Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: A tale of two years

The 12 months of 2014 have been some of the craziest yet in my life, and not in that drunken, dazed manner of my early 20s. With new responsibility, the year has had so many distinct twists and turns that it feels like at least two years in one.

Here's some of the high points of the year in food, booze and events, including highlights from contributors Hendy, Janice and Kath & Mark.

House charcuterie at Nomad, Foster Street, Surry Hills
I fell head over heels for Nomad this year, which seems to be a collection of all the things I love in a space I wish I had and done in just a slightly more hipster manner than I can identify with, But with the calling card of the platter of completely house-made charcuterie, Nomad well and truly has my number.

Mac and cheese at Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen, Missenden Road, Newtown
My appetite for pasta, and carbs generally, hasn't waned one bit and the American-style mac'n'cheese at Miss Peaches Soul Food Kitchen above Newtown's Malbourough Hotel hits all the right spots. Ridiculously cheesy and rich, garnished with chives and a house chilli sauce on the side, it's pure cheese and carb bliss in a side dish.

Insalata Caprese at Cipro - pizza al taglio, Fountain Street, Alexandria
It's taken me a while to discover the joys of thick-based pizzas at Cipro - pizza al taglio in Alexandria. And it makes me sad that I didn't know about their sensational Caprese salad earlier. Heirloom tomatoes, pickled Spanish onion rings and smashed green olives take the classic insalata Caprese up several levels.

Mussels.... at Three Blue Ducks, Macpherson Street, Bronte
I've really come to like mussels over the last couple of years post realising that they're only rubbery when they're overcooked. The best version I've had yet has to be Bronte's Three Blue Ducks' steamed mussels with coconut sambal, fresh herbs and cherry tomatoes - dish licking good.

Club Limbo at Pinbone, Jersey Road, Woollahra
Kath: Pinbone wins for making the best club sandwich ever. Turkey, confit duck leg, bacon jam, crispy prosciutto, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and chips on the side. More than enough said.

Anchovies and fish pate at Bodega, Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
A relatively quiet achiever in the quieter but burgeoning western end of Surry Hills, Bodega is the older but seemingly more experimental sibling to the wildly popular Porteño in the same suburb.

Argentinian tapas produces the likes of a creamy fish pate served alongside pickled anchovies, loud music and unmissable rockabilly style.

Fried chicken with chilli powder at Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, Liverpool Street, Sydney
The mere mention of 'Hot Star' gets me salivating. From Taiwan, Sydney's first Hot Star Large Fried Chicken outlet in the city south is what 3am dreams are made of. A half chicken breast, deep fried fresh to order with a sprinkling of house recipe chilli powder, served piping hot in a paper bag - sweet dreams are made of fried chicken.

from the 'A Taste of The Dairy' at Intercontinental Sydney, Phillip Street, Sydney
The 'A Taste Of...' series of dinners at Intercontinental Sydney earlier in the year were excellent opportunities to learn about local producers and enjoy them in a fine dining environment. As part of the 'A Taste of The Dairy' dinner, the baked Reblochon cheese with confit fig was a knee-weakening rendition of a cheese course.

Carbonara from Roscioli Deli and Restaurant, Rome, Italy
Janice: My favourite dish this year had to be the carbonara in Rome. It was so spectacular because it's my quintessential dish of carbs, cheese (pecorino romano) and cured meat (guanciale or pig cheek, in this case). I've taken to never eating it when I'm out any more because nothing beats the ones I had in Rome.

Grilled octopus and white beans at Alpha, Castlereagh Street, Sydney
I'm glad I got to tick Alpha in the CBD south off the list this year, as was Kath. The grilled octopus tentacles were an unexpected standout for me, cooked tenderly and smokily for one of the best occy dishes I've had in ages.

Kath: Alpha was a highlight for bringing a modern twist to traditional Greek food. The highlight of the menu for me was the melt-in-the-mouth pickled octopus with cucumber and sun-dried olives.

Bacon aioli and bread at Bishop Sessa, Crown Street, Surry Hills
Bacon. Aioli. It's all I needed to hear at Bishop Sessa at the quieter end of Surry Hills' Crown Street. Their 'I Dream of Pork' degustation was absolutely dream-worthy with all sorts of porcine goodness ranging from chicarrones to blood sausage.

They had me from the bread course which was served with a smokey bacon fat aioli that was probably a nutritionists' nightmare but dreamy on all other counts.

Pork cutlet bun at Chefs Gallery Wynyard, Metcentre, Margaret Street, Sydney
Undoubtedly one of the naughtiest things I've eaten this year are the Macanese pork buns at Chefs Gallery Wynyard. Featuring a deep fried pork cutlet and spicy mayonnaise on a deep fried man tou style bun, the fried-on-fried burger oozed with fatty deliciousness.

Events

Long lunch for Melbourne Food and Wine Festival at Red Spice Road, Melbourne
I made it to Melbourne for their annual food and wine festival this year, joining in on the long lunch action at Red Spice Road. With numerous courses of shared dishes, heaps of seafood and wine flowing, it was a most pleasant lunch experience in one of Melbourne's iconic laneways.

