September 9, 2012

Chuck Hahn’s Tales & Ales night

Thanks to Anthony (and his work social club), I was again able to attend the Tales & Ales night presented by Dr Charles “Chuck” Hahn – Brew master of Lion Nathan, and former owner of Hahn Brewery.

“Chuck” Hahn

After having been to one of these beer tasting events last year by Chuck, it gave me a new appreciation of not just beer, but beer with food. Chuck is also friendly, charismatic and his passion for beers is evident as he introduces to us each of the beers in his James Squire range.

chuck hahn

On arrival we are given a glass of their new product – Orchard Crush Apple Cider. With an increased popularity of cider drinking in Australia, there is no surprise that the James Squire range has introduced a cider of its own. Cloudy in colour, it looks like it has been freshly made from apples on the spot and reminiscent of crushed lemonade on a hot summer day. It is crisp, tart, and excludes the artificial sweetness that some ciders have.

From there on we work our way from the lighter beers to the heavier, dark ones. And each being paired with a tasting portion of food that is perfectly selected to not only match the flavour of the beer, but complementing it as well.

oysters topped with lime, coconut, coriander

An example is the “Four Wives” Pilsner, which is teamed with the spicy Malaysian Chicken Satay sticks. Drank alone, this beer is “double” the bitterness to most beers, but after a bite with spicy foods, it instead gives a cooling effect and seems to mellow out the heat on my tongue.

malaysian chicken satay skewers & four wives pilsner

The most interesting pairing that I would not normally think possible is the “Jack of Spades” Porter with the chocolate and walnut brownie. This dark porter leaves a creamy aftertaste of malt and coffee when had with the brownie, and luckily goes with any kind of chocolate dessert one wishes to have! It’s my favourite pairing as it’s so unexpected and great how beer can be had as a dessert course too.

jack of spades porter & chocolate, walnut brownie

The beer of my choice for any drinking day would have to be “The Chancer” Golden Ale and is apparently the most popular beer in the James Squire range. It’s not too bitter and drier; making it very easy drinking.

vintage cheddar cheese tartets

As mentioned, Chuck gives an entertaining performance describing each beer’s characteristic and the story behind James Squire – the first Australian brewer. After 6 glasses of beer within a 2.5 hour time span, I am drunk… but have also discovered a new found respect for beer and its unlimited possibilities with food compliments to Chuck.

nine tales amber ale and sweet & spicy tempura pork fillet

TALES & ALES MENU

James Squire Orchard Crush Cider

James Squire 150 Lashes Pale Ale (Oysters topped with lime, coconut & coriander)

James Squire Chancer Golden Ale (Vintage cheddar cheese tartlets & blue cheese tartlets)

James Squire Four Wives Pilsner (Malaysian chicken Satay skewers)

James Squire Nine Tales Amber Ale (Sweet & spicy tempura pork fillets)

James Squire Jack of Spades Porter (Chocolate & walnut brownie)

Food and venue provided by Mezz Bar, Hotel Coronation

August 15, 2012

Kitchen By Mike

With the trending of warehouse turned café/restaurants becoming ever so popular in Sydney, it’s no wonder that Kitchen By Mike draws the crowds early on weekend mornings. Off on a street of factories and industrial property in Rosebery, I would never have found this place just by walking in the neighbourhood.

kitchen by mike

The restaurant is set like a canteen where you line up to order your food. We are lucky to make the 11:30am cut off in the queue and those behind us are either left to try somewhere else for breakfast, or wait for the lunch serving.

flowerpot brioche (served with ricotta, feta) $10

While we wait to order, menu items are slowly disappearing as breakfast is nearing its end and we spend the time between deciding what to order and observing chefs prepare food through the glass counter in front of us.

kitchen by mike

We opt for the baked beans with bacon, poached egg and toast, which I find quite salty and sweet at the same time. It’s nothing special, but the sourdough pancakes with lemon curd make up for points lost. The pancakes are light and fluffy in texture and go down well with the citrus flavours of lemon. I could probably devour another serving as they aren’t very filling and the lemon makes the dish quite appetising.

baked beans: bacon, poached egg, toast $14

sourdough pancakes with lemon curd $13

As we finish up, another queue is forming as people wait patiently to get their orders in for the lunch session. We watch as the glass counter is filled with a range of fresh salads, pizzas, quiche and more! The food looks great and we’re set to make another visit to Kitchen By Mike for the lunch sitting another weekend. But till then, I will just continue to reminisce about my sourdough pancakes…

CANTEEN EATING? Kitchen By Mike, 1/85 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery NSW 2018 (+612 9280 0999)

 

July 28, 2012

House Thai

Down the road from Spice I Am, Surry Hills and from the same owners is the North Eastern Thailand influenced cuisine of House Thai. Steering away from the usual Thai food that I’m used to, House focuses more on traditional Isaan ingredients of fermented fish sauce, chilli, tamarind and olives in their dishes. It may be disappointing for some though, as you’re not going to find any coconut milk in their cooking.

house

In a courtyard next to the corner pub, the layout of the restaurant is simple and casual. The restaurant also allows BYO from the bar and is perfect for those wanting to enjoy their meal over a beer.

