Author Archives: Anna Lisle

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.

Buffet-Sunday-brunch---Stockroom---InterContinental-Sydney-Double-Bay

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 

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

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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New Restaurant – Bills Bondi – Sydney

Best Restaurants of Australia heads to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs to profile Bill Granger‘s new restaurant opening in Bondi.

If there was one chef synonymous with breakfast, it would be Bill Granger. The born Sydneysider opened his first restaurant in Darlinghurst (which still remains) at just 24 years of age. Today, his famous ricotta hotcakes can be found not only in Australia but across the globe, with Bills restaurants in the UK, Japan, Korea and Hawaii.

Given the paleo diet du jour, breakfast items such as the almond milk chia pots with coconut yoghurt and an egg white omelette with prawn and spiced salsa rosso have meant that Bills has been welcomed into the Bondi family. While Granger’s sweet corn fritters and toasted coconut bread will still appease instagram-addicts, it is his target marketed menu that has meant that any time of day, Bills’ 100+ seats are filled with both locals and visitors.

 

A Bills classic: sweet corn fritters

A Bill’s classic: sweet corn fritters

He may have built his career as the breakfast king, but the lunch menu is where his talent shines. Dishes such as tahini baked kale chips and a braised beef shin mole with cauliflower rice, are equally appealing to Stone Age dieters as the general public. The tofu yellow curry with brown rice is tastier than it sounds, with crunchy cauliflower fritters and a fresh coconut and apple chutney. For those not devoted to eating like our ancestors, there’s also 21st century dishes such as crisp pork belly stuffed into a sweet brioche roll with chilli jam and a bowl of fried brown rice topped with prawn, chorizo and house kim chee.

While the Surry Hills and Darlinghurst cafes remain, Woollahra’s loss was Bondi’s gain. All that’s missing is a bone broth beverage to sit beside the almond lattes.

Anna Lisle

Bills Bondi

For a list of our Top 10 New Sydney’s restaurant openings, see here.
For all restaurant openings in Sydney, click here.

Restaurant review: The Butler

What makes a restaurant successful? Does it offer something the city was missing, or suggest a fresh approach that deserves to catch on? Is it blogged about the most? Does it have the most instagram-worthy dishes? Have I gone back, or wished I could?

Sub-consciously, most of us are analysing these questions every time we dine out. In the case of The Butler, it is hard to pin down why the restaurant works, because it certainly does, but why exactly is a mystery to me.

Cured swordfish from the "seafare" menu

Cured swordfish from the “seafare” menu

Just down from Ms G’s on Victoria Street, The Butler has replaced Italian stalwart Mezzaluna, with a garden-inspired fit out, that combines the original sandstone walls of the building. Executive Chef James Privett who has worked under the likes of veteran chefs Damien Pignolet, Janni Kyritsis and Anders Ousback, is rocking no boats with a simple, small and share-plated list of crowd-pleasers. Tabasco prawns with coconut quinoa actually have a good kick of spice while crisp skin, still-pink salmon is paired with what is listed as curried yoghurt and spiced eggplant but tastes more just like yoghurt and eggplant. Steak frites work surprisingly well as a shared dish, the rib eye cut into slices and served with tapenade and parsley butter. Carafes of Pimms and peach lemonade spritz suit the ladies-who-lunch clientele with an on-trend mix of both imported and boutique beers.

Anna Lisle

The Butler

The Life of Riley (St Garage)

The joint is jumpin’: mixologists flamboyantly pour drinks to those who’ve nabbed a seat at the bar while chefs shuck away, sending out wooden Ruinart boxes of oysters to their fate. A bluesy soundtrack wafts over the vast space as patrons sip and slurp, oblivious to the muggy heat that has enveloped the rest of Sydney.

The glamorous space on the Woolloomooloo end of Riley Street is certainly accustomed to the finer things in life. Prior to its reincarnation as a restaurant, Riley Street was once multi-billionaire Frank Lowy’s garage, storing, what I can only imagine, would have been a bevy of luxury cars. This is pure speculation but, let’s be honest, the co-founder of Westfield and Australia’s fourth richest man in 2014 is unlikely to arrive at a meeting in a Ford Fiesta.

Inspired by NYC's Meatpacking District

Inspired by NYC’s Meatpacking District

It is only fitting that stepping into Riley Street Garage provokes memories of New York nights, sipping martinis in a dark and brooding restaurant in the meat packing district. The Art Deco interior combines sky-high walls of exposed concrete with polished wooden floorboards and leather stools and, despite what you may assume, food here refuses to play second fiddle. Chef Regan Porteous has an impressive resume, hailing from Maze in London, Hong Kong and Dubai before working locally at Toko in Surry Hills. His Japanese experience can be seen in dishes such as the ‘fish n’ chip’ tartare with miso dressing, a cheeky play on a classic Aussie favourite, with paper thin ‘chips’ and raw fish. The beef carpaccio is dotted with capers, brioche croutons, aioli and micro herbs with a subtle soy vinegar that allows the beef to stand on its own, without detracting from the quality of the produce. A punchy pickled vinaigrette, tossed over chunks of perfectly seared tuna, fight for attention in the mouth.

Ladies Who Lunch: $60 set menu with sparkling 12-3pm every saturday

Ladies Who Lunch: $60 set menu with sparkling 12-3pm every saturday

Oysters are the star attraction, served in an ice-filled wooden Ruinart box, there’s two varieties of the day; Pacific and Sydney rock with four variations: natural, smoked soy truffle, mignonette jelly and tempura. Shucked at the bar, the smokey soy truffle is hands-down the crowd favourite and a dish that we all agree we will return for. Still-translucent scallops are served in the half shell and paired with a glorious citrus (yuzu) koshu garlic butter, that I would happily eat in spoonfuls, without anything else.

Just a short cab ride from the CBD, Riley Street also offers a “PitStop” menu from Tuesday – Friday, offering $12 burgers and, our favourite, a mini crispy pork knuckle with pickled apple salad and fries ($20).

Anna Lisle

Riley Street Garage