Food Society, Darlinghurst

Foodgasm: the sensation of dining at Darlinghurst’s Food Society. I’m sure there’s a dictionary out there that says that. Here is a slightly belated post about a foodie wonderland of deliciousness that my dining friend and I experienced a couple of weeks ago.

A brief cop-out: the photos are truly awful. I’ve yet to work out how to straddle the mix between taking quality photos of food in low light, and being that asshole diner that feels the need to disrupt everyone else by using that blinding flash every time a new dish comes out.

Anyway, the Food Society menu is Eastern European. But not in that heavy, stodgy, I need to be a 150kg angry man with a moustache to handle this. It’s almost a modern take on what you’d think Eastern European food should be.

We started our evening, arriving about 8 minutes early. Just to throw in a line of generalisations here, I think our waiter must have been German as his predisposition to precision timing meant that we weren’t actually allowed to go to our table yet (…it was unoccupied) – but with an impressive looking wall of spirits, liqueurs and strange liquids, we were happy to oblige and sit down at the bar.

I started off with the signature Apple Pie cocktail ($15) (…as apparently every food blogger has) while my dining friend went with a healthy litre of Czech’s finest lager. The cocktail was delicious, and actually tasted like a (well spiked) apple pie, right down to the little pie crust crumblets around the rim of the glass.

I spy half drunk apple pie

Moving to our table, I’d heard mention several times of the cauliflower entrée ($11). I won’t lie and say that a plate of cauliflower sounds particularly appetising to me, but the masses don’t lie, so we went ahead and ordered. I immediately took back my initial scepticism as we were soon presented with a large plate (pretty sure there was actually a whole cauliflower on that thing!) of super crisp, gently fried, red wine vinegar-y, spiced cauliflower intertwined with various bits of parsley and watercress.  Inside was tender, outside was flavourful and crisp. In some spots, the balsamic was a little strong (that sort of breathy shudder that you get when you really eat something tangy), but it was hot, perfectly seasoned and all round delicious. And despite the mass of food we had, getting nervous that we’d grossly overordered, it actually wasn’t heavy or stodgy.

Spiced cauliflower

The mains were set on the table not too long after. DF ordered the lamb ($26), while I went for their modern interpretation of a goulash. If I could eat that lamb every day for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy chappy. Falling off the bone and juicy as hell, a decent serving (…photo may or may not be after our first helping) of lamb rack topped an almost ratatouille (minus the watery soupy stuff) of potato, tomato and eggplant, slightly spicy, well seasoned and perfectly complimentary to the lamb. The lamb itself wasn’t too flavoured – as if the concentration was on the development of the flavours of the meat through the slow roasting process, but it sure as hell went well with the veg! DF complained that it was too spicy; I explained that this was because he is a wimp.

Twice cooked lamb

The goulash ($28) was far different to what I had expected – the traditional hearty soup variety. A large earthenware-esque bowl came out, generously filled with sweetly roasted veg, crisp snow peas, a kind of gluggy polenta and the most tender beef cheeks you could imagine, topped with a pouring of a very tasty gravy at the table. I mean, at the end of the day it wasn’t an outrageously impressive dish, save for those beef cheeks. All of the components were fine and it was a very hearty, comforting dish. But it didn’t have that jaw drop sort of moment where you take the first bite and the world seems to stop. There was almost a slight disconnect between the various ingredients  – especially with the carrots and the snow peas. It sort of just felt that they didn’t belong with this big, hearty, beefy, carby meal….but then again, maybe that’s the modern take.

Goulash of the modern age

That said, all-round, I was very impressed. The service was very attentive, the food was truly delicious and pretty generous as far as inner-city Sydney restaurants go and a great night. The restaurant has a great ambience – dim lighting, a cute little candle on your table, a rustic interior, with chattering tables nearby – can you really go wrong?

Food Society
Lower ground floor, 91 Riley Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010

Food? 8/10
Drinks? 8/10
Ambience? 9/10
Recommend it? Absolutely – hearty food, good service, nice atmosphere, delicious drinks, reasonably priced – why not?!

