Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BEER: HOPDOG Secret Santa 2011

Another day another Christmas beer. This time from South Nowra in NSW.

It's an 8.6% abv, 70 IBU, "Festive spiced Belgian style ale" that contains gingerbreads.

I've found the carbonation of Hopdog beers to be extremely unpredictable. This bottle pours a small head that quickly dissipates.

Interesting nose. You get the sweet malt and yeast like a normal Belgian strong ale, but there are more elusive smells of spice, egg and cream.

Low carbonation but a thick mouthfeel.

The taste up front is your typical Belgian strong ale: sweet, hoppy and yeasty. This gives way to an almost fruity middle of oranges, ginger, honey, malt. The finish is absent on the front and middle palates, but leaves some sweet and malty hops lingering in the background.

It's not a bad Christmas ale, but it's not really a great Christmas ale. I can barely see any of the gingerbread in it. Although, fans of Belgian strong ales will probably enjoy kicking back with this and slowly working through it.


Monday, December 19, 2011

BEER: MIKKELLER Til Fra Via (To From Via) 2011

Christmas means just one thing: Christmas beers!

Like many things, we’re a bit unlucky in Australia to be blessed with glorious sunshine during Christmas time. The weather may be great for eating prawns and laying on a beach, but it’s pretty shocking for drinking dark beer, which Christmas beers from Europe typically are.

Thankfully, summer so far has been a shocker and the weather is just cold enough to keep getting stuck into some darks (not like we did in 1788 <-- bad joke).

Very large, thick head. Heaps of carbonation; needed to give it a rest for a minute. Very pretty head. Blends from dark to light.

A lot of liquorice on the nose. Some chipotle spice. Malt.

Thick mouthful and a good level of carbonation which quickly dissipates.

Liquorice and blueberries on the mouth. Juniper. Vanilla. Chipotle. Not a huge bucket of flavour and it’s easily drowned out by the burnt malt finish, which has great length.

It’s a very nice drop, but a little out of balance with the bitterness for mine. If you like a thick, strong, bitter beer then this could be worth a shot.


Friday, December 16, 2011

BEER: BROUWERIJ DE MOLEN Bommen & Granaten (Bombs & Granades)

From my favourite Dutch brewer (oh, you don't have one?) comes a very big barley wine.

How big?

54 EBU, 15.2% abv, 750ml, wax and cork seal.

Despite the Fort Knox seal, my bottle is flat as a tack so I can't comment on carbonation. The unfortunate thing with buying beers from de Molen in Australia is that the carbonation is wildly unpredictable: you could get a flat beer, you could have a beer that tries to explode in your face (my roof is dented from the time a cork and net shot off before I'd even touched it).

That dark-brown/gold, hazy colour that all good barley wines have.

The smell of alcohol that all good barley wines have. Maybe a little sweet grain and red apple.

Front palate is yeast, alcohol, grain. Bitter sweet. Mid and back palate is where the fun is. Big tart red apples, orange peel, honey, yeast. Superb length in a delicious finish.

Another very good beer from a very good brewer. It's not my favourite de Molen (I rate Hel & Verdoemenis, Mout & Mocca, Bloed Zweet & Tranen and Rasputin higher (in descending order)) but it's up there.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

RESTAURANT: Momofuku Seiobo

Around 18 months ago I perched myself at a small counter in a New York restaurant. What followed was one of my top 3 meals in a year that featured meals at some of the best restaurants in New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.

The setting was casual, approachable and filled with awesome music (Explosions in the Sky during dinner? Yes. Yes. Yep.); I could hear the chefs breathe; I could see the entire dish evolve from ingredient to full-form; the food was incredible; deceptively simple; spot on execution.

And then, it's in Sydney.

Seiobo launches and is a pretty similar copy of Ko, that place where I had that amazing meal.

People complain about the booking system, but it's fair. I don't have to wait months for a table; I don't have to throw out different dates; I don't have to wait on hold. It's either confirmed immediately or it's not.

The people that complain about the booking system. Is this restaurant really for them? Are they will to play by the rules of the restaurant in order to have every part of the experience controlled? Will they like the awesome music, or will it be "loud"?

My first visit left me speechless. I wasn't expecting to have such an amazing meal in my backyard. It felt like I had to travel to find food so good.

The second visit: just as good. Tweaks here and there, matching beverages changed.

It's hard to call out great dishes as there are so many. Much talking has been done of the pork bun (or is that "Pork Bun"?) but you only need to last a couple more courses before you face the excellent marron with charred white asparagus, leek and lemon. Produce shines.

Next up is the radish with the most incredible sauce of ever. Burnt watermelon, fermented blackbean, wagyu. Every sense gets swamped, then cleared by the radish. It's like that burnt edge of a roast in drink form.

Soon after, silky pasta tossed with goats cheese, chilli, pickled tomatoes, mint and fried basil. Sweet, sour, fatty, smooth, crunchy. Totally delightful.

Next up is a roasted bit of trumpeter (a fish which also features near the start) with an awesome squid ink sauce.


You know what... Just bloody well go there.

Oh, and it's easy to call out the average dishes. There are none. Every dish is at least "very good".

Matching beverages (wine, sake, beer) are all spot on from the infamous Charles Leong and the extremely likeable Rich Hargreave, and service from the whole floor is relaxed, cheery and smooth.

I think the thing with Seiobo is that it's not for everyone. The music, the booking system, the bar seating. Your grandma probably isn't going to like it. But if listening to Mobb Deep and eating pork with her hands sounds good, then Momofuku Seiobo is her fine-diner.

It's definitely my new favourite fine-dining restaurant in Sydney. And, as such, is the first to earn this rating:

RATING: Will constantly return to [?]

Momofuku Seiōbo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

BAR: The Baxter Inn

The other day, I took a quick look at Baxter Inn, the new venture from the kids behind the stupidly popular Shady Pines.

You'll be pleased to know that it's hard to find. Busy on a Monday night.

Billed as a Chicago sports bar with no sports, it's probably more of a post-prohibition/speakeasy bar that is a bit more common.

I always find Shady Pines a little confusing. Do I get one of the beers from the tight list, a well-made cocktail or a shot of scotch? YOU CAN'T DO EVERYTHING WELL, SHADY PINEZZZZZ.

Here, there is no doubt. Scotch. So much scotch.

An extremely strong range that will keep you occupied for months, including some of my favourites like Ardbeg and Bunnahabhain.

Thankfully, the Shady Pines feel is maintained. Casual, fun, approachable, excellent.

In short, an essential stop for anyone that appreciates scotch, or wants to become a said boring person.

RATING: Will return to [?]

The Baxter Inn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

BEER: 4 PINES Kolsch

Out of Manly comes an impressive and drinkable kolsch. For those unfamiliar with the kolsch style, it originated in Germany (obvs) and is something like a pale ale, but with less bitterness, more citrusy sweet tones and more of a straw colour.

Head disappears pretty quickly. Kind of funny because the last 4 Pines beer I had is their stout which has a massively thick, lingering head.

Citrus on the nose, with a little white sugar and slight floral notes.

Low carbonation, but a good level if you don’t want to start on a fizz bomb.

Tastes like sweet citrus at first, then gives way to slight bitterness and malt. Full but clean mouthfeel.

Lingering slight bitterness on the finish but overall quite clean.

Drinks well and easy. Uncomplicated. A clean and refreshing drink that would be great to start with. Would go well with seafood and salty/oily bites.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

RESTAURANT: Cafe Sopra (Bridge St)

I've been wanting to check out Cafe Sopra and Fratelli Fresh for a while now, but could never be bothered visiting one of the existing outposts. So I was quite happy when a new one seemingly popped up overnight in the CBD, where I do the majority of my culinary consumption.

Everything I hoped for. In short.

Produce is stupidly good, dishes are uncomplicated, prices are very reasonable, flavours are spot on.

The caprese is one of the best versions I've ever had. Totally basic in terms of ingredients and presentation, but with some of the most delicious tomatoes I can remember.

Panzanilla with white anchovies is similarly delicious.

Fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese? Forget about it. Deliciously cheesey, executed perfectly and moreish to the detriment of my health.

Pasta features heavily on the menu. While the spaghetti in tomato sauce is simple, the meatballs are superlative. A bit of cumin giving them a meaty sweetness.

Orechiette with peas and salsice is simple but extremely delicious.

Oh, and massive. The portions are huge. After a zucchini flower as an appetiser, an entree, a side of bread and a bowl of pasta each we're ridiculously full. But... you know... dessert and all that...

I go for, of course, the tiramisu. It's a tiramisu and it's bloody good. Creamy, a little sweet, a little bit of coffee, a little bit of booze, a little cakey. It's the sort of tiramisu you'd get at home.

The wine list is short, but interesting and well priced.

Service is fine. The place can occasionally be dominated by irritating banker-types that spoil the Italian atmosphere, but the food quickly distracts. Although I wouldn't want to be on the end tables that people constantly wander past after they meander down the stairs.

