Firedoor – Restaurant Profile – Surry Hills

Two wood-fired ovens, four grills and a cast-iron Aga oven.  That’s it. For most chefs of a certain calibre, this almost-archaic kitchen would be like stepping back in time.  For Lennox Hastie, head chef at Firedoor, this is the type of kitchen that dreams are made of.

Photo credit: Nikki To

Photo credit: Nikki To

The Fink Group have opened two of the most anticipated restaurants across Australia within months of one another – and they couldn’t be more different. Bennelong, residing in the iconic Opera House is a multileveled glamour-house with all the trimmings of a fine dining restaurant, while the pared-back Firedoor, tucked away on Mary Street in Surry Hills, prides itself on simplicity.

Photo credit: Nikki To

Photo credit: Nikki To

The kitchen burns five to six different types of wood a day; hay, ironback, pecan, orange, wine barrels and pear, to name a few, each used to infuse the various dishes on the menu that night. Prawns, butterflied and grilled on orange wood, are unadulterated – perfect in their no-frills state. Brussels sprouts pop up on almost every on-trend restaurant but these, char grilled and served in a thick pool of rich stock with chunks of smoked ham hock, put others I’ve tried to shame.  Unsurprisingly, sea fare dominates the menu however a Ranger’s Valley Wagyu rib eye will make anyone believe they could happily go paleo for the rest of their lives. At Firedoor the produce is served as-is, in all its flawless glory. This philosophy has challenges though – there’s nowhere to hide even the smallest mistake. Thank goodness Hastie is a genius.

Anna Lisle

Firedoor

Ramen Zundo – Restaurant Review – Best Restaurants

A cold winter’s day is the perfect excuse to go in search of hot and filling comfort food, even if it means braving the hustle and bustle of World Square in Sydney’s CBD. Arriving at Ramen Zundo, one immediately feels comfortable and welcome. There are exposed wooden beams outside giving it a rustic feel while rows of colourful lanterns decorate the window, and a conga-line of wooden tags emblazoned with Japanese characters surround the pass to the open kitchen. “Irasshaimase!” call the staff as we enter, which is just as welcoming as the delicious aromas from the kitchen.

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The menu has so many classic and rare dishes, we over-order at the temptation to try everything. The classic light Zundo original ramen is a picture-perfect bowl of noodles with tasty fat-marbled chashu pork and scattered with seaweed sheets and chopped spring onions. This is served with Ramen Zundo’s special pork broth, cooked for 12 hours to create a rich, complex flavour. We also sample the Shio original, with a lighter chicken-stock broth, served with karaage (Japanese fried chicken). We add the chicken katsu curry and rice to our growing meal, where the chicken is crisp and doused in a thick and tangy sauce.

By now, I’m sure you won’t believe we ate more… but we did. We sample the tsukemen original, where thicker-style noodles are served cold, ready to be dipped into the hot, thickened broth full of delicate chashu pork pieces as you eat. The combination of hot and cold is surprisingly refreshing – it’s no wonder this dish is said to be a favourite of chef Neil Perry.

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This comfort food and welcoming Japanese hospitality really is touching in a busy shopping centre setting. Cold weather or otherwise, I’ll be visiting Ramen Zundo again soon.

Liz Stern

Ramen Zundo

Washoku Lovers Kitchen x Raita Noda

There’s something to be said about Japanese food. After all, there’s a reason why the Japanese people have the longest life expectancy in the world. The portions are small and delicate, and the cuisine is refined and elegant. Chef Raita Noda seems to be a direct manifestation of these Japanese attributes. He’s gentle and softly spoken – there’s no Gordon Ramsey rambunctiousness here. Perhaps best known for his eponymous restaurant in Surry Hills called Raita Noda, he is also one of several chefs who contribute to the Washoku Lovers project, an initiative aimed at promoting the Japanese food culture in Australia.

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As the host of Washoku Lovers’ inaugural cooking class, it’s fascinating to watch Raita Noda demonstrate how to prepare his own version of traditional dishes. Sukiyaki is typically served in a hotpot but Chef Raita gives the dish a modern twist by creating a sukiyaki roll, wrapping rice with wagyu beef in a sushi mat, before searing the roll and serving it with tempura egg and a salad of julienned leek, shallots and tong ho (chrysanthemum leaves). There’s a level of meticulousness that you appreciate when you watch an accomplished chef cook – Raita Noda carefully rinses the rice twice and lightly massages it each time. The second dish is smoked marinated tuna accompanied with soy sauce and salad. Who knew you could smoke fish by pouring smoke into a glass then covering the fish?

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Putting our newfound knowledge to the test, we try our hand at preparing the dishes ourselves inside the hands-on kitchen within Sydney Seafood School. My self-made dishes lack finesse but the wagyu beef is rich and succulent and the blue fin tuna sashimi is deliciously smoked. Washoku Lovers is onto a good thing – Japanese food is truly a celebration of the flavours, textures and colours of fresh produce.

To find out more information about Washoku Lovers, visit http://www.washokulovers.com/.

Jenny Wang

Winter Wine Feast @ Boilerhouse Q Station – Manly

It’s not every day that you arrive at a restaurant by water taxi. Perched on the edge of Sydney’s harbour and housed within Manly’s Q Station, Boilerhouse almost seems to be in a world of its own. The restaurant is a short walk from where we dock and looking down over the Manly peninsula, it’s hard to believe that for 150 years, the building was used as part of the former quarantine station that contained people suspected of carrying infectious disease. Today, (thankfully) Boilerhouse boasts a charmingly rustic chic interior, with a corrugated roof and exposed brick walls.

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Chef Matt Kemp (ex Gazebo Wine Garden) is host to Boilerhouse’s Winter Wine Feast, and he has no trouble showing off his culinary prowess in the open plan kitchen on the ground floor. He jokes and jives whilst deftly preparing and plating each dish on the central table, before we are presented with the dishes ourselves on shared tables on the mezzanine level.

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Boilerhouse hasn’t used the term “feast” lightly. We start with servings of delectably braised duck leg croustillant with beetroot, and a comforting Jerusalem artichoke and chestnut pie, to whet our appetite. The baked fillet of Palmers Island mulloway accompanied with a side of creamed veggies and smoked pork belly proves to be, in my opinion, the pièce de résistance. Fish isn’t usually my preferred meat of choice, but the fillet is baked to perfection and with a few squeezes of lemon, quickly scoffed up. The next main is a 48-hour short rib of beef accompanied with creamed onions and charred leeks adding a delicate smoky flavour, tempering the saltiness of the beef. A proper feast would not be complete without dessert; we finish off the night with a refreshing poached quince jelly with lemon posset and a baked Eve’s pudding served with homemade rum and raisin sauce doused over icecream.

Q Station is probably best known for its ghost tours, but Boilerhouse has proven it is a destination in itself that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Boilerhouse’s third instalment in their Culinary Dinner series “Meet Your Maker” is on Thursday, 24th September.

$125 per person for 6 courses with matching wines from 7PM.

Jenny Wang

Boilerhouse Restaurant

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