Food Society on Urbanspoon

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Silverbean Cafe, Enmore

In an effort to calm the rage that was bubbling after having to pick up my recently purchased bike for the 4th time from repairs, and also bribe my dining friend to drive me to said bike shop, I decided that a nice, hearty brunch was in order for what was also a wild and woolly Saturday morning.

Strolling untrodden streets (well, untrodden for me, anyway), we spotted a funky looking eatery across the road – Silverbean. I’m fairly big on the old tattoo, so having a distinctly old school tattoo-ish sign on the window was definitely a drawcard. Not so much for my friend – “ew, why would you tarnish pure skin with crappy drawings?” – but that’s a story for another day and another blog.

Silverbean

Anyway. Silverbean. You know how you see someone and you automatically conjure this idea in your head of how that person would be? I do. For some reason, whenever I see people dressed in that sort of “pin up” style, with the short fringe and the tattoos on the arms, my brain bizarrely tells me that they will be mean and rude. For the waiters at Silverbean, I apologise for any misconception my brain generated. The staff were open and warm and friendly and welcoming. So much for pre-first impressions!

Silverbean boasts a sort of old school, southern American drawling slang feel. Imagine this hot Louisiana afternoon, the mozzies buzzing, the crocs snapping….Old tables with those metal foot rests, pictures of guitars, cool old-looking cabinets and a feeling that the staff are really into the whole mindset of it all.

I started off with a…wait for it…chai ($4). It was great. Not too sweet, nice and strong. I hear they brew it themselves and they should definitely be commended for it.

Chai-licious

DF had a caramel milkshake (I think it was $5) and it was mindblowing. As mindblowing as any good milkshake can be. But seriously, it was really good. Unlike the normal sickly sweet caramel, this one was a sort of butterscotch-y – I want to say “burnt” but don’t want to leave the image of bitter – it was a very well rounded, full, butterscotch-y, delicious milkshake. AND the cutest addition, a little jug of the excess milkshake on the side – perfect. As one of my first revisits to caramel after a South American-induced dulce de leche coma, it was a nice re-entry to the market.

Caramel milkshake heaven

Meal-wise, DF went for the incredibly reasonably priced “Croc Monster” ($10). A large and delicious ham and cheese toastie with an abundant supply of cheese (not necessarily a bad thing!), a fried egg and a nicely dressed side salad. DF said the ham was very flavourful and the egg was perfectly cooked.

Croc-monster

My brunch was a crunchy toastedbreakfast burrito ($12), filled with incredibly tender lamb, chunky avocado, black beans, cheese and a nice dollop of sour cream on the side. The flavours were really very nice. It seemed like a lot of care had been taken in pairing various ingredients together. The cheese was melty, the salad was crisp, the burrito was crunch and the beans had a slight kickand the tenderness of the lamb showed the length of time it had spent in the cooker.

Epic lamb breakfast burrito

Overall, it was such a pleasant experience. The staff were so friendly and efficient and welcoming. The food really tasted like care had been put into it, the prices were incredibly reasonable. When you think of food from the South, I seem to think of these heavy, carby, often fried and just BIG meals. But here, you still get that nourishing “soul” feel about it, it’s just that there’s a bit of freshness and modern-ness involved. You get these great flavours, but still feel like you can actually walk afterwards. They also had a great selection of little muffins and cupcakes and some of the specials of the day (including corn bread) made me wish I had a second (or fourth) stomach. I’ll certainly be back.

Silverbean
99 Enmore Road
Enmore  NSW 2024

Food: 8/10
Drinks: 9/10
Atmosphere: 9/10
Recommend? Absolutely, for a nourishing, warm, welcoming brunch on lazy morning

Silverbean on Urbanspoon

Lovable Lakemba

It’s a sad fact that although I have lived in Sydney for the past couple of years, my experience of the “burbs” has been limited to a couple of trendy inner city hotspots. With a Sunday careless and free, a friend and I decided to hit up Lakemba after reading about its Muslim-African-Indian-Lebanese-esque culture.

You know the great thing about NOT being from Sydney? I don’t know better! I had only heard short, sharp remarks about Lakemba’s reputation, its colourful past, its shading dealings.

