Sunday, December 30, 2012

The year that was, 2012

It's been a whirlwind year and I'm really not just saying that. I remember last new year's eve all too well and the 12 months that have transpired since then have been jam-packed with work, life events, new and old faces, and an almost unbelievable amount of food and booze.

Below are some of the highlights of my year in Food, Booze and Shoes.

Food and Booze

Steamed brioche and smoked trout roe from Grain, Sydney
One of the most exciting new bar openings in Sydney this year wasn't a small bar but rather a hotel bar: Grain at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney with food by Bar H's Hamish Ingham and chef Josh Niland.

With a bar menu to rival some restaurants about town, Grain raises the bar so even locals join hotel guests for drinks and unexpected bar snacks like smoked trout roe and crème fraîche on house-made steamed brioche buns.

Pig's tail salad, walnuts, sorrel, currants, pomegranate, farro from The Apollo, Potts Point
It was a great year for modern Greek food with both David Tsirekas' Xanthi and Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie's The Apollo picking up inaugural hats in this year's Good Food Guide.

The latter, Potts Point restaurant did an out-of-this-world pig's tail crackling salad that probably wasn't all too healthy but showed a liveliness in modern Greek cuisine that was new to me.

Orecchiette with lentils, pine nuts and mascapone from Table for 20, Surry Hills
I've been to Table for 20 a couple of times this year, and adore the homely pasta entrée every time.

I've had second and third helpings, brought my own wine and had a ball every time, all the while remembering to leave room for their rich, always-pleasing whole cake dessert offerings - to share, of course.

Xiao long bao from Mr Wong, Sydney
The year's biggest restaurant opening had to be Merivale's Mr Wong, where Cantonese cuisine went high-end in an impressively atmospheric, two-level, laneway restaurant setting.

Dan Hong and Jowett Yu's golden touch continued with a classic Cantonese menu dotted with additional Sydney favourites, like xiao long bao pork soup buns which are simply divine with a cocktail at Mr Wong's bar.

Pork pintxo, lima beans, guindillas from bloodwood, Newtown
A new favourite was discovered in bloodwood, which is a bit of a difficult one to categorise. In any case, bold international flavours, amazing service and interesting wines make it a winner in my books.

The explosive flavours in small share dishes like the pork pintxo means bloodwood is ideal for drinks and snacks, light meals or the all-out meal with a set menu group banquet.

Spiced popcorn and Bloody Maria from Tio's Cerveceria, Surry Hills
It was the year of the Shady Pines Saloon spin-off bars, with new Sydney CBD booze-quaffing venues from Anton Forte and Jason Scott, and a tequila-focused offering from a couple of ex-Shady guys.

Tio's Cerveceria is my casual, Surry Hills back street, go-to place for free popcorn and good times fuelled by tequila refrescos like the Bloody Maria which almost feels healthy.

Pulled veal ravioli, broad beans, cornichons, shiso from Chiswick, Woollahra
I think Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan's Chiswick has a firm place in Woollahra hearts. Indeed, it feels like it should have been in Chiswick Gardens all this time and is the epitome of a long lunch venue.

Their seasonally-driven menu is supplemented by an expansive kitchen garden, which I hope is an enduring restaurant trend. The pulled veal ravioli was a stunner at the De Bortoli Windy Peak wines launch.

Ayam goreng kalasan with nasi uduk and ati goreng from Ayam Goreng 99, Kingsford
It's not only the new restaurant openings with no-bookings policies and queues out the door. A favourite cheap eat, Ayam Goreng 99, still draws crowds to its low-key store, with local students and those in the know waiting for quarters of fried chicken and coconut rice.

Maltagliati with osso bucco, gremolata from 10 William Street, Paddington
One of the best pasta dishes I've had all year came a little unexpectedly from wine bar 10 William Street, where the narrow venue belies the depth of its rustic Italian menu and well-considered wine list.

The maltagliati sheet pasta with osso buco ragu was a dreamily perfect pasta, ideal with any wine recommendation from the very knowledgeable staff.

Pan fried pork dumplings from Chinese Noodle Restaurant, Haymarket
There were no signs of my dumpling obsession abating this year, whether home made or from Chinatown cheap-eat, Chinese Noodle Restaurant.

I seem to have a scarily insatiable appetite for dumplings, especially pan-fried ones filled fresh with minced pork and chives, and definitely a combination of chilli oil and vinegar sauce on the side.

Goat’s cheese lollipop, mandarin glaze, quinoa crunch from Cara & Co, Westfield Sydney
Innovativeness is a double-edged sword in the land of restaurants but dining at Cara & Co, in the middle of a Westfield Sydney fashion retailer, was a clear win for innovation.

