Monthly Archives: March 2012

Launch of the ‘new’ Pavilion

To celebrate the launch of a new look, the Best Restaurant’s team last week headed to The Pavilion for an evening of canapés, freshly shucked oysters and free-flowing Chandon. Sitting elegantly between the Botanic Gardens and the Art Gallery of NSW, The Pavilion is located in one of Sydney’s most stunning locations.

The new look

200 guests came to celebrate the new sophisticated interior and to enjoy the new canapé menu from Head Chef Anderson Dos Santos’. Highlights included cured ocean trout with beetroot jelly, salt and pepper tofu and mascarpone tiramisu with raspberries.

Maureen looking at Indira Naidoo’s new book, The Edible Balcony

As part of the Trippas White Group, The Pavilion has always been a popular function destination and with the recent revamp, this stunning venue will only be but more attractive. With the potential to accommodate up to 450 guests for a cocktail event, or 240 seated, and just a five minute walk from the city, The Pavilion is one of Sydney’s Best Restaurants.

Maureen

Read more about The Pavilion here

Restaurant Review: Janus on Bligh Street

More than a business lunch destination, Janus offers sophisticated Italian fare in a buzzing city location. On the corner of Castlereagh, Hunter and Bligh Street, Janus is perfect for people watching – diners can sit outside and watch as office workers briskly carry about their day.

Macarons and desserts fill the glass counter at Janus

With the original Janus already up and running in Darling Quarter, this Bligh Street restaurant is the second for brother and sister owners, George and Kristy Michael. The fit out is slick and sophisticated, but not without character. With indoor and outdoor seating options, diners can choose to perch under colourful public art sculptures outside or hide inside the impressive Bligh Street atrium. The glass counter is the main attraction, boasting a range of multi-coloured macarons and delicate desserts.

Linguine vongole with chilli, garlic and parsley

Divided into antipasti, bruschetta, panini, insalate and pizza, the menu is sizeable. An entree-size linguine vongole is plentiful with chilli, garlic and parsley, dripping with just the right amount of oil that doesn’t jeopardise flavour without making you feel heavy and lethargic. A salad of smoked salmon, olives, capers and roasted peppers is fresh and flavoursome – again, without a heavy dressing. The standout dish however, was the hazelnut ganache with sesame croquant and coffee choc sponge. It is simply divine and serves as the perfect Monday-afternoon pick-me-up.

Anna Lisle

Janus on Urbanspoon

Read more about Janus here

Restaurant Review: Watts on Crown

Just like a cafe in Paris, the dream behind Watts on Crown is to create a one-stop-shop for every dining desire. The man behind this vision is chef and owner, Hamish Watt, who cut his teeth at none other than Neil Perry’s Rockpool and who has spent the last decade working in the Britain. With wife and front-of-house, Tiffany, the duo hope to transform the old Vespa site on Crown Street into a neighbourhood hangout with a wine bar, formal dining area and a top-notch bistro menu.

The elegant upstairs dining room

With two-levels, the restaurant’s space is a combination of bar, cafe and dining areas. Upstairs acts as a formal dining room with black and white walls, wooden floorboards and rectangular mirrors framed with heavy gold lacquer while downstairs offers a latte-sipping scene with an open counter bar and a mix of both stool and table seating.

Owner and Chef Hamish Watt, with wife and front-of-house, Tiffany.

The menu is similarly multi-faceted with an array of small plates available throughout the day and then separate breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. The food is classic bistro fare, with dishes such as chicken liver parfait, scotch eggs and goats cheese stuffed zucchini flowers however, of worthy mention was an entree of ceviche with a seawood and sesame salad. A wasabi oil lined the plate, creating a bitey zest to the toasted sesame. The roast barramundi had a crisp skin, while the flesh was moist and rich in flavour. A fennel puree was rich and luscious while julienned snow peas created a welcome crunch and freshness. There is also a strong emphasis on native ingredients with one of their signature dishes featuring a roast kangaroo loin with roasted beetroot, poached rhubarb and Agro Dolce sauce.

Roast kangaroo loin with roasted beetroot, poached rhubarb and Agro Dolce sauce.

Offering over 100 wines, most of which are available by the glass, drinking at Watts on Crown is not going to break the budget. If you are dining upstairs, guests can also BYO at $6 a bottle. This family-friendly local restaurant also offers offsite catering and the entire space can be booked out for functions up to 60 (upstairs).

With renovation plans in sight, Hamish and Tiffany have hopes to create an alfresco dining area out the back, complete with a small herb and vegetable garden for the kitchen.

