Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cross lunching at Concrete Blonde

I don't spend a great deal of time in the Cross these days which means I'm probably missing out on some of the dining options in the area, including restaurants in Kings Cross, Potts Point and Darlinghurst.

Right in the thick of things, up a short stairway on Bayswater Road underneath nightspot and cheap pizza haunt Hugos, Concrete Blonde is flying its modern Australian flag in an expansive space including a bar, some communal tables against an open kitchen and a large sheltered outdoor area.

Outdoor seating area at Concrete Blonde, Bayswater Road, Kings Cross
It's a great spot for casual but stylish lunching and in the evenings, people watching, I imagine.

And with a full bar incorporated into the restaurant, there was no reason to not start a weekend lunch with a signature Concrete Blonde cocktail.

The bar

Bayswater Breeze cocktail (front, right)
The Bayswater Breeze is a refreshing and fruit cocktail of vodka and elderflower liqueur, garnished with fresh passionfruit and overflowing with crushed ice. It was very easy to drink so a good choice with which to start the drinking day.

Seared scallops, wild prawn, asparagus, crisp bread
I love seeing new perspectives on a seared scallop dish and this was certainly not your average scallop entree. The three just cooked scallops sat amid asparagus spears, crisp bread and a fine dice of prawn and other raw, sashimi style seafood in a seafood salad of sorts. The scallop I sampled was sweet, succulent sea perfection.

Smoked ocean trout, slow cooked egg, apple and dill salad
My entree of thinly sliced smoked ocean trout with a gooey slow cooked egg was also accompanied by a thin, crunchy crisp, which came in handy for dipping into the egg.

The egg was nested by sprigs of dill and batons of granny smith apple which had a sweetness that was ideally matched with the smoky yet vibrant fish.

Communal table and kitchen

Inside the restaurant

Char grilled pork cutlet, celeriac remoulade, pear, blue cheese, hazelnuts
There were more than a few dishes I wanted to try from the brief mains menu but the pork cutlet won out - rewardingly so as I spied it coming to our table.

It was quite a large dish with a hunk of char grilled pork sitting on shredded celeriac - which cut through the richness of the meat as did the scattered salad of witlof, pear, blue cheese and roasted hazelnuts alongside.

And as if the juicy and tender pork wasn't enough, there was also golden, perfectly and audibly crunchy pork crackling that almost made the dish on its own.

Slow cooked NZ King salmon, prawn, avocado, fennel
The lighter salmon option featured a slow cooked (perhaps confit) fillet of the fish, which flaked easily into pieces to be eaten with an avocado puree and fennel and pea salad.

The prawn seemed to be an unusual addition but it was so fresh in taste and texture I could have had all prawns and no salmon.

Fennel salad, marinated goats cheese, blood orange, witlof, radish, chives
The mains at Concrete Blonde are quite complete meals with substantial sides, like salads, on the plate - a refreshingly value-oriented approach that's not nearly as common as it should be.

Nonetheless, we sampled the colourful and sprightly fennel, witlof and radish salad dotted with normal and blood orange segments and creamy, mild goat's cheese - covering off on bitter and sweet, creamy and crisp.

Bouillon chat potatoes, rosemary salt, aioli
The waitstaff also highly recommended the potato side dish and after just one bite, I understood why. Parboiled in, presumably, bouillon, these chat potatoes were then lightly smashed and roasted to a glistening, well-tanned state and seasoned with rosemary salt.

They were outstanding as they were, and just scraping in to be 'the naughty side' with the addition of aioli. French fries and pommes puree, eat your heart out - this is the champion of potato side dishes.

Seating indoors and wine cellar

Vanilla panna cotta, rhubarb, strawberry,basil sorbet
After scoffing as many potatoes as possible, as well as the sizable mains, the very enticing dessert menu nudged us into sweets territory too. First was the vanilla panna cotta which wobbled nicely with its strawberry jelly layer.

The basil sorbet was great on its own, weird with the vanilla flavours of the panna cotta, but made more sense with the little piles of stewed rhubarb and strawberry.

Caramelised banana tart, honeycomb, peanut butter ice cream
Not normally a banana dessert person, I was swayed by the banana tart's promised side of peanut butter ice cream and honeycomb.

The tart itself was fabulous: a thin, buttery, flaky pastry topped with banana slices and caramel that had been lightly torched for a hint of burnt toffee. It was also a surprisingly light dessert, though apt after all those potatoes really.

