Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Laphroaig Scotch

I don't claim to be a Scotch afficionado but I do like to make note of really unusual alcohols and Laphroaig is definitely in that category.

Claiming to be one of the most "richly" flavoured Scotches the strength of the woodiness in this whiskey was enough to stop me in my tracks and I admit I could not finish the glass, and this was before we got to the quarter cask stronger flavoured version.

Unusual and very much worth seeking out if you like brown liquors, it was certainly a taste experience for me, courtesy of

Hunter Valley Day Trip: Part the First

Recently it was 's birthday so she organised a wonderful day trip out to the Hunter Valley.

This required falling out of bed at an ungodly hour for a weekend and heading into Central Station. On arrival though I got a pleasant surprise that warmed my heart a little; the Historical Society were having an event complete with steam trains, boogie woogie singers and more fur than I've seen in an aeon.

Our birthday girl had ordered our own 21 seat bus so in piled all the odd fellows that constitute her friends and we were away on a road trip!

Snacking started on the way of course with choc dipped strawberries and chocolate cherry fudge from the kitchen of Elisa.

Screeching and gossiping and makeup application continued all the way to Cessnock with myself looking curiously out the window at every opportunity, being from up North I've never seen this part of Australia and all the places that everyone else seems to think of as familiar.

Firstly we stopped at Audrey Wilkinson winery.

We may like our alternative cultures but we sure do like our food and wine; I personally think this picture sums up our day and in fact possibly our group of friends to a tea. 's beau replete with stove piped jeans and spiked hair standing over a vineyard desperately pulling smokes out lest he die from the clean air.

Being in a tour group affords informative talks, a little less personal than the one on one guides I'm used to but interesting to see how they deal with it. The tour guide gives a run down of the juicing, fermenting and storage processes and then begins to explain the tasting process to those unfamiliar.

To be honest I don't have much nice to say about the Wilkinson label. Hunter Valley wine isn't my favourite to start with being of a sort of limp and weak taste and the varieties that grow here aren't my favourite.

The somewhat "funky" labels give away the sort of market they're going for here which is mid priced upmarket pub counters and funky neighbourhood restaurants in Sydney. I am entirely offended that they've decided that Gew├╝rztraminer is too hard to spell and have just called it "Traminer." On the other hand the Moscato goes down extremely well with the non wine people in the tour and should be taken note when trying to introduce others to wine. Also I am a little interested that they have a Malbec blend even if the resulting wine was quite average.

Next we're off to First Creek Winery which I'm told is a blender rather than a grower and while I'm sure it takes away from the authenticity of the tour I feel somewhat satisfied that most of their fruit in fact doesn't come from the Hunter at all. Mostly they ship in from Canberra and Tasmania.

Again we're given another speech and some tastings; they're very open to us trying different varieties and I am keen to get onto the Pinot and Verdelho.

The surprise winner for me though was the Semillon dessert wine, and I end up walking away with 2 of these plus 6 of their Sauvignon Semillon and 6 late release Verdelho in preparation for the BBQ season.

Oak barrels at First Creek

I feel compelled to make a note here on the topic of dessert wines since they seem to be quite common in the Hunter what with the explosion of Semillon and I heard words bandied about but not understood for much of the day. Botrytis is not a label or a name for a wine but a method of making dessert wines. To get the additional sweetness in dessert wines water must be removed to allow the syrupy thick sweet after dinner wines. This is done in Australia primarily in two ways; Ice Methods and Botrytis. In the former liquid is cooled and the pure water which freezes first is removed to leave a more concentrated juice behind. In the latter the fruit is left on the vine long after it has ripened, this attracts a damp and beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea which leeches water from the fruit leaving more solids and a stickier fruitier juice used for dessert wines such as those used for Noble or Tokaj.

Lunch and more to come later...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Review: Pho 236, Newtown

Every neighbourhood has a restaurant like Pho 236; the walls are slightly sticky with oil, the plastic chairs have seen better decades let alone days and the menus are filled with helpful descriptors like 'Soup, short' but the restaurant is packed day and night and people walk out clutching their stomachs happily. Unlike Happy Chef just up the road Pho 236 doesn't even have the ubiquitous backlit plastic waterfall painting that seems to have been cloned across every cheap and cheerful Asian restaurant in Australia. This is just a space that you enter, functional only for people to eat and leave satisfied, not to linger and chat.

