Monday, February 28, 2011

Rockpool in Sydney


This past weekend I did the ridiculous. I flew down to Sydney on Saturday night to eat at Rockpool and flew back on Sunday.

Along the way, we...
  • Nearly missed our fight (final, final, final boarding call... they were literally taking away the steps to the plane as we were running up)
  • Accidentally went to the wrong Rockpool
  • After walking to the correct Rockpool, realized we were lost, got in a cab and amusingly found ourselves going past the wrong Rockpool again
  • Couldn't find the hotel afterwards
  • Got bored and were tearing at each other's throats by the end of the trip
  • Were sharing a cab when the cab ran out of gas, in a tunnel, and we ended up pushing the cab through busy traffic
Quite an adventure.

What wouldn't I do for a good feed?

So, when we finally got to Rockpool, we were told that despite our booking, we had to wait because they were running behind. I got a bit antsy but didn't have time to develop that into full-fledged annoyance because we didn't have to wait that long.

Rockpool seems like a smallish restaurant with most of the dining tables spanned across a long hall.

The menu involves either an 8 course degustation or a 4 course set meal. I say set meal but nothing is really set apart from the number of courses - you pick what you want for each course from a short list.

We went for the 4 course option. After being asked what we wanted to drink twice, I think they figured out that we needed some help. The wine specialist came along and gave us a hand. He did extremely well with the few confused request statements we came up with (e.g. 'like a dessert wine but not too sweet') and suggested a bottle. I was offered a taste and I was brainstorming all these ways I could lie to pretend I liked it in case I blanked out but ultimately, there was no need to. It was a fabulous wine and I loved it.

Because we had one wine to carry us through many courses involving everything from steak to lamb and seafood, we didn't expect much in the way of meal-matching. Luckily, the wine fared well with most of what we ate... I'd call it a robust white. I don't know the first thing about wine so I'm leaving the name of our bottle and if you're interested, you can Google the rest :). It was a 2004 Vinoptima from Gisborne in New Zealand.

Queensland spanner crab with heirloom tomatoes, avocado, celery and thyme

To start, we had a canape of crab and avocado with a lemon soup drizzled over the top. It was light, clean, refreshing and had a great collaboration of textures. A pleasant start to the meal. Though I wasn't famished when we walked in, this little dish actually got my appetite started.

Sourdough and butter

Bread was offered at this stage. We both chose sourdough. It was served with butter and in my opinion, quite unremarkable.

Green lip abalone, red braised thirlmere goose, chicken crisp and fine noodles with XO dressing

For the first course, I ordered the Green lip abalone. I couldn't detect any abalone flavor in the abalone slices. It was served on a bed of spicy noodles, which was nice but not unlike what you could pick up at an Asian eatery. The 'chicken crisp' was fantastic though.

Squid ceviche with 'schulz' bacon, lime and coriander

Hien's first course was the squid ceviche. It had a very artistic look, with the squid salad cast against a black background of squid ink. This dish was fresh and delicate.

Eight treasure quail with poached lettuce, yam and ginger fondant, quail tea egg and Chinese pepper reduction

My next course was the eight treasure quail. I'm not sure what the 8 treasures were but I take it they were bound with the quail in the sausage. The interesting textures within the sausage were again contrasted by the rice cracker. I wasn't keen on eating the braised lettuce (I normally hate cooked lettuce) but it was very tasty.

Kangaroo Island marron with oysters, century egg, garlic chives and dashi

Hien had selected the marron and oyster dish. It was served in a congee-style dish but instead of rice, the grains reminded me of tapioca pearls or sago. This was an extremely innovative dish and combined the seafood with century egg. I liked it.

Rangers valley beef fillet with old skin stir fry, snake beans, soy milk skin and hakka nam yee sauce

I presume the next course was the 'mains'. I chose the steak. Though the presentation wasn't as strong as some of the other dishes (in fact, in my photo it looks utterly unappealing), it was my favorite dish of the night.

Juicy cross-section

Beyond the creative elements, the steak itself was perfection. It was so extremely juicy and I don't mean in the way that fatty wagyu is juicy (as in, you have fat melting in your mouth) but just juicy from the steak itself. Fantastic. I didn't think the tofu skin complimented much and the snake beans on the side were an odd accompaniment too. The snake beans tasted good on their own and reminded me of a typical Shanghainese dish.

Mayland farm lamb with borlotti beans, tea smoked mussels and preserved mustard greens

Hien's main event was the lamb. When the dish was brought out, I didn't even know what I was looking at. It was a perfect rectangular prism. That tofu-looking slab was actually the lamb. It was served with smoked mussels, which was interesting, but I didn't think the lamb was on par with my steak.

Bitter leaf salad

With our mains came a bitter leaf salad. It was very bitter! I liked it because I found it palate-cleansing but Hien thought it was too bitter.

Vacherin with pandan custard, pear, lychee and coconut sorbet

Finally, we had our dessert. Mine was a layered dessert with many components. The plate made me think of a little garden. Only now do I know that vacherin is a type of cheese. My dessert was fun because it was like a mini-adventure exploring the various elements. Other than that novelty-factor, I didn't think it was outstanding in any way.

