Friday, April 30, 2010

To market, to market

Homewares galore at Surry Hills Markets

I have lots of affection for festivals and markets; something about the convivial community atmosphere just appeals to lost child within. Not to mention on offer fun and frivolity, goodies to take home or eat, or just outdoors and sunshine. Sounds to me like the ideal way to spend a weekend.

Second-hand toys - they don't make them like this anymore

Every Surry Hills cool cat and their obligatory cute small dog tend to turn up at the Surry Hills Markets on the first Saturday of every month (tomorrow!) at Shannon Reserve (the park you overlook when downing beers on the Clock Hotel upstairs balcony), on the corner of Foveaux and Crown Streets. It’s a colourful affair of vintage and indie designer goods that are sure to surprise, excite and inspire creative threads of the mind and body and empty mantel piece.

Look into your future/self/soul/pores

Bargain vintage sunnies

Hmm... acid or stone wash?

Good golly, Golliwog

Turkish gozleme

Japanese 'pizza' or okonomiyaki

Shoes are aplenty (circa 1960s or 1970s most commonly); booze available from the nearby Crown Street watering holes; and limited food in the form of gozleme, okonomiyaki or ‘Japanese pizza’, and did I mention gozleme? The entire park smells like the flat grilled dough – filled with spinach and cheese, or minced meat – but if that’s not your thing, fret not. With a plethora of cafés and eateries nearby (it is Surry Hills after all), a post market visit is merely a step this way or that.

The next Surry Hills Markets is on tomorrow, 1 May and then Saturday, 5 June.

Polly wanna go to Surry Hills Markets

Monday, April 26, 2010

Conclusions of a cool cow

I've had my first cold of the cooler season; I've had a few thoughts about finding my trench coat out from the depths of summer clothes; I'm having soup at lunch - it's officially cold weather season in my books. Despite still pleasant daytime weather, chilly before and after work temperatures have decided it for me - the end of fun and sun is here.

So too the end of the March into Merivale festival - which has surely run for longer than the month of March. I thought I'd make the most of it and hit up a Merivale feast one last time, with a Friday night reservation at the flashy and bright Mad Cow. It's a fun space, but not one I can imagine for dark suits and business conversations - though I could be grandly mistaken.

Table setting at Mad Cow, the ivy, George Street Sydney

It's funny how many times I've teetered, drink in hand, near by the restaurant, but never actually seen it. It's a surprisingly welcoming interior, all whites and yellows, with comfortable cushioned white booths and the restaurant's very own bar. We deliberate whether the flowers on the table are real or not (I think they were) and eagerly order up.

Soy and linseed bread with butter

Bread arrives promptly - a soy and linseed variety that's crusty and toasty on the outside, and soft and seedy on the inside - along with our selections of Chandon chardonnay and shiraz. Granted the cooler weather, I'm starting to tend towards reds - lovely uncomplicated, fruity ones that dance on the palate as lightly , if not more delicately, as a white. In fact, I'm finding more tastes in reds than whites, and thus am appreciating reds more than I ever did whites.

Grilled white scallops, coriander, black fungi, bean shoot, ginger black bean vinaigrette

With distinctly Asian flavours, the scallops are a superb starter - my only regret is not ordering two of these. Crisp, golden topped and bottomed, the scallops were a flavour explosion on their lonesome, telling of the sweetness of the sea. So enamoured with the molluscs, I remember to eat the also Asian-inspired salad side only at the end.

Salad of fig, manchego, radish, walnut, grape, rocket, fig vinaigrette

The salad unfortunately pales in comparison to the scallops, but it's a tough and unfair comparison. Fig and manchego cheese make for a lovely couple, as too walnuts and rocket. The bland discs of radish desperately need the dressing, while the grapes seem redundant when there are ripe figs on offer.

Pan roasted blue eye trevalla fillet, baby beetroot, lentils, eggplant, kipfler potatoes, sorrel

The mains on offer all have equal pull with me - maybe except the vegatarian. It seems to make no sense to not have a beef dish - but I can be quite non-sensical at times. I opted for the blue eye trevalla - the promise of abundant sides and accompaniments winning over what I know are bare plated steaks.

The fish is delightful, flaking away from itself although the skin isn't quite crispy. I adore the lentils and mushy cubes of eggplant. The thickly sliced potatoes seem part of a rewarding treasure hunt but I'm not a fan of the baby beets. So many ingredients, yet I'm not sure if it all really goes together.

