Some of the first thoughts when I think of Australia– in my very American-influenced brain — are the late Steve Irwin, Paul Hogan in “Crocodile Dundee,” Aborigines and dingos (actually, an unhealthy obsession with dingos… but I digress). So when Bondi Bar and Kitchen (a restaurant serving Australian food) opened in downtown San Diego, I was curious. I had been eyeing it for several months, sneaking glances at the menu when I passed by the open and inviting patio. But it was a chance meeting during one of those menu glances that I met David, one of the three owners of Bondi. David was gracious and answered all my questions about Australia and, of course, Bondi.
Things learned from David were:
-Bondi has been open for seven months
-A lot of Australian food is influenced by Pacific Rim and Italian cuisines
-Barramundi, a grill item available at Bondi, is actually a large perch
-The beer of choice for most Australians isn’t Fosters despite the commercials
-Outback Steakhouse isn’t a true representation of Australian food
-Most of the furnishings at Bondi, which include the wood floors and copper ore used for the signage, are imported directly from Australia
-Rocket is the Australian word for arugula
-There is another restaurant named Bondi in New York City but it serves Italian food (and is named after the owner)
This chat sealed my decision to return a couple days later and finally try some food.
In terms of perfect days in San Diego, last Sunday was one of them. In terms of the food at Bondi, it was less than desirable. The barramundi I pined for was only available during the dinner hour and the second-choice items arrived looking like it had been under the Australian sun a bit too long.
The blue swimmer crab cakes with papaya and wild rocket (arugula) weren’t a golden brown but appeared to have been overcooked by mere minutes. The taste confirmed my suspicion. Although the interior wasn’t scorched, it was hard to separate the crab meat from the charred exterior in order to salvage the dish.
In addition, the arancini (rice balls with roasted pumpkin, thyme and parmesan cheese) looked overly cooked as well. Most of them were mottled with blackened bread crumbs, a sure sign of being overcooked. What should have been easily forked apart required the use of some elbow grease and a knife to get through the almost rock-hard exterior. And although the menu described the rice balls as being baked, it was certainly deep fried.
Every fiber of my being wanted to like this place but the food was sub-par to my expectations. From the decor (large woven fish baskets used as intimate seating) to the ambience (fantastic people-watching on the patio), everything was thought out. It was unfortunate the food seemed rushed and forgotten on this visit. Or maybe I should have just stuck to the imported Australian draught beers shipped from down under. Either way, it was a letdown.
Items of note: Bondi also serves breakfast starting at 7 a.m. with the usual breakfast fare. Coffee is served all day long. Other items on the menu are wagyu beef sliders, rock lobster spring rolls, Vegemite with toast and peach melba. Whether to return to try other foods — during either the breakfast or dinner hour — is still up in the air, mate.
Bondi is located on Fifth Avenue between J and K streets in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.