The Eight Restaurant – Haymarket – Restaurant Review

It’s always exciting to find somewhere new to eat in Chinatown, packed away among the narrow streets and vibrant lanterned nightlife that makes the area so iconic for Asian food lovers. Hidden away on the top floor of Market City in Haymarket, when we approach The Eight modern Chinese Restaurant for dinner, it feels like a childhood dream; breaking into the mall after hours to discover something magical. Photos of grinning celebrities and politicians crowd the opulent entranceway as we arrive; we are clearly not the first to taste this culinary discovery.

As a sister restaurant to the renowned Zilver on Hay Street, The Eight spans a huge square-footage, catering for busy yum-cha lunch dining and big banquet meals in the evening. We are greeted by busy attentive staff and an impressively extensive wine list – the whole experience feeling a mix of up-market tradition and festive foody relaxation. A pair of businessmen nearby laugh and joke over a sumptuous crab dish, and a packed family table next to ours jealously eyes the procession of dishes that arrive for our live mud crab & peking duck banquet.

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Our feast of dishes are worthy of coveting. We begin with crispy duck and hoisin pancakes, sliced and prepared at our table, followed by diced duck sang choy bow with a sauce that drips deliciously down my hand as I bite through the fresh lettuce. The following main course staggers us with its variety, generous portions and enticing aromas – I can hardly stand waiting as our photographer snaps away at the Lazy Suzan-covering spread. The Szechuan-style sautéed prawns are sweet-and-sour heaven with a kick of spice, and the stir-fried scallops soft and succulent. A delicious whole silver perch is an instant table favourite, with its smooth hot broth and fresh tender meat. However, the knock-out piece is the fried mud crab with Singapore style fried buns – its tangy sweet sauce is scooped out with our brioche-like bread, as we all try a hand at cracking some crab shell to reach the tasty flesh inside.

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Accompanied by the traditional hot Singapore noodles and delicately braised Chinese vegetables, the meal has been filling and comforting as we relax over a light Pinot noir to finish. My fortune cookie dessert tells me that I’m “very expressive and positive in word, action and feelings”. I’m certainly remembering that deliciously positive experience as I write now.

Liz Stern

The Eight

Stockroom InterContinental Double Bay – Restaurant Review – Sydney

As I stand in the grey marble lobby of InterContinental Double Bay, I look around, secretly terrified that somebody is about to catch me out. You see, five star hotels make me nervous – I feel as though I don’t belong. I cautiously flit through the complimentary cookbooks in the lounge area, and can’t but notice the amount of staff, all ready to leap to your help with just a nod. My nervous anticipation doesn’t last long though, as we’re shown to the Stockroom, I’m immediately put at ease.

The lime-hued tone of the dining room is the antithesis of what I expected. Velvet cushions beg to be leaned on, natural light streams through the high windows and there is a warm, affable vibe that encourages you to relax. In fact, it’s so down-to-earth that I could almost imagine coming downstairs from my suite, in my white dressing gown and fluffy slippers, to nibble on bundles of organic grapes and slices of crispy bacon, perfectly poached free range eggs and anything else that tickles my fancy from the buffet breakfast – well, almost. Today, however, we are here for lunch.

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If I were a chef, I’d like to work in the Stockroom kitchen. Spatchcock is sourced from the Southern Highlands, barramundi from Cone Bay, beef from Cape Grim – while the butter is Pepe Saya, bread is courtesy of Infinity Bakery and they work with butcher Anthony Puharich from Vic’s Meats. Executive Chef Julien Pouteau, who formerly worked at InterContinental Sydney, leads the kitchen and clearly knows how to write a menu. Homemade damper bread is served on a board, complimentary, with two dipping sauces; a smoky, whisky barbeque sauce and a nutty, crunchy peanut and bacon sauce. To start, the shaved fennel salad is clean and fresh, with an avocado sort-of mash, with flecks of cottage cheese and dressed with a subtle lemon vinaigrette. The faro crisp, golden and crunchy, is like the restaurant version of a vita-weat, which creates texture but also adds a nutty-earthy dimension to the dish. A classic chicken Caesar salad is jazzed up with umami-loaded white anchovies, crunchy baby gem lettuce leaves and crisp flecks of bacon.

