Friday, December 10, 2010

Pure feasting at Bavarian Bier Café

When thinking Bavaria, beer certainly comes to mind, perhaps a stein or three with a pork knuckle to nibble on the side. It certainly takes me back to my visit to Munich a few years back, and while it was insanely fun at the time, I couldn’t imagine doing that more than once a year.

The stein chandelier at Bavarian Bier Café, O’Connell Street, Sydney
With Oktoberfest well and truly over, thanks to Zing I’m invited to the Bavarian Bier Café on O’Connell Street to experience a different side of Bavaria.

With seven bier cafés across Sydney and a brand new one just opened in Brisbane, it’s pretty easy to experience the essence of Bavaria in our very own backyards. And it proves to be more than just beer guzzling and pork knuckles – though that’s available too, if you so choose.

Beer and pork knuckle - just like in Munich
The evening started with a bunch of food bloggers, the guys from Zing, and Roberta Camargo and ‘Bier Professor’ Dominic Dighton from Bavarian Hospitality Group. Dom knows the history and theory of the liquid gold, but will also recommend a beer to your tastes, like a sommelier.

Stiegl Goldbrau 300ml
I started on the crisp Stiegl Goldbrau, an old favourite of mine, as Dom tells me it’s a lighter lager style that’s ideal pre meal, like champagne. He goes on to talk about the Pure Bier philosophy of the Bavarian Bier Cafés and indeed Bavaria back in the day. As per the strict Bavarian Purity Laws, or Reinheitsgebot, of 1516, the biers comprise just four natural ingredients – malt, barley, yeast and water.

This is impressive given some Australian mainstream beers contain up to 40 ingredients. I’m sure dad’s home brew doesn’t have 40 ingredients, but I’m sure there’s more than four. There’s no addition of sugar in Bavarian Bier Café’s range of Pure Biers, which is what converts to alcohol and subsequent throbbing-head hangovers.

The Pure Bier menu
The fact that there are only four natural ingredients means the Pure Biers take a longer time to brew: full fermentation versus sugar aided, self carbonating instead of carbon dioxide injections, and of course, the commute from Germany or Austria.

All made without the addition of preservatives, the Pure Biers have a shelf life ranging 6–12 months, depending on the bier. All that work for our drinking pleasure.

Freshly baked Bavarian pretzel with butter
As far as beer snacks go, the daily in-house baked Bavarian pretzel ticks all the boxes: salty, carbs for alcohol absorption and downright yum with butter spread on its warmed inners.

Roberta tells us that each Bavarian Bier Café has a team of chefs that cooks the same menu to a staggering consistency. Imagine, chefs in eight venues all making their pretzels daily, with flour imported from Germany no less.

It’s a part of their Pure Food push, highlighting that Bavarian Bier Cafés are not just beer barns – there’s pretty good eating too, using organic and sustainable produce where possible despite the difficulties in sourcing consistent produce for their growing number of restaurants.

Tomato and caramelised onion tart with goat’s cheese and rocket
We’ve decided to share entrées at our end of the table, with four between five of us suggesting the evening was going to be a gluttonous one. The entrées were the real eye-openers in terms of breaking the beer and pork knuckle stereotype.

Shall we start with a vegetarian option, perhaps? Pork knuckle free, the tomato, caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart, topped off with a frizz of balsamic dressed rocket leaves, was a tame start with a short, buttery pastry case and lots of pesto. It’s a great combination of ingredients that should delight both vegetarian and meat-eater.

Pissaladiere with Crystal Bay prawns and garden salad
Rather French, but hey – still European, is the pissaladiere with Crystal Bay prawns. A pizza of sorts, the toppings sit on a hard, almost cracker-like base smeared with a creamy white sauce. Whole, tail-on prawns are nestled into the creamy bottom, beneath mixed leaves and Spanish onion.

I’m not sure how authentic an interpretation it is of pissaladiere, but it’s a take on pizza and a fresh alternative to traditional Bavarian fare, especially the beautiful prawns.

