Monday, October 4, 2010

Iron Chef Event in Sydney 2010

Big props to Mister Toast for the invitation to dinner, I had a marvellous time at a not great point in my life so it was much appreciated.

The evening didn't start out as well as it otherwise could have, we started with excellent cocktails at the Marble Bar as we are known to do and were a little squiffy when we wandered to the Hilton ballroom which didn't help our cause when we discovered they had lost our order. Thankfully we had the confirmation email and credit card on us but the insistence was that we had not ordered. Seats were found, but only 2 for a party of 3 and if we wanted to all sit it would not be together. Mister Elbourne opted to leave Toast and I too it as Toast had organised the mission and I had not attended before and so it was that we were sat down... only to have the staff find our original order about 5 minutes later. With all this faffing about we missed the canapes and got seated twice.

Cue a very stompy Toast, Elbourne and myself having a glare at the waiters who responded by bringing continuous refills of wine far and above what was sensible. Still the rest of the night would proceed quite nicely apart from the point at which I cried at a former co-worker about the end of my relationship and the point at which Toast insisted that coffee was for suckers and what I really wanted was an espresso Martini leading to me shouting at the Marble Bar staff about my apparent need for Martini olives by the bucket. *cough* Drunk Amaya is not to be trusted.

Soon all is forgiven though, any meal that starts with this amount of tableware has got to be good.

Iron Chef Sakai

Chilled seafood on cauliflower mousse with mango dressing.
Matched with: 2009 Mt Difficulty Estate Pinot Gris

The cauliflower mousse in this dish actually put shame to the seafood, smooth soft and delicious it set off the cold seafood perfectly. The top of the dish is set with mango dressing nestling abalone, prawn and fresh vegetables. 

Chef Okazaki (Rise)

Tuna tataki, asparagus and lemongrass tomato salsa
Tuna rice paper roll
Tuna tartare with spicy miso in wanton cup
Matched with: 2009 Knappstein 'Three' Gewurztraminer/Riesling/Pinot Gris

Tuna and particularly raw tuna is amongst my favourite foods in the world and so a trio of tuna morsels is definitely the way to win me over. The tataki is seared perfectly and served with Thai flavours, the tartare is served in a crisp wanton cup with miso that I'm surprised hasn't wilted before being served given the number of people in the room.

I actually feel as though the wine is a little sweet for the dish but then I've never been a great fan of either Riesling or Gewurtztraminer.

While we eat a number of showman like Iron Chef events go on including a wine tasting and plenty of 'in the kitchen' behind the scenes moments. I'm more about the cooking than the showmanship but I was very keen on the 'behind the curtain' footage.

Chef Haru (Blancharu)

Spatchcock en croute de sel a la Haru
Matched with: 2008 Stonier Estate Chardonnay

I rather like en croute dishes as a whole but I think attempting to do so for an entire ballroom full of diners was folly. My dish is rather dry and not particularly appealing.

Iron Chef Chen

Lobster with chili sauce Szechwan style
Matched with: 2006 Argyle 'Reserve' Pinot Noir

This dish makes the whole night worthwhile. First we watch Iron Chef Chen prepare it on the stage and then we see more backstage footage. By the time the meal comes out everyone is fighting to get at it and I have to be quick smart with my photo taking.

The dish is served with a Chinese mantou roll for mopping up the sauce - something I'm glad of as it's filled with fermented soy for that biting umami flavour; the balls of Lobster and the sweet fruit are just fantastic and served with a light Pinot that offsets the whole dish perfectly.

Afterwards Iron Chef Chen does a quick tour of the room and we are able to snap a picture. Toast who is like the world's biggest Iron Chef fan is beaming like an idiot the whole time.

Chef Gary (Hilton)

Braised Wagyu veal cheek on green pea and wasabi mash with cabernet jus
Matched with: 2008 Petaluma 'The Hundred Line' Cabernet Sauvignon

After a very Asian feel to the rest of the cooking this seems like an odd choice however it is amazingly prepared and so I am disinclined to complain too much. Veal cheek is cooked sous vide for several hours until it is falling apart soft, sweet and gelatinous. It is served on a bed of sweet green pea and wasabi mash that is just divine and finished with a jus that brings more moistness to an already luscious dish. The wine is also a good match and I am rather a fan of Petaluma so kudos to the chef.

