What's your secret in getting through a long tiring week? For me, the best way to fast track the week is with the anticipation of a pleasant mid-week dinner with friends. I have been looking forward to tonight as Duke Bistro has been on my radar for a while now. This hatted young bistro have continuously showcased novel dishes using seasonal produce.
From the outside, the Flinders Hotel appeared old, and honestly speaking, a little bit dodgy. As we climb up the stairs and enter into the bistro, our perception changed instantly. Beer bottle lampshades, teacup candle holders, bird cages and traditional conical Vietnamese hats have been used to craft an eccentric yet comfortable atmosphere.
The kitchen is led by two young chefs – Thomas Lim (ex-Tetsuya's) and Mitch Orr (Young Chef of the Year 2010 and ex-Sepia). They work hand in hand to send out surprising dishes with interesting flavour and texture combinations. You can almost imagine them having so much fun in the kitchen experimenting with new food combinations and techniques with the aim of daring and astounding their customers. To support the creativity in the kitchen, the waiting staff at Duke Bistro are also menu-savvy, approachable and enthusiastic.
We are recommended to order two to three dishes per person. We ended up ordering a bit more than that because we wanted to try almost all of their dishes and because some dishes are too good/small to be shared. Now let the fun begin!
The fried chicken wings is a popular group dish. The chili sauce came in a bottle so you could add as much or as little as you want.
|Fried Chicken Wings, Charred Scallion, Hot Sauce|
I must say Duke Bistro is impressively considerate about vegetarian options. The mushroom and silken tofu is a great dish. The different types of delicious mushrooms lie on top of the incredibly silky smooth tofu. It is beyond satisfying and we ordered a second serve. However it seemed like they used up most of their tofu so our second serve had mostly mushrooms and lots of white foam pretending to be tofu?! Anyhow, the mushrooms are still yum :P
|L Loves... Mushroom, Silken Tofu|
The parsnip had interesting texture but the flavour seems to be lacking a bit of something. Maybe the chefs can come up with that magical something to add to this dish to enhance the flavours.
|Salt Baked Parsnip, Buttermilk, Jalapeno|
The radish is soaked in tasty dashi butter. I think you could almost throw in any root vegetable in this butter and it would taste great. They serve a rack of bread rolls with this dish and we all knew what had to be done… Dip away!
|Radish, dashi butter, bread rolls|
Fregola is a type of puffy pasta that is similar to Israeli couscous. The corn is supremely creamy and irresistible. This is the ultimate comfort dish!
|L Loves... Fregola, Corn, Cornbread|
As I am yet to befriend a fish, I can only say this dish smells… (good is the word most people would add at the end of this sentence).
|Rainbow Trout, Green Grapes|
We can see here Lim’s Asian background having its influence on the menu. The potato and snowpea sprouts do a great job neutralising the spiciness of the XO sauce.
|XO Pork Shoulder, Snowpea Sprouts, Potato|
Another Chinese inspired dish. These hunks of sweet and juicy pork neck are served with garlic shoot puree and crunchy gai lan leafs. The sprinkle of balck sesame salt elevates the dish just that extra mile.
|Char siu pork neck, gai lan, garlic shoot, black sesame|
The smoked beef has an intense smoky flavour and the cauliflower cream and bread crumbs are perfect accompanies. Those who like pickles will also love the gherkins, which can be rolled into the smoke beef making a perfect beef roll. We had to order two serves of this as one is simply not enough!
|Smoked Beef, Gherkin, Cauliflower|
The pork jowl is extremely succulent (aka dribbly and fatty). Serving it in the form of a Peking duck pancake, with grilled pineapples to cut back the fatty aftertaste is a superb idea.
|Pork Jowl Pancakes|
Time flew as we chatted, laughed, drank and nibbled. Finally it is time for desserts. There are three options on the desserts menu, so naturally we got all of them. Theses warm, puffy donuts are the ultimate comfort food best shared amongst a group. The waitress told us there are more than 20 spices used in this simple looking dish.
|Donuts, Ras El Hanout, Nuts|
Next up is a dessert of various milk components. There is the rich caramel sauce underneath the brown, crunchy milk meringues which go perfectly with the sugar-free, silky milk panna cotta. There are also chocolate crumbs on top of the panna cotta that added extra colour and textural contrast. You really need to have a bit of everything in a spoonful to get the most out of this glorious dessert.
|L Loves... Milk, milk, milk|
These cute mini macarons are ordered from MakMak and the flavours change daily. Tonight we had peanut butter, salted caramel, strawberry shortcake, raspberry yogurt and orange crème. The shells are crisp and the fillings are luscious. The salted caramel one is slightly saltier than I would expect from a macaron, but strawberry shortcake and raspberry yogurt are divine. What a delightful finish to this late night dining experience.
|L Loves... MakMak macarons|
|Peanut butter macaron|
|English breakfast tea served with warm milk|
· Taste: 7.5/10
· Ambience: 4/5
· Value: 3.5/5
· Service: 4/5
· Creativity and other WOW factors: 4/5
Overall rating: 23/30
65 Flinders St
Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW 2010
Ph: (02) 9332 3180
Tues to Sat: 6pm – late
Visited March 2012
Friendly advice: Duke Bistro is a fantastic place to visit in groups as you’ll get to try the variety of dishes they have on offer. If you don’t have a big group but you’re feeling adventurous, go on Tuesday nights when they serve a tasting menu of their new, innovative dishes.