Roasted Blackmore rump cap with tomato salsa

Roasted Blackmore rump cap with tomato salsa

The grill menu steals the show, with its abundance of locally-sourced ingredients. It reads simply; flame roasted Angus beef rib eye, robata grilled tiger prawns, rosemary Pyrenees lamb rack – however, as our dishes arrive in front of us, simple is the last word on my mind. The duck is elegant, refined and, I don’t want to say ‘fancy’ as that has negative connotations but, each dish is almost too pretty to eat. Again, that almost word – ‘almost’, but not quite. As I take a mouthful of still-pink duck with a thin slice of golden beetroot – it tastes better than it looks (and that’s usually an apt description for dishes like lasagne), not a dish as pretty as this. I sit upright, as this food suddenly reminds me that this is not just a restaurant in a five star hotel. It is a five star restaurant.

Anna Lisle

 Stockroom at InterContinental Double Bay 

The Balmain Hotel – Balmain – Restaurant Review

I love a posh hatted or Michelin-starred restaurant as much as the next foodie, but sometimes it’s a humble steak and fries from down the road that hits the spot. And that’s what the Balmain Hotel delivers –  moreish pub food and a trendy beverage menu to boot.

We begin with a share plate for 2 featuring Balmain Fried Chicken, field mushroom arancini with parmesan and truffle, as well as the popular Peking duck steamed buns. It’s not hard to see why the duck is a crowd favourite, the buns are soft and fluffy, melting in the mouth and the perfect companion to the richness of the duck, drizzled with hoisin and topped with cucumber and shallots.

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The rest of the menu is separated into an assortment of salads, burgers, seafood, meat and “favourites”, meaning that no pub food craving can possibly be left ungratified. Settling on the southern style fried schnitzel and the pulled pork burger proves to be a filling affair, both are served with a healthy, I mean, hearty, serving of fries. We finish with our favourite dish of the night, the salted caramel sliders, comprising of salted caramel icecream, doused in hot chocolate sauce and caramel popcorn. Sticky fingers and satisfied stomachs ensue.

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Recently refurbished, the interior is vibrant and quirky, following a tiki theme. There is no shortage of pubs in Sydney’s inner west, but perhaps none quite as fun as the Balmain Hotel.

Jenny Wang

The Balmain Hotel

Zahli Restaurant – Surry Hills – Best Restaurants

If fighting for the last mouthful of hummos isn’t something you’ve had to do lately, it means you haven’t been to Zahli in Surry Hills. At the Cleveland end of Elizabeth Street, this Middle Eastern restaurant is a reminder that Lebanese food extends far beyond  a greasy kebab. Owner Restaurateur Mohammad Issmail says he wanted a restaurant that didn’t look like a typical Lebanese restaurant – the clean, simple restaurant displays a series of aquamarine tiles lining otherwise bare grey walls. The marble bar, waiters in white collared shirts  and industrial style lighting exudes an edgy, modern vibe. One glance at the menu, however, and it’s back-to-basics with traditional and authentic Lebanese fare, as it should be.

Kick things off with a mixed dip platter and ease yourself into a Lebanese state of mind

Kick things off with a mixed dip platter and ease yourself into a Lebanese state of mind

Kick things off with a mixed dip platter and ease yourself into a Lebanese state of mind. Creamy hummus, a dollop of tart, house made labneh (yoghurt cheese) and a smoky, textural baba ghannouj can all be soaked up with fresh pita pieces. A selection of hot mezza features falafel, light and well spiced and fried cauliflower, the perfect vessel for lashings of tahini sauce.

The marble bar, waiters in white collared shirts  and industrial style lighting exudes an edgy, modern vibe.

The marble bar, waiters in white collared shirts and industrial style lighting exudes an edgy, modern vibe.

The fattoush salad, glammed up with radish and capsicum and studded with pomegranate seeds, is decidedly moorish while the samki harra, which features a barramundi fillet, coated in a thick tahini sauce and sprinkled with nuts and herbs, is deservedly a house speciality. Unanimously, the table favourite was an iron potful of sizzling garlic prawns, doused in a rich tomato, chilli and garlic sauce that begged to be soaked up with pita.

