Author Archives: Anna Lisle

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

Sydney says yes to Sake Double Bay

Sean Presland’s name may be behind this venture, but the star chef is not in the kitchen. Instead, he has handed the reins to talented import Min Kim, who turns out some of the most accomplished Japanese food in the city.

In Japan, you don’t go to a restaurant for ‘Japanese’, you go to a specific restaurant that serves only one type of dish; ramen, sushi, tempura, izakaya, robata, yakitori, soba, tonkatsu, shabu-shabu or teppanyaki. Rarely are any of these two dishes served in the one place, and if they are served together, I probably wouldn’t eat there. I’m on the conservative end of the foodie spectrum; almost always preferring a classic dish, as opposed to a modern interpretation and the same applies to staying true to a cuisine. In Australia, we don’t follow Japanese tradition; we start with sashimi, a cold soba salad, perhaps a few mouthfuls of sushi before venturing into crunchy morsels of tempura, followed by robata and yakitori skewers. And, I’m so happy we do and dinner at Sake reminds us why we are so lucky that this is the case.

The robata grill steals the show; baby beetroot, feta yoghurt and tomato relish

The robata grill steals the show; baby beetroot, feta yoghurt and tomato relish

Chef Min Kim delivers on all fronts; from delicate slices of sashimi from the sushi counter and simple tempura vegetables to textural salads and perfectly balanced mains, but, it is the robata grill that steals the show. Heated to 700°C, the cooking process is to steam, smoke and grill, all at once. The end result is nothing short of brilliance. Stalks of Peruvian white asparagus are charred and smoky, with just the right amount of crunch, sprinkled with flakes of bonito. The braised shortrib falls off the skewer and, I’m exaggerating (but only slightly), the meat dissolves on the tongue. Lamb chops are served with a wasabi chimichurri while corn is charred and lathered in a spiced shiso butter.

Give the chef at the sushi counter your budget and let the team design you a menu

Give the chef at the sushi counter your budget and let the team design you a menu

At any restaurant, on any day, there are a handful of dishes that I will always order. Glacier 51 Toothfish is one of them. Years of illegal fishing has meant that this gloriously oily and flavoursome fish, also known as Patagonian Toothfish, has been off the menu. Only in the past few years, after the endangered species was managed in a sustainable way, has this prized fish popped back up in kitchens, with Sake Double Bay being one of them. Min treats the toothfish with the respect that a fish, that can live up to 50 years and weigh in at over 100 kilograms, deserves.

Anna Lisle

Sake Double Bay 

Flat white by day, espresso martini by night

The charming Republic 2 Courtyard is home to a handful of Sydney’s hospitality heavyweights; take Lucio’s for authentic pizza margherita, Phamish for sticky duck and shallot pancakes or Jazz City Milk Bar to slurp on a peanut butter milkshake. Now, there’s Civilian, a slick space offering a smooth flat white by day and an espresso martini by night.

Once home to Christine Manfield’s acclaimed Universal restaurant (which closed in 2013), Civilian is the prodigy of Adelaidians Steve Pirone and Steve Waldeck. While most of the restaurant has a South Australian stamp  with the restaurant design completed by Studio Gram, the driving force in the kitchen is chef Andy Ball, formerly of Bel Mondo and, impressively, former UK Chef of the Year.

Brioche, poached plum, pistachio, ricotta and rosewater syrup

Brioche, poached plum, pistachio, ricotta and rosewater syrup

Brunch is about as fancy as a bacon and egg roll can get. There’s no boring (but delicious) bacon, but instead tonkatsu (a Japanese breaded pork cutlet), coupled with our favourite kewpie mayo. The yoghurt in our fruit salad is of the goats milk variety and instead of the standard avo’ smash, crushed edamame beans make a textural and nutty alternative.

 

Getting down to business though, the heart of this place can be seen in the lunch and dinner menu where a classic French sauce vierge is coupled with tiger prawns deglazed with vermouth; spicy miso pork belly and NZ snapper sits atop house made linguine with a ham hock stock. Alternatively , the ‘Feed Me’ menu, which includes six courses as selected by the chef sounds like the perfect Civilian initiation.

Anna Lisle

Civilian

Fassnidge’s Four in Hand Dining Room

Best Restaurants Senior Editor Anna Lisle visits hatted Paddington restaurant, the Four in Hand Dining Room, owned by Sydney-based Chef Colin Fassnidge.

