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A Sydney food and restaurant blog

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    We're apparently due for a warmer summer this year in Sydney, which would make outdoor dining all the more appealing.

    A seafood and oyster restaurant doesn't get much more appealing than the outdoor Sydney Cove Oyster Bar at Circular Quay, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a backdrop and the Sydney Opera House in the yonder distance.

    Stefano Lubuana Brut at Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, Circular Quay
    Sydney Cove Oyster Bar has been in its waterside location since the late 1980s, which is commendable in itself. And with warmer weather due, their refreshed menu has all the hallmarks of a fantastic long lunch in the summer time.

    Even on a grey day, one can't complain about sparkling wine on the harbour, and what better accompaniments than freshly shucked oysters and a ray or two of sunshine through the clouds.

    Oyster shots: margarita (left) and sake (right)
    I'm not sure who decided oyster shots were a good idea for a starter, but I suppose we also didn't expect them to be proper alcoholic shots.

    The salt-rimmed tequila-strong margarita went down tough while the sake shot also had seasoned wakame seaweed and soy sauce for a savoury finish with chew. The oyster gets a little lost amid the flavours and strong alcohol while the lemon wedges are apparently for sucking on post shot.

    Assorted Sydney rock and Pacific oysters
    With the oyster selection, I asked for a completely mixed dozen of oysters - in variety and toppings - which I don't think the restaurant normally offers.

    Oysters with granita
    We started with the colourful granita-topped oysters, two each of Sydney rocks from Port Stephens and Pacifics from the Hawkesbury River.

    The bright citrus flavours of the granita ranged from quite sweet to aptly sour, forming interesting flavour combinations with the oysters. I think best pairing was the lemon ice on a Pacific oyster.

    Oysters with cucumber and white balsamic
    I've not come across cucumber and white balsamic vineagar topped oysters before, and what a combination it is.

    The juliennes of cucumber offer a clean platform for the oyster while the white balsamic gives the minerally mouthful both a sweet and tart hit that's so very appetising.

    Oysters and sparkling wine
    Lastly, but by no means least, the natural oysters show off the true flavours of the molluscs. A fresh Sydney rock with a couple drops of lemon juice, followed by sparkling wine is pure and utter bliss.

    Aside from the must-do oyster and shellfish part of the menu, the entrees and mains are all incredibly enticing.

    Zucchini flowers filled with ricotta, pinenuts and parsley served with lemon aioli
    Zucchini flowers seem to be one of those dishes that few can attest to not liking - I reckon the deep frying and cheese might have something to do with it.

    This seafood-free version has an impressively crisp batter and is filled with ricotta cheese, pine nuts and parsley, and are just lovely with a bit of lemon and sunshine.

    Farmed Per Sé Spanish sturgeon caviar
    We couldn't resist a sampling of the caviar on offer, which we're told varies with what's available seasonally.

    The 2.5 gram serving comes on a minute mother of pearl caviar spoon with a bit of toast and crème fraiche, as is a traditional serving manner we're told.

    Per Sé caviar with crème fraîche on toast
    A delicate spread of crème fraiche on the crunchy toast, followed by a few black fish eggs per bite - so this is what luxury tastes like.

    The caviar is not as salty as I expected, and quite briney although the creaminess and carbohydrates negate that to a point. I could definitely learn to like caviar.

    Sydney Cove fish pie with blue eye trevalla, smoked trout, roasted leek and fennel
    We decided to share mains as there were two in particular that appealed to us both. First, the restaurant's signature fish pie, presented with a puffy dome of pastry.

    Sydney Cove fish pie innards
    Inside we discovered a wealth of fish chunks; mostly the trevalla with some trout which gave great flavour to the lightly creamy sauce. The leek and fennel were just the perfect vegetable additions to the fish pie with fresh dill. It's also quite the generous serve.

    Bouillabaisse with saffron-infused tomato broth, blue claw yabbies, scampi,
    king prawns, mussels and fish fillets 
    There was probably more excitement about the bouillabaisse, and rightly so as it was a stunning plate that arrived to the table.

    Piled up with seafood, the scampi and yabbies most prominently, the deep red sauce just beckoned diners to dive in with fingers or the sourdough bread served alongside.

    The saffron-infused broth was quite heavenly, in no way taking the shine away from the well cooked shellfish. The blue claw yabbies topped the list, while the king prawns and just-cooked mussels weren't far behind.

    I think I also remember a couple of varieties of fish in the bouillabaisse, while the only thing missing was some rouille on the bread, although that's just nitpicking a great and also generous dish.

    Wild mushrooms, tarragon and truffle oil
    We'd opted for the mushroom dish on the side which thankfully had more tarragon flavour than truffle oil. I quite adore mushrooms so the assortment of oyster, enoki and shiitake mushrooms was both a tasty and healthy side dish.

    After a fair whack of food, especially seafood, and a couple of glasses of sparkling, dessert was fairly far from my mind.

    Petit fours plate
    I could be, and was convinced into a petit fours offering, which in this case was a plate of chocolates - quite gorgeous handmade ones at that.

    There was an appropriate amount of swooning at the chocolate covered marshmallow, decorated with nuts and freeze dried berries, while the paper-wrapped fudge made its way into my bag for home.

    A good couple of hours later, I'm sure I could have lingered even longer had the sun been out completely. It was everything you could want from the perfect weekend seafood lunch: a bit of sunshine, a bit more sparkling and oysters on the harbour - and it would seem Sydney Cove Oyster Bar is just the place for it.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Sydney Cove Oyster Bar.

    Sydney Cove Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

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    Marrickville Festival 2012, Marrickville and Illawarra Roads
    I popped my Marrickville Festival cherry over the weekend with my first outing to the huge inner west street festival.

    With the onset of spring, it is truly festival season in Sydney and the muggy weekend weather complied for the most part, certainly improving beverage sales.

    Festival crowds on Illawarra Road
    Taking over parts of both Marrickville and Illawarra Roads, Marrickville Festival is about as big a street festival as I've ever seen, with a myriad of stalls and colour down the middle of both main roads.

    Kids rock climbing
    There was plenty of markets type stalls, music, entertainment for the kids, community representation and of course, food, with many a festival favourite to be seen and had.

    Fairy floss stall

    Deep fried potato spiral
    This was actually the very first time I had tried the gimmicky spiral cut potato, deep fried on a skewer, which seem popular at all festivals these days.

    With a choice of seasonings, the chilli and paprika gave the lightly battered potato colour and a flavour boost. My spiralled potato was so enjoyable I was left wondering why I've not tried it before.

    Pig on the spit at the Feather and Bone stall
    The pig roasting on a spit at the Feather and Bone stall did a good job of attracting hungry festival-goers, with healthy queues for their meat filled bun offerings.

    Roast pork roll from Feather and Bone stall
    The roast pork roll with apple sauce a lettuce seemed a little light on pork and featured an unpleasant helping of cartilage, although the cinnamon tinged apple sauce was a bright spot.

    Pickles and preserves from the Cornersmith stall
    Popular local café, Cornersmith had samples of their very own pickles and preserves going - the vivid yellow piccalili a total winner - and refreshing blood orange cordial by the plastic glass.

    Main music stage
    As per the Surry Hills Festival,Glebe Street Fair and Newtown Festival, Marrickville Festival offers a platform for up-and-coming musical talent, often local musicians, to perform on a big stage. The acts we saw through the day ranged from metal to jazz to rap.

    Festival crowd in Marrickville Road
    The food stalls on Marrickville Road demonstrated the exceptional variety of cuisines available in Marrickville.

    Multiculturalism at its best meant Malaysian chicken satay next to Greek loukoumades next to Vietnamese rice paper rolls next to Spanish paella next to Nepalese momos next to Italian piadinas.

    Deep frying Greek loukoumades

    Grilling chicken satay

    Healthy looking salads and wraps

    Seafood paella

    South American food offerings 
    I have Marrickville Festival to thank for my coming across South American arepasfor the very first time.

    Looking like a very thick tortilla, these ground corn bases straddled the pizza and tortilla concepts and looked pretty tempting (especially the chorizo option).

    Empanada with aji sauce
    But I was taken by the golden-hued empanadas, fresh out of a deep fryer and recommended eaten with a fresh aji salsa.

    Featuring a slightly chewy corn meal casing with a soft pulled beef and vegetable filling, these piping hot babies were easily some of the best and tastiest variation of an empanada I've ever had - I could have had the four all to myself.

    Music stage on Illawarra Road

    Furniture by Curb Collective

    An artfully decorated coffee van
    Marrickville Festival 2012 - what a fabulous community event showcasing a very diverse and exciting inner west suburb. I'm looking forward to next year's already!

    See more photos on my Facebook page.

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  • 10/28/12--13:30: Queenies: Jamaican me hungry
  • The chopping and changing in Surry Hills restaurants continues with the rise and rise of focused, themed eateries.

    An ambiguous, middle-of-the-road bistro can hardly compete with the likes of modern Spanish tapas, authentic Mexican or fun-filled Jamaican - the latter of which is found at Queenies; the transformed upstairs floor of the renewed The Forresters pub and restaurant.

    Coconut daiquiri at Queenies, Corner of Foveaux and Riley Streets, Surry Hills
    Boasting "pan tropical specialities", the Queenies menu is designed by Drink and Dine Group's executive chef Jamie Thomas who is also responsible for eats at The Carrington, The Norfolk and soon-to-open Santa Barbara in Kings Cross (where Piano Room used to be - Thomas spills that it will be a "USA-sian barbeque" style menu).

    Invited to sample Queenies' Jamaican food offerings, it was a feast littered with jerk hot spice mix and all manner of new ingredients and flavour combinations that gave unique insight into Caribbean cuisine.

    The cocktail menu features various tropics-inspired drinks, such as the quite sweet coconut daiquri of white rum and probably Malibu liqueur, served in a margarita glass with a chilli salt rim.

    Pickled cucumber
    Wewerestartedondrinks (including440ml cans of Jamaican Red Stripe lager) and some chunks of lightly pickled cucumber, daintily spiced and garnished with toasted coconut shreds - the latter which are scattered regularly across the menu.

    Prawn, mango and ginger bammy
    The tortilla-esque bammy is served much like a taco: a flavourful protein and vegetable filling with a flat bread which in this case is made of ground cassava.

    The grilled, thick bammy isn't heavy or stodgy as it may look, and is a filling platform for some whole, grilled prawns, sweet sauce, mango and coconut shreds.

    Pulled pork and pineapple bammy
    The pulled pork bammy is served with a pineapple and coriander kind-of salsa, where the ripe fruit pairs exceptionally well with the tender pork, while radish and coconut slivers add further freshness.

    Coconut soft shell crab
    A basket of soft shell crab received a welcome reception, served with "hotstepper" sauce which Thomas explains is pretty much a Thai nahm jim chilli dipping sauce.

    The crunchy batter isn't particularly strong in coconut flavour but is sure to satisfy Sydney's soft shell crab obsession.

    Curried oxtail patties
    It was chef Thomas himself who highlighted that the curried oxtail patties bore a strong resemblance to the oxtail empanadas at Spanish-themed The Carrington, but then, Jamaican food does take inspiration from a very wide range.

    These hot, golden packets were my favourites from the snacks portion of the Queenies menu, filled with juicy, yielding oxtail meat and vegetables, and with not too much of a noticeable curry aroma.

    Calypso coffee ribs
    The snack-sized serving of pork ribs looked incredibly tender from appearances alone. They get that way after a 48-hour water bath at 65 degrees Celcius, to then be basted in a sweet barbeque marinade with just hints of coffee bitterness.

    Bbq jerk corn with coconut
    The corn on the cob on a stick was a pretty sight, though not the neatest to eat. Coated with more shredded coconut and I think a jerk mayonnaise, the barbequed corn was an unexpectedly sweet offering.

