Monday, January 30, 2012

Some place: Wilbur's Place

I was looking forward to Wilbur's Place given the well-known golden touch of the guys behind Sydney's much-loved Bourke Street Bakery. Wilbur's Place is their first restaurant venture in the pedestrian-only Llankelly Place in Potts Point.

The concept is quick, simple eats at extremely reasonable prices, while take-away is also encouraged throughout the day. And, conscious of trying not to cannibalise their own businesses, they have maintained minimal crossover between the bakeries and the restaurant.

For example, you won't find any sausage rolls or pies at Wilbur's Place, and nor will you find toasted brioche ice cream sandwiches at Bourke Street Bakery.

Duck liver parfait, pickled fennel and toast from Wilbur's Place, Llankelly Place, Potts Point
It's no surprise to receive complimentary bread with olive oil given the restaurant's heritage, with the white sourdough baked especially for Wilbur's Place.

Adding to the carbohydrate intake, we ordered the duck liver parfait with toast from the more entreé-like beginning of the short but tempting menu.

It was a tile of the most buttery liver parfait I've ever had the pleasure of tasting, and actually spread like soft butter on the thin sourdough toasts, while the pile of wincingly tart pickled fennel cut through the richness and then some.

Warm salad of porchetta, walnuts, apple, endive, fennel, croutons and red wine dressing
The warm porchetta salad reads like a dream and I'd adore it for lunch every day. The thin, domino-sized pork slices - spiced, roasted and interleaved with layers of fat - are a delight to find and eat with whole roasted walnuts and thin, torn sourdough croutons.

The roasted fennel, all charred and caramelly, adds depth while the most perfect red wine dressing finishes the salad with a flourish. It's a salad that will definitely satisfy a healthy appetite.

Duck leg, lentils, witlof, plum chutney and vino cotto
The mains aren't huge, thankfully, as the entreés and complimentary bread are plenty to handle already. The duck leg, with its crispy skin coat and stripped-back drumstick, is one of the richer mains, matched well with the punchy vin cotto dressing and sweetness from the plum chutney and blood plum segments.

I adore puy lentils in any case, but especially when they're a little al dente as in this case and particularly with a gorgeously cooked leg of duck that's full of salty, fatty flavour.

Twice cooked spiced 1/2 spatchcock, chickpea salad, labna, herbs
with a capsicum and red onion jam
Keeping with the poultry theme for the mains, the deep-fried half spatchcock smelt irresistable, as most fried chicken does, and is served with a trio of sauces/sides. The white yoghurt cheese of labna was surprisingly the best 'sauce' for the spatchcock, being creamy and just that little bit tangy.

The red sauce is much like a capsicum romesco sauce while the yellow mush of chickpeas is a new take on hommous, with whole leaves of parsley and mint mixed through for a fresh burst of flavour.

Outdoor dining in Llankelly Place at Wilbur's Place
While there were some interesting desserts on offer that we skipped for fear of bursting stomachs, Wilbur's Place is currently BYO as they await their liquor license. Once that's in place, they'll be serving one artisanal beer and one each of red and white wine to accompany their succinct menu.

Also, they're cash only at this point (the nearest ATM is a convenience store on Darlinghurst Road, I found) but two courses for two came in at less than $65, which is incredibly reasonable for the quality of food and the area. I only wish there were some place like Wilbur's Place in the CBD for a terrific and humble meals on the cheap.

Wilbur's Place on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

World Class Australia 2012 semi finals rock the boat

Blue skies on a Sunday afternoon were a promising start to the Diageo Reserve World Class Australia semi finals; part of a global competition to find the "World Class Bartender of the Year".

Bartenders representing 44 countries will compete in the global competition. In the meantime, from more than 130 entrants Australia wide, the national semi finalists were whittled down to nine: three bartenders per category of drinks of Gentleman's Cocktail, Punch and Seasonal Cocktail.

World Class Australia 2012 semi finals aboard the Sydney Glass Island
Boarding the Sydney Glass Island, nine bartenders were set up around the first floor, while the sundeck on top offered fresh air, sunshine and non-alcoholic drinks. A boat turned out to be the perfect venue as one couldn't tell if people were drunkenly stumbling or if the boat was just rocking over small waves in the harbour.

Attendees received 'little black books'; passports with information on each bartender and their competing cocktail, as well as classy voting cards to be used once all nine cocktails were sampled. Determining a winner was going to be fun, although there was a judging panel ensuring it wasn't all just a popularity contest.

World Class Australia 2012 semi finals crowd
Each bartender served their cocktails fresh and shared their drinks philosophies. It was great to see the cocktails getting as much care and attention as they would in a proper cocktail bar, as samples were all fastidiously garnished and presented, despite the plastic glassware.

Each drink featured Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, Ketel One Vodka or Singleton of Glen Ord 12 Single Malt Whisky.

