After eyeing this place for the last 6 years, I finally bit the bullet and visited Baumé in Palo Alto last week. I posted my review on Medium.
Momofuku Seiobo is located in Star City Casino (or rather, “The Star”). It’s opposite a dessert place where mini dessert plates wander around a sushi-train track. Like its neighbor, Momofuku is kind of novel. The room is divided into a section with tables, and a bar area, which surrounds the place where the action occurs – a completely open kitchen, where you watch the Momofuku team prepare your food right in front of you.
The meal started off well, but after the novelty of the initial dishes, things devolved into gimmickry as I realized that most of the dishes being served weren’t particularly unique, other than perhaps in their presentation. That said, their signature dish – the pork belly accompanied by a small bottle of sriracha – was super tasty.
I had also ordered the juice pairings. At $55, I knew I was being ripped off – but years of not being able to partake in alcohol pairings had taken their toll, and I wanted to pretend to be a grown up. There was one glass of juice served with every two courses – they served the juice in wine glasses, and filled the like they were wine (i.e. not to the top). Apart from a few interesting juices – like a very sweet beetroot juice – most of them were ordinary – like the watermelon and blood orange juices.
Their final gimmick is that the dessert they serve is a semi-sweet but mostly savory shredded pork. I have a sweet tooth so I felt a little robbed.
The service is very casual – the waitstaff is young and attired in sneakers – and the show put on by the kitchen staff is enthralling. I liked walking through parts of the kitchen to get to the toilet (which comes with instructions on how to perform the Heimlich maneuver… in Spanish).
Don’t get me wrong, the meal is pretty good, but for what it’s worth, it would be a lot more palatable at half the price.
$175pp. Add $55 for juice pairings. Momofuku Seiobo has 3 hats from the 2013 SMH GFG.
Sepia is a pretty solid mod oz fine dining joint (is mod oz still a phrase people use?). It’s housed at the bottom of the building that PricewaterhouseCoopers is in on Sussex St. The last time my dining companion and I were in that building together was literally 10 years ago, when we were uni students, participating in a consulting competition (which our team ended up winning). I had also interviewed for PwC’s IT consulting arm in that same year, and they had a horrible group interview round – a rather torrid experience (which I did not end up winning). Ten years later, and my friend is now married with a baby, both of whom were also at the dinner.
Sepia is a pleasant, brightly lit restaurant. As unusual as it may have been to take along a baby to a restaurant like this, the waitstaff took it all in stride and we ended up with a bench seat where he could sleep through the whole meal.
Due to some misinformation about when our parking lot was due to close, we asked them to squeeze the ten or so courses into 2 hours. To their credit, they managed to do this without batting an eyelid, maintaining a good, even pace. I’m guessing the meal would normally extend to 3-4 hours. Apart from that, service ranged from clinical to incomprehensible – the people they chose to announce the dishes were not native English speakers (to put it kindly).
The food was solid, in a way you would expect from this type of restaurant, but not especially memorable. The only things I remember were the initial dishes being great (sashimi), then kind of petering out towards the end (a bland scroll of squid; a bowl full of foam), and a terrific dessert (sorbet with a chocolate “soil”).
A nice meal, and a great atmosphere and opportunity to catch up with old friends, but going once is probably enough.
$165pp for the tasting menu (not including drinks). Sepia has 3 hats from the 2013 SMH GFG.
Spice Temple is another of Neil Perry’s restaurants. You enter through a big door, on which they’ve mounted a huge television screen showing a billowing curtain. You then travel down a stairwell into a bar area. The eating area is to the right and is unlit, except for a lamp hanging over each table that illuminates food like a spotlight. You need to squint through the murkiness when you talk with your dinner companions. This is a place for intimate meals, rather than large groups.
“It’s Chinese food, but as long as you don’t think it’s Chinese food, it’s pretty good,” was how Spice Temple was described to me. It’s a pretty good description. Doing a fine dining take on Chinese food is a somewhat risky endeavor. The cuisine and its fans don’t often lend themselves well to pomp and circumstance. While you can get the occasional expensive dish, price is often no indication of quality, and the service and décor of a restaurant is relatively uniform regardless of where you’re eating – the focus is on the food. Spice Temple puts a bit of a spin on traditional Chinese dishes, and it does it quite well. It’s just pricey for Chinese food.
The plate of pickled cucumbers was pretty addictive, and the tea smoked duck was tasty. They also did a different spin on the ol’ sweet and sour pork – but it was still ultimately sweet and sour pork. The standout for me was the lychee granita dessert (but then again, it’s not hard to impress me if anything has lychee in it).
About $200 for a party of 3 (3 courses, shared dishes, not including drinks). Spice Temple has 2 hats from the 2013 SMH GFG.
I was in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago visiting a friend from Australia and one of the things he asked me to bring along from the US was some cheese. “The more pungent the better. I can’t get real cheese in China,” he wrote to me. A particularly high proportion of Chinese are lactose intolerance – apparently because it has not traditionally been a part of the diet – so cheese is almost completely absent from Chinese cuisine.
I brought along the veiniest slab of Gorgonzola I could find, a block of Brie and a couple slices of harder cheese. He has an 18-month old who tasted a bit of Brie and couldn’t get enough – so much so that he learned how to say the word “cheese” that day. Then my friend fed him a piece of Gorgonzola and he immediately scrunched up his face in confusion before spitting it out.
An article from Slate looks at why Chinese, who can stomach things such as smelly tofu – which, when sold on the street side, can stink up multiple city blocks – but not even the milder cheeses:
Over several visits to Shaoxing, I wondered what the locals, such ardent lovers of rotted soymilk and vegetable stalks, would make of rotted cow’s milk, otherwise known as cheese. Finally, I returned to Shaoxing with a boxful of artisanal cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, including the smelliest I could find in the shop. I had selected one mild hard cheese, Isle of Mull, to serve as a kind of toe-in-the-water; Stichelton, which is an unpasteurised version of Stilton; pale, veined Harbourne Blue; Ardrahan, a fairly whiffy washed-rind cheese that I adore; Milleens, another washed-rind variety with a punchy, farmyardy aroma that acquires a hint of ammonia as it ripens; and a wildly smelly Brie de Meaux. By the time I reached Shaoxing after a week on the road, the cheeses had all ripened nicely, and some were beginning to ooze.
At the Xianheng, a waitress cut the cheeses into pieces, and the assembled tasters began to pick them up with their chopsticks, sniffing and tasting. And where I had been impressed by what cheese and stinky soya products had in common, these culinary professionals were immediately struck by their differences.
Lobster processors shuck lobsters whole and (mostly) unbroken from their carapaces by immersing them in high-pressure water. Like, really high pressure. The pressure separates the meat from the shell cleanly. The lobsters are then dunked again, in even higher pressure – 87,000 pounds per square inch – to kill all the germs on them. (By comparison, the pressure at the bottom of the Marianas Trench is about 16,000 psi.)
According to Maine Lobster Promotion Council executive director Kristin Millar, John Hathaway is the only processor in the United States using this high-pressure water-immersion method for processing raw, fresh Gulf of Maine lobster. In fact, because other lobster processors freeze their processed product or cook it first, and because Hathaway puts his processed lobster through the high pressure process a second time, bringing the pressure up to 87,000 psi, which removes any lingering pathogens and bacteria after it’s been shucked, washed, weighed, and sealed, and, without using heat, extends its shelf life to an astonishing 30 days. Millar said, “To my knowledge, he’s the only processor of raw, fresh lobster meat in the world.”
Bonus link: David Foster Wallace’s highly readable article on the Maine Lobster Festival.
For all the work its elaborate grading process entails, the Michelin Guide is parsimonious when reviewing restaurants, allotting its treasured stars sparingly to a select few. Eighty-one restaurants from around the world currently have the distinction of holding three stars, which the Guide merely mentions as denoting a place with “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”.
Because of its location, getting to the French Laundry necessitates a special journey. It seems strange that a restaurant stuck in a rustic town called Yountville, smack in the middle of Napa Valley and two hours’ drive from most of the Bay Area managed to become what’s regarded by many to be America’s finest restaurant.
In addition to the journey, some forward planning is required, as the Laundry only takes booking up to two months in advance. Dinner bookings are usually in such demand that each day’s 60 or so seats are snapped up within minutes of the reservation line opening each morning. Lunch bookings are a little easier to come by. In March, after getting a busy signal on the phone for about an hour, I managed to get placed on the waiting lists for all three days of the Memorial Day long weekend. The next day I lucked out – it appears that someone had cancelled and a 9.15pm spot had opened up for the Friday night. It would be a late night drive back, but there wasn’t any other option.
Yountville is quaint and well manicured. As you stroll through the town in the evening, you see nice cars, diners in dressy attire that seems at odds with the casual countryside setting, and several attractive restaurants, including Bouchon (Thomas Keller’s more affordable eatery). The Laundry is situated at the end of the main drag, in an old house which has variously served as a brothel, restaurant, and an eponymous French laundry over its 100 year old lifetime.
Inside, its tables are split between two renovated floors. Although the tables are spaced tightly together, it does not feel cramped, nor do the other diners feel too close. However, it is still easy to eavesdrop on the discussions of your louder neighbours. The lighting is pleasing – soft and not dim – with a single candlelight adding some atmosphere on each table. The pleasant toilets fit one person at a time, and come with linen hand towels and the usual accoutrements.
Arriving at about 9, we were ushered upstairs to a table next to the front balcony, which overlooks a vegetable garden that the restaurant uses to grow some of its ingredients. After inquiring whether we had dined there before (none of us had), our waitress left us alone to decide on the menu while they filled our glasses up with water. (One thing I love about America is that water is always provided and it is always free – unlike a certain Sydney establishment which plied our group with water throughout the night only to present us with a $110 bill for it at the end. $110! For water!)
She returned after some time, and after reciting our selected menu top to bottom without flubbing anything, we were on our way.
There’s not much to decide on the menu. It changes every day, but there’s always a “normal” menu and a vegetarian menu. Ten courses, three of them with internal choices. There are three additional complimentary plates – two appetizers, and one pre-dessert. The first main course is a constant: the signature Oysters & Pearls, which is also the first course at Per Se.
It goes without saying that the food is top notch. As far as fine dining joints go, the menu doesn’t rely on a lot of funky ingredients or weird cooking techniques. The flavours are usually familiar, but are done super well. One of the stand out dishes was a fat, tasty scallop, cooked all the way through to perfection and slightly seared on the outside. There weren’t any weak dishes. To me, the food seemed to be noticeably better than at Per Se.
The service at this restaurant is without parallel. It was seamless and flawless. The army of waitstaff are dressed alike, including the women (I always thought that ties looked strange on women), and are drilled like an army. Periodically, a stream of four waitstaff would clomp past us to present the next course to the next table – a party of six – so that everyone would be served simultaneously.
Pacing of courses is excellent and appropriately varied. They seemed to blend in well with the tempo of table conversation.
They are super attentive. Water glasses were never empty, and when you walk away to the restrooms, they don’t just refold your napkin; they replace the entire thing. Details, details.
My mum doesn’t like cheese, so when the cheese course came around, she had a nibble at one slice, and pushed the rest to the side. When the army came to collect the plates, one of the waiters noticed the leftover cheese and immediately turned to mum with an expression on his face that looked like we just told him that the family dog had just died.
When mum told him that she didn’t like the dish, he offered to replace it with different cheeses. Another waitress in the meantime had caught wind of mum’s manifestation and materialised on the other side of her, a similar look of concern emblazoned on her face.
Mum clarified that she didn’t like cheese in general (she’s lactose intolerant), and he offered to replace the course with something entirely different. At this point, I’m not sure whether he, or mum, was more embarrassed. After assuring them things were perfectly fine and that she didn’t need the course replaced, they apologised again and moved on.