Strawberry caipirinha from Flavours of Brazil dinner at Bridge Street Garage, Bridge Street, Sydney
Hendy: The emotional roller coaster that was the World Cup was hosted in Brazil this time round. We all shared moments of tears, laughter and joy at the Flavours of Brazil dinner at Bridge Street Garage, including this lovely and colourful Caipirinha. Unlike at the soccer, this was a winner from Brazil.

Atura Blacktown, Cricketer's Arms Road, Blacktown
A famil to Blacktown this year was quite an event for this inner city/inner west dwelling girl. Atura Blacktown is a relatively new boutique style hotel in the area next door to one of Sydney's only drive in cinemas. The hotel is modern, quirky and very well equipped for the Wet'n'Wild guest, business travellers and western suburbs tourists alike.

Chauffeur pick-up for Tanqueray Bar Hop for Good Food Month 2014, Sydney
Definitely the most fun event of the year was the Tanqueray Bar Hop as part of Good Food Month. One night, two girls, one chauffeur and four bars serving Tanqueray gin cocktail specials. I still keep a hopeful eye out for a chauffeur outside my work to pick me up and take me to a bar for cocktails.

Table of 10 dinner at OzHarvest HQ, Maddox Street, Alexandria
One of the more heart-warming events of the year was OzHarvest's 10 year celebration dinner at their new warehouse headquarters in Alexandria. With a combination of rescued and donated food, OzHarvest's chefs whipped up an amazingly homely, comforting and thoroughly scrumptious dinner, shared with great wines and even better company.

Carrots with organic yoghurt, black olive crumb from Sustainable Table dinner, Studio Neon, Raglan Street, Waterloo
Hendy: Also for Good Food Month Sustainable Table, an  innovative not-for-profit organisation from Melbourne, launched a clever campaign to raise awareness of food wastage. The food that was presented at the campaign dinner not only demonstrated the elegance of simplicity but also reminded us that good food and good produce can also look a tad imperfect.

Dîner en Blanc Sydney 2014, McKay Field, Centennial Park
The sea of sophisticated white that is Dîner en Blanc returned to Sydney bigger than ever. About 4,000 guests participated in the great white picnic in the secret location of Centennial Park this year and thanks to Seppelt Wines, we were wined and dined in total style - in full whites, of course.

Goodbye 2014!

As the year comes to an end, I'd like to send a huge thanks to my team of contributors - Hendy, Janice, Kath & Mark - for their inspired food-eating and photographing efforts this year. It's been loads of fun, sharing the passion for food and booze (perhaps less so the shoes?).

Thanks also to all the readers and followers over the past year, and the five years before it. It's been a year of change, some stress and new responsibilities - and always plenty of food, booze and shoes - thanks for joining me and the team along the way. See you around in 2015!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Champagne Room: Brunch decadence on Crown Street

Posted by Kath

Perrier-Jouet bottles at Champagne Room, upstairs at The Winery, Crown Street, Surry Hills
It's that time of the year when champagne flows and one too many is just too hard to resist. For bubbles at brunch too, the new Champagne Room upstairs at The Winery in Surry Hills offers its new brunch menu with champagne on arrival.

Champagne Room bar
The Winery is surely a staple on the Crown Street strip by now, but that hasn't stopped them from re-inventing their upstairs real estate into the perfectly decadent retreat that is the Champagne Room.

Perrier-Jouet Champagne flutes on arrival
A-la-carte options are available but let the work be done for you with the new weekend brunch offerings and $75 set menu which includes that all important flute of Perrier-Jouet Champagne on arrival.

Champagne Room service button
The well-stocked bar upstairs is beautifully decorated with an impressive number of chandeliers, while blue velvet booths and a service bell for when the bubbles are running low offer a luxe escape from reality.

Freshly shucked oysters and raw Hervey Bay Scallops
Champagne Room's new weekend brunch menu is more lunch than brunch, and couldn't have started any better than with a serving of the most creamy Sydney rock oysters in a light champagne vinaigrette with a lemon cheek on the side.

Accompanying these were another favourite of mine, Hervey Bay scallops, covered in a lemon salt, truffled peaches and crispy pancetta which added great contrast to the sweet raw scallops.

Jamon, bresola & sopressa with chicken liver parfait, cornichons, green apple chutney and mustard fruits
Continuing with things I love, out came a very generous serving of chicken liver parfait which was incredibly light and fluffy, and would have been more than enough to keep me happy for the entire meal.

It was served alongside charcuterie from Byron Bay: paper thin jamon and bresaola, and sopressa salami; all accompanied by a gorgeous selection of cornichons, green apple chutney and mustard fruits.

Seasonal beets salad with sorrel, red kale, Jannei goa'ts curd, sunflower seeds, sherry vinaigrette
A nice side to the share plate was a fresh sweet red and golden beet salad. With on-trend ingredients of sorrel and kale, as well as the always excellent Jannei goat's curd, a zingy sherry vinaigrette helped cut through the richness of the cured meats and chicken liver parfait.

