Category Archives: Reviews

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

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

Cho Cho San is reinventing Japanese

Cho Cho San is the second restaurant to come out of the dynamic pairing of Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie. After opening the successful Greek restaurant Apollo together, it was somewhat of a surprise that their next venture was Japanese. But they did it as a challenge, and it seriously paid off – their lack of formal training in Japanese cuisine has led to one of the most exciting menus of the year.

Simple and elegant interiors at Cho Cho San

Simple and elegant interiors at Cho Cho San

The restaurant takes its inspiration from Japan’s drinking culture and izakayas – bars with food. The minimal, all-cream room is half filled by a long dining bar and the food is designed to share. The wines by the glass aren’t many but do something different and try one of the many sakes.

The incredible duck rolls

The incredible duck rolls

The food is Japanese in tone but borrows Korean, Chinese and even European ingredients. The two buns are an excellent place to start – one is a pillow-soft steamed bun filled with duck marinated in jasmine tea with cucumber. The flavour of the duck is slightly sweet but also has the depth of the earthy tea, and is perfectly tender. The lightly toasted bread roll filled with spanner crab and topped with a sprinkling of matchstick chips is equally good.

From the raw section, the scallops are accompanied by a seaweed puree, corn and house-smoked bonito and are slip-through-your-chopsticks delicate.  Next, try the hibachi grilled prawns, fat and juicy with kombu butter or if you dare, the whole mud crab with Japanese curry.  The meat section is simple and done well – chicken yakitori with pickled lime, or grilled pork fillets with mustard greens.

 

Matcha soft serve

Matcha soft serve

Whatever you do – save room for dessert. The ginger custard is the real show stopper; not overly sweet, intensely creamy and delicate in that Japanese way that few other cuisines can replicate. If you like matcha, the soft serve also hits the spot in a big way.

This is an exciting new restaurant from two of Sydney’s hottest young chefs who are pushing the envelope in the best way possible.

Georgia Booth

Cho Cho San 

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

Mojo Wine Bar by Luke Mangan

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade and didn’t realise how talented Luke Mangan is, then Mojo will get you up to speed pretty quickly. Housed inside an old industrial warehouse on Danks Street, Luke Mangan’s headquarters is something most chefs would only dream of. It’s a restaurateur’s playground, with a casual wine bar (Mojo), a communal function space, testing kitchen, staff offices, cellar and, most recently, an upstairs private dining room.

Rustic chicken liver pate, eshallot relish, crusty bread($16)

Rustic chicken liver pate, eshallot relish, crusty bread ($16)

Dining at Mojo feels special. From the moment you enter via the garage roller door and slip through the black curtain, there’s something secretive about it. Once inside, lofty ceilings, industrial fittings and polished concrete floors create a down-to-earth and humble space, reflecting the personality of the man behind the business. For a moment, you forget that this is the work of one of Australia’s most respected chefs. That is, until you glance above the bar, where wooden panels list the multitude of dining spaces that bear Mangan’s name– in Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and on P&O Cruise shops, Virgin airlines – the list is long.

The Spanish are certainly on to a good thing with tapas and the dishes Mangan makes are riquísimos. Oysters are always a great place to start, especially when topped with a perfectly sweet-sour-salty nam jim (Thai dipping sauce). Follow this up with a Mexican style beef tartare where crisp corn tortillas are used to scoop up the fresh hunks of raw meat. Continue the Mexican wave with a pork belly taco then finish off in the Middle East with spiced lamb cutlets, pistachio tabouli and harissa yoghurt.

Anna Lisle

Mojo Wine Bar by Luke Mangan 

Lime and Tonic is offering a six-course dining experience, with matching wines.

Yakitori at Sepia Wine Bar

Sepia may be renowned as one of Australia’s best degustation restaurants; but there is more to the 2014 Sydney Morning Herald “Restaurant of the Year” than meets the eye. Chef Martin Benn isn’t your standard, pan-frying chef. He’s the scientist type, who creates dishes made with jamon Iberico cream, green tea soil or a kombu (type of seaweed) crumb. It’s hardly a surprise, (cookie-cutter chefs don’t get three hats) but when you compare the restaurant menu to the wine bar menu, they’re chalk and cheese.

Tweezers in hand, Head Chef Martin Benn

Tweezers in hand, Head Chef Martin Benn

Crowd-pleasing combinations such as salami and rosemary grissini, tuna sashimi and wasabi and chicken liver parfait with croutons make up the bulk of the bar menu but it’s the Japanese charcoal grill that I’m particularly drawn to. Yakitori is a deceptively difficult cooking technique. It may appear basic, almost too basic for a chef who has a three chef hat badge but, that’s where the problem therein lies. Any slip-ups or mistakes cannot be masked in yakitori, any ‘over-seasoned marinade’ or every piece of ‘marginally over-cooked meat’ is blaringly obvious, for every blogger and food critic to slam. It’s a risky choice, that doesn’t always pay off.

The wine bar offers a more affordable option to sample one of Sydney's best restaurants

The wine bar offers a more affordable option to sample one of Sydney’s best restaurants

Onions are just onions, right? Not Chef Martin Benn’s Barletta onions though, these are smoky and sweet, served with a shiso vinegar dressing that I could have easily drunk from the bowl, had I not been sitting in such polished surrounds. A dish of shiitake mushrooms create similar excitement, again with a dressing of ponzu and yuzu. The Sepia version of a donburi, Benn smokes and glazes unagi (freshwater) eel with soy and serves with a confit garlic emulsion. The Japanese may eat unagi to cure heat fatigue but this is a cool Autumn night and it feels like honest, comfort food to me. Sometimes I love sharing, sometimes I hate it. At Sepia, I hate it. Every time a dish comes to the table, there’s suddenly tension. Who’s getting the last mouthful of dressing? The last skewer? That question came up with the deboned and stuffed yakitori chicken wings and again with the grilled partridge skewer.

Great chefs are like talented sportspeople, whatever the sport, they can play the game. He’s mastered the futuristic at Sepia, yet is grounded in tradition at Sepia Wine Bar – quiet achiever Martin Benn may well be one of the most talented men of the moment.

Anna Lisle

Sepia Wine Bar