If there was anything to fault them on, it was that they were too starched and too formal. It was as if they were afraid that a sense of humour would cause them to blemish the atmosphere with an inadvertent faux pas. The next door table cracked a joke while their waitress was presenting a course and, while the table was raucous with laughter, she paused briefly and uncertainly, a nervous smile fleetingly dashing across her face, before ploughing on through the rest of her spiel as if nothing had happened.
Now, I don’t know whether it was a coincidence, or if they have superhuman hearing, but I did remark at one point in the night to my parents that they seemed to be a bit too rigid. Soon after that, our waitress started to relax a little, cracking the odd joke here and there.
By the time the mignardises/petit fours came, I was stuffed. We had all the chocolates boxed (including some really awesome choc-coated toasted macadamias), and they put them in a gift bag along with some shortbread. Unlike Per Se, where some chocolates mysteriously went missing between our table and the kitchen, the Laundry really did box everything for us. The wooden clothes peg which holds the napkin is their calling card, so diners are encouraged to take them home. They also presented us with a copy of the night’s menu in a folder which was an excellent touch (apparently Keller used to sign these personally, back in the day where he didn’t own so many restaurants). A copy of the bill was handwritten on an old-style laundry receipt tag – complete with tear off docket and string – which is also intended to serve as another memento of the meal. You’re never too old for a gift bag!
Finally, they offered us a tour of the kitchen. It was nearly 1am at that stage, and the kitchen was busy cleaning up. They actually have a large TV screen on one wall, on which they constantly stream a live video feed of Per Se, their sister restaurant in New York (it was almost 4am there and people were still cleaning up the kitchen). Although Per Se is meant to be on par with the Laundry, I would have to say that if you had to pick between the two, go to the latter.
The text underneath the TV reads: When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear; to make people happy. That’s what cooking is all about.
I recognise the oddity of a restaurant review in which only a couple of paragraphs are written about the food. But when you fork out this much dough for a meal, you’re not just paying for food – you’re paying for an experience. That’s why dinner there is at least a four hour affair. The quality of the food should be a given – but you also want to feel pampered. The French Laundry certainly gets that part right. And Michelin was spot on.
$250 per person, plus CA state tax. Happily, tips are included in that price. Coffee/tea are complimentary. Other drinks are, of course, extra. There is a dress code (coats for men), which struck me as very un-Californian.
Vanity Fair has a fascinating article about the role that State dinners play, all the protocol and diplomacy that underlies them, and how each President brings their own style to these dinner party-of-dinner parties.
Like most presidential couples, both Nixons reviewed the seating plan for state dinners once the social secretary had made up a preliminary chart. According to Breathitt, “Henry Kissinger was in on the seating, too.” The national-security adviser, who was then a bachelor, was clear about his preferences. “One day I walked upstairs to the second floor of the East Wing,” says Breathitt, “and coming out of the men’s room there was Henry Kissinger with Anatoly Dobrynin, the Russian ambassador during the pits of the Cold War. Henry grabbed me and said, ‘Anatoly, this woman will be the death of me. She seated me next to a 98-year-old crone last night who had no teeth.’ So I said, ‘Phoo on you. That was the foreign minister’s wife, and you need to sit next to someone with dignity and rank.’ He said, ‘I know everything! Bring out the beautiful spies who will torture all these things out of me!’ Dobrynin said, ‘Never seat him next to beautiful women. I cannot do a thing with him the next day when you’ve seated him next to a beautiful woman.’ So that became the challenge: Henry was always seated next to whoever was the prettiest on the guest list. If we didn’t know who was the prettiest or see any likely candidate, the military social aides were told at their briefings that they were to report back on the cleavage factor, and we would then have a massive reshuffling of place cards. It finally came to the point where [White House chief of staff] Bob Haldeman told me that if I ever seated Henry next to a beautiful woman again I’d be fired.”
Galco’s Soda Pop Stop is a store in Los Angeles that stocks about 500 different kinds of soft drink (or soda or pop), mostly made with cane sugar and stored in glass bottles which don’t leak carbonation over time. It carries stuff like double colas, a Romanian cucumber soda, coffee soda, and a whole bunch of other goodies.
Sadly, the store is in LA and no where else.
From last year, a New Yorker article about Michelin’s top secret restaurant inspectors:
Michelin has gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain the anonymity of its inspectors. Many of the company’s top executives have never met an inspector; inspectors themselves are advised not to disclose their line of work, even to their parents (who might be tempted to boast about it); and, in all the years that it has been putting out the guide, Michelin has refused to allow its inspectors to speak to journalists. The inspectors write reports that are distilled, in annual “stars meetings” at the guide’s various national offices, into the ranking of three stars, two stars, or one star—or no stars. (Establishments that Michelin deems unworthy of a visit are not included in the guide.) A three-star Michelin ranking—like that enjoyed by Jean Georges—is exceedingly rare. Only twenty-six three-star restaurants exist in France, and only eighty-one in the world.
I haven’t eaten chocolate crackles for ages. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it’s been a long time since I’ve been 12 years old. The second is that one of the key ingredients doesn’t seem to exist in the States: Copha.
Like Violet Crumbles, Cherry Ripes, and Musk Sticks (my supplies of which have sadly all run out), it is one of those Australian things that I find myself missing. But the other day I happened across a Copha-substitute at Dittmer’s in Mountain View. That’s Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats & Wurst-Haus, which is better known for being a deli popular with ze local Germans. They sell Palmin, a German manufactured version of Copha which is essentially coconut fat (or Kokosfett, as the packaging says). It’s not cheap, but at least now I’ve managed to satisfy my cravings. Here’s the quick ‘n’ super-easy recipe:
4 cups Rice Bubbles
1.5 cups icing sugar, sifted (powdered sugar, or confectioner’s sugar in America)
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup desiccated coconut (optional)
250g Copha (or Palmin)
1. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
2. Melt Copha over low heat. Let cool slightly.
3. Pour liquified Copha onto dry ingredients and mix well.
4. Spoon into paper patty cases.
5. Chill until set.
I have been told that one of the benefits of being allergic to alcohol is that I end up saving a lot of money. This is not always the case. In large group dinners where most people order alcohol, but some don’t, the non-drinkers occasionally end up subsidizing the drinkers. This is because it’s a major pain in the neck when you have to factor in sales tax and tips, and sometimes it’s just easier to split a bill evenly. It also sometimes makes practical sense, if the alcohol spend is relatively low. It’s similar to splitting a bill evenly despite some people’s mains costing slightly more than others. People often remark that working out the bill is the “worst part of the meal”.
However, sometimes it is a little painful when the spend is high. After being shafted – a little rudely, I might add – at a dinner a couple nights ago with about 20 people where around 80% had wine, I thought there must be an easier way. (I realized later that night that having to pay for wine I didn’t drink almost doubled what I should have otherwise paid.)
There are heaps of tipping calculator apps for the iPhone but, surprisingly, I couldn’t find one that solved my particular problem, where you have a subset of people in a group who order something additional (be it an appetizer, or dessert, or alcohol).
A useful thing would be to add would be a calculator on screen so you can easily tally up the subtotals for different courses. The calculator also drops trailing zeroes of the currency amounts. Maybe when I have some spare time I’ll tidy it up.
And if anyone wants to help me convert this into an iPhone app or into a mobile-friendly webpage, let me know. There are a lot more features that could be added (bill emailing, other methods to split bills, etc), and the value proposition is clear: I’d pay a couple bucks for this app if it saved me the time it takes to work out group bills (not to mention the money some people might save from paying their fair share). One day, someone will design an app that will transfer funds between people’s accounts to settle these bills as well.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to write one of these restaurant reviews, so I was very much looking forward to visiting Per Se. Per Se is Thomas Keller’s restaurant in New York. Keller is best known for The French Laundry, located in the Napa Valley region on the other side of the country, and both of his restaurants have been bestowed with three Michelin stars. This was my first time eating in a three starred joint.
Located on the 4th floor of the Time Warner Center, Per Se’s two-tiered dining room looks out over Central Park from its south-west corner. The interior is classy and, with its high ceiling and relative sparsity of tables, feels spacious. The ambient lighting is dim, but the tables are sufficiently lit. We were seated by the window, but curiously were pointed back towards the dining room with the view at our backs. The level of conversation in the room is not so hushed as to give the feeling of a mortuary, but not so loud as to be distracting. Great decor.
Per Se only takes bookings up to two months in advance and reservations tend to get snapped up within minutes of becoming available. Exactly two months’ prior, I called a couple minutes before the reservation line officially opened at 10.00am, but still was only able to obtain a 5.45pm seating (lunchtime reservations are easier to get).
The service was absolutely exemplary. Service staff were flawless, very attentive and even offered to escort me all the way to the restrooms when I asked where they were(!). The main server for our table came over to chat at one point, which was nice it gave a personal touch to service which could otherwise appear clinical.
Per Se has two nine-course set menus, one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian. Each has several options, some of which incur a supplemental charge. Two small amuse-bouche dishes (freebie hors d’oeuvres) kicked off the meal. The first course was Per Se’s signature Oysters & Pearls dish, followed by a palm salad, sea bream, quail, beef, a cheese dish, a couple desserts and mignardises (petit fours). I think there was another course, but I can’t remember what it was. Unfortunately, the food did not reach the very high expectations that had been built up by the surrounding press, Michelin stars, general hype, and exorbitant cost of the menu. This is not to say that the food wasn’t excellent, but it was clear to me that the best Sydney restaurants can easily hold their own against a giant like Per Se, at a fraction of the cost. The desserts were a bit of a let down, but that’s probably because I prefer something sweeter.
At the end of the meal, a server placed a small metal tray in front of each of us and walked off. Then another person sidled up to our table and said in a thick French accent, “This plate will now be filled with chocolates,” and walked off. Then a third person came along with the chocolates themselves. It was comical.
I mistakenly had a large lunch (an oversized $6 bowl of noodles from Ollie’s) and was absolutely stuffed by the end of dinner. With three chocolates still staring me in the face, someone came along and deposited another receptacle filled with yet more sweets. I threw in the towel and asked for them to be boxed. They happily obliged, wrapping everything up in a shiny silver box with brown ribbon. We also received a little nutty chocolate snack as a free gift.
One other gripe was that the courses were paced too quickly. Only a few minutes separated each course for a restaurant like Per Se it felt like a barrage. Everything must have been delivered in the space of just over two hours. I have a feeling they were trying to ensure we were out of the way for the second seating.
All in all, Per Se is a nice venue for a special occasion, but I think the food is very much in the same league as Sydney’s three hatters, not a league above. $275 per person, plus state tax. The good news is that the tip is already included in the price.
Tucked away in a quiet part of Paddington, Lucio’s is an unpretentious eatery run by Lucio and his waitstaff who like to inject liberal flourishes of Italian when they speak (including what seems to be a natural Italian fondness for saying prego after everything). The decor is very relaxed – the walls are decked with paintings and its two rooms are decently lit. Service is personal – it seems that Lucio and Lucio alone is permitted to take orders. We ordered a tasting menu. The serving sizes are quite small, and there’s only 6 courses (although some are accompanied by side dishes). So, although the food is sound, reliable, and generally very good, the value is questionable and you might be better off ordering à la carte. It’d be a good place for a medium-sized group to go to. If I were to pick between this and other similar Italian restaurants, I would personally prefer Buon Ricordo. Tasting menu is $115 pp.
