Thursday, November 11, 2010

So very Sydney

It’s been a couple of weeks since opening, but the crowds have not yet dissipated from the spacious, marbled and glamorous insides of the new Westfield Sydney. I’m not sure how much shopping is actually being done as opposed to sticky-beaking, but with Christmas around the corner, there’s sure to be plenty of ringing registers. (And I wonder if there’ll be photos with Santa?)

Westfield Sydney's Level 5
I went twice in the first week of its opening but hadn’t yet had a work day lunch at the “dining precinct” on Level 5 known as the Sydney Room. But here I was one afternoon, touring with a bunch of journos and other bloggers, sampling fare throughout the seriously posh food court.

Charlie & Co Burgers, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
An immediate hit with foodies and office workers already, Justin North's latest venture plays a starring role in the Sydney Room. In a cosy nook with windows peering out to Castlereagh Street, Charlie & Co burgers are sending out high quality burgers by the hundreds every day.

On opening day alone, unbelievable (and probably unprecedented for a food court) queues waited for 600-800 burgers, with 120kg of fries sold on the opening weekend. They're big numbers, and North reckons they're dishing out at about 200 burgers a day at the moment.

The most popular is the Wagyu & Co burger (wagyu pattie, beetroot relish, pickled gherkin and aged cheddar on a toasted brioche bun), followed by the Federation Burger (Angus beef pattie, aged cheddar, fried egg, bacon, sautéed onions, lettuce and tomato on a sesame sourdough bun) and then the Rustic Chorizo Classic (pork pattie with smoked paprika, chorizo, fennel, soft peppers and fried egg on a toasted brioche bun).

Justin North of Charlie & Co
Charlie is the guy who (arguably) invented hamburgers, North tells, squashing meatballs between slices of bread for ease of eating at the annual Seymour Fair in Wisconsin in 1885. It's also the name of North's son, so whether he named his store after his son, or named his son after the burger inventer, I'm not sure.

North says a gourmet burger bar was the next logical step from his fine diners Becasse and Etch, and the sheer popularity of the wagyu burgers at the much more casual Plan B confirmed that this is what the market wanted and needed.

And as in real estate, it was location, location, location that mattered. North felt that Westfield Sydney was the right place to launch, and like me, he thinks the revamped shopping space brings back the heartbeat and genuine excitement back into the city; even going as far as to say that it's starting to put Sydney on par with the shopping experiences of Tokyo and Paris.

That said, he'll be looking for other suitable venues for the Charlie & Co brand too, with the Opera House already "pretty much agreed". But for the time being North insists on "getting this 100% first".

Charlie & Co's focus on quality, and indeed Westfield Sydney's, means it is produce driven. By using cuts from whole animal throughout his other restaurants, North is able to not only capitalise on cost advantages of using whole beef, but he's able to create what he calls the perfect burger with mince from the cow's shoulder and knuckle. I was looking forward to testing his findings.

Wagyu burger from Charlie & Co Burgers
The 'Co' part of the name refers to the local food producers that they work with including artisan bakers who bake various breads for the burgers daily in Charlie & Co's own bakery (eavesdropping, I hear it's due to open on Level 4 of Westfield Sydney, serving coffee along with traditional bakery goods).

Our miniature tasting burger arrives encased in a sample of the on-site baked, sesame topped bread, consisting of a wagyu pattie with cheddar cheese melted atop, pickles, lettuce and tomato relish. Cute sizing and all, it was still quite the mouthful.

Wagyu burger cross section
I did manage to bite into the burger without making a mess, and was taken in by the super soft, slightly sweet bun quickly followed by the meaty punch of the burger pattie. There was a well rounded, rich flavour to the meat, which wasn't as drippingly juicy as another of North's I'd tried, but still gluttonously thick.

I loved the thinly sliced pickles (it may look like Maccas' but it tastes worlds away) for their tart and crunchy addition, while I'd take the sweetly spiced tomato relish over tomato sauce any day, any dish. The iceberg lettuce leaf was the only thing that could really be considered 'standard', not that it wasn't perfectly crisp.

Parmesan and truffle fries
The fries are really somethng else. Not just your regular potato cooked in oil, this serve of golden, thick cut chips was all pimped out with salt flakes, fresh grated parmesan cheese and a bit of truffle oil for that added decadence - after all, you are at Westfield Sydney. The truffle oil is perfectly restrained and almost enhances the parmesan cheese flavour, taking good old chips to new and exciting place.

