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A Sydney food and restaurant blog

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  • 03/17/14--14:31: A familiar Taste of Sydney
  • Taste of Sydney, 13-16 March 2014, Centennial Park, Sydney
    For its sixth yearinSydney'sCentennialPark, Taste of Sydney once again battled with the weather gods to mostly prevail as one of our city's favourite outdoor restaurant and wine festivals.

    The parklands were abuzz with stalls on the opening Thursday night with a host of familiar faces and a few new, with the Best in Taste Awards again hosted in the Taste VIP tent.

    G.H. Mumm champagne in the Taste VIP tent
    With bubbles on pour all night, it was a jovial forum to see the Best in Taste judging panel - including Gourmet Traveller's Pat Nourse, television cook Lyndey Milan, Time Out's Myffy Rigby and Broadsheet Sydney's Sophie McComas - award their picks of the festival.

    The Best Dressed stall was deemed to be Rojo Rocket from the rotating Destination Dining restaurants; with the award accepted gleefully by the Taste first-timers. Another festival newbie, Aki's Indian Restaurant, took out third in the Best in Taste, with their poori offering.

    Perennial favourites Porteño placed second with their charcoal grilled wagyu skirt steak, and the Best in Taste award went to old-but-new Taste participant Chow Bar & Eating House, with ex-Claudes' owner and chef Chui Lee Luk's 'Beggar's Chicken'.

    Taste of Sydney - opening night
    While I managed to taste two out of three of the judges' Best in Taste, my Sunday plans for Taste round two were scuppered by a pretty epic storm that's becoming all to common in Sydney town these days.

    Porteño's tent kitchen charcoal grill
    Luckily we got to crowd-favourite Porteño on the first night; unmissable with all the "faces of" and a huge, open kitchen tent stall that sent charcoal smoke signals direct to Taste's hungry stomachs.

    Charcoal grilled entrana - wagyu skirt steak with BBQ peppers and chimichurri from Porteño
    Grabbing silver in the judge's awards, Porteño's charcoal grilled wagyu skirt steak was a smoky-flavoured and tender delight of a cut of beef, sliced and topped with a zingy chimichurri herb sauce and settled upon soft cooked red capsicum.

    Charcoal grilled lamb rib with marinated eggplant, anchovy
    and rosemary pound from Porteño
    But it was the charcoal grilled lamb rib, with crunchy pieces of skin and smoky fat covering soft lamb flesh, that had my attention; perfectly spiced and served with meltingly soft eggplant and creamy squiggles of a sauce of anchovy and rosemary.

    Porteño's woodfired asado
    The beauty of the Porteño approach is that they bring the restaurant to Taste, not just a festival-friendly sample. Four asado woodfire grills were set up around a pit next to the main tent, just like they have at the Surry Hills restaurant, except all lambs splayed for Taste.

    Woodfired lamb from the asado with potato salad and chimchurri from Porteño
    Having not tried Porteño's woodfired lamb from the asado before, it was the perfect opportunity to have their Taste Icon Dish, served atop a creamy potato salad with the same chimichurri sauce.

    The succulent cuts of lamb (leg?) were tender if not a bit one-dimensional, although I did spy various other cuts of the Icon Dish, as it is in the restaurant, that offered more colour and varied texture.

    Crispy pork belly with chilli caramel, aioli and mint slaw from Chur Burger
    Over at 'Taste veteran but in a new guise' Warren Turnbull's Chur Burger stall, it was a range of miniaturised burgers, also ubiquitously known as sliders.

    The pork belly was a winning combination of a crisp hunk of roasted belly with crackling, cabbage and mint slaw, aioli and a sticky chilli caramel; somehow all balanced within a cute, little burger bun.

    Kinkawooka mussel fritter with spiced remoulade and dill pickled cucumber
    from Chur Burger
    The same buns also held two unique-sounding Kinkawooka mussel fritters; a little pikelet-like and floury but lifted by ribbons of dill-scented pickled cucumber and creamy remoulade as a sauce.

    Crispy king prawns, green chilli, lime from Longrain
    We moved on to Taste (and festivals generally) long-timer Longrain and their irresistible whole fried king prawns, dressed with a refreshing lime and mild green chilli sauce.

    With very well-trimmed heads (no dangerous, sharp bits), it was much like eating whole fried school prawns but better, with a crisp, well-seasoned flour coating and that fabulous, firm texture of large crustaceans.

    Hay smoked chicken legs - cured and smoked chicken, corn and local garlic creme
    from Biota Dining
    We continued on the large, fried things path with Biota Dining's cured and hay smoked chicken drumstick.

    It was an impressively large chicken specimen with a crunchy crumb coating and soft yellow cream of corn and garlic that's right up there as one of the most expensive chicken drumsticks I've ever had.

    Dahi sel poori - crispy wheat pockets with spiced potato and yoghurt from Aki's Indian Restaurant
    I knew I wanted to try the podium-winning dish from Aki's Indian Restaurant: dahi sel poori hollow fried wheat pockets, filled with a mix of fragrantly spiced potato and natural yoghurt, garnished with coriander.

    Eaten in one or two mouthfuls, the poori was an intriguing sensation of warm and cold, soft and crisp, spice and sourness that was gone all too quickly.

    Ceci e tria alla Pugliese - pasta strips cooked two ways, chickpeas, pecorino mousse
    from Popolo
    The only pasta offering at Taste this year was Popolo's ceci pasta strips, served as a crisp wafer with sharp pecorino mousse, and more classically with a creamy, not-necessarily-photogenic chickpea sauce.

    Taco de Cochinito - pulled pork taco, corn puree, salad and salsa rojo from Rojo Rocket
    The Avalon-based Rojo Rocket put up tacos, including a pulled pork one that didn't quite look like all the other ones around town.

    With a puree of corn, watercress leaves and tasty namesake salsa rojo, the tortilla didn't get a chance to go soggy, scoffed within a minute or so.

    Suckling pig on the spit at 4Fourteen / Four in Hand

    Otto Ristorante's head chef Richard Ptacnik in the Taste Kitchen

    Country Kitchen seating area
    The usual Taste features - Taste Kitchen, chefs' talks, wine masterclasses, cocktail classes - were all present as too a few cooking class demonstrations and the new Icon Park restaurant/bar crowdfunding concept, making it an increasingly familiar Taste, with an annual twist. See more photos on my Facebook page.

    Food, booze and shoes attended Taste of Sydney as a guest. All food and Crowns were paid for independently.

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    Sydney's fried chicken obsession would seem to be in its infancy still. The fried chicken game has been upped recently with the opening of Hot Star Large Fried Chicken just over three weeks ago in Liverpool Street in CBD south, shortly after the Taiwanese franchise’s first two Australian stores opened in Melbourne.

    Hot Star Large Fried Chicken is a Taiwanese chain with more than 40 stores in its home country and an increasing presence in south-east Asia and now Australia, where expansion in Sydney is on the cards.

    Large Fried Chicken "Original" from Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, Liverpool Street, Sydney
    Famous in Taipei's Shilin Night Market where it originated, Hot Star's signature product is an opened up chicken breast, on the rib bone, deep fried with a flour coating then seasoned to desired spice levels.

    The chicken is served piping hot out of the deep fryer in a paper bag, then plastic-bagged by the customer for their taking-away and eating enjoyment.

    They're not kidding when they say it's "Large Fried Chicken"– the breast makes for a formidably-sized cutlet that's described as "oversized" and "larger than palm-sized". Each serving portion is 250 grams of chicken breast, approximately 30 centimetres in length.

    Chicken in the deep fryer
    The fresh, never frozen chicken breast is cooked for 4.5 minutes in a deep fryer that can hold 20 large pieces per fry. The canola oil in each fryer is changed three times a day; ensuring a clean deep fry that tends to range from pale to golden.

    Marinating chicken breasts

    Flour coating the chicken
    The chicken is 100% breast sourced from local suppliers – real chicken with real bones – and is marinated for at least 12 hours before being coated in flour immediately ahead of deep frying to order.

    Sydney store front
    The Sydney store has been averaging sales of about 700 portions of large fried chicken a day since opening in early March, with the "Original" being the most popular with a "medium spice" seasoning.

    The seasoning sprinkled on each cooked chicken breast is imported from Taiwan and comprises salt, pepper and a special chilli powder.

    Large fried chicken coating
    As the chicken and other vegetable sides are all cooked to order, a small wait for deep fried goodness is inevitable. For the uninitiated, it's hard not to smile when you receive your first Large Fried Chicken: it's golden, it's huge and it's hot. Really hot.

    The flour coating is undoubtedly crispy when fresh out of the fryer, though it does soften in the hot, steamy confines of its paper bag. I found the medium spice to be quite mild and would definitely consider increasing that next time.

    Insides of Large Fried Chicken "Original"
    The insides are probably the juiciest chicken breast you'll come across – definitely in fried chicken land, and perhaps in the breast cut generally. At the top boneless section, you can take big, glorious bites out of it while towards the bottom, it's a case of nibbling off the outer side of the rib bones.

    The combination of crunch, seasoning and juicy insides makes for a very happy fried chicken experience. Utterly satisfying for cravings or a large snack, the Large Fried Chicken is actually positioned as a substantial meal unto itself, perhaps embellished with a few side options.

    Chicken bites
    The chicken bites give my chicken nuggets compulsion a good run for its money. Small chunks of chicken breast, two or three bites each, are coated in the same flour and seasoning and are tossed with fresh sweet basil leaves upon removal from the deep fryer, as is common for fried chicken in Taiwanese cuisine.

    The breast meat in the bites weren't nearly as moist and juicy as the Large Fried Chicken, but the basil addition added an additional flavour dimension that's fresh and fragrant.

    Sweet potato fries
    Hot Star's sweet potato chips are definitely contenders for the best of their breed. Cooked from a fresh, raw state, they were super crunchy in their flour coat, and soft and sweet on the inside; blissful with a light seasoning.

    King brown mushrooms
    One of the more unusual sides options are the deep fried chunks of fresh King Brown mushrooms. Beware, they're possibly the hottest thing to come out of a deep fryer in terms of heat, given their moisture content, and they go soggy before reaching a bearable eating temperature.

    But, they're completely worthwhile, if only as a noble vegetable/fungus side that you probably won't see elsewhere.

    Curly potato fries with spicy mayonnaise
    Last but not least of the sides are the curly potato fries that would make any kid's eyes light up.

    The only processed product on the menu, they are offered with a spicy mayonnaise that's made in-house and only for the apparently mayo-loving Australian market. With a soft crunch, the potato curls are relatively pedestrian but naughtily pleasing nonetheless.

    The Hot Star Large Fried Chicken menu
    It's all in the name – the star of Hot Star Large Fried Chicken is the Large Fried Chicken. Open till midnight most nights and 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, I foresee Hot Star Large Fried Chicken becoming a lunch/snack/dinner/late night name that I'm going to get to know intimately.

    Food, booze and shoes sampled products from Hot Star Large Fried Chicken as a guest, with thanks to Harvey Publicity.

    Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

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  • 03/23/14--14:36: Pub brunch at The Henson
  • Posted by Hendy - seasoned cyclist, peaty whisky drinker, coffee Instagram-mer

    For a brunch venue that's a little different to the growing number of cafés in the inner west, one weekend a friend suggested a newly-renovated pub, The Henson in Marrickville, previously known as the Henson Park Hotel.

    Photo collages of Henson Park and  surrounding Marrickville area at
    The Henson,  Illawarra Road, 
    Located near Marrickville's Henson Park which hosts various sporting events, The Henson is one of the more family-friendly pubs in the area.

    The new renovations feature an outdoor, upcycled hipster-chic bar and spacious beer garden extending into a kids play-pen, in addition to the more traditional but updated pub inside.

