Friday, December 31, 2010

Gold Coast Restaurant Review: Vintage Espresso: 29 December 2010

We returned to our fave new cafe on the Goldie, Vintage Espresso.  The courier new typeface sign welcomes the diner into a retro world of chandeliers, old furniture and gilt-edged mirror walls.  Sure, this look has been done before in larger cities, but it's such a welcome sight on the Gold Coast, which is usually known for its shiny newness.

Decor aside, the best thing about this cafe is the food. And the coffee. And the staff.  And the patrons. Oh, and the interior.

As we queued for take away coffee, however quickly snapped up an eat-in table, yey, so decided to stay for breakfast.  He ordered pumpkin toast with field mushrooms, persian fetta & rocket.  Topped with a sprig of thyme, nice touch.  I ordered the fruit platter with yoghurt.

The mushrooms were big and fresh, the persian fetta delightfully creamy.  And the pumpkin toast was a nice variation.  My fruit platter was sweet, juicy & delicious.  It made a welcome change from the "fruit salad" we'd ordered from a strip cafe at Broadbeach the previous day which consisted of granny smith apples, orange, grapes & 2 slices of banana.  I mean, who still makes fruit salad like that? Not the folk at Vintage, I can tell you that.

This is also the sort of place you can get naked.  That got your attention.  Not naked, naked.  You can pick up a copy of the Naked City Guide to the Gold Coast.  Of  course, Vintage is featured in the cafes section and we plan on trying some of the others if the standard is as good as Vintage.

The staff are all smiley and friendly and almost a reason in itself to return.  However the coffee & food will see a few more visits before we leave.  Personally, I can't wait to try their bircher muesli and down a few more coffees.

Vintage Espresso
1/43 alfred st, Mermaid Beach 
Gold Coast, Australia

Ph: 55 277878

Another visit to Vintage Espresso on Tuesday 4 January ;-)

Couldn't help ourselves. Along with more coffee, we ordered yet another fruit plate (my fault)

and a scrambled eggs with Persian fetta with pumpkin vienna, roast tomato & spinach.  Oh and follow up to my comments on limited or drab selections of bread.  Vintage Espresso have Turkish; megagrain; sourdough; English muffin; gluten-free rice and pumpkin spelt; bagels, fig, fruit & hazelnut toast; olive & rosemary toast; and walnut toast.  That's 9 types of beautiful, breakfast-worthy toast.  See.  It can be done.

Sydney Restaurant Review: Souk in the City, Darlinghurst: 29 September 2010

We originally sought one of our fave Vietnamese restaurants in the St Margarets complex in Darlinghurst, An Nam, but were crushed to find it had closed.  A cold wet winter, combined with a too-large restaurant sadly spelled disaster for the lovely folk at An Nam.

Despondent, we sulked into Souk in the City, about which we had heard good things.  One thing we failed to hear about was the rose petals in the face when you walk in.  Pfft, pfft. A nice idea but it did catch me by surprise.

A cocktail was just what the doctor had ordered.  On the recommendation of the waiter, my hubby chose something a little uncharacteristic of him: a girlie drink: Pomegranate & Rose Water Martini: vodka, pomegranate liqueur, pomegranate juice shaken with fragrant rosewater. This is usually something I would love and he would hate.  But it was a little too sweet and perfumey for me.  Too sweet for me? That's saying something.

We loved the menu.  It was adventurous and promised much.  We ordered the Ras el hanout cured ocean trout, rose water pickles with sumac spiced croutons and the spiced seared scallops, zaater crumble, vanilla & watercress, lemon & pear, orange oil.  Both were divine.

Leaving enough room for dessert we ordered the Moroccan version of a sticky date: Moroccan pudding
with dates and figs.  We fought over it.

Uncharacteristically, we ordered less than we actually needed to eat (what's need got to do with eating out?) so vowed to return with friends so we could sample more of the menu. 

