Monday, April 29, 2013

The Bourbon marks the spot for New Orleans in Sydney

Change is afoot in Sydney's notorious Kings Cross. The strip joints are probably staying, as too the night clubs, but developments at the old Bourbon and Beefsteak are seeing the beginnings of a transformation for the beloved "seedy end of town".

It starts with the newly and grandly renovated New Orleans-inspired restaurant, The Bourbon by C.Inc Hospitality, which also own Cruise Bar and Coogee Bay Hotel. The kitchen is helmed by ex Becasse and Etch head chef James Metcalfe, who brings his fine dining background into new light at the more casual venue.

Pacific oysters, natural
While there are ambitious plans for the neighbouring club, basement bar, and a rooftop bar and restaurant, for now it's all about having fun with modern twists to New Orleans cuisine - of which I have limited experience although the city is in my top two list for US destinations I want to visit.

We started on a platter of Pacific and Sydney rock oysters in three different styles. Although I wished it were my preferred Sydney rocks served natural, the freshly shucked Pacifics were fresh and more than passable.

Rock oysters, Bloody Mary granita
Next up, I could taste the Sydney rocks through the icy tomato-based Bloody Mary granita which is a genius idea that peaks with a Tabasco sauce kick.

Deep fried oysters d'jour with Rockefeller mayo
Lastly, the crumbed and fried oysters were topped with a herb mayonnaise in recognition of the amusingly named oysters Rockefeller. The green sauce was a great partner (and distraction) to the unfortunately overcooked oysters.

Inside The Bourbon, Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross
There's a cocktail list with The Bourbon 'signatures' (not bourbon cocktails though) and classics of which the negroni goes down a treat.

More interesting, though, is the range of beers of which there'll be a healthy range of US beers, including a couple from New Orleans.

(Note: the dishes below were part of a special tasting and are not the sizes served on the normal menu.)

Hiramasa kingfish ceviche, citrus, radish
Ceviche has definitely taken over as one of Sydney's most popular dishes, and with good reason.

The Bourbon presents its ceviche as thin slices of delicate hiramasa kingfish with a balanced citrus dressing, radish matchsticks, coriander and fresh red chilli with some bite to it. It was a beautiful dish that really kickstarted the palate.

Melon and ham - watermelon, serrano, mint, chilli, white pepper vinegar
The serrano ham wrapped watermelon triangles were quite the surprising dish. Prosciutto and rockmelon are beaten convincingly with this combination, and I don't know if it was the pairing with the juicy, sweet watermelon but this was some of the best cured ham I've had.

More red chilli and mint gave great colour and a different kicker to every bite with the unexpectedly well-matched vinegar dressing.

Gumbo - spicy duck broth, smoked sausage, red chilli, coriander
The pretty sample of gumbo was quite possibly my first taste of the quintessentially Louisianan soup.

A little fancy with a duck consomme, the soup featured okra, baby corn, red chilli, Spanish onion, coriander and a house-made smoked sausage. The gumbo was undeniably spicy, nose-snifflingly so, but with a great depth of full flavours.

Clam and corn chowder - little neck clams, corn, bacon
I was particularly excited to try the clam chowder; a thick soup that I can't see/read/think of without referencing The Simpsons.

The Bourbon's version featured just-cooked little neck clams, sweet pops of corn kernels and thick-cut cubes of bacon which imparted a fantastic salty smokiness throughout the creamy soup. The chowder was like a warm, comforting hug that's perfect for the upcoming cooler weather.

Classic Cobb salad - soft boiled egg, chicken wings, avocado, tomato, crispy bacon,
watercress, Bellingham Blue cheese, pickled shallots
Quite possibly the most un-salad-like salads I've ever seen, The Bourbon certainly has taken a modern take on the classic American Cobb salad. While all the key components are there, there was more than a hint of the kitchen's fine dining origins in its plating.

The crisp perfection that was the bacon with the boiled egg gave it a breakfast air, while the blue cheese, cos lettuce, tomato, avocado and watercress returned it to firmly salad ground. The deboned fried chicken wing was the point of differentiation and excellence.

Grilled jumbo shrimp, Creole butter, spiced salt
It's prawns like these that quell any thoughts of lobster from my mind; indeed, they are mini lobsters. Split in half and absolutely drowned in a spiced Creole butter before grilling, the "jumbo shrimp" was seafood and spice at its best - with a liberal helping of butter and lime, that is.

