Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Happy 11th Birthday Blogger!

Over the past year, I've been going to many birthday parties for the significant two-oh but never did I imagine myself at a 11th birthday party. In fact, I never thought I'd be at the birthday party of an intangible product. Coming home from work today, my father's first response was, "You mean the birthday of an engineer who created the product right?" "No, Dad...I mean the birthday party for a product...the Google product - Blogger."

So yes, today is the 11th birthday of the blogging platform that we've been using here at nomitlikeitshot. The gathering was casual with a mix of Googlers (the name for Google employees) and members of the public who used the Blogger platform. I walked in mid-way after a quick game of table tennis with a colleague and managed to get in on the 'Five interesting facts about Blogger' the most interesting of which was..."The creator of Blogger is also the inventor of Twitter". This was then followed by a couple of questions fielded from the audience before I heard someone from behind me say, "The cake, the cake!" He was merely voicing my thoughts for me out loud!

There was a bit of everything - sushi, quiche, champagne (yes, a tad random) but the item that this post is dedicated to, and I sincerely apologise for the poor quality of this iPhone photo, was the birthday cake(s)! 

It was a massive cake and I loved the little cupcakes around it. Definitely passed the aesthetics test! I had to quickly dash home for dinner so only managed to try a little bit of the cake but it was moist and chocolate-ty - always a great way to celebrate a birthday, no matter how old you are! Or in this case...it is. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Review: Japaz, Neutral Bay

Chorizo with Veal Cutlets and Pesto Mayonnaise

So, where do I start?

For as long as I can remember, SK and I have spent many a days in the office and at uni simply compiling a list of all the places we would like to visit around Sydney. I believe the last time I checked, the list rather resembled an ad hoc extended version of the Good Food Guide than a "list". I believe we may be onto something...

Either way, Japaz has been one of those places which we had been dying to visit, but simply never got around to - and when the occasion finally arrived, I think we were so excited that Coca Cola could've bottled our excitement and used it as fizz in their soft drinks.

Mixed Plate: Coriander Crab Puff, Barcelona Salami, Chicken Yakitori

Japaz has an intriguing menu. The name of the place is pretty self explanatory - Japanese Tapas. Did I ever mention that there's nothing more I love than hanging out with friends over tapas? And beer? And more tapas?

Since AY was joining us for the evening, it meant that SK and I could happily order away at our favourite dishes without having to worry about wastage. (And AY says, "what wastage?") First up was a beautiful Mixed Plate. I absolutely fell in love with the deliciously crunchy crab cakes. Seriously, I have no idea what the bedding of the crab cakes were, but they were absolutely divine. I think they may be been egg baskets that were lightly fried. We also ordered the roasted eggplants which were soooooooooo melt-in-your mouth. I could've licked 2 plates clean happily.

Left: Pork Belly with Sauteed Rocket, Sweet & Sour Piquillo Capsicum; Right: Oven-roasted Snapper in Mustard Jus with Braised Fennel

The pork belly was also another melt-in-your mouth addition which was just so flavourful. Fat rendering is seriously man's second most awesome invention after sliced bread. I don't know what I would do in a world without flavournoids.

Fun fact: most flavour-molecules are hydrophobic and hence dissolve in fat. That's why fatty things tend to taste good. Yum!

The oven-roasted snapper with mustard jus was also a fingerlickin' delight to tuck into. The fish was a tad on the dry side, but it wasn't anything that a good slashing of the delicious jus couldn't fix.

Left: Wagyu Steak on a bed of Sauteed Chinese Cabbage and Red Wine Jus; Right: Wagyu Meatballs & Seasonal Vegetables in Tomato Salsa

And now as I am trawling through the photos and attempting to find the names of each individual dish on the menu, I've come to the epic realisation that we may have ordered every meat dish on offer minus the lamb (since JL doesn't like lamb). I blame SK for the lack of dietary fibre. I'll get on to that in a little more detail in the future.

Wagyu meatballs and wagyu steak. Seriously. I love meatballs. I scoff down Ikea meatballs at a pace that makes JL hand me a stack Jenny Craig brochures. I also drooled onto my table as I watched Tiffany make her smackalicious ballpark meatballs in this week's Top Chef.

I nearly faceplanted into the meatballs at Japaz.

Did I mention that I love meatballs?

