Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mass catering at Doltone House

I don't really have anything nice to say about food at functions/events centres, so I won't. But here's some images of a many-coursed meal at Doltone House on Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont (near Star City or as it now likes to be know, 'The Star').

And when you're at Doltone House, make sure you know which wedding you're attending when you're there (four different brides running around is pretty funny though. Maybe not for a non-committal guy). And do not eat canapes from another wedding, even if they're offered to you.

Appetiser: Antipasti plate at Doltone House, Jones Bay Wharf, Pyrmont

Alternate drop entree: Spaghetti marinara

Alternate drop entree: Roasted pork belly with lentils and fennel salad

Alternate drop main: Roasted beef wrapped in prosciutto with capsicum jam

Alternate drop main: Grilled Dory with creamy gnocchi

Alternate drop dessert: Chocolate fondant

Alternate drop dessert: Ricotta pancake
One of the best parts of the night was definitely the spirits bar set up at the front of the room - never before have I seen a bottle of Grey Goose vodka disappear so quickly. Cheers to the bride and groom!

Doltone House on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 29, 2011

Follow the Coffee Trails to Toby's Estate Cafe

It's exciting when you're around passionate people. Their enthusiasm and liveliness is infectious, and you tend to learn a lot too. There's a lot of passion in the industries of food and drink, and right there somewhere up the top has to be Toby Smith of Toby's Estate coffee.

Toby's Estate coffee beans
If you drink coffee, you're probably acutely aware of Toby's Estate and its enviable reputation for great coffee. With a massive wholesale distribution network throughout Sydney as well as a growing brood of flagship cafes, the latest - opening for its first day today - is sidled right across from Broadway Shopping Centre on Bay Street in Glebe.

Toby's Estate Cafe, Bay Street, Broadway
Neighbouring the Co-op Bookshop, the new cafe is as splendid as it is welcoming. With warm tones and a slight retro feel, it's a coffee paradise for bean beginners all the way through to absolute afficionados.

At times it also resembles a science laboratory, but on the launch night there were inviting espresso martinis to be had - not on the cafe menu but something for future consideration given how well they went down with the launch party crowd.

Some serious crema with the espresso martini
Vodka, Kahlua and Frangelico liqueurs, shaken with a shot of none other than Toby's Estate espresso, strained into martini glasess with a few coffee beans for garnish. It was the best coffee I'd had all day.

Espresso martini
So good was the espresso martini that I felt justified breaking my 'no coffee after 4pm rule' and hitting up the bar for seconds. Someone also mentioned the caffeine uplift would be dulled by the somewhat sedative alcohol, and I was more than happy to go with that explanation.

Canapes by Forte Catering
Tiny tidbits of tasty canapes made their way around the room on pieces of black slate, and included these scrolls of jamon serrano with cheese, smoked duck breast with cucumber and mini lamb pies.

Coffee or science equipment?
In addition to a couple of Mirage espresso machines (including one lever machine), there are several other instruments for coffee extraction up on the zinc-topped counter space - and not just for display purposes.

Siphon coffee maker
Even with retort stands and flasks about (hello, year 12 chemistry), the siphon coffee maker is the one to watch; from its red hot heating lamp, to the bubbles of boiling water and the ever-fascinating process of condensation.

Siphon coffee
It's a softer extraction method than high pressure espresso machines, and thus results in a softer, more mellow end product too. And the beauty of all this equipment is that you can try them all in a degustation-like fashion and really taste what they're doing to the beans.

Like in wine tasting, there's always a lot to learn, but in the end, it has to be enjoyable and to each's own tastes, so I think it's just as much about experimentation and diversifying your experiences as coffee knowledge.

Toby Smith of Toby's Estate
Man of the hour Toby Smith couldn't help but exude his passion for coffee as he took to the stage to conduct an old school slide showing of some of his travels around the world for the perfect coffee.

Toby's passion/obsession started in sincerity more than two decades ago when he first tasted Yirgecheffe; an Ethiopian coffee bean. And now, completely enamoured with coffee origins, he's produced a stunning and enjoyably informative coffee table book (pun intended) detailing his visits to coffee-growing destinations of the world, Coffee Trails.

Images taken from Coffee Trails by Toby Smith

Images taken from Coffee Trails by Toby Smith
Travel journal and a coffee encyclopedia, the photos are simply breathtaking, the stories compelling and some of the artworks richly painted in coffee itself. It's pure passion for something, and so exciting to take in and learn about. And for bringing new perspective to that morning cappuccino - thank you Toby.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Toby's Estate Cafe and book launch with thanks to Liquid Ideas.

