Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sweet Potato and Salmon Cakes

Sweet Potato and Salmon Cakes
Home Cooking

I've recently taken yet another step towards becoming the ultimate sloth. Don't get me wrong. I work full time. My weekends are jam packed with activities (what isn't food-related will be alcohol related). The time between when I finish work and go to sleep flies by so fast that I find myself writing OCD notes in my diary to remind myself to do menial tasks like showering and nails.

With this, I justify that my day off should be spent as lazily as possible. That's easier said than done because as I've mentioned on this blog many times before, I don't possess the ability to sleep in. I've also designated my day off as my cooking and baking day and I try to do 2-3 recipes (I have to take advantage of daylight for my photos) so that's not really resting, but cooking is fun.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Post-OVO Cirque Du Soleil Dinner at Byblos

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Byblos Bar and Restaurant

A couple of weeks ago, my good mate Duncan suggested we all head to the new show by Cirque Du Soleil. I had seen OVO posters all over the streets but it never really registered. I'm not sure why though because it's exactly the kind of thing I would enjoy. As a generalization, I'm impressed by any remarkable feats of human physical achievement. Male artistic gymnastics is one of my favorite (and only) Olympic events to watch.

We got there early in time for a couple of drinks before settling into the show. It was incredible. I felt like a kid seeing magic tricks performed for the first time ever. My mouth was basically dropped open during the entire performance. There is a tremendous amount of talent on that stage, representative of years of dedication and training. The lighting and costumes were phenomenal and the showmanship was engaging and amusing. Even the music was live orchestral! If you haven't been to one before, I would definitely recommend it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Julie Goodwin's Flatbread

Julie Goodwin's Flatbread
Home Cooking

Like many others out there, I've been weaning myself off Season 4 of Masterchef by watching the All Stars series. It's nowhere near as good but it's still some form of Masterchef and that's better than nothing by far.

In the episode where they're forced to axe their Mystery boxes for firewood, Julie is praised for her delicious char-grilled flatbread. I was browsing through the internet and stumbled upon THIS, no less than Julie Goodwin's flatbread recipe! This recipe doesn't force us to chop wood or cook oven an open flame so it's much easier to follow.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lunch at Libertine

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Libertine Bar and Restaurant

 My gorgeous coast-dwelling friend, Blossom, is heading overseas for a while so we both agreed a last minute catch up was in order. I was a bit at a loss over where to go for this lunch meeting. I've recently decided that restaurants are a lot like clothing. You can have many that you want to try but when there's a specific occasion, nothing seems suitable. I wanted somewhere that had light food for me and Blossom but also some heartier offerings for the boys. I ended up going for Libertine, which wasn't originally on my go-to list of restaurants but seemed to fit the criteria better than any others.

Libertine is a 'Vietnamese plus' restaurant located at The Barracks, top of Caxton Street. When I say 'Vietnamese plus', I mean that it started life as a French Vietnamese restaurant but now has elements of Japanese and Chinese on the menu, so it's just generally a fusion of East and West. I don't usually see that as a promising sign. Restaurants with 'confused' menus are a pet hate of mine and often come end up being tryhard trendy or just plain crap. In my opinion, pan-cuisine belongs in a foodcourt and if any restaurant wants to try it, they need to pull it off well or it's just embarrasing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Labneh Plate with Flatbread

Labneh Plate with Flatbread
Home Cooking

I saw a mention of labneh when I was reading through Julie's flatbread recipe. It's one of her suggested accompaniments with the flatbread and when I saw it, I thought "what?" because I'd never heard of labneh before. It's essentially just strained yoghurt, aka yoghurt cheese. I have heard of the term 'yoghurt cheese' before and I don't know about you but it sounds kind of gross to me so I'm glad I can now call it labneh.

