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A Sydney food and restaurant blog

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    If the feasting of the festive season hasn't defeated you, head east this Sunday for the American BBQ at Fat Rupert's in Bondi; a monthly event at the small bar/restaurant that was formerly The Flying Squirrel.

    As the name doesn't suggest, Fat Rupert's is named after the owners' previously overweight pet dog. Former media exec Aaron Pearce took over the venue in a mid-2013 career change and has instilled a food menu and philosophy of "Simple. Seasonal. Satisfying" under Canadian head chef, Eli Challenger.

    Inside Fat Rupert's, Bondi Road, Bondi
    Pearce has ambitious plans for growing Fat Rupert's in early 2014, including a renovation of the upstairs current office area to become function space. The decor presently features cute quirks that aren't overworked, plenty of natural light and affable wood tones throughout the venue.

    Meanwhile on the menu, chef Challenger is enthusiastic about sourcing quality local produce that's in season, serving it simply when it's at it's best.

    While the concepts of food seasonality and sustainability are relatively new in the Australian restaurant scene, Challenger shares that this is old hat in Canada, having gleaned many of these philosophies from the western coastal states of the US. Gluten free is almost standard given the area, with the menu putting asterisks next to items that are not gluten free.

    Espresso martini
    As it was brunch, I allowed myself the caffeine hit of an espresso martini from the straightforward bar menu. Pretty with crema foam, a chocolate dusting and decorative coffee beans, it was both a little sweet and watery at the same time.

    Buttermilk fried chicken with red cabbage slaw
    On the first Sunday of every month, chef Challenger puts on an American BBQ lunch menu in contrast to the venue's usual modern Australian seasonal share plates menu.

    I wasn't complaining when I could have fried chicken for brunch in a crisp, well-seasoned buttermilk batter, drizzled with a guilt-inducing but delicious honey butter. The chicken was served on a red cabbage slaw, somewhat alleviating the damage.

    Pulled pork burger with apple slaw and salad
    There was also the increasingly ubiquitous appearance of pulled pork, as any good American BBQ should have, served generously in a soft toasted bun with a tangy apple and radish slaw and lurid orange chipotle sauce.

    Best eaten with cutlery, the burger was a smoky and meaty delight that may challenge some new year's resolutions, although the additional side was, not chips, but a healthy cos lettuce, cherry tomato and parmesan cheese salad.

    I subscribe to the idea of "everything in moderation", so as long as we don't take our lead from Fat Rupert (the dog), 2014 - or at least January - should be free of resolution-breaking.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Fat Rupert's as a guest.

    Fat Rupert's 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've passed by Mille Vini on the busy part of Surry Hills' Crown Street a thousand times but had not ventured into the veteran wine bar until a few months ago. Perhaps it was the thought of 1,000 wines (translation of Italian mille vini) subconsciously intimidating me.

    Late last year the former founders of the Crust Gourmet Pizza chain took over the business, retaining its name and wine bar concept and bringing in chef John Lanzafame, a recognised pizza maestro, in the kitchen though not for pizzas.

    Wine shelf at Mille Vini, Crown Street, Surry Hills
    Chef Lanzafame brings a rustic southern Italian menu - of share plates, pasta and more - to life in the small, narrow kitchen with plenty to tempt both nibblers and diners in a casual and accessible setting.

    The two-storied space is full of character, being a heritage-listed building from the 19th century that was once used as a stonemason's workshop.

    Wooden beans in the ceiling
    History aside, Mille Vini's current wine bar status means you can be drinking one of over 20 wines available by the glass beneath potentially centuries-old wooden beams and brickwork, while dining on appropriately rustic Italian fare.

    Sambucca fritte olives
    We started with a bottle of the fun Santa Margherita Prosecco and olives from the antipasto menu. Fat and meaty black olives were served warm with wrinkly skins in a small frypan, cooked in a sweet, syrupy sauce of Sambuca anise-flavoured liqueur.

    Bambino bruschetta with nduja and cucumber salsa
    I am weak to the temptations of nduja spicy salami paste and pretty much order it whenever I see it. I've never had such a generous serve as that at Mille Vine, served as a thick puddle with an oil-filled divot and cracked black pepper.

    Presented as a deconstructed DIY bruschetta alongside thick rounds of bread, the nduja was a velvety mix of porcine fattiness and roasted chilli goodness, cut by thin ribbons of pickled cucumber.

    Burratta with proscuitto and roma tomato
    Burrata mozzarella cheese filled with cream is another of those irresistible Italian delicacies, here served with ripe, sliced roma tomato and beautiful, thinly shaved prosciutto, with lashings of olive oil and black pepper.

    The burrata didn't ooze its creamy innards out upon cutting but had a clean, creamy flavour that was perfectly matched with the sweet yet savoury tomato, while the prosciutto held its own on a plate of excellent produce.

    Liver pate with pear compote
    From the stuzzichino menu we had the liver pate, served in a jar with a thin layer of jelly and on the side, more bread and a dark, sweet pear compote.

    The pate was lusciously smooth and rich with a depth of flavour that happily distracted me from the liver factor, although I'm growing to like the offal blitzed with loads of butter in pates and parfaits.

    Home made gnocchi with Italian sausage ragu and parmesan
    In the spirit of the wine bar, we moved to a second bottle of wine for mains, the 2012 Lamberti Pinot Grigio. It probably wasn't a typical match for the evening's pasta special of gnocchi in a rich, tomato-ey Italian sausage ragu.

    The house-made cocoon-shaped potato pasta was airy and light in contrast to the full-flavoured ragu, with sausage bits fragrant with fennel. Served with lots of parmesan cheese, it was an utterly satisfying dish with heart and soul.

    Beef tagliata
    Italian tagliata is a salad made for carnivores, featuring thinly sliced rare-cooked steak beneath a mound of dressed rocket leaves and parmesan shavings. The steak's juices melded with lemon juice and oil to dress the overall insalate but it was the tender, succulent beef that shone.

    Cheese board
    The best meals - with great wine and good company - should always end with cheese and so, despite the lure of neighbouring gelato queues for dessert, we opted for the cheese board with a side of ports and dessert wines that I don't quite remember now.

    I do recall the parmigiano reggiano being my favourite; the gorgonzola dolce that was beyond divine with a drizzle of truffle honey; tallegio and provolone piccante; complete with dried muscatels, walnuts, raisins, quince paste, fresh red grapes and a range of crisp breads.

    Upstairs decor
    We came, we ate, we most certainly drank. The combination of rustic, casual eats with mostly Italian wines in an intimate, character-filled venue is a definite winner attracting a broad range of locals, couples, girls nights out and group catch-ups.

    While there might not be 1,000 wines on the wine list, after my second dinner at Mille Vini I think there's close to a thousand reasons to get in for a visit.

    Disclaimer: Food, booze and shoes has previously dined at Mille Vini as a guest.

    Mille Vini on Urbanspoon

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    If you were at The Domain on Saturday night, you'd be well aware that Sydney Festival is in full swing for 2014.

    Thousands of people, all up and dancing to Hot Dub Time Machine and then soul queen Chaka Khan was a spectacular sight, but if you missed that, there's plenty of other free and ticketed options around town.

    Sacrilege at Hyde Park for Sydney Festival 2014, 9-26 January
    One very popular, free feature is the unmissable Sacrilegein Hyde Park north, in front of St Mary's Cathedral. It's a life-size replica of historic Stonehenge in bouncy, jumping castle style.

    Sacrilege at Hyde Park
    That's right, jump and bounce on Stonehenge, right in the middle of Sydney. Up to 100 people can bounce in each timed session, which are proving popular with all ages, especially on the weekend.

    Sacrilege at Hyde Park

    Sacrilege at Hyde Park

    Sacrilege at Hyde Park

    Lawn Library at Festival Village, Hyde Park
    There's plenty more entertainment in Hyde Park's Festival Village, with food offerings from 12pm daily and bars opening from 4.30pm.

    The City of Sydney has set up the Lawn Library, giving bookworms a unique outdoor, open-air library - no musty smells here.

    Folk in a Box at Festival Village, Hyde Park
    There's the "world's smallest music venue", Folk in a Box, where audiences of maximum two people enter a dark box to be serenaded by a live musician.

    It's a bit strange but the box is covered in notes of thank you and praise for the musicians, and everyone comes out smiling.

    Food trucks at Festival Village, Hyde Park
    As for food and drink options, there's plenty on offer, though not without queues. There are a range of dedicated stalls and a few food trucks; Jafe Jaffles and Let's Do Yum Cha on Friday night.

