Directory

AL ASEEL

Cuisine: Lebanese

The gurgle of a narghile (waterpipe) signalling your entrance to Al Aseel transforms an otherwise unremarkable section of Elizabeth Street in Surry Hills into a slice of Beirut, at least for an evening of over-eating. Unless you’re in a group of eight or more, there is no need for the $40-a-head banquet. A $25 mezze plate of barbecue meats, kofta, garlic dip and falafel could feed three, and the $15 mixed dips come with enough crispbread for a family. The original Al Aseel in Greenacre is consistently popular but this Surry Hills follow-up has fast service and can serve up a melting $24 mansaf lamb with supporting roles for homous with pinenuts $12, fattoush salad $13 and, of course, tabouli $13 for a feast of five.

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BODEGA

Cuisine: Lebanese,South American,Tapas

“Two-four-six-eight, get ready to eat your dinner late” is the warning when first travelling to Madrid and, unless you’re prepared to eat at the hour of a senior citizen, that’s what you should expect here at Bodega. Dark wood, dim lighting and big crowds give Bodega an authentic tapas bar feel, while the menu caters for the peckish through to the downright ravenous. Get the saliva glands going with vinegar-cured white anchovies $8, while the “fish fingers” of sashimi kingfish on garlic toast with cuttlefish ceviche and mojama (salt-cured tuna) $18 are what you’d imagine eating along the Costa Blanca. Follow the crowd and finish with a banana split — cream flan, dulce de leche icecream, ginger biscuit and banana $14.

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BOOK KITCHEN

Cuisine: Lebanese,South American,Tapas,Modern Australian

It feels far from the madding crowd but, really, Book Kitchen is just a short stroll from the buzz of Crown Street. By day, you might find yourself in a queue for breakfast but by night it’s a quiet, candlelit dining room with comfortable but professional service and an organic, seasonal menu. An entree of crab ravioli in a sweetcorn puree $19 proves delicate and more-ish. The beef fillet $34 for main is perfectly medium-rare, complemented by baby beetroot and peppery watercress. Desserts are just as tempting: rosewater and pistachio meringue, creme patissiere and passionfruit cream $12 is a clever and deceptively complex twist on a pav. Between courses, browse the latest cookbooks on the bookshelves for sale. You’ll leave feeling well fed and well read.

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BOTECO

Cuisine: Lebanese,South American,Tapas,Modern Australian,South American

As Sydney went crazy for South American food, along came Boteco. Arrive early to kick back on the comfy couches and listen to the Spanish lingo drifting from the kitchen. Start with a watermelon mojito, the next best thing to an alcoholic energiser bunny, before nibbling on pesticos (small delicacies made to share). Match a pisco sour with a plate of snapper ceviche laced with flecks of tomato and lime $12. Move on to embrace what Brazilians do best, the grill. Grain-fed picanha beef (rump cap) skewers $10 are served alongside a peppery chimichurri with salty cassava chips, while Frango, free-range marinated chicken cutlets $19, are set on a bed of tender, nutty chickpeas with punchy, robust chorizo. Fancy yourself a grazer? Then get down to Boteco.

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CAFE ISH

Cuisine: Lebanese,South American,Tapas,Modern Australian,South American,Japanese,Modern Australian

Owners Josh Nicholls and his Japanese partner Ai Mashima certainly know how to mix it up. Mundane breakfast can be livened with their crab, avocado, chilli and shallot omelette served with a ginger, soy and lime dressing $24. Don’t even ask for a ham and cheese toastie, ’cause at lunchtime they’re serving up the likes of homemade torn wattleseed pasta with eggplant and mushroom ragout, soybeans and feta $14.50. Dinner is no exception. Think Japanese izakaya (Japanese pub food) and being entertained with Japanese skewered plates comprising grass-fed wagyu beef, tofu and shiitake mushrooms $24 and crumbed crocodile tail in a Japanese curry sauce. Wash it down with sweet plum wine or choose from the wide selection of sake.

