Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Review: Etch, Sydney

Christmas has rolled around once again, and I'm always sad once I reach the other side of the festive season. No more presents, no more decorations, and no more Christmas parties.

Above all else, there is a particular thing I look forward to during the lead up to Christmas, and it's the multitude of work parties and lunches that occur during the period. Sadly, I heard that many work parties were downsized this year as a result of the GFC, but luckily for me, I nevertheless had the chance to pick the restaurant to book for our midday feast this year.

There was one criterium and one only. That is, the place had to be located somewhere close to where SK is currently doing her vacation work so that she may be able to join us during her lunch break.

Because of the late notice, finding a place proved to be a little difficult. However, with a little luck, I rediscovered Etch - the brainchild of Becasse's Justin North. The restaurant was situated in the perfect place, and thus it did not take me long to pick up a phone and lock ourselves in.

As one walks into the restaurant, the immediate surrounding will undoubtedly strike you as a form of subdued elegance and pretty. There's a hint of playfulness in the quirkiness of design - it's almost like a place taken straight out of a page of Frankie Magazine.

The service here is attentive and professional. As we settled ourselves into the comfortable chairs, we sneakily eavesdropped another table to listen to a very well informed waiter carefully divulging the intricacies of each dish.

We first nibbled on a little ciabatta to satisfy the peckish. (Like me). The Ciabatta was soft and full of flavour. Definitely more interesting than your standard Foccacia.

6 hour braised beef cheek, baby vegetables, Madeira consomme - $34

We skipped entrees and dived straight into the mains. I have to say, however, that it was incredibly hard to resist the temptation to go for a 3 course lunch and stuff myself to the absolute brim.

The decision for the Boss was straight forward. It took her less than 2 seconds to decide on the Braised Beef Cheek - something which she has been dying to dig into since our visit to Mad Cow during the Winter Feast. She had tried to order this dish on a second visit, but sadly it was no longer on offer.

The cheeks were absolutely divine and melted away the minute it touched your tongue. The madeira consomme provided a really robust and flavoursome backdrop against the sweetness of the meat - I think I almost cried a little when I tasted it.

Provencal potatoes, aged prosciutto, smoked garlic mayonnaise - $9 (Please do yourself a favour and try this.)

Local sea bream, crumbed scampi, fennel puree, citrus a la grecque - $31

DW and JH both ordered the local sea bream, which was a beautiful piece of fish cooked to absolute perfection. Both were really taken away by the fennel puree (something which has given me motivation to slave away in the kitchen to perfect), and were overall just in gleeful happiness as they slid each morsel into their mouths.

Spaghetti, sauteed prawns, peas, prawn bisque - $30

While I was tempted to try the Lobster Thermidore, I eventually decided to leave that dish for another day while I examined the particulars of prawn bisque. I know it was just a single element to the dish at large, but since the early days of foodie adventures, I've grown particularly fond of assessing individual elements of each dish in hope that I may be able to replicate them in my own kitchen one day.

Yes, some people have suggested that it would just be easier going to a culinary school...but I often prefer the scenic route.

Either way, I absolutely LOVED the prAWniness (hehe) of this dish. The bisque was an absolute explosion of flavour in my mouth. Then there was the Spring-freshness of the peas, then the satisfying bite of the spaghetti, and then the pure indulgence of a well cooked and flavoured prawn - all of which was then signed and sealed by an almost palate-cleansing taste of the cress.

Pear and Lillet blanc trifle - $15

While dessert had not been part of the original plan, as soon as we were handed the dessert menu, deep down we all knew that it was going to happen, whether we wanted it or not (but seriously, who wouldn't?)

