Author Archives: Anna Lisle

What makes a good pub?

What makes a good pub? In a city where hospitality groups are pumping millions of dollars into revamping pubs, it’s a question worth asking. To me, a great drinking establishment has less to do with the wallpaper and more to do with the people who stand behind the bar and sit on the stools. It’s the charismatic bartenders who remember to ask about your footy grand final and the familiar faces of the regulars who perch at the front bar. A good pub is all about whether there’s spirit.

The private dining room seats 24 guests

The private dining room seats 24 guests

When the Kurrajong Hotel became The Swanson, after a three month refurbishment by the Balmain Pub Group (who also own Riverview Hotel in Birchgrove and the Balmain Hotel in Balmain), it become more than a pub. Spanning over two levels, there’s a public bar on the street level, and an 80-seater restaurant upstairs. Truffle gnocchi, kingfish carpaccio, crispy duck with quinoa and lentils… the menu upstairs is serious and head chef Brad Sloane (former AHA chef of the year), delivers seriously good food on the plate.

Kingfish carpaccio with zucchini flower, grapefruit and chilli

Kingfish carpaccio with zucchini flower, grapefruit and chilli

There’s a pie, but it’s no ordinary pie- it’s a Wagyu beef pie, served with a garlic mash and broccolini. A spatchcock dish is served butterflied and chargrilled, with sautéed lentils, speck and brussel sprouts. For bargain hunters, there’s “2-for-1 pizzas” on Thursdays and ‘$10 Wagyu burgers” every weekday lunch. From fancy fine dining to hearty pub grub and boutique beers to inventive cocktails, there’s something that will please everyone at The Swanson.

Anna Lisle

The Swanson

Happy Days at The Balmoral Boathouse

If a restaurant could smile, then The Balmoral Boathouse would constantly be sporting an ear-to-ear grin. Even on a dreary winter day, the cafe is beaming. It’s hard to pin-point the exact source of this effervescent energy – perhaps it’s the married couple beside us, sharing a glass of pinot or maybe it’s the mother and teenage daughter sitting opposite, simply enjoying each other’s company as they nibble on hot chips as they gossip away.

Start with a smoothie or milkshake

Start with a smoothie or milkshake

The huge vases of freshly cut tulips and hydrangeas and bowls of fresh fruit certainly don’t dampen spirits and the staff, who busily jog around with plates of food and drinks, seem to all be contagiously happy.

Seafood seems like an obvious choice given the location

Seafood seems like an obvious choice given the location

Don’t come here, expecting to get-in and get-out. It would defeat the purpose of a venue like The Balmoral Boathouse. For virgin visitors, I’d order a fresh juice, while you appreciate the stunning views of Middle Harbour, and wait until a table comes available (which you will inevitably have to do). Don’t be precious about sharing a table too, if you manage to score a seat at one of the wooden picnic tables, count yourself lucky. Seafood seems like an obvious choice given the location. The beer battered fish and chips, served with fresh homemade tartare, is an enjoyable dish however the grilled swordfish with sautéed mushrooms, buckwheat and gremolata is more of a treat, despite also being the more calorie-friendly option. As you waltz out the door, feeling nourished and happy, pick up a bunch of fresh flowers to spread the Boathouse love with those who couldn’t join you.

Anna Lisle

Balmoral Boathouse

Pushing all the right buttons

What’s in a name? In a venue as historic as this, it’s important to take a step back and appreciate where it has come from. In the early 1800’s, The Rocks Push were a larrikin gang who terrorised visitors and sailors who frequented the area. Located on George Street at the gateway to the historic Rocks area, nowadays The Push combines the famed history of the area with a modern edge. The walls showcase the heritage of the location with intricate sketchings of boats and old photographs. Exposed brick walls, brass trimmings and polished floorboards gives a rustic, “speakeasy” warmth.

Rueben and cheese platter

Rueben and cheese platter

Get into the essence of the bar and start with “The Larrikin” cocktail, muddled with Jack Daniels, Tuaca, lime, mint and ginger ale. Beyond creative cocktails, there’s also craft beers and a premium wine list. The Push’s menu, created by Nic Whalley and head chef Dean Barlow, is modern Australian with an English and American influence. Think English pork pies with mustard and pickled onion; and scotch eggs with sauce gribiche.

Rather elegant looking nachos

Rather elegant looking nachos

Share plates are aplenty, perfect for grazing with friends over a few drinks, such as Sichuan and kaffir lime crumbed calamari strips with soy dipping sauce, Cajun spiced school prawns with preserved lemon mayonnaise; and a Reuben plate of house poached corned beef, cabbage slaw, Swiss cheese, gherkins, rye and mustard.

