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A Sydney food and restaurant blog

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    I’m not really a huge fan of hot dogs – I think too many supermarket frankfurts in my childhood may have marred my view of the red-skinned sausage in a bun.

    But now, there are much better quality frankfurts, artisan breads and all sorts of gourmet toppings on offer that make me look twice at a hot dog. One on my mind was the Japanese-influenced hot dogs at Chanoma Café in Regent Place, taking over where Azuma Patisserie was previously.

    Matcha banana frappe at Chanoma Cafe, Regent Place, George Street, Sydney
    Chanoma is positioned as a specialist matcha teahouse; purveyors of their own batch of Japanese green tea. The tea philosophy is somewhat overshadowed by some insane dessert creations of green tea soft serve and drinks like the sweet, if not artificial, Banana Matcha Frappe with optional whipped cream.

    Chanoma Cheese Dog with German blutwurst sausage
    Oddly enough, I was more interested in the hot dogs which come in several variations, each with the choice of three types of sausages – and not frankfurts at that. I’m told the most popular is the Slovenian kransky while there’s also a spicy Spanish chorizo and German ‘blutwurst’ with not blood but pork rind in the filling.

    My Chanoma Cheese Dog with the blutwurst was certainly a cheesy affair, although one that turned plastic-y after not too long. The buns are not overly soft nor sweet; and perfectly sized for the sausage.

    Spicy Meat Lover's Dog with a chorizo sausage
    More meaty and exotic was the Spicy Meat Lover’s Dog, served with the selection of a chorizo sausage. The chorizo itself was really decent, but piled on with a spicy mince, mayonnaise and shallots may just have taken it over the top.

    The hot dogs are well sized for a light meal although bigger appetites could easily polish off two of them.

    Shaked fried with soy butter and seaweed
    Probably my favourite part of the quick pre-cinema meal were the Shaker Fries, served shaken in a paper cup with a choice of shaker seasonings. The soy butter and seaweed was my irresistible choice, and what a winner.

    The crisp fries were manageably buttery with dried seaweed flakes, and tasted exactly like soy-flavoured okaki rice cracker snacks. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to deviate from this flavour to try the other Shaker Fries.

    It looks like the tides are turning on hot dogs - I really think so.

    Chanoma Cafe on Urbanspoon

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    From the moment we stepped into the moodily-lit, narrow, downstairs bar of The Owl House in Darlinghurst – on Crown Street not far from the Stanley Street intersection – we were in the very good and charmingly capable hands of owner and sommelier Amir Halpert and bar manager Owen Davies.

    Winner of the Best Bar Food award in the 2012 Good Food Awards, The Owl House is a bit like a small restaurant with an excellent bar, or a small bar with an excellent kitchen. Either way, they’re doing something special in the terrace space with a perch-friendly bar and tiny kitchen headed by ex Aria chef Roy Ner downstairs; and a perilously tight, turning, wooden staircase to a warm upstairs dining room with a balcony overlooking the Crown Street action.

    Downstairs at the bar at The Owl House
    There aren’t many venues in Sydney that can claim to have both a fully formed bar and kitchen – one or the other often dominates. However, the food and booze feature equally at The Owl House; so much so that as part of their cocktail degustation, the bar matches some drinks to the food while the kitchen matches some dishes to the cocktails.

    Ex New Yorker Halpert says that their full, proper degustation with matched, half-size cocktails is a first for Sydney. He was treating us to the degustation, with a few extras for good measure (dishes marked with * are not part of the standard cocktail degustation).

    Margarita pearl at The Owl House, Crown Street, Darlinghurst
    There was no fluffing about at the start – we got straight into tequila with a touch of molecular mixology: a margarita-filled pearl, starting the palate with a literal explosion of lemon juice and tequila in the mouth.

    Freshly shucked Pambula oyster with Herradura anejo tequila sour foam - served
    with Tequila Flower cocktail
    The tequila theme continued with the first cocktail, Tequila Flower, featuring elderflower liqueur and orange blossom water, which went some way in repressing the tequila hit from Don Julio blanco.

    Matched with the cocktail was a fresh-as-it-gets Pambula rock oyster hidden beneath a cloud of Herradura anejo tequila sour foam, naturally.

    The tickle of tequila hit the palate first, preparing it for the most impossibly perfect and briney, freshly-shucked rock oyster in a seriously heavenly combination.

    Kadaifi prawn with chickpeas tuile. Matbucha dip, heirloom tomatoes, caper berries and
    tomato vinaigrette - served with Saffron martini
    My jaw hit the table at the sight of the kadaifi pastry-wrapped prawn. The impressive thin wall of deep fried kadaifi aside, there was wonderment at the supersized prawn which would have rivalled a lobster.

    The mille feuille-styled tuile wafers were made of chickpeas and tasted just like hommus, interspersed with colourful heirloom tomatoes and tomato-based Matbucha dip, while artsy squiggles of dressing completed the picture.

    The Saffron cocktail matched the Middle Eastern flavours of the dish and was a great martini option for those new or still a little reluctant of the notoriously strong cocktail. A touch of sweetness and saffron exoticness added to the chilled botanicals of gin was just about the perfect cocktail for me.

    Cosmopolitan
    Halpert then brought upstairs and shook a 1930s Cosmopolitan: fairly classic but for the spiced cranberry puree which added great depth. The sweet, light flavours of the Cosmopolitan were an unexpected match for the fish of the day.

    Fish of the day with diamond shell clams. beetroot carpaccio, golf carrots,
    semi dried kalamata olives and tomatoes - served with Cosmopolitan cocktail
    The gasps of presentation surprise continued, and several half cocktails in, I managed to forget what the fish of the day was – something in a thin fillet, firm and flaking, served most deliciously with a crumble of semi-dried kalamata olives which added just the right amount of savouriness.

    The wooden serving board was scattered with crimson puddles of beetroot thins, asparagus spears, tiny carrots and diced tomatoes in an ultimately healthy and artistic representation of a fish dish.

    Smoked bone marrow and ox tail croquette* - served with Titanic by Stefan Trummer cocktail
    From the bar snacks menu I had spied a lust-worthy croquette that Halpert kindly included in our meal. Bone marrow and ox tail might seem unlikely croquette fillings but through the ridiculously crisp crumb shell, an extremely smoky mixture of pulled ox tail and less discernible bone marrow was revealed.

    The beefy croquette was matched to a cocktail homage to New York 'bar chef' Stefan Trummer's signature Titanic cocktail featuring champagne sorbet, Ciroc vodka, elderflower liquor and sparkling wine - a thoroughly enjoyable, girly concoction.

    Deconstructed casoulet: Duck confit, braised pork shoulder, Toulouse style sausage, white beans and carrots* - served with Jack Rose cocktail
    From the small dishes part of the menu, the deconstructed casoulet ended up being my absolute favourite, not only of the meal but possibly of the year so far.

    The copper pot was filled with piping hot white beans bursting with porky flavour, while the excellent sausage, braised chunk of pork shoulder and confit duck drummette each vied for top spots on the white bean puree podium. Each component stood very well on its own and was divinely homely combined.

    The Jack Rose cocktail of calvados apple brandy, lemon juice and pomegranate seeds lightened the richness of the wintry deconstruction.

    Lamb cutlets with roasted baby eggplant, zucchini ribbons and pickled eschalots with semi dried tomatoes, goat's curd and chargrilled eggplant dip and lamb jus - served with Smoky Robinson
    I could barely stomach the thought of a final main meal, which the kitchen had plated as a full size board of three lamb cutlets.

    It was all happening on top of the stripes of smoky eggplant dip: semi dried cherry tomatoes, vibrant green ribbons of zucchini, pickled rings of eschalot and well-roasted baby eggplants, with a rich jus served at the table too.

    The Smoky Robinson cocktail of Remy Martin V.S cognac, Drambuie, ginger and smoked capsicum with lemon juice was the ideally strong finishing touch.

    Berry parfait served on balsamic glaze with poached rhubarb and berries - served with Chocolate Martini
    Somewhat defeated at the sight of dessert, I nonetheless tried the berry parfait, served on lurid streaks of balsamic vinegar glaze and berry puree. Tart and refreshing, with poached rhubarb on the side, it was a surprising accompaniment to the thick and rich Chocolate Martini of 68% Valrhona chocolate, Belvedere orange vodka and Grand Marnier.

    It's not that often that I'm completely enamoured with a meal or restaurant. I walked out of The Owl House very full and nearly ecstatic following a consistently astonishing degustation. The warm buzz of booze might have had some small part to play, but I can't remember the last time I had a meal that didn't peak and trough as such, but was steadily amazing throughout.

    The presentation of their dishes is undoubtedly elaborate, and perhaps over the top for some, but the genuine heart and soul of The Owl House – from the menu to the service to the fit out and philosophy – makes any visit a hoot of a time.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of The Owl House.

    The Owl House on Urbanspoon

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    Vivid Sydney 2013, Sydney Opera House
    This year’s Vivid Sydney Festival has been the biggest one yet: thefifthannual celebration of lights, music and ideas that gets Sydneysiders out into the wintry nights – no easy feat. And you've got five more nights to catch it.

    Vivid has expanded into Darling Harbour this year with the Vivid Aquatique lights and water show, in addition to its original Circular Quay and The Rocks home.

    Vivid Aquatique in Darling Harbour

    Vivid Aquatique
    As part of Vivid’s expanded geography, Citibank has led the charge in Darling Harbour with a pop-up bar in Cockle Bay, nearby Meat & Wine Co. – a Citibank Dining Program restaurant.

    The Citibank Pop-Up Bar is positioned for prime viewing of the new Vivid Aquatique festival addition, with seating, and wine and Aquatique showing every hour – it’s a great winter’s night out on the town.

