Saturday, 22 February 2014

Sydney Cellar Door, 21 - 23 Feb 2014

My wife and I decided to check out the opening day of the Sydney Cellar Door at Hyde Park after work on Friday. The focus of this show is clearly the wineries of NSW, which were laid out by region. So what does one do at this wine event? Eat all the food, of course hehe!  

Where do you start? So much to eat!
And yes there was quite a lot of amazing eats at the food stalls including Bar Pho, Biota Dining, Cafe Opera @ Intercontinental, Colombian Coffee Connection, Eat Art Truck, Efendy, Feast on Mudgee, Food Society, Gelato Messina, Gourmet Gozleme, Hello Fresh, Mudgee Region Tourism, Nomad, PIE by Mick's Bakehouse, Porteno & Bodega, Restaurant Cuvee, Salt Meats Cheese, Serendipity Natural Ice Cream & Sorbet, Shanghai Stories 1938, Via Napoli Pizzeria, Wine Odyssey Australia and Woofy's. For more info on the Cellar Door, see 

I really did want to eat all the food, but unfortunately I did not have sufficient stomach capacity. I think I hit the food wall after about 1 hour so here's what I did try: 

Gelato Messina
Address: Various (Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, The Star, Bondi, Fitzroy VIC)

For whatever reason, my wife and I decided to do things in reverse: we would have dessert first than have savouries. Maybe we have been permanently scarred by the length of the queues snaking out of Messina stores on a Friday night so we thought we would beat the queues by having gelato at 5.30. Even the little doggy in the above pic kept pouncing at the stall like he/she wanted in on the gelato action!

Any way, Messina were doing a selection of sundaes and dessert cups, all of which have been infused with alcohol. There was the strawberry trifle and shirazzamatazz for sundaes, and how do ya like them apples? and just peachy for dessert cups. Sundaes were $9 and dessert cups $7.    

Strawberry Trifle ($9) & Just Peachy ($7)
After much indecisiveness, I decided on the strawberry trifle and just peachy. Strawberry trifle was very enjoyable and definitely the better out of the two. The strawberry trifle had a Gewurztraminer Zabaglione gelato (try pronouncing that heh, whatever it was it tasted yum), compressed strawberries, red wine jelly, chunks of vanilla sponge and some whipped cream on top.

The Just Peachy included three layers: champagne granita on top, then white peach gel and peach custard. We were told to try to have all three layers at the same time, but the problem was the spoon we were given was too big for the cup the dessert was served in, so it made for an awkward eating experience. Don't have too much of the champange granita in one bite, it does pack quite a punch of alcohol!

Gelato Messina on Urbanspoon  

Via Napoli Pizzeria
Address: 3/141 Longueville Rd, Lane Cove NSW

Next stop was Via Napoli. I might be the only foodie in Sydney to say that they've never had pizza from Via Napoli (I know, shame!). Well here's my chance. They even had 2 woodfire pizza ovens set up, a huge vat of buffalo mozzarella (yum!) and a deep fryer for the Panzarotto con Nutella (i.e. deep fried pizza stuffed with Nutella!)    

Margherita Pizza ($12)
Verdict? I thought this margherita pizza was quite good for an outdoor pizza. The pizza base was thin and crisp. And the ingredients were quality. It contained San Mazarno tomatoes, a nice buffalo mozzarella as well as the other usual suspects basil and olive oil.

Via Napoli Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Porteno & Bodega Restaurant
Address: 358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills NSW
Next on my list was Porteno. The tattooed chefs and owners, Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz, were on hand to barbeque the meats and serve the food. Porteno is another place that I have wanted to go but have neglected for a long time (the problems of taking a vegetarian wife to a restaurant serving big barbeque meats).      

