Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Taste of... The Dairy at InterContinental Sydney

Hotel restaurants aren't necessarily top of mind when dining out as a local, but after sampling the A Taste of... menu at Cafe Opera in the InterContinental Sydney recently, it seems I've overlooked the fact that five-star hotels have five-star restaurants too.

InterContinental Sydney's executive chef Tamas Pamer likes to think the restaurant merely sits within a hotel rather than being a hotel restaurant, and initiatives like the A Taste of... themed dinners promoting local Australian produce push this line.

Canapes for A Taste of... launch at Cafe Opera, InterContinental Hotel, Macquarie Street, Sydney
Until 30 April 2014, it's A Taste of... The Dairy, featuring cheeses and milk products from a range of local producers. Certainly not for the lactose-intolerant, this is a bit a heaven for cheese lovers, especially when matched with local wines.

As a launch event, we were treated to canapes that aren't normally a part of the three- or five-course degustation: creative dairy-focused morsels like seaweed crackers with ricotta and Yarra Valley salmon caviar whipped up by Pamer and his buddy and executive sous chef Julien Poteau.

Executive Chef Tamas Pamer (right) and Executive Sous Chef Julien Poteau (left)
Both of European backgrounds (Pamer is German while Poteau is French), both chefs were very complimentary of Australian dairy produce and produce generally, noting that Australian producers don't have the customer support and associated financial backing of European producers.

This is part of the reason that the InterContinental Sydney strongly supports local producers in events like the A Taste of... dinners and throughout the hotel's food offerings. It makes sense that a tourist staying in the hotel might like to be enlightened as to our fantastic local produce, as well as us locals too.

Table settings for the A Taste of... The Dairy degustation
We were treated with dining in Cafe Opera's ambient private room, differentiating the degustation experience from the restaurant's usual buffet offering.

G.H. Mumm Champagne
We started on Mumm Champagne with the canapes, which is as lovely a way to start a meal as there is.

Pepe Saya butter and bread
At the table, we were delighted to find large, drilled out, smooth river stones at each setting, filled with Pepe Saya butter and re-labelled with the brand's signature sticker.

Some of our country's best cultured butter doesn't taste much better served in a rock - it's so good anyway, slathered thickly onto a crusty seeded bread roll, that I managed to get through most of my stone's serve.

Logan Vintage 'M" Cuvee
Following champagne, our first course was matched with the Logan Vintage 'M' Cuvee; a sparkling blend of equal parts chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier from Orange.

Gorgeously coppery in colour with a nice, dry palate, it was described as an adventurous wine pairing with our first course of cured trout.

Beetroot cured trout, fromage frais, chive, pickled cucumber
It was a stunning dish to look at featuring a beet red-tinted block of firm ocean trout resting in a verdant pool of creamy chive puree.

On top was a cute pink meringue wafer, flavoured with a native peach, sandwiching fresh, herbed fromage frais from Pokolbin's Binnorie Dairy.

Together, the sweet meringue, creamy fromage frais and salty cuts of ocean trout were delightfully light, making for a sophisticated layering of unexpectedly complementary flavours.

Jannei goat milk pudding, young pine needle, caramelised turnip, buckwheat
Our next course was of the nature-mimicking food trend that's popular in many restaurants now. Served in a jar was a forest floor-like crunchy mixture of puffed buckwheat and blitzed, crisped porcini mushrooms, hiding juicy cubes of soft, caramelised turnip.

It all came topped with a foamy pudding of Jannei goat's milk from a farm near Oberon and then crisp young pine needles; the distinct flavour of the goat's milk lifting the rest of the dish's mostly crunchy, brown components.

The savoury pudding was served with Polin & Polin John Rook's Rose; an amazingly dry, even savoury, rose from the Hunter Valley.

Butter milk roasted Barossa chicken, chestnut mushroom, potato maxim, cheddar emulsion
To the main meal we were presented with a spectacular composition of chicken that definitely took it out of boring poultry territory.

The golden-skinned breast portion featured an artistically layered stuffing between juicy chicken flesh which was roasted in Pepe Saya butter milk, joined by a myriad of accompaniments on the plate.

Butter milk roasted Barossa chicken, chestnut mushroom, potato maxim, cheddar emulsion
There was a Pyengana cheddar foam atop deep fried enoki mushrooms, braised chestnut mushrooms, little roasted potato silos and the crisp potato maxim ring that pretty much tasted like chips.

There wasn't a dull moment to be had with this Barossa chook, served with Montrose Stony Creek Chardonnay from the Mudgee region.

Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Cabernet Sauvignon
The spicy Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Cabernet Sauvignon from Orange came out with the cheese course in a stunning Plumm decanter.

In fact, the InterContinental Sydney now uses the full range of Plumm glassware throughout the hotel in another significant vote of support for Australian brands and producers.

Baked Reblochon (The Mountain Man), confit fig, walnut bread
The cheese course was easily my favourite featuring an organic French-style cheese by Victoria's L'Artisan Cheese Timboon called The Mountain Man, made in a French Alps Reblochon fashion.

