We’ve passed Hello Auntie multiple times on our numerous trips to Darling Square, and felt it was time to pay them a visit. Given the limited COVID-19 seating situation, we booked ahead for the same night, which was not a problem at all on a Wednesday.
Hello Auntie has mixed indoor and outdoor seating, and provides blankets to snuggle up under for both indoor outdoor patrons. I can’t imagine that these are washed very often, and thus with the COVID-19 context in mind draws allusions to Christopher Columbus.
As lovers of fried chicken, we were unable to see past the Ga Chien Vi Pho ($32). 500 grams of fried chicken in a pho-flavoured batter could not simply be ignored. We were surprised with three large pieces of juicy, tender chicken in a fluffy golden batter – I had imagined more numerous, smaller pieces. The chicken was tasty and not faultable – a definite recommendation. Despite being listed in the menu I didn’t realise the dish came with a large amount of salad – lettuce heart in plenty of ceasar-like dressing. A relatively heavy and oily salad but a nice and surprising addition.
The other dish we had was the Mi xao bo birria ($21). Supposedly angus blade ragu in biang biang noodles, this dish was very similar to the pappardelle with lamb shank ragu at Flour Drum, but nowhere near as good. The angus blade ragu amounted to little more than connective tissue with only a vague hint of actual meat. It was a very chewy affair. We also found that the biang biang noodles had an odd stale-like taste, which just piled onto the dish’s inadequacies. It was ultimately a poorly executed noodle dish that I wish we had avoided.
While I enjoyed Hello Auntie’s chicken, the ragu was a big letdown. I would return to Hello Auntie to try some other dishes, but probably not in the near future. Hello Auntie earns a rare 3.5/5 chickens. Bok bok.
Is it a restaurant? Is it a bar? The answer is it’s probably both. I had walked past Nakano Darling in Darling Square n-number of times before a few of my colleagues decided we’d get dinner and drinks there one October night. I had never been keen on Nakano – after all, what kind of izakaya doesn’t offer yakitori? – but was willing to give it ago.
We went on a weekend evening after work, which meant that while parking was literally right next to the restaurant, it cost $8 instead of the usual $5. We shared a 300mL bottle of kizakura sake ($22) between the four of us, a can of nonalcoholic fuji apple cider each ($4), as well as a variety of nibbles. Allow me to elaborate further.
This is the largest serving of chicken karaage ($24), with which we paid an additional $2 each for mentai mayo and yu-rinchi dipping sauce. I really liked the karaage. It had a surprising tangy vinegary flavour that is nonstandard for karaage and thus I had not anticipated. This sour and delicious marinade made me want to keep on eating the chicken. The mentai mayo and yu-rinchi dipping sauces ended up being a bit superflous in my opinion. The yu-rinchi was mostly untouched, and the mentai mayo ended up being used for other dishes. The karaage stood strongly on its own flavouring.
This was the chive and egg omelette ($9.90) which was mostly nonremarkable. I liked that it was not overcooked and that the egg was still somewhat yolky, however think that it would have been better if the chives were more finely chopped so that they could be more evenly distributed throughout the dish. It had a subtle and nonmemorable flavour to it.
The corn butter ($11.50) had sweet corn in butter and cheese. I did not personally enjoy it, however I cannot speak for my colleagues. This is a dish you would commonly see at a budget Korean diner.
The stir fried wagyu ($11.50) was the biggest disappointment of the night. It had a mere 4 tiny pieces of beef for us to share, and indeed was more full of capsicum and other vegetables. Truly an unenjoyable disappointment.
The gyoza (3 rows for $24) was some of the best gyoza I have ever had. Probably the best. They came out super fresh and piping hot, and the meaty and juicy fillings stand out above any other gyoza I have had at a restaurant in recent times. We loved it so much that we ended up getting a second serving at the end of our meal.
Overall I found that the gyoza and karaage are standouts among the food, while the others were quite missable. We did ask for some mackerel and were not told that it was unavailable until we queried it about an hour later. The overall vibe of the place was very nice and authentic, with many reminders posted in our booth to drink and be loud in each other’s company.
Definitely a place to visit with a group of friends. Not a place to go by yourself or as a couple. Can recommend, and could recommend even more if they added yakitori to their offerings.