When Charlie & Co ran out of chips on one of the opening days, North dropped in to neighbours Cloudy Bay Fish Co for some reinforcements, which were gladly provided.

Chatting to the guys, it's apparent that the Sydney Room is much more than just the sum of its parts - the camaraderie is palpable, especially among North, Cloudy Bay's John Susman and Eat Deli Kitchen's Michael Moore, which I think is unique to the environment. I doubt you would see neighbouring fine diners so friendly towards each other.

Charlie & Co's dining area
Aside from taking a snazzy Charlie & Co burger box (quality all the way) back to the office, or to one of the food court seats overlooking Hyde Park, there's an eat-in option at the fully licensed dining area with about 20-30 seats, serving boutique beers and wine. I see silverware on the eat-in tables and wonder if I'd ever use cutlery for a burger (mind you, I tend to eat salad with my fingers, so I'm probably not the best test case).

For North, Charlie & Co is not only a new brand, but a new model - and there's no set system or model for the business to run; meaning North is at Westfield Sydney more often than not finetuning things, which in turn means there's a good chance you'll see him if you head up for a burger.

Cloudy Bay Fish Co, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
And if you head up in search of seafood, you'll probably run into man of all things seafood, John Susman, at the Cloudy Bay Fish Co. His place is probably the first place you'll see (and be stunned by) as you alight the escalators.

This store fitout is pretty spectacular, yet they're still not quite finished. There's currently bar style seating and your more traditional food court seating, but soon enough there'll also be a licensed, proper eat-in section with a simple menu paired with wines by the glass.

John Susman of Cloudy Bay Fish Co
This from a company that's more accustomed to selling fish to retailers and distributors, and running fish factories. I think this is where the inspiration for the white coat uniform probably comes from (he wasn't wearing gumboots nor a plastic apron though).

Hiramasa kingfish poached in verjuice, thyme and lemon
What I like about this concept is that it's a dynamic offer - aside from some staple offerings such as salmon and prawns, Susman tells us that you get what they catch. This day it was snapper, hapuka and gurnard - who knows what's on for tomorrow, all part of Susman's sustainable philosophy. These daily offerings are served grilled or fried with chips and salad - simple, and fresh, aiming to get it straight from water to plate.

Wild king prawns in a classic cocktial sauce with avocado, peppers and parsley
Also on the way is the idea of promoting provenance: knowing exactly where your seafood meal is coming from. This has already started with the four offerings in the cold bar (the hot section is coming along too with three items planned daily; think fish cakes and more), which can be served with salad or on a roll - the latter of which is baked on-site by none other than Justin North's downstairs bakery.

King salmon marinated in lemon, pepper and olive oil, roasted on New Zealand beechwood
Symbiotic, Susman calls the relationship between himself, North and Moore. Apparently Charlie & Co will be using Cloudy Bay's prawns for an as-yet not on the menu prawn burger and I think Moore is making some sort of (presumably seafood) quiches for Susman.

Albacore (white) tuna braised in extra virgin olive oil, lemon and pepper
We move along through the rest of the food court - or at least the part that's open so far. Knowing that this is only half, if not less, of what's to come is really exciting, especially if they're of the calibre of the current stores. Already signed up for stage 2 (second quarter 2011) on Level 5 is Simon Goh of Chinta Ria with Malaysian comfort food (I hope that means roti) under the name Sassy's Red, and it appears many more are still to sign.

Gorgeous light fixtures
One shop most city folk will be accustomed to seeing is Guzman Y Gomez (there are already two in walking distance of Martin Place, in addition to Newtown, Bondi, Kings Cross and Crows Nest). Managing director Steve Marks would be happy to hear that my first GYG experience with the chicken guerrero burrito was revelatory.

I'd never had rice in a tortilla before (something about carb in carb) but the combination of GYG's soffritto cooked rice, black beans imported from Mexico, fresh and tangy tomato salsa, queso (cheese) and high quality protein fillings (chicken is my favourite) was sensational and unlike anything I'd ever had. Queenslanders should get ready for the revelation too - GYG is headed your way.