    Festival Village, Hyde Park
    Food Society has the biggest food offerings with burgers and other bits, while the booze sponsors each have dedicated bars.

    Woofys sausage sizzle cart
    We thought we'd give gourmet sausage sizzle a whirl as I've not come across the Woofys cart before.

    With four varieties on offer, each featuring a prime cut beef sausage, it was several steps up from the fundraising sausages and priced at $8 a serve.

    The Corker (front) and Nacho Dog (back left) from Woofys
    For starters, they were good quality beef sausages, cooked from raw, served on a soft white bun.

    The Corker featured creamy cabbage slaw and crispy fried onions and tomato sauce, while the Nacho Dog had guacamole, sour cream, crushed cheesy corn chips and chilli sauce.

    The Boss Dog from Woofys
    While I couldn't quite pick a favourite, the Boss Dog was a definite winner with slices of tart pickles, sauerkraut, American mustard, tomato sauce and crisp fried onions.

    Gelato Messina stall
    For post-show dessert we couldn't go past Gelato Messina's fun, carnival-inspired sweet treats. There's actually quite an extensive menu including hot dogs with a chocolate ice cream sausage, Pluto Pups with ice cream centres and ice cream sundaes in fantastic Messina style.

    Fairy floss at Gelato Messina

    Samurai Fairy Ball from Gelato Messina
    The child in me insisted on having the fairy floss dessert, called the Samurai Fairy Ball. The pink floss covers a chocolate-covered pop of light green yuzu sorbet in a sugar frenzy that's just out of this world.

    Gelatoffee Apple from Gelato Messina
    The Gelatoffee Apple also features an ice cream centre: a super fresh strawberry flavour on this occasion in a red toffee shell, gorgeously fun and slightly messy to eat.

    The Spiegeltent entrance
    We saw the amazing Amanda Palmer in the Spiegeltent on Friday night, who absolutely killed it with her solo cabaret show.

    The Spiegeltent is one of my all-time favourite venues and I'm looking forward to seeing LIMBO there this week and then All That Fall, Othello: The Remix and Ockham's Razor after, and the whimsical Merchant's Store installation in Darling Harbour. I've got my Sydney Festival on!

    See more Sydney Festival photos on my Facebook page.

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    The breadth of the Level5 food offerings at Westfield Sydney means that there's always something I haven't yet tried.

    Jones the Grocer took over the prime restaurant spot on Level 5 about a year ago with a luxury grocery offering, bakery and restaurant – and I've been jonesing to get there to see how the space has changed.

    Restaurant dining area at Jones the Grocer, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
    I visited for a pre-Christmas dinner last year when the shopping centre was filled with retail frenzy and the dining space at Jones the Grocer was a haven from most of it; a frazzled staff member aside.

    The well-spaced restaurant area behind the food "emporium" is a particularly warm and inviting setting with the feeling of a posh home highlighted by a long open kitchen and dark timber furniture.

    Seats by the window have the added benefit, or distraction, of looking across into a gym where classes take place while you eat and drink.

    Shiraz and Pipsqueak apple cider
    Maybe it's just all in my head but I think wine always looks and tastes better out of Plumm wine glasses, especially when it’s a bold Aussie shiraz.

    There are, rightfully, a lot of Australian options on the drinks list and the food menu follows with a modern Australian bent (read: a bit of Asian, a bit of Mediterranean, a bit of this and that – all tempting and delicious-sounding).

    Angel hair pasta with blue swimmer crab, chilli, rocket, garlic and grana padano
    A popular starter is surprisingly a pasta entrée, with its promise of picked blue swimmer crab in a classic and fresh combination of rocket, garlic, chilli and parmesan cheese.

    The thin angel hair pasta noodles, almost resembling vermicelli, were a good, light carrier for the quintessentially Australian yet Italian flavours.

    Salt and pepper squid, yuzu mayonnaise, Thai herb salad dressed
    with tamarind, chilli and lime sauce
    I went for Sydney’s ubiquitous salt and pepper squid with south-east Asian influences. Crumbed curls of a dark, deep fried squid were plentiful among a Thai-inspired salad with plenty of green herbs, bean sprouts and a light dressing of sweet tamarind, chilli and lime.

    Both entrées were very generous in size and at the height of freshness; embracing a modern Australian ethos with flavours from around the world.

    Duck leg confit with French lentils, apple and spinach salad with grape seed dressing
    To France for my main with the most perfect confit duck Maryland, hidden beneath a pile of spinach and apple salad.

    The duck was probably one of the best renditions of confit I've had: crisp skin, perfectly rendered, and soft, yielding flesh that was not too salty, paired classically with braised lentils.

    The leafy, dressed salad with apple matchsticks – admittedly, presented all over the top of the duck – added a required sweet and tart lightness to the overall dish.

    Free-range slow roasted pork cutlet with carrot puree, poached prune and shaved cabbage pangrattato salad
    An impressively-sized pork cutlet was our other main, served with a creamy carrot puree, a few plumply poached prunes and a salad of shaved cabbage, fresh herbs and toasted breadcrumbs. Presentation seemed to follow a somewhat haphazard philosophy, with the salad again all over the top.

    There was a sad lack of crackling, with a rubbery, fatty rind of skin attached to the thick pork cutlet instead although the pork was at least juicy and tender.

    Stir fried broccolini
    While the main dishes are quite complete with vegetable additions, we upped the green count with broccolini stems, stir fried with simply with oil.

    Glazed lemon tart with confit citrus and creme fraiche
    Dessert was probably not necessary following the big meals but we were tempted enough to try the glazed lemon tart. With burnished lemon curd top in a short pastry crust, the tart wedge was served with a variety of citrus segments and a quenelle of crème fraiche.

    We also had a trio of sorbets as another dessert with refreshing renditions of each passionfruit, raspberry and mango sorbets.

    I'm not sure if it is intended, but there's an air of 'something for everyone' at Jones the Grocer. Even the kids menu was impressive and clearly not an afterthought; hence, quite a few tables of families with young children.

    And then there's food for take-home purchase, the bakery offerings and an impressive cheese cabinet that has me jonesing to get back for more.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Jones the Grocer as a guest, with thanks to Cav Con.

    Jones the Grocer on Urbanspoon


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    The hype about Surry Hills café, coffee roastery and all-round hipster haunt, Reuben Hills, is alive and well more than one year into the business.

    The 20-minute Saturday morning wait for a table for two is not nearly as bad as the wait for larger tables, but gave us the opportunity to walk around this less commercial and infinitely more interesting and character-filled area of Surry Hills.

    Salted caramel milkshake (top) and piccolo latte (bottom)
    from Reuben Hills, Albion Street, Surry Hills
    On return from our walkabout, we were seated in the middle of the long space, right near the kitchen and espresso machine where baristas knock out dine-in and takeaway coffees with as much care as a master artist. From the way they pour hot, frothed milk to the way they place a teacup on a saucer just so, you can tell that they care about their coffee – and so should you.

    That said, their salted caramel milkshake absolutely blows their piccolo latte out of the water. It's sweet but not too sweet with deep, almost burnt caramel notes, and the salt level is just right. I don't care if salted caramel is the latest, greatest, overused ingredient – it was milkshake perfection.

    Back lane entrance
    As we waited for food (which doesn't take long at all), we sat admiring Reuben Hills' patrons, staff and impressive fitout, while enjoying the old school RnB songs that dominate the play list.

    Upstairs
    The space is way-too-cool-for-school chic, with industrial touches like the back laneway roller door contrasting with a huge bunch of fresh flowers on the end communal table.

    The upstairs, visible through all the exposed brickwork and wooden ceiling beams, is home to the roastery, Friday morning cupping classes and other coffee nerd-ery that's beyond me.

    Really  fxxxxxg great fried chicken with chilli in a basket
    The all-day menu allowed us the luxury, and guilt, of fried chicken for breakfast; served atop a plain tortilla with pale green guindilla-style pickled chillies and dipping sauces of salsa and flavoured mayonnaise.

    The fried chicken is really quite good, but I'm not sure it reaches the levels of "fxxxxxg great". The juicy, boneless chicken thigh comes in a lightly spiced batter, not unlike a certain fast food joint though more crisp, and while I loved the pickled chillies, the salsa sauce lacked any kick.

    Short rib burger with garlic ranch dressing and potato salad
    The sandwich offerings are particularly tempting but I was sold on the prospect of a short rib burger, although it no longer appears on the menu now.

