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Persian red lentil soup with tahini, beetroot and fried mint

Lentil soup may not sound like the sexiest of dishes, but rest assured, it's a heart-warmer. We've added warming spices and served the soup with a dollop of garlicky tahini. Thin slivers of shaved raw beetroot add earthiness and texture - the beetroot is also excellent simply grated and served piled on top. The poached egg is optional, but highly recommended.

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"I'd love the recipe for the eggplant dip the wonderful Fatuma Tikuye serves at Blue Nile in Blacktown." - Helena Rosebery, Annandale, NSW REQUEST A RECIPE To request a recipe, email fareexchange@bauer-media.com.au or write to Fare Exchange, Australian Gourmet Traveller, GPO Box 4088, Sydney, NSW 2001. Please include the restaurant's name and address or business card, as well as your name and address.

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Hot Plates: Big Poppa's, Sydney

Notorious BIG at Big Poppa's, Sydney

Notorious BIG at Big Poppa's, Sydney

A new cocktail lounge and Italian restaurant on Oxford Street that sidesteps Sydney's lockout laws for late night hip-hop and cheese.

Cheese and hip-hop might seem like an odd combination, but judging by the lines for Big Poppa's, a new cocktail lounge and restaurant on Oxford Street, Sydney likes the two together in spades. So much so, in fact, it's a good idea to go early or go late - very late, even.

Lewis Jaffrey, until recently a senior member of the Swillhouse Group (Shady Pines, The Baxter Inn, Frankie's), and Jared Merlino from The Lobo Plantation are behind the new venture, which, thanks to a grandfathered liquor licence on the two-level site previously occupied by Hello Sailor, trades till three in the AM.

At ground level, Big Poppa's is a cheese-loving Italian restaurant - albeit one with OutKast blaring from the speakers. The likes of four-cheese baked eggplant and boards of French blue make their way from the kitchen, the room is candle-lit and wine by the glass is poured at the table. Two former Pendolino chefs are in charge of spinning the formaggio in all manner of ways. Perhaps simply, with a different chefs' selection pulled daily from a fridge lined with candles (sounds wack, looks awesome) to delicious, if less seasonally appropriate, plates of burrata, sweetened by fig vincotto, tomatoes and offset by the crunch of toasted farro, or ribbons of zucchini with yellow squash, almonds, lemon and ricotta salata. And, yes, you can walk in at 2am to order a plate of the goat's cheese gnudi and a glass of Italian sauvignon blanc.

Downstairs, the dimly lit cocktail bar is pumping - all leather banquettes, framed hip-hop lyrics, brass finishes and a giant mosaic of the original Big Poppa, the Notorious BIG, gazing up-skirts from the floor. The cocktails are interesting and well balanced. There's plenty of cheek in the Purple Drank: Bloody Shiraz Gin, amaro bitters, a West Coast Cooler mixer and chocolate liquorice-twist garnish. For something straighter, the Winter Solstice, made with aged rum, bitters and spiced dried apple, or the Crown Heights, a dark and spicy maraschino cherry, rye, Cynar and dry vermouth number, are both welcome winter-warmers.

Some of the curt floorstaff could do with a little more time at charm school, but when they're good they're good.

Sydney might be struggling with its after-midnight identity, but with good food and great drinks on hand late into the night, Big Poppa's is a big step in the right direction.

Big Poppa's, 96 Oxford St, Darlinghurst, NSW, facebook.com/bigpoppasbar; open daily 5pm-3am

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