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I love big circus tents. Maybe this fondness stems from an early love of playing “parachutes” during primary school: pulling the swath of fabric up and letting go before screaming and running underneath the silky dredges, hoping to emerge on the other-side before it nets you, flapping about on the lawn.


Whilst there’s no risk of the decorative fabric ceiling of Xanthi collapsing on our heads anytime soon,the sumptuous golden waves and red Ottoman carpet interior manages to exude a warmth and intimacy in stark contrast to the steel and glass behemoth where the restaurant resides.

Xanthi is named after a city from Thrace in northern Greece, which has seen its fair share of struggle in the past: conquered by the Ottomans and overtaken by the Bulgarians, their cuisine has absorbed various foreign influences over time. And although Greek cuisine feels under-represented in Sydney’s fine dining arena, perhaps we’re finally seeing a resurgence of the Mediterranean fare in modern form.


Complimentary sourdough: served with olive oil and sea salt

We arrive fairly hungry and greedily eye the share dishes, mains and the spit with lip-biting indecision. The Potato Princess has been here before and recommended the fried school prawns.


Fried School Prawns: tossed in a honey, fish sauce, sesame seed & flaked almond dressing $10

School prawns are my favourite, the natural sweetness of the young prawns and delicious golden crunch are enhanced by a thoughtful drizzle of honey and scattering of almond flakes. I’d happily have a dish of these with a cold beer every day!


Pork Belly Baklava: Sliced pork belly with a date and pistachio filling served with a date & mastic sauce and crackling $21

I’ve had Pork Belly Baklava on my mind since seeing Helen’s post last year. Whilst it’s not as large and multi-layered as I envisioned the fatty shredded pork meat and layers of crackling disappear in a heart beat.


Fried Veal Sweetbreads


Gigantes: Braised spiced tomato and onion butter beans with crumbled fetta $8

I always have a culinary soft spot for sweetbreads and these do not disappoint: crumbed and deliciously creamy they’re served up on a bed of yoghurt and lettuce. We also order the gigantes to offset the amount of meat we’re devouring. The braised butter beans are lovely and soft, a comforting mouthful of tomato, spice and the sharp savoury punch of toasted fetta.


From the Spit: 250g Lamb $38

The hero of our meal arrives just as it dawns on us we’ve unfailingly over-ordered once again. Our dish of lamb from the spit takes me back to my first tasting of Tsirekas’ 6 hour roast lamb from last year’s Crave Food Festival. The flesh is tender but still firm, hiding under a large crisp tile of herb rubbed crackling.


Olive Oil ice cream: Scoops of Elea Creta Extra Virgin Olive Oil infused, pistachio & dried fig ice cream $9

The desserts offered range from simplicity to the refined. The olive oil ice cream arrives rather spartan: three scoops in a bowl with a swift dusting of icing sugar; the oil gives the ice cream an almost floral essence and added smoothness, oft interrupted by nuggets of pistachio and fig. Although I found this rather intriguing not everyone at the table was convinced.


Mango and passionfruit Bougatsa: Semolina milk custard wrapped in hand rolled filo pastry, served with Mastiha ice cream $15

On our way in we spotted a young chef working away at the filo dough and were keen to give the hand made rendition a try. The bougatsa is the house specialty: smooth, thick custard encased within perfectly thin filo offers a comforting shatter as we dig our spoons in. I felt the sauce itself was too gaudy for something so rustic but the others were enjoying their sugar hit.


David Tsirekas in action

The bill arrived and we hesitated for a moment, dreading coughing up a small fortune for the feast we’ve ordered. Surprisingly the sum was a pittance, the food itself barely edging past $20 each! The sweetest ending of all.

4

The Verdict
A well considered offering nestled amongst a few food favourites and food royalty. They menu is varied and offers more than just the Greek cliches with small share dishes, mains and meat from the spit to cater for an after work snack, express lunch or a long meal with friends. For a severely underpresented cuisine there’s a lot to discover in David Tsirekas’ menu or if nothing else, come for the Ouzo trolly or a thoroughly Grecian grape tipple. Opa!