Guzman Y Gomez, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
Marks, an ex hedge fundie, was appalled by what was deemed Mexican fare in Australia, and decided to do his own, naming the Mexican taqueria chain after two childhood friends from New York. He sourced freshly made tortillas from a "local lady" and imported all sorts of exotic ingredients from Mexico, including their initial range of complimentary condiments.

Since I started eating GYG, it's always been the Byron Bay Chilli Company sauces, notably the Mango Chilli Sauce (sweet, tropical with a strong hint of heat) and the Green Jalapeno (hotter with a coriander bent). I love the mango sauce and always thought this was an ode to the locals, part Australian-ising, if you will.

But no - Marks has been waiting for the right one, the right Tabasco sauce to get here. They're here now: Tabasco Chipotle and Tabasco Habanero, and all the GYG stores will be changing over to what Marks regards as the best condiment for his burritos, tacos, quesadillas and nachos.

Eat Deli Kitchen, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
We toddle on over back to Eat Deli Kitchen, where Summit chef Michael Moore chats to us about his new venture. Like North, he's taken a completely different tack from his world of fine (revolving) dining, offering New York style deli sandwiches, some with hot roast fillings. Moore took a big plunge, being the first to sign up to Westfield Sydney's ambitious dining precint concept.

Eat Deli Kitchen hot menu
His most popular menu item is undoubtedly the wagyu salt beef Reuben sandwich. Moore finds himself ordering 600kg of grain-fed, 6+ marble score wagyu silverside a week to keep up with demand, from Oakleigh Ranch in central Queensland and David Blackmore in Victoria.

The beef is cured, pickled and then cooked for five hours, in which it is rendered down by 30%, mostly fat. Moore admits that even though he's serving high quality, fresh food, the fat levels (monosaturated or saturated, debate rages) probably mean the Reuben shouldn't be a daily meal. There's always the roasted pork leg.

Carving up the hot, salted beef
Moore laughs as he tells us we're probably being served by the most overqualified sandwich makers ever, but like North, Moore is spending a lot of time in Westfield Sydney with his restaurant actually supporting a lot of the production for Eat Deli Kitchen, for now.

The Reuben is served with rye bread sourced from Schwab's Bakery (also sliced to order), swiss cheese, Moore's own cucumber dill pickles and a mustard mayonnaise - but alas, he'd sold out of rye bread that day, making a Reuben sandwich tasting impossible.

Hand sliced wagyu salt beef
However, we were still able to sample the extremely popular beef, which is sliced quite thickly, along with the pickles and sauerkraut. The whole pickles are mildly flavoured, little limp, un-crisp things while the sauerkraut was crunchy and unexpectedly a little spicy (or was that the effect of the mustard mayonnaise?)

But it's no wonder why the beef is a star - it is up there with the most succulent piece of beef ever, which is so surprising for silverside, let alone corned silverside. There's very little visible fat on the meat, but the rich mouthfeel leaves no doubt that this is wagyu - darn tasty wagyu.

It is a little on the salty side, which is where the mustard mayonnaise and pickles come in, sauerkraut too. I'm trying to imagine it on rye bread with swiss cheese - but I'm already floored by the beef. As Al Pacino might say if paid enough, this is good beef.

Display stand at Top Fruit, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
Of all the stores, I was seriously looking forward to checking out Top Fruit - and like a bee, nothing draws me in like a bright and vibrant display. And it wasn't just any fruit tantilisingly arranged - there was an abundance of tropical fruit that's little seen outside of Cabramatta and indeed south-east Asia - certainly not in the Sydney CBD.

White chocolate dipped strawberry from Top Fruit
It makes a lot of sense when I find out that Top Fruit are the guys who do the fruit at David Jones Food Hall, and then chocolate dipped strawberries look much more familiar.

But here, there’s more variety of exotic and tropical fruits; though I wish they’d also take on board Susman’s idea of provenance – where on earth do yellow dragonfruits come from?

Yellow dragonfruit
We’re able to sample some of the fruits on offer, including two varieties of dragonfruit, which are fruit of certain cactus specimens. The regular pink skinned dragonfruit is refreshing with a subtle sweetness and a slight crunch to the black seeds, a bit like kiwifruit. The yellow version, which we’re told takes longer to ripen, has a sweeter and more intense flavour and is just as refreshing.

