Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yamato: Casual Japanese in the heart of the city

There's so much construction going on in the heart of Sydney CBD, one would think we were a much newer (or indeed, much older) city.

While the noise and wafts of building dust are one thing, the new eateries sprouting up in and around the new and renovated buildings are one positive; including Yamato at the base of the new-ish ANZ Tower in the CBD south.

Pacific oysters from Yamato, ANZ Tower, Castlereagh Street, Sydney
Like casual Japanese restaurants that are typical in inner city suburbs, Yamato offers a bit of everything under the umbrella of Japanese cuisine.

The fitout is CBD- and suits-appropriate with plenty of wood tones and booth seating, while ordering is supposedly expedited by ticking an sheet of menu options.

We started with reasonably priced Pacific oysters, served natural with a soy dressing, shallots and togarashi chilli powder enhancing the plump molluscs' natural flavour.

Mixed sashimi selection
The mixed sashimi offering at Yamato had the usual suspects of raw salmon, tuna and kingfish covered, with the addition of scallops, a smattering of salmon roe and a single raw prawn its head intact. A deliciously fresh sashimi presentation, between three of us we even went another plate.

Salmon belly nigiri sushi
I'd say salmon nigiri sushi must be Sydney's favourite nigiri style. The thick belly pieces we had in this serve were creamy with fat and scoffed within seconds with a touch of soy sauce and wasabi.

Seaweed salad
The requisite vegetable order landed us with the bog-standard hiyashi wakame marinated seaweed in a bowl propped up with lettuce leaves.

Pan fried gyoza
The crisp-bottomed pan fried pork gyoza dumplings were pretty decent renditions of their kind and (probably) not of the frozen variety with nice chewy skins.

Grilled scallop skewers
We chose a few hot food items from the grilled section; first landing with the grilled scallop skewers. With two roe-on scallops per stick and some sort of sauce, a zingier seasoning or juicier scallop would have made this dish more interesting.

Kimchi pork skewers
Plenty enough interesting was the spicy kimchi encased pork skewers. Thin slices of pork, cooked to a crisp on the grill, were tightly wrapped around crunchy cabbage kimchi in a fusion skewer that was about the best thing we ate all night.

Grilled mushroom skewers
I'm pretty sure the menu alluded to grilled shiitake mushrooms so we were bemused to receive two skewers of faintly grilled button mushrooms with bits of torched shredded cheese. The unidentified sauce on the side couldn't even help these fungi.

In the heart of the city, where competition for our food dollars is intense, Yamato offers a decent casual Japanese experience that won't break the bank nor the mould on casual Japanese.

Yamato on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 28, 2014

Step up to La Scala on Jersey

Italian for "the stairs", a flight of stairs is indeed what faces diners heading to La Scala on Jersey, set in a spacious floor above the Light Brigade Hotel in Paddington.

Recent changes to the modern Italian restaurant have seen chef Massimo Mele (ex Hugo's, often seen partnering with Salt Meats Cheese) take over the kitchen and offer a more relaxed, authentic Italian experience.

Bar at La Scala on Jersey, Jersey Road, Woollahra
During the week this end of Paddington undoubtedly has a neighbourhood feel, albeit a posh one, and the refreshed look and feel of La Scala seems right at home with the dining families and small groups, both young and old.

Cocktails at the bright, botanical-themed bar are a good place to start after the hike upstairs, especially with a cocktail list put together by drinks consultant Julian Serna (currently at Eau de Vie Apothecary, formerly The Morrison and The Fern).

Cocktails at the bar: Regal Rogue Rosso (left) and He's in the Garden (right)
The bar top is adorned with fresh fruit and juices while the cocktail list is modern, fruity and tempting all round. The tall Australiano apéritif-style cocktail comprised the local Regal Rogue Rosso vermouth with Campari, grapefruit bitters and a not-too-sweet, house-made creaming soda.

Not on the menu but sold convincingly to me by the bartender was the He's in the Garden - a savoury take on a classic Tom Collins. With Hendricks gin, lemon juice, a slice of cucumber and soda, the cocktail was topped with salt which could be stirred into the drink to taste. With its salted gin botanicals it hinted at a softer and highly drinkable version of a dirty martini with its olive brine.

Dining space
We moved to the dining space for dinner, all dark wood and Bentwood chairs on wooden floorboards; seated with views of the open kitchen as well as the yellow street light-bathed street below.

Long table
Closer to the entrance there's a darker room with a long table to seat 26 diners or to be used as a private dining room. There's no shortage of space at La Scale, and that's before adding the upstairs bathrooms and powder room.

