Monday, March 30, 2009

Fish biscuits

As a catchy term I've been bandying around for the last week, fish biscuits are not as fun and easy as I'd imagined initially. Not biscuits to feed your pet fish nor biscuits containing tuna or any other piscine species but rather fish-shaped biscuits.

I do think part of the fun of kids parties is letting the inner child have a bit of fun. This includes, but is not limited to: food, decorations, music, games and especially desserts and sweets. Oh, and the screaming and running about like a toddler. And while I'm yet to become good friends with anything icing or frosting related, it's the thought that counts with my initial idea to make Nemo biscuits.

Basic biscuit mixture, rolled out and fish cuttings

A school of raw fish

After the first tray went into the oven I started my battle with the icing. It's probably due to the fact that I never liketo make the full portion of icing as recipes usually ask for something crazy like 3 cups of icing sugar. And then I find it difficult to measure a third of a 1/4 cup and the like. Oh well. This day I concede defeat to icing.

Iced fish biscuit

The idea was to ice them with a bright orange and then give them white stripes and eyes. I got as far as slicing liquorice for some eyes but gave up from there as the icing kept setting on me and wouldn't spread on the biscuits nicely. To which of course I added water, which then of course wouldn't set.

Like I said, I gave up and looked at other remotely creative ways about my fishy business.

Un-iced fish biscuits with scales

Using the tail end of the biscuit cutter I lightly pressed U-shaped indentations into the dough to give the look of scales. Easy, simple and nothing to do with icing. That's enough fish biscuits for now.

I've also recently tried the Baker's Delight mocha hot cross bun that's been heavily advertised on television.

Baker's Delight mocha hot cross bun

It smells strongly of coffee although the taste isn't quite as strong. Dotted with loads of chocolate chips, the mocha hot cross bun gets my tick of approval but still comes second to the traditional fruit and spice version (without peel). Bring on Easter and bunnies and chocolate.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A comfortable March

Comfort is such a multi-faceted concept. It could mean a blanket and hot beverage; or a favourite outfit; or a fitting atmosphere; or even a conversation with a stranger. A myriad of possibilities which we could all feel comfortable, or indeed uncomfortable. And other than the obviously physical aspects, comfort is really a state of mind. I think you can choose to make a situation as awkward as you like.

Or you can just approach it, feel comfortable and never want to leave. I felt a little like I didn't want to leave the opulently comfortable surroundings of the ivy lounge recently; a very pleasant contrast to other boozing parts of the behemoth complex I've experienced. Luxe furnishings, a lovely Italian pinot grigio, fantastic company, night-out yet intimate vibe - it's all you need for a Friday night.

But the boozing comes after the food, in this instance a March into Merivale dinner with a day-in-advance booking at Teppanyaki. I pity any soul who might try to find venues at the ivy without the help of your standard gorgeous/funky staff member. Even with specific directions we struggled a little to the inner depths to find Teppanyaki. Bathed in moody darkness, it's set beyond the ivy lounge on the second level with a long communal table and a few coupled settings.

In the open kitchen we spy chef Akira Urata and decide against approaching him to say that we've seen naked pictures of him. He probably gets that a lot anyway. We start with complimentary miso soups - a very nice, elegant touch in a night of much elegance.

Miso soup from Teppanyaki at the ivy, George Street, Sydney

Not too much different from a standard miso soup with decidedly fresh, floating and thinly cut shallots, firm white tofu blocks and wakame seaweed hiding beneath the miso cloud. I also elect a few appetisers from their normal menu to settle some ravenous appetites.

Edamame with pink salt

The edamame (soybeans) arrive in a very generous serving, the abundance of pink salt flakes is surprisingly not too salty. Edamame is presented with an empty dish for the bean shells and I laugh because it seems there's always someone who picks up beans from the discard dish, then quickly throws them back down with an "Eww...".

Crab leaves - fresh Queensland spanner crab meat with ginger,
chives, chilli and lime, served on a betel leaf

We also have an order of the pretty crab leaves. I still think betel leaf creations are the perfect appetiser, like an explosive wake up call for all the taste regions of the tongue. These ones are weighed down with lots of crab meat; a sweet, tart dressing; and topped with crunchy golden slivers of something.

