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Friday 19 August 2016

Comfort food shines at one of Sydney's hippest eateries

The location is not a promising one for those with long memories. A laneway somewhere between down-at heel Central Station and the one-time badlands of Broadway on the bleak old Carlton and United brewery site. 

But the re-birth of the Old Clare Hotel and surrounds as a gourmet precinct is part of the revitalisation of a tranche of Sydney few would have willingly visited until recently. 

Some of the restaurants here are doing rather better than others (Automata is another stand-out), but star English chef Jason Atherton's first Australian outpost, Kensington Street Social, is busy from 6pm onwards, even on a Sunday. 

Having recently tasted the food, and enjoyed the hip but happy vibe, that comes as no surprise. 

Atherton rarely puts a foot wrong. He has installed friend and former Heston Blumenthal alumni Robert Daniels as the key man behind the pans - which makes it worthwhile to grab one of the handful of bar-style seats overlooking the obligatory open kitchen. 

Daniels is a hands-on head chef - you might see him crafting gourmet hot dogs ('social' dogs with pork and fennel sausages, mustard and sprinkled black pudding), or perhaps a sourdough flatbread (think delicious upmarket pizza) with mushrooms, taleggio, salmoriglio and parmesan. 

My favourite dish of the night was the crisp, moist and beguiling tongue and cheek croquettes served with house-made picallili. Downright delicious - and very British. 

You can share plates or hog your own. One "must try" is tataki hiramasa kingfish with dill, kale, togarishi spice and vermouth sauce. Another star is the sea urchin rice with Moreton Bay bug tail and a bisque style sauce. 

Diners can choose between a $70 per person sharing menu (one for the very hungry) and al a carte.   

To finish we enjoyed the complimentary bite-sized gelato cones and shared a baked caremelised apple puff pastry with cider vinegar ice cream and pickled apple. Both sweet and sour. Heaven on a stick. 

The rotating wine list is designed to "appeal to everyone", which means familiar names like Spinifex and Skilogalee jostle for space with hipster-friendly labels like Brash Higgins and Jamsheed.

The list is eclectic, with a bent towards small, radical producers, although more attention could be paid to spelling on the printed list. 

Kensington Street Social appears to attract a young, cocktail-keen crowd (there are plenty to choose from, ranging from the Rye Society, which features Rye whiskey, Earl Grey, marmalade, lemon and egg white, to a quirky Vegemitini) and a long list of trendy spirits. 

That said, the food is good enough, and interesting enough, to stand on its own merits. 

It's an informal place where the food is taken seriously, with a vague, affectionate nod to English school lunches. Brunches and light lunches are also available - and the service is slick and assured. 

You can simply pop in for a glass of wine and a bar snack, or dine in some style. Highly recommended.

This time I was hosted. Next time I'll certainly be confident enough to splash out my own cash. 

# The writer was a guest of Kensington Street Social.  


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