Thursday, March 29, 2012

Azuma Kushiyaki in three words: fried chicken skin

It’s been a while since I’ve returned to Azuma Kushiyaki in Regent Place as I so often get tempted instead by Ton Ton Ramen just before reaching the restaurant, especially when a movie is involved.

Not a great deal has changed it seems, although the crowd on a weeknight is decidedly corporate, and in some cases, Japanese businessmen. It’s beers all round, despite the prominent positioning of many a wine bottle. But a lot of the menu at Azuma Kushiyaki is actually ideal beer food, so Sapporo it was for me.

Tsukemono – assorted homemade Japanese pickles from Azuma Kushiyaki, Regent
Place, George Street, Sydney
For starters, it doesn’t sound like the match made in heaven that it is but beer and pickles together are really quite the pairing. My favourite was the fluorescent yellow daikon; crunchy and just a bit tart – a standard that’s even sold vacuum-sealed in Asian supermarkets here.

Tsukemono pickles
The diced takana Japanese mustard greens pickles weren’t as exciting as they looked while the squashed-looking, completely black eggplant pickle was mostly just salty.

Yaki Nasu – grilled eggplant with ginger, bonito flakes and soy
We moved on to subtlety with the eggplant, grilled with delicate flavours of ginger and soy sauce, topped off with katsuobushi bonito flakes. The pure and relatively healthy flavours in this are almost enough to make you feel enlightened.

Ninniku Butter – oven roasted garlic cloves with butter
The garlic butter dish is just that: whole cloves of garlic cooked in a cute cast iron pot with lots of butter, which I’ve also seen at Korean barbeques. The completely soft garlic loses all its pungency and becomes sweet nubs of mush – ideal for first dates even.

Tori Kawa deep-fried crispy chicken skin seasoned with salt
And here’s what you’ve been waiting for – the deep-fried crispy chicken skin. Its presence on the menu was a little surprising even, and its arrival at the table deserved fanfare, even for the couple seconds before we dug in.

With the option of fresh lemon juice squeezed over for additional flavour and some good nutrients, the golden fried chips of glorious chicken skin are crispy with a slight chew and that unmistakeable flavour of well-cooked skin. Watch out pork crackling, you have serious competition.

Kushiyaki – platter of a dozen mixed skewers at the chef’s choice
To round out the meal, we opted for the namesake platter of kushiyaki – things cooked on skewers. The chef’s choice offers 12 skewers: three each of chicken, beef, seafood and vegetables.

(From top) Salmon, sea perch and prawn kushiyaki
Starting on the seafood, the sea perch marinated in soy, sake and mirin was actually a little uninteresting while the Atlantic salmon fillet with soy could have used more soy.

The paradise prawn with salt was so spot-on I quickly ordered another. Like the happiest savoury lollipop ever invented, the prawn was sweetly fresh with a nice coating of salt cooked into the shell which is intended to be eaten.

Chicken breast (middle) and chicken thigh kushiyaki
The classic chicken thigh fillet kushiyaki with quite the traditional soy-based yakitori sauce was comfort on a stick. With beers and good company, it scares me to think how many of these I could eat.

The chicken breast, was a little less interesting as a result of its less fatty and flavoursome flesh, despite the efforts of the pickled plum mayo.

Wagyu beef (top two) and ox tongue kushiyaki
The wagyu beef tenderloin with yuzu citrus pepper was overcooked for my liking, although the green squiggle of yuzu sauce was a perfect match.

The grain-fed ox tongue covered in sliced shallots was chewy with a slight metallic note and almost unnoticeable curry salt. On this occasion I managed to chew and swallow before having cow-kissing thoughts – just.

(From top) Okra, zucchini and asparagus kushiyaki
The asparagus dressed with soy and butter was a delight, as were the okra segments seasoned with dried shiso leaf flakes giving it an interesting flavour. Less enthralling was the zucchini with the same seasoning.

