The inner suburb of Surry Hills has reinvented itself in recent years as a hub of Sydney restaurants. District Dining is another addition to the restaurant scene, a modern bistro that has garnered rave reviews since it opened its doors in the latter half of 2010. The talent behind the smart dining space is Assiette’s two hatted chef Warren Turnbull, ex Liam Tomlin’s renowned Banc that was popular in the 1990s.
Securing a booking on a weeknight meant a pick of the 6.30pm or 9.30 pm sitting. We choose the latter and as we arrive on time, the large dining room is buzzing with patrons.
Entrance to District Dining
District Dining is located above the bar of Central Hotel in Surry Hills. A colourful mural depicting a map of the ‘district’ leads to the contemporary bistro with dark wood panelling, white marble table tops and bare floors. Large windows overlook the hum of Central Station. There’s an intimate balcony above the corner of Randle and Chalmers Streets that is ideal for pre-dinner drinks. But not tonight. Sydney’s skies have opened and with it, my camera decides to malfunction leaving me with the iPhone as a back up.
The menu is presented on a single sheet of paper. No explanations are given for portion sizes but we’re told the price range of $16 to $24 is an indicator. The choice highlights an international flavour, mainly a mix of Asian influences and North African spices. Tonight, they are out of the one dish I am eager to try, the Castricum lamb shoulder with cumin, honey and baby carrots.
It doesn’t take long before our first courses arrive and although the dishes are designed to be shared, the four of us refrain from doing so but Mr G and I agree to do the customary plate swapping.
Marinated tuna, wasabi pannacotta, soy bean and ginger marmalade
The marinated tuna is beautifully presented on a white plate. Large chunks of tuna are interspersed with a wasabi panna cotta that is very subtle in flavour.
Spiced pumpkin, marinated fetta, honey and walnuts
The spiced pumpkin with marinated fetta is a vegetarian delight though I’m not sure about serving such a purée on a wooden board.
Seared scallops, king crab, sweetcorn congee
The seared scallops are fresh and plump but the congee with king crab and sweetcorn is the true star of this dish.
Chicken liver parfait, cherries and sourdough – Touraine Sauvignon Blanc from France
The chicken liver parfait presented in a spring-lidded jar with toasted sourdough and juicy cherries on a wooden board is as appetising as it looks.We enjoy a bottle of Touraine Sauvignon Blanc from Puzelat-Bonhomme.
Not long after the plates and boards are cleared, we are served the remaining dishes.
Beef cheek croquet, chilli eggplant and pickled daikon
The beef cheek croquet is a single crumbed piece of pulled beef cheek that is very tender and flavoursome. The chilli eggplant and pickled daikon provide contrasting textures.
Wessex saddleback pork belly, fennel lime salt and kimchi
The pork belly with fennel lime salt is the popular choice with the men who merely grunt their approval. I have a little taste of the kimchi, or fermented cabbage. Definitely not a dish for sensitive palates and stomachs.
District Dining fried chicken, coleslaw and lime mayonnaise – Cheese chalk board
The fried chicken bearing the District Dining name is a generous serving of chicken pieces laced with chilli. The lime mayonnaise is smooth and creamy. Unfortunately, this dish proves to have a little too much heat for our friend.
As the patrons start to leave, we feel a little pressed for time as we are swiftly presented with the dessert menu.
Brillat-Savarin triple cream cheese with lavosh, quince jelly and honey walnuts
The Brillat-Savarin triple cream cheese is lovely and ripe, served with pieces of lavosh.
Coconut panna cotta, mango, lime and coriander
Two of us enjoy the smooth delights of the coconut panna cotta with cubes of mango dressed in lime and baby coriander leaves.This is the taste of summer presented in a spring-lidded jar.
Strawberries, raspberries meringue, vanilla cream
I notice that Mr G has gone very quiet and no sooner than I propose I share half his strawberries and raspberries meringue with vanilla cream (aka Eton mess) that I see his plate is empty.
District Dining is the type of modern bistro where one can enjoy good food with friends in a relaxed setting. The menu is varied and designed to be shared, though by no more than four people due to the portion sizes. Service is friendly, welcoming and efficient. We don’t have to wait too long for our dishes to arrive but I get the impression that it has been a long day and the front of the house is eager to go home when chairs are being stacked at 11.15 pm. In spite of bare floors and minimal furnishings, the noise level is tolerable and one can enjoy a conversation without yelling, which is a rare and welcome advantage in Sydney’s dining scene.
Edit July 2014 – District Dining has closed and is now Brooklyn Social.
17 Randle Street
Surry Hills 2010
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