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Monday, November 08, 2010

District Dining, Surry Hills

EDIT: District Dining has closed

It's a sardine tin!

Words cannot describe my giddy excitement when I spot the sardine tin with "District Dining" printed on the sticker on its side. It's the kind of excitement reminiscent of your six-year-old self on Christmas morning, a sense of wonderment and joy that greets the arrival of each dish during our weekend lunch at District Dining.

District Dining is the latest venture by Warren Turnbull, a modern bistro that offers a more casual approach to food than his two-hatted restaurant Assiette. A rapid renovation has created a bright and airy space, warm with wood-panelled walls, and plenty of light streaming in through the large windows. The old carpet was ripped up and replaced with timber flooring, and huge blackboards chalked with specials add to the cosy bistro feel.

Dining room

District Dining has only been open for three weeks and we find it pleasantly quiet for a Saturday lunch. One dad is having a late breakfast with his young toddler daughter, a small group of friends have gathered for lunch and I also happen to bump into John, who has secured a sun-drenched table with Mr K by the window.


The Lido bar area with large windows, plants and a view over Chalmers Street

Allpress flat white $4

We start with drinks whilst we wait for everyone to arrive. The coffee here is Allpress which I find smooth but a little mild on this occasion.

Angel wing tongs and sugar cubes

It's K who notices the tongs in the sugar bowl first, a set of tongs with angel wings that provide a preview of the playful plating to come.

King crab sweet corn fritters with basil $14

Chopping boards will prove to be a common feature, the first bearing a crumple of brown paper that holds a tumble of King crab sweet corn fritters, deep-fried until golden.

Charcuterie platter $35
[clockwise from bottom]: Salami tartufo, petite fuet, jamon serrano,
wagyu bresaola and fuet anis

There's a loud chorus of oohs when our charcuterie platter arrives, a buffet of wafer-thin shavings of smallgoods served with a tiny bowl of piccalilli. We alternate slices of jamon serrano and wagyu bresaola with nibbles of pickled onion, carrot and cauliflower. Fuet is a dry-cured Spanish pork sausage, and we savour both the fuet anis and the petite fuet, the latter reminding me of lap cheong dried Chinese pork sausage without the sweetness. Salami tartufo comes with lovely specks of truffle that add a subtle enhancement.

Crispy school prawns with lime aioli $15

Crispy school prawns, a blackboard special, prove to be a generous serving. It's just as well, as our group of eight demolish these with ferocity. Doused with lemon juice and dipped in lime aioli, we crunch these down shell and all, revelling in their freshness and intense prawn flavour.

Pork belly with fennel salt, lime and kimchi $24

Our dishes have been split up into courses of three, suiting both the kitchen and, happily enough, our production line of assistants who maneouvre dishes down the table so each can be photographed.

Round Two brings us pork belly, two thick slabs of fat-ribboned pork that melts in the mouth, topped with a tile of crisp pork crackling. A mound of kimchee provides a Korean touch to this dish, lengths of chilli pickled Chinese cabbage that pack some punch and offset the richness of the pork.

Veal tongue, pickled turnip, salsa verde and almonds $16

I almost feel obliged to break out into a round of applause when the veal tongue arrives, an exquisitely plated dish that marries colour with elegance. A slick of vivid green salsa verde carries a tide of veal tongue, pickled carrot, and baby turnips in candy pink. The veal tongue, seared to a gentle crisp on one side, is soft and tender. This is easily my favourite dish of the day.

Heirloom tomato, mojama, haloumi and pickled red onion $16

A salad of heirloom tomatoes offers a vibrant mix of hues, the sweetness of the tomatoes contrasted--and perhaps slightly overwhelmed--by straws of pan-fried haloumi, shards of toasted olive bread and wisps of mojama salt-cured tuna.

Crispy fried chicken with coleslaw and lime aioli $24

Deciding on our dishes to share had been a collaborative effort, and I'm relieved I wasn't the only person to feel their eyes drawn to the promise of crispy fried chicken.

Crispy fried chicken

The chicken is not the Southern-fried chicken on the bone I'd been hopefully anticipating, but fillets of chicken coated in batter and fried. Even though the chicken is juicy and succulent, I'd been quite looking forward to eating chicken on the bone. I find the coleslaw is more of a cabbage in vinaigrette than a mayonnaise-fest too, although we do cluck over its presentation in a miniature paella pan.

Smoked eel pate with cucumber and green onion flatbread $16

The aforementioned sardine tin holds the smoked eel pate, a smooth paste that is deliciously smoky and buttery with eel. The green onion flatbread is smothered in salsa verde, perhaps a little too much, as I find this detracts from the eel pate that deserves the spotlight on its own.

