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A Sydney food and restaurant blog

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

    I was sad to hear of the impending closure of Tokyo's iconic Tsukiji Fish Market, but visitors have approximately 12 months left to check out the world's largest wholesale fish markets in its current, slightly dilapidated form.

    A trolley truck in motion at Tsukiji Fish Markets, Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan
    Visiting Tsukiji Fish Markets was around the top of my list of touristy things to do in Tokyo. We'd even booked accommodation in the Tsukiji area to increase our chances of seeing the tuna auctions, which at the time, limited the spots available for tourists to 120 people, allocated at 5am daily (I hear they're completed closed off to tourists at the moment).

    As we walked up towards the Osakana Fukyu (Fish Information) Centre in the rain, there were already dejected tourists walking back towards us, letting us know that they were already too late for the 120 spots - at 5am!

    Outer markets
    Similarly dejected and rather sleepy at that hour of the morning, we decided to wait around the fish markets to see the inner wholesale markets area, which tourists should not enter until after 9am.

    While I had visions of running into Yoshikazu Ono (of three Michelin-starred SukiyabashiJiro) shopping for the day's best catch, it wasn't to be.

    Coffee shop in Tsukiji Fish Markets
    In the outer market area, where little restaurants sit next to a variety of produce and product stalls, we spotted a coffee shop that seemed caught in a time warp.

    It was right near Sushi Dai; one of two renowned sushi restaurants at Tsukiji Fish Market where queues had already formed for breakfast service.

    Milk coffee
    We pondered joining the queues over breakfast: a simple order of brewed coffee with milk and toast with jam and a boiled egg on the side.

    Soft boiled egg

    Toast with jam and butter

    Restaurant queues
    Given the extraordinary efforts already made in waking up at that hour and getting to Tsukiji Fish Market in the drizzle, we joined the end of the queue at Sushi Dai.

    It wasn't too cold a morning, but that didn't stop restaurant staff handing out foam cups of hot green tea to the waiting queues.

    Sign for Sushi Dai
    It made more sense two hours later when we were still waiting in line, albeit now at the front of the queue with the 12-seater restaurant in view.

    Sushi Dai entry
    There were two omakase chef's menu sets on offer: an 11-piece or 7-piece offering. Everyone in our dining group of 12 went the larger omakase set, as I suppose after two hours' waiting, one might as well.

    Seated in Sushi Dai
    As soon as we entered the narrow restaurant, placing bags upon high shelves behind the counter seats, the wait was forgotten.

    Seated at Sushi Dai
    Three sushi chefs - jolly, smiling and downright chirpy for that time of the day - welcomed every single diner with gusto, positioning gari pickled ginger slices in front of everyone, as large cups of hot green tea were distributed.

    Green tea
    The chefs checked diners' eating preferences, with one or two choosing to avoid uni sea urchin roe but most generally keen to try whatever the chefs had in store for us.

    Otoro - fatty tuna belly nigiri sushi
    We started with a bang: otoro - the treasured and fattiest part of the the tuna belly. Looking more like a piece of rare steak, this was pure, soft creamy bliss with just a brush of soy sauce.

    Hirame - flounder nigiri sushi

    Tamago - steamed rolled egg

    Seafood miso soup

    Uni - sea urchin roe genkan sushi

    Aji - horse mackerel nigiri sushi

    Clam nigiri sushi

    Akami - lean tuna nigiri sushi

    Amaebi - sweet prawn nigiri sushi

    Saba - Spanish mackerel nigiri sushi

    Anago - saltwater eel nigiri sushi

    Maki zushi: toro minced tuna belly and mentaiko marinated pollock roe with cucumber

    Hotate - scallop nigiri sushi
    At the end of this particular omakase we were each allowed to select one more nigiri-zushi of our own choosingI elected the hotate scallop, which wasn't quite as sweet as I wanted it to be, while the awabi abalone was only slightly chewy.

    Awabi - abalone nigiri sushi

    Sushi chefs at Sushi Dai

    Sushi chefs at Sushi Dai

    Diners entering Sushi Dai
    We stumbled out of the restaurant, last in our group as we snapped photos with the chefs, extremely full and probably needing a lie-down. The omakase is a large meal, especially for breakfast, meaning we skipped lunch that day.

    Fresh edamame soy beans
    With a little more time before the inner fish market was officially open to tourists, we browsed the fresh food and knife stores in the outer section.

    Trolley carts inside wholesale fish markets
    We probably snuck into the inner markets a little earlier than we should have, with plenty of hustle and bustle still around, though not so much wholesale or restaurant purchasers.

    Inner wholesale fish markets

    Inner wholesale fish markets
    There were, however, various 'civilian' buyers looking for the freshest seafood for home meals; and snap-happy tourists, of course.

    Some stores were already cleaning up from the morning's trade not much past 9am, but there was still plenty to see.

    Hatahata fish

    Tako - octopus (red)

    Uni - sea urchin roe

    Ika - squid

    Okoze - stonefish
    (the ugliest fish I've ever seen, as well as the world's most venomous fish)

    Slicing a whole frozen tuna
    While we missed the tuna auctions, we almost went one better, spying a worker cutting up whole, frozen tuna which had been auctioned off to buyers.

    Quartering tuna
    The electronic saw looked a little scary as he guided the huge hunks of fish: first removing the head, then halving and quartering the fish, and then removing the major bone.

    Cutting tuna

    Toro - tuna belly
    Tsukiji Fish Markets is a photographers dream - albeit a wet and fishy one. See more photos of my Tsukiji Fish Market visit here on my Facebook page.

    Kinmedai - Alfonsino or red snapper
    Japan has firmly cemented its place on my must-return-to list. While speaking even a little of the language made my trip that much more fun (and funny, at times), the country's deep-seated appreciation for quality and sometimes perfection makes Japan, and particularly its cuisine, an enjoyable destination for most.

    じゃね, 日本。

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    Christmas tree at the Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
    (Singapore food and travel posts to come soon)
    First of all, Merry Christmas! I hope you spend tomorrow and all the festive season with loved ones, gorgeous food and responsible amounts of booze. And leave something nice out for Santa tonight, like a G&T or a perky dry rose.

    Teddy bear Christmas tree at the Fullerton Hotel, Singapore
    I'm not much of a recipe poster, but this no-cooking chocolate confection was pretty popular with a casual gathering and I imagine it would be for festive celebrations too.

    Green tea rocky road - I think the inspiration came from eating way too many green tea Kit Kats which I bought in Japan earlier this year. And not being a cake or something requiring accuracy, this anything-goes kind of 'cooking' suits my style to a tee.

    Green tea rocky road
    The must-have ingredients for basic rocky road are chocolate and marshmallows. As for the rest of the fillings, classic ones are nuts, dessicated coconut and glace cherries. And if these items aren't in your pantry, why not try other combinations - like dried cranberries and pretzels here in this green tea version.

    I call this a sort-of recipe as I don't provide an ingredients list or quantities as such - make as much or as little as you please. The only requirement is that the melted chocolate coats all the fillings.

    White chocolate buttons for melting
    First, melt the chocolate. I used a packet of white chocolate buttons. Better quality chocolate can be used, of course, but seeing the melange of flavours I was about to throw into it, I wasn't too worried about chocolate quality.

    Melt the chocolate: whether in the microwave in bursts or over a double boiler (or even a pot of boiling water). Stir thoroughly, ensuring all chocolate pieces are melted and let it cool slightly.

    Melted white chocolate with green tea powder
    The next step is to add green tea powder, which is generally finely milled leaves of green tea. It's available in most Asian grocers in the Japanese section (I got mine in a small tin from the IGA in Market City, Chinatown).

    I'd say add two teaspoons of the powder to the pack of melted chocolate to start, and add more to taste (I like a strong green tea flavour, so added about 1.5 teaspoons more).

    Mix very thoroughly to achieve a consistent, sinister green colour.

    Adding dried cranberries, marshmallows and pretzels to the chocolate mix
    Next, add your fillings of choice. Start with a small amount, mix them through and see if the melted chocolate can hold more fillings, in which case, add more.

    I added pink and white marshmallows (the normal size although the smaller ones would certainly work too), plain salted pretzels and a handful of dried cranberries for pops of sweet tartness.

    When the fillings are amply coated with chocolate, pour out the mixture into a baking paper lined wide tray - I used a brownie one. Allow it to set at room temperature.

    Once the chocolate has hardened, remove the rocky road from the tray and carefully cut into small squares. Serve / gift wrap / eat.

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    There are similarities across sushi menus in Sydney, especially when it comes to sushi trains. And although Umi Sushi + Udon in the new-ish Darling Quarter precinct features an elegant sushi train, they have plenty on the menu beyond the conveyor belt of sushi morsels.

    Spicy edmame beans at Umi Sushi + Udon, Darling Quarter, Sydney
    At Japanese restaurants I love starting with edamame soy beans as I ponder over a menu, as if they provide sustenance for perusing lengthy menus.

    These edamame were tossed in pepper, chilli and soy sauce, making each pod a warm and delicious delight to pop into the mouth and squeeze for the beans.

    Yuzu sake and brown sugar umeshu plum wine
    Umi Sushi + Udon has an intriguing selection of sake and umeshu plum wine. The citrusy yuzu sake was light, sweet and rather similar to lemon squash.

    They have Choya umeshu and another brand that's a drier plum wine, in addition to the brown sugar variety which is dark, caramelly sweet, and best served with lots and lots of ice.

    Kingfish ceviche
    Our first dish was a serve of fresh kingfish: thin, raw slices lightly dressed in citrus, soy and oil so as not to overpower the delicate fish. It was presented in a modern fashion with diced sundried tomato, baby shiso leaves and snow pea sprouts.

    Sashimi platter
    There was silent appreciation for the round, wooden platter of sashimi that arrived, simply resplendent with visible freshness.

    We had crowd favourites of salmon and kingfish; tuna sprinkled with dried garlic; red-skinned snapper; chewy, red-tipped surf clams; and creamy scampi topped with tobiko flying fish roe.