Anna Lisle

Watts on Crown on Urbanspoon

Read more about Watts on Crown here

Restaurant Review: Neild Avenue

From the dynamic duo behind Icebergs Dining Room and North Bondi Italian, Maurice Terzini and Robert Marchetti, Neild Avenue has shaken the Sydney restaurant scene with its unique design concept by Italian-based Australian designer Carl Pickering (of Lazzarini Pickering), the Mediterranean menu (that scored a whopping 15/20 by Terry Durack) and the casual $3 million that it took to create.

Rigging systems transform the restaurant into a private dining room

Walking up Neild Avenue, Carl is right, it feels like you’re going to the theatre, not to dinner. The huge dark building gives diners little inkling as to what lies behind its shaded windows. Once inside, the first thing you notice is the height of the restaurant’s ceiling – you don’t know where to look. Despite boasting all the characteristics of an industrial warehouse – oversized wrought iron beams, dark lighting and exposed brick walls – the space is eerily intimate. A collection of leather stools and lounges create small gatherings of people while the waiters, dressed completely in white, flit around with drinks and snacks. There are also various practical elements to the restaurant, such as a huge rigging system, that dangerously looms overhead, which can drop a ready-made private function room right into the middle of the restaurant.

The flamboyant bar

A long, elegant bar splits the restaurant space in two, with the drinking area to one side and the restaurant to the other. A mini charcuterie counter sits at the entrance, where cured meats seductively hang behind glass cabinets; visual reminders that this is actually a restaurant.  The bar menu is surprisingly substantial and not outrageously priced either with coal-grilled lamb kebabs, pretzels, fish sandwiches and, for the more adventurous, raw lamb kibbe. The restaurant menu is detailed and informative with instructions for quantity sizes and also footnotes detailing unusual ingredients.

The menu is informative and detailed

Broken up into ancient soups, starters, seafood, birds and meat, a particular standout on the menu is the quinoa salad with mint and chickpeas. One also can’t go past the vine leaves stuffed with brown rice and toasted pine nuts. The coal-roasted free range organic chicken is butterflied and served with rice pilaf, chickpeas, coriander and parsley and lemon salad. The dishes are all designed for sharing, the way traditional Mediterrean should be enjoyed.

Yet after only four months of Neild Avenue’s opening, Terzini and Marchetti split paths leaving Neild Avenue advocates slightly worried. Marchetti will keep North Bondi Italian while Terzini will remain sole owner of Neild Avenue and Icebergs. An architectural and gastronomic wonder, Neild Avenue is one of Sydney’s finest assets.

Anna Lisle

Neild Avenue on Urbanspoon

Read more about Neild Avenue here

Grand reopening of the Park Hyatt

I have been to numerous hotel openings during my many years in the hospitality industry, but nothing has ever been quite as grand as this week’s relaunch party at the Park Hyatt Sydney. Hostesses welcomed guests in Giorgio Armani gowns and a fleet of Audi’s were available for private chauffeur transfers.

Catriona Rowntree, General Manager Andrew Mensforth, Taryn Fiebig (opera Australia)

With 300 VIP guests, including government ministers, fashion celebs, Park Hyatt clients and media, attended this very glamorous black tie event to celebrate the much-anticipated reopening, following a $60 million refurb. After being closed for 16 months, the revamp incorporates a stunning new bar, restaurant, lobby and spa, as well as the rooftop Presidential suite.

In between sips of Krug champagne and sampling a range of dishes prepared by Hyatt chefs that had been brought in from Singapore, Shanghai and Paris, guests were invited on a short tour of the Presidential Suite and Spa on the rooftop. This tour gave us a peek of what it would be like to stay in their new 352 square metre suite. Just a few of the features include a wrap-around balconies looking straight across to the Opera House, a sauna, Jacuzzi, 24-hour butler -  and a $9,000 toilet, this suite adds another meaning to the word luxury.

The Presidential Suite and Spa

Despite our probing questions, the very discreet concierge would not even give us a clue as to who had been staying there or who was booked in. Was it Kylie, Miranda, Elle, a President, Prime Minister, or a mining magnet? We all had a few vicarious moments – imagining staying there for the night (or rather two, as you have to book for a minimum of two nights). At a cost of $16,500 a night it seems like a bargain, especially considering the Four Seasons in New York has a Penthouse suite that costs $41,000 a night and the Royal Penthouse Suite, Hotel President Wilson, Geneva, costs around $65,000 a night. I am off to Europe this summer, I wonder if they would give me an ‘industry’ rate’?

Jo Ferguson, Hyatt PR Manager Lara Dawson, Sophie Faulkner, Catriona Rountree

The very vivacious Catriona Rowntree introduced the Mr. Rakesh Sarna, Chief Operating Officer for Hyatt International who thanked everyone for coming and spoke about the hotel’s dramatic transformation. Catriona then introduced the Sydney Children’s Choir whose exquisite voices rang out through the hotel.  Catriona asked if anyone remembered what was originally at this location before the hotel was built in 1990. (I knew this but didn’t want to admit it). Throughout the evening, I spoke to many of the guests including the Hon. Bruce Baird, Les Shirato, Judy Sarris and Hyatt PR Manager Lara Dawson.

