Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bodega: It’s been too long between drinks

My first visit to Bodega was approximately 7.5 years ago in 2006 when the Argentinian tapas bar first sprouted up on Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, just down from my former drinking hole corner pub.

Indeed, it was my work farewell lunch and for most, our first taste of tapas that wasn't strictly Spanish. I remember being a little confused with lunch – or perhaps that was just my impending unemployment.

Drinks at Bodega, Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
In any case, it's taken me way too long to get back to Bodega. During that time they've expanded into the next door shop, gained a cult status among food-lovers and rockabillies alike, spawned a wildly successful sister restaurant in Porteño, and scored one hat in the latest Good Food Guide.

I had some catching up to do so walked in on a recent Friday night to the best seats in the house: at the kitchen counter overlooking the chefs at work, including on this night owner Elvis Abrahanowicz while his wife and maitre d', the inimitable Sarah Doyle, was also on the floor.

We started with the crisp bubbles of Cruzat Clasico and the Spanish Ambar 1900 Pale Ale while perusing the brief menu which sings and dances with creativity.

Tinned white anchovies, fish pate & water crackers
I'm slowly coming around to anchovies, especially when they're excellent specimens like the tin from Bodega on their tapas menu: lightly pickled in vinegar Spanish style and not particularly salty.

Served on rulers of house made crackers, the anchovies were almost as delectable as the airy fish pate which, strange as it sounds, was sensational. With restrained fishy, savoury and creamy flavours spread on a cracker, I'm not sure I've ever had the pleasure of anything quite like Bodega's fish pate.

Empanada filled with provolone
Empanadas, and their dumpling-like derivatives, seem to be hot around town at the moment. Bodega's provolone-filled parcel of deep fried goodness didn't disappoint with its stringy cheese innards, although it lacked a sauce or salsa on the side.

School prawns with curry mayonnaise
One of the evening's specials, the whole fried school prawns arrived as a generous pile, garnished with sliced shallots and a huge dollop of curry-hued mayonnaise; the latter of which is a genius flavour combination.

The prawns were wonderfully crisp, a few black heads aside, and were great drinking snacks that disappeared in a hurry.

Dutch carrots, fried cauliflower, smoked labna, tahini & currants
It would seem that standalone carrot dishes are making their mark on Sydney, with Bodega's featuring soft portions of the orange root vegetables with deep fried cauliflower florets, smoky labna yoghurt and sweet currants in a pool of a mild tahini sesame paste.

I had wanted the carrot dish to be a bit like a side dish to the protein main we had ordered, although it was quite a while between dishes and so the carrots were devoured on their sweet lonesome.

Corn tamale, fontina cheese, mole roja with chicken
Emerging from the oven wrapped in a leaf, the tamale of smooth masa corn meal was filled with mild fontina cheese, fresh corn from the cob and tender chicken smothered in a complex mole sauce.

With a liberal coriander garnish and fresh lemon on the side, the corn tamale was a fresh, filling package covering all the major food groups – carbs, dairy, vegetable and protein – and ideal for sharing between two.

Crispy duck, scallops, chocolate mole, Old Bay apple
Our final dish was the duck main, served with scallops in an chocolate mole sauce. I'd never thought I would have scallops with chocolate, though the sauce was better with the rich, crisp-skin duck pieces.

The paper-thin rounds of apple were the only part that didn’t seem to work – while they added a refreshing tartness to the duck and sauce, the Old Bay seasoning on each slice was just way too salty to enjoy.

We had forgotten to leave space and time for dessert on this occasion, and with a queue out the door, we didn't linger too long. But at least I've got Bodega's renowned dessert offerings, among other delicious reasons, to make sure it’s not 7.5 years between meals and drinks at Bodega again.

Bodega on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 24, 2014

Avast, me hearties: it's The Angry Pirate

The Redfern small bar scene has a new first mate - The Angry Pirate on Redfern Street recently joined the burgeoning community along with nearby small bars Arcadia Liquors, The Dock and Hustle & Flow Bar.

Reaching Redfern's shores in December 2013, The Angry Pirate takes a kitsch-free approach to its theme with just a few parrots for colour, and bar and tabletops made impressively of aged wood beams sourced from what was once a Pyrmont wharf and a former Sydney ferry.

The bar at The Angry Pirate, Redfern Street, Redfern
The bar's name comes from a Captain Pugwash episode that owner Peter Groom and his co-owner mate happened to be watching as the bar was coming together. This merriness and light-heartedness transfers to the cocktail menu which lists classics and crowd-favourites with a pirate twist.

