Bar H

Candice Chung
Bowled over: Congee comes with add-your-own ingredients on the side at Bar H.
Bowled over: Congee comes with add-your-own ingredients on the side at Bar H. Photo: Michele Mossop

80 Campbell Street Surry Hills, New South Wales 2010

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Opening hours Mon-Sat, 6pm-late; Sunday brunch, 10am-3pm
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Private dining, Degustation, Family friendly, Groups, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Outdoor seating, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Hamish Ingham
Seats 50
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9280 1980

There is something thrilling about eating your favourite things at an illicit hour. I'm talking about succumbing to a bowl of cereal for dinner, leftover pizza for breakfast, or a slice of glossy chocolate cake with all the trimmings for lunch.  

Bar H's head chef Hamish Ingham knows a thing or two about mealtime rebellionAfter all, anyone can sell eggs and toast in the morning, but it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to serve fried chicken at 10am.

To our delight, Ingham's signature karaage chicken isn't the only wild card on the Surry Hills stalwart's new brunch menu. Launched in late October, the Sunday-only line-up includes Sichuan caramelised pork buns, steamed dumplings and Japanese pancake with crispy bacon and saltbush – all available before noon.

The Japanese fried chicken demands to be devoured.
The Japanese fried chicken demands to be devoured. Photo: Michele Mossop

Earlier this year, the former Billy Kwong head chef recalibrated his menu after a trip to Tokyo, taking elements of the vibrant Chuka cuisine (Chinese-Japanese fusion cooking) and refracting them back in dishes made with native Australian produce. Brunch is an extension of this experimental philosophy. "To me, breakfast in Sydney is still very Western. So I just wanted to try something a bit different," Ingham says.

At Bar H, eggs are deep fried and topped with oyster sauce and shaved bonito swirls. Bread is served with pork butter. And while there are no espresso machines in sight, a floral cup of Little Marionette pour-over more than satisfies any caffeine craving.

Or skip coffee altogether and opt for a cocktail designed by sommelier and co-owner Rebecca Lines. Surrounded by the dark, monochrome fit-out and a wall of top-shelf boutique wine, it feels almost rude not to partake. We try the Negroni Shiro – a fortifying party of gin, Yuzushu and vermouth which somehow justifies the daytime salsa soundtrack.  

Deep-fried eggs are topped with oyster sauce and shaved bonito swirls.
Deep-fried eggs are topped with oyster sauce and shaved bonito swirls. Photo: Michele Mossop

Foodwise, we limber up with a generous bowl of congee – a Chinese breakfast staple of slow-cooked rice porridge accompanied by a roster of complimentary sides. Unlike the brothy, topping-heavy versions served at Rockpool and Quay, Ingham's traditional, plain variety forms a perfect base for punters to do their own mixing and matching with mustard greens, shallots, pickled plums or a dollop of the umami-packed XO sauce.

Also worth trying are the delicate steamed water chestnut and saltbush dumplings. The half moons of well-seasoned parcels are made with silky wonton wrapping sourced from Kylie Kwong's uncle, who runs a noodle factory in Campsie.

The Chinese fried bread (yau char kway), however, is still a work in progress. Straying from the bicarb soda recipe used by most yum cha restaurants, Bar H's yeast-based dough is neither light nor crunchy enough to justify filling up on fried carbs.    

Bar H serves a Sunday-only brunch offering.
Bar H serves a Sunday-only brunch offering. Photo: Michele Mossop

Likewise the duck buns, though a nice departure from the Momofuku-inspired prototype, would have benefited from some fresh (rather than brined) cucumber slices and herbs to cut through the richness of the hoisin-braised confit duck meat.   

It's better to skip straight to the Japanese fried chicken – a small pile of plump, golden thigh pieces that demand to be devoured as soon as they hit the table. Besides the usual wedge of lime and grated daikon, Ingham adds his personal twist by serving the crispy chicken in a light agedashi-style broth of sake, mirin and tamari.

"I like the textural difference of the soggy and crunchy," he says. "That sauce could be on the side but I kind of like it like that."

A pour-over coffee from Little Marionette.
A pour-over coffee from Little Marionette. Photo: Michele Mossop

It also proves if a dish is good enough to eat after sundown, chances are it will be just as finger-lickin' in the light of day.

THE LOW-DOWN
THE PICKS
Congee, steamed water chestnut and saltbush dumplings, Japanese fried chicken
THE COFFEE Little Marionette (pour-over only)
THE LOOK
Moody, monochromatic interior
THE SERVICE
Knowledgeable and speedy