Sunday, March 30, 2008


Type: Thai
Location: Campbell St, Sydney (between Pitt ST and Castlereagh St)
Booking Required: Not at this stage

Okay, so after deciding not to brave out the Spice I Am 45 minute wait we stumbled into this place, too purple to ignore.

The first that you notice after you get over the purple is that they have this awesome sofa seat sort of thing. It's really awesome and really sticks out. I think that's a fantastic thing for a "fun" restaurant to have. We had only been there 10 minutes before a group came in and said "bags the sofa!" rather excitedly.

We then found out that this was actually the opening night of the restaurant so, regrettably, around a third of the menu was unavailable. But that's okay.

We started with the BBQ chicken salad. An interesting mix of barbequed chicken, tomato, lettuce (or cabbage) and a few other things. It was an interesting dish, almost more Vietnamese in style. Not bad, but the combination of ingredients was lacking a little harmony for me, and the sauce hadn't fully penetrated the chicken. But I did like that you could taste the elements of the dish, rather than just the one dominating flavour that seems to happen at a lot of other Thai places.

Second to arrive was the jungle curry. I'm not normally a fan of this curry and this didn't convert me. I won't judge too harshly since it isn't in my tastes, but again the flavours didn't seem to harmonise enough. The beef was a bit tough as well.

The final, and most successful, dish was the beef nam tok (beef salad). Always a nice combination of beef, basil, onion and a few other ingredients in a citrusy sauce. It was damn spicy, but also quite nice.

Because this was opening night I won't criticise too heavily, but there are quite a lot of kinks that will need to be ironed out before I visit again in 2-3 weeks to see what the progress has been like.

RATING: Pending. See it for yourself and see what you think of this new Thai place.

Chonsiam on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Type: Italian
Location: 143 Enmore Rd, Enmore
Booking Required: Usually

A tough place to pick really.

Really pleasant service on the floor. Good prices. Nice location.

But the food. The food left a bit to be desired.

Their take on the caprese was disappointing. It’s probably my favourite salad and I’m almost certain I can make a better version myself. Bocconcini is a tasteless cheese and over the top of standard tomatoes it doesn’t really inspire. The rucola was a better attempt.

A selection of bruschetta was good, but didn’t really have much of a punch.

The mains, again, were a bit hit and miss. While the crab and tomato risotto was well flavoured, it was also undercooked. The gnocchi was also nice, but a little overcooked. But that was probably more because of bias for simple flavouring on gnocchi.

Tiramisu-the yardstick for all good Italian places-was a nice end to the meal.

On a whole it was a good experience. While the food was only okay, the service and mood they created made up for it. I won’t jump to go there again, but I won’t hesitate for a second to give it another go.

RATING: Okay, may go back

La Ricetta Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 24, 2008


Type: Seafood
Location: Ground Floor, IMAX Theatre Complex, Darling Harbour
Booking Required: Usually

Despite being directly below a massive concrete overpass, it’s the location that really makes this place worth dining at. If you get a seat near the front of the restaurant then you have a lovely breeze blowing in off the harbour and a fantastic opportunity to people watch.

Unfortunately, aside from some nice cocktails there wasn’t much else going for it when I visited. While it is a seafood restaurant, my salmon was kind of average. I’ve had better pieces, cooked better in a number of other places. While the mains seemed to lack something, the chocolate crème brulee really was delicious.

Service was a little hot and cold.

While this would be a good, casual “date” restaurant, for normal dining it just didn’t do enough for me. The quality didn’t match the price.

RATING: Okay, may go back

Ice Cube on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Restaurant Rating System Explained

Let me break down how the restaurant rating system works on the site, since it's a bit different to the norm.

The idea behind this system is that a system based on scores/grades/stars isn't usually suitable for every day use. For example, a restaurant may be rated 15/20 but because it's fairly expensive or it's too formal, you may frequent a restaurant rated 10/20 more often.

