Sunday, September 29, 2013

East Village Gourmet Food Festival - next weekend

We're a couple days away from the start of Good Food Month so I trust Sydney has its collective stomachs ready for a month of eating, drinking, and other food and drink related activities.

I'm looking forward to next weekend's East Village Gourmet Food Festival (which has also undergone a name change) in Zetland's Joynton Park, free all day on Saturday, 5 October 2013.

Pop-up Long Dinner at 2012's Green Square Gourmet Food Festival, Joynton Park, Zetland
The festival aims to bring together the community from the surrounding south Sydney suburbs, and will feature live music, activities for kids and dogs (yes, a dog playground!), an all-day outdoor bar, a pop-up long dinner in the evening and of course, food stalls.

The festival's hours have been extended on last year's, starting from 11am all the way through to 10pm so that the local community can share a meal in a great outdoor setting till late.

Salt Meats Cheese mozzarella demonstration at last year's festival
The awesome guys at Salt Meats Cheese will run the bar with cocktails, wine and craft beer. They'll also have a food stall along with Longrain, Gelato Messina, Foley Lane, Veggie Patch Van, Allpress Espresso, Dan the Man Cooking, Colin's Butchery, Coco-go-nuts, East Ocean Restaurant, French Oven, The Rocks Brewing Co. and more - from morning, and all night long.

Get tickets to The Long Dinner under the stars by Longrain

For the East Village Gourmet Food Festival's evening feature dinner, The Long Dinner, modern Thai restaurant Longrain is returning to feed the masses, right in Joynton Park under the stars.

Longrain will be serving a shared banquet meal of their signature modern Thai dishes at long communal tables under a marquee for 200 guests.

Tickets to The Long Dinner are available here at $150 per person (including a cocktail on arrival, and red and white wines with dinner).

Food, Booze and Shoes readers can get $10 off the ticket price by entering the promo code UNDERTHESTARS.

I attended the dinner (and festival) last year and it was a superbly classy and highly memorable event despite the elements. With festival season here, there's plenty to look forward to next weekend, and for the entire next month of Good Food Month.

Last year's Long Dinner

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Visiting Calabria via Casa Barilla Cooking Class

Barilla tagliatelle with fresh ricotta, asparagus, nduja and salted ricotta made at
Casa Barilla, 
Annandale Street, Annandale
The furthest south I went during my time in Italy was the Amalfi Coast in the Campania region, which also hosts the ancient town of Pompeii and the region’s capital, Naples.

Executive Chef Luca Ciano of Casa Barilla Cooking School
The Calabria region is further south; the toe of the boot that is the shape of Italy, if you will.

It's known for specialties like my favourite salumi, nduja Calabrian spicy salami paste and caciocavallo cheese, with a cuisine that's a blend of meat and fish offerings as is characteristic of many regions of Italy that have a sea border as well as inland areas.

Casa Barilla Cooking School, Annandale Street
While I've not been to Calabria, I got a glimpse into the food culture through a cooking class at Casa Barilla in Annandale, with thanks to a fellow blogger.

The cooking school of the Italian Barilla brand, the setup at Casa Barilla is great: parking out front, coffee and cake to start (or an Aperol spritz for those inclined at 11am) and casual yet intimate classes with Barilla Executive Chef Luca Ciano leading demonstrations and hands-on, interactive sessions.

In the cooking school kitchen
Our Calabrian cooking class featured three dishes; two that we would be making ourselves following a demonstration from Chef Ciano, who has worked in Sydney restaurants including Mosaic at The Westin and at Sheraton on the Park over the last 12 years.

He has much respect for the Sydney restaurant scene in general, but especially the high end Italian restaurants whose chefs’ portraits adorn the walls of the class kitchen. Ciano cites the lack of good mid-range dining in Sydney as one of our city's weaknesses compared to Italy.

Chef Ciano cutting dough for crostoli
As seems to be the case when cooking a three-course meal, we started with making dessert, which in this case was more of a snack or treat to have with coffee.

Crostoli or chiacchiere are fried pieces of lightly sweetened dough, dusted liberally with icing sugar. It's similar to the dough used in making cannoli shells, just shaped differently and easier for it.