UPDATE – 03/03/2021
Nakano Darling was the restaurant that started it all for our group of intrepid intensive care foodies, and after a further 21 meals together we found ourselves back at this Darling Square izakaya. We were keen to try some of the items that we had missed out on during our last visit, as well as some new menu items and old favourites – the gyoza and chicken karaage.
Orion beer tower was $48 for 2L. Our health minded group did not have the power to finish it between the four of us.
The chives and egg omelette ($9.90) had actually completely changed from our last visit in October 2020. The omelette’s construction is now far more loose and soft, with less of a hard flat surface than before. The taste and texture of the omelette is now improved, and I actually quite enjoyed it.
The vinegar cured mackerel (shimesaba) ($11.50) – a cold dish that is heated by a torch just prior to serving, was actually pretty great. The vinegar marinade soaked well into the mackerel’s flesh, producing a sour-umami hit with each bite. I’m glad we were able to come back for this, as it had been sold out on our previous visit.
The takowasa ($5.90), a small dish of raw octopus heavily flavoured with wasabi. It was a bit of an adventurous order but actually turned out to be quite nice. The octopus was chopped into very small bits and had a really crisp texture when chewed. The flavour was good and fresh, though I can’t say much for the COVID-safety of the dish (2 of our 4 have been already received the Pfizer vaccine though, with one more scheduled to receive it the following day).
Following on from the octopus theme, the octopus karaage ($8.50) was unfortunately a bit more boring than the rest of the meal. It was just a standard dish of octopus, battered and deep fried, served with a wedge of lemon. Nothing special to see here.
The Japanese Beef Curry with croquette ($15) was nice but not really a plate amenable to sharing. The beef was cooked straight into the curry sauce, with bits of muscle, fat, and connective tissue mixed in. The option of topping (karaage, croquette, cheese, or mini veg) was a bit limiting, and we would’ve liked to have been able to order multiple toppings as add ons. Generally a good curry though, with the sauce being a standout, similar to though just slightly beaten by Manpuku’s in Kingsford.
VERDICT I can definitely recommend Nakano Darling as a place to drink and eat with your friends and colleagues. 5 stars.
Masterful inactivity is a skill to be lauded in the intensive care setting. When you’re in a mixed HDU/ICU environment surrounded by both sick patients and not-so-sick patients it’s important to know when to do the invasive, expensive investigations and treatments and when to just sit back and watch.
The same is not true for deciding where to eat for dinner. I was paralysed with indecision last night, presented with three choices of which I could only choose one. It was my partner who took the reins and decided Belle’s Hot Chicken, the restaurant that we had originally set out for at the start of the night but had baulked at when the notion of having to wait in a queue for a table was raised.
We parked in Wilson Parking (Darling Square – Zollner Circuit), which is only $5 for weeknights and weekends. It’s a bit cramped, especially on a weekend, compared to the nearby Darling Quarter parking, however is very close to Darling Square with no walk required. Discovering pre-booked paid parking in the city actually changed my outlook to dining in the city completely. For the longest time I had completely avoided going into the CBD, afraid of having to navigate one way roads and find difficult parking. Now with Wilson Parking I don’t have to worry. I know I may sound like a paid shill for Wilson (and I wish I were – I have introduced a number of colleagues to them) but I really am not. I am also very against Wilson Security’s alleged role in spying on Senator Sarah Hanon-Young in Nauru back in 2015, but a cheap park is a cheap park.
We had the 3 wings with fries ($16), medium heat to cater for my girlfriend’s tastebuds. I thought that the fries were fresh and tasty, however the large wings were a bit difficult to eat. The wings, for reference, consisted of both a small drumstick, the normal wing piece, and the wing tip. The chicken itself was quite moist and tasty, however medium is definitely not spicy enough for me – if you look at it it’s really the 2nd weakest rating out of 6 or 7 different spice levels. I also thought that this combo was a bit steep in price. The wings also came with plenty of pickles.
To satisfy our curiosity for what other parts of the chicken tasted like, we also ordered a single drumstick for $4 – flavoured in hot. This also came with some pickles and white bread. I enjoyed the drumstick more than the wing, which is somewhat of an anomaly for me. I found the drumstick moist and juicy, and the hot spice setting was better than the medium setting. My partner didn’t like the drumstick as much – she found it drier than the wings – but I respectfully disagree.