Upon seeing the option of a trifle, JH cheerfully reminisced the times when her mother made her version of trifle back in Kiwiland. The next thing we knew, everyone was sharing the own visions and memories of a trifle made and enjoyed. It was interesting to see how a simple dessert, with its myriad of transformations, could spark a strange unity in a table of people from very different backgrounds. Spiced nougatine parfait, figs - $15

Lastly we happily shared a plate of Parfait - which was really one of the best dessert dishes I've ever had. The parfait was lusciously smooth and creamy - and only just mildly sweet. JH and SJ both commented on how this dessert simply wasn't sweet enough to their liking, while I happily nommed away on what I thought to be a dessert with the perfect level of sweetness. I had often discussed with JH (who is an absolute sweettooth) the Western vs. Asian dessert issue, and why if you enjoyed one it was always easy to be disappointed by another. It may just be the two of us and we are by no means a good sample for the entire population, but there are obvious differences between the two.

To be fair I would often point out my general apathy towards chocolate, and my utter dislike of dense and immensely sweet flavours. The confusing thing is, JH says the exact same thing about Asian desserts? So my gut feeling tells me that the problem probably lies in textural differences too, but I'm not too sure.

So I hand the problem over to you. What does it take to turn a "good" dessert into a "great" dessert?

Etch Restaurant
62 Bridge Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 9247 4777
Opens: Monday to Friday 12pm - late, Saturday 5pm - late

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review: Plan B, Sydney

Hungry. That’s what we were. No…we couldn’t have that bothering us, especially if we had an afternoon of Christmas shopping ahead of us. We really needed to energise ourselves in preparation before we went to war. As always, especially preceding a likely spending spree, we were coating our wallets with as much armour as it could handle which landed us at a hidden gem that I’m ashamed to have not known about earlier. Thanks to WX’s knowledge, we made a short trip down to Castlereagh Street towards the two-hatted restaurant, Becasse, but stopped short by a couple of metres at a tiny hole-in-the-wall café called Plan B.

There was a small seating area with about five tables outside and we were lucky to get the last table just as we arrived. Having been here before, WX recommended that I try the 600-day Grass Fed Wagyu Beef Burger, and for a price of only $10, how could I refuse? When our identical orders came, my already groaning stomach only groaned louder at the sight.

Just looking at the burger, I was salivating. I love Wagyu - I thank the Japanese for having invented this national treasure of theirs. While WX attempted to be a bit more civilised by initially using her utensils, she quickly gave up when she saw that I hadn't even tried to go down that avenue but had instead taken a huge bite out of my burger using just my hands. The tenderness of the Wagyu was immediately evident - with the mix of beetroot the Wagyu just melted in my mouth - and at that moment I was in foodie heaven. When I was in Japan and cooked for myself on a daily basis, I sometimes rewarded myself with the expensive Wagyu packs from the supermarket and it was delicious. But at the quantities that I cooked with, the Wagyu was slightly overpowering with its dispersion of fattiness. With this little $10 gem of a lunch though, the burger had just the right amount of Wagyu to satisfy my craving but wasn't too much either. I can say that I'm definitely putting this on the list of lunch destinations when I start working in the city!

Plan B
204 Clarence Street
Sydney 2000
PH: 92833450

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review: Radio Cairo, Cremorne

When you're overseas, usually the one thing people ask you about the place you're from goes something like this:

"So what's your favourite thing about Sydney?"

Responses usually go something along the lines of "Weather's great, yeah and obviously Sydney harbour is beautiful..." etc etc....whatever.

But then if they happen to run into a foodie then chances are the response will be somewhat different. In fact, it would probably go something like this:

"Weather's great - y'know the sun and all - but OMFG you can eat ALL the cuisines of the world on FOOT! It's like the world on a platter!"

And what better place to show off the culinary diversity in Sydney than the understated Radio Cairo in Cremorne.

Negumbo Harlmassa (Deep fried whitebait with Sweet Chilli Sauce and Garlic Mayonnaise) - $15.95

I can't remember where I first heard about the place, but wherever it was, it certainly made a deep impression on my mind. But I must admit I have a strange fascination towards African food - there's just something about the use of strong spices and fragrance that makes the food wonderfully enticing.

