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My City Sydney with Neil Perry

Neil Perry, The Rockpool Group’s Culinary Director and a chef who has helped shape the food scene in Sydney, reveals where he likes to eat & drink in his hometown.

Sydney is a very beautiful city with its harbour and gorgeous white beaches, but it’s so much more than just a pretty face. The restaurants and bars are second to none and they give Sydney a beautiful personality. The city has changed so much over the last 10 years and if you add in Chinatown, some amazing places are all within walking distance.

I regularly dine at Rockpool Dining Group restaurants so they feature genuinely in my top picks. My favourite bar in Sydney, hands down, is the bar at Rockpool Bar & Grill. My wife, Sam, and I like to go and enjoy a great bottle of wine, or a fantastic cocktail, or both, while we chat with the bar guys and soak up the amazing buzzy atmosphere. We’ll have some beautiful freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters, all iodine and tasting fresh of the sea, our favourite minute steak with café de Paris butter, the Cape Grim beef full of flavour and perfectly tender, and we always share a number of sides like roast pumpkin, grilled corn, shoe string fries and a salad. It doesn’t get any better.

Breakfast and beyond

Room 10 is the best place in Sydney for coffee and breakfast. Andrew Hardjasudarma and his team not only make some of Sydney’s best coffee, but the food out of such a tiny space is nothing short of miraculous. My go-to is the classic soft boiled egg and avocado on toast, or any of the brilliant breakfast sandwiches - the slow cooked brisket with slaw and pickles is probably their signature. I also love the Brekkie Rice, which is perfect for a healthy start: creamed red rice, quinoa, walnuts and pepitas topped with dukkha.

Chaco Bar is without doubt the best yakitori place in town, but it also has next level ramen – served Monday nights and Wednesday to Saturday, lunches only. Go for the chilli coriander – it’s spicy and full flavoured with such a fresh delicious cleanness to it. Add an organic egg: they are awesome! The yakitori skin is crunchy, smoky and creamy all at once and the wing and chicken meatball with slow cooked egg are a must. They also serve the best gyozas. Are you getting that I love this place? Wash it down with a beer and sake and say hi to Chef Keita, we’re lucky to have him in Sydney.

Azuma is another terrific Japanese restaurant in the city owned by Kimitaka Azuma. Here we go for sushi and sashimi, which is so well made, and the best dish of all is the wagyu sukiyaki for two. We love sitting sipping sake as I cook our beef slice by slice in the boiling soy broth. We add tofu, bok choy, mushroom and spring onions, all the time cooking another strip of beef and dipping it, eating with rice and then at the end adding udon noodles to the broth. Such a great one pot dish. 

Masterful Dim Sum

Another favourite from our own portfolio is Jade Temple. I love having the dumplings for lunch, made fresh daily by our Dim Sum Master, Dicky. They’re always so perfectly balanced in taste and texture and I can’t get enough of the roast duck either.

Golden Century is famous for being a chef haunt and I was one of the first eating there along with Tetsuya way back in 1990. We all loved the place as it was open late and the food was always fabulous. All these years later, nothing much has changed, only I don’t eat late anymore, I’m in bed well before 3am these days! Sam and I love the green lip abalone steam boat. This is another great one pot dish for two people to share. We get noodles and tofu with it to make the perfect meal. The abalone arrives thinly sliced on lettuce and we have soy dipping and a little XO sauce. The slices are dipped for seconds and added to the soy in your bowl, then start with tofu, then noodles and finish with lettuce, just keep adding broth and seasoning to the bowl as you eat, drinking the soup from time to time. This is one of the world’s great meals, you may even see owners Eric and Linda wandering around.

Fire in the Heart

Mike McEnearney’s No. 1 Bent Street is a treat. It’s everything I love: no fuss, awesome produce, seasonal cooking and loads of love and care. Everything on the menu is great, but you have to try the bread, it’s possibly the best in Sydney, and anything off the grill or out of the wood fired oven, which form the heart of the kitchen. I love Mike’s touch with vegetables, so order a bunch of salad and veg dishes and eat one of the best plant-based meals in town.

Danielle Alverez at Fred’s in Paddington is another chef cooking beautiful, sustainable, seasonal produce with fire at the heart of the kitchen. Try to score a seat at the kitchen bench: a great spot to share a bottle of wine, watch the kitchen in full swing and eat some of the best food in Sydney. With her pedigree of Chez Panisse and The French Laundry, it’s no surprise everything is delicious. Add a wonderful wine list and beautiful, simple decor and you can settle in for long lunches and dinners.