There's also the savoury version gnocco fritto which I had in Bologna in the north of Italy, alongside various cured meats and cheeses.

Deep frying crostoli
With a simple recipe for dough, it was a case of bringing the ingredients together by kneading into a smooth ball, and then resting the dough in the fridge before rolling through the pasta maker later.

Chef Ciano did a quick demonstration before we returned to our kitchen stations to make our own dough.

Crostoli - traditional Easter fritters
The end result of the demonstration was pretty impressive for such a simple recipe. Crisp, golden cards of puffy pastry that crumbled on bite with a shower of icing sugar for sweetening.

Chef Ciano admits to using his chiacchiere as a base for plenty of Nutella, straight from the jar.

Deep frying croquettes
The entrée portion of the three courses was a demonstration and tasting only, which was a bit of a shame as I've never made croquettes before, despite eating plenty of the crunchy, crumbed morsels.

The eggplant "meatless meatballs" comprised roasted and mashed eggplant flesh, various cheeses including fresh mozzarella, and egg and breadcrumbs to bind the mixture. Coated in flour, egg then breadcrumbs, the croquettes were expertly shaped into cylinders (which is the part of the recipe I think I would have eggplant mash falling through my fingers).

Eggplant croquette with crisp eggplant skins and Barilla tomato and basil sauce
Deep fried until golden brown, Ciano served the croquettes on Barilla Tomato & Basil sauce, and garnished with the most fantastic, crisp threads of eggplant skin – cut off from the vegetable, dried, coated in flour and deep fried until crisp-hard.

Chef Ciano joked that Australian eateries offered freshly cracked pepper with everything, "even on your cappuccino!" as he added pepper and olive oil to finish. I can’t disagree – cracked black pepper is one of my favourite spices.

The eggplant croquettes were excellent: piping hot, stringy with cheese and enhanced with both the Barilla sauce and eggplant skins. It’s also a versatile recipe as almost any vegetable can be used (as long as it’s not too wet) and any type of meat can be added (mince, prosciutto, seafood).

Cooking in the kitchen

Mise en place

Chef Ciano adding tagliatelle to the sauce
We moved on to the main meal featuring Barilla's egg tagliatelle. Ciano shared some of Barilla's 135-year history to today's achievement of being the biggest food company in Italy.

In Australia, we have their pasta and sauces range; however, in Italy they offer much more under a variety of brands.

Barilla egg tagliatelle
It was an educational session for some when it came to cooking dried pasta. The tried and tested way is to add 7 grams of salt per litre of water for cooking pasta, adding in the pasta when the water is boiled.

Use lots of water so that the pasta won’t stick to each other, reducing the starch to water ratio. Never add oil or wash pasta after cooking (perhaps an exception for pasta salad) – both tips of which impact the starch left on pasta which helps sauces stick to the shapes.

Cooking spring onions in olive oil
For the sauce, first we cooked spring onion, garlic (as a whole clove, not chopped bits which tend to burn if added in early) and thinly sliced asparagus spears in some seriously decent extra virgin olive oil under the Academia Barilla brand.

Cooking chopped asparagus

Heating Barilla Ricotta sauce
A jar of  Barilla's Ricotta sauce with tomato was simply added and heated, ready for the addition of pasta and final ingredients.

We were using some amazing fresh ricotta and spicy nduja from Salumi Australia to stir through, simply melting into the sauce, adding flavour and texture. Indeed, the nduja was some of the spiciest I've ever had.

Adding pasta to sauce in the pan
Chef Ciano is all for mixing pasta into the sauce pre serving, and not serving the sauce as a pool atop cooked pasta (I admit to doing the latter when constrained by pan size).

Creating a pasta tower
Ciano also demonstrated the creation of a pasta tower, which I've never really seen outside of styled photographs in cookbooks and magazines.

Twirling the long pasta with a large fork in a ladle, a bit of a pasta nest forms and can be gently placed onto a plate, for garnishing with grated salted ricotta and oregano sprigs.

