Sunday, 28 April 2013

Hot Smoked Salmon @ Fish Place

I love Surry Hills! It is filled with so many good places, cheap or pricey. If I lived in Surry Hills, I think I would go broke from trying all that wonderful food. I could picture myself on a Saturday evening wandering from store to store and sampling all the food, a bit like a pub crawl but with food instead.

On a Tuesday evening, I wandered into Fish Place (70 Foveaux St, Surry Hills, NSW  2010) to try their famous house smoked salmon. You can miss this place because the exterior is covered in sardine tin prints (which I unfortunately did not take a picture of).

Hot smoked salmon with side of hot chips ($12.50)
The salmon was just beautiful! The smokiness in the slab of salmon is just amazing. The fish is really well cooked too: it was moist and succulent and nicely pink in the centre so the flesh was soft. This piece of fish was cooked much better than what I have seen at many fine restaurants.  The only problem was that I wanted a bigger portion because I couldn’t get enough of it!

The chips were OK but I should have ordered one of the other sides like the potato bake (which my wife got and it was pretty good) or the pea mash.   

Can’t wait to go back to Fish Place. Next time I will probably try the smoked trout and see how it differs from the salmon.      
  
Fish Place on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Lambs Hearts and Minds @ Bistrode CBD

Bistrode CBD (1/52 King St  Sydney NSW 2000) is Jeremy Strode’s 1-hatted restaurant above Hotel CBD. Bistrode serves Modern British cuisine and is quite popular with the corporate crowd. I have been to Bistrode a few times, each time wondering why it has been awarded a chef’s hat . I have had many much cheaper meals at non-hatted restaurants that I have so enjoyed much more than Bistrode.

Anyway, there is one dish that I thoroughly enjoy having when I am at Bistrode CBD: Lambs Hearts and Minds ($19 entree) . It is, as the name of the dish suggests, lambs brains, which have been deep fried and served with tartare sauce,  and grilled lambs hearts. The dish also comes with a salad of green beans, bitter salad leaves, and almonds.  

Lambs Hearts and Minds ($19)

Appestising?

Once you get over the fact that you are indeed eating brains and are not Hannibal Lecter for doing so, lamb brains are quite a treat and very delicious. They are crumbed and deep fried so you get a nice, crispy exterior. This crispy outside goes very well with brain, which is creamy and just melts in your mouth. I am always happy to see lamb brains on menus at restaurants but unfortunately they are not that popular probably because of the cringe factor. And of course the tartare sauce is great and goes well with fried food.

The lamb hearts are also delicious. They are still slightly pink in the centre and not over cooked and have great flavour. And the salad, which has been dressed with vinegar, is fresh and nicely crisp.    

So if you do go to Bistrode CBD, I would recommend that you try the Lambs Hearts and Minds, if there is nothing else that catches your fancy.  It really is great brain food (not sure if it will make you any smarter though)!           

Bistrode CBD on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining, 17 April 2013

Rabbit Hole is a little bar on Elizabeth Street near Martin Place that is a current favourite of mine. Rabbit Hole is an apt name for this establishment because when you make your way down the stairs to the bar it is like as if you had descended down a rabbit’s burrow .      

Rabbit Hole initially caught my attention when I found out that the Japanese executive chef, Tomoyuki Usui, had previously  at 3-Michelin starred L'Astrance in Paris. Apparently L’Astrance is  one of the hardest restaurants in the world to get a reservation at as they only seat 25 and reservations can only be made 1 or 2 months in advance (I will try my luck in securing a reservation when I go to Europe later this year, hopefully I can get in).
I have been to Rabbit Hole a few times now. My first time was for dinner and it was a highly enjoyable experience with the wagyu tartare entrée being the obvious highlight. It is seriously an amazing dish and an excellent interpretation of the classical French dish. The wagyu and the onsen egg with soft, runny yolk go so well together.

Menu
Rabbit mural
Water in a gin bottle
Bike on the wall
Today I am here to try the wagyu beef burger, which by the way has recently been nominated for the title of best burger in the world in Chowzter World’s Seven Tastiest Fast Feasts Awards (see the following link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-14/world-s-best-burgers-pizza-sandwiches-picked-in-awards.html).       
Wagyu beef burger on a brioche bun with Brie cheese and house made tomato relish. Served with hand cut fat chips
The burger is HUGE! It was too big to be eaten with hands, so I used knife and fork. Also I did not want to get lockjaw from trying to put the burger into my mouth. 

