Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Same same, but different

The automatic response to the question of "How are you?" is usually along the lines of "I'm fine" or "Good, thanks". Positive answers, if not a little robotic. There was a point a few years ago, I think, where "Same same" was becoming a similarly mechanical response, but obviously not so much on the positive end of the scale. They're all different answers that essentially avoid proper discussion about how one really is. And fair enough, I say, because sometimes there just isn't anything to say about a particular topic.

Down the newer end of Dixon Street is a collection of new-ish Asian restaurants, and within, a collection of Uighur cuisine restaurants. There are in fact three in a row - or as it turns out, two and one on top of another run by the same people.

Apandim Uighur is the more presentably decorated upstairs restaurant above Uighur Cuisine. The only way I cottoned on to that fact was that the menu from the smaller restaurant had somehow made its way to another table - probably for its pictorial attributes against the Uighur/Chinese/English text menu of Apandim Uighur's menu. For the full interior-decorated and presumably-Uighur karaoke experience, I recommend the flight upstairs.

Pidigan kormisi - stir fried eggplant - from Apandim Uighur,
Dixon Street, Haymarket

In what seems to be no particular order, the food arrives fairly quickly after a lengthy assessment of the borrowed picture menu. The stir fried eggplant dish is a burst of colour, with golden cubes of fried eggplant playing it up with red and green capsicum and onion. It's a little sour, a little tomato-ey and a smidgen spicy. There's quite a lot of sauce which makes me momentarily regret not ordering rice.

Gosh nun - lamb meat pastry

The gosh nun is a pretty round of pastry with pinched edges. Sliced pizza stlye, we dig in hastily half- expecting the kind of rapturous joy one gets attacking a pizza or pie at very hungry hours of the day. The result is ever so less satisfying. Instead of thankful fulfilment, we get a bland, oily, sort-of gamey deal which cries out for tomato sauce. The pastry is somewhat a redeeming grace at least, but some sort of seasoning wouldn't go astray.

Koy gosh kawapi - lamb skewers

The lamb skewers appear to be a signature dish, or at least a very popular dish that every table seems to order. And it really isn't any wonder why. Five kebabs on razor sharp flat bladed skewers arrive at the table (for four) and are quickly wielded to devastating effect on our appetites. The entire table is mostly impressed with the tender cubes of lamb, although the heavy application of cumin is a bit much for some. It has a bit of chew and flavour that gives you no doubt that this is lamb as it should be.

Palad hum sai - salted spinach salad

For the necessary greens we pick a salad from a range that is way left of centre. The salted spinach salad sounds appropriate, but only upon tasting do we realise the deadly accuracy of the menu description. It's salty. Actually, it's also very garlicky, which the menu doesn't give away. But the extreme saltiness gets to a point where we steal/borrow the bottle of water from the neighbouring table; although eating the spinach with some of the blander dishes that follow worked a bit of a treat.

Hakiki guiru laghman - stir fried noodles

The noodles come to the table on a huge square dish covered in a reddish meat and vegetable stir fry mix that looks suspiciously similar to the eggplant dish we had earlier. Suspicions are confirmed upon tasting - it's almost identical to the eggplant dish except the substitution of lamb for eggplant. The noodles have a lovely chewy texture although suffer from lack of exciting seasoning, if seasoning much at all. Which is where the oversalted spinach salad came in handy.

Kakat samsa - meat samosas

Finally the meat samosas arrive, to an admittedly pretty full table. The flaky golden pastry gets everyone in though, to some sort of misled advertisement of crunch. Rather than the envisioned crunchy and light pastry is instead a dry yet soggy texture that brings up connotations of microwaved food. The eyes can't believe that the golden exterior has completely fooled them. The meat filling inside is oddly similar to the filling of the gosh nun earlier - just in a more disappointing casing.

Given the full house at the restaurant, I concede that we may have just ordered poorly. Those seemingly in the know were ordering stewed and braised dishes which sound less interesting but arrive at tables in massive round but shallow plates - mopping up the juices with bread even. Of which we'll have to attempt another time as long as things aren't same same again.

Apandim Uighur on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 21, 2009

Art for the tooth

Tiered and textured mad hatter cake from Sweet Art,
Oxford Street, Paddington

"Whoa" is the collective thought as we enter the hallowed saccharin doors of cake artistry that is Sweet Art in Paddington. It's the first time I've been inside, having no inclination for weddings or other major occasion in the near future. But I've certainly always wanted to check out Sweet Art and thanks to the Paddington Alive Fashion Festival (with some association with the Sydney Fashion Festival currently taking over Martin Place), not only have I the excuse to fawn over stunning cake creations, I get to play as well!

