Pimp My Plate #29 – NO NAME, Darlinghurst, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

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This month I’m posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish. Remember that old Italian-Australian favourite Spaghetti Bolognese?

‘Pimp my Bolognese, again!’

In this week’s quest to see if Spaghetti Bolognese has disappeared from Sydney menus, I twirl my fork in one of Darlinghurst’s oldest Italian restaurants.

As I mentioned last week, a traditional version of Bolognese sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

This is the second of three plates of Spaghetti Bolognese I’ll be reviewing.

No Name Restaurant – Ristorante #2

It seems like NO NAME restaurant has been in Darlinghurst for …. forever. Decades ago, when I worked in an advertising agency nearby NO NAMES (as we called it) was a regular hangout on Friday afternoons with the tribe.

I remember this restaurant from as far back as the mid-1970s. Even so, I’d have been shocked if Spaghetti Bolognese had disappeared from the menu.

My heart skips a beat …  Yes! It’s still on the menu. ‘Of course it is,’ I reprimand myself.

I order a ‘small’ Garden Salad ($4 – say whaaat?) to accompany my bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese ($10), and with that I get a complimentary side of bread, a glass of cordial, and a glass of water.

‘Parmesan cheese?’

‘Yes,’ I answer without any expectations of fresh Parmesan cheese.

When it first opened, NO NAME began a tradition of offering simple, no-fuss Italian food, with a rustic style.

Not much has changed since in the style of décor or the food, and that’s its charm. The fact that over so many years NO NAME continues to offer basic Italian meals at a price that seems oblivious to inflation is unique. Especially in a large city like Sydney, where change is a constant of this city’s restaurant scene.

If my memory is correct, the only thing missing on my table compared to ‘back then’ are the little glass salt-shaker bottles full of dried chilli flakes. Part of the Friday lunch ceremony was sprinkling copious amounts of chilli flakes over our bowls of spaghetti. In their place is a sea of bright yellow plastic squeeze bottles full of vinegar. What these are for, I’m not sure, and I don’t care to find out.

My bowl of spaghetti arrives and it looks good, and tastes good. There’s no garnish or carrot – no fuss – but I notice a pleasing ratio of sauce to pasta.

This is cheap and cheerful food. It offers flavour and fills you up, and does both at an incredibly good price. So my second experience of Spaghetti Bolognese is filling, no-frills, and enjoyable. And there’s enough sauce.

NO NAME’S blackboard menu features other dishes including, Schnitzels ($15-$24), Scaloppini w Mushrooms (another old favourite), and Osso Buco (both $12), Liver and Onions ($14), and Steak and Onions ($15).

About the name NO NAME – how did it begin?

According to urban legend, the original restaurant sign kept being knocked down by passing rubbish trucks. Faced with having to continually replace the restaurant sign, eventually the restaurant was left with no name – literally.

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After lunch, I head downstairs to Darlinghurst’s other long term resident, THE ARCH, for dessert: a great cup of coffee and a crunchy pistachio biscotti.

My next and final Spaghetti Bolognese encounter is next week.

RATED: No frills  FOOD: 3/5
VALUE: 4.5/5   ATMOS: Minimalist   VIBE:  No-frills fun
NO NAME – 2 Chapel Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW

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Pimp My Plate #22 – Surry Hills, NSW

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PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $19 or less.

‘What’s up pussycat?’

CATMOSPHERE Cat Café

Who doesn’t want to visit a cat café? And if you live in a cat-free environment, for whatever reason, then a cat café is the purrfect excuse, and place, to play with four-legged fur balls.

I was really curious what a cat café in the heart of urban Surry Hills might ‘look like’.

Catmosphere’s catizens live in a terrace house, with cafés and fashion outlets for neighbours, that you may want to purrruse after your visit.

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You can ‘pop in’ to Catmosphere anytime for a coffee, but it’s not a regular café space with cats threading themselves between your ankles and table legs. If you want to spend time with the cat residents, you need to book in, which is easily done online.

Catmosphere offers several ways to spend time with its cats: yoga with cats ($25), a party with the Cat-stronauts package (POA), or coffee and cats. I chose the Coffee + Cookies with the Catstronauts ($16.50) option, which is 30 minutes of quality cat time.

The process involves booking a play date and time with the cats and prepayment. The lengthy disclaimer makes purrrfect sense because they take their cat safety seriously. ‘As a visitor, you must not try to dress up or put makeup on the cats!’ I agree!

After I arrived at #66, I checked in at the counter and ordered my flat white coffee and cat cookie. As I glanced down the corridor I saw a cute black kitten staring back. It was love at first sight, and I was itching to give it a cuddle.