    The Henson's courtyard

    Long black
    The Henson's menu is extensive, if not eclectic, and caters to various taste buds from 11am daily; that lunch-brunch kind of time where schooners are optional.

    The menu features starters that wouldn't look out of place in a restaurant, along with tacos, burgers and mains that span from tempeh to koftas to kim chee nasi goreng.

    Kumera fries, nigella, tahini yoghurt
    To kick off brunch, I ordered the kumera fries. Served in a plastic basket with a side of milky tahini yoghurt, lime and a sprinkle of nigella seeds, the sweet potato fries had a soft texture with the occasional crunch.

    Knuckle Sandwich - wagyu brisket, fennel slaw, swiss cheese, smokey mayo on rye & chips
    I could not resist the wagyu beef brisket on the menu, labelled as a Knuckle Sandwich. Comprising tender wagyu beef brisket, fennel slaw and swiss cheese bedded on rye bread, the sandwich reminded me of a good ol' Reuben sandwich with a twist.

    The toasted rye worked well with the tender brisket and the fresh, crunchy slaw, served together with potato chips – making for a solid winner at brunch.

    Blackened barramundi burger, coleslaw, tomato, dill pickles, tomato/beet relish & chips
    The blackened barramundi burger was layered similarly to the Knuckle Sandwich with slaw, pickles and relish on a burger bun.

    Served with more fluffy chips in a basket, the barramundi burger opened up to a grilled fillet of barramundi, slightly dry on the outside, followed by the crunch of the cabbage slaw and the tanginess of the pickles and relish. It was, sadly, no comparison to the Knuckle Sandwich.

    Lamb koftas, flatbread, labne, fennel, chickpea olive salad, tahini & beetroot
    Arriving next to the table were the lamb koftas, served with flatbread; a bowl of fennel, olive, beetroot and tahini; and small balls of labne yoghurt cheese.

    The koftas were a tad dry, saved by a dollop of tahini dip, while the other sides freshened up the dish.

    ½ kilo buttermilk chicken wings, verde picante
    To finish off the brunch run, I ordered the buttermilk chicken wings – a mixture of winglets and drumlets. Generally, I tend to avoid fried items in the morning as they tend to bog you down, but with baskets of the wings flying past all around, it smelt too darn good to pass up.

    The fried chicken had a lovely texture: starting off floury, then with crunch followed by the juicy innards, while the verde picante hot green sauce served alongside packed an additional punch. I didn't have a beer at brunch but these wings would go very, very well with a nice cold one.

    The Henson has done remarkably well with its recent renovation, catering for people of all ages with pub food that is fresh and different, especially for a pub brunch.

    The Henson on Urbanspoon

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    Mid-show fireworks in Madama Butterfly for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Fleet Steps,
    Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, 21 March - 12 April 2014
    (Photo by James Morgan)
    With the sparkling Sydney harbour as a backdrop, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour returns for the third year running; again teaming up with Fresh Catering to offer a uniquely Sydney arts and food experience that's a true feast for all the senses.

    Entrance to the Opera Precinct at Fleet Steps
    This year, from 21 March to 12 April 2014 it's Giacomo Puccini's classic Madama Butterfly in a rather contemporary light.

    The Japanese setting of the opera sets an elegant theme that runs throughout the numerous food and beverage outlets and the custom-built outdoor site at the opera precinct assembled at Fleet Steps in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

    Hiromi Omura as Madama Butterfly
    (Photo by James Morgan)

    Bamboo trees on the stage
    As per previous years, the floating stage that juts out into the harbour is an unmissable sight; this year's the biggest yet at 1,276 square metres.

    For Madama Butterfly it features a lush green astroturfed hill topped with a forest of bamboo trees, that in the second half changes into a bare basics home for the main character, Madama Butterfly or Cio Cio-san.

    Side view of the floating stage
    Perhaps even more spectacularly, the stage houses a full orchestra beneath the set, while a chorus is located below the slanted audience seating.

    The feature pieces of the opera stage this year are two illuminated spheres, representing a full moon hanging over the stage and the warm sun rising from the water on stage right.

    The wedding scene with Georgy Vasiliev as Pinkerton and Hiromi Omura
    as Madama Butterfly

    (Photo by James Morgan)
    The sights and sounds of Madama Butterfly– and the unmistakeable, tangible wrenching of the heart in the very emotional last act – cover the bulk of the senses.

    Meanwhile Fresh Catering has the smells and tastes covered with numerous Japanese-inspired dining options for any budget; ranging from snacks and drinks to a pre-show three-course dinner with matching Tyrell's Wines.

    Adina Garden Bar
    Closest to the opera precinct entrance is the Adina Garden Bar where noodles and a fried chicken bun are the go. The Japanese theming comes through strongly in torii gates, bamboo fencing and even a bamboo bridge in this pretty outdoor area.

    Seating at the Adina Garden Bar

    View from the Southern Terrace
    The elevated Southern Terrace features a bar and plenty of seating and high tables in an expansive space where the views are nothing short of postcard-perfect.

    Ready-to-go food options at the Southern Terrace
    Alongside a range of ready-to-go cold salads and desserts, Japanese-inspired burgers – like chicken katsu and soy bean with avocado – and pizzas – like teriyaki chicken and miso prawn – tempt both young and older crowds.

    Three-story structure housing (from bottom) Northern Cantina,
    Platinum Club and Northern Terrace
    The even more elevated Northern Terrace above the Platinum Club offers the same quick service, fast fare and outdoor, "rooftop" seating.

    Northern Cantina space

    Northern Cantina food stalls
    With seats right on the water's edge with unobstructed views of our gorgeous harbour, the Northern Cantina offers a little more in terms of food.

    There are Japanese share plates, including edamame, chicken yakitori and popcorn shrimp, and more substantial mains, like Japanese curry and BBQ miso salmon, plus the cold same salads and desserts of the Terraces.

    Northern Cantina
    There are also two Sparkling and Oyster Bars that pop up and down in front of the main stage, with citrus ponzu oysters, ice creams and other snacks on offer.

    The bar in the Platinum Club
    And then there's the whole shebang, all-in experience of the Platinum Club where you can get a pre-show three-course Japanese-influenced dinner with matching Tyrell's Wines in the stunningly appointed, on-theme second level space.

    We managed a quick chat with Fresh Catering managing director Peter McCloskey and his executive chef Marco Adler about the Platinum Club menu which draws traditional Japanese flavours into modern Australian dishes.

    Stage view from the Platinum Club
    McCloskey shared that while designing menus for Opera on Sydney Harbour each year is the fun part, the biggest challenge is the logistics of getting the food and beverage options up and running. From preparation to sales points, serving 2,500-4,000 people nightly and outdoors with a variety of options is no small feat.

    Even the on-site kitchen's location and size in the main, three-storey structure can change from year to year, as the custom build needs to account for trees that grow on the site from year to year.

    The view (with deflated "sun")
    We also heard from winemaker Chris Tyrrell; a fifth generation member of the Tyrell's Wines family, who was completely on board with the idea that the wine and everything in the Platinum Club were just one small part of the spectacular Opera on Sydney Harbour experience.

    The Tyrell's Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut was the perfect starting (and interval) beverage on our muggy evening that threatened with rain but luckily there was no need for ponchos this year.

    Tea braised chicken and soybean salad, saffron emulsion
    Our three-course dinner started with a delightful entrée of tea-braised chicken slices beneath a sprightly salad of edamame soybeans, pickled radish, asparagus, cucumber, enoki mushrooms and sesame seeds.

    Alongside oversized seaweed rice crackers, this was gorgeously fresh and light way to start the meal with a touch of creaminess from the mayonnaise-like saffron emulsion.

    A glass of Tyrell's Stevens Single Vineyard Semillon – the Hunter Valley's iconic white wine - was the well-balanced match.

    Roasted blue eye cod, watercress and silken tofu
    It was a tough choice between the three mains options. My second choice would have been the fillet of roasted blue eye cod, served with a slice of silken tofu, radish thins, woodear mushrooms (also known as black fungus), watercress and what looked like a bit of mashed potato.

    Ma Po eggplant on bean salad with spinach and sesame dressing
    I went with the vegetarian option of (Sichuan rather than Japanese) ma po styled eggplant, served with a green and snake bean salad as well as silken tofu.

    The soft, golden cubes of eggplant were beautifully spiced and probably didn't need the accompanying wasabi mayonnaise. Also served with watercress and textural woodear mushrooms, the salad components shone with the spinach and sesame dressing.

    Miso marinated beef fillet on bok choy and enoki mushrooms
    There was definitely dish envy when I spotted the beef fillet; a nicely coloured, thick piece of meat served with a jus, edamame, baby bok choy, zucchini flowers, woodear mushrooms and the wasabi mayo.

    A glass of the Tyrell's Lunatiq Heathcote Shiraz would have been a beautiful match.

    Decadent chocolate and ginger mousse with praline feuilletine
    We squeezed in dessert just ahead of the show's start, with a sweet and a savoury option to please all. The chocolate and ginger mousse looked amazing with a chocolate sheet, fresh raspberries, ice cream, a caramelly sauce and praline crumbs.

    Selection of cheese, seaweed lavosh and crackers
    I had to scoff my cheese plate – a cheddar, white mould and blue – as we seemed to be running a bit late. Served with a quince-y jam, raspberries and both water and seaweed crackers, I'll admit a blue cheese cracker sandwich did make it with me to the start of the opera.

    Stage set change for the second half
    The three-course meal is a lovely lead into the opera, where Madama Butterfly's soaring soprano notes took my breath away and everyone was mesmerised by the well-incorporated wedding scene fireworks.

    For those not familiar with the story of the opera, be sure to see the electronic signage for subtitles translating the Italian operas, or risk missing key character traits like Cio Cio-san's young naiveté or Pinkerton's selfish callousness.

    Northern Terrace at the interval
    The interval is a good opportunity for more food and drink, and in the Platinum Club we were treated to more goodies in the way of canapés and Tyrell's Wines – a separate package that can be purchased with tickets.

    Sushi, panko crumbed arancini and macarons went around with select Tyrell's Wines available at the bar.

    The stage in the second half
    Madama Butterfly's dramatic, tear-jerker end to the opera was settled nicely with the walk out of the Royal Botanic Gardens, although there's also a shuttle bus that takes people out to the Domain.

    The "sun" rising from the water
    (Photo by James Morgan)
    Opera on Sydney Harbour really is a feast for all the senses. It's a magnificent, heartfelt demonstration that the Sydney arts scene, and specifically the opera, can be for anyone.

    With opera tickets starting from $79 and the impressive variety of food options by Fresh Catering, it's an amazing Sydney experience that I can recommend for all your senses.

    See here for more details and tickets for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. See more photos on my Facebook page.

    Food, booze and shoes attended the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour and Platinum Club experience as a guest of Fresh Catering, Opera Australia and Tyrell’s Wines, with thanks to Publicity Partners.

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    Posted by Kath - lover of cheese, wine and bunnies.

    Not much gets me up early on a weekend. There's got to be something in it for me, like great food and coffee. That's what petite Abercrombie Street, Chippendale café, Something for Jess, offers week in, week out.

    Side window at Something for Jess, Abercrombie Street, Chippendale
    The venue is filled with recycled furniture that makes you feel like you're visiting your grandparents, and it's a consistent pleaser among the abundance of cafés sprouting up across Sydney's inner west.

    Lemon meringue pie affogato
    We decided to kickstart a sunny Saturday morning with dessert – well, sort of.

    From the specials board, the Lemon Meringue Pie Affogato comprised a delicious lemon and meringue ice cream complete with bits of pie base throughout, drenched with a smooth espresso shot. It was definitely a great way to start the weekend on a sweet and strong note.

    Chalkboard menu with weekly specials
    While the menu at Something for Jess is small, the offerings vary depending on the produce of the week, which is rustled up from various suppliers from as close as Tempe to as far as Mudgee.

