Monday, July 9, 2012

Cara&Co: Innovative winter food and fashion

Being a summer girl at heart, chucking black tights under a summer skirt or a black top under a summer dress is about the extent of my wardrobe innovation in winter. So, a recent walk through the Cara&Co concept store on Level 4 of Westfield Sydney was some eye-opening fashion inspiration.

But the best part, tucked into the back of the store, is the Cara&Co restaurant – a fashionably-fitting fine diner with a truly unique, international approach.

Cara&Co concept store and restaurant, Level 4, Westfield Sydney
The Cara&Co concept store espouses a "no logos fashion only" philosophy for an utterly unique fashion collection. The international flavour of Cara&Co is apparent after a short stroll through the art installation-like store, of which there’s another in Moscow and plans to expand further around the globe.

Cara&Co restaurant
The Cara&Co restaurant brings Flemish fine dining to Sydney via a menu designed by Belgian chef Dave de Belder who's part of the Flemish Primitives group that promotes Dutch-Belgian cuisine around the world.

The dining proposition is very much in line with the retail store: innovative and unique. On top of that, I can’t think of another eatery in Westfield Sydney that suits its surrounds as well as Cara&Co.

Cara&Co restaurant dining room
Fashion catwalk shows are projected onto the walls in the dining room in perhaps a clever subliminal marketing attempt. The ground, lit from beneath, gives the room an unusual glow as restaurant manager Byron Van Zyl mans the floor, as well as the front and bar this particular evening.

Hand towels
The fun starts with what look like two big, white tablets in a little dish on the table. Van Zyl comes to the table with a jug of warm water and proceeds to douse the tablets, which instantly grow into round white towers.

Warm hand towels, naturally, like those available in most restaurants in Japan to clean your hands before a meal. This sense of whimsical theatre sets the scene for a fun, intrigue-filled dinner.

Sourdough rolls with butter and black salt flakes
Perfectly shaped, warm sourdough rolls arrived with creamy butter sprinkled with black salt flakes. The bread was so satisfying that having two rolls ahead of a tasting menu was more than warranted.

To go with tastings of the new winter menu, a pinot noir by the glass was a pleasant, fruity ride that ended up matching the highly varied meal well.

Tuna mousse, pumpkin cream, pumpkin cracker, nitro lime
We were first treated to an amuse bouche of a spectacularly seasoned mousse of tuna, alongside a creamy pumpkin concoction and a corn flake-like cracker, also made of pumpkin.

The punchy flavours of every component were a pleasant shock to start, and readied the palate and mind for an evening of surprising flavours and combinations.

Goat’s cheese lollipop, mandarin glaze, quinoa crunch
A second amuse bouche had my full attention immediately. Creamy, mild goat’s cheese, playfully formed as a lollipop, was dipped into a fluorescent orange, gently sweet mandarin glaze and topped with crunchy puffed quinoa grains.

One bite of the lollipop had all the childhood joy of confectionary, so it might have been nostalgia, on top of the glorious textures, that made it so very satisfying.

Beef tartare, Avruga caviar, quail egg -20°, chives
The set four-course tasting menu is filled with dishes that read like ingredient lists, somewhat underselling the intricate artworks that emerge from the kitchen. We tried a variety of dishes from the winter menu in the smaller tasting size.

The first artwork of beef tartare arrived fenced with sourdough crisps, a covering of Avruga caviar and a quail egg yolk ‘cooked’ at -20°C.

Beef tartare
The roughly minced raw beef was spot-on in terms of flavour with touches of green in the dots of chive mayonnaise and a chive oil poured at the table.

The egg yolk had a unique, soft ganache-like texture and added richness to the luxurious dish which we, of course, wiped clean.

Scallop, goat's cheese, cucumber, apple, avocado
The carpaccio of Queensland scallop was a green and white affair with the slices of the fresh, raw mollusc forming a soft, round base. Goat’s cheese again featured with apple juice in a seashell shape, adding depth and creaminess to the mildly flavoured scallops.