    I’m a bit over seeing brioche burger buns, but here it was with fatty, grilled strips of beef short rib with a shredded potato salad and creamy, garlic-spiked ranch dressing. Flavour-wise it was a pretty good combination of fat, carbs and protein, though a heavy one for breakfast.

    Doggs breakfast - ice cream sandwich with salted caramel
    We went the whole way with the guilt-laden breakfast, finishing with the Doggs breakfast dessert of an ice cream sandwich, featuring vanilla ice cream bookended with a rather dry, unexciting chocolate brownie/cake.

    On lovable enamel plates with matching chipped enamel cutlery, the dessert relied completely on the generous quenelle of gooey salted caramel, which becomes pleasurably too much about half way through, but you just keep going anyway.

    Reuben Hills is undoubtedly livening up a quieter end of Surry Hills, with its coffee and decent eats coming in just under the hype, queues and fitout.

    Reuben Hills on Urbanspoon

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    It's 11pm, you're in the inner west suburbs and you've been drinking - beer, wine and sake. You're hungry and the fridge is empty. The pizza you tried to order online is in Burwood, Victoria.

    This situation found us walking into Ceci in Strathfield minutes before the staff turned over the hanging sign to say 'closed'. There were a couple of other tables eating studiously - Korean students, a young family, some older Korean gentlemen - with the stone hot pots proving popular.

    Banchan starter dishes at Ceci, The Boulevard, Strathfield
    The menu features both barbeque and hot pot items quite extensively, but it was post drinking food and carbohydrates we were after.

    The banchan starter dishes couldn't come out fast enough for us, with a quintet of mostly vegetables and a dipping sauce, presumably for one of our later orders.

    Two pieces of pale potato didn't go between four people but there was nothing too interesting or seconds-inspiring among the bean sprouts, zucchini or mung bean jelly, other than the excellently chilli-spiced cabbage kimchi.

    Seafood and shallot pancake
    Korean seafood pancakes, or haemul jeon, are one of my absolute favourite foods so it was with some disappointment that we received a pale, soggy one.

    Filled with shallots, squid and prawns, neither the soy dipping sauce or chilli bean sauce could really save the barely cooked batter.

    Seafood noodles
    Better were the seafood noodles, with a similar showing of seafood among the thick white rice noodles. Cooked with carrot, bean sprouts, zucchini and shallots in a plain, homely flavouring; the noodles were on the mark after a few drinks.

    Fried chicken wings
    Last to arrive were burning hot chicken mid-wings and drumettes. Battered and straight out of the deep fryer, the chicken wings suffered from a major lack of seasoning, salt even, and it was probably one of the few times I haven't enjoyed fried chicken of any sort.

    Perhaps the restaurant's specialty is in Korean hot pots or barbeque, which are promoted on staff T-shirts. But for "where's-my-pizza"-style post-drinking eats, Ceci was a late night saviour.

    Ceci on Urbanspoon

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    Sydney hasn't really seen anything like Vapiano, with its cook-to-order Italian food stations and smart-card billing and payment system.

    Originating from Germany, Vapiano is a global franchise chain of "fresh casual" Italian restaurants that has some impressive reach around the world: more than 120 outlets in 26 countries on four continents.

    Vapiano Sydney, Grace Hotel, corner York and King Streets, Sydney
    In Australia since 2009, having opened initially in Brisbane, Gold Coast and then Melbourne, the Vapiano Sydney restaurant opened in December 2013 in the gorgeous art deco styled Grace Hotel in the CBD; a good 11 years since the first-ever Vapiano opened in Hamburg, Germany.

    Enter from the corner of York and King Streets, and be greeted by signature pale wood furnishings and pots of fresh basil throughout the venue, and the Vapianisti – as employees of the restaurant are called – who provide smart-cards and seat diners.

    Pasta kitchen stations
    The Vapiano smart-card is essentially an electronic bill that totals up orders as diners move, order and collect food from a number of kitchen stations in the centre of the restaurant: for antipasti and salads, pizza, pasta, drinks and desserts.

    Swipe your card as you order and pay a collective bill at the end. It's almost like the casual dining version of Asian hawker stalls, with no waiters or runners, and cooked-to-order Italian offerings instead.

    Bar
    The ground floor is an amazing space with lots of natural light, high ceilings and art deco features from its Grace Hotel corner home. There’s plenty of seating: an entire upstairs dining area, low tables and high stools surrounding the kitchens, and even basil pot-laden tables outside on the sectioned-off footpath.

    Inside, the tall table with stools was a little awkward with mushroom lamps and pots of basil down the middle of the table obscuring views of your fellow diner across (perhaps designed for that specific reason).

    Downstairs dining space
    Meanwhile the table space was not friendly to the numerous, long-handled, wooden boards that various antipasti are served upon.

    The Vapiano food concept is the same the world over: fresh Italian cuisine, made onsite and in most instances, prepared or cooked to order – fast and in front of you.

    Pasta and desserts are made fresh daily in the restaurant while pizza dough, sauces and dressings are all prepared in-house. Produce is sourced locally, and wherever possible, within 150 kilometres from each restaurant.

    Antipasti plate (small)
    We started with a small antipasti board; a generous platter featuring a rounded offering of cured meats, vegetables, cheese and bread. Both the prosciutto and fat-studded salami were winners, while there were no complaints about the buffalo mozzarella and parmesan – which are not often seen together.

    The tomato and basil bruschetta, green olives, sun-dried tomatoes and extra bread rounded out the platter which is ideal for sharing among at least three people.

    Insalata Caprese
    We also had the Caprese salad of the same buffalo mozzarella (never quite as good as when in Italy), not the ripest tomato slices and basil with more thick-sliced bread on the side.

    Bruschetta pizza
    A hearing/ordering mistake saw us with the simple bruschetta pizza (instead of prosciutto pizza). It featured classic bruschetta toppings and rocket on a traditional tomato base with melted mozzarella cheese.

    The pizza had a decent crust and base, but I would recommend much more exciting toppings than simply diced tomato, garlic, rocket and parmesan cheese.

    Pasta menu
    There's a great range of in-house made pasta on offer, with two spelt varieties too. All pasta dishes also come with a slice of bread for that carb-on-carb action.

    A good Bolognese sauce is the hallmark of any quality Italian eatery (or home cook) and so I ordered Vapiano's rendition with my selection of linguine.

    Pasta cooked to order
    You can actually stay and watch as your chosen sauce gets heated on wok-like pans on the stove, with the Vapiano chefs adding ingredients, seasonings of choice and finally, pasta which is firstly cooked alongside.

    Linguine bolognaise
    Garnished with a line of parmesan cheese and a basil leaf, the Bolognese was surprisingly lacking in depth, as if it was made only minutes ago. It also seemed to feature diced carrot and cherry tomatoes over anything else in the sweet ragu.

    It was a little bit sad, especially as the just over al dente linguine cooled and started to stick together in large clumps.

    Ravioli con carne
    Much better was the ravioli with a Bolognese meat filling. There was better seasoning and flavour to both the pasta parcels and the sauce which had cream in addition to classic tomato-based sauce ingredients.

    Innocent Bystander moscato 
    It was pleasing to see Australian drops like the cult-favourite Innocent Bystander moscato on offer by the glass (in two sizes, too), while the cocktail menu probably needs a bit of help to compete with any nearby bars.

    Cheesecake
    From the dessert bar we opted for the jar-contained cheesecake with mango jelly on top; a generously sized sweet treat with minimal biscuit crumb base.

    Strawberry pannacotta
    The vanilla bean speckled pannacotta was more a creamy than wobbly version, with a lightness that was quite appropriate after a fair bit of cheese and carbohydrates.

    Vapiano pasta station
    Vapiano undeniably has a fast food feeling, albeit a fresh one, but one which I would have thought is a little at odds with the Grace Hotel offering (back in 2012, the guys behind the acclaimed Bentley Restaurant were slated to take over the space).

    I couldn't shake the feeling of being at a Sizzler or a back-in-the-day Pizza Hut style restaurant, where you grab food from different stations (though not all-you-can-eat in this instance). The panels promoting the menu and ingredients above the cooking stations add to the franchise feel, although the many, many pots of basil help greatly with the general feeling of freshness and greenness.

    As we left a tourist couple walked in, sharing that they were familiar with the concept from their home of Sweden; comfortably grabbing their smart-card in preparation for an almost self-serve lunch.

