Monday, March 31, 2014

Something for Jess, something for me

Posted by Kath - lover of cheese, wine and bunnies.

Not much gets me up early on a weekend. There's got to be something in it for me, like great food and coffee. That's what petite Abercrombie Street, Chippendale café, Something for Jess, offers week in, week out.

Side window at Something for Jess, Abercrombie Street, Chippendale
The venue is filled with recycled furniture that makes you feel like you're visiting your grandparents, and it's a consistent pleaser among the abundance of cafés sprouting up across Sydney's inner west.

Lemon meringue pie affogato
We decided to kickstart a sunny Saturday morning with dessert – well, sort of.

From the specials board, the Lemon Meringue Pie Affogato comprised a delicious lemon and meringue ice cream complete with bits of pie base throughout, drenched with a smooth espresso shot. It was definitely a great way to start the weekend on a sweet and strong note.

Chalkboard menu with weekly specials
While the menu at Something for Jess is small, the offerings vary depending on the produce of the week, which is rustled up from various suppliers from as close as Tempe to as far as Mudgee.

This translates to seriously fresh produce on every plate and a changing menu which highlights various seasonal goods on offer from week to week.

A staple on the menu is Bruschetta, but what you'll get on top is a surprise every time. This dish never fails to amaze with the amount of colour and creativity that can be packed atop a slice of sourdough bread.

On this occasion the array of vegetables on the bruschetta surely helped me reach my weekly intake of greens. Blue goats cheese-infused quince puree joined Brussels sprouts, grated yellow zucchini, spice-roasted eggplant, garlicky yoghurt, roasted macadamias, grilled zucchini flowers and some mixed greens thrown in for good measure.

This tasted as vibrant as it looked, with a good hit of garlic from the yoghurt adding even more flavour on top of all the fresh vegetables, while the roasted macadamias added a lovely crunch to the whole bruschetta offering.

Slow-cooked beef brisket open sandwich
For those that prefer a little more meat on their plate, there are usually a couple of protein-packed sandwiches to choose from.

This day's selection was slow-cooked beef brisket with spicy organic pear jam, pickled red onion rings, rocket, braised mushrooms, grilled zucchini and Pepe Saya crème fraiche.

The beef was tender, and when combined with the pear jam, pickled onions and dollop of crème fraiche to balance out the flavours, what was on the plate was gone in a matter of mouthfuls.

Front counter display
If there's a hankering for even more to a substantial breakfast, there's also a selection of tasty sweet treats on the front counter to take away with you.

Something for Jess sign
What brings me back to Something for Jess is not only the flavoursome fare, which has been created with care and an obvious love of fresh produce, but also the hospitality with which all diners are welcomed with – and that's something for me.

Something For Jess on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A feast for the senses: Madama Butterfly at Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

Mid-show fireworks in Madama Butterfly for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Fleet Steps,
Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, 21 March - 12 April 2014
(Photo by James Morgan)
With the sparkling Sydney harbour as a backdrop, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour returns for the third year running; again teaming up with Fresh Catering to offer a uniquely Sydney arts and food experience that's a true feast for all the senses.

Entrance to the Opera Precinct at Fleet Steps
This year, from 21 March to 12 April 2014 it's Giacomo Puccini's classic Madama Butterfly in a rather contemporary light.

The Japanese setting of the opera sets an elegant theme that runs throughout the numerous food and beverage outlets and the custom-built outdoor site at the opera precinct assembled at Fleet Steps in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Hiromi Omura as Madama Butterfly
(Photo by James Morgan)

Bamboo trees on the stage
As per previous years, the floating stage that juts out into the harbour is an unmissable sight; this year's the biggest yet at 1,276 square metres.

For Madama Butterfly it features a lush green astroturfed hill topped with a forest of bamboo trees, that in the second half changes into a bare basics home for the main character, Madama Butterfly or Cio Cio-san.

Side view of the floating stage
Perhaps even more spectacularly, the stage houses a full orchestra beneath the set, while a chorus is located below the slanted audience seating.

The feature pieces of the opera stage this year are two illuminated spheres, representing a full moon hanging over the stage and the warm sun rising from the water on stage right.

The wedding scene with Georgy Vasiliev as Pinkerton and Hiromi Omura
as Madama Butterfly

(Photo by James Morgan)
The sights and sounds of Madama Butterfly – and the unmistakeable, tangible wrenching of the heart in the very emotional last act – cover the bulk of the senses.

Meanwhile Fresh Catering has the smells and tastes covered with numerous Japanese-inspired dining options for any budget; ranging from snacks and drinks to a pre-show three-course dinner with matching Tyrell's Wines.

