Maxim’s Palace Chinese Restaurant, City Hall, Hong Kong

31 Aug
Maxim’s Palace City Hall,
Central, Hong Kong
There’s a saying in Cantonese that roughly translates to “the camera eats first”, and my trip to Hong Kong was as much about food as it was about the travel, so I didn’t feel at all self-conscious whipping out my camera to take happy snaps of every morsel.
In planning my trip, I got in touch with a now Hong Kong based childhood chum to say I’d be in town. He suggested a Yum Cha brunch; something we’ve done together since we were kids and the perfect opportunity to catch up.  Every traveller knows having a local show you the ropes is an absolute advantage and apparently, the best place to Dim Sum in Hong Kong is Maxim’s Palace at City Hall.

An extravagant setting overlooking the harbour and across to Kowloon, Maxim’s Palace is impressive. Enormous crystal chandeliers grace the ceilings of what I would describe as an elegant ballroom of spectacular proportions. On arrival, you need to march up to the touch screen like a boss, and take a ticket to secure a table. The queues are long. A testament to its popularity and the quality of the food.

Like any Dim Sum place, it’s a little like hunting, eyes scouring the room in an exercise of cart chasing. At Maxim’s the carts are state of the art, complete with an iPad slideshow, showcasing the wares within the bamboo steamers and stainless steel lids. Classic dumplings, sui mai, cheong fan, pai gwut, buns and all the best bits you can expect from shared Cantonese dining are on offer, Maxim’s upped the ante in terms of Dim Sum for me. Well and truly fancy, complete with silver dipped chopsticks, solely for serving.
For the traveller, after a night of partying in LKF (Lai Kwai Fong), Maxim’s is the perfect pick-me-up remedy, as my travel buddies can attest. I returned for a second visit with my mates during our stay. It was that good.
Dim Sum? Yum Yum.


Ho Lee Fook, Hong Kong

29 Aug Chef
Ho Lee Fook
1 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong
+852 2810 0860

If you’re after a purist Cantonese dining experience, move right along. Ho Lee Fook is Sino-nouveau cuisine. Playful, modern, exciting. Our experience at Ho Lee Fook was Ho Lee Batman fantastic.

When the usual social media call went out for dining recommendations for our Hong Kong escapade, Ho Lee Fook was suggested more than once. Perhaps a little ironic of us to head to a former Sydney-based chef’s (Jowett Yu) Hong Kong restaurant when spoilt for choice in Hong Kong with such great food. Given the emphatic enthusiasm with which the recommendations were shared, it would have been rude not to.
Clearly a popular choice, we tried the old fashioned way of securing a table, by phoning repeatedly to reserve our table. Each time we were rejected. So, we did the modern thing and decided to encamp outside, just before opening to petition our way in. Determined we were not going to head back to Sydney without giving it our all, our resident aerosexual, Kylie, took one for the team and made it impossible for them to refuse. They folded, and offered us a table, on the proviso that we vacated in an hour and fifteen minutes. Game on.
Leading us past the wall of golden waving cats, down the stairs to a cavernous-like den, we were seated quickly and ordered rapidly.

Mom’s “mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork” dumplings

Prawn toast
Soy Chicken (half)
Grilled Pork Belly
Stir fried greens so good, we actually ordered them again. Who’d have thought the side of veggies would be such a hit?
If you’ve been to Ms.G’s or Mr Wong’s you can expect the same of Ho Lee Fook. Succulent, popping Asian flavours with an edge. Disappointingly, we did overlook the signature rib dish, which some fellow diners waxed lyrical on it’s fabulous-ness when we were walking out. Order envy big time.
This place has a sense of humour. Great service, great price. Huge fan. If you’re in Hong Kong, a visit to Ho Lee Fook is a must. Ho Lee Fook (say it fast, go on) translates to something along the lines of good fortune for your mouth. And it is.

North Bondi Fish, Bondi

3 Jul

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North Bondi Fish
120 Ramsgate Avenue, North Bondi



Winter in Sydney can be spectacular. On a sunny Saturday, we lunched by the beachfront at North Bondi Fish, formally the home of the now defunct North Bondi Italian. This is the newest venture of the entrepreneurial Australian chef, Matt Moran.

We were seated perfectly, by the floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the beach at North Bondi with a good view of the brave and adventurous swimmers and surfers making their way through the waves.

Not surprisingly, given the location and name, the menu is all about seafood, though the menu design could do with some work. It is the cocktail and wine options that seem to be given greater gravitas in the layout. We really had to focus our attention on the single column of food options, visually overpowered by the drinks list. on either side. Cocktails to the left and wine to the right.

