Friday, May 28, 2010

Review: Restaurant Balzac, Randwick

' 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 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 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

Monday, May 24, 2010

Review: The Falconer, Darlinghurst

Rocket, radicchio, pear and parmesan salad with aged balsamic - $12 (large)

Oh my god. It's been a while...I can almost smell the mouldiness of the place already...

Apart from being completely bamboozled by what can only be described as an utter black plague of assessments this semester, I've also had my time quickly devoured by a few extra commitments I've taken on. Never mind that, I figure that instead of trying to divulge all the reasons why I haven't had the time to post, I may as well get a move on with the dusting of cobwebs around here.

Crispy shoe-string fries with the Falconer aioli - $8

Thanks to the wonderful Billy, the team here has finally had a few lessons on how to make our photos even more droolworthy. After-all, we are the hub of saliva-generation are we not? I'm still not too good with Lightroom, but practice makes perfect, and I'm happy to say that I've finally gotten over the noobish fascination with mindless clicking of the auto-white balance feature in Lr.

It's awesome isn't it?!

Okay, let's get back to work.

A few weeks ago AY, AW, JL and I decided to hit town for a night of relaxation in the midst of a World War against our textbooks. As we ran from the incessant fire of APV and DCF models, we luckily found a quiet refuge at The Falconer, located on Oxford Street, after a friendly recommendation by FW.

"So what's so good about this place?" I asked.
"Well, apparently they serve rabbit."

Braised organic rabbit ragu pappardelle with tomato, port & mustard seeds - $19

I must admit the thought of hacking up a fluffy bunny and cooking it did not at all seem appetising, but it was a thought which I pushed aside into my cranial Pandora's Box as I gave in to my unfettered weakness for pappardelle. On this particular occasion, luckily, the pappardelle did not disappoint with its bite and flavour. The ragu was beautifully cooked and the bunny meat so amazingly tender that I would have happily devoured two plates of this despite my initial apprehension.
Risoni with sauteed mushrooms, lemon, thyme and white truffle oil - $14

Bunny hackings aside, AW and JL both chose a serve of Risoni with sauteed mushrooms with lemon, thyme and white truffle oil. The flavours surrounding this plate was most definitely earthy and robust, but sadly the risoni was just a tad too al dente for my liking.

Slow-baked Bangalow pork belly with saffron pears and chestnut puree - $24

AY being the awesome solo demolition team at any dinner table, ordered a nice hunk of pork belly just to rub satisfaction in the face of the health-conscious. The amazing thing is, it doesn't seem to show on his body. Feel free to sign here for life-long membership to his hate-club. Jokes.

In all seriousness though, the meat was moist and tender, and so full of flavour that sadly there just simply wasn't enough to satisfy the hungry sonuva-. But in retrospect that was a good thing, especially for those of you reading this...


Vanilla bean crème brûlée with mango & cashew nut crisp - $11

Ooooright. Giggidy giggidy.

For dessert we had a lovely, smooth Crème brûlée (albeit a little runny still). The mango and cashew nut crisp which came with the dish was so wonderfully crispy and light - a wonderful accompaniment.

Can you tell that my word of the day is "wonderful"?

Not sure if it was because I had a little too much wine and cocktails to drink beforehand, I quickly became unsatisfied with eating the
crème brûlée like a normal, healthy-minded human being. Acting in the name of research, I began to enjoy my crème brûlée with the french fries pictured above and oh gollie was it sensational! It was like the childish fascination with dipping you fries into your sundaes at Maccas, except so much awesome-er. Definitely recommended if you're not too fussed about being classy. Perfect for those suffering from a mild-case of Peter Pan Syndrome.

Overall, my the experience here was a big thumbs up. I gave it bonus points for its ability to make me feel like I should be wearing more vintage style clothing that came straight out of Frankie Magazine. If you like that old-fashion diners atmosphere that feels warm and inviting - look no further, this is the place for you.

