Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bling Bling Dumpling: All that shimmers

Red glitter walls, silver glitter-topped tables and all manner of tacky, if not cheap, 'Asian' trinkets greet diners who take the chance to walk into Bling Bling Dumpling on Broadway.

But for the promise of dumplings, some at a special advertised price of $1 each, I was game enough to enter the den of bling - quite literally. How they got that large-size red glitter to cover an entire wall was impressive enough for me.

Inside Bling Bling Dumpling, Broadway, Ultimo
The menu is normal Chinese sized; that is, about ten pages or more, traversing the entire spectrum of appetisers, soups, meat and vegetable mains, and of course, their namesake dumplings.

Banana chips
As we went through the pages of the menu, a small dish of complimentary banana chips was brought to the table, which was frankly odd, not helped by the fact that I don't like banana chips.

Steamed dumplings
The dumpling menu was much more complicated than I would have liked. A serve of four dumplings costs $4.80 - as long as they're not meat (additional 80c), seafood (additional $1.80) or pan fried (additional 80c).

On top of that, they're given 'bling' names like diamond, emerald and citrine when they really mean pork and chive or chicken and leek - which were the varieties we ordered four each of (the pork and chive being the advertised $1 per dumpling special - steamed only).

Both varieties elected as steamed for simplicity, these dumplings seemed to have been freshly steamed in bamboo baskets as they arrived to the table last and very, very hot. They are definitely larger than your standard dumpling, perhaps even double the size.

The pork and chive was pretty decent, with nicely chewy dough wrapped around the minced pork filling. The chicken and leek, however, was underseasoned and desperately needed soy sauce and chilli oil; the latter which had to be requested from the staff.

Hot and sour soup
We started with a huge bowl of hot and sour soup featuring tofu, carrot, bamboo shoot and black wood ear fungus.

The flavour was, as expected, both sour and hot but so hot and spicy that it caught sharply at the back of the throat every time I had a mouthful. It was a warming, if not somewhat painful, experience that left me with chilli sniffles.

Xinjiang braised eggplant, lightly pan fried in special sweet sauce
By lightly pan fried eggplant, I do believe they meant deep fried. These golden segments of eggplant were on the slightly oily side, but surprisingly pleasant: think soft eggplant, oil, slight crispness and a sugar-sweet sauce - what's not to like? A bowl of steamed rice would have completed the picture.

As we went to pay the bill down the back of the restaurant, the space reveals a dark, less-bling back section and an adjoining restaurant next door. I have no idea if the two spaces are connected but neither was particularly busy at late lunch.

I was distracted for a good several minutes in front of the tropical fish tank down the back, not too sure of the bling connection. Bling Bling Dumpling is certainly one of the most curiously themed restaurants around, but unfortunately, I haven't found dumpling gold here.

Bling Bling Dumpling on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fratelli Paradiso: A classy brother act

I've found myself venturing into the poshness that is Potts Point a fair bit recently, and while I may not feel like I belong at all, the suburb does have a nice village feel to it despite neighbouring Kings Cross.

Fratelli Paradiso is the decade-plus veteran Italian eatery in Potts Point, not be be confused with the numerous Fratelli Fresh and their eateries, Café Sopra. Well known for its all-day Italian offerings, Fratelli Paradiso has garnered scores of local and other fans over the years of their casul, laidback yet sophisticated café/ trattoria offerings.

Blackboard menu at Fratelli Paradiso, Challis Avenue, Potts Point
In the evening, the tables and chairs spilling onto the footpath are the first to fill, while the dark, intimate settings inside get packed throughout the night. The locals and regulars seem to know the drill and the restaurant seems to have little issue at all with its no reservations policy or Italian-only blackboard menu.

Prosecco (front) and bellini (back)
The weather wasn't so cool as to refuse a prosecco or bellini to start as yet; the none-too-sweet Spanol 'Col del Sas' Prosecco di Valdobbiadene from the Veneto region. The peachy bellini was reminiscent of a summer we never had and seemed to also feature vanilla.

There's a large selection of wines by the glass, mostly Italian, but two-and-a-half full A4 pages of wines by the bottle - an impressive selection for a relatively small venue, but with plenty of help available from the waitstaff.

Bread rolls
As we perused the blackboard menu and asked waitstaff for reminders of Italian translations, a basket of bread rolls was brought to the table.