The brioche bun I really enjoyed. It was fluffy and nicely toasted.


The wagyu beef patty
The best part of the burger should of course always be the patty and in this case, it definitely delivers. The wagyu beef used in the patty seems to be of very good quality and had amazing flavour. It was tender, juicy and cooked to perfection. 

The cheese used in this burger is brie and was it delicious! I had no idea that melted brie would taste this good and work so well in a burger. Just yum!    

Even the lettuce I liked. It was not a wilty green thing that I sometimes encounter with other burgers. It was fresh and had a great crunch. 


Hand cut fat chip
I love the hand cut fat chips!  Quite possibly the best chip in Sydney. Crispy on the outside and  soft, fluffy potato on the inside. Each chip was a HUGE chunk of potato. It felt like I ate an entire whole potato.  

The homemade tomato relish was a great accompaniment with the chips. It was sweet and tangy and goes really well with the chips.    

I left Rabbit Hole a very person after I had my burger fix. Is it one of the 12 best burgers in the world? I don’t know because I haven’t eaten enough burgers to make that call. But what I do know is that it is one of the best burgers in Sydney. So long til my next outing at Rabbit Hole, which will probably be for the alcoholic dessert degustation, which  they have recently launched (that is if I don’t come back for another burger fix). I can’t wait to try the alcoholic dessert degustation because it sounds like an awesome concept! Great cocktails and great desserts, who can complain?
                
Verdict
Highlight: All things beefy, especially those in burger and  tartare form
Lowlight: Not much. It does get a bit quiet here, especially during lunch, which is a shame because the food and the cocktails are awesome.
Overall: Rabbit Hole is an excellent bar that does very good and reasonably priced food and cocktails. I have had great experiences here during lunch, dinner and after-work drinks. This makes Rabbit Hole one of my favourite bars in Sydney to catch up with friends or have a meal.  8/10 (Excellent)


Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Universal, 19 April 2013

Christine Manfield, renowned Australian chef and author, recently announced that she will be closing the 2-chef hat Universal Restaurant for good on the 27th April. Christine Manfield is Australia’s queen of spices, with a reputation for being able to create food with loads and loads of delicious flavours. Following the announcement, the restaurant is solidly booked out every night til it closes. I had not yet dined at Universal so I decided that I must sample Christine Manfield’s food before it goes forever.  I secured a booking at 6pm on 19th April about one month in advance and was informed that I would need to finish my meal by 8.15pm due to the overwhelming demand. 
The anticipation was running high for this meal in the weeks and days leading up to the 19th. I was hoping for an amazing meal that I will remember for a long time. Also, I recently purchased a Sony DSC RX-100, so I was eager to test out my new toy and hopefully take some awesome pictures. The RX-100 really is quite a nifty little device. It is compact, fits into your pocket and can take some really high quality pictures. As I am a major novice in taking pictures, I do apologise for the quality for some of these pics as I am still getting the hang of this wonderful device.   
Universal logo
Dining room
The menu

Any way, onto the food…
Bread
First up is bread, which was a sourdough and extra virgin olive oil. The sourdough was decent, however it was not served warm so therefore it did not have a nice crust – a bit chewy rather than crunchy. I liked the oil though – it had a very robust flavour.      

Ruby baby
My wife ordered a mocktail , ruby baby. This was a grapefruit and raspberry based mocktail and it was quite a pleasant and refreshing drink. Also, it was not overly sweet, as some cocktails and mocktails turn out.  
First course
Coriander and lamb brain wontons, white pepper broth, sweet sausage, ginger garlic relish
I had the lamb brains wonton as my first course, which is Christine Manfield’s take on the Chinese dish, short soup or wonton soup. I am a big fan of lamb brains and I don’t think enough restaurants make use of this ingredient. I think most people can’t get over the fact they are eating brains so don’t try it, which is a shame because it is a wonderful ingredient. The wontons were great. I love the texture of lamb brains and love how well they go in a wonton. They just melt in your mouth and are really nice and creamy. Quite different from your usual wontons from a Chinese restaurant, which use pork and of course have a lot more bite. The broth was really fragrant and lots of nice sweet and savoury flavours from the ginger, garlic and thin slices of sweet sausage (lap cheong). However I found the white pepper to be quite overpowering. The pepper flavour dominated.  It was so strong that I still had mouthful of pepper on my palate when I was having my second course. Besides this, the first course was quite enjoyable.       


