One interesting food standard in Australia is the schnitzel. My fellow Australian study abroad alums will all know what I'm talking about. Schnitzel, essentially, is a German/Austrian breaded cutlet (in Australia, they say 'crumbed' rather than 'breaded'). Most traditional is the wiener schnitzel, which is made with a thin piece of veal. A common variation uses pounded chicken breast.
In Sydney, the schnitzel (and particularly, the chicken schnitzel) has for some reason become an absolutely standardized item. You find it everywhere, right next to the burger and the spaghetti bolognese. Many crappy places will use a mass-produced frozen schnitzel, which is basically the same as the stuff that pizza/sub places in the US use for their chicken parms. Actually, now that I think about it, they're pretty much exactly the same. I feel confident saying chicken schnitzel is the Australian equivalent to the chicken cutlet of a chicken parm in the States; if anything, the schnitzel in Australia is even more common and standardized.
Of course, despite the frozen schnitzels being served all over the country, you can also find the real deal. There are quite a number of restaurants who will spend the time to make it properly. In fact, there's a pretty large segment of German/Austrian/Belgian restaurants that focus largely on beer and beer food. I'll cover several of them in the coming weeks.
I'll start with my favorite of the bunch. Una's (hmm, website used to show me a menu but isn't cooperating right now) is a German-Austrian restaurant with a bunch of German beers and some real down-to-business grub. The original location is in Darlinghurst, which is a good ways away from where I was staying. Luckily they've expanded to two other places - most recently to Ultimo, a block and a half away from our front door.
The interior is basic, with mostly wooden furniture and decor, and I think about the time I left Sydney they were opening a bar upstairs. They have a wide selection of beers and spirits, but as you all know this is Arthur Hungry, not Arthur Thirsty, so I kept going back for the food. And go back I did - I think I went 8-10 times during my stay (combination of dinners and Sunday breakfasts), making it my #1 destination in terms of visits. Una's certainly wasn't the most refined or sophisticated restaurant I went to, but for convenience, value and quality, it was easily one of my best bets.
The main dish portions at Una's are absolutely huge (you'll see in a second), so it was a rare occasion that I got anything from their fairly enticing appetizer list. Though there are a few things I wanted to try (crumbed mushrooms, country pate), I only got an app once during all my visits. It was near the end of my trip, and I just couldn't resist not trying their deep-fried Camembert. Delicious, and surprisingly not-greasy considering it's fried cheese. It was kind of like a really nice version of a mozzarella stick - a nice, mild, Camembert flavor without the overwhelming rubberiness of a mozzarella stick.
Una's claim to fame is on this plate. They make both wiener (veal) and chicken schnitzels, and both come in bare bones versions. But they also make the jaeger schnitzel, which is a veal schnitzel covered in a delicious mushroom sauce. Their schnitzel easily ranks among the best in the city. Yeah, it's crunchy on the outside, meaty and tender on the inside, but I think it may be the mushroom sauce that really puts this thing over the top. It gives the schnitzel a nice counterpoint to the meat, which I think can get repetitive on its own. Also, if you didn't look closely enough, Una's gives you TWO cutlets. Needless to say, this is one of the biggest plates of food you can find. At $17 bucks Australian, it will easily feed you for a second meal.
Another important part of this plate are those potatoes in the background. It's rosti, which is a common side dish at these German/Austrian places, and comes with most of the main dishes at Una's. From what I can tell, rosti is basically a German version of hash browns. I've had rosti a couple of times in random restaurants in the US, but I've never had anything (labeled rosti or otherwise) as incredible as these. Simply put, I think Una's has achieved the pinnacle of potatoes in hash brown form. It has something to do with the perfect balance of crispiness on the edge and hearty potato in the middle, paired with what seems to be the extremely liberal use of butter. The rosti is also excellent for mopping up excess jaeger sauce. The schnitzel at Una's is great, but it was really the rosti that brought me back so many times.
Una's also has a chalkboard on the wall listing various specials on different nights of the week. I didn't write down the price of this, but it was around A$15. I had seen this on the board during one of my meals at Una's, and made it a point to go back and try this on the specific night. Overall, it was really good. You can't really see the meatloaf under the jaeger sauce, but it was extremely meaty and very flavorful even on its own. As expected, it wasn't the spongy cafeteria meatloaf most people imagine. Again, the portion was absolutely huge; I ate half and was totally stuffed. The creamed spinach was a little disappointing - too much cream, not enough spinach. Of course, there was always the rosti to fall back on.
Well, this is the lighter alternative to a deep fried veal cutlet: chicken breast! Who am I kidding. Don't go to Una's expecting you can get a light, healthy dinner - you'll just be lying to yourself. Unless you want to eat just a Caesar salad and go home. (Don't get me wrong, my friend Ben ordered the Caesar salad once and it was good. Just don't expect to be able to restrain yourself to just that when you go...)
Anyway, I was a bit afraid of the chicken breast, but my friend Greg ordered it once, and after trying one bite I liked it enough to order it the next time I went. The paprika sauce is nice - a bit milder than the jaeger, and quite delicious. The chicken is shockingly tender considering it is white meat. Overall, a good option. And so those are a few of the choices at Una's. Between me, my roommate Dan, Greg, Ben, and a few others, we worked our way through a good portion of the menu. Everything is pretty much a safe bet, and you know you'll be getting a ton of food for what you're paying.
Finally, going through my pictures, I seem to have failed to take a picture of Una's breakfast. Sunday morning breakfast (for us, this usually meant about 1-2pm) accounted for about half of my meals at Una's, and it's there that you really get the best deal. For under A$8, you can get a HUGE plate of eggs, your choice of ham/bacon/sausage, some nice piece of roasted tomato, some toast, and most importantly a big pile of rosti. In Australia, bacon isn't quite like what we get at home. It's not cut into strips, and includes a lot of lean meat. It tastes more like Canadian bacon than American bacon, but it's not quite lean all the way through, and is also usually cut bigger and not exactly round. Either way, I didn't really like it, and so I usually got ham. The Sunday morning Una's was routine, and the perfect cure for long, rough Saturday nights. Watch out for the 10% Sunday/public holiday charge, which is a normal practice in Sydney that seems really weird to us Americans. Still, even with that 10%, the Sunday breakfast at Una's was a sweet deal. As you may have guessed, I loved Una's. It's a college student's dream.