Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rockpool Bar and Grill, City

I had originally planned to go to Rockpool Bar and Grill with my New York travel buddy Miss M. We were going to catch up one Thursday night after work and plan our Big Apple escapes. Alas Miss M was sick the night of our scheduled rendezvous so we postponed to the following week, however she forgot she had a work function on. The following week sounded good to both of us so we locked it in our diaries. Oops – Miss M forgot she was going to be in we took a rain check and I thought I’d never end up at Rockpool Bar and Grill (our trip to NYC has been booked and paid for 8 months in advance however so we were DEFINELTY going to meet up there...definitely).

When Miss M raised the idea of one last try for dinner at Rockpool Bar and Grill a few weeks ago I said yes...but as a safeguard I invited Miss Chicken along too. At least that way I guaranteed a dinner date even if Miss M’s diary got the better of her again.

I am pleased to report that both of my dining companions showed up that night and we had a wonderful time at the jaw-dropingly beautiful art deco Rockpool Bar and Grill. Miss M and I arrived a tad before our 6pm booking so we took a seat in the bar and had a drink each and marvelled at the stupendous Ridel glass chandelier that dwarfs the bar below it. The chandelier is made of nearly 3000 wine glasses – which takes 20 staff five hours to disassemble, clean and put back to gather. I wonder how many people call in sick on “cleaning day”?

My jaw drops even further when we make our way into the restaurant proper. Wow – what a stunning room! The restaurant is housed in a cavernous space with a roof that is two stories high and supported by huge marble columns. The whole room feels like it’s out of the set of a Batman movie...or perhaps even something you’d see in Mad Men. STUNNING! Despite the room’s vast interior it still feels warm and cosy with the use of leather seats, warm tones and carpets to buffer the sound of the other diners.

Once again I am on a budget and a night at Rockpool Bar and Grill could quickly get quite expensive if you don’t take note of what you’re eating and drinking. Whilst there are more than a few reasonably priced mains on offer there are also a few dishes that are out of my price range (like the $600 caviar dish for example – a girl can dream, right)?

We each decide to order two entrees and share some side dishes, though Miss M gets sidetracked by a wonderful sounding special so ends up getting an entree and a main.  The dinner starts with some lovely bread and creamy-smooth butter.

Of course Rockpool Bar and Grill is another uber-dark restaurant and I continue to struggle on with Mr Nikon (he quite likes the fancy schmancy meals you see). I promise I will NOT whinge at all during this post about my dark, blurry, fuzzy-wuzzy photos (except for the whinge I just had).

Both Miss Chicken and I start off with a hot starter of Charcoal Roast Squid and Pork Belly ($28.00). The serving size is quite large for a starter and much more generous than I had thought it would be in a fancy place like this. The dish has quite a lot of caramelised onion which I love and the addition of some crispy bread makes it a very substantial entree.

I really struggle with what to choose for my second entree as everything on the menu sounds so appealing. As I quite enjoyed my foray into steak tartare at Ms G’s I deice I’ll give it another try and order “My” Steak Tartare with Chips ($25.00). This version of steak tartare is much more creamy looking, less red in colour, and less obviously a plate of raw meat than the version I had at Ms G’s. For the uninitiated, if you didn’t tell them what they were eating they would really have no idea this is a a plate of essentially raw meat. It tastes better than it sounds trust me – super creamy and smooth, and it goes perfectly with the super fat chips that it is served with. The texture is quite similar to a smoked salmon dip.

For sides we order a small serve of “Mac and Cheese” ($9.00) as this dish had been highly recommended to me by a few people. It’s deliciously creamy with a crispy topping and incredibly morish. It’s served in little metal dish, so you don’t get the crunchy bits of the bottom of the dish like you would if you made it at home.

Given my recent discover at Porteno that Brussel Sprouts don’t need to taste like overcooked balls of snot, we agree to order SautĂ©ed Brussels Sprouts with Speck and Chestnuts ($12.00). I liked these, but not as much as the deep fried version at Porteno, as they still had the bitter taste I associate with Brussel Sprouts. Deep-frying makes everything better in my opinion, although I would happily order these again.

