27 March 2011

girls night at Bistrode CBD

It was the last girls night before I go away for a month and after an incredibly busy week we found ourselves with no booking and no ideas for a dinner spot. 

I had wanted to go to Bistrode CBD for a while now but didn't  think it was the spot I would end up at for a girls night. Given the nose to tail concept that Jane and Jeremy Strode have implemented at Bistrode and the fact that's it's really good English pub food I thought it would be the place I take my Mr. 

But that's where the night took us and I'm glad it did. Before we ordered, we look over to the table next to us where dessert is being served and we see the Pink Champagne jelly with mixed berries and oat crumble and decide to skip the entree and go for a main so we get to dessert faster. 

Wild Kingfish, Avocado, Fennel and Rocket
This dish was light and Summery, the fish was juicy and had a subtle aniseed flavour from the fennel. The salad was well dressed and simple making sure the beautiful fresh vegetables were the star. 

Our side order of Kipfler potatoes with butter and parsley
Grain Fed Butler's Steak (250g) with red wine sauce
Comments all round were that we were glad this steak was pre-cut, given we all shared our mains. The red wine sauce was rich and full in flavour and the the steak was cooked perfectly medium. Loved dipping those buttery kipfler potatoes in that sauce too!

Pork chop, red cabbage and red apple coleslaw
I have to say this dish was my favourite part of the whole evening. I know you're thinking it's just a pork chop and coleslaw but with each bite of the deliciously cooked fatty pork chop I craved that fresh slaw with apple. The dressing was creamy but still fresh enough for the pork, I would love the recipe. And the highlight was that small piece of crispy crackling, a salty, crunchy, melt in your mouth kind of goodness in one chip. 

Now the end of the main only meant the beginning of dessert which we were particularly excited about. 

Pink champagne jelly with mixed berries and oat crumble
You would think that after a while you would get used to the taste of something but each mouthful  of this dish was sweeter than the next. It was very feminine and pretty with those bright berries and pink champagne and that crumble with the jelly was a match made in heaven. Even for a pub, I think I can safely appoint this dish "girls night dish of the year".

Baked white peaches, vanilla ice cream and raspberries
Another fresh summery dish with a beautiful creamy vanilla ice-cream, another highlight of this already wonderful night. 

Chilled fig and Port soup with baked custard and fresh figs
This soup packed a punch, the port was sweet and aromatic and I loved the way the fresh figs soaked in that port. The baked custard was a lovely addition and broke up the strong liqueur flavour.

Jane's honey tart and peanut butter ice-cream
"This is like America on a plate" Rosie said and that peanut butter ice-cream reminded me of a really really good version of Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. But what made this even better was when you taste the two together, the honey tart was pure magic with that peanut butter.

I can't wait to take the Mr here as there is so much more I want to try like the crispy pigs ear salad, the corned wagyu beef and the duck salad. It might be a few weeks away though as I will be jetting off to the USA today for some exciting foodie adventures. I'll be blogging along the way from NY, the Carribean, Miami, LA and San Francisco so keep checking in. 

24 March 2011

mi casa e La Casa

There aren't many restaurants I can say I've been to where I've been greeted with a hug when I walk through the door. But hug or no hug, that is the kind of warm service you'll receive from the moment you walk into La Casa.

The restaurant is owned and operated by the effervescent Carmel Ruggeri @CarmR and her brother Tony along with their family of staff including Carmel's husband Smiley and that "hot" Spanish chef Killan Diaz. Carmel tells me she hired Killian, purely based on his charming good looks but lucky for Carmel it turned out he could actually cook. And wow can he cook!

Carmel and Killian
I'm not one to go out much for Italian food given I have great Italian food at home a few times a week. But when the food is just like the "best of" edition of Nonna's cooking how can you resist?

I've heard about La Casa from a few people so I thought I would take two of my friends Milly and B and my Calabrian Mr.