The thin rolled pickled cucumber, flat rounds of apple, tiny cubes of cucumber jelly, dots of spicy avocado puree, and the apple and coriander sorbet made for a potentially different flavour in every mouthful of scallop, but their all-round fresh flavours worked together.

Rock flathead, cauliflower, peanut, gherkin
We moved on to the rock flathead dish from the mains menu, with a grilled fish fillet and some of the more unusual flavour combinations of the night.

I wasn’t sure I heard correctly at first but the cauliflower puree with peanut butter was an out-of-this-world, crazy-genius pairing that – believe it or not – worked with the fish and even more curiously, with the gherkin.

For pickle lovers, the slime-green gherkin jus is heaven while the cauliflower foam, silver-painted peanuts and puffed quinoa brought textural contrast.

Veal cheek, mustard, aioli, egg yolk, lettuce
The veal cheek dish was a fresh re-imagination of a winter favourite. Cooked till soft, the cheek meat was pulled and re-formed into a square and pan-fried for an unexpectedly crisp bottom.

Covered in airy aioli from a syphon and a crumble of egg yolk and sourdough crumbs, the veal cheek was finished at the table with a mustard sauce.

The fall-apart meat wasn’t overly rich, as beef cheek sometimes can be, while the lettuce salad interestingly starred only the refreshing stem-like centres of lettuce and not the leafy parts, tasting more of lettuce than any salad I’ve had before.

Kangaroo tenderloin, artichoke, black lentils, parmesan, cabernet sauvignon
We continued on the red meat charge with kangaroo two ways: sliced striploin sous vide and then grilled to medium-rare and a small square of tenderloin tartare, all with a cabernet sauvignon sauce.

The kangaroo tartare was unbelievably tender, with a velvety and clean mouth-feel. Paired with a parmesan cheese marshmallow – ‘crumbed’ with pungent shreds of parmesan – Skippy never tasted better.

The tenderness of the raw kangaroo tartare, however, served to highlight the slight chewiness of the lean grilled striploin. The artichoke, grilled and in a puree form, didn’t excite me nearly as much as the black caviar lentils which, a little al dente, were an exemplary example of a legume.

Wagyu rump, wagyu bacon, eggplant, miso, carrot, anchovy
We inadvertently ended up with all the beef dishes on the menu with the medium-rare, mostly tender wagyu rump rounding it off. With a sweet oxtail and port sauce. And wagyu bacon.

The wagyu bacon was as divine as it sounds and the highlight of the dish: crispy, salty and fatty bits of presumably smoked and cured wagyu beef.

The beef-fest was paired with grilled Thai eggplants; an eggplant puree spiced with cumin and miso paste; fresh carrot shavings and an anchovy puree that tasted of much more than salty fish and cream.

Dark chocolate cake, raspberries, coconut,ginger, lime
For dessert, a miniaturised version of the flourless dark chocolate cake dessert was simply satisfying and featured a knock-out sorbet of coconut, lime and ginger that didn’t necessarily go with the rich chocolate.

All sorts of raspberry were randomly arranged on the plate rim: fresh berries, jelly, puree, coulis plus the nitro-treated raspberry bits on top of the sorbet. My favourite part, however, was the airy, foam-like coconut marshmallow covered in chocolate shavings which reminded me of a very high quality Snowball.

Nutty lemon - hazelnut, lemon
Looking more impressive than the chocolate dessert, and a little like a garden display, was the lemon and hazelnut dessert. We were sold on the white chocolate ball with a yellow filling of the distinctive kalamansi lime.

Hazelnut crumbs and hazelnut sponge with lemon curd and limoncello ice cream combined for a harmonious balance of nuttiness and tartness, while the caramel sheet and silver-painted whole hazelnuts tipped it over to posh dessert land.

Flat white
Post dessert coffee featured Van Zyl also playing the barista role and T2 teas, of which the green tea rose is rather divine.