    Citibank Pop-Up Bar in Darling Harbour
    On launch night I was invited by Citibank’s Marcus Marchant to check out the pop-up bar which is mostly under cover from rain with the expressway arching above.

    Open and free to the over-18 public, the Citibank Pop-Up Bar features snacks like mini beef, steak or vegetarian burgers and haloumi skewers, as well as premium Australian wines.

    Citibank Pop-Up Bar
    Citibank cardholders also enjoy priority entry and a free glass of wine on arrival, in addition to their usual perk of a free bottle of wine every time they dine at Citibank Dining Program’s participating restaurants.

    The open kitchen at Meat & Wine Co., Darling Harbour, Sydney
    For a more filling evening, venture over to the lavishly-renovated Meat & Wine Co. that’s gotten a classy, modern steakhouse feel since the last time I visited.

    The kitchen pass
    In the downstairs section there’s now an open kitchen with sandstone tops as well as a snazzy, long private dining room where we were dining.

    300g Monte Select rump steak and chips (grain-fed 120 days)
    Given the venue I couldn’t go past a bit of meat with a glass of First Creek Shiraz, with the kitchen’s beefy char smells proving irresistible.

    My rump steak was probably a tad over my requested medium-rare, but with great flavour in the meat and basting compensating for the chewier bits.

    We had a selection of sauces shared at the table with the creamy garlic being my unexpected favourite. Meanwhile, the chips were perfection; thick cut, crunchily golden on the outside and perfectly fluffy and potato-ey within.

    Lamb ribs and chips
    The table filled with finger bowls and relatively classy black bibs for those who ordered beef or lamb ribs: an undoubtedly hands-on affair.

    The smaller racks of lamb ribs, basted in a marinade of lemon, mustard and herbs, were tender, delicate things, and as seems always the case with lamb ribs, a little on the fatty side.

    Side salad
    Side salads are completely necessary with steak and chips, with the sprout, leaf and capsicum combination being completely polished off across the table.

    Vanilla crème brulee
    Winter desserts are an easy win, especially if they crackle or ooze. The crème brulee had a perfectly burnished toffee top, hiding smooth, vanilla-scented custard that left one wanting more.

    Chocolate and pistachio fondant
    The warm white chocolate and pistachio nougatine-topped chocolate fondant was my pleasure, alongside vanilla bean ice cream quite literally perched on a shortbread biscuit - one sure way to stop the ice cream from sliding all over the plate.

    Chocolate and pistachio fondant insides
    With one strike of the spoon, molten chocolate lava came pouring out – at which point I could probably have ended the meal happily. Although a tad floury, the warm fondant paired with ice cream was the ultimate end to a Vivid winter night – well, before another stint at the Citibank Pop-Up Bar for Vivid Aquatique, that is.

    See more photos of Vivid Sydney Aquatique and Light Walk on my Facebook page.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at The Meat & Wine Co as a guest of Citibank Australia, with thanks to Liquid Ideas.

    The Meat & Wine Co on Urbanspoon

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    Sydney’s 25-year-old monorail – which snakes through the CBD, Darling Harbour, Pyrmont and Chinatown – is making its final rounds of the city on Thursday, 28 June 2013.

    Sydney Monorail (Image courtesy of MTS Holding Company)
    I went on the monorail once as a kid, awed and excited at travelling up so high above the streets and people. I’ve used it a couple times in more recent years as a shortcut to Pyrmont and just for the pure novelty factor.

    Now, as the State Government’s monorail removal project looms, there’s just over two weeks left to create your own Sydney monorail memories.

    Sydney Monorail - last journey on 28 June 2013
    If you’re after a monorail experience more The Amazing Race than The Simpsons, the Monorail Farewell Tour is just the thing: part urban exploration, part scavenger hunt and part food and drink tour.

    Starting tomorrow night and organised by walking tour group Two Feet & a Heartbeat and Sydney Urban Adventures (the local city tour arm of Intrepid), the Monorail Farewell Tour is a great group or team event opportunity to ride the monorail a few last times while completing challenges and trivia around the key attractions along the monorail route.

    Sydney Monorail day pass
    Armed with a monorail day pass, game card and select drinks and discount vouchers, the Monorail Farewell Tour is designed as an adventure for teams of ideally 3-5 people.

    Landmarks like Kimber Lane to be discovered
    From a CBD starting place, points are earned by visiting Sydney attractions, restaurants and bars, and other landmarks; Instagramming team photos; answering trivia questions and more around the seven stops of the monorail route.

    Find gems like Dixon Wine Bar on the tour!
    The challenge should span about two-and-a-half hours with a secret finishing location which is only revealed during one of the attraction stops on the route (no guarantees Phil Keoghan will be there though).

    There are prizes to be won and announced at the final location, where hash-tagged Instagrammed photos will also be judged.

    There’s also self-guided option for the non-competitive sorts among us, where you can explore the monorail route and attractions in your own time.

    So long, farewell Sydney Monorail (Image courtesy of MTS Holding Company)
    Monorail Farewell Tours will run from 6-9pm every night from Wednesday, 12 June 2013 through to the last day of Thursday, 28 June 2013. Tour tickets range from $30-45. See thewebsitefor more information and booking.

    Food, booze and shoes previewed the Monorail Farewell Tour as a guest, with thanks to DEC Public Relations.

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    Beer has a special place in my (drinking) heart, so I didn't need a whole lot of encouragement to visit the new Japanese craft beer bar Biru Biru in Darlinghurst.

    Previously a Zushi outlet on Victoria Street, the same owners have transformed the very narrow space (right next door to Gelato Messina) into a dimly-lit Japanese izakaya with an impressive collection of Japanese craft beers alongside nibbles and skewers designed to soak up the alcohol.

    Ocean Kujukuri Pilsner (left) and Yona Yona Ale tinnie (right)
    at Biru Biru, Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
    With Asahi pretty standard and popular across Sydney now, and even the microbrew Hitachino Nest range getting around town, it's exciting to discover new labels like the Ocean Kujukuri pilsner which is a refreshingly hop-py and bitter start, and the Yona Yona Ale which is a heavier and fruity American-style pale ale.

    The Victorian-brewed Robot Ninja rice lager was a first for me; beer with an entirely new, softer flavour profile which I look forward to learning about and sampling more.

    Fresh tuna salad, nashi pear, miso sesame dressing
    Biru Biru seemed a little understaffed on the night we visited, although in the squishy space it's hard to see how they could fit in a third waitperson.

    There was a bit of a wait for our first dish of raw tuna salad, topped with sticks of nashi pear that had me thinking of the Korean-style yukke raw beef dish.

    The mild, creamy miso sesame dressing just coated the mixed leaves in this unusual but somewhat unconnected salad.

    Seasonal vegie and prawn kushiyaki skewers
    We went for a selection of kushiyaki grilled skewers which are great drinking buddies. The seasonal vegetable skewer was an unexciting foursome of cherry tomatoes, shallots, capsicum and zucchini while the prawn skewers of three coiled crustaceans per stick could have used some seasoning or garnish.

    Pork belly and enoki kushiyaki skewers
    Much more exciting were the petite pork belly skewers with enoki mushrooms rolled within. These were worlds away from the first skewers with fantastic seasoning and a char flavour, and great textures of the thinly sliced pork and delicate strands of mushroom.

    Wagyu beef and red onionkushiyaki skewers
    The skewers of wagyu beef were undoubtedly buttery in flavour with fat, although surprisingly tough even in their small cube form, but paired well with squares of Spanish onion.

    Chicken and spring onion kushiyaki skewers
    The traditional yakitori chicken skewers were great, meaty thigh renditions, grilled with a sweet, soy-based sauce and interspersed with softly cooked shallot segments.

    Lotus root chips
    I'm more accustomed to deep fried renkon lotus root chips as a starter but the slightly thicker cut of the ones at Biru Biru meant that they retained a vegetable crispness and moistness within the golden exterior. They almost felt healthy but were also great dipped into mayonnaise.

    JPC - Japanese popcorn chicken, honey mayo
    A clear winning dish of the night was the small pieces of popcorn chicken in a batter so crisp and crunchy that every bite was audible. The honey mayonnaise on the side was a well-rounded finishing touch.

    Crisp fried school prawns
    We continued on the deep fried route, as frankly a lot of the menu is deep fried and it goes well with a beer or three. The whole fried school prawns probably could have been a tad crisper but it's hard to get this dish (that's showing up all over Sydney) wrong.

    Agedashi tofu
    It was a generous serve of lightly battered tofu cubes in the agedashi tofu, which was less wet than most versions I've tried. Rather, the soft, squishy and just-crisp-on-the-outside tofu sat lightly in a shallow pool of the dashi broth-based sauce, soaking in flavour from the bottom.

    Sticky pork ribs, chilli miso, kimchi
    We finished with a meaty, fusion dish of thickly-sauced spicy pork ribs which were rather chewy, served atop kimchi fermented cabbage that seemed to have had just a light pickling.

    Situated right next door to Sydney's original legendary gelateria, it's no surprise Biru Biru doesn't have a dessert menu.

    We finished off our beers and hopped next door to Gelato Messina, into the queue for apple pie gelato and cherry sorbet.

    Gelato from Gelato Messina, Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
    Although you wouldn't think it, Japanese biru and aisu kurimu go together like a horse and carriage and make for great neighbours.

    Biru Biru on Urbanspoon

    Gelato Messina Darlinghurst on Urbanspoon

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    It had been too long since my last visit to Melbourne so when a long weekend opportunity came up, I grabbed my bags and headed south for a few days of eating, drinking and generally taking in Melbourne.

    So much has changed in the space of a few years in the Melbourne drinking and dining scene that I found myself at a bit of a loss as to how to prioritise restaurants and bars to visit. In the end, it ended up being mostly an Urbanspoon and GPS-driven adventure with a few pre-organised targets thrown in.

