Thursday, 21 March 2013

Jazz City Milk Bar, Darlinghurst, Sydney

New Orleans: that little city that reaches so much further than its square mileage is the home of a melting pot of original, unique music styles, a plethora of festivals, parades and celebrations, and a highly unique cuisine. Combining a little bit of French and a little bit of African with the produce of the region, it is all mixed up into a delightful array of dishes that can only originate from the 'South'.

Unfortunately in Australia we are a little too far ‘South’ to have ease of access to that enchanting cuisine, developed in the colourful cities and towns that surround the bayou. Luckily, expat Chef Dan McGuirt decided he would call Australia home. With a career spanning over 15 years, a testamur from Le Cordon Bleu and a background in fine dining such as at Melbourne’s Vue de Monde, McGuirt has opened a pair of American-style diners/milk bars. First came the ever-popular Jazz City Diner, tucked away on a suburban street in Surrey Hills. Spilling out onto the street, hungry customers eagerly await a table. The crowd is always diverse – Chef McGuirt’s signature dishes appeal to many.

Now, just around the corner from Jazz City Diner is a little milk bar with all the trimmings, all imported from the US. Shining silver bar and stools; cake dishes full of homebaked, scrumptious US of A treats such as Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie; custom made retro fifties milkshake and burger signs, and waiters with those little paper sailor hats. The milk bar hopes to cater to those disappointed potential customers turned away from the diner on the next street, and of course to develop their own cult following like their predecessor. Jazz City Diner staff eagerly direct customers to ‘the other one’ when their tables are occupied, yet the Milk Bar deserves a much better nickname than that.

jazz city milk bar sydney restaurant soul food New Orleans BBQ shrimp buttermilk biscuits
New Orleans BBQ Shrimp
Nestled in the Republic 2 Courtyard and surrounded by fine dining restaurants the Jazz City Milk Bar feels like it should look out of place, yet it does not: it looks right at home. A little pocket of comfort in a courtyard of restaurants patronized by the ‘glitterati’, it should feel odd eating a burger and fries a metre away from those who would prefer to order truffled pecorino gnocchi. But Chef McGuirt has certainly brought soul food into a new light. In Australia we have only really seen the comfort food side of southern cuisine – gumbo, po’ boys and fried green tomatoes are served out the window of food vans such as Melbourne’s Gumbo Kitchen for example. But somehow the Jazz City Milk Bar has managed to inject a little fine dining culture into what is certainly a fast, comfort food experience.

Perhaps it is the presence of dishes such as the Ultimate Benjamin Franklin burger that create this impression. The name is a nice homage to the American President who graces the US $100 bill, the price of this burger. For the true burger gourmet, or perhaps for those flush with cash, this burger would certainly make the list of the worlds most expensive. Premium wagyu beef is topped with black truffles, butter poached lobster and 23-carat gold leaf mayonnaise, along with the usual suspects: tomato, lettuce and a brioche bun. How could a burger come without fries? The Benjamin Franklin is accompanied by some of the most decadent, fried in duck fat. Yet perhaps the most interesting component of the meal is the milkshake. This flavour, made famous by the notoriously adventurous FLIP Burger in Georgia, USA, is not for the faint hearted. Foie gras ice cream, blended with malt, milk and topped with whipped cream. Nutty and sweet with lumps of foie gras throughout, the liver taste is fortunately not overwhelming. For those not quite courageous enough to try a liver milkshake, it can be substituted for any other flavour.

On the other side of the menu you can find some of the more ‘typical’ American fare, such as a plethora of malted milkshakes in intriguing flavours such as Coconut, Peanut Butter, Passionfruit and Peach ($8); home-style pies such as Pecan, Apple, Strawberry, Cherry or Buttermilk ($8); Pancakes, Waffles or French Toast ($8) or a typical cheeseburger ($16) optional Texas chilli (add $2). 
Due to the presence of a liquor license diners can also order cocktails such as the Hurricane, a popular drink on the aptly named Bourbon st in New Orleans. An array of American beers is also available, at a reasonable price of $7-8 per bottle. For the non-drinker, there are a wide range of American sodas such as A&W and the sickly sweet Grape Fanta ($4-7).

Along with extravagant burgers and hot dogs, Chef McGuirt has added a few Louisiana ‘comfort’ dishes that make sure that he, as one reviewer says, ‘does his New Orleans Grandmother proud.’ You won’t find those run of the mill sandwiches that ‘hip’ restaurants are trying to pass off as 'po boys here. You will, however, find delectable dishes such as the New Orleans BBQ shrimp, drowned in a beautiful Worcestershire pepper sauce and served with freshly baked rosemary biscuits for scraping up the last drippings ($24), and a crispy Southern-style buttermilk fried quail with candied yams, quail egg, and a quail stock reduction ($22).

Buttermilk fried quail Jazzy City Milk Bar Darlinghurst Sydney restaurant
Buttermilk Fried Quail
For something a little less fancy, there are a number of home-style Louisiana dishes such as the Cajun Meatloaf with Johnny cakes and fried okra ($20), chuck steak with cheddar cheese grits and molasses ($22) or the cornmeal crumbed oysters remoulade ‘po boy ($12).

Find your sense of adventure and revel in the endearing milk bar facade - it is a novelty that certainly doesn't wear thin when the food arrives. Jazz City Milk Bar is an odd yet strangely perfect combination of fine dining and the quick service diner style you would expect from the decor. Definitely worth a visit if you are a fan of soul food, and definitely worth a visit to try the cuisine if you haven’t already. Chef McGuirt brings a certain authenticity to these dishes that just cannot be found elsewhere in Australia. It’s as close as you can get to ‘southern’ food down here in the south. 

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