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A Sydney food and restaurant blog

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    Posted by Hendy

    With the World Cup action in Brazil in full swing at the moment, Sydney CBD bar and bistro Bridge Street Garage recently partnered with importer, distributor and wholesaler Brazilian Style Imports for a timely "Flavours of Brazil" one-off dinner.

    With its Latin American twist, Bridge Street Garage is led by Argentine-born chef, Oscar Gorosito, who produces a menu of traditional and fusion Latin American dishes. Brazilian Style Imports supplies Bridge Street Garage with a range of ingredients and equipment; from its tapioca flour and cachaça (Brazilian white spirit) to its double-decker parrilla traditional Brazilian barbeque grill.

    Caipirinha with Velho Barreiro Cachaça at Bridge Street Garage, Bridge Street, Sydney
    The night kicked off with the classic caipirinha (pronounced kai-pur-een-ya) cocktail - perhaps Brazil's most well-known cocktail.

    Made with cachaça - the sugarcane-based white spirit that Brazil is renowned for - fresh lime, sugar and served with lots of crushed ice, the refreshing caipirinha has much in common with a mojito, minus the mint and with a sweeter overtone.

    Guarana Antarctica soft drink
    For a non-alcoholic beverage we were introduced to Guarana Antarctica, a soft drink made from the guarana plant, with sweet apple and cider notes.

    Speaking to one of the founders of Brazilian Style Imports, he explained how Guarana Antarctica used to be the dominant soft drink in Brazil before Coca-Cola entered the Brazilian soft drink market. Now, Guarana Antarctica shares the overall soft drink market with its global competitor.

    Tapioca cheese bread with Argentinian chimichurri sauce
    To complement the kick-off drinks, a plate of tapioca cheese bread was served. The little bread rolls are made using Brazilian tapioca flour and are commonly seen bouncing around churrasco restaurants in Sydney.

    With a crisp crust on the outside and a stretchy cheese filling within, the cheese bread was a highly addictive snack that would go well with a nice cold beer.

    Chef Gorosito explained that the traditional chimichurri served with the bread is made using paprika, giving it its red colouring rather than the green one I'm more accustomed to seeing.

    Casquinha de Siri - sauteed crab meat served on a salad of pomegranate, orange and rocket
    Our next starter was the Casquinha de Siri; a traditional Brazilian dish of sauteed crab meat, coconut milk, tomatoes, capsicum and oil from the seed fruit of a special type of dende plant grown in the Northern regions of Brazil.

    All the ingredients were pan fried together and topped with a parmesan cheese and bread crumb, then served on a scallop shell atop a salad of pomegranate, orange and rocket. With punchy ingredients like the parmesan and coconut milk, this dish smelt great and had a texture similar to that of finely shredded coconut.

    Our starters were paired with the light and refreshing Miolo Pinot Grigio Riesling from the Campanha region in South Brazil.

    Açaí berry smoothie with Velho Barreiro Cachaça
    I was amazed at the decadent and luscious açaí berry smoothie which arrived to the table next - not the kind of smoothie that you would have at breakfast or before a game though.

    With a mix of Velho Barreiro Cachaça through the fresh cream and berry-topped smoothie, it sure packed a punch though it was quite heavy to have with dinner and perhaps more appropriate for a hot summer's day.

    Double decker traditional parrilla grills 
    Sneaking a peek into the Bridge Street Garage kitchen we could see the traditional parrilla grills used in the kitchen for meats and even burger patties for the Bridge Street Garage burgers. Traditional throughout South America, the parrilla use natural wood charcoal to slowly cook the meat on the grill.

    The double-decker version installed in Bridge Street Garage's kitchen is custom made and imported by Brazilian Style Imports specifically for the restaurant. The use of the parrilla allows the meat to take on a beautifully fragrant smokiness from the wood charcoal and results in a succulent and tenderly-cooked meat.

    Core ingredients
    Chef Gorosito also brought out a plate showcasing some of exciting ingredients that he was using that night for the Brazilian feast. The standout item on the plate was probably the chocolate, used to make a mole sauce in the next dish.

    Grilled chicken with spicy mole, rice, Brazilian black beans
    The next two protein dishes were designed to showcase the simplicity of using the parrilla. The grilled chicken breast from the parilla was served with the spicy mole sauce, white rice and Brazilian black beans; matched to a red Miolo Tannat wine also from Brazil's Campanha region.

    The chicken was marinated well and grilled to a moist, tender state with a crusty, charred surface. While a bit of acidity over the chicken would have worked well, the chocolate in the mole was quite subtle and made for a good dipping sauce for the chicken.

    New York grass-fed striploin steak with chips, onion rings and coleslaw salad
    The good-looking striploin steak grilled on the parrilla was served complete with hand-cut chips, beer-battered onion rings and a coleslaw salad.

    The steak was on the rare side and was a bit tough for my liking though it was seasoned and rested well. Meanwhile, the onion rings made great add-on with the crunchy, golden potato chips.

    The making of the strawberry caipirinha
    A feature session of the night was the making of the strawberry caipirinha at the restaurant's front bar. The strawberry caipirinha is a twist on the original classic with a strawberry and sugar compote made by the kitchen specially for the cocktail.

    The making of of the strawberry caipirinha: measuring the Velho Barreiro Cachaça
    The rocks glass is sugar rimmed to give it the sweetness on the start. Lime wedges are then muddled with the strawberry compote, before adding the Velho Barreiro Cachaca and plenty of shaved ice.

    Line of strawberry caipirinhas

    Brownie with Velho Barreiro Cachaça-infused rhubarb ice cream, chilli guava jam and pacoquinha
    To finish off the night, there was a chocolate brownie served with a unique-tasting Velho Barreiro Cachaça-infused rhubarb ice cream. Along with a spicy chilli guava jam with heat that fizzled away with the rhubarb ice cream, there was a very sweet, possibly unnecessary pacoquinha peanut crumble scattered around the plate.

    The "Flavours of Brazil" dinner was a great opportunity to learn about Brazilian cuisine, drinks and ingredients - and let's not forget, the celebration of the World Cup in Brazil. For any at-home, weekend World Cup viewing sessions, see the classic caipirinha recipe below, courtesy of Brazilian Style Imports.
     
    Strawberry caipirinha
    Classic Caipirinha
    Ingredients
    50mL Velho Barreiro Cachaça
    1/2 a lime, sliced in 4 wedges
    2 teaspoons of superfine sugar (can vary to taste)
    Ice cubes

    Preparation
    1. Put the cut lime into the serving glass and add sugar.
    2. Crush the lime and sugar together with a muddler in order to extract juice & essential oils from the skin of the lime.
    3. Fill the glass with ice cubes.
    4. Pour the Cachaça all the way to the top of the glass.
    5. Pour the contents of the glass into the shaker, shake well & pour it back into the serving glass. Alternatively if you don't have a shaker you can use crushed ice instead of ice cubes - in this case you just need to stir it well.
    6. Enjoy - in moderation.

    Food, Booze & Shoes attended the "Flavours of Brazil" dinner at Bridge Street Garage as a guest, with thanks to Stellar PR.

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    The name Tetsuya's is still spoken with reverence in Sydney and probably always will be. There's not really any other restaurant experience like world-renowned chef Tetsuya Wakuda's Japanese-meets-French degustation-only lunches and dinners.

    My first ever visit to the Sydney institution earlier this year for a surprise birthday celebration was everything I expected and more.

    From the moment you enter the tranquil restaurant, modelled like a traditional Japanese home off a driveway on Kent Street south of the city, Tetsuya's whisks diners off on an hours-long gastronomic journey filled with sensual delights.

    Bread and truffle and ricotta butter at Tetsuya's, Kent Street, Sydney
    We put in an order for cocktails while alternating looks through the drinks menu and the Japanese zen garden outside, debating the merits of matching wines. Without food menus provided in the first instance, booze selection is more a case of budget and taste preferences, rather than your own food matching. We ended up with the matching wines.

    We started with a bread and a pot of Tetsuya's trademark truffle butter, whipped with ricotta cheese to a light and creamy consistency. It's about the most luxurious thing you could spread on bread, with the earthy flavour of the black truffle coming through strongly beneath the rich and creamy dairy components.

    Cocktails
    The cocktails took a while to arrive and so basically collided with the first of the matching wines - not the first time I've had this happen in hatted restaurants.

    In any case I barely remember the sweet apple cocktail or the blood orange one. It also makes me wonder why fine dining restaurants don't just keep to classic cocktails.

    Pacific oysters with rice wine vinegar and ginger
    We opted in to the extra course of Pacific oysters to start. Served as two per diner, the plump oysters dressed generously with rice wine vinaigrette, ginger and chives were a divine precursor to the luxurious meal.

    Excitement got the better of me when the amuse bouche of arrived: a tea cup's worth of chawanmushi-style savoury custard flavoured with soy cream and mirin, topped with avruga caviar. I got to the bottom of it, savouring every small spoonful, before I realised that I'd forgotten to take a photo.

    With beautifully rounded and umami-rich flavours and the most delicate texture of the steamed custard against the pops of salty caviar, it truly was a blissful and memorable start to the degustation. A thoroughly Japanese one too, matched with the seriously drinkable Tamano Hikari Tokusen junmai ginjo sake from Kyoto.

    Carpaccio of leatherjacket with nori and citrus soy
    The modern artistic presentation of the first course was somewhat surprising, offering uncommonly raw leatherjacket in carpaccio fashion.

    The loose rolls of the white fish were fresh and firm, mostly flavoured by a very well-balanced nori seaweed and citrus soy sauce while pickled onion pieces added zing and crunch. The impossibly thinly cut radish was a stunning feat of knifework, adding mainly to the plate's presentation.

    The leatherjacket was matched with the 2009 Tunkakililla Vineyard Riesling from Oregon, USA.

    Marinated scampi with walnut oil and egg
    The raw seafood theme continued with the marinated scampi dish; the tails of many of the delicious crustacean forming a generous tower topped with crème fraîche.

    The scampi tails were marinated quite simply in the walnut oil dressing, allowing the scampi's sea-sweet creaminess to shine while a gooey egg yolk at the bottom of a soft seaweed nest added a velvety texture.

    This was matched with the buttery 2011 Pierro Chardonnay made especially for Tetsuya's from the Margaret River in Western Australia.