On a sunny Spring afternoon there really is nothing better than sitting down to a big fresh bowl of noodles and vegetables, and Pho 236 has amazingly fresh and authentic soups to appeal to any food afficionado. They do other Sino-Viet cuisine but really if a restaurant is named for a dish, you should order that dish.

Beef Pho $7.50

Par cooked beef is added to fresh delicious beef stock with fresh coriander, rice noodles and onions. Just perfect with lots of chilli.

Spicey noodle soup with chicken $8

An almost laksa like soup is thick with chilli oil and spices, soaked and roasted Viet style chicken is boned and shredded into the soup with thin rice noodles. Table thumpingly good. To top it off there's enough for me to take half home and eat it for lunch the next day, when it is just as good reheated. 2 tasty lunches for $8? Don't mind if I do.

Our order comes with fresh herbs, lemon and bean sprouts to be added at will to your soup. I add a very generous amount of coriander and lemon to my soup because they offset the fresh shredded chicken perfectly.

If you're so inclined though they also have red vinegar, soy and fresh birds eye chilli on every table.

There's nothing refined or special about Pho 236, it's just good fresh food done well and served fast and at $20 for two with a soft drink affordable for even those on a student budget. The service isn't the friendliest, though that may change if your Vietnamese is good; but the food is cheap and excellent and highly recommended. In Newtown where your choice of Asian restaurants is plentiful this is a local favourite for a good reason.

Pho 236
236 King St
Near the Mitre 10, look for the sign

Casual dining atmosphere
Walk in for a table, come early for dinner

Monday, September 14, 2009

Almond Pudding

Sometimes when it comes to specialty foods like those bought in Asian supermarkets knowing which brand to buy is half the battle. There are any number of products I use regularly from ethnic stores that others are interested in and so this is the first of what I hope will be many such posts.

This isn't so much a recipe; this pudding requires the addition of hot water only and being set in the fridge overnight rather like a commercial jelly mix. I use these non stick metal pudding moulds from Wiltshire which run for about $5 each at the supermarket. Each mold uses 2 "serves" of a packet of pudding and so 1 packet will make 3 molds; more than this is overkill unless you're having a dinner party. A set of 6 molds will do most kitchens more than well.

Fairsen Pudding mixes are excellent quality and run for about $2.30 at Miracle Supermarkets in Sydney. The mix is easy to use, has English instructions on the side and comes in a variety of flavours (though I will generally beeline straight for the almond every time). It is a Taiwanese brand rather than Thai like many of the 'ready made' products available, so the style is much like that from Chinese restaurants. Most importantly all the ingredients are recogniseable natural products which is more than can be said for many of the alternatives on the market.

This pudding mix contains Agar and not gelatin and is Vegetarian friendly however it does contain Milk powder and is not Vegan friendly. I would declare this product safe for the lactose intolerant though, as an extreme intolerant case I can eat a single serve with no ill effects; those who are dairy allergic should avoid. For my pick of the Vegan almond puddings I suggest you try TLY Joyce Almond Tofu Dessert which is available fresh in most Asian supermarkets and some city Coles stores.

Traditionally this dessert is served with mixed boiled fruit and inexplicably in most restaurants it has one lone perfectly preserved Maraschino cherry sitting on top with stem intact. Not for me today though, so here's me putting my little Western spin on a Chinese classic.

Almond Pudding with Maple Syrup and Stewed Spiced Apple

So there we have it, a little slice of heaven made at home with very little effort, try it yourself sometime!

Review: Cooper's Arms Hotel Bistro, Newtown

Ooh but I do like a drink don't I? That just has to come with good pub food on occasion, particularly after the stress of moving. Still this is Newtown so there's an abundance of places to stop for both a drink and a bite to eat. The Coopers Hotel is definitely one of the better pub bistros in the area and comes recommended. From the outside the pub still hints at its VB and racing punters history with its tiled wall and high beer stools, but upstairs is a Newtownian wonder of upmarket alternative lifestyle; all power lesbians and skater-punks drinking Shiraz.