Riverine premium sirloin with green harissa and kipfler potato $28

Riverine premium sirloin is cooked to mouthwatering perfection, the plump fillet served on a puddle of deceptively spicy green harissa. A petite copper pot hides a serving of kipler potatoes.

Pork brawn with piccalilli and green onion flatbread $16

The pork brawn, our waiter explains, comes from a pigs head that has been boiled, picked and then covered in aspic. A pathway of piccalilli is impeccably straight, leading us to presume a rectangular mold was used to create such defined edges. The brawn offers up a range of pork textures, and the salsa verde-basted flatbread seems to work better here.

What happened to the pork skin? Pig Flyin' asks. It's gone to heaven, we're told with a laugh.

Pork brawn

WA scampi cannelloni with tomato, asparagus and coriander $20

We find a bonanza of sweet and tender whole scampi rolled into the log of cannelloni, surrounded by a medley of cherry tomatoes, asparagus and baby coriander leaves.

Seared scallops with cauliflower, raisin and dukkah $18

Towers of barely-seared scallops rise from the next plate, served with the silkiest mounds of cauliflower puree and dabs of sweet and sticky raisin sauce. My only quibble is the dukkah, a rubble of sesame seeds, hazelnut and spices that instantly lodge themselves between my teeth, and seems to interfere with the delicate texture and flavour of the scallop.

Castricum lamb shoulder with cumin, honey and baby carrots $24

We finish with Castricum lamb shoulder, another triumph of slow cooking that results in incredible tenderness. Three cumin-dusted carrots perch on top, scattered with toasted pinenuts, but it's the saffron-coloured carrot puree that steals the show, silkier than your sexiest negligee.

Cheese menu

The beauty of dining in a large group is the power to order one of everything on the dessert menu. This is relatively feasible at District Dining where only four desserts are on offer, but we do pass up the offer of cheese, even though the cheese collection does look rather intriguing.

Efi's rice pudding with cinnamon ice cream $12

A glass jar of creamy rice pudding is the kind of dessert you want to curl up on the lounge to leisurely eat with a small spoon. Cinnamon ice cream is a clever accompaniment although it's a bit of a challenge trying to eat all the ice cream before it melts all over the chopping board.

Buttermilk pannacotta with blood orange granita $12

A wide-mouthed preserves jar is the serving piece for a firm buttermilk pannacotta. It's topped with a blood orange granita that is bittersweet, icy and refreshing.

Coffee brulee with chocolate madeleine $12

A series of determined taps are required to break through the layer of toffee protecting a smooth and satiny coffee brulee. Plated to one side are two clam shells of chocolate madeleines that are soft and moist. Our group is so enamoured by the pannacotta and the coffee brulee that we order another one of each immediately.

Strawberries, raspberries, meringue and vanilla cream $12

But I'm secretly in love with the strawberries, raspberries, meringue and vanilla cream, Warren's version of the classic Eton Mess. Freeze-dried raspberries cavort with fresh strawberries in a lip-smacking glory of raspberry sorbet, crumbled meringue and pillowy depths of whipped cream.

The Mondrian-style mural at the entrance is not just a welcome splash of colour on the street, but also offers a useful navigation tool when we map our next port of call - Bourke Street Bakery.

I like how the aerial map creates a fun approach to viewing Surry Hills that makes us want to explore even more. We feel the same way about District Dining's approach to food.

View Larger Map
District Dining on Urbanspoon

District Dining CLOSED
17 Randle Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 7798

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Thursday 12pm-3pm and 6pm-11pm
Friday 12pm-11pm
Saturday 12pm-3pm and 6pm-11pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
District Dining (Mar11) 

Surry Hills - Bentley
Surry Hills - Bird Cow Fish
Surry Hills - Bodega Tapas Bar
Surry Hills - Boteco
Surry Hills - bills
Surry Hills - Le Monde
Surry Hills - Single Origin
Surry Hills - Spice I Am
Surry Hills - Sugarcane
Surry Hills - The Smokehouse

Congratulations to Nuta, vlt06 and Katie - you have each won a four-pack of Endeavour True Vintage Beer.

Missed out this time? Don't forget to enter the competitions still open:
> Win a Mexican/Spanish spice kit worth $50
(entries close Tuesday 16 November 2010)

> Win a Braun Multiquick Cordless worth $249.95
(entries close Monday 22 November 2010)

(entries close Monday 29 November 2010)
25 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 11/08/2010 12:48:00 am


  • At 11/08/2010 1:20 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    nawww i want angel wing tongs! and zomg such beautiful presentations esp the desserts mmm eton mess

  • At 11/08/2010 2:03 am, Anonymous billy @ a table for two said…

    Boy, an epic feast and every dish is almost flawless with clever pairing of ingredients. I wish I can do with a school of prawns right now, crunch from head to tail all the way!

