It’s easy to miss the kilometre of string above your head as you enter Yulli’s in Surry Hills. Cleverly lit and lined in graphic red rows, the thread looks nothing like a daggy sewing basket staple.
This visual trick is by architect Joe Snell, who was asked to create a striking interior effect on a micro-budget. The string – long enough to run from this wine bar/eatery to Taylor Square – only cost $177 and is a clever, cheap way to lower the roofline of an otherwise tall, cold-looking building; it also adds warmth to the cheap fluorescents used as lighting. Yulli’s smart fit-out also features inventive use of fairy lights, astroturf and milk crates – proving that you don’t have to splash out on yuppie Italian marble and stainless steel to make a wine bar look cool.
If you don’t notice the string, you also might miss the fact the menu is covert vegetarian (or vegetarian undercover, as I like to call it). In fact, it was a steak-loving friend who first recommended Yulli’s to me, noting that the menu was so tasty that she didn’t even realise there was no meat on it until she stepped out the door.
This is probably my favourite kind of vego menu – the type that would win over skeptics while also bypassing the brainwash that meat-free diets only encompass saintly wholegrains, lentil slop or sprouts. I know some people like eating timid food that tastes like it’s from a Buddhist retreat but I think most vegetarians would prefer meals that have zip, verve, zest and full-volumed flavour.
So Yulli’s is the holy grail for herbivores – it’s a place where the options extend beyond deathly garden salad and mushroom risotto (often the only things you can ever order in some joints!). In fact, it is a little dizzying to be able to pick from so much when you’re used to having nano-choice when eating out. It’s also an eatery you can safely take your meat-loving friends without apologising profusely for the menu – because it actually has a wealth of inviting, inventive dishes to choose from.
There’s food for sharing, although you might need to channel your inner-math-teacher to decide who gets the last piece of Panfried Haloumi ($10.50), Steamed Leek & Ginger Dumplings with Fresh Plum Sauce ($10.50) or the ever-crusty Salt and Pepper Tofu ($15.50), which comes with a sharp papaya salad. Next time, I’d love to try the Mixed Chip Plate ($12.50), which is a cluster of sweet potato, lotus root, Spanish onion, taro and beetroot crisps, or the Baby Burrito Plate ($15.50), because who doesn’t like the sound of tiny tortillas?
There are also some clever mains on the board, such as the Eggplant Involtini with Lemongrass and Tomato Sauce on Roti ($17.50), which tries to be a culinary smartypants by merging an Italian dish with an Indian flatbread and a key ingredient from Asian cooking – and yet it totally works. The heavy tomato sauce is lightened by dashes of sweet, tropical lemongrass, while the crisp roti makes the dish even more winter-compatible.
Similarly, there’s Pad Thai Linguine ($16.50) and a Massaman Curry Pie with Mashed Potato ($15.50), presented with such a generous scoop of buttery soft starch that the dish looks like an endearing snowman.
Yulli’s has often been described as a wine bar that serves boutique beers, which might mislead people into thinking there isn’t much to eat, but there’s an extensive selection of courses to pick from – and sugar hits are on the menu, too.
Listed as “Sweet Yum Yums” are excellent desserts such as the Ladyfinger Banana Fritter with Raspberry Mascarpone and Honey (on special) and Mango Tapioca Pudding with Coconut Ice Cream.
It’s bracing to see a vego menu that is adventurous and inviting to all appetites (regardless of diet), in a warm space that you would want to huddle around with your friends. Yulli’s is an affordable refuge on a street known for its overpriced/overhyped restaurants, and is casually stylish in a friendly way (you don’t have to have a designer closet to eat here).
How nice is this place? How long is a piece of string?
Yulli’s, 417 Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW (02) 9319 6609