To Sydneysiders, Chef Mike McEnearney is an equivalent to Chef Degan Septoadji, a well-loved figure who believes that food is meant for sharing. His namesake Mike's Table was opened in 2011, followed by the canteen-style Kitchen by Mike the following year. The latter quickly gained popularity and was awarded Best Cafe at Time Out Sydney Food Awards.
Amid the farm-to-table jargon, Chef Mike walks the talk by working with local growers to supply his restaurant. His belief in "simple, generous, wholefoods forms" also leads him to start Carriageworks' Farmers Market seven years ago.
Less than five months ago, the chef opened a fancier version of Kitchen by Mike, No 1 Bent Street (based on its address). When we popped by on a Friday night, the restaurant was filled with groups of working yuppies. True to Mike's fuss-free style, the cozy space features an open kitchen. The seasonal menu was printed in clean-cut letters on carton.
Divided into Savoury and Sweet sections, we started the family-style feast with Mike's famed sourdough, eaten with Pepe Saya salted butter. The salty sensation continues with Baked Scallop with bacon, garlic and thyme. The highlight of the night, though, was the Crispy Pork Belly with greens and piccalilli. Showing Sydney's fancy to Asian influence, the crackling skin of the pork belly and tender meat was paired with bok choy. One thing that is distinctive from Chef Mike's food was its strong flavours.
The sweet section was very much an English affair, an influence from Mike's Brit wife. Between Eton Mess with Rhubarb Jam and Spiced Tamarillo with Bayleaf Junket, the dessert selection offers a mellow sensation to tone down the strong flavours.
Chef Mike sent us, all stuffed from a flavourful feast, to the door with a promise to take us around Carriageworks' Farmers' Market the next morning. Located in the compound of Carriageworks art space, Eveleigh Street, Mike aspires for the market to be "Sydney's answer to London's Borough Market".
Over 70 local vendors who grow their seasonal fresh produce around New South Wales - from greens to granola - come up every Saturday morning for the market. Pepe Saya himself was there, selling his now-famous salted butter. Billy Kwong, owner of a namesake oriental restaurant and brother of Kylie Kwong, mans his spicy bao stall. "That couple from Champion Organics drive for five hours every Saturday to come here," Mike says. "We have a long list of vendors waiting for a spot opening here at the market."
To make sure that each vendor really grows their own produce, and only sell what they produce, Mike and his team constantly go on "surprise visits" to each of the vendor's farm. Such is his routine for the last seven years. "That way, I can safely assure you that Carriageworks is the only 'authentic' farmers' market in the city."
Carriageworks Farmers' Market opens every Saturday. 1 Bent Street opens daily for lunch and dinner, except on Sunday. The upcoming Kitchen by Mike is opening at Sydney International Airport in November.