Monday, January 31, 2011

RESTAURANT: Red Chilli Szechuan (Dixon St, Chinatown)

The Red Chilli Szechuan restaurant chain has expanded all over Sydney. But before Chatswood, before Burwood, before Glebe, before Chinatown v2 there was Dixon Street.

And it's where I fell in love with Szechuan food. The numbing heat, the sweetness, the sourness

Since that first date I've probably been back to Red Chilli Szechuan a dozen or so times. Other Szechuan places are nice enough, but they just haven't got the same balance that Red Chilli does.

Their mapo tofu is outstanding and is a constant order. As is the century egg with tofu or green chilli. Anything they do involving pork belly is outstanding, but I'm a fan of the pork belly with bamboo shoots. And the stir-fried dishes also deserve a look in, most packing a ridiculous amount of flavour and texture.

And always, always the food is washed down with some of the coldest Tsingtaos around, that always arrive within six seconds of being ordered.

I wouldn't say that this branch of Red Chilli is a fancy looking restaurant, but it's definitely a cool and comfortable space, both very important qualities to have when you're eating food that spicy. Service is quick, efficient and easy to get the attention of, which adds to the comfort of the place. And prices are also extremely reasonable.

The inevitable rectal burn the next day from such consuming copious amounts of fierce chilli may be intense/ungodly, but with the food this great it's totally worth it.

RATING: Will constantly return to [?]

Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 29, 2011

RECIPE: Beans and Rice (But Nice)

I didn't mean for that headline to rhyme and to sound so trite. So please ignore that bad parts of it.

But there's no dollars for nothin' else
I got beans, rice and bread on my shelf

KRS One - Loves Gonna Getcha (Material Love)

(This was after reheating. Fresh, it looks even better IF YOU CAN BELIEVE THAT!)

After a few weekends of excess, I wanted to make something that wasn't over the top and that was relatively simple. And what better way to keep it simple than pretend to be poor like a poor person and eat a poor person's food (not literally; gross) like beans and rice?

The following things

Part 1
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
- 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and diced
- 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 brown onion, diced
- Around 2 tablespoons of neutral oil
- 3 dried chillis, deseeded somewhat and chopped finely

Part 2
- 1 teaspoon of paprika (preferably smoked)
- A pinch of cinnamon (optional)
- A pinch of coriander seeds (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste

Part 3
- 1/2 a red capsicum, roughly chopped
- 1/2 a green capsicum, roughly chopped
- 4 tomatoes, skin removed and roughly chopped

Part 4
- 2 cups of red rice (other types of rice would work, except white)
- 1 tin of black beans, drained and rinsed
- 5 cups of vegetable stock

Part 5
- Salt and pepper to taste

- A few things of coriander (you want leaf and stem)


- Add the oil into a large pot on a medium heat.
- Once warm, add the rest of the Part 1 ingredients.
- Stir them for a while until the onions have sweated down a bit.
- Add Part 2's ingredients. A heavy pinch of salt and pepper should suffice at this stage.
- Add Part 3's ingredients and stir for a little while until the capsicums and tomatoes have softened a little.
- Add Part 4's ingredients and stir to combine.
- Lower the stove to the lowest setting and simmer until the rice has cooked. Stir a couple of times and adjust the salt and pepper if needed.
- It tastes great on its own, but if you need to make it handsome then add a sprinkle of finely chopped coriander.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

RECIPE: Soft Shell Crab Tempura with Mint Yoghurt

I'd never cooked with soft shell crab before. So when I saw a box of frozen softies at the fish shop I thought it was high type that I killed some vulnerable animals.

Monday, January 24, 2011

ARTICLE: The Overt World of Boring Journalists

Last time it was Food Bloggers (TM) vs Chefs. This time it's Food Bloggers (TM) vs (gasp) Food Writers. And, once again, modern day journalism has missed the point. Completely.

I haven't been able to find the link to the original article in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, but check out Grab Your Fork for the article and ensuing discussion.

When will your get the idea, modern day journalism? Will it be Wednesday? Will Wednesday be when you get the idea?

Truth be told, everyone has missed the point. Except a few people, but I'm rounding down here for the point of effect.

