By Claudia Siron
Soul Dining – Surry Hills
Tucked away in Surry Hills’ bustling dining precinct sits Soul Dining – contemporary Korean dining with a kick.
SOUL Dining’s head chef Daero Lee and partner Illa Kim offer an exciting and unique dining experience with a stylish yet cosy interior and an utterly flavoursome menu featuring beautifully presented dishes made from unusual and tempting combinations of ingredients and cooking styles from Korea, Germany, Italy, France, Japan and Australia.
The restaurant boasts a dull and muted colour scheme with tones of dark charcoal, matte greys and velvet blues. As you take your seat at one of the few tables inside the quaint establishment, high-end service awaits you.
My plus one Liam and I sampled an array of drinks as well as the tasting menu – a mix of different tangs and zests that played with our senses. We can safely say we adored every bite and every sip throughout the evening.
We started with the ‘Aloe Aloe?’ cocktail and ‘Kim-Let’. The Kim-Let drink is a unique concoction of tanqueray, korean blackberry shrub and lime. As this was Liam’s drink, he commented on how if an indecisive newcomer didn’t know what to order, he would definitely recommend this.
I tried the Aloe cocktail, a sweet and fresh fusion of hendricks, st germain, korean aloe vera jam, lime and cucumber. The candied cocktail was the perfect drink to start off the evening on a sweet note.
We began with the most simple of dishes – bread and butter – but with a slight twist that made this an instant fan-favourite at our table. The freshly baked dough was topped with whipped and smoked butter and applewood – the consistency was airy and the salty flavours made it an utterly moorish starter.
Next up was the Kingfish in Kimchi Water dish which consisted of raw kingfish, avocado, white kimchi, and soybean paste. This was Liam’s personal favourite – and I can understand why. It was simple and held together a nice array of flavours. The kimchi water was the strong sidekick to the hero ingredient – the kingfish sashimi.
We then together sampled the Wagyu tartare, egg yolk, chilli, singo pear, and seaweed crackling.
Honestly, this dish was my personal favourite. It resembled something similar I had tried at a fine dining venue in Paris last year, so the sense of nostalgia and memory of such a premium dish definitely tickled my fancy. The seaweed crackling (which cleverly resembled truffles – a big part of SOUL Dining’s appeal as they offer a truffle themed menu) gave the plate a strong, genuine point of difference.
To break up the tasting menu, we next tried some new cocktails: the ‘Chilli and Grapefruit Tommy’s’ (espolon tequila, agave nectar, grapefruit juice and chilli salt) and the ‘Lychee Martini’ (wyborowa vodka, dolin dry, soho lychee spirit and lime). Both were equally delicious and boasted fascinating twists in their unique versions of the classic cocktails.
The Korean eggplant dish (a fusion of eggplant, tomato jam, anchovy paste and parmesan) was the best mix of sweet and savoury. The tomato jam (with cheese) was a standout and most definitely made it one of our favourite dishes of the evening.
Next up was the curly corn on the cob: corn, pistachio, creme fraiche. As a huge fan of the vegetable, this didn’t disappoint. The mix of flavours were subtle and delicate, and it was the perfect dish to introduce what was to come next… the chargrilled octopus paired with potato, aioli, and chilli sauce. Liam and I were surprised with how cooked to perfection the octopus was (something very hard to achieve). The paired sauces and bits of crunch added to the dish, making it that more inticing.
Lastly, we sampled the barbecue beef short rib featuring a galbi glaze, potato pave, and pickle. The finale dish was so good, I was almost tempted to ask for an encore. The short rib was dangerously flavoursome and the potato pave was the perfect partner to the meaty hero ingredient.
But wait… there’s more! For a sweet finish, we shared two desserts: cinnamon churros with salted caramel ice cream paired with sea salt and sweet potato chips, as well as the burnt flourless cheesecake with mascarpone and mandarin vinegar. My favourite cake in the world is cheesecake, however the churros at SOUL Dining won me over.
Liam’s love affair for the spanish dessert of churros was opted for cheesecake, as he obsessed over the burnt flourless consistency and even mentioned to the owner, Illa, how this was perhaps the best dessert he’s sampled in quite some time. As we comically swapped our usual favourites for SOUL’s unique alternatives, we both agreed anyway that both of these plates deserved five stars.
This would be the perfect place for a first date with a Tinder match who appears to flaunt an alternative style and has a strong desire to venture out to try new places for wining and dining on a Saturday night. The prices match the quality of food, and the venue’s saultry charm makes it feel like you and your guest/s are the only people in the dining room.
SOUL Dining is fully licensed and open for dinner Tuesdays to Saturdays from 5pm till late.
SOUL Dining – souldining.com.au | 204 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills
By Claudia Siron
Rocker – Bondi
Bondi is home to some of Sydney’s most weird and wacky cafe experiences. With many boasting an exciting point of difference (like cheese-themed high teas and rainbow acai bowls) my visit to Rocker cafe made me feel like I was coming back down to Earth with its warm and hearty dishes that feel like home.
The simple yet utterly flavoursome bottomless brunch menu makes Rocker the perfect venue for a much-needed Sunday brunch chat with the ladies – with mimosas in hand, of course.
