For a relatively inaccessible place, Dempsey Hill has quite a number of grocers under its belt. There’s Jones the Grocer, a Sydney-based outlet with a penchant for cheese and an impressive range of sleekly-package house-brand products. It’s armed with a cafe doling charcuteries, pastas and brunch bites. Just down the road, the local Huber’s Butchery is a carnivore’s heaven with cabinets stocked full of fresh meats and its own outdoor bistro offers a taste of the day’s selections.
If that’s not enough, there’s also local fine food purveyor Culina, who has been a long time resident in Dempsey. But the marketplace has done much to up its grocery game. It’s now shifted further up the enclave, taking up a more prominent spot within hospitality group Como Dempsey’s clique of restaurants and boutiques.
The new Culina Market is quite a sight. The 15,000-sq feet space is filled with neat rows and stalls with fresh and cured produce, once privy to restaurants and now available to all who can afford it.
God knows what a home cook would do with a kilogram tub of caviar displayed proudly in a fridge. But it’s an awesome find — as is the loaf of Poilâne bread sitting casually over racks of cured meats or bumping into a pile of multi-coloured carrots — as one goes up and down the aisles of this massive market.
One thing’s for sure: visitors will be well taken of at Culina Bistro, which is just on the other end of the space. Besides having good produce within reach, the kitchen is also led by a familiar face — chef Timothy de Souza, who has previously helmed Como Cuisine and other overseas concepts by the Como group.
Culina Market offers an array of fresh seafood and meats. While they are often prepared for home cooking, diners and hungry shoppers can also choose to have meats grilled at Culina Bistro. It comes with a ‘prep fee’ of $15 – $20: A small price to pay for the advantage of using the kitchen’s Josper or plancha grill managed by a deft cook.
Starting with the season’s best
There’s more. Diners can curate their own cheese plates and charcuterie platters from the Market selection. If one is bored of the classic Fine de Claire oysters, more seasonal varieties from around the world are also available at the Market for dining. The platters are served with a classic mignonette of red wine vinegar and shallots or a Thai nam jin dip with fish sauce.
Still, some attention should be spared for what’s available on the menu. We start with the Pissaladière Tart, an easy treat to share. The French treat is done the traditional way: A base of golden-brown puff pastry sees slices of Ortiz anchovies tangled together in a medley of caramelised onions, peppers and olives. A delightful crunch follows every bite, together with a punchy briny hit from anchovies and olives.
King George Whitting
There’s a good range of fish options at Culina. Turbot is available, if one’s feeling indulgent. But all seafood are cooked the same way, grilled and served with a lemon wedge. Afterall, less is more when it comes to fresh fish. We had the King George Whiting, a seasonal fish from Australia, filleted and grilled. It’s just as simply plated: A good dash of olive oil with crispy asparagus stalks wedged in between each fillet, leaving the delicate flavour of whiting undisturbed.
Plating isn’t a strong suit of Culina Bistro. Which is why the rotisserie chicken is such a welcoming sight. The perfectly browned chicken comes with thin sprigs of wild asparagus and fingers of carrot, thoroughly soaked and roasted in chicken jus. It rests on a pillow of lush garlic puree, blanketed over with a warm dose of gravy.
Kurobuta pork chop
There can be no mistake made in putting Kurobuta pork chop on the menu. Like with all good produce so far, the Kurobuta is just brined and char-grilled. The chop is sliced out from the bone and every square of meat is paraded neatly across the plate, blushing pink in the middle. It’s perfect on it own. But the sidekick, a burnt orange mash on the side, deserves a shout out too: A silky puree of roasted sweet potatoes, comforting and luscious.
There is no shortage of grocery shopping and dining avenues in Dempsey. Culina at Como Dempsey almost seems like too much of a good thing in this enclave. But take a walk inside, browse through the mass of fresh produce and one might just get a fresh appetite stirring for a market-to-table dining experience here. The multi-concept gets diners a little more interested in the provenance of their food, more elegantly than any drawling spiel from a tired waitress.
Culina at COMO Dempsey is open daily, 11am to 11pm.