Dark and full of noise from the bar in the same room, Bentley’s forte is in its food more than anything else. The dishes were mostly innovative, although one highlight for me was the dessert course including a green apple sorbet, hazelnut ball with a liquid centre, all in a tangy apple soup. Service was great – we requested for an extra dish to be added to the tasting menu and they slotted it in where they felt it fit best and didn’t even charge us for it! Parking can be tricky to find in Surry Hills, but it’s worth the journey. For the tasting menu and non-alcoholic drinks, expect to spend about $110 per person, including tips.
We were standing in line waiting to get in to the misnomered Pancakes on the Rocks at Darling Harbour earlier in the week. One of the waiters had come out to get the group sizes of the people waiting and he arrived at this one guy in front of us.
“Table for how many?”
“… One? … Are you sure??” the waiter said, somewhat shocked.
“Yeah I’m waiting for some friends who I’m meeting up with in an hour, so I’m going to eat first.”
“Oh! So table for how many then.”
“How many friends are coming?”
“No, just me, my friends are not eating.”
“Seriously, just one?” The waiter gave him a long, hard stare, shook his head, and then sighed in resignation. “Oh ok… one…” Then he added in an all-too-loud mutter, “Weird!!”
Although a little flustered by this stage, the guy politely inquired, “is there a problem with that?”
“No, no, no problem at all. We’ll stick you up in one of the back rooms.”
I haven’t seen service like that since the now bankrupted Xerts.
We visited Icebergs about a month ago, but I never got around to writing anything about it. The food’s quite decent with a very good mix of Italian cuisine on offer (though most of us ended up picking from the cuts of Wagyu steaks on offer).
It’s a nice, relaxed place with comfy chairs, though too dark for my liking. At night you unfortunately can’t see much of Bondi Beach in the darkness, but the views would make it a good lunch spot or dinner venue during summer. A good choice for a place to take people visiting Sydney!
The Pier Tasting Room is a section at the front of Pier Restaurant featuring a long plastic table looking across Rose Bay. Unless you’re overlooking the busy part of Sydney harbour (ie, Circular Quay), water views during the night generally are murky and dark.
The Tasting Room menu comprises a set of various tasting dishes ranging from $10-30. Most are smaller than a typical entree course, so the idea is to order several different courses (the average order is apparently is 3-5 dishes). You order a couple at a time – a lot of the dishes (mainly seafood) are raw or close to raw, so they take little time to be prepared and served. The desserts are excellent too (and you get to order more than one because of the serving sizes). Unfortunately the cost adds up quite quickly, so it’s best if you’re in the mood for a nice meal but you’re not particularly hungry. The service is pretty good, and they were happy to offer recommendations which were well selected.
A friend opened a stall on Dixon St called Mamak. It’s a part of the Friday night markets and is open until July. Their menu is limited (roti Canai $5, roti telur $6, teh tarik $3, satay $10/dz) but tasty. Try the rotis – the satay meat was a little tough. Great for late night snacks, though unfortunately it shuts at 11pm. Still waiting for a 24 hour mamak place in Sydney.
It’s Good Food Month this October. For some reason, Hats Off nights have been scheduled for Tuesday nights this year. That is a bad thing. The night is just not as enjoyable when (a) you’re not sure you can get out of work on time, and (b) you have to go to work the next day at 7am. “Bookings are essential”, the SMH says in bold red characters, but last night Omega was looking decidedly forlorn with only about 6 tables filled throughout the whole night.
Omega is on King St, down a flight of stairs which lead into a simple well-lit underground rectangular room, split into the dining area and an area with bar and tables for more informal meals. For Hats Off, Omega put together a 7-course degustation menu ($130pp) which is based on “a modern interpretation on the cuisine of Cyprus” (the land where Greek and Turkish cuisines unite, apparently).
I don’t think I’ve ever had Cyprian food, so it was an interesting meal. The flavours are mixed, but generally quite strong. Entrees were pretty good. Mains were a good mix – lamb, snapper, duck and beef. Desserts were unfortunately nothing to write home about.
Service was pretty good, not that it was hard for three people to wait on only six tables! They didn’t really announce/describe the dishes to us, it was more like, “This is duck. I’ll go away now.” The most elaborate it got was, “The salt is from the lakes around Cyprus. It’s special salt, because it’s um, black. Teehee!” (No really, those were almost her exact words!) I found it pretty amusing.
Overall, a fairly nice place to dine – good if you want to try a different cuisine instead of the standard French/Italian/Japanese/Mod Oz hatted-restaurant fare.
There are two-hat restaurants and there are two-hat restaurants. Unfortunately for Pello, located on Stanley Street in East Sydney, it falls somewhere towards the bottom end of the two-hat spectrum.
Our group of four arrived at the restaurant at about 7.30pm last night. We inquired whether they had on offer a degustation menu, only to be told that it was on offer every night of the week except for Fridays and Saturdays. We found this somewhat peculiar as a degustation menu is normally meant to showcase a wider range of dishes to customers, and with Friday and Saturday nights being the busiest, it would make more sense to offer it on those days instead. Nonetheless, we made do with a three-course à la carte menu, got a bottle of wine and waited.
About half an hour later, the entrées arrived – I had the Pello tasting plate, a bunch of four delicious canapé-sized morsels. We polished the entrées off and waited. And waited. And waited some more.
When the mains finally arrived, my first reaction was at how small the serving sizes were. They looked like they were degustation menu-sized servings, except of course that we weren’t eating from a degustation menu. In fact, I’ve seen degustation menu dishes that were larger than those. Size aside, the food was very tasty (I had the daily special – a pork dish). And then it was back to waiting.
Finally they brought out the dessert menu, we ordered, and after another interminable period, out our desserts came. I ordered the Mandarin Jelly Pyramid with Mandarin sorbet and plastic. Yes, the sorbet was damn nice, except for a chip of plastic takeaway container that was lodged in it. Tam had to contend with a scrap of paper attached to his chocolate pudding (or it might have been the quince tart, I don’t remember). Those things aside, the desserts were quite unusual, but innovative and definitely worth it.
By this time it was incredibly almost midnight (four and a half hours for a 3 course meal?!), so instead of complaining about the plastic and getting the dish redone, which would surely have taken another hour, we rounded up the final bill to $300 ($75pp). That made a grand tip of $3. Our waitress immediately took notice of this and asked if everything had been okay. She was quite apologetic after we had voiced our concerns to her. (Note that it’s always worthwhile voicing your complaints in restaurants like this, if you have the time.)
I should also mention that they provided two freebie courses – a mini-entrée and a pre-dessert course (there’s that word again).
All in all, it’d be a pretty good restaurant if you have a whole night to kill, and you could order an entrée, skip the mains and grab dessert.
The Guardian has a pretty darn eclectic list of things foodies should do (before they die, presumably). I’ve done 18, 23, 32, 48 and 50, but as I’m not really a foodie, have no intention of filling out that list (except maybe 6, 17 and 25). It’s a pretty Euro-centric list, but I suppose that’s because it’s The Guardian.
When my parents first migrated to Australia, they were put up by a nice Aussie couple while they found their feet. The couple (now a family) have since moved up to Gosford, but my parents still keep in occasional contact with them. It was from them that mum learnt how to make a pretty darn good Pavlova. The recipe is fairly easy to follow.
4 egg whites
1 cup caster sugar
0.5 teasp corn flour
0.5 teasp vinegar
1 teasp vanilla essence
300mL whipped cream (you can whip fresh cream yourself)
3 teasp icing sugar
0.5 teasp vanilla essence
1 large passionfruit
strawberries, kiwifruit, etc
- Beat egg whites (with a mixer) until quite stiff.
- Add sugar in little bits at a time (maybe one fifth of a cup at a time),
beating well after each addition.
- Mix in the cornflour with the last amount of sugar which is added in.
- When the sugar and cornflour is all added, fold in the vinegar and
vanilla essence. This mixture is the meringue casing.
- Put greaseproof paper on a greased baking tray and sprinkle the paper
with cornflour so it reduces the case sticking to it.
- Dump all the meringue made onto the paper into one big dollop and, using
a spatular, gently shape it. Typically, it’ll be into a circle about 20cm in
diameter. Note that the meringue will expand a fair bit in the oven, so take
that into account.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 120-130°C (for a fan forced oven. Try a
slightly higher temperature for a conventional oven). Leave for 1.5 to 2
hours or until meringue is crisp.
- Turn oven off and allow casing to cool. Loosen the casing from the paper.
- Mix the icing sugar and vanilla essence with the whipped cream and spread
on top of the meringue.
- Decorate with sliced fruit and passionfruit pulp.
Cooking time: 2-2.5 hours, including waiting time
Refrigerate to keep fresh. If bringing over to a friend’s house, make the case
first and only top it once over there.
I got a call from Shen late last afternoon saying that he’d just found out that day that he had to leave for Africa soon. Soon being 7.30am on the next morning. At such short notice, he was understandably flustered about having to pack, make sure his business was in order, and tie up a few other miscellaneous loose ends within the next 12 hours, so I headed over to his place after work with a few other friends to help him out. A very quick dinner was in order, and after hearing him complain about the lack of meat he’d be eating there over the next month, I got in my head a pretty twisted notion. First:
The girl at the register initially retorted to the order with a “you’re not serious”. After Shen had convinced her otherwise, she called the manager over and they debated whether (a) the order was allowed; (b) they had entered the correct amount of patties into the register; and (c) whether they were violating any health laws in the process. I think the manager was in shock – the expression on her face was rather priceless. Anyway, after they took the order she turned around to talk to the guy behind the grill. In a rather elevated tone of voice, she announced our order to the grill guy in much the same way a check out person would request a price check for a pack of condoms bought by an embarrassed teenager. There was a splutter of indignation from behind the grill. “Nah, I’m serious! They ordered eight patties, man!”
She turned back to us… “uh, we’ll bring it out to you”.
I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.
The burger required three sheets and two cardboard rings to wrap up.
In all its semi-congealed glory.
Shen and the store manager posing with the Double Pounder
Just to clear things up, that obscenity fed the whole group of us. We had to ask for forks and knives.
Pilu at Freshwater, selected as 2006’s best new restaurant by the SMH GFG, overlooks Harbord beach, in Harbord. I had never even heard of Harbord before tonight (it’s in the northern beaches area and is a bit remote for anyone coming from south of the harbour). Pilu opened up about two years ago when its owner decided to move from his old restaurant down near the Spit Bridge. The restaurant is converted from a beachside house and they’ve turned what must have used to be the outside balcony into part of the interior so there’s two mismatching decors to the restaurant. Unfortunately at night there’s no view outside, but I imagine during the day you can see the beach and ocean.
Pilu serves solid, good tasting Sardinian cuisine which hasn’t been modernised by zealous use of food processors or courses embedded with unidentifiable foods you’ve never heard of before. They offer an “off-menu” 6-course degustation menu at $100 per head, but they are also happy to let you construct your own tasting menu. The latter option allows the opportunity to try out more dishes at a cheaper price, but may be unwieldy if you have a large dining party. There were only two of us, so we selected a seven course meal consisting of five entrees, two mains and a side salad. We decided to skip dessert (they seemed to be pretty standard fare). Oysters started the meal, followed by whitebait and prawns, deboned quail, saffron pasta with clams and chilli, ravioli stuffed with boar which was apparently cooked for three hours beforehand, slow roasted pork and 150-day aged beef with Jerusalem artichokes and caramelised onions. All excellently done. I would highly recommend the saffron pasta! In a bit of gluttony (a phenomenon Chinese call “wide eyes, tight stomach”), we had ordered one dish too many and finishing the last course was an uncomfortable struggle. Serving sizes are fairly large, again debunking the myth that fine dining equals miniscule portions.