Afro Fries - $5.95

Here at Radio Cairo, the authenticity of the African fare is questionable, but nonetheless bursting with flavour with every bite. Mixed in with the casual and eclectic decor dressing the walls and the various dining areas, the ambience may be described as a tonne of fun and rusticity, with plenty of smiles all around the room.

JL and I ordered two entrees to share. From the photos it is easy to tell that the portion sizes are rather friendly and suitable for sharing. I found the Afro fries salted and spiced a little too heavy handedly, preferring the delicate sweetness of freshly fried whitebait. The garlic mayonnaise provided a light tang, with just enough acid to cut through the greasy feel of fried goodies.

Tunisian Slow-Roasted Lamb Shanks - $22.95

Despite being a hot summer day, I found the option of a slow roasted lamb shank impossible to go by. The serve here was enough to feed two people, or one big eater - because I certainly wasn't even close to being able to finish this plate. Unfortunately JL is no fan of lamb, so failed miserably in the department of BF plate-cleaning duties.

Cous Cous - $4.75 (small)

I honestly thought the lamb was beautifully cooked and the meat was falling off the bone in all directions with the gentlest touch of the fork. The sauce was absolutely divine to mix in with the cous cous. The lamb itself was quite chilli, so I ended up having to down quite a fair bit of water to plough through the meat - possibly why I was bloated so quickly. Nevertheless, this is definitely a winter-warmer, and perfect for chilly nights. (Get it? Get it?)

Cajun 'Blackened' Snapper Fillets - $22.95

JL opted for a seafood option and chose the Cajun 'Blackened' Snapper Fillet. Upon first sight one would quickly notice that it was indeed 'blackened' all over, but the fascination soon subsides upon the realisation that unfortunately 'blackened' is synonymous with 'dry' and 'overdone' in this case. The fish was wonderfully tasty, especially with the Louisana Hot Sauce, but as much as I appreciate the taste and difference in texture that this cooking method produces, I would probably pass on the dish next time round.

Pink Grapefruit and Vodka Sorbet

Last but not least, we could hardly give up the chance to try some delicious Pink Grapefruit and Vodka (not-so-African) Sorbet. After all that spiciness during the entree and the main, it was absolutely delightful to dig into some palate cleansing dessert to finish the meal. The thing I love most about this sorbet was the light bitter-sweetness from the Grapefruit. Some places sadly prefer to mask the bitter flavour of grapefruits by drowning in with sugar or some other fruit juice, but truthfully speaking, I'd often much prefer a gently bitter tasting grapefruit flavour than a sour lemon sorbet.

Some people may throw shoes at me, but I'm just going to call it creative differences?

Radio Cairo
83 Spofforth Street
Cremorne, NSW 2088
Tel: (02) 9908 2649

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: Palate, Sydney


When you have no time, no booking, no money, no sleep and have been eating fast and unhealthy meals during the week, the first cuisine you think of is Japanese. It’s quick, cheap and relatively healthy but for some (not me, I will never get sick of this cuisine), it becomes incredibly boring. So that was FYL’s complaint when I once again suggested Japanese. After this exclamation, we found ourselves standing under the staircase at World Square, peering into what appeared to be a fairly busy café.

“No. Not a café for dinner.”

Making our way around the corner, we reached a dimly lit restaurant, which seemed to be closed until a waiter signalled for us to come in the other entrance. Turns out, it was the restaurant version of the café we saw but perfect for us – quieter and exclusive called Palate. 

FYL was very happy with her selection, especially the privacy it brought us, until the waiter opened the main entrance and several other groups came in. The atmosphere and décor immediately made me feel comfortable and slightly high-class too but the prices didn’t turn out to be that expensive either!

Photo compliments of FYL 

Photo compliments of FYL

Photo compliments of FYL

We’d been told that canapés would be served at the party we were all heading to later on, so amongst the four of us, we decided to order three dishes.