The principle behind this is pretty good. You let some Greek yoghurt sit on a seive over a long period of time until a significant portion of the water content has drained out. What remains is a thick, spreadable substance that has a more intense, tangy flavor than regular yoghurt.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sydney in August 4 - Lunch at Makanai

324 Pitt Street, Sydney CBD

On our morning of departure, Marc and I were just about done with fancy dining and wanted something fast and easy. We had plans to walk up to The Rocks and get pizza, then cab it straight to the airport after lunch, but that plan greatly overestimated how willing we would be to walk with hand luggage after a night of drinking. Instead, we took the easy route and headed towards Pitt Street Mall, reasoning that out of the millions of eateries in Sydney, one of them would do.

We stopped at Makanai because we had walked past it the day before and the cute decor and nice smell seemed inviting to us then. We figured we might as well try it out. Sushi trains work well when you're on time restraint since there's no waiting. You effectively just grab and eat.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sydney in August 3 - Chef's Menu Dinner at est.

est. restaurant

Bee is my daily grind texting buddy who helps me get through the otherwise-boring day with her reliable SMS correspondance. As we met in highschool, she also qualifies as one of my oldest and closest friends. We hadn't seen each other for YEARS. I'll leave it at 'years' because it had been so long that I couldn't specify exactly how many.

She lives in Canberra. I live in Toowoomba (and socialize in Brisbane). We decided to have a long overdue catch up over dinner in Sydney. Isn't travel grand?

Aside from the fact that we live in different cities, we're both extremely busy people with clogged up social calendars (I'm not trying to sound like a snobby socialite here. My calendar is busy because I force people to do things with me, not because I'm constantly invited to things). In other words, it's not easy for us to get together (might explain why it's been so long) so we wanted to make an occasion of it.

We ran through a shortlist of Sydney restaurants we both wanted to try. Bee's boyfriend, Davy is working in Sydney at the moment and also happens to be a foodie. He suggested est. and we were all super keen on the idea. I booked our table months in advance and Bee and I spent some time trawling through the online menus and getting mighty excited (even though the menu changed by the time we actually ate there).

est. was to be my second grand food adventure in Sydney after an already fabulous evening at Ms. G's. In line with Marc's track record of letting us arrive late everywhere, we arrived late to est. Bee and Davy were waiting with drinks in hand at the bar/lounge area so we joined them there before progressing to our table.

est. reminds me of a long ballroom with dining tables set up and a bar at one end. The lighting is dim and the decor is no-fuss and elegant with clean, white lines.

Our waitress ran us through the ordering options. You're able to try the degustation, order from the chef's menu, or order a la carte. We went with the chef's menu, which means you get 4 courses and can choose what you want within each course.

Bee was our resident wine expert for the evening so she chose a lovely bottle of red for us. Marc and I will drink just about anything so we're easy to please but in all honesty I did find this choice of red nicer than usual. It was fairly light and fruity which went well with most of our food, as opposed to something more robust that may have overpowered some of the milder dishes. Good work Bee!

Wholemeal with butter

House bread was offered to start with. There was the option of sourdough, soy and linseed or wholemeal. As much as I love sourdough bread, I'm getting sick of sourdough being offered at restaurants so I went with the wholemeal instead. As far as bread and butter go, it didn't make an impression on me.

White tea consomme - with venison tataki, beef tendon, yuba, turnips and shiitake

For my first course, I went with the venison tataki.  The venison was tender and the vegetables so delicately sliced they were literally translucent. The white tea consume was mild to the point of nearly tasteless. The plate was visually stunning but in terms of flavor, it was definitely lacking.

Salad of spanner crab - with jicama, lime, apple jelly and elderflower ajo blanco

Bee ordered the spanner crab salad. She said that there were elements that worked but overall, she didn't love it. She couldn't really detect the spanner crab. Davy tried some of her dish and commented that he liked it and thought it was very fresh.

Sashimi of yellowfin tuna - with cucumber, pomelo, salad burnette and verjus jelly

Marc and Davy went with the sashimi starter. Bee loved this dish but Marc thought it was good but not outstanding. His opinion is that sashimi is mostly dependant on the produce, rather than anything special that est. might have done to it.