    Belle's Diner, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
    Belle's Diner in Fitzroy was a social media find as I was easily enticed by the retro 1950s styled images and feel of the diner on funky Gertrude Street.

    It was like moths to the bulb-lit 'diner' sign after a few drinks and bar hopping in the Melbourne CBD, and we ordered ambitiously with our not-entirely-sober eyes.

    Salted caramel milkshake
    I have pretty limited experience with salted caramel milkshakes so I can easily say that the one at Belle’s Diner was the best I've had to date.

    A perfect balance of salt and caramel with just a hint of burnt toffee flavour, this glass of creamy, frothy milk was enough to keep me happy for the rest of the night.

    Crispy Southern fried chicken with slaw
    We ordered three mains between two of us (martinis make eating ambitions loftier, it seems) including, unsurprisingly, a fried chicken dish to deal with the earlier alcohol.

    The Southern fried chicken comprised various cuts on the bone in a fresh, golden spiced batter, a bit dry in places but pretty darn awesome overall.

    It was served with a house barbeque-ish sauce and red cabbage coleslaw that seemed unseasoned and undressed, somewhat detracting from the chicken and dish overall.

    Corn fritters
    I would have thought corn fritters to be more of a breakfast offering, but here they were at 10.30pm. The fritters themselves were completely forgettable with more floury dough than corn kernels, and a thick white sauce for the main flavouring.

    Meanwhile the salad the fritters were served with came with extremely unripe, inedible cubes of avocado among the leaves, radishes and tomato.

    Dinerr burger
    The Dinerr burger was an epic, towering construction, spiked in place with a skewer. The burger's beef patty was certainly tasty with a good fat ratio, although it a little dry for being completely cooked through.

    Playing stacks-on were melted cheese on the pattie, a fried egg, bacon, grilled pineapple ring, lettuce and sauce. On the whole, it was a tasty if not difficult to eat burger which would have been an ideal booze-soaker - had we not had two other mains on the table.

    It might have been an off night but it seems there's a bit of retro style over substance at Belle's Diner - mostly forgiven with that salted caramel milkshake, though. More Melbourne eats posts to come.

    Belle's Diner on Urbanspoon

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    I've learnt a few new things recently:
    a) it is indeed possible to misplace a big chunky DSLR camera;
    b) it's quite fun out in rainy weather when you’re prepared for it;
    c) raw sorrel has an amazing citrus flavour;
    d) the macadamia nut is the only nut that is native to Australia; and
    e) the new season of Australian macadamia nuts are currently being harvested and dried for our eating pleasure.

    Australian macadamia nuts - in shell and kernels
    (Image courtesy of Australian Macadamia Society)
    Australian macadamia growers, predominantly in subtropical northern New South Wales and Queensland, are anticipating a yield of 39,000 tonnes of macadamia nut in-the-shell in this year’s harvest, which will translate to 11,500 tonnes of luxurious macadamia nut kernels, of which 35% remains in the domestic market.

    Colin Fassnidge, Australian Macadamia Society's Lynne Ziehlke and Australian Macadamias
    ambassador Eamon Sullivan at Sydney Seafood School, Sydney Fish Markets, Pyrmont
    This nugget of agricultural information was imparted at a recent Sydney Seafood School experience, courtesy of the Australian Macadamia Society which represents growers and the broader industry.

    Olympic swimmer, and Perth café and restaurant owner, Eamon Sullivan, is an ambassador for Australian Macadamias and was on hand with restaurant chef and owner, and My Kitchen Rules judge, Colin Fassnidge, for a bloggers "maca nut" cooking challenge.

    Sullivan and Fassnidge demonstrating macadamia recipes
    While I’ve enjoyed many a macadamia nut, mostly roasted and salted, I've never really cooked with the nuts – until now.

    On the menu for the challenge were a winter-appropriate Jerusalem artichoke and macadamia soup by Fassnidge and a not-nearly-as-healthy-as-it-sounds macadamia granola by Sullivan.

    Sullivan and Fassnidge
    Sydney Seafood School is such an excellent venue for classes, starting with the demonstration kitchen where both Fassnidge and Sullivan cooked, entertained and educated the small class.

    Fassnidge plating up his soup

    Sullivan's macadamia nut granola out of the oven
    While there was wine and banter on hand, one did need to pay some attention as we'd be recreating the dishes shortly after.

    It didn't take long for the demo kitchen to fill with hearty smells of onion, Jerusalem artichoke and creaminess of Fassnidge's soup nor Sullivan's caramelly, sweet, nutty granola.

    Australian Macadamias aprons
    In the Sydney Seafood School kitchens, it was action at all stations from the word go. Fassnidge and Sullivan did the rounds, proffering helpful advice and tips that I wouldn't mind in my kitchen every time I cook.

    Macadamia and Jerusalem artichoke soup
    I found chef Fassnidge's general seasoning tip – salt, pepper and, intriguingly, lemon in everything – particularly interesting and one that I'll be trying in the home kitchen.

    We garnished his creamy, white soup of blitzed macadamia nuts and Jerusalem artichokes with more macadamias, raw sorrel shreds and picked crab flesh; the latter presumably to suit the Sydney Seafood School charter.

    It was by far the best soup I've had any hand in making with the unique flavour of the root vegetable enhanced by the presence of creamed, rich macadamia nuts. The sorrel was a crowning glory, lifting the soup with its fresh citrus flavour.

    Macadamia nut granola mixture uncooked
    Meanwhile, Sullivan's macadamia granola was admittedly not something the elite athlete would eat too often. His recipe incorporates 300g of sugar, a combined 300mls of honey and golden syrup and almost 300mls combined of oil and butter.

    The rolled oats and dessicated coconut give the granola a definite 'Anzac biscuit' taste and feel. But given the oil and sugar content of the granola, I'd recommend it as a now-and-then dessert treat with yoghurt or ice cream rather than an everyday breakfast item.

    Macadamia nut granola out of the oven
    The speed in which my granola was caramelising – or let's be honest in my case, burning – in the oven had me a little thrown, so too it's seemingly not-solid state while cooking. It firmed up as it cooled on the tray out of the oven and was loudly crunchy when completely cooled.

    Fassnidge and Sullivan tasting and judging dishes
    With both soup and granola completed in under an hour in teams of two, I was pretty happy with my efforts and the end result of dinner and dessert (burnt granola bits aside), even if they weren't winners of the night's challenge.

    Sydney Seafood School dining room light features
    We dined on our efforts in the Sydney Seafood School's gorgeous dining room after a fun and educational kitchen session.

    Following the class, inspired and equipped with a hamper of "maca nuts" and other macadamia products, thus far at home I've made a macadamia choc chunk cookie based on a mashing of a couple of recipes and will be trying out Sullivan's decadent macadamia chocolate brownie recipe soon.

    My macadamia and salted chocolate chunk cookies
    Buying and storage hints (from the Australian Macadamia Society):
    When buying macadamias, look for ones that are plump, crunchy and light-coloured.

    To help maintain their quality, correct storage is vital. Once opened, keep macadamias in an airtight container, refrigerate and use within two months, remembering to return nuts to room temperature before eating.

    The Australian Macadamia Society was founded with the objectives of promoting and coordinating all aspects of the Australian macadamia industry, to encourage free exchange of ideas and information, and to foster goodwill among members. See their Facebook page for macadamia recipes and ideas.

    Food, booze and shoes participated in the Australian Macadamias Food Blogger Challenge with thanks to the Australian Macadamia Society and Crossman Communications.

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    It's taken some time but the dining scene is now catching up with the apartment boom in south-east Sydney. All those shoebox-living young urban professionals need to eat and they can now boast local venues like Vicinity Dining in a still-industrial part of Alexandria.

    Baba ganoush, olives, mixed nuts at Vicinity Dining, corner of Bourke Road and Collins Street, Alexandria
    I'd visited the ambitiously spaced Vicinity in its very early days – for breakfast and Sunday Bloody Marys. Since then it seems there’s been some reshuffling of the menu and kitchen, for the better.

    With its gas-heated outdoor verandah area, Vicinity was just right for a group lunch that needed versatility – while the menu is split into entrées, mains and shared mains, it’s easy enough to order a number of starters as share plates.

    Ideal for sharing was the smoky eggplant baba ganoush with sourdough bread pieces and warmed flat bread, served on a wooden board alongside Sicilian and kalamata olives and roasted assorted nuts in matching cups/jugs.

    Chicken liver parfait
    A grazing favourite, the chicken liver parfait was also served on a wooden board with sourdough. The wide-mouthed jar caused no access issues to the rich, buttery parfait, topped with a dark jelly.

    Crispy calamari with tamarind-ginger glaze and green papaya
    The tapas-sized calamari was also great for sharing, making an instant visual impact with its intriguing black and white puffed cracker. The golden battered squid was moist and tender, but could have used more seasoning to really make the sweet, Asian-influenced tamarind sauce pop.

    Pan seared chorizo, apple cider, parsley
    The tapas theme continued with slices of a particularly spicy and firm chorizo, somewhat tempered by its apple cider cooking treatment and cooked apple wedges. There was plenty of bread available to help tide the spice heat of the chorizo as it seemed a lot of our dishes had bread components.

    Ocean trout gravlax with soft-boiled egg and avocado on sourdough
    We were also wooed by the waiter’s description of a daily special which was a bit brunch-ish but ultimately a deliciously generous shared serve of dill-marinated ocean trout gravlax.

    Ocean trout gravlax with soft-boiled egg and avocado on sourdough
    As a dill-lover, I found the cured fish to be divine in combination with ripe avocado slices, half a perfectly soft-yolked egg, lettuce and just-toasted bread with lemon juice adding a bit of zip.

