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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove

Megas vromiko gyro with loukaniko, feta, egg and loukoumades at Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove

We've had bacon with pancakes and fried chicken with waffles, but what about a gyros with sausage, egg and... a syrup-soaked donut? It's the kind of madcap offering that puts a glint in the eye of David Tsirekas. The Greek chef - ex-Perama and ex-Xanthi - is back in the 'burbs and at the forefront of a gyros tidal wave that seems to be sweeping across Sydney.

Pork souvlaki kalamaki on charcoal at Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove
Pork souvlaki kalamaki on the charcoal barbecue $4.50 per skewer

Kefi's Souvlaki Bar has prime position on Kingsgrove Road, just a few shops down from Kingsgrove train station. The dine-in Kefi Tavern opened next door about a month ago, but on a weekend lunchtime, most locals are more interested in takeaway souvlaki. The queue at the register is constant. Order and pay at the cashier and then hover close by until your name is called.

Gyros spits at Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove
Giant gyros spits

There are only three tables inside but if the weather's fine, the outdoor tables are just as pleasant, even if the view is mostly of passing traffic. While you wait for your order, you can spy on everything happening in the kitchen, set up behind panes of glass. The slowly rotating giant gyros spits are almost hypnotic to look at.

Pork gyro at Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove
Pork gyro $8

The menu is surprisingly extensive given the market is mostly takeaway. Calamari, octopus, king prawns, pork neck and haloumi are all available on the barbecue grill. We'll have to come back next time for the kokoretsi ($42), a traditional dish of lamb intestines wrapped around a mix of offal.

We're all about the gyro today though, variations of protein wrapped up in a fluffy rounds of warm fresh pita bread with salad. The classic gyro comes with pork, chicken or lamb. We can't decide which one to choose until the cashier says "get the pork. It's the best one".

She's on the money. The pork is succulent and juicy, jammed into a handheld torpedo of pita bread, tomato, onion, parsley and several hot chips for crunch. Squiggles of tzatziki and their housemade mustard mayo add zing.

Soft shell crab gyro and pork belly baklava gyros at Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove
Soft shell crab gyro $9.50
and pork belly baklava gyro $9.50

They do non-standard issue gyros here too. Haloumi pita is perfect for vegetarians, wrapped up with olive tapenade and honey peppered figs. We're onto the soft shell crab version, and the pork belly baklava one too.

Soft shell crab gyro at Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove
Soft shell crab gyro $9.50

I had doubts about the idea of a soft shell crab gyro but after one bite, I'm a convert. The soft shell crab is fleshy and sweet with a mouthwatering crunch. They're generous with it too. The soft shell crab is packed for the entire length of the pita bread.

The accompanying "Greekslaw" is a little on the sweet side, with a few too many sultanas for my liking, but the sprigs of coriander add a welcome freshness.

Pork belly baklava gyros at Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove
Pork belly baklava gyro $9.50

David's signature pork belly baklava lives on. Where it was a fancy plated dish at Xanthi, here it's been deconstructed and taken on a backpacker's holiday. The pork belly baklava gyro has all the familiar components of its predecessor: slow roasted pork belly, date and pistachio paste and glorious tiles of crackling on top. The filo sheets are toasted shards of flaky pastry. Apple mastic mayo brings everything together.

It all combines into one wild party of textures. You kinda feel like you need a beer with this one. If you're anything like me, you'll be saving the crackling for last.

Megas vromiko gyro with loukaniko, feta, egg and loukoumades at Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove
Megas vromiko $11
with regular fries $4.50
BBQ loukaniko, feta, sunny side up egg, chips, mustard mayo, roasted capsicum sauce and two loukoumades balls

Every now and then, David adds a weekend special to the menu. We manage to swing by during his vromiko offer. The vromiko is like a Greek breakfast wrap - slices of spicy loukaniko sausage (made from pork and lamb), a sunny side egg, crumbled feta and chips.

The megas vromiko shifts everything up a gear with the inclusion of two loukoumades donut balls. Sure these are usually eaten as dessert, but somehow the syrup soaked donuts work brilliantly against the backdrop of meat, salt and egg. The roasted capsicum sauce adds a smoky sweet harmony.

