Archive for October, 2009

Bentley Redux

October 25, 2009

320 Crown Street

www.thebentley.com.au

I came here when I first arrived in Sydney about 3 months ago and had an excellent lunch. A wide variety of interesting dishes, showing good skill & verve.

Last Friday after a couple of martinis around the corner we decided to venture here. We were not in the mood for a formal meal so decided to sit at the bar and tuck into the tapas menu. Expectations were high and what followed was one of those really disappointing meals.

I had seen Brent Savage cook with Sergi Arola at the World Chef Showcase and when the discussion turned to the philosophy of tapas, Sergi’s view was one of keeping it natural since it the kind of cuisine which happens when you’re with friends.

At least it can be said that the tapas here was a talking point.

 

 Sydney Oct 030

We started with white anchovies on a stick with pistachio praline. Interesting texture, but the sharpness of the anchovy clanged against the nuttiness of the praline. This was accompanied by the house signature dish of parmesan custard & truffled asparagus.

I wanted to like this, making enthusiastic noises to my wife, but the custard was bland and the truffled asparagus killed the flavour, just making it a bit urgh…

 

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The evening was briefly rescued by a palatable cod & potato ‘mousse’ with crostini. It had a pleasant smooth blandness which went well with the wine we were drinking.

 

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After a slow cooked egg with almond crunch came the dish which proved the main talking point of the evening – spiced chicken with aioli. Sounds enticing doesn’t it? You imagine grilled/roasted pieces of succulent chicken. We got a plate of batter with tiny chicken pieces. I can imagine a chef trying this method out deep-frying tiny bits of chicken, but they clearly didn’t try to eat a whole/half dish of it. It was OK for a couple of forkfuls, but it looked so unappealing and as soon as you start thinking of batter, you feel queasy….

 

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For the ‘main course’ we had pressed lamb shoulder with tagine sauce. It was a fine dish – well cooked, soft, fibrous accompanied with a good sauce. We had to order the famous chickpea chips, which were again OK, but a bit too mealy to finish them all.

 

Having been here before and had a very good meal I purposefully ordered dishes I hadn’t had before and may have been guilty of ordering from the 2nd tier. Having said that Bentley has made its name on innovative tapas and most of the dishes were really poor.

Having said that I can see myself coming back for the main menu, but will give the tapas menu a wide berth.

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Sticky Bar

October 19, 2009

182 Campbell St

http://www.tablefor20.blogspot.com

6.3opm on a friday is the perfect time for a Martini. It’s the end of the working week and everyone needs a reward and a way to kickstart the weekend. The Martini was invented for this moment (or should have been). My search for a good bar led me to Sticky, tucked away in an alley in Surry Hills. It’s intentionally a tough place to find – rewarding the discerning drinker with a New York vibe in an old-school club setting. You even have to text a number on the door so someone can let you in. It sounds annoyingly trendy, but there’s no attitude here.

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Luckily the cocktails  do not disappoint. The charming & raffish staff know their onions and were happy to recommend interesting gins. Bombay Sapphire just doesn’t do it for me anymore. You’ve also got to love how it’s served – keeping the elixir cool. My wife, a cosmopolitan fiend really enjoyed her drinks as well.

We were early enough to grab a couple of very comfy armchairs and could have sat there all night. But after two martinis, I saw a third one looming… A third martini has always led to me doing something I regret, so we had to relinquish our seats and leave before the evening got out of hand.

This is a terrific bar. I will be back.

Longrain – Sydney

October 12, 2009

85 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills

www.longrain.com.au

Continuing our mission to try all things Thai in Sydney led us inevitably to Longrain, the one hat restaurant as famous for its cocktails as much as its food. It was a Tuesday so we were well behaved and let the cocktails be. My wife though continues to be amazed at my transformation from someone who’d previously dismissed Thai food out of hand to someone who can’t get enough. The cuisine in Sydney really is a different level to what I’ve had previously.

My first visit here and I was impressed by the layout and sense of space, which was not apparent from outside. The normal horror of shared tables did not materialise as the other diners are just out of arms reach across the table and its possible to be on a date without professing your love to the world. The lighting is also nicely seductive, but makes photo taking very difficult. Hence the shoddy quality of the below…

The menu full of sharing dishes is not really to my liking, but we had a fun, engaging waiting who was happy to give some half portions of curries. I guess this makes sharing a little easier.

 

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We begun with a salad of crispy duck, fish sauce, green mango and basil. This was a great start. A good balance of textures, with a nice sharp & sour kick. The duck itself was cooked on the bone, fat and all. It made the sharing in the dim light a little tricky, but we each had our equal share.

 

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We followed with a curry dish – braised beef shin with chilli & coriander. (Trust me it’s there in the photo….) The meat was really unctuous and spoon soft. The ‘gravy’ (!) was molasses sweet and soothing in its own way. It would have made a handy soup since there was a lot of it.

 

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Our final main dish were trout fillets wrapped in banana leaf with red curry young coconut & roasted rice. You can just about make it out…. Trout is great fish, but here it was beaten into submission by a really heavy spicing, which essentially destroyed all flavour. I expected subtlety and range of flavours,but they were non-existent and masked a lovely moist fish. It wasn’t even a dish which were inclined to finish, which says a lot.

