Category Archives: Darlinghurst

Tapas makes a comeback at Aquaviva’s

Remember when tapas was all the rage? Well, it is alive and well at Aquaviva’s on Stanley Street. And here, they do it properly. Owned by father and son duo Viv and Antonio Fernandes, Aquaviva’s hasn’t an ounce of the “I’m-too-cool-for-school” ‘tude that many of its neighbours exude.

The restaurant’s double doors open onto the street, beckoning customers into the refreshingly unpretentious two-storey terrace space. On street-level guests can mingle at the polished bar before retreating to the more formal dining area upstairs for dinner. Spent the day in the office? Head to the rooftop bar for a boutique beer and a generous bowl of warm, fennel-marinated olives.

Aquaviva's rooftop bar

Aquaviva’s rooftop bar

Described as a blend of Modern Australian and colonial Portuguese, the concise menu changes weekly and is designed for sharing. Most of the ingredients are made in-house such as the garlic and bay butter and the rhubarb vinegar that accompanies the complimentary basket of bread. This extra attention to detail is reflected not only in the flavour combinations but also in the presentation of each dish. A pretty dish of young calamari, cucumber and coriander, dressed with a perfectly balanced coconut and tamarind vinaigrette is subtle yet memorable.

young calamari, cucumber, coriander with a coconut and tamarind vinaigrette

young calamari, cucumber, coriander with a coconut and tamarind vinaigrette

The chickpea ‘jenga’ looks scarily similar to the children’s game with its crisp-to-bite-yet-fluffy-on-the-inside rectangles stacked in a pile and served with a smear of spiced yoghurt and pink peppercorn salt. Split prawns, topped with a nondescript foam are served with a side of peer-pressure, as diners are strongly encouraged by the chef to eat the entire crustacean – yes, that’s head, tail and flesh. It wouldn’t be fair to end a Portuguese dining experience without trying the reverse chicken and it doesn’t let the team down. But the pièce de résistance at Aquaviva’s? The chef serves every dish personally, with a detailed spiel explaining the cooking process and ingredients.

The dining room at Aquaviva’s is littered with vintage lounges, grand mirrors, guitars and mini cellos – a fitting taste of Portugese history and the passions of the family that are looking to share it with Eastern Suburbs diners.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Aquaviva’s here

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Can’t get enough of Darlinghurst’s new izakaya restaurant… Kaya

The smell wafts out onto Oxford Street and hits us before we even enter the front door. If I hadn’t already booked a table at Kaya, I would have ditched my original plans and made a reservation here. “It’s the robata,” explains Tim Lackey, Kaya’s energetic co-owner who greets us at the door, “It’s seriously amazing.” Suddenly, we’re ravenous.

Moody and atmosphere, Kaya is perfect for first dates

Moody and atmospheric, Kaya is a perfect first date restaurant

Once home to the darling of Darlinghurst, Rambutan, Kaya’s interior has been designed by the visionary team, Splinter Society. Kaya’s dining room draws inspiration from traditional Japanese izakaya bars, whilst utilising Australian materials such as cypress pine from the Dandenong Ranges to create a dynamic space that incorporates high and low-tech features from sound-proof walls to manga graffiti.

Straying away from your standard sushi and sashimi Japanese offering, the menu at Kaya stays true to the traditional notion of “izakaya” dining —that is, a series of small dishes designed to share while you drink. With the seductive smell wafting around the restaurant, robata dishes are our main priority… that is, until we see the venison tataki and sashimi don on the table next to us. We start with the rice wine and seaweed cured kingfish and ocean trout, sweet shell-grilled scallops doused in a zingy citrus ponzu and miso eggplant.

We recommend you start with this rice wine and seaweed cured kingfish and ocean trout

Start with this rice wine and seaweed cured kingfish and ocean trout

Being don-devotees, we can’t resist ordering both the sashimi and chicken yakitori options. At that point, the shell grilled scallops and venison were competing for the title as ‘favourite dish’. That was until the (take a deep breath for this) 600 gram, 24 hour slow cooked, glazed wagyu rib arrived in front of us. The race was over, a winner was declared.