    Vapiano's European roots obviously run deeper than their Australian offshoots so far, but in an increasingly globalised world there seems to be a place for franchised, fast and fresh food – for global customers at the very least.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Vapiano as a guest, with thanks to Open Haus.

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  • 02/02/14--12:48: Nomad: Wander in and lust
  • I was smitten by Nomad on first appearances alone. Drawn into the restaurant the first time by familiar faces in the Foster Street window counter seats, it was a joy to marvel at such an ambitious set-up: a bustling and welcoming open kitchen; a dedicated cheese and charcuterie room on one side; and multi-faceted dining arrangements spread around the former warehouse space.

    Charcuterie and cheese room
    On return another night to the luxuriously vast restaurant, filled with covetable furniture and pretty crockery, we nabbed one of the last seats for two, sans booking, before a walk-in waitlist formed.

    Sitting at the wide drinks bar, a full section away from the kitchen counter seats, it was some of the most ample tabletop space I've ever experienced – for dining tables generally, let alone a countertop.

    It's also a good perch to watch the happenings of the bar, front dining space, walk-in crowd, and yonder kitchen with a glimpse of the long group tables around the side.

    Wine and water
    There are many reasons to like, or at least be interested, in Nomad. The owner is a former Toko owner; the young gun chef has worked with Neil Perry and Heston Blumenthal; there's a wood-fire oven in the kitchen; and the offering is billed as 'food, wine and cellar door'.

    The wine focus is obvious in the menu which commences with a full-page winemaker feature then two pages of wines – all offered by the glass and listed with their respective winemakers. Bar staff will happily provide tastings before you order a glass even, although the full cellar door concept is yet to come to fruition.

    We had water – iced, not the "ambient" option – and the McLaren Vale Dowie Doole 2013 Chenin Blanc which was just a little too young with acidic green fruity notes.

    Nomad pickles and olives
    Much has been made about the fact that a lot of the menu at Nomad comprises house-made produce: the pickles, vinegar, charcuterie and bread for starters.

    The bowl of pickles included cabbage, ribbons of carrot, whole radishes, skinned cucumber, very sour and seemingly de-coloured beetroot, and my favourite, the turmeric-tinged cauliflower.

    The accompanying dish of olives held a range of olives in the full range of sizes, most of them the tiny ones.

    House made Nomad charcuterie 
    I get pretty excited about charcuterie generally but both the artisanal and local qualities of the Nomad charcuterie selection has no peer in Sydney.

    We had a selection of six cured meats on, basically, a treated slice of a tree. There was sausage-y mortadella in the middle, pale pink fennel salami, sensational bastourma cured beef, another peppercorn-studded salami which I didn't quite catch in the waitress' spiel, chilli salami and fatty lardo.

    I jealously spied nduja salami paste on another platter later in the evening, so there must be a rotating, dynamic range of charcuterie on offer at any point in the day.

    Woodfired sourdough, black salt butter
    Awkwardly, the charcuterie does not come with bread but a single order of soft house-made sourdough bread, served as half a slice, comes quickly enough along with a circle of house-churned butter "inoculated" with black salt from Cyprus.

    Foie gras and chicken liver parfait, radish, Iranian plum
    The parfait, however, does arrive with toasted and unnecessarily buttered sourdough. The single parfait quenelle, at $26, is served with pickled radish and tiny chillies, and a dab of jammy Iranian plum conserve.

    The parfait combining foie gras and chicken liver was stellar – so creamy and rich in mouthfeel, impeccably smooth and a dish that's turning around my opinion of liver, albeit at a high cost.

    Smoked wagyu tongue, mojo verde
    Still from the smalls menu, we were keen to see how the wagyu tongue would be served. Unexpectedly, it was presented on a single skewer with thin, folded slices pierced and served with a peppy sauce of what seemed to be chopped pickled chillies and coriander.

    The smoked tongue was grilled for crisp surfaces and was deliciously, if not astoundingly, tender; basted with a sweet sauce not unlike barbeque sauce. In fact, my initial thought after having a piece of tongue reminded me of pizza of a barbeque 'meat lovers' style – and I loved it; the tongue, that is.

    BBQ carrots, almond dukkah, labne
    From the menu of larger plates, we had barbeque carrots – whole baby ones and squat, little, almost-round ones, garnished with their own green tops and a nutty dukkah.

    The carrots were great – soft and earthily sweet – but I was enamoured with the piped labne strained yoghurt cheese. It was really a match made in food heaven, though for me it became more a labne dish with carrots than the other way around.

    Wood roasted pork, silver beet, mojo potatoes
    We went for the wood roasted pork belly as a shared main, which arrived in two parts: four thin slices of pork with wilted silverbeet and a bowl of fried kipfler potatoes with a spiced capsicum-like red sauce.

    The pork had a fair bit of fat and delightful crackling, and was seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil so simply so as to almost verge on plain, especially compared to the spirited, thick sauce on the potatoes.

    Roundstone 2012 Gamay Noir
    The Vinoque Roundstone 2012 Gamay Noir (from the De Bortoli winery) was an interesting, self-selected match to the pork, with spicy notes in the medium-bodied red against the fat of the pork.

    I had really wanted to try one of the house-made cheeses as dessert, though my eating capacity had other ideas, and so I'm sensibly leaving that for next time. And there most certainly will be next times.

    Pickles in jars
    Nomad is the whole package. It's the restaurant, food and wine experience I look for when I eat out with a bit of money to spend. The space and crowd are both very Sydney-right-now and perhaps a little pretentiously so.

    But the food is interestingly clever yet heart warming and belly lining, and comes out from the kitchen super fast. You'll probably never see more wines offered by the glass in a restaurant and once the cellar door comes in, it will bring a new dimension to city dining.

    I adored sitting at the bar where we weren't at all rushed (though it seems there are set sitting times for certain bookings) and honestly, I may have settled in for the night were there not a queue at the door. Wander in to Nomad, and see if you lust it like I do.

    Nomad on Urbanspoon

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    With a rush of casual but gourmet burger joints opening last year, Sydney’s burger craze has possibly turned into a burger habit.

    It's more than possible to have a different gourmet burger every night of the week, if one were so inclined, but few are as striking as Parlour Burger's Black Widow burger.

    The Black Widow burger - charcoal bun with ground beef and extra hot sauce
    from Parlour Burger, George Street, Sydney
    The Black Widow is the creation of chef Sean Connolly, of the adjoining The Morrison and Auckland's The Grill by Sean Connolly and formerly of Astral.

    The enchanting, inky black hue of the burger bun comes from vegetable-based charcoal incorporated into the bread dough and its novelty alone warrants an order. It sandwiches a thick, pink-centred ground beef patty with decent fat and flavour, and is accompanied by tomato and an iceberg lettuce leaf.

    The menu lists the Black Widow with an "extra hot sauce" but I would barely call the dollop of creamy, orange-hued sauce hot (let alone extra hot), giving a small but good kick to the beef.

    Sparkling wine
    Parlour Burger is super casual: order and pay at the bar from a menu of five burgers and sides, and grab a number and a drink. The space is a little dark and dingy, with a pub sports bar feel remaining from its former life as the Brooklyn Hotel.

    Chicken and quinoa burger with caesar dressing
    The chicken burger featured a quinoa crumbed fillet that verged on a little dry, propped up with creamy Caesar dressing and lettuce on a well-sized, undramatically-coloured brioche bun (it's probably a bit on the smaller side, especially for guys with big appetites).

    Deep fried pickles
    It's almost a must to complement your burger order with a side or two. I eschewed chef Connolly's signature duck fat chips in favour of deep-fried pickles, and what a great decision that was.

    An old-fashioned, thick and crunchy (beer?) batter encased sweet gherkin pickles and, surprisingly, it was a beautiful albeit oily side that needed no condiment.

    Cabbage and parmesan slaw
    The slaw side was somewhat underwhelming in comparison, but at least healthy with a light, vinegary dressing over shredded cabbage and Spanish onion, all topped with grated parmesan cheese.

    Well located for CBD rat racers, Parlour Burger is a good, quick, cheap option for when that burger craving strikes – and the Black Widow is well worth hitting up.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Parlour Burger as a guest, with thanks to Savannah PR.

    Parlour Burger on Urbanspoon

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  • 02/10/14--13:39: Postcards from Rome - part I
  • Posted by Jan


    Il Colosseo - the world famous Colosseum, Rome, Italy

    Fontana di Trevi - Trevi Fountain

    Foro Romano - The Roman Forum

    Basilica di San Pietro - St Peter's Basilica after midnight mass on Christmas Eve
    I've always thought that I would only go to Italy when I felt ready for it. To me, France and Italy were always going to be serious food destinations that I could never experience properly without spending months and years there, in the romantic style of Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence".

