Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sydney Surry Hills Restaurants

One girl, 30 dishes and 24 hours in Sydney – Part 3/4 

Fast-forward through a restless sleep – the kind where you can’t lie on your belly for fear of exploding – to the next morning. We had stretched our stomachs so much the previous night that we actually woke up hungry. Paramount Coffee Project was first on the agenda; all polished concrete floors, high ceilings and pale timbers. The café is a collaborative effort by Sydney’s Russell Beard (Reuben Hills) and Melbourne’s Mark Dundon (Seven Seeds). Here, single origin beans have residencies, mimicking the yet-to-be-discovered bands that chat across communal tables and visit the Golden Age Cinema downstairs when the sun sets. 

Paramount Hipster Project.

The Paramount Coffee Project on Urbanspoon

I resisted the sweet waffle with peanut butter ice cream, dulche de leche and hazelnut, instead opting for the arrollado. What arrived was less arrollado (a pork roll made with the rejected parts of the pig, bacon, and spices rolled in pork skin, tied with string, and then brushed with chilli sauce) and more brekkie burrito wrapped in foil and served in a plastic red basket. It was a messy affair that required my favourite kind of utensil: hands. Egg yolk ejected from all directions and thick, smoky bacon rubbed shoulders with avocado, house-made ketchup and kale, the in-vogue veggie. We also ate perfectly poached salmon resting on a fennel futon scattered with radish and dill, huddled beside chunky beetroot jam.  

Paramount Salmon Project, a light choice before a day of eating.

As it was a Saturday morning and I had long ago decided I was going to eat until it was physically impossible to continue, we caught a train to Everleigh Markets. You’ll find it in the old Everleigh Rail Yards with the kind of exposed beams and dappled brick walls that the trendiest cafés could only dream of achieving. I let my stomach lead the way, from cheese sample to chutney tasters and back again. I stopped at the Billy Kwong stall to buy a steamed sticky rice parcel hugged by vine leaves, loaded with chilli and speckled with equally crunchy macadamias and roasted crickets. Kylie Kwong was serving as she often does on a Saturday morning. Matt, the pescatarian boyfriend, politely declined the crickets, picking his way around them to get to the sticky rice. I had a moment in the sunshine, clucking over children too young to walk but somehow managing to bop to buskers. I wondered if I would have eaten the crickets if Pinocchio was still my favourite movie; I probably would have let my conscience be my guide. 

The Billy Kwong stall at Everleigh Markets

Billy Kwong on Urbanspoon

Post-market we parted ways: him to a meeting, me to Moon Park, the Redfern restaurant reinventing Korean. I walked there, figuring my body would appreciate the gesture, only to discover a closed door. My attempt to schedule in as many eateries as possible over the weekend had failed me – I had confused the availability of lunch to be on Saturday instead of Sunday. I had to keep moving. It hurt, but as I strolled to Surry Hills past two men, one passed out and pantless, the other in high heels and a miniskirt, I realised worse things had happened. Anyway, my lunch at Bishop Sessa squared the situation. 

Paul Cooper's cucumber and scallop ceviche dish at Bishop Sessa.

Bishop Sessa on Urbanspoon

Chef Paul Cooper – who Melbourne lost to Sydney a couple of years ago now – launched Bishop Sessa with Erez Gordon. Like many establishments, they drill home the use of local and sustainable produce, but Cooper has practiced what he preaches for years. They take it seriously: sides of pig, beef and lamb are aged and butchered out the back. After explaining I wasn’t overly hungry, I was served the incredibly good value six-course degustation ($69). It started with a steamed quail bun – or ‘bao’ – the pinkish meat all crispy-skinned and sweet with hoisen sauce. Technically not part of the menu, Cooper won’t refuse customers who order it for fear of an uprising. 

Each dish was as exciting and as balanced as the last, gradually getting heavier until it climaxed in a snake of bittersweet chocolate mousse tart, surrounded by mounds of chocolate soil, honeycomb boulders, a chunk of grilled banana and punchy salted caramel ice cream. The middle leg of the meal consisted of a delicate dish with curls of cucumber, avocado mousse and ginger beer sorbet prettily arranged atop slivers of scallop ceviche; roast pork covered in lemon verbena crackling served with tender calamari; and confit duck lasagne layered with thick homemade pasta, sweetened with miso consommé and scattered with oats and beetroot chutney. 

A dessert for for a sweet tooth at Bishop Sessa.

After I finished I sat for a while eavesdropping on other diners. Their "oohs" and "ahhs" flanked by "isn’t this lovely". I had about an hour – and many more calories – to burn, so I left the narrow space with it’s high bar and low banquettes and slowly strolled to Central Station. I took my time traversing Crown Street, stopping to gawk at a fabulous hairdresser with a mini picket fence in the doorway to prevent two poodles – one dyed pink, the other purple – from escaping. I brought a ring and a card, contemplated ice cream, and finally met Matt at the station. He was starving. 

Doggs Breakfast at Reuben Hills.

We walked back up to Rueben Hills, feeling like Paramount Coffee Project et al. groupies. He ate a fresh and zesty combination of ceviche, salsa and pink grapefruit segments on rustic corn chips, but I still had ice cream on the brain. I couldn’t have asked for a better result than the doggs breakfast ice cream sandwich, a mutant Monaco bar, more brownie than biscuit, presented on an enamel plate with a giant blue spoon to match. They had heaped so much salted caramel on the plate I actually left some. Rueben Hills spreads itself between a block and two storeys. It’s got the refined ‘we’ve gutted the shit out of this place’ look. There’s ubiquitous exposed brickwork, LED tubes fastened to the wall for art’s sake, copper pipes and a blue tiled table that adds a pinch of colour. The upper floor, where the roasting happens, has been shaped in a crescent so people can see both up and down. 

Reuben Hills on Urbanspoon

More eating meant more walking, the kind that starts in chatter and ends in comfortable silence, exploring the CBD purposelessly until we could feel blisters forming on our heels. We passed enough time to fit in another meal before dinner, but it had to be close to the hotel so we could get our bags. Revising Chat Thai with more space in our bellies seemed like the best option. It was that awkward time slightly nearer to dinner than lunch, where all sense and reason gives way to insatiable snacking. Our snacking involved an overflowing plate of pad Thai, all slimy flat rice noodles swimming in tamarind and palm sugar, juicy bean sprouts, peanuts and fat prawns. I washed my half, the bigger half, down with sweetened coconut milk infested with green pandan jelly worms. “You’re weird,” said Matt, although secretly I have a recurring dream where my affection for textural oriental beverages (a la bubble tea) causes nearby Asian customers to silently nod approval in my direction.

Pad Thai and traditional pandan drink at Chat Thai.

To be continued...


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