  • At 11/08/2010 2:27 am, Anonymous Vintage Macaroon said…

    Smoked eel, I love smoked eel and I can't wait to taste Australian school prawns again, nothing beats them!

  • At 11/08/2010 7:43 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    This place is definitely a must-try! Smoked eel, yum ....

  • At 11/08/2010 8:19 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Can I add that the little girl ate all of her huge portion of salmon! God knows where she fit it. Great food all round and so much more I wanted to try, such as the tongue and charcuterie. Next time!

  • At 11/08/2010 8:28 am, Blogger K said…

    "silkier than your sexiest negligee": CLASSIC!
    It was great having a progressive lunch, helps with the digestion and not have to fight everyone for food. Ha!

  • At 11/08/2010 8:54 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Very interesting place! I was hoping to see a shot of John after seeing photo of you on his blog.

  • At 11/08/2010 9:19 am, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    Seeing the charcuterie platter made my stomach rumble out loud!

    Kimchi kinda looked like it wasn't. Like it was kimchi-inspired rather than just kimchi. Interesting that they would go with that flavour combo considering the other, more contemporary dishes.

  • At 11/08/2010 9:30 am, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    Now THAT's a charcuterie plate. The food and presentation are all top notch, and the prices are reasonable, too - this has to be the place to be.

  • At 11/08/2010 10:37 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    WOW - the food looks amazing! can't wait to go this week!

  • At 11/08/2010 11:58 am, Anonymous Leona said…

    This looks amazing helen! zomg I want that smoked eel it looks very intriguing and so does that veal tongue!

    I love how most of the stuff seems to be in jars or mini pots. It looks like a meal that is fun to eat.

  • At 11/08/2010 12:13 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    The dishes look amazing and I love the presentation as well, particularly the little tin and the preserve jars! Everything looks impeccable, I'm dying to go here now!

  • At 11/08/2010 12:31 pm, Blogger Mel said…

    I want those prawns...they look so crispy and tasty.

  • At 11/08/2010 2:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Be still my heart! All those dishes look spectacular in presentation and wow factor! That pork belly drooolllllll

  • At 11/08/2010 2:38 pm, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Fantabulous pics! Is that the entire menu??
    I'm looking forward to going this week for dinner :)

  • At 11/08/2010 3:41 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    I need to make some new friends more dedicated to the dessert side of the menu, so that we can order one of everything when we go out! At the moment, most people seem done by mains. Boo!

    In other words... I want that cinnamon ice cream.

  • At 11/08/2010 6:28 pm, Anonymous William@beer club said…

    Those look some absolutely delicious dishes and beautifully photographed. I will have to make a special visit next time I'm in the Surrey Hills area.

  • At 11/08/2010 6:50 pm, Anonymous Trissa said…

    Well you first caught my attention with the crab fritters, then I saw the fried prawns... then I just couldn't stop gawking the the rest of the food - I had to go back just to read the post again because I was too mesmerized with the food. That's it - Im going soon!

  • At 11/08/2010 9:26 pm, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Looks like a great feast! And that mural is very striking. Was the visit to BSB afterwards for takeway? =D

  • At 11/08/2010 9:43 pm, Blogger Monica ^o^ said…

    I cannot believe I didn't notice the angel wing tongs ! >_< It was right in front of me aarhh !!
    The pork brawn dish looked interesting..might convince my friends to return for another visit :D

  • At 11/08/2010 11:59 pm, Blogger Viv said…

    i shouldn't be reading this at this time of the night...sooo hungry just looking at the crispy prawn and the beautifully presented dishes...hmmm veal tongue..haha

  • At 11/09/2010 1:05 pm, Anonymous Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said…

    Gorgeous looking dishes! I can see why every dish brought you more excitement. Even the cheese menu looks superb!

  • At 11/10/2010 12:00 pm, Blogger susan said…

    you must have sampled everything on the menu! The presentation of everything looks fantastic.

    I always love a good eton mess, it's such an easy dessert to make and the flavours work magically!

  • At 11/15/2010 9:34 am, Blogger spicyicecream said…

    I should know by now not to read your blog before breakfast! I've been hearing such good things about this place and after seeing your pictures I HAVE to try it. Wow, everything looks incredible.

  • At 11/17/2010 2:00 pm, Anonymous Sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    There wasn't a single dish I didn't like the look of. The tongs are way cute


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