Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bloody Mary Brunch and Drinks Fest at Sydney Bar Week

There are probably a few people still recovering from last week's Sydney Bar Week. In addition to Drinks Fest (or as all the bartenders call it, Bar Show), I went to the Bloody Mary Bartenders Brunch hosted by Absolut at Hugos Bar Pizza.

Absolut Bloody Mary Bartenders Brunch at Hugos Bar Pizza, Bayswater Road, Kings Cross
The Bloody Mary "buffet" was in full swing when I arrived, accompanied by the fabulous pizzas at Hugos. Attendees chose from Absolut Citron or Absolut 100 vodkas as the base for a DIY Bloody Mary, with almost any imaginable ingredients on offer.

There was beef stock, a mussel broth and Worcestershire sauce to add depth of flavour; peri peri sauce, fresh horseradish and chillies for bite; a forest of green herbs including rosemary, dill and coriander; and garnishes including lemon, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and avocado. And much more.

My Absolut Bloody Mary
Finished with, of course, tomato juice, my mussel broth concoction was a little salty but the avocado addition was pure genius - making the already substantial cocktail even closer to a meal, or a salad at least.

Absolut Bloody Mary competition
After everyone had a bit of fun making and drinking their own Bloody Marys, three professionals had their turn competing to win, each with a different mystery ingredient and the entire buffet of ingredients at their disposal.

Pernod Ricard's Ben Davidson lead the proceedings which went out to audience tastings, popular cheer vote and then his final decision.

Competition Bloody Marys
The winner, an RSL club bartender, took home a gigantic bottle of Absolut vodka while everyone went on their merry way making and drinking more Bloody Marys and scoffing pizza.

The Bloody Mary ingredient buffet
The bar top looked an absolute disarray towards the end of the chilled-out brunch, which was a great start to the day and Bar Week. See more photos at my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Absolut Bloody Mary Bartenders Brunch as a guest of MsABSOLUTvodka.

Entrance to Drinks Fest at Overseas Passenger Terminal
We moved on to the afternoon session of Drinks Fest on the Sunday consumer day, entering via essentially a clever museum for Bundaberg Rum.

Rum history, molasses tasting and a bar, even before getting into the main Drinks Fest area.

Cocktail at the Monin and Perrier stand
We were greeted by plumes of nitrogen oxide at the Monin and Perrier 'lawn bar', where the magical cocktail mixing happened in complete witch's cauldron style.

Cocktail-in-hand strolling and perusing alcohol is one of the things I do best.

Bulleit Rye Whiskey and Bourbon served with pickle juice
The fantastically-styled Bulleit stand was offering pickle backs: drinkers' choice of a shot of rye whiskey or bourbon, washed down with a shot of pickle brine juice.

We also scored a fabulous gherkin, and I'm told the combination really works well together. I imagine it's certainly a way to kill the after-taste of the alcohol.

Schweppes Masterclass

Schweppes Mixology Masterclass
We took a peek at one of the Masterclasses run by Schweppes, who told us there's more to a gin and tonic than meets the eye.

Ketel One vodka stand - Fujiyama Mama cocktail 
The Ketel One vodka stand did a refreshing, lemony fizz cocktail (thanks Ms Darlinghurst!).

Havana Club rum stand

Havana Club lime squeezing competition
The loudest, most boisterous stand of the day had to be the Havana Club stand, where a lime squeezing competition saw speedy squeezers walk away with bottles of rum.

Red Bull DJ
Red Bull took over the back end outdoor area with a DJ pumping music from a truck, live art and tyre change time trials on a mock Red Bull Racing car, with plenty of free Red Bull to boot.

Red Bull race car

Artist painting live
In all, the consumer day of Drinks Fest was a great opportunity for consumers to experience cocktails directly with the industry's experts - here's to a bigger and better consumer day next year! See more photos from Drinks Fest at my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes attended Drinks Fest at Sydney Bar Week as media guests.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Guerrilla (Bar) celebrity spotting in Glebe

There's a touch of celebrity spotting to be done at Guerrilla Bar and Restaurant in Glebe. It's probably more relevant for females who were teenagers or tweens in the late 1990s/early 2000s - I'll offer some clues but I won't spill because where's the fun in that.