I decided to try the pork belly since I knew I would be trying beef brisket at another store later. First bite in and I knew that I will need to clear my schedule and grab some of meat eating friends and feast on some of Porteno's delicious signature spit roast beasts. Just  amazing! The pork belly was very tender and flavoursome and there was quite a lot of crispy pork crackling scattered over the pork belly. I loved the kick from the jalepeno aoli and flavours of the leek chimichurri

PorteƱo on Urbanspoon

Biota Dining
Address: 18 Kangaloon Rd, Bowral NSW

Next and final savoury stop was at 2 hatted Biota Dining in Bowral. Biota is another place that I have not been to (seeing a trend yet?). Executive chef owner and chef, James Viles was also around to serve the food. It was great seeing so many notable chefs out there supporting this event and the local wineries and producers.

Braised Beef Brisket ($12)
As if I needed another reason to drive to Bowral to dine at Biota (I have already sampled James Viles' food at another event, Land vs Sea at Ormeggio). The beef brisket was just delish and had a good dose of smokiness! The brisket went well with the aoli sauce and was served in a buttery brioche bun.

Three Cheese Croquettes ($8 for 4)
And finally, I presesnt you with these glorious three cheese croquettes. These were the best tasting things that I tried today and that's saying a lot because I had some really good food! Just to die for! Very crispy batter encasing a warm, softy, creamy, addictive and delicious cheesy, potatoey thing. I could easily have a bucket of these! 

I promise, I will make it to Biota this year hehe!

Biota Dining on Urbanspoon

I was well and truly in a food coma by now so we decided to take a walk to burn off all those calories and here are a few other food stalls that caught our attention:

Taste of Orange stall
Regional centres like Orange and Mudgee were also a focus of the Cellar Door. On hindsight, I probably should have grabbed one those Orange regional tasting plates with some fresh fruit and veggies after all the meat I had eaten!

Some of the stalls that I did not try today, but would have liked to
Thought I mention Bar Pho. I was really keen to try this place before going, to try their pho (of course). But guess what, there was no pho:(, they were only serving banh mi (pork roll) and goi ga (chicken mint salad). Bar Pho has a stall at the Bondi Farmers Market on Saturdays, so I might need to get myself to Bondi to try.

Address: 16 Foster S, Surry Hills NSW

Unfortunately I did not get to try out anything from Nomad (just a matter of lack of stomach space). They were taking up 2 stall spaces and the space was so nicely decorated too, which made it more of a shame I didn't try something. I will make up for this by visiting the restaurant hehe. Nomad is known for curing meats, pickling veggies and aging cheeses in house so I am sure their chacuterie plate would be awesome!

Restaurant Cuvee
Mini strawberry delight cheesecake ($3)
Address: Wine Country Dr, Pokolbin NSW

And on the way out, my wife decided to grab this bite-sized mini strawberry delight cheesecake from Restaurant Cuvee. I had never heard of Restaurant Cuvee until now. They are a restaurant located in the Polkobin winery, Peterson House. I personally found the cheesecake a bit rich and heavy, but this is likely due to the food coma I was in. My wife didn't find this to be a problem. The cheesecake also had a subtle strawberry flavour.

Restaurant Cuvee Petersons Champagne House on Urbanspoon

And that's a wrap! Both my wife and I found that the Sydney Cellar Door had better eats than other similar events in the past. Most items won't set you back more than $12, so we didn't find it overly expensive either. If anyone is looking for something to do this weekend, grab a few friends and head to Hyde Park. You will have a great day out of food (and wine, after all that's what the Cellar Door is for).

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK

In today's post, I will be resurrecting my Good Food Month 2013, Euro edition series that I started but never really got going (which due to a combination of me being busy with other things and me being lazy, stands at a measly total of one post at The Ledbury thus far).

