Saturday, 29 March 2014

Pei Modern, Melbourne - 6 March 2014

During our last night in Melbourne, my colleagues and I decided to try Pei Modern, which came highly recommended to me. Pei Modern is noted Sydney chef Mark Best's first foray onto Melbourne's dining scene. Pei Modern offers a much more casual dining experience compared to Best's flagship restaurant, Marque. Pei Modern is a modern bistro with a menu that has been designed to make the best use out of market fresh, seasonal ingredients. Pei Modern is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is located in the forecourt of the Sofitel Hotel.  

Pei Modern has its fair share of accolades including one chef hat and Best New Restaurant of 2013 from The Age Good Food Guide, and ranked 29th in Australian Gourmet Traveller 2014 Australian Restaurant Guide. 

Mark Best describes the food at Pei Modern as “the food I’d eat at home”.  If the food is good enough for a top chef, then I am sure it is good enough for me, so bring it on!

Salt cod croquettes ($13.50 for 4)
What better way is there to start off the evening than to have some fancy fish fingers. I do love a good croquette and these salt cod croquettes really hit the spot.  They were crispy and didn't feel too greasy. And they came with a nice tartare sauce and a sprig of dill. 

Tomato carpaccio & scallop ($21)
For entree we decided to share the tomato carpaccio and scallops. This is my kind of entree: simple, fresh, light and nice balance of flavours. The scallops were thinly sliced and lightly seared to give the scallops a nice smokey flavour that goes so well with the lightness and sweetness of the scallop. I am a tomato addict and there were an assortment of tomatoes on display, so this course was demolished in no time!     

Spanish mackerel, clams & samphire ($38)
For main course, I decided on the Spanish Mackerel, clams and samphire. Again, I loved the simple presentation of this course and how all the components of this dish are so well cooked and come together to make a great dish. The Spanish Mackerel is not my usual preferred fish, as it is firm fleshed and often comes out dry, but I quite enjoyed this one as the flesh was still reasonably moist. I loved the clams! They were sweet, salty and succulent little things! But for me its the buttery, garlicky sauce that brings the whole dish together. And the samphire adds saltiness and texture to the dish. 

Dobson's chips ($10)
And as a side, we decided to go for a customary bowl of chips. But what we didn't expect was how amazing Dobson's chips were going to be. My colleague described these as "the best chips"! And I described these as tasting like "real potatoes" then a discussion about hot chips ensued. Don't all chips use real potatoes? These chips ticked all the boxes: crisp on the outside, piping hot, fluffy potato on the inside and the skins left on, the tastiest part of a potato.      

Leaf salad ($10)
We also ordered a customary bowl of salad. The leaf salad was fresh, crisp and well dressed with vinegar and olive oil.

Sauternes custard & crostoli ($17)
For dessert, I decided to go with Sauternes custard, which is a Mark Best signature at Marque. The difference is that he serves it in an egg shell with its top neatly cut off at Marque and you get a whole bowl of custard here. There is quite a big whack of alcohol from Sauternes, but the custard is incredibly smooth and creamy. It was also really moreish, and so tasty when you dip the crispy crostoli into it.       

Overall, the service at Pei Modern was excellent throughout the night and the food was great, of course.  And it wasn't overly expensive either. The meal worked out to be just over $60per person and considering the quality of the food, I thought it was great value. I will definitely be making Pei Modern a regular fixture in my Melbourne trips, just like Cecconi's.  

Highlight: Dobson's chips are the best chips in town! 
Lowlight: Dark, noisy venue. And white plastic seats are not the most ergonomic.  
Overall: Pei Modern is Mar Best's take on the "Parisian bistronomy". The menu focuses on great produce, well balanced flavours and food that is simply done. Definitely worth checking out if you are in Melbourne. 7.5/10 (Great)

Pei Modern
Address: 45 Collins St, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Contact no: 03 9654 8545

Pei Modern on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Picada, Balmain East - 14 March 2014

Located conveniently near Balmain East Wharf is a new restaurant, Picada. Picada is opened by 2 chefs who worked previously at the 1-hatted restaurant Catalina, Vladimir Alemany and Roberto Araneda. Picada serves modern Australian food using flavours from their Latin American heritage.

