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Monday, December 20, 2010

Duke Bistro, Darlinghurst

EDIT: Duke Bistro has closed.

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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Duke Bistro on Urbanspoon

Duke Bistro (CLOSED)
Upstairs at the Flinders Hotel
65 Flinders Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9332 3180

Opening hours:
Tuesday and Wednesday 7pm-12ish
Thursday 7pm-1ish
Friday and Saturday 7pm-2ish
14 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 12/20/2010 02:03:00 am


  • At 12/20/2010 8:15 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Love the decor here, but I don't understand the appeal of tater tots!

  • At 12/20/2010 8:37 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Looks like the new place du jour :) Will have to head in sometime next year now...

  • At 12/20/2010 9:12 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow! The boar effect! Heard a lot of good reviews about this place. Must check it out soon :)

  • At 12/20/2010 9:40 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    you had be squirming in jealousy over your description of the burrata!

  • At 12/20/2010 10:26 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    You've definitely got me curious to try this place. The burrata looks droolworthy and the chicken sounds good too!

  • At 12/20/2010 10:27 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    oh i love this restaurant! it opens late too so great for a late night snack :)

  • At 12/20/2010 10:36 am, Blogger Shelsta said…

    Every time I hear the words Tater Tot, all I think of is this: http://www.duggarfamily.com/recipes.html

    The people with 19 kids who make Tater Tot Casserole.

    Nonetheless... I'm keen to go and try them!

  • At 12/20/2010 11:20 am, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    What a fun and quirky place! OMG at the burrata and I had to giggle at your description of it. Now where can I sign myself up for this pool cleaner, umm I mean burrata :P

  • At 12/20/2010 12:10 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    The kingfish gin and tonic has me intrigued! But like everyone else, how could I not want to eat that burrata dish after your description?! Sounds like a cool place, hopefully I can go and check it out soon

  • At 12/20/2010 1:41 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    This is some of the most beautiful food I've seen in the blogosphere this week - in fact, it's almost beautiful enough to help me over the shock of seeing that boar's head when I wasn't expecting it :P

    Love the sound of the Tater Tots dish, particularly as I've had an odd craving for the supermarket kind for several weeks now...

  • At 12/20/2010 9:59 pm, Anonymous Lily said…

    Oh I want to try this burrata. It sounds so yummy. I have never heard of coleslaw milk!

  • At 12/20/2010 10:40 pm, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    Oh *blush*! Burrata can definitely be my pool cleaner.

  • At 12/21/2010 10:00 pm, Anonymous sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    I love the quirkiness of this place and food with a twist. This is a must try I think.

  • At 1/04/2011 12:31 pm, Blogger susan said…

    What a great review! That fried chicken is making my mouth water!


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