At 9pm on a Saturday night, the Four in Hand is heaving. Clusters of well-heeled locals smoke Malboro Lights on the footpath while their mates nurse bottles of ice cold schooners of a local froth, eyes glued to the TV as they watch the Aussies sledge the poms into submission. This isn’t a particularly busy Saturday night, in fact, on any given weekend, the Four in Hand is a home away from home for many Paddington locals, myself included. It’s one of the few pubs that hasn’t been revamped; ask a Four in Hand regular what it looks like, and all you’ll get out of them is a story about the last time they were there.

The Four in Hand Dining Room received One Chef Hat in the 2015 SMH Good Food Guide

The Four in Hand Dining Room received One Chef Hat in the 2015 SMH Good Food Guide

This is the entrance to the hatted Four in Hand dining room, where Head Chef and owner Colin Fassnidge rules the roost. He’s arguably more commonly recognised for his hardline persona on My Kitchen Rules however, in the food world, he’s Australia’s answer to Fergus Henderson. The menu is dotted with pigs tails, marrow and pigs trotters but Fassnidge has finetuned each dish to ensure that each dish isn’t just appealing to the offal-friendly. In fact, the pork- and potato-heavy menu is just as appealing and exciting to lenient pescetarians.

Leave room for dessert, Fassnidge's menu is one of the best in Sydney

Leave room for dessert, Fassnidge’s menu is one of the best in Sydney

Pickled strawberries are paired with a duo of cured and raw tuna however, it’s dishes such as his DIY bone marrow that make your meal a memorable one. An Irish ‘san choy bao’, diners are encouraged to scoop spoonfuls of crab, avocado and flecks of macadamia out of a roasted bone marrow and onto raw sorrel leaves. There’s quite a knack to it, trying to get as much marrow juice into each mouthful without dripping it on the tablecloth. Don’t let this put you off because the more marrow, the better. Corned beef may have gained popularity during the World Wars, when fresh meat was rationed, but there’s nothing that reminds one of canned bully beef in this dish. Laced in bresaola, hunks of slightly salted beef fall apart with a fork, topped with grated fresh buffalo curd. It’s hard to avoid any of Colin’s pig dishes but on this occasion, we push the boundaries with a 12 hour braised lamb shoulder, and Hiramasa kingfish in a clam and tomato stock. Our decision pays off, we will venture into other four-legged and fin varieties on future visits because there are at least four mains we didn’t try and if they’re anything like we’ve had before, we will leave as very happy customers.

Anna Lisle

Four in Hand Dining Room 

Happy to Pei

Guillaume has restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, while Shaun Presland’s Sake has outposts in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Matt Moran has Aria in both Sydney and Brisbane and, of course, Mark Best has Pei Modern in Melbourne, Marque in Surry Hills and now Pei Modern in the CBD. Running multiple restaurants interstate has got to be tough. How do you ensure your high-standards are upheld when you’re sitting in a Business Class lounge waiting for your next flight? Well, I’m told that, yes, it is possible, thanks to two words. Loyal staff.

Milly Hill lamb shoulder

Milly Hill lamb shoulder

The head Chef at Pei Modern Melbourne, Matt Germanchis, has jumped across the border to take the lead at Best’s Four Season outpost. The 180-seater boasts an entirely open kitchen, giving sticky beaks (like myself) an opportunity to gawk at the chefs hard at work while well-oiled waiters float around the space with an ease and professionalism that only comes from years of experience. On reading the menu, rustic dishes such as the Milly Hill lamb shoulder and O’Connor T-bone steak seem a far-cry from the foams and mousses of Marque but don’t be deceived by its apparent simplicity, these are technique-driven dishes. Fresh burrata is served with an egg yolk jam and fried artichoke while the ‘ham of the sea’ is a smoky mackerel dish with slivers of fresh pear. Leading ‘the sweet spot’ is a duck egg sauternes custard with Italian crostoli and a sorrel sorbet with honeycomb, created by former MasterChef contestant Kylie Millar.

Pei Modern Sydney is open for lunch, Monday to Friday including the “Eat.Pei.Quick” express offer, and dinner Monday to Saturday.

Anna Lisle

Pei Modern

The Governor’s Table

The new restaurant at The Museum of Sydney is a collaboration of passionate hospitality and design heavyweights. There are no egos fighting for attention, merely a partnership of like-minded individuals who have pulled together to create a special venue and a welcome addition to the CBD dining and drinking scene.

The first restaurant for Fresh Catering, Managing Director Peter McCloskey is excited to venture into unknown territory. With a range of venues including Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney Theatre Company and Vaucluse House Tearooms to name a few, you’d think a restaurant like The Governor’s Table would be a nonchalant affair for Fresh. However, McCloskey’s warm demeanour and diligent attention to detail can be seen everywhere – from the staff’s genuine interest in the success of the new restaurant, to the design and menu.