For entrees, the selection is mainly on fried and grilled meats accompanying a Jim-Jaew dipping sauce. I love ox tongue in general and order the Ping Lin which doesn’t disappoint. The char-grilled chicken of Gai Yang isn’t bad, but nothing special, however the marinated whole snapper looks good and we’re wishing we had bigger appetites to fit it in.

ping lin: grilled marinated ox tongue $10

Their papaya salads are too spicy for my palate and unfortunately I don’t appreciate our Som Tum Pu Pla  Raa which contains the salted crab and fermented fish.

som tum pu pla raa: papaya salad, salted crab, fermented fish $8

Thinking that we ordered the whole snapper, we actually got the Pla Som Tod which is the deep fried fermented fish. Being a specialty dish, this is salty like anchovies and has a texture comparable to pork floss.

pla som tod: deep fried fermented fish $14

The sour and spicy meat salad of Larb is generally cooked in a similar way with uniform spices of eschalots, coriander, mint, ground roasted rice, chilli and lime. I prefer the Larb Gai containing the chicken which seems to work better with the ingredients in its mince form. The meat in the duck version is chewier and has a texture more like offal and requires more jaw action.

larb gai: minced chicken, eschalots, shallots, vietnamese coriander, mint, ground roasted rice, ground chilli, lime $12

In the soup selection, you will be surprised to see the word curry and expect to have a dish of thick, coconut consistency be served. Instead, you get a clear soup broth with fragrant ingredients of kaffir lime, basil, dill, lemongrass, coriander and tamarind just to name a few. It’s an acquired taste I think, but on a cold winter night, Gaeng Gai  Nor Mai Dong and Aorm Gai are just the right thing to keep me warm.

gaeng gai nor ai dong $14

aorm gai:chicken curry with dill, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, galangal, garlic, eschalots, shallots, Thai eggplant, pumpkin, Thai lemon basil and choy sum $14

As always, I’m excited about dessert, and how can you not get excited when one of them is called “Better Than Sex”?? It’s a toasted brioche topped with pandan gelato, caramel sauce and sesames. The ice cream has a cooling effect as it soothes my tongue from the previous spices and is sweetened nicely with the caramel that is made from palm sugar. The brioche has crystallised sugar pieces and you can taste the buttery after-taste of the bread still. Mmm… better than sex? You’ll have to decide for yourself😉

better than sex: toasted brioche, pandan coconut gelato, Thai caramel sauce roasted black & white sesame seeds $15

nam kaeng sai: Thai style shaved ice desert, sweet potato, sweet taro, pineapple, toddy palm seed, Thai caramel sauce and coconut milk $5

Like I mentioned, House is not your standard Thai fare and is packed with lots fresh ingredients and spices that give its stong, distinct flavours of Isaan cooking. I like their variation and as some of the food can be quite spicy, it’s not for the faint hearted.  The setting and atmosphere is very relaxed and would be great for catch up meal during the summer.

house

 

NORTH EAST THAI? House Thai, 202 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010 (+612 9280 0364)

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July 24, 2012

Assembly Bar

Tucked away on the Kent Street side of Regent Place is Assembly Bar – an uber cool bar with lots of character. It’s so cool, that I miss the entrance as it is hidden from view under the escalators of the building. The bar is dark and small, but makes use of the space by an industrial style loft above the bar area.

assembly bar

It feels part factory/warehouse with its hanging lamps and pipes, and part farmhouse/barn with its wooden walls that divide the area. As the name suggests, it’s a place to “assemble” a few pals and enjoy a few of their classic or specialty cocktails. The food menu looks very appetising and made for sharing. I’m kicking myself now for eating too much for dinner and wishing I could sample the range of their hotdogs that include pork & truffle, pork & fennel and oregano lamb.

photo bombing bartender

Their calamari fritti is disappointingly oily and has lost its crunch. The crispy pre-school prawns remain crunchy though and are like lightly battered prawn chips and going perfectly with the aioli.

calamari fritti $12

As predictable as it may sound, my favourite is the pork belly sliders which can be so easily devoured; thanks to the palate cleanser of pickled red cabbage and what seems like ginger.

pork belly sliders (x3): pork belly, spicy sofrito, pickled red cabbage, brioche buns $14

The cheese and truffle sauce accompanying the Assembly fries are wonderful, and reminds me of how much of a food snob I am as I sniff the truffle fumes of the tasty condiment.

assembly fries: cheese and truffle sauce $8

There’s a cocktail for everyone to try. The Last Kiss From Russia is light and a bit too sweet for my liking though as it contains passionfruit puree, lime syrup and vodka. The Betty & Camp is appealing to the girls and more on the tart side as it’s made of Campari,  grapefruit juice, raspberry and lime.

Luigi $18 and Last Kiss From Russia $16

As a Gin drinker, I opt for Assembly’s version of an orange Martini called the Luigi which has Gin, dry Vermouth, Grenadine and Cointreau. Next up, I also have the After Darkness containing Hendricks Gin, lemon juice and rose-water. Just to be different, this is served with a rose petal engulfed in a rock of ice.