    Hellshire ceviche - snapper, avocado, mango and chilli
    The advent of mango season is making me very happy indeed, and the sweetness it added to the snapper ceviche was right on the mark for a summery starter.

    The sliced, lime juice-marinated snapper was fresh and tinged with not hot chillies, coriander and avocado, eaten Mexican tostada style on tortilla chips, where every crunchy mouthful was a party of sweetness, zing, spice and creaminess.

    Pushcart chicken wings
    The not deep fried chicken wings are a relatively daring move in a city covered in fried wings. The trimmed drumettes were basted in a sweet sauce similar to the ribs' marinade and seemed pretty simple compared to some of the more ambitiously authentic dishes.

    Sweet potato fries with spiced mayonnaise
    The sweet potato fries are textbook specimens; thick cut and all sweet fluffiness on the inside. They're served  in a fantastically heavy black bowl with a yellow, spiced mayonnaise that's barely necessary.

    Goat curry with okra, sweet potato, toasted coconut and dirty rice
    My recommendation would be not to gorge on all the snacks (do as I say, not as I do) if you plan to hit up a few main dishes, which all sound deliciously tempting.

    The goat curry, a very traditional Jamaican dish, was aromatic and creamy with coconut and hints of spice, while the tender, well-flavoured lamb-like goat meat came off the bone incredibly easily.

    Dirty rice with coriander, spring onions, mint and allspice
    The bottom of the curry bowl also had some of the awesomely-named 'dirty rice' but we had an additional bowl for good measure.

    Cooked to a firm softness, almost Indian style, these individual grains of rice were tossed through with a healthy helping of coriander, chopped spring onion and mint leaves: an ideally herbaceous side to soak up the rich goat curry sauce.

    Jungle slaw - cabbage, radish, coriander, lime, jerk mayo
    While the rice was a unique side dish, I was smitten with the jungle slaw of sliced cabbage, radish, coriander and mango, in a zingy lime dressing. It was the ultimate refreshing salad that was just the thing with lots and lots of meat.

    Bbq jerk chicken with jungle slaw
    The barbequed jerk chicken comes with a side of the jungle slaw, balancing its dark, sticky grilled jerk seasoning coating.

    Comprising various parts of a whole chicken, the flesh is impressively tender and moist for a grilled bird, while the sweet, spiced coating gave all new, hot perspective to finger-licking good chicken.

    Jerk pork neck served with sweet potato fries, jungle slaw, salsa and bread rolls
    Given the feast already laid out on the table, there was some disbelief that the jerk pork neck also arrived; itself a full main offering for at least two hungry eaters.

    It's served with bread rolls for a DIY bun session: shred some pork (which seemed to be spicier than the chicken's jerk seasoning), add some slaw and cucumber salsa, with sweet potato fries on the side and you've got a full-blown Jamaican slider fest.

    Kingston Kreme doughnuts
    In normal circumstances, dessert would just not be a consideration for me after so much food already. But with the kitchen conspiring against me, we were presented with hot, sugar-coated doughnuts in an egg carton.

    The doughnuts themselves had a bit of spice to them, while the jerk custard was certainly an unusual dessert offering alongside chocolate sauce.

    Piña colada dessert
    Our other dessert was a piña colada sundae of sorts, with cherry coulis, coconut ice cream, super juicy compressed pineapple and shaved coconut. The coconut ice cream was divine and this is the sort of lighter, not-so-sweet dessert that's right up my alley.

    Some of the decor at Queenies
    The decor at Queenies, like most Drink and Dine venues, is fun and a bit kitsch with an inexplicable white tiger head, fake fruit and flowers, and wooden bowl light features about the walls. The Jamaican music adds plenty to the restaurant's casual and relaxed atmosphere while the food menu is familiar enough to be undaunting.

    So, be prepared for an absolute tropical feast fit for a king, or indeed, Queenies, when you walk upstairs at The Forresters. Many thanks to Jamie Thomas for the hospitality - even just looking at the photos now, Jamaican me hungry.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Jamie Thomas and Queenies.

    Queenies on Urbanspoon

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    As we pulled up to Rose Bay ferry wharf, it was clear that the effort gone into sourcing an all-white outfit (tan heels aside) for the first ever Dîner en Blanc Sydney was going to be worth it.

    Part of the Crave festival just ended, this promised to be a Sydney dining event like no other. The waiting crowd at the ferry wharf, all resplendent in white against the shimmering water on Saturday afternoon, was visibly excited and well prepared.

    Crowds dressed in white for Dîner en Blanc Sydney
    Dîner en Blanc is a Parisian phenomenon which started 24 years ago. Essentially a mass picnic in a secret, prestigious, city site, Dîner en Blanc is made spectacular by the dress code of pure white elegance.

    Never have I seen so many men in white suits and ladies in outfits ranging from casual white tees with white jeans and sun dresses, to chic cocktail dresses and full-blown gowns.

    Crowds dressed in white and all prepared
    With the dress code down pat, it was a matter of 1,500 people getting to a secret dining location from numerous meeting points – and we were lucky to have a clear-skied evening.

    Boarding the ferry at Rose Bay wharf
    Wheeling white chairs and fold-up tables, lugging picnic baskets and white foam boxes, the all-white crowd at Rose Bay ferry wharf became quite the spectacle, even making it into a few tourist photo snaps and videos.

    Dîner en Blanc in front of the MCA
    Hopping onto a public ferry with bemused public travellers, we headed unexpectedly towards the city, passing all the suspected Sydney harbour island locations.

    It was only as we pulled around the Sydney Opera House that a sea of white in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) was revealed to us – and what a sight.

    Dîner en Blanc Sydney on the MCA lawn
    White chairs, white clothed tables and of course, all the white outfits. As we made our way from Circular Quay wharf to the MCA lawn, we were stopped multiple times by tourists and bystanders who queried the white spectacle.

    I’m not sure if they were expecting a celebrity wedding over an all-white picnic dinner party, but they were all suitably impressed with the collective efforts of Dîner en Blanc Sydney already.

    Entering Dîner en Blanc Sydney

    Dîner en Blanc DJ
    The glitzy welcoming host and already pumping music were the background to white-clad participants setting up their tables and chairs in allocated spaces.

    White table settings
    The sheer thought and effort gone into some of the table settings was astonishing – think flower bouquets, helium balloons, artistic centrepieces and of course, all white crockery and napery – and fully appreciated by all, adding plenty to the already electric atmosphere.

    Long white tables
    With many, many thanks to Liquid Ideas, I joined a long table of 50 lucky people who didn't have to prepare anything other than an outfit, including Joanna Savill, Simon Thomsen, Myffy Rigby, Colin Fassnidge and Hayden Quinn.

    Champagne Pol Roger

    Our table setting
    It was absolute decadence, seated with the Opera House in the backdrop and the Harbour Bridge just over there, white chrysanthemums and daisies in jars, and Champagne Pol Roger on pour all night long.

    The white crowd amasses

    Waving white napkins in the air
    A Mexican wave of sorts – the official waving of white serviettes in the air – signalled the commencement of the night’s festivities, with the MCA awash in spinning, flapping whiteness.

    Waving napkins in the air
    Many tables brought their own picnic dinners – whole lobsters were sighted – but many went the pre-purchased hamper option by JOHNANDPETER catering, with large white boxes for two really able to feed about four picnickers.

    Food hamper by JOHNANDPETER caterinf
    Dinner in a box was a gourmet picnic feast, starting with a seed-topped Iggy’s mini baguette which was perfect for tearing and smooshing into the indulgent jar of duck liver parfait with cornichons.

    It was also ideal with the Old Telegraph Road Jackson’s Track uber-stinky washed rind, which was too tempting to be left as a cheese course with the pear and fantastic, whole wheat Misura crackers. Raw breakfast radishes with tops left on was the height of sophistication, eaten with Lescure butter and bread.

    Food hamper
    The main course was a whole roast chicken – between two people. And if that wasn’t enough, there were sides of kipfler potatoes with sauce gribiche and delightful green beans with hazelnut oil vinaigrette.

    I almost couldn’t look at the large salted caramel macaron for all the leftover chicken, although the stinky cheese survived the cab ride home.

    Tables of white

    The white dinner
    The night continued with much admiration of nearby outfits, while the Pol Roger flowed amid much stuffing of faces.

    Sparklers in celebration
    Sparklers were distributed by the organisers to be lit in unison for yet another breathtaking moment.

    Imagine 1,500 sparklers in the air, waved about with joy and glee by the most sophisticated and elegant gathering I think I may have ever seen.

    Sparklers in the air
    The vibe and evening quickly turned to party mode with the switch to 80s classic pop hits springing up a mini dance floor in front of the elevated DJ. It truly felt like a wedding where there are a few familiar faces and loads of new faces – all smiling and happy to have a chat or clink a glass.

    As it headed towards 10pm, white picnickers started to make moves, packing up their white furniture and dissipating into the dark night. Duos and groups of white moved in an outward radius from the spot that was hours earlier a party in full swing, and even earlier, just a lawn in front of a museum.

    There was a quiet knowing between white-outfitted people that we’d just been a part of something very special and completely, surprisingly unknown to most.

    With a glimmer of white in our eyes and white outfits at the ready, we’ll be waiting eagerly for next year’s Dîner en Blanc Sydney.

    See more photos on my Facebook page and the official Dîner en Blanc Sydney video from the night below.

    Food, booze and shoes attended Dîner en Blanc Sydney as a guest of Liquid Ideas.

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    Earlier this year I spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the ninth of several posts of foodbooze and sights in Japan.

    Kyoto Station, Kyoto, Japan
    The former imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is a day trip's travel away from Osaka by train. It is renowned for its reverent temples and shrines, and is completely another side of Japan compared to bustling Tokyo.

    Kyoto Tower, opposite the station
    I had an expectation that I'd be transported back centuries on arrival to Kyoto, although the station and facing Kyoto Tower turned out to be pretty modern.

    A city teeming with international and Japanese tourists, the station has information centres catering to temple seekers and an all-day hop-on hop-off bus ticket. Even then, the temples and sites are much more spaced out in distance that I thought. Best to eat first.

    Ten-don - tempura chicken rice bowl with pickles and small udon noodles
    We'd gotten a late start and it was already well into lunch time when we got into the heart of Kyoto. Near the first temple we were to visit, there were a couple of touristy shops and basically only one eatery.

    Lucky for us they had gorgeously light tempura and delicious udon noodles on the menu. My ten-don rice bowl topped with battered chicken breast pieces was satisfyingly filling if not a bit heavy ahead of a day of sightseeing.

    Udon with vegetable tempura
    I quite like how in some noodle venues in Japan, diners can choose their preferred servings sizes of a dish - all for the same price. It prevents unnecessary wastage; accounts for the perhaps differing male and female eating capacities; and is just really thoughtful.

    The udon soup ordered above was a medium serving from memory with some fabulously light, unoily tempura battered vegetables and prawn.

    Kinkakuji - Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto
    I'm pretty sure I learnt about the Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion during my high school Japanese years but nothing really prepares one for the beauty of a gold-gilt Zen Buddhist temple on the edge of a pond.

    Each of the three levels of the structure are meant to reflect different Japanese architectural styles, while the top two levels are covered in genuine gold leaf. The temple houses Buddhist relics and is set in appropriately relaxing, if not completely Zen, gardens.

    Walls of the Kyoto Imperial Palace
    From Kinkakuji we headed by bus to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, completely unaware of visiting times, days and permissions (unfortunately, I hadn't done my research ahead of the day trip).

    Even just walking around the perimeter of the grand palace, it was definitely an ideal setting for anyone keen to live out ninja fantasies of running fights across the rooftops.

    Kyoto houses

    Gates of Yasaka Jinja, Gion, Kyoto
    We headed to Gion late in the afternoon purposely to increase our chances of seeing geisha or more accurately, maiko apprentices in the streets of old Gion.