Here is a dot point summary of the article to save you having to read the Daily Telegraph:
- Food blogging IS EVERYWHERE RECENTLY (even in your child's cupboard!)!
- Just because you like food DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD DO THAT OUT LOUD!
- Food bloggers aren't critical like, well, food critics.
- Gourmet Traveller's Pat Nourse: I like Lemonpi's blog (really only because she is an actual chef so it's a moot point).
- Grab Your Fork's Helen Yee: Blogs are good because blogs are a different source of information and they aren't trying to be hardcore food writers.
- Discussion on PR companies using food bloggers, which is a one-sided comment that food bloggers (TM) are greedy for free food and untalented BUT WE USE THEM ANYWAY.
- Great point from Fooderati's Melissa Leong: "It broadens the spectrum of what we consider news and communication".
- A restaurant critic that receives free food criticising a food blogger that receives free food because FOOD BLOGGERS ARE SHITHOUSE AT WRITING.
- Bunch of semi-jaded, quasi conclusions from said critic that (conveniently) echo the tone and point of the article that probably weren't intended by said critic to be used as the conclusion but the author of the article felt it fitting to put said words there.

And it was only a short article. Amazing how they can cover so many different topics in depth! (<---Sarcasm. They cannot.)

This all goes back to a shitty article I wrote a couple of months ago about how food writing is dying because (paraphrasing) 1) the information landscape has changed and people access news and information differently than before (ie through newspapers) and 2) food writing (from a professional and amateur standpoint) is in a really really big hole and good writing isn't a) happening at the moment and b) possible.

So let's look at the article. Take out the noise and you have the following point:
1. Food bloggers don't have the same traits as food critics. Namely: criticism and ability.

This is entirely the wrong article to be writing. As I discussed in my last piece of words, the argument isn't about the validity of food blogging (TM) at all. It's here. It's here for the foreseeable future, totally regardless of how many free dinners you give it.

I would have been satisfied to just rest on Leong's point that "[Food Blogging TM]... (ed: I just used an ellipses, suck it critics) broadens the spectrum of what we consider news and communication,"--because she totally gets it there--but she weakened her stance (at least in my opinion) with "you certainly look at some people's offerings out there and you think, 'Ooh, why did they think blogging was a good idea?'" That kind of ruined everything (just look at Tunisia!).

They don't care if it's a good idea. It's the internet. Most things are bad ideas on the internet. The internet itself was a good idea. Everything since then has been questionable.

Let me restate my argument from before: food bloggers are not food critics and that is not the purpose of food blogging as a medium. Some may be great writers, some may be terrible, but it's beside the point. Food blogging is about everyone in the world with an internet connection having a change to voice their opinion.

Hell, it's not even limited to food blogging.

I also have a blog where I (attempt to) write comedy. Because I didn't study comedy in any form, do I have no legitimacy, in the same way that a food blogger has no legitimacy to write about food? Do I have any authority to share my opinion of what's funny? When I started doing stand-up, did I suddenly get credibility to discuss comedy? Was it straight away, or was it after a set period of time? Or do only people that have gone to uni to get a journalism degree have the credibility to discuss what is and is not funny?

My point is (too obvious and insulting to your reader's intelligence) that it doesn't matter. Blogging (forget about food for a second, I know it's hard) had nothing to do with having any authority. It's about a stream of words from people. Some of it has meaning and value, most of it doesn't. But the internet isn't about taking in every piece of information; the internet is about sorting through the clusterfuck and finding what YOU, THE INTERNET USER wants to read. Integrity doesn't play a part in the process. If a blog post reviewing a restaurant isn't critical enough, then find one that is sufficiently critical.

If I angled my site as a competitor/peer to food critics and fronted like I was a legitimate "food writer" then, yes, I have every right to be judged against that journalistic standard. But the reality is that the clear majority of food blogging isn't about that. It's about that internet ideal of sharing parts of your life and hoping that someone (somewhere) else finds it interesting, in a sort of new-millennial dance of validation and interaction.

And if everyone could thinking of blogging as JUST THAT, then that would be... well... just swell... and maybe... just maybe... writers for media outlets could write about something that was actually interesting and relevant for a change.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

RECIPE: Xin Jiang Lamb Skewers

Uyghur people are basically Chinese muslims. They live in many places, but Xin Jiang is where there is one of the largest populations.


