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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Mary’s
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,
Darlinghurst
(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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Nomad
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

The Study, Singapore

27 Mar Study

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The Study
49 Keong Saik Road
Singapore
+65 6221 8338

I’d been referred to a little haunt for my Singapore layover en route to India, by my most excellent, local expat informant. Keong Saik Snacks was the hottest place in town, alongside the neighbouring bar, The Library. With exactly 5 hours to execute a whirlwind bar & dining experience & be ready to board a plane to the next port, my plus one and I had little time to waste. Sunset drinks at Lantern Bar at the Fullerton Bay hotel was the perfect start to break journey and a quick dash though the lobby and a well executed taxi queue leap frog and we were on our way. 

Keong Saik Snacks is impossible to find. Not because of its elusive exclusivity, but because it no longer exists. We traipsed up and down Keong Saik Road like a pair of treasure hunters. It must be here. It just must! A quick side move to the hotel next door to ask for help and we were redirected to our original standing place outside a glass door, and a title…The Study. Perplexed we entered, sharing our utter confusion with the lovely Christine, who assured us we were in the right place.  Like a star witness, this place had been given a new identity…a new passport, name and planted exactly where it had last been seen. An excellent witness protection strategy.

The name change was motivated by patron confusion. Apparently perceived as a peanut and pretzel joint, the decision to rebrand was a good one, in my professional opinion (in the capacity of my day job – marketing). I too was a little confused by the name and well, to be honest, a little sceptical on the initial recommendation. It’s all down to trust in cases like these, but if I didn’t have the referral, I would have haphazardly stated “next” and booked elsewhere. 

A relative newcomer to the stable of the very talented British chef Jason Atherton, The Study is a compact space, friendly and welcoming. A short, sharp, best-of British style menu, with some competing stand outs made selection a tough gig. We agreed to share our food and so kicked off with salt &pepper squid as well as tuna tartare with avocado & sesame.

 

 

 

Our mains saw us share a medium-rare beef steak as well as battered snapper with mushy peas. We both had duck fat chips as an accompaniment. And I’m glad, because I would be loathe to share those potato delights. 

The steak, more rare-blue than medium-rare (not that either of us were complaining. Infact, it was preferred), was tender, succulent and beefy. I was never a convert of pepper sauce- until now. This one was lovely. 

We washed it down with a glass of Chilean red. We were time pressured and the lure of The Library, a secret cocktail bar next door, was too good to pass up. After obtaining the password earlier, under the guise of needing to use the facilities, we walked next door through a Scooby-doo type secret bookcase to a delightful den of cocktails. Well worth a visit too.

Did you know?
      • Jason Artherton’ s restaurant Pollen Street Social gained a Michelin Star in 2011, its opening year

Casa Ciuccio, Fitzroy

7 Jan Ciuccio

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Casa Ciuccio
15 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, VIC
Phone:  (03) 8488 8150

The last day of Spring had sprung.

In anticipation of a mammoth day of eating (and drinking), I started my day interval training by running up stairs. A quick flight to Melbourne from Sydney and my eating extravaganza began. Starting with a long, long lunch at Casa Ciuccio.

Casa Ciuccio resides on Gertrude Street, in the ever-hip & unsectarian hub of Fitzroy. Whilst this house is Italian in name, the menu draws on broad Mediterranean influences. This is no Ma & Pa checkered tablecloth, Fettuccine Bosciaola, Dean Martin “That’s Amore”,  shop front, but an elegant, welcoming and stylish destination with a bent to the cuisine of those places the Romance Languages originate (Italic based languages: Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish).

Lunching in the private dining room affords you some special treatment extras. Guided up the stairs of the converted terrace, I was directed to the sunny outside deck alongside the Chooch Bar and promptly provided with a Goblet of Summertime deliciousness– a cocktail of Rose, Liquor 23, lime and an assortment of summer fruits. With all the fruit, seriously, who really needs a Vitamix? I felt I was doing something good for my body and inducing happiness, all at the same time. For maximum effect, we had a few more.

We opted for The Family Feast package at $65pp. Contrary to what the name suggests, it is not a bucket of the Colonel’s finest legs and breasts, but a feast to be sure. The dishes are designed to be shared and the nibbles are moreish. I couldn’t tell you the timing of the plates, though we remained on the deck from the Olives to the Piementos de Padron. There are no guarantees in life, but I was hoping I would bite into a cheeky, hot pepper – apparently, every fifth chilli is a hot one. No luck. If you’re dining a la carte here, definitely one to order. The peppers were aromatic, charred to perfection; still crisp and not too sweet.

We were ushered to the private dining room, on the promise of Cava and so obediently complied. – The room is elegant and welcoming and makes you feel just a little bit posh. It’s airy, light and a little grand. It makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time – for the formality of it. A proper pass-the-salt-type dining table centres the room, with a sideboard silver service, drinks trolley and the odd kitsch ornament. Heck, they even make Carnations look cool.

All the substantial plates were succulent and tasty. Although a little anaemic in appearance, the pork belly was good. Really good. I could taste sherry in the accompanying jus, sweet and ever so slightly tangy. The chicken dish was moist and fragrant. For me, the standouts dishes were without doubt, the prawns, along with the couscous salad. The prawn dish was mastery in its simplicity. There is something special about preparing crustacean in its shell. There is a sweetness that you can never replicate without their armoury and these sea creatures were charred to elegant perfection. So, so tasty.

Casa Ciuccio is a terrific venue, equally for small groups or largish ones. And the service? It was stellar.

“The Family Feast” $65pp

Green manzanilla olives

Pistachios, cashews + spices

Yellow fin Tuna ‘a la gallega’

Pimientos de Padrón

Grilled King prawns with smoked salt

Coal pit roasted spiced rubbed Pork Belly

Coal pit Chicken pil pil

Israeli Couscous, coriander, carrot, almonds and spiced dressing

Baby potatoes

A selection of imported cheeses

Dulce de leche cream pot + peanut praline

Did you know?
      • Ciuccio means “Donkey” in colloquial Italian.
      • PIMIENTOS DE PADRÓN are small green peppers (5-7 centimetres long) unique to Padrón, a region of South West Galicia in North West Spain.

Casa Ciuccio on Urbanspoon

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