    Salad in a jar (served on a plate)
    The salad in a jar was one of the most creative serving methods I've seen in ages: a large glass jar with a lock lid filled with lettuce leaves, red witlof, tomato chunks, chickpeas and brown lentils then doused with a vinaigrette dressing. The entire jar was shaken at the tableside and served out onto a plate.

    Vicinity chips with selection of salts
    We couldn't resist a couple of serves of chips with a "selection of salts" which amused some but makes sense if you've ever visited nearby food emporium, Salt Meats Cheese. I'm actually not sure what salts there were, although there was more interest in the aioli as a dipping sauce for the perfectly crisp chips.

    With shared, grazing-style food sorted; a pretty bar with decent selections all round; and the gas heater cranking under cool, clear skies, Vicinity offers a perfect, casual group space amid the Alexandria dining boom.

    Vicinity Dining on Urbanspoon

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    Sydney CBD's newest small bar – The Lobo Plantation – opened its lovely, arched doorways just last week, joining what’s becoming a hub of new small bars on Clarence and Kent Streets, just south of King Street.

    The Lobo Plantation, Clarence Street, Sydney
    The Lobo Plantation is definitely my kind of place, and it’ll be yours too if you like themed bars, Caribbean hospitality and eats, and great drinks. Oh, and rum.

    Located in a former basement hairdresser on Clarence Street across from seminal hidden CBD bar The Baxter Inn, The Lobo Plantation is a rum drinker’s haven with over different 150 bottles on offer, most of them Caribbean rums uncommon on Australian shores.

    Entry doors
    I'm a little in love with the entry foyer just past the iron gates before the white-painted doors, which is a bit like a transition space for drinkers entering off the CBD street into mid-20th century good times in the Caribbean.

    Step down the winding staircase into the atmospheric, jovial space and The Lobo Plantation's dedication to the rum is clear, lining several shelves of the back bar.

    Seats at the bar
    Seating at the long, wide bar is ideal for bartender and cocktail watching; otherwise there are small tables, small group lounges and a red leather Chesterfield-style banquette that spans the width of the venue where larger groups can congregate and imbibe.

    Like The Baxter Inn, general manager Jared Merlino (ex ivy Pool) explains that The Lobo Plantation does not take bookings at all; large groups just have to get there early – and damn early on Friday evenings if their first week of trade is anything to go by.

    Raised seating section
    I've not been so smitten by a thoroughly, all-out, themed venue like this since Mr Wong. As the menu explains, the bar is named after Julio Lobo, a wealthy Cuban sugar trader from the mid-20th century.

    There’s a lovable, hedonistic feel as the venue is decked out as if it were his private refuge: boldly colourful with Caribbean influences and worldly touches of aged, shabby opulence, representing his collections from travels around the globe.

    The relevance is all things rum – a spirit made from sugarcane by-products or juice, then typically aged in oak barrels.

    Plan-Ting cocktail
    The long-winded cocktail list is a good starting point for rum newbies, with the likes of the strong but easy-drinking Plan-Ting cocktail mixing ting, a Jamaican soft drink, with Plantation Over Proof (OP) rum and lime.

    Another soft drink plus rum cocktail combination is the Shore to Shore cocktail, featuring American root beer with Havana 3 rum and Angostura bitters, also served tall with lime.

    Almost all drinks are served in faceted crystal glassware, including water and rum (neat, on the rocks or otherwise).

    But not the coupe-glassed Millionaire cocktail of Appleton VX rum, house-made Lobo liqueur, sloe gin and grenadine which is served with a sour, fruity log rolled up in a miniature bank note print and pegged to the edge of the glass

    Table and banquette seating
    From the back bar of rums, we sampled the most uncommon Cor Cor Green Okinawan Rum from the southern Japanese island; a remarkably dry white rum with a smoky kicker at the end of each sip.

    At the extreme other end of the spectrum was the Gosling's Black Seal; a dark rum with sweet caramel and vanilla tones that made it easy enough to drink neat.

    Baked cheese balls with guava dipping sauce
    For a small bar there’s a fairly decent menu of nibbles in addition to the complimentary fried plantain chips; best had when generously tossed in their jerk spice mix.

    The food offerings are actually done by Darlinghurst's Food Society, reducing the pressures imposed on the small kitchen and allowing The Lobo Plantation team to focus purely on the drinks and the experience.

    The well-priced baked cheese balls are served with the most wondrous sweet guava dipping sauce that goes deliciously with the gluten free, lightly cheesy balls.

    Pork crackling rolled in spice, black pepper, garlic and vinegar side
    The steamed, dried and fried chicharrón style pork rind has been seen increasingly around town, but the vinegar dipping sauce was a surprise pairing, cutting through the oil and fat of the naughty but tasty snack.

    Just don't let the crackling dip in the liquid for too long, lest the crunchy, airy pork skin goes soggy.

    Tamales en Cazuela
    I've had one prior experience with tamales and never wanted to return. For The Lobo Plantation's tamales alone, I'll return to the bar time and time again.

    They are amazing little packages of varied ingredients and flavours, possibly healthy too. Wet but crumbly polenta (not masa harina as is traditional), corn and pulled pork are steamed within a neat corn husk sheet.

    The package is then topped with soft black beans and a beautifully fresh, chopped salsa of cucumber, tomato, coriander and chilli with a bit of kick in the latter. A tomato-ey sauce brings it all together with every mouthful of soft polenta highlighted by at least one of the salsa ingredients.

    Flan
    Although The Lobo Plantation isn't really a proper dinner destination, they round out the menu with two dessert choices. The flan is an eggy baked custard infused with Cuban rum, and it's plain spectacular.

    It's doused in a caramel sauce that has the perfect edge of burnt toffee notes while the hint of coconut flavour I detected in the firm custard was just divine.

    The archway on Clarence Street
    I think there's a lot of capacity for more themed bars in Sydney, and with The Barber Shop on York Street (by ex Merivale group bars manager Mikey Enright) and Papa Gedes on Kent Street due to open soon, it looks like these city streets, which become awfully quiet after work hours, are set for some enlivening.

    In the meantime I'm more than happy to work through the cocktail and rum menus at The Lobo Plantation, where it's sugar, rum and all things nice.

    The Lobo Plantation on Urbanspoon

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    If you haven't already seen it all over current restaurant menus and chefs' Instagram feeds yet, it's truffle season in Australia.

    The valuable fungus tuber melanosporum is harvested from underground near the roots of oak and hazel trees in the winter seasons, which means the first picks of the season are now out and about.

    Perigord truffles in jars at Secret Foodies Truffle Hunt held at Kitchen by Mike,
    Dunning Avenue, Rosebery
    Australian truffles were showcased at the recent Secret Foodies Truffle Hunt producers event, co-hosted by Pepe Saya and held in Rosebery's Kitchen by Mike.

    Unlike Ms. Darlinghurst's usual Secret Foodie events where diners don't know where or what they're dining on until a few hours before the event, the Truffle Hunt was a less covert, cocktail-style event with food stations and their respective producers dotted around the canteen-style restaurant.

    A 19 gram truffle
    And so Perigord Truffles' Duncan Garvey and crew were on hand, showing off jars filled with their first-pick-of-the-season truffles from Tasmania.

    There were plenty of long sniffs from the jar, with the truffles also on sale for $2 per gram. Garvey's tip for storing truffles had to do with taking a few slugs out of a full vodka bottle, inserting the truffle into the bottle and freezing the entire thing. Truffle vodka, anyone?

    Yarra Valley salmon caviar with crème fraiche
    The night kicked off with a range of organic and biodynamic wines from Mudgee's Lowe Wines, including a delightfully berry-sweet sparkling merlot.

    The warehouse/industrial space filled quickly with chatter, wining and devouring of delicacies like Yarra Valley salmon caviar, served simply and prettily atop luscious Pepe Saya crème fraiche.

    Prosciutto sliced from the bone
    I could have stood beside the leg of prosciutto all night as it was being sliced by hand; the lush, fatty texture just about perfect with the home-made bread and a liberal spread of Pepe Saya's cultured butter for good measure.

    The crowds and food on the table
    There was also a huge cake of truffle butter; a collaboration between Pepe Saya's butter and Garvey's Perigord truffles which was truly and divinely luxurious spread thick on a piece of bread. Indeed, I think it'd be feasible to even eat the truffle butter by the teaspoon, such is its intoxicating aroma.

    Pierre Issa of Pepe Saya butter and John Susman of Fisheads
    serving up Kinkawooka mussels
    Seafood industry legend John Susman was behind the counter with Pepe Saya's Pierre Issa, dishing out plates of Kinkawooka mussels cooked with Pepe Saya butter, as well as bowls with creamy dollops of polenta with truffle.

    Shaving truffles onto polenta
    The generosity of the truffle shavings on the polenta didn't go unnoticed which along with grated parmesan cheese, really pepped up the soft, filling polenta.

    Truffle polenta and Kinkawooka mussels cooked in Pepe Saya butter
    Served with the always soft and sea-sweet Kinkawooka mussels, it was quite the hearty meal. I had to restrain myself from more polenta/mussels/prosciutto/ bread and butter as the Dessertmakers' dessert spreads covering an entire table had tempted since the beginning of the night.

    Warm dessert options by Dessertmakers
    Huge platters of bread and butter pudding festooned with sultanas and apple crumble garnished with fresh walnuts waited patiently as truffle hunters did the savoury rounds.

    Dessertmakers' bread and butter pudding
    I was enamoured with the soft, warm bread and butter pudding, made with Pepe Saya butter, of course (Dessertmakers and Pepe Saya share the same Tempe factory).

    The subtle sweetness and creaminess, not to mention the carb-loading factor, make this a winner in winter with thick yoghurt or a bit of ice cream.

