Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Paco's Pintxos pop-up at MoVida for Good Food Month

Paco's Pintxos pop-up at MoVida, 20 October 2013, Holt Street, Surry Hills
As Good Food Month comes to an end already, I was glad that I at least made the booking months ago for the Paco's Pintxos pop-up event at MoVida Sydney a couple Sundays ago.

The Paco's Pintxos crowd at MoVida, 
Immediately taken in by the promise of Basque pintxos - that is, yummy San Sebastian-style pub/bar food, almost always with a skewer through it - it was a good deal at $55 a head for four hours worth of pintxos at one of Sydney's finest, two-hatted Spanish sherry and tapas venues, as well as two alcoholic beverages.

The bar top, covered in pintxos
The venue was comfortably jam-packed for the one-off long lunch event, which may well have been testing ground for a permanent gig, as the MoVida group is currently looking for a second Sydney venue.

The pintxos concept is all about eating while you drink; helping yourself to tasty, alcohol-soaking morsels on a bar top while drinking and socialising, and then - in San Sebastian at least - paying for your eaten food by counting the number of toothpicsk or skewers you've left behind.

Smoked salmon, avocado, cornichon pintxos
At Paco's Pintxos however, it was an all-you-can-eat affair with two bar tops covered in platters of individually skewered tidbits, starting mostly with slices of bread topped with Spanish and other delicacies - and no menu listing.

Chicken and chilli pintxos
Indeed, I thought the Surry Hills venue worked exceptionally well as a pintxos bar with an additional bar set up at the far end of the restaurant and two areas for drinkers and diners to load up on pintxos.

MoVida owner and Executive Chef, Frank Camorra (in the fuzzy background
It was nice to see Frank Camorra, MoVida owner and executive chef, in the kitchen hustle and bustle as platter after platter came from the kitchen. There was no going hungry on dainty canap├ęs here - this was going to be a pintxos feast.

Sardine, tomato and olive pintxos
Having had some simply amazing smoked sardines at MoVida Next Door in Melbourne last time, I made a beeline for the small, oily fish pintxos, paired most pleasantly with refreshingly sweet diced tomato on bread, skewered with a fat, meaty green olive.

Potato bocadillos
I got the carb-on-carb saffron-spiced potato mini roll unknowingly, but it was a great relief from the strongly salted pintxos like the olive and anchovy on a skewer with half a boiled quail's egg and pickled green guindilla chillies.

Lobster and Russian salad pintxos
I don't think I've ever refused lobster, especially not if it comes generously with a deposit of caviar on a creamy Russian salad.

Lobster and Russian salad pintxos
The lobster itself was cooked to perfection - firm but not overcooked - and enhanced by its fishy accompaniment, as too the carbohydrate ones.

Jamon and cheese bocadillos
I missed the jamon cured ham and cheese bocadillo mini bread rolls, which was a shame as that would have been a sandwich of two of my favourite things.

Morcilla and truffled eggs pintxos
I was happy to skip the dark slices of grilled morcilla blood sausage, positioned contrastingly with soft, fluffy truffled scrambled eggs on bread.

Tomato salmorejo
The subtle salmorejo chilled tomato and bread soup from Camorra's home town in Spain was a break from all the bread - well, in one form. The tiny cups of soup were topped with chopped egg white and served with a crunchy bread stick.

Potato tortilla
I couldn't go past the beautifully presented potato tortilla omelette, cut into wedges and speared with yet more green olives. The eggy tortilla seemed to also contain caramelised onion and was comfort food at its picnic best.

Cheese croquettes and white wine
There was a rush for the hot, cheesy croquettes which made for great friends with the sangria and cans of Moritz beer, as well as the quite acidic, young-tasting white wine or La Goya dry sherry.

Crumbed mussels
The golden crumbed mussels in the half shell were also in hot demand, though a little difficult to eat without a spoon. The panko crumbs hid quite the creamy: a diced mix of mussels and vegetables in a creamy sauce.

