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Darlinghurst

“Two men walked into a bar…”

Normally this would descend into a terrible punchline but in this instance the result is a quirky space atop the Flinders Hotel serving a young experimental menu. Billed as “British colonial style joins an all star food crew”, the all stars here are head chefs Thomas Lim (ex-Tetsuya’s) and Mitch Orr (ex-Sepia and 2010 Young Chef Of The Year) who’ve set up a moody and compact dining room peppered with low hanging lanterns, floral upholstery and dark lacquered tables.

This is my second time here for the Duke Tuesday Tasting menu and I’ve managed to sucker in more soon-to-be converts. The boys have been offering a 6 course degustation for only $60, with dishes often changing weekly, providing the kitchen with an opportunity to experiment with new flavours and techniques.


Snacks: Gougère

We start off with a plethora of snacks. First up are the Gougère; the delicious little puffs of warm cheese and buttery choux pastry disappearing so quickly it takes me a moment to register that they’re all gone.


Snacks: Oyster Mushroom Karage

Next, a long slate of fanned out crispy oyster mushroom karage line up next to a speckled pebble of sauce. We debate what the sauce is, however I believe it has black beans blended into it, to give it a salty albiet nutty aftertaste.


Bread and butter


Snacks: Home made maple cured ham and smoked pastrami + Pimms Carafe: Pimms Cointreau, Plymouth, Sprite, Dry Ginger $35 + Rickey Tickey: Absolut, Peach Liquer, Peach, Watermelon, Lime, Soda $17

Hold up! The snacks still haven’t ended; a bowl of home made bread rolls soon arrive with a hard round of hand churned butter and although carbs is probably one of my favourite food groups it’s exponentially improved with a generous serving of shaved home-cured meats.


The Earl: Silver Tequila, Cointreau, Earl Grey Tea, Guava, Lemon $19

It’s at this moment, table about to topple over from the burgeoning weight of Parisian slates that we receive our cocktails. Cathy’s Rickey Tickey turned out to be a light-hearted tumble of flavours whilst my ‘The Earl’ was a more singular affair with tequila and Earl Grey proving natural companions.

The waitress reappeared to surprise us with an extra snack from the kitchen (this is sadly not due to my awesomeness and more so to do with one of our party being a professional chef) in the form of a crispy pork jowel bun.


With compliments from the kitchen: Butter bread, pork jowl, grilled pineapple, curry mayo, snow pea sprouts

These bite sized little sandwiches were a sunny mouthful of mayo, pineapple, butter and the unmistakable firmness of the marinated pork jowel. I was sincerely glad to discover these have made it onto the permanent menu in the form of a DIY ‘pancake party’.


1st Course – Corn: Corn husk salt, chickweed, grilled baby corn, corn stock, corn puree, corn kernels

Corn. Yes that’s what it said on the menu, the one word description gave nothing away and it was quite delightful to spoon through the bowl, musing over the different textures and forms.


2nd Course – Pearl Onion, Leek and Chicken Skin with jalepenos oil and onion pickle liquor


3rd Course – Mushroom Risotto with rice starch, pine ash, powdered black fungi, toasted rice

The onion and chicken skin proved an interesting play on texture albeit overly salty whilst the mushroom risotto was a hit. A risotto made without rice might seem quite existential but the boys have used rice starch to thicken up the sauce and hold the dish together, letting the beautiful fresh flavours of mushroom take the spotlight.


4th Course – Egg, Lapchong, Red Rice: pickled pea sprouts, crispy lap chong, slow-cooked egg

Michelle’s done her research and lights up when we’re finally served the slow-cooked egg. It’s so soft it seems to exist in a permanent state of near-splitting over the bed of lap chong and red rice.


5th Course – Smoked Beef, Gherkin, Mushroom: hickory-smoked beef blade, button mushroom puree, gherkin, sourdough crumble + With compliments from the kitchen: green beans with garlic and butter

Lastly was the crowd pleaser, a trio of beautifully smoked slices of beef served with a dousing of crunchy sourdough crumble which provided a comforting end.


Pre-dessert – Watermelon, White Chocolate, Pink Peppercorn: watermelon granita, watermelon molasses, shaved white chocolate, pink peppercorn praline

To clean our palettes a refreshing bowl of granita, the layer of molasses tastes quite woody and not heeding Fiona’s advice I ambitiously mix all the elements together before realising that the three elements don’t go together quite so well.


With compliments from the kitchen – Milk milk milk: Milk panna cotta, dulce de leche caramel, meringue, burnt milk crumble

We’re sprung another surprise, an extra dessert exploring the different textural incarnations of milk as the seven of us murmured and scraped the last smears of dulce de leche off the plate.

