Monday, April 28, 2014

Keeping up with Jones the Grocer

Posted by Kath

Tucked away in the north corner of Westfield Sydney's Level 5 food court, Jones the Grocer has been in its expansive restaurant space for over a year now, and recently re-vamped its menu offering with a new attitude: good food, served fast.

Shopping aisle at Jones the Grocer, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
One might have thought that a focus on speedy delivery would mean the need to condense the menu, but this is far from the case.

Jones the Grocer has a wide variety of breakfast options (available until 3pm on weekends), while the lunch and dinner menu offers a range from antipasto boards and salads to heartier options like burgers, pasta and steaks.

Cheese cabinet
On entry into Jones the Grocer diners are greeted by a designer shopping aisle with rows of prettily bottled beverages, pasta and condiments to the left, and further on in, a magnificent cheese and cured meat filled cabinet.

Front counter patisserie selection
There's more temptation of the sweet variety from the patisserie counter where diners can choose a quick pick-me-up to have with a coffee in the front lounge and waiting area.

Beloka water still mineral water
The dining space out the back is the real haven from the hustle and bustle of the food court outside.

A cruisey weekend lunch started with mineral water from Beloka Water, sourced from Kosciuszko National Park in our own state backyard.

Black forest double smoked ham, spinach, two free-range poached eggs,truffled hollandaise, house baked muffin
Being a lover of breakfast I couldn't go past the eggs Benedict from the breakfast menu, especially when it involved a truffled hollandaise sauce.

True to their new motto, the glorious English muffin tower of eggs, thinly-shaved ham, gooey hollandaise and wilted spinach was brought out in a flash.

The eggs were perfectly soft poached, spilling a river of orange-gold yolk goodness all over the plate. The house-baked English muffins were soft and fluffy, and the ham smokily tasty but the promised truffle infusion in the sauce could have been a little more generous.

Premium 100% Australian wagyu patty, bacon, melted Swiss cheese, truffled mayonnaise, pickles, yellow mustard, caramelised onions, house made bun, rustic chips
With a burger lover amongst us, the signature Jones Burger was ordered and is definitely one we'd return for. A lot of burgers these days tend towards brioche buns, but we found the house-made white bun to be pleasantly savoury and soft.

The wagyu beef patty was well seasoned, tender and not at all greasy, which made the act of eating a lot neater than expected. The pickles were a great, balanced addition, not being overly tart, while the truffle intensity in the mayonnaise was spot on.

Twice cooked pork belly, caramel apple, prune puree, pickled fennel and walnut salad
Our lovely maitre d' Macey also recommended the twice-cooked pork belly - a dish worth foregoing dinner for.

Topped with golden, crisp crackling, the sticky chewiness of the pork belly and the fact that it wasn't too fatty made this a real joy to eat. The caramelised half apple on the side complemented the dish well, as did the fennel and walnut salad which offered respite from the rich flavours.

Confit Atlantic salmon, roast beetroot, baked tomato, baby spinach, goat's feta, honey mustard vinaigrette
In an attempt at looking at least a little healthy, we also had a salad of beautifully soft confit Atlantic salmon with sweet roasted beetroot, goat's cheese and crunchy walnuts in a vinaigrette dressing.

Lemon verbena pana cotta with granita, strawberries and almonds
To a necessarily shared dessert, but never have I seen a panna cotta with a wobble so gloriously mesmerising that we almost forgot to dig in to dessert as we played, granita melting away.

The simple refreshing flavours of lemon verbena, strawberries and the silky smooth texture of the milky pudding made this a delightful way to end our meal.

Jones the Grocer's varied menu manages to achieve their new goal of "good food, served fast" with aplomb. With customers seated closer to the kitchen and an increased pool of chefs to meet the demand of hungry shoppers, Jones the Grocer is certainly keeping up with clean modern Australian fare, fast.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Jones the Grocer as a guest, with thanks to CavCon.

Jones the Grocer on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hen’s day out at Zigi’s Cooking School

I will often have a drink while I'm cooking – beer, cider or a glass of wine – but that's generally not in a commercial kitchen with pleasingly sharp cooking knives.

It was flutes of sparkling wine in hand at Zigi's Cooking School in Chippendale late last year for a hen's day out, while slicing beef, making praline and other hen-related activities.

Chef Zigi Ozeri of Zigi's Cooking School, Abercrombie Street, Chippendale
Other than an overseas trip away, I've probably experienced the gamut of hen's nights (and days) during my adult years: from the expected – strippers, tacky restaurants, cruises and gay clubbing – to the less common, including refined wine bar sessions and shows at the Opera House.