Octopus pintxos with potato puree
The hot grilled sections of octopus, impressively tender and full of caramelised herbaceous flavours, were served in a ceramic cup with a smooth potato puree in what seems to be a classic Mediterranean pairing.

Anchoa and sherry
To finish the savouries, trays of one of MoVida's signature tapas were brought around: the anchoa with a single fillet of super salty anchovy paired with a smoked tomato sorbet to try and balance the saltiness, all on a thin, crisp crouton.

Having had this tapa before in a less salty version, it was a bit to take in, but washed down well enough with the dry sherry.

There wasn't dessert as such - just little chocolate truffles, also on toothpicks - which was fine by me. I adore the concept of pintxos and if this is what Paco / MoVida want to do, I'm sure there's more than just a pop-up market for it.

MoVida Sydney on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 26, 2013

East Village Gourmet Food Festival and the Long Dinner by Longrain

Crowds at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival, 5 October 2013, Joynton Park, Zetland
I'm not sure how we can be into the last week of Good Food Month already. Work and social life have cruelly ganged up on me so I haven't seen as much as I would have liked and I've only been to the Noodle Markets once this year.

But I did attend the second annual (renamed) East Village Gourmet Food Festival in Zetland's somewhat hidden Joynton Park earlier in the month.

Table seating at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival
Taking its name from the nearby commercial and retail development, due to open mid next year, the East Village Gourmet Food Festival brought together local producers and festival favourites for a day and night of eating, drinking and lounging in the sunny park.

Festival-goers were greeted by a gorgeous day for being outdoors, with food offerings from the likes of Salt Meats Cheese and their signature cured meats and antipasti, Longrain's yellow curry, East Ocean with a myriad of steamed yum cha dumplings and Foley Lane with a bar and food setup.

The growing festival delivered community spirit in spades - from the sophisticated outdoor seating to the petting farm, it felt like a locals event with kids and dogs out in full force.

Spit roast at the Dan the Man stall

Pizza oven at Salt Meats Cheese stall

Foley Lane stall

East Ocean stall

Gelato Messina flavours

Audi kids entertainment

The East Village Gourmet Food Festival by night
This year the outdoor festival continued well into the night with fairy lights, spotlights and happy glows keeping the park alight and half of the stalls remaining open to offer dinner under the stars.

Fairy lights in Joynton Park

Getting into the spit roast at the Dan the Man stall
There was delicious-smelling consolation for those who missed out on the Long Dinner as part of the festival, with whole spit-roasted pigs and lambs from Dan the Man tempting all that walked past.

Tables set up for the Long Dinner
As per last year for the Long Dinner, long, white clothed tables stretched the majority of the length of a very impressive, colourfully lit marquee.

Tables for the Long Dinner
White chairs and perfectly uniformly set tables were lined up beneath some simply stunning floral and foliage displays, with the evening's menu catered by Sydney modern Thai favourite, Longrain.

Longrain owner Sam Christie was out front running the show while head chef Louis Tikaram ran the makeshift kitchen most impressively for a 250-person-plus outdoor event.

Typo-loma cocktails by Longrain
Longrain's cheeky Typo-loma cocktails were a great starting point, for drinks and chatter with nearby diners.

The martini-glassed cocktail featured tequila and grapefruit juice (Paloma, anyone?) with a supposedly Thai twist of chilli-infused Aperol and lime - and a lychee for that girly touch.

Betel leaf, smoked trout, mint, peanuts, chilli by Longrain
Dinner was a Thai banquet shared at the table, starting with my all time favourite Thai appetiser, miang betel leaves topped with smoked trout and a mix of crushed peanuts, mint and red chilli slices in a slightly drippy, sweetly spicy dressing.

Devoured in a mouthful, the sweet, sour, salty and smoky flavours of the miang were perfect palate starters, readying one for a barrage of big, bold Thai tastes for the rest of the night.