Left: Wagyu Steak on a bed of Sauteed Chinese Cabbage and Red Wine Jus (served); Right: Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks & White Almond Puree

Another special mention goes out to the braised wagyu beef cheeks. I think AY may have mentioned on the night that this was a recommended dish from all the other foodblogs out there. I must say I'm jumping on that bandwagon and furthering the recommendation because seriously, this is something I would come back to Japaz for. The meat was soooo beautifully tender and moist, and the sauce was rich and flavourful.

Left: Torrijus (Spanish Style French Toast) with Poached Apple & Brandy Ice Cream Pedro Ximinez Honey; Right: Raspberry Tart, Nut Semifreddo & Raspberry Coulis

Last but not least, dinner with SK just wouldn't be dinner with SK unless we desserted the night away. I wouldn't say that these were Japaz's strong points - especially after the incredible braised wagyu - but they were refreshing and satisfying as a way to tie up all the loose ends in the evening. Needless to say, the Raspberry Tart looks smashing as it arrived at the table, and the Torrijus was definitely something different to tuck into and explore. Lightly sweet with a lingering aroma...

"Please sir, may I have some more??"

165 Wycombe Street
Neutral Bay, NSW 2089
Tel: (02) 9904 0688

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: Cafe XXII, Pyrmont

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day so you shouldn't skip it. It helps the kids learn better at school, it sets the right tone for your day at work and overall just keeps people happy so it should never be missed. But these days, everyone is rushing around with little to no time on their hands, preferring to sleep in that extra bit than to grab a bite to eat in the morning. Fortunately for me, where I work now, I can eat as much free breakfast as I want to keep my healthy self going through the day so that's not much of an issue for me. But when it comes down to it, if given a choice, no matter what time of the day it is, I'd usually opt for breakfast. It's the most important meal right? They just never said when you had to eat it!

So begins the tale of my first visit to Cafe XXII with SK on a Sunday morning. A short stroll from my temporary apartment and my work, the relatively large cafe is always filled with people - business people on weekdays, relaxed locals on the weekends. We were offered both breakfast and lunch menus but the two of us naturally gravitated towards the former option. 

Being the greedy one, I chose the XXII Big Breakfast which I did not regret in the slightest (with the exception adding to the many trips I owed to the gym since I started my new job). It was a brilliant start to a Sunday with creamy scrambled eggs, succulent tomatos, crispy bacon and hash browns, golden brown toast, mushrooms, spinach, feta and sausages. If you've skipped this paragraph and started looking at the photo, the answer is "Yes, it really is as good as it looks - if not better!"

XXII Big Breakfast $16.50

SK decided to be a bit more experimental and tried something neither of us had heard of. The waitress herself said in response to our query, "Well, I've never tried it before but all the customers I've seen eating it seem to love it!" Not sure how convinced we were but it was definitely worth a try! The Egg Al Forno was an interesting baking dish of spinach, eggs, chorizo sausages served with a beautifully golden slice of sourdough on the side. When I was younger, my father used to bake eggs in an Asian way but it was a sweet treat; nothing like this. The flavour combination was really quite delicious, warming and just oozing with goodness. 

Eggs Al Forno $16.50

Finally, to wash it all down we both go organic juices (which looked almost exactly the same). I played the safe card and went for the Orange while SK went for the Peach & Mango. Just my luck that the latter tasted yummier - the orange was just a tad sour.

Organic Orange, Organic Peach & Mango Juices $4.50 ea

I'd be lying if I told you this place wasn't worth visiting. Especially since I came back with my team from work within the week to try their Spanish Eggs which was smaller in size but so exquisite! I'm definitely coming back a couple more times to this joint!

22 Union Street, Pyrmont
Sydney NSW
Ph: (02) 9552 3092

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review: Aperitif, Kings Cross

Well, because we're both foodies, long story short, earlier this year both JL and I decided that we would celebrate our anniversary twice - once at an old favourite, and once at what could potentially be a new favourite. Not quite restaurant Battle Royale in any sense, but we were just so torn over whether we should start visiting the "Good ol' favourite" every year, or cherishing our youth and explore around some more.

But because we're Gen Y and proud to be, we happily decided to have our cake and eat it too!

So we arrived at the beautifully romantic Aperitif, situated in a quieter part of Kings Cross. I've read some great reviews of this place over the years - especially the extensive exotic wines on offer. As someone who really knows close to nothing about wines except the fact I love drinking it, this was really something different on offer at Aperitif which attracted my attention.

