Monday, September 29, 2014

The Moveable Feast that is, Good Food Month

Get your good food face on – Good Food Month officially starts on Wednesday this week. From Sydney's favourite Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park to young chefs featured in the Omnivore World Tour; from Let's Do Lunches to Hats Off Dinners through to Sugar Hits – it's all back for the entire month of October for our eating and drinking pleasures.

Last year's Citi VIP tent at Night Noodle Markets, Hyde Park, Sydney
Presenting sponsor partner Citi also returns for its seventh consecutive year, and I for one am glad they're again offering the #CitiVIP area with concierge service at the Night Noodle Markets – which this year is opening on weekend nights too.

Citi VIP concierge service at the Night Noodle Markets, this year from 10-26 October 2014
As part of a progressive dinner through the city last week previewing Citi-friendly Good Food Month offerings, it showed that our city is indeed a Moveable Feast and Sydney's venues are turning it on for October.

Freshly shucked oysters from The Morrison, George Street, Sydney
We started at CBD favourite The Morrison for entrées and wine that's featured in the Citibank Dining Program, where Citi cardholders get a free bottle of wine at selected partner restaurants when paying with their card.

Delightfully and as I was hoping for, we started with a range of freshly-shucked oysters including a sample that's not yet on the menu.

The Gold Band Pacific oyster from Tasmania apparently features a gold band colour across the bottom of the shell, but I was too busy immersed in its stunning creaminess and full flavour to notice.

With as much, if not more flavour than a rock oyster, this spring season-only mollusc may be the one that turns me from my long-favoured Sydney rocks. But that's not to say that the Wagonga Inlet and Pambula Sydney rock oysters weren't briney and great as well, but they're just not the ones I'm currently dreaming of.

Crab and lettuce taco with salmon caviar and chardonnay vinaigrette from The Morrison
For Good Food Month, The Morrison is jumping into the Bar Hop with a Tanqueray gin based cocktail and a crab and lettuce taco for $20, as well as Let's Do Lunch featuring oysters then crab linguine (or mushroom gnocchi) with a Yalumba wine, Coopers beer or Schweppes mineral water.

We followed up our sensational oysters with the cos lettuce 'taco shell' filled with shredded crab meat, salmon roe, chives, chardonnay vinaigrette and a fresh chilli slice that, on this occasion, was bitingly hot.

Duck fat chips from The Morrison
And they wouldn't have us leave without sampling cones of Sean Connolly's signature duck fat chips which, served with a house tomato sauce, are about as good a beer snack as there is.

Thin hand-pulled noodles from Chefs Gallery Jamison, Margaret Street, Sydney
We toddled on over to our next venue, Chefs Gallery Jamison, for our mains with an interactive component. Head noodle Chef JPL, aka Chef Panda, was on hand for noodle stretching demonstrations as well as lesser seen knife-sliced and piped noodles.

Noodle making demonstration at Chefs Gallery Jamison
(Hi, Simon!)

Seasoned wonton crisps from Chefs Gallery Jamison
Starting with moreishly seasoned wonton skin crisps and my favourite Macanese pork chop buns, we were treated to a degustation of noodles with accompanying interactive demonstrations.

Macanese pork buns from Chefs Gallery Jamison

Pumpkin soup tureens
We also got a sneak-peek at other seasonal specials, like the pumpkin-contained tom yum soup designed as a special offering in time for Halloween.

Pumpkin tom yum soup

Pumpkin seafood tom yum soup serving
The sour, spicy tom yum soup with a variety of seafood and vegetables is served in a whole steamed pumpkin with its flesh softened for scooping out with the thin soup which is both novel and unique.

Zha jiang hand pulled noodles
The hand-pulled wheat noodles became zha jiang noodles in a tasty pork mince sauce that many likened to an Asian version of bolognaise.

Chef Panda knife-cutting sorghum noodles
Meanwhile, I was taken by the thick salmon-pink hued knife-sliced sorghum noodles that Chef Panda essentially shaved from a huge block of dough, straight into a pot of boiling water.

Sorghum knife-cut noodles
Served with a spicy Shanghainese chilli and soy sauce, it was all about the texture and al dente chew of the thick noodles, as well as the grainy flavour of the sorghum flour.

