Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: BBQ City, Sydney CBD

Readers of this blog will know how much I like Korean food, but what then is my fallback, the restaurant I go to time and again? It's this one BBQ City, a rowdy staple filled to the brim with Korean students and their families merrily chomping away.

Like many of the best restaurants in Sydney it's not at ground floor, look up opposite the entry to World's Square on Liverpool St.

BBQ City is not the place to go for an intimate meal, it's rowdy and has a party atmosphere with lots of clatter and an army of staff. If you're looking for an informal dinner party or a shared team outing however it's a great option. Rather like yum cha the more people you add the better the experience and the wider the variety of the food.

There is a party room if you're so inclined but it books out in advance so be prepared to book it early and for tables of 10 or more only. If you do get it it's a formal Korean dining room rather like a tatami room at Japanese restaurants so be ready to shed your shoes and sit on the floor.

Assorted banchan - included with the meal

Banchan at this restaurant are varied, seasonal and can be refilled on request. There's usually some form of fresh seasonal vegetables such as radish or sprouts, a potato or pasta salad and the ubiquitous sweet simmered potatoes.

Kim chi jeon $18

The kim chi pancake is rather thick and heavy, no light start to a meal but crisp and not oily with plenty of chilli kim chi. A spicy vegetarian delight.

Mandu Fried or Boiled $18

The dumplings are akin to Japanese gyoza filled with pork, chives and glass noodles. They can be ordered fried for those drinking or boiled for those who are calorie conscious. They're both excellent and served with a umami dipping sauce that I tend to want to put on just about everything.

Spicy marinated pork stir fry $18

Chilli and fermented soy beans are stir fried with onion, carrot and large slices of green sprouts. This is moreish and the fermented soy adds an excellent umame savouriness that has me coming back for more time and again. It's particularly excellent served with the Korean plum wine and rice.

Tofu Hot Pot $21

Most people in the west associate Korean food with meat filled BBQ madness however most peasant dishes from Korea are vegetarian. If you can convince a vegetarian to come and watch you consume the meat dishes at BBQ City there are plenty of options. This hot pot is steeped in chilli and vegetables and makes a satisfying if adventurous dish. 

Gochujang tteokbokki with Cheese $22

This bowl is huge, enough to feed 3 on its own comfortably. You can choose to have it cooked by the kitchen or have them bring you the hotpot to cook yourself. While not my favourite rendition of this dish - Best Friend and Darling City take this crown for me in Sydney - this is definitely a solid rendition. Thick sausage like rice cakes similar to a gluten free gnocchi are served with fried fish cake, capsicum and carrot in a sweet ultra hot sauce and topped with cheddar cheese. Delicious - but sometimes regretted after the fact!

If the dish prices look steep please be aware that they are very hearty and not designed for one person, this is where having a large group comes in handy since the meals are mostly 'family style' and designed to be shared. 

But while I love some variety in my food surely you come to BBQ city for the BBQ...

Assorted meat platter $42

This is intended to share and this picture is after an entire BBQ has been filled with meat. There's easily enough meat to have 2 people eat 2-3 rounds of ssam or a larger group to each trial the meat. You can order meat dishes separately for around $18-$22 each. If you're taking this option I would recommend the pork marinated in wine, the kalbi marinated ribs and the thinly sliced pork neck. Alternatively for large groups I would recommend 2 meat platters to ensure everyone eats their fill.

The meat is cooked on small gas filled BBQs set into the table. I prefer to cook my own and this restaurant will happily leave you to it if they can see a leader performing the role well. If you're a little trepidatious they will cook it for you on request. Note the rolled out kalbi ribs with the bone still attached, just delicious! Mushrooms, onions and whole cloves of garlic can be added to enhance the experience.

Once cooked the meat is cut into small pieces with kitchen scissors, spread with sauce and wrapped in lettuce to be eaten. This is the source of the word ssam which means - to wrap. This is a food designed to be eaten with the hands and wrapped in leaves.

Here you can see three sauces, the light brown sauce is the standard ssam sauce which is partially mashed fermented soy beans. I've also asked for two types of chilli sauce, one which is a sweet hot sauce which may appeal to those that like American BBQ and the other is gochujang the hot hot hot sour chilli sauce that brings much of Korean food its flavour.

This is the sign of a Korean BBQ attended properly and with gusto. Lots of dishes everywhere and not much food left in sight!

This place is great for a party, they serve plentiful Korean and Japanese beers (including Sapporo and Hite for $8), bottles of soju for $12 and Korean Plum and Raspberry Wines at $22 a bottle. Highly recommended.