Seared Wild Sea Scallops with Carrot Puree - $18

I love the idea of sharing food. There's nothing I love more than a place where I can have some Tapas and a glass of wine/cocktail with a few friends in a cozy environment. Aperitif is exactly that. The Mediterranean - French mix on the menu provides some inspiring offers and robust flavours. The Seared Wild Sea Scallops were an absolute delight to start the night with. The smooth creamy texture of the lightly curried carrot pu
ree was simply divine! I would happily eat a dozen of this if I had the choice.

Salted Cod Croquettes - $18

Next up we tucked into the Salted Cod Croquettes which were incredibly moist and soft. I love croquettes - one of my staple afternoon "buy-before-you-hop-on-the-train" type foods that I simply cannot live without. The Salted Cod simply provides a touch of elegance, and let's be honest here for a minute - who doesn't love the beautifully soft texture of a well cooked piece of cod anyway?

Confit of Duck with Puy Lentils - $22

The annoying thing about eating with just 2 people is that as a foodie, it's almost impossible to finalise what you actually want to order. Our incredibly helpful waitress gave us a rough guidance of perhaps ordering 2 small plates and 1 large, but when faced with so many options on offer, well, a foodie's gotta do what a foodie's gotta do!

"Are we done selecting?"
"Erm...hold on..."
"You're eyeing the duck aren't you?"
"No, I'm just looking around and see what else we could order..."
"You're eyeing the duck. I can see you eyeing the duck."
"Oh fine. Canwepleaseordertheduckpleasepleaseplease???"

So that's the tale of how the Confit of Duck ended up on our table. Which I must add was cooked beautifully. JL wasn't such a big fan of the lentils, so I happily ate all the lentils which were soooo incredibly tasty. I think it was some point here that I informed JL of how confits are actually done. I also think that it was some point here that he wanted to hand me a carton of Lean Cuisine and the number to Jenny Craig.

But it doesn't stop there...

Roast Pork Belly for 2

The big mama of all dishes was still yet to come. The Roast Pork Belly came in a ginormous serving size which really took us by surprise. There were generous serves of carrot and fennel (which I absolutely adore - Asians simply don't use fennel enough), along with lavish chunks of pork belly. Fat was beautifully rendered and sweet and I daresay almost gelatinous - for all those who are interested in maintaining a youthful complexion.

But it doesn't stop there...

Creme Brulee (2 x French Vanilla, 2 x Strawberry)

Lastly, as we were finishing up our last bites, another waiter walked up and informed us of the desserts available on offer for the evening.

"Creme Brulee!" said he, "And in Vanilla and Strawberry flavours!"

I think I nearly shed a few tears of joy at the sound of this.

I loved the way that the creme brulee was served - it definitely had the "art of sharing" firmly ingrained in its design. But what I loved more was the Amelie-style *crack* which each of the 4 tubs produced as we tucked in.

Here's a little demonstration:

First you crack it, then you scoop it, and then you scoff it!
But my mother told me chocolate wasn-....

Ha, just kidding!

All in all I think this is one of those places where one would walk in and straight away find something that they love. Whether it be a glass of wine with a few friends and dessert, or a glass of wine over a romantic dinner with a loved one, or even just as a place to grab something to eat and relax after a long week, Aperitif is just one of those places that has a warm and inviting feel and will turn even the cloudiest days around.

7 Kellett Street
Kings Cross, NSW 2011
Tel: (02) 9357 4729

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: Rise, Darlinghurst

So, like. This post is totally like...3 months overdue. Gosh.

For those of you who may remember, JL and I visited Rise for a very special dinner last year for our anniversary. So smooth and memorable the night had been, that when the same question of "where should we go?" was asked again this year, the only natural response was, "well, let's go to Rise again".
Steamed chicken, tofu & tomato salad with sesame miso sauce (1)

So off we went to visit one of what would perhaps be one of Sydney's most underrated restaurants to enjoy once again its beautiful omakase.

Grilled polenta, prawn tempura, Chinese sausage & chunyan chilli sauce (5)

There were slight changes in the menu - for one, our beloved potato soup was no longer there, instead replaced with an equally satisfying tempura of prawn on a soft cube of polenta. Alas, I miss their potato soup!