"It's the perfect cure for hangovers," we're told, when the server behind the counter hands across our order.

Loukoumades donuts and baklava ice cream dessert at Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove
Kefi's loukoumades $6 for 4 pieces
and baklava ice cream

We'd dropped by Kefi anonymously and unannounced (my usual modus operandi), but David spots us and recognises me from a previous event I'd attended. Just when we'd been contemplating dessert, David appears at our table bearing complimentary sweets.

The loukoumades are fresh from the fryer, hot and fluffy with a light dousing of syrup that doesn't overwhelm the palate. I've had loukoumades a couple of times before, but these are some of the best I've had, not doughy nor rubbery nor sickly sweet. You could easily eat several of these in one sitting. The light dusting of crushed pistachio gives a great textural counter.

You can order David's other signature dish, the baklava ice cream at the tavern next door ($12.50) but it isn't usually available from the souvlaki bar. That's a shame because it works a treat after several gyros, the cool vanilla ice cream sandwiched around a filling of baklava nuts and syrup, then drizzled with condensed milk.

There's a good mix of Greek tradition here with room for modern twists to keep everyone on their toes. To keep up-to-date with David's latest specials, follow @dtsirekas on Instagram.

Kefi Souvlaki Bar, Kingsgrove

Kefi Greek Tavern on Urbanspoon

Kefi Souvlaki and Pizza Bar
1/231 Kingsgrove Road, Kingsgrove, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9554 4444

Opening hours:
Tuesday and Wednesday 11am-10pm 
Thursday to Saturday 11am- 11pm
Sunday 11am-10pm 
Closed Mondays

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Greek - Diethnes, Sydney
Greek - Traditional Gyradiko, Bexley
Greek - Yiamas Greek Taverna, St Peters

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 9/14/2014 01:30:00 am

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst

Skewers on the charcoal grill at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst

Is this a yakitori bar in Tokyo? Nope. It's Chaco Bar in downtown Darlinghurst. You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Stools line the long communal table running down the middle of the room, hanging wooden boards list the menu in Japanese, and through the kitchen window and you can spot the yakitori chef standing over a smoky charcoal grill.

Diners at the communal table at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Diners at the communal table

Perhaps the great pinch-yourself moment is when you realise you're standing on the former site of Jazz City Diner. The American-style booth seats have been ripped out, replaced with stools and tables illuminated by the flicker of tea light candles. The kitchen is now separated from the main dining room by a windowed wall. On the shelves are giant bottles of homemade liquers, quietly infusing with all kinds of fruit including custard apple and quince. When they're ready, they'll be incorporated into new menu desserts, head chef Keita Abe (ex-Toko and Mamasan) tells us.

Tiny bar chairs beneath the wooden menu boards at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Possibly the world's tiniest chairs

The focus is on yakitori skewers here, meat on sticks cooked over charcoal and served with alcohol. They're still waiting on their liquor licence to be approved, so for now you can BYO for $4 per person. That means more money for food. Win.

There's a short range of other dishes, including sashimi, salads, dumplings and the requisite fluffy lotus steamed beans sandwich with pork that seem to be popping up everywhere.

Smoky edamame soy beans at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Smoky edamame soy beans $7

We start with edamame soy beans. They've been briefly grilled over charcoal, lifted to a whole new level of tastiness with their blistered skins and faint smoky char.

Crytal bay prawn sashimi, uni sea urchin roe with truffle and tuna at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Today's sashimi: raw Crystal Bay prawns, uni sea urchin roe with truffles and tuna $21

The sashimi offering changes every day. Tonight it's seared tuna, raw Crystal Bay prawns and a tiny pot of sea urchin roe crowned with truffle.

Uni sea urchin roe with truffle at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Uni sea urchin roe with truffles

The tuna has a melting softness and the prawns - while fresh - aren't particularly sweet. I'm a huge fan of the sea urchin roe, intensely buttery and briny, but think the bottled truffles are probably unnecessary.

Mounds of freshly grated wasabi and yuzu paste make for great seasoning additions. The lightly cooked okra is a winner too.