    Confit of Petuna ocean trout with a salad of celery, witlof, apple and unpasteurised ocean trout roe
    I couldn't contain my excitement when Tetsuya's long-time signature dish landed in front of me: the perfectly presented confit of Petuna ocean trout. The beautiful dish deserves every bit of fawning and glory it receives, and it was easily my favourite course of the degustation.

    The soft cooked ocean trout is coated in a salty crust of chives and kombu seaweed, which contrasts exceptionally with the sweet, tart, slightly bitter salad of celery, witlof and Granny Smith apple matchsticks.

    The ocean trout roe on the side seemed a purely luxurious addition, making every mouthful - best with a bit of everything - more special and fantastical.

    The ocean trout was, interestingly, served with a green leafy salad on the side and was matched with a light 2012 Journey Wines Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley, Victoria.

    Roasted Moreton Bay bug with braised oxtail
    We moved on to warm dishes, still with seafood components. Before this meal I hadn't realised that the Tetsuya's degustation would be so seafood-heavy, although I certainly had no issue with that.

    One of my favourite shellfish, the roasted Moreton Bay bug, featured in the next course; free from its shell in large pieces that you rarely see. Given the simplicity of the roasted crustacean, the significantly heartier, oily flavours of the stew-like braised oxtail beneath it tended to overpower the delicate bug meat.

    Tea smoked quail breast with parsnip and calamari
    There was more surf-and-turf action with the tea-smoked quail breast; a delicately flavoured, medium-rare cooked breast alongside raw, shaved squid.

    The latter outshone the poultry with its velvety mouthfeel and uniqueness, while the soft parsnip chip added what I call a quirky root vegetable flavour to the dish.

    At this point I was having the 2012 Kellybrook Cabernet blend, also from the Yarra Valley.

    Grass-fed fillet of beef with soy braised tendon and wasabi leaf
    Our final savoury course featured a trio of beef: a round cut fillet, soy braised beef tendon and gorgeous blob of bone marrow.

    Thoroughly cooked, the beef fillet had some surprisingly chewy parts but was nonetheless a great base for the rich feature additions of gelatinous tendons and fatty marrow, while the raw wasabi leaves brought much needed freshness and spiciness.

    White peaches with almond milk ice cream
    There was an appropriate pause before dessert was served, now more than a couple hours into the meal.

    The first dessert featured white peach segments poached in champagne and crumbly bits of meringue, topped with a subtle almond milk ice cream. Served with the 2011 Georg Breuer Auslese Riesling, it was mild on the overall sweetness but was a nice, fruity lead into the second dessert, which also doubled as a birthday cake for one.

    Tetsuya's chocolate cake
    It's surprising that this dessert doesn't have the profile of some other chocolate desserts around town as it was sensational.

    While the non-birthday version showed off the mirror chocolate glaze, rather than an over-the-top amount of gold leaf and a candle, it was the rich, multi-layered, all-chocolate affair inside the coating that was mind-blowing. Mousse, cake, crisp and creamy bits - this chocolate cake had it all.

    Adding to the sense of indulgence was the final matched wine: an almost syrupy 1983 Toro Albalá Gran Reserva Pedro Ximenez.

    Petit fours
    We finished with petit fours - a strawberry macaron and dark chocolate truffle - and tea and coffee, and ended up being one of the last tables to finish; not that that seemed to trouble anyone.

    Garden views
    Service throughout the night was impeccable and at the height of professionalism, as was expected. Rather than having one section waiter look after a number of tables, we were served by a number of waiters during the course of the degustation - all extremely knowledgeable and supplemented by a couple of sommeliers.

    The fact that there was a large, rowdy group dining in one corner of the room meant the evening's ambience was, perhaps unusually, convivial; particularly when chef Wakuda himself came out to meet and greet with select tables.

    While the meal itself was punctuated with a couple of clear highlights - in particular the amuse, signature confit of ocean trout and Tetsuya's chocolate cake - some of the other dishes faded into the overall experience which was certainly one to remember.

    Tetsuya's on Urbanspoon

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    Posted by Hendy

    An existing concept applied to a different cuisine sees Italian restaurant Pizza Autentico recently open in the quiet laneway space in Surry Hills that used to be the funky Japanese Uchi Lounge.

    Marrying the philosophy of Italian cuisine as simple, quality and fresh food with the (rather foreign in Sydney) concept that food should be priced reasonably, owner Hamilton Kings established Pizza Autentico as an almost churrasco-style Italian restaurant.


    The communal dining table at Pizza Autentico, Brisbane Street, Surry Hills
    Pizza Autentico's core offering is unlimited, all-you-can-eat pizza and pasta for lunch ($15) and dinner ($20), served in what we know in Sydney as churrascaria style, with food doing the rounds of the room and diners electing of servings of their desired dishes. Additional starters are an extra $9 while a dessert taster is another $4.50.

    But hold off before thinking this is another average, all-you-can-eat venue. Diners at the communal table can choose from a rotating variety of 12 traditional pizza and five pasta options that are brought around the table over a 1.5 hour sitting (vegetarian or vegan options separate).

    The focus is on traditional toppings and varieties using simple, fresh ingredients - some sourced from  from Salt Meats Cheese in Alexandria. Don't come expecting any lamb, chicken or pineapple on your pizzas.

    House made bread
    The restaurant space is welcoming with simple, honest decor in quite a minimalist feel starring a long, communal dining table that extends the length of the dining room - perhaps the very same table of its former Japanese tenant. The framed black and white photos on the side wall are worthy of exhibiting.

    A basket of house made bread is served upon your arrival, as if you needed more carbs to start an all-you-can-eat carb fest. The bread is at least crusty and makes for good dipping in the olive oil that is part of the olive trio board.

    Trio of olives - olive oil, olive tapenade and marinated olives
    The board presents a small offering of extra virgin olive oil, olive tapenade - made with olives and nothing but olives - and another small bowl of black olives, kickstarting the palate for a Italian feast.

    Tenuta Valpolicella wine
    To match its pizza and pasta offerings, Pizza Autentico has a selection of only Italian wines as well as Italian-influenced cocktails. The Tenuta Valpolicella from the norther Veneto region in Italy was a light and slightly fruity red wine.

    Margherita pizza
    Medium-sized, thin-based pizzas sliced into six slices would make their way around the tables, starting with a margherita pizza that was light with subtle hints of oregano through the thin layer of cheese and tomato.

    The light flavours made the margherita pleasantly easy to have in the first instance.

    Valtellinese pizza: shaved beef, rocket and shaved parmesan
    The Valtellinese pizza featured shaved bresaola cured beef on each slice dusted with shaved parmesan. Being simple and humble in flavours, it allowed the shaved beef topping to really shine.

    Orecchiette norma: pasta with eggplant and ricotta
    The first pasta that I tried was the orecchiette norma featuring firm eggplant pieces and a light napoli tomato sauce mixed through the al dente pasta. Ricotta cheese added some creaminess to the Italian staple pasta.

    Spaghetti bolognese with shaved parmesan and chili flakes
    Interestingly, given the all-you-can eat option, you only get one plate for the night. You end up with a bowl that combines the sauce from the previous pasta with the new pasta; at least giving the next pasta quite a unique flavour.

    The classic spaghetti bolognese was what you would expect from a traditional bolognese: loads of hearty tomato sauce studded with beef, all soaked up by thin spaghetti pasta.

    Classic spaghetti bolognese
    As expected, I had a rather messy bowl especially after twirling the spaghetti. Dried chilli flakes offered on the side gave the bolognese extra punch.

    Trofie pesto: trofie coated in basil pesto sauce
    The last pasta I had before carbing-out was the trofie pesto. Pesto has always been a favourite pasta sauce of mine.

    In this case, the pesto mixed with the napoli sauce from the previous orecchiette and spaghetti servings, with the wait staff candidly explaining how there is an Italian sauce combining the best of pesto and napoli sauce.

    My first time seeing and having trofie, it had a soft, buttery and doughy texture, contrasting with the coarsely chopped pine nuts pieces of the pesto. This was my favourite of the three pastas I sampled, and completely deserving of another serve.

    A wall installation depicting Italy
    Pizza Autentico is an interesting new concept focused on simple and traditional Italian dishes at a price point that's considered cheap in Surry Hills. And if that's not enough to feast on, the churrasco all-you-can-eat style should sort you out.

    Food, Booze & Shoes dined at Pizza Autentico as a guest, with thanks to Evans Media.

    Pizza Autentico on Urbanspoon

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  • 07/13/14--15:22: Good times collective #9
  • Age must be getting to me because I'm finding this winter really, unbearably cold. But it's a good excuse to indulge in those rich, wintry comfort dishes, not that I need a reason. Let the good times roll, and when that's done, bring on spring, please.

    Goat curry from Tan Viet Noodle House, Rowe Street, Eastwood
    While I go to Tan Viet Noodle House for the crispy skinned chicken, I enjoy dining with people who can order something different, like the goat curry stew.

    It's quite a spicy curry with lots of small pieces of mostly tender, skin-on, bone-in goat. The spice cancels out any potential gaminess although there's quite a bit of fat to contend with. Fresh Vietnamese herbs and egg noodles at the bottom of the bowl complete the huge bowl of a main meal.

    Mixed olives from The Lobby Bar, Castlereagh Street, Sydney
    I've never encountered a more ludicrously generous serving of olives than at The Lobby Bar, hidden in a ground floor Castlereagh Street building lobby, near the new ANZ building that borders city south.

    A mix of Sicilian and Ligurian in sizes ranging from large and meaty to tiny and mostly a pip, it was a struggle to finish the dish between three. I suppose we ended up staying for more than our intended single drink, so perhaps there's method in the madness.

    Morrocan lamb burger with fries from Kingston & Co, Westfield Eastgardens, Pagewood
    I used to be very well acquainted with Westfield Eastgardens but now, there are new shops and entire sections every time I go. The new-ish food concept on the outer Banks Street end of the shopping centre is in line with Westfield's 'new'approach to food courts, and includes Kingston & Co - an interesting café/restaurant chain proposition.

    I skipped over the various steaks on offer for the Morrocan lamb burger: a huge construction of a white sesame seed bun with a well flavoured lamb mince pattie, grilled eggplant, lettuce, tomato and a cumin-spiked yoghurt sauce. Fall-apart messy, it made for a spot-hitting dinner with excellent fries on the side.