    This translates to seriously fresh produce on every plate and a changing menu which highlights various seasonal goods on offer from week to week.

    A staple on the menu is Bruschetta, but what you'll get on top is a surprise every time. This dish never fails to amaze with the amount of colour and creativity that can be packed atop a slice of sourdough bread.

    On this occasion the array of vegetables on the bruschetta surely helped me reach my weekly intake of greens. Blue goats cheese-infused quince puree joined Brussels sprouts, grated yellow zucchini, spice-roasted eggplant, garlicky yoghurt, roasted macadamias, grilled zucchini flowers and some mixed greens thrown in for good measure.

    This tasted as vibrant as it looked, with a good hit of garlic from the yoghurt adding even more flavour on top of all the fresh vegetables, while the roasted macadamias added a lovely crunch to the whole bruschetta offering.

    Slow-cooked beef brisket open sandwich
    For those that prefer a little more meat on their plate, there are usually a couple of protein-packed sandwiches to choose from.

    This day's selection was slow-cooked beef brisket with spicy organic pear jam, pickled red onion rings, rocket, braised mushrooms, grilled zucchini and Pepe Saya crème fraiche.

    The beef was tender, and when combined with the pear jam, pickled onions and dollop of crème fraiche to balance out the flavours, what was on the plate was gone in a matter of mouthfuls.

    Front counter display
    If there's a hankering for even more to a substantial breakfast, there's also a selection of tasty sweet treats on the front counter to take away with you.

    Something for Jess sign
    What brings me back to Something for Jess is not only the flavoursome fare, which has been created with care and an obvious love of fresh produce, but also the hospitality with which all diners are welcomed with – and that's something for me.

    Something For Jess on Urbanspoon

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    Greeted with a stunning, blue-skied autumn's day, it was with a spring in our step that we bounded down Mackillop Lane – a Melbourne CBD laneway filled with long tables for the fifth annual Seafood Lane event at Red Spice Road for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival last month.

    Table settings for Seafood Lane as part of Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, 9 March 2014, Red Spice Road, Mackillop Lane, Melbourne
    Long white-clothed tables were positioned down the middle of the closed-off laneway, beneath shelters for both sun and rain, though we were lucky to have the former in buckets.

    Orderly seating arrangements and drinks on arrival made for a convivial atmosphere of food lovers, tourists and food tourists – all happy to chat about the festival, the warm day and the impending south-east Asian seafood feast by Red Spice Road.

    Drinks served at the long tables
    There was Tiger beer, Monteith's cider or even Jax Coco Coconut Water for the non-drinkers, but for me, long lunches start and go on with bubbles, like the Crittenden Estate Geppetto NV Brut.

    We could see food arriving up the top of the long tables, with smells and appreciative noises quickly filtering down via an army of plate-clad waiters.

    Banh mi with soft shell crab, cucumber, herbs and spicy turmeric mayo
    The appetisers started off with a bang – perhaps even the biggest bang of the seafood-focused meal (though I'm sure excitement and initial hunger had something to do with that).

    I'm not sure why I've never had a soft shell crab banh mi before because it's an excellent idea – a small, round burger bun holding a crisply deep fried soft shell crab, with spindly legs sticking out among cucumber and fresh green herbs like coriander and mint.

    Banh mi with soft shell crab
    The whole Vietnamese-styled slider was brought together by a creamy turmeric mayonnaise that paired with the crab perfectly. A crowd favourite, there were serious and justified concerns that the rest of the meal may not rise to the heights of the soft shell crab banh mi.

    Scallop with poached chicken, jellyfish, shiso and green chili
    It's hard to go wrong when you have beautiful produce like scallops, beautifully grilled and sat on a somewhat superfluous round of poached chicken breast. The shiso and green chilli dressing gave the plump mollusc a great lift, while I don’t recall the jellyfish at all.

    Calamari stuffed with Issan pork sausage
    The whole stuffed calamari was a modern presentation with north-east Thai Issan pork sausage; the sausage sweet and garlicky within the thin sheets of slightly chewy squid, doused with a sweet red sauce.

    Spicy salmon, green onion and sesame tartare on crispy sticky rice
    Another modern, fusion appetiser was the creamy tartare of salmon and green onion, flavoured with sesame and chilli and sat atop a brick of deep fried sticky rice.

    The concept was fun and the diced and dressed raw salmon very moreish, but the overall texture of the crisp sticky rice meant it was of a tooth-sticking nature.

    Wines were topped up and plates were cleared with efficiency and smiles; a pretty impressive logistical outcome given the length of the table and the waiters' walk back to the laneway restaurant in the hot sun.

    Octopus, tomato, coriander and shallot salad
    It was a little alarming that the after the plentiful appetisers, there was still the three mains to go, along with steamed jasmine rice.

    We started with an eye-opening salad of tender octopus tentacles and tomato – a combination that I wouldn't have expected. Pimped up with loads of fresh coriander and sliced shallots, it was a surprisingly fresh salad where the seafood shone in a well-balanced pairing.

    Laotian prawn green curry with potato and dill
    My favourite dish after the banh mi would have been the Laotian prawn green curry – large whole prawns creamy with coconut and a mild manageable spice, and bulked up with potato chunks.

    Most interestingly, beneath the generous coriander garnish, the dill addition to the curry sauce was outstanding – whether the match with potatoes or it being one of my favourite herbs, it really made the green curry unique and memorable.

    Barramundi with snake bean sambal and crispy anchovies
    We received the golden-hued barramundi last, and it probably suffered a little from our satiety.

    The golden surface of the fish fillets hid a overcooked interior and even with the sambal sauce, it was a slightly dry experience. However, the sambal beans were a delight along with whole crispy anchovies entering Malaysian cuisine territory.

    Long tables for Seafood Lane
    As stuffed as we were, the gorgeously elaborate individual dessert pulled us back in, aided by a stroll and a glass of 2013 Pinocchio Moscato.

    Pineapple panna cotta with coconut jelly, gula melaka caramelised pineapple, cashew praline and Sang Som ice cream
    Creativity reigned in the Thai-inspired dessert of pineapple flavoured panna cotta – an excellent, appropriately wobbly rendition, served with chewy cubes of coconut jelly, fresh pineapple pieces in gula melaka palm sugar syrup, crushed cashew praline and ice cream of Thai Sang Som rum.

    Pineapple panna cotta with Sang Som ice cream
    All the components had their place in the dessert bowl – particularly the ice cream as the day warmed up – an achievement given the number of ingredients that all worked together exceptionally well to close the meal.

    Red Spice Road restaurant interior
    More wine came by, more neighbourly chatter ensued and the afternoon was whiled away in the collective south-east Asian seafood feast of a food coma that was Seafood Lane this year by Red Spice Road.

    Food, booze and shoes attended Seafood Lane at Red Spice Road as a guest.

    Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

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    The Asian concepts of street food and hawker stalls are yet to develop in Australia but with the opening of Samosorn Thai Local Food Hall in the Myer food court in Pitt Street Mall last Saturday, we're a step closer.

    Entry sign at Samosorn Thai Local Food Hall at Sydney Central Plaza food court
    (beneath Myer), Pitt Street Mall, Sydney
    The latest venue from the people behind Chat Thai, Samosorn – Thai for 'food hall'– brings a Thai street food vibe to one of the city's busiest food courts; or at least as much of that vibe as Sydney's relatively strict food safety regulations allow.

    Seating in Samosorn

    Display cabinets filled with vintage Thai packaging
    But don't expect your average food court experience – Samosorn has gone all-out on recreating a Bangkok streetside styled with hawker stall signage, authentic wooden stools, vintage decorations and even a mock roadside sewer.

    Mock sewer

    Samosorn "food stalls"
    Designed to take the rat racer out of the Sydney CBD, if only for an hour lunch break, Samosorn offers atmospheric, escape-from-a-food-court, in-restaurant seating that really is worlds away from the fluorescence of the rest of the food court, which seems to be slowly picking up its game.

    Seating in Samosorn
    The food hall concept focuses on fast, fresh Thai food prepared from a number of stations. Diners order from the front register, find a table and wait for food to be delivered to their upright spatula table numbers.

    Noodle station
    There are plenty of dishes that will be familiar to Chat Thai diners – there's no escaping from our national favourites of padt thai and chicken satay skewers, and Chat Thai crowd-pleasers like grapao mhu grob stir fried crisp pork belly with rice.

    Items for the grill

    Pork skewers on the grill
    But with dedicated grill and salad sections in Samosorn's open kitchen, it's hard to go past dishes like the tender mhu bing grilled pork skewers or the north-east Thai Issan-style som dtum taardt; a Samosorn signature dish that you're unlikely to find anywhere else in Sydney at the moment.

    Shredded green papaya

    Som dtum salad station
    A variation of the som dtum green papaya salad that the Thais like so fiery hot, the som dtum taardt is served to share, "family style" on a colourful round platter.

    It features a freshly mortar-and-pestle mixed som dtum variety – ours a Thai favourite of som dtum thai-bpu with pungently pickled and fermented small whole black crabs – surrounded by an array of sides to be eaten with the salad.

    Som dtum taardt
    The pickled crab papaya salad comes with house made pork and fish skin crackling, thin rice noodles, a hard-boiled egg, blanched choy sum, raw cabbage, Thai basil, bean sprouts, peanuts and firm tofu.

    It becomes a DIY salad that never loses interest, with the spicy, fishy som dtum thai-bpu playing star to a cast of supporting and contrasting ingredients, most of them pretty healthy.

    Som dtum thai
    We also had the normal som dtum thai salad, served without the fishy crabs and plenty of green beans, cherry tomatoes, peanuts, dried shrimp and fresh chilli in what was probably considered a "medium" level of heat for Thai diners, but a little painful for me.

    The accompanying woven basket of warm sticky rice is ideal to temper the chilli heat of the som dtum.

    Gai yaang - Char grilled marinated chicken
    After the som dtum there was tender, moist relief in the whole char grilled chicken, served with a sweet dipping sauce of smoked chilli and tamarind.

    The chopped pieces of the whole chicken had a delectable smokiness from the char grill and sweetly marinated, crisp caramelised skin.

    Lodt Shong Singapore drink
    Also helping me cope with the spice was a dessert-like drink of coconut milk and chewy green pandan noodles – much like Malaysian cendol – and some jackfruit or mango, I think, cooled down with loads of crushed ice in a giant glass mug.

    There's also a range of quite traditional crushed ice drinks and herbal teas on offer, including the nahm buoy sweet pickled plum iced tea and the nahm krachiap iced hibiscus drink.

    Condiments and seasonings

    Deep fry station
    With a pretty extensive menu of noodles – stir fried and in soup – grilled items, spicy salads and one-plate-rice dishes predominantly sub $14, food court lunches are taking on new meaning at Samosorn, which is taking on the streets of Bangkok in the heart of Sydney CBD.

    Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Samosorn, and is acquainted with staff and owners of Samosorn and Chat Thai.

    Samosorn - Thai Local Food Hall on Urbanspoon

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    Posted by Hendy

    No trip to Adelaide would be complete without a visit to Gaucho's Argentinian Restaurant, which prides itself as being Australia's first Argentinian restaurant.

    Established in 1985, Gaucho's offers many dishes that Argentinian cuisine is best known for: beef, pork and an elaborate selection of grilled meat dishes. The name Gaucho's comes from the original pioneers of Argentina who roamed the vast plains of the Patagonian grasslands, the pampas.

    Ciabatta with extra virgin olive oil and house made dukkah at Gaucho's Argentinian Restaurant, Gouger Street, Adelaide
    The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating and with the warm, beautiful Adelaide day, we opted for the great outdoors.

    Starting with ciabatta bread with olive oil and dukkah, and warm, marinated mixed olives, we trawled through the extensive menu which is broken down into courses: entrada (entrée), primer plato (first course), segunda plato (second course) and firma plato (signature dishes).