    Truffled rice pudding
    On theme was Dessertmakers' truffled rice pudding, a warm and creamy spoonful of soft rice speckled with truffle gratings. The truffle flavour was subtle beneath the sweetness, but definitely present in this ideal winter dessert.

    (From left) Ms Darlinghurst from Secret Foodies, Maya from Kinkawooka Mussels, John Susman from Fisheads, Pierre Issa from Pepe Saya, Merna Taouk from Dessertmakers and Duncan Garvey from Perigord Truffles 
    Towards the end of the night Ms Darlinghurst got the producers out front for a question-and-answer session, including questions from the audience.

    Aside from the producers' intimate knowledge of everything we'd sampled and consumed that night, it was easy to see their passion and dedication for their respective specialties which really does seem to make their produce taste better.

    The crowds for Secret Foodies Truffle Hunt at Kitchen by Mike
    Going by the satisfied faces in the crowd, it looked like the Secret Foodies Truffle Hunt was a successful hunt, boding well for the Australian season for diners and restaurateurs alike.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Secret Foodies Truffle Hunt as a guest.

    Kitchen By Mike on Urbanspoon

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    We ducked into a typical Chinatown shopping arcade for a late lunch last trip to find what's been branded some of the best dumplings in Melbourne.

    Already in its early life ShanDong Mama - a low-key north-eastern Chinese eatery - is making waves with a lust-worthy dumpling menu and a sort-of modern Chinese-esque fitout.

    Pan fried dumplings at Shandong Mama, Bourke Street, Melbourne
    The restaurant seems to open right through from lunch to dinner service so our late lunching hour was no issue, even if it was staff meal time in the mostly empty restaurant.

    The huge menu caters to any appetite or whim for north-eastern Chinese food, which is seafood-heavy with ShanDong being a coastal province in China.

    Pickled cabbage and jellyfish salad
    We started with a small appetiser salad of crisp, lightly pickled, raw Chinese cabbage shreds with strips of jellyfish. The latter is a rehydrated textural delight (but not for all) dressed in sesame oil which pleasantly took on tartness from the pickled cabbage.

    It was a fantastic appetiser, full of flavours and textures, enhanced with a dab of the chilli oil condiment at the table.

    Hot and sour soup
    ShanDong Mama’s rendition of hot and sour soup is a definitely a sour one and not all too hot. Juliennes of carrot, bamboo shoot, woodear fungus and silky tofu were found in the depths of the cup-style bowl; the thick soup being a comforting lead into dumplings.

    Pan fried fish dumplings
    I knew right away I wanted the fish dumplings which have become a bit of a signature dish for ShanDong Mama, along with their unique pork and dill dumplings.

    Given the option, I will almost always go for pan fried dumplings ahead of boiled ones and it was just reward when the thin, just chewy wrappers arrived blistery golden brown with crunch.

    The wrappers encased a mousse-y mackerel filling redolent with coriander, ginger and other goodness and without any fishiness, while the open ends helped some of the intense heat escape the dumpling.

    Spicy chicken noodles
    Dumplings go hand in hand with noodles but even then, the massive bowl of the spicy chicken noodles was a surprise.

    Completely covered in a decidedly non-spicy gravy of boneless chicken pieces, capsicum, onion and other vegetables, the huge coils of thin white noodles would have been enough to feed at least two without anything else to eat.

    Spicy chicken noodles
    The noodles weren’t all that chewy to start and softened more as they soaked up most of the soupy gravy towards the seeming never-end of the large bowl.

    ShanDong Mama's dumplings are certainly in that upper echelon and I'll be very keen to return to try other varieties on my next visit to Melbourne. More Melbourne eats posts to come.

    Shandong Mama on Urbanspoon

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    There’s no shortage of Newtown pubs, even just along King Street, but the recent revival of a few iconic pubs is proving competition for Newtown restaurants and eateries too.

    Refurbished and relaunched venues include The Bank Hotel, next to the upgraded Newtown Station. Now owned by pub group Solotel, the downstairs section has been converted from long-time tenant Sumalee Thai to a spacious beer garden and courtyard so that there are now multi-level drinking and smoking areas.

    Bird is the Word Sunday half roast chicken at The Bank Hotel Beer Garden,
    King Street, Newtown

    Food, booze and shoes sampled the Bird is the Word as a guest, with thanks to Agency G.
    The new Bank Beer Garden offers a modern, casual pub dining menu with daily specials: Friday nights are for cheap share plates; pulled pork for groups on Saturdays; old school fish and chips on Tuesdays and paella Wednesdays among some of the nightly food temptations.

    'Bird' is the word on a Sunday afternoon when roast chicken is the go – almost every kitchen order we see that afternoon is the half bird with all the trimmings, designed for two eaters.

    Bird is the Word
    The roasted skin on the half bird is perfectly and evenly golden with a lovely crispness, while the moist chicken hides a chunky stuffing with a wealth of corn kernels and bacon lardons.

    The large plate arrives with an abundance of sides: roast potatoes and pumpkin; a soft-centred, golden-surfaced Yorkshire pudding; and a cabbage salad.

    To drink there’s the Newtown-brewed Young Henry’s on tap (the Natural Ale is my pick) and an impressive selection of ciders by the bottle, as well as all the beer and spirit usuals.

    French fries

    Potato wedges
    For total potato overload, we added French fries and potato wedges to our order; the latter being huge, golden deep-fried, skin-on potato segments – some larger than single chat potatoes – served with the classic combination of sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.

    Sweet corn fritters with red pepper relish
    Also on the ‘light food’ menu are sweet corn fritters, served with red pepper relish. Seemingly covering off brunch on the menu too, the fritters are packed with corn and decent enough, but much improved with the creamy, pureed capsicum sauce.

    Spiced eggplant, cauliflower, hazelnut, herbs, yoghurt
    I felt the need to add a salad; for appearances at the very least. The Middle Eastern flavours in the spiced eggplant were palate-awakening, with natural yoghurt making for an ideal and simple dressing for the myriad of spice flavours.

    The Bank Beer Garden
    (Image courtesy of Agency G)
    With gas heaters to combat the winter cool, The Bank Beer Garden is all about long afternoons with beers, mates, and a decent bite to eat. And don't forget on Sunday afternoons, Bird is the Word.

    The Bank Hotel on Urbanspoon

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    Being such the multicultural country, Australia and its people are rich with stories of provenance; whether you’ve come from a different country, state, town or even suburb to Sydney.

    In celebration of Sydney’s rich cultural provenance story, Jacob’s Creek and celebrity chef Pete Evans are hosting Australia’s Longest Reserve Table on Saturday, 27 July 2013 featuring a long table of hundreds of guests – and you can be a part of it.

    The lunch will take place in front of the Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Pyrmont, which stands in honour of all those who have migrated from countries around the world to Australia. Sydney guests are invited to prepare and bring a dish that represents their culture and to share their provenance story with hundreds of other food and wine lovers.

    Celebrity Chef Pete Evans and Jacob's Creek winemaker Steve Clarkson
    (Image courtesy of Open Haus)
    Ambassador for Jacob’s Creek Reserve – a premium range of Jacob’s Creek from Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley and Coonawarra in South Australia – Pete Evans, said, "Australians love cooking and sharing their food with friends and family. The great thing about the dishes which we prepare is that they are often influenced by where we’re from and our cultural heritage. Every dish tells a story about the person who has prepared it."

    Louis Cheng from Jacob’s Creek Reserve said, "Provenance defines who you are and where you come from and, similarly our Reserve wines convey the characteristics from the regions where they are grown – being from Barossa, Adelaide Hills and Coonawarra."

    "We look forward to sharing our wine and our story at Australia’s Longest Reserve Table, as well as hearing from hundreds of others about how their heritage and culture have influenced their passion for food and wine."









    Win a place for you and a friend at Australia’s Longest Reserve Table on Saturday, 27 July 2013!


    Jacob’s Creek is giving three Food, Booze and Shoes readers the chance to win a place at Australia’s Longest Reserve Table with a friend. Lunch and matching wine (Jacob’s Creek Reserve, of course) will be provided by Jacob’s Creek.

    Jacob’s Creek Reserve Table 
    Where: Welcome Wall, Wharf 7, 58 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont
    When: Saturday 27 July 2013, 12:00pm – 3:00pm

    For your chance to win email foodboozeshoes@gmail.com with your full name and a contact phone number, and tell us in 25 words or less your favourite family dish and the story or history behind it.

    Entries must be received by 10.00pm (AEST) on Tuesday, 24 July 2013. Three winners will be announced on Wednesday morning, 25 July 2013 and will be contacted with invites to the event. Note contact phone numbers will only be used for the purpose of contacting winners.

    If you don’t win, you can still try for a place at Australia’s Longest Reserve Table and have the opportunity to share your provenance by bringing your favourite family dish to the event. Jacob’s Creek will provide the entrée, salads, desserts and Reserve wines from its South Australia wine regions to complement every dish. Entries are open here now until 25 July 2013.

    Jacob’s Creek is one of Australia’s leading wine brands, offering quality contemporary Australian wine styles. The brand was first launched in 1976 and is named after a creek that runs through the renowned Barossa Valley wine region in South Australia.

    Jacob’s Creek is made by Orlando Wines which was founded by Johann Gramp after he planted his first vines on the banks of Jacob’s Creek in 1847 and thus began a tradition of winemaking over 165 years ago.

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    I can’t imagine anyone complaining about another Sydney food festival – after all, we have plenty of great food to celebrate. The latest is the King Street Wharf Festival, which launched on Friday and goes through to Thursday, 25 July 2013 along picturesque King Street Wharf.

    Entertainers at King Street Wharf Festival, 19-25 July 2013, Sydney
    The inaugural festival commenced over Friday and Saturday afternoons where the wharf itself hosted food stalls from restaurants along the water, with entertainment in the form of live music and dancers.