Served in a completely rustic fashion in a banneton basket, the equally rustic bread was wonderfully flavoured and only improved with the extra virgin olive oil at the table.

We settled on three entrées to share as the menu seemed just a little too appealing. I'm not sure what I was expecting when we ordered the calamari, but I don't think I expected some of the most tender squid I've ever had.

Lightly battered and deep fried, the rings of squid (and nice to see tentacles included for a change) were perfectly seasoned atop rocket leaves and a balsamic vinegar dressing - a sublimely perfect example of how calamari should be served.

Crudo di pesce - kingfish
The kingfish crudo looked an absolute treat with its cubes of raw, pink fish, Spanish onion and chilli. However, it seemed to be missing its citrus dressing which in turn, emphasised the fishiness of the kingfish of which I'm particularly sensitive to.

The fresh lemon juice from the wedges we requested helped a little, but a glass of the deliciously medium-bodied La Distesa 'Terre Silvate' Verdicchio helped greatly (described on the wine list as "crunch, pop, apple, white flowers in the desert" - what fun).

Salumi misti - mixed cured meats
I've tried resisting cured meats and have just not succeeded. This salumi plate featured some excellent prosciutto, bresaola, chunky and fat-dotted salami, char-grilled eggplant and soft goat's milk stracchino  cheese which I haven't had since I was in Italy.

Pasta scampi
As soon as the daily pasta dish of spaghetti with scampi was announced from the blackboard, it was an immediate order as one of our mains.

It featured one whole, split, grilled scampi and a pile of spaghetti with a few pieces of scampi without its shell - all sweet, well-cooked and savoured in small bites.

Spaghetti with scampi
The spaghetti was simply tossed with olive oil, garlic, cherry tomatoes, chilli and parsley, and all the better for its simplicity.

With mains, we went with the recommendation and special by the glass of Bricco Maiolica Diano D'Alba which was entertainingly described as "old man new, smoke and wild cherry".

Stinco d'agnello - braised lamb shanks
Feeling like something more rich than pasta, I ordered the lamb shank cooked in tomato with pine nuts and peas; the latter giving the dish a slight Sunday roast feel.

The incredibly thick tomato sauce stuck to the lamb, which would have been cooked for several hours at least given my dinner knife was completely redundant. I'd definitely recommend ordering a vegetable side dish with this meaty main.

Panna cotta
Desserts are kept simple at Fratelli Paradiso, much as the rest of the menu is as well. The panna cotta, served spooned out from a larger dessert, was presented with fresh figs, crumbled pistachios and a honey sauce that added sweetness and brought it all together.

This was probably one of the more delicate yet full-flavoured panna cottas I've tried, despite its unusual presentation.

I couldn't resist that Italian classic, tiramisu. Again served from a larger dessert, this epic hunk of tiramisu was dusted heavily with chocolate powder with plenty of not-too-sweet mascarpone. Although the Savoiardi fingers could have spent a couple more seconds in their coffee bath, the flavours overall were spot on.

Inside Fratelli Paradiso
The buzz in the restaurant was exactly what you'd be looking for on a late weekday night: one could tell that both diners and staff were in a happy equilibrium of food, wine and enjoyment.

Fratelli Paradiso is easily one of those places where you want to return to time and time again, and indeed, become a regular. It looks like there are more Potts Point visits on the cards for me.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Fratelli Paradiso as a guest, with thanks to Maria Farmer Public Relations.

Fratelli Paradiso on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

bloodwood: Where the bloody hell have I been?

It’s been more than a year since bloodwood popped up on my radar: my first couple of visits were drinks-only affairs while a drop-in over the December festive season sadly saw them closed for a week or so.

But post my dinner visit recently, I’ve been wondering: where has bloodwood been all my life? And indeed, where have I been when I should have been in their mezzanine dining room all this time?

bloodwood, King Street, Newtown
The industrial chic fit-out reminds me a little of another venue but suits the space and Newtown down to the concrete ground. The front bar area is cosy, as too the open kitchen we pass before heading up a few steps to the table settings for couples and fours in the main dining area.

Polenta chips, gorgonzola sauce
We order their signature polenta chips as we pore over the very approachable wine list, with plenty of options by the glass. The 2009 Font De Michelle Font Du Vent Cotes du Rhone is an affordable choice that has an almost abruptly short length, not all a bad thing with the pungently creamy gorgonzola sauce.