After Darkness $18 and Betty & Camp $17

Being under the influence of Nicki Minaj and her love of French Mules, I’m really liking their version of the drink called the Dark “n” Stormy. It’s refreshing as it should be and served nicely in a glass jar.

Dark “n” Stormy: Gosling Black Seal Rum, lime squeeze, Angostura bitters, ginger beer, lime part & mint spring garnish $17

And one more cocktail sample before I sound like a complete alcoholic is the For Shizzle My Treacle which is for the Rum drinkers amongst us. It’s topped with a white chocolate foam and works really well with the cinnamon powder.

I’ve fallen in love with this place and wish I made enough “moola” to sip cocktails endlessly and pig out on 10 servings of pork sliders. The place gets cramped on busy nights so get in early and promptly so as to reserve your assembly area.

Ha, ok enough of the lame puns🙂

assembly bar

 

ASSEMBLING? Assembly Bar, Regent Place, 488 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000 (+612 9283 8808)

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July 22, 2012

Olive Mill Cafe

There are not many cafes or restaurants open on a Sunday morning for breakfast in the Hunter Valley. And for this reason I decide we check out Olive Mill Café on the premises Adina Vineyard’s cellar door.

It’s a bad start from the word “Go”, as the waiters look less than enthusiastic as we make our way into the restaurant and are greeted with a slight shrug. We’re in wine country, so possibly they were all recovering from massive hangovers of the previous night and weren’t in much mood for small talk, or even talk.

The interior of the café is not impressive and really is just a cellar door with too much floor space, so some bright person thought they could fit a restaurant in there to optimise the emptiness.

olive mill cafe

My pancakes arrive with my extra side of bacon. They’re bland and verge to more of the chewy side. I prefer maple syrup over the sweet cherry compote that is served with it, and enjoy the Greek yoghurt which I presume has come from a prepacked tub.

pancakes: cherry compote and greek yoghurt

Snaty’s not happy with her breakfast as she finds a strand of hair in her food. We observe the strand is curly, and apart from that I will comment no further. Her scrambled eggs are oily and the mushrooms on the side soak it up. The presentation and quality of the Big Breakfast look to be more like poorly made home cooking and I would be confident to say that someone who didn’t cook could probably make something better.

Dungie’s poached eggs at least look the part, but again isn’t anything special as her eggs are overcooked.

toast: bacon and poached eggs

It’s been 20 minutes after we receive our food and there’s still no sign of Nutty’s coffee. The waitress looks to be having trouble operating the machine and struggles to understand any of the orders before her.

It’s a sad start to the food day and we leave the café feeling deprived and unsatisfied. The café is a bad reflection on Hunter Valley food and I’m surprised to see it being recommended in so many tourism sites that promote for the area. Breakfast may probably not be their main focus, but if you’re food isn’t great, then at least it helps to be friendly.

adina vineyard

OLIVE MILL CAFE? 492 Lovedale Road, Lovedale Hunter Valley NSW 2325 (+612 4930 7473)

July 11, 2012

Sabor in the Hunter

Having a love for all things chocolate and chocolate, the girls and I make sure that we put time in our busy eating schedule to pay Sabor in the Hunter a visit.

It boasts an extensive dessert selection in the menu and we keenly order the Autumn Tasting plate, and the Sabor’s Tasting Plate with two paired glasses of Shiraz to hopefully try a bit of everything.

*autumn tasting plate $25

It’s sad to say that the tasting plates aren’t anything spectacular, with all samples of desserts containing mousse being a big disappointment and tasting just of gelatine. The opera slice and flourless cake with the mini macaroon aren’t bad, but the majority of mediocre desserts come on top.

*sabor’s tasting plate with paired wines $40

The hot chocolate is well received and is a combination of hot milk and thick, smooth milk chocolate. Poor Snaty has to fend for herself as the 3 of us make an attack on her melted milk chocolate to use for our self made fondue.

hot chocolate $5

Surprisingly, the Piggs Peak’s Suckling Pig Shiraz is really good and is more a sweetened wine tasting like a lighter version of port. Its goes down smoothly and isn’t overpowering in its sweetness – definitely a bottle to add to my mini wine collection.

The service is slow and a bit sloppy, or maybe we’re just so used to the bustling city life that we can’t be made to wait for our water for 15 minutes. Desserts are average, but if you’re desperate for that sugar hit in the Hunter, then give it a try. Otherwise, just wait till you’re back in the city and pay a visit to Mr Brenners. But having said that, a colleague that also visited Sabor mentioned the Chocolate Volcano was worth trying. The upside is that the hot chocolate is good at least, and lucky for Sabor, they’ve got their dessert wine pairing spot on.

sabor in the hunter

 

CHOCOLATE FIX? 319 Wilderness Road, Lovedale (+612 8079 5850)

*Autumn Tasting Plate: Opera slice with brushed gold paint, Strawberry cheesecake on biscuit base, Dark & white chocolate mousse, Chocolate & pistachio egg dome, Praline pyramid

*Sabor’s Tasting Plate: Tiramisu Charlotte, Ginger chocolate mousse with sticky date, Strawberry mousse with strawberry compote and strwberry jelly, Chocolate raspberry volcano, Flourless chocolate cake with mini macaroon

July 8, 2012

Mojos On Wilderness

After a day filled with eating, wine tasting, more eating and wine tasting (and a nanna nap on the side), we make our way for dinner at Mojos in Lovedale of Hunter Valley. It’s a dark and bumpy drive down Wilderness Road and we’re lucky I’m driving at snails’ pace so as not to miss the cottage tucked to the side of the road.

mojos on the wilderness

The air in the restaurant is warm and comforting, with the area to snugly fit around 40 or so guests. We select the 3 course menu, but Dungie and I decide to go all out and opt to have ours to include matching wines too.

