The Duck Inn, Chippendale

On a cold drizzly night, a catchup with old friends on the cards, the promise of a warm, lively night at the Duck Inn pub in Chippendale seemed just the ticket.

The pub was packed as we arrived, and our only seating option was in the beer garden outside. A great spot in concept, but not so great as it started drizzling, then bucketing down, after we had taken a big gulp of our first ciders. Using great agility, we hopped, skipped and jumped over to an umbrella-protected table and there proceeded to continue our leisurely chatter until the rain really started bucketing. Luckily a few people had left in the main part of the bar, so we quickly nabbed a table and were thankful for an actual roof.

We started off with a cider and all commented on the slight rancidity involved with sipping a glass of Magners. We all agreed that the taste improves significantly, with rancidity decreasing in inverse proportion to the number of schooners consumed. $7 each.

Dinner is basically pub grub, with the essence of a effort to make things just a little bit fancier than the normal hum drum grub. In our group, one ordered the Classic Oz Beef Burger ($18), one Pork & Fennel Sausages ($17) and two steak sandwiches ($19).

The burger was described as “not the best burger I’ve ever tasted” and it was noted that the bottom half of the bun was cut from a loaf, and was not an individual roll. We reflected on the potentially critical error of this, depending on the sauciness/ juiciness of the burger and the necessity of the crust from a roll to prevent disintegration. We were advised by our resident New Zealander to go to Queenstown’s Fergberger…or the significantly closer Burger Fuel…for a more tasty morsel.

Burgerman

Burgerman

The pork and fennel sausages were described as “amazing”, although the accompanying potato mash was “floury” and “the worst I’ve ever had”.

Sausage king

Sausage king

The steak sandwich, I felt, was slightly on the small size, although the steak was fairly thick. I had a super grissly bit in one corner of mine, which made eating with hands – as any good steak sandwich should be – awkward and with the distinct possibility of ending up with a sizeable bit of steak hanging from my mouth, out in the open. The spiced tomato chutney was described as “pretty tasty”, although I was less optimistic about it. Fairly average and I was not a fan of raw red onion slices – cooked and caramelised is the way to go here.

Steak and bake

Steak and bake

The chips were a good-sized serve, crisp and generously salted. I’m personally less a fan of the french fry style and more a fan of the steak-cut chips style, but that is no criticism of the Duck Inn.

I had pretty significant food envy of the table next door, which had ordered a couple of the Vale Ale battered fish and chips ($18) and the Twice Cooked Pork Belly (about $24, I think)

Another cider (Batlow, $8.50) later, we headed off into the cold, walking past those young things out for a night on King St, and retreated into the warm, warm safety of our apartments.

The Duck Inn
74 Rose St
Chippendale NSW 2008

Food? 6/10. I wanted to like the food so, so much. And I admit my said food envy…but for us, it was average at best! Safe pub grub though, with a few nice hearty touches
Drinks? 8/10 Decent. A few ciders on tap (the boring Magners, the Batlow and then one poured out of an ale pump) and few craft beers
Atmosphere? 9/10 – a cool neighbourhood pub. Lively, packed, a cool beer garden out the back, a dining hall to one side, friendly bar tenders, rushed but nice service. I’d definitely go back for a Sunday afternoon session.
The Duck Inn Pub & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Cafe Pacifico, Darlinghurst

So the other day, I made my inaugural purchase of an Entertainment Book, having previously been a little skeptical dog on the concept. I’ve swiftly realised the false economy – that you order to compensate for any discount you’re receiving. Anyway, spotting Cafe Pacifico in said book, I took up the opportunity to check out a cool-looking Mexican restaurant / tequila bar a couple of nights ago.

Skeptical dog

Up a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flight of stairs, we were greeted with smiles and a pulley system attached to the door, which would send a bony skeletal hand flying up and down. Having arrived at the painfully un-hip hour of 6pm on a Friday night (apparently I’m 80 these days), we were seated immediately and plonked upon our table was a serve of complimentary chips and salsa.

Wanna chip bro?

Wanna chip bro?

The chips were…chips, nothing special. The salsa had a surprising kick for what otherwise looked like a soupy saucy bowl of red.

Proceeding to commence the Friday night-unwind, we got stuck into a pitcher (1L-ish) of Mexican Sangria ($34), which seemed to get increasingly strong towards the end of the jug. Fruit was sparse – a little orange here, a little apple there, spice was somewhat uninspiring, but it was decent, and boy did it help us unwind.