(Bottom) Chicken tsukune kushiyaki
We ordered a few additional skewers, being a little greedy and peckish still. The tsukune homemade chicken meatballs were a bit of a revelation and unlike any kind of minced chicken I’ve come across. Almost fluffy, in a good way, and fragrant with ginger, they were spiked onto the tiniest skewers I’ve ever seen.

Shitake mushroom with prawn kushiyaki
The fresh shiitake mushroom stuffed with minced prawn needed a little more colour and seasoning, though I probably would have been happy enough with the mushrooms alone.

As the businessmen drank on civilly still, we took our leave after just a couple of beers and a whole lot of great beer food. Now if only they did takeaway packets of that fried chicken skin for home or the movies next door.

Azuma Kushiyaki on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 26, 2012

Café Sopra: Up under Bridge Street

I can definitely stop whinging about pasta in the city, for not long after two options for decent, non-microwaved, non-bain marie pasta came the third – Café Sopra on Bridge Street, underground opposite the Australian Securities Exchange building.

There are lunchtime queues, but not nearly as bad as those at Jamie’s Italian, but there’s also a large bar area in which to wait, or indeed, just dine on the pizzeria and mozzarella bar menu if waiting it out for pasta is not an option.

Pommery champagne at Café Sopra, Bridge Street, Sydney
It appears the Santa Vittoria brand is promoted alongside the bar, where a seat is hard to come by on a Friday lunch. The packed bar area (not the main dining room, which is next to the open kitchen) seems scarce of staff that are able to take orders, but at least the seats come and go fairly briskly.

But when we finally do get to order, it’s hard to ignore the ‘Recession Mark II’ prices of the wine list where house red and white wines by the glass are $3.50 (Pommery by the glass, $10, is a special on the day).

Every other wine, predominantly Italian, comes in at under $13 from memory and both the Montepulciano reds I try are distractingly smooth and velvety.

Bresaola, grilled peaches, arugula and bocconcini
Actually seated at the mozzarella bar, I could’t watch the multiple plates of mozzarella and other cheeses leave the bar and not have some for myself. Having previously tried and loved the mozzarella with eggplant, I went instead with the bresaola-featured salad of grilled peaches, rocket and sliced bocconcini.

I’m still yet to find an Australian mozzarella that has some flavour in addition to the great texture of the stretched cheese, and this bocconcini was no winner. A small plate presented the thin slices of salty bresaola, of which I’m currently playing favourites with its porcine cousin, prosciutto.

Sweet and mushily grilled peach segments are the perfect offsetting taste to the salty cured meat, although the salt flake flecked rocket didn’t really help the cause.

Nduja salami, capsicum and ricotta pizza
Having glimpsed at the pizza-makers at the front of the restaurant while waiting for service, it appeared that the bases they used for pizza were sadly pre-prepared and pre-cooked. Thick enough to prevent bubbling of the crust, the base was the only let-down of the fantastic salami topping, even if it wasn’t the spicy salami paste I was expecting.

But spicy the salami was, and deliciously so with the airy, piped fat worms of white ricotta cheese and colourful strips of cooked capsicum. In this case, the topping flavours were all there, leaving just the base languishing for a little more love.

The Café Sopra bar and mozzarella bar both open straight through from lunch to dinner while the proper dining section closes between 3pm to 6pm. And next time I have a long lunch, I’ll be investing it into waiting for a pasta lunch instead of that extra glass of Montepulciano.

Café Sopra on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sydney Food Trucks: Interview with Tsuru

There has been plenty of hype surrounding the recently announced vendors for Sydney's first US-style food trucks - which travel to different locations nightly, tweeting their locations, selling gourmet food from the truck and attracting die-hard queues of fans. The City of Sydney recently released the locations that the trucks will be cruising to and from, serving and selling their edible goodies.

I took the opportunity to chat to one of the first 10 Sydney operators about their upcoming (ad)venture. The Tsuru Food Truck will feature modern Asian cuisine, ranging from snacks to full-blown dinner combination meals.

Proprietor/chefs Ellyn Tse and Sasha Tong can't wait to serve us up some luscious pork buns, onigiri rice balls filled with fried chicken and more - I chatted to a very busy Ellyn in the meantime.