There are a couple of Uyghur restaurants in Sydney and it was there where I had my first (of many) taste of the amazingly spiced sticks. I still remember catching a waft of the skewers being made in the kitchen. When the skewers arrived at the table and I realised they were the cause of the smell, a wave of childlike glee overcame me.

They're so delicious. Did I mention that? It's kind of like God send his son Jesus to be sacrificed for taste. And because Jesus is Jesus he TASTES GREAT. Such an amazing mix of cumin, chilli, citrus and other spices.

After my first taste, I knew that I had to learn what was in the spice mix and how to make the skewers. Well... I found out how...

Start with around a kilo of diced lamb. Leave a bit of fat on the lamb, you'll benefit from it at the end.

In a mixing bowl, add 1/4 cup of ground cumin, 1 tablespoon of ground szechuan pepper, 1 tablespoon of dried chilli flakes, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of salt, a little ground pepper, 1 teaspoon of paprika (preferably smoked paprika), a grated chunk of ginger (a thumb-sized piece), 3 grated garlic cloves, the zest of half a lemon, the juice of 1 lemon, half a cup of olive oil.

Put your lamb in and mix it around; get grabby with your lamb. Cover and marinate for at least 2 hours.

30-45 minutes before you want to cook the skewers, take the lamb out of the over and put it on to the skewers. Then let it rest (covered) and warm up a little until cooking time.

When you're ready to cook, get your oven grill, BBQ grill or hot coals as hot as they go.

Cook your skewers! For extra flavour, when you're cooking, shake a bit of cumin and ground szechuan pepper over the top.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

RECIPE: Burnt Flour Pasta with... Stuff

Browning your flour before cooking with it adds some interesting flavour and colour to the final product. I thought I'd give it a go.

Firstly, the flour is browned in a dry pan over a medium heat. Easy as. Just put the flour in and stir until it goes brown. So I did that.

Once that cooled, I sifted it into a mixing bowl and added enough eggs and egg yolks to form a pasta dough.

After a quick resting of the dough, I rolled it out and cut it into rough pappardelle strips (think wider fettuccine).

As I put the pappardelle into some salted, boiling water I also put a chunk of butter into a pan to melt. To that I added pepper, fresh parsley, lemon zest, garlic and some truffle salsa I had lying around.

(The tense of the recipe changes now)

Once the pasta is cooked to al dente (shouldn't take long with fresh pasta) and the butter is frothing, I transfer the pasta to the pan, toss it briefly in the pan then transfer to the serving plate. Over that I shave some parmigiano reggiano.

Friday, January 21, 2011

RECIPE: Mint Julep

These are so good that I'm pretty much blogging drunk at this point after having over a litre of them.

The authenticity of the recipe is heavily debated, but I find this the best.

For 1 mint julep:

- 60ml of good bourbon (don't skimp for recipes with few ingredients)
- 1 teaspoon of sugar (caster/white)
- Splash of mineral or sparkling water
- 6-8 Mint leaves

How to:
- Put all but 1 of the mint leaves in a cocktail shaker or large glass.
- Add the sugar and gently mix together with a spoon, being careful not to be rough on the mint.
- Add the bourbon and water and mix again, gently.
- Taste it. Every bourbon has different levels of sweetness. Adjust with water, bourbon or sugar if necessary.
- In a lowball (short) glass, fill with ice--ideally, cubes of ice on the bottom and shavings on top.
- Add the remaining mint leaf.
- Pour over the booze mixture.

Mint julep time, son.

Time to enjoy slavery and/or horse racing and/or land ownership and/or white suits.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

RECIPE: Red Wine Tea Eggs

I love Chinese tea eggs. With their marbled skin they're great to look at, and with their saltiness they're great to eat.

But why is this technique only used in Chinese cuisine, when eggs are popular worldwide?

What if we put a Mediterranean spin on things and boiled the eggs in a red wine stock, instead of the more common tea broth or soy sauce?


Boiled for two hours in red wine with a few spices and some green tea. Too short a time to impart much flavour, but they look spectacular. I can't wait to find out how they taste after a much longer boil.

An what of the possibilities?