Most rating systems will favour fine-dining restaurants like Tetsuya's or Quay, simply because they're supposed to have good food, service and atmosphere for the price. Surely an awesome tapas place--one that has above average tapas and an excellent atmosphere for a good price--should also rate highly? Sure, the service might not be as polished as at Tetsuya's, but what if it's great when you compare it to similar restaurants?

So our system rates the restaurant according to how well it competes with similar types of restaurants, how well it reaches what it's set out to achieve and how exciting it is to eat there. Take, for example, the review on this blog of now-defunct Omega. While the food was exceptional and it ticked a lot of other boxes, it was lacking in some areas when we visited. So the next time we were looking for a dinner of that style and that price-range, we looked elsewhere.

Compare that to the review of Chinatown staple, Chinese Noodle Restaurant. Right there is a place that makes you want to go back to over and over because, for the money you pay and the food you get, it's superior to similar places (at least in our minds).

Let me break down the different ratings:

Will constantly return to - For something to make you want to constantly return to it then it really needs to be doing something special. There must be a very clear distinction that this place is above it's peers. You will fight for this place and recommend it to everyone who will listen.

An expensive fine-dining place can still receive this rating but it doesn't mean that we have the cash to go there once a week. It means that when we have the appetite and budget for some fine-dining then this place will always be considered.

Will return to - Still a very strong rating. A restaurant at this grade will be consistently good. You will want to go back there, but it doesn't quite have that same level of excitement as much as a place in the higher category. You'll still come here every now and then (and enjoy it!) but it's in competition with many other enjoyable places and new places that you're keen to try.

Okay, may go back - While this is still a good restaurant, it does have flaws. You wouldn't go out of your way for this restaurant, you'll rarely consider it as a dining option and probably wouldn't recommend it to people. If you're nearby or if someone else suggests going there, you won't mind too much, but you won't be too excited by the prospect.

Will probably not return to - This is where it gets unfavourable. The flaws are at a point where you wouldn't go here, even if you were in the area. You would only go here if someone else suggested it and they weren't interested in your alternative suggestions. You probably only go here out of duty to someone.

Will never return to - They have either stuffed up massively or just aren't offering anything good to get this rating. To get this rating, it needs to be so bad that you just do not want to go back under any circumstances. Even if someone suggests this place or organises a meal there, you will resist as much as possible.

Happy reading.


Type: Spanish
Location: 501 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills
Booking Required: Usually

I’ve been here twice and, while there have been flaws, I’ve left pleased twice.

On the first visit on a warm afternoon we got a table near the bar, which had a nice cool breeze blowing through it. We worked out way through some good tapas dishes and imbibed the ubiquitous sangria.

The meat platter is excellent and got me into blood sausages periodically. Fried whitebait was also quite nice, as was the jamon with rockmelon. I don’t remember any of the other dishes on that visit falling short. Combined with pleasant service it really was a nice evening.

The second visit was a little less successful. A larger group of us sat out the back in the converted courtyard sort of room. And while it was a rather hot day, the heat was nearly uncomfortable in the room. Having sweat pour down my face while I dine isn’t the best way to spend a meal.

Again, good, solid dishes arrived one after the other. But the mussels, cooked in a chilli tomato sauce, were terrible. Just lacking a fresh taste. The majority of the bowl sat untouched.

But again, good service, good food and good sangria made a good night. While this didn’t topple Encasa as my favourite Spanish in Sydney, it has cemented a spot firmly in the top three.

RATING: Will Return To

El Bulli Spanish Tapas on Urbanspoon

WINE: DE BORTOLI Show Liqueur Muscat NV

Type: Muscat, Fortified
Origin: Riverina, NSW
Approx Cost: $20

Really nice for the price.

Golden amber colour with green tinges. Full bodied sweetness. Sultana flavours really dominate, with some richer caramel lingering in the background. Nice length.


WINE: INNISKILLIN Ice Wine Vidal 2004

Type: Ice Wine
Origin: Canada
Approx Cost: $80 (375ml)

I tried this wine 6 months ago and have only now gotten around to putting up the notes. Silly of me, because it really was a fantastic wine.

