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1945

Cuisine: Indonesian

Just as some restaurant sites are cursed, others are blessed. This place, formerly Blue Eye Dragon, is now home to a charming re-creation of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). The Dutch took to the local cuisine and invented a way of serving it, rijsttafel (literally rice table), little dishes offering many tastes around a bowl of rice. Order set rijsstafels served on large wooden platters, from $32 per person, or assemble your own helped by elegant waitresses in sarong kebaya. We loved deep-fried squid with a sweet soy and chilli sauce $7, sate babi $3 and stuffed eggplant $5. A good wine list, interesting Indonesian soft drinks and desserts (try the es tjendol of green riceflour jellies, coconut milk and palm sugar $7) add up to a highly repeatable experience.
 

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ALIRA

Cuisine: Indonesian,Mediterranean

We were wowed by this Mediterranean gem. Terrific service, excellent food and reasonable prices all in a comfortable open-to-the-wharf mildly Moorish themed room. The menu is divided into Peruse (nibbles), Bite (slightly larger nibbles), Charcuteria, Devour (mains) and Savour (desserts). There are excellent wines by the glass and cocktails $16. We perused and grazed on a succulent Moroccan eggplant salad $4.50 and salted blue-eye croquettes $14 before devouring spiced cauliflower and goat curd $20 and biting into an excellent hiramasa kingfish in escabeche $24 — and much more. Every dish was carefully and cleverly conceived and cooked. This place is well worth a long trip but hurry — word will get out. Tip: it’s a great first date venue.

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BARTINO

Cuisine: Indonesian,Mediterranean,Portuguese

A cruisey little corner of Portugal in Pyrmont, this friendly and useful breakfast lunch and dinner bar offers many easy ways for you to snack or eat up big. There’s a list of around eight tapas, including patatas bravas, the Portuguese version of spicy potatoes. Moving into entrees, you could kick off with Bartino garlic prawns served sizzling $16 and try the curious alentejana, a mix of pork, pippies, potatoes and pickled vegetables $28 — trust us, it’s a terrific dish. Sit outside and watch Pyrmont pass you by sipping on a glass of Casal Garcia vinho verde, perhaps with one of the courtyard menus offering a number of little dishes, such as marinated squid and chicken and mushroom tarts, $20 for five dishes, $30 for seven.

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BLUE EYE DRAGON

Cuisine: Indonesian,Mediterranean,Portuguese,Taiwanese

A friend who works nearby never realised this Taiwanese restaurant existed. That’s because it’s cleverly disguised in the hall of St Bede’s Church and there’s nothing to suggest a Chinese connection except for the iron gates with a dragon cut-out. Those who do venture inside to a full house, even mid-week, are blessed with such offerings as slivers of stewed beef shin with sesame oil and shallot $10 and pork dumplings with chives $10, which are so popular that frozen take-home packs are offered. Mains are similarly inspired, with a fragrant pork belly, slow-cooked in soy and star anise $22, a stand-out dish. The floorstaff are charming, if service is a little slow, and sticky rice cakes in ginger syrup with sweet peanut powder $8 is an interesting finish.

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CAFE XXII

Cuisine: Indonesian,Mediterranean,Portuguese,Taiwanese,Modern Australian

What’s not to like in this clever and useful spot in a gorgeous old sandstone building serving everything from breakfast through dinner to brunch in great style? Start your day with a mushroom and goat’s cheese omelette, or crisp brioche French toast with marinated strawberries and mascarpone, both $14.50. Moving to lunch, there’s always a bruschetta menu of the day. When you get to dinner, prices go up somewhat (entrees 18.50, mains $24.50–$32 and the menu changes every second night. It always includes two pasta dishes and a risotto but may have something like pan-fried mulloway (previously Jewfish) fillet with fennel puree, eschallot vinaigrette and crispy cuttlefish $32. It’s a great place with super service, their own coffee and a smart wine list with lots by the glass.

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GRAZE

Cuisine: Indonesian,Mediterranean,Portuguese,Taiwanese,Modern Australian,Modern European

Very occasionally you come across a place that offers seriously good, interesting and flavoursome food in an elegant setting with charming service — and reasonable prices. Our advice? Go now because it can’t last. The last time we experienced this was at the first Becasse in Albion Street. A short menu yields seven tasting plates/entrees, five mains and four desserts. Superb standout: little cigars of rouget fillet wrapped in crisp brik pastry, deep-fried and served with lemon parsley and olives $15. Gnocchi with pine mushrooms (when available), salsa verde and parmesan $19 is a sensual delight. And who could resist the very modern nitrogen-poached chocolate fondant with a raspberry sorbet $14, a triumph of taste and texture? The wine list is by Peter Bourne, aka “the Wine Man”. Bravissimo.

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PYRAMA

Cuisine: Indonesian,Mediterranean,Portuguese,Taiwanese,Modern Australian,Modern European,Modern Australian

Some modern Australian restaurants run the risk of being showy without substance but Pyrama does not have a speck of pretention. Inside, it has a contemporary, airy feel enhanced by a casual courtyard that overlooks some undeveloped land. The waitstaff are pleasantly banter-happy and serve quality food with a convenient, no-fuss “meal deal” system: $40 gets you two courses and $52 will get you three. Beef carpaccio with confit mushrooms, cannellini beans and truffle dressing starts the meal on a high note and mains such as duck confit and steamed Boston Bay mussels, while not surprising, are solid in their simplicity. Classic desserts might include blueberry and almond crumble and a white chocolate brulee. While not breaking barriers, it’s an enjoyable experience with exuberant service and plenty of smiles.

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VIVA GOA

Cuisine: Indonesian,Mediterranean,Portuguese,Taiwanese,Modern Australian,Modern European,Modern Australian,Goan

Goa, if it is known at all, is famous for a curry called, in Indian restaurants everywhere, vindaloo, which, as you learn (and can eat) here, is a corruption of the Portuguese vin d’alho, meaning garlic wine $18.90. By the time the plonk arrived at this former Portuguese colony on India’s western coast it had usually turned to vinegar and that’s how it was used to cook a hot, vinegary, garlicky pork curry. Goan fish curry $19.90, flavoured with coconut and tomato, is also a dish of renown. All this wonderful food is served in a cute spic-and-span terrace with a lovely outdoor area just off Harris Street by a happy crew working for chef Gus d’Souza, who credits his mum for his knowledge of Goanese food. If there are four or more of you, maybe a banquet $29.90–$40.90 is the way to start with an unfamiliar cuisine.

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