Bavarian antipasto platter - (from left, anti clockwise) salami, prosciutto and pork belly
I’m delighted that we have ordered the antipasto platter, a large one at that, featuring salami, prosciutto, pork belly, smoked ham, some yellow camembert cheese sauce, kipfler potato salad and pickles with European bread and butter.

Bavarian antipasto platter - (from left, anti clockwise) pork belly, smoked ham and salami
Again, not sure about the Bavarian-ness of the delicious thick-cut salami or salty, thin slices of prosciutto; but the ham had a great, particularly smokey flavour and was lovely paired. The pork belly was a little scary in its fat to meat ratio and while tender, it was a little bland.

I skipped the basket of European bread (looked like slices of rye) since I’d already scoffed a pretzel, but couldn’t go past the potato salad with its sweetly spiced dressing, or the sour and crunchy pickles.

Mediterranean flammenbrot
My favourite of the entrées had to be the flammenbrot – a Bavarian version of pizza and while I’m rather against seafood on pizza generally, I had no objection to the Crystal Bay prawns on this ‘pizza’. The base was similarly thin like the pissaladiere, but of a softer, less crunchy texture that I preferred.

The flammenbrot had a herbed soft cheese bottom and was topped with prawns, olives, caramelised onions, button mushrooms and semi dried tomatoes. It was so much like pizza, yet not, probably due to the absence of a salty, melt-y cheese and tomato sauced base. In any case, I think I could have had the whole dish and called it a night.

Hofbrau Dunkel
But more food in the form of mains beckoned. I had trouble deciding what to have from the house specials and schnitzels. I’d previously tried the tasting platter and really enjoyed it, but I wanted to try something different.

We'd also moved on to a different beer, the Hofbrau Dunkel, a dark lager that tastes unexpectedly light with some fruitiness marrying with a deep woodiness. I quite liked it but probably couldn't have much more than my 300ml stein.

Slow roasted pork knuckle served on Sebago mash and sauerkraut
with Lowenbrau Bier jus
I would have ordered the pork knuckle if I thought had the slightest chance in getting close to finishing it, or even half of it. It was a monster, about the size of a toddler’s head – for comparison. It had the most beautiful fringing of golden pork crackle, like an xylophone wrapped around the pork knuckle.

Crackling roast pork belly with Granny Smith apple compote and sautéed potatoes
There was also a bit of food envy seeing the pork belly dish; a most geometric cut of the belly with the all important crackling above slices of sautéed potato. The belly meat looked fairly fatty but evenly so, served alongside a dish of red wine apple compote.

Jager schnitzel served with sautéed potatoes
I opted for the Jager schnitzel; a veal which I don’t often have, usually in favour of chicken or pork. It came with a mushroom sauce that was a lot creamier and heavier than I anticipated. Lemon helped with flavour, but the unexpected chewiness of the veal was a bit of a downer.

However, the sautéed potatoes managed to save the day – an clever alternative to mash or fries. These small, skin-on slices of potato had been cooked with speck and onion, with both latter ingredients imparting sweetness and richness to the starchy side.

Oven baked chicken schnitzel served with green salad
The newest addition to the menu – and what I wished I’d ordered – was the oven baked chicken schnitzel, which Roberta kindly shared. The free range chicken thigh from Victoria’s Hazeldene’s poultry was juicy and tender, deliciously tangy and light in its yoghurt and Emmenthal cheese dip, which is then crumbed and oven roasted for a still crisp outer coating.

Bavarian tasting platter
Most everything is covered with the Bavarian tasting platter, proteins and sides alike. There’s the pork belly as per the standalone dish, served with stewed sweet red cabbage that’s fragrant with cinnamon. There’s a small portion of pan fried chicken schnitzel served with the apple compote.

Sausages of the Bavarian tasting platter
And there’s a selection of three mini sausages with sauerkraut and mashed potato. Simon kindly shared a sample, and I adored the cheesy kransky with its firm texture, and smoky, porky flavour. The thinner one was a Swiss bratwurst while the other was a Nurnberger sausage.