Toby's Estate Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 26, 2011

A night feed at Asa Sushi

When you need a quick bite, it seems most people know where the nearest Maccas is - but what about slightly healthier options? A healthy, quick bites directory would be just the thing. One that could be added to the list is Asa Sushi in Kings Cross, beneath the Coke sign at the entry to Kings Cross Shopping Centre.

Sushi and sashimi platter for two at Asa Sushi, Bayswater Road, Kings Cross
Starving and rushed for time, it was here that delighted two of us with simple, fresh sushi - very much a healthy, quick bite. The tiny takeaway and eat-in restaurant offers brown rice sushi for a slight premium, although the teriyaki sets proved very popular with those eating in the small premises.

Green tea served in a wooden cup
By far the cutest tea vessel I've ever seen, this miniature wooden barrel held my green tea well enough. There was a knot in the wood that seemed to have a natural opening, and where droplets of my green tea were consistently making their way out to see the world. But still cute.

Tuna, kingfish and salmon sashimi
No complaints about the fresh, firm slices of sashimi; other than the need to toss up for the tuna or kingfish even though I actually prefer the latter.

Salmon is undoubtedly the most popular raw fish served up in Sydney, which the Japanese don't necessarily agree with (it's all about the tuna!).

Prawn, tuna, salmon and kingfish nigirizushi
The slices of tuna on the nigiri sushi are seriously thin and here again, salmon rules. The sushi rice was pretty spot on, as too the sizings; which is important these days as I try to eat nigirizushi as it was intended - in one mouthful.

Salmon, avocado and cucmber uramaki (inside-out roll)
I beleive the one-mouthful approach is also intended for futomaki zushi, or thick sushi rolls, but I continue to struggle here.

The whole mouthful threatens to choke me and silences me for a good full minute, whereas trying to bite the pieces in smaller mouthfuls usually results in the filling falling out and me left with a long strip of seaweed hanging out of my mouth.

It seems you can't win, but a quick and healthy feed at Asa Sushi, especially on an umplanned night, sure feels like winning.

Asa Sushi on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Smirnoff Espresso flies off shelves in five days

If you haven’t been gallivanting around the world in the last few months, then you may not have noticed the very limited edition, very exclusive bottles of Smirnoff Espresso vodka gracing the shelves of duty free stores in select international airport terminals, including Sydney International Airport.

Smirnoff Espresso (second from left)
with thanks to Splendid Communications
No, I didn't notice either. Not until I was sent a 1 litre bottle, along with a full cocktail kit with ingredients for a number of boozy concoctions featuring the coffee-flavoured vodka.

On its own, the vodka is surprisingly smooth and sippable. The aroma is like a gorgeous fresh brew, and the taste hints strongly at smooth vanilla, with sweetness to match too. Smirnoff Espresso on ice could be a cheat's way out.

Just part of my cocktail kit,
with thanks to Splendid Communications
But in cocktail land, while espresso martinis definitely seem to be making a comeback (perhaps something to do with more easily attainable liquor licenses and increasingly gourmet coffee shops), here’s a selection of cocktails based on Smirnoff Espresso that are easy to make in the home bar or kitchen table.

Smirnoff Espresso and cola
So not so much a cocktail as a mixed drink, we start easy with essentially a vodka and Coke. The coffee flavours of the Smirnoff Espresso are pretty much lost amid the sweet cola, though the vodka kick is most certainly there.

The twist of orange peel, twisted over the drink so the orange oils are expressed over the drink itself, adds the freshness of citrus. For something so simple to make, it's a winner. See video instructions here.

Mise en place for raspberry chocolate martini
With more ingredients and the need for more cocktail equipment, the raspberry chocolate martini already sounds a winner for the sweeter and (sorry) girlier tastes. Or indeed a dessert cocktail - in place of dessert even (there's got to be fewer calories in this than a chocolate fondant).

All one needs are raspberries (fresh here, but I'm sure frozen would suffice), chocolate sauce, ice and of course, Smirnoff Espresso.

Raspberries, chocolate sauce, Smirnoff Espresso and ice in the shaker glass
I haven't got the most elegant cocktail shake, but I know that the individual raspberries pretty much need to resemble mush - which is even more work for the frozen variety.

Ice is important - the more the better as more means a lower overall temperature and that it will melt more slowly than something with less ice (and thus at a warmer temperature - ah, logic prevails).

Raspberry chocolate martini
It doesn't look great in the shaker glass, but after a good minute's or so shaking (when your skin starts to stick to the metal cannister of the Boston shaker, it's probably had enough), the dark red concoction smells exactly as it should - like raspberries and chocolate.