Mini mushroom pie and mini wagyu burgers
Our last savoury items were the mini mushroom pie and mini wagyu burger. The mushroom pie was full of flavour with champagne, thyme, garlic and truffle salsa mixed through with wild mushrooms and encased in freshly made puff pastry.

The sliders sandwiched very well seasoned wagyu beef patties with sliced heirloom tomato, mixed leaves, gruyere cheese and a truffle mayonnaise which I would have loved more of.

Chocolate brownie
To complete this journey of Champagne Room indulgence, there were two desserts on offer; first up a chocolate brownie.

While brownies can be hit or miss, this one was definitely a hit: rich and moist, it practically melted in the mouth, and served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Summer fruits with champagne sabayon, vanilla and sugared pistachio
A perfect match for a balmy summer's day was the summer fruits dessert, including strawberries, raspberries and blueberries drenched in a champagne sabayon and topped with a berry sorbet.

With brunch available on weekends from 11am, Champagne Room certainly doesn't peddle the usual brunch offerings. The gorgeous selection of fresh seafood and heartier meals, and of course, Perrier-Jouet champagne makes it pure brunch decadence on Crown Street.

Champagne Room signage
Updated hours: Monday and Tuesday from 5pm - midnight; Wednesday to Sunday from 12pm - midnight 

Food, Booze & Shoes dined at the Champagne Room as a guest, with thanks to The Mint Partners.

The Winery on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 15, 2014

Papi Chulo: Ferry to American BBQ, Manly style

While I've crossed the Harbour Bridge more times than I can count this year (usually I can count the annual trips on my fingers and toes), the Spit Bridge is still one I only see on rare occasions. And not even on my recent visit to Manly's Papi Chulo, which can be accessed idyllically via ferry from Circular Quay (though mind the Sunday summer queues if you’ve got a reservation).

One of the more recent additions to the Merivale portfolio, I finally got the chance and fellow willing ferry travellers together to visit the waterside venue (where way back, I’d once attended a Chinese banquet wedding reception!).

Oysters at Papi Chulo, Manly Wharf, Manly
The American-style barbeque offerings are well known at Papi Chulo, and the menu surprised with various Asian and South American influences rolled in too.

Looking picture perfect on ice in a metal dish, we started with well-sized Pacifics which were lovely and briney on their own with lemon, but improved significantly with the tart but well-balanced mignonette dressing featuring a fine dice of green apple.

Cravado cocktail (left) and Bloody Maria (right)
Drinks arrived during the oyster appreciation session, with the ice blended Cravado cocktail ideal for the humid day. Featuring loads of fresh mint, blitzed with ice, vodka, coconut water, lychees and lime, it reminded me of another venue's non-alcoholic slushie but ended up more watery than a proper, boozy cocktail.

The Bloody Maria was a winner though with its almost comical garnish of a large, fresh peeled prawn. The house tomato and spice mix was standout and definitely on the upper end of the spice heat scale; stirred well with tequila and mezcal and served in a huge glass with lots of ice.

Snowcrab, green mango, watermelon, herbs, peanuts, chilli lime dressing
As we were going for the signature Papi Chulo BBQ platter to share among three, we went easy on the starters and opted for the light snow crab salad, which turned out to be a delightful Thai or Vietnamese style shredded green mango salad.

With lashings of fresh mint and coriander, roasted peanuts and a bang-on chilli lime dressing, the snow crab flesh shone amid the subtly sweet green mango and chunks of bright red watermelon in the summer-perfect salad.

Papi Chulo BBQ platter
Our small round table could barely handle the main game (which is designed for 2-4 diners) amid the share plates and drinks. A large, metal dish held the varied BBQ meat platter of all the good stuff, starting with my favourite of Ranger’s Valley wagyu beef brisket, smoky and tenderly marbled with fat.

The also fatty Suffolk lamb ribs were super smoky, and we could have polished off well over the 150 gram serving. There were serious rows of fat in the free-range pork belly slices although the maple black pepper was a bit lost on me.

Last was the Kurobuta pulled pork shoulder and as much as I’m a bit over pulled pork, this particularly smoky rendition made for a superb sandwich in the soft bread roll with coleslaw.

The Vietnamese coleslaw comes as part of the BBQ platter – a crunchy red cabbage slaw that was a pleasingly mayo-free zone – and we added a side of curly fries: proper loops and tubes of curled, crunchy potato fries, best dipped into the BBQ sauce that accompanied the platter.

Berry sundae
We requested a birthday dessert to share, not really expecting the rough-and-tumble looking bowl of a berry sundae. With a vanilla-y ice cream showered with a mix of fresh raspberries and blackberries; freeze-dried raspberries and blueberries; minute crisp meringue drops and crumbled shortbread biscuits, it was actually quite a sophisticated take on an ice cream sundae.

Over the remnants of our Pachamama Riesling, we noticed the range of seating options and the more linger-friendly bar counter or booths. The middle aisle tables are fine for waiting out the next ferry though, which is how the rest of our lunch played out.

Thoroughly stuffed with BBQ and all the wonderful additions, it was a short roll to the ferry wharf and its Sunday queues. With soft waves and salty air in our hair, it was a day trip ferry well spent over in Manly.

Papi Chulo on Urbanspoon

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