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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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A tough reservation: Bondi Hardware

Rather than doing the whole “we’re too busy to need reservations”-thing, the owners of Bondi Hardware have made a compromise. Half the restaurant is for bookings, while the other half is reserved for walk-ins. What a great idea, or so I thought.

A week before my desired dining night, I rang to book a table for three. Politely, I was told that there were no reservations available but walk-ins were welcome. “But I don’t welcome walk-ins”, I wanted to respond. Instead, I decided to live life on the edge and simply rock up on an extra-chilly Friday (and hope that the Gods would be on my side.)

The rustic and edgy aesthetic of Bondi Hardware

As we approach Bondi Hardware, a happy clamour of noise leaks out the door into the street. A small crowd are gathered in a small huddle trying to escape the gusty coastal winds, clearly waiting for a table. There was no way we would get straight in. The waitress politely warns us that there would be atleast an hour wait. Feigning optimism, we add our name to the list and traipse down Hall Street in search for a drinking spot. Three vodkas down and my phone trills into life. We rush to the restaurant to secure our seat. Perched on high stools, we watch as two vivacious bar staff pour, shake and sip on an array of serious-looking cocktails. The lights are fairly low and the music is playing so loudly that we can hardly hear a word that the waiter says as she rattles off drink suggestions. But it doesn’t really matter – our conversation is somewhat exhausted after we have just spent the last hour in idle chit chat at Ravesis, waiting for the call.

The calculatedly rustic setting feels like a cross between Shady Pines Saloon and Grasshopper, but more elegant. Exposed bricks, low slung industrial lights and worn timber tables dominate the restaurant while bits and bobs are placed around the space in a measured and conservative manner. The crowd is a dizzyingly weird mix of middle-aged suits, leggy blondes and some chilled-out surfer bros. And despite the unusual clientele, the room has a happy and excited buzz.

Head Chef Justin Walshe has created a diverse menu of share plates, wood fire pizza, snacks and cheese boards. The food arrives quickly, thank goodness. Pan-fried ocean trout with a rocket, goats cheese and pickled red onion salad is robust and flavoursome while the salt and pepper squid is as it should be – crispy and tasty. The prawn, roasted garlic and chilli pizza is simple but pleasant however it is the chargrilled zucchini, olive and anchovy pizza that really lets the side down.  Service is as crisp and professional as a hatted restaurant but the food is mostly mediocre.

We must remember though, Bondi Hardware is not a fine diner – it is all about having fun, enjoying a cocktail and letting your hair down with some fine tunes. And Bondi Hardware certainly achieves this, better than most.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Bondi Hardware here

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Yum cha and Asian tapas at Bondi’s Mamasan

It’s a Sunday night, but Mamasan is buzzing and it’s easy to see why. This Bondi favourite is reeling in local crowds with its modern Asian tapas menu and a stellar drinks list featuring Asahi and Sapporo on tap.

Sprawled over two shop fronts, Mamasan is surprisingly roomy, with space for up to 90 people. There are also secret nooks that have been well conceived for intimate group dining. The moody lighting adds to the comfortable ambiance, while quirky design features, such as lucky cats, Astro Boy characters, toy soldiers and Godzilla figurines give the restaurant its charm.

The quirky interior suits the hip Bondi crowd

There are only three of us dining, but everything on the menu sounds so appealing that we order enough for five. Despite the fact that the restaurant is busy, the service is friendly and efficient (a surprise for Bondi). Each dish is presented as a tapas-style meal, with enough for four people in each serving. Duck pancakes are underwhelming, but the prawn sesame rolls are deliciously crunchy and the soft shell crab is lightly-battered and tender, with the yuzu aioli and Nepalese spicy tomato ‘Achar’ sauce providing additional bite.

In a rushed decision, we order the pork sliders off the special menu (one each at $14 a pop), without really knowing what to expect. It was as if a Momofuku-like pork bun met a Rockpool burger and had a baby. It’s a messy dish, but memorable. Let’s hope it becomes more than just a special.

It’s at this point we should have stopped (did I mentioned we also demolished one-bite-beef and BBQ chicken wings?) but us greedy Eastern Suburb folk always want more. We converse with the group at the table next to us and they recommend the ‘fish on fire’.  The dish involves miso-marinated Salmon that has been cooked between cedar wood papers and then smoked. The final product arrives at the diners’ table with the cedar embers still glowing and served with a side of marmalade, which is an unusual but brilliant combination of flavours.

Sami-Jo Adelman

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An indulgent treat, The Dining Room at Park Hyatt Sydney

After a $65 million revamp, the newly redesigned Park Hyatt Sydney brings a new level of contemporary luxury to the edge of Sydney Harbour. From the hotel’s penthouse suite to the lobby below, the new Park Hyatt Sydney epitomises opulence and luxury. Perhaps a weekend away in their Rooftop Suite is out of the option? Don’t worry. Instead, book a table at the Park Hyatt’s signature restaurant, The Dining Room, and experience an indulgent treat.

