Warren Turnbull (Assiette) continues a trend for top Sydney chefs to open casual restaurants to complement their premier restaurants. District Dining sits above a pub/hotel on the Surry Hills side of Central Station, it isn’t a natural area to head to for good food or even a good bar but with "House" just up the road, and El Buli around the corner, maybe it is on the up.
It is a interesting space with a great dark and atmospheric feel; there is a small bar plus a little terrace for pre-dinner drinks. We arrive about an hour early (as we had naively hoped to find somewhere reasonable for a drink before hand) and the maître d' welcomed us warmly; a good start as many places don’t cope well with early arrivals. He further impressed by fussing over us at the bar, recommending a fantastic Pinot from the Mossell Valley in France ($60), and then seating us quickly (despite our reservation being lost from their system).
The menu isn’t divided into starters and mains, instead it has a number of smaller and larger dishes to mix and match. We chose six which came as three two dish courses., and we start with some warm bread rolls and good olive oil. First up, “Crispy Quail Eggs, White Anchovies and Tarragon Mayonnaise” these are pretty good, although they could be slightly better if they were more like scotch eggs which are the rage in the the UK at the moment. This is teamed with a “Heirloom Tomato, Crispy Mojama, and Fennel Sorbet Salad” which was a real highlight, with every element working well together.
The next two dishes are a “Beetroot, Sumac, Salted Yoghurt and Basil” dish which again works very well with fresh interesting flavours. We team this with “Marinated Tuna, Wasabi Pannacotta, Soy Bean, and Ginger Marmalade” which is another star dish, the one criticism was the wasabi could have been a little more prominent.
Two larger dishes next with “Hiramasa Kingfish, Miso, Radish Salad and Eggplant” and a “Beef Cheek croquet, Chilli Eggplant, and Pickled Daikon” again two very fine dishes with great flavour profiles. Desserts are some cheese, a creamy Pont-l'Évêque, which is (like a lot of cheese in Australian restaurants) slightly over ripe with a hint of ammonia, and “Efi’s Rice Pudding and Cinnamon Ice Cream” the ice cream is wonderfully intense acting as a good counterfoil to the rice pudding.
Like many of these small plate restaurants the bill does mount up, our food costs came to $127 however it is superb value for cooking of this quality and we left completely stuffed. Total bill was $227 including the Pinot and a carafe of another French Pinot.
I highly recommend trying this place. The food is quintessentially Australian taking lots of influences from all sorts of cuisines and serving them up with a lot of style and imagination. The bar has definitely been raised in the mid-priced inner suburb dining scene - we can’t wait to return - this is up there with some of the better places we have tried over the last year.