Archive for November, 2009


November 21, 2009

81 Christie Street, St. Leonards

It’s been ages since I’ve had a curry. I think it’s got something to do with the lack of friday night lager sessions and the fact that Thai food has replaced a curry as the obvious cheap/tasty option.

Maybe Indian just doesn’t excite that much anymore. You get into the habit of ordering a tikka-masala or a bhuna and it kind of ends up tasting the same (especially when you’ve had a few pints). In addition your fellow diners’ behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. I think my last curry was in Bath surrounded by lads on a stag-do which included a member of the royal family in some humorous get-up. …

Yet Nilgiri’s is the kind of place to restore your faith a little bit. For a start the staff were enthusiastic, which was refreshing. Also arriving just before 7pm we were able to take advantage of a ‘banquet’ menu for $26 enabling us to try a plethora of dishes.

These included starting with the well known Mini masala dosai:

A crisp wrap filled with potato and mustard seed curry with coconut chutney and lentil soup. It was good, with a subtlety you don’t often a find in Indian restaurants and made a welcome change from the normal popadoms and mango chutney. The coconut was particularly moreish. I’d have been happy just to eat this for the whole meal.

We were allowed to keep the chutney as we proceeded to the main events. 4 little curries:

We had a pumpkin and lentil curry, which was perhaps the weakest of the lot, with no pronounced flavours, though it was strangely comforting(!). The other vegetable curry was cauliflower (top right), which was lovely – a nice spicy note and a sauce you couldn’t help dip your naan into.

Of the two meat dishes, the most absorbing was the goat in a cinnamon and pepper stew. It was foreboding looking dish with the softest of meat, falling off the bone. The sauce had a growing heat that dissipates before the back of the throat. I wouldn’t say it was a favourite dish but it was a great partner to the other dishes – a ying to the yang.

The star was the Avala Kodi (bottom left) – a chicken curry with mustard seed and tumeric. This was classic in flavour and had a mild spicyness with the mustard providing almost a nuttiness of flavour which went really well with the thigh meat. a winner.


It was a good simple meal and a nice way to try a few dishes. They weren’t all perfect, but there’s clear skill and quality in the cooking which lends itself to a more sophisticated Indian dining occasion, more so than ‘a feed after a few pints’. We will be back.


Bistro Ortolan

November 8, 2009

134 Marion Street, Leichhardt

As part of our journey around Sydney’s best restaurants, this place was always going to be on the list. It has also polarised opinion among fellow bloggers with it’s full-on degustation.  We decided to check it out for ourselves, venturing on a friday evening.

It has the feel of a good neighbourhood restaurant – a small place with a warm welcome. With 2 hats proudly displayed you know all the focus is going to be on the food, with no million dollar view to speak of.

A well made martini (it was friday night) set the evening off well and it didn’t take much persuasion to tackle the tasting menu:

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We began with an iced tomato essence with a coffin bay virgin (?!) oyster. It certainly awoke the tastebuds with an oyster that delivered an extremely strong & iodine taste. No bad thing, especially with the accompanying drink providing a good antedote with a sweetness that brought the mouth back to the party.

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The first course was a brandade of salt cod & fennel salsa with poached egg (with gold leaf on top) accompanied with brioche and a caviar cream tuile. It was a well presented dish, which could be summed up in one word – comforting. It all came together in a creaminess which didn’t really make the most of the distinct ingredients.

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Next up was a delightful pappardelle of blue swimmer crab and a fat scallop in a seafood bisque. The scallop was generous, well seared and a perfect doneness and it contributed to a great dish, with the only frustration being the dish it was served in. It wasn’t exactly cutlery friendly.

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The fish courses finished with butter-poached fillet of Blue-Eye Trevalla with baby squid and pea ‘risotto’ – the risotto being made of squid. Again it was a well executed with the fish perfectly tender. I enjoyed the ‘rice’ as well and thought it an interesting idea. The runner beans were noticeable by their ordinariness amongst the indulgence.

