Twelve months ago we were gently emerging from lockdown and getting slowly reacquainted with the idea of going out to socialise in ways we'd previously been able to take for granted.
Within a few months COVID-19 was nearly non-existent in NSW and record numbers of tourists were leaving Sydney for greener pastures in the region. Mercifully we'd been spared the brutal lockdowns suffered in Victoria and our best restaurants and cafes were heaving with happy diners.
Tourism has dried up as Greater Sydney reckons with lockdown 2.0 and our hospitality venues are once again having to pivot to deal with a much smaller market.
For locals there is no better opportunity to beat the crowd and support our favourite eateries. In that spirit I've compiled a list, certainly not exhaustive, of a dozen delicious dishes from around town that food lovers ought to sink their teeth into.
Wild Mushrooms, Polenta, Black Pudding, and Eggs
Offal aficionados will rarely pass up a good serve of black pudding and this is as good an example as you'll find. Rich wild mushrooms and a creamy block of soft polenta bring the sustenance but it's the puffed rice that makes this dish really pop. A brilliant way to start the day.
CHARRED KITCHEN AND BAR
Our region's trufferies are in peak season right now and there's no better place to sample them than at the best restaurant in town. Chef Liam O'Brien steams Aunty Rinn's eggs into a truffle infused chawanmushi style custard with a mushroom and chive stock. Finished with more fresh truffle on top, the only dish at Charred that isn't actually "charred" is a true seasonal delight.
Beef Cheeks Braised in Shiraz, with Roasted Eschallots and Baby Carrots
In full disclosure I may have had a bit to do with getting this dish on the menu but they're flying out the door at the newly refurbished Commercial Hotel in Millthorpe. Meltingly soft and gelatinous beef cheeks are an obvious hero here but don't sleep on the bed of velvety mash made from Farmer Doug's Otway Gold potatoes, grown just down the road.
This ode to Greek/Australian culinary legend and regular Groundstone collaborator, David Tsirekas, will blow your eggs benedict expectations out of the water. Slow cooked Cowra lamb and tempura eggplant married with housemade hollandaise and perfectly poached eggs ranks very highly in the pantheon of great brunches.
Twice Baked Gruyere Cheese Souffle
The souffle was invented by Antoine Beauvilliers in the 18th century and purportedly perfected by Antonin Careme in the 1820s. Well if it ain't broke, dont fix it, right? Standing the test of time, Lolli Redini turns 20 years old next month and their signature dish would do the founding fathers of "Les Grande Cuisine" proud.
Every main course or curry at Maithil Rasoi is so delicious that you're guaranteed a great meal regardless of what you choose. But whatever you get, make sure you order the kashmiri naan to go with it. Lathered with ghee and chock full of garlic, herbs, toasted spices and chopped nuts, it's the perfect vehicle for mopping up those delicious sauces.
Spicy Chicken Curry with Roti
There are plenty of good things to eat at The Mills but the best offering is the Malaysian cuisine. Claypot rice and fried kway teow deserve an honourable mention but the chicken curry with roti is for my money the best investment in town for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Succulent thigh pieces simmered with a family recipe spice blend, sauce-absorbing potatoes and a side of roti bread both crispy and fluffy. Perfection!
ORANGE KEBAB HOUSE
Pide with Beef, Onions and Tomato
Skip right past the Chiko Rolls and head straight to the handmade pide options. The traditionally formed bread is freshly baked each morning and in combination with beef shawarma and fresh vegetables it's the best $7 lunch I can think of. Pro tip: don't forgo the squeeze of fresh lemon that makes this meal sing.
Combination Spicy Beef Noodle Soup
No self-respecting Australian dining scene would be complete without a few delicious Vietnamese noodle soup options. Thankfully Pho Orange consistently delivers flavoursome and nourishing broths, amongst other tasty tidbits. The pho is always a winner but my preference is for their version of Bun Bo Hue, laden with thinly sliced beef, pork sausage, caramelised shallots and lots of chilli oil.
THE UNION BANK
You really shouldn't miss out on the silken chicken breast or the char siu pork neck but if you just happen to find yourself in the dining room or courtyard with a cold drink in hand, well the other hand really ought to be holding one of their notorious potato scallops. They're cut to order from the best local potatoes and I dare you to stop at just one!
There's a reason why the Rueben remains the best seller amongst Racine's huge array of phenomenal bakery treats. You simply can't beat a perfectly executed classic. While you're there you can pick up world class pastries, delicious heat and eat meals, mouthwatering pies and some of the best freshly baked loaves of bread going.
Raku Izakaya has quickly established itself as one of Orange's top restaurants. Thick slices of immaculate fresh sashimi or chargrilled wagyu beef are both easy sells but the izakaya staple of agedashi tofu is a real standout here. The potato starch batter forms a wonderfully crisp shell for the silky soy custard, balanced perfectly with the savoury tendashi sauce, freshly grated daikon and dancing flakes of katsuobushi.
Richard Learmonth is an experienced chef who will be contributing a food column with the CWD every fortnight.
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