Black Russian, cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, capers, basil, balsamic
We were enamoured by the two weekly specials from a streamlined menu of share plates to start, mains and side dishes.

La Scala's take on classic insalata caprese makes some unexpected additions and improvements even. Creamy buffalo mozzarella came torn over Black Russian and cherry tomatoes; both exceptionally sweet and ripe.

Balsamic vinegar brought new perspective to the Caprese salad while capers added saltiness to the mozzarella which sadly never tastes as good as when in Italy.

Wagyu beef carpaccio with truffled egg, rocket
Another special, the carpaccio of wagyu beef was drizzled heavily with a mayonnaise-like dressing and grated parmesan cheese, topped with a golden-crumbed egg.

The dressing seemed a little overpowering on the thin slices of raw beef but when eaten together with the gooey yolk of the boiled truffle-scented egg, it all made perfect, delicious sense.

Butterflied king prawns, oregano, chilli, lemon
From the share plates menu we couldn't resist the split grilled prawns dressed with oregano, a touch of chilli and fresh lemon juice.

Fantastically large and fairly meaty specimens, the prawn's crisp legs and shells could have been eaten too while the oregano made for an appetising match to the set of crustaceans.

Strozzapreti, oxtail ragu, pecorino, gremolata
For mains, I had to try one of the house-made pastas and with both strozzapreti and ragu being some of my favourite pasta types and sauces respectively, it had to be the dish featuring oxtail.

This strozzapreti was bit like long spiral pasta with shreds of oxtail meat in an unexpectedly light ragu sauce, topped with grated pecorino cheese and refreshing gremolata of parsley and lemon zest.

It went quite well with the reservedly fruity 2010 Scagliola "Busiord" dolcetto from the Piedmont region of Italy, listed under 'Old World Reds' in the wine list and selected with a bit of help from the waitstaff.

Grilled organic spatchcock, olives, lemon, prosciutto, broccolini rapini
I was glad that the mains were served to share because the spatchcock dish was impressively large, featuring a whole butterflied and grilled bird. The charred skin and herb dressing on the spatchcock enhanced the beautifully juicy flesh within, making it worthwhile to suck the bones clean.

Beneath the bird was an interesting array of supporting ingredients including silky prosciutto, salty olive segments, a bright green herb sauce and wilted leaves of lemony broccoli rabe that provided every bite of spatchcock with a different highlight.

Witlof, radicchio, pickled beetroot, candied walnuts, sour cherries, goats curd
Our mains were supplemented with an elaborate side salad of bitter witlof and radicchio paired with baby beetroot segments, sweet candied walnuts and cherries, and hidden beneath it all, creamy and tangy goat's curd.

Polenta chips, parmesan and truffle aioli
And we couldn't help but order the polenta chips too, and thank goodness we did as they may well be some of the best I've ever had.

Finished with parmesan cheese and served with a truffle-flavoured aioli, the crispness of the polenta chips with hot, light and fluffy insides made me reach for one after another and momentarily forget how full I was getting.

Tiramisu "modo mio" (left) and gelato (right)
But we couldn't leave without trying dessert; both our ordered options of which were thankfully on the petite end of the scale. The tiramisu "modo mio", presumably chef Mele's way, was served layered in a tall shot glass with chocolate mousse amid mascarpone and coffee-soaked sponge which had a good kick.

The gelato option proffered three scoops: chocolate, fig and raspberry with the latter being the refreshing highlight while the chocolate was a lovely and rich finish.

While chef Mele's menu is clearly Italian, there's a modern sensibility to it that is light and fresh yet unpretentious; making you want to eat it over and over again. Meanwhile, the upstairs restaurant space is simply fabulous: airy yet intimate, cosy and classy, and a place you're happy to linger over coffee or digestifs.

As we went to descend la scala, it seemed clear that the Paddington and Woollahra end of Oxford Street are stepping up the dining game to an approachable yet refined offering for locals and food lovers alike - and that's worth taking the stairs for.

Food, Booze & Shoes dined at La Scala on Jersey with credit, thanks to Agency G.

La Scala on Jersey on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Shenkin Kitchen: Middle East in the Inner West

Posted by Kath

Rainy weekends give me a perfectly acceptable reason to hole up in a café, like Israeli-accented Shenkin Kitchen in Enmore, and enjoy breakfast and a coffee without feeling the need to rush off and make the most of my weekend.