The main street – Haldon Street – is this busy, clustered, eclectic shamble of old buildings, restaurants – their delicious smells wafting through the sidewalk, Indian supermarkets, Lebanese supermarkets, mosques, bakeries packed with baklava, ladies fingers, birds nest. The supermarkets were almost falling out the door, shelves stuffed with curry powders, flat breads, rose water, olives, dates, spices, molasses. For a place that has a bad wrap, this was not a bad start to the day at all! Before I knew it, I’d bought items that I really didn’t need, and probably wouldn’t use (well, at least for a while) – oh well, the perils of food travel.

Of course – the main aspect was indeed food. As we walked along that busy, vibrant, lively street we stumbled across a few restaurants where we, of course, needed to taste the food (all in the name of research).

First cab off the rank was Al Aseel. Knowing we were in for the long haul – a marathon effort of food tasting, you might say – we ordered smart: a mixed platter to share. Oh and this bizarre, yet really very famous, Ayran, the salted milky yoghurt drink. At our table was already a plate of the ubiquitous (and very colourful) pickles, as well as an enormous pile of the even more ubiquitous flat bread.

Pickles

I don’t love pickles, but they were entertaining nonetheless. They were pretty salty, very crunchy and probably would have gone down a real treat with a cold stubby.

The mixed platter ($20) was basically several delicious pockets of bursting flavours on a plate. In the top left corner, we have felafel – it would have been nice to have more than one, but my bite was very crunchy, not too dry and not too salty. Delicious. In the top right corner, we had a fresh, herbacious, tart, juicy and altogether fabulous tabouli. The bottom left was a trio of smooth, flavoursome dips – a very garlicy garlic dip, a smokey baba ganoush and a creamy, sesame-spiked hommus – all went incredibly well with the pile of flat bread we had, as well as those meats! In the last corner, we had a trio of skewers, packed generously with chunks of chargrilled chicken, lamb and a kofta. The meats were lightly charred on the outside, juicy on the inside and otherwise perfectly cooked. All in all, a VERY satisfying platter.

The Ayran drink was bizarre. I’m a fan of drinking yoghurt and I’m generally a fan of natural yoghurt – and this is sort of what this drink tasted like, just with a salty aftertaste. The drinking process itself was fine, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the aftertaste.

Mixed platter

Switching cultures, we came across this out of the blue Cocos Islands restaurant. They weren’t wholly open, but did have a handful of freshly made curries at the ready, as well a group of about 15 girls practicing music and singing on the drums. Cocos Islands food, as I gather, is similar to Malaysian food, but with more freshness. For $10, we shared a plate of biryani – packed with fruit and the coloured rice, a spicy chilli chicken curry and a falling-off-the-bone lamb curry. You could just tell that these had been cooking for hours and the flavour of these things was just fantastic. It was a huge plate and we couldn’t finish it between the two of us.

Biryani, lamb curry, chicken curry

A further walk – and a handful of baklava later – we faced our third and final meal. Returning to our lebanese theme, we turned up at Jasmins and, of course, ordered the mixed plater ($14).

The restaurant was open only for takeaway as it was indeed the inconvenient in-between-meals time of 3:30pm by now, so we went to a nearby park / spot of grass to eat our meal. The elements were largely similar – the pickles and flat bread were there, as were the tabouli and trio of garlic, baba ganoush and hommus dips. There were two felafel – slightly oilier than the last, but equally as tasty. And the addition of a kibbeh – essentially minced lamb, in a croquette shape and deep fried. The meat in this version was in smaller chunks and slightly fattier than Al Aseel’s version, although it did have a decent piece of juicy chicken thigh that had been char grilled. I felt that the lamb kofta was a little too salty in this version as well.

Mixed platter: take 2

Facing certain obesity, we decided to call it quits. A fantastic day indeed – I would definitely recommend getting yourself out to Lakemba for a stroll around. We could have happily fed ourselves for between $10 and $20, which is almost unheard of these days. The food quality is great, the people are friendly and you know what? They’re actually generous and proud of their culture and happy to share it.