Anna Lisle

The Push

Avo-bravo

Forget about your ho-hum prawn cocktail starter, Chef Mark Jensen from Red Lantern on Riley hosted a five-course tasting menu that challenged guests to reconsider the use of the humble avocado.

After touring Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne, the avocado masterclass program touched down in Sydney, with over 40 of Sydney’s best chefs eager to expand their repertoire.

Chicken and avocado congee

Chicken and avocado congee

Beginning with a sensory exercise, guests soaked in the ambiance of Red Lantern on Riley while sampling four small pieces of avocado; natural, salted, sugared and a firm avo that had been pan fried with rocket, chilli and garlic. A simple exercise that demonstrated the versatility of Australia’s much loved avocado. Throughout the next four courses, Mark incorporated both firm and ripe avocados, to create not only taste but texture in his dishes. When you read a menu, you generally have a preconceived idea of what you will see and taste when the dish arrives.

Wild boar, shrimp paste, lemongrass and chilli with a pickled avacdo and radish salad

Wild boar, shrimp paste, lemongrass and chilli with a pickled avacdo and radish salad

Avocado and chicken congee? Would it just be an avocado soup with chicken in it? Would it be warm? The questions around the table were endless, and the general vibe was trepidation more than anticipation. With Mark Jensen in the kitchen, our concerns were wasted and our bowls scraped clean by the end of the masterclass. A diced, firm avocado offered the same texture as the rice, with shreds of chicken and gutsy Asian herbs. An avocado banh bao (steamed bun) with lobster and Vietnamese salad and braised wild boar with pickled avocado, continued the high standard. Finished off with an avocado and coconut shake, mung bean cake, avocado ice cream and a condensed milk crumb.

Anna Lisle

Red Lantern on Riley

Go Simon Goh

Double Bay first popped up on my restaurant radar when seafood guru Steve Hodges moved Fish Face from Darlinghurst to New South Head Road last year. Since then, it just seems to have gotten better and better. The suburb’s renewal can be largely attributed to the $110 million joint ­venture between Woolworths and ­Woollahra Council, known as the Kiaora Lands redevelopment, which includes the opening of Dan Murphy’s, About Life and Woolworths.

Cloudy Bay clams at Fish Face

Cloudy Bay clams at Fish Face

I know, I know, an opening of a Woolworths is hardly newsworthy but this isn’t just any supermarket. It was described in Business Review Weekly as “Woolies for the Prada set” and I think this is quite an apt description. Let me just paint you a picture; this Woolies has a walk-in cheese room, ­gourmet pizza bar, a fish monger stall, sushi bar and aisles packed to the brim with fresh produce. If you’re a little odd like me and love grocery shopping, give yourself a good hour to peruse the store. It’s still in construction but on completion, there’ll even be an in-store barista where you can pick up a takeaway coffee to get your caffeine fix while deciding between quinoa or kale for dinner.

"Har Gau" - steamed prawn dumplings at Chinta Kechil

“Har Gau” – steamed prawn dumplings at Chinta Kechil

And, to top it off, restaurateur Simon Goh (of the Chinta Ria group), has opened Chinta Kechil right next door to Fish Face. Kechil is loosely translated as “small” in Malaysian and with just 16 seats available; it certainly lives up to its name. Goh has garnered a reputation for delivering authentic Malaysian dishes from his various restaurants across Sydney and Chinta Kechil is no exception. Laksa here, however, is a speciality. The flavours are more robust than what is commonly served at Malaysian restaurants, with less coconut milk and more spice. To get the full “chinta” experience, team laksa with other old favourites such as char kway teow, spicy mee goreng and sambal prawns. A man who has been quoted saying “It’s nice to be important but it’s important to be nice” is the type of person who does well in the restaurant industry. Go Simon Goh.

Anna Lisle

Chinta Kechil
Fish Face

My Italian Riviera fantasy

The sun dances on the surface of the water, twinkling and sparkling with every ripple and gentle wave. It’s the perfect day as I stand on the jetty at Rose Bay. I’ve teamed my favourite mint-green silk dress with cat-eye sunglasses and a bolero jacket. I could be on the set of The Talented Mr Ripley, like Marge, standing portside on the Italian Riviera. I board the tiny white sea-plane and fifteen minutes later, I’m elegantly stepping onto the wharf at Whale Beach.