Assorted sashimi (3)

The thing I love about Rise is not only the fact that there is plenty to smell and taste, but this time we sat at the counter, meaning that we could watch the chef methodically plate up the sashimi dishes ready for the next sitting. It was really incredible watching the sheer precision and thought-out system of setting everything up.

Behold. The German Sushi Army!

Seasonal Plate - Rice paper roll with cured tuna & avocado, soy milk flan with Shitake sauce, Cured ocean trout with "yuzukosho" tartare (not pictured) (4)

The taste profile here at Rise remains nevertheless on the side of umami (at least for the first few courses), intricately balancing the delicate taste of fresh produce with the occasional burst of bold flavour coming from a tiny something on the plate. It almost always catches one offguard.

Some things don't change so much. I.e the fresh spring rolls and the Chawanmushi.

Tom Yum with Scallop Tortellini and Mussel (2)

An interesting addition this time round was the Tom Yum soup. Taste-wise it was incredibly refreshing. Perfect #2 plate to get the tongue salivating. I see how it works on the menu, but I must admit a question mark did go off in my head when I first noticed it on the menu.

Roast duck breast, grilled witlof , mushroom, french beans, mash with Hoisin sauce. (6)

Mmm...duck. My favourite protein in the world! Here at Rise they sure give serve you some finger-lickin', fork'n'knife-lickin', plate-lickin' duck. The breast was cook beautifully (as you can probably tell from the picture), and the fat rendered just enough to give it a touch of sweetness. The bed of potato mash beneath it is also to die for. Brilliant supporting act - smooth, creamy and so full of flavour. I was almost sad to see it slowly disappear from my plate.

Amaretto granita, pink grapefruit jelly, panna cotta. (7)

Lastly, as a brilliant palate cleansing way to finish off the evening, came the refreshing pink grapefruit jelly, panna cotta with amaretto granita. Amaretto? Yes. Amaretto. For someone who generally dislikes the taste of amaretto, I was really surprised to see myself wanting this by the bucketload.

'Nuff said. I'll most definitely be coming back sometime soon.

Rise Restaurant
23 Craigend Street
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
Tel: (02) 9357 1755

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Because Everyone Loves a Discount!

Hello all you gorgeous readers out there!

The lovely people over at Menulog have offered all the readers here at Nom! a $10 voucher for all takeaway orders put through their website! This is on top of any existing discount offers which the restaurant may have on the website, so effects are stack-able!

Menulog is home of over 20,000 restaurants in Australia, and you can get your take-out delivered straight to your home from over 1000 different places!

All you have to do is head over to their website, make a takeaway order of over $20 with one of the participating restaurants (it'll display an "accepts voucher" sign) and have it delivered to straight your door.

Interested? Here is the code m'lovelies!
Voucher Code: 889D88

Valid until 31/12/10

Have fun nomming away!


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Review: Assiette, Surry Hills

Well well well, hasn't it been a while?

Having survived an incredible, career-defining period of epic-stress (where everyone here at Team Nom practically realised a whole new level to their stress-o-meter), the time has finally come to pick things up where we last dropped off...

Last night was the first time in a VERY long time that JL and I had even thought of going out for a random impromptu "date night". The special place we picked, Assiette, has been a place long raved about by AL (for those who don't know, AL is a fellow foodie and a long-time friend with whom I travelled around Vietnam with earlier this year). All the raves had made me worry that I had set my expectations too high for the occasion.

Left: Seasonal oyster with Vietnamese dressing and baby coriander (1); Top-right: Granny smith apple jelly with Vanilla syrup and apple granita (9)

First impression inside was excellent - an elegant, intimate dining space where the lighting still allowed one to see the face of the person sitting opposite you at the table. The floor staff seemed polite enough, though somewhat robotic as they rather monotonously listed what was sitting on the plate before you without so much as a smile as they tacked on "Enjoy." at the end of the briefing. Nevertheless, the food is what we were after, and the food is what we really cared for.

Left: Pan-fried dory with seared scallop, onion bhaji, cauliflower puree and mango chutney (6); Right: Cured Malborough salmon with prawn beignet, pink grapefruit, mandarin and fennel (2)

To say that the food was anything less than amazing would be the understatement of the century. The balance of texture, taste and artistry was beautifully choreographed on almost every plate that was presented on the night. I say almost because there was a pretty bad boo-boo in one of the courses- more on that later.

