Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A sweet Dram(buie) at the Pullman Hotel

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be introducing new contributors to Food, booze and shoes. This article was written by Janice – whisky drinker, insomniac baker and dinner party queen.

From more than 250 years ago in Scotland, to many a parents’ or grandparents’ booze stash, to today at the swankily refurbished Pullman Hotel in the Sydney CBD south – Drambuie is a liqueur stalwart that exudes old-world sophistication.

Entrance to the Drambuie Bar Takeover at the Pullman Sydney
Hyde Park Hotel, College Street, Sydney
Starting today through to Sunday 3 March 2013 until 11pm each day, the Scottish liqueur brand has taken over the Pullman’s cocktail lounge into its very own surreal Drambuie Bar.

Guests are transported into the world of Drambuie with Salvador Dali-inspired surroundings, Drambuie-based cocktails, matching canapés and a limited edition Gelato Messina Drambuie gelato.

Flavours of Drambuie
Drambuie is a blend of aged Scotch whisky, spices, heather honey and herbs; a sweetened, easier-drinking version of whisky if you will.

The setting in the Pullman's cocktail lounge is excellently executed: playfully decked out in an old-world feel with Dali-styled photo props. The bar itself is an impressive with a modern, surreal feel.

The cocktail bar

Cocktail bartender

Contortionist at the launch event
During the launch event, a lithe contortionist provided surprising entertainment amid the Drambuie-sipping crowd, popping up in uncomfortable looking positions and adding to the theme surrealism and 'tasting the extraordinary'.

Duck gyoza, Bitter and Twisted Nail cocktail (front) and Rusty Mojito cocktail (back)
The Drambuie take on the classic mojito of white rum, mint, sugar and lime was promptly served upon arrival. The quite sweet combination of the Rusty Mojito was a refreshing drink to start on a warm, humid evening.

This was quickly followed by the "Bitter and Twisted Nail"; a new-age take on a classic Rusty Nail with Drambuie, Scotch whisky and Campari that was certainly on the stronger side.

Tastings of the Drambuie 15
In addition to Drambuie cocktails, the bar’s menu will include a tasting trio of classic Drambuie; Drambuie 15, made exclusively with 15-year-old Speyside malt whisky; and The Royal Legacy of 1745, a limited edition Drambuie with only 2,250 bottles created worldwide.

Not having tried Drambuie before, I was keen to taste this grain and malt blend, infused with herbs, heather honey and spices. Drambuie Original is a sweet, rich whisky liqueur with a gentle aftertaste of aniseed.

It's a great and easy introduction to the world of whisky, especially for non-whisky drinkers, as the sweetness offsets the strong first "hit" of whisky neat or on the rocks.

My favourite tipple of the night was the Drambuie 15, with a number of 15-year-old Speyside malt whiskies married with the original Drambuie elixir. I found myself slowly sipping this to savour the intriguing bouquet with its citrus blend and reduced sweetness.

We were then introduced to the limited edition Drambuie Royal Legacy of 1745. With only 2,250 bottles created, the original Drambuie elixir is balanced with subtle whisky oak and vanilla overtones. This is a more complex, smoother drink than both the Original and the Drambuie 15.

Kangaroo slider
Drambuie tastings are paired with matched canapés to enhance the flavours, including duck gyoza with a spicy, sweet sauce, caramelised pork belly pieces and oysters garnished with tangy, pink finger lime.

The highlight were the kangaroo sliders, featuring surprisingly tender and moist meat patties, cheese and pickled beetroot – it doesn’t get much more Australian than that.

Oysters with finger limes

Caramelised pork belly

Rusty Negroni
Jonathan Brown, regional director of Drambuie also kindly introduced us to the "Rusty Negroni", which is apparently on the menu at laneway small bar, Grasshopper Bar.

Chilled and strained Drambuie, Campari and Shiraz might sound like a direct route to a hangover, but this reminded me of sangria, albeit a more upmarket and weighty version.

Rusty Licker gelato by Gelato Messina
The event was also the premiere of a unique collaboration between Drambuie and Gelato Messina.

Conceived by Messina's artisan gelato masters, the "Rusty Licker" is a playful spin on the infamous Rusty Nail cocktail – a super-sweet gelato combination of caramel, ginger and Drambuie-soaked savoiardi biscuits.

Drambuie and Espresso Martini
The night ended with a very well-made Drambuie and Espresso Martini, with plenty of sweetness and both a whisky and caffeine kick.

Learning of Drambuie's versatility was quite a surprise - it can be enjoyed neat, over ice or simply as a long refreshing drink mixed with soda or ginger beer. This sweet dram certainly has a place in my liqueur cabinet. See more photos from the launch night on my Facebook page.

