Archive for July, 2010

Marque (2), Surry Hills

July 30, 2010

4/5 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills

We came here last year for a terrific value lunch and it was only a question of time till we returned for the full enchilada….It was Vanessa’s birthday and after a good martini at Sticky Bar and a confusing present we arrived for dinner.

Although a small venue it’s nice they don’t try and hem in the customers. Lots of space for couples to make small talk. It’s clearly the place for a special occasion. Service is pleasant and we don’t need any prompting to go for the degustation – nicely positioned as a journey through Marque’s most memorable dishes.

The well-known chaud-froid egg is served. As noted before, these are beginning to pop up increasingly regularly as restaurants with aspirations. It’s a great way to start a meal – sweet, bitter, creamy, salty.

The first course is almond jelly with blue swimmer crab, almond gazpacho sweet corn & avruga. This dish is equally about texture as taste, but unlike our recent meal at Manse, the crab is able to shine through. The dish with the almond & sweet corn is a little sweet, but the avruga manages to balance it out. We like.

The next dish was one of those thought-provoking dishes which although not exactly a dish to salivate over was memorable and interesting – Fine slices of abalone & radish with light crisp bread. Abalone is an acquired taste, being as far as I can tell primarily about texture. Al-dente if we’re kind. It is a food to be prized because of it. The radish provided nice contrast, but it’s a bit of a neutral dish. Not sure I’d order it again with enthusiasm, but abalone needs further investigation.

Another fish course followed – a beautifully cooked scampi with scampi anglaise & witlof. It was pleasing and simple. A dish that didn’t need much thought, just an appreciation of good flavours.

Our next dish was a highlight, again seeing the influence of L’Arpege, we were served seasonal vegetable with pork consomme. The vegetables were individual cooked and exceptional, but the dish was really made by savouriness of the consomme. Almost anything is improved with pork and it really brought out the vegetables’ flavour while creating an overall enjoyable dish. Loved it.

After that high we were looking forward to the roast muscovy duck. It was tasty tranche of meet, but really lacked a decent jus to bring the dish together.

Clearly no degustation would be complete without a wagyu course. Ours was was piece of sirloin served with beetroot sorbet and a sticky deep jus. It was a pretty intense course and complimented by a nice heavy shiraz. We really enjoyed the fact it was so butch. However the dish was slighly marred by korabi/beetroot (?) ribbons which were cumbersome, tough and a little wtf… not a spoiler though!

The desserts started and we were upsold an additional course not in the tasting menu. It was  framboise with cream, meringue and creme anglais. Framboise are truly delightful and not a fruit you readily come across. It was a pretty irresistible dish – indulgent, sweet, creamy. Awesome. We almost came to blows over it, fighting for the final spoonful.

The pre-dessert – The Sauternes custard was as written before lovely.

The final course was ‘chocolate mousse’. It was easily one of the best desserts I’ve eaten. It was kind of deconstructed with an aerated block of mousse with freeze dried chocolate, served with a salted caramel sauce. It rocked.

The dessert put the finishing touch to a very good meal, which ran the gamut from subtle, textural to gutsy dishes. Not all dishes were winners, but the range displayed and effort made this a meal greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s also evident that this is a restaurant which is constantly evolving, not just in techniques used but seeking inspiration from other cuisines. It makes it a place to keep a constant eye on and of course return to at some point.


Ad Lib, Pymble

July 22, 2010

1047 Pacific Highway, Pymble

I’ve been living in Turramurra on and off for several months. It’s a lovely leafy area, but seriously lacks good eating, so when Ad Lib opened in the immediate area it was like an oasis in the desert and had to be tried.

It’s a good old (but modern) french bistro – the sort of place which is perfect for a weeknight meal when the idea of cooking is too much to bear. It’s going to be very successful in this neighbourhood I think…

The restaurant has a great feel about it, as every bistro should – buzzy, loud and a touch frenetic. Service is unsually enthusiastic and you can’t help but know you’re going to have an enjoyable evening.

We start with coffin bay oysters, which are deliciously creamy without the huge hit of iodine. My kind of oyster.

I take the unusual step of starting with goats cheese tarte, which is as we all know a quiche, but written in a way which is easier for men to order. It’s oniony without the heavy-handedness of too much cheese. It’s actually pretty light.

The wife goes for onion soup. This is all about the beef stock and it’s deep, sweet and harmonious. The sort of dish that only comes from long slow cooking. Clearly it’s not exactly difficult to do a good onion soup, it just takes the application of a time and a bit of love. But it’s surprising how a lot of places, try and cut corners.

She follows up with a good tranche of fish on a bit of potato puree (which is clearly why she chose it..) It’s a confident and simple dish. It’s what good bistro cooking is all about. It goes down well.

