Saturday, 19 April 2014

A Berry Nice Day Out - 11 April 2014

Last weekend was my wife's birthday so I decided to treat her to a long weekend away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney. The picturesque town of Berry (2 hours south of Sydney) would be our first stop of our weekend getaway. Berry is a place that both my wife and I have wanted to visit for a very long time, mostly because of our love for food.  Berry is a foodie's paradise, filled with specialty retailers selling artisan products, wineries, farms and produce gardens.     

Oregano Bakery
Address: 56 Connells Point Rd, South Hurstville NSW 2221

Before we hit the Princes Highway, we decided to drop by Oregano Bakery for morning tea. Started by husband and wife team, Sonia and Tony Jabour, as a Lebanese pizzeria in 2010, Oregano Bakery's success is due to their signature cinnamon scroll. These things sell like hotcakes (according to Broadsheet, 35,000 are sold in a month!).       

Cinnamon scroll and honey & walnut scroll;cross section of cinnamon scroll 
We ordered one of the original cinnamon scrolls and one honey and walnut scroll. The original cinnamon scroll was definitely our favourite of the two. Just look at those swirls! The scroll was just really delicious: soft, moist, full of cinnamon and had a good amount of sweetness (any sweeter would have been too sweet for me). The scroll was covered in powdered sugar, and as I am not really a fan of powdered sugar, I brushed most of it off to the side.

The honey and walnut resembled a baklava, which I found a bit too sweet for my liking. It was drowned in honey and filled with crunchy walnuts within.

With our sugar craving satisfied, we headed for Berry.

Oregano Bakery on Urbanspoon        

The Berry Tea Shop
Address: 1/66 Albert St, Berry NSW 2535

Our first stop in Berry was the Berry Tea Shop. The Berry Tea Shop opened its doors in June 2010 and was created by husband and wife team, Cliff and Paulina Collier. The specialise in high-grade loose leaf teas, which are brought in directly from their countries of origin and blended by hand in store. They do not do 'flavoured' teas, thank god!

We absolutely loved the space!  It was a spacious, relaxing setting, perfect for a nice pot of tea with a slice of cake or a scone. There were also all kinds of kettles, tea pots, cups and saucers on display, which we were fascinated by. Who doesn't want a rooster kettle or a Winnie the Pooh tea pot?   

My wife may be a tea-lover, but she is also a self-confessed tea snob. This is the person that will use a timer to ensure that her tea has brewed for the "right amount of time". And at home she boils water to a certain temperature depending on the tea leaf used. She definitely knows how to make a good cup of tea so I usually trust her judgement when it comes to picking a good tea!

I ordered the good morning, which was a blend of Ceylon, Assam and Yuuan tea, and my wife opted for darjeeling. Both teas were fantastic! The good morning was a strong, full bodied tea, with a great depth of flavour. The darjeeling was a lighter cup of tea with fresh, floral, woody and muscatel notes. We enjoyed these teas so much that we decided to buy some for home.

The Berry Tea Shop on Urbanspoon

Pompadour's Chocolate House
Address: 113 Queen St, Berry NSW 2535

Next stop was Pompadour's Chocolate House, which was just a short walk from the Berry Tea House across the car park.  Pompadour's offers a wide range of handmade premium chocolate creations. It was the Royal Easter Show awards on display that caught our attention; it's obvious that these guys are serious about making good chocolate!

Milk chocolate bunny and chocolate penguin
It was just a brief visit at Pompadour's for us. We decided to buy a packet of Belgian dark chocolate thins (53% coco solids), a milk chocolate bunny filled with strawberry cream and a penguin (which was made with a combination of milk and white chocolate and also filled with strawberry cream).  Both the bunny and penguin were almost too cute to devour, but the allure of smooth Belgian chocolate was impossible to resist. I highly recommend a stop at Pompadour's to all chocolate lovers out there.

South Coast Providores
Address: 89 Queen St, Berry NSW 2535

A short walk up Queen street takes me to South Coast Providores. This is the place to go for mouth watering conserves, chutneys, sauces, jellies and relishes made from locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables. All the marmalades sounded fantastic and we were looking for something tasty that we could spread on our toast during the frantic morning rush for work. We finally decided on ruby grapefruit and Campari and lemon, lime and bitters marmalades, which were suggested to us by Ian Gray, one of the owners of South Coast Providores.