Souk in the City
st margaret's | shop 5
'henry' 431 bourke st
surry hills sydney

Tel (02) 93 577 577

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sydney Restaurant Review: Ms G's, Potts Point 17 November 2010

When friends drop in from London, its always a good excuse to go out and try and new restaurant.  The risk of course, is that if it's an ordinary meal it can take the shine off the excitement of catching up with old buddies.  However if its a cracker nosh-up, well, then you have all the makings of an awesome night.

It was a Monday, so not many restaurants are open on a Monday.  I decided to risk good friendship by suggesting a new Merivale Restaurant which I read about in my daily email from Daily Addict.  I've always had good experiences in Merivale Restaurants: the food, service and decor is always great, so I decided to chance Ms G's, their new baby in Potts Point.  I hadn't heard anything about it yet, but figured if Dan Hong and Jowett Yu were at the helm, it should be memorable.

Red neon lights at the door.  I like it already.

The first impression as we stepped through the door as we walked past the bar was that of a terrace-come-tree-house.  There were lovely big trees out the back window with hanging ropes.  Very Famous Five.

The rest of the interior is what could be described as a stylish mish-mash.  Later, we would discover the sheer delight of recipes plastered on the walls of the ladies loos from the early 70's. Awesome. We were led downstairs and chose a booth rather than a window table.  There's something comforting about booth seating.

We were starving, but eager to catch up, so across the top of our conversation we turned our attention to the menu, which looked amazing.  Between 4 hungry, enthusiastic diners we had nominated around 8 dishes we wanted.  We were a little excited to see one another and eat this food.  Our waitress Lauren was smiley and helpful.

We were given mis-matched crockery, in keeping with the decor, which was quite beautiful.  Mis-matched crockery doesn't anything remotely cool or beautiful in my house.  But that's the point I guess.

Amongst us we ordered 2 cocktails: an Aloe Vera (which sounded suspiciously similar to Zeta Bar's New York Foam with Absolut Vanilla vodka, limoncello, crushed lemons, Aloe Vera foam) and the impossible-to-pass-up Ms G's Famous Yuzu Slushee (with Limoncello, Russian Standard Vodka, yuzu juice & Regan's Orange Bitters).  The slushee arrived, trumping the Aloe Vera on presentation.  Because it looked exactly like a slushee, complete with plastic on top. I am, after all, a child of the 70's:

As we had a vegetarian amongst us, the first dish to arrive was Ms G's grilled corn on the cob with parmesan & lime.  The photo and description doesn't do the taste justice.  It had a definite tex/mex flavour going on, not at all what we had expected but was so delicious I could have happily sat down to a meal of Ms G's grilled corn and nought else.  The corn was juicy and combined with the aioli & parmesan, was a little messy and possibly not first date material (unless you wanna get down and dirty early on) but ahhhh, I know immediately that I will return to Ms G's if only for the corn.

The next dish comes quickly: Mini bánh mì- 2 crisp pork belly and 2 chicken katsu.  Not at all how we expected it to look.  We didn't have a clue what bánh mì were, thinking they would be skewers or similar.  However since then I have brushed up on my Vietnamese cuisine and found that bánh mì are actually baguettes with pickled veggies, coriander and usually pork or chicken.  I used to eat these a lot when I worked in Redfern and loved them. These little guys, masquerading as burgers, looked fab, but I would say at the time in my muddled-bánh-mì-skewer-head I thought they could have done without the buns.  Ha!  Imagine popping downstairs to the kitchen and telling Dan Hong I would have preferred to have his bánh mì without the buns.  This is why I tend not to speak to chefs. If you are a chef and see me coming, hide. I'm the one with my foot already in my mouth.

The next dish to swiftly arrive was the “Buddha’s Delight” - A textural vegetarian salad with tofu, seaweed, bean sprouts and some sort of jelly situation, the details of which I have since forgotten (sorry).  Clean, healthy, crunchy, tasty. I wanted more.

