Category Archives: Kings Cross

Kings Cross has a new sweetheart

Rooftop bars are the cool thing right now. They’re up there with pulled pork sliders and boutique beer labels. But, I have to say, Sweethearts Rooftop BBQ has a few endearing qualities that make it stand out among Sydney’s other slick, sexy rooftop offerings.

 

Shrimps on the barbie with garlic butter & Paul Hogan

Shrimps on the barbie with garlic butter & Paul Hogan

Sweethearts is brought to us by the team behind hipster hangouts, The Winery, Gazebo, Cargo Bar and Bungalow 8. Knowing this, I dressed the part, complete with a silk top and my highest heels. I arrive at Kings Cross, before the doors of Sugarmill, at an hour when no one should ever really be found here (which, for the record, is anytime before 10.00pm). Eager to leave the Darlinghurst Road sidewalk and find a seat to rest my already-sore feet, I start up the stairs. One level, two levels, three levels. Am I in the right place? “Keep walking,” say the signs. “Stop walking” says my now-clinging, slightly wet silk top… Aha! Finally, 20 floors up, I emerge from the dingy, airless, winding stairwell, and the urban oasis that is Sweethearts is revealed before me, complete with a pretty vista of the city skyline. Why is Sweethearts unique? Well, because it really is on the roof. It’s so on the roof that I would suggest wearing your Kathmandu hiking boots to get there.

 

Crispy lamb short ribs with honey, chilli, caramel and lime

Crispy lamb short ribs with honey, chilli, caramel and lime

After such a trek, you really deserve a drink. A range of Australian and New Zealand wines are offered on tap. Then there’s some fancy drinks such as Little Creatures Pale Ale shandies, wine spritzers, pitchers of sweet lolly-water and spiked cider slushies. Due to dehydration, brought on by the stair-climb, drinks disappear quickly. Responsible drinkers know that lining the stomach is the right thing to do (particularly if your friends are more likely to pitch you off the roof than carry you back down the stairs) so the food menu is a welcome distraction. For us, a pile of salmon belly, chicken and beef skewers are the first to go down the hatch. A shot of chilli caramel or harissa aioli (one condiment per skewer included in cost) adds excitement to the otherwise simple grilled meat skewers. I’m sure the salmon isn’t belly but the skin is crispy enough to see me withhold my complaints. A dish of grilled watermelon, fetta, mint and pita croutons hardly tastes like rabbit food (the heading under which this dish appears on the menu) while a simple side of steamed green beans is just that – steamed green beans. The food doesn’t reinvent the wheel or attempt to push any culinary boundaries but the staff at Sweethearts are friendly, the music is upbeat and there’s just something cool about sitting on top of a building as the calamity of Kings Cross plays itself out below.

Anna Lisle

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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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A matter of taste… Bayswater Diner

Sloppy joes, hickory smoked pork ribs and shrimp gumbo. It’s the cool thing right now. American diner food, that is. And while Bayswater Road may be haunted by a dark past of failed restaurants, the team behind Fei Jai and Barrio Chino are breathing new life into Kings Cross with their latest venture – Bayswater Diner.

For Americans, the diner concept is as familiar as malted milkshake and pecan pie. In Australia, however, the Jerk-chicken-wing concept is somewhat foreign.  Perhaps this is why owners Peter Lew and Nicole Galloway have held back with their disappointingly conservative reincarnation of a classic American diner? There are the token white paper placemats, plastic bottles of ketchup and mustard and leather booth seating but there is something missing. Maybe it’s just too elegant to be the real deal?

Beef Short Ribs with grilled corn, potato salad and slaw $28

The menu, on the other hand, features all your favourites with cheeseburgers, corn dogs and cobb salads dominating. A clumsy dish of beef short ribs is served with grilled corn that is simply begging for a dollop of mayonnaise, a sprinkling of parmesan and a dusting of chilli. I mean, really – if you wanted to be healthy – you would have ordered the pan fried barramundi, not ribs. While on the barramundi-topic, the skin is crisp and the flesh is moist. Not only aesthetically beautiful, the fish is served with salsa crudo and steamed broccolini – both of which work well together. The haagie roll beef brisket sloppy joe gives Bayswater Diner street-food-cred however it is the pecan pie served with Jack Daniels cream that is a taste of the true America. For those not convinced by the diner-effect, there are plenty of non-grease options such as heirloom tomato salad with house smoked goat’s curd and house made pasta with ricotta and basil.

Bayswater Diner will happily satisfy, just as long as you have a wallet that can cope with a little beating.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Bayswater Diner here

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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
Barrio Chino on Urbanspoon

Read more about Barrio Chino here

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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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