The Drambuie Bar Takeover runs from Wednesday 27 February to Sunday 3 March at the lounge bar of the Pullman Sydney Hyde Park Hotel.

Food, booze and shoes attended the launch of the Drambuie Bar Takeover at the Pullman Sydney Hyde Park Hotel as a guest, with thanks to DEC PR.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Albion Street Kitchen: The new casual

I was surprised to see a deal voucher on offer so soon for Albion Street Kitchen – Warren Turnbull's and head chef Grant Astle's very recent rebirth of Assiette. I snapped it up quick-smart and booked in, admittedly a little wary of the changes.

Complimentary milk bread at Albion Street Kitchen, Albion Street, Surry Hills
Albion Street Kitchen is a more casual restaurant than its formerly-toqued predecessor. As soon as I walked through the doors on Albion Street, however, I missed Assiette.

The music playing in the intimate dining room certainly was more casual (Mrs. Robinson?) but the space still feels like Assiette, except for the new bright blue wall. The white tablecloths are gone but in their place are completely lust-worthy, heavy, marble-topped tables.

Complimentary milk bread with rosemary olive oil
The new, more casual menu features five entrées and five mains that all sound pretty exciting, with a touch of international flavours which I remember from Assiette days. Wines by the glass are very well priced, with the fruity yet buttery Chenin Blanc possibly my new favourite white wine.

Adorable, shiny milk bread arrived at the table on a board with a tiny carafe of olive oil and a sprig of rosemary that seemed more decorative than a flavour infuser. The pull-apart style of the fluffy and softly dense bread was perfect for a hungry stomach.

Cheese on toast, truffle, asparagus, Pedro Ximenez, raisins
This may well be an early contender for signature dish at Albion Street Kitchen – and I know I want it again on my next visit. Cheese on toast is easily one of my favourite lazy, comforting meals, but I can’t say I often have Pyengana cheddar delicately melted over toasty brioche with truffle shavings.

I also don’t tend to cook raisins in Pedro Ximenez sherry to add on top with delightfully buttery mushrooms and grilled asparagus spears. For this luxe version of cheese on toast, I’ll be seeking out Albion Street Kitchen.

Seared veal tongue, sweetbreads, pickled turnip, salsa verde, almonds
The veal tongue entrée was a little surprising in its form; basically a steak slice of the tongue, surrounded by golden pan fried sweetbreads, small but vivid pink pickled turnip and a bright green sauce of salsa verde.

Both the pickle and salsa verde were perfect flavour matches for the offal but it was the veal tongue that really surprised me. It was as far from chewy as you could get (in contrast to some experiences with ox tongue) and bordered on spongy, which isn’t a particularly appetising descriptor but worked excellently with its sear treatment and dish accompaniments.

Ranger's Valley bavette, miso glaze, eggplant, sesame seeds, spinach
There was serious to-ing and fro-ing when it came to the mains options, with all the protein options sounding delectably worthy.

My second pick was the Ranger’s Valley bavette or flank steak, which was served with wilted spinach and a halved, miso-topped grilled eggplant. While I adore the Japanese nasu dengaku miso glazed eggplant dish, I found the miso glaze a little too strong on the soft eggplant here.

A muscular cut of beef, the pink-centred bavette was wonderfully tender with an appropriate bit of chew to go along with loads of beefy flavour, somewhat offsetting the sweet miso glaze.

Chatham Island cod, cauliflower, vadouvan, tamarind gel
My top pick was the Chatham Island cod; a slim fillet that flaked to perfection and had plenty of flavour on its own.

The vadouvan spice dusted cauliflower gave the dish an affable Indian touch while the cauliflower puree, dotted with the sweet brown tamarind gel, added richness and depth. This also came with wilted spinach, making the main meals quite complete and reducing the need for side dishes.

Panfried zucchini, garlic butter (front) and chips, chilli salt (back)
In any case, I’d recommend one side shared between two diners, especially given the generous sizes – the thick cut chips were served in a bowl in a pub-size serving.

Crunchily golden with a seasoning of salt and chilli powder, there was a definite umami component, almost like powdered katsuobushi dried bonito flakes or similar. They were a little on the dry side, so the tamarind gel from my main meal made for a fitting dipping sauce.

Meanwhile, the zucchini were at just the right firmness with a surprisingly subtle garlic butter and crisp pangratatto style breadcrumbs sprinkled atop. We were defeated by half bowls of each side remaining and finishing my wine, I couldn't even look at the dessert menu.

In all, I wouldn't call Albion Street Kitchen a casual restaurant but it is certainly a step down from hatted fine dining. At its heart I think it’s just the new, casual Assiette, but with quality and flavours like this on the plates, I'm really going to like the new casual.