Inside Guerrilla Bar and Restaurant, Glebe Point Road, Glebe
We arrived shortly after 6pm (which is an hour after 5) and I did my very best not to squeal like the teenage version of me at the sight of one of the owners sitting in the front, street level, outdoor terrace.

The venue was previously a Thai restaurant and earlier, two adjoining terraces, explaining the two wooden staircases side-by-side next to the bar. It's got the feelin' of a homely, maybe English, student hangout with an array of dining tables, couches and cute nooks and crannies appropriate for both drinking and eating.

Guerrilla board
The menu, by an ex-Becasse chef, features what sounded like an interesting variety of shared eats 'to graze', and a couple of larger shared mains. There’s also a very decent selection on the wine menu, especially by the bottle which is what this particular evening called for (extra points for Plumm wine glasses).

Ordered from the bar, a board of nibbles  is mysteriously named the Guerrilla board and looks like it could feed a band of boys. The sticky smoked almonds attracted me first; a bit odd at first but then becoming irresistibly moreish.

The variety of olives came with a cute jar for pits while there were two chunky and unexplained pastes that were best had with the bread and feta-like cheese.

The slam dunk, though, was easily the mini chorizo: juicy, packed with flavour and an exemplary specimen of the spiced and cured pork sausage.

Chicken nuggets with chipotle mayonnaise
There was about a couple of milliseconds between me spotting chicken nuggets on the menu and ordering them, although they weren’t a reinvented version of fried chicken bits as I had expected.

Instead, the very crunchy crumbed chicken was more like small pieces of schnitzel, served with a dipping sauce of chipotle mayonnaise. Keep on movin' down the menu if you want something a little more exciting.

Slow cooked egg, bacon jam and toast
We were sold on the promised ‘bacon jam’ on the next dish which was not very bacon-y, and certainly not pinky-red nor any other colour which would suggest any substantial amount of bacon in it.

The slow cooked eggs were done well with a gooey yolk, while the barely toasted bread probably could have used a bit more inspiration. But if bacon's on the menu listing, it's the things you do with the bacon that really make the dish.

Hand cut chips and calamari with Szechuan pepper
We retreated to menu failsafes and more shiraz after the first round of food, with a mound of fried stuff on a wooden board that looked like it would get us to until the time is through.

The generous servings here were enough to feed five, but we tackled the spicily seasoned rings of small, tender calamari with gusto, served with a seriously great tartare sauce. The thick hand cut chips did just as well with the sauce.

The front room
At the end of the night, around the time when the lights go out, we weren’t rushed out of the venue despite being the last lingering customers - indeed, the decidedly 90s soundtrack continued all the way to the last drops of our wine bottles.

Guerrilla doesn't seem to fall comfortably in to either category of bar nor restaurant, while the uni student feel is at odds with the higher-end ambitions of the menu and bar list.

Nonetheless, it's early days and another addition to the Glebe collection of small bars is great - Guerrilla is well worth a visit if ya gettin' down to Glebe.

Guerrilla Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Morrison: There's oysters in them doors

There was a time when I would only eat oysters cooked Kilpatrick style, with bacon and Worcestershire sauce. These days, with places like The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room opening up in Sydney CBD, I'm glad that I can appreciate oysters au naturale.

Oysters at The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room, George Street, Sydney
Just seven weeks old, The Morrison occupies the former Brooklyn Hotel on a corner of George Street, north CBD. I, for one, am glad Fraser Short (ex Keystone Group) and Sean Connolly (ex Astral) have joined forces to take over the sprawling former pub.

The Morrison from Grosvenor Street
The Morrison takes its cues from New York style oyster bars; the likes of which we don't really have in Sydney - until now. Inviting from the first step in the door, the warm glow of lighting shows off an atmospheric transformed front section with a bar area and some tables.