    The platter disappeared in impressive time between four diners, and I reckon we could have gone the same again.

    Smoked salmon and mango cheese salad
    Over the summer months, Umi Sushi + Udon are featuring in-season mangoes on the menu. It doesn't click automatically as a sushi pairing but the pretty plate of bright mango components makes for interesting eating.

    Firstly, the smoked salmon-wrapped asparagus was served with a vivid mango sauce which had sweetness to counter the saltiness of the smoked fish.

    The mango cheese was creamy with hits of tropical sweetness, while the salad of ripe mango cubes, strings of raw beetroot and mixed lettuce leaves was a healthy and refreshing side.

    Tuna and mango "lollipops"
    The mango-inspired sushi is a a completely new take, without rice or seaweed. Instead, cucumber skins are wrapped around tuna and mango, and served skewered like little fruit and fish 'lollipops'.

    I'd never usually take issue with a perfectly ripe mango, but in this combination its utterly sweet and bursting ripeness stole the show from the thick pieces of tuna.

    Roast spatchcock with braised mushrooms
    The roasted quarter of a spatchcock seemed a bit of a western approach, albeit with gourmet Asian mushrooms on the side.

    The small bird was cooked well, still juicy on the inside, while the clean flavours of the mushrooms and juices made the dish quite classical.

    Uramaki sushi rolls
    Plates of food continued with a stunning sushi platter featuring an array of interesting pieces I don't think I've ever seen before.

    The fried chicken and cream cheese uramaki inside-out sushi rolls were topped with cheese and tomato, while the other was filled with cooked tuna and draped with unagi grilled eel.

    Salmon oshizushi pressed sushi
    There was a raw scampi gunkan sushi wrapped in crisp nori seaweed and an inari fried sweet tofu pocket filled with rice and topped with mushrooms.

    But most impressive of all was the oshizushi pressed sushi which isn't all that common around Sydney.

    Topped with grilled salmon and pearls of salmon roe, the rice beneath was seasoned and dotted with bits of salmon and tobiko. The pimped-up rice was absolutely mind-blowing, cleverly making the normally plain rice the star.

    Fried rice omelette
    And when we felt like we could eat no more, an omelette-wrapped package arrived, tied up with chives and garnished with carrot flowers and caviar.

    Served with squiggles of the barbeque-like Japanese tonkatsu brown sauce, we wondered what could be inside the pale, thin egg omelette.

    Prawn fried rice omelette
    A petite serve of prawn fried rice was the answer, dotted with whole prawns, peas, diced carrots and more egg. The lightly-seasoned fried rice acted as the filler for the end of the meal, as if we weren't close to bursting already.

    Flower tea
    A pot of hot tea helped make room for dessert, which in this case was an authentic Japanese treat not to be missed. The flowering bloom of the tea made for quite a strong, floral brew which is very much to my tastes but not for all.

    Strawberry daifuku
    The platter of halved strawberry daifuku was a sight to behold. Strawberry cross sections sat in sweet red bean paste within moderately thin mochi rice balls, each topped with whipped cream and a fresh mint leaf that really lifted and lightened the sugary flavours of the daifuku.

    Daifuku are one of those items I often see on sushi trains but have never tried. Indeed, this visit to Umi Sushi + Udon has given me cause and confidence to look beyond the usual sushi train suspects, where plenty of new and interesting dishes do the rounds.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Umi Sushi + Udon, with thanks to O'Loghlin Communications.

    Umi Sushi & Udon on Urbanspoon

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  • 12/29/12--14:23: The year that was, 2012
  • It's been a whirlwind year and I'm really not just saying that. I remember last new year's eve all too well and the 12 months that have transpired since then have been jam-packed with work, life events, new and old faces, and an almost unbelievable amount of food and booze.

    Below are some of the highlights of my year in Food, Booze and Shoes.

    Food and Booze

    Steamed brioche and smoked trout roe from Grain, Sydney
    One of the most exciting new bar openings in Sydney this year wasn't a small bar but rather a hotel bar: Grain at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney with food by Bar H's Hamish Ingham and chef Josh Niland.

    With a bar menu to rival some restaurants about town, Grain raises the bar so even locals join hotel guests for drinks and unexpected bar snacks like smoked trout roe and crème fraîche on house-made steamed brioche buns.

    Pig's tail salad, walnuts, sorrel, currants, pomegranate, farro from The Apollo, Potts Point
    It was a great year for modern Greek food with both David Tsirekas' Xanthi and Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie's The Apollo picking up inaugural hats in this year's Good Food Guide.

    The latter, Potts Point restaurant did an out-of-this-world pig's tail crackling salad that probably wasn't all too healthy but showed a liveliness in modern Greek cuisine that was new to me.

    Orecchiette with lentils, pine nuts and mascapone from Table for 20, Surry Hills
    I've been to Table for 20 a couple of times this year, and adore the homely pasta entrée every time.

    I've had second and third helpings, brought my own wine and had a ball every time, all the while remembering to leave room for their rich, always-pleasing whole cake dessert offerings - to share, of course.

    Xiao long bao from Mr Wong, Sydney
    The year's biggest restaurant opening had to be Merivale's Mr Wong, where Cantonese cuisine went high-end in an impressively atmospheric, two-level, laneway restaurant setting.

    Dan Hong and Jowett Yu's golden touch continued with a classic Cantonese menu dotted with additional Sydney favourites, like xiao long bao pork soup buns which are simply divine with a cocktail at Mr Wong's bar.

    Pork pintxo, lima beans, guindillas from bloodwood, Newtown
    A new favourite was discovered in bloodwood, which is a bit of a difficult one to categorise. In any case, bold international flavours, amazing service and interesting wines make it a winner in my books.

    The explosive flavours in small share dishes like the pork pintxo means bloodwood is ideal for drinks and snacks, light meals or the all-out meal with a set menu group banquet.

    Spiced popcorn and Bloody Maria from Tio's Cerveceria, Surry Hills
    It was the year of the Shady Pines Saloon spin-off bars, with new Sydney CBD booze-quaffing venues from Anton Forte and Jason Scott, and a tequila-focused offering from a couple of ex-Shady guys.

    Tio's Cerveceria is my casual, Surry Hills back street, go-to place for free popcorn and good times fuelled by tequila refrescos like the Bloody Maria which almost feels healthy.

    Pulled veal ravioli, broad beans, cornichons, shiso from Chiswick, Woollahra
    I think Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan's Chiswick has a firm place in Woollahra hearts. Indeed, it feels like it should have been in Chiswick Gardens all this time and is the epitome of a long lunch venue.

    Their seasonally-driven menu is supplemented by an expansive kitchen garden, which I hope is an enduring restaurant trend. The pulled veal ravioli was a stunner at the De Bortoli Windy Peak wines launch.

    Ayam goreng kalasan with nasi uduk and ati goreng from Ayam Goreng 99, Kingsford
    It's not only the new restaurant openings with no-bookings policies and queues out the door. A favourite cheap eat, Ayam Goreng 99, still draws crowds to its low-key store, with local students and those in the know waiting for quarters of fried chicken and coconut rice.

    Maltagliati with osso bucco, gremolata from 10 William Street, Paddington
    One of the best pasta dishes I've had all year came a little unexpectedly from wine bar 10 William Street, where the narrow venue belies the depth of its rustic Italian menu and well-considered wine list.

    The maltagliati sheet pasta with osso buco ragu was a dreamily perfect pasta, ideal with any wine recommendation from the very knowledgeable staff.

    Pan fried pork dumplings from Chinese Noodle Restaurant, Haymarket
    There were no signs of my dumpling obsession abating this year, whether home made or from Chinatown cheap-eat, Chinese Noodle Restaurant.

    I seem to have a scarily insatiable appetite for dumplings, especially pan-fried ones filled fresh with minced pork and chives, and definitely a combination of chilli oil and vinegar sauce on the side.

    Goat’s cheese lollipop, mandarin glaze, quinoa crunch from Cara & Co, Westfield Sydney
    Innovativeness is a double-edged sword in the land of restaurants but dining at Cara & Co, in the middle of a Westfield Sydney fashion retailer, was a clear win for innovation.

    Its Modern Flemish cuisine aided by innovative techniques was such an eye-opening journey; both curiously fun and tasty, particularly the goat's cheese lollipops in mandarin glaze.

    Fried chicken wings from The Norfolk, Surry Hills
    There are no signs of the fun ending at The Norfolk and its merry band of other Drink and Dine refurbished pubs across Surry Hills and Sydney.

    Fun themes, quirky fitouts, affordable booze and food made for drinking is a winning formula - like Bloody Marys in tin cans and crunchy fried chicken wings.


    There were several 'firsts' this year as a result of various cooking classes and demonstrations that I was lucky enough to take part in.

    Snapper with Vernaccia, green olives and parsley from Sydney, Seafood School, Pyrmont
    I cooked my first whole snapper. I've tended to cook fish fillets at home more than whole fish which are a little daunting for a home cook of limited ability.

    But with a friendly fishmonger and a Sydney Seafood School class with hatted chef Giovanni Pilu under my belt, roasting a four-kilogram whole snapper doesn't seem as scary anymore.

    Feta cheese made at Zigi's Wine and Cheese Bar, Chippendale
    I made cheese for the first time. A highlight of the food year overall, the cheese making class at Zigi's Wine and Cheese Bar was so much delicious fun I would recommend it to any cheese lover.

    Creating a number of fresh cheeses from scratch in a few hours was made possible by the effervescent Chef Zigi, quality raw ingredients and solid teamwork in the commercial kitchen in Chippendale.

    Gently poached Southern rock lobster, hand caught Tasmanian squid,
    golden tapioca, lobster velvet from Quay, Circular Quay
    I dined at Quay for the first (and second) time. I now understand what all the "fuss" around Quay is about. There were enlightening kitchen tips from chef Peter Gilmore during the Electrolux masterclasses, but the degustation dinners I was treated to were another level above any other Sydney dining experience I've ever had.

    Luxe ingredients and modern techniques deliver harmonious dishes that are stunning to look at and even more satisfying to eat - which isn't always the case in fine dining or technique-driven cooking.