Jambalaya - spiced risotto, shrimp, chilli, lime, bacon, smoked sausage, watercress
Again putting seafood and spice together was the very Creole jambalaya; a must-have dish where New Orleans is concerned.

A filling main dish option, also quite spicy, jambalaya is like a paella or risotto, featuring chilli, bacon and more of that excellent smoked sausage, topped with prawns and watercress.

Glazed beef rib - four hours slow cooked
As part of the mains options, The Bourbon also offers a selection from the rotisserie of which the sweet glazed beef short rib is a crowd-pleaser.

Slow cooked for four hours, the beef was full of flavour and softened tendons, served with mashed potato, deep fried kale and its cleaned bone.

Fried green tomatoes, buttermilk dressing
I'm pretty sure I clapped my hands in delight when the fried green tomatoes arrived, as the movie of the same title has stuck with me since the early 1990s.

Unsure of what to expect, these golden crumbed wheels of unripe, green tomatoes were surprisingly sweet inside their crunchy coating, with the creamy buttermilk dressing adding just the right amount of richness to the tomato's acidity.

Lime cheesecake - jelly, crumbs, cheese, coriander; and
Pecan Tart (back, right) - burnt bourbon, vanilla chantilly
There are a number of particularly enticing desserts on The Bourbon's menu, especially those with US origins. The lime cheesecake was a deconstructed version with tart lime jelly and cheese mix, biscuit crumbs, crispy meringues and an atypical sprig of coriander.

Much more traditional was the pecan tart which was served as a chewy and caramelly sliced portion with a desirable tart shell.

S'mores - biscuit, vanilla ice cream, chocolate, toasted marshmallow; and
Beignet (right) - peppered stawberries, caramel, whipped cream
I was most excited for my first taste of S'mores: that most unhealthy but delightful-sounding medley of roasted marshmallow and chocolate sandwiched within a 'graham cracker' of which I'm not sure are are widely available in Australia.

The Bourbon ups the ante on the S'more, pushing it into restaurant dessert territory with vanilla ice cream and house made oat biscuits instead of graham crackers, covered in chocolate and topped with torched vanilla marshmallow. I'm not sure how purists will feel about it but I certainly approve.

The deep fried round beignet of dough with a caramel sauce was surprisingly my favourite of the dessert plate; perhaps for its warmth and relatively reserved sweetness.

Thoroughly full and Americanised, we managed a quick chat with head chef Metcalfe who's enviably off to New Orleans shortly for research purposes. I think he's done exceptionally well with the general theme he's been given, with the large menu filled with many familiar references to US dishes that most in Sydney would not have tried before.

While change in Kings Cross will be a longer-term issue, The Bourbon definitely marks a a change in thinking in the area that can only be a good thing.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of The Bourbon, with thanks to Agency G.

The Bourbon on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mary's had a little burger

A little burger is drawing the hipster, rockabilly and hospitality crowds in hordes to a back street bar in Newtown.

Mary’s, on Mary Street just off the main road of King Street, comes to life courtesy of a couple of guys with Porteño and Bodega pedigrees – so it’s no surprise that it’s packed out within its first weeks of opening.

Burgers and chips at Mary's, Mary Street, Newtown
Featuring a succinct menu of burgers and fried chicken, Mary’s has already had rapturous reviews and many a tweet about its city-conquering burgers.

The bar has bottle beers, wines, a select few cocktails, and beers on tap including Newtown’s own Young Henry’s brews, of which the cloudy cider is the non-sweet cider drinker’s pick on a Sunday lunch.

The bar and upstairs at Mary's
The airy space hosts two newly renovated levels and maintains a hall feel and sound, with a kitchen nestled next to the ground floor bar. There’s table service in the upstairs section, while on the ground floor orders are taken at the bar and delivered to seated diners.

Fried chicken - half bird
Comprising about half of the entire menu, the irresistible fried chicken comes in half or whole bird options, and also a Larry Bird option which is apparently two whole chickens in pieces.

Deep fried to a dark brown hue, the various cuts of the half chicken came heavily seasoned but not spicy, making it great mates for Tabasco sauce (from mini Jack Daniels condiment bottles) and a schooner or three.

Each part of the chicken was impressively juicy inside, even the boneless breast piece and while the coating wasn't super crunchy, it was lifted with a squeeze of lime out of one of our drinks. Napkins were entirely necessary, even if you had to get them yourself from a pile near the kitchen.