The restaurant has a laid-back atmosphere and the service is informal, relaxed but professional. Our waiter patiently took our order, and divided some of the dishes we ordered at the table (eg, they have to cook the beef as one chunk, and they carefully carved the chunk into two pieces for us after they brought it out to our table). The only issue was that at about 8pm they dimmed the lights so that we almost couldn’t see what we were eating (we were in the balcony area, the main area was still well lit).
The seven courses, one side and drinks were $96 per person (plus tip) which is clearly better value than the degustation menu. A big thanks to my cousin for shouting the meal for my 25th!
It’s Mothers’ Day today. I took mum out to dinner last night at Buon Ricordo, an Italian restaurant in Paddington. I just have to say that parking around the area is damn near impossible to find (at least on a Saturday night).
Buon Ricordo is a well regarded 2-hatted Italian restaurant run for almost 20 years by Armando Percuoco, a character who at one stage in the night came upstairs and announced, “Making food is like making love to a woman! You have to take it nice and slow… but unlike women, you’re always guaranteed a result with food!” We ate a la carte, although they do have a degustation menu which doesn’t appear on their printed menu so I assume you have to ask waitstaff for it. It’s safe to say that it’s among the best Italian restaurants in Sydney, out of the hundreds there are. Their signature dish is the fettuccine al tartufovo, which comes topped with a fried egg which has been infused with truffle (vaguely similar to how Chinese pei daan are prepared, but without any discolouration) and parmesan which is freshly grated for you at the table. They also toss the pasta for you and when the egg yolk is broken, the truffle aroma immediately bursts into the air. Yum.
The interior decor is warm and pleasingly well lit. Buon Ricordo seats a decent amount of people on two levels, but it’s not a noisy restaurant. Service is efficient and courteous. Apart from the issue with getting there and finding parking, if you’re in the mood to splurge a bit for great Italian cooking, I’d recommend this place. Expect to spend about $100pp for a three course a la carte meal, not including drinks.
After reading this article about McDonald’s gluttony, Doz and I decided to go through Maccas and perform a little independent verification. It’s been a while since they’ve offered the Triple Cheeseburger, so we decided to improvise and order a Triple Quarter Pounder (couldn’t quite bring ourselves to go for a full pound) – three 110gm patties and slices of cheese. We pulled up at the drive-thru window:
“Hi, could we get two medium value meals with quarter pounders – but could we have three beef patties and three cheese slices?”
The person at the register a tiny Indonesian girl, who was busy punching in the order paused and looked up.
“So you um… want quarter pounders, but with uh… three patties of beef?”
“And three slices of cheese.”
This brief look of repulsion crossed over her face and then she was trying her hardest not to smile. She looked down at her screen and started taking deep breaths. She pressed a few buttons.
“That will be uhhh… $9.55 for each meal,” she finally said, mouth crinkled at the edges.
“Yeah yeah, we’re hungry.”
We got to the second window and another girl stuck her head out. “Hey are you the guys that ordered the modified quarter pounder meals?”
“It’ll be three minutes. Please wait in the waiting zone.”
About five minutes later, another person emerged with our meal. Despite the fact that there was no one else waiting for anything outside the drive-thru queue, he asked, “What are you waiting for?”
“Uh, quarter pounder meals? … With three patties?”
Snigger. “Heh. Yep, here you go.”
The weight of the bag was heavy, and the burgers were dense.
Was down at Bondi last night and finally had a chance to try the Deep Fried Mars Bars that the seafood shops there sell. Despite various incredulous stares at the concoction from unbelieving friends who refused to have anything to do with it, it was gooood stuff. Looks a little fecal, but tastes bloody good. Basically it’s a semi-boiled Mars Bar encased in a half-inch thick case of batter. I think they might fry it in the same oil they use for fish and chips, but that doesn’t seem to make any difference. $3.30, along Bondi Beach.
Berkeley’s across the bay from San Francisco, but it’s worth the hike out to this quaint restaurant. Similar to Gramercy Tavern, it’s split into a cafe downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. The ambience is a lot more intimate than Gramercy, with bright but warm lighting, smaller tables and much less noise. It’s a good choice for a date.
Service was largely flawless, but in a clinical sort of way.
Chez Panisse runs a different tasting menu each day of the week and on the Saturday we were served with a 5 course one. It was pretty good, but by way of comparison, I found Gramercy’s to be better. It’d slot into the one or two hat category back in Sydney quite nicely. Damage was USD75 per person, plus a mandatory 17% service charge (which is effectively the tip) and an 8% state sales tax.
Asking if the tea and coffee is free
When the desserts are cleared, normally a waiter comes around and asks if anyone wants tea or coffee. The thing is, at some of these types of restaurants it’s free, and sometimes it’s in excess of $20. Being more than a little cash strapped by this stage of the trip, it was important to figure this out. However, it didn’t seem quite appropriate to ask, “Mate, is that free?” One alternative was, “Does that incur a supplement?” but I would have choked on the pretentiousness. I settled on asking, “Is that complimentary?” (It wasn’t.)
Since most of the fine dining restaurants in New York seem to have some sort of dress code requirement (“jacket required, tie recommended”), scruffy backpackers like myself are relegated to some of the less stuffy joints around the city. As the name suggests, the restaurant is located in the Gramercy district in Manhattan. After arriving on time at 9.00pm, we had to wait about 15 minutes for our table to be vacated by the previous seating.
Gramercy is split up into two sections – a noisy, bustling tavern section at the front serving drinks and lighter meals, and an only slightly less noisy dining section at the back. Gramercy seems to cater for a lot of larger groups of people. The lighting is dim – a little too dim for my tastes – but not so dim that I couldn’t see that despite the lack of dress code we were definitely slumming it in the clothing department … not that I really cared. (If you see the Chez Panisse review, you can see I’m even wearing the same shirt!)
Perhaps it was because everything was really busy, but service was somewhat patchy. We had to request certain things twice before they followed through, and the timing between courses was erratic (at one point we caught the head waiter, who was hovering behind our table, angrily and frantically gesticulating at his staff to clear our table with a horrified look on his face that said, “these plates should have been cleared hours ago!”). They also tend to serve courses to their own schedule. I’m not sure if this is an American custom, but if people were absent from the table (in the bathroom or wherever), they didn’t wait for them to return. They go ahead and serve and put a silver serving cover over the plates.
On the other hand, the food at Gramercy was fantastic with creative combinations that mostly worked. We had their 7 course seasonal tasting menu. The appetizers were light dishes of seafood, followed by heavier mains of bacon and really succulent lamb, and two dessert courses laden with chocolate. The meal was USD95, but keep in mind that this doesn’t include an annoying state tax nor the standard minimum 15% US tip which, all told, adds about 25% to the bill.
Michelin recently started rating New York restaurants using its famed, and sometimes controversial, three-star system. Gramercy received one star. It was also chosen as the surveyors’ favourite restaurant in Zagat’s 2006 NYC Survey.
Al Muntaha, Arabic for “The Highest”, is the restaurant at the top of the Burj Al Arab, offering “contemporary European cuisine”. The food is made under the guidance of michelin-starred chef John Wood. After spending some time gawking at the ornate hotel atrium and staring at all the multi-millionaires walking around the lobby, I stepped into an glass-walled express lift which took me swiftly to the top floor.
The staff were very welcoming, and if there was any distaste at ushering a sweaty, scruffy backpacker into their establishment, it was well-hidden. Like the rest of the Burj, the interior of the restaurant was colourful in a slightly gaudy way, but otherwise the decor was very pleasant.
The views are naturally spectacular, though the ocean aspect is a little boring even though the sea is a rich, pale blue. (At night, the view would probably be non-existent because there are no lights on the water.) On the other hand, the views through the side windows to the north-east and south-west show the shoreline and cityscape of Dubai. To the south-west you can make out a section of The Palm, the gigantic property development built from reclaimed line. It’s huge.
Service is excellent and the waitstaff are well-drilled, always addressing people by surname. They could perhaps smile and relax a little more, but that’s probably my Aussie preference for some informality.
The food is solid, although perhaps not the most innovative. I ordered scallops for an entree and got the fattest damn scallops I’ve ever seen – terrific. The main of “Rossini vs Wellington” beef was accompanied by generous servings of foie gras and relatively large slices of black truffle but was otherwise unremarkable. For dessert they served up a fantasticly fluffy lemon souffle (thankfully for me, alcohol free) and sorbet. Petit fours and some lovely little raspberry maccarones to round everything off were complimentary. I was incredibly stuffed after the meal and, unfortunately not having any company to share the meal with and pass the time, was content to just sit and stare out the window until I could walk again.
The damage to my budget was significant, eradicating a good deal of the money saved from coming under budget in South-East Asia. Lunch was 600 dirhams (A$220), including tip and an exorbitant A$10 bottle of Evian water (only to be beaten by the A$11 bottle of Santa Vittoria water at Est. back in Sydney). Tea and coffee is not complimentary. Yes, it is horribly expensive, but if you’re only going to be in Dubai once and you don’t earn telephone numbers, splurging here is a great way to see the Burj.
Reserve and turn up early to get a window seat. Meals are à la carte and I was not aware of any degustation menu. Al Muntaha serves a cheaper seafood buffet lunch on Fridays, but apparently this is mass produced fare which, while good, is not great.
I didn’t expect to do a restaurant review for Laos and even less expected to associated “fine dining” with it. Nonetheless, there’s a reasonable facsimile of the concept in Luang Prabang. Restaurant les Trois Nagas is attached to the expensive Auberge les Trois Nagas hotel in a quiet part of town, just up the road from the night markets. It seems quite out of place because it manages to pass itself off as an upmarket western restaurants. Trilingual waiters (speaking Lao, English and French) pull out chairs for customers, the menu is typo-free (also in English, French and transliterated Lao) and tables are double tableclothed. It’s the small details that count.
On offer is a seven course set menu. Complimentary rice cakes arrive soon after you sit down, and then two entrees kick off the meal – either an egg omelette with dill or a Lao salad, and an egg sausage soup. Very tasty. The main meal comes with three dishes – generous servings of a beef, steamed chicken, and vegetables which includes some local yellow mushrooms. The beef, although still quite tough, is a little more tender than the beef elsewhere in town (I wouldn’t recommend the beef anywhere in the town). The rice is also soft, fluffy, and without the strong floury smell given off by the other restaurants. Finally, a tropical fruit salad (rambutans, longans, mango, nashi pears, etc) comes served in a Martini glass. They also have a well stocked wine list.
At US$12 per person, it’s about four times as expensive as an ordinary meal for tourists, but in terms of western dollars, it’s a real bargain. (Although the 330ml bottle of Perrier water selling for US$3 is not.) Very much recommended.
Putting four years of knowledge into the commons, I’ve written up a rundown of all the restaurants in Kingsford. The best restaurant award goes to:
Ben’s The Thai Takeaway
Prices: $6 for lunch; $7 for dinner
Service: Order at counter, grab your own water jug and cups
Recommended: Split a tom yum soup between two to accompany the meal
Stay away from: The rice noodles, which are very oily (but not the pad thai)
Closed on Mondays.
Ben’s is tucked away off the main Anzac Parade strip. Nonetheless, despite its relatively obscure location, its Jet Li lookalike owner runs a roaring trade. Ben’s is the staple in any student’s diet. All food, even the soup, is cooked in just two blackened woks. They’ve been seasoned so well that I reckon you can boil water in them and the water will taste good.
You can order shared dishes, or more typically, from the individual serve menu, which offers large one-dish servings of tasty food at among the lowest prices in Kingsford. The lunch and dinner menus are identical, but the servings for dinner are larger. Don’t bother asking for dishes by name look down the list and tell them the dish number (because that’s what they write down on their pad). My flatmate swears by the “101” Gai Todd, which is essentially a chicken schnitzel on rice with some sweet chilli sauce and the “106” a large pork omelette on rice but those two dishes are a little dry for my liking. I prefer the “113” which is a beef red curry, and the chicken with cashew nuts. Also, Pad Thai is available on a separate menu for $7.50. It’s by no means the best tasting Pad Thai in town, but it’s the largest serving of noodles around.