Smoked silken tofu and shitake mushroom sandwich, steamed garlic eggplant, chilli sambal, ginger garlic relish
My wife had the tofu. My wife enjoyed the tofu, which had a nice crispy outside and a soft, silky smooth centre with shitake mushrooms sandwiched in between . Underneath the tofu sandwich was a parade of different flavours. The eggplant was nicely cooked and mixed in with a chilli sambal, which was both sweet and spicy. My wife found that the heat from the chilli dominated the dish (keeping in mind that she does not do well with spicy food). But overall, this was an enjoyable first course.           

Second course
   
Grilled haloumi, toasted walnut crumble, coriander yoghurt relish, freekah, pomegranate and fennel
This was my wife’s second course and also her favourite savoury course. The grilled haloumi was a delight. Sometimes haloumi can be tough and rubbery. However this haloumi was anything but that. It was actually a bit soft and melted in the mouth. The toasted walnut crumble was great and gave the dish a nice textural element as well as flavour. The sweet flavour pops from the pomegranate go together nicely with the saltiness from the haloumi.


Seared ocean trout, steamed garlic eggplant, caramelised cherry tomatoes, hot and sour shallot relish
My second course was the ocean trout. This was a pleasant course that I found the flavours in this dish to be well balanced and complementing each other nicely. The ocean trout was cooked well however I would have preferred it to be a more rare as it was slightly dry. The skin was nice and crisp. I loved the accompaniments to the ocean trout, which added  lots of different savoury, sweet, sour flavours and a hint of heat. The cherry tomatoes also provided a nice bursts of flavour.   

Third course

Rare roasted venison, beetroot and horseradish spelt risotto, goats cheese cigar
My final savoury course was the venison, which is actually quite a gamey piece of meat. The meat was nice and rare so the meat was tender and was full of flavour. I really liked the goats cheese cigar,  which was crispy. And of course the sweetness from the beetroot goes perfectly well with salty and creamy goats cheese. What I enjoyed the most from this dish was the spelt  risotto. It has a nice bite and goes well with beetroot and horseradish. Overall this was a well executed dish with classic flavour combinations, but it did not quite have the wow factor to make it a truly amazing dish. 

Beetroot and horseradish spelt risotto, roasted golden beets, goats cheese cigar
My wife’s final savoury course is essentially the vegetarian version of my dish, with golden beets in place of venison. It’s a visually stunning dish with those golden beets to go with the deep red risotto!    
And now onto the desserts, which are the highlight for most people at Universal…
 
Desserts

Gaytime goes nuts - honeycomb ice cream, caramel parfait, chocolate crunch, salted hazelnut caramel
Of course we ordered the (in)famous Gaytime Goes Nuts. This is a dessert that is really worth going nuts for! It really is a brilliant dessert that I can’t believe that I didn’t try until now. It is just YUM – much nutty goodness! The caramel, amazing. The honeycomb ice cream, delicious. Chocolate crunch, brilliant.  It really is a great dessert in terms of flavour and texture.  It’s very hard to describe in words how good this version of Gaytime is.


Mister Fawlty - basil panna cotta, strawberry jelly, raspberries, orange croquant
For the other dessert we went for Mr Fawlty, an interesting and much lighter dessert than the Gaytime Goes Nuts. The most interesting aspect of this dessert was the basil panna cotta , which was a vibrant green. It wasn’t really a panna cotta at all. It was so soft and barely held its shape. It felt more like a light mousse. It was a nice, creamy and refreshing basil panna cotta that went nicely with the fruits. Another great dessert!  