As we wait for our dishes, our waitress brings us some warm bread and marinated olives. Usually an insignificant part of a meal, these “pre-starters” get our taste buds excited for what is to come. The caramelised balsamic vinegar is thick, syrupy and pleasantly sweet for the warm toasty bread. Nutty and I are surprised that the olives are warm and rate it as “the best olives ever had in a restaurant,” (or in the world possibly).

bread & marinated olives

The girls all start with seared scallops as their entrée, which come with chorizo, fennel puree and salsa Verde. The scallops are lightly scorched on the outside and maintain their moistness within. It’s a mixture of textures as the chorizo is crispy and balances well with the smooth fennel puree. The girls give another nod of approval and all wish they can have another serving of scallops.

seared scallops: crisp chorizo, fennel puree, salsa verde (oakvale 2010 verdelho)

I love being different and enjoy a slow cooked trout with avocado, remoulade and horseradish cream. There are obvious Japanese influences of soy and mirin glaze that lace around the dish, and horseradish in the creamy sauce that replaces the customary wasabi instead. There are many rich and creamy flavours that I adore in the remoulade and this works with the salty roe.

slow cooked trout: soy & mirin glaze, avocado, remoulade, horse radish cream (mount broke 2008 quince tree paddock semillon)

The loin of lamb with celeriac gratin, crushed peas and basil cream sauce for one of the main is perfectly cooked to medium with no gamy taste.

roasted loin of lamb: celeraic gratin, crushed peas, basil cream sauce (mount broke 2003 cabernet merlot)

My beef fillet is wrapped with prosciutto, and goes really well with my pairing of Wyndham 2009 Shiraz that ends up delicate and fruity after a mouthful of meat.

beef fillet: prosciutto, sauteed lyonnaise potatoes, field mushrooms, thyme sauce (wyndham 2009 shiraz)

Dessert is “OH. EM. GEE!”  Snaty exclaims, while I’m still fiddling with my camera. The same 3 “words” resonate soon after from my own mouth as I taste the night’s special of a caramel pot chocolat containing baked chocolate custard and a caramel base. The chocolate is gooey and is a cross between soufflé and mousse. The dense caramel sauce seems to fight gravity and makes its way upwards to flow into the chocolate custard. The raspberry sorbet is just as amazing and is piercingly fruity and results in Dungie forgetting the existence of her dessert and fighting me for some of it.

caramel pot chocolat: caramel base, chocolate custard, raspberry sorbet, brandy snap (muscat)

The pear tarte tartin is also “OH.EM.GEE”, but just losing out on the OMG title to the caramel pot. Topped with Marsala ice cream and butterscotch sauce, you have to eat this fast as the warmth of the pastry tart melts the ice cream away.

pear tart tartin: marsala ice cream, butterscotch sauce

The food and dining experience at Mojos is without doubt exceptional. The service is attentive, relaxed and friendly. There was nothing that could be faulted for any of the courses and it is always wonderful to finish off with a more than satisfying dessert. We’re in Hunter Valley to enjoy food and wine combined, so it was great to have the right wine pairings for each course. Mojo’s has really set the bar high for restaurants in Hunter Valley and it would be interesting to see how many others can measure up to them.

vanilla scented pannacotta: pineapple granita, coconut sorbet

 

WINE & DINE? 84 Wilderness Road, Lovedale NSW 2325 (+612 4930 7244)

Two Courses                 $59 per person

With matched wines      $79

Three Courses              $73 per person

With matched wines      $103

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July 5, 2012

Chilli Jam

Dark woods, warm earthy colours and lighting is what welcomes us as we step into Chilli Jam’s Concord branch.

chilli jam in concord

From sampling a few of the dishes on offer, the overall flavour is more on the sweeter side of the taste spectrum and would be the ideal type of Thai for those less able to handle their spicy foods. We’re surprised by our entrée of the vegetable taro puff as we’re all expecting to bite into a savoury filling, but instead are greeted with sweet, coconut aromas of taro.

vegetable taro puff with plum sauce $7.9

We choose to have pork to accompany our papaya salad, which again is less chilli than what I’m used.  The salad is refreshing and the meat well flavoured.

papaya salad with pork $18.9

The soft shell crab looks like it’s been deep fried in KFC batter and maintains its crunchiness throughout its sitting.

deep fried soft shell crab with sweet chilli sauce $15.9

We try the Chilli Jam noodle with the choice of flat rice noodle, cooked in their house specialty of chilli jam. The noodles aren’t too oily and have that “bounce” without being overcooked and soft.

