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Surry Hills

The new Korean-Mexican bar has quietly appeared on the northern side of Surry Hills. The lofty facade hides a small cafe-style space serving a punchy hit list of K-Mex classics with a side of fruity soju.

Ko and Co Entrance

Apple Soju
Apple Soju $9

Kimchi Quesadilla
Kimchi Quesadilla $10

Shortrib and Porbelly Tacos
Shortrib and Porbelly Tacos $6 each

3Spicy Edamame
Spicy Edamame $5

Korean Fried Chicken Sliders
Korean Fried Chicken Sliders with Red Pepper Sauce and Pickles $10 for 2

Ko and Co Wrap Up

The Experience
Ko and Co Experience

Ko&Co
a. 6 Hunt Street, Sydney
t. 0468 311 131
w. www.koandco.com.au

Ko & Co Soju Bar on Urbanspoon

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.

4

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

I remember the first time I spotted Caffé Sicilia and it’s not what you think.

I was flicking through a fashion editorial when I spotted the models leaning against the most beautiful black and white marbled bar, laden with fruit and rows of gold rim glasses whilst a couple of wisened chefs bustled in the background. It seemed intoxicatingly Italian with all the classic European stylings you’d expect: gold window lettering, black and white tiles, crisp white linen, marbled table tops, pressed steel ceilings, hanging lights and wooden wall paneling.


Complimentary marinated olives

Even in real life I’m entirely enamored with the fit out and as we sit down in the alfreso area and nibble on the complimentary olives, my eyes kept darting between the locals power walking past and the bakery station & bar area within.

Complimentary bread rolls + Warm 3 milks cheese: warm parcel of “3 milks” cheese dressed with truffle honey & walnuts (Normally $22)

A basket of round dinner rolls appeared, tucked snugly within the folds of a napkin; they were baked on site and surprisingly delightful, a nice change from the sourdough infatuation Sydney restaurants seem to have. The cheese parcel turned out to be one large wheel and whilst it was quite moreish, we struggled to finish.

Crudo of Tuna: yellow fin tuna dressed with lemon segments, Sicilian caper berries
& extra virgin olive oil (Normally $15)

‘Crudo’ is a simple Italian dish of raw fish, oil, salt and citrus, inspired by the fresh seafood caught from the Mediterranean.

Homemade Gnocchi Bug Meat:cooked with fresh Balmain bug meat, cherry tomato &
balanced with a hint of chilli & garlic (Normally $15)

Cathy’s entrée was light and simple so it was with great surprise when I was presented with mine. I had been looking forward to trying the new gnocchi and bug meat dish; I had envisaged it to be quite small and light so I was shocked when presented with a plated mound of red, white and green (how apt). This turned out to be my favourite dish of the night: the bite sized portions of Balmain bug and tumble of pillowy soft gnocchi stirred through with tomato and chilli was comfort on a plate and an entirely satisfying meal in itself.

Sweet & Sour Sicilian Rabbit slow cooked farmed rabbit poached with pine nuts and sultanas in a white wine & vinaigrette sauce (Normally $24)

Whilst the prospect of rabbit was intriguing I found this rustic dish to be too Wintry an affair for Summer dining.

Snapper “Acqua Pazza” with mussels, vongole & king prawns poached in a white wine, cherry tomato & parsley reduction (Normally $27)

Reverse meal size envy struck again when this time I was presented with my Snapper “Acqua Pazza”. The classic dish of fish in broth was presented on a mammoth platter with a generous wreath of shellfish surrounding the Snapper fillet.

Curiously, the menu at Caffe Sicilia stops at second course and despite being full I was lamenting not being able to finish off our meal on a sweet note. I needn’t have worried though, as we were soon presented with two small glasses of strawberry and pistachio Sicilian granita.


Complimentary Sicilian granita + Complimentary take away pastries

The texture of these little gems were more akin to gelati which was probably tailored to suite Sydney-siders’ tastes since Sicilians – the original inventors of granita – would protest that the ice should be much coarser though no one on our table was complaining (too busy scraping the glasses clean).

I saw a few tables gifted small parcels as they left and when we received ours we tore open a corner to peek inside and find two house made pastries awaiting to be devoured the next morning.

As I surely felt my stomach starting to high-five the bottom of my lung our waiter approached once again, this time with a cannoli and a moment later returned with a cheeky smile and an additional surprise: a bottle of home-made orange limoncello.


Ricotta Cannoli

Perhaps rather ironically I underestimated the generosity of the Sicilians and was quite surprised at how liberal the servings turned out to be. In truth I was a little saddened that all the waiters had lost their beautifully tailored white dinner jackets in favour of a more relaxed look, but luckily none had lost that cheeky Italian humour.