Steamed buns with a range of fillings by Tsuru
(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

What was your motivation in applying for a Sydney food truck? What has the process been up until now?

Mobile food vending has been around in Asia for decades, and with the raging success of food trucks in the US, I have always wondered if Sydney will ever have its turn.

Last year in October I contacted City of Sydney about possibly starting one and coincidently, they were about to run a public Expression of Interest, inviting food operators to submit a tender to win a license to operate the first fleet of 10 food trucks in Sydney.

After submitting the tender in early December, we heard back in mid January that Tsuru had been short-listed and was to participate in a cook-off to present a sample of dishes from the proposed menu to a panel of judges.

I was just as over the moon as I was mortified! Cook-off? I didn’t know who I would be up against, and I kept thinking in my head: what if I completely stuffed it up? And who would be the judges?

Fortunately, the cook-off went pretty smooth, and we heard back the very next day that Tsuru got in. I still remembered that phone call - I thought it was a prank call! So, yes, the team here at Tsuru couldn’t be happier and at least now we can start fitting out our truck ready to hit the streets.

Ellyn Tse of Tsuru food truck
(Image courtesy of the City of Sydney)

What is your background (culinary or otherwise)?

I grew up surrounded by food as my family has owned and run a group of restaurants in Indonesia for more than 40 years.

When I finished my degree here in Australia, I did a brief stint in media publication while taking on catering part time. With the growth in the catering demand, I found myself slowly drifting towards what seemed to be the one thing that kept me constantly and continuously intrigued – food.

As of last year, I’ve also been actively volunteering in a not-for-profit organisation called ‘Eat. Drink. Give.’ whose vision is Food Without Prejudice. We raise funds through our own dining events and catering for other functions, and we give back by providing complimentary dining experiences to the disadvantaged sector in our community.

Our past works include catering for Haymarket Chamber of Commerce, 4A Contemporary Asian Art Gallery, and collaborating with Harris Community Centre in Ultimo. It's been a very rewarding experience for all of our volunteers, as we go from strength to strength.

In its operation, Tsuru Food Truck will also be collaborating with Eat. Drink. Give., as we have always believed in the enjoyment of good food for a cause.

Sasha Tong of Tsuru food truck
(Image courtesy of the City of Sydney)

What is Tsuru's food concept and what is the inspiration for it?

Growing up I was exposed to a myriad of cultures, the different food across Asia, the stories and what the food brought to the locals. Tsuru interprets that food in its Pan-Asian menu, in ways that Tsuru believes the people of Sydney could and would love.

The hero of Tsuru Food Truck’s menu are the soft, pillowy steamed buns, made in-house. When I was young, my grandmother used to always stand in the kitchen for hours kneading the dough of the buns with her hands manually.

Those steamed buns, sandwiching tender braised pork belly, were the heart of our family feasts. They would always appear in family celebrations, big or small. It has always been the one dish that would disappear in record time from our tables. And I look forward to sharing it with you all.

Steamed buns with a range of fillings
(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

What can Tsuru customers expect to be eating?

They can expect fast, fresh, packed-with-flavours Pan-Asian snacks, from steamed Chinese buns folded over braised pork belly, roasted duck, BBQ beef, fried chicken, to onigiri (Japanese rice balls), and yummy things on sticks.

Our signature dish is ‘the PIG’ – a piece of luscious pork belly that has been roasted, then slow-braised overnight in old family recipe, and sandwiched in between steamed buns.

(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

When do you expect to be in operation? What is the process from here?

We should launch in about one month's time. We are currently fitting out our truck, and there are still heaps of compliance issues that need to be ticked off before we hit the streets.

The City of Sydney is currently testing a smart phone App that will allow its users to find the location of the trucks in real time, with links to the trucks’ menus. Tsuru will also be interacting with the public via Facebook and Twitter of our whereabouts and special offers.

Onigiri with a range of fillings(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

What is Tsuru most excited about?

The versatility of Tsuru Food Truck means we can be very creative in our menu offerings across the seasons.