    The Yasaka Jinja Shinto shrine sits before the huge Maruyama Park in Gion. The Shinto faith intrigues me so just watching worshippers' routines at the shrine was an educational experience.

    Torii gate entrance

    Tied paper fortunes

    Yasaka Jinja Shinto shrine

    Lanterns at an entrance

    Maruyama Park, Gion, Kyoto

    Hanami-koji Street, Gion, Kyoto
    Gion is the traditional area of Kyoto and while some streets don't look too different from city roads, there are streets where unglamorous-looking tea houses and restaurants sit, and presumably further into the back street, houses where geisha and maiko live.

    Buildings in Gion

    Side street in Gion
    The older style buildings in these back streets was much more along the lines of what I expected from Gion, and Kyoto generally. There were plenty of Japanese tourists in search of maiko in these streets, with a tour group leader even asking a shop keeper if he had any in his store.

    Yakitori restaurant in Gion
    To refuel after a hot day of touristy walking and bus travel about Kyoto, we ended up finding quite a modern-looking yakitori grilled chicken on skewers restaurant in one of the side streets.

    A maiko after sending off a client
    After dinner as we headed back to the main road to find our way back to Osaka, we spied a maiko across the road, sending off a businessman in a taxi after presumably dinner or drinks with said client.

    In traditional platform geta wooden clogs, she walked slowly and delicately along the footpath in an ornate kimono and obi, with hair accessories swinging.

    Up closer, we could see the maiko's detailed application of make-up: white face, neck and upper back in a distinctive pattern, tiny red painted lips and dramatic black around the eyes.

    maiko acrossing the road in Gion
    We actually spotted another maiko waiting at the same street a crossing, descended upon by both international and Japanese tourists asking to take photos. She looked so shy, but obliging, as she posed for mobile phone cameras that I actually felt bad for the young girl and just admired her from a distance.

    With our geisha/maiko spotting checked off quite inadvertently before a quick drink in a swish back lane bar, we got the bus back to Kyoto Station and the train back to Osaka with complete ease. How I miss public transport in Japan.

    More Japan posts to come - back to Tokyo. See more photos from my Japan trip on my Facebook page.

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    In a sign of the times, it's getting difficult to keep track of restaurant discounts and specials in Sydney. Like who's doing cheap slider/taco/fried chicken specials night or who's got Friday lunch specials. Meanwhile, deal vouchers seem to be waning while the latest is restaurant booking websites offering discounts for specific restaurants at specific times during the week.

    The concept is to pay one of these booking sites a nominal fee (up to $10) to make a real time booking at a participating restaurant. You then receive a discount (ranging from 15-30%) on the entire bill without the need to proffer crumpled vouchers or secret code words.

    Bill with Full Society discount from The Alibi, Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
    I was credited by Full Society (thanks Joe) to road-test a reservation from the site's range of restaurants spanning Sydney CBD, Surry HillsDarlinghurst and more. Availabilities tend not to be on Friday or Saturday nights, say, but it depends on the individual restaurant and their chosen allocations.

    We booked in to new-ish The Alibi in Darlinghurst for a light modern Japanese meal, with a kitchen featuring Tetsuya's and Sake experience, and a fitout evoking an old jazz club. Overcoats and magnifying glasses of the private eye detective variety would not be out of place at all at The Alibi.

    Mr Hito cocktail
    The moodily dark venue features table settings over a staggered dining room, with what looked like a proper bar out the back. There's a sense of theatricality and I'm pretty sure a Cluedo party would go down well; perhaps even more easily than the unique Mr Hito cocktail.

    It's a rum-based mojito with the usual mint and lime - and miso paste. The miso doesn't push the cocktail into savoury territory, nor is it particularly discernible, but it's certainly no longer a lightly flavoured, fruity mojito.

    Crab leaves - blue swimmer crab on betel leaf with young ginger, chiili and amazu ponzu
    The seafood-heavy starters menu is incredibly tempting, and the very friendly and helpful Kiwi waiter steered us towards the crowd favourites.

    The crab betel leaves, drippingly juicy with the ponzu dressing, have a nice amount of blue swimmer flesh but are somewhat overwhelmed with the sweetness of the sauce. Nonetheless, it's a fresh couple of mouthfuls to start the meal.

    Seared scallop and ocean trout tartare with amazu ponzu  and white truffle oil
    I was completely thrown by the scallop and ocean trout tartare which is served in a martini glass with what looked like a gigantic seared scallop sitting in dressing. The salmon roe topped 'scallop' is in fact diced scallop reformed into a large puck, then torched.

    The scallop sits on the ocean trout tartare which is submerged in the martini glass. With teaspoons and a bit of everything in each mouthful, this unexpected presentation of seafood tartare was actually deliciously textural with bang-on flavours.

    Crispy tofu, pan tossed Asian mushroom and iceberg lettuce
    As we were only eating very lightly, we opted for one main and one side. There's a full range of proteins on The Alibi's mains menu, toeing more of a fusion line than strictly Japanese.

    The vegetarian option of crisp tofu with a range of mushrooms looked great: three bricks of lightly battered and fried tofu which could have used more seasoning, and the heavily miso-sauced mushrooms including king browns and deep fried enoki mushrooms.

    Judging by the heavy seasoning of the mushrooms, I imagine eating them all together with the tofu and lettuce was the proper procedure.

    Warm potato salad - crushed kipfler potato, fennel, Sicilian olive and truffle oil
    The warm potato salad didn't really seem to be a Japanese style one as I'd expected. While the fennel and watercress were refreshing touches, there was a lot of Spanish onion and a richness contributed by the truffle oil.

    On request for the bill, it arrived with a Full Society discount line item and the 20% discount without question. We paid for our discounted meal and then tipped most of the savings, but still left with the feeling of  having had value through the Full Society booking.

    There's certainly a value proposition in these discounted website bookings, and I imagine especially so in a group dining situation. It's then just a matter of having enough restaurants and variety to keep subscribers interested. For me, Full Society brought me to The Alibi where I'm pretty sure it was Mr Hito, in the dining room, with a discount booking.

    The Alibi Darlinghurst on Urbanspoon

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    Crave Sydney International Food Festival signalled the beginning of festival season in Sydney although its end signals a perhaps scary start to the year-end festive season.

    month back now, the sprinkling rain and cold deterred few from the inaugural Green Square Gourmet Food Festival as a part of Crave, so congratulations go to the organisers for a job very well done.

    Pony rides as part of the Green Square Gourmet Food Festival, Joynton Park,
    Victoria Park, Green Square
    Dreamt up and put together by Martin, the outdoor festival in Joynton Park within the Victoria Park complex had both kids and food lovers covered.

    There were pony rides, a petting farm, restaurant and produce stalls, a bar and, luckily given the weather, a big marquee with plenty of seating.

    Kids' Audi driving track

    A llama in the petting zoo

    Fruit and vegetable carvings

    Paella by Bocata
    The festival provided an opportunity for Green Square to feature restaurants and providores from the area and neighbouring Surry Hills, Redfern, Alexandria and so forth - and what a gourmet bounty it was.

    Yellow beef curry by Longrain
    With Noodle Markets commitments as well, Longrain was in full festival swing in October. Their yellow beef curry was mildly spicy, while the soft beef pieces must have been cooked for hours and hours.

    The curry's spicy sauce and fluffy white rice were only enhanced by the vegetable pickle on top.

    Penne with beef ragu from Adamo's Pasta
    Great value was had at the Adamo's Pasta stall with rich, filling bowls of beef ragu penne for only $5.

    Not only was it value for money, it was darn well one of the best pastas I've had - certainly coming from a bain marie into a biodegradable bowl, and even comparing to some eateries - with the impressively al dente penne tubes holding up a very robust tomato and red wine ragu.

    Fresh mozzarella being stretched at the Salt Meats Cheese stall
    I was introduced to Salt Meats Cheese (which sits next to The Grounds of Alexandria) by Jeremy Martin of Martin, and was glad to be able to sample their goodies at the festival.

    Mozzarella is one of my all-time favourite cheeses and having learnt to make it recently, I was only more appreciative watching the guy at the stall stretch the curds into beautiful balls of mozzarella.

    Salt Meats Cheese are doing some pretty awesome things with their fresh cow's and buffalo milk mozzarella that take me back to my time spent in Italy - quite a feat for a locally-made cheese.

    Cheese sampling at the Salt Meats Cheese stall
    See more photos from the Green Square Gourmet Food Festival here on my Facebook page.

    Pop-Up Long Dinner

    Later in the evening, amid the grey skies and threatening winds, the festivities continued in Joynton Park with a pop-up Long Dinner hosted by Martin.

    The chilly weather rather challenged the cocktail dress code - it would have been a stunning set-up were it a balmy spring night. Nonetheless, the themed marquee was a pretty sight in the middle of the park.

    Marquee and crowd for Long Dinner as part of the
    Green Square Gourmet Food Festival 
    Surrounded by high rise apartment buildings, the marquee looked to be holding steady as about 200 people sipped wines by Swinging Bridge (apt, really, given the wind) and Pimms cocktails with natural oysters and peppery prawn crackers to start the night.

    Tables set up for the Long Dinner
    Three long tables were set up beneath the open-sided marquee while a live music act took the stage at the front. Professional waitstaff added a sense of refinement to the evening while the bottomless bottles of wine was reminiscent of a wedding.

    Entrees being plated in the kitchen
    I was allowed to sneak into the makeshift tent kitchen where the night's dinner was being prepared by Danks Street Depot, Longrain and The French House (also in Danks Street, Waterloo).

    Martin Boetz of Longrain (left) and Jared Ingersoll of Danks Street Depot (right)
    Food was in fact being prepared by the the men themselves: Jared Ingersoll of Danks Street Depot and Martin Boetz of Longrain, who also joined the long dinner when they could leave the kitchen.

    Bread and butter

    Salad of cauliflower, corn and cucumber

    Beetroot and carrot salad
    Sitting among new faces and couple of restaurateurs, dinner was a meal of shared courses, starting with bread and spring-appropriate salads of cauliflower and corn, and beetroot and carrot.

    Charcuterie plate by Danks Street Depot
    Next, Ingersoll's generous charcuterie platter of velvety duck liver pâté, orange-hued salmon rillettes and hunk of veal terrine could have been the meal itself, so rich and decadent it was.

    I couldn't pick a favourite but the brandy-toned pâté was quite incredible.

    Boetz tends to the yellow curry
    Boetz headed back into the kitchen to plate and finish the main course: a yellow curry of duck, served with rice and cucumber chilli pickles.

    Cucumber pickles

    Yellow duck curry by Longrain
    I loved that there was a bigger heat kick in the pickle than the mild yellow curry which dressed the impeccably tender and juicy duck legs and breasts.

    There was plenty of duck to go around and it took a lot in me to not finish off the shared bowl of curry and rice, and call it a night. A lot.

    Assorted mini tarts by The French House
    And so there was room for dessert; a huge selection of tarts and small bits from The French House that ensured no one would be tasting them all. The chocolate tart was as good as it was cute, while the white chocolate covered profiterole was a custard-filled delight.

    Rain and lightning timed itself well to celebrate the close of dinner and the day overall of the Green Square Gourmet Food Festival.

    Many thanks go to Martin for the very well executed event - from music to decorations and of course, the food and booze, it was a long dinner to remember, and not for the free light show at the end either. See you next year!

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Long Dinner as a guest of Martin.

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    Outdoors and indoors, it's not a bad view at North Bondi Italian Food - the casual and now estranged sister restaurant of Icebergs at the other end of Australia's most famous beach.

    Following a sunny and windy day out at this year's Sculpture by the Sea (see my photos here - I go from Tamarama to Bondi), nothing sounded better than a drink and a casual Italian menu aside sparkling Bondi Beach.