Caranel espresso martini
To top off the sweets, one of the dessert cocktails appealed with caramel and espresso meeting in a heavy hitting martini. It was more caramel than espresso but a fine note on which to conclude lunch in the Cross.

Outdoors, indoors, cocktails, food, casual or big night out: if you need a reason to visit Kings Cross, I think Concrete Blonde has a few.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Concrete Blonde, with thanks to Wasamedia.

Concrete Blonde on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 25, 2013

Eat like a Dumpling King

Chinese dumplings are traditionally shaped to resemble gold pieces from back in the day, so it makes sense that I feel like royalty when scoffing a plate of them.

At Dumpling King on Newtown's main road, it's generally always packed around dinner time which is a good sign for my seemingly insatiable appetite for the dough-wrapped morsels.

Pan fried pork and chive dumplings at Dumpling King, King Street, Newtown
My preferences are for pan fried dumplings for some crisp skins, a filling of minced pork with a vegetable or two, and served with vinegar sauce and chilli oil on the side. And it's as if I am royalty because it's all there at Dumpling King.

The pan fried ones are always boiling hot and mostly at risk of squirting or leaking revered dumpling juices. Garnished with shreds of iceberg lettuce, this - and the condiments on the side - is all I need in a meal.

Spicy tofu
There isn't a mapo tofu dish at Dumpling King - the spicy tofu dish is as close as it gets. There's no meat in it but the silky cubes of tofu satisfy in the sweet, bright red sauce with a tinge of chilli heat.

Spicy shredded pork
The shredded pork is a better, more flavoursome dish with an array of julienned vegetables along with the generous portion of pork. The bold flavours in this, leaning again a little to the sweet side, make it an ideal dish to have with steamed rice by the bowl.

Shanghai stir fried noodles
Amid the selection of noodles, the Shanghai noodles stir fried with a variety of seafood and crisp vegetables also has a bit of a kick to it. The initially al dente noodles slowly soak up all the juices of the dish and make for quite the filling plate.

Given the reasonable prices I always seem to order and eat too much here, but don't be misled - the dumpling remains king of the menu.

Dumpling King on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Slide on through The Passage

Right up near the Kings Cross end of Darlinghurst, The Passage has been onto the slider craze a while now. The long, narrow space offers respite from the Kings Cross hubbub with its own brand of bar and club cool, and of course, sliders.

There's a weekly Wednesday night special on the ubiquitous miniature burgers, which get pretty creative in their fillings (think 'The Fisherman's Basket' and 'The Mighty Duck') .

"Fillet o' Fish" slider with caper mayonnaise and cos lettuce from The Passage,
Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
There are four sliders on their regular menu; one being the irresistible 'Fillet o' Fish' with crumbed fish, cos lettuce and caper mayonnaise.

Even if it lacks the plastic-like cheese of the original, it's hard to beat a freshly cooked fish burger and the slider disappeared in several bites.

Spicy meatball slider with cheddar and tomato relish 
The meatball slider is more your classic burger with a flattened meatball pattie, melting cheese and a tangy tomato relish. It was a noticeably spicy and utterly satisfying handful.

I particularly like the fact that The Passage uses mini burger buns and not brioche buns for their sliders, as there's only so much brioche one can take.

Crazy 99 cocktail
There's lots of fun to be had on the cocktail list, such as the pretty pink and quite lethal Crazy 99 cocktail with both Japanese sake and shochu, shaken with pink grapefruit and lemon.

Crispy chicken wings with ginger and spring onion
From the snacks menu we ordered the chicken wings which, fried crisp, are hard to get wrong. These wings were doused in a sauce of ginger, Chinese salted black bean and spring onions, and not so crisp for it.

While the sauce flavours were great and quite rare outside of a Chinese eatery, the chicken itself could have done with more marinating and seasoning - but that didn't stop us from picking the bones clean.

Stuffed zucchini flower with goat's cheese and truffle honey
The zucchini flower small plate was a generous one with four crunchily battered stuffed flowers on a plate with polenta, crumbled goat's cheese and pepitas.

The drizzles of truffle honey matched the cheese and stuffing remarkably well and left us wanting more.

Apple and witlof salad
After all the slider and deep fry action, we sought some redemption through the undeniably healthy rocket, apple and witlof salad with a lemon dressing (but only because they were out of the pork and crispy rice noodle salad, to be truthful).

The Passage is doing some great things to differentiate itself from its Darlinghurst and Kings Cross neighbours, both the boozy and the foodie, with a dynamic slider menu and daily specials - slide on in to join the slider craze before it's all over.