There's a bit of an excited wait for the mains as I impart my Wikipedia knowledge on what's to come. Marron is a type of crayfish, and nothing to do with the gooey stuff inside bones as my initial thoughts proposed.

Teppan grilled West Australian marron, tomato and
lemongrass salsa, Asian herbs.

This was the March into Merivale main for the week at Teppanyaki, and a pretty sight of tempting smells to boot. Admittedly elegance was a little lacking as we fought with little forks and wooden chopsticks to remove the flesh from the shell but with individual finger bowls to back us up, I think we did well.

The whole halved marron was nested under a pile of mint and coriander leaves in a light, sweet dressing further enhanced with juicy cherry tomatoes. The marron itself was a delight to savour with the dressing and fresh herbs; its texture perfectly lobster-like with a distinct grilled aroma. It verged on the side of small so an additional main was shared, a bit of a stunner of a simple dish really.

Yellow fin tuna seared rare, served with daikon, watercress &
sesame salad, dressed with a horse radish ponzu

The thickly sliced seared tuna was lusciously red and fresh; delicately soft as I mopped up the ponzu dressing. The watercress was crisp and the grated daikon refreshing, matching superbly with the dressing. It'd be a really tough choice to pick between the two mains. I think the marron wins by a claw simply due to its uniqueness but overall I love the clear sense of direction of all the dishes. Definitely modern, definitely fresh and flavour-packed, definitely want to come back. Now if only the lounge bar weren't such a distractingly expensive comfort.

Teppanyaki on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Unpedantic apple pie

I hate apples that are anything but crisp and crunchy, and I love being resourceful. So, in a way, it's perfect to have depressingly soggy but sweet apples in the fridge and a handy pack of frozen puff pastry for an impromptu apple pie.

A pantry scan comes up with sultanas, crystallised ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar while I find a wrinkly-looking little lemon in the fridge. I'm set. The apple filling is simple: just get the flavours to your liking and simmer away. I guess there is a point where the apple might become slush but it really is a low maintenance method requiring just a touch of thickening at the end.

It's also easy when you've got pre-made, pre-rolled pastry but puff is only really ideal for immediate consumption. It goes a bit soggy otherwise but nothing a quick stint in the oven won't fix. It's also easy when you're not pedantic about the pastry, for example, when you find a square piece of pastry doesn't fit perfectly into a round dish.

Apple pie filling

The top is significantly easier though a little meddlesome once the pastry softens with the heat of the filling. I'm told to pierce some holes in the top and proceed to do so in extremely random and erratic fashion - don't ask why.

Apple pie - ready for oven

And since we're all about experimenting I thought I'd try out a few tarts as well as the pie. I've a little tart tray but not the correctly sized cutters to go with. Continuing on the not-so-pedantic trail I scrounge up a scalloped cookie cutter that's a few millimetres smaller than needed, but should do the trick. Filling tarts is one of those oddly fulfilling kitchen tasks that I love to do.

Filled apple tarts

And who knew puff pastry took so long to, well, puff. The tarts crisped nicley becoming crunchy, flaky shells for their apple-y inners, which actually tasted a little like the McDonalds apple pie filling.

Cooked apple tarts

They look a lot like Christmas fruit pies, especially the ones with random bits of leftover pastry atop - now resembling poorly crafted snowflakes. And finally the large pie, resembling a family sized meat pie, the cooking process hiding random steam vents beneath flakey, golden pastry.

Cooked apple pie

The result is edible but a little bothersome for leftovers that require firing up the oven everytime. I think next adventures will definitely have to be a different pastry and maybe a little more perfectionism.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Familiar ground

When does comfortable become boring? One can be content in familiar surroundings but sometimes it reaches the point of boredom and same-old. I guess it comes down to where the comfort and contentment actually comes from - is it convenience or safety or some genuine spiritual fulfillment? The lesser of these would naturally drop into the boring, same-old category a little faster than others.