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The Pot-au-feu of organic Burrawong chicken with foie gras and Jerusalem artichokes. This was another earthy dish. The chicken was excellent with a good ‘jus’ (what’s with this obsession with serving jus after the dish has arrived the table?).  The other ingredients could only pale into comparison.

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The final main was loin of venison came with bone marrow gnocchi, wild mushrooms (including a quinelle), white asparagus, cafe-de-paris croquette (v. strange) a skinned tomato and a celeriac puree. Wow, it was a lot to get through. Lots of good flavours – they we’re just not able to be distinctive or work in harmony. In many ways it’s like Real Madrid’s constant purchasing of galaticos with the expectation they’re all good enough to play as a team.

You can’t fault the generosity though.

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The cheese course signified the final stretch of the meal. It was a welcome sight after the amount we had eaten so far. The roquefort was excellent quality & temperature, yet pretty powerful. I could only eat it with the fine accompanying honeycomb and walnut toast to balance the flavour. Tellingly it was one of the few dishes which worked as an overall plate of food

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We had a welcome break of 10 minutes or so before the palate cleanser desert arrived of citrus fruit with grapefruit & wild lemon sorbets. It served a purpose, but it was a dish that did nothing for me since one of the few foods I have an aversion to is grapefruit (that & licquorice)

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The final course (phew!) was a good spiced chai souffle, rhubarb & custard tart with rhubarb sorbet. The souflle was lovely and I dug the tart. It was a good sweet end to the meal and I was grateful that it wasn’t rich chocolate!

We valiantly finished the excellent petit fours, paid our bill and struggled outside for fresh air. My wife pronounced our dinner as one of the best degustations she’d had, but at the time I felt a little disappointed, thinking it as a collection of dishes which overwhelmed through technique without a narrative or theme running through it.

Yet writing up this report, it’s a bit harsh to critique excellent technique and a restaurant which puts a lot of effort into its food. It is to be applauded. Yet for this restaurant to be really good it needs to be a little more restrained and confident in what it puts on the plate. Less can be more.

Ju Ge Mu & Shimbashi

November 2, 2009

246 Military Road, Neutral Bay

A midweek evening and we fancied a night out. Fellow bloggers had recommended this place and so we decided to give it ago. The fact that it wasn’t a Japanese place that laboured on sushi made it easier to sell into my wife. Plus as a restaurant(s) with a split personality a noodle place & a teppanyaki, it seemed fun.

It was easy to get a table early, but it filled up fast. The menu divided into different parts looked initially bewildering, but you can just go through and pick from a plethora of options.

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Clearly it proved difficult to pass the sake list without ordering.  I always go for warm sake, which is probably not really the sophisticated thing. But it always does the trick. Very pretty cups though.

We decide to share a broad selection of dishes to get a good feel and start with the aubergine.

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It’s sticky with miso and almost peanut butter like in texture and feel. I’m going through an aubergine phase at the moment and loved it, even though it’s not the easiest thing to eat with chopsticks. But I’m not complaining.

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We follow with what is probably the highlight of the meal – handmade soba noodles, served cold with duck broth. It sums up what is great about Japanese food – something simple & pure with great depth of flavour. The noodles with nice roughness are dunked into the broth and slurpingly inhaled. It all leads up to the drinking of the broth (diluted with a little water). It’s soothing & comforting; what every ‘stock’ should aspire to be.

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Next up is Tonkatsu, which is served with classic ‘bbq sauce’ and a bit of english mustard  – always pleasant to see…. It’s quality piece of pork – succulent & sweet. No complaints.

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We finish with the traditional pancake – Okonomiyaki. This is one filled with cabbage and some wagyu beef. It’s a good dish, spoiled by the addition of deep fried garlic slices, which are bitter & rank.  Yet they are easily removed and the rest of pancake can be enjoyed. I love cabbage and it’s slight dishwashing liquid taste. I struggled to finish it. So it was clear our meal had come to a halt…..

Service itself was engaging & attentive. The waitress at the end of the meal complemented us on our ordering. It doesn’t really take much to leave a good impression!

We thought this a really enjoyable restaurant – not too expensive, with authenticity and a good vibe. I’d go back again just for the noodles.

There is though far more to explore and duty will call.