Being the seafood-addict that he is, JL loved the Indian-inspired pan-fried dory with the onion bhaji. I personally fell in love with the smooth and almost velvety texture of the cauliflower, pureed with the slightest hint of curry to delight the senses. Tasting the air-dried mandarin (it was like dehydrated awesomeness in a mouthful) was a first time experience for both of us - it provided a lovely crunch against the backdrop of silky salmon.

Terrine of Macleay Valley rabbit with celeriac, raisins and Waldorf Salad (4).

JL was a little bit apprehensive about being served bunny again. That only meant good news for me because I've long given up trying to convince him to give things a go and simply learnt to resolve the situation by gobbling down his share as well. This bunny and celeriac concoction did not disappoint.

Seared tuna with smoked eel, beetroot jelly, wasabi cream and baby basil (3)

The standout of the night for both JL and I went to (might I add, surprisingly), the Seared tuna with smoked eel and beetroot jelly. Even as I sit here today typing this, the smoky taste of the smoked eel mousse inside the beetroot cannelloni still lingers in my mouth. The pairing of the sweet tang of the beetroot to cut through the smokiness really just had one's senses wrapped around its little finger.

Ballontine (sic) of quail with prosciutto, chestnuts, white asparagus and crispy quail egg (5)

When the ballotine of quail arrived before me my heart sank a little:
"...Dangit I think it's raw."
"Are you sure?"
*Cuts into the piece - or rather, struggles to cut through the piece*
"Yep. Definitely raw..."

So I sat there for a while pondering my options:
  1. Send the dish back Matt Preston style (Pros: Get a cooked dish, Cons: We had to be out before the next sitting started - so probably end up with no dessert)
  2. Eat around the uncooked parts (Pros: Eat, Cons: Miss out on the ballontine and possibly still die from salmonella poisoning anyway)
  3. Eat the whole thing (Pros: Research for what it feels like to eat raw poultry, Cons: possibly die from salmonella poisoning)
I'll just say now that I did not take option one. I'll leave it to you to decide which of the other two options I picked, but judging from the fact that I'm still here today to type this epic blog post for you all, I did not died from salmonella poisoning - though do NOT take this as advice to start eating raw poultry. It was possibly just a stroke of luck.

Either way the rest of the dish was excellent. You probably can't tell from the picture, but there were the most BEAUTIFULLY fluffy sauteed gnocchi sitting beneath the ballotine. There were also little cradles of sweet baby brussel sprouts next to the gnocchi which were to die for. Literally.

Left: Banana Mousse with white chocolate ice cream and peanut brittle (10); Right: Selected cheese with pear puree and toasted fruit bread (8)

Lastly came the round of desserts which included a composition of apple jelly and granita (with perfectly sized brunoised apples mixed in with the granita), a cleverly-deconstructed effort of "cheese-cake" and an absolutely lickable delight of banana and peanut. My heart was won by the train of thought behind the "cheese-cake" - a quinelle of some sort of blue cheese (guesswork) with pear puree and a crumble base - rather like a typical cheese cake. This was served with a small muscatel and mango chutney with fruit bread - a combination that is seriously more-ish. I could nom on this all night with a glass of wine and a book.

JL absolutely adored the banana feature. The banana mousse was so soft and fluffy, wrapped tightly in a cylinder caramellish cone (?). The peanut brittle gave a lovely crunch with the cone against the smooth and silkiness of the mousse and ice cream. The combination of flavours really was the perfect way to finish off a lovely evening.

We'll definitely be back again.

48 Albion Street
Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Tel: (02) 9212 7979

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Review: Spice I Am, Darlinghurst

About a week ago AL, VH and I decided to hit up Spice I Am in Darlinghurst, located beside the lovely Tastevin which we had been the secret hideout of our previous girly gossip session. Despite each of us going on separate ways post-high school, each and every one of these meetings remind us of just how little we have grown up...

Booking a table in the lounge section in front of the bar meant that we simply could not control our alcoholic tendencies. Besides, what's a gossip session without the cocktails?

Luckily for us, Spice I Am does a range of scumpdiddlyumptious fruity cocktails.