    Rainbow Christmas lights on Via del Corso
    We chose two weeks in Rome because it met the important criteria of delicious food and a mild European winter, and it was well suited to our random exploration style in getting to know a city.

    Modern and old blend together at the Vatican Museum
    I have to confess that it sometimes got a bit overwhelming. The sheer number of things to see and do made me feel like I was never going to get through all the key sites, especially since I had such a long list of food to eat.

    Knife-cut "Prosciutti" (Parma ham)

    Pizza by weight from Pizzarium
    In Italy, ordering anything but an espresso after 11am is a big no no. It's pretty hard to get a bad coffee in Italy but the ordering system baffles me. In some instances I had to pre-pay for my coffee before ordering at the bar. Other times, I got the 'chill out, have a coffee first' look. The only thing I know for sure is that coffee always costs more if you sit down at a table. 

    The sights of Rome on sugar sachets
    Drinking a few espressos a day sounds like a recipe for insomnia. But as the coffee is weaker than what we have come to expect in Australia, it allowed for multiple espresso breaks all day long which was essential when battling the hordes of fellow tourists got a little too much.

    Sunset over the Tiber River
    It is difficult to describe Rome. It's magical, dirty, noisy, serene, new and old. It was an assault on my senses but also restorative to my soul. I miss the Eternal City already. And the carbonara, but that's a story for another time.

    More postcards from Rome to come.

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    I don't think there can be too many complaints about Sydney's summer this year – there have been so many glorious, blue-skied beach days, albeit many wasted in the office. That aside, I was delighted to have made it to picturesque Balmoral Beach one weekend to dine at the waterfront Public Dining Room.

    Inside Public Dining Room, The Esplanade, Balmoral Beach
    Named for its earlier heritage as public baths, Public Dining Room occupies an expansive, light-filled space looking out to the water. Nearby parking isn't fun but the natural, Scandinavian-look fitout makes for a perfect beachside haven and builds on the menu's fine yet casual approach.

    Fried whitebait, aioli, lemon
    As is the desire for waterfront dining, there's a strong seafood presence on the menu with heavy hints of the Mediterranean, particularly Italian cuisine.

    We started with an Aussie sauvignon blanc that tasted a little too young and acidic, although this was placated by the pretty display of lightly fried whole whitebait in a fryer basket.

    From the snacks menu, these little fish were fantastically fresh on their own in a pale, crisp batter, lifted to great heights with fresh lemon and a dip into thick, creamy aioli.

    Seared scallops, chorizo, red pepper, pickled cauliflower
    From the tempting entrée menu but requested in a main size, the seared scallops were served in a pretty array alongside diced chorizo and red capsicum with tiny florets of pickled cauliflower, all atop green swirls of what could have been an avocado puree.

    'Melting' Huon Valley Tasmanian salmon (sous vide), snow pea puree, shimeji mushroom, beurre blanc and hazelnut
    The salmon main was a sight to behold – not a carbon copy grilled salmon main as is ubiquitous through Sydney, but a thoughtful and creative construction featuring sous vide slow-cooked Huon Valley salmon that really did melt in the mouth.

    The fish fillet was served with its own skin – artfully deep fried to golden crisps – a chlorophyl-green snow pea puree and a salad of shimeji mushrooms, snow peas and baby spinach leaves. A foamy beurre blanc butter sauce brought additional flavour to the fish, while a trail of crumbled hazelnuts added texture, perhaps unnecessarily.

    Brodetto - Italian seafood soup, NZ clams, octopus, white fish, prawns, scallops, bruschetta 
    Despite the warm day outside, I couldn't resist ordering the brodetto Italian seafood soup, with an envy-inducing variety of seafood in a tomato-based broth, served with toasted bread on the side.

    Heavily fragrant with fresh dill, the dish featured a wonderful showcase of Australasian seafood: New Zealand clams and mussels, tender slices of octopus tentacles, pieces of salmon and a white fish, a couple of scallops and a large peeled prawn. To me, it represented a bowl of Australian waterside dining.

    Too eager to check out the beach, we skipped dessert in favour of Gaytimes and Calippos later in the day on the beach. On a perfect Sydney beach day, I'm more than open to the idea of returning to Public Dining Room.

    Public Dining Room on Urbanspoon

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    In a sign of the ongoing rejuvenation of not-so-grungy-anymore Newtown, there's a new head chef at the relatively new Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen, perched above the recently renovated Marlborough Hotel.

    Young chef Hamish Francis-Martin comes from Chippendale's Freda's and before that, Bloodwood, Bodega and Porteño.

    The bar at Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen, Missenden Road, Newtown
    It's some serious pedigree heading up the busy kitchen that pumps out 'soul food'– that Southern American brand of comfort food that isn't necessarily healthy, but sure can be craving-inducing.

    There are plenty of dishes on the summer menu at Miss Peaches that bring a smile to my belly, including po' boys, fried chicken and mac and cheese.

    Colourful seating
    Miss Peaches occupies a fantastic and large upstairs space, decorated and themed to the max. With colourful seating, brick walls with vintage branding, Edison globes and retro signs everywhere, it's a fun blend of (probably stereotypical) Americana with Sydney pop style.

    Wall decor and seating

    Table place number

    Mississippi Sour (left) and Watermelon Ruby Fizz (right)
    We started with cocktails from a page filled with fun names, ingredients and concoctions. The cooling Watermelon Ruby Fizz was perfect for the humid evening featuring a house-made watermelon soda shaken with Tanqueray gin, sloe gin and lemon juice.

    The Mississippi Sour, served cutely in a not-vintage jar, was a stronger but still sweet cocktail with Laird's applejack, lemon juice, bitters and a honey ginger syrup.

    Sarsaparilla glazed fried chicken pieces
    It wasn't long at all before our Southern feast began to arrive, starting with two pieces of fried chicken that easily rivalled the Colonel's.

    The chicken drumstick and thigh portions were both mouthwateringly juicy and crunchy in a spiced batter, with a light Sarsaparilla glaze that added sweetness and a new dimension to southern fried chicken.

    Mac'n'cheese
    The side order of macaroni and cheese arrived early in the game and disappeared from the oval dish as quickly as it arrived.

    The soft pasta was rich with a smooth sauce of gruyere, cheddar and parmesan cheeses and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs and chives, it was about as perfect a rendition as imaginable, only improved with Miss Peaches' house hot sauce.

    Bug pies - Moreton Bay bug tails and creamed corn in puff pastry 
    Perhaps a close substitute for crawfish, I was not going to miss the shellfish action of the Moreton Bay bug pie.

    Bug pie innards
    Resembling an empanada, the oily puff pastry casing was filled with a creamy, not spicy mix of corn and small pieces of bug flesh which were delightfully sweet. Though a little light on bug flesh, the overall "pie" was a moreish few mouthfuls which I’d happily have again and again.

    Shrimp po' boy - beer and butter braised shrimp with fennel slaw on brioche
    I was hanging out for some po' boy action – fried seafood in a roll is certainly drinking food to me. However, it seems in the menu update the "shrimp" had transformed from a battered and fried option, to being braised in beer and butter.

    Generous with whole prawns and served with a fennel slaw in a soft brioche roll, the overall po' boy didn't lack flavour but it didn't have the naughty crunch I was looking for in what I think was my first ever po' boy.

    Shrimp clemenceau'd - prawns, BBQ corn, roast kipflers, swiss browns, king browns, citrus and sage
    Listed in the salads section, the shrimp clemenceau'd resembled the contents of a seafood boil with whole prawns, boiled potatoes and fresh corn from the cob, tossed with sections of king brown mushrooms and orange segments.

    Garnished with fresh dill and chives, it was certainly not a traditional salad but proffered some interesting, relatively clean flavours.

    Spice blackened fish fried with lightly pickled cucumber and red pepper salad
    From the larger main-sized dishes, the black spice-coated barramundi fillet is excellent value in the mid-teens as it's an entire, petite, healthy and fresh main meal.

    The black-surfaced grilled fish was packed with not particularly discernable flavours and went surprisingly well with ribbons of pickled cucumber, while the barely spicy jalapeño ranch sauce brought a welcome, creamy note to the dish.

    Scallop gumbo
    With two options for the house signature of gumbo, we elected the seafood choice topped with three grilled scallops.

