You know those people who are really modest about their birthdays? They don’t tell anyone that their birthday is coming up, they don’t even have their birthday listed on their Facebook profile. They are happy for their birthday to just come and go unnoticed. They hate people making a fuss about them and the thought of a group of people singing “Happy Birthday” to them with a cake and candles in a public place is mortifying.
I am not one of those people.
My birthday is August 14 (write in your diaries people!) so I start getting excited around early-July. I start thinking about the presents I want. I start planning the food I want to eat. I casually tell people that my birthday is coming up and that my favourite kind of cake is lemon meringue tart (Jones the Grocer has a really nice one!). A firmly believe that one day is not long enough to celebrate a birthday – especially if your birthday falls on a weekday. No, I’m a strong proponent of the “Birthday Week”, and this year I shamelessly spread my birthday celebrations over about 10 days and called it “The Festival of Heather”.
The headline event of the Festival of Heather was my birthday dinner date with Matt. Since getting married, we only let ourselves splurge on fine dining for the most special of occasions, and obviously, my birthday is one of them. But I still wanted to exercise self-control – no $185 degustation at Momofuku. I wanted to eat somewhere fun and delicious without putting ourselves in debt. So I chose the very very appropriately named “Bar H”.
The Bar, including the food, is all very good looking. So I was really upset when I got home and had a proper look at the photos I took with my DSLR. I don’t need to tell you that I suck at photography, but I didn’t know that I sucked to the extent that I couldn’t even tell that every single photo I took that night was blurry even AFTER previewing them on my camera’s LCD display! I considered not posting this at all, or trying to improve the photos as much as I could with my dodgy iPhoto editing. I finally decided on a completely different approach: to embrace the entertainment value of badly taken photographs. So I downloaded a collage-making application and I now present to you – Bar H, through the lens of the worst food photographer ever (or a drunk person, or a person with Parkinson’s disease).
Bar H is small, dark and intimate, with bar seating and a few tables (mostly shared). The walls are decorated with wine, the letter H, oriental graffiti and Hamish Ingham’s own range of gourmet sauces. The entire bar appeared to be attended to by one waitress, who still managed to stay very calm, friendly and attentive.
For birthday cocktails we ordered the Gin Chi ($16)
Tanqueray gin with lime, house pandan syrup & sesame leaf. I loved the foamy egg shape.
The menu is kind of like Asian Tapas, designed for sharing and racking up a ludicrous bill total without realising.
On our waitress’s recommendation we ordered the salt & szechuan pepper calamari with kimchi ($23) and the crisp rice noodles with sweet soy, peanut and bonito flakes ($16).
The calamari needed a bit more of a crunch and a kick, but what interested me most about this dish was the kimchi. Of all the “white man cooks yellow man food” restaurants in Sydney, not many venture into Korean food (though I hear Bills does a Kimchi fried rice for breakfast now!!). Kimchi is also sold as a side dish for $5 which is kind of a joke, but I probably would have ordered it if it wasn’t included with the calamari, just to see what it tasted like. But I’m glad I didn’t… because it just tastes like normal kimchi. I’m guessing Hamish sources his kimchi from the same place my mum does – the local Korean grocery store. There was nothing interesting about the kimchi that made it taste “house made”.
The crispy rice noodles looked sensational and tasted amazing too. My favourite dish from the night – and so simple! Just rice noodles with a bit of dressing. But I loved the texture of the noodles – crunchy outside, chewy inside, and the salty/sweet combo of the soy and peanut. Just yummy. This must be a signature dish, because it’s a permanent fixture on the otherwise seasonal menu.
We also ordered the steamed pork buns ($6.50 each) which came with a cilantro, mint and chilli salsa.
These were less like the fluffy bbq pork buns you get at Yum Cha, and more like Korean steamed buns (Jjim-bbang) that you get at the grocery store – a bit doughy and filled with a mince, potato noodle and chive mix (these ones were filled with sweet pulled pork). Mum used to buy them for us as an afternoon snack – we ate them, but never really liked them. I felt the same about these buns.
As our “main” we chose the caramelised beef rib ($39).
This looked really good, but was SO SWEET. Not sweet and sour, not sweet and spicy, just sweet and more sweet. My guess is that this is Chef H’s fine dining take on “Galbi Jjim” (braised short rib), which like most Korean meats, is quite sweet. But this took the joke too far. After we finished it, I felt like we had already eaten dessert. At this point, I started to think “I don’t think Chef Hamish really understands Asian flavours at all…” Yes, I feel qualified to make that kind of comment about a chef who was Kylie Kwong’s protégé – purely because I’ve spent my whole life eating Asian food.
We weren’t at all full, so we ordered dessert at risk of sugar-overload. Flourless chocolate cake with sorbet (can’t remember flavour – maybe pear?)
I don’t think we could even taste this properly. Our sweetness tastebuds were maxed out. In the bottom left is my Meiwei cocktail – Vodka, pomegranate juice, rambutan & fresh lime.
I’m already not a huge fan of fancy Asian and Bar H didn’t win me. Hate to be down on a place that shares the same awesome initial as me, but I think there are a lot of places in Sydney that do it better, China Lane and Mr Wong for example.
I will close this post with the only two decent photos I took that evening.
80 Campbell St
Surry Hills NSW