The only bore you'll find at Duke Bistro is propped up at the bar, a boar's head sitting on a stool with a bottle of sriracha chilli sauce gripped in his teeth.
It's an odd sight at first, but one that underlines the devil-may-care cheekiness of this cosy bistro perched on top of the Flinders Hotel.
Duke Bistro dining room
Young guns Thomas Lim (ex-Tetsuya's) and Mitch Orr (ex-Sepia) head up the kitchen, offering a menu of "Share Plates" that read more like a shopping list of ingredients than dishes. You will find dishes described simply as "Witlof Tonnato" or "Watermelon, Zucchini Flowers, Fresh Herbs", a distillation of dishes to their core ingredients that swaggers down the page.
Champagne bottle chandelier
This cavalier attitude extends through to the decor, from the champagne bottle chandeliers in the stairwell, to the truckers cap perched jauntily on a statue above the bar.
Tea lights in tea cups
A huge leafy tree branch jammed into a bottle in the corner adds a touch of greenery. There are stacks of books on the shelves, tea lights in adorable little tea cups, and lightbulbs tucked into a row of ornamental bird cages hanging above the bar.
The dining area by the bar is primarily for couples, with small tables for two clustered on wooden floorboards. Shiny forest green walls, floral upholstered banquettes and bentwood chairs manage to look cute and kitschy on the group dining side of the room. Black conical lights - red on the inside - hang low overhead, adding a poker-game sense of intimacy in this high-ceilinged room.
White anchovies on toast $6 for two pieces
We start with white anchovies on toast, salty and tender, the slabs of baguette deliciously charred from the grill. I'd been keen to try the blood pudding, pigs ears and croutons ($8), but to my disappointment, am told it is unavailable tonight.
Kingfish gin and tonic $18
Kingfish gin and tonic arrives in a squat glass tumbler, rosettes of kingfish and cucumber garnished with a splay of micro leaves.
Kingfish gin and tonic sideview
We attack this as instructed, digging our spoons in deep to get a little bit of each layer, and are rewarded with a multi-textured mouthful that is cool and slippery, crunchy and sweet. The freshness of kingfish is magnified by cubes of cucumber. A momentary fizz on tongue catches everyone by surprise, until we realise it's the gin and tonic, set into a wobble of carbonated jelly.
Tomato, strawberry, burrata and shiso $18
Burrata is a fresh parcel of firm mozzarella that holds an oozing core of soft mozzarella and cream. If there was a porn film made with cheese, burrata would be the pool cleaner at the door.
I say this because the tomato, strawberry, burrata and shiso is so sensual it may as well come with a Barry White soundtrack. This is a dish of quivering mozzarella and a flood of cream that invades valleys of ripe luscious Heirloom tomatoes and sweet slivers of blushing red strawberries. Each complements the other, the sweetness of the strawberries enhancing the flavour of the tomato, the acidity of the tomato working well against the creaminess of the cheese, a sexy ménage à trois that will leave you blushing but wanting more.
Tater tots, Duke gravy and edamame $15
Tater tots, a teenage staple in cafeterias across American, have yet to make an appearance in Australia. The closest we have are potato gems, but true tater tots are miniature hash browns that are cylindrical in shape.
The tater tots at Duke are a much more refined version, a deep-fried patty of grated potato served on a bed of shiny edamame beans, sprigs of snowpea shoots and a rich meaty gravy. Forget the vegetables - all I want is the potato, the golden exteriors providing an irresistible audible crunch. Do not pass up the opportunity to give your best Napoleon Dynamite impression and ask "Are you gonna eat your tots?"
Fried chicken wings, coleslaw milk and hot sauce $10 for four pieces
The homage to American fast food continues with fried chicken wings. A slick of coleslaw milk has the same tang you'd find at the bottom of a coleslaw tub, a whimsical idea although I'd rather have the cabbage along with it too.
Sriracha chilli sauce
A miniature bottle of hot sauce is not from Louisiana nor Mexico, but is actually sriracha chilli sauce, best added in small dabs on the chicken for a fiery garlic burst.
Egg, seasonal mushrooms and almonds $15
Our waitress pours a beaker of consomme over our egg, seasonal mushrooms and almonds, the egg white pierced to release a puddle of sunny yolk. A swirl with a fork muddles the yolk between a jumble of mushrooms that includes oyster, enoki, cloud ear and snow fungus. The stock is clear and sweet and we dredge every last drop from the bowl with our spoons.
Wagyu, herb dressing and baby gem lettuce $24
Wagyu steak is a modest portion, not the most tender cut I've had, but a half head of baby gem lettuce provides an interesting flavour contrast, the leaves flamegrilled to a bitter smoky charr.
Lamb belly, cumin, eggplant and pearl onions $16
We finish with lamb belly, layers of fat, skin and meat that is satisfyingly chewy, reminiscent of speck. Daubs of eggplant puree are smoky and smooth, and petals of pearl onions shimmer with sweetness.
Fun and flirty, who wants to hang out with a cranky old King when the Duke is ready to party?
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Upstairs at the Flinders Hotel
65 Flinders Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9332 3180
Tuesday and Wednesday 7pm-12ish
Friday and Saturday 7pm-2ish
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12/20/2010 02:03:00 am