It's with an uninterested appetite that I have dinner this particular night. I'm not sure if it was the uninteresting falafel wrap I had at lunch or the same-old Chinatown area. In hindsight the markets in Dixon Street would have been a better bet for amusing eats, mostly on a stick, but not really the environment for chatting or chowing down on a bowl of noodles as a dining companion insists they are craving.

We hit Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet on Dixon Street - the place of many a memory from post high school days, oddly enough. We used to come here and polish off dishes of pan fried dumplings and that glutinous rice stick with pork floss which I sometimes now still get a hankering for. Good old days.

My uninterested appetite struggles with the menu which consists of Taiwanese hot snacks, rice and noodle dishes, congees and desserts. There's the temptingly easy order of dumplings but frankly, they've reached same-old status.

I instead order their version of xiao long bao or 'little steamed buns' as they're listed. I think a few fears on the quality and satisfaction front encouaged me to order the green onion pancake as well. That or the appetite was well and truly confused.

Xiao Long Bao from Mother Chu's Taiwanese
Gourmet, Dixon Street, Haymarket

The xiao long bao arrive looking a little less than happy and healthy. They literally look deflated and squished. There's self-serve soy sauce, vinegar sauce and chilli sauce. I resort to getting all three in an attempt to liven and add inspiration to the dumplings.

The dumpling skin seems to be the same as the one they use for their normal dumplings - the one you can see being handmade at the front corner windows. The one that's nice pan fried but way too thick for supposedly delicate, steamed dumplings.

Despite the thickness a few of the dumpling skins have split, spilling their soupy fillings all over. Normally, this would be a travesty but the soup lacks a punchy flavour hit so there really is no point in crying over spilt soup in this case.

The meat filling is heavily seasoned with indiscernable contents and and eating is a process of soy and chilli on the skin, and meat dipped into vinegar. Repeat eight times. Or in my case, seven. It was probably the thick pastry but I just couldn't eat them all. Or maybe it was the yummy pancake distracting me.

Green onion pancake

It's thin, browned and boiling hot off the grill. It singed my fingertips even after a minute's wait or so. The pancake is flaky yet with slight glutinous character. Seems a bit of a food oxymoron. The flavour is a perfect combination of flouriness and savoury, the shallots serving a more visual than flavouring purpose. It makes the ideal dipping partner for the soup across the table.

Spicy beef noodles

I only have a taste of the soup of this dish, which has been requested at a mild spice level. The soup is overwhelmingly meaty. It's an amazing feat for such a thin broth - it quite shouts of beef, meat, tendons and all other things bovine. If I had to choose one word to describe the soup flavour it would be 'tendons' - not really your typical adjective for soup. The spice is indeed mild allowing for flavours other than the tongue-scalding to shine.

The beef is thin and covered in rivers of jelly-like tendons; the noodles are thick, white and chewy; the soup rich, made all the richer and spicier for being in a plump red bowl; and the companion happy.

As we leave comforted by dinner (some more than others) it's a question that plays on the mind: The comfort of familiarity - does that cut it anymore?

Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 16, 2009

Helping hands and second helpings

You can count on a big weekend to hit the wallet hard but there's always some redemption in knowing that money has gone towards serious eating, drinking, partying and all round good times. Oh, and keeping the economy afloat, of course.

The Sound Relief concerts happened on Saturday just passed and I was happy to see blue skies in the morning, which turned into a grey, humid sky as I headed to the Sydney Cricket Ground in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The weather continued its swinging mood throughout the day in such extreme fashion that I saw many a sunburnt yet drenched concert-goer by the end of the night. A sight indeed.

Front standing section crowd at Sound Relief, Sydney Cricket Ground

The first downpour at 4pm-ish

It was a great day out despite being soaked to the bone midway through the night but as someone pointed out: "At least you can tell your grandkids that you danced in the rain to The Presets in the middle of the SCG." Minor comfort as water dripped from my shorts.

Giant yellow ballons which popped with yellow
confetti showers for Coldplay's

Coldplay opened the concert and set the bar so very high that it was virtually impossible to match. The showmanship of Chris Martin is incredible: from his backing vocals for John Farnham's performance of 'You're the Voice', to his sprint offstage and over a few fences into the crowd followed by a commendable, out-of-breath effort to finish 'Fix You'. And he seems such a nice, decent guy too - a little too nice to be a rockstar even.