The Famous Berry Donut Van
Address: 73 Queen St, Berry NSW 2535

The Berry famous donut ($1.50 each), geddit?
Walking further up to the outskirts of Berry takes one to The Famous Berry Donut Van next to Shell petrol station. Stopping by this donut van to have one of their famous donuts has been a ritual for thousands of motorists driving down the South Coast for over 60 years.

So what's the big deal with these donuts? They are fried to order, so they come piping hot, soft and fluffy on the inside and are served with just cinnamon and sugar (thank goodness for that since I have a dislike for the sickly sweet donut icings). They're quite enjoyable but if you're not into donuts (like my wife), they're not likely to convert you. But having these donuts is something that every visitor to Berry has to do at least once.

Famous Berry Donut Van on Urbanspoon  

Il Locale Gelato
Address: 114 Queen St, Berry NSW 2535

Hazelnut and honey & macadamia gelato ($5)
Our walk back up Queen street takes us to Il Locale Gelato. This was not one of the places that I had on my list, but the words gelato and fresh led us into the store. The gelato is freshly churned by The Pines Gelato in Kiama using fresh milk from their farm. For $5 for 2 flavours, we decided to try hazelnut and honey & macadamia flavours.  We enjoyed both flavours but the winner was definitely the hazelnut flavour. The gelato had a nice fresh creamy texture and lovely smooth finish.

Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery
Address: 23 Prince Alfred St, Berry NSW 2535

It was passed 2pm, so it was well and truly lunchtime. We had always planned to drop by Berry Sourdough Bakery and Cafe, which is just off the main street of Berry.  There is also a smaller, more conveniently store located on the main street, Milk Wood Bakery, that sells similar things to the bakery. 

The cafe is a very popular stop for hungry south coast motorists and quickly gets packed, especially on weekends. But luckily for us, we came on a Friday, so there were plenty of tables. We were craving for savoury food at this point (almost desperate for it), so after our waitress explained what the specials were, we quickly put in our order for the sourdough pizza and the salad of the day.

Sourdough pizza ($19)
The sourdough pizza ($19) had spinach, red onion, tomato, and house made herbed ricotta. The sourdough pizza base was just amazing. It was a pan style base, rather than the thin bases that I usually have a preference for. It had a nice robust flavour from the sourdough, fluffy and not dense at all for a pan base. The best part of the pizza was definitely the crust, which was quite crispy.

Salad of the day ($17)
A plate of salad ($17) was definitely needed in order after what I had consumed today. This was a fresh, enjoyable salad of carrot, haloumi, sunflower seeds and a caraway vinaigrette. Both my wife and I love the saltiness and meatiness of haloumi. And I thought the addition of aniseed flavour from caraway in the vinaigrette worked well with its acidity.

We had no space left for the delectable tarts in the pantry, so we decided to go for a leisurely walk to our stop, The Treat Factory. We will have to try these during our next visit to Berry.

Berry Sourdough Cafe on Urbanspoon 

The Treat Factory
Address: LOT 1 Old Creamery Ln, Berry NSW 2535

The Treat Factory is the largest gourmet food outlet on the South Coast of New South Wales. They handcraft hundreds of varieties of chocolates, confectionaries, jams and sauces. There are two retail stores in the historic Old Central Creamery, where you can buy a range of award winning products direct from the producer as well hard to find gourmet foods.

Mushroom and truffle oil pasta sauce ($6)
As soon as you walk into the Treat Factory, the first thing you will notice is the wonderful aroma of different spices wafting through the air from large vats bubbling away. After a quick browse, we decided to buy a bottle of mushroom and truffle oil pasta sauce. I am a sucker for all things truffle and just love its pungent aroma.

