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Bar snacks

As a long time food blog reader I often felt the slow burn of food-envy – induced by scrolling through photos of new restaurants, degustation dinners and opening parties – strike me at every turn. The drool inducing pixels of the events don’t betray the endless nights curled up in your jammies in front of the computer, methodically sorting and editing digitalised piles of photo albums and madly googling that pork dish because you forgot to take a photo of the menu again (hands up guilty bloggers).

The upside though is that sometimes lovely ladies invite you to kick back and enjoy a cocktail breakfast next to the water, complete with a long brunch of bar food favourites.

Helm bar is situated snugly next to the foot bridge at Darling Harbour and Sydney Aquarium so those without children or a fondness for visiting underwater friends may have missed it. The nautical themed bar is a down-to-earth spot with a mix of open lounge areas and an area for punters to place a bet or watch the footy.

We’re introduced to Matt, the head bartender who graciously endured being papped for the morning.

Since this is still the AM, we ease into the drinking with a shot of coffee. The Espresso Martini is a banter between bitter and sweet with a lingering sharpness of Smirnoff.

Espresso Martini: Espresso shot, Vodka, Tuaca, Kahlua (normally $17)

Helm’s take on the American classic is a bit more glam with the addition of Elderflower liqueur and natural sweetness of agave nectar to really double that Agave action.

Senorita Margarita: Jose Cuervo Traditional & St Germain Elderflower Liqueur shaken with lemons, limes & a dash of agave nectar (normally $16)

After the classic duo, Matt decides to take us to foreign territory and breaks out the big guns. A bottle of secret chilli mix is shaken with elderflower liqueur with a dash of lemon and honey. It’s an Asian infusion of sweet and sour followed with a late arriving punch of heat. It’s surprisingly addictive but might not be for the feint hearted.

Sexy Saint: St Germain Elderflower liquor, chilli mix, lemon juice & honey (normally $18)

Sonia’s face breaks out into a wide grin as a bottle of Hendricks appeared. Our notably favourite gin is thankfully muddled with cucumber and lime before a shot of the Italian Aperitif trickles through the ice and changing the drink into a sunset blush. It’s beautifully refreshing, and one of our favourites of the day.

Ginny Hendricks: Hendricks gin & Aperol muddled with cucumber, lime juice & sugar syrup, strained & topped with ruby red grapefruit juice. (normally $18)

Oriental Sweet Tart – A unique & delicate cocktail. Plymouth Gin, lychee & pear liqueur with a balanced serving of lemon juice and orgeat syrup, shaken & served low (normally $17)

If you like your drinks sweet then the Oriental Sweet Tart’s lychee and pear flavours should win you over.


Name this drink: passionfruit, lime, Disaronno and Smirnoff citrus

Our last drink is another new concoction, so new that they’ve yet to give it a name. It’s another sweet mix but with the crowd pleasing punch of passionfruit and citrus notes, it’s easily a drink we would come back to.


[clockwise from top left] Peking duck pancakes & Antipasto Plate with Lavosh, Double Smoked Ham off the Bone, Spicy Salami, Tasmanian Brie Cornichons & Salsa Verde; Salt and Pepper squid; Wedges with sour cream; Chicken Chimichanga

After swilling that much alcohol it’s time for the food to arrive: a generous mix of bar food staples along with some posher surprises.


Smoked salmon with crushed Kipfler potato, with fennel, olive, tomato and chilli salsa

The chicken chimichanga and salmon both seemed a little awkward, like turning up to the footy in a floor length gown. The smoked salmon was surprisingly refreshing and balanced against some herby potatoes but could have done without such precarious presentation.


Black Angus Sirloin Steak: Chargrilled w/ Hand Cut Fat Chips and Café de Paris Butter

The crowd favourite was the juicy steak oozing in the Cafe de Paris butter, it’s so good Simon goes back for seconds. It’s a nice twist to a pub favourite and it’s where Helm bar finds its feet.