    Khao mok gai from Samosorn Thai Food Hall, Sydney Central Plaza, Sydney
    I find it hard to not order the khao mok gai turmeric chicken and rice when I'm at Samosorn. With both chicken thigh and rice cooked in turmeric and five spice, the flavour matches the vivid yellow hue of the tender, juicy chicken, which is pretty amazing with the not-too-hot green chilli and garlic sauce on the side.

    Charcuterie board from The Duck Inn Pub, Rose Street, Chippendale
    The Duck Inn Pub in Chippendale has to be one of the cosiest pubs around. Just perfect for winter warmers and drinks with mates, it's also ideal for a late night drop in for food.

    The generous antipasti board has grilled vegetables and salami covered, as well as house-cured specialties, rillettes and even a Scotch egg. Served with toasted sourdough, it's a generous share board best had with mates and a glass or two of wine.

    Chocolate crepes from Passionflower, Anzac Parade, Kingsford
    Passionflower (in Haymarket) was one of the venues of my youth. Ice cream and its location were the drawcards, but now the decadence continues in Kingsford, catering to the local university student population.

    Their sundaes and waffles are legendary, and so too the rich chocolate on chocolate on chocolate crepes, with chocolate ice cream and molten liquid chocolate on a chocolate crepe with chopped strawberries for freshness.

    At least it's never too cold for ice cream.

    Tan Viet Noodle House on UrbanspoonThe Lobby Bar on Urbanspoon

    Kingston & Co on UrbanspoonSamosorn - Thai Local Food Hall on Urbanspoon

    The Duck Inn Pub & Kitchen on UrbanspoonPassionflower on Urbanspoon




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    For me, and I suspect a lot of other rat racers out there, lunch is the highlight of my day. After my morning coffee and the news, my thoughts turn to lunch as a way to get through the morning.

    World Square's China Republic has introduced Express Lunch sets for those who don't have the time or luxury for the full banquet menu at lunch, but still want something a bit more special than a desk or food court lunch.

    Peking duck set - Express Lunch at China Republic, World Square, George Street, Sydney
    Ranging from $25 to $35, the Express Lunch sets are multi-component meals - almost like a Chinese version of a bentobox - with appetisers, a main and even a small dessert.

    Peking duck kitchen
    While there's certainly a time and occasion for the private dining banquet lunch in the beautiful upstairs space, we were Express Lunch-ing in the bar area seats with views of the dedicated Peking duck kitchen lined with bamboo steamer baskets, all used for pancakes for the Peking duck.

    Beijing-style spicy and sour cucumber, spicy beef spring roll and vegetarian spring roll 
    Each of the Express Lunch sets starts with a quartet of of appetisers, including the fantastically refreshing, lightly pickled cucumber slices, all crunchy in their thick sliced, slightly wrinkled state.

    The sets each have two golden, crisp spring rolls included, with a cabbage-based vegetarian one for the herbivores. The others all feature the thin, elongated signature spicy beef spring roll which takes on a Sichuan perspective on spiciness. It's real spicy, but makes for a unique spring roll experience that sticks in the mind.

    Eggplant and coriander salad with garlic dressing and spring rolls
    The Peking duck spring roll is also an eye-opener, with plenty of shredded duck meat that tastes like it's come freshly out from the Peking duck oven.

    The fourth appetiser is the saucy and garlicky eggplant and coriander salad, served cold in a creamy, pungent sesame dressing. I adore this dish and the dressing which goes well with steamed rice, though watch out for the subsequent garlic breath if you need to talk to clients after lunch.

    Crispy sweet and sour prawns
    The $30 Express Lunch set offers diners two choices for the main: wok-fried wagyu beef with fried garlic and black pepper or crispy sweet and sour prawns, both served with steamed white rice.

    The latter comprises large, tail-on prawns in a seriously crisp batter, even beneath the sticky sweet and sour sauce. The not-too-thick batter hugs some great crustacean specimens that bounce and revel in the sauce that has a honey-like consistency, with a classic garnish of capsicum and shallot.

    Peking duck condiments
    The most extravagant of the Express Lunch sets has to be the $35 one featuring Peking duck as the main course.

    The condiments arrive first with the traditional cucumber, juliennes of the white part of shallots and sweet bean sauce also accompanied on a tray by white sugar (for dipping duck skin into), minced garlic, raw Spanish onion, a pickled mustard vegetable and mild mustard sauce.

    Peking duck with Mandarin pancakes
    And then comes the star of the show: a steamed basket of five pancakes and a dish of roast Peking duck slices; meat, skin and all. I like that there's plenty of lean meat included in the course and not just skin, to wrap quite liberally within the thin, warmed pancakes.

    While the 'new' combination with pickled vegetable and mustard sauce make for a nice change, there's no beating a duck pancake with cucumber, hoisin sauce and shallots. With five pancakes per serve in the Express Lunch set, it's quite a generous, filling and reasonably priced meal with a completely luxurious feel.

    For a high end lunch experience away from the desk at decent price points and with the all-important speed of service, don't stop on your way to checking out Express Lunch at China Republic.

    Food, Booze & Shoes dined at China Republic as a guest, with thanks to The PR Partnership.


    China Republic on Urbanspoon

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    Posted by Jan

    In Rome, Roscioli Deli and Restaurant is probably the most well known example of a combined salumeria or deli and restaurant/wine bar style of venue where the products for sale in the deli are also used in the restaurant.

    It's packed with Italian products - wine, cheese, salumi, pantry items - but not to the exclusion of quality produce from other parts of Europe.

    Cheeses in the cabinet at Roscioli Deli and Restaurant, Rome, Italy
    In for dinner, I had the best seat in the house: in between the racks of wine and next to the cheese display. One look at the menu and I knew that I would need much looser pants - this was my Disneyland and it was going to be a dinner of all my all-time favourites.

    Not being very familiar with Italian wines, I asked our waitress to use her discretion and she did not fail me all night. Glass after glass of different types of wines, with names I could not pronounce much less spell.

    Arancini
    We were served a little dish of complimentary arancini balls to get the night started, signalling the start of a deliciously memorable meal. There was also a small dish of marinated olives for us to nibble on.

    La Burrata di Pisignano con Caviale
    Being our last night in Rome, we spoilt ourselves with an indulgent starter of burrata cream-filled mozzarella cheese, served split open with caviar on top.

    The burrata in Italy is so different from what is available in Australia. It was so soft, heavenly rich and unctuous with the cream and cheese curds pairing perfectly with the soft, salty fish eggs.

    Italy vs Spain: Prosciutto and jamon
    Given my professed love for cured meats, I could not pass up the opportunity to compare some of the best of what Italy could produce against my beloved jamon iberico from Spain.

    Roscioli's idea of this world title match was to serve the Italian culatello of Zibello DOP, aged 36 months, against the Spanish Pate Negra Sanchez Romero "5 Jota", aged 42 months.

    I am probably biased but I still prefer the Spanish jamon because it was just a little bit sweeter and I like the nutty taste that comes through at the end.

    La Carbonara
    Mymission was to find the best carbonara in Rome. The carbonara sauce at Roscioli is made with Paolo Parisi eggs, which have an almost cult-like following and are used by all the great restaurants of Italy.

    Together with crispy guanciale cured pork jowl and good, strong Roman pecorino, this simple dish of spaghetti with lashings of cheese was simply sublime. Best in Rome? Some say so.

    La Matriciana o Amatriciana
    The Amatriciana could be seen as a tomato based version of the carbonara with the use of guanciale and pecorino romana minus the egg.

    Despite a misconception that fresh pasta is best, I believe that the Romans have the right idea with using dried rigatoni pasta when making this classic dish. I liked the chewy texture of good quality, dried pasta cooked al dente.

    Sugar cookies with chocolate dip
    Full after two luxurious pasta courses, the lovely waitress was  understanding and gave us some time to gather ourselves before quietly slipping cookies in front of us as a little reminder that dessert was yet to come. I thought it was such a lovely idea to provide a dark chocolate sauce for dipping the cookies into.

    Mimolette Classica 12 Mesi
    I decided to go for a couple of cheeses as my dessert course instead of a sweet. I asked the waitress to pick her favourite hard cheese  for me to try and she surprised me by choosing a lovely French Mimolette. 

    Aged for about 12 months this hard cheese was a lovely orange hue with a taste that reminded me of parmesan but with an added nutty flavour.

    Erborinato con Marasche e Petali di Rose
    The best thing about Roscioli is that everything in the deli can be ordered. Being rather fond of blue cheeses, I couldn't help but be intrigued by the erborinato in the cheese cabinet next to me.

    The crust of this beautiful goat's milk blue cheese was covered with rose petals and cherries, giving it a lovely deep pink-purple hue as it ages. The scent of the rose petals lightly perfumed this mild blue cheese and made it such a pretty cheese for dessert. 

    Cannoli
    On the other side of the table it was the simple cannoli for dessert. Not surprisingly, I couldn't help myself and just had to have a bite. The simple ricotta filling was light and fluffy but it was the candied fruit peel that packed punches of flavour within the crumbly pastry.

    Roscioli felt like all my dreams had come true in one space. Wine, cheese and salumi - all in one spot. I can think of no other way I would have liked to end my trip to Italy other than a belly full of good food and wine. But sometimes, it's not always the best policy to save the best for last.

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    With age comes wisdom, experience and, especially if you like a drink, a few signs of wear and tear. If only I could undergo a sweet new fitout like Surry Hills' Sugarcane, which has had a facelift and the nip & tuck from its simple, bare basics look for the past five years or so.

    New wall mural and fitout at Sugarcane, Reservoir Street, Surry Hills
    (Image courtesy of The Cru Media)
    The new look is brighter, and more lively and inviting than previously, with hints of Thailand and Asian marketplaces quite fitting with the pan-Asian menu of chef and owner Milan Strbac (ex Longrain). Indeed, the loud chatter of happy diners suits the new fitout much better than its muted former look.

    So approachable and welcoming is the new look that Strbac is seeing more walk-in customers than ever into the petite restaurant. Former customers shouldn't fret - most of Sugarcane's signature dishes remain on the menu with a bigger, better focus on the wine and cocktail list.

    Prawn, rice cake, caramelised sugarcane
    I remember the Thai-influenced prawn-topped puffed rice cakes from several previous visits, and they were as delightful as ever.

