Thursday, January 31, 2013

Coffee Traders, Ryde

I'm always a bit (ok, very) skeptical about shopping centre cafes. They seem kind of...sad, lit by terrible fluorescent lighting it feels like your dining underground.  My visit to The Baron put rest to my fears that all shopping centres cafes are not the devil's work (especially if they're to be found outside the shopping centre itself) and my recent visit to The Coffee Traders at Top Ryde has proved this once again.

In 2013 I want to focus on great places to eat that are closer to where I live.  We all know there are a plethora of great cafes in the eastern suburbs and inner west, but surely there have got to be some stunners in the West too. Right? Right! In Parramatta we have Short Sweet BakeryCirca, Three Ropes, Mars Hill and the lovely Parramatta Park CafeThe Baron is not too far away and new kid on the block Element6 makes me more than a little bit excited. And these are just the few that I've visited since moving to Parramatta...what else is lurking out there?

The Coffee Traders is not as quirky as some of the groovy little places I've just mentioned, but a lot of thought has gone in to their interesting decor and menu and I can happily say I'll be adding it to my rotation of local cafes.  The set-up looks like the perfect formula to roll out to other locations, just like Parramatta's Coco Cubano.

I'm loathe to pretend I know anything about coffee, but Coffee Traders does seem to take its caffeine offerings pretty seriously. The barrista looked suitably serious + "hipster" and there was a hipster IN the cafe drinking coffee and he looked pretty happy.  These things are always a good sign that the coffee is going to be OK. This couple with the fact that Coffee Traders offer cold-drip coffee means you'll get a decent cuppa.

I'm not hip or hipster, in fact drinking hot coffee these days makes me feel a little...ill for some reason. I was pleased to see iced-coffee on the menu which has become my caffinated beverage of choice these days. The best type of iced-coffee is just a shot of espresso served over ice with the addition of cold milk - which is sort of what Coffee Traders do, same-same but different. It's a very generous serve, one that I struggled to finish.

There's a lot of great options on the menu with the food straddling Italian and the Middle East. The mezze plates are tempting but I find the Rosemary and Potato pizza ($15.90) hard to resist.  The base was definitely homemade - thin, crispy and delicious  - and it's hard to go wrong with thinnly sliced potato topped with delicate rosemary leaves. Be warned though: there is A LOT of garlic hiding on this pizza so don't breath on anyone you're not friends with!

VegeTARAian's Neopolitan Pizza ($14.90) was much more easy going on the garlic with a rich tomato base topped with cheese and fresh basil leaves.  The pizzas took a little while to come out of the kitchen but I think they were well worth the wait.

All good things must come to an end...with dessert! Coffee Traders has quite an array of sweat treats to tempt us but in the end we decide to share a Chocolate Brownie ($4.00) that comes presented on a wooden chopping board - it is a delicious sight to behold! The brownie is served warm, its centre chocolatey centre gooey and oozey. Totally scrumptious. 

On my second visit to Coffee Traders I'm all iced-coffee'd out so opt for an Iced Tea instead (about $5 from memory). It's just too hot for me to even contemplate drinking a hot drink in the middle of the day.  The barissta recommends a refreshing Turkish Apple Tea and it goes down a treat.

The breakfast menu at Coffee Traders is small but really interesting with a distinct middle-eastern leaning.  I'd already ear-marked what I wanted for breakfast on my previous visit - Labne with Lebanese Bread, olives and pickles ($12.90). 

It's not something you see on offer for breakfast very often but I loved it. I've recently experimented with making my own Labne (yoghurt cheese) so it was interesting to really "taste" this offering - slightly sour yet creamy. I liked that it was drizzled with olive oil and topped with a good sprinkle of paprika.  My favourite way to eat this is to slather the bread with labne and roll it up with a pickle inside. Perfect!

Coffee Traders can be found on Ground Level at Top Ryde City (Blaxland Road, Ryde).

Coffee Traders on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #12

We've had an exciting visitor to our balcony over the last few weeks. Not a pest by any means but sometimes he can be kinda annoying! 

We've been cat-sitting this lovely fellow, Scratchy, and it's been fun to have an older cat to mind for a change.  Unlike the kittens that came before him he didn't break anything and managed to use his kitty litter tray every time without fail. And furthermore he loved my balcony garden - he'd be out their all the time sniffing the various plants.  He only tried to jump off the balcony once - pretty good odds for a three week stay at Ch√Ęteau Piggy.

Maybe he wasn't trying to jump off the balcony, but trying to climb higher to smell this delicious sage I've been growing - it's so fragrant!  This sage is one of the few things I've not grown myself from seed as I couldn't find any seeds, so I bought some seedlings from Bunnings and this is the result!

