The best things I ate in Sydney last week were the side dishes. These are the ones I can’t stop thinking about. Considering some of the places I ate, that seems a little weird, but there it is. Maybe it’s because the side dishes are often the ones us non-chefs have a chance of re-creating.
The first dish to be photographed (which I consider normal restaurant behaviour these days, but some of my dining companions thought was hilarious) was a tapas dish at Bodega in Surry Hills. ‘Salad of fried cauliflower, chickpeas and silverbeet’ sounds so plain on a menu, but this was so delicious that we ordered another plate of it. I’m a huge fan of the humble cauli, especially when fried or roasted so the edges go crispy and caramelised. This was tossed in quite a lot of olive oil, which no doubt enhanced its flavour. It instantly reminded me of another fabulous cauliflower dish I enjoyed at Melbourne’s Cumulus.Inc, which also had fried cauliflower, served spiced with goats’ curd. These are both lovely, simple dishes, and absolutely delicious. See my version below, destined to be a winter favourite for me.
The second standout side was at Toko, also in Surry Hills. This is a super-stylish space, full of buzz, and apparently also a celebrity hangout, although if there were any there on the Friday lunchtime we visited they were b-grade Aussie ones I didn’t recognise.
Anyway, there was no need to be gazing round in search of celebs when the food put on such an amazing show. Everything we ate here was sensational: the soft-shell crab with wasbi mayonnaise, the duck with sancho pepper and marinated nashi, even the edamame in a super-moreish chilli sauce. But my favourite was dengaku nasu; enigmatically described as ‘eggplant with sweet miso’. It looked like something that shouldn’t be eaten; like it had been varnished and could be used as a table decoration. Digging into it though, we discovered meltingly soft, creamy, roasted flesh, topped with a sweet, savoury miso paste/glaze – quite hard to describe, but very, very easy to eat. I’m working on how to do this one – if anyone has any bright ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Finally I had a fabulous dinner at Rockpool Bar & Grill with my friend Kirsten. This is an absolutely stunning space, very ‘Sydney’, in an old deco bank building in the CBD. It was absolutely packed (apparently the recession has not hit Australia).
My favourite thing about this dinner was actually the gorgeous company. But my second favourite thing was the very simple salad of green beans ‘with creamy anchovy, chilli and lemon dressing and toasted almonds’. The description pretty much tells you what it was, although I’d love to know what exactly was in that dressing. Again, I’m working on it. It went beautifully with my seared king prawns with goats’ cheese tortellini, burnt butter and pine nuts. And Kirsten’s lobster thermidor.