chilli jam noodle: stir fried flat rice noodle with chilli jam, roasted cashews, chicken & assorted vegies $15.9

My favourite dish is the roasted duck in a wonderfully syrupy plum sauce that has soaked up the flavours of cinnamon and star anise. The duck is perfectly roasted and succulent, leaving Wanda Wall and Nicki Minaj* to ponder whether the restaurant is responsible for creating this divine roast on site.

duck plum sauce: roasted duck, shittake mushrooms & bok choy $25.9

The green curry is smooth and creamy, having that characteristic of sweetness in the flavour and is just right for dipping our roti in.

roti $3.5 and chicken green curry $15.9

With a successful round of entrees and mains, the restaurant fails us on their dessert as we select the toberone ice-cream.  Even with Micky Mouse to share the presence isn’t enough. It probably may have been a safer option to choose the sticky rice instead! Apart from this minor hiccup, everything else is cooked really well and would hit the sweet spot for those searching for “safe” Thai food without the burning sensation of chillies – any chillies.

toberone chocolate ice cream $7.9

 

SAFE THAI? 104 Majors Road, Concord NSW 2137 (+612 9743 3400)

Check website for more store locations

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July 4, 2012

La Bodeguita Del Medio

Not sure whether it’s because we’re here on a weeknight, it’s raining and cold, or business is getting tough. It seems to be a quiet one at La Bodeguita Del Medio – something that comes as odd for the Cuban restaurant where one would imagine it to be a place filled with live Latino bands, chirpy waiters and crowds of people enjoying a few Mojitos around the bar area. Well thankfully the bartender is feeling enthusiastic, as he prepares to strike a few poses for my camera and make my cocktail at the same time.

lbdm

I’m a bit disappointed with my Mojito as it doesn’t seem to have any sugar or syrup and is more on the sour side. I’ve got my bang for my buck though, as the alcohol is strong and hits my head after 5 minutes.

mojito $10

Our food quickly arrives altogether so we may share everything at the same time. I start on the wrapped prawns as they are easily accessible, and enjoy the crispy texture of jamon around the prawn and subtle peppery and lemony taste of the jalapeno and almond sauce.

gambas con almendras: wrapped prawns, jalapeno & almond sauce $15

The seared calamari’s are unfortunately covered in a soft oily batter that only soak up moisture the longer it sits as it waits for us to eat it.

calamares con ceniza: seared calamari, glazed baby vegetables & ashed oil $16

We move onto our meats and start carving up the “O’Connor premium dry aged Delmonico steak.” On appearance the meat looks juicy and tender, but as we work our way through the meat, we find it overcooked for medium rare. Though I must mention I was lucky enough to get hold of the meat near the bone that was perfect in texture and fatty content. The sauces are a standout as we all make the most of dipping our meats in the restaurant’s version of chimmichurri sauce.

lomo de res (350g): o’connor dry aged delmonico steak $42

(foreground) side of potatoes. (background) chuleta de cerdo: pork rib eye, merken chilli, slow cooked potato & cabbage salad $34

The duck breast is accompanied with an interesting sweet potato puree and chocolate sauce. I think the meat is cooked really well with the sweetness of puree and sauce helping to detract the gamey taste of the bird.

pato con chocolate: duck breast, confit leg, sweet potato puree & chocolate sauce $36

Our excitement finally arrives when dessert is served. Known as “Café & Caramelo,” this is one sweet bit of bliss that everyone should try at the restaurant. Made up of a thick, smooth, mousse-like mocha dome and plated with candied peanuts plus salted caramel ice-cream. Eaten properly with a portion of each ingredient the plate has to offer, results in a coffee, caramel and peanut butter explosion for the taste buds. I love the contrasting textures as well and makes for a satisfactory end to a girlie dinner.

cafe & caramelo: mocha dome, candied peanuts, & salted caramel ice-cream $16

I think overall we were hoping that there was more to offer in food from La Bodeguita. However, dessert did save the day… just. The sauces and condiments that accompanied each dish were also pretty good; full of flavour of a list of herbs and spices that I wish I could decipher and replicate. At its former days, this place would pack out on a Friday/Saturday night. Anyone able to tell me if it still does?

TIME TO MOJITO? 125 York Street, Sydney NSW 2000 (+612 9264 4224)

June 24, 2012

El Capo

It seems like another busy Saturday night while we wait for our table at El Capo in Surry Hills. The place is lively and vibrant as groups of diners huddle at their table enjoying their food and each others’ company. Keen to get away from the cold, we make our way into the restaurant to ensure that the waitress hasn’t forgotten about us. She hasn’t, but is taking her time to prepare our table.

el capo

We’re hungry and excited about the choices presented to us on the menu and struggle to cut the order down to feed 3 people instead of the imaginary table of 10 in our ravenous minds. We resort to ordering as many entrees as possible and unfortunately can’t fit any main dishes to the order.
Our first dish that arrives is the popular fish ceviche with crunchy quinoa that I’ve heard so much about from friends. The raw kingfish cubes are dressed in a white vinegar dressing and accompanied by pickled onions and sweet potato crisps. The quinoa gives the dish some crunch as it contrasts from the soft texture of the fish. Lil’ Cucumber, who doesn’t normally eat raw fish, falls in love with this dish and is shocked for her new found love even after we advise her that it is uncooked.