Gamberi all’aglio con pomodorini piccante e verjuice

We start with some entree's first up and the garlic prawns arrive. They are fresh and juicy and dripping in garlic and chilli. I love the kick of the chilli and the roasted cherry tomato's throughout the dish. The two boys at the table fight over the bread to dip into the oil left at the bottom of the bowl.

Calamari fritti con rucola, aioli e balsamico

We also receive the crispy fried calamari which comes with aioli and balsamico. I can't say I've ever had that combination but the balsamico is my favorite part, sweet and sticky. I wish I could tell you more but the moment I went back for a second taste they had vanished off the plate.

Polpette della Mamma

I love the story behind these meatballs as they are Mamma Ruggeri's very own recipe. She used to come into the restaurant and make them herself until the chef decided instead he would learn to make them perfectly. After a few lesson attempts at the restaurant they still didn't seem to taste quite the same so he went to her home and watched closely for every ingredient and method until they tasted exactly like Mamma's. It definitely paid off as these meatballs are absolutely to die for. They're the kind that break apart easily with one tap of your fork and the red sauce is vibrant and full of flavour. I want to sit with mamma Ruggeri and learn how to make them too because I'm still craving them.

‘Nsalata Portualla

Growing up I loved fennel, I would take it to school in little air tight bags, snap it off the quarters and crunch away. The other (non-Italian) students would ask if I was eating onion and I would reply no, it's finocchio. Not knowing the actual English word was fennel. I love the stuff, the fennel in this salad was thinly sliced, crunchy and refreshing and I loved the mix with the citrus.

Mr - Fettucine con gamberi, aglio, olio, peperoncino, spinaci e capperi

Now onto our mains and lucky me, I got to sample a small amount of each dish. This one was a highlight, the prawns, garlic, chilli and oil together are match made in Italian heaven and seasoned perfectly too. If you come for pasta, this is my pick.

Milli - Penne alla Norma
This dish was named after the famous opera ‘Norma’ composed by Sicilian, Vincenzo Bellini. A mix of ricotta, eggplant and olives in a napoli sauce. I didn't get to try much of this much but I do remember the penne was al dente!  And if the sauce was anything like the one on the meatballs, Milli was in for a treat. 

B - Wagyu Steak
Served medium rare and with Salmoriglio, a mix of Extra Virgin olive oil, lemon, parsley oregano & garlic. In the words of B "this is quite possibly the best steak I've ever had" and it really was for me too. It was cooked perfectly, easy to cut and soft. I hear this isn't around for very long so get in quick!

Coniglio in Agrodolce

Rabbit cooked in tomato and balsamic, capers, pine nuts and sage, some of my favourite flavours. This sweet and sour combination works so well with the game-y rabbit and soaking up those sauces with that bread is perfetto. 
Frangipane & marmalade tart
Affogato with hazelnut gelato, liquor and espresso coffee
Trio of gelato
Ricotta Cannoli
Seeing as I've spoken for long enough about the rest of the food, I'll let the desserts speak for themself. Cannoli, gelato, marmalade tart do I need to go on? And that affogato, love the hazelnut in the smooth espresso.
Carmel and the team are like a second family which is what makes La Casa your new Italian home and besides if the Sicilians like it, you know it's good!

17 March 2011

Charlie & Co, you had me at hello

I'd like to know what you think, makes a good burger. Everyone has different tastes, so what's your's?

I love a beef burger, none of this wimpy chickpea patty/grilled chicken stuff. I am a lady who likes her burgers beefy. I also love pickles and relish. Dill pickles, gherkins, spicy pickled jalapeño, i'm happy with them all and as for relish, I love something a little sweet. 

To me, a combination of well cooked beef, the sour pickles and the sweet relish, plus maybe a slice of cheddar make up the perfect burger. 

And then, like a new romance, I found Charlie, his sweet burgers and romantic fries swept me off my feet. It was destiny that we would meet and the Wagyu and Co. burger was my soul mate. 

I've been to Charlie & Co burgers three times now and each time I've ordered the same thing, my beloved Wagyu and Co Burger. The burger is topped with a medium rare Wagyu pattie, aged cheddar, pickled gherkin, aioli and a beetroot relish, no wonder I love it so much right? 

