Sydney Food Diary: Masala Darbar, Surry Hills

Drop by for a dosa at Masala Darbar. I know that Indian cuisine has contributed many delights to the world, but this is my current obsession. A perfect, crisp pancake that looks like it will be too filling to eat… but is light and airy. The filling, usually of potatoes, may fill you up, it’s true. And then there’s the condiments: a small tin of dahl, some chili sauce (not as spicy as it looks) and a delicious coconut chutney. This really was a very good dish.

It’s location? A new restaurant that has opened up in the strange little strip of restaurants on Cleveland Street between Bourke and Crown streets. South Asian restaurants have had to compete against the long-established and seemingly unbeatable Maya empire. Sushi Suma attracts crowds year after a year. Bar Cleveland on the corner seems a neighbourhood institution. But lots of other restaurants fall to the wayside, the Japanese one with a reputation for rude service, the one trying for fine dining, and the candied apple store.

Masala Darbar offers a really extensive menu, both Northern Indian , and Southern Indian cuisine. Aside from the above-mentioned Mysore Masala Dosa, we had a goat curry, a Prawn Dum Biryani and a crab masala.

My dinner date, an early Tuesday night, is braver than I, so I’m glad I followed her lead. I’d normally think crab was a bit daunting. The dish came with one crab split neatly into two, the sauce was beautiful, and the flesh tasted particularly sweet, digging it out myself.

The goat curry and biryani were good; very savoury. I was a little full after but not too much, with that dosa, two curries and a rice dish. Actually, in consideration, I’d say the dishes are more substantial and more nicely presented than busy Maya da Dhaba across the street.

Still, the restaurant feels a little new, as if there needs to be something to make it feel more comfortable or cosy. There are some nice photos up, but with only 2 or 3 other tables dining, the place felt a bit quiet and empty (they haven’t got their liquor licence yet, so they really are still settling in).

Then again, Maya Vegetarian a block away, which also has pretty good dosas, was doing renovations last lunch hour we were there; and it looked half like a cafeteria (as you order from the counter) and a bit like a worksite. So, this is a step up.    

I think they should be able to make a good go of it here, though once things feel a bit more settled in. I also wonder how they’ll convey to potential customers that they have some really great dishes here. I think it was a bit of luck that we got the tasty crab and goat dishes. With almost 20 dishes under Chef’s specials on a 9-page menu, the choice is a little overwhelming!

In any case, those are our recommendations if you go. Drop by for a casual and quick meal, it’s not a fancy place. Go for crab and goat and definitely try a dosa, one between two or three people is enough for a taste but not to fill you up too much and prevent tasting other dishes!

We dined as guests of Masala Darbar. The opinions and the review are my own.

Masala Darbar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Taste of Shanghai, World Square

Somehow I manage to go by all the better-lit restaurants on the ground level and end up in the basement of World Square. I definitely ate in the corner restaurant before… but it was before Taste of Shanghai. I find something fun and inviting about the set-up. Apparently, it’s a chain and there are six in Sydney.

You get a paper menu with brightly coloured photos on it when you sit down… and a pen to check off what you want.  Lunch for one person, it was pretty hard to decide what to have. Note they have member prices and non-member prices!

I opted for a simple hot and sour soup, one of my faves. This was fine, not too spicy with a nice hit of sour at the end, and a good portion of stuff in the broth, which was perhaps a little thinner than I’m used to, though I’m a bit of a sucker for Asian soups that are thick with cornstarch.

Then the pan-fried dumplings with this helpful warning. So, the other caution is that a small-medium size bowl of soup and eight pan-fried dumplings is too much food for one person for lunch. I almost took three of them home but decided I needed to be brave. I was surprised by the light, cake-like texture of the wrapping, and even the pan-fried bits had a delicacy about them. There was the satisfying burst of soup, and then the bite of the pork filling, which was perhaps a bit small. It was a nice dish, though I probably would have appreciated them more shared with others, and it didn’t give me that OMG feeling of when I had them at the New Shanghai in Ashfield.

