Sunday, July 22, 2012

District Dining, Sydney

An edible adventure: Poppet in Sydney

District Dining 

Address: 17 Randle Street, Surry Hills, Sydney 

Phone: (02) 9211 7798 

Open: Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday: 
12pm-3pm and 6pm-11pm 
Friday: 12pm until 11pm 

When going away for a weekend of eating, booking your first meal at arguably one of Australia’s best restaurants — and certainly its most hyped — sets you up for a challenge. When we first arrived in Sydney on Friday night, we headed straight for dinner at Momofuku Seiōbo. After more than 13 immaculate courses, we were anxious that nothing would compare for the rest of our stay. Lunch at District Dining the following day proved us wrong.

Tucked down Randle Street in Surrey Hills, District Dining will not disappoint. When we visited for an early lunch on a Saturday, the joint was empty. The space is smart but plain. Black walls and wooden floorboards are brightened up with white marble tables and natural light, which floods through the window even on drearier days. A mirror hangs behind the polished bar at the far end of the room and a bright, geometric pattern licks the feature wall, a continuation of the colourfully painted entry.

The woman who looked after us was absolutely lovely; the kind of jovial serviceperson who takes the dining experience to the next level. She suggested we start with drinks, which we did: a cocktail carafe of ‘Moroccan Iced Tea’. Cinnamon infused vodka, Sailor Jerry spiced rum, fresh lime and spiced syrup were topped with Moroccan iced tea and served over ice. Let’s just say it started us off early. Drinks aside, it was the wonderful food that impressed us the most. Each dish was homely and hearty but with a touch of fancy to set it apart. The produce was beautiful and fresh and the kitchen surely have the mantra “presentation is everything” strung up on the wall somewhere.

The menu is divided into sections. We ate mostly from the ‘Something to Snack on’ section. We ordered the marinated white anchovies, crispy school prawns with lime mayonnaise, District crispy chicken wings in chilli caramel, and were brought a complimentary serve of the crispy quail eggs with tarragon mayonnaise, because we simply had to try District Dining’s favourite dish.

The quail eggs were wonderful; mouthfuls of soft crumbed spheres with their yolks still runny, served in a mini plastic egg carton. The anchovies arrived in a mock tin. Aside from no one cutting themselves trying to open the container, the anchovies were highly salty with a hit of vinegar, perfect as a palate cleanser between our many entrées. The crispy school prawns were the best I have tried to date. The serving was generous; a deep bowl piled high with the crunch critters, eaten whole. Each one was a burst of flavour matched perfectly with the light and addictive lime mayonnaise.

Knowing I was spending my weekend with a vegetarian, I was urged to order something meaty for myself. I chose the chicken wings, which just happened to be huge. They were as tasty as they were sticky, with trails of sugary goodness forming between the chicken and my fingers. A hint of chilli was detectable beneath the sugary coating, sprinkles with sesame seeds. I couldn’t finish the bowl to myself and was disappointed to have to wave them goodbye.

Next we attacked the ‘Something Small to Share’ section. The black pepper tofu arrived in a thick black bean sauce, scattered with broccoli, slices of red chilli and ribbons of spring onion. The fresh ginger in the rich sauce lightened the dish, which would make anyone who says “tofu is boring” think twice.

One of my favourite dishes was the kingfish. Served on a shallow black plate with white floral detailing, it was awfully pretty. The fish was seared and served in a garden of baby shoots, radish and balls of soy tapioca. In the middle was a mound of ‘wasabi snow’, which managed to feel simultaneously hot and cold on the tongue.

We were really looking forward to the seared scallops, but when we ordered at the start of our meal they hadn’t come in yet. Half way through our lunch, our waitress turned up at our table and announced that their delivery of scallops had arrived. Yes we were very full. Yes we still wanted to order the scallops. It was a good decision. Four fat scallops arrived perfectly cooked in Pedro Ximenez sherry, golden brown on the top and soft in the middle. Each was topped with a thick, flavoursome slice of chorizo and was surrounded in a cauliflower purée.

We only ordered one dish from the ‘Something Large to Share’; we couldn’t have managed any more! We decided on the cous cous stew with root vegetables, honey, labne. It was the perfect dish for a rainy winter’s day. Leeks, potatoes and carrots broke up the soft cous cous, served in a terracotta bowl on a wooden board. The labne lightened the dish while the honey added a delightful sweetness.

We also ordered some french fries from the ‘Something on the Side’ section; we couldn’t help ourselves. Somehow, we devoured every salty shoestring and were cheeky enough to ask for an extra side of lime mayonnaise from the school prawns dish to accompany them. 

Our meal at District Dining was nothing short of fantastic. While we wish we had room for the pear and rhubarb crumble with gingerbread ice cream or the banana brûlée with peanut brittle and chocolate gelato, we could barely get up to leave. I cannot recommend this place highly enough, but if you want to sweeten the deal, you can get 30% off your bill (including drinks) when you book with Agenda Tables online (here). Even though I work for Agenda, I didn’t realise we had a deal with District Dining. You can call me a fool if you wish, but our lunch was worth every cent.

District Dining on Urbanspoon


  1. Looks like a wonderful meal, and those quail eggs are adorable! I'm also often guilty of ordering chips or roast potatoes at restaurants even when I'm very full - I can never resist!

    1. Hi Sarah!

      It really was wonderful, and it was made even better by the fact that we had no idea what to expect! Very pleasantly surprised.

      I ordered fires at breakfast along with my eggs the other day... it was the perfect hangover cure : ) !

  2. Oh my gosh! I'm drooling! What a sumptuous little lunch you guys had! :) The quail eggs are so cute! Beautiful pictures!

    1. Sumptuous is the PERFECT words.

      Thanks so much Ash! x