Potato gnocchi, buffalo mozzarella, confit tomatoes, basil, parmigiano reggiano

The potato gnocchi is a colourful dish, traditional and vegetarian in its approach. The tubular gnocchi and fluffy and impossibly light, stopped from floating away with the cheesy, buttery sauce. I'm inspired - for a thought at least - to try gnocchi at home again, although I'm sure a ricer or mouli is going to be on the shopping list.

Black angus minute of fillet, 200g, diane sauce

The only beef eater of the meal is faced with two charred fillets and not much more. Decorated with a wedge of lemon and dressed with a thin dianne sauce (cream free?), the minute steak is incapable of being anything but well-done, but tender nonetheless. Sides are definitely needed with the meat at Mad Cow and their absence makes the dish obviously less than satisfying.

While we'd love to linger in the casual cool of the white Mad Cow booths, our space is required so we conclude the night scurrying out of the ivy into the cool night.

Mad Cow on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ageing appeal

Now that I'm a little more mature, as too (most) the people I hang out with, we find the same things that used to appeal no longer do. Take the drunken Saturday nights out, for example; these days is more likely to be a nice bottle of wine over dinner - fine dining if we're feeling a bit flush; cheap and cheerful diners otherwise.

And same goes for parties of most sorts - no more binge drinking sessions to throbbing house music, no more cheeky alcohol-induced games and perhaps a little sad to say, no more party pies, fairy bread, red lemonade and lolly bags. Getting older is not all bad though, as I found out at a recent house party (that is, a gathering at home, not a party with aforementioned throbbing house music). We needn't have made everything from scratch - but I guess it's just a sign of our ageing and changing appeals in that we thought it'd be more fun (read: work) that way.

Roast capsicum

Ever since my quick lesson in the kitchens of Selah, I adore roasting my own capsicums. It is time-consuming, more fiddly than opening a jar and not necessarily cheaper; but there's just an utter sense of satisfaction from hearing the juice pop in the naked flame, gently rubbing the charred skin off the capsicum and proffering up your own roasted capsicum antipasto. Better yet, serve it with your own Italian flat bread.

Schiaccata - ready to bake

Translating as "squashed" or "crushed", schiaccata is a yeasted flat bread quite similar to foccacia inmy opinion. One of the simpler bread recipes I've come across, there's just one prove and forming the loaf is as easy as pie. Aside from the nubbly bits, I simply pushed slices of garlic into the dough and sprinkled with sea salt flakes.

Schiaccata - ready to eat

The garlic roasts itself to a dark brown and the bread turns out surprisingly soft though dense, but perfect for antipasti and dips that start the party. This fantstically simple recipe is bound to become a favourite, as the potential for toppings and flavours ranges all over - from savoury cheese, herbs and vegetables to sweet fruits and spicings.

Sausage rolls of beef, sundried tomato and basil

Sausage rolls have always been a party favourite, and infinitely easier to make than mini pies, I think. So we had tray upon tray of the golden rolls, covered in flakey puff pastry (store bought, admittedly) with a beef mince spiked with chopped sundried tomatoes and fresh basil. It wasn't a flavour combination I had tried before - especially in a sausage roll - but one I highly recommend and would gladly make again.

Yakitori, of sorts

When volume of attendees supasses the number of seats in a place, there's no chance of a sit-down meal - unless we did several sittings. The barbeque is a saving grace when it comes to that sort of situation. We'd collectively spent lots of minutes skewering hundreds of marinated chicken thigh pieces, spring onions, capsicums and other prawn and vergtable skewers for barbequing.

It's kind of funny to think how long it takes to skewer about 10 alternated items onto a bamboo stick, as opposed to the time it takes to eat one. Let me say the numbers are not in the chef's favour.

Honey roasted pork rack

And here's something we prepared earlier - three hours earlier. When you've got beautiful pieces of pork racks as such, you'll fuss over it like an only child. You don't want it over- nor undercooked. You want crackling; you want golden smells emitting from the kitchen; you want people to ask "What's that? Smells great!"; you want people to fight over the cutlets and to feel special when bestowed with a piece of golden, bubbly skin from the crackling fairy.

Birthday pavlova

Is it a birthday without cake? Well, maybe, but it's not a dinner/lunch party if there's no dessert. After a hands-on fruity cocktail session (not excessive) and a lunch dessert, we finally conceded the feasting with a store-bought pavlova - although I'm not sure anyone could stomach much more.

Judging by the leftovers - barely a salad leaf or skewer but bottle upon bottle of drink - everyone's pretty much heading towards the same idea that what used to appeal may not as much anymore. Cheers to new found sources of fun. And being able to hire a cleaner.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hitting the high notes

There's an understanding of the trade-off that must happen with dining factors: food quality, price, views. As much as we want to, we can't seem to have our cakes and eat them too. Shame really - seems like a waste of cake.

