Monday, October 29, 2012

Queenies: Jamaican me hungry

The chopping and changing in Surry Hills restaurants continues with the rise and rise of focused, themed eateries.

An ambiguous, middle-of-the-road bistro can hardly compete with the likes of modern Spanish tapas, authentic Mexican or fun-filled Jamaican - the latter of which is found at Queenies; the transformed upstairs floor of the renewed The Forresters pub and restaurant.

Coconut daiquiri at Queenies, Corner of Foveaux and Riley Streets, Surry Hills
Boasting "pan tropical specialities", the Queenies menu is designed by Drink and Dine Group's executive chef Jamie Thomas who is also responsible for eats at The Carrington, The Norfolk and soon-to-open Santa Barbara in Kings Cross (where Piano Room used to be - Thomas spills that it will be a "USA-sian barbeque" style menu).

Invited to sample Queenies' Jamaican food offerings, it was a feast littered with jerk hot spice mix and all manner of new ingredients and flavour combinations that gave unique insight into Caribbean cuisine.

The cocktail menu features various tropics-inspired drinks, such as the quite sweet coconut daiquri of white rum and probably Malibu liqueur, served in a margarita glass with a chilli salt rim.

Pickled cucumber
We were started on drinks (including 440ml cans of Jamaican Red Stripe lager) and some chunks of lightly pickled cucumber, daintily spiced and garnished with toasted coconut shreds - the latter which are scattered regularly across the menu.

Prawn, mango and ginger bammy
The tortilla-esque bammy is served much like a taco: a flavourful protein and vegetable filling with a flat bread which in this case is made of ground cassava.

The grilled, thick bammy isn't heavy or stodgy as it may look, and is a filling platform for some whole, grilled prawns, sweet sauce, mango and coconut shreds.

Pulled pork and pineapple bammy
The pulled pork bammy is served with a pineapple and coriander kind-of salsa, where the ripe fruit pairs exceptionally well with the tender pork, while radish and coconut slivers add further freshness.

Coconut soft shell crab
A basket of soft shell crab received a welcome reception, served with "hotstepper" sauce which Thomas explains is pretty much a Thai nahm jim chilli dipping sauce.

The crunchy batter isn't particularly strong in coconut flavour but is sure to satisfy Sydney's soft shell crab obsession.

Curried oxtail patties
It was chef Thomas himself who highlighted that the curried oxtail patties bore a strong resemblance to the oxtail empanadas at Spanish-themed The Carrington, but then, Jamaican food does take inspiration from a very wide range.

These hot, golden packets were my favourites from the snacks portion of the Queenies menu, filled with juicy, yielding oxtail meat and vegetables, and with not too much of a noticeable curry aroma.

Calypso coffee ribs
The snack-sized serving of pork ribs looked incredibly tender from appearances alone. They get that way after a 48-hour water bath at 65 degrees Celcius, to then be basted in a sweet barbeque marinade with just hints of coffee bitterness.

Bbq jerk corn with coconut
The corn on the cob on a stick was a pretty sight, though not the neatest to eat. Coated with more shredded coconut and I think a jerk mayonnaise, the barbequed corn was an unexpectedly sweet offering.

Hellshire ceviche - snapper, avocado, mango and chilli
The advent of mango season is making me very happy indeed, and the sweetness it added to the snapper ceviche was right on the mark for a summery starter.

The sliced, lime juice-marinated snapper was fresh and tinged with not hot chillies, coriander and avocado, eaten Mexican tostada style on tortilla chips, where every crunchy mouthful was a party of sweetness, zing, spice and creaminess.

Pushcart chicken wings
The not deep fried chicken wings are a relatively daring move in a city covered in fried wings. The trimmed drumettes were basted in a sweet sauce similar to the ribs' marinade and seemed pretty simple compared to some of the more ambitiously authentic dishes.

Sweet potato fries with spiced mayonnaise
The sweet potato fries are textbook specimens; thick cut and all sweet fluffiness on the inside. They're served  in a fantastically heavy black bowl with a yellow, spiced mayonnaise that's barely necessary.

