Sydney: Surry Hills Part II

September 19, 2014

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Welcome to Part II of my Surry Hills reviews! Carrying on with my Sydney theme, I thought I’d write about another two great restaurants I are at while in Sydney last year: Bodega and Mongrain. While the menu at Bodega has changed somewhat since them, I still think this is a good indication of the general vibe of the place and the type of food served – happy reading!

Bodega

216 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills

http://www.bodegatapas.com

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First up, Bodega. Created by the team behind Porteno, Bodega is also in Surry Hills, also Spanish-themed, also no bookings, also very cool.

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Because we had quite a large group, we were able to get a booking at 6pm, when the restaurant opened. We arrived a touch early, so went for a walk around the neighbourhood before returning around ten to six. By then, there was a small group of people milling around the entrance. One couple ventured up to the door, only to have a waiter come and wave them away very rudely. I understand it wasn’t exactly 6pm, but I can’t think of a restaurant in Melbourne where at ten minutes to opening time they’d shoo you away like some sort of pest. In Melbourne, you’d be invited in for a drink. It didn’t affect our meal, obviously, but it also wasn’t behaviour that went completely over our heads.

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Rude welcome aside, once seated the service was good, knowledgeable and trendily youthful. Bodega is very big on mood lighting, so unfortunately my photos haven’t come out very well. Poor photos aside, the food here really was very good. Probably not as good as the MoVida family’s tapas, but delicious nonetheless.

We began with bread, some San Danielle prosciutto and dill pickles, and a small dish of mussels, palm hearts, black beans and chilli. This sounds like a silly comment but the bread was really delicious, a wonderfully oily, focaccia-style dough. It was perfect with a piece of glossy San Danielle draped over it. Drinkswise, we drank a couple of fantastic bottles of Malbec from Argentina.

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Next were a group of beef empanadas with mint yoghurt, and some olives marinated in orange and rosemary peel. The empanadas were lovely, a homely little package of crisp pastry and beef.

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It’s a shame this photo is blurry because this was my favourite dish from the entire night – Bodega’s famous fish fingers. Hiramasa, cuttlefish and mojama on charred toast; these are sensational bites of food and I would happily have devoured three.

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Next was a zucchini salad with roman beans, sprouts, cauliflower, hazelnuts, mint, and a blue cheese dressing. Look, I’m going to just come out and say it. I don’t like blue cheese dressing, I just don’t. So it’s not surprising that I wasn’t convinced by this dish. The greens in combination with hazelnuts, blue cheese and mint was just too much for me, and didn’t feel cohesive.

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Far better was the char-grilled calamari with broccoli, almonds, aioli and bottarga. Beautifully smokey and creamy, I loved the fishy kick from the bottarga, just fantastic.

 

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Also incredibly popular around the table were the pork sausage with chilli crab sauce, butter lettuce and pickled carrots. Decidedly inspired by Asian cuisine, and described as ‘our version of san choi bao’, this was my second favourite dish of the night – that spicy sausage was just too delicious!

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To finish the savouries were two plates of lamb neck, BBQ radicchio, rosemary, anchovy, and an eggplant and pine nut puree. Another favourite from the evening, the lamb simply melted in your mouth, sticky and fatty and soft like all good lamb should be. Matching extremely well were great bitter sleeves of radicchio which we dragged through the peppery eggplant puree, picking up any remaining pine nuts with our fingers. Spectacularly good.

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Finally, a couple of desserts to share. In the middle of the photo are two plates of the banana split flan with banana marshmallow and dulce de leche ice cream. I wasn’t a fan of this one – it had that strange, furry aftertaste that overripe bananas sometimes impart. Much better was the chocolate cream pie with a peanut butter cookie base, chocolate, dulce de leche mousse and a sprinkling of pistachios. Both desserts had a decidedly American feel to them, with the only Argentinian influence the dulce de leche.