There's quite a lot of the stuff and I'm not really sure what to do with it other than make this delicious Burnt Butter + Sage Pasta that I was taught at the Parma cooking class I attended last year.  If you have any super simple recipes incorporating sage please flick them my way!

Even looking at these photos is making my mouth water - this recipe is so simple yet SO tasty! You simple brown a pad of butter in the pan and add the sage until it goes nice and crispy. The method I was taught also incorporates adding anchovies and capers which add a nice zesty + salty element to the dish.


You can view more Harvest Monday posts on Daphne's Dandelions blog.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Logan Brown, Wellington (NZ)

Wellington’s Logan Brown is a beautiful place – set inside an old bank building with high ceilings and an enormous chandelier the first glimpse of the octagonal dining room is simply stunning.  Like Sydney’s Rockpool Bar and Grill this dining room is dressed to impressed and the setting alone tells us we’re in for a fantastic evening. The vibe is elegance...and the food is spectacular!

Of course with beautiful dining rooms and spectacular food come a bit of a price tag.

I was dead keen to go to Logan Brown on my recent work trip to NZ but just wasn’t sure we could afford such a fancy meal on top of what was going to be a week long trip of eating out.  Lucky for me my inner bargain hunter kicked in. Whilst scouring their website I noticed a deal too good to be true – three courses for $45 per just had to dine at 5.30pm. Not a problem for me as my inner-nana LOVES an early dinner.

Our meal kicks off with freshly baked house bread that marries perfectly with the salted butter as well as the olive oil + balsamic mix.

The Boy orders what has now become his new favourite beer "Three Boys Wheat".  I think he likes the flavour but he probably likes it more so as it comes in a HUGE 500ml bottle - bottoms up. I opt for a lovely local Pinot Gris - I don't' know much about wine (ok, anything about wine) but I've recently discovered that Pinot Gris is the drop for me.

As part of our pensioners dining-deal we could choose from two entrees, three mains and two desserts. The Boy and I show that we both have impeccable taste by ordering the same entree and main.

Our entree of Maple Smoked Salmon with Fennel Slaw, Beets and Horseradish Cream is divine. The salmon has distinct smoked/woody flavour and scent that we both adore and the fennel slaw and horseradish cream lend a fresh, light flavour to the strong smokiness of the fish.

It seems silly to go to NZ and not order lamb – there are after all more sheep living here than people!  The Coastal Spring Lamb Rump with Kumara Gratin, Crushed Peas and Thyme Jus was BEAUTIFUL. The lamb was cooked perfectly, still fairly pink and so tender, but not bloody which is a no no for this piggy.  The Kumura Gratin tasted less like sweet potato and more like regular potatoes and the crushed peas were like spring on-a-plate. A beautiful dish, of well-balanced flavours, that showcased some beautiful NZ produce.

Having had some wonderful cumin carrots at Atelier just the week before we could not resist a side order for carrots cooked in honey and soy.  It was such a colourful and fresh tasting dish that got me thinking I should try growing some heirloom carrots on my balcony garden rather than just the Bunnings seeds I have at the moment.  I also ordered a little garden salad...just because.  I really love the flavour adding a squeeze of lemon gave to the bowl of salad leaves...really “zesty”. I'm going to add lemon to my leaves at simple, but so tasty.

When it comes time to order dessert The Boy’s love for chocolate shines through and he orders the and super naughty Whittakers Chocolate Vengeance with Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream. I just love the name “chocolate vengeance”.  The slab of chocolate mousse was sinfully sweet and super rich, an aptly named dessert I think.  My dessert, Billy Scott's Strawberry Shortcake with Eton Mess, felt a lot more virtuous – mainly due to its lack of chocolate. The shortcake was lovely – not too heavy, and the Eton Mess was more of a foam atop the biscuit than the smashed pavlova I was expecting.

This was a great night and a really special dining experience. I had thought for $45 we’d perhaps get tiny little serves, but the portions were very generous and we left rubbing our bellies and feeling very satisfied.

Logan Brown is at 192 Cuba Street (Te Aro), Wellington Central, New Zealand.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Flour + Stone, Wolloomoolloo

Sweet tooths will already be well aware of the existence of one of Sydney's newer (and most popular) bakeries, Flour + Stone in Woollomoolloo (geez, that's a hard suburb to spell isn't it)?

Myself and a bunch of bloggers decided to descend on Flour + Stone one Saturday to help celebrate fellow blogger, Swah celebrate her birthday. From what I can tell Swah has a bit of a sweet tooth so it seems a fitting place to party.

Before we completely clear Flour + Stone of all their baked goodies for the day we sit down to enjoy a coffee...or in my case a homemade lemonade that was cool, refreshing with just the right amount of tartness.