Any way, I will be writing about the lunch my wife and I had at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (or is that Lunch by Heston?), which is located at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London. This was our last big meal of the trip, so we were hoping to end our gastronomic trip through Europe on a bang! Funnily enough we started and ended our trip with meals at Heston restaurants, starting with Fat Duck (which will be subject of a future post) and ending with Dinner, just to show you how much of a Heston fanboy I am :) 

View of Hyde Park: we witnessed the best and worst of London weather from sunshine to rain
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is Heston's second restaurant and was opened in 2011. Soon after opening its doors, Dinner received a whole host of accolades and awards, receiving a Michelin Star in its first year and a second star in 2013. Also, Dinner is ranked seventh in the San Pellegrino 50 World's Best Restaurants 2013 list. The kitchen is headed up by executive chef of the Fat Duck Group, Ashley Palmer-Watts. Palmer-Watts is often remembered as the guy that Heston gave a job to at Fat Duck years ago just so Palmer-Watts would stop pestering him. Working his way through the chef ranks, Ashley Palmer-Watts now heads up the Dinner kitchen and has devised the menu in conjunction with Heston. 

Dinner is a much different restaurant to Fat Duck, which fits more of the description of a fancy, special destination, haute cuisine restaurant. Dinner is a bit more pared back with a relaxed yet elegant dining room that overlooks Hyde Park. The restaurant can seat 120 diners, compared to only 45 at Fat Duck. The service at Dinner was one of the most pleasant we have received at any restaurant.  The wait staff were warm, genuinely friendly, attentive and highly knowledgeable.  Just a joy to interact with! The same could not be said about Fat Duck, as we found a few of the wait staff there to be a bit cold.

Besides science in food, Heston is also known for his enthusiasm for history and his admiration for the great chefs before him such as Antonin Carame, the father of French haute cuisine. The 3-course menu at Dinner is based on historical British dishes following extensive research conducted by food historians and the British Library.

There is also a set 3-course lunch menu for £38. The set lunch menu also allows you to choose one, two or three matching wines, which is a great option for those that get overwhelmed by a full set of matching wines but want to sample a wine or two. My wife decided to go with the set course lunch with vegetarian options and a matching dessert wine. I decided to choose from the normal menu as I wanted to try the signature dishes at Dinner, such as Meat Fruit.

Sourdough bread and butter
To start off our meal, we were served sourdough bread and butter, an essential part of any meal at a fine dining restaurant. This bread had great flavour and a really nice crust, as to be expected. I made sure not to load myself on bread, as I was going to have Meat Fruit, which comes with a slice of grilled bread.  


Lemon salad (c.1730): Smoked artichoke, goats curd & candy beetroot
Lemon salad was my wife's first course from her set lunch menu. How pretty does this salad look!? I love the pinks, purples and greens of the vegetables on the white plate. This was an outstanding salad that was fresh and had clean, classic and well executed flavour combinations. The sweetness and earthiness of beetroot was an obvious winner with goats curd. There was a restrained balance of fruitiness, bitterness and acidity from the lemon slices, that worked so well and cuts through the goats curd. My wife is not normally a fan of artichoke, but she found a way to enjoy these ones. She thought their charred and smoky flavours worked brilliantly in this salad.         

Meat Fruit (c.1500): Mandarin, chicken liver & foie gras parfait, grilled bread - £16
Obviously, for entree, I ordered the Meat Fruit, which is one of Heston's most famous signature dishes. This was one of the most highly anticipated dishes from my entire trip. Did it deliver? Hells yes!

The detail on the mandarin is just incredible, from the shape and size of the fruit to the little dimples on the skin. I don't blame those from the Middle Ages (the era from which this dish was inspired from) for biting into this expecting it to be the real thing! 

Inside the meat fruit is a parfait made from a combination of chicken liver and foie gras. The serving is actually quite huge, so you end up slathering a heap of the parait onto the grilled bread. I was in raptures after my first bite. Best parfait ever! So smooth, so rich, so creamy, so yummy! Nothing better than parfait with a very crispy grilled bread! And the tanginess from the mandarin jelly works wonders with the parfait. A waiter brought over a second piece of grilled bread the moment I finished my bread, as if he had anticipated what my next request would be. Now that's service!

How can anything in this meal top the Meat Fruit? Believe me, it only gets better! 