Tiered mad hatter cake from Sweet Art

The 'Fashionably Sweet' workshops hosted by Sweet Art earlier this week were a fantastical playground for anyone with the slightest interest in cakes and decorating. I mean, I like to look at them and eat them - that counts, right? These mini workshops were designed as a taster to Sweet Art's upcoming cake decorating classes, and these girls - and guy - certainly know how to do things.

Sweet offerings

What could be better after a hectic work afternoon than working and rolling fondant icing, staining your hands with a rainbow of vegetable dyes, and wondering if free-hand cutting or intricate cutter-work is the best way to go? Sparkling wine and cupcakes. Of course.

Sweet offerings from Sweet Art

The 'classroom' for this short workshop is set up with stainless steel-topped workbenches, an array of artsy tools and a flock of female students. In keeping with the fashion theme, the lovely Imogen tells us we're making the rather-popular-nowadays Tiffany's inspired decorations for cupcakes.

Sweet Art staff demonstration

In a simple, easy to understand/remember/copy way, Imogen impresses us with basic decorating skills by turning a lump of white fondant icing into perfect Tiffany blue then whipping up variations of dainty little white bows and ribbon to put on top.

Tiffany's and Chanel inspired cupcake decorations

In terms of technique, it seems the basics go a long way. Baby pink fondant quickly becomes a quilted texture beneath the interlocking Cs of Chanel; simple but definitely eye-catching.

Table of tools and goodies

With help on hand and basics in mind, we're let loose to our own cupcakes and creativity. A table of goodies awaits: a spectrum of colourful vegetable dyes, rolling pins of all sizes, cutters and shapes, cachous and sugar decorations, top ups on the sparkling - does it get any better?

Covering my first cupcake

It isn't long before the entire room is wholeheartedly into action; lightly dusting the workspace with corn flour, rolling colourful fondant to delicate millimetre thicknesses, cutting and pressing out shapes, smoothing with hands, fingers and whatever else is usable. Patience is a virtue, and none more so than in cake decorating, in my opinion. It also helps to be good with your hands and have some degree of perfectionism.

It's kind of difficult to take photos when fondant is meltingly sticky in your hands or when you've got a glass of sparkling in one hand and you're selecting cachous with the other or when your hands are stained with dye. It was, however, exceptional fun and in no way pressured like one might be in a high school art class where you wonder why everyone else can draw somewhat realistically and you can't. No? Just me? Okay.

Our workspace

I don't think cake decorating is as messy as normal cooking, for example, but one definitely needs their space and tools at hand. And not wearing a crisp white business shirt would help, especially when playing around with the dyes.

Our hard work

Aside from a vanilla and a chocolate cupcake each, we're given blocks of fudge to play with and decorate into handbags and gift boxes and so on. The Sweet Art staff proffer more advice, tips and goodies, like the metallic gold paint - completely edible, mind you. It really comes down to one's own creativity and style, although the execution is the hardest part.

While I'm reasonably patient in most facets of life, I've come to accept that I'm not an artist and that I haven't the patience nor discipline for detailed practical work. "That'll do" crops up pretty early in my books in addition to my tendency to stick to the safe.

Which ones are mine?

Saying that, can you guess which vertical row of decorated goodies belongs to me? Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the answer.

While my skills are lacking and limited, there was some serious talent elsewhere in the room. A few friendly fellow students created the following stunners:

Fondant covered fudge handbag - check out the
amazingly perfect details

All that glitters... is edible!

Tiffany's and more

It's surprising how quickly two hours goes by, but time flies when you're having fun. And with this much fun, it was but a blink. As we finish off our decorated creations and sparkling wine, we chat to the Sweet Art staff who seem to be anticipating the cake decorating classes as much as tonight's participants. There's genuine passion and love for the art, which is contagiously exciting. They're also opening a second store at The Strand - which is so ridiculously fitting - for the "CBD brides", as Imogen called it.

My lesson from the night is probably to not be afraid of fondant - it's actually quite easy, versatile and oddly durable to use, and lots of fun too as the pics below would indicate. We're now in planning for a home fondant weekend - not flowers anytime soon but art for the (beginner) sweet tooth.