 

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We finished with a Som Tum (as you do). This pretty much always lives up to expectations. This variation had a gentle beginning and a mighty kick after a few mouthfuls. It was a fine example.

 

We expected a lot from Longrain and it didn’t really live up to expectations. A couple of the dishes were very good, but the fish was a real disappointment. Though I’m prepared to put this down to poor ordering, it shouldn’t really happen in a restaurant of this calibre. This brings me to the pricing which hoffers around $40 a dish. At this price the expectations are high and it doesn’t quite meet them when compared to the value of Sailors Thai.  At the price it’s easy to hit $140 without trying and it needs to be a little better at this point.

I’ll go back, but it’s got some questions to answer.

Firefly

October 8, 2009

24 Young Street, Neutral Bay

http://www.fireflybar.com.au/

Sydney doesn’t have enough wine bars. It doesn’t have enough interesting drinking places full stop, especially in the North Shore. Even though I’ve only been here a few months I’ve found myself in the cavernous Oaks a few times, which is dangerous. .. So the Firefly is clearly filling a gaping void, but frustratingly it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

It’s one of those places where bills spiral out of control and the tapas inspired menu clearly tries too hard. And as for the pizzas…. they’re just a bit wrong…there’s no lightness or crispness of base and the saucing is heavy-handed. Yet….. the zucchini fries with sumac pretty much save the day.

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The sweetness, soft innards and firm crunch are great. Plus it’s easier to convince yourself they’re healthy. What’s not to love, apart from the fact they disappear too quickly.

If every bar serves these, you couldn’t stop them from opening. So watch what you order here, but as long as you get the zucchini fries everything will be OK.

Four in Hand

October 3, 2009

www.fourinhand.com.au

Budgeting can only last so long.. about a week.  We had to go out somewhere for Saturday night. We decided to avoid the usual suspects of Surry Hills restaurants and check out Four in Hand in Paddington. It appears a relatively low key one hat restaurant doing it’s own thing and turning out pretty inventive cuisine.

The restaurant itself is tiny, seating no more than 30 people. It adjoins a busy bar which was pretty rousy when we arrived. It ensures there’s a good buzz in terms of atmosphere, perfect for a Saturday night. However I’ve yet to get to grips with these kind of Australian bars which seem an uncomfortable halfway house between a bar & a pub. They’re not that relaxed and they’re not sophisticated. It makes ordering martinis fraught with anxiety. Yeah, I know I sound like a dick….

Anyway, back to the restaurant. We were early, but they had no problem seating us. It kicked off the evening where the service was enthusiastic and pleasant throughout the whole meal.

The menu is a real treat. About 5 options per course; all appealing, which is rare. Most restaurants normally chuck in a simple soup or terrine to pad out the menu and alleviate the pressure in the kitchen. There was none of that here. There was even an entrée special of pigs ears, which in my book, makes it immediately endearing.

Clearly with so much choice we opted for the tasting menu (apologies for picture quality. I’m not keen on using my flash in restaurants)..

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It kicked off with an amuse of fish soup with lemongrass. It made a welcome change to cauliflower or butternut squash soup. It was light and a perfect little taste.

 

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Next up was a tuna sashimi in a cool marjoram pea broth. It was sensational. Peas play well with anything and I’m a sucker for good sashimi. It was light as well as having great depth of flavour.

 

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A similar dish then followed – ocean trout with horseradish snow. This was the one dish I was kind of disappointed by. The ocean trout was clearly of good provenance, but the delicate flavour was pounced on by the bad-boy horseradish, and effectively left cowering in the corner. The accompanying beetroot just looked on, not wanting to get involved. It was not a dish of great harmony.

 

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The next course changed things considerably, moving this meal up a level in terms of memorability – veal tongue salad with sliced pickled vegetables. It takes real balls for a chef to serve something so unconventional and for many, unpalatable as part of a tasting menu.

The presentation was great, breaking up the ‘small plate’ mentality of ‘degus’. Having to share a dish brings people together. This time the contrast worked well- crunchy pickled radishes & cauliflower with the depth of the delightful tongue. An accompanying salsa verde brought it all together. It rocked.

 

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Another sharing dish brought the meal into the main course territory – beef short ribs, bone marrow, onion rings with celeriac puree. We divvied up the unctuous ribs and I was able to keep the bone-marrow. It’s a man thing… It was another good plate and well worked classic combination.

 

Continuing the meat theme the final main course was a plate of pork – confit belly, roast fillet with black pudding brownie and sage/onion dumplings. The fact there’s no accompanying photo means I was too busy getting stuck in. It was good.

 

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The cheese course made for a welcome break in the action. I didn’t care much for the unleavened bread, but the important part, the cheese was great – a cheddar, a blue, a brie. No notes were taken, so I can’t share the names, but even though the selection was limited it covered all the bases from hard to unpasteurised goat cheese. The conditioning was perfect.

 

 Sydney Oct 008

Our marathon finished with a f’ing awesome chocolate parfait with chocolate dust and a lightly salted caramel sauce. It was rich and creamy without being overpowering. I’m not a dessert fan, but this almost converted me….

So as you can tell, we thought this was a terrific meal. There was great variety, interesting combinations dished out with some verve. I particularly liked how the kitchen appears to be exploring the full range of tastes from enticing specials to having the nerve to serve a tongue salad.

Cooking of this variety deserves to get more attention. We just hope we can still easily get a table on our return.