Who would have thought that a TV show like Underbelly would enhance a dining experience?
I was recently catching up with some friends at one of the relatively new hot spots in Kings Cross, Llankelly Place - LL Wine & Dine - when we learned that the site was formerly an adult bookshop and an illegal casino. In fact, as a stranger points out, we were seated right beside the steps which led into the casino where the colourful underworld figure and racing identity, George Freeman used to illegally gamble at!
What's even more interesting, is that the owners - brothers Chris, Matthew and Tim Barge, apparently found bags of vintage pornography magazines when clearing out the site. Not knowing what to do with it, it today forms part of a large collage along one of the restaurant walls. See for yourself below -
While the site's history can make entertaining conversation, it soon fades into a series of oohs and aahs as the food is served.
LL Wine & Dine is a Hong Kong style restaurant bar with a fantastic menu, intimate seating and sleek appeal. Thankfully I am here with a big group of eight, so get to sample a good portion of the menu!
I start with the Dragon Eye cocktail ($16), a strong but luscious combination of fresh coriander and raspberries pressed then shaken with chilli infused vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry. Zen has the Big Trouble in little China ($16) which is vodka with fresh coriander, vanilla and pineapple shaken. The others have wines and beers.
We then move onto a medley of dishes to share. First is the LL san choy bau of chicken ($18), with a spicy lime dressing, served on crisp iceberg lettuce cups and topped with pine nuts. Then we have the house blend chilli, sea salt and pepper calamari ($17) which turns out to be one of the best salt & pepper dishes we've ever had.
The side of plum and sea salt seasoned kumara potato wedges ($7) disappears quickly as well.
Fried rice ($15) may often be served as a stomach filler but here it is a centrepiece. It is wok-tossed with BBQ pork, egg, garlic and shallots and it is so aromatic that you can really taste the breath of the wok.
The pan fried prawn and scallop dumplings ($27) set us back quite a bit but they were so good it was almost justifiable. (Just don't tell my parents!)
Also $27 is the crispy pork belly. Generous cuts are drizzled with a palm sugar and kaffir lime leaf syrup then garnished with crushed peanuts and fresh herbs. It sort of reminds me of Thit Heo Kho Tau, a classic Vietnamese dish of braised pork belly, particularly with the contrast of fresh mints. So good.
But my favourites from the night would have to be the following two dishes...
The blue eye cod fillet ($36) was a daily special that was so magnificent I think it should be made permanent! It is steamed with rice wine and served with finely sliced shallots, chilli and ginger and finished with Sichuan pepper infused peanut oil. It wasn't chilli hot but I absolutely adored the numbing fragrance of the Sichuan peppers. Cod is my most preferred fish and I must say it is prepared superbly here.
Not one to have turned down Peking Duck pancakes if it were on the menu, we order a double serve of these. Black tea and star anise smoked duck breast ($29) are served with homemade pancakes, soy bean sauce, cucumber and spring onions.
The slices of tender pink duck breast are wonderfully smoky in aroma and have a deep satisfying taste.
Dessert is pretty spectacular too. The panna cotta ($13) is a heavenly combination of coconut cream, lychee and tapioca, served with mango gelato and sugar pastry. The flavours are so light and sumptuous. I didn't get a chance to try the green tea brulee ($14), but those who did seemed please with their choice.
It was overall a lovely night with some fantastic food and company... But I couldn't help but wonder... What else has happened here in the past?
LL Wine and Dine
42 Llankelly Place, Potts Point, NSW
Phone: (02) 9356 8393