Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sydney Surry Hills Restaurants

One girl, 30 dishes and 24 hours in Sydney – Part 2/4 

A table outside got up to pay as we arrived at Bodega. We jumped at the opportunity, instantly bringing the restaurant back to capacity. Stop two of the Sydney food crawl kicked off with drinks: a concoction of popcorn rum and coke called the Cinema Highball for me (the chunk of caramel popcorn floating on top was both the clincher and redeemer), and Gancia sparkling wine with house-made soda and watermelon for him. Never judge a man by his drink. 

Liquid love at Bodega, Sydney

The tapas at Bodega is fun: tinned white anchovies, fish pate and water crackers served on a wooden board; hiramasa, cuttlefish, salt-cured mojama tuna, capers and raw onion piled on charred toast and dubbed ‘fish fingers’; pan de bono – cheese upon cheese with jalapeño salsa that tries its best to cut through enough queso fresco to feed a small Mexican army; and a fluffy steamed milk bun with a slice of BBQ tongue, crab meat, shredded iceberg and salsa golf (a fancy mayonnaise-based seafood sauce). Eating good food outside loosens you up – or maybe it was the drinks. BF and I giggled like we were on a first date, chatting about friends and family between another round of drinks. We fluctuated between holding hands over the table and talking about which rockabilly tattooed waiter/1950s-dress adored waitress we’d take home. The light changed from warm Sydney sunshine to a calming, bluish grey. I checked my iPhone and realised over an hour had shot by. Our battered menus were piled on the table again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the food is life. 

Tasty enough to turn any non-tongue eater. Bodega, Sydney.

Bodega on Urbanspoon

En route to our next stop, we caught sight of the garish Tio’s neon sign and poked our heads into the Guatemalan den. We were met with a wall of music and shouting – apparently everyone who wasn’t at a dodgy Irish pub on Goulbourn Street was drinking tequila shots at this newish bar, courtesy of some ex Shady Pines boys. Candles spewed wax over their holding dishes, parrot fairy lights littered the ceiling and religious, ornamental owls begged our attention beside Mexican beer and a mammoth range of agave tequila. 

Tio's Cervecería on Urbanspoon

We carried on, past piles of people sardined on Nomad’s window bench seats (the restaurant is quickly becoming known for its talented young chef, Aussie wine list and sleek, sun-filled interior) and slowed down on the approach to Bar H. The plan was to stop in for a snack and another glass or two of vino (any menu that includes the words ‘lardo’, ‘marrow’ and ‘foie gras’ is fine by me), but the tiny space was packed to the rafters, so we journeyed onwards to Izakaya Fujiyama. By this stage I had taken to referring to our next destination as “only 950 metres away, according to Google Maps”, as opposed to “we’ll be there in 17 minutes on foot”. Already vagued-out from overconsumption, BF was none the wiser. We walked past El Loco (apparently the crowd of young people spilling out into the street and catching up over tacos and margaritas hadn’t dissipated since our last visit in 2012), crossed the street, and soon found Izakaya Fujiyama. 

Hard at work at Izakaya Fujiama. Photo:

Nomad on Urbanspoon

Bar H on Urbanspoon

An ex-Bodega chef is responsible for the Japanese restaurant-cum-watering hole, so I had high expectations. Seeing as we were at an Izakaya, booze was important from the get go. Sake, cocktails and the brief wine list were tempting, but sometimes a girl just feels like a well-earned beer. I dropped Sapporo on tap in favour of red rice Hitachino Nest, complete with an adorable little owl on the label. We ordered well: glistening yellowtail tataki spiked with ginger and shallots; tempura zucchini flowers in a light batter, stuffed with fluffy tofu and scattered with sliced spring onion and black olive crumbs; grilled octopus, delicious but not “crispy” as described on the awkwardly hand-written menu. The thick, tender slices of purple tentacle – suckers intact – had a certain bounce to them without being chewy. Oddly paired with boiled potato chunks, zesty grapefruit segments, and smoky soy, it simply worked. I let the temptation of a few more hours drinking at the elongated bar and emptying my pockets on premium sake distract me momentarily. Although we were far from famished, our crawl was far from finished. 

The great wall of sake at Izakaya Fujiama. Photo:

Izakaya Fujiyama on Urbanspoon

It wasn’t all smooth eating in Sydney. The disappointment of the evening came just after 9pm, when I realised we were only 600 meters (seven minutes, according to Google Maps) from Porteño. Arguably Sydney’s favourite restaurant, I’d originally scrapped it from the to-eat list based on it being an Argentinean barbeque restaurant and BF being a pescaterian (ew). Later I was alerted to dishes such as fried cassava root with sour cream and chilli-laden BBQ eggplant and bullhorn peppers with sherry dressing. I figured I would be able to have my eight-hour, wood-fired pig and eat it too. I felt a pang of excitement as we walked through the grand wooden door, met gaily with a warm 'hello'. The feeling quickly evaporated when we found out a table was 45 minutes away. We didn’t have the luxury of time. In situations like this, there’s only one logical thing to do: eat ice cream. Naturally, we queued for the privilege, although not for nearly as long as if we were queuing at the new Messina sister store in Melbourne. White chocolate and salted caramel gelato in hand, we headed back to our hotel, but not before one last pit stop. 

Messina Gelato's signature domes.

Porteño on Urbanspoon

Gelato Messina Surry Hills on Urbanspoon

The term “walk it off” was deceiving that night. Irrespective of how far our legs carried us, we still felt the weight of the world on our stomachs. The food crazies clouded our moods; the strange but pleasurable state one enters upon ingesting enough for a party of nine. “I’m so glad you dragged me out tonight,” BF said smiling sheepishly. If only I had gotten it in writing for next time.

Our accommodation was strategically around the corner from Chat Thai. We rolled in, ready for a table, only to be told there was a 25 minute wait at 10.45pm. I had to think, fast, or our evening of eating would be tainted by a failed restaurant attempt. BF reluctantly wrote our names down on the wait list. Neither of us were hungry. In fact I was the fullest I’ve ever been, aside from the time I ate 56 plates of food at an absolute gem of a sushi train while backpacking through Barcelona – but that’s a story for another day. I looked over at BF leaning uncomfortably against the wall with the other Chat Thai punters who refused to go home without a hit. He looked beaten. I couldn’t watch. Five minutes later, I emerged with a plastic bag and an excited, “let’s get out of here”. 

Who needs room service when you have Chat Thai next door?

Chat Thai on Urbanspoon

The plastic bag smacked against my legs as we climbed the stairs to our room – we couldn’t justify taking the lift after our evening of excess. BF face-planted into the bed. I pulled out a warm Tupperware container with bua loy kai sloshing about: a smooth coconut broth dotted with silky taro, pumpkin and pandan dumplings. I felt instantly calmed. My anxiety – the kind that accompanies eating to the point of revisiting your food in the toilet bowl – washed away with each spoonful. In that moment I decided that chicken soup is to sickness what bua loy kai is, ironically, to a bursting stomach. Perhaps I'll write a book: Bua Loy Kai for the Soul.

Next, a grease-stained, white paper bag with par tuhng deep-fried dough sticks. The tasty pillows were accompanied by warm, pale green pandan dipping custard. There must have been 10 in the bag, but I only got through one before my body initiated an automatic shut off mechanism. When we checked out the next day, I silently prayed that the person who cleaned our room would put down the sheets, sit on the edge of the bed, and dip the par tuhng they found in the mini bar fridge into pandan custard.

To be continued…