Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On light ice

The temperamental weather in Sydney leaves no doubt in my mind, or all-weather catering tendencies, that climate change is doing something - I don't know what, but I don't remember summers like this as a kid.

The childhood memory of summer involves sunshine, bike rides, picnics in Centennial Park, outings to Darling Harbour and ice cream dripping down my arms. Always ice cream. It's no wonder I'm a bit of an ice cream fiend these days, but one must try to restrain the nostalgia a little, if only for the brain freeze. Saying that, I never got brain freeze as a kid because I couldn't eat ice cream that quickly; hence the sticky arms.

Red bean ice with sticky rice and green tea ice cream from
LNC Dessert House,
Sussex Street, Haymarket

In search of some refreshing sweetness one day finds us tripping down Sussex Street and directly to the last outdoor table at LNC Dessert House - an almost psychedelic Asian dessert establisment at the less bustling northern end of Chinatown, boasting colourful ices and ice creams, J-Pop (or was it K-Pop?), traditional sweets and even savoury snacks.

They've got it all for late night munchies, sweet tooth calling or any in-between meal really. And while that red bean ice with green tea ice cream isn't our order, it gives me insight as a first timer at LNC as to what's ahead of me. Initial thoughts: it looks watery. In the hot humidity of the afternoon, the melty, drippy trail of red bean ice down the table takes me back a few years(/decades).

Mango ice with mixed jellies, rice balls and mango sorbet

I'm a little taken aback with my vibrant mango ice choice - there's just so much going on although this shot doesn't show off the crazy multicoloured bean ball-like minature sticky rice balls, which were actually one of my favourite parts.

The beauty of this is that as much as I like ice cream, I can't consume three scoops of it. Furthermore, I don't like mixing my flavours - yes, I'm an ice cream separatist. However, this isn't mixing ice creams - genius! The bottom of the martini glass is filled with a mango flavoured ice slush that's not too sweet nor too heavy like two scoops could be.

And then there's jelly cubes to top it off: mango, some white one that could be vaguely coconut but maybe not, and the mildly bitter and medicinal grass jelly, which goes surprisingly well with mango ice slush. I'm a convert to this ice cream-mix-jelly-ice-hybrid-dessert-combination thing.

Black sesame ice with strawberry ice cream

We also order the contrastingly-hued black sesame ice - which pops with the creamy and strong taste of the black seeds, and is actually slightly milky with seed bits as opposed to the non-dairy, smooth mango ice - topped with a ball of speckled ruby strawberry ice cream that's utterly and pleasurably refreshing. I wouldn't have thought strawberry and black sesame as a matching combination, but this place just keeps surprising me.

The beauty of it all is that the ice is nowhere near as heavy or stomach-filling as ice cream or gelato. One could almost pretend that it was kind of healthy; if you squint and and turn your head in just the right way. And there's no melting stickiness running down your arms - sometimes it's good to be grown up.

LNC Dessert House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fish Friday in Martin Place

Fish are taking over Martin Place in Sydney!

Well, Fish Friday anyway, which will be on Friday, 18 February from 12.pm to 2.30pm in Martin Place in Sydney's CBD.
If you go by everyday, you would have noticed the construction of some sort of marquee over the past few days.

A school of chefs will take over in front of a sea of people and show off their skills with seafood from the Sydney Fish Markets. Jeff Turnbull (Aqua Dining), Max Lukeman (Nick’s Seafood), Stewart Wallace (Garfish) and Adam Lord (Coast) will be joined by chefs from Doyles at the Quay, who will be preparing a simple meal of fish for the general public.

Sydneysiders are invited to donate what they would usually spend on lunch to show solidarity with the millions of people in our world who rely on fish and rice as their staple diet.

Keen foodies are encouraged to place their bids for dishes created by Jeff, Max, Stewart & Adam in a special auction at 12.30pm. The top four bidders will be invited to sit down in Martin Place to enjoy their special seafood meal, and have the opportunity to chat with the chef who created it.

All proceeds will go to Caritas Australia’s 2010 Project Compassion Appeal, which this year hopes to raise in excess of $10m. For more information on the work of Caritas Australia, click here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year

New Year, new toys. In a year that seems made for low cost airline competition, this happy little camper has a new snappy toy. After a prolonged period of um-ing and ah-ing, in addition to years of appreciation, I've plunged headfirst into the land of DSLR. And like Alice in her wonderous land, there's a few things I need to get used to. Like lugging around a giant contraption. Like being bothered to take it places when I'm not sure I'll even take photos. Like aperture and shutter speeds.

All in good time. And good times indeed as Chinese New Year comes rolling around for 2010. Chinatown is, as expected, a hive of festive activity and noise; from the reverberating drum beat accompanying the lion dancers to the startling cracks of firecrackers on the streets to the hungry mouths at the weekend's markets in Belmore Park. The Year of the Tiger is off to growling start, and it's not just my stomach.

Xiao long bao (pork with crab flavour) from Taste of Shanghai,
World Square, Haymarket

The relatively new Taste of Shanghai located at the ground retail level of World Square is decked out sort-of opulently and has a seemingly customary queue out the door - with seating for waiting diners, at least. There's a sense of forced class about the interior that's not necessarily consistent with the feel of the restaurant, but who really cares when there are dumplings on offer.