Grog Zombie
The Grog Zombie is served in a fabulously vibrant tiki cup and features The Angry Pirate's own 'grog' - spiced rum that's aged in oak. It's shaken with a tropical array of pineapple juice, passionfruit puree, lemon and lime juices and house bitters, served with a flaming passionfruit cup of a rum float.

Surprisingly, the Zombie's not overly rum strong but is heavy on the passionfruit, and completely and utterly appropriate as a drink to start the night - just remember to blow out the flame before sipping from the straws.

Pirate's Tea Party
The tall, icy Pirate's Tea Party cocktail is a refreshing concoction of vodka, gin and rum with elderflower and iced tea classics of lemon and mint and just a hint of earl grey tea. Its lightness is ideal to wash down the complimentary bowl of buttery, spiced popcorn.

Angry and Sour
Sounding a bit like a dumped partner, the Angry and Sour is the bar's take on an amaretto sour with the sweet addition of pomegranate liqueur. Shaken with amaretto, rum and lime, the vanilla and egg white foam join for a smooth, creamy finish to the tangy, slightly nutty cocktail.

The Angry Pirate front
If you don't feel like walking the cocktail plank, The Angry Pirate has uber-local beers on tap - Newtown's Young Henry's or Chippendale's Grifter Brewing - as well as plenty by the bottle, and a brief but interesting selection of wines all available by the glass.

The menu talks pirate, as does a 'sail' that acts as the bar's front curtain, while there's an adorable lounge set up at the back of the bar with barrels for tables and other cute but not over-the-top pirate-ness.

Hispaniola pizza
There must be an true Italian pirate in the galley as The Angry Pirate's food menu exclusively comprises house-made pizzas, and they're pretty legitimate. They're thin, a bit pale but with a fantastically chewy base, and all have San Marzano tomato bases and use fior di latte cow's milk mozzarella.

Our Hispaniola selection comes with a scattering of properly spicy, hot Spanish chorizo, cut moderately thick and crisp from its short time in the oven. It makes for a good drinking partner between two and there are plenty of options, including vegetarian toppings and even a vegan cheese option.

"Polly want a cracker?"
If The Angry Pirate is anything to go by, it looks like it's going to be another big, fun, exciting (and ultimately, more sensible and responsible) year for small bars, especially as today marks the commencement of the state government's "tough" new legislation regarding licensing and the sale and service of alcohol.

Excluding small bars, the sudden changes are going to make for an interesting couple of months, particularly in our city's busiest night spots. We'll all be watching closely with interest but for now, me hearties, get thee to The Angry Pirate for a cocktail, pizza and fun, responsible night out.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of The Angry Pirate.

The Angry Pirate on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Stuck to the favourites at Seabay Handmade Noodles

I get stuck with ordering my favourite dishes sometimes, none more obvious than when I'm having northern Chinese food.

With a large, enticing menu at Seabay Handmade Noodles in Burwood, I found myself gravitating towards the cucumber salad, pan fried dumplings and zhajiang noodles – which is precisely what we ordered.

Cucumber salad from Seabay Handmade Noodles, Burwood Road, Burwood
The generous cucumber salad was slightly different to what I'm used to (and the one I've started to make at home) but no less satisfying and refreshing.

With tomato wedges as well as smashed pieces of cucumber, the vinegar dressing leaned towards tart, with soy sauce and chilli aromas following close behind, garnished with shallots and coriander leaves.

Pan fried pork dumplings
The pan fried pork dumplings at Seabay looked the goods with thin dough wrappers cooked to golden bottoms. The minced pork filling lacked a little on seasoning – perhaps a flavour on top of pork, like sesame, ginger or coriander, may have elevated the little parcels of pork.

Zhajiang noodes
The feature dish had to be the zhajiang noodles with the fresh, house-made pulled noodles. Cooked to a particularly chewy state, the noodles of varying thickness soaked in a flavour-packed bean sauce of minced pork, tomato, shallots and a requested chilli addition.

The julienned cucumber was great for contrasting texture and freshness when mixed into the noodles, while also cooling some of the chilli heat.

Quick and cheerful, Seabay Handmade Noodles delivered favourites that I'm stuck on – not for safety's sake but just because they're so darn good.

Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 17, 2014

All peachy at Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen

In a sign of the ongoing rejuvenation of not-so-grungy-anymore Newtown, there's a new head chef at the relatively new Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen, perched above the recently renovated Marlborough Hotel.

Young chef Hamish Francis-Martin comes from Chippendale's Freda's and before that, Bloodwood, Bodega and Porteño.