Most intriguing was probably what’s labelled chocolate fruit - the black sapote, which is a variety of persimmon native to South America. The green outer conceals a chocolate brown, soft and smushy flesh, delicately fibrous as persimmons are. It was also a little on the bland side, as persimmons can be, with a mildly creamy and sweet flavour, more avocado than chocolate though. The resemblance to chocolate appearance is the only real talking point.

Gorgeous citrus display

A sensational fruit salad with mango, figs, dragonfruit and more

Bananas and wheatgrass

Top Fruit fridge display

A good looking fridge
Just beyond Top Fruit, more sweetness can be found at Via Del Corso Pasticceria and Gelateria; a fantastic circular store that offers Italian cakes, pastries and  gelato. I could certainly orbit around this a few times and still not know what to have, such are the choices.

Via Del Corso, Level 5, Westfield Sydney

Pastries at Via Del Corso

Gelato dessert offerings at Via Del Corso

The automated gelato fridge window
And if all that sugar isn't enough to awe you, Via Del Corso's custom Italian made display case surely will. Designed and made by makers of Italian sportscars, these display windows are automated - a push of a button sends the glass panels upwards (and indeed away), mostly for ease of cleaning, but in our case, for ease of tasting.
Just one cabinet of many gelati at Via Del Corso
Free rein at an open fridge of gelato. Admittedly, I've had this before (I used to work at a gelateria, and while it wasn't quite a free for all, I know the feeling), but there was just something about being handed a bunch of spoons and being told to head on in - it was like being a kid (me) in a gelato store.

While many seemed impressed with the chilli chocolate gelato, I was more a fan of the mango and the tiramisu, the former surprisingly real and the latter with actual cakey, biscuit bits within. While not all the gelato is made by them at them moment, that's the goal in the near future.

Level 5, Westfield Sydney
While that's most of the current Level 5 offerings, plus Crust Gourmet Pizza Bar and Dergah Grill, I imagine the end product could be twice the size of what it is now. Equally exciting is the architecture involved in incorporating levels 5, 6 and 7, the latter which is to be a rooftop bar (in 2012 - still no CBD rooftop bars for another two years!). Here's a sneak peak at some artist's impressions.

Level 5, Westfield Sydney (looking up to Level 6 and rooftop)
Images courtesy of Westfield Sydney

Level 5, Westfield Sydney (looking down to Level 4)
Images courtesy of Westfield Sydney
This will truly become a 'dining precinct', if not a glam shopping centre just for food. I'm hoping Level 6 might incorporate some small bar concept (so Melbourne, but so very Sydney right now) or a cheese and wine bar, in addition to what's toted as Chat Thai's most ambitious and "stunning" store, with a planned dessert feature like its Haymarket outlet.

Sky Phoenix, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
Already open on Level 6 is Sky Phoenix, which the CBD welcomes back with open arms, if the Friday yum cha crowds are anything to go by. Deprived for a year, office workers are taking back to Sky Phoenix like ducks to water (or should that be phoenixes to... the sky?).

The newly decked out Sky Phoenix
And why wouldn't they - quality yum cha in pleasant surroundings with (from year-ago memory) nice, smiling service. The now new Sky Phoenix seats about 400, smarts of restrained opulence, yet is modern too with floor to ceiling windows at one end. They've even already hosted a wedding over their opening weekend, which is pretty impressive for what is essentially a new restaurant.

Our tour is in the evening, so instead of yum cha we sample from the dinner menu with our waiter selecting several banquet items to fill our near-capacity bellies.

Peking duck from Sky Phoenix
Peking duck, though, knows no capacity limit. Two perfect floury pancakes arrive with the lacquered roast duck skin peeking out among juliennes of spring onions (for a more subtle flavour - clever and classy) and a stick of cucumber. There's also a dab of hoisin sauce within although honestly I'd prefer my own dish because I like lots of it.

Not only duck skin, there's a generous amount of duck meat wrapped within the pancake, which makes the Peking duck quite a substantial, and of course scrumptious, starter. I wouldn't have minded a couple more and been done with dinner, but there were other items already on their way.

Sang choi bao - pork lettuce cups
The perfectly shaped iceberg lettuce cup was filled with a pork mince concoction including a variety of chopped up Asian vegetables, and some preserved ones too I think. It was hard to really notice when I was scoffing it down, appreciating the well seasoned flavours of five spice, I think, as well as the crunchy fried vermicelli noodles.