Pretty much everything I look for in a restaurant in terms of food an experience though. Simple, uncomplicated food with a few, excellent ingredients, executed perfectly and priced reasonably.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Café Sopra on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 05, 2011

BEER: MIKKELLER Black Hole (Peat Barrel Edition)

Surprisingly large, thick head.

Smells of burnt peat and malt.

Tastes so beautiful. Chocolatey malt up first, then coffee, then vanilla, the hazelnut, then a burnt peat finish.

Finish is sweet and peaty and lasts.

If you’re a fan of scotch and imperial stouts this is an essential purchase.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

BEER: MIKKELLER George! (Bourbon Barrel Aged Edition)

Another bourbon barrel aged imperial stout. You’d think I’d tire of this, but I don’t.

Brewed as a tribute to George Foreman, apparently. 12.12% abv.

Not much of a head. Thick and greasy as hell.

Nose is beautiful. Caramelised malt, chocolate milk, bourbon. JESUS COCKTAIL.

A taste. Yes. Finally. Thick, light carbonation. Maaaaaaalt. Round and full. Rich. Sweet from the bourbon. The balance is spot on. Tremendous mouthfeel; exactly what you want from a full-on, intense imp stout.

The finish is bitter, coffee and sugar. So thick it coats your tongue and lasts for ages. For just how long I have no idea, I couldn’t wait for another sip.

My only gripe is the 250ml bottle. Add another 0 to that and we’ll talk.


Saturday, December 03, 2011

RESTAURANT: Number One Wine Bar

It's been a crazy couple of years for Tony Bilson.

After being dropped to two hats in the 2010 edition of the Good Food Guide, 2011 looked like it was going to be a redefining year for Bilson. He regrouped and appointed Diego Munoz as head chef at his flagship restaurant in the Radisson. It took the team a while to readjust to the new approach, but once it did Bilson's was one of the suddenly hottest restaurants in the country. It continued it's spectacular run with restoration to three hat status a few months ago.

Then, pretty much overnight, it was all gone. Bilson's had gone bust. Along with Number One Wine Bar.

A few weeks later, despite Bilson's and Number One still being under administration, Tony Bilson flagged that he was going to reopen Number One with new backers. Much to the delight delight of staff and creditors that were still owed money. In fairness to the man, Bilson too had lost money in the collapse.

It all makes for juicy reading, but I went to the relaunched Number One purely to try and get some good, simple food from a dude that has been cooking French food at a high level for pretty much ever.

Number One and Bilson's share more than a chef in common: the decor is dated in both. My chair feels like it's going to retire at any second.

The menu is mostly classic, simple French bistro fare. Tripe a la mode de Caen sits happily next to a pot au feu on the menu. Prices are reasonable: entrees average around $20, mains $30 and desserts $15. And we're in a wine bar, so there's a good range of wine on offer by both the glass and bottle, with plenty of bottles around the $50 mark.

Snails in puff pastry are a good start. Each snail individually wrapped in a puff pastry shell, with watercress and an amazing sauce that is something like bernaise. It's not modern food and it's not modern presentation. It looks like something you'd see in the 90s. But it is a good dish.

Gazpacho is a fresh, simple starter, served with a piece of jamon on toast. It gets good reviews, as does the creme of foie gras, again served with toast.

Mains are a little less successful. While the flavours of everything on the plate make the confit duck a tasty dish (again, superb sauce), the meat isn't as fall-off-the-bone as you want from confit duck. Nor is the skin quite uniformly crisp. I wrestle with the meat for a while before leaving a fair amount of it on the bone.

The execution of the duck breast is more on point, and goes down well. Though the whole cherries it's served with make for some difficult eating.

The suckling pig gets a good but not great verdict. It too is served with whole cherries and potato chips.

Desserts are solid efforts. Again, the presentation is fairly dated and, again, the sauces are excellent.

Bilson's daughter and son work the room, looking after the front of house and wine, respectively. The family feel adds some warmth to the place, but when Tony comes out of the kitchen to survey the room (which happens often) the stress of the still-warm collapse is clearly affecting them all.

Service as a whole still has some kinks to work out (the re-opening was only last week) but I can see them getting there.

Putting aside the past--which isn't easy when you're in a restaurant and the godfather of Australian fine-dining is in the kitchen--I leave Number One having had a decent meal. The prices are reasonable and the food is reasonable. But reasonable food isn't enough in a city that is bursting at the seams with places in this price range that can deliver great food. I would happily go back to Number One to eat again and look forward to a good meal, but I don't think I'll be rushing back or recommending the place to others. That said, here is a man that has done a lot for the Australian dining scene and I hope he succeeds.

RATING: Okay, may go back [?]

Number One Wine Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

BEER: MIKKELLER Spontancassis

Ah, sweet, sweet blackcurrant. Also know as cassis in some European circles.

A large, airy, pink head on the pour, much like the Spontangrape I reviewed the other day. The head also dissipates fairly quickly, again, much like the Spontangrape.

The nose is sour, dark berries and a little vanilla. Kind of like a berry sourdough.

Quite similar to the Spontangrape in flavour, as you’d expect. Though the blackcurrant comes through more than the grape. The berry flavour also helps soften some of the impact from the sour funk by injecting a little freshness and sweetness.

Good length on the finish, though the cassis flavour becomes a bit cloying.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

COCKTAIL: The Fuzzy No. 8

Inspired by the no. 8 from Icebergs, which is the same as the below sans sparkling water.

1 shot Campari
1 shot vodka
3/4 C freshly squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice
1/4 C sparkling water

1. Put plenty of ice in the cup.
2. Add (in order) vodka, Campari, grapefruit, sparkling water.
3. Mix, taste for levels.

Perfect in a sticky Sydney summer, even though grapefruit isn't in season.

You can substitute freshly squeezed ruby red grapefruit for bottled, but you won't get as good as a result.

Monday, November 28, 2011

BEER: MIKKELLER Spontangrape

A new range of offerings from Danish gypsy-brewer-extraordinaire Mikkeller has hit the shelves. After a somewhat lacklustre ris a la m’ale, I head into the range of 7 “spontan-“ lambics that have arrived.

An interesting move, with lambics being one of the few styles left that Mikkeller hasn’t had a shot at. Until now, I guess.

A large, airy head on the pour, which quickly dissipates.

Smells like your average limbic, really. Slightly sour and funky, with a little grape.

Light on the carbonation. Just enough to push it along. Which is good, I find you don’t want a lot of bubbles in a lambic.

Reminds me a lot of a Cantillon in the balance of the funk and the sour. It’s not at the extreme end of the scale, but it’s definitely no shrinking, funky violet. You get the grape but it comes across slightly muddled and more like artificial green grapes. Grape aside, it’s a really tasty funk going on.

The 7.7% abv really helps the flavours fill out the mouth.

Finish has good length, as you’d expect from a sour beer that will pucker you up for days.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

RECIPE: Butter Chicken

Miss Understood.

As hard as it may be to believe, that is actually not the title of an album from American, female rapper, Missy Elliott. Believe me, I thought it was and I checked Wikipedia so quick!

So... butter chicken ey....

Did you know that Westfield food courts save 5% of electricity automatically if an Indian takeaway joint has a stall there, since their butter chicken is so neon-bright-orange that it actually doubles as a light source? If you ask me, the whole "solar panel" thing (that was a thing, right?) was a waste of time: they should have just put butter chicken in people's houses to generate energy. And it's not like it would get used up, since the only people that like butter chicken hate Indian food.

Hunt for Red October (also not a Missy Elliot album)

Okay, so that was a bit harsh (ed: a lot harsh). Butter chicken is an alright dish when you're getting into Indian food and don't want to be blown away by spice. But after a while.... a man wants more. A man wants... an authentic butter chicken.

Stage One: Marinate
- Wrap a bulb of garlic in foil and roast in an oven until soft. Set aside to cool.
- While the garlic is roasting, make a garam masala from scratch. Be sure to include 1/2 T of fenugreek seeds, 1 T of coriander seeds and 1.5T of cumin seeds. Don't shy away from dried chillis: a butter chicken doesn't have to be mild. You'll need around 5 T of garam masala all up.
- Take 1kg of chicken thigh fillets and trim off any excess skin of unwanted bits (hey, chicken butchers, stop leaving fucken bone shards in the fillets). Quarter them and add them in a large bowl/dish (ideally not metallic).
- Peel and roughly chop ginger so you have around 4 thumbs worth.
- Peel and roughly chop fresh turmeric so you have around 3 thumbs worth.
- Put the ginger, turmeric and the insides of the garlic bulb (cut the bottom off, squeeze out the goodness) into a food processor and blend.
- Add 3T of the masala, the ginger/garlic/turmeric mix, 500g of yoghurt (Greek is fine), 2 T of chilli powder, the juice of a lime and a good pinch of salt to the bowl of chicken. Mix well so the chicken is well coated in the mix. Cover in cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.

