Monday, April 30, 2012

Light grazing at Graze

I get hit by voucher fatigue every couple of months, and then go back into a buying spree. One of my more recent voucher purchases was Graze's Summer Feast Menu offer although by the time I booked into the small Pyrmont restaurant, summer had moved on.

With a menu of "grazing style dishes", it probably wasn't the best idea to position the voucher offer as a meal of three entrées and two mains as the dishes are not remotely main sized. A bottle of Borgo Bello Montepulciano from Abuzzo, Italy accompanied the varied meal as wine included in the deal.

Torched ocean trout, ginger salt, orange and ginger from Graze, Harris Street, Pyrmont
There was lots to choose from on the summer grazing menu, with the torched ocean trout catching my attention immediately.

The four bright orange strips of fish, burnished black, were quite a nice match with the sweet, torched orange segments with shiso leaves adding a subtle bitterness. The ginger salt was so subtle I didn't notice it while I thought the orange and ginger gel was more for aesthetics than function.

Butternut pumpkin gnocchi, caramelised chestnuts, basil, mushroom puree
The fall-apart soft slices of butternut pumpkin gnocchi more resembled grilled Roman style gnocchi, arriving with the ocean trout and setting the theme for presentation for the rest of the night (the small white rectangular plates are used for all dishes).

Mushrooms aren't the prettiest ingredient for a puree but this dish had some nice flavours with the basil and crunchy chestnuts. The rather autumnal ingredients, however, didn't neccessarily work together to create anything mind-blowing.

Truffled duck egg on toast, parmesan, grilled asparagus
The smell of our final entree arrived before it did; a pretty array of grilled asparagus spears over a sunny-side-up duck egg with plenty of truffle oil. There were a few pieces of very crisp bread beneath the arrangement, for dipping into the runny egg yolk, in a dish that was as classic as it was breakfast-appropriate.

Seared sardine, chilli and garlic olive oil, parsley, lemon
I'm not sure how four sardines and some foam constitutes a main meal, but here they were, pan fried to edible-bone state with a flavoursome coating of red chilli, garlic and parsley. The two shot glasses were filled with a part sauce, part dip gazpacho soup foam that was interesting at the very least.

Confit chicken wings, carrot,  mushroom and watercress
The saviour of the meal was undoubtedly the chicken wing dish – who would have thought at a restaurant aiming for an upmarket neighbourhood experience? These five mid-wings (with bones artfully removed) were intensely hot in temperature and featured golden, crispy skin all over.

The vivid carrot puree worked a treat with the chicken wings and whole shitake mushrooms, while it would have been nice to see the watercress with a role in the dish beyond garnish.

Espresso brulee, poached rhubarb
It was a laughing matter when the two desserts arrived at the table: the brulee set in an espresso cup and the Eton Mess about four times its size.

But showing that it's not size that matters, the espresso brulee was seriously smooth and rich, with a sweetly lingering hit of coffee. The poached rhubarb presented on the teaspoon was a pleasant wintery addition.

Fig Eton Mess, salted caramel jelly
There was a lot going on with the Eton Mess and not quite enough meringue, sadly as that's my favourite part. The thin meringue wings on top were about it, with plenty of cream, stewed figs and an intriguing jelly of salted caramel flavour that was definitely a great standalone component.

The service was well-intentioned and efficient with our wine glasses constantly (over)filled throughout the night in the comfortable restaurant setting. Lucky for the Pyrmont locals, the Graze menu affords great flexibility for neighbourhood diners who can have a light graze and then move on with the herds.

Graze on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 26, 2012

10 William Street: Addressing Paddington

The Sydney suburb of Paddington made news recently for the wrong reasons, although it's hard not to notice the abundance of 'For Lease' signs perched above retail store awnings all along Oxford Street.

But I'm sure the suburb that once was will be again, especially with the likes of 10 William Street calling Paddington home.

Upstairs at 10 William Street, William Street, Paddington
From the same people behind Potts Point's Italian institution Fratelli Paradiso, 10 William Street is a wine bar that boasts a serious menu of Italian eats in the fashion-centric William Street.