    Best eaten in the one mouthful, this moreish appetiser of a whole prawn, shredded betel leaves, fried shallots, chilli and a caramelised sugarcane dressing atop a crisp rice cake was a table-silencer - at least for the time it took to scoff the mouthful and wish aloud for another.

    Salt and pepper squid, yellowbean and soy dressing
    To another signature - and classic Sydney - dish from the 'Small' part of the menu, Sugarcane's salt and pepper squid was impeccably tender in a light and pale batter with plenty of seasoning on the surface.

    The squid was served with a yellow bean and soy sauce dressing which I found a tad salty with the already well-seasoned squid.

    Coleslaw, crispy pork
    Next was an Asian style cabbage coleslaw full of carrot, chilli, coriander and other healthy ingredients, and the rather concealed addition of not so healthy cubes of crisp fried, golden pork belly.

    While each component was great and the vegetables were much needed in light of the pork, this probably could have been a standalone salad without the meat while the pork belly could make for a star dish of its own.

    Crispy chicken, blood plum
    From the 'Substantial' part of the menu came the crowd-pleasing boneless crispy chicken, battered then drenched in a sweet plum sauce and garnished with a wealth of fresh and fried shallots.

    Served with a squeeze of lemon, this could well be the modernised and improved version of the classic Aussie-Cantonese dish of sweet and sour pork.

    Braised eggplant, mustard greens
    The deep fried then braised cubes of eggplant from the vegetables section of the menu had a very pan-Asian feel about it, topped with slices of cucumber, chilli and coriander, sitting in a pool of its braising juices which were great with steamed rice.

    Massaman curry of duck
    Rice was also partnered with the impressive serve of duck massaman curry, served with chunks of potato and plenty of mild curry sauce. The duck took on plenty of the spice flavours and fell from the bone easily, making for quite the filling dish with rice soaking up the sauce.

    Banana roti, condensed milk ice-cream
    We made room for shared desserts though, with the deliciously clever roti flat bread, topped with ripe, mushy banana, a silky condensed milk ice cream, caramel sauce and coconut cream. It was a fabulous combination of classic flavours and textures that came together extraordinarily well.

    'Corn Flakes', coconut mousse, aloe vera
    The other very modern-looking dessert we had featured a white orb of coconut mousse atop a contrasting crumble of corn flakes, sesame seeds and other crunchy bits, beneath which hid a subtly sweet aloe vera jelly. Intriguingly different, it took a little more time to understand and enjoy than the banana roti.

    Sweets scoffed and the sweet fitout admired and appreciated, the older, wiser and renewed Sugarcane leaves you with a sticky feeling - one that you want to come back to again and again.

    Food, Booze & Shoes dined at Sugarcane as a guest, with thanks to The Cru Media.

    Sugarcane on Urbanspoon


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    Posted by Kath

    Rainy weekends give me a perfectly acceptable reason to hole up in a café, like Israeli-accented Shenkin Kitchen in Enmore, and enjoy breakfast and a coffee without feeling the need to rush off and make the most of my weekend.

    Ladder suspended from roof and sign at Shenkin Kitchen, Enmore Road, Enmore
    And who's to say I'm not making the most of it at Shenkin Kitchen, where an Israeli breakfast transports me beyond the usual café offerings and to the Middle East, via a quirky, welcoming little neighbourhood café.

    Piccolo latte
    The weekend starts with Shenkin's genuine passion for coffee, what with a window display full of Mecca's "Dark Horse" coffee bean packs.

    My piccolo latte was strong but not bitter with a lovely, smooth finish; so enjoyable that I was tempted to order a second if it wouldn't have me bouncing off the walls.

    Israeli Big Breakfast - Pita bread, smoked salmon, avocado, eggs,
     labna, cucumber, tomato and parsley salad
    Shenkin Kitchen is passionate about showing Sydney-siders what Israeli flavours are all about, and what better place to start than the Israeli Big Breakfast.

    This was a generous breakfast offering two of soft poached eggs, smoked salmon, half an avocado, labna yoghurt cheese sprinkled with za'atar, and a fresh and zesty salad of diced cucumber, tomato and parsley.

    Pita bread
    Healthy, fresh and soul-awakening, the big breakfast wouldn't have been complete without fluffy, oven mitt-like pita bread rounds, baked fresh in-house, to cradle and mop up every morsel on the board.

    Ziva - puff pastry filled with mozzarella and olives with sides of pickles. spicy coriander, hummus and grated tomato
    I couldn't go past the mysteriously named 'Ziva' option; basically a smorgasbord of Israeli delights served on a wooden plank. The flaky, sesame seed-topped puff pastry was crowned with a boiled egg and opened up to oozy mozzarella cheese goodness.

    More olives would have been nice for more contrast as the buttery pastry and cheese were a little rich and heavy after a few bites. But the fresh, punchy sides really lifted the dish: the hummus was smooth and nutty with a good garlic hit; the tomato salad was fresh and seasoned spectacularly; the pickles helped cut through the heaviness of the pastry; while the spicy coriander sauce brought a unique touch to breakfast.

    For a heart-warming breakfast that may well have you craving hummus for many meals to come, Shenkin Kitchen is a little corner of the Middle East in Sydney's Inner West.

    Shenkin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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    Italian for "the stairs", a flight of stairs is indeed what faces diners heading to La Scala on Jersey, set in a spacious floor above the Light Brigade Hotel in Paddington.

    Recent changes to the modern Italian restaurant have seen chef Massimo Mele (ex Hugo's, often seen partnering with Salt Meats Cheese) take over the kitchen and offer a more relaxed, authentic Italian experience.

    Bar at La Scala on Jersey, Jersey Road, Woollahra
    During the week this end of Paddington undoubtedly has a neighbourhood feel, albeit a posh one, and the refreshed look and feel of La Scala seems right at home with the dining families and small groups, both young and old.

    Cocktails at the bright, botanical-themed bar are a good place to start after the hike upstairs, especially with a cocktail list put together by drinks consultant Julian Serna (currently at Eau de Vie Apothecary, formerly The Morrison and The Fern).

    Cocktails at the bar: Regal Rogue Rosso (left) and He's in the Garden (right)
    The bar top is adorned with fresh fruit and juices while the cocktail list is modern, fruity and tempting all round. The tall Australiano apéritif-style cocktail comprised the local Regal Rogue Rosso vermouth with Campari, grapefruit bitters and a not-too-sweet, house-made creaming soda.

    Not on the menu but sold convincingly to me by the bartender was the He's in the Garden - a savoury take on a classic Tom Collins. With Hendricks gin, lemon juice, a slice of cucumber and soda, the cocktail was topped with salt which could be stirred into the drink to taste. With its salted gin botanicals it hinted at a softer and highly drinkable version of a dirty martini with its olive brine.

    Dining space
    We moved to the dining space for dinner, all dark wood and Bentwood chairs on wooden floorboards; seated with views of the open kitchen as well as the yellow street light-bathed street below.

    Long table
    Closer to the entrance there's a darker room with a long table to seat 26 diners or to be used as a private dining room. There's no shortage of space at La Scale, and that's before adding the upstairs bathrooms and powder room.

    Black Russian, cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, capers, basil, balsamic
    We were enamoured by the two weekly specials from a streamlined menu of share plates to start, mains and side dishes.

    La Scala's take on classic insalata caprese makes some unexpected additions and improvements even. Creamy buffalo mozzarella came torn over Black Russian and cherry tomatoes; both exceptionally sweet and ripe.

    Balsamic vinegar brought new perspective to the Caprese salad while capers added saltiness to the mozzarella which sadly never tastes as good as when in Italy.

    Wagyu beef carpaccio with truffled egg, rocket
    Another special, the carpaccio of wagyu beef was drizzled heavily with a mayonnaise-like dressing and grated parmesan cheese, topped with a golden-crumbed egg.

    The dressing seemed a little overpowering on the thin slices of raw beef but when eaten together with the gooey yolk of the boiled truffle-scented egg, it all made perfect, delicious sense.

    Butterflied king prawns, oregano, chilli, lemon
    From the share plates menu we couldn't resist the split grilled prawns dressed with oregano, a touch of chilli and fresh lemon juice.

    Fantastically large and fairly meaty specimens, the prawn's crisp legs and shells could have been eaten too while the oregano made for an appetising match to the set of crustaceans.

    Strozzapreti, oxtail ragu, pecorino, gremolata
    For mains, I had to try one of the house-made pastas and with both strozzapreti and ragu being some of my favourite pasta types and sauces respectively, it had to be the dish featuring oxtail.

    This strozzapreti was bit like long spiral pasta with shreds of oxtail meat in an unexpectedly light ragu sauce, topped with grated pecorino cheese and refreshing gremolata of parsley and lemon zest.

    It went quite well with the reservedly fruity 2010 Scagliola "Busiord" dolcetto from the Piedmont region of Italy, listed under 'Old World Reds' in the wine list and selected with a bit of help from the waitstaff.

    Grilled organic spatchcock, olives, lemon, prosciutto, broccolini rapini
    I was glad that the mains were served to share because the spatchcock dish was impressively large, featuring a whole butterflied and grilled bird. The charred skin and herb dressing on the spatchcock enhanced the beautifully juicy flesh within, making it worthwhile to suck the bones clean.

    Beneath the bird was an interesting array of supporting ingredients including silky prosciutto, salty olive segments, a bright green herb sauce and wilted leaves of lemony broccoli rabe that provided every bite of spatchcock with a different highlight.

    Witlof, radicchio, pickled beetroot, candied walnuts, sour cherries, goats curd
    Our mains were supplemented with an elaborate side salad of bitter witlof and radicchio paired with baby beetroot segments, sweet candied walnuts and cherries, and hidden beneath it all, creamy and tangy goat's curd.

    Polenta chips, parmesan and truffle aioli
    And we couldn't help but order the polenta chips too, and thank goodness we did as they may well be some of the best I've ever had.

    Finished with parmesan cheese and served with a truffle-flavoured aioli, the crispness of the polenta chips with hot, light and fluffy insides made me reach for one after another and momentarily forget how full I was getting.

    Tiramisu "modo mio"(left) and gelato (right)
    But we couldn't leave without trying dessert; both our ordered options of which were thankfully on the petite end of the scale. The tiramisu "modo mio", presumably chef Mele's way, was served layered in a tall shot glass with chocolate mousse amid mascarpone and coffee-soaked sponge which had a good kick.

    The gelato option proffered three scoops: chocolate, fig and raspberry with the latter being the refreshing highlight while the chocolate was a lovely and rich finish.