Goat curry with okra, sweet potato, toasted coconut and dirty rice
My recommendation would be not to gorge on all the snacks (do as I say, not as I do) if you plan to hit up a few main dishes, which all sound deliciously tempting.

The goat curry, a very traditional Jamaican dish, was aromatic and creamy with coconut and hints of spice, while the tender, well-flavoured lamb-like goat meat came off the bone incredibly easily.

Dirty rice with coriander, spring onions, mint and allspice
The bottom of the curry bowl also had some of the awesomely-named 'dirty rice' but we had an additional bowl for good measure.

Cooked to a firm softness, almost Indian style, these individual grains of rice were tossed through with a healthy helping of coriander, chopped spring onion and mint leaves: an ideally herbaceous side to soak up the rich goat curry sauce.

Jungle slaw - cabbage, radish, coriander, lime, jerk mayo
While the rice was a unique side dish, I was smitten with the jungle slaw of sliced cabbage, radish, coriander and mango, in a zingy lime dressing. It was the ultimate refreshing salad that was just the thing with lots and lots of meat.

Bbq jerk chicken with jungle slaw
The barbequed jerk chicken comes with a side of the jungle slaw, balancing its dark, sticky grilled jerk seasoning coating.

Comprising various parts of a whole chicken, the flesh is impressively tender and moist for a grilled bird, while the sweet, spiced coating gave all new, hot perspective to finger-licking good chicken.

Jerk pork neck served with sweet potato fries, jungle slaw, salsa and bread rolls
Given the feast already laid out on the table, there was some disbelief that the jerk pork neck also arrived; itself a full main offering for at least two hungry eaters.

It's served with bread rolls for a DIY bun session: shred some pork (which seemed to be spicier than the chicken's jerk seasoning), add some slaw and cucumber salsa, with sweet potato fries on the side and you've got a full-blown Jamaican slider fest.

Kingston Kreme doughnuts
In normal circumstances, dessert would just not be a consideration for me after so much food already. But with the kitchen conspiring against me, we were presented with hot, sugar-coated doughnuts in an egg carton.

The doughnuts themselves had a bit of spice to them, while the jerk custard was certainly an unusual dessert offering alongside chocolate sauce.

Piña colada dessert
Our other dessert was a piña colada sundae of sorts, with cherry coulis, coconut ice cream, super juicy compressed pineapple and shaved coconut. The coconut ice cream was divine and this is the sort of lighter, not-so-sweet dessert that's right up my alley.

Some of the decor at Queenies
The decor at Queenies, like most Drink and Dine venues, is fun and a bit kitsch with an inexplicable white tiger head, fake fruit and flowers, and wooden bowl light features about the walls. The Jamaican music adds plenty to the restaurant's casual and relaxed atmosphere while the food menu is familiar enough to be undaunting.

So, be prepared for an absolute tropical feast fit for a king, or indeed, Queenies, when you walk upstairs at The Forresters. Many thanks to Jamie Thomas for the hospitality - even just looking at the photos now, Jamaican me hungry.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Jamie Thomas and Queenies.

Queenies on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A huge day of Marrickville Festival 2012

Marrickville Festival 2012, Marrickville and Illawarra Roads
I popped my Marrickville Festival cherry over the weekend with my first outing to the huge inner west street festival.

With the onset of spring, it is truly festival season in Sydney and the muggy weekend weather complied for the most part, certainly improving beverage sales.

Festival crowds on Illawarra Road
Taking over parts of both Marrickville and Illawarra Roads, Marrickville Festival is about as big a street festival as I've ever seen, with a myriad of stalls and colour down the middle of both main roads.

Kids rock climbing
There was plenty of markets type stalls, music, entertainment for the kids, community representation and of course, food, with many a festival favourite to be seen and had.