There's no signage at the street front, nor inside, but you'll recognise the retro black tiled frontage with big glass windows opening up to cosy groups quaffing wine beneath blackboards proffering a healthy collection of wines.

First level
The first street-level floor of 10 William Street is more your small bar, with dim and intimate seating for small groups as well as a few seats at the bar. It's not any brighter upstairs but there's more of a restaurant feel, cosily spartan as it is.

We were looked after extraordinarily well upstairs by waiter Owen, who at an earlier hour contends with us and just one other table but later manages the entire room with smooth ease. We're started on prosecco from the Veneto region, because it's always good to start with bubbles.

A generous dish of mixed olives came along - Sicilian, Ligurian and Kalamata - which really do make one of the best drinking snacks ever. (And apologies now for fuzzy photos - it was seriously dark and I was drinking the whole way through).

A gorgeous smell preceded the arrival of the crowd-pleasing arancini, which feature Paesanella mozzarella that gets that rubbery texture I adore when cooled a little. They're served with a blob of mustard fruit chutney that’s not pretty but was definitely a tasty match.

Fior di latte, beets, heirloom tomatoes
The soft, stretched fior di latte cheese is sourced from Victoria, because 10 William Street think it’s the best in Australia. They could well be right - there are definite creamy flavours and savouriness in the cheese, not just bland balls of nothing like so many others.

The fior di latte was presented with eye-catching hues of red and yellow tomatoes, green basil leaves and purple beetroot. This modern play on an insalata caprese was really just a delightful plate of produce.

With this entree style dish we were served a very, very fruity Heidler Gruner Veltliner 'Thal' from Austria, which would suit those who like a lots of fruity sugars in their wine.

Bruschetta of lamb ragu and chickpeas
The bruschetta toppings change weekly, with some of our waiter’s favourites being chicken liver pate or Sicilian sardines, straight from the tin, with tomatoes.

This night’s treat on thick toasted bread was a wintery lamb ragu – appropriate for the cool change to autumn – with a chickpea puree, whole chickpeas and coriander from the kitchen’s herb garden. This was like no other bruschetta I've tried before, and I like the new take.

Maltagliati with osso bucco, gremolata
The smell of the osso bucco pasta dish was unbearably good and consisted of exactly what I want when I crave pasta: a rich tomato sauce, gorgeously al dente pasta in novel, rough-cut sheet pasta in something resembling squares.

I loved the transformation of a traditional ossu bucco - with gremolata, of course - into a pasta dish, with the bone marrow mixed through for added richness.

At this point, the wine in the glass was a full-bodied, fruity Italian red Torre Vento 'Salice Salentino', which was perfect to cut through the rich pasta sauce.

Sfoglia verdure
The sfoglia isn’t pastry as the Italian translation would imply, but more like a very open lasagne with several sheets of pasta filled with fried garden vegetables: tomato, capsicum, baby corn, broccoli, baby carrots, zucchini and heavily spiced slices of eggplant.

Topped with chopped parsley also straight from the kitchen garden, the goat’s cheese sauce was a necessary addition of richness to the vegetarian dish. It was hard to compete with the osso bucco maltagliati though.

We dabbled back into Italian white territory at this point with the Bera Arcese, which is a blend that has the slightest of bubbles to its very easy-drinking nature.

Black angus sirloin, rocket, potatoes
The main, as if all the other dishes weren't fantastic menu features already, was a grain-fed black angus sirloin from Kingaroy, Queensland, cooked medium-rare and boasting a sensationally flavoured-crust full of salt and charred goodness.

The crisp chunks of potato and lightly dressed rocket leaves with parmesan shavings were really all that were needed alongside the tagliata style cut of beef.

We skipped back to red wines with my favourite of the night: Sami Odi 'Little Wine' Shiraz which was the big flavour you'd want from a Barossa shiraz paired with a sirloin steak. There are only 120 cases of this small batch production available in Australia, and 10 William Street had 12 cases when I was there earlier this month.