Asparagus with panko crumbed soft boiled egg. Photo credit: Chris Court

Asparagus with panko crumbed soft boiled egg. Photo credit: Chris Court

The all- Australian wine list is the work of sommelier Samantha Payne, who includes 4Fourteen, China Doll and China Diner as part of her portfolio. Samantha focuses on local, young producers, with a Nick O’Leary 2013 Riesling from Canberra and Athletes of Wine 2004 Pinot Noir from Macedon Ranges. The space, which includes both indoor and outdoor seating, has been created by inochi DesignLife Director Kristie Paul, who drew inspiration from the history and architecture of the site. Like the entire team at The Governor’s Table, Kristie’s passion is infectious, as she explains the process of creating this warm and hospitable space.

Cep scented pork, butternut squash, caramelised endive, lavendar jus. Photo credit: Chris Court

Photo credit: Chris Court

Working closely with the Museum of Sydney, The Governor’s Table has a resident gastronomer, Jacqui Newling. As a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Masters in gastronomy, Jacqui looks at Australia’s food heritage, from the type of food that was served in historic houses, from the horrible hominy (cooked maize) served to the convicts at Hyde Park Barracks to the feasts found on the finer tables of Sydney’s elite. Thankfully, there’s no hominy on the menu, only an expansive menu of rustic Modern Australian dishes, created by ex- Bridge Room chef Andrew Barkham. Sitting at a 16 seat French oak banquet table, we feast on share plates of grilled asparagus, parmesan custard, nettle and shiso dressing and roast mulloway with a sweet onion puree, crunchy morsels of purple cauliflower and a hazelnut brown butter. Confit salmon, soy bean and blood orange is not only instagram-worthy but a delicious combination of texture and flavour while a lemon myrtle burnt custard with granita and fresh berries is an impressive showcase of native Australian ingredients.

Anna Lisle

The Governor’s Table

Leading the pack

There was so much hype around The Wolf of Wall Street that by the time I actually saw the film, I was really underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I can see why Leonardo was nominated for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” but, for me, it just wasn’t as entertaining as all the reviews purported. Nomad was my Wolf of Wall Street. It was nominated for Best New Restaurant in the 2015 SMH awards and almost everyone I respect in the hospitality industry has given glowing reports.

The star dishes come via the wood fire oven

Nomad is co-owned and operated by Al Yazbek and Rebecca Littlemore

Dinner at Nomad was a family affair; Mum, Dad, my husband and I landed a last-minute mid-week booking. Dad, being a sheep farmer, isn’t really into big plates and small dishes. He prefers value-for-money dining, as do I. He also loves when you read a menu and know exactly where your dishes are coming from. And, in the case of Nomad, most of the ingredients come from the 200 square metre former furniture showroom in which Nomad now resides.

Chef Nathan Sasi is quite the nomad himself, having trained at Rockpool and, most recently, worked at London’s Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, and he doesn’t just cook. Sasi is part of a new superbreed of chefs who also cure, smoke, churn, bake, ferment and forage. The fruit of this restaurant’s loins sits on the kitchen shelves, jars of pickles and chutneys are just as much aesthetic as practical, with the housemade produce featuring in many dishes.

The star dishes come via the wood fire oven

The menu changes regularly, in tune with the seasons

The open grill and wood fire oven deliver the goods with wood-roasted bone marrow, Moreton bay bugs with chilli smoked pork jowl and fillets of sweet sand whiting, served with a nutty yet fresh tahini dressing. A generous serve of barbecued lamb rump, still pink in the middle, is melodiously served with a Moroccan eggplant salad and dollops of runny sheeps yoghurt. Interestingly, the wine list is entirely made up of Australian drops, which may have been a concern a decade ago but is appropriate given the focus of today’s restaurants on sourcing local-produce.

Walking out of Nomad, I felt nothing but deep regret. I wish I had reserved my pessimism and visited sooner, especially with the untimely news that Chef Nathan Sasi has resigned.

Anna Lisle

Nomad

Room for one more?

For every souvenir shop selling kangaroo magnets at Circular Quay, there’s a host of chefs delivering some of Australia’s best produce at our finest restaurants. From Matt Moran’s ARIA and Ross Lusted’s The Bridge Room to Peter Gilmore’s Quay and newcomer The Spice Room, this tourist mecca is an equally attractive foodie destination.