Step Two: Chicken
- There are a few options here to try and replicate the tandoor char on the chicken (hint: you won't get close). Either you can bbq, grill or bake the pieces of chicken chicken (in order of how good the results will be) (save the leftover marinade). Whatever method you choose, you need to get your fire as screaming hot as possible and you need to cook the chicken until it starts to get some char. If the chicken releases some moisture during cooking, pour it into a pot/bowl and we'll use it later. Set aside the cooked chicken.

Step Three: The Actual Cooking
- In a large pot, melt a tablespoon of ghee or butter and add the leftover marinade and any juices you saved from cooking. Over a low heat, cool this for around 15 mins until it goes darker, stirring occasionally.
- Add 3 tins of pureed tomato, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar and cook for a further 20 mins.
- Add 150g of unsalted butter (or ghee) straight from the fridge and stir until melted.
- Add your remaining garam masala (around 2T), 1 T of chilli powder and 2 T of dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi in an Indian supermarket).
- Add the chicken, stir and cook for a further 30 mins.

- Serve it with naan and rice.

(Yes, I'm aware I served the below with flatbread and no rice. IF YOU COOK YOU CAN DO STUFF LIKE THAT)


An American strong ale made with birch and maple from two of the biggest names in American craft brewing today.

Carbonation is perfect throughout, beginning with a perfect head.

Maple, birch and chocolate on the nose.

Medium to thick weight in the mouth. First you get the birch, then some sweeter grain tones—almost like a barley wine—before it wraps things up with a big release of maple on the finish. Great balance of flavours.

The maple rounds out and you’re left with a mapley, malty taste for quite a while.

Perfectly executed, excellently balanced and flavoured. Exactly what you’d expect from these two heavyweight craft brewers.


Monday, November 21, 2011

BEER: PORT BREWING "Older Viscosity" Boubon Barrel Aged American Strong Ale

So I’d had the Old Viscosity from Port Brewing before, as well as a bunch of other beers from them and stable-mate Lost Abbey. And, quite frankly, I haven’t been overly impressed with any of them. Good? Without a doubt. Great? Not for me.

So I was fairly non-plussed when Older Viscosity came along. From what I can see it’s the older brother to the Old Viscosity and hits a smaller bottle after spending over six months in bourbon barrels.

Poors black as sin. Not much of a head to speak of.

The nose is HUGE. Bourbon dominates up front, before vanilla comes through. Then coffee and caramel.

It hits the palate and is almost too strong, until the heat from the bourbon dissipates and leaves caramel, coffee, vanilla and a little aniseed. Perfect balance. Slight carbonation pushes it along. The finish lasts forever.

I’ve just made a new entry to my list of top 5 beers of all time.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

BEER: JOLLY PUMPKIN "La Roja" Artisan Amber Ale



As a huge fan of sour ales, I was super excited to get my three hands on this thing (I was so excited I grew a new hand) as Jolly Pumpkin are well regarded in the US.

Not a lot of head.

Staggeringly beautiful sour, fruity nose. Almost candylike.

Carbonation is also low in the body, letting the sour nectar glide around the mouth. It’s a robust sourness, probably a result of the barrel ageing. So hard to pin down the flavours. It’s as much green apple as it is strawberry as it is plum. Nothing is overly musty like a lot of other sour beers.

After a while (it’s a 750ml bottle) it loses a bit of it’s excitement as the oak overpowers, unlike one of the better Rodenbachs (grand cru or vintage) or the Liefmans Goudenband would. Still, an excellent, complex drop.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

WINE: SEPPELTSFIELD Para 100 Year Old Tawny 1911

What can be said of one of the world's greatest wines?

Maybe some reasons about why it's so incredible.

Seppeltsfield are one of Australia's oldest wineries having been established way back in 1851. Some time in the 70s (the 1870s that is), Benno Seppelt got the idea of putting a 500L barrel of one of his vintage tawnys away for a lazy 100 years. So, since 1978, Seppeltsfield having been putting out a vintage port that is 100 years old.

Not surprisingly, it's become one of the most unique and iconic fortified wines in the world.

As a fan of fortified wine, I've been aching after this for years. Finally, I got my hands on some.

A lot of wine reviews describe a wine as viscous or "clinging to the sides of the glass". You realise that's all bullshit when you see how this clings. Almost like syrup to a spoon.

Coming in at around 21% means there is quite a lot of heat on the nose. Like smelling dried fruits soaking in brandy. But the wonderfully complex aroma is there too, entering the nostrils and immediately swamping the brain.

It's thick and luscious but not stupidly so. You still know you're drinking wine.

But the flavours. The flavours. Staggering. Something between coconut sugar and a rich Christmas pudding. But with so many different spices and flavours thrown in there. And it's so generous: just think of a flavour and you'll probably find it in there, somewhere.

It goes without saying but the finish lasts forever, leaving you with a lot of time to reflect on an extraordinary wine that has changed everything you thought you knew about "good" fortified wine.

100% (obviously)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

THE LINKDOWN: Five Food Links

It's been a while since I last shared some links, but I've had some sitting around for a while that continue to be well worth a read. So let's get the sharing underway. Shall we <--rhetorical question. We shall.

How beer might meet its match
From the UK, the Guardian brings us a blog which covers off some thoughts on the increasing trend of matching beer with food with the same gusto that you would match wine. It's an interesting article that makes you question the role of beer in food.

An Introduction and Rallying Cry
New York's most famous Italian chef, Mario Batali delivers the intro to Esquire's "How to Eat Like a Man" series (which is also a handy book for guys that aren't familiar with the kitchen). Some of the linked articles and recipes are also worth a read.

50 of the World’s Best Breakfasts
Around the world in 50 breakfasts. Fascinating and delicious.

A Letter that all Chefs (and Anyone Who Eats) Need to Read
Through Mark Bittman comes an interesting open letter from a meat wholesaler than supplies all ends of the spectrum, who is encouraging customers to think more about what they're buying and eating.

And interesting site/product that maps out flavour links between different ingredients. While you have to pay for full access, there are some free examples that get the creative juices flowing.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

RESTAURANT: The Bridge Room

While it may be new on the scene, The Bridge Room has a very familiar feeling to it. Behind the pans is Ross Lusted, who spent a bit of time as exec chef at Rockpool. Behind the chequebook is the Fink Group who are also behind the likes of Quay and Otto.

The dishes seem kind of similar too and many of them recall similar dishes around Sydney and the rest of the world, but with interesting touches added.

The salad of organic heirloom carrots with sheep's milk curd is astounding. The carrots are prepared in different ways--ash grilled, raw, salt-baked--and the characters of each meld together to form an excellent dish that transcends any suggestion of "vegetarian cuisine". With the goats curd rounding the dish out in the mouth, it was easy the dish of the night for me.

The raw wagyu shoulder with enoki mushrooms and horseradish is another excellent dish and reminds me a bit of the wagyu main I had at Marque a couple of weeks ago. Superb depth of flavours.

Scallop with corn and osmanthus flower sounded great on the menu but doesn't really do enough to the well-tried scallop and corn flavour combo to make me want it over the other starters.

Mains feel a bit more basic, with the flavour and texture combos toned down to let the focus ingredient shine. The David Blackmore wagyu is topped with veal tongue and pairs nicely with the smoked shallot and potato mash. It's enjoyable, but feels like a step back after the more elaborate starters and I'm not blow away by the wagyu. While I didn't try them myself, the slow-grilled Junee lamb and ash-grilled duck receive similar verdicts.

The chocolate cannelon is an enjoyable eat with the "aero" chocolate adding additional texture and the raspberries adding a nice tartness.

Service is solid and the wine list has some interesting selections, adding to the experience.

Despite it's strengths, I wasn't blown away by my meal. There is no doubt the produce is exceptional and there is a lot of technique in those dishes, but I get the feeling we're still yet to see the best from the kitchen. The concept of the restaurant is strong and there were moments of brilliance (the carrot entree), so I'm going to put the rest down to the restaurant still being in it's infancy and the kinks still being worked out.

But for now, there just isn't enough meat on the bone for me to want to return over any of the restaurants it's competing with in that price range (entrees mid 20s, mains around 40). I'll wait a while to see what changes have happened.

RATING: Okay, may go back [?]

The Bridge Room on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 03, 2011

ARTICLE: Ethics and Food Blogging

Things were so much better, back in the old days. Life was as slow as the women and everything made sense, except for the way women were described. But then the internet came along and—gosh—decided to move heaps fast and stuff. So fast that it starts moving on to new places before people can understand what was going on at that last place.

Which is probably why food blogs get a lot of critical discussion, despite being a fun, delicious and inspiring hobby for most.

While food bloggers just go about their business, people are freaking out because FOOD BLOGS ARE OUT OF CONTROL (TM) (note: you have to read that while screaming). Food blogs have kept doing things when people are still yet to really know what the whole point of food blogs is. If any.