In pre dessert fashion, the kitchen sent out spoonfuls of the tiramisu “Fratelli”. The immediate hit of good coffee soaked into the sponge makes this immediately likeable, with smooth, velvety mascarpone wrapped all around.

Sweet of the day – caramel and fig cake with vanilla ice cream and pistachios and caramel
I wasn’t too sure what to expect of a caramel cake, but it was essentially that – a slice of a dense caramel-flavoured cake dotted with segments of dried figs.

Topped with more caramel sauce, a quenelle of vanilla ice cream and crumbled pistachio nuts, it was a simple, well-balanced, almost homely dessert that hit all the right spots.

The heavy Mas Amiel aged grenache from south-west France had plenty enough saccharine characteristics to take on caramel sauce - which says a lot.

10 William Street frontage
I'm not sure if most people go through that much food and six different wines in a sitting at 10 William Street. But there is so much to like about the place: the quiet street off a main road, a menu of impressively high standards to match a huge variety of wines on pour (and by the bottle), and a relaxed atmosphere to really enjoy the wine, company and wine bar atmosphere.

I can't wait to return for a Saturday session with the girls - perhaps post a spot of shopping in Paddington - but 10 William Street has definitely got it going on, even if the rest of the suburb has some catching up to do.

Food, booze and shoes dined at 10 William Street as a guest, with thanks to Maria Farmer Public Relations.

10 William Street on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rockpool: To China and back

Like the mature older sister to the louder but still classy Rockpool Bar & Grill, the original Rockpool on George Street, The Rocks remains the ultimate Sydney restaurant institution. With Neil Perry at the helm, and Phil Wood heading up the kitchen, over 20 years of service with a string of hats says something.

I had booked in to Rockpool without completely knowing how much it had turned towards the Chinese flavours that Perry so loves. I incorrectly figured that with Spice Temple as Perry's outlet for all things Chinese, that Rockpool would have more of a modern Australian path. So it is with these misguided expectations that I dined at Rockpool one weeknight evening.

Bramble cocktail from Rockpool, George Street, The Rocks
There is a lot about Rockpool that makes it well suited to a special occasion: the white-jacketed army of a service crew, the hushed tones and music, or simply even the fact that I’ve peered through the front windows so many times.

Presented with the cocktail and aperitifs list, wine list and 4-course menu (a few days before they started offering 2-, 3,- or 4-course options recently) all at once was a little daunting, but eased by the fact that the restaurant feels old and familiar, although rather quiet this particular night.

We break into white tablecloth territory with cocktails to start: a Bramble of gin, lemon juice and Crème de cassis – a blackcurrant liqueur that contributes the dramatic colours of the cocktail.

Honey spelt sourdough bread and butter
A boule of soft spelt sourdough arrived as we assessed the menu, looking like a lot of bread for two people. Tinged with a faint hint of honey, the fluffy bread disappeared a little too quickly with pretty much all of the creamy butter.

Queensland spanner crab, toast, tabasco mayonnaise, peach leaf jelly
Subtlety was the name of the canapé, inhaled in just a couple of teaspoon-mouthfuls and leaving me wanting more. The sweet spanner crab flesh paired exquisitely with the mild peach leaf jelly although it was almost a shy start, even with the Tabasco mayonnaise.

At this point I still wasn't aware of the oncoming influx of Chinese flavours. We'd made our selections from the three savoury courses and while I'd picked dishes like congee and roast pigeon, I was expecting a modern and western take on these very traditional Chinese dishes.

Blue swimmer crab and corn congee, almond tofu, star anise scented peanuts,
fried bread and chilli oil
Rockpool's congee certainly did not look traditional, but the flavours were another kettle of fish. It seemed like the traditional, if not pimped-up, flavours but ten-times more intense.

There were so many familiar flavours and so much going on: small hits of blue swimmer crab flesh, sweet kernels of corn and very traditional additions of peanuts, shallots and shredded lettuce to the congee.

However, there was an oiliness to the dish, not helped by the yau ja gwai fried bread pieces nor the chilli oil, somewhat overshadowing the delicate crab and almond tofu.