fish ceviche: crunchy quinoa and habanero tea $14

One of my favourites for the night is the croquettes with aioli. The rice is cheesy and flavoured well with herbs. The skin maintains its crunchy exterior after we douse it in the aioli and squeeze lime juice on it. Bi and I politely offer each other the last piece, but secretly really want to personally devour it in one greedy bite.

croquetas de arroz: rice croquettes with aioli $9

The Colombian empanadas have a tougher shell and are filled with beef and “Popeye’s salsa.” The sauce is slightly spicy and come with a sour aftertaste of what seems like pickled vegetables.

colombian empanadas: beef parcels with popeye’s salsa $12

As much as the corn and quinoa salad sounds bland and boring, it is possibly the best dish of the night. The flavours are simple; made up of creamed corn, individual corn kernels and chickpeas. All effectively tasty and would be a perfect replacement to chicken corn soup… minus the pickled carrot sticks perhaps.

corn and quinoa “salad”: creamed corn, pickled carrots $14

The sticky pork belly is probably made up of 90% belly… fat belly that is. It is nicely glazed with chipotle and cola sticky sauce, but there is little meat to enjoy this with.
We’re all a bit confused with the next dish thinking that we ordered chorizo, but instead it seems more like chicken mince instead. This is to be used as filling for the soft tortilla shells, but we’re disappointed with the flavour of the meat and lose interest quickly.

porky chorizo, puffed white corn, cholo and soft shell tortilla $9

The guacamole is average and we eat this up with the thickly cut chips that are also capable of holding excess oil, though crunchy nonetheless.

guacomole

A true believer that a meal isn’t complete until dessert is served; we go ahead in ordering our desserts of three milk cake and chocolate tart. The tart is very interesting and it is under Lil’ Cucumber’s discovery that we realise the existence of “pop rocks” (the sherbet that snap and crackle in your mouth) lying below the choc passionfruit tart. A lot is happening as you bite into the dense mousse of dark chocolate, the texture of cookie bits and thick cream, the sticky-ness of caramel and the crackling of pop rocks all in a spoonful.

choc tart: passionfruit chocolate genache with cream $12

The sponge of the three milk cake reminds Bi and I of something possibly made from cake mix. However, we’re all amazed with the air dried raspberries that decorate the dish. They’re as dry as rice crackers, but dissolve in our mouths to a fruity raspberry jam.

three milk cake: dulce de leche, ice cream, strawberries, malt and double cream $15

It’s easy to see why people enjoy coming here. El Capo serve some creative Latin “street food” that’s great for sharing amongst groups – some good, some mediocre (though I forgot to mention that the cocktails were rather tasty). The place comes alive on Friday/Saturday nights and probably not ideal for those who want a quiet dinner. Service wise, I wish the waitress would pay more attention while we were waving our hands at her… but hey, this is the trendy “burbs” of Surry Hills and we’re here to enjoy the energetic vibes and cool food that El Capo has to offer.

LATIN STREET FOOD? 52 Waterloo Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010 (+612 9699 2518)

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June 20, 2012

Three Beans

It’s another weekday lunch as Truck and I ponder where to eat around the city as we have exhausted most of the food courts around work. Luckily she suggests we check out Three Beans downstairs of Westfield, before we waste more precious eating time.

Being at the bottom level of Westfield, hidden amongst stalls and fashion stands, Three Beans is another growing franchise keen on producing quality coffee from organic coffee beans.

The coffee here is perfect for those who don’t like it too strong, and I have been fortunate enough that this has been consistent in the other locations too.

Food is decent and good if you’re after a simple bite with your caffeine hit. Truck enjoys her roast beef sandwich, which is sweetened with caramelised onions and flavoured nicely with mustard mayo.

roast beef sandwich: rare roast sirloin, caramelised onion, grain mustard mayo, rocket

The ingredients to my smoked salmon salad are fresh and are accompanied by a light version of a potato pancake.

smoked salmon: rocket, potato rosti, cream fraiche

The best part about the Sydney Westfield branch is that they have a special deal of $2 coffees before 9:00am, which makes getting to work early a bit more worthwhile. I’m not sure how long this will last, but the inner Asian in me is telling me to make the most of it!

 

MORNING COFFEE?  Kiosk 103, Pitt Street Mall, Westfield Sydney NSW 2000 (Check website for more locations)

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June 20, 2012

Jekyll & Hyde Wine & Tapas Bar

Having made Eggy be my chauffeur for the day and starve her for most of the morning, I finally release her of her duties to feed her at Jekyll & Hyde. Suggested by a friend, this is a new tapas and wine bar that has just opened this year on the busy Darlinghurst strip of Victoria Street.

During the day, the restaurant is simple and elegant, with a touch of European class. The breakfast tasting board catches our eye as it is the perfect order made for two. With a small sample of four of their dishes and finished off by a choice of orange or tomato juice, it’s a great deal for $39.

