What's not to love? Lox Stock and Barrel, Bondi. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
An elderly woman at the next table is discussing the finer points of matzo ball soup when she pulls something green from her poached chicken sandwich. ''Is this coriander?'' she asks her friend. ''I've never had it. I bet I hate it.'' She puts it in her mouth. ''Yes,'' she says, ''I don't like it.''
It was brave of siblings Neil and Lianne Gottheiner of local restaurant Brown Sugar to open Lox Stock & Barrel and start cooking the food of old Bondi for new Bondi, especially when old Bondi comes to visit. There was always the danger that local diehards would come out of the woodwork telling them that's not how you bake bagels, that's not how you chop liver and that's not how you bake cheesecake. Instead, it seems everyone, old and new, is a little bit in love with their cute new deli-cafe.
And what's not to love? These days, the whole world is having a love affair with New York deli food as a new generation of bakers, picklers and pastrami smokers tackle the food of their forebears. In Brooklyn, Noah and Rae Bernamoff's Mile End Deli breathes new life into traditional Jewish cooking, while at Kutsher's in Tribeca, entrepreneurial restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow takes deli food up market with a dash of Jewish chutzpah. In San Francisco, two former UCLA graduates have opened cultish deli Wise Sons, while in London, Russell Norman's Mishkin's is billed as ''a kind-of Jewish deli with cocktails''. It's taken so long to get to Sydney, it reminds me of the sign that used to hang outside New York's old-school Russ & Daughters Deli: ''For what you have been waiting.''
Go-to dish: Lox deli platter. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
Chicken soup is for what I have been waiting, made fresh every day in an eight-litre pot. Chicken soup that starts with a good Holmbrae chicken; that concerns itself with the persistence of the flavour of the broth and the light golden shimmer of chicken fat; with meat that's cooked, but not overcooked, fine egg noodles, and a non-traditional, but perfectly acceptable, abundance of sweet root vegetables and flecks of fresh tomato. Chicken soup that's on all day every day for $12.
By day, Lox is more of a cafe, with good coffee, hearty salads and deli-style sandwiches. Its pastrami on rye ($13) is the real deal, made from scratch with grass-fed beef brisket that has been slowly brined, rubbed, smoked and steamed. Finely sliced and piled - still warm - ludicrously high between grilled sourdough, with crisp red cabbage slaw and pickled cucumber, it makes a sandwich that requires a serious mouth span.
At night, the simple little dining room becomes candle lit, the music goes all Gene Pitney-ish, and there's a strong focus on aperitifs and cocktails. The short but sweet blackboard wine list runs to a terrific 2010 Paco & Lola Albarino ($11/$50), from Rias Baixas, that's all citrus and tropical fruit, with a nice, minerally finish.
Neil Gottheiner and former Baroque chef Kurt Menghetti share the kitchen, stretching the repertoire to include wild kingfish cutlets in a spicy Libyan hraymi sauce, pearl barley risotto with pumpkin, and a terrific salad of roasted beetroot with crisped cauliflower, avocado and tahini.
Night-time also showcases a deli platter ($20/$30) that would actually be brilliant at lunch - a wooden board loaded with egg-mayo salad, chopped chicken liver, furls of house-made corned wagyu, cured herring, smoked mackerel, raw and (lightly) pickled vegetables, and a dill pickle they call ''Polish style'' but seems to be more the salted Israeli style than the sweet-and-sour Polski ogorki. There's a deep, dark and lovely goulash of fall-apart wagyu beef shin ($25) tossed with loads of root vegetables and topped with parsnip crisps.
Desserts are, well, desserts: nicely made contemporary renditions of rich, creamy cheesecakes and sweet parfaits ($9).
In the same way that we've taken the many good things about Thai street food, English pub food, Argentinian steakhouses and Japanese sushi and made them our own, it's now the turn of the New York deli. This cosy cottage of a cafe in Bondi Beach has done it with a small-batch, hands-on sense of authenticity, with charm, and with chicken soup. That's for what I have been waiting.
Breads, bagels, pickles etc, all made from scratch on the premises.
Flimsy paper napkins.
Lox deli platter, $20/$30.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.
- 02 9300 0368
- Cuisine - American (US)
- Prices - Lunch, about $30 for two; dinner, about $70 for two, plus drinks.
- Features - Licensed
- Chef(s) - Neil Gottheiner, Kurt Menghetti
- Owners - Neil Gottheiner, Lianne Gottheiner
- Opening Hours - Breakfast, lunch daily, 7am-3pm; dinner, Wed to Sat, 6pm-late
- Author - Terry Durack