"How you doin'?" Wagyu and Co Burger 
When I went with the Mr. he ordered the delicious Federation Burger. A seasoned Angus beef pattie (not a little bit fancy) with tomato relish, lettuce, aged cheddar and a fried egg. He claims his order was better than my order, but I beg to differ don't these boys know we're always right?

Federation Burger 
Pair these delicious burgers with some of those gloriously salty, crispy, Parmesan truffle fries and you'll know why I'm in love with Charlie. 

Parmesan and truffle fries 
Charlie & Co is on the 5th level of the new Westfield Pitt Street and at the Opera Kitchen right next to the Opera Bar. http://www.charlieandco.com.au

So readers's whats your ultimate burger combination?

16 March 2011

an anniversary at aria

What is it about anniversaries that send the opposite sex into a flurry? Given the close proximity between Valentines Day and our anniversary I was in charge of organising dinner for that and my Mr was put in charge of organising dinner for the big 2 years.  

To his credit, I tend to change my mind a lot and wasn’t sure If I wanted a Duke Bistro type dinner or go down the romantic road and opt for waterfront and chef hatted kinda dining.  To be clear I chose the latter and after a little procrastination Aria was booked. Now because of the procrastination/male panic/female indecisiveness we were offered the only time slot Aria had left, 5:30 – 8:30. At first I was a little annoyed as I had my heart set on the seasonal tasting menu and the only option we were given was the pre-theatre menu. I’m a little obsessed with stalking menu’s online; it really is a terrible habit as I’m never surprised when I read a restaurant’s menu. That, combined with the other habit of reading every review under the sun before I go basically takes the mystery out of dining out, my friends and family think I’m crazy. That aside, I was excited to visit Aria as it has always been on my list to visit.

Now, onto the restaurant. Given the early timeslot and the gorgeous Sydney weather the view was simply amazing. I have to say that looking at our glorious Harbour never gets old for me and especially in that dimming afternoon light. 

From the moment the doors are opened for us, the service is incredible. I have been to fine diners before but nothing like this. Every one that worked there greeted us with a smile, I was extremely impressed. 

We start with a bottle of the 2003 Kilikanoon Mort's Block Riesling from the Clare Valley, I love Clare Valley riesling and we both decide on a white wine. We then go for the three course option which is entree, main and dessert for $85. 

Gazpacho and chive oil
Our amuse bouche comes almost immediately after we order, a delicious gazpacho with chive oil which I expect to be oily, but it is fresh, light and chilled. 

His: Kurobuta pork belly with pickled watermelon and crackling
From here on out I think will go through the dishes by 'his' and hers'. This is his, a deliciously tender piece of pork belly with pickled watermelon and if that wasn't enough to tempt, an extra piece of crackling. He seems to be incredibly pleased with his choice as I've never seen the man eat so slowly, savouring each mouthful. I'm a big fan of the crackling with the pickled watermelon which is surprisingly much sweeter than what you expect. 

Hers: Peking duck consomme with duck dumplings, mushrooms and shaved abalone
We both argued over this dish while we were ordering as it sounded incredible, let's just say I was very pleased with my choice. The soup came covered with a lid and as soon as it was lifted, the aroma was released and I could not wait to try. The broth was aromatic, beautifully flavoured by the duck and the mushrooms. The dumplings were soft and the duck was cooked wonderfully on the inside but the mushrooms and the abalone won me over. Trying to pick up each paper thin slice of abalone with the mushrooms was difficult as they kept sliding off my spoon but mixed with the delicate consomme, the flavours came alive.
Hers: Char-grilled Rangers Valley sirloin with a cauliflower and bacon croquette,roasted king brown mushrooms and a grain mustard sauce
Ever since my experience at Movida, whenever I see a croquette on a menu I point and nod my head and this cauliflower and bacon one doesn't disappoint. It's crispy on the outside and hot and creamy on the inside.  I also love the little side of pickled cauliflowers that it comes with. Another side is the single roasted king brown mushroom which is flavoured by one thing - butter, butter and butter can I say yum yum yum? The beef is seasoned well and cooked just the way I like it, rare! Thank goodness they get this right as this piece of beef is perfection.  
Mozzarella, fig and radicchio salad with balsamic $16
Salad of tomatoes with toasted sourdough, olives, cucumber and basil $15
His: Slow cooked lamb neck fillet with eggplant purée, tomato and basil fondue and a black olive sauce
I have to say I knew that my Mr would choose this dish for three simple reasons: the eggplant puree, tomato and basil fondue and black olive sauce. He's Italian, what more can I say? The dish is perfectly balanced in flavour and the lamb is cooked the only way it should be cooked, completely melt in your mouth soft, the knife slides right through.