Before I put my notes up I just need to confess my love for ice wines. Yes they are expensive, but they are made in such inhospitable conditions. To make an ice wine you know that a lot of pain and effort and disappointment has gone into it. The finished product is a triumph over nature.

Deep apricot in colour. And it smells just so rich on the nose. Apricots, orange. And then the glorious taste. Apricots, caramelised citrus fruits, stone fruit. Really full bodied and full flavoured.

I can’t recommend trying ice wines enough. And if you want to try one of the better (but still easily available) ice wines then look no further than this.


Saturday, March 22, 2008


Type: Champagne
Origin: France
Approx Cost: $250

Dom is sexy. There’s just no doubt about it. This vintage comes in a sleek black box with silver outlines. Once you press the buttons on the base and lift the lid up it only gets sexier. That familiar bottle shape with the timeless logo.

Couldn’t wait.

There has been a lot of discussion about this vintage. Initially a lot of people said it wasn’t great, but lately the tide has been changing and positive reviews have been more forthcoming. Could it be a grower?

Pop the cork and the aroma just fills the air. It’s nothing short of extraordinary. Peach, honey, lemon and apricot swirl around before me.

It pours with a nice mid-gold with the slightest touch of green.

The mousse and bead are a work of art. Tiny, persistent and explosive. They help the aroma circulate even more.

Finally, the sip. It really is an explosion of that familiar Dom taste. The fragrant, fruity elegance that is just so unique to the brand. The peach, honey, lemon and apricot promised on the nose deliver and are joined by some more savoury flavours. A touch of spice, tobacco and a little pineapple. The bead is still furious and forces everything into every corner of your mouth.

It’s still really tight and shows good signs for the future. 5 or so more years will do it a lot of justice and give it time to settle.

I wouldn’t say it’s an outstanding vintage, but it really is quite nice and well worth the price.


Monday, March 17, 2008

RESTAURANT: Newton’s Cucina

Type: Mexican
Location: 403 King St, Newtown
Booking Required: Sometimes

Good Mexican in Sydney seems to be impossible to find. I don’t know why, we seem to cover most other cultures pretty well. But no one has been able to get a great Mexican place going.

Newton’s Cucina is yet another name on a long list of mediocre Mexican places. It’s not that it’s bad. There’s just nothing special about it that makes me want to go back.

Upon arrival you get a complimentary shot of what seems to be tomato juice with Tabasco. Not a bad offering, but it would be nice if it was something that was a bit more cleansing to the palate.

Fajitas seem to be their speciality here. And while they’re okay, you get the feeling you can make something similar or better at home.

Big servings so even though it’s all a bit costly for what it is, you won’t be able to last 3 courses here. And, with the place like it is, I didn’t really feel like sticking around for much longer.

RATING: Will Probably Not Return To

Newton's Cocina on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 13, 2008

RESTAURANT: Element Bistro

Type: French
Location: 163 King St, Sydney
Booking Required: At peak times

Sometimes as regular diners and amateur food critics, we all get carried away looking for the next big thing. We want to find that new tapas joint doing funky dishes, that modern oz place putting flavours together you could never imagine, that French/Japanese place fusing ingredients and styles in unforgettable ways. But sometimes it’s the simple things that surprise us. The home truths.

Because I don’t get a chance to eat out that often, when I do eat out I want to try something new, something I haven’t had before. It’s rare that a place pulls me back, especially if it’s a little costly. But Element Bistro manages to do that.

Pardon the pun, but it pulls all of the elements of dining together in a fantastic way.

It’s only a small place, tucked away basically under the sidewalk on busy King St. So you go in and see if they have a table. They usually do. You take your seat and you’re offered tap water, but of course sparkling or bottled if you so wish. It’s great to see a place that encourages tap water, rather than looks at you weird if you ask for it. And have a bread roll and some delicious butter while you’re at it – complimentary of course.