Read all the reviews here. I didn’t realise there were so many restaurants along a 1km strip of road!
Restaurant Balzac is based in Randwick. It moved recently from a non-descript position in The Spot to the place where Al Dente used to be on Belmore Road, in a large historic sandstone building on an intersection corner. It’s a much more fitting venue as they have more space and a better decor. The inside is well lit, although a little noisy.
Balzac probably has the most affordable 2-hatted restaurant tasting menu in Sydney at $80pp ($125 formatching wines). About half of the seven-course menu was seafood based. The meal was worth it – pretty tasty, but the desserts were the best part (including a course they called “pre-dessert”, whatever that means). The restaurant is a good place for a late night dessert. Service was patchy. I liked how they talked about the dishes when they brought them out in a down-to-earth manner, and how the waitstaff didn’t put on any airs. On the other hand, the timing between courses was erratic. Some courses were served 15 minutes apart, some 45 minutes apart. After we got in, we had waited about twenty minutes without anyone coming to take our orders, so we had to fetch a waiter ourselves. Granted, it was a very busy night, but still. Nonetheless, the food is very good.
Rockpool seems to be a perennial favourite of foodies, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Neil Perry’s cooking is clearly influenced by Asian cuisines and the flavours of the food were sharp and vibrant, compared to most other Mod Oz restaurants, and much more so than French ones. Jarrod and Skye (both European) both noted that the tastes were a little too “strong” for their liking, and preferred the subtler flavours of, say, Claude’s. Shaf (Bangladeshi) and myself didn’t think share that opinion and attributed it to being too used to spices and chillis in our meals. I thought that was interesting. It’s probably proof that eating chilli has destroyed my tastebuds. They have an excellent array of fresh seafood dishes. If you don’t eat shellfish, as we overheard one patron tell the waiter, your money is better spent elsewhere.
Rockpool’s service is still as good and attentive as it was two years ago. I had my digicam sitting in its pouch on the table, and as if on cue, a really nice waitress bounded over and offered to take a photo for us. Small things, like opening the door for us on the way in and on the way out, have been neglected in other 3-hat establishments, but not at Rockpool. Their dish announcements were also pretty fluent and the waitstaff very efficient.
The decor is pretty modern, and there must be like one waiter for every person, because the restaurant is swarming with them. Skye noted with amusement that when the chefs got annoyed, they would clap, and when they clapped twice, waiters in the area would burst into a quicker flurry of activity. Sort of like stepping on an ant’s nest.
Nine course tasting menu is $160 pp, matching wines $65 extra. The “selection of desserts” came out on four plates (including their signature date tart), which we had to divide into quarters ourselves. That was almost like 4 courses in one.
David’s friend, Aris, who studies in Melbourne, needed half a dozen for his girlfriend’s 21st. Melbourne doesn’t have Kripsy Kreme donuts. So, what to do? Get them shipped down by express post. Naturally.
The donuts cost about $5. The postage and packaging cost $15 ($12 postage + $2 post box + $1 padding). $20 for six, two-day-old glazed donuts. How, uh… sweet.
Took Dad out to Bécasse for Father’s Day the weekend before last. It’s in Surry Hills and it’s a restaurant-in-a-room. The tables, open kitchen, wine racks and cashier are all in one room, and it’s quite a noisy room. We were at a table about 3m away from the kitchen.
While the waitstaff lacked the polish of some of their competitors, the food was the standout aspect of Bécasse. It was terrific. Even Mum, who normally turns her nose up at anything that’s not Chinese food (I think many Asian migrant parents may be like this for some reason), was impressed. I didn’t hear, “Do you know how much I could get at a Chinese restaurant for the price of this meal?!” for the entire evening.
The meal opened up with a delicious Lentil and Foie Gras ‘soup’ with shreds of crispy pork belly floating on top. These types of restaurants don’t tend to serve something as droll as ‘soup’, preferring instead ‘veloute’ or ‘consomme’, but let’s call a spade a spade here. The Pan-Fried Snapper and Marron Tail with Parsnip Veloute (there’s that word again) was fantastic. Fine words butter no parsnips, but the chef at Bécasse sure can. I’ve been waiting to use that proverb ever since I was taught it in primary school. The dessert, a Banana and Armagnac ice cream with malt and chocolate pralines was bloody awesome.
In the end, the restaurant forgot to add in the $12 cheese platter we ordered to the bill, so I just bumped up the tip a little. I would recommend this restaurant. They periodically hold wine-themed degustation evenings, for example, on the night we went, I think all the wines were from around Bordeaux. The seven course menus at these evenings will set you back $100pp, or $150pp if you want some grog with your tucker.
Claude’s, a consistent 3-hat restaurant is unhatted in this year’s Good Food Guide due to the previous owner and chef, Tim Pak Poy, leaving earlier this year. Nonetheless, its reputation seemingly continued on, and when I tried to make a reservation in July for August, found the place was booked out until September.
Claude’s is a non-descript “hole in the wall” along Oxford Street in Woollahra. Sneeze, and you’d miss it. In fact, that is almost exactly what happened. Don was driving us along Oxford St, when I realised Paddington had just passed us by. On a vague whim I told him that I thought we’d gone past Claude’s, which it turns out we had. Don turned into the next street on the left and found parking immediately. Unknown to us, we had parked about 20m down the road from Claude’s, but then proceeded to walk straight past it and a further 200m or so before realising something was wrong. Eventually we found it – there’s no overhead sign, just a small plaque with the restaurant name in cursive script. You have to ring a doorbell to get into the restaurant, which I thought was, well, quaint.
The two-floored restaurant is tiny. The bottom seated about 25 people, and the top level couldn’t have accommodated more than about 15. The decor is simple and plain, with whitewashed walls peculiarly adorned with crockery. The lighting is dim, but comfortably so. It looks a lot like a converted terrace house, because you have to walk outside to get to the toilets. Although the surroundings are nothing special, the space makes the atmosphere quite intimate. This place is excellent for dinner with that special someone (although for the price, that someone really better be special!).
But you’re not really paying for the atmosphere. You’re paying for the wonderful French cuisine. The Aylesbury duck was excellent, as was the King George Whiting and Mud Crab entree. The champagne violet crush was a beauty – really refreshing. The mostly-well-drilled waitstaff, after serving the dishes, often came back to ladle sauce onto them to keep things fresh.
The meal was solid – not as strongly vibrant in its flavours as Mod Oz – but still enjoyable. The 8 course tasting menu is $150pp (I think Saturdays are tasting menu-only nights). Add $85 if you want matching wines.
Dropped by the new Krispy Kreme near the airport yesterday after dinner, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, there were these five guys there who were busy gorging themselves with, get this, seven boxes of doughnuts. That’s seven dozen. That’s about $20 worth of dough per person. I don’t know if they intended to eat all of them in one sitting, but at the rate they were going through them, it sure looked like it. And people wonder why we have an obesity problem.
This is an interesting concept for a restaurant. Could get messy though. Not to mention that dinner conversation would be a little weird.
Don’t waste your little black dress on this venue. At Australia’s first restaurant/bar in total darkness, you aren’t going to light anyone’s fire.
Black Out opens today, Friday the 13th, in St Kilda Road, and the A-list guests shouldn’t worry about any hideous zits rivalling Mount Etna. But deodorant is recommended because when you lose one sense, others are heightened.
That is the aim of Black Out. It sounds like a gimmick but there is an underlying altruistic intention. Without sight, the remaining senses are rewired to savour the smell and taste of food, and focus on conversation and sensation. Bibs are worn to catch errant mouthfuls while the uber-cool Buddha Bar music plays.
Link to article. No blind date puns please. Thanks Grace.
We’ve been gradually whittling away at Sydney’s three-hat restaurants, and last Saturday we went to Marque, on Crown St in Surry Hills. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Marque is easily the weakest of the three hatters (and I haven’t even been to Claude’s yet). It’s a new entry into the top tier of restaurants for this year, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it drop one hat in 2005.
Marque is a very small restaurant, but its interior is quite pleasant. Lighting wasn’t dim and the seats were comfortable although the seating area was fairly cramped. I had a seat right next to the door which was not that pleasant – it was a windy night and I caught a blast of air in the face every time someone walked through it. The bathrooms were poorly maintained, which is an issue because over the course of a five hour meal with alcohol, you’re bound to make several trips to the toilet. The toilet seats wouldn’t stay up, and they also ran out of hand drying towels which meant you either had to walk out with wet hands or resort to using toilet paper!
The service was quite formal but passable. I do prefer a bit more personality in waitstaff. A few friendly smiles would have been nice. (Rockpool was an excellent example of this, where waitstaff were all too willing to join into a conversation with a snappy joke or two, and of course I am still amazed that they took the initiative to inquire whether I wanted a group photo when I merely put the camera down on the table.) Marque, because it’s so small, is a very noisy restaurant and sometimes it was hard to get a waitstaff’s attention. Their introductions of each dish were abrupt, and often not heard by half the table over the din.
The 8-course degustation menu was $125 (plus $65 for optional matching wines). The food was a bit of a hit and miss affair. Servings were consistently miniscule (even for a fine dining restaurant!). Three consecutive fish dishes were served (a raw cut of salmon, red emperor and I think some snapper which was pretty similar to the red emperor) and we were left wondering if there was any meat on the menu. After a dish of sweetbread (I don’t regard internal organs as meat), it eventually came – some duck served with licorice, which was excellent, even though I normally don’t like licorice. They also seemed to have a peculiar fascination with froth, which just wasn’t my thing. All in all, okay, but I really didn’t think it was in the same league as the other three-hatters.
There’s an Indonesian restaurant in Maroubra called Kampoeng Rasa. The Ikan Bandeng Presto (softened milkfish) there is amazingly tasty.
Est. is the restaurant that sits one level above the Establishment bar on George Street. The restaurant is surprisingly insulated from the sound below. When we went in at 7pm on Saturday, the bar was absolutely deserted. When we came back down from dinner at about 1am, the bar was packed and in full swing, yet we couldn’t even hear the thump of the backbeat from upstairs.
Est’s interior is elegant. The architecture inside, with its high ceiling and pillars, lends it an older feel which is not that common in restaurants. We had the private room (used to accommodate groups of eight or more) and I found the lighting was too dim for my tastes. What is it with dim lighting anyway? It’s annoying when you can’t make out your meal or the person across the table. And it’s not romantic when everyone’s perpetually squinting. There’s not much of a view out the window onto George St either, but otherwise, the setting and ambience is comfortable and relaxed.
The Est tasting menu had seven courses – two entrees, two mains, a cheese platter and two desserts. They give you an option for three of the courses. As usual, each item on the menu had at least one word we’d never heard of before. The squab pigeon was cooked rare and had a pleasingly mild taste which contrasts with the strong flavour of pigeons cooked in Asian restaurants. The muscat grapes on the cheese platter had a fantastic tang. The mango, lychee and tapioca soup with the lime-tequila sorbet was terrific. The final course had an almond milk sorbet floating in a shot of liquor, along with an apricot and ginger souffle. Being allergic to liquor, I unfortunately did not make much headway into the dish before having to concede defeat amid the snickering of friends. It’s excellent mod Oz cuisine. The restaurant is a three hatter, but in my opinion it is still missing that “extra bit” that puts it on a different level from perennial favourites Tet’s and Rockpool.