As the board arrives, I immediately dig into the bacon, quail egg and caramelised onion slider served on a toasted brioche bun. The sweetness of the caramelised onion goes well with the salty bacon pieces and leaves me wishing the bun was double the size instead. The quail egg is still runny, and I try my best to gobble up the yummy slider in the most lady-like way possible in three bites, and also ensure mess control is at maximum levels.

bacon, quail, caramelised onion slider in toasted brioche

The mini baked eggs with tomatoes and capsicum weren’t anything special, apart from the fact that it was served in cute little pan and had two slices of chorizos to offer.

mini baked organic egg: tomato, capsicum, chorizo with sourdough soldiers

The grilled haloumi salad with rocket, avocado and pomegranate isn’t bad, as the dressing is sweet and having a nice tart aftertaste of pomegranate.

grilled haloumi, rocket, avocado with pomegranate dressing

There is a wonderful mixture of nuts, seeds and raisins in the toasted maple muesli that has the sweetness of honey and crunchy on bite. This goes with orange blossom yoghurt which is interesting in flavour; along with some seasonal fruits of blueberries, strawberries, banana and dragon fruit to name a few.

toasted maple muesli: fresh fruits, chia seeds and orange blossom yoghurt

The tasting board is finished nicely with a large glass of spiced tomato juice, whereby a shot of vodka can be added on request. This was very tempting in curing my hangover as a Bloody Mary, but I thought best to hold off on morning alcoholism and opted for the “unleaded” version of the drink instead.

With some slight hiccups in service as would be expected of a new restaurant, I am still looking forward to trying this place for dinner as it transforms itself to a dark and moody wine bar at night.

 

SOMETHING NEW? 332 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst NSW (+612 9360 5568)

June 12, 2012

Hazy Rose

As much as I love bar hopping and checking out new drinking holes, there’s a pretty damn good reason why I don’t write much about them…

I can’t bloody remember much of it.

This wouldn’t have been a very fair review anyway, as Hazy Rose was booked out for a work event. So they normally wouldn’t be having unlimited free booze and serving trays (and trays) of Miss Chu’s canapés. Needless to say, it was a great night had by all.

Free food and drinks aside?

Small bars with character are becoming ever so popular in Sydney and so it’s no surprise that Hazy Rose is a new contender for the stakes. It’s a cosy place with an Old American deco style and makes you think you’ve just warped back in time. Wooden booths line the walls, with some having the privacy of red curtains that drape on the back of the benches. Tables are lit up by big and small versions of lamps and the walls decorated in black patterned wallpaper.

I would be interested to try their cocktails, which look quite promising. Being a G&T drinker, the “rhubarb G&T” sounds interesting. And of course being named the “ruby Americano” – this would probably be the signature drink that one should try.

 

WANNA GET HAZY?  83 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst NSW 2010 (+612 9357 5036)

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June 5, 2012

Blancmange

Trying to make the most of the last days before my Entertainment Book expires, I set out for dinner at Blancmange, coincidentally where Sung and I have both been wanting to try. Hidden from view when we drive into the street from Parramatta Road, is a quaint little corner bistro with a touch of simple European charm.

The restaurant is quiet with only another table occupied and we are quickly served and taken to our seats. We’re given some complimentary bread, which I have to say is probably the BEST complimentary bread I’ve ever had at ANY restaurant! I’m still thinking about it now and crave its warm, crispy, salty crust and lovely dense texture inside… But I snap out of my trance and try to concentrate on the pressing matter at hand – what to order??

The informative waitress suggests the Ploughman’s dinner (the special for the night), which we happily agree to try. More like a tasting platter, this was made up of corned beef on lettuce/bean sprouts remoulade, a chicken liver parfait, a pork terrine, and pickled quail’s egg with artichoke crisps. The parfait stood out as it was fluffy and smooth like mousse, though the abundance of olive oil did worry me at one stage, but the thought disappeared soon after once the creamy texture was making its way into my mouth again. The pickled egg was interesting and is apparently soaked in Chardonnay; despite the alcohol taste being very minimal, paring well with the artichoke crisps.

I’m salivating already as I read out our next order of twice baked gorgonzola soufflé with caramelised pear, rocket and walnuts. This was my FAVEEEEE dish of the night (along with my bread… so far…) Its cheesy goodness does not disappoint. With a bit of saltiness from the melted parmesan, and soft insides like marsh mellow, the cheese soufflé is perfect in all aspects. The whole thing practically melts in your mouth to a cheesy froth, leaving behind the taste that reminds me of Arnott’s country cheese crackers. The walnuts are a nice crunchy texture too; coated with sugar and are great with the salad.

gorgonzola souffle: carmelised pear, rocket and walnuts

TC joins us right before we order our mains, which means more dishes for us to try! We quickly decide on the Cobia (kingfish), the sirloin and the braised beef cheek. The braised beef cheek was the mains special for the night and this was evident. The meat was falling apart and yes, again there was cheese mixed in the polenta to keep my taste buds excited from every mouthful.