The polenta chips are perfect bricks of yellow-gold ground cornmeal seasoned with salt flakes. Impossibly crisp on the outside and soft, piping hot and creamily textured on the inside, the chunky polenta chips were the perfect instruments to devour the pot of gorgonzola sauce, wiping it clean and even getting a top-up.

Pork pintxo, lima beans, guindillas
It was easy to pick the pork pintxo from the menu, especially after the waiter’s description of the grilled pork with paprika and other spices, served with lima bean puree and pickled guindilla chillies.

Nothing smells quite as good as charred meat on a stick, and this was certainly a highlight of the meal. Topped with a sensational tart green sauce and a bunch of the not-spicy guindilla chilliess, the tender pork was lean and full of flavour; the bean puree adding a necessary carbohydrate base.

Spanner crab, green asparagus, brown butter, bread crumbs, parsley
There was definitely no skimping on the amount of spanner crab flesh, tossed with parsley and topped with bread crumbs, all piled on top of the grilled asparagus spears. The whole lot was quite drenched in the sauce of brown butter, making it quite a rich dish, particularly after it cooled a little.

We also had an overflowing bowl that was the leaf salad - definitely the biggest I’ve seen on a restaurant table, although admittedly it wasn't really a side dish. But with thin, salty shards of crisp bresaola, this salad was bliss, helped by the fact that none of the leaves – red witlof included – had any bitterness about them.

Coorong angus beef brisket, spatzle, cauliflower, beans
To drink with what would represent a main dish at bloowood (larger size and price tag), I switched to the bigger, bolder 2009 Telmo Rodriguez Dehesa Gago Tempranillo which was fruity enough hold up against the almost cloying sweetness and richness of the South Australian angus beef brisket.

The brisket must have been braised for many an hour, possibly in dark soy sauce, to achieve the tenderness that allowed it, and all its muscle and connective tissue, to be pulled apart with forks alone.

The crisp surfaced bits of spatzle, pan fried with cauliflower florets and green beans, were a tad on the oily side given the already rich, fat-melded beef brisket, making it a slight struggle to finish.

bloodwood trifle – fresh berries, pound cake, port wine jelly,
vanilla anglaise, yoghurt mascarpone
There was only stomach capacity for one dessert to be shared between two, which had to be bloodwood’s take on the retro trifle.

The current iteration of the perennial dessert featured fresh berries, including stunning blueberries, combined with a fragrant vanilla anglaise. The pound cake acted as a sponge to all the dairy goodness around it, while I could have easily gone a bowl of port wine jelly on its own.

Paired with the oaky, candied pineapple tones of the 2007 Grande Maison Cuvee de Angus, it wasn’t an overly sweet finish to the meal, at which point both the dining area and front bar were packed full with a broad range of punters. And with very good reason too – the food and wine are interesting yet approachable, mashing new and familiar with touches of both high-end and casual.

While the fine dining pedigree of the three bloodwood chefs/owners is well known, it was also a lovely surprise to find the professionalism and high standards also flows through to the service. Despite the casual-cool atmosphere, the top-notch service really elevated my experience of bloodwood to something special. I know where the bloody hell I want to eat more often.

Bloodwood on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ichibandori: One crunchy bit of chicken

I think one thing Sydney can be thankful for (not traffic, house prices or weather lately) is the abundance of decent casual Japanese eateries. Many suburbs can now boast a little restaurant or two that turns out katsudon or teriyaki without hassle. Meanwhile, Neutral Bay almost has an overabundance.

Faced with a row of Japanese restaurants on the main road not far from the sprawling Oaks Hotel one evening, it was a little like choosing from clones. There was no particular reason that Ichibandori got our pick, but we were glad for the efficient and orderly delivery of dishes to the table.

Spicy fish salad from Ichibandori, Military Road, Neutral Bay
The spicy sashimi salad was a decent serving size of fresh mixed leaves, undressed, with a pile of spicily dressed salmon and tuna pieces topped with strands of nori seaweed.

I'm pretty sure the dressing was Korean gochujang chilli bean paste or similar, and it worked for the most part although it bordered on too spicy for my tastes.

Pan fried pork gyoza
I'm weak to the powers of temptation of dumplings quite generally, and these pork gyoza with crispy pan-fried bottoms were fairly excellent examples.

Most likely home made and not the frozen variety, these had deliciously juicy fillings of pork and cabbage and were only improved with the ponzu dipping sauce.

