Archive for July, 2009

Bills

July 29, 2009

www.bills.com.au

359 Crown Street, Surry Hills

Although I’ve come to Australia to live for a few years, I still feel like a tourist. And being from the UK, one of the places on the obligatory list is Bills. It’s owned by Bill Granger of the cookbook and TV show fame. He’s all over food cookery TV in England. He’s come to represent how modern Australian food is sold to us foreigners – relaxed, weekend dining with the sound of the ocean in earshot.

He looks like somebody who’s stumbled into this celebrity chefing world. He doesn’t exactly seem to bubble with ambition and does have a friendly awkwardness on TV, which makes him kind of endearing, compared to likes of Gordon Ramsay….

So I had to try Bills, just to strike it off the list. I managed to find myself mid-morning in Surry Hills with an hour or so to kill. I should have gone to the far more interesting Fifi Foveaux’s down the road, but I told myself I had no choice.

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It’s a very unassuming place, but no sign of the celebrities promised on the website….It was 10.30am on a weekday. I parked myself outside and made my choice. The normal flat white & the sweet corn fritters with bacon, spinach and tomato.

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What followed was ‘death by sweet corn’ – 2 huge discus-like slabs with a pokey ‘filling’ of a single piece of bacon, one half of a tiny tomato and some random spinach leaves. The fritters were alright in that they had a good crust and a sweet, doughy interior, but it was a pretty full-on sweet-corn fest, which left me feeling a little queasy and considering giving up the yellow kernels for the next month. I guess it’s the inherent sweetness, but you don’t get the same feeling with steak. Also a little moisture would have helped, but the little tomato was never in a position to contribute.

I believe every dish, brunch or otherwise should be able to stand on its own and this was just not a balanced dish. More bacon could have saved the day (as always). It has a power all of its own to take away flaws…

The coffee was good (I’ve yet to have a bad one in Australia) and the service was genial. Just the food didn’t totally deliver on the Aussie dining lifestyle Bill has sold me. I’d rather stick to Bathers Pavilion.

It’s not totally fare to judge a café/restaurant on the strength of one dish, but every plate should ‘sell’ the restaurant. I know I will have to give Bill’s another go, but the jury is out.

5/10

est.

July 28, 2009

www.merivale.com/establishment/est

252 George St.

Another few meetings in CBD today and couldn’t resist giving Est. a try for lunch. The whole Merivale group are running various promotions, from $35 for lunch. It tempted me enough to give the 3 hat Est. a go. This is not exactly the best way to experience the best a restaurant has to offer, but hey you have to make the most of the available time.

It’s a nice airy room in cream, taupe & pea green. A third of seating is banquets with an arrangement of slightly awkward cushions you have to maneuver around to get comfortable; A classic example of style over functionality.

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From the limited menu I started with the linguine with chorizo, broccoli, red chilli, parsley and lemon. All finely chopped and nicely presented. It was OK. The taste was pleasant, but all the flavours kind of muted each other – the relative blandness of the broccoli & pasta not giving an inch to the paucity of chili & chorizo. In retrospect it was a school-boy piece of ordering on my behalf. It was never going to be an exciting dish. I listened to my stomach.

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The main course was much better – jewfish fillet, spinach, pine nuts, preserved lemon and tapenade. This was a beautiful piece of fish; well cooked – sweet and succulent, but with a good crisp skin. The tapenade got a bit lost, but the fish more than made up for it. It made a change from the heavier mains I have a tendency to order. I haven’t seen jewfish anywhere other than Australia and I won’t begrudge eating far more of it.

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Dessert was Tahitian vanilla cheesecake with strawberry sorbet. I’m not much a dessert freak, but this was pleasant with a good light texture and a not overtly sweet sorbet. It went down well.

This was a nice pleasant lunch, worth the $60 for 3 courses with a glass of wine. But not enough was on show to make me think I couldn’t wait to go back for the dinner experience, which is partly why these restaurants run these kinds of deals. There wasn’t enough sense of occasion; a little bit too chilled out. Where are the amuse-bouches etc. I may be expecting too much, but it goes with being a 3 hat restaurant.