We lunched in the kitchen with convenient pull-out stools and a glass of Sicilian white wine; completely necessary for combating the super-spicy nduja. Our group's pasta was a tad past al dente but the sauce was definitely a saving grace: creamy, sweet with tomato and with a big spice kick from the nduja.

Wine served with lunch

Adding grappa to crostoli dough
After lunch with help clearing dishes, it was time for the fun of rolling and frying the crostoli dough we made earlier, now rested.

For those who haven't used a pasta machine before, this was a great opportunity to sample before making the very easy decision to buy one.

Chef Ciano demonstrating pasta rolling
What I learnt was to resist the urge to flour the dough unless it seems to be sticking at any point. What some of the others learnt is that the dough needs to be a certain thinness to even fit into the roller at the very first stage.

With sheets of pasta rolled, it was simply a matter of cutting them into rectangles with a pastry cutter with a slit in the middle, and getting the frying oil ready.

Deep frying crostoli
Ciano's tip for testing oil heat was to simply test a small piece of dough: if it bubbles and fizzes, the oil is ready. Burning quickly or sinking without bubbles means the oil is not ready.

I loved seeing the dough puff up with bubbles almost as soon as it hit the hot oil, with the grappa and beaten egg in the dough reacting superbly.

In cooking to a golden state, we needed to ensure that the crostoli was cooked for long enough so that it would stay crisp at a later time – an audible crunch when breaking the pastry was the indicator.

Completed crostoli
Drained on paper towels, the crostoli was dusted heavily with icing sugar and best eaten fresh, perhaps with a macchiato on the side. We ended up with so much crostoli we took about five takeaway containers' worth home.

At the end of the 2.5 hour class (which ran a little over time in our case), we received Barilla goodie bags featuring the egg tagliatelle we had used for lunch, a jar of Barilla pesto sauce, recipes incorporating Barilla products and a miniature bottle of Campari.

The classes at Casa Barilla are definitely fun and worthwhile. The kitchen setup is great, chef Ciano and his right-hand-man Angelo are infinitely entertaining and full of knowledge on Italian cuisine, and meanwhile, lunch (or dinner) is sorted.

While it could be considered easy enough to cook dried pasta with a jar of sauce, the Casa Barilla classes take basic supermarket ingredients a step further, with tips and tricks that can be used in the kitchen widely and regularly. And as for my visit to Calabrian cuisine – it was hot but I liked it.

See more photos on my Facebook page (and Like it while you're there!). Casa Barilla hosts hands-on classes, demonstrations and celebrity chef classes throughout the year, with several scheduled as part of next month’s Good Food Month – see the website for details.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Toko: A Surry Hills stalwart

I remember my first visit to Toko, at least five years ago, where a couple of girls and I dropped more coin on cocktails at the bar as we waited for a table than on food in the restaurant itself.

Located at the very 'in' section of Surry Hills' Crown Street, the no-bookings policy remains for dinner at the modern Japanese restaurant, which spawned the market for contemporary, high-end peers like Sake and Sokyo.

Toko, Crown Street, Surry Hills
As a Surry Hills stalwart now, it was pleasing to see that Toko was pumping on a recent Monday night – not so much the dim, moody bar but the sushi and robata counter seats full and most of the communal table seating.

The (relatively) old girl has still got it, with both occasion and out-of-town diners mixing it with Surry Hills locals. The Monday night vibe was not unlike a regular Thursday or Friday night vibe, such was the atmosphere and sophisticatedly simple interior.

Spicy edamame - fried soy beans, chilli sauce
I don’t normally drink on Mondays but rules were made for breaking on special occasions, so it was the Uragasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo Miyagi sake in a Riedel O glass for me.

Served chilled, the gently dry sake went down easy, especially with the spicy edamame soy beans which were liberally tossed in a hot, garlicky chilli sauce.

Sake no miso tarutaru - salmon tartare, wasabi miso, lotus root chips
With a typically large izakaya style menu, it's a task to choose from the small plate, tempura, sushi and sashimi, and robata grill sections of the menu.

I can see why Toko's tasting menus would be popular choices, but I persevered with a la carte selections like the salmon tartare; a petite bowl of diced raw salmon in a wasabi and miso based dressing with just the right amount of bite.

