Friday, November 29, 2013

The Phoenix Diner, Broadway

Miss Piggy and her friend Bunny dined at The Phoenix Diner as guests of The Lansdowne Hotel.

The bistro at Broadway's grand old dame, The Lansdowne Hotel has received a bit of a makeover.  Both the menu and fit out have been revamped since a fire gutted the place earlier this year. Befittingly the new bistro has been named The Phoenix Diner

The last time I was at The Lansdowne for a meal was on a very bad date. Halfway through our lunch I knew that this guy was not the one for me when he declared that he liked to drink his coffee in the mornings whilst ON THE TOILET! Think about it for a minute...yep, gross right?  Sadly not even a fire can burn that image from my memory -- but my dinner date this time round, Bunny, had no such confessions and a lovely evening was had by all.

The Lansdowne is still primarily a student hangout and things haven't changed too much since it's rebirth.  The pub still retains its vibe as a great live music venue and thankfully it's not been changed beyond recognition by its makeover like so many great old Sydney pubs.

The menu at The Phoenix Diner is all new however, with a learning towards modern American diner-style offerings. Everything looks great, but we couldn't make our way past all the great things the SNACKS section of the menu had to offer - so snacks for dinner it was!

We start of with something quite un-American Biltong Jerky ($3.00) - nice and peppery without being too dried. An interesting dish to find on a bistro menu, but a delicious one. This would be a great snack with a nice cold beer.

Both Bunny and I LOVED the stuffed Jalapeno poppers ( $6.00) that came to the table pipping hot and filled to the brim with with luscious creamy cream cheese and bacon.  The poppers came with a side of garlic aoili and a few shreds of rocket to divert us from the fact the poppers came deep-fried and looked more like a mini Dagwood Dog than a Jalapeno pepper. I've not seen a battered popper before, but I have to say it works - it would work a treat with an icy beer (are you sensing a theme re the "ice cold beer" here)?

I was so excited about the basket of Buffalo Wings ( $12.00) when they arrived that I promptly upended the bowl of blue cheese sauce on the table. IDIOT! Not to worry as we scrapped most of it back into the bowl and happily dipped away - three second rule definitely applies to blue cheese sauce! The wings were good - super crispy on the outside with the meat inside still being tender and moist. Again the token green, celery, diverts us from the fact that this chicken is deep-fried.

Next up is a red basket lined with greaseproof paper and a mountain of nachos.  For me, the 12 hour slow roasted pull pork nachos ($15.00), whilst a generous serve, was missing the heady smokiness that pulled pork should have - I've been spoiled by Smokey O I think.  The nachos come topped with  oodles of  melted cheese, fresh guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo - it's a colourful looking dish.

Last but not least comes a serve of Mac + Cheese Bites ($9.00). These little morsels of cheesy heaven come topped with Parmesan and watercress and they are perfectly bite-sized - one bite and they're gone.  I like that these bites weren't too big - a basket of these would be perfect for sharing if you just want something small and snacky. There are lots of "not deep-fried food" on the menu, honestly - we just didn't quite get there on this visit.

The Phoenix Diner is a fun rebirth of an old pub bistro and a great spot for a bite between classes if you study nearby...or perhaps a Friday lunch if you work in the 'hood.

The Phoenix Diner is on Level 2 of The Lansdowne Hotel, 2-6 City Road, Chippendale. Phone them on 8218 2333.

 Phoenix Diner on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Paramount Coffee Project, Surry Hills

Back in my early 20s I would've really struggled going to a cafe or restaurant on my own - but luckily those days have passed as I really wanted to check out new kid on the Surry Hills block - Paramount Coffee Project.  As luck would have it I was only free when everyone else wasn't!

I think this place must have opened up whilst we were in Europe as there's been nothing but talk about it since I got back. It's on 1001 food blogs and now I'm adding my 2 cents worth to the mix, cos my opinion is all that matters, right? Oh, it's not - umm, OK.

The cafe is run by the crew from Rueben Hills and some coffee dudes from Melbourne and can be found in  the foyer of the lovely art deco Paramount House Building.  The ground floor is also home to a plant pop-up shop and a bike shop and downstairs is a small cinema showing Golden Oldies (that's old movies for you youngsters who cannot speak Baby Boomer).