    The view from North Bondi Italian Food, Ramsgate Avenue, North Bondi Beach
    Robert Marchetti's North Bondi Italian Food (or NBIF) fills the ground floor beneath the North Bondi RSL Club, with well-heeled, -dressed and -tanned bodies filling the bar and restaurant on the early Sunday evening.

    The vibe is decidedly casual but stylish with denim-shorted staff, sunnies abound, cutlery at the table, menus doubling as placemats, and good Italian sensibilities to the cocktail, beer and wines list.

    The bar at NBIF
    At one end of the spectrum, I've walked in with sandy thongs - sitting between tourists and families - looking out to the other end of the spectrum: a balcony of stiletto-ed clotheshorses who I'm pretty sure haven't touched the sandy beach.

    Patruni e Sutta beer
    The beer list featured a number of Italian imports - and the ones I hadn't seen before obviously had to be tried. The Patruna e Sutta from Sicily was a little bitter for my palate but easy-drinking nonetheless.

    Menebrea Beer
    The Menebrea beer from Biella in northern Piedmont was a little heavier with lovely nutty tones and is definitely my pick of the two I sampled.

    Complimentary bread and olive oil
    The basket of two white breads is served with NBIF's own, irresistible, fruity olive oil which sits with the cutlery set into a table cavity at every table.

    Robert Marchetti's culatello
    The menu listing of Robert Marchetti's salumi speaks my language. Made exclusively using black Berkshire pigs, the salami and other cured meats are equally tantalising.

    We ended up choosing the culatello - cured pork like prosciutto (from the leg) but rather coming from the pig's rump.

    Served tissue paper-thin, the culatello is more divine than any prosciutto I've had. Rich with a collar of fat as well as marbling, the spiced edge added pops of flavour to the gorgeously salty cured pork.

    Spaghetti vongole
    To mains, there is so much to choose from that I struggled somewhat and retreated to the safety of pasta. However, it appears I made the mistake of trying to go healthy, with the cheese, cream and ragu free option of spaghetti vongole.

    Arriving to the table with a glass bowl over the top for the clam shells, the spaghetti was cooked simply and traditionally with white wine, garlic, parsley and olive oil, and needed a little seasoning which was available at the table.

    Mouthfuls of the pasta with the small clams were fresh and so appropriate for the beach setting while the clam-less bites were a little uninspired.

    Fusili carbonara
    There were high expectations for the carbonara, which used long spiral fusili pasta. The first bite of pasta was a bit short of al dente while most of it was fine in the very cheesey sauce.

    I imagine that it was large cubes of guanciale cured pork jowl scattered throughout but I'm not certain as my past experiences of guanciale have been more tender and deliciously fatty.

    Rocket and fennel salald
    Having stupidly forgone the eggplant parmigiana side, the flat rocket with fennel side dish was a must-have with the pasta mains, and seemed to have every leaf dressed liberally with oil and vinegar.

    Inside NBIF
    Having yet to learn to go easy on the bread in the beginning of a meal, especially when there's pasta involved later, dessert wasn't going to happen.

    But just sitting, watching the Bondi world go by was sweet enough. With Sculptures ticked off for the year and a full tummy, it was the perfect prelude to summer by the beach.

    North Bondi Italian Food on Urbanspoon

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    For me, gin and tonic was the white-spirit bar drink graduation from vodka, lime and soda. Sophisticated, classic and tasting a million times better, it was an easy step up to G&Ts.

    Tanqueray gin at a media event, Zeta Bar, Hilton Sydney, George Street
    Tanqueray London Dry Gin recently launched a rather sexy global campaign, 'Tonight We Tanqueray', expounding the virtues of starting a night out right - with a Tanqueray and tonic, or T&T more conveniently.

    Keep an eye out for the classy billboards and taxi adverts, or indeed, throughout November in Sydney, the Tanqueray Fleet of London black cabs that you may well be able to hail to start the night out.

    Tanqueray and tonic
    Also launched this month, select bars across Sydney will be serving T&Ts in huge bespoke green stemmed glasses that could almost double as a bowl.

    The glassware apparently brings out the botanical flavours of the gin, and keeps the drink cooler for longer with the addition of lots of ice.

    Tanqueray brand ambassador Barry Chalmers
    Tanqueray's Australian brand ambassador is Barry Chalmers (of The Roosevelt and previously Eau de Vie) who detailed the history of gin and Tanqueray one fine Friday afternoon for a group at Zeta Bar.

    Tanqueray gin kit
    Created in 1810 by Londoner Charles Tanqueray, I've always known gin to have fantastical botanical characteristics. In Tanqueray they are specifically: juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root and liquorice.

    Given the historical belief in the medicinal properties of juniper berries (prescribed for tapeworm by the Egyptians) and that also of quinine-based tonic water (historically used as malaria treatment), I've deduced that gin and tonics must be good for me too, especially when garnished with a wealth of fresh fruits and herbs.

    A classic T&T ('recipe' at the bottom of this post) will have Tanqueray gin, of course, ice, tonic water and a lime wedge squeezed and for garnish. Bartenders are now riffing on the classic with their own tonics and ideas on garnishes for T&Ts with a twist.

    Hand-chipped ice
    One nifty trick to a mixed drink like gin and tonic is ice. Lots of ice in a drink is not a bad thing at all. Plenty of ice means the temperature of a drink is lower overall and less likely to melt ice, as opposed to less ice in a drink which warms faster and hence melts ice faster too.

    Huge blocks of hand-chipped ice are all the rage with bartenders nowadays, and is rather gorgeous in a rocks glass and a nip of your poison of choice.

    Soda bottles

    Barry's Bespoke Tonic
    The next ingredient is tonic of which there are now artisanal options available in addition to your classic supermarket brands.

    Taking it a step further, Chalmers has concocted his own Barry's Bespoke Tonic especially for the Tanqueray event, using quinine, grapefruit and lime zest, lemongrass stalks, rose water, orange blossom water, sugar and citric acid.

    Lime wedges and other garnishes

    Mint leaves and other garnishes
    Lastly, a garnish. While lime is still a standard requirement, there are a myriad of additional fruit and herb options that complement the aromatics of Tanqueray gin.

    On offer for our session was lemon and lime, an assortment of berries, ruby grapefruit, cucumber, mint and coriander.

    My bespoke Tanqueray and tonic
    My DIY T&T comprised Barry's Bespoke Tonic on a huge lump of ice, lime, strawberries, blueberries and coriander. It ended up being a pretty mix that exuded exotic summers.

    I'm not sure that the whole blueberries added much to taste, but Barry's Bespoke Tonic was a real flavour sensation. Who would have thought that a T&T I made myself would be the best one I've sipped to date (thanks Barry!).

    Throughout the T&T session we were responsibly served canapes from Zeta Bar, including a deliciously stunning, tongue-numbing gin and tonic sorbet.

    White anchovy on crispy bread, onion puree

    Duck rillettes en croute, cornichons and caper mayonnaise

    Tartlet of spanner crab with pickled mango

    Compressed rockmelon, asparagus & tomato relish

    Prawn tempura, preserved lemon mayonnaise

    Goat's cheese tartlet with pickled vegetables

    Mushroom arancini with garlic sauce

    Sesame crusted tuna with babaganoush crispy crostini

    Tanqueray and tonic sorbet

    Custom Tanqueray and tonic glasses

    The Classic Tanqueray & Tonic - recipe (1 standard drink):

    30ml measure of Tanqueray London Dry Gin
    Premium quality tonic water
    Fresh lime wedge and a lime wheel

    Fill the glass two-thirds with ice. Place a lime wheel on top and pour 30ml of Tanqueray through the lime. Follow it through with tonic, then take the lime wedge, rim the glass, squeeze the drink.

    Tanqueray ice display
    See more photos from the event on my Facebook page and one of the very awesome 'Tonight We Tanqueray' advertising campaigns below.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Tanqueray event as a guest, with thanks to One Green Bean.

    Zeta Bar on Urbanspoon

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    Earlier this year I spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the tenth of several posts of foodbooze and sights in Japan.

    I was determined to try Japanese kaiseki style multi-course dining. One Saturday night we trawled online for something in Ginza that would have availability at late notice, which is how we came across the vaguely familiar-sounding Michiba Washoku Tateno.

    Michiba, as in Rokusaburo Michiba of the original Iron Chef fame. Apparently, his style of traditional Japanese cuisine has spawned a professional following and as an avid fan of the 1990s Japanese television cooking series, I was sold.

    First course at Michiba Washoku Tateno, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan
    We had no trouble getting a reservation, except perhaps the language barrier, which then transpired into a 12-course dinner with complete Japanese menu and very little English spoken.

    The restaurant is fairly compact, featuring counter seating at the semi open kitchen, and a few rooms with sliding doors - each room hosting a number of tables. It was all quite formal so we chose to sit at the counter where the chefs could watch us with as much interest as we them.

    With sake ordered from an extensive drinks menu, we started with tiny, deep fried ayu sweetfish, artfully coiled this way and that. The three very crisp, whole fish were served with a young ginger shoot, possibly pickled, and a most unusual, skin-on potato-like vegetable that was mysteriously delightful.

    Second and third courses
    The next two courses arrived as tall shot glasses chilling in a huge bowl of crushed ice. The first was a fish paste or custard, topped with a dashi stock-based sauce and a sea grass, I think, eaten from the glass using miniscule teaspoons.

    Third course
    The other glass featured a colourful skewer of prawn, daikon pickled radish, onion, carrot, crab leg and cornichon, submerged in a lightly tart sauce. Eating the bite- sized pieces from a stick added an air of casualness to the solemn ambience.

    Fourth course
    I was quite excited at the sight of the next course: a sea urchin topped with layers of lightly salty seaweed. Despite not being a big fan of uni sea urchin roe, I was looking forward to tasting cooked uni for the first time.

    Steamed uni sea urchin roe
    Carefully working around the black spikes of the sea urchin shell, the very soft uni was sweeter than its raw version, and without the sometimes bitter, iodine flavour which I so detest.

    In fact, after this steamed version served with a touch of a complex soy-based sauce to each mouthful, I could say that I actually like uni.

    Uni - all gone

    Fifth course
    After the enlightening sea urchin course came another learning experience: a sashimi course served with a Himalayan salt block.

    While there was also traditional soy sauce and wasabi, the concept of the salt block was an exciting, new approach to raw seafood.

    Squeezing lime onto a Himalayan salt block
    The idea was to squeeze some of the small, green-skinned citrus (more tart than a lime) juice onto the salt block, and use chopsticks to swipe the sashimi over the salt and juice a two or three times, depending on your salt eating preferences.

    The sashimi selection included a whole, large raw prawn, hiramasa kingfish and a white fish that was sliced with skin intact and poached lightly so that it resembled a flower. It was quite remarkable, and served with a dot of umeboshi pickled plum sauce, if my memory serves me correctly.

    Most familiar was the slice of raw kingfish, which was lightened with the citrus and capable of holding up to three salty swipes of the block.

    The poached fish had a chewiness to it, which I would probably put down to the skin while the large kuruma ebi prawn was my favourite: creamy, sweet, firm and sea fresh.

    Main course/s
    A collection of five small dishes formed the main offering - each looking painstakingly and artfully pretty and petite.

    From the top, there was a gorgeous, delicate chawanmushi steamed egg custard flavoured with soy - one of my favourite Japanese dishes where it's all about subtlety. To its left was an interesting, hand-formed corn tofu, studded with kernels of sweet corn.

    Shishito pepper with mochi cheese
    This lightly battered shishito green pepper as split and stuffed with the curious mochi cheese, which combines a sticky glutinous rice texture with mild cheese. In essence, the filling tasted like cheese but had a glutinous mouth feel that was a few steps past cheese stringiness.

