Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dining in the Surry Hills District

The surfeit of dining options in Surry Hills does not fail to astound – not only the flashy, new restaurants replacing the not so flash, but new restaurants popping up in brand new venues too, not to mention the stalwarts that define Surry Hills dining.

District Dining entrance, Randle Street, Surry Hills
Falling into the first category is Warren Turnbull’s new Surry Hills venture, in addition to his two-hatted fine diner Assiette.

Upstairs of the relatively newly refurbished Central Hotel (relative to its nearby peers anyway), the even more recently newly refurbished District Dining is a slick new bistro of well spaced wooden tables and floors with a sharing theme in the same vein as other recent Surry Hills openings.

Table settings on the balcony bar
There’s a small balcony area set above the corner of Randle and Chalmers Streets where we initially settle which is ideal for pre dinner drinks and soaking in the last of the evening sun, or even as alternative to the 'grungier' drinking holes, the Madison or Royal Exhibition.

Settling in to our table of seven, we eagerly played a game of menu bingo in deciding our share plates of choice. We’re advised that two dishes each person is probably sufficient with dessert to follow, so it seems not so different to a regular a la carte meal, shared as I normally do anyway.

Olive oil and sourdough rolls
We start with little warm sourdough rolls and olive oil; the bread which also comes in handy later on mopping up sauces and such.

Smoked eel pate, cucumber, green onion flatbread
Our first round of food arrives with rather colourful and vibrant morsels of food. The plating is fun and maintains an air of fine dining with its fine dices, sauces, purees and micro herbs.

I firstly attack the smoked eel pate, served in an almost comical District Dining labelled tin alongside cucumber ribbons and flatbread (like schiaccata) covered in a chlorophyll green pool of saucy green onion.

The bread had a crunchy outer as I easily sliced through it and was a fantastic accompaniment to the tuna-lookalike pate, which was smoky and creamy at once and utterly divine. The cucumber contributed freshness while the green onion mix wasn't as overpowering as it looked to be.

King crab sweet corn fritters, basil
While the eel pate was shared around with ease, moments later I realised that many of the District Dining dishes are not really designed for sharing in large-ish groups – I would say no more than five – without ordering doubles of certain dishes.

The realisation hit hard when, completely enamoured with the pate at first, I discovered the king crab and sweet corn fritters dish at the other end of the table empty. Fleeting sadness doesn't hurt too much.

Veal tongue, pickled turnip, salsa verde, almonds
The veal tongue was also difficult to portion evenly, with its scatterings of vegetable garnishes including delicately pickled little turnips. The bit of tongue I did get was wondrously soft, almost spongy in the centre, with the mildly tart pickled flavour a great diversion from thoughts of offal.

The again chlorophyll green salsa verde contrasted spectacularly with the pink turnips, while not adding much in flavour from my small taste.

Marinated tuna, wasabi pannacotta, soy bean, daikon
The chunky cubes of jewel red tuna made for a visually stimulating dish that was fresh and harmonious. The wasabi cream, rather than pannacotta really, was subtle enough to let the fish shine - though I can't recall a distinct flavour of the marinade at all.

After clearing pretty much every sliver of food on the boards and plates, we readied for the next round, with a few stomachs earnestly hoping that the next would be more substantial. Again, the table was laden with wooden boards and nimble division work was needed to make the dishes sharable.

Seared scallop, cauliflower, raisin, dukkah
The scallops found themselves with familiar partners in the cauliflower puree, though lifted by sweet, fortifying raisin puree and the crunchy addition of dukkah. I'm not sure who missed out on the nicely seared scallops in this case but I wasn't up for sharing mine.

Beef cheek spring roll, celeriac, salsa verde
The beef cheek spring roll, already cut into four pieces and then further divided, was a crisp skinned mouthful holding tender, rich beef cheek that packed an unexpected flavour punch. Hello again to the deep green salsa verde with celeriac juliennes on the side for something different.

WA scampi cannelloni, tomato, asparagus, coriander
The uneasily divisible pasta tube featured scampi within and fabulous diced and grilled vegetables about. From the mouthful I had, I think this was rather plainly seasoned, probably to let the scampi have its moment, which I'm not sure it did.

Crispy fried chicken, coleslaw, lime aioli
Bulky pieces of battered, fried chicken don’t look too many worlds away from KFC, and turn out to be the most substanstial dish of the night.