Canadian Summer (left): Fresh corindi raspberries, Canadian Club Whisky, Absolut Raspberry vodka, French rockmelon liqueur, and ruby red grapefruit juice

Tiger Paw (right): Crushed pineapple, panama passionfruit, Wybowora apple vodka, French mango liqueur, and a touch of tiger secret

I rest my case.

Bour Tod (Phuket style fritter of green school prawns on crispy betel leaf with chilli sauce, crushed cashew nuts and coriander) - $14

I'd like to point out right about here that the waitress in charge of my area was perhaps one of the most lovely and attentive waitress I've encountered in my various roamings around Sydney's eateries. This Betel Leaf dish was one of her many recommendations for our table, and it was most certainly a winner.

If you ever visit Spice I Am, do yourself a favour and try it. Who knew a piece of leaf could taste so good?

Roast Duck salad served with whole cashews, chilli and lemongrass (seasonal special)

The roast duck salad was most definitely a winner with all of us at the table as the plate disappeared before you could even take a deep breath to soak up the aromas. Every mouthful was bursting with fragrance, flavour and fire.

Yeah fire. Did I mention that the dish was damn-freakin' hot?

As I quickly guzzled down water to put out the fire in my mouth, AL and her Malay innards pointed and laughed at me the way Ralph does in Simpsons. Despite practically losing my oral sensations, I still happily licked the plate clean. It was that good.

Pla Yum Ma Muang - Deep fried whole baby snapper with green mango salad, palm sugar, garlic and red chilli dressing - $38

Hello SK! This snapper is for you!

Anyway, I may have forgotten to mention that when our table ordered the snapper as one of our main, our ever-helpful waitress took a quick look at us before warning that the dish could feed us 4 times over. But then who can say no to deep fried snapper? I mean, you're talking about the person who could eat a chairleg deep fried. The snapper had to stay, and to that end we quickly struck off a few other dishes and stayed with this one.

Was I glad? You can bet your FIFA World Cup that I was.

The snapper was so moist and juicy on the inside, and the mango salad dressed on top was a real tangy hit to rid of any hint of greasiness from the deep frying. (What greasiness? Pfft...) I think I may have demolished 3/4 of the dish as AL and VH watched in horror.

Yum Hua Plee - Shredded banana flower with king prawns, roasted coconuts, shallots, chilli, coriander and nam pik pao dressing - $35

Back when we were in Hoi An, Vietnam, AL, VH and I all attended a private cooking class where we learnt how to make banana flower salad. From that day on not only did we fall in love with the incredible flavours of the dish - spicy, tangy, refreshing, fragrant, savoury, sweet, you name it - but everything about this dish brings back memories of our epic trip and sunfilled days biking around Vietnam.

This one was no different, except when it arrived all we could really talk about was how the banana flower market in Sydney may as well be a black market. I never see any around my area, but AL claimed to see them selling at $6 each in Cabramatta. I think I nearly choked when I heard that. Imagine what the prices would've been like during the banana crisis we had a few year back.

Hello QLD? Sharing is caring.

Khao Naew Ma Muang - Sticky rice served with fresh nam dok mai mango and coconut sauce - $20

The great thing about Spice I Am is that this is most definitely a place you could hit up later in the night for a good cocktail and grab some dessert. This Khao Naew Ma Muang was to die for, combining a delicate balance between a light savouriness in the sticky rice, the tangy bite of the mango and a light, smooth and creamy sweetness from the coconut sauce. Needless to say I was too full to fully devour this, but this is something that I would definitely reorder on my next visit back.

Saa Ku - Tapioca pearl with coconut and dark palm sugar sauce - $15

Oh heaven save me from my ever-increasingly bulgy stomach. Not only was this a great dessert to finish the night off with, but the mango iced topping worked surprisingly well as a refreshing palate cleanser with light coconut milk syrup being beautifully indulgent without the richness. Unfortunately our three spoons simply did not fit well in the glass all at the same time so the table descended into anarchic hell as we turned our spoons into swords and battled down to the very last morsel of this dessert.

Classy as always. Interpret how you will.

Spice I Am
296-300 Victoria Street
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
Tel: (02) 9332 2445

Friday, May 28, 2010

Review: Restaurant Balzac, Randwick

'Congratulations...you have won...' were the keywords that jumped out at me when my mother came into my room, waving a postcard in my face, preparing to interrogate me on the whereabouts of the stated restaurant. The other which followed were '$100 worth of matching French wines' at 'Restaurant Balzac'. I've honestly never won anything in my life - not the toy watches with the Coco Pops cereal boxes or the iPhones from career fairs. Although I may have preferred winning food as opposed to wine, as I have not quite developed myself as a connoisseur in that area, I was extremely happy! Taking time out of our continued tasting selection that day at Taste of Sydney to fill in these little competition cards was worth it after all!