    There was a trip to Japan this year, highlighted by various food, booze and tourist experiences.

    Fish at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan
    The early-morning visit to the world's largest wholesale fish markets - Tsukiji Fish Markets - was a highlight of the trip, even if we didn't make it to see the tuna auctions. Sushi breakfast at Sushi Dai added to the lengthy and wet experience.

    Martini at Tender Bar, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan
    There was no doubt that we were going to hit up a few cocktail bars in Tokyo and the gin martini at Tender Bar was a memorable, if not pricey, one.

    Pork shoulder, grilled on a stick, Namba, Osaka, Japan
    Our short side trip to Osaka from Tokyo may well have been an eating trip, especially of street food. It was in Namba we discovered a pork-only yakitori-style restaurant where we gorged on all manner of pork and vegetables grilled on a stick.


    David Chang at the Good Food Guide Awards 2013
    I honestly jumped and squealed with excitement when I got invited to the SMH Good Food Guide Awards for 2013.

    It was an unparalleled experience of endless champagne, canapés and chefs all doing the (tight) rounds at Establishment, and plenty of happy smiles in the face of hats, awards and general celebration of the Sydney restaurant industry.

    Dîner en Blanc, Museum of Contemporary Art forecourt, Circular Quay
    Hands-down event of the year has to be French pop-up picnic phenomenon, Dîner en Blanc, which took place at the forecourt of the Museum of Contemporary Art for its inaugural Sydney outing.

    It was a memorable sight seeing 1,500 people in head-to-toe white waving white napkins and then sparklers in the air as they dined on gourmet picnics to the bemusement of passing tourists and Sydneysiders.

    Beef empanadas at Marrickville Festival
    I made it to the Marrickville Festival this year for the first time; a community street event that stretches around two main roads. Goodies on offer included these amazing beef empanadas, fresh out of the deep fry with a golden corn meal concealing a tasty beef filling.

    This year saw a number of restaurants farewelled, especially a sad number of high profile venues and chefs, including the following:
    13bAniseArgyle BazarAssietteAzuma KushiyakiBecasse and Quarter Twenty OneBerowra Waters InnBird Cow FishBistro OrtolanBling Bling DumplingBruno's and Hunky Dory Social ClubDistrict Dining relaunched as Mexico Food and Liquor, Element BistroEtchFirestick CafeGothamGourmet Pizza KitchenKable's RestaurantLanzafame TrattoriaMad CowMonkey MagicPagewood SteakhousePiano RoomRambutanSummit relaunched as O Bar and Dining, Sushi Choo and The Montpellier Public House.

    It has been one heck of a year. Many thanks to all my readers and followers here, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - thank you so much  for your support and kind comments throughout 2012. 

    I hope to see you for more Food, Booze and Shoes in the New Year. Cheers and happy (and safe) drinking tonight to see out the year that was, 2012!

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    Last year had to be the year of the burrito and taco in Sydney: from the fast-sprouting popularity of "healthier" Mexican fast food chains, to pub menus and dedicated Mexican restaurants decked out in Dia de los Muertos Day of the Dead style.

    Beach Burrito Company is a chain that falls into the latter category and its Newtown outlet pumps with music that matches the colourful and somewhat dark, macabre wall murals celebrating the dead.

    Monteith's pear cider at Beach Burrito, Bedford Street, Newtown
    Unlike a majority of the Mexican food chains, Beach Burrito is a licensed venue which offers a couple of frozen margaritas and an interesting list of beers. The pear cider isn't terrible but probably not the best match to the cheesy Mexican fare.

    Chilli fries
    There's no pretending when it comes to the chilli fries - there is nothing healthy about it. Not-quite crisp potato chips come smothered with a generous helping of cheese and beef mince chilli with beans that's spicy really only where there are dried chilli flakes.

    Sour cream and a rich, smooth mixture of avocado guacamole round out the rather large small-size basket of chips that's about a meal on its own.

    Prawn and mango quesadilla
    The sour cream and guacamole also accompany the quesadilla, which is a sizeable and particularly cheesy option covering half a large white plate.

    Corn chips on the side add crunch and interest to the flat tortilla filled with prawn pieces and sweet mango cubes, while the pico de gallo tomato and coriander salsa contribute much needed freshness amid all the melted cheese.

    Mucho burrito
    The muscle man sticker sealing the foil wrapping of the Mucho Burrito gives an accurate indication of what's within.

    It's a bit of a monster meal-and-a-half, filled with almost every meat on the menu, rice, beans, cheese and more; enhanced with a beer and some of the fiery hot sauce options on the tables.

    Mexican food has quickly become a Sydney mainstay, in the land of fast food at the very least. It will be intriguing to see what new food trends arise in 2013 but in the meantime, I'm happy to beach myself at Newtown's little Mexico.

    Beach Burrito Company on Urbanspoon

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    I fell for Ananas in its first week of opening - the very first time I had late night cocktails in its long L-shaped bar, complete with a fresh seafood bar and pineapple lamps and features everywhere.

    Post a glorious, multi-million-dollar fitout of what I vaguely remember to be a nightclub space above Lowenbrau, Ananas now serves as the French brasserie of the Urban Purveyor Group's restaurant portfolio, which includes Sake, The Cut, Bavarian Bier Cafés and of course, The Argyle.

    Sydney rock and Pacific oysters at Brasserie Ananas, Argyle Street, The Rocks, Sydney
    Take an early right up the stairs from the cobblestoned Argyle entrance to enter Ananas, French for pineapple. The detailed interiors are glamorously decadent and sumptuous, and any seat at the bar is guaranteed a prettily decorated view.

    Chef James Privett, previously of The Cut, now heads up the brasserie kitchen, while there are plenty of Gallic accents to be heard on the floor.

    We started with complimentary bread and butter, and our appetiser order of a dozen natural oysters of both Sydney rock and Pacific varieties.

    Shucked to order, they're served with a vinaigrette and another sauce although the minerally Sydney rocks need nothing but a squeeze of lemon and are best had with champagne, the very drinkable Marc 'Initiale' Brut.

    Lobster and scallop carpaccio, yuzu truffle dressing
    Aside from the fresh oysters, the entrée menu is features an abundance of produce from the seafood bar. Coming in as the most expensive entrée (indeed, on par with some of the mains), the lobster and scallop carpaccio was a downright luxurious choice, garnished with black truffle.

    Delicately thin slices of poached lobster tail and raw scallop covered the plate, in turn covered with microherbs, and a light dressing of mild truffle, yuzu and olive oil. The textures are delightful and I'd highly recommended the dish if its pricing doesn't cause pain.

    Alaskan crab, avocado
    The Alaskan crab entrée is a little more generous, with a round of picked crab meat (minimal shell) beneath a liberal piping of a creamy avocado mix which detracts just a little from the subtle crab flavour.

    Lobster ravioli, garlic puree
    In another lobster menu appearance, the ravioli entrée comprised four fresh rounds of pasta filled with a fine dice of lobster that was rather overwhelmed by the accompanying veal jus and garlic puree.

    Beef sirloin with pomme puree and caramelised onions
    The mains menu is decidedly more traditional than the entrées: straight French brasserie dishes, mostly on the heavy and rich side. While most dishes feature a vegetable of some sort, I'd suggest a couple of side dishes still as the mains are quite protein-heavy.

    The roasted beef sirloin was nice and pink inside its dark crust, served on a pool of buttery potato puree with cooked down onions and jus.

    Whole grilled flounder with lemon, capers, butter and pomme puree
    I went with the whole grilled flounder in hoping it would be a lighter dish, but the strong buttery smell on its arrival dashed those hopes. Covered in baby capers and butter, the squeeze of lemon did its brave best to counter the richness, not helped by the creamy pomme puree.

    While flounder is one of the easier fish to eat bones and all, eating the whole fish was made more difficult when just after our mains were delivered the already moderate lighting was dimmed further, making it completely impossible for me to see any bones. A request to un-dim the lights was denied so I had a quiet, conversation-light dinner as I sorted flesh from bone by mouth feel.

    Beef cheek bourguignon, cremolata, carrot vichy
    The third main of our order was the bourguigon beef cheek, braised for many hours to attain its fall-apart texture and sweet depth in flavour. Three baby carrots accompanied this hunk of cow cheek, and a sprinkle of parsley cremolata.

    We had to add a side dish once we'd realised our lack of vegetables and greenery, although I wouldn't spruik the spinach which basically comes as wilted leaves without a great deal of seasoning.

    Pineapple ravioli
    Dessert presented a few tempting options to linger in the dark. The namesake pineapple ravioli looked a little retro in presentation, with thins of pineapple covering the plate carpaccio style.

    The ravioli itself held a filling of berries and a sauce became of the pina colada sorbet. I loved the dehydrated pineapple garnish but was a little more distracted with another sweet offering.

    Snickers 2012
    Things certainly ended on a higher note, having being directed towards the Snickers dessert by someone in the know.

    The shiny tempered tube of chocolate was filled with a creamy mousse, caramel and peanuts - and was a pretty spot-on, pimped up rendition of a Snickers chocolate bar. The nutty ice cream on the side wasn't as sweet as the chocolate construction, so did well as a diversion from chocolate and caramel overload.

    Like pineapples which can be so good when they're sweet and ripe and just not when they're not ripe enough, Ananas has its hits and misses as it goes through a dynamic period of finding its feet and ripening.

    Brasserie Ananas on Urbanspoon

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    Traditional English high tea isn't quite my cup of tea - I mostly blame my prior experiences with stodgy scones. But when The White Hart in Neutral Bay - renowned for fun, novelty cocktails - invited me to their weekends-only "Smokin Speakeasy Iced Tea", hinting that it was high tea but not as I knew it, I was intrigued and arrived thirsty.

    Twisted High Tea at The White Hart, Grosvenor Street, Neutral Bay
    The alluring offering sat pretty on three tiers and looked the part of high tea. But the fact that every morsel and drink required a detailed explanation proved that it was certainly high tea with a twist.

