A hidden piece of Sydney

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Owning a motorcycle means that you are more likely than most people to just go out cruising around without actually needing to go somewhere. The benefit of this is that you end up exploring some wonderful roads and areas that you would normally never think to visit.

One of the places that I discovered was Church Point, up the northern end of Sydney. After a ride through the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park to the West Head Lookout to check out its lovely views over Pittwater and to Palm Beach, a lunch at the Waterfront Cafe at Church Point is a nice way to enjoy a sunny Sydney weekend.

Church Point

Sitting on the deck at the cafe makes you feel like you a thousand miles from the city, when you’re only 32km away. Boats bobbing about on their moorings, and you can enjoy the views to Scotland Island and the Pittwater activity.

Church Point waterfront cafe

The menu here is pretty extensive, which is usually a bit of a red flag. It spans Italian classics such as veal saltimbocca, pizzas and pastas, to burgers and steak sandwiches, fish and chips, a mezze plate, and seafood platters. At least there will be something for everyone!

The mezze plate comes with 5 generously proportioned servings of dip (beetroot, eggplant, olive, roast capsicum and avocado) and is served with a cheesy, garlic pizza.

Meze plate

The bouillabaisse is a delicious serve of seafood in a tomato-based broth. Be prepared to get your hands dirty working through that crab.

Boullabaise

The burger comes stacked pretty high, which can make it a challenge to get your mouth around. The bread is thick and crusty, which is a change from the soft, brioche buns that are the latest trend.

Beef burger with chips

The fish special is pan fried dory, which was served with wilted baby spinach, roasted potatoes and a fresh tomato sauce.

Pan fried dory

Sadly we were pretty stuffed and didn’t have room for dessert (who would’ve thought this possible?) I can’t even explain the pain of regretfully turning down a sweet finish when the selection which came out on a long paddle to tempt us. However, despite our early misgivings, the food here is decent and it’s well worth the trek up here to enjoy a relaxing lunch with friends, family and the spectacular views.

Waterfront Cafe on Urbanspoon

Learning to snowboard…and crash…indoors

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I’ve been a longtime ski enthusiast, but I’ve often fantasised about the idea of being able to crossover to snowboarding. I’ve tried my hand at it a couple of times, but I haven’t committed to serious time to improve my boarding. The thought of spending precious snow and ski time battling with beginner lessons and spending half my time on my arse seriously turned me off.

However, after the amazing powder days on my Japan trip recently, I thought that having the ability to pick up the board on the deep powder days and then choosing the skis when I just want to carve some serious turns.

Coinciding with the excitement of the Sochi Olympics, a new indoor ski slope has opened in Sydney. In2ski features three Maxxtracks slopes, which are basically like giant treadmills, and can be set at different gradients to simulate different levels of difficulty.

Maxxtracks indoor skiing

The centre claims that one hour of practice on the indoor slope is equivalent to eight hours on the mountain. I’m not sure whether this is true, but you do certainly waste a fair bit of an on-mountain lesson on lifts and waiting around for the slower students.

The best thing about the indoor slope is that it is in Sydney! No more driving for six hours each way, paying through the nose for petrol, accommodation, lift passes and crap food just to improve your skills. It’s a really cost effective way of improving your technique without the massive time commitment of a weekend.

The format of a group lesson is to be on the slope for 10 minutes, then off for 10 minutes while the other half of the group is on, and alternating until the end of the lesson. Each 10 minute interval is tough though, since it’s pretty much non-stop. Falling over on the slope, which happens often when you’re learning, is a bit of a shock the first time, and not as nice as falling into soft snow. My battle scars at the end of the day included bruised knees, a tender bum, a sore neck, and slight carpet burn on one elbow. At the end of my hour lesson, I had gone from feeling my way going straight on a flat board, to learning turns and going side to side while holding onto the bar. Not a bad progression in an hour, I thought!

My intention now is to get to a decent level snowboarding on the indoor slope, where I can confidently link turns together. I’m also keen to fine-tune my skiing skills too, and hopefully get rid of some terribly bad habits before hitting the slopes for real next time!