We are also looking to turn Tsuru into a collaboration platform for all foodies (including bloggers!) to contribute their own recipes to share with the people of Sydney, with a possibility to dedicate a regular 'Foodie' or 'Food Bloggers' Day'. So foodies and bloggers, do keep in touch and drop us a line here.

Steamed bun filled with beef and kimchi(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

The Tsuru Food Truck will have its first outing on Saturday 24 March as part of the Ultimo Pyrmont UPTown World Festival at the Harris Community Centre. The first 100 people who turn up and follow Tsuru on Facebook and Twitter and share the word will receive a free pork bun.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Singapore Takeout stops over in Sydney

I've never really done a proper stopover with international travel (or does five hours in a Dubai airport hotel count?). I mean the type where you spend a day or two in a different country or city en route to your intended destination.

The Singapore Takeout mobile pop-up kitchen at Campbells Cove, The Rocks, Sydney
But the pop up kitchen of Singapore Takeout - an initiative of International Enterprise Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board, and SPRING Singapore - certainly has done; stopping over in Sydney after its global tour to New York, Delhi, London, Paris, Moscow, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dubai. I'm just a little jealous of the mobile, converted shipping container.

The Singapore Takeout setup in Campbells Cove
Last week, Singapore Takeout landed in The Rocks' Campbells Cove for three days, showcasing the fine and modern fare of the island nation to groups of media, industry, bloggers and a select group of winners from a Facebook competition. We started off with Tiger beers, T'Gallant 'Juliet' pinot noir and (yet another Marlborough) Matua Valley sauvignon blanc.

They also showed their latest Australia-specific tourism advertising campaign which tells Aussies to "Get lost, lah" in Singapore.

Singapore has to be the ultimate Asian melting pot for food, with its food identity more a combination of influences ranging from Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Indian. But in a way, it does have an identity, at least one that's more definitive than Australian cuisine.

Ignatius Chan of Iggy's in Singapore
In Sydney, Singapore Takeout was represented by Iggy's, one of Singapore's most revered fine dining restaurants which ranked 27th in The San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2011 and first in The Miele Guide 2011/2012 Asia’s Top 20 restaurant.

Humble owner and an accomplished sommelier (and good mate of Tetsuya Wakuda) Ignatius Chan and the team from his eponymous Iggy’s were on hand to chat about the dynamic Singaporean dining environment and teach us a thing or two about his local cuisine.

For the record, he's a huge fan of Australia's seasonal produce, much of which featured in the evening's dinner, and thinks we're pretty lucky when it comes to accessing such a gorgeous variety of ingredients.

Iggy's head chef Akmal Anuar
After introductions, Iggy's head chef Akmal Anuar took us through a brief video about otak otak, which tops my list of favourite Malaysian street food. He then talked us through what would be our amuse bouche for the night - the simple, traditional meal of nasi lemak.

But this was no banana leaf-wrapped affair - this was Iggy's modern take on tradition, which might irk some locals, but I thought was quite thrilling despite the finicky intricacies. To start, the otak otak fish mousse is snapper in a Thermomix, which ends up white as spices are not blended with it for the typical curry colours.

Next, there's a sauce of many, many spices - as if to add it back to the otak otak. Then, the rice is a combination of coconut rice, as per tradition, and deep fried white rice and wild rice, in addition to their version of ikan bilis with another not-anchovy tiny fish.

The finishing touch is a foam of a specific turmeric leaf that was 'brought' in from Singapore. Chan emphasises that the foam is not a trend-driven addition, but really just a way of making a very light addition of a strong flavour.

Nasi lemak - Iggy's style
And the end product is rather impressive. With perfect presentation in a double-walled glass, the spice fragrances are addictive and the textures even more so. The foam adds plenty to the multi-textured rices and tiny fried fish, while the otak otak is as smooth as any steamed custard or pudding, with only a light fishy flavour.

Satisfying as the flavours were, I really could have eaten at least another five of the small glasses of nasi lemak. This is definitely one modernised dish that will stick in my mind for a long time to come.