Best served in a little espresso cup rather than a large teacup (saucer is a must), it needs to be strained with a Hawthorne strainer, if not also double strained with a fine sieve to remove the raspberry seeds from the cocktail. See video instructions here.

I must have been a little heavy-handed with the chocolate sauce, as mine was more a chocolate cocktail than anything else. Nonetheless, a fabulous alternative to dessert; a nice end to the night in; and a fun start to a night out.

Food, booze and shoes received a sample of Smirnoff Espresso and cocktail ingredients and equipment with many thanks from Splendid Communications.

Other cocktail recipes utilising Smirnoff Espresso can be found here (White Russian and Smirnoff Espresso Martini).

Monday, August 22, 2011

It's all Hunky Dory at Bruno's

The curiously-named Hunky Dory Social Club had me at ‘hello’. Or rather, ‘Hunky’. What kind of place, with that name, could not be awesome? Spread over two upstairs levels – both overlooking busy Oxford Street – it is a darkly low-touch cool space that boasts one of Sydney’s very few rooftop bars.

Cocktail on the roof at Hunky Dory Social Club, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
There’s something very movie-like about sipping cocktails on a dilapidated couch, looking up to a brightly-lit billboard and open skies, and out onto the street traffic.

The new cocktail menu was also a treat, with some heavy hitting spirits in the mix of light-hearted titles, including the Heartbreaker (featuring Hennessy VSOP, Grand Marnier, PAMA pomegranate liqueur and blueberries).

Food is available in the bar, sent up from Bruno’s – the restaurant that occupies the ground floor. But for the full menu including mains, we headed down the couple of flights of stairs and took up a spot-lit table in the charming bricked room adorned with imagery of none other than Jesus Christ, aside a crucifix and other religious wall hangings.

Insude Bruno's, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
With its cosy seating inside as well as a communal table out the front and a couple of tables on the footpath, Bruno’s has an unassuming trattoria feel – not to mention the large, crocheted rounds of black yarn beneath the glass-topped tables.

There’s a varied menu of starters, pasta and pizza. And from one look at a pizza that made it to the upstairs bar, we were definitely getting in on this woodfired cheese and carb action.

Nduja and goat's cheese with pizza wedges
I’m currently, and have been for a good few years now, in a love affair with nduja - the Italian salami paste that is increasingly common in Sydney's Italian restaurants.

The nduja at Bruno’s is by far the spiciest version I’ve tried, causing pain just mouthfuls into my quenelle of sorts. Despite the fiery pain, it’s some pretty good nduja with discernable chilli and meat bits.

The goat’s cheese served alongside is softly soothing; following the same dairy-over-chilli philosophy as yoghurt with Indian curries, I think. There’s not quite enough of the flat bread, which are pizza base style wedges, but we make do by smearing the nduja onto the goat’s cheese and rocket leaves.

Prawn and zucchini tagliolini
We’re immediately impressed with the large-headed prawns poking out of the thin eggy pasta, with halved rounds of rather overcooked zucchini in the mix. The tagliolini noodles have a very distinct eggy flavour and could have done with a little more oil or sauce, but were entirely pleasant nonetheless.

Gigantic prawns are never my favourites, but these had great texture along with their intense flavour. I kept wishing that the zucchini was thrown in at the last few seconds rather than last few minutes, but then we had pizza to distract us.

Prosciutto pizza
The pizza arrives at the table whole; which explains the rather sharp knives we were presented with in the beginning. At first touch with the knife (not the easiest thing to slice up, mind you), the crisp yet chewy base showed no signs of sogginess and every sign of greatness. Which it was.

Despite the extremely salty addition of very good prosciutto, I couldn’t stop eating the fabulous pizza, which was lightly spread with tomato sauce with plenty of stringy cheese. This pizza was definitely up there with the best of bases, though I acknowledge that this one had the benefit of pretty dry toppings.

Which could only mean a return visit to check out potentially soggier toppings on that excellent Bruno’s base. And that’s hunky dory by me.

Hunky Dory Social Club on Urbanspoon

Bruno's on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 19, 2011

The oldies but goodies at New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant

The main road through Ashfield is one of Sydney's suburban Chinatowns, with more of a Northern Chinese slant than the traditionally Cantonese Haymarket Chinatown. And as to be expected from a Chinatown, the street is lined with food outlets and restaurants, grocers, butcheries, fishmongers and fruit shops.

With so much on offer, it's a wonder that I keep returning for just one or two things; namely, xiao long bao pork soup dumplings and their cousins, the Shanghai pan fried pork buns.

Xiao long bap from New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant, Liverpool Road, Ashfield
They don't mess around here, and food hits the table fairly fast and in no particular order. The xiao long bao excite the table as a quasi-appetiser, though still not everyone knows how to eat them without soup squirts or leaks.

