You! I wanna take you to a gay bar.
Well, used to be, not anymore. I am talking about the Flinders Hotel in Darlinghurst. The hotel actually hasn't been a gay hangout for a long long time since late 2008. I know that well because I used to be a social events photographer that hung around Oxford Street at gay venues and sometimes I would find myself at Flinders, zipping past and brushing against sweaty gay men with my camera, trying to capture the shenanigans at the bar. I was just doing my job. These days, Flinders is a lot more subdue, gay bears be gone and hello urban hispters.
3 years later, I find myself here at Flinders again. Things have changed significantly since the last time I stepped inside. I can't really see much improvements from the renovations, but the decor is now mimicking an American dive bar, you know, those 'Coyote Ugly' type of bar, but not quite. I am the lonesome cowboy in the bar enjoying a cold beer, but no intention to stay long; just killing some time while waiting for my dining companion to arrive before we head upstairs for dinner at Duke Bistro.
A kitchen led by ex-Tetsuya Thomas Lim, and ex-Sepia Mitch Orr, both are having fun and thinking outside the box to create a modern Australian menu that are eclectic, quirky, humour and risque. The menu changes quite frequently, you can always check out their blog to see what you've been missing out. To dine at Duke Bistro, you do need to have an open mind and embrace new concepts and flavours, one way to describe it is - expect the least expected.
We are sharing four dishes between the two of us. Anything that comes with 'wing', 'jaw', 'jowl' - I am sold. The chargrilled kingfish wing is an instant hit. Hidden underneath the forest greens and edible flowers is a decent triangle piece of Kingfish jaw with charred-caramelised-burned-bits that is so sticky and sweet. We are advised to sprinkle as much or as little of the shaved mirror dory roe on the fish as we want which adds an intense briny smokey flavour to the dish.
Who said microwave is dead in a professional kitchen? Thanks to Ferran Adrià and his invention of 40-second microwave spongecake at El Bulli, many restaurants have now adopted this trick including the Duke. The four pillows of cornbread, zapped in a microwave are ethereally light and fluffy, a perfect sponge to soak up a buttery soupy stew of fregola pasta and grilled corn kernels.
Mitch Orr is renowned for his pasta making skills and this dish proves it. Silky, al dente fettucine is swimming in a puddle of chilli oil leaking out from XO sauce which gets a tad oily. A shaving of pig's tongue reminded me of shaved dried cuttlefish but less chewy. Italian pasta with Asian dressing, sounds like something I'd do during uni days, but it works.
We order this dish purely because it says "coffee" in the menu. It is an unusual combo, two pieces of succulent juicy chicken fillets are paired with carrot in many ways, from puree to little pearls, all these sweet subtle flavours are intensified with coffee crumbs. It is a fun dish, it is an American thang, even Oprah has her own version.
You may have noticed that there is this whole young emerging chefs movement happening here in Australia and they are pretty gung-ho at what they are doing whether you like it or not. I think it is pretty exciting for the Sydney food scene - a little bit risque, showy and in your face, just like Sydney.
Duke Bistro 65 Flinders St.
Darlinghurst, NSW, 2010
Ph: (02) 9332 3180