Moreton bay bug - with cavolo nero, green peas, mini radish, young turnips and bonito flakes

Our next courses were described as a continuation of entrees. By sheer chance, we happened to all order different things so I got to photograph 4 different dishes. I chose the moreton bay bug for mine. I really liked this dish and thought the bug itself was the standout. The flesh was sweet and succulent.

Grilled quail breast - with duck foie gras tortellini, chickweed, artichoke, snap peas, cepe emulsion

The quail belonged to Bee. All the love she didn't have for the spanner crab went to the quail. She claimed the tortellini to be "the most amazing mouthful ever". Glancing at our dishes, Bee declared she had absolutely no food envy.

Steamed murray cod fillet - with shaved abalone, snow peas, black fungi, and ginger-green shallot vinaigrette

Davy had ordered the steamed murray cod. He thought it was a dish that does a bit of everything and added that the fish was cooked very well.

Grilled white scallops - with pickled pear, winter purslane, foie gras and pedro ximenez-lentil vinaigrette

Marc kept his comments on the scallops very basic: 'delicious' and 'sizable'. I tried one and have to agree with him. They were massive, again an example of prime produce, and cooked perfectly. I'm not usually that into scallops but I did enjoy these.

Pan roasted lamb rib eye - with crumbed sweetbread, potato gratin, cavolo nero, pine nuts and onion caramel

We progressed onto our mains. Mine was the lamb and I was pleased to see 2 perfectly pink portions on the plate. I had asked for medium rare and it was spot on. I never really understood the appeal of sweetbread so I wasn't blown away by that but the other elements of the dish were simple yet  complimentary.

Glazed beef cheek - with caramelised onion, shaved cucumber, grilled leeks and celtuce leaf puree

Bee and Marc both chose the beef cheek and delivered vastly different feedback. Davy and I tried a bit of their plates so we all got a taste. Bee thought it lacked flavor but hers was probably the only negative critisim. I thought the beef was rediculous. If anyone's seen American So You Think You Can Dance, imagine Mary Murphy screaming out "That was REDICULOUS", baring those big smiley teeth of hers. That's what I think of this dish. The beef was tender to the point of not just melting in the mouth but practically evaporating on contact. To me, the beef was far from bland. It had a beautiful milky quality that was somehow homely yet refined.

Duck breast - with grilled treviso, green lentils, duck jamon, fresh walnuts and crisp polenta

Davy's main was the duck. Bee loved this dish and regretted not ordering this instead of the beef. They both commented that it was very tender and 'different'.In particular, Bee thought the polenta chip was amazing.

Valrhona chocolate delice - with confit orange puree, almond praline and mandarin ice cream

For our desserts, once again we managed to each order a different one. Marc was surprised that I ordered the chocolate delice. Apparently it's more in my nature to order 'out there' desserts. Hey, 'out there' is one thing but chocolate... chocolate is chocolate. I did like this dessert in that it has all the right elements of smooth, creamy and crunch. A few at our table were unimpressed by the jaffa-inspired flavors. I don't mind the whole citrus and chocolate combination but it's not one of my favorites.

Passionfruit souffle - with passionfruit sorbet

Bee's dessert was the passionfruit souffle. I think the only reason I didn't order this is because I don't like pasisonfruit that much. I would otherwise have jumped at the chance to order souffle at a fine dining restaurant, it's something that's only good if done perfectly. This one was perfect. Texturally, it was just mind-blowing. Everything you could hope for in a souffle. Light as air and so delicate. I could almost ignore the passionfruit flavor... almost.

Caramel poached pear - with fennel, toasted hazelnuts and white coffee ice cream

Davy went with the poached pear dessert. It's not something I would normally order but I was pleasantly surprised. We all remarked at how well coffee and pear went together. That's not something I expected. Davy also commented that the pear was cooked just right.

Pave of granny smith apples - with vanilla cheesecake and rose-earl grey ice cream

Marc chose the vanilla cheesecake with apples. We both really liked this dessert. The cheesecake was deliciously creamy. I couldn't detect the rose-earl grey flavor in the ice cream but that didn't seem to matter at the time. The jelly looked exactly like ice! I don't know what it was supposed to bring to the dish but I think it was unnecesary.