Quit yer wining

Quit yer wining

Enough talking. Onto the food. Having been to a chicken abattoir the day before, I went for the beef enchiladas ($22.9) with optional sour cream ($23.9), while my dining friend went for the beef burrito ($22.9).

Is that a burrito in your pocket?

Is that a burrito in your pocket?

I think my dining friend’s comment summed it up succinctly as our mains arrived – “I though we ordered different things”. They just sort of looked same-y. And beige. They were quite tasty – plentiful, tender shredded beef, topped with melty, oozy cheese and the promised sour cream. Both came with refried beans and what I’d usually expect to be a cilantro-lime rice thing (but what was instead a sort of orange-y tasting rice), but it was essentially just the same save for mine coming in the shape of two rolled tortillas, and his coming in one burrito.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a burrito? Is it an enchilada?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a burrito? No, it’s an enchilada

I was probably hoping for something with a little more of an innovative twist; something a little funky. Anything. Cafe Pacifico is in the trendiest of trendy areas, after all. This reminded me more of a local, suburban Mexican dig – definitely not bad, but nothing particularly exciting to speak of. Nevertheless, it was good, hearty fare, which hit the spot on a cold Friday night. And service was fantastic as well.

As we retreated into the night – at the out of control hour of 7:30pm – the bar had begun to fill up, bartenders were yelling and whooping, tequila was being shotted and the party was just getting started.

Cafe Pacifico
95 Riley St,
Darlinghurst NSW 2010

Food? 6/10 – sorry guys! It’s probably not the best value for money – at $24 for a suburban enchiladas, I’ve had better!
Drinks? 7/10 – Sangria was pretty unimaginative, but they did have a wiiiide selection of tequila and were also touting their “famous margarita”
Atmosphere? 9/10 – very cool. It’s set upstairs in what would have once been an old, unloved warehouse. Now decked out with Mexican paraphernalia, posters, candles, beer boxes and a huge bar, it’s lively, quick and a lot of fun.

Cafe Pacifico on Urbanspoon

Cafe con Leche, Surry Hills

It’s a rare and special thing when an unpretentious, non-hip, non-ironic noshery comes up in Surry Hills. It’s been there for a while, I believe, and it was a welcome and delicious surprise one leisurely morning (a little while ago now!). I was fortunate enough to have a leisurely hour to spend in the tiny (but very popular) Cafe con Leche on Fitzroy Street in Surry Hills.

Their claim to fame is being Colombian. So, of course, despite offerings of lattes and flat whites and Sonoma muesli, fruit salad and eggs on toast, I had to go for the most South American items on the menu. I guess I was looking confused, as the nice chap behind the counter recommended the arepas. I bloody love arepas, having only recently discovered them on my visit to Fairfield a little while back. What is better than arepas con queso? It’s basically liquid cheese running through a thick corn pancake and it’s freakin’ fantastic. For about $11 or so, I had a plate of two arepas – one being con queso, and the other being with little chunks of corn running through, and all the trimmings. Super cute little plate-lets of guacamole, salsas, pulled pork and sour cream. Simple, but effective, sufficient in quantity, and altogether delicious. Could’ve done with a litttttle more spice in the salsas – but if that’s my only complaint, then that ain’t half bad.

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For drinks, I obviously couldn’t go past HOT CHOCOLATE WITH CHEESE. With. Cheese. I’d had this thought that it was obviously going to be some form of cream cheese / cottage cheese / something that looks vaguely soluble. But no, it was actual slices of cheese. It was weird…. The hot chocolate, itself, was great. It was rich and dark and not too sweet – just how I like my men. I mean…my hot chocolate. And it was served in a cool, funky looking little cup, with a stick in it. Now to the cheese. It didn’t really melt. I’m not sure if it was because the hot chocolate wasn’t burningly hot….or if that’s the point and the cheese isn’t meant to melt. Either way, it essentially resulted in me ending each sip of the delicious liquid with a small piece of cheese dribbling down my chin. Not my most attractive moment. It didn’t taste BAD…it was just weird.

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Despite my cheese debarcle, I had a great little relaxing brunch at Cafe con Leche. Luckily, being a week day, it wasn’t packed as it seems when I’ve walked past it a few times on Saturday mornings. There were many locals coming in for a takeaway coffee – so I assume their brew is pretty good! The staff were super nice and attentive (and didn’t look at me like I was a total idiot when I stared at the menu, bewildered). The menu isn’t lengthy, but it’s considered and from my experience, it tastes great and is reasonably priced. I hope I have another free weekday morning some time, some day, to head back there again.