    Steersons Steakhouse stall

    Hot Potato band on the wharf
    Saturday afternoon was a beautiful Sydney winter's day, perfect for strolling the wharf. A highlight was the infectious Hot Potato band which played jazzy covers as they strutted up and down the promenade, stopping for photos and impromptu serenades along the way.

    Hot Potato band jam

    Sauces and pastes on sale at The Malaya stall
    There was a good selection of offerings across the spread-out stalls,with very reasonable pricing on some items.

    I couldn't resist the spiced aromas around The Malaya's stall where they were also selling their own brand sauces, pastes and curry powder.

    Chilli coconut prawns from The Malaya
    The Malaya's chilli coconut prawns was a great lunch dish of perfectly cooked king prawns, served with steamed rice, pickled vegetables and plenty of creamy curry sauce and fresh coriander.

    There was some fair kick in the full-flavoured and vibrant chilli and coconut sauce, tempered by the sticks of pickled cucumber and carrot which were also doused in the sauce.

    Wharf Teppanyaki and Kobe Jones stalls
    There was value to be had at Wharf Teppanyaki with yakitori and a grilled salmon offering. The chicken and onion thigh yakiitori skewer was sweetly tender while the beef, skewered with capsicum, had great flavour albeit a little on the chewy side.

    Pepper salmon from Wharf Teppanyaki
    The salmon fillet, served skin-on with the same scattering of lettuce leaves as the yakitori, was not so much flavoured of pepper as advertised. Nonetheless, the well grilled fish was well cooked with complementary flavour in  the salad dressing.

    La Cita stall

    Quesadilla from La Cita
    We finished off at La Cita with a pretty epic serving of their quesadilla, although sour cream seemed to dominate the plate.

    The cheese filled tortilla came topped with a simple dice of tomato and Spanish onion, a splodge of avocado and so much sour cream I felt like I should have taken it home for other purposes.

    King Street Wharf restaurants

    Casa di Nico stall
    We unfortunately missed the cannoli from Vessel Italian & Bar which had closed up stall by the time we were ready for desserts.

    If you’ve missed the outdoor festival component, don’t fret as the festival extends into special dining offers at the restaurants along King Street Wharf.

    Deals include mussels and a drink at Bungalow 8 for $30; nine mezze items at Georges for $24; degustations at Kobe Jones or Wharf Teppanyaki for $75pp; and wine tasting and salsa during the festival at La Cita.

    See the full program here. Participating restaurants include Bungalow 8, Cargo Bar and Lounge, Casa di Nico, Georges, The Hudson, I Thai, Kobe Jones, La Cita, The Loft, The Malaya, Nick’s, Steersons, Vessel and Wharf Teppanyaki.

    Food, booze and shoes received food vouchers for King Street Wharf Festival with thanks to The PR Partnership.

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    Newtown's newest bar is bringing the Shady Pines Saloon brand of good times to the inner west, with Earl's Juke Joint opening about two weeks ago south of the station on King Street, behind a butcher's facade and lacy white curtains.

    The bar at Earl's Juke Joint, King Street, Newtown
    The result of an ex-Shady bar manager taking over and completely re-imagining the old Betta Meats site on the main road, Earl's is a surprising space that hints at New Orleans but feels right at home in Newtown. Indeed, locals won't see too much of a change to the Betta Meats frontage at all.

    The back bar
    There's no doubt that the Shady Pines crew have the Midas touch when it comes to bars small and large around town. In only its second week of opening, the bar at Earl's was packed by 7pm - and it's a long bar at that, with plenty of bar seating.

    It's an unexpectedly spacious venue with a long, wide, shiny wooden bar taking pride of place, but still plenty of space in between it and the wall-attached tables for two or three drinkers, four at a squeeze.

    The bar
    There's a larger group space right down the back, but the bar is where the action's at. We have views of the hard-working bartenders, fellow bar perchers both ways, and those at the wall tables who eventually have to squeeze through those seated at the bar to order drinks.

    Ferent branca and Reschs on tap
    The many pages of the wood-backed menus make their way up and down the bar for those needing more choice than Reschs or Italian spirit Fernet Branca on tap. That's right, the bitter, herbaceous digestif spirit that's the domain of hipsters and bartenders is available on tap.

    A bit too much like really strong Chinese herbal tea to me, the cool kids drink Fernet Branca by the shot which bartenders happily dispense from the tap.

    Cocktail and Indian spice mix
    While I can't drink it straight, I didn't mind Fernet Branca in a cocktail form; just a touch with (I think) rum, bitters and garnished with cucumber so the herbal notes make for an interesting, multi-dimensional addition without noticeable bitterness.

    As per Shady Pines tradition (excluding Frankie's Pizza), complimentary snacks accompany our drinks; in this case, a seriously spicy Indian or Bombay mix of crisp chickpea noodles and dried peas. For more substantial eats I'd highly recommend bloodwood just across the road, as we did after a few drinks.

    Phife Dawg (left) and Angostura Phosphate (right)
    In addition to some great house rules (I particularly like number 2, "Don't be creepy" and wish it could be applied more broadly), the menu offers a few mixed drinks - like the tequila refrescoes at cousin venue Tio's Cerveceria - for $10.

    The Phife Dawg is an easy pick, featuring rum, lime and sugar cane juice with the fresh and true flavours of the latter, and both a sugar cane and half lime garnish.

    The Angostura Phosphate is a great one for anyone who likes the flavour of Angostura bitters. Six dashes make their way into the drink along with (I think) rum, lemon and acid phosphate, which we're told is essentially citric acid. The drink goes down easy with plenty of ice, if not a little too easy.

    Corrugated metal on the ceiling
    The overall fitout of what used to be a butcher shop is actually pretty swish; think The Baxter Inn with dark wood all round, fantastic wooden arches in the back bar and on-theme decorations on the walls.

    There's a quaintness in the front lace curtains and light fixtures which is befitting of the old site, while the corrugated and in some areas rusted metal on the ceiling returns the space to drinking den status.

    Good times at Earl's
    Meanwhile, the vibe at Earl's is of laid-back fun. The service is friendly and efficient given the length of the bar, music reaches a reasonably loud volume that still makes conversation possible, and there's even silly liqueurs on the top shelf to show that they're not taking themselves too seriously.

    Earl's Juke Joint is definitely the latest and greatest to join Newtown's burgeoning bar scene - welcome to the neighbourhood, Earl.

    Earl's Juke Joint on Urbanspoon

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    Adding weight to the theory that the current obsession for all things food is a fashionable trend, Westfield Sydney – that epic homage to both fashion and food on the end of Pitt Street Mall and Market Street – is presenting a free photographic exhibition that features fashion style of real shoppers with signature dishes from the restaurants in Westfield Sydney.

    Happy :ab for Food is Fashion photographic exhibition at Westfield Sydney,
    Pitt Street, Sydney
    Launched earlier this week at Cloudy Bay Fish Co. and on until Thursday, 15 August 2013, the ‘Food is Fashion’ exhibition was curated by fashion blogger Nicole Cooper of confidentliar.com who talked about the great fusion between food and fashion.

    Din Tai Fung for Food is Fashion exhibition
    The photos and styling were done by food stylist and food photography duo, Janet Mitchell and Tanya Zouev, with the photos currently on show across the food Level 5 at Westfield Sydney.

    Sydney Tower Dining for Food is Fashion exhibition
    The photographs highlight intricate connections between food and fashion; ranging from colours, textures, cuts and overall presentation.

    Jones the Grocer for Food is Fashion exhibition
    "It was an incredibly creative process where we took the fashion ‘look’ and then carefully crafted the most popular dishes to match. We paired a classic dish of mango sticky rice from Chat Thai with a vintage yellow shift dress, and a beef tartare with edible flowers from Cara & Co was teamed with a digital floral print dress," said Zouev.

    Reuben & Moore for Food is Fashion exhibition
    The ‘Food is Fashion’ collection showcases pairings from Chat Thai, Xanthi, Cloudy Bay Fish Co., Via Del Corso, Ragu Pasta and Wine Bar, Victoria Room Tea Salon, Reuben & Moore, Chinta Ria … Mood For Love, Ippudo, Snag Stand, Jones the Grocer, Din Tai Fung, Cara & Co, Sushi Hon, Happy Lab and Sydney Tower Dining.

    Sushi Hon for Food is Fashion exhibition
    For some of the photos, there’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination required whereas others, like my favourite one featuring Sushi Hon tuna and salmon sashimi, seem to capture the colour, texture, cut and draping of the outfit/dish completely perfectly.

    Rau Pasta & Wine Bar for Food is Fashion exhibition
    As part exhibition, Westfield Sydney shoppers have the chance to win one of four ultimate dining experiences in the centre by taking a picture of their favourite dish on Instagram, tagging it with #foodisfashion.

    For more 'Food is Fashion', keep an eye out for my next post on Cara & Co winter menu.

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    If food is indeed fashion, there's no better example than Cara&Co on Level 4 in Westfield Sydney: part fashion retailer, part fine dining restaurant and all completely delicious.

    Like fashion seasons and collections, Cara&Co presents a new menu at the turn of every season. Crafted by Belgian chef Dave de Belder, this winter's menu is said to explore the textures, temperature and taste of winter flavours, with a very fine, very modern European touch.

    Champagne Deveaux at Cara&Co Restaurant, Level 4, Westfield Sydney
    There’s no more perfect a start (to anything really) than champagne – the toasty Champagne Deveaux tickling the palate as Cara&Co’s exemplary bread rolls arrived to the table alongside butter topped with black salt flakes.

    Bread roll with butter and salt

    Amuse bouche
    The amuse bouche at Cara&Co never fail to impress with their intricate and impactful flavour combinations.