Its Modern Flemish cuisine aided by innovative techniques was such an eye-opening journey; both curiously fun and tasty, particularly the goat's cheese lollipops in mandarin glaze.

Fried chicken wings from The Norfolk, Surry Hills
There are no signs of the fun ending at The Norfolk and its merry band of other Drink and Dine refurbished pubs across Surry Hills and Sydney.

Fun themes, quirky fitouts, affordable booze and food made for drinking is a winning formula - like Bloody Marys in tin cans and crunchy fried chicken wings.


There were several 'firsts' this year as a result of various cooking classes and demonstrations that I was lucky enough to take part in.

Snapper with Vernaccia, green olives and parsley from Sydney, Seafood School, Pyrmont
I cooked my first whole snapper. I've tended to cook fish fillets at home more than whole fish which are a little daunting for a home cook of limited ability.

But with a friendly fishmonger and a Sydney Seafood School class with hatted chef Giovanni Pilu under my belt, roasting a four-kilogram whole snapper doesn't seem as scary anymore.

Feta cheese made at Zigi's Wine and Cheese Bar, Chippendale
I made cheese for the first time. A highlight of the food year overall, the cheese making class at Zigi's Wine and Cheese Bar was so much delicious fun I would recommend it to any cheese lover.

Creating a number of fresh cheeses from scratch in a few hours was made possible by the effervescent Chef Zigi, quality raw ingredients and solid teamwork in the commercial kitchen in Chippendale.

Gently poached Southern rock lobster, hand caught Tasmanian squid,
golden tapioca, lobster velvet from Quay, Circular Quay
I dined at Quay for the first (and second) time. I now understand what all the "fuss" around Quay is about. There were enlightening kitchen tips from chef Peter Gilmore during the Electrolux masterclasses, but the degustation dinners I was treated to were another level above any other Sydney dining experience I've ever had.

Luxe ingredients and modern techniques deliver harmonious dishes that are stunning to look at and even more satisfying to eat - which isn't always the case in fine dining or technique-driven cooking.


There was a trip to Japan this year, highlighted by various food, booze and tourist experiences.

Fish at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan
The early-morning visit to the world's largest wholesale fish markets - Tsukiji Fish Markets - was a highlight of the trip, even if we didn't make it to see the tuna auctions. Sushi breakfast at Sushi Dai added to the lengthy and wet experience.

Martini at Tender Bar, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan
There was no doubt that we were going to hit up a few cocktail bars in Tokyo and the gin martini at Tender Bar was a memorable, if not pricey, one.

Pork shoulder, grilled on a stick, Namba, Osaka, Japan
Our short side trip to Osaka from Tokyo may well have been an eating trip, especially of street food. It was in Namba we discovered a pork-only yakitori-style restaurant where we gorged on all manner of pork and vegetables grilled on a stick.


David Chang at the Good Food Guide Awards 2013
I honestly jumped and squealed with excitement when I got invited to the SMH Good Food Guide Awards for 2013.

It was an unparalleled experience of endless champagne, canapés and chefs all doing the (tight) rounds at Establishment, and plenty of happy smiles in the face of hats, awards and general celebration of the Sydney restaurant industry.

Dîner en Blanc, Museum of Contemporary Art forecourt, Circular Quay
Hands-down event of the year has to be French pop-up picnic phenomenon, Dîner en Blanc, which took place at the forecourt of the Museum of Contemporary Art for its inaugural Sydney outing.

It was a memorable sight seeing 1,500 people in head-to-toe white waving white napkins and then sparklers in the air as they dined on gourmet picnics to the bemusement of passing tourists and Sydneysiders.

Beef empanadas at Marrickville Festival
I made it to the Marrickville Festival this year for the first time; a community street event that stretches around two main roads. Goodies on offer included these amazing beef empanadas, fresh out of the deep fry with a golden corn meal concealing a tasty beef filling.

This year saw a number of restaurants farewelled, especially a sad number of high profile venues and chefs, including the following:
13bAniseArgyle BazarAssietteAzuma KushiyakiBecasse and Quarter Twenty OneBerowra Waters InnBird Cow FishBistro OrtolanBling Bling DumplingBruno's and Hunky Dory Social ClubDistrict Dining relaunched as Mexico Food and Liquor, Element BistroEtchFirestick CafeGothamGourmet Pizza KitchenKable's RestaurantLanzafame TrattoriaMad CowMonkey MagicPagewood SteakhousePiano RoomRambutanSummit relaunched as O Bar and Dining, Sushi Choo and The Montpellier Public House.

