[ed. note: The question I’m asked most, more often than ‘How are you?‘, is ‘Where should I go for dinner?‘ In (À la) Carte Blanche, I’m putting that question to Sydney’s best chefs and giving them free reign to curate a week’s worth of options for dining out, If only to ensure that i’m spared from being asked ever again]
I still miss Moon Park, but for purely selfish reasons. The beloved Korean restaurant from co-owners and chefs Eun Hee An and Ben Sears and their partner Ned Brooks (pictured above) was reliably great, and (crucially) within walking distance of home during the time it reigned as one of Redfern’s brightest diners. Now, the trio have decamped to Potts Point and opened the just-as-loveable Paper Bird, where they’ve not only broadened their horizons to include weekend brunch but retained so much of what made their original venture so endearing – namely, the shrimp brined fried chicken.
Perhaps the added distance between us is a good thing, now that they’ve taken over the former Bourke Street Bakery site on Crick Avenue. There, you’ll find even more to love from the kitchen of Hee An and Sears: smart, often sensational cooking that sees the chefs widen their scope to include influences not only from Korea but also Japan and China alike, with ample Sydney thrown in for good measure. It’s that dynamic that Sears will replicate in a five course tasting menu he’s serving as guest chef of The Unicorn’s My Australia, a recurring dining series that invites chefs from around Australia to present their deeply personal interpretation of a national cuisine.
For Sears, that means encapsulating the “the dissonance and also the weird harmony between the Australia I grew up in with its milk bars, white bread and suburban back yards and the one I exist in now,” he says. On the menu? Cucumber finger sandwiches (sans crust) served with cucumber kimchi; a slow roasted lamb in chickpea miso with onion salad, garlic and sesame yogurt that straddles a divide between “Tokyo, a Sunday roast and the flavours of a late night kebab” from the night before. Essentially, it will be “a collection of things that I’ve always loved,” says the chef.
Below, Sears shares with ICON four recommendations for where he likes to dine during a rare evening off.
“I went here last week for lunch. It’s a special occasion place rather than a drop in for a bite proposition but Federico’s cooking is always on point: technically adept, creative and, most importantly, very delicious. There are only two options, a longer or a shorter tasting menu and you’re splurging anyway, go the whole hog. Whichever menu you choose make sure you try some pasta; the hand made agnolotti filled with pumpkin and ponzu was a personal highlight.”
Acme, Rushcutters Bay
“You can make a night out of it or you can drop in, sit at the bar, chat to whoever is making drinks and smash a couple of pastas. Mitch changes the menu a lot but the burnt chilli linguine and the baloney sandwich are always on and always good.”
“As close to Japan as my schedule allows at the moment, it’s the sort of place you might find in the back streets of Tokyo: small, unassuming and hyper focused on one thing. The rice bowls are all beautifully presented and delicious. I would recommend the unagi hitsumabushi with smoked eel and omelette.”
Tops Kitchen, Surry Hills
“Ten out of ten, the BLT at Tops is my favourite sandwich in Sydney. White bread, mayonnaise, bacon, lettuce and tomato. No tricks, nothing fancy. They’ve been here since 1983 or something so they must be doing something right!”
Ben Sears will host the sixth edition of My Australia at The Unicorn Hotel, Paddington, on Sunday June 3. A five course menu with matching drinks curated by Tai Tate starts from $65. More information is available here.
Tile and cover image: Nikki To