Category Archives: Surry Hills

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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Just when you thought to yourself ‘my thighs can’t take another pulled pork taco!’, BAM, another must-try Mexican joint swings open its doors. With #Mexican being one of the post popular Twitter hashtags, this new eatery in Surry Hills is right on trend.

The flamboyant interior

MEXICO’s flamboyant interior

On the corner of Randal and Chalmers street, just a short stroll from Central Station, MEXICO is a fun-filled eatery and bar from the savvy Kiwi team behind District Dining. The fit-out is simply fantastic. It’s Mexican overload, but somehow it remains eclectic and bold without being kitsch. Waltz in through a graffiti emblazoned entrance, moodily lit by lights encased in glass jars, and step inside into a long room with a cherry-lit bar down one end. Red-spiced walls with splashes of olive and canary yellow are further enlivened with sombreros, snapshots of Mexican revelry and posters of Frida Kahlo.

Soft shell taco selection

Soft shell taco selection

The menu combinations are creative, with a list of daily changing specials. Sadly, the soft tacos need a good hit of lemon and salt (should be easy enough in a place like this?) and the fried chicken, which declares itself as ‘not to be missed!’ can drop the exclamation mark. Surprising highlights are the salads. Most notably, the blood orange, peanut, beetroot and feta salad is an esteemed combination and perfectly balanced.  A snack of crispy potatoes tossed in celery lime salt with spicy tomatillo dressing are also delightful, generous for the price and wonderfully moorish.

Options include beef brisket, chicken, pork, fish and vego

Options include beef brisket, chicken, pork, fish and vego

There are house wines on offer or BYO ($20 corkage applies), and a solid list of cerveza and top-shelf tequilas. However, you really can’t go past the margaritas, which come by the glass or carafe.

Sami Jo Adelman

Read more about MEXICO here

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There’s no sin in gluttony here

Moom mam? Mum Mam? How the hell do you say the name of this place? Let’s just call it “Little Glutton”, which is a very appropriate description for the restaurant and also the meaning of its unusual Thai name.

A colourful wall mural livens the restaurant’s space

On a Wednesday night, Little Glutton is packed. Is it full of people who couldn’t be bothered waiting in the queue for MoVida? Having visited pre- and post-Camorra craziness, I can happily assure you, it has nothing to do with Frank. Rather, the queue may be accounted for by a vegetarian and gluten-free menu that actually looks appealing even to a carnivore. Or perhaps it’s the unusual selection of Thai flavoured gelato and desserts? Maybe the reasonable prices and the option for BYO? For me, it was none of the above – all it took was a shredded banana blossom salad, bursting with prawns, roasted cashews and coriander.

Banana blossom salad with roasted cashews, coriander and prawns

Alright, I’ll admit, I’m not that easily won over. Turmeric grilled spatchock with a green papaya salad and the ‘crying tiger’ wagyu beef both made a stamp in my culinary consciousness. Add to that a couple of dishes from the specials board – including ocean trout larb and a prawn and chilli jam stir fry – and I was sold.

Trout and caviar betel leaf with coconut, ginger and tamarind

It’s not as cheap as your local takeaway, but the food is a definite notch above your mid week snatch and grab meal anyway. The atmosphere is lively and the décor suave. I fear Muum Maam has turned me into a little glutton.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Muum Maam here

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It’s not the place, it’s the people – at Rainford Street Social

Surry Hills may be the most food-intensive neighbourhood in Sydney but there is always room for one more good one. The latest to hit the streets of 2010 is Rainford Street Social or, to those in-the-know, RSS. The project of Matt Darwon, proprietor of the estimable Toko and Tokonoma (both of which are located just two shops up), RSS is being sold as a neighbourhood bistro, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “The idea is comfort, as if one were at home” says owner Matt.

Bird Cow Fish has been transformed into an open, elegant space

RSS is not what I expected and nor is it what I would associate with as a second home. Like Toko and Tokonoma, the RSS scene is as important as the drinks, and the drinks are as vital as the food. With its warehouse-inspired space and seasonal, organic and home-style menu, RSS seems to define the restaurant thing at the moment. Bare brick and mortar, red ironbark tables, bookshelves filled with apothecary bottles and hanging bulbs – it is warm and comfortable but I’m hardly about to turn up in my trackies and jumper. (Mind you, a beautiful chesterfield sofa sitting in the entrance looks quite welcoming). Don’t get me wrong, it may not be home but that doesn’t mean RSS isn’t good.

Salad of old-fashioned beets, radish, leaves and whipped feta with ginger bread

The dining concept is sharing, which seems fitting given the collection of large communal tables. Not dining with a crowd? RSS takes counsel from Toko, offering a handful of seats at the bar, giving diner’s uninterrupted views of the expansive kitchen. The staff, however, are the restaurant’s major asset. They are knowledgeable and familiar without being overbearing or pretentious. As they say, it’s not the place, it’s the people and at RSS, this most certainly rings true.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Rainford Street Social here

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More than your average pub, The Forresters

According to Michael Delany-Korabelnikova, the man who has recreated iconic Sydney pubs such as The Abercrombie, Flinders Hotel, The Norfolk on Cleveland and The Carrington, there is, in fact, a specific formula that can be applied to ensure the success of a pub.