What about quail eggs?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

RESTAURANT: El-Phoenecian

Church Street in Parramatta is a street that scares the shit out of me sometimes. And not because it's in Parramatta and I'm 90% guaranteed to get stabbed when I'm there (joke, I love you, Parra). No, Church Street scares me because it's an "eat street". And "eat streets" are evil places, designed by people to rob you by stabbing you with average food; surviving for bizarre reasons like location, decor and the fact that they have brown tables.

But El-Phoenician is alright.

It's your standard Lebanese fare served in fairly comfortable surrounds, with prices marked up a little to accommodate for the comfortable surrounds and the fact that the restaurant is on an "eat street".

What can I say? It was all pretty par for the course. The dips--labne, hummus and babaganoush--were all solid. The salad of lettuce, sun-dried tomato and parmesan was a little odd, though not bad. The grilled meats were as good as other Lebanese grilled meats and other things like felafel and samabouski were the same.

Is it above average Lebanese food? Probably not. Is it below average food? Certainly not. But is it a good place to go when you want solid Lebanese food in comfortable surrounds? Yeah, probably.

For me, it's not really my thing. When I have grilled meat and stacks of garlic dip, I almost feel more comfortable in a slightly shoddy, smokey, busy restaurant. Where everyone has come to devour meat smothered in garlic and hummus and wrapped in Lebanese bread, with maybe a couple of spoonfuls of fatoosh (where was that at El-Phoenician?) to make you feel like you're eating healthy.

RATING: Okay, may go back [?]

El-Phoenician on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 17, 2011

RECIPE: Dark Chocolate Jelly

100g of dark chocolate
2 T of cream
1 pinch of caster sugar
Enough agar agar dissolved in water and sugar to set (depends on whether you use powder, sticks, etc) (around 2 C of agar agar water)

Make a ganache by melt the chocolate over a double boiler and add cream and sugar.

Add the agar agar, stir (still over the double boiler) to combine.

Set in the fridge.

It's kind of like a jellied mousse. Though a bit dull on it's own (if nicely dull, like a stable relationship with someone that isn't on ice). I see it being used with other elements, other textures. Moulds would be interesting.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

RESTAURANT: Golden Sichuan

A month ago I was walking along Sussex Street, heading to Mamak for a bit of lunch. I'd recommended the place to a dude at work and this was going to be his first time there.

As we got close to Goulburn Street, we noticed a couple of ladies walking down the street, carrying a steaming pot of something. Possibly rice. At each set of lights they would put the pot on the ground and rest their arms. It struck as a bit odd. And when I say "odd", I mean "unhygienic". With no lid on the pot, and people all around, how could it be clean?

Me, I didn't care. I live under no illusions about the conditions in the kitchens of some of my favourite cheap eats. I've probably eating things I shouldn't have, many times. But I was worried for the work dude. Could this pot be headed for Mamak? Was this pot going to be his first impression of Mamak?

Thankfully, the pot didn't go into Mamak. It went into a Chinese restaurant next door to Mamak.

A Chinese restaurant called Golden Sichuan, where I just ate.

See, I'd heard that Golden Sichuan was worth trying, and I had the address, but I didn't know that it was the final resting place of that pot, on that fateful day. I admit it, I hesitated at the door, wondering if I should go in for a bit of pot luck, or to walk past, straight to my normal Szechuan restaurant of choice, Red Chilli in Dixon Street.

But you know what? It was all fine. All pot related crimes are forgiven. We navigated away from the boring dishes and opted for some Szechuan staples like mapo tofu and kungpao chicken. While not as good as Red Chilli, they were still great.

Steamed pork dumplings and spring rolls were a curious choice on our part, but they turned out fine. But it was the Szechuan-pepper-laden dishes that impressed most. The dried tofu in chilli sauce was definitely more-ish.

The beers also weren't as icey as the ones at Red Chilli (which never fail to arrive seconds after ordering), but a cold Tsingtao always hits the spot when chilli oil is present.

Service was also good and the restaurant had a comfortable vibe to it.

While I wouldn't hesitate to come here again, I still prefer Red Chilli Szechuan when I want to eat fire. Not just for the taste, but their menu is a bit more expansive and tempting. And because it's so close by (in fact, two Red Chilli's are close by) I think it's always going to end up on top.

But you could do a lot worse. Because Golden Sichuan is good.

RATING: Okay, may go back [?]

Golden Sichuan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

ON FAILURE: Pains of the Giant Peach

(it rhymes with James and the Giant Peach. Isn't that clever?!?!)