Picada is located in a great spot for a date night. It's far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the CBD, but still a synch to get to. Just hop on a ferry from Circular Quay or Darling Harbour and you can enjoy a nice ferry ride across the harbour with some great views, which is something that I often take for granted being a Sydneysider.

Picada is located in a heritage listed building on Darling St. The trek to the restaurant is on an uphill slope; just be thankful that the walk to the ferry after dinner is downhill :) There are two dining rooms at Picada and my wife and I were taken up a narrow, steep staircase to a small, cosy room that could barely fit 8 tables or so. 

It turns out that this is the room where they are putting all the "voucher diners". We came tonight with a voucher from Ouffer that gave us a 3-course meal each for $49 ($119 value according to the voucher). This is amazing value, in anyone's book!     

The menu at Picada consists of a large range of entrees and a much more compact offering of mains, sides and desserts. Instead of going down the traditional 3-course path, ordering a number of these entrees and having them as tapas is definitely a good option. As most of the menu consisted of dishes that had something written in Spanish, and given my limited knowledge of South American cuisine, our waitress practically had to explain the entire menu! She was more than happy to oblige and was friendly and helpful, definitely making it easier for me to decide what to order.

Our waitress did explain to us as we were dining on the Ouffer voucher, the ceviche and the garlic prawns are excluded from the menu. Anything else was fair game. We did encounter a little mishap at the end, more about this later.

To start off the evening, we were offered gazpacho as a starter. Chilled gazpacho is always a refreshing way to start off any meal, with tried and tested flavours of tomato and basil. The pepperiness of this gazpacho did catch me a little bit by surprise though. 


Pickled saffron scallops with salmorejo and basil oil (normally $16)
I chose this entree because I was intrigued by the pickled saffron scallops, something that I haven't seen before. What I enjoyed about this entree was that it tasted fresh and refreshing, livened up my taste buds and left me salivating for the next course. The pickled scallops were interesting and quite pleasant with its distinct flavour of saffron and nice amount of acidity. I had no idea what salmorejo was initially, but it is a puree made from tomato, bread, oil, garlic and vinegar. It tasted a lot like the gazpacho I had for starter, especially with the basil oil, but I wasn't really complaining since I am a self-confessed tomato addict!     

Ox heart tomato with house made crumbed burrata (normally $17)
My wife opted for the ox heart tomato with burrata for entree (the other vegetarian "more substantial" choice were the zucchini flowers). Yep, more tomato. And more basil. But the star of this dish is the burrata, which was, to our surprise, crumbed and deep fried! The innards of this crisp ball of cheese, was warm, creamy and stretchy. So delicious and so evil!


The main selection was concise with a fish, a beef, a pork and a risotto dish. 

Char grilled angus sirloin with caramelised onion puree and papa rellena (normally $30)
I went for this main not for the sirloin but for the papa rellena, another item that I had never heard of. Our waitress explained that it is a Peruvian dish consisting of mashed potato with gooey cheese inside, which was rolled up into a ball, crumbed and deep fried! It turns out this was the star of my dish. You will be in for a treat, as long as you are not on Weight Watchers!

As I always do, I asked for the steak to be cooked medium-rare. It was more medium than medium-rare, but sirloin was well-seasoned and had great flavours. The onion puree had a subtle sweetness, whilst the chimichurri was punchy and spicy.

Tomato risotto (normally $26)
My wife had tomato risotto, as this was the sole vegetarian main option. More tomato, basil and cheese so not much more needs to be said about the flavours.


Corn on the cob with chipotle butter ($8)
I love corn on the cob slathered with melted butter, so I ordered some as a side. The corn kernels were crisp, juicy and sweet.The butter had an extra kick of spice from chipotle.


Picada has a simple offering for desserts with a chocolate mousse tart, creme brulee tart, churros and affogato. We decided to share the churros and the creme brulee tart. 

