Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jamie's Italian, City

There's probably not a person in Sydney who hasn't made a visit to the newly opened Jamie's Italian, or at least doesn't have a visit planned sometime in the not to distant future.

It seems that everything Jamie Oliver touches turns to gold and his latest Jamie's Italian in the heart of Sydney's CBD is no exception. I've heard of people queuing for two hours to get a table, or turning up for dinner at 4.00pm to try and beat the crowds.  The restaurant serves up to 600 people each night...and that's on a slow night!

I wasn't going to queue for 2 hours for dinner, but I was happy to turn up at 5.00pm to meet Miss M for an early dinner.  I took a seat at the bar for 30 minutes and sipped on my Strawberry and Elderflower Cordial ($4.10) and waited for Miss M to finish work.  By 5.15pm the place was getting full, and by 5.30pm there was hardly a spare seat in the house - I was getting worried! Miss M texted at 5.40pm that she was just fixing her make-up before heading down to meet me. Make-up? What? Don't waste time on make-up (the restaurant is dark anyway) - we need to get a seat NOW or risk ending up the end of the ever-growing queue that was rapidly forming outside.  Miss M and I were seated by 5.45pm at the second last table for two in the entire place. Phew!

We start with the Italian Bread Selection. The bread is "on the house", however you have to order it - it's not automatically brought to the table, which is good to know for new players like us. 

For entree we choose two small dishes. The Crispy Polenta Chips ($8.00) are a must order in my piggy opinion - they are totally delicious! The poletna cubes are fried to a crispy perfection, yet remain soft and fluffy inside. The seasoning of rosemary, parmesean and salt has me polishing off a good portion of the bowl. The Fat Green Olives on Ice ($6.00) are another stellar entree and a nice fresh counterbalance to the fried polenta chips. The olives are firm, plump and nicely cold thanks to the bed of ice the are served on. 

Miss M decides to forgo a pasta main and orders the Best of Aussie Lamb Spiedini ($25.00). The lamb skewer is HUGE with at least four or five pieces of plump marinated lamb which sits attop of smashed potato salad in a mint and yoghurt dressing.

To me Italian food is all about pasta, pasta, pasta and more pasta.  The pasta at Jamie's Italian is made fresh every day on premises - you can watch the pasta being made in the front window, which is good entertainment I suppose if you're stuck waiting outside for two hours.  For once my eyes are not bigger than my stomach and I stick with an entree sized Monachelle Puttanesca ($12.00 for an entree size, or $17.50 for a main size if you are so inclined). The shell pasta is topped with a rich tomota sauce, capers, anchovies, parsley, sliced black olives and a spoonful of herby breadcrumbs that you mix through the pasta to give it a bit of a textural crunch. Very nice - I was really happy with my choice. 

We both had a great dinner at Jamie's Italian (in fact this Miss M's second visit).  The staff are all very friendly, if a bit rushed off their feet - therefore if you're wanting fast service be assertive and grab the waiters attention like we did. Our waiter was a hoot - we couldn't quite figure out if his Italian accent was real, but his recommendation were authentic - avoid the salad on the specials board he said as the pasta is better value for money. As he doused my pasta in Parmesan cheese we both agreed that everything tastes better with Parmesan. It sure does!

Jamie's Italian is at 107 Pitt Street, Sydney. Phone them on 8240 9000. They only take bookings for groups of 6 or more, so get there early or be prepared to wait.

Jamie's Italian on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tokonoma, Surry Hills

Walking into Tokonoma in Surry Hills is like entering a warm, dark cocoon - a welcome respite from bustling Crown Street where the restaurant is located.

The dining room is beautiful and artful with walls encased in sweeping, round timber panels, and curved booths which feel private and cozy.  I feel like I'm sitting inside a wooden wave.  Even the light feature at Tokonoma is a work of art - made from 500,000 resin-coated lentils (yes, really)!  This is the perfect place for The Baking Lady and I to relax after a day at work.

All good Spreets deals seem to begin with a bottle of wine.  I tell myself I'm not much of a wine drinker, but I polished my half of this bottle with no problem at all. 

The meal kicks off with a moreish bowl of my favourite Japanese snack, Edamame (soy beans sprinkled with sea salt). I've thought of making this dish at home and think "why bother", after all it's much more fun going out for dinner.

Next to arrive at the table is a beautiful looking plate of Sliced Kingfish with green chillis and yuzu ponzu dressing.  This was a lovely and refreshing dish, the zesty dressing was tangy but not overly so and a nice accompaniment to the fresh fish. 