Passionfruit souffle with passionfruit ice-cream

What WAS outstanding was Hien's passionfruit souffle. I always thought souffle was an overated nobby dessert for people to brag about ('Oh, I made SOUFFLE the other night; hence, I must be AMAZING') because the ones I've had to date were nice but not mind-blowing. This one was really something else. Light, puffy and delicately flavored with passionfruit... it came with a simple dish of ice-cream but I think it was fine on its own.

Blood peach jellies

When we had finished, it was just about midnight but there were still a few late diners keeping us company. We were brought out a plate of blood peach jelly. They had a vibrant flavor, which I thought was exactly like a haw lolly (I appreciate that not everyone knows what a haw lolly is).

Dark chocolate truffle log

Just as I thought the surprises were over, we were also brought out some chocolate. It was dark and rich and made me think of a truffle log. A lovely way to end the meal.

Aside from the initial wait, I thought the service at Rockpool was EXCELLENT. In no way were the waiters pretentious or snobby. I still feel grateful to the sommelier for suggesting that fabulous bottle of wine. The food was of high standards and was a good combination of fine modern dinning innovation mixed with indisputable good quality and execution. By that I mean that some fine dining restaurants are all puff and smoke but the food just doesn't taste that good. Rockpool delivered in taste, which in my opinion, is the bottom line. It was a great dining experience and I feel justified in flying interstate just to try it :).

Rockpool on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Phat Burgers

Phat Burgers

I was trekking through the streets of Toowoomba City when I walked past a burger joint that really grabbed my attention. It was closed at the time but had grafitti on the walls and mad tag writing. Have I ever mentioned that in highschool, I went through a phase of writing everything tag-style? Anyway, Phat Burgers was part of my calling so I grabbed a menu flier and vowed to return.

We're getting into a routine of eating out on Thursday and last Thursday, we were excited about giving Phat Burgers a go. I had been studying the menu pamphlet all week and was close to being able to recite burger combinations from memory.

When we entered, I was impressed by the size of the burger joint. I had been concerned that they didn't have tables to sit at. Well, let me assure everyone that there are plenty of tables and comfy booths too.

I went a bit bananas and ordered not just a burger but kumara chips and a Phat shake too. Mochi went easier and chose a burger. Despite knowing what was on offer, we both took a while to decide.

The Doctor - premium beef, pistachio, beetroot, fetta, minted rocket and mayo

My pick was called The Doctor. It was HUGE.

Bite shot of The Doctor

The beef patty was juicy, the flavors were a bit Middle Eastern in influence and the salad was fresh. It was all-in-all, a very satisfying burger.

Granite Belt - 120g rib eye steak, caramelized onion, field mushroom, mesclun, Phat BBQ plum sauce on ciabatta

Mochi went for the Granite Belt because she was in the mood for something with steak.

Close-up of Granite Belt

It was served on ciabatta and had some of the burger-usuals (mushroom, leaves, caramelized onion) as well as the not-so-usual addition of plum sauce.

Kumara chips with aioli

I ADORED the kumara chips. I also ordered some aioli dip to go with it and it was a delicious combination. Kumara is fancy-speak for sweet potato. I've made sweet potato chips before but these blew mine out of the water. They were super crunchy and extremely moreish. I would happily go with just a bowl of these for tea.

Phat Shake

The Phat shake was also very satisfying. It contained 2 shots of espresso and was a nice consistency - not too watery but not so thick that you can't suck it up a straw. I'm quite particular with my milk shakes :). I also like that it wasn't overly/sickly sweet.

The service at Phat Burgers was fantastic. The main guy (possibly owner?) saw me snapping photos of the food and offered to take one of me and Mochi. Nice offer but no thanks, I just want food photos! I don't want evidence of us actually pigging out :p.

But yeh, I LOVED Phat Burgers and am heaps keen to head back and try their other stuff. Recommended you do the same! It's something Toowoomba has that I reckon beats most burger joints in Brissie, both in terms of character and quality.
Phat Burgers on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Eggs for breakfast, lunch and tea

Eggstatic over eggs
Home Cooking

I won't deny it. I ran through all the to-be-expected (eggspected?) egg puns before finally settling on this one. Eggcellent. Eggciting. Eggs... okay I'll stop now.

Why am I jumping up and down over this humble and understated pantry basic? Because Byron has just opened my eyes to what an amazing food item it really is.

We've thrown away the idea that eggs are a 'breakfast item' and have indulged in amazing scrambled eggs and soft boiled eggs for dinner the past 2 nights. Not that I would say 'no' at breakfast time.

The secret to silky, soft and cloud-like scrambled eggs? Here's how we do it...

First, beat the eggs (don't just do 1 - beat up maybe 4 or so) with a good splash of milk and some salt and pepper. We use the old-fashioned whisk and really put some elbow into it until it's nice and frothy.

Next, and this is the trick, use a small saucepan instead of a frying pan and put it on medium heat. Pour the egg into the saucepan and let it stew.

And then...

After a while, the mixture will start to thicken and bubble in places. You can start gently stirring the mixture.