It looks like a peach with some sort of sauce on top.

But it isn't. Can you improve on a peach?

Shall we look inside?

The peach has been hollowed out and filled with some shortbread biscuit (mixed with butter to firm it) and a sort of ganache of white chocolate, mint and coconut.

It should have worked, but why didn't it?

Firstly, there were errors in execution:
- The peach wasn't as ripe as I wanted. The flesh was still too firm.
- The ganache wasn't thick enough. So it never set like I wanted it to. It stayed like a sauce. Ideally, the eater should be able to pick up the peach and eat it like a normal piece of fruit, ganache oozing out like peach juice. Efforts to "set" it with agar agar were disastrous (first attempt at using agar agar).

But there was also an error in concept:
- The peach may not be the best choice for fruit. When the stone was removed, a whole in the top opened up. 1) That doesn't look good and 2) The sauce has more chance of running out.
- While the ganache was nice, the integration with the fruit wasn't there. Eating it felt like eating a stuffed peach, not a "new fruit".

Back to the drawing board, but with new knowledge in hand.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

ON FAILURE: Frothy crab bisque with fresh crab, tomato and pickle

On the weekend I purchased a milk frother.

Normally intended for the home caffeine freak to aerate their own milk, I thought the cheap device would be helpful in making airy, frothy soups.

And, by God, did it make some airy, frothy soups.

Look at all the goddamn air in that soup! Light as a feather.

But it didn't work.

Why? Too much cream.

It started off well:
- Sweat off some garlic, ginger, celery and shallots.
- Add some chopped tomatoes, cucumber (I wanted freshness), crab meat and vegetable stock (no fish stock on hand).
- Strain the stock to remove the stuff.

Now the base stock tasted good.

Here's where it went wrong:
- Add cream. Entirely too much cream. So much cream as to dilute the flavour and make the soup too rich.

A late saving grace:
- Simmer to bring the flavours together.
- Add a chopped handful of dill.
- Use the milk frother and aerate the fuck out of your soup.
- In a bowl (of, here, a jar) add a little finely diced tomato, crab meat and pickled cucumber. Add your frothy soup on top of that.
- For larger servings (it worked well as an amuse bouche size), serve alongside some buttered bread for dipping.

So what went wrong?

- Too much cream. I need to add around 1/4 of the amount (the true amount of cream I'm too embarrassed to reveal) if I want to make it edible.
- The cucumber was added too early and had no effect. Maybe add it late, shaved over the top?
- The first time I tried it, the tomato, crab and pickle stuff was room temperature. This needs to be warm or it's an odd sensation when eating.

Back to the drawing board, but with new knowledge in tact.

Failure is only failure if nothing is learned.

Monday, January 10, 2011

ARTICLE The Personal Assistant Tipple Prediction Game

It's the craze sweeping the nation (my head): trying to guess what the next drink of choice is going to be for professional women in Sydney.

They're blonde (generalising).
They're personal assistants (generalising).
They're in touch with fashion.
They fucking love sauvignon blanc.

For anyone that has gone to a bar in the city for a drink in the past few years, it's been achingly obvious that ladies love cool sauvignon blanc. It's their drink of choice and it takes the jaws of life (or more booze) to get them to drink any other sort of wine (generalising).

But the sauvignon blanc phase won't last forever. Indeed, it's already starting to feel tired and trendier wine-drinking PA's are starting to open their mind up to alternatives: the first sign that a change is afoot, since the pack has to make the decision before it's cool enough to leap whole-heartedly.

So where to next?

Chardonnay is an obvious alternative. It was the drink of choice before the sav blanc wave crashed and everyone knows that fashion moves in cycles. Going for it is the fact that it is essentially tried and true--it has been loved in the past, so it won't take a huge adjustment to like it again. Then again, it may be too fresh in the mind for the trendsetters to go for it. There are probably still some tribes in western Sydney that swear by the chardy, and it would be a terrible move to stoop to their level, even in ironic terms.

I'm ruling out sparkling wines because they're too much of a special-occasion drink, even if the drink is Riccadonna. It's hard to see sparkling wines become the new norm.

I'm also ruling out all red wines, because red wine = black teeth and mouth and everyone knows that if you're a single, mid-30s PA then you don't want to make yourself look worse. Those young girls are PERT, god damn it.

