Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chill-out Sunday session at Café del Mar Sydney

Café del Mar, Rootop Terrace, Cockle Bay, Sydney
Café del Mar is synonymous with chill-out music, beach parties and Mediterranean glamour – and it's now here for Sydney-siders to enjoy. Opened late last year on the rooftop terrace at Cockle Bay Wharf, Café del Mar Sydney is a more food-focused offering than its Ibiza party animal counterpart.

Rooftop balcony
While it's not quite a beachfront location, the rooftop terrace position offers a unique view of Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay. With the balcony facing the west, it's about the best we can do in terms of watching the sun set beyond the casino and other Pyrmont buildings.

Inside restaurant
In a nod to Café del Mar's Spanish heritage and the Sydney venue's food focus, they have appointed Miguel Maestre as a brand ambassador, while head chef Ben Fitton incorporates Mediterranean touches to the menu's share plates and mains which features Australian produce and the fun flavours that Sydney is known for.

Rojo tres red sangria
Seated on the edge of the outdoor balcony, the pitchers of house sangria from the outside bar were too much fun for a group of girls to pass up for a Sunday lunch.

With three of each red and white sangria variations, we started with the Rojo Tres – a deep red concoction of Ketel One Citroen vodka, Westend Tempranillo, saffron syrup, pomegranate, lime and a long sprig of rosemary.

Pretty and full of diverse flavours, the Rojo Tres was a nice start to lunch, and certainly not too strong on the boozy content.

Blanco uno white sangria
The second pitcher, the Blanco Uno was perfect for the warm afternoon, featuring St Germain elderflower liqueur, Square One Vodka, Richland sauvignon blanc, lemongrass syrup, cucumber and lime topped off with soda.

Bread and olive oil
Having decided to have a range of the share plates among four of us and plenty of chatter, we first dived into the complimentary sourdough bread and olive oil.

La Luna goat’s cheese, roasted baby beets, glazed pecans
For cheese lovers, there are cheese plate selections as well as the Holy Goat La Luna cheese in the share plate section of the menu.

Divine in its warmed, melted state atop toasted bread, the La Luna goat's cheese – some of our country's finest – was the absolute star while the salad of baby golden and red beets, frisee and other leaves, and sweetly glazed pecan nuts was extremely well matched.

Flash fried dusted baby prawns, jalapeño mayonnaise
We adored the deep fried school prawns in the short moments they survived; a bowl full of crisp, golden and well-seasoned, shell-on crustaceans, served with deep fried herb leaves and sliced chilli alongside a bitey jalapeño mayonnaise.

Devoured in their whole, crisp state with a squeeze of lime, school prawns done well like this are just about my favourite seafood starter.

Crispy cased Berkshire pig jowls, truffle mash
The pig jowl dish sounded too interesting to ignore, served as two crisp rolls split in half encasing pulled meat from Berkshire pigs' cheeks.

The "spring rolls" were oily, though considering a fatty cut of pig that's then deep fried, I shouldn't have expected any less.

Crispy cased Berkshire pig jowls, truffle mash
The truffle mash was a comfort, despite being a bit odd as part of a share plate. Indeed, something more refreshing to cut through the richness of the pork jowl may have reduced the dish's sense of gluttony.

Chilli salt & pepper squid, black ink, finger lime aioli
Café del Mar's jaw-dropper rendition of Sydney's favourite salt and pepper squid was impressive in both appearance and taste.

Chilli salt & pepper squid, black ink
Inky black on the surface, it was a bit of a scary proposition but the tender pieces of squid were anything but. The squid was livened up with sliced red chillies in a salt and pepper seasoning, with zingy finger lime aioli served alongside.

Chick pea and cumin crusted quail, shaved baby fennel, blood orange
The quail dish presented one plump quartered bird, deep fried in a chick pea and cumin batter.

Like a really fancy take on KFC, the medium-rare cooked quail was served on a sprightly salad of shaved baby fennel, blood orange segments and parsley; making for a fantastically fresh and moreish dish that was perfect for sharing between four.

