What could I possibly have to say about Sydney that hasn't already been said? I'd heard that it's a beautiful city blessed with a spectacular setting. It is.
I'd heard that it's nearly impossible to get a bad cup of coffee in Sydney. From our admittedly limited experience, this seems to be the case. Generations of Italian immigrants seem to have insured that every latte will be topped with a perfect, soft froth of milk and every cappucino with the ultimate crema -- in contrast to the sorry, airhole-pocked foam that too often bobs atop these beverages in the U.S.
I'd heard the locals are laid-back and friendly and they do seem to be. In fact, I was waited on and helped by a number of teenagers while in Sydney; strangely enough not one snarled, smirked, or otherwise copped an attitude. Instead, they -- and every Sydneysider (Sydney-ite?) we came in to contact with -- were convivial to the max. I've heard that Australians bemoan customer service standards in their country. I say, just try ordering a foam-topped cappucino at some arty-farty coffee shop, or attempt to flag down any help in the average clothing store, inthe U.S., and you'll really know what sullen service is.
And when it comes to food ... well, on second thought, I do have a bit to share about Sydney. Too much, in fact, for one post. Before getting to the meat of the matter (Bests, Worsts, Absolutely the Most Nightmarish Restaurant Experience in My Life EVER -- ANYWHERE, Must-Eats ... stuff like that) in my next post, I'll open with a fantastic lunch in a groovy little restaurant/cafe in what seems to be an up-and-coming good food 'hood, that happens to have some fine graffiti gracing its alleys.
I'm referring here to Surry Hills. Not the swanky part of Surry Hills anchored by the street -- is it Waterloo? Crown? -- that's home to bill's 2 Surry Hills (no, we didn't eat at either bill's. Might've if we'd had more time. I've nothing against bill's, I know it's a Sydney institution and I'm sure the grub is mighty fine. To tell the truth though, isn't there something just a little bit creepy about how Bill Granger, on his cooking shows, flashes his pearly whites after every single sentence? Anyhow, maybe next trip.)
I'm referring to a small patch of Surry Hills a bit further south, where Devonshire meets Bourke (and a few blocks up and down and to the east). Quiet, tree-lined streets lined with vintage semi-d's adorned with wrought-iron gingerbread. A few quirky boutiques, small eateries turning out tasty nibbles, a youngish population, lots of dog lovers (a positive in my book).
As it's name suggests, Book Kitchen is both a cafe and a bookstore. The selection of books is limited to cookery and other food-related books, primarily by Australian authors. The selection of dishes is limited to delicious stuff.
Ambiance is casual, service is friendly (and indulgent -- our waitress didn't blink an eye when we changed our order three times -- perhaps she suspected we were visitors the clock running and too much Sydney fare yet untried), fare is simple but crafted with the frehest, best ingredients.
This is a breakfast and lunch place, and the entire menu is available all day long. Which means you can have eggs at two in the afternoon, if that's what floats your boat. It did ours.
Behold my Spanish baked eggs. Not sure the photo does it justice; what we have here are two eggs done just right (yolks still plenty runny but none of that mucous-y goo that is the hallmark of an underdone white), slices of freshly-roasted red capsicum with bits of char still intact, shower of chopped Italian parsley and hand-torn fresh oregano leaves, a sprinkle of jazzy Spanish smoked paprika, on thick slice of lightly toasted dense and chewy, not-too-tangy sourdough. The lot drizzled, not doused, with good-quality, peppery olive oil. Easy dish, but deceptively hard for a cafe (or me, for that matter) to do well.
And Dave's brekkie sandwich.
I didn't actually taste this porky, eggy bun-full (Dave wouldn't share ... maybe because I wouldn't), but from an arm's length away I got a clear schnoz-full of salted, smoked, bacon-y perfume that made me salivate like you-know-who's dog (this even as I was devouring my eggs). Dave pronounced this sam worthy of any rabid sandwich connoisseur's (he's part of that club) devotion, and I believe him.
And since we're carbo-loaders (just big eaters, actually), a side of chips, with malt vinegar and a saucer of crunchy sea salt (a wee bit precious perhaps, but in my book half of the appeal of chips is the salt they're sprinkled with, so why not make it a good one?).
Really more oven fries than properly, deep-fried chips (I imagine more than a few chips lovers are sneering at this very moment), these spud sticks were nonetheless golden and roast-y tasting and not at all limp, lovely dippers for the vinegar. I grew up eating ketchup (Heinz only) with my fries, but I am beginning to understand the attraction of accompanying them with a sour liquid instead.
We weren't sated after lunch -- well, that's not true, we were extremely, close-to-bursting sated, but when has that ever stopped me from pursuing gastronomic temptation when it looks me square in the eye? So we stepped just across the street into a tiny breast pocket of a bakery right on the corner of Devonshire and Bourke.
This primarily take-out shop, which nonetheless serves coffee and sandwiches at one small window table and one outdoor table as well, was really doing the biz (the cash register jockey sent more than a few disappointed souls out the door with the news that the spelt bread had sold out) and no wonder; the aromas wafting out from the kitchen and hovering around the display case were intoxicating. Too much to tempt (including a luscious looking foccacia with black olives, oven-dried tomatoes and fresh rosemary) and, alas, not nearly enough empty space in my stomach.
I settled on a single ginger brulee tart topped with chopped pistachios (middle above). Creme brulee is a dessert that many restaurants attempt and few get right, and here it was in a substantial yet flaky pastry shell, heavily flavored with peppery ginger that did a nice job of cutting right through the rich, rich, rich custard, with a crisp, caramelized surface. Should have gotten 500 to go.
Can't recommend this yummy little corner of scrumptious Sydney highly enough. We discovered, as we were leaving Book Kitchen, that it's now open for dinner Thurs-Sat. I'm still carrying the xeroxed menu in my wallet (why? the only answer I come up with is that I'm a masochist). How I wish we'd had an extra evening to return for dishes like: ricotta dumplings with sage butter and bosco pear, tomato tart with tomato crisps and roast garlic fritters, fricassee of Barossa Valley rabbit with sauteed potato and fresh horseradish, roast spring lamb rump with blue cheese pithivier and eggplant salad ..... you get the picture.
Book Kitchen, 255 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, tel. 9310-1003. No-name bakery ('cause I didn't get the name, not because it doesn't have one), right at the corner of Devonshire and Bourke Streets.