For the food-inclined, Zigi's offers something different (potentially followed by some of the very much expected activities) and an ideal environment for groups that don’t necessarily all know each other. And a drink before noon as the cooking school kitchen adjoins Zigi's Art Wine Cheese Bar.

Drinks in the kitchen
A range of classes are available – from cooking three-course meals to much more elaborate cheesemaking – and all can be tailored to the group and budget. Our group of 10 was, aside from mid-morning boozing, cooking a two-course meal with chef Zigi Ozeri and his offsider supervising us in two groups.

Cooking class
With paper chef’s toques and silly nicknames, we were split into main course and dessert teams, with a range of tasks for everyone. Team work and cooking tips went hand in hand with bubbles and kitchen fun.

Beef fillet
On our menu for the day was grilled beef fillet with Israeli couscous and a spring vegetable salad with lime chilli vinaigrette, followed by dessert of a berry mille feuille with pastry crème and hazelnut praline.

Sliced beef fillet
Helpful kitchen tips included tightly wrapping fillets of beef in cling wrap while marinating and cooking, so that the meat can retain a neat shape for even cooking. These thick steaks were cooked on a grill and finished in the oven.

Chopping cucumbers for salad
Sharp kitchen knives are everything. Indeed, dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones in the kitchen.

And always have a non slip surface beneath a chopping board, especially the plastic ones. Use different chopping boards for meat and vegetables.

Pastry rounds for mille feuille
Our mille feuille used store-bought puff pastry sprinkled with sugar and baked beneath a second tray, minimising the 'puff' action, but still allowing crisp, golden layers to form within the flattened pastry rounds.

Mixed berries for mille feuille

Zigi and cooking class
A cheat's version of creme patissiere was whipped up with the inclusion of custard powder - not a bad replacement if one was time short, but not quite as good as the real egg-y vanilla cream for piping.

Baked  pastry rounds
Our baked, glazed puff pastry rounds came out of the oven perfectly while a hazelnut praline was formed from freshly roasted nuts and hard sugar toffee, blitzed to a crumb when cooled.

Chef Zigi

Chef Zigi re-heating beef
Another restaurant tip imparted by chef Zigi was the use of a blowtorch to reheat food just before serving; for example, the outer surface of meat that's been resting post cooking.

Grilled beef fillet with Israeli couscous, spring vegetable salad and lime chilli vinaigrette
We feasted on our handiwork of a platter lunch while undertaking standard hen's activity.

With a well-dressed salad of Israeli couscous, tomato, cucumber and rocket, the mostly medium-rare cooked beef fillet was an ideal accompaniment to awkward questions and making sure the bride-to-be was really ready to enter marriage-dom.

Piping pastry cream
We returned to the kitchen to assemble and complete dessert, which comprised pastry rounds, piped pastry cream, berries and hazelnut praline, finished with that dessert fix-all, a shower of icing sugar.

Wild berry mille feuille with pastry crème and hazelnut praline
The mille feuille is actually a great idea for a versatile, last-minute dessert, so long as you have puff pastry in the freezer and fresh cream or an easy creme patissiere recipe and some fruit.

We probably spent just over three hours at Zigi's: cooking, drinking, laughing and having a fun, educational and belly-filling time of it all. Pretty much everything you'd need for a hen's day out. See their Facebook page for more details.

Zigi's Art & Wine Cheese Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Taste of... The Dairy at InterContinental Sydney

Hotel restaurants aren't necessarily top of mind when dining out as a local, but after sampling the A Taste of... menu at Cafe Opera in the InterContinental Sydney recently, it seems I've overlooked the fact that five-star hotels have five-star restaurants too.

InterContinental Sydney's executive chef Tamas Pamer likes to think the restaurant merely sits within a hotel rather than being a hotel restaurant, and initiatives like the A Taste of... themed dinners promoting local Australian produce push this line.

Canapes for A Taste of... launch at Cafe Opera, InterContinental Hotel, Macquarie Street, Sydney
Until 30 April 2014, it's A Taste of... The Dairy, featuring cheeses and milk products from a range of local producers. Certainly not for the lactose-intolerant, this is a bit a heaven for cheese lovers, especially when matched with local wines.

As a launch event, we were treated to canapes that aren't normally a part of the three- or five-course degustation: creative dairy-focused morsels like seaweed crackers with ricotta and Yarra Valley salmon caviar whipped up by Pamer and his buddy and executive sous chef Julien Poteau.