The freight train that we almost got run over by on our way back to our car from the Treat Factory - we were on the tracks as the gates were about to close!
We spent a good three hours in Berry and thoroughly enjoyed every moment in this beautiful little town. There is more than enough here to keep any food lover interested. We enjoyed talking to all the locals and store owners, and of course sampling all the amazing food, produce and artisan products that this town has to offer. And since it is only 2 hours away from Sydney, Berry is definitely a place that will see me coming back to for many years to come.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Felix Bistro and Bar - 6 Dec 2013

Backlog…. I have a love/hate relationship with the back log. I love it for its perpetual source of content but it’s like a bottomless pit. I have dozens of meals from Europe, Melbourne and of course my home town, Sydney, that I have not gotten around to due to lack of time. I am only going to add more to it as I am sure a weekend trip to Berry, the South Coast, Canberra and the Southern Highlands will include food. Anyway, I may as well dig one out one from the ‘archives’, a memorable meal at Felix, which I had before Christmas last year!

Located in the Ash Street laneway, Felix is Merivale’s take on everyone’s favourite French classic, the bistro. It is quite a faithful representation of the quintessential French brassierie, from the décor, to the waiters’ long-aprons and French accents. 

And just like in Paris, they have outside tables; which is where my wife and I were seated on the night. It might be a bit awkward facing directly onto the street,  but these tables are really great for people watching! It was a Friday evening and early-December too, so we were able to see a lot of different outfits from Christmas parties at the Ivy. Great Gatsby and superhero themes seemed to be the most popular on the night. 

We went for the prix fixe menu (a cheaper set menu available only between 5.30pm and 6.30pm). The wait staff didn't give us the prix fixe menu when we were seated so you will probably have to ask them for it or risk missing out on the better pricing! You can go 2 courses for $45 or 3 courses for $55. I am never satisfied with 2 courses when I eat out, so we went for the 3 course option.   


Like any other good French bistro, you get complimentary bread at Felix. The bread at all Merivale venues is from Sonoma, so you know it's going to be good. This one is soy and linseed, one of my favourites in the Sonoma range. 


Chicken liver pate, grilled sourdough, current relish, cornichons
Ah Chicken liver pate... one of my all time favourite dishes at the French bistro. This one certainly delivers, so much so that I think this is one of the best pates I've had in Sydney. So smooth, so rich, so good! Perfect to spread on a crispy piece of grilled sourdough. Cornichons are an essential part of the experience to cut through the richness of the pate.     

Twice baked Gruyere souffle with onion puree, rocket, walnuts
My wife had the Gruyere souffle. Felix's souffle is a great version of yet another French favourite. This one is not as rich as other souffles I've had - it was quite light and airy. Gruyere is such a tasty cheese and the flavours really shine through in this souffle.    


Confit duck leg, frisee, lentil and green bean salad, lyonnaise sauce
I decided to have confit duck leg for my main. This was a hearty dish with enjoyable flavours. The duck meat was tasty and the meat was falling off the bone. The only problem was that it was a bit dry and not as juicy as I would have hoped. The lentil and green bean salad is a great classic pairing with the confit duck leg.

Saute of gnocchi romaine, grilled sweet corn, zucchini, pesto, goats curd
My wife ordered the sole vegetarian dish on the prix fixe menu, the gnocchi. This was a rich, satisfying dish with flavour combinations that just complement each other. The pan fried gnocchi were fluffy pillows with great flavour. The pesto sauce was nice and garlicky. Sweet corn kernels provided bursts of sweetness. And there were two kinds of cheeses: creamy and salty goast's curd and umami-filled parmesan.


Peach and nectarine gratin, blueberries, raspberry sorbet 
I do love a bowl of fruit salad with a rich custard poured over the top. The peach and nectarine gratin with blueberries was exactly that. The tartness of the raspberry sorbet was the perfect companion with the sweet, gratinated custard.

Profiteroles with vanilla bean ice cream, salted caramel, pistachios, hot chocolate sauce
Who doesn't love profiteroles? Deliciousness abounds in this dessert! Scoops of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between profiteroles served with an amazing salted caramel, chopped pistachios and drenched in hot chocolate sauce is my idea of the ultimate comfort dessert!  