Iggy's variation of sushi
We moved on to yet another revolutionary approach on tradition, with Iggy's take on sushi. Looking a lot like normal nigiri sushi of tuna and kingfish, the surprise was the base which was not a ball of seasoned rice but rather, a meringue made of soy, which also eliminated the need for a dip in soy sauce.

Iggy's variation of sushi
There was a definite sweetness in the meringue, but of the savoury soy version, while the crunch of the meringue base contrasted sharply with the soft pieces of raw fish. I wonder what the Japanese would think!

Cold cappellini
Next was a cold cappellini dish inspired by the very Singaporean (and Malaysian) Chinese New Year dish of yu sheng. Increasingly popular in Hong Kong and parts of China, this is traditionally a dish of raw fish and vegetables that's tossed for prosperity during Chinese New Year feasting and celebrations.

Fish in the cold cappellini dish
Iggy's version of yu sheng featured ice cold cappellini, aided by ice chips that crunched in the mouth, seasoned with seasame oil, my now-favourite citrus fruit yuzu and horseradish jelly which was barely noticeable beneath the liberal helping of icy ponzu granita.

The slices of skin-on raw whiting were a little on the chewy side but manageable, especially with the fun pops of deep-fried quinoa seeds scattered atop.

Rangers Valley beef cheek featuring Bass Philip Pinot Noir
Unable to source wagyu beef cheeks for the night, our main by Iggy's was a Rangers Valley beef cheek from northern New South Wales. This was slow-cooked for 40 hours in Chan's favourite pinot noir (remember, the man knows a thing or two about wine) - Victorian Bass Phillip's Pinot Noir.

The beef cheek was gelatinously soft and fully infused with flavours of the pinot noir sauce. The simply cooked white radish, carrots and beans were all that were needed to accompany the rich beef cheek, while I thought the tiny white flower garnish was just adorable.

Kaya toast and teh tarik
There was a lot of excitement about dessert; another modern take on a popular snack and drink in Singapore and Malaysia. Kaya toast is a spread of coconut milk, egg and sugar flavoured with pandan leaf on toast that Chan recommends must have butter with it, while teh tarik is a sweet, milky tea served hot or cold and which is 'pulled' for a frothy top.

Iggy's dessert version was pretty spectacular, featuring a fluffy, spongey 'bread' doused generously with an eggy, coconut sauce. My favourite part was the teh tarik ice cream, which featured an out-of-this-world, very strong tea flavour. The crisp on top of the 'kaya toast' was also a tea-flavoured component that was a marvel beyond comprehension.

And as if feeding us with some of Singapore's most innovative food wasn't enough, we all left with two bags full of Singaporean snacks and treats, including a corn cereal drink, packet instant laksa, 3-in-1 coffee mix, ginger tea and a Tiger beer.

While I'm yet to visit or even stop over in Singapore, I know there will be plenty of eating to look forward to when I do.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Singapore Takeout dinner as a guest of the Singapore Tourism Board, with thanks to Frank PR. Check out Singapore Eats on Facebook for everything you need to know about food in Singapore.

Friday, March 16, 2012

March into Sushi Choo for merry value

It seems that there are a couple times of the year when festivals, particularly those pertaining to food, pop up like toadstools after the rain. And that's no complaint, especially when they're festivals that feature bargain meals, like March into Merivale's $33 meal deals.

Available from Monday to Friday until 5 April in specific lunch and dinner time slots, $33 will generally get you a main meal and a glass of wine or beer at one of the Merivale restaurants or pubs. The value for money seems to improve exponentially at Sushi Choo; the sushi train located beneath the Ivy complex and famous for their occasional $20 all-you-can-eat sessions.

Snapper dry miso from Sushi Choo, Ivy, George Street, Sydney
Sushi Choo's $33 meal deal entails five plates off the sushi train; a choice of a dish not on the train; a bento box of miso soup, green salad and a 'yan yan' dessert; and a glass of wine. It's quite a bit to stomach for a weekday lunch, but we managed - just.

