Having opened in late November last year, United Kitchen Dining and Tapas is a Latin American restaurant and cocktail bar on burgeoning Fitzroy Street. The warm and inviting interior features concrete floors, wooden trimmings, copper accents and splashes of greenery. All four walls are a display of various materials, creating a different feel on each side of the room.
A leather sofa and ottoman create the perfect ambience for drinks and nibbles around the drum tables, and a leather booth by the other window that’s semi-private and cosy. The tables are well spaced, and there is a quaint sense of privacy that’s often lacking in venues trying to squeeze in as many tables as possible. It creates a more relaxed environment that suits anything from romantic dates to group functions.
Head chef and owner, Tong Li is originally from Qingdao, China. Li spent a number of years living and working in Mexico, gaining invaluable cooking experience, before returning to China and establishing three award-winning restaurants. United Kitchen is his first venture in Australia since moving here, and the menu draws its influences from Mexican, Spanish and Latin American cuisines, with touches of Asian inspiration.
The cocktail page includes a number of different margaritas, and the Lemon Thyme which contains tequila, altoviso, homemade lemon, thyme syrup and fresh lemon, is by far the most popular. Being my favourite cocktail at the moment, I couldn’t pass up the Ron Espresso Martini made with Ronde Jeremy Rum, spiced syrup and Frangelico. It’s a little smoother, rounder and sweeter than most other espresso martinis. Cocktails at United Kitchen are made with house-made syrups.
Of the small bites available, the corn is beautifully charred and very cheesey. Smothered in parmesan and blue vein cheese, and spiked with ancho chilli and lime, this dish is a sensation. The use of the milder ancho means the spiciness doesn’t overwhelm the tastebuds. Absolutely delicious, and one to rival Mamasita’s famous cob.
It’s perhaps not so surprising that tapas feature heavily on the menu at United Kitchen. There’s a big chilli hit in the yellow fin tuna ceviche which comes from both the chilli and salsa picante, and the pineapple and tomato creates a foil for the heat. One particularly intriguing menu item is the crab meat stuffed avocado. Diced avocado is tossed with Blue Swimmer crab meat, cherry tomato, onion, chili and lime before being presented back in the avocado shell. Blue corn chips are used as the utensil, and it’s a fabulous dish. There’s a variety of tostadas too. The slow-cooked pork version is paired with fresh pineapple, refried beans, Pico de Gallo and guacamole, all served on a crispy tortilla. Substantial and satisfying.
A diverse spread of mains can be found, with seafood, poultry and meat all having a say. The slow-cooked pork belly is sweet and moist, topped by a vibrant chimichurri sauce and refreshed with diced pineapple and salsa fresca. There’s also the crisp and juicy confit duck leg, teamed with a decedent brown butter fry-up of carrot, potato and peas, complemented by the sweeter elements of chopped fig and a pinot reduction.
You might enjoy your mains with some sides like potatoes seasoned with parmesan flakes and truffle oil, green beans with chilli and a chorizo crumb, or maybe the baked cauliflower seasoned with thyme and shichimi, showered with a good scattering of shaved parmesan. Soft and flavoursome.
A range of desserts are available, from fruity to rich. We try the peanut butter spring rolls. The thin, crispy pastry, which normally houses a savoury mix of ingredients, here contains a warm and rich concoction of salted caramel and peanut butter, accompanied by vanilla ice cream to balance things out. Salty and sweet, hot and cold, it’s a nice end to the meal.
United Kitchen is on the quieter end of Fitzroy Street, but venture down and you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful all-round dining experience that’s well-worth a visit.