Ladder suspended from roof and sign at Shenkin Kitchen, Enmore Road, Enmore
And who's to say I'm not making the most of it at Shenkin Kitchen, where an Israeli breakfast transports me beyond the usual café offerings and to the Middle East, via a quirky, welcoming little neighbourhood café.

Piccolo latte
The weekend starts with Shenkin's genuine passion for coffee, what with a window display full of Mecca's "Dark Horse" coffee bean packs.

My piccolo latte was strong but not bitter with a lovely, smooth finish; so enjoyable that I was tempted to order a second if it wouldn't have me bouncing off the walls.

Israeli Big Breakfast - Pita bread, smoked salmon, avocado, eggs,
 labna, cucumber, tomato and parsley salad
Shenkin Kitchen is passionate about showing Sydney-siders what Israeli flavours are all about, and what better place to start than the Israeli Big Breakfast.

This was a generous breakfast offering two of soft poached eggs, smoked salmon, half an avocado, labna yoghurt cheese sprinkled with za'atar, and a fresh and zesty salad of diced cucumber, tomato and parsley.

Pita bread
Healthy, fresh and soul-awakening, the big breakfast wouldn't have been complete without fluffy, oven mitt-like pita bread rounds, baked fresh in-house, to cradle and mop up every morsel on the board.

Ziva - puff pastry filled with mozzarella and olives with sides of pickles. spicy coriander, hummus and grated tomato
I couldn't go past the mysteriously named 'Ziva' option; basically a smorgasbord of Israeli delights served on a wooden plank. The flaky, sesame seed-topped puff pastry was crowned with a boiled egg and opened up to oozy mozzarella cheese goodness.

More olives would have been nice for more contrast as the buttery pastry and cheese were a little rich and heavy after a few bites. But the fresh, punchy sides really lifted the dish: the hummus was smooth and nutty with a good garlic hit; the tomato salad was fresh and seasoned spectacularly; the pickles helped cut through the heaviness of the pastry; while the spicy coriander sauce brought a unique touch to breakfast.

For a heart-warming breakfast that may well have you craving hummus for many meals to come, Shenkin Kitchen is a little corner of the Middle East in Sydney's Inner West.

Shenkin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 21, 2014

A sweet new fitout at Sugarcane

With age comes wisdom, experience and, especially if you like a drink, a few signs of wear and tear. If only I could undergo a sweet new fitout like Surry Hills' Sugarcane, which has had a facelift and the nip & tuck from its simple, bare basics look for the past five years or so.

New wall mural and fitout at Sugarcane, Reservoir Street, Surry Hills
(Image courtesy of The Cru Media)
The new look is brighter, and more lively and inviting than previously, with hints of Thailand and Asian marketplaces quite fitting with the pan-Asian menu of chef and owner Milan Strbac (ex Longrain). Indeed, the loud chatter of happy diners suits the new fitout much better than its muted former look.

So approachable and welcoming is the new look that Strbac is seeing more walk-in customers than ever into the petite restaurant. Former customers shouldn't fret - most of Sugarcane's signature dishes remain on the menu with a bigger, better focus on the wine and cocktail list.

Prawn, rice cake, caramelised sugarcane
I remember the Thai-influenced prawn-topped puffed rice cakes from several previous visits, and they were as delightful as ever.

Best eaten in the one mouthful, this moreish appetiser of a whole prawn, shredded betel leaves, fried shallots, chilli and a caramelised sugarcane dressing atop a crisp rice cake was a table-silencer - at least for the time it took to scoff the mouthful and wish aloud for another.

Salt and pepper squid, yellowbean and soy dressing
To another signature - and classic Sydney - dish from the 'Small' part of the menu, Sugarcane's salt and pepper squid was impeccably tender in a light and pale batter with plenty of seasoning on the surface.

The squid was served with a yellow bean and soy sauce dressing which I found a tad salty with the already well-seasoned squid.

Coleslaw, crispy pork
Next was an Asian style cabbage coleslaw full of carrot, chilli, coriander and other healthy ingredients, and the rather concealed addition of not so healthy cubes of crisp fried, golden pork belly.

While each component was great and the vegetables were much needed in light of the pork, this probably could have been a standalone salad without the meat while the pork belly could make for a star dish of its own.

Crispy chicken, blood plum
From the 'Substantial' part of the menu came the crowd-pleasing boneless crispy chicken, battered then drenched in a sweet plum sauce and garnished with a wealth of fresh and fried shallots.

Served with a squeeze of lemon, this could well be the modernised and improved version of the classic Aussie-Cantonese dish of sweet and sour pork.