Super hot days and dining out are never the most enjoyable of exercises, so I always make sure there's liquid refreshments nearby. They're a little pricey at Opera Bar, but there's live jazz on a Sunday afternoon and a view of some sort. Plus, you'll never know what kind of crowd there'll be: tourists, post-show, bridal parties - the possibilities are endless. Not quite the food menu, though. Choice is a little constrained and the prices are higher than I remembered. Nonetheless, one shouldn't drink on an empty stomach.

Chargrilled sirlon with cafe de Paris butter, gratin potatoes and broccoli from Opera Bar

The sirloin actually looks pretty good although this supercedes the actual eating of it. The steak is a bit on the thin side, a touch gristley and generally lacking beefiness. While the jus is nice and the butter flavoursome, the sides are a little sleepy and unexciting. Perhaps gazing at the passing ferries could add some liveliness to it.

Beer battered flathead fillets with chips and tartare sauce

The fish and chips are done quite well - the former better than the slightly overcooked latter though. The beer batter was crisp and kept the flathead fillets moist within. The cheesecloth-wrapped lemon half was an unexpected but appreciated touch, while one dish of tartare sauce for all those chips just isn't enough. Perhaps I'm just unusual in liking tartare on my chips - I'd even prefer it over aioli.

Rocket and parmesan salad with aged balsamic

Not sure my rocket obsession will ever go away, but I can justify it well by calling it part of the necessary vegetable quota - which it is. It's hard to go wrong with parmesan cheese shavings and balsamic vinegar.

Having eaten, the drinks keep coming for a while, making the most of the warm, rain-free afternoon. I'm not sure if the experience was diminished by the sweltering hot day or if I've just grown out of Opera Bar, but it just wasn't hitting the right notes on this visit. Perhaps a retuning is in order.

Opera Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The spice of life

My weekday breakfast routine normally involves a very slow toaster, the choice between pumpkin seed or original seed, butter on naughty days and a juice or black earl grey tea to go with. It seems like a lot of variety for what's essentially toast and juice/tea. But it's having that choice - of butter or margerine, of Vegemite or plain - that is the gift, and one that should not be taken for granted.

The variety expands come weekends, especially if it's not home based and particularly if it leans more towards brunch or lunch in timing. A neighbourhood cafe that does good breakfast is indispensible - especially if I were still inclined to have a hangover every Saturday/Sunday morning - which I'm not. Anymore. Newtown is a veritable smorgasboard for breakfast options, especially down the southern end of King Street.

Charlies's old fashioned lemonade from Anise, King Street, Newtown

Anise is one of these many options, but reliably good for coffee and a reasonably priced feed. Breakfast out is a bit of a treat for me, so it's much appreciated when places get it right. And on that topic, Charlie's old fashioned lemonade hits that sweet and sour spot just right.

Mixed berry fruit crush

A sizeable icy crush of berries, juice and ice also does wonders as the cool morning (natural) sugar rush, especially on a promisingly hot day.

Anise breakfast - poached eggs, corn fritters, bacon, chorizo, haloumi and sourdough toast
with hollandaise sauce on the side

Big breakfasts are my nemesis - the all sorts, combo, all-in kind of breakfasts. I enjoy my bacon, eggs, toast, tomatoes, sausages, spinach, mushrooms, beans and all - I just can't seem to have them all at once. Some others don't seem to have this problem, which is good for me when I can help myself to samples of big brekkies. Samplers, I may be on to something.

The Anise breakfast is the big one, with a twist. Eggs come poached, with a rasher of bacon and sourdough toast. But there's corn (and zucchini?) fritters, haloumi and a bit of chorizo for your breakfasting variation. The fritters are light and not at all doughy and the chorizo adds a little savoury spice - but the haloumi is excrutiatingly salty, and not a one-off either. Thank goodness for the complimentary table water.

Chicken sourdough sandwich - with cheese, avocado, mixed leaves and pesto

My lighter option ends up being a chicken sandwich - but not nearly as boring as that sounds. Start with toasted sourdough bread, flavour-full with a chewy crust. Add juicily cooked chicken breast, mixed lettuce leaves, tasty cheddar cheese and nutty, ripe avocado - and that's a sandwich. But don't forget the meal maker - the pesto elevates the meal from lunchbox to weekend breakfast. Okay, brunch.

We're oftern spoilt for choice in life, but I can at least say I'm getting better where food is involved. While variety is the spice of life, having it all is not a sustainable option.

