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The Chefs Shaking Up Sydney's Dining Scene


These three restaurants are adding another dash of global flavor to the harbor city. By IAN LLOYD NEUBAUER.

Published on Jan 25, 2018

 

"IN THE AVENGERS, the Norse god Thor is sent to Earth to protect us from evil," Sven Almenning says. "But he's homesick so he builds a restaurant that pays tribute the ancient feasts of his home Valhalla. And he names it after his magical hammer." Such was the inspiration behind Mjølner (mjolner.com.au; mains A$28–$35), the seventh Australian venue by Almenning, a Norwegian migrant who made headlines in 2011 when his flagship establishment Eau-de-Vie, Sydney was named World's Best New Cocktail Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards in New Orleans.

Mjølner
Feast like a viking at Mjølner. Ian Lloyd Neubauer.

Squirrelled away in a basement behind a thick wooden door in the roughshod suburb of Redfern, Mjølner is a theater restaurant that could've gone tragically wrong in less experienced hands. But Almenning pulls it off with elegant touches like a leather-bound selection of hand-forged hunting knives guests use to carve up whole suckling pig, lamb chump and roasted bone marrow. To quench one's thirst after battle, there are 22 beers, 24 cocktails and 600 whiskies to choose from.

 

+ When Yashpal Erda migrated to Sydney in 2005, he wasn’t blown away by the Indian restaurants. "The food was good but they didn't quite get there," he says. "There's so much more to it than butter chicken."

Erda's riposte is Masala Theory (masalatheory.com; mains A$22–$27), a funky Indian diner in Surry Hills, inlaid with loud wall murals, Indian street signs and an elevated pink neon bicycle. The concept, Erda explains, was to create a place of "Indian storytelling" through recipes handed down through generations: "I've taken my parents' foods and translated their legacy into a restaurant."

A “neo Indian” take on beetroot salad at Masala Theory.
A "neo Indian" take on beetroot salad at Masala Theory. Courtesy of Masala Theory.

Stand out dishes include the masala dosa, pancakes stuffed with spicy potatoes; the Dhansak, a traditional parsi dish of chicken and lentils served with brown rice; and the chai panna cotta. And for those who can't go without butter chicken, it's on the menu too, with a smooth smoky flavor that leaves regular renditions of the recipe for dead.

 

+ When a Jewish lawyer with zero restaurant experience opened a sashimi restaurant in the well-heeled Sydney suburb of Woollahra, a lot of people wondered why. However, on walking into Kenny Rens (kennyrens.com; dishes A$12–$65) and meeting owner Nick Diamond, the smoke surrounding the venue's origins—and the robatayaki grill set behind the pink stone bar—begins to clear. "Every time I go to Japan I'm blown away by the quality of the food and dining experiences there," Diamond says, "and I wanted to bring a touch of that to Sydney." So he partnered with fellow Japanophile Paul Kelly, the interior designer behind Sokyo and Salaryman restaurants here. The result is an intimate sashimi bar and izakaya-style dining room that combines the detail of Japanese gastronomy with the great Aussie barbecue.

The robatayaki grill at Kenny Rens.
The robatayaki grill at Kenny Rens. Kai Godeck.

Diamond recommends the Wagyu beef, while the butter-bathed balmain bugs, an antipodean crustacean, are as toothsome as the kingfish and tuna sashimi are fresh off the boat. Wash them down with a Cherry Blossom, a cocktail of cherry brandy and orange curaçao, or something stronger from the cold sake or Japanese whisky list.

 

 

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Feast like a viking at Mjølner. Ian Lloyd Neubauer.
  • Order the Wagyu beef with mushrooms at Kenny Rens. Kai Godeck.
  • Indian pop art at Masala Theory. Courtesy of Masala Theory.
  • Kenny Rens.
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