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Cocktails

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

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“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’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’.

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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

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

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