Petit fours

We finished our meal with coffee and petit fours. I worked my way along the row of petit fours to try a bit of everything. Despite being full, they were too cute to resist!


The coffee was my one non-alcoholic interlude for the evening before we moved onto cocktails at The Blu Bar. It was a rich blend and served as a great pick-me-up.

I enjoyed my time at est. both for the food and service. The service was something of an experience. At each course, all of our plates were set down at the same time by 4 separate waiters. It reminded me of a military drill. There was no jealousy over who got served first, that's for sure. All the staff were very polite and knowledgable without being snooty. The dishes were consistently beautiful. My favorites were the moreton bay bug, beef cheeks and cheesecake. If I was to repick my courses, I would go for those!
Est. on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sydney in August 2 - Lunch at Din Tai Fung, World Square

Din Tai Fung, World Square
644 George Street, Sydney CBD

Din Tai Fung is one of thoses places that I keep meaning to try but other things get in the way. Such as queues. Or alternative destinations. Or being full at the wrong time. I had it tagged as a spot to try with Kat when I go to Sydney in November (yes, I do plan things THAT far in advance) but since Marc and I were staying in World Square, it made sense to simply go downstairs and have lunch there. Especially since we were mildly hungover and starving and didn't want to travel too far for food.

We arrived around noon which I suppose is earlyish for lunch. It was getting busy but in no way packed and we got a table right away.

I had a quick look through the menu. We were definitely going to try the steamed pork dumplings, after all that's what this place is famous for. We also ordered a rice dish and noodle dish to fill us up.

Avocado chocolate swirl and mango tango smoothies

I am a freak when it comes to avocado so when I saw chocolate and avocado smoothie on the menu, I knew I had to try it.  It was creamy with a distinct avocado flavor and not too sweet. I have tried avocado smoothies without the chocolate and even though it wasn't bad with chocolate, I don't think it added to it and I would prefer plain avocado. But then again, that might just be me because I'm weird and possible an avocado purist.

Marc went with the mango smoothie and his comments were "it's good" and "it's mangoey". Did I mention already that we were hung over?

Xiao long bao - steamed pork dumplings

Luckily for our hungry selves, the food didn't take long to arrive at all. The dumplings came first. I knew on appearance that they would be good. The wrapper is so thin you can practically see the soup waiting to burst out under the surface.

Close-up of dumpling

I am a xiao long bao (that's what these dumplings are officially called) connoisseur who's been forced to lower standards based on how poor the Brisbane offerings are. These are not only good by my 'reduced' standards but good even compared with what I've had in Shanghai. It's right up there with the best of it. The filling has a great texture with just the right amount of ginger flavor, the wrapper is thin and steamed to perfection (no glugginess) and there is the all-important abundance of soup that's not oily. Ticks in all the boxes.

Cha Jiang noodle - with minced pork

I wasn't nearly was impressed with the noodles. They reminded of Asian food court standard noodles with a boring packet flavoring and mushy mince on top. Brutal, I know but it really isn't in the same league as the dumplings. I'm not talking about how edible the dishes are. I mean, the noodles weren't revolting. I'm talking about how easy it is to get something better. For the dumplings, I'd say in Australia it's near impossible. For the noodles, I could get better in almost any Asian eatery I walk into.

Fried rice - with fried pork chop

The pork and rice were a similar story. The pork cutlet tasted good. It was actually a lot more tender than I expected. Overall though, I couldn't say there was anything outstanding about it. I have a soft spot for eggy fried rice though so I'd still be happy to eat a bowl of that.

In my opinion, the hype over Din Tai Fung is justified for the dumplings alone. The other dishes were boring but I thought the xiao long bao were magical and I'd be happy to polish off a dozen of those. What I liked was that the restaurant has a clean and modern decor and the staff are efficient and friendly (unlike in lots of other Asian eateries).
Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sydney in August 1 - Banquet at Ms. G's

Ms. G's Asian Restaurant

I'm getting to that point between holidays where everyday life is tedious and the days I have to tear myself out of bed dreading work are frequent (or constant).  My next overseas trip is so far in the distant future that there isn't even the foetus of a plan in place. The process is still at the fallopian tube stage of development where I'm Googling European country locations to assess geographical proximity and learn which capital cities belong where. For someone who didn't know Spain was part of Europe or what 'exactly' the UK was, that's a critical early step in holiday conception.