Dockers Union Punch by Sarah Miller (I know a place, Melbourne)
Sarah Miller's Dockers Union Punch was the only cocktail in the (floating) room to feature the Singleton of Glen Ord; and as a non-whisky lover, it was strange that this was the first cocktail I grabbed.

It must have been the summery presentation of the punch, with apple and other fruit juices as well as heavier spice notes and Creole bitters. Served on ice it was, surprisingly, very drinkable in the summer heat with just a wisp of whisky-ness.

The Continental by Philip Gandevia (Eau de Vie/The Roosevelt, Sydney)
We moved onto a Gentleman's Cocktail with Philip Gandevia's dramatic, liquid nitrogen assisted theatrics; his cocktail featuring vodka, orange vodka, gin, dry vermouth and "tea smoked orange and celery bitters".

Philip Gandevia pulls out some cocktail theatrics
Essentially a martini with more bite, Dr Phil blazes the drink in silver goblets with the aid of the liquid nitrogen. No ice also means no dilution, making this Gentleman's Cocktail a seriously hard hitting one but with the headstrong flavour of celery making its presence known.

US 10 by Fred Siggins (The Kodiak Club, Fitzroy)
Moving completely out of order to a Seasonal Cocktail, Fred Siggins' beer cocktail was served out of brown beer bottles, as is done at his Fitzroy bar. Alongside Mexican style barbequed corn with cheese and mayonnaise, this cocktail was to represent American summer.

US 10 served with Mexican style barbequed corn
And summer it was. I don't know if the fruitiness (definite passionfruit notes) came from the American Pale Ale or the gin, but I simply adored the genius and refreshing sweetness of my very first beer cocktail.

Grilled prawns
Canapés were part of the event; however, this was one of the best catered (in terms of quantity) events I've come across. Perhaps related to the rather sizeable amount of drinking everyone on board was expected to partake in, there was no chasing of the large platters of food required.

The grilled prawn skewers were one of the best ones; well marinated and grilled, I may have had more than a couple of these.

Rice paper rolls

Fish cocktails with dill tartare sauce

Collier's Sundown Cooler
We moved swiftly back to Punch for the next drink, arriving at Perryn Collier's Esky, keg and self-labelled bottles. Another drink served by the (green) beer bottle, this carbonated punch was a sweetie featuring gin, vodka, dry vermouth and pink grapefruit juice.

Collier's Sundown Cooler by Perryn Collier (The Laneway, Brisbane)
The sugar hit came from very noticeable ginger cordial and a home made pineapple syrup from fruit which had been marinated in the cocktail concoction, then barbequed for a caramelised surface before being blitzed. If that's not effort, I don't know what is.

Collier's Sundowner Cooler served with pineapple on the side
Served over ice with a dainty mint sprig, this was definitely a libation for sunny days on the top deck of a boat. Drinking snacks of sweet dehydrated and glacé pineapple was supposed to extend the pineapple connection I suppose, but I generally prefer savoury snacks with sweet drinks.

Anita Strother (Malt Dining, Brisbane)
Dorothea Mackellar's poem "My Country" was the inspiration for Anita Strother's citrusy gin Seasonal Cocktail, with the piece de resistance of Aperol and pink grapefruit foam. I love a sunburnt country, where the cocktails are refreshing, pink, girly and fun.

Western Expression by Thiago Santos (The Loft, Sydney)
Points for most creative would have to go to Thiago Santos and his artists' palette of cocktail flavours. Starting with a base of gin, elderflower cordial and lemon juice, the idea behind this Punch is that each drinker can 'paint' their own flavours into their drink, then top it off with sparkling camomile tea.

The puree/paint options were red strawberry and Campari, green cucumber or blue grapefruit and Blue Curaçao.

Thiago Santos adds more blue 'paint' to the palette
Using thick paintbrushes that took me straight back to high school art classes, I added a few helpings of green 'paint' to my drink, stirring in the cucumber puree for what turned out to be quite the zingy drink.

Sydney Calling by Colin Perillo (Zeta Bar, Sydney)
Having only arrived in Australia three months ago, Colin Perillo's tugging of the patriotic heartstrings was certainly working, as was his double shake for his Sydney-inspired Gentleman's Cocktail.

Wattle leaves and 'Pure Harmony' lavender leaves
Using Australian wattle and lavender leaves to subtly infuse vodka, this drink balanced maraschino liqueur with grapefruit juice, and was definitely one of the more interesting flavours of the bunch.

Our Little Secret by Adam Smith (Press Club, Brisbane)
There was a bit of a rush at the end as everyone tried to get in their last of the cocktail tastings - I mean, I couldn't vote until I'd tasted them all.

