Archive for October, 2010

Ormeggio at The Spit

October 28, 2010

d’Albora Marina, The Spit, Mosman

A Saturday night and I didn’t like the idea of heading to the city for a good meal. It’s either a bus or a taxi and sometimes it’s just too much of a hassle. So we looked a little closer to home and realised that Ormeggio was a short distance away. It’s situated on the Spit bridge in a picturesque location, which you don’t really get the full benefit of in the evening, which meant me asking for a view at the time of reservation a little pointless and laughable.

The restaurant itself is pretty big. On the evening we went it was full of dewy-eyed couples and families. I think it’s a little safe to say that this is par for the course in Mosman, so move on.

We start with the obligatory amuse-bouche:

It’s cream of corn (of course it is). The balance is a little out of whack. It tastes more of cream than corn. It’s quickly forgotten and we move swiftly on.

We decide to have a couple of oysters – They’re Claire-du-Lune and need no dressing, since they’re fresh, clean and not too briny. Our spirits are lifted.

The first courses arrive:

I opt for casoncelli filled with mortadella, pork and beef, served with burnt butter, sage and pancetta. It’s beautifully presented and the pasta is deliciously crisp with a great savoury flavours with the butter and sage adding (perhaps unnecessary) richness. It was extremely tasty, but I felt restrained by the presentation which demonstrated the relative paucity of the serving. Pasta is essentially comfort food and in my mind, it can’t come in small servings.

This dish may look a little odd, but it was excellent – beetroot risotto with gorgonzola. It was sweet with the cheese adding creaminess and a bit tang. It went down very well.

It geared us up for the main course:

We both got talked into the house special (“I’ll check with the chef, since we may only have a few left.”).  A traditional spit roast of duck, pork and quail cooked for 5 hours served with polenta.

The meats were stripped straight of the spit, piled high, surrounded by the cornmeal. It was undeniably tasty with the meat soft and flavoursome – properly seasoned with a smokey char. There was lots of pork and I certainly enjoyed a nice piece of quail, but the duck was seemingly MIA. Nevertheless it was a dish to persevere with the full-on meat and polenta combo.

We then finished with a chocolate ‘Barbajada’, caramel gelato, almond and mint crumble:

A picturesque dessert, which contained unmentioned coffee. In my book coffee only belongs in dessert as an espresso. It was not bad, but the flavours were relatively muted – not chocolately, caramel or almond enough, just a bit bland.

We had a very pleasant meal, I think, but I found this place a difficult restaurant to judge. The cooking was skillful and deserving of the attention it’s received, but there was little niggles about the dishes & how they were served that grated a bit. I think this has to do with the formality of the restaurant in the evening. I would suspect this restaurant comes into its own during the day, with the outdoor space, sun shining and views which creates a relaxed environment where the food can shine as part of the overall expeience as opposed to being the centre of attention.


Bau Truong

October 18, 2010

42 John Street, Cabramatta

One of the enjoyable things about Sydney are the diverse neighbourhoods and as the same with most cities it’s easy to get stuck in a routine, in the same neighbourhood and never really venturing out. Mosman/Cremorne is a sheltered enclave all of its own and doesn’t really represent the real Sydney. So it’s good to get out and explore, and that means going West.

I’ve checked out Parramatta a few times. It’s  a nice ferry trip with a pleasant park at the end and some interesting historical buildings, but not exactly a place to get excited about. But there are plenty of smaller communities with much recognised food of which I am trying to sample. It provides a perfect excuse to venture out.

And so we found ourselves in Cabramatta well known for it’s Vietnamese food. We had the excellent idea of visiting during the Moon Festival, so the pedestrianized streets were mobbed. It was the normal commercialized madness of free samples and cheap toys that no one really wants to buy.

Purely by chance we stumbled upon this restaurant, which proved to be a bit of a find. It was hectic & friendly. I’d been to Vietnam several years ago, but could remember little about the vagaries of the food, so we got the smiling staff to order for us. It was a slick operation and we were served in minutes.

We started with a beef papaya salad. It was sizeable  for the price – sweet, sour, zingy with some monster chilli heat in parts.

We followed this up with fresh spring rolls:

These were make your own- everything you needed to build a hundred different varieties – noodles, peanuts, rolls, grill chicken and bags of fresh herbs. It took us a while to get the hang of making the pancake rolls – putting the sheets into warm water – but it was great fun and made the meal.

We finished with a Vietnamese Pancake – a fried pancake with beansprouts, prawns & pork. It had a great crunch to it and and the surf ‘n’ turf combination was good, but it was a little on the oily side, as to be expected really. I still made every effort to finish it off.

I think we were in and out in under an hour, happy and full. It was great value and memorable. All you can want really. I’m looking forward to finding more authentic Vietnamese places. I just wish they were a little more convenient to get to. (it’s all about me….)

Neutral Bay Bar & Dining

October 15, 2010

132 Military Road, Neutral Bay

Sydney is deluged with Asian restaurants – thai, japanese, chinese etc. So it’s always heartening to see new places which follow a different path. This is especially true along Military Road which seems to have dozens of Thai restaurants in the space of a half a mile . It reminds me of shoe shops in developing countries, being the first sign of a prospering society. Maybe Thai Restaurants  is the Australian equivalent.

