Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A little birdy told me

I've been told repeatedly that overindulgence, especially overeating, is not a sin at this time of the year. Rather, it is to be expected. It doesn't make me feel any better physically, but if everyone's doing it I suppose we're all in the same slowly sinking boat.

Admittedly, my eating festivities started a few days before Christmas (and will surely extend into the New Year). Dinner at Bistro Ortolan followed a long work lunch function, so I'm not sure how my stomach managed but it did.

On the outdoor balcony overlooking the relatively quiet Marion Street in Leichhardt, there's a slight air of eating at someone's terrace in the suburbs. That's taking out of consideration the two chef's hats, the impeccable service and the very Marque tablecloths.

Amuse bouche - Iced tomato essence - from Bistro Ortolan,
Marion Street, Leichhardt

The amuse bouche was the seemingly ubiquitous tomato water or essence - an iced version which would have been delightful were we having the summer weather we're supposed to be having. With the addition of basil and olives in the glass, and anchovy toast on the side, this was quite the savoury starter for the palate.

Rare loin of yellowfin tuna with almond and sherry veloute
and blue swimmer crab remoulade

Perhaps in some part due to the presence of the word 'bistro' in the name, I had rather expected hearty plating and servings of the dishes. So I'm very impressed with the artful and delicate appearance of our entrees at first, and it seems everyone else was too as there was reluctant and little sharing of dishes.

The tuna was rare with a seared seed crust; delicate and fresh in flavour atop the round of veloute. The crab flesh was somewhere on the plate, and small as it was, sweetness it packed.

Seared Hervey Bay sea scallops with caramelised calves
sweetbreads, green vegetables and truffled potato

Like the crab, I didn't see the sweetbreads that had turned me away from the scallop entree. The large seared scallops were robed in what seemed like dumpling wrappers, or round pasta sheets. The spears of green asparagus and the fluffy, lightly truffled potato played formidable side roles but the plump juicy scallops were the star of this show.

Feuillete of baby spinach, fontina and lyonnaise onion with
softly poached duck egg and truffle beurre blanc

My tart of spinach, caramelly onions and richly melted fontina cheese verged on 'too pretty to eat' but the heady aroma of truffles strongly encouraged otherwise. The demure, and surprisingly hot, puff pastry tart was almost a little strange bedfellow to the poached egg. However, the truffle butter sauce diplomatically brought the two together nicely in a plate wiping fashion.

Crisp-skinned fillet of saltwater barramundi with a
fricassee of yabbies, baby turnips, and foie gras

The wait for mains certainly gets the appetites back with gusto and luckily so, because the hearty 'bistro' promise delivers. A beautiful, golden-skinned fillet of barramundi sits amid a plethora of baby turnips and yabbies, and beneath a crunchy wrapped parcel of foie gras it seems.

Roasted loin of organic Berkshire pork and a croquette
of confit neck, with snails and sweetcorn

A vibrant yellow sweetcorn puree introduces the pork main; two thick cut slices of roasted loin with a crackling skin garnish. The confit neck croquette appears to be the favourite on this dish, with the snails in hiding - probably with good reason.

Butter-poached fillet of blue eye trevalla with squid and pea ‘risotto’,
tomato confit and baby vegetables

Another fish dish and another Marque-esque moment with the squid and pea 'risotto' - which was deliciously sweet and briney. The trevalla was cooked to perfection with the magnified-taste of its tomato confit topping - alas, another case of dish envy for me.

Rare spiced loin of Cervena venison with bone marrow gnocchi,
chanterelles and white apsparagus puree

My ambitious choice of the venison followed lunch, when I chose lamb over fish to arrive at dish envy case #1 for the day. Nonetheless the rare cubes of venison were lightly spiced so that all I could taste was the tender, jucy meat rather than any gaminess or bloodiness. The bone marrow gnocchi could have not had its title ingredient for all I could taste in the oddly floral herbs or spicing, although there was a small slice of quivering pink marrow served at the back. The chanterelles and puree were supremely rich, hence my preference for the white asparagus and its puree.

We'd also had sides of brocollini with anchovy butter and fresh tomato, and crispy roasted potatoes with tarragon and horseradish so by the time the dessert menu descended, the Christmas bellies were already out in force. Probably with thoughts of gingerbread and fruitcake in mind, we skipped the sweets in support of the collective protestations of the stomach; showing clemency for the time as more plans for festive overindulgence were stewing.

Bistro Ortolan on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to one and all

Quick post to say Merry Christmas to everyone. Hope everyone has a great day regardless of the weather.

And just a quick look at what I've been up to tonight - aside from stuffing myself silly and childishly hoping Santa comes, of course.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...
Oh - hang on...