Strange to start the day with a highlight but great to hear new material from Wolfmother, Little Birdy, Eskimo Joe and Jet throughout the rest of the day and night. Admittedly, getting drenched and not caring during The Presets is up there with the day's highlights too.

And then, of course, there was the second helping of the Taste of Sydney Festival on a hot Sunday afternoon. What a way to spend a cruisey Sunday, and with even bigger crowds than Thursday evening, a lot of people were of the same opinion.

James Squire tent and seating at the Taste of Sydney festival, Centennial Park

We wasted no time in securing prime seats in a strategic area - that being the Longrain cocktail lounge with its shabby chic white wicker chairs and cushions. Nothing like kicking back in the sun with a Ping Pong. Okay, yes - this can be improved with some fabulous finger food.

Antipasto plate featuring Pino Tomini-Foresti's cured meats,
labneh and marinated olives from Bird Cow Fish

Spying an antipasto plate nearby, I head on down to Bird Cow Fish for my own plate of porky goodness. My eyes widen at the piles of thinly shaved cured meats and it takes plenty of willpower to not sneak a slice before returning to the lounge.

It's a stunning array of prosciuttos, salamis and olives, only missing some crusty bread alongside. The soft, fatty one at the top of the picture wins in a unanimous vote. The salamis are mild with a hit of spiciness in the red version. The olives are juicy and redolent with rosemary flavour, even the mini baby-sized ones. The dish, needless to say, doesn't last long.

Yamba prawn, peanuts, lime, ginger, roasted coconut, chilli
and caramel on betel leaves from Sailor's Thai

And from one favourite appetiser to another, the betel leaf offering from Sailor's Thai. A rather small portion of a prawn sits atop a melange of ingredients including peanuts, Spanish onion and coriander. I normally make a mess of myself and my food when it comes to betel leaves, although this version doesn't threaten the leakage of juicy sauces. It's a touch too nutty for my preference but the expected flavour hit doesn't disappoint, with a bit of fire from the enclosed chillis enhancing the just-cooked texture of the prawn.

We reluctantly leave our prime lounge space in search of more food and drink. The sun was particularly strong forcing most to seek shelter in the shadows of stalls and tents. It was difficult not to be tempted by some of the sweets on offer but I'm proud to say that discipline prevailed and I didn't ruin my lunch appetite. Much.

Cupcake offerings from Sparkle Cupcakery

Lemon meringue from Healthy Feast

The sight of muddling and the sound of shaking is enough to send us racing towards the Think Spirits stand where bright red bottles of Pama Pomegranate Liquer are displayed at the bar along with a menu of classic cocktails with the fruity red bent. A pomegranate caipirinha is the order and I'm pleased to see that there's no skimping on alcohol or ingredients here.

Pomegranate caipirinha with Pama Pomegranate Liquer
from Think Spirits

The result is a beautiful icy drink topped off with fresh pomegranate seeds and a smile from the bar tender. Yummy and sweet - the caipirinha that is. The pomegranate flavour is distinct but subtle - I can envisage it straight with lime and soda although bottles aren't for sale at the stall.

A good walk around the stalls has us hankering for 'real food' again, believe it or not. By this time all the restaurant stalls are packed with hungry-looking queues and satisfied-looking consumers, all and sundry looking warm as the menu cards come in handy for fanning overheating faces.

Pastrami of kingfish with smoked oysters and a cucumber
and apple salad from Danks Street Depot

The hay-steamed ham from Danks Street Depot sounded just a little too odd yet pedestrian, so we sampled their seafood offering instead. It's a visually fun salad of thinly sliced cucumber, radishes and green apple with a light, sweet dressing. Plump smoked oysters sit alongside slices of kingfish that had a flavour coating which I found all too subtle and almost non-existent amid the other ingredients.