Café del Mar-tini
We ended our lunch session with drinks in the sun, with my choice of the Café del Mar-tini serving well as a sweet dessert too.

Featuring Ciroc coconut vodka, pineapple, basil and lime, it was like a clean, fresh take on a piña colada with just as much sweetness as the original.

Outdoor balcony bar
With a DJ at the far end of the outdoor balcony, the music noticeably picked up in volume at about 2pm when Sunday Sessions commenced, with a less chilled and much more made/dressed-up crowd taking over the balcony.

Conversation became impossible at this point, especially when seated directly beneath an outdoor speaker, and people watching/gawking took over, which was a pretty chilled out way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Café del Mar Sydney front entrance
There are plans in train to open Café del Mar venues at other waterfront locations around Australia, but in the meantime, Café del Mar Sydney is the sunset, chill-out place to be.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Café del Mar Sydney with credit, with thanks to Agency G.

Cafe del Mar on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Stinking Bishops: Smells good to the cheese fiends

Cheese fiends. There are lots of us out there. We will happily eat a hunk of cheese with crackers or bread and some fresh or dried fruit, and call that a meal. Add a glass of red wine and it's a complete, balanced meal.

The cheese fiends of the inner west are rejoicing with the recent opening of The Stinking Bishops at the Newtown end of Enmore Road. Cheese, charcuterie, wine - it's like they've recreated my last meal in a new, hip shop space beneath a block of low-rise apartments.

Cheese from The Stinking Bishops, Enmore Road, Newtown
Named after Britain's smelliest cheese, The Stinking Bishops is a neighbourhood cheese and wine bar and retailer that exudes a passion for cheese and all the great eats that belong alongside a cheesy feast.

Cheese menu board
A chalk board displays a changing menu of more than 20 imported and Australian cheeses - all available for consumption in the venue or for take-home indulgence.

Cheese fridge
An open cheese fridge behind the counter seating displays a delectable range of curd offerings alongside Salumi Australia and other hanging charcuterie.

Seating for groups is a little limited with just one larger table and a table for two up the front, while counter seating and and a bench table up against the wall offer stool seating, ideal for lazy Golden Cobra coffees, glasses of wine and of course, cheese nibbling.

Duck liver pate
At the counter, we started with the full range of red wines by the glass among four of us, accompanied by a brick of duck liver pate.

With credit given to Redfern's Eathouse Diner, the creamy, liver-y pate was densely flavoured with a nicely contrasting jelly layer; served with fresh Grain Organic sourdough bread and a sweet jammy condiment.

Cheese board
The main game has to be the cheese boards, which come in two, three or four cheese sizes. Diners can choose any of the cheeses from the menu to have on their board, with the serving sizes adjusted for any of the more expensive, imported cheeses.

Choosing one from each white mould, washed rind, hard and blue mould categories, we had a rather French board of the deliciously nutty Marcel Petite comte, not-so-stinky Époisses, Delice du Cremier, and the Irish Grubb Cashel Blue.

The cheeses are served with a fabric basket generously filled with more sourdough bread, fancily branded crackers, dried muscatels and a slice of a jammy fig and walnut log. In all, happiness on a wooden board.

Charcuterie board
There is more wine and happiness to be had with the charcuterie selection that showcases some fine Aussie produce. I can never go past the Salumi Australia nduja spicy salami paste, even though the chilli heat is absolutely ferocious.

Also available in two, three or four meat selections, we added to our charcuterie board fennel salami, fat-edged cured pork cheek and streaky smoked wagyu whichwas like a creamy, fatty corned beef that was made to be with sliced pickled gherkins.

Comte at home
Over a few boards of food and glasses of red, we whiled away a rainy afternoon quite idyllically at The Stinking Bishops. It has got its positioning down pat: cheese, wine, charcuterie and more substantial eats that are simple and soulful; all extremely well designed for the so-hip-it's-not neighbourhood.