Pumpkin & Beetroot Salad $11.00

Spending a whole week having quick lunches and dinners meant I had little veges to satisfy my nutritional quota for the week and the Pumpkin & Beetroot Salad was welcomed with open arms. The beetroot was sweet and juicy, juicy enough to warrant my careful gobbling to avoid staining my shirt. The roast pumpkin on the other hand may have been a tad overcooked so slightly on the dry side, but overall the salad was nicely refreshing.

 Mushroom Risotto $14.00

When we reached the Mushroom Risotto however, I’ll have to say, the presentation wasn’t the best attribute of this dish. In our little photo here, the Parmesan cheese has shielded you from most of the risotto but when we made our way past those top layers, the consistency was too gooey and brown – the resemblance was really too uncanny. I’d have to say it was also a bit too flavoured for my liking but partnered with our other two dishes, it made it through.

Salt & Pepper Squid $10

Finally, the Salt & Pepper Squid. What can I say? I love deep fried nibbles. Although it didn’t satisfy my health conscious self, it certainly satisfied my tastebuds, stomach and everyone else around the table – a good sharing tapas dish. This one had all my approval with its hint of garlic and chilli flavours.

Palate wasn’t our idea of a homely Italian restaurant bustling with energy but really suited that particular occasion where we just wanted to dine in peace before another late night out. The prices were quite reasonable and although a slight fluctuation on the taste, we will probably put this on the hit list for another relaxed dining experience, especially since it’s so conveniently situated inside World Square.

World Square
Level Upper Ground, Shop 17-18, 123 Liverpool Street
Sydney NSW 2000
PH: (02) 9264 3661

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: Azuma Kushiyaki, Sydney

Gomenasai, this post is SO belated that it's almost ridiculous to be doing it now. But it seemed like such a waste if I didn't post about it, because out of all the Sugar Hit experiences that were on offer, this one simply blew away the rest of the competition.

Of course, I'm talking about the much raved Azuma Kushiyaki.

Since I'm so backlogged in posts, I'm going to stop my usual non-important ramblings and cut straight to the real deal here. Clearly you're not here to listen to my ramblings, so here it is:

For those who were unaware, Azuma's Sugar Hit menu was so popular that they were completely booked out for the whole of October (during which the Sugar Hit event was happening). Instead of sticking to the rules and forcing eager beavers like us to miss out completely, Azuma decided to extend their offer into November, which was when we managed to get our booking.

Just take a squiz above and its not hard to see what it was such a hit. Especially when you compare it to this one.

Mochi with Kinako, Vanilla Ice Cream and Japanese Brown Sugar Syrup

My favourite bit for the night was this Mochi with Kinako (which is a soybean flour) and Vanilla Ice Cream. The round balls of mochi were soft and chewy and I absolutely fell in love with the Japanese brown sugar syrup.

Japanese Brown Sugar Syrup, Nori Seaweed Langue de chat Biscuits, Green Tea rolled cake with Chestnuts

The Nori Seaweed biscuits was also a surprise hit with me. The seaweed had a toasted flavour and the biscuits were brilliantly crisp and fresh. I was so sad that I finished mine so quickly.

Brown Brothers Orange Muscat

Hennessy V.B

I love a bit of muscat, but the boys decided to go the Hennessy way. I felt like telling them that it just wasn't going to make them grow any bigger if they drank this stuff with their dessert.

Belgian Chocolate Mousse, Vanilla Cheesecake

Vanilla Cheesecake

My favourite part of a cheesecake is the biscuit base. In other words, I'm no fan of cheesecakes in general and this was no exception. But I have to admit that for cheesecake lovers, this probably would've hit the spot head on. On the other hand, I absolutely fell in love with the Belgian Chocolate Mousse. It was so beautifully light yet rich in flavour without being sickening and there were nice layers of either chocolate sauce or chocolate sheets in between which gave it an interesting contrast in texture at times.

I loved the experience here and would definitely recommend the menu to anyone. Sadly I'm not sure if it still on offer. However, given the showcase presented for the Sugar Hit event, I would think that whatever is on offer right now is sure to impress, and I would definitely return for a second stint sometime in the near future.