Here’s a taster of my experience – look how lovely my turns are until I hit the ground!

Note: I paid for my own lesson and this post was in no way endorsed or sponsored by In2ski.
Photo courtesy of In2ski

Dive 292: Camp Cove, Watsons Bay (NSW)

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Dive time: 00:47:00
Max depth: 5.8 metres
Temperature: 22 C
Visibility: 5 metres
Buddy: Lisa Godden

It has been almost two years since my last shore dive in Sydney. In that time I’ve dived in Thailand and the Philippines, forgetting that we have such easy and accessible diving right in our own city. Especially if you have all your own gear, it’s a matter of driving to the designated site, getting geared up, and just walking in off the beach or diving in off rocks!

Today’s dive at Camp Cove was the first Sydney dive in a while for myself and Lisa, and the first time in a long time that we’d dived together. Thankfully we arrived before 9am to score a parking spot in the car park because it quickly filled up. After minor mishaps for us both with our gear (I must remember to keep an allen key in my kit!), we waded off the beach into the water.

We swam across the sandy bottom and patches of sea grass, spotting a very cute little baby cuttlefish along the way, before we came across the reef. The reef is a series of long wedges of rock jutting up from the sand about a metre high. We saw a common stingray, a few big toadfish, red goatfish, large red morwong, a fat chromodoris nudibranch, quite a few small silver bream, schools of eastern pomfrets, mado, cute juvenile leather jacket, and a green moray eel that came out for a swim. I almost landed on top of a scorpionfish when I saw a boat going overhead and attempted to flatten myself on the bottom.

My mask kept fogging up, which meant that I was leaking water in it every 5 minutes to swish it around before having to clear it. We popped up inside the northern sea wall but a bit too early, so swam around the old Sydney Water Police wharf back to the beach. It was a nice relaxing dive and it felt great just to get back in the water.

Sculpture by the sea

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Every year, thousands of people flock to the coastal walk between Bondi and Tamarama beaches to check out the art installations as part of Sculpture by the Sea. The path that hugs the coastline between these two beaches is spectacular, overlooking the deep blue ocean, golden sands, and steep cliffs, and it is always popular with walkers and joggers.

The day we chose to visit this year was baking hot. After a big breakfast at a Bronte beach cafe, we strolled north to Tamarama where we were greeted by this massive installation on the sands.  Very striking and spectacular from above!

sculptures by the sea 1

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We had a look at some of the other sculpture installations on the beach, and dipped our toes into the refreshingly cold water.

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I particularly liked this one above, with pieces of trash masquerading as jellyfish. As a diver and beach goer, the amount of human-produced garbage that ends up in our waters is staggering, and it can have a devastating effect on wildlife.

sculptures by the sea 2

 

Due to the heat and the jostling crowds, we lost all motivation to continue onto the full length of the walk. From outings in previous years, this event is definitely a highlight, marrying art and the beautiful Sydney seascape, which is a perfect introduction to art for an ignoramus like myself!

A taste of Canton at Mr Wong

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October is one of my favourite months of the year. It’s spring, the weather is warming up, and the days are getting longer. Best of all, it’s Good Food Month, which means lots of special food events, and an excuse to taste lots of different foods all around Sydney.

Most of the events are in the city, and it’s a shame that I don’t work in town to take advantage of all the lunch specials. Regardless, I managed to make it to a couple of restaurants that I have been meaning to try, including Mr Wong.

This funky Cantonese-style restaurant has had an amazing year, being crowned Best New Restaurant by both the Good Food Guide and Time Out, and winning two chef’s hats in the Guide. The decor transports you to an old Chinese opium den, with exposed brick and timber, and dim lighting. The service is friendly and eager to ensure a seamless experience. The bar staff are also very handy at dishing up some delicious cocktails too, if that’s what you want with your dim sum!mr wong bar

The menu for this “surprise” lunch was a mix of treats from their existing menu, but some special guest appearances as well. We started with a leafy salad of cucumber, fennel, woodear mushroom with chewy glass noodles, before each of us received our individual mini bamboo steamers with plump dim sum.

