Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Abercrombie, Broadway

The Abercrombie. For when too much deep-fried food is never enough (so basically all the time, right)?

Deep-fried Pizza anyone? Photo thanks to Flick Your Food

I'd been reading quite a lot about The Abercrombie (aka the former grungy Australia Hotel on Broadway) and their penchant for deep-frying just about anything - pizza, Golden Gaytimes, Macaroni and Cheese, Twinkies.  I'm sure if a lettuce sat idle for too long in The Abercrombie kitchen it'd get a turn in the deep-fryer too.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'd be avoiding The Abercrombie for over a year now - just because I'd like to not put on any more weight that I already have since starting the blog. And then I though F#ck it...in for a penny, in for a pound! I'm not called Miss Piggy for nothing.  I rounded up a group of like-minded food bloggers and a group of converged on The Abercrombie to get our Deep-Fried on!

The thing I was most excited to try were the Deep-Fried Mac and Cheese Balls which I'm glad to say were as fantastic as I'd hoped they be.  Cheesy macaroni encased in a bread-crumb batter and deep-fried to within an inch of its life. Excellent. Oh, and there were Beef Nachos too, but they weren't deep fried so I wasn't interested in them. Really.

Another dish on my deep-fried wish list were the Hot Chips (crinkle cut thank you very much) served with gherkins, gravy and aioli.  I guess the gherkins are there as the token vegetable to help cut through all the grease - works for me. If I was eating this on my own I think I would've dumped the gravy and aoili all over the chips/gherkins just to see what it tasted like. Oh, the deep-fried Calamari served with garlic aioli was pretty nice too.

Somehow some more non deep-fried food found its way to our table. I admit that I ordered the Fish Taco and it was GREAT. Surprisingly the fish wasn't deep-fried, but a fresh piece of fish (and the lettuce on the Taco wasn't deep-fried either). The Cheese and Jalapeno Enchiladas were also delicious.  There were also hotdogs on offer, covered in a mound of chili beef and melted cheese ooze; and a few burgers that my camera refused to photograph (Fish Burger = awesome).

Photo thanks to Flick Your Food
And last, but not least, the dish that EVERYONE was here to try - the Deep-Fried Golden Gaytime.  It was fun and games trying to explain to the expats at our table what a Golden Gaytime was - they were urged to duck out to their local corner shop and try the real deal ASAP.

The batter of the ice-cream was basically the same as the batter on deep-fried ice cream at you local Chinese joint...so it was GOOD!  The ice-cream was pretty soft though and melted really quickly (not helped along by us all taking photos of aforementioned soft melty ice cream).

Photo thanks to Flick Your Food
The Abercrombie is fun night out. The pub is still pretty grungy, packed to the rafters on a Friday night and the courtyard is an asthmatics worst nightmare...smokers EVERYWHERE! Stay indoors, grab a big table and order up big. It's heaps of deep-fried fun. Burp.

The Abercrombie is at 100 Broadway (aka Parramatta Road or George Street depending on your view of the world). 

 The Abercrombie on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wine Degustation @ Toko, Surry Hills

Miss Piggy and The BFF attended the Torbreck Wine Degustation as guests for Toko Restaurant.

I'm under no illusion whatsoever that my palate is any way "refined". Me and my taste buds know what we like...and what we don't. We know our savoury from our sweet, our yum from our yuck, and we know when someone tries to sneak something offal-y or Brussel Sprout-y by us (most of the time). But that's about it.

When it comes to wine, my palate just lies down and DIES! We know white from red...because we can SEE what's red and white.  So it's quite interesting to be invited by Toko in Surry Hills to their Torbreck Wine Degustation. I take The BFF along with me who isn't a wine drinker at all...but because it's our regular catch-up night and I wouldn't ditch him just for wine...not even this lovely Torbreck wine.

The dinner is served over FIVE glorious courses - each with a different, carefully matched wine. At the beginning of each course James from Torbreck talks to the group about the wine, the grapes, the various blends and the history of that particular wine at their vineyard in the Barossa.  He is incredibly knowledgeable about all things Vino and happily answers all my questions.