Xanthi
a. Level 6, Westfield Pitt Street, Sydney CBD 2000
t. 9232 8538
e. manager(at)xanthi.com.au
w. www.xanthi.com.au

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I’m a pretty awkward person and sometimes life feels like a string of trailing sentences, weird pauses and failing social graces. Trivial interactions become overblown dramatic scenarios or I sometimes just forget to use my inside voice (oops). Whilst I still feel extremely uncomfortable stepping into a luxury bag store or having bell boys carry my luggage, drop me off at a three hat restaurant and I’ll still feel at ease enough to make lame dirty jokes while asking for more complimentary buns (boom boom tish).

The three of us are at est. for the latest promotion: the Sunset menu which includes an entree, main and cocktail for $50. Considering mains alone at Doyle’s darling normally go for about $60 a pop this is a pretty sweet deal.

Jenny and I are late and as we drift up in the quiet hum of the elevator I can’t help but hold my breath a little, awaiting that magical moment when the doors slide open and we step into an alternative universe: a glorious vista of white waistcoats, marble, ebony, palms and french doors.


We move through the dimly lit corridor and into the dining area, a flurry of waiters welcome us and I’m a little alarmed by all the bowing and scraping but we’re soon sauntering over to our table and perusing the wine list while buttering some sliced sourdough.


Sunset cocktail: Vodka, cranberry, elderflower liqueur and apple, Kaffir lime leaf

First to appear are the blushing cocktails, an aromatic mix topped off with a Kaffir lime leaf which slowly infuses your drink with that familiar pep; I’m smitten and we vow to recreate this at home.


Italian buffalo mozzarella with fresh peach, serrano jamon and belgian endive

The menu itself is curt and we’re given two options for the entree and main. None of us were tempted by the market fresh Oysters with ponzu and instead opted for the mozzarella with peach and jamon. Three waiters decked in white appeared and uniformly served us our entree in one elegant gesture. The mozzarella was pillowy soft and compliments the classic flavours of jamon with fruit; Jenny mused that although delicious, the dish was a little overly simplistic and something we could easily make ourselves.


Pan roasted Palmer Island Mulloway fillet, tahini yoghurt, broccolini, green peas, dukkah

For the mains we were all eyeing the pan roasted Mulloway served with a slight Middle eastern bent. The fish was cooked perfectly and the nuttiness of the tahini proved an interesting contrast to the crispy clean flavours.

Halfway through a mouthful of Cathy’s fish, I pulled out a short bone from my mouth, a passing waiter inquired whether I’m alright and on spotting the bone, paled a little before fleeing to inform our waitress and the kitchen.


Pan roasted black angus beef fillet, wasabi miso and shallot butter, pak choy

I actually wanted the fish and am normally suspicious of anything served with pak choy but for the sake of multi-dish-ism I requested the Asian influenced beef instead. A round medallion of black angus appeared with a quiff of wasabi miso butter on a puddle of jus: the fillet was incredibly tender and the grittiness of the wasabi in the butter gave each mouthful a bit of punch. Overall Jenny considered this dish a more interesting proposition whilst I thought the flavours a little jarring.


Valrhona chocolate delice, caramelized banana, toasted rice ice cream $28

Although we’re penny pinchers, it would be blasphemous to leave without sampling a dessert. We settled on the creamy delice paired with a deliciously subtle banana cream, banana segments and a wafer thin layer of caramelised sugar which shattered on the tongue.

Vanilla bean latte cotto, berries, wafer – complimentary (normally $28)

By some strange sort of magic (or it turned out, the manager’s generosity) we’re given a second dessert to sample (perhaps something to do with a certain stray bone)! The latte cotto translates to “cooked milk”, a delicate sister of the traditional panna cotta which quivers under our spoons as we scoop up little segments along with the trail of berries.