Glazed pig's head, hot and sour gluten, confit sweet potato, vanilla and hazelnut
This was not remotely the presentation we were expecting for the pig's head dish, but we were fine dining after all. This refined looking dish was every bit as rich as anticipated, with probably more fat and skin in the sticky glazed pig's head portion than meat.

The accompaniments of sweet potato balls and crunchy hazelnuts weren't mind blowing, while the stark presentation of cauliflower cross-sections was intriguing.

John dory, scampi, paprika, macadamia and basil pistou
My second savoury course moved out of Asia to somewhere more like France, with a John dory fillet and a couple of scampi somewhere beneath the flood of chlorophyll-heavy basil pistou.

The pistou was more delicate than its hue suggested, though weighted with bits of macadamia nut - a rather full-flavoured and oily nut to pair with the so-delicate-it-almost-wasn't-there John dory. I liked the barely-cooked scampi best, together with the rouille-like sauce on bread that had some serious char flavour to it.

There aren't any wine matches to the dishes as such, but just asking the sommelier for recommendations by the glass worked well for me. The Spanish Paco & Lola Albariño was a superb match for the clean seafood flavours of this dish.

Mao po doufu with hot and numbing beef, nori curd and bone marrow xiao long bao
The ma po doufu dish was a little more in line with my expectations of Rockpool - innovation applied to the traditional. We wondered for a good five seconds or so where the tofu in the dish was. It is in fact the golden, deep fried sail-like piece in the centre of the plate; more a bean curd skin than normal tofu.

The dish was surrounded by a spiced chilli oil, as per the traditional dish, and completed with pieces of meltingly tender beef spiked with Sichuan pepper for the numbing effect. The tiny xiao long bao filled with bone marrow, cute as it was, didn't quite have the usual quiveringly rich, swoony impact of bone marrow.

South Australian lamb, black eyed beans, tea smoked mussels and salted wombok
The array of ingredients that arrived with the lamb third course did little to detract from the square of lamb, which looked like it was topped with a tile of caramel although it was probably just a sauce on the lamb fat.

Cooked to medium-rare, the lamb played second fiddle in flavour terms compared to the tea smoked mussels, which might have been the true feature of the dish.

Chinese roast pigeon, smoked eggplant, black mushrooms and cucumber pickle with
black bean sauce
My final savoury choice was the Chinese roast pigeon, which was just as good if not better than the traditional dish ordered by those in the know at some Chinese restaurants locally.

Served medium-rare (which would never be the case in Chinese restaurants), the dazzling sheen of the burnished skin was the highlight, closely followed by the impressive flavour infused into the bird and black bean sauce and the heavily smoked eggplant puree.

As wings are about my favourite part of a bird, there was no way I was letting it go to waste. It was all fingers on deck (well, two and two thumbs at least), and noticed by the staff as a handtowel made its way to the table shortly after.

The Parker Estate 'Terra Rossa' Cabernet Sauvignon was the recommended wine with my pigeon, which was bold enough to match the slight gaminess of the pigeon.

Passionfruit soufflé with passionfruit ice cream
No more than 15 seconds after our main course plates were cleared, the passionfruit soufflé was before me. So much for the 20-minute preparation time that I was kind of looking forward to for an eating break (apologies later ensued).

I understand that I'm a slow eater and that this dessert was probably prepared way before I'd finished my main, but it was nontheless highly unexpected so soon. But not one to let an early soufflé deflate the experience (although post photos it had already started to sink), I dug in to the centre of the golden top and tasted sweet passionfruit air - close enough to air anyway.

The waiter's recommendation is to make a hole in the centre of the soufflé and add the passionfruit ice cream to it, with amplifies the fruit flavour while melting and melding the two aspects.

Chocolate terrine infused with ginger, almond sorbet
The chocolate terrine consisted of layers of tempered chocolate, a gingery chocolate mousse filling between and something cake-y on the bottom. The sesame snap added to the nuttiness of the almond sorbet but after tasting the passionfruit soufflé, there wasn't much of a competition.

