Monthly Archives: July 2011

Barrio Chino

From the outside, a simple white exterior with a rather basic “Barrio Chino” sign gives no inkling as to what to expect on entering. But once that heavy door swings open, a long, luxurious bar welcomes us to what can only be described as a Mexican paradise.

In the heart of Kings Cross, Barrio Chino has a decisively Mexican vibe

The new outfit is both complimentary to the original fixtures and at the same time refreshingly re-designed to be beautifully light and relatively un-embellished. Untreated wood tables follow a uniform layout and work with the white-washed walls which soften the factory-like space of concrete flooring and open brickwork. The restaurant’s space is welcoming – albeit large and relatively minimal – that evokes simplicity with quaint touches such as potted plants on each table. It is a far-cry from the usually cluttered and crazy features that one would usually connote with a Mexican restaurant and a change that I love.

Now, I have to admit, I’m not very educated in this cuisine so I brought with me my ‘Mad-For-Mexican’ best friend to get my facts straight (and make sure I wouldn’t get wooed by any so-called Mr. Margaritas). But wooed I did and so did she. The menu embraces true Mexican “street food” with all the classics such as carnitas (crispy braised pork) tacos, baby pork ribs and tuna tostadas. We are told that the menu places emphasis on sourcing, where possible, natural and wholesome ingredients and while I was initially skeptical, on my first mouthful – there was no denying it. From the straight-from-the-sea seared tuna that is elegantly placed on crisp, warm tostadas to the fresh creaminess of brightly coloured emerald guacamole. All the food is fresh and tasty.

So much more than just simple guacamole

Initially I had thought Barrio Chino would simply be a fantastic place for a margarita and a bowl of guac’ n’ chips but… it is more than that. From our first dish of tuna sashimi tostadas with chipotle aioli and crispy leeks, to the zingy squid and fish ceviche, there is nothing basic about it. While the restauranteurs of Barrio Chino don’t claim to be doing fine-dining of any sort, each dish naturally oozes class and elegance.

The vibe is exciting, without being crazy and the place has character, without being over-the-top. This charming Mexican restaurant is a welcome addition to the Sydney dining scene.

A gourmet twist on traditional Mexican

Anna Lisle
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The Carrington Hotel

Jam packed on a Monday night? Not bad from the once-shady Carrington Hotel on Surry Hill’s Bourke St. Gone are the pokie machines and garish fluorescent lights, being replaced instead with plush red leather lounges and an eclectic mish-mash of paraphernalia. Middle Eastern mosaic tiles line the kitchen’s exterior while 80s retro bar stools and lounges fill the back restaurant space and an array of ferns and shrubbery hang from wrought iron ceiling gratings. I’m not quite sure if I’m in an American diner, a Spanish pinchos bar or hustling the streets in Morocco’s Fez. Chuck in a wall mounted animal head and suddenly I’m in medieval England. But that’s the charm of this palace– nothing matches but why does it need to?

The Carrington Hotel reclaims its 80s retro vibe

And while you need to throw away any preconceptions about the decor, treat the menu in the same manner. You can’t expect your clichéd steak-and-mash pub combo, The Carrington Hotel takes beer food to another level with a Spanish menu which features everything from bull’s tail empanadas, calamari sliders and Jamon croquettes.

Classic spanish flavours explode from the dishes

Each dish doesn’t have your usual whams and bams of Spanish spice, but all the classic flavours are there. Kingfish pastrami, kohlrabi on fried bread provides smoke, salt, creaminess and crunch. It is a textural and flavoursome treat. But, for me, the standout is undoubtedly the hommus, eggplant and labna dish. A plate of zesty, garlicky hommus with lashings of olive oil oozing eggplant wedges and dollops of rich labna are exactly what the doctor ordered on this wintry Monday night.

Standout dish: Hommus, eggplant and labna

The Carrington Hotel is the perfect new hangout for Surry Hill locals sick of try-hard trendy bars and restaurants.

15 minute walk from Central Station on Bourke Street, Surry Hills.