The Verdict
CafféSicilia prevails in many ways to become a little slice of the old world planted anew on Crown street. The menu features a lot of traditional dishes as well as classic Sicilian fare, although the kitchen may still be trying to find its Sydney connection. The pastry station here produces some fantastic baked treats so if you’ve ever rushed past, take a moment to sit down for an espresso and ricotta baked doughnut or do as the Sicilians do and have an almond granita to go with your morning brioche.

Food in hand dined as a guest of Caffe Sicilia.

Caffé Sicilia
a. 628 Crown Street Surry Hills
t. 9699 8787
e. info@caffesicilia.com.au
w. http://www.caffesicilia.com.au

Caffe Sicilia 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.

4

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

Bodega on Urbanspoon

Squinting at the copy on their site, all I could infer from the curt paragraphs were that Reuben Hills opens on the 1st and they do “Public Coffee Cupping”. Drop those three words in a sentence and I’m sure the next person thinks you’re referring to something rather questionable; Wikipedia however steps in and stops my imagination from swooping too close to the gutter by defining a Coffee Cupping as an experience whereby groups can “observe the tastes and aromas of coffee …[via] sniffing and slurping to measure aspects of the coffee’s taste (body, acidity, flavour and aftertaste).”

Unfortunately a last-minute meeting means I have to forgo the PCC but we manage to turn up on an overcast Sunday for a late brunch instead. As I walk past the front, two guys sipping macchiatos were talking about Baxter Inn in an awestruck drawl; inside revealed a long space with fluorescents-as-art, polished concrete floor, graffiti, revealed brick work, wooden school chairs and young men in cloth slip-ons who enjoy protein powder with their caffeine hit. It’s a hipster’s paradise.

I gingerly sit down on a rusty-metal-beam-cum-bench and ask around before a customer points to the counter and advises I get my name onto a waiting list.

It’s not long before the manager signals that I’m able to sit at a table and my two companions drift in. The guys here are serious about their coffee and it seeps through every level of the operation: from roasting their own beans on site to designing an origin inspired menu.


$3.50 Cappuccino

Despite the muggy weather I start off with a coffee whilst Dan opts for a peculiar “chocolate and ginger” milkshake.


Salted Caramel milkshake $6.50

Plonk! A metal cup of frothy goodness arrives but one sip and we realise it’s salted caramel (which isn’t listed on the menu) but Dan seems pleased with the taste and we don’t have the patience to wave down a staff member and opt to keep this delicious orphan cupful instead.


Baleada: Pimento pork, chimol, crispy onions $9

The food items available are a mix of South & North American fare, with a breakfast trifle sitting side by side with a listing of baked beef empanadas. The big seller here it seems are the baleadas: described as a Honduras flour tortilla stuffed with goodies and in this instance the goodies are hunks of pulled pork and salsa which I polish off in a jiffy.


Flat white with a shot of premium espresso $5 + Baked eggs with shaved Jamon, steamed spinach, Ranchero sauce and Schiacciata $13

The menu also lists a changing premium espresso for under $5 which we request to be served with milk as a flat white. The cup arrives and looks deceptively common but revealed a complex yet smooth earthy mouthful, I was shocked that this little shot had it all: brains and a good body.

The pleasant surprises endure as moments later two ceramic bowls arrived, each with a perfectly toasted finger of bread sharing plate space with a couple of quivering baked eggs shuddering under the weight of the Jamon and spinach. We pop the yolks and watches as it glides and pools before mopping it up with the crusty Schiacciata.


Doggs Breakfast: Ice cream ‘sandwich’ with salted caramel $8

No gluttonous foray of ours is complete without a sweet ending and so I urge my companions on with an order of the cheeky ‘Doggs Breakfast’. It took some effort to find a waiter willing to stop and take our order (the first saw my waving hand, raised an eyebrow and kept walking) but soon before us, a square of cake and ice cream stands upright on our prison plate in a luxurious puddle of dense salted caramel.

We ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ over that thick sauce and roll the remaining cake crumbs through the orange slick before licking our spoons clean. As we move to pay and leave we received no smile or pleasantries, disappointed by the coldness of the well dressed crew we shuffle out. At least our stomachs were smiling.

Three out of five

The Verdict
A unique offering of identity rich food and coffee which would satisfy the most picky of caffeine connoisseurs. The coffee is roasted on-site and created with a lot of shiny gadgetry whilst the food is cooked by a graduate of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen. Service was cool and indifferent although perhaps we caught them all on a bad day; the crowd can be dense with hipsters but it’s worth enduring for a beautiful feed.

