Tag 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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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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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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Nguyen’s got a new one – Red Lantern on Riley

When a celebrity chef like Luke Nguyen opens a new restaurant, you can bet your bottom dollar that there is going to be a media stir. But is all the hype really deserved? We head to Red Lantern on Riley to test the waters.

The combined venture of Nguyen and former Red Lantern Head Chef Mark Jensen, Red Lantern on Riley is located just down the road from its well-established older sister. While Nguyen continues to man the Crown Street eatery, Jensen steers the Riley ship.

The design is inspired by French Colonial Vietnam

The restaurant is full when we arrive, and as our table is not yet ready, we are quickly swept away to the Red Lily Bar out back. Albeit small, the space is smartly dressed with wooden stools and a marble bar. The wine list features a good mix of international and Australian drops. Initially, we intend to sample a selection of wines but after we order a bottle of the 2009 Artardi ‘Estate’ Tempranillo from Rioja – there is no going back. We order another of the same to accompany our meal.

Like the bar out back, the restaurant’s aesthetic has a designer feel, reminiscent of French Colonial Vietnam. A melange of dainty pendant lights dangle in clusters around the ceiling, basking the restaurant in a golden glow that creates an intimate dining atmosphere. Plush booth seating flank the sides of the main room, whilst a long marble communal table runs down the centre.

Guests can choose either a la carte or a series of tasting menus, including the $65 ‘Hanoi Hunger’, $80 ‘Saigon Scrumptious’ or the $135 Delicious Dalat, which comes with matching wines.  We opt for a la carte, beginning with an entree of rice paper rolls filled with a trio of stuffings – pork and duck terrine, tofu, cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms, and tiger prawn and pork. While they are pretty on the plate, they tend to be lack-lustre in flavour (as rice paper rolls often are). Crispy five-spiced quail and roasted Burrawong peking duck are finger-licking good, but the braised Wagyu beef is disappointing. The hero dish is the crisp skin Burrawong chicken, poached in master stock with ginger and oyster sauce. The portion is generous and the flavours are perfectly balanced.

Goi Tom Thit – Tiger prawns, free-range pork belly and pickled vegetables

It is easy to be blown away by the style and professionalism of the restaurant, which runs like a well-oiled machine. Specifically catering to group dining, the restaurant handles the smallest of requests with ease, offering half serves of all dishes and willing to mix, match and substitute to ensure the whole group is happy.

Apart from the ritzy fit-out, Red Lantern on Riley isn’t that different from its Crown Street counterpart but, then again, it is a little like ordering a second bottle of the same wine. Why do something differently and risk being disappointed when you can happily enjoy the same thing over and over again?

Sami-Jo Adelman

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Filed under East Sydney, Red Lantern on Riley, Reviews

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

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