For some reason Indian restaurants have a certain sameness in Sydney, few beyond The Spice Room have broken out of the mould. If you’ve seen The Lunchbox, or, better yet, spent time in India, you’ll recognise a dabbawallah’s bike, laden with metal tiffin boxes welcoming diners into the Spice Room. Instantly, you think street food. Walk up the stairs, each of which are labelled with key Indian spices such as turmeric, cardarmon, fenugreek, bay leaves and panch phora; and an elegant, almost lavish restaurant space is revealed. A mix of imported wooden furniture, which I’m told are over 150 years old, gold tableware, gilt framed Maharaja paintings and the alluring smell of spices; hints of refined Indian dishes. As the décor suggests; there’s a mix of casual street food like onion bhaji, samosa chaat and pani puri shots, tandoor delights and also upmarket Indian dishes. Often when restaurants try to achieve too much, a menu becomes confused but The Spice Room manages to do it all; and do it all very well.

The restaurant's furnishings have been imported from India

The restaurant’s furnishings have been imported from India

As a keen cook, I like getting involved at a restaurant. As a starter, a DIY dish, dahi batata sev puri involves filled crispy hollow semolina puffs with a rather unglamorous looking cubed potato mix before being filled with a shot-glass of tangy tamarind water and popped whole in the mouth. The best dishes at The Spice Room come via the tandoor oven. Heated to between 200 and 300°C, this oven cooks everything from naan to lamb kebab. For indecisive diners, the mixed grill is a great way to taste it all; tandoori king prawns, chicken tikka and tandoori lamb cutlets. A dish of ling fillets, marinated in yoghurt and pickling spices before being grilled to create a smoky crust, is again a great showcase of Indian flavours. From the north of India to the south, the spiced seafood treasure takes you all the way to the beaches of Kerala with its richly spiced garam masala coconut sauce, coating a generous serve of prawn, scallop and calamari.

Fried-Flavoured-rice-with-Chicken-(3)

Peshawari style spiced chicken fried rice

A cedar dowry chest at the bar delivers Indian bent cocktails such as a tamarind margarita, Goan martini and, my favourite, the anar pom-pomtini; a vodka based martini with fresh pomegranate juice. An Indian meal wouldn’t be complete without a lassi (traditional Indian yoghurt drink) and The Spice Room’s mango and cardamom lassi is a revelation, the subtle spice cutting through the sweetness of the fruit.

Anna Lisle
The Spice Room

S’il vous plaît Salon De The

My Dad has always told me that nothing in life is for free. While I couldn’t agree with him more, there’s no denying how excited I become when I receive a freebie. I’m not talking about winning business class tickets to Europe or anything like that, (not that that would happen; I’m one of those people who enters everything but wins nothing) but I’m referring to the complimentary bowl of popcorn served with a drink (hello Shady Pines Saloon), 2-for-1 dinners (The Clock, Surry Hills) and Tuesday $1 hot dogs (yep, The Soda Factory). In an expensive city, these are the small wins that put a smile on my dial.

The restaurant is on level one while the bar is upstairs

The restaurant is on level one while the bar is upstairs

After walking up a dark stairway, we arrive at the sleek and slightly sterile Salon de The. Pronounced “teh” not “the”, the minimalistic space juts out over Victoria Street, featuring very little other than a wall of vodka bottles and a long mirror. Imagine my surprise when I receive not only complimentary tea but also complimentary nuts, as soon as I sit down. It’s not the ordinary stuff either; the tea is organic green with native Australian lemon myrtle and fennel seeds while the pepita, cashew and almond mix are roasted with a spiced salt. Experience has taught me that perks like this are only reserved for dive bars and run of mill restaurants, not a restaurant owned by hospitality heavyweight Maurice Terzini and the Ciroc Collective.

Despite the bar specialising in martinis, we order a bottle of Hoddles Creek pinot gris (Yarra Valley), which surprising goes down well with a cup a tea. Rice paper rolls are stuffed with a generous slab of Hiramasa kingfish with flecks of tart ruby grapefruit nestled amongst al dente rice noodles. Dunked into a traditionally-hot nuoc cham, this is authentic Vietnamese food at its finest. The yellow curry of soft shell mud crab is rich and full of body, served with cubes of pumpkin in lieu of potato and topped with fried lotus root.

The menu features French inspired Vietnamese fare

The menu features French inspired Vietnamese fare

Then there’s the baby kale, nashi pear and goji berry salad, dressed with a pumpkin seed ponzu, followed by a slaw of wood grilled chicken and lemongrass. The menu largely stems from Vietnamese roots with flashes of Japanese genius and traditional Thai flavours.

The tea and nuts are a great start but the winner at Salon de The is the work of French chef Julien Perraudin who has created a menu that is laced in traditional South East Asian flavours, served with a modern day finesse.

Anna Lisle

Salon De The