Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: Tastevin Bistro and Wine Bar, Darlinghurst

So the order set out from AL was "I don't care, I just want French. Maybe we could hit up that place that gave us the awesome mash?"

The "awesome mash" place she had been referring to was Sel et Poivre in Darlinghurst, and despite constantly craving the mashed potatoes and the beef cheeks served there, I simply didn't feel like it was due for another visit until Winter strikes again.

Meanwhile I directed her attention to Tastevin, a French slash Modern Australian restaurant hidden in a pool of chaos that is Kings Cross.

In true Parisienne fashion, the place here is sleek and stylish. You most definitely won't be finding any nonsense in decor or furniture here. Likewise, its selection on offer is similarity straight-forward and no-nonsense, with just a few selections on offer, more than enough choice for the petite group of three we had that evening.

Beautifully soft and freshly baked bread was made immediately available after everyone arrived, and served with a soft round of butter and a dish of the balsamic & oil duo.

Gnocchi à la Parisienne, sauteed mushrooms & white truffle mornay - $16/27

We selected an entree to share, which was the Gnocchi à la Parisenne, with sauteed mushrooms and white truffle mornay. The mornay was delightfully rich and creamy in texture, and the fact we had shared it among three left us all wanting more. The gnocchi were the gentlest pillow-buds encased with slices of mushroom in every spoonful. The dish was simply divine.

King Fish tartare with sorrel cream, flying fish roe & finger lime dressing - $17

VH ordered a King Fish Tartare in an entree size for her main. The sorrel cream was indeed delicate in flavour - much like the king fish, but was simply too rich to finish. The flying fish roe drizzled around the edge of the plate made the entire dish seemed rather like a piece of artwork, and the thought crossed my mind as to whether it was polite to run a spoon around and lick it off.

Luckily for VH, AL and I were practically family.

Duck two way with spaetzle, sugar plums & sage beurre noisette - $29

AL selected duck two way with sugar plums and spaetzle (missing?). Thinly sliced duck piled up on top of a bed of what seemed like a duck pattie. While the slices were moist and juicy, the pattie below seemed rather uninspired and uninteresting. AL prodded it a few times and thought it was really dry, and left it mostly untouched.

Crisped skin pork belly on celeriac remoulade & pickled grapes - $17/28

I chose the Crisped Skin Pork Belly as my main. The layers of pork belly meat were lusciously tender and moist, and wonderfully balanced by the tartness of the pickled grapes. The celeriac remoulade was beautiful also, and I happily scraped up every last morsel along with the meat. Sadly I was disappointed by the chewiness of what was meant to be crispy skin, and after tackling one slice, I could not bring myself to put in all the effort to tackle the second.

Tastevin Bistro & Wine Bar
Level 1, 292-294 Victoria St
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
Tel: (02) 9356 3429

Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Aki's Fine Indian Restaurant, Woolloomooloo

If there is one cuisine that I consider to be the most often overlooked, it has got to be Indian. Most people I know have only ventured so far that their idea of Indian consists mainly of butter, and chicken. If they're a bit more adventurous, then maybe some sort of enterproteinhere korma.

However, tucked away near the corner of the entrance to the long sunfilled walk of Woolloomooloo wharf, sits Aki's Indian - a place where Terry Durack once referred to as the high point of Indian cuisine in Sydney.

Pappadums - aren't they just adorable?

The choice here was simple - a $55 per head banquet menu with an extra dish on the side (which I claimed to have ordered for research purposes). I will warn you now, this banquet isn't for the faint-hearted - it kept me filled for both lunch & dinner. A great bargain if you ask me!

Relishes - Cucumber & Yoghurt "raita", Tomato & Onion 'kachumber", Sweet Mango Chutney

The banquet menu comes with a basket of pappadums and a selection of relishes on the side, too!


Mango Pash
Appletini - most definitely lesser on the 'apple' and big on the '-tini'

Clifford Bay '08 Sauvignon Blanc

Since JL, SK, AY and I were planning to go all out for the day - why not have a few luxurious cocktails with our meals? Make that a few cocktails and a bottle of wine, just for kicks.

Crab with Iddiapam - $23

First up was the Crab with Iddiapam. This was an extra which we ordered on the side of our banquet. Why? Because it is Aki's signature dish, and a dish which I frequently have terrible cravings for. The crab was so tenderly cooked, JL and I were so gobsmacked by the layers upon layers of flavour which was embedded that we straight away agreed that we would be happy eating this for the rest of our lives.

What's that brown bedding you ask? Tamil Brown Rice string hoppers. I liken it to the Indian form of rice vermicelli.