Another beautiful dish is the Beef carpaccio served with yuzukoshu chive.  For someone who loves their steak nearly burnt to a crisp I seem to have no problem eating raw marinated-beef dishes such as steak tartare or carpaccio - I think the thinness of the beef, and the refreshing marinade, makes the raw beef quite palatable, and tasty too.

I'm happy to see that Agedashi tofu with spicy nasu miso is included on this Spreets deal as it's one of my favourite Japanese entrees - not only as it's deep fried, but I love the texture of soft tofu encased by a firm, crunchy crust. I also really love the slightly salty bento broth the tofu sits in.

Next up is a chef’s selection of Toko-style nigiri sushi and chirashi maki.  The nigiri is lovely with super fresh seafood topping the little balls of rice - really good quality sushi that has me wanting more than just the two pieces we were each allotted.

Oh, look - another all time favourite!  Seriously though who doesn't just love crispy soft-shelled crab?  I sure know I do.  The crab at Tokonoma comes with a delicious with wasabi mayonnaise, the wasabi providing a gentle bit of heat and a slight wasabi aftertaste. Beautiful. 

The grilled zucchini with wafu sauce and sesame looks like a savoury lollipop. Wouldn't this be a great way to serve vegetables to children (& fussy eaters)?  The presentation makes a humble vegetable look so appealing and fun to eat.

At the recent EatDrinkBlog conference I remember asking Good Living food photographer Quentin Jones how he photographed brown and green food.  My photos of these pesky coloured food groups just never seem to be in focus for some reason (too much of the same colour I guess so the camera has no contrast of colours to focus on).

His deadpan reply was to simply not photography them. Quentin (who is a bit of a larakin I suspect) told me that brown and green foods are troublesome and kinda boring so forget about them! But how can I forgot about this amazingly tender Scotch fillet with smoked gemiso? This steak was melt-in-the-mouth tender - seriously good.   

All too soon our last savoury dish arrives - a simple but pleasing bowl of soba broth with shallots. This is the type of dish I'd like to be able to create at home (as well as the entire meal really, but let's not kid ourselves). Although the broth seemed to be quite simple I sadly have no idea what it is, or how to go about recreating it).

When I saw two Tokonoma dessert platters headed for our table I was chuffed. Sadly the second platter was for another table and I was going to have to share dessert with The Baking Lady. It's often really hard to share dessert, especially something as delicious and pretty as this. The peach ice-cream was democratically halved and I carefully only ate my half of the apricot brulee - though I could've happily scoffed the lot.

Tokonoma is at 490 Crown Street, Surry Hills.  Phone them on 9357-6100. Tokonoma is situated right next door to its sister restaurant, the more casual Toko.

Toko on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Balthazar, New York

Balthazar is a classic New York restaurant - an institution I suppose. It's trendy, it's busy, it's hard to get into and if you look hard enough you may spot a celebrity or two chowing down.

I hadn't actually this put legendary NY French Bistro on my wishlist (an entire A4 page of placs to eat) although it had been on my "mental wishlist" for years.  I guess I thought there was no way two daggy gals from Sydney would get a table here (I was wearing Crocs {yes I know what you're thinking but they are comfortable for walking in}, jeans from Target and a top from god knows where) so why bother. Miss M and I literally stumbled across the restaurant whilst out strolling around SoHo one morning.  As it was a weekday the place was busy, but not as packed as it would be for weekend brunch so we managed to get a table in the corner of this vast and beautifully shabby dining room.

The dining room of Balthaza is HUGE  - a vast gold painted room that is a bit shabby and a bit "distressed". There is loads of dark wood, an old style bar at one end and tables for as far as the eye can see. Downstairs in the lady's loo there is a bathroom attendant who hands you a handtowel, offers you some handcream (or whatever else you'd like - some perfume perhaps or dental floss). To return the favour you put a dollar or two in her tip jar.  I've never been to a "real" French bistro in France, but I imagine this is what it would be like. I'm in LOVE!

As this is our second breakfast for the morning we keep things light. I'm really here just to experience the place and Miss M has her eyes peeled for any celebrites that might be hiding (there were none).  The food we ordered was really pretty straight forward and simple, afterall we weren't hear to eat our own body weight in French food.

I start off with a glass of Pink Grapefruit Juice.  It's a pretty standard glass of juice, but it's juice that I'm drinking in Balthazar in NEW YORK BABY so that automatically makes it the best juice I've ever had. EVER!