I had limited time to make use of the voucher and it had to be between Tuesday and Thursday. Seeing as exams were coming up, the restaurant was a short walk from uni and we had a meeting on a that evening, SK and I booked a table for a quiet Tuesday night at 7:30PM. It was only a short walk from our UNSW Kensington campus and by the time we arrived we were about 20 minutes early but was greeted by a warm and friendly waiter at the front who told us it was fine to be seated early and that 'The early bird catches the worm...but obviously you won't be served worms!' It might just be me, the inexperienced fine diner, but I appreciate a bit of humour and warmth even when I go to fine dining restaurants...really helps me relax and enjoy the experience!

There was a little initial confusion, possibly my own fault for not presenting my voucher upon arrival, but we were presented with menus and a wine list before being left alone to decide the fate of our stomachs. It wasn't long before another waiter came by and realised we were here for the degustation menu with matching wines, politely apologised and congratulated me on my prize. I've never had degustation before but was glad that for once there was no need to pore over menus and spend ages deciding what we wanted. I was however quite amused when the table was set with additional cutlery...I have never seen so many forks and knives placed together for a meal! (I probably sound naive and uncultured to all you foodies at this point!)

So to kickstart our meal that evening, we were served four slices of Sonoma Sourdough and a small pot of butter with a small amount of salt. For those of you who know me, I'm conscious of my health (Mostly! Although when it comes to chocolate and dessert I rarely resist), and avoid too many condiments and rarely ever eat butter or even margarine. When you see SK and I slathering on the butter (or maybe it was just me), then you know it is excellent butter. Not too heavy and with the sprinkle of salt, it spread easily on the sourdough and together just dissolved inside my mouth. I tried my best to not eat all of my share because I didn't want to spoil my appetite for the remaining 8 courses but that attempt failed...in fact, I ended up finishing half of SK's slice because she had better self control than me! I loved that salted butter mmmm...

Sonoma Sourdough 

By the time our first dish arrived, I was still busily savouring the sourdough but quickly swallowed to begin my descent on our dainty dish. It was a Venison Bresaola with Brussel Sprout Remoulade arranged neatly on a square plate. I'm personally not very fond of brussel sprouts and found that the aroma actually spoilt the bresaola for me but in combination with the piece of rocket used to garnish the dish and the drizzle of olive oil actually allowed the flavours to meld really well with the saltiness of the bresaola.

Venison Bresaola with Brussel Sprout Remoulade

The next time our table was invaded, I was quite unprepared to receive a small teacup as our next dish. Fine dining has taken me a fair while to accustom myself to. Let me explain and enlighten you. Coming from a Chinese background, we have several large dishes to share amongst our family members and eat a lot with our bowls of rice. I have grown up eating large mouthfuls of food. Fine dining requires the appreciation of small dishes and a lot of restraint and training has been required of me not to finish everything in one bite. This time however, I was challenged to not drink the entire cup of White Onion Veloute with Thyme Chantilly in one gulp. While SK took her continuous small sips, I tried my best to ration it. Do you have any idea how hard that is?! Even now, I want to just run into the kitchen and drink from the huge pot that this must've been cooked in!

White Onion Veloute with Thyme Chantilly

Before our next dish arrived, we were graced with the presence of a 2008 Domaine Bondeville Grenache Blanc, the first candidate from my prize originating from France. It delivered a crisp taste, not too acidic; just enough to be refreshing.