    The moist cake of sun dried tomato hinted at the Mediterranean with somewhat summery accompaniments of a cucumber jelly sheet and lemon cream; the flavours combining for a momentary escape from winter.

    Amuse bouche
    Our second amuse was a porcini mushroom-dusted tapioca cracker, served on a polished stone with a dab of lettuce cream, a tiny porcini mushroom and micro leaves of cress; forming an umami-packed and crunchy couple of mouthfuls.

    Salmon at the Dill Academy – Cured salmon gravlax, dill, brioche, lettuce, crab
    There was something about the cold entrées that attracted us – perhaps in subconscious preparation for heartier mains.

    The gravlax entrée featured lusciously thick slices of cured salmon, tinged green by dill on the outer surfaces.

    Texturally-varied accompaniments included a herbaceous sorbet, crisp air-dried brioche, lettuce segments and crunchy tubes filled with spanner crab flesh; all allowing the salmon to shine as the star ingredient.

    King of the Bulls – Beef tartare, capers, quail egg, chive, oyster
    The beef tartare was surprisingly creamy and velvety on the palate in its chunky mince form, with quail egg yolks adding to the richness, cut by caperberries. The thins of crispbread played the role of garnish rather than eating implement while chive foam added greenery.

    But it was all outshone by the oyster pearls which were tiny, liquid nitrogen-frozen spheres of pureed natural oysters. Melting in the mouth the pearls disseminated the pure, unadulterated and even intensified flavour of oysters in an absolutely astonishing addition to the dish.

    Lamb a la Dolce Vita – Lamb shoulder, sweet potato, plum, Earl Gray tea
    Braised meats entered the spotlight on the mains menu; exuding hearty, comfort and Belgian-ness all at once - and really, winter food at its best.

    The slow cooked lamb shoulder, which had a sous vide and roast treatment, arrived as neat little squares of fall-apart meat, rich with fattiness and hours of seasoning and cooking.

    It was served with an unlikely partner of plums - prunes and seemingly fresh slices - adding sweetness to the dish along with a puree of sweet potato. The early grey tea-scented veal jus was the finishing touch, poured at the table.

    Slow Cooked Bull Wins the Race – Wagyu beef, radish, pastrami, aged cheese, wild grains
    The slow-cooked wagyu beef main was similarly fall-apart tender like the lamb, served cylindrically with pastrami crisps and raw radish slices.

    Crisp pearl barley was a great way to present the grains on the side and add texture while the distinctly aged cheddar foam was a dominant flavour of the dish though melding reasonably well with the jus.

    No Animals were Harmed – Gnocchi, celeriac, carrot, beetroot, nutmeg
    We also sampled the vegetarian main of pan-fried gnocchi that was like squares of mashed potato cakes with a great, rich and meat-free nutmeg-spiked sauce.

    The colourful carrots and beetroots were a delight to look at and eat, with cubes of celeriac (not feta cheese as I'd originally thought) upping the vegetable count.

    Bon Bon Bomb – Macadamia, apple, raspberry, chilli
    Cara&Co's desserts of many components also feature the stunning plating and presentation that impressed through the night; only fitting for a fashion-oriented establishment really.

    The intense macadamia nut cream dessert toys with refreshing apple sorbet and fresh apple rings, while the chilli aspect was a bit lost on me, unless it was somehow in the perfect quenelle of raspberry sorbet.

    Noisette de Indochine – Keffir lime leaf, hazelnut, coffee
    Hazelnut features in another dessert - roasted halves and a creamy hemisphere atop a citrusy kaffir lime scented cream. An accompanying coffee cream was just as intense in flavour as the nutty aspects and most surprising was the liquid-filled chocolate ball - best eaten in one mouthful and not cracked on the plate.

    Petit fours
    Like their always interesting amuse bouche, Cara&Co ends the meal with petit fours on every occasion too. This time it was a short, buttery, chocolate-filled biscuit that had a fancy French name and looked like a toffee-topped mini muffin.

    Petit fours
    I preferred the tiny dark chocolate brownie square; a rich, fudgey rendition studded with almonds to finish the gorgeous meal, which did feel like quite the fashion collection.

    It had so many colours and textures, accessories and main events, all combining for an overall look and feel that's undeniably fine, European style. And don't forget to strut, just a little, on the catwalk way out because, darling, it's fashion.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Cara&Co Restaurant, with thanks to WM Media.

    Cara&Co Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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    Food wastage is an issue close to my conscience and fridge – I hate throwing out groceries from the fridge or pantry. I feel guilty about the financial and environmental waste, as well as the thought that someone else out there really could have done with the extra food.

    Feeding the 5000 by OzHarvest, Martin Place, Sydney
    Australians throw out $7.8 billion of food every year, according to foodwise.com.au, which equates to every Australian household throwing out $1,038 worth of groceries each year. That’s four million tonnes per year of food which ends up in landfill, and yet there are those without enough food.

    Pop-up milk crate garden
    And not that food supply is an issue in Australia. Our country produces enough food to feed approximately 60 million people, according to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (including exports, of course) – yet two million people in Australia still rely on food relief every year.

    OzHarvest volunteers
    Just last month, OzHarvest– the not-for-profit organisation that rescues food and delivers it to people in need – hosted a major awareness event in Sydney CBD's Martin Place, partnering with the United Nations Environment Program (OzHarvest is the official Australian partner on the global Think.Eat.Save – Reduce your Foodprint campaign).

    Maeve O'Meara (centre) with volunteers
    Feeding the 5000 brought together a number of restaurant chefs and industry figures, hundreds of OzHarvest volunteers and rescued ingredients to raise awareness of food waste and consumer tips to help reduce wastage.

    Chef Lauren Murdoch (left) at the vegetable curry station

    Surplus vegetable curry with rescued rice, onion relish and yoghurt
    A free hot lunch for 5000 people was created out of ingredients that would have otherwise ended up as landfill. The menu included a full-flavoured vegetable curry made of surplus vegetables from the Sydney Markets and rescued sauce from MARS Food, served with rescued rice, onion relish, yoghurt and day-old bread salvaged from Brasserie Bread.

    Brasserie Bread and saved potato and ham hock soup station

    Dessermakers, Heilala Vanilla and Brasserie Bread's rescued bread & butter pudding station

    Lemonade by 42 Bannerman
    There was also saved potato soup with smoked ham hock by Martin Boetz of the Cooks Co-Op and James Viles of Biota; rescued bread and butter pudding by Dessertmakers, Pepe Saya and Heilala Vanilla; onion relish by Three Blue Ducks, chapatti from the Sydney Sikh community; gazpacho by Hungry Mondays, yoghurt by Kristen at the Full Circle and a fantastically refreshing home-style spiced lemonade by Salvatore Mammoti from 42 Bannerman Trattoria e Bar.

    OzHarvest founder and CEO Ronni Kahn (left) and OzHarvest patron Thérèse Rein
    (Photo by Giles Park, courtesy of Liquid Ideas)
    Founder and CEO of OzHarvest, Ronni Kahn, said the aim behind the Feeding the 5000 event globally is to help raise awareness about the disturbing amount of food wasted around the world and how individuals, producers, supermarkets and governments can do a lot more to reduce food waste in our country.

    "Food waste is a huge challenge that needs to be addressed locally and be embraced within our own homes first, so that we can affect incremental change globally. Our challenge is to create a sustainable food culture that can be shared by all. It’s a paradox that we produce enough food to feed all seven billion of us, yet so many in this world go hungry," Kahn said.

    "The aim of this event is to educate all people – producers, consumers and businesses alike. We should not buy into the fact that fruit and veg needs to be cosmetically beautiful before we’ll buy it, because for every bendy or blemished carrot thrown out – we throw away embedded water, energy and fuel,” she said.

    Billy Kwong's Kylie Kwong dishing out the vegetable curry
    (Photo by Giles Park, courtesy of Liquid Ideas)
    Nick Nuttall, UNEP spokesperson, added: “The way humanity manages or mismanages its food supply will in many ways define the 21st century – currently we know that we are not doing a great job with at least one-third of all food produced lost or wasted.”

    "All of us are connected to food and every one of us can make a difference in the lives of those in need and the health of our planet,” he said.

    In attendance at the Feeding the 500 event were OzHarvest patron and current First Lady (or Mrs Kevin Rudd) Thérèse Rein; Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore and United Nations representative Julia Dean.

    OzHarvest founder and CEO Ronni Kahn speaking on the panel
    There was also a panel discussion on Food Waste, Food Sustainability & Food Security featuring OzHarvest’s Ronni Kahn; Joost Bakker, sustainable architect of Greenhouse by Joost fame; Anabella Sao, a local grower; Indira Naidoo, author, blogger and former TV personality; Professor Veena Sahajwalla of the University of New South Wales; and Stephen Beaman, Director of Waste and Resource Recovery, NSW Environment Protection Authority.

    Efendy's Somer Sivrioglu (right) cooking at the stove(Photo by Giles Park, courtesy of Liquid Ideas)
    Chefs throwing in a helping hand included Kylie Kwong of Billy Kwong; Martin Boetz of The Cook’s Co-op (and formerly Longrain); James Viles of Biota Dining; Lauren Murdoch of Three Weeds; Somer Sivrioglu of Efendy; Grant LaBrooy of Three Blue Ducks; and Omar Ivan Andrade, Ben Sampson and Hendrik Vogelzang of Hungry Mondays.

    The event was also supported by the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s Love Food Hate Wastecampaign.

    According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted. Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes). Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.

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    I have a thing for meatballs so it should be no surprise that the trendy, new-ish Meatball & Wine Bar in Melbourne CBD was high on my list of Melbourne restaurants to visit on my lasttrip.

    On Flinders Lane near 'it' restaurant Chin Chin, Meatball & Wine Bar is a fantastic niche with a simple and extremely well-executed concept: meatballs. Plus wine and other appropriate accompaniments for the two.

