Category Archives: Bondi

For fried crickets, cactus plants and the Virgin Mary – head to El Topo

Bondi Junction’s El Topo is riding the taco revolution, which shows no signs of slowing. This isn’t your standard quesadilla joint, however. The unusual location, on the rooftop of The Eastern hotel, amongst the retail high rises of Bondi Junction’s Westfield complex, may be a deterrent for some but those put off probably aren’t El Topo’s target market, anyway.

There’s an indoor restaurant, which offers a colourful array of booth seating, plus there’s an outdoor terrace and bar

There’s an indoor restaurant, which offers a colourful array of booth seating, plus there’s an outdoor terrace and bar

There’s an indoor restaurant, which offers a colourful array of booth seating, plus there’s an outdoor terrace and bar. Hand-painted Oaxaca tiles make a colourful tabletop and glass sculls, imported from Mexico, are scattered around the space.

Like the location, the menu is unexpected. Rather than offering Tex-Mex or California-style fare, El Topo prides itself on serving dishes that are authentically Mexican. For the brave, there’s fried crickets and unusual accompaniments like jicama fruit and cactus. The chipotle chile prawns are not for the feint hearted, either; they’ve got a rich and layered heat, and they’re served whole (head, tail and shell). Just like you’d get in Mexico.

Soft shell tacos

“Taco de cerdo” – guallio chile pork, roast pineapple, lettuce and coriander

The tacos are soft-shell, not hard, and the mushroom quesadilla is filled with ingredients like Mexican truffle, salsa verde and queso oaxagueno (a white, semi hard chese from Mexico). It’s not overloaded with cheap fillers and it doesn’t ooze cheesy oil when you pick it up.

Homemade mango, strawberry and coconut paddlepops

Homemade mango, strawberry and coconut paddlepops

The mandate for authenticity comes from head Chef Matthew Fitzgerald. While his resume doesn’t list a host of Mexican joints, he has earned his stripes at reputable establishments including Bathers’ Pavilion and Bentley Restaurant and Bar in Sydney, and Oxo Tower and Fig Bistro in London.

El Topo is constantly buzzing with a cool Hispanic vibe, but on Thursday nights the volume is amplified; they’ve got the dinner and the party combination down pat. If only every night was late night shopping.

Anna Lisle

Read more about El Topo here

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Sshhhhh… T.H.E. is one of Bondi’s best kept secrets

From Sarah Hendriks and Michael Benson (of Porch and Parlour) and head chef Sam Smith (ex L’Etoile), this treasure-box-of-a-restaurant is constantly swarmed with appreciative locals.

The rustically-refined space is where you want to linger. Glass jars of fresh flowers sit on every table and vintage light fixtures hang from the restaurant’s ceiling. Menus come printed on mini clipboards, exposed ducts run along the ceiling and the wooden floor is unpolished.  It’s cool and fashion-conscious, without doing it in that ‘alienating-anyone-over-30’ kind of way.

The breakfast grazing board

The breakfast grazing board

Behold, there are no panoramic views of Bondi Beach (unless you consider street-side glimpses) and before you turn up your nose, take note; this also means there aren’t hordes of tourists. Instead, the restaurant is filled with groups of friends meeting for a late brunch and couples willing-away the afternoon with a few glasses of wine.

King george whiting, fried eggs, beurre blanc  and fresh lemon

King george whiting, fried eggs, beurre blanc and fresh lemon

The restaurant prides itself on sourcing local produce. Kate and Craig, from Old Man’s Gully Farm in Scone provide the restaurant’s organic meat, and their seafood is sourced from Chef Sam Smith’s dad in Port Lincoln. In the kitchen, the dishes are fussed over but not in a fine-dining fashion. The breakfast grazing board, served all day on weekends, is a generous feast for all the senses. Perfectly poached eggs, marinated feta, tomato and basil salsa and smoked salmon come with preserves and toast, perfect for dunking and dipping. A bowl of grilled whole prawns (yes, that’s head and shell) are served with a punchy harissa and the pork belly sandwich with an apple ‘slaw is serious hangover food. For drinking food, the locals come here for duck fat potatoes served with aiola, salted roasted almonds and pickled prawns served in a pretty glass jar.