Palak Patta Chaat - $13

Did I mention that Aki's Indian has a brother restaurant? Oh my bad - blame it on my memory. Situated in North Strathfield is Aki's understated brother restaurant- Abhi's Indian (review coming up soon). This Palak Patta Chaat, a dish which is a revved up rendition of the humble spinach, is the signature dish of Abhi's. It consists of deep fried spinach leaves in a light, crispy lentil batter, doused with layers of yoghurt, tamarind and date and chilli and mint sauces.

Talk about flavour explosion much? It even had the non-vegie-eater (SK) hooked.

Namkeen Squid - $16

While we're on the topic of revving up humble dishes - here we have exhibit B. Aki's rendition of the ubiquitous salt & pepper squid. Immediately after I made my first cut into the squid, I noticed just how easy it was to pierce through the flesh. There were none of the usual criss-cross scoring - and yet...still so tender?I couldn't have been anymore pleasantly surprised. No doubt whatever the secret spices were in the "spiced tapioca flour", it worked like magic. The tamarind and ginger dipping sauce was also a huge hit with me, being a rather exotic and delicious alternative to the typical sauces you get presented with.

This one most definitely goes in the list of most memorable salt & pepper squid - along with Cantina, Darlinghurst.

Achari Tikka - $14

The Achari Tikka bore a resemblance to the usual Chicken Tikka - except with a slightly more natural colouring than the flaming red that we usually see. The chicken was most pleasantly moist, but a touch on the salty side for my liking. JL nommed it up good, though.

Post-writing-thought: Wouldn't it be funny if "Achari" meant "Chicken"? That would make the opening of this paragraph rather redundant wouldn't it?

Gola Kofta - $15

This is a must have dish for all you lamb-lovers out there. The lamb mince used in these balls are hand-minced, and you can most definitely taste the strong lamb-smell with every bite. I was sad to have only eaten one - despite how hot they were and how much they made me cry, they were simply divine with lashings of the cool cucumber yoghurt served with the pappadums.

Next, we move on to the mains.

Yeah, those were just the entrees. There's still another 2 courses to come.

Beef Vindaloo - $27

This is Aki's version of the "not-your-average-vindaloo" Beef Vindaloo. The beef was meltingly tender and fully imbued with the flavours of tomato and cumin sauce. Oh and did I mention that this one made your tongue catch on fire? Well, it did, but AY and I ate most of it anyway because it was just that dang-freakin' good!

Pilau Rice

The mains came with a serve of perfectly cooked Pilau Rice and a stack of plain Naan breads. Perfect for soaking up all the sauces!

Subzi Kofta Curry - $18

The Subzi Kofta Curry was probably my favourite main out of the 4 which were served. The list of ingredient generates eyebrow-raising first impressions, but the dish does not take long to convince even the biggest skeptics and that flavours DO indeed work hand in hand and that they couldn't be more wrong to have doubted it. So what's in there?

Carrot, raw banana, beans and fresh English spinach. Amongst other "ridiculously appetising ingredients" (says JL).

The kofta balls were incredibly moist, and almost makes one wonder how they retain their shape yet still manage to have a fall apart and dissipate effect in one's mouth. I couldn't begin to describe the myriad of flavours present.

Chicken Makhini - $25

Butter. And Chicken. I know I love it, and I know most people out there love it too. Aki's version definitely strikes the uncanny balance between tanginess of tomato with sensual creaminess and a hint of smokiness from the chicken cooked in a tandoor.

Once you taste this, butter chicken from the local food court just won't cut it. You have been forewarned.

Goan Prawn Curry - $29

The last of the mains was a dish of curried prawns. Black tiger prawns cooked in a sauce of coriander, cumin and freshly ground coconut - a must have for the seafood lovers. We all agreed that this was good, except that we were all so bloated by this point that we couldn't really bring ourselves to fully relish in its flavours.

Having said that, JL still mopped it up good.

Indian "kufti" Ice Cream - $13

Lastly, after requesting a LOOOOOOOONG, drawn-out break to allow us to digest (the peeps at Aki's are most definitely flexible with their service), we were finally presented with a light slab of Cardamom and Pistachio ice creams to cool our mouths downs. These were definitely flavours up my alley, but may be a hit and miss with others.

To me, the experience at Aki's was not only memorable, but rather the quality of dishes it produced was rather humbling for the palate, and reminded you of just how much of an art there is to match flavours with produce. The dishes which were served up not only fascinated and intrigued me, but it kept me wanting more and challenged my curiosity. You can bet your ____ that I'll be heading back there sometime soon.