The decor is quite tasteful, all dark wood and no 60s pub carpet in sight. Outside there's a small beer garden where you can smoke and a rather tranquil water feature that tones down the rowdiness of the patrons.

Bulmer's Cider $6.20

One of the biggest wins for me since the Coopers' renovations is that they finally have decent English cider on tap, though for unknown reasons they don't stock pint glasses. I still don't really understand non-UK drink sizes in Sydney but this is a "schooner" for unfortunately about the same size as a pint at Kelly's down the road... but anyway we're here for the food!

Pumpkin and Rosemary Risotto tossed with Goat's Cheese and shaved Pecorino $18

You know your neighbourhood has gentrified when they put goat's cheese in the pub food; but being the poster girl for middle class alternatives I really don't mind one iota. The risotto isn't gluggy like it can be and is fresh, creamy and delicious. Large pieces of pumpkin are scattered throughout and the creamy rice has taken on the fresh vegetable flavour. The risotto itself was a little underseasoned in my opinion, but once the cheeses were stirred through this more than balanced the dish and I suspect this was the cook's thinking.

Spiced Lamb Burger with smoked eggplant relish, tzatziki and kumera chips $16

If Blackbird had the burger that doesn't deserve its price tag then the Coopers does. The lamb patty is fresh, thick and a little pink just as I like my lamb, the entire burger is so thick it must be cut in half to be able to pick it up. The salad is fresh and inventive, the relish and yoghurt superbly complement the meat. Kumera is a new zealand sweet potato for those that are unaware; and though what we have here could barely be described as chips they are extremely tasty. Highly recommended especially after a couple of drinks.

The Coopers Hotel Pub, Bar and Bistro
221 King Street,
Newtown, 2042
Enquiries: 9550 3461

Head upstairs for the bistro

Monday - Saturday Midday - 10pm
Sunday Midday - 9pm

No booking required
Fully licensed, pub atmosphere

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Review: The Boatshed @ The Regatta, Toowong, Qld

My previous long term partner has been living in Japan for a year teaching English, and my recent trip back home to Brisbane was the first chance I had to see him since his return. We decided that a reunion was worthy of an old tradition so we hit up The Boatshed, the upmarket steakhouse at The Regatta in Toowong. This was a venue we went to regularly while we were together and is still a family favourite of his clan.

Despite being located at a very rowdy student pub and on Coronation Drive The Boatshed restaurant itself is quite tranquil, the furniture well positioned so that I can see the river and the trees and not the endless traffic. The restaurant is shielded from the oversized pub next door by a series of railings and hedges that do their job very effectively.

Pepperjack 2008 Shiraz $49

You couldn't let a steak go lonely, this Pepperjack is a lot younger than I like to drink Shiraz but nonetheless is smooth after a few minutes on the table and has evidently been grown for drinking and not cellaring. The Barossa Shiraz has a lot of pepper flavour and strong tannins expected from a wine so young and from this area but not so much they are overpowering. As a table wine it holds up very well and accompanies the beef to perfection.

Potato Cob with Olive Oil and Balsamic $8.50

My ex's tastes run a little on the plain side (though I note they have become a lot more adventurous in recent years) so we forewent the sweet potato dip and I asked for balsamic instead. For unknown reasons they gave me what appeared to be a balsamic dressing concoction rather than pure vinegar so it was pushed asside. The bread itself was lovely as was the olive oil, perhaps attempting not to mess with someone's menu would do me some good on occasion.

6 Oysters Kilpatrick $14.50

I'm not a large fan of shellfish however the ex is and devours these with glee. I do try some of the sauce and bacon out of interest and am pleased with the result. I am also impressed that they bother to bring actual oyster forks, and even then two sets laid out so we can both dine as desired.

