Archive for August, 2009

Glebe Point Diner

August 30, 2009

407 Glebe Point Road

A leisurely Sunday lunch is one of the joys of life, especially on a warm sunny day. We’ve been exploring the regions of Sydney and a walk around the harbour wetted our appetites for a lunch at the Glebe Point Diner which recently won the people’s choice Time Out award (http://www.timeoutsydney.com.au/restaurants/sydneyfoodawards/).

The staff are young & fun which fits with the diverse clientele. And although the service was a little slack, there was a charm which nullifies the inconsistencies.  

The menu itself is limited to about 5 choices per course, which is no bad thing and it’s proper bistro food which is ideal for brains still fuddled from Saturday night excesses. It also means there wasn’t an awful lot of innovation on the menu, with starters ranging from terrine, soup, squid to fennel salad. No bad thing though.

My wife started with the potato soup with moreton bay bugs, while I had the squid with aioli.

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The soup was a valiant effort to do a potato soup without bags of cream. But it was a bit thin and under-seasoned. The bug itself was only a morsel, and didn’t really give the dish a bit of ‘wow’ it should have had. My squid on the other hand was excellent. It was a fair portion with well cooked seasoned squid accompanied by a surly and pungent aioli. It was difficult to keep to myself.

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The main courses were good. I convinced my wife to try the jewfish steamed in greens. It was lovely and succulent. The peas enhanced the sweetness of the sizeable tranche and after some tentative prodding it was pronounced excellent. On a hot sunny day, this is a pretty ideal dish.

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I opted for the special of roast rib of pork with rhubarb compote and potato puree. It was hard to resist and as a roast goes, it was pretty damn perfect. The meat was local and clearly of good provenance. It was cooked well with the barest hint of pink and the dense crackling gave in with a firm hand.  The sharp compote added good contrast and the only downside of puree was that there wasn’t enough of it, so it had to be carefully eked out.

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Considering we were keen to do more exploring in the afternoon, we opted to share a dessert. This prompted some intense negotiations, with the banana fritters losing out to an extremely gooey and not too tart lemon tart. It didn’t last long with the pastry not proving much of a barrier and the cream a nice rich accompaniment. The cream could easily have been eaten by itself. I believe one or two spoonfuls were sneakily had.

We skipped coffee and reluctantly headed on our way

While our meal wasn’t perfect the overall lunch was relaxing, enjoyable and even though it’s the kind of place where the costs sneakily mount up, you don’t begrudge the bill. Having said that, a place which treats bread as a dish to order and doesn’t automatically provide vegetables with main courses is being a bit cheeky.

It is though a very good neighbourhood restaurant. It doesn’t need a website, being the sort of place which relies on good word of mouth and local clientele. Every suburb needs a place like this and I consider it a prerequisite in choosing where to settle down in Sydney. It might just be the deciding factor.

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Catalina

August 26, 2009

Lyne Park, Rose Bay

www.catalinarosebay.com.au

I felt a little guilty coming here. I think I was the only person dining who was not with an expense account and since I’m only in occasional employment, my financial affairs should be under supervision, just like Britney’s….

However in my defence, I did need a decent meal after having walked around the South Beach Headland, down through Watsons Bay and along the coast to Rose Bay (recommended – very picturesque with fine views from various beaches towards the CBD skyline). I was also wondering if the 3 hat Pier restaurant was open…..

So three courses for $70 from a set lunch menu with matching wines in a setting as beautiful as this was an easy decision to make. It’s a sleek place (with apparently a bit of an attitude), but they didn’t mind so much my casual walking attire and because it was a little windy it was possible to get a table outside.

 

sweet...

sweet...

The view is certainly majestic, even better with a glass of wine and no pressing deadlines to meet. You look out into the harbour and are sat next to a seaplane port; so for the really upwardly-mobile it’s a simple flight back to the beach-house in Palm Beach.

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All this made the amuse-bouche a little more bearable. This was perhaps one of the most uninspiring things I’ve put in my mouth – a fraction of omelet with a smidgen of red onion & crème-fraiche. It neither whetted my appetite nor awakened the senses. It at least served to dampen expectations for the rest of a good meal.

 

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Next up was sautéed cuttlefish with zucchini & cucumber salad. This helped things get going. Nice, light & lemony. The cuttlefish’s nodules (suckers?) had a good burnt tinge which provided contrast with the rest of the tentacle. It was a salad for people who don’t like salad. So it suited me.