6th Course – Pinenut, Burnt Choc, Blueberry: liquid lemon yoghurt cake, lemon yoghurt cake, burnt chocolate, pine nut praline, blueberry, chocolate puree

The last course is an elegant little garden, with the burnt chocolate created in reminiscence of the scrapings from the edge of a cake tin. One of our party leaned back and with a wide grin declared this dish a perfect ending to his meal.


With compliments from the kitchen: Doughnuts and banana cream puree with strawberry & liquorice salt

But wait there’s more, urging ourselves to digest with greater haste, we make room for this final mouthful of the softest-doughnut-ever. It turns out that these golden orbs were pipped choux pastry, fried and filled with the fragrant banana cream. This was my perfect end to a playful meal full of surprises, youthful exuberance and yes, quirk. Our group waves goodbye to Thomas Lim and Michael Eggert as we happily stomp down the creaky stairs, sure of ourselves that we had a shared a great gastronomical laugh.


The Duke Tuesday Tasting menu $60 for 6 courses is available Tuesdays (duh) only, please book ahead.

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The Verdict
In an intense, high pressure industry it’s great to see two young lads leading the way in developing an inventive, witty and evolving menu. Nothing is taken with too much stern seriousness and it’s always a game to delve through the abstractly plated dishes and discover what’s buried beneath. The flip-side to this sense of unburdened creativity is that not all of the dishes are crowd pleasers with some combinations pushing the creative envelope. However if you’re up for something new and want to save a bit of coin, Tuesdays at the Duke is where you’ll score a bit of fun.

Duke Bistro
a. 63 Flinders St Darlinghurst
t. 9332 3180
e. reservations(at)dukebistro.com.au
w. www.dukebistro.com.au
b. blog.dukebistro.com.au

Duke Bistro on Urbanspoon

[Warning: photo overload below]

I don’t know what your day job is, but I’m sure whatever you do somehow shaped your world view. Maybe you believe in structure, meaningful discussions, the purity of an idea, risk aversion, absolute justice or absolute liberty; I believe in fun.

Just a skip and hop away, almost close enough to fall in the infamous Coke sign’s long dusk shadow is Tomislav: the large balcony of this cosy restaurant a rusty freighter’s hull run aground on Kirkton Road’s footpath. Our little trio hesitate for a moment before pushing through the glass door and walking into Tomislav Martinovic’s intimate dining room (it seats a tiny 36 heads). A large portion of the restaurant is the open kitchen where Martinovic is working away with his small team of cooks whilst the rest of the room is filled with wooden tables and country-chic cross-back chairs. Despite our late booking we’ve managed to score one of the best seats in the house next to the northern window (the two photo nerds of the group beamed).

Ponte di Piave Prosecco, Treviso Italy (Normally $12)

We were here for a one night only Entertainment book promotion whereby we can opt for a Fish or Game set menu with matching wines for $105. As we settle in and fan our faces from the heat, our waiter sails over and pours us each a glass of cool sparkling.

Rice Crackers: sea salt & vinegar (Normally $10)

The Maitre d’ soon brought us something to start: Martinovic’s play on the traditional salt and vinegar chips. The thin bubbling sheets of fried rice crackers were feather light and almost dissolved on the tongue. We were instructed to spray about three pumps from the vinegar bottle before eating, but we took turns completely dousing our crackers (and ourselves) in the sour mist.


Sour Potato: lime and honey

Our first course arrived in a exquisite multifaceted glass bowl, the dish a simplistic new take on the humble mash: any doubts regarding the flavours were silenced as we delved into each sweet spoonful.


Complimentary sourdough

Hand churned butter

Perhaps more than any other element, the complimentary bread and butter were a beautiful reflection of Tomislav’s dedication and style. The perfect quenelle of butter is hand churned each morning on the premise and given a small creative injection. It was proudly displayed on a tall granite block and appeared like it belonged at the MCA, our waiter challenged us to guess what they’ve added and after much speculation (“hazelnut?” “no it’s so sweet”) Cathy pinpointed the nutty aroma of coffee.


Test tube of gazpacho

The fish-course entree arrived first, with a flourish the waiter produced two thin orange test tubes and proceeded to pour the soup around the plate of cured John Dory.


Clear pumpkin gazpacho: cured John dory, wasabi, sour cream, caperberries, chives with garlic bread (Normally $24) Served with a glass of 2010 Thomas ‘Braemore’ semillion, Hunter NSW

The three word title of this dish gave nothing away, I side stepped the fish menu because I’ve never been a big fan of gazpacho but this was no ordinary gazpacho: the thin slices of John Dory and sour cream slipping down the tongue in a tumble of mellow and sweet.


Roast Red Gate Farm Quail: foie gras, watercress, poached rhubarb with a pine nut puree and red wine reduction (Normally $24) Served with a glass of 2010 Stoney Rise Pinot Noir, Tamar Valley, Tasmania

Four pieces of tender quail plated in a tumble of watercress and foie gras crumbles was superb. The cellophane square of rhubarb shavings appeared painted on the plate and the gloss of the sauce coating could only be described as Cover Girl perfect.


