After lunch in Surry Hills we wandered through Darlinghurst, stopping to buy chocolates, skirting the edge of Kings Cross to enjoy them by Woolloomoolo Bay, before spending an hour or so at the art gallery and watching the sun set from Mrs Macqarie's Chair. We relied on PT to get us most of the way back to Surry Hills for dinner. Michael had done his research in advance and picked Bodega after reading a vegan rave or two on Mess+Noise.
Mindful of Bodega's no-bookings policy, we arrived at 6:03pm and certainly didn't regret it. There were already more than a dozen desperate to dine, forming a queue along the footpath. We ended up getting a seat ahead of a few of them! Turns out Bodega are quite strict about the entire group being present before allocating you a table, so it's not the place for meeting up with your flakier friends.
Bodega does tapas - the savoury menu's 32% vegetarian, 20% vegan by my estimation (and other items look veganisable). We got to order most of it! And we all start with bread, of course.
First dish to arrive was the eggplant "en escabeche" ($8). The soft, squidgy eggplant flesh was like a vinegary pickle dotted with chilli. I liked this well enough but probably wouldn't order it again; Michael liked it a whole lot more.
The roast beetroot, goats gorgonzola, walnut and watercress ($16) was more my style. I've been on a bit of a blue cheese kick lately, and the candied walnuts offset this one nicely.
Next we tried the quail egg muffin, dukkah and oregano ($6). A buttery bun smeared with oily herbs, then with soft-boiled eggs and dukkah - rich and very, very tasty. Not designed to be shared, or eaten elegantly.
The mushrooms and garlic ($12) looked a little ordinary (and my photograph is much worse still!) but damn it, these were fantastic. The garlic was sweet and ready to be squeezed from its skin, there were at least three different mushroom varieties and oh, the marinating liquid pooling at the bottom was phenomenal. We ordered more bread ($2 extra) to soak it all up. While I had initially balked at the prospect of paying for extra bread, I'd have ultimately paid a much higher price for just a single slice to clean that dish.
We half expected that our meal had peaked, until we tasted the corn tamale with black beans and avocado ($20). W. O. W. I love that dense steamy tenderess - and slightly sweet flavour - of a fresh tamale! The trail of fresh salsa on top really set it off. The avocado was a little bland, but the black beans and paprika-dusted corn chips more than made up for it. This is a gorgeous vegetarian meal in itself.
We had half-formed plans to eat dessert elsewhere but we were so pleased with our dinner that we elected to stick around for sweets. (Sadly this doesn't look so vegan-friendly, but you could always check with the staff.)
Michael finished up with vanilla bean ice cream, Pedro Ximenez sherry and espresso ($14) - a very nice combo for those who can tolerate coffee so late.
I went for the banana split ($14), almost a meal in itself! At the back is a cream flan topped with a ginger biscuit and roasted peanuts - actually I couldn't taste the ginger at all and the biscuit started more as a toffee shard and melted into a pleasant caramel syrup as I ate. In the centre is a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream atop banana puree, then up front is a feather-light banana marshmallow with a lightly scorched surface. The marshmallow is the only delicate element here - it's otherwise a big fat plate of creamy-caramel-banana that'll appeal to many but not all.
We walked out of Bodega really impressed - the food was near flawless in execution and there were a couple outstanding dishes that will haunt our expectations of Melbourne dining for quite some time. Our food bill sneaked just under $100 and we reckon it was well worth that. Service was friendly and attentive enough, given that this is a bustling bar, really. With the right (prompt, lively, sharing, possessing of $50) companions I can't see how you'd go wrong!
The blogosphere has been almost unanimously positive about Bodega! Check out Jasmyne Tea, consuming design, not my only shoes..., The Lita Review, kpnv, Foodyphile, Feeling Peckish?, glutton & nuts, The Cuisinerd, Gastronomous Anonymous, Phuoc'n Delicious, The Ortolan's Last Meal, The Empty Fridge, breadshoes (twice), planet kapow, What I Ate Today, cookbookmaniac, Eat Show & Tell, Foodies Memoir, Grab Your Fork (twice), Kitchen Wench, Chocolatesuze, I Am Obsessed With Food, Music Munchies Review, Breath of the Wok and eat tori.
216 Commonweath St, Surry Hills Sydney NSW
(02) 9212 7766
veg tapas $6-$20
Accessibility: The entry is wide with a ramp. Inside is a little cramped, though some tables offer a little more space than others. All service is at the table. We didn't visit the toilets.