This formula comes in the form of a new type of hybrid venue. Pub Disco Diner. Not generally three words used to describe the same place but, it is these three elements that, once combined, will create pub magic.

The former Forresters was tired and run-down but positioned in a cool enough location to warrant a steady weekend crowd. After Michael’s touch, The Forresters is now trendy and glamorous, with just the right amount of “I don’t give a sh*t” attitude that 20-something hipsters tend to like.

The elegant upstairs dining room

In the “about us” section of The Forresters website, five things are listed: cold beer, hot pizza, rotisserie meats, wine and pasta. For a pub that has just spent a substantial sum in renovations, surely there has got to be more than that. And thank goodness there is – from the 1950s American-style diner, complete with leather booths and a smoking room with candy striped banquettes, to its sort-of beer garden out back – The Forresters offers a bit of everything and somehow it all seems to work.

According to Michael’s pub wisdom, food is the key ingredient and The Forrester’s menu doesn’t disappoint, especially the weekday $10 specials lunch menu. Think pappardelle Bolognese, smoked mozzarella aracini or duck, fig and pecorino salad. Or you can really bust the budget and for $12 order a generous piece of crispy skinned barramundi served on a bed of saffron and mint fregola.

Standout dish: crisp skinned barramundi served on a bed of saffron and mint fregola

Great food, a lively atmosphere and a prime location, The Forresters is worth a visit.

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Forresters here

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Modern British delights at Orto Trading Co.

When the winter sets in and it’s cold outside, nothing beats a cosy nook and comfort food. Orto Trading Co. on the Waterloo strip of Surry Hills may not be tiny but it sure is warm and friendly– both indoors and out. The fit out alone is worth a visit: the main dining room is light and airy with tall glasshouse walls and bare Scandinavian tables that are paired with two-tone wooden chairs. An exposed brick wall features at the back of the bar and an innovative installation of recycled glass bottles and flowers dangle over the wooden counter.

Glass jars filled with tea-light candles adorn the outdoor marquee which is well-heated however blankets are readily available for those who can still feel the winter chill. But, we can assure you, as soon as the restaurant fills up, which is very quickly, body warmth is all you’ll require.

The beautiful interior dining room and bar of Orto Trading Co.

The menu follows the rhythm of the seasons and dishes often change to accommodate the new bounty. However there are a few regular fixtures that steel the limelight. We start with one of the house specialties – a scotch duck egg is encased in a crusty shell of house-made pork sausage and served on a wooden plank. The British home-style undertones extend through to main course with a hearty slow-braised beef and ale stew with corn meal dumplings and winter vegetables. The market fish, a crispy skin snapper, arrives atop a mound of creamy cauliflower puree that is silky and smooth. The plate is scattered with watercress, crunchy macadamia nuts and crispy pancetta strips that lend textural complexity to a well-balanced dish.

The food is made for sharing and accordingly portions are incredibly generous. If you have a ravenous appetite, be sure to order the house bread, which comes toasted with a smattering of oregano and fresh roasted garlic (my absolute favourite) for you to smear across the surface.

Sami- Jo Adelman

Read more about Orto Trading Co. here

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A lovely surprise on Cleveland Street, The Norfolk Hotel

The Norfolk Hotel doesn’t appear to have a lot going for it. For one, Cleveland Street isn’t exactly a sought after location. And for two, the pub’s exterior makes one assume that there could be nothing more than a drab old pub inside. And their website doesn’t help, either. But, if you block out the traffic screeching by outside and ignore the pub’s exterior, The Norfolk might just surprise you.

The hotel’s interior is bipartite. The front area reminds me of my local country pub back with magazine covers of topless girls scattered around the pub’s walls. Sporting paraphernalia features too, just like back home, with black and white footy photos and Australian flags hanging from the ceiling.

Perfect for sunny days and balmy nights, The Norfolk’s backyard beer garden

Walking out the back, The Norfolk changes its stripes. Pretty lights hidden in the trees create a magical and mystical atmosphere in the backyard beer garden while a more formal dining room, with mellow, seductive music, exists just inside. The almost-solemn mood that exists in the front bar transforms into an upbeat, hip haven, perfect for those Surry Hills’ trendsetters.

The menu travels across the globe with Spanish, Mexican, American and Aussie pub grub. The chilli fries with chilli mince, Jalapenos and nacho cheese are the perfect beer food and mains like Asian salmon salad, please the calorie-counting crowd. While not as cheap as your local Thai takeaway, The Norfolk does offer some wallet pleasing deals like $3 tacos on Tuesdays.