    Oliva - Warmed mixed olives with chilli, paprika, tequila and lime
    What stood out in the signature dishes were all the asado barbecue or grill based dishes. There was everything from simple eye fillet, scotch fillet, porterhouse beef cuts and a number of wagyu cuts – including rump and striploin – to mixed grilled meats that can all be 'asado'ed.

    Churrasco Grande - Wagyu rump
    It was hard not to, so we all opted to order steaks or ribs from the mouth-watering asado menu and a number of side dishes.

    The first plate to arrive was the Churrasco Grande; a 500-gram wagyu rump steak with a marble score of 8+, aged for over 42 days and sourced from Mayura Station in Limestone Coast, South Australia.

    The rump was well cooked to medium-rare as ordered, delectable with just a pinch of salt and very, very tender with the wagyu marbling giving it a buttery texture. There was also the light chimmichurri marinade that Gaucho's put on all its steaks to give them their signature finishing.

    Bife De Chorizo - New York style porterhouse
    A number of us ordered the Bife De Chorizo grain-fed Riverine porterhouse, aged for a minimum of 42 days. Simply presented alone on the plate, the porterhouse was there to shine; similarly tender at medium-rare as with the wagyu rump.

    Six-hour slow-cooked beef ribs coated with blue cheese sauce
    The last protein to hit the table was the six-hour cooked beef ribs - one of three specials on the day. Giant as it seemed, the slow cooking meant the rib meat just fell straight off the bone.

    The single rib was served with a blue cheese sauce that surprisingly wasn't overpowering but complemented the beef, providing it with a draping of flavour alongside colourful vegetables on the side of the wooden board.

    Hand cut fried potatoes with rosemary and sea salt
    Hand-cut, skin-on, fried potatoes, a fancy chunk of a chip if you will, come default with the main dishes.

    With their mid-sized cuts, the potatoes were crunchy on the outside and wedges-fluffy on the inside, seasoned with rosemary, sea salt and paprika to finish.

    Verduras verde - Seasonal greens sauteed with olive oil, lemon and fresh chilli
    To topple the protein imbalances, we ordered greens from the ensaladas é verduras menu. The greens side of broccolini was simply sautéed with oil, lemon and chilli.

    Pera ensalada - Salad of pear, witlof, radicchio, pecorino and roasted walnuts
    The pear salad was a colourful and flavourful mix of sliced pear, radicchio and pecorino cheese, with toasted walnuts and some witlof greens.

    I loved the balance of flavours of the salad, from the saltiness of the pecorino to the bitterness of the radicchio to the sweet slices of pear.

    Being my second time at Gaucho's since few years ago, not much has changed. Gaucho's has retained its simplicity and ability to present good Argentinian dishes at its purest form - making it a worthwhile stop if you're ever down under in Adelaide.

    Gaucho's on Urbanspoon

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  • 04/09/14--15:00: Waitan for a second chance
  • Food, booze and shoes dined at Waitan Restaurant as a guest.

    Waitan Restaurant opened in the heart of Sydney's Chinatown in October last year with an all-out launch showcasing the restaurant's luxe multi-million-dollar fitout, which includes massive double kitchens, a $350,000 custom-built duck oven, and multiple venue spaces over two levels of a refurbished Sussex Street building, including a 30-seat round table in an upstairs private room.

    We attended the lavish launch party in October with a small sampling of food from what was pitched as an East-meets-West Chinese menu. What ensued in weeks following could be described as a mixed response; much of it at the harsh end of the review spectrum.

    Dining space at Waitan Restaurant, Sussex Street, Haymarket
    Five months in and changes are afoot, with particular focus on the menu. Taking into account constructive criticisms and suggestions for improvements, and with new chefs brought in from China and Singapore, the Singapore-influenced Chinese menu has been revived and re-thought with a lot of the fusion stripped out.

    There's a greater focus on a modern Chinese cuisine approach, which I think is something Sydney is still learning about.

    As spoilt as we are for really good traditional Cantonese food in Chinatown – and increasingly traditional northern Chinese food in suburbs like Ashfield – modern Chinese is a new style for us that isn't necessarily focused on low costs and speedy service. I mean, I don't know of too many Chinese restaurants that have a range of David Blackmore's wagyu on offer.

    David Blackmore wagyu beef on display in fridges
    And it's not to say the service at Waitan wasn't quick. As one of the earlier tables of the night, we were bombarded with starters almost all at once, which I suppose really is the Chinese style of eating; that is, courses all at the same time as opposed to staged courses, one after the other.

    Waitan no longer offers a set banquet, following diners' preferences for selecting their own dishes from the relatively small (for Chinese, at least) but still expansive pages of the menu.

    We had that task done for us by Waitan's sales and marketing manager, Amy Xu, who picked menu favourites and other dishes which showcase the updated menu that's more traditional than fusion, but leaning towards more modern than traditional.

    Lettuce roll with sesame dressing
    It was an interesting start with a zen pebble garden presentation for the lettuce roll – an unusual cold starter of butter lettuce and red capsicum tightly rolled within cucumber ribbons and placed sprawlingly onto a tray of polished river pebbles.

    The only real flavour came from the thick, spiced sesame dressing which made the dish. As healthy as the lettuce roll was, it wasn't here nor there, and certainly not what I had in mind as modern Chinese.

    Sichuan poached chicken, chilli oil and sesame dressing
    One of my favourite dishes of the night was the cold poached chicken, which arrived in a veritable pool of sauce: a spicy Sichuan offering with plenty of chilli oil floating above a nutty sesame dressing.

    Propped up by bean sprouts that adored the spicy, oily dressing, the delicately poached chicken thigh had a smooth, sensual texture, particularly the silky skin; making for an excellent contrast to the slow-burn heat of the dressing.

    Duck breast, preserved egg yolk terrine
    Next were thin, rounded slices of firm duck breast meat and skin, wrapped around a salty preserved egg yolk in a clever take on a terrine. Decorative squiggles of what seemed to be caramelised balsamic vinegar brought sweetness to quite a savoury, protein-packed roll.

    Black fungi marinated with onion and wasabi oil
    Woodear mushroom goes under a number of names but I think it's never been as delicious as when very lightly pickled in a tart dressing spiked with wasabi oil.

    This was an utterly surprising offering in a small glass with a smattering of Spanish onion slivers offering a contrasting texture to the slight crunch of the black fungi.

    Sweet and sour prawns with mango
    Still on the starters menu, the sweet and sour prawn dish was served cold with ripe mango cubes and cucumber slices in a fruit salad-like composition.

    The plump poached prawns were coated with a glossy sweet, slightly sour sauce; sort of complementing the sweet mango but probably better with the cucumber and crunchy walnuts.

    Dry scallop with tofu & tomato consommé
    If you don't swoon at the tofu and dry scallop soup at Waitan, you're not a swooner. Intricate cuts into a cylindrical silken tofu portion formed a sea anemone-like creation that swayed with the movement of the tomato consommé.

    Despite being transfixed by the tofu anemone, I did eventually polish off the bowl of a very clean, deeply-flavoured broth with the softened luxury of gong yuw ji dried scallop and a skinless cherry tomato upping the umami count.

    Imperial Peking duck – half duck breast with skin, pancakes, traditional black bean sauce, leek, cucumber
    To the main event of our dinner, Waitan's Imperial Peking duck which is now served in two courses: traditionally with a steamer full of thin pancakes and as a san choy bow lettuce cup course.

    I'm not entirely sure how ducks are roasted in the rest of Chinatown, but at Waitan they are hung and covered in a special syrup, before being baked in an open oak and cherry wood-fired oven for 60 minutes.

    I found the duck to be less sweet and seasoned than what you get in Chinatown, and also less fatty – which I like. I didn't get the intended smokiness of the duck, but smothered in the sweet black bean sauce inside a thin, chewy pancake with white leek strips and cucumber sticks, it didn't really matter.

    The half duck provides for at least eight pancakes in DIY style – a generous serving between three, but gleefully wrapped and scoffed anyway.

    Sautéed chopped duck with bamboo shoots, water chestnut, served with iceberg lettuce
    The second duck course is also served DIY style, with daintily cut iceberg lettuce cups and a chopped, sautéed mix of duck meat, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, garnished with gari Japanese sweet, pickled ginger.

    Duck san choy bow
    The ginger somewhat overpowered the rest of the duck filling, but without it and topped off with puffed, fried vermicelli noodles, it was satisfying lettuce wrap action overall with lots of flavour, duck meat and a variety of textures.

    Singapore styled chilli prawns with grissini
    Finishing off our savoury courses was the much-anticipated Singapore chilli prawns: huge specimens of the crustacean with their shells, somewhat protecting them as they swam in a thick, spicy sauce of chilli, tomato and egg.

    Easy enough to peel and eat with a fork and spoon, the large prawns took on a texture not far off lobster, while the sauce provided serious chilli heat to be mopped up by the fabulous "grissini" sticks of deep-fried man tou style sweet-savoury bread.

    It's worth ordering the Singapore chilli dish for the jar of the black sesame-topped man tou sticks alone.

    Dessert tasting plate: Mango cream with sago, lemon curd pavlova, green tea macarons
    While Asian desserts aren't particularly well-regarded, Waitan's dessert tasting plate is worth a gander if you want to share a sweet finishing note.

    Mango cream with sago (left) and lemon curd pavlova (right)
    My favourite of the trio of desserts was the sago pearls in a moderately sweet, fresh mango cream in a wide-bottomed glass.

    Much less Asian were the macarons, strong with green tea flavour and filled with cream, and the lemon curd pavlova which featured an array of meringue varieties, blueberries, cream and tart lemon curd.

    Lemon curd pavlova
    As we finished up, there were several tables still going strong on the seafood (crab, lobster and pippies for one table of guys) and wines. On an early weekday evening the dining space was filled with a mix of couples and groups – family celebrations, corporate dinners, lavish girly catch-ups, boys nights out and hospitality types.

    The full dining room can get loud above the selection of lounge music that's a little unsure of itself but granted, it's new ground for Chinatown and Waitan is at the (sometimes scary) forefront.

    Certainly, it's a more expensive dining experience than you'll see in most of Chinatown, but keep in mind it's also a fine dining approach. Peking duck pancakes aren't frisbee-ed across the table to you; ageing crockery isn't clattered noisily onto the table next to you; there's a proper cocktail list and bartender; and the fancy fitout is more than overdue for Chinatown.

    It's good to see Chinese cuisine, and Sydney's Chinatown, finally move into a newer era that can work with fine dining and it looks like Waitan is getting its early second lease on life.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Waitan Restaurant as a guest.

    Waitan Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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    Cheese fiends. There are lots of us out there. We will happily eat a hunk of cheese with crackers or bread and some fresh or dried fruit, and call that a meal. Add a glass of red wine and it's a complete, balanced meal.

    The cheese fiends of the inner west are rejoicing with the recent opening of The Stinking Bishops at the Newtown end of Enmore Road. Cheese, charcuterie, wine - it's like they've recreated my last meal in a new, hip shop space beneath a block of low-rise apartments.

    Cheese from The Stinking Bishops, Enmore Road, Newtown
    Named after Britain's smelliest cheese, The Stinking Bishops is a neighbourhood cheese and wine bar and retailer that exudes a passion for cheese and all the great eats that belong alongside a cheesy feast.

    Cheese menu board
    A chalk board displays a changing menu of more than 20 imported and Australian cheeses - all available for consumption in the venue or for take-home indulgence.

    Cheese fridge
    An open cheese fridge behind the counter seating displays a delectable range of curd offerings alongside Salumi Australia and other hanging charcuterie.

    Seating for groups is a little limited with just one larger table and a table for two up the front, while counter seating and and a bench table up against the wall offer stool seating, ideal for lazy Golden Cobra coffees, glasses of wine and of course, cheese nibbling.