Course 1: begins with a really nice 2010 Woodcutters Semillon. I feel like a bit of an impostor to be honest, but if blogging is about anything it's about learning. I can taste a hint of almonds in the wine (yay taste buds) and James confirms that my taste buds are onto something. He also says the wine has scents of limestone, candle wax, and toasted brioche as well as notes of pineapple, roasted cashew and white peach. Hmmm...but HOW! That's the thing about wine, I don't quite understand (ok, understand at all) how  does the toasted brioche, peach, pineapple and candle wax gets into the wine (or how the scent gets into the wine). Seriously I want you to answer these questions in the comments below. Please? For my sanity. Thanks.

The food at TOKO really needs no explanation other than it is FANTASTIC Japanese food, really clean, refined and thoughtfully presented.  The interior of the restaurant is stunning, curved wood is a major feature throughout and the restaurant feels modern, warm and inviting.

The first course sees us presented with Oysters Tosazu; Salmon Tartare (fantastic) and Swordfish Tataki.  Toko is where you go when you want really fantastic Japanese food and feel that it's time to get off the sushi train and grow up (note to self, it's time to grow up).

Course 2: begins with a 2004 The Steading Blanc Roussanne Viognier Marsanne - a blend of three grape varieties so it's a bit more complex than the Semillon we started with.  I like it, but I think I liked the first wine a bit more.

The wine is matched with the most delicious Grilled Scallops Mentaiko Miso (oh my); Morton Bay Bug Tempura (WOW); and Sake Steamed Miso Mussels.

Course 3: starts with 2004 The Steading Grenache Shiraz Mataro - the first red wine of the evening. This wine includes grapes from some REALLY old vines that the owner of Torbreck stumbled across one day - the vines are over a hundred years old.  Japanese food is normally paired with white wine so there were A LOT of people at the table really excited about this particular wine/food matching.  Generally speaking I do prefer white wine over red...to me it's more subtle.

For Course 3 we ate Quail Karage which was wonderful, Unagi Nigiri; and Wagyu Beef Gunkan with Uni Wasabi Butter.  These dishes were more "heavy" and more meaty than the first two courses so I can see how the red wine was a suitable choice for this course.

Course 4: the wine served during Course 4 was a really full-bodied 2009 Runrig Shiraz - bit too "strong" for me, but the seasoned wine lovers at the table seemed to enjoy it. There was a big debate at our end of the table as to whether or not this particular wine was too "much" for the food served given that Japanese food is not really ever that "heavy". Just goes to show that wine, like food and shoes, is all about individual tastes and preferences.

This wine was served with Miso Duck Breast; Robata Grilled Wagyu Beef 500 day grain-fed mb 9+; and a Nori Truffle Butter Robata Grilled Cabbage. I've never been a big fan of cooked cabbage but this was amazing...truffle butter is a miracle worker!

Course 5: hello dessert and 2010 Highland Fling Fortified Shiraz (how great is that name)! Before we got stuck into the Fortified Shiraz we enjoyed a great palate cleanser - Yuzu Shiso Sangaria Granita. This was was so fresh and zesty and really cleared the way for the dessert to come.

I really LOVED this wine. And, no I was not drunk thank you very much.  I'd only been drinking a little from each course...until now when I asked for a second glass. This wine was sticky and sweet. I've always loved desserts wines though.  The wine was paired really well with Three Chocolate Rice Pudding, Toffee and Tofu Milk Ice-cream. Both sweet, and rich (but not "too rich:).

Toko is at 490 Crown Street, Surry Hills.  Phone them on 9357 6100.

Toko on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fujiya, Sydney CBD

Fujiya is one of the first places The BFF and I frequented when we started going out to dinner together on a weekly basis.  I'd just moved back to Sydney from Broken Hill and I was desperate to eat as much Japanese as my stomach would allow.  We'd go here for weeks in a row and I'd never get sick of the place. Fujiya was the first place where I tried Soft Shell Crab - it was love at first bite and I've been addicted ever since.  It's also located right above Baskin and Robins...doesn't hurt to finish things off with some Peanut Butter Chocolate ice-cream. Does it? No.

It's been YEARS since The BFF visited Fujiya however.  I guess we just got caught up in visiting all the new places...but if you don't revisit the old ones occasionally you'll turn around one day and they'll be gone. 

Each time I've visited Fujiya I've been seated on one of the tiny little booths that surround the edge of the restaurant...the booths are great for two or three people, but boy those wooden benches are hard, even for a well-padded bottom like mine.  The view over bustling George Street takes my mind of my derriere however, and some Green Tea ($3.80) warms us both up quite nicely.

