Monthly Archives: February 2013

The latest from the Bentley boys, Monopole

Taking over the former Sailor’s Thai space, Monopole is right at home in this trendy part of town. Dark, sleek and sexy, Monopole is located just down the road from hospitality heavy weights The Apollo and Gastro Park. The idea, according to Savage and Hildebrandt, was to open a wine bar and eatery where they could experiment with a “more casual concept”.

Monopole has been designed by Melbourne architect Pascal Gomes-McNabb

Monopole has been designed by Melbourne architect Pascal Gomes-McNabb

Monopole isn’t casual – it’s actually quite intimidating. Designed by Melbourne architect Pascal Gomes-McNabb, the dark and moody interior is dominated by a long bar that borders the open kitchen. Perch at the bar and get amongst the action as the bartenders sip, squeeze and shake their liquid concoctions before you. Order a charcuterie platter and watch as the cured meat is freshly sliced right before your eyes.

Salt cod, green peas, mint vinaigrette and pea shoots

Salt cod, green peas, mint vinaigrette and pea shoots

Despite the credentials of its owners and its terribly trendy location, Monopole is surprisingly unpretentious. There’s a liveliness about the restaurant that demands attention. And perhaps, gives the restaurant some leeway when it comes to the overpriced menu. The quality of the produce is all there – from the grilled scampi and roasted suckling pig to the Iggy’s bread and shaved heirloom vegetables –  but quantity, as well as robust flavours, are lacking.  However, the house cured and smoked duck breast and cured venison on the charcuterie platter are exceptional and make a visit to Monopole worth your while.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Monopole here

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Filed under Monopole, Potts Point, Reviews

Everyone loves Santa

When you think of badass Sydney, in all its beer-goggle glory, you’re probably bowing in the direction of Kings Cross. So what better place to open a grungy restaurant and bar than beneath the Cross’ infamous Coca Cola sign? Santa Barbara comes to us, complete with neon-lit signage, from the Drink n Dine team, who can rattle off The Norfolk, The Abercrombie, The Carrington, The Forresters and Queenie’s, as part of their impressive hospitality portfolio.

At first we were confused. Sydney is a town where you don’t just go out for Chinese, Thai or Italian food: You go out expressly for Sichuan, Laotian or Tuscan. But how about Santa Barbarian food? We hear you – we had no idea either. Basically, the menu heads down the American diner grub path, then gets crossed with flashes of Asian inspiration, before taking a quick trip to the trendy ‘burbs of Aussie dude food. But like the rest of the Drink n Dine portfolio – the Santa Barbara experience is about much more than just the food. Obscure portrait photos line the restaurant’s polished teak walls, while tacky plastic national flags hang from the low ceiling. There’s colourful Chinese-style paper lanterns and random bits and bobs of American paraphernalia. It really does sound hideous but that’s part of the charm of this dishevelled space. It’s fashionably mixed up but too cool to care.

BBQ prawn ssam

BBQ prawn ssam

The surprisingly large dining room fills up quickly on a Friday night – but it’s not so full that you can’t walk around without rubbing up against every other sweaty body in the joint. There’s no table service, so you place your food order at the bar and it’s served pretty quickly. After being handed a plastic number on a metal stand, I half-expect to hear “number 54” screeched RSL-style over an intercom…No, it’s not that bad, but yes, if you’re more accustomed to fine dining, then Santa Barbara won’t be your cup of tea.

 

The food is great value for money and perfect for drink snacking. The BBQ prawn ssam is a surprisingly elegant dish – crusted with quinoa and served with mango and a seriously good dose of chilli. The salt n pepa sweet potato fries aren’t so deep-fried that the flavour of the sweet orange kumara is lost. Rather than having chip-guilt, you actually feel vaguely wholesome eating them. The chicken dishes are the standouts; the jerk chicken wings are served with a ranch sauce that’s great for sweet potato chip dipping and the coke can chicken requires total body commitment; sleeves rolled up, elbows on the table and gnawing the meat off the bone. Don’t bother looking for a “healthy” option – the jerk prawn and papaya salad is so salty that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night gagging for a glass of water but I doubt the calorie-conscious will be particularly charmed by the brown booth seating and cocktail jugs, anyway.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Santa Barbara here

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Filed under Kings Cross, Reviews, Santa Barbara

Bending the restaurant rules… Pawn & Co

Shopping on Chapel Street has been given a new meaning at Pawn & Co, a thrift shop and bar that needs to be seen to be believed. Found high above Chapel Street, this bar may be the only place in the world where everything is for sale. From the furniture down to the glassware, owners Steve Wools and Josh Lefers of Big Dog Creative have proven that everything has a price. At Pawn & Co the interiors are nostalgic for the Prohibition-era, with an old-school wooden bar, velvet booths and tens of books lining the shelves, all ingeniously cut away to make room for a flask – which is for sale, of course.