cobia: braised capisicum, fennel and saffron kipfler potatoes

sirlon: cafe de paris butter, shoestring chips

braised beef cheek: soft polenta, cime de rapa, horseradish

For dessert, the passionfruit meringue was a nice way to finish off a heavy meal of meats and cheese. It was fruity, delicate in flavour and light enough to eat the whole thing without having to share. The combination of pineapples slices, toasted coconut and pomegranate together was tropical and refreshing.

passionfruit meringue with pineapple

By the end of our meal, the place was busier and more alive with the noise levels at a sensible chatter. The two waitresses were effortless in serving everyone and regularly came over for a quick conversation, keeping up with the friendly charm of the restaurant. There’s something about bistros that I love; maybe the homely feel, or the enjoyment of having a glass of wine with old friends over a robust earthy meal. Whatever it is, this humble neighbourhood bistro ticked the boxes and I’m happy to drink to that. *Clinks wine glass*

chocolate ganache

TIME TO BISTRO?  1 Station Street, Petersham 2049 NSW (+612 9568 4644)

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May 27, 2012

Chef’s Gallery

It has nearly been a whole year since I last visited Chef’s Gallery, but the restaurant is packed and the lines long as usual. Having a “no reservations” rule, we hungrily line up and wait for our ticket to be called. It’s buzzing in here with crowds building at the doorway trying to squeeze in, and the sound of the waitresses shouting out “welcome!” when directing you to your table.

We make a scurry to our seats before our table is cleared from the previous sitting and end up waiting 10 minutes before anyone properly serves us. After getting hold of a menu, we admire its new covers and binding. There has been a definite upgrade since my last visit, and it clearly shows in the prices too. An old favourite of mine is gone – the pan fried pork buns (生煎包), but luckily they still serve the prawn and pork wontons in Shanghainese spicy sauce (抄手). The sauce is the best part of this dish, being sweetly chilli and spicy enough that even Truck’s low tolerance can handle.

prawn and pork dumplings in Shanghainese spicy sauce

My noodles of wagyu beef is a poor choice though. Even after asking the waiter to have a mild version of the dish, the strong peppery taste of the soup is over powering. The watery broth seems to be only flavoured by powdered pepper or Chinese five spice powder (五香粉), and makes me want to sneeze after the smell fills the air.

A chef’s recommended dish is the wok fried spinach noodles with seafood and dried prawn roe. Not a hit with the girls as they find it too bland and oily. The noodles seem to have lost bounce and sit limp and shrivelled amongst the seafood. It’s an acquired  taste, but I like the fishy flavour of the dried prawn roe and the salty aftertaste it leaves, much like that of anchovies.

Our next dishes seem to get oilier and as the meal goes on. The mini burgers with pork fillet arrives and I’m shocked that the serving size has halved from its original 6 buns to now the current 3. The bread glistens under the light and we’re all tempted to soak up the oil with some napkins. I make a bite and welcome a mouth of oily juices and the taste of coleslaw lettuce.

Mecanese style mini burger: pork fillet, pork floss, lettuce, mayo

The Chinese roti filled with Peking duck is a new addition to the roti selection of the menu and doesn’t disappoint. The bread is lighter in texture and doesn’t seem to have been fully immersed in the oil for as long as the mini burgers. This makes for a good variation of the traditional Peking duck pancakes that other Chinese restaurants are famous for.

chinese roti: peking duck, cucumbers and hoisin sauce

The last dish is chicken and glutinous rice wrapped in a lotus leaf parcel – like the ones popular at yum cha (糯米鸡). This is also a new addition to the Chef’s Gallery menu and we all stare in horror as the waiter pours a whole shot glass of thick soya sauce into the chicken. The result is a salty mixture of rice, meat and mushrooms. The sauce was overkill and ridded the rice of the leafy aromas of the parcel it was wrapped in. Thankfully, there is not much saltiness we have to handle since we’ve reached the bottom of the leaf parcel as it appears that it was at least 5cm thick; making the serving bigger than it really was.

chicken fillet, shitake mushrooms, black fungus, red dates wrapped in lotus leaf parcel

We’re all keen for dessert and are tempted to try their “limited edition” sharing plate of piggy face sesame buns, marsh mellows and ice-cream arranged beautifully in a garden setting. But in the end we all know that we’re not going to eat any of it, so we opt for 3 simple scoops of ice-cream. And how right we were to do so!

ice cream: sesame, green tea and mango

My next visit back to Chef’s Gallery will most likely be longer after this meal, deterred by the oiliness, serving size and price. I’m not a tight-ass (I think?), but Asian food is always cheap unless it’s laced with lobster, crab and abalone medallions in every dish. There are definitely more worthwhile Asian places to try. The new menu is ambitious and looks to steer it away from the casual dining arena. In the restaurant industry however, people attract people and there’s nothing like a large crowd of customers outside a store front to keep business going and this looks like something that Chef’s Gallery has definitely done right.

WANNA TRY?  Shop 12, Regent Place Shopping Centre, 501 George Street, Sydney NSW (+612 9267 8877)

 

I would also like to thank Dung and her iPhone 4S for providing the above photos! (Note that the dessert platter photo was obtained from the Chef’s Gallery website)

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