I had wanted to try the lamb dish from Assiette but the queue was astronomical. Patience is a virtue, I suppose, just not one I have in leaps and bounds when I'm at outdoor festivals unfortunately. Instead I scoot on over the Restaurant Balzac, the choice there made simple by the fact that I didn't think sitting down with a knife and fork would be likely and a companion's comment of "Peas? Eww."

Wagyu beef bourguignonne with truffled cauliflower
and onion rings from Restaurant Balzac

Looking a lot like a deep fried spring roll this golden roll was boiling hot and bursting full of tender, succulent beef. The creamed cauliflower was an ideal condiment but I actually thought this could have done with a bit more seasoning. Nonetheless the amazing contrast of crunchy pastry with fall-apart beef filling has changed my outlook for spring rolls forever.

Etli borek - Home made filo rolls filled with braised veal shank, currants
and pinenuts, served with pomegranate and
yoghurt sauce from Ottoman Cuisine

The queues at Ottoman Cuisine were Assiette-long, but when we saw the happy campers leaving with their choices we thought a bit of a wait might be worthwhile. We come away with another spring roll-like dish, again filled with the tenderest of beef but with a completely different flavour profile. Definitely a more complex mix of spices and flavours that you would expect from Turkish cuisine, I was a huge fan of the yoghurt and pomegranate sauce in lifting the dish to another level.

Unsurprisingly we were getting full by this point though I was adamant that I wasn't leaving without trying Justin North's wagyu beef burger. Firstly, I've never understood the reasoning behind using wagyu for a burger pattie or sausage - it seems such a waste. And secondly, there was such hype around this mini burger that people were hunting it down across the festival. The stall was going absolutely gangbusters with front staff doling out the impressive burger non-stop to the waiting hordes.

Gundooee organic grass fed wagyu beef burger from Plan B

This was a burger like no other. It was cute for starters, like a proper burger shrunken in size but retaining a thick meat pattie. The bun was a bit chewy but it was all about the meat. The pattie consisted of rare cooked meat, not minced, that melted away in the mouth to carnivorous bliss. I didn't really need the cheese or tomato, or even the bun. Dreams of a Big Mac version of this might be a little indulgent, but a girl can dream.

Completely and utterly sated and laden with somewhat heavy bags of produce, we seek refuge in one of the only ways we know how.

Sagatiba cachaca cocktail bar

The vibe at the Sagatiba cocktail bar is all big Brazilian beats and beckoning bar boys. I think the bar was designed with the feminine drinker in mind with colourful flower motifs and girly cachaca concoctions: think lychee and strawberry, watermelon and ginger, and the like. Cocktails in hand we head to the Gourmet Traveller stall where we plop down onto smart white leather lounges/day beds and resist the desire to lie down for a nap.

It feels oh-so cosmopolitan in the slick black and white interior and we must have looked the part too, making a short cameo in a sponsor promo video. Typical girls laughing with cocktails shot - darn it, I'm a cliche.

After a well-earned rest at the GT lounge sipping cocktails, conversing about life, random people spotting and generally enjoying ourselves, our appetites reappear, admittedly a little worn and weary. We've still a handful of crowns (there may have been some slightly overzealous refuelling) and there's one more must-do dish on my list, which turns out to be one of my overall festival highlights.

It's getting towards the end of the day and overall festival so the mood among exhibitors is decidedly jovial. The front staff at Centennial Parklands Dining inform us that the marshmallow is the best dessert on their menu and that the chef makes it best after he's had a few drinks - which it seems he has.

The chef reappears from the kitchen without his cocktail but with a plate featuring a white rectangular block and sliced strawberries. He proceeds to pull out a blowtorch for theatrics to which we have front row seats.

Goat cheese marshmallow from Centennial Parklands Dining
gets the blowtorch treatment

The top surface gets browned, bubbly and caramelised, and is followed with a serving of basil granita, much resembling mushy pie peas.

Goat cheese marshmallow with strawberries and basil
from Centennial Parklands Dining

It's a stunner of a dessert but there's a bit of hesitation before tasting the marshmallow. I'm made guinea pig and take a mouthful of foamy, frothy white fluff. The burnished top crackles softly, giving way to rich, cloudy sweetness. And then the goat trots into flavour, unabashed and distinct. It's a little mind blowing and tooth aching. The sweetened strawberries provide some solidity to the dish, combining well with the marshmallow and granita separately. I don't much like the granita with the marshmallow - the texture and flavour don't quite go - but I like the refreshing, icy herb hit on its own.