The Belle’s Wild Wings (3 for $5 or 8 for $11) were stars of the show. They come in Southern, Maple Butter, or “Fuck COVID” seasoning levels, and we had Southern. The “Fuck COVID” spice level is apparently very high, a choice which I must question given the propensity for very spicy foods to induce coughing and other aerosol generating reflexes. The wings themselves were excellent, similar to the other pieces of chicken. I find that the mid-wing is my favourite type of wing, and think that 8 for $11 is just excellent value.
The Sauces (3 for $5) were nothing to write home about. The hot sauce was very similar to Frank’s Red Hot sauce. The Mississippi comeback was good, the blue cheese was fine. I am a bit sad t hat there was no free sauce offered, however I didn’t really think that sauce was required, come to think of it.
The Belle’s Chicken Sandwich ($13) was moist and juicy. The mayo-style sauce, lettuce, pickles and cheese really added a fresh taste to the moist thigh chicken . This was my partner’s top pick of the meal and I can also recommend it. It’s not very spicy and I don’t know if you could for it to be made spicier if you wanted it to be that way.
The Belles Spritz ($13) is a mix of aperol and pet nat. It’s fine.
Overall I did enjoy Belle’s Hot Chicken. My partner still thinks that Thirsty Bird is better, but I really liked the spiciness of Belle’s. I’d like to come back, and get everything with at least the fourth level of spiciness.
One other slight digression I will make is a complaint about the lack of sink-space. Fried chicken is a very hands-on meal, and I think that, especially in the current COVID-19 environment, that it would not just be handy but even compulsory to have some kind of handwashing station available. I understand that there are not toilets available inside – there are some available elsewhere in the Darling Square complex – but a lack of handwashing facilities is in my opinion unacceptable. While 3 wet wipes were available for the table, I think that a sink would have gone a long way – both in the pre and the post consumption phases.
When my partner was a wee lass working in Concord she would always try and drag me to Auvers Cafe in Rhodes for brunch. “Why?” I ‘d ask her. “Why do you keep wanting me to go with you, even though you can go by yourself for breakfast after a night shift?” Her answer was always that she wanted to share this delicious food with me.
A few of nights ago we happened upon Auvers Dining in Darling Square. It was amazing for my partner to see her favourite local cafe all grown up into a legitimate French-Asian fusion restaurant in the big smoke. It also happened to be part of Auvers’ 1st birthday celebrations, and as such we got to have a free cocktail each.
Starry 75 – Good. Bubbly. Not too sweet
Death in the Afternoon – Quite sweet. Also good
I had the Lobster On Souffle ($38) with caviar, bonito creamy sauce, and black garlic. It was a dish of a few firsts for me – first caviar and first souffle. I enjoyed how light and bouncy the souffle was, and we both really liked the creamy sauce. The fact that it was bonito based was not immediately clear, as it didn’t taste fishy at all, just umami. There was a reasonable quantity of lobster for the price, as well as a sneaky serving of scallop which wasn’t listed in the menu. I don’t normally care much for black garlic, however my girlfriend liked it. I also enjoyed the kumquat – it was the first time in a very long time I had tasted it.
My partner chose the Piggy Roulade ($28) with poached saffron pear, celeriac remoulade, apple yuzu puree, Tonkotsu sauce. You will see that the word “pork” is not listed in the menu, and my partner was kind enough to double check with our waiter to make sure there was some meat involved. The meat that was involved was juicy and well cooked, however felt a bit stagnant towards the end. There was probably just too much of it in the same style for one dish, something that was apparent even as each of us was eating only half of it. The apple puree and the poached pears stood strongly on their own, but I felt like they did not pear well with the flavour of the pork. My partner disagreed with me on this and she liked that they brought some acidity into the mix.
Overall I had a really good time at Auvers Dining. There are still quite a few items on the menu that I’d like to try, and I’d ideally like to try them this month to take advantage of their free drink offer.
UPDATE 28/9/2020 – We went back
Whiskey sour – enjoyed more
Spring special sour – enjoyed less. Bit too sweet.