Views rarely get better than this

At the heart of the Park Hyatt’s revamp is The Dining Room. Formerly Harbourkitchen&bar, the new restaurant has been transformed in keeping with the hotel’s new residential styling and direction. Taking full advantage of its coveted harbour front position, the simple and elegant interior of The Dining Room boasts four-metre-high floor-to-ceiling windows. Perfect for impressing visitors to Australia, diners can wine and dine while looking directly across Sydney Harbour to the Opera House. And unlike many waterfront restaurants, The Dining Room is equally impressive at night – with the Opera House lights illuminating the water below.

Tamarind and molasses glazed Blackmore Wagyu beef brisket, beetroot and horseradish

The view however is not the only draw card of The Dining Room. When the Executive Chef of a restaurant can rattle off New York’s Daniel, Tokyo’s New York Grill, Beijing’s Aria Restaurant, Paris’ Three Michelin-star Pavillion de Ledoyen and Melbourne’s Vue de Monde, as just a few of the restaurants he has worked, guests are sure to be impressed. Under the relentless guidance of Executive Chef Andrew McKee, the menu showcases seasonal, organic and free-range Australian produce. Working directly with local suppliers, Chef McKee’s menu features David Blackmore’s Wagyu beef, Murrayland lamb and Sydney rock oysters. One of his signature dishes, Charcoal grilled Blackmore Wagyu beef and celeriac rémoulade cannot be described as anything less than sublime while the dessert menu, featuring dishes such as hazelnut dacquoise and caramel mille-feuille with praline, give new meaning to the word indulgence.

An experience at the Park Hyatt Sydney’s The Dining Room cannot be described as anything less than luxurious. However, luxury does not need to come with a hefty price tag: The Dining Room’s lunch menu offers one course for $39, two courses for $59 and three courses for $69, and includes a glass of wine selected by the sommelier.

Anna Lisle

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Filed under Reviews, The Dining Room, The Rocks

A timeless gem, Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse

In the hospitality industry, where restaurants open and close quicker than you can say “under new management”, consistency is one of the most valuable commodities. Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse, at Woolloomooloo Wharf, is one of the most reliable restaurants in Sydney. Night after night, meal after meal, Kingsleys delivers impressive food, great service and all in one stunning location.

Sydney’s famous Woolloomooloo Wharf

Don’t be perturbed by the restaurant’s name, Kingsleys is a far cry from your classic two fisted steakhouse. Boasting a formal fine-dining restaurant setting, spread over two levels, the tables on the ground-level wharf are one of the restaurant’s most prized assets. Booked out almost every weekend, a wharf table at Kingsleys gives diners an uninterrupted 180 degree view of the city’s skyline and Sydney Harbour. The perfect destination for impressing tourists and out-of-towners.

Salt and pepper baby octopus

It goes without saying that this meaty mecca certainly gives carnivores a cause for rejoicing, however Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse impresses equally in the seafood department. An entree of salt and pepper baby octopus is crispy and tender, served with a sweet balsamic glaze that brings the dish together. A ceviche of wild kingfish, offers an interesting textual experience that is offset by crunchy prawns and a housemade mayonnaise. And while Kingsley’s is renowned for its sumptuous serves of QLD chilli mud crab, there was no way I was going past a 400 gram aged rib on the bone. Because, we must remember, rather than being just your average steakhouse, Kingsley’s is, in fact, THE steakhouse. With nothing else on the plate, the aged rib was served as is, without a piece of shrubbery to taint its meaty goodness. Initially questioning how I would get through such a large slab of meat, the aged rib was quietly devoured and all that was left on the plate was a meat-less bone.

Kingsley’s Steak and Crabhouse is a timeless and reliable gem.

Anna Lisle

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Read more about Kingsley’s Steak and Crabhouse here

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Launch of ARIA Catering

He was on MasterChef a couple of nights ago, he opened Chiswick only months earlier and last night, he launched a new role for ARIA Catering. Matt Moran certainly has written the recipe for success. With partner Peter Sullivan by his side, and with the twinkling Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background, the duo last night announced that ARIA is now the exclusive resident caterer at Sydney Opera House.

Anna Lisle and Maureen de Groot at the launch of ARIA Catering

To celebrate this new role for ARIA, we headed to the Opera Point Marquee and spent the evening sampling canapés and hot dishes from the live cooking stations.

The ‘instant’ restaurant

A harpist elegantly played soft tunes in the centre of the marquee, while guests took turns dining at the mini restaurant set-up (complete with timers on each table so that all could get a ‘live restaurant’ experience).

Anna and Assistant Pubisher of BT Publishing, Edwina Storie

It was a beautiful evening, smoothly run by the ever-efficient team at The Cru. As we left, guest were given a goodie bag which contained, two ARIA-embossed Riedel champagne flutes. With our gift in hand, the Best Restaurant team decided that it was our duty to head home, fill our flutes and clink our ARIA-studded glasses to Matt and Peter’s success.

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