Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mejico, Sydney CBD

The Mexican craze continues with new kid on the block Mejico opening up digs next to the popular Jamie's Italian.  It's great to see more CBD dining options on offer these days - even when they are a tad expensive for my wallet.  Options are options and that's all good in my books.

The Mejico team have made good use of the long narrow space.  Bright walls and exposed bricks give this place a groovy, modern edge.  I think it's a good place to have a drink or two and a morsel to eat before heading out for the rest of the evening.

The menu here leans more towards a modern take on Mexican food rather than good old Mexican street food that I'm still dying to wrap my laughing gear around in Old Sydney Town.  Whilst tacos, grilled corn, ceviche and guacamole all appear on the menu you'll also find unusual suspects such as glazed pork ribs (which I've read are pretty spectacular).

We kick this off with Mejico's signature Market Fresh Guacamole ($9.00) which has the added theatre of being made by the deft-handed waitstaff right at our table.  Our avocado, Spanish onion, coriander are all pounded to smithereens within a matter of minutes in a traditional "molcajete". With a splash of lime juice the guacamole is ready to be devoured with a serve of crispy plantains. This is a great dip, really flavoursome and smooth and the salty plantains are a great texture balance.

Compared to the fabulous guacamole my blackened corn is a bit of a let down for me. Our serve is tiny and for $7.00 I would have hoped for more than a teeny piece of corn split into for little rounds. For my taste buds I also think they were a little heavy handed on the smoked paprika (and I'm part Hungarian so that is saying something as we're born with paprika running through our veins). More corn + less paprika = a winning dish.

Although vegetarian tacos don't feature on the menu for some strange reason they are available if you ask your waitstaff. I asked a few staff a few times before I finally heard what I wanted to hear, that "yes - of course Vegetarian Tacos are available".  I think the contents of the taco change often hence it's not on the menu though I don't see why they can't add "vegetarians tacos - ask your server for today's options". I thought my three petite quinoa tacos were really tasty and fresh, but was hoping for a bigger serve for $16.00. The taco shells themselves are quite little - about palm sized.

The Portobello Mushrooms and Croquetas ($28.00) is a tasty but unexpected dish to see on this menu as the flavour and presentation of our serving seemed more towards modern Australian than Mexican for me. That said there are some Mexican flavours pushing through - tomatillo salsa, black bean puree, ancho chilli, cumin and manchgo. It was a nice dish - I just wanted more, especially when you're sharing with two other  hungry ladies.

Am I getting tight in my old age?  I was hoping for a more substantial meal for the price we paid. I think I've been hanging around in Chinatown too much this year where for $15 you're full as a goog when you waddle home. Have you been to Mejico yet? Am I just being a grumpy old tight-wad?

Méjico on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Efendy + Meze Bar, Balmain

Miss Piggy dined as a guest of Meze Bar at the invitation of Wasamedia.

I absolute LOVE LOVE LOVE Turkish food (ok, I love all middle eastern and Mediterranean food if we're being honest). The flavours are so fresh and + bold and the food looks so vibrant and colourful. But best of all (for me anyway) is that a big part of middle eastern dining is based around shared plates...and you know what that means? No food envy as you get to try EVERYTHING! No looking longingly at your dining companions plate wishing you were having what they're having.

Efendy in Balmain has long been on my list of restaurants to visit but as is always the way I just hadn't made it there...yet. I was finally enticed there by an invitation to try Efendy's newly opened Meze Bar - a portion of the restaurant that been give over to a more causal, street food style of cuisine than what is served upstairs in Efendy proper.

We start our feast when a tray of colourful tektek shots ($5 by the tea glass or $25 for a 500ml carafe {go the carafe - you won't regret it}) descends on our table. The mastika is a zesty shot of Hendricks gin, mastic liquor, lemon and cucumber - really tart and quite refreshing. The narsist is made with Bacardi, pomegranate molasses, fresh mint and pomegranate juice - sweeter than the mastika but also really refreshing.