Keep working it gently until it forms the desired scrambled egg consistency.

We theorize that by cooking it in a saucepan, the mixture has more volume and thus less surface area for the moisture to escape. It really makes a difference!

To keep the eggs from being lonely, we served them with toasted butter croissants and smoked salmon. Add a garnish of chopped fresh parsley and it makes a great meal... for any time of the day!

I also got an education in cooking soft-boiled eggs. I always thought that soft-boiled meant the white was set and the yolk was still runny. Byron's definition is that the whole thing is still runny (but not 'snotty', he adds) and you chop the top of the shell off and use the egg as a dip for your toast.

Apparently, the key here is military-precision timing. First, you have a saucepan with water and bring it to the boil. Byron reckons that for room temperature eggs, you give it 3 minutes and for refrigerated eggs, bring it up to 4 minutes.

We simultaneously toasted some light rye, buttered them liberally and cut them into thin fingers.

Because I'm not a fancy pants and I don't own egg holders, we made do with a preschool craft project-inspired substitute of using bits of the egg carton.

Not the most glamorous presentation but hey, it tasted good.

I know that many will be reading this and thinking 'eggs? I know how to cook eggs!' Well, I thought I did too but I learnt something new with these cooking methods and it really made eggs a 'feature item' for me, rather than just a side to compliment other foods. Give it a go!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Shinbashi Yakiniku

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Shinbashi Yakiniku

Antarctic Circle was one of my family's frequent haunts since it first opened. My grandparents are great steak lovers and it was perhaps the stone grill at AC that introduced us to the legendary wagyu beef (before it became as 'mainstream' as it is now).

The good guys at Antarctic Circle have opened up a new joint called Shinbashi - directly opposite their other restaurant. Shinbashi offers Japanese coal barbecue and in fact, yakiniku means 'grilled meat'. My family headed over on Saturday to give it a crack.

Condiment tray

The restaurant is new so the fittings are nice... my idea of 'contemporary Japanese' and successfully using a dark color-scheme whilst maintaining brightness.

After leafing through their menu of possible barbecue items, we took the easy way out and ordered a 4 person set meal. It comes with rice, edamame and a selection of grill items.

Our coals were placed down not long after the order was taken. We also had some complimentary chicken broth to start with, which was light and gingery. Very pleasant.

Unfortunately, by the time our food arrived the coals were already cooled down. This became a resounding (and very significant) problem with the dining experience. The waitress explained that because it was busier than they expected, the 'coal production' couldn't meet demands. We had to wait ages for a new batch of coals to come... only then did the meat sizzle a bit. And even then, because these coals were produced quickly (rather than slowly burnt to absorb the most heat), they lost oomph after just a couple of plates. We then had to wait a long time for more to come out.

I was trying to be optimistic in thinking 'it'll heat up in time... it's OK the food will cook anyway' but the truth is, there is no way to cook raw food on a grill that just isn't hot enough. It's particularly important for beef because you want that initial sealing effect. In fact, we waited for a new batch of coals especially to cook the wagyu on.

Cooking logistics aside, I will now get on to the food. My impression of these kinds of restaurants is that you should never expect too much from the food. Shinbashi successfully knocked that back with some kick-ass beef.

Wagyu oyster blade

We were extremely impressed with the wagyu oyster blade. They were thinly sliced pieces that were so tender and melt-in-the-mouth. Unbelievably awesome. Excellent flavor too.

Wagyu sirloin

The wagyu sirloin was also good but not significantly better than the oyster blade so in terms of value, I would order oyster blade hands down.

The other dishes were average. I didn't mind the chicken, though it took a long time to cook. The prawns were huge and impressive-looking but didn't taste that amazing.

Sweet potato, cheese and butter

There was an interested sweet potato and cheese dish which was novel but I think I'd prefer plain sweet potato.

We all decided that if we were to return, we'd just get oyster blade and some veggies.

On that note, we were really craving veggies by the end of the meal! Can you imagine eating all that fat-oozing meat and not having any tea/greens to cut it? Edamame only goes so far. And yes, we weren't provided with green tea which in my mind, is an absolute basic requirement of a Japanese establishment. Mum asked for a cup of water and it never came...

Mango and kiwi sorbet shooters

Thankfully we were given complimentary dessert - small shooter glasses of sorbet. We could choose from passionfruit, mango and kiwi. I decided against trying passionfruit but did try the other two. They were wonderfully refreshing after the meat feast.

The service was a bit patchy. Aside from the water not arriving, it was hard to get a waiter's attention, which we had to do to ask for more coal.

In my mind, the problem with the coal really affected our ability to enjoy our meal. With hotpot/barbecue places, a huge factor in the overall experience is the novelty of the cooking method. When that isn't 100%, you start wondering 'what's the point in this?' because there are equally good meals that are cooked for us without the stress of trying to track down hot coals. I'll admit that the beef was good but there needs to be some changes: more efficient service, green tea/water available, some vegetables to balance the meat, and most importantly, a constant batch of hot coals or at least a back up heat source.
Shinbashi Yakiniku (Japanese Style B.B.Q) on Urbanspoon