    In the cute, bright yellow vessel was a piece of anago salt water eel, which is less fatty than unagi fresh water eel. Indeed, I prefer the anago's soft, flaking texture and sweet flavour over the usual grilled fresh water varieties.

    Dried fish
    Most unusual as part of the main course was the long, narrow, needle-like fish, served dried on a pile of grated and seasoned daikon radish. Tasty as it was, it seemed less like a dinner option than a traditional breakfast one.

    Eleventh course
    The next course of okra soup was certainly a first for me. Just imagine the gooey, snotty texture of okra blended into a soup with a few prawn pieces. The bubbly, sticky, green soup didn't go down all that easily.

    Twelfth course
    The Himalayan salt block reappeared for our final savoury course. I'd gotten a taste for good soba buckwheat noodles in Japan, and these, made fresh in-house, were excellent.

    Eaten cold, zaru soba style, you can really taste the buckwheat flour and even the water they're made with when eaten in this textural fashion, with finely sliced shiso leaves and wasabi on the side to taste.

    The dainty sizes of the previous 12 savoury courses meant there was no issue squeezing in dessert: a milky pudding topped with a nutty bean caramel, and served alongside a segment of watermelon that was likely to be one of those insanely-priced ones from depa-chika department store basement food halls.

    Green tea
    We were also offered matcha green tea made in traditional style with powdered green tea and a chasen bamboo whisk. The end result presented to us was a bowl of foamy-topped hot tea, restorative and comforting from the first sip.

    In true Michiba style, we were provided with paper menus with our courses listed in traditional Japanese calligraphy: vertically down the page from right to left.

    With a few new food experiences and unfamiliar sights, it was a special meal that definitely ranked as our most expensive in Japan.

    More Japan posts to come. See photos from my Japan trip on my Facebook page.

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    "To serve customers and give them the happiness they've come looking for, you have to understand the power of cooking. The strength of a restaurant is its soul."
    - Michel Bras, father to Sebastien Bras

    So says one of Europe's most celebrated three-star Michelin chefs. In cinemas from 29 November, Step Up To The Plate (Entre les Bras) is a film that follows the story of the Bras family and restaurant over three generations in southern France.

    Step Up To The Plate (Entre les Bras)
    (Image courtesy of Curious Film and TM Publicity)
    "The story of the Bras is that of a family, a place, and the handing-down from generation to generation. We inevitably have a relationship with the place we live in and with our forefathers, as well as a sense of wonder at elsewhere. It's a coherent, uncomplicated whole." - Sebastien Bras, son to Michel Bras

    "It's above all a film about the relationship between a father and his son. But I think the question is well defined thanks to cooking, which is at the heart of the filial relationship - after all, we feed our children, don't we?"
    - Paul Lacoste, writer and director of Step Up To The Plate (Entre les Bras)

    Win one of 10 double passes to see Step Up To The Plate!

    Food, Booze and Shoes is giving away 10 double passes to see Step Up To The Plate, with thanks to Curious Distribution and TM Publicity.

    To enter the giveaway, email  foodboozeshoes @ gmail . com (without the spaces) answering the below:

    "Name three emotions you expect and want to experience when dining in a restaurant."

    Giveaway closes on Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 8.30pm AEST. Food, Booze and Shoes will randomly select and notify winners on the same day. Winners have 48 hours to provide postal details to receive their passes.

    Terms & conditions
    Giveaway only open to Australian residents. Postal details will be used for the purposes of sending the giveaway tickets only.
    Passes not valid Saturdays after 5pm, public holidays or cinema discount days.
    Not valid for Gold Class or Vmax at Event Cinemas, Greater Union, Birch Carroll & Coyle or Village Cinemas, Hoyts La Premiere, Directors Suite, Bean Bag Cinema, Xtremescreen, IMAX or special events, Regency Cinelounge, cinema Euroipa, hayden Cremorne orpheum, Roseville Cinema, State Cinema Hobart, Nova Deluxe, United Avalon or United Collaroy.
    Valid even with No Free Ticket restrictions.

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    Earlier this year Surry Hills restaurant veteran El Bulli Spanish Tapas moved into larger premises on the same stretch of Elizabeth Street, near Cleveland Street.

    Expanding at least three-fold in size, the new El Bulli now easily caters for groups, which Saturday nights seem to attract. There's also now a full-size bar, live music and a private room which could host separate functions altogether.

    Ensalada de tomate - Layers of vine ripened tomatoes, Spanish onion and fresh basil with
    vinaigrette dressing
    Booked for the early sitting (and needing to be out by 8.30pm), our large-ish Saturday night group left decision-making to one person for ease, given the dauntingly lengthy menu that's broken down into nibbles, skewers, small dishes, mains, salads and so on.

    The rest of us focused on the sangria and earthy Doña Paula Los Cardos malbec, and not the neighbouring hen's party. From the ensalada section of the menu, the tomato salad of sliced tomato and Spanish onion was a healthy start.

    Albondigas de Paella - Traditional paella with chicken and chorizo, rolled into balls,
    fried and  drizzled with aioli
    The paella balls were an interesting addition to the tapas menu (hello arancini?), with saffron-spiced rice innards to the crisp crumb and aioli topping.

    Gambas al Ajillo - Pan fried prawns in garlic and oil with a hint of chilli oil
    It's hard to go past prawns at tapas, especially when they're piping hot, huge, tail-on specimens with loads of garlic and parsley.

    Champiñones al Ajillo - Sauteed mushrooms in garlic, parsley, white wine and olive oil
    Then came the biggest dish of mushrooms I've ever seen, but particularly so in a tapas setting. I was glad we had a large group to polish off the fresh mushrooms, fragrant with garlic and parsley.

    Albondigas al Tuco - Traditional Spanish meatballs served with tomato salsa
    Albondigas meat balls are my must-order at tapas, as filling as they can be. There's something about minced beef in a rich tomato sauce that makes the likes of bolognese sauce and albondigas a winner.

    Chorizo a la Sidra - Pan fried chorizo and Spanish onion in a cider glaze
    I wouldn't be surprised if chorizo is Australia's most popular sausage now, having well and truly taken off and invaded menus and dishes of all sorts.

    Personally, I like them sliced and well-charred while the version cooked with cider makes it a less intense porky experience.

    Asparagus con jamon - Asparagus wrapped in jamon with balsamic glaze
    The artful presentation of the asparagus wrapped in jamon cured ham somewhat made up for the petite serving.

    We also had quite the sizable pot of nicely cooked mussels in a tomato and parsley sauce, and patatas bravas which were not crisp and completely unexpectedly, crazy spicy.

    It was a nice surprise seeing the tapas dishes go so far in a group setting, with some extra-huge sized tapas dishes like the mushroom and even the mussels satisfying the group.

    Churros to share was the call from the dessert fiends, served warm with ice cream, piped dulce de leche caramel, and a shower of sugar and cinnamon.

    The new, bigger El Bulli seems to be operating smoothly in its new, bigger digs and certainly taking to the challenge of groups, hen's nights and bigger shoes to fill.

    El Bulli Spanish Tapas on Urbanspoon

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    At a month away, it's certainly not too early to be talking Christmas. But who has thought about Christmas dinner or lunch menus as yet?

    Fear not, Peter Gilmore,  Electrolux cooking ambassador and executive chef of three-hatted Quay Restaurant, is happy to share some tips for stress-free (or at least stress-reduced) Christmas cooking.

    Peter Gilmore for the Electrolux Masterclass, Quay Restaurant, Circular Quay
    To me, Christmas food is synonymous with sunshine, children's laughter, water fights, the ripping of wrapping paper and a little bit of indulgence. So whether it's the full roast, a seafood feast or outdoor barbeque, the quintessential Australian Christmas lunch is less about the food than the company and surroundings.

    Peter Gilmore preparing live marron
    Nonetheless, Gilmore's festive season menu is relatively simple and all about letting our gorgeous local produce feature. Gilmore thinks roast turkey is boring, but he reasons that our summer Christmas is prime for devouring our excellent seafood choices.

    With marron - best bought live, placed in iced water to induce a "coma" and killed swiftly with a knife down the middle of the head - it's such a beautiful and uniquely Australian crustacean that little needs to be done to it.

    Fresh water marron with herb butter, aioli, young leaf and flower salad
    Gilmore grilled the halved marron in a non-stick pan and served them with an exquisite herb butter comprising parsley, chervil and chives and Gilmore's favoured Girgar Danish-style Australian cultured butter.

    Lobster and scampi are also ideal in this fashion, although the latter is difficult to source live, says Gilmore.

    Alongside was a simply dressed micro herb, French breakfast radish and flower salad, in a naturalistic style that has become Quay's signature.

    The result was a swoon-worthy dish: sweet with the freshness of the marron, boosted into uber-luxe territory with the herb butter, and brought back to earth with the refreshing salad.

    Roasted rib of Angus beef
    For the main meal, Gilmore had a huge roasted rib of Rangers Valley grain-fed Angus beef, sourced from Vic's Meats, ready and resting.

    In the Electrolux convection oven for 30 minutes at 200 degrees Celcius, and then two hours at 150 degrees Celcius, the meat is cooked to a medium-rare when the internal temperature reaches 60 degrees Celcius.

    Gilmore highly recommends a meat thermometer when it comes to roasting meats, as well as appropriate resting time for the meat - in this case, about 30 minutes under loosely-wrapped foil before 10 minutes' reheating ahead of serving.

    Gilmore whisking a Bèarnaise sauce
    Meanwhile, an array of young baby vegetables - orange and purple carrots, turnips, spring onions, asparagus, radishes, cauliflower, leeks -were steamed, and Bèarnaise sauce made from scratch.

    Gilmore says that whisking Bèarnaise is an ideal job for two people: a whisker and a pourer of butter at precisely 60 degrees Celcius. Egg yolks, white wine vinegar, white wine and eschallots are whisked over simmering water, while melted butter and lemon juice are added slowly while whisking to an ideal texture.

    Described as a "labour of love" by Gilmore, he says whisking too hard or too fast can split the sauce, which is definitely not what you want half an hour before Christmas lunch.

    Potato and truffle gratin (back, left) and roasted rib of Angus beef
    Prepared earlier was the most heavenly potato bake - already one of my favourite side dishes but pimped up via the addition of truffle, and probably a lot more cream and butter than I'd use at home.

    But it's Christmas after all, and there's no better date in the year for a spot of indulgence.

    Roasted rib of prime Angus beef with young steamed vegetables,potato and truffle gratin
    and classic Bèarnaise sauce
    Also served with a beef jus, it was traditional Christmas on a plate with a few improvements and some of the best meat money can buy. I'm dreaming, not of a white Christmas, but that potato and truffle gratin still.

    Christmas pudding ice cream (left) and caramelised figs
    The festive dessert that Gilmore had prepared is probably the recipe I'll most likely attempt, although I'd be using store-bought ice cream, not the vanilla bean and amaretto enriched ice cream that we had here.

    With crumbled dark Christmas pudding frozen into a terrine of ice cream, this was only the beginning of the decadence.

    Gilmore ran through the basics and dangers of caramel, producing a deeply tanned version in minutes, then adding halved fresh figs to the fold. Basted in caramel, the figs were allowed to set and harden a little before becoming the star on the tree that was Christmas pudding ice cream.

    Christmas pudding ice cream with caramelised fresh figs
    But there was more: fresh raspberries, crunchy caramelised almonds and a light 'snow' covering of icing sugar. Not being the hugest fan of Christmas cake, this was the most amazing version of it that I could possibly imagine.