We have papers and newspapers and stuff (ie anything printed on a tree/creature) and their food-related words have worked pretty well for the last few million years. So why do food blogs have to be so different? It boggles the mind because they should be identical, since the model has been so perfected.

Note: I am fully aware that the sarcastic tone and abrupt shifting of phrase is not really doing anything except make this post hard to follow. I am also aware that no one is ready this so this note is for myself, mainly. So freakin’ meta!

There has been a lot of disjointed discussion lately around ethics in food blogging. I say disjointed because a few people have mentioned it, but no one has had a MASSIVE think about it.

There was more structured discussion a year or two back when there was a voluntary code of ethics launched for bloggers. Some bloggers got together and decided that they’d put together a short code of ethics that broadly fell into the following categories:
- Be responsible for anything you post; Blogging is akin to actually being an author/publisher.
- Don’t be a dick.
- Disclose any freebies.
- Follow the same rules/ethics as journalists.

Since then, there has been a plethora of articles comparing food blogging to traditional (read: tree based) food writing (admittedly, mostly by the latter group). I don’t really see them as structured discussions on ethics in food blogging, since the extent of that is mostly the odd like thrown in that usually says “bloggers are only in it for free food and they don’t even disclose their free food!!!!!”

Must be a terrible bunch, these food bloggers; Only out to get free food and punch people in the dicks.

And that’s probably why there hasn’t been a whole heap of dialogue on the topic: everyone slightly interested in the topic pretty much thinks that it will all be fine if bloggers just stopped being dicks.

But that’s completely missing the point.

Blogging, by definition, is a journal of the writer’s thoughts. I admit that it may be a simplistic, but it’s broadly correct and representative of food bloggers. Most food bloggers start blogging merely to share thoughts on food. The overwhelming majority do not start a food blog to gain free food or build a profitable site, as some articles seem to suggest.

The offline equivalent of these blogs would be a personal notepad or a scrapbook; Something that allows the writer to enter their thoughts on food or on a dish that they’re cooking. It may even be a group of friends that they talk about food with or share restaurant experiences.

Does anyone suggest that people act ethically when writing in their notebook or when talking with friends about food? I propose that it is similarly foolish to suggest a code of ethics for the online equivalent of these interactions.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t legal or moral considerations, because there are. But they aren’t up for debate. Bloggers have legal considerations any time they publish something online, whereas they may not when just talking to friends. But I’m not going to pretend to know anything about that.

The moral considerations are somewhat similar to the legal considerations in that they aren’t really up for debate: society has it’s moral expectations of what is published or said, for better or worse. There is no moral difference between lying in a restaurant review on a food blog to lying when you tell friends about your restaurant experience in person. If you get sprung, you get judged in roughly the same way.

The supposed “anonymity” of a blogger makes no difference to this either, in case you were going to suggest that. The same legal boundaries apply, and the same moral judgements will be made to the character that the anonymous blogger has created.

While the concept of blog readers following “characters” and not the actual person (even if the food blogger is a real person that isn’t hiding behind an alias or shortened name) is another idea worth exploring, I don’t see it greatly impacting on the topic of ethics in food blogging. No, my main objection to a discussion on ethics for food blogging is related more to the format itself: the internet blog.

The internet is pretty fucken weird. Despite popular belief (the popular belief of people that like to talk about food blogs, which is, ironically, not a very popular thing), most people don’t read a blog like they would a publication. That is, they don’t religiously read that blog and only that. The internet has taught us that information is only as relevant as how current it is. Real world publications are followed because they cover what the reader wants, in the general tone of what the reader wants. There is little benefit in reading an article on the same event from a different news provider.

People buy newspapers because it gives them the most relevant news in the way that they want it. A blog is never going to be as comprehensive as a newspaper. People will generally read a large selection of food blogs to provide that same level of coverage. If at all: many people eschew the following of blogs and follow aggregation sites which collate food blog content (ie Urbanspoon, Foodgawker, RSS feed aggregators) and remove any attachment to the author. When using these sites, the reader will confer with a number of sources and form an opinion. Though If a certain food blogger is found to share similar opinions on restaurants then their opinion may carry more weight than others.

In short, individual authors don’t matter a whole heap. Food blogs are followed for either the currency of the information or the similar ideas shared by the reader. I could be cynical and say that pictures--and not content--are a main reason too, but I’ll abstain.

The internet blurs the line of what is ethical. How can someone that illegally downloads music demand a code of ethics in food blogging?

Or, more accurately, why would someone that illegally downloads music CARE if each and every food blog is behaving ethically?

The vast majority of food blog readers are following the rules of the internet and:
1.Only follow what’s current.
2.Reading a number of food blogs to form an opinion.

The relationship between the reader and the food blogger is currency and quantity. Quality of writing plays only a supporting role. It’s also worth observing that it’s generally the same people calling for a code of ethics in food blogging who are also pining for better quality writing in food blogs. How can you have the former before you have the latter?

I don’t argue that an ethical food blog is a good blog and I’m probably one of those people calling for better writing and more ethics in food blogging. But codes of ethics should only be discussed when they’re appropriate. A journalist needs to follow a code of ethics because people read their work and assume it is truthful and transparent; people read food blogs because they contain tidbits of information about food-related matters that the reader is interested in. People do not read just one or two food blogs and take their word as gospel. The tangibility of a newspaper or a magazine is a different level of publication to a hastily written internet journal. While there are still legal and moral considerations, only one needs to have strict ethical concerns.

As an aside, these ethical concerns that journalists abide by have to be representative of the ethical concerns of the publication they’re writing for. A journalist operating with no ethics won’t (or shouldn’t, there are exceptions) last at a publication if their standards are not met. The food blogger is. The food blogger, just like the journalist, is operating to the standards of their publication and are—like the journalist—writing to that standard, even if it is a (much, in some cases) lower one.

To summarise, I believe that a code of ethics for food blogging is pointless for the following reasons.
1.While it is still a form of publication, and internet blog is not written or read in the same ways as something like a newspaper or magazine. Therefore, you cannot apply the same rules.
2.Food blogs are closer to real world conversations about food and restaurants than they are to newspaper/magazine articles.
3.There are still legal and moral concerns, but they are already assumed. Anyone not following them in a food blog will be dealt with in similar ways to a physical newspaper or food magazine.
4.The internet itself blurs the ethical line. Food bloggers are merely playing in that ethical environment.
5.While a high standard of writing and ethics in a food blog is desirable, a code is not appropriate and will not be successful in an online environment.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

BEER: Gouden Carolus - Cuvee van de Keizer Blauw 2010

Belgian Strong Ale
Approx $20
750ml, 11% alc

I'm a huge fan of the Gouden Carolus Classic, one of the nicest Belgian beers you'll ever meet. It's as hugely flavoured as it is hugely drinkable.

But... it has a big sister.

Meet Cuvee van de Keizer, a fairly similar beer, brewed yearly (for a while, I think. It may have stopped) on the birthday of Charles V, the "Holy" Roman Emperor who suffered from terrible gout.

If I was Charles V I'd be dead pretty bloody happy that someone had made such an exceptional beer for my birthday.

It has the same sort of pruney, spicey, sweet opening of the normal Carolus Classic, but it's just the little bit smoother. A bit sweeter too. Stacks of vanilla. More refined. The finish is sweet, rich and smooth.

Despite being 11% it's really (scarily) drinkable. Beautifully refined, smooth and sweet. Like a good dessert wine.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

RESTAURANT: Best Hand Made Noodle Restaurant

I love modesty. Which is probably why I find myself in yet another Chinese restaurant claiming to have the best noodles or dumplings.

Tucked away in an alley behind the Agincourt pub near UTS, Best Hand Made Noodle Restaurant (a name that rolls off the tongue: Bonus points) looks like a pretty cool place to eat. Like it could be a secret spot to destroy some noodles and dumplings.

I'm in a large group so we go into the upstairs room. I'll call it the party room because the high energy dance music being pumped out makes us all want to bust out the glow sticks and start off our meal with an entree of red mitsubishis.

We start off with a couple of noodle dishes and while they might not be the best hand made noodles, they are pretty damn good hand made noodles.

Unfortunately, that's as good as it gets. The dumplings appear to start their life frozen and don't offer much in the way of flavour. Shallot lamb is lacking some garlic or ginger and the meat is cut too thin to be enjoyable.

The xin jiang lamb skewers aren't good. Packed with MSG and lamb sliced too thin and oddly chewy from being coated in cornflour before cooking. The other night at Silk Road I ate 6 myself. Here, one is plenty.

Tea coming from a teabag and not leaves is also a little disappointing for me, much preferring the leaves.

While the noodles were great, everything else we had was either par for the course or below average. I doubt I'll be returning, considering how many great Northern Chinese restaurants are nearby. If I do return, I'll be leaning heavily towards the noodle dishes.