Churros with dulce de leche (normally $12)
The churros were the first thing that jumped out at me when I scanned the dessert menu. I enjoyed Picada's churros. They were crisp, not doughy and didn't taste oily. The dulche de leche, a sweetened, caramelised milk dip, was just addictive.

Creme brulee tart (normally $12)
Picada's creme brulee tart is not your traditional creme brulee. It was essentially vanilla cream set inside a tart case and topped with shards of toffee. The acidity of the passion fruit puree went well with the creaminess of the tart.

After an enjoyable meal, we asked for the bill knowing that we had to rush for the ferry home. If we missed this one, we would have had to wait another hour! As we were about to settle the bill, our waitress rushed over to our table and tried to add the cost of the burrata entree to our bill, supposedly because this was one of the dishes excluded from the Ouffer deal. This was certainly news to us and we were definitely not told this. After she consulted a manager about this, luckily they decided not add this to our bill. So just a little mishap, and perhaps miscommunication (I checked my voucher later and it did not list the burrata as one of the exclusions); hopefully these sorts of issues will get ironed out, because I am more than happy for a return visit to Picada.

Highlight: Deep fried goodness in the form of burrata and papa rellena. 
Lowlight: Some repetition of flavours in several of the dishes, especially tomato and basil.
Overall: I am surprised that Picada has not been talked about more. The food here tastes great, with the flavours of the chefs' South American heritage clearly shining through. And well priced to for this type of establishment, at roughly $60 for 3 courses. 7/10 (Great)

Address: 55 Darling St, Balmain East NSW 2041
Contact no: (02) 9810 6351

Picada on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Foodie's Day Out at EQ Markets and Taste of Sydney 2014

It was a glorious day yesterday (well at least in the morning and early afternoon) so we were looking forward to a foodie's day out at Taste of Sydney. My wife had won free tickets from Vivian of When the World Stops Spinning (thanks Vivian!). She has a habit of winning free tickets to Taste and hopefully she will keep this streak intact. Admittedly the Taste of Sydney event is not the best value for money, with admission being $30 and you also need to purchase crowns for the food and drinks ($1 = 1 crown). But Taste is a good opportunity to try a lot of different food from leading restaurants. And it is great place to chill out and have a few drinks. I wore my extra-loose pants today, because I was going to be doing a lot of pigging out :)     

Patisse at EQ Markets
Address: 122 Lang Rd, Moore Park NSW 2021

We got to Centennial Park a bit early, so we decided to wander around the EQ Village Markets at the Entertainment Quarters. This was our first time at this fine producer market and after a quick browse around, we headed for Patisse, which as I will find out, is a slice of Paris in Sydney. Patisse is a cooking school in Chippendale and cater for events. It's a shame that they closed down their cafe, so the easiest way to try their pastries is at the EQ Markets. I was also slightly disappointed to find out that Frenchman and lady-charmer Vincent Gadan is no longer at Patisse (he is now at Via del Corso in Level 5, Westfield Sydney). The executive chef is now Aren Edye. Will the pastries be as good?

Savoury muffin ($5.50)
Really, we had nothing to worry about! This savoury muffin was to die for! There was feta, pumpkin, spinach and corn. It was really moist inside, it was buttery, it was cheesy - we were salivating over it with each bite. This was the best savoury muffin I have had in a very long time!

Flan Parisien ($6.50)
Another absolutely delectable pastry! This baked custard tart was so delicious! The custard was sublime: smooth, eggy and loaded with vanilla. And the pastry was flakey and buttery. I could definitely eat several of these flans!

