Winter is coming

Bistro Molines interior
Standard

Game of Thrones has a lot to answer for. The last 6 weeks of my life has been a repeat of eat, sleep, work, GoT, eat, sleep, work, GoT. The downside of having completely caught up with the latest aired episode is that I now have to wait a very long, anxious week before I can watch the next episode rather than just flicking it over. I just might DIE!

But now that I’m completely caught up and am waiting for the next episode, I suddenly have time to do other stuff than just eating, sleeping, working, and GoT-ing. This freeing up of my schedule just happens to coincide with a lovely warm, dry spell here in Sydney. It’s well and truly autumn (as the Starks would say, winter is coming) and temperatures are still in the mid-20s, around mid-70s℉.

Taking advantage of the blue skies and warm weather, this weekend the White Russian and I rode our motorbikes up to the Hunter Valley, around 2 hours north of Sydney. We found a few twisty roads, and also found ourselves on a dirt, unsealed road, which made me feel a bit nervous.

While we were in the area, we dropped into Bistro Molines, which shares a scenic spot with Tallavera Grove wineries. If you’re lucky and book ahead, you can snare a table on the verandah which overlooks the valley, marked with rows upon rows of vines. Or if you aren’t so fortunate, the tables inside still have the beautiful panorama thanks to the open dining area, which is filled with lovely fresh cut flowers and warm, rustic decor.

Bistro Molines view

Bistro Molines verandah

 

Bistro Molines pass

We were served a simple but delicious taster of cherry tomato, olive and buffalo mozzarella, and the bread was served with a rich aioli, an interesting but slightly strange change from the usual butter or olive oil.

Bistro Molines - cherry tomato and mozzarella snack

As a starter, we shared the charcuterie platter of a rich, creamy duck liver pate and a delicious rabbit rillettes served with a garden of pickled treats.

Bistro Molines charcuterie

Bistro Molines charcuterie close

The White Russian had the special of roasted rabbit served with speck and white bean puree. I may have encouraged him to order it since, when do we ever have rabbit at home? He said it tasted like chicken. My baked figs with gorgonzola and prosciutto were a nice combination of sweet and salty, soft and crisp.

Bistro Molines rabbit

Bistro Molines roasted figs

Unfortunately we couldn’t fit in dessert without risking a food coma on the long 2 hour ride back to Sydney, so we gave it a miss. Instead we ordered a caffeine hit and scored some bittersweet chocolate tartlets to finish a splendid lunch date.

Bistro Molines chocolate tarts

Bistro Molines exterior

Bistro Molines on Urbanspoon

A hidden piece of Sydney

Church Point
Standard

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.

 

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

Reuben Hills and THAT fried chicken

Reuben Hills
Standard

 

Weekend mornings in Sydney are synonymous cafes. Whether it’s an early morning coffee run or a lazy brunch where you linger with the newspaper, cafes are part of Sydney’s lifeblood.

The inner city suburb of Surry Hills is spoilt for choice when it comes to weekend brunching establishments, and one of these is Reuben Hills. The White Russian and I arrived with our two dogs to meet with our mate Mr S. The staff were very accommodating, allowing us to walk around to sit out the back in the sunshine, without having to traipse through the cafe and therefore preventing the dogs causing havoc, sniffing every diner’s table.

When I looked at the menu, my eyes were instantly drawn to the hard sell that is the fried chicken ($18). Who could refuse?

Reuben Hills menu

Reuben Hills really great fried chicken

The chicken was served with a chilli salsa and chipotle mayo, with whole pickled chillies and a wedge of lime. While each piece had lovely golden crisp skin and was juicy, the expectations were super high and we couldn’t help but think that it had nothing on the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices.

The torta ahogada, or Mexican drowned sandwich ($18), was filled with smoky, tender lamb, pickled strips of cucumber, and topped with a sweet beetroot mole. It’s obviously very saucy, making it a very messy meal. Make sure you have lots of serviettes handy.

Reuben Hills drowned sandwich

The bruschetta ($16) is a pile of juicy cherry tomatoes, peppery rocket, kalamata olives and roasted capsicum on a slice of sourdough spread with labne.

Bruschetta

I’m a sucker for trying weird things on menus. It backfired on me spectacularly once when I ordered a squid ink rice pudding. Who on earth thought that a fishy dessert was a good idea? Anyway, I couldn’t go past the vegemite and butterscotch shake ($8.50). I was a little hesitant at first, since it had the potential to go the way of the rice pudding and be completely inedible. I shouldn’t have worried. The vegemite was quite subtle, and the shake was not unlike a salted caramel variety. The lemon, mint and orange soda ($5.50) was light and refreshing.

