Tuesday, January 31, 2012

est., Sydney

est. is one of four three-hated restaurants in Sydney – the top notch of Sydney eateries.  The “hats” are awarded annually by The Sydney Morning Herald and those restaurants serve up some of the finest food in our fair city.

To be honest est. has never been somewhere that has been on my radar – too fancy and way out my budget. But when I found out they were having a dinner special for the month of January it quicly became dead centre in my food radar - $50 for two courses PLUS a cockital! Hello est.

You've gotta love complimentary bread - carbs are MY friend I tell you...lovely lovely carbs. In fact I asked for an extra roll half way through the dinner just to make sure I'm well and truly full by the end of the meal.

Our meal begins with a refreshing Sunset cocktail - a mix of Vodka, cranberry, elderflower liqueur and apple with a Kaffir lime leaf getting drunk in the concoction and adding a nice flavour to the drink.

As part of the deal we get to choose from two entrees and two mains. For photographic purposes we order everything on the menu...and because we want to try everything. The BFF choose the Italian Buffalo Mozzarella with fresh peach, Serrano jamon and Belgian endive and I opted for the Oysters with Ponzu Dressing. Both were lovely, light dishes - perfect for a summer night.

For mains I choose the Pan roasted Palmers Island Mulloway fillet, tahini yoghurt, broccolini, green peas, dukkah.  Back in "the day" my parents used to own a small house on Palmers Island and I would spend some of my school holidays there - so I guess there was a little bit of nostalgia involved in this dish for me. It didn't hurt that the fish was marvelous, with a lovely crunchy skin.  The BFF ordered the Pan roasted black angus beef fillet (grain-fed so I decided not to try any) with wasabi miso and shallot butter, pak choy which he said was FANTASTIC!

The BFFs sweet-tooth couldn't be quelled so dessert was ordered - Morello cherry souffle with pinot noir rosé sorbet ($29.00).  I helped myself to a spoonful of three and can tell you this was BEYOND delicious. The souffle was sweet and sugary and there was no taste of egg what-so-ever.  Very very VERY nice.

Postscript: Holy mother of food blogging batman, I published this post without mentioning the Petit Fours tray. Too much sugar has obviously addled my feeble little mind.  I promise it won't happen again (and good news was I was allowed to eat ALL the petit fours at The BFF was too full from his HUGE souffle).

est. is at Level 1 Establishment, 252 George Street, Sydney. Phone them on 9240 3010.

Est. on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bavarian Bier Cafe, Parramatta

Bavarian Bier Cafe in Parramatta has been on The Boy's wish list ever since we moved here back in 2010.  My thoughts on this ranged from "meh" to..."meh" as I just wasn't convinced it would be anywhere near as delicious as the Schnitzel mecca Una's in Darlinghurst. I'm pleased to say I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Bavarian Beir Cafe is located in the old St Andrews Church building in Parramatta - a very impressive and beautiful setting indeed.  The main dining room is enormous and retains just enough of a touch of its former church-i-ness that it doesn't feel too sacrilegious downing the great vats of beer/bier on offer.

The "small" 350ml Bier glasses here hold about 10 times what I would normally drink...but when in a faux German Bier Hall I like to go with the flow. The Boy choose a Stiegl Goldbräu ($11 for 500ml) and I went for the Franziskaner Lemon Weissbier ($7.50 for 350ml), a type of wheat beer with a splash of Limonata. YUM, German shandy!

Because I was still getting over the epic degustation from Restaurant Arras the previous night I convinced The Boy to share the Münchner Brauhaus Platter ($37.70) with me - though there has got to be no way one person could eat all of this meat...or is there? 

The platter contains generous serves of Crackling Roast Pork Belly (best crackling - so salty and crunchy), Char-Grilled Kassler (aka Ham Steak), Sausages, Chicken Schnitzel, Sauerkraut, Red Cabbage and Sebago Mash. Up until this point I have despised Sauerkraut and Red Cabbage Sauerkraut beyond all reason - but I have to say these guys have changed my mind. YUM!