Chocolate eclair ($6.50)
We devoured the muffin and flan in minutes and wanted more so we rushed back to the Patisse stall. The shopkeeper looked at us and gave us a smile, probably thinking we were nuts. We decided to get the chocolate eclair. The choux pastry was a little soggy from the chocolate cream filled inside, but I suppose the pastry can only be crisp if you eat it straight after it has been filled. But the chocolate cream was amazing, really amazing! Probably best not to think about the amount of sugar, cream, eggs and butter I had just eaten :)

Patisse on Urbanspoon

Free tickets in hand & crown card ready and loaded up with crowns
After our absolutely divine pastries at Patisse, we slowly wandered off to the Taste of Sydney visitors gates at the Brazilian fields. When we go there it had not opened yet and the staff resorted to rounding the crowds up like a herd of cattle rather than queuing. When the gates opened, everyone stormed in, empty stomachs and all and headed straight for the first food stall in sight. 

4Fourteen / Four in Hand
Address: 414 Bourke St, Surry Hills NSW 2010; 105 Sutherland St, Paddington NSW 2021

First stop for me, and conveniently located near the visitors entrance, was Colin Fassnidge's 4Fourteen / Four in Hand. Suckling pig is a signature of Colin Fassnidge (you will need to pre-order and a group of at least 10 if you want to have it at Four in Hand), so this stop was going to be all about suckling pig, as indicated by the pic above. I did cringe slightly at the sight of blood dripping from the pig and its tongue wagging from side to side as the pig rotated on the spit. Not for the faint hearted!

Suckling pig with smoked potato salad and crushed apple (12 crowns)
First of all, this was quite a sizeable portion for a dish at Taste of Sydney. Definitely a good one to share (obviously I couldn't given my wife is a vegetarian). The pork was really succulent and flavoursome. I enjoyed the meat strand by strand. Sharing the plate with the chunks of suckling pig meat was, no prizes for guessing, apple and a nice smoked potato salad.

4Fourteen on Urbanspoon

Address: 79 Elliott St, Balmain NSW 2041

Next stop is Efendy, a popular Turkish restaurant in Balmain that I have never been to. When I saw lamb testicles on the menu I didn't know what to think. On one hand I was curious, and on the other hand I was slightly revolted at the thought of eating the gonads of a lamb. I like to think of myself as open minded when it comes to food, but lamb balls really test me. In the end I decided to take the challenge to see what they actually taste like, for the good of my blog.

Panfried lamb testicles, almond tarator, isot chili (10 crowns)
So what do lamb balls taste like? They taste like chicken! Seriously, they tasted like chicken sausages. The flavour of the testicles was actually quite mild. They had a soft and slightly springy texture, which reminded me of sausages. The creamy, garlicky almond tarator went well with the testicles. If you don't remind yourself that you are eating testicles, you will probably enjoy the dish. I hear that the lamb testicles were quite popular and sold out. Guess there were other curious folk like me...

Efendy Restaurant | meze bar on Urbanspoon

Address: 50 McLachlan Ave, Rushcutters Bay NSW 2010

Whilst I was eating the lamb balls, my wife ventured off to Popolo (probably because she was grossed out at the thought of eating the testicles of another animal). Popolo, a one-hatted Italian restaurant in Rushcutter's Bay, along with Aki's, are the top spots for vegetarians at Taste. Popolo is always on my wife's list at Taste.

Pasta strips cooked two ways, chickpeas, pecorino mousse (10 crowns)
I did not try any of this dish but my wife tells me that she enjoyed it. It came with 2 thick ribbons of pasta, one fried and once boiled. The pecorino mousse was yummy apparently.

Popolo on Urbanspoon 

Address: 69 Bynya Road, Palm Beach NSW 2108

My wife's next stop was Jonah's of Palm Beach, which I have heard has the best views at a Sydney restaurant. Definitely sounds like a nice place to go for a special occasion. Jonah's wins the prize for most expensive dish at Taste with Jonah's 'Fruit de Mer' - oysters, kingfish, crab salad, confit salmon, king prawns, scallops (40 crowns). I know it has a lot of different seafood, but if I was going to spend this sort of money, I would rather do it at the restaurant.

Buttermilk mousse, hazelnut & oat granola, strawberry & lime (6 crowns)
Any way, my wife decided to have their dessert option, buttermilk mousse, hazelnut & oat granola, strawberry & lime. This may have been a smallish serving given it was 6 crowns, but it was rather delicious. Who doesn't enjoy strawberry and cream?