Reproductive analogies aside, I chose to survive my next 'x' months of staying in Australia by taking advantage of how relatively easy it is to escape to neighbouring cities. Marc and I planted a weekend away in Sydney a while back and it's served as my thing-to-look-forward-to in recent weeks. We chose Sydney because it's so close to Brisbane (I still marvel at how it takes me longer to get from Toowoomba to Brisbane than it is to fly from Brisbane to Sydney) and because we have friends there to visit.

Marc had a reunion planned for Friday night with ex colleagues from his time working in Sydney. Sarah, a local foodie expert, chose Ms. G's, which I was thrilled about because I'd been DYING to go since I first heard about it. Marc mentioned we were going there once, then never again, and I was too scared to ask for clarification in case I'd remembered wrong and would feel epically disappointed.

We were supposed to arrive in Sydney late afternoon, check-in to the hotel and get ready at a leisurely pace before dinner around 9pm ish. Thanks to a significant flight upset and ensuing airport drama, we arrived 3 hours behind schedule. Marc spent the flight tapping his fingers, feet, everything. I spent the flight stressing about whether or not I'd have enough time to wash my hair.

We landed. We ran out of the airport. We jumped into a cab. And we checked into the hotel. Forget 'leisurely pace', I don't think I've ever washed my hair that fast in my entire life. And then bang, we were ready and off on our way to Potts Point.

Sarah had miraculously managed to delay the kitchen by an hour, so even though we were late, the food was only just starting to get served. Great effort! We were extremely appreciative.

Ms. G's appears smallish but it's got multiple split levels so I'm not sure what the seating capacity is. It feels like a cross between a bar and a restaurant, which I suppose makes sense since that's what it is. The lighting is dim and the decor is trendy. We were seated below a ceiling lined with jars full of strange objects. The rumor is that you can request for things to be put into the jars but we didn't test this out.

I needed to get on the drink to destress so I started working through the cocktail menu. I won't go into any cocktail in detail because by the end of the night I'd practically smashed through the entire list and that tends to blur specific impressions. The cocktails are categoried as 'packaged' or 'unpackaged'. Packaged means it comes in a bubble tea container and you pop a straw through the top. Unpackaged means it's served in a normal glass. Beach Boys recommended me the aloe vera which was like alcoholic grape zappo in liquid form. Yummo! My favorite was probably the pina colada but honestly they were all quite good.

Our table had gone with the banquet set menu (with the exception of Greens, who doesn't eat vegetables and ordered separately). The feast started with the appetizers.

Plate O' Ms. G's pickles

The first plate I saw was of Ms. G's pickles. It comprised of some kim chi and other pickled cabbage and gherkins. Nothing special here; just some meal accompaniments.

Mini banh mi - with crispy pork belly or chicken katsu

The mini banh mi were not only ADORABLE but also delicious. Banh mi are vietnamese rolls, served with pork or chicken (in various forms e.g. BBQ or meatballs or shredded), veggies and lots of condiments. I tried the pork belly mini banh mi and it was so yummy. I'm not sure how closely it ressembles the traditional versions but I don't care. They were small but packed a flavor punch and the pork was tender and gelatinous.

Ms. G's grilled corn on the cob - with parmesan and lime

I couldn't try any of the grilled corn because corn gets stuck in anyone's teeth on a good day. Add braces to the equation and it's a social nightmare. I heard a lot of positive feedback about it though. Marc commented that it was deceptively spicy for something so yellow. Smiles was a HUGE fan of the corn and polished off a couple of cobs with glee.