Executive Chef Tamas Pamer (right) and Executive Sous Chef Julien Poteau (left)
Both of European backgrounds (Pamer is German while Poteau is French), both chefs were very complimentary of Australian dairy produce and produce generally, noting that Australian producers don't have the customer support and associated financial backing of European producers.

This is part of the reason that the InterContinental Sydney strongly supports local producers in events like the A Taste of... dinners and throughout the hotel's food offerings. It makes sense that a tourist staying in the hotel might like to be enlightened as to our fantastic local produce, as well as us locals too.

Table settings for the A Taste of... The Dairy degustation
We were treated with dining in Cafe Opera's ambient private room, differentiating the degustation experience from the restaurant's usual buffet offering.

G.H. Mumm Champagne
We started on Mumm Champagne with the canapes, which is as lovely a way to start a meal as there is.

Pepe Saya butter and bread
At the table, we were delighted to find large, drilled out, smooth river stones at each setting, filled with Pepe Saya butter and re-labelled with the brand's signature sticker.

Some of our country's best cultured butter doesn't taste much better served in a rock - it's so good anyway, slathered thickly onto a crusty seeded bread roll, that I managed to get through most of my stone's serve.

Logan Vintage 'M" Cuvee
Following champagne, our first course was matched with the Logan Vintage 'M' Cuvee; a sparkling blend of equal parts chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier from Orange.

Gorgeously coppery in colour with a nice, dry palate, it was described as an adventurous wine pairing with our first course of cured trout.

Beetroot cured trout, fromage frais, chive, pickled cucumber
It was a stunning dish to look at featuring a beet red-tinted block of firm ocean trout resting in a verdant pool of creamy chive puree.

On top was a cute pink meringue wafer, flavoured with a native peach, sandwiching fresh, herbed fromage frais from Pokolbin's Binnorie Dairy.

Together, the sweet meringue, creamy fromage frais and salty cuts of ocean trout were delightfully light, making for a sophisticated layering of unexpectedly complementary flavours.

Jannei goat milk pudding, young pine needle, caramelised turnip, buckwheat
Our next course was of the nature-mimicking food trend that's popular in many restaurants now. Served in a jar was a forest floor-like crunchy mixture of puffed buckwheat and blitzed, crisped porcini mushrooms, hiding juicy cubes of soft, caramelised turnip.

It all came topped with a foamy pudding of Jannei goat's milk from a farm near Oberon and then crisp young pine needles; the distinct flavour of the goat's milk lifting the rest of the dish's mostly crunchy, brown components.

The savoury pudding was served with Polin & Polin John Rook's Rose; an amazingly dry, even savoury, rose from the Hunter Valley.

Butter milk roasted Barossa chicken, chestnut mushroom, potato maxim, cheddar emulsion
To the main meal we were presented with a spectacular composition of chicken that definitely took it out of boring poultry territory.

The golden-skinned breast portion featured an artistically layered stuffing between juicy chicken flesh which was roasted in Pepe Saya butter milk, joined by a myriad of accompaniments on the plate.

Butter milk roasted Barossa chicken, chestnut mushroom, potato maxim, cheddar emulsion
There was a Pyengana cheddar foam atop deep fried enoki mushrooms, braised chestnut mushrooms, little roasted potato silos and the crisp potato maxim ring that pretty much tasted like chips.

There wasn't a dull moment to be had with this Barossa chook, served with Montrose Stony Creek Chardonnay from the Mudgee region.

Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Cabernet Sauvignon
The spicy Ross Hill Pinnacle Series Cabernet Sauvignon from Orange came out with the cheese course in a stunning Plumm decanter.

In fact, the InterContinental Sydney now uses the full range of Plumm glassware throughout the hotel in another significant vote of support for Australian brands and producers.

Baked Reblochon (The Mountain Man), confit fig, walnut bread
The cheese course was easily my favourite featuring an organic French-style cheese by Victoria's L'Artisan Cheese Timboon called The Mountain Man, made in a French Alps Reblochon fashion.

A whole wheel of the cow's milk washed rind cheese was baked and served at the table, in its full oozing, stringing cheese glory.

Serving the baked Reblochon
This glory also made it into a goodie bag to take home - pretty much the best goodie bag ever, with a whole wheel of The Mountain Man cheese, plus Pepe Saya butter and crème fraîche, the lush Country Valley natural yoghurt and a mini loaf of brioche.

Baked Reblochon (The Mountain Man), confit fig, walnut bread
Baking the cheese seemed to reduce much of the washed rind's stinkiness, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The gooey melted cheese was simply divine with the sweet, yielding half fig while the toasted twig of walnut-studded bread was the perfect finishing touch.