His: Tempered Manjari chocolate with salted peanuts, golden raisins and a caramelised 
banana ice cream
I don't particularly like chocolate which is probably why this dessert was chosen by my man, no sharing. One word to describe this dessert would be decadent and it was plated beautifully.  I did get to try it all too, the raisins and peanuts  were sticky and sweet and the chocolate was rich but very smooth and incredibly creamy. 

Raspberry souffle with white chocolate ripple ice cream
The note on the menu next to the souffle said "please allow 20 mins" and I was willing to wait. This didn't even take close to that long but I would have waited 40 mins. This was like putting my spoon into a sugar coated, raspberry cloud. It was all fluffy and bouncy and everything a souffle should be. The outside was coated in crunchy sugar and soft warm raspberries were all throughout. The ice-cream was delicious and creamy and I loved the crumble on top but I didn't even get to chance to finish it as I was so consumed by my sweet berry cloud. 

Petit Fours 
The final dish (and one we could barely finish) were the bite sized petite fours. A chocolate orange truffle, apricot jelly and coconut macaron. The macaron was my favourite as it was sticky and crunchy and I loved the texture.  

I always judge a restaurant on the question: Would I come here again? The short answer is yes - the food was glorious, the service was outstanding and how can you not LOVE that harbour view. 


06 March 2011

the best pho in Sydney

I'm half Italian and half Lebanese, blessed in the food stakes I know. This combination always ensured a smelly lunch box at school and a whiff of garlic every time I opened up my bag. It meant I was eating prosciutto and bocconcini sandwiches when my class mates had ham and cheese. It meant fattoush instead of a garden salad, and zaatar instead of vegemite. So what exactly would a certified ethnic girl know about a good bowl of pho?

I feel qualified because I learnt about good and bad food at a very young age, I would come home from school camps frail because I refused to eat camp food. I learnt about Asian flavours early too I had been to Thailand four times by the time I turned 16 and I come from a chilli obsessed household. So all this, you see has contributed to me becoming a pho pro.

I have tried pho in Cabramatta, Regents Park, Haymarket, the CBD, Darlinghurst and Bankstown. And I can honestly say the best place for a bowl of pho is An Restaurant in Bankstown.

So Pho, so good 

This unassuming pho house is located opposite Bankstown sports club on Greenfields Pde in Bankstown and only serves pho, so don't go in expecting a full blown Vietnamese menu. My combination is always pho topped with rare beef and tripe, but there are 15 combinations to try in two sizes - medium from $10.70 and large from $11.80 (or big and bigger, as far I see it).

Bean sprouts, lemon and basil
Pho sauces and cutlery

The thing I love about pho is that you can have it the way you like it. No chilli, extra chilli, fish sauce, soy sauce or a truckload of beansprouts.  However you like to eat yours, An  Restaurant has always been the place I go back to. My dad first took me there when I was 16 and I have been going ever since and nothing seems to beat the quality, speedy service and crazy, cheap prices.

my beloved pho 

Their tag line is so pho, so good and apart from the fact that I could go on with pho word plays for days, so far An restaurant really is so good. Taste the difference for yourself.

Now readers where have you had the best bowl of pho?

01 March 2011

a meeting of two blogs at ms g's

There’s nothing like a bit of table sharing, food sharing and photo sharing with a few fellow Sydney food bloggers.