It's only improved with, say, a huge chunk of the Marcel Petite comte to take home - with that, The Stinking Bishops sure smell good to me.

The Stinking Bishops on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Waitan for a second chance

Food, booze and shoes dined at Waitan Restaurant as a guest.

Waitan Restaurant opened in the heart of Sydney's Chinatown in October last year with an all-out launch showcasing the restaurant's luxe multi-million-dollar fitout, which includes massive double kitchens, a $350,000 custom-built duck oven, and multiple venue spaces over two levels of a refurbished Sussex Street building, including a 30-seat round table in an upstairs private room.

We attended the lavish launch party in October with a small sampling of food from what was pitched as an East-meets-West Chinese menu. What ensued in weeks following could be described as a mixed response; much of it at the harsh end of the review spectrum.

Dining space at Waitan Restaurant, Sussex Street, Haymarket
Five months in and changes are afoot, with particular focus on the menu. Taking into account constructive criticisms and suggestions for improvements, and with new chefs brought in from China and Singapore, the Singapore-influenced Chinese menu has been revived and re-thought with a lot of the fusion stripped out.

There's a greater focus on a modern Chinese cuisine approach, which I think is something Sydney is still learning about.

As spoilt as we are for really good traditional Cantonese food in Chinatown – and increasingly traditional northern Chinese food in suburbs like Ashfield – modern Chinese is a new style for us that isn't necessarily focused on low costs and speedy service. I mean, I don't know of too many Chinese restaurants that have a range of David Blackmore's wagyu on offer.

David Blackmore wagyu beef on display in fridges
And it's not to say the service at Waitan wasn't quick. As one of the earlier tables of the night, we were bombarded with starters almost all at once, which I suppose really is the Chinese style of eating; that is, courses all at the same time as opposed to staged courses, one after the other.

Waitan no longer offers a set banquet, following diners' preferences for selecting their own dishes from the relatively small (for Chinese, at least) but still expansive pages of the menu.

We had that task done for us by Waitan's sales and marketing manager, Amy Xu, who picked menu favourites and other dishes which showcase the updated menu that's more traditional than fusion, but leaning towards more modern than traditional.

Lettuce roll with sesame dressing
It was an interesting start with a zen pebble garden presentation for the lettuce roll – an unusual cold starter of butter lettuce and red capsicum tightly rolled within cucumber ribbons and placed sprawlingly onto a tray of polished river pebbles.

The only real flavour came from the thick, spiced sesame dressing which made the dish. As healthy as the lettuce roll was, it wasn't here nor there, and certainly not what I had in mind as modern Chinese.

Sichuan poached chicken, chilli oil and sesame dressing
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the cold poached chicken, which arrived in a veritable pool of sauce: a spicy Sichuan offering with plenty of chilli oil floating above a nutty sesame dressing.

Propped up by bean sprouts that adored the spicy, oily dressing, the delicately poached chicken thigh had a smooth, sensual texture, particularly the silky skin; making for an excellent contrast to the slow-burn heat of the dressing.

Duck breast, preserved egg yolk terrine
Next were thin, rounded slices of firm duck breast meat and skin, wrapped around a salty preserved egg yolk in a clever take on a terrine. Decorative squiggles of what seemed to be caramelised balsamic vinegar brought sweetness to quite a savoury, protein-packed roll.

Black fungi marinated with onion and wasabi oil
Woodear mushroom goes under a number of names but I think it's never been as delicious as when very lightly pickled in a tart dressing spiked with wasabi oil.

This was an utterly surprising offering in a small glass with a smattering of Spanish onion slivers offering a contrasting texture to the slight crunch of the black fungi.

Sweet and sour prawns with mango
Still on the starters menu, the sweet and sour prawn dish was served cold with ripe mango cubes and cucumber slices in a fruit salad-like composition.

The plump poached prawns were coated with a glossy sweet, slightly sour sauce; sort of complementing the sweet mango but probably better with the cucumber and crunchy walnuts.