Pan fried salmon fillet special
From the day’s specials menu was the pan fried salmon fillet on a potato roesti. The sustainably sourced salmon was topped with rocket, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

I hesitated at the thought of dessert; I was already suitably stuffed after the main, which I couldn’t even finish. Roberta assured me that a shot of Jagermesiter or schnapps, after dessert, would solve the problem as they’re meant to act as digestive aids. I can’t quite recall my last experience with those two shots, but I’m sure it didn’t end well.

Apple strudel with vanilla anglaise
Desserts arrive and I can’t resist a bite or five of the strudel, which fills the air with homey smells of apple and cinnamon. It’s by far the most elegant apple strudel I’ve ever seen, with thin layers of apple in a neat pile within the crisp pastry. The sultanas are a sweet addition as is the vanilla ice cream which I had instead of the anglaise.

Chocolate delice with summer berries and toasted almond ice cream
I also couldn’t resist the chocolate delice, which was looking at me, tempting me with its moussey innards and glossy chocolate ganache top. It was rich with a slight bitterness, with some nuttiness in the biscuit base. The toasted almond ice cream was a highlight, with toasted honey notes in addition to the finely ground almond.

Walnut and date pudding with honey ice cream
I couldn’t fathom the walnut and date pudding, which was likened to a sticky date pudding and apparently very sweet.

Classic lemon tart with double cream
I also couldn’t try the lemon tart which looked great in its shallow pastry case, nor the aromatic cheese board with lavosh crackers. I just couldn’t do it.

Selection of cheeses served with red wine apple compote and lavosh
There was a bit of a mental drum roll that accompanied the cow bell, signalling schnapps time. It’d been a while since I’d had a shot of anything - I decided to leave those days behind me a while ago. But if it was going to help me digest the feast I’d just had, then there was only one way to go.

Schnapps and Jagermeister (second from left) - fuzzy, like I was after the shot
Arriving on a ski were our individual shots all lined up. That brought back bad memories of a ski trip, but the selection I went with reminded me of my visit to a schnapps museum in Vienna – good memories. The Bergfeuer, translated as Mountain Fire, has 50% alcoholic content and an aptly fiery red hue.

I detected fruity aromas by smell, perhaps cherry, and upon shooting it, it reminded me of the liquid red Panadol medicine we would be forced to drink when sick as children, but much nicer.

It was seriously warming; first the throat, then the lower chest area where it felt like my stomach was squashed up into. And after a while, it did feel like it helped; if anything, just burning through the copious amount of food I'd ingested.

Porcelain stein
After a good rest period letting the schnapps do its thing, I headed off clutching my gift of a porcelain Bavarian Bier Café stein, thinking about when I'd next get to use a 500ml beer vessel at home. Being festive season, perhaps not too far away. Now to cook that pork knuckle to have with the half litre.

Thanks to Roberta, Dom, Bavarian Hospitality Group and Zing for the lovely feast at Bavarian Bier Café O’Connell Street.

Bavarian Bier Cafe O'Connell on Urbanspoon


Gianna@TheEmptyFridge said...

Hey Tina, you have just reminded me that its been too long between visits to the Bavarian Bier Cafe - the tasting platter is calling my name.

What a great post - usually when I go there I stick to the favourites, neglecting the rest of the menu. Must give the pork knuckle a try - or even the baked chicken (since the chicken isn't too sinful, I might actually have room for some beer..)

Well done on the shots, you do me proud!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

We just tried the one at Chatswood and the pork belly was fantastic as was the schnapps!

Simon Food Favourites said...

more schnapps please :-) how about a schanpps tasting paddle!

Tina said...

Hi Gianna - Thanks! Yeah, the baked chicken is a great alternative, and so tasty yoo!

Hi Lorraine - Oh yes, the schnapps... :)

Hi Simon - Followed with a pork knuckle?

ThomasMaloney said...

I haven’t had breakfast but I have decided where I will go for dinner, the Bavarian Bier Café down on Eagle Street. Thank you!


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