    Festive table setting for Electrolux Masterclass at Quay
    Peter Gilmore's tips for taking the stress out of festive cooking while still impressing guests with a restaurant quality menu:
    1. Plan ahead for the festive season menu. Try to do as much as possible the day before so it is not too stressful on the day.
    2. Include dishes on your menu that can be made a few days ahead of time.
    3. Using high quality seasonal ingredients means you can do less preparation and yet achieve spectacular results.
    4. Incorporating a little tradition in a modern way has the effect of maintaining the essence of Christmas but making it new and exciting.
    5. Using the right kitchen appliances, such as the Electrolux Compact Combination Steam Oven or the Electrolux Induction Cooktop, will help you save time, create less of a mess and take the heat out of the kitchen.
    6. The resting of a large piece of meat is just as important as the correct cooking. Carving a piece of meat too soon may result in losing all of the precious juices.
    7. Using a small amount of a luxury ingredient like fresh truffles really gives your festive menu a sense of occasion.

    White sourdough bread and butter
    Following Gilmore's demonstration of his festive season menu, we were treated to a five-course degustation dinner in the upstairs private dining room of Quay. Christmas had indeed come early.

    Salad of preserved wild cherries, albino and chioggia beetroots,
    treviso, crème fraiche, black truffle, violets
    Starting on red with the 2010 Margan White Label Barbera matched wine, the exotic salad to start had a spring forest feel to it and was all about texture.

    Soft yellow beetroot contrasted with insanely crisp bread dyed beet crimson, while crème fraiche softened the almost harsh tartness of the preserved cherries.

    Congee of northern Australian mud crab, fresh palm heart, egg yolk emulsion
    I was pretty excited to be served the mud crab congee next, with the 2010 Red Claw Chardonnay matched to the abundant crab flesh. It was watery for a congee, but with exceptional depth in sea flavours and made rich with the bright yellow egg yolk emulsion.

    Smoked and confit pig cheek, shiitake, scallop, jerusalem artichoke leaves, juniper, bay
    The internal excitement continued with the smoked and confit pork jowl dish, garnished with deep fried jerusalem artichoke skins I remember from last time.

    Also layered atop the meltingly soft pork were two of my favourite things: barely-cooked scallop and mushrooms of the shiitake variety - both thinly sliced.

    Served with my favourite wine of the night, the 2010 Sticks Pinot Noir, the delicate textures of the mushroom and scallop were the perfect accompaniment to the boldly smoky pork.

    Poached fillet of pasture raised veal fillet, parsnip cream, roasted grains, mushrooms
    And the food and wine kept coming; namely the big 2010 Two Hands Gnarly Dude Shiraz matched with a poched veal fillet.

    The ridiculously tender meat was served on ridiculously creamy parsnip cream, with mushrooms and crisply puffed, roasted assorted grains on top, and just sneaking in to be my favourite dish of the night.

    Jersey cream, salted caramel, prunes, walnuts, ethereal sheets
    I was honestly thankful for what looked like a small, light dessert, but like everyone else, completely smitten with the 'ethereal sheets' that topped the jersey cream and blobs of salted caramel and prunes.

    Crisp but impossibly thin, the sheets of milk, white and dark chocolate, and toffee / praline / brittle (I think) were a delight to look at and consume with a bit of everything beneath too. The golden brown Campbells Classic Topaque was a weighty sticky to end the meal.

    First Christmas present - thanks Open Haus!
    With tutelage from one of the nation's best chefs and that stunning degustation in mind, I'm more than ready for Christmas now.

    See full recipes here and more photos from the Electrolux Masterclass on my Facebook page.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Electrolux Masterclass at Quay as a guest, with thanks to Open Haus.

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    There's plenty of life on Newtown's King Street but especially so when it comes to casual dining restaurants and pubs.

    The Newtown Hotel has been resuscitated by Keystone Group (of The Loft, Bungalow 8, The Winery, Gazebo, Sugar Mill and so on and so forth), after a short stint as tiki bar Freaky Tiki, returning the pub to local drinking hole status without the kitsch (save for drag nights) and a casual Greek restaurant upstairs - The Animal, targeting relaxed group dining.

    Chunky chips from The Animal, Newtown Hotel, King Street, Newtown
    We got our orders to the kitchen just in the nick of time for a late Sunday night dinner. With a fairly reasonably priced menu, we unknowingly went a little overboard in ordering for two - although it would have been nice had the hip, friendly staff warned us about portion sizes.

    We were however warned that there was no entree-then-mains order to the food coming out from the kitchen. The first dishes arrived mere minutes after ordering. About a minute after that, everything else arrived, including my glass of shiraz from the wine taps at the bar.

    The chunky, skin-on potato chips were some of the best deep fried potatoes I've ever had. Appropriately seasoned and served thick and fluffy with an aioli, these were wolfed down with little regard for the feast to come.

    Grilled scallops, trout pearls, tomato basil salsa
    From the small plates section of the menu, the plump char grilled scallops were well priced for the size of the dish and looked a treat, each mollusc topped with bright little orbs of trout roe.

    Sitting on a creamy taramasalata and scattered with the tomato and basil salsa, there was almost too much going on, but not quite so much that it distracted from the lukewarm scallops.

    Mint and lemon grilled haloumi, red onion salad
    The refreshing salad of fennel, beetroot leaves and other healthiness almost outshone the grilled haloumi cheese, which had an appreciated extra mint hit. It wasn't the best haloumi I've ever had but it's a solid dish for sharing nonetheless.

    Beetroot, thyme, organic yoghurt, coriander
    Beetroot appears to be the fashionable vegetable of 2012 - it's certainly made its way onto many menus beyond a burger bun. The Animal's salad of diced beetroot, natural yoghurt and coriander was an unexpected hit - and a healthy one at that.

    Coal roasted suckling lamb, rubbed with lemon, garlic and bay leaf
    I was hanging out for the roast suckling lamb, which was served as a huge portion for sharing. The $40 price tag should have alerted me to the size, but I was probably dreaming of lamb sandwiches for lunch the next day anyway.

    Served with only a cheek of lemon, the lamb had subtle flavours of garlic and bay, but probably would have benefited from a tzatziki yoghurt sauce, especially to splodge on some of the drier edge bits.

    We managed about half of the lamb and most of all our other dishes, despite what covered two tables and looked enough for four. But in a sense it was good that we stuffed ourselves as it turned out The Animal, almost ironically, does not do 'doggy bags' for customers to take leftovers home.

    Labelled an "OHS issue", it was a situation that I've seldom encountered in NSW restaurants although it isunderstandable, especially for venues that are part of a bigger group it seems.

    And so we left without lamb sandwiches for the next day, but still generally satisfied with the night's meal. The Animal has unleashed casual Greek dining onto Newtown, and next time, I'll be prepared with a group to attack the feast.

    The Animal on Urbanspoon

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    Earlier this year I spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the eleventh ofseveral posts of foodbooze and sights in Japan.

    I didn't do much or enough food research for the trip; my reasoning being that almost all Japanese eateries are highly decent at the very least.

    I did, however, watch a few Tokyo episodes of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations which highlighted, among other places, Omoide Yokocho or Piss Alley and a yakitori restaurant a bit out of the way in the Shinagawa region of south-east Tokyo.

    Main street in Hatanodai, Tokyo, Japan
    Guided by our thoroughly-used train and metro map, we found the suburb of Hatanodai through the maze of train lines. We were barely out of the relatively quiet station before I spotted the kanji characters of Toriki, translating to 'bird (or chicken) tree'.

    Aside from the glee of finding one of Bourdain's Tokyo yakitori favourites so easily, being out of the city hustle and bustle of Shinjuku and Ginza for a night was a pleasing change.

    Aihara-san with his knife and a whole raw chicken
    Standing in the alleyway, we peered past the sliding doors into a tiny but packed restaurant when a woman came out and asked if we had a reservation. We responded negatively, and I forget exactly what ensued, but were offered two very squishy seats at the counter, right in front of the chef Aihara-san.

    We were two of seven diners sitting at the counter which was really probably designed for five. The rest of the compact restaurant comprised three or four tables, and a private room that hosted a larger table for about eight.

    English menus were on hand, but the hostess could speak a little English and so too the chef. This became apparent after we'd ordered beers, when he asked us something in Japanese - the only part of the question I caught was "Bourdain".

    Laughing, I nodded, which is when his rather good English started coming out in completely tourist-appropriate fashion. This set the scene for the night, where the chef would chat enthusiastically and entertainingly in a mix of Japanese and English (for us) to the counter diners, some of who were clearly regular customers.

    Natto - fermented soy beans with quail egg yolk
    A small bowl of natto fermented soy beans arrived before each of us, unprompted. Natto is one of those things that people love or hate (it's been likened to our Aussie Vegemite) and I relished my first moment faced with the gooey, goopy, stringy textured soy beans.

    Toriki serves its natto with a raw quail egg yolk and finely diced shallots, while Aihara-san recommends stirring in a small amount of soy sauce. I didn't find the aroma of the natto all that bad - perhaps masked by the smell of grilling chicken - and overall it wasn't too bad other than a slightly bitter aftertaste.

    Asazuke - Pickled vegetables
    Along with the natto, we received a bowl of chicken broth with cabbage and daikon. I'm positive that it was the sweetest chicken broth that I'll ever taste in my life; so we certainly know where all the chicken bones from the restaurant end up.

    We got our vegetable fix via a variety of asazuke salt pickles: crisp cuts of cucumber, carrot, daikon, celery and capsicum that are made for eating with beer.

    Tofu with shallots and bonito flakes
    Eating tofu in Japan is an experience in itself. A picture of purity and subtlety, the soy beans and even the water of the bean curd can be tasted in a mouthful.

    The brick of tofu at Toriki was served in a traditional fashion: cold in a pool of soy, topped with diced shallots, thin katsuobushi dried bonito flakes and a blob of finely grated ginger, making for a very clean tasting appetiser.

    Chicken on the grill
    It was certainly a few degrees warmer sitting at the counter watching the grill than other parts of the squishy restaurant. The best part was our prime view of chef Aihara, who handled all the raw and cooked chicken himself.

    Preparing whole chickens to order, he would pull the unbelievably large birds out from a fridge beneath his work space, like a magician, and weave his chicken chopping magic with a small, thick-bladed, rustic looking knife.

    Chicken breasts would be freed from the carcass in moments, the tenderloin separated with a pull. Bones were chopped with a crack of the knife, and all the while Aihara-san laughed and chatted with his customers.

    Negima - grilled chicken and leek skewers
    The classic negima grilled chicken and leek were skewered to order, using what seemed like miscellaneous cuts from a tray. In fact, these pieces were mostly breast and some thigh bits that seemed to have no official place on the menu.

    Grilled simply in shio salt yakitori style, the tenderness and sweetness of the chicken meat said something about the utter freshness of Toriki's specially farm-sourced chickens.

    Kawa - grilled chicken skin
    There was no question that we would be having the kawa grilled skin, which features in Bourdain's episode. A whole piece of skin, presumably from the breast side of a chicken, is thrown flat onto the grill.

    It shrivels, it chars and it turns into a dish of absolute beauty. Just crisped and seasoned simply with salt, I'm not sure there is any better way to eat fat.

    Tataki - Toriki's signature grilled chicken thigh
    We ploughed on through the yakitori portion of the menu, ordering the restaurant's signature tataki chicken dish. This was thigh meat with the skin on, served in chopped boneless pieces on the utilitarian oval metal plates.

    Tataki - Toriki's signature grilled chicken thigh with dressing
    As if the perfectly golden chicken skin wasn't tantalising enough, we were instructed to pour over a dressing of minced shallots and many other tasty ingredients.

    Tataki - Toriki's signature grilled chicken thigh with dressing
    The sweet and lightly tart sauce was unexpectedly the dish maker. Cutting through the fattiness of the thigh, the dressing lifted the already excellent chicken to heights one wouldn't think chicken could reach.

    Teba - grilled chicken wing
    The seven seated at the tight-fitting counter had gotten well and truly settled, with almost more drinking done than eating and not even a toilet break from memory.

