the wine was pretty expensive: we chose white; the range of prices was from $50 to $60 a bottle. And yet, the Mt Savignan 2017 Yetti and the Kokonut was super delicious and a great way to meet an Australian wine made of the Savignan grape, which has an amusing story of being brought to Australia with people thinking it was Albariño.

So, I loved the wine, and the price is forgiven (ahem, not that I paid for it, Josh treated).

And hence, I found the bar pleasant enough too. I’d be happy to come back, for bar food or more drinks.

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

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Sydney Food Diary: Pheast, Waverley

It looks like a casual café, albeit with some nice artwork and greenery up, but the food is sophisticated. With a focus on vegetables, the dishes here are ‘globally influenced’ and more importantly, tasty.

For three of us, we ordered five dishes to share, two proteins, and that was the right amount (with a BYO bottle of wine brought by our pal: thanks J). The crisp, light, zucchini flowers with a sauce of sheep’s cheese was maybe my favourite, generously salty.

I thought the squid salad (or was it cuttlefish, I can never tell them apart) was a very interesting combo of the squid, herbs, chili and fennel, I believe.

We ordered one of the specials of the day: meatballs, which were… meatballs. Tasty. In a sauce.

A salad with radicchio, leeks, beets and burrata: ah, maybe that was my favourite. Can’t go wrong with burrata. We demolished this in moments, the three of us.

We also had some super crispy potatoes, which were surprisingly similar to the ones at Gogyo the other week. For some reason, this dish doesn’t excite any more, but I think that’s me rather than the restaurants.

Lovely, friendly service and only $40 each for the three of us, this was surprisingly inexpensive, but equally surprisingly elegant. What a treat if you live nearby and this is one of your local restaurants. For the rest of us, I’d say it’s definitely worth a trip and I’d also venture particularly good if you or yours are not eating meat.

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

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Sydney Food Diary: Mazzaro, CBD

Now this was a great surprise. Located below the Hyde Park Inn, across from Hyde Park, I’d passed by it many times. It looked traditional and non-descript. Boasting a Mediterranean menu, I’d never had a reason to try it until we needed a quick meal, but wanted a nice meal, before going to see Riot at the Spiegeltent during the Sydney Festival. My dishes were particularly tasty: beautifully done, very rich meat dishes.

The restaurant seems a bit of a mystery in fact, now that I’ve looked it up on the internet. No clues to how long it’s been around. The website looks like it might be new, but doesn’t have a lot of information up. We were greeted very heartily by who we assume was the owner, and were served wine by a fairly awkward sommelier (who made a mistake on what we ordered, though the Pinot Blanc that we finally got was delicious). The place has that old-style feeling of a family restaurant and business, and the decor and shape feels a bit like a hotel restaurant. It’s not a trendy spot.

I was right away impressed with the generous serving of beef cheeks, beautiful, absolutely tender, and nicely presented on mash with a rich gravy, and a sort of cheese croquette. A special of seared tuna was fine but quite a small serving. Our two friends both had an appetizer of mushrooms and said that they thought it was average.

Then for the mains, again: I won. This pork tenderloin was a ridiculously large serving and a beautiful piece of meat. Also a winner: incredibly tender lamb neck, in a sort of ragout. Very comforting and rich. And again, our friends, who had the seafood dishes, though they were average.

Still, we were overall happy with our night, particularly because we’d originally gone to a restaurant, who I will kindly not name, who had a delivery issue and so only had one of their mains available (out of four or five). It was much more casual than we’d expected, and there was a group of twenty older Danish people having some sort of event. Pretty weird atmosphere in general, so Mazzaro was a winner before we even had any food.

Oh, and their desserts were very good. $12 is cheap for a dessert in the CBD, I’d say, and I liked my pannacotta with a little sorbet on the side.

All in all: I’d definitely recommend coming here for a meal, as a slightly unusual choice. Order the meat!

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

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Sydney Food Diary: In The Annex, Glebe

In the interest of exploration, I chose the most interesting looking cafe for brunch I could on Zomato (and peaking at Google reviews too) and we tried this place on a Saturday morning. I expected a regular old hipster café, and that’s what it looks like with its cold drop coffee and delicious looking pastries at the counter. But we happened to try the breakfast bowls, and I loved the Asian influence. If they do just as well with their breakfast burritos, then this place is totally a winner.

Plus, it’s got a great vibe: a loyal clientele dropping by, many known by name, it seemed, dressed casually and with interesting tattoos and some with keep-cups for takeaway coffee. I decided to try a cold drip coffee; it’s been a while. It was like a delicious smooth iced coffee, no ice cream added. They give it to you in a cute little bottle and you pour it over ice yourself. Yum. Five bucks.

As I said, we both had breakfast bowls. The scrambled eggs and spicy braised eggplant (melt in your mouth) is the perfect thing if you’re avoiding starch and grains. With chili and spring onions on top, this was a nice dish ($14). Eggs scrambed are a favourite of mine; and they’re not always done well. These were.

For only $4 more, the bowl with perfectly crisp pork belly, a dash of fried onions, a fried egg and various pickles and veg, all on brown rice, was generous, and perhaps too much for one person. We did the obnoxious couple thing of each eating half of our bowls and swapping though which worked out…

We always go to Merchants of Ultimo as part of our Saturday morning shopping run at Harris Farms at Broadway, so it was good for a change of pace, and a new place to blog, and I was very impressed. Also, prices seemed just a little bit cheaper for everything on the menu, compared to Surry Hills!

In the Annex Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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