For the price I think this is an excellent option when sharing with someone else.  And good news is that most of the meat here is Organic and Free Range which I think is impressive for chain of restaurants used to churning out big numbers of meals.

I order a token Side Salad ($6.00) just so my arteries know I care about them...sort of.

After our meal we waddled down to Prince Alfred Park to catch a show in the fabulous Spiegletent that is was visiting Parramatta as part of Sydney Festival.  I really hope that Parramatta has such a great line of events at next years' festival as it's been wonderful to have so many events right on our doorstep.

And our show - we saw the fabulous Ed Kuepper, an oldie but a goodie who I haven't seen in concert for about 15 years (yes I'm THAT old)!

Bavarian Bier Cafe is at 2-8 Phillip Street, Parramatta. Phone them on 8836 1400.

Bavarian Bier Café Parramatta on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Restaurant Arras, Sydney

The upside of saving so much money via my meal-deal buying obsession (spending money to save money some might say, but I prefer to put a positive spin on things) is that I can splurge out on a truly fine-dining experience every now again.

Miss M, Miss Chicken and I decide it’s time to check out the newly relocated Restaurant Arras which shut up shop in Walsh Bay mid-2011 and reopened in Clarence Street at the end of last year. To say we’re excited is a bit of an understatement. I’m literally jumping up and down outside the restaurant as I see the others arrive.

Now some advice. If you are going to Restaurant Arras for dinner you need to plan ahead. A light breakfast and an even lighter lunch are in order if you’re to get through the 9 course degustation unharmed. Or you could be like me and eat a mega-sized muffin for breakfast, pasta for lunch, a few snacks along the way and leave the restaurant looking like you’re about to give birth to a food baby. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The restaurant is lovely – an airy light space that feels “special” but not intimidating and the wait staff are very friendly and knowledgeable. A large bar/table situated in the middle of the dining room and a few larger than life lamps make me think of an Alice In Wonderland type landscape.

And we’re off. The meal begins with complimentary canapés; a quenelle of mackerel rillette and a cheese something or other that I can’t quite remember. I was beside myself with excitement at the onslaught of food about to hit us so I didn’t quite have my wits about me in regards to remembering what the waitress was telling us.

A little wooden tray approaches with a selection of house made breads. We’re advised to take as many of the petit loaves as we like – probably ill advice given we scoffed the lot quickly and sacrificed precious “degustation stomach room” (except for Miss Chicken ‘cos she did have her wits about her).

The degustation proper kicks of with a very generous sized Amuse Bouche – a pretty garden of dehydrated olives, shaved cucumber, potted prawns, soy and chorizo.  All of the courses at Arras are on the generous size, there is no need to worry that you'll leave the restaurant hungry.  In fact the serves could be quite a bit smaller and you certainly would feel well satisfied by the end of the night.

After three plates of food (bread included of course) the meal proper starts with a delightfully fresh entree - spiced and dressed crab in a lettuce with soy beans. This is such a simple looking dish - so fresh and vibrant - and is filled with clean, fresh flavours.

Next is another light and simply flavoured dish that the waitress refers to as "In the Garden" - pickled marinated vegetables, slow cooked onions and bitter leaves.  I really appreciated the slightly acidic flavour of the pickled vegetables, a great way to put our taste buds on full alert for what is to come.

The final entree is a pearler - cooked tuna, smoked eggs, green beans and potato. The crumbled smoked eggs looked like gravel dotted over the plate and was a delicious addition to the dish and a nice contrast to the fresh tuna.  I really enjoyed the different textures and flavours in this dish and would happily have eaten another serve if one was on offer.  I'd probably even seek out smoked egg in my future foodie endeavours.

The first main served was the milk-cooked Pork belly, whey puree and cracklings with crackling cooked THREE ways. Heaven. The pork was incredibly tender and the squiggle of crackling sitting atop the pork was crispy perfection.

Next is the black and white squid with sweetbreads, Jerusalem artichoke crisps and scallops that sat in a puddle of lovely rich chicken gravy. The presentation of the squid in this dish was very interesting - presented as a mousse and pipped onto the plate, yet it retained all of its squiddy flavour despite some molecular trickery from the kitchen.