Out around the back, the space is unrecognisable with plenty of seating laid out round, another bar and a roof that's bound to come off if/when proper spring/summer weather arrives.

Pacific and Sydney rock oysters
We had the pleasure of both Short and Connolly at our table during dinner, explaining the evening's oyster selection. All freshly shucked, we were treated to a variety of Pacific and Sydney rock oysters served with a lemon cheek, grated horseradish or cabernet vinaigrette.

For a tasting like this, Connolly recommended starting with the milder tasting Pacific oysters - first, a gorgeous, rounded Coffin Bay that barely needed a drop of lemon. The larger Pacifics from the Hawkesbury River were ideal with a smidgen of horseradish.

The Sydney rocks were my picks with a heavier mineral flavour, and generally more pow, in the Clyde River and Macleay River specimens - the latter of which I could easily polish off a dozen. And of course, we had Pommery champagne with the oysters - as you must do.

Crab and lettuce tacos, chardonnay vinaigrette, salmon caviar
We moved on to crab tacos, which Connolly playfully called "chick food" as opposed to Sydney's current obsession of "dude food". Carbohydrate free and light as a feather, there's definite appeal in the snow crab legs encased in baby cos lettuce leaves - and not just for the girls.

The chardonnay vinaigrette doesn't take away from the delicate but generous crab while the salty pops of salmon caviar are basically the cherries on top.

Split scampi sashimi style, chilli, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt flakes
Things went from great to better with the arrival of the scampi - which I think is what happiness on a plate looks like.

Split in the shell (sans the blue head goop) and served sashimi style, some even with dark roe attached, the simplicity of the extra virgin olive oil, lime and baby coriander was all that was needed to make these silky, creamy crustaceans shine.

For those who like a decent spice kick, these bird's eye chillies did the trick in a barely manageable fashion.

Crab toast - snow crab, crème fraiche, lemon zest and chive on dark rye
The somewhat retro crab toast also featured snow crab, piled on thick atop dark rye bread with Pepe Saya crème fraiche, lemon zest, chives and other ingredients that made every mouthful zing, or sing with crab.

I have to commend the kitchen's generosity with the seafood - especially the abundant crab - as there's nothing worse than being promised crab and only getting a smidgen of what has to be my favourite seafood variety.

Saltimbocca kingfish tail, with red wine and caper sauce
Main meals were a bit of an event, with our table sharing two of the dishes from the value-conscious 'Communal' portion of the menu. It's fantastic to see the rise of the shared mains trend: for both budgetary reasons, and the act of physically sharing and serving up food.

The kingfish tail - oven baked on the bone - was done saltimbocca style with the entire tail wrapped in prosciutto before cooking. The result was a perfectly seasoned, moist fish with flavours unlike any other I've had before and without any small bones to contend with.

The finishing touch is a red wine and caper sauce that's so refined that licking the plate clean was almost inappropriate.

Free range lamb shoulder, raspberry vinegar, star anise
The hulking hunk of lamb shoulder - or as Connolly calls it, "the new pork belly" - quite glistens in its raspberry vinegar and star anise sauce, and is presented with a protruding serving knife.

Slow cooked over four hours, the meltingly tender meat partners surprisingly well with the sweet, subtly spiced sauce. I reckon it could even serve four people, with sides, or I suppose two or three really, really hungry people.

Divine alongside the lamb were the carrots with parsley, halved lengthways. Cooked to an almost-pulp -"Grandma-style" - I'd forgotten how sweet carrots can be and might have had two entire carrots to myself.

Duck fat chips
Connolly's duck fat chips are just as famous as the chef himself, with good reason. Served in a metal cone, these thin, browned, crisp chips are naughty perfection and understandably popular.

Wedge salad, blue cheese and hen's egg dressing
The wedge salad is a US inspired side featuring a wedge cut from a head iceberg lettuce, drizzled with an egg and caper sauce, with hints of blue cheese. It's an odd looking salad that brings the maligned iceberg lettuce back to its rightful place in the gourmet salad standings, I think.