Anyways, $20 for lunch (it would be a better deal to share dishes with friends), a new restaurant to blog about, and I got a laugh from wondering how soy sauce ended up as ‘soysacer’. I’d be up to trying another one of the branches of this with friends but this one, being in the bottom corner of a shopping mall, I wouldn’t make an occasion of it.

Taste of Shanghai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Dainty Sichuan, World Square

I had to laugh. The women next to us were Chinese but I’m not sure from what parts. After trying their noodle soups, they kept on looking over at us studying the menu, particularly at my Caucasian husband, as if to say ‘you have no idea what you’re in for’. We finally asked, ‘is it hot?’ and they said, ‘so hot. very hot.’

This led me to the conclusion that I would go for a dish with one cartoon chili marking it on the menu, and went for lamb ribs and noodles, and my better half had a wonton with… two cartoon chilis.

It was a bit too spicy for him but edible. Mine was pretty spicy but fine. But while I was happy to try a new cuisine, I just couldn’t discern much flavour besides… spicy. The noodles were fine, nothing special, and the lamb was tender, and the wonton tasty, but mostly the experience was about surviving the spicy broth. I don’t think I’d do it again.

Dainty Sichuan Noodle Express Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Butter, Surry Hills


I like surprises but it’s also sometimes nice to know what you’re in for. And there’s a lovely simplicity about Butter in that it’s not hard to describe. You can buy fried chicken here, in a spicy sauce. You can drink champagne or sparkling wine. I believe you can buy any of the trainers that are in the display case. There are tasty side dishes, and apparently you can sometimes get your fried chicken on ramen, but that information is not so important. Chicken, champagne, sneakers. If you like one of these, you’ll like Butter, and if you like two or more, you might not like it twice or three times as much, but you’ll enjoy yourself. That certainly seemed to be the verdict of the rest of the restaurant on the weeknight we were there. It was packed for a peak period of dinner and then thinned out, mostly young professional women, that night at least. We had a reason to celebrate so splurged on champagne. We mixed up the proteins by having fried tofu as well as chicken. The spicy sauce was… very spicy. The coleslaw was great. Order at the counter. Loud, casual, fun and ridiculously Surry Hills cool.

Butter Sydney Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Cafe Fuerza Bruta, CBD

So, I’m going to a meeting at Sydney Town Hall and I’m dying for a coffee beforehand. I even have my KeepCup. I’ve planned for this. Walking up Kent Street, there’s a tiny corridor, the back entrance to Regent Place, and there’s a fellow waiting for coffee, and another two having a pastry and I think: this is it.

It seemed a shame to put a lid on my KeepCup. Lately, I’ve been getting a number of variations on the latte heart, but that classic rosetta with about 10 or 12 leaves: oh, it amuses me so. And look how cool this place is: pop culture, fun, vibrant, and a t-shirt to match. They’ve been around for about three years, I think and I see that Joel Newman, who served me, claims this as the smallest café in the CBD at just 7 square metres. His off-sider was whipping up a pan of brownies while I waited for my latte.

Go for the novelty or the good coffee.

Cafe Fuerza Bruta Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Paper Bird, Potts Point


If, like me, you lament the closure of modern Korean restaurant Moon Park, Paper Bird is some consolation. Taking over where a branch of the Bourke Street Bakery used to be, it’s almost hidden away on a side street in Potts Point (in fact, Moon Park felt a bit hidden away in its odd location in Redfern, far from other restaurants).

They serve up a few of the old specialties from Moon Park (like the Ddeokbokki, gochujang, peanuts above) but most dishes are new, more casual than Moon Park, all designed to share, and with the same sensibility of combining modern Australian cuisine with East Asian inspiration (seems to be a broader geography than Moon Park’s Korean focus).  We ordered a fair number of dishes to try, like this breaded pork cutlet, apple & spring vegetable ohitashi, which I thought was delicious. The yukhoebap: Korean beef tartare, rice, pear & nori was a bit plain, I thought. I liked how salty the shrimp brined fried chicken was.