Albion Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 18, 2013

Singapore slinging - part 2: Singapore chilli crab at Jumbo Seafood Restaurant

It was an odd admission to some: that I’d never tried Singapore chilli crab before. But if this was ever going to change, there was no better place for it than in Singapore where I spent a few sweaty days in December last year.

I adore mud crabs, especially the meaty claws, although I tend to eat more blue swimmer crabs in Australia. My favourite eating style is, without doubt, Cantonese style ginger and shallot crab with e-fu thick, soft egg noodles to soak up all the juices and sauces.

Singapore chilli crab from Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, The Riverwalk, Singapore
We met an expat friend at one of the many Jumbo Seafood Restaurants across Singapore, which was in turn, recommended by one of his local workmates. Beers ordered, we got down to business with plastic bibs around our necks.

The market priced Singapore chilli crab arrived to the table in impressively quick time, with finger bowls and crab crackers. The large black pot held a whole crab, cracked and in pieces, with lots of the tomato-based chilli sauce.

It was all hands on deck with the mud crab a little smaller than its Queensland cousins. However, the depth of flavour in the sauce - not just sweetness and very mild chilli, but an array of spices - was most satisfying.

Deep fried man tou buns
We had to get a few orders of the small, fluffy, steamed man tou buns - both plain steamed and deep fried - to soak up the chilli crab sauce.

Steamed man tou buns 

Singapore black pepper crab
For variety, we also ordered a crab in the other popular Singaporean cooking style: black pepper. With a much drier sauce of mostly cracked black pepper, this was a little surprising in its heat and spice - indeed, more spicy and lip burning than the chilli crab.

I'm a bit torn choosing a favourite of the Singapore chilli or black pepper crab, so I'll revert to ginger and shallot, which probably allows the true flavour of crab shine through better than the spicier options.

Jellyfish salad
We also ordered a starter of jellyfish salad, which came heavily and appropriately dressed in lots of roasted sesame oil and raw coriander.

For those unfamiliar with jellyfish, it comes in translucent, light brown strips without any real trace of the sea but with a sometimes challenging texture of soft crispness.

Mee goreng - stir fried noodles
Crab-fest as it was, we added some carbohydrates and vegetables to the dinner order for balance. The mee goreng noodles were pretty unexciting in flavour with prawns, egg and bean sprouts tossed through. There was also a generous plate of sambal kangkong water spinach - a Malaysian favourite.

I'm not sure Jumbo Seafood Restaurant was the best Singapore chilli crab available in Singapore, but there you have it - my first Singapore chilli crab.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

PaperPlanes Bondi: Flying high

The hundreds of colourful, individually-painted skateboards on the ceilings of contemporary Japanese restaurant, PaperPlanes Bondi are only the beginning – there’s more to be done on the site, says Phil Capaldi who co-owns the restaurant with the Barge brothers of LL Wine & Dine fame.

Skateboards and origami cranes on the ceiling at PaperPlanes Bondi,
Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach
Ten months in and PaperPlanes is flying high in Bondi Beach’s new-ish Beach House complex, wedged in between an ice cream shop and Hotel Bondi.

Such are the lofty heights of their success that they’re Bali-bound with a super-charged PaperPlanes concept involving a couple of restaurants and a beachfront club. There’s also talk of New York and other worldly, big cities – there’s no shortage of ambition with this lot.

The bar and moving specials board
Back in Bondi, diners can walk into the moodily-lit space from a sand-and-surf session on beachy Campbell Parade, or sneak in after a shopping session on store-lined Gould Street.

A young, local contingent of diners and drinkers keep the restaurant busy with a good dose of beach cool, especially in the evenings and Sunday afternoons when there’s live music involving a full size harp.

PaperPlanes menu
In for lunch, we were seated at the bar unravelling the origami-folded menu to discover fun, easy-drinking cocktails with a modern PaperPlanes touch.

Rock, Scissors, Paper cocktail (left) and Harajuku Girl cocktail (right)
The Rock, Scissors, Paper cocktail was aperitif-like with bitter Campari, Martini Rosso and almond-scented amaretto lightened with orange juice making for an interesting palate starter.

The girly, pink, martini-glassed Harajuku Girl of gin and elderflower liqueur arrived garnished unexpectedly with desiccated coconut, ramping up the sweet, shaken coconut water component and watermelon juice.

New Zealand deep sea scampi nigiri with ponzu jelly, wasabi soy glazed cucumber,
fried onion and chives
There was serious lust for almost everything on the starters menu but we managed to narrow it down to the scampi nigiri sushi. Served alongside the emptied scampi head, the cube of ponzu jelly melting atop added all the necessary flavour to the creamily fresh, raw shellfish.