We kick things off with one of our old-time favourites Eel Rice ($12.80) - fried rice studded with meaty pieces of flaked eel. At first it's not as good as we remembered...it tasted kinda grassy (weird I know). We left it for awhile and moved onto the Miso Eggplant ($9.80) and when we revisited the Eel Rice later on it was great - just as I remember it. Very odd indeed.  I ended dropping my brand new camera into the Miso Eggplant, smooshing some of it beyond recognition (the eggplant, not the camera), but it still tasted OK - so no harm done (to the eggplant anyway).  I've tried making Miso Eggplant at home a few times but it's nowhere as good as this - charged eggplant that is melt-in-the mouth soft with just the right amount of Miso giving it a slight saltiness.

The BFF orders a Gyuniku Maki ($6.90) - grilled beef wrapped around pieces of green shallot.  I've had this before and it's GOOD, the seared beef partners really well with the shallot.  I decided on the Grilled Shitake Mushrooms with Shallots ($4.80). WOW - this was FANTASTIC, so fantastic I ordered another serve all to myself. The mushrooms were so meaty, yet tender at the same time and the shallots were cooked through but still firm to the bite. I think the seasoning really set this dish apart - I think it was white pepper with salt, but The BFF swears it's MSG (such a cynic)!

Being a chip fiend I find it hard to go past Renkon Chips at a Japanese restaurant these days. We decided to make it healthy by adding it to a salad ($9.80).  That works right? All of a sudden junk food becomes health food. I love the dressing that they put on Japanese salads - it's tangy, and just a bit sweet.  We also order a Spinach Salad with Sesame Dressing ($5.30) - more healthy food.

Ah, hello Soft Shell Crab Roll ($9.80), my old friend.  Our Soft Shell Crab roll was perfect, wrapped tightly so the rice didn't fall apart as I wrangled it with my non-existent chopstick skills. When you can't use chopsticks a tightly wrapped roll makes all the difference - as does perfectly crispy pieces of Soft Shell Crab.

Fujiya is at 609 George Street, Sydney.  Phone them on 9283 2268.

Fujiya on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mahjong Room, Surry Hills

There is something really special about The Mahjong Room in Surry Hills. It's not your stock standard Chinese restaurant.

The decor is thoughtful and warm.  There are no laminex tables or tissue boxes on the table. The dining room feels modern yet has a traditional "oriental feel" to it.  The food is GREAT - traditional Chinese food (says the Aussie gal from the country town up North) with a clean, modern twist. It's 100% better than anything you'd ever eat at your local Chinese. For me it had that elusive "thing" that makes a restaurant feel welcoming...and wonderful (plus a meal deal voucher and you KNOW how much I love them).

Our meal kicks off with a never ending cup of tea, which is lovely on what has turned out to be a rather wet, and not-so-warm night.

The voucher deal includes four entrees of the restaurants choosing.  They happily whip up some non-red meat/lamb/chicken options for us - I forget to mention my quirky eating habits when I made the booking. My Bad.  I thought The Boy would be unhappy that his San Choi Bao come sans meat, but he loved the mix of finely diced vegetables, topped with crunchy noodles. The Steamed Scallops were lovely, fresh and light - and I loved the addition of enoki mushrooms to the garnish.

The poached Blue Swimmer Crab Gow Gee were sublime. Really meaty and flavoursome, and I loved the light broth the dumplings came submerged in (not a drop was left when the waiter came to collect the bowl).

The Boiled Vegetarian Dumplings held their own against the wonderful Crab Gow Gee.  Filled with choy sum, black fungus, and pressed doufu (aka Tofu) they were hearty and packed with simple, yet delightful flavours. Again I slurped up every last drop of the broth.

Our first main was the delectable Tiger Prawns with Sugar Peas. The prawns and snow peas were wok fried in XO sauce (is that Chinese for Kiss Hug Sauce)? Really REALLY good. The Snow Peas were so fresh that they still had a wonderful crunch to every mouthful.  The Steamed Fish of The Day (Barramundi) was cooked with ginger, shallot and chili came served on a bed of wonderfully soft, slippery (and really tasty) Tofu. Both of these mains were a winner in my book - and who knew Tofu could taste SO good?