Aki's Fine Indian Restaurant
1/6 Cowper Wharf Road
Woolloomooloo, NSW 2011
Tel: (02) 9332 4600

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Singapore Day One: No Signboard, Geylang

Geylang is known as the red light district of Singapore. When I mentioned that I'd been told about the delicious crab and seafood dinners here, my local friend seemed a bit reluctant to take me there. As we walked out of the closest MRT station and onto a small side street, I noticed that all the small eateries were popluated by loud Singaporean men drinking towering beers - no wonder SWT said she was uncomfortable!

Luckily, the walk was short and after jay-walking across the busiest multi-lane road I've seen in a while, we reached No Signboard - lit by neon lights and decorated with red lanterns in celebration of the upcoming Chinese New Year. I was surprised that we were given a seat so swiftly though admittedly, we had three people and it was relatively early. Our seats were also on the side away from the main area where I could see large round tables reserved. We would later realize that being set apart, we avoided the smoke and the loud cheers of the larger groups - being able to hear each other talk but still feeling the atmosphere of the night.

Having only three people on our table, with two of them being only girls, I was bracing myself for the disappointment of not being able to try a variety of dishes. Luckily, the waitress was extremely helpful - perhaps seeing the look of sadness on my face - suggesting that we could get all our dishes in the smallest sizes possible especially the two crabs we were ordering.

Chilli Crab 40SGD/kg

Complimentary Mantou

The first to arrive was the Chilli Crab which was served on an extremely large plate filled almost to the brim with the aromatic chilli sauce. With it, arrived the fried buns or mantou which could be dipped into the sauce in place of the rice. The flesh of the crab was really tender and juicy - for me the process was a bite of crab meat, dunk the bun in the sauce and pure heaven as a result!

Black Peppered Crab 40SGD/kg

The Black Peppered Crab was an entirely different story. The black pepper sauce was much stronger and the flesh tougher. By the end of it, my mouth was literally burning! It's the type of food that makes you so happy because it's dishing out the most amazing flavours for your taste buds but simultaenously putting you through the fiery spices. Putting up with a flaming mouth in the name of great taste? I was up for it!

Bullfrog with Dried Red Chilli 16SGD for two

When the plate of Bullfrog with Dried Red Chilli was delivered to our table, all I could see was a mound of black garnished with loads of dried chilli. When you finally scrummage around and pick out the frog itself, the texture is almost like a tougher version of a fish - slighty chewy and beautifully flavoured. Definitely not the first time I've tried it, but definitely the first time I kept picking it out from the dish it was so yummy!

Deep Fried Baby Squid 10SGD

The Deep Fried Baby Squid came on long rather large plate and didn't look particulary appetizing. But since stepping foot onto Singapore soil, I've realized that some of the most delicious dishes have the ghastly appearances. This was certainly no exception. I'm really a fan of anything deep fried but this particular dish had a sweetness to it on top of the crunchy texture and wired perfectly to offset the spiciness in my mouth from the crab.

Fried Egg with Oyster 10SGD

This was a last minute find on the menu when I recalled that SK had recommended I try it. Relative to the rest of the meal, this was slightly less exciting but I do love my oysters and eggs so in combination, this little pancake-like treat of Fried Egg with Oyster was a great way to finish off the meal. It sure helped cool down my flaming mouth!

War on Crabs - The Finale

It was cheap - the cheapest seafood dinner I've ever had actually - and it was amazing. Fragrant, flavoursome seafood. Probably my most expensive meal I had all trip in Singapore but still so cheap it was amazing. This is definitely somethign everyone has to try when heading to Singapore. If you've read this whole review and you're curious as to why it's called No Signboard and why the photo about says The name u named, then just check out this link here. The history of the place is quite interesting. You'll notice that in the first photo it says Matter Road because that's where the first shop opened, in a hawker centre on that road. The branch we visited is actually on Geylang Road.

I'm back in Australia but I'm still salivating about this meal - go check it out!

No Signboard
414 Geylang Road
Geylang, Singapore 389392
PH: +65 6842 3415

Monday, March 15, 2010

Review: The Bathers' Pavilion, Balmoral Beach

So, what do a bunch of 20-something year olds do when they're bored in the evening with next to nothing to do? We're over the drinking, over all the clubbing, and generally over the fact that most of us will be graduating soon and free time simply won't feel the same again?

Well, they hit up a nice place for dessert of course! Especially the ones which require a little driving just to get away from parents screaming from behind at how ridiculous it was that we were heading out so late in the evening.

And that was when we discovered The Bathers' Pavilion Cafe at Balmoral Beach.