Reuben Hills
a. 61 Albion St Surry Hills
t. 9211 5556
w. reubenhills.com.au

Reuben Hills 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.

4

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

Infatuation is so intoxicating most of us (guiltily) wish for the object of our delirium to undergo some form of mitosis so we can prolong that giddy feeling. As many fans of Bodega already know, Kenji Maenaka has split from the colourful Commonwealth St restaurant to setup his own Japanese tapas bar on the Waterloo food-power-block and we’re all dead keen to try this oriental relation.

While waiting for my friends, I hole up at the library and coincidentally find a manga all about…that’s right Izakayas! Oishinbo follows some food obsessed journalists tasked to create the “ultimate” menu; cue very long educational tales about the history of Sake, and the purity of authentic Japanese food, all from a pretty annoying stuck up young gun. I did learn about Junmai though: the premium Sake created without any alcohol additives, its flavour and pedigree largely determined by the percentage of grain they polish off before fermentation (the highest grade is at 50+%). The protagonists also wax lyrically about the serving temperatures of different sakes and the function of an Izakaya as a relaxed Japanese pub where easy and simple food is served to compliment the drinks.

Clearly now an Izakaya cognoscenti after reading a single manga tome, we rock up eager to dig into some Asian pub fare. I immediately love their logo and exterior signage, the slanted thick type reminiscent of the fonts Osamu Tezuka used for his famous titles (Astroboy, Kimba the white Lion).

We step inside and motion for a four seater, it’s still early and we snag a spot sandwiched between the large glass panes and a sneaky view of the bar. I’m also falling in love with their hand written calligraphy specials menu and the small touches of hot hand towels and unique hand made plates (somehow I imagine an old Japanese man somewhere hunched over his pottery wheel and hand painting these cuties).


Fried calamari: Deep fried SA calamari with mayonnaise $18

What better way to start then with some sake and fried calamari, golden curls which we slather in the Kewpie mayo.


Kenji’s Fried Chicken (KFC): Karaage chicken with mayonnaise $14.50

The cheekily named KFC follow shortly, the karaage chicken is a pleasent crunch of comfort which makes me start regretting not ordering a Sapporo.


Grilled Fish Head (Market Price): Yellow Fin Tuna Jaw $32

All this though is just nibbles to whet our appetite for the big flashy number: the grilled Yellow Fin tuna jaw. It arrives with some soy, ponzu & grated daikon and we start hacking away at it with forks, chopsticks and ultimately, fingers.


Fatty tuna cheek flesh with a drizzle of ponzu

As all good ethnic kids know, the best meat is in the cheek and jaw and this Tuna gives way to pockets of smooth and smokey fatty flesh.


Teriyaki Beef Kalbi: Glazed grilled beef ribs with green chilli relish $27.5

After wrestling with the seafood we relax with a little pot of teriyaki beef kalbi which turned out to be the star of the evening – the tender fall-a-part flesh dripping in a thick dark glaze and offset with a hit of chilli relish. We gave up on manners and picked the bones clean (elegance is not always our forte).


Pork Belly with Miso: Steamed pork belly with hoba miso and baked eggplant $22

The pork belly was last to arrive, a simple dish presented as a mound on a lone lotus leaf. The eggplant cooked in miso was a nice contrast to the steamed pork but I found the two elements didn’t seem to want to work together.


Love Koikawa (special): Almond cake with Koikawa ice cream and poached Granny Smith $13.50

Maenaka seems to have brought his famed chocolate Yogo with popcorn over him from Bodega but we opt for something new and decide to share the special dessert of almond cake and poached granny smiths: it’s light and goes down well. The others opted for Tea Ceremony, a fairly traditional combination of ice cream and stewed sweet beans.


Tea Ceremony: Vanilla bean ice cream with red beans and green tea kokuto syrup $11.50

The noise in the room’s slowly nudging itself into a turtle paced crescendo and as we get ready to leave it becomes quite busy. A few ladies are debriefing at the bar over some cocktails whilst friends and couples share some beef and tuna, although it’s still a bit rough around the edges it’s a sweet concept Sydney needs a few more of.

Three out of five

The Verdict
Most people walk in expecting a Japanese style Bodega and whilst there are echos of greatness in some of the dishes, this may be one comparison that’s hindering rather than aiding Fujiyama. For an Izakaya or a bar for that matter the dishes are quite expensive and although we left full we burned a sizable hole in our pockets. Nevertheless it’s a great atmosphere with a decent Sake collection, order the pub-style foods (beef, fried items) and you can’t go wrong.

Izakaya Fujiyama
a. 52 Waterloo St Surry Hills
t. 9698 2797
w. www.izakayafujiyama.com

Izakaya Fujiyama on Urbanspoon