The gingerbread people get a tan

OTT icing monster man - when you don't know when to put the
icing bag down and step away from the cookies

I've made gingerbread people place cards

Merry Christmas, people!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A fews taps to The Winery

Sometimes getting the girls together is a monumental feat. Holidays, work schedules, hangovers, boys and associated troubles - sometimes it just feels all too hard. So it was a pleasant surprise when afternoon drinks at The Winery in Surry Hills eventuated with the ease of tapping out a couple of emails.

I have a feeling their uber cool website might have something to do with it. Otherwise, the pulling power of the whimsical and undeniably girly venue, and the lure of jugs of sweetly alcoholic beverages.

White wine sangria from The Winery,
Crown Street, Surry Hills

The bar in the main room runs the length of the room with a worn-in wooden feel, dotted with vases of fake flowers and bottle upon bottle of liquor. The clear skies and warm afternoon call for something light, refreshing and jolly to start - and if it comes in a jug, then all the better for liberal self-service.

The white wine sangria starts off a nice base of tinned lychees, whole mint leaves and lemon quarters, and then we veer into the naughty side with Cointreau, sweet white vermouth and what I'm sure was a scientific beaker of white wine. A bit of swishing and mixing with a delectable long-handled spoon and its was cheers to first drinks of the pre-Chrissy-week day.

I think it's something about the abundance of fruit that makes the drink festive, and for an elongated afternoon of socialising and drinking, the icy jugs are not too potent nor sweet.

Rose wine sangria

In addition to battling the heat and what some may label an addiction at this time of the year, the jugs also make for a handy companion when waiting for the whole group to turn up. The rose wine version of the sangria was equally as light and fun as its white counterpart, but a little sweeter with the addition of strawberry liquer to strawberries, lime, white vermouth and lemonade.

Waiting also gave us time to admire at the interior of high tables and bar chairs, bird figurines stuck upside-down on the ceiling, and the frantically busy open kitchen. We also marvelled at the high-tech wine service device - a rather vending machine-like, wine-on-tap contraption and completely removing the art of pouring a glass of wine. Will definitely study this and the wine list further next time.

Pimms and lemonade

Finally, the final member of our group arrives, jug of Pimms in hand. All is forgiven as the simply scrumptious mix of Pimms, gin, vermouth, lemonade, ginger ale, strawberries, lemon and cucumber is delightfully taken. We have a winner, in my books, with the cucumber a genuinely refreshing addition. It would probably be rude to request yet another jug without giving the menu a glance - and with that, appetites are racing.

I spy... a stuffed koala bear in the tree!

It is a bit of a wait for the food, although perhaps understandably as the tightly packed tables and couches of two-level venue are constantly filled. The vibe is relaxed as the girly lunch crowd revels in the sunshine-y day; dresses simply everywhere among the quirks and surprises of The Winery.

Kingfish carpaccio, lemon, ginger & chilli dressing, edamames

We start with a few shared plates to wean ourselves off the drinks. The use of edamame beans almost as a garnish with the kingfish is clever and pretty to boot - the vibrantly green pops of colour in addition to an array of microherbs. The dish hits visually first and hardest, with a more subdued flavour to follow. The dressing is lovely and awakens the palate for the slightly unexcited kingfish.

Crab and herb salad, lemon avocado cream, salt crisps

The crab salad is also a good looker, with strands of crab flesh lightly resting on a round of tangy and creamy mashed avocado. The promised herbs were a bit more like small salad leaves, including rocket - so I'm not complaining. The strips of curly fried crisps are similar to deep-fried wonton wrappers, perhaps a bit thicker, and make for a nice utensil for scooping avocado and crab.

Grape, champagne and chicken pie, buttered spinach

On mains selection, I think one of us was simply sold on the queer notion of grapes in a pie. Stranger yet, they seemed to be absent from the pie upon exploration beyond the pastry lid. The chicken was there; the champagne was expected to be subtle - but, no sultanas, muscatels, fresh or dry, in sight. It was, nonetheless, a decent chicken pie but a little less exotic than the name would imply.

WA crab tossed with spinach, pasta, chilli, tomato & Chardy

The size of the pasta shells is confronting to begin with, aside from the surprise of not having a noodle (linguine, tagliatelle) pasta. The simple sauce tastes healthy yet wholesome, but the shells are definitley not al dente, which makes it difficult for the dish to really impress.

Baked salmon with a herbed crust, steamed greens & hollandaise

I think I would really enjoy the task of being the hollandaise sauce server in the kitchen - the circular squirts beneath steamed beans and brocolini. The salmon fillet was nicely baked although I didn't get a taste of the herb crust. This was definitely one of the top picks of the table, and a few other tables from observation.