Riesling has emerged from the shadows to be an odds-on favourite for the race for the drink of ladies' choice. The Summer of Riesling ( is a brilliant promotion that is aiming to put rielsing at the front of everyone's minds. And when I say "everyone", I mean "women", because guys aren't going to drink much riesling, under any circumstances.

Let us pause briefly and look at why the sav blanc is so popular with the ladies at the moment. For this will give us out success criterion.
1. It has a crisp taste and is low in acid, due to most (if not all) popular sav blancs being sold quite young.
2. If you can find any flavours (you'll need to look hard) then you'll get citrus notes, grass, herbs and floral characteristics. In effect, it's like eating a lemon tree.
3. It is a white wine, so it has the illusion of being lighter and also doesn't stain the teeth or mouth.
4. When you drink too much of it and throw up, it looks like you're throwing up water, which allows you to blame "water poisoning" as the cause, not intoxication (which guys don't "dig").

And there we see why riesling has a damn good shot at being the next wine of choice--it nails every one of those categories. Except for flavour. See, riesling has a flavour, it's just not a very good one.

So how about semillon? New South Wales (the Hunter Valley, really) produces some utterly fantastic semillon and everyone loves to root for the home team? Right? Probably not. While our aged semillon is arguably world-class, the ladies won't drink it because 1) it's too expensive and 2) it has too much flavour to "quaff". The young semillons have a chance, but it's a small one. While it's crisp and lightly floral, the flavours are still a little too big compared to other young white wines. Sometimes, it also tastes like you're drinking a tree. And I could be wrong, but semillon can't be crudely abbreviated like "chardy" or "sav blanc". "Semi", just doesn't work.

Lastly, but certainly not least (because it is my choice), we come to a set of twins that are just aching to set the world on fire: pinot grigio and pinot gris. I make a distinction here because in Australia (unlike most other places in the world) we give the grape (pinot gris) two names: pinot grigio for the younger/drier stuff, pinot gris for the older, richer stuff. Here's how I see it going: Initially, no one is going to know that the two varieties are related so everyone is going to go nuts for the pinot grigio because of it's drier, crisp floral taste. But then they'll learn that pinot gris is the same thing and they'll go nuts on that, forcing their palate to enjoy that too (because it would be weird to love one and not the other, and guys don't love weird girls). But it's this confusion over having two varieties (with similar names) coming from the same grape that also has the potential to destroy the pinot g movement before it has even begun. Because the masses hate confusion. And if they get confused about the varieties then they'll avoid the whole damn thing.

So where is it headed? What are your thoughts?

I'm going to keep this game going until society has chosen a clear winner of wine.

I can't wait!

Monday, January 03, 2011

RESTAURANT: Bentley Restaurant and Bar

Two-hatted Bentley has been around for a few years now, but it's only recently, despite a lot of critical praise, that it (and head chef Brent Savage) seems to be starting to be mentioned in the same breaths as Sydney's finest restaurants.

I think it's because of butter.

"Fucking butter, I knew it," I hear everyone thinking right now. "The butter did it!"

I suspect butter, because I think we've had a kind of cultural shift towards food in the last year or so, and I think the shift is away from butter. Kind of. But I'll get to that once I get the formalities of a restaurant review out of the way.

So the restaurant is pretty cool. It looks a lot more like a bar or a casual diner, than a two-hatted place. But the waitstaff carry a sort of cool/easy bar vibe and it doesn't seem out of place. And it follows through to the entire dining experience, which is calm and relaxed throughout. Anyway, tablecloths are way overrated.

The food is the drawcard here (quite ironic for a restaurant) and it's pretty damn impressive. The approach appears to be a bit of the old "unexpected flavour combinations" thing, but with a few tricks throw in occasionally thanks to some inventive technique. I could throw some examples in there, but that would be close to a proper review, and, quite frankly, there are people that are better at those than me.

Which brings me back to butter (serious segue there). I think Bentley is starting to get more mentions because people have started to move away from heavier, butter-based food (ie the French way of doing things) and are heading towards the more modern philosophy of combining simple, high-quality ingredients, without too much manipulation. Bentley's food is not rich or overdone; it's sharp, precise flavours that are combined well. You leave feeling refreshed and invigorated, not bloated.