Signature chips $10

The Maitre d’ had urged us to order their famous chips, thrice cooked following Heston Bluemental’s method (boiled, cooled, fried, chilled, fried) but crinkle cut as a nostalgic reminder of Martinovic’s suburban Sydney childhood.


Roast Murray Cod: tomato, salt caramel, grilled baby leeks with asparagus puree and baby coriander (Normally $40) Served with 2011 Port Phillip ‘Salasso’ rose, Mornington Victoria (Normally $11)

The skin was crackling crisp and decorated with a few simple flakes of salt, the main surprise were the small lumps of porous salted caramel scattered along the asparagus puree.



Pasture fed Burrawong duck breast: Thai style with coconut, chilli, grilled pineapple and baby coriander (Normally $42)
Served with a glass of 2008 Longview ‘Yakka’ shiraz, Adelaide Hills SA (Normally $12)

I was a bit skeptical about the prospect of some “Thai style” duck but I shouldn’t have worried. A titan warm slate arrived bearing a playful garden of slightly dehydrated prawns, baby herbs and peas interrupted with a few stepping stones of coconut pudding. Although picturesque these were all just compliments for the best duck I’ve ever had, the gorgeously juicy and plump meat rounding off a cheeky dish dedicated  to Sydney’s Thai obsession.

The open kitchen with Tomislav Martinovic (far right)


Juniper Estate ‘Cane Cut’ riesling, Margaret River WA (Normally $14)
Monichino Botrytis semillion, Geelong Vic

Our glasses of dessert wine were poured first, the Riesling pear sweet and fruity whilst the Monichino was honey sweet, syrupy with a butterscotch finish.


Vanilla Cheesecake: basil ice, grilled strawberries, rhubarb sorbet (Normally $18)

We were hit with another name-not-matching-face moment when the cheesecake arrived and if I was an alien I’d be questioning why this in no way resembles the picture on my flash card, but this is what dining here is all about. The speckled orb of cheesecake is light and soft hiding a pile of cookie crumbs underneath and retains a light sour taste.


Compressed Fig: apples, popcorn milk, caramel ice cream (Normally $18)

Last to arrive was my fig dessert, a splat on my dark plate with ice cream and popcorn milk beginning to puddle over it.

This style is the food I love: a strong playful concept made real through dedication and flawless execution. Surprises, theatricality and a sense of place are built into the presentation of each dish, and as many noted such strengths must be lasting remnants of Martinovic’s time at The Fat Duck. The atmosphere is anything but stuffy as we trade laughs with our neighbouring table and waiters alike before eventually rolling out back into the windy Kings Cross night.

The Verdict
A surprisingly casual atmosphere serving whimsical and creative food which invites diners to marvel and explore what’s on the plate. Execution is polished and consistent with ingredients respectfully plated to look their very best. Although we dined here as part of a special offer, the prices for the a la carte options are a bit steep having jumped up 25% since last year with the mains now hitting $40 a plate. Having said that Tomislav is definitely worth visiting if only at least just once; no one can say it’s too high a price to pay for such fun.

Tomislav
a. 2/13 Kirketon Road Darlinghurst
t. 9356 4535
e. info(at)tomislav.com.au
w. www.tomislav.com.au

Tomislav on Urbanspoon

There’s something sexy about corruption – perhaps it’s the hedonistic boozing, politics & favours behind closed doors, beaded silk french dresses, violence in a tailored three-piece suit or the pungent pheromones from a stack of Benjamins. It may also be because I’ve been watching too much Boardwalk Empire and have a thing for Buscemi’s shrew 1920′s gangster politician and the lobster and scotch the debauched seem to be downing as they dance the night away at Babette’s Supper Club.

If it all sounds pretty dandy and you’re lamenting that time travel doesn’t seem to be a viable option how about you pay a visit to Hinky Dinks instead? The (almost) three-month old 50′s themed small bar is named after Michael ‘Hinky Dink’ Kenna a corrupt Chicago politician who, during the turn of the 20th century gave out meals in exchange for votes and kept close ties with gamblers, gangsters, prostitutes and pimps alike. His namesake bar though seems to share none of the shadiness but reflects the same cheeky attitude  (after all their motto is “Cocktails first. Questions later…”) and middle America pastel, wood and linoleum sheen.

Jenny and I turn up early on a Friday evening ready for some high end (i.e delicious cocktails) boozing, co-owner Dan Knight (ex Longrain) rushes to the door, flashes us a dazzling smile and welcomes us inside…that is as soon has he poses for a photo first.

We’re lucky and manage to snag the last corner spot in the lounge area and immediately start perusing the menu booklet whilst snacking on our complimentary popcorn.

