Our good ol' 'hood of Surry Hills sees the opening of yet another eatery - District Dining, the slightly more casual sister of Assiette just up the road.
On Thursday evening, when my old pal Ms Booth and I got together for one of our very irregular eat-drink-catch-up sessions, it was toss-up between going to Berta (also quite new, also an off-shoot of another more established eat-shop, Vini, also in Surry Hills) and District Dining. The latter won because Ms Booth is "quite a fan of Warren Turnbull", the chef. Haha. Me, I simply like what he does with food.
And when the food got delivered to our table, we weren't disappointed. (No what-we-ate-piccies but I've circled, on the menu, in red of what we ate - click on images to read.) Classic Warren-Turnbull-combos of simple ingredients put together to make dishes that taste bigger than the sum of what's gone into them.
To taste more off his menu, Ms Booth and I went our usual create-our-own-share-meal route instead of the standard entree-and-main one - the menu, like those of so many other places in Sydney, was worked so diners have the option of doing one or the other, or both. We had an all-entree meal:
~ King Crab, Sweetcorn Fritters, Basil - The fried crab and corn were delightful but it was the creamy basil dip that made a big impression. The pleasant hit of slow-burning chilli in it was totally unexpected. And I love to be surprised when eating.
~ Smoked Eel Pate, Cucumber, Green Onion Flatbread - I saw "smoked eel" written on the blackboard the moment we walked in and I knew we had to have it. From time to time, I still dream of the little morsels of smoked eel cromeski that I had at Assiette a long time back. I love eating that smoky snake-y fish and I was so happy to see that the chef still uses it.
~ Crispy Quail Eggs, Tarragon, Anchovy Mayonnaise - A very good example of what I meant when I said that Warren Turnbull's dishes taste bigger than the sum of the simple ingredients that have gone into making them. Reading it on paper and imagining how this dish would taste in your head will not prepare you for how it will taste in your mouth! To eat: Take one tiny lightly-crumbed egg, carefully cut the top off so you don't waste (or squirt, like I did) the precious runny yolk within, stuff it with one of the whole anchovies, smear it with the mayo and pop it in your mouth. I can eat it everyday!
~ Marinated Tuna, Wasabi Pannacotta, Soy Beans, Daikon - The wasabi pannacotta was what got us intrigued. It wasn't really a pannacotta but it worked so well with the delicately-marinated fish that we aren't complaining.
~ Seared Scallops, Cauliflower, Raisin, Dukkah - Reminded me of the scallop+cauliflower dish I had at Assiette. Perfectly cooked scallops with a cauliflower puree except the sweet element, the Pedro Ximenez (this sherry was all the rage a few years ago), has been replaced by a sticky raisin reduction of some sort. Still just as delicious.
~ Strawberries, Raspberries, Meringue, Vanilla Cream - This was the dessert that we thought we ordered. Kind of a pavlova/Eton Mess-type dessert. Instead, we got strawberries, berry-flavoured vanilla cream, very little bits of meringue, topped with a quenelle of berry sorbet. Similar (and delicious), just not what we had already planted in our heads. Then we realised why the waiter had said, "Strawberries and cream for dessert, ladies?" instead of what's written on the menu. Maybe the apprentice fucked up the day's batch of meringue or they had sold out but he should have made it clear to us.
Which brings us to the subject of service. While Ms Booth and I are not fans of the super-surly waitstaff at Assiette, I do like that they are efficient. At District Dining, we had a total of four different floor staff serve us at different times of the evening. What happened to having one waiter looking after a table for consistency and seamlessness in service? We were asked for our wine order twice and when our glasses were empty, the waitstaff (the one who didn't take our order) didn't know from which of the bottles kept iced at the waiter's station to pour from. When we cancelled our order for a side of french fries, again, the waitstaff who didn't take our order, took away not only the fries but also the tuna dish which we still wanted to have. This is not a big whinge about service - they were all polite albeit a little all-over-the-place - and it didn't spoil our evening but we think it's such a shame that the competency of the front-of-house doesn't match that of the kitchen.
17 Randle Street
Phone: (02) 9211 7798
Opening Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday - Lunch from 12noon to 3pm & dinner from 6pm to 11pm
Friday from 12noon to 11pm