We finish the meal with some Petit Fours - Salted Butter Caramels ($8.00) which are deliciously salting and sweet. It’s a nice way to finish the meal – on a sweet note, but without the stomach bursting option of a rich dessert.

What a great night I had at Rockpool Bar and Grill. I’m already plotting my return visit ASAP! Maybe The Boy will buy me my $600 caviar dish...or maybe not.

Rockpool Bar and Grill is at 66 Hunter Street, Sydney. Phone them on 8078 1900.

Rockpool Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Grasshopper Bar, CBD

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a bit of a nana. I don't really like pubs (too noisy), I don't drink very often (I'm a one pot screamer tho I do like cocktails), I don't drink coffee after midday, I like to be in bed by 9.30pm and I NEVER go out on a Monday night...or a Tuesday night if I can help it. Call me boring, but the main reason for my nana-ish traits is my insomnia. I have incredible trouble sleeping so I figure all of the above might help me enter the land of nod...hopefully.

So what would entice me out to a bar...on a Tuesday night...where I got home at nearly 10pm?

A blogger catch up of course! The lovely Mel had taken pity on fellow blogger Crystal and I and our photographic woes when it came low lighting. We all agreed to meet up in a dark restaurant, cameras in tow and show Mel our the worst of our photographic abilities.  After a few emails back and forth we settled on Grasshopper Bar hoping it be darker than dark.  Grasshopper is also a place that intrigued me as it is tucked down a little laneway off George Street.  A piece of Melbourne's laneway chic right here in my beloved Sydney.

Crystal and I arrived a bit early so we took a seat downstairs in the REALLY DARK bar and ordered a drink each (soda water for me - it IS Tuesday night after all). We were both as pleased as punch to see our drinks served in jam jars and beakers.  We whipped out our cameras and snapped away - fuzzy, blurry, dark and out of focus. Weeee - Mel has her work cut out for her tonight I tell you! 

When Mel arrives we head upstairs to the cutter than cute "eating room". The room is decked out with wooden table, chairs and wooden floorboards give the restaurant a warm tone. There are interesting nic-nacs dotted throughout the room - the collection of gnomes at the staircase wins all our hearts.  The upstairs room is a bit lighter than the downstairs bar so we don't have quite as much trouble with the cameras as I'd hoped for...damn!

At the table next to ours are a group of "real nanas" and I'm sad to say the group of 70 years olds at the adjoining were still happily dining away as we left for the night.

We decide to order a few small plates to share as this seemed the most economical way to dine. Mains were a bit more pricey than I was expecting and we were trying not to spend to much money.  Our small dishes were really tasty, but we probably could've done with more food. The girls went for a Congee run afterwards and I hit the Macca's drive through on the way home.

From the specials board we order Duck Terrine with Onion Confit ($19.00).  The terrine was lovely - smooth tasting and very morish.  The bread was nicely charred - but tasted a little like someone had gone made with a blowtorch in the kitchen. 

Next we have a plate of Crisp Chicken, Roast Garlic And Tarragon ($15.00).  This was a great dish - tender strips of chicken lightly coated and deep-fried. The roast garlic and tarragon dipping sauce was tasty too.

The Roast Scallops with Jerusalem Artichokes ($19.00) was a big hit with all of us - and three scallops on the plate means we have a scallop each. The scallops sit atop a buttery sauce - delicious! The Jerusalem Artichoke is pureed and a highlight of the dish - the puree has a sweet, nutty flavour.

I really enjoyed the creamy and silky smooth Smoked Salmon and Green Peppercorn Pate ($14.00).  The saltiness of the crispy olive bread was a nice counterbalance to the creamy pate. It is a toss up between this dish and the crispy chicken strips as to which was my favourite plate of the night.

Last dish of the night is Octopus, Prosciutto and Saffron ($19.00) - what a pretty dish this was. I wish my picture did it more justice (and that there were three quail egg halves to go around - dissecting a quail egg into even Steven pieces is really hard)!  The combination of prosciutto and little croutons gave the dish quite a salty hit, but the quail egg and soft octopus offset this somewhat.

Ooops - nearly forgot the Seasonal Vegetables ($10.00) - a plate of broccolini drizzled in a lovely buttery sauce.