RATING: Will probably not return to [?]

Best Handmade Noodle Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 23, 2011

RESTAURANT: Opera Kitchen

I've never been a "touristy" sort of guy, which is probably why I felt dirtier the closer I got the Circular Quay. Partially dirty because I knew I was going to have to spend $4.50 on a bottle of water because I was thirsty.

There isn't enough steel wool in the world to get me clean.

I was there to see a movie that was showing at the Dendy (13 Assassins: 4 stars out of 7) and I FELT SO DIRTY.

Afterwards, the hunger pangs were almost unbearable. So we headed to the Opera Kitchen for some overpriced food in the shadow of the Opera House (do I need to capitalise that?) and in the shadow of tourists (fairly sure that doesn't need capitalising).

The great thing about Opera Kitchen is that they bring together all of these eating places--Miss Chu's, Cloudy Bay Fish Co, Becasse Bakery, Charlie & Co, Kenji--and you only have to order once. This is great for a fat dude like me because it means I get to start with Japanese food, move on the Vietnamese, then finish with burgers if I so wish. Oh, and (PS) I wished.

You order whatever you want, grab a seat and they bring it all out to you. Smart!

Kenji's nigiri was solid. Good quality. Tasty.

Miss Chu's was it's usual self. Which is good. And small in portion so you can smash heaps of stuff.

I got my first taste of Charlie & Co's chilli dog and it didn't disappoint. It wasn't perfect (the dog was a bit dry) but it hit the spot. Truffle (oil) and parmesan fries were also their dependable selves.

Yes it's all bloody expensive compared to the other locations of these outlets, but you get a view of the entire harbour, a cool breeze and the ability to create your own cross-cultural degustation. It's nice.

The tourists walk by awkwardly, looking for clues as to how to act in this mysterious land. You feel like a bit of a king. Because this view is yours. The cool breeze is yours. And you--you alone--decide if you want to give it out.

Oh. And you have a steamer basket in front of you filled with delicious treats.

Charlie & Co @ Opera Kitchen on Urbanspoon Miss Chu @ Opera Kitchen on Urbanspoon Kenji Japanese @ Opera Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 22, 2011

RESTAURANT: Black by Ezard / Balla / Messina

It's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open it's open.

It's open. Star City was a pretty good place to lose money and to drink overpriced drinks. No doubt about it. But when they announced they were going to undergo a huge development and bring in some of Australia's and the world's best chefs, I was suddenly contemplating a move to Pyrmont just to be closer to it all.

Had all of the restaurants opened up together, I was also planning on taking leave from work for a couple of weeks just to eat everywhere and not have to worry about getting up early. But alas.

While some of the other names are still yet to open (Zumbo, Chang, Golden Century, etc), the all shiny The Star has been launched with some excellent eating options. Yes, ones worth going to Pyrmont for!

So what better way to try them than in one night. One after the other?

I start things off at Black by Ezard because I'd checked the websites earlier and Balla didn't seem quite as busy as Black so I reckon I have a better chance of rocking up later without a booking. See, I'm a researcher and all that. I'm not some uneducated blogger spouting off at the... spout.

I'd visited Teage Ezard's Melbourne restaurants--Gingerboy and Ezard--and enjoyed them quite thoroughly, so Black was high on my list of anticipated openings.

The first thing you notice is that it's quite black. The designer that suggested a black colour scheme is a genius, because it looks sleek and sexy as hell. Dark wood, moody lighting and a communal table (aka slab of wood) all fit together nicely and do a bloody good job of making you forget you're in a sort of shopping centre section of a casino. At least, until the tourists come in wearing what appear to be tracksuit pants.

The ipad-housed wine list is tempting and thorough, but in the interests of a quick evening I don't waste any time locking in an awesome half bottle of the American Elkhorn Peak pinot noir.

To start, a poached egg with potato cream and what appear to be potato threads with a herb and truffle salad. Apparently, it's a signature dish of the place. Not apparently, it's bloody awesome. The crunchy threads on top, the perfectly poached egg in the middle, the cream on the bottom. Every mouthful has all of the textures covered.

You don't come to a steak restaurant without ordering steak, even if they do offer fish cooked sous vide in 2000 year old sea water. The wagyu flat iron (marble score 9+) gloriously satisfies the steak component. Perfectly cooked and incredibly rich. It's delicious.

A side of potato gratin is equally rich and delicious. It's cheesy, creamy and a stupid choice if you're thinking about eating another entire meal shortly.

The dessert menu is hard going. Of the half dozen or so choices, they all look great. I thought I'd decided on the chocolate dessert, before I decided on the apple cake, until I finally rested on "Honeycrunch", an exceptionally good honey parfait with great textures.

Petit fours took the form of a chilli and jam filled doughnut with a chocolate dipping sauce. Excellent.

The restaurant only opened last week but the staff are holding things up well. A few kinks to work out but that's totally expected at this early stage of the game. But at their best they're already friendly, charming and helpful.

Black is definitely going to get a revisit.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Black By Ezard on Urbanspoon

While it would have been nice to take a break after eating a full meal, I don't really get the option during the walk to Stefano Manfredi's Balla, since it's only 10 metres away.

Contrasting Black's (er) black, Balla is on the whiter side. This isn't very informative.

I walk in and it's immediately apparent that shit is hectic. A party of four have just been turned away, every table is full in the restaurant, the bar is busy, waiters and waitresses are furiously darting all over the place and staff appear to be doing a lot of what can optimistically be described as "prioritising".

I manage to snag one of the last seats in the bar where they, thankfully (for the sake of this experiment anyway), serve the full menu.

While Black did a great job of making you forget you're in a casino/shopping centre, the bar section of Balla is more exposed, with it's top to toe glass walls. Black gave me a view of a sexy dining room and a bit of the harbour, but Balla's bar view is mostly of the people coming and going from the casino. Admittedly, I was enjoying the people watching that it provided.

In the space of a couple of minutes, a whole heap of someone else's food arrives at my table, gets confusedly taken away, I get asked for an order before I'm given a menu, a waitress appears to be "checking with her manager" and the kitchen appears to be stressing the fuck out. Concerning.

But then it gets better all of a sudden.

I have a solid valpolicella in front of me one second, then I have a solid valpolicella and all of my food in front of me the next. Best.recovery.ever.

They have lardo. Oh dear sweet lord they have lardo. Cured pork fat. I haven't had it since I was in Italy, yet I still dream of it. The waitress warns/checks that I know that lardo is cured fat and I feel like laughing at her for delaying the delivery of my lardo with such nonsense.

It's shaved so fine that you can almost see through the fatty ribbon. I wrap some around some grissini, put it in my mouth and IT.JUST.MELTS. It's stunning. And it's only something like $7. It's a brilliant appetiser or bar snack. Get a bottle of sparkling wine and a bucket of lardo and you have a party.

Macceronchini with yabbies, butter and sesame seeds is perfect in its execution. Good ingredients that compliment each other, thrown together. A joy to eat.

Ox cheek braised in red wine on a pea puree is so soft that I have no idea how it has maintained it's structure. It's stupidly tender to the point of disintegration. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the big, rich flavour that the menu promised, but it's still a very solid dish.

Dessert time (again) and while I was tempted to just get another plate of lardo, the chocolate tartufo seems like it's worth a shot. Deliciously rich chocolate mousse encased in chocolate, surrounded by citrus segments. It's a nice dish, and good value, but doesn't really blow me away. Something about the combination of citrus segments and chocolate just doesn't quite work for me. It's the mouthfeel of thick chocolate with thin citrus juice. Just not right. But still a good dish as a whole and chocolate lovers will go nuts for how rich the non-citrus part is.

Similar to my journey to Spiedo the other night, there's a trolley full of grappa to choose from. I go for age again and this time it's the Nonino 12 year old that fills my glass. At $40 a glass you expect a lot and it delivers. Rich, robust flavours with a looooong finish. I could sit on it for a while if I didn't have to get some sleep before work tomorrow (should have taken that damn annual leave).

The service had some problems during the night but they'll easily sort it out with time. And it was partly my fault for rocking up right at the high point of a packed dinner service. The staff were friendly and seemed to be enjoying the place.

With it's reasonable prices, extensive wine list and tempting menu, I can see Balla being a good destination for some mid-range Italian food. Time will tell if it has to pull to drag me across the bridge--away from the likes of Pendolino and Spiedo--when I want good Italian food, but I'm certainly going to give it a few more stabs before I make my mind up.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Balla on Urbanspoon

For some stupid reason I leave Balla and walk another 10 metres to Messina, the new outpost of the Darlinghurst gelato store with a cult-like following. I've never tried their gelato before and I didn't want to miss another opportunity.

I see what the fuss is about. Excellently made gelato and a great range of flavours.