Piping fish noodles
(Hi, jeroxie!)
Lastly, the fish noodles squeezed out in single noodle formation from a piping bag into boiling soupwere completely new to me. A moussey dough of minced fish and flour, the piped noodles were served in a clean chicken soup, allowing the airy textured and delicately fish flavoured noodles to shine.

Fish noodles in chicken soup
For Good Food Month Chefs Gallery, and Chef Panda, will make nightly appearances at the Night Noodle Markets; demonstrating his craft, as well as a Chinese Food & Art night with an eight-course banquet at Chefs Gallery Jamison.

The private dining room at Sokyo, The Star, Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont
Image courtesy of ChopinandMysaucepan
We hightailed it to our final destination of the night, Sokyo at The Star for desserts. Graced with a private dining room which I've never seen before, we were laden with sweet, sweet gifts from the pastry kitchen.

Mochi ice cream from Sokyo
The sweet bounty included my favourite mochi ice cream: a thin sheet of softly chewy and glutinous, green-tinted Yatsuhashi Kyoto mochi encasing a nugget of strawberry milkshake ice cream. This is Sokyo's go-to desert for non-sweet tooths and something smaller and lighter.

Goma Street from Sokyo
My other favourite, Goma Street, goes to the other end of the richness scale. Black sesame ice cream is the sesame in the translated ‘Sesame Street’ dessert while the tower of tempered chocolate rounds, caramelised white chocolate mousse and black sesame candy take the dessert way beyond child's play.

Tofu cheesecake from Sokyo
I adored the playfulness of the tofu cheesecake which incorporates cream cheese and tofu in an airy filling that's then re-moulded into tofu cartons with a biscuit base. Highlighting the kitchen's creativity, the thyme sugar and strawberry consommé could well have been superfluous afterthoughts to the excellent cheesecake.

Strawberry meringue
I couldn't manage the rich-looking dark chocolate and peanut butter fondant served with vanilla ice cream, nor the lighter strawberry meringue option with sheep’s milk yoghurt sorbet with a veritable 'salad' of garnishes

But I did not refuse the award-winning McWilliam's Morning Light Botrytis Semillon which was well suited to the richer, sweeter desserts.

Peanut butter and chocolate fondant
Sokyo joins Good Food Month’s Bar Hop with a choice of Tanqueray gin cocktails and their delicious seafood offerings. Chef Chase Kojima is also taking small groups through the Sydney Fish Markets in the Instant Expert sessions while their Let’s Do Lunch offering is a varied bento box.

See the full Good Food Month program for details on all associated events and activities, and I’ll see you out and about this great eating town throughout October.

Food, Booze & Shoes attended the Citibank Moveable Feast preview of Good Food Month as a guest, with thanks to Haystac.

The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room on Urbanspoon

Chefs Gallery Wynyard on Urbanspoon

Sokyo on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 27, 2014

smooth Festival of Chocolate - next weekend

As part of this year's Good Food Month (starting this coming Wednesday), a sweet new festival is launching next weekend in The Rocks. The smooth Festival of Chocolate will be a two-day festival dedicated to everyone's favourite chocolate.

smooth Festival of Chocolate, 4-5 October 2014, The Rocks, Sydney
(Food, Booze & Shoes received the above chocolate hamper as a gift from Smooth FM and Nova Entertainment)
Sounding of The Rocks Aroma Festival ilk, hotels, restaurants, patisseries, ice creameries and chocolatiers will come together throughout The Rocks and Circular Quay over the two days to showcase chocolate products and sweets.

Large caramel milk chocolate freckle pop by Peacock Chocolates
There will be entertainment too: a smooth music stage, a test kitchen stage featuring chef demonstrations every hour, a pop up bar and even artists painting with chocolate, while neaby restaurants and hotels will also be incorporating chocolate items into their menus all throughout Good Food Month.

At smooth Festival of Chocolate will be Jean-Michel Raynaud, executive pastry chef of Baroque Bistro
and La Renaissance, The Rocks, Sydney

(Image courtsey of Nova Entertainment)
We caught up with executive pastry chef of Baroque Bistro and La Renaissance, Jean-Michel Raynaud ahead of next weekend's sweet-tooth festivities.