Now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, every suburb needs a version of The Hill. 

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Hill Eatery here
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Serious soul food at Sean’s Panaroma

Is this the most unpretentious hatted restaurant in Sydney? Sean’s Panaroma (note: say and spell, ‘pan aroma’) is a Sydney institution which opened on Bondi’s Campbell Parade, way back in 1993. A man before his time, Sean Moran was one of the first chefs to implement a paddock-to-plate eating philosophy. He’s against genetically modified foods and he, together with partner Michael Robertson, have designed their Bondi restaurant with a closed loop system that involves composting and recycling. Aside from the ethical eating to be done there, one of the big draw-cards of this restaurant is view. Stunning vistas of Bondi’s coastline can be observed from the dining room and it’s a landscape that doesn’t disappoint, regardless of the weather.

The humble dining room at Sean's

The humble dining room at Sean’s

The menu at Sean’s is simple. Four entrees, four mains and four desserts are scribbled on swinging chalkboards and dishes change daily. Rather than an over-descriptive explanation of each dish, Sean simply lists a couple of ingredients. We opt for the “mulloway, tarragon, pippies” and “hogget, eggplant, rosemary”. Steamed in a bag, the mulloway is served on a bed of lemon, olive oil, tarragon and snow peas, all of which are generously topped with pippies. The lemon is slightly overpowering but the olive oil broth is so well developed that any of the bitterness is lost. The hogget (mature lamb) is served as a rack and roasted. The meat is slightly overcooked however, coupled with an eggplant mash and snow peas, the dish is wholesome and tasty. This is the type of food that you would eat at home, sitting at your mum’s kitchen table. The food may not be perfect but it’s made with a bucketful of love. Sean offers serious soul food.

Mulloway, tarragon, pippies

Mulloway, tarragon, pippies

The wine list offers a selection of boutique Australian varietals, vintage and non-vintage French champagnes, and a range of digestives. You can also BYO for $20 per bottle. Sean’s may not be cheap and you certainly aren’t paying for the décor but each dish is absolutely delicious and also generously portioned. Plus, how can you put a price on love?

Anna Lisle

Read more about Sean’s Panaroma here

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Bondi’s PaperPlanes is a high-flier

Ever seen a ceiling made of 500 individually-painted, brightly coloured Japanese skateboards? Or walked through a tin fleet of origami cranes that hang in limbo? Chuck in a purple, 10-metre neon-lit bar and you have Bondi’s PaperPlanes. Hidden away from the tourist-driven chaos of Campbell Parade, PaperPlanes is the brainchild of brothers Matt, Chris and Tim Barge (of Barge8), who also own LL Wine and Dine in Potts Point, together with business partner Phil Capaldi.

PaperPlanes Functions & Events

The ceiling features 500 individually-painted Japanese skateboards

The restaurant design features a quirky mix of kitsch Tokyo pop culture (think Manga comics) and Bondi sass. When we walk in the doors, it’s like we’ve been transported to downtown Tokyo, but the crowd, mostly made up of Bondi’s beautiful people in all their golden-skinned, Tsubi-wearing glory, reminds us that we’re still firmly planted on Australian soil.

An origami-folded menu reveals an array of modern Asian cuisine that has a clear Japanese bent. It’s been created by former LL Wine and Dine head chef, Jin Kung. For starters, the edamame is served with a seriously hot chilli sea salt and provides the perfect excuse for throwing back one of their signature cocktails – the ginger and lychee martini. A sesame seed-crusted yellow fin tuna is seared and sliced in rectangular mouthfuls, topped with a pinch of fried garlic and macro herbs.