Our meze fest begins with some wonderful dips that are accompanied by fluffy, fresh-out-of-the oven mini pide breads ($2.50) that are baked on-site. The pomegranate and capsicum humus ($12.00) is an unusual twist on your usual humus and comes topped with coins of smoky spicy sujuk and little slivers of cucumber and radish. The smoked babaganus with isot pistachio ($12.00) is made with tahini giving it a more nutty, less smokey taste than I've had before. I really enjoy the little pomegranate seeds that give a juicy "pop" as I bite into them.

Lamb's testicles (!) are a feature dish on the Meze Bar menu so I'm pretty relieved when I find out we only have the lamb’s liver ($14.00) with red onion and sumac salad to contend with on this night. To be honest, to date liver and I have NOT been friends thanks to my mother who used to force me to eat chicken liver as a child (to add to this we'd ride on her scooter from Brisvegas to the Gold Coast to collect the dreaded livers - oh, the torture never ended). I'm so relieved to report that the lambs liver was EXCELLENT. It was sliced very thinly with only a mild lamb taste and had a texture very similar to a minute steak.

Lamb's liver aside, by far my favourite dish of the night was the dried eggplant shells dolma, stuffed with lamb, bulgar and sumac molasses ($16.00). Is there anything eggplant cannot do? I really enjoyed the nutty flavour of the bulgar mixed in with the aromatic lamb.

The prawn, mussel, artichoke and okra stew with shanklish cheese ($18.00) was another really flavoursome dish -- I think my third favourite dish of the night (after the eggplant dolma and the lamb's liver). I really enjoyed the sweetness to this dish, and the slight flavour of aniseed which I'm guessing is thanks to some fennel seeds. I'm also loving shanklish cheese which remained in firm pieces throughout the stew. In was also nice to see an obviously seasonal dish on the menu - loquat kebaps ($18.00). I don't think I've ever eaten loquats before. They look quite similar to an apricot and I found the fruit nice and sweet with a slightly tart after flavour.

Next up is a wonderfully vibrant and colourful salad that to me embodies everything about middle eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Bold colours and flavours abounded in this wild rocket, tomato, walnut, pomegranate, feta "spoon salad" ($10.00). The dressing was lovely, slightly sour and a nice counterbalance to the sweet pomegranate and creaminess of the feta. More please! The salad also negated any naughtiness of these delicious fried pastirma and + kashar cheese pachanga borek ($8.00). Look at that cheese ooze! Is your mouth watering? Mine sure is!

Believe it or not I first had "iskender kebab" when I lived in Broken Hill -- a town not renowned for it's abundance of multicultural food. A Turkish lady ran the kitchen in one of the local pubs and I was thrilled to be able eat something other than schnitzel or Chinese takeaway in my three years dining in outback NSW. The beef kebap ($20.00) on offer at Meze Bar comes drizzled in a tomato- based "iskender sauce" which is then doused with mild flavoured garlic yogurt. The whole lot sits atop soft pide bread that soaks up all the juices and flavours from the meat. It really is delicious.

I'm glad that we got to try the veal kofte ($16.00) that comes with a white bean piyaz (aka salad) as kofte, along with colourful dips, is something I always associate with Turkish food. The kofte is charred to perfection giving it a slightly crunchy outer shell whilst the meat inside remains tender and moist.

If you've ever been to Auburn you may have seen restaurants serving "adana" or chopped meat that is shaped around a sword and cooked over charcoal. The lamb adana ($18.00) at Meze Bar arrives at our table swordless (probably better for OH+S that way). It is wrapped in a snug layer of pita bread that is topped with a zesty tomato salad.

For some reason my fellow bloggers were all full by this stage but my dessert stomach was raring to go! The dessert meze plate ($12.00) is a sight to behold, laden with pistachio and almond keskul (like a pudding) candied pumpkin and traditional baklava. I love that the warm keskul was topped with threads of melt-on-tongue Persian fairy floss and the candied pumpkin was great. The texture was crisp, but not earth shatteringly so and the sweetness of the "candy" was offset by a good drizzle of savoury sesame sauce.