Spicy John Dory dumpling at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Spicy John Dory dumpling $14

The spicy John Dory dumpling has plenty of kick - perhaps not such a good combination when served at the same time as the sashimi. The tender fish filling is encased in slippy smooth dumpling skins. Grab one by the toothpick and swish it all around in the surrounding sauce spiked with chilli pepper.

Chicken heart skewer and pork belly skewer at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Hatsu chicken heart $3/skewer
and butabara pork belly skewer $4/skewer

The skewers come out as they're cooked. It means they'll arrive in varying waves, each transferred to your serving plate draped with raw chunks of cabbage. The bed of cabbage is there for a reason. When you do need to cleanse the palate, you get the crunch of raw cabbage with all the meat juices too. Crazy good.

They shove everything onto skewers here, and that's half the fun. The chicken hearts are a joy to eat, expertly cooked so they're plump and tender. The pork belly is lusciously ribboned with fat, rendered out so you're left with melting mouthfuls of porcine deliciousness.

There are little saucers of seasoning on every table too. Go wild with salt flakes, togarashi chilli pepper and - in a strange twist that surprisingly works - chimichurri made with parsley, garlic and olive oil.

Chicken wings at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Chicken wings $4/2 pieces

Chicken wings might seem run-of-the-mill, but there's a heightened plane of enjoyment when they've been cooked over charcoal. The skin crisps up to a brittle veneer and the flavour of the chicken has intensified from cooking on the bone. A squeeze of fresh lemon is all you need for maximum satisfaction.

Chicken thigh skewer and chicken crackling skewers at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Momo chicken thigh $4/skewer
Kawa chicken crackling $4/skewer

Fat is a barbecue's best friend. That means fillets of juicy chicken thigh threaded onto skewers and basted with a sweet yakitori glaze. Chicken crackling is amazing too, bits of chicken skin jammed into undulating waves of crispy goodness.

Tsukune housemade chicken meatball skewers with 62C egg at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Tsukune housemade meatball with 62C egg $14 for two

The tsukune is made inhouse, a patty of seasoned chicken mince moulded along two skewers. The grilled meatballs are served with 62C eggs. Pierce those soft cooked eggs until the golden egg yolks flood the plate, then mop it all up with your soft, sweet and tender chicken meatball.

Spicy lamb shoulder skewer at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Ramu kata spicy lamb shoulder $4/skewer

There's a decent whack of cumin on the spicy lamb shoulder. It's one big flavour bomb against the milder flavoured pork and chicken.

Spicy tuna belly and pigs ears tataki at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Spicy tuna belly and pigs ears tataki $14

The spicy tuna belly and pigs ear takaki is a playground of textures. The lush tuna belly is a direct contrast to the squeaky crunch of pigs ear, tossed through with coriander and a delicate chiffonade of shiso leaves.

Spinach and red papaya salad at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Spinach and red papaya shiraae $9

The spinach and red papaya salad is a surprise to the tastebuds. You keep thinking the orange cubes are pumpkin, but the cool sweet intensity of the ripe red papaya is a welcome counter to all the fatty meats.

Chicken soft bone cartilage skewer at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Chicken soft bone cartilage $3/skewer

But the wacky stuff doesn't stop there. Chicken soft bone cartilage provides a gentle crunch, with a subtle sweetness from the caramelised edges.

Chicken gizzards skewer at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Chicken tail $3/skewer
and sunagimo chicken gizzards $3/skewer

Chicken tails are inordinately satisfying too. These chicken butts are pert and more-ish - no snub parson's nose here. They're cooked so much of the fat has drained, leaving nothing but a sticky crispy shell.

We order the chicken heart pipes too - slightly chewy like tender squid - but it's the gizzards that are probably my favourite of the night with their resistant crunch.

Grilled young corn, okra and asparagus at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Grilled young corn, okra and asparagus $14

It's not all meat. The simple beauty of grilled baby corn, asparagus spears and okra is a reminder that spring is just around the corner.

Skewers on the charcoal grill at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Skewers on the charcoal grill

The vibe is warm and friendly and the staff seem eager to attend your every need. There's been no massive PR campaign or media hype around Chaco Bar, but I reckon this is one of the best little gems to open in Sydney for a while.