I eat out a alot, I explore restaurants a lot, and this is a favourite; not particularly outstanding in the world's food but a great example of its cuisine and solid in both food and service. It's good for a large party but not good for a quiet date. Unless you're super keen on Korean food as I am this is a terrible choice for summer since the number of people, the hot BBQs and the chili laden food make this an adventure in sweat during the Summer months. Doesn't stop me though... I just order more beers and carry a folding fan.

BBQ City

Rowdy fun atmosphere
Fully licensed, Asian alcohols only

116/120 Liverpool Street,
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9267 5155 ‎

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Aux Anciens Canadiens, Quebec City

For me travel is about doing unique things in memorable places, and Quebec City will forever be characterised in my head by this meal.

Quebec City is in French Canada and the Ancient Canadian is wild Canadian game cooked in rustic French style. Housed in the historic Maison Jacquet, one of the largest houses in upper-town in its day and the oldest in Quebec, was built in 1675. The site was granted to François Jacquet in 1674 by the Sisters of the neighbouring Ursuline Convent. It is as Quebecois as you can manage in my head.

The interior is warm and cozy and even though it's Summer it is still very cold by Australian standards so I am thankful for the intimate homeliness.

One of my goals in life is to eat and experience as many different kinds of animal as I can. This restaurant proves to be an amazing aid to this mission.

I love the rustic feeling crockery and the personalised crystal.

McKeown Cider $7.95CAD

This "red mountain" cider is sweet and light, perfect with the heavy food. It reminds me of Sydney cider that I miss so much.

Rillette of bison with cranberry chutney $9.75CAD

What do you say about this? This is about as much French Canada as I can imagine. A haunch of bison is confited in salt and its own fat until it disintegrates. Then it's cooled in a jar, leaving it the consistency of creamy pate. Served with white bread and cranberry chutney it is without a doubt amazing.

Quebec Tasting Platter $36CAD

Québec meat pie, Lac St-Jean meat pie with wild meats served with pheasant and bison casserole, meatball ragout and pig’s knuckle ragoût, salt pork grillades, homemade baked beans and peach chutney. The taste of the wild meat Lac St Jean pie is unlike anything I have ever eaten in my life and I want to keep eating as much as possible but with every part of this meal covered in animal fat - including the pastry and the beans then it is difficult to eat more than a small amount without my stomach reeling against the rich food.

Everything is delicious, the Quebec pie has crisp lard pastry crust, the homely beans and rustic pig knuckle are all divine. I almost roll down the hill to my bed and breakfast, in pain but so very fulfilled.

You cannot go through Quebec City without stopping here. The building is iconic, the food amazing and the chance to eat wild Canadian meats simply cannot be passed up. Go hungry, do not take a vegetarian.

Aux Ancien Canadiens

Must see gourmet tourism
Not for vegetarians or those who object to hunted animals

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: Les Halles Park Ave, NYC

With his cavalier attitude, his love of food, travel, wine and smoking it can be no surprise to anyone that Anthony Bourdain is someone I look up to (and am incredibly jealous of). So after years of watching his shows and reading his books I finally bothered to go and eat at the restaurant that made him so famous - Brasserie Les Halles in New York City.

So named for the Les Halles marketplace in Paris the Brasserie is designed to bring good quality simple French bistro food using American ingredients to the New York crowd and it does this well. This being the US the majority of service staff I encounter are Latin but nonetheless the feel of the restaurant is murky European style and devoid of the washed clean Americana they seem to love in the US.

The Brasserie Les Halles has long been a New York favourite and evidently makes a roaring trade of 'event meals' with custom artwork for the restaurant in the art deco style to celebrate major events. I was rather enamoured of the display of them on show.

I was in town for the Memorial Day long weekend and after a lovely day site seeing with some friends we decided to round it all out with a meal here. I'm rather used to public holidays incurring some kind of service levy - but not in the land of the free where penalty rates don't exist! Not only was their no additional service cost, but to my surprise the wine is always 50% off on a Monday - including long weekends.

Pommery “POP Earth” Brut $125USD ($62.50 on Mondays)

That of course meant to I had to start with a champagne - this is the eco offering from staple Champagne house Pommery which was the first champagne house to obtain ISO 14001 environmental certification for their efforts in sustainable farming and waste management. You can feel good about yourself as you drink what is a classic glass of Pommery; crisp and fruity with a long finish.

Sour dough bread and Terrine Maison $8.50USD

If there's anyway I like a meal to start it's with champagne, pate and cornichons. Prior to this meal I had just spent 2 weeks in French canada being stuffed to the gills with exotic pates so it's nice to be presented with a simple French classic made well and in house.