Chef Saeko (Ten)

Smoked chocolate and 'Delamain X.O. Fale and Dry 25 year old' mousse, with agar agar of milk and chocolate anglaise sauce
Matched with: 2004 Knappstein Vintage Fortified Shiraz

Now I'm not a huge chocolate fan but this dish is an inspired masterpiece that has me rolling my eyes and thumping the table. A member of the table who does not like sweets hands his over seeing my reaction and I grab for it despite the simply ludicrous of dairy I will be consuming. This being said Toast is allergic to seafood so we'd both come armed with a plethora of tablets to ensure we could make it through the meal.

The entire dish is a range of varying chocolate flavours and textures; the darker dots are an amazing chocolate emulsion, a decorated white chocolate disk rings a soft smooth chocolate bombe topped with a dark smokey delicious crisp and whose shadow falls onto a smooth geleed agar agar milk chocolate ring. All set off with a dark delicious wine; a real thundering way to finish the meal.

So what did I walk away from the event with? It was fun, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as fun without other foodies so I recommend if you are going to pay that you take a crew with you. On the other hand at $350 for a 6 course meal it would want to have been sex on a stick and honestly some of the dishes fell down, particularly as the kitchen seemed unable to make really world class cuisine for that many people at once. I think if the same courses had been done for 30 the affair would have been different than it was at a seating of 300.

Topped off with the fiasco regarding our order and the rudeness we were treated with as if their mistake were our fault it left me with a sour taste in my mouth given the price. On the other hand it was good fun and some of the dishes were incredibly memorable, and after that much wine... most things seem like a good idea.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Rocks Aroma Festival 2010

Unfortunately the thing that I will say about the Aroma Festival is that as someone who goes to a lot of food oriented events there's really nothing here that's new and exciting for me and the Aroma Festival in particular was identical to last year's layout.

Still it's a nice day out, and one that's alcohol free and great in Winter when Sydney goes to a bit of a sleep. Since it was so similar to last year I rounded the day out by going along with my ex boyfriend... just like old times ;o)

Assorted Whisk and Pin baked goods

My current employer is a little famous for providing endless free food and they regularly stock these magnificent Whisk and Pin baked goods from the Blue Mountains. The cookies are huge, the size of my hand and a fairly hefty caloric boost to go with it but they're worth every bite. The Muesli cookies are an absolute my favourite as are the Macadamia and Fig cookies.

Limar Nougat with nuts and dried craisins

I am just a little obsessed with nougat. As someone who's not a big chocolate fan I drift immediately towards nuts and dried fruit based products and dried cranberries are tart and delicious against sweet honey/egg nougat.

Sparkle Cupcakes $3 each

These guys are great supporters of the LGBT community and are often to be found at Mardi Gras Fair Day amongst other outdoor events. They're great 'adult' cupcakes, great for buying boys with a sweet tooth as they avoid the standard pink frou frou stylings of most cupcake bakeries.

Thick sweet Italian hot chocolate is the perfect Winter pick me up.

Gumnut chocolates $6.50 for 3

Gumnut do wonderful organic chocolates and Australian flavours. The Spiced and Chilli chocolates are a real favourite and make great gifts.

Voodoo Rocky Roads and Slices $3 each take home packs also available

And here's an obligatory touristy shot of the bridge.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Twitpic food round up

I know I've been terrible with the posting but here's some of my Twitpic deliciousness of recent times:

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Dim Sum at the Pyrmont Fish Market

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Espetada at Bartino... Pyrmont

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Beef Rendang at Chinta Ria Darling Harbour

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Kalbe ssam with ssamjang at Ashfield Korean BBQ

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Chorizo al a plancha and albondigas at Captain Torres Sydney CBD

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Meatballs and pasta at XXII Pyrmont

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Freshly smoked salmon, cheese and all the trimmings at my father's house in Brisbane, Qld

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Health Potion and Mana Potion Cocktails at Mana Bar Fortitude Valley, Qld

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Gnocchi, pesto oil and rocket with goats cheese at the Botany View Hotel Newtown

Review: La Casa Ristorante, Russell Lea

 You always know that you're in for a good meal when a foodie chooses a restaurant for her birthday, and so it was going to the newly opened La Casa Ristorante in Russell Lea. La Casa is something that I have looked for quite some time in Sydney, a truly excellent Italian homestyle restaurant. This is a bit sad when you consider that I used to live in the Italian Forum and did not find any such thing there.

