Sunday, January 15, 2012

BlackStar Coffee for Breakfast

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BlackStar Coffee for Breakfast

I'm a bit behind with my posts because I've just come back from Shanghai (literally, midnight last night). I'll start with this one. My friend Trinh and I caught up over an amazing day at the Gold Coast on what I believe may have been the hottest day in Queensland this Summer. The weather was absolutely perfect for the beach.

We kicked things off with breakffast in West End. As a West End local, I let Trinh decide where we should go. She directed me through these up/down hilly lanes and finally we emerged opposite BlackStar.

The look of the place epitomized West End to me. Small and bustling with a decent outdoor eating area, hip looking waitstaff and a scrawled chalkboard menu.

We ordered coffees and breakfast. Trinh chose a light avo on toast deal. I was hungoverish so I went with something a tad heartier.

Iced and hot lattes

Our beverages arrived first. It was scorching already so I passed on a hot coffee and got an unsweetened iced latte instead. It definitely hit the spot: chilled, refreshing and a nice early morning pick-me-up.

Breakfast pita

My breakfast pita was just what I wanted. It was filled with egg, bacon and veggies but didn't taste at all heavy/fatty.

Inside of breakfast burrito

The exterior was toasted to a nice crisp.

Toasted Turkish with avo

Trinh's avo and toast was fancier than I expected. For one, it was Turkish bread rather than plain and also came with EVOO and a slice of lemon. It's the kind of thing I'd like to have for breakfast every day.

BlackStar was a lovely place to catch up over coffee and brunch. Nice service too and good, simple food. Thanks to Trinh for the rec!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sydney in January - Lunch at Guylian Cafe

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Lunch at Guylian Cafe
91 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney

After Kat and I conqured the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, we were in desperate need of sustenance (those jumpsuits you are made to wear are no good for looking sexy but excellent for making you sweat buckets). On top of that, there was the pressure of having to get back to our hotel in time for the airport shuttle bus.

We whizzed through The Rocks and spotted Guylian Cafe. A local Sydney friend of mine actually recommended it for dessert the night before and we didn't have a chance to go then so I stopped to have a look. Much to my surprise, there were actually savory food options that sounded healthy! We decided to stopover here.

There was no seating inside the cafe so we sat outside at the outskirts of the Sunday market.

There were lots of sweet things on the menu but we restricted ourselves to non-indulgent lunch options and slightly naughty drinks. I also ordered a brownie takeaway so that noone could accuse me of going to a dessert cafe and not getting dessert.

Guylian chocolate special - Guylian house coffee with chocolate and whipped cream

As her 'bad' drink, Kat ordered the Guylian chocolate special. When this was brought out, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was pretty much a cup full of cream with a sprinkling of chocolate on top. In other words, a dieter's worst nightmare. Kat poked a bit of cream and coffee started oozing out. OOZING out of the cream. Unreal.

Guylian shake - praline ice-cream with Guylian chocolate sauce

My poison of choice was the Guylian shake. It was made from praline ice-cream and drizzled with a chocolate sauce. This thickshake was REDICULOUSLY good. I thought it had a pistachioey flavor to it. Whatever it was, YUM. And it wasn't too sweet either. Kat agreed.

Belgian whole brown sandwich roll - with marinated grilled vegetables, haloumi and rocket pesto

For a splash of savory (and injection of health) Kat ordered the vegetarian brown bread roll. I had a taste and can't say I liked this one bit. It was bland and boring to me but she said she was happy with her pick.

Toasted cape seed ciabatta with rare roast beef, artichokes, lettuce and black pepper mayonnaise

I got the toasted ham ciabatta. It was pretty good. Nothing amazing but hey, it's just a toasted sandwich really. I liked the addition of artichoke. It was still simple but worked nicely.

Chocolate brownie

The chocolate brownie looked almost too good to eat! It had gorgeous gold flecks and was very dense, moist and chocolatey.

I think Guylian Cafe has a good thing going. There's an amazing selection of sweet treats, hot, cold, cakey, creamy, liquidy, whatever. Then, to offset that, there's a good supply of savory/healthy salads and rolls. To me, that's a winning combination! The locations nice and our service was slow but friendly.
Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sydney in January - Breakfast at The Falconer

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Breakfast at The Falconer

I woke up at 5am on Sunday and started researching breakfast places. Actually I started looking the night before but was too drunk to get any results so in the mornning, I really got cracking.

I'm the kind of person who tries to tell myself that I can be spontaneous and that it doesn't really matter where we go and that we'll just walk along and pop into wherever looks good. Sure I could do that but there's always this background remorse afterwards that I'm missing out on something better because I'm not a local and I don't know WTF I'm doing.

Research lead me to try The Falconer. My criteria was for a cafe that was reasonably close to our hotel (we had to head straight to the Sydney Harbour Bridge for our climb afterwards so couldn't afford to go out of the way) and that was open on Sunday.

