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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Central Hotel and District Dining, Surry Hills

EDIT: District Dining has closed

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.

Steak and chips $12 (blackboard special)

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.

District Dining

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?

View Larger Map
Central Hotel on Urbanspoon
District Dining on Urbanspoon
42 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9212 3814
Bar menu available 7 days 12pm - 11pm

17 Randle Street, Surry Hills Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 7798
Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday 12pm - 3pm and 6pm - 11pm
Friday 12pm - 11pm

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24 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/23/2011 01:57:00 am


  • At 3/23/2011 2:07 am, Anonymous eatmarvin said…

    Hi Helen! OMFG! That Pork Belly Sandwich looks so tempting. I know it's bad for me, and doesn't help my waistline... but I must have it!

  • At 3/23/2011 3:20 am, Anonymous Donald said…

    My stomach is graving. This really looks tempting. Since I'm in a diet, I will just imaging this come out from my monitor and eat. LOL!

  • At 3/23/2011 4:45 am, Anonymous carol said…

    will definately add this to my list when income over to Sydney in May.

  • At 3/23/2011 4:48 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Yum, roasted pork belly sambo. :-)

  • At 3/23/2011 7:55 am, Anonymous JasmyneTea said…

    I haven't had a chance to venture into Surrey Hills, but for when I do, you've just added another two places to my already huge list of places to try, so thank you!

  • At 3/23/2011 8:21 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Oooh, new DD desserts!

    That's probably close to the best looking pub food I've ever seen. The sandwiches are things of beauty!

  • At 3/23/2011 9:02 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Roast pork belly sandwich with fennel! Hello, I'm there! Oh my, and the pizzas aren't half bad either.

  • At 3/23/2011 9:40 am, Blogger KayB said…

    Try the lamb pizza next time, it's a total winner!

  • At 3/23/2011 10:02 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    haha that is hilarious that you guys went upstairs for dessert! that pork belly sandwich makes me want to weep too.

  • At 3/23/2011 10:38 am, Blogger spicyicecream said…

    This looks so good, especially that amazing pork belly sandwich and the chocolate parfait. Is it lunch time yet??

  • At 3/23/2011 10:40 am, Blogger Mel said…

    I must have that roast pork belly sambo - it would be GREAT if they put it on the permanent menu so we're guaranteed being able to order it.

  • At 3/23/2011 10:47 am, Anonymous Zina @ tastedbytwo said…

    What a find Helen! Everything you ordered looked delicious, especially the desserts.

  • At 3/23/2011 12:03 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    omg pork belly sandwich and I love how there's that extra piece of crackling that's fallen out - yum!!

  • At 3/23/2011 12:10 pm, Anonymous Melissa said…

    love all the desserts from district dining. i must try that out sometime.

  • At 3/23/2011 1:45 pm, Blogger leetranlam said…

    Thanks for sharing this great secret (and reading the tiny tiny print to pick up this detail)! I like how you can get the best of both worlds with short walk to sample DD dessert, too. Sort of like a progressive dinner party!

  • At 3/23/2011 2:39 pm, Blogger Jasmin said…

    I walk past this place all the time. How did I ever miss this?
    It's now a must visit on our list. That sandwich looks amazing.

  • At 3/23/2011 3:56 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh, I really thought the raspberry dessert would do me, but then chocolate, banana, and peanuts... Helen, how you taunt me so!

  • At 3/24/2011 12:41 pm, Blogger muppy said…

    Oh my that pork belly sandwich looks incredible, and those desserts amazing.

  • At 3/24/2011 3:17 pm, Blogger Brenda said…

    Ohhhhh if I was still working around the corner I'd be here all the time!!! This is pub food at it's best!

  • At 3/24/2011 11:48 pm, Blogger Jen said…

    Wow what a revelation! I still have to get to District Dining but it's refreshing to see chefs doing good pub food too.

  • At 3/25/2011 8:52 am, Anonymous Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said…

    Oh gawd - why did I have to read this? Now that pork belly sandwich will be sounding its siren call. What a great find!

  • At 3/27/2011 1:32 pm, Anonymous sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    I really like the way District Dinning present their dishes, there is a bit of fun to it.

  • At 3/28/2011 1:08 am, Blogger Viv said…

    i love how the food are served on the wooden boards! fancy pub food - def look more expensive than they are!

  • At 3/28/2011 1:45 pm, Blogger susan said…

    All that food looks amazing, the pork belly sandwich especially!


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