mr wong dim sumThe dim sum here are exquisite, and you would expect no less from the master himself, Eric Koh, from the globally successful Hakkasan and Yauatcha. Succulent and juicy, and left us wanting more.

mr wong

Stir fried corn kernels were a surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever seen corn in a Chinese restaurant, except for those tinned baby corn spears, but this was very good. Then again, anything with lap cheong, the deliciously fatty Chinese sausage, is guaranteed to be a winner.

mr wong mr wong mr wongThe mains were a lot more familiar, with lovely, delicate steamed fish with ginger and shallots, stir fried king prawns with black pepper and garlic, and a fantastic crisp-skinned Shandong chicken, which is twice cooked with a black vinegar sauce.

mr wongThe perfect finish to our meal was a light and refreshing lychee sorbet with raspberries.

We had a wonderful time here, thanks to the stream of surprise dishes (we hadn’t seen a menu), the attentive service, and the fantastic atmosphere. For $55 a head, I thought it was very good value, since we were well and truly stuffed, although I think that the a la carte menu could get way out of hand pretty easily. Having said that, I’m looking forward to coming back here one lunchtime to take the dim sum menu out for a spin.

mr wong

Mr Wong on Urbanspoon

Fireworks over Sydney harbour

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Earlier this month, Sydney Harbour hosted naval boats from all around the world as part of the Royal Australian Navy’s International Fleet Review. The event was held to commemorate the centenary of the Navy’s first arrival into Sydney Harbour, and thousands of people flocked to vantage points all around the harbour to see the boats sailing in through the heads.

On one of the final nights, a spectacular fireworks show was staged, with several barges in the harbour setting off simultaneous displays of colourful sparks. I am biased of course, but I truly believe that there is no better backdrop for fireworks than Sydney Harbour.

sydney at night

It was my first time trying to photograph fireworks, and after doing a little bit of research, I knew that I needed a sturdy tripod and an exposure of around 1 to 2 seconds. Another article mentioned focusing manually, since the automatic focus would find it very difficult to find a focus point.

The result was a lot of duds, some of which were over-exposed at first before I pulled back the shutter speed. Others were poorly timed with the setting off of the fireworks, so I didn’t capture the full explosions. Many weren’t quite as sharp as I’d like. It’s rather difficult trying to manually focus through a tiny little view finder!

These were some of the better ones.sydney fireworks sydney fireworks

After around half an hour of fireworks display, the air was thick with smoke, but it beautifully reflected the colours in the air.sydney fireworks smoke

Sydney puts on a good show, doesn’t it?

Food truck streetfest

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Food trucks have been well established in places such as New York and London for a while now, but are still relatively new in Sydney.  Therefore, there is a still a huge novelty factor about them for Sydneysiders, which meant that the Food Trucks United Streetfest was always bound to be an insanely popular event.

food trucksThere were around eight different food trucks, offering tasty dishes such as jaffles (that’s a toasted sandwich, for non-Australians!), Mexican, steamed buns, pasta, and sliders.  No matter which food truck you wanted to try, each one had a very lengthy queue of hungry diners.

The great thing about this sort of food truck festival is that you can sample a variety of different things from each truck.  That does equate to a lot of queueing, but it was well worth it.  We tried a lovely, fresh kingfish ceviche in lime and chilli with crispy tortilla chips, and a very indulgent lamb belly with Asian salad served in a soft brioche bun from the guys at Eat Art Truck.

lamb belly on brioche

The Tendulkar, butter chicken jaffle, from Jafe Jaffles was also a winner.  You can never go wrong with the humble jaffle, in my opinion, since it’s a wonderful carrier for any leftovers.

To round off the “main course”, we shared a very messy chorizo hot dog, and a sweet, wagyu chilli con carne nachos from Agape Organic.

food trucks collage

With summer around the corner, I have no doubt that there will be more food truck festivals in the months to come.  It will be a great opportunity to gorge myself on all the other deliciousness on offer!

Whoever came up with the food truck idea deserves a Nobel peace prize.