Entrance to Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst

Chaco Bar on Urbanspoon

Chaco Bar
238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9007 8352

Opening hours:

Monday to Saturday 6pm-10.30pm

Currently BYO until their liquor license is approved

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Japanese - Nippon Club, Sydney
Japanese - Toriciya, Cammeray
Japanese - Yayoi, Sydney

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 9/10/2014 08:56:00 pm

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Pasta Goma, Sydney

Mentaiko cod roe with onsen egg pasta at Pasta Goma, Sydney

Pasta. Eggs. Cream. Spicy cod roe. The Japanese affection for pasta is surpassed only by their keen adaption of an Italian nonna's cooking with a Japanese obaasan's twist. This fusion cuisine makes up the majority of the menu at Pasta Goma, opening in the last couple of months in the city.

Sushi train inside the dining room at Pasta Goma, Sydney
The sushi train remains

They've still kept the sushi train on-site, a relic from the previous tenant, Sushi Tei on Liverpool Street. A catwalk parade of sushi plates trundles though the middle of the room, but most people either take a table at the front or one of the booths that run along the side.

The menu is broken up into four categories: appetisers, salads, pasta, omurice and curry rice. It's all lovingly photographed, taking the guesswork out of exactly what you're ordering.

Kurage otsumami Japanese jellyfish at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Kurage otsumami $6
Japanese jellyfish

Appetisers include a host of snacks, from takoyaki octopus balls and prawn tempura to stuffed chicken wings and salmon carpaccio. We start with the kurage otsumami, strips of Japanese jellyfish that have a crunchy chewiness, and the classic Japanese seaweed in preparation for our carb-fest ahead.

Wakama gomaae Japanese seaweed salad at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Wakama gomaae $6
Japanese seaweed with sesame seeds

Mentaiko cod roe with onsen egg pasta at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Mentaiko onsen tamago pasta $13

You wouldn't think you could Japanify a pasta dish in so many ways until you check out the menu. The pasta section has five sub-categories alone: cream sauce, wafu, black miso sauce, tomato sauce and sesame cream.

The mentaiko onsen tamago pasta from the cream sauce section is one of our favourites of the night.

Mixing the onsen egg with mentaiko cod roe pasta at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Mixing the onsen egg into the pasta

The pasta - cooked to a pleasing al dente - is bathed in a cream sauce, based on a homemade fish stock according to the menu. Mix it all up with the dollop of spicy cod roe and the onsen egg and you've got one comforting bowl of pescatarian bliss. Don't expect an overly rich or heavy sauce. The cream sauce is on the lighter side, but on a positive note, as least it doesn't leave you bloated by the end of it.

They also offer white clams in cream sauce as an option, or you can get all Korean with pan fried pork and kimchi.

White clam and Japanese mushroom pasta in tomato sauce at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Asari to kiko tomato sauce pasta $16
White clam and Japanese mushroom pasta in tomato-based sauce

In the tomato sauce section, we go with the white clam and Japanese mushroom pasta. There's not a whole lot of sauce, the pasta just barely moistened with sauce that is noticeably on the sweet side. And we have to mention the pea decorative touches too, carefully opened so you can pluck each pea with ease. Every plate is adorned with three of them arranged in precise positions on the rim. We feel sorry for the apprentice chef on pea duty.

Chicken katsu and Japanese mushroom pasta in black miso sauce at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Chicken katsu kuromiso pasta $15
Breaded chicken cutlet and Japanese mushroom pasta in black miso sauce

The black miso sauce has an intense umami flavour. Our only gripe is that it arrives already congealed on our plate. It's a shame as it makes for some heavy going when we were looking forward to some sauciness for our breaded chicken cutlet on the side.

Yawaraka chashu Japanese pork belly wafu pasta at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Yawaraka chashu wafu pasta $16
Slow-cooked Japanese-style sliced pork belly with soup pasta

There are no liquid issues with our wafu pasta. The noodles are swimming in a fragrant broth made from bonito, mackerel and sardines.

