Restaurant Round-Up Autumn 2012

by Jan

This is about a few Sydney restaurants myself and others have eaten at in early 2012:

Wilbur’s Place

Llankelly Place, Kings Cross 2011

Waiting on a stool outside Wilbur’s Place for my friend to arrive, Llankelly Place appears to have been brought to life a la Melbourne. It always seemed bleak and uninviting. Now there’s plenty of foot traffic – all sorts of people.

Wilbur’s has a darkish interior with natural wooden stools. But a seat outside is attractive if you enjoy people-watching.

It’s owned by the Bourke Street Bakery people, and the rustic nature of the breads and pastries carries through to their menus here.

Lamb ragu with orecchiette ($19) is rustically Italian, but slightly let down by the undercooked pasta. Another rustic dish is slow roasted suckling pig with borlotti beans and Brussel sprouts ($22). The added attraction was a decent chunk of crunchy crackling. Hard to go past that.

My friend bought a bottle of Otago pinot noir, which was a good choice for the food. They don’t have a liquor licence yet.

We shared a toasted brioche ice cream sandwich ($12). Lovely idea, but needed a hit of something wet such as a strawberry salad, or some caramelized apples.

This little restaurant gets very busy – lots of a Gen Y nice young things who like interesting food without paying a fortune.



1385 Botany Rd, Botany, NSW 2019

Having driven through an unprepossessing light industrial suburb, we enter a dining room with yellow oak tables and chairs, and interesting second-hand Victorian era reproduction antique furniture. There are also chandeliers and plenty of pretty tea lights. None of this fits the suburb and is a comforting relief nonetheless. It felt like home; no standing on ceremony.

The floor staff are pleasant and refreshingly unpretentious. This is a family run business, and it shows. The chef is Simon Lawson who used to be the chef at Nove Cucina at Woolloomooloo. He also used to be a supplier of organic foods, and now that he has his own gig, he can put all sorts of organic foods and wines on his menus.

Agape runs special menus and ours was an 8 course menu ($88) using ancient grains from Peruvian and Bolivian cuisines. The first course was a ceviche using amaranth, quinoa, kingfish, lime, chilli, sweet potato helped along with spelt crispbread. Probably the best ceviche I have ever eaten – it had a soupcon of chilli and lime to balance the flavours.

Saltenas are like small empanadas, but made with spelt pastry providing a very short crumb. Inside was organic wagyu beef, accompanied by a thick tomato and herb sauce.

Humitas sound like something steamed and sure enough – a sweetcorn pudding  wrapped in corn leaves with cheese, aji pepper, amaranth, chilli and spring onion.

By the way, all of this was being washed down with the Agape carafe of house white ($30). It was a chardonnay, and nice for a variation from the default position of  NZ sauvignon blanc.

Chupe de camarones was a slightly spicy prawn, potato, milk and quinoa soup. Expecting the classic bisque base, a similar flavour was effected with milk, producing a thinner product than a roux-based bisque.

Chairo was a lamb ragout made with aji pepper, corn on the cob, potato, barley and black quinoa. The barley, quinoa and potato provided a natural thickener. This stew was comforting and brought alive with a hit of cumin, and sweetness from the sweet corn.

We were indulged with not one but three desserts. Biscuits which looked like bought ones, were made with spelt, and were iced together with condensed milk caramel and drizzled with ganache. They crumbled very easily – even shorter than sweet pastry and shortbread.

Good old rice pud metamorphosed into arroz con leche. Except that it wasn’t arroz but quinoa and amaranth flavoured with cinnamon. A few slices of poached stone fruit wouldn’t have gone astray.

Helado e picarones – corn chia ice cream with Peruvian sweet potato fritters. It would have been like vanilla ice cream but for the lack of vanilla, and the sweet potato fritter was reminiscent of Spanish churros.

This lovely meal was one of the monthy Agape Love Feasts; the next ones will have different themes. Definitely worth signing up for.



50 McLachlan Ave, Rushcutters Bay, NSW 2011

Popolo is very popular – full by 7pm on a cool Monday evening. I would like to think it’s because the food is fantastic. However, judging by the eating out scene at the moment, it’s more likely to be because the restaurant is new, shiny and trendy. And, maybe a celebrity might have dined there.

The food is southern Italian, Sardinian and Sicilian, using seasonal produce, cooked simply. A bit like Elizabeth David’s cook books.

Grilled prawns done with lemon zest, parsley and a drizzle of olive oil, and couldn’t be nicer. Even the tail shells are delicious to crunch in your mouth. The octopus salad with green olives was not fridge-cold and tasteless; it was beautiful.

Italian standards such as ravioli and lasagne are a cut above the usual. The pasta with slow-cooked chicken and tomato ragu could be nudged apart with a spoon.

In the primi section of the menu, the pasta is often free-form.

Fregola with tomato and mussels was cooked like a risotto. It had a good depth of flavour suggesting it had been cooked with a real seafood stock.

There was a special of slow-braised veal with thyme and Cos lettuce. Again you could nudge it apart with a fork.

Even the potato wedges were exceptional: skins on, with onion and rosemary.

The wines are Italian and Sicilian and some are available by the glass.

Prices are reasonable, and along with the good cooking, make the perfect formula for repeat business. No wonder this restaurant is full most of the time.

They have a wood-fired pizza oven. My next visit will be to sample some of that.