For juicy dinner club in June, Jay chose a little cheap eats Mexican Cantina Y Barra in Surry Hills called El Loco which is located in the Excelsior pub.
Jay & I meet Ian & Janine there mid-week after work and fail to get a seat inside, it’s freezing but thankfully there are outdoor heaters over the tables, and after a few issues one of the barmen gets ours working! Hazzah!
El Loco is the most recent venture from Sydney’s most eligible bachelor & businessman, Justin Hemmes who owns the hottest bars and clubs all over Sydney.
It’s a fun cantina-style space, with Mexican wrestling posters, random colourful artifacts nailed to the walls and a no-booking policy. You just rock up, order at the counter and take your table number. There is a huge range of authentic tequilas, a small but good selection of beers (more in the hotel bar though) and a few specials on the board in addition to the menu.
Ian & Janine both have hotdogs. I’m not sure about the authentic-ness of a Mexican hotdog, but it looks deliciously cheesy! And we giggle as we joke about the extra long sausage!
Jay & I share a selection of tacos. $5 each and they are small, perfect morsels of soft taco with little layers of the most flavourful ingredients like chargrilled pork, prawn or shredded chicken, coriander, avocado and tomato/corn salsa.
taco Left – Pollo – chicken, sweet corn salsa taco middle – Camaron – prawn, salsa verde, pico de gallo taco right – Al Pastor – spit roasted pork, pineapple salsa
We all chat animatedly as we happily munch away on our Mexican and then headed off for some hot chocolate in Glebe before calling it a night.
Food: great, tasty & fresh. good cheap eats! Service: order at the counter canteen-style with young & friendly staff Atmosphere: relaxed but loud. A great place to pop in and meet friends after work. You can even get takeaway. Value for money: excellent. $25 a person with drinks!
It’s kind of a joke around Sydney that unless you either live or work in Cabramatta, you don’t go to Cabramatta.
You see, Cabramatta has a gang problem. You don’t hear too much about it in the news these days but the undercurrent is still there. When we arrive at 7pm the main street of town is deserted and all the shops are locked tight with steel roller-doors. What’s is there is really really really good authentic Vietnamese food.
Back in January The Jacksons and The Williams (aka Neen, her hubby, Jay & I) had our first Dinner Club of 2012. We changed our rules this year (after two fun and disputably successful years of Dinner Club); making it about street-type food or cheap eats instead of the latest trendy restaurant.
January’s pick was mine; I opted to take us out to Cabramatta for some authentic Vietnamese at Phu Quoc.
If you google “best Vietnamese in Sydney” Phu Quoc is at the top of the list. Apparently the lunch crowd goes off with office workers but at night it’s mostly the locals that dine in.
Strings of paper lanterns hang from the roof, the tables are plastic with vases of silk flowers and the chairs are metal & vinyl, there is aircon and self-service drinks from the fridge. There is also a tabletop medley of condiments that include sauces of chilli, soy, oyster and fish sauce, a canister of chopsticks, forks & spoons and a box of tissues for serviettes.
We look at the menu, all in Vietnamese with some English explanations; there are almost 6 full pages and it’s very cheap. We get a bit carried away with the ordering (breaking one of our other rules for the year which is to stop ordering too much food!).
We order everything to share (except Jay’s Pho soup).
The Duck Salad (Goi Vit) is served with rice paper sheets (Banh trang)& nuoc cham dipping sauce; you make your own!
We’ve got so many rice paper rolls that we fill them with Chao Tom which is prawn meat cooked on a stick of sugar cane.
Jay’s Pho soup comes out in a steamy cloud of heady aromas; lemongrass, chilli, mint & meat. He spends the next 15 minutes quietly slurping away.
Jay & Neen order (well, I actually order it but don’t like it so Neen takes it off my hands!) this Green & White drink which is quite strange. It’s got grass jelly, red beans, tapioca balls & rice noodles. It’s like a coconut/bean/jelly dessert but you drink it. It’s definitely an acquired-taste for me, but they like it!
Ian orders the manliest of menu items; Flaming Campfire Beef which literally comes out on fire! You blow the flames out before eating it of course!