    Every component on the three tiers, some very unusual and innovative, was alcoholic; most a classic cocktail or drink in a new, deconstructed and edible form. It was recommended that we start from the top tier and work our way down to the sweeter cocktail treats.

    Long Island Iced Tea - served with dry ice
    We started first with a cup of tea: Long Island Iced Tea chilled with smoking dry ice, that is. Served separately in a dated, non-matching tea set, the sweet cocktail was more ladylike than lethal.

    Martini jelly
    To the top tier I couldn't resist the classic martini, made as a clear jelly with a green olive submerged within. Getting through the foam, there was a noticeable kick to the jelly with the martini definitely on the dirty side.

    Vodka and tonic jelly (left) and white peach bellini
    Prettily pink, the other slender shot glass held a white peach bellini topped with sparkling wine and "peach air" that was impressively true to taste.

    The top tier also featured two clear jelly squares: a gin and tonic jelly (with the British flag) and a vodka and tonic jelly (with the US flag) - both of a delightfully wobbly texture and true flavours.

    Deconstructed Mojito
    Things ramped up on the second tier with a syringe appearing as part of a deconstructed mojito. Filled with white rum and sparkling water, the idea is to squirt liquid onto the spoon with the teal green mint jelly and taste as one mouthful.

    The only trouble was that the mint jelly tasted more like toothpaste mintiness and I then inhaled a spoonful of what tasted like straight rum. Hello!

    Shandy (back, left) and deconstructed Bloody Mary (front)
    I've always liked shandy - that slightly daggy but refreshing mixed drink of beer and lemonade. This version of beer with a lemonade foam was probably more suitable as a drink on the top tier rather than second given the bitterness of the beer.

    We were most impressed with the deconstructed Bloody Mary, comprising a piece of cucumber; a vodka jelly with tomato and Bloody Mary spicing; and wasabi foam. Consumed as a savoury mouthful, it was an ingenious eye-opener and the closest it got to the real thing.

    Long Island Iced Tea marshmallows
    We ended with the sweeter stuff: dreamy Long Island Iced Tea marshmallows, melting Clover Club and Piña Colada sorbets, an espresso foam (presumably of the martini variety) and The White Hart's signature pot of edible chocolate soil with absinthe jelly snakes.

    Apart from the resultant sugar high, I'm not too sure of the total alcoholic content of the high tea, especially with the Long Island Iced Tea - so do check with The White Hart if you're driving and definitely come with your sense of novelty and adventure on hand.

    The White Hart is serving its "Smokin Speakeasy Iced Tea" for $55 every Saturday and Sunday from 2-6pm. Bookings essential.

    Food, booze and shoes sampled the "Smokin Speakeasy Iced Tea" as a guest of The White Hart.

    The White Hart on Urbanspoon

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  • 01/13/13--13:47: Good times collective #6
  • We're off and running in 2013, and straight back into the thick of things. There's a sense of reserved optimism this summer and I get the feeling that it's a prelude to a pretty massive year to come - hang on for the ride.

    Pomegranate froyo with mango and lychee pearls from MooBerry, King Street, Newtown
    (Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at MooBerry)
    It's the summer of froyo. The hot days so far are proof that the boom in frozen yoghurt, or froyo, operators is scarily on trend.

    I don't know whether it's a short-term or even seasonal fad but I do know the cool, refreshing feel of the fruity pomegranate froyo with fruit and lychee pearls is my summer in a cup.

    Biscotti froyo with Oreos and macarons from MooBerry, King Street, Newtown
    (Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at MooBerry)
    On the other end from the fruity froyo scale is the all-out dessert approach: like biscotti flavoured froyo with Oreo crumbs and miniature macarons that are as cute as they are decadent.

    Chicken burger with chips from The Grounds of Alexandria, Huntley Street, Alexandria
    Ten months on and the crowds keep queueing up at The Grounds with no signs of waning. Personally, If I'm hungry I can't really manage a 30-minute wait so it's a good thing that they've introduced a more substantial takeaway menu on top of cakes and coffee.

    I have no issue diving into a juicy fried chicken burger for brunch in the garden, especially with The Grounds' very good thick cut potato chips and aioli on the side.

    Quinoa salad from The Grounds of Alexandria
    The healthy among us can look to the menu of salads including this one of quinoa, kale, pumpkin, sultanas and more. A little on the sweetly-dressed side, it was a generous serve that made an interesting dip for the chips.

    Bloody Mary at The Forresters, corner Riley and Foveaux Streets, Surry Hills
    The jar-sized Bloody Mary at The Forresters must be Sydney's best dressed. Garnished to the point of being a salad, this vodka and tomato juice cocktail has to be healthy on some level, with cucumber, a pickled onion, cherry tomato, artichoke and rosemary all taking pride of place.

    Sunday roast - roast beef with roast vegies at The Forresters
    The Bloody Mary joined the weekly changing Sunday roast, complete with roast vegetables, gravy and sauce. Just be wary of potentially dry roast beef which chewy and dry, was clearly overcooked and probably kept on some heat source for a little too long.

    Chicken nuggets from The Forresters
    There wasn't much more satisfaction from the chicken nuggets, which were battered breast fillets smothered in a tomato and onion sauce. The unseasoned chicken has nothing on Maccas, I'm afraid.

    Baked eggs with beans at Vicinity, Bourke Road, Alexandria
    (Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at Vicinity)
    I've heard that Vicinity stopped serving breakfast recently, which is a shame as it was a great, airy spot with outdoor seating that is really made for brunching - and Sunday afternoon drinks.

    I'm not sure which direction the venue is moving towards but the breakfast I did sample there needed tweaking. The baked eggs with beans in a tomato-ey sauce looked more like poached eggs dumped on top of some tasty home made beans, served with a huge slice of barely toasted bread.

    Green and gold at Vicinity, Bourke Road, Alexandria
    (Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at Vicinity)
    The 'green and gold' breakfast dish was actually quite a good, healthy option: more large-slice bread with mashed avocado, broccoli, watercress and a poached egg.

    I keep meaning to return for lunch or dinner, but I'll also be watching their morning offerings with interest - after all, a big year is going to need a big breakfast.

    MooBerry - Real Froyo and Smoothies on Urbanspoon

    The Grounds of Alexandria on Urbanspoon

    The Forresters on Urbanspoon

    Vicinity Dining on Urbanspoon

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    Sydney is blessed with suburbs like Cabramatta, Bankstown and Marrickville for Vietnamese food and restaurant options. But it's almost as if Vietnamese restaurants are the new Thai restaurants, popping up in all sorts of suburban streets in recent years.

    Crispy skin chicken with tomato rice from Gia Hoi, Chapel Road, Bankstown
    With the plethora of options in Bankstown, we relied on someone in the know to lead us to the garishly magenta-lit insides of Gia Hoi, just off the main road.

    All the favourite Vietnamese dishes are here and I couldn't resist the crispy skin chicken, served with salad and a yellow-red hued tomato rice.

    The rice wasn't spectacular but the insanely crisp shattering skin of the chicken, with moist, tender flesh beneath, made up for any rice regrets.

    Grilled pork chop
    Another easy choice is the grilled pork chop, which comes with a choice of noodle or rice sides. The slightly (and nicely) fatty pork is incredibly tender and full of hours of marinated flavour.

    Noodles on the side
    The dry noodles served with the pork chop were obscured by a range of generous toppings: fresh and fried shallots, bean sprouts, raw onion and more, with a sweet dipping sauce on the side.

    Fillings for rice paper rolls
    The most exciting dish this time round was the mixed platter of fillings that arrived with a bowl of water, for fresh rolled rice paper rolls.

    Watching and learning, the round rice paper gets a light dip into the bowl of water before being laid on a plate and filled with vermicelli noodles, fresh vegetables and herbs and one of the protein fillings: spring rolls, sugarcane prawns, grilled pork and beef slices.

    They're then delicately rolled up and consumed immediately with more dipping sauce. It's not the most simple of dishes but certainly easy to polish off a platter among three.

    So here's a trend prediction: the continuing popularisation of Vietnamese cuisine, especially out in the 'burbs where casual eateries like Gia Hoi thrive by doing what they've always done.

    Gia Hoi on Urbanspoon

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  • 01/21/13--13:01: Slide on through The Passage
  • Right up near the Kings Cross end of Darlinghurst, The Passage has been onto the slider craze a while now. The long, narrow space offers respite from the Kings Cross hubbub with its own brand of bar and club cool, and of course, sliders.

    There's a weekly Wednesday night special on the ubiquitous miniature burgers, which get pretty creative in their fillings (think 'The Fisherman's Basket' and 'The Mighty Duck') .

    "Fillet o' Fish" slider with caper mayonnaise and cos lettuce from The Passage,
    Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
    There are four sliders on their regular menu; one being the irresistible 'Fillet o' Fish' with crumbed fish, cos lettuce and caper mayonnaise.

    Even if it lacks the plastic-like cheese of the original, it's hard to beat a freshly cooked fish burger and the slider disappeared in several bites.

    Spicy meatball slider with cheddar and tomato relish 
    The meatball slider is more your classic burger with a flattened meatball pattie, melting cheese and a tangy tomato relish. It was a noticeably spicy and utterly satisfying handful.

    I particularly like the fact that The Passage uses mini burger buns and not brioche buns for their sliders, as there's only so much brioche one can take.

    Crazy 99 cocktail
    There's lots of fun to be had on the cocktail list, such as the pretty pink and quite lethal Crazy 99 cocktail with both Japanese sake and shochu, shaken with pink grapefruit and lemon.

    Crispy chicken wings with ginger and spring onion
    From the snacks menu we ordered the chicken wings which, fried crisp, are hard to get wrong. These wings were doused in a sauce of ginger, Chinese salted black bean and spring onions, and not so crisp for it.

    While the sauce flavours were great and quite rare outside of a Chinese eatery, the chicken itself could have done with more marinating and seasoning - but that didn't stop us from picking the bones clean.

    Stuffed zucchini flower with goat's cheese and truffle honey
    The zucchini flower small plate was a generous one with four crunchily battered stuffed flowers on a plate with polenta, crumbled goat's cheese and pepitas.

