There are fifteen dishes on the menu at Duke (not counting dessert), and if the first nine are anything to go by they other six must be superb. We ask our waiter how many dishes we should order (it is another “small plate/sharing place) and she suggests five; tricky as seven are “must haves” so we start with those, then in an act of gluttony we add a couple more. All nine were very, very good!
Duke Bistro sits above a pub and has a wonderful quirkiness and style. It is another one of those places where the staff and the restaurant fit together perfectly (like Bodega). The place has a quite energy, and underlying frission of excitement that isn’t manufactured but comes from a team that knows it is doing something special. I have been there for 2 minutes and already it feels right.
I have been thinking about my top ten for 2010 and Sepia is up there on the list where Mitch Orr worked when he won the SMH Young Chef of the Year this year and before he opened Duke a couple of months ago. He has teamed up with Thomas Linn (ex Tets) to form a superb team in the kitchen complemented by an ace FOH team - our waiter was a star!
First up the wine list, great to see a good choice by the glass and half bottle carafe, I wish more places would do this as it helps match wines better to the food without the hassle of ordering full bottles.
Ordering is tricky but we settle on “Blood Pudding, Pigs Ears, Croutons” and “ Witlof Tonnato” to start, the blood pudding is in a good chunk dressed with crunchy pis ears, it is nice and squigy in that Spanish style and is very moreish, the witlof is a riff on the classic dish and it works really well.
Next, two of their classics (classics in a two months shows how good it is). The “Tomato, Strawberry, Burrata, Shiso” has a great flavoured heirloom tomato salad melded with very creamy cheese and brought to life with shiso, the heirloom tomato is definitely fashionable at the moment. It is another moreish dish and we fight over the last bits. The “Kingfish Gin And Tonic” mixes a poached kingfish with kingfish sashimi, cucumber strips, cubes of gin jelly and some spices including coriander seeds, it is a dish that works superbly, highly innovative with a really interesting flavour profile.
Now two dishes that feature in every blog/review, “Fried Chicken Wings, Coleslaw Milk, Hot Sauce” which are OK and “Tater Tots, Duke Gravy, Edamame” which are again OK. I am certain in other restaurants they would be star dishes but here they fall into the background against the other dishes. My guess is that these two dishes are there to add fun to the menu (which they do) and whilst I wolfed them down I would try other things next time. However the “Egg, Seasonal Mushrooms, Almonds” dish is back to a stellar delivery, I recomend people don’t share this dish though, for me it works best if eaten like a bowl of soup combining the broth and mushrooms with every mouthful.
We have got to the end of our first order of even dishes but as they were so good I must order more, so “Octopus, Hops, Chilli, Orange” and “Lamb Belly, Cumin, Eggplant, Pearl Onions” the octopus is everything it says, wonderful texture and really good spicing tempered with the bitterness of the hops. Then a lamb dish that transports you straight back to Morocco with wonderful north african flavours.
I have lost my bill so I can’t break down the costs, in all it was under $200, including three carafes of wine (so one and a half bottles) and a glass of champagne. Some dishes are approx. $8, others are $16 or so, and a couple are $24ish. Good value for a big feed, better value than many.
This is one of my top meals for 2010. It is the perfect combination of a great space, great staff and amazing cooking that all comes together in the casual Sydney style. On the surface it seems funky and casual, but underneath is serious professionalism delivering a first class experience that stands up against many of the meals I have had in other countries.
PS - thanks to "eatSYD" for suggesting this - very good call