Even though the space the cafe occupies is quite large there's not a lot of places to sit - two big communal tables, a long table outside, a bench for two people and some cushions perched on the large window sill (which is where I sat). I guess fewer seats gives the place a bit more of an exclusive feel but think of how much more money they could make with more bums on seats! That said the space, in this overcrowded city of ours, sure is nice.

In the interest of full disclosure I'd only just visited Lord of the Fries about 10 minutes earlier so I could only fit one more thing into my stomach. I arrived *just* as they were closing the kitchen so I quickly ordered the item I'd heard the most hype about - the Crab Po'boy ($18.00). Who needs a menu when you've been stalking this place on social media. I really wanted to order the side of potato crisps and a gherkin ($3.00) but I just could not fit it in. Shame.

The po'boy was great - not only was it visually impressive with a muddle of deep-fried soft shell crab legs trying to make an escape from it's bready prison, it was super tasty! The crab was shatteringly crunchy and the coleslaw was super zingy. Best of all the bun was lovely and soft. Two thumbs up.

As the name suggests, Paramount Coffee Project also has a big focus on all this caffeinated. As well as cold drip, they offer a black iced coffee or an iced latte. Guess which I chose? Yes - iced latte. It was good - tasted like coffee (eye roll I know), not too strong so I didn't need to add any sugar to take the bite away which is how I measure a good coffee.

Paramount Coffee Project is at 80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills.

 The Paramount Coffee Project on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 25, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #47

In amongst the tomatoes on my balcony garden I've planted basil. Each pot of tomatoes gets its own basil buddy - or three.

I simply ran out of room for the basil to have its own home and I've heard tomatoes and basil grow well together so they've become reluctant roommates.  Some of the basil is growing so fast...and some of it seems to have stalled! I've given the tomatoes a little bit of a prune so hopefully the basil will get a bit more sunlight now...

One of the basil plants had grown so big so fast that I was able to pinch off a few leaves to include in a pasta sauce I was making for dinner.  I still CANNOT stand the smell of basil so working with it in small doses is much better for me I think.

The sauce is nothing special - no recipe, but something I've been making for EVER! I cannot make a tomato based pasta sauce without putting loads of olives into it - I love the saltiness the olives give the sauce.

It doesn't look too appetizing, but it was pretty tasty. These little frozen pastas are always handy to have in the freezer but they often go so gluey when cooking. I call this dish "Pasta Sludge" but The Boy still happily ate it and had the leftovers for lunch the next day. He's a keeper I tell you!

Happy gardening, Miss Piggy xox

Friday, November 22, 2013

Leura Garage, Leura

Over the October long weekend The Boy and I went for a drive up to the Blue Mountains. My sole motivation was that I had been wanting to try Leura Garage for ages.  Given enough time I will eventually tick every cafe of my wishlist...maybe.

As the name suggests the cafe is located in a former mechanic garage and there are little nods to this all through the decor...a tyre here, a wheel rim there, a few car doors on the wall, some old exhausts on a shelf, a car hoist acting as a wine rack. You get the picture.


When we finally got ourselves a table I had massive amounts of trouble trying to decide on what to order. Not because I wanted to eat everything - which I did - but because of the HEFTY prices against each item. $15.00 for a SMALL rocket salad - that's just criminal in my mind, especially when the bowls I saw heading for the tables were pretty petite and I know a WHOLE big bag of rocket costs less than $4.00 in the supermarket. I don't know if the prices were exceptionally high for the public holiday, but still...! If we weren't so hungry I would've gone somewhere else...but I was getting hangry and needed food ASAP.

In the end The Boy and I decided to get two small - albeit pricey things - and go for a light lunch and fill up on dinner when we got home later that night. To start with we choose a Charcuterie Board for THIRTY TWO DOLLARS! My wallet nearly got up and ran out of the restaurant at this point let me tell you. Now, the board was good - everything was very tasty and well presented but I was disappointed that we only got TWO CRACKERS and three small slices of bread with it.  I did ask for more crackers and they came to the table with hassle and no extra cost. I thought the meats provided were really nice - prosciutto, hot salami, a potted terrine and some smoked ham and I liked the addition of a rockmelon ball to accompany the prosciutto.