I can't wait to repeat this stupid journey once he next lot of restaurants at The Star open up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


With my level 6 cherry popped last week with Xanthi, I was back to Westfield for another turn. This time it would be at it's Italian next-door-neighbour, Spiedo.

I was pumped for this. With my love for Italian food and long held desire to try the much lauded food of Ormeggio at the Spit (and much hated travelling over the bridge for anything) there was much anticipation.

I'd seen a couple of reviews which had photos of the food, so I steered us towards a more substantial meal.

Pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta) is a favourite of mine, so having that as an entree was a no-brainer. With potato, cabbage, fontina and sage it's money-in-the-bank delicious. And significantly more substantial than the ox tongue with salsa verde and rainbow trout crude that my dining companions opt for (which admittedly looked delicious and got good reviews).

The wine is flowing, as with any good Italian meal. The northern-Italian-centric wine list is reasonably priced and full of plenty of tempting bottles. Any chance of it being intimidating is eliminated by the staff being so willing to assist and recommend.

A fan of all things slow-cooked, the bresciano with polenta was a no brainer. Slow roasted meat with a rich sauce over an awesome polenta? Brilliant. Delicious, tender, rich, soft, creamy. Everything.

The potato gnocchi with a wild boar ragout is excellent too, though, and nearly has me regretting my choice. For a split-second. Until I hoover another mouthful of meat and polenta.

We're fitting in as much bread as possible and picking at the tomato salad. And it's probably just enough.

Enough room for dessert and the homemade gelato, Spiedo tiramisu and a raspberry dessert all find good homes. The grappa trolley also arrives with a good selection and is readily imbibed. The tiramisu makes a nice change from the usual, though I'm not sure if I prefer it over the traditional version.

The "homebrew" grappa is worth a shot (pun intended), as is the insane, $55 a glass aged grappa that I forget the name of.

Spiedo is a great pick for regional Italian food in a CBD starved of choice. If you make sure you account for the smaller size of some dishes when ordering, you should be fine.

I get the feeling that this is only the beginning and, once the team settles in, we're going to be in store for some awesome dining.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Spiedo Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 19, 2011

RESTAURANT: Der Raum @ Marque

Twitter is great for sharing little tidbits of information contained in 140 characters or less. But it seems totally insufficient sometimes. I don't know how it contained the short tweet that I saw from Der Raum saying they were going to be doing a dinner at Marque restaurant in the new future.

Wait... what?

This is bigger-than-140-characters-huge!

Yes. A one off night from my favourite cocktail bar and my favourite high-end Sydney restaurant. Oh, and it would be on my birthday. If there is a God and he made this happen, then I have to give the dude credit for choosing excellent gifts.

The day of my birthday couldn't pass quickly enough.

My patience was rewarded with the first offering from Der Raum: sous vide chamomile with a chamomile fog, served in a transparent teapot that was left on the table to brood. Clever, since the first few sips were warm, but the liquid nitrogen in the teapot meant that the last pour was ice cold. Marque contributed an equally impressive appetiser in the form of a foie gas and olive truffle mousse sandwiched between two crisp shards of bonito. I wanted to eat approx 50 of them. That's how you have a mother fucking tea party.

The next dish was one of my favourites from my last visit to Marque. Almond jelly with blue swimmer crab, almond gazpacho, sweet corn and avruga is a beautifully balanced dish with excellent texture. It was matched with a sparkling almond cocktail from Der Raum that had a barrel aged sugar cube in it that slowly disolved. It was a fascinating drink that constantly evolved as the sugar disolved, but was a questionable match with the delicately flavoured dish because of how sweet and almondy it was.

A couple of good-but-not-wow dishes arrived before the mind-blowngly good/clear-winner of a course: smoked duck egg with sorrel, green strawberries, tea and toast. This was paired with what was probably my favourite cocktail when I visited Der Raum: the Bax Beat Pinot, a red wine made out of beetroot juice, citrus and fernet branca. The dish was rich but balanced and very moreish. The "wine" was delicious, very characteristic of a red wine and provided a minty finish to help get rid of any cloyingness from the egg.

Pigeon with mullet roe, sauteed lettuce, cucumber and dill was a very solid dish, held up by the slightly nutty flavour of the roasted lettuce. But it was around this time that I was getting a bit restless. Namely because I was still hungry. Not sure if it was just that day but I was perpetually hungry for the entire three hour dinner. Which was kind of scary, because it was the first time (from memory) that I'd felt that in my "dining career". My dining companions said they felt "content" from the dinner, but I just wasn't seeing it.

Before I knew it dessert was here. Firstly a delicious sauternes custard to set things up. Then the "tomberries" dessert, which was quite nice. Tomatoes stuffed with strawberries or something like that. With the creme fraiche it was refreshing, sweet and perfectly balanced.

Overall a bloody excellent way to spend a Monday night (and a birthday). While it wasn't as breath-taking as my last visit, overall the food and drink on offer was excellent. I can't wait for my next experience at either Marque or Der Raum or... dare I say it... both again...

Though next time I won't be rocking up starving.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

RECIPE: Baked Polenta and Meatballs

I made some meatballs in tomato sauce and had a bit left over. I soon found that there are only so many nights in a row that you can eat meatballs in tomato sauce before you get extremely bored of eating meatballs in tomato sauce.

So I decided to mix it up a little.

Start off with your sad old meatballs in tomato or your sad old ragu and put it in a baking dish (mood and age not a matter for concern). Whatever sad old thing you have, it has to be saucy. You want at least 3cm of liquid.

Coat it all with a dusting fine polenta (uncooked).

Add stacks of grated reggiano or pandano.

Drizzle with olive oil, crack on some pepper and put into a 220c oven until everything is golden brown (around 45-60 mins).

The polenta will suck up some liquid, the cheese will brown, meat edges will get crispy.

Add on some freshly chopped parsley if you have it. Drizzle with olive oil.

Serve with bread and a side salad and red wine and your boring old dish is suddenly new and sexy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Since it opened, the food court on Level 5 of the new Sydney Westfield has been my lunch destination of choice. So I thought it was about time that I gave the restaurant precinct on level 6 a shot. The fractionally small Greek part of me decided that Xanthi would be a good bet.

I'd never been to it's predecessor, Perama, but it was fairly well regarded. I was slightly sceptical though, based on my history of being generally disappointed by the quality of Greek food in Sydney (namely the CBD) that tends to verge on the tedious serving of a mezze platter, followed by slow cooked lamb and ended with baklava.

We kick things off with the delicious moked eggplant dip and a bottle of the respectable Lafkiotis Agionimo. Fried veal sweetbreads arrive too and they're superb: crispy, rich and stupidly more-ish.

Things were going well until the loukanika arrived. That made things go very well. Heavily herbed and spiced grilled sausage, delicious with a squeeze of lemon. I gave up dipping my bread in olive oil and dipped it in the fat that the sausage left behind. Insanely good.

The famous pork belly baklava is the sort of modernised Greek food that should happen in more places. Sweet from the date sauce, flaky filo, supported by the soft pork belly. It's a very nice dish.

Onto a bottle of the Domaine Sigalas Mavrottragano. It's among the most expensive on the (entirely Greek from what I can see) wine list, but with good reason. It's superb. Big fruit and gravel flavours, but with a smooth structure.

Lamb from the spit hits the table moments before our jaws do. The meat is tender, juicy, smokey, um.... delicious. A squeeze of lemon and a bit of tzatsiki and you're in heaven.

We also go for the Greek coleslaw and the tomato and white anchovy salad on the side to add a bit of balance to our diet. They're both very tasty.

The salted bonito arrives late and it's probably the worst possible savoury dish to end on. They're certainly not lying about the salted part, the fish is dredged in it. It's not to any of our tastes, but I could see some salt-fiends digging it.

Desserts are good but don't hit as hard as the savoury courses. Byzantine Ekmek is kind of similar to the BTS at House, but not as enjoyable. It's a pleasant and simple note to end on. Garden of Aphrodite is a stunning dish to look at and has it's strong points, but the taste doesn't quite live up to the look of the plate. Though it went superbly with a bottle of the delicious Samos Vin Doux.

Both desserts are only served with spoons, when forks would assist greatly. It was one of a couple of service missteps that night, but, thankfully, they didn't really detract from it being an enjoyable one.

Despite us going overboard on the food and wine, the bill was extremely reasonable considering how good the everything was. The food was excellent in most places, the menu is overwhelmingly more tempting than most Greek places in the CBD and the Greek-centric wine list is well assembled, good value and well worth exploring. While service had a few minor problems, they kept everything moving well and they've helped with the restaurant's lively, boisterous mood. In short, I can't wait to go back for more.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Xanthi Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 12, 2011


I'll never forget the time I was at the Excelsior, watching a band in the cramped uni-lodge-esque back room, and I saw convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson.

(Side note: This blog has been nominated for an award for "best restaurant review to begin with a reference to paedophiles". In a few days I'll post details on how you can vote for us.)