    While chef Mele's menu is clearly Italian, there's a modern sensibility to it that is light and fresh yet unpretentious; making you want to eat it over and over again. Meanwhile, the upstairs restaurant space is simply fabulous: airy yet intimate, cosy and classy, and a place you're happy to linger over coffee or digestifs.

    As we went to descend la scala, it seemed clear that the Paddington and Woollahra end of Oxford Street are stepping up the dining game to an approachable yet refined offering for locals and food lovers alike - and that's worth taking the stairs for.

    Food, Booze & Shoes dined at La Scala on Jersey with credit, thanks to Agency G.

    La Scala on Jersey on Urbanspoon

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    There's so much construction going on in the heart of Sydney CBD, one would think we were a much newer (or indeed, much older) city.

    While the noise and wafts of building dust are one thing, the new eateries sprouting up in and around the new and renovated buildings are one positive; including Yamato at the base of the new-ish ANZ Tower in the CBD south.

    Pacific oysters from Yamato, ANZ Tower, Castlereagh Street, Sydney
    Like casual Japanese restaurants that are typical in inner city suburbs, Yamato offers a bit of everything under the umbrella of Japanese cuisine.

    The fitout is CBD- and suits-appropriate with plenty of wood tones and booth seating, while ordering is supposedly expedited by ticking an sheet of menu options.

    We started with reasonably priced Pacific oysters, served natural with a soy dressing, shallots and togarashi chilli powder enhancing the plump molluscs' natural flavour.

    Mixed sashimi selection
    The mixed sashimi offering at Yamato had the usual suspects of raw salmon, tuna and kingfish covered, with the addition of scallops, a smattering of salmon roe and a single raw prawn its head intact. A deliciously fresh sashimi presentation, between three of us we even went another plate.

    Salmon belly nigiri sushi
    I'd say salmon nigiri sushi must be Sydney's favourite nigiri style. The thick belly pieces we had in this serve were creamy with fat and scoffed within seconds with a touch of soy sauce and wasabi.

    Seaweed salad
    The requisite vegetable order landed us with the bog-standard hiyashi wakame marinated seaweed in a bowl propped up with lettuce leaves.

    Pan fried gyoza
    The crisp-bottomed pan fried pork gyoza dumplings were pretty decent renditions of their kind and (probably) not of the frozen variety with nice chewy skins.

    Grilled scallop skewers
    We chose a few hot food items from the grilled section; first landing with the grilled scallop skewers. With two roe-on scallops per stick and some sort of sauce, a zingier seasoning or juicier scallop would have made this dish more interesting.

    Kimchi pork skewers
    Plenty enough interesting was the spicy kimchi encased pork skewers. Thin slices of pork, cooked to a crisp on the grill, were tightly wrapped around crunchy cabbage kimchi in a fusion skewer that was about the best thing we ate all night.

    Grilled mushroom skewers
    I'm pretty sure the menu alluded to grilled shiitake mushrooms so we were bemused to receive two skewers of faintly grilled button mushrooms with bits of torched shredded cheese. The unidentified sauce on the side couldn't even help these fungi.

    In the heart of the city, where competition for our food dollars is intense, Yamato offers a decent casual Japanese experience that won't break the bank nor the mould on casual Japanese.

    Yamato on Urbanspoon

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    Everyone's favourite mollusc festival is back for the entire month of August at The Morrison. Highlighted by the crowd-pleasing $1 Oyster Hour - every day from 6pm to 7pm - The Morrison Oyster Festival will run from 1-31 August 2014 with menu specials and one-off events.


    The Morrison's Oyster Festival, 1-31 August 2014, George Street, Sydney
    I've been to The Morrison previously during Oyster Hour (which, outside of the festival, is every Wednesday night from 6pm to 7pm) and had Smoky Bay Pacific oysters to my heart's content.

    During the festival, it's on every evening. I can only imagine the oyster shell carnage.

    Freshly shucked oysters
    For enthusiasts and competitive eaters, there's an Oyster Shucking Masterclass on Tuesday, 12 August and an oyster eating competition on Tuesday, 19 August.

    James Squire beer and oyster matching
    The festival even has an official beer in James Squire One Fifty Lashes, which of course is a great match for briney, natural oysters.

    Carpetbag steak
    Rounding out the month's festivities are wine and oyster flights and chef Sean Connolly's special oyster dishes on the daily menu, including the classic 1950/60s carpetbag steak stuffed with oysters - surf and turf at its retro best.

    Oyster po' boy sliders
    See more pics on our Facebook page and see more about the festivities of The Morrison's Oyster Festival.

    Food, Booze & Shoes attended the launch of The Morrison's Oyster Festival as a guest, with thanks to Savannah PR.

    The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room on Urbanspoon

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    Once upon a time there was a suburb over the bridge called Chatswood. All I knew of the suburb were two major shopping centres and a train station. Fast-forward about a decade and now Chatswood is an eating and shopping destination with a booming casual restaurant scene.

    The newly-built Concourse at Chatswood comprises restaurants, a library, entertainment venue and open air space. And set over two levels at the Concourse is Shanghai Stories 1938 - a high-end venue from the group behind Taste of Shanghai, styled in the look and feel of the opulent 1930s in Shanghai.

    Shredded pork Peking style with pancakes from Shanghai Stories 1938, The Concourse,
    Victoria Avenue, Chatswood
    Having had the previous pleasure of a yum cha style dumpling brunch at Shanghai Stories (dishes to order and offerings outside of the standard yum cha experience), we returned for dinner upstairs one night among the many Chinese family get-togethers.

    In fact, most tables had at least five people with the large round tables holding joint families of ten and more. There are dumplings on offer in the evening too, but we stuck to a few mains from the lengthy, book-like photo menu.

    Shredded pork Peking style
    We started on a childhood favourite of shredded pork strips, served with the same thin, chewy pancakes you get with Peking duck.

    Stir fried with leek in a dark, sweet and sticky sauce, the tender pork strips made for a most satisfying filling with cucumber within the loosely folded pancakes. I was glad we weren't sharing our pancakes between a table of ten.

    Dan dan noodle soup
    Probably not a typical dinner order, we tried the dan dan noodle soup which came in a large bowl, filled to the brim with a thick soup, thin rice noodles and baby bok choy, garnished with shallots.

    While the noodles were fine, the nutty soup was deceptively bland - I would never have thought a soup of such colour could have been bland. Suffice to say, condiments were needed and added.

    Ginger, soy and shallot steamed whole barramundi
    To our feature main, we elected a whole steamed barramundi done in traditional Cantonese style: steamed with ginger, shallots and soy sauce.

    The whole fish was a good size for three as a shared main, with fall-apart, smooth flesh beneath the silky-slimy steamed skin. The juices from the steamed fish mixed with soy sauce and slivers of ginger and shallot make a for a homely condiment with steamed white rice.

    Sauteed green beans with minced pork
    I tend to order a requisite vegetable dish with dinner although when they're flash-fried in oil like the green beans, I question how healthy the vegetable side becomes. In any case, the slightly overcooked green beans were sautéed with nubbins of pork mince in one of the tastier green vegetable options.

    Whether it's for a dumpling brunch or dinner amongst the families, Shanghai Stories 1938 sure had us eating happily ever after.

    Shanghai Stories 1938 on Urbanspoon

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    Posted by Hendy

    Craft beer has reached such a popular level in Australia that beer and food matching, beyond a pie, no longer sounds silly. But I was quite curious when I saw the beer and chocolate craft beer and food experience as part of The Oaks' Six States of Beer series.

    Hosted by the Beer Diva Kirrily Waldhorn, the Six States of Beer events at The Oaks throughout the year traverse the country, pairing a selection of beers from one of six Australian states with a food theme for one-off food matching dinners with dishes curated by chef Danny Russo.

    The third event of the year went west, pairing of five craft beers from Western Australia with the sweet and glorious chocolate. Chocolate and beer - two great essentials, but together?


    Little Creatures Bright Ale served at WA Beer & Chocolate event at The Oaks Hotel, Military Rd, Neutral Bay
    On arrival guests were offered a starter beer, so as to cleanse thy palates - for more beer. The Little Creatures Bright Ale was described as sunshine in a glass, or in this case in a bottle, which was quite rightly backed by the summery and floral notes.

    The Bright Ale uses blended malts and hop flowers from US and New Zealand with its refreshing aromas which include pineapple and passionfruit.

    Kirrily Waldhorn, the Beer Diva
    The lovely Beer Diva Kirrily Waldhorn's beer knowledge is extensive and it was great to learn from her love for beer as she passionately described each beer in vivid detail.

    Wagyu bresaola with beer pickled pine mushrooms, rocket and shaved dark chocolate
    Following the starter beer, the first matched course featured dark chocolate shaved atop a bed of rocket with cured wagyu bresaola and beer pickled pine mushrooms.

    The two-week cured bresaola provided saltiness to the dish while the pickled pine mushrooms had light, nutty flavours. The bitter-sweetness of the dark chocolate worked well with the bitter rocket, earthy mushrooms and salty bresaola, catering for almost all of the tongue's taste sensations. 

    Feral Hop Hog beer
    The pairing beer for the bresaola salad was the Feral Hop Hog American-style India Pale Ale, or IPA for short; one of my favourite types of beer.

    The Feral Hop Hog embodied a strong citrusy aroma with a short bitter and dry finish. The strong flavours are derived from the heavy dose of American hops that are added during the boil and also through the fermentation stage.

    The bitter finish of the IPA matched well with the bitterness of the dark chocolate atop the bresaola and the nuttiness of the mushrooms.

    Matso's Mango Beer
    The third beer to be introduced was the Matso's Mango beer. The last time I had a mango flavoured beer was at the Belgian Beer Cafe and remarkably, the Beer Diva noted that this particular mango beer is based on a classic Belgium blonde recipe in the fruit variation.

    Founded in Broome by a German brewer, this Belgium blonde beer tasted like a golden ale with fruit and spicy characters. Brewed using a 100% natural mango blend, the beer had a fruity mango aroma and a sweet yet dry finish, making it quite the easy-drinking beer.

    The Beer Diva introduced an interesting experiment on the night. We were told to hold our noses, shutting it from all aromas and to then sip the mango beer. Once we had a sip, we were told to release the hold on our noses. The effect, a parcel of cinnamon aroma rushing through the nose before all the other more evident flavours coming out on the palate.