The Verdict
A pleasing and unpretentious spot next to water where diners can sip a few cocktails at most hours. It’s an easy going sort of place with a surprisingly varied menu and some nice meal options. Helm Bar seems to be attempting to straddle two worlds: by retaining its existing clientele and also trying to target a more food savvy audience. Both goals dovetail when the kitchen focuses on revamping bar-food classics without alienating those who just want a steak with their arvo beer.

Food in hand dined as a guest of Helm Bar.
Helm Bar are also running a competition to Name this Drink. Just enter via their facebook competition page and you’ll receive a free cocktail with any food purchase.

Helm Bar
a. Aquarium Wharf Wheat Road, Darling Harbour
t. 9290 1570
w. helmbar.com.au

Helm Bar on Urbanspoon

“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

2011 was the year we finally experienced a wind change and saw a plethora of quality South American eateries blow into town. I’m sure you’re thinking “hey trying all those tacos and pulled pork dishes is hard work” and you’re right, luckily you can now sate your queso fresco induced thirst with some Latino beer and deliciously alcoholic Agave juice at Tio’s.

Tio’s Cerveceria is billed as a ‘Guatemalan tequila bar and beer hall’ opened by two moutached Shady Pines alumni and the pedigree shows: it’s got that innate chilled out kitschy vibe with layout focused on the long wooden bar running the length of the establishment.

Drinks here are well…tequila, 70+ tequilas in fact so if it’s never been your thing, this is your best chance of converting.

Annie and I are here to down a (few) drinks before an exhibition; it’s knock-off hour but the cavernous small bar remains relatively empty except for a few chicas sipping cocktails and chatting to Jeremy Blackmore, Alex Dowd and their crew.

The whole place feels like a south-of-the-border-summer-break-frat-party waiting to happen with plastic owls, parrots, dripping wax and religious iconography dotting the walls and looping through the rafters. We pull up two stools and Jeremy arrives and asks what we’d like, we’re stumped as always so he pushes on asking whether we prefer our drinks sweet or sour. An awkward pause ensues so he declares he’ll make one of each.


Tequila with juiced lime (left) $10

I’m given the sour: he explains that they juice half a whole lime including the pip so it adds a touch of bitterness to the drink, which turned out to be quite sweet and refreshing without any trace of bitterness.


Tequila with apple, cucumber, hebs $10

Annie’s was really fruity with the strong freshness of the cucumber shouting above the herbs and apple, the drink was comparable to a Mexican Pimm’s punch.


70+ Tequilas

All the while, one of the guys behind us had been working hard to fix the broken carnival pop corn machine. With our drinks almost finished a fat paper bag of chilli corn goodness suddenly popped onto the bar in front of us; Annie and I twist open the top and started the uncontrollable munching.


Complimentary chilli popcorn

I thought it’d be wise to order one for the road and requested “something quirky”.


Tequila with coffee and condensed milk $10

A chocolated coloured glass mug arrived, it turned out to be a Vietnamese inspired concoction of coffee, condensed milk and of course, tequila. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t a revelation either (perhaps it’s because they were using Nescafe) although I admire the boys’ creativity.

We sadly smooth out our wrinkly popcorn-bag carcass and as we chat away, a soft plop sounds the arrival of another fresh bag! We can’t resist hanging around longer, nibbling on popcorn, admiring the mismatched tiles and plastic figures until we realise time got away from us and we were running very late.

I guess a holiday in Mexico can do that to you.

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The Verdict
A quirky laid back Tequila bar serving great drinks and free popcorn at an un-Sydney price (I’ve heard they sell salted and limed $5 tinnys). Those who aren’t fans of cerveza will be glad the boys will have brought out a printed cocktail menu by now (on the back of Mexican post cards no less). Noise levels can vary, it was murmur quiet when I was there but a friend later informed me they arrived at 8 to an uncomfortable wall of sound. But just a quiet word between you and I: Tio’s is the best place to expand your tequila based repertoire and train your liver in anticipation of that Latin getaway so swing by and start “salud”ing soon.

Tio’s Cerveceria
a. 4-14 Foster Street, Surry Hills
w. www.tioscerveceria.blogspot.com

Tio's Cervecería on Urbanspoon

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