Anise on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rocky times

Times where one has reason to celebrate can be - though shouldn't be - fraught with danger in planning. Take weddings for example: so much to do and so much that could go wrong that it's no wonder bridezillas are a common species these days. There's pressure and expectation when all one really wants to do is enjoy and make merry of a moment.

My merry moments tend to be subsequently followed by drinks and food - in whichever order - and this night is no different, although perhaps more on a budget. Baroque is chosen on a whim and reserved with no problem on an early Friday evening. Apparently bistro, bar and patisserie, it's a lovely spacious area with loads of outdoor seating and a rather romantic feel to it.

We're started on a bowl full of crisply shielded fluffy white insides of baguette slices, served intitally with olive oil and oddly for a French establishment, not butter. The lovely bread is scoffed nonetheless and subsequent meal choices are made.

Plate of charcuterie from Baroque, George Street, The Rocks, Sydney

The charcuterie plate, or board rather, looks an appetising start; although we begin not knowing what the components actually were. We discover that the slabs are both pork: a pistachio-dotted terrine and a pate. I generally prefer terrines as the chunky texture is more to my liking than what I call the 'grainy mush' mouthfeel of pate and all things liver.

This terrine is lively with flavour, enhanced by the accompanying dark chutney. The pate is definitively porky while retaining the texture and taste of its like. The peppercorn speckled salami prevails as my favourite, although its almost opaque thinness leaves the chewer wanting.

Fillet of ocean trout, new potatoes, green onions, prawn bisque

After several too many chunky slices of baguette, my fish main seemed a very smart option. The dish appears exactly as described by the menu - I think I was both surprised and a little disappointed. I'm initially drawn to the bisque; its deep yellow hue preparing the diner for a giant hit of sea saltiness. It's divine and high in the flavour stakes, making a little more sense of the rather plain boiled potatoes.

In fact, the bisque is so flavoursome that it completely overwhelms the ocean trout, which is cooked through with an almost-crispy skin. The only thing to appreciate in the trout fillet becomes the texture, which three bones later, I don't appreciate a great deal.

Duck two ways, baby beetroot, orange sauce

At first glance there appears to be an ungodly layer of fat between the skin and flesh of the duck breast. On second and third glances, it really is there - not rendered out at all and quite unappetising to sight. I don't know what method of cooking was used here but I'm just mighty glad this plate wasn't in front of me - no amount of perfectly cooked pink breast meat would get me to eat that fat.

On the other hand, the super-fat duck made for a super-big leg, which was fortunately not as lipid-full as the breast - confit perhaps. While duck and orange are not strange bedfellows, the tart beetroot pieces appeared a little lost on the plate, as plentiful as they were.

Stuffed within an inch of my baguette, dessert is forgone for a walk around The Rocks, where the night markets are still quietly buzzing aside the rambunctious Lowenbrau Keller. While dinner wasn't the main celebration, pleasant times around and about Baroque made merry of the night.

Baroque | Bistro Bar Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Seems a Fair Trade

Fairtrade Certified Cadbury Dairy Milk

Cadbury Dairy Milk is now Fairtrade Certified - what does this mean?

This product carries the Fairtrade label and has met internationally agreed Fairtrade Standards, which are designed to address the imbalance of power in trading relationships, unstable markets and the injustices of conventional trade.

This is done by setting clear minimum and progressive criteria to ensure the conditions of production and trade of all Fairtrade Certified products are socially and environmentally responsible and economically fair.

Fairtrade delivers improved terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world through:
  • The Fairtrade Price - a designated fair price for their produce, helping protect them from fluctuations in world market prices
  • The Fairtrade Premium - an additional sum of money for investment in social, environmental and economic development in their communities
  • Environmentally sustainable farming methods
  • Security of long-term contracts
  • Improved working conditions
  • Support in gaining knowledge and skills needed to operate in the global economy
Sweet. For more information about Fairtrade, see

P.S. Did you know that the Cadbury brothers moved their cocoa sourcing to Ghana in 1908 because of concerns over labour standards in Sao Tome?

Monday, April 5, 2010

A lot of Hoopla

It's definitely school holidays time; you can feel it in the air. Or maybe it's the abundance of kids - everywhere. The non-traditional easter weather (mostly fine) has been fortunate for those going to the Sydney Royal Easter Show and the Sydney Family Show; as well as Saturday's Golden Slipper. Fingers crossed it is this good when Autumn Carnival hits Randwick.

There's fun and shenanigans on at Darling Harbour for the easter long weekend too - 'run away with the circus' seems to be the message at the Hoopla Festival with a big top set up near Harbourside and stages around Cockle Bay. Acrobats, clowns, buskers and more circus mirth seems to keep the kiddies quiet - at least momentarily.