Adam Smith provided a complex combination of peach tea, rosemary, agave and grapefruit mixed with gin, a bespoke "Little Ten Liquor" and Lillet Blanc. The rosemary was a surprising, warm ingredient in the drink

Breakfast in Bed by Jason Williams (The Loft, Sydney)
There was an lot of noise and cheering from Jason Williams' corner throughout the day and I was looking forward to discovering the reason. His gin and vodka cocktail included fruit marmalade, spiced bitters, supposedly a white chocolate liqueur and dandelion tea.

I missed most of the delicate flavours (orange and cucumber too) in what was possibly a rushed drink as the countdown loomed, but the end result was sadly unbalanced.

World Class Australia 2012 semi finals awards
We all adjourned upstairs to the windy but thankfully sunny deck as the results were collated along with the judges' votes. It was a chance to rehydrate with water and soft drinks, and actually take in some of the scenery we'd been cruising past for a couple hours already.

(Left to right) Fred Siggins, Perryn Collier and Philip Gandevia
And the winners: in the Gentleman's Cocktail category - Philip Gandevia. In the Punch category - Perryn Collier. And in the Seasonal Cocktail category - Fred Siggins.

I heard that the Seasonal Cocktail category was very closely contested, but the semi finals produced three finalists for the next round; where one national winner will head to Rio for the global competition, which by all accounts, is no holiday.

World Class Australia 2012 semi finalists

Perryn Collier (The Laneway, Brisbane)
The national finals will be held later in the year with a winter theme, as opposed to the summer oriented semi finals. Best of luck to all the finalists! See more photos here at my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes attended the World Class Australia 2012 semi finals courtesy of Diageo Reserve World Class and Behind Bars.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Year of the Dragon - Happy Lunar New Year

Draon display at Chinese New Year Markets, Belmore Park, Central
It's time to celebrate New Year again - the Lunar calender's first day of the 2012 Year of the Dragon is tomorrow and as always, the City of Sydney has festivities galore throughout the city.

Over this (somewhat wet) weekend, the Chinese New Year Markets are being held in Belmore Park between Central Station and Chinatown, from 11am to 10pm. Food stalls are particularly abundant, in addition to performances on the main stage and other market stalls.

Alvin Quah (right) and Joanna Savill (left) in the Chinese New Year AYAM Kitchen
Regular cooking demonstrations in the AYAM Kitchen feature the likes of Adam Liaw and Alvin Quah from MasterChef, whipping up traditional and modern takes on Chinese New Year foods. Here Alvin mentioned snapper, which probably tends on the less traditional side.

Chinese New Year Markets main entertainment stage
Even in the wet and soggy conditions yesterday, the main stage drew crowds to watch performances celebrating the New Year and various cultures. The Chinese Youth League dragon dance was particularly lively, and presumably much more difficult than it appears.

Dragon boat formation as part of the dragon dance
They dealt with the limited stage space fairly well, but truly entertained the crowds with a unique dragon boat formation as part of the dance.

Chinese Youth League dragon dance team

Chinese fan dancers

Chinese fan dancers - love the enthusiam of these ladies

Medibank red packet tree

Medibank red packet game
The Medibank stall played on the theme of luck and prosperity with the chance to win prizes on its red packet tree by selecting a single packet, as well as being a pretty and festive sight.

The Medibank stall is certainly popular

St.George Bank Happy Dragon game
On games and winning, St.George Bank also had a stall in the Laughing Clowns sideshow game fashion; the clowns replaced by their mascot dragon. I couldn't resist an attempt to win a soft dragon toy, resplendent in traditional Chinese garb, but made away with a plastic golden dragon money box instead.

There are plenty of options for food (the large Sichuan food stall looked interesting) and lots to celebrate, so head on down to Belmore Park for the last day of the Chinese New Year Markets - more details here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In the Black (by Ezard)

I’ve been to The Star as many times in the last six months as I have been in my entire life before the multi-million dollar renovations at the casino, which has attracted a wealth of magnetically attractive operators.

Black by Ezard is fairly removed from Teage Ezard’s Asian-leaning Melbourne establishments: it's a glitzy and expansive steak house looking out to Pyrmont Bay, where the high rollers feed before dropping said rolls of cash.

The fitout is pretty amazing, incorporating a stunning wine cellar in full view of anyone passing the casino’s front entrance and a classy bar area where serious cocktails are had. It was particularly difficult to resist the bar food menu while perched at the bar perusing the cocktail list ahead of a dinner reservation.

Wagyu sliders at Black Bar, The Star, Pyrmont
The wagyu sliders would have to be the best burger of the year. Not to mention it’s the only burger/slider I’ve had so far this year, but its juiciness and richness surpasses any burgers I might have had last year too.

Just one bite through the buttery mini brioche bun, the flavours of rich, melty cheese and ridiculously juicy wagyu beef pattie meld and party on the palate. Pickles join the affair at the peak, and it starts all over again at the next bite.