Crispy, starchy lotus root chips were used as delicate, hole-ridden crackers to carry the salmon tartare, becoming a textural contrast and delight.

Further adding to the satisfaction was that the salmon tartare is Toko's 'OzHarvest seasonal dish'; an initiative where $2 from every tartare sold is donated to not-for-profit food rescue organisation, OzHarvest. That's feel-good eating at its finest.

Tai no sashimi to karikari buta - thinly sliced wild snapper, truffle oil, pork crackling
The snapper sashimi was a contemporary interpretation of the raw fish dish, served as thin slices with drops of truffle oil, baby shiso sprigs and tiny nuggets of puffed pork crackling.

While the pork crackling brought additional textural and flavour dimensions to classic sashimi, the truffle oil somewhat overpowered the delicate white fish.

Wagyu no nigiri - seared wagyu beef nigiri, eschallots, chives
Next were two pieces of nigiri sushi topped with thin rectangles of just-seared wagyu beef, garnished with a fine dice of eschallots and a chive section.

Presented with a light brush of soy, we weren't afraid to add more soy and wasabi to the beef which, in this format, I had expected to be more buttery soft that it was.

Watari-gani no karaage - crispy soft-shell crab, wasabi mayonnaise
Soft shell crab has become a pretty stock standard order in Japanese restaurants these days, although the rendition at Toko stands out with its superbly crisp tempura batter.

I noted that our whole tempura crab had soft-shelled, edible claws, which is probably the first time I've ever seen them despite many a soft-shell crab consumed.

Shiitake no hachimitsu fuumi - Japanese mushroom skewers, soy honey butter
After a pause we moved on to the robata grill items where, seated directly in front of the grill shielded by glass, we could see our selections being cooked and plated. Here we could see that the skewers of shiitake, Swiss brown and King Brown mushrooms were one of the most popular off the robata grill all evening.

For each serving, two skewers of the assorted mushrooms were grilled at relatively low heat, then brushed with soy and honey butter, served with zingy, seasoned and grated daikon white radish topped with chives. Not simple by any means, but a dish loved by omnivores and herbivores alike.

Tebasaki - chicken wings, Java curry salt, lime
The salt-grilled and kind-of butterflied chicken wings are one of my favourite yakitori styles with the skin charred and crisp from the grill. The lime addition was appropriate although I wasn't sure the flavoured salt was entirely necessary.

Negima yakitori - skewered chicken, spring onions, shichimi pepper
Toko’s version of the classic negima yakitori was heavy on the chicken and light on spring onions, and came with a light sprinkling of shichimi chilli pepper mix.

The densely-skewered chicken wasn't dry nor juicy; hiding beneath a surface of deliciously caramelised, sweet yakitori sauce.

Yaki onigiri nasu miso zoe - barbequed rice skewers, eggplant shiitake miso
The presentation of the yaki onigiri grilled rice cake was quite novel, like grilled rice lollipops topped with a miso-strong, mushy dice of eggplant and mushrooms. Despite looking tiny, the crisp surfaced rice pops were quite filling, as intended.

Sake no aburi yaki - smoked miso king salmon, house pickled ginger
Both the fish options from the robata menu were cooked by sitting on the lower temperature part of the grill for extended periods, so the smokiness of the grilled king salmon shouldn't have surprised me.

It was fish perfection with crisp skin and fatty salmon flesh flaking softly to combine with the creamy yellow miso puddle, while the thin slices of house pickled ginger were the perfect foil for the rich, fatty fish.

Amiyaki ro-su niku no wafu sauce - scotch fillet steak, wafu sauce, garlic chips
We ended the savoury choices on a heavy note - the scotch fillet steak which arrived pre-cut into cubes, showing off the perfect medium-rare state. Garlic chips and a light soy-vinegar dressing were the only partners to the beef, which lacked a bit of flavour, though granted that's characteristic of the cut.

Coconattu pannacotta - coconut pannacotta, strawberry, coconut foam
I couldn't bear a look at the dessert menu after all our dishes but was happy to taste just a spoonful (or three) of the coconut panncotta – a small serving in a cup, balanced on a masu wooden box filled with ice.