FBS: What is your favourite way to enjoy chocolate? 
For me, chocolate is about childhood memories. The most enjoyable way for me to enjoy chocolate is as I did when I was a kid: cut open a baguette, butter each side and fill with squares of chocolate straight off a block - the original pain au chocolat!

FBS: What is your favourite ingredient to cook and pair with chocolate? 
I like playing with fruit pulps and juices to add depth of flavours and complexity to an otherwise plain chocolate.

My favourite, though, is to make bitter dark chocolate ganache with salted caramel - the salt balances both the bitterness of the chocolate and burnt sugars, whilst the caramel gives your cream an amazing chewy texture.

FBS: What are your thoughts on savoury chocolate dishes? 
I am a big fan but as with everything else, before attempting to do anything savoury with chocolate, you must first understand how to balance the taste inherent in your dish - any mistake will be unforgiving.

FBS: What type of alcoholic beverage do you think best matches with chocolate? 
Lots of alcoholic beverages work with chocolate, but none so much as Grand Marnier. The orange flavours and peppery undertones work fantastically with a dark, single origin chocolate whilst more flagrant beverages, such as Pastis or Frangelico, work best with sweeter chocolate like milk or white

FBS: What are your highlights and picks of next weekend's smooth Festival of Chocolate events?
Come and check Julia Taylor (ex-Masterchef runner up and current pastry chef at La Renaissance) and my demo and definitely come and see a great chocolate artisan in Dean Gibson.

Overall though, the whole festival is going to be a celebration of all that is chocolate, so well worth checking out.

The smooth Festival of Chocolate is on next weekend, 4-5 October 2014 in The Rocks, Sydney.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Good times collective #11: Melbourne must-eats

Even as a not-so-common visitor to Melbourne these days, there are places and dishes that are almost quintessentially Melbourne from a Sydney perspective, as I'm sure there are the other way around - though perhaps less so with various restaurants and trends capturing stomachs in both states.

Fried eggs with jamon, figs and potato tortilla from Hardware Societe, Hardware Street, Melbourne
The hype around CBD laneway cafe Hardware Societe doesn't seem to have died down at all, if my last two visits to Melbourne are anything to go by.

Always turned off by the usual breakfast queues, I was pleasantly surprised on a Thursday morning with no queue but still a jam-packed venue including a shared communal table.

Fried eggs with jamon, figs and potato tortilla from Hardware Societe
Breakfast at Hardware Societe is no light affair. With Spanish and French influences throughout the menu, breakfast is a little more glam than your standard cafe breakfast and quite irresistibly so.

Spanish jamon cured ham and a wedge of potato tortilla made an appearance alongside in-season fresh figs and a scattering of pumpkin seeds in a gorgeous spin on breakfast eggs and toast that was as gourmet as it was filling.

Herb roasted mushrooms with twice cooked gruyere de comte souffle from Hardware Societe
Even more rich was the vegetarian dish of buttery, herb roasted mushrooms atop seeded toast, with watercress and two fluffy cheese "souffles" finished with a herbed creme fraiche; certainly one of the richest, and ultimately deliciously filling vegetarian meals I've had to date.

Bills burger from Huxtaburger, Fulham Place, Melbourne
There's yet to be a burger joint in Sydney with the name and following of Huxtaburger in Melbourne, which has three venues throughout Melbourne and avid, die-hard fans. The CBD outlet, hidden in a laneway and backing out into a food court, is licensed and with indoor and outdoor seating.

It's a more of a scoff-and-dash venue, which is fine by the hungry devourers of the all-Aussie Bills burger featuring a fried egg and bacon with the juicy beef pattie, and beetroot and a pineapple ring in addition to lettuce and tomato - a burger doesn't get much more Australian than that.

Rudy burger with chipotle fries from Huxtaburger
After a holiday standard breakfast; that is, a relatively huge one, I could only manage a kids-size burger. And large fries but only because they were of the nostalgic crinkle-cut variety, tossed in a lightly spiced chipotle seasoning.

The cute Rudy burger on a shiny mini burger bun with a beef pattie, lettuce and tomato was a classic burger with both tomato sauce and mayonnaise. For a proper meat hit, though, go the full size.