Dripping all over my hands as I sipped a Charlie Chaplin (my new favourite cocktail with apricot brandy, sloe gin and lemon), I didn’t want the slider to end; the combination of tastes and textures was just naughtily divine.

Chicken wing
Somewhat less impressive than the sliders was the chicken wing dish consisting of three drumettes, pickled celery and an airy blue cheese dip. This take on buffalo wings, on top of the sliders, gives the bar menu a distinctly American feel.

The chicken was saucily spicy, a little salty with the blue cheese, and the softened celery an interesting twist. It was possibly not the best dish with the Bobby Burns cocktail of Pig’s Nose Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth and Benedictine.

Brioche, butter and black volcanic salt flakes at Black by Ezard, The Star, Pyrmont
Come dinner reservation time, our drinks were taken to our window table overlooking Pyrmont Bay. The main part of the dining room is surprisingly expansive and open, with the open kitchen behind, and more intimate banquette seats heading towards the bathrooms.

It’s easy to draw comparisons to another city steak house, but I try not to, especially as the glossy brioche loaf arrives with a pat of butter and black volcanic salt flakes apparently from Hawaii. The richness of the brioche doesn’t need any more butter, but my excuse is that it helps the salt flakes stick.

Perusing the iPad wine list, there’s incredible variety in wines by the bottle and somewhat less so by the glass. I selected my glass of Malbec without advice, but it turned out to be a fabulous match to the steaks.

Organic farm egg, potato cream, truffles, iberico ham, herb salad
The organic egg dish is the priciest entrée on the menu, topped with shaved black truffles that don’t really fill the air or palate with its expected aroma. The nest of potato hides the slow cooked, runny yolked egg, with a bowerbird-like collection of goodies on top.

The foamy potato cream and strip of iberico ham laid aside add a little more substance, but I think you have to be a real egg lover to be enthralled by this dish.

Prawns butter poached, wood grilled watermelon, corn salad
The prawn entrée turns out to be a beautiful construction with three large prawns, watermelon, corn kernels and a puree and what I think could be corn bread, thinly sliced radish and herbs.

The flavours were fairly subdued but all the components matched well enough, particularly when smothered in the creamy corn puree. I enjoyed the varied textures, especially the vibrantly red and juicy watermelon strips.

One thing I noticed about the Black by Ezard menu is that provenance of ingredients is not highlighted, so I’m not sure where my prawns were from, nor from where the steaks are sourced. I wonder if it’s just a Sydney restaurant trend, but it might be nice to know where my cow comes from.

Flat iron, grain fed wagyu, MBS 9+, 200g
I thought I would be accustomed to the presentation of meat, alone, on a large white plate by now but it still makes me laugh every time. The perfect portion of the flat iron steak is kind of tender with an impressively rich mouthfeel at every chew, and more so with truffle butter as a sauce.

I wonder if this small-ish cut, cooked medium-rare, still receives the sous vide treatment which all Black by Ezard steaks apparently do, which is more than justifiable on the man-sized steak that I ordered.

Rib eye, dry aged grass fed angus, 400g
I felt a little Flinstonian with my rib eye on the bone, hence the lighter, ‘healthier’ choice of Argentinean chimichurri as a sauce.

A few edge parts of the steak were a little tough and more medium than my requested medium-rare, but the main game was satisfyingly juicy and meaty – my preference over the luxurious creaminess of high marble-scored wagyu beef.

There was a nice level of spice in the chimichurri to keep the 400 grams of beef interesting, but despite my valiant attempt, I conceded defeat many, many, many minutes into the game, when I couldn’t take another mouthful of cold steak.

Cos, chorizo, piquillo pepper, heirloom carrot
Given the protein-heavy meal, a salad came highly recommended as a side dish although we elected the cos lettuce salad with chorizo based primarily on the latter protein.

The salad ended up being a bit of a surprise in that chorizo wasn't easy to find; the finely diced sausage barely registering its presence in sight or taste.

More abundant were thin rounds of what I thought were radish, but the white-inner, purple-outer root vegetable turned out to be heirloom carrot. With our meaty mains, the light dressing on the crunchy cos lettuce was most appreciated.

Parsnip fritters, coconut, turmeric caramel
I would never have thought to order the parsnip fritters as a side, if not for a staff recommendation. Deep brown quenelles of soft parsnip and coconut were sweetened by a caramel spiced with turmeric and topped with dried slivers of red chilli/capsicum. It was probably good enough to be served as an entrée itself.

There was no room for dessert after, essentially, three substantial savoury courses. The Black by Ezard experience was much like what I would imagine dining in a Las Vegas casino would be: decent food, slick service, lots of action and for The Star, a very good bet.

Black Bar on Urbanspoon

Black By Ezard on Urbanspoon


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