I've been told that Meze Bar do a really great weekend breakfast so I cannot wait to head back here to try it for myself and of course I hope to be back soon for more wonderful meze.

Efendy and Meze Bar can be found at 79 Elliott Street, Balmain. Phone them on 9810 5466.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #29

I have had great success with growing lettuce on my balcony. Most of it I've grown from seed, but I've also been given a few healthy seedlings that a keen gardening workmate had left over from her little backyard patch (thanks Jo)!

Now that I think about it I've actually only ever grown Cos Lettuce (asides from one foray into mignonette but I didn't like the taste). Why Cos? Well, I guess because I really like it, it has a mild, smooth flavour. Plus it's super easy to why mess with perfection.

I'm surprised that I've had no real creepy crawly issues with my lettuce - the caterpillars seem too busy destroying my mint to notice that I've got lettuce growing all over the place. Given the right conditions though lettuce loves to "bolt" (grow really tall and go to seed). I was stunned to see this "lettuce tree" on my balcony after a few days away visiting Melbourne.

Being the lazy gardener than I am I'd lopped off the "tree" at the base with the aim of taking the dirt down to the green waste bin "soon". Of course soon turned into about two weeks by which time new leaves had sprouted from the newly chopped base. Lettuce - the plant that you just cannot kill!

My rocket also continues to do its thing out on the balcony - though it's looking a tad sad these days. It's probably come to the end of it's life, but I'll see if I can eek a few more meals out of it. It's lasted about 6 months so far as I just snip off what I want rather than pulling clumps up by the roots.

The same deal applies with the chives. It just keeps doing its thing despite a few attacks by black aphids which are hard to spot as they look like dirt at the base of the plant.  Dirt that moves in a creepy crawly kind of way that is. I think however that they've just succumbed to their final aphid attack as the currently look like the life has literally been sucked out of them. This coupled with all the rain is not boding well for all the chives. Lucky I got to it before its days became numbers.

Beautiful chives: pre-ahpid attack
Scary, horror movie chives covered in a heaving mass of dirty, black aphids. Blergh! Run for your lives!

Lettuce, rocket and chives (pre attack of the evil, life-sucking aphids). What to make? Seems like the perfect fixings for a tuna sandwich to me.

I know, I know, I'm using evil Coles tuna, but believe it or not they are one of the few brands that offer Slipjack Tuna rather than than yellowfin tuna (whose stocks are seriously running out in our ocean).  Slipjack tuna has been deemed to be a sustainable source of tuna at our current levels of consumption (unlike other types of tuna which are rapidly heading towards extinction if we keep eating it at its current levels). Coles tuna is also "pole + line caught" meaning no big drag nets or long lines (fishing lines that go very deep to catch certain types of tuna) are used. These drag nets or + long line sadly also snag loads of other sea creatures that are called "bycatch" which is a polite, marketing way to say "garbage". This garbage can include turtles, dolphins, sharks and piles of other fish that are too numerous to name. Yes...eating food is tricky business.

Mmmm, that's one good looking sandwich!

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

Friday, June 21, 2013

Picnick View, Westmead

Picnick View in Westmead is the kind of quirky cafe that really makes me smile. The food served is pretty much your regular Australian cafe fare but it's the interior of this cafe that really makes it something special.

Every surface of this cafe, which is located opposite busy Westmead Hospital, is crammed with little collections of bric-a-brac. The interior is wall-to-wall kitsch filled with the kind of figurines and collectables that you'd fine at your nana's house.

Things get a bit more retro-chic at the entrance to the cafe with loads of great vintage furniture and collectables. I get talking to the Barista - a young guy - who tells me that the cafe is owned by his family (who also own the Thai restaurant next door) but all the collectables are his. He simply ran out of room for his collections at home so started bringing to work. I LOVE it! It's so much fun - a really lighthearted space with a sense of humour.

They serve Campos coffee here and whilst my beloved Iced Latte isn't on the menu (the do an iced coffee with all the trimings - whipped cream + ice cream for $5.00) the Barista happily makes me an iced latte when he hears me trying to order one from the waitstaff. It's a good coffee, not too strong or bitter for my tastebuds.