PaperPlanes prawn gyoza with creamy lemon wasabi foam,
crushed wasabi peas and fresh herbs
We also sampled PaperPlanes’ excellent signature prawn gyoza dumplings, which came beautifully pan fried on a creamy wasabi and lemon foam.

Both the garnish of crushed, crunchy wasabi peas and the chewy, golden skins were highlights, while the slightly spicy foam matched particularly well with the bouncy, minced prawn filling.

Orion Draft beer
PaperPlanes has the easy-drinking Japanese Orion Draft beer on tap while a small selection of other beers are served by the bottle.

Ine Mankai sake
Also available is an interesting range of sake which Capaldi loves introducing to newcomers – I was given a tasting of some of the boutique offerings.

The red rice Ine Mankai was surprisingly sweet with cherry and pomegranate notes; and was unlike any sake I've ever sipped.

Kizan Sanban sake
The Kizan Sanban was also on the lighter, sweeter, easy-to-drink side and is definitely a good starting point for those new to sake.

My favourite of the tastings was the Mutemuka, which has an earthier, savoury flavour that I think is more traditional than the sweeter styles, while the yeasty Azemura was probably the strongest of the lot.

Sweet corn on the cob with butter and red miso sauce
Beer and sake are the perfect accompaniments to a bit of savoury eating in the form of kushiyaki skewers of grilled meats and vegetables.

The sweet cobs of corn were grilled and lightly brushed with a complementary mix of red miso sauce and butter – a little unwieldy on the well-cooked skewer but a crowd pleaser nonetheless.

Chicken thigh fillet with shallot and truffle glaze
We headed into yakitori grilled chicken territory with the chicken thigh and shallot skewer, scented with a touch of truffle oil amid the soy sauce basting.

Chicken meatball with white sesame
I adored the texture of the chicken meatball – crumbly and not entirely smooth beneath its char markings – but unfortunately it was a bit on the overly-salty side.

Crispy chicken skin with white sesame
I sensed there was a bit of cheating when it came to the crunchy, golden pieces of chicken skin, threaded on the skewer. Deep fried rather than grilled, the fried skin morsels were pure guilty pleasure.

Zucchini with butter, red miso sauce and white sesame
Lessening the guilt were zucchini and eggplant in red miso sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. While the eggplant was a little too thickly covered in the sweet sauce, the barely-cooked zucchini was perfectly firm and refreshing.

Eggplant with butter, red miso sauce and white sesame

Braised beef short ribs off bone in yakiniku sauce with pickled vegetable
In pretty good form, we opted for a single main dish to share – Capaldi highly recommends both the lamb ribs and beef short rib and we ended up happily with the latter.

I’m not sure exactly how many hours of cooking or how many spices went into the deeply-coloured beef, but I’m positive it was a lot of both. The meat was so soft and tender that it had literally fallen off the bone and was served as a boneless pile of meat that could be eaten with chopsticks.

With sweet braising sauces and the richness of the short rib, I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate than pickled vegetables to go with the beef: the carrot and lotus root were sweet and just sour enough, while the radish was Japanese-style pickled salty.

Wakame and tofu salad with sesame dressing
Instead of rice we went with the wakame dressed seaweed with chilled squares of tofu as a healthy side. It was definitely a protein-packed, healthy dish with the creamy sesame sauce matching surprisingly well with the tofu.

PP Colada cocktail
Asking for an appropriate drink to go with dessert, Capaldi suggested a PP Colada - the PaperPlanes rendition of the tropical rum, pineapple and coconut cream based piña colada which was traditional and true to taste.

The black egg – coconut milk curd with macadamia oil and ristretto cocoa sauce
Dessert at PaperPlanes really broke the mould on Japanese desserts that are generally not considered much beyond green tea ice cream.

The 'black egg' wasn't what I had imagined but instead a bowl of jellied coconut milk, light and sweet, with a pooled dollop of slightly nutty and bitter cocoa sauce.

Green tea rocher layered of ricotta crust, dark chocolate ganache and hazelnut
But it was the green tea rocher that wowed us: think balls of deep fried ricotta dough rolled in fine green tea sugar.

Green tea rocher innards
Inside was hot melting dark chocolate ganache with a whole roasted hazelnut, Ferrero Rocher style and completely lovable. These were clever and fun, summing up the entire experience at PaperPlanes.

PaperPlanes ceiling
Clever, modern Japanese dishes in a fun, colourful setting where it's just as much about the food and drinks selection as the vibe and music. PaperPlanes is flying high in Bondi, direct to Bali mid-year.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of PaperPlanes Bondi, with thanks to Sweaty Betty PR.

PaperPlanes on Urbanspoon


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