Of course we have room for dessert. Who could say no to Chocolate Banana Spring Rolls - with lychee ice cream.  The Boy's eyes rolled back in his head when he bit into the Banana Spring Roll - that good huh Mister? I loved the lychee ice cream, slightly tart yet sweet at the same time. 

I haven't been to Billy Kwong's or Spice Temple yet, but I imagine that The Mahjong Rooms take on Chinese food is quite similar to theirs. Clean, simple, modern cooking techniques and ingredients that really highlight what good food is all about - just not quite as expensive as those places. It's a modern take on Chinese food and I loved it. LOVED it!

The Mahjong Room is at 312 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney Telephone 02 9361 3985.

Mahjong Room on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Poultry Masterclass at Chophouse, Sydney

Miss Piggy attend the Poultry Masterchef a guest of Chophouse.

I've been very lucky to attend two cooking classes recently, both in professional kitchens.  The first, a pork crackling masterclass, was held in an intimate kitchen at Restaurant Atelier - where two (sometimes three) chefs work closely to produce fine French food.  The cooking class at Chophouse, in Sydney's CBD, was a whole different kettle of...steak. Head Chef Eric Tan leads a kitchen team of 16 in a kitchen nearly big as my apartment! This team work under the pump every single service to turn out all things meat...along with some poultry!

I was very fortunate to be one of six bloggers invited to a Poultry Masterclass being held just for us at Chophouse - a cavernous and dark steakhouse nestled discreetly under an office building on Bligh Street in the city.  The main dining room sits under an huge arch of curved wood, making me feel a bit like I'm a player in Jonah in the Whale (or Jonah in the Great Big Cow).  It's a great space - large, but cosy at the same time and it feels a little French Provencal to me.

At the class Chef Eric Tan along with his two Sous Chefs, Elliott and Matt, are showing us "how to treat our birds right". The Chefs all think this play on words is hilarious.  Given these guys work around 17 hours each day their real life birds (ie their girlfriends) are often long-suffering and a little neglected. One of the Chefs has come up with the perfect solution to this - date a Chef!

From left: Sous Chef Elliot, Head Chef Eric Tan and Sous Chef Matt

All of the poultry served at Chophouse is Free Range, mostly from Thirlmere Poultry and during the beginning of our class Urban Food Market arrive dropping off our birds in a cardboard box (not recommended treatment for your real-life "birds", fellas). As well as the free-range birds, the pork at Chophouse is free-range, all the eggs used are free-range and there is a good selection of pasture fed beef. Why have I not been here before?

To kick things off we are shown how to debone a chicken.  Not sure I'd be able to manage this unsupervised at home - it seems easier for the novice cook like me just to leave the bones in and eat around them! If I doubt my technical abilities at deboning a chook, then the poor quail that is the next-bird to receive the deboning treatment by these expert chefs would stand no chance in my kitchen.

Chook and quail...both deboned.

The quail is poached in the most divine smelling master-stock (twice) before it is given the deep-fry treatment in readiness of our lunch.  The finished product is a truly wonderful piece of quail - delicate, full of wonderful flavours from the Masterstock and super crunchy from it's stint in the deep-fryer.

The deboned chicken is stuffed with a sourdough crumb - the stuffing goes under the skin and chicken is tender, moist with a crispy skin. Sublime.

Something I CANNOT wait to try at home is a poached chicken in a simple stock that Chef Eric showed us (AND this particular chook goes in bones and all)!  The dish is fairly simple to prepare yet is so full of flavour. The chicken is SO moist and I love the simple salad of Coriander with a Shitake Mushroom dressing that accompanies it.

We are also shown the best way to pan-fried Duck Breast - something I'm also very keen to try at home.  Duck is something that has always scared me - in terms of cooking it at home, though I've also met some pretty scary Ducks so lets just say that Ducks can be a bit freaky both in and out of the kitchen.  The pan-fried Duck Breast, along with some Confit Duck that was prepared earlier, both go into a beautiful salad of leaves, candies pecans and blue cheese. Wow!

Spending time in a working restaurant kitchen is a real privilege - especially for an office drone like me.  It's a peak into the world of the professional chef, a chance to see their passion for their careers and the produce they work with.  It's a chance to appreciate how much hard work, effort, blood, sweat and tears goes into the food I enjoy so much when dining out.