We strolled through the city in a drizzle of rain. Everything looked closed and we literally sighed with relief when we saw the welcome glow of light coming from The Falconer. By the way, Kat asked me on the way "where are we going again?" and I told her "Eagle something". I have the worst memory.

The Falconer is a small but stylish cafe/bar with lots of charm. I loved the booth seating, wooden bar, huge ceiling light installation and deer ornaments.

Latte and hot chocolate

The staff attended to us immediately and I asked for a latte and Kat got a hot chocolate.

The latte was nice, very rich and strong. Kat said her hot chocolate was pretty good too.

Petuna ocean trout - and poached eggs on English muffin with watercress and horseradish cream

For our actual breakfast, I was in crisis mode with indecision about what to get. The muesli sounded so good. But the baked eggs sounded so good. But the smoked trout on English muffin sounded so good. In the end, I asked for the baked eggs but when I was told it'd be a 15min wait on them (they had to be baked after all), I changed to the smoked trout.


There were generous pieces of trout with poached eggs, 2 pieces of English muffin and horseradish cream. It was very simple but delicious. I thought this was a breakfast that perfectly compromised healthy and hearty.

Falconer toasted muesli - with nuts, dried apricots, banana and vanilla bean yoghurt

Kat ordered the muesli. I suspect I had a role in guilting her into this (for my own selfish reason of wanting to try it), under the guise of suggesting a healthy option. I am crazy about muesli and honestly, this muesli was phenomenal. How often can you say that about something like muesli?

Milk to muesli

It was just so, so tasty! The crunchiness, the nuts, the sweetness - so perfect. Kat wasn't as enthusiastic as me so I ended up finishing her bowl. I was in breakfast heaven!

I had a great time at The Falconer. It's the kind of cafe I wish was walking distance from my home and I'd be there all the time for food, coffee and probably late night drinks too. It just had a relaxed, positive vibe and I thought the standard of food and service was A+.
The Falconer on Urbanspoon

Sydney in January - Dinner at Mamak

Dinner at Mamak

January 7th marked my first spontaneous interstate trip of the year. Kat and I decided to go to Sydney for the weekend. At first it was for not real reason other than accomodation being on sale but later on we booked ourselves a Sydney Harbour Bridge climb and suddenly our trip seemed more purposeful.

We were to arrive late on Saturday and I worked out that we'd have a total of 3 meals in Sydney, airport snacking not included. Being budget-conscious, we steered clear of the fine dining joints but instead wanted well-reputed cheap eats.

Mamak fit the bill perfectly. What's better (well, better for us but worst for some) is that they don't allow bookings so you literally just rock up and wait. I normally hate that in Brisbane but when I'm on holidays, I don't like to lock myself to things so not booking works out great.

We checked in at the hotel and walked the 2 blocks to Mamak in Haymarket. There was a bit of a queue, nothing horrendous. What was more worrying was the fact that the line didn't move for a long time. Luckily, we weren't famished and there was entertainment to be found in through the window - guys and girls were flipping roti like there was no tomorrow. No matter how many times I've seen this, it doesn't get old. That dough gets stretched so thin, it seems to defy the laws of flour physics!

When we got in, there was that usual feeling of awesomeness that is associated with being let into things, even though they eventually do that for everyone.

The restaurant was larger on the inside than we though. It was clean and upbeat. Nothing fancy in terms of decor. The atmosphere was buzzing with chit chat.

Once we got to our table, we started planning an attack on what to order. We asked for some roti and satay chicken, because these are their signature dishes. On top of that, we also got 2 'mains' - a Malaysian salad and some fried chicken.

Teh tarik and teh 'o' ais limau

For drinks, we tried the teh tarik and the teh 'o' ais limau. The teh tarik is described as classic sweetened Malaysian tea with a frothy topping. It had a nice flavor that reminded me of the tapioca pearls in pearl milk tea.

The teh 'o' ais limau is iced tea with a splash of lime. I found this very refreshing and it complimented the spicy Malaysian food we ordered.

Rojak - a Malaysian-style salad with prawn and coconut fritters, fried tofu, hard-boiled eggs, freshly shredded yambean and cucumber, topped with a thick spicy peanut sauce

Our rojak aka Malaysian-style salad arrived first. It was a stacked salad with layers of shredded cucumber and fried tofu plus other bits and pieces. I particularly liked the prawn and coconut fritters on top. They were like prawn crackers, but better. The dressing was a peanut sauce with lots of spices and a significant fish sauce tang.

Roti telur - served with two curry dips and spicy sambal sauce

The roti came next. We had ordered the roti telur, which is the classic egg roti. It was served with 2 curries for dipping and a sambal sauce. The roti was piping hot and nice and flaky. I liked both the dipping curries. Although the roti was very good, it didn't blow my socks off. We used to get this frozen roti at home and shallow fry in a tonne of oil - that stuff was a mix of roti and butter puff pastry. I think that's spoilt my appreciation of normal roti with less of a fat content.