Highlight: Chicken liver pate at Felix is one of the better pates I have had in Sydney.
Lowlight: Having to ask for the prix fixe menu despite coming in before 6pm.
Overall: Felix Bistro is one of the top French bistro experiences to be found in Sydney. This is comfort food at its finest, with generous portions of rich, tasty food. I would happily come back to try other French classics such as steak tartare and soufflé. 7/10 (Great)

Felix Bistro and Bar
Address: 2 Ash St, Sydney NSW 
Contact no: 02 9240 3000

Felix Bistro and Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Spanish Inquisition @ est. - 1 April 2014

Where is your dream holiday destination?

Mine is Spain, in particular the coastal city of San Sebastian in Northern Spain. San Sebastian is a foodies' paradise, being the birthplace of the famed Basque cuisine. The pintxos bars (the Basque word for tapas) in this city are almost legendary. Fine dining lovers are also in for a treat; a trip to San Sebastian will launch you into a galaxy of Michelin stars, as San Sebastian houses a number of the best restaurants in the world. Unfortunately Spain was not a part of my itinerary during my last trip to Europe. But it will definitely be at the top of my list for my next Euro trip!

This takes me to the familiar surrounds of est, which hosted the Spanish Inquisition, which was part of March into Merivale. For one night, executive chef Peter Doyle created a 6 course tasting menu (2 entrees, 2 mains, 2 desserts). At $150, this is much cheaper than a return ticket to Spain and no passport is required for this trip!

Each course is inspired by a dish found at a Spanish Michelin star restaurant.These restaurants and head chefs are:

  • Martin Berasategui, Lasarte 'Oria; Head chef: Martin Berasategui (3 Michelin stars, 64th in San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in World 2013 list)
  • Quique Dacosta, Alicante; Head chef: Quique Dacosta (2 Michelin stars, 26th in San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in World 2013 list)
  • Mugaritz, San Sebastian; Head chef: Andoni Luis Aduriz (2 Michelin stars, 4th in San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in World 2013 list)
  • El Celler de Can Roca, Girona; Head chef: Joan Roca (3 Michelin stars, 1st in San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in World 2013 list)

Amuse bouche

Spherified olives, rosemary - El Bulli
The first starter consisted of 2 spherified green olives sitting in a slick of extra virgin olive oil. These weren't actually olives; they were delicate olive-shaped sacs holding an olive infused liquid. These olives are made by placing drops of the olive liquid into a bath of calcium lactate, which causes a chemical reaction that creates the spherified olives. This is a method that was first coined by Ferran Adria of the now closed El Bulli. What this yielded was an incredible explosion of flavour. The olive bursts as soon as you pop it in your mouth, releasing the wonderful flavours of salty olives and rosemary.

Charcoal potatoes, garlic aoli - Mugaritz
The next starter, looking more like Japanese stones, were charcoal potatoes served with garlic aoli. The potatoes were brilliant: fluffy, yet slightly firm and had a slight smokey flavour. The hero of this starter was the garlic aoli. This is quite possibly the best aoli I have ever had! So creamy, so garlicky so moreish! And I love how there was an extremely generous portion of it. The aoli also made for a delicious spread for bread hehe.


Mille feuille of foie gras, smoked eel, spring onions and green apple - Martin Berasategui
This "mille feuille" is a signature dish of Martin Berasategui, with layers of foie gras, smoked eel, thin slices of green apple and a layer of caramelised green apple on top. This was a beautiful course with all the layers just work together in harmony. The lovely smoked eel and the richness of the foie gras is wonderfully balanced by the freshness of the spring onions and the tartness from the thin slices of green apple and verjus gel on the side.

Bomba rice, saffron and scampi - Quique Dacosta
The next course from Quique Dacosta was my favourite savoury course of the night. This was a beautifully plated dish of Bomba rice risotto, which was cooked in a tomato and fish stock, coated with a saffron jelly and a butter poached scampi perched on top. The risotto was al dente and had a wonderful depth of flavour from the tomato and fish stock and saffron jelly. But the real star of this dish is the scampi, which the partaking of was worthy of a "foodgasm" moment! The scampi was just amazing: fresh, sweet, succulent and barely cooked, just the way I like it.