The Carrington Hotel is the latest venture from publicans James Wirth and James Miller. The premise may be as old as the hills, but with new owners and a very new look – an ex-local would think they’d walked into the wrong pub.

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Carrington Hotel here

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A Stunning Night at The Star

It’s no secret that Star City is undergoing impressive redevelopment and expansion to relaunch as The Star with spanking new retail and dining facilities. Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend their glamorous cocktail party with about 300 other lucky guests as they launched the latest batch of restaurants soon to open at the revamped venue.

A small taste of what will be on offer was showcased to everyone from the culinary elite to food aficionados alike. The complex will become home to David Chang’s Momofuku Seiobo, Melbourne’s Teage Ezard’s BLACK, Sokyo from New York’s Chase Kojima and our own, Stefano Manfredi’s Balla. This internationally acclaimed line-up of chefs not only revealed the names of their new ventures, but also the vision behind the restaurants, signature dishes and stunning interiors.

As I roamed around the party chatting to other guests, I spotted ‘The Godfather’ of Italo-Australian cooking – Stefano Manfredi, who had just enough time to stop for a quick chat. He informed me about his new flagship restaurant, which will face out over the new main entrance and provide guests with impressive harbour views. I can’t wait to go there for dinner. He is a fabulous chef!

The French champagne continued to flow throughout the night, and the delectable array of food kept coming. As I sipped at my bubbly and nibbled away, I attained a unique insight into the high-quality produce, and creative dishes that are sure to grace the menus at these exciting new restaurants at The Star.

Maureen de Groot

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Concrete Blonde

Tucked in an alcove, overlooking Bayswater Road in Kings Cross is Concrete Blonde. A blazing torch lures guests towards two large glass doors where waiters anxiously await to whisk you inside. While the name has caused quite a stir – once you walk in the doors, the name seems appropriate and fitting.

On walking in the entrance, one doesn’t know where to look. My partner is drawn to the rotisserie which enticingly gleams at one end of the kitchen with a lustrous pork belly mesmerizingly turning. I’m drawn to the plush black leather lounges which seem to beg you to sit down and relax. Wrought iron drain pipes hang from the ceiling, white (er, I mean blonde) concrete edges and polished wooden floorboards scream of warehouse-style luxury and the vibe is very dreamy and atmospheric.

Just sinister enough for Kings Cross

The glitter isn’t reserved soley for the decor. Head Chef Patrick Dang’s menu has creative hints reminiscent of Heston Blumenthal – the menu is split up into sections of cold, warm, “cool” stuff, hot compositions, h²0 (seafood), “from the ranch” and “over the wood”, while dish descriptions are purely a list of ingredients. Dang, who began his cooking career at Spargo’s in Victoria has spent the last few years overseas at Singapore’s T8 Restaurant before settling into an executive sous position with a US-based Viceroy Hotel Group. But Concrete Blonde has brought this Australian talent back home.

We begin with a dish from the “cool” stuff – coffee-cured Hiramasa kingfish. Our cheeky Scottish waiter immediately warns us that the coffee is quite strong but as caffeine addicts, we quickly assure him of our selection. The first thing that hits me, beyond the delicate presentation of the dish, is the freshness of the kingfish. Expecting a smoky mocha flavour, I am somewhat disappointed by the lack of coffee present in the kingfish. In fact, had the waiter not pointed it out, I wouldn’t have even noticed that it had been cured in my favourite beverage. However, in saying that, the dish did not disappoint. The texture provided by the scant pickled mustard seeds, combined with the tart vinaigrette and the burst of sweetness from the crunchy cranberry tuile all created a perfect dish. It was one of those culinary moments when all the components sing in unison – like the crescendo in an orchestral performance. And no amount of coffee would have changed that.