Caramelised pork, prawn, peanuts on sour pineapple
The second appetiser was new to me; a nugget of very caramelised battered pork, and apparently prawn, on a wedge of pineapple.

It was hard not to immediately think of that Australian-Chinese classic, sweet and sour pork, but there were some highlight flavours in the pork and coriander that lifted it way beyond takeaway Chinese.

Grilled king prawn, green chilli nahm jim
The halved and grilled prawns were one of my favourite dishes of the night, with shells fragrantly grilled and split.

The large prawns were served with a very well balanced, just-spicy-enough, chunky green chilli nahm jim dressing that was so good it was drinkable and more fresh coriander leaves.

Prawn, chicken, coconut cream, kaffir lime
To mains, there were three different dishes which I thought was quite a feat 250-plus people. The first coconut cream concoction was a surprise of diced prawn and chicken in a mildly spiced, rich sauce served with witlof leaves on the side, as if a modern Thai take on san choy bao.

Having not ever seen or experienced a Thai dish like this before, it worked unexpectedly well with the witlof cups although it was quite comforting to have the creamy prawn and chicken gravy just over loads of jasmine rice.

Char grilled Cape Grim beef, roasted chilli eschallot dressing
The grilled beef dish was a return to familiar ground, served medium-pink and thinly sliced with a mound of roasted chilli paste on the side for flavouring and a bit of heat.

Red curry of duck, Thai basil
The red curry was undoubtedly the piece de resistance of the meal, coming out resplendently red over generous quarters of fall-apart duck which absorbed all the complex flavours within the curry - perfect with lots and lots of steamed rice.

Steamed Chinese broccoli, oyster sauce
Along with large bowls of steamed rice were steamed Chinese greens, served healthily and simply with oyster sauce.

Banana fritter, caramel custard, passionfruit
With stomach capacity remaining for dessert, diners hoed into platters of thickly battered banana portions, the Thai theme a little wanting.

It's been a while since I've had a banana fritter, and I'm still not convinced I like them, even if the crisp batter made for great mops for the passionfruit pulp and caramel custard covering the plate.

The Long Dinner by Longrain at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival
While bottomless glasses of wine may have helped too, it was a dinner that reminded me that I'm long overdue for a visit back to Longrain.

The Long Dinner also did a fantastic job of fitting into the local community feel of the East Village Gourmet Food Festival - at least for those lucky ones of us which can call this our local community.

The Long Dinner at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival
See more photos of the East Village Gourmet Food Festival on my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes attended The Long Dinner at the East Village Gourmet Food Festival as a guest.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ester brings Chippendale to life

The quiet backstreets of Chippendale are coming to life. For too long out-publicised by neighbouring Redfern and Glebe, there’s a new brigade of modern, casual restaurants like Ester bringing some spark to the inner city suburb.

Ester stands out like a beacon on the dark, quiet street between busy Regent and Abercrombie streets, with warm yellow light emanating from the small restaurant's front entrance.

Ester Restaurant and Bar, Meagher Street, Chippendale
A large wood-fired oven is the feature of Ester's menu and open kitchen, which has full views of the entire intimate dining and bar space – vibeing a slightly retro-vintage feel with lots of arches. The fitout is kind of homely without being ostentatiously hipster, despite the area.

From the same group behind Berta, Vini and 121 BC all in Surry Hills, Ester raises the expectation for simple, if not rustic, flavours with a modern, youthful sensibility.

Chefs Mat Lindsay and Nic Wong are both ex Billy Kwong, so it shouldn't have surprised me to see celebrity chef Kylie Kwong sitting at the bar when I climbed up to my somewhat tall bar seat perch.

Rosemary chickpeas
The service at the bar is friendly and helpful especially when it comes to the list of natural and biodynamic wines, which is still new ground for most. The white I tried had an earthy murkiness to it but a short length on the palate, ensuring its drinkability and necessitating a second glass later in the night.