“It’s a Friday night – of course you’ve got to have a cocktail!” I have to admit, it doesn’t take long for my efficient waiter to convince me to order the green appletini and as soon as I take a sip of smooth combination of freshly squeezed Granny Smith apple, vodka, lime and sugar, I’m in a picture of satisfaction.

From the moment we smelled the robata grill to that first mouthful of venison tataki – we were hooked. There isn’t much that falls short of amazing at Kaya.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Kaya here

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What a food-filled month…

For Sydney foodies, October is undoubtedly one of the best months of the year. To celebrate the Crave Festival, our Best Restaurants team have been booked out – enjoying the Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park, popping into the Barbeque Madness at Pyrmont and attending Brown Sugar’s “A World of Taste”.

But this week’s favourite was the prohibition dinner at The Owl House in Darlinghurst. For its unique Crave event, The Owl House decided to travel back to the 1920’s to the Prohibition era in America where, according to the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution, it was forbidden by law to sell, manufacture or transport alchoholic beverages. Prohibition was characterized by speakeasies, glamour, gangsters and average citizens breaking the law. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Donning our best temperance attire, we headed to the honky-tonk end of Crown Street for a taste of 1920’s New York City.

Salad of quinoa, broad beans, Boston Bay mussels and zucchini flowers

For only $65, we enjoyed three-courses with matching cocktails. The first champagne-based cocktail gave us just the right amount of flutter to enjoy the entrée – a pretty Spring salad of quinoa, broad beans, Boston Bay mussels and zucchini flowers. This was followed by a hearty brioche bun Wagyu burger, served on a wooden plank with a side of hand-cut chips. A bloody mary and a few other strong cocktails (which were too tasty to remember their names), The Owl House certainly put on a good show. The night came to a sweet crescendo with a butterscotch panna cotta, served glass jar and topped with caramelized nuts, coffee liquor and almond chocolate candy. Need we say more?

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Bringing the Roaring Twenties back at The Alibi

Keep the fat lady waiting because it’s not over yet. Fine dining, I mean, and The Alibi, in all its sleek and sophisticated glory, is proof.

Sitting at the bottom of boutique hotel Morgans on Victoria Street, The Alibi is the brainchild of brothers’ Dane and Alex Bouris. On paper, The Alibi team have a culinary resume to boot – co-head chef Adam Lane has worked at Tetsuyas, Nobu London and Sake while Shimpei Hatanaka (also co-head chef) can rattle off Masterchef, Sushi E and Sake as his former stomping grounds. And the credentials extend from the kitchen to the floor with ex-Merivale employee Andrew Thomas as mixologist and manager Will Smallbone, from Bayswater Brasserie and The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay.  While the Bouris brothers (owners of Morgans) may not have hospitality in their blood, they certainly know how to pull together a good team. But, as we all know, what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate. In this case, however, The Alibi is on the money. From the well-trained wait staff and bartenders to the inspired menu and restaurant aesthetic, The Alibi is out to impress.

Braised pork belly with purple amazu cabbage and umeshu and lemon grass reduction

Boasting a 1920’s jazz-inspired design complete with crystal chandeliers and sleek black trimmings, The Alibi’s space has been well thought out. The tables are spread out – and combined with dimmed lighting – the atmosphere is intimate and moody. No shouting over one another or elbowing the person next to you, a night at The Alibi is a sophisticated affair.

The modern Japanese menu is designed for sharing and while The Alibi doesn’t come cheap, it is money well spent. We start with a selection of starters – the blue swimmer crab betel leaves are subtle in flavour and the delicate mouthfuls provide the prefect appetite stimulator. Scampi spring rolls are pleasant without being memorable however it is the scallop and ocean trout tartare that plays The Alibi’s trump card. Served in a cocktail glass, the ocean trout is doused in white truffle oil, with layers of pureed avocado and topped with a smoky torched-seared scallop.

The hero dish: seared scallop and ocean trout tartare

Roasted Blue Eye cod led us into our mains and while portions are small, each dish is artfully presented. A confit duck breast is pink and sliced on top of braised witlof and white bean, with a mustard soy dressing.  The braised pork belly is the most beautiful dish, with a purple amazu cabbage creating both colour and texture and an umeshu and lemon grass reduction combining all the flavours.