Adina Garden Bar
Closest to the opera precinct entrance is the Adina Garden Bar where noodles and a fried chicken bun are the go. The Japanese theming comes through strongly in torii gates, bamboo fencing and even a bamboo bridge in this pretty outdoor area.

Seating at the Adina Garden Bar

View from the Southern Terrace
The elevated Southern Terrace features a bar and plenty of seating and high tables in an expansive space where the views are nothing short of postcard-perfect.

Ready-to-go food options at the Southern Terrace
Alongside a range of ready-to-go cold salads and desserts, Japanese-inspired burgers – like chicken katsu and soy bean with avocado – and pizzas – like teriyaki chicken and miso prawn – tempt both young and older crowds.

Three-story structure housing (from bottom) Northern Cantina,
Platinum Club and Northern Terrace
The even more elevated Northern Terrace above the Platinum Club offers the same quick service, fast fare and outdoor, "rooftop" seating.

Northern Cantina space

Northern Cantina food stalls
With seats right on the water's edge with unobstructed views of our gorgeous harbour, the Northern Cantina offers a little more in terms of food.

There are Japanese share plates, including edamame, chicken yakitori and popcorn shrimp, and more substantial mains, like Japanese curry and BBQ miso salmon, plus the cold same salads and desserts of the Terraces.

Northern Cantina
There are also two Sparkling and Oyster Bars that pop up and down in front of the main stage, with citrus ponzu oysters, ice creams and other snacks on offer.

The bar in the Platinum Club
And then there's the whole shebang, all-in experience of the Platinum Club where you can get a pre-show three-course Japanese-influenced dinner with matching Tyrell's Wines in the stunningly appointed, on-theme second level space.

We managed a quick chat with Fresh Catering managing director Peter McCloskey and his executive chef Marco Adler about the Platinum Club menu which draws traditional Japanese flavours into modern Australian dishes.

Stage view from the Platinum Club
McCloskey shared that while designing menus for Opera on Sydney Harbour each year is the fun part, the biggest challenge is the logistics of getting the food and beverage options up and running. From preparation to sales points, serving 2,500-4,000 people nightly and outdoors with a variety of options is no small feat.

Even the on-site kitchen's location and size in the main, three-storey structure can change from year to year, as the custom build needs to account for trees that grow on the site from year to year.

The view (with deflated "sun")
We also heard from winemaker Chris Tyrrell; a fifth generation member of the Tyrell's Wines family, who was completely on board with the idea that the wine and everything in the Platinum Club were just one small part of the spectacular Opera on Sydney Harbour experience.

The Tyrell's Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut was the perfect starting (and interval) beverage on our muggy evening that threatened with rain but luckily there was no need for ponchos this year.

Tea braised chicken and soybean salad, saffron emulsion
Our three-course dinner started with a delightful entrée of tea-braised chicken slices beneath a sprightly salad of edamame soybeans, pickled radish, asparagus, cucumber, enoki mushrooms and sesame seeds.

Alongside oversized seaweed rice crackers, this was gorgeously fresh and light way to start the meal with a touch of creaminess from the mayonnaise-like saffron emulsion.

A glass of Tyrell's Stevens Single Vineyard Semillon – the Hunter Valley's iconic white wine - was the well-balanced match.

Roasted blue eye cod, watercress and silken tofu
It was a tough choice between the three mains options. My second choice would have been the fillet of roasted blue eye cod, served with a slice of silken tofu, radish thins, woodear mushrooms (also known as black fungus), watercress and what looked like a bit of mashed potato.

Ma Po eggplant on bean salad with spinach and sesame dressing
I went with the vegetarian option of (Sichuan rather than Japanese) ma po styled eggplant, served with a green and snake bean salad as well as silken tofu.

The soft, golden cubes of eggplant were beautifully spiced and probably didn't need the accompanying wasabi mayonnaise. Also served with watercress and textural woodear mushrooms, the salad components shone with the spinach and sesame dressing.

Miso marinated beef fillet on bok choy and enoki mushrooms
There was definitely dish envy when I spotted the beef fillet; a nicely coloured, thick piece of meat served with a jus, edamame, baby bok choy, zucchini flowers, woodear mushrooms and the wasabi mayo.

A glass of the Tyrell's Lunatiq Heathcote Shiraz would have been a beautiful match.

Decadent chocolate and ginger mousse with praline feuilletine
We squeezed in dessert just ahead of the show's start, with a sweet and a savoury option to please all. The chocolate and ginger mousse looked amazing with a chocolate sheet, fresh raspberries, ice cream, a caramelly sauce and praline crumbs.

Selection of cheese, seaweed lavosh and crackers
I had to scoff my cheese plate – a cheddar, white mould and blue – as we seemed to be running a bit late. Served with a quince-y jam, raspberries and both water and seaweed crackers, I'll admit a blue cheese cracker sandwich did make it with me to the start of the opera.