The Passage on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gia Hoi: Vietnamese in the 'burbs

Sydney is blessed with suburbs like Cabramatta, Bankstown and Marrickville for Vietnamese food and restaurant options. But it's almost as if Vietnamese restaurants are the new Thai restaurants, popping up in all sorts of suburban streets in recent years.

Crispy skin chicken with tomato rice from Gia Hoi, Chapel Road, Bankstown
With the plethora of options in Bankstown, we relied on someone in the know to lead us to the garishly magenta-lit insides of Gia Hoi, just off the main road.

All the favourite Vietnamese dishes are here and I couldn't resist the crispy skin chicken, served with salad and a yellow-red hued tomato rice.

The rice wasn't spectacular but the insanely crisp shattering skin of the chicken, with moist, tender flesh beneath, made up for any rice regrets.

Grilled pork chop
Another easy choice is the grilled pork chop, which comes with a choice of noodle or rice sides. The slightly (and nicely) fatty pork is incredibly tender and full of hours of marinated flavour.

Noodles on the side
The dry noodles served with the pork chop were obscured by a range of generous toppings: fresh and fried shallots, bean sprouts, raw onion and more, with a sweet dipping sauce on the side.

Fillings for rice paper rolls
The most exciting dish this time round was the mixed platter of fillings that arrived with a bowl of water, for fresh rolled rice paper rolls.

Watching and learning, the round rice paper gets a light dip into the bowl of water before being laid on a plate and filled with vermicelli noodles, fresh vegetables and herbs and one of the protein fillings: spring rolls, sugarcane prawns, grilled pork and beef slices.

They're then delicately rolled up and consumed immediately with more dipping sauce. It's not the most simple of dishes but certainly easy to polish off a platter among three.

So here's a trend prediction: the continuing popularisation of Vietnamese cuisine, especially out in the 'burbs where casual eateries like Gia Hoi thrive by doing what they've always done.

Gia Hoi on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 14, 2013

Good times collective #6

We're off and running in 2013, and straight back into the thick of things. There's a sense of reserved optimism this summer and I get the feeling that it's a prelude to a pretty massive year to come - hang on for the ride.

Pomegranate froyo with mango and lychee pearls from MooBerry, King Street, Newtown
(Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at MooBerry)
It's the summer of froyo. The hot days so far are proof that the boom in frozen yoghurt, or froyo, operators is scarily on trend.

I don't know whether it's a short-term or even seasonal fad but I do know the cool, refreshing feel of the fruity pomegranate froyo with fruit and lychee pearls is my summer in a cup.

Biscotti froyo with Oreos and macarons from MooBerry, King Street, Newtown
(Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at MooBerry)
On the other end from the fruity froyo scale is the all-out dessert approach: like biscotti flavoured froyo with Oreo crumbs and miniature macarons that are as cute as they are decadent.

Chicken burger with chips from The Grounds of Alexandria, Huntley Street, Alexandria
Ten months on and the crowds keep queueing up at The Grounds with no signs of waning. Personally, If I'm hungry I can't really manage a 30-minute wait so it's a good thing that they've introduced a more substantial takeaway menu on top of cakes and coffee.

I have no issue diving into a juicy fried chicken burger for brunch in the garden, especially with The Grounds' very good thick cut potato chips and aioli on the side.

Quinoa salad from The Grounds of Alexandria
The healthy among us can look to the menu of salads including this one of quinoa, kale, pumpkin, sultanas and more. A little on the sweetly-dressed side, it was a generous serve that made an interesting dip for the chips.

Bloody Mary at The Forresters, corner Riley and Foveaux Streets, Surry Hills
The jar-sized Bloody Mary at The Forresters must be Sydney's best dressed. Garnished to the point of being a salad, this vodka and tomato juice cocktail has to be healthy on some level, with cucumber, a pickled onion, cherry tomato, artichoke and rosemary all taking pride of place.

Sunday roast - roast beef with roast vegies at The Forresters
The Bloody Mary joined the weekly changing Sunday roast, complete with roast vegetables, gravy and sauce. Just be wary of potentially dry roast beef which chewy and dry, was clearly overcooked and probably kept on some heat source for a little too long.

Chicken nuggets from The Forresters
There wasn't much more satisfaction from the chicken nuggets, which were battered breast fillets smothered in a tomato and onion sauce. The unseasoned chicken has nothing on Maccas, I'm afraid.