Bucking the trend then, Neutral Bay Bar & Dining from the people behind Glebe Point Diner is one of those classic diners which every neighbourhood should have – it’s relaxed, serving good simple food and takes the edge of the travails of the working week. It’s a perfect Friday night place if you’re of the age where you want a well made drink and a decent bite to eat without having to deal with pumping music or Gen Ys.

So that’s where we find ourselves. It’s a nice bar area, with one of those bartenders who cannot only mix a good martini, but impart important life advice.

It’s a good cold & dry Hendricks martini, with the obligatory cucumber to give it a clean taste. It goes down well. I’m tempted to order another, but dinner is on the cards.

The menu is simple with a focus on grills, but we decide to order the special of slow roasted duck for 2 served with quince.

It’s accompanied with a decent claret and a pommes puree. I get hungry again just looking at that picture. Everything you need to make a good evening. The duck is suitably yielding with good flavour. I normally prefer my duck medium-rare, but it holds up well to the slow cooking. The tart quince cuts through any residual fat. The only minor disappointment is the lack of copious saucing, especially with the butter rich potato. It is a dish to linger over, take our time and eek out the red wine. It’s extremely satisfying.

So, just a casual Friday evening meal, in a relaxed and sophisticated place. Good food with good service. It’s hard to ask for more in a place like this. NBB&D will serve as a good respite from the numerous Thai places and the hustle & bustle of Military Road .

Sailors Thai Restaurant, Sydney

October 8, 2010

I’d been wanting to visit the restaurant proper of Sailors Thai for a while. I’d never made it to Nahm in London, run by the same David Thompson and wanted to try refined Thai food where the reputation was made.

After a few random last minute attempts, we were able to obtain a table on Saturday night. This entailed a pre-dinner martini at Blu Bar at the Shangri-La, which was humming with the buzz of groups preparing for a big night out. I had to have my watery martini remade, but was compensated by the great views.

Anyway, on to the restaurant. I was quite surprised to see what a lively space it was. I expected more formality, but the place was oozing enthusiasm. It set the scene for a fun evening.

Service was charming. It’s always good to have servers who want to share their opinion and with the amount of interesting dishes we decided to go for the tasting menu (no real surprise)… The slightly novel approach here is to choose 2 entrees & 4 mains to share from the  menu.

The one dish that seems to be a must-try are the Yamba prawns with peanuts, chilli, coconut, lime & palm sugar on betel leaves. It’s what we started with.

It’s indeed a mind-blower with more flavour than the brain can comfortably handle. The sweetness of the prawn hits first, then all the other flavours pile in delivering a zinginess that has to be experienced to understand – sour, sharp, chilli. It’s a bit of a wow culinary moment and not easily forgotten.

Things calmed down a bit with a duck salad with asian celery, coriander

This was as expected competent & moreish, the relevative fattiness of the deck balanced against good sharp flavours. it was well enjoyed.

These two entrees were followed by the mains, which came in quick procession. So in no particular order:

braised beef ribs with lime, mint, coriander, chilli & shallots.

It was dark, unctuous, meaty and fiberous. Quite frankly everything you could wish for in a slow cooked beef dish. The herbs nicely stopped the sauce from being overwhelming and provided some necessary balance. It was  very good.

Next up was a Mulloway jungle curry

The curry had split, but it was easy to forgive with the flavours unaffected. The seafood was well cooked with a well balanced spice & fragrancy which didn’t overpower the fish.

We had another seafood dish and this was a crispy fish salad with Crispy fish salad with salmon &  salmon roe:

Beautifully presented it was an unusual dish with the cucumber, crispy skin accompanying the lightest of salmon curries with very little in the way of spice. It had a mild creamy consistency which didn’t make it immediately appetising, but it was certainly a pleasant dish to enjoy. If anything it served to break up the heavy spicing of the other dishes with the salmon skin providing an added textural dimension

The main dishes finished with caramelised pork hock with chilli & vinegar dressing:

This was another meaty sledgehammer of a dish and none the worse for it. The extensive use of vinegar is a relative novel thing for me and I enjoy how it cuts through the fattiness of pork. It combined with the sweetness of the meat and it’s a great dish to finish on.

We had a good range of dishes which showed the full variety and balance of Thai cooking, yet we were a little disappointed by how the main dishes were served. We expected a normal tasting menu with one dish at a time to concentrate on, but all the plates/bowls arrived within 10 minutes of each other, reducing the meal to traditional dining occasion. We had to pick our way through the various dishes without fully savouring them.

And continuing the theme of  ‘all at once’ dining we were served a dessert platter – a trio of 3 coconut puddings:

It may well be a sweeping judgement (which I’m good at), but in my experience most Asian cuisines do not produce memorable desserts. Sailors Thai didn’t do a lot to change my mind. The 3 pudding where all very similar – full-on sweet coconut flavours, just with different textural components. I couldn’t describe them in detail except to say there was a coconut sponge, a coconut sweet and a coconut blancmange. They were pleasant to a point and helped bring the meal to an end.

So even though we did not fully embrace how the meal was served and the dessert, this was a very good dinner and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with the ambience, service and great flavourful dishes. It was good value and we’ll certainly look to return, but this time prepare ourselves for a more relaxed sharing meal.