I’m not sure when this was ordered, but some Crispy Quail Wings arrive at the table. The boys chow down. Neen & I steer clear. They are cute little baby quails after all…
And then there’s the Bo Luc Lac which is Vietnamese Shaking Beef that comes served with this thick mushroomy sauce & onions served on lettuce and fresh tomatoes.
We eat as much as possible (we’re sure the cooks are laughing at how much food we ordered) and shamefully leave the rest on the plates.
If you like Vietnamese food, Phu Quoc is amazing. Fresh, tasty, quick, cheap. Amazing. Just don’t order too much!!! (FYI all of that food plus soft drinks was $80 total)
Where: Monkey Mya, 346 Victoria St, Darlinghurst Why: February Dinner Club with the Jacksons
Earlier in the month we walked past a rowdy and funky looking Monkey Mya which Jay immediately vowed to return for his Dinner Club pick later that month…
It’s 7 o’clock Tuesday night and parking is a bitch in Darlinghurst. After driving the labyrinth of one-way streets we finally park and grab a table at Monkey Mya which is best described as a Spanish Grillhouse (it’s a little confused with Spanish, Mexican & Cuban memorabilia on the walls).
It’s got a huge list of tequilas and beers, and the food menu is basically tex-mex.
We have a shot of El Jimador (house tequila) with a Sangrita Chaser (spicy tomato, lime & salt) and drink Coronas and Dos Equis.
Tuesdays to Thursday there are nightly specials; we’re fortunate that Tuesday night is All You Can Eat Buffalo Wings for $20. This is too tempting for Jay & Ian to pass up, so they get ordering. Jay says the wings are OK but a little to “American” for his liking (ie, covered in messy sauce and so spicy you can’t taste anything for a hour afterwards!). The other downside is they’re fairly busy and there is, wait for it, one waiter. As in a single person taking orders and serving for an almost full restaurant. So although it’s all-you-can-eat that would indeed be the case if you could actually get service. Craaaazy.
Neen orders the House Smoked Beef Ribs which she says are tasty and tender. The side of corn is has a smoky, slightly spicy dressing topped with coriander.
I order Chef Arno’s Famous Nachos which are house-made tortilla chips, served with grilled chicken & salsa and sour cream/guac. When I asked the waiter how big the serve was, he indicated small with his hands, this however was not so…the char-chicken is tender and smoky and flecked with jalapenos. Delicious but a little too enormous!
The Good: The location is central and trendy. The food is fairly priced. The tequila & beer selection is fantastic. The Bad: The service was ordinary purely because they had one waiter on the floor and one bartender serving a full house. All-you-can-eat ended up being 2 small bowls of chicken wings (totaling 10 wings). Overall: a fun casual place to eat with friends, 3 out of 5
It’s a small but cute little Japanese diner on busy Cleveland Street. The food is authentic and arrives at the table really quickly. The little Japanese waitress is so friendly and is full of recommendations.
Janine & I have a Sapporo beer but the guys go for the Shochu wine which is similar to Sake and is made from potato. It’s smooth and easy to drink but is potent stuff!
We share everything; the small dishes of renkon chips which are thin wafers of crunchy root vegetable like parsnip, the edemame which are soy beans and my most favourite, the spider roll which is freshly made with a combination of soft texture from the rice and crunchy texture from the soft-shell crab and the ebi gyoza which is filled with prawns, steamed and then pan-fried.
The waygu teriyaki beef is tender and succulent. The dish has a perfect amount of wonderful teriyaki sauce which we soak up our rice.
The chicken kara-age is also so tender. We wolf it down and wish we’d ordered more!
The takeaway: a great place for Japanese food. It’s quick and delicious and the service is efficient and friendly.
Food: 4 out of 5 Service: 4 out of 5 Atmosphere: busy and buzzing with after-work patrons and locals Value: excellent
The ninth Dinner Club of the year with the Jacksons took us to try the latest Sydney foodie obsession – Latin American cuisine at Morenain Surry Hills.
Having read a review by Good Living in the SMH which gave it 13/20, I admit I was dubious with Ian’s choice. But I needn’t be. It was wonderful!