Ocean trout ceviche 'Vietnamese style'

We progressed to the entrees. The first of these was the ocean trout ceviche. I found this to be a very sophisticated dish, one I wouldn't have expected based on the bar-like environment and previous dishes. The trout was fresh and tender and worked well with those typical Vietnamese flavors of lime and fish sauce. It had a nice crispy skin too.

"Buddha's Delight" - textural vegetarian salad

Next came the Buddha's delight, a vegetarian dish ressembling a hot tofu salad. As a joke Marc brought a plate of it over to Greens but she didn't take up on it. As I was writing this post, I asked Marc what he thought of this dish but it turns out he didn't eat it either! I do recall asking Beach Boys and they said it was good.

Prawn toast - with yuzu aioli and herbs

I was VERY CLOSE to not trying the prawn toast, again fearing it would be too difficult for me to eat (I must say this in almost every review but orthodontics do NOT compliment my interest in dining). Beach Boys insisted I try some and I'm so glad I did. You know how awesome prawn toast is normally? Even when you know it's made from processed prawn powder on stale bread? Well this was prawn toast made with real, whole prawns and it was bloody fantastic.

Ms. G's fried chicken 'chops' 2 ways - naked, with jerk mayo, and spicy Korean

We had already gone through so many dishes and there were still plenty to come. The fried chicken chops served as the first of the mains. They came 'naked' i.e. plain battered, or coated with a spicy, Korean-style sauce. I tried a bit of the plain one with the jerk mayo (I just Googled what 'jerk mayo' is and there seems to be no obvious definition so if anyone can enlighten me, please do). The chicken was crispy and juicy (with a surprise piece of bone inside; watch out for those) and the jerk mayo, whatever it may be, was spicy, zesty and creamy all at once. I am a fan.

Egg noodles - with XO sauce, braised duck and soft boiled egg

The egg noodles served as a non-boring carbohydrate to fill up any hungry folk. It came with braised duck and a soft poached egg in XO sauce and the idea is to mix it all up before eating.

Braised wagyu beef shin, Taiwanese style - with green tomatoes and Thai basil

The braised wagyu beef shin was amazingly soft. I asked Marc for his comments because I remember he liked it; but it seems he himself can't remember that he liked it. His forced feedback was "it was juicy and tender and good enough for me to not let you not try it". If you can work through those double negatives, cudos to you.

Roasted sambal barramundi - with lime

Our final main was the barramundi in sambal sauce. Neither Marc or I recall eating this dish but he pointed out accurately that his banker friends demolished the plates speedily. So it must've been good.

"Stoner's Delight 2.0" - with donut ice-cream, peanut butter, raspberry jam, candied bacon, potato chips mars bar slice and banana fritter

The guys at our table were really excited about the dessert offerings. With a name like 'Stoner's delight', how can you go wrong? I find it hilarious that we descended (or ascended; depending on your perspective) from 'Buddha's delight' earlier on in the meal to 'Stoner's delight'. When it comes to donut ice-cream with peanut butter and mars bars on a plate versus tofu salad, I know which I'd prefer. My favorite part was the banana fritter, wrapped in what I think is kataifi pastry.

"Dirty Passion" - passionfruit custard with chocolate and coconut

The other dessert was predominantly passionfruit-flavored so I steered clear of that. I'm not huge on passionfruit. I heard a lot of comments that this was 'very passionfruity', which didn't appeal to me but might to some.

My high expectation of Ms. G's was met with aplomb. Marc and I were just discussing that it was mostly a social occasion so we were barely focusing on the food but it still managed to make an impression. My favorites included the prawn toast, wagyu beef and mini banh mi. Oh and the cocktail selection was grand too. I am impressed with how friendly the staff were and grateful that the kitchen delayed service for us. It's one of those restaurants that I'd break my no-repeat rule for and coming from me, that's high praise indeed.

As a teaser to regular readers, one of Marc's friends, Harry (nicknamed after the media executive from Mad Men due to an uncanny ressemblance) challenged me to incorporate a certain word in this post. If you read anything that sounded abruptly out of place, that's the reason... and not me going crazy or having bad Asian lady english (although that may be true too).
Ms.G's on Urbanspoon