    Duck liver pate
    At the counter, we started with the full range of red wines by the glass among four of us, accompanied by a brick of duck liver pate.

    With credit given to Redfern's Eathouse Diner, the creamy, liver-y pate was densely flavoured with a nicely contrasting jelly layer; served with fresh Grain Organic sourdough bread and a sweet jammy condiment.

    Cheese board
    The main game has to be the cheese boards, which come in two, three or four cheese sizes. Diners can choose any of the cheeses from the menu to have on their board, with the serving sizes adjusted for any of the more expensive, imported cheeses.

    Choosing one from each white mould, washed rind, hard and blue mould categories, we had a rather French board of the deliciously nutty Marcel Petite comte, not-so-stinky Époisses, Delice du Cremier, and the Irish Grubb Cashel Blue.

    The cheeses are served with a fabric basket generously filled with more sourdough bread, fancily branded crackers, dried muscatels and a slice of a jammy fig and walnut log. In all, happiness on a wooden board.

    Charcuterie board
    There is more wine and happiness to be had with the charcuterie selection that showcases some fine Aussie produce. I can never go past the Salumi Australia nduja spicy salami paste, even though the chilli heat is absolutely ferocious.

    Also available in two, three or four meat selections, we added to our charcuterie board fennel salami, fat-edged cured pork cheek and streaky smoked wagyu whichwas like a creamy, fatty corned beef that was made to be with sliced pickled gherkins.

    Comte at home
    Over a few boards of food and glasses of red, we whiled away a rainy afternoon quite idyllically at The Stinking Bishops. It has got its positioning down pat: cheese, wine, charcuterie and more substantial eats that are simple and soulful; all extremely well designed for the so-hip-it's-not neighbourhood.

    It's only improved with, say, a huge chunk of the Marcel Petite comte to take home - with that, The Stinking Bishops sure smell good to me.

    The Stinking Bishops on Urbanspoon

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    Café del Mar, Rootop Terrace, Cockle Bay, Sydney
    Café del Mar is synonymous with chill-out music, beach parties and Mediterranean glamour – and it's now here for Sydney-siders to enjoy. Opened late last year on the rooftop terrace at Cockle Bay Wharf, Café del Mar Sydney is a more food-focused offering than its Ibiza party animal counterpart.

    Rooftop balcony
    While it's not quite a beachfront location, the rooftop terrace position offers a unique view of Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay. With the balcony facing the west, it's about the best we can do in terms of watching the sun set beyond the casino and other Pyrmont buildings.

    Inside restaurant
    In a nod to Café del Mar's Spanish heritage and the Sydney venue's food focus, they have appointed Miguel Maestre as a brand ambassador, while head chef Ben Fitton incorporates Mediterranean touches to the menu's share plates and mains which features Australian produce and the fun flavours that Sydney is known for.

    Rojo tres red sangria
    Seated on the edge of the outdoor balcony, the pitchers of house sangria from the outside bar were too much fun for a group of girls to pass up for a Sunday lunch.

    With three of each red and white sangria variations, we started with the Rojo Tres – a deep red concoction of Ketel One Citroen vodka, Westend Tempranillo, saffron syrup, pomegranate, lime and a long sprig of rosemary.

    Pretty and full of diverse flavours, the Rojo Tres was a nice start to lunch, and certainly not too strong on the boozy content.

    Blanco uno white sangria
    The second pitcher, the Blanco Uno was perfect for the warm afternoon, featuring St Germain elderflower liqueur, Square One Vodka, Richland sauvignon blanc, lemongrass syrup, cucumber and lime topped off with soda.

    Bread and olive oil
    Having decided to have a range of the share plates among four of us and plenty of chatter, we first dived into the complimentary sourdough bread and olive oil.

    La Luna goat’s cheese, roasted baby beets, glazed pecans
    For cheese lovers, there are cheese plate selections as well as the Holy Goat La Luna cheese in the share plate section of the menu.

    Divine in its warmed, melted state atop toasted bread, the La Luna goat's cheese – some of our country's finest – was the absolute star while the salad of baby golden and red beets, frisee and other leaves, and sweetly glazed pecan nuts was extremely well matched.

    Flash fried dusted baby prawns, jalapeño mayonnaise
    We adored the deep fried school prawns in the short moments they survived; a bowl full of crisp, golden and well-seasoned, shell-on crustaceans, served with deep fried herb leaves and sliced chilli alongside a bitey jalapeño mayonnaise.

    Devoured in their whole, crisp state with a squeeze of lime, school prawns done well like this are just about my favourite seafood starter.

    Crispy cased Berkshire pig jowls, truffle mash
    The pig jowl dish sounded too interesting to ignore, served as two crisp rolls split in half encasing pulled meat from Berkshire pigs' cheeks.

    The "spring rolls" were oily, though considering a fatty cut of pig that's then deep fried, I shouldn't have expected any less.

    Crispy cased Berkshire pig jowls, truffle mash
    The truffle mash was a comfort, despite being a bit odd as part of a share plate. Indeed, something more refreshing to cut through the richness of the pork jowl may have reduced the dish's sense of gluttony.

    Chilli salt & pepper squid, black ink, finger lime aioli
    Café del Mar's jaw-dropper rendition of Sydney's favourite salt and pepper squid was impressive in both appearance and taste.

    Chilli salt & pepper squid, black ink
    Inky black on the surface, it was a bit of a scary proposition but the tender pieces of squid were anything but. The squid was livened up with sliced red chillies in a salt and pepper seasoning, with zingy finger lime aioli served alongside.

    Chick pea and cumin crusted quail, shaved baby fennel, blood orange
    The quail dish presented one plump quartered bird, deep fried in a chick pea and cumin batter.

    Like a really fancy take on KFC, the medium-rare cooked quail was served on a sprightly salad of shaved baby fennel, blood orange segments and parsley; making for a fantastically fresh and moreish dish that was perfect for sharing between four.

    Café del Mar-tini
    We ended our lunch session with drinks in the sun, with my choice of the Café del Mar-tini serving well as a sweet dessert too.

    Featuring Ciroc coconut vodka, pineapple, basil and lime, it was like a clean, fresh take on a piña colada with just as much sweetness as the original.

    Outdoor balcony bar
    With a DJ at the far end of the outdoor balcony, the music noticeably picked up in volume at about 2pm when Sunday Sessions commenced, with a less chilled and much more made/dressed-up crowd taking over the balcony.

    Conversation became impossible at this point, especially when seated directly beneath an outdoor speaker, and people watching/gawking took over, which was a pretty chilled out way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

    Café del Mar Sydney front entrance
    There are plans in train to open Café del Mar venues at other waterfront locations around Australia, but in the meantime, Café del Mar Sydney is the sunset, chill-out place to be.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Café del Mar Sydney with credit, with thanks to Agency G.

    Cafe del Mar on Urbanspoon

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    It's been years - perhaps getting close to 10 years, if not more - since I went to the Sydney Royal Easter Show in Olympic Park.

    I'm one of those who reminisce about the good ol' days of the Show in Moore Park, but I had to share this very quick post about this year's Show. It's unbelievably large and pretty awesome.

    A friendly goat at the Farmyard Nursery at the Sydney Royal Easter Show,
    Showground Road, Olympic Park
    There is so much to see and do that I think one full day doesn't actually cover it. The larger showgrounds have made this possible with a 'something for everyone' ethos - and there's lots to enjoy.

    Arm yourself with comfortable shoes, water, sun protection, clothing as it gets pretty chilly at sundown and the showground map, which is necessary to map out the hit list.

    Central District display in the Fresh Food Dome
    The Fresh Food Dome has always been the place to start for me. It was always my dad's first stop when we went as kids, and I think it may just have the slightest bit to do with my appreciation for food today.

    Northern District display in the Fresh Food Dome
    In its current form, the Fresh Food Dome combines the regional districts' fruit, vegetable and grain displays with a more commercially-minded food stall exhibition part and cooking demonstrations.

    Natural oysters in the Fresh Food Dome
    Packed as it was, I managed a sample of tomato soup with a cheese toastie and a half dozen of natural Sydney rock and Pacific oysters for morning tea in the Fresh Food Dome.

    For the kids, and the kids within, the Show is about animals, games and rides - in about that order. There are plenty of horses on show, as well as cats, dogs, sheep, pigs and an entire pavilion dedicated to alpacas, if you can believe.

    Walking a small, shaggy Suri alapaca on a leash was right up there with my highlights of the day.

    Food Farm pavilion
    The Farmyard Nursery is just about the most fantastic thing I remember from the Easter Show in recent history.

    Not only does its entrance cleverly force children and all through the Food Farm pavilion where they learn about where various food items come from, it's just a spectacular experience and logistical feat.

    Petey Pie beef pie from inside the Food Farm

    Farmyard Nursery
    The Farmyard Nursery is a huge, open space where goats, sheep, lambs, chickens and even a dog roam free amongst Show-goers. An inclusion as part of the Show entry, it's like a pimped up petting zoo and I, probably like most city folk, have never experienced anything like it.

    With $1 cups of feed for sale, it's a frenzy of feeding activity with smiles all round. Kids are happily petting and timidly feeding while the animals are most certainly enjoying the abundance of food. Indeed, most of the farmyard animals looked rather plump.

    Chickens hatching from eggs

    Feeding lamb
    The best feeling would have to be the feel of tongues on your hand as goats and sheep inhaled their feed straight from hands, large or small. The cow's tongue was probably less pleasant but hilarious nonetheless.

    Watch for the larger, slightly more aggressive animals - like some of the goats with horns - while keeping in mind not to chase or catch the animals, despite how silky soft the chickens' feathers are.

    Carnival section
    There are plenty of rides and sideshow games on offer as always, ready to swap your dollars for use-challenged toys, but then, it's not the Easter Show without a game of the Laughing Clowns. Some things just don't change.

    See more photos on my Facebook page.

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    Hotel restaurants aren't necessarily top of mind when dining out as a local, but after sampling the A Taste of... menu at Cafe Opera in the InterContinental Sydney recently, it seems I've overlooked the fact that five-star hotels have five-star restaurants too.

    InterContinental Sydney's executive chef Tamas Pamer likes to think the restaurant merely sits within a hotel rather than being a hotel restaurant, and initiatives like the A Taste of... themed dinners promoting local Australian produce push this line.

    Canapes for A Taste of... launch at Cafe Opera, InterContinental Hotel, Macquarie Street, Sydney
    Until 30 April 2014, it's A Taste of... The Dairy, featuring cheeses and milk products from a range of local producers. Certainly not for the lactose-intolerant, this is a bit a heaven for cheese lovers, especially when matched with local wines.

    As a launch event, we were treated to canapes that aren't normally a part of the three- or five-course degustation: creative dairy-focused morsels like seaweed crackers with ricotta and Yarra Valley salmon caviar whipped up by Pamer and his buddy and executive sous chef Julien Poteau.

    Executive Chef Tamas Pamer (right) and Executive Sous Chef Julien Poteau (left)
    Both of European backgrounds (Pamer is German while Poteau is French), both chefs were very complimentary of Australian dairy produce and produce generally, noting that Australian producers don't have the customer support and associated financial backing of European producers.

    This is part of the reason that the InterContinental Sydney strongly supports local producers in events like the A Taste of... dinners and throughout the hotel's food offerings. It makes sense that a tourist staying in the hotel might like to be enlightened as to our fantastic local produce, as well as us locals too.

    Table settings for the A Taste of... The Dairy degustation
    We were treated with dining in Cafe Opera's ambient private room, differentiating the degustation experience from the restaurant's usual buffet offering.

    G.H. Mumm Champagne
    We started on Mumm Champagne with the canapes, which is as lovely a way to start a meal as there is.

