What is the pulling factor that attracts so many diners to the Sydney’s dining hub of Surry Hills?
Is it because of its hip and trendy bars filled with young trendites in Armani suits and Prada mini skirts? Perhaps it’s the location in the heart of Darlinghurst where the bohemian and eclectic culture have become the definitive Sydney lifestyle. Or maybe it’s really the food dished out by hundreds of cafes and restaurants that diners flock to this place in droves each week.
Tonight, I am cajoled by Mysaucepan and her two girlfriends to join them in an all girls night out. I’m quite keen to be left out of conversations involving hair, manicure and women’s fashion, let alone having to get to a restaurant at 6pm because the establishment only takes reservations for 2 sittings and the 8pm sitting is fully booked.
Nevertheless, we are here and despite another condition of needing to finish our dinner by 8pm for the next sitting, I somehow sense this is going to be a long evening.
Apart from Newtown in Sydney’s inner west, Surry Hills would be another suburb where restaurants can pass off cheap and casual decor as hip and trendy. The ornamental flowers and plants in suspended bottles by the bar are the central focus of what is otherwise a cold concrete space in the quieter part of the suburb.
A scotch egg is encased in mince pork and deep-fried to a golden brown. Crispy on the outside, the egg is soft and with its slightly runny yolk, I am enjoying this as we quarter the egg to share.
Cauliflower fritters are one of my favourite snacks. Perhaps deep-fried vegetable is somewhat less decadent than deep-fried chicken but this one has some good herb and spice flavours to accompany the slightly crunchy texture.
CW tells us that she has been on a no-meat diet for a few months and intended to stick with this self-imposed hiatus so she orders a green salad with eggplant and corn puree.
Simple and fresh, this dish has all the elements of a good healthy starter.
A three onion tarte with olives and goats curd is fresh and the flaky pastry works well with the creamy goats curd.
I order the spatchcock baked in a salt and hay crust served with an orange, iceberg and onion salad. This dish arrives where the top of the crust is cut out to reveal tender pieces of meat.
I wonder about this inedible big space-ship of a cooking concoction that has left the meat bland at best and grassy with bits of inedible hay around the meat.
The portion of spatchcock is so small that I am left wanting for more. I’m not sure if the small tasteless bits of bird meat are more frustrating than the large inedible contraption that remains on the plate. Whichever it is, this is one main that I would rather forget in a hurry.
M orders a bottle of Grand Millesime to celebrate their impending move from city slickers to country folk in Maleny in Queensland. Subtle plummy aromas on the nose, I found the tannin might warrant a few more years in the bottle but nevertheless, still a decent drop.
Mysaucepan being a duck lover, decides to share the whole duck glazed in spiced honey with cherries, cashews and coz lettuce with M. Wooden boards used as serving plate seems to be the craze in Surry Hills at the moment as I have been to at least 3 restaurants in the area that’s hooked on cramping wooden boards onto small dining tables.
The portion of this duck seems more like half a duck and although I could taste the sticky sweet honey, the duck skin is rubbery whilst large bits of black peppercorn are jarring. The duck itself could have been better executed to render the skin more crispy and yield more flavour from the large chunks of blubbery fat underneath.
The dining room fills up with diners as we head towards our deadline of 8pm.
We order some battered zucchini flowers and corn on the cob as side dishes because the portions for our mains are small. The spatchcock and whole duck that were meant for 3 people are still far from satisfying hunger pangs.
The corn is a good supplement for our mains but in all honestly, corn on a cob isn’t quite a dish that I would come to a restaurant in Surry Hills for.
I don’t normally leave duck on my plate, especially roast or baked duck.
But sadly on this occasion, this duck leaves us contemplating if we should head down to Chinatown and have a whole, sure-fire, chinese roast duck for less than $30 since we are still hungry. The starters are quite decent but we feel the mains are disappointing. Service is lukewarm and as we approach 8pm, I feel the pressure to finish our meal and this is not a pleasant feeling whilst in a restaurant.
In any case, we run out of time to order dessert and not having a sweet tooth is redundant since I am happy to leave anyway. Notwithstanding the additional 10% service charge for groups of eight people, I wonder if I would be back in a hurry even if it’s just the two of us.
So dear readers, do you have a favourite restaurant in Sydney’s Surry Hills?
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Orto Trading Co.
38 Waterloo street, Surry Hills
Tel: + 61 431 212453
Dinner: Tuesdays – Saturday from 6pm
Brunch & Casual Lunch: Thursday – Sunday 8am – 3pm
Reservations taken for dinner in two sittings, 6pm or 8pm and for brunch/lunch for groups of 8 or more.
Groups of 8 or more people attract a 10% service charge.