In a very rare moment of putting health over my tastebuds I decide to have a simple breakfast and opt for the fruit salad ($6.90). It's such a delicious looking bowl of food and each piece of fruit is perfectly fresh. My fruit salad comes with watermelon, pineapple, apple, rockmelon, kiwi, strawberry and grapes and for $1.50 I could've added yoghurt or ice-cream.

On my next visit I bring The Boy along with me, hoping he'll get as much of a kick out of the quirky decor as I do (he does, I think). Half way during our brunch one of the staff rolls out this little toy car and parks it by our table. Why? I have no idea but it had my grinning like a clown at the sight. Love it!

We kick things off with coffee, as is de rigueur for any weekend. A piccolo latte ($3.50) for me and a big cappuccino ($3.50) for The Boy put us in the brunching mood. Both are very good - my piccolo is a bit strong for my weak caffeine taste buds but half a sugar puts things right. I'm trying to be a bit more mature about my coffee tastes hence the recent transition to "grown-up" coffee (plus it's too cold for iced-coffees at the moment).

The Boy's big breakfast ($14.90) is SO big it comes on a platter. He's pretty happy (especially as the eggs have runny yolks) but points out to me that this is not the biggest breakfast on offer. That honor is reserved for the Massive Breakfast which I think he plans to order next time.

I initially ordered the Ocean Benedict that comes with smoked salmon but someone in the kitchen was feeling as bleary eyed as me so I end up with your regular type of Eggs Benedict with ham ($12.90). I normally don't order ham/bacon when out unless it's free range but I wasn't going to send this back to the kitchen as it most likely would've been thrown out which means that pig died just to end up as landfill. Not cool. The dish was really good - the poached eggs had lovely, runny yolks and the hollandaise sauce was nice and rich with a good balance of butter + vinegar. I walked away happy and cannot wait to come back again...maybe for lunch next time (I've been told the fish burger is good stuff).

Picnick View is at Shop 6, 163-171 Hawkesbury Road, Westmead. They are closed on Sunday's and not open for dinner. Phone them on 9687 7262.

Picnick View on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pachamama House, Surry Hills

Miss Piggy and guest dinned as guests of Pachamama House.

If you venture just off busy Oxford Street you'll be amazed at what can be found. There are great little shops, my favourite fabric store (not that I can sew, but whatever), cafes and neighbourhood restaurants that are all hidden away from the hustle + bustle of grimy Oxford Street. If you keep your eyes open you'll be sure to discover local gems like Pachamama House.

Pachamama House is a Peruvian inspired restaurant (the chef/part owner is Peruvian) that's been nestled just behind Oxford Street since the beginning of the year. The dining room is all polished cement floors with dark wood and warm tones.  It's very warm and welcoming and I love the open kitchen where we can catch glimpses of the chefs at work. The large bar is the centerpiece of the room -- diving what could essentially be a cavernous space into two cozy little spaces.

Poor Miss M never gets to order her beloved Pinot Noir when we're together as I always steer her towards the cocktail list. Lucky for me she was tempted by one of our favourite cocktails, the Pisco Sour ($17.00). We're both suitably impressed with the barman's nifty little trick of sticking the straws to the outside of the glass. Tricky!

Our meal kicks off with two different styles of Ceviche (or Cebiche as Pachamama spells it). Both styles that we try are really delicious and it's interesting to see how different they are to each other. Once is made form incredibly fresh raw fish and the other a cooked octopus dish. There are five different ceviche's on offer here - I had no idea this dish was so diverse.

First up is the Classic "Cebiche" ($17.00) that is made with really fresh snapper that has a toothsome bite to it. The snapper is marinated in plenty of zesty lime juice, green chilli, coriander, and comes topped with shards of crucnhy sweet potato chips.  Amazing! The Nisei "Cebiche" ($17.00) is a Japanese style dish with tender char grilled octopus with a tart, citrusy yuzu dressing and two shards of super-crispy sesame-like wafer. We're told by the bar manager, Tony, that there is quite a large Japanese population in Peru so this dish is not out of place on a Peruvian inspired menu. It's tasty AND I learned something new. 