Taste testing at Eveleigh Farmers’ Markets

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Like any good foodie city, Sydney has loads of great farmers’ and growers’ markets that pop up all over the place on the weekend. One of the most popular is the Eveleigh Farmers’ Market, which is on every Saturday morning from 8am.

In the past, this part of Eveleigh was a huge railyard, where Sydney’s suburban trains went to sleep at night. All the big sheds are still around, with most of them being converted to exhibition and conference facilities. This bustling little market stands still in the original rustic, style compared to the other shiny, renovated buildings around it.eveleigh marketseveleigh markets

There are lots of stalls selling a rainbow of fresh veggies and fruit, pastries and bread, colourful blooms, olive oils, cheeses, and even whole lambs. I couldn’t help but linger at the Eumundi Smokehouse stall to ogle at all their fresh and smoked sausages. The owner has been driving down from Eumundi, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, to the markets in Sydney every week for something like 15 years!  That’s dedication.eveleigh marketseveleigh marketseveleigh marketsOne of the things that the markets is known for is the pork buns at the Billy Kwong stall.  We catch a glimpse of chef Kylie Kwong manning the bun steamers, and wait patiently with scores of others for our steamed buns, topped with a dollop of scarlet red chilli sauce. The pork was sweet and very tender, and the bun itself was also sweet and soft. This meant that it felt like we were eating bite after bite of soft, sweet mush. Not bad, but probably a bit overrated.eveleigh markets pork bun

A much more successful tasting was a delicious steak sandwich, from which stall I forget now, as well as the cut of steak. I must have blissed out in beefy goodness. The steak was juicy and tender, with a lovely beefy flavour. The stall owners were also more than happy to load up my sandwich with more sweet, caramelised onions on request.eveleigh markets steak sandwichUnfortunately for us, we were on the motorbikes heading down to Wollongong for a day ride, which meant we weren’t able to stock up on goodies.  Oh well, an excuse to go back again another time!

 

Samurai Japanese Cafe, Balmain

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Japanese has to be one of my favourite cuisines.  What’s not to love about delicious ramen, fresh sushi and sashimi, crisp tempura, slippery udon, or their general love of deep fried food and a slathering of mayonnaise onto anything and everything.  Japanese food is not just a feast for the tastebuds, but a feast for the eyes.

One of my favourite Japanese restaurants in Sydney is Samurai Japanese Cafe, in my very own suburb of Balmain.  Coming here without a reservation is a lottery, with the tiny restaurant booked out most nights.  It’s a popular place for locals, but people also come from afar for Samurai’s delights. Friends of mine will regularly do the 1.5 hour hike from the Central Coast just for dinner, before driving home again.Samurai Japanese BalmainSamurai Japanese BalmainI’ve been here on countless occasions now, and have some very firm favourites that never fail to impress and satisfy.  I cannot go past the crispy salmon rolls – a fresh, salmon roll, drizzled with a mild wasabi mayonnaise and topped with crunchy, fried noodles.  It’s a fantastic mix of textures.

Samurai Japanese Balmain

The nasumiso entree is a serving of juicy eggplant, stir-fried with a sweet sauce.  Sometimes I find the sauce a little too cloyingly sweet, but I love eggplant so much that I will still polish this off.Samurai Japanese BalmainTeriyaki chicken is always a hit, especially with children.  The tender chicken pieces are fried to a lovely golden crisp, before being tossed in a sweet teriyaki sauce.

Samurai Japanese BalmainThe beef and asparagus may not have a particularly creative name, but it’s one of our regular highlights.  The slices of caramelised beef are wrapped around tender, steamed asparagus, artfully arranged and presented in a square stack, and served with sweeter-style sauce and wasabi mayo.  When the sauce and mayo is combined, its creaminess just lovingly coats your tongue.  It’s so good that, sometimes when we’ve finished the beef and asparagus, we’ve asked for a bowl of rice just so that we can savour all that delicious sauce.

Samurai Japanese BalmainOther dishes that I would recommend are the tender scotch fillet pieces in the kakuni, the incredibly light agedashi tofu, and the crisp, pan-fried ebi gyoza that are soft and juicy.