Anna Lisle

Zahli 

Contrabando – Sydney CBD – Restaurant Review

Executive chef Peter Varvaressos has an uncanny instinct for what Sydneysiders want; from $3 taco Tuesday, slider Monday and a gluten free menu to Contrabando’s approachable wine list, attractive bevvy of wait staff and buzzing vibe. He’s nailed it. You know why I know this? Three words: derrières on pews or rather, bums on seats. From lunch through to dinner, Contrabando is almost a full house and this is by no-means an easy feat given the current hospitality climate but also taking into account the size of the restaurant with space for 130 guests.

$3 Taco Tuesday

$3 Taco Tuesday

The menu is built around a few familiar Mexican signposts like ceviche and taqueria however, “the munchies” and “a little something on the side” garner much of my attention. Wedges of hot suckling pig quesadilla, come with a coriander salsa verde, adding a dash of freshness to an otherwise rich and potentially oily dish. Char grilled corn tastes like it does in Mexico, with gratings of queso (cheese) and a sharp chipotle mayo, however it is slices of richly marbled ocean trout that force me to put my fork down. The perfectly cured ceviche, has a hint of a cinnamon-like sweetness that is perfected contrasted by a slither of a mild jalapeno and a drizzle of the same coriander salsa verde as the quesadilla. While the menu has foundations in Mexican fare, Chef Varvaressos surpasses any deeply rooted traditionalist notions, in a good way. Local ingredients, such as Hawkesbury calamari, are teamed up with a fragrant quinoa salad while paleo-friendly sweet potato fries are served with chipotle aioli.

Anna Lisle

Contrabando

Downstairs Restaurant – Darlinghurst

From the creators of The Hazy Rose, Downstairs Restaurant is situated on the ground floor on Darlinghurst’s trendy Stanley Street. The interior is decked out with quirky British paraphernalia, including bowler hats and British band posters a la The Beatles and The Who. The curtained wooden booths are cosy and intimate, while there are long communal tables available for larger groups.

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We start with chicken liver parfait accompanied with apple sauce and pickles. Liver parfait is not for everyone, but this one is delightfully smooth and flavoursome, the rich butter-like puree easily slathered onto the accompanying toast. The twice-cooked veal tongue, served with onion puree, pickled beetroot, watercress and gravy is a simple but winning dish. The veal is soft and succulent, and perfectly tempered with the sweetness of the beetroot. My carnivorous self is pleased with yet another meat dish; a 250g sirloin, accompanied with crumbed marrow, relish and mustard. We are presented with other quintessential British favourites, including cauliflower cheese, and bubble and squeak. We walked in unsure as to what to expect, however it is safe to say that the menu developed by Ben Allcock (formerly from East Village) does an excellent job delivering tasty British fare with a modern twist.

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With the days getting cooler, Downstairs Restaurant offers a comforting British roast every Sunday at a penny pinching price of $20 a head. Be sure to make the most of your visit and visit The Hazy Rose for a cocktail after your meal.

Jenny Wang

Downstairs Restaurant

Tokyo Bird – Small Bar- Surry Hills – Best Restaurants

“Want to go to Birds of Tokyo?”, I ask my partner. “Hell yes”, he says, “When?”. “Tonight?” I respond, shocked that he actually knows what I’m talking about. “How can you get tickets?” Silence. I suddenly realise my mistake. Scrambling, I try to sell it to him. “Apparently it’s just like a bar in Shibuya!” “They do yakitori chicken heart and liver!” I keep rattling off every aspect that I was excited about but the damage had been done. Apparently he didn’t love Shibuya or yakitori as much as he would have loved the band, Birds of Tokyo. In an attempt not to seem overly disappointed, we head to Tokyo Bird where Birds of Tokyo were not playing.

