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A Sydney food and restaurant blog

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    The transformation of Regent Place near the cinemas on George Street, Sydney has been pretty impressive following the departure of three Azuma eateries last year.

    In addition to filling all the empty spaces on the George Street level, maintaining a Japanese theme; two vibrant eateries have joined previously lonesome Assembly Bar downstairs.

    Neon signs outside Yebisu Izakaya, Regent Place, George Street, Sydney
    Upstairs, replacing the somewhat high-end Azuma Kushiyaki now is Yebisu Izakaya; a modern izakaya drinking-style restaurant, presumably named after Japan’s Yebisu beer or the Japanese god of fish and merchants.

    Beneath the streetscape of colourful neon signs and paper lanterns, a long queue often forms outside the restaurant, waiting for tables.

    Yebisu Izakaya is not an eat-and-run kind of eatery like the nearby Tenkomori ramen bar, so the fact that so many are prepared to wait, standing outside for up to an hour with naught to do and no call-back option, is intriguing.

    Counter seating at the open kitchen
    While there is counter seating overlooking the open kitchen, seating for a group of more than two is ideally within the wood-toned restaurant.

    Once you've waited it out (or well-organised and cleverly made a reservation) you can get down to ordering immediately via their iPad menu, which includes photos and pricing across the extensive food options.

    While this makes it super easy to get carried away with tapping and ordering food and drink, you also get to see a running bill which can see many small items add up pretty quickly.

    Pickles
    We started with beers and pickles as seemed right for the izakaya style. The carrot, yellow-tinted daikon and squishy cucumber salt pickles were decent enough; however, there was a heavy bitterness to the white daikon that made it inedible.

    Sake served in a masu
    The custom sake trolley cart, manned by a cheery young Japanese waitress, features a number of the 1.8 litre sake bottles.

    She was able to recommend me a dry sake (something with the kanji character for 'daughter' in it) which once ordered, would elicit bell ringing and celebrations (or congratulations, I'm not sure) from the kitchen and other staff, leaving the sake drinker feeling like quite the winner.

    The waitress would then proceed to fill the sake glass, allowing it to overflow into the square masu container as a traditional gesture of generosity, and then input the drink into the table’s iPad ordering system.

    Grilled skewers of chicken giblets (left) and chicken skin (right)
    Food arrived in no particular order, especially as it’s so easy to order in a completely random fashion. We first received some yakitori grilled, skewered chicken items of giblets and chicken skin; the former cooked to a hard and challengingly tough state.

    I know in Japan torikawa chicken skin is served folded onto the skewer as is done here, with the smooth, rubbery and fatty texture relished, but it’s just not my cup of tea so I just nibbled the blackened crisp bits where possible.

    Karage chicken
    Fried chicken was safer territory with a pretty decent rendition of golden battered karage chicken thigh fillets, served with a salad side and mayonnaise.

    Nasu dengaku
    The sweet miso sauce-topped nasu dengaku eggplant was served as a quartered wedge of the vegetable, with pre-cut pieces. The miso sauce resembled melted cheese but gave the softened eggplant flesh plenty of flavour.

    Takoyaki served in crackers
    I was intrigued by a new presentation of takoyaki octopus balls, even if it was just the frozen and deep fried ones. Sandwiched between two thin, round crackers with takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and katsuobushi dried bonito shavings, we were advised to squash and flatten the top cracker and takoyaki for eating.

    This was practical advice although the action unfortunately demonstrated the oiliness of the takoyaki, with copious amounts of oil oozing from the deep fried ball. In the end, it was really just an oily takoyaki and crackers.

    Grilled chicken wings
    The highlight of the meal was the grilled chicken wings; steaming hot straight off the grill. Seasoned simply with salt on the grill, most of the skin had the opportunity to render its fat and crisp up, revealing the juicy, just-cooked flesh of one of my favourite cuts of the chicken.

    Grilled skewers of pork belly and chicken tsukune meatballs
    The meal ended as it started with grilled skewers of meat. The pork belly certainly looked promising with its golden char and fat layers, although it was a very chewy few bites to negotiate. Meanwhile, the tsukune minced chicken was a little bland and unexciting, even with the semi-poached, soft-yolk egg as a dip.

    In atmosphere and fitout, and even on first glance of the menu, Yebisu Izakaya looks the part of a fun izakaya. But without the drinking crowd or the tasty, booze-soaking food to back it up, it’s a bit of a letdown with looks prevailing over substance.

    Yebisu on Urbanspoon

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  • 08/20/13--15:09: On theme at Uncle Ming's Bar
  • When Uncle Ming's first opened about a year ago, I felt it was one of Sydney's only truly themed small bars - almost of a Melbourne ilk. With its evocative Chinese fitout from yesteryear and fantastic underground space on York Street, it's now joined by the likes of The Lobo Plantation on Clarence Street as some of the city's great themed bars.

    Hiding inconspicuously next to a brightly-lit shirt store down a short flight of stairs, Uncle Ming's reminds me of sub ground level eateries in Japanese subways, but it's decked out in a kitsch, not tacky, old-world Chinese style.

    The back bar at Uncle Ming's, York Street, Sydney
    Drinkers are welcomed into the dark space by the smell of incense, fittings evoking the 'Oriental' and black and white framed photographs from another era. There's seating for all group sizes and period Chinese music playing lightly through the noise of the crowd.

    At the back bar, sitting watch, are porcelain statues of various imperials and even a jolly, fat-bellied Buddha, converted into lamps. Chinese teapots line a ledge above the bar, for pots of cocktails that were made popular at World Bar so very many years ago.

    Pearl River beer (left) and Ocean Kujukuri Pale Ale (right)
    Uncle Ming's has an impressive beer selection that traverses most of northern Asia. The Chinese Pearl River beer is light in flavour, like a lot of beers from the mainland, making for very easy drinking. The Japanese Ocean Kujukuri Pale Ale is more to my taste with fruit notes and a subtle hops flavour.

    Meanwhile, the cans of Japanese imported Kirin beer seemed to be the most popular with the beer-swilling suits on a Friday night.

    The kitchen at Uncle Ming's
    A small list of steamed dumplings and buns comprises the bar menu, steamed to order in a little kitchen at the end of the venue where steam puffs up through a round window.

    Steamed scallop dumplings
    The steamed translucent skins of the scallop dumplings were a little soggy but decent overall while the fluffy steamed bun filled with roast duck was an uncommon variation with a lot more dough than filling.

    The bar
    But you're not at Uncle Ming's for the food. It's an atmospheric space with nostalgically fun drinking experiences, and which doesn't take itself or its theme too seriously. On themes, we could all learn a thing from Uncle Ming.

    Uncle Ming's on Urbanspoon

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    I’m not the best home cook. I like cooking but hate the cleaning. I have a short list of things I can do well, a longer list of things I do at a very average level, and an unenviable reputation for kitchen disasters that are still somewhat edible.

    Murray Valley Pork cranberry and almond rolled loin
    (Food, booze and shoes received a complimentary sample, with thanks to Acumen Republic)
    So a partly prepared product like the Murray Valley Pork cranberry and almond rolled loin is perfect for me as the end result gives off the impression that I can cook, when in fact it's as easy as unwrapping the product, putting it in the oven with some vegetables and basting every now and then.

    Murray Valley Pork cranberry and almond rolled loin
    Murray Valley Pork hails from a network of farms in the Riverine region in southern NSW and northern Victoria, produced by Rivalea Australia. They offer over 30 different cuts of pork exclusively through retail butcher shops and select restaurant (not supermarkets).

    The cranberry and almond rolled loin - ready to go into the oven
    The stuffed cranberry and almond rolled pork loin is a new product offering from Murray Valley Pork available from select butchers. Each rolled loin varies from 1.0-1.5 kilograms each and is sold in vacuum-sealed packs (RRP $19.50/kg).

    Rolled loin side view
    Tightly rolled and tied, the loin holds a bread-like stuffing featuring dried cranberries and almond, while the loin is coated in a sprinkle of cranberry seeds.

    Murray Valley Pork brand manager, Paul da Saliva said, "We've been listening to our customers and have developed a value added product that takes the stress out of cooking." And hence, my first pork roast.

    Rolled loin with first baste
    Along with the sample I was given came a recipe to pimp my rolled loin up a little with a honey and balsamic vinegar glaze for basting (600mL balsamic vinegar mixed with 60mL of honey).

    Roma tomatoes with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, to be roastec
    To accompany the roast was a recipe for balsamic roasted tomatoes, while I added a few other roast-friendly vegetables to my oven.

    Rolled loin at second baste
    Basting regularly through the 1.5 hour cooking time, the kitchen was filled with the sweet aromas of honey and cooking pork.

    Rolled loin at fourth baste
    At some point when the pork was starting to cook through, the stuffing started to ooze from both ends, while a sauce of cooking juices and excess glaze pooled deliciously at the bottom.

    The cooked rolled loin 
    Once cooked, the rolled loin had 15 minutes' resting out of the oven and it was all but impossible to resist cutting a bit off the caramelised end to taste.

    Side view of the cooked rolled loin 
    The meat itself was quite lean and tender, complemented beautifully by the honey and balsamic glaze. The stuffing was light and joyfully studded with cranberries, while the almond was somewhat less noticeable.

    Murray Valley Pork cranberry and almond rolled loin with roast vegies
    The more than 1 kilogram rolled loin I had would have been enough to feed four or five people with a bunch of vegetable sides, although the leftovers were pretty good too.

    Great with reheated roast vegetables the leftovers even made for a gourmet sandwich filling two days after (with wholegrain mustard, rocket, caramelised onions, brie cheese and pickles).

    Stuffing of the cooked rolled loin
    For a quick and easy Sunday roast, the Murray Valley Pork cranberry and almond rolled loin is a great, no-fuss, low-hassle option that will still impress your home diners, and helping me grow my short list of things I can do reasonably well.

    Murray Valley Pork works closely with chef and television host Manu Feildel who is the brand ambassador. It is also the exclusive pork supplier to Channel Ten’s 'Everyday Gourmet' with former MasterChef contestant, Justine Schofield. See recipes, hints and stockists at theMurray Valley Pork website.

    Food, booze and shoes received a sample of the Murray Valley pork with thanks to Acumen Republic.

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    The Australian Garden Show Sydney is on for the very first time from Thursday, 5 to Sunday, 8 September 2013 at Centennial Park.

    Coinciding with the start of spring, this interactive four-day event celebrates Australia’s love of gardens and outdoor spaces from 10am to 5pm with an evening Night Garden event from 6pm to 10pm.