Mary's Burger with hand cut chips
A short but noticeable time later, plastic baskets arrived with our burger and fried potato options. Unwrapping the burger from its paper wrap, the soft, glossy-sheened bun was the first surprise – like an Asian bakery bun but not as sweet.

The Mary’s Burger has cheese, lettuce, tomato and a special sauce – not unlike a famous fast food chain’s signature burger, even in taste. The meat pattie is on the thin side and was slightly taken over by the creamy ‘special sauce’.

Burgers come with the option of fries or hand cut chips; the latter of which are thicker, skin-on chips just the way I like.

Shroom burger with fries
I opted for the vegetarian Shroom burger which came unexpectedly as a single, slippery, juicy, buttery, grilled field mushroom in place of a pattie.

It was certainly not the lesser vego option, with some great flavour encased in the shiny bun, also with lettuce and ‘special sauce’. The super salty fries can be toned down with lashings of Heinz tomato ketchup.

I'm yet to try the Cheeseburger, add-on 'trashcan bacon' or the Mash & Gravy, but this is no light eating – come prepared for, essentially, fast food done better, with booze in a space full of character (and I don't mean Ronald).

Aside from some delays in food (which can probably be put down to the venue's early days), the too-cool-but-still-friendly vibe, concentrated menu and the amazing space at Mary’s is on the money, making it the place to be at the moment. And everywhere that Mary went, the sheep were sure to go.

Mary's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Good times collective #7

I like autumn in Sydney but it's a reminder that winter is coming and that more than one-third of the year has gone already - where to, I'm not sure. Bars and ice cream parlours, it seems.

A la Mode cocktail at Felix Bar, Ash Street, Sydney
(Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at Felix)
There's always time for a well-made cocktail, even if I'm not quite sure what's in it - because when it comes to drinking, it's all about broadening experiences and learning.

Felix is one of my favourite bar perches in the CBD; pre or post dinner or just for an after-work de-stressing beverage. This over-the-top dessert cocktail at Felix may well have been a special with its sweet, creamy foam and a hint of blowtorched caramelisation.

Sweet potato chips at The White Hart, Grosvenor Street, Neutral Bay
I have much love for sweet potato chips, and the ones at The White Hart in Neutral Bay are pretty special; each with lots of rough, crunchy bits but incredibly soft and fluffy on the inside.

I love how they're served, piled high in a wooden vessel alongside aioli which was barely necessary as the chips were such tasty texture sensation.

Black pudding and caramelised apple at The White Hart
Sadly, I'm not one for black pudding - even if it was fancily plated with roasted apples and bacon flags on black slate.

"The White Hart" wagyu burger, British cut bacon roasted tomato, crispy onion ring,
beetroot relish, cheese and lettuce, chips at The White Hart
The White Hart's burger is more my thing, served with thick cut chips on a board. The juicy wagyu beef pattie and melted cheese were the highlights while the pretty standard white burger bun was possibly holding it back from greatness.

Gowings Bar, Market Street, Sydney
The new, boutique QT Hotel made quite the splash when it opened in the historic Gowings Building last year. While I'll probably never be staying in the creative, designer rooms, the lobby and restaurant fitouts alone have me impressed.

There's an interesting dynamic at Gowings Bar, being a hotel bar of course, but also catering to the large restaurant in the same space.

Bringing back the Vol-Au-Vent: filled with gravlax of house made ocean trout tartare,
Sterling caviar, quail eggs from Gowings Bar
While I'm familiar with vol-au-vents - the iconic1970s hors d'oeuvres - I don't think I'd ever had one prior to the ones at Gowings Bar.

But I can see their party and finger food appeal: exceptionally flaky puff pastry cases filled with delicately cured ocean trout, boiled quail egg halves and caviar - I don't know why they ever went out of fashion.

Butter milk fried free range chicken wing tulips from Gowings Bar
I find fried chicken wings an absolutely irresistible bar snack and the basket of butter milk fried wings were spot-hitting.

While slightly lacking in seasoning and crunch, it's pretty hard to go wrong when you deep fry my favourite cut of chicken.

Ice cream sundae at Window's Coffee, Bankstown
While it is getting noticeably cooler, there's space in most stomachs and hearts for a bit of ice cream any time. A new discovery on a Bankstown corner was Window's Coffee - a Vietnamese café with tacky decorations, loud pop music on screen and an extensive ice cream selection.