    Risotto with braised duck, cherry mostarda and bitter chocolate
    The dish that paired with Matso's mango beer was a lovely winter-warming duck risotto, topped with bitter chocolate. This was a unique and interesting combination which at first glance was slightly off-putting.

    The risotto was the kind of risotto you would want to have on a cold wintery night: warm and creamy with the arborio rice still slightly firm. The cherry mostarda gave the whole dish a citrusy touch on top of the slight bitterness from the chocolate in what turned out to be quite a clever dish.

    Mini chocolate and bacon burger with stout spider
    The second last pairing was a crazy, smoky dessert match. On the diner-styled plate was slider filled with a generous dollop of Nutella and crispy candied bacon - yes, you read right - alongside an ice cream spider made with stout. The matching beer was the heavily smoked Nail Brewing Rauch Smoke beer.

    This was a particularly exciting pairing as all three elements were very unique and very different. The slider was excellent with the crisp, sweet-salty bacon so good that it was a star on its own. The extreme sweetness of the slider was brought to balance with the stout spider; a spin on the traditional sarsaparilla spider that was fizzy and fresh.

    The heavy Nail Brewing Rauch Smoked beer features the rarely used German rauch malt; a pale malt smoked over beechwood that lends it an enticing smokiness alongside fresh hops and light chocolate characteristics. There was a also a smoky bacon note in the beer that connected the slider.

    Nail Oatmeal Stout
    To finish off the beer matched dinner were two bespoke beer and milk chocolate Adriano Zumbo macarons. The two Zumbarons were paired with the last beer of the night; the Nail Oatmeal Stout.

    Taking inspiration from traditional British stouts, the Nail Oatmeal Stout was rather creamy, full of chocolate notes and a slight hint of coffee. 

    Bespoke beer and milk chocolate Zumbarons from Adriano Zumbo
    The macarons by Zumbo were made specially for the tasting event and were remarkable as expected: soft with a delicate crunch and not too sweet. I failed to find any hint of beer note in the macarons though the milk chocolate was certainly present.

    Selection of beer including the Nail Brewing Rauch Smoked beer on the right
    It's not just the beer talking but the whole night of beer and food matching was brilliant. There was a great selection of WA beers with surprising and delicately matched chocolate dishes in a night that really celebrated craft beers and their versatility.

    The next Six States of Beer event on is Wednesday, 13 August 2014, showcasing NSW's best boutique beers paired with pork dishes.

    Food, Booze & Shoes attended the Six States of Beer event at The Oaks as a guest, with thanks to Wasamedia.

    The Oaks on Urbanspoon

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    Nothing beats a warming, spicy curry in the depths of winter and with the cool temperatures of the last couple of weeks, curries have been high on the list of winter cravings. So we were more than happy to battle a freezing, windy Sunday night for a short trip to the south of India via Malabar restaurant in Darlinghurst.

    Producing regional Indian cuisine from Malabar in the south of the Indian subcontinent, chef and owner Mohammed Sali and his team have been in the Victoria Street space for an impressive 11 years. Later this year, they're planning a move up the road to bigger premises - judging by the full house and continuous flow of takeaway orders, it's not a bad idea.


    Prawn dosai from Malabar, Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
    Despite the cold outside, we couldn't resist a couple of mango lassis that were sweet with a vividly-coloured mango addition to the yoghurt drink.

    We had one of the restaurant's specialty dosai as a shared entrée, as many tables appeared to be doing, opting for the prawn filling in the thin, crisp crepe of fermented rice and lentil batter.

    Inside of prawn dosai 
    Served with a creamy, nutty sauce and a spiced curry-like sauce on the side, the dosai encased firm pieces of king prawn in a sweet and tangy sauce, full of spices, flavouring the accompanying tomato and capsicum. My first dosai experience and I do say, I'll be having more of these in future.

    Chicken Dhansak
    We shared two mains including the day's special of chicken Dhansak, cooked with red lentils, Kashmiri chilli and ginger, finished with strained yoghurt. A mild level of heat, there were surprisingly clean spice flavours in the tangy sauce, with the chilli ante increased with the addition of pickled chillies.

    It was also my first experience of Indian style pickles which are made for mixing in with curries and other mains and rice in very small quantities per mouthful - definitely not for eating on their own.

    Beef Kerala
    The beef Kerala was more curry as I know it, with fresh coconut milk, ginger and potatoes in a mild sauce. The super-tender beef delighted in the creamy sauce, as did the steamed rice and naan bread we had with the mains.

    Chilli cheese naan
    While garlic naan is my usual order with Indian curries, the chilli cheese offering at Malabar got my interest this time.

    Not particularly heavy-handed on the chilli, the cheese is all stretchy, gooey goodness to start but is less interesting when it no longer oozes. Garlic naan still reigns supreme in my books.

    Mango kulfi
    Three out of four dessert options are kulfi so we went with the odds. A frozen dairy dessert much like ice cream but more dense, we opted for the mango flavour which was the same vivid colour of our previous lassi and just as addictively sweet and creamy.

    It was an utterly delightful, heart- and feet-warming dinner on a packed Sunday night with chef-owner Sali doing the rounds on the floor. A spontaneous curry dinner and short trip to south India has been the best remedy for winter so far.

    Malabar on Urbanspoon

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    I'll be the first to admit that I don't go west very often - those inner city and inner west bubble walls can be rather thick.

    But a recent Saturday morning event in the west presented me with a unique opportunity to go west the night before - to the rather new Atura Blacktown hotel by the AHL group that also owns Sydney's boutique QT Hotel, and the adjacent Skyline Drive In cinema.

    Atura Blacktown, Cricketers Arms Road, Blacktown
    For those not accustomed to going west (hi), Blacktown is pretty far from the inner city especially in after-Friday-work peak hour traffic. When you do get to Blacktown/Prospect, don't get too worried when GPS tells you to turn off a dark, rather sparse road that shows very little around for what seems like miles.

    You're (probably) on the right track to reach the beacon-like, white-and-yellow-lit Atura Blacktown on Cricketers Arms Road. Opened in late 2013 as a newly-built three-storey structure, Atura Blacktown is the first of a new chain of design hotels by AHL aiming to bring some style and quirk to city fringe, suburban or regional areas where there's still demand for accommodation.

    Pool table and seating on the ground floor lobby
    Aside from a whole lot of corporates, Atura Blacktown targets event-goers at Eastern Creek (apparently now known as Sydney Motorsport Park) and in the warmer seasons, families and groups headed to Wet'n'Wild Sydney.

    The hotel's philosophy is based around "high connectivity" and "low guest maintenance" which means free WiFi and a huge shared space lobby incorporating reception, entertainment, the Roadhouse Bar & Restaurant, and a Grab & Go pantry where quick snacks, microwaveable meals and other necessities are there for guests' grabbing and purchasing convenience.

    Bedroom suite
    Upstairs the guest rooms are a surprisingly spacious proposition, like a well-planned studio apartment with all the necessary trimmings. Decked out in what I can only try to describe as a modern quirky art/design style, the rooms have a desk, small sofa and table, bed (of course) and the added facilities of an almost-kitchenette.

    Kitchenette
    There's a kitchenette sink, microwave, kettle and pod espresso machine as well as some kitchen utensils which makes me think there was also some kind of stove implement for basic in-room cooking.

    Then, there was the full mini bar with drinks, including booze, snacks and even microwave popcorn for drive in cinema or in-room consumption - the latter a rather tempting offer with the on-swivel flat screen television and free movies on offer - yes, free movies.

    Artwork and sofa

    Room furnishings

    Bathroom artwork

    Bathroom furnishings

    Roadhouse Bar & Grill dining area
    (Image courtesy of AHL)
    Of course, for something more substantial to eat there's the Roadhouse Bar & Grill on the ground lobby floor which offers a menu of grill and modern Australian dishes with something to to suit everyone.

    The open kitchen at Roadhouse Bar & Grill, Atura Blacktown
    The bonus of the open and shared lobby space means that there's plenty to watch for entertainment as you wait for your meal - from cars pulling up out the front, people at reception or the pantry, to people at the lobby televisions or playing pool and in the warmer weather, probably people in the pool.

    Aperol Spritz (left) and Dark and Stormy (right) cocktails
    The Roadhouse Bar has standalone bar seating while it also services the restaurant with a full offering of beer, wines and cocktails.

    I opted for a weather-inappropriate pre-dinner Aperol Spritz, while the Dark and Stormy was also served classically: tall with Goslings Black Seal rum and topped with ginger beer and lime.

    Popcorn prawns
    It didn't take long at all for our starters to arrive, beginning with battered popcorn prawns that we demolished in minutes.

    Served considerately atop a leafy salad with pickled carrots, the not-small golden-surfaced prawn pieces were deliciously easy to enjoy, especially with a sweet chilli lime mayonnaise drizzled over.

    Baked beetroot and goat's cheese salad
    The friendly waitress' favourite dish of beetroot and goat's cheese salad featured baked baby specimens of both golden and normal beetroots. Pimped up with crunchy pistachio nuts and pumpkin seeds, the salad was a perfect balance of leafiness, tart balsamic vinegar dressing, sweet beets and creamy goat's cheese.

    300g free range Kurobuta pork chop, potato gratin and beans
    Being the cold night it was I felt like something comforting and winter-appropriate, and so ordered the larger than expected pork chop served with creamy, cheesy potato gratin and green beans.

    The huge, well-grilled pork chop came with a glossy, tasty gravy but even that couldn't get me all the way through the quite lean chop, while the potato gratin was irresistibly filling.

    200g eye fillet steak, Grassland, NSW
    As a grill restaurant it's hard not to go with a steak and the Grassland eye fillet is one of five steak options, all served with fat chips and a choice of sauce.

    Cooked to medium-rare as requested, the petite but thickly cut steak was a tender affair that was best with the rich pepper sauce.

    Eye fillet steak served with fat chips and sauces
    Meanwhile, the metal basket of super fat chips with fluffy innards were great with the bacon-and-garlic-scented mushroom sauce; an inadvertent second steak sauce.

    Roast vegetables
    A side of roast vegetables was a wintry celebration of sweet, softened root vegetables - pumpkin, carrot, sweet potato and the ever-delightful parnsip.