    Lindeman's Open Garden - a feature at the Australian Garden Show Sydney,
    5-8 September 2013, Centennial Park, Sydney
    Curated by landscape designer and author, Myles Baldwin, the Australian Garden Show Sydney features four event pillars: celebrity gardening, flowers, sustainability and design. There are lectures, designer garden features, balcony gardening lessons, floral installations and onsite bars and restaurants.

    And for those with less of a green thumb, the international award-winning Lindeman’s Open Garden will be on show every day from 10am to 7pm (for visitors over 18).

    The Lindeman’s Open Garden will feature cooking demonstrations by former My Kitchen Rules contestants, Sammy & Bella, as well as gardening activities and tastings of Lindeman’s Early Harvest range (the latter being more my style of gardening).

    Lindeman's Open Garden hanging basket display
    Visitors to the Lindeman’s Open Garden will be able to sample the popular Lindeman’s Early Harvest wine range of 11 different wines, perfect for spring and summer entertaining, being 25 per cent lighter in alcohol and calories.

    A favourite at Lindeman’s Open Gardens is the hanging basket display where visitors can create a customised basket from a huge array of flowers and herbs, leave them to adorn a six-metre hanging basket tree before taking them away to enjoy at home.

    Win a double pass to the Australian Garden Show Sydney!

    Food, Booze and Shoes is giving away two double passes for the Australian Garden Show Sydney, with thanks to Lindeman’s Open Garden and Purpose Communications.

    Simply email your postal address and answer to the question below to foodboozeshoes@gmail.com by 9.30pm AEST on Sunday, 1 August 2013.

    "What would be your one must-have item in an open garden?"

    Two winners will be announced on Monday, 2 August 2013 and tickets will be mailed to winners. Tickets are also available for purchase at Ticketek.

    Ts&Cs: Postal addresses are only used for mailing tickets to winners. Tickets include entry to the Australian Garden Show Sydney only – valid any day from 5–8 September 2013. Visitors must be over 18 to visit the Lindeman’s Open Garden.

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    Despair not, carb-hungry fans of the now-closed Café Sopra in Danks Street, Waterloo. Neighbouring suburb, Alexandria now has its own Café Sopra, complete with Fratelli Fresh providore, setting up home in what was previously a pub.

    Café Sopra and Fratelli Fresh, Mitchell Road, Alexandria
    Gone are the pokies and in place, the Fratelli Fresh cool room housing vacuum-sealed packs of salumi and wedges of cheese.

    Shelves of pasta in Fratelli Fresh, Mitchell Road, Alexandria
    Study the wall of dried pasta or shelves of balsamic vinegar and olive oil as you wait for a table, inevitably at dinnertime on a Thursday night, although it doesn't take too long for our two high seats at the bar.

    You can even wander around the produce section with a drink in hand as you wait, although the Fratelli Fresh section closes for purchases at 7pm.

    Affettati misti at Café Sopra, Mitchell Road, Alexandria
    The old pub feel is barely noticeable, except for the remaining U-shaped bar with beer taps, looking through to the well-staffed kitchen. Italian accents are aplenty with T-shirted waitstaff running the room with efficiency and intention. There's no signature Café Sopra blackboard menu here, but printed paper menus.

    We started with affettati misti; a mixed plate of cured meats and cheese. I didn't quite catch it all but I think there was prosciutto, ham, bresaola, coppa, chilli salami and smoked mozzarella cheese.

    Affettati misti
    There were a few particularly salty items – the ham, for one – with the highlights being the chilli salami with quite the kick, smooth and subtle bresaola, and smoky flavoured, semi-soft mozzarella – all shaved paper thin.

    Aperol Spritz
    Aside from a few cocktails and classic aperitifs like an Aperol Spritz, the beauty of Café Sopras all over the city is their fantastic, Italian-leaning wine list where the house red and white wines start at $3.50 per glass.

    That said, I can rarely go past the Montepulciano or for more celebratory occasions, the full range of Pommery by the glass or bottle.

    The pizza chef in action
    The Alexandria outpost of Café Sopra is like the Bridge Street, CBD one in that there's a pizza menu to supplement the pasta offerings – with fresh dough stretched and thrown ever so professionally before going into the woodfired pizza oven.

    Pickled beetroot salad with soft boiled egg, crisp pancetta, rosemary
    and gorgonzola dressing
    The salads at Café Sopra are as legendary as their pasta dishes and we forego the classic shaved Brussels sprouts salad for the pickled beetroot one, with large chunks of the sweetly earthy root vegetable beneath large mixed leaves awash with a creamy gorgonzola dressing.

    Two halved and soft boiled eggs bulked up the salad, while thins of crisp pancetta added highlight flavours and inimitable texture.

    Tagliatelle with salsicce, crushed peas, mascarpone and pecorino 
    The medium width ribbons of tagliatelle are one of my favourite long pasta types, here done with nubs of quality Italian sausage and a slightly green-tinted sauce of crushed peas and creamy mascarpone.

    Topped with grated pecorino cheese, the tagliatelle was slightly underseasoned; however, that was easy enough to rectify and forgive with salt and pepper brought to the table without asking.

    Lamb ragu with chilli, rosemary and gnocchetti
    I have trouble going past any ragu or the very good, rich bolognese at Café Sopra, and with the last of winter in our midst I had the lamb ragu with gnocchetti - supposedly like little gnocchi but a bit like shell pasta too.

    The pasta seemed to play second fiddle in the dish that was so generous with slow-cooked chunks of falling apart lamb, it was pretty much a lamb dish with a sensationally full-flavoured tomato sauce (and no noticeable chilli).

    Inside the dining roomCafé  Sopra
    I don't remember the pasta dishes being quite so big at Café Sopra and with a maximum price of $22, they might have the locals' weeknight dinner out covered.

    There was a moment's consideration of doggy-bagging some of the pasta (they do offer takeaway), but the plates ended up completely clean and us a little stuffed.

    Torta Banoffee
    But not so much as to skip dessert. I've known about Café Sopra's banoffee pie for some time now and had never tried it until now – and I've been missing out.

    The tart features a thick biscuit base that's a flawless balance of crumble and sweetness with a touch of salt. Then it's a thick caramel that is just heaven in a mouthful, beneath perfectly piped whipped cream and thin slices of fresh banana, all topped with chocolate shavings. A more perfect tart, there could not be.

    Shelves of sauce
    It's got your groceries covered; it's got drinks and snacks covered; it's got dinner covered; it's got that banoffee tart. Alexandria's own Café Sopra is as good a local as you could have – welcome to the neighbourhood.

    Café Sopra at Fratelli Fresh on Urbanspoon

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    I love the emotions and psychology behind colours – in nature, in interiors and in food. I don't necessarily believe that I eat smaller portion sizes on blue plates, but there is something in the way a colourful dish is more uplifting than brown-on-brown sludge.

    Taubmans Colour Look Books collaboration with The Bridge Room, Bridge Street, Sydney
    (Image courtesy of DEC PR and Taubmans)
    Texture also plays an important role in eating, as it does in the world of design and interiors, which is probably why the launch of Australian paint brand Taubmans' new Colour Look Books was held at two-hatted The Bridge Room in Sydney's CBD last week.

    Shaynna Blaze for the Taubmans Colour Look Books launch(Image courtesy of DEC PR)
    Fusing the worlds of food, colour and design, The Bridge Room chef and co-owner Ross Lusted – who last night was crowned Chef of the Year at the SMH Good Food Awards – was commissioned to create a bespoke menu to match the colours and styles of the images in Taubmans' Colour Look Books.

    The five new look books are available at Bunnings and were curated by interior decorator, and Taubmans brand ambassador and creative colour director, Shaynna Blaze – who you might have seen on Selling Houses Australia or The Block on television.

    Taubmans Colour Look Books(Image courtesy of DEC PR)
    The Colour Look Books encourage people to take inspiration from the world around them to create colour palettes and interiors, with each look book providing interior decorating ideas, compatible colour palettes and styling suggestions.

    There's 'Flora's Canvas' inspired by the naturally occurring colours of the botanical world; 'Birds of a Feather' that celebrates the colour of Australian native birds, and their habitats, textures and environment; and 'Imagination' featuring looks inspired by whimsical childhood imaginations and freedom, while there's also an Exteriors Look Book.

    The Bridge Room chef and co-owner Ross Lusted
    (Image courtesy of DEC PR)
    The Bridge Room does not normally offer a degustation menu but in this five-course collaboration chef Lusted used some existing components from the two-year-old restaurant's menu while other, more tricky aspects were created purely for the event.

    While the concept of bringing interior décor to life via food might have seemed a stretch, it was most impressive to see how well Lusted’s dishes matched Blaze’s Look Book styles.

    The Bridge Room recreations of Taubmans Colour Look Book styles
    (Image courtesy of DEC PR and Taubmans)
    Lusted admitted that colour is one of the least important aspects in his cooking, to laughter in the room and perhaps to some horror for those working on the Colour Look Books. But he said, "Inspiration for what I do as a chef is everywhere, and I love the idea of drawing inspiration from one discipline and recreating it in another."

    Lusted has one of the smallest two-hatted restaurants in town with 60 seats. He's in the restaurant's small kitchen every day, with an almost daily-changing menu featuring a very strong focus on seasonal ingredients, many sourced from a Windsor farm.

    His food reminds me a lot of Quay and chef (and Lusted's good mate) Peter Gilmore's nature-inspired approach. It makes some sense then, that Lusted has partnered with the Fink Group (which owns and manages Quay and Otto Ristorante) for The Bridge Room.

    Tables settings at The Bridge Room
    (Image courtesy of DEC PR) 
    Lusted has had a great year and indeed, a great few weeks. He won Chef of the Year at last night's SMH Good Food Awards and The Bridge Room was nominated for Restaurant of the Year. The restaurant retained its two hats, but is now also at the same hatted level as the likes of Marque, est and Tetsuya's.

    It won both the Hottest Restaurant and Hottest Chef of the Year in The Australian's national Hot 50 Restaurants Awards this year, and ranked 14th in the national 2013 Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards.

    Lusted is pretty well content with his two hats, especially having not cooked in a commercial kitchen for a long time prior to The Bridge Room, but working for the global Aman Resorts and living in southeast Asia and India.

    Now, he seems to revel in the fact that he gets a lot of local CBD residents and tourists in for lunch and dinner, and not just the corporate wining and dining crowd. As a former chef at Rockpool, he's also encouraged by Neil Perry's three-hatted restaurant's impending move to Bridge Street from its current George Street, The Rocks home. Lusted shares that there are now no vacancies for restaurants on Bridge Street despite high demand.

    Table settings for the Taubmans Colour Look Books launch
    (Images courtesy of DEC PR)
    The Taubmans Colour Look Book inspired degustation took over the entire restaurant with a champagne-sipping crowd and, odd as it seems, had table centrepieces of Taubmans Endure paint tins, succulent plants and adorably functional, thick grey felt placemats.