Ian has a method to picking his restaurant for Dinner Club; he googles things like “rad restaurant + Sydney” and “awesome seafood + Sydney”. Sometimes it works (Ocean’s Eleven in January this year), sometimes it doesn’t (Zaffran Indian last year) but it’s definitely entertaining! For this pick, he googled “atmosphere + Sydney restaurant” and Morena popped up.
It is a lovely space. Slightly unusual with the hanging globes filled with plants, but it has a nice warmth that generally doesn’t accompany modern decor. Our waitress is Argentinean and she’s attentive and friendly and helpful.
Para Comenzar – entree size
For his starter, Jay orders the Causas 3 which is traditional dish from the coast of Perú, based on potato mash & served w/ a selection of toppings. He had no idea what it was but decided to take a stab and try something different! He loved the small bites of salmon, spinach gnocchi and sweet potato.
Janine orders The Special of Scallops, which we’re told, is going to be included on the menu as of next month. They are pan-friend sea scallops topped with a chimichurri-type salsa and shaved slivers of some type of semi-cured fish.
Ian orders the Caramelised Crispy Skin Port Bellywhich is a dish served with cumin & lentil crisps served w/ incaberry sauce. He loves it and devours it within moments!
The review I read said this dish is amazing. It’s the Peruvian Ceviche with Pink Snapper cancha & caramelised sweet potato. The snapper is marinated in lime juice to break down the fibers, but it’s not cooked over heat. I have never tasted sweet potato like that before – the little balls of kumera are sweet and have a texture similar to rockmelon. My only negative comment is that the dish could have done without the rock-hard corn kernels. The difference in texture just doesn’t mesh well with the soft fish and sweet potato so it’s a rude shock to crunch these rock hard kernels. But overall it’s fresh and light and delicious.
Platos Principales – main course
Jay orders Seco De Alpaca which is a dish of seared alpaca backstrap w/traditional coriander & beer sauce, celeriac purée & Peruvian style carapulcra. We all have a taste of the unusual meat and it’s nothing like any other meat; it’s dense and game-y but the taste is so mild. The celeriac puree is rich and creamy. It’s definitely a different dish and it’s nice to try something different!
Neen has the Barramundi pachamanca style served w/ roasted Andean corn, bean sprouts, white asparagus, baby spinach & roasted almond purée. It’s fresh and light and the Andean corn is unique – like a giant corn kernel but with the taste and flavour of a white bean.
Ian and I order the Asado Con Chimichurri which is charcoal Argentinian style beef short ribs, smoked salt flakes w/ beats salad & chimichurri salsa. It’s melt-in-your-mouth beef with no bone. Just like a giant, tender strip. The chimichurri is delicious; grassy and garlicy and a really nice accompaniment to the meat. The beetroot smear and yellow pickled beetroots are a little random and don’t really go with the overall flavour of the dish, but they add colour and decoration to the plate. There is so much meat that I give half to Jay to finish. But it is delicious!
Dulces – desserts
The dessert menu isn’t really speaking to us but we all want something sweet, so we order anyway…
Jay has the Clasico de Arros Con Lechey Maiz Morado which is caramelised Limeño style rice pudding, purple corn jelly & semidried berries. He looks at it warily when it arrives in front of him, but one spoonful and he’s in heaven. Luckily for him, he gives me a taste and it’s yum! (It reminds me of a Bill Granger recipe I make each year on Valentines Day for Jay!) The only thing about the dish Jay doesn’t like is the purple jelly cubes which are coated with a sour sugar.
Ian orders the Tres Leches which is a traditional Latin American sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk, served w/ roasted pineapple ice cream. It is amazing. A dense but somehow fluffy sponge cake which is caramelised on the outside. It is divine. I have ordering envy.
Janine & I ask the waitress if we can just have the Pineapple Ice Cream that comes on the dish Ian ordered. It is made onsite with caramelised pineapple chunks and it’s just a nice end to the meal.
When it comes to food, I like variety. I love trying new cuisines, new cafes & restaurants and when dining at the same place, I always try something different from the menu, especially for breakfast (unlike my husband who always has the Big Breakfast with scrambled eggs).