    Pepe Saya butter and bread
    At the table, we were delighted to find large, drilled out, smooth river stones at each setting, filled with Pepe Saya butter and re-labelled with the brand's signature sticker.

    Some of our country's best cultured butter doesn't taste much better served in a rock - it's so good anyway, slathered thickly onto a crusty seeded bread roll, that I managed to get through most of my stone's serve.

    Logan Vintage 'M" Cuvee
    Following champagne, our first course was matched with the Logan Vintage 'M' Cuvee; a sparkling blend of equal parts chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier from Orange.

    Gorgeously coppery in colour with a nice, dry palate, it was described as an adventurous wine pairing with our first course of cured trout.

    Beetroot cured trout, fromage frais, chive, pickled cucumber
    It was a stunning dish to look at featuring a beet red-tinted block of firm ocean trout resting in a verdant pool of creamy chive puree.

    On top was a cute pink meringue wafer, flavoured with a native peach, sandwiching fresh, herbed fromage frais from Pokolbin's Binnorie Dairy.

    Together, the sweet meringue, creamy fromage frais and salty cuts of ocean trout were delightfully light, making for a sophisticated layering of unexpectedly complementary flavours.

    Jannei goat milk pudding, young pine needle, caramelised turnip, buckwheat
    Our next course was of the nature-mimicking food trend that's popular in many restaurants now. Served in a jar was a forest floor-like crunchy mixture of puffed buckwheat and blitzed, crisped porcini mushrooms, hiding juicy cubes of soft, caramelised turnip.

    It all came topped with a foamy pudding of Jannei goat's milk from a farm near Oberon and then crisp young pine needles; the distinct flavour of the goat's milk lifting the rest of the dish's mostly crunchy, brown components.

    The savoury pudding was served with Polin & Polin John Rook's Rose; an amazingly dry, even savoury, rose from the Hunter Valley.

    Butter milk roasted Barossa chicken, chestnut mushroom, potato maxim, cheddar emulsion
    To the main meal we were presented with a spectacular composition of chicken that definitely took it out of boring poultry territory.

    The golden-skinned breast portion featured an artistically layered stuffing between juicy chicken flesh which was roasted in Pepe Saya butter milk, joined by a myriad of accompaniments on the plate.

    Butter milk roasted Barossa chicken, chestnut mushroom, potato maxim, cheddar emulsion
    There was a Pyengana cheddar foam atop deep fried enoki mushrooms, braised chestnut mushrooms, little roasted potato silos and the crisp potato maxim ring that pretty much tasted like chips.

    There wasn't a dull moment to be had with this Barossa chook, served with Montrose Stony Creek Chardonnay from the Mudgee region.

    Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Cabernet Sauvignon
    The spicy Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Cabernet Sauvignon from Orange came out with the cheese course in a stunning Plumm decanter.

    In fact, the InterContinental Sydney now uses the full range of Plumm glassware throughout the hotel in another significant vote of support for Australian brands and producers.

    Baked Reblochon (The Mountain Man), confit fig, walnut bread
    The cheese course was easily my favourite featuring an organic French-style cheese by Victoria's L'Artisan Cheese Timboon called The Mountain Man, made in a French Alps Reblochon fashion.

    A whole wheel of the cow's milk washed rind cheese was baked and served at the table, in its full oozing, stringing cheese glory.

    Serving the baked Reblochon
    This glory also made it into a goodie bag to take home - pretty much the best goodie bag ever, with a whole wheel of The Mountain Man cheese, plus Pepe Saya butter and crème fraîche, the lush Country Valley natural yoghurt and a mini loaf of brioche.

    Baked Reblochon (The Mountain Man), confit fig, walnut bread
    Baking the cheese seemed to reduce much of the washed rind's stinkiness, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The gooey melted cheese was simply divine with the sweet, yielding half fig while the toasted twig of walnut-studded bread was the perfect finishing touch.

    Brie custard, apple, thyme honey, brioche, macadami
    While the cheese could have been the end for me, the proper dessert course was one I'm unlikely to ever encounter again: a pot of thick, warm custard made of L'Artisan brie cheese, with lumps of the cheese's skin even.

    The creaminess and slight saltiness of the cheese were apparent, highlighted against soft cooked apple, caramelised macadamia nuts and honey. The ice cream on the side consisted of Country Valley milk from Picton, cooked down to a dulce de leche state to form the sweet, milky ice cream.

    Dessert was matched with the Small Acres Cyder Pommeau which is a fortified cider from the state's central west, though its potent taste makes it more like an apple brandy.

    House made Easter eggs
    We ended the amazing meal with house made dark chocolate Easter eggs, not part of the usual offering but so deliciously timely.

    As a Sydney-sider I've got limited experience of our high end hotels from a guest point of view, but given a taste of what the InterContinental Sydney and Cafe Opera have to offer - a fine dining atmosphere and interesting, relevant produce on the plates - the A Taste of... concept has a unique drawcard for locals and tourists alike.

    The Taste of... The Dairy dinners are on until 30 April 2014 at Cafe Opera. It will be followed by A Taste of... Head to Tail and Forest Foraging, respectively, in later months this year. Bookings are essential - see here for more details.

    Food, booze and shoes dined at Cafe Opera at the InterContinental Hotel as a guest, with thanks to Pulse Communications.

    Cafe Opera on Urbanspoon

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    I will often have a drink while I'm cooking – beer, cider or a glass of wine – but that's generally not in a commercial kitchen with pleasingly sharp cooking knives.

    It was flutes of sparkling wine in hand at Zigi's Cooking School in Chippendale late last year for a hen's day out, while slicing beef, making praline and other hen-related activities.

    Chef Zigi Ozeri of Zigi's Cooking School, Abercrombie Street, Chippendale
    Other than an overseas trip away, I've probably experienced the gamut of hen's nights (and days) during my adult years: from the expected – strippers, tacky restaurants, cruises and gay clubbing – to the less common, including refined wine bar sessions and shows at the Opera House.

    For the food-inclined, Zigi's offers something different (potentially followed by some of the very much expected activities) and an ideal environment for groups that don’t necessarily all know each other. And a drink before noon as the cooking school kitchen adjoins Zigi's Art Wine Cheese Bar.

    Drinks in the kitchen
    A range of classes are available – from cooking three-course meals to much more elaborate cheesemaking– and all can be tailored to the group and budget. Our group of 10 was, aside from mid-morning boozing, cooking a two-course meal with chef Zigi Ozeri and his offsider supervising us in two groups.

    Cooking class
    With paper chef’s toques and silly nicknames, we were split into main course and dessert teams, with a range of tasks for everyone. Team work and cooking tips went hand in hand with bubbles and kitchen fun.

    Beef fillet
    On our menu for the day was grilled beef fillet with Israeli couscous and a spring vegetable salad with lime chilli vinaigrette, followed by dessert of a berry mille feuille with pastry crème and hazelnut praline.

    Sliced beef fillet
    Helpful kitchen tips included tightly wrapping fillets of beef in cling wrap while marinating and cooking, so that the meat can retain a neat shape for even cooking. These thick steaks were cooked on a grill and finished in the oven.

    Chopping cucumbers for salad
    Sharp kitchen knives are everything. Indeed, dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones in the kitchen.

    And always have a non slip surface beneath a chopping board, especially the plastic ones. Use different chopping boards for meat and vegetables.

    Pastry rounds for mille feuille
    Our mille feuille used store-bought puff pastry sprinkled with sugar and baked beneath a second tray, minimising the 'puff' action, but still allowing crisp, golden layers to form within the flattened pastry rounds.

    Mixed berries for mille feuille

    Zigi and cooking class
    A cheat's version of creme patissiere was whipped up with the inclusion of custard powder - not a bad replacement if one was time short, but not quite as good as the real egg-y vanilla cream for piping.

    Baked  pastry rounds
    Our baked, glazed puff pastry rounds came out of the oven perfectly while a hazelnut praline was formed from freshly roasted nuts and hard sugar toffee, blitzed to a crumb when cooled.

    Chef Zigi

    Chef Zigi re-heating beef
    Another restaurant tip imparted by chef Zigi was the use of a blowtorch to reheat food just before serving; for example, the outer surface of meat that's been resting post cooking.

    Grilled beef fillet with Israeli couscous, spring vegetable salad and lime chilli vinaigrette
    We feasted on our handiwork of a platter lunch while undertaking standard hen's activity.

    With a well-dressed salad of Israeli couscous, tomato, cucumber and rocket, the mostly medium-rare cooked beef fillet was an ideal accompaniment to awkward questions and making sure the bride-to-be was really ready to enter marriage-dom.

    Piping pastry cream
    We returned to the kitchen to assemble and complete dessert, which comprised pastry rounds, piped pastry cream, berries and hazelnut praline, finished with that dessert fix-all, a shower of icing sugar.

    Wild berry mille feuille with pastry crème and hazelnut praline
    The mille feuille is actually a great idea for a versatile, last-minute dessert, so long as you have puff pastry in the freezer and fresh cream or an easy creme patissiere recipe and some fruit.

    We probably spent just over three hours at Zigi's: cooking, drinking, laughing and having a fun, educational and belly-filling time of it all. Pretty much everything you'd need for a hen's day out. See their Facebook page for more details.

    Zigi's Art & Wine Cheese Bar on Urbanspoon

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    Posted by Kath

    Tucked away in the north corner of Westfield Sydney's Level 5food court, Jones the Grocer has been in its expansive restaurant space for over a year now, and recently re-vamped its menu offering with a new attitude: good food, served fast.

    Shopping aisle at Jones the Grocer, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
    One might have thought that a focus on speedy delivery would mean the need to condense the menu, but this is far from the case.

    Jones the Grocer has a wide variety of breakfast options (available until 3pm on weekends), while the lunch and dinner menu offers a range from antipasto boards and salads to heartier options like burgers, pasta and steaks.

    Cheese cabinet
    On entry into Jones the Grocer diners are greeted by a designer shopping aisle with rows of prettily bottled beverages, pasta and condiments to the left, and further on in, a magnificent cheese and cured meat filled cabinet.

    Front counter patisserie selection
    There's more temptation of the sweet variety from the patisserie counter where diners can choose a quick pick-me-up to have with a coffee in the front lounge and waiting area.

    Beloka water still mineral water
    The dining space out the back is the real haven from the hustle and bustle of the food court outside.

    A cruisey weekend lunch started with mineral water from Beloka Water, sourced from Kosciuszko National Park in our own state backyard.

    Black forest double smoked ham, spinach, two free-range poached eggs,truffled hollandaise, house baked muffin
    Being a lover of breakfast I couldn't go past the eggs Benedict from the breakfast menu, especially when it involved a truffled hollandaise sauce.

    True to their new motto, the glorious English muffin tower of eggs, thinly-shaved ham, gooey hollandaise and wilted spinach was brought out in a flash.

    The eggs were perfectly soft poached, spilling a river of orange-gold yolk goodness all over the plate. The house-baked English muffins were soft and fluffy, and the ham smokily tasty but the promised truffle infusion in the sauce could have been a little more generous.

    Premium 100% Australian wagyu patty, bacon, melted Swiss cheese, truffled mayonnaise, pickles, yellow mustard, caramelised onions, house made bun, rustic chips
    With a burger lover amongst us, the signature Jones Burger was ordered and is definitely one we'd return for. A lot of burgers these days tend towards brioche buns, but we found the house-made white bun to be pleasantly savoury and soft.

    The wagyu beef patty was well seasoned, tender and not at all greasy, which made the act of eating a lot neater than expected. The pickles were a great, balanced addition, not being overly tart, while the truffle intensity in the mayonnaise was spot on.

    Twice cooked pork belly, caramel apple, prune puree, pickled fennel and walnut salad
    Our lovely maitre d' Macey also recommended the twice-cooked pork belly - a dish worth foregoing dinner for.