    Tea soaked quail eggs, nest of celeriac, black salt, lardo, ash dressing, candied chilli threads
    After a bubbles and seriously good sourdough bread with butter, the first dish of the degustation was created from the 'Radiant Wren' style from the 'Birds of a Feather' Look Book. It referenced the Fairy Wren with grey-brown tones of its habitat and a touch of blue influenced by the Dinkum Blue paint colour.

    This was one of the toughest assignments for Lusted who enlisted the help of blue Curaçao in lightly dying the surface of the two quail's eggs. The nest of celeriac threads, topped with candied red chilli threads, formed the Fairy Wren’s nest which in life is built of grass, twigs and even hessian threads.

    With one egg in the nest, the other was wrapped delicately in lardo, swaddled by the luscious cured pork back fat which was easily my favourite part of the dish. The black feather stencil of salt and powdered coconut ash acted as dramatic seasoning for the eggs, while the adorably plated dish was matched to a 2011 Helm Riesling.

    A summer salad of wood smoked sheep’s milk curd, golden beetroot, sorrel blossoms, lemon butter, celery salt
    The second course of the night took inspiration from a tropical getaway in the 'Tropical Dew' styling of the 'Flora's Canvas' Look Book with relaxing green tones of the relaxing Make Believe paint colour.

    I could see the cane chair typical of holidays in the tropics, cleverly created out of a crunchy gathering of deep fried potato strings, while yellow sorrel blossoms were the fitting tropical flower print. Golden beetroot, enveloping lightly smoked sheep's milk curd, added more tropical colour along with the lemon butter which added to the sorrel's summery citrus notes.

    With such a myriad of flavours on each plate, I wouldn't envy the sommelier's task, but this was matched with an intriguing Loire Valley 2011 Domaine de La Louvetrie Muscadet.

    Saffron spiced potato, sweet peppers in their juice, artichoke petals, dried olive, cucumber
    The 'Imagination' Look Book inspired the third dish, specifically the 'Story Time' look which features a neat array of colourful children's toys, including blocks, books and soft toys.

    Another dish pleasantly vegetarian, we didn't need too much imagination to see the toy blocks and balls. Saffron-yellowed potato blocks and balls, of the Rubber Duckie paint colour, were piled up with cucumber and tomato spheres, as well as red capsicum, heirloom carrots and artichoke leaves.

    While the ball shapes were a little challenging to stab with a fork, it may well have been that the matching 2010 Kate Hill Pinot Noir doing its thing.

    Ash grilled duck, Jerusalem artichoke, prunes in Banyuls, potato horns, truffle
    The main dish was easily the most amazing duck dish I've ever had. It was inspired by the 'Grand Owl' in the 'Birds of a Feather' Look Book, with white and neutral colours of creamy Jerusalem artichoke puree and radish representing feathered layers of the bird.

    The incredibly thin and crisp potato horn shapes were inspired by the Grand Owl's surroundings, with the circular thins of truffle perhaps being luxuriously tasty eyes. Meanwhile, the slices of duck breast were finished on The Bridge Room's robata grill, infusing a soft smokiness into the caramelised skin and perfectly fatty meat, cut in richness by the Banyuls fortified wine poached prunes.

    The matched 2011 Phillip Shaw The Idiot Shiraz had the big flavours to match the sumptuous duck which alone made the night for me.

    Violet meringue, blueberry paint, white chocolate yoghurt, raspberry powder, pistachio, crystalised violets
    Out of the looks that Lusted chose to recreate, the nanna chic 'Hydrangea Musing' look from the 'Flora's Canvas' Look Book was probably my favourite, helped by the simply amazing dessert creation.

    The Wild Violet paint colour burst onto the plate via crisp-surfaced violet meringues, blueberry "paint" and crystallised violet petals, while the Fizzy Lime paint colour and crumbled pistachios represented leafy foliage.

    The raspberry powdered meringues could have represented that hydrangeas do indeed come in pink, while the pools of white chocolate yoghurt left me speechless – the flavour pairing was so spot on with the most perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, I wondered why I hadn't tasted the combination before.

    It helped that dessert was served with the ridiculously drinkable 2012 Massolino Moscato D’Asti from Piemonte, Italy, which was the sparkling, lightly floral style of dessert wine I like.

    Five courses later I was truly inspired. The collaborative dinner shone with Lusted's knowledge, skills and imaginative flair bringing to life five very creative and colourful looks by Blaze in the Taubmans Colour Look Books. Congratulations to chef Lusted on a fantastic dinner and what's sure to be an amazing year ahead.

    Taubmans has also relaunched Taubmans Endure Interior and Exteriors with a Lifetime Guarantee and new packaging designed by Blaze.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Taubmans Colour Look Book launch at The Bridge Room with thanks to DEC PR.

    The Bridge Room on Urbanspoon

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    It's not hard to get a party started when you're offering free beer. But when it comes to what's known as Colombia's celebration beer, Aguila, launching on the Australian scene, you know it's going to be one hell of a party.

    Aguila beer launch party, The Paramount Building, Brisbane Street, Surry Hills
    Spanish for 'eagle' and pronounced “Ahh – gee laa”, Aguila has become available in Australia for the first time through select bars (including Opera Bar in Sydney) and other on premise venues.

    The Aguila launch party crowd
    Aguila has been a part of the Colombian landscape and culture for 100 years, having being first brewed in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1913.

    It has a reputation for being the celebration beer in Colombia, and with its primary-coloured label (like the Colombian flag), it makes for a great party drink and decorative theme.

    Aguila beer bottles
    I found Aguila to be quite a light, easy-drinking beer that's not heavy on flavour. It's made using Perle and Nugget hop varieties, pale malt and rice, and has a 4.0% alcohol by volume content, making it a pretty good party beer.

    Aguila beer bar
    For the Sydney launch party, the rejuvenated Paramount Building in Surry Hills (opposite Longrain) was decked out in Colombian party spirit with a live Colombian band and dancers, a yellow confetti party zone, a lively and happy-to-drink-on-a-Sunday-night hospitality and media crowd, and of course, loads of Aguila beers by the bottle.

    The confetti party area

    Chelsea the miniature donkey outside The Paramount Building
    There was even a miniature donkey named Chelsea out the front, welcoming party guests with her somewhat nervous stance and bashful fringe.

    Cerveza Aguila cart

    Empanadas
    And responsible service calls for beer-soaking snacks, deliciously on-theme and circulating the room. There were golden-hued, hot-centred empanadas with a cornmeal casing, served with zingy and fresh salsas and chilli sauces.

    Arepas
    Arepas, thick discs also made of cornmeal, came with a DIY combination of toppings including Sydney's ubiquitous pulled pork, a chilli salsa, guacamole and untraditional sour cream that was so tasty in combination that noone was screaming "TexMex" in horror.

    Palitos de queso - cheese sticks
    Strangely enough, the battered and deep fried white cheese sticks also came with the same topping options. I love the idea of a fried stick of cheese and after a few Aguila beers*, topping the cheese sticks with salsa, guacamole and even pulled pork didn't seem like a bad idea.

    The Aguila beer launch party
    With Aguila coming to Australia just in time for warmer weather and party season, it's time to vive la vida Colombiana - live life Colombian!

    *Food, booze and shoes supports the responsible consumption of alcohol at all times. Eat, drink and enjoy - responsibly!

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Aguila launch party and received samples with thanks to Liquid Ideas.

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  • 09/08/13--14:54: Ipoh on York - street eats
  • Malaysian cuisine has taken off somewhat in Sydney, although not to the extent of Thai restaurants in the past decade or Mexican joints in the past two years.

    But it does mean that quick and easy mamak style (Indian Malay) street eats are now readily available in town - none more convenient for the CBD's rat racers than Ipoh on York.

    Chicken satay at Ipoh on York, York Street, Sydney
    In a spacious, underground location (a few doors down from new small bar The Barber Shop), Ipoh on York looks a little like a fast food chain at first glance. Brightly lit menu boards and cash registers greet diners coming down the stairs, but then so do the Malaysian/Singaporean accents of the staff.

    It's all too easy to pick out the mamak favourites from the menu, pay, sit in the extensive dining area and await the delivery of your selected Malaysian dishes.

    Four sticks of satay arrived in a serve of the chicken variety, smothered in a nutty, creamy satay sauce with just not much of a spice kick. Raw chunks of cucumber and Spanish onion complete the satay appetiser, which is easily lovable and hard to get wrong.

    Roti canai with plain curry
    The plain roti canai is my favourite style of the fluffy, grilled flat bread and it's not too bad at Ipoh on York. Not quite as thin and delicately layered as that of Mamak, the roti still has great chew and texture for mopping up the accompanying bowl of spicy curry sauce.

    Hainan chicken rice
    It's hard, if not impossible, to go past Hainan chicken rice when it's on offer. My favourite part of the dish is actually the chicken stock flavoured rice, which is seriously decent at Ipoh on York with a definitive ginger aroma.

    The gently poached and chopped chicken was typically lukewarm and smooth in texture, served with traditional condiments of pickled green chillies, ginger and shallot sauce and fresh coriander, with sliced cucumber on the side. Meanwhile, the bowl of chicken broth was a little on the salty side but included some greens.

    Wonton mee soup
    Least impressive of our order was the wonton and noodle soup, where the wonton dumpling wrappers were about as soggy as could be. Probably cooked at an earlier stage and reheated for serving, the wonton were at least tastily filled, with a fair bit of greenery in the bowl atop the still al dente noodles.

    A relatively cheap feed in the Sydney CBD - that's Malaysian street eats for you.

    Ipoh On York on Urbanspoon

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    On my trip to Melbourne earlier this year, I finally made it to MoVida Next Door, the neighbouring tapas and wine/sherry bar to the original MoVida restaurant in the CBD's grafitti-ed Hosier Lane. It only took about one attempt each four previous times I'd been to Melbourne and a 4pm late lunch.

    At the bar at MoVida Next Door, Hosier Lane, Melbourne
    Having had my first ever MoVida experience in Sydney, I was looking forward to a bit of laneway wining and grazing on small plates. It has to be said that this is my favourite way of eating: fresh and tasty morsels alongside endless glasses of wine, or indeed, sherry.

    The kitchen at MoVida Next Door, Hosier Lane, Melbourne
    We were seated at the bar at MoVida Next Door, next to the intimately-sized kitchen, where it was prime viewing of food preparation and even staff meals.

    The pull-down stairs that led up to either a larder or fridge above the kitchen demonstrates that big things are possible in small spaces.

    Ostra - freshly shucked oysters
    As we were right next to the fresh seafood cabinet, freshly shucked oysters were top of mind. I can't remember exactly where in South Australia the oysters were from, but they were extremely briny and nothing like a Sydney rock oyster in flavour.