Braised eggplant, mustard greens
The deep fried then braised cubes of eggplant from the vegetables section of the menu had a very pan-Asian feel about it, topped with slices of cucumber, chilli and coriander, sitting in a pool of its braising juices which were great with steamed rice.

Massaman curry of duck
Rice was also partnered with the impressive serve of duck massaman curry, served with chunks of potato and plenty of mild curry sauce. The duck took on plenty of the spice flavours and fell from the bone easily, making for quite the filling dish with rice soaking up the sauce.

Banana roti, condensed milk ice-cream
We made room for shared desserts though, with the deliciously clever roti flat bread, topped with ripe, mushy banana, a silky condensed milk ice cream, caramel sauce and coconut cream. It was a fabulous combination of classic flavours and textures that came together extraordinarily well.

'Corn Flakes', coconut mousse, aloe vera
The other very modern-looking dessert we had featured a white orb of coconut mousse atop a contrasting crumble of corn flakes, sesame seeds and other crunchy bits, beneath which hid a subtly sweet aloe vera jelly. Intriguingly different, it took a little more time to understand and enjoy than the banana roti.

Sweets scoffed and the sweet fitout admired and appreciated, the older, wiser and renewed Sugarcane leaves you with a sticky feeling - one that you want to come back to again and again.

Food, Booze & Shoes dined at Sugarcane as a guest, with thanks to The Cru Media.

Sugarcane on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 18, 2014

Postcards from Rome - part III: Roscioli

Posted by Jan

In Rome, Roscioli Deli and Restaurant is probably the most well known example of a combined salumeria or deli and restaurant/wine bar style of venue where the products for sale in the deli are also used in the restaurant.

It's packed with Italian products - wine, cheese, salumi, pantry items - but not to the exclusion of quality produce from other parts of Europe.

Cheeses in the cabinet at Roscioli Deli and Restaurant, Rome, Italy
In for dinner, I had the best seat in the house: in between the racks of wine and next to the cheese display. One look at the menu and I knew that I would need much looser pants - this was my Disneyland and it was going to be a dinner of all my all-time favourites.

Not being very familiar with Italian wines, I asked our waitress to use her discretion and she did not fail me all night. Glass after glass of different types of wines, with names I could not pronounce much less spell.

We were served a little dish of complimentary arancini balls to get the night started, signalling the start of a deliciously memorable meal. There was also a small dish of marinated olives for us to nibble on.

La Burrata di Pisignano con Caviale
Being our last night in Rome, we spoilt ourselves with an indulgent starter of burrata cream-filled mozzarella cheese, served split open with caviar on top.

The burrata in Italy is so different from what is available in Australia. It was so soft, heavenly rich and unctuous with the cream and cheese curds pairing perfectly with the soft, salty fish eggs.

Italy vs Spain: Prosciutto and jamon
Given my professed love for cured meats, I could not pass up the opportunity to compare some of the best of what Italy could produce against my beloved jamon iberico from Spain.

Roscioli's idea of this world title match was to serve the Italian culatello of Zibello DOP, aged 36 months, against the Spanish Pate Negra Sanchez Romero "5 Jota", aged 42 months.

I am probably biased but I still prefer the Spanish jamon because it was just a little bit sweeter and I like the nutty taste that comes through at the end.

La Carbonara
My mission was to find the best carbonara in Rome. The carbonara sauce at Roscioli is made with Paolo Parisi eggs, which have an almost cult-like following and are used by all the great restaurants of Italy.

Together with crispy guanciale cured pork jowl and good, strong Roman pecorino, this simple dish of spaghetti with lashings of cheese was simply sublime. Best in Rome? Some say so.

La Matriciana o Amatriciana
The Amatriciana could be seen as a tomato based version of the carbonara with the use of guanciale and pecorino romana minus the egg.

Despite a misconception that fresh pasta is best, I believe that the Romans have the right idea with using dried rigatoni pasta when making this classic dish. I liked the chewy texture of good quality, dried pasta cooked al dente.

Sugar cookies with chocolate dip
Full after two luxurious pasta courses, the lovely waitress was  understanding and gave us some time to gather ourselves before quietly slipping cookies in front of us as a little reminder that dessert was yet to come. I thought it was such a lovely idea to provide a dark chocolate sauce for dipping the cookies into.

Mimolette Classica 12 Mesi
I decided to go for a couple of cheeses as my dessert course instead of a sweet. I asked the waitress to pick her favourite hard cheese  for me to try and she surprised me by choosing a lovely French Mimolette. 

Aged for about 12 months this hard cheese was a lovely orange hue with a taste that reminded me of parmesan but with an added nutty flavour.