Petite fours – complimentary (normally with tea or coffee $8)

Our sweet waitress comes by again to ask if we’d like tea or coffee but we can barely fit anything else in and so decline. However, a long plate of petite fours slide in front of our eyes, another kind gesture from the managers we suppose. Not one to waste food we divvied up the spoils of macaron, chocolate truffles, raspberry jube and basil jelly before licking our lips with satisfaction.


Although the sitting is timed we’re allowed to while away an extra hour sipping (tap) water, laughing (too) loudly and watching men with pocket squares and preening girls strut past. Maybe this isn’t quite ‘me’, but every now and again it’s good to sit in the company of the other half and pretend we’re a world away from the one we know below.

The Verdict
I remember Quay, Marque and Sepia vividly but always seem to fail to recall est. as being a three hatted destination. In order to make the offer viable, the food served at for the Sunset menu are simplified versions of existing est. dishes and it shows. Each element of the dish is well considered and plated with an eye for perfection however the whole never seems greater than the sum of its parts. Despite this, if money is of no concern then I could easily eat here several days a week: the dishes are timeless and never smack of fads or appear spurious. The waitstaff are efficient and act with consideration and touching small gestures (one waiter even came over to kindly push Jenny’s chair in for her as she returned from the bathrooms). If the prices make your mouth drop but you’ve always been curious, then this is a great opportunity to see what the fuss is all about.

The Sunset menu runs until the 31st of January and includes an entree, main and cocktail for $50. Bookings must be made for a 1.5hr sitting starting between 6-7pm.

est.
a. Level 1 Establishment, 252 George Street Sydney
t. 9240 3010
w. www.merivale.com

Est. on Urbanspoon

Sydney’s never been much of a secret city, we’re all nip & tuck, flash and show, social pages, champagne and technicolour; we leave the cobblestones and noir to Melbourne. If you really look though, you’ll see we can be a playful city too.


Taken by J. Pang

Located in by far the most secret location of them all, the only telltale sign of this new speakeasy is a trail of bright young things emerging from a fire escape in a dark driveway on an otherwise deserted Clarance street. Don’t worry it’s not a drug bust but some slightly inebriated customers leaving Baxter Inn: the newest child from the boys of the beloved Shady Pines Saloon. So if you’ve avoided Jason Scott and Anton Forte’s stellar initial effort because of a crippling doraphobia or peanut allergy then this new American sports bar should draw you back into the cool crowd.

We arrive late one evening and without having to wait (pretty chuffed especially having spotted a 1 hour queue at Shady Pines) down the rabbit hole we go and emerge in a lively underground Chicago sports bar. Candle and boxing memorabilia clutter the low underground space while a mixed crowd of suits and youths sip cocktails and whiskeys along to some old blues tunes.

Depending on who you ask these guys have either 150 or 300 whiskeys at hand, given I’ve probably tried about 4 in my lifetime both counts sound impressive to me. Inundated with choice (Whiskey cognescenti can choose their tipple based on region and age) I ask our bartender for his favourite and he pours us two single malts served neat over a block of hand chipped ice.

Glenmorangie Original 10 years $10 + Glenmorangie Nectar D’or 12 years $13

The original is incredibly floral and smooth and my drinking companion seems impressed. From the same distillery the Nectar D’or has been aged in hand picked French (Sauternes to be precise) casks and is quite sweet, this is definitely my preference although seasoned drinkers may find this too cloying.

If whiskeys aren’t you thing don’t fear, they’ve got a cocktail menu, beers on tap, wines and cognacs in the cellars and all the regular spirits at hand. Ask for your complimentary bowl of pretzels and I’ll wager you’ll lose a few good hours in this cosy hide away.

Who’d ever thought, we’d soon be out-Melbourning the Melbournians and I for one ain’t complainin’.

4

The Verdict
Easy going communal watering hole with fair priced tipples and the largest collection of whiskey at hand in the heart of the CBD. You hear that? It’s the silence of an office just emptied out. Join your friends there and play a little.

Baxter Inn
a. Basement, 152-156 Clarence St Sydney (walk down the driveway and turn right)
e. pretzels(at)thebaxterinn.com
w. www.thebaxterinn.com

The Baxter Inn on Urbanspoon