Kingfish belly carpaccio with chili oil and a sweet ginger and mirin sauce, topped with tempura jalapeno

Kingfish carpaccio with a sweet ginger, chilli oil and mirin sauce, topped with tempura jalapeno

The special of the day, a pretty ceviche dish of salmon, watermelon and avocado is testament to how well Asian flavours and Australian ingredients work hand-in-hand. After our cold appetisers, the kushiyaki (grilled skewers) become the perfect ‘transition dish’ from entrée to main. The shiitake mushroom stuffed with a truffle and prawn butter has a curious flavour that is beguiling but it is the red miso eggplant that is truly impressive. The cubes of eggplant ooze with a salty-yet-sweet sauce and the only problem with the dish is that there just isn’t enough of it. The sake-flamed teriyaki chicken is served with sautéed white wild mushrooms, giving the dish an interesting edge that makes you wonder, why don’t more Japanese restaurants serve this?

Char-grilled sea scallops with kushiyaki glaze

Char-grilled sea scallops with kushiyaki glaze

There are nine different sakes in 60-millilitre, 240-millilitre and 720-millilitre sizes, and an international wine list that spans European and South American varietals as well as Australian drops. The cocktails, however, are what you’re here for – with a range of standard concoctions, served with Asian twists like fresh yuzu, shochu and wasabi infused vodka.

Anna Lisle

Read more about PaperPlanes here

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Panama has pedigree

The pedigree is worth noting at Panama House; Brent Mills, from New York’s Sweetwater Tavern, has teamed up with Anthony Kaplan, of Bondi’s bustling The Shop & Wine Bar to create the sleek and sophisticated Panama House.

Panama is part bar, part café and part restaurant

The dynamic duo, who also own The Corner House just down the road, have recreated the former Cafe Max venue into a space that screams of minimalist NY Meatpacking style slash suave Mexican cantina. Bondi Road may not boast the quintessential beach-side possy but the restaurant’s chic aesthetic makes up for the lack of crashing waves. The long narrow space, with a range of seating options caters to the all-day trade from coffee and breakfast to drinks and dinner. The long counter allows energetic exercisers to swig a quick espresso at the bar, while a handful of roadside tables out the front make people (or car) watching a breeze. Panama House is indeed a well thought-out space with a roof-top herb garden (talk about maximising space!) and a lighting system based on sensors – ensuring restaurant adapts to changing weather conditions.

One of their signature dishes: Southern Fried Chicken with sweetcorn puree

Food, however, is the hero. The menu at Panama House goes on a culinary journey through Central America, stopping over in Mexico, before returning to the deep South. For those with strong stomachs, the breakfast menu features dishes such as fried black pudding, served with a poached egg and fried sourdough while lunch and dinner is all about DIY tacos and finger-licking dishes like New Orleans sticky baby pork ribs.

With cocktails galore, cider on tap and a crowd full of Bondi cool cats, Panama House does its pedigree proud.
Anna Lisle

Read more about Panama House here

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Bondi Picnic

Who would have thought that Bondi would need another cafe? But when Bondi Picnic arrived on this beach suburb’s shores, it quickly became clear that there is always room for ones like this.

When I first heard that Bondi Picnic had taken over Igloo Zoo, my favourite frozen yoghurt joint in Bondi, I was resentful. I arrived at the cafe doors on a busy Sunday morning ready to fire any disapproval. But as soon as I walked in the cafe’s doors, any indignation that I harboured quickly dissipated.

Not too beachy, not too chic, Bondi Picnic’s design is simple and refreshing

All that came to mind was praise. The corner position on Hall Street’s five ways, coffee by The Little Marionette and a fresh, funky fit out, all the foundations of a great cafe are here. However, there is something extra that makes this cafe special. Perhaps it’s the innovative cold-drip coffee concept that offers a different single-origin coffee daily? Or maybe it’s the fact that the baristas casually yell over the churning machine “what’s your order?”.  The bottles of Cholula Hot Sauce on the tables are a cute touch, as is the fresh coconut water on the drinks list.

The success of Bondi Picnic shouldn’t be a surprise with Andrew Crabbe of Bondi Icebergs’ thriving Crabbe Hole cafe, as co-owner. Let’s just hope that the coffee stays smooth and the barista’s remain chirpy.

Anna Lisle

Bondi Picnic on Urbanspoon

Read more about Bondi Picnic here

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