Although I would be happy with a tabletop covered in dumpling variations, it's not everyone's cup of (complimentary?) tea. A decisive compromise means we land the crab and pork version of xiao long bao after a stomach-testing wait. To me, while the crab addition is clearly visible with its orange hue, I find the flavour rather difficult to discern. Even without the vinegar sauce, it tastes like pork to me - which is fine, but then doesn't justify the crab premium. I adore siphoning out the soup before scoffing the dumpling - it makes the eating process a little more of an adventure.

Beans with spicy pork mince

Prerequisite vegies never looked so good, but then I suppose at home I would never deep fry beans like so. With spices and just enough pork mince so that the vegetables is the key feature, these crunchy, chewy beans pack a textural and flavour punch that I can add to my five daily serves count.

Crisp skin chicken

The protein hit comes in the familiar shape and form of crisp skin chicken, although it's not exactly as familiar as a Cantonese style one. The pile of chopped chicken is actually an entire, albeit small, chicken as I find and eagerly devour two wings with seriously crispened skin (not three as I initially thought - that's right, chickens don't have three wings).

The sauce with the chicken is soy based with the slightest touch of tartness, a heavy sprinkle of garlic, a light sprinkle of chilli, and garnished with sprigs of coriander for very unified and impactful flavour. I can only imagine the leftovers will taste even better. The chicken is mostly moist if not a little scrappy, but those giant cleavers do require quite some serious skill.

Bloated and with loved ones - that's what Chinese New Year is supposed to be. It contrasts so very much with new year's eve by the normal calendar, which tends to be full of booze and with a bunch of strangers. It's no wonder I prefer Chinese New Year, and with the ongoing festivities in Sydney, it's going to be enjoyed for a week or two to come; spearheaded by the Twilight Parade, which should be a spectacle for young and old to enjoy. Get thee along and have a Year of the Tiger filled with good luck, health and prosperity. Happy Chinese New Year!

Taste of Shanghai on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Whatever floats your boat

People are always going to have different goals and do things differently. I think the key is then understanding and accepting that different things will float different boats, and then managing that swell and navigation accordingly. The recent seemingly non-stop rain, for example, isn't my cup of tea, but if I'm indoors with lots of gelato in front of me - well, I can be managed.

On one of those on-off-on-off rainy nights, we're headed to the bistro that's jetty-side at the St George Motor Boat Club. The view of vessels large and small on the endless water is quite pleasant if not envy provoking, though the view from inside is obscured every 10 minutes or so by the pelting rain.

The Captain's Grill is the bistro beside the bar area where Keno screens flash alongside rather dated pop tunes and mature dancers. Actually, they look like they're having a lot of fun and I'm sure I remember dancing to that one song 15 years ago.

Garlic bread from The Captain's Grill, St George Motor Boat Club,
Wellington Street, San Souci

We're there to try a pretty incredible sounding $30 lobster menu. That's $30 for not only half a mornay lobster, but an entree and dessert too. It did sound too good to be true, but there's really only one way to test that theory. Beers can be self-fetched from the nearby bar, which we find marginally cheaper than being brought schooners.

Separately, we order garlic bread, which is one of those childhood food items I remember probably from eating at Pizza Hut - if it wasn't sickeningly yellow and soggy with butter, it wasn't really garlic bread to me. This is right down the childhood alley, a bit salty, not quite toasted enough for my liking but the halved rolls are oozingly buttery, which wins some points back.

Calamari with tartare sauce

There are three entree choices on the lobster menu, and four of five go for the calamari. While its a generous serve of crumbed, deep-fried rings of squid, the dish just looks sparse, especially beside its little plastic tub of green-tinged tartare sauce. The calamari is, however, satisfyingly tender but with a bit of chew to let you know that it's real squid and not random seafood-flavoured mince.

Caesar salad

My Caesar salad is also a surprisingly hefty serve, appreciated with the option of leaving out anchovies. It's covered in parmesan cheese and loads of smoky, chewy bits of bacon dotted through the cos lettuce. There's just enough dressing for flavour and non-sogginess, I'm quite impressed though quite close to full afterwards.

Half lobster mornay with cheese

And then with mains come the piece de resistance - the lobster of the title lobster special. The half is served with mornay sauce then grilled with cheese. I admit I'm not too sure what to expect, as with the price tag come certain expectations. I find that I need to rescue drowning pre-cut pieces of red-skinned lobster flesh from within the shell - drowning in the not necessarily creamy but rich mornay sauce. Some pieces are really firm while others are a little mushy, and the cheese is particularly strong. The half shell is garnished with about three rocket leaves, while another plate has the rocket plus a sprig of flat leaf parsley. Someone's special.

Grilled fish with crushed almonds, coriander and ginger

The one of five opting for something other than lobster lands the grilled fish. A rather non-descript fillet of white fish arrives covered in a chopped almond topping, aside a lime wedge and few leaves of rocket. The fish is unexciting and completely overwhelmed by the ginger scented almond topping which reaches a point of sweetness that resembles toffee.