Although, the food, overall, was generally good and quite enjoyable (the food quality is the main criteria for rating my dining experiences), I feel like I must devote a section to the quality of the service. Unfortunately for Universal, the service, which started out about being personable and pleasant, went downhill. I am not sure what the reason is for this, perhaps it was due to the restaurant being really busy in the final two weeks. The pacing of the meal felt quite quick for fine dining. It felt like each course was being dished out with only a momentary break. This was probably due to the fact that the restaurant was trying to fit in 2 seatings as a result of the increased demand. So I am willing to overlook this. However, it seemed  like each course was being thrown at us with little to no description of what we were eating. Also, there were times when it looked like the staff were more interested in talking to each other in a corner rather than serving the customers. What really summed up the service for the evening was when we ordered tea to go with the desserts. We ordered black tea so it is reasonable for us to expect  that it would be served with milk and sugar.  This was not the case when the waiter dropped off only the pots of tea and cups. So I asked one of the waitresses for some milk and sugar. When the waitress came back with the milk and sugar, I instead got an empty pitcher with no milk in it! So not only did it take two goes to get milk and sugar for our tea, we did not get any chocolate truffles either, which were listed on the menu. By this stage, we could not be bothered asking for them,we  asked for the bill so we could leave. I am finding it hard to not let the quality of the service influence my assessment of the food, which for the most part was enjoyable,  but unfortunately patchy service at restaurants does leave a lasting impression of the entire experience. 

Verdict
Highlight: Gaytime goes nuts! 
Lowlight: The service which I don’t think was up to the standard of a hatted restaurant.
Overall: I am happy to have dined at Universal before it leaves Sydney forever. It is sad to see Universal go. I don’t think there any many other Mod Oz fine dining restaurant in Sydney, if any, that utilises so many different spices to create dishes that have bags of flavours.  There were some memorable courses, in particular the desserts, only for the overall experience to be tarnished by the service. 6.5/10 (Good) 
  
Universal on Urbanspoon
 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Ormeggio at the Spit - 13 April 2013

Today is my wife’s birthday so I decide to take her to Ormeggio at the Spit for a birthday celebration. Joining us today are my wife’s brother, his girlfriend and my mother-in-law. The location is tops, right on d'Albora Marinas in Mosman. The views from our table were just stunning. We were basically right next to the water, we could see the boats rocking and we could spy into the fancy houses belonging to people with too much money. It was a beautiful day today with clear blue skies and warm weather, so this made for a perfect weekend lunch.

Ormeggio is a restaurant that I have an interest in for quite a while. It wasn’t until I did some reading up recently did I really get excited about eating here. There are some very well-credentialed chefs working in the Ormeggio kitchen. Of course there is Alessandro Pavoni (the owner and executive chef), i.e. the big tall Italian guy that my wife has a crush on LOL. Then there is the head chef, Federico Zanellato, who used to work at the 3-Michelin starred La Pergola in Rome (which I have already secured a reservation for in my Europe trip later this year hehe). And the pastry chef, Laura Ballester, who recently worked at a Michelin starred restaurant in Spain. So there are plenty of Michelin stars to go around at the Ormeggio kitchen! This is definitely something that gets me excited about dining at a restaurant, so I secured a reservation about a month in advance. 

The dining room
View from our table
The view from another table
Wine menu
Cool bottle of Santa Vittoria
Today we went with the 3-course Saturday lunch for $59, plus a complimentary glass of wine. This is excellent value for a 2-hatted restaurant!  

Warm sourdough bread - freshly churned sour butter - sea salt

First up, is bread, which, for me, is an essential part of the fine dining experience. The sourdough was great and how a good sourdough should be. The crust was crunchy, and the bread itself was soft and fluffy. I loved the freshly churned butter too. It was creamy and slightly sour.

Entrees 

Cold pea emulsion – fresh peas – herbs – watercress – fermented beetroot
This was my wife’s entrée.  It was a pleasant dish. Very refreshing and smooth. The pea emulsion and the micro herbs go very well together.     

Tortelli filled with burnt eggplant - spicy pistachio - pyengana cheddar – mint
This was my brother-in-law’s entrée, as well as his girlfriend. My wife had this as her main. Another brilliant course that was enjoyed by all. The pasta was cooked al dente and filled with burnt eggplant, which gave a nice smokey flavour to the dish. The Pyengana cheese from Tasmania brings the whole dish together. It is such a quality ingredient: creamy, salty and sharp flavour. The spice from the paprika and the whole-halves of pistachio nuts also go well in this course.

Shitake mushrooms – dutch cream potato – polenta croutons – pickled onions
My mother-in-law had the shitake mushrooms. I tasted a little bit of the potato, which I enjoyed. It had a nice smokey flavour and went well with the paprika.