Braised celery (c.1730): Parmesan, artichoke and smoked walnuts
In place of the 2 non-vegetarian options on the set menu, my wife had the braised celery course that appears on the normal menu for £24. If there is another vegetable that my wife has an aversion to, it is celery. So how would she be able to enjoy a celery dish?  Easy, get Heston to come up with the recipe and magic is bound to happen! The celery had none of that raw celery taste my wife doesn't like and was softened in vegetable braising juices. Each celery stick was topped with a delectable and rich Parmesan cheese sauce. The cheese sauce was gratinated and had a lovely golden brown and slightly crisp top. To balance out the richness and smooth texture of the cheese, there were cubes of apple, smoked walnuts, slices of pickled candy beetroot and a dressing of walnut vinaigrette. This course was certainly a welcome change from all those carb-based vegetarian options out there at other restaurants (such as pasta, risotto, potato gnocchi).

Black foot pork chop (c.1820): Spelt, ham hock, turnip & Robert sauce -  £30
I was not sure what to order for main, so our waitress recommended the Black foot pork chop. She did such a good sell that I ordered it despite never ordering pork chop in a restaurant. When this dish was brought to our table, it was so incredibly fragrant, that even my vegetarian wife commented that the dish smelt amazing.  

My first bite into that pork chop with that Robert Sauce and my taste buds were delighted and my mind was blown away! The pork chop was perfectly cooked, not the slightest bit dry or tough (one of my fears wit pork chop) and was really tender. The caramelisation of the pork chop gave the meat some incredible flavour! And that Robert sauce, wow! This dish is all about that sauce and how perfectly it complements the pork chop. I have no idea who Robert is, but this Careme-inspired sauce has the most superb depth of flavour. The sauce is made from a reduced and concentrated pork stock and had a slight sweetness from caramelised onions and acidity from mustard. I just need more of this sauce, I could have jugs of it!

The pork chop also came with a fragrant mushroom spelt risotto, which was nice enough, but it didn't matter as almost anything would have tasted good with the pork chop.

Fries - £4.75
We also ordered a side of fries at my wife's insistence as she is obsessed with all things potato. These are not Heston's signature triple cooked chips, but are good enough to satisfy my wife's cravings.    


Sambocade (c.1390): Goats milk cheese cake, elderflower & fig
My wife's dessert course in her set menu was the Sambocade, an early English cheese cake from the Middle Ages. First of all, I loved the presentation of this course - the charcoal powder on the side of the cheese cake made it look like a block of goats cheese.

This is just a plain old, boring cheese cake, right? Wrong. I don't think I can recall a better cheese cake (maybe the cheese cake at Waku Ghin compares). The cheese cake was amazingly light and the goats cheese flavour was very pleasant and not overpowering. There was a runny centre of apple and elderflower which provided a strong textural contrast to the creamy cheese cake. And love the sweetness of sticky roasted figs.        

My wife ordered the matching wine for this course, which was a 2012 Moscato d-Asti Bricco Quaglia from La Spinetta in Piedmont, Italy (£7.50). Neither of us are wine connoisseurs, but we pronounce this as the best food-wine pairing! The Moscato had a nice sweetness without being syrupy and the honey notes were a perfect complement to the goats cheese. I don't normally see how wine can enhance the flavour of food, but this pairing showed me how it can be done.

Tipsy cake (c.1810): Spit roast pineapple - £13
And onto my dessert, tipsy cake, which is the signature dessert of Dinner by Heston. As you walk into the restaurant, you can see the pineapples they use in this dish being spit roasting in the open kitchen. The flavour of the warm pineapple was superb. The rich, sticky, golden coloured pineapple had an intense sweet and caramelised flavour that goes so well with the tipsy cake. One spoonful of the tipsy cake, which was a warm, fluffy brioche soaked in custard and brandy, was enough to send me into raptures (again). It was incredibly moreish and I loved the ka-pow of the brandy, which surprised me at first. This was the most freaking delicious bread and butter pudding you will ever find!          