The menu is a little difficult to navigate and it wasn’t until sometime after perusing the options that we were advised that the dishes are designed to be shared, which seems to be all the rage these days.

We started with the seafood charcuterie board, impressively the fish looked very much like a traditional salumi charcuterie. Air dried tuna, a seafood-type pate, along with beetroot and citrus cured salmon, accompanied with cornichons, mustard and pickled onion.

The food came out speedily. We ordered two types of scallop – one a battered sweet potato disc, reminiscent of corner bar takeaways as well as seared scallops, served on the shell – sweet, fresh and singing with a hint of a coriander infused perfume. For those that are a little irksome of the herb, don’t be deterred. It is only a suggestion of it and pairs beautifully with the scallop. Next up was the snapper sashimi, dressed with a touch of  juicy citrus and what we thought may be a flash of clove. One that tantalised the tastebuds.

Salt and pepper calamari was done nicely and a crab and pea linguini with a hint of chilli were our substantial options. The calamari was good, though the linguini a little heavy and the flavour of the crab masked by the density of the pasta. The Quinoa salad was a good accompaniment.

For dessert, we opted to share the cheese plate. Three lovely cheeses served with lavosh and red grapes. Disappointingly, the cheese was too cold on service and we didn’t have the luxury of time to wait for the cheese to soften closer to room temperature, as we were rushed out by the staff for the next lunch sitting, though the restaurant was probably only one third full.

Verdict: A reasonably priced menu, lovely flavours pairing the fish and seafood. North Bondi Fish would benefit from a little less economy turning over tables when not too busy and rebalancing their menu design to emphasise the wonderful food options.

North Bondi Fish on Urbanspoon

Mary’s, Newtown

29 Jun cheese and bacon bloody mary

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6 Mary Street, Newtown


Bloody Mary’s.

That’s what we started with, but no ordinary Bloody Mary. This one was topped with a cheese slice, strip of bacon and half of a little white onion. Quite possibly a meal in itself, the flavour was unbelievable good; nay sensational. Almost burger like. Though, not content with this as a nightcap, after already eating an earlier dinner prior to a night out on the town for birthday drinks, we decided on a late night supper at Mary’s in Newtown.

Mary’s has a small yet enticing menu. It’s decidedly not for clean living. However, if you’re in the market for a grown-up’s version of childhood fast food favourites, you are in for a treat. Burgers, fried chicken, fries and the interestingly titled Trashcan Bacon are all on offer, along with the benefits of a licensed establishment.  A well-versed Americanophile, Mary’s had me salivating. The fried chicken is incredible. Herbs and spices aplenty, it would make even Colonel proud of it’s finger licking tastiness.

The real drawcard here are the burgers. At Mary’s, the burgers are better. It’s not drive through, but if you are driving by, definitely stop! The buns are lovely and light and the real hero is what is smacked between them. Beef, lettuce, tomato and a special sauce. I’d have to say, Sydney’s best burger – and a great place to eat for a happy meal.

Mary's on Urbanspoon

Rick Stein at Bannisters, Mollymook

22 Jun Grilled Local Rock Lobster with taragon, chervil

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Rick Stein at Bannisters
191 Mitchell Road, Mollymook


A magnificent prospect welcomes you on arrival to Rick Stein at Bannisters. Sapphire blue waters and white sands of Mollymook, a slice of heaven, to be sure. The region is pristine seaside Australia at its very best and it’s so easy to become completely enraptured with the place. All within a very easy 3 hour drive from Sydney.

Rick Stein’s venture is a seaside-seafood delight, set up for success. What, with the view, the big name chef and emphasis on fresh, local seafood it’s hard to not be impressed. It really is the perfect place to lunch with idleness. The menu is broad and carefully considered, this is not for the fish or seafood faint hearted. In fact, there is only one red meat option on the whole menu, most definitely for those with an aversion to all things aqua. Deciding on an entree was hard work, with so many excellent options. However, I’d advise to give the traditional seafood plate a miss and sample the “dressed” seafood options. I say this because there is an inherent requirement to sample just how harmoniously each dish melds. The grilled Hervey Bay scallops with hazelnut and coriander were generous and delicious. The prawn fritters were lightly battered and the accompanying chutney and salad balanced the sweetness with fresh tang. Though without doubt, the entree to order is the warm medley of shellfish – Fruits de Mer, gloriously bathed in butter, garlic, chilli, lemon.