Salmon and avocado roll
I'm not sure if it was due to hunger, pre drinks or just not having had standard sushi types of late, but this was about the best salmon and avocado uramaki inside-out sushi roll I've had in ages.

The tobiko flying fish roe on top certainly helped the cause, but I think it was also the perfectly seasoned and not overly tightly packed rice that starred, as well as a squeeze of mayonnaise with the salmon and creamy, ripe avocado inside the roll.

The choice of Ichibandori was taking an unexpectedly positive turn when I discovered perhaps the crunchiest kushikatsu (fried things on a stick) in Sydney. Even left for a few minutes beneath tonkatsu sauce, the audible crunch of the panko crumbed chicken on a stick was incredible.

The fantastic kushikatsu left the chicken yakitori wanting. Served with a teriyaki pepper sauce, the yakitori did taste like they were properly grilled but just showed no signs of caramelisation, let alone the naughtily pleasing black grilled bits, on the surface of the chicken.

With big ticks for the gyoza, sushi and kushikatsu, Ichibandori was a great pick out of the many, many Military Road options.

Ichibandori Japanese Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 17, 2012

All the rage: Zeta Bar Farmer's Markets cocktails

With the trend towards seasonality in food, farmer's markets are all the rage across Australia at the moment. It's also a step closer to farmers and where our food actually comes from, and away from mass industrial processing so hopefully it's not just a short-term fad.

Zeta Bar Farmer's Market, Friday nights at Hilton Sydney,
George Street Sydney
(Image courtesy of Hilton Sydney)
Zeta Bar Farmer's Market captures the current food trend for all things to be uber-fresh and seasonal, on Friday nights from 6pm for a limited time.

Hilton Sydney's Zeta Bar has become a place of drinking fun and novelty, and if my past experiences are anything to go by, it looks like Grant Collins, bar consultant and mixologist, is keeping it that way with twice-a-year Zeta Bar cocktail concepts.

Liqueur selection
The idea is that drinkers browse the "markets", picking up a couple of fruits or vegetables, and then herbs and spices, with which Zeta Grocers (read: bartenders in grocer's costumes) will concoct a cocktail after you've chosen a liqueur flavour and base spirit.

It's a bit of fun especially if you like food shopping like me but if not, there's a menu of Zeta Farmer's specials - think Beetroot Mojito and Nitro Milk Bottles - or options at the DIY Bloody Mary stall.

'Temporary Cool' - Tamarillo and cucumber cocktail
If you're going to create your own cocktail, you'll also get a happy snap Polaroid with your cocktail and the recipe jotted down - after you've named it, that is.

'Cuban Spiced Swizzle' - Ginger, lime and rosemary cocktail
"The Farmer’s Market at Zeta is a quirky and interactive way to showcase the talent of our mixologists and highlight the extent of fresh, seasonal ingredients that we use in our cocktails," says Collins. "It’s also a great chance to educate our guests on the creative construction and balancing of cocktails."

Flower pots of edible soil and edible jelly worms
And if that's not enough fun and novelty for you, how's about mini terracotta flower pots? With edible chocolate soil and absinthe jelly worms, of course.

The former is baked and dehydrated sugar, flour, dehydrated 80% cacao chocolate pieces and cocoa powder, while the worms consist of absinthe, vodka, strawberry liqueur, gelatine sheets, agar agar and sugar (much like at Collins' other drinks venue). Have a bit of seasonal fun on Fridays from 6pm for a limited time.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Zeta Bar Farmer's Market as a guest of Hilton Sydney.

Zeta Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Good times collective #5

I'm on a holiday countdown, and not-so-quietly stoked about it. But in the meantime, there have been plenty of fun times in Sydney that I forget that we're almost at the halfway mark of the year.

Wagyu reuben sandwich with rosemary fries from Reuben and Moore,
Level 5, Westfield Sydney
I hadn't really tried the proper Reuben sandwich at Reuben and Moore (renamed since my initial visit to the Westfield Level 5 food court). It requires a hungry lunchtime and one came up recently; hence the rosemary fries aside the sandwich which by the way, are fantastic.

It can be a bit of a messy sandwich to eat, the Reuben, with its soft rye bread, wet sauerkraut, creamy dressing and slippery Swiss cheese. And not to forget the rich and buttery wagyu corned beef, which is piled on to the sandwich generously and really makes a meal of it.