Flinders island kangaroo Battuta - watermelon rind – amaranth - chorizo powder - fennel pollen
This was my entrée, which is essentially a kangaroo tartare. I have never eaten kangaroo like this before and I was feeling a bit adventurous today so decided to try it. And I love it! This was a great dish with all the elements working so well together, giving a really fresh dish.  The meat was nice and tender and has a slight gamey flavour. What I really like were the bits of vinegared watermelon rind, which gives the dish refreshing bursts of sweetness and sourness. I also liked the salty bits of chorizo powder.     

Mains

Pink snapper – macadamia – leek – jalapeño – samphire powder
This was my main course and it is such a visually stunning dish (as were all the courses really) with the purple potato crisps, green samphire (sea asparagus) powder and the white sauce. The potato crisps were enjoyable. Paper thin, salty and crispy. The creamy white sauce was good too and went well with the fish. And I loved the bits of jalapeno underneath the fish as it provided a nice kick of spice and heat to the dish. Although I enjoyed the snapper, which has been steamed and then pan fried, I would have liked it to be a bit more moist. Perhaps it was slightly overcooked.  


Carnaroli risotto - buffalo mozzarella - tomato - capers - olives - basil
Although this was not my main course, I did get to taste quite a bit of it because my mother-in-law, being an Asian mum, is not used to the Italian way of cooking rice so she found it to be raw so she only ate half of the dish. This was great for me and my wife, who picked up the scraps. And how we both love this risotto! The creamy look of this dish gives the illusion that the risotto is going to be rich and heavy. But this dish is anything but that! Actually, it has a very fresh, pleasant and strong tomato flavour as the rice has been cooked in tomato water which, as the Italian waiter explained to us, didn’t need any other seasoning with salt or pepper. It is amazing how something can taste so much like tomatoes yet we could not see a trace of red tomatoes! And for me, al dente (as opposed to raw) rice in risotto is great and the way I like it. The texture is great, I love how the rice had bite. To round out the dish, there was the creamy buffalo mozzarella and bits of basil that always goes nicely with tomato. 

Desserts

Desserts was a very easy decision for us. We ordered one of each and doubled up on the carrot dessert.

Carrot, fennel seed ice cream, farro cream, vinegar caramel
This was definitely a very interesting dessert that I really enjoyed. There were so many savoury elements, so how can this be a dessert? But for me the whole thing comes together nicely. The dish is a very pretty one! The carrot cake was very delicious and moist. The fennel ice cream goes very well with it. I have had fennel ice cream before. I loved it the first time, and I love it even more this time. I don’t know how, but fennel is brilliant as an ice cream. The vinegar caramel is great too. It provides a nice hit of sweet, savoury and sour to the dish.   

Amedei tuscan black chocolate - olive oil - sour dough - raspberry
This was a capable dessert that was the least favourite out of a bunch of great desserts. Chocolate and raspberry being a classic combination so you can’t really go wrong there. This is a great dessert for chocolate lovers. My favourite part of this dessert was the chocolate dirt and was a great flavour and textural element to the dish. Being a chocolate dessert, it can be rich.            

Toasted rice gelato – rice and ricotta cake – earl grey – lemon
This was a huge hit with everyone on the table and was the consensus favourite dessert. This is the dessert we should have doubled up on! This dessert was so good that we were all fighting for the last bits. Quite obviously, the plate was very clean afterwards! The gelato was very refreshing and had a nice toasty flavour as the title implies. I also loved the crunchy rice bits (think rice bubbles). The rice and ricotta cake was amazing and, in my opinion, to die for! The cake was light and just delicious. I loved the kick of lemon in the cake as well.


Cheese platter - crackers - condiments
Petit fours

Verdict
Highlight: I loved the risotto. The best risotto I have had in Sydney for quite a long time.   
Lowlight: There weren’t really any lowlights at this meal. Out of a meal filled with mostly highs, my least favourite course was the pink snapper.  
Overall: Ormeggio is a fantastic modern Italian restaurant. The views are stunning, the service is attentive and the food is awesome. I will happily dine here again and again. It is currently my favourite Italian restaurant in Sydney. 8/10 (Excellent)  

Ormeggio at the Spit on Urbanspoon