Anna Lisle

The Norfolk on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review: Watts on Crown

Just like a cafe in Paris, the dream behind Watts on Crown is to create a one-stop-shop for every dining desire. The man behind this vision is chef and owner, Hamish Watt, who cut his teeth at none other than Neil Perry’s Rockpool and who has spent the last decade working in the Britain. With wife and front-of-house, Tiffany, the duo hope to transform the old Vespa site on Crown Street into a neighbourhood hangout with a wine bar, formal dining area and a top-notch bistro menu.

The elegant upstairs dining room

With two-levels, the restaurant’s space is a combination of bar, cafe and dining areas. Upstairs acts as a formal dining room with black and white walls, wooden floorboards and rectangular mirrors framed with heavy gold lacquer while downstairs offers a latte-sipping scene with an open counter bar and a mix of both stool and table seating.

Owner and Chef Hamish Watt, with wife and front-of-house, Tiffany.

The menu is similarly multi-faceted with an array of small plates available throughout the day and then separate breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. The food is classic bistro fare, with dishes such as chicken liver parfait, scotch eggs and goats cheese stuffed zucchini flowers however, of worthy mention was an entree of ceviche with a seawood and sesame salad. A wasabi oil lined the plate, creating a bitey zest to the toasted sesame. The roast barramundi had a crisp skin, while the flesh was moist and rich in flavour. A fennel puree was rich and luscious while julienned snow peas created a welcome crunch and freshness. There is also a strong emphasis on native ingredients with one of their signature dishes featuring a roast kangaroo loin with roasted beetroot, poached rhubarb and Agro Dolce sauce.

Roast kangaroo loin with roasted beetroot, poached rhubarb and Agro Dolce sauce.

Offering over 100 wines, most of which are available by the glass, drinking at Watts on Crown is not going to break the budget. If you are dining upstairs, guests can also BYO at $6 a bottle. This family-friendly local restaurant also offers offsite catering and the entire space can be booked out for functions up to 60 (upstairs).

With renovation plans in sight, Hamish and Tiffany have hopes to create an alfresco dining area out the back, complete with a small herb and vegetable garden for the kitchen.

Anna Lisle

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Read more about Watts on Crown here


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Drambuie launch at The Den

Translated as “the drink that satisfies”, Drambuie is one of life’s finest luxuries. Created more than 260 years ago, Drambuie was first created as an exclusive drink for Prince Charles Edward Stuart of Scotland. Today, it is most widely used as the key liquor in a ‘Rusty Nail’ cocktail but, as we experienced on Monday night, it is also slowly creeping its way into some of Australia’s most elegant drinks.

Matt Thurlow, Michael Kennedy, Jonathan Brown

With its stunning mirror bar, turquoise velvet drapes and silk ottomans, The Den was the perfect venue to celebrate the launch of two new exclusive products: Drambuie 15 and The Royal Legacy of 1745. Throughout the night, we sampled five cocktails, all with Drambuie as the hero. The ‘plum evelyn’ was the ideal start with cranberry juice, rose syrup, muddle plums and, of course, Drambuie.

Later in the evening, we heard from Jonathon Brown who not only gave us an educational rundown but created quite a laugh as he persuaded the audience to pronounce ““draamabuui”, in a thick Scots accent. I fear his attempts to find the inner Scotsman in the mostly-Aussie group was quite a disappointing blow. Thank you to Polka Dot PR – as always, a fantastic event.

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Restaurant Review: Missy K

It’s only been open for eight months but Missy K already has a loyal following of dumpling addicts. We visit on what I thought would have been a quiet Tuesday night. As we walk up Fitzroy Street, past Vietnamese favourites, Cochin and Non La, Missy K is packed. Lucky to get a table, we watch as takeaway orders whip past us faster than the two female waitresses can handle. But despite the apparent popularity of the place, the wait for food isn’t long and when it arrives, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Eclectic interior

The interior of Missy K is like a tiny jewel box, scattered with trinkets and colourful teapots. In one corner, a huge basket is filled with traditional rice-picking hats while black bamboo sticks and tea light candles line the bright red walls. The main attraction, however, is the open wooden counter where dozens of dumplings are kept warm in huge bamboo steamers. Diners watch as the heat evaporates into the air, letting the lure of the fragrant pork and chive filling ooze through the restaurant space. It makes it criminal not to order dumplings.

Peking duck pancakes

The menu is written on a chalkboard at the entrance of the restaurant. Among the appetisers, the Peking duck pancakes stand out, with lashings of moist duck proudly sitting inside the thin pancake. The hoisin sauce is not too sweet however the cucumber and shallots are a little too chunky for the delicate entree. The drunken noodles are rich with chilli and bamboo shoots, served with a wedge of lime for an acidic counterpoint, while crunchy bean sprouts add a freshness to the dish. However, as Kim, the owner and head Chef at Missy K explains, it is the dumplings that are the major draw-card here. Pork and coriander, fish, vegetarian, beef and leek, lamb and onion, chicken and shitake, prawn or pan-fried, these babies come in every shape and form.

Anna Lisle

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