Fresh and delicate kingfish

I almost packed up and went home, completely satiated by this experience. Well, perhaps it is more realistic to admit that had I not been here to review the restaurant, I would have happily ordered another two of these dishes, paid the bill and left a happy woman. But relief sweeps over me as the waiter presents our next dish, the 4 lolli “pork”. Cubical morsels of confit minced pork disintegrate on the tongue. The texture is not at all what you would expect, hence the “pork” in the title of the dish. It is light and airy inside, yet crisp (and oil free) on the outside. A smear of Zhenjiang black vinegar toffee leaves each mouthful with a sweet, rich aftertaste. When the ranger valley 7+ Wagyu beef arrives, my palate is well versed in Asian flavours and, on first mouthful, the Mexican-ness of the dish is sharp yet not unwelcome. The Wagyu is memorable and placed on a papaya mojo and corn braise. An ox tail tamale, served in a banana leaf, placed on the side of a dish, confirms the Mexican bend of the dish.

Light and fluffy Lollipop pork

Concrete Blonde is undoubtedly one of Sydney’s more cosmopolitan experiences – the sophisticated yet grunge-like decor combined with an eclectic menu of universal flavours is both unique and impressive.

Anna Lisle

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Funky Bar, Newtown

Recently renovated and under new ownership, Funky Bar has re-opened its doors to Newtown’s effervescent King Street crowd. The newly remodelled bar now focuses on more nocturnal comforts including relaxed live music, gourmet cuisine and quality cocktails. Open seven days from 11:00am to midnight, offering lunch and dinner daily and breakfast on weekends. Every week live music is scheduled from Tuesday night through to Saturday night.

The décor and atmosphere draws inspiration from the decadent baroque era and offers something unique to the area; a quality dining experience in the company of relaxed live music, topped off with legendary cocktails crafted by in-house mixologists. Function rooms are available for all occasions including birthdays, engagement parties, corporate events and Christmas parties.

A touch of historic glamour with the rose-water martini at Funky Bar

These days there’s cocktail bars, wine bars, tapas bars, live music bars – you name it, there’s a bar that specialises in it. But there are very few bars that do it all. Funky Bar on Newtown’s main King Street drag puts all the rest to shame. It seems to not only tick every box, but do it in a way that will leave you with a spring in your step and a sway to the hip (and that’s not just the martini working its magic).

While a Tuesday ‘school’ night doesn’t have the usual let’s-dance-till-3am kind of vibe, it didn’t mean we weren’t up for a good time. Braving the gusty winds of a cold Sydney winter night, my friends and I almost fell into Funky Bar’s doorway. Feeling rather dishevelled, we were immediately greeted by a rather excitable waitress. Strutting over in a tight black mini dress, wearing a bowler’s hat – confidently extending her petite hand, she flashes a cheeky grin, and we are welcomed to Funky Bar. Her energy is contagious and it sets the mood for the night ahead.

There is a fun vibe about the place. The crowd isn’t as alternatively bent as most other bars in Newtown and the space seems to cater for different occasions – there is a back section with ruby red leather stools and couches for a more casual beer and tapas scenario while the front end of the bar is more focused on providing an intimate dining experience. Our lively waitress flitters between both sections of the bar and like an actress on stage, she changes characters – from conservatively filling water glasses and politely arranging the cutlery for the older patrons dining to dancing and laughing with the cocktail crowd in the back area lounge. She plays each part to a tee, pleasing everyone.

But while the cocktails do certainly run down our throats like liquid gold – the rose martini is particularly memorable – but it is the food that we’re here for. Our first dish arrives with steam rising off the plate – grilled prawns marinated in garlic, coriander and chilli, doused in a sweet sauce. There are chunks of fresh chilli which cut through the sweet, molasses-like sauce and each mouthful leaves you wanting more. Unlike most tapas, the serve is generous, allowing us to slow down and appreciate the cocktails that seem to evaporate from our glasses. Instead of being overwhelmed with all our dishes at once, the lamb backstrap skewers arrive with perfect timing. They are pink and moist – just as lamb should be and the “chimmi churri sauce” compliments the strong flavour of the lamb. I must make note that while the chimmi churri sauce isn’t exactly the textbook Argentinean garlic and parsley sauce that it’s meant to be – in fact, it is more a sweet tomato salsa – we’re not complaining, it tastes delicious.

Fresh seafood with delectable spices

Anna Lisle

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