 6.5/10

Kushiyaki Azuma

July 22, 2009

www.azuma.com.au

501 George Street

My wife & I were taken here last friday evening and had one of those meals full of tasty morsels, perfect for sharing and justifying that second bottle of wine (+ weirdy cocktails)

The restaurant itself is in a non-descript shopping/office mall.It makes the entrance a little anti-climatic. The room is quite spartan & canteen-like. Not a great start. But the food made up for it.

I think we were talking too much, so pretty much forgot to take any photos. But this one sums the meal up – garlic clove skewers..of course:

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The restaurant specialises in skewers and small tapas style plates. It’s a cheap way of trying the more unusual specialities such as chicken giblet, chicken skin, sea perch etc. All are moreish and it’s easy to get into a quandry about sticking to the ones you like or testing other flavours & textures. It all depends how adventurous your fellow dining companions are.

On to the ‘small dishes’ – the obligatory Black Cod followed by some lovely braises – Wagyu beef simmered in miso (Wagyu Karamiso), Pork Belly (Kakuni) and my favourite of the evening: Ox Tongue in soy & miso (Gyutan Miso). Terrific flavours, succulent soft meat in a sweetish stock with a hefty dollop of hot mustard. It was lovely and satisfying on a cold(ish) evening. A lot of people are sqeamish towards Ox Tongue. This dish will change your mind at only $9 it’s not much a risk.

So, all in all a good meal for sharing. reasonably priced (you can buy by the skewer) and lots of interesting dishes, even though the atmosphere is quite muted and the place was empty by 10pm. Ignore the souless location and give it a go if you want more than just sushi.

7.5/10

Thai Nine – not quite

July 16, 2009

8/3 Vista Street, Mosman

It appears Thai restaurants are to Australia, what curry houses are to the UK. They’re all over the place and everyone has a favourite. So expect many reviews in the future.

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Friends took us to Thai Nine in Mosman last night. A good introduction to the cuisine here; a smart but relaxed place with plenty of couples & families .

We cooked things off with the obligatory spring rolls & the imaginatively named Curry Puffs.

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As with most thai starters, they were a little average and tasted more of pastry than they did of the filling. Yet I still keep on ordering them, because you never know…

After the relative disappointment of the starters we had a couple of good meat salads (!) – beef & duck salad:

thai duck salad

thai duck salad

Unlike springrolls, these are the sort of dishes which are relatively simple if you get the ratios right – just sear some meat and add a few leaves, shallots, chilli with lime, sugar, fish sauce. That’s no bad thing and they were good examples. It’s always a great combination with a nice zing. Tasty.

Thai surf & turf

Thai surf & turf

The highlight of the meal was a thai surf & turf dish which had fried ling fillets with pork crackling, basil, bok choy & chilli. Awesome. It was surprisingly light and really moreish. This was a dish that I did not want to share.

Penang Curry

Penang Curry

We followed up with a chicken penang curry. A good alternative to red & green varieties. The muddy flavour is always interesting and unique to thai food (i think?). Always good for flavouring the rice

So we had a number of classic dishes in a nice environment. As a midweek simple meal it’s hard to fault and it’s clear the general standard of thai food in Australia is pretty high. I don’t think I’ll be able to judge before I have a few more and the likes of Longgrain & Sailors Thai are on the hitlist and apparent must eats.

6.5/10 (though the surf & turf was an 8.)

Plan B – bargain burger

July 14, 2009

204 Clarence Street

More interviews in Sydney today and I couldn’t justify taking myself to Sephia for lunch without my wife being there.  Then I remembered Becasse had a cafe and a reputable wagyu burger for $10, so gave it go.

Plan B is tiny and is essentially a hole-in-the-wall for office workers to grab a sandwich.  Three small tables are crammed outside which must be the scene of many a territorial battle come the summer.