    Inside Meatball & Wine Bar, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
    The CBD restaurant (they recently opened another restaurant in Richmond) is a rustic, brick-walled venue in that industrial-chic look that's so easily lovable these days. It's not a narrow space that stretches the length of the bar, front drinking area and back dining room with communal tables, and a seemingly tiny kitchen.

    There is a bit of a weird policy that tables at the front and side walls of the restaurant are not served main meals, but are only permitted to order appetiser/ starter type dishes and drinks – perhaps it's their way of presenting a bar menu but it's a little awkward in any case.

    Samboy-flavoured jerky
    Without a booking we were assigned a wall table until a 'proper' table became available. We ordered drinks (Campari and orange, and a beer – oops, no wine) and some meaty bits to start.

    There's a four flavour selection of beef jerky available and we were swayed by the waiter's favourite of Samboy – that potato crisp brand that was big the 1990s and had an awesome barbeque flavour.

    The dried beef, served cutely in a stamped paper bag, had a good, not-excessive chew and full beefy flavour and just a slight hint of additional seasoning that could have been any of the Samboy chip flavours but was meant to be salt and vinegar.

    Charcuterie board
    I find it hard to pass up charcuterie selections so the large board of four cured meats, served with a bowl of fluffy focaccia, was ordered, covering the small table. Thinly-sliced salamis flavoured with truffle and fennel seeds had great highlights, especially the earthy truffle salami.

    The fat-marbled capocollo cured pork shoulder and neck is usually a favourite charcuterie cut of mine but the sensationally lush, fatty prosciutto di San Daniele had it won this time with its silky soft, opaquely thin ribbons of cured pork leg.

    Mini balls
    We ordered the assorted mini meatballs when seated in the 'non-proper' dining area, and hence 'non-proper meatball dish' section, and it turned out to be a pretty good option to taste a variety of balls – pork, beef and chicken served with dipping sauces of barbeque sauce, creamy aioli and a green pesto sauce.

    Pork meatballs with red sauce and homemade pasta
    When it comes to the proper balls part of the menu, it's a choose-your-own-meatball-adventure style with your choice of pork, beef, chicken, fish or vegetable balls and red (Italian tomato), white (creamy) or green (pesto salsa verde) sauces.

    Hilariously you also get a choice of sotto palle, "something for your balls to sit on": beans, polenta, potato mash, market vegetables or the homemade pasta as we did.

    A couple of large sheets of silky pasta like bedsheets beneath the larger pork and fennel meatballs, which had a definitive fennel aroma. We elected the classic Italian tomato sauce, which came topped with shavings of parmesan cheese and fennel fronds, and another slice of foccacia on the side.

    This is the kind of homely, hearty food I could eat every day, especially given the reasonable pricing too.

    Grilled mushroom, tallegio cheese, thyme
    We added on a mushroom side that turned out to be a single field mushroom, grilled with tallegio cheese and thyme to remain in a still juicy, almost meaty state.

    Tiramisu
    To end, tiramisu was an easy dessert pick, as on any proper Italian menu, and I love the ones that come scooped out from a larger serving, looking generous and homely all at once.

    This version featured both plain and chocolate sponge, soaked with a proper coffee hit and layered with liberal helpings of mascarpone cream and a heavy dusting of chocolate powder on top.

    The restaurant and bar remained busy for the entire time we were there, showing the mass popularity of the concept and venue. Both the vibe and service are spot on, and given its price point, I think it's a place you could visit on a weekly basis.

    I suppose I could say we were balled over by the experience at Meatball & Wine Bar and had a real ball.

    Meatball & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

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    It doesn’t get much more exotic than Peruvian cuisine in Sydney, especially when my knowledge of the South American cuisine extends only to pisco sours and everyone's favourite super-grain, quinoa.

    Inside Pachamama House, Goulburn Street, Surry Hills
    Pachamama House is a relative newcomer to the Surry Hills area, filling the space below an apartment block on the corner of Goulburn and Riley Streets.

    Spaces under apartments like this are often a design challenge but restaurant owner Tony Maia has done an amazing job injecting warmth and a genuine atmosphere into the just-above-street-level venue.

    Exterior of Pachamama House
    Pachamama House is not exclusively Peruvian, which itself is a fusion of cuisines. Executive chef Danny Parreno (ex La Bodeguita del Medio, as is Maia) is of Peruvian heritage and weaves his magic in the kitchen with modern Australian sensibility and hints of Japanese.

    He's almost like an alter-universe Nobu Matsuhisa who, alternatively, incorporates Peruvian influences into his high-end, global chain of Nobu Japanese restaurants.

    Adega de Monaco wine
    While pisco sours feature on the drinks menu, I skipped the cocktails as I couldn't resist a category of wine labelled "green".

    Listing a single Portuguese wine, Adega de Monaco, the wine is made of young grapes and has a slight, pleasant effervescence and a greenness to its white wine colouring. It's meant to be served ice cold, done so at Pachamama House with the addition of an ice cube.

    Classic cebiche: Snapper, lime, green chilli, coriander and sweet potato chips
    On the food Maia recommended that we start with the classic cebiche (ceviche with a different spelling) of snapper.

    A great palate starter, the snapper cebiche was extremely zingy with loads of lime just 'cooking' the surface of the white fish flesh while the green chilli had a fair bit of bite. The garnish of sweet potato chips was a great twist on tradition as well as a textural contrast, and we would have loved more.

    Tiradito cebiche: Scallops, sesame, spring onions and aji Amarillo dressing
    The tiradito cebiche of scallops featured creamy, thin slices of the mollusc and spring onions, both just touched with hot peanut oil in a style typical in Cantonese cuisine. It was perhaps just a little heavy on the oil while the bright yellow-orange, mild aji Amarillo chilli dressing could have with some tartness.

    Salchipapas: Smoked frankfurt, roasted potatoes & Huacatay mayonnaise
    Next we had a taste of Peruvian street food; thick-cut hunks of a smoky grilled pork frankfurt, served with kipfler potatoes to soak up the flavours and eaten with toothpicks. The sausage was so full of flavour that the Huacatay mayonnaise on the side was barely needed.

    Empanadas: Braised pork cheek & Chilean condiment
    I have yet to meet an empananda that I don’t like, and the pork cheek filled one at Pachamama House was no different.

    Thinly layered, shortcrust-like pastry enveloped soft pulled pork cheek, an array of saucy spices and a segment of hard-boiled egg. The little parcels were served with a Chilean salsa condiment of fresh tomato, coriander and lime – a highlight of the dish.

    Pescado Frito: Pan fried sardines, green tomato and jalapeno salsa
    Onto the larger, mains type dishes, we started with butterflied sardines coated in a crunchy mix of corn, Spanish oregano and two chilli spices: Chilean merkén and Japanese togarashi.

    The small, oily sardine isn’t my fish of choice but I couldn’t help but use them and the sweet tomato segments to mop up all the green jalapeño salsa which was deliciously mild and creamy with a hint of smokiness.

    Sticky Duck: Coconut braised duck, crispy rice & chilli jam
    The duck dish was probably the fusion frontier at Pachamama House: the combination of betel leaves, rice, coconut cream and chilli jam meant that I could not tear my mind away from the concept of Thai cuisine.

    The softly braised duck was a delight atop the crisp-surfaced rice brick, matching well with the chilli jam and only just a little overpowered by the strong flavour of the coconut cream.

    Wagyu: Seared wagyu rump, roasted okra & Peruvian bbq sauce
    Probably my favourite larger dish of the night was the sliced medium-rare pieces of wagyu beef rump which were laid over softly roasted okra – that polarising green vegetable with sticky, seed-filled innards.

    The trick is, as I learnt at Pachamama House, is to roast them with a bit of oil till they’re soft, not quite as sticky anymore and just deliciously earthy.

    The house-made Peruvian barbeque sauce with the beef had an awakening chilli kick, elevating the perfectly cooked wagyu rump to something very special.

    Zapallito: Zucchini, mint, red radish & lemon dressing
    The refreshing, raw salad of zucchini ribbons was a stunner too, including thin rounds of radish, fresh mint leaves and lashings of lemon juice that cut through any fattiness on the menu.

    Eschabeche: Chicken, fennel, kipflers & green olives
    We were told the Spanish influenced eschabeche sauce can be used as a base for almost any protein; and here it was served with chicken thigh.

    Chunks of raw meat are marinated overnight in the acidic vinegar and chilli sauce, then cooked with fennel, kipfler potatoes, green olives and other vegetables as an epic, almost stir fry-like, dish.

    Seats at the bar
    I was looking forward to dessert, and even more so when Maia matched it with a glass of the 2010 Petaringa Late Harvest Riesling.

    Picarones: Sweet potato doughnuts with spiced syrup
    The free-formed rings of picarones doughnuts were surprisingly light given they are made of sweet potato. Lightly fried with fluffy innards, they had just the right sweetness from the accompanying spiced syrup and dusting of icing sugar.

    Tequila Sorbet, orange cream, baked meringues, cinnamon & caramel popcorn
    But they were no match for the tequila sorbet dessert, which triumphed in flavours, textures and appearances. The quenelle of icy tequila sorbet was more citrus than alcoholic while the cinnamon and caramel popcorn was a fun and scrumptious addition to the just-perfect orange cream.

    I wouldn't have expected all these components, plus crunchy white meringue, would work so well together but they sure did – and exceptionally so.

    The specials board at Pachamama House
    Tummies filled and eyes opened to various aspects of Peruvian cuisine, Pachamama House is one of those satisfying places where you're happy to linger a while. Bringing a unique taste of Peru to Surry Hills, it's a great fusion offering to broaden the Sydney (and Surry Hills) palate.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Pachamama House as a guest.

    Pachamama House on Urbanspoon

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