    The thick, spiced tomato-based soup was a shallow bowl of discovery: first, soft okra slices and other diced vegetables, then white rice in the bottom of the well-balanced soupy dish garnished with fresh coriander, dill and chives.

    DJ booth
    By 8.00pm the bar was absolutely pumping with Saturday night drinks orders while food continued to fly out of the kitchen.

    With the DJ in full party swing and the crowd at peak volume, the window booth seats are probably best for diners, while drinkers flock to the outdoor balcony looking out onto Missenden Road.

    Outdoor balcony
    It seems the only constant in Newtown is change, but with soul-warming food and drink offerings at Miss Peaches, it's all peachy for now.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen as a guest.

    Miss Peaches on Urbanspoon


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    I get stuck with ordering my favourite dishes sometimes, none more obvious than when I'm having northern Chinese food.

    With a large, enticing menu at Seabay Handmade Noodles in Burwood, I found myself gravitating towards the cucumber salad, pan fried dumplings and zhajiang noodles– which is precisely what we ordered.

    Cucumber salad from Seabay Handmade Noodles, Burwood Road, Burwood
    The generous cucumber salad was slightly different to what I'm used to (and the one I've started to make at home) but no less satisfying and refreshing.

    With tomato wedges as well as smashed pieces of cucumber, the vinegar dressing leaned towards tart, with soy sauce and chilli aromas following close behind, garnished with shallots and coriander leaves.

    Pan fried pork dumplings
    The pan fried pork dumplings at Seabay looked the goods with thin dough wrappers cooked to golden bottoms. The minced pork filling lacked a little on seasoning – perhaps a flavour on top of pork, like sesame, ginger or coriander, may have elevated the little parcels of pork.

    Zhajiang noodes
    The feature dish had to be the zhajiang noodles with the fresh, house-made pulled noodles. Cooked to a particularly chewy state, the noodles of varying thickness soaked in a flavour-packed bean sauce of minced pork, tomato, shallots and a requested chilli addition.

    The julienned cucumber was great for contrasting texture and freshness when mixed into the noodles, while also cooling some of the chilli heat.

    Quick and cheerful, Seabay Handmade Noodles delivered favourites that I'm stuck on – not for safety's sake but just because they're so darn good.

    Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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    The Redfern small bar scene has a new first mate - The Angry Pirate on Redfern Street recently joined the burgeoning community along with nearby small bars Arcadia Liquors, The Dock and Hustle & Flow Bar.

    Reaching Redfern's shores in December 2013, The Angry Pirate takes a kitsch-free approach to its theme with just a few parrots for colour, and bar and tabletops made impressively of aged wood beams sourced from what was once a Pyrmont wharf and a former Sydney ferry.

    The bar at The Angry Pirate, Redfern Street, Redfern
    The bar's name comes from a Captain Pugwash episode that owner Peter Groom and his co-owner mate happened to be watching as the bar was coming together. This merriness and light-heartedness transfers to the cocktail menu which lists classics and crowd-favourites with a pirate twist.

    Grog Zombie
    The Grog Zombie is served in a fabulously vibrant tiki cup and features The Angry Pirate's own 'grog' - spiced rum that's aged in oak. It's shaken with a tropical array of pineapple juice, passionfruit puree, lemon and lime juices and house bitters, served with a flaming passionfruit cup of a rum float.

    Surprisingly, the Zombie's not overly rum strong but is heavy on the passionfruit, and completely and utterly appropriate as a drink to start the night - just remember to blow out the flame before sipping from the straws.

    Pirate's Tea Party
    The tall, icy Pirate's Tea Party cocktail is a refreshing concoction of vodka, gin and rum with elderflower and iced tea classics of lemon and mint and just a hint of earl grey tea. Its lightness is ideal to wash down the complimentary bowl of buttery, spiced popcorn.

    Angry and Sour
    Sounding a bit like a dumped partner, the Angry and Sour is the bar's take on an amaretto sour with the sweet addition of pomegranate liqueur. Shaken with amaretto, rum and lime, the vanilla and egg white foam join for a smooth, creamy finish to the tangy, slightly nutty cocktail.

    The Angry Pirate front
    If you don't feel like walking the cocktail plank, The Angry Pirate has uber-local beers on tap - Newtown's Young Henry's or Chippendale's Grifter Brewing - as well as plenty by the bottle, and a brief but interesting selection of wines all available by the glass.

    The menu talks pirate, as does a 'sail' that acts as the bar's front curtain, while there's an adorable lounge set up at the back of the bar with barrels for tables and other cute but not over-the-top pirate-ness.

    Hispaniola pizza
    There must be an true Italian pirate in the galley as The Angry Pirate's food menu exclusively comprises house-made pizzas, and they're pretty legitimate. They're thin, a bit pale but with a fantastically chewy base, and all have San Marzano tomato bases and use fior di latte cow's milk mozzarella.

    Our Hispaniola selection comes with a scattering of properly spicy, hot Spanish chorizo, cut moderately thick and crisp from its short time in the oven. It makes for a good drinking partner between two and there are plenty of options, including vegetarian toppings and even a vegan cheese option.

    "Polly want a cracker?"
    If The Angry Pirate is anything to go by, it looks like it's going to be another big, fun, exciting (and ultimately, more sensible and responsible) year for small bars, especially as today marks the commencement of the state government's "tough" new legislation regarding licensing and the sale and service of alcohol.

    Excluding small bars, the sudden changes are going to make for an interesting couple of months, particularly in our city's busiest night spots. We'll all be watching closely with interest but for now, me hearties, get thee to The Angry Pirate for a cocktail, pizza and fun, responsible night out.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of The Angry Pirate.

    The Angry Pirate on Urbanspoon

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    My first visit to Bodega was approximately 7.5 years ago in 2006 when the Argentinian tapas bar first sprouted up on Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, just down from my former drinking hole corner pub.

    Indeed, it was my work farewell lunch and for most, our first taste of tapas that wasn't strictly Spanish. I remember being a little confused with lunch – or perhaps that was just my impending unemployment.

    Drinks at Bodega, Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
    In any case, it's taken me way too long to get back to Bodega. During that time they've expanded into the next door shop, gained a cult status among food-lovers and rockabillies alike, spawned a wildly successful sister restaurant in Porteño, and scored one hat in the latest Good Food Guide.

    I had some catching up to do so walked in on a recent Friday night to the best seats in the house: at the kitchen counter overlooking the chefs at work, including on this night owner Elvis Abrahanowicz while his wife and maitre d', the inimitable Sarah Doyle, was also on the floor.

    We started with the crisp bubbles of Cruzat Clasico and the Spanish Ambar 1900 Pale Ale while perusing the brief menu which sings and dances with creativity.

    Tinned white anchovies, fish pate & water crackers
    I'm slowly coming around to anchovies, especially when they're excellent specimens like the tin from Bodega on their tapas menu: lightly pickled in vinegar Spanish style and not particularly salty.

    Served on rulers of house made crackers, the anchovies were almost as delectable as the airy fish pate which, strange as it sounds, was sensational. With restrained fishy, savoury and creamy flavours spread on a cracker, I'm not sure I've ever had the pleasure of anything quite like Bodega's fish pate.

    Empanada filled with provolone
    Empanadas, and their dumpling-like derivatives, seem to be hot around town at the moment. Bodega's provolone-filled parcel of deep fried goodness didn't disappoint with its stringy cheese innards, although it lacked a sauce or salsa on the side.

    School prawns with curry mayonnaise
    One of the evening's specials, the whole fried school prawns arrived as a generous pile, garnished with sliced shallots and a huge dollop of curry-hued mayonnaise; the latter of which is a genius flavour combination.

    The prawns were wonderfully crisp, a few black heads aside, and were great drinking snacks that disappeared in a hurry.

    Dutch carrots, fried cauliflower, smoked labna, tahini & currants
    It would seem that standalone carrot dishes are making their mark on Sydney, with Bodega's featuring soft portions of the orange root vegetables with deep fried cauliflower florets, smoky labna yoghurt and sweet currants in a pool of a mild tahini sesame paste.

    I had wanted the carrot dish to be a bit like a side dish to the protein main we had ordered, although it was quite a while between dishes and so the carrots were devoured on their sweet lonesome.

    Corn tamale, fontina cheese, mole roja with chicken
    Emerging from the oven wrapped in a leaf, the tamale of smooth masa corn meal was filled with mild fontina cheese, fresh corn from the cob and tender chicken smothered in a complex mole sauce.

