When a family member hits town, be it sibling or parent, the main exercise in which we partake involves food. Being food crazed must be a trait that runs in my family as each one of us has varying degrees of obsession. It’s mainly all I recall from my childhood. Family friends and relatives perpetually (at least that’s how I remember it) in the backyard boozing, laughing, arguing and eating. Don’t most families?
A recent visitation by my brother panned out to be a weekend crammed with zipping here and there, eating this and that, some booze thrown in and a lot of sitting back rubbing guts saying “I ate too much”. I still hear the words in my head, vocalised decades ago by our parents, “If you don’t finish what’s on your plate, the sun won’t shine tomorrow”. I can safely say the sun shone all weekend.
Within an hour of Big Bro landing in Sydney we were already off to Broadway where I knew there was a Reuben sandwich waiting for me. One I was yet to try. Only on Thursday and Friday can you can grab this lunch special of Reuben sandwich with chips, 300ml tap beer (22.5) and one mother of a pickle. Where are we? Essen Restaurant just on the corner of Broadway and Wattle Street.
The regular menu is all about the pork knuckle, sausage platters, schnitzel and spätzle. Get the drift about the cuisine? We weren’t here for that so allow me to dwell on the Reuben for a bit. Presentation on wooden boards is nothing new to this town but in this instance it’s appropriate. Held vertical with a steak knife is a pair of sandwiches crap-loaded with pretty good corned beef, oozing Gruyere, mayo and a moderate quantity of sauerkraut. The bread is your typical rye, very lightly toasted and with 300 ml of beer plus a bunch of fried spuds it’s surely one sambo that’ll increase your girth.
A visit to Eveleigh Market somehow makes it to the agenda every time we have visitors, plus I needed to take my chefs knife to the dude that sharpens them for just $7. Beats me sitting at home with a stone, grinding away for half an hour when I could be sitting infront of the mac keeping you lot informed of my wanderings.
Opposite the market is CarriageWorks, a contemporary arts space housed in former railway warehouses. In the same building is the simply and beautifully appointed Johnandpeter Canteen, a restaurant brought to the neighbourhood by caterers John Wilson and Peter Lin with chef David Lovett driving the kitchen brigade. Initially planned as a pop-up venue, it’s now looking more like its bolts are becoming firmly attached to the industrial floor.
An Italian flavoured and seasonal menu brings us some top-notch food to this black and white podium food, starting us with a simple salad of smoked eel (18), shaved fennel and parsley. The menu promised horseradish but sadly it didn’t make it to the plate. No great loss, as the hero infront of us was that kick-arse eel with its light richness and lingering smokiness. Another dish that kicked the glutes was the roast Berkshire pork belly (32), dappled with salsa verde and (pan seared?) radicchio with killer crackling. Personally I thought the intense bitterness of the radicchio was too much for the delicate pork, but if you like your bitter greens you’ll be swooning.
Appropriate for the cool weather was the braised veal shin (35) with gremolata; slow cooked with carrots until meltingly tender. All that was missing was a great hunk of crusty sourdough to mop up the juices. My star of the show was the delectable snapper (35) with heirloom tomatoes and basil. Soft and silky skin-on fillets weighed down with juicy and sweet tomatoes with a hint of fresh lemon. Absolute winner.
The following morning we head into Chinatown for some light grazing, first stopping at one of my favourite little holes in the wall, Kura. I’d been there several times previously so I made sure I ordered a couple of my favourites. What can I say, they’re always winners in my eyes. Salmon and scallop aburi sushi (9.8) and good old takoyaki (4.9). Great stuff.
A little joint that has been a staple of mine ever since moving to this town is this. Chinese Noodle Restaurant. It’s cheap, it’s a little crusty, it’s inconsistent and most importantly, it’s Northern Chinese. The service is typically Chinese and the food is good enough to keep most coming back. Having already eaten a light breakfast at home then some aforementioned Japanese treats, it was a time for a little dumpling action. As good as the steamed pork buns look, flaccid with soup, there was barely a drop of moisture in these things. Inconsistency. It shits me when a dumpling that is meant to contain a little soup just doesn’t. My life was over, but I got over it. At least they’re consistent with the steely service and lack of interest with their customers.
Saving the best for last is this. A place I’ve been wanting to try ever since its doors opened. Porteño. Much has been said about this meat-house with its impressive asado of splayed beasts burnishing over crackling coals. I swear if this contraption was in my family’s household we’d be standing around with slices of bread, dunking into the roasting meat drippings, just as we did years ago when there was a pig or lamb on the spit in our backyard. Off to the side is the parrilla where steaks, ribs and seafood are grilled over coal.
Beers kick off our little feast and a procession of small dishes keep us blissfully occupied until the main event. That pork up on the asado. We have a pretty tasty beef empanada (6.5) and a damn delicious morcilla (12) that’s so creamy in texture it’d spead like butter on bread. Blood sausage goodness on a blanket of roasted red capsicum. The star in the first round was the caballa ahumada (22), three generous chunks of smoked mackerel with avocado, palm heart and pickled celery. The flakes just melted and that smokiness was sublime.
Brusela frito (14) seems the way to go at this establishment where I’ve even heard it convinces a non-Brussels sprouts lover to temporarily change their tune. Well, that briefly happened when the other half tried a few, declaring them pretty tasty. Must be the fact that they’re mixed with lentils and mint and being crisp fried always helps. Loved them.
I was a little nervous the quantity of chanchito a la cruz (44), or rather the sensational pork that seems the focal point up at the kitchen, but it was quite enough for the three of us. The meat itself is beautiful; juicy, perfect crackling but very low on the seasoning. Condiments of chimichurri, salsa criola add the seasoning the pork is crying out for, making for a mighty fine end to our savoury dishes.
My tarta y queso azul (16) was almost too much to handle. A delicate quince tart topped with a scoop of muscat ice cream and a mountain of gorgonzola cream piped over the untire thing. I struggled. I really struggled. I loved every component of this dish. Sweet, tart, creamy, rich. Just a little too much of that cream, methinks. The leche quemada (16) was pretty good; a burnt milk custard, smear of orange jam, chocolate ice cream and some curious popcorn. Finally there’s the biscocho al licor (16). In other words, rum baba with chocolate cream, pistachio and orange ice cream.