When the team from Sugarcane opened their fiery red and orange homage to vintage tuck shops, Juicy Lucy, success seemed slow but steady. Word of mouth helped get the thing off the ground, seeing as it was on one of the more neglected strips of Surry Hills, but once it took off Juicy Lucy became one of the casual eats of the year; Asian-styled rotisserie chicken, massive burgers and wraps are regularly devoured by discerning devotees, pushing up demand high enough to justify an expansion. This wasn’t the kind of expansion that leaped over a few suburbs though – unlike Sugarcane’s permanent move to Coogee Beach; the new Juicy Lucy is literally located right around the corner from the original, propped up in the former site of Sugarcane on Reservoir Street.
The main reason for this move seems to be a concern for space, and the need for a bigger menu. The Elizabeth Street Juicy Lucy is as small as they come, a tiny space that although bright and attractive feels a bit cramped. The new Juicy Lucy is a more of a diner-style space, a hip riff on the brand’s Asian influence, a confluence of orange, yellow and red tones with funky lettering out front heralding the bigger menu: “Burgers. Chicken. Noodles. Beer” – the four things locals love best.
The fitout is much the same as Sugarcane, it’s moody and energetic, brimming with personality thanks to an overflow of street art by local artist Mike Watts. Eye-catching flags dangle from the ceiling over long benches which fill the middle of the space, while either end is reserved for individual tables.
Sugarcane’s influence is also obvious as one looks through the menu; many of the best dishes from the old favourite have been melded with Juicy Lucy’s most popular choices, plus a few extras. The most notable extra is the impressive Juicy JL ($16), a burger exclusive only to the diner with a fried breast fillet that has been stuffed with thick, rich cheese. Lettuce, pickles and housemade sambal help drive it home, but they are all scaled back to rightfully let that big fillet handle your palate. Of course the JL favourites like the signature Juicy Lucy ($12) and Lil’ Kim ($12) burgers are also available.
Jumping over the Fried Chicken you can get some perfect Tenders ($8.50/$15) or Drumettes ($8/$11) to share with optional sweet and packed full of heat Korean BBQ sauce, or sugary sticky sauce for an additional buck. If a bit more diversity is what you’re after you can choose any dish and just add these beautiful pieces of fried chicken anyway for a few dollars extra, the flavour driven by a slightly tangy Asian seasoning.
Noodle dishes include Sugarcane’s epic Pad Thai ($16), which despite being toned down for western palates is some of the best you’ll find in the area. There’s also Miso Chicken Bolognese ($14) and a chilled Grilled Noodle Salad ($14) with 5 spice tofu and black vinegar dressing. Whatever you choose make sure there’s some Roti on the side, crispy and buttery in a hot peanut sauce.
It’s worth seeing what the kitchen has on special as well. We aren’t talking just one rotating dish here either. On my visit JL were offering a playful spin on a tuck shop classic with Not a Chicko Roll ($6), a perfectly crisp spring roll filled with the tender mix of chicken and braised pork hock with sweet chilli sauce on the side. Had I had more stomach space I would have swiftly gone for the Thai Gai Yang ($14), which is half grilled chicken with coriander and their well balanced house sambal.
The move up to Juicy Lucy II also means more room to focus on a drinks list, for which beer comes from the ever-reliable Pirate Life Brewing (the craft beers may change regularly) and the team come up with their own special signatures like the much touted Lychee Frozé, a chilled Rosé mixed with lychee liqueur, chambord and fresh lychee.
With the original Juicy Lucy handling the take-away crowd, and Juicy Lucy Diner catering for those that aren’t as time poor, and who want a wider selection of Asian inspired eats, having the two pretty much side-by-side makes perfect sense.
Juicy Lucy Diner
Address: 40 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills
Contact: 02 8540 8726
Hours: Tues-Fri 12pm-2:30pm (Lunch); Tues-Sat 5pm-9pm (Dinner)