    The drizzles of truffle honey matched the cheese and stuffing remarkably well and left us wanting more.

    Apple and witlof salad
    After all the slider and deep fry action, we sought some redemption through the undeniably healthy rocket, apple and witlof salad with a lemon dressing (but only because they were out of the pork and crispy rice noodle salad, to be truthful).

    The Passage is doing some great things to differentiate itself from its Darlinghurst and Kings Cross neighbours, both the boozy and the foodie, with a dynamic slider menu and daily specials - slide on in to join the slider craze before it's all over.

    The Passage on Urbanspoon

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  • 01/24/13--12:50: Eat like a Dumpling King
  • Chinese dumplings are traditionally shaped to resemble gold pieces from back in the day, so it makes sense that I feel like royalty when scoffing a plate of them.

    At Dumpling King on Newtown's main road, it's generally always packed around dinner time which is a good sign for my seemingly insatiable appetite for the dough-wrapped morsels.

    Pan fried pork and chive dumplings at Dumpling King, King Street, Newtown
    My preferences are for pan fried dumplings for some crisp skins, a filling of minced pork with a vegetable or two, and served with vinegar sauce and chilli oil on the side. And it's as if I am royalty because it's all there at Dumpling King.

    The pan fried ones are always boiling hot and mostly at risk of squirting or leaking revered dumpling juices. Garnished with shreds of iceberg lettuce, this - and the condiments on the side - is all I need in a meal.

    Spicy tofu
    There isn't a mapo tofu dish at Dumpling King - the spicy tofu dish is as close as it gets. There's no meat in it but the silky cubes of tofu satisfy in the sweet, bright red sauce with a tinge of chilli heat.

    Spicy shredded pork
    The shredded pork is a better, more flavoursome dish with an array of julienned vegetables along with the generous portion of pork. The bold flavours in this, leaning again a little to the sweet side, make it an ideal dish to have with steamed rice by the bowl.

    Shanghai stir fried noodles
    Amid the selection of noodles, the Shanghai noodles stir fried with a variety of seafood and crisp vegetables also has a bit of a kick to it. The initially al dente noodles slowly soak up all the juices of the dish and make for quite the filling plate.

    Given the reasonable prices I always seem to order and eat too much here, but don't be misled - the dumpling remains king of the menu.

    Dumpling King on Urbanspoon

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    I don't spend a great deal of time in the Cross these days which means I'm probably missing out on some of the dining options in the area, including restaurants in Kings Cross, Potts Point and Darlinghurst.

    Right in the thick of things, up a short stairway on Bayswater Road underneath nightspot and cheap pizza haunt Hugos, Concrete Blonde is flying its modern Australian flag in an expansive space including a bar, some communal tables against an open kitchen and a large sheltered outdoor area.

    Outdoor seating area at Concrete Blonde, Bayswater Road, Kings Cross
    It's a great spot for casual but stylish lunching and in the evenings, people watching, I imagine.

    And with a full bar incorporated into the restaurant, there was no reason to not start a weekend lunch with a signature Concrete Blonde cocktail.

    The bar

    Bayswater Breeze cocktail (front, right)
    The Bayswater Breeze is a refreshing and fruit cocktail of vodka and elderflower liqueur, garnished with fresh passionfruit and overflowing with crushed ice. It was very easy to drink so a good choice with which to start the drinking day.

    Seared scallops, wild prawn, asparagus, crisp bread
    I love seeing new perspectives on a seared scallop dish and this was certainly not your average scallop entree. The three just cooked scallops sat amid asparagus spears, crisp bread and a fine dice of prawn and other raw, sashimi style seafood in a seafood salad of sorts. The scallop I sampled was sweet, succulent sea perfection.

    Smoked ocean trout, slow cooked egg, apple and dill salad
    My entree of thinly sliced smoked ocean trout with a gooey slow cooked egg was also accompanied by a thin, crunchy crisp, which came in handy for dipping into the egg.

    The egg was nested by sprigs of dill and batons of granny smith apple which had a sweetness that was ideally matched with the smoky yet vibrant fish.

    Communal table and kitchen

    Inside the restaurant

    Char grilled pork cutlet, celeriac remoulade, pear, blue cheese, hazelnuts
    There were more than a few dishes I wanted to try from the brief mains menu but the pork cutlet won out - rewardingly so as I spied it coming to our table.

    It was quite a large dish with a hunk of char grilled pork sitting on shredded celeriac - which cut through the richness of the meat as did the scattered salad of witlof, pear, blue cheese and roasted hazelnuts alongside.

    And as if the juicy and tender pork wasn't enough, there was also golden, perfectly and audibly crunchy pork crackling that almost made the dish on its own.

    Slow cooked NZ King salmon, prawn, avocado, fennel
    The lighter salmon option featured a slow cooked (perhaps confit) fillet of the fish, which flaked easily into pieces to be eaten with an avocado puree and fennel and pea salad.

    The prawn seemed to be an unusual addition but it was so fresh in taste and texture I could have had all prawns and no salmon.

    Fennel salad, marinated goats cheese, blood orange, witlof, radish, chives
    The mains at Concrete Blonde are quite complete meals with substantial sides, like salads, on the plate - a refreshingly value-oriented approach that's not nearly as common as it should be.

    Nonetheless, we sampled the colourful and sprightly fennel, witlof and radish salad dotted with normal and blood orange segments and creamy, mild goat's cheese - covering off on bitter and sweet, creamy and crisp.

    Bouillon chat potatoes, rosemary salt, aioli
    The waitstaff also highly recommended the potato side dish and after just one bite, I understood why. Parboiled in, presumably, bouillon, these chat potatoes were then lightly smashed and roasted to a glistening, well-tanned state and seasoned with rosemary salt.

    They were outstanding as they were, and just scraping in to be 'the naughty side' with the addition of aioli. French fries and pommes puree, eat your heart out - this is the champion of potato side dishes.

    Seating indoors and wine cellar

    Vanilla panna cotta, rhubarb, strawberry,basil sorbet
    After scoffing as many potatoes as possible, as well as the sizable mains, the very enticing dessert menu nudged us into sweets territory too. First was the vanilla panna cotta which wobbled nicely with its strawberry jelly layer.

    The basil sorbet was great on its own, weird with the vanilla flavours of the panna cotta, but made more sense with the little piles of stewed rhubarb and strawberry.

    Caramelised banana tart, honeycomb, peanut butter ice cream
    Not normally a banana dessert person, I was swayed by the banana tart's promised side of peanut butter ice cream and honeycomb.

    The tart itself was fabulous: a thin, buttery, flaky pastry topped with banana slices and caramel that had been lightly torched for a hint of burnt toffee. It was also a surprisingly light dessert, though apt after all those potatoes really.

    Caranel espresso martini
    To top off the sweets, one of the dessert cocktails appealed with caramel and espresso meeting in a heavy hitting martini. It was more caramel than espresso but a fine note on which to conclude lunch in the Cross.

    Outdoors, indoors, cocktails, food, casual or big night out: if you need a reason to visit Kings Cross, I think Concrete Blonde has a few.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Concrete Blonde, with thanks to Wasamedia.

    Concrete Blonde on Urbanspoon

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    I swung over to Singapore for a few days in December - my first visit to the tiny country renowned for its humidity and food. I wasn't let down on either count.

    Outside Universal Studios, Resorts World, Sentosa, Singapore
    For the first couple of nights we stayed at the luxurious Equarius Resort as part of Sentosa's somewhat touristy Resorts World. The hotel room was honestly the biggest, most spacious I've ever stayed in, rivalling the size of some Sydney apartments.

    Resorts World is basically a collection of hotels and other tourist sites on the man-made Sentosa Island, with the beach and casino proving major drawcards. There's also a Universal Studios theme park and apparently, one of the world's biggest candy stores, Candylicious, where there are plenty of US M&Ms and Reese's products for sale.

    Candylicious shop at Resorts World, Sentosa, Singapore

    Roti canai from Malaysia Food Street, Resorts World, Sentosa, Singapore
    Seeking food one evening in Sentosa proved a little limited. A few uninteresting stores near the casino opened till late in the evening but time and time again, we were pointed to Malaysia Food Street; a rather contrived food court decorated in old Malaysian street style - without the Malaysian prices.

    There were a bunch of stalls each dedicated to one type of Malaysian and mamak style food. The roti stall offered a generous serve of the freshly made and cooked flat bread with a curry dhal for dipping.

    Chicken and Malacca chicken rice balls from Malaysia Food Street,
    Resorts World, Sentosa, Singapore
    The Hainan chicken stall offered its yellow-skinned chickens in various serving sizes with chicken rice balls: rice flavoured with ginger and fat from the chicken cooking process, formed into tight balls, and famous in Malacca in Malaysia's south, near Muar.

    The chicken rice balls were straight up terrible with the overcooked rice closer to congee than rice. The half chicken was some consolation with its smooth skin and tender flesh while citrus notes added an unexpected twist to the soy based sauce.

    Takeaway herbal drink at Albert Centre Market and Foodcourt, Singapore
    Getting out of Sentosa, finding some decent food courts was a priority, even though we'd heard the famous Maxwell Foodcourt was closed for renovations.

    We stumbled upon the Albert Centre Foodcourt one busy lunchtime and walked around in wonder at the number of stalls and the very reasonable prices all round. Certain stalls had long queues of hungry workers while others busied themselves with food preparation.

    Chicken rice shop at Albert Centre Market and Foodcourt, Singapore
    I think my stomach smiled when we spotted the Hainan chicken rice stall that had an impressive display of hanging chicken carcasses with only heads, back bones and tail ends - now that's cutting a chicken.

    Things got better when we handed over S$2.50 in return for a small plate of chicken, doused in a soy sauce, a mound of chicken rice and a bowl of clear chicken broth with shallots.

    Hainan chicken rice at Albert Centre Market and Foodcourt, Singapore
    We helped ourselves to chilli sauce then found bench seating amid the scoffing, slurping locals and joined in the scoffing.