It has been one heck of a year. Many thanks to all my readers and followers here, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - thank you so much  for your support and kind comments throughout 2012. 

I hope to see you for more Food, Booze and Shoes in the New Year. Cheers and happy (and safe) drinking tonight to see out the year that was, 2012!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Umi Sushi + Udon: Beyond the sushi train

There are similarities across sushi menus in Sydney, especially when it comes to sushi trains. And although Umi Sushi + Udon in the new-ish Darling Quarter precinct features an elegant sushi train, they have plenty on the menu beyond the conveyor belt of sushi morsels.

Spicy edmame beans at Umi Sushi + Udon, Darling Quarter, Sydney
At Japanese restaurants I love starting with edamame soy beans as I ponder over a menu, as if they provide sustenance for perusing lengthy menus.

These edamame were tossed in pepper, chilli and soy sauce, making each pod a warm and delicious delight to pop into the mouth and squeeze for the beans.

Yuzu sake and brown sugar umeshu plum wine
Umi Sushi + Udon has an intriguing selection of sake and umeshu plum wine. The citrusy yuzu sake was light, sweet and rather similar to lemon squash.

They have Choya umeshu and another brand that's a drier plum wine, in addition to the brown sugar variety which is dark, caramelly sweet, and best served with lots and lots of ice.

Kingfish ceviche
Our first dish was a serve of fresh kingfish: thin, raw slices lightly dressed in citrus, soy and oil so as not to overpower the delicate fish. It was presented in a modern fashion with diced sundried tomato, baby shiso leaves and snow pea sprouts.

Sashimi platter
There was silent appreciation for the round, wooden platter of sashimi that arrived, simply resplendent with visible freshness.

We had crowd favourites of salmon and kingfish; tuna sprinkled with dried garlic; red-skinned snapper; chewy, red-tipped surf clams; and creamy scampi topped with tobiko flying fish roe.

The platter disappeared in impressive time between four diners, and I reckon we could have gone the same again.

Smoked salmon and mango cheese salad
Over the summer months, Umi Sushi + Udon are featuring in-season mangoes on the menu. It doesn't click automatically as a sushi pairing but the pretty plate of bright mango components makes for interesting eating.

Firstly, the smoked salmon-wrapped asparagus was served with a vivid mango sauce which had sweetness to counter the saltiness of the smoked fish.

The mango cheese was creamy with hits of tropical sweetness, while the salad of ripe mango cubes, strings of raw beetroot and mixed lettuce leaves was a healthy and refreshing side.

Tuna and mango "lollipops"
The mango-inspired sushi is a a completely new take, without rice or seaweed. Instead, cucumber skins are wrapped around tuna and mango, and served skewered like little fruit and fish 'lollipops'.

I'd never usually take issue with a perfectly ripe mango, but in this combination its utterly sweet and bursting ripeness stole the show from the thick pieces of tuna.

Roast spatchcock with braised mushrooms
The roasted quarter of a spatchcock seemed a bit of a western approach, albeit with gourmet Asian mushrooms on the side.

The small bird was cooked well, still juicy on the inside, while the clean flavours of the mushrooms and juices made the dish quite classical.

Uramaki sushi rolls
Plates of food continued with a stunning sushi platter featuring an array of interesting pieces I don't think I've ever seen before.

The fried chicken and cream cheese uramaki inside-out sushi rolls were topped with cheese and tomato, while the other was filled with cooked tuna and draped with unagi grilled eel.

Salmon oshizushi pressed sushi
There was a raw scampi gunkan sushi wrapped in crisp nori seaweed and an inari fried sweet tofu pocket filled with rice and topped with mushrooms.

But most impressive of all was the oshizushi pressed sushi which isn't all that common around Sydney.

Topped with grilled salmon and pearls of salmon roe, the rice beneath was seasoned and dotted with bits of salmon and tobiko. The pimped-up rice was absolutely mind-blowing, cleverly making the normally plain rice the star.

Fried rice omelette
And when we felt like we could eat no more, an omelette-wrapped package arrived, tied up with chives and garnished with carrot flowers and caviar.

Served with squiggles of the barbeque-like Japanese tonkatsu brown sauce, we wondered what could be inside the pale, thin egg omelette.

Prawn fried rice omelette
A petite serve of prawn fried rice was the answer, dotted with whole prawns, peas, diced carrots and more egg. The lightly-seasoned fried rice acted as the filler for the end of the meal, as if we weren't close to bursting already.

Flower tea
A pot of hot tea helped make room for dessert, which in this case was an authentic Japanese treat not to be missed. The flowering bloom of the tea made for quite a strong, floral brew which is very much to my tastes but not for all.