NT barramundi with soft-shell crab, pickled bamboo shoots, chilli, kaffir lime and coriander

NT barramundi with crispy school prawns, padron peppers, black pepper and preserved lemon

Okay, okay – It’s just a fantasy. In reality, I arrive at Jonah’s in my early model Toyota Corolla after a tedious 70 minute drive on the twisting and turning road that leads to the peninsula of the Northern Beaches. Walking in the door of Jonah’s, the only Relais & Châteaux hotel in Sydney, I’m treated as though I did arrive by seaplane. All the frill and grandeur that one associates with traditional fine dining can be experienced here at Jonah’s. A far cry from the roadhouse that originally existed in 1929, the dining room is surprisingly modern, which makes sense, given the postcard perfect view that offers a 180 degree view of the ocean.

Confit Tasmanian Huon salmon with pickled ginger, orange, puffed wild rice, wasabi, and nori powder

Confit Tasmanian Huon salmon with pickled ginger, orange, puffed wild rice, wasabi, and nori powder

The kitchen at Jonah’s is led by Chef Peter Ridland who has a reputation that rivals the hotel itself, with stints at Marc Philpott at Gunners Barracks, Starwood Hotels, various two and three Michelin star restaurants in Europe and also alongside Luke Mangan at Bistro Lulu. Accordingly the menu delivers both in ideology and execution. An entrée of confit Berkshire pork belly with chorizo and black garlic is as indulgent as the dish sounds, served with a potato crisp providing texture. Plump North Atlantic scallops are teamed with a generous quenelle of foie gras mousse and a bourbon foam which cuts through the richness of the dish. The dish that makes a scene however, is the bone marrow crusted Rangers Valley Wagyu rump cap. Coupled with a roasted short rib, a sweet potato dauphine (like a potato puff) and sautéed treviso, the elements work in perfect harmony.

Anna Lisle

Jonahs 

All hail Orazio

 There are no foams or jellies, amuse bouches or fancy schmancy ingredients. The tables aren’t set. Instead, guests have to fend for themselves, dipping into a cutlery bag given to each table. The toilet flush doubles as the sink tap, the music is loud and the tables are close together. Despite what it may seem, these are all good things. Well, everything except the toilet flush. Owned by fashion icon and restaurateur Maurice Terzini, together with Chef Orazio D’Elia, formerly of Popolo and Icebergs and Rachel Duffy, this is Da Orazio, one of my new favourite restaurants in Sydney.

Simple and rustic, just like the food.

Simple and rustic, just like the food.

A whole Berkshire pig takes prime position on the bench of the open kitchen, a great marketing ploy to convince hungry diners what to order. A bevy of young chefs, including Orazio D’Elia, flamboyantly spin dough in the air (which has naturally risen for 48 hours) for each individual pizza order before being delivered to the 2.7 tonne pizza oven, imported from Napoli.

pizza

proscuitto, cherry tomatoes, rocket and parmesan

Char grilled octopus with squid ink dressing is quietly creative, the black sauce swirled around the plate that is as visually impressive as it is tasty. A favourite pizza is hard to pick but they seem to have covered every pizza-personality in the menu from classics such as reginella (mozzarella, tomato and basil) and proscuitto (cherry tomato, rocket, parmesan and prosciutto) to inspired combinations such as friarielli with smoked mozzarella, sausage, rabe and chilli. Washed down with a house red from the all-Italian wine list or perhaps a chilled Menabrea, I doubt Da Orazio will have too many unhappy customers.

Anna Lisle

Da Orazio Pizza and Porchetta 

Set (teishoku) menu for Sydney

Sydneysiders like firsts. Especially when it comes to restaurants. Yayoi is the first teishoku restaurant from the Japanese restaurant chain, Plenus Co Ltd, to open on Australian soil. Take that Melbourne. Plenus Co Ltd is one of Japan’s largest food service operators, with over 200 restaurants in Japan, Singapore and Thailand. It’s essentially a restaurant chain but rather than churning out cheeseburgers, Yayoi specialises in Japanese home-cooked set meals, a style of dining known as ‘teishoku’.