So how did I find it? Good. Damn good. The degustation was $120 and the matching wines were another $70. And that's pretty good value for 7 or 8 courses of this quality. While I wasn't as blown away by it as I was by places like Quay, Bilson's or Marque, Bentley definitely deserves a place near the top of Sydney's dining scene. When the menu changes, I'll definitely be keen for a revisit.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Bentley Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 02, 2011

RECIPE: Pasta with bottarga, palm hearts, parsley, lemon and garlic

I just totally won with this dinner. I WON THE PRIZE!

An assembly of some ingredients that work really well together.

If you aren't familiar with it, Bottarga is dried and cured mullet (or sometimes another fish) roe (eggs). It's probably used most in Italian cuisine, especially in dishes originating from Sardinia. It has an extremely strong flavour an odour that is similar to caviar. Because of it's strong flavour, it is best served finely shaved or grated. Look for it in speciality delis/grocers that have a good Italian selection.

Palm hearts are another ingredient that are starting to get more recognition. They're taken from the middle of some types of palm trees and are produced heavily in South American countries like Ecuador, Brasil and Costa Rica. They have an interesting texture, similar to artichoke hearts, but less fibrous and with a centre that is close to a paste. The flavour is quite mild and watery, again, similar to an artichoke heart or fresh bamboo. They're great when used in salads or slice thickly and marinated with olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, garlic and a little chilli. I've only ever seen them sold here in cans.

So how do we combine these ingredients?


Ingredients: (for approx 4 serves)

- 350g of pasta (I used a macaroni sort of thing, but spaghetti is great here)
- 1/2 of a length of canned palm heart. Rinsed and sliced fairly thinly.
- 1 garlic clove. Rinsed under warm water for approx 1 minute, diced finely.
- 1/2 and handful of fresh parsley. Chopped finely.
- The zest and juice of 1/4 a lemon
- 20g butter
- 1/4 grated parmesan cheese (reggiano if you can get it)
- 1 thumb sized piece of bottarga
- Salt for cooking the pasta
- Pepper to taste
- Olive oil


- Make the pasta as per packet instructions. Be sure to heavily salt the water.
- When the pasta is nearly done, put the butter in a medium saucepan. When the butter begins to froth, add the garlic and 1/3 of the parsley.
- Drain the pasta and add to the pan. Toss so the garlic and parsley butter is evenly incorporated.
- Add the palm hearts, lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix gently.
- Spoon into slightly warm serving bowls, add some grated parmesan, some cracked pepper, the rest of the parsley and shave/grate the bottarga over (use a very fine grater).
- Finish with a small drizzle of olive oil.

Serve it with a white wine. Brut champagne would be great. As would a young semillon.

So Why Does This Work?

This dish works because of the way everything works together. The bottarga on its own is strong--almost too strong--but the acidity of the lemon balances the intensity, while the parsley gives it freshness.

Palm hearts thrive in garlic, lemon and parsley. Here they act as an intermediary between the bottarga and the other ingredients, creating a sort of "in between" layer. They also have the same colour and texture to pasta, so they add an interesting and unexpected flavour to the dish. And oddly, the canned ones have a very faint taste of bottarga, if you close your eyes.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


It's the power of the people. It's... powerful. Powerful enough to make me avoid this place. Despite this place being open for over two years and getting great reviews--and despite my constant ache for dumplings--I avoided Din Tai Fung because of it's reputation for having serious queue action. And I never spoke of it again.

But one dark and stormy night (I don't recall the weather, to be honest), helped greatly by the promise of drinking beer nearby while waiting, I finally went to Din Tai Fung, home to what many call the best dumplings in Sydney.

And just how good are the dumplings? Yeah, they're pretty good. No minds were blown, but cravings were satiated.

Not surprisingly, the food and the experience is pretty much on par with sister restaurant Chef's Gallery. Along with the dumplings, the silken tofu with pork floss and century egg was fantastic. And the desserts were quite nice, especially the fried red bean and taro breads, when paired with some black sesame ice cream (one of my weaknesses).

So the food was above average, but the queues were long. Who wins? I think it's a personal thing. For me, there are places in Chinatown doing food just as good with no wait, so I think I'll be gravitating towards them in the future.

RATING: Okay, may go back [?]

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