Cheap eats and BBQ

Burger Project is a weekly stop for me as well. The Cape Grim 36-month beef is ground in store, hand-formed into patties, and cooked medium – they’re unsurpassed in the city.

Naruone is great for a cheap Korean bite. My favourite is the spicy pork with rice. It comes on a sizzling platter with pork slices, cabbage, carrots, onions and sesame seeds after being wok fried in gochujang. It’s spicy and delicious and perfect with a beer. The KFC, Korean Fried Chicken, is really very good too.

Dan Jee is my favourite Korean BBQ place. They cook it in the kitchen over a big charcoal grill, rather than at table-side grills, so it gets more of a smoky flavour. Short rib, pork belly and bulgogi are my go-to dishes. I can’t eat there without having Yukhoe, the Korean raw beef salad. It’s amazing with julienne frozen beef, Asian pear egg yolk and sweet sesame dressing that’s perfectly balanced.

Further reading: The Best BYO Restaurants in Sydney

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Hanging with Mr Hong
Words by Mark Hughes on 30 Sep 2015
As a teenager, Dan Hong was a bit of a rebel, emulating the ‘gansta’ life from his heroes in hip hop – doing graffiti, partying and earning the ire of the law. These days, he still has that sassy savoir faire air about him, but as the ‘it’ boy of the Sydney dining scene, a genuine Gen Y foodie trail blazer, he’s too important to ignore, but too cool to care. His resume and achievements are as full as a contented diner at one of his restaurants. Stints at Longrain, Tetsuya’s, Bentley and Marque helped him score the Josephine Pignolet Best Young Chef Award at the 2008 SMH Good Food Guide Awards. Hospitality king Justin Hemmes recognised the potential. Seven years later, Dan is executive chef across three of Merivale Group’s hippest restaurants: Mr Wong, Ms G’s and El Loco. He admits though, that he would never have had any of this had it not been for his mother. Mum knows best Dan grew up in the north-western Sydney suburb of Epping while his mum, Angie, worked tirelessly at the family’s Vietnamese restaurants to give Dan and his sisters a private school education. But after he bombed out of high school, Dan admits he didn’t really know what to do. Fortunately, his mum did. She put him to work in her restaurant, got him into a cooking school and then used her contacts to get him an apprenticeship at Longrain. He’s never looked back. “I never really thought about being in the industry when I was in high school because I took it for granted that my mum had this restaurant,” Dan says. “I enjoyed cooking at home and I enjoyed watching cooking shows like Jamie Oliver, so I thought I would give it a crack.” Dan found his true calling in the kitchens of mentors such as Martin Boetz, Brent Savage and Mark Best, learning Asian, fusion and French. But it was when he cooked the food of US trendsetting chef David Chang (Momofuku) at a special function that Dan’s creative juices truly flowed. In Chang, Dan discovered a guy who broke the rules and managed to tap into the main vein of food fashion – fresh, fast and great tasting – fine dining junk food. Hemmes wanted an Aussie version and entrusted Dan and chef Jowett Yu to do the job, and so Ms Gs was born. A Mexican eating excursion for Dan led to the opening of the pop-up style El Loco. Mr Wong is Hemmes’ most expansive (and expensive) restaurant imagining yet, a Sydneysider’s vision of a hip Cantonese eatery located in the suits and briefcase end of Sydney’s CBD. It’s been wildly successful, scoring a host of awards including Best New Restaurant by SMH in 2014, and recently voted as the ninth best restaurant in the country by chefs and restaurateurs in the Australian Financial Review. The accolades confirm the inspired partnership of two great artists. “He (Justin) has this big vision and I just execute the food,” says Dan. “It’s great.” Hong style Whether it’s called refined dude food, or a super fly feast from a Kayne West of the kitchen, Dan hesitates at labelling his style.   “I don’t want to put myself in this pigeon-hole where diners say, ‘I feel I can only go there on a special occasion’. I want people to come to my places and feel like they can eat there every day. They can also come there for that special occasion, but I just want to be the whole package where people feel comfortable eating my food, drinking good wine and having a great time.” Click below for some of Dan's delicious recipes: Chinese style sashimi scallops with with sugar syrup Grilled king prawns with seaweed salsa verde Carpaccio of wagyu beef with Thai flavours Watch our interview with Dan Hong:
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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