Stage set change for the second half
The three-course meal is a lovely lead into the opera, where Madama Butterfly's soaring soprano notes took my breath away and everyone was mesmerised by the well-incorporated wedding scene fireworks.

For those not familiar with the story of the opera, be sure to see the electronic signage for subtitles translating the Italian operas, or risk missing key character traits like Cio Cio-san's young naiveté or Pinkerton's selfish callousness.

Northern Terrace at the interval
The interval is a good opportunity for more food and drink, and in the Platinum Club we were treated to more goodies in the way of canapés and Tyrell's Wines – a separate package that can be purchased with tickets.

Sushi, panko crumbed arancini and macarons went around with select Tyrell's Wines available at the bar.

The stage in the second half
Madama Butterfly's dramatic, tear-jerker end to the opera was settled nicely with the walk out of the Royal Botanic Gardens, although there's also a shuttle bus that takes people out to the Domain.

The "sun" rising from the water
(Photo by James Morgan)
Opera on Sydney Harbour really is a feast for all the senses. It's a magnificent, heartfelt demonstration that the Sydney arts scene, and specifically the opera, can be for anyone.

With opera tickets starting from $79 and the impressive variety of food options by Fresh Catering, it's an amazing Sydney experience that I can recommend for all your senses.

See here for more details and tickets for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. See more photos on my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour and Platinum Club experience as a guest of Fresh Catering, Opera Australia and Tyrell’s Wines, with thanks to Publicity Partners.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pub brunch at The Henson

Posted by Hendy - seasoned cyclist, peaty whisky drinker, coffee Instagram-mer

For a brunch venue that's a little different to the growing number of cafés in the inner west, one weekend a friend suggested a newly-renovated pub, The Henson in Marrickville, previously known as the Henson Park Hotel.

Photo collages of Henson Park and  surrounding Marrickville area at
The Henson,  Illawarra Road, 
Located near Marrickville's Henson Park which hosts various sporting events, The Henson is one of the more family-friendly pubs in the area.

The new renovations feature an outdoor, upcycled hipster-chic bar and spacious beer garden extending into a kids play-pen, in addition to the more traditional but updated pub inside.

The Henson's courtyard

Long black
The Henson's menu is extensive, if not eclectic, and caters to various taste buds from 11am daily; that lunch-brunch kind of time where schooners are optional.

The menu features starters that wouldn't look out of place in a restaurant, along with tacos, burgers and mains that span from tempeh to koftas to kim chee nasi goreng.

Kumera fries, nigella, tahini yoghurt
To kick off brunch, I ordered the kumera fries. Served in a plastic basket with a side of milky tahini yoghurt, lime and a sprinkle of nigella seeds, the sweet potato fries had a soft texture with the occasional crunch.

Knuckle Sandwich - wagyu brisket, fennel slaw, swiss cheese, smokey mayo on rye & chips
I could not resist the wagyu beef brisket on the menu, labelled as a Knuckle Sandwich. Comprising tender wagyu beef brisket, fennel slaw and swiss cheese bedded on rye bread, the sandwich reminded me of a good ol' Reuben sandwich with a twist.

The toasted rye worked well with the tender brisket and the fresh, crunchy slaw, served together with potato chips – making for a solid winner at brunch.

Blackened barramundi burger, coleslaw, tomato, dill pickles, tomato/beet relish & chips
The blackened barramundi burger was layered similarly to the Knuckle Sandwich with slaw, pickles and relish on a burger bun.

Served with more fluffy chips in a basket, the barramundi burger opened up to a grilled fillet of barramundi, slightly dry on the outside, followed by the crunch of the cabbage slaw and the tanginess of the pickles and relish. It was, sadly, no comparison to the Knuckle Sandwich.

Lamb koftas, flatbread, labne, fennel, chickpea olive salad, tahini & beetroot
Arriving next to the table were the lamb koftas, served with flatbread; a bowl of fennel, olive, beetroot and tahini; and small balls of labne yoghurt cheese.

The koftas were a tad dry, saved by a dollop of tahini dip, while the other sides freshened up the dish.

½ kilo buttermilk chicken wings, verde picante
To finish off the brunch run, I ordered the buttermilk chicken wings – a mixture of winglets and drumlets. Generally, I tend to avoid fried items in the morning as they tend to bog you down, but with baskets of the wings flying past all around, it smelt too darn good to pass up.

The fried chicken had a lovely texture: starting off floury, then with crunch followed by the juicy innards, while the verde picante hot green sauce served alongside packed an additional punch. I didn't have a beer at brunch but these wings would go very, very well with a nice cold one.

The Henson has done remarkably well with its recent renovation, catering for people of all ages with pub food that is fresh and different, especially for a pub brunch.