The tasting menu was $120 a head. Apart from the two bottles of wine, we went through 11 bottles of water. They kept topping up our glasses and had we known the water was charged at $10 a bottle, would have been a bit less “thirsty”. Booking the private room incurs a 10% service fee, which we paid in lieu of a tip. Service in the room is patchy because the doors are shut and you can’t signal the attention of a waiter, but they appear to top up water and wine often enough. Good place to go to if you have a large group.
Comment of the night (topic was on companies forcing men to take paternal leave):
Kit (genuinely confused): But why would you want to take paternal leave?
Skye (incredulous): Uh, to see and take care of your baby maybe?
Kit (pausing to think): Oh yeah. They cry and stuff don’t they.
Photos above are from Shaf’s camera. You need a fairly strong flash when it’s that dimly lit and my camera wasn’t cutting it.
Just a word of warning. There’s a restaurant called Chicane just off Oxford Street. It was having a special deal – buy an entree dish and dessert and get a main for $4, so I went to dinner with Kev and Cath earlier in the week to check it out. Even though the meal was about $40 with the deal, even that was bad value. Food’s not terrific, service was inordinately slow, waiters looked like they really wished they were somewhere else, they got our order wrong, failed to refill bread and water, overly dim lighting… unsatisfying.
Otto’s is in Woolloomooloo, on the wharf, near the famous Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. (Harry’s is probably famous more for the fact that it’s open late at night rather than having excellent meat pies – I find them rather ordinary.)
It’s an Italian restaurant (it claims to serve “modern Italian” cuisine, whatever that means) with outdoor seating faced towards a vista of the CBD skyline. Unfortunately, Sydney’s weather blew hot and cold yesterday, and the evening happened to be particularly cold. Even those big outdoor lamp heaters couldn’t completely ward off the wind and drizzle.
The food was pretty good, and the servings on the generous side for these types of joints. Seems like a reliable enough place to say that nothing on the menu will be a disappointment. I had a blue cod capaccio and a Wagyu steak. The steak weighed in at about 250g, which is the largest portion I’ve had of that type of beef. Wasn’t the best cut I’ve had – the fat was not really marbled in with the flesh, but separated out. With that high fat and oil content, it’s incredibly filling. So much so that dessert was out of the question!
Woolloomooloo Wharf. Those are apartments on the left.
Otto’s is great for a nice meal out, especially as the weather warms up in Summer and the sea breezes are refreshing, rather than chilling. The only thing I have to complain about is the lighting. Once darkness falls, you really can’t see what you’re eating, and that solitary candle on the table really doesn’t cut it.
Recently, the definition of “Nebuchadnezzar” came up in a game of Balderdash. A while later, a question was asked at trivia about how many bottles of champagne did a “Magnum” hold. A couple days ago I got a “Split” of champagne for making the mooting semifinals (we actually won our moot, but they were running three moots for the semis and only took the top two winners). So, due to the abnormal spate of champagne references in my life, I decided to check up on these curious names. I adapted the list below from this website.
Split: 200 ml
Fillette: 375 ml
Bottle: 800 or 750 ml
Magnum: 2 bottles
Nebuchadnezzar: 20 regular-sized bottles
I hadn’t managed to make it to any of the Good Food Month events before tonight. The “Hats Off” program saw many restaurants around Sydney adopt a fixed price $120 showcase menu (not incl drinks). We elected to go to Aria, which was serving a 10-course degustation menu and hadn’t been booked out yet like some of the bigger players in town. Aria was dehatted this year to one hat, but the meal was still pretty decent. Aria sits facing the Opera House, directly opposite Quay, although its views aren’t anywhere near as good. Neither is the food or service, but it’d be hard to match last year’s restaurant of the year.
Five of us went, but at the entrance we bumped into a couple friends by coincidence and so we joined up to form a table of seven (and, I suspect, interrupted a date in progress… unlucky!!).
Unfortunately, the WA marron (Kev, I don’t think anything beats the ones in Ipoh though!) and Hiramasa kingfish (a fish that seems to be in vogue in the fine dining scene) which were advertised on the SMH site were absent from the menu. Highlights were the Yamba King Prawn Terrine, which I assume replaced the marron, panfried barramundi, pork with baked apple puree and an incredibly rich chocolate tart which guaranteed weight gain. There was some shredded crab with a Thai style salad which I thought was a really interesting flavour – a very distinct and strong Thai taste coming through. However, the Wagyu beef wasn’t a particularly good cut.
On a normal day, you’d be looking at paying $90 for a 3-course à la carte meal. At that price, you might want to try some of the other better and cheaper restaurants around. The newly opened est. and Marque look good.
Five of the BITs got together again last night at dinner for what is now going to be a quarterly event. The location for dinner was Quay, a restaurant situated on the overseas passenger terminal at Circular Quay. It sits directly opposite the Opera House and offers almost a 270 degree view of Sydney Harbour. We scored a beautiful table placing us by the floor-to-ceiling windows, providing an excellent backdrop for the evening. Quay took out the SMH’s Good Food Guide best restaurant award for 2003, and it did not disappoint. The menu was à la carte, with no degustation menu, consisting of Mod Oz cuisine featuring influences from Asia, Europe and the Middle-East. I ordered a very succulent, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly and scallops, a chicken dish with a naturally fancy name I don’t remember, and an excellent “passionfruit and lime fusion” dessert (passionfruit ice cream, lime meringue brulée). The serving sizes are surprisingly decent, as well as the prices. The bill, including the three courses, two bottles of wine, drinks, a couple sides for the table, coffee/tea and tip worked out at $140pp, which is actually quite palatable compared to some other reputable restaurants around town.
For me, Quay wins hands down for ambience, atmosphere and view, even compared to 41. Nothing like being at the water’s edge, with a view of the CBD buildings, the Coathanger, the Opera House and the boats on the harbour drifting by the window. Their service was not the most polished, nor amiable, but that might have in part had something to do with Jay rocking up an hour late, thanks to Cityrail! The food is exceedingly good value, although I found Tet’s range more exciting. Time flew and we ended up spending five hours (7pm – midnight) there. The timing of the dishes was well paced. (And the dinner conversation highly engaging, including some interesting news about a friend who has made a not insignificant amount of money (and frequent flier points) off what we’ve termed “bookie arbitrage” combined with long-term “investing”, a concept centered around treating the bookmaking industry like the stockmarket. I found this quite interesting, as the bookie industry tends not to have the same systemic risk inherent in stockmarkets.) Quay is highly recommended – it’s very good value for money.
I officially graduate from BIT this Friday. About 5 weeks ago, Jay, Kit, Pro and I decided to hold a pre-celebratory dinner at Tetsuya’s and thus, taking into account the requisite month-long waiting queue, made a booking there. Its reputation as Sydney’s most expensive, and arguably best, restaurant meant that it would be a unique experience to behold for plebs like us. It’s one of those things you only need to experience once to see, and taste, what others have been talking about. And thank goodness for that, because my bank account couldn’t take much more than one visit to Tet’s.
The day arrived last Saturday. After catching Shanghai Knights at the George St Hoyts (mediocre movie, best part was the outtakes at the end), we walked down to Tetsuya’s, which is directly behind the cinemas on Kent Street. It doesn’t look like a restaurant from the outside. From the street, you’re confronted with a sliding mechanical metal gate which leads through a small 5-space carpark ($20 parking) down to what looks like a security outpost manned by two burly guards in suits. The restaurant itself looks nothing like a restaurant, but would easily be misconstrued for some rich person’s house. By a case of contagious forgetfulness, no one could remember whether our booking was for 7 or 7.30pm, so at 6.30pm, we stood at the gateway debating whether to go in. The security guards opened the gate for us. We stood there for a while, motionless, still deciding what to do. They shut it again. We finally made up our minds and got them to open the gate for us again. After similar confusion with the booking time, Pro eventually arrived at 7.15pm. It’s a set degustation menu (apparently there are two variants of the menu, and which one you get depends upon which room you are seated in), so without further delay, dinner was served.
On the inside of Tet’s is a soothing mix of modern decor blended with a Japanese influence (not unlike the food). Abstract arty sculptures adorn pedestals, and even the male and female icons on the washroom doors evoked dinner table conversation. At 7pm the place was virtually empty, but there was a full house by 8pm.
The bread rolls were ordinary dinner rolls, but the butter for them was laced with parmesan and truffles. The menu contained 8 savoury courses, 4 sweet courses and 2 side dishes, totalling 12 courses. Servings were bite-sized, but by the end we were all extremely full. The meal was balanced, with most dishes being evaluated as “peculiar, but rather nice tasting”. I found it more pleasing than Rockpool, which tended to have a more strong and vibrant taste.
Hard to say what the highlight of the meal was, but Tetsuya’s signature dish, the ocean trout would’ve come close. The apple sorbet was sublime, as was the scallop and foie gras which just melted in the mouth. The taster dish with five servings (gazpacho, tuna, kingfish, venison and marron) was a palatable journey in itself. I don’t think I’ve described a meal like this before, and I feel like a pretentious tit for doing so, but it was quite exquisite. Combining all this with some terrific company, and it made for a terrific night.
The service was decent, though not perfect. For the first couple hours of the night, the waiter responsible for topping up our glasses seemed to be tripped up on speed because he’d liberally splatter a trail of water onto the table from one glass to another everytime, in his eagerness to move on to the next table. We requested a copy of the menu, but we had to remind them a second time to get it. Nonetheless, staff were generally attentive, and the rate at which courses arrived was well paced – enough time to digest and discuss, while not too much time so that we were looking around wondering if they’d noticed our plates had been empty for the last half hour.
It was five hours later, at about a quarter to midnight, when we eventually stumbled out of the restaurant and back into the real world, more than thoroughly satisfied. The standard meal is $170pp, with an extra $7 for the oysters, which were a special optional addition to the dinner on the night. Water is charged at $7pp, and we got a “cheap” bottle of wine (prices are double that of what you would pay outside). Add tip. The total damage was $210 per person.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Go there on a special occasion, just to experience it once. (Because really, at that price you’re not there just for the food, but for the whole shebang.)
Oysters (from Bermagui and South of Hobart)
Caviar & Snow Egg Sandwich
Beetroot & Blood Orange Sandwich
Gazpacho with Spiced Tomato Sorbet
Tartare of Tuna with Goat Curd & Wasabi
Marinated Fillet of Kingfish with Orange & Soy Jelly
Tataki of Venison with Rosemary & Honey
West Australia Marron Salad with Asparagus
Confit of Petuna Tasmanian Ocean Trout Loin with Kombu, Celery & Daikon
Seasonal Green Salad
Lobster Ravioli with Shellfish Vinaigrette
Carpaccio of Scallop with Foie Gras & Lime
Twice-cooked De-boned Spatchcock with Shitake Mushrooms & Citrus Jus
Selection of Cheese & Fruit
Sorbet of Granny Smith Apple with Sauternes Jelly
Hazelnut Soup with Chocolate & Hazelnut Sorbet
Mocha Floating Island with Lemon Scented Anglaise
Coffee or Tea & Petit Four
Went to Rockpool last week. It’s in the Rocks on George St, although I almost walked past it – the restaurant has a non-descript green storefront, with small frosted writing in one of the windows being the only indicator of the venue’s name. The dishes at Rockpool are primarily seafood, with a very strong Asian influence. Using 41 as a comparison, the flavours are more intense as with much Asian cuisine. We had trouble selecting from the menu (the problem with everything looking so tasty!) and in the end, in addition to our own entrees, we got an extra entree of “wild and tame” abalone (slices of both cultured and wild abalone) for the group. Of course, fine dining servings are already miniscule, and when the abalone arrived, hilarity ensued when we were confronted with the ridiculous task of dividing several tiny, tiny slivers of abalone amongst the four of us. We did it anyway. The service at Rockpool was better than 41 (not that 41’s service was bad). The staff were very attentive and observant (when I took out my camera to take this not-so-good photo, a waitress promptly rushed over to ask if I wanted her to take a picture of our group). They were formal, but also relaxed and somewhat casual in tone, giving the perception that they were not overly worried about making a gaff, although it was evident that they took care not to. The atmosphere of Rockpool has a bit more hustle-and-bustle than 41 (we were sitting close to the kitchen, and the meal was punctuated with the ambient sound of crockery and cutlery clashing), but the decor was pleasing.