    Having scoffed the tataki, we were left licking our lips, watching what others ordered directly from the chef. The wings from the large chickens were correspondingly large and impressively well cooked for their awkward shape.

    Sasami - grilled chicken breast fillet
    We probably didn't need to, but we went one last dish (in hindsight, we should have gone the tataki a second time). The three strips of delicately grilled chicken breast were diced and awaited another dressing.

    Sasami - grilled chicken breast fillet with grated daikon
    A bowl of grated daikon and shallots, to which I was instructed to mix in soy sauce, was piled on top of the chicken. This dish was mild in flavour compared to some of our other yakitori items, and probably would have made for a better starter.

    Aihara-san enjoying a beer at the grill 
    Wiping sweat from his brow, Aihara-san poured himself a draft beer at a point during the night, joining his customers who were all obviously having a great time devouring chicken morsels from his grill.

    It was hot and hard work in the tiny kitchen space, but for the jolly, fun-loving chef it seemed as though connecting with his customers on the front line was getting him through.

    I suppose it also helps when one of the world's most renowned food media personalities gives you a thumbs-up and brings food tourists from as far as Australia to your humble door, and he happily obliged us with a souvenir happy snap as we left. Thanks for the tip, Tony.

    More Japan posts to come. See more photos from my Japan trip on my Facebook page and Bourdain's No Reservations episode on Toriki below.

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    It would be safe to say that the majority of Sydney-siders are familiar with sushi and sashimi, if not fans of one or both. Lots of young children are even comfortable with maki sushi rolls, with nori seaweed and all.

    So with the awareness and popularity boxes ticked, I got to delve a little deeper in a brief sushi and sashimi masterclass with Ocean Room executive chef Raita Noda earlier this year at his waterside contemporary Japanese restaurant.

    Executive chef Raita Noda,for sushi and sashimi masterclass at Ocean Room,
    Circular Quay
    The restaurant interior is about as stunning as the quintessential Sydney view outside, but with a large collection of fresh fish on display for the class, Noda had our complete attention.

    Sushi as we know it today, especially the nigiri style where there's a fish or other topping pressed onto an elongated ball of sushi rice, originated from traditional edomae zushi from the Edo period in Japan. The focus is on the neta topping, while the seasoned rice is designed to carry and enhance the flavours of the fish.

    There's also a delicacy to edomae style sushi. For example, nigiri sushi pieces are often tailored to be smaller mouthfuls for female eaters, with Noda laughing that he doesn't want to see ladies open their mouths too wide.

    Narito Ishii of Wellstone Seafoods
    Joining Noda for the masterclass was his seafood supplier, Wellstone Seafoods, represented by general manager - and long-time friend of Noda - Narito Ishii.

    Ishii's specialised knowledge of the Japanese approach to fish, and his unwavering demands for quality and freshness, gives Wellstone the impressive claim of supplying pretty much all the high-end Japanese restaurants in Sydney with local and imported seafood.

    So trusted is Ishii that Noda's evening fish orders to him could read like the following: "Two white fish, two silver fish, and two of something interesting and unique" - the latter which are normally competitively priced.

    Sashimi platter
    Imperador is certainly one of the unique for me - it's a species I've not heard of before. The red-skinned fish is surprisingly sweet and delicate done sashimi style, and one of my favourites of the elaborate sashimi platter that Noda presents to us.

    The contemporary style of Ocean Room means that sashimi is served with extras on top of soy sauce and wasabi. Indeed, almost every fish featured its own flavour addition - chives with the trevally or minced ginger on the whiting - elevating the experience to much more than a plate of raw fish.

    Lightly seared scallops are always a winner, while I've been liking rich mackerel since my Japan trip. There was also john dory formed into a stunning rose, swordfish lightly seared, ocean trout (many Japanese chefs' preference over salmon) and kingfish.

    Bluefin tuna
    But there's always a star of the show and this time it was a portion of bluefin tuna, caught off Nelson Bay in NSW.

    There is serious contention around the threatened status of southern bluefin tuna. It is legal to catch bluefin tuna in Australia but there are conservation measures in place.

    Ishii said there were plenty of the impressively large fish about this year, likely because of the reduction in allowable catch numbers in Australia since 2010.

    The bulk of tuna fished from Australian waters is exported to Japan, although the rising appreciation of sashimi tuna in Australia means that more high quality tuna are being sold, and valued, in the local market.

    Executive chef Raita Noda,with one of his two sashimi knives
    This tuna was one of the last of the bluefin tuna of the season (back in August), according to Ishii, and we were very privileged to have it in our class under the trained care of chef Noda.

    Noda uses two sashimi knives at Ocean Room: one each of Tokyo and Osaka styles which have slightly different, flexible blades.

    Bluefin tuna belly
    He divided the tuna into its deep red akami lean flesh from the side of the fish, and the toro belly that's lined with highly desirable streaks of fat.

    Noda likened tuna to beef steak that needs time to age after killing for flavours to come out. This portion of tuna had been aged for a few days ahead of our class

    O-toro tuna belly nigiri sushi
    The plate of o-toro nigiri sushi was an absolute treat featuring the fattiest, most prized part of the belly. This was probably my third experience of o-toro, simply brushed with soy sauce on sushi rice seasoned to Ocean Room's own recipe.

    O-toro tuna belly
    Sliced and draped across the rice, the o-toro has a vague resemblance to raw wagyu beef. It was definitely rich, fatty and full of luxurious flavour, but I seemed to have scored a piece that, like some of even the best steaks, had some sinewy sections that needed serious chewing.

    Chu-toro tuna nigiri sushi
    Noda prepared chu-toro tuna belly next - the part of the fish essentially between the o-toro and the lean akami. While still boasting a rich creaminess from the fat, there's a bit more of a sea taste to the chu-toro and a pleasingly soft texture.

    Imperador nigiri sushi
    Returning to the imperador, which Noda had now blowtorched the skin of, this nigiri style was topped with finely sliced green shiso leaf, which I find to have strong anise flavours and don't always love.

    With just a sprinkle of sea salt in place of soy sauce, the "interesting and unique" fish were kicking goals.

    Cuttlefish nigiri sushi
    Cuttlefish, the lesser known cousin to squid, made an appearance as nigiri sushi too, with each piece finely and artfully scored.

    Creamy is probably the last word you'd think to use to describe raw cuttlefish, but it's exactly that, with a bit of bounce to its chew and perhaps more sweetness than raw squid.

    Latchet nigiri sushi
    One of the funny looking, also red-skinned, fish from the display was latchet which Ishii said was from Bermagui down the southern NSW coast.

    The soft white flesh made for an appropriate backdrop to the almost Chinese accompaniments of minced ginger, chives and soy sauce.

    Akami tuna nigiri sushi
    Finally, a dramatic plate of akami tuna nigiri sushi hit the table. Having been marinated briefly in soy sauce, the already deep red flesh takes on a jewel-like translucency and deeper colouring, contrasting ever so much with white sesame seeds and citrus peel.

    The firmer lean tuna flesh is able to stand up to the big soy sauce flavour, making for a completely different eating experience to either of the toro options.

    Narito Ishii of Wellstone Seaafoods (left) and Raita Noda, executive chef
    at Ocean Room (right)
    With ice cold sake and expert fish and sushi advice on stand by, the Ocean Room masterclass was a process of learning and being more conscious of the sushi and sashimi we eat.

    The topic of sustainability came up, not only in relation to the bluefin tuna, but overall commerical fishing methods.

    Is trawler and net fishing sustainable when small fish or unwanted varieties also make the catch? What does the demand for 'standard' tuna and salmon sashimi do for sustainability of these and other species? And what about the environmental sustainability of wild-caught fish versus farmed fish, and indeed, versus farmed land animals?

    It seems there's plenty to talk about when it comes to fish, sushi and sashimi, See more photos from the Ocean Room masterclass on my Facebook page.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the sushi and sashimi masterclass as a guest of Ocean Room, with thanks to Wasamedia.

    Ocean Room on Urbanspoon

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    I'm not sure if it's age, influence or preferred crowd but when catching up with a large group of friends these days, it tends to happen at a pub rather than a restaurant.

    More often than not it's one of the revamped Surry Hills pubs where there's well-priced food, plenty of booze options and easy access home. And The Norfolk is one of the favourites.

    Bloody Mary at The Norfolk, Cleveland Street, Surry Hills
    The Drink and Dine group - of The Norfolk, The Abercrombie, The Carrington, The Forresters and upstairs Queenies, The Flinders and the recently-opened Santa Barbara in Kings Cross (where the Piano Room used to be) - have the formula down pat.

    Fun and quirky theming, proper yet affordable food plus cocktails, and a pub environment where it's entirely appropriate to get a little rowdy.

    The Norfolk does a darn good Bloody Mary, served in a tin can. While there are a number of variations available, I admit it's just the original with a dash or two of Tabasco sauce that does it for me.

    Fried chicken wings (front) and  fries (back)
    This was the first time I had fried chicken wings at The Norfolk, after so many prior visits. And damn, they're about the best fried chicken wings in Sydney. So crunchy in a non-oily golden batter; so juicy they may well have had a sous vide treatment; and so moreish we had to order another plate.

    The fluffy crinkle cut chips, which we frankly don't see enough of anymore, come tossed in a spice mixture with a tomato-ey sauce.

    Deep fried pickles with ranch dipping sauce (front) and salt and pepper squid (back)
    You've got your crunchy, your tartness and your creaminess, all in a deep fried pickle with ranch dipping sauce. I'm not sure which crazy person thought of this combination, but it's a winner with the pickle holding its own against the oily richness of the batter and sauce.

    They're miles ahead of the salt and pepper squid in terms of innovativeness and deliciousness. The squid, served with jalapeno aioli, was insanely salty - so much that I only managed a single tentacle piece.

    Chicken taco
    Moving away from the deep fried food momentarily, a variety of tacos hit the table in a flurry with the chicken in front of me.

    I'm so glad that the Mexican game has picked up in Sydney, although there's still a lot of nachos with sour cream going on. The soft tortilla of the chicken taco held lettuce, diced Spanish onion and cucumber, salsa guacamole and an orange chipotle mayonnaise.

    Chicken quesadilla with Jack cheese, onion and salsa verde
    The chicken quesadilla looked even better than the tacos, the cut wedges topped with salsa verde while the sides oozed with cheese.

    Grilled haloumi with peppers and tomato salsa
    The grilled haloumi was another dish high on the saltiness scale, served with grilled green peppers and a salsa, and topped with an array of fresh herbs. It was an odd one that was probably from the mains menu and a little harder to share among the group.

    Several more cheeky cocktails and beers later, the naughty, salty, deep fried food didn't feel quite so bad. The bar closes quite promptly at 11:45pm and we were shooed out at midnight, forcing an early night upon us. Indeed, I wonder if age has decided that it likes the Surry Hills curfew.

    The Norfolk on Urbanspoon

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  • 12/11/12--12:31: To be frank: Frankie's Pizza
  • The guys behind, arguably, Sydney's favourite bars - Shady Pines Saloon and The Baxter Inn - have gone a different path for their latest venture, Frankie's Pizza: late night pizza and a dive bar, right in the heart of the CBD.

    Frankie's Pizza neon sign, Hunter Street, Sydney
    To start with, Frankie's Pizza has street signage and serves food beyond peanuts and pretzels, unlike its older siblings.

    Just opened on Friday last week, they've taken over the underground space of the previously highly dodgy Hunter Bar on Hunter Street, just down the road from Rockpool Bar and Grill.

    And with its seven-days-a-week, 4pm to 4am trading hours - and just because it comes from Anton Forte and Jason Scott - it's certain to be a hit with the late night drinkers, munchers and industry crowd.