I (clearly making up for ordering the quiche) go for the steak tartare. It’s a favourite. Again not a complex dish, but requires good ingredients and a bit of attention. It’s well mixed with a nice hit of tabasco. The only downer (if I recall correctly) is the lack of frites… This is criminal. Tartare, frites & a glass of brouilly is the proper combination.  Looking at the menu now, this has not been rectified, thank goodness.

Instead of the absent frites we opt for a recommended cauliflower gratin. It’s the only let down of the meal. The gratin is gloopy and hasn’t become as one with with the cauliflower. It’s more cream than is strictly necessary without savouriness of cheese (wow, can’t believe I said that).

We skip dessert, since it’s a school night, but are nicely satisfied with our meal. The place is still hectic as we leave and we know we’ll be back. Every neighbourhood needs a place like this. It’s just sods law that we’ve since moved away from the area…. We’ll just have to find an excuse to be back in the neighbourhood.

Toriciya, Cammeray

July 19, 2010

18 Cammeray Road, Cammeray

From one neighbourhood restaurant to another and this one felt like stepping into another country. A brilliantly quirky place which can only lead to a memorable evening. The fact that it’s located off the beaten track in residential Cammeray, just makes it even more incongruous.

There are only about 5 tables and we’re lucky to bag one. It’s clearly a family operation with a husband & wife team. The husband oversees the grill & the wife the front of house. We are handed a menu & hand written page of specials which just look like fun and pick a selection…

We (I…) start with a tiny dish of crab brains. It’s not often you see this on a menu, so you have to take advantage of the opportunity to order it – cold, creamy, rich with a slight offal note. It’s pretty nice. Not sure I’d order it everyday (Vanessa will be relieved)…..

We order the special of tuna sashimi. It’s as expected, fresh and meaty. It doesn’t disappoint.

Another special is a fried tofu which gets served with a dashi. It’s clearly good tofu, but is a little bland. Clearly we need to have paired it with something else….

We get a few yakitori (a speciality) – chicken thighs, pork loin and a single giblet skewer for me. They’re great – good marinade and a nice dipping sauce.

At the moment I can’t really go past an eggplant dish without ordering it and so I was able to get my fix grilled with bonito flakes & ginger. It was sweat and smokey and was a hit.

We close out a meal with a kind of beef croquette which seemed really popular in the restaurant. Can’t say I remember too much about this, but it tasted pretty fine.

So a broad disparate selection of dishes and it was a fun and engaging meal. It’s clearly a bit of an institution and we’ve loved the cultural differences and evident enthusiasm of our hosts as they poured our drinks and told us how to eat. We will be back.

The Manse, Adelaide

July 8, 2010

142 Tynte St, North Adelaide, SA

We’re away for the weekend and there’s always got to be one fine meal planned. So on a recommendation from the Sydney Good Food Guide (straying from its sphere of influence somewhat…) we decide to check out Manse.

It’s our first time in Adelaide. Not the most happening of cities, but alluring with a nice collegely feel. It’s approachable with an understated sophistication. I like it, especially with the easy access to SA’s riches. I know I’ll be back, before I leave.

Manse is itself is situated on a tree-lined avenue in a beautiful mansion. Yet the sign makes me feel a little apprehensive. The pink, grey & black signals the involvement of a fancy interior designer…. And as soon as we step into the restaurant my fears are confirmed. It’s all pink & big white fancy furniture. The tables are nicely spaced and sure it’s very comforting, but this is the kind of decor that demasculates. Men understand!

As long as the food delivers, it doesn’t really matter, (though clearly I’m not going to get a huge rare steak to reaffirm my masculinity). It being Saturday night, we start with cocktails (a martini for me of course) & settle in for the Grande Degustation.

The amuse-bouche is a coddled egg with cream & a dash of sherry. The influence of Alain Passard is clearly spreading and this is becoming a regular dish to serve. There’s nothing to fault and it bodes well.

We start ‘proper’ with sashimi of kingfish with iberico ham & corn mousse. It’s a really nicely conceived dish. The fish is lovely and it seems a shame to share it with the ham & sweetcorn. But the combinations work and we’re nicely buoyant.

Next up is lamb sweetbread with speck, pickled cabbage & worcestershire gel. I’m a big fan of sweetbread and they’re always a pleasing addition to a menu. Yet these are served luke warm and the rest of the plate is mostly comprised of sweet/sour flavours. As a result the overall flavour of the dish is a touch unbalanced, but the component parts are pleasant enough.

My wife is not a huge fan of sweetbreads. Glands aren’t to everyone’s liking, understandably. The restaurant happily substitutes a rabbit terrine which is competent and prettily served.