Chophouse is at 25 Bligh Street, Sydney. Phone them on 13 0024 6748.

Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cafe Ish, Surry Hills

A few months ago The Boy and I become parents.  Foster parents...for the Cat Protection Society in Enmore.

One of our first kittens "Blackie" who was handed into CPS as a stray. She was 500 grams when we got her.
Since March we've had a parade of cute, furry, fluffy, mischievous, playful, sweet little kittens come through our house.

When you have kittens blogging becomes a bit...hard!
They've chewed the books on our bookshelf, broken antique crystal bowls, chomped on power cables, shredded our lounge, pooped on the floor, peed on the lounge and given us no end of joy. We get them at a young age, fatten them up, get them used to being around pesky humans who want to pat them, play with them and cuddle them non-stop as they try and wriggle from our clutches. When they reach 1kg we return them to Cat Protection so they can be desexed and adopted out to their furr-ever home (CPS is a no-kill shelter so everyone finds a home eventually).  Most of the kittens are found as strays so they are shy and a bit freaked out. By the end of their stay they've made themselves quite a home. It's hard to say good-bye.

This is one of our first kittens "Bobble Head" who was found dumped in a garbage bin. Yes, really! Who could do such a cruel thing is beyond me.

Needless to say "the drop-off day" is a sad affair. There are tears (mine, which then sets off The Boy). This time I decided we needed to have something great to look forward to after the drop off rather than returning to our sad kitten-less home.

Our latest bundles of mischief joy...Omo, Spot, B1 and B2.
Enter brunch at Cafe Ish. I've been to Cafe Ish quite a few times for dinner, so I thought it was high time we returned during daylight hours.  This Surry Hills cafe blends Japanese cuisine with native Australia elements and it's a truly unique dining experience.

Chef Josh Nichols used to serve up the most delicious Crispy School Prawns at dinner which I don't think are on the menu anymore. A quick (begging) tweet to Josh a few days before our brunch sees a hot, crunchy bowl of the Crispy School Prawns land on our table (and he wouldn't let us pay for these - so thanks VERY much Josh). The prawns are delicious. Fried to perfection, rendering the entire prawn edible: head, tail, shell and all. They take my mind of our four bundles of joy that won't be waiting at home for us later.  Sigh.

I was having a serious dilemma on what to order. I really wanted the 8 Hour Roast Saltbush Lamb Sandwich ($9.50), but I also REALLY wanted Ai's Freaking Awesome Fried Chicken.  The Boy and I struck a deal and went halves in each dish.  The Lamb Sandwich was ENORMOUS! The door-stop sized house-made bread was delicious - soft and fluffy bread with a crunchy, almost sweet crust. The sandwich housed a generous serving of shredded lamb, dengaku eggplant puree, mizuna, organic fetta and red onion.  For $9.50 this is a bargain.

Ai's Freaking Awesome Fried Chicken ($14.50) is exactly that - freaking awesome!!!  The chicken is super crispy, but deliciously moist at the same time.  It has a great balance of sweet and sour and comes served with Japanese rice and miso soup.  It is seriously good and seriously addictive - I need to go back from more ASAP!

Niecy Poo has joined us for brunch which is great as it stops The Boy and I feeling quite so melancholy about our kitten loss.  She chooses the Kara-age Soft Shell Crab Omelette which is the dish that has really put Cafe Ish on the map as a "must eat" brucnh/lunch destination in Sydney. It's such a creative, left of center dish and it's fantastic.  Deep-fried soft shell crab is nestled up against avocado - both hide within a thin omlette. The omlette is topped with a sweetdressing of shallots, garlic, chilli, soy and ginger dressing and is served with rice and miso soup ($16.50).

Because we are in mourning we decide something sweet is justified as it will help cheer us up (ok, maybe I'm begin a little dramatic but it's a good excuse to eat dessert, right)?  We wanted something big enough to share amongst the three of us and Josh brings over a plump house-made brioche that is filled with jam and served toasty warm! YUM!

We finish this off with a Wattleseed Macchiato, a coffee I've heard a lot about and I'm glad I've finally gotten to try it. It's quite sweet and nutty (a bit like me)!

 Cafe Ish is at 82 Campbell Street, Surry Hills. Phone them on 9281 1688.

Café Ish on Urbanspoon

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