Restaurants we visited:

Al Aseel
135 Haldon St, Lakemba

Island Dreams Cafe
47 Haldon St, Lakemba

Jasmins
30B Haldon St, Lakemba

New Shanghai, Ashfield

A cool Sunday night and my housemates and I were feeling lazy, tired after a big weekend and generally less than impressed at the thought of a new working week approaching. Also feeling unusually ethnic, we decided to hit up the streets of Ashfield in search of the perfect dim sum dinner.

We ended up in New Shanghai, mostly due to the large number of Chinese locals wandering through the doors. My parents may have had me believe many false statements during my time, such as their lame attempt to get me to eat broccoli as a child by saying that it was Bart Simpson’s favourite food (…it worked). But one thing they did tell me was that you can always trust a good Chinese restaurant by the number of Chinese diners inside.

A considered scan of the menu later, we decided that grossly over-ordering was the way to go. Our order spanned xiao long bao (who wouldn’t get this?!), pan fried pork bun, pan fried pork dumpling, green shallot pancake, salt and pepper prawn and shanghainese noodles. They were all insanely cheap – circa $8, with the most expensive meal being the salt and pepper prawns at about $18. And these meals were huge, I’m talking laaaaarge. We probably could have skipped about 2 plates, but with smells wafting, nearby tables chattering and plates clinking, we just went with it.

First up: xiao long bao

Xiao Long Bao – a couple missing by this stage

The Xiao Long Bao was absolutely delicious. The cool thing about New Shanghai – as with a number of dumpling houses – is that you can watch the dumpling making process. They were folding and weaving and stuffing and rolling and stretching and steaming like wildfire. I hadn’t realised that the filling actually contains the broth (I’d always thought it was a gelatinous blob of soup that they would somehow stuff in the dumpling, that would melt during the steaming process) that eventually melts out to become this warm, soupy liquid that can burst out of the dumpling spectacularly if you fail to eat with the appropriate delicacy and skill. After some hilarious soup squirts, we realised that the way to get about this beautiful morsel is to bite a little hole in the skin and carefully pour the soup out into your spoon, and then go for gold.

Shanghai noodles

The Shanghai noodles as a dish was not particularly exceptional. There’s a little bit of chicken and a little bok choy thrown in, but what was actually pretty great was the noodles themselves. Hand made, slightly odd shapes and sizes and stir friend to al dente (to borrow a term…)

Fried pork bun

Next out came this mammoth plate of fried pork buns. I have to admit – and I’m probably the first person in the world to ever say this – but I don’t love steamed pork buns (I find the sweetness of the bun mixed with salty pork is super hard to get past), so the fried version wasn’t really ever going to get rave reviews from me. The buns were slightly less sweet, which was actually a good thing, though, and the pork was quite flavoursome. These guys also had the dangerous spurting soup.

Fried pork dumpling

Now, I’m not exactly sure what the real difference is – in terms of filling – between the fried pork bun and fried pork dumpling. The filling for both tasted very similar, and both had the squirting soup filling. The fried pork dumpling was actually quite different to what I had been expecting. I had sort of had in my head this beautiful, thin-skinned gyoza-type dumpling, but instead the skin was actually quite thick, although not as thick as the pork bun. The filling was also a little bit disappointing – it would have been great to see some chinese mushroom, or just some sort of accent towards one flavour – garlic and ginger is always a winner.

Shallot pancake

The shallot / green onion pancake was pretty good – it was plentiful with shallots and the pastry was deliciously flaky courtesy of the laborious rolling technique that I had just seen in the kitchen. It was a little bit oily, but then again it was fried so that is to be expected to a certain extent.

Salt and pepper prawns, and the very large spread

The salt and pepper prawns were well cooked – plump and juicy with a nice kick of salt and pepper. I hadn’t expected them to be lightly battered and deep fried, however, and would definitely have preferred them to be wok-tossed in the shell. That said, thinking about it, all other forms of salt and pepper goodness – squid, tofu etc – are invariably battered in the salt and pepper batter…

Overall – not a bad night. The Xiao Long Bao was delicious, although I had hoped for a little bit more from the other dishes. That said, for a huge feed for a low cost, with a cool hurried, boisterous and efficient atmosphere, it was actually a pretty good experience.