Maureen de Groot and Massimiliano Ziano, Head Chef at Park Hyatt Shanghai

The final performance for the evening was from Opera Australia’s Soprano and lead Singer Ms Taryn Fiebig. With the Opera House as the backdrop and as Taryn sang ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ From My Fair Lady and Granada, all the pressures of publishing, internet updates etc., seemed to fade into oblivion. It was a magic moment.

I ended this wonderful evening with a cognac sitting on a sofa looking out towards the opera house and I thought to myself, now I know why the Condé Nast Traveller Readers Choice Awards, held in New York last September, voted Sydney their favourite spot in the world.  If your budget doesn’t stretch to staying here, you can experience the new restaurant The Dining Room, bar or Spa (but not the Presidential suite toilet), but my recommendation would be to have a holiday here in Sydney and save on the air fares and stay at the Park Hyatt.

Maureen de Groot

Drambuie launch at The Den

Translated as “the drink that satisfies”, Drambuie is one of life’s finest luxuries. Created more than 260 years ago, Drambuie was first created as an exclusive drink for Prince Charles Edward Stuart of Scotland. Today, it is most widely used as the key liquor in a ‘Rusty Nail’ cocktail but, as we experienced on Monday night, it is also slowly creeping its way into some of Australia’s most elegant drinks.

Matt Thurlow, Michael Kennedy, Jonathan Brown

With its stunning mirror bar, turquoise velvet drapes and silk ottomans, The Den was the perfect venue to celebrate the launch of two new exclusive products: Drambuie 15 and The Royal Legacy of 1745. Throughout the night, we sampled five cocktails, all with Drambuie as the hero. The ‘plum evelyn’ was the ideal start with cranberry juice, rose syrup, muddle plums and, of course, Drambuie.

Later in the evening, we heard from Jonathon Brown who not only gave us an educational rundown but created quite a laugh as he persuaded the audience to pronounce ““draamabuui”, in a thick Scots accent. I fear his attempts to find the inner Scotsman in the mostly-Aussie group was quite a disappointing blow. Thank you to Polka Dot PR – as always, a fantastic event.

Restaurant Review: Wilbur’s Place

Sydney’s recent casual dining trend is transforming fine-diners into bistros, degustations into simple a-la carte fare and bakers into restaurateurs. This is the case at hole-in-wall eatery, Wilbur’s Place in Potts Point.

Known as the Gods of artisanal baked goods, Paul Allam and David Mcguinness started Bourke Street Bakery in 2004. Today, queues continue to line the street at their original Surry Hills corner cafe – anxiously waiting to get their hands on of their famous strawberry and vanilla brulee tarts or a fresh-from-the-oven walnut sourdough. The popularity of Paul and David’s work has seen them open three more cafes across Sydney in Alexandria, Marrickville and Potts Point, all of which now also have a loyal following of customers.

The simple, industrial design

Wilbur’s Place is a little different. Much like it’s sister, Bourke Street Bakery Potts Point, located just around the corner on Macleay Street, the fit out is minimalistic. With wrought iron trimmings, an old school black and white menu board and exposed brick walls – the space screams of industrial chic. Old glass milk bottles serve as water caraffes and simple cedar wood communal tables try to offer as much seating in the small space. What Paul and David have clearly saved on the fit out, they make up for on the quality menu and reasonable prices.

The interior

The breakfast menu showcases some Bourke Street Bakery celebrities including their brioche bun, served with an exquisite twist of rhubarb custard. Staples such as museli and yoghurt and omelettes also get a mention. The standout is the croque Monsieur which is loaded full of melted gruyere and ham, with two slices of crunchy but moist sourdough slices. The Allpress coffee is rich and aromatic and comes out quickly – just what you need on a lazy Saturday morning.

Croque Monsieur

The lunch and dinner menu breaks into character with dishes such as salt cod fritters and lasagne of roast Japanese pumpkin. The duck leg with walnuts, Jerusalem artichchoke mash and goats cheese offers a more substantial option while a handful of lighter salads including warm porchetta and gravlax offer summer time options.

It’s cash only and corkage is $8 per bottle, Wilbur’s Place is great for a no-fuss mid week meal.