We decided to get a bowl of rosemary salted fries ($9.00) to pad out the charcuterie board. The fries were really good - very flavoursome and I like the addition of rosemary to the mix.

All in all we had a nice lunch. The food was very nice and the atmosphere of the cafe was buzzy + fun. The fit out of the place is quite quirky and the staff were very friendly. Bearing all that in mind the prices were just beyond what I personally think is reasonable for a casual lunchtime eat, or justifiable so we'll be on the hunt for somewhere new to eat in Leura for our next visit.

Leura Garage is at 84 Railway Parade, Leura - NSW. Phone them on (02) 4784 3391.

Leura Garage on Urbanspoon

And now I'll leave you with some photos of the cicadas that had literally taken over the Blue Mountains on the day we visited. They were EVERYWHERE - either crawling up trees, flying about, having "sexy times" with each other or leaving their dead shells all over the place! The noise was deafening.  It was actually quite magical until one flew onto me and I put my neck out trying to escape it's little claws.

Chirp chirp.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Oven Express - oven cleaning

Miss Piggy had her oven cleaned free-of-charge by Oven Express. Prices vary depending on the size / current state of yuckness of your oven, but as a general idea it would cost $150 for my oven to be cleaned.

A few weeks ago when I was in the throws of the "great carrot harvest of 2013" I dropped a piece of carrot in between the oven and the oven door whilst making my roast carrot salad. No big deal, right? Wrong! When I fished it out it resembled more of an oily, crumbed "thing" than a carrot. Blergh.

Needless to say the offer of a free oven cleaning by Oven Express could come at no better time. I know we could clean the oven ourselves - but I think I've made it pretty clear on this blog that I'm lazy. I'd also like them to clean my shower...but I think that's probably asking a bit too much (or is it)?

Honestly though, I think one of the things that puts me off cleaning my own oven is the stinky chemicals...that Mr Muscle is nasty stuff. I have pretty severe asthma that is set off by certain smells (that explains why I HATE the smell of Jasmine) and we try to only use eco-friendly cleaning products in our house.

Oven Express uses eco-friendly and green products which gives them a BIG thumbs up from me.  There are no strong fumes, harsh chemicals or hazardous products used and I can honestly say that I had no problems with my asthma during the whole time the oven cleaning process was taking place (which is saying something as I currently have a chest infection which is making my asthma even worse)!  There is a faint smell - but nothing harsh...and the cleaning process is a little messy but the kitchen is left as clean as it was before the visit from Oven Express.

The whole process took about 90 minutes. Dwayne, my oven-cleaning guy, was super efficient. He had the door off the oven and the whole thing scrubbed within about 15 minutes. Then the oven trays, grills etc are all taken down to the Oven Express van for a cleaning.  The oven is reassembled and you're safe to start using the oven pretty much ASAP once you've let it heat up and run with the door open for 15 minutes! There's a bit of a smell during this part of proceedings, but not much. I noticed a faint smell the first two times I used the oven after the cleaning -- but I just left the door open for 15 minutes for things to "air out".

Honestly though, I don't want to use the oven just yet -- I want to bask in it's shiny cleanness just a little longer.

You can contact Oven Express for a quote by calling them on 1800 325 773 seven days a week between 8 am -7 pm.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #46

I honestly think that mint could survive a nuclear war! This mint has probably been dead more than it has been alive but it continues to bounce back. There's got to be a life lesson in there for us all...I'm just not sure what it is - don't let the bad bugs get you down maybe?

The Sydney weather has been a bit hot lately...and a bit cold too, but what ever the weather it's always nice to drink some freshly made iced-mint tea.  My doctor has told me that I have high cholesterol and that soft drinks are a big BIG no no for the cholesterolly challenged liked moi so this shall be a summer of freshly brewed iced mint tea (not that I drink a lot of soft drink mind you -- but every little bit helps).  Apparently I'm just one of those people with high cholesterol - it's genetic rather than diet induced...but I wonder what else I could be doing better (if you say lay off Lord of the Fries I'm going to cry).

Happy gardening, Miss Piggy xox

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Edinburgh Eats

I know that there is more to Edinburgh than the deep-fried Mars Bars, but it's one of the things I'm wanting to most try when we finally make our way from France to train!

