The recent trend in Sydney moving towards less intricate produce driven food, priced far more sustainably, has seen many innovative interpretations since Pier symbolically handed back its hats post the global financial crisis. When Chef Warren Turnbull opened District Dining, it was not so much a question of pedigree, but rather a case of whether he could pare back the refinement of Aissette, yet still present his deft touch in a more accessible way e.g. Berta, Bloodwood, Duke Bistro, Ms G’s and Cotton Duck, to name a few.
Located above the Central Hotel (directly opposite the train station), but accessed via Randle Street, very clever use of the building’s V shape utilises an awkward space to maximum effect. Large windows feature the treetops, with a lovely breeze making it suitably laid back for lunch, whilst remaining smart, yet casual, for dinner. Shared plates are encouraged, starting with textbook crispy quail eggs ($16), with divine tarragon mayonnaise and white anchovies. It’s simple, yetthoughtful, and looks stunning on the trendy wooden boards that feature throughout the majority of thesavoury menu. Somewhat bolder, the veal tongue ($16), whilst definitely an acquired texture and taste, is served with pickled turnip, salsa verde and almonds to help counter-balance that distinctive depth of flavour.
Finally, some thoughtful savoury application of watermelon helps to both lighten and balance out a very generous serving of lovely crisp and unctuous pork belly ($24), smeared with a rich thick satay. Likewise, the pickled daikon is a nice touch, cutting across the richness of a dish that makes sharing more hotly contested than jagging a table on a Friday night. The DD Crispy Chicken ($20) is everything thatother more infamous franchise should aspire to, but didn’t. Seasoned well with nicely balanced spices and succulent flesh, it’s served with fresh non-generic coleslaw and a lime chilli aioli to supplement the lingering background heat note on the skin.
Seasoned professional Lindsay Carr oversees both the floor and wine service, but the inexperience of today’s lunch staff is clearly noticeable by comparison, despite their well intentioned enthusiasm. An interesting and well priced wine list covers most bases, with the exception of any Riesling available by the glass, but the suggested 08 Hirtzberger Donaugarten Gruner Veltliner ($14) proved quite a versatile food match. The majority of wines are sensibly priced proportional to the menu, with many available by the glass, carafe or bottle.
Served simply on a bed of crushed peas, with herbed sour cream and parmesan crisp,the Cone Bay barramundi ($25) is a stunning and faultless piece of execution I would happily pay significantly more for. It is a testament to the benefits of restraint, allowing the produce to shine, rather than being overworked with the primary ingredient sadly getting lost in translation. Perfectly cooked ras el hanout encrusted lamb rump ($26) is another cracking dish, with the pumpkin hummus and honey feta balancing and complimenting the spicing nicely, which has been a recurring theme throughout.
The strawberries, raspberries, meringue and vanilla cream ($12) needed some point of relevance, rather than seeming like an assembly of pleasing and compatible ingredients. Conversely, the chocolate parfait ($12) displayed far more technique, with perfectly deconstructed peanut brittle providing a lovely textural element against the decadence of the cream elements. The Allpress coffee ($4) is extracted particularly well, but the organic tea listing (all $4) by Tea Tonic of Melbourne is certainly worthy of consideration. A basic cheese plate is offered at $8 for one or $22 for three, and is served with lavosh, quince jelly & honey walnuts.
District Dining over delivers on many levels with the nuance and execution of two hat Aissette re-interpreted through immensely comforting food portioned and priced extraordinarily well, with the majority of mains all within the $24-$26 range. It is accessible and unpretentious dining that re-focuses the technique of Warren Turnbull’s fine dining background into a far more sustainable model, where both the industry and the diner will clearly be the better for it. Sydney may have lost its way, but the culinary future now has a more solid foundation where everyone is both equal and welcome.
17 Randle Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tue, Wed, Thu & Sat 12-3 pm, 6 to 11pm, Fri 12-11 pm