Birthday surprise chocolate slice
As it was a birthday dinner, unbeknownst to us both a stunning spun sugar concoction made its way to our table, with a single candle illuminating the sugary enclosure.

This treat from the kitchen garnered a few stares and slightly embarassed the birthday celebrant who quickly blew out the candle, although not before it started to melt the spun sugar cylinder.

The square of cake within was rich with a creamy, thick chocolate component on a cake base, and I thought it blew the former chocolate dessert out of the water.

Petit fours to take home
With dessert and a half, I couldn't quite contemplate petit fours to finish, so they were gladly packed up for us to take home. The jelly jube was about as much as I could handle later, despite the lovely presentation of the tiny eclairs and the paper-wrapped fudgey truffle.

Rockpool was undoubtedly a special evening out with near impeccable service (I drank too much water simply because it was constantly filled). Some dishes missed the mark for me and it wasn't the atmospheric experience that Rockpool Bar & Grill can be, but Rockpool was a different and unexpected affair that started at a point, veered off towards China then came back rapidly - and all without a passport.

Rockpool on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A long wait for The Grounds of Alexandria

I've passed the heritage warehouse of The Grounds of Alexandria so often during its refurbishment phase, I could almost note the weekly progress. Originally slated to open in February 2012, The Grounds of Alexandria sold its first coffee in early April after council and construction impediments.

Building No. 7 - The Grounds of Alexandria, Huntley Street, Alexandria
Incorporating a café, coffee roasting facilities, bakery and vegetable garden, The Grounds promised to be like nothing the industrial area -now increasingly populated with home and furniture centres, car dealerships and corporate complexes - had ever seen.

The gardens
Walk into the Huntley Street block any weekend now, and expect more of a wait. Word has clearly gotten around that Alexandria has a new cool-kids' hangout so be prepared for a 45-minute wait for a table for two - otherwise takeaway coffee and pastries are your consolation.

Tea herbs in the gardens
But the wait gives you time to wander around the styled gardens of The Grounds: part outdoor waiting area, part kitchen garden and eventually to be made available for event hire.

Baby eggplants
Indeed, the gardens are is almost as big as the dining area itself; boasting an onsite horticulturalist, kid- and dog-friendly space, and herb and vegetable spotting for keen beans. I think there are even chickens there although the coop was empty when I peered in.

The gardens and waiting area
With the garden full of mismatched tables and chairs, I was surprised that there weren't diners out here too given the waiting masses, but perhaps that's the plan later in the game.

Diners wait in the gardens
In the meantime, the pages of waiting patrons on the clipboard are already keeping the staff busy enough and front-of-house struggling a little, but the hipsters seem happy enough to wait.

Inside the café
Inside, the café dining area is split by the pastries and takeaway counter where blackboard menus are also on display. It is, quite simply, a good-looking place that has the right doses of cool, quirk and function.

Finally seated on the smaller and quieter of the two sides, I plonked down onto the leather banquette to be told we've missed breakfast (up until 11am; lunch starts at 11.30am - not sure what happens in the 30 minutes in between).

Nonetheless, there's plenty on the lunch menu to keep us interested and of course, the coffee which is roasted on site under the watch of Jack Hanna; a latte art champion, head honcho of The Grounds Roasters and a co-director of The Grounds with Ramzey Choker.

Where I was seated I could see into the roasting area labelled in neon yellow, "Research Facility", where coffee bean testing happens. My skim cappuccino tasted every bit as smooth and creamy as a weekend awakening should, especially if it's been researched, tested and all.

Fresh orange and grapefruit juice
For the caffeine-free, a fresh juice of orange and grapefruit might hit the spot, served in a thick glass drinking jar which also served as water glasses in our case (but not all).

The quirky retro water bottles are fun too, adding to the post-industrial feel of the interiors which is artfully casual with cutlery on the tables.

Hand made pappardelle
With breakfast off the menu, we're informed that the lunch pasta dish has been flying out the kitchen, so we put in an order for the pappardelle with slow braised lamb, peas and extra virgin olive oil.