    With a liberal coriander garnish and fresh lemon on the side, the corn tamale was a fresh, filling package covering all the major food groups – carbs, dairy, vegetable and protein – and ideal for sharing between two.

    Crispy duck, scallops, chocolate mole, Old Bay apple
    Our final dish was the duck main, served with scallops in an chocolate mole sauce. I'd never thought I would have scallops with chocolate, though the sauce was better with the rich, crisp-skin duck pieces.

    The paper-thin rounds of apple were the only part that didn’t seem to work – while they added a refreshing tartness to the duck and sauce, the Old Bay seasoning on each slice was just way too salty to enjoy.

    We had forgotten to leave space and time for dessert on this occasion, and with a queue out the door, we didn't linger too long. But at least I've got Bodega's renowned dessert offerings, among other delicious reasons, to make sure it’s not 7.5 years between meals and drinks at Bodega again.

    Bodega on Urbanspoon

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    Posted by Jan

    Ideally, every suburb should have a reliable dining option that locals can just wander to for a good meal - something that's more than takeaway but not too fancy or difficult. Woodland Kitchen & Bar is Neutral Bay's newest dining addition and fits the bill perfectly.

    Dining room at Woodland Kitchen & Bar, Grosvenor Street, Neutral Bay
    Re-emerging from what used to be the northern outpost of Pony Dining, Woodland Kitchen & Bar is husband and wife duo Damien and Jenni Heads' first solo venture (you may remember Heads from such shows as Ready, Steady, Cook).

    Chef Damien Heads
    With a wealth of experience between them, they have created a modern Australian menu with a casual yet personal approach, most suitable for the sophisticated, well-serviced neighbourhood.

    Being locals to the area, their approach is no-fuss, honest flavours and simple food. This comes through strongly in the menu that includes hot and cold seafood, steaks, share plates as well as a $10 children's menu.

    Oyster shot, Bloody Mary
    We started with sweet, briney Sydney Rock oysters from Wodongo Inlet in a shot glass of spicy Bloody Mary tomato mix. Never the prettiest starter, I found it tough to stop myself from having more than my fair share of the excellent oysters. 

    Yellowfin tuna sashimi spring roll , soy bean sauce
    Retrieved from the Pony Dining menu, the tuna sashimi spring roll is another example of why we love Sydney summers and seafood so much. The raw tuna encased with crisp spring roll pastry and served with edamame beans, whole and puréed into a sauce, was a casual and light option perfect for summer grazing. 

    Grilled ciabatta, whipped fetta and marinated olives
    A shared plate that could have been dinner alone for me featured a divine whipped fetta cheese, served with plenty of smoky, grilled ciabatta bread and a small selection of olives.

    Sauteed calamari and chorizo
    The very classic pairing of chorizo and calamari was complemented with a rich tomato sauce, white beans and grilled sourdough bread. The hint of sherry vinegar in the calamari sauce added a bit of tang to this tasty, tapas-style dish. 

    Baked onion and goats cheese flan
    Grilled asparagus and watercress were great additions to the baked onion and goat's cheese tart. The freshness and added crunch of the vegetables complemented the rich pastry and goat's cheese very well. 

    200g grass fed eye fillet steak
    From the mains the eye fillet steak was cooked medium-rare as requested with perfect cross-hatch grill marks, and was served with a red wine jus, roasted baby carrots and eschallots, and a salsa verde.

    Lamb backstrap 
    The tender lamb backstrap from the woodfire grill was served on a bed of hummus with smoky eggplant, tomatoes, quinoa and a salad of celery leaves, tarragon and chervil.

    I wasn't sure what (everyone's favourite super-grain) quinoa would bring to the dish, but it tied the rest of the ingredients together quite unexpectedly and added a lovely texture to the salad and lamb. 

    Potato gnocchi with roasted pumpkin, burnt butter and salted ricotta
    Despite being quite full, I couldn't help but offer to help finish off the soft, melting potato gnocchi with sweeet roasted pumpkin cubes and salted ricotta slices. It would have been a sin to leave a single pillow of goodness behind. 

    Tasmanian Salmon with pickled beetroot, orange, fetta and mint
    Also from the woodfire grill, the large fillet of salmon was cooked perfectly with a nice addition of fetta cheese and mint, and orange segments and pickled beetroots that cut the richness of the salmon.

    Sides of chips with roasted garlic aioli and a salad of rocket, pear, fennel and parmesan
    Golden, thick cut chips with a roasted garlic aioli were a crowd-pleasing side along with a fresh salad of rocket leaves, pear, shaved fennel and parmesan cheese shared at the table.

    Caramel and chocolate tart with fresh honeycomb and double cream
    I'm glad I made room for dessert: a not-run-of-the-mill caramel and chocolate tart served with freshly-made honeycomb. There was a slight bitterness of golden syrup that was heated to just the right temperature before burning - the hallmark taste of a good home-made honeycomb that you just don't get in commercial honeycomb.

    Woodland Kitchen & Bar's honest and uncomplicated approach to well-cooked food is what every neighbourhood bistro should have. I can just imagine myself as a local coming back again and again for, "my usual, please". If only every suburb could be so lucky.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Woodland Kitchen & Bar as a guest, with thanks to Agency G.

    Woodland Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

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    In Sydney dining, the only constant is change. After many years in Darlinghurst, Fish Face has spawned two new versions of itself: a rebirth of the fish-centric restaurant in Double Bay and a fish-and-chippery in the former Darlinghurst restaurant.

    Owner and chef Steve Hodges has recruited chef Joshua Niland (ex Grain and The Woods) as head chef at the Darlinghurst restaurant, which itself comprises two separate offerings. Fish Face Double Bay is the more casual, fish cafe-style venue in the front, while Fish Face Dining in the back is the higher-end restaurant offering.

    Sushi and sashimi plate from Fish Face Double , New South Head Road, Double Bay
    Sat at the front end one Sunday lunch, it was a choice between small high tables or counter seats facing the footpath, with the former seating a maximum of four diners and just fitting four main meals with one side dish (the dining setup in the back is normal, low seats and tables).

    To start we shared a sushi and sashimi platter as an entrée. Slices of tuna, salmon and I think, kingfish and snapper, sashimi (it was served sans explanation) were served atop thinly sliced pickled cucumber, along with five petite nigiri sushi pieces.

    Crisp skin cobia, radicchio, currants, fried polenta cake
    With fish-appropriate Asahi beers and a dry riesling accompanying our meals, we moved straight into mains, with eyes only for the fish items.

    Cobia isn't a fish I see on many menus around town and at Fish Face, it was served interestingly, if not unusually, as three slices with crisp polenta chips and radicchio cooked with raisins for a bittersweet-ness.

    Blue eye trevalla on potato scales, fresh ricotta, grilled kale
    My pan-fried blue eye trevalla was a generous fillet of the firm, white fish, topped with a thin layer of crisp, golden potato slice "scales" in yet another a sophisticated, innovative version of fish and chips.

    Completely surprising as a match, the house-made ricotta was a creamy, textural delight while the kale brought super-veg to the plate.

    Battered black flathead, hand cut chips, malt pickles, tartare
    The must-order and barometer of any decent fish joint probably has to be the fish and chips, even though we weren't at Fish Face's dedicated fish and chip restaurant.

    On offer was the perennial favourite of flathead tail fillets, lovely and boneless in a crisp and airy, dark-fried beer batter. With house-made tartare sauce and cucumber pickles on the side, it was a complete dish with excellent hand-cut, skin-on, thick potato chips served in a paper cone.

     Leaf salad
    The side order of a leafy green salad was for the benefit of the fish and chip eaters, with butter and iceberg lettuce nicely dressed and garnished with fresh chives, parsley and dill.

    They're decent sized mains, no doubt, but the small tables and high seats certainly change the dining feeling into something quite casual, despite the prices hovering towards the $40 mark for mains.

    Crème brûlée, nutmeg biscuits
    Nonetheless, it was made into a full three-course meal with a shared dessert of classic crème brûlée, presented in a ramekin with a fabulously burnished toffee top.

    The short, buttery nutmeg biscuits served atop would have made for nice coffee partners, although they were just as good with the vanilla-scented custard in the pot.

    Fish Face frontage
    It's early days for Fish Face in Double Bay, with the back restaurant launching most recently while the casual front has probably just shaken off its new-ness. With two faces on the go in the one space, Fish Face should be making double the waves in Double Bay.