    I was also disturbed by one of the oysters being pierced during shucking, which wasn't a particularly good look for the plate or the oyster-queasy.

    Padrón - deep fried peppers
    I'd seen the deep fried padrón green peppers at MoVida Sydney, served simply with a sprinkle of salt flakes. Somewhat comforted by the fact that only about one in ten are hot, I dug in, relishing the saltiness of the mostly capsicum-like mild, sweet peppers.

    Until I got a hot one. Holy MoVida, it was one of the most intensely hot things I've ever eaten with the most sudden impact on the palate. More bread and oil didn't help, white wine didn't help, water didn't help.

    With the beginnings of tears in my eyes and plenty of hand-fanning-face action, I heard the chefs have a bit of a chuckle as I pushed the remaining half of the hot padrón aside. Lesson learnt, but I still wouldn't refuse them in the future.

    Boquerone - White anchovy with tomato on crouton
    The anchovy boquerone is one of MoVida's signature tapa, with a single, salty anchovy lined up alongside a tomato gel and a creamy sauce, aioli perhaps, on a thin, crisp crouton. Baby capers added even more punch and saltiness to each bite, with microherbs garnishing the simple and so-right tapa.

    Smoked sardine and tomato salad
    A salad of smoked sardines and tomato was exactly and simply those two ingredients, with a bit of baby basil and oil-based dressing adding zing. The firm-fleshed sardines were perfection: salty and smoky, matched exquisitely with the ripe, sweet tomato segments.

    Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon and onion
    With our tummies intrigued over a special of Brussels sprouts, it was nice to be offered the option of a half serve, cooked with liberal amounts of butter, bacon and onion. The Brussels sprouts had a somewhat stewed but still firm texture, basking in the rich sauce.

    Despite the padrón experience, I still adored this light meal at MoVida Next Door. My persistence in getting there certainly paid off, as rhere's just something about the light, casual style of MoVida that has me hook, line and sinker.

    MoVida Next Door on Urbanspoon

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    There's a new amigo on Glebe Point Road, with one of the Sydney food trucks putting down (more) roots in a bricks and mortar outlet.

    Cantina Mobil, a food truck known for its travelling tacos, has opened a second shopfront in Glebe (its first is in Darlinghurst).

    The bar at Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage, Glebe Point Road, Glebe
    On a strip that seems to be seeing lots of change, Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage is a fun and colourful addition marking the third Mexican offering within a few blocks of Glebe's main road.

    But with Cantina Mobil's reputation, vibrant renovation and a dedicated bar housed in a truck-like structure, it's injecting a lively, devil-may-care, and potentially rambunctious, spirit to the neighbourhood.

    Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage store front
    The multi-functional space is so named as it features a front bar as part of the restaurant and has a garage, or parking space, for the Cantina Mobil food truck on its days off and after hours, out the back just behind the outdoor dining area.

    Colourful wall murals

    Frozen margaritas
    At the launch night a few weeks back, a Monday night started appropriately with frozen margaritas from the 'van' bar, hosting a good hit of tequila, fresh lemon zing and a liberal salt rim.

    Upstairs dining space

    The corridor
    While there's a small upstairs dining area in addition to the shopfront tables, the partying happens out in what's essentially the backyard.

    Through a narrow but brightly decorated corridor, pass the stainless steel brightness of the kitchen before reaching the backyard, which has the carefree feel of a friendly backyard get-together.

    Nachos and tacos
    The menu is short and sharp at Cantina Mobil Bar & Kitchen, probably mirroring that of the food truck for consistency and stock management reasons.

    But with the favourites in tacos - soft or hard shelled, burritos and nachos all making an appearance, the menu's brevity isn't too much of an issue.

    Hot chilli sauces
    There are a few hot chilli sauces that seem to be the Mexican standard around Sydney now, all available on request at Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage, although I rarely feel the need for them with fairly straightforward taco combinations.

    Chipotle beef taco
    We started with soft flour tortilla tacos filled with slow cooked, softly pulled chipotle beef; a welcome change from the porcine pulled meat version.

    Shredded iceberg lettuce, corn kernels and guacamole filled the taco alongside the beef which was spiced with adobo chilli sauce, while queso cheese and a vivid chipotle mayonnaise topped off the taco, served singularly in a serviette lined plastic basket.

    Beef nachos
    The Cantina-style nachos on offer also featured the chipotle beef as a filling, with lashings of sour cream, chipotle mayonnaise and guacamole obscuring the pinto bean mix and tomato salsa.

    While I don't have anything against supermarket corn chips as such, the superior quality crunch and natural flavour of the round ones served by Cantina Mobil make them even more addictive to snack on continuously.

    Pinto bean taco
    The vegetarian pinto bean taco had most the same fillings as the earlier beef taco, with tomato-stewed beans in place of the meat and just as much fun and flavour.

    Sangria bowl
    As a launch party treat, along with the margaritas, there was a great big punch bowl of sangria; an unexpectedly drier version than I've ever tried or made, and better for it

    Sangria
    There was fruit aplenty in the sangria, and perhaps a touch of dry sherry making the difference that lemonade never will.

    Tequila shots and sangrita shooters
    The night ended, as nights out with friends do, with tequila shots and fabulous sangrita chasers of tomato juice and lots of other healthy ingredients that quell the potent taste of tequila.

    Locals and diners won't be going to Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage for an authentic and gourmet taste of Mexico - they'll be flocking there for a place to park themselves while having simple and filling Mexican food and drinks, and Mexican good times.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Cantina Bar & Garage launch as a guest.

    Cantina Bar & Garage on Urbanspoon

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  • 09/22/13--14:41: Toko: A Surry Hills stalwart
  • I remember my first visit to Toko, at least five years ago, where a couple of girls and I dropped more coin on cocktails at the bar as we waited for a table than on food in the restaurant itself.

    Located at the very 'in' section of Surry Hills' Crown Street, the no-bookings policy remains for dinner at the modern Japanese restaurant, which spawned the market for contemporary, high-end peers like Sake and Sokyo.

    Toko, Crown Street, Surry Hills
    As a Surry Hills stalwart now, it was pleasing to see that Toko was pumping on a recent Monday night – not so much the dim, moody bar but the sushi and robata counter seats full and most of the communal table seating.

    The (relatively) old girl has still got it, with both occasion and out-of-town diners mixing it with Surry Hills locals. The Monday night vibe was not unlike a regular Thursday or Friday night vibe, such was the atmosphere and sophisticatedly simple interior.

    Spicy edamame - fried soy beans, chilli sauce
    I don’t normally drink on Mondays but rules were made for breaking on special occasions, so it was the Uragasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo Miyagi sake in a Riedel O glass for me.

    Served chilled, the gently dry sake went down easy, especially with the spicy edamame soy beans which were liberally tossed in a hot, garlicky chilli sauce.

    Sake no miso tarutaru - salmon tartare, wasabi miso, lotus root chips
    With a typically large izakaya style menu, it's a task to choose from the small plate, tempura, sushi and sashimi, and robata grill sections of the menu.

    I can see why Toko's tasting menus would be popular choices, but I persevered with a la carte selections like the salmon tartare; a petite bowl of diced raw salmon in a wasabi and miso based dressing with just the right amount of bite.

    Crispy, starchy lotus root chips were used as delicate, hole-ridden crackers to carry the salmon tartare, becoming a textural contrast and delight.

    Further adding to the satisfaction was that the salmon tartare is Toko's 'OzHarvest seasonal dish'; an initiative where $2 from every tartare sold is donated to not-for-profit food rescue organisation, OzHarvest. That's feel-good eating at its finest.

    Tai no sashimi to karikari buta - thinly sliced wild snapper, truffle oil, pork crackling
    The snapper sashimi was a contemporary interpretation of the raw fish dish, served as thin slices with drops of truffle oil, baby shiso sprigs and tiny nuggets of puffed pork crackling.

    While the pork crackling brought additional textural and flavour dimensions to classic sashimi, the truffle oil somewhat overpowered the delicate white fish.

    Wagyu no nigiri - seared wagyu beef nigiri, eschallots, chives
    Next were two pieces of nigiri sushi topped with thin rectangles of just-seared wagyu beef, garnished with a fine dice of eschallots and a chive section.

    Presented with a light brush of soy, we weren't afraid to add more soy and wasabi to the beef which, in this format, I had expected to be more buttery soft that it was.

    Watari-gani no karaage - crispy soft-shell crab, wasabi mayonnaise
    Soft shell crab has become a pretty stock standard order in Japanese restaurants these days, although the rendition at Toko stands out with its superbly crisp tempura batter.

    I noted that our whole tempura crab had soft-shelled, edible claws, which is probably the first time I've ever seen them despite many a soft-shell crab consumed.

    Shiitake no hachimitsu fuumi - Japanese mushroom skewers, soy honey butter
    After a pause we moved on to the robata grill items where, seated directly in front of the grill shielded by glass, we could see our selections being cooked and plated. Here we could see that the skewers of shiitake, Swiss brown and King Brown mushrooms were one of the most popular off the robata grill all evening.

    For each serving, two skewers of the assorted mushrooms were grilled at relatively low heat, then brushed with soy and honey butter, served with zingy, seasoned and grated daikon white radish topped with chives. Not simple by any means, but a dish loved by omnivores and herbivores alike.

    Tebasaki - chicken wings, Java curry salt, lime
    The salt-grilled and kind-of butterflied chicken wings are one of my favourite yakitori styles with the skin charred and crisp from the grill. The lime addition was appropriate although I wasn't sure the flavoured salt was entirely necessary.

    Negima yakitori - skewered chicken, spring onions, shichimi pepper
    Toko’s version of the classic negima yakitori was heavy on the chicken and light on spring onions, and came with a light sprinkling of shichimi chilli pepper mix.

    The densely-skewered chicken wasn't dry nor juicy; hiding beneath a surface of deliciously caramelised, sweet yakitori sauce.

    Yaki onigiri nasu miso zoe - barbequed rice skewers, eggplant shiitake miso
    The presentation of the yaki onigiri grilled rice cake was quite novel, like grilled rice lollipops topped with a miso-strong, mushy dice of eggplant and mushrooms. Despite looking tiny, the crisp surfaced rice pops were quite filling, as intended.

    Sake no aburi yaki - smoked miso king salmon, house pickled ginger
    Both the fish options from the robata menu were cooked by sitting on the lower temperature part of the grill for extended periods, so the smokiness of the grilled king salmon shouldn't have surprised me.

    It was fish perfection with crisp skin and fatty salmon flesh flaking softly to combine with the creamy yellow miso puddle, while the thin slices of house pickled ginger were the perfect foil for the rich, fatty fish.