Chobani plain Greek Yogurt
(Food, booze and shoes received samples with thanks to Chobani)
The Chobani brand of thick Greek yogurts (American spelling due to it currently being produced in the US) has been in select NSW and Victorian Woolworths supermarkets for a while now in their fruity flavours.

Now Chobani's plain Greek yogurt is available in fat free and 98% fat free options, in 170 grams or 907 grams (RRP $1.99 and $5.79 respectively). The straining technique used for making Chobani apparently means that the yoghurt doesn't break down and split when heated in cooking, and so can be used as a substitute for butter, oil, sour cream, mayonnaise, milk or cream.

Chobani cranberry oatmeal bars
When I was sent a sampling of the plain yoghurts - along with a cute apron and oven glove - to test out some Chobani Kitchen recipes, I went with a breafast-y recipe for a kind of healthy cranberry oatmeal bar.

I don't think I've ever used yoghurt in a slice before so it was interesting to see the cranberry and yoghurt layer come together on top of the oat base, resulting in a homely, sweet slice with a moist and fruity top layer.

Beef and tomato chutney pie stack at Pie Face, Castlereagh Street, Sydney
On a chilly day, nothing quite hits the lunch spot like a Pie Face stack: generous scoops of mashed potato and peas, dribbled with gravy, all over your favourite pie. My favourite is the Beef and Tomato Chutney pie, and I rarely order anything else (maybe the occasional sausage roll when the mornings are seedy).

Cheese platter from Societe Food and Wine Bar, Danks Street, Waterloo
Danks Street in Waterloo continues to evolve and grow into a realy gourmand's heaven. One place I hadn't seen before buying their deal voucher was Societe Food and Wine Bar; a glitzy, spacious restaurant/cafe that was an interesting addition to the more rustic and homely places on the street.

I can't speak for the food but there's not much margin for error when it comes to cheese platters. Served with a bottle of Riverston Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, it was more the epic size of this platter that impressed.

There is no way this could possibly have been an after-dinner cheese plate, with a Jenga stack of mature vintage cheddar (unnamed), Old Telegraph Road Triple Cream White and Sapphire Blue, and Yarra Valley Black Savarine Goats Cheese which was my favourite of the lot.

Sirena Tonno e Riso samples
(Food, booze and shoes received Sirena samples and a gift pack from The PR Edge)
When I was sent a gift pack of Sirena Tuna & Rice samples, I have to admit to being more excited by the Plumm flutes they also sent along with sparkling wine piccolos. There's a great story behind Plumm and they're Australian-designed and anything but pretentious - which suits the convenience and simple heat-and-eat Sirena Tuna & Rice range.

Also edible straight from the pack, 30-40 seconds in the microwave results in a small, snack-sized hit of seasoned tuna and rice; my favourite being the Spicy Tomato. I've found these come in handy for a quick, easy and relatively healthy dose of protein and carbohydrates - especially during a busy work day or a sneaky between-meal snack.

Reuben & Moore on Urbanspoon

Pie Face on Urbanspoon

Societe Food & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 14, 2012

Big flavours in The Little Chilli House

The plan was to get to Hurstville and just find somewhere, anywhere, the first place we saw, to eat as noon was getting a little late for breakfast.

With parking being a bit of a hassle and lucky dip, we really could have ended up anywhere along the main road of Hurstville. Our luck would have it that we spotted The Little Chilli House first – its colourful photo covered front window obscuring the view within.

Spicy shredded pork from The Little Chilli House, Forest Road, Hurstville
The menu photos promised dumplings so in we went to a mostly empty restaurant save for a couple of tables of families.

A quick scan of the menu photos plastering the inside walls brought us to order the shiny looking spicy shredded pork; a Northern style Chinese dish with bold vinegar and contrasting sweet flavours.

Tossed with bamboo shoots, shallots and sliced red chilli, this was ideal with a bowl of steamed rice.

Boiled pork and chive dumplings
A little ordering mishap meant we were having two types of pork and chive dumplings for lunch – these boiled ones were on the petite side and needed their dipping soy sauce for more of a flavour kick.

Pan fried dumplings
The larger pan fried dumplings seemed to have slightly-too-thick skins, but were nonetheless gobbled up with vinegar sauce and a chilli oil/paste available on every table.

The three dishes were unbelievably filling between two as the first meal of the day. The dinner offerings looked even more enticing with some very interesting Northern Chinese specialties – I’ll have to leave this for another big eating session.

The Little Chilli House on Urbanspoon


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