Nat Harris in the Aerial Ring at the Hoopla Festival in Darling Harbour

Look mum, no hands!

Beneath whatever highway that is visible from Cockle Bay

Elegant and courageous

No hands, no feet

Internationally acclaimed aerialist, Nat Harris

Clowning around in the Tiny Top

At play in the Circus Playground

Cockle Bay, as ever

The Hoopla Festival is on for one more day - take the kids, or the kid within.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Grand plans

I'm not much one for planning - something about the unpredictability of life and the ever-changing environment renders it so often useless. Certainly it's helpful in terms of mental preparation; but in terms of realistic expectations, it's way too often miss rather than hit.

I'm not saying the ever-changing is a bad thing but when things change as much as the restaurant at the top of Market City though, it's can be a bit challenging to keep up. The restaurant seems to have changed hands and names so often that I never know the name of it anymore; it's just "the yum cha at Market City".

The China Grand Restaurant is at least the third iteration of "the yum cha at Market City" that I know. On a Saturday morning, it's surprisingly not packed to the gills, making for a oddly pleasant wait-less entry and even shorter wait for food. Ah, the immediacy of yum cha.

Pai gwut - steamed pork spare ribs from China Grand Restaurant,
Market City Shopping Centre, Haymarket

The pork ribs always seem to be someone's favourite. The tender, fatty bits of bone have to be one of the tastiest cuts - low on yield but still rewarding to just chew and suck on the flavours. I also adore the salty black beans the ribs are steamed with, but they're best served with steamed rice.

Bor choy gao - steamed spinach dumpling

Non prawn lovers are probably advised to steer away from many of the dumpling offerings, with a majority of them stuffed with crustacean in some form. Even the vego-sounding spinach dumplings has plump prawns within the mix of spinach leaves and other vegetable goodness, wrapped into a perfect sphere inside glossy, opaque sticky rice skins.

Siu mai - steamed pork dumpling

Surprises are few and far between at yum cha; my sneaking suspicion is that they all source their dumplings from the same manufacturer and simply steam in-house. Conspiracy theories aside, I was genuinely surprised at some of the carted offerings at China Grand - the siu mai for starters - or at least that's what the waitress called it.

Immediately I notice it's not similar to any other siu mai I've ever had: the pastry wrapper was white rather than the egg wonton wrapper; it's top was closed rather than open. I was seriously excited to get into the dumpling, first biting through the silky and smooth wrapper - a few notches superior to the yellow wonton wrapper, I thought.

Quail egg inside the siu mai

Beyond the pork and prawn was another surprise - which possibly could have been given away by the round pointed shape of the top of the dumpling. A whole quail egg propped above the rest of the filling and clothed by the wrapper until bitten into. The egg white seemed unusually layered - though my quail egg experience is quite limited - but the yolk was a mushy gel-like consistency that was neither unpleasant nor enjoyable on my palate. A surprise dumpling package indeed.

Dai ji gao - steamed scallop dumpling

And the unexpected items kept coming - this steamed scallop dumpling wrapped in seaweed was another first for me. A petite scallop sat jauntily on top of the kelp-wrapped pork and prawn dumpling; the wrapper imparting a flavour of the sea that created a real surf-and-turf feel.

Char siu cheung fun - rice noodle with BBQ pork and dried shrimp

Eschewing my usual har cheung choice for BBQ pork was simply a detour from prawns. The filling doesn't feel as as fresh as the prawn version though, but I suppose the dried shrimp and my slight aversion to them didn't help.

Eggplant and tofu with prawn mince

I'm full at this point - remembering to always leave room for dessert at yum cha - but I find it difficult to resist the braised eggplant/tofu prawn mince dish. With eggplant currently vying for my favourite-vegetable-affections, I don't mind at all the oily disposition of the dish (all the better to reflect with...!). I prefer the firm and sweet mince to fish cake, and the softened eggplant is my pick over the fried tofu square.

Coconut jelly

I quite enjoy all the desserts at yum cha (maybe except the black sesame rolls - they just look wrong), likely because they're not as rich and sweet as western desserts can be. My must-have is the coconut jelly; probably just gelatine, sugar and coconut cream or milk, but the three-dimensional diamond just makes me happy, oh-so happy that I don't mind that I'm absolutely stuffed.

I never plan to stuff myself at yum cha - it just always happens. Something about all the food travelling about you, all available right there and then. In a way, yum cha is the ultimate unplanned in dining, along with sushi trains. It's about living in the moment - and I have no problems with that.

China Grand Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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