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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