After about a seven hour train journey that wasn't as picturesque as we had hoped (Eurostar to London and then "normal" train to Edinburgh) we arrive just in time for dinner - good timing!  We head straight to the restaurant where my niece's boyfriend works (called Earthy, the restaurant that is, not the boyfriend) and are welcomed to Scotland in style. Nice!

We get to try a lot of modern Scottish food on this part of the trip - which is pretty much just like Modern Australian food in style + presentation but uses a host of wonderfully fresh and seasonal Scottish ingredients. Seafood features heavily on a lot of menus as does steak, berries and fresh veggies.

Earthy has a lovely little grocery store attached to the restaurant that's full of lovely artisan Scottish produce.


I decide to stock up on a few goodies for snacks back at our flat. I'd been wanting to try Oatcakes after reading about them on someone else's blog...but I'm told by the Scottish BF that they are pretty bland (yes, they are) but are the perfect vehicle for cheese + chutney (yes, they are).


On our first morning in our Edinburgh flat we head around the corner to a cafe where The Boy orders "the full Scottish" - a plate filled with Scottish delights such as Haggis, Black Pudding and a Potato Scone. The "tatty scone" is flat and triangular shape and not scone-like at all. It tastes a bit like a potato scallop but much less greasy. It's good. I was dreading trying Haggis as I thought it would be gross (I mean, what could possible be tasty about innards wrapped in a stomach lining - blergh) but I'm pleased to report it tasted pretty good, due mainly to the fragrant mix of spices used.

I like my breakfasts without meat so ordered a vegetarian version of The Boys breakfast that came with Vegetarian Haggis which surprisingly not not as good as "real" Haggis as I think it's the meaty bits that help soften the texture of all those oats in the mix.

Ah, the moment we've ALL been waiting for. Behold the wonders of the deep-fried Mars Bar. People I've shown these photos too have screwed their faces up in horror. Honestly both the deep-fried Mars Bar and the deep-fried Snickers that we tried looked quite...gross, but they are really delish. I think the battering/frying process actually eliminates some of the sweetness of these chocolate bars and serving it with ice-cream just makes everything 1000% better! The shop we bought these from was a regular "chippie" around the corner from our flat and they would literally deep fry any chocolate bar that could handle the heat.

We had toyed with the idea of checking out one of Edinburgh's three Michelin-starred restaurants but just never got around to it. Instead we ended up having a rather simple, but very posh-feeling lunch aboard the Queen's former royal yacht, Britannia that has retired to Edinburgh.

It was great being able to wander all over the yacht and check out the Queens's bedroom/study/etc etc, but the highlight for me was lunch in the restaurant on the top deck. The restaurant is an addition to the boat since it found its new home on the water of Leith and it's GREAT. It all felt SO posh...little sandwiches and a bowl of Cream of Cullen Skink Soup - a traditional Scottish soup of smoked haddock with potato and leeks (no skinks included, thankfully)! The waiters were all decked out like we were in the fanciest spot in town.  LOVED it.

Confession time. The Boy and I became more than a little obsessed with Marks + Spencer when we were in Scotland. I loved shopping for clothes in there as they had LOADS stuff to fit me. As well as the clothes we LOVED the food hall...loads of prepacked sandwiches and salads which were great for cheap lunches as well as so many "heat + eat" dinner ideas. I was obsessed with making a M+S dinner in our flat -- my niece thought I was kinda mad, but we just have nothing like this in Australia, do we?

It was lucky we stayed away from the roasts on offer as we couldn't get the oven working! Whilst an M+S dinner isn't cheap it's very convenient and delicious - it's very good for lazy cooks (like me). Below we have salmon with veggies; and on our second M+S dinner adventure we had a delicious "curry night".

Some other interesting Scottish foodie finds - these Worcester Crisps. They tasted a little like soy sauce (in a good way).

Scottish Shortbread - it wouldn't be right to leave the country without eating at least one box of these. They are so buttery and delicious!

And of course, Scotland's national drink - Iron Bru. I thought this was a cola but it tastes much more like a creaming soda. I'd hazard a guess that this is nearly more popular in Scotland than beer.

Just to prove that we did do more than eat here are a few photos of buildings, green rolling hills and the like...


Next stop London...rainy rainy rainy London.

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