Take a trip to the Prohibition era at Pawn & Co

Take a trip to the Prohibition era at Pawn & Co

With a room that is as much about the selling as it is the drinking, the menu is based on bites that can travel. Meatballs here are the order of the day, to be eaten separately or made into sliders, but with flavour combinations like Jamaican chicken; pork and apple; and double-bacon cheeseburger, it may be difficult to settle on just one. Just save some room for the ice-cream balls too. Each dish can be paired with a shot suggestion but for a taste of something a little more unusual try the cocktail list, which even features some creations made with absinthe. With regularly scheduled auctions organised to sell their wares, Pawn & Co offers the perfect escape from reality – just don’t let the green fairy do the bidding for you.

Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about Pawn & Co here

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Filed under Pawn & Co, Reviews, South Yarra

Is it “the best pho in town”?

“She was known for her taste and attitude… now you too, can get a taste of Madame Nhu”. This is the catch phrase of the casual eatery that sits on the corner of Campbell and Foster Street, just across from Bar H. I’m pretty sure the famous Madame Nhu would prefer her potential clientele didn’t take this jingle literally, given that cannibalism went out of fashion with Lord of the Flies. Bad jokes aside, the eating habits of island-bound ratbags and hungry city slickers collide when we hear the restaurant’s other selling point; “The best pho in town.”

The space is right at home in trendy Surry Hills

The space is right at home in trendy Surry Hills

The Vietnamese restaurant’s website boasts that its dining room will transport you to old Saigon, but we reckon it’s far too at home in Surry Hills’ backstreets. The space is trendy and hip, with retro blue stools, wooden shutters and a large mural of a guy pointing the barrel of a gun at unsuspecting pho-lovers. While accurate historical representation may not be Madame Nhu’s forte, the food it dishes up is pleasant. The Sichuan pepper squid, while small, is served with a generous amount of shallots and sliced chilli – making it the perfect beer snack.

Salt and pepper squid with sichuan pepper, shallot and chilli

Salt and pepper squid with sichuan pepper, shallot and chilli

 

The salads – grilled Saigon-style prawn papaya and Hoi An-style squid – are authentic, with tonnes of fresh herbs and a well-balanced dressing, however, a few more prawns and squid would have made the dish a lot more substantial. The pho, on the other hand, is slurpingly delicious… just as pho should be.  The best in town? We’ll let you decide.

Madame Nhu is great for a tasty and cheap work lunch or casual meal with friends.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Madame Nhu here

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Filed under Madame Nhu, Reviews, Surry Hills

Not much wrong with Mr Wong

Every man and his blog has “checked in” at Mr Wong. Foodies, socialites and cashed up executives flock here to experience sexy Cantonese fare and a killer drinks menu that features everything from sake to cider.

 

Mr Wong is swank central. Spread over two levels, the restaurant is littered with timeless colonial furnishings –  quirky lampshades, antique Chinese cupboards and quaint pieces of china – but rather than feeling stale and stuffy, Mr Wong exudes a sultry, ‘I’m-on-the-set of-Sex-in-the City’ vibe. Yes, there are token ‘Chinese restaurant’ touches, like a couple of waving cats, but design king Michael McCann has ensured the end result is all glamour and style.

 

Mr Wong is cleverly geared for group dining

Mr Wong is cleverly geared for group dining

Mr Wong is cleverly geared for group dining – bookings can only be made for six or more and the restaurant is furnished with mostly round and rectangular tables. The menu, too, is best approached with a horde of hungry friends to ensure you get a taste of at least a few of the 80 dishes on offer.

 

Mr Wong embodies all the assets of a truly great restaurant. From the moment we walked in the doors, we were met with efficiency and courtesy. We soon forgot about the fact that we had to wait for an hour to get a table, thanks to the two ‘complimentary cocktail’ vouchers we received to use at their sister venue, Palmer and Co, just around the corner.  The food refuses to play second fiddle to the restaurant design, with classic dishes such a Chinese roasted duck and soy braised chicken with ginger scallion sauce taking centre stage. Steamed, poached, pan-fried and baked dim sum make up the lunch menu while dinner dishes are graced by roasted meats and live seafood from the tank. We recommend the XO twice-cooked green beans with pork mince and the stir fried chilli king prawns. Both are outstanding.

There are over 80 dishes on offer

There are over 80 dishes that make up the Cantonese menu

The food doesn’t come cheap but when you consider that Justin Hemmes put in a casual $4 million to give life to Mr Wong’s, the bill isn’t quite as outrageous. The service is smooth enough, perhaps a few more men in tuxedos would help, but the “people-watching” is unparalleled – especially if you nab a table on the top floor with views of the entire restaurant.

 

The no-bookings policy has meant a visit to Mr Wong has, in hindsight, been regrettably long overdue.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Mr Wong here

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Filed under Circular Quay, Mr Wong, Reviews, Sydney CBD