Hot on the heels of Buddha's Delight was the prawn toast with yuzu aioli and herbs.  I hasten to add that I would never have ordered this from the menu, however one of our companions was dead keen on it. I tried it and it was a tasty turn on the old favourite, but having just lost 5 kilos I was a bit gun-shy of the sordid, but come-hither deep-friedness of it.  But man oh man, the crunch! The sesame!  The prawny toast!

Our next dish arrived at the same time as the toast and hubby already started complaining that the dishes were coming too quickly... the stress of trying to finish off the preceding dish was interfering with his enjoyment of the meal.  He was right.  The dishes were coming a little too quickly, however as I was S T A R V I N G, I didn't mind so much, it was a great excuse to hoover quickly.  The grilled calamari, black pudding & coriander salsa verde is also something I probably wouldn't have ordered due to the inclusion of blood sausage, but I was convinced to try it and it was heavenly.  The calamari was tender, the sausage didn't taste like blood but a tasty, well..... sausage, and the coriander lifted it with a zing! But then I thought too long about the blood sausage being a sausage filled with congealed blood and left the rest for the boys to demolish.

Goodness.  There was more food? The egg noodles with XO sauce, braised duck and soft poached egg promised to be right up my alley.  I heart duck, I heart egg. What else could I want?  Sadly, this was my least favourite dish.  When I think about it, I prefer a roast duck so the braising possibly didn't float my boat.  Dunno.  Hubby pronounced it his favourite, so I bequeathed my unfinished portion to him.  Which was a good thing, as I was running out of tummy real estate.

Did I mention we were boisterous? Lauren, took our noise in her stride and with good humour.  She answered all our inane questions and offered suggestions.  She also highly recommended the crispy spiced tofu and fried eggs, cherry tomatoes, coriander and thai basil and said she thought it would make an awesome breakfast.  We complimented her on her knowledge of the menu and she said that even though the restaurant had only been open 4 days to the public, the staff had sat through explanations of all of the dishes on the menu and were encouraged, over these 2 nights, to try everything.  Lucky gal.  However this also explains why Merivale do hospitality so well.   And 4 days?  How did I end up being such a finger-on-the-pulse chick?  Thank you, Daily Dose.

Anyhoo, this dish ROCKED. Second favourite dish of mine.  That poached, then deep fried egg was un-be-lieve-able.  Lauren was truly awesome herself as this would indeed be a spectacular breakfast. The fried egg is that big lump on the right hand side.  The yolk was gooey but not too gooey.

Incredibly, there was yet another dish which arrived.  Stir fried rice noodles, wagyu beef, chilli, herbs and peanuts, minus the beef.  Our veggo friend declared this to be her favourite, and we ordered a second plate of it, which was quite a feat given how much food we had ploughed through.

And, I'm ashamed to admit, we ordered 2 desserts, to share.  One decadent, one no so.  We hoed into the “Stoner’s Delight” first: banana ice cream, chocolate, rice bubbles, pretzel, peanut brittle and marshmallow. Oh my freakin god.  I needn't describe the sheer indulgence and deliciousness of that one.  It was magnificent. 

We lamented the fact that we ate that one first but quite honestly, the “Splice” pine-lime granita with lychee sorbet and whipped cream was a perfect palate cleanser to finish off the meal.

As we'd broken all world speed records eating that much food in so little time (1.5 hours?) we tumbled (or should that be waddled?) out on Victoria Street by 8.30pm in time to linger over cocktails at Jimmy Liks for a cheeky nightcap. The tall cocktails at Jimmy Liks were $18 each and full to the brim with ice, so not particularly good value.  For my money, I prefer the bar area at Ms G's. Next time, we will linger longer.  We'll definitely be back.  The only criticism was the speed of the dishes, but Ms G's definitely deserves another visit. And soon!

Ms G's
155 Victoria Street
Potts Point
Reservations: 8313 1000
Open Mon-Sun dinner; Fri & Sat lunch
Food menu
Wine list

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sydney Restaurant Review: Guillaume at Bennelong: 23 November 2010

We were tempted to return to the Oyster Bar just one week after our last pre-theatre visit, however we needed to collect our Ballet tickets from the Opera House prior to that night's performance. A little voice from Guillaume at Bennelong was calling us.