A whole wheel of the cow's milk washed rind cheese was baked and served at the table, in its full oozing, stringing cheese glory.

Serving the baked Reblochon
This glory also made it into a goodie bag to take home - pretty much the best goodie bag ever, with a whole wheel of The Mountain Man cheese, plus Pepe Saya butter and crème fraîche, the lush Country Valley natural yoghurt and a mini loaf of brioche.

Baked Reblochon (The Mountain Man), confit fig, walnut bread
Baking the cheese seemed to reduce much of the washed rind's stinkiness, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The gooey melted cheese was simply divine with the sweet, yielding half fig while the toasted twig of walnut-studded bread was the perfect finishing touch.

Brie custard, apple, thyme honey, brioche, macadami
While the cheese could have been the end for me, the proper dessert course was one I'm unlikely to ever encounter again: a pot of thick, warm custard made of L'Artisan brie cheese, with lumps of the cheese's skin even.

The creaminess and slight saltiness of the cheese were apparent, highlighted against soft cooked apple, caramelised macadamia nuts and honey. The ice cream on the side consisted of Country Valley milk from Picton, cooked down to a dulce de leche state to form the sweet, milky ice cream.

Dessert was matched with the Small Acres Cyder Pommeau which is a fortified cider from the state's central west, though its potent taste makes it more like an apple brandy.

House made Easter eggs
We ended the amazing meal with house made dark chocolate Easter eggs, not part of the usual offering but so deliciously timely.

As a Sydney-sider I've got limited experience of our high end hotels from a guest point of view, but given a taste of what the InterContinental Sydney and Cafe Opera have to offer - a fine dining atmosphere and interesting, relevant produce on the plates - the A Taste of... concept has a unique drawcard for locals and tourists alike.

The Taste of... The Dairy dinners are on until 30 April 2014 at Cafe Opera. It will be followed by A Taste of... Head to Tail and Forest Foraging, respectively, in later months this year. Bookings are essential - see here for more details.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Cafe Opera at the InterContinental Hotel as a guest, with thanks to Pulse Communications.

Cafe Opera on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sydney Royal Easter Show 2014 - a quick look

It's been years - perhaps getting close to 10 years, if not more - since I went to the Sydney Royal Easter Show in Olympic Park.

I'm one of those who reminisce about the good ol' days of the Show in Moore Park, but I had to share this very quick post about this year's Show. It's unbelievably large and pretty awesome.

A friendly goat at the Farmyard Nursery at the Sydney Royal Easter Show,
Showground Road, Olympic Park
There is so much to see and do that I think one full day doesn't actually cover it. The larger showgrounds have made this possible with a 'something for everyone' ethos - and there's lots to enjoy.

Arm yourself with comfortable shoes, water, sun protection, clothing as it gets pretty chilly at sundown and the showground map, which is necessary to map out the hit list.

Central District display in the Fresh Food Dome
The Fresh Food Dome has always been the place to start for me. It was always my dad's first stop when we went as kids, and I think it may just have the slightest bit to do with my appreciation for food today.

Northern District display in the Fresh Food Dome
In its current form, the Fresh Food Dome combines the regional districts' fruit, vegetable and grain displays with a more commercially-minded food stall exhibition part and cooking demonstrations.

Natural oysters in the Fresh Food Dome
Packed as it was, I managed a sample of tomato soup with a cheese toastie and a half dozen of natural Sydney rock and Pacific oysters for morning tea in the Fresh Food Dome.

For the kids, and the kids within, the Show is about animals, games and rides - in about that order. There are plenty of horses on show, as well as cats, dogs, sheep, pigs and an entire pavilion dedicated to alpacas, if you can believe.

Walking a small, shaggy Suri alapaca on a leash was right up there with my highlights of the day.

Food Farm pavilion
The Farmyard Nursery is just about the most fantastic thing I remember from the Easter Show in recent history.

Not only does its entrance cleverly force children and all through the Food Farm pavilion where they learn about where various food items come from, it's just a spectacular experience and logistical feat.

Petey Pie beef pie from inside the Food Farm

Farmyard Nursery
The Farmyard Nursery is a huge, open space where goats, sheep, lambs, chickens and even a dog roam free amongst Show-goers. An inclusion as part of the Show entry, it's like a pimped up petting zoo and I, probably like most city folk, have never experienced anything like it.

With $1 cups of feed for sale, it's a frenzy of feeding activity with smiles all round. Kids are happily petting and timidly feeding while the animals are most certainly enjoying the abundance of food. Indeed, most of the farmyard animals looked rather plump.

Chickens hatching from eggs

Feeding lamb
The best feeling would have to be the feel of tongues on your hand as goats and sheep inhaled their feed straight from hands, large or small. The cow's tongue was probably less pleasant but hilarious nonetheless.

Watch for the larger, slightly more aggressive animals - like some of the goats with horns - while keeping in mind not to chase or catch the animals, despite how silky soft the chickens' feathers are.

Carnival section
There are plenty of rides and sideshow games on offer as always, ready to swap your dollars for use-challenged toys, but then, it's not the Easter Show without a game of the Laughing Clowns. Some things just don't change.