Lemon and raspberry cheesecake, deconstructed
I was glad to see that we'd be sharing desserts, as the huge shared mains had already gotten to me. The cute deconstructed cheesecake of lemon cheesecake, biscuit crumbs, lemonade jelly and freeze-dried raspberries was the lighter of the two, with its myriad of textures delighting the palate.

Chocolate brownie, malt ice cream and caramel popcorn
But I was sold on the caramel popcorn that garnished the fudgey chocolate brownie and amazing malt ice cream. Rich overall, but not overly so, I thought the chocolate dessert definitely prevailed on this occasion.

Served with dessert was a delightful Brachetto from Bologna, Italy - an unusual sparkling red that was entirely appropriate as a dessert wine and one I know I'll be coming back for.

But so too will I return for the scampi, other seafood mains and starters, the friendly and welcoming ambience - and especially the oysters and champagne. Even if I have to clamber through the doors past queues, I think The Morrison easily has a firm place in the Sydney dining scene.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of The Morrison, with thanks to Agency G.

The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Japan times - part 7: Osaka eats

I recently spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the seventh of several posts of foodbooze and sights in Japan.

Glico man in Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan
Osaka is significantly different to Tokyo; much more so than our local Sydney and Melbourne comparisons.

I found there was less English spoken in Osaka, while people seemed a lot less conservative than their Tokyo counterparts. Prices, in general, also seemed a little less harsh on the back pocket.

Dotonbori Canal, Osaka

Takoyaki octopus balls from Daimaru depa-chika, Osaka
Our first stop in Osaka on arrival at about 7am, post a necessary Starbucks stop, was the nearby department store, Daimaru, where it was proven that I have a slight obsession for depa-chika basement level food halls. I probably could have spent entire days in depa-chika around Japan.

Osaka is the home of 'street food' like takoyaki octopus balls and okonomiyaki Japanese savoury pancakes, so it was only appropriate that we had our first meal at the takoyaki stall at Daimaru.

It also happened to be probably the best takoyaki I'd ever had up until that point, with the pressure cooked octopus making a big difference.

Streetside takoyaki
We managed more takoyaki later that night and during many other days and nights, to the point where I think I could probably eat takoyaki every day. Good thing I know how to make my own.

Udon and soba shop
We had actually not come across any udon stores in Tokyo, so keenly awaited a seat at a busy udon and soba restaurant where handwritten Japanese menus covered the walls.

Ordering directly with the chefs in front of us, it was easy enough to copy orders from fellow diners if one couldn't read the menus. Most of the male diners ordered a bowl of what looked like fried rice alongside their udon, which I suppose wasn't huge, but certainly sufficient for breakfast.

Tempura prawn udon
It probably took about 30 seconds between order and a steaming bowl being placed in front of us. Noodles grabbed from the plastic crates were cooked in boiling water for about 15 seconds, unloaded into a bowl, filled with one of two broths, then topped with the customer's order.

The tempura udon featured a single tempura prawn that wore a cloak of batter that inevitably goes soggy in the slightly sweet, clear soup. I'm not the hugest fan of shallots but I find the thinly shredded ones absolutely necessary in Japanese noodle soups.

Kitsune soba
Luckily for me, not an udon lover, I could order almost any udon option with soba buckwheat noodles instead, which I much adore. I had no idea what the kitsune option was, but it ended up being safe with shallots and abura-age sweet, deep fried tofu pockets.

The serving was just the right size for me, clean and simple, and good slurping practice as well. The light serve also provided capacity for a naughty lunch.

Kushikatsu in Osaka: okra, lotus root and eggplant
Osaka is also the home of kushikatsu; basically fried things on a stick. It's hard to go completely wrong when deep frying is involved, although our late lunch venue was not one of the better kushikatsu venues around. I'm positive at least half of our ordered sticks, if not more, came frozen from a packet.

Kushikatsu: beef and pork
Served with a huge bowl of tonkatsu sweet brown sauce or dipping (only once!) and a bowl of fridge-cold cabbage leaves which is said to counter the oiliness, the crumbed morsels were passable for a late lunch.

