Monday, October 27, 2011
Food better shared. Dishes $10 - $28 each.
Must try - the Bread Rolls, Radishes and Dashi Butter.
The first time I went to Duke, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that there was a buzz about it being the newest, coolest place in town and I simply had to go see what it was all about. I’ve since been four times within the last six months.
The décor is eclectic, shabby-chic-cool with hog’s heads on the walls and chandeliers made from empty bottles of Veuve. Combined with the dimly lit room and dark green walls, you feel like you’re in some kind of magical, mad-hatter’s den. The food is undeniably good – quirky, surprising, fun and delicious! But I guess that’s what you’d expect from the “all-star kitchen” being Thomas Lim (ex-Tetsuya) and Mitch Orr (2010 Young Chef of the Year). Growing up, I was always told not to play with my food. At Duke, the food plays with you. Expect to find strange and delightful flavour pairings and unexpected twists and turns (I particularly enjoyed the 'vegemite on toast' on last Tuesday's tasting menu - not what I was expecting, but I can't spoil the surprise for the rest of you...).
The cocktails pack a punch, although the Tatanka ( Zubrowka, lemon, autumn spices & apple) that I had last night was a little too alcoholic (yes, I said too alcoholic) and a tad over acerbic to be completely appreciated.
As for the vino, the general wine menu has some excellent selections to chose from, however the matchings with the Tuesday tasting menu I had last week let the team down and frankly, I’m not brave enough to go there again. The staff don’t seem to be terribly savvy with the recommendations, there’s definitely an ‘I’m-going-to-make-it-up-as-I-go-along’ vibe, so if you know a little bit about wine, I’d recommend choosing your own.
Last night marked my fourth time at Duke; and the second time that I’ve been subject to questionable service by the wait staff. I’m not entirely certain whether it’s simply that I’ve raised my expectations after they received a hat at this year’s 2012 Good Food Guide Awards; or whether they’ve dropped the ball. When I went for the tasting menu last Tuesday, one waitress in particular bumped my chair every single time she walked past. Not a slight brush, not an accidental sweep through – but a brutish, solid push each time. The cutlery at Duke is fantastic, but I don’t want to poke it through my eyeball. Nor do I wish to knock my teeth against the glass that I’m trying to drink out of. It wasn’t just inconsiderate, it was unacceptable.
Lamb, Loquat, Garlic
Certain that my last experience was simply a glitch in terms of the service, I took my brother along last night with the promise of it being a trendy new venue that he could impress his girlfriend with. Of course, I made sure that neither of us sat with our backs to the thoroughfare. The food, as anticipated, was delightful. The service –again, was a let-down. Our waitress was very friendly but didn’t take our order down correctly. I hate it when that happens. We ordered the radishes, dashi-butter, bread rolls (an absolute must) and the bacon jam, egg, toast to share and ordered two serves of the lamb, loquat, garlic (which was on special – and it was truly special). However, we got one serve of the lamb (which takes some time to prepare, naturally) and when I asked the waitress if she placed one or two orders, she said we ordered one of the lamb; AND the veal shortrib pancake party. WTF? NOoooooooo. She dutifully went back to the kitchen to check, and when she returned, she proclaimed that it was OK, she’d just ordered the one serve of the lamb. Not ok – but lucky, as we were starting to get full by that stage anyway. Later in the evening, my brother wanted to order sake and asked our waitress for her recommendation. Mistake. She informed us that two of the three on the menu were served warm and one cold. He opted for one of the ‘warm’ ones – for the very reason that it’s served warm. 5 minutes later, cocktail maestro Luke Ashton brought out the sake – cold. I was starting to get pretty annoyed by this stage. I HATE bad service. I explained to Mr. Ashton that we’d been given the wrong sake. As it turns out, he gave us the sake that we did in fact order – it’s just served cold. My waitress fuck-up metre nearly exploded.
Duke is a noisy, throbbing epicentre for adoring locals and seriously loud groups of yuppies (noise is considerably amplified by the wooden floor boards). Service get’s the thumbs down, but it’s the food that sings and will lure me back again in good time. I wonder if they’ll maintain their hat next year.
Phone. 02 9332 3180
65 Flinders St. Darlinghurst (on top of The Flinders Hotel)
Sydney, NSW 2010
(Images courtesy - Duke Bistro)