Azuma Kushiyaki
Ground Floor Regent Place Shopping
501 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 9267 7775

Monday, December 14, 2009

Xmas Special: Sydney Foodies' Xmas Party 2009

This post is being done a little differently. All three writers are contributing their own little version of events on one day...

WX: Yesterday JL, AY and I had the fortunate chance to attend the Sydney Food Bloggers' Xmas Picnic, hosted by the lovely Suze and Helen. The gorgeous afternoon weather was perfect for the occasion - not too hot and showering us with plenty of sunlight.

Suze's Tower of Goodies

Not surprising there was plenty of food for all. Everyone brought their own plate of food (made or bought) and as a result we ended up having enough food to feed the whole of Africa.

Apple Cinnamon Tartlets (Ninja-ing as Fruit Mince Tarts)

It was a lovely afternoon meeting everyone. It was Team Nom's first time meeting the gang and needless to say we all struggled a little with all the names. Luckily, Suze and Helen were super-organised and provided name tags for all, just to minimise confusion and embarrassment.

Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon scrolls (from a fellow Pioneer Woman Fan)

Being possibly one of the youngest groups in the circle, I must admit it was pretty inspiring to listen to all the stories people had to share and their own foodie escapades. It was also interesting to see what people actually did as their dayjob - sometimes you forget that people have lives outside of food behind the computer screen.

Kris Kringle Presents for all!

All in all it was a fun-filled day, with lots of surprises, especially with a steal-or-gamble style Kris Kringle. Funnily enough, JL's pick of a present exchanged hands many, many times - until finally Suze stole it back. I lost track of working out who the face plate was with.

AY: One word. Awesome! The weather was perfect for a large gathering of food-lovers in Hyde Park. Since this was the first invitation we’ve received to any sort of foodie event, I think I speak for both WX and JL when I say we were a tad nervous. But seriously? There was absolutely nothing to worry about. Everyone I spoke to was so friendly and willing to include a newbie like myself into the conversation – a conversation about food, photography and travels was almost like a mini journey for myself!

Billy cutting up his champagne jelly

I must’ve repeated myself constantly throughout the day but I felt like I was entering an entirely new industry – the industry known as food blogging – a job, a passion, a life where you live and breathe food and capture the true essence behind all those aromas and flavours. Talking to our fellow bloggers, whether they were new on the scene or veterans to the trade, I just became more driven to develop myself as a writer and consumer of foods. I think at some point, I became a bit self-conscious that I loved food but knew very little about it. This gathering really spurred me to learn more and write more!

Helen's awesome Elvis Cupcakes

I think when you look at the photos from the day capturing the wide expanse of food on that patch of grass at Hyde park, you honestly do begin to salivate. From cupcakes to jellies and fairy bread to chicken wings – I’ve never seen such a wide array of both home-cooked and purchased platters of food. I was pretty lucky that I didn’t give in to my hunger at lunch and just grabbed a small lunch! It was a shame that there was so much food and only one small stomach – so much I didn’t get to try!

The Kris Kringle activity which followed was an awesome pre-Christmas treat of hidden goodies. The catch? If you managed to pick out one of the smaller numbers and got to pick your present first, you were subject to group-wide scrutiny! Anyone who grabbed a larger number was able to either pick from the pile or steal a present from those already picked! I was a bit unlucky on that side of things and managed to lose my bobble headed Darth Vader figurine so instead, I ended up with a cool set of paper cups which have a range of different noses on them to make drinking from them quite a novelty!

Potato Pancake with Chorizo

Thanks to
Helen and Suze, the party was a huge success and an extremely good networking and mingling experience for those of us who are fairly new to this amazing ‘industry’. Thanks so much! And of course, thanks to all the friendly and equally passionate food bloggers for making our Sunday an awesome one! We’ll be sure to expand our reading list :)