Grilled sirloin, café de Paris, shoestring fries

Certainly one of the larger dishes, my grilled sirloin steak was a plate of decadence and victim of some dish envy, I think. The crisp, but not quite hot, fries were ridiculously abundant but handy for mopping up the herbed jus accompanying the steak. Requested medium-rare, the sirloin was quite well done in one area, but mostly tender inside its charred outer with the cafe de Paris butter a lovely condiment in place of my usual preference for hot English mustard.

Thus, food conquered, the rest of our afternoon was accompanied by a few more jugs before the dolled-up evening crowd started to penetrate the boozily relaxed among us. The Winery really is a beautiful location, particularly for the feminine-inclined, inside and out with views of the city skyline. The convenient Surry Hills location gives nearby drinking holes some serious competition, especially with the girlies - and it seems I'm only a few emails away from returning.

The Winery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Pigs might, but cornmeal won't

If in some mystical, sub-zero land, reindeer can fly, surely pigs might have that opportunity one day too? Although if that makes prosciutto more difficult to come by, I'm not sure that's a good fantasy.

Glebe Point Road is some kind of fantastical spontaneous saviour of a street for anyone without dining plans. Even the not-hungry are spoilt for choice with bookstores-cum-cafes, drinking holes and other bits and bobs that make Glebe the inviting place it is.

And Flying Fajita Sisters is definitely one of those inviting establishments - colourful, bustling and packed to the gills both down- and upstairs this Monday night, including a large birthday group and a star of Wicked too. The Mexican beer list is also much fun - the Bohemia and Sol the thirst and heat-quenching picks of the night.

Chimichanga with braised chile and onion from Flying Fajita Sisters,
Glebe Point Road, Glebe

The Flying Fajita Sisters menu, however, is not quite as inviting and friendly. Those without knowledge of Mexican fare or vocabulary may struggle to understand both titles and explanations. I think in the end, it was more a case of what I could pronounce and didn't sound overly hot and spicy.

We skip the appetisers and smaller dishes in favour of a quick duo of mains, and although I think the entrees probably deserve a look in, the size of the mains confirms my decision as a sensible one.

Other than being rather fun to say, the chimichanga is quite a mouthful with Mexican rice, cherry tomato salsa, guacamole and salad served alongside. This flour tortilla, with braised chile and onion inside on this occasion, is deep fried for a crisp casing with lashings of cheese with the filling. It's definitely the first time I've tried a dish cooked and set up like this, yet the flavours are all too familiar and safe.


Hence the side of jalapenos and hot chilli sauce selections from the 'Wall of Pain'. There was pain experienced and the jalapenos went mostly untouched - enough said, washed down with Sol.

Tamale with chicken in mole rojo

My tamale (also fun to say) looked delectable, especially the obviously chocolate sauce on top. The rectangle with which my choice of chicken was encased looked intriguing, half the reason why I ordered it. And when choosing the the most strangely described menu items, I suppose one has to be prepared for unlikely hits and weird misses.

The mole sauce is described as chile and chocolate, although to the non-chilli eating me, it was mostly the latter and chile that must have flown off elsewhere. The salsa in the dish and the corn mix were bright, shining bursts of freshness and flavour on the plate; the rice and salad fairly standard.

But it was the steamed, banana leaf-wrapped masa parcel that sold me, and it was the masa parcel that filled most the plate. And it was the masa parcel that utterly disapointed me - I just don't think I expected the cornmeal concoction to be quite so bland and verging on dry. Chocolate sauce, salsa and beautiful fresh corn kernels couldn't help it, and so my lump of cornmeal dough remained sadly on the plate while the rest of my meal was quite devoured.

Given the generally party atmosphere of the venue, and that it was a Monday night, it didn't have much of a 'sit and linger with desserts' vibe; although saying that, even cake and ice cream at Badde Manors couldn't tempt me. Now, when does that ever happen? Better keep a Christmas Eve eye out for those trotters running across the sky.

Flying Fajita Sistas on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Freezing fun food film

The 13th Japanese Film Festival (hosted by the Japan Foundation) has just come to its end for another year, and it's closing film was an absolute cracker. Or rice ball if you prefer. Or lobsters, ramen, tempura, crabs for breakfast, or anything you like on your birthday.

Winner of the 2009 Golden Award at the Shindo Kaneto Director Awards, Chef of the South Pole is a film to warm hearts and stomachs. It starts with a food porn montage to whet the appetite and only gets better from there.

It really is a story about a chef in the South Pole, and the surprising characters and menus in the Antarctic climate. Funny, genuine and crammed with tummy-tempting food scenes, if you ever get a chance to see it - do. Just don't go in on an empty stomach.


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