Petit fours
With some of the most tempting petit four on offer, including fresh and hot madelines, I made mental and stomach space. The toasty warm tonka bean madeline was stunningly crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, with a strong flavour of the aromatic tonka bean.

The sour cherry jelly didn’t impress me like the mini pistachio macaron, particularly its white chocolate ganache filling sprinkled with ground coffee.

Lastly, the caramel fudge with almond flakes was chewy perfection, with an odd dab of mango coulis and black salt which might have been better combined into the fudge. Nonetheless, it was a delightful ending which saw us completely stuffed and satisfied.

The closed retail section
Walking past the clothing displays closed off with chain curtains to leave, I had a feeling that people generally don’t know there's a restaurant of this calibre on Level 4 of Westfield Sydney.

The space is comfortable in its own skin, not to mention the impeccable service, truly innovative dishes and fun presentation. Now if only my winter wardrobe would pick up some of these traits.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Cara&Co.

Cara&Co Restaurant on Urbanspoon


chocolatesuze said...

love cara & co, it's definitely a hidden gem!

Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

Wow I am super impressed with the dishes! Never would have thought... and like you Tina, I struggle to dress in Winter. I don't know what to wear but tights, books and a longsleeve/coat.... nothing else keeps me warm....

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Snap indeed! We didn't dine as their guest so the amuses and petit fours weren't quite as plentiful but there were really delicious indeed and we did still get some which was nice :)

joey@FoodiePop said...

The food here looks exquisite but I haven't managed to put it on my list just yet.

Christie @ Fig and Cherry said...

I love the look of the beef tartare. What a little gem of a place.

Vivian - vxdollface said...

dined here earlier in the yr for dad's birthday but was quite disappointed with the food :( love the presentation but the food was miss for us. might need to go again, really love the look and sound of that beef tartare

Trish said...

Everything looks amazing and oh so pretty!!! Love those tablet hand towells too!

john@heneedsfood said...

Now that's one fancy looking beef tartare. I'd happily tuck into all of those dishes.

Food is our religion said...

The present of all their dishes look like an artwork. The goat cheese lollipops look really cute.

SarahKate (Mi Casa-Su Casa) said...

Whilst I'd eat pretty much ANY of that food, I'm blown away by the goat's cheese lollipop! Such a cool presentation!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Am always amazed by the plating at Cara & Co, and those hand towels are like a magic trick! Much fun!

Anonymous said...

I love the concept of this place and have been dying to try it out sometime! Beautiful food, especially the scallop and the quail egg.

Tina said...

Hi suze - Definitely! Gotta love a treasure hunt ;)

Hi Tina - It is seriously impressive and I think it's location adds to its uniqueness.

Hi Lorraine - OMG, the lollipop is sensational; you'll have to try it next time :)

Hi joey - Oh, it definitely needs to go on the list!

Hi Christie - The beef tartare was stunning but so was the kangaroo one as part of the main!

Hi Vivian - Oh that's a shame? Was it not what you were expecting?

Hi Trish - The hand towels spun me out! I initially thought they were something edible!

Hi John - Yup, happy to report that they were all winners :)

Hi Food is our religion - Cute and delicious!

Hi SarahKate - Yup. And I've seen that they change up the glaze flavours - so awesome!

Hi Helen - Fun all around ;)

Hi excusemewaiter - Don't delay, the winter menu is really great!

Almudena said...

Hi Tina,

We are the producers of Avruga, shown in the recipe of beef tartar. Thank you for sharing this with us. Unfortunately this is the only chance we have to see all the fabolous things chefs do with our products. We have used your post in our FB PescaviarInternational. Visit us!

Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said...

Ahaha "slime green"! And cauliflower with peanut butter? Definitely has to be tried to be believed.

Tina said...

Hi Almudena - Thanks for your comment, will check you out :)

Hi Rita - I was surprised at how that worked so well! I think they're doing that dish during Crave this year!


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