Caramel panna cotta with sticky dates and almonds

On sweets, there are two choices; one being the caramel panna cotta which is so perfectly stretchy and wobbly that it could have come out of a supermarket fridge. Its caramelly sweetness is somewhat less than that of the almond topping on the fish, and is partnered awkwardly with the waffle biscuit.

Gelato selection

An excessively generous serve of gelato ends my meal - I didn't realise there was such thing before. I'd chosen hazelnut (my favourite), roasted almond (pretty darn good) and Tahitian lime (non-dairy and pinchingly tart). I manage the two nutty flavours with decent speed and no gelato brain, but feel a bit lethargic when I get to the lime.

Leaving the last scoop in its quaint metal dish, and the bistro, into the muggy but not rainy evening turned out to be a clever idea - ensuring that I might have a chance of floating if I fell off any boat.

The Captain's Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Moose change

For good or for bad, change happens and it can be painful if one doesn't accept it. I also find it, not so much painful, as heavy - especially on Monday mornings when my purse somehow gains two kilos in weight from the 60 hours or so since Friday evening. Talk about yoyo dieting.

I like to use up my coinage/shrapnel/brass for daily morning coffees, but I've also found a fun, new way of utilising early week change: say hello to early-week singular-drink. Not on a Monday - day dedicated to sobriety - but Tuesdays and Wednesdays are good for a relaxing drink; the key word being the singular 'a'. And rather than a city beer barn or suit shop, it's a little Newtown cafe cum bar that finds my slightly thirsty presence one Tuesday.

Bloody Moose from The Moose Newtown,
King Street, Newtown

The Moose Newtown has been around, but only recently has it scrubbed itself up for a big night out (or is it in?), and gone the small and intimate bar avenue in the evenings. Small-ish beer and wine menu, bigger cocktail menu, mix-and-match grazing food menu, characters behind the bar and on the wall, and live music on Wednesdays. Quite a bit for a small bar, yes?

And you won't be disappointed with the moose humour on the cocktail list - the Bloody Moose (Mary) and a Lonely Moose mocktail have me a-moosed (sorry, couldn't resist). While I enjoy tomato soups, I struggle a little with juice and have never really been a fan of Bloody Marys. However, I can understand the appeal of the slightly tart, slightly savoury, slighty sweet, slightly spicy jumble of icy cold flavours of the Bloody Moose - hangover cure, indeed.

Pipsqueak cider

I neglected to mention that the whole early-week single-drink should be taken lightly; that is, there's no fun/point doing a tequila shot straight after work on a Tuesday. Unless it was a really, really bad day. Real bad; global news bad.

I have a Pipsqueak cider, having not sampled it previously. It's probably close to the most gloriously perfect Tuesday single-drink drink. It's light to taste and drink, though don't be fooled - it's full strength; but utterly refreshing. I could almost feel the humid day unwind from the mind with each cool sip.

Responsibility, among many other things, compels me to insist that early-week singular-drinks be taken with food, as should most drinking; although Friday nights appear to dance to their own tune of rules. I feel wickedly spoilt by the abundance of choice on King Street on a weeknight, where it seems to more than buzz on any given night.

Fish cakes from Doytao Thai,
King Street, Newtown

The voluminous yet tightly packed Doytao Thai restaurant looks like it could burst at the seams with patrons, yet there's a constant trickle of couples and groups, likely drawn by the arousing smells of stir fries and curries. Ordering is rather easy when hunger, agreeableness and good food are involved.

The fish cake entree is delivered piping hot and not quite like the more freezer-familiar varieties I've had. The outer has the browned skin, but the inner is light and almost fluffy, and exultant with spices. The chilli heat is nicely tempered with the sweet sauce accompanying the plate, although I do find myself chewing on the garnish for a bit more help.

Pork panaeng curry

The panaeng is ordered with pork, for something different, and I'm surprisingly impressed with the combination and the tender but not mushy pork slices. The curry is extremely mild, strong on coconut and sweetness, and generously populated with meat and vegetables. The sauce is satisfyingly drinkable, but I resist.

Roasted duck salad in Doytao's spicy sauce

I'm starting to have a duck problem, in that I find it difficult to not order it when it's on the menu. This duck salad is more duck than salad, which is unusual but I'm not complaining. The roast duck is dressed with a sour and very Thai dressing that contrasts well with the gamey weight of the bird, which is handily propped up with spanish onion, cucumber slices, tomato wedges, iceberg lettuce, coriander and mint leaves, and a good squeeze of lemon.

I haven't gorged, but the steamed rice on the side and probably the water for the fish cake heat have me bloatedly full and shaking my head to the extremely reasonably priced Thai dessert iterations featuring the ever-filling sticky rice. Fruit, Thai custard, even ice cream - maybe. Sticky rice was an impossibility in my state. Nevertheless, the orange Tic Tacs and inexpensive bill end the night nicely - and look, there's even some loose change for the next early-week singular-drink.

Moose Espresso Cafe on Urbanspoon

Doytao Thai on Urbanspoon


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