The bar at Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen, Missenden Road, Newtown
It's some serious pedigree heading up the busy kitchen that pumps out 'soul food' – that Southern American brand of comfort food that isn't necessarily healthy, but sure can be craving-inducing.

There are plenty of dishes on the summer menu at Miss Peaches that bring a smile to my belly, including po' boys, fried chicken and mac and cheese.

Colourful seating
Miss Peaches occupies a fantastic and large upstairs space, decorated and themed to the max. With colourful seating, brick walls with vintage branding, Edison globes and retro signs everywhere, it's a fun blend of (probably stereotypical) Americana with Sydney pop style.

Wall decor and seating

Table place number

Mississippi Sour (left) and Watermelon Ruby Fizz (right)
We started with cocktails from a page filled with fun names, ingredients and concoctions. The cooling Watermelon Ruby Fizz was perfect for the humid evening featuring a house-made watermelon soda shaken with Tanqueray gin, sloe gin and lemon juice.

The Mississippi Sour, served cutely in a not-vintage jar, was a stronger but still sweet cocktail with Laird's applejack, lemon juice, bitters and a honey ginger syrup.

Sarsaparilla glazed fried chicken pieces
It wasn't long at all before our Southern feast began to arrive, starting with two pieces of fried chicken that easily rivalled the Colonel's.

The chicken drumstick and thigh portions were both mouthwateringly juicy and crunchy in a spiced batter, with a light Sarsaparilla glaze that added sweetness and a new dimension to southern fried chicken.

The side order of macaroni and cheese arrived early in the game and disappeared from the oval dish as quickly as it arrived.

The soft pasta was rich with a smooth sauce of gruyere, cheddar and parmesan cheeses and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs and chives, it was about as perfect a rendition as imaginable, only improved with Miss Peaches' house hot sauce.

Bug pies - Moreton Bay bug tails and creamed corn in puff pastry 
Perhaps a close substitute for crawfish, I was not going to miss the shellfish action of the Moreton Bay bug pie.

Bug pie innards
Resembling an empanada, the oily puff pastry casing was filled with a creamy, not spicy mix of corn and small pieces of bug flesh which were delightfully sweet. Though a little light on bug flesh, the overall "pie" was a moreish few mouthfuls which I’d happily have again and again.

Shrimp po' boy - beer and butter braised shrimp with fennel slaw on brioche
I was hanging out for some po' boy action – fried seafood in a roll is certainly drinking food to me. However, it seems in the menu update the "shrimp" had transformed from a battered and fried option, to being braised in beer and butter.

Generous with whole prawns and served with a fennel slaw in a soft brioche roll, the overall po' boy didn't lack flavour but it didn't have the naughty crunch I was looking for in what I think was my first ever po' boy.

Shrimp clemenceau'd - prawns, BBQ corn, roast kipflers, swiss browns, king browns, citrus and sage
Listed in the salads section, the shrimp clemenceau'd resembled the contents of a seafood boil with whole prawns, boiled potatoes and fresh corn from the cob, tossed with sections of king brown mushrooms and orange segments.

Garnished with fresh dill and chives, it was certainly not a traditional salad but proffered some interesting, relatively clean flavours.

Spice blackened fish fried with lightly pickled cucumber and red pepper salad
From the larger main-sized dishes, the black spice-coated barramundi fillet is excellent value in the mid-teens as it's an entire, petite, healthy and fresh main meal.

The black-surfaced grilled fish was packed with not particularly discernable flavours and went surprisingly well with ribbons of pickled cucumber, while the barely spicy jalapeño ranch sauce brought a welcome, creamy note to the dish.

Scallop gumbo
With two options for the house signature of gumbo, we elected the seafood choice topped with three grilled scallops.

The thick, spiced tomato-based soup was a shallow bowl of discovery: first, soft okra slices and other diced vegetables, then white rice in the bottom of the well-balanced soupy dish garnished with fresh coriander, dill and chives.

DJ booth
By 8.00pm the bar was absolutely pumping with Saturday night drinks orders while food continued to fly out of the kitchen.

With the DJ in full party swing and the crowd at peak volume, the window booth seats are probably best for diners, while drinkers flock to the outdoor balcony looking out onto Missenden Road.

Outdoor balcony
It seems the only constant in Newtown is change, but with soul-warming food and drink offerings at Miss Peaches, it's all peachy for now.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen as a guest.