    Amiyaki ro-su niku no wafu sauce - scotch fillet steak, wafu sauce, garlic chips
    We ended the savoury choices on a heavy note - the scotch fillet steak which arrived pre-cut into cubes, showing off the perfect medium-rare state. Garlic chips and a light soy-vinegar dressing were the only partners to the beef, which lacked a bit of flavour, though granted that's characteristic of the cut.

    Coconattu pannacotta - coconut pannacotta, strawberry, coconut foam
    I couldn't bear a look at the dessert menu after all our dishes but was happy to taste just a spoonful (or three) of the coconut panncotta – a small serving in a cup, balanced on a masu wooden box filled with ice.

    Coconut pannacotta
    The velvety coconut foam on top was delightful and could have been dessert alone for me, but it was a surprisingly good combination matched with diced strawberry and what seemed more like crème brûlée than pannacotta. Indeed, there was even a burnished layer of toffee beneath the strawberries and above the custard.

    The robabta grill
    It's the complete experience at Toko. Years on, it's still on the pulse of Sydney's oft-labelled fickle dining scene; doing its thing for an appreciative crowd. And despite recent internal business issues, Toko has demonstrated the staying power that makes it one of few Surry Hills stalwarts.

    Toko Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

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    Barilla tagliatelle with fresh ricotta, asparagus, nduja and salted ricotta made at
    Casa Barilla, 
    Annandale Street, Annandale
    The furthest south I went during my timein Italy was the Amalfi Coast in the Campania region, which also hosts the ancient town of Pompeii and the region’s capital, Naples.

    Executive Chef Luca Ciano of Casa Barilla Cooking School
    The Calabria region is further south; the toe of the boot that is the shape of Italy, if you will.

    It's known for specialties like my favourite salumi, nduja Calabrian spicy salami paste and caciocavallo cheese, with a cuisine that's a blend of meat and fish offerings as is characteristic of many regions of Italy that have a sea border as well as inland areas.

    Casa Barilla Cooking School, Annandale Street
    While I've not been to Calabria, I got a glimpse into the food culture through a cooking class at Casa Barilla in Annandale, with thanks to a fellow blogger.

    The cooking school of the Italian Barilla brand, the setup at Casa Barilla is great: parking out front, coffee and cake to start (or an Aperol spritz for those inclined at 11am) and casual yet intimate classes with Barilla Executive Chef Luca Ciano leading demonstrations and hands-on, interactive sessions.

    In the cooking school kitchen
    Our Calabrian cooking class featured three dishes; two that we would be making ourselves following a demonstration from Chef Ciano, who has worked in Sydney restaurants including Mosaic at The Westin and at Sheraton on the Park over the last 12 years.

    He has much respect for the Sydney restaurant scene in general, but especially the high end Italian restaurants whose chefs’ portraits adorn the walls of the class kitchen. Ciano cites the lack of good mid-range dining in Sydney as one of our city's weaknesses compared to Italy.

    Chef Ciano cutting dough for crostoli
    As seems to be the case when cooking a three-course meal, we started with making dessert, which in this case was more of a snack or treat to have with coffee.

    Crostoli or chiacchiere are fried pieces of lightly sweetened dough, dusted liberally with icing sugar. It's similar to the dough used in making cannoli shells, just shaped differently and easier for it.

    There's also the savoury version gnocco fritto which I had in Bologna in the north of Italy, alongside various cured meats and cheeses.

    Deep frying crostoli
    With a simple recipe for dough, it was a case of bringing the ingredients together by kneading into a smooth ball, and then resting the dough in the fridge before rolling through the pasta maker later.

    Chef Ciano did a quick demonstration before we returned to our kitchen stations to make our own dough.

    Crostoli - traditional Easter fritters
    The end result of the demonstration was pretty impressive for such a simple recipe. Crisp, golden cards of puffy pastry that crumbled on bite with a shower of icing sugar for sweetening.

    Chef Ciano admits to using his chiacchiere as a base for plenty of Nutella, straight from the jar.

    Deep frying croquettes
    The entrée portion of the three courses was a demonstration and tasting only, which was a bit of a shame as I've never made croquettes before, despite eating plenty of the crunchy, crumbed morsels.

    The eggplant "meatless meatballs" comprised roasted and mashed eggplant flesh, various cheeses including fresh mozzarella, and egg and breadcrumbs to bind the mixture. Coated in flour, egg then breadcrumbs, the croquettes were expertly shaped into cylinders (which is the part of the recipe I think I would have eggplant mash falling through my fingers).

    Eggplant croquette with crisp eggplant skins and Barilla tomato and basil sauce
    Deep fried until golden brown, Ciano served the croquettes on Barilla Tomato & Basil sauce, and garnished with the most fantastic, crisp threads of eggplant skin – cut off from the vegetable, dried, coated in flour and deep fried until crisp-hard.

    Chef Ciano joked that Australian eateries offered freshly cracked pepper with everything, "even on your cappuccino!" as he added pepper and olive oil to finish. I can’t disagree – cracked black pepper is one of my favourite spices.

    The eggplant croquettes were excellent: piping hot, stringy with cheese and enhanced with both the Barilla sauce and eggplant skins. It’s also a versatile recipe as almost any vegetable can be used (as long as it’s not too wet) and any type of meat can be added (mince, prosciutto, seafood).

    Cooking in the kitchen

    Mise en place

    Chef Ciano adding tagliatelle to the sauce
    We moved on to the main meal featuring Barilla's egg tagliatelle. Ciano shared some of Barilla's 135-year history to today's achievement of being the biggest food company in Italy.

    In Australia, we have their pasta and sauces range; however, in Italy they offer much more under a variety of brands.

    Barilla egg tagliatelle
    It was an educational session for some when it came to cooking dried pasta. The tried and tested way is to add 7 grams of salt per litre of water for cooking pasta, adding in the pasta when the water is boiled.

    Use lots of water so that the pasta won’t stick to each other, reducing the starch to water ratio. Never add oil or wash pasta after cooking (perhaps an exception for pasta salad) – both tips of which impact the starch left on pasta which helps sauces stick to the shapes.

    Cooking spring onions in olive oil
    For the sauce, first we cooked spring onion, garlic (as a whole clove, not chopped bits which tend to burn if added in early) and thinly sliced asparagus spears in some seriously decent extra virgin olive oil under the Academia Barilla brand.

    Cooking chopped asparagus

    Heating Barilla Ricotta sauce
    A jar of  Barilla's Ricotta sauce with tomato was simply added and heated, ready for the addition of pasta and final ingredients.

    We were using some amazing fresh ricotta and spicy nduja from Salumi Australia to stir through, simply melting into the sauce, adding flavour and texture. Indeed, the nduja was some of the spiciest I've ever had.

    Adding pasta to sauce in the pan
    Chef Ciano is all for mixing pasta into the sauce pre serving, and not serving the sauce as a pool atop cooked pasta (I admit to doing the latter when constrained by pan size).

    Creating a pasta tower
    Ciano also demonstrated the creation of a pasta tower, which I've never really seen outside of styled photographs in cookbooks and magazines.

    Twirling the long pasta with a large fork in a ladle, a bit of a pasta nest forms and can be gently placed onto a plate, for garnishing with grated salted ricotta and oregano sprigs.

    Tagliatelle
    We lunched in the kitchen with convenient pull-out stools and a glass of Sicilian white wine; completely necessary for combating the super-spicy nduja. Our group's pasta was a tad past al dente but the sauce was definitely a saving grace: creamy, sweet with tomato and with a big spice kick from the nduja.

    Wine served with lunch

    Adding grappa to crostoli dough
    After lunch with help clearing dishes, it was time for the fun of rolling and frying the crostoli dough we made earlier, now rested.

    For those who haven't used a pasta machine before, this was a great opportunity to sample before making the very easy decision to buy one.

    Chef Ciano demonstrating pasta rolling
    What I learnt was to resist the urge to flour the dough unless it seems to be sticking at any point. What some of the others learnt is that the dough needs to be a certain thinness to even fit into the roller at the very first stage.

    With sheets of pasta rolled, it was simply a matter of cutting them into rectangles with a pastry cutter with a slit in the middle, and getting the frying oil ready.

    Deep frying crostoli
    Ciano's tip for testing oil heat was to simply test a small piece of dough: if it bubbles and fizzes, the oil is ready. Burning quickly or sinking without bubbles means the oil is not ready.

    I loved seeing the dough puff up with bubbles almost as soon as it hit the hot oil, with the grappa and beaten egg in the dough reacting superbly.

    In cooking to a golden state, we needed to ensure that the crostoli was cooked for long enough so that it would stay crisp at a later time – an audible crunch when breaking the pastry was the indicator.

    Completed crostoli
    Drained on paper towels, the crostoli was dusted heavily with icing sugar and best eaten fresh, perhaps with a macchiato on the side. We ended up with so much crostoli we took about five takeaway containers' worth home.

    At the end of the 2.5 hour class (which ran a little over time in our case), we received Barilla goodie bags featuring the egg tagliatelle we had used for lunch, a jar of Barilla pesto sauce, recipes incorporating Barilla products and a miniature bottle of Campari.

    The classes at Casa Barilla are definitely fun and worthwhile. The kitchen setup is great, chef Ciano and his right-hand-man Angelo are infinitely entertaining and full of knowledge on Italian cuisine, and meanwhile, lunch (or dinner) is sorted.

    While it could be considered easy enough to cook dried pasta with a jar of sauce, the Casa Barilla classes take basic supermarket ingredients a step further, with tips and tricks that can be used in the kitchen widely and regularly. And as for my visit to Calabrian cuisine – it was hot but I liked it.

    See more photos on my Facebook page (and Like it while you're there!). Casa Barilla hosts hands-on classes, demonstrations and celebrity chef classes throughout the year, with several scheduled as part of next month’s Good Food Month – see the website for details.

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    We're a couple days away from the start of Good Food Month so I trust Sydney has its collective stomachs ready for a month of eating, drinking, and other food and drink related activities.

    I'm looking forward to next weekend's East Village Gourmet Food Festival (which has also undergone a name change) in Zetland's Joynton Park, free all day on Saturday, 5 October 2013.

    Pop-up Long Dinner at 2012's Green Square Gourmet Food Festival, Joynton Park, Zetland
    The festival aims to bring together the community from the surrounding south Sydney suburbs, and will feature live music, activities for kids and dogs (yes, a dog playground!), an all-day outdoor bar, a pop-up long dinner in the evening and of course, food stalls.

    The festival's hours have been extended on last year's, starting from 11am all the way through to 10pm so that the local community can share a meal in a great outdoor setting till late.