Large, multi-scoop options are served in tall oversized cocktail glasses with red syrup and paper umbrellas that verged on tackiness overload - but which also seemed to work for the venue overall.

So, back to it - more bars and ice cream this autumn and winter.

Felix Bistro and Bar on Urbanspoon

The White Hart on Urbanspoon

Gowings Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Window's Coffee on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Win a double pass to see Haute Cuisine

The global food movement has spoken and we now have a plethora of food movies to sate our viewing appetites.

The latest to open nationally in Australia on 25 April 2013 is French movie Haute Cuisine (French title, Les Saveurs du Palais) which is based on the true story of French President François Mitterand's private cook, Daniele Delpeuch who was in Sydney recently.

Haute Cuisine - in Australian cinemas nationally on 25 April 2013
(Image courtesy of TM Publicity)
The film, a mix of real events and pure fiction, is about "the power of cooking" and "the cooking of power", says co-writer and producer, Étienne Comar.

Delpeuch was a farmer who left her job and husband for the role and she's described in real life as "an adventurer whose choices in life have always been connected with cooking". She was the only woman who has ever cooked in the official residence of the President of the French Republic.

Stills from Haute Cuisine featuring actor Catherine Frot
(Image courtesy of TM Publicity)
Her character in the film, Hortense Laborie, is a renowned chef from the Périgord, and is appointed personal cook at the Élysée Palace for President of the Republic.

It was filmed on location at the Élysée Palace, in regional France - which itself is pretty spectacular - and Antartica, which is where the film starts rolling.

Stills from Haute Cuisine featuring actor Catherine Frot
(Image courtesy of TM Publicity)

Win a double pass to see Haute Cuisine!

Food, Booze and Shoes is giving away five double passes to see Haute Cuisine in cinemas around Australia, with thanks to TM Publicity and Transmission Films.

Simply email with your answer to the following question, and your postal address:

"If you had to pick one cuisine to eat for the rest of time, what would it be and why?"

Entries must be received by 9.00pm AEST on Saturday 20 April 2013. Winners will be announced and contacted within 24 hours, and passes will be posted to an Australian address.

Passes valid from Thursday 25 April 2013. Not valid Saturdays after 5pm, public holidays or cinema discount days. Valid even with No Free Ticket restrictions
Not valid for Gold Class or Vmax at Event Cinemas, Greater Union, Birch Carroll & Coyle or Village Cinemas, Hoysts La Premiere, Directors Suite, Bean Bag Cinema, Xtremescreen, IMAX or special events, Regency Cinelounge, Cinema Europa, Hayden Cremorne Orpheum, Roseville Cinema, State Cinema Hobart, Nova Deluxxe, United Avalon or United Collaroy.
(Note: mailing addresses are used only for the purpose of sending winners' tickets).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Singapore slinging - part 4: Pollen

The new Gardens by the Bay attraction by Singapore's Marina Bay was high on my list of 'touristy things to do' when I visited last year.

It just happened to get ticked off one day after an impromptu lunch at Pollen restaurant - a new addition to the Singapore fine dining scene within the expansive Gardens by the Bay grounds.

Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay, Singapore
With all the affordable food options in Singapore, I hadn't planned for any fine dining so it was a pleasant surprise to be whizzing through Gardens by the Bay in a seatbelt-free golf cart to the Flower Dome, where Pollen awaited with its smart, climate-controlled interiors.

Pollen at the Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Pollen is said to be a "Mediterranean-inspired modern European" restaurant, from the same chef and group as London's popular Pollen Street Diner.

It's most appropriate that the restaurant is located within, essentially, a huge flower and plant house showcasing flora from all over the world in a necessarily temperature-controlled environment.

Pollen dining room
The almost chilly restaurant interiors were a sharp change from the Singapore outdoors, though the locals didn't seem at all bothered.

The spacious restaurant is surrounded by garden greenery, giving it quite the relaxing, getaway feel. There was very much a corporate crowd at lunch, in addition to the requisite ladies of leisure and indeed, couples of leisure.

Plates at Pollen

Complimentary bread
To start there were a few varieties of bread, served with butter, olives and a decidedly Mediterranean bacalao salted cod spread that had me starting to forget that I was in Singapore.

Pollen offers a set three-course lunch that seems reasonable at S$70 given the a la carte pricing. Our group was split between the two options, with the set menu portions noticeably smaller in the end.