Marge Simpson bathtub cake from Sweet Art

Hamburger cake from Sweet Art

And my decorations below. I had to make the Tiffany's bow rather larger to cover up some imperfections on my blue top. I did the rounded stripes using round cutters and somehow unknowingly matched it to the shirt I was wearing. And the green gift box with black ribbon and bow (you can't see here) was my efforts at the last five minutes and me going: "Oh, there's some spare black fondant - I'll just use that. And I can't think or be bothered with anything fancier. That'll do."

Tina's Sweet Art

Monday, August 17, 2009

The remains of winter

Mornings and nights are still convincingly wintery, especially when overcoats and outdoor heaters are still required. But it's apparently getting close to spring, and after this weekend's weather, I think I believe it.

It's the final remaining weeks of winter and the final run for Merivale Winter Feasts. I find myself at the ivy's wine bar, Ash St. Cellar, one night; chasing the great value in their winter deal yet seduced by the worldly wine list. Early in the evening, Ash St. Cellar is speckled with wine sipping tables and a few tapas munchers, eventually filling to an amiable buzz. The space is inviting like few other Sydney venues, and certainly helped along by the glass of sauvignon blanc and bread with oil and salt flakes to start the meal.

Mushroom soup with creme fraiche from Ash St Cellar,
the ivy, George Street, Sydney

In honour of winter and its chilly nature, I've ordered the mushroom soup, which looks a little less photogenic than the other dishes. A pretty crown-shaped bowl holds a thick brown soup with a dollop of creme fraiche, some torn basil leaves and a glug of olive oil. The soup isn't too creamy nor rich but immediately warming; a truly wintery dish with the occasional slippery slice of mushroom for texture.

Tuna belly salad with tomato, capsicum, rocket

The tuna belly was not at all as imagined. Being somewhat accustomed to sashimi and its appearance on menus ranging from modern Australian to Spanish, the cured, prosciutto-like texture of the tuna was a definite surprise. Salted and dry, shaved thinly and served with deliberately sweet vegetables, the salad was a new taste experience that was exciting but falling ever-so-short of satisfaction.

Grilled ocean trout (top) and baked ricotta (bottom)

The next dishes started to up the ante and while the terracotta tapas plates were small, the dishes were deceptively filling. The ocean trout was a generous fillet cooked to perfection, resting on top a of savoury mix of leaves and croutons. The simple flavours of the orange fish were a highlight, as too its just-cooked texture.

The baked ricotta was a first for me and delightfully memorable. Three chunky golden blocks of a creamy, herb-inclusive ricotta sat balanced atop sweetly cooked tomatoes, topped with - yes, more cheese - grated parmesan. The soft white ricotta was encased in an almost-crisp baked skin that married well with the juices of the tomato. A thin crisp bread would have been nice on the side, but the way I was guarding and savouring my cheese, I think I was pretty happy with it.

It's here that we re-requested the wine list, which has a page or two of whites and reds that come by the glass, carafe or bottle, then several more pages of sparklings, whites and reds by the bottle - divided into easy to navigate categories a wine novice could easily master. I really like this open and welcoming attitude to wine knowledge; a bit DIY with sommeliers on hand when needed. The Chateau Poitevin merlot and cabernet blend was "full bodied dark fruit with firm structure" and the perfect companion for the wait for desserts.

Chocolate brownie (top) and baked quince with honeycomb and custard (bottom)

The chocolate brownie was appropriately rich and fudgey, but a little pedestrian for my liking. Even served with cream and a kumquat compote-like blob, it had nothing on the baked quince with honeycomb and custard. From first appearance, the quince dessert was impressive. Pretty with its charming violet flowers, it promised a sugar hit with its abundance of honeycomb pieces and offset with a light vanilla custard. These disparate ingredients worked together melodiously to have the tasters humming with appreciation, although I couldn't bring myself to eat the violets.

Thoroughly satisfied with dinner at a wine bar, we uninterruptedly polish off the bottle through conversation (thankfully muffled to those surrounding by the jazzy but not non-descript music) and smooth smiling service. The few remaining days of winter could be well spent with a few more visits to Ash St Cellar - and I get the feeling that may run through to spring and summer too.