Erborinato con Marasche e Petali di Rose
The best thing about Roscioli is that everything in the deli can be ordered. Being rather fond of blue cheeses, I couldn't help but be intrigued by the erborinato in the cheese cabinet next to me.

The crust of this beautiful goat's milk blue cheese was covered with rose petals and cherries, giving it a lovely deep pink-purple hue as it ages. The scent of the rose petals lightly perfumed this mild blue cheese and made it such a pretty cheese for dessert. 

On the other side of the table it was the simple cannoli for dessert. Not surprisingly, I couldn't help myself and just had to have a bite. The simple ricotta filling was light and fluffy but it was the candied fruit peel that packed punches of flavour within the crumbly pastry.

Roscioli felt like all my dreams had come true in one space. Wine, cheese and salumi - all in one spot. I can think of no other way I would have liked to end my trip to Italy other than a belly full of good food and wine. But sometimes, it's not always the best policy to save the best for last.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Get on the Express Lunch to China Republic

For me, and I suspect a lot of other rat racers out there, lunch is the highlight of my day. After my morning coffee and the news, my thoughts turn to lunch as a way to get through the morning.

World Square's China Republic has introduced Express Lunch sets for those who don't have the time or luxury for the full banquet menu at lunch, but still want something a bit more special than a desk or food court lunch.

Peking duck set - Express Lunch at China Republic, World Square, George Street, Sydney
Ranging from $25 to $35, the Express Lunch sets are multi-component meals - almost like a Chinese version of a bento box - with appetisers, a main and even a small dessert.

Peking duck kitchen
While there's certainly a time and occasion for the private dining banquet lunch in the beautiful upstairs space, we were Express Lunch-ing in the bar area seats with views of the dedicated Peking duck kitchen lined with bamboo steamer baskets, all used for pancakes for the Peking duck.

Beijing-style spicy and sour cucumber, spicy beef spring roll and vegetarian spring roll 
Each of the Express Lunch sets starts with a quartet of of appetisers, including the fantastically refreshing, lightly pickled cucumber slices, all crunchy in their thick sliced, slightly wrinkled state.

The sets each have two golden, crisp spring rolls included, with a cabbage-based vegetarian one for the herbivores. The others all feature the thin, elongated signature spicy beef spring roll which takes on a Sichuan perspective on spiciness. It's real spicy, but makes for a unique spring roll experience that sticks in the mind.

Eggplant and coriander salad with garlic dressing and spring rolls
The Peking duck spring roll is also an eye-opener, with plenty of shredded duck meat that tastes like it's come freshly out from the Peking duck oven.

The fourth appetiser is the saucy and garlicky eggplant and coriander salad, served cold in a creamy, pungent sesame dressing. I adore this dish and the dressing which goes well with steamed rice, though watch out for the subsequent garlic breath if you need to talk to clients after lunch.

Crispy sweet and sour prawns
The $30 Express Lunch set offers diners two choices for the main: wok-fried wagyu beef with fried garlic and black pepper or crispy sweet and sour prawns, both served with steamed white rice.

The latter comprises large, tail-on prawns in a seriously crisp batter, even beneath the sticky sweet and sour sauce. The not-too-thick batter hugs some great crustacean specimens that bounce and revel in the sauce that has a honey-like consistency, with a classic garnish of capsicum and shallot.

Peking duck condiments
The most extravagant of the Express Lunch sets has to be the $35 one featuring Peking duck as the main course.

The condiments arrive first with the traditional cucumber, juliennes of the white part of shallots and sweet bean sauce also accompanied on a tray by white sugar (for dipping duck skin into), minced garlic, raw Spanish onion, a pickled mustard vegetable and mild mustard sauce.

Peking duck with Mandarin pancakes
And then comes the star of the show: a steamed basket of five pancakes and a dish of roast Peking duck slices; meat, skin and all. I like that there's plenty of lean meat included in the course and not just skin, to wrap quite liberally within the thin, warmed pancakes.

While the 'new' combination with pickled vegetable and mustard sauce make for a nice change, there's no beating a duck pancake with cucumber, hoisin sauce and shallots. With five pancakes per serve in the Express Lunch set, it's quite a generous, filling and reasonably priced meal with a completely luxurious feel.

For a high end lunch experience away from the desk at decent price points and with the all-important speed of service, don't stop on your way to checking out Express Lunch at China Republic.

Food, Booze & Shoes dined at China Republic as a guest, with thanks to The PR Partnership.

China Republic on Urbanspoon


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