    Salt Meats Cheese mozzarella demonstration at last year's festival
    The awesome guys at Salt Meats Cheese will run the bar with cocktails, wine and craft beer. They'll also have a food stall along with Longrain, Gelato Messina, Foley Lane, Veggie Patch Van, Allpress Espresso, Dan the Man Cooking, Colin's Butchery, Coco-go-nuts, East Ocean Restaurant, French Oven, The Rocks Brewing Co. and more - from morning, and all night long.

    Get tickets to The Long Dinner under the stars by Longrain


    For the East Village Gourmet Food Festival's evening feature dinner, The Long Dinner, modern Thai restaurant Longrain is returning to feed the masses, right in Joynton Park under the stars.

    Longrain will be serving a shared banquet meal of their signature modern Thai dishes at long communal tables under a marquee for 200 guests.

    Tickets to The Long Dinner are available here at $150 per person (including a cocktail on arrival, and red and white wines with dinner).

    Food, Booze and Shoes readers can get $10 off the ticket price by entering the promo code UNDERTHESTARS.





    I attended the dinner (and festival) last year and it was a superbly classy and highly memorable event despite the elements. With festival season here, there's plenty to look forward to next weekend, and for the entire next month of Good Food Month.

    Last year's Long Dinner

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    Good Food Month starts today, and one of the first mid-week events of the festival is Thursday night's commencement of Food, Art & Films by the Wharf– King Street Wharf, that is.

    King Street Wharf has partnered with Arts Brookfield to present a combination of food and art for the month of October. There will be an outdoor pop-up art gallery run by art space Platform 72, an outdoor cinema on the wharf showing foodie films, and dining offers from participating restaurants on the wharf.

    King Street Wharf will host Food, Art & Films by the Wharf during
    October's Good Food Month
    (Image courtesy of The PR Partnership)
    Free foodie movies will show at 8pm every Thursday and Friday night in October on an outdoor screen next to Cargo Bar, with free entry for the first 100 people – it's first in best dressed with the area opening from 7pm.

    Films showing include one of my all-time favourites Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as well as Julie and Julia, Fried Green Tomatoes and one of my favourite animations, Ratatouille .

    Movie reward tokens
    The outdoor cinema will feature a fully-stocked candy bar with popcorn, gelato and fairy floss. In addition to special dining offers during Good Food Month, participating restaurants will be rewarding diners with free candy bar tokens to use during the movie screenings (while stocks last).

    As part of the launch of Food, Art & Films by the Wharf, we were treated to a preview of the Malaya's lunch offer for the month at the iconic south-east Asian restaurant by the water.

    Salt and pepper prawns from The Malaya, Lime Street, Sydney
    The Malaya's Good Food Month lunch offer comprises two courses and a glass of wine (or beer or soft drink) for $45, starting with ever lovable salt and pepper king prawns.

    The huge crustaceans arrived crisply battered and golden fried, as a plate to share, seasoned liberally and garnished with sliced shallots and fresh chillies - some of which had some serious kick.

    Coconut beef rendang
    The main course of the lunch offer comprises two selections, in proper shared Asian style. The first was beef rendang, an Indonesian style curry of fall-apart tender beef in a spiced coconut sauce.

    The Malaya's rendition is moderate in spice heat, with the rich curry sauce completely delectable over a bowl of steamed rice.

    Kapitan chicken
    The kapitan chicken was a milder curry featuring lightly battered chicken in a Penang style curry sauce with coconut cream.

    The small battered fillets provided additional texture to the chicken dish, which also had a sauce worthy of eating with rice alone.

    Roti
    While steamed rice is the carbohydrate of choice with curries, we also had some roti flat bread on the side - not some of the best in Sydney but a welcome addition nonetheless.

    Chilli bean sprouts
    Providing freshness amid all the curry and carbs was a vegetable side of crunchy bean sprouts, dried shitake mushroom, Asian spinach and chilli.

    Black rice pudding
    Separate to the Malaya's lunch offer, we were treated to additional desserts that appear on the restaurant's '50 Years of Spice' menu, also on offer during Good Food Month.

    The black sticky rice dessert arrived in thankfully petite glasses with thick coconut cream, palm sugar syrup and fresh seasonal fruit, including contrastingly tart passionfruit pulp.

    Chilli chocolate ice cream petit four
    Dessert was followed by chocolate-covered ice cream petit four bites; best not left to melt. I think the subtle chilli tingle was in the chocolate coating, which was then appropriately soothed via a bite of a nondescript ice cream flavour.

    The Malaya's Good Food Month lunch offer is available during lunch throughout October from Monday to Saturday (minimum 2 diners; maximum 8 diners). See the King Street Wharf's Food, Art & Films by the Wharf event schedule here.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the launch of Food, Art & Films by the Wharf, at The Malaya, with thanks to The PR Partnership.

    Malaya on Urbanspoon

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    It's been named the best of its breed. It elicits drooling at the mere sight, sound and particularly smell. It inspires pilgrimages out west to Cabramatta. The signature crispy skin chicken at Tan Viet Noodle House is a dish of cult status, and deservedly so.

    Crispy skin chicken with tomato rice at Tan Viet Noodle House, John Street, Cabramatta
    We've hit Tan Viet Noodle House for a late lunch post shopping in the fun and curiosity-filled arcades off John Street. It seems the way to go actually, because there were no waiting queues and many free tables at 3.30pm in the colourful and surprisingly spacious restaurant.

    The menu isn't overwhelmingly huge, but with the crispy skin chicken options laid out on the first page, there's barely a need to go further.

    Crispy skin chicken with egg noodles in soup
    The crispness of the glistening, burnished chicken skin is something that makes you smile – it's paper thin and cracks audibly on bite. Its taste is pure chicken skin, with the fat layers often found on chicken thighs completely rendered.

    And meanwhile, the chicken flesh beneath the glorious skin remains moist and juicy, enhanced by a dunk into the nuoc mam chilli dipping sauce on the side, and for me, a touch of hot English mustard.

    The egg noodle option includes a huge bowl of thin, yellow noodles in soup with wilted lettuce and shallots, served with a pile of raw bean sprouts and fresh herbs, with chilli and hoisin sauces as condiments.

    Crispy skin chicken with tomato rice and pickles
    I opt to have my crispy skin chicken maryland with orange-red-hued tomato rice, with the set also coming with refreshing pickled cabbage and carrot, and a bowl of clear soup.

    Black herbal duck with egg noodles
    There are options aside from the crisp skin chicken, if you can resist the allure of that skin. The dramatic black herbal duck is a particularly enticing menu item, also offered as an egg noodle option.

    The duck maryland is poached with dried shiitake mushrooms and a heady array of Asian herbs and spices, with the distinct flavour of anise. Fall-apart soft and quite rich, the duck sits atop a stack of dry egg noodles with fresh coriander, while a dark herbal broth, that has to be good for you, is served alongside.

    With hordes of diners worshipping at the cult of crispy skin chicken, this is one ritual pilgrimage I can happily incorporate into my life.

    Tan Viet Noodle House on Urbanspoon

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    The push for mid-range dining options in Sydney CBD continues with the recent opening of Bridge St Garage Bar and Diner opposite the ASX building, a few doors down from Café Sopra and soon-to-open Rockpool.

    Bridge St Garage Bar & Diner, Bridge Street, Sydney
    The space was previously a car garage and the theme is carried through the restaurant with retro gusto: car parts, wrench door handles, oil drum cocktail tables, leather upholstered seats. There's no doubt the expensive, garage-inspired, industrial fitout is unique in this part of town.

    The front bar
    Pitched as a Latin American twist on American diner classics, chef Oscar Gorosito runs a small kitchen for quite a large venue, filled to the brim with suits – of both the pants and skirt variety – during lunch and post work hours.

    It's interesting to see the front bar filled with an older corporate crowd earlier in the evening, with the eager-eyed younger crowd filling the restaurant from 7.30pm onwards, presumably after doing the post 5pm hard yards.

    O.M.G. Bloody Mary
    The O.M.G Bloody Mary is a great place to start, and you'll understand its Gen Y name when the cocktail arrives.

    Like a starter within itself, there's more garnish than the Tabasco-spiked vodka and tomato juice drink, including a whole hard-boiled egg; an array of skewered fruits and vegetables, pickled and fresh; and a long sprig of rosemary.

    Fresh Harvey Wallbanger Martini
    My choice from the short house cocktail menu is more your typical shaken cocktail in a dainty coupe glass, featuring Absolute Elyx vodka, Licor 43, fresh lemon and orange juices, and "burnt orange". Pretty as it is, it's a bit on the sugary-sweet side for my tastes.

    The cocktail list actually features a lot of whiskey-based drinks, clearly targeting the predominantly male drinking crowd.

    Provoleta - Argentinean-style grilled provolone with chimichurri and herbed sourdough 
    While the menu skits across various American diner favourites, there's a notable South American accent but also a modern Australian one.

    There are plenty of items on the starters menu to tempt diners as well as drinkers in the bar. We started with provoleta Argentinian-style grilled provolone cheese which came gooey, melted and oily in a miniature cast iron pot.

    Not quite the fondue style dish as probably intended, the tangy chimichurri sauce atop the melted curds was the saving grace to the cheese that quickly hardened when cooled, though it at least maintained a pleasing stretchiness.

    Buffalo wings
    Bridge St Garage's take on buffalo wings was certainly not classic diner style but perhaps a healthier version than the deep fried and hot sauce-smothered version one would normally expect.

    Chicken mid wings and drumettes arrived in a light BBQ sauce, with soft, smooth skin as if the wings were poached or boiled rather than fried. It was served a little uninspiringly with a pool of sauce on a white plate, with carrot and celery sticks and a potent blue cheese sauce on the side.

    Moa St Josephs
    Bridge St Garage boasts a great selection of beers with a few new names to the boutique and craft beers offered around town. The Moa beer range from Marlborough in New Zealand (yes, they produce things other than sauvignon blanc and pinot noir) come in fantastic little cork-topped bottles, popping like little bottles of champagne.

    The Moa St Josephs is a Belgian style ale at a whopping 9.5% alcohol volume, with lightly fruity notes beneath lots of hops and malt, and was surprisingly easy to drink.

    Coopers Celebration Ale
    The Coopers Celebration Ale was one of the most unique and special beers I've tasted in a while. Intriguingly spicy, mid-weight and richly coloured, it's not a beer you'd drink all night long, but it was certainly well matched to hearty food.

    Sticky pork ribs
    On the mains menu the sticky pork ribs came highly recommended by the waitstaff, served as a pile with a small, token garden salad on a wooden board.

    Slow-roasted for 4.5 hours then grilled with BBQ sauce, the mound of pork ribs was tender but taste-wise, probably not going to compete with the likes of Hurricane's. However, they're probably some of the only ribs you can get in the CBD proper.