 

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My main course was pan-fried bream fillets with roasted fennel and a pepper & almond salsa. After the shock realization that I was having an Atkins meal, I settled down and enjoyed this dish. The fillets were sweet and well cooked, well complimented by the roasted vegetables and nuttiness of the almonds. It went  well with a glass of Scarborough Chardonnay. Coupled with the view and beaming sunshine it was hard not to be seduced. There are worse places to spend a Friday afternoon.

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I’m not a dessert person, but the Millefeuille of strawberries & cream was irresistible. A nice, simple pudding with decent flavourful strawberries, with vanilla cream and good crisp, crumbly pastry. It couldn’t really be faulted and did not last long. It was a fine end to the lunch and made the amuse-bouche a distant memory.

Summing up this is a superior restaurant, which is elevated to a high level by the setting. The cooking is clearly good and you certainly pay for it with mains around $45 mark. Nevertheless I’d be keen to come back here during summer, when it’ll probably be a little trickier to get an outside table.

Mamak

August 23, 2009

15 Goulburn Street

 www.mamak.com.au

 I’ve walked past this place a few times and there’s always a huge queue to get in, which of course makes it irresistible to try. An early dinner presented itself and arriving at about 6.15pm, we only had to wait 15 minutes…

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It’s the editors pick for Best Asian in the SMH relying on good cheap, flavourful Malaysian street food. While I’m sure there are lots of places on a similar level to this place, these sort of restaurants generate a momentum and interest which they ride all the way to the bank. Good value food which encourages spending with a high turnover.

For the wait they helpfully provide a bit of theatre in the window – two chefs constantly churning out Rotis – flat bread creations which can be eaten as they are or filled with all sorts of ingredients.

It’s a kind of house specialty, so I helpfully over-ordered  when we got our table (Canai, Bawang, Murtabak).

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They’re good though. The spicy curry accompaniments pretty much all tasted the same. But the Roti were fluffy, crisp and tasty, especially the ‘daddy’ version with minced lamb.

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The Satay were also rated, so we tried half a dozen. It was opposite to the Roti experience. The chicken was grilled well, but not the tastiest of morsels. However the peanut sauce was lovely. The sort of sauce you’d be happy to eat anything with. It more than made up for it.

Like many of these places, the dish arrives at the table when ready, so we had two curry dishes mixed in with the rotis and satays. These were a chicken curry (Kari ayam) and a stir fried prawns with sambal sauce (Sambal udang). Incidentally there is Malaysian fried chicken on the menu, but I couldn’t convince my other dining companions to take the plunge. The spectre of KFC still looms large…

 

Sambal udang

Sambal udang

Kari Ayam

Kari Ayam

The curries were extremely tasty – good generous portions with plenty of heat. The Kari ayam was noticeable for the dark & foreboding appearance. Just like that all pervasive cloak of evil from the Fifth Element, you got the impression it would coat & transform everything it touched into something indulgent and rich. The rice of course countered with its innocent purity.

Moving away from the eternal battle of good and evil, this is indeed a decent place for a casual bite to eat in the city. It’s easy to see why it’s popular as something a little bit different from the plethora of Thai places. The spicing is interesting, it’s got a buzz and it’s cheap at under $25 a head. A perfect midweek stop, when you’re counting the pennies.

Someone’s done their homework with this venture. It is a calculated offering and none the worse for it. Find a niche with a particular regional street food. Do it well and then roll out the concept.

Sailors Thai

August 19, 2009

106 George Street

www.sailorsthai.com.au

Another meeting in town and another excuse to try another restaurant. Back in London, Nahm, run by David Thompson is regarded as one of the finest Thai restaurants in the UK. But it’s expensive; easily £100 a head. I’ve no problem paying that kind of money for French fine dining, but for some reason I won’t do the same for Thai, when ‘street food’ shows the cuisine at its best.

Arriving in Sydney it was pleasing to see David Thompson’s place relatively well priced and so removing any barrier to try it.

I visited the canteen (leaving the main restaurant for another time). As a lone diner seeing the long communal table gave me a feeling of dread. Where do you sit and how do others sit around you? Too much social awkwardness. However there are four tables on the balcony outside and I was able to get myself a spot in the sunshine.

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The service was genial and helpful. When the dishes are meant to be shared it was nice of the waiters to offer half portions to provide some variety. I guess it helped that I asked them to order for me (always a good way to get decent service & interesting dishes).

