The pull of the Flinders Hotel is a dangerous thing. It’s an awesome bar that opens till 5am on the weekends. It’s exciting. And that means you’ll be more often than not caught in a riptide of boozing. This, sports fans, can often end in outrageous drunkenness which the bartenders refer to as having been ‘Flindered’.
Up a separate staircase to the side of the Flinders is Duke – the bistro that’s almost as intoxicating as the bar. The Bentley Bar’s Kylie Javier is running the floor here, juggling cocktails and a whole lot of no-punches-pulled food with equal alacrity. Ex-Bayswater Brasserie compadres Charlie Ainsbury and Andy Penney have teamed up again to work the tiny four-seater bar (which, by the by, you can book as you would a table in the restaurant). Start with a cocktail of fino sherry, sweet vermouth and bitters and ready yourself for some hella tasty snacks.
The menu, by co-chefs Thomas Lim and Mitch Orr, offers all the joy of a white-trash cowboy dinner clashed with fresh, local ingredients and razor-sharp technique. Here, Tater Tots (you may also know them as potato gems – those hash-brown nuggets you find in the freezer section) are crunchy, fried nubs of potato shreds nesting on a chunky, slightly tangy gravy, made from pretty much every beast imaginable with a dash of amber ale and bejewelled with soy beans.
It’s a menu with plenty on it to like and it’s a menu you can order till 2am on the weekends. You might start with their version of vitello tonnato – that classic Italian dish of veal napped in tuna mayo. At Duke, they’ve cut out the veal and covered fine cubes of sashimi-grade tuna in layers of witlof coated in tuna mayo. If the brekkie radishes with dashi butter are on, order the hell out of them. You dip the radishes in the warm butter then mop it all up with a bit of bread. Mercy.
The fried gear here is where it’s at, namely the chicken wings, all crisp as hell on the outside and tender on the inside, served with your very own little bottle of Sriracha hot sauce and a few swirls of coleslaw milk on the plate (think of the stuff that’s left over at the bottom of the salad bowl, only thicker and creamier). And before you ask, yes, the Dukesters eat more ‘slaw for staff meals than they’d care to talk about. The fried rabbit is less of a sharing option, unless you intend getting medieval on it, as it comes as one large, crisp-fried chunk of bunny. With French onion mayo.
If you’re not on the ropes from too many cocktails, (may we suggest the Leaving Tijuana? It’s a mix of tequila, lime, honey and smoked salt) and snacks, make a point of hitting the lamb belly. Roll back over, pigs of the world – it’s lamb time. Here, it’s sous vide then the belly bits are crusted in cumin and pan fried in butter, scattered with sweet little pearl onion halves and toasted pearl barley. Freshen up with thin slices of fresh almond over slices of slow-cooked neck and a bread sauce that’s so clove-laden it’s almost offensive, until you have it with the pork. That’s where it works as a fragrant, uplifting balm on the meat, rather than a toothache poultice.
Desserts are surprisingly elegant for such a fierce menu – they read like an excerpt from a 1950s CWA cookbook. An individual Madeleine resting on a pool of runny custard, say, or there’s the Knickerbocker Glory – a smash up of mango jelly, fresh strawberries, beetroot meringue and panna cotta ice cream. And if you leave without the rum baba (tiny little booze-soaked bullets of light fluffy sponge) we’ll hunt you down and force-feed you ourselves.
Duke is a KO combo of menu smarts, kitchen talent, amazing drinks and a bangin’ soundtrack. Get down there and put ‘em up.
There are only five seats at the bar at Duke. And one of those seats is occupied by the restaurant’s mascot, Ernest the Bar Hog - a huge, stuffed wild boar head. The good news is you can call ahead and reserve a spot at the bar. And we highly recommend it. Bartender Luke Ashton, one of the city’s most talented young bartenders, is a master of the blue drink; Time Out slammed all blue drinks this time last year but that hate has now turned to love and largely thanks to Ashton. Duke is upstairs from the Flinders - the bar where trouble is spelled with a capital T. It’s a different cup of tea up here, though. Duke is part bar, part restaurant and all ace. Prop up the bar with an Ashton special and some of the fantastic snacks coming out of the kitchen from chefs Tom Lim and Mitch Orr. If this mix of good times doesn't do it for you, we’ll make Ernest eat our hats.