A tip to the punters, it’s worth saving some of your bread (if you can) to sop up the moreish chicken gravy. Of course I didn’t do that having scoffed my bread 47 courses ago, but our waitress thinks it one of the best parts of the dish. 

The final main served to us is the lamb rump ‘bruised shoulders’, pease pudding and curd.  The pease pudding is great - a little solid mountain of peas that tastes reminscnet of pea soup.  The lamb is tender and cooked to a perfect pink. There is another sphere of lamb wrapped in black pudding. Before starting my blog I NEVER EVER IN A PINK FIT would've tried black pudding EVER EVER EVER, despite my English father professing it's the best food on earth. I've tried it two or three times now and have to admit...it's not too bad.

Ah, time for dessert - Cinematic Soufflé “the sequel” (the name no doubt a nod to the restaurants new digs at Clarence Street). The feather-light popcorn flavoured Soufflé was a sight to behold with so many tempting elements on the one plate. The Soufflé, which came served in a little copper pot, is served with popcorn ice cream, popped corn and a jug of sticky sweet caramel sauce that we pour all over our plate. Definitely one for the sweet toothes although the Soufflé did have a very eggy flavour to it...my experience to Soufflé is now limited to twice and I'm not sure if that is how it is supposed to taste??

Just when we thought the meal was over a second dessert arrives at the table. Now we know what the colourful banquettes along the front wall of the restaurant are for – lay down and stretch out your poor full stomach. The Branylus vinegar ice-cream, black salt fougasse (the crisp bread under the ice-cream), vegetable and fruit crisps was fantastic. I LOVED this dessert. It was the perfect juxtaposition of savoury and sweet with both flavours playing off each other nicely.

It would be a great dis-service to the incredible meal we just had to say they saved the best til last. In fact I had been hoping Restaurant Arras’ famous petit fours tray would come out before the meal...as I knew I’d be too full by the end of the meal to fully enjoy it (I gave it a red-hot go though).  We tried a few things amongst us - mainly taking a bite and passing it along so that we could try everything that took our fancy. What a fun and whimsical way to end the night.

Our degustation cost $140 (Arras automatically add an 8% gratuity that you can asked to be removed if you like) and took a little over 4 hours.  This is one of the more pricey meals I've had (EVER) but I think it was all about the experience for me so totally worth it. And whilst I loved it I'm going to limit my future degustations as there is just way too much food and piggy is getting porky - it really is a true (over)indulgence.

Restaurant Arras on Urbanspoon

204 Clarence Street, Sydney. Phone them on 9252 6285.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Artisan’s Apprentice, Parramatta

One of Parramatta’s true food gems can be found hidden in one this suburbs many arcades.  Hiding in the middle of The Connection Arcade is Parramatta's very own sourdough bakery! It's not as big as Brasserie Bread or Bourke Street Bakery (the Marrickville branch that is) and doesn't have a cafe, but man it is GOOD!

Sourdough dominates in this artisan bakery with owner and baker Chris Chamberlain making bread in the ways of yesteryear with some recipes dating back to the 13th Century. Breads are dense, heavy and a meal in themselves (but goes with soup or salad if you're a piggy like moi).  Chris' wife Chris (wo)mans the shop most days and hands over the loaves to the waiting bread-o-philes like myself.

Offerings range from a ye olde worlde 13th Century Fruit Loaf packed with dried fruits and spice, to 100% rye bread, sweet potato and onion bread, and the more adventurous Roast Beetroot Bread.  And yes I've tried most of them.  The best-selling Olive and Rosemary is probably my favourite.

Rosemary and Olive Bread - giggyup good!

Roast Beetroot Bread
Sweet tooths are not forgotten, with a selection of delectable pastries and sweet pies also on offer.  You can also grab yourself a coffee or cold drink and make a day of it.  And, I like that Baker Chis has a sense of humour. For Easter last year he made Hot Cross Easter Circles as the trauma of making thousands upon thousands of Hot Cross Buns at a previous job still haunt him.