It was a seriously large serve, especially for breakfast, with rich and comforting flavours and topped off with shavings of parmesan cheese.

I still can't decide what was better: the silky ribbons of pappardelle or the homely combination of lamb and peas. A touch of tomato wouldn't have gone astray but this was a winner that I'll be returning for.

Slow cooked lamb salad with yoghurt, chickpeas, roast  pumpkin
In the rush of ordering we'd doubled up on lamb, which was quite possibly the same slow cooked meat as for the pasta dish.

The shredded lamb was tossed with cubes of roasted pumpkin, Spanish onion, whole chickpeas, radicchio, rocket and parsley - the latter few which may well have come from the outside garden.

I think the sherry vinaigrette dressing may have been missing its vinegar component, but you can't really go wrong with lamb and yoghurt anyway. The brown bread was a little more dense and fluffy than I might have expected, though I'm not sure if the bread is yet made onsite.

We offset the salad lunch with a side bowl of chips: wide, irresistibly crunchy ones with a chilli salt and spicy mayonnaise.

Looking around, the burger with fries looked to be the most popular lunch order but with the priciest meal coming in at $17, I think it's all going to be very popular with the locals and nearby workers. 

The Grounds signpost
Despite the long wait for a table on Saturday mornings, our orders actually arrived in lightning-quick time with friendly and efficient service.

The other wait is actually that to pay: bills arrive to the table but are paid - by cash only at the moment - back at the counter where you might encounter the takeaway queue and need to join the end. Perhaps it's a ploy to get more takeaway coffee and cake sales, but overall, the wait for The Grounds has been well worth it.

The Grounds of Alexandria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ayam Goreng 99 - where the chicken comes first

Most students of the University of New South Wales are probably familiar with the broad selection of Asian eateries on Anzac Parade near 'the roundabout' of Kingsford. There are plenty of both Chinese and Indonesian options at affordable prices that even students can't resist.

One such institution is Ayam Goreng 99 which serves up signature Indonesian style grilled and fried chicken and is oddly not located at 99 Anzac Parade.

Ayam goreng kalasan with nasi uduk and ati goreng from Ayam Goreng 99,
Anzac Parade, Kingsford
Most of the menu is quite a mouthful to pronounce for the non-Indonesian, but the great thing is that you don't actually need to utter a word at Ayam Goreng 99. Diners jot down their menu choices onto a notebook, which is then handed to the waitstaff - brilliantly simple.

You come to Ayam Goreng 99 for the ayam goreng - fried chicken. In this instance, it was the paha goreng kalasan deep fried, marinated Javanese style chicken. Most diners knowingly choose the juicy thigh portions although breast pieces are also available at the same price of $6 per piece of chicken.

A rich serve of nasi uduk coconut rice on the side and perhaps a dollop of the restaurant's own chilli sambal makes it a meal, albeit a vegetable free one. A treat of ati goreng deep fried liver turns out to be more dry than livery, and perhaps more appropriate tail-wagging consumers.

Ayam bakar with nasi uduk and sate telor goreng
I've opted for the charcoal-grilled and marinated ayam bakar; a thigh piece, of course, with a serving of coconut rice. The juicy chicken and sweet marinade ensured that I cleaned every miniscule bit of meat off the tasty bones of the thigh and drumstick.

My side treat of sate telor goreng deep fried egg yolk with satay is an unusual skewered offering of three cooked yolks lightly dressed with satay sauce, and is essentially cholesterol on a stick.

Pepes teri
We also have something similar to Malysian otak otak fish mousse wrapped and grilled in banana leaf - the pepes teri anchovies pepes blended with onions, chilli and spices including turmeric. There's some serious charred flavour infused into the banana leaf package in which little white anchovy fish swim amid numerous other ingredients.

With a sour vegetable soup on top of it all, it turned out to be a little too much food for an early lunch for two. But with uni student prices and some of the best chicken in town, Ayam Goreng 99 settles any chicken- or egg-related debate.

Ayam Goreng 99 on Urbanspoon


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