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CAFE MINT

Cuisine: Lebanese,South American,Tapas,Modern Australian,South American,Japanese,Modern Australian,Middle eastern

A small-bar licence, new service hours and plans for expansion have this “cafe” looking, well, mint. Wooden furnishings and clean lines create a comfy-chic feel, backed by a very interesting Mod Med menu with flavours from North Africa to the Middle East. Locals are after the brekky couscous and baked eggs early in the day. Come dinner, it’s vegetables, fish or meat: all tempting. Exotic salads $11.90–$15.50 call for sharing but we went solo on mains (they were too good). The hiramasa kingfish on a crunchy bed of roasted almonds, green beans and smoky-flavoured cauliflower puree was heavenly $29.50; the baby chicken stuffed with apricot cous cous — a subtle mingling of sweet and spice $28.50. Do try the “booza” — balls of sticky mastic icecream — for dessert $11.50 — an experience in texture, temperature and flavour.

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CAFE ZOE

Cuisine: Lebanese,South American,Tapas,Modern Australian,South American,Japanese,Modern Australian,Middle eastern,Cafe

On a bright street corner in a surprisingly tranquil part of Surry Hills sits this local gem. With a welcoming, bright fit-out, great prices and an emphasis on top produce, it’s no wonder they’re going strong. The menu is short but solid: breakfast staples include toasted bagels or banana bread $4while their famed ricotta hotcakes with berry compote and caramelised apple $13.90 aren’t allowed to leave the menu. Up to eight different sandwiches with a variety of fillings $9.90–$11.90 are on offer at lunch. In colder months, pappardelle with braised lamb shank and rosemary $16.90makes a surprising treat, as does a warming northern Greek-style beef and potato stew $13.90. Come summer, a salad of chargrilled octopus with beetroot and fetta $18.90evokes the season nicely. Pavement tables are available.

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CAFFE SICILIA

Cuisine: Lebanese,South American,Tapas,Modern Australian,South American,Japanese,Modern Australian,Middle eastern,Cafe,Italian

This charming Crown Street newcomer has been packing in ragazzi of all ages from day one. There’s a smart, gleaming European cafe fit-out, armies of friendly young waiters, lashings of white napery, authentic Sicilian tableware and music from compatriota such as Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Menu staples include mozzarella in carrozza, a deep-fried mozzarella sandwich $14, baked pasta ring for lunch $18, and fat, juicy pork and fennel sausages for dinner $23. Wines include Sicilian and local choices. The new dessert queen on the Crown Street block has to be the cassata Siciliana $9, a divine ricotta cake rich with cream, candied fruit and green marzipan icing — the best we’ve had outside Sicily, bar none. The quote on the menu from the stupendous La Loren — “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti” — is a philosophy worth adopting.

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COCHIN

Cuisine: Lebanese,South American,Tapas,Modern Australian,South American,Japanese,Modern Australian,Middle eastern,Cafe,Italian,Vietnamese,French/Modern French

You may feel you’re about to raid an ancient tomb as you step though the heavy metal-plated doors into Cochin. Luckily, though, the food is far from antiquated at this contemporary gem serving up Vietnamese cuisine with French-influenced flair. Appetisers include fresh staples such as prawn summer rolls $10, while mains demonstrate a full fusion of flavours and produce. Sumptuously moist duck $26 is a feature. You can have it four ways: tea-smoked with orange, prune and port sauce or braised in five spice are equally outstanding. Best value at Cochin is the Tuesday to Thursday banquet in which six courses are $30. Leave room for dessert: creme brulee, creme caramel and chocolate mousse $9 will have you saying oui oui.

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CRU 54 RESTAURANT AND BAR

Cuisine: Lebanese,South American,Tapas,Modern Australian,South American,Japanese,Modern Australian,Middle eastern,Cafe,Italian,Vietnamese,French/Modern French,Tapas,Spanish

Cru 54 is among the top ranks of contemporary tapas/wine bars in Sydney. Its L-shaped space opens onto Foveaux Street, teasing pedestrians with food aromas and a cool, cocktail-bar vibe. Inside it’s chic and shiny with a long, pale stone bar, an open kitchen and splashes of intense orange. Service, led by owner/manager Catherine Andreao, is quick, attentive, warm and knowledgeable while the food is flavoursome and well priced (generally $4–$27). Everything on the menu is made from scratch on the premises and is designed to share. Sizzling garlic prawns $22, calamari fritti $19, veal and pork albondigas (meatballs) $19 and mixed seafood paella $25 are some of the highlights, as is the sangria $22/$36.

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