The Henson on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hot Star Large Fried Chicken – where the name says it all

Sydney's fried chicken obsession would seem to be in its infancy still. The fried chicken game has been upped recently with the opening of Hot Star Large Fried Chicken just over three weeks ago in Liverpool Street in CBD south, shortly after the Taiwanese franchise’s first two Australian stores opened in Melbourne.

Hot Star Large Fried Chicken is a Taiwanese chain with more than 40 stores in its home country and an increasing presence in south-east Asia and now Australia, where expansion in Sydney is on the cards.

Large Fried Chicken "Original" from Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, Liverpool Street, Sydney
Famous in Taipei's Shilin Night Market where it originated, Hot Star's signature product is an opened up chicken breast, on the rib bone, deep fried with a flour coating then seasoned to desired spice levels.

The chicken is served piping hot out of the deep fryer in a paper bag, then plastic-bagged by the customer for their taking-away and eating enjoyment.

They're not kidding when they say it's "Large Fried Chicken" – the breast makes for a formidably-sized cutlet that's described as "oversized" and "larger than palm-sized". Each serving portion is 250 grams of chicken breast, approximately 30 centimetres in length.

Chicken in the deep fryer
The fresh, never frozen chicken breast is cooked for 4.5 minutes in a deep fryer that can hold 20 large pieces per fry. The canola oil in each fryer is changed three times a day; ensuring a clean deep fry that tends to range from pale to golden.

Marinating chicken breasts

Flour coating the chicken
The chicken is 100% breast sourced from local suppliers – real chicken with real bones – and is marinated for at least 12 hours before being coated in flour immediately ahead of deep frying to order.

Sydney store front
The Sydney store has been averaging sales of about 700 portions of large fried chicken a day since opening in early March, with the "Original" being the most popular with a "medium spice" seasoning.

The seasoning sprinkled on each cooked chicken breast is imported from Taiwan and comprises salt, pepper and a special chilli powder.

Large fried chicken coating
As the chicken and other vegetable sides are all cooked to order, a small wait for deep fried goodness is inevitable. For the uninitiated, it's hard not to smile when you receive your first Large Fried Chicken: it's golden, it's huge and it's hot. Really hot.

The flour coating is undoubtedly crispy when fresh out of the fryer, though it does soften in the hot, steamy confines of its paper bag. I found the medium spice to be quite mild and would definitely consider increasing that next time.

Insides of Large Fried Chicken "Original"
The insides are probably the juiciest chicken breast you'll come across – definitely in fried chicken land, and perhaps in the breast cut generally. At the top boneless section, you can take big, glorious bites out of it while towards the bottom, it's a case of nibbling off the outer side of the rib bones.

The combination of crunch, seasoning and juicy insides makes for a very happy fried chicken experience. Utterly satisfying for cravings or a large snack, the Large Fried Chicken is actually positioned as a substantial meal unto itself, perhaps embellished with a few side options.

Chicken bites
The chicken bites give my chicken nuggets compulsion a good run for its money. Small chunks of chicken breast, two or three bites each, are coated in the same flour and seasoning and are tossed with fresh sweet basil leaves upon removal from the deep fryer, as is common for fried chicken in Taiwanese cuisine.

The breast meat in the bites weren't nearly as moist and juicy as the Large Fried Chicken, but the basil addition added an additional flavour dimension that's fresh and fragrant.

Sweet potato fries
Hot Star's sweet potato chips are definitely contenders for the best of their breed. Cooked from a fresh, raw state, they were super crunchy in their flour coat, and soft and sweet on the inside; blissful with a light seasoning.

King brown mushrooms
One of the more unusual sides options are the deep fried chunks of fresh King Brown mushrooms. Beware, they're possibly the hottest thing to come out of a deep fryer in terms of heat, given their moisture content, and they go soggy before reaching a bearable eating temperature.

But, they're completely worthwhile, if only as a noble vegetable/fungus side that you probably won't see elsewhere.

Curly potato fries with spicy mayonnaise
Last but not least of the sides are the curly potato fries that would make any kid's eyes light up.

The only processed product on the menu, they are offered with a spicy mayonnaise that's made in-house and only for the apparently mayo-loving Australian market. With a soft crunch, the potato curls are relatively pedestrian but naughtily pleasing nonetheless.

The Hot Star Large Fried Chicken menu
It's all in the name – the star of Hot Star Large Fried Chicken is the Large Fried Chicken. Open till midnight most nights and 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, I foresee Hot Star Large Fried Chicken becoming a lunch/snack/dinner/late night name that I'm going to get to know intimately.

Food, booze and shoes sampled products from Hot Star Large Fried Chicken as a guest, with thanks to Harvey Publicity.

Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon


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