Although we've asked that the kitchen just send us out few dishes to try (yes I know, how "posh" of us, but less ordering = more time to gossip) I did ask if we could perhaps, pretty please try a serve of the Yuquita frita ($6.00). The innards of these  fried cassava chips is similar in texture to a parsnip (though a bit "fluffier'") with a similar flavour. They are nice and crisp on the outer (as all good chips should be) and come with a traditional Huancalna Sauce - a velvety dipping sauce made with white cheese + peppers.

Whilst we're putting in special requests Miss M asks to try the Empanadas ($5.00).  These little pockets of crispy pastry come filled with tender braised pork cheek and a Chilean condiment similar to a fresh salsa or pico de gallo . There is also some hard-boiled egg nestled in the pastry that gives a nice soft textural element to each mouthful. We're told to cut the Empanada in half and pile the salsa onto the meaty innards. Good stuff.

The Sticky Duck ($21.00) is one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant (along with the Classic Cebiche) and its presentation reminds me of something served in Vietnamese cooking. A mound of tender, shredded coconut braised duck sits atop a cube of crispy rice and chilli jam.  The best way to eat this is to wrap it up in the accompanying betel leaf and pop it straight into your mouth (not all at once like I tried as that's just messy). I loved the combination of the crispy, slightly salty rice cake couple with the smoky tender meat and the sweet chilli jam.

I've never been a big fan of wagyu - preferring the milder flavour of grass-fed beef (I also prefer not to eat grain-fed beef as that falls somewhere within my own very complicated personal set of eating "rules" that bewilder even me sometimes too).  Anyway....I now realise that I'm not fond of aged wagyu beef (which is what a lot of wagyu is and to me it tastes like old socks).  This all becomes crystal clear to me as I try this mildly flavoured (non-aged) seared Wagyu rump ($18.00) that comes with roasted okra (how YUM is roasted okra!) and Peruvian bbq sauce.  I enjoyed this dish, especially the crisp, sightly salty crust around the edge of this tender piece beef.  Whilst I'm confusing you let me say how proud of myself I am that I can now eat, and enjoy, rare meat. Three years ago this would've sent me running. Ok, that was a VERY complicated thought process - but to summarise, the seared Wagyu rump was pretty darn tasty and in no way tasted like old socks.

My thoughts about the Mertuza Negra ($27.00) - Chilean sea bass with panca sauce - are much less convoluted. The fish was wonderful with a nice milk flavour (not too "seafoody" if you know what I mean). The fish was very tender and it flaked apart at the mere hint that the fork was coming towards it. I loved the tile of crispy skin and the tender roasted scallop.

If there's anything better than Tequila then it has GOT to be Tequila Sorbet ($12.00). The sorbet is refreshingly sour and not too alcoholic in its taste. The sweet orange cream nicely counterbalances the sour sorbet and the sweet baked meringues and caramel popcorn add a nice crunchy element to every mouthful. Bit bummed I had to share this one to be honest.

Our second dessert is the Picarones ($12.00) or sweet potato doughnuts with spiced syrup. I saw the chef making these and it was fun to see the thin strands of dough flung about (in a professional way of course) like ribbon. If I tried to manipulate dough like that I bet you $50 it'd be on the floor and all over my cloths within 10 seconds. The donuts are fluffy, not quite as light as a ye olde Yankee doughnut, but with a much nicer, naturally sweet flavour and the syrup has an earthiness too it, a little like molasses.

Miss M and both had a great time at Pachamama House. I'm always a BIG fan of share plates so this entire menu suited me down to a tea.  The Peruvian flavour to the menu was lots of fun and it's nice to see a restaurant doing something a bit different.  The staff we're incredibly friendly and the restaurant felt warm & inviting. We're already planning our return visit...

Pachamama House is at 2/200 Golburn Street, Surry Hills (right opposite the big Surry Hills police station and behind Oxford Square shopping complex).  Phone them on 9261 879.

Pachamama House on Urbanspoon

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