How can you eat a meal by Warren Turnbull for only $10? It's easy.
We all know Warren Turnbull as the head chef and owner of both Restaurant Assiette and District Dining, but few people realise that Warren and his team design and prepare the bar food menu at the cheap and cheerful Central Hotel.
The Central Hotel sits beneath District Dining, facing the Devonshire Street entrance to Central train station. It's a low-key pub that's undergone a recent makeover - timber tables inside and out - with white plastic chairs arranged neatly on the footpath. The only drag is the never-ending melody of pokies in the background - still audible through the thin panelling of the games room.
There's only a small note at the top of the menu that lets you know the food comes from the same kitchen as District Dining. We'd originally arrived at the pub seeking beer and a quick feed, not realising it was connected to Warren's kitchen.The menu is brief and surprisingly simple - it wouldn't look out of place on any other pub menu.
Cherry tomato, bocconcini and basil pizza $12
When the food arrives, however, the difference is immediate.The pizzas arrive on rustic wooden panels, the thin crisp dough covered with a light smattering of toppings.
Garlic prawns, chilli and rocket pizza $16
The garlic prawn pizza is probably our least favourite of the ones we have ordered, missing the sticky olive oil sweetness we'd anticipated, but the cherry tomato, bocconcini and basil pizza is bright in colour, and fresh in flavour.
Mushroom, feta and caramelised onion pizza $12
The unanimous winner is the mushroom, feta and caramelised onion pizza, dotted with button mushrooms, sweet with onion and tangy with feta.
Tomato and feta salad with toasted olive bread $14
We share the tomato and feta salad, fat chunks of tomato mixed with red onion, crumbled feta and parsley leaves. I found the salad a little on the soggy side, which also made me wish the thin slice of olive bread was toasted to a crunch, and not just a pale scorch.
There's usually at least one special on the blackboard. Today it's is the steak and chips. A mini jug of gravy is provided for you to pour ceremoniously over the steak. The steak is seared and cooked brilliantly.
Roasted pork belly sandwich with fennel, watercress and apple sauce $10 (blackboard special)
I'd ordered the roast pork belly sandwich, a special that was taped to the drinks fridge behind the bar. It was as good as I hoped it would be. Possibly more.
Lunch was a bounty of meltingly tender pork, small but sticky wads of fat and splintered chards of pork crackling slapped between two thick slices of chewy sourdough bread. There was fennel and watercress and a slather of apple sauce. I almost wept with gratitude with every bite.
And what's better than a bargain lunch by Warren? Finishing with dessert at District Dining. Another light bulb moment.
The entrance to District Dining is only around the corner, and the maitre'd is happy to allow us in for desserts only. We explain by saying we've already had lunch, and when we confess that we'd eaten downstairs, our waitress laughs and says "Wait until I tell the kitchen. They'll think it's hilarious."
Buttermilk pannacotta, spiced peaches and mint $12
There are four desserts on the menu, so we simply order one of each and share. Buttermilk pannacotta has a slight yoghurty tang, served alongside one of District Dining's signature sardine tins holding spiced peaches, jelly, and pistachio slivers.
Strawberries, raspberries, meringue and vanilla cream $12
The bowl of strawberries, raspberries, meringue and vanilla cream is relatively unchanged from our first encounter with it in November last year. What has been added are rivers of berry puree and edible flowers. This is still a light and fruity dessert that isn't overly sweet.
Coconut financier, white chocolate ice cream and caramelised pineapple $12
We relish the scoop of white chocolate ice cream on top of the coconut financier, a moist slice of coconut and almond cake. The cake was presented with slices of caramelised pineapple and sprigs of coriander, and we found that eating the cake, pineapple and coriander together gave a completely different twist to the dish.
Chocolate parfait, banana cream and peanut brittle $12
But the dessert I kept returning to was the terracotta pot of chocolate parfait, banana cream and peanut brittle. We broke through the layer of peanut brittle crumbs to scoop up a fluffy chocolate parfait and smooth banana cream. The dessert was sexy, silky and left crumbs of toffee in the corners of your mouth. It was ridiculously good.
Who said eating well had to be expensive?
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3/23/2011 01:57:00 am