    Topped with golden, crisp crackling, the sticky chewiness of the pork belly and the fact that it wasn't too fatty made this a real joy to eat. The caramelised half apple on the side complemented the dish well, as did the fennel and walnut salad which offered respite from the rich flavours.

    Confit Atlantic salmon, roast beetroot, baked tomato, baby spinach, goat's feta, honey mustard vinaigrette
    In an attempt at looking at least a little healthy, we also had a salad of beautifully soft confit Atlantic salmon with sweet roasted beetroot, goat's cheese and crunchy walnuts in a vinaigrette dressing.

    Lemon verbena pana cotta with granita, strawberries and almonds
    To a necessarily shared dessert, but never have I seen a panna cotta with a wobble so gloriously mesmerising that we almost forgot to dig in to dessert as we played, granita melting away.

    The simple refreshing flavours of lemon verbena, strawberries and the silky smooth texture of the milky pudding made this a delightful way to end our meal.

    Jones the Grocer's varied menu manages to achieve their new goal of "good food, served fast" with aplomb. With customers seated closer to the kitchen and an increased pool of chefs to meet the demand of hungry shoppers, Jones the Grocer is certainly keeping up with clean modern Australian fare, fast.

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

    Jones the Grocer on Urbanspoon

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    The raging success of The Grounds of Alexandria shows little sign of slowing, with their recent opening of The Potting Shed neighbouring the existing café extravaganza.

    Taking over the structure and outdoor space that was formerly bistro James Barnes 4143, the new licensed lunch and dinner venue now joins the busy café, gardens, farmyard, weekend markets and outdoor barbeque offerings of The Grounds.

    The menu at The Potting Shed, Bourke Road, Alexandria
    The Potting Shed's outdoor space and bar are kitted out in true The Grounds style; that is, on-theme, rustic garden chic for the inner city types that don't have a garden let alone a potting shed.

    Gardening tools make for cute props and accents throughout the venue: from the mini trowel holding the clipboard menu, to those on the beer taps, and repurposed mini hoes as table numbers.

    The fitout provides the same sense of wonder that the kids get out of The Grounds, just with a liquor license and fewer munchkins and animals running about.

    Outdoor garden seating
    The food menu comprises share plates and meaty mains of a casual bistro style fitting to the area and crowd, while at the bar there's plenty of beer on tap, available in growlers even, wine, cocktails and a back bar full of spirits and fresh juice on request.

    (Large) Steamed black mussels with tomato sofrito and chorizo, roast garlic bread
    We started with the mussels from the share menu, available in a small or large size, with garlic bread. The mussels were cooked well in a tomato-based sauce that was way too sweet, tempered by the occasional sliver of chorizo.

    The garlic bread for mopping up sauce took me right back to the days of Pizza Hut's foil-wrapped, delivered numbers: soft white bread soaked in butter.

    Roasted baby beets, watercress, radicchio, hazelnuts, pickled golden shallots, goats cheese cigars and apple balsamic
    Next was an epic salad from the selection of three full-sized options featuring baby beetroots beneath a mound of watercress and radicchio dressed with crushed hazelnuts and an apple balsamic vinegar.

    The piece de resistance of the salad were the goat's cheese cigars of crisp pastry cylinders filled with airy, creamy goat's cheese in a heavenly match with the baby beets.

    David Blackmore full-blooded wagyu cheeseburger with chips
    I was wooed by the wagyu cheeseburger with chips served in a mini terracotta pot. The chips and tart mustard dipping sauce hit the spot just right but the large burger was a disappointment.

    The roughly minced wagyu beef patty was served closer to rare than medium-rare and had an unexpected amount of chewy, inedible bits while the white, poppy seed-topped bun was thoroughly uninteresting, detracting from the whole experience - dill pickles, mustard seed onions, tomato chilli jam, lettuce and all. At least the chips were great.

    Slow cooked grain-fed Angus short rib with sweet & sour glaze, spiced eggplant and garlic chips
    Much better were the Angus beef short ribs from the mains menu, also served on a wooden board. Accompanied by roasted eggplant cubes, soft, sweet roasted eschallots, and crisp garlic chips, the tender, slow-cooked beef was still pink inside and relished in its sweet and sour glaze.

    The Potting Shed, like its older sibling next door, knows exactly what it is, what it's offering and who it's making that offering to. A well-considered addition to the barely-existent nighttime offerings in Alexandria, it will likely grow and improve like The Grounds has over time, and I'm happy to potter about in the meantime.

    The Potting Shed on Urbanspoon

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    Posted by Hendy

    Returning for its second year, the Ramen Nights menu from Bondi Beach contemporary Japanese restaurant and bar PaperPlanes is set to warm up the the oncoming winter chills. Landing from tonight and throughout the winter period, PaperPlanes has its ramen game on with a broad menu and $5 specials nights.

    PaperPlanes Restaurant and Bar, Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach
    Head chef Jin Kung and her team have crafted a unique menu for the beachside restaurant, morphing traditional Japanese dishes with the ideology of the often eccentric and vibrant Japanese pop culture.

    Inside the restaurant, there is an extensive ceiling installation of 500 skateboard decks and hanging aluminium origami cranes, while the long bar lit with a purple-y neon light takes inspiration from vibrant Tokyo areas such as Shibuya and Akihabara.

    The eccentric ceiling made of skateboard decks and hanging origami
    Jin and her team have managed to simplify, albeit quite well, a ramen menu with a two-step ordering system: choose your topping first and base broth second. Three toppings are available: slow-cooked chashu roast pork, crispy karaage chicken and crunchy tempura prawn.

    All three topping options are joined with a soft boiled egg, bamboo shoots, naruto cured fish cake, sweet corn kernels, shallots and nori seaweed. There's also a vegetarian ramen option without the soft boiled egg and naruto, and with tofu and cabbage instead.

    There are four varieties of broth: PaperPlanes house broth, PaperPlanes spicy house broth, vegetable and konbu seaweed broth (vegetarian option), or the spicy vegetable and konbu broth.

    Edamame with chilli salt
    We had some starters ahead of our ramen feast, starting with edamame soy beans with chilli salt. The beans were firmer than I had expected, with the chilli salt spicing up the furry bean pods, giving them a salty hit with lingering heat.

    PaperPlanes pork belly bun with jalapeno mayonnaise
    Braving another spicy offering, we ordered the increasingly ubiquitous pork belly bun with jalapeño mayonnaise and pickled vegetable. Slightly bigger than the average bun, this combined two generous slices of pork belly chashu, turmeric pickled daikon and cucumber slices topped with jalapeño mayonnaise and shallots.

    The steamed bun was soft and velvety, and wonderful to hold with the fillings surprisingly fresh on the palate, with just a touch of heat from the jalapeño mayonnaise.

    Slow cooked pork chashu ramen with PaperPlanes house broth
    To the main game, we had the slow-cooked pork chashu ramen with PaperPlanes house broth. The house broth is made from a combination of chicken and pork, and is simmered for over ten hours. The broth had quite a unique, clean flavour; not as salty as a tonkotsu broth and quite thin.

    Immersed in the broth were thin, soft wheat noodles and toppings including half a soft-boiled egg still soft with a semi runny yolk, a slice of the pink-swirled naruto, bamboo shoots, a nori seaweed sheet and two slices of the slow cooked pork chashu.

    It was quite a flavourful bowl of ramen; one that did not weigh on you and one that allowed each of the topping to shine through.

    Crispy kara age chicken ramen with PaperPlanes spicy house broth
    We had the PaperPlanes spicy house broth for the crispy karaage chicken ramen, which uses the same house broth with the addition of spice paste. We found the spicy broth to be light on heat; unlike the lingering heat from the chilli salt.

    With similar toppings to the pork chashu ramen, plus corn kernels, the karaage ramen arrived with a separate plate of karaage fried chicken pieces.

    Kara age chicken pieces
    Definitely a highlight of the night, the light and fluffy batter of the chicken karaage had a subtle light crunch while remaining tender and moist on the inside.

    Tokyo POP Plant
    To finish on a slightly different, sweet note, we ordered the Tokyo POP Plant; a freshly potted mint sprig in an Oreo chocolate cookie and popping candy "potting mixture".

    Digging deeper into the pot, we discovered a layer of lemon cheesecake and crumble. The dessert gave off the energy and vibrancy of the Tokyo pop culture with its bursting popping candies, slightly overpowering tangy lemon curd, and dark but sweet Oreo soil.

    Sake, soy sauce on table
    To kick off the PaperPlanes ramen adventure, PaperPlanes is offering $5 ramen (with a drink purchase) across the two opening nights of Monday 5 May and Tuesday 6 May, and also on the first Monday of every month.

    The $5 ramen special nights include all ramen options as well as a host of other PaperPlanes temptations including lettuce cups, sushi rolls, sashimi, ceviche and PaperPlanes' signature salmon tartare nachos - more details here.

    Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of PaperPlanes.

    PaperPlanes on Urbanspoon

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  • 05/06/14--16:16: Good times collective #8
  • I knew this year would be different, in both good and bad ways. Change, however, can be good when seeming bad and vice versa. Good or bad times, there's always plenty of good food to be had.

    Tsukemen from Ippudo, Level 5, Westfield Sydney, Sydney
    I first discovered tsukemen dipping ramen inadvertently in Tokyo, Japan, and have been a fan ever since. Westfield Sydney's Ippudo, which still features evening queues out the front, recently introduced one variety of tsukemen to their menu.

    Served with thicker noodles than their usual ramen noodles, Ippudo's tsukemen is topped with thick, cold cuts of roasted pork, blanched green vegies, ajitsuge tamago soft boiled and flavoured egg, marinated daikon white radish strips and matchsticks of nori dried seaweed sheets.

    The piping hot soup for dipping the noodles is a combination of chicken and dashi bonito stocks from memory, and particularly fishy for it. While they only have the one variety of tsukemen, and still the queues, I'll be seeking my dipping noodles elsewhere.

    Chef - out in cinemas on 8 May 2014
    (Image courtesy of STUDIOCANAL)
    I saw a preview of the foodie movie Chef last week, which is out at Australian cinemas tomorrow. Chef is written and directed by Iron Man's Jon Favreau, who stars as a high-end chef. A spectacular scene with a critic sees him reconnect with his family and start a food truck, staffed by himself, a fabulous John Leguizamo and his cute 10-year-old son.

    Also starring Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey Jr, and Bobby Cannavale; Los Angeles food truck king Roy Choi of the Kogi food truck consulted on the film, ensuring the cheffy, food truck parts were as accurate as possible.

    It's a likeable, feel-good film for anyone in the restaurant or food truck industry, critics and bloggers, food lovers and any kid who's had to work in food. See the trailer here.

    Santa Fe salad from The Forresters, Riley Street, Surry Hills
    While change is afoot at some of Drink'N'Dine's other Surry Hills venues (Chica Linda opened where The Carrington was previously - review next), the ground floor of The Forresters hasn't altered its easy-going, something-for-everyone approach, including the excellent value $10 lunches.

    There is plenty on the not-so-healthy front so I did my best with a Hillbilly apple cider and the Santa Fe salad, which turned out to be one of those slightly naughty salads that you commit to memory.

    Featuring three tail-on grilled prawns, red and normal shredded cabbage, tomato, shallots and sliced jalapeño chillies in a lime dressing, the stars of the salad were chunks of pork belly, lightly battered and deep fried to a fatty crispness that obliterated any healthy thoughts.

    Anchoa from Movida, Sydney Domestic Airport, Mascot
    A flight delay the last time I went to Melbourne meant ample time, for once, to sit in at Movida's newest Sydney outlet in the domestic airport terminal.

    There's nothing like a fino sherry to calm the getting-to-the-airport anxiety, along with a bocadillo or two and Movida's signature anchoa tapas with a salty anchovy and capers lying on a surfboard of a cracker, topped with a quenelle of smoked tomato sorbet to combat the salt content and late flight stress.