Crowns yet to spend and Jonah's yet again is the place for sweet delight. This time I let a companion have the cheeky fun, although not before head chef George Francisco personally demonstrates his wobbling skills for us.

Vanilla panna cotta with lavender honey and fresh
pomegranate from Jonah's at Whale Beach

It's as good as I remembered it although extremely light and subtle compared to the marshmallow. It's one of those dishes that I think I could just eat and eat and eat, it's so light and possibly construed as healthy. Relatively speaking.

Dark chocolate tart, end of season berries, marscapone
sabayon from Berowra Waters Inn

Like I said, relatively. The chocolate tart from Berowra Waters Inn is the food-ification of evil. Dark chocolate filling, thick and creamy marscapone with a few colourful poached berries to give the illusion of innocence. Evil I tell you. Breaking into the tart, it's actually not that bad. The filling is not thick and heavy as anticipated and is stronger in chocolate bitterness than sweetness - just the way I like it. The tartness of the berries is perfect contrast; however I find the tart casing a little too thick and heavy after the day's eating. Don't start me on the sabayon.

We can barely waddle around the festival anymore for all the eating we've done and the amount of purchases made. Despite closing offers (think half price oysters and bread and butter puddings) we concede defeat before the official closing at 5pm and make our lazy, full-bellied trek out of Centennial Park. It's been a fantastic culinary experience, both for the mind and stomach, and I can only smile at the sign that professes its longing to see me next year. Till then, Taste, till then.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Taste extravaganza

I think I got a rather nice tan for someone who was afraid of the rain ruining opening night of the Taste of Sydney festival in Centennial Park. Walking towards the venue in the parklands was a little like approaching King Arthur's Camelot - a white tented city that you just knew was filled with battles of good and evil yet to happen. I think evil prevailed but I'm not complaining.

Taste of Sydney entrance, Centennial Park

I expected a bit more fanfare or at least in-your-face branding at the entrance, but it was mostly hygiene white with a civilised queue waiting to enter and devour. The event map was a little daunting with so many stalls listed that it was a little difficult to pick out the restaurants at first. But not to worry, we got straight on to the taste testing trail for new and exciting produce.

Cheese selection in fridge at Paesanella Cheese

Sad to say that I'm still to find a buffalo mozzarella that matches or remotely compares to that I tried in Italy (I know, it's a little unfair to compare) which is a completely different flavour experience. I think it must be in the process. Or is it our buffaloes?

Anyway, plenty, and I say plenty, a cheese and olive oil tasted - my favourite of the lot being a relatively unadventurous Willow Grove brie from the kind people at a cracker stall. There was also a Persian Fetta that put up creamy and not too salty competition and some moreish Australian chilli olives I forgot to go back for.

Crackers at Kurrajong Kitchens
(soon to be stocked at Harris Farm I overheard)

Before long the searing sun and tough task of tasting foods had me scanning the map for an oasis and once found I made a beeline for Longrain, since I knew a few of their loved cocktails were making a menu appearance.

Longrain cocktail bar and Longrain

Such was my concentration at getting to the bar (which had cosy seating and a DJ!) I didn't even notice the neighbouring restaurants. In chuckling hindsight I think the bartenders may well have noticed my eagerness and happily served me a cool refreshment.

Ping Pong cocktail from Longrain

Poor photography aside, the Ping Pong came with its own cutlery for fishing lychee pieces out from the refreshing and fruity shaken blend of passionfruit pulp and seeds, 42 Below Passionfruit Vodka and lime juice. Turns out the Ping Pong is a bit of an attention seeker with basically every stallholder asking me what it was (except for one who asked me straight up: "Is that a Ping Pong?") and where they could get one.

