Artichoke still thrives after all these years
Artichoke has not just survived, it thrived. Nine years on, the Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant is still drawing quite a crowd.
It is a happy place, with loud conversations, lots of colour and an eclectic, attention-grabbing playlist. All of which adds to the character.
The face of Artichoke is chef-owner Bjorn Shen, a man as outlandish as he is qualified, who manages to combine considerable talent with irreverence.
His gift is making his food fun and seemingly throwaway, but the moment it hits the mouth, you know the meal is going to be good. And after all this time, he is still inventing and has introduced new dishes.
From that line-up, the Crab Toast ($16 for two) is my winner.
It has blue swimmer crab meat mixed with Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, chopped chives and cucumber on housebaked brioche, served with deep-fried chicken skin and garnished with ikura.
I love the mix of savoury and creamy, with the crisp of the chicken skin.
It is also supposed to be a two-bite dish (which went on for four) and you must eat it immediately to get its full crisp effect.
To appreciate the Green Harissa Prawns ($38), one must remember that Artichoke gleefully claims that it serves "the least authentic Middle Eastern cuisine in town".
Traditional harissa sauce is red but this version is really just a green sambal, made out of rocket, mint, parsley, coriander, spring onion and green chilli. It is also one of the most delicious sauces this side of the Arabian Sea.
There is a touch of heat, with enough smoothness and "green" for balance. The sauce is used on prawns on this dish, but it can be on anything and it will be enjoyable.
The Charcoal-Grilled Duck "Shish Taouk" ($30) is duck breast cubes cooked over charcoal, and served with two sauces.
This may be the first time I have had duck cooked this way. The meat may not be the most tender but with each chew, the flavours come alive in your mouth.
There are some new brunch dishes too.
So what separates them from the regular dishes? Chef Shen deadpanned: "We add eggs."
So, there is an egg with the Crispy Lamb Floss ($28) but you will hardly notice it because that floss is a wonder. It is braised lamb shoulder shredded and cooked till crispy, served with a thinned-down hummus. It is salty, crispy and textured.
The floss is maddeningly addictive. I tried to move on to other dishes but I kept returning to it.
The Chicken Urfa Kebab ($28) is a classic on Artichoke's brunch menu and for good reason. Who can resist a well-seasoned meat roll? Especially when it has a dollop of killer garlic sauce on the side.
Just because Artichoke seems determined not to take itself seriously doesn't mean you shouldn't. You don't survive for almost a decade in this high-turnover business if you're just all gimmick and no substance.
161 Middle Road
TEL: 6336 6949