He was rocking the fuck out to some psychedelic prog rock, with no shirt, oblivious to the dozen or so guys in the audience that were plotting to bash him at the first opportunity.

Today at El Loco, that spot is occupied by an Asian family of all ages. There's about fifteen of them and they're huddled over the bright blue table, earnestly deciding what dishes to order.

I'm a few metres away on an equally bright red table, in the general region of where I was standing that fateful night last year, watching my friend portion out El Loco's hotdog. Part of me is being greedy and wants the whole thing, the other part is wanting to try even more dishes from the menu.

The Excelsior and the drab back room have changed massively since Merivale bought it out 9 or so months ago. And while my beloved post-rock may be gone, it has been replaced by fresh food, a breezy room and droves of hipsters. Hipsters aside, it's been a significantly positive change.

Tacos arrive. They're all good. Fresh and refreshing. The tofu taco is good enough to please meateaters too, so don't skip that one. On my second visit I skipped the secret taco, not being the most adventurous offal eater and not being convinced by the honeycomb tripe that was in the last one I had. Sometimes it's a bit hard to find the main ingredient of the filling, but it's no disaster.

I get my part of the hot dog and it's just as good as my last visit. A nice dog, piquant salsa, mayo and mountains of cheese.

The grilled fish with fennel salad and salsa verde is pretty awesome, held together by the deliciously balanced salsa. It's probably my favourite dish so far.

Corn chips with guac and salsa sit on the table and are great to pick at before, between and after dishes.

El Loco is the sort of place that Sydney has desperately needed for the last... oh... ever. Fresh, tasty, cheap, fun and non-stodgy Mexican food. The value is excellent and the venue is, to the best of my knowledge, now paedophile free.

RATING: Will return to [?]

El Loco on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 11, 2011

RECIPE: Smoked Chicken and Grilled Asparagus Salad

I'm such a smoked chicken fiend. That shit is amazing. And when I get some, I nearly always make a variation of this salad.

- 1/2 a smoked chicken breast, skin removed, sliced
- 1 T of chilli lime mayo
- 1 good splash of olive oil
- 12 cashew nuts, quickly roasted in a hot pan
- 6 asparagus stalks, woody stems removed, lightly brushed with olive oil and cooked on a hot pan or griddle pan then roughly chopped
- Some shaved grana pandano or reggiano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 poached egg (optional)
- 1/2 a stalk of celery, finely sliced (optional - not included here)
- Finish with a drizzle of olive oil

Monday, September 05, 2011

RECIPE: Beef Vindaloo

I remember when I was still relatively young an Indian restaurant and take-away opened up nearby. Considering the suburban ethnic diet for the past 50 years had consisted of honey chicken from the local Chinese restaurant, this was a big step.

For my father and I, this was a fairly exciting development. We'd made trying hot dishes and acting like it didn't burn us because we were men "our thing", so the prospect of eating firecely hot vindaloo represented something of a pinnacle.

I haven't had it much since then, preferring to opt for less intense curries that I can actually taste without chilli burning my tongue into oblivion.

But then I decided to make it.

Serves 6 with rice and naan. Medium heat.

- 1 T mustard seeds
- 2 T curry leaves
- 12 green cardamom pods
- 2 T black peppercorns
- 3 T cumin seeds
- 3 star anise
- 1 medium cassia quill
- 5 dried chillis
- 1 t turmeric powder

Roast in the oven until fragrant. Approx 5-10 mins.

Grind. Add 1 T sea salt.

- 1 head of garlic, wrapped in foil

Roast in the oven for around 45 mins until soft. Set aside to cool.

Cut open and squeeze out the garlic.

- 2 medium brown onions
- 5 red chillis, deseeded
- 2 green chilli, deseeded
- 3 thumb sized pieces of peeled ginger
- The garlic from the above

Puree all in a blender/hand mixer.

Beef Vindaloo

In a large saucepan on a medium-high heat add 3 T of ghee and allow to melt. Add the base and cook for 10 mins, stirring regularly so the mixture doesn't stick.

Add the masala and 1kg of diced beef. Stir until the beef goes brown.

Add 1.5L of vegetable stock and 1 t of palm or brown sugar (or jaggery).

Bring to the boil and reduce to a low heat. Cook, uncovered, for around 3 hours, or until the beef is fall-apart soft.

Add either 1/2 C of tamarid juice or 1/4 C of white wine vinegar. Stir.

In a saucepan, heat 2 T of ghee. Add 1 medium brown onion, sliced fairly finely. Add a good pinch of sea salt. Stir regularly until onions are brown. Add 1 T of dried curry leaves and 1 t of cumin seeds. Once cumin seeds are popping and curry leaves look fried, add to the pot and stir.

Serve with rice and naan.

Great the next day.

Maybe some mint sauce for a cooling hit (1 bunch of mint leaves, 1 small Lebanese cucumber without core or skin, 1 tub yoghurt, pinch of salt, blend, lemon juice to taste).

Maybe reduce curry further and shred meat and put inside Vietnamese spring roll wraps and fry if you want to go all next level.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


I've always had a difficult relationship with steak.

But we're working on it.

And it's getting better. Slowly.

ARTICLE: In Praise of the Rochefort 10

For a day that may have dramatically altered my life, I remember nearly none of it. Though that may be explained by the fact that the day contained beer. A lot of it. Maybe. I can't remember (ed: we established that earlier).

I don't remember why we were there, but we'd gone to the Belgian Beer Cafe in The Rocks with the promise of good beer. That was odd in it's own right because "good beer" around that time was mostly defined by how fresh the keg of Carlton Draught or Tooheys New was.

I think we started light and moved to the dark.

I don't think my preference for dark beers had been found yet.

We might had moved through the list and discovered sensational beers like the Gouden Carolous, the Chimay Blu or the Gouden Draak (which was extremely good because it had a golden dragon on the bottle). But there was a point when the Rochefort 10 was ordered. They didn't have the 6 or the 8, just the 10. It was one of the more expensive beers on the list for reasons which we didn't yet understand. Someone probably got it as a dare; to appear odd. Oh, you got that beer? Crazy. We're young men having the time of our lives. Let us high-five.

You can tell by the smell of it. Like a girl our age back then, wearing Impulse, mildly attractive; we new we wanted it. Even among great beers, the Rochefort 10 stands out when you smell it. It smells thick, caramelised, fruity, rich, complex. You get the hint of the 11.3% alcohol in there, but it's not a strong smell. It's like you're smelling a sultana that has been soaked in good brandy. It's a sultana that has been around and knows a few things.

The taste is borderline unbelievable, especially if you're use to Carlton Draughts and Tooheys News. It transcends beer. Think of the complex fruit and cake flavours of a great fruitcake, but turned to liquid and mellowed out. You're kind of there.

Even if you've never had a sip before, it brings back memories of family christmases; of great sandwiches, where the flavours and textures are in harmony; of chocolate cakes that are rich but not cloying so you feel like you could eat them forever; of your first crush because there is something raw and confusing about it; of your first love because it's familiar but it's your everything and you can't imagine a life without it.

I knew I liked it from the first bottle. But I didn't know how much I liked it. I was without context; I'd only had the most rudimentary of beers at that point. But as I explored beer in all it's shapes and forms, the Rochefort 10 has always been special.

In a word, those monks know their shit (ed: that's five words...).

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

RECIPE: Murgh Methi (Chicken and Fenugreek Leaf Curry)

I was watching TV a couple of week's back and a cooking show was on. It was your typical cooking/travel show where the chef/cook goes somewhere exotic and cooks up food that poor people eat. This was certainly no different.

The Rajashtani people on the talking rectangle certainly looked poor. So the food must be good, right?

Sure thing. Two things stood out at me: yoghurt and fenugreek leaves.

I am well versed with yoghurt as an ingredient--going as far as using it on my speciality/daily dish of muesli with yoghurt--but I'd only ever used fenugreek in seed form. I enjoyed it in seed form, so what of the leaves? Huh, what of them? Are you silent because you are checking what of the fenugreek leaves?

But I digress (get back to me on that). Shockingly, Bondi Junction--normally the hub of culturally different food--was oddly devoid of fenugreek leaves when I was looking for them, so I got my trusty Indian spice/leaf supplier from work to hook me up with some. I then chucked said leaves with aforementioned yoghurt and made some stuff. There's slightly more to it than that.

Serves 6 with rice, mild-to-medium spice.

The Masala
- 1 T salt
- 1 large cinnamon quill
- 12 cardamom pods (the green variety, 3 of the black ones)
- 2 star anise
- 2 T cumin seeds
- 6 dried chillis
- 2 t fenugreek seeds
- 2 t black peppercorns
- 2 T chilli powder
- 4 cloves

Put that on an oven tray and into a moderate oven until you can smell the spices (5-10 mins if the oven is preheated).

Once cool, blend to a fine powder.

- 1 C fenugreek leaves

Blend them up into a powder.