Grasshopper Bar is a great space in the city - if more bars become like this I could possibly head out more often on a Tuesday night - not every Tuesday night mind you - a nana would NEVER do that!

These guys will protect you on your visit to the loo!

Grasshopper is at 1 Temperance Lane, Sydney (the entrance to the lane way is right next to RM Williams). Phone them on 9947 9025.

Grasshopper on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mappen, Sydney CBD

The BFF and I had made a pact to check out Mappen together - a cute little Japanese udon bar. The thing is I just kept walking past whilst on my own, and one day temptation got the better of me and I ducked in to see what all the fuss was about. It was 3pm in the afternoon and I thought a quick second lunch wouldn't hurt anyone...would it?

Since my first clandestine visit I've been back four times...without the BFF!  I'm totally addicted, and if I start thinking about a bowl of Mappen udon noodle soup at work I just HAVE to stop by Mappen on my way home for a quick fix. It's not my fault if the BFF works later hours than me is it?  No.

Mappen is a canteen style udon/soba noodle bar tucked away in a little arcade on bustling George Street.  The concept is self serve - as the instructional poster at the front door advises.

Line up, grab a tray, choose your noodle style (udon or soba; hot or cold; large or small), grab any tempura or extra toppings like Kimchi that your heart desires, pop some tempura crumbs and shallots on top of your bowl of food and pay the smiling cashier. Free water and tempura sauce is available after your pay - so save yourself a few bucks by just drinking water.  Service can be a bit slow if they are busy as there is just one person dishing up the noodles - it's worth the wait though. Trust me.

So far I've only had the Ontama Bukkake ($4.90 for a small bowl) which is a bowl of slippery, fat Udon Noodles in a broth that is topped with a soft boiled egg and lemon wedge. I love the way the egg burts to give the noodles a creamy coating; and the broth is a little salty.  Give the whole thing a squeeze of lemon and it's perfection.

For the purposes of making this post about more than just a bowl of noodles, I try the Tempura Chicken ($1.80) and a small tub of seaweed salad ($0.80).  Both of these are so good that I've had it again on subsequent visits.  The chicken tempura is mouth wateringly tender, with a crunchy tempura topping. 

For the longest time I didn't even know this place existed, and then I kept reading blog post after blog post about it.  And now I'm in love. Does my beloved Crazy Wings have some compeition for a place in my heart?

Mappen is at Shop 11, 537-551 George Street (just behind Pepper Lunch), Sydney.  Phone them on 9283 5525.

Menya Mappen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gastro Park, Kings Cross

Gastro Park in Kings Cross (or Potts Point if you want to be fancy) is another restaurant that has me lamenting selling my tiny studio flat in Darlinghurst and moving to the wild wests of Parramatta.  I suppose The Boy and I wouldn't have been able to live comfortably in a no-bedroom flat smaller than a garage but seems every time I come back to my old 'hood I find another gastronomical reason for not wanting to leave.

Gastro Park sells itself as a playground of inventive cuisine and if the food doesn't capture your interest the passing Kings Cross circus outside will surely keep you entertained! Personally I've seen the Kings Cross shenanigans before and am totally engrossed by the culinary trickery that Gastro Park is plating up before me.

Today's lunch as been organised by the lovely Sugarpuffi who has been lured to Gastro Park by the promise of truffles that has also enticed myself, Miss D, Miss J and Miss R out for a Saturday lunch.

Lunch starts with some lovely warm brown bread served on a slate tile with a fancy smear of butter and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Although this is just a piece of bread and butter it is presented so well that it makes me excited for the dishes to come.

We begin our meal with a starter each.  As I'm on a bit of a budget and Gastro Park is not the place for a cheap lunch I choose the cheapest starter on the menu  - the Putanesca Wafer ($6.00).  I actually have no idea what Putanesca is (other than I think Charlotte wanted to make Miranda one for her baby shower on Sex and the City) so I'm thrilled to see a very artistically presented wafer served in a stone.  The flavour is a mix of Parmesan cheese and tomato and it is super thing and crispy. Within seconds all that is left are...crumbs.