Ash Street Cellar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three ways to feast

I'm not sure if it's still the fashion at the moment, but the 'ingredient x ways' always has me intrigued. That is, 'lamb two ways' or 'onions three ways'. It's infinitely amusing to the taste buds and imagination, and really something to marvel at but not really try at home. I mean, can one really be bothered to attempt two, or more, completely different methods on the one ingredient for the sake of novelty?

Generally speaking, no. But as always, there are the occasions when adamant preferences will not be shifted. Not getting into any strenuous techniques, let alone molecularity, here goes oysters three ways.

Natural Sydney rock oysters

If the meal preparation is to be shared, I highly recommend grabbing responsibilty over this one. It's hard to go wrong with Sydney rock oysters au naturale, and if there's bits of shell in it - well, it's really not your fault, is it? Unless they're freshly shucked. In which case, I highly recommend not bags-ing this particular meal preparation.

Kilpatrick Sydney rock oysters

One of my personal favourites is the slightly kitsch oysters kilpatrick. Reeking of the 80s but my first foray into the sweet, marine world of oysters, I suppose it's a bit of a nostalgic food memory for me. Smokey, fat lined bacon with worcestershire sauce and loads of black pepper make for a bursting mouthful of flavour but, admittedly, covering up the subtle and stronger flavours of the actual oyster.

Ginger and shallot steamed Pacific oysters

Last but not least, the steamed Pacific oysters with ginger and shallots that have had a hot oil treatment. Steamed for only a short minute or two, these larger oysters have a distinctly meatier yet blander taste that capitalises on ingredients sitting on top of it.

Dozens upon dozens of oysters makes for luxurious eating, but doesn't really make a meal. Welcome, fellow sea cousin salmon fillets.

Salmon fillets ready for the oven

An extremely simple marinade of spring onions, lemon, pepper and salt over the top and into the oven until the thinner, tail ends are just cooked, meaning the thicker sections will be raw inside. A coincidental 'salmon two ways' appeases those averse to raw fish as well as sashimi lovers.

A few ways to celebrate and feast but together with loved ones; truly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Popcorn controversy

Could you ever imagine eating Flipper? Worse yet, can you imagine eating Flipper and not knowing it?

I'm still undecided about the movie 'The Cove' - I think the adventure actually outplays any genuine message of the film. But I think it's best that everyone forms their own opinions - especially when it comes to documentaries that touch on traditional and cultural sensitivities.

The Cove - out 20 August

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Feeling tarty

I love a good tart. Cakes are lovely but there's something about the harmonious relationship between pastry and a filling that makes a tart ever so pleasing and delicate. Most tarts, anyway. I have a disposition for frangipane tarts, which I've had before I even knew what frangipane was. And, I also have this terrible habit of taking shortcuts and making adaptations to recipes - you'd think I'd learn after numerous kitchen disasters.

Beating eggs into creamed butter and icing sugar

The recipe for the filling calls for equal weights of butter and icing sugar mixture to be creamed, and the subsequent addition of eggs to the beating. It sounds silly, but I found the frangipane way too buttery, a bit too sweet and a bit too eggy. Silly, I know.

Adding almond meal into butter, sugar and egg mixture

It's then the addition of almond meal, which is a new ingredient to me. It smells quite fragrant though I forget to have a taste before adding it all to the mixture. I continue to mix with a spoon, putting out of mind any thoughts about fat content and the like.

Raspberries into the tart case...

At least there's nuts and fruit - they're healthy. I try not to eat all the raspberries straight from the freezer pack, instead putting them in the base of the baked pastry case. Next time, I thik I would mix them through the frangipane filling instead. I cheated and used store-bought shortcrust pastry rather than making my own. Pastry and icing are long-time foes of mine.

Off topic, I think frozen raspberries make a lovely and healthy, albeit slightly expensive, snack for summer time or even winter as in this case. I think the remainder will go into pancakes, if not straight into my mouth.

... and frangipane filling on top

I plop the frangipane filling into the pastry case in what looks a less than pretty sight. With no raspberries visible, it looks rather bland and unexciting. But it's not all about looks, is it? Especially when it comes to tarts.

A few more raspberries for the top

A few additional raspberries on top pretties up the picture and at this point I'm quite excited and can't wait to taste the creation. In what the recipe describes as 25 minutes in the oven turns out to be almost double that. I'm not sure if my tray is not as wide as a tart ring or if my oven is a little on the mild side, but it was a lengthily-watched oven and tart before the wobbling, jiggling centre disappeared.