In all, a fun and casual night out at Bodega. Their shared menu is creative and, mostly, very delicious. Service could do with an attitude check, but then again Sydney restaurants have never been known for being friendly. Depending on what the menu looks like the next time I’m in town, I’d consider eating here again.

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Longrain

85 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills

https://longrain.com

On our last night in Sydney, we ate out at a Sydney institution – Longrain. Imported into Melbourne some years ago, the Sydney venue is the original, and I was keen to try out their brand of Thai food which has influenced other modern Thai restaurants (I’m looking at you, Chin Chin).

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I know some of you reading this will be thinking ‘I can’t believe you ate Thai in Sydney and didn’t go to X, Y, Z restaurants, which are way more authentic and affordable and delicious’. To you I say, please please PLEASE comment with any recommendations you have and I promise I will endeavour to eat there next time I’m in Sydney! For now though, here are my thoughts on Longrain.

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Walking in, the restaurant is large, spacious, dimly lit and modern. The open kitchen is abuzz with chefs without being noisy, and we’re lead to our oval shaped table by the window. Initially thinking oval tables are quite odd, I soon realised how great they were for groups larger than four, because they are far more conducive to conversation and shared plates of food than conventional rectangular tables. Perhaps I’ve been in this blogging business far too long if table shapes get me going…

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Gazing over the cocktail menu, it was as if the Gin Sin was made for me – Bombay Sapphire, ginger, lychee, lime leaf, fresh lemon juice and ginger beer all combined to make one helluva refreshing drink. Pictured next to mine is another favourite, a mojito.

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In a similar fashion to Bodega, the food at Longrain is meant to be shared. We began with some bite sized morsels of caramelised pork, prawns and peanuts on slices of fresh pineapple. When they say caramelised, they really do mean caramelised! Almost a sweet dish, these were saved by a slightly salty kick.

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Even better were the betel leaves filled with blue swimmer crab, curry powder, ginger and chilli. A sweet, tangy and refreshing little morsel, it reminded me why I love Thai food so much.

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After these two bites, there was a procession of larger dishes to share (we had ordered the banquet menu for ease). First up was the egg net filled with pork, prawns, peanuts, caramelised coconut and a cucumber relish. Obviously, there’s quite a bit of skill that goes into making the net so finely and then wrapping it around the ingredients without breaking it. Unfortunately, the net itself didn’t add much to the taste of the dish, though the salad within was tasty and well-balanced.

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My favourite dish for the evening was the yellow lamb neck curry. You only really know what good Thai curry is when you taste it. Rather than hiding behind excessive amounts of chilli and fresh herbs (cough, Chin Chin, cough), this curry was expertly balanced and fragrant. The lamb pieces had been cooked long and slow until they were gelatinous and tender. Just sensational.

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Next up was a fantastic rendition of a Thai classic – green papaya salad with fried shrimp and peanuts. I think this dish, perhaps even more so than a curry, requires such careful balancing of flavours. I’ve had papaya salads in the past that are far too spicy, too salty or too sweet, but this one managed to strike the right balance.

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Our final savoury was another delicious dish, caramelised pork hock, five spice and chilli vinegar. I thought this was quite similar to the caramelised pork with black vinegar at Red Spice Road in Melbourne. I’m not sure which one came first, but I am sure that this was just as delicious! Sticky, chewy cubes of pork, and a deliciously sweet and sour sauce. Brilliant.

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At the end of the meal, six little tumblers of dessert arrived – black rice, vanilla tapioca and custard apple creme. I’m not normally one for Asian desserts, but this was part of the set menu and I thought, ‘One spoonful couldn’t hurt. Ok, maybe two. Or three. Jeez, this is actually really delicious!’ Soft but textural and slight sweet, I really enjoyed this, and it was a lesson in being adventurous with your eating.

All up, we had a fantastic meal at Longrain, and I’ll be keen to compare the Melbourne venue to its original! Yes, as far as Thai food goes it’s fancy and perhaps a bit Westernised, but I loved it.

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Filed under: Argentinian, Spanish, Sydney, Thai

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