Brie custard, apple, thyme honey, brioche, macadami
While the cheese could have been the end for me, the proper dessert course was one I'm unlikely to ever encounter again: a pot of thick, warm custard made of L'Artisan brie cheese, with lumps of the cheese's skin even.

The creaminess and slight saltiness of the cheese were apparent, highlighted against soft cooked apple, caramelised macadamia nuts and honey. The ice cream on the side consisted of Country Valley milk from Picton, cooked down to a dulce de leche state to form the sweet, milky ice cream.

Dessert was matched with the Small Acres Cyder Pommeau which is a fortified cider from the state's central west, though its potent taste makes it more like an apple brandy.

House made Easter eggs
We ended the amazing meal with house made dark chocolate Easter eggs, not part of the usual offering but so deliciously timely.

As a Sydney-sider I've got limited experience of our high end hotels from a guest point of view, but given a taste of what the InterContinental Sydney and Cafe Opera have to offer - a fine dining atmosphere and interesting, relevant produce on the plates - the A Taste of... concept has a unique drawcard for locals and tourists alike.

The Taste of... The Dairy dinners are on until 30 April 2014 at Cafe Opera. It will be followed by A Taste of... Head to Tail and Forest Foraging, respectively, in later months this year. Bookings are essential - see here for more details.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Cafe Opera at the InterContinental Hotel as a guest, with thanks to Pulse Communications.

Cafe Opera on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sydney Royal Easter Show 2014 - a quick look

It's been years - perhaps getting close to 10 years, if not more - since I went to the Sydney Royal Easter Show in Olympic Park.

I'm one of those who reminisce about the good ol' days of the Show in Moore Park, but I had to share this very quick post about this year's Show. It's unbelievably large and pretty awesome.

A friendly goat at the Farmyard Nursery at the Sydney Royal Easter Show,
Showground Road, Olympic Park
There is so much to see and do that I think one full day doesn't actually cover it. The larger showgrounds have made this possible with a 'something for everyone' ethos - and there's lots to enjoy.

Arm yourself with comfortable shoes, water, sun protection, clothing as it gets pretty chilly at sundown and the showground map, which is necessary to map out the hit list.

Central District display in the Fresh Food Dome
The Fresh Food Dome has always been the place to start for me. It was always my dad's first stop when we went as kids, and I think it may just have the slightest bit to do with my appreciation for food today.

Northern District display in the Fresh Food Dome
In its current form, the Fresh Food Dome combines the regional districts' fruit, vegetable and grain displays with a more commercially-minded food stall exhibition part and cooking demonstrations.

Natural oysters in the Fresh Food Dome
Packed as it was, I managed a sample of tomato soup with a cheese toastie and a half dozen of natural Sydney rock and Pacific oysters for morning tea in the Fresh Food Dome.

For the kids, and the kids within, the Show is about animals, games and rides - in about that order. There are plenty of horses on show, as well as cats, dogs, sheep, pigs and an entire pavilion dedicated to alpacas, if you can believe.

Walking a small, shaggy Suri alapaca on a leash was right up there with my highlights of the day.

Food Farm pavilion
The Farmyard Nursery is just about the most fantastic thing I remember from the Easter Show in recent history.

Not only does its entrance cleverly force children and all through the Food Farm pavilion where they learn about where various food items come from, it's just a spectacular experience and logistical feat.

Petey Pie beef pie from inside the Food Farm

Farmyard Nursery
The Farmyard Nursery is a huge, open space where goats, sheep, lambs, chickens and even a dog roam free amongst Show-goers. An inclusion as part of the Show entry, it's like a pimped up petting zoo and I, probably like most city folk, have never experienced anything like it.

With $1 cups of feed for sale, it's a frenzy of feeding activity with smiles all round. Kids are happily petting and timidly feeding while the animals are most certainly enjoying the abundance of food. Indeed, most of the farmyard animals looked rather plump.

Chickens hatching from eggs

Feeding lamb
The best feeling would have to be the feel of tongues on your hand as goats and sheep inhaled their feed straight from hands, large or small. The cow's tongue was probably less pleasant but hilarious nonetheless.

Watch for the larger, slightly more aggressive animals - like some of the goats with horns - while keeping in mind not to chase or catch the animals, despite how silky soft the chickens' feathers are.

Carnival section
There are plenty of rides and sideshow games on offer as always, ready to swap your dollars for use-challenged toys, but then, it's not the Easter Show without a game of the Laughing Clowns. Some things just don't change.

See more photos on my Facebook page.


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