Jonah's on Urbanspoon 

Address: 358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills NSW 2010

I am back at Porteno, but not the restaurant again (click here my previous Porteno encounter at the Sydney Cellar Door). The tattooed chefs and owners, Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz, were on hand to barbeque all kinds of animals. Pictured above are whole lambs cooking over a woodfire, which was a Taste Icon Dish weighing in at 20 crowns.

Charcoal grilled Entrana, wagyu skirt steak with BBQ peppers & chimichurri (12 crowns)
I decided to go the wagyu skirt steak and I couldn't be happier. This was by far and away, the BEST dish at Taste of Sydney! I was absolutely blown away by the flavours of this dish. Combine skirt, which is one of the tastiest cuts of steak, with the spices from chimichurri and the soft and extra-sweet BBQ peppers, you have a dish that is just divine. I really ought to drag myself to the actual restaurant to get the full experience!

PorteƱo on Urbanspoon

Sakenet Australia
Fig sake (10 crowns)

Time for a drink break! My wife and I are big fans of sake and shochu, so we decided to stop by Sakenet, an online store selling sake and shochu (obviously). Fig sake (ichijiku Queen, Takaisami) is not something that we have tried before, so we decided to give it a go. I really enjoyed it and is something different from the more commonly used, plum. Definitely considering getting a bottle of this!

Chow Bar & Eating House
Address: 320 Crown St, Surry Hills NSW 2010

Next stop is at Chow Bar & Eating House, which is a casual Chinese eats and drinks house occupying the old Bentley site in Surry Hills,  to try the dish that was awarded Best in Taste by the critics, beggar's chicken. It was good to see Chui Lee Luk (ex-Claude's owner and executive chef) there manning the stall.

Beggar's chicken, silken lemon tofu, vinegar red peanuts (12 crowns)
So was the beggar's chicken the best dish at Taste of Sydney? Probably not but it was pretty tasty. The chicken was moist, smoky and had nice spices. Sharing the plate with the chicken was pickled cabbage, red peanuts and a wonderful silken lemon tofu.

Pandan & wattleseed doughnut (8 crowns)
My wife was intrigued by the sound of pandan & wattleseed doughnut. The doughnut came as a ball of fried dough that was filled with pandan custard and wattleseeds and sprinkled with cinnamon. The inside of the doughnut was nice and fluffy and the doughnut didn't taste too oily either. The pandan custard was not too "pandany" and really, really moreish. Yum!

Chow Bar and Eating House on Urbanspoon

Edible Bug Shop

I am getting quite full by this stage and my search for desserts takes me to Edible Bug Shop in the Country Kitchen section for some gelato. Yes, that's creepy crawly ice cream! I am up for trying most things (including lamb balls) so why not! After listening to the shopkeeper explain the health benefits and flavour profile of bugs, I decided to go for the most "appetising" sounding flavour, pistachio and chocolate crickets. For some reason, I don't find eating ants to be particularly appealing.

Pistachio & chocolate cricket gelato (8 crowns)
This was actually a really pleasant gelato! Pistachio is always a winner and the chocolate coated crickets were crunchy and had a nutty flavour.  

So that's all my stomach could fit! I was satisfied with the range of dishes that I got to try, especially Porteno's skirt steak, and as we were down 90 dollars, it was time to head home. There were a number of dishes that I wanted to try but didn't get around to such as the hay smoked chicken legs from Biota (12 crowns), the wagyu rossini with shaved foie gras, truffle & Madeira jus from Chur Burger (18 crowns) and crispy king prawns from Longrain (12 crowns). Will need to use social media to find out more about those!    

You might have noticed that this post was rather meaty as 95% of the dishes at Taste were meat-based. I would like to see a few more vegetarian options outside of desserts next year. But as Homer Simpson once said, "you don't win friends with salad", so I don't think this will change anytime soon.

Taste of Sydney
Dates: 13 - 16 March 2014
Address: Brazilian fields, Centennial Park NSW 2021