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Japanese inspired cocktails are a must

Hidden away on a side street in Surry Hills, Tokyo Bird can almost be mistaken for one of Shibuya’s izakaya restaurants. If you get lost, just look for a queue of people lingering on a nondescript laneway that runs parallel to Foveaux Street, there you’ll find it. Although there were three couples waiting outside, it doesn’t take long before we get a table (which is a relief given the Birds of Tokyo incident). The place is packed with suits and hipsters sitting side by side at one communal table while groups of work mates hog the corner booths.

Mixed yakitori plate

Mixed yakitori plate

Although still early on a Friday night, it’s hard to have a conversation due to one noisy group in the corner. For first dates, this may not be ideal but for my partner and I, rather than attempt a strained conversation, with every second sentence being “what did you say?” we decide to focus on eating and drinking. Scoring a seat at the bar, we watch on as Japanese-inspired cocktails are shaken with flair by bar manager Yoshi Onishi (ex Stitch). We order a whisky highball and the snacks start arriving soon after that. The sesame salad is true to its name, creamy and sweet, with crunchy shreds of cabbage and sprinkled with toasted seeds. Crisp lotus root chips and bowls of steamed edamame are obligatory drink snacks, while the assorted pickles are a nod to more traditional cuisine. Though the menu has tonnes to sate the craving of meat lovers, birds are the preferred protein on the barbie of the rising sun. Hearts are crisped and charred outside, succulent within and for those partial to fried chicken, crunchy nuggets of katsu are the perfect way to soak up an Asahi or two.

Anna Lisle

Tokyo Bird

The Ternary – Darling Harbour – Sydney – Restaurant Review

With floor to ceiling windows, offering uninterrupted views of Sydney’s skyline and three open kitchens, the Novotel Hotel’s signature restaurant, The Ternary, is one of the most impressive restaurants in Darling Harbour. The restaurant itself spans across nearly the entire bottom floor of the hotel, making it the perfect place to view the Saturday night Darling Harbour fireworks.

Three open kitchens create an interactive dining experience

Three open kitchens create an interactive dining experience

While the city views are a draw card, what is almost more remarkable is that from almost anywhere in the restaurant, guests have a first-rate view of at least one of the open kitchens. The restaurant’s moniker comes from the Latin words ternarius and terni meaning “consisting of three things” and “three at once”, which seems fitting when taking into account the focus of the restaurant space on the open kitchens. Titled as The Wine Bar, the Asian Kitchen, and the Grill Kitchen, the open kitchens connect the chefs to the diners in a unique and memorable way.

Pulled peppered beef in crispy pastry and water chestnut salmon and betel leaf

 

Food-wise, Chef Anthony Flowers has created a menu that spans from modern Australian classics to Asian inspired curries and street-style snacks, perfect for a diverse hotel clientele. To whet our appetites, we started with naan bread served with house made mint yoghurt and onion chutney. The bread itself was warm and soft with flaky air pockets that made an excellent vehicle for the creamy yoghurt and tangy chutney. Next, Chef Flowers delivers betel leaves with two different fillings, smoked flaked salmon, salmon pearls and fried shallots as well as slow-roasted pork belly with fried shallots.  Sprinkled with lime juice, the flavours popped in your mouth with a burst of freshness. We were treated to another five savoury courses, matched with wine selection by the sommelier.  The remaining courses consisted of pulled peppered wagyu beef in crispy pastry and water chestnut with tamarind paste, king prawn with baby corn and cajun seasoning, tandoori salmon on a bed of eggplant puree, chiken tika masala with side of basmati rice, and just when we thought our stomaches might burst, a whole slow braised lamb shoulder with balsamic glaze and roast vegetables.  Dessert was a delight on the eyes and even better to taste; dark chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet and crème brulee with champagne sorbet.

Kathryn Rehor

The Ternary

Aida Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour 2015 and Fresh Catering

On a balmy Sunday evening, as we walk past the Art Gallery of NSW, through the Botanical Gardens to Opera Australia’s Aida, I feel like a tourist who’s just seen Sydney for the first time. I can’t stop gushing about the autumn leaves, the manicured lawns, the salty air and the lush, green grass. That is all before I even glimpse the set design of Aida. Walking up to the huge structure that juts out onto the harbour, just around from Lady Macquarie’s Chair, it’s little surprise that 700 people are involved in setting up the opera, before a single note left an opera singer’s mouth.