It was no easy feat getting my husband there. He basically whined the entire 7 minute drive and the virility of his whinge was directly proportionate to the distance we put between ourselves and FFF (our usual weekend brekkie cafe)!
But get him there I did.
”]”]Three words Jay loves; All Day Breakfast. It’s 1pm, but still, it’s brunch time! From the menu there looks to be so many good options….the waitress comes over three times before we’re ready!
Jay orders The Big Breakfast which comes with potato hash, bacon, eggs “your way” (that’s scrambled for him), sausage, roasted tomato & mushrooms.
He doesn’t like the Hash, which tastes like it was made a few hours ago and the mushrooms still have their whole stalk which are chewy. He likes the eggs, bacon and sourdough toast.
I order the Potato hash stack with double-smoked ham, avocado, fresh tomato, asparagus and lemon dressed rocked topped with a poached egg.
I like everything except the Potato Hash. Again, it tastes as if it was cooked in the morning and left out. It’s basically rock hard. But the egg, salad & ham are nice and the lemon dressing is just zesty enough for my tastes.
We both have hot drinks (soy chai latte for Jay & long black for me) and they are good.
Rating: 2/5 stars Atmosphere: relaxed, mostly 20/30’s crowd, dog friendly outside Price: expensive for breakfast and value for money. Not very impressed with the pricing. Service: friendly & attentive
Last Sunday was Jay & my sixth wedding anniversary.
It was also a wonderfully long weekend; with a day off work on Friday and a public holiday (thanks Queen Elizabeth!) on Monday.
I love festivals and Jay & I have done a few things as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival (run from Sept-Oct each year). As it happens, on our anniversary a NYC jazz pianist David Raleigh was playing a club in Newtown. I got tickets for us which meant that our celebration wouldn’t be all about going out for dinner. We were going to grab a quick (& healthy) bite to eat before seeing some soulful jazz piano. I had the whole night planned out in my head….it would be an intimate and dark jazz club with a cool little bar and small round tables where we’d cozily sit, drink a nice glass of red & groove the night away to celebrate our six wonderful years together.
Sounds delightful right?!
Well, we got to the Enmore Theatre and it’s closed. Being a little early for the 7pm session we had a drink at a nearby pub to wait. 6.30pm came, club still closed. 7pm came, club still closed. It’s a Sunday evening the day before a public holiday so there is no-one to call, although I did call the event organizers and left a message. At ten-past seven we gave up and went to find a place for dinner…
We’ve been to Baja Cantina before. On that occasion it was so packed & raucous that I didn’t really get a chance to take notice of the food because my dinner partners & I were trying to yell over the ambient noise just to have a conversation!
A quick check and they do BYO and we’ve got a killer bottle of Shiraz; 2006 Grant Burge Filsell from the Barossa. The rain has set in but inside Baja Cantina it’s nice and warm and cozy; busy but not packed.
We share some house-made corn chips & salsa before our mains come out;
Enchirito for Jay, which is described as giant flour tortilla stuffed with rice, beans, cheese and salsa, smothered in enchilada sauce, Monterey Jack cheese and shredded beef.
It’s Fajitas for me! Marinated chicken with sautéed capsicum and onions, Served with salsa, cheese, crema, onions, lettuce, guacamole, rice & beans and corn tortillas. I steer clear and don’t touch any of the cheese or sour cream (go willpower!) and I only eat 2 tortillas! No 12WBT guilt at this table!
We go next door to San Churro for dessert.
We share a Citrus Tart which is deliciously orange-y!
And sip on Soy Chai Latte for Jay and Lemongrass Tea for me.
Although it wasn’t the night we had planned it was still a wonderful anniversary date night!
Being the pragmatist, the next morning I jumped online to take a screen-shot of the Jazz event (date & time etc) so that I could email the event organizers to complain about the stuff-up. On the section that says Notes with the address of the venue I notice a hyperlink attached to the ‘Notes’. It turns out Notes is the name of the venue. It’s not at the Enmore Theater and I’m in the wrong! I took us to the wrong place!!!! The actual venue was 150m down the road and of course it was open and Dave Raleigh was playing his little jazz heart out there! Whoops…don’t I feel sheepish.