    The chicken was so tender it may well have been a baby chicken; the rice was so perfectly balanced with ginger and subtle chicken flavours I could have gone another two bowls of it on its own; while the soup was sweet and fortifying with chicken goodness.

    Sad as I was that I only got to eat as Albert Centre Foodcourt once, I was sure glad the Hainan chicken rice was such a satisfying, and cheap, choice.

    Chinatown, Singapore

    Little India, Singapore

    Street side ice cream vendor, Singapore
    The constant humidity in Singapore must mean good trade for the city's streetside ice cream vendors, who sell a range of flavours under the Wall's label from elaborate carts on footpaths all over town.

    Customers have a choice of having the slabs of hard-frozen ice cream between two thin wafer crisps, or sandwiched within a large slice of soft, fluffy, sweet, tri-colour swirled bread (white, pink and green if you were wondering).

    Street side ice cream vendor, Singapore
    They're obviously designed to be eaten on the go through the hot, sticky weather and they do wonders for cooling off after a heavy shopping session or some particularly spicy Singapore chilli crab.

    More to come from Singapore including chilli crab, food centres, fine dining and cocktails.

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    On various Melbourne visits in the past I’ve attempted to visit both MoVida in iconic, graffiti-ed Hosier Lane and MoVida Next Door multiple times – my walk-in attempts unsuccessful every time.

    But then chef and owner Frank Camorra decided to move up to Sydney and bring us our very own MoVida, where bookings are available and walk-in seats for two at the bar were no issue on an early Tuesday evening.

    Complimentary bread and olive oil from MoVida Sydney, Holt Street, Surry Hills
    Seated at the bar, I was somewhat incredulous to be finally able to sample MoVida's menu littered with so many signature tapas. Complimentary house-made bread arrived with olive oil once we had ordered; the  bread quite dense but the salt sprinkled crust something else altogether – dark, and rustically thick and crunchy.

    My first visit to MoVida also coincided with my first (and second) glass of sherry – a Spanish fortified wine that’s particularly dry in its non-dessert varieties but with some very interesting flavour notes.

    I found the Delgado Zuleta ‘La Goya’ Manzanilla Sanlucar de Barrameda to be quite acidic while the Sanchez Romate Marismeno Fino Jerez was closer to a dry white wine with interesting depth and a lick of fortification at the end.

    Anchoa – artisan Cantabrian anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet
    Sherry was a fantastic partner to some of the flavour-packed tapas, starting with the anchoa – a single Cantabrian anchovy on a thin crisp, topped with baby capers and a quenelle of smoked tomato sorbet that took me right back to Barcelona and the tomato bread I had everywhere.

    The anchovy with capers were quite salty so the waiter’s advice to spread the sorbet across the length of the small salted fish was certainly valuable.

    Bocata de buey– air baguette, Rost Biff wagyu, Tocino de Cielo, pickled and black garlic
    The beef "baguette" incited excitement, curiosity and involuntary salivation; it’s unlike anything I've tried before and utterly fun. Even at $8.50 a pop, I wanted more.

    A piece of pink ‘Rost Biff’ wagyu beef was wrapped loosely around a long football shaped "baguette" that was completely hollow, essentially crisp bread.

    The combination of the impossibly tender beef and crisp bread held together spectacularly: the beef didn't come away as a whole piece as chewy meat would; the bread didn't shatter into a million pieces upon bite. Meanwhile, the slightly sweet pickled garlic made beautiful, harmonious sense with the buttery beef.

    Buñuelos de bacalao– salt cod fritters with Basque pil pil sauce
    From the larger-sized racion section of the menu, the bacalao salt cod fritters were hot, golden balls of salted cod in a traditional olive oil based pil pil sauce.

    Surprisingly subtle in both creaminess and saltiness, for me, the deep fried chilli slice garnishes completed each mouthful with a very restrained chilli kick.

    Ensalada de tomates– heirloom tomato salad with avocado, pickled cauliflower
    and tempura white anchovies
    A vegetable side was a must as we were ordering meat from the parrilla grill part of the menu. While the temptation was to order and experience MoVida’s version of classic patatas bravas, I thought I’d go the healthier route with the tomato salad. Which came with tempura battered anchovies.

    Pureed avocado played second fiddle to a colourful array of small heirloom tomatoes, while the pickled cauliflower was the perfect zingy lift to the not-so-salty anchovy which, on their own, had an air of 'fish and chips'.

    Costillas – spicy pork ribs on charcoal
    The pork ribs arrived a good while after we had polished off the salad, leaving us basically with a pile of meat and bones and no vegetable side as intended. Nonetheless, we dug into the rather pretty plate of smoky, dry rubbed ribs in the only way that seemed sensible: with our fingers.

    Impressively tender, though not to the point where meat falls off the bone and barely resembles meat any longer, the spice rub delivered all the flavour in the ribs and some fairly serious heat.

    The rose tinted Sanchez Romate ‘Don Jose’ Oloroso Jerez sherry was a surprisingly fitting match: its slightly sweet, fortified end notes just divine, holding up against the spice.

    Flan – crème caramel served with Pestinos
    There was definitely space for dessert on this occasion and there were plenty of tempters, including a cheese option.

    The flan was a perfectly wobbly and creamy crème caramel (or crema Catalana more correctly) with a pool of caramel sauce. The cinnamon sugar coated pestinos biscuits added sweetness and texture to the well-made custard.

    Tarta Santiago– almond fondant with fig leaf ice cream
    Less common around these traps was the traditional tarta Santiago; a flourless cake of almond meal and eggs adorned with icing sugar stencilling out the motif of the Cross of Santiago.

    The warm, barely cooked innards of the fondant were pure comfort and not overly sweet, cosying up nicely with the fig leaf ice cream which was decidedly leafy and furry in flavour, which is how my palate seems to perceive the taste of figs.

    The bar at MoVida
    At the end of the night, with a MoVida dining experience in my pocket, I was a happy little camper – although that could have been the sherry's contribution too.

    While not all the dishes were mind-blowing like the bocata de buey, the overall experience was excellent with a buzzy atmosphere that just makes you want to stay and service that's mostly warm and enthusiastic (particularly with regard to my inexperience with sherry).

    The move up to Sydney seems to fit MoVida and I impeccably.

    MoVida Sydney on Urbanspoon

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    The hundreds of colourful, individually-painted skateboards on the ceilings of contemporary Japanese restaurant, PaperPlanes Bondi are only the beginning – there’s more to be done on the site, says Phil Capaldi who co-owns the restaurant with the Barge brothers of LL Wine & Dine fame.

    Skateboards and origami cranes on the ceiling at PaperPlanes Bondi,
    Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach
    Ten months in and PaperPlanes is flying high in Bondi Beach’s new-ish Beach House complex, wedged in between an ice cream shop and Hotel Bondi.

    Such are the lofty heights of their success that they’re Bali-bound with a super-charged PaperPlanes concept involving a couple of restaurants and a beachfront club. There’s also talk of New York and other worldly, big cities – there’s no shortage of ambition with this lot.

    The bar and moving specials board
    Back in Bondi, diners can walk into the moodily-lit space from a sand-and-surf session on beachy Campbell Parade, or sneak in after a shopping session on store-lined Gould Street.

    A young, local contingent of diners and drinkers keep the restaurant busy with a good dose of beach cool, especially in the evenings and Sunday afternoons when there’s live music involving a full size harp.

    PaperPlanes menu
    In for lunch, we were seated at the bar unravelling the origami-folded menu to discover fun, easy-drinking cocktails with a modern PaperPlanes touch.

    Rock, Scissors, Paper cocktail (left) and Harajuku Girl cocktail (right)
    The Rock, Scissors, Paper cocktail was aperitif-like with bitter Campari, Martini Rosso and almond-scented amaretto lightened with orange juice making for an interesting palate starter.

    The girly, pink, martini-glassed Harajuku Girl of gin and elderflower liqueur arrived garnished unexpectedly with desiccated coconut, ramping up the sweet, shaken coconut water component and watermelon juice.

    New Zealand deep sea scampi nigiri with ponzu jelly, wasabi soy glazed cucumber,
    fried onion and chives
    There was serious lust for almost everything on the starters menu but we managed to narrow it down to the scampi nigiri sushi. Served alongside the emptied scampi head, the cube of ponzu jelly melting atop added all the necessary flavour to the creamily fresh, raw shellfish.

    PaperPlanes prawn gyoza with creamy lemon wasabi foam,
    crushed wasabi peas and fresh herbs
    We also sampled PaperPlanes’ excellent signature prawn gyoza dumplings, which came beautifully pan fried on a creamy wasabi and lemon foam.

    Both the garnish of crushed, crunchy wasabi peas and the chewy, golden skins were highlights, while the slightly spicy foam matched particularly well with the bouncy, minced prawn filling.

    Orion Draft beer
    PaperPlanes has the easy-drinking Japanese Orion Draft beer on tap while a small selection of other beers are served by the bottle.

    Ine Mankai sake
    Also available is an interesting range of sake which Capaldi loves introducing to newcomers – I was given a tasting of some of the boutique offerings.

    The red rice Ine Mankai was surprisingly sweet with cherry and pomegranate notes; and was unlike any sake I've ever sipped.

    Kizan Sanban sake
    The Kizan Sanban was also on the lighter, sweeter, easy-to-drink side and is definitely a good starting point for those new to sake.

    My favourite of the tastings was the Mutemuka, which has an earthier, savoury flavour that I think is more traditional than the sweeter styles, while the yeasty Azemura was probably the strongest of the lot.

    Sweet corn on the cob with butter and red miso sauce
    Beer and sake are the perfect accompaniments to a bit of savoury eating in the form of kushiyaki skewers of grilled meats and vegetables.

    The sweet cobs of corn were grilled and lightly brushed with a complementary mix of red miso sauce and butter – a little unwieldy on the well-cooked skewer but a crowd pleaser nonetheless.

    Chicken thigh fillet with shallot and truffle glaze
    We headed into yakitori grilled chicken territory with the chicken thigh and shallot skewer, scented with a touch of truffle oil amid the soy sauce basting.