We start off with something fresh: Jenny’s drawn to the idea of basil and honey in a cocktail whilst I instantly prick up at the sight of some potential elderflower liqueur.

HinkyDinks_03Romolo 42: 42 Below Manuka Honey, fresh basil, organic apple, fresh lemon, egg whites $16

The cocktail arrives with a lone basil leaf floating on some foamy egg white, it’s light but still quite sweet with the basil lending the drink some depth.

Elderfashioned (House-aged cocktail rested in American oak barrels): Kentucky bourbon, elderflower liqueur, aromatic bitters with citrus garnish over block ice $18

I envisaged the combination of flower liqueur and American oak would provide a nuanced mild drink however I didn’t read the description thoroughly and only later realised that the Kentucky bourbon (which I dislike) makes up a large portion of the drink which turned out to be quite stiff. The scotch drinker of our group approved though and ordered another.

Pan-fried olive and Parmesan sandwich $8

The infamous sandwich arrived and the oil from pan and cheese seems to seep through the three golden triangles with the smear of tapenade and Parmesan holding it all together. It was heart-palpitating delicious and we savoured the beautiful marriage of Parmesan and olive until the last bite.

Chicken liver parfait with cornichons & sourdough toast $16

We’re also renown lovers of a good poultry liver pate and order the chicken liver pate. It arrives in a fair sized ramekin with a thick layer of butter and some pre-buttered toasty hot sourdough. We take turns slathering on a small mound of parfait onto the bread before downing it with gusto.


Hinky Fizz: In-house strawberry and prosecco sorbet, Bombay Sapphire, elderflower liqueur, peach bitters, grapefruit fizz $16

The squeal-worthy Hinky Fizz arrives in an ice cream cup with a generous scoop of sweet prosecco sorbet paddling around in a pool of sweet summery fizz.


Zombie: Silver, aged and OP rums, Luxardo, cinnamon syrup, fresh lime, passionfruit, grapefruit juice, absinthe flame $19 + Castaway Collins: Sailor Jerry Spiced, fresh pineapple, fresh lemon, pineapple juice, in-house pomegranate and cinnamon syrup, bitters, soda $17

I urged someone to order the Zombie since it’s meant to be killer potent (orders capped at two per person!) but it turned out to be quite sweet and fruity with the alcohol largely masked by the grapefruit juice. The Castaway Collins is also an easy one to down with the pineapple juice dominating.


(Left to right, top to bottom) Dinky Five-O: Pisco, fresh lemon, in-house Five-O syrup, fresh berries, ginger beer $16 + The mint green bar + Gin ‘n’ Jam: Bombay Sapphire, Aperol, in-house rose-petal jam, fresh lemon, cranberry bitters, egg whites $17 + Extra popcorn $5

The Dinky Five-O was a happy drink with little seeds from the fresh blackberries levitating within the ginger beer but the Gin ‘n’ Jam though was amazing: the floral notes of the home-made rose petal jam providing a touch of sweet elegance.

Fried squid with aioli $16

I’ve read complaints that the squid would be too pale but found I really enjoyed them this way. The thinness of the batter allowed the taste of the squid to shine through and the addition of parsley and basil was a stroke of genius. I would seriously like to request all fried items from now on in to include a toss of fresh herbs to lighten the grease load.

Chocolate mousse $10

One of the team has an insatiable sweet tooth and couldn’t resist finishing off with some chocolate mousse which arrived in a wide-brimmed tea cup. All of a sudden everyone started making googly eyes at each other so I dipped my spoon in as well…my, who’d have thought a chocolate mousse could be this good! Little specks of chocolate hiding at the bottom amongst a thick swathe of rich chocolate cream which tastes so luxurious without being overly milky.

The well-considered cocktails of co-owner and award-winning bar tender Jeremy Shipley (ex Longrain, Guillaume at Bennelong) coupled with some seriously indulgent nibbles designed by Laif Etournaud of ONDE means we found it hard to leave. Languishing on the couches and watching the Kings Cross locals stagger by we saw groups come and go however we couldn’t part until we finished every last morsel. To leave something so good unfinished would be criminal.

The Verdict
A blend of cute, quirk and cool Hinky Dinks is a downright cosy spot to while away the evening. I’ll definitely be back to try more of Shipley’s cocktails with some meatballs and croquettes. The one downer might be that so much deliciousness can come at a price however since our last visit they’ve launched a live site and published some good value specials. They now have a happy hour which runs from 5-7pm daily with a selection of cocktails going for only $10 a pop and the must-try Parmesan & olive sandwich going for only $6. Uh oh, now you’ve got no excuse.

Hinky Dinks
a. 185 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst
t. 8084 6379
e. info(at)hinkydinks.com.au
w. www.hinkydinks.com.au

Hinky Dinks on Urbanspoon

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