I'm quite smitten with the idea that this established New York restaruant serves a humble Soft Boiled (Organic) Egg with Toast Soilders ($4.00) so I decide this is the breakfast dish for me.

Miss M's eyes had lit up at the sight of the large cabinet overflowing with freshly baked bread so she opts for a basket of bread (un-toasted please) with jam.

We finished things up with a simple bowl of fruit salad, which was acutally really nice considering all the junk food, fried food, fatty food, sweet food, too much food I'd been eating thus far.

I really enjoyed our simple breakfast at Balthazar. It felt "so New York" eating there - watching the regulars catch up over coffee and a newspaper was one of the (eating) highlights of my trip.

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Eight, Haymarket

A surefire way to gather my family together is to suggest Yum Cha. Everyone seems happy to travel to the ends of the earth for a weekend Yum Cha brunch - even Niecy Poo's new beau who is fresh of the plane from Scotland (for his first EVER Yum Cha EVER)!

I'm really intrigued to see Mr Scotland's reaction to a) a grilling by our family b) his first EVER Yum Cha and c) his ability to eat Chicken Feet with my brother who is always looking for a partner in Chicken Feet crime. He seemed to have survived everything quite well.

As is customary we gather at the Yum Cha in Market City, above the ever tacky Paddy's Market. The restaurant has recently undergone a name change and a change in decor too (lots of red going on). Truth be told I actually don't know what The Eight was called before its recent change in ownership, we've always referred to it as "the place above Paddy's Markets", as you do.

Within seconds of being shown to our seats the onslaught of bamboo wielding Trolley Dolly's hits us, and not a moment to soon as we're all starving!  All of our favourites came around and within minutes are table is groaning under the weight of multiple baskets.

Seafood Dumpling
Prawn Dumpling
Spinach Dumplings
Peking Duck Pancake - this was delicious!  We all agreed one pancake each is not enough.
Green beans with pork mince - an all time personal favourite
Chicken feet - eep

Eggplant with prawn somewhere in there - tastes a thousand times better than it looks. Really!
Salt and Pepper Calamari - my all time favourite Yum Cha dish
We all left Yum Cha with full bellies and agreed the food was better than it was in our previous visits here - in The Eight's previous life. There was a never ending parade of Yum Cha trolleys going past our table and a good variety of dishes on offer - good enough to keep a table of Aussie (and Scottish) Yum Cha lovers happy.

The Eight Modern Chinese Restaurant is at Level 3 Market City 9 Hay St, Haymarket.

The Eight Modern Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Pickle Guys, New York

Whilst traipsing around The Lower East Side we tried to experience some of the Jewish foodie culture by visiting Russ and Daughters. Miss M really really really had her heart set on a Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Bagel from this famous deli. Alas it was not to be as the place was SO crowded (the day before a major Jewish holiday might have something to do with the crush) that there was no way we were getting served anytime soon.

Katz Deli was literally just down the road so we hot-footed it there only to find the prices seriously ridiculous ($12.00 for a bagel - puhLEASE - we don't even pay that much in Australia)!  Miss M and I also both agreed that the place was a bit...grimy...and our $12.00 would be better spent elsewhere.

And what better way to spend $12.00 and try something from a store that is a little different than visit The Pickle Guys. 

The name of this store pretty much sums up what's on offer - pickles. Anything that they can hold down long enough to go into the pickle vat gets the pickling treatment.  The store is tiny, very quite narrow and nearly every available inch of floorspace is taken up with huge vats of pickled goods. Heaven!

The owner of the store was impressed that I was able to identify the below vat as Pickled Turnips (all those trips to El Jannah's weren't for nothing).  In fact he said I was the only person EVER not to think it was a vat full of beetroot.  Way to go Miss Piggy!

We ended up leaving with a few sour pickles each and a tub of mixed pickled vegies.  The food was really delicious and I loved the novelty factor of a store that sells nothing but pickled goods. 

 The pickles we bought we super sour and super tart...made my face go a bit "winky".

The Pickle Guys on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Izakaya Aragato, Chatswood

I recently attended a conference on food blogging – EatDrinkBlog 2011 – where a few of the seminars were focused on the ethics of blogging, and what our obligations are under the law in terms of the content of our blogs. Debate went back and forth about what to do if you have a less than positive experience at a restaurant. Do you pretend like it never happened and just focus on the good aspects of the meal, do you let the restaurant have it and tell them exactly how woeful you think they are...or do you tread somewhere in the middle? Is it dishonest not to tell your readers about both the good and bad elements of a dining experience?

