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It’s always sunny in Sydney, or at least that’s what the tourists are being sold before arriving to find they’ve been scammed by the weather gods in a good ol’ bait’n’switch. The incessant rain seems to have turned the world upside down and we’ve now all mastered the ability to look out at the horizon with our best “I smell something bad” expression.

Saturday morning brunch saw Aidan and I powering through another downpour and side stepping puddle-traps to reach the newly launched foodstore by the Chris Starke (ex Marque and the infamous Banc) who also runs Youeni Providores around the corner. The new cafe/eatery is cleverly positioned into the apex of number 8, enlivening a previously spartan space into a buzz of diners sharing blankets and table space.

We’re greeted by the crew and start off with a pot of soy chai and a bulging coffee (Ky’s description, not mine). Since the upside of bad weather is being able to dig in to hearty winter fare, we commit ourselves to the seasonal soup and the slow cooked beef cheeks.


Seasonal soup, toast, olive oil $10

The soup that afternoon was a combination of butter potatoes, kale, spinach and a giant pepper hit, finished off with a bit of olive oil, caramelised onions and a side of Sonoma toast. I felt I had OD’ed on pepper by the end but I noticed my body temperature had risen a few notches too.


Beef cheek, blacked caramalised onions, pomme puree, green salad $14

The beef cheeks were exclamation worthy – which explained why they were recommended with a satisfied grin. A soft smear and scoop of the fork produced a warming mouthful of beef and potato puree whilst a side of pea tendrils, blacked caramelised onions and cottage cheese gave the overall dish a nice crisp balance.

Far from a lack of ingenuity I felt the repeat use of key ingredients such as the pea tendrils and caralised onions served to only highlight a smart kitchen working with what’s in season and what they have at hand. And although the food was warming, it never veered into the “heavy” category.


Citrus curd tart $5

Pausing slightly after out meal, I eyed the baked treats paraded on the counter and eeny meeny miny mo-ed my way to a final citrus curd tart (we reasoned it must be easier to digest than the salted caramel chocolate option) with admirably short pastry.

Despite the slight mumble of chaos on their launch day, the passion the crew felt for food was tangible. They’re also keeping everything in the family and will have launched their own coffee blend by now, roasted by their friends down in Wollongong. They’re also planning to start baking their own bread and once licences and such are processed – open for dinner with a set menu focusing on the best produce of the moment.

As we waved goodbye, we shook hands with the crew and promised to see each other soon. Sometimes good things can happen in the rain.

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The Verdict
Youeni Foodstore really works as a complimentary outfit to the providore – pushing their core belief in local organic produce and promoting food knowledge. The short menu provides enough variance to keep everyone intrigued whilst focusing on maximising in-season ingredients. If you make it in time for the breakfast hours then treat yourself to some slow cooked scrambled eggs or perhaps a caramalised ham and stewed apple sandwich for lunch and pop a tart in your pocket for later.

Youeni Foodstore
a. Shop 3, 8 Hill St, Surry Hills
t. 9380 7575
w. youeni.com + surryhills.youeni.com/

Youeni Foodstore 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

I still remember my first time at Bodega many years ago: sitting outside during dusk, laughing a bit too loudly, gobbling down golden little empanadas and pop corn riddled desserts with a bottle of crisp Argentinian white. So it’s with a heavy hit of nostalgia that Cathy and I walk through those same glass doors and pause under the familiar gaze of the Bodega bull.

Despite Sydney now being awash with South American fare, Bodega’s unique vibe and loyal clientele has cemented it as a stalwart of the oft fickle Sydney dining scene. Although rockabilly owners Elvis and Sarah have moved onto their new venture, they’ve left Bodega in the very capable hands of their well coiffed crew headed by Nicholas Wong (ex Billy Kwong).


Dark & Stormy: Goslings ‘Black Sea’ rum, spicy ginger & honey syrup, soda and lime $10

We arrive on a Monday night to find the main room already brimming and it takes a short round of musical chairs but we manage to secure a table and ease in with a couple of cocktails. Cathy opted for Bodega’s slightly dressier version of a Dark & Stormy whilst I was intrigued by a simple Argentine apertif.