Crème caramel, poached caramel pears, cinnamon filo crisp - $15.50

"You're going to the beach NOW?" cried my father. Yep, anything for the food. Besides, it's not like Mum makes Crème Caramels for me for dessert.
"Do you even know your way?"
"Nope, but if I get lost, we ALL get lost"

Perhaps I should suggest to him that if he could make such a creamy and luscious Crème Caramel for me at home then I would consider staying home a tee-wee bit longer. Oh and the filo pastry was to die for. I could eat this stuff all day! (Hey, there's a thought! That way I wouldn't even bother heading out.)

Lemon delicious, confit lemon, lemon sherbet - $15.50

Either way SK, LT, JL, JC, SL and I all managed to find our way there that night - albeit a little late. By a little I really mean half an hour. I'm sure AY admired the evening view while he waited in the breeze.

Or perhaps he should have ducked inside before us and smacked his face in his Lemon Delicious. I know I often say "What's in a name?", but seriously, if this had been called anything more complicated I probably would have pondered over whether it was delicious or not - but Lemon Delicious? Lemon. Delicious. Simple. Straight-forward. When the dish lives up to its name, you know you just have to get another spoonful. Just the way life should be sometimes.

Pineapple tart tartin, pineapple compote, coconut ice-cream - $15.50

So was the whole getting lost, arriving late and dishevelled, being flamed by the always-5-minutes-early AY really worth the effort? Well short answer is yes; long answer is when you are warmly greeted and seated after arriving at close to 9:45pm on a quiet evening in a beautiful location, the experience is simply a rare thing in itself. To be honoured the visit with such delectable morsels of food such as a Pineapple Tart Tartin was just the right icing on top.

It almost felt like the only thing missing was a glass of Pina Colada and some dancing.

Vanilla & strawberry cheesecake, strawberry salad, strawberry sorbet - $15.50

And then there was the factor that there really was something in it for everyone. For the fruity dessert lovers (or those chocolate goddesses in search of a change in scenery, aka, SK), the Strawberry Cheesecake will do no wrong. With a scoop of refreshing strawberry sorbet on the side mixed with a tangy sweet strawberry salad, I prithee, this is something you'll not want to walk away from.
Anna's chocolate and banana gateau, chocolate fudge sauce - $15.50

And then if you really cannot peel yourself away from your chocolate addiction, well, I wish you all the best! At least here at Bather's Pavilion you'll get a slice of the lightest chocolate cake bending over for you, waiting for the perfect scoop to take it to your mouth.

Never knew food could be so trippy, eh?

The Bathers' Pavilion Cafe
4 The Esplanade
Balmoral Beach, NSW 2088
Tel: (02) 9969 5050

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Singapore Day One: Goodwood Park Hotel

Durian. What are you thinking about with that word in mind?

A lot of people probably don't know what it is. For those of you who do (and if you're reading this then you probably do) there is quite a clear divide between those who love it and those who hate it. I know that WX is a lover of durian whereas I'm a bit less obsessed with it. However, I would still jump at the chance of trying any sort of durian dessert. Before I left, I had been directed to Goodwood Park Hotel by a good friend of mine, SL, who claims that this place offers the best durian puffs in Singapore. I've never tried them before and was extremely excited at the prospect of trying it even after my huge meal at Maxwell.

We were a bit confused initially about where exactly durian puffs would be sold at a hotel like this one which, from the main entrance, was modern and upper class - nicely air conditioned with a couple of high-range restaurants. After asking reception however, we were told that a little cake shop near the hotel's tailor would be the source of our stomach's happiness for that afternoon!

Now, I don't want to be mean...but when we asked about the puffs we were told that they had none - durians weren't in season yet and the hotel waited until they were perfect before selling the puffs in March! So unfortunately for us (and possible for your hungry eyes), we didn't try any durian dessert that afternoon.

Instead, we satisfied ourselves with two cakes - a Royal Chocolate Crunchy Hazelnut Cake and a Blueberry Cheesecake from the cake shop.

Although I missed out on the puffs, I daresay that on a completely different level of satisfaction, this chocolate selection really hit the spot for me! The crunch hazelnut texture was beautiful and the chocolate base just melted in my mouth.

The cheesecake for me, was nothing particularly special. Delicious nonetheless but if we had ordered this cake alone, it wouldn't have been able to fill the void that was the durian puff! Even though we did miss out, it was also a nice excuse just to sit and relax inside a completely different environment from the hawker centre. This happened to be the only occasion I allowed myself to not dine at authentic stores on the streets so I really did make the most of the cool airconditioning that afternoon!

Goodwood Park Hotel
22 Scots Road