The team behind much-loved Asian fusion restaurant XO shocked diners when it announced in May that it would be closing on 22 October. The date signifies exactly eight years since the restaurant opened its doors in Narrabundah.
Co-owners Annand ‘AK’ Ramakrishna, Greg Lally, and Kent Nhan posted on social media to explain their decision: “The industry is harder than it has ever been,” they said.
“Rising costs, enduring skills shortages and razor-thin margins make running a restaurant an extreme sport. That’s leaving aside the perennial late nights, missed life events and the odd global pandemic.”
XO earned its first Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide hat in 2020 and maintained it in 2022 (no hats were awarded in 2021 due to the pandemic).
The announcement is clear that “there will never be another XO”, but there is hope that the founding team may take on new projects (after a suitable break, of course).
For their last months of service, the team decided to pay homage to the greatest hits on their menu and share old favourites with customers. They explained that the menu would ‘flip’ every six weeks to allow them the chance to showcase as many dishes as possible from the past eight years.
I had never been to XO before, but I made time to check out this institution before I missed my chance forever.
To start I chose The Weekend cocktail, which the menu describes as “a beautiful accident that has a special place in our hearts”, and now it’s got a special place in my heart too! Tanqueray gin, ginger, lime and a hint of chilli heat: it was crisp, refreshing and delicious as heck.
There’s a set tasting menu, but we end up choosing a selection of dishes from the a la carte selection. We start with pho dumplings, which are served in a puddle of a richly seasoned broth. The dumplings are filled with beef tenderloin, rather than mince, which is an interesting texture and we enjoy the hints of Thai basil.
If you’ve heard of XO, chances are you’ve heard of its Asian Bolognaise. It’s an umami-laden dish with XO chicken ragout, 60-degree egg and lap cheong (Chinese sausage) mixed into chewy udon noodles. The egg mixed with the ragout adds an unctuous quality that mimics a cheesy depth of flavour. We both scrape the plate clean.
It’s a dish that sums up the ingredients of XO’s enduring success on a plate: playful, inventive, technically brilliant and totally delicious.
It’s a cold night so we’ve ordered two curries for the large plates. The dhal sambar is topped with a handful of large fried chillies and for a minute I fear it will be too spicy but the chillies add a pleasant smokey warmth. The dish is tempered with fragrant mustard seeds and curry leaves, and we enjoy the occasional sweet and sour burst of pickled eggplant.
The pork neck curry is so tender and flavourful, and the accompanying side of smoked raita balances the richness of the meat nicely. We also have a side of charred lettuce with sumac and lemon vinaigrette, which is a nice zingy side to the curries.
For dessert we share the Garden of Eden: a base of sticky rice with coconut crumble, a perfect quenelle of apple sorbet and a black sesame snap. My dining companion isn’t much of a sweet tooth but still digs in enthusiastically. It’s a triumph of texture as the creaminess of the sticky rice and crunch of the crumble keeps us coming back for more. The sorbet is fresh and airy and the whole dish comes together perfectly.
The service is on point, and the food is divine. It’s clear that the team has no intention to drop the ball or lower their standards, so customers can expect the full XO experience all the way to their final service.
XO is located at 16 Iluka St Narrabundah. It is open from Monday to Saturday 6 pm to 10 pm, and Tuesday to Friday 12 pm to 2 pm. Make a booking via the website, and follow XO on Facebook or Instagram. The final service will be on 22 October.