Start off with addictive deep fried chickpeas, gratis, seasoned with loads of salt and rosemary while perusing the well-considered menu with snacks, small plates, larger wood-fired dishes, sides and desserts categories. All the dishes are made to share as is the trend with a lot of new, casual venues.

Roasted oysters
We started, as you should, with the roasted oysters – served singularly or by the half or full dozen. This evening they were Sydney rock oysters in the full shell, receiving a bit of a sauna treatment in the wood-fired oven so as to just warm and open a little (without shucking and hence broken shell bits) to be served with finely diced eschallots and red wine vinaigrette.

I'd never have imagined warm oysters could be such good eating. As well as being a highly appropriate introduction for those new to oysters, the roasting warmth rounded off the mineral flavours and brine of the mollusc incredibly well, while the vinaigrette lifted the "snack" to glorious, food-fantasy-worthy levels.

Blood sausage sanga
I'm not so much a fan of blood products but others are, and the blood sausage sandwich is a creative and even approachable take on the divisive ingredient.

Served on a cute, crustless square of steamed white bread, the miniature sausage of blood and stuff was actually very palatable and described as one of the better, textural versions of the sausage, with a mustard aioli and caramelised onions to help it all down.

Bone marrow / XO
While blood isn't my thing, bone marrow most certainly is. Beef bones, split lengthwise and topped with Asian seafood XO sauce before roasting, proffered a tempting aroma of the complex sauce and fat.

The XO sauce acted as seasoning for the fatty, jelly-like bone marrow – appropriately salty but at times, overpoweringly fishy, even with the toasted slices of the excellent house-baked bread in support.

Crab / rice / egg
While the snacks menu is straightforward enough, the brevity of the menu descriptions for the small plates and beyond makes it a little more difficult to know what you're getting.

The crab dish was a hybrid between a risotto or congee with plenty of blue swimmer crab flesh and crisp curry leaves within the creamy, buttery dish.

Topping it all off was a curious sprinkle of powdered fried chicken skin, spices and sesame seeds that, interesting as it was, somewhat detracted from the crab experience.

Crab / rice / egg
There was a perfectly oozy egg hidden within the mound of crab and rice and despite the varied textures, there was a flatness to the flavours which made the dish a bit of a chore, although helped with lemon from the prawns.

Prawns / capers / brown butter
The large roasted prawns were divine as expected, delicately half-peeled for easy access and delivered with a lip-smacking brown butter sauce, salty pops of capers and grilled baby cos lettuce.

The prawn shell was completely edible, with the prawn legs particularly crisp and full of flavour, while the wilted lettuce and bread were ideal mops for any leftover buttery sauces.

Steak / bagna cauda / radish
To the larger dishes the 200 gram serve of flank steak (also available as a half kilogram option) arrived pre-sliced to reveal perfectly rare to medium-rare beef that was full of juicy flavour.

Served with bagna cauda anchovy and garlic sauce and refreshing slices of radish, it was a highlight of the meal – perhaps just behind the roasted oysters.

Cauliflower / almond / mint
We added an order of the roasted head of cauliflower as almost all the surrounding tables had them, and to boost the vegetable intake.

Burnt in some places, the very natural approach didn't excite me much, even as a massive brassica fan. Whole leaves of mint added interest and a second flavour note, while the almond puree and chopped almonds, I suppose, were designed to bring out the nuttiness of the wood-roasted cauliflower.

Potato / duck fat / coriander seed
We had clearly not thought ahead to dessert as we also had a side of duck fat roasted potatoes. No regrets here though, as they were some of the best I've had – roasted golden and crisp at the edges, and well-seasoned with lots of salt and crushed coriander seeds.

Dessert-less, we rolled out and onto quiet Meagher Street, with the stark difference between the warm, inviting restaurant and the pretty empty street only adding to Ester's charm, and that of Chippendale.

The suburb is starting to shine bright; indeed with Luke Powell, ex Tetsuya's and of recent Mary's fame, said to be opening up a restaurant right next door by the year’s end. Food and restaurant-wise, Chippendale is alive.

Ester Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon


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