    Rocket and lobster salad
    Fearing American diner food overload, I opted for the tempting rocket and lobster salad as a main dish. There was a nice gathering of fresh, white lobster flesh atop the mound of rocket leaves, dressed with a tangy mustard oil.

    Rocket and lobster salad
    There was also cooked fennel and pear slices mixed into the rocket stack, with thin croutons and a poached egg on the side – which I had with the bacon from the corn bread side, turning it into a bit of a breakfast dish.

    Corn bread
    There's not a lot of corn bread in Sydney so it was a must-order for us. Surprisingly, it came with a salsa-like sauce and crisp rashers of bacon and unfortunately, the latter was the best part of the dish, with the puck of corn bread rather dry and crumbly.

    Mississippi-style green beans
    The side dish of Mississippi-style beans was also highly recommended and rightly so. I've rarely experienced green beans that are both tasty and (sort of) healthy: pan-fried with bacon and onion, and drizzled in a vinegar sauce that really lifted the often boring vegetable.

    Trio of ice cream
    I was tempted into a trio of ice cream and sorbet for dessert, although it turned out there were no sorbets available that evening. Nonetheless, my choices of passionfruit, rhubarb and tongue-tingling chilli chocolate ice creams were all excellent with the syrupy and fruity rhubarb being the favourite.

    Creme caramel with white dog moonshine
    The appropriately petite creme caramel dessert was a wobbly and creamy rendition, drizzled with a rich whiskey-infused caramel sauce and whipped cream.

    Bridge St Garage isn't your standard diner, nor is it your standard Sydney CBD restaurant. I've heard good things about the burger options generally, I'm glad that there's a drive to get more mid-range dining options in the CBD.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Bridge Street Garage Bar & Diner as a guest, with thanks to NAC Media Group.

    Bridge Street Garage Bar & Diner on Urbanspoon

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    Lantern display at Good Food Month Night Noodle Markets, Hyde Park, Sydney
    The Night Noodle Markets, as part of Good Food Month in Sydney, are back for 2013 in a big way. For starters, they're on from 4pm today, a Saturday, and the next two Saturdays of October, as well as every weeknight for the next fortnight.

    There also feels like there are a lot more stalls, sponsored seating areas and general seating in the Hyde Park north area - all great, positive developments for Noodle Market devotees.

    Early crowds at the Night Noodle Markets
    Of course, the queues are still present, particularly for cult-status stalls, but pretty much all of them at peak dinner time on the first Friday outing last night.

    Citi VIP area
    For Citi customers, the grief of securing seating and drinks - and even food to an extent - is taken away within the centrally located, fairy light-canopied Citi VIP area; a signature Hyde Park look of the festival's main sponsor.

    Concierge service at Citi VIP area
    This year, in addition to reserved seating and a dedicated bar for Citi customers, the VIP area is offering a concierge service, delivering food from Citibank Dining Program restaurants' stalls direct to diners' tables, sans queue and queuing times.

    While some might think queues are part and parcel of the Noodle Market experience, I have no issue in avoiding the wait for offerings from Din Tai Fung, Taste of Shanghai, East Ocean Restaurant and the Citibank Dining food truck (by Eat Art Truck).

    A concierge will take your orders for food and/or drinks, send runners off to the stalls to fetch ordered items (not in the queue, mind you), and then bring them directly to your table. That, is service.

    Citibank Dining food truck by Eat Art Truck
    And if that wasn't enough Citi for you, the Good Food Month sponsor has taken over Eat Art Truck to become the Citibank Dining food truck for the entire month of October.

    On the road and at the Night Noodle Markets, the Citibank Dining food truck features offerings from Eat Art Truck; and alternately from Citibank Dining ambassador, MasterChef host and chef Gary Meighan and The Bridge Room's chef Ross Lusted.

    Kingfish ceviche from Citi food truck
    From the EAT guys, we sampled a finely diced, zingy kingfish ceviche served nachos-style on crispy tortilla rounds.

    The raw fish was an absolute treat, marinated in lime and chilli and topped with shredded shallots, coriander and a liberal squiggle of a spiced mayonnaise not unlike the sauce which normally comes with EAT's shichimi chicken wings.

    Beef brisket bun from Citi food truck
    Also on offer were two of EAT's signature soft buns, with chef Meighan filling his with lamb belly and what looked like an Asian-style salad.

    EAT's BBQ beef brisket bun came with more soft, pulled meat in red sauce than we could eat, complemented by cabbage kimchi and Korean chilli sauce that didn't really tick on the heat scale. That was all to be found under a huge mound of shallot strips peppered with coriander leaves and sesame seeds.

    Assorted steamed dumplings and pork bun from East Ocean Restaurant
    There are several options at the Night Noodle Markets for Cantonese food and yum cha style dumplings, with Chinatown's East Ocean Restaurant offering set packs of dumplings with add-ons of deep fried goodies and Peking duck pancakes.

    The Jumbo pack features all these treats, with our palate-perfect Peking duck pancakes, encasing shiny roast duck skin and flesh, hoisin sauce and shallots, going down the hatch in a few happy bites.

    The wide variety of steamed dumplings included crowd favourites har gow prawn dumplings and two others in translucent skins with prawns and green vegetables, and possibly scallop.

    Interestingly, there were also four varieties of siu mai style dumplings, with the fish paste and corn one proving to be a first for me, while the char siu bao BBQ pork bun is a must for so many.

    Salt and pepper pork ribs, squid and prawns from East Ocean Restaurant
    To the deep fried goodness, all done in salt and pepper style though in varying shades of deep fry, there were thickly battered pork ribs, unevenly seasoned and huge squid tentacles and pale, tail-on prawns.

    The salt and pepper prawns were certainly the best of the lot but there's something about the lurid orange-yellow-hued squid that I find irresistible, to the point it's something I have about once a year - only at the Noodle Markets.

    Citi VIP area
    We dared to venture outside of the Citi VIP area to check out some of the other food stalls and bars - many new ones but plenty of Noodle Market regulars - of which I'll be trying to sample next week (or the one after).

    Chat Thai stalls

    New Shanghai chefs making xiao long bao

    Ippudo Sydney stall

    Shanghai Stories 1938 stall

    The Morrison seating area

    Coopers bar

    On Ramen stall featuring the 'ramen burger'

    Seven News seating area

    Lantern display
    One feature of this year's Night Noodle Markets you'll see all over Instagram feeds, if you haven't already, is the spectacular lantern display near the St James station entrance to Hyde Park.

    The popular lantern display
    Assorted in colours, sizes, shapes and patterns, the impressive collection of hanging lanterns makes for a great backdrop for photos and the Night Noodle Markets overall.

    See more photos from the Night Noodle Markets on my Facebook page.

    The popular lantern display

    Lantern love
    Food, booze and shoes dined at the Good Food Month Night Noodle Markets as a guest of Citi, with thanks to Liquid Ideas.

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    I haven't been keeping up with Kobe Jones and the Californian-style Japanese restaurant's progress since the many years ago I first visited, so it was nice to see it recently for its Good Food Month dining offer as part of the Food, Art and Films events on King Street Wharf.

    During October Kobe Jones is offering a multi-course dinner special with a complimentary drink for $36 per person (two or more people; Sunday to Thursday; glass of house wine, beer or soft drink).

    Asahi beer and Mangalo drink from Kobe Jones, Lime Street, King Street Wharf
    On a balmy spring night with party season kicking off, King Street Wharf was abuzz with revellers, tourists and foodies alike. Seated on the outer edge of the restaurant facing the water, the evening heat continued to seep into the venue, calling for extra cold drinks to start our dinner.

    Asahi is the only Japanese beer on the menu with a plethora of other, non-Japanese imported options. More than perfect for a refreshing chill was the iced mango drink featuring lots of blitzed mango flesh, pineapple and orange juices, and a retro dash of grenadine.

    Edamame
    Our meal commenced with an appetiser of simply salted edamame soy beans which were soft and warm.

    Sashimi salad
    Next up was a bountiful sashimi salad which featured, in prime position and perhaps just a bit strangely, a ball of imitation crab. I don't have anything against processed crab meat and indeed, it could be a hallmark of Californian-style Japanese cuisine – it just seemed an odd feature of a sashimi salad.

    Nonetheless, it was enjoyed with seasoned seaweed; thin slices of raw salmon, tuna and kingfish as well as a butterflied, cooked prawn and tobiko flying fish roe; and an abundance of mixed lettuce leaves in well-balanced, zingy dressing.

    Volcano roll at Kobe Jones, Lime Street, King Street Wharf
    One menu item I remember quite fondly from my past visit was the mayonnaise smothered and blowtorched sushi options, in true fusion style.

    The Volcano Roll features two big pieces of "crab" and avocado uramaki inside-out sushi roll pimped up with oven-baked diced scallops. The sushi comes doused with Kobe Jones' special mayonnaise and cream sauce which was then torched till tanned, and joined by more tobiko, sesame seeds, shallots and a drizzles of a sweet soy glaze.

    Vegetable tempura
    Ever the crowd pleaser, the vegetable tempura offering was two slices of each pumpkin and carrot – the latter not commonly seen and probably a late replacement from the menu's advertised asparagus.

    The batter was crisp, if not a little thick and oily, but hit the spot with the tempura dipping sauce.

    Mushroom medley tobanyaki
    I was most interested in the hot mushroom dish, cooked in a cast iron dish tobanyaki style. Propped up with white rice, the medley of button, enoki and some other mushrooms was covered liberally with the special mayonnaise cream sauce and baked.

    What ensued was about the richest, creamiest dish I've eaten in years, complementing the earthy mushroom flavours well, but in all, a little heavy with the rice and copious amount of mayonnaise.

    Chicken tempura
    The last dish – comprising chicken teriyaki to share, and individual miso soup and steamed rice bowls – was the main; the filler if you will.

    Chicken thigh pieces, marinated and cooked in a candy-sweet teriyaki sauce, came alongside simply steamed broccoli and capsicum, and baked baby potatoes in a rather Westernised, meat-and-veg take on chicken teriyaki.

    Filled to the brim even without dessert, the dinner deal at Kobe Jones is a great way to get reacquainted with the restaurant. And as for the restaurant itself, Kobe Jones is comfortable enough in its own Cali-Japanese skin to do its own thing, without regard for what the Jones of modern Japanese cuisine are doing.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Kobe Jones as a guest, with thanks to The PR Partnership.

    Kobe Jones on Urbanspoon

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    The quiet backstreets of Chippendale are coming to life. For too long out-publicised by neighbouring Redfern and Glebe, there’s a new brigade of modern, casual restaurants like Ester bringing some spark to the inner city suburb.