For me, getting the right balance of protein-to-carb-to-vegetable is a struggle, especially as dinner at home is generally decided by what’s in the fridge. Another problem area: portion sizes. Yayoi takes care of both of these issues with a bento box of miso, pickles, grilled meats or fish and vegetables. This nutritionally sound philosophy leaves my partner and I feeling rather virtuous about the whole experience, an emotion I can’t say I’m too familiar with when dining out. Before I get too carried away, I should probably point out that the Ocean Kujukuri Pale Ale is delicious. Everything in moderation, right?

teishoku

What Yayoi lacks in bold personality, it makes up for in typically attentive Japanese service. Despite guests ordering on iPads, a handful of staff flitter around the restaurant, ready to tend to the smallest request. The rice is also a highlight (don’t let this sound like I’m clutching at the proverbial straw), it steams in a hotpot right on the table in front of you. ‘Kinme’, this variety of polished rice retains the nutrition found in brown rice while still offering the sweet and rich taste found in white rice. On that note, order me another Pale Ale while I wait for my kinme to be ready.

Anna Lisle

Yayoi Sydney 

Q Dining finds its niche

Back and forth we traipse around the Circular Quay boardwalk. Where is this place? Finding a bench, I consult Google Maps and glance around. Normally when I’m lost and can’t find a restaurant, I’m tottering down some dark alleyway in the middle of nowhere, with no battery left on my phone (admittedly, this seems to be an all too regular occurrence for me). Here, I’m treated to one of the most stunning vistas of the city skyline and Harbour Bridge lit up in all its twinkling glory. As I begin reprimanding my better half, “How beautiful is this? We should really do this more often”, I look up and around. The restaurant is right there, above us.

Q Dining encourages a relaxed dining experience

The interior at Q Dining encourages a relaxed dining experience

We slip through the discreet harbour side entrance and up the stairs to an intimate little space that is known as Q Dining. I’m rarely distracted when reading a menu but that pinch-yourself view keeps diverting my attention. Finally focused, I’m quietly surprised by the dishes; scallops with black pudding, pork cheek with Moreton Bay bug. Edgy hotel dining? Sydney by night suddenly falls into insignificance and the plate takes centre stage. The 200 gram kobe bavette (7 +) at first looks blue, perhaps too blue but the fat has been rendered enough to ensure the marbled meat disintegrates in the mouth. Quaint bundles of prosciutto wrapped beans make vegetable eating a salty delight while a side of still-crunchy garlic mushrooms provide a textural contrast. The pan-fried barramundi is served with a cream sauce, poured over the once-crisp skin with macadamia-crusted clams that offer a much-needed crunch to the dish.
The location of Q Dining makes it an ideal restaurant to take interstate and overseas visitors, but with Chef Justin North as culinary ambassador and Executive Chef Daniel Simpson behind the pots and pans, it is the food that will ensure the locals keep coming back.
Anna Lisle

Q Dining at Pullman Quay Grand

Persian cooking finds a home in Sydney

The wealth of Sydney’s restaurant scene doesn’t lie just in big-name, fine-dining places. There may be no other city in the country that can compare when it comes to the number and variety of treasures that offer really delicious food at often amazing prices. Persian Room is one of these gems.

All meat is halal and every dish is gluten free

All meat is halal and every dish is gluten free

After a recent move, Persian Room now occupies a prime position on Jones Bay Wharf, just around from the Channel 7 and Channel 10 studios. While media folk and industry names make up a large proportion of the daytime clientele, proud owner Maryam Azady ensures loyal customers fill the space when the sun goes down.

The Persian Room is known for its home-style food, with the menu made up of mostly slow cooked meats, soups and stews. Uniquely, all the meat used is halal and every dish is gluten free. Persian tastebuds are accustomed to sweet and sour flavours in savoury dishes, which explains the abundant use dried figs, sultanas, berries and pomegranate with meat dishes. Kashkehademjan, a signature dish, involves braising eggplant for four hours until the vegetable transforms into a smooth puree, before being topped with crumbled walnuts. Another house speciality is kufteh; this time, lamb mince, saffron rice and split peas create a textured meatball that’s stuffed with a Persian plum and stewed for eight hours.

Homemade icecream with Pashmak (Persian candy floss)

Homemade icecream with Pashmak (Persian candy floss)

The slowly-simmered lamb shank arrives just moments from complete collapse, peeling easily apart in tender strata of fat and flesh. The Persian spices penetrate the lamb all the way down to what must be the cellular level. Then there’s fessenjun, slow cooked chicken drumsticks with pomegranate and walnuts, which is unusually sweet but incredibly addictive. Bowls of blushing rice with sour cherries, a floral teapot and cup steaming with pomegranate tea, jugs of rose-scented water and plates of simmered meats create the perfect instagram snap – but beyond superficiality, the whole dining experience is an abundance of colour, texture and flavour.

Anna Lisle

Persian Room