Hot Cross Easter...Circle?
Something for the sweet tooth.
The Artisan's Apprentice can be found in The Connection Arcade Shop 9, 162-172 Church Street, Parramatta.

the Artisans Apprentice on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Devonshire, Surry Hills

The BFF had tried a few times in December to book a table at The Devonshire but it wasn’t to be as they were fully booked each time I rang. Never one to give up (which The Boy calls nagging, but I call persistence) we tried again in January and lady luck was on our side!

The Devonshire is located on busy Devonshire Street in Surry Hills...which I guess is kind of obvious given the name, but I thought I should make that clear just in case there was any confusion. There is a constant parade of human traffic past the restaurant and it’s a great place for a bit of people watching – some of the people are more “colourful” than others.

The restaurant is empty when we arrive and this gives us a chance to have a chat to chef and owner, Jeremy Bentley (who owns the restaurant with business partner Matt Kemp from Montpellier Public House). Jeremy is a super friendly and down-to-earth guy and makes us feel so welcome in his restaurant and I think it’s this warmth that really makes the night for me. Restaurant Manager, Matt, is another friendly guy and he really takes the time to chat with us and carefully explains each dish (most of which I’ve promptly forgotten to my gold-fish memory – opps)!

The BFF and I decided to go for the $45 per person pre-theatre menu which includes two courses (you need to let them know at the time of booking that this is what you’d like). We decide to go for Entrees and Mains...and maybe order a dessert later on if we’re feeling “in the mood”. The pre-theatre deal is EXCELLENT value considering an entree and main will normally set you back about $60.

Dinner kicks off with an amuse bouche of Salt Fish Brandade with a Dill and Caper Sauce – which is basically (in my most non-chefy translation EVER) a little deep-fried fish and potato croquette type thing, and it was so delicious. I really loved the dusting of salt on the Brandade, and the fish and salmon filling was so light.

We also receive a complimentary bread roll that is served warm and with two types of butter - a salted butter and a lovely sweet butter infused with honey which is made in-house.

For entrées we stick with a nautical theme and order the Cured Hiramasa Kingfish, Blood Orange, Spring Onion and Potato Crisps and the Seared Scallops with a Curried Cauliflower Puree and  Onion Bahji. 

Both dishes are fantastic, though I have to say that anything served with potato crisps is a winner in my books. The cured kingfish is also served with a kingfish rilette which has a texture similar to salmon mousse and it is perfectly light and flavoursome (especially when scooped up on a salty crisp).  The BFF loves the perfectly cooked  Seared Scallop dish - and I am particularly taken with the onion bahji (yes, I'm addicted to fried foods)! 

For mains the BFF is swayed by the Bangalow Pork Belly with Sage Beignet and an Apple and Fennel Salad.  Snaps to The BFF for not getting cross at me for taking 1,000 photos of his dinner - brown food, why are you so damn difficult to photograph in focus? Hmmm?  Anyway, back to the pork - I'm told it was exquisite, melt-in-the-mouth tender. Bangalow Pork is bred to be a bit fatty, and when cooked with the fat left on is incredibly flavoursome and succulent (though I'm not 100% sure if it's free-range or not so I abstained on this occasion).

I kept on with my seafood theme and choose the Confit King Salmon, Buckwheat Risotto, Prawns, Kohlrabi, Ginger and Dill Dessert with FOAM! Sadly the foam here is a little...deflated due to the excessive pork-photo-taking that happened earlier on. No matter, it still tasted wonderful. The salmon was so tender having been "confit" with olive oil and cooked in a water-bath for about 6 minutes (that's the only information I retained from our waiter). The prawns were so plump and the buckwheat risotto was really interesting (in a good way)  texture wise.