A happy combination of setting, great food, polished service and a well researched wine and cocktail list, The Alibi has a bright future.

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Alibi here

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For the love of cheese, Buffalo Dining Club

First Sticky Bar, then Table for 20 and now Buffalo Dining Club in Surrey Street, Darlinghurst. It seems Michael Fantuz and partners Marcelo Garrao and Peter Kypreos are making quite a mark on Sydney’s dining scene.

Giving new meaning to the word “small bar”, the twin-levelled Buffalo Dining Club is crammed with tiny tables and stools, and this is without any customers. No bookings are taken and it is a requirement that the entire dining party is present before being seated. First to arrive, I was greeted at the door by the handsome Mantus (his real name is a secret) and ushered to the so-called ‘bar’ (a tiny two-seater counter overlooking a liliputian kitchen with a little bench where the boys prepare drinks).

Small and intimate, expect to wait for a seat at Buffalo Dining Club

What it lacks in size, Buffalo Dining Club makes up in aesthetic – from the waitstaff to the décor. A legendary wine wall, designed by Michael’s wife features vertical rows of evenly spaced wine bottles, laid out horizontally on hooks, with space for the trio to jot down memorable sayings in white chalk.

There are expressions like ‘Viva Chile’ (an ode to a stalwart Carmenere), ‘Pocket Rocket’ (a feisty Italian waitress) and ‘Crash’ (a girl who sent two wine bottles crashing to the floor after a night of drinking and merriment) that represent various occasions and people that have influenced the Buffalo team. After asking the boys about this wall – it turns out that customers from far and wide send email upon email requesting to get their “tag” on the wall.

jamon and mozzarella – the perfect pair

Naturally, the menu is dedicated to cheese. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is flown in three times a week from Fattorie Garofalo, just north of Naples. There is a set strategy to ordering, which requires the guest to select a cheese – mozzarella, burrata (cow’s milk cheese) or caprino (100% organic goats cheese) – which is served with two small sides from a list spanning from honeyed carrots to braised lentils. We start with the silky mozzarella, served with grilled aubergine and salty white anchovies. The cheese is undoubtedly the hero, but the sides wield a power of their own. Our second choice is goats cheese, served with grilled broccolinni and polenta chips doused in gorgonzola. Again, it is all about the cheese. The polenta chips lack body and flavour, the gorganzola completely absent on the plate, and the grilled broccolini is, well, grilled brocollini.

Beyond cheese, a variety of salumi is offered in 30-gram, 60-gram and 90-gram weights, sliced to order and served on waxed paper. We order the Jamon Iberico and it is a great move. Spanish ham is incontestably the best; boasting a flavour and texture that cannot be rivaled. Crunchy taralli (savoury biscuit rings made from olive oil and boiled before baking) and bibanesi (crispy wheat biscuits in the shape of mini baguettes) accompany all the dishes and while they are good for nibbling with the meat, their presence on the other plates is overwhelming….trying to make up for the shortfalls of the sides? Pasta also features on the menu, their signature dish being buffalo-milk ricotta gnocchi, paired with a rich tomato sugo and basil. Spaghetti is served with a side of theatrics, brought to the table in a hollowed-out wheel of buffalo-milk pecorino. A full-bodied Argentinian Malbec from the wine wall is the perfect accompaniment.

Sami-Jo Adelman

Read more about Buffalo Dining Club here

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A secret trip to the Middle East

I write this, still full from last night’s eight-course Middle Eastern degustation, a Secret Foodie event hosted by Ms Darlinghurst. At 5pm, I got the text “Tonight’s Secret Foodies dinner is in Darlinghurst. At 6pm you will be sent the final address.” An hour later a second text: “52 Oxford Street. See you at 7pm”. As curiosity reared its sprightly head, Google was my first point of call. Embers Mezze Bar? What’s that? I thought for sure it would be Almond Bar. I have never heard of this place.