Strawberry daifuku
The platter of halved strawberry daifuku was a sight to behold. Strawberry cross sections sat in sweet red bean paste within moderately thin mochi rice balls, each topped with whipped cream and a fresh mint leaf that really lifted and lightened the sugary flavours of the daifuku.

Daifuku are one of those items I often see on sushi trains but have never tried. Indeed, this visit to Umi Sushi + Udon has given me cause and confidence to look beyond the usual sushi train suspects, where plenty of new and interesting dishes do the rounds.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Umi Sushi + Udon, with thanks to O'Loghlin Communications.

Umi Sushi & Udon on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 24, 2012

Green tea rocky road: a sort-of recipe - and have a Merry Christmas

Christmas tree at the Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
(Singapore food and travel posts to come soon)
First of all, Merry Christmas! I hope you spend tomorrow and all the festive season with loved ones, gorgeous food and responsible amounts of booze. And leave something nice out for Santa tonight, like a G&T or a perky dry rose.

Teddy bear Christmas tree at the Fullerton Hotel, Singapore
I'm not much of a recipe poster, but this no-cooking chocolate confection was pretty popular with a casual gathering and I imagine it would be for festive celebrations too.

Green tea rocky road - I think the inspiration came from eating way too many green tea Kit Kats which I bought in Japan earlier this year. And not being a cake or something requiring accuracy, this anything-goes kind of 'cooking' suits my style to a tee.

Green tea rocky road
The must-have ingredients for basic rocky road are chocolate and marshmallows. As for the rest of the fillings, classic ones are nuts, dessicated coconut and glace cherries. And if these items aren't in your pantry, why not try other combinations - like dried cranberries and pretzels here in this green tea version.

I call this a sort-of recipe as I don't provide an ingredients list or quantities as such - make as much or as little as you please. The only requirement is that the melted chocolate coats all the fillings.

White chocolate buttons for melting
First, melt the chocolate. I used a packet of white chocolate buttons. Better quality chocolate can be used, of course, but seeing the melange of flavours I was about to throw into it, I wasn't too worried about chocolate quality.

Melt the chocolate: whether in the microwave in bursts or over a double boiler (or even a pot of boiling water). Stir thoroughly, ensuring all chocolate pieces are melted and let it cool slightly.

Melted white chocolate with green tea powder
The next step is to add green tea powder, which is generally finely milled leaves of green tea. It's available in most Asian grocers in the Japanese section (I got mine in a small tin from the IGA in Market City, Chinatown).

I'd say add two teaspoons of the powder to the pack of melted chocolate to start, and add more to taste (I like a strong green tea flavour, so added about 1.5 teaspoons more).

Mix very thoroughly to achieve a consistent, sinister green colour.

Adding dried cranberries, marshmallows and pretzels to the chocolate mix
Next, add your fillings of choice. Start with a small amount, mix them through and see if the melted chocolate can hold more fillings, in which case, add more.

I added pink and white marshmallows (the normal size although the smaller ones would certainly work too), plain salted pretzels and a handful of dried cranberries for pops of sweet tartness.

When the fillings are amply coated with chocolate, pour out the mixture into a baking paper lined wide tray - I used a brownie one. Allow it to set at room temperature.

Once the chocolate has hardened, remove the rocky road from the tray and carefully cut into small squares. Serve / gift wrap / eat.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Japan times - part 12: Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Earlier this year I spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the twelfth (and finalof several posts of foodbooze and sights in Japan.

I was sad to hear of the impending closure of Tokyo's iconic Tsukiji Fish Market, but visitors have approximately 12 months left to check out the world's largest wholesale fish markets in its current, slightly dilapidated form.

A trolley truck in motion at Tsukiji Fish Markets, Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan
Visiting Tsukiji Fish Markets was around the top of my list of touristy things to do in Tokyo. We'd even booked accommodation in the Tsukiji area to increase our chances of seeing the tuna auctions, which at the time, limited the spots available for tourists to 120 people, allocated at 5am daily (I hear they're completed closed off to tourists at the moment).

As we walked up towards the Osakana Fukyu (Fish Information) Centre in the rain, there were already dejected tourists walking back towards us, letting us know that they were already too late for the 120 spots - at 5am!

Outer markets
Similarly dejected and rather sleepy at that hour of the morning, we decided to wait around the fish markets to see the inner wholesale markets area, which tourists should not enter until after 9am.

While I had visions of running into Yoshikazu Ono (of three Michelin-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro) shopping for the day's best catch, it wasn't to be.