    Chicken meatball with white sesame
    I adored the texture of the chicken meatball – crumbly and not entirely smooth beneath its char markings – but unfortunately it was a bit on the overly-salty side.

    Crispy chicken skin with white sesame
    I sensed there was a bit of cheating when it came to the crunchy, golden pieces of chicken skin, threaded on the skewer. Deep fried rather than grilled, the fried skin morsels were pure guilty pleasure.

    Zucchini with butter, red miso sauce and white sesame
    Lessening the guilt were zucchini and eggplant in red miso sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. While the eggplant was a little too thickly covered in the sweet sauce, the barely-cooked zucchini was perfectly firm and refreshing.

    Eggplant with butter, red miso sauce and white sesame

    Braised beef short ribs off bone in yakiniku sauce with pickled vegetable
    In pretty good form, we opted for a single main dish to share – Capaldi highly recommends both the lamb ribs and beef short rib and we ended up happily with the latter.

    I’m not sure exactly how many hours of cooking or how many spices went into the deeply-coloured beef, but I’m positive it was a lot of both. The meat was so soft and tender that it had literally fallen off the bone and was served as a boneless pile of meat that could be eaten with chopsticks.

    With sweet braising sauces and the richness of the short rib, I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate than pickled vegetables to go with the beef: the carrot and lotus root were sweet and just sour enough, while the radish was Japanese-style pickled salty.

    Wakame and tofu salad with sesame dressing
    Instead of rice we went with the wakame dressed seaweed with chilled squares of tofu as a healthy side. It was definitely a protein-packed, healthy dish with the creamy sesame sauce matching surprisingly well with the tofu.

    PP Colada cocktail
    Asking for an appropriate drink to go with dessert, Capaldi suggested a PP Colada - the PaperPlanes rendition of the tropical rum, pineapple and coconut cream based piña colada which was traditional and true to taste.

    The black egg – coconut milk curd with macadamia oil and ristretto cocoa sauce
    Dessert at PaperPlanes really broke the mould on Japanese desserts that are generally not considered much beyond green tea ice cream.

    The 'black egg' wasn't what I had imagined but instead a bowl of jellied coconut milk, light and sweet, with a pooled dollop of slightly nutty and bitter cocoa sauce.

    Green tea rocher layered of ricotta crust, dark chocolate ganache and hazelnut
    But it was the green tea rocher that wowed us: think balls of deep fried ricotta dough rolled in fine green tea sugar.

    Green tea rocher innards
    Inside was hot melting dark chocolate ganache with a whole roasted hazelnut, Ferrero Rocher style and completely lovable. These were clever and fun, summing up the entire experience at PaperPlanes.

    PaperPlanes ceiling
    Clever, modern Japanese dishes in a fun, colourful setting where it's just as much about the food and drinks selection as the vibe and music. PaperPlanes is flying high in Bondi, direct to Bali mid-year.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of PaperPlanes Bondi, with thanks to Sweaty Betty PR.

    PaperPlanes on Urbanspoon

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    It was an odd admission to some: that I’d never tried Singapore chilli crab before. But if this was ever going to change, there was no better place for it than in Singapore where I spent a few sweaty days in December last year.

    I adore mud crabs, especially the meaty claws, although I tend to eat more blue swimmer crabs in Australia. My favourite eating style is, without doubt, Cantonese style ginger and shallot crab with e-fu thick, soft egg noodles to soak up all the juices and sauces.

    Singapore chilli crab from Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, The Riverwalk, Singapore
    We met an expat friend at one of the many Jumbo Seafood Restaurants across Singapore, which was in turn, recommended by one of his local workmates. Beers ordered, we got down to business with plastic bibs around our necks.

    The market priced Singapore chilli crab arrived to the table in impressively quick time, with finger bowls and crab crackers. The large black pot held a whole crab, cracked and in pieces, with lots of the tomato-based chilli sauce.

    It was all hands on deck with the mud crab a little smaller than its Queensland cousins. However, the depth of flavour in the sauce - not just sweetness and very mild chilli, but an array of spices - was most satisfying.

    Deep fried man tou buns
    We had to get a few orders of the small, fluffy, steamed man tou buns - both plain steamed and deep fried - to soak up the chilli crab sauce.

    Steamed man tou buns 

    Singapore black pepper crab
    For variety, we also ordered a crab in the other popular Singaporean cooking style: black pepper. With a much drier sauce of mostly cracked black pepper, this was a little surprising in its heat and spice - indeed, more spicy and lip burning than the chilli crab.

    I'm a bit torn choosing a favourite of the Singapore chilli or black pepper crab, so I'll revert to ginger and shallot, which probably allows the true flavour of crab shine through better than the spicier options.

    Jellyfish salad
    We also ordered a starter of jellyfish salad, which came heavily and appropriately dressed in lots of roasted sesame oil and raw coriander.

    For those unfamiliar with jellyfish, it comes in translucent, light brown strips without any real trace of the sea but with a sometimes challenging texture of soft crispness.

    Mee goreng - stir fried noodles
    Crab-fest as it was, we added some carbohydrates and vegetables to the dinner order for balance. The mee goreng noodles were pretty unexciting in flavour with prawns, egg and bean sprouts tossed through. There was also a generous plate of sambal kangkong water spinach - a Malaysian favourite.

    I'm not sure Jumbo Seafood Restaurant was the best Singapore chilli crab available in Singapore, but there you have it - my first Singapore chilli crab.

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    I was surprised to see a deal voucher on offer so soon for Albion Street Kitchen – Warren Turnbull's and head chef Grant Astle's very recent rebirth of Assiette. I snapped it up quick-smart and booked in, admittedly a little wary of the changes.

    Complimentary milk bread at Albion Street Kitchen, Albion Street, Surry Hills
    Albion Street Kitchen is a more casual restaurant than its formerly-toqued predecessor. As soon as I walked through the doors on Albion Street, however, I missed Assiette.

    The music playing in the intimate dining room certainly was more casual (Mrs. Robinson?) but the space still feels like Assiette, except for the new bright blue wall. The white tablecloths are gone but in their place are completely lust-worthy, heavy, marble-topped tables.

    Complimentary milk bread with rosemary olive oil
    The new, more casual menu features five entrées and five mains that all sound pretty exciting, with a touch of international flavours which I remember from Assiette days. Wines by the glass are very well priced, with the fruity yet buttery Chenin Blanc possibly my new favourite white wine.

    Adorable, shiny milk bread arrived at the table on a board with a tiny carafe of olive oil and a sprig of rosemary that seemed more decorative than a flavour infuser. The pull-apart style of the fluffy and softly dense bread was perfect for a hungry stomach.

    Cheese on toast, truffle, asparagus, Pedro Ximenez, raisins
    This may well be an early contender for signature dish at Albion Street Kitchen – and I know I want it again on my next visit. Cheese on toast is easily one of my favourite lazy, comforting meals, but I can’t say I often have Pyengana cheddar delicately melted over toasty brioche with truffle shavings.

    I also don’t tend to cook raisins in Pedro Ximenez sherry to add on top with delightfully buttery mushrooms and grilled asparagus spears. For this luxe version of cheese on toast, I’ll be seeking out Albion Street Kitchen.

    Seared veal tongue, sweetbreads, pickled turnip, salsa verde, almonds
    The veal tongue entrée was a little surprising in its form; basically a steak slice of the tongue, surrounded by golden pan fried sweetbreads, small but vivid pink pickled turnip and a bright green sauce of salsa verde.

    Both the pickle and salsa verde were perfect flavour matches for the offal but it was the veal tongue that really surprised me. It was as far from chewy as you could get (in contrast to some experiences with ox tongue) and bordered on spongy, which isn’t a particularly appetising descriptor but worked excellently with its sear treatment and dish accompaniments.

    Ranger's Valley bavette, miso glaze, eggplant, sesame seeds, spinach
    There was serious to-ing and fro-ing when it came to the mains options, with all the protein options sounding delectably worthy.

    My second pick was the Ranger’s Valley bavette or flank steak, which was served with wilted spinach and a halved, miso-topped grilled eggplant. While I adore the Japanese nasu dengaku miso glazed eggplant dish, I found the miso glaze a little too strong on the soft eggplant here.

    A muscular cut of beef, the pink-centred bavette was wonderfully tender with an appropriate bit of chew to go along with loads of beefy flavour, somewhat offsetting the sweet miso glaze.

    Chatham Island cod, cauliflower, vadouvan, tamarind gel
    My top pick was the Chatham Island cod; a slim fillet that flaked to perfection and had plenty of flavour on its own.

    The vadouvan spice dusted cauliflower gave the dish an affable Indian touch while the cauliflower puree, dotted with the sweet brown tamarind gel, added richness and depth. This also came with wilted spinach, making the main meals quite complete and reducing the need for side dishes.

    Panfried zucchini, garlic butter (front) and chips, chilli salt (back)
    In any case, I’d recommend one side shared between two diners, especially given the generous sizes – the thick cut chips were served in a bowl in a pub-size serving.

    Crunchily golden with a seasoning of salt and chilli powder, there was a definite umami component, almost like powdered katsuobushi dried bonito flakes or similar. They were a little on the dry side, so the tamarind gel from my main meal made for a fitting dipping sauce.

    Meanwhile, the zucchini were at just the right firmness with a surprisingly subtle garlic butter and crisp pangratatto style breadcrumbs sprinkled atop. We were defeated by half bowls of each side remaining and finishing my wine, I couldn't even look at the dessert menu.

    In all, I wouldn't call Albion Street Kitchen a casual restaurant but it is certainly a step down from hatted fine dining. At its heart I think it’s just the new, casual Assiette, but with quality and flavours like this on the plates, I'm really going to like the new casual.

    Albion Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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    Over the next few weeks, I’ll be introducing new contributors to Food, booze and shoes. This article was written by Janice – whisky drinker, insomniac baker and dinner party queen.

    From more than 250 years ago in Scotland, to many a parents’ or grandparents’ booze stash, to today at the swankily refurbished Pullman Hotel in the Sydney CBD south – Drambuie is a liqueur stalwart that exudes old-world sophistication.