Coconut pannacotta
The velvety coconut foam on top was delightful and could have been dessert alone for me, but it was a surprisingly good combination matched with diced strawberry and what seemed more like crème brûlée than pannacotta. Indeed, there was even a burnished layer of toffee beneath the strawberries and above the custard.

The robabta grill
It's the complete experience at Toko. Years on, it's still on the pulse of Sydney's oft-labelled fickle dining scene; doing its thing for an appreciative crowd. And despite recent internal business issues, Toko has demonstrated the staying power that makes it one of few Surry Hills stalwarts.

Toko Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Park it at Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage

There's a new amigo on Glebe Point Road, with one of the Sydney food trucks putting down (more) roots in a bricks and mortar outlet.

Cantina Mobil, a food truck known for its travelling tacos, has opened a second shopfront in Glebe (its first is in Darlinghurst).

The bar at Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage, Glebe Point Road, Glebe
On a strip that seems to be seeing lots of change, Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage is a fun and colourful addition marking the third Mexican offering within a few blocks of Glebe's main road.

But with Cantina Mobil's reputation, vibrant renovation and a dedicated bar housed in a truck-like structure, it's injecting a lively, devil-may-care, and potentially rambunctious, spirit to the neighbourhood.

Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage store front
The multi-functional space is so named as it features a front bar as part of the restaurant and has a garage, or parking space, for the Cantina Mobil food truck on its days off and after hours, out the back just behind the outdoor dining area.

Colourful wall murals

Frozen margaritas
At the launch night a few weeks back, a Monday night started appropriately with frozen margaritas from the 'van' bar, hosting a good hit of tequila, fresh lemon zing and a liberal salt rim.

Upstairs dining space

The corridor
While there's a small upstairs dining area in addition to the shopfront tables, the partying happens out in what's essentially the backyard.

Through a narrow but brightly decorated corridor, pass the stainless steel brightness of the kitchen before reaching the backyard, which has the carefree feel of a friendly backyard get-together.

Nachos and tacos
The menu is short and sharp at Cantina Mobil Bar & Kitchen, probably mirroring that of the food truck for consistency and stock management reasons.

But with the favourites in tacos - soft or hard shelled, burritos and nachos all making an appearance, the menu's brevity isn't too much of an issue.

Hot chilli sauces
There are a few hot chilli sauces that seem to be the Mexican standard around Sydney now, all available on request at Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage, although I rarely feel the need for them with fairly straightforward taco combinations.

Chipotle beef taco
We started with soft flour tortilla tacos filled with slow cooked, softly pulled chipotle beef; a welcome change from the porcine pulled meat version.

Shredded iceberg lettuce, corn kernels and guacamole filled the taco alongside the beef which was spiced with adobo chilli sauce, while queso cheese and a vivid chipotle mayonnaise topped off the taco, served singularly in a serviette lined plastic basket.

Beef nachos
The Cantina-style nachos on offer also featured the chipotle beef as a filling, with lashings of sour cream, chipotle mayonnaise and guacamole obscuring the pinto bean mix and tomato salsa.

While I don't have anything against supermarket corn chips as such, the superior quality crunch and natural flavour of the round ones served by Cantina Mobil make them even more addictive to snack on continuously.

Pinto bean taco
The vegetarian pinto bean taco had most the same fillings as the earlier beef taco, with tomato-stewed beans in place of the meat and just as much fun and flavour.

Sangria bowl
As a launch party treat, along with the margaritas, there was a great big punch bowl of sangria; an unexpectedly drier version than I've ever tried or made, and better for it

There was fruit aplenty in the sangria, and perhaps a touch of dry sherry making the difference that lemonade never will.

Tequila shots and sangrita shooters
The night ended, as nights out with friends do, with tequila shots and fabulous sangrita chasers of tomato juice and lots of other healthy ingredients that quell the potent taste of tequila.

Locals and diners won't be going to Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage for an authentic and gourmet taste of Mexico - they'll be flocking there for a place to park themselves while having simple and filling Mexican food and drinks, and Mexican good times.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Cantina Mobil Bar & Garage launch as a guest.

Cantina Bar & Garage on Urbanspoon


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