At 6.55pm I tentatively walked up to the commanding sandstone edifice, not realising that my perceptions of Lebanese cuisine were about to be turned upside down.  As the earthy flavours and rich textures of Chef Simon Zalloua’s modern Middle Eastern fare were put on display, all pre-conceived ideas of tabouli laden meat skewer feasts were swept away.

Simon Zalloua busy in the kitchen preparing for our Middle Eastern feast

Greeted at the door by Ms Darlinghurst herself and friendly owner Henri Azzi, thirty odd foodies were ushered into a spacious dining room lined with tall arched windows, bold artwork and plush banquette seating.

With a glass of Lebanese wine in one hand and a crispy feta, lemon and herb pasty in the other, we mingled under a soft golden glow, emanating from lanterns strung high on the ceiling above.

Hummus with Afghani and sesame bread was first on show and the perfect way to begin before diving head first into a sweet mess of dukkah-spiced honeyed carrots with a goats curd cream. More Lebanese wine, and a colourful herb salad buttoned with chickpeas and cauliflower florets arrived at the table, dappled with pomegranate jewels and a zesty dressing. It was a hot favourite of the evening, along with other dishes such as scallop nayeh (a kind of ceviche with thinly sliced raw scallops), char grilled quail and melt-in-your-mouth lamb accompanied by pita bread to create a DIY shawarma.

Our mouthwatering desserts – rose jelly, sahleb cream and sumac strawberries and tahini and dried persian fig brulee

The night was full of lively banter, fine food and wine, culminating in a Q&A with Chef Simon Zalloua. His Hercules-like stature was a bit too much for some of my dining cohorts, putting them into a tizzy (or perhaps that was just too much Lebanese wine?). Having worked in the kitchens of Rockpool and Alira, it’s easy to see why the food was so good. A sexy chef putting sexy back into Arabic food. Now who doesn’t want a piece of that?

Sami-Jo Adelman

Read more about Embers Mezze Bar here

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Restaurant Review: Honeycomb

Andy Bunn established his reputation as head Chef at Fratelli’s Cafe Sopra. Today, Bunn can be found behind the pots and pans at his humble neighbourhood restaurant, Honeycomb.

On a quiet little intersection, with bustling gourmet fish ‘n’ chips joint, Sea Cow, across the road, Bunn has quickly developed a loyal crowd of Eastern Suburb’s locals. The fit out is bare but beautiful with exposed concrete walls and natural wood trimmings. Large mesh gold light globes hang from the ceiling, creating a moody and intimate atmosphere at night. By day, the restaurant transforms into a sundrenched cafe where a simple black awning provides shade for diners who opt to sip their lattes on the street-side, bench-style seating.

The simple and elegant interior

The menu isn’t tricky – it’s a classic mix of Italian and European dishes and our group-of-three decide that we could happily order every single dish. There are light and fresh entrees like tuna carpaccio and a special of grilled prawns and avocado. A classic entree of deep fried zucchini flowers are stuffed with five Italian cheeses. The not-too-rich stuffing oozes out from a waif-like batter and a last-minute sprinkling of parmesan creates a seductive crust. There are rustic, rich mains like lamb ragu and Italian meatballls with capellini. The osso bucco and potato gnocchi appears to abandon its traditional heritage with an unusual chilli spice that may deter some Italian aficionados. The spinach and ricotta raviolini reminds you why freshly made pasta is so superior and the rich tomato sauce is such a vibrant tomato-red that you have no doubt that quality produce is of the uttermost importance in Bunn’s kitchen. While not aesthetically appealing, the barramundi with witlof salad is the hero dish. Two generous fillets, cooked to perfection, are topped with a luscious olive-oil drenched julienned salad. All in all, the food is accomplished and satisfying.

Spinach and ricotta raviolini with rich tomato sauce and baby basil

There are missteps. Too many tables fill the small space making it hard to hold a moderate-level conversation and the wine is topped up sporadically. These are minor issues and easily overlooked when you realise that Honeycomb does what a neighbourhood restaurant should: make local life feel good enough that you want to live nearby.

Anna Lisle

Honeycomb on Urbanspoon

Read more about Honeycomb here

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