The Babich Sauvignon Blanc ‘Organic’ from Marlborough was the obvious choice over the pinot noir for a sushi lunch. The "off the rails" choice for me was easy, though I hadn't realised that it was a sashimi dish.

The snapper, which is fast-becoming one of my favourite sashimi fishes, was artfully sprinkled with a red miso powder that was rather subtle in taste, a garlic chip and chives with a sparky yuzu dressing that made the dish quite special.

Wagyu beef skirt – “new style”
The wagyu beef skirt was seared, though still quite raw in the centre, served with a soy-based dressing that appropriately complemented the meat. The skirt steak, buttery with fat, was too chewy a cut for this approach - a more tender cut or thinner slices probably would have been ideal.

However, with five dishes off the well-populated conveyor belt, there was plenty more to eat. When the all-you-can-eat offer is in operation, the variety of plates on the train is rather limited, but on this occasion the full range of sushi rolls and nigiri were doing the rounds. We also had generous sashimi and karage chicken plates, and the following:

Soft shell crab inside out roll
With battered soft shell crab legs hanging out like a scythe, the uramaki of soft shell crab is one of my favourites on the sushi train; here with loads of tobiko flying fish roe and cucumber sticks.

Steamed gyoza
The fresh-out-of-the-steamer gyoza dumplings had clean flavours of pork and cabbage, and while I would have preferred the pan fried variety, these piping hot packages felt nice and healthy.

Aburi salmon nigiri
My lust for blowtorched aburi nigiri sushi knows no bounds, not even for a photo. This one at was so freshly torched I could almost smell the gas as I bit into the warm salmon. Fresh lemon juice over the top was a new thing for me, but it definitely enhanced the four mouthfuls.

Chocolate spring rolls 'yan yan' dessert
Some of the most perfect spring roll wrapping I've seen in some time, it was a struggle to get through three cooled, chocolate-filled spring rolls at the end.

With five plates off the train (which is about what I would normally have for lunch at sushi trains), plus the snapper, miso soup, salad and a glass of wine; the value for money of the March into Merivale deal is confirmed convincingly.

Sushi Choo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sunshine after the rain at Taste of Sydney

It was three days of sunshine, some of it quite intense, after the Wednesday and Thursday rains that prevented the opening night of Taste of Sydney in Centennial Park. And what glorious sunshine it was that dried out the grounds and showed what a Sydney outdoor festival should be.

Taste of Sydney 2012, Centennial Park, Sydney
For the fourth year in a row, on Sunday I headed towards the white-tented city that smelt like a mouth-watering combination of char smoke and fat; appetite and plenty of dollars for Crowns (the currency of Taste) with me.

There were definitely more large stands in the middle of the park set-up, offering seating and respite from the hot sun, as well as the cute idea that was the Lilydale picnic area with entertainment from Argyle Bar.

Lengths of marshmallow at Patisse
There was also a noticeable concentration of stalls dishing out alcoholic and sweet products, and a sad lack of stalls offering cheese; something that was quite abundant in years past.

The Cho-mobile handing out loads of free Chobani Greek style yoghurt

Blood plum vanilla ripple ice pop by Pure Pops
The heat of the day called for an early icy refreshment, which we found in the 100% natural and colourful Pure Pops. The deep red of the blood plum, with a swirl of presumably vanilla ice cream towards the paddle pop stick, was refreshing yet pulpy like proper fruit.

Stretching ice cream by hand at the Booza stall
One of the most impressive sights of the day had to be the hand-stretched ice cream at the Booza stall. A labourious alternative to machine churning, this display was not actually how Booza make their petit fours and pots of ice cream, but showcased a dated art that creates ice cream of very unique texture.

Chalie & Co. stall
It wasn’t long after some nuts and za’atar tastings that we hit up the caravan/ truck-like outlet of Justin North’s Charlie & Co. While I think it was just an aesthetic style, it raises the prospect of a Charlie & Co. burger or hot dog truck of the likes we’ve never seen before.

