Duke is hands down, a cooler royal title than Prince. Just like being described as a princess, a prince sounds green and immature; a little bit gauche. But a duke? Now I imagine a worldly man with facial hair; perhaps the owner of a leafy estate with a fine stable of horses. Can you tell I’m single?*
The Duke Bistro is upstairs in The Flinders Hotel, a slightly dodgy pub that had a makeover a couple of years ago. I had dinner on Tuesday night at Duke with my friend Jen who I’ve known for over 10 years. I’d estimate that 60% of Jen’s Facebook statuses are about how she’s at the gym, wondering if she should go to the gym or is about to the hit the gym. Another 30% document Jen’s hangovers and the remaining 10% covers the rest. But there’s something about Jen that people can’t tell from social media. And it’s that she loves eating.
I’d forgotten to bring my camera and the Duke is lit particularly dim inside so apologies for the yellow-tinged iPhone photos. If you haven’t been there before, you might easily miss the staircase on the side of Flinders Hotel that leads to Duke. I like the light fittings leading up that are decorated with various champagne bottles.
I hadn’t realised that Duke Bistro was participating in The Sydney Morning Herald’s Appetite for Sydney, encouraging Sydneysiders to eat out with special offers during July. So we had a complimentary glass of Drusian Prosecco each and some pre-dinner Duke snacks thrown in which was a fun surprise. The snacks were fried chicken pieces with pine needle salt, pork and parsley terrine and raw baby radishes with a sauce on the side.
We had a bit of radishfest last night as I insisted on ordering radish cooked in a dashi butter served with warm bread. I find it almost impossible to skip this whenever I’m at Duke. I came once with my friend Spanner and she was sipping the dashi butter sauce from a spoon as if it were soup. It really is THAT addictive. Jen was a little dubious but after trying it, she said: “Good choice”. We also ordered a lardo draped salted baked beetroot, roast beef with marrow and fried chicken wings. Jen loved the roast beef and practically rolled her eyes with happiness with every bite. She also complimented me on ordering it but it was her choice anyway! Duke is known for ‘dude food’ but really, I think that label undersells it.
Whenever I ask Jen if she’s hungry, she’ll shrug and say: “I can eat!”. I traveled to Portugal and Morocco with Jen and our other friend Tin Kan last year. Tin Kan had overindulged in forbidden foods so by the time we hit Morocco, she was ill and subsisted mainly on dry biscuits and black coffee. We did a tour in Morocco and desperate not to skip a proper meal herself, Jen would sidle over to me and say anxiously out of the corner of her mouth: “You’re eating right?”. I’d reassure her but I don’t know why she ever doubted me…
For dessert, Jen let me choose donuts with lemon curd and cream which we shared. For $12, it was an amazing serving size for a single order. There must have been about a dozen, light donut puffs presented in a recycled biscuit tin. They practically floated and I had to check after the first bite that the donuts balls weren’t actually completely hollow to account for the lightness. A mason jar of lemon curd and cream were served on the side which we spackled onto the donuts. It was a wonderful end to the meal and just fun to eat.
After our dinner last night, I’m pretty sure Jen has scheduled another visit to the gym. As for me, I still haven’t met a real Duke but who cares? I had Jen for company, surprise snacks, some prosecco and my beloved radishes in dashi butter. Go to Duke Bistro and try it – you won’t regret it. Oh yeah, the rest of the menu ain’t bad either. There’s a Tuesday night tasting menu encouraging a return in the very near future.
The Flinders, Level 1, Flinders Hotel, 63 Flinders St, Darlinghurst
Open Tuesday-Saturday 6pm till late
Phone: (02) 9332 3180
* I sound like a romance novel addict! No Fifty Shades of Grey on my bookshelves. To put it in perspective, I also think Duke would make a cool butchers shop name.