The Falconer

31 Oxford Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
Tel: (02) 9267 8434

Monday, May 10, 2010

Review: Jah Bar, Manly

I live up in the Northern Beaches area and the rest of my friends either live on the North Shore or somewhere down south or out west. What does that mean? Well it means that we rarely ever dine out near my area which subsequently leads to me driving far far away for outings. This particular night however, JTC and WF were going to be in the area and so we decided to choose a place in Manly to satisfy the growling of our stomachs.

We had no preference for cuisine, so the criteria were merely anything which tasted delicious and was bearable for our wallets. Jah Bar was what we ended up with. Situated in a small laneway right opposite a large carpark which has free parking at nights, it was bustling with people by the time we arrived. The restaurant itself was separated into three sections with a couple of tables out the front, the bulk of tables out the back and a bar in between. The diners here ranged from couples on romantic dates to large group bookings all eating and drinking under an area lit dimly by a string of Christmas lights. 

Being a table of boys, we were pretty much starving by the time we sat down and made swift decisions to order. Not long after, we were graced with the complimentary presence of sourdough bread and olive oil. Nothing particular special but always a nice way to start a meal - and to keep us munching and distracted while we waited for our main course.

The first dish that arrived was the Pizza Margarita with Tomato, Basil & Buffalo Mozarella, sliced neatly for us to share. I'm a big fan of the crispy crust which seemed to be achieved with oil at a bare minimum. The tomato was deliciously juicy and surprisingly did not affect how crunchy the base was. I felt quite happy with my slice of pizza and not at all unhealthy. Sometimes it's a nice change to eat something so delicious and still feel unburdened by oil and fat!

Pizza Margarita $16

I think I failed to mention that when we made the orders, both JTC and WF looked straight at me and had little input except with the serving of prawns. Naturally, I picked dishes that I loved and the Seared Scallops & Morcilla with White Bean Puree fell right into that category. I have many friends who aren't big fans of seafood and don't like the slightly chewy texture of scallops but I beg to differ. That texture is beautiful, flavorsome and when seared ever so lightly and dipped in that beautiful puree - it was brillant...that's what my tastebuds told me anyway, so don't take my word for it!

Seared Scallops $14

Chorizo is a dish which has brought upon both pleasure and pain since I was first acquainted with it. In Hong Kong, I've experienced the spiciest, most inedible chorizos I have ever tried but in a general sense, has actually brought great joy to me. This particular variation accomplished the latter but with most chorizos, my only complaint was I had to share with the other guys on the table. Yeah, yeah...I know that sharing is caring...but sometimes taking such a small bite doesn't quite satisfy my eager taste buds. 

Chorizo $8

This was quickly followed by an assortment of mushrooms which had been sauteed with garlic and a squiz of vingagre de jerez. Mushrooms in home and at places that I have dined at, are usually complementary to many dishes, mixed in to add that tangent of flavour. As a feature dish, the different types of mushrooms with a side of bread was delicious - absolutely loved the juicy crunch in my mouth. Meanwhile, the waiter had delivered our King Prawns & Sobrasada cooked in Spanish apple cider and just judging by the small dish, the prawns had definitely soaked up all the flavour. I'm not generally a big fan of prawns, especially the 'take-my-shell-off-with-your-hands' variety. I'm a bit lazy to do it usually and I find that all the flavour is lost once you remove the shell. It was, however, quite yummy so don't let my personal laziness put you off from ordering this one!

Assorted Mushrooms $11

King Prawns & Sobrasada $13.50

Of course, you'll rarely ever catch me finishing up a dinner out without dessert so these Spanish doughnut sticks were a given. Ask me to dip anything into a pot of melted chocolate and you'll be greeted with a smile - a perfect way to end a splendid dinner out at Manly!

Churros $8

Jah Bar
Shop 7, 15 Central Avenue
Manly, NSW 2095
Tel: (02) 9977 4449