Being in the Rocks, we took a pleasant stroll around Circular Quay afterwards to walk off the food (here’s a couple photos I took: coathanger, sails). Along the way we were passed by a rapidly balding man being wheeled in a wheelchair. He had a respirator on and was surrounded by a small entourage. As he passed, I looked at Soph, and Soph looked at me and simultaneously exclaimed, “Hey… that was… Christopher Reeve.” My first reaction was to snap a photo, but I restrained myself out of respect – he probably had enough people gawking at him already.
I have an uncle visiting from America, who instead of looking through tourist guides for “sights to see”, looks for “places to eat”. Thus, we visited 41 last week, which sits atop Chifley Tower on, naturally, level 41. The view from there makes for a picturesque backdrop (images 350kb).
It is inevitable that in any fine dining joint there will be at least one word in each dish on the menu that we plebs will never have heard of in our lives. Because of this, I can’t recall exactly what we had, save for a crude description of each dish, but we each ordered the degustation menu – a tasting menu of 6 entree-sized courses designed to give you “a wider tasting experience”. The first dish was a galantine of quail stuffed with foie gras and beans on the side. The second dish slips my mind completely. The third was a parcel of duck sitting atop something I can’t remember. The fourth was pieces of lamb with, again something I don’t recall the name of (it looked like gnocchi, but made out of vegetables). The fifth was a cheese platter, including an Australian and Italian cheese, and a rather offensive French cheese that smelled and tasted like les chausettes (socks) that no one could successfully eat. Between the fifth and sixth, there was a palate cleansing apple jelly with cinnamon. The sixth was a light but impossibly rich souffle with espresso sorbet. Needless to say the food was excellent.
The meal was not cheap, and my uncle left a rather sizeable tip, which he claimed that in America was not so sizeable. And then he said that Australian service in restaurants like 41 left a bit to be desired. (Though this is coming from an uncle who previously rubbished Tetsuya’s.) We defended it all by saying that Australian culture was a bit more casual and relaxed than America, and even more so than Europe which has a background of aristocracy and all the ceremony and customs surrounding the service of royalty. We had a little chat with our waiter afterwards and interestingly discovered that they make about half their wage from tips, with our waiter earning about $350-500 per week in them. Tips all go into a pool and are distributed to the employees by shift and seniority. Our waiter was quick to point out that this raised some problems with incentivising employees, since tips were not directly attributed to good service. Oh yeah, one more thing – the toilets have a pretty good view too. (A big thanks to Uncle Marcus for the dinner :)
The Nepalese Kitchen is an old joint on Crown St, which was surprisingly busy for a Tuesday night. Nepal, although nestled in between two great culinary cultures of China and India, has a – perhaps surprisingly – bland offering of cuisine. I suspect the nation’s poverty may play a role in this. Nonetheless, the fare at the restaurant was nothing spectacular, quite similar to that in Nepal, although in Australian prices. You can’t really compare prices between nations, but for the purposes of curiousity, the Dal-Bhat-Takari (basically the national dish, consisting of lentils, rice and some curry) costs A$15. The exact same dish in Nepal costs as low as 50 rupees in local prices (tourists may pay double though), or, roughly A$1.20. I can’t really recommend this restaurant, because at these prices, Nepalese cuisine is just not special enough.
Next to the Theatre Royal, near the corner of King and Pitt Sts is Gelatissimo. It is the only Sydney ice creamery which I can say is comparable to the experience I had with ice-cream in Italy. “Gelato” is the Italian word for ice cream, and the suffix “-issimo” basically means “more”, like in prestissimo. And more ice-cream they give indeed. The psychadelic display of ice-cream is presented sumptuously, each flavour bulging out of its tub, sprinkled with bits of fruit and whatnot on top. Naturally, it all tastes delicious. It’s better than the trendy Double Bay French Riviera and easily rivals the Bondi ice-creameries (so Kev says, I haven’t tried the ones at Bondi myself). The thing that puts this joint above all those other popular (primarily Asian) hang-outs of Passionflower and Y2K is the value. Plain and simple. $5 will get you three flavours. $5 will get you one scoop in Passionflower. But the real key is, they serve ice-cream by paving it with a sort of spade, not a scoop. My gf’s sister works at New Zealand Ice Cream and she was taught to scoop ice-cream for customers so that the ball that is formed is hollow inside. You can’t pull that trick with a paver, so you really do get your money’s worth. Mmmm… lemon sorbet…
Emily dropped around last week with a delivery of Vanilla Coke after having spied a vending machine stocking it at the hospital she’s interning at. The initial hit, as I took my first swig, of the new taste was impressive. The smooth aromatic vapour of vanilla essence wafts through the mouth, followed by the familiar tang of the carbonated black stuff. There is no aftertaste of vanilla. Quite delicious, but the problem lies in that it’s diminishing returns from there. The hint of vanilla fades with each subsequent sip, and it begins to taste like plain Coke after that. To regain the taste of vanilla, you have to take a break from drinking to let your taste buds reset. Perhaps a little too subtle for the common palate (bonus points if you can tell me which childhood book that line is from), it’s a nice change from regular Coke, but nothing to get excited about. However, I currently do prefer it to classic Coke, because it offers that little bit extra at the start.
I think I’ve discovered where the “Mod Oz” or “Fusion” styles of cooking came about, after this little scene in the kitchen:
Dave laid out mince to defrost this morning with the intention of cooking up a three day supply of spaghetti tonight.
Dave (opening fridge): Oh no! The tofu is going to expire soon… on the 30th. What day is it today?
Me: The 28th.
Dave: Shit, I must cook it tomorrow… (pauses) How the hell do you cook tofu with spaghetti bolognaise? That’s just wrong.
Vanilla Coke has finally made it to Australia. Anybody tried any yet? What’s it like?
read your web page, and in reply to the question, Vanilla Coke tastes like a
“coke spider” drink (where they put some icecream into a cup of coke). It’s
a subtle flavour, but quite nice. I tried some while I was over in Canada.
The verdict? Go try some, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
A little while ago, a row about doctors receiving perks from pharmaceutical companies hit the front page of the SMH. It’s supposedly unethical, although the last line of the article just about sums up the situation: “There are more politicians who have been entertained on Sydney Harbour than doctors.”
But anyway, I went to a dinner put on by a drug company last Saturday. A very nice seafood dinner at Golden Century in Chinatown – a reasonable $1000 meal for 14 of us (4 doctors and their families, and drug reps). I don’t really know what the dinner’s purpose was, because nothing about drugs was really mentioned. Except for the time when one of the doctors was recounting a time when he was having a bad day. He was filling out some medical paperwork while listening to a drug rep give a sales pitch. Upon being told by the drug rep to “pay attention” to him and not the paperwork, the doctor then replied in no uncertain terms to “get out”, and the rep left rather taken aback and red faced. Dinners like that are a bit suspect, but I think most people have come to recognise that the whole doctors and freebies thing is like, part of the job. All it is, essentially, is part of marketing by drug companies. Is it different in principle to corporate sales executives wining and dining their clients? Ultimately, not really. It just happens more often with doctors. And it was a nice meal.
REPORTER: The setting: One of Sydney’s most exclusive restaurants, Level 41. The host, again: Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. The occasion: Well, over some of the country’s best food and wine our invited doctors are tonight discussing … gastroenterology. On their way out, we decided it was time to ask the obvious question:
REPORTER: Do you think a drug company should be bringing you here?
FEMALE DOCTOR: Yes, yes, we had such a good time.
REPORTER: But really they’re just trying to sell you drugs aren’t they?
FEMALE DOCTOR: They’re not. It’s for education. Now don’t get it wrong. It’s purely for education. Do you hear the word Zoton the whole night.
REPORTER: So they weren’t pushing the drug.
FEMALE DOCTOR: No, it was not mentioned at all.
REPORTER: You think it makes no difference that they bring you to the most expensive restaurant in town.
FEMALE DOCTOR: It’s … ah … how can I put it. They’re marketing a drug and it’s just a means of getting together and sharing experiences. We talk about medicine. We have a good time. But Zoton, that product, is insignificant in these evenings.
REPORTER: Even though it’s at this restaurant.
FEMALE DOCTOR: Ummmmmm. There’s a lot of restaurants. Buon Ricordo. And ah Tetsuya. We go to some lovely places.
Free dinner at… Tetsuya’s?!?! Holy crap. Time to get Dad to call up Wyeth :) hehe… Hmm, I don’t think it works that way though… well, a man can dream, can’t he? :)
At a recent party I came across a bottle of chilli sauce named “Possible Side Effects”. The bottle was adorned with numerous warnings about the contents being extremely hot and how, like its name implied, it had the potential to cause grevious bodily damage. I opened the bottle and took a good whiff. My eyes didn’t water, so it can’t have been that hot a sauce. So, I did a bit of research on the net. Hotness in chilli, provided by the chemical Capsaicin is measured in Scoville units. Pure capsaicin is about 16 million units. The hottest pepper is the Naga Jolokia pepper in Tezpur, India. In its natural state, it is reputed to be measured at up to 850,000 units, although some dispute this, claiming dodgy liquid chromatography by the Indians. The Habanero has been acknowledged by the Guinness Book as being the hottest at up to about 580,000 units. I couldn’t find an official measurement for Asian Chilli Padis, but they seem to rank up there with the Habanero. The sauce, “Possible Side Effects”, has a rating of about 250,000 units, which isn’t tremendously hot – not to a palate somewhat desensitised to Capsaicin, anyway. After hunting around and finding a few sauces (actually, legally the hottest sauces have to be called “food additives” because of their potency) claiming to be the hottest, I found The Source, rated at a ridiculous 7.1 million units. Just one drop of this in a gallon of minced meat will make most people cry. It’s pretty expensive too. There are some people running around though with their tastebuds all incincerated off that want to try pure capsaicin, though. These people are either bullshitting or are just plain freaks. Pure capsaicin is about 16 million Scoville units. Simply inhaling would be harrowing enough, much less ingesting it.
Pure capsaicin is so powerful that chemists who handle the crystalline powder must work in a filtered “tox room” in full body protection. The suit has a closed hood to prevent inhaling the powder. Said pharmaceutical chemist Lloyd Matheson of the University of Iowa, who once inhaled some capsaicin accidentally: “It’s not toxic, but you wish you were dead if you inhale it.” “One milligram of pure capsaicin placed on your hand would feel like a red-hot poker and would surely blister the skin,” said capsaicin expert Marlin Bensinger. (Src)
A bit on capsaicin desensitisation:
Why are hot peppers hot?
The compound to blame is capsaicin, actually a group of related compounds called capsaicinoids. Pure capsaicin (8-methyl-n-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) is a white powder soluble in alcohol but insoluble in cold water, so drinking that glass of ice water does nothing to alleviate the burning sensation. But, take courage, you can desensitize yourself to capsaicin by ingesting repeated doses at low concentrations or a single dose at high concentrations. (I don’t recommend the latter.) In this way capsacin is unique. Other spices, such as mustard oil (zingerone and allyl isothiocyanate), black pepper (piperine), and ginger (gingerol) don’t have this quality. You can’t desensitize yourself to these burning compounds. [Dairy products are also a good way to stop the burning.]