Dry scallop with tofu & tomato consommé
If you don't swoon at the tofu and dry scallop soup at Waitan, you're not a swooner. Intricate cuts into a cylindrical silken tofu portion formed a sea anemone-like creation that swayed with the movement of the tomato consommé.

Despite being transfixed by the tofu anemone, I did eventually polish off the bowl of a very clean, deeply-flavoured broth with the softened luxury of gong yuw ji dried scallop and a skinless cherry tomato upping the umami count.

Imperial Peking duck – half duck breast with skin, pancakes, traditional black bean sauce, leek, cucumber
To the main event of our dinner, Waitan's Imperial Peking duck which is now served in two courses: traditionally with a steamer full of thin pancakes and as a san choy bow lettuce cup course.

I'm not entirely sure how ducks are roasted in the rest of Chinatown, but at Waitan they are hung and covered in a special syrup, before being baked in an open oak and cherry wood-fired oven for 60 minutes.

I found the duck to be less sweet and seasoned than what you get in Chinatown, and also less fatty – which I like. I didn't get the intended smokiness of the duck, but smothered in the sweet black bean sauce inside a thin, chewy pancake with white leek strips and cucumber sticks, it didn't really matter.

The half duck provides for at least eight pancakes in DIY style – a generous serving between three, but gleefully wrapped and scoffed anyway.

Sautéed chopped duck with bamboo shoots, water chestnut, served with iceberg lettuce
The second duck course is also served DIY style, with daintily cut iceberg lettuce cups and a chopped, sautéed mix of duck meat, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, garnished with gari Japanese sweet, pickled ginger.

Duck san choy bow
The ginger somewhat overpowered the rest of the duck filling, but without it and topped off with puffed, fried vermicelli noodles, it was satisfying lettuce wrap action overall with lots of flavour, duck meat and a variety of textures.

Singapore styled chilli prawns with grissini
Finishing off our savoury courses was the much-anticipated Singapore chilli prawns: huge specimens of the crustacean with their shells, somewhat protecting them as they swam in a thick, spicy sauce of chilli, tomato and egg.

Easy enough to peel and eat with a fork and spoon, the large prawns took on a texture not far off lobster, while the sauce provided serious chilli heat to be mopped up by the fabulous "grissini" sticks of deep-fried man tou style sweet-savoury bread.

It's worth ordering the Singapore chilli dish for the jar of the black sesame-topped man tou sticks alone.

Dessert tasting plate: Mango cream with sago, lemon curd pavlova, green tea macarons
While Asian desserts aren't particularly well-regarded, Waitan's dessert tasting plate is worth a gander if you want to share a sweet finishing note.

Mango cream with sago (left) and lemon curd pavlova (right)
My favourite of the trio of desserts was the sago pearls in a moderately sweet, fresh mango cream in a wide-bottomed glass.

Much less Asian were the macarons, strong with green tea flavour and filled with cream, and the lemon curd pavlova which featured an array of meringue varieties, blueberries, cream and tart lemon curd.

Lemon curd pavlova
As we finished up, there were several tables still going strong on the seafood (crab, lobster and pippies for one table of guys) and wines. On an early weekday evening the dining space was filled with a mix of couples and groups – family celebrations, corporate dinners, lavish girly catch-ups, boys nights out and hospitality types.

The full dining room can get loud above the selection of lounge music that's a little unsure of itself but granted, it's new ground for Chinatown and Waitan is at the (sometimes scary) forefront.

Certainly, it's a more expensive dining experience than you'll see in most of Chinatown, but keep in mind it's also a fine dining approach. Peking duck pancakes aren't frisbee-ed across the table to you; ageing crockery isn't clattered noisily onto the table next to you; there's a proper cocktail list and bartender; and the fancy fitout is more than overdue for Chinatown.

It's good to see Chinese cuisine, and Sydney's Chinatown, finally move into a newer era that can work with fine dining and it looks like Waitan is getting its early second lease on life.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Waitan Restaurant as a guest.

Waitan Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...