The burger:

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What no chips?! Indeed, the closest you can get to accompaniment here is a soup… and relax……It’s a tall burger, but not particular large in size. You could eat this and not feel too guilty afterwards about not getting a salad. Also being stuck outside on a semi busy street raises the question of whether you should use a knife & fork to save strangers from the messy hand-to-hand combat.

Probably not. Just compress the burger, let the juices flow and start munching.

For a $10 burger it’s pretty good. the standout element is the bun itself. A lovely briochey, airy, sesame crunch. It’s brilliant. Then you get the onions, mayo, beetroot and meat combination. The first few bites are really good. You can taste the char of the burger and it all combines for a lovely savoury taste. Then you think about the meat – the supposedly 600 day grass fed wagyu beef. It’s  OK, but it lacks any real beefiness. Being in the US for a few months I had one or two burgers and this one just lacked the big beef hit.

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In addition, the burger itself didn’t have a hint of pink. Just a greying mass which didn’t quite hold together. I was a little disappointed. I expected better. However the rest of the burger was excellent. I think beetroot is not a bad ingredient. The sweetness & the juices left behind make it look like a crime of passion…

This burger is certainly the sum of its parts and as a whole it made a good quick lunch. I’ve had far worse gourmet burgers, but this can’t be the best burger in Sydney as others have raved about. I guess I’ll just have to try a few more.

6/10

Guiding Star – Dining Heaven

July 12, 2009

We were deep in the Bayou and after a long day of driving through this brilliant state stumbled across this rough ‘n’ ready boiled seafood shack in New Iberia, Louisiana. A real local’s place on the edge of a highway.

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Tabasco sign – check, newspapers as tablecoths – check, cold, cold beer – check. Awesome seafood – check.

We arrived early, because we were so hungry and luckily enough found out that they’d only taken delivery of a dozen crab. The phone was ringing off the hook with people checking crab was on the menu before they arrived. Servings came in the half dozen, so we had to get our order in quick. We were not to be disappointed:

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and because we knew we’d only be here once, we had to order crayfish as well:

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Being British we needed some pointers on how to get really stuck in without a knife & fork….we didn’t need much encouragement with the lovely sweet meat and superb cajun spicing. Destruction ensued and at the end of gloriously stuffing our face we surveyed the chaos:

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It’s a good thing we were able to eat to our fill because the idea of picking up some candy on the way out was not too appealing:

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We won’t be forgetting this random meal in a hurry.  As they say in LA – “Ca c’est bon”

9/10

Roadfood.com – Don’t go to the US without it

July 12, 2009

RoadfoodLogo

My wife & I recently spent two months driving from New York to San Francisco. It was a terrific trip with surprising few arguments and many great meals (with posts to follow).

We were able to avoid chain restaurant hell (Applebees, Hardees etc.) by signing up to www.roadfood.com. A site devoted to reviewing the best in local, honest food away from unsocial interstate highways. Plug it into your GPS and you’ll know when your close to the best fried chicken, BBQ, lobster, grits you can find.  

We bumped into the genial and passionate founder in New Orleans while helping to eat the world’s longest Oyster Po-Boy:

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It made eating in the US a revelation. Though not exactly easy on the waistline, it was worth every moment of guilt.

So if you’re ever US-bound, check it out.

Yoshii – Japanese Dining Heaven

July 12, 2009

115 Harrington Street, Sydney

www.yoshii.com.au

I visited Yoshii last November, coming briefly back to Sydney after my honeymoon. I was craving sushi and had a few hours to kill before an appointment to agree the all important wedding photos. I’d read the Yoshii was the place to go and had an unexpected, but memorable meal.

I turned up at 12pm on the dot for lunch and was sat at the counter. I was disappointed to be handed a fixed lunch menu – bento boxes etc, when I wanted to see what the restaurant had to offer. In my experience at Japanese places it’s always good to get the chef to determine what you eat since the ingredients change on a daily basis. It also makes the dining experience more interesting.

After telling the waitresses that I wanted to try what the restaurant had to offer I was moved stalls & sat in front of Mr. Yoshii who introduced himself and told me he’d create a menu for me. Not being too busy in the restaurant I guess he had the time. So followed a succession of beautiful dishes described with charm & enthusiasm by the great man himself.