    Queue at Skyline Drive In, Cricketers Arms Road, Blacktown 
    Unfortunately we didn't have time to try desserts at Roadhouse Bar & Grill as we were due for a movie at the neighbouring Skyline Drive In - the only permanent drive in cinemas in Sydney, and with two screens.

    I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks of Greaseat the sound of a drive in and it's all the fun you imagine and more. Drive in, queue up in your car, pay per person at the entry then park in one of the many designated spots.

    Watching a movie at the drive in!
    Then, tune in to the right radio frequency and voilà - surround sound in the confines of your car. Note that it can get pretty chilly in winter so rug up, take a blanket or work out how to keep the heating (and radio) on without the car lights on.

    Grab and Go pantry at Atura Blacktown
    If dinner and popcorn weren't enough to stave away hunger pangs post movie, a quick visit to the Grab and Go pantry late at night would have done the trick.

    Roadhouse Bar, by day
    The next morning we returned to the Roadhouse restaurant area for breakfast. As with many hotel restaurants, the space doubles as the buffet breakfast area with the kitchen pass getting covered in vessels and food dispensers.

    Cereals, milk, yoghurt and fruit at the breakfast buffet
    Healthy options include yoghurts, fruit and cereal - and weirdly, I can never resist tinned peaches at a hotel breakfast buffet.

    Yoghurt, fruit and juices 

    Bread station
    The bread station offers a decent selection of white, brown and super thick raisin bread as well as English muffins and a range of spreads including Lurpak butter and Birch & Waite honey.

    Next to the breads is the conveyor belt toaster machine which warmed my English muffin though I wouldn't have called it toasted. I think I need more practice with those machines.

    Scrambled eggs
    From the hot food selection were heavy enamel pots of scrambled eggs, not quite crispy bacon and the best whole, buttery, button mushrooms of which I could have had seemingly endless helpings.

    Bacon

    Mushrooms

    Buffet breakfast plate
    However healthy the intention, this is what my buffet breakfast plates tend to look like. With the addition of crisp hash browns and mini chicken sausages, this big breakfast was completely appropriate for a day when the consumption of alcohol commenced before noon and not long after check-out.

    The pool at Atura Blacktown
    Once the weather warms up, I can imagine the pool and pool bar just outside of the restaurant dining area will become highly coveted spots for those staying in the hotel and not in the area for water park queues. Given this was the view from our room, bikini parades and people watching are also likely to be popular.

    Chairs by the pool
    Atura Blacktown brings some city pizazz and quirk out west with a unique offering at an affordable price point. With the Roadhouse Bar & Grill and the Skyline Drive In next door, it's a bit of an attraction in itself - worth going west for.

    Atura Blacktown exterior by day
    (Image courtesy of AHL)
    Food, Booze & Shoes was a guest of Atura Blacktown, Roadhouse Bar & Grill and the Skyline Drive In.

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  • 08/13/14--14:48: Three Blue Ducks in a row
  • Bronte's not really known as a food destination, other than perhaps fish and chips by the beach, but Three Blue Ducks is certainly lifting the game. If the weekend late lunch queues are anything to go by, the one-hatted restaurant/café known for its sustainable approach to food and dining is being well appreciated by the locals.

    The venue is split into two parts with additional outdoor dining on the footpath and their famed kitchen garden out the back. Seated in a snug booth right next to the kitchen during a recent lunch visit, it was impossible not to salivate at the tempting aromas from the kitchen while we nursed hangover-friendly fresh juices.

    Steamed mussels at Three Blue Ducks, Macpherson Street, Bronte
    There are plenty of tempters on the lunch menu so we happily shared among four, starting with a generous dish of gloriously saucy mussels.

    Served with crisply toasted sourdough bread, the perfectly steamed mussels swam in a creamy and pleasantly spicy sauce of coconut sambal, dressed with plenty of fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes and extra dessicated coconut.

    Steamed mussels with a herb and coconut sambal with chilli toast
    The spice and zing of the sambal gave the soft molluscs the most incredible kick, while I could have basically drank the sweet, rich sauce in which we dipped the sourdough. Simply divine – this is certainly a contender for mussels of the year.

    Steak sandwich
    Declared by a table guest as "the best steak sandwich ever", Three Blue Ducks' steak sando certainly didn't skimp on the steak, with a thick, medium-rare grilled slices of beef sandwiched between a crusty, white bread roll.

    The other sandwich fillings were as complementary as it gets: tomato slices, sweet onion marmalade, some greenery in the form of rocket leaves and a colourful red pepper mayonnaise, adding to the overall juiciness.

    Spicy chorizo, cuttlefish, chili, tomato and basil with squid ink fettucine
    The pasta-inclined will be happy to see the inky black squid ink fettucine on the menu, in a simple sauce of grilled chorizo pieces, tender slices of cuttlefish, chilli, tomato segments and basil. While it wasn't the type of rich, meaty pasta dish I adore having in winter, it was certainly a lunch-appropriate dish.

    Coffee and cumin crusted brisket with roast potatoes, radish and apple salad
    The brisket dish was the all-out winter lunch experience. Alongside roasted potato skins, filled with potato and other vegetables, was a brick of tender and lusciously fatty beef brisket; slow cooked though a little light on flavour from its coffee and cumin crust. It was some pretty seriously fatty meat so the refreshing radish, apple and coriander salad served with the dish was more than necessary.

    We raided the remainders of the cakes cabinet for dessert as the lunch menu doesn't feature any desserts, though after quite the substantial, restaurant quality lunch, I'm not sure we really needed the super fudgey brownie or the raspberry friand.

    It's taken me a little while to get my ducks in a row for a visit to Bronte's Three Blue Ducks but now that I have, I'm lining up for another visit real soon.

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  • 08/17/14--15:12: So cool, SoCal
  • When SoCal opened in Neutral Bay late last year, it was really one of the first all-out themed bars to hit the lower north shore. Decked out in a Southern Californian beach style with bearded and floral-shirted hipster staff at every turn, SoCal has certainly hit a chord with the themed-bar-starved locals, who flock to the upstairs and half outdoor bar and restaurant through the week and especially on weekends.

    Cocktail samples at SoCal, Young Street, Neutral Bay
    I'd been to SoCal once before for a quick margarita in warmer times, enjoying the casual outdoor terrace vibe amid some very dressy groups of girls. The venue's fitout and music does well in transporting people to another place, far away from the thoroughfare that is Military Road.

    As does a fun cocktail list which we sampled parts of at a recent SoCal Social event. Misbehaving foams were the name of the game with a fun, flirty and citrusy orange-red tequila cocktail by bar manager Joe Worthington.

    Crab and sopressatta tostadas
    Given its proximity to Mexico, the Southern Californian theme sees a Mexican tinge through the menu including plenty of tequilas on the back bar and a unique Californian slant to the wine list.

    The food started with a bang and a crunch with a board of tostadas delivered by chef Zac Smart himself. Crunchy chip circles were topped with a zingy, flavour-packed combination of two of my favourite things: crab flesh and sopressata salami. Rich yet moreish, this really was the ultimate tostada and a good sign of things to come.

    Chicken sliders: marinated chicken breast with avocado and chorizo
    Sliders make a menu appearance, along with fellow-everywhere buddies tacos and quesadillas, but these aren't your average mini burgers.

    Maybe it's been a while between sliders for me but I loved the juicy chicken fillet with avocado on the little toasted burger bun although the chorizo didn't really register.

    Frisco Pisco cocktail
    The sliders were paired with the Frisco Pisco cocktail – a jalapeño chilli-infused Pisco shaken with egg white, elderflower liqueur, lime, sugar and muddled cucumber and perfectly garnished with a touch of cracked pepper.

    Seared salmon with broccolini, chilli and coriander salsa verde
    To the more substantial share plates, we had the delightfully seared salmon with broccolini, the crunchiest sweet potato crisps and a smashing chilli and coriander salsa verde.

    It was perfection with the salmon just a little rare in the middle, and matched with Dry Creek Fume Blanc from California's Sonoma region.

    Slow roasted lamb shoulder with faro, freekeh, quinoa and kale
    Next was the slow roasted lamb shoulder - itself a very 'now' protein offering served on a superfood medley of old grains faro, freekah and quinoa with diced kale, topped with an enlightening gremolata of chopped parsley and citrus zest.

    This was pretty much the ultimate new take on a rustic dish that fits right in with modern Australian cuisine and was paired with Bliss Pinot Noir.

    Scotch fillet with chimmichurri
    And if that wasn't enough red meat pleasure, our final shared savoury dish was a very rare scotch fillet steak, sliced to share, with tangy chimmichurri that could go well with really any protein though I would have been happy to have the steak on the grill a minute more.

    Mushroom and bean salad
    The steak was served with Dry Creek ‘Heritage’ Zinfandel, also from the Sonoma region, and a mushroom salad with plenty of beans and spinach.

    Chocolate, pistachio and tequila brownies with chipotle cream
    The night finished on a high of several kinds, especially the fudgey chocolate, pistachio and tequila brownies served with a squizz with chipotle cream. While I'm not a dessert person, if there's a sweet I can never resist at least tasting, it's a brownie.

    Espresso martini
    The decadent brownie was matched with an equally rich salted caramel espresso martini of Ketel One vodka, Galliano Ristretto, salted caramel and espresso (decaf on request for those who can't sleep after espresso martinis). Garnished with a crumble of honeycomb chocolate, this is definitely a great dessert cocktail with both a sugar and caffeine high.

    The people behind SoCal (and Bondi Hardware and The Botanist) are spreading their brand of casual but fun cool all across Sydney and for Neutral Bay locals, it must be so cool to have SoCal in the neighbourhood.

    Food, Booze & Shoes attended the SoCal Social as a guest, with thanks to Pendulum Communications.

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    Posted by Hendy

    Mrs P's is a small, family-run café just behind Burwood RSL, tucked behind the main Burwood Road corridor where a number of bigger, more established cafés reside. As the name suggests, the café family's surname begins with the letter P.

    All-day menu board at Mrs P's, George Street, Burwood 
    The son of Mrs P's explained how the café has now been open for almost two years, having opened on the specially selected date of 12/12/12.

    Father George is the barista on the coffee line with the son working the floor and front counter. Mrs P's takes care of the bustling kitchen at the back. Given the limited number of staff on the floor, I found service to be a bit slow though the service is quite personal which was lovely to see.