Tam Tam ramen from Fukuryu Ramen, Corrs Lane, Melbourne
Melbourne's a little behind Sydney on the ramen game - while we can virtually turn any corner in the city and inner suburbs and find a great ramen joint (post coming next week on the new, second Ippudo in the Central Park complex, Broadway), it's not quite as easy in Melbourne.

Fukuryu Ramen is located up a couple flights of stairs in an aged laneway building, but once you're up there, it's like any other brightly-lit fast food restaurant. Order at the front and get a neat little tracker, rather than a buzzer, that alerts waistaff to your seating location once your food is ready for table delivery.

Offered in regular or large size (adults aren't allowed to order the kid's size - I tried), the mildly spicy, red-hued 'Tam Tam' ramen featured chasuhu roast pork slices and nori seaweed sheets propped up against the side of the bowl, as well as half a googy-yolked egg and pork mince through the soup. The broth had a fantastic smoky umami-ness that strongly encouraged one to finish the entire bowl of soup.

Miso ramen from Fukuryu Ramen
There wasn't quite the same depth of flavour in the miso ramen which had a chicken and fish based broth. It came with toppings of buttered corn, shallots, norichashu, egg and oddly, also some of the minced pork at the bottom of the bowl. While it was decently rich with miso, it wasn't the best miso ramen I've ever had and not nearly as good as my neighbouring bowl.

Sweet potato fries with Vietnamese spicy chilli mayonnaise from Lord of the Fries, Flinders Street, Melbourne
I'm actually yet to visit the Lord of the Fries outlet in Sydney, but happily divert to the store near Flinders Street station every time for a hit of fried potatoes - or in this instance, sweet potato.

Darkly fried, the sweet potato chips alternate between crunchy and soggy, enriched with the 'Vietnamese' sauce - a lightly spiced mayonnaise.

Ninjabread martini, Section 8, Tattersalls Lane
An outdoor, converted shipping container bar pumping with music in a Chinatown lane is quite the concept and Section 8 seems to pull it off effortlessly. Downstairs from other nearby bars, I assume the noise isn't an issue - how un-Sydney - and while sangria jugs and beers seemed the popular choice, I was completely and somewhat unexpectedly delighted with my Ninjabread martini.

Vanilla vodka featured with a touch of cream in the shaken cocktail that seemed to lack a real ginger hit, but it was the gingerbread crumb rim that won me over in the decidedly 'yum' cocktail.

Jia zhang noodles from Camy Shanghai Dumpling, Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne
After a drink or two, the allure of cheap dumplings and noodles nearby in Tattersalls Lane is hard to resist. The well-priced menu and brusque service go hand in hand, and there's even an all-you-can-eat option for the seriously hungry.

The meaty, saucy jia zhang wheat noodles are fabulous for booze-soaking, and general eating too. The generous bowl of dry noodles is topped with a fine pork mince and finely chopped other ingredients in the Asian bolognaise-like sauce, with Chinese greenery on the side.

Pan fried pork dumplings from Camy Shanghai Dumplings
The crisp bottomed pan-fried dumplings are also people-pleasers, with a unique situation where the dumpling wrapper is just as good as the juicy, porky filling. With vinegar sauce and a touch of chilli, these are the kinds of dumplings that I could just eat forever, for the rest of time.

Hot and sour soup from Camy Shanghai Dumpling
The generosity of serving sizes continued with the hot and sour soup, served searingly hot and thick, jam-packed with tofu, bamboo shoots and other goodies in a well balanced vinegary and chilli soup base.

Xiao long bao from Camy Shanghai Dumpling
The only disappointment at Camy Shanghai Dumpling were the xiao long bao soup dumplings which were quite terrible and even worse than the frozen, steam-at-home varieties. Cooked in a too-small bamboo steamer, the dumpling skins ripped and lost what little soup they held while the filling flavour was so mediocre that even vinegar and soy sauces couldn't help.

I always feel like I need a salad week or two after an eating and drinking weekend in Melbourne, but it's all about the balance and the good times afterall.