The menu consisting of ocean elements (think: copious amounts of salty and savoury dishes) was an appropriate choice of style with the beach situated just down the road from the venue.
My guest (and life-long gal-pal Chelsea) and I started off with the olives and extra virgin olive oil, followed by the roast beetroot hummus, hazelnut and balsamic beets. These two simple yet delicious menu items became quick fan favourites – a great start to our dining experience.
Next up came Iggy's sourdough and roast onion butter followed by the local burrata, pumpkin, pepitas, and pumpkin seed oil. This was Chelsea’s personal favourite. With pumpkin being one of her favourite ingredients to use for almost all self-made meals, she was immediately in awe and mentioned how the way it was cooked was inspiration for future at-home dishes.
The next dish to hit our table was the deliciously succulent slow roast lamb shoulder, parsnip and honey puree with fermented chilli dressing. I went absolutely nuts for this one; it was cooked to absolute perfection. I think I consumed a relatively large portion of it, as Chelsea was confused where ‘her half’ of the dish had disappeared to!
The plate of roast cauliflower, café de Paris butter, pickled grapes, apple, mint and almonds arrived next – and I absolutely couldn’t fault it. Chelsea thought the previous dishes were more exciting, whereas I believed it was the perfect dish to refresh between the different flavours we were sampling throughout our brunch date.
We then tasted the rocker potatoes, black pepper and parmesan dish which was just as salty as it was crispy – and in the best of ways. If only I had the talent to cook potatoes in such a way – then again, that could be dangerous! I’d probably turn into a potato myself...
To again refresh the palate before dessert, we had the winter greens salad, soft herbs, yoghurt, nuts and seeds plate. This was nothing too extravagant, but it was light and most definitely necessary after the heavier dishes.
The dessert – a huge favourite for both me and Chelsea – was the oh-so-tempting orange and almond polenta cake paired with bondi honey and orange mascarpone. The cake was to die for, and the mascarpone and honey played huge parts in making this an immediate love affair. We thought we were full before the dessert, yet we managed to polished the plate clean.
This is without a doubt THE place to hit up with a select group of girlfriends for some much-needed brunch chit-chat. Heading into the warmer months makes Rocker even more desirable, with the surf and sun just outside the door.
By Claudia Siron
Estate – Coogee
Coogee’s super venue Estate launched in March this year, providing an escape inspired by “Sunny America” – where Northern California meets the Hamptons of New York.
Sectioned off into micro-hotspots, beach dwellers can line up for the open-air casual dining and entertainment area named Terrace. Sydney’s social crowd can be seen dining at Kitchen – a more formal space serving up seafood du jour. And for those wanting something more relaxed, the colourful Taqueria area dishes up Mexican classics of tacos, nachos and ample guac that will have millennials in a tizz.
I arrived at the venue for reviewing along with my mum, Amanda, who has travelled all over America. She and I share a strong sense of wanderlust and equally pine over our separate experiences of living and travelling in New York. This made her the perfect partner in crime to taste what Coogee’s Estate had to offer at their triple threat venue.
We first sampled the oysters smothered in frozen margarita. In a quick, exact moment, we locked eyes in shock with how surprisingly well these complimented each other. The drunken oysters were refreshing and the perfect start to an evening of alfresco dining in beautiful Coogee beach.
We then tried the lobster roll and clam chowder for appetizers. During my NYC escapade last year, I tried these two foods at world-renowned hotel establishment The Plaza. These will forever stay etched into my mind and unfortunately I compare this experience with any other chowders and lobster rolls I’ve tried since, and none have surpassed. Estate’s unique version of the clam chowder wasn’t a huge personal fan favourite, however the lobster roll was Plaza-level. I was ecstatic a restaurant had finally hit the nail on the head and ticked all the boxes in my mental criteria.
The Prawn Tostada wasn’t a big favourite of ours as we think other dishes the restaurant served next really championed their flavours a lot more. The kingfish tartare paired with coconut ranch, wood sorrel and dill pickles quickly raised the bar again and excited us on a whole new level. The raw fish was delicate and the accompanied flavours were definitely well-suited.
Following surf with turf, we sampled the wagyu tri tip with a side dish of brussel sprouts covered in a maple syrup glaze and bacon bits. This was most definitely my personal favourite of the savoury dishes – it captured the traditional American candy-savoury touch perfectly.
The fusion of sweet and salty can be tricky to master, but The Estate nailed it with these dishes. This is something I would try again on my next visit. I recommend the Cone Bay barramundi if you’re hoping for a lighter main and something more suited to the style of setting.
To finish the night with a bang, Amanda and I shared the pumpkin pie and violet crumble dishes. Both equally in awe, we savoured these plates and recognised the attention to detail in the design of these desserts. I preferred the pumpkin pie, whereas Amanda relished the Violet Crumble. Both were equally incredible, it just came down to personal tastes.
The Estate is the perfect venue for margaritas with the girls or a date in an al fresco dining setting this season. With an array of small plates (like oysters and raw fish), The Estate is also a great venue for a luxe pre-drink before a night on the town.