Cafe con Leche
104 Fitzroy St, Surry Hills

Food? 9 out of 10
Drinks? 8 out of 10. A delicious hot chocolate and interesting with a Columbian twist. I hear the coffee is good, but other than that, pretty stock-standard
Atmosphere? 8 out of 10. Small and cute – could be cramped on a busy day – but with some cute little “Colombian-feeling” touches.

Cafe con Leche on Urbanspoon

Melbourne adventures – Topolino’s, St Kilda

I don’t get home to see my folks much as we live in different cities and life continually manages to get in the way. But when I do, it’s a pretty fantastic opportunity to hang out with the olds over food. Eating it, cooking it, looking at it, talking about it – it’s all good. Our family is a bunch of foodies and living food it what we do.

I first went down to Melbourne before my parents moved there, when I was a teenager, and my mum took me to this restaurant along Fitzroy Street in St Kilda, Topolino’s. I think it’s one of those restaurants that’s been there for the last 30 or 40 years. It’s not fancy, it’s not particularly expensive, but there’s a good reason it’s been there that long. Over Christmas I was down in Melbourne for the holiday and, having a lot of food to eat and cook in a small amount of time, what better way to re-live good memories than to hit up Topolino’s again.

We started off with a couple of drinks – a Heineken ($7.5), Coopers Sparkling ($7.5) and glass of the Merlot ($7.9) as we pondered the menu, facing the challenges of dining out: pizza or pasta? Creamy or tomato? Seafood or not? First world problems.

At an Italian restaurant, mum picks one dish and one dish only: the fettucine marinara. Topolino’s version ($19.9 for a main size, or $16.9 for a very, very generous entree size – mum wisely went for the latter) did not disappoint. As the blogger of foods, I took on the labourious task of trying everyone’s meal (if I must….). The marinara sauce tasted sufficiently seafoody and was well-seasoned and rich. The squid gets mega points for its incredible tenderness – no rubber bands here! The seafood was altogether plentiful, as you can see. In fact, we felt that the only difference between the main and entree sizes was the amount of pasta – we thought that the amount of seafood was probably the same in both.

Finding nemo

Finding nemo

Dad followed suit, with a marinara pizza ($13.9). My initial thoughts of “a small? soft!” were batted away when a dinner plate-sized “small” pizza arrived, smoking hot out of the oven and teaming with huge prawns and mussels. This, of course, brought up the debate of the thin-crusted wood-fired pizza versus the normal commercial oven-cooked with a thicker base conundrum. My love of the sparsely-topped, super crunchy wood-fired version has officially been knocked off its podium by Topolino’s crunchy, chunky, seafood-filled, sufficiently charry explosion of deliciousness.

IMG_0190

I like to be under the sea

I went for one of the specials of the night – fettucine with spicy sausage and peas ($16.9). I have to admit that whilst mine was rich, delicious and altogether plentiful…it just wasn’t possible for it to stack up to the two marinaras. That said, the sauce was very well flavoured. The peas provided a nice interruption of lightness to the dish and three plump, slightly spicy sausages were intertwined with the mass of well-cooked pasta.

itsa spicy sausage

itsa spicy sausage

We were all sufficiently stuffed by the end; I couldn’t finish my incredibly generous serving of pasta. We took a super pleasant walk around the back streets and down to the esplanade while the sun was still out. An amazing night 🙂

Topolino’s
87 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda VIC 3182

Food? 9/10…what the hell, let’s go 10/10. Great value for money, expertly cooked food and delicious as hell.
Drinks? 8/10 – not a bad drinks list at all. A good range of wines both by the glass and bottle, over a decent array of prices. Probably could have been a few more interesting beers, though
Atmosphere: 8/10 – the fun, friendly, relaxed, welcoming atmostphere of the restaurant draws a range of clientele – parties, families, a group of young lads, casual dates. Too many bratty kids…but hey, they’ve gotta eat and I’m sure I was one once.