Anna Lisle

Wilbur's Place on Urbanspoon

Read more about Wilbur’s Place here

Restaurant Review: Missy K

It’s only been open for eight months but Missy K already has a loyal following of dumpling addicts. We visit on what I thought would have been a quiet Tuesday night. As we walk up Fitzroy Street, past Vietnamese favourites, Cochin and Non La, Missy K is packed. Lucky to get a table, we watch as takeaway orders whip past us faster than the two female waitresses can handle. But despite the apparent popularity of the place, the wait for food isn’t long and when it arrives, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Eclectic interior

The interior of Missy K is like a tiny jewel box, scattered with trinkets and colourful teapots. In one corner, a huge basket is filled with traditional rice-picking hats while black bamboo sticks and tea light candles line the bright red walls. The main attraction, however, is the open wooden counter where dozens of dumplings are kept warm in huge bamboo steamers. Diners watch as the heat evaporates into the air, letting the lure of the fragrant pork and chive filling ooze through the restaurant space. It makes it criminal not to order dumplings.

Peking duck pancakes

The menu is written on a chalkboard at the entrance of the restaurant. Among the appetisers, the Peking duck pancakes stand out, with lashings of moist duck proudly sitting inside the thin pancake. The hoisin sauce is not too sweet however the cucumber and shallots are a little too chunky for the delicate entree. The drunken noodles are rich with chilli and bamboo shoots, served with a wedge of lime for an acidic counterpoint, while crunchy bean sprouts add a freshness to the dish. However, as Kim, the owner and head Chef at Missy K explains, it is the dumplings that are the major draw-card here. Pork and coriander, fish, vegetarian, beef and leek, lamb and onion, chicken and shitake, prawn or pan-fried, these babies come in every shape and form.

Anna Lisle

Missy K on Urbanspoon

Read more about Missy K here

Restaurant Review: Bel Paese

Tucked inside a large office building on Berry Street, Bel Paese is one of North Sydney’s oldest restaurants. At the heart and soul of this Italian stalwart are husband-and-wife duo, Pino and Chris Russo, who have owned Bel Paese since 1990.

The first thing you notice about this restaurant is the welcoming and warm sensibility of the Bel Paese team. From Pino and Chris, the owners and also maître d’s, to John, their head waiter, who has been with them for 18 years, every single staff member is clearly passionate about the hospitality industry. The waiters aren’t uni students, they are knowledgeable about the menu and wine list, suggesting popular items or clarifying any ingredient queries.

Floor-to-ceiling windows surround the restaurant

The restaurant space is open with floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering 270-degree views of a small garden oasis, complete with a water feature and manicured lawns. The tables are all wide apart and the high ceilings swallow sound, so you can actually have a conversation while you eat. It is the perfect space to take a business client where the food impresses, yet the space is still quiet, creating a professional environment to discuss any private matters.

More than just a business lunch destination, Bel Paese has a loyal following of local clients who return meal after meal, to appreciate what, owner Pino, describes as “classic Italian food”. The menu represents the entire Italian spectrum with antipasto, whitebait fritters and prawn linguini for primi while the secondi options range from slow roasted pork belly, eye beef fillet with red wine jus to baked scampi and veal scaloppine topped with sage and prosciutto.

Angel hair pasta with scampi and cherry tomato sauce

A simple wild mushroom and eschallot tart is topped with a watercress salad, that adds a freshness to the buttery filling, with the entire dish has the perfect pastry-to-filling ratio. In simple dishes such as these, the proof in the pudding is all in the ingredients so it’s of no surprise that I discover that at 4am every week, Pino can be found at the Flemington markets wandering the stalls to find the freshest of zucchini flowers and the most flavoursome of herbs.

Beyond the ingredients, every member of the kitchen staff have Italian roots and Ridolfi, their head Chef, travels home to Italy once a year where he returns to the Bel Paese kitchen inspired and invigorated. Bel Paese is a true Italian restaurant with its warm and unwavering hospitality and relaxed but sophisticated atmosphere.

Anna Lisle

LOCATION
500 metres from North Sydney station. Only 3ks from the CBD across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in North Sydney.

Bel Paese on Urbanspoon

Read more about Bel Paese here

Taste of Sydney

After a rocky start to the weekend with the cancellation of the Thursday night opening night, this year’s Taste of Sydney proved to be bigger and better than ever.

The ultimate of pop-up restaurant festivals, Taste this year featured over 60 dishes from Sydney’s leading and hatted restaurants including Ormeggio at the Spit, Sake, L’etoile, Flying Fish and A Tavola, to name a few.

Giovanni Pilu at the Taste Kitchen

The Best Restaurants of Australia team were excited to be a part of the event, working at the Australian Gourmet Traveller Taste Kitchen where chefs such as Justin North and Giovanni Pilu taught us some of their culinary magic with a live cooking masterclass. At the end of each cooking demo, Best Restaurants of Australia awarded one lucky winner with a $200 Best Restaurant Gift Card. We look forward to hearing which restaurant our winners dined at.

Watch our beautiful video from the weekend here:

Maureen