In fact, one even wanted to swap his entire tray of hydroponic tomato samples for my cocktail. I politely declined but sampled some prosciutto and hydroponic rockmelon, and a wedge of his green zebra tomato. Definitely a unique taste in addition to their envious hue.

Tomato samples from Moraitis Hydroponics

Smells of grilled meat drifted from Tender Taste Prime next door, pulling me towards a cabinet of cold meats enhanced by samples of eye fillet and lamb - the latter so juicy that it made me momentarily forget about recent lamb experiences.

And I couldn't help but to be drawn to some impossibly bright, almost flourescent cupcakes at one of many stalls with tempting snacks more appropriate for after dinner but so hard to resist.

Cupcakes from All Things Sweet

But we're ultimately here for the restaurants and while it does take a little discipline and coaxing to step away from the cheese, dips, pate, ice-cream, cakes, crackers and wine, we hungrily turn our attention to the tents that house fine dining.

Buon Ricordo is first up for many reasons; one being that it's the first we chance upon in the line-up. Both dishes are hearty meat options and we choose the veal dish as the unlikely entree.

Braciolette Napoletana - veal rolled with parsley, pinenuts, sultanas
and garlic cooked with fresh tomato from Buon Ricordo

The rolled veal presented itself doused with an "Mmm"-worthy, flavoursome tomato sauce. Now why can't I make sugo di pomodori like that? I must have missed the sultanas in flavour but the tender soft veal encased a filling of parsley, garlic and pinenuts for a pleasing crunch contrast. Definitely more a main than entree, we concurred, but fantastic flavours to excite the palate for more.

I had my eye on an offering from Flying Fish and it seems so did many others as they joined queues when other restaurant stalls were vast and empty.

Yellow fin tuna with ruby grapefruit and sweet crackling pork
from Flying Fish (toppled in transit)

The first mouthful of tuna and grapefruit produced appreciative noises; the second mouthful with some of the unnamed glaze had me in raptures of sorts. The grapefruit was deemed overpoweringly bitter by some, the seared crust of the tuna gave so much flavour and the thin slice of belly pork tasted downright naughty. I thought the crackling was almost superfluous other than its role as a garnish given how well the other ingredients played on each other.

Spicy pork sausage, betel leaves and picked vegetables from Longrain

Longrain had one of the biggest dishes going in their betel leaf offering. Perhaps the DIY aspect cut costs somewhere which went towards quantity. Nevertheless I actually quite enjoyed making my own betel leaf. The vegetables had just the right amount of tartness to combat the spicy, juicy sausage. Word of warning: watch the betel leaves in the breeze. One of ours returned to nature in a gust - I don't suppose that counts as littering?

Moussaka of eggplant, sea scallop and taramosalata from Civic Dining

Civic Dining was empty the moment I approached but my departure with their exquisite moussaka drew a few looks. This could well have been my favourite dish of the night - even in transit-toppled form it was a visually enticing dish. Two rounds of charred eggplant shielded a plump seared scallop, cushioned on a spread of taramosalata. The eggplant was impressively creamy but allowing the scallop to shine all on its simple lonesome. The taramosalata was rich but tamed by the fresh, juicy diced tomato.

The best value we found at the festival (free tastings aside, of course) was surprisingly at one of the wine tasting sessions hosted by providers of dream jobs, Gourmet Traveller Wine. Tickets were a little unorganised but at only 4 crowns ($4), tasting seven wines with Asian food matching tips is pretty darn good value for money.

Asian Flavours wine tasting by Gourmet Traveller Wine

Man of all things wine, Nick Stock, was joined by Sam Christie of Longrain who led us on a journey through a sparkling to start the palate (and I thought it was just a fizzy, make-you-feel-good drink), to a lime accented Clare Valley riesling, a New Zealand pinot gris (loved, loved, loved - apparently the new Kiwi sauv blanc) and a Tasmanian gerwerztraminer. Yes, plenty of smelling, swirling, tasting and ultimately drinking by most of us.

This was followed by the reds which I'm sadly still not huge on. There was a pinot noir, a blend simply called Pronto that was quite smooth, and a shiraz sangiovese. Lucky surprise for us was a taste of Longrain's yellow curry of lamb with rice, just to make sure we were learning something about matching wines with spicy Asian food - thanks Longrain! Their disposable bowls were also very awesome - I wanted to take mine home but thought against the idea of curry in my bag.