Reviews from our table of four were mixed. I would definitely go back, and thought the dishes were tasty and interesting. Another of our party thought it was OK but nothing stood out for him. All up, I’d say two of us were enthusiastic and the other two less so. We even tried desserts (quite nice I thought): a milk bingsu, hazelnut, yuzu curd, and a soy creme caramel. I guess it is true that at Moon Park, I tended to say “wow!” after every dish, and my praise was more muted here, but I’m a sucker for fusion food so still want to go back and try more dishes (and their breakfast menu).

The colours of the walls are a strange pale green that I swear is the same shade as our bathroom for the first period of my childhood.

 

Paper Bird Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Spice I Am, Surry Hills

Spice I Am, in my memory, was the pioneer that really lifted Thai food in Sydney from the sometimes mediocre neighbourhood restaurants to something that people were talking about, excited about and lining up for. Soon followed by other great restaurants like Chat Thai and Home, and now having opened up a more upscale branch in Darlinghurst, their original location is still busy, with humble decor and a cash only policy.

I opted for a simple roast pork dish and was not exactly sure what I would get. It was perfectly tasty though for $18, a little on the small side. I’m always happy to come back here. The flavours are incredible.

Spice I Am Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Four Frogs Creperie, Randwick

They actually mill the buckwheat flour for their galettes (savoury crepes) themselves. This impresses me. Tasting these delicious galettes, perfectly crisp, with a great balance of ingredients, brought me right back to being in Paris. They really are delicious. They serve them up with a simple side salad. The specials are closer to $20; if you go for a sweet crepe or the most basic flavours, they are closer to $10.

One of the many restaurants around the Spot in Randwick, not all of them are open for lunch. We were attracted by the bright, cosy style and of course, the crepes.

It’s a good story too, told on their menu: four Frenchmen, loving life in Sydney, but not finding good crepes, decided to bring crepes to Sydney! Now they’ve got three locations.

Seems like they also serve up French cider. Definitely recommended.

 

Four Frogs Creperie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Drinking in Sydney: Tio’s Cervecería, Surry Hills

I’ve always like Tio’s. And it’s been around for a rather long time, considering the ephemeral nature of Surry Hills’ market for bars and restaurants. It combines casual and cool. I love the daggy sort of inside-outside bar where the bar area could be… on a beachfront or outside, and so the dark Surry Hills interior could really be outside somewhere, a warm night in a Latin American country. There has always been an interesting range of fun bar staff, mostly hipsters in various hipster dress, happy to explain the current range of mezcal and tequila. There are cheap cocktails. And there is good, interesting mezcal and tequila that I’m not sure you can get elsewhere.

We went on a beautifully quiet night; the only downside I’ve found about Tio’s is that it is sometimes uncomfortably busy and full for this ageing resident of Surry Hills. But perhaps I should time my visits better. We had a perfect nightcap here, after fried chicken and champagne at Butter, and I was reminded how much I like it.

Tio's Cervecería Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Fratelli Fresh, Entertainment Quarter

Fratelli Fresh already has huge name recognition and a stellar reputation. Moving into the Entertainment Quarter, with few options for dinner, is a no brainer. So, no surprise this place was packed on a Saturday night, though we happily got a table for two without problem. It was date night! Lots of couples out for a meal, and an occasional family.

I’ve been to a few Fratelli Fresh’s in my time and have always been impressed with tasty, fresh Italian food. But here I think I was probably the least impressed. My negroni on tap was fine. The stuffed zucchini flower ($5 each) was perfection: molten savoury cheese oozing from deep-fried crisp vegetal matter.

My lasagna was OK, nothing special, as was my better half’s lamb ragu pasta. I think we should have gone for one of the mains instead. Because for drinks and a main course and a little bit more, $100 for the two of us feels a bit steep. Though prices in the Entertainment Quarter have always been steep. And prices in Sydney are steep too. Still. It was a good night out though: the visuals in the new Bladerunner film were amazing.

Fratelli Fresh Entertainment Quarter Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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