For the main, the grilled local rock lobster caught my eye immediately. Yes, it is pricey (on the day $120 for 480g, including shell) but if you’re going to eat Lobster, eat it with Rick. A silky, French inspired buttery, chervil and tarragon sauce was the perfect compliment to the sweet lobster meat.

Chef Stein is a curry master and the Indonesian curry with Ling, squid and prawn was simply, liquid gold. Elegantly crafted, there was a real piquancy to the dish.

The Barramundi fillet with mash is a solid option for those wishing to veer on the side of aquaculture caution. Both substantial and well presented.

The Singapore Chilli blue swimmer crab was all things it should be – a hands-on, messy festive delight.

The beauty in this food is that there is very little interference with the star ingredient. Because, let’s face it, excellent seafood requires very little assistance. And therein lies the mastery of it all. No overcooking or meddlesome and clumsy attempts to overcomplicate the dishes. Simply delicate, considered accoutrements to accompany perfectly cooked fish & seafood. It just works.

Alas, the restaurant namesake and man himself was nowhere to be seen. We were just a couple of weeks shy of his return, so this foodie was afforded the dignity of not being starstruck – for this visit at least.

Food, wine & service? Par excellence!

Rick Stein at Bannisters on Urbanspoon

Cafe Paci, Darlinghurst

7 May

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Cafe Paci
Level 1, 95 Riley Street,
(02) 9368 7000


What’s all the buzz around pop up Cafe Paci? Well for starters, it’s not what comes to mind when you think of a cafe. It seemed everyone I know had been talking about it. The site is the old Cafe Pacifico, a tequila taqueria where I had spent the occasional night on the tiles (and tables). The space is all about economy, in true pop-up style. It’s had a lick of paint, to give the impression of Scandinavian chic, but for all intents and purposes, the room has remained largely unchanged. A couple of neon lights knocked out of the street signage demonstrates true economy, with ‘Cafe Pacifico’ reborn ‘Cafe Paci’. Genius. There is even a subtle play on the name of Chef Pasi Petanen.


The seasonal set prix fixe menu of $85 was what we were all about, cryptically identified by either a word or just listing ingredients. There was no way we could anticipate what would be forthcoming, only for grace of excited friends, who’d been there, done that and figuratively ‘got the t-shirt’, otherwise known as Cafe Paci evangelists (Jarek, Melody, I’m looking at you). Nine courses of extraordinary imagination is what distinguishes a degustation dining experience and its culinary artistry, the Maker’s Mark of The Chef. In terms of culinary creativity, Cafe Paci was outstanding. Visually interesting presentations and some really strange pairings made interesting bedfellows for many of the dishes. I do lament somewhat, at the lack of anywhere near substantial animal protein in the dishes. However, for the price, I think what was presented was fair.

We started with a dose of gluten paradise. A dark mound of rye bread with hints of malt & honey. If that was manna, I was in the heaven of bread. I’m not certain it was part of the degustation, but the bread was amazing. It really was. ‘snacks’ kicked us into the set menu mode. Grouped as a trio – crispy barramundi skin was an unusual concept, but heck, went with it and was happy to chew and snack on the canapé sized bites. Then very quickly came a standalone dish of a cheesy taco emulsion. Good stuff.

After the nibbles were out of the way, we were presented with a succession of more substantial dishes, started with blue swimmer crab, sorrel, plum. Presented to us, sparsely on a large plate, I liked the idea of this combination – both texturally and flavour, but on the day, the pairings didn’t quite gel for my palate.

THAT’S AMORE was absolute love for me. The capitalisation is deliberate. Because, when you find love, you want to shout it from the rooftops. This dish tasted incredibly of pizza. In its entirety it delivered a pizza party in your mouth and the wonderment for me was how it could be achieved with such simple ingredients. In the words of Joey Tribbiani, “what’s not to love?”, Angus tartare…good. Tomato…good. Parmesan…good. Garlic & oregano…good! This was one of the real standouts of the evening.

Onion, lemon vinegar, mullet roe, hazelnut. It was prettily presented and quite tasty, though all we marvelled about when eating this dish was about how high the margin must be on the food, given they’d just deconstructed a cocktail onion and doused it in healthy lashings of butter.

Photato. A clever representation of the Vietnamese Pho. I perceived this a high value dish (ie, one that contained protein) I was eagerly anticipating the experience. When presented with flourish, we were instructed that the potato was shredded to represent the noodles as in a traditional Pho. This was worthy of the crescendo on the menu.