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I started with king prawn spring-rolls. These were also filled with glass noodles and accompanied with a nice sharp dipping sauce. These were actually a bit bland for spring-rolls. I expected a greater mix of flavours, but they were well cooked – the prawns were sweet & succulent with the pastry not too oily. A good balance.

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Next up was a half dish of crisp salty pork belly with hot & sour sauce. The texture & consistency of this pork was even better than Spice I Am. Lots of knobbly crunchiness, a bit a fattiness and unctuous meat. The sauce was rich & spicy which was fine at the beginning, but got a little cloying as the dish went on, desperately needing rice to even the taste out. But it wasn’t going to detract from the pork.

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A good-ol chicken & potato yellow curry was up next – Sweet, spicy with a good hit of turmeric. The potato was fall-apart soft and made for a thicker & smoother curry. It was a fine example and the accompanying chili, cucumber & onions added a little bit more taste & texture.

So, this was a pretty enjoyable lunch. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try the green papaya salad, but there’s plenty to like. I would put it on a par with Spice I Am, but that is also cheaper with no discernible difference in quality. So I know what I’d choose.

7/10

Chelsea Tea House

August 16, 2009

48 Old Barrenjoey Road, Avalon

A beautiful winters day in Sydney. There was no excuse for staying in. The lure of a good breakfast prevented a lie-in. So on the way to Palm Beach we stopped into Chelsea Tea House in Avalon and had one of the best breakfasts I’ve had for a quite a while.

A novel take on the ‘full english’, called The Local. (The veggie option was called Bad Hunter.) It was a thing of beauty.

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Worthy of a photo. The homemade beans were the standout. The eggs were delightfully orange. It rocked.

So, if you’re in the area, check it out.

The Beresford

August 16, 2009

354 Bourke St., Darlinghurst

http://www.theberesford.com.au/

A Friday night out on the town and we decided to head to the Beresford Hotel. The end of the week always demands a decent martini. Knowing that the bar here was attached to a good restaurant ensured we had the making of a good evening.

I’ve yet to get into the bar scene in Sydney and the bar here was a good introduction – a huge horseshoe type, lots of places for perching and a decent selection of spirits. It’s a little disheartening to venture into a bar and see Bombay Sapphire as the only available Gin. There were at least six varieties here.

The well made cocktails didn’t last long and we made it to our table in the side restaurant – sleek with browns & metals, with tight spot lamps that lit up each table. If you lent over you could easily find yourself dazzled, so it was best lean back into the shadows.

The head waiter was enthusiastic and offered a good introduction to the meal; setting the tone for an enjoyable evening, which was then slightly dented by a waiter trying to up-sell me a bottle of wine at twice the price I’d indicated was acceptable. Hmmm… We took back the wine list and opted for a delightful Valpolicella.

It was a Friday night so we opted for the tasting menu – 6 courses for a reasonable $70. It was the first appetizer that did it for me – a cheese and truffle toastie – delightfully trashy & low-fi. Melted cheese with the pungent funghi. Does what it says on the tin. I guess….

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The bread was also excellent and dangerously moreish in view of the courses ahead. We couldn’t resist it.

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Next up was scallops with witlof, pancetta & walnuts. This dish was spot-on. Two very fat scallops quickly seared with almost translucent interior. The bitterness of the endive with saltiness of bacon could not be faulted and it made a pleasant change to the normal pea or cauliflower combinations.

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The peas were not missed for long, cropping up in the next dish with ham hock and potato gnocchi. This was another excellent dish. It’s a cliché, but the gnocchi were truly pillow-like and it all worked really well. It was a simple dish, but no worse for it. The only down-side was the relative size of the dish and the knock-on effect in finishing the rest of the meal.

The fish course next (apologies for the lack of photo) was pan-fried Blue Eye, broccoli, hazelnuts & truffle butter. Another fine dish, with a nice tranche of fillet on top of a bed of broccoli – this veg being quite brave to serve in a sophisticated restaurant!. The hazelnuts provided good texture and the truffle, an always welcome addition, providing some additional depth.

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It was at this point that we may have over-stretched ourselves with the tasting menu by substituting the lamb rump with cannellini beans for the beef fillet with jerusalem artichokes, porcini and garlic sauce. It was a bruiser of a dish – a surprisingly large piece of rare seared beef with a gutsy sauce. I would have happily devoured it as part of a three course meal, but it was a challenge to manage in these circumstances. An artichoke was left as evidence.