Confit Pork Belly with Orange, Beetroot and Rocket Salad $18.50

How can you turn down confit pork belly really? The fat here is creamy and delicious, though I admit some of the middle section needs a little seasoning as the piece is quite thick and evidently not all is evenly basted. The top is crunchy and golden, the flesh sweet and delicious. Counter balanced with the orange and beetroot this is a well put together dish. Casual and rich at the same time.

Dry Aged Beef with Mash and Roasted Vegetables $34.00

Just in case that is a factor for anyone it is worth noting that the dry aged beef can only be ordered on the bone. This is due to the drying process and the way the meat is prepared but despite my dislike of bones I simply adore aged beef and tend to cut the bone out on arrival for maximum pleasure.

I admit the majority of aged beef I've eaten recently is Wagyu and this appears to be the organic Angus that the Boatshed is more famous for. The meat is not as "melt in your mouth" as Wagyu but it is a fine cut of meat cooked well. The vegetables and sauce are not what they once were sadly and I think there's been a change of direction in the kitchen since I lived in Brisbane. Sadly I think the lack of awards since 2007 is a little indicative of this fact and as always I object to the 70s-tastic sprig of curley leaf parsley thrown on as a garnish.

300g Eye Fillet with Mash and Salad $39.50

Again I really don't understand the point of this garnish looking sad and lonely next to the potato but otherwise the meat is cooked to order and deliciously tender. There are a number of other beefs worth trying at The Boatshed and really that's what this restaurant is all about. From Organic Wagyu to John Dee Angus in a variety of styles and feeds the meat is all worth a try.

I do feel as if the restaurant is not the cutting edge steakhouse it once was, the seafood salads and delicious sauces are gone and replaced with high quality but slightly more standard fare. There is always the possibility that years in Sydney have matured my palette somewhat away from the Boatshed and its fare but really, steak is steak and it's hard to confuse. I'd take Meat and Wine Co. over the Boatshed for wine selection and the quality of the aged beef however for atmosphere and service, not to mention wine at Brisbane prices (the same bottle cost $66 at a venue I attended this week in Sydney) The Boatshed is definitely superior.

More importantly of the Brisbane steakhouses it's definitely one of my favourites (Embers on Park Rd is my all time pick for those that are interested), the service is restaurant quality but the atmosphere steak house casual. You can order endless beer and cocktails from the main bar if you so wish however the patrons tend to gravitate more towards the wine list and the whole venue seems geared towards the business casual synonymous with Toowong. Unlike many steakhouses where they seem to believe that the quality of the meat can more than make up for the beer garden decor The Boatshed uses real furniture, decent interior design and good customer service. Not the most refined restaurant in Australia but definitely a pick for those craving a good slab of meat, a strong breeze and a quality tipple while in Brisbane.

The Boatshed @ The Regatta Hotel

Regatta Hotel
543 Coronation Drive
Toowong Qld 4064
Ph: (07) 3871 9595

Fully licenced
Bookings recommended for Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday days

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Afternoon tea with the parentals

There's really no mystery about where I get my gourmande tendencies from, I come from a foodie family. Sadly I recently separated from my partner so my father decided to put on a cheer up spread when I went home to visit.

Perrier Jouet NV Grand Brut

Much of the time I'm not so easily swayed by the actual Champagne name over other sparkling wines however Perrier Jouet is one of those exceptions. There really is no beating it for quality, taste and a little piece of luxury. If you're going to shell out for French Champagne then this is without a doubt my pick of the labels; seconded by Taittinger. I find the quality of their Brut to be on par with vintage champagnes from other houses.

A standard mix of Pinot, Chardonnay and Meunier this is a classic Champagne with a strong yeast and long robust taste. This is a strong aperitif to have on its own and went well with the hors d'ouevres we were eating. The bubbles were larger than I was expecting and the mousse strong with it. Not much nose but a clean acidic end.

Home made smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers, onion and lettuce

My parentals smoking box turns out the most amazing fresh smoked salmon, if you've never had freshly smoked salmon you really must try it. The texture and moisture are completely different to the commercial varieties most people eat regularly.