Of course we couldn't resist dessert, not when I'd heard so much about the Devonshire Tea Creme Brulee, Scone Ice-Cream, Cherry Jam and Whipped Cream ($15.00).  The presentation is uber-cute (I wonder how many of these little tea cups go walk-a-bout at the end of the meal? I'd kind of like a few for home myself).  The brulee is made with a  mix of T2 Teas (Girly Grey, Blue Mountain and another berry tea whose name eludes me). The result is a lovely brulee with a mild Earl Gray flavour and a sweet after note of berry teas. LOVE! The scone ice-cream is subtle in flavour but utterly delicious. A must order!

Our experience at The Devonshire was lovely - in part due to the fantastic food and in part due to the wonderful service. We were really made to feel welcome and I can't wait to come back.  And for those of you who like a Degustation - you can grab one here for $80. Bargain.

The Devonshire is at 204 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills. Telephone them on 9698 9427.

The Devonshire on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Montpellier Public House, Randwick

If you've ever had any doubts about whether or not the meal deal vouchers that seem to be so prevalent these days are any good, then I think this TravelZoo voucher that we bought for dinner Montpellier Public House should put your doubts to rest.

I'd been keen to try Montpellier Public House ever since fine dining restaurant Balzac shut its doors and owner Matt Kemp reopened Montpellier in the same beautiful sandstone building in Randwick. Whilst Balzac was all about beautiful food and fine dining, Montpellier is still about good food but at more accessible prices. Montpellier basically serves English pub grub, in a more modern and more refined incarnation. And, it's damn tasty!

You can still get your (more) fancy meal upstairs in Montpellier, however the TravelZoo voucher sees us dining downstairs in the front room of the more informal, yet still beautifully designed, Public Bar.  The voucher includes a bottle (yes a WHOLE bottle, just for us) of The Dutchess sparkling wine - a lovely drop.

The meal begins with Warm Olives with Bread that looks suspiciously like Brasserie Bread's soya and quinoa loaf. The olives are divine - plump and meaty, and the dense bread is perfect for sopping up the warm olive oil in the bottom of the bowl.

Our jaws near hit the floor when the waitress brings the tasting platter to our table. What a feast! We try to pace ourselves, but we make quick work of every morsel in front of us.  The platter contained a selection of Montpelliers tastiest treats: Potted River Trout with Pickled Cucumbers and Dill; Terrine of Ham; Salad of  Pickled Beets, Goats Curd, Orange and Walnuts; Baked Beans with Pork Belly; Dressed Salad Leaves and last but not least Duck Sausage Roll.  Phew.

Every element on the platter was bursting with flavour but I think my favourite would have to be the Duck Sausage Roll and also the Potted River Trout - both different dishes in terms of texture and flavour but both really stood out to me.

I guess the Pork Belly was pretty good too as I quickly scrambled to grab a fallen piece of crackling from the (what looked like a clean) floor where it flew as I tried to cut it in half. 30 second rule!  Don't judge - you'd do the same for crackling, I know you would!

Dinner's not over yet though - we still have our main meals to get through.  The Boy ordered the 8 Hour Braised Shoulder of Lamb with Roast Truss Tomatoes which was lovely. The lamb was so tender - it just fell off the bone, and the mint pesto type stuff on top added a really fresh element to the dish.  My Roast Sea Mullet, Fennel and White Beans was a really light dish. The skin on the fish was perfectly crisp and I loved the slightly licorice flavour the fennel added to my meal.

Are you full yet?  Yes? Well, loosen your belts as there's still a Dessert Platter to go. We take a deep breath and embark on polishing off the Trifle with chocolate and sour cherries; Buttermilk Pudding with Blueberries; Warm Treacle Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and a Bitter Chocolate Petit Pot.

It's really hard to pick a favourite when it comes to dessert, especially when each dish is so good.  The treacle tart was incredible - sweet, but not too sweet and delectable once the ice cream had melted into the tart.  The buttermilk pudding was another favourite - a bit like panacotta in texture, but more light.

So there you have it. We've not gone wrong yet with a meal deal voucher.  Choose wisely, choose restaurants you've heard of and you won't go wrong either.

The Montpellier Public House on Urbanspoon

Montpellier is at 141 Belmore Road Randwick NSW 2031. Telephone 02 9399 9660.

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