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Being pretty full by now it would have been pretty easy to satisfy us with a simple dessert, but what followed ended the momentum. A clue was offered by the unspecific description of ‘Dolci’… We received a chocolate mousse which was layered with an unspecified white substance with a strange wobbly texture. It was bland and most unpalatable. Even the chocolate mousse was tasteless. The only joy was provided by the pistachio crunch.

And so the meal came to an end. The waiter noted our lack of enthusiasm towards the dessert and we asked for the cheque.

The restaurant by now was packed and the wait for the bill was a while, but could have been worse. But the head waiter felt duty bound to apologise, giving us a couple glasses of dessert wine and then unnecessarily taking $50 off the final bill.

 

It was a surprising end to a pleasant meal let down by a dodgy course and some uneven service. But there was some very good cooking here – confident & simple. The dessert was probably an afterthought prepared in the afternoon, but all the food cooked to order was well received with a good balance of flavours, fitting with the rustic ethos. I’d be happy to go back.

7/10

Marque

August 9, 2009

355 Crown Street,

http://www.marquerestaurant.com.au

Friday lunch: This was a tough reservation to get. On the answer-phone it says they’re now accepting bookings in November. It took me a month of calling every Thursday seeking cancellations before they finally gave me a table. And it’s easy to see why the restaurant is so popular. It’s a 3 hat place with a $45 lunch and it recently garnered an 18/20 review from the Sydney Morning Herald.

It’s a nicely understated restaurant too, without a fancy view to distract from the food. The tables are well sized and well spaced so it creates a nice relaxed vibe, which comes through in the service. I did expect a more formal experience, but I guess this is not what Australian dining is all about (no bad thing) and it didn’t distract from what is a confident operation.

The normal menu runs to $95 for 3 courses including all the additional extras: amuse-bouche etc. Our fixed menu was pared down, but we got the full experience for half the price.

 

Arpege Egg

Arpege Egg

First up as the pre-starter was the ‘Arpege egg’. This is a homage to Alain Passard’s restaurant in Paris where Mark Best has worked. It’s a softly simmered egg layered with whipped cream, sherry vinegar & maple syrup. I’ve eaten the one in France and this was just a little less subtle than the original with the sweet, salty, hot & cold flavours not quite working in unison. The grissini didn’t really work either, since it’s not entirely effective at soaking up liquid. However there are far worse ways to begin a meal.

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The bread was good, especially the sourdough – a nice chewy crumb with a crust that demanded some considerable mastication.

 

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

The entrée itself was a deconstructed Ceasar salad; my favourite kind of salad with the contrast of textures & strong flavours. The presentation made it more interesting than it had any right to be and pay more attention to what you’re eating – the shredded egg, the crumb and glorious fat caper. I’ve been known to ask for additional garlic in the Caesar dressing, but couldn’t really complain with such a well delivered dish. 

 

Mulloway with cucumber, yoghurt & charcoal potatoes

Mulloway with cucumber, yoghurt & charcoal potatoes

The main course maintained the momentum with a pan-roasted mulloway fillet served with that classic combination of cucumber, yoghurt and boiled potatoes. The twist here was the ‘charcoal’ potatoes which rocked. The potatoes were apparently rolled in ash after cooking then covered in squid ink. We were not the only enquiring table. The fish was beautiful – really crisp skin with succulent flesh. Just like the entrée, it was a simple plate of food executed with verve and a bit of imagination.

 

Sauterne custard & Caramel

Sauterne custard & Caramel

A pre-dessert was then presented – a Sauterne custard with caramel. It was faultless – rich, creamy, sweet with dark, indulgent hit of burnt sugar. It needed a bit of portion management to ensure the right mix of custard to caramel with every small spoonful…. I would have happily had this for this dessert.

 

Marshmallow with citrus fruits & lychee sorbet

Marshmallow with citrus fruits & lychee sorbet

The dessert itself didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the rest of the meal. The marshmallow was good, but in my mind it didn’t quite marry with the lychee sorbet and I found the strands of the citrus fruit a bit irritating to eat. Too tough to cut, too messy to eat as it was.

The meal was capped with a good coffee and very now, salted caramels. More caramels were also provided without question to prevent further squabbling.