Chicken satay - grilled over flaming charcoal and served with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce

The chicken satay arrived next. The individual satay sticks were smaller than I'd expected but it was alright because we were getting a bit full anyway. The chicken wasn't at all dry, which is quite an achievement considering how small they were. I loved the satay dipping sauce too.

Ayam berempah - bite-size chicken pieces stir-fried with whole spices

Finally, our ayam berempah arrived. This was different to what I had expected. I was picturing something saucy but it was more like... spicy unbattered KFC. I nibbled on a few pieces. Not bad but the chicken was a tad dry and this was too much like the satay chicken to be having it at the same time. I even used the satay sauce with these chicken pieces because it complimented so well.

Overall, Mamak was a fun experience (apart from the wait) and we tried some good food at excellent prices. I'm not convinced that it's worth all the hype though. I didn't find that it stood out more than most places in Sunnybank and none of them require a half hour wait just to get in.
Mamak on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tartufo for Pre-NYE Dinner

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I was completely undecided about my NYE plans for aaaages. As a spur of the moment decision, I booked a hotel in Brisbane for the night BEFORE so that I knew I'd be doing 'something' around then but wasn't actually comitting to new year eve in Brisbane.

Along with a hotel stay comes a restaurant meal. The hard part about securing a booking for this night was that most restaurants were on holidays. I finally found Tartufo and e-mailed a booking request, expecting them to say 'sorry we are shut from blah to blah'. Instead, I actually got a booking. Horrah!

Tartufo is located where Belle Epoche used to be at the Emporium. I did like Belle Epoche and a large contributing factor to that was the decor/dining space. This was maintained when Tartufo took over. The restaurant oozes plenty of old-world charm with generous amounts of booth seating in a colour scheme of red, white and black.

We were granted an end table with 2 chairs side-by-side. This is unusual but I liked it because to me, it's a bit easier to talk to someone next to you than across from you. There's less of a business/interview vibe.

Shot of canneloni bean soup

A complimentary amuse bouche of canneloni bean soup was provided. Nice but nothing that stood out.

Pane casareccio - home made bread served with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

We ordered bread to start with. It was quite late... 9 something (remember I normally have dinner at 5pm) so we were starving. The bread was piping hot, crusty on the outside, soft on the inside and served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Absolutely delish. I had to force myself not to stuff my face with bread and instead, save room for the actual food.

Rollata di vitello - gippsland (vic) veal filled with a tomato and thyme frittata, mortadella, button mushrooms, wrapped in pancetta and served with jus and baby vegetables

For our mains, Byron chose the veal rack. I tried a bit of the meat. It was beautiful - so tender and 'milky'.

Veal bite shot

The only critisism for the meat was that it was slightly underseasoned and we didn't have salt at the table.

Pappardelle al sugo di coniglio - hand made pappardelle, served with a rabbit ragu, finished with pecorino romano and freshly cracked black pepper

I was really craving pasta and ordered the parpardelle with rabbit ragu as a main. At first I thought the pasta was a bit too undercooked for me (too chewy rather than 'just' al dente) but soon, the whole dish grew on me. It was really quite simple but had a great harmony of flavors. I slurped up every last bit.

Insalata di pomodoro - tomato salad with spanish onion, fresh mint, extra virgin olive oil and pepper

We also asked for a side of tomato salad. We're not sure what they did to these tomatoes but they were magic. Byron is something of a tomato critic (I've actually been told off in the past for purchasing poor quality tomoatoes that were unsuitable for cooking) and went gaga over this dish. It is another example of simple yet exquisite.


Dessert time rolled around. Byron ordered a cappucino. As usual for when I try coffee at fine dining restaurants, it really exceeded my expectations. I find good restaurant coffee to be more intense and memorable than good cafe coffee. If that even makes sense...

Pannacotta al miele - honey infused pannacotta served with honeycomb and pear jellies

Byron and I were being pigs that night and ordered a dessert each. He chose the panna cotta and I tried a bit. The actual panna cotta portion of the dessert was creamy and lush and smooth but I wasn't crazy about the jelly component.

Sfogliatella napoletana - traditional neapolitan desert made from flaky pastry, filled with ricotta and cedro, served with a lemon puree, redcurrant coulis and fresh blueberries

My own dessert was supposed to be the soft fried dough but what I got instead was actually the flaky pastry dessert. Unfortunately I didn't even figure it out until I had nearly finished the whole thing. I knew I didn't like it that much but because both those desserts were unfamiliar to me, I was too late in putting 2 and 2 together. It just goes to show that when you put something sweet in front of me, I will eat it :).

I actually really liked Tartufo. It wasn't perfect but the food was definitely an above-average experience for me. The service was attentive without being annoying and the atmosphere is lovely.
Ristorante Tartufo on Urbanspoon