Gancia & Pomelo: Aromatic wine and house pink grapefruit soda $10


Complimentary bread and Olive oil

I’m stoked to see that my enduring favourite, the “Fish Fingers” is still on the menu and we order it without hesitation.


“Fish Fingers”: sashimi Kingfish on garlic toast with cuttlefish ceviche and mojama $22

I loved the initial surprise of ordering the familiar and instead receiving something utterly unexpected but deliciously satisfying.These bad boys seem to have only gotten better with time: the beautifully thin layers of Kingfish sashimi topped with cuttlefish, sliced onions and a shavings of dried tuna are a riot.

Chipotle pulled pork steamed buns with pickled carrot $6 each

Everyone seems to be in on the sliders action (have you seen those Hungry Jacks ads?!) and I doubt I’m the first one to consider this creation to be slightly inspired by the infamous Momofuku buns. The pulled pork filling is doused in the chipotle sauce and the whole thing disappears in moments and we find ourselves wiping our mouths and wishing we’d ordered another…or four.

Veal Sweetbreads with Prawns, Soft Egg, Multigrains and Chicharrones $34

Never one to turn down the opportunity for some sweetbreads, we firstly pick off the fried pork fat and then stir the grains and sweetbreads through the runny yolk. The sweetbreads used here are taken from the thymus and are denser and more earthy tasting compared to the fluffy texture of the pancreas.

Corn tamale with black beans and avocado $20

Although I was pining after the Morcilla and scallops we thought we should listen to our heads and cap ourselves at 4 tapas. The last order was the corn tamale: a long sausage of corn dough filled with cheese and steamed in in corn husks, it was beautifully fragrant and surprisingly filling once paired with the stewed black beans and moreish home made tortilla chips.


With compliments from the kitchen: home cured bacon, leek, peas, fried leek stems, water cress, squid, squid ink, tomato jelly

Halfway through the corn tamale we admitted defeat and were ready to put down our forks when we were surprised with this little garden of treats! A playful salad tumbling with all manner of ingredients, each mouthful punctuated with bursts of sour, crunch, inkiness and sweetness.


With compliments from the kitchen: Fennel ice cream, fennel jelly, shaved fennel, sponge, puffed corn, poached pear

Finally we hit dessert and we’re well and truly drawing upon all our powers to access our second (dessert) stomach. While I’m not always a fan of fennel, I fell in love with the subtle sweetness and textures of this dessert.


With compliments from the kitchen: Macadamia cookie, chocolate dust, vanilla ice cream

The second offering appeared quite tame: a few pale hills resting upon a jade coloured ceramic bowl but one taste and we urged ourselves to keep going. The cookie shards were studded with chunks of macadamia and the dark chocolate dust offered a burnt bitterness to counter balance the ice cream.


Banana split: flan, salted peanuts, dulce de leche ice cream, banana marshmallow $16

The end is in sight and all that stands before us now is the final dessert: an interpretive version of the banana split. A long finger of banana flan rests in pool of caramel, offset by the salted peanuts and a puff of torched marshmallow, this too somehow manages to disappear before us as we swap jibes about who had the best dessert with the Texans at the table next to us.

It’s almost closing as we finally get up to leave. Fare-welling the waitresses and co-diners I slip out the door whilst Cathy shares a few words with the Kitchen.

I slowly waddle down Commonwealth street, entirely glad that despite the years and my alcohol infused memories, this old flame is still as beautiful and charming as when we first met.

The Verdict
Bodega’s modern Argentine fare packs a punch without feeling restrained by cultural cliches. The food not only reflects the restaurant’s Argentine heritage but also its presence as part of multicultural Sydney. Don’t come with any expectations and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the playful menu and the chance to discover something new.

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Bodega Tapas Bar
a. 216 Commonwealth St Surry Hills
t. 9212 7766
e. enquiries(at)bodegatapas.com
w. www.bodegatapas.com

Bodega on Urbanspoon

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