Again: we had no booking and thought we'd just wing it.  If there was a table it was meant to be.  If not, we had a booking we'd try the Oyster Bar again.  And order the coleslaw without the onion ;-)

As our (good) luck would have it, they had just received a cancellation.  We were in! Yippee!

Our maitre'd was an absolute delight.  The type you want to be friends with.  We decided on the 2 course pre-theatre menu.  For a restaurant of this calibre, $66 we thought was excellent value for 2 courses.

Being a recent expert in the field of oysters in and around Circular Quay, my date ordered 6 freshly shucked oysters with shallot vinegar.  I tried one and OMG.  These oysters were SO fresh, so plump and so.... oysterish.
I ordered King Salmon Sashimi with a brunoise of cucumber, apple and finger limes, on a bed of white peach puree.  The salmon was melt-in-your-mouth tender, creamy and perfectly accompanied by the brunoise (small, cubed food).  The only problem was that it was such a breathtakingly beautiful work of art I was reluctant to eat it, especially the gorgeous pink translucency of the white peach puree with the micro herbs as a colour counterpoint. But I got over that and ate it anyway.  The sweetness of the peach was brilliant with the creaminess of the salmon and the bitey herbs and (dare I write this) raw onion.

Yes folks, I am sheepish to report there were small pieces of raw onion in the brunoise but it was actually perfectly balanced and didn't over take the dish.  I am a hyporcrite, I admit it.  But I'm ok with that ;-)

I'm a big fan of the 2 entree option, so I ordered an entree dish, the scallops gently sealed & served with cauliflower puree, shitake mushrooms and chicken jus.  I could have eaten a main sized serving of this dish.  I LOVE scallops and these babies were perfectly cooked.  They were seared lightly so they were cooked on the outside, but were beautifull tender on the inside.  Scallop heaven. The freshly sauteed baby spinach in the middle was a wonderful accompaniment, because I do love my greens....

My date ordered the barramundi on a bed of carrots and ginger puree, coriander and pomme allumette (potatoes, in the shape of matches).  The barra was firm yet moist, and the skin was extra crunchy.  The dish was exquisite.  We died a little that night and went to eating heaven.

And we ordered a side of green beans with pesto.  I want to learn how great restaurants do their beans so they're still dark green but they're tender and cooked right through.

Ok, so there were more raw onions perched atop the beans.  I skillfully removed these but they did remain on the plate.  I should discount half a point for the inclusion of the beans, but the beans were so heavenly I can't quite bring myself to do it.  Besides, our waiter smiled so sweetly and told us a lovely story about the Brasserie Bread they use, so how could I take points from Guillaume?

The desserts looked so good that we ordered the pavlova with passionfruit cream, mangoes, mixed berries and vanilla bean ice cream to share.  Needless to say, there was a bit of push and shove over the pav.  I just can't go past a pav at the best of times.  And these were certainly the best of times as far as pavlova was concerned.

So Guillaume was an absolute stunner, especially considering it was such an unexpected surprise.  And although I feel unfair comparing the oysters at Guillaume with the Oysters at the Oyster Bar, the oysters at Guillaume definitely win.  Hands down. By a long way.  However Guillaume offers a different dining experience.  It's definitely more formal and more grown up, and doesn't offer the immediate harbour view like the Oyster Bar.  And the Oyster Bar is probably better for a group of people who want a more relaxed, casual experience right on the harbour.  But I do know where I'll be going again, very soon.  Next time I'm anywhere near the Opera House....