    Entry stariway
    Descend the stairs at the Hunter Street entrance past the hanging bunches of garlic and chillies into the checkerboard-floored space covered in holiday snaps and other Italian-esque memorabilia, where candles in Chianti bottles sit atop plastic-covered red-checked tablecloths. It is the pure stereotype of an Italian trattoria.

    Italian styled dining space
    There's a menu of 10 pizza varieties at $16 each, while select pizzas are served by the slice on paper plates at $5 a large slice.

    Pizza kitchen
    They come fresh out of a little sliding door from the dedicated kitchen into the bar space, to be picked up by customers who need to keep an eye on the red LED-lit numbers at the bar.

    Pizza kitchen and bar
    You could dine at the tables and booths there and completely neglect to investigate the dark, double swing doors to the right side of the kitchen bar.

    Dive bar
    The adjoining dive bar at Frankie's Pizza is another world: it's dark, loud with the 1980s (or 70s?) and a few musical selections that seem more at home at Shady Pines, and absolutely covered in band and gig posters.

    Dive bar
    The posters even paper the walls of the bathrooms, of which the unlabelled ladies' is immediately to the left of the bar entrance.

    Dive bar
    There's a now trademark long bar where familiar bearded faces and tattooed arms serve a bucketload of beers: those on tap in comical, colourful plastic beer mugs and a huge variety by the bottle.

    Beer served in plastic mugs
    There are also spirits and some wines available, and frozen margaritas at $10 a salt-rimmed pop.

    Frozen margaritas
    Served in picnic-friendly glasses with bendy straws and a lime wheel, the frozen margarita is a cheek-pinching eye waterer. We could barely take a sip without wincing immediately after, for the simultaneous tequila and lime hit.

    I wouldn't call it refreshing, but it might well be a deliberate ploy to push drinkers towards the excellent beer selection.

    Pinball machines
    While there are retro pinball machines for your amusement (one is just 20 cents per play, if it doesn't eat up your coins), there's more entertainment in the pages and pages of the beer menu. I'm going to need a fair few visits to work through even a page of it.

    Hawaiian pizza
    Our group takes up the area near the pinball machines to devour a multitude of pizzas: I taste or catch glimpses of the Hawaiian, Sausage, Salami, Capricciosa and Meatball as the round, silver pizza trays fly across the table.

    Meatball pizza
    The pizzas are thin and the bases are not in the slightest bit soggy (even the ones with mushroom), with chewy, golden, perfectly-formed crusts.

    Sausage pizza
    My favourites of this sampling are the Capricciosa with an abundance of fresh mushrooms, olives artichoke and real ham, and the Sausage which is fennel scented and presumably pork with mushrooms and an aroma of truffle.

    Salami pizza
    The Salami pizza is of a particularly spicy cured pork sausage, which almost makes the frozen margarita more palatable. But really, it's a story of pizza and beer.

    Pizza and beer - good times
    The bar's theming is a not as defined as Shady Pines or The Baxter Inn, but you get the feeling that Frankie's Pizza is the kind of place that Forte and Scott just want to hang out and chill, eat pizzas and drink beer.

    To be frank, the pizza probably won't win any awards but then, that's not really the point. Hungry, late nights in the Sydney CBD now have a saviour - and his name is Frankie's Pizza.

    Frankie's Pizza on Urbanspoon

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    Summer is upon us so it's the season for the beach, outdoors and spot of cider - and it's all on at the Rochdale Cider 'Beached As' Sunday Sessions at Beach Road Hotel.

    Get to the newly renovated, colourful outdoor beer garden - called The Backyard - at the Bondi pub any Sunday in December and January to sample a Rochdale Cider or two, and a summery menu created by Gastro Park head chef Grant King.

    Rochdale Traditional Cider as part of Beached As Sunday Sessions,
    Beach Road Hotel, Bondi
    King's collaboration menu of small bites are matched to the New Zealand apple cider, which is new to our neighbouring shores.

    Hailing from McCashin's Brewery at Nelson on the South Island of Kiwi Land, Rochdale Cider uses New Zealand apples and pure 'palaeo' water for a 5.0% alcoholic volume that puts it on par with full-strength beer.

    It's medium bodied, not too sweet although I wouldn't call it dry, and has a crisp, apple-y finish which leads me to think that a Rochdale Cider session could go some distance on a hot, summery day.

    Gastro Park head chef Grant King cooking with Rochdale Cider at Beach Road Hotel
    (Image courtesy of One Green Bean)
    King has a fittingly Kiwi background and brings a higher-end dining approach to the cider-inspired pub menu, although he admits that "it's not rocket science". He'll be on hand at the Beach Road Hotel at tomorrow's session.

    As part of the Beached As Sunday Sessions, a Rochdale Cider and a menu item combo go for $12.50, although you'll probably want to try them all.

    Cider slider - cider baked pig, crunchy crackle and apple celeriac slaw
    The Cider Slider features pork baked in cider and a scattering golden crackling pieces that range from deliciously crunchy to tooth-endangering hard.

    The creamy shreds of apple and celeriac of the slaw lighten the load within the cute, sesame-topped, soft burger buns.

    Crispy claw - crispy cider batter encasing soft shell crab, lemon and lime mayonnaise
    in a lettuce leaf with cucumber and coriander
    The Claw comprises a iceberg lettuce leaf wrapped around soft shell crab claws in a cider batter, which doesn't sound like an easy feat given the sugar content, and thus heaviness, of the cider.

    Nonetheless, the crab is a star, enhanced with a zingy mayonnaise and fresh cucumber and coriander. Don't put it down though, as the lettuce leaf gets a little messy after a bite and is not so much under wraps.

    Vegetarian option - crispy cider batter salt and pepper tofu, lemon and lime mayonnaise
    in a lettuce leaf with cucumber and coriander
    There's also a vegetarian option of the lettuce wrap with salt and pepper tofu instead of the soft shell crab.

    I'm not sure if it was the copious amount of mayonnaise in my tofu lettuce wrap, but I found the softly fried tofu almost more enjoyable than the crab version.

    The Rochdale Frostie - cider caramelised apple ice cream, granny smith popping candy
    A dessert matched to cider seems an unlikely concept but King delivers a particularly creamy ice cream with cubes of cider caramelised apple, which is really quite spectacular and honeyed in flavour.

    The ice cream is also topped with a fun crumble of granny smith apple popping candy, not all of which fizzles on the tongue. It's a pleasant end to a meal, and unexpectedly so with the cider.

    So, tomorrow, or any Sunday in December or January, beach yourself with a couple of Rochdale Ciders and Gastro Park fare at Beach Road Hotel - you'll have a whale of a time.

    (And just because I love this video, this is the 'Beached As' Kiwi connection: "I'm beached as bro!")

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Beached As Sunday Session at Beach Road Hotel as a guest, with thanks to One Green Bean.

    Beach Road Hotel on Urbanspoon

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    You're sure of a big surprise if you go to the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney expecting to find your regular hotel restaurant (or indeed, the now closed Kables).

    Following the September opening of Grain bar adjoining the hotel lobby, The Woods bar and restaurant opened to similar fanfare earlier this month.

    The wood-fired oven at The Woods, Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, George Street
    Located on the ground floor, The Woods is a newer generation of a hotel restaurant that is its own entity and can stand on its own feet, serving lunch on weekdays and dinner six nights a week, in addition to the hotel's buffet breakfast daily.

    It's helmed by Bar H's Hamish Ingham as executive chef and Rebecca Lines in front of house, with Joshua Niland as restaurant chef.

    Main kitchen
    The spotlight at The Woods is firmly on wood-fired cooking of local produce and artisan products. Peer into the centrally-located open kitchen of marble and stainless steel to see the wood-fired oven and grill, which are currently cooking with Australian mallee, apple and olive woods.

    Cold kitchen
    The roast and grill focus is a much-needed and overdue move away from menus dominated by deep frying or butter and cream. The evidence is in the array of appealing and unique dishes on the menu which is split into appetisers, entrees and mains.

    The Woods bar has a much smaller menu which takes grabs from the restaurant's menu - which is also available in its entirety for those seated at the bar.

    Dining space and herb wall display (right)
    It wouldn't have been easy for the kitchen on its fourth night of dinner service as all of Sydney's top restaurant critics were also dining on the night, in addition to the media contingent that I joined.

    Iggy's bread and our butter
    We started with big, soft slices of Iggy's white sourdough bread and The Woods' own creamy, salted butter with an Italian white wine under the Babo label.

    Plans are that The Woods will also bake its own bread in due course, in the wood-fired oven, of course.

    Live scallops, summer purslane and citrus
    The freshly-shucked scallops were the first of the shared appetisers, served in their shells and natural juices with a sprig of purslane. They had a briney flavour I've not come across before in scallops, countered with a sweet citrus addition.

    Salad of cucumbers, grilled sea urchin and yoghurt
    The gorgeously plated cucumbers and sea urchin wasn't a dish I would have ordered myself, but it was a stunning showcase of vegetable and the sea.

    The lightly grilled treatment of the sea urchin roe gave it a sweetness on top of its natural creaminess, and paired perfectly with the pickled cucumber, while there were also raw and grilled cucumbers partnered with natural yoghurt.

    Ash seasoned ocean trout, smoked trout roe and parsley salad
    The bright-hued ocean trout was a crowd pleaser and ideal for sharing. Served with a fresh, green salad of parsley, the slices of raw trout and firm-textured, smoked roe were designed to be eaten atop toasted bread that reminded me of the steamed brioche at Grain.

    Whole wood roasted crab, local garlic and pepper berry - for two
    To the mains, I found it difficult to resist items from the wood fire, especially the whole wood-roasted crab.

    Shared between two, the blue swimmer crabs were spiced sensationally with garlic and pepper berry, making the shells worth every bit of sucking effort.

    I could have easily devoured the two crustaceans, so this is definitely a shared main dish that requires sides like the lightly dressed upside down lettuce and shoestring fries that our table shared.

    Crisp skin wild fish fillet, giant snow peas and wood grilled fennel
    The mains all looked quite delectable down our end of the table, including the grilled fish fillet; olive wood roasted Milly Hill lamb saddle, celtuce and sorrel; and aged Coorong sirloin on the bone with black garlic butter.

    The Woods tart with ice cream
    There were plenty of tempters on the separate dessert menu, and even a wood-roasted item which created some serious dish envy.

    The Woods tart, which I think changes filling regularly, was a flaky pastry construction of plum and thyme, served with vanilla bean ice cream.

    Janei goat's curd, mulberries and sugar cane
    I was particularly pleased with the hotel's general manager Vincent Hoogewijs' dessert recommendation of the Janei goat's curd, served as a lightly formed ball with fresh mulberries and sugar cane in a powdered manner.

    The berries were perfectly ripe and sweet, creating an absolute taste sensation with the creamy goat's curd. The simple combination of ingredients made for a stunning and unique dessert that has to be one of my favourites this year.

    Chocolate swiss roll, grilled cherries and sesame
    The chocolate swiss roll looked lust-worthy and certainly on the heavier side of dessert options, with more chocolate filling than actual sponge cake.

    Semi private dining area
    The restaurant fitout by Michael McCann's Dreamtime Design Australia creates a comfortable and even homely ambience, where lingering over dessert feels like the right thing to do.

    The main dining space is split level and there's a hefty space designed as a semi private dining room, ideal for functions.

    Dining space
    Also take a moment to look up from your plate when dining at The Woods to the ceiling, which is covered in hand-drawn sketches of wood, produce, recipes and a letter even - like a peek into chef Ingham's mind.

    There's lots to see and try when you go down to The Woods, and now forewarned, you won't be surprised when you don't find teddy bears or a stale hotel restaurant.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of The Woods, with thanks to Four Seasons Hotel Sydney and RF Media.

    The Woods (at Four Seasons) on Urbanspoon

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