The Ox Tongue Soba Cabonara ($22) was quite good, and well priced. I liked the creaminess of the cabonara, but thought that the ox tongue was a bit tough. My partner didn’t mind this however and happily ate the ox tongue pieces in one bite. I did like the addition of reticulum, which I thought provided a fun texture and taste. (My partner, though Chinese, does not like weird animal parts).
I really enjoyed the Wagyu Beef Skewers (2 for $18), although I thought the price was a bit steep. The beef was tender and juicy, and I liked that shallots and mushrooms skewered between the pieces of meat. While it was quite a price to pay for merely two skewers the taste of these skewers really sets them apart from the competition. I’m still yet to find a nice, quality but cheap yakitori place in Sydney (let me know if you have a line on one!)
The Szechuan Calamari with salted egg mayo ($15) were a reasonably priced starter with good taste. I liked that they weren’t too salty, and I think that this is actually one of my favourite salted egg dishes I’ve had recently (and boy have I had a few – I think it must be in vogue.). I also liked the half lime that they gave us to drizzle over the calamari, although I can’t figure out why they decided to blacken it.
The Dragon Well Tea Creme Brulee ($15) I could’ve lived without. I thought it was quite sweet, and I couldn’t really appreciate the green tea flavour. My partner liked it quite a bit. More power to her.
I met with my friend for lunch at Darling Square a couple of months ago. I had wanted to try Dopa by Devon for a while, and the weekend provided the perfect opportunity as parking was more readily available. I parked at Novotel Sydney Central, which was $9.20 for weekend parking.
I had the Grilled Glacier 51 Toothfish Don, which was $38 for the est with miso soup and some salad and pickles, plus an exorbitant Sunday surcharge. Toothfish is one of the rare and somewhat unknown treasures of the sea, and until quite recently a forbidden animal, owing to a lack of a sustainable way to capture it. It was only recently that an Australian fishery out of Heard Island has been able to apply sustainable fishing techniques to bring the joy of this fish to the table.
The toothfish serving in Dopa’s toothfish don was huge and the texture just so delicate. It really melted right into my mouth, and the taste of the marinade complemented rather than overwhelmed the fish. It was only my second time eating toothfish, and I thought it was equal to the toothfish I had at Sokyo for a much higher price. It was much better than the toothfish I had at Zushi Barangaroo.
While expensive and with a nonsensical weekend surcharge, I really enjoyed the toothfish don at Dopa. I want to bring my girlfriend here soon.
SEPTEMBER 2020 UPDATE #1
I brought my girlfriend here. We had the toothfish don (again) and she loved it. There definitely wasn’t as much toothfish this time, which was a bit disappointing, and I have the photographic evidence to prove it. I also thought the toothfish wasn’t cooked as well, but was still better than Zushi Barnagaroo.
We also had the Scrambled Egg and Furikake Don ($8). Wow. This dish really went far to show just how good and wholesome a simple meal can be. The eggs were perfectly soft and fluffy, and made for a great topping for the warm rice, and the furikake provided a great tasty addition. To use a now overused phrase, the scrambled egg furikake don really warmed me up from the inside. It was just so wholesome, and cheap!
My partner enjoyed the yuzu green tea more than me.
SEPTEMBER 2020 UPDATE #2
Damn it, we went back. This time we were a bit too full already, having had a light meal at A1 Canteen in the morning.
The Mentai Salmon Don I didn’t really enjoy. It was a far cry from the other light, fresh, unami dishes that Dopa serves. The spicy mentai mayo was too thick and overpowering. I liked that it helped to cook the salmon a bit, and I did really enjoy the salmon component. It was overall too tasty and I wouldn’t recommend.
We also had the A5-7 Wagyu Don with shallot and ginger. I thought the thinly sliced beef was quite tender, however I thought that the ginger and shallot, a mainstay of Chinese BBQ cooking, did not work well with the beef. It split the meal into two components in my mind – the light Japanese taste of the beef, seaweed, and egg, and the salty and strong taste of the ginger and shallot to be eaten with rice. My girlfriend did not get to enjoy this dish as she was moving the car and by the time she got back it was cold.
Overall Dopa is one of our new favourite places. It offers well priced, homely Japanese fare. They never have any uni available when I go but I hope one day they will and I will be able to update this post. Yum.