To experience such an opera as Aida, it is only befitting to splurge with a three-course dinner at the platinum club. With the Opera House in full view and Sydney Harbour, just below, we sip glasses of champagne while Executive Chef Geoff Haviland from Fresh Catering, prepares a North African menu, inspired by the opera itself.  Geoff’s menu draws from the traditional cuisines of Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria, offering a vast range of vivid colours, tastes and textures. “When I was travelling through all these regions I was always drawn to the souks and the huge piles of bright coloured and rich smelling spices, the amazing variety of sweets, seafood and vegetables. The style of cuisine embraces sharing and enjoying the entire dining experience, with food as the champion,” says Geoff.

Fresh Catering's Chermoula rubbed salmon with moghrabieh salad at the northern and southern terrace for Aida. Photo courtesy Fresh Catering

Fresh Catering’s Chermoula rubbed salmon with moghrabieh salad at the northern and southern terrace for Aida. Photo courtesy: Fresh Catering

As we nibble on a platter of sumac spiced chickpea puree, babaganoush, Turkish bread and Sicilian olives, the city skyline slowly comes to life as the sun sets behind the Opera House. A vibrant and generous dish of 12 hour braised lamb shoulder with maple glazed carrots, date puree and pistachio dukkah seamlessly flows from the entrée while guests can choose between a cheese platter or a caramelised fig pavlova.

 

Geoff’s passion for not only his job but also Sydney is contagious and, on this particular, I think we have similar sentiments. “I have lived in many different countries around the globe and travelled to many exotic locations, but I can honestly say that this is one of the most amazing and jaw-dropping settings anywhere I have worked”, says Geoff.

“Last night, looking at the stage lit up with the Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the background was almost surreal. Sydney is a truly unique city with a wealth of showcase events and locations. I am very lucky that my role at Fresh allows me to work in such amazing venues and events.”

The 2015 Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour season for Aida runs from March 27th

Tickets and opera dining packages are on sale now, contact Opera Australia on 9318-8300 or visit http://opera.org.au/whatson/events/operaonsydneyharbour.

There are various dining options to choose from, all from Fresh Catering. See here http://www.freshcatering.com.au/our-venues/fresh-at-opera/dining-options

Discover Executive Chef Geoff Haviland’s favourite Sydney restaurants here.

Earth Hour – Planet to Plate Cookbook – Recipes to save the world

Earth Hour is one of Australia’s proudest exports, an initiative that challenges us to think about the effects of global warming on our society. This year, Earth Hour is focusing on the effect global warming has on our rural communities. As the daughter of a third generation sheep farmer, this issue has certainly struck home. How many times have we all walked into a supermarket or local green grocer and not thought twice about where it all comes from? We are all guilty of taking for granted where our fresh food comes from. We are all out of touch with what is happening with our farmers’ soil, their irrigation and how extreme temperatures affect their yield rates.

Planet to Plate: The Earth Hour Cookbook is a collection of 52 amazing recipes from Australia’s biggest culinary names.

Planet to Plate: The Earth Hour Cookbook is a collection of 52 amazing recipes from Australia’s biggest culinary names.

To change this, and as part of the Earth Hour initiative, Aussie farmers and chefs have collaborated to create Planet to Plate, a gorgeous cookbook with 52 recipes contributed by personalities such as Matt Preston, Neil Perry, Luke Mangan, Kylie Kwong, Guy Grossi, Darren Robertson, Colin Fassnidge, James Viles, Jill Dupleix, Miguel Maestre, Margaret Fulton, Dan Hong and Sarah Wilson.

Beyond recipes such as Luke Mangan’s pea and fennel risotto and Jill Dupleix’s sashimi salad and passionfruit and wasabi, Planet to Plate also incorporates first-hand stories from Australian farmers, highlighting the impact global warming is having on their farms and the nation’s supply of fresh, home-grown food.

The event to launch this cookbook was generously held in the stunning surrounds of Luke Mangan’s Mojo Wine Bar on Danks Street.

To support this cause, purchase your book online here:
https://earthhour.org.au/cookbook-purchase/

Anna Lisle

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