    George P (in red) and his son

    Mrs P's interiors
    The venue is small yet cosy, with a big window opening up to lots of natural light. Son of Mrs P's explained how they wanted a vintage setting and vintage feel, somewhat consistent with majority of the cafés in the inner west area.

    There are photos of Mrs P's family and extended family around the café which make for interesting viewing. He also explained how with the limited initial budget, all the tables were self designed, painted and sanded.

    Latte
    The all-day menu is extensive. You can have breakfast in almost any combination: a choice of eggs, toast, potato cakes, mushrooms and more breakfast sides tailored to your appetite and liking.

    Cappucino
    We started with a selection of coffees, each which comes a bite-sized shortbread. Using Five Senses beans, the coffee had a nutty, subtle and mellow tone and was quite clean and smooth on the palate.

    Flat white
    George P is undoubtedly an excellent barista and master of the milk station, with the smooth, silky coffee a function of the quality of the milk preparation.

    Blueberry muffin
    Lining up at the counter to order, there were a number of homemade cakes including a rather pale blueberry muffin which was nice and soft with plenty of blueberries but sadly, no muffin top.

    Gourmet ham toastie
    We also ordered the gourmet ham toastie which comprised a generous serve of free-range and preservative-free, thick-sliced ham, melted Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard on toasted brown bread.

    Egg & toast with the added homemade potato cake
    From the breakfast options we ordered two poached eggs and organic sourdough toast with add-ons of beef sausages and a homemade potato cake. While the eggs looked superb on the plate, they were slightly overcooked with the yolk being quite firm and not as runny I would have expected, though compensated for by the scrumptious homemade potato cake and the flavourful beef sausages.

    Vegetarian breakfast
    The vegetarian breakfast was the most colourful dish that morning, served with poached eggs, grilled tomato halves, blanched baby spinach, a large grilled mushroom, a fan of avocado and sourdough toast.

    Similarly, the poached eggs were slightly overcooked while the tomatoes and mushroom would have benefited from a bit more seasoning.

    Mrs P's, George Street, Burwood
    Mrs P's is a great fresh addition to the set of conventional Mediterranean style cafés in Burwood. The simplicity and homely feel of the dishes are heart-warming, complemented by the personal touch offered by Mrs P's and the family.

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    If you've ever walked through the Sydney CBD on the weekend, you'd notice it's pretty dead outside of Pitt Street shopping mall. I always wonder what tourists think of our empty city centre; and how uneconomic non-office city rent must be.

    Further in CBD south Alpha Restaurant is going against the grain and actually making the most of weekend crowds, introducing a Sunday lunch service to its all-week trading earlier this year.

    Dining tables at Alpha Restaurant, Castlereagh Street, Sydney
    It's been a funny year for modern Greek restaurants: while there have been a fewcasualties and gyrosare trying to become the next big thing, Alpha appears to be going gangbusters with the corporate crowd through the week, and large families and groups around that, both drawn in by head chef Peter Conistis' generous menu of traditional and modern shared Greek dishes.

    The stunning, bright, contemporary fitout helps, presenting both a traditional and modern Greece, as do the high ceilings of the ground floor Hellenic Club building and the fresh, modern approach to Greek cuisine in a part of town that doesn't have many higher-end restaurants.

    Bar and seating
    Having sat at the marble-topped bar for ouzo on a previous occasion, I was excited to be trying 'Yia Yia's' tasting menu to share among the table, with a few extras thrown in for good measure (denoted in the caption with an *).

    Pita bread with taramosalata (back) and melitzanosalata (right, centre)
    We started with some of my all-time favourites in Greek food: warm triangles of soft, fluffy pita bread with a taramosalata white cod roe dip and a chunky melitzanosalata smoked eggplant dip.

    The pale taramosalata was the winner of the two with well balanced acidity against the creamy flavour of the roe, while the soft dice of eggplant in the melitzanosalata could have been smokier for my liking.

    Baked kalamata olives
    A large serving of kalamata olives joined the starters, baked warm with an array of spices enlivening the saltiness of the olives.

    Sesame leaf dolmades*
    A classic Greek dish of dolmades was next, featuring an almond and herb rice wrapped in sesame leaves rather than the more common vine leaves.

    As un-photogenic as dolmades can be, Alpha ups the presentation stakes by serving the leaf-wrapped rolls in a pool of foamy preserved lemon avgolemono sauce, garnished with micro herbs.

    Falafel with chickpea hommous*
    I was impressed by the perfectly smooth and golden surfaces of the falafel, hiding hot and well-seasoned innards of crumbly ground chickpeas.

    While they're more commonly known as Middle Eastern fare, Alpha's piping hot falafels were too tasty for argument along with the chickpea hommous with tahini sesame paste and plenty of garlic.

    Haloumi saganaki, ouzo, lemon, oregano
    There was a collective murmur of appreciation when the frying pan full of haloumi was put down on the table. The slices of pan fried cheese were joined by sweet grape tomatoes, lemon juice, oregano and lots of olive oil.

    Any ouzo addition must have cooked down as I couldn't really taste it in the salty, trademark squeaky cheese that's some of the best in town and simply gorgeous with lemon and ripe tomatoes.

    Octopus twice-cooked, spinach, white beans, red wine vinaigrette*
    While octopus isn't one of my favourite seafood types, the grilled offering at Alpha may have me converted. The twice-cooked tentacles were impossibly tender, finished on a grill for colour, flavour and a touch of char crispness.

    Eaten with a squeeze of lemon and soft white beans which added richness, the octopus was an absolute star dish of the lunch, even if it's not what I know as traditionally Greek.

    Moussaka of eggplant, seared scallops, taramosalata*
    Chef Conistis' moussaka of eggplant is something of a legend - developed as a dish in 1993 and enduring time and appearances at all of his earlier restaurants since, the eggplant tower is a stunning to look at and devour.

    Two thick rounds of slow roasted eggplant sandwich taramosalata and plump scallops grilled to perfection. Topped with diced and herbed tomatoes and garnished with salmon roe pearls, it combines soft and creamy textures with perfect specimens of seafood in an absolute explosion of flavour.

    I, and most at the table with me, would happily eat this as a main meal at Alpha and call it a day. Legend status maintained.

    Spanakopita - spinach pie, leeks, fetta, dill
    I adore most savoury pastry varieties and so was pretty chuffed to see the spanakopita spinach pie, served whole at the table.

    Cut spanakopita
    The delicate, golden filo pastry held a finely chopped filling of spinach, leek, fetta cheese and lots of dill; the latter which added a new and refreshing flavour to a classic vegetarian filling.

    Horiatiki salad - tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, red onions, olives, fetta
    As the food continued to roll in, I was glad to see a vibrant salad join the offerings. Greek salad can be found at almost every salad and sandwich shop these days, but Alpha's version was worlds away in quality.

    The kitchen has clearly gone to the trouble to source the very best quality vegetables to differentiate their Horiatiki salad from the masses: perfectly ripe and flavoursome tomatoes, sweet-as red capsicum strips and then, a smartphone-sized hunk of salty fetta cheese to break over it all.

    Greek spiced slow roasted lamb shoulder, roast potatoes, tzatziki
    The salad was served as more of a side to the piece de resistance: a slow-roasted whole lamb shoulder with aromas of oregano and rosemary, amid other Greek spices. The lamb roast was served with roasted kipfler potatoes and my favourite condiment of tzatziki mint, garlic and cucumber yoghurt dip/sauce.

    Roasted lamb shoulder being served
    The lamb was ridiculously tender, falling off the bone with a mere push, and seasoned beautifully and relatively exotically with an array of spices. Traditional Sunday roasts may well have a new Greek home in Alpha.

    Loukamades - Greek doughnuts, spiced honey syrup, candied walnut ice cream
    The long lunch was rounded off with a shared dessert of loukamades Greek doughnut balls. Even as a non-fan of doughnuts generally, these two-to-three bite-sized balls had a lovely chewiness within their golden fried surfaces, although it was the rich candied walnut ice cream that did it for me.

    Light features at Alpha
    It was such a nice feeling to sit back and admire the gorgeous fittings at Alpha post meal, and perhaps escape to a Mediterranean-inspired food coma.

    The restaurant offers generous food that you want to dig in to with friends and family, and a unique and classy ambience (despite the occasional fire engine departure, sirens and all). For a beautiful and thoroughly satisfying Sunday lunch in the city, Alpha has to be one of the best, if not only, choices in town.

    Food, Booze & Shoes dined at Alpha Restaurant as a guest, with thanks to Wasamedia.

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  • 08/24/14--15:16: Rock out or relax at Suzie Q
  • Posted by Kath

    If you're after a place that's slightly off the beaten track of bustling cafes on Crown Street, Surry Hills, then Suzie Q Coffee and Records awaits you a stone's throw away from the main road.

    Suzie Q, Hutchinson Street, Surry Hills
    Stroll down Hutchinson Lane and you'll be greeted by a cosy little space that was previously a loading dock. While its past may not have been so glamorous, the space has been transformed into a relaxed and inviting place to enjoy some good coffee, delicious food and a rare music record or two.

    Entrance area and part of large scale Woodstock photo
    Across one wall of this hip little joint is a large-scale photograph of Woodstock which adds to the relaxed vibe and reinforces the owners' love for the classic eras of music.

    Family Affair - Roast chicken, Brussels sprouts, carrots, aioli and stuffing
    with a side of roast potatoes and gravy
    We kicked off brunch with a number that you wouldn't often come across at this time of day called the 'Family Affair', basically a roast chicken dinner in a roll with all the trimmings.

    Family Affair - Insides
    And they weren't kidding about "all the trimmings" because this was literally a delicious roast chicken dinner loaded into a roll.

    The roast chicken was lovely and moist with whole oven-roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots having the right amount of char, while the stuffing was deliciously genius on a sandwich.

    Aioli added another element of naughtiness to the meal as if the golden roast potatoes and gravy weren't enough, the separate gravy boat of the latter helpful for slathering liberally over the feast of a sandwich between each bite, .

    Baked eggs, with chickpeas, eggplant, peppers & sourdough
    A special on the menu was the baked eggs which was a lot healthier than most I've encountered. Accompanied by crispy buttered sourdough, the substantial dish was jam packed with chickpeas, eggplant, peppers and of course, Two gooey-centred baked eggs.

    Front counter
    So take some time to explore the road less travelled - soak in some classic tunes and enjoy some inventive takes on classic brunch at Suzie Q.

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