Drinks-wise, I recommend something from the range of proseccos for something light and bubbly, and the Salter Gin Special for something bold and charged.
By Claudia Siron
Frenchies Brasserie – Eleanora Heights
Frenchies Brasserie is a quaint French restaurant situated in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Head chef is Jeremy Pace, who was previously head chef at Bistro Guillaume and has also worked at several Michelin-starred restaurants. With premium experience under his belt and a belly full of gusto, his style and approach to the menu at Frenchies is unique yet still traditional.
When approaching the restaurant, visitors can see Frenchies Brasserie is designed to be comfortable, warm and inviting – perfect for any occasion and all types of groups.
I was told prior to my visit that the restaurant was owned by a wine specialist, so I was definitely even more intrigued to sample some of their finest drops.
My plus one for the evening was my dad (who is French – he grew up in Normandy). I wanted to see if he felt a connection to the food. As he’s a man of philosophy, bold character and insanely driven by nostalgia, (and the fact he is French) I believed he was the perfect guest to bring along for the evening.
Our waiter was assertive, animated and theatrical. We immediately appreciated his persona and how he guided the evening in a certainly comical way. His natural aura beamed confidence and we felt like we were in safe hands – and perhaps receiving a dinner show on the side!
We started with the freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters, shallots mignonette paired with a lemon wedge. It was no surprise these were incredible – as always. It’s rare to receive a bad plate of oysters – and usually I’m more of a Pacific oyster fan rather than Sydney Rock – but these boasted the perfect balance between sea-salt and rich, creamy flavours.
We then sampled the kingfish entree that came with a delicious sauce and some biscuits for added crunch. While tasting the first two dishes, we had the chablis (a white wine) that flaunted acidity – not fruity notes like a chardonnay. It balanced the seafood dishes perfectly and gave us a feeling of ‘al-fresco dining’ in a seaside town like Le Harve (where my father grew up).
I also think the fact we were starting with light seafood dishes was a great decision, as we built up to the heavier, richer plates to come. It was like our teaser of entertainment before the grand show of savouriness and the finale of sweet dishes.
We tried the duck liver parfait with port jelly, baguette and apple chutney. This was a quick fan-favourite for my dad, Jean-Marc. His eyes grew large instantaneously and I had to agree with him, it was quite extraordinary. The apple chutney made the liver stand out in taste, as well as aesthetically. Together we sipped on a shared glass of zilzie pinot noir with our liver parfait – the perfect sidekick to the hero entree.
We were given a glass of boy barossa red wine and bertaine et fils rose to compliment our mains. I had the beef brisket – something the chef was perfecting in the kitchen that was still technically off-menu at the time, and Jean-Marc had the Frenchies pink snapper pie paired with confit truffle leeks and salad. Naturally, his glass was the rose and mine was the pinot noir. The jammy notes of my wine paired very well with the beef.
The brisket was juicy and it felt like a premium home-made dish – something very hard to accomplish. As someone sampling the final draft of the brisket, I can safely say there was no room for improvement with the dish – it was utterly delightful and not too rich or overpowering in taste. And as for the red wine… most likely the best red wine I’ve tried all year – without sounding dramatic. I’ve raved about this wine to friends saying I’ll be bringing a bottle over for the next wine and cheese night.
My dad said he was perfectly content with his main, saying it was his absolute favourite taste of the night. At first glance, the dish is larger than one’s head, so he was worried he’d be too full for dessert. However, the dish was lighter than imagined and although we grew full, the taste won us over.
The pastry was crispy and light, and the pink fish was cooked to perfection. The creamy consistency paired delightfully with the snapper and the side salad was a great source of relief from the warmth, making it an instant winning dish.
We couldn’t fault the pie, and it was difficult to stop myself from trying his food when I was strictly informed to have only two forkfills as he grew an instant obsession for this dish and clearly didn’t want to share. The rose complimented the pink fish extremely well. Perfumed with aromas of strawberries and rose petals, it was an elegant drop that fitted well with something light like pink fish and salad.
While Jean-Marc chatted with chef Jeremy about shared commonalities like France and their love for food, I sat back in awe of how quietly beautiful this hidden treasure was. I glanced at the design of the venue, and appreciated the obvious touches of small French flags that gave the classy, warm-lit venue a sense of comedy and cheeky character.
To end the evening on a sweet note, we sampled the chocolate fondant, caramel sauce and blackcurrant sorbet, as well as the warm apple tarte tatin, white chocolate and butterscotch ice cream. Sharing both of these – paired with a small glass of de iuliis late picked semillon (a dessert wine showing off strong lemon and lime characters as well as tropical fruit) – we instantly knew which we personally preferred.
I fell drunk in love with the apple tarte and Jean-Marc’s affair with the chocolate fondant was short-lived (as he couldn’t wait for the next bite) but will stay with him forever. He wasn’t sure the sorbet was truly a taste of blackcurrant, however personally I could definitely taste the strong berry flavour.
As we left the dining venue, we left with great, big smiles. We both agreed tonight’s performance of flavours, service and ambience was a five star experience and we would definitely go back for a second show.