As there are so many of us, and as Flour + Stone is quite petit, we grab our feast and head over to the park under the beautiful St Mary's Cathedral  for a good old fashioned birthday picnic. I can't quite remember the individual prices for all of our goodies but all of this cost us about $150 which doesn't seem too bad for hand crafted sweeties that fed about ten hungry ladies (and one boy too).

Flour + Stone is renowned for two things...their Panacotta Lamingtons ($6.00 each), that pretty much have reach cult status in Sydney, and their filled doughnuts.  The Lamingtons are dense, heavy and moist having been soaked in creamy panacotta and have a layer of sweet berry jam within. I prefer my lamingtons more "light + fluffy" like a sponge cake, but these are a BIG hit with my fellow picnic goers. There wasn't one crumb left.

The doughnuts are as big as a fist overflowing with vanilla custard and berry jam.  I really like the donught outer - sweet and sugary - but I think I wanted the custard to be thicker...and sweeter (yes, I did just have THREE filings in my teeth, so now you know why. I like sugar with my sugar).

Being near Christmas we take full advantage and walk away with a few tasty fruit mince pies and gingerbread. Oh my - the gingerbread was incredible. Soft and spicy and incredibly moreish. I went back to the bakery after we'd finished with our picnic to buy a few biscuits to take home.

Our final two sweet items are a luscious salted caramel + chocolate tart that was devilishly rich and a peach tart (that I didn't try as fruit = healthy and that's not what this picnic was about). With an impending sugar coma not too far away I'm thankful to sink my teeth into the zucchini, chilli and gruyere roll - really really good, savoury and a much welcomed counterbalance to the sugar overload.

The pies were wonderful with super flaky pastry on top. The filling of vegetable ratatouille with feta was rich and delicious. The others also shared a creamy chicken pie that I didn't try - but it did look pretty tasty!

Flour + Stone is at 53 Riley Street, Woolloomooloo. They are not open on Sundays. From what I hear they sell out of their Panacotta Lamingtons pretty early in the day so latecomers may just be disappointed.

Flour and Stone on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #11

Do you remember my parsley that shot to fame via our parsley(web)cam experiment?  No?  Let me refresh your memory for  Despite his celebrity status Mr Parsley has been shunted out to the balcony to live with the other greenery...and these beautiful Marigolds that the local Currawongs took exception to and uprooted from their pots one night. The trials of gardening really never end do they?

Keeping the parsley company is a pot of chives that I bought from Dov Cafe months ago. The chives are doing alright and routinely survive infestation by black aphids that just look like a heaving mass of dirt at the base of the plant.  At first I thought they were rich looking dirt...until the dirt started moving en masse.  Icky!  The chives often flower and I've been told flowers go nicely in salads, but I like to leave them in the hope of attracting some bees to the balcony.

Chives + parsley go really well in savoury dishes and in particular as garnishes for soups.  This tomato, carrot + lentil soup from the blog 84thand3rd are is now on regular rotation in our house - it's super easy and very very tasty.  I add the chives into the pot just before serving and they add a nice garlic flavour to the soup.

The soup is served with a sprinkle (or handful actually) of parsley and some lovely olive + rosemary sourdough bread from The Artisan's Apprentice in Parramatta which has now sadly closed...but never mind as we now get our sourdough hit from the newly opened Short Sweet Bakery.

You can view more Harvest Monday posts on Daphne's Dandelions blog.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ippudo, Sydney CBD

Ippudo. You'll either know what that means...or you won't. Which means you're either a ramen lover or you're not.  I'm a ramen liker...but I know people who are Ramen of whom recommended that I try Ippudo, a ramen joint from Japan, when I was in New York last year. Sadly I just never got around to it (too full, not enough time and they weren't open when I finally attempted a visit) and I can't help but feel like I really missed out on something special.

Low and behold a year later Ippudo has opened up shop in Westfield Sydney so my opportunity to try their legendary ramen was finally able to come true...along with half of Sydney! Although their prices are...not cheap, I'm fairly sure it's the steep rent that Westfield charge and not Ippudo's use of free-range pork that accounts for their pricy ramen. There was a major lost-in-translation moment when trying to ascertain the provenance of their porky goods - sometimes you've just gotta go with the flow and do the best you can when you can. Which is not at Ippudo.

The queues at Ippudo are HUGE and The BFF and I beat the queues by arriving for an early dinner on a Tuesday night. Yet again my tendency towards nana dining hours has paid off. We walked right in at 5.30pm and got a 6.00pm their was a queue out the door and a wait an hour long!

We kick things off with a few nibbles - probably a mistake considering that the ramen is pretty filling, but we just HAD to try the Pork Buns here ($4.00). A thick slab of braised pork with Ippudo's slightly spicy "original sauce" comes sandwiches between a soft pillowy steamed-bun. It's REALLY GOOD and it's hard to stop at just one.