Guillaume at Bennelong
Bennelong Point, Sydney
Phone: +61 2 9241 1999

Sydney Restaurant Review: The Sydney Cove Oyster Bar: 17 November 2010

One evening before the theatre at the Opera House after weeks of cold and rainy weather, Sydney put on a magic day reminicent of the spring weather we were usually treated to in years gone by.  Arriving at Circular Quay nice and early we intended to go to the Opera Bar, but alas, it was already full to the brim with a large gaggle of Sydney-siders equally thrilled with the turn in the weather.  So a'wandering we went, and decided to give the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar a whirl (aka the Oyster Bar).  The last and only other time I had been there was around 1990 so it was time to give the old girl another go whilst not wearing shoulder pads and a bouffant fringe.

The signs were good, the stars were aligned.  We fronted up with no reservation but big smiles and a huge amount of optimism and bagged the last available table.  Score!  It had a beautiful view of Sydney Harbour.  Double score!  Now, to order, eat and get to the theatre within an hour, that was our challenge.

We started with 2 glasses of Veuve for no other reason than it was on the wine list and we wanted it.  Mmm.  Veuve. I believe that was score number 3.

We ordered all of our food to come at the same time.  I started with half a dozen Wakame oysters, topped with wakame seaweed & soy mirin.  My dining partner ordered half a dozen wakame, half a dozen natural with red wine eschallot vinegar.  I loved the combination of the saltiness of the oyster with the sweetness of the mirin and seaweed, whereas my partner preferred the natural oysters with the vinegar (which was slightly too acidic & not sweet enough for me).  The oysters were fresh, plump and as you'd expect in an establishment calling itself the Sydney Oyster Bar. All good.

Then came the Cured Hiramasa kingfish, pickled cucumber & mint salad.  It was fresh, light and everything I didn't realise I wanted until I crunched my first forkful.  I love it when a salad is perfectly balanced with sweetness, freshness, crunch and bite.  It was delicious and healthy, which makes me happy.

I had searched the menu for a salad-salad.  You know, the kind with lots of raw veggies, lettuce, herbs and a light dressing without anything meaty or proteiny in it.  Not the kind which is something else with a few leaves around it.  And definitely not the kind with a heavy dressing.  Sadly, my only criticism of the Oyster Bar was that there was a limited selection of fresh salad-salads available.  I didn't want a pretend caesar salad (Baby cos leaf salad, coddled egg & croutons) or anything with onion.  Perhaps it was the lack of food prep space, the lack of refrigeration behind the scenes, but I was a little disappointed as I am a salad-salad gal from way back. 

The waitress, who was helpful, suggested I order the baby coz leaf salad but with the dressing on the side, a la Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.  It sounded like a reasonable, yet slightly unsatisfying compromise considering I didn't want a pretend, dry caesar salad.  What was delivered however was the herb & radish coleslaw, with an acceptable light dressing but (unfortunately) harbouring quite a lot of shaved raw onion amongst the cabbage and carrot. 

A word on raw onion.  I am a hater of raw onion.  A strong word, I know, but it flavours everything within a 1 metre radius and MAKES YOUR BREATH SMELL, NOT TO MENTION OTHER AREAS!  I'm ok with non-raw onion haters, even those who love raw onion.  I can overcome my raw onion prejudices and share a table with such folk.  You just won't catch me kissing them or sharing a bed with them.  Or a salad.

After poking through the entire salad very OCD-style to retrieve EVERY SINGLE SLICE OF RAW ONION and put it on the side of my plate, what was left of the herb & radish coleslaw was actually very tasty.  Crunchy, light, fresh & herby.  It was actually exactly what I wanted.  It was just a pity this slightly obsessed raw onion hater had to spend my time on a search & destroy mission. 

So how would I rate the Sydney Oyster Bar now, in 2010, 20 years after my first visit?  Despite the onion incident (which actually, wasn't really that bad) I'd give it a good 7 out of 10.  The view is spectacular, the service was attentive (enough) on a busy night.  We got the wrong salad, and there was onion in it, but hey, I actually enjoyed the coleslaw post the raw onion removal.  And we got to the theatre on time.  Score!

Sydney Cove Oyster Bar
No.1 East Circular Quay, Sydney.
8am til late, 7 days.
Phone: +61 2 9247 2937