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South American

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

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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

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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

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Taco Tuesdays, a sweet sound to any cheapskate’s ears. After imbibing a few drinks at the preview of Justus magazine, we eagerly tottered down to the Norfolk to get our taco on.

Despite arriving fairly late, the garden area is still packed out so we settle for a newly vacated table at the front. The menu does offer a selection of fairly traditional pub grub (burgers, schnitzels, steak, fish and chips) but it’s no secret everyone’s here for the soft shell tacos.


Pork soft shell taco: braised pork neck, onions, cabbage, apple & Nopales Mojo Verde, coriander $3 (normally $5.50)

We placed our order at the bar and it’s not long before the waitress swoops over with a giant tray and starts offloading these babies and break neck speed. The first to greet my stomach was the pork taco: deliciously soft and flavoursome pork neck married with the fresh crunch of cabbage and apple.

Beef: beef brisket, queso fresco, scallions & lime, salsa mojo $3 (normally $5.50)

I didn’t try the beef but can only assume they were quite good if the rate at which they were consumed provides some indication of tastiness.

Chicken: chargrilled chicken thigh, red onion & cucumber salsa, guacamole, lettuce, chipotle mayo $3 (normally $5.50)

The chicken is probably the lesser surprise and sticks to more or less the simple flavours of onion, avocado and mayo.

Fish soft shell taco: grilled fish, achiote paste, lettuce, pico de gallo, lime $3 (normally $5.50)

What I was really looking forward to was the fish taco, a delicious strip of grilled fish marinated in achiote paste (generally a blend of spices including annatoo, Mexican oregano, cumin, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, all spice, garlic and salt) and served with a dollop of what I assume is tomato, white onion and chilli. People don’t normally associate fish with tacos but this is by far one of the tastiest combinations finished off with a small wriggle of heat. They’re so good I’m keen to make some myself and found quite a fetching recipe from Food Safari to try out.


The waitresses spend all night running around handing out the never ending taco orders, perhaps a good time to ask management for a pair of skates?

Fried Chicken Wings: with hot sauce and red eye mayo $13.50

The multitude of additional bar snacks on the menu were just too tempting, although we were here for the tacos we couldn’t help but slip in an order of fried chicken wings: hot out of the deep fryer and speckled with pepper and chilli we finished these off as quickly as possible while tossing the hot morsels from hand to hand.

Despite being advertised as snacks, a few tacos each were enough for the three of us to reach full capacity and after the finger lickin’ tasty ending of some friend chilli chicken, the question of dessert doesn’t even arise.

The Verdict
It’s a cheerful and easy place with casual bar staff and a running special for every day of the week. The times I’ve visited, the place has been fairly packed out and can get a bit stuffy so the outdoor area at the back is especially sweet, lit up by hanging lanterns and some colourful fairy lights. Don’t try to be an individual and just come on Tuesdays for the Tacos like half the neighbourhood has, after all who can say no when something so delicious is only $3?

The Norfolk
a. 305 Cleveland Street Surry Hills
t. 9699 3177
e. info(at)thenorfolk.co
w. www.thenorfolk.co

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