Like a kid at the ice cream store: ice cream being churned right before our eyes
It was as if I wasn't having enough fun already, then one of the waitresses comes over and asks whether we would be interested in having liquid nitrogen ice cream! Did you even need to ask, of course I would!

After a little bit of a wait, another waiter trolleys over this device, which is a custom built device for churning liquid nitrogen ice cream. Wow, how cool is this! According to our waiter, this is one of two such devices in the world. 

The way this works is as follows: you pour in the ice cream mixture, then you pour in the liquid nitrogen and crank the wheel to churn the ice cream and voila, ice cream is made! You then get to choose a topping from freeze dried raspberries, hundreds and thousands, hazelnut and apple popping candy to enjoy with your ice cream on a cone. Watching this spectacle take place made me feel like a kid choosing their favourite ice cream from an ice cream van.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream - £7.50 each
The liquid nitrogen ice cream was quite amazing. The flavour of the ice cream was traditional British custard and vanilla. The ice cream was soft, smooth, creamy and so delicious! The topping I chose was apple popping candy, which were delightfully fun, and my wife chose hazelnut. The ice cream cone was thin, crisp and coated in sugar. And once you get to the bottom of the cone, there is a little treat in store: a little scoop of stewed apples.

Petit four
To conclude the meal, we had a petit four of Earl Grey infused chocolate and caraway biscuit. Seriously one of the best petit fours ever! The ganache had an amazing and complex flavour profile of bergamot, black tea and the dark chocolate, with had a perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness.  

What a way to end our gastronomic trip through Europe! Our meal at Dinner by Heston absolutely blew my mind away! I did not expect this meal to be this amazing going in. How exciting could a 3-course menu really be? I felt the same type of buzz and excitement as I would after an outstanding degustation menu at a 3-Michelin star restaurant. The food was absolutely incredible, the service was top-notch and there were theatrics, what more could you ask for!

Many people have asked me whether Fat Duck or Dinner by Heston is better. I don't think you can really compare them as they both offer different experiences. If I was to recommend one of them to other people, I would be more likely to suggest Dinner. Not only is it much easier to book, it is a much more accessible dining experience with less fuss and just dishes out damn good food in a relaxed environment. Don't get me wrong, Fat Duck is mighty fine; it's just that I would recommend Fat Duck to just the most dedicated of foodies, given its £195 price tag.

Finally, there may be reason for us all to rejoice as there are rumours floating around that Heston could be coming to our shores. Heston is rumoured to open a restaurant in the Crown Complex in Melbourne where his great buddy, Neil Perry, is the culinary director. Nothing has been announced, so it is pure speculation at this point. Heston has already expressed interest in the past in rolling out the Dinner by Heston format to other countries, so perhaps Australia will be first country Dinner by Heston (or similar) will open outside the UK. Definitely one to keep an eye out for!

Highlight: It is impossible to pick a favourite dish. I adored Meat Fruit, my pork chop main, the Tipsy Cake and the liquid nitrogen ice cream. I think I just named all my dishes! 
Lowlight: This meal marked the end of my delicious Euro trip.    
Overall: Dinner by Heston's historical British menu will wow your taste buds like no other. Plus you will experience the theatrics you come to expect from a Heston restaurant. Best three-course meal ever! 9.5/10 (Outstanding)

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Address: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
Contact no: +44(0)20 7201 3833

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

For more posts about my food adventures during my trip through Europe, click on the following link:

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Fish Shop, Potts Point

In today's post, I would like to tell you about where I go to satisfy my burger cravings. No it's not Chur Burger (although they make a pretty mean cheeseburger) and it is certainly not Maccas. It's a place that you may not suspect... a the Fish Shop.  

The Fish Shop is part of the Merivale group and is another one of their themed venues. The decor is somewhat tacky and resembles a beach side fish and chips store (even the bathrooms are labelled as buoys and gulls!). They serve all sorts of fresh seafood and have a hatted chef in Jeremy Strode behind the stoves, but I am here for their burgers, which seems a bit wrong. Don't worry I had their burgers on separate occasions, not all in one seating!