Coffee shop in Tsukiji Fish Markets
In the outer market area, where little restaurants sit next to a variety of produce and product stalls, we spotted a coffee shop that seemed caught in a time warp.

It was right near Sushi Dai; one of two renowned sushi restaurants at Tsukiji Fish Market where queues had already formed for breakfast service.

Milk coffee
We pondered joining the queues over breakfast: a simple order of brewed coffee with milk and toast with jam and a boiled egg on the side.

Soft boiled egg

Toast with jam and butter

Restaurant queues
Given the extraordinary efforts already made in waking up at that hour and getting to Tsukiji Fish Market in the drizzle, we joined the end of the queue at Sushi Dai.

It wasn't too cold a morning, but that didn't stop restaurant staff handing out foam cups of hot green tea to the waiting queues.

Sign for Sushi Dai
It made more sense two hours later when we were still waiting in line, albeit now at the front of the queue with the 12-seater restaurant in view.

Sushi Dai entry
There were two omakase chef's menu sets on offer: an 11-piece or 7-piece offering. Everyone in our dining group of 12 went the larger omakase set, as I suppose after two hours' waiting, one might as well.

Seated in Sushi Dai
As soon as we entered the narrow restaurant, placing bags upon high shelves behind the counter seats, the wait was forgotten.

Seated at Sushi Dai
Three sushi chefs - jolly, smiling and downright chirpy for that time of the day - welcomed every single diner with gusto, positioning gari pickled ginger slices in front of everyone, as large cups of hot green tea were distributed.

Green tea
The chefs checked diners' eating preferences, with one or two choosing to avoid uni sea urchin roe but most generally keen to try whatever the chefs had in store for us.

Otoro - fatty tuna belly nigiri sushi
We started with a bang: otoro - the treasured and fattiest part of the the tuna belly. Looking more like a piece of rare steak, this was pure, soft creamy bliss with just a brush of soy sauce.

Hirame - flounder nigiri sushi

Tamago - steamed rolled egg

Seafood miso soup

Uni - sea urchin roe genkan sushi

Aji - horse mackerel nigiri sushi

Clam nigiri sushi

Akami - lean tuna nigiri sushi

Amaebi - sweet prawn nigiri sushi

Saba - Spanish mackerel nigiri sushi

Anago - saltwater eel nigiri sushi

Maki zushi: toro minced tuna belly and mentaiko marinated pollock roe with cucumber

Hotate - scallop nigiri sushi
At the end of this particular omakase we were each allowed to select one more nigiri-zushi of our own choosingI elected the hotate scallop, which wasn't quite as sweet as I wanted it to be, while the awabi abalone was only slightly chewy.

Awabi - abalone nigiri sushi

Sushi chefs at Sushi Dai

Sushi chefs at Sushi Dai

Diners entering Sushi Dai
We stumbled out of the restaurant, last in our group as we snapped photos with the chefs, extremely full and probably needing a lie-down. The omakase is a large meal, especially for breakfast, meaning we skipped lunch that day.

Fresh edamame soy beans
With a little more time before the inner fish market was officially open to tourists, we browsed the fresh food and knife stores in the outer section.

Trolley carts inside wholesale fish markets
We probably snuck into the inner markets a little earlier than we should have, with plenty of hustle and bustle still around, though not so much wholesale or restaurant purchasers.

Inner wholesale fish markets

Inner wholesale fish markets
There were, however, various 'civilian' buyers looking for the freshest seafood for home meals; and snap-happy tourists, of course.

Some stores were already cleaning up from the morning's trade not much past 9am, but there was still plenty to see.

Hatahata fish

Tako - octopus (red)

Uni - sea urchin roe

Ika - squid

Okoze - stonefish
(the ugliest fish I've ever seen, as well as the world's most venomous fish)

Slicing a whole frozen tuna
While we missed the tuna auctions, we almost went one better, spying a worker cutting up whole, frozen tuna which had been auctioned off to buyers.

Quartering tuna
The electronic saw looked a little scary as he guided the huge hunks of fish: first removing the head, then halving and quartering the fish, and then removing the major bone.

Cutting tuna

Toro - tuna belly
Tsukiji Fish Markets is a photographers dream - albeit a wet and fishy one. See more photos of my Tsukiji Fish Market visit here on my Facebook page.

Kinmedai - Alfonsino or red snapper
Japan has firmly cemented its place on my must-return-to list. While speaking even a little of the language made my trip that much more fun (and funny, at times), the country's deep-seated appreciation for quality and sometimes perfection makes Japan, and particularly its cuisine, an enjoyable destination for most.

じゃね, 日本。


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