Fairy floss stall

Deep fried potato spiral
This was actually the very first time I had tried the gimmicky spiral cut potato, deep fried on a skewer, which seem popular at all festivals these days.

With a choice of seasonings, the chilli and paprika gave the lightly battered potato colour and a flavour boost. My spiralled potato was so enjoyable I was left wondering why I've not tried it before.

Pig on the spit at the Feather and Bone stall
The pig roasting on a spit at the Feather and Bone stall did a good job of attracting hungry festival-goers, with healthy queues for their meat filled bun offerings.

Roast pork roll from Feather and Bone stall
The roast pork roll with apple sauce a lettuce seemed a little light on pork and featured an unpleasant helping of cartilage, although the cinnamon tinged apple sauce was a bright spot.

Pickles and preserves from the Cornersmith stall
Popular local café, Cornersmith had samples of their very own pickles and preserves going - the vivid yellow piccalili a total winner - and refreshing blood orange cordial by the plastic glass.

Main music stage
As per the Surry Hills Festival,Glebe Street Fair and Newtown Festival, Marrickville Festival offers a platform for up-and-coming musical talent, often local musicians, to perform on a big stage. The acts we saw through the day ranged from metal to jazz to rap.

Festival crowd in Marrickville Road
The food stalls on Marrickville Road demonstrated the exceptional variety of cuisines available in Marrickville.

Multiculturalism at its best meant Malaysian chicken satay next to Greek loukoumades next to Vietnamese rice paper rolls next to Spanish paella next to Nepalese momos next to Italian piadinas.

Deep frying Greek loukoumades

Grilling chicken satay

Healthy looking salads and wraps

Seafood paella

South American food offerings 
I have Marrickville Festival to thank for my coming across South American arepas for the very first time.

Looking like a very thick tortilla, these ground corn bases straddled the pizza and tortilla concepts and looked pretty tempting (especially the chorizo option).

Empanada with aji sauce
But I was taken by the golden-hued empanadas, fresh out of a deep fryer and recommended eaten with a fresh aji salsa.

Featuring a slightly chewy corn meal casing with a soft pulled beef and vegetable filling, these piping hot babies were easily some of the best and tastiest variation of an empanada I've ever had - I could have had the four all to myself.

Music stage on Illawarra Road

Furniture by Curb Collective

An artfully decorated coffee van
Marrickville Festival 2012 - what a fabulous community event showcasing a very diverse and exciting inner west suburb. I'm looking forward to next year's already!

See more photos on my Facebook page.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sunshine, sparkling and oysters at Sydney Cove Oyster Bar

We're apparently due for a warmer summer this year in Sydney, which would make outdoor dining all the more appealing.

A seafood and oyster restaurant doesn't get much more appealing than the outdoor Sydney Cove Oyster Bar at Circular Quay, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a backdrop and the Sydney Opera House in the yonder distance.

Stefano Lubuana Brut at Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, Circular Quay
Sydney Cove Oyster Bar has been in its waterside location since the late 1980s, which is commendable in itself. And with warmer weather due, their refreshed menu has all the hallmarks of a fantastic long lunch in the summer time.

Even on a grey day, one can't complain about sparkling wine on the harbour, and what better accompaniments than freshly shucked oysters and a ray or two of sunshine through the clouds.

Oyster shots: margarita (left) and sake (right)
I'm not sure who decided oyster shots were a good idea for a starter, but I suppose we also didn't expect them to be proper alcoholic shots.

The salt-rimmed tequila-strong margarita went down tough while the sake shot also had seasoned wakame seaweed and soy sauce for a savoury finish with chew. The oyster gets a little lost amid the flavours and strong alcohol while the lemon wedges are apparently for sucking on post shot.

Assorted Sydney rock and Pacific oysters
With the oyster selection, I asked for a completely mixed dozen of oysters - in variety and toppings - which I don't think the restaurant normally offers.

Oysters with granita
We started with the colourful granita-topped oysters, two each of Sydney rocks from Port Stephens and Pacifics from the Hawkesbury River.