Roast mulloway with crystals of edible scales, white chocolate and seaweed - Martin Berasategui
The first main course was a roast mulloway, which looked like a chunk out of a dragon with the scales flicked up. This was an enjoyable course, but it didn't reach the lofty standards set by the starters and the entrees. The crispy scales were the highlight of dish, similar to fried prawn shells in a way. But I did find the mulloway a tad dry. This was compensated by the white chocolate emulsion, which I found to work surprisingly well in a savoury dish. There was a small smidgeon of creamy sauce with capers (kind of like a tartare sauce) that was quite pleasant, but I would have liked more of it. The dabs of lemon gel added acidity to the dish. And I was a bit puzzled by the addition wakame seaweed and lettuce leaf.

Roast beef with ash, radish and vines - Mugaritz
The final savoury course was an unadorned dish of roast beef covered in vegetable ash, served with vines and radish. On first looks, this looked more like a lump of coal, but once I cut into the beef, I realised that it was a tender and beautifully rare piece of meat. The ash is not overpowering and gives the beef a subtle charred flavour. The jus made from red wine and beef juices was amazing and actually provided most of the flavour in this dish. I am a bit unsure of the side components of black vines, which were made from Grissini bread sticks, and segments of radish. It does make for a striking composition though.


Lychee sorbet, meringue and gel - Quique Dacosta
The lychee sorbert was an excellent, refreshing pre-dessert. The meringue was interesting and not what I am used to texturally. It was soft, slightly chewy rather than crisp and it was not too sweet. There were also tapioca balls and coconut puree, which I thought went well with the lychee.

Bergamot ice cream, orange blossom, maple syrup and vanilla - El Celler de Can Roca
Last but not least is dessert inspired by the best restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca! I have one word to describe what I thought of this dessert: WOW! How anyone would think to pair these ingredients together and make it work, I don't know but it's pure genius. This one took the words out of my mouth, so I don't know how to describe it succinctly...

I love the flavour of bergamot and the bergamot ice cream had loads of it, so I was very happy. Segments of fresh mandarin and a mandarin sorbet were delicious and added tanginess to the dish. The vanilla creme patissiere was rich and decadent. Then there were two types of jellies: orange blossom with its fragrant and floral notes and maple syrup, which tasted distinctly woody and caramelised. And the most surprising component of all, basil coulis. The sweetness, mintiness and pungency of basil just works brilliantly in desserts.

Petit fours

Petit fours
In typical est. fashion, I finished off a great meal with a selection of beautiful petit fours. There was a malt coffee macaron, a salted hazelnut shortbread, an olive oil and vanilla jelly, a Valrhona chocolate ganache and a lime moelleux cake with dehydrated raspberry. These were all very enjoyable, especially with a pot of tea.

The Spanish Inquisition provided me with a taste of the wonderful cuisine of Spanish Michelin star restaurants. But I want the real thing. Time to start planning my gastronomic trip through Spain and put San Sebastian at the top of my list of must visit places! 

Highlight: The scampi in the bomba rice dish. This is the type of cooking that makes est. one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney. Can't forget the El Celler de Can Roca dessert either. 
Lowlight: Although enjoyable dishes in their own right, the meal did take a slight dip with the main courses.
Overall: I had a fantastic night at the Spanish Inquisition sampling some wonderful dishes inspired by some of Spain's top restaurants. As always, the food at est. delivers in a big way and keeps me coming back time and time again. 8.5/10 (Excellent)   

Address: Level 1, Establishment, 252 George St, Sydney NSW 2000
Contact no: (02) 9240 3000

Est. on Urbanspoon

Past reviews:
Go for Gold and March Into Mervale at est. - 2012
Peter's Best at est., 25 Nov 2013

Martin Berasategui 
Address: Calle de Loidi, 4, 20160 Lasarte-Oria, Guipúzcoa, Spain
Contact no: +34 943 36 64 71

Quique Dacosta 
Address: Urb. El Poblet, Ctra. Las Marinas, km 3, 03700 Dénia, Alicante, Spain
Contact no: +34 965 78 41 79

Address: Aldura Aldea, 20, 20100 Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Contact no: +34 943 52 24 55

El Celler de Can Roca
Address: C/ de Can Sunyer, 48, 17007 Gerona, Spain
Contact no: +34 972 22 21 57