Next up we have blue swimmer crab with celeriac espuma with wild rice. This dish promises a lot, but the espuma & toasted rice makes this a really hard dish to like. It’s just extremely dry and desparately requires liquid to help it down. As a result the sweet, subtle crab gets a bit lost. It’s a shame and we quickly move on.

The next dish restores the spirits – Blue Eye Trevalla with glass noodle in a red cabbage consomme. It’s delightful. The fish lightly poached and the consomme is nicely sweet without being overpowering. It’s a bit of a winner. We polish off every last drop.

The restaurant hits its stride at just the right moment with another fine dish – Scotch fillet, with brisket, beetroot & horseradish. (What no carbs?). It doesn’t matter, the fillet is tender, but the real winner is the brisket, which knocks the other components off the plate. It’s sticky, unctuous and beautifully fibrous. I manage to eat my wife’s as well. Result.

We move into the 3rd part of the meal with a novel twist of chevre, fig, honey & filo pastry. Served as a constructed dish in its own right, it’s a very pleasing dish.

The pre-dessert is a simple & cleansing a kind of deconstructed orange mousse (i think..). It’s perfectly passable.

The final dish is a passionfruit cheesecake, raspberries, meringue and lemon ice-cream. It’s a fine end to the meal being light with intense fruit and some spherical cream action.

Overall we had a good meal, with some stand-out dishes. The only clanger being the much anticipated crab. It was accompanied by service which was as keen as I’ve ever experienced. Every order was greeted with acknowledgement of a decision well made. It was bordering on the obsequious, when I think a little more restraint would be appreciated. But it’s better than the opposite.

Too many restaurants take ‘style’ over ‘substance’ a little too far. And while the style of delivery here was a little overpowering, there’s clearly plenty of substance. I just think they need to let it shine through and perhaps lose some of the pink.

Star of Greece Cafe, Port Willunga, SA

July 4, 2010

1 Esplanade, Port Willunga, SA

A couple of months ago, we had a lovely weekend away in Adelaide and its surrounds. The first time for me in this part of the country and it was so very pleasant. Beautiful scenery, great wine and a relaxed vibe. We were able to cram in a fair bit over 3 days with the sort of planning I get enormous satisfaction from…. 6.30am flight from Sydney on Saturday morning, seamless car hire in Adelaide,  our first vineyard by 10.30am. First good meal booked for 1pm. In the words of Jorge, “That’s how I roll….”

The Star of Greece is perched over-looking the gulf of St.Vincent, several miles from McClaren Vale. It’s a beautiful setting and I’m a sucker for any place that looks out over a vast empty expanse.

The restaurant itself has the shabby chic theme going on – rustic & refined, which means distressed tables & finessed food. It’s pretty small without about 10 tables or so – with a few more outside if you’re keen to brave the bracing wind. But there’s no shortage of customers.

We find the service is a little haphazard – not exactly on the ball or willing to please. It’s slightly frustrating. A little charm would not have gone amiss. I guess this is what happens to institutions!

Anywhere, we go for a lightish meal, knowing that we have a larger meal planned for later. The menu is nicely accommodating allowing for simple lunches (falafel) and full on gastronomic experiences (truffles & duck fat – not together of course).

I start with a dish of scallops, abalone, compressed watermelon with the obligatory foam. It’s a thought-provoking dish, which goes beyond the traditional preparation of scallops adding in some interesting textures. The scallops are soft and yielding will the slivers of abalone are ‘al-dente’. The requisite sweetness is found in the compress watermelon. Compression is very en-vogue at the moment and I’m not sure it totally works, but it’s interesting and memorable dish none-the-less.

My wife opts for a simple dish of heirloom tomatoes & haloumi. I’m not a huge fan of the cheese in general. Salty rubber doesn’t exactly do it for me, but the tomatoes and dressing are spot on. The commitment to good quality ingredients are clear to see. and you can’t beat a good tomato..

It being a lightish meal, we both opt for a bruiser of a main course – crispy skinned barramundi with twice cooked lobster souffle, asparagus & celeriac puree. It’s full-on. The fish is as fresh and flakey as you’d expect. With the puree & the lovely asparagus it’s a lovely match. The souffle then turns up and kicks the rest of the plates arse. It’s uber-rich and decadent. We’re not sure it adds to the dish as a whole, but you can’t fault the effort. Most dishes are the sum of their parts, but this doesn’t quite manage it. But we’re more than happy for the souffle to be the plus-one. We persevere to finish it.

So it was a pleasant lunch, more so for the interesting food & location. With these sort of places, expectations are always raised, when the intention is to take a shack dining a make it a more memorable experience.  So you can’t be too harsh. The effort is in the right place and I’d be happy to check it out again.