Miss Peaches on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Open to the Public Dining Room

I don't think there can be too many complaints about Sydney's summer this year – there have been so many glorious, blue-skied beach days, albeit many wasted in the office. That aside, I was delighted to have made it to picturesque Balmoral Beach one weekend to dine at the waterfront Public Dining Room.

Inside Public Dining Room, The Esplanade, Balmoral Beach
Named for its earlier heritage as public baths, Public Dining Room occupies an expansive, light-filled space looking out to the water. Nearby parking isn't fun but the natural, Scandinavian-look fitout makes for a perfect beachside haven and builds on the menu's fine yet casual approach.

Fried whitebait, aioli, lemon
As is the desire for waterfront dining, there's a strong seafood presence on the menu with heavy hints of the Mediterranean, particularly Italian cuisine.

We started with an Aussie sauvignon blanc that tasted a little too young and acidic, although this was placated by the pretty display of lightly fried whole whitebait in a fryer basket.

From the snacks menu, these little fish were fantastically fresh on their own in a pale, crisp batter, lifted to great heights with fresh lemon and a dip into thick, creamy aioli.

Seared scallops, chorizo, red pepper, pickled cauliflower
From the tempting entrée menu but requested in a main size, the seared scallops were served in a pretty array alongside diced chorizo and red capsicum with tiny florets of pickled cauliflower, all atop green swirls of what could have been an avocado puree.

'Melting' Huon Valley Tasmanian salmon (sous vide), snow pea puree, shimeji mushroom, beurre blanc and hazelnut
The salmon main was a sight to behold – not a carbon copy grilled salmon main as is ubiquitous through Sydney, but a thoughtful and creative construction featuring sous vide slow-cooked Huon Valley salmon that really did melt in the mouth.

The fish fillet was served with its own skin – artfully deep fried to golden crisps – a chlorophyl-green snow pea puree and a salad of shimeji mushrooms, snow peas and baby spinach leaves. A foamy beurre blanc butter sauce brought additional flavour to the fish, while a trail of crumbled hazelnuts added texture, perhaps unnecessarily.

Brodetto - Italian seafood soup, NZ clams, octopus, white fish, prawns, scallops, bruschetta 
Despite the warm day outside, I couldn't resist ordering the brodetto Italian seafood soup, with an envy-inducing variety of seafood in a tomato-based broth, served with toasted bread on the side.

Heavily fragrant with fresh dill, the dish featured a wonderful showcase of Australasian seafood: New Zealand clams and mussels, tender slices of octopus tentacles, pieces of salmon and a white fish, a couple of scallops and a large peeled prawn. To me, it represented a bowl of Australian waterside dining.

Too eager to check out the beach, we skipped dessert in favour of Gaytimes and Calippos later in the day on the beach. On a perfect Sydney beach day, I'm more than open to the idea of returning to Public Dining Room.

Public Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Postcards from Rome - part I

Posted by Jan

Il Colosseo - the world famous Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Fontana di Trevi - Trevi Fountain

Foro Romano - The Roman Forum

Basilica di San Pietro - St Peter's Basilica after midnight mass on Christmas Eve
I've always thought that I would only go to Italy when I felt ready for it. To me, France and Italy were always going to be serious food destinations that I could never experience properly without spending months and years there, in the romantic style of Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence".

Rainbow Christmas lights on Via del Corso
We chose two weeks in Rome because it met the important criteria of delicious food and a mild European winter, and it was well suited to our random exploration style in getting to know a city.

Modern and old blend together at the Vatican Museum
I have to confess that it sometimes got a bit overwhelming. The sheer number of things to see and do made me feel like I was never going to get through all the key sites, especially since I had such a long list of food to eat.

Knife-cut "Prosciutti" (Parma ham)

Pizza by weight from Pizzarium
In Italy, ordering anything but an espresso after 11am is a big no no. It's pretty hard to get a bad coffee in Italy but the ordering system baffles me. In some instances I had to pre-pay for my coffee before ordering at the bar. Other times, I got the 'chill out, have a coffee first' look. The only thing I know for sure is that coffee always costs more if you sit down at a table. 

The sights of Rome on sugar sachets
Drinking a few espressos a day sounds like a recipe for insomnia. But as the coffee is weaker than what we have come to expect in Australia, it allowed for multiple espresso breaks all day long which was essential when battling the hordes of fellow tourists got a little too much.

Sunset over the Tiber River
It is difficult to describe Rome. It's magical, dirty, noisy, serene, new and old. It was an assault on my senses but also restorative to my soul. I miss the Eternal City already. And the carbonara, but that's a story for another time.

More postcards from Rome to come.


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