Yellow curry of lamb with pumpkin, served with rice
and cucumber, from Longrain

At this point we thought we'd take a little break and go back to sampling from the stalls, especially wine. And I thought it would be good to have a snack while we were doing that so sought out a walking-friendly dish. So much for a break.

Arancini of truffle risotto and buffalo mozzarella, spinach and
fennel sauce from Berowra Waters Inn

I think 10 crowns is a little pricey for one arancini but at least it turned my buffa mozzarella experience around for the night. The melted, stringy cheese in the middle of the ball was rich and savoury, still not the Italian experience but a delightful taste and texture anyway. The risotto leaned towards unspectacular, the vivid green sauce neither adding to nor complementing the dish much.

Weaving in and about the aisles we tasted riesling, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and a rose. I might honestly be getting over the sauv blanc, Kiwi ones anyway. The smell and taste is becoming same old but I guess there's an advantage exactly for that reason of consistency. Came upon a riesling from Mayfield Vineyard in Orange that I agreed with very much though.

I'd reached a point where I needed to refuel on crowns - scary thought but not so bad when you're just handing over booklets of paper. And while there was a massive crowd and wait (for pie) at Bird Cow Fish, I popped over just next door to visit Assiette.

Sydney rock oysters with Vietnamese dressing, crispy shallot
and baby coriander from Assiette

I'm not a lover of natural oysters but can-do with a sprightly dressing. These Sydney rocks were well sized but lacked that sweet, fresh taste. The dressing was subtle and I liked the textural contrast of the fried shallot (but not so much the bit of oyster shell in my mouthful).

The fuss at Bird Cow Fish was over the beef cheek pie. I'd seen a few floating about the venue (on plates, with people) and it was an arresting sight. The puffball also looked quite a filling dish, perhaps related to its popularity? When the server gaily announced: "We have pies!" there was no cheer from the crowd but a happy mass of puffball carriers disseminating from the area.

Braised beef cheek, roasted onion and Jerusalem artichoke pie, red wine
jus, sour cream and Careme puff pastry from Bird Cow Fish

The flaky puff pastry was a delight to break into though I'm still unconvinced with the flavour. I thought it was greasy in taste and mouthfeel although others disagreed. I found the beef tasty and tender but the filling on the whole tending dry. I also missed the Jerusalem artichoke unless it was finely minced or just in the other half of the pie.

By this point we've luckily found a table, seats and numerous requests to share this corner and that corner - to which we happily oblige. Happy as we commence the dessert hunt. We've enough crowns for three desserts and I think this suits our stomachs well too. I have no hesitation in heading straight to Jonah's at Whale Beach for some sweet, innocent fun.

Vanilla panna cotta with lavender honey and fresh
pomegranate from Jonah's at Whale Beach

"It's a nipple," exclaimed one of our table corner squatters. I had my fun in walking back to the table, playfully tipping and turning the plate to my own and a few others' amusement. The guys at Jonah's certainly knew how to play it, walking around with trays of their wobbly beauties for sale - not sample, you silly people.

It took me a couple minutes of play before I was ready to eat my panna cotta but there was no delaying the gratification of that first mouthful. Perfectly smooth, silky, creamy and vanilla-ry - it was bliss. The lavender honey was delectable and the pomegranate adding interest in texture and flavour. Could a dessert be more perfect?

The second dessert from Danks Street Depot didn't reach the point of perfection, looking a little like a tossed salad. It turned out the poached strawberries were excellent and flavour-infused, the chocolate, hazelnut meringue and whipped cream being sweet partners. Photo didn't turn out, nor the one of Sublime Gelato's honey and macadamia, and vanilla bean flavours on a cone for the road.

And thank goodness there was a bit of a walk out of there, for we needed it excessively. The gelato pretty much put me over the edge as I trudged towards the lights of the street thankful for a billowy top and much looking forward to checking off the rest of the restaurants at the second tasting on Sunday.


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