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Cat playtime is one-on-one, shared with other cat lovers in a group session. Our group waited for our turn in the small café area, surrounded by cat posters and a cat-sized magazine rack stocked with issues of PUSSWEEK magazine.

Then the ‘cat herder’ appeared and ushered us into the cat play area. It has various cat toys, bowls of cat food, and, discreetly out of view, kitty litter trays.

Any coffee taken into the cat area must be in a paper cup with a sealed lid so that no accidents occur. I also discovered that kittens – well one in particular – really liked the smell of coffee and would have had a sip if the paper cup wasn’t fitted with a lid.

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You can sit on a chair, or on the floor, and then you just …… play. Cats have such great personalities and there were no cat fights and no scratching, only backscratching.

It’s best to go with a several people you know, so book a session with a group of your cat loving friends so you can be as shamelessly silly and kitty gaga as you like. Being in a group of strangers made everyone in my session a little too well behaved, so the atmosphere wasn’t as uninhibited as I expected.

So take your feline-mad friends with you, and wiggle those cat toys shamelessly!

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The great thing about Catmosphere is that their residents are rescue cats, so your patronage helps feed and shelter these cats safely, until they’re adopted. Funny, but thinking about it later, it’s the first time I’ve played with cats that I didn’t know the names of.

And perhaps there’s a reason for that – any of the cats you play with are eligible for adoption, so if you are smitten by a kitten you’ve just spent quality time with, you can organize to adopt and take it home. Or, you can sponsor a cat for $30 per month.

It was a fun experience, and I’m keen to go back and try the Yoga with Cats session – I wonder if the downward dog asana is renamed Downward Cat?

I’ll have to go and find out!

RATED: Purrrfect!  COFFEE: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5  ATMOS: 4/5  VIBE: Catmospheric
CATMOSPHERE CAT CAFÉ – 66 Foveaux St, Surry Hills, NSW
catmospherecafe.com

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

Pimp My Plate #10 – Surry Hills, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas – I pop up all over over the place. My foodie challenge to find a good meal – lunch or brunch – with a limited budget of $18 or less for the main plate.

‘Suzy Q’ coffee + records

Tucked down an inner city laneway, Suzy Q offers a trifecta of good food, coffee, and vinyl records.

Taking a quick flick through their racks of 12” LPs brought back memories of seeing some of these bands live in concert: Earth Wind and Fire, Jimmy Smith, Smokey Robinson, Culture Club… the Cars.

Suzy Q combines their love of quality produce, with quality music. Menu sleeves are fashioned from old record covers, and menu items include LA Woman, Sex Machine, and Heartattack and Vine.

Elliot Landy’s 1969 photograph of festival goers at Woodstock covers the feature wall. It evokes another time, place, and mind space. In NSW, the AQUARIUS festival was the first equivalent counter culture festival. It was held in Nimbin in 1973, and was later described as the birthplace of Australia’s hippie movement.

Suzy Q’s owners named their café after the song ‘Suzie Q’, written by Louisiana-born singer and guitarist Dale Hawkins. Its connection with Woodstock is that it was performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival on Day 2 of the festival. You can find the live recording of the song from Woodstock online, but the audio quality isn’t great.

Over the years, lots of bands have recorded cover versions: the Rolling Stones, José Feliciano, and even Suzie Quatro. Why not take a listen to Ray Hawkin’s original rockabilly version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wq2f_X_6Nk

Suzy Q café is an energetic little meeting space for young mums with bubs, friends, business folks talking biz-between-bites, ad agency types with cool haircuts, and locals ordering from their take away menu.

I bypassed the brioche buns and sandwiches and ordered the Daily Special – Freekeh Salad ($17).

Freekeh is basically ‘green wheat’, young wheat that has been toasted and cracked. It’s a whole grain food, similar to bulgur wheat, high in fibre, with a delicious nutty flavour, and chewy texture. Although freekeh is a relatively ‘new’ ingredient in Western kitchens, this grain is popular in cuisines from Iraq, Egypt, North Africa, and Jordan.

My Freekeh Salad arrived – a colourful food mosaic on my plate, pimped with flavour, and quality produce.

Yum! This salad was loaded with texture, and freshness: blanched and seasoned cauliflower florets, yellow squash, roast pumpkin, pomegranate seeds, sliced red radish, pumpkin seeds, tahini, yoghurt, and feta cheese, and the addition of pickled red onion strips added some sweet-sour crunch.

I don’t have gluten intolerance, so for me this salad was one of the healthiest Pimp My Plate lunches I’ve eaten. Go to Suzy Q, you won’t leave Blue.

RATED: My salad was Pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5
VALUE: 5/5  ATMOS: 4/5  VIBE: Music for your mouth
‘Suzy Q’ coffee + records – 1/18 Hutchinson Street, Surry Hills, NSW (Mon-Sun)

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