Personally I try to tread somewhere in the middle, erring on the side of kindness as I’m mindful that I’m writing about someone’s business and someone’s livelihood – it’s not my place to tear them apart no matter how crap my evening was. That said, if I have had a really bad experience I don’t want to pretend like it never happened. I'm often more forgiving towards less than perfect food, but bad service really gets me going. What a quandary.

So keeping all of that in mind I’m a bit stumped about what to say about Izakaya Aragato, though I will start off by saying it is not an Izakaya, but a simple Japanese restaurant located on Chatswood’s Eat Street. From what I’ve told by those “in the know” a true Izakaya is a snack bar serving simple, small dishes of Japanese treats that you consume with a cold beer (or three) after a hard day at the office.

The food at Izakaya Aragato was all very lovely, and as we were dining on a Spreets voucher there was A LOT of food – two entrees, sushi plate, two mains and two desserts. A really good value for money meal.

When there is so much food being offered you don’t really want it to arrive at your table all at the same time. All of our dishes (bar the dessert) arrived in quick succession, like rapid gunfire, which left us to gobble food really quickly simply to make table space for everything that was bestowed upon us. It certainly wasn’t a relaxing meal, especially when the waitress was literally shoving my bowl out from under me as I was eating my entree so she could find room for my bento box. A death stare was given by me and duly ignored – nicely played waitress. Maybe they just try to get their Spreets customers in and out as quickly as possible, but as we were only one of three tables there surely I don’t quite get the need to rush us.

So onto the food which was really quite nice. Everything was fresh, flavoursome and presented beautifully.  If this restaurant was in my local area I'd probably turn a blind eye to the service as the food is well worth a revisit.

The meal started with a tea pot filled with warm Sake. I actually thought this was Green Tea so filled both our cups to the brim until I realised what was inside the tea pot. Whoops!

Our first entree was a simple bowl of Agedashi Tofu (normally $6.80) which was great. The tofu was firm, fat and so squiggly I had to resort to eating it with a fork. The broth was perfectly flavoured and a great start to the food.

Next to arrive was a Miso Soup - which was meant to accompany the Bento Box I'd ordered for my main meal. The Boy drank this straight away however so there was no worry about it going cold before we got around to eating mains.

Our second entree was a beautiful Soft Shell Crab Salad (normally $12.80).  I find it hard to go past Soft Shell Crab when I see it on a menu and this did not disappoint. The salad was generous in size and had all the right flavours that go into a making a great Japanese salad. 

The Spreets deal also included a plate of either Sashimi or Sushi.  The Boy took a liking to the Rock n Roll plate (normally $13.80) which was a good choice as it had a little bit of everything - including my favourite Cooked Tuna Salad Roll. 

I love Bento Boxes ($13.80) so it was a no brainer that I was ordering this for my main meal. I choose my Bento Box with a serve of succulent and flavoursome Chicken Teriyaki which was accompanied by Rice, Seaweed Salad, Gyoza, Takoyaki (Octopus Ball) and a zesty green salad.

The Boy is a true Aussie at heart and can't go past a good schnitzel when it is on offer. Chicken Katsu ($12.90) is the Japanese version of a chicken schnitzel- crumbed, fried and topped with Japanese Mayonnaise and a sweet tasting sauce that I've had on Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) before. The whole lot is served with a rich, creamy Japanese Coleslaw.  Judging by the fact that there was not a crumb left on his plate I think The Boy enjoyed his meal.

The table is cleared and we wait for our desserts to arrive. We both ordered the Japanese Ice-Cream Sundae ($6.80) and it certainly put a smile on our faces when it arrived. The Sundae was a colourful concoction of Green Tea, Sesame and Vanilla Ice-Cream drizzled with Strawberry Topping, Cornflakes (??) and a pink wafer biscuit.  My favourite ice-cream flavour was definitely the nutty tasting Sesame. The Green Tea was "interesting" as it had big leafs of green tea dotted throughout giving it bitter note.  The Cornflakes added an intersting textural element and is certainly not something The Boy or I had ever encournterd in our dessert before.

Izakaya Arigato is at Shop P7, 5 Railway Street, Chatswood. Phone them on 9411 6596.

Izakaya Arigato on Urbanspoon

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