Jerusalem artichoke soup, roasted scallop, squid, eggplant puree
Off the set menu was a creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup, served at the table from a small, shiny saucepan. The foamy soup joined a large, golden, pan-fried scallop and baby squid, tentacles and all, and was easily one of the most luxe soups I've tasted.

Crab cocktail, avocado, sweet corn sorbet, caviar on toast
One of the popular a la carte entrées was the generously filled martini glass of crab meat, served with a sorbet of sweet corn and avocado puree beneath, creating a somewhat familiar combination.

Pimping it up was the caviar served in what looked like a beauty cream jar of crème fraiche. The set menu featured a similar entrée as a smaller size sans caviar and crisp breads.

Roasted quail "brunch", foie gras on toast, cereals, quail tea
From the a la carte menu, the roasted quail dish was quite the sight of earthy browns and golden surfaces. The small bird looked perfectly cooked atop a dark risotto with something that quite resembled a potato gem.

Quail dish's foie gras on toast and quail tea
Proving the value of the a la carte pricing, the quail dish actually came in three parts with quail "tea" consommé and foie gras mousse accompanying the elaborate entrée.

Line-caught John Dory, saffron mash, "bouillabaisse"
One of the set menu main options was a John Dory dish, with the fish sourced all the way from France. It was served as a lightly pan-fried boneless fillet atop of sturdy quenelle of saffron-touched mashed potato done exceptionally well.

The squid ink-cooked squid and vegetables were really just props with the real flavour coming from the "bouillabaisse" seafood-based broth, presented and poured around the fish at the table.

Braised Welsh lamb shoulder, lamb cutlet, baby gem, baked celeriac
One of the other set menu dishes featured lamb two ways: a medium-rare cutlet, in all its fatty glory, propped up on a crumbed square of lamb shoulder, tenderly pulled and full of meaty flavour.

The grilled baby gem lettuce and celeriac were much-needed additions to bulk out the dish, which looked a few cutlets short of a main meal.

Palate cleanser: Lemongrass jelly with passionfruit espuma
It was a memorable palate cleanser that was served after the mains: a clear jelly flavoured with lemongrass, topped with an espuma foam of high-impact passionfruit that totally overwhelmed the jelly, but was lovable nonetheless.

"Ocumare cremeux", pistachio parfait, honey saffron ice cream, toasted brioche
Pollen's concept and technique really seemed to shine come dessert time, with many a pretty option on both lunch menus.

The pistachio parfait dessert looked fit for the gardens with its decorative leaf and soil-like chocolate bits beneath an intriguing honey saffron ice cream.

Crispy and burnt lemon meringue with cucumber sorbet
Meanwhile, I had quite the exciting dessert of many flavours and textures. Two meringues for starters: a soft, stickily torched Italian-style meringue and a hard-shelled one that the child in me loved cracking with a spoon.

Cubes of mango and a refreshing green cucumber sorbet were offset with flakes of black - salt, perhaps - although I was too enamoured with the meringues to notice.

"Japanese green tea", raspberry sorbet, yoghurt mousse
It was a fun clash of colours with the green tea dessert featuring some liquid nitrogen-frozen green tea crumble - or perhaps it was the yoghurt mousse topped with frozen raspberry bits.

In any case, the fresh raspberries, raspberry sorbet and dense, moist green tea flavoured cake made for a joyfully harmonious, if not too sweet, dessert.

A la carte dessert
One of the dessert's off the a la carte menu was completely too much for me to take in; mostly due to the oversized rock it was served on.

I have no idea what the dessert was and no idea whether I'd be able to enjoy a sweet dish when I'd be too concerned over the source/weight/type/brittleness of the rock.

Petit fours selection
Pollen is renowned for its dessert and petit fours bar and it's no wonder really. Even for a non-sweet tooth, it was quite a sight seeing jars and row upon row of delicate hand-made chocolates, sweets and cakes just waiting for diners to finish their desserts.

Chocolate pop

Petit fours
I can't even remember what I had, washed down with a macchiato, but I do remember the table's collective admiration for each little, specially crafted piece.

View back on Gardens by the Bay
For me - the tourist - the setting and surroundings just outclassed the food at Pollen (though not the top-notch service). However, I'm definitely glad that I got the chance to check out Pollen and its garden surrounds - one can always fit a little fine dining into a touristy schedule.

See more photos from Singapore's Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands on my Facebook page. A final Singapore post to come, on a hawker food centre.


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