Notwithstanding my adoration of fried chicken generally, this was definitely one of my favourites of the night: the heavily spiced batter protecting the breast meat of chicken for juicy, finger licking good chicken that didn't really need condiments.

Crispy school prawns with lime aioli
One of the specials of crispy school prawns was a group favourite, but admittedly, hard to get wrong. The tall bowl was filled to the brim with deep fried whole prawns, which with a squeeze of lemon and dunk in aioli, are perfect for any meal time I think.

Castricum lamb shoulder, cumin, honey, baby carrots
I loved the presentation of the lamb with its vivid colours and really wanted to like the dish. The lamb was sliced thin, spread across the fantastic carrot puree that made it the table centrepiece. The bit I had was really quite salty and also fatty, somewhat ruining whatever flavour the lamb may have had with it.

Pork belly, fennel salt, lime, kimchi
The pork belly was seriously fatty, and again, with heavy handed seasoning (probably the fennel salt, but eased with a squeeze of lime). Eschewing the large fatty pieces, which was pretty much the entire top half of the slice, the meat was salty but by no means dry. The crackling was of the slightly-crunchy-slightly-chewy texture, while the kimchi tasted commendably fresh.

Extending the over-salted theme was the side mixed leaf salad while salt flakes are always going to struggle with skinny french fries.

Buttermilk pannacotta, blood orange granita
Very ready for sugar over salt, we found picking shared desserts from the menu was easier than the picking the meal items, especially as there were only four to choose from. The only one that somewhat disappointed was the pannacotta, which was nice itself, but dominated by the very tart and icy granita of blood orange.

Efi's rice pudding, cinnamon ice crea
My favourite of the lot was the rice pudding, which was completely unexpected coming from a non-rice pudding lover. Delicately creamy yet redolent with cinnamon, the adorable jar's contents alternated well with the quenelle of cinnamon ice cream.

Strawberries, raspberries, meringue, vanilla cream
Popular was the meringue pile, eton mess shall we say. Delightfully chewy meringue played with blobs of cream and a berry sorbet, syrup and berries. Despite its messy appearance, I felt it was actually more sophisticated than a pavlova in texture and taste too.

Coffee brulee, chocolate madeleine
The strong hit of the coffee brulee (especially seeing as I've been off coffee for a few months) was needed and appreciated in the smooth custard. After getting through the hardened toffee top, the madeleines came in handy for dipping and wiping every last bit of the creme brulee out of its terracotta ramekin.

Eventually stuffed full after dessert, there was no rush for us to leave our table, which was a nice change. Seated near the door, a nice breeze was coming through, adding to the chilled, casual atmosphere.

Of the entire, eye-pleasing meal, that one of my favourite dishes of the night was fried chicken was an odd and not-so-impressive surprise. Dessert was a high point too, but in the busy, super-competitive Surry Hills dining district, I wonder if fried chicken and rice pudding are going to cut it?

District Dining exit

District Dining on Urbanspoon


Simon Food Favourites said...

this will be very helpful in working out what i'll be ordering next week :-)

Tina said...

Hey Simon - Good on ya! Next time, I'll try order everything I didn't have this time!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I'm going here soon and I'm really looking forward to it!

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

I keep hearing about this place which has definitely captured my interest. I also love how Surry Hills is increasingly becoming the food hub.

++MIRA++ said...

the eel pate presentation looks like fun! looks like an enjoiable meal

Tina said...

Hi Lorraine - Hope you enjoy it :)

Hi madamoiselle delicieuse - Bit of an 'it' spot, especially post Terry Durack's review, I imagine :S

Hi MIRA - It was indeed fun overall.

Anonymous said...

I heard so many fab reviews about this place. Must visit soon.

Tina said...

Hi Ellie - I think everyone is visiting soon - me (again) included! :)

Betty said...

heard so much abt this place i gotta book myself in one day :O)

Tina said...

Hi Betty - One of the places of the moment, I think :)

Obesebaby said...

Is this from jump on it voucher? that creme crulee man is to die for!

Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said...

Looks fabulous! Loving the look of every dish you ordered, I think I'd be ordering exactly the same. How good does the scallops and prawns look? Yum!

Tina said...

Hi Obesebaby - No, this was before the vouchers, but I've got one for a return visit ;)

Hi Forager - Yes, they've got a pretty decent range on the menu :)


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