Baked eggs with beans at Vicinity, Bourke Road, Alexandria
(Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at Vicinity)
I've heard that Vicinity stopped serving breakfast recently, which is a shame as it was a great, airy spot with outdoor seating that is really made for brunching - and Sunday afternoon drinks.

I'm not sure which direction the venue is moving towards but the breakfast I did sample there needed tweaking. The baked eggs with beans in a tomato-ey sauce looked more like poached eggs dumped on top of some tasty home made beans, served with a huge slice of barely toasted bread.

Green and gold at Vicinity, Bourke Road, Alexandria
(Disclosure: Food, booze and shoes is acquainted with staff at Vicinity)
The 'green and gold' breakfast dish was actually quite a good, healthy option: more large-slice bread with mashed avocado, broccoli, watercress and a poached egg.

I keep meaning to return for lunch or dinner, but I'll also be watching their morning offerings with interest - after all, a big year is going to need a big breakfast.

MooBerry - Real Froyo and Smoothies on Urbanspoon

The Grounds of Alexandria on Urbanspoon

The Forresters on Urbanspoon

Vicinity Dining on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The White Hart High Tea: Cocktails with a twist

Traditional English high tea isn't quite my cup of tea - I mostly blame my prior experiences with stodgy scones. But when The White Hart in Neutral Bay - renowned for fun, novelty cocktails - invited me to their weekends-only "Smokin Speakeasy Iced Tea", hinting that it was high tea but not as I knew it, I was intrigued and arrived thirsty.

Twisted High Tea at The White Hart, Grosvenor Street, Neutral Bay
The alluring offering sat pretty on three tiers and looked the part of high tea. But the fact that every morsel and drink required a detailed explanation proved that it was certainly high tea with a twist.

Every component on the three tiers, some very unusual and innovative, was alcoholic; most a classic cocktail or drink in a new, deconstructed and edible form. It was recommended that we start from the top tier and work our way down to the sweeter cocktail treats.

Long Island Iced Tea - served with dry ice
We started first with a cup of tea: Long Island Iced Tea chilled with smoking dry ice, that is. Served separately in a dated, non-matching tea set, the sweet cocktail was more ladylike than lethal.

Martini jelly
To the top tier I couldn't resist the classic martini, made as a clear jelly with a green olive submerged within. Getting through the foam, there was a noticeable kick to the jelly with the martini definitely on the dirty side.

Vodka and tonic jelly (left) and white peach bellini
Prettily pink, the other slender shot glass held a white peach bellini topped with sparkling wine and "peach air" that was impressively true to taste.

The top tier also featured two clear jelly squares: a gin and tonic jelly (with the British flag) and a vodka and tonic jelly (with the US flag) - both of a delightfully wobbly texture and true flavours.

Deconstructed Mojito
Things ramped up on the second tier with a syringe appearing as part of a deconstructed mojito. Filled with white rum and sparkling water, the idea is to squirt liquid onto the spoon with the teal green mint jelly and taste as one mouthful.

The only trouble was that the mint jelly tasted more like toothpaste mintiness and I then inhaled a spoonful of what tasted like straight rum. Hello!

Shandy (back, left) and deconstructed Bloody Mary (front)
I've always liked shandy - that slightly daggy but refreshing mixed drink of beer and lemonade. This version of beer with a lemonade foam was probably more suitable as a drink on the top tier rather than second given the bitterness of the beer.

We were most impressed with the deconstructed Bloody Mary, comprising a piece of cucumber; a vodka jelly with tomato and Bloody Mary spicing; and wasabi foam. Consumed as a savoury mouthful, it was an ingenious eye-opener and the closest it got to the real thing.

Long Island Iced Tea marshmallows
We ended with the sweeter stuff: dreamy Long Island Iced Tea marshmallows, melting Clover Club and PiƱa Colada sorbets, an espresso foam (presumably of the martini variety) and The White Hart's signature pot of edible chocolate soil with absinthe jelly snakes.

Apart from the resultant sugar high, I'm not too sure of the total alcoholic content of the high tea, especially with the Long Island Iced Tea - so do check with The White Hart if you're driving and definitely come with your sense of novelty and adventure on hand.

The White Hart is serving its "Smokin Speakeasy Iced Tea" for $55 every Saturday and Sunday from 2-6pm. Bookings essential.

Food, booze and shoes sampled the "Smokin Speakeasy Iced Tea" as a guest of The White Hart.

The White Hart on Urbanspoon


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