Salamanca, prosciutto and fresh ham

Salamanca is rather like chorizo but larger and somewhat less fatty. Heavy on the pork and smoked paprika, this is right up my alley given my palette's years of Spanish cuisine.

"Jewish Caviar" - Chopped liver and eggs

If you like pate then this is a nice alternative liver recipe and great on a warm day like this. I'm sure I'll blog the recipe at some stage but in the meantime you can use this one.

Cheese platter - Double brie, Roaring 40s blue, Margot and aged French brie

All served up with nuts and figs and all the trimmings!

The full spread including home made bread and artichokes

2007 Les Nuages Loire Sauvignon Blanc

After a lifetime of New Zealand Sauv Blancs this is a completely different wine. Stronger and more robust with a toastier feel and a creamy palette.

Coffee and Iranian Sohan

Sohan is a spiced caramel style sweet made from sugar, cardamom, pistachio and vegetable oils.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Review: The Best Thai, Leichhardt

This is some of the cheekiest restaurant naming I've ever heard and is on par with the Doctor's Associates Inc. being the owners of Subway. They're not "The Best" Thai but they're pretty good.

On a cold rainy day when I was a very sick person I was craving warming loving noodley soup and had places to be that ruled out a trip to a ramen joint. "To the local eateries!" said I and so I tried The Best Thai on Norton St.

I like fried things and noodley soups and apparently so does everyone else, of the 3 of us that went to lunch we all ordered the same meal!

Money Bags $7 for 4

These are made fresh by hand on site and are piping hot and recently constructed when they arrive. A generous amount of chicken mince and corn is included, though sadly not laced with coconut as at the Annandale. They are so hot when they arrive that I cut them all open to release the steam so that I can eat them quickly :o)

Tom Yum Gai $8

While sick this was the perfect meal, hot enough to burn through sinusitis, not so hot that I couldn't taste afterwards. The soup is freshly made to order and contains generous helpings of fresh vegetables, rice noodles and braised chicken. The only real complaint I have is that it's a little "rustic" and so whole kaffir leaves and large woody sections of lemon grass are throughout the soup and require fishing out throughout the meal. It's not table bangingly good but it's more than adequate, exactly what I need at the time and for the price, hard to beat.

It's not "The Best" but you get a little sick of looking at pasta and pizza menus when you live in Leichhardt and this is a decent but not excellent variation on Asian when you just can't stomach the idea of another olive oil drenched carb fest.

The Best Thai - Leichhardt branch
62 Norton Street
P: 9569 0768

Casual dining
No reservation required
Take away available

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Review: Blackbird Cafe, Darling Harbour

Most of the restaurants at Darling Harbour are a little bit overly swanky. So when you're looking for something a bit casual after a day of site seeing or when you have a visitor who wants to see the water and lights of Darling Harbour without a $100 a head meal then Blackbird is one of the few decent options in the area.

Image stolen mercilessly from the Blackbird website, as I forgot to take one of the view

Being Darling Harbour though you can expect to pay premium prices for quite standard food. Most of the food here is of the "family restaurant" type fare, burgers, salads, pastas and there's plenty here that will keep kids entertained not to mention drinks to keep the parents sane after a day of trudging the sites.

Honestly the food was about as average as you can expect in a family restaurant but it wasn't offensive, the main thing that annoys me is the price to quality ratio. Almost everything seems to come served with commercial sauces like caesar dressing and ketchup; for some reason I got served a creamy salad dressing when I asked for mayonnaise and I'm not sure the immigrant wait staff knew the difference. There was coffee but it wasn't great and I went for a smoke so when I came back it was cold.

For the same price you could hit a Hog's Breath, Sizzler or alternative and get about the same meal - here you pay for the view and it really is a lovely view.

Beef salad $18.90

Cheeseburger $18.90

This burger was pretty good, it just wasn't $19 worth of good. They do have specials once a week, Monday is burger day at $12 for a burger and chips.

Fish and chips $19.90

Blackbird Cafe
201 Sussex St Sydney
NSW 2000
Situated on the balcony level of Cockle Bay Wharf, Darling Park above Nicks Seafood Restaurant.

Family atmosphere
Come for the view
Fully licensed