The Dog - Mini artisan frankfurter chilli dog from Charlie & Co.
The hot dog blitzed the mini wagyu burger in the presentation stakes, so it was an easy choice. The chips were impressive – at least twice-cooked and crunchy yet still properly fluffy on the inside.

A well-bronzed hot dog bun encased a quality-tasting white meat sausage, all covered in a flurry of not-particularly-spicy chilli mix, green sauce and thin, patient zig-zags of American mustard.

Ketel One stand, hosted by Eau de Vie
We spied the Ketel One stand by the Eau de Vie team towards the back of the park set-up, decked out with shelves of bottles of Ketel One vodka and hints of the Eau de Vie aesthetic.

Yuzu Mule (left) and Bloody Mary (right) from Eau de Vie
With the slick Eau de Vie boys in action, the Yuzu Mule was my pick with the promise of a sour hit from yuzu curd along with honey, orange, ginger beer and of course, Ketel One vodka.

The Bloody Mary wasn't even on the menu and was oddly not as cold as it really should have been, but downed nonetheless.

Spencer gulf prawns, avocado, lime, chilli, royal black quinoa,
tomato, basil & coriander from Agape Restaurant
The Sustainability area of the festival had just a whiff of hippie-ness but in the case of the Sustainability Pop-Up restaurant on Sunday, Agape Restaurant smelt nothing but delicious.

With some seriously appetising and fresh looking dishes on offer, we went with the grilled Spencer Gulf prawns piled high with a salad of black quinoa grains, tomato, basil and alfalfa sprouts - a beautifully fresh plate that sang of summer.

Crispy pork belly, pickled daikon and chilli jam in a sweet roll by Longrain
Not far away, the Longrain bar was pumping tunes and cocktails to the happy masses. Definitely a contender for my favourite of the day was Martin Boetz's crispy pork bun, jam-packed with thick, succulent slices of pork with crackling. The picked vegetables were the ideal foil for the rich pork while there was also a taste of seafood in a light smearing of sauce.

Casareccia al ragu from A Tavola
I found my favourite pasta type at Eugenio Maiale's A Tavola: house made casareccia with a ragu of slow cooked veal, pork and chicken and dusted with parmesan cheese. The al dente pasta was ridiculously perfect for something served in a paper bowl in a park, but made even better with the red sauce of so much depth and sweet meatiness.

Miriam McLachlan of Sake Restaurant and Bar in the Sake Masterclass
It might have been just a touch early in our day to have been faced with  four tasting glasses of sake, but we took it in our stride as we meandered into one of the Gourmet Traveller Wine masterclasses.

It was only a few minutes into wine and sake sommelier Miriam McLachlan's talk before we were throwing around words like daiginjo (sake made from rice that's been milled down so a maximum of 50% of the grain remains) and junmai (sake made with only rice, water, yeast and koji mould; that is, without the addition of distilled alcohol).

Sake tasting glasses in the Sake Masterclass
My favourite was the Kozaemon Tokubetsu Jikagumi Origarimi which is an exclusive brew that captures the carbon dioxide from the first fermentation in the bottle.

The Kozaemon 3 Year Aged Sake is a trend-driven product that smelt like those smelly Chinese dried shitake mushrooms but tasted like a heavy chardonnay.

Prawns served with okra sambal by Flying Fish
There was a serious need for food after the unexpected generous serves of sake in the tastings. Having somewhat studied the restaurant menu before attending the festival, the prawns with okra sambal by Peter Kuruvita's Flying Fish was something I was very keen to have.

What we received was nothing like what I'd imagined, with plenty of prawn but very little okra. Indeed, I'm pretty sure I didn't manage to taste any okra in the prawn skewers I shared, though there was a enough of the orange, creamy coconut sauce for flavour.

Traditional charcoal BBQ lamb and veal kebab, smoked eggplant and
Chobani Greek yoghurt from Efendy
For the first time, Taste brought in an award for the best dish of the festival - and this was the winner, belonging to Somer Sivrioglu of Efendy. I was very keen on this version of an adana kebab, award or not, for the smoky charcoal cooked meat and soft-cooked eggplant.