Another proposed remedy:
My own favorite retaliation against attack by hot chili pepper is to simply eat another. And if that doesn’t work, eat another one. (Berkley, R. (1992). Peppers: A Cookbook. New York: Simon & Schuster)
Chilli is also, like everything in society, potentially carcinogenic if consumed in unrealistic quantities.
I got this email from an employee at Xerts:
Hi, You have a editorial on your website which is a bad one, as this was over 1 year ago, we would please ask that you please remove this editorial from your website. If you would like to come back in and experience Xerts so that you can write another fantastic editorial we would be more than happy to accomodate you. You can contact me on the above email address. Thank You
The post she refers to is here. The post is dated as over a year old, so there it will remain. I wouldn’t visit that place again unless it was free – bad impressions last. Why revisit a bad restaurant when there are so many good unvisited ones out there?
Thank you to all who sent in responses!
u don’t have a macquarie dictionary. the national dictionary. well. i conveniently have it next to me on the shelf because every day, i talk to ppl who use words i don’t understand on icq :) or elsewhere.
‘copha: n. a white waxy solid derived from coconut flesh used as a shortening in cooking; coconut butter. Also, copha butter [trademark]’
Copha is basically solidified coconut oil… mostly used in Australia for the perennial favourite Chocolate Crackles….
Well I work in the dairy department at my local Coles, and we have Copha there – you will probably find it in the same place you find butter and margarine, it’s in a white paper wrapping.
It’s not a liquid, it is in fact a solid and comes in a cube (hence the paper wrapping, like blocks of butter). I believe it is some form of vegetable oil extract – it feels quite waxy and greasy. I think it is just sold as a solidified cooking oil.
Yeh, Copha is used for cooking… usually get it blocks of identical size to Butter… Should be available from any supermarket…
It’s solid, though yeh, you wouldn’t want to use it for cooking without melting it first… not sure if it would be liquid at room temperature, but I’m guessing so since it’s supposed to be kept refrigerated :)
Uhm… I think from memory you have to use Copha when you make chocolate crackles :D
We went to Xerts last night. It was an… interesting, dining experience. Xerts is a space-themed restaurant based on the premise that the restaurant is actually owned by an enterprising race of hyperactive aliens called Xertians who have set up a restaurant in orbit around Earth. The restaurant cost $35 million to build, so I was quite curious to see what the big deal was about.
From the building’s entrance, there’s no indication that it’s a restaurant other than a poster on the window that read “Waiter, there’s a flying saucer in my soup!”. Instead, the entrance is a Xerts merchandising shop full of expensively-priced cheap gimmicks. The restaurant is actually hidden inside the building and to reach it, employees lead you into a gondola – a room with a massive wallscreen designed to simulate being launched into space. A poor effort (cute animations, but the actual motion of the gondola consists of three or four soft shakes), but it’s obviously designed to amuse the kids (and it works, given the enthralled stares of the little kids standing up the front of the room). But to a bunch of 20 year olds like us, it was just a touch embarrasing :)
Inside the restaurant there are a plethora of plasma TVs and flatscreen monitors. Displays on the wall simulate portholes in space with stars and the occasional spaceship drifting by. Each table is a booth seating at most 10 people. There are no larger tables, so you’re not going to be able to get a large group to this restaurant without splitting the group up. Each table is also equipped with a touchscreen and cordless trackball (for those who can’t reach the screen). All ordering takes place through the screen, followed by a waiter turning up with what you ordered. It’s both convenient and inconvenient – you have to endure the lengthy animated menus, but can order on a whim without having to call a waiter. Which is just as well because the human waiters would not know what “customer service” is if it was rammed up their nasal passages. Simply put, their service sucked royally. While we were settling in, a waiter came over to greet us. The conversation went something like this:
Waiter: “Are you guys alright?”
And then he walked off without another word. Shrugs all around. He came back a bit later – we were still playing around with the touchscreen and he shot in a comment about one of us “never getting past the toilet training stage”. Whoa. Another encounter, when we were asking about how large the pizzas were, somehow resulted in him branding two of us Losers (complete with hand motions). The guy wasn’t having a bad day, I reckon he always was like that. Furthermore, I have never heard a waiter warning us to stay away from several dishes (Burgers and the Kid’s menu). Neither have I seen a waiter attempt to mount the table (ahem). One more thing – when I motioned for a waiter to come over to collect the bill, he mimicked me in a spasticated copy. In a final stuffup, they added two items onto the bill that we hadn’t ordered. And you guys want a tip?? Fuck that.
The food was mixed – some was quite decent, some was not so good. The mocktails were delicious. Mains are in the $15-20 range, so the restaurant’s quite affordable. I don’t know how they are going to recuperate the capital they spent on building the place. They’re not going to get it through tips, that’s for sure. You really can’t go to this restaurant in a serious or cynical mood or you’ll have an abysmal experience. Although it appears to be a kid’s restaurant (and for the most part, it is), there is a fully licensed bar on the side catering for the adults. Just prepare to spend half the evening playing with the touchscreen (complete with games, movie trailers etc.) and the other half being insulted by waiters. I would only recommend it for a once off visit.
How about some Calpis Water or ‘Sweat (Pocari Sweat, that is… both are “concentrated lactic acid beverages”)? Or an Every Burger? (hm lost something in the translation there…) There’s also this thing called “Glico Collon“. Described as a shortbread tube filled with chocolate, I think they put one too many L’s in the name. Yep, get your Japanese snacks here. The scary thing is, most of those products are labelled as “out of stock”.
For Sydneysiders: Eat Streets at Night
If you are looking for a late night dining venue in the city there are now more than 55 restaurants, bars and cafes with kitchens open until midnight at least three nights per week as part of the ‘Eat Streets at Night’ program.
Shops normally close way too early here, so this is good move for Sydney. I wonder what overseas visitors would think when the Olympics roll around and everything is shut by 5pm?
Remember how I was talking about caffeinated peppermints about a month ago? I ordered a box over the net late last week and they arrived today.
75 pieces a tin, 12 tins. That’s 900 mints. Or 300 Coke cans worth of caffeine. Well I won’t be sleeping for the next… decade. Who needs coffee? :) And absolutely zero nutritional content. I just got told off by dad who reckons caffeine is carcinogenic. He’s probably right, but I don’t think I’ll be downing a tin every night…
Woke up at 6 today. Out of the house by 7, worked from 9 till 4. Uni lecture from 5-7pm. Got back home at 9.15pm. Same next week, except uni will go from 5 till 8. I’m going to be absolutely buggered this semester :/
A friend has opened up a cafe, so I’m plugging it for him. It’s sort of like Passionflower (come on you must’ve heard about Passionflower if you live in Sydney…). It’s right outside Broadway on street level, so go visit it if you’re looking for something new (and if you do, tell me about it, cos I haven’ been there heh). Ok where’s my free ice-cream now? :)
Trendy little cafe just opened outside the Broadway Shopping Centre, corner of Bay and Grose Street (Bay Street level).
iGLOO dessert bar cafe
We serve delicious gourmet ice creams (green tea, black sesame, taro,etc), crepes, waffles, gourmet pizza’s, turkish bread and coffee.
Open till late. (Please pass this on) = )
Up at Manly last night, got a chance to eat one of the animals on Australia’s coat of arms. However, when the kangaroo pizza arrived, we couldn’t see the kangaroo. We started poking around… there was the pumpkin, salami.. some bush chutney stuff, tomatoes… but no kangaroo. Eventually we worked it out that the two shavings of meat in the centre of the pizza was kangaroo. How povo was that? So if you’re ever at Wood & Stone at Manly, don’t order that pizza. Same night I caught the last train from Circular Quay. Fell asleep and ended up at Campbelltown station at 2-something in the morning. And I’m still alive (yes, with my wallet too) hahahaha :).
Defrag doesn’t know about you, but we often think, “Gee, if we only knew some way we could drink the same water as those people at Yahoo!, then we’d be as rich as them.”
Actually no, that’s a lie.
We’ve never thought this at all. It hasn’t even crossed our minds in the moments after consuming our 16th tequila before we lose consciousness, when it seems like a good idea to quit work to become the world’s first roller-skating astronaut.
But the mere fact that an idea is mind-numbingly stupid doesn’t mean someone won’t do it. Just look at the Franklin Mint. A company called HQ2O (www.hq2o.com) is selling bottles of water from the water coolers of Silicon Valley.
Yep, you can actually drink water that has been sourced from Tripod, Yahoo! or Wired. Guaranteed almost completely backwash free.
Or, more to the point, you can’t drink it, because the water has come from a water cooler and has not been purified in any way, so legally the company can’t tell you it’s okay to drink, “but don’t worry,” says the company’s Web site. “We wash our hands frequently, and sterilise all the containers and utensils used in the bottling process.”
Well, that’s a relief. Apparently the water is being sold as a collectable, and Defrag can well imagine a time when a bottle of water from Yahoo! would be worth, say, at least a bottle.
Friends would come over and notice it on the mantelpiece. “What’s that on the mantelpiece next to the comical ceramic tramp?” they would ask. “It’s a bottle of water from Wired’s water cooler,” you would reply, watching the look of envy cross their face. Or maybe that’s bewilderment – sometimes it’s hard to tell.
Eating a bar of chocolate and a tiny bit of foil was, unknown to me, stuck on one of the squares. I started chewing, tasted metal, and suddenly ZAP. I had chewed on the bit of foil and it basically gave me what felt like an electric shock. Anyone else have this happen to them? Why does this happen?
Tuckeroos. Damn that stereotypical name. It’s some firm in Vancouver importing Aussie food – chocolates, candy and biscuits, which has been conveniently translated to “cookies” for you yanks. Mmmm Tim Tams. But what the hell are Pollywaffles??
People ask all the time .. “Ozzie food ?..chocolate ? whats so good about it ? Its not like Australia is known for its food!“. What people dont know is that Australians have a very large sweet tooth.
I got approached by people surveying for Taco Bell today. They enticed me with a $5 voucher :). I just answered her questions as she filled out a multipage form. I caught the name of the survey, which was entitled “Project Bellringer” :). There was also a question on the survey that read, “What is the sex of the surveyee? (DO NOT ASK SURVEYEE)” Another question they asked was to grade the 5 major fast food restaurants (TB, McD, KFC, Pizza Hut, Hungry Jacks – otherwise known as Burger King in the rest of the world). After grading TB first and McD last, they then asked me how many times I had eaten at each of those joints in the last 3 months. Interestingly enough, McD came out at the most visited. Testament to the ubiquity of the Golden Arches.
Yesterday I visited what must be Sydney (or maybe even Australia’s) first Taco Bell. As Aussies, I don’t think many have heard about it, but I’ve heard about it through the net :), and when I visited the US a few years back. This is a definite nice change from the burgers at Macca’s and Hungry Jacks (Burger King, but they lost the naming rights before they came to Australia). A couple more things about Taco Bell – unlimited refills of drinks, and they sell Mountain Dew! Which is great, cos that’s my favourite soft drink – not too fizzy but sweet.
What the heck does “Yo Quiero” mean? It’s not “you queer” I’m guessing.
You’ve >never tasted a real mint, until you’ve tasted the SMINT. These mints are the best mints you’re gonna find. Strong and full of flavour. Heh – they’ve even got a website (http://www.smint.com). They come in small blue boxes with 40 mints each. And as always, be warned, because excess consumption may have a laxative effect. :) (Record consumption was 6 boxes in one day by a friend). Get the smints in the blue boxes – the ones in the green boxes suck. Apparently there are ones in yellow boxes but they probably haven’t made it to Australia (why is that not surprising?). Try eating about 10 at once to clear your sinuses (“it’s like sucking on liquid nitrogen” said Requiem).