- 1 bulb of garlic

Wrap it in foil and put it in a moderate oven for around 45 mins until it feels soft. Let it cool.

Once cool, cut the base off and squeeze out the delicious, gooey, roasted garlic.

The Other Stuff
- 1 handful of ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 onions, sliced.
- 3 T ghee
- 1 K chicken thigh fillets (or 1.5 K bone in)
- 1 K natural yoghurt (greek)
- 1 C peas (fresh are best but frozen are fine)
- 1 T sugar (caster or brown)

The cooking
1. Add the ghee, ginger, garlic, onions, masala. Cook over a medium heat until onions are translucent.
2. Add the chicken. Cook until white.
3. Add the yoghurt. Stir. Add the fenugreek leaves. Add the sugar.
4. Keep it over a low heat, stirring every now and then, until the chicken falls apart (around an hour). Add the peas after half an hour or so if fresh. If frozen, add 15 mins before you finish cooking. You can't really over cook this so don't worry about that.

Serve over rice with naan, obviously. With poor people around you, optionally.

I brought some in for my beloved spice merchant at work to get the word from an official Indian on my (fairly non-traditional) curry. He was a fan. Apparently, so were his housemates.

I think this may only be the beginning of this recipe. Further refinement could produce something incredible. At the moment it is merely "very good".

And there is so much more that can be done with fenugreek leaves (methi) that I'm yet to discover. Can't wait.

Friday, August 26, 2011

RESTAURANT: Tianyuan Asian Fast Food

I have to admit, I had my doubts when Hong Fu, the hugely popular Chinese restaurant in Parramatta, moved up the road, away from the crowded Church st and into the outskirts of the corporate area near Colonial Tower.

But the corporates must have an almighty appetite for Asian food, because not only has Hong Fu continued to thrive (despite it not being as good as many people say, in my opinion), but a new takeaway and dine-in Chinese restaurant has opened only two doors down to plug the apparent gap and is already getting a steady following.

The dreaded and non-committal "Asian" in it's name belies the quality and authenticity that Tianyuan Asian Fast Food has sitting alongside the western favourites like honey chicken and sweet and sour pork. While the entrees like the shallot pancake and dumplings appear to come from the freezer and aren't anything special, the mapo tofu ($10.80 or $7.80 with rice) is extremely solid. So too are the dry-fried beans with pork ($12.80). Both dishes are available as part of the bain-marie lunch special, which is top value at $7.50 for 2 choices with rice or $8.80 for 3.

It's the dine-in food, though, that is the best bet. The versions of the above dishes benefit heavily from being freshly made, and you open up some of the better dishes. The beef stir-fried in cumin sauce ($12.80) is delicious with a brilliant clarity of flavour. The kungpao chicken ($12.80) is also well worth your ordering. The dry-fry shredded beef in spicy sauce ($18.80) isn't bad either.

Service is fairly typical for a cheap Chinese restaurant, though with their mix of bain-marie specials, take-away and dine-in available, it can get a bit busy.

I'm interested to see how this place evolves. For the first week or two it was mostly people popping in for the lunch special to see if the food was any good. A few weeks later and nearly all of the tables are taken for Friday lunch, almost to the surprise of the staff. And I was a little surprised too. What was sterile and boring when empty is exciting, loud and vibrant when full. Catering to both the westernised tastes and those of people looking for more authentic flavours is smart, and I can't wait to go back and find more dishes that I personally enjoy.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Tianyuan Asian Fast Food on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 22, 2011

RECIPE: Chocolate and Pistachio Brownies

I like the moister, fudgier style of brownie. So I made it as such.

- 1 stick of unsalted butter
- 100g of dark cooking chocolate
- A small drizzle of vanilla paste (optional)
- 1 t coffee
- 1 T cocoa powder
- 1 C caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 C peeled, roughly chopped pistachios
- 1 C plain flour
- 1 pinch sea salt flakes

1. Preheat oven to 160c.
2. Over a double-boiler, melt down the chocolate and butter.
3. Once melted, add the vanilla, coffee, cocoa powder and sugar. Stir and remove from the heat.
4. Once the mixture has cooled slightly, add the eggs, one by one and mix thoroughly.
5. Add the pistachios and flour and mix.
6. Add the salt and mix.
7. Put the mixture in a greased, medium sized tin (I used an 8"x8") and put into the oven. Cook for 30 mins.
8. Turn the oven off and leave until cool enough to handle.
9. Remove from the oven and eat whenevs.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

RESTAURANT: Taste of Shanghai (World Square)

Usually when I walk through World Square and pass Taste of Shanghai it’s after I’ve had dinner elsewhere. I’ve wanted to go there for a while, since the crowd that’s constantly hanging around outside at around 8 must count for something.

Finally, I went there.

I shouldn’t have waited so long to come, because the food is awesome. The pan-fried pork dumplings had a crispy base and a great, soupy filling. The cumin lamb stirfry was one of the best I’ve had and the shredded pork in yu xiang sauce with golden buns is delicious. Yes it’s probably 25% more expensive than normal Chinese places serving Shanghainese food, but the quality is there. Service is pretty friendly and quick, and it’s a pretty comfortable place.

A second was just as--if not more--enjoyable. The fried pork buns were delicious and still filled with heaps of soup (to my shirt's detriment) and give the dumplings a run for their money. While mapo tofu isn't up with some other Szechuan restaurants around the city, it's still very respectable. And cod fried in shallots was well cooked and delicious, being a popular dish in the restaurant for good reason.

My one gripe is with all of the additional charges. For example, it will have pork dumplings listed as $9, but you have to add $2 for getting them fried. Or the milk tea with pearls in the drinks section is listed as $4 + 50c (50c for the pearls). It’s good if you want to order a dish without the extra charge item (ie unfried dumplings) but if you just want what’s on the menu without then it feels like they’re just adding an extra cost to screw you. That’s not the case, but that’s how human psychology works. Give me a flat fee and let's keep the transaction at that.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Taste of Shanghai on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 18, 2011

RECIPE: Fresh Pappardelle with Broadbeans in a Chorizo, Porcini and Burnt Butter Sauce

This dish has a very similar (nearly identical) core to yesterday’s dish, but comes across totally different.

Start by making some pasta dough (no, dried pasta will not work in this dish—fresh egg pasta is essential) with 1 heaped cup of 00 flour. Pretty simple. Just make a well in the centre of the flour and add around 4 egg yolks. Slowly incorporate the flour into the egg until you have a pasta dough. If the dough is wet then add some more flour. I always guess at the quantity needed because I’m a lazy idiot and find that it’s easiest to make it wetter and dry it with flour than make it dry and try to add more egg to a brick of dough.

After covering it in cling film and resting it in the fridge for 30 mins or so, roll it out over a lightly floured surface then cut into sections for the pasta machine. Start on the widest setting then roll the dough through each setting once until you’re done on the finest setting. If you don’t have a pasta machine, roll it as thin as you can get it with a rolling pin or a bottle covered in glad wrap. Once done, gently and loosely roll the dough up and slice it around 1cm thick so you have pappardelle.

You’ll need to work smart when you’re cooking the dish.

Take one pot—slightly bigger than you think you’ll need for the pasta--and get it onto a rolling boil.

Get your ingredients together. 50g of butter, 5 torn sage leaves, a little bit of thyme, the beans from 5 broadbeans and 3 tablespoons of chorizo and porcini jus.

In a pan on a medium-high heat, add the butter, sage and thyme. Heavily salt the boiling pot of water and add the pasta. Add the broadbeans and some cracked black pepper.

Once the butter is looking slightly brown the pasta should be cooked. But check the pasta as you go. It won’t take long to cook. Once the pasta is done, add it to the pan using tongs. A bit of the pasta water will help the sauce stick to the pasta. Immediately add the chorizo and porcini jus and toss.

Put all into a bowl and grate a whole heap of parmesan of the top.

It should make 2 serves.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

RECIPE: Pan-Fried Latchet with Broad Beans, Jamon, Sage and Chorizo and Porcini Jus

This works fine with any white fish that is a bit stronger in flavour. Flathead would be an excellent substitute.

Dust the fish fillet with flour mixed with a little salt and pepper.

Put a pan on a medium-high heat and add a good knob of butter. Once it starts melting, add the fish, skin side down.

Add 3 torn sage leaves and 1 torn slice of jamon Serrano (prosciutto would be fine as a substitute).

Once the fish is looking golden brown and crispy, turn it over and add the beans from 3 broadbeans (I like to break then in half before adding). It should only need 1-2 mins on this side, depending on the thickness of the fillet.

Once the fish is done, put it on a plate with the jamon and broadbeans. In the pan, add roughly 3 tablespoons of chorizo and porcini jus (unreduced. Add only 2 teaspoons if jus is reduced), stir and ladle a couple of spoonfuls of this sauce on and around the fish.

Finish the dish with a small squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some thyme leaves.