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 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
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.
Read more about Monopole here
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
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.
Read more about Santa Barbara here
“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 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
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.
Read more about Madame Nhu here
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
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
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.
Read more about Aquaviva’s here