See more photos on my Facebook page.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chill-out Sunday session at Café del Mar Sydney

Café del Mar, Rootop Terrace, Cockle Bay, Sydney
Café del Mar is synonymous with chill-out music, beach parties and Mediterranean glamour – and it's now here for Sydney-siders to enjoy. Opened late last year on the rooftop terrace at Cockle Bay Wharf, Café del Mar Sydney is a more food-focused offering than its Ibiza party animal counterpart.

Rooftop balcony
While it's not quite a beachfront location, the rooftop terrace position offers a unique view of Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay. With the balcony facing the west, it's about the best we can do in terms of watching the sun set beyond the casino and other Pyrmont buildings.

Inside restaurant
In a nod to Café del Mar's Spanish heritage and the Sydney venue's food focus, they have appointed Miguel Maestre as a brand ambassador, while head chef Ben Fitton incorporates Mediterranean touches to the menu's share plates and mains which features Australian produce and the fun flavours that Sydney is known for.

Rojo tres red sangria
Seated on the edge of the outdoor balcony, the pitchers of house sangria from the outside bar were too much fun for a group of girls to pass up for a Sunday lunch.

With three of each red and white sangria variations, we started with the Rojo Tres – a deep red concoction of Ketel One Citroen vodka, Westend Tempranillo, saffron syrup, pomegranate, lime and a long sprig of rosemary.

Pretty and full of diverse flavours, the Rojo Tres was a nice start to lunch, and certainly not too strong on the boozy content.

Blanco uno white sangria
The second pitcher, the Blanco Uno was perfect for the warm afternoon, featuring St Germain elderflower liqueur, Square One Vodka, Richland sauvignon blanc, lemongrass syrup, cucumber and lime topped off with soda.

Bread and olive oil
Having decided to have a range of the share plates among four of us and plenty of chatter, we first dived into the complimentary sourdough bread and olive oil.

La Luna goat’s cheese, roasted baby beets, glazed pecans
For cheese lovers, there are cheese plate selections as well as the Holy Goat La Luna cheese in the share plate section of the menu.

Divine in its warmed, melted state atop toasted bread, the La Luna goat's cheese – some of our country's finest – was the absolute star while the salad of baby golden and red beets, frisee and other leaves, and sweetly glazed pecan nuts was extremely well matched.

Flash fried dusted baby prawns, jalapeño mayonnaise
We adored the deep fried school prawns in the short moments they survived; a bowl full of crisp, golden and well-seasoned, shell-on crustaceans, served with deep fried herb leaves and sliced chilli alongside a bitey jalapeño mayonnaise.

Devoured in their whole, crisp state with a squeeze of lime, school prawns done well like this are just about my favourite seafood starter.

Crispy cased Berkshire pig jowls, truffle mash
The pig jowl dish sounded too interesting to ignore, served as two crisp rolls split in half encasing pulled meat from Berkshire pigs' cheeks.

The "spring rolls" were oily, though considering a fatty cut of pig that's then deep fried, I shouldn't have expected any less.

Crispy cased Berkshire pig jowls, truffle mash
The truffle mash was a comfort, despite being a bit odd as part of a share plate. Indeed, something more refreshing to cut through the richness of the pork jowl may have reduced the dish's sense of gluttony.

Chilli salt & pepper squid, black ink, finger lime aioli
Café del Mar's jaw-dropper rendition of Sydney's favourite salt and pepper squid was impressive in both appearance and taste.

Chilli salt & pepper squid, black ink
Inky black on the surface, it was a bit of a scary proposition but the tender pieces of squid were anything but. The squid was livened up with sliced red chillies in a salt and pepper seasoning, with zingy finger lime aioli served alongside.

Chick pea and cumin crusted quail, shaved baby fennel, blood orange
The quail dish presented one plump quartered bird, deep fried in a chick pea and cumin batter.

Like a really fancy take on KFC, the medium-rare cooked quail was served on a sprightly salad of shaved baby fennel, blood orange segments and parsley; making for a fantastically fresh and moreish dish that was perfect for sharing between four.

Café del Mar-tini
We ended our lunch session with drinks in the sun, with my choice of the Café del Mar-tini serving well as a sweet dessert too.

Featuring Ciroc coconut vodka, pineapple, basil and lime, it was like a clean, fresh take on a piña colada with just as much sweetness as the original.

Outdoor balcony bar
With a DJ at the far end of the outdoor balcony, the music noticeably picked up in volume at about 2pm when Sunday Sessions commenced, with a less chilled and much more made/dressed-up crowd taking over the balcony.

Conversation became impossible at this point, especially when seated directly beneath an outdoor speaker, and people watching/gawking took over, which was a pretty chilled out way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Café del Mar Sydney front entrance
There are plans in train to open Café del Mar venues at other waterfront locations around Australia, but in the meantime, Café del Mar Sydney is the sunset, chill-out place to be.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Café del Mar Sydney with credit, with thanks to Agency G.

Cafe del Mar on Urbanspoon


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