Me and my Mr were just walking down Victoria St, Potts Point eagerly anticipating our long awaited dinner at Ms G’s when we bump into another Ms G. Ms Gianna, that is, the heel wearing co-writer of @TheEmptyFridge and her partner in love and food Demos. 
Both, a little tipsy from the Sydney Cellar Door festival in Hyde Park, Ms G and D insist we sit with them; moving from their table and helping us avoid a 20 minute wait.

They’ve already started eating so we get to ordering, firstly our cocktails. These come in two categories, packaged and unpackaged we both go for packaged – a green iced tea with vodka, apple and grapefruit bitters and ms g’s famous yuzu slushie with limoncello, yuzu juice and orange bitters. 
Ms G's Green Iced Tea
Pickled Vegetable Plate 
We’re both so hungry so we start with a couple of ms G’s mini banh mi and the plate of pickles. The banh mi are basically burgers with either pork belly or chicken katsu. We both go for the pork belly, it’s crispy and tender inside and the burgers are bite sized enough to eat in two mouthfuls. As I may have mentioned about 100 times before, I like anything pickled and the pickled chilli’s are a nice addition to my burger. 

Mini Banh Mi

There is always one dish that will stand out in a crowd. One dish that takes your meal to a whole new level. I can't explain it but for me this dish was the prawn toast with yuzu aioli and a vietnamese herb salad. I love a herb salad and I love coriander and am one of the lucky people that can eat it (sorry @TheEmptyFridge) so I was happy to see this salad atop my crispy, delicious prawn toast and aioli. The prawns inside the toast were cooked perfectly and I loved the addition of the sesame seeds.
Prawn toast with Yuzu aioli
I've read every single blog post and review on Ms G's in recent weeks so I basically went in knowing exactly what I wanted to order. That meant I would undoubtedly be having the crispy fried baby chicken with kimchi mayonnaise and the egg noodles with braised duck, poached egg and XO Sauce.

Fried baby chicken with kimchi mayo
Egg noodles with braised duck, poached egg and XO sauce
We ordered half a chicken and I felt like I had one piece with the creamy mayo and looked down to see the plate clean. Apparently my Mr, also liked the chicken. Another highlight of the night was the egg noodles, the braised duck with the herbs and egg were a match made in heaven and I especially loved the punch from the XO sauce and the sriracha chilli sauce we added.

Now at this point in the meal, a group of four Sydney food bloggers look up from their concentrated ingesting and see two famous faces walk in. Sophie Faulkner and an unidentified male, followed by Sarah and Lachlan Murdoch. This added even more excitement to a night of spontaneous meetings and bubble tea.

Wok Fried Taiwanese clams with chorizo, chilli and basil
Our last savoury dish for the night was a very tasty stack of clams with chorizo, I loved the mix of flavours although I would have liked a dash more chilli.

The night didn't end there though, it was time for dessert and somehow (and I don't know how) we ended up with all four desserts. Apologies in advance for the pictures of only three desserts, two very hungry males couldn't wait for us to take the photo. Warning: drooling may occur

Stoner's Delight

Jam Donut

Pandan chiffon cake with coconut ice cream
Hubba hubba! Can you say that about food? I think my favourite part of all this was the marshmallows on the Stoner's dessert plate they were soft and creamy (very unlike marshmallows I'm used to) but with a lovely tartness, they came with banana ice-cream, peanut brittle and chocolate crackles. The jam donut was a close second as I loved the crunch from the dehydrated cinnamon donut pieces. Missing from this heavenly line-up is the Splice - a pine lime granita with a lychee sorbet and whipped cream. I am a big fan of granita as it is a staple at my nonna's house every summer but I don't even think I tried the lychee sorbet, sadly. The desserts were gone before I could tweet - "loving dessert at Ms G's."
Yep, we finished them all!
I'm already planning the next trip to Ms G's as there were so many things on the menu I wanted to taste but didn't have the stomach capacity for.


Thanks to @TheEmptyFridge for a memorable evening and the gorgeous pics!