2008 Domaine Bondeville Grenache Blanc – Languedoc, France

What came next was absolutely beautiful...to look at! The Seared Yellow Fin Tuna was sliced thinly; a bright translucent red with a cooked rim garnished with with some herbs and red onions and finally topped with a single beignet (which I still don't know how to pronounce!). It wasn't misleading in any way whatsoever - as delicious as it was aesthetically pleasing, the tuna melted in my mouth

Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with White Anchovy Beignets and Salsa Verde

As the next set of matching wines arrived, a 2007 Bourgogne, Chanson Viré-Clessé, we were also greeted by an equally hard to pronounce dish (I may only be speaking for myself) of Panfried Mahi Mahi, ‘Petit Pois à la Française’ with Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish. This white wine was a long drier than our first and neither SK nor I appreciated it quite as much. The waiter explained to us the fact that there were peas made in three different ways (French peas or petit pois, a pea foam and a pea puree). I'm pretty sure that at this point, SK was squirming at the overwhelming platter of greens. She's not too fond of green items unless they are dessert related. Being a bit skeptical at first, I was personally hooked by the pea foam - it wasn't too strong but offered a sweet flavour to the dish especially in combination with the cuttlefish.

Panfried Mahi Mahi, ‘Petit Pois à la Française’ with Salt and Pepper Cuttlefish

The first word that came to mind when I tasted the Braised Should of Venison, which was paired with a 2007 Bourgogne, Lucien Muzrd Et Fils, was 'Chinese'. The venison in combination with the flavours from the chestnuts and the sauce itself reminded me of a warm and homely dish that I eat a lot as a child. I had no complaints though, in fact I adored the tenderness of braised venison!

Braised Shoulder of Venison ‘Bourguignonne’ with Chestnut Spätzle 

2007 Bourgogne, Lucien Muzard Et Fils – Burgundy, France

As a foodie-in-wheels, wheels which may never be removed, I feel that I can voice my uneducated foodie blunders without being embarassed. The waiter approached the table with our Daube of Beef and proceeded to introduce them as our 'mains'. Now you're all going to think I'm stupid but it never occurred to me that we would have received so many entree dishes prior to our main! Okay, enough focus on my inexperience - back to the main! 

We were given the choice of a Shoulder of Lamb with Moroccan Spices, Aubergine and Sheep’s Milk Yoghurt but upon DD's recommendation, we both decided to choose the beef instead. The sauce was a thicker and stronger in flavour than I expected and probably would have overpowered the flavour of the beef had there not been a delicate balance struck by the beautifully smooth 'teardrops' of mash potato! The mash was unlike anything I've tried before - it was more a smooth cream since it had been placed through a sieve. The creamy texture and lighter flavour balanced out the sauce perfectly. 

Daube of Beef with Artichokes and Wild Pine Mushrooms

2008 Mas Des Bressades Rouge – Languedoc, France

Having finally managed to get through our entrees and mains, the best part of the dinner (of any dinner) arrived. The dessert. SK and I are both dessert lovers but if I recall correctly, at this point, she was already extremely full. That clearly didn't stop her. The Cinnamon Spiced Rice Pudding was what was called a 'pre-dessert'. Not entirely sure why but I wasn't complaining. Essentially my tastebuds and stomach were saying, 'Why not? We have two desserts then!' Perhaps it was named as such because it was a lighter dessert which would prepare us (and quite well done I'd say!) for the sweeter ones to come!

We were first presented with the French dessert wine which I never managed to catch the name of (menus are a saviour!) and even if I did, would definitely not have been able to replicate in pronunciation anyway. This was perhaps the only wine SK actively disclosed her liking for while I was a bit more reserved simply because it was a dessert wine and too sweet for my liking. I was ready to pounce on the fondant instead!

2007 Les Clos De Paulilles Banyuls – Roussillon, France

I'm eternally grateful for the invention of what I have affectionately termed 'dessert stomach'. It let me consume the warm and velvety chocolate fondant which always tastes so great with the cooling feeling of ice cream in your mouth topped with a sprinle of crunchy peanut brittle. Who cares if you're full? You can always fit in dessert. Always. That's a philosophy I hope all readers will share with me! Having said that, afterwards, I could relax with some English Breakfast tea but only managed to finish one of the petit fours and took a small nibble from the other honeycomb chocolate. 

Warm Chocolate Fondant with Porter Ice Cream and Peanut Brittle

English Breakfast Tea 

Petit Fours

This was definitely the most prolonged dinner experience I've ever had and I enjoyed every moment of it. Contrary to some reviews I had read before, the service at Restaurant Balzac was impeccable - all the staff were friendly and the door was even held open for us as we left. I'm glad that I won that voucher from Taste of Sydney - otherwise it may have taken me a while to get through the rest of my list before finally arriving at this place!

Restaurant Balzac
141 Belmore Road
Randwick, NSW 2031
Tel: 9399 9660