A few of the dishes:

king crab mousse in edamme soup

king crab mousse in edamme soup

Sashimi selection

Sashimi selection

salt baked abalone

salt baked abalone

Black Cod with singed cedar wood

Black Cod with singed cedar wood

The sensational dishes were all served with a subtle twist of some kind. The cedar wood with the black cod certainly delivered a greater sensory experience.

It was a truly memorable meal with Mr. Yoshii proving a great companion, talking about the seasonality & sourcing of various ingredients. He even offered to provide introductions to those hard to find restaurants in Japan.

This meal was great because of the generosity and service displayed and as a result it’s always on my list to return. It’s not cheap, but represents good value for money. I just need an excuse to return.

9/10

First Post – The Bentley Restaurant & Bar

July 12, 2009

So a week ago I moved from London to Sydney. A good few months travelling and I’m now faced with the prospect of having to find a job – a man has got to eat….

On the plus side, not working means I have the opportunity to try out a few places for lunch at a slightly cheaper price than evening meal. A trawl of Timeout & SMH (already got the acronyms!) suggested The Bentley in Surry Hills as an interesting place to try. Modern inventive tapas style in a cool part of town.  

7 courses for $50 was the deal. A number of dishes taken from the normal tapas list, though there is an A La Carte menu.

So plunging straight in:

Kingfish ceviche & Serrano jambon

Kingfish ceviche & Serrano jambon

A refreshing starter. The ceviche was lovely & clean. Shame it was only a mouthful. Followed up by the salty ham, it was nice & simple. No complaints.

Eel Parfait with Seaweed

Eel Parfait with Seaweed

Next up, Eel Parfait with Yuzu mayo (I think) and seaweed salad. This again was tasty, subtle & moreish. Eel is one of those fish (it is a fish?!) that people are a little scared of, but the way it was prepared here, creamy and smooth would be a good introduction. The seaweed also worked well as a bit of acidity and wasn’t just window dressing.

Squid, squid ink rice & chilli cream

Squid, squid ink rice & chilli cream

The Squid was possibly my favourite course. A great classic combination, but presented in a slightly innovative way. The chilli cream was lovely, with a nice hint of heat, but nothing overpowering.

herb gazpacho with a potato & chorizo crisp

herb gazpacho with a potato & chorizo crisp

This was another refreshing dish. The Gazpacho was silky and smooth and the Chorizo & Potato crisp gave something gutsy to stuck into (although 1 bite..)

Slow cooked egg with pork 'bubble'

Slow cooked egg with pork 'bubble'

Next up, a bit weirdly in the order of things was a slow cooked egg with the yolk just set after being cooked for an hour or so at a low temperature. Obviously someone has a Sous Vide machine. It was wobbly and only just set and could be eaten without having to reach for a spoon . The pork skin on the side was a little bit ‘meh’… Not a particularly interesting dish save for the cooking method. A boiled egg is a boiled egg….

slow cooked Morrocan lamb shoulder with chick peas & chick pea chips

slow cooked Morrocan lamb shoulder with chick peas & chick pea chips

The ‘main course’ was lamb shoulder which had been well cooked till you could eat it with a spoon. It had great consistency, and tasted good with the north african spices. The chips I believe are meant to be a bit of a speciality, but they were a bit mealy and not exactly packed with flavour. But something different to try. 

The dessert was a chocolate granache with orange oil and salt flakes on top. I forgot to take a picture, partly because it was very good and I dived straight in. It had a great thick mousse like consistency with a good cocoa hit, accentuated by the salt (which is a great combination).

So, all in all, a good first meal in Sydney. Some good combinations, well presented with a bit of flair. The lunch deal was certainly worth it and I’d look to go back. With these lunch deals you generally don’t get the most expensive ingredients or inventiveness, so I was pleasantly surprised. I’m going to enjoy Sydney I think.

The Bentley Restaurant & Bar:

7/10