The "Buoys" and "Gulls" WC
The burgers

Dan’s famous cheeseburger ($18)
Yes I ordered a cheeseburger at a fish and chips store. This isn't just any ordinary cheeseburger, it's one of the best in Sydney! This burger is named after its creator, Dan Hong, Merivale's poster boy chef, and this burger is his legacy following the closure of Merivale's Lotus Restaurant at this same venue. This burger is almost legendary and has a strong legion of fans, so it has to be avaliable at this site.

Inside the cheeseburger
Dan's famous cheeseburger is the bomb and is packed with flavour that's waiting to explode in your mouth! Encased within a soft, fluffy bun is a medium rare beef patty that is juicy and full of real flavour. To go with this patty there's melted American cheese, crispy and smoky bacon, grilled onions, pickles, mayo and ketchup. It was over too quickly, so I think I could have two of these!

The burger also comes with a decent side of hot chips.

Crumbed fish, bacon & chilli burger ($19)
Not far behind the cheeseburger in awesomeness is Fish Shop's fish burger. This burger comes with a crumbed fillet of flaky blue eye fish that is actually crispy served in a soft, fluffy bun. Japanese mayo is the best type of mayo for its umaminess. I have never seen bacon or chillies in a fish burger but I adore their addition as they made the burger more tasty and interesting. Like the cheeseburger, I could have two of these!

The fish burger also comes with a side of hot chips.

Inside the fish burger

There is only a small and simple offering of desserts at Fish Shop. I have tried all of them except the pineapple sorbet and grilled pineapple. Here's what I thought of the other desserts.

Ice cream sandwich & salted caramel ($9.50)
Who doesn't like ice cream sandwiches? I certainly do! Just love 2 slightly chewy cookies with a slab of mascarpone parfait wedged in between. This one also had crunch cocoa nibs in the cookie. The sandwich was drizzled with a sticky salted caramel sauce. It was nicely salted but I would have liked more of the sauce to go with the sandwich. At $9.50, there are certainly cheaper alternatives out there from Pat and Stick's and Kakawa.

Fried banana split & palm sugar sauce ($9.50)
This banana split arrived at my table and was not what I expected. There was no whipped cream or glace cherry on sight. Just a couple of tiny fritters from a sliced banana and a solitary scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with palm sugar sauce. Whilst I like the flavour of warm bananas with ice cream and palm sugar, there was just too much batter compared to banana. I ended up scraping off most of the batter and eating around it. I don't think this was worth the $9.50 price tag.

I have not tried any of the "proper" seafood options on the menu yet because I am always drawn to the burgers. The cheese and fish burgers at Fish Shop are two of the better burger options in Sydney in my opinion. They may cost a bit more than your average burger, but what you will get is a flavoursome burger with quality ingredients that are not crammed with an excessive amount of ingredients. If anyone is in need of desserts, you might want to consider other options nearby as desserts are not really what Fish Shop is about.  

The Fish Shop
Address: 22 Challis Ave, Potts Point NSW 2011
Contact no: 02 9326 9000

The Fish Shop on Urbanspoon


J's double cheeseburger
I don't usually talk about homemade food, but since I am in the mood to talk about burgers, here's something extra. This glorious burger is a double cheeseburger that my little bro made for me today. Just look at that melty cheese! I think my heart just skipped a beat...

Inside the double cheeseburger
This burger is not your usual double cheeseburger with 2 slices of cheese. Instead when you bite into this burger, cheese comes OOZING out of the patty. Yes, the cheese is inside the burger! The patty was topped with caramelised onions, slices of roast beef and another slice of melted cheese. My brother tells me drench the burger with gravy for more meaty flavour and then tuck in. I also had some coleslaw on the side to freshen up my palate for the next bite. Gravy was running down my hands and this may be the messiest burger I will ever eat, but the burger was certainly tasty. Thanks man! I will be around when you make this behemoth again.