And I could easily see why it was a winning dish: spicy, packed with flavours from the meat and smoke and contrasting well with the softening yoghurt and eggplant flavours.

Hiramasa kingfish ceviche from Sake Restaurant and Bar
Going to the complete other end of the food scale, Shaun Presland of Sake Restaurant and Bar's ceviche of raw kingfish slices, tomato, Spanish onion and chilli was a bowl of freshness, though it could have done with more lime juice and seasoning.

Prawn, capsicum, chilli, salsa verde pizza by Hugo's
Ever reliable pizza also made a show with at the Hugo's bar stand, and they were certainly the real deal too. The crunchy, thin bases held a generous topping of prawns, capsicum and a squiggle of salsa verde and came out fresh from the oven.

Pear cider (or perry) by Sunshack Cider
Sunshack Cider made an appearance among a surprising amount of stalls featuring cider; at least three hailing all the way from Sweden. Sunshack's pear cider is the most perfect drink on a hot and sweaty day, especially when you're watching a pig on a spit.

(Potentially disturbing image below).

Suckling pig on the spit by Four in Hand
The petrified gaze of the rotating suckling pig on the spit was almost enough to turn a few people off their pork. But Four in Hand's pig on the spit made for a great spectator sport, all the while sipping on cider and hoping that the chef slicing it might hand over a bit of crackling.

Roast suckling pig, coleslaw, onion ring and hot sauce by Four in Hand
Colin Fassnidge wasn't around but it wasn't hard to join the queue after watching the pig do a few loops. We were justly rewarded with a fair-sized plate of tender and moist meat, two crunchy and quite oily onion rings, and a strange kind of coleslaw that comprised two huge shavings of carrot.

Ragu di pollo affiumicato from Otto Ristorante
We thought we finished up with the savoury dishes on another pasta dish from Richard Ptacnik of Otto Ristorante. It was a very different ragu of smoked Lilydale chicken that had the unfortunate texture of tinned tuna, but the strong smoky flavours were actually quite impressive.

Lamb and eggplant mini burgers by the City Tattersalls Club stall
But it wasn't quite the end with the perennial free stuff on offer from the City Tattersalls Club stall. This time I managed a battered and fried prawn of some sort and a mini lamb burger, while their panna cotta certainly looked the goods, as did their cocktail samples.

Chouxmacas from Adriano Zumbo Patisserie
Dessert was no simple matter with the number of offerings from both the restaurants and the stalls. There was relatively little fanfare at Adriano Zumbo's first Taste stall, where the 'Chouxmaca' puffs proved too tempting.

The creamy filling in the choux puffs was a little lacking in the chocolate macaron shell topped one, while the pâté sable a choux would have been my favourite part of these miniature works of art.

Wild berry and chocolate flake Foxy Premium Frozen Yoghurt
Between three people, we also did the clever thing of sharing a tub of Foxy Premium Frozen Yoghurt, though there might have been a scoop of lemon cheesecake gelato later in the afternoon too.

With some cute branding and flavour names, the frozen yoghurt was a little on the icy side so that standard plastic spoons struggled, but the flavour was spot on.

Pepe Saya buttermilk and vanilla panna cotta with poached fruits from
The Montpellier Public House
The day was certainly getting on when we heard the call of "2 Crowns" for panna cotta as Matt Kemp's The Montpellier Publich House emptied its kitchen. Quite a fair crowd turned up for cheap desserts, which was a very sweet mix of unidentified poached fruit, burying some very fine vanilla panna cotta.

This was definitely the bargain of the day although I also bought my favourite Gingerbread Folk men and bunnies, free Chobani yoghurts, Sunshack Ciders, a selection of Huon salmon products, and spicy twiggy sticks from Jim's Jerky.

So it was heavy bags and stomachs that we left Taste of Sydney for another year; hot, sweaty and happy in the sunshine. See more pictures at my Facebook page (and Like me while you're there!).

Food, booze and shoes attended Taste of Sydney as a guest, with thanks to Stellar Concepts. All food and Crowns were paid for separately.


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