The desserts are also worth exploring if you aren’t already stuffed to the gills.  From time to time, they have a special dessert roll, that looks like a sushi roll but is actually a soft sponge filled with wasabi, red bean and vanilla ice cream, and frozen strawberries.  Very inventive!Samurai Japanese Balmainsamurai sesame ice creamSamurai is a fantastic local eatery, which will become one of your firm favourites.  The service is polite and friendly (always the Japanese way!), and although it’s not a cheap and cheerful joint, it’s not over the top expensive either.  Just be sure to book before you go so you aren’t disappointed with being turned away.

Samurai Japanese Cafe on Urbanspoon

Birthday lunching at the Bathers’ Pavilion, Balmoral Beach

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The best thing about celebrating a partner’s birthday is that it’s the perfect excuse to take them out for a special dining experience, since you get to benefit too! (Actually, it was the second best thing.  The best thing was seeing his face when he saw his birthday present, a Tap King draught beer dispenser, in action.  If only Lionel Richie was really in your fridge…)

The White Russian had his birthday last weekend, so I took him to the Bathers’ Pavilion at Balmoral Beach for lunch.  It was a gorgeous spring day; warm with blue skies, and a notable smile on the faces of everyone strolling along the promenade.  We weren’t lucky enough to score a table right next to the window, but were close enough to admire the beautiful views across the harbour towards Manly and North Head.bathers pavilion balmoral beach

We opted for the 8-course degustation ($135, or $195 with matching wines), since it was too difficult to choose between all the dishes on the menu.  Plus, it was a special occasion after all, so definitely an excuse to splash out.  We started out with warm crusty bread, served with discs of salted and unsalted butter, and a terrine amuse bouche.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

The cured salmon with radish and pickled melon squid ink crumble was a lovely mix of textures.  The crumble didn’t taste overly squiddy, but leant a nice crunch to each mouthful of salmon, whose smooth oiliness was offset by the sweetness of the rockmelon and watermelon.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

The bay leaf-smoked chicken was very subtle in flavour, verging on bland, but was a good carrier for the sweet date puree, yoghurt, and heirloom carrots.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

A Japanese-inspired kingfish dish was a hit, with the meaty fish being paired with wasabi butter, grilled mini rolls of savoy cabbage, dehydrated green apple, and ricotta.  There was only the merest hint of wasabi though, and I would have liked a bit more punch, but not everyone loves the bite of wasabi as much as I do!

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

Normally, the ravioli is filled with sea urchin, but on this occasion, we were served lobster ravioli.  It was finished with a mushroom consommé, which was deep, earthy, and meaty, but still a good complement to the lobster, not overpowering it.  There were also a couple of slices of chewy abalone, the first time I’d seen abalone on the menu of a non-Chinese restaurant.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

The meatier dishes on the degustation menu were a silky, tender squab (I did not know that a squab was a young, domestic pigeon!), and a sweet, moist grilled lamb loin with baby fennel and pencil leek and sweetbreads.  The WR commented that the crispy lumps of sweetbreads were like eating fried balls of fat, which was not a bad description of these creamy balls of deliciousness.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach bathers pavilion balmoral beach

Our cheese course consisted of a rich and creamy serve of Tarwin blue served with muscat jelly and crisp parsnip chips.  My weakness for cheese was thoroughly indulged with this course, and the sweetness of the muscat jelly cut through the richness of the cheese.

bathers pavilion balmoral beach

We finished off our meal with a chocolate croquant, an indulgent hit of chocolate creaminess on a croquant base.  There was a buffet of complementing flavours, which made dessert a fun taste test of chocolate with raspberry sorbet, roast pepper sauce, orange foam, mint jelly, chilli powder, and passionfruit curd.  The WR received birthday wishes from me and the restaurant staff.  I think he was mightily chuffed.bathers pavilion balmoral beach bathers pavilion balmoral beach bathers pavilion balmoral beach

A wonderfully relaxing lunch by the beach, with friendly service, and the birthday boy feeling suitably special.  The food is enjoyable, even if it’s not spectacularly memorable, but the dining experience with the gorgeous view still makes it a worthwhile visit.

Bathers' Pavilion on Urbanspoon