The bright citrus flavours of the granita ranged from quite sweet to aptly sour, forming interesting flavour combinations with the oysters. I think best pairing was the lemon ice on a Pacific oyster.

Oysters with cucumber and white balsamic
I've not come across cucumber and white balsamic vineagar topped oysters before, and what a combination it is.

The juliennes of cucumber offer a clean platform for the oyster while the white balsamic gives the minerally mouthful both a sweet and tart hit that's so very appetising.

Oysters and sparkling wine
Lastly, but by no means least, the natural oysters show off the true flavours of the molluscs. A fresh Sydney rock with a couple drops of lemon juice, followed by sparkling wine is pure and utter bliss.

Aside from the must-do oyster and shellfish part of the menu, the entrees and mains are all incredibly enticing.

Zucchini flowers filled with ricotta, pinenuts and parsley served with lemon aioli
Zucchini flowers seem to be one of those dishes that few can attest to not liking - I reckon the deep frying and cheese might have something to do with it.

This seafood-free version has an impressively crisp batter and is filled with ricotta cheese, pine nuts and parsley, and are just lovely with a bit of lemon and sunshine.

Farmed Per Sé Spanish sturgeon caviar
We couldn't resist a sampling of the caviar on offer, which we're told varies with what's available seasonally.

The 2.5 gram serving comes on a minute mother of pearl caviar spoon with a bit of toast and crème fraiche, as is a traditional serving manner we're told.

Per Sé caviar with crème fraîche on toast
A delicate spread of crème fraiche on the crunchy toast, followed by a few black fish eggs per bite - so this is what luxury tastes like.

The caviar is not as salty as I expected, and quite briney although the creaminess and carbohydrates negate that to a point. I could definitely learn to like caviar.

Sydney Cove fish pie with blue eye trevalla, smoked trout, roasted leek and fennel
We decided to share mains as there were two in particular that appealed to us both. First, the restaurant's signature fish pie, presented with a puffy dome of pastry.

Sydney Cove fish pie innards
Inside we discovered a wealth of fish chunks; mostly the trevalla with some trout which gave great flavour to the lightly creamy sauce. The leek and fennel were just the perfect vegetable additions to the fish pie with fresh dill. It's also quite the generous serve.

Bouillabaisse with saffron-infused tomato broth, blue claw yabbies, scampi,
king prawns, mussels and fish fillets 
There was probably more excitement about the bouillabaisse, and rightly so as it was a stunning plate that arrived to the table.

Piled up with seafood, the scampi and yabbies most prominently, the deep red sauce just beckoned diners to dive in with fingers or the sourdough bread served alongside.

The saffron-infused broth was quite heavenly, in no way taking the shine away from the well cooked shellfish. The blue claw yabbies topped the list, while the king prawns and just-cooked mussels weren't far behind.

I think I also remember a couple of varieties of fish in the bouillabaisse, while the only thing missing was some rouille on the bread, although that's just nitpicking a great and also generous dish.

Wild mushrooms, tarragon and truffle oil
We'd opted for the mushroom dish on the side which thankfully had more tarragon flavour than truffle oil. I quite adore mushrooms so the assortment of oyster, enoki and shiitake mushrooms was both a tasty and healthy side dish.

After a fair whack of food, especially seafood, and a couple of glasses of sparkling, dessert was fairly far from my mind.

Petit fours plate
I could be, and was convinced into a petit fours offering, which in this case was a plate of chocolates - quite gorgeous handmade ones at that.

There was an appropriate amount of swooning at the chocolate covered marshmallow, decorated with nuts and freeze dried berries, while the paper-wrapped fudge made its way into my bag for home.

A good couple of hours later, I'm sure I could have lingered even longer had the sun been out completely. It was everything you could want from the perfect weekend seafood lunch: a bit of sunshine, a bit more sparkling and oysters on the harbour - and it would seem Sydney Cove Oyster Bar is just the place for it.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Sydney Cove Oyster Bar.

Sydney Cove Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon


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