These are great, with full-flavoured soup inside the slightly-thicker-than-DTF dumpling skins. I always think I could eat a few baskets full of these, though I'm yet to have the pleasure of that challenge.

Zha jiang noodles
Another favourite dish is the zha jiang noodles; slippery, thick, white noodles beneath an appetising topping of minced pork and spicy bean paste, among potentially hundreds of other ingredients. Alongside, a handful of julienned cucumber combats the slight but increasing heat of the sauce.

Zha jiang noodles, mixed through
The noodles aren't as pretty when mixed through, but it's the only way to eat them properly. While I normally prefer egg noodles over rice noodles in most instances, this is one exception to the case.

Spicy combination wonton noodle hot pot
We hadn't expected the hot pot to be quite such a giant bowl full of chilli red broth, topped with wonton dumplings, beef strips, Chinese greens and black fungus.

Definitely a serving to be shared, this was a meal within a meal that never seemed to end - meat, vegies, dumplings, noodles - we were fishing for food right to the very bottom of the bowl.

Pan fried pork buns
Often the last to arrive are the pan fried pork buns, presumably as they're cooked to order a need a good 10 minutes' cooking, at least, in oil and water in the pan.

Fluffy dough encases a similar pork filling as the xiao long bao although without the soupy delight. These are seriously filling, especially at the end of the meal, so also ideal for sharing.

So, three of the same dishes I usually order when I'm round Ashfield way; four completely satiated bodies and some takeaway; and another satisfying visit to New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant.

New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Champagne Cube by Pommery pops up on Level Three, Westfield Sydney

The lights in The Champagne Cube by Pommery at Level Three, Westfield Sydney
For only five days from 17-21 August, Westfield Sydney's uber luxe, ultra designer level three is featuring a pop-up bar concept in collaboration with French champagne house Pommery (pronounced pom-me-ray) in celebration of the now complete 'luxury precinct'.

Champagne Pommery
While I may not shop regularly at the likes of Prada, Miu Miu, Gucci and Bottega Veneta; this is one girl who doesn't mind her bubbles.

Installed right in front of the Mulberry store, The Champagne Cube by Pommery is decked out in silver, blue and white - the signature colours of Champagne Pommery, which hails from Reims in France.

Champagne Pommery bottles
This year marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of the champagne but only its second year in the Australian market. Hopefully we'll see it around a bit more from here on.

The pop-up bar is located on the level three 'luxury precinct', as opposed to the 'dining precint' on levels five and six, where the likes of Chat Thai, Spiedo and Xanthi restaurants all opened just yesterday.

The Champagne Cube by Pommery
(Photo courtesy of Baker Brand)
Comfortably fitting 40 people in the sitting and standing bar area, the idea is that The Champagne Cube complements the high-end shopping and food on offer, meaning I can feel a million bucks without dropping an entire month's pay.

A glass of Champagne Pommery
After a bout of (window) shopping, or indeed after work, one can drop into the bar for a glass of Champagne Pommery for $15 along with a mini macaron by Justin North's Becasse. The macaron flavours will vary daily and have been especially designed to match the delicate flavours of the champagne.

Strawberry and lime mini macarons by Becasse
The macarons this particular day were said to be strawberry and lime, though I found them to be light on both flavours, and especially creamy and chewy.

I think it was a tough task to match the champagne, which was quite dry, smooth and exceptionally easy to drink. It's apparently without the residual sweetness of a lot of champagnes.

Cameron Harris, Managing Director, Vranken-Pommery
The head of the newly established Australian arm of champagne house Vranken-Pommery was on hand to say a few words, before exciting all and sundry with the prospect of a goodie bag.

Pommery Pop piccolo
It contained a blue bottle of Pommery Pop - a range of limited edition 200ml piccolos that feature artwork on the outside.

Harris also announced that the next artist whose work would decorate the Pommery Pop bottles will be a female indigenous Australian artist, whose artwork will be seen around the world where Pommery is distributed.

Open from 17-21 August on Level Three, Westfield Sydney(Photo courtesy of Baker Brand)
We were all also treated to a taste of luxury with a little gift from Via La Moda, which has a store to one side of The Champagne Cube on Level 3 and which should see a significant increase in window shoppers as a result of the pop-up bar.

It's only at Westfield Sydney's Level 3 from this Wednesday through to Sunday - so head on up to check out The Champagne Cube by Pommery while it's there for your taste of luxury.

Food, booze and shoes attended a preview of The Champagne Cube by Pommery with thanks to Baker Brand.

The Champagne Cube by Pommery on Urbanspoon 


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