Brought to you by the brother sister Ruggeri team La Casa brings heart, soul, fresh ingredients and friendly faces to their restaurant which is already teaming with eager diners and reviewers only a short time after opening.

We went with a large group for a birthday dinner and they were still able to accomodate wonderfully and stayed up beat and pleasant the whole way. We had a banquet including wine for a very reasonable price but as this is not listed on the menu I am not certain if this was a special for our group and so will list the al a carte prices.

Luccarelli Negroamaro alla Toscana $22 ($6 by the glass)

For a moderately priced wine this is not a bad drop and goes excellently with the pasta and antipasto.

I felt strongly for the staff as we were... not shy in lapping up the wine and the sound raised to meet the drinking levels.

Pizza all'oglio (Garlic Pizza) $9

A great light starter on an excellent bread base, not to oily or filling.

Antipasto di casa per due persone con salumi, arrosto di verdure e formaggi $18

A fantastic antipasto plate including light soft prosciutto, fresh roasted vegetables and delightful home made salami. Ask for a small bowl for the olive pits though as they're very morish and one was not provided.

Polpette della Mamma $14

I have quite the weakness for a good mediterranean meatball having grown up in a Spanish family with a well guarded albondigas recipe. This dish is every childhood memory of grandma's cooking reaching out to the nostalgia centre of your brain and stroking it lovingly. The secret is multiple kinds of meat and a fresh tomato sauce that glistens with good quality oil. Served up with a fresh heavy slice of sour dough bread to chase the last morsels of sauce around the plate... and let me tell you we all did. I will be returning to La Casa for this dish if nothing else.

Fettucine con gamberi, aglio, olio, spinaci i pomodori $22

If you're going to order this make sure your date tries some as it's simply dripping in garlic. I would have liked a little more bite to the chilli but this is an excellent rendition of a classic fresh pasta with perfect al dente noodles.

Pappardelle con pancetta e fungi, vino bianco e crema

Mushrooms and cream aren't really my kind of food so I limited my trying of this dish, and you can tell I didn't take this picture! Still if you're a mushroom fan this would have been an excellent dish and the pappardelle were soft and luscious.

Penne alla Norma $16

This was definitely one of the table favourites! The sauce was thick and sweet studded with eggplant and olives and topped with the most amazing smooth ricotta I've ever enountered. A definite 'must order' and a great option for the vegetarians.

The food was already warming and fantastic but then we started onto the pizza, oh god the pizza! This is without a doubt the best pizza I've had in Sydney.

Diavola $17

OMG I WANT ANOTHER SLICE OF THIS PIZZA. The perfect base, the perfect amount of fresh tomato sauce, just the right mix of cheeses and the most amazing home made chilli pepperoni. The simplest pleasures are some times the best and by god this is a pizza to remember.

Bresaola $19

I'm very impartial to rocket on pizza and combined with the shaved parmesan and soft cold meats on another crisp but soft base, just excellent.

There were more pizzas and plenty of salad but by this time I was stuck into tales of new restaurants and food television with some of the other dinner goers so apologies.

Cannoli Siciliani $8

Sweet ricotta filled canoli are definitely up there as one of my favourite foods in the world, however I've been inundated with excellent Five Dock Canoli after years of running a small business with an Italian business partner, so I skipped these. If they're using the same ricotta as for the pasta though I would definitely order as it was amazing.

Birthday Tiramisu $9.50

Birthday dessert! I like cake but tiramisu is hard to beat and this came very recommended.

Affogato con liquore $14

Amazing sweet nut studded hazelnut gelato with Disaronno almond liqueur and excellent Italian espresso. I was so happy with this order I danced in my place; the ice cream and coffee were the perfect quality and just the right balance of tart and sweet.

All in all I must say that I cannot fault a damn thing about this restaurant. The quality of ingredients, the love and passion going into the food and the friendliness of the crew were absolutely paramount and highly recommended. The fact that this restaurant is so popular so quickly is no surprise to me and my advice is try and get in before the whole city discovers it.

La Casa Ristorante
@_LaCasa on Twitter

271 Lyons Road
Russell Lea
(located between Five Dock & Drummoyne)
Phone 9712 3882

Open Tuesday - Sunday for dinner from 5pm

Casual traditional atmosphere in a warm but modern setting
Licensed but family friendly