Kushikatsu asparagus, octopus and prawn
We ordered a number of sticks: eggplant, okra, lotus root, asparagus, beef, octopus and prawn, with the latter probably being the best.

Dotonbori, Osaka

Mechanical crab outside a restaurant in Dotonbori, Osaka

Cooking our own takoyaki, Dotonbori, Osaka
I was glad I'd learnt how to make takoyaki previously as the cook-your-own restaurant provided no pointers whatsoever; although I suppose watching enough street stalls should give anyone a fair idea.

They poured in the batter - just enough to spill over the holes - and from there, you had to move at some pace before the batter cooked too quickly.

Fillings and condiments for cooking our own takoyaki
We were given a choice of fillings, and we eschewed the traditional octopus for prawns and scallops.

Other standard fillings included shallots, beni shoga pickled ginger and some sort of crisp bits that sadly lost their crispness as soon as they hit the batter.

Fillings in and cooking takoyaki

Turning takoyaki
Armed with a single bamboo skewer, we weren't quite as fast or skilled as the professional takoyaki masters spotted throughout Osaka, but we managed not to burn anything.

DIY takoyaki end result
The best part was that we had all the condiments at our own disposal (which was also the case at Daimaru). I can eat katsuoboshi bonito flakes from the packet as they are, so each takoyaki ball got the full treatment.

This certainly wasn't the best meal or takoyaki we'd had but it was fun nonetheless.

Glico man by night

Gobo burdock root sralad
We didn't find okonomiyaki quite as common as takoyaki throughout Osaka, but did manage one meal. The casual restaurant featured teppan flat grills at every table, with a varied menu that seemed appropriate for self cooking.

We had no idea what the gobo salad was, but knew we needed some vegetables to the grilled meal. The julienned burdock root and carrot, smothered in a creamy, seasame sauce, turned out to be a total winner.

Grilled chicken skin
The first item to hit our personal grill was chicken skin - par cooked in the kitchen and really just meant to be kept warm on the grill. I suppose customers couldn't be trusted to really cook their own food.

The mass of skin, garnished with shallots, was on the soft and chewy side which seems standard in Japan, whereas I definitely prefer crisp and crunchy chicken skin where possible.

Okonomiyaki on the grill
The okonomiyaki also came out pre cooked and in the most perfect round shape with almost magically sealed sides (how on earth do you seal pancake sides?).

We dressed our selection of a modern-yaki with the condiments provided at the table; essentially the same condiments as for takoyaki.

Modern-yaki okonomiyaki
With utensils provided, we divvied up the okonomiyaki which was spilling with soba noodles and thin pieces of pork belly.

Modern-yaki okonomiyaki - dressed with katsuoboshi
And of course, I festooned each portion with plenty of katsuoboshi. Like takoyaki, I think I could eat okonomiyaki everyday and not get bored. Indeed, it's even easier to make than takoyaki.

Back streets in Namba, Osaka
Over our days in Osaka, we had noticed a serious number of Italian restaurants dotted around the city, and not just the generic franchise looking ones we saw in Tokyo. Indeed, some of the small venues looked like proper trattorias, with wine bars, apertivo and all.

Cured ham off the bone from Pieno, Namba
In one of the back streets near our hotel in Namba, we regularly passed by a tiny Italian restaurant seating about 10 people in a particularly small and squishy venue. It could well have been a yakitori-ya at one point and made most of Sydney's small bars look cavernous.

Squeezing past diners, we put our bags up on the overhead shelf space and immediately ordered a serving of the cured ham that sat atop the counter. A cheery American accented Japanese chef sliced the ham by hand, while Campari and blood orange was the drink of choice.

Four cheese pizza
The miniature pizza was a slight letdown with its pre-made base but it was very generous in its four cheeses topping.

I'm not sure what I should have expected of pizza in Japan, but Osaka eats, especially at the cheaper end of the scale, proved to be quite some match to Tokyo.

Dotonbori, Osaka
More Japan posts to come in Osaka and Tokyo; in the meantime, see more photos on my Facebook page.


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