The Hardware Société on Urbanspoon Huxtaburger on Urbanspoon

Lord of the Fries on Urbanspoon Camy Shanghai Dumpling on Urbanspoon

Section 8 on Urbanspoon Fukuryu Ramen on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 22, 2014

Spring into Vapiano - and win a free meal

It's been more than nine months since Vapiano landed in Sydney and judging by the numbers of happily self-serviced diners I see every time I pop in, the quick and fresh pasta and pizza offering has certain appeal to the CBD's suits and visitors alike.

I like Vapiano for the minimal waiting times for food (basically no wait for a seat), and meal and ordering flexibility. I also like getting the Innocent Bystander moscato every time I visit, which reminds me of sweet lollies in spring.

Spelt fusilli pasta gamberi con rosso from Vapiano Sydney, York Street, Sydney
In light of Vapiano's first spring in Sydney they've introduced a number of main specials just for the season - and you and a friend could try them for free in a Food, Booze & Shoes giveaway (full details at the bottom of this post).

Pumpkin soup
The first of the spring specials menu is, perhaps oddly, pumpkin soup, served with a selection of cream, parmesan cheese, garlicky croutons or basil on top; the latter of which fill the restaurant in pots for diners' own picking and garnishing.

While I'm more than happy to move away from soups after winter, admittedly we might still have a few cooler days and evenings ahead of us. The thick but not-too-heavy pumpkin soup is quite the large serving with good consistency, while the buttery garlic croutons were my highlight.

Pasta gamberi con rosso - prawn and tomato pasta
As with all of Vapiano's pasta options, diners can choose their preferred pasta shape for the prawn and tomato spring special.

The conchiglie frilled shells are gorgeous to look at but I ended up with the spelt fusilli spirals which was also my first taste of spelt pasta. Noticeably more grainy than normal pasta, I'm not sure I would choose spelt over plain, especially in a subtly sauced pasta dish like the prawn and tomato.

Chilli would be highly recommended with this pasta dish, which can be requested when ordering from your very own Vapiano chef. We also picked a fair bit of the basil pot on our table to add to the tomato sauce with several whole prawns.

Pizza Poporano (image courtesy of Vapiano)
The spring special for the pizza menu is the Poporano which features a tomato base and toppings of bresaola cured beef, shaved parmesan cheese and rocket.

The bresaola, made in NSW, is the salty, air-cured feature of the pizza although perhaps a little sparse on the thin, crisp base beneath a shower of rocket leaves.

Risotto pollo levanto - creamy chicken risotto
Our carb fest continued with our tasting of the fourth main special; a well-seasoned chicken risotto cooked to a perfect al dente state.

With cream, bacon, onion and plenty of chicken pieces, the risotto was my favourite of the four spring specials, which I again covered with freshly-picked basil leaves at the table - for both fun and some greenery for my meal.

White chocolate cheesecake with salted caramel and honeycomb
I just couldn't squeeze in dessert, which is definitely one for the super-sweetooths. The glass serving of cheesecake with a biscuit crumble base was studded with white chocolate pieces and if that wasn't enough sugar for you, it's topped with a thick salted caramel and honeycomb pieces.

Vapiano's spring specials are available from now until 31 October 2014 - spring in to Vapiano Sydney to check them out or win a spring menu tasting for two people here.

Giveaway - Vapiano spring menu tasting for two!

Food, Booze & Shoes and Vapiano Sydney are giving away spring menu tastings for two - to include one main special and the white chocolate cheesecake dessert.

There are four to be won on the Food, Booze & Shoes Facebook page - make sure you like the page AND the Vapiano giveaway post to be in the running to win.

Four winners will be selected randomly on Sunday, 28 September 2014 at 8.30pm AEST and notified via Facebook. Winners will need to provide a mailing address within 4 days so the vouchers can be posted in the mail. Good luck!

Terms & conditions
Winners' vouchers are for use at Vapiano Sydney only. The voucher entitles the winner and their guest to a choice of one spring menu item each and the white chocolate cheesecake dessert.
Entrants must like both the Food, Booze & Shoes Facebook page and the Vapiano giveaway post to enter the giveaway validly.
No bookings required to use vouchers. Vouchers must be used by Friday, 31 October 2014.

Vapiano Sydney

Food, Booze & Shoes dined as a guest of Vapiano.

Vapiano on Urbanspoon


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