Onto desserts. ‘Carrot, yogurt, liquorice’. I quite liked this unusual grouping. The carrot gel and yogurt whip cut through the density of the liquorice cake base. For me, it was quite moreish. ‘Malt, banana, parsley’. This grouping provided for an interesting tang and the interplay between the banana and parsley. Though for me, the density of the paste made me feel quite full and soldiering through the entire dish felt a little like trudging in wellies in the rain.  ‘Corn and butter’ was essentially fairy floss in the shape of a popped corn kernel that tastes like popcorn. Who doesn’t love the popcorn flavour without those tiresome little kernel skins getting stuck in your teeth? ‘Pork and fennel’ was morsels of pork crackle smothered in chocolate and punctured with fennel seeds. As peculiar as it sounds, it was a very satisfying texture and flavour combination.

I’d be happy to employ a user pays system for the chance to sample Chef’s mastery for more meat/seafood dishes. The service and drinks list was good, though the cocktails I sampled were a bit ‘eh meh’. However, the experience wasn’t packaged that way. It was all about the food and the drinks and service were at an acceptable level to tack on. This I see as a considerably opportunity to really create something special, especially now the sense of “pop-up” fades, as the lease has been signed until January 2015. The only other criticism I would venture – the acoustics of the room. Fine for the days of table top dancing and tequila slammers, but for what they are serving and the ambience they are trying to hit, something needs to be done. I felt a little like Grandpa Simpson in conversation. I know I was shouting across the table and in turn, being shouted at, with very little clue as to what we were actually trying to say to each other.

Cafe Paci is perhaps the most refreshing approach to culinary artistry I have experienced in a few years, I’m looking forward to visiting again and if you haven’t been, enthusiastically encourage the same of you.

Cafe Paci on Urbanspoon

Nomad Restaurant, Surry Hills, Sydney

4 May

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16 Forster Street, Surry Hills


After a failed attempt at a walk-in (no reservation) dinner at Nomad, I was particularly taken with the glassed-in hanging charcuterie display of smoked & cured carnivorous goodness and knew for my own sake, that I needed to get back there real soon to sample, so I swiftly took matters into my own hands, jumping online later that evening to book ahead.

Nomad is in the heart of Sydney’s Hipsterville, Surry Hills. A warehouse conversion with a warm industrial feel. There’s a lot to take in, but it’s visually exciting and has a vibrant buzz.The table height display of assorted drinking goblets and glasses is particularly pretty and I’m not sure whether seating me directly backing onto the exposed table full of glassware was going to end well – for them or me. Thankfully, my jinx tendencies remained intact and we parted with not a broken glass in sight.

Nomad has a proud house tradition of smoking, curing, pickling  & culturing their own meats, creams, butter, etc. I feel a strong connection to the idea of this, as it is in the tradition of my own childhood – A process that connects families with something ancient learned and shared. Something uniquely owned by that group of people. Humble, wholesome, connected, tasty. A reminder of the good things the past season has unveiled and preserved in time for future enjoyment.

Intrigued by the $66 tasting menu, we explored that option, but decided against it, simply because there was not enough protein based dishes. Like a game of pool, we mixed it up with smalls and bigs (plates, that is).

The charcuterie selection was the first thing ordered and delivered. Growing up with European ancestry, I was charmed, though something a little tart to cut through the very good fattiness would have been handy. I was absolutely gob-smacked by the goodness of the Goats Cheese Churros. It made my heart flutter and I went weak at the knees. Of course, if there is a scallop dish on the menu, I will sniff it out and insist upon it. This one had cauliflower puree, and if scallop and cauliflower were star signs, you would scarce find a more compatible match.

The wedge of haloumi was perfectly subtle, though not a fan of raisins, I could take or leave them. I chose the latter.

On the recommendation of our very lovely waiter, we ordered the chicken and it was worth deviating plan (I mean, who orders chicken when you go out?). The pork was the only dish that really didn’t wow me. It was a little dry and the power of the flavours just didn’t punch out like I had hoped. However, the accompanying cheddar gratin was superb.

Onto desserts and we shared the both the Bunuelos with rose water and cardamom custard and the Daintree Estate Chocolate Cake with Iranian apricot, and the house made crème fraîche. Both wickedly delightful.

With an Australian only wine list, it is a nice way to explore winemakers and their wines you wouldn’t usually be exposed to. At first, a little uncomfortable with the idea that I was restricted to Australian wines, in retrospect it is a lovely homage to all that is good and local.

I’d heard mixed views on Nomad and I was glad to go myself to check it out.

Don’t be deterred by the awkward website navigation for online reservations. On the night, Nomad was stellar. Service was superior, attentive. Food was generous and delicious.

Nomad on Urbanspoon


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