Reuben Hills is a great destination for coffee, with a great selection of house and special roasts. The food is good but not cheap, and the fried chicken is not really that fucking great, however it’s a relaxed and fun place to welcome the weekend.

Reuben Hills really great fried chicken

Reuben Hills on Urbanspoon

Porteño’s parrilla and asado

Standard

I had been hanging to try out Porteño for the longest time. The thought of devouring their juicy and succulent fire-roasted meats would make my mouth water just thinking about it. However, I’d heard that you would only be able to snag a table after queuing in the street for a couple of hours, which completely put me off.

So I was very grateful for Good Food Month festivities recently, when the restaurant put on a special Spring lunch and were taking reservations! No standing around, waiting, and making small talk with your dining companions while your stomach eats itself!

Our menus informed us that each of the dishes that we would be trying were made in-house especially for the lunch. This obviously meant that we missed out on their famous crisp brussels sprouts on this visit. I guess that means I will just have to suck it up and join the queue next time!

 

Our meal started off on the right foot with a boozy pork paté, olives, crusty ciabatta slices, and this lovely bresaola, a spiced cured wagyu eye round which has been aged for 6 months.

porteno 01

Despite being a terrible patron and failing to inform the good folk at Porteño that one of my girlfriends was pregnant (it had just completely slipped my mind!), they were completely obliging and kindly offered chipotle stuffed zucchini flowers in place of the bresaola. The ash beetroot was my favourite of the starters, with the creamy and slightly tart curd complementing the earthy beets.

porteno 02

porteno 03

porteno 04Porteño is best known for its asado, a scorching fire pit with whole lambs splayed out on racks. Alongside the barbecue is a shiny stainless steel and dark brick kitchen with hot grills and trays of smoky meat. It’s enough to give a vegetarian heart palpitations.

porteno 05

porteno 06

porteno lamb

The Mirool Creek spring lamb is sweet, salty and tender, served with crisp skin and a fresh chopped salad and barbecued eggplant and peppers. The marbled meat is cooked for 8 hours and melts in your mouth.

Our meal was rounded off by a not-too-sweet burnt milk fruit tart and the softest, crumbliest shortbread with dulce de leche sandwiched inside. These guys must have the surgeon’s touch to put these babies together without the biscuit falling apart.

porteno 08

porteno 09

It’s all a bit of theatre seeing your meal being roasted in front of you, but the food here was faultless and the service was helpful and polite. The waitstaff were very accommodating after dropping the last-minute pregnancy bomb, and they also recommended some delicious wine choices.

Now to brave the queue next time so that I give their pork and brussels sprouts a crack. However, tables of six or more can make a reservation so…who wants to come with me?

Porteño on Urbanspoon

A taste of Canton at Mr Wong

Standard

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

Samurai Japanese Cafe, Balmain

Standard

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

Standard

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

Highland feasting

Standard

The Sunshine Coast hinterland is situated only an hour north of Brisbane, and it has some amazing views over the coastline. There are a few historic towns in the area, including Montville, which is popular with weekend tourists from the big smoke.

It’s a unique little township, with buildings that look like they have been plucked straight out of the Swiss Alps or Tudor England. For some strange reason, there are also quite a few places that specialise in cuckoo clocks.  You know, for all your timekeeping needs!

Situated just outside of Montville is The Long Apron restaurant, part of the Spicers Clovelly Estate retreat.  We drove up the long driveway to the majestic main building, which houses the two-hatted restaurant, and couldn’t help but gasp at the beauty of the surroundings.  Lush, green, rolling lawns, a grand jacaranda tree shading the terrace, a kitchen garden bursting with herbs, and a quaint bench to take in the lovely serenity of it all.

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

We were seated in the dappled sunlight of the terrace, and enjoyed feeling the warm sun on our skin. It didn’t take much twisting of our arms before we chose the 5-course a la carte ($105), since it was just too difficult to eliminate any of the wonderful choices on the menu for a 2 or 3-course lunch ($75 and $85 respectively).

There were some complimentary starters that were a little fun and quirky, such as a watermelon sashimi, and an edible pot plant!

long apron montville menu

edible pot plant long apron montville

watermelon sashimi long apron montville

What struck me most about all the dishes was the celebration of textures, colours, and flavours. The presentation of each course was balanced, with lots of different interesting elements, most of which comprised of local produce and stuff straight out of their kitchen garden. My favourite dish was the “Garden Salad”, which sounded pedestrian on the menu but was a bit like garden foraging, on a plate!