I find it an odd menu. Made up largely of classic French dishes, but with a tiny twist that makes everything look so appealing. It makes me want to order everything there. But, of course, I can’t.

A nice wine list too. Small, like the surroundings, but strong. Some really good choices on there. Excellently priced too. I’m sick of seeing the price list of wines and thinking “ambitious” straight away.

We settle on the kingfish carpaccio, marinated in citrus with pomegranate, and the baby beetroot salad to start. The carpaccio is beautifully flavoured and plays well with the pomegranate and other ingredients on the plate. The beetroot salad is just fantastic. Combined with soft, creamy feta, greens (tiredness and poor memory don’t help) and nuts (again) and just the slightest tang of balsamic, it all comes together perfectly. I use the remains of the bread to greedily mop of the juices that have stayed on the plate. On previous visits we have also enjoyed the textbook French onion soup (delicious) and richly delicious duck liver parfait.

Mains are where this place really succeeds. On my first visit I had one of the best pieces of corned beef I can remember and enjoyed the grill of the day. This visit was even more successful. The salmon was out of this world. The skin reaching it’s ultimate crispiness, covering the perfectly cooked flesh and that melted apart. This sat atop a bed of fennel and beside – interestingly - a colcannon of potato, bacon and shallot. While the colcannon was a little dull and oniony on it’s own, with the salmon it was fantastic. I tried this before my main arrived and nearly regretted my order. But when it did arrived – the duck confit with roasted potatoes, seared scallops and asparagus heart puree – all regrets totally disappeared. This dish was truly something else. There was not a grain of this duck that was not packed with flavour. Whether it was the subtle taste of the brine that gave it a nice salty punch or the fat that soaked up everything, it was all good. The jus it was served with only added to the experience. My only question, and it was such a small question, was the scallops. I didn’t really feel they added much to the dish. Fat, juicy scallops would have. But these ones were a little dry and were a little overpowered by the huge flavours going on elsewhere. But man, I didn’t care. I ate those scallops up and enjoyed them.

On our second visit the service was really called into question. For the most part it was fantastic. The waitress on the floor was utterly charming at all times, sharing jokes and sharing information about the dishes on offer. She even remembered that on his last visit, the person I was eating with felt a bit under the weather. That visit was a month ago and it was only the second time he had visited. When we arrived he immediately mentioned that the last time he was here the waitress was fantastic. We only saw more of that on this occasion. Even a stuff up – not bringing the correct main for me – was handled with genuine apology and bucketloads more charm. While this would have annoyed me at a place I didn’t like, I really couldn’t have cared less at Element.

The first time I ate here we were too full to have dessert. But this time we made sure we had enough room. We didn’t even need to see the dessert menu, with that trademark charm the waitress offered to make the selection herself for us if we trusted her. We were more than happy with this, and so it was. She even warned that what she had in mind would take a while, so she can think of something else if we were in a rush. It’s the small things like that which add up to a good dining experience.

The desserts selected, crème brulee and chocolate fondant with mint and lime granita arrived with matching wines (botrytis Semillon and muscat, respectively) and looked inviting. The crème brulee was quite good but lacked a bit of body to it. Not disappointing but not remarkable. The chocolate fondant, filled with rich chocolate sauce, was much more successful. The richness was beautiful contrasted with the refreshing granita, which stopped that sickly sweet feeling that plagues many rich chocolate dishes from creeping in.

The desserts are finished, the water glasses are filled again – just as they have been all night – and the bill comes. The price is good for what we’ve eaten, and my happiness doesn’t subside like it does at many other good restaurants.

Element really is doing something special with essentially basic things. Why this tiny place isn’t constantly booked out I have no idea, but I’m thankful for it. The food isn’t on the next level, but for the price it goes for, it really is something special. Not many places will make me want to go back and spend that sort of money. Not that it’s astronomic (of even “ambitious”), I’m just a bit poor.

So that’s why this place becomes only the fourth ever and only the first pricey place to get the following rating:

Rating: Will Constantly Return To

Element Bistro on Urbanspoon