Soup of the Day - Carrot Soup $8.75

Often in the US I am a little afraid of the vegetables - factory farming is the norm and many ingredients travel long distances. Brightly coloured vegetable soups such as these speak of local high quality produce and a respect for the food that I am thankful for.

Betteraves rôties au fromage de chèvre (red beets with roasted goat cheese) $7.75USD

The Australian obsession with beets is fairly well known (and somewhat abhorred by foreigners) however I am a little surprised that my friends have not encountered this classic combination of beets and goats cheese. Good quality French Chevre is used and the presentation is simple but modern.

From Les Halles

2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Télégramme $80USD ($40USD on Mondays)

Les Halles is famous for its beef, and I do love a Grenache Mourvedre with a steak, so with such a discount I immediately reach for the best Grenache I can find on the menu this 2008 Telegramme. It has the familiar notes of any French Mourvedre blend and is of a good enough drinking age to be appreciated, it sits extremely well with the French style food and I would easily order this as a staple in French restaurants.

Planche de Grillade $29USD for 1 or $58USD for 2 to share

Very happily taking his place as the protein fanatic my friend orders the mixed grill - lamb chop, hanger steak, merguez, steak, thick cut bacon, provençal dressing served with rustic French style chips. I don't dare try and sample from his plate for fear of losing a hand but he looked very pleased with the results.

Coq au Vin $23.50USD

It is the start of Summer and I could not stomach this kind of comfort food in the heat but - when in Rome, why not order a Roman dish? So this French classic is chosen and consumed with glee. This was a daily special and may not be readily on the menu

Noixde St. Jacques Poêlées au Champagne $24.50USD

One member of our party is a pesco-vegetarian and so I am a little surprised that Les Halles is considered the most palatable of the choices I had presented. Nonetheless she did find more than enough to eat and was delighted with these pan seared scallops with champagne cream sauce.

Filet de Boeuf, Béarnaise $31USD

For my meal I eat a tried and true staple of any brasserie - grilled filet with chips and bearnaise sauce. Simple food for me really highlights the quality of the restaurant - simple things done well are so much better than complex food made for the sake of its creator and not its diner. I am not disappointed; the beef is grain fed and dry aged just as I like it. It's slightly less flavourful than Australian beef but it is excellent quality and cooked to perfection. The bearnaise sauce is a classic done well, there is little else to say but that I can see how with such good quality simple food Les Halles could gain the notoriety it has.

Assorted sorbet/glaces $7.50USD

By the time we're done its 36 degrees celsius and we are now all full of wine and rich food - it's time for something a little icy to cool off. Both sorbets and ice creams are on offer all made on premise and recently scooped. They are served simply in a very cold bowl, but they don't last long enough for the bowl to warm up!

Creme Brulee - $8.50USD

Following a meal full of well prepared classics another is brought out - the creme brulee with cracking caramel and rich custard this is another classic recipe prepared with care.

To sum up Les Halles I would say this - when someone cares enough about the food to select classic recipes and excellent ingredients it shows. The entire meal was good quality from the salad to the wine and prepared with care and concern.

Even the service staff seem to have a pride in what they do, they try and stear us away from cooking the meats beyond a certain level (in the most polite of ways), they seem happy to have us choose good matching wines. We are brought extra bread, cold water, special coffee orders without a blink of an eye or a pause for concern. More importantly for myself sometimes I find that well established restaurants can react in an unflattering manner to someone who dresses in an alternative fashion the way I do - regardless of the price of the food or the fact that I am the customer. This snootiness doesn't just affect the alternative dresser though, sometimes you feel as though a restaurant is there to serve the chef's ego and not the customer - and Les Halles is not that place.

I leave feeling sated, well served and not badly out of pocket; the same meal at home would have cost twice the price. There's a standing steak and chips special at $20 and 3 course event and prix fixe menus at $65 a head - A steal by Sydney standards. This is a place you could easily bring your partner on a date or your family for a birthday to feel warm and well fed and leave satisfied. There aren't many places I've seen in New York that fit this bill and I can see why this Brasserie made such a name for itself in its time.

I have seen unflattering reviews of the service at Brasserie Les Halles, I will not say I support them but I will say that the common theme seems to be that those disappointed attended for a Friday or Saturday evening dinner. My honest opinion is that if you're expecting immaculate service on a weekend in a busy New York restaurant you're fooling yourself. Pick a quiet night or an early seating, order a nice simple meal and an excellent bottle of wine and you won't be disappointed. I can only assume I will be back.

Brasserie Les Halles, Park Avenue

411 Park Avenue South (at 29th Street)
New York, NY 10016
Ph: +1-212-679-4111 (or book online)

Open 7:30am – Midnight 7 days - continual service throughout with Brunch on weekends
Fully licensed, upmarket casual atmosphere

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