    Entrance to the Drambuie Bar Takeover at the Pullman Sydney
    Hyde Park Hotel, College Street, Sydney
    Starting today through to Sunday 3 March 2013 until 11pm each day, the Scottish liqueur brand has taken over the Pullman’s cocktail lounge into its very own surreal Drambuie Bar.

    Guests are transported into the world of Drambuie with Salvador Dali-inspired surroundings, Drambuie-based cocktails, matching canapés and a limited edition Gelato Messina Drambuie gelato.

    Flavours of Drambuie
    Drambuie is a blend of aged Scotch whisky, spices, heather honey and herbs; a sweetened, easier-drinking version of whisky if you will.

    The setting in the Pullman's cocktail lounge is excellently executed: playfully decked out in an old-world feel with Dali-styled photo props. The bar itself is an impressive with a modern, surreal feel.

    The cocktail bar

    Cocktail bartender

    Contortionist at the launch event
    During the launch event, a lithe contortionist provided surprising entertainment amid the Drambuie-sipping crowd, popping up in uncomfortable looking positions and adding to the theme surrealism and 'tasting the extraordinary'.

    Duck gyoza, Bitter and Twisted Nail cocktail (front) and Rusty Mojito cocktail (back)
    The Drambuie take on the classic mojito of white rum, mint, sugar and lime was promptly served upon arrival. The quite sweet combination of the Rusty Mojito was a refreshing drink to start on a warm, humid evening.

    This was quickly followed by the "Bitter and Twisted Nail"; a new-age take on a classic Rusty Nail with Drambuie, Scotch whisky and Campari that was certainly on the stronger side.

    Tastings of the Drambuie 15
    In addition to Drambuie cocktails, the bar’s menu will include a tasting trio of classic Drambuie; Drambuie 15, made exclusively with 15-year-old Speyside malt whisky; and The Royal Legacy of 1745, a limited edition Drambuie with only 2,250 bottles created worldwide.

    Not having tried Drambuie before, I was keen to taste this grain and malt blend, infused with herbs, heather honey and spices. Drambuie Original is a sweet, rich whisky liqueur with a gentle aftertaste of aniseed.

    It's a great and easy introduction to the world of whisky, especially for non-whisky drinkers, as the sweetness offsets the strong first "hit" of whisky neat or on the rocks.

    My favourite tipple of the night was the Drambuie 15, with a number of 15-year-old Speyside malt whiskies married with the original Drambuie elixir. I found myself slowly sipping this to savour the intriguing bouquet with its citrus blend and reduced sweetness.

    We were then introduced to the limited edition Drambuie Royal Legacy of 1745. With only 2,250 bottles created, the original Drambuie elixir is balanced with subtle whisky oak and vanilla overtones. This is a more complex, smoother drink than both the Original and the Drambuie 15.

    Kangaroo slider
    Drambuie tastings are paired with matched canapés to enhance the flavours, including duck gyoza with a spicy, sweet sauce, caramelised pork belly pieces and oysters garnished with tangy, pink finger lime.

    The highlight were the kangaroo sliders, featuring surprisingly tender and moist meat patties, cheese and pickled beetroot – it doesn’t get much more Australian than that.

    Oysters with finger limes

    Caramelised pork belly

    Rusty Negroni
    Jonathan Brown, regional director of Drambuie also kindly introduced us to the "Rusty Negroni", which is apparently on the menu at laneway small bar, Grasshopper Bar.

    Chilled and strained Drambuie, Campari and Shiraz might sound like a direct route to a hangover, but this reminded me of sangria, albeit a more upmarket and weighty version.

    Rusty Licker gelato by Gelato Messina
    The event was also the premiere of a unique collaboration between Drambuie and Gelato Messina.

    Conceived by Messina's artisan gelato masters, the "Rusty Licker" is a playful spin on the infamous Rusty Nail cocktail – a super-sweet gelato combination of caramel, ginger and Drambuie-soaked savoiardi biscuits.

    Drambuie and Espresso Martini
    The night ended with a very well-made Drambuie and Espresso Martini, with plenty of sweetness and both a whisky and caffeine kick.

    Learning of Drambuie's versatility was quite a surprise - it can be enjoyed neat, over ice or simply as a long refreshing drink mixed with soda or ginger beer. This sweet dram certainly has a place in my liqueur cabinet. See more photos from the launch night on my Facebook page.

    The Drambuie Bar Takeover runs from Wednesday 27 February to Sunday 3 March at the lounge bar of the Pullman Sydney Hyde Park Hotel.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the launch of the Drambuie Bar Takeover at the Pullman Sydney Hyde Park Hotel as a guest, with thanks to DEC PR.

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  • 03/02/13--00:13: Dine out and Givva Fork
  • When giving to a worthy cause is as simple as tacking on a few bucks to the bill at the end of a nice dinner out, it's hardly a difficult task.

    This is the angle that Major Raiser is taking for its 2013 Givva Fork campaign, raising money for the World Food Programme's school meal program in Laos.

    Givva Fork - at the campaign launch party, Mad Pizz e Bar, Crown Street, Surry Hills
    For the month of March, a number of Sydney restaurants will be taking part in the Givva Fork campaign, where diners can"givva fork" by purchasing a retro orange, stainless steel Givva Fork fork, or by adding "forkage" to a bill at the end of a night.

    Amalfi pizza at Mad Pizza - tiger prawns, ricotta, garlic, chilli flakes and
    roma tomato with fresh mint leaves
    Each $6 fork purchased from a participating restaurant or online equates to school meals for an entire month for a school child in Laos. That has to be the hardest-working fork I own, for sure!

    "Forkage" is like corkage but instead, aims to remove hunger from a child's life. Every dollar donated at the end of the meal with the bill will fund four school meals in Laos.

    Havianna pizza at Mad Pizza - double smoked ham, pineapple, basil and roma tomatoes
    Participating restaurants include all the Mad Pizza e Bar outlets, Orto Trading Co., The Dip, Ampersand, Olio, Michelini, Not Bread Alone, One Six Nine Cafe and Harry & Mario.

    We were treated to a delicious array of Mad Pizza's super-thin based pizzas at the launch event with Major Raiser founder Dominic Greenwood and Givva Fork ambassador (as well as  Masterchef contestant and fellow blogger) Billy Law.

    2013 Givva Fork campaign ambassador Billy Law
    (image courtesy of Wasamedia and Photo Refinery)
    There will also be a number of fundraising events held throughout the month, including a gay singles night (happy Mardi Gras!), a Secret Foodies event and plans for a food photography workshop with Billy, where all proceeds will go towards the campaign.

    The month of fundraising and events will culminate in an all-out party at The Standard, where hopefully even more funds will be raised.

    So Sydney diners, show you 'givva fork' - it's as simple as eating out and giving your spare dollars and a damn.

    Mad Pizza e Bar on Urbanspoon

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    Taste of Sydney is back for another year in Centennial Park, from 14-17 March 2013. It's hard to think that last year's event can be topped, but I'm really looking forward to seeing what restaurants, stalls and masterclasses have to offer this year.

    Taste of Sydney at Centennial Park
    (Image courtesy of Stellar Concepts)
    Restaurant stalls this year include newcomers PortenoThe Woods, Ananas Bar and Brasserie, Kitchen by Mike, Claude's, Popolo, Three Blue Ducks and great regional restaurant additions in Biota Dining and Muse Dining.

    Returning to the line-up are The Cut Bar and Grill, Sake, Efendy, Four in Hand / 4Fourteen, Jonah's and L'étoile.

    Taste of Sydney crowds
    (Image courtesy of Stellar Concepts)
    Coming on board as a major sponsor of Taste of Sydney this year is Malaysia Kitchen, which promotes all things delicious and edible from Malaysia and its cuisine around the world.

    The Malaysia Kitchen marquee will feature a different pop-up restaurant every day, as well as a producer’s market and a cooking demo stage where ambassador and former MasterChef contestant Poh Ling Yeow along with Sydney’s own Jackie M will present demonstrations throughout the days.

    Jackie M will feature at the Malaysia Kitchen marquee
    at Taste of Sydney

    (Image courtesty of Crossman Communications)
    I asked Jackie M a few questions ahead of her Taste of Sydney appearances.

    What do you think is the ‘taste of Malaysia’?

    Malaysian cuisine really is an early form of fusion food, with flavours, ingredients and cooking styles harnessed from the melting pot of cultures that make up the country's inhabitants. Predominant among these influences are Malay, Chinese, Indian and to a lesser extent, Portuguese, Thai and Indonesian.

    Whilst there are lots of varieties of dining styles within the vast landscape of Malaysian eats, I do believe where Malaysian cuisine makes its mark is in its street food - think Char Kway Teow, Satay, Laksa, Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai, Nasi Kandar - these are the kinds of dishes that come to mind immediately when Malaysian food is mentioned anywhere.

    What is one Malaysian dish that you’d always prefer to eat out rather than make at home?

    Assuming I'm on one of my trips back to Malaysia, however, what I would always prefer to eat out rather than make myself, is satay. 

     The reason is 1) it's a lot of work to cut up, marinate and skewer the meat, and to start up a charcoal fire to cook them on, not to mention roasting & pounding peanuts and cooking the sauce, and making the compressed rice squares to go with it - trust me, as someone who started out over 10 years ago as a satay specialist - I would know. 

    2) I've always found the satays sold at satay stalls in Malaysia to be consistently good and to taste, for all intents and purposes, pretty much identical, so you're not hit with any unpleasant surprises.

    Win a double pass to Taste of Sydney 

    For your chance to win one of 10 double passes to Taste of Sydney, simply email your answer to the question below to foodboozeshoes @

    “What tastes do you think are missing from the Sydney dining scene?” 

    Entries must be received by 9.00pm (AEDST) on Sunday, 10 March 2013. Please include your name and mailing address with your response. Winners will be announced on Monday, 11 March 2013 and tickets will be mailed to winners.
    (Note: mailing addresses are used only for the purpose of sending winners' tickets).

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