    Ester stands out like a beacon on the dark, quiet street between busy Regent and Abercrombie streets, with warm yellow light emanating from the small restaurant's front entrance.

    Ester Restaurant and Bar, Meagher Street, Chippendale
    A large wood-fired oven is the feature of Ester's menu and open kitchen, which has full views of the entire intimate dining and bar space – vibeing a slightly retro-vintage feel with lots of arches. The fitout is kind of homely without being ostentatiously hipster, despite the area.

    From the same group behind Berta, Vini and 121 BC all in Surry Hills, Ester raises the expectation for simple, if not rustic, flavours with a modern, youthful sensibility.

    Chefs Mat Lindsay and Nic Wong are both ex Billy Kwong, so it shouldn't have surprised me to see celebrity chef Kylie Kwong sitting at the bar when I climbed up to my somewhat tall bar seat perch.

    Rosemary chickpeas
    The service at the bar is friendly and helpful especially when it comes to the list of natural and biodynamic wines, which is still new ground for most. The white I tried had an earthy murkiness to it but a short length on the palate, ensuring its drinkability and necessitating a second glass later in the night.

    Start off with addictive deep fried chickpeas, gratis, seasoned with loads of salt and rosemary while perusing the well-considered menu with snacks, small plates, larger wood-fired dishes, sides and desserts categories. All the dishes are made to share as is the trend with a lot of new, casual venues.

    Roasted oysters
    We started, as you should, with the roasted oysters – served singularly or by the half or full dozen. This evening they were Sydney rock oysters in the full shell, receiving a bit of a sauna treatment in the wood-fired oven so as to just warm and open a little (without shucking and hence broken shell bits) to be served with finely diced eschallots and red wine vinaigrette.

    I'd never have imagined warm oysters could be such good eating. As well as being a highly appropriate introduction for those new to oysters, the roasting warmth rounded off the mineral flavours and brine of the mollusc incredibly well, while the vinaigrette lifted the "snack" to glorious, food-fantasy-worthy levels.

    Blood sausage sanga
    I'm not so much a fan of blood products but others are, and the blood sausage sandwich is a creative and even approachable take on the divisive ingredient.

    Served on a cute, crustless square of steamed white bread, the miniature sausage of blood and stuff was actually very palatable and described as one of the better, textural versions of the sausage, with a mustard aioli and caramelised onions to help it all down.

    Bone marrow / XO
    While blood isn't my thing, bone marrow most certainly is. Beef bones, split lengthwise and topped with Asian seafood XO sauce before roasting, proffered a tempting aroma of the complex sauce and fat.

    The XO sauce acted as seasoning for the fatty, jelly-like bone marrow – appropriately salty but at times, overpoweringly fishy, even with the toasted slices of the excellent house-baked bread in support.

    Crab / rice / egg
    While the snacks menu is straightforward enough, the brevity of the menu descriptions for the small plates and beyond makes it a little more difficult to know what you're getting.

    The crab dish was a hybrid between a risotto or congee with plenty of blue swimmer crab flesh and crisp curry leaves within the creamy, buttery dish.

    Topping it all off was a curious sprinkle of powdered fried chicken skin, spices and sesame seeds that, interesting as it was, somewhat detracted from the crab experience.

    Crab / rice / egg
    There was a perfectly oozy egg hidden within the mound of crab and rice and despite the varied textures, there was a flatness to the flavours which made the dish a bit of a chore, although helped with lemon from the prawns.

    Prawns / capers / brown butter
    The large roasted prawns were divine as expected, delicately half-peeled for easy access and delivered with a lip-smacking brown butter sauce, salty pops of capers and grilled baby cos lettuce.

    The prawn shell was completely edible, with the prawn legs particularly crisp and full of flavour, while the wilted lettuce and bread were ideal mops for any leftover buttery sauces.

    Steak / bagna cauda / radish
    To the larger dishes the 200 gram serve of flank steak (also available as a half kilogram option) arrived pre-sliced to reveal perfectly rare to medium-rare beef that was full of juicy flavour.

    Served with bagna cauda anchovy and garlic sauce and refreshing slices of radish, it was a highlight of the meal – perhaps just behind the roasted oysters.

    Cauliflower / almond / mint
    We added an order of the roasted head of cauliflower as almost all the surrounding tables had them, and to boost the vegetable intake.

    Burnt in some places, the very natural approach didn't excite me much, even as a massive brassica fan. Whole leaves of mint added interest and a second flavour note, while the almond puree and chopped almonds, I suppose, were designed to bring out the nuttiness of the wood-roasted cauliflower.

    Potato / duck fat / coriander seed
    We had clearly not thought ahead to dessert as we also had a side of duck fat roasted potatoes. No regrets here though, as they were some of the best I've had – roasted golden and crisp at the edges, and well-seasoned with lots of salt and crushed coriander seeds.

    Dessert-less, we rolled out and onto quiet Meagher Street, with the stark difference between the warm, inviting restaurant and the pretty empty street only adding to Ester's charm, and that of Chippendale.

    The suburb is starting to shine bright; indeed with Luke Powell, ex Tetsuya's and of recent Mary's fame, said to be opening up a restaurant right next door by the year’s end. Food and restaurant-wise, Chippendale is alive.

    Ester Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

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    Crowds at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival, 5 October 2013, Joynton Park, Zetland
    I'm not sure how we can be into the last week of Good Food Month already. Work and social life have cruelly ganged up on me so I haven't seen as much as I would have liked and I've only been to the Noodle Markets once this year.

    But I did attend the second annual (renamed) East Village Gourmet Food Festival in Zetland's somewhat hidden Joynton Park earlier in the month.

    Table seating at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival
    Taking its name from the nearby commercial and retail development, due to open mid next year, the East Village Gourmet Food Festival brought together local producers and festival favourites for a day and night of eating, drinking and lounging in the sunny park.

    Festival-goers were greeted by a gorgeous day for being outdoors, with food offerings from the likes of Salt Meats Cheese and their signature cured meats and antipasti, Longrain's yellow curry, East Ocean with a myriad of steamed yum cha dumplings and Foley Lane with a bar and food setup.

    The growing festival delivered community spirit in spades - from the sophisticated outdoor seating to the petting farm, it felt like a locals event with kids and dogs out in full force.

    Spit roast at the Dan the Man stall

    Pizza oven at Salt Meats Cheese stall

    Foley Lane stall

    East Ocean stall

    Gelato Messina flavours

    Audi kids entertainment

    The East Village Gourmet Food Festival by night
    This year the outdoor festival continued well into the night with fairy lights, spotlights and happy glows keeping the park alight and half of the stalls remaining open to offer dinner under the stars.

    Fairy lights in Joynton Park

    Getting into the spit roast at the Dan the Man stall
    There was delicious-smelling consolation for those who missed out on the Long Dinner as part of the festival, with whole spit-roasted pigs and lambs from Dan the Man tempting all that walked past.

    Tables set up for the Long Dinner
    As per last year for the Long Dinner, long, white clothed tables stretched the majority of the length of a very impressive, colourfully lit marquee.

    Tables for the Long Dinner
    White chairs and perfectly uniformly set tables were lined up beneath some simply stunning floral and foliage displays, with the evening's menu catered by Sydney modern Thai favourite, Longrain.

    Longrain owner Sam Christie was out front running the show while head chef Louis Tikaram ran the makeshift kitchen most impressively for a 250-person-plus outdoor event.

    Typo-loma cocktails by Longrain
    Longrain's cheeky Typo-loma cocktails were a great starting point, for drinks and chatter with nearby diners.

    The martini-glassed cocktail featured tequila and grapefruit juice (Paloma, anyone?) with a supposedly Thai twist of chilli-infused Aperol and lime - and a lychee for that girly touch.

    Betel leaf, smoked trout, mint, peanuts, chilli by Longrain
    Dinner was a Thai banquet shared at the table, starting with my all time favourite Thai appetiser, miang betel leaves topped with smoked trout and a mix of crushed peanuts, mint and red chilli slices in a slightly drippy, sweetly spicy dressing.

    Devoured in a mouthful, the sweet, sour, salty and smoky flavours of the miang were perfect palate starters, readying one for a barrage of big, bold Thai tastes for the rest of the night.

    Caramelised pork, prawn, peanuts on sour pineapple
    The second appetiser was new to me; a nugget of very caramelised battered pork, and apparently prawn, on a wedge of pineapple.

    It was hard not to immediately think of that Australian-Chinese classic, sweet and sour pork, but there were some highlight flavours in the pork and coriander that lifted it way beyond takeaway Chinese.

    Grilled king prawn, green chilli nahm jim
    The halved and grilled prawns were one of my favourite dishes of the night, with shells fragrantly grilled and split.

    The large prawns were served with a very well balanced, just-spicy-enough, chunky green chilli nahm jim dressing that was so good it was drinkable and more fresh coriander leaves.

    Prawn, chicken, coconut cream, kaffir lime
    To mains, there were three different dishes which I thought was quite a feat 250-plus people. The first coconut cream concoction was a surprise of diced prawn and chicken in a mildly spiced, rich sauce served with witlof leaves on the side, as if a modern Thai take on san choy bao.

    Having not ever seen or experienced a Thai dish like this before, it worked unexpectedly well with the witlof cups although it was quite comforting to have the creamy prawn and chicken gravy just over loads of jasmine rice.

    Char grilled Cape Grim beef, roasted chilli eschallot dressing
    The grilled beef dish was a return to familiar ground, served medium-pink and thinly sliced with a mound of roasted chilli paste on the side for flavouring and a bit of heat.

    Red curry of duck, Thai basil
    The red curry was undoubtedly the piece de resistance of the meal, coming out resplendently red over generous quarters of fall-apart duck which absorbed all the complex flavours within the curry - perfect with lots and lots of steamed rice.

    Steamed Chinese broccoli, oyster sauce
    Along with large bowls of steamed rice were steamed Chinese greens, served healthily and simply with oyster sauce.

    Banana fritter, caramel custard, passionfruit
    With stomach capacity remaining for dessert, diners hoed into platters of thickly battered banana portions, the Thai theme a little wanting.

    It's been a while since I've had a banana fritter, and I'm still not convinced I like them, even if the crisp batter made for great mops for the passionfruit pulp and caramel custard covering the plate.

    The Long Dinner by Longrain at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival
    While bottomless glasses of wine may have helped too, it was a dinner that reminded me that I'm long overdue for a visit back to Longrain.

    The Long Dinner also did a fantastic job of fitting into the local community feel of the East Village Gourmet Food Festival - at least for those lucky ones of us which can call this our local community.

    The Long Dinner at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival
    See more photos of the East Village Gourmet Food Festival on my Facebook page.

    Food, booze and shoes attended The Long Dinner at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival as a guest.

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