As I'm in love with Chinese cucumber with soy, chilli + garlic I CANNOT go past Ippudo's Japanese cucumber that is seasoned with a sesame oil dressing and topped with sesame seeds and a chilli powder. It's light and refreshing and it just has to be healthy, right? A serve of Gyoza ($6.00) are small, but very flavoursome and has us wishing there were six and not five dumplings.

Ippudo here in Sydney offer up just three types of ramen - all with a porky tonkotsu broth so it's not a vegetarian friendly place by any stretch of the imagination.

Showing that great minds do think alike The BFF and I both order the Akamaru Chashu ($20.00) - a big steaming bowl of tonkotsu (pork) broth that isn't as thick, or as porky, as Gumshara's legendary ramen. The Akamaru on its own is $16 - add another $2 for a flavoured, soft yolked egg and another $2 for some fatty, silky, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly.  The broth is topped with a fragrant blend of miso paste and garlic oil which is simply magical - I love the slightly garlicy, slightly salty taste that this lends to the broth.  The noodles are quite thin and are not the highlight of the ramen by any means, but we like the novelty of choosing how well done the noodles are cooked...we go with "hard" which we're told is the way it's done in Japan.

Our waitress provides us with some white and black peppercorns so we can spice up our ramen if we like. How amazing is this sesame seed grinder?  I simply MUST have one for home, for those rare occasions when I need to smoosh sesame seeds. I'm just not sure where I can find one in Sydney?

I'm WAY too full for dessert by The BFF has his heart set on trying the Kurogoma Panna Cotta ($7.00). The panna cotta is as light as a feather and the black sesame flavour is delicate but definitely present. Black sesame always reminds me of cookies + cream...

The ramen isn't cheap here but considering the amount of food we ate I think that $36 each isn't too bad for the city.  Would I come back - hell yeah, I already have!

Ippudo Sydney can be found on Level 5 of Westfield Sydney, Pitt Street Mall, Sydney.

Ippudo on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Floriditas, Wellington (NZ)

We loosen our belts after a morning of wandering the Farmer’s Markets and waddle up to Wellington’s epicenter of “cool”, Cuba Street in search of lunch at Florditas. The Boy and I are joined by two of my work colleagues, Lady Ruth and The Baking Lady.  They seem to cope rather well with me “papping” their food before they can eat it – thanks ladies!

Floriditas is a lovely light and spacious restaurant with a bit of an art-deco vibe going on.  Floriditas menu focuses on seasonal, local and ethical produce (although truth be told everywhere we go in NZ seem to serve free range meat and eggs – it’s wonderful to see such a focus on ethical eating. Australia, TAKE NOTE)!

Lady Ruth is delirious at having left the kids back in Sydney so kicks off her week of freedom with a White Peach Bellini ($13.00). I’m childless, as you all know, and can get tipsy anytime, thus today I stick with a good old Elderflower Cordial.  I love this stuff, so much so that I always have a bottle of the IKEA stuff at home in the fridge (no Allen Key required).

The Baking Lady opts for a light lunch of the daily soup with whole-wheat sourdough bread ($13.00) and Lady Ruth chooses the salad of roast chicken, courgettes, green goddess dressing + coriander leaves ($19.50) - I think she choose this because the word "goddess" in the name of the dish. I snuck a morsel of the chicken salad which was light, yet lovely and creamy with tender free-range chook.

I honestly found it really difficult to order – everything on the menu sounds moutwateringly good.  In the end the fish pie with watercress leaves + lemon got my vote ($21.50) and it was a great dish. The pie was filled with chunky pieces of fresh fish in a creamy sauce studded with zesty capers and topped off with a REAL breadcrumb topping that added a bit of a crunch to things. Really excellent.

As the girls are all ordering lunch The Boy decides to be different and order something from the breakfast menu.  He’s a ham lover from WAY back so goes for the ham off the bone, poached, eggs, toast and hollandaise (NZD$17.50). The ham is sliced lovely and thick and just look at that oozy bright yellow yolk – free range eggs really are THE BEST!

The first thing that greats you when you walk into Floriditas is a counter groaning with cakes and sweet treats. It seems cruel as sweeties are the last thing on our eating agenda but we’re tempted by them right up front. I have the memory of any elephant though and it’s not long before a Lady Ruth and I are back at the  counter picking our poison.

Lady Ruth chooses a very delicate looking cupcake and I cannot resist the Seville Orange Lamington that has just the right amount of orange flavour.  My lamington was like a big, soft fluffy Jaffa. A perfect way to end a lovely lunch.

Floriditas is at 161 Cuba Street, Wellington, New Zealand.

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