In the latest version of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide, Warren Turnbull’s Assiette dropped a hat from 2 to 1 but his new District Dining earned 1 so he’s still doing fine. It’s not really a restaurant that was near the top of my list or anything like that but somehow, I’ve managed to hit it up twice in like 2 months, eating pretty much the same menu. The first time was an outing with workmates and the second was my housemate’s birthday.

District is located in Surry Hills, pretty much next to the Eastern most exit of Central Station. Unlike Assiette, it’s less refined in terms of food, more finger foody and shared plates steez. In my opinion, the food is tasty, not great but easy to enjoy often. Another great thing about it is that it isn’t too expensive and the portions are rather generous for what you fork out in so much as eating out in Sydney goes.

All the pics in this post are from my second outing. 9 of us basically had a banquet menu, where we didn’t have any choice whatsoever. It was $70 a head but the portions were pretty generous. There was like 3 sets of 3 starters, 2 sets of 4 entrees/mains/desserts. I think if you added up everything and paid it ala carte, it would’ve cost more than what we paid.

We start with some complimentary bread, olio and olives and my mate picks out a lovely couple bottles of Pinot Gris. It’s easy, sweetish, food friendly wine. The starters don’t take long to arrive once the entire party is good to go. They pop three stainless steel stands on the table. Next come three wooden chopping boards on top of which are the 3 different starters. We get to try some fried school prawns w a lime mayo, crispy pig’s ears and the District Dining caramel chilli chicken wings. I actually really enjoyed the school prawns. They’re fried nice and clean, not too oily and the mayo compliments nicely. The crispy pig’s ears are also something I enjoyed. Seasoned with Szechuan spices, it was a nice little bitey starter. The chicken wings are alright, tasty but not something I’d care for. I like my chicken wings moist and succulent regardless of if they’re battered or not. These come coated with the chilli caramel sauce that is nice but I’d take a good KoreanFriedChicken any day.

Entrees were hit and miss for me. The miss was a salad of lightly cooked carrot ribbons that came with dukkah, salted yoghurt and hazelnuts. The flavors were ok together but the dish is just not really my thing, especially because the dukkah felt too overpowering for me compared to the carrots. The requisite fish entree was seared kingfish served with blobs of wasabi panna cotta, quinoa, baby radishes and ponzu. It was alright but nothing great. There was also a house smoked salmon terrine with cucumbers and horseradish cream that was just wayyy too similar to what I regularly eat for breakfast (toast, smoked salmon, horseradish cream!). The salmon is lightly cured and overall it was a good dish but not particularly remarkable and I never really get the point of making salmon terrines. I mean, it’s mostly for presentation but you could also just do slices curled into a flower or whatever. We end up breaking the terrine into slices to share anyway. The one entree I enjoyed immensely was the chicken liver parfait with Sauternes jelly and a green grape chutney. The parfait had a beautiful smooth texture and flavorwise, it wasn’t overly sweet like some liver parfaits can be despite the addition of the Sauternes jelly on top. I liked the presentation in the swing top glass jar. One thing I didn’t really like was that two of the entrees came with bread/toast. The parfait and the terrine both arrived with different types of toast but it’s all starch anyway which was a bit filling.

The mains arrived and most of them we enjoyed but we couldn’t really finish it all. Partly because in the party of 9, there were only 3 guys but I think that’s still testament to the generous portions on offer. The blackened salmon with orange labne, spiced eggplant and coriander echoed the carrot entree from before. It was ok but overspiced and felt really similar in flavor profile to the earlier dish. The braised beef cheek was nice. It came with cauliflower, PX and prunes and had a good amount of richness. Not the most tender piece of beef cheek I’ve had but flavor wise, it hit the spot. The Pedro Ximenez didn’t make the dish too sweet and the other accompaniments played their part. The lamb main was good too. It was lamb rump w caponata, crispy polenta and mint gravy but really the best bits were the roasted red peppers. A good few of the dining party do not so much as look at lamb so the guys thwacked away merrily. The fave main was the risotto served with mushrooms, truffled mascarpone and parmesan wafers. I think it was unanimous that the mascarpone just gave enough oomph to a simple but beautiful dish. It’s nothing special but just the kind of risotto that I would make for myself and eat on the regular.

I remembered from a previous visit to Assiette thinking that everything was great except dessert. I would say that desserts at District aren’t as bad as that rather plain strawberry cheesecake I’d had 2/3 years ago but too much of it looks repetitive. Basically, there’s a log, a quenelle, crumbs and a sploosh. 3 of the 4 desserts on offer looked the same pretty much. The one that didn’t was arguably the best, the Mandarin Brulee with cardamom scented mandarins put into a canning jar that really concentrates the fragrance. The custard itself was expectedly smooth and delicious. The worst was probably the lemon cheesecake with blueberries and lemon curd ice cream. Pretty sure we all hardly tasted much in the cheesecake and the lemon curd ice cream was just way too tart. The dark choc brownie w macadamia brittle and white choc ice cream was also surprisingly bland. Light would be the nice way to describe it. It wasn’t bad, just not what you expect when you get a choc dessert. The only other dessert I thought was ok/good was the sticky date pudding w whisky ice cream and caramel sauce. This one tasted decent to good but they’re not gonna put Yellow Bistro/Rockpool out of business anytime soon.

Overall, I think District is a really good value for money option. I think they do ok on the small sharing plates and stuff but dessert is a big let down for me. Of course, I could also get really good share food at a lot of other places where I could go wow. I don’t think they have any particularly standout dishes when you compare Sydneywide or even Surry Hills wide. To me, I think it’s ok for groups and casual dining but nothing really says come back. A lot of the food just feels too far removed from current trends and yet the style and presentation isn’t classic enough. It’s sort of like your dad trying to listen to Portishead, except that was like 2 decades old now dad. Not that I’m dissing my dad or Portishead but y’know.

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