Because truffles ain't cheap, and nor is Gastro Park, we decide to order one truffle dish at $55 a pop and share it between us. As we are actually dining at the end of the lunch service the chef doesn't have a huge stash of truffles left so we end up being given this dish for $39 - bargain!  The truffles are served sandwiched in between the seared scallops and served with sweetbreads, mushrooms and a truffle jus.  I have to say the flavour of truffle was not as strong as I had expected - but as I had never had truffles before I really had no idea what to expect.  The pleasant surprise was the sweetbreads - which turn out not to be brains like I had thought...I learnt something today (I googled Putanesca when I got home so I now know what that is too)!

For entree I have seared scallops, serrano ham, creme carrot, endive caramel and marcona almond ($26.00).  I've read a lot about this dish on other blogs and also in newspaper reviews so I'm keen to try this for myself.   The flavours are lovely and light and all of the elements work well together - the creme carrot is creamy and sweet, and the scallops cooked perfectly. I love the plate this came on so much that I wish I'd brought a bigger handbag ... it would look nice in my home!

The main of crispy scaled snapper, smoked potato puree, calamari crackling and ink sauce ($39.00) is another dish I've read a lot about - mainly due to the treatment of the fish scales with hot oil making them not only completely edible, but quite tasty. Consensus on the scales at the table was quite mixed - Miss J didn't like them, Miss D and Miss R thought they were OK...whereas I LOVED them (I ate my own plus Miss J's).  I would say I was attracted by the saltiness of the fish scales and their crispiness - two of my favourite flavours/textures.  The calamari crackling was reminiscent of a large prawn cracker - but better tasting, and the potato puree was soft and creamy - really lovely. Cylinders of kipfler potatoes coated in ink sauce were a lovely surprise too.

Time for dessert! I go for the chocolate honeycomb, mandarin sphere, cookies and cream ($22).  What an amazing looking dish - so many elements on the plate, a feast for both the eyes and taste bubs alike - this dessert was pretty rich though, so in retrospect I probably didn't need to eat this all to myself as I felt a bit ill after scoffing the entire thing to myself.  We are all awed by the tiny macarons on the plate - god only knows how hard they are to make. Cracking open the mandarin sphere to reveal its creamy innards was pretty fun too.

I really enjoyed my lunch at Gastro Park.  I'd love to go back, but I'd save it for a special occasion as, for my wallet, it's on the more pricey side of dinning in Sydney.  You get what you pay for though - a great meal that feels really special.

Gastro Park is at 5-9 Roslyn Street, Kings Cross. Phone them on 02 8068 1017.

Gastro Park on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Old Bus Depot Market, Canberra

Our last stop in Canberra on The Boys birthday weekend is the Old Bus Depot Markets.  To be perfectly honest this little side-trip is more for me than The Boy.  I'd read briefly about the markets somewhere or other and as I love a good market we agreed to do a whirlwind visit before heading back to Old Sydney Town.

In retrospect it seems a little silly that I had NO idea this was a rather large food market.  At least half of the enormous old bus depot is given over to fresh produce, organic goods, baked treats, jams and so on.  The other half of the depot houses craft and clothing for those not interested in food (do people like that exist)?

As soon as we walked into the market I was kicking myself that we'd had such a big breakfast at Gus'. There were so many tasty looking things that I wanted to try but I was just too full to even contemplate anything more than a Salted Caramel Macaron and a freshly squeezed OJ (both of which were delicious)!

We wandered around for a while and our breakfast settled enough for us to try a few olives, nuts, pizza, breads and dips that the stallholders had on offer. The olives were wonderful so we bought a tub of Za'atar Olives to bring home as well as some cashew nuts.

The Old Bus Depot Markets can be found at 21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston, ACT. They can be contacted on (02) 6295 3331 or The markets are on each Sunday between 10am - 4pm. Be there or...go hungry!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Foveaux, Surry Hills

Back “in the day” The BFF and I used to catch up each and every Tuesday. We’re choose somewhere from his Entertainment Book and off we’d go – on a foodie adventure, discount vouchers in hand. The catch ups are slightly less regular due to work and life getting in the way and for some reason the catch ups now happen on a Wednesday.  I’m happy to say though that the trusty Entertainment Book has been resurrected and on this night leads us to Foveaux in Surry Hills!

