Monday, March 23, 2015

Pocket Bar, Darlinghurst

One night on our recent trip to Sydney, we were looking for a place to hang out, have a few drinks, and nibble on some food.  It had been a day filled with eating, so we weren't looking for a huge meal.  Of course, I had done research into just about every category of meal possible, and had a list of interesting sounding bars to check out, ones that would serve great cocktails and have good food.

I quickly selected Pocket Bar, located just a few blocks from the hotel I was staying at.  It seemed like the perfect fit for the evening - convenient, casual, but promised to satisfy our tastebuds.  And indeed it was.

The cocktail menu was several pages long, encompassing all different styles of drinks.  The drinks were on the pricer side, about $20 each, but they were all well crafted and made with fresh ingredients and garnishes.

The food menu is themed around "street food from around the world", so it spans just about everything from fish tacos to ceviche to tamales to gyros, all appropriate finger food, but far more interesting than your standard bar menu, so there was certainly an appeal for me.

The service was friendly, although a bit lacking.  We often ran out of water, or fresh drinks.  The food came out as it was ready, which is great, as it was all very hot when it arrived, but the timing was a bit crazy.  One dish arrived, then it took at least 10 minutes for another, then perhaps 20 more minutes for the next, and our final dish, though it had been ordered right when we first sat down, took well over an hour.

The vibe was certainly hip, and the servers were some of the trendiest people I saw in Sydney.  I tried to get interior photos of the unique space, but the low lighting made it impossible.  Although it was full, it was never annoyingly crowded, and our group was able to set up shop on a large couch, a thrown-like armchair, and assorted stools, a comfortable semi-private area.  It really was perfect for lounging, which is what we needed after a long day.

Overall, it was perfect for the night we wanted to have, and both the food and drinks impressed.  Not fine dining obviously, and everything was pricey, but I'd return.
The Ginger Scot.  $22.
"From the isle of skye we take talisker 10yo, full of dried fruit, pepper & smoke, and mix it with apricot brandy, lillet, & a touch of lemon juice."

My first drink, selected because, well, I wanted whiskey, and the ginger sounded refreshing.

It was good, but not nearly as smokey as I was hoping.  It was quite drinkable, nicely balanced, but I wasn't in love with it.  I appreciated the huge slice of ginger as garnish.  $22 seemed very pricey though.
Mocktail. $10.
Ojan asked for a non-alcoholic drink, and the server asked what flavors he liked, and this appeared.

We aren't really sure what it was, and when he asked the person who brought it to us, she had no idea.  It was fruity, and we were worried it might have watermelon, so I didn't try it.  The garnishes were sure impressive.

His next drink was much better, another mocktail, and that time he asked for something grapefruit inspired.  It came with a huge slice of grapefruit and a sprig of basil on top.  It was a bit too sweet and fruit-juicy though; it would have been a great brunch drink, but wasn't quite right for the night.  A little more soda water, or perhaps ginger beer, and it would have mellowed out nicely.  I think the bartender was used to having alcohol to cut the sweet better.
Two others ordered this, I didn't catch the name.  It had gin and cucumbers, and came served in this huge vessel.  They were asked how many glasses they wanted, told that it could easily serve 1, 2, or 4 people, depending.  2 seemed just right, as they were both able to have a couple glasses.  I didn't try it, but they loved it.
Crispy Mac n' Cheese Balls with housemade bourbon and bacon jam. $12.
The first item to arrive, before the drinks even: crispy mac n' cheese balls.  With bourbon and bacon jam.  Fried. Cheese. Bourbon. Bacon. Yes.

This is the sort of thing that sounds like it should be amazing, but generally never is.  It was ordered by one person, who intended it to be his meal.  But, it arrived so much ahead of the rest of our food, that everyone else ended up uh, helping him eat it.

It really was quite good.  Inside was very creamy, oozing mac and cheese.  Far more successful than I ever imagined.  The outside crust was cripsy, crunchy, and although very oily and fried, it worked.  This was heavy, and cheesy, and fried, in all the best ways.

As you can imagine, the balls were gone in seconds, and a subsequent order was aptly placed.  Everyone agreed they were far better than expected.