Japanese fatty pork belly on wafu pasta at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Fatty pork belly

The crowning glory is several chunky slices of slow-cooked pork belly, succulent and sweet and resplendent with melting chunks of fat.

Chicken katsu omelette rice with curry sauce at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Chicken katsu omelette rice $19
Breaded chicken cutlet with omelette rice

We combine the omurice with Japanese curry for a maximum flavour combo. They use free-range eggs for the omelette here, a soft eiderdown of egg draped over a hidden bed of rice.

Chicken katsu omelette rice with curry sauce at Pasta Goma, Sydney
Breaded chicken cutlet with curry sauce

The deep-fried battered chicken is the best kind of schnitzel, all crunch on the outside with tender chicken in the middle. The Japanese curry sauce is thick and sweet.

Itadakimasu and dig on in.

Entrance to Pasta Goma, Sydney

Pasta Goma on Urbanspoon

Pasta Goma
127A Liverpool Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9283 7889

Open daily 11.30am-10pm

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 9/07/2014 12:41:00 pm

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands

Brain and tongue sandwich at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands

Incredible brains and great tongue. (We’re talking Persian sandwiches – what did you think we were talking about?) It’s what everyone’s digging into at Aria Persian Fast Food. They sizzle them to order on the hot plate before piling it all into a soft torpedo roll covered in sesame seeds.

Sandwich counter at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
The sandwich counter

This is Persian street food, the kind of cheap and hearty fare you can still find on the streets of Iran. There are six traditional Persian sandwiches to choose from, but the brain-and-tongue combo ($8.99) is the local favourite. It’s better than it sounds.

Brain and tongue sandwich at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
Brain and tongue sandwich $8.99

The sheep tongue is impressively tender and the sheep brain is lusciously creamy. Trust us – it’s good. The whole shebang is jammed with slices of fresh tomato, shredded lettuce and spears of salty pickled cucumber. The rolls are massive too – about a foot long – but they’ll cut them in half for easier eating if you ask.

You can order your sandwich to go or grab a high stool at one of the tables running the length of this casual takeaway. The crowd is a mix of Iranian and Afghani ex-pats – mostly young blokes – but staff are eager to help with questions if you have them.

Bandari sandwich at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
Bandari sandwich $6.99

If brains and tongue don’t float your boat, there are less intimidating options. The bandari ($6.99) is a Persian sausage that tastes like a skinless hotdog.

Beef cutlet sandwich at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
Beef cutlet sandwich $6.99

Check out the beef cutlet ($6.99), a deep-fried patty of mashed potato mixed with mince, or try the olivieh ($5.99), a creamy potato salad perked up with chicken, boiled eggs, peas and carrots.

Olivieh sandwich at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
Olivieh sandwich $5.99

Chicken liver sandwich at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
Chicken liver sandwich $6.99

If you’re still craving offal, the chicken liver ($6.99) is a cracker, still moist and smothered in a rich tomato and onion sauce.

Persian falafel sandwich at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
Persian falafel sandwich $5.99

Vegetarians can revel in Persian-style falafel ($5.99), parsley-free and chunkier in texture compared to its Lebanese cousin.

Baked hot dog at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
Baked hot dog $8.99

Still want more? They’re flipping burgers, cooking steak sandwiches and serving up Persian hot dogs too. Fork out an extra three bucks on any meal and you’ll score a can of drink and a bucket of hot chips. That’s lunch sorted for no more than $12. Sweet.

Brain and tongue sandwich with chips and soft drink meal at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
Brain and tongue sandwich with chips and soft drink $11.99

Istak non-alcoholic malt beverages and sparkling natural yoghurt drink at Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands
Non-alcoholic malt beverages and sparkling natural yoghurt drink

Aria Persian Fast Food, Merrylands

Aria Persian Fast Food on Urbanspoon

Aria Persian Fast Food
1/258 Merryland Rd, Merrylands 2160
Tel: +61 (02) 8677 9508

Open daily 10am - 10pm

This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of Time Out Sydney in my monthly Food & Drink column Eat This! [Read online

Read more of my Time Out Sydney reviews

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 9/03/2014 12:30:00 am

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