The baked tart

This was not how I envisaged the tart in my mind. Aside from the 'too lazy to cut the corners (oxymoron?) from my square of shortcrust pastry for the round dish', I was thinking of red raspberries popping out the top of an evenly golden surface. Not quite, as the raspberries submersed themselves quicksand-style in the dark edged filling. Oh well.

The only visible raspberry after baking

I was a little scared to bring a knife to the tart, with visions of deflation or liquid insides on mind. There was quite a bit of moistness towards the centre of the tart, but the overall seemed adequately cooked. And in the most important test of all?

Sliced raspberry frangipane tart

It was edible. I loved the slightly sour contrast of the cooked raspberries to the filling, although their very berry presence on the bottom made the pastry a little soggy. The flavour of the almond meal is a little overpowering in the first mouthful, gradually overtaken by butteriness and sweetness, with a final hit of egginess. No points for guessing the ingredients in this tart!

In the end, I think a short and sweet pastry would have made a difference, as it's a key part to enjoying a tart as opposed to a soggy pastry. I would explore other recipes for frangipane, remaining aware of the powerful flavour of almond meal as too the fact that many recipes call for excess amounts of butter. Tucking into another slice with a cup of tea, this tart has learnt a good lesson in tartiness.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Speaking up

I've been told before that if you say out loud what you want, you'll get it. I was skeptical when I first heard it and I'm still skeptical about it. What does that say for birthday wishes when you're not supposed to tell anyone?

And aside from realising that there's a lot of internal muttering happening in my head, I don't see my million dollars, Jimmy Choo's or round-the-world plane ticket. Perhaps there was small print. Perhaps the voiced desires are more a motivation tool or 'cry for help' rather than click-of-the-fingers, genie stuff. Too bad it's not all as easy as pressing a button, like it is at Madang. Press, speak up, get it - beautifully simple stuff.

We endured the obligatory Friday night wait by leaving the dark laneway - raffle ticket in hand - and heading to the nearest pub for a drink and snack. At least 30 minutes later our number still hadn't been called, so pity the souls who actually wait outside the restaurant huddled around an outdoor heater.

The atmosphere inside is immediately warming and lively, doorbells going off every few seconds or so above mostly group chatter. The banchan starters are hurried over to our waiting appetites after not long and never fail to delight with their seeming random-ness and ever-changing variety.

Banchan at Madang Sydney Restaurant, Pitt Street, Sydney

Tonight we have, starting from the top left, a particularly spicy kimchi radish in soft, thin strips. Next (clockwise) is the normalcabbage kimchi; a good level of chilli heat for me. Then my favourite butter lettuce leaves with still undetermined puree on top - there must be raw onion in it because the aftertaste is really quite strong, but it's also a bit sweet and very refreshing. The most novel banchan is the ice cream scoop of mashed potato colourfully dotted with peas, corn kernels, diced carrot and cubes of apple. We're reassured it's not ice cream but it is, nonetheless, an odd mouthful. And finally, a spinach dish sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Seafood pancake

I can't go to Madang and not have their seafood pancake. Call it an addiction or obsession, if you will. Every bite is a guranteed pleaser: if not some squid or prawn, then it'll be some well-cooked spring onion or golden crunchy dough smothered in the chilli dipping sauce.

Steamed dumplings

It's the first time I've tried these steamed dumplings, as I tend to favour the fried versions normally. These are very similar to Chinese wonton, although the pork filling is distinctly different. These morsels are bite sized and disappear frighteningly fast.

Spicy tofu and crab soup

For a chilly night, nothing beats a boiling hot and spicy soup. The combination of tofu and crab sounds divine on paper but is even better in tongue-scalding real life. Equipped only with metal soup spoons, it's devourer beware as the chilli gets you if the heat doesn't. I actually discover several decently sized chunks of crab, not imitation crab stick, which lends a certain sweetness to the soup beneath the spicy flavours.

Now looking back, it seems quite a light meal but I guess numerous refills of the banchan, the bottle of Korean raspberry wine (like Ribena - which I know is blackcurrant - gone 18+), and the sneaky bowl of chips at the pub (with what seemed like cupfuls of tomato sauce and aioli) might have played a part.

Sated and smoked we depart, wishing that life were only as simple and straightforward as ordering in a restaurant. I guess it comes back down to the same ever-challenging problem - knowing what you want before speaking up.

Sydney Madang on Urbanspoon


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...