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

the long apron montville

We chose to have our dessert on a table out on the grass to bask in the last of the afternoon sun. Already feel more than pleasantly full from the first four courses, we took a stroll around the gardens while we waited for our desserts. As we were determining which herbs were which in the kitchen garden, we heard the polite yell, “HELLO??”, to let us know that dessert was ready. More than ready, in fact, with the ice cream accompaniment for our desserts looking a bit melty.

the long apron montville

Sadly, our long, leisurely lunch came to an end, and we drove our full bellies back to Maroochydore airport to get our flight back to Sydney. The service here was impeccable, being attentive, friendly, and very knowledgeable. The dining experience at the Long Apron would be a top pick for a special occasion, or if you just want to spoil yourselves!

The Long Apron on Urbanspoon

A weekend escape to the Sunshine Coast

Standard

It’s customary when you’re suffering through the shivering throes of winter to book a getaway to a sunny destination.  In Australia, that sunny destination for us Southerners has traditionally been somewhere in the state of Queensland.

As it turned out, this was the mildest winter ever in Sydney, but the White Russian and I took the opportunity anyway to spend a weekend on the Sunshine Coast.  We flew into a Maroochydore, hired a car, and drove to Noosa Heads to check out the beach!  Yes, this is winter in Australia…

sunshine coast queensland beach

At Noosa Heads, we walked along the busy shopping strip of Hastings Street, checking out the little boutiques and galleries.  When lunchtime rolled around, we were eager to seek out something other than your run-of-the-mill diner.  We headed to Bistro C, which overlooks the beach, and has a great, buzzy vibe.

bistro c noosa bistro c noosa

We indulged in a few wines over lunch (a weekend away counts as a holiday, right?), and our waiter was very knowledgeable about the wine list, which featured a reasonable selection by the glass from wineries around Australia and New Zealand.

My Asian-inspired coconut chicken salad wasn’t cheap at $25, but it was a tasty mix of tastes and textures from the coconut marinated chicken, shredded tofu, and crunchy cashews, brought together by a salty and sweet nuoc cham dressing.  The WR ordered the whole spatchcock, which was compromised before I am able to get a shot of it!

coconut chicken salad bistro c noosa

I couldn’t go past the dessert special, since I’m a sucker for anything with caramel.  The banana caramel tart was deliciously creamy and rich, served with candied pecans, but I think it needed a little acidity or something to offset the incredible sweetness.

banana caramel tart bistro c noosa

Despite our lack of reservation, our waiter and all the other staff are very accommodating and friendly.  We’ll just know for next time to book beforehand for a better chance of getting a seat with a view of the gorgeous beach!

noosa heads beach

Bistro C Beachside Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

A long lunch at Ormeggio

Standard

When I called up to book a table at Ormeggio at The Spit, the host asked me, “is this for a special occasion?”, to which I replied, “oh, just lunch!”

Winter in Sydney is nothing like the winters I experienced in London, and with the latest run of sunny weather, a lunch at Ormeggio overlooking the yachts moored at The Spit was the perfect way to spend a Sunday lunch.  A special occasion indeed!

The White Russian and I decided to treat ourselves to the 8-course emozioni degustation with matching wines ($105, or $189 with matching wines).  We had even made the journey to the restaurant by public transport so that we could indulge without guilt or danger to fellow motorists.  Before we launched into lunch, we were perusing the cocktail list for an aperitivo, and our host recommended a negroni, which is a cocktail comprising of gin, vermouth, and Campari.  The first taste was a hit of bitterness, but it had a nice, dry finish that sufficiently whetted the appetite.

negroni

ormeggio at the spit snacks

ormeggio at the spit sourdough breadLunch was a lovely slow and scenic journey through a range of flavours and cooking styles, with some leaning towards classic Italian and others more a fusion of Modern Australian.  There was octopus cooked sous vide at 85C for 4 hours, a Flinders Island wallaby buttata (or tartare), and tortelli filled with wonderfully smokey burnt eggplant.

ormeggio at the spit octopus

ormeggio at the spit wallaby

ormeggio at the spit tortelli

ormeggio at the spit risotto

ormeggio at the spit mulloway

ormeggio at the spit braised lamb

After admitting that the sourdough bread was our downfall (we just couldn’t stop after that first taste of warm, crusty bread slathered with freshly churned sour butter), we were full to the brim before the dessert courses arrived.  However, it was hard to resist them when they came out, with the carrot sponge with fennel seed ice cream being our preferred choice over the pomegranate jelly served with frozen yoghurt on a dry rye biscuit.ormeggio at the spit carrot sponge

ormeggio at the spit pomegranate yoghurt

ormeggio at the spit carrot spongeFour hours after we arrived, we rolled out of the restaurant toward the bus stop, satisfyingly full, content, and sobered up after the ratio of food to wine finally swung back in favour of the former.  The service was spot on attentive, knowledgeable, and always friendly, and made it a relaxed and enjoyable Sunday lunch.

Ormeggio at the Spit on Urbanspoon