I wasn’t sure exactly whereabouts Foveaux was located on Foveaux Street. If you know this street at all you’ll be aware that it has an epic hill that only marathon runners can climb without the need of a respirator when they reach the top.  My plan was to start at the top of the hill and work my way down – which was fine, except for my visit to the gym the previous day had left my legs feeling like jelly and I basically wobbled and stumbled my way down the hill looking like a total un-co spaz, only to find Foveaux nestled at the very bottom. I could’ve just gotten off the train at Central and strolled (un-wobbly) to the restaurant. No pain no gain right. 

My recent foray into fancy food with “foam” on it at Baroque Bistro was pretty exciting so I quickly convinced the BFF we should order the Tasting Menu ($80 for 6 courses) which was jam packed with foams, soils, purees and fancy smears of “stuff” on big white plates! This is my first tasting plate/degustation experience and I’m thrilled! Bring it on...

The BFF and I are offered a bread roll each.  I was going to go healthy and have the wholemeal roll but the white bread just looked too good to pass up. The BFF opts for the wholemeal roll...ying and yang.

The meal proper being starts with an amuse bouche – a dainty little cup of curried lentil soup that has a lovely dollop of yoghurt hidden at the bottom. And guess what – this is my FIRST amuse bouche EVER. A gal could get used to this.

The tasting menu has six courses, given the diner the option between two dishes for each course. The BFF and I alternate our choices so we get the chance to try everything on offer.  Being a bit of a piggy this really appealed to me, but the BFF wondered if too many textures/flavours/etc would confuse his palate.

The first course is soused sardines, vongole, white gazpacho, yellow capsicum butter, parsley and toast and then buffalo ricotta cannoli, cucumber, tomato, olive and Provencal herbs.  The sardines were quite strong in flavour and I thought the yellow capsicum butter and pretty little flowers garnishing the dish gave it a hint that spring is just around the corner – the “toast” was a crispy counterbalance to the softness of the sardines.   I really enjoyed the ricotta canolli – crispy pastry and lovely smooth ricotta were a perfect match.

Next we have crispy chicken wings, morel cream, sweet corn, jamon, scampi and shiso and also roasted quail, smoked eel croquette, caper, beetroot and leaves.  I really enjoyed the morel cream on the chicken dish and am pleased the wings were deboned – I was wondering how a “lady” would gnaw on a chicken wing whilst still looking like a lady.  The eel croquette on the quail dish was really lovely – once again I think it is the marriage of a crispy outer shell surrounding a soft inner.

The fish dish sees us presented with roast king salmon, zucchini puree, cuttle fish, green olive jelly, coriander and popped skin and also herb baked mirror dory, parsnip puree, borlotti beans, snails, parsley and crisps.  The salamon was my favourite dish of the course as I found the flavour less “fishy” than the dory...and who wouldn’t love popped skin I ask you?  The snails that accompanied the dory were really lovely – quite meaty, also like muscles in texture.

The meat course is the last of the main dishes.  We are served wakame roasted lamb rump, squid ink, salt and pepper tofu, miso puree and fennel and also braised shin, smoked sirloin, Swede, celeriac and toted pearl barley foam.   To be honest the meat course was the course I was most hesitant about as I like to eat my meat a little on the...well done to burnt side which is not a common practice in finer dining establishment. I’m pleased to report I really enjoyed both the lamb and the sirloin which were cooked quite rare. 

The arrival of the pre dessert is another dining first for me. The salad of pineapple, milk sorbet and macadamia nut praline is a lovely light dish the signals the end of the main meals.

The meal ends with dessert.  The banana ice-cream, caramelised banana, digestive biscuit, coffee and tonka beans has us feeling like millionaires – bananas are next to gold these days!   The chocolate mousse, orange sponge, orange curd ice cream, chocolate soil and Brazil nut was a fun dish – I enjoy trying chocolate soil for the first time.

I thought by the end of the meal we’d still be a bit hungry - I wasn’t sure if lots of little dishes would fill me up. I was actually planning a trip across the road to El Loco for a sneaky taco or two, but alas it was not to be. Both the BFF and I were too full to eat another morsel.

Foveaux is at 67 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills.  The tasting menu is quite seasonal and dishes change on a regular basis.

Foveaux on Urbanspoon

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