This was overall an excellent meal. At $45 for 5 courses. I’ve had very few meals which provided as good as value for money. There’s interesting cooking happening here and unlike the comparative lunch mundanity of Est there was a lot on display to make me want to return.  The lunch menu changes on a weekly basis, which is good if you can get a regular table. But I’ll be back for dinner where I’m sure more unusual/expensive ingredients will be made to shine

 8/10

Ju-rin

August 9, 2009

316 Pacific Highway, Crows Nest

http://www.jurin.com.au

My hunt for good reasonably-priced Japanese food led me to Ju-rin in Crows Nest after a few mentions at Chowhound (http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/37), including excellent fish sourcing. This certainly looked a bit of a find, but what followed was one of those irritating restaurant experiences, that you get once in a while, which clouds otherwise an alright meal.

 The start of the meal was good. It’s hard to think of a better sight.

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The extremely reasonable lunch set menu was certainly inviting, with complete bento boxes about $18 dollars. Although we decided to go for the individual dishes from the daily specials board on the wall, we got served a set lunch anyway. We got given a beef teriyaki set with nice firm sushi and lightly battered tempura. We were expecting pork teriyaki and salad, which subsequently arrived. The set was good so we couldn’t really begrudge paying for it, though it was expected of us by staff. To add insult to injury the ordered gyoza never materialized…

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Also I spied some O-toro on the specials board for $12 and ordered it. If it’s on the menu, I never fail to order it. I was served up 4 pieces and charged $48. I don’t mind the cost, but I could have been advised that it was ‘per piece’ especially when other sushi/sashimi items were not being displayed as such. It was good though – soft, meaty, steak like. So was the Uni (however I’m led to believe from Mr. Yoshii that neither are actually in season and that both these seafood are probably farmed 😦

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My wife had to order Shabu-shabu – thin pieces of wagyu beef quickly boiled in broth and served with sesame sauce. It was insipid and in my mind a tragic way to treat meat. If a dish could look ‘unhappy’, this is it. I don’t plan to go out of my way to order it again, anytime soon.

This was a meal that disappointed, but mostly because of the service and charging of the unwary diner, especially when the restaurant was meant to represent excellent value for money. The food mostly was pretty good and it deserves a second chance. I will return for a dinner course menu and leave the ordering to the staff. You know sometimes the diner is their own worst enemy.

5/10

Spice I am

August 2, 2009

9o Wentworth Avenue

http://www.spiceiam.com/

Out of the plethora of Thai restaurants in Sydney it seems as though the same three always come up – Longrain, Sailors Thai & Spice I Am. So they were always going to be on my list to try. I was in Surry Hills during a morning and walked past the last on this list just as it was opening at 11.30am. It proved too tempting. A return trip to Yoshi could be postponed.

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It’s  a tiny place with about 10 small tables that rapidly fills up from 12pm as office workers arrive early to grab a seat. I was thrust a menu and ordered a quick lunch with a couple of house specialities.

I’ve generally been a little sniffy about Thai food – i.e. just stir fries & green/red curries. But you can over simplify most national cuisines… But if it’s tasty, then it’s tasty and the two dishes I had for lunch were terrific:

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Som Tum (Green Papaya Salad) – sliced papaya with dried shrimp, chili and peanuts. You’re meant to specify how hot you want this and I asked the waitress to decide…. It was lethal, but so, so good. A great textural dish with lovely sweet & sour packed with a heat which just grew and grew until you were gasping for something carbonated to douse it. You couldn’t really eat it in one go, so I had to return to it at intervals as the heat from each mouthful gradually receeded.

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I was glad to see some cooling rice with my other dish. This came with Crispy Pork Belly with (more) chili, chinese broccoli and oyster sauce. Another very simple dish which really hit the money. The pork belly was that great combination of crunchy fat with moist unctuous meat. It rocked. The chili behaved itself, the broccoli was nice and firm and the oyster sauce was light as it should be and not a cloying dish-spoiler it can be. I sat there a happy man, polishing off the dish, rationing my Coke with the remaining Som Tum.

It’s easy to see why this place is mentioned so much and popular. It’s good honest cooking with good flavours, well cooked/prepared for a decent price – $25. This restaurant makes it look so simple, that you wonder why aren’t there more places like this. Though having said that, there is a second branch in Darlinghurst, with apparently the same food in a flasher setting  at double the price. Why mess with the formula? I know I’ll be coming again, but staying well clear of Darlinghurst.

8.5/10