    Duck liver parfait, grilled bread, pickles from Vicinity, Bourke Road, Alexandria
    With more openings in the formerly industrial and commercial areas of Alexandria, the expansive Vicinity Dining has its work cut out.

    A recent quick drop-in found the coffee to be decent; the duck liver parfait excellently creamy and accompanied well by plenty of grilled bread and interesting pickles; but a simple order for potato fries a little too hard, with pale, limp fries the result of the first attempt (which was then rectified).

    Takoyaki from Tamayaki, Dixon Street, Haymarket
    I've become a bit of a takoyaki octopus pancake balls snob since learning to make my own and visiting Osaka, Japan. The frozen, deep fried ones just won't do anymore so I was interested to check out the new-ish Tamayaki on the northern end of Dixon Street one evening after drinks, with their broad menu of "giant"takoyaki. 

    With cutesy manga cartoon branding and chain store style, the freshly made takoyaki take about six minutes to cook, and are then dressed with sweet, brown takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, katsuobushi dried bonito flakes and nori seaweed.

    Being a little larger in size than what we know as standard in Sydney, Tamayaki's four-in-a-serve takoyaki are a little airy and hollow inside, and while the scallop filling was amazingly sea-sweet, the traditional octopus option delivered some very chewy octopus pieces.

    El Loco salad from El Loco, Foveaux Street, Surry Hills
    I look forward to the day one of the El Loco venues becomes my local again. With (relatively) cheap tacos, that awesome hot dog, and slushie margaritas, El Loco is a guaranteed good time.

    The El Loco salad is a "healthy" option beneath the teepee (or twig sculpture?) of tortilla chips and shower of queso fresca cheese. This one had grilled prawns with shaved fennel and radish, cabbage, coriander and spring onions in a likeable El Loco dressing.

    Different is good and the good times will keep on coming; you just have to make sure you're making them happen.

    Ippudo Sydney on UrbanspoonThe Forresters on Urbanspoon

    MoVida @ The Airport on UrbanspoonVicinity Dining & Bar on Urbanspoon

    Tamayaki on UrbanspoonEl Loco on Urbanspoon

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    The latest restaurant instalment from the enterprising Drink'n'Dine pub group has surprisingly taken oven the tapas and pintxos offering at The Carrington, replacing it with the vibrant Latin American-themed Chica Linda - Spanish for 'hot lady', or 'beautiful girl'.

    The bar at Chica Linda, Bourke Street, Surry Hills
    Designed to be a casual affair of Latin American-influenced share dishes, Chica Linda opened to the public a last Friday with a riotously colourful makeover of the existing space out the back end of The Carrington, while the front, old-school pub remains with its pub menu and pie floaters.

    Chica Linda fitout
    The brief menu traverses Latin America and is separated into bites, arepaflatbreads, small and big dishes, family-style share dishes, sides and salads, and of course desserts.

    Hot Lady mixed drink
    And as ever, the drinks and cocktail list has a healthy dose of Drink'n'Dine fun and creativity, starting with the Hot Lady mixer of tequila, sweet pink guava soda and half a lime on lots of ice. Refreshing and easy to drink, it's a good one to start on.

    Caprininha Amazonica cocktail
    We managed to sample a fair whack of the cocktail list with the Tenga Huevo Sour featuring plum pisco tasting like Chinese salted, preserved plums.

    More fruity and enjoyable was the Caprininha Amazonica with cachaca and pineapple juice, shaken with an aromatic coconut sugar and garnished with a beautifully ripe segment of fresh pineapple.

    Burnin Passion shots
    If those aren't enough of a booze kick to start, try the vodka, passionfruit and orange "shots" served on fire, in a hollowed out passionfruit half.

    Quite the unusual sight not on top of a Zombie cocktail, the Burnin Passion shots are pure novelty with the alcohol-driven flames singing some edges of the passionfruit. Avoid drinking from the burnt bits to get a pretty sweet shot or so, depending on the size and balancing abilities of your passionfruit shell.

    Chicarones, guasacaca sauce
    With a drink or two under our belts, we were ready to tackle executive chef Jamie Thomas' menu, starting with excellently executed chicarones pork crackling.

    Airy, crisp and not oily, these boiled, dried and deep fried pork rinds were served with a very light seasoning, and a sensational green guascaca sauce that was vinegary, garlicky and all sorts of bliss with the puffy chicarones.

    Smoked pork arepas, honey chipotle glaze, pickled slaw (front) and grilled cheese arepas, corn salsa and salsa rojo
    Formed from ground maize, the dense arepas are offered with a choice of fillings sandwiched between the split yellow discs.

    While the smoked pork variety with a hunk of glazed meat and joyously contrasting red cabbage slaw and green sauce looked a treat, I went with the grilled cheese option which had a hunk of grilled haloumi cheese and a delightful salsa of corn, black beans and capsicum.

    Soft shell crab arepas, avocado, hot sauce
    Sure to be a crowd favourite is the soft shell crab arepa, with a lightly battered and fried portion of crab underlaid with mashed avocado and dressed with fresh coriander, julienned jicama and chilli.

    Flamed longaniza, aji chilli, pineapple
    From the smalls menu we had the coiled and skewered longaniza sausage, garnished with a chilli and pineapple salsa.

    The satisfyingly coarse, porky sausage filling was a highlight with sweet, spiced flavours bursting from within the smoky char of its flame-grill treatment. Along with the ripe pineapple dice of the salsa, it was sausage heaven.

    King crab diablo, spicy paprika sauce
    We moved on to what I thought was the piece de resistance of the meal: the share-sized King crab legs tossed in a spicy paprika sauce, with lots of lime and coriander.

    With the Drink'n'Dine group's messy and lovable House of Crabs probably going through tonnes of seafood a day, it's nice to see the crustacean love shared among venues.

    King crab diablo
    I found the sauce only mildly spicy and not overpowering the crab meat, although there are bottled hot sauces at the table for those who like it more fiery.

    The crab legs were best accessed with scissors and the claws with crackers, with sweet, juicy crab flesh in abundance in both. Not as messy as a HOC affair, finger bowls and plenty of napkins come still come in handy.

    Achiote smoked chicken, tomatillo salsa
    Another family style plate, the cuts of achiote smoked chicken were as comforting as they looked, served with another fabulous accompanying salsa.

    The chicken had a deep smoky flavour and that firm texture of smoked meat, and was particularly homely when eaten with a side of the soft Coca-Cola rice and beans.

    Puerto Rican roast pork, salsa criolla
    Another crowd favourite of the shared plates was the roast pork, served in thick slices with crackling and the corn salsa. Superbly spiced and juicily cooked, the tender pork tipped me over the edge on the main dishes.

    Green and red tomato, jicama, aji chilli, chia seeds, queso
    With the meaty mains I was glad to see the green and red tomato salad; a lively mix of colourful, ripe tomatoes, jicama sticks and grated queso cheese in a herbaceous dressing.

    Quinoa, barley, pomegranate, orange, labne
    The grain salad was about as on-trend as it gets, combining quinoa with barley, sweetened with orange segments and fresh pomegranate. The creamy labne yoghurt cheese brought some richness to a very healthy side salad.

    Two colour fries
    Eschewing the common potato, Chica Linda's two-colour fries comprise some long, very uniform sticks of deep fried sweet potato and cassava or yuca; the latter making for a firm, slightly starchier chip. It was nonetheless moreish with a spiced mayonnaise for dipping.

    Black Naga cocktail
    Thoroughly sated and impressed with our flash-tour of Latin America, we couldn't get away without dessert.

    There are a couple of cocktails that could be matched to dessert, including the dark Black Naga of Herradura Anejo tequila, chocolate bitters, brown sugar and a curious garnish of cucumber, served on the rocks. The dark chocolate flavour really came through, setting off the chocolate dessert well.

    Chocolate milke cake, mashmallow, buttermilk ice cream, passionfruit
    The rather complicated chocolate milk cake comprised a mousse and cake crumb, baked together forming a separated yet combined texture of the two, with a very mild chocolate hit. Easier to love was the fluffy marshmallow topping with passionfruit seeds and the refreshing buttermilk ice cream.

    Guava empanada, apple, dulce de leche ice cream, fried plantain
    For sweet-savoury lovers, it's hard to beat the fabulous puff pastry empanada, encasing a soft, sensual diced apple and guava filling.

    With just the right amount of spice and sweetness (just as comforting as the apple pie from a particular global fast food chain), the empanada was finished with a caramelly dulce de leche ice cream and lightly fried, crisp plantain shavings.

    Chica Linda fitout
    After a very well balanced meal thanks to the chef's choices, any sadness over the loss of pintxos and tapas from The Carrington were mostly erased. Chica Linda's nightly dinner and weekend breakfast and lunch offering looks to be capitalising on the Latin American food trend which is gaining plenty of traction this year.

    And unlike most hot ladies, Chica Linda is fun, approachable and not in the least pretentious - check her out.

    Food, Booze & Shoes dined as a guest of Chica Linda and Drink'n'Dine.

    Chica Linda on Urbanspoon

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    Posted by Kath

    You'll have to get in line with the hipsters if you're coveting a feed at Breakfast Thieves in Fitzroy. A magnet for fiends of trendy breakfast spots, this little gem is tucked away just off Smith Street among rows of Victorian semis and pockets of inspiring graffiti.

    Breakfast Thieves, Gore Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
    The food at Breakfast Thieves is just as creative as its hip Fitzroy surrounds, with a menu full of quirkily-named dishes like the 'Spanish Gypsy Dance' and 'Thieves on the Run'.

    The Leprechaun - Crisp fried corn fritters on rosemary roasted carrot puree,
    avocado-yuzu mousse, pickled cucumber pomegranate salad & poached eggs
    I certainly felt lucky when 'The Leprechaun' dish was laid before me featuring golden, crunchy corn fritters atop a bed of creamy, sweet carrot puree and two soft, runny-centred poached eggs.

    The blobs of yuzu-scented avocado mousse blobs added a touch of acidity and fancy plating, while the pomegranate brought lovely pops of colour and flavour to a refreshingly unique take on corn fritters.

    The Legend - Spicy baked eggs with Spanish chorizo, mushrooms,
    green peas, feta, served with herbed garlic toast
    'The Legend' was a fitting name for a breakfast dish that's becoming a staple across café menus everywhere, and this one lived up to its name.

    Two runny eggs were baked in a pool of tangy, lightly spicy tomato sauce that hid chorizo and mushrooms, sprinkled with salty feta cheese and peas. Two slices of herbed garlic toast came on the side to soak up all the eggy, saucy goodness.

    My Unusual "BBLT" French - Brioche French toast served with
    candied bacon, brûlée banana, lemon curd, roasted cherry tomatoes
    The dish of the day was hands down the "BBLT" with an unusual array of typical breakfast components.

    The combination of brioche French toast, caramelised banana segments and the most amazing lemon curd with the candied bacon and roasted cherry tomatoes was a triumph of sweet and savoury flavours, and had me experiencing a severe case of food envy.

    Cake & cookie selection
    Being a bit of a sweet tooth, I had to try something from the arresting shelves of cakes, cookies and pastries proudly on display.

    White chocolate lamington with Nutella
    The white chocolate lamington with Nutella sounded too good to be true, although it wasn't the soft pillowy treat I was hoping for. It did, however, provide enough sugar to fuel my subsequent graffiti exploration through the streets of Fitzroy.

    Chalkboard of wisdom at Breakfast Thieves
    True to their name, Breakfast Thieves are deliciously cheeky bandits of the Melbourne breakfast world, and if you don't leave entirely satisfied and coveting more, you'll at least leave with pearls of wisdom like the one above.

    Breakfast Thieves on Urbanspoon

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