Google Maps has not been kind to me. While I’ve probably not been very nice to the poor thing by shouting at it to talk to me during driving or tapping at it furiously during that April Fool’s Pokemon session, I don’t think I’m worthy of the treatment I’ve been getting from it lately. I had an appointment one morning last week where instead of sending me to the centre of the CBD, it sent me to the other side of the expansive stretch of the road in the Surry Hills region. This resulted in a minor breakdown on my behalf as I attempted to grab a taxi around Central Station and get to my destination in time, where the closest station was in fact St James.
The same thing also happened on this particular evening, where I confidently strode off the train at Central and down the street in my high-heeled boots, headphones blasting Cher Lloyd (such a babe, that girl)…only to realise ten minutes later that I had sashayed down the street in the opposite direction to where I was supposed to be and had to ungracefully leg it back up the other way to finally find the welcoming vision of Li’l Darlin.
I had been invited here tonight for the Li’l Darlin Dinner Showcase. It’s dim and lit with the yellow glow of candles and small nightlights. Synthetic vines wrap around the ceiling over our heads and the specials and cocktails have been neatly written on the blackboards situated amongst us. It’s delightfully intimate and cosy. It would be quite romantic, if the noise level was down a touch. There’s seating at the bar, grouped tables, tables for two if you want to lean in close to your sweetheart, or if you’re the lone wolf kind – along the windows so you can watch the world go by.
To kick off the night, we were each given a glass of the Gluhwein upon our arrival, or what they called “mulled wine”. It was wonderfully fruity with a balancing tang of citrus that made it not too sweet, tasting like a warm Sangria.
I had a scan of the menu and the majority of it was standard wine bar fare: small dishes that you can pick and nibble at as conversation flows between groups and drinks are sipped or guzzled. We started off with the Salt and Pepper Calamari – always a classic.
It came served with a sweet chilli sauce and an aioli – an aioli which really missed a punch of garlic. While I know not everyone loves garlic as much as I do, without garlic your aioli tends to just taste like…mayonnaise… The calamari was tenderly cooked, although could have done with a crisper batter.
I looooved the Aranchini Balls. The Italian nonnas who thought of rolling together balls of tasty, cooled risotto and putting it into the deep fryer knew they were onto something good, I tell you. Savoury and soft on the inside, perfectly crunchily crumbed on the outside. Delicious.
The Pork and Beef Meatballs I have to admit were fairly standard. I would have enjoyed more herbs or a kick of chilli flakes with the mince to distinguish it a little more from the ‘balls you’d normally have with your spag’.
But to finish up the small dishes, I quite enjoyed the Grilled Chilli Prawns. It’s so good to have food presented in a way that engages us, and we were all fossicking around in the little pot of chilli tomato sauce for the gorgeous nuggets of prawns to have with a little torn off flatbread.
Pizza is classic bar food, but don’t expect any Hawaiian or plain Supreme pizzas here. First to roll out was the Crispy Peking Duck pizza, topped with tender, shredded pieces of Chinese roast duck, hoisin sauce, delicate slices of cucumber and garnished with coriander.
This dish was the hands-down favourite for our entire table. But the Roasted Mushroom and Pancetta didn’t fall far behind for me…apologies for the slightly shaky photo; all the food arrived at once and I got too excited 😉
While this normally would be quite a heavy combination, the presence of rocket certainly freshened it up, but I also noticed a distinct, unusual tang of lemon zest or something fruity. I’m not sure, it may have been the red we were sharing at this point – the McLaren Vale Shiraz.
The Char-Grilled Sirloin Steak came out a little more on the medium side than the medium-rare as was stated on the menu, but in the case when dining in large groups and you need to take into account people’s different preferences, it was probably safer to serve it as a medium.
It was served with two salads: a Summer Crunch Salad and a Warm Spiced Butternut Pumpkin Salad.
I love pumpkin salads but the summer crunch was my favourite. So much that I’m going to have to attempt to replicate it at home. Thin slices of apple, walnuts, gorgonzola, peas, rocket and fennel?? Who would have thought it would be such a mind-blowingly tasty combination! I had a similar reaction when I tried nectarines and Brie together in a salad; it’s like dessert for dinner.
And finally…dessert. It was unlike a dessert I’ve ever seen on any wine bar menu, but really perfect as it’s interactive, shared and just really deliciously messy, as I found out later 😉
The Oven-Baked Original Swirls soft mini scrolls spread with chocolate, baked, then topped with icing sugar and lashings of molten liquid chocolate. Our host, Simon Hancock, told our end of the table that these were “simply sublime”, and that the way to eat them was to top one with a little bit of vanilla ice cream and then to eat it whole.
He meant it as a joke. I didn’t take it as one.
Needless to say, my mouth was not as big as his but my eyes certainly were, and so I ended up with a bulging mouthful of chocolate swirl and an equal amount of melted chocolate smeared across my lips, to the great mirth and hysterics of my end of the table. But it was so.worth.it.
To finish off the evening, the bar staff brought out a colourful assortment of their signature cocktails for us to sample.
The one with the fairy floss is not unlike a Cosmopolitan but less sweet to make way for the sugar candy, and while the hundreds ‘n thousands one certainly brings out your inner child, it’s a little strange to be crunching on sugar kernels as you sip. My favourites were the amaretto sour for its citric punch, and the passionfruit with white chocolate I would easily enjoy any night of the week.
What a relief to know that there is more than one Li’l Darlin! They also have bars in Randwick and Darlinghurst – and I’ve heard the cocktail list is exactly the same, so that’s a major incentive to add all of them on your favourites list, right? 😉
420 Elizabeth Street
Surry Hills, Sydney NSW 2010
(02) 9698 5488