The star however was the bourbon bacon jam.  OMG.  Again, something that SOUNDS like it should be good but never lives up.  But in this case, it lived up.  And then some.  Super bacony, loaded with chunks of bacon.  Slightly sweet and mapley.  It was, hands down, the best thing we had that night.  I wish they'd bottle it up, I'd certainly buy it, and slather everything in it.
Cassava Chips with Salsa HuancaĆ­na.  $9.
I have a thing for cassava, so I was thrilled to see cassava chips on the menu.  They arrived piping hot.  As in, one person claimed he burnt his finger tips in picking one up.

The "chips" were Australian chips, aka, thick fat fries, not thin crispy chips.  They were clearly quite fresh, but they didn't have quite the starchiness I was hoping for.  Somehow not really enough cassava flavor for me, they really just seemed like large fries.  And, they were quite oily.  Good bar food, yes, but not quite what I was wanting.

The huancaĆ­na salsa wasn't the right accompaniment.  It seemed like just slightly spicy cream cheese.  I would have liked a rich aioli, or a thinner mojo sauce perhaps, but just not this.

Luckily, we had plenty of bacon jam, since we ordered multiple rounds of the mac and cheese balls, and we had vegetarians amongst us.  The cassava chips dunked in bacon jam were tasty, but still not exactly what I wanted.  But a great excuse to eat more bacon jam.

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Brioche Grilled Toastie. $18.

"Slow cooked beef short rib, blue cheese sauce, sesame, chives, sriracha, rocket and caremelised onions, served with fries"
Another dinner ordered the brioche grilled toastie, which came with a generous serving of fries.  We all devoured the extra fries, dunking them into the bacon jam.  Really, I dunked just about anything into the bacon jam.  And once I ran out of things to dunk, I just ate it by the forkful.  Did I mention that it was seriously tasty stuff?  I was addicted.

Anyway, the fries were thin style, not really that crispy, a tad bit soggy, and somewhat reminded me of McDonald's fries.  I don't mean that in a bad way, just in that they were thin and salty, and although they didn't seem like anything special, they were tasty enough.

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Pork Steamed Buns: caramelized pork belly, cucumber, hoisin, and shallots. $16.

Another dinner ordered the pork steamed buns.  For some reason, these took forever to arrive.  We had consumed everything else, and even ordered, received, and finished another order of mac and cheese balls, and his buns still hadn't turned up.  We enquired about them several times.  Finally, they appeared, a large order of 3.  Since he had been munching on everyone else's food, he wasn't all that hungry at this point, and offered them up to the table.  He said they were good, but they didn't taste like they looked.  Ojan had a few bites, and agreed.  They both kept saying how they just didn't taste as expected.  Finally, even though I was stuffed, I tried a few bites too.

Indeed, there was something strange here.  The bun was soft, fluffy, good enough.  There was something that seemed like an onion tomato jam.  And some other strange sauce that I couldn't identify.  And there was a lot of baby spinach.  And the "pork belly" didn't seem crispy, nor fatty really.  Since I didn't order the buns, I hadn't read the description, and didn't realize how off it was.  I pulled out the menu to re-read it, confused as to what I was tasting.  Where was the hoisin sauce?  There was a sauce, but it certainly wasn't what I'd think of as hoisin.  And cucumbers?  Hmmm.  And why was there spinach?

About this time, I saw another item on the menu: Vegan Tempeh Steamed Buns.  The description: bourbon tempeh, smoked vegan cheddar sauce, baby spinach, shallots and tomato chilli jam.  Doh.  We clearly had the vegan buns.  The "pork belly" was tempeh, and all the other toppings matched up.  Within moments, a server came rushing over with a new set of buns, saying "those are the vegan ones!"  Doh.  The strange sauce was the "vegan cheese", and even once I knew what it was, I kept trying it to figure it out, and never liked it.

So now we had 6 buns, and everyone was stuffed.  Yet we had to try the new item too, right?  The new ones had the same fluffy buns, but this time, were actually filled with crispy pork belly.  Nicely prepared.  Smothered in hoisin sauce, perhaps a bit too much, but, it seemed fitting.

We all liked the pork ones more, but agreed that the tempeh ones were tasty, and both Ojan and I said that it was probably the best tempeh we ever had, generally being tempeh haters.

Of course, you can probably guess what I did with the extra buns.  Yes, I removed the tempeh, and stuffed them with bacon jam.  Now THOSE were the winning buns!
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