It was definitely one of the best sang choi bao I've ever had, though admittedly, I don't really order them all that often. I think it was down to freshness of ingredients (that lettuce was so crisp) and seriously on-the-ball seasoning.

Stir fried prawns and scallops with snow peas
Steamed rice then came along with our mains, placed on the lazy susan like any Chinese restaurant. My first memories of scallops - my favourite mollusc - are from Chinese restaurants, usually with snow peas, in a ginger and shallot sauce. There's something about the way proper Chinese restaurants do scallops that makes them simply amazing in texture and taste - I think they're flash cooked in hot oil before use in a dish, which must lock in the natural flavours and maintain some tender softness within.

So I was really looking forward to the prawns and scallops, which for me is rather nostalgic. These prawns were superbly crisp; probably as a result of being treated with the same flash fry process. The scallops were as I remember; sweet with the taste of the sea, moist and tender. My only wish was that they were bigger, but I suppose that comes from being a small child faced with the same sized scallops all those years ago.

The seafood and well cooked snow peas, along with other vegetables including butterfly cutout carrots found exclusively in Chinese restaurants, were bound together with a clear sauce, probably of master stock - and little else is needed.

Mixed vegies
The assortment of greenery included sugar snap peas, more snow peas, broccoli and Shanghai or baby bok choy. A dish of vegetables is almost mandatory with any Chinese meal: yum cha, dinner out or in, I suppose as a way of keeping the balance with proteins, which usually feature vegies as a base or garnish.

Wasabi beef
My first experience of wasabi beef was at Manly Phoenix at another tasting years ago, which makes me think that this is one of their group's signature dishes. Playing cautiously at the fence of fusion, these cubes of tender beef are wok tossed then drizzled with a measured, still green wasabi sauce that somehow never gets too hot and up the nose. The beef alone is tasty but the sauce takes it on a journey to new, unexplored place (sounding a little original Iron Chef here).

I'm not entirely sure why Pringle-like wafers appear as a garnish, but the shredded carrot and curly parsley remind me of the pages of an old Chinese cookbook I have in possession, where almost every dish was decorated with this exact garnish.

In what becomes the end, after about three hours of eating and tasting, there are sadly some leftovers but the stomach has well and truly called it a day. And how could it not, with wagyu burgers, truffle chips, corned beef, exotic fruits, gelato, Peking duck and all those Chinese dishes - all in the one very impressive place.

Westfield Sydney really seem to have pulled something spectacular off here, but it's only the beginning, Sydney. Pull out the credit card and enjoy.

Thanks to Urbanspoon and Liquid Ideas for the invite, and many thanks to Westfield Sydney's Level 5.

Charlie & Co Burgers on Urbanspoon Eat, Deli Kitchen - Westfield Sydney on Urbanspoon

Top Juice - Westfield Sydney on Urbanspoon Via Del Corso Pasticceria E Caffé - Westfield Sydney on Urbanspoon

Sky Phoenix on Urbanspoon


Mel said...

I'm going to go here next Thursday after work to check it out and have dinner (if the crowds are not too big that is)! Good summary - you're lucky to be invited to the bloggers day...looks like fun getting to try a bit of everything.

Jessie said...

Looks delicious!!

Two fit and fun gals said...

oh ive heard so many great things about the new westfields i totally wanna check it out soon!

Tina said...

Hi MelbaToast - Hopefully the hype is starting to die down a little now - might make shopping and eating a little easier... :)

Hi Jessie - It was, especially the truffle fries!

Hi Betty - There's lots to see ;)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I'm so glad Sky Phoenix is back! And how awful to run out of chips on the first day but good that the neighbours helped!

missklicious said...

Great review =D I had dinner at Charlie & Co today and I saw 2 girls eat their whole burger with cutlery, very neatly as well! I felt bad stuffing my face with the burger in my hand, sauce dripping everywhere and stuff all over my face! Bahaha

Tina said...

Hi Lorraine - Me too :)

Hi missklicious - I think I'd be stuffing my face too. One hand for the burger, the other for chips and drinking ;)

chopinandmysaucepan said...

Agree the chips with the truffle oil was pretty damn good. I was full but somehow, I needed to finish that bowl of chips.

Tina said...

Hi chopinandmysaucepan - Yes, must head back for them sometime real soon!


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