    Fish Face on Urbanspoon

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    The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival is in full swing and for once, I found myself in the Victorian capital city at the right time. Not that food and wine indulgence isn't had all year round in Melbourne, but it was good to see another city celebrating of some of my favourite things.

    Melbourne skyline from the Yarra River, Southbank, Melbourne
    This year's festival revolves around the theme of water, with various events, masterclasses and installations taking all manner of perspectives on one of our most important natural resources.

    Raingarden at The Immersery, Queensbridge Square, Southbank, Melbourne
    The Immersery: Festival Kitchen, Bar and Raingarden at Southbank's Queensbridge Square comprised a feature meeting and discussion place with a purpose-built kitchen, floating bar and intricate raingarden aside the Yarra River.

    Plants and raingarden at The Immersery

    Wines by the glass at The Immersery

    Floating barge bar at The Immersery
    With various Melbourne chefs and bartenders on rotating feature throughout the festival, it's an impressive showcase for Melbourne's food, wine and cocktails in a pretty special, picturesque space.

    Yabby Lake Chardonnay at Ludlow Bar & Dining Room, Riverside Quay,
    Southbank, Melbourne
    On Saturday, 8 March 2014 the expansive, waterside Ludlow Bar & Dining Room hosted its Waterlife Lunch as part of the festival, with a focus on locally sourced seafood and produce. It was a great opportunity to check out Victorian seafood offerings as well as dining waterside at Southbank.

    It was a gorgeous, sunny day to be enjoying the outdoor tables at Ludlow, with plenty of buskers and passers-by to entertain as we started with a glass of seafood-appropriate Yabby Lake Chardonnay.

    Bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
    The Waterlife Lunch comprised a three-course savoury meal, which suited non-sweettooths like me to a tee, starting with excellent crusty white bread served with plenty of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

    Light nettle smoked Port Phillip Bay snapper on hot pickled mushrooms, chive chlorophyll
    Our first course was a very local snapper from Port Phillip Bay. Lightly smoked, the snapper fillet had a faint smoky, savoury aroma and a gorgeously moist texture, served with grilled cos lettuce leaves and a lemon cheek.

    While the fish fillet was excellent, it was the "hot pickled" shimeji mushrooms that stole my heart. Pan fried with a very subtle, well-balanced addition of vinegar, the mushrooms were a surprising match to the snapper and added a surf-and-turf charm.

    Paupiette of Victorian garfish, River Basin flathead, poached Portarlington mussels,
    confit of garlic, saffron rouille
    I was intrigued about the garfish paupiette on the menu but even more impressed when it arrived. Basically three separate seafood components, the dish came together beautifully with a creamy bisque, saffron rouille and salty samphire garnish.

    Alternate view of garfish dish
    Most stunning was the garfish, of which I scored the head section and a few thin bones, wrapped around a creamy, dill-spiked, firm mousse filling of blitzed flathead.

    As if that fish-on-fish paupiette action wasn't enough, both the parsley-coated flathead fillet and plump poached mussels were executed to perfection in an eye-opening and innovative dish.

    Grilled Grampian duck breast, olive oil poached Daylesford potatoes, wild fennel, Yarra Valley crème fraîche, white truffle
    Taking an alternate view on the water theme, the kitchen cleverly produced a duck dish as the third and final of the lunch: an entire medium-rare grilled duck breast, brown skinned with perfect grill marks.

    The pink duck flesh with a layer of fat was an autumnal delight with soft, grilled wild fennel and Brussels sprouts, lightened with a dash of crème fraîche and a slightly odd, bitter spherified coffee sauce.

    Despite getting pretty full by this stage, I couldn't leave the spring roll of confit duck, nor the adorable, tiny olive oil-poached whole potatoes topped with white truffle shavings. Along with a side of dressed mixed leaves, it was an overly generous dish that could have been a standalone main.

    Salad leaves
    Too full to contemplate dessert, we ended Ludlow's Waterlife Lunch with a stroll along the Yarra River, probably as intended. It was a very well considered lunch with plenty of technique and thought on every plate of this seemingly underrated riverside restaurant.

    If this is Melbourne waterside dining, Sydney may need to pick up its game. More Melbourne posts to come and more photos on my Facebook page.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Waterlife Lunch at Ludlow Bar & Dining Room as a guest.

    Ludlow Bar & Dining Room on Urbanspoon


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    Posted by Nik - keen eater and part-time writer; providing an Irish perspective.

    In Ireland St Patrick's Day marks the end of winter. It is a day for putting on the green and tasting a few pints of the black. Like my birth, it is a day that I know I have been to but don't remember.

    In celebration of the day recognising Ireland's most commonly-recognised patron saint, the Cat and Fiddle Hotel in Balmain are putting on their own long weekend, from Saturday through to Monday's St. Paddy's Day (17 March).

    Dining area at the Cat and Fiddle Hotel, Darling Street, Balmain
    A specially-designed Irish menu by Irish-born chef Padraic Kielty is on offer just for the weekend, with new versions of Irish classics as well as some inventive new dishes.

    In the completely newly-renovated pub with an indoor Garden Room, we were seated in the middle of the large dining area behind the bar, where a vast skylight let in the last of the day. Punters came and pints and food were ordered.

    Fried seaweed snack
    While a half-poured Guinness rested on the bar, waiting for the top up, we started with a snack of fried seaweed. Picked from the bowl like chips, the sea grass was fresh and crunchy, like lettuce and seawater without the salt.

    Pint of Guinness
    The Guinness was rich and well formed. We are a long way from the Liffey, but this antipodean cousin is worth a nudge. Choosing our mains from the Irish menu was tough. More pints were required to fully evaluate the options.

    Crispy spud skins, Red Leicester, 100-year old brown sauce recipe
    Next to arrive were potato skins with melted Red Leicester cheese and a brown sauce that has been in chef Kielty's family since his grandmother "borrowed" the recipe from her time in the Queen's kitchens at Buckingham Palace.

    Crisp but not greasy, the generous skins cupped the melted orange cheese; both lifted by the fruity, chutney-like tang of the sauce which is one of the best brown sauces I've ever had.

    Irish boxty, pickled eggs, black pudding, whiskey and pear
    Boxty is an Irish potato pancake that is often served in place of bread. Here, it was matched with a just-sharp pickled egg, a puck of creamy black pudding and sweet whiskey pear puree in a subtle and sophisticated layering of flavours, which was consistent throughout the rest of the Irish menu.

    Corned beef, Irish soda bread, pickles and West Cork feta
    With a modern plating, the richness of the corned beef was unexpected. Infused with cloves and clementine, the beef was sweet, spiced and salty on its own.

    It was served with a light, soft soda bread with flavours balanced by crunchy pickled vegetables and moist, salty West Cork feta cheese which is no doubt, rightly, a little bit fond of itself.

    Dublin Coddle, white pudding, salt and pepper spud
    Dublin coddle is traditionally a pot of leftovers boiled in a pot. The dish at the Cat and Fiddle has been somewhat polished and updated, served dry atop a pastry base with broth on the side.

    The sausage was a perfectly spiced Irish breakfast sausage, while the pancetta added salt and crunch on top of buttery mashed potato and prettily presented vegetables.

    Mini chips with Irish curry sauce
    Curry chips are the 2am kebab of Ireland. The side of chips were perfectly cooked - crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside - while the curry sauce was honest and peppery. These were easily the best, if not the only, curry chips I can remember eating.

    Irish railway cake, clotted cream, butterscotch
    Dessert maintained the subtle and thoughtful approach to Irish flavour. The Railway Cake with a faintly citrus clotted cream and shards of crunchy butterscotch was airy, luxurious and just a little bit sweet.

    Chocolate Guinness cake, Bailey's jelly
    The Bailey's cream whiskey jelly in the bottom of a cute jar was a creamy softener for the richer, moist square of Guinness chocolate cake which sat atop a crumble with pastry flags sticking out the top.

    Front bar
    The Cat and Fiddle is like a good pub straight out of Ireland, but the food is infinitely better. In keeping with the kindness of the welcome, the food is quietly and confidently Irish, and come St Paddy's Day on Monday, will probably be a little louder and patriotically Irish.

    The Cat and Fiddle will offer the St Patrick’s Day Culinary Irish Menu from Saturday 15 to Monday 17 March, lunch and dinner. Irish Breakfast will be served Sunday and Monday. On St Patrick's Day there will be all-day live Irish music and entertainment along with a pub filled with Irish craic.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at the Cat and Fiddle Hotel as a guest.

    Cat & Fiddle Hotel on Urbanspoon

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