New Shanghai
273 Liverpool Rd
Ashfield, NSW 2131

Food: 5/10
Drinks: (well, it was chinese tea – can you really stuff it up?)
Atmosphere: 6/10
Recommend? Yes for a casual, cheap eat

New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bangbang, Surry Hills

Despite the fact that uni students go to class for about 12 hours a week, when I was going through my uni years, there was always something happening. Sport…doing an assignment…working a part-time job…studying like the nerd I was (am)…recovering from a big night out. I always thought to myself “I can’t wait until I start work, apart from the working week I’ll have so much time to myself on weekends”. I’m sure I never told a grown-up person that, because they probably would have scoffed at me, mercilessly.

Now that I am a real, bona fide grown up, myself, I finally realise that those days of leisure during uni are only to be repeated the day I retire. So, for the first weekend in far too many weekends that I had nothing planned, I thought “what the hell” and treated myself to a deliciously, delightfully, care free lazy brunch.

My housemate and I went to a spot halfway down the hill from hell, Bangbang espresso bar and cafe, in Surry Hills.

11:30am in Surry Hills and its prime trendy brunch time. We had actually planned on going to Rueben Hills, a couple of streets over, but facing what was looking like a 40+ minute wait we brought out our ghetto voices, saying “hellllll no” and cantered off to Bangbang. I’ll admit I was sceptical upon seeing it. The interior looked sort of like there weren’t enough tables/chairs to fill the place and create that sought-after “buzz” and the cake cabinet looked overpriced ($4.50 for a bite-sized gluten free cake??) and nothing special (chocolate crackles. Cute, but really?).

I ate my words as soon as I saw the menu. In my rush of hunger and drool I failed to take a picture of it, thinking I could later return to their website (…there is none) and describe some of the fantastic-sounding dishes. From memory…potato rosti with spinach and poached egg, muesli “trifle”, the standard bacon and eggs, a big breakfast, a scottish breakfast (complete with black pudding!), french toast with mascarpone and fruit. With this being one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make all week (first world problems), I (and my housemate) settled on toasted brioche with onion jam, chorizo, avocado and coriander mash and rocket ($16.50) as well as a soy cappucino and a chai latte (…obviously).

No complaints about the coffee. Apparently the milk was not “nutty” as other soy caps have been in the past. My chai latte was fantastic.

More so a picture of the cup than the actual chai…

Somewhat bizzarely, it tasted exactly like the Punjabi Chai I bought from Mrs Oldbuck’s pantry in Berrima (…as you do), which I really do love. It had such a nice spicy flavour and plenty of ginger. Brewed in the pot, it was a very generous serve, filling 2 glasses and served with a cute pot of honey and a strainer on the side.

There was a bit of a wait for the brunches, but I’m fairly certain the cooks were about to collapse from the sheer business of the morning, so I’ll cut them a bit of slack for that.

Toasted brioche, onion jam, chorizo, poached egg and avocado and coriander mash

Upon first glance, it was a fairly small serve. But thinking about it, I’d call it an appropriately-sized, non-obese serve. But I tell you what, the flavours just exploded. The avocado mash was chunky, generous and fresh, packed with fresh coriander leaves.

The brioche was ever so slightly on the oily side, but was topped with a sweet, dense, caramelly onion jam and topped with charred, thick slices of spicy chorizo and a perfectly poached egg. The decent handful of spicy rocket on top was a nice touch. The charred wedge of lime that accompanied was a nice, caramelly addition, which really freshened the whole dish and really worked to make the slightly oily brioche far less noticeable.

The great things about Bangbang were that all of the dishes looked incredible – I may actually break my no-restaurant-repeats rule and go back and try some of the other brunches (the lunch menu, from 12pm-3pm held its own as well!); the staff were still polite and efficient, and despite the rush we were given as much time as we wanted, without feeling pressured to get the hell out of there (as so many busy restaurants make you feel).

Bangbang, I was sceptical at first, but boy did I change my mind. You know what? I will definitely be back.

Bangbang Espresso Bar and Cafe
113 Reservoir Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010

Food: 7/10
Drinks: 8/10
Atmostphere: 6/10
Recommend? Absolutely

Bangbang Espresso Bar and Cafe on Urbanspoon