 Topolino's on Urbanspoon

Signorelli Gastronomia, Pyrmont

With the end of the work week approaching, a need to rediscover comfort eating nice and close to home and a voice in my ear saying “Itsa me, Mario” (that voice turned out to be my colleague finishing off an Italian meatball sub), I thought “what better way than to eat my way through pizza, pasta and all sorts of tricolore delicacies – all the while washing it down with a fine Chianti?”. The answer was nothing. I grabbed my dining friend, and off we set, a long walk into the sunset, towards Signorelli Gastronomia in Pyrmont – yes, the place that seemingly only serves the whole spit-roasted pig.

Lisa...why would you eat me?

Lisa…why would you eat me?

Having conducted earlier research in the hours of bludging that a Friday afternoon presents, I’d already gotten the salivation out of the way and worked out how to subtly convince said dining friend to order the many dishes I wanted to try – one of the few good tactics I got out of law school.

We started off with a Peroni ($7) and a glass from their really quite decent by-the-glass wine list of the Tedeschi Soave Veneto ($11). I only wish more dining friends enjoyed wine so I could have gone for the bottle – their 13 page wine list has decent varieties from Aus, Italy, France and Spain. We were also brought a basket of warmed crusty bread for dipping into a nice little pot of quality oil on the side – a great way to start.

Food-wise, we shared an entree of the salumi, prosciutto, bresaola, grana padano and parchment bread (a generous serve at $19). The meats were thin shavings of the flavoursome meats. Not as overpowering as some I’ve had, but a nice way to start. Equally, the grana padano was nice, sharp and bitey. As we eventually ran out the accompanying biscuits, we were swiftly presented with another serving of bread from our attentive waiter.

Probably too much for two people - not like that stopped us (me)

Probably too much for two people – not like that stopped us (me)

Having suffered immediate regret at our ambitious ordering of two mains to share, we gallantly pressed on. Our waiters appeared to see our visible fullness and gave us a pleasant amount of time to digest (or, perhaps they were temporarily flustered over the work christmas party that had just arrived, probably from the Google building upstairs or something).

The first of our mains arrived – the Italian sausage, mushroom and olive pizza ($24) – brought swiftly across from the pizza chap, working feverishly away in the corner. Which brings me to my next point: the travesty that is the open kitchen. Sure, it makes an intriguing spectacle of the chef. Sure it breeds hygiene as the result of nosy customers. But what about the chef? What about his privacy to wipe his sweaty brow? To pick up that piece of capsicum that fell on the floor – within the 5 second rule?  To scratch that itchy armpit? A travesty indeed.

Anyway, sweaty brow or not, the pizza was delicious. The crust with that sought-out balance of crispy / chewy with the little black spots and the sparse ingredients. Just the way I like it. That said, at $24, it was just a little bit rich for me.

I'ma Luigi

I’ma Luigi

Just to round out the Italian experience, for research purposes of course, our other main of potato gnocchi with calamari, buffalo mozzarella and zucchini arrived shortly after ($30 for main size). The gnocchi was surprisingly light and springy, which was a pleasant change from the stodgy experience of gnocchis past. The sauce that delicately coated eat morsel of the carb was so incredibly flavourful of seafood. It was delicious and really made the dish. I was somewhat disappointed with the calamari. Although it was well cooked, there just wasn’t a lot of it. Apart from the one curl, there were a few little “off-cuts” circling around the dish, but nothing much else to speak of; a similar thought with the zucchini flower. I thought they could have done more with it, and a blanched zucchini flower floating around just isn’t that overwhelming. The saving grace of that dish really was the flavour of the seafoody broth.

Gnocchi me out!

Gnocchi me out!

Overall, it was actually a really good experience. Our waiter was hilarious and personable. The restaurant, although increasingly busy, did not deplete the good service. My mini-rant about the gnocchi shouldn’t be taken out of context – the dish was absolutely delicious; just a few picky points here and there. The surrounding tables were lively, the atmosphere was this cool, dark, casual Italian kitchen – complete with “providore” section of various sauces, wines and I think a couple of cheese, from memory.

Signorelli GastronomiaGround floor of the Accenture/Google Building
Trouton Place, Pyrmont

Food? 8/10 – nice, decent quality ingredients, although value for money was a bit over the place
Drinks? 9/10 – a good list of (reasonably priced) wines by the glass and even better list of wines by the bottle
Atmosphere? 8/10 – sort of weird placement in that you walk through the foyer of an office block, but once inside, very nice.
Recommend it? Yes for a cool little spot to meet friends or go on a date. Funny, personable waiters, good service, good food and good times.

Signorelli Gastronomia on Urbanspoon