Category Archives: Reviews

I pray for après

Having skied only a handful of times before, I can’t say I was overly-enamoured by the thought of a trip to Falls Creek. Admittedly, I am quite competitive and the thought of hitting the slopes with my better half, who has skied since he was a child, was not entirely motivating. Throw in the fact that I was definitely going to encounter sore legs and probably a bruise or two and I think I had valid reservations. When I found that we had made reservations to stay next door to The Gully by The Three Blue Ducks (now actually, Five Blue Ducks), however, my attitude shifted. All it took was a simple breakfast and I was sold. The Gully is the best table in town. Period.

Graffiti and artwork is courtesy of talented artist Caleb Reid

Graffiti and artwork is courtesy of talented artist Caleb Reid

There’s a reason why there are queues outside their Bronte café in Sydney weekend after weekend, the same applies on the Victorian slopes. While snow snacks are renowned for being outrageously expensive, without delivering on quality, The Gully bucks the après trend. Humble chef Darren Robertson and partner Mark LaBrooy serve enormous and outrageously delicious dishes – from the duck maryland with chilli jam to 12 hour Angus brisket with massaman sauce. At our table of six, not one of us wasn’t blown away by their dish. For me, the whole salt-roasted local rainbow trout epitomises my perfect dinner; healthy, wholesome and delicious. The richness of the trout was offset by a subtlety-flavoured leek puree while the roasted artichokes, almost potato-like in texture, provided substance.

The Gully Potstickers

The Gully potstickers

Ingredients, in true Blue Duck style, are all sourced locally and you can tell (even the wine menu lists the distance, in a straight line, from the Gully to the vineyard). If you can fit anything after your main (thank goodness skiing is exercise), a single serving of sticky date pudding is as big as your fist and the smashed lemon tart is anything but smashed, instead it arrived as a gorgeously deconstructed dish. I’ve learnt that Falls Creek doesn’t have to be all about the skiing. Unbuckle the boots and enjoy the après lifestyle.

Anna Lisle

The Gully by Three Blue Ducks

Everything happens for a reason

With the Best Restaurants of Australia offices just around the corner, I’ve walked past Sydney-institution, Harry’s Singapore Chilli Crab Restaurant what feels like a thousand times, though I never set foot inside. I have to admit, I was disappointed when it was replaced by Surry Hills Eating House, the latest restaurant to join popular Thai group, Spice I Am. What do they say? You want what you can’t have? All of a sudden, after three years of walking past, morning and night, I was craving a huge bowl of Singapore chilli crab, doused in that sticky, sweet and salty sauce.

Pork floss with ginger, chilli and Chinese broccoli leaves

Pork floss with ginger, chilli and Chinese broccoli leaves

Adamant not to make the same mistake again, I made a vow to visit Harry’s replacement and did so in its second week of opening. It was a cold, rainy Monday and the clock had just struck 6pm. Most Sydneysiders had thrown in their gym towels or cancelled dinner plans, just to get home, don their trackies and curl up for a juicy episode of The Bachelor. That is, everyone except those dining at Surry Hills Eating House. I was expecting a ghost-town though to my surprise, Surry Hills Eating House was packed.

Phuket style curry chicken with masala and roasted coconut

Phuket style curry chicken with masala and roasted coconut

The mieng ka naor is a Thai-version of san choy bau with crispy pork floss and Chinese broccoli leaves, used instead of iceberg lettuce cups. It’s “same, same but different” and when I say “different”, it is different in a very good and special way. There’s just the right amount of chilli to wake up sleepy tastebuds and although the dish doesn’t have an oyster or soy-based sauce that is often found in Chinese restaurants, it isn’t dry but rather accentuates the punchof green chilli, ginger and eschalot. Don’t get confused; pad thua is not pad thai. This stir-fried green bean dish is topped with a rich sauce of southern curry paste and dried shrimp. The salty, sweet and sour flavours of the dish fight for attention like depraved reality television stars. If you’re not a fan of shrimp paste, perhaps stick with the gai pae sa (a spicier version of Hainanese chicken) and the gaeng pla neung. (Southern style bar cod fillet, Thai black mushroom and betel leaf); both of which are phenomenal. I mightn’t have dined at Harry’s Singapore Chilli Crab Restaurant but I’ll happily make up for it but dining at Surry Hills Eating House regularly. I just wish I didn’t have to walk past it every night because, like most foodies, I haven’t got much self-control.

Anna Lisle
Surry Hills Eating House

Coogee’s got a keeper

700 people walked through Coogee Pavilion’s doors on its opening night. These are figures that most restaurants only dream about but for hospitality mogul, Justin Hemmes, this is probably just another day-in-the-life. The Merivale portfolio now includes 50 restaurants, pubs and nightclubs across Sydney, employing over 2,000 people, with every venue proving a success. But despite what you may think, Hemmes isn’t one to sit in a boardroom, barking orders. He’s often seen in his restaurants, well before they open their doors, as was the case at Coogee Pavilion.

The games area features table tennis, a giant scrabble board and more

The games area features table tennis, a giant scrabble board, petanque, theatrette 

Once home to the iconic Beach Palace Hotel, Coogee Pavilion is the most recent addition to the Merivale family and speaking of family, this is the venue’s target audience. While the ripped-faded-denim, boyfriend-jean-wearing crowd sip on their homemade almond mylk (yes, mylk, not milk – doah) and kale smoothie, their equally-trendy kids can play in the games zone out the back.

Kingfish ceviche and a chilled Pacifico

Kingfish ceviche and a chilled Pacifico

This sounds clichéd but it truly is a one-size-fits-all eatery. You can spend big or small, come for a coffee or enjoy a seven-course degustation. It’s home to a pizzeria, oyster counter, grill section, juice stand, cafe, cocktail area and raw bar. There’s even a dog-parking area outside for your furry friends and a pokies room out the back. Forget to go the hairdresser? Pop into the barbershop. Need flowers? Swing by the florist. Bored of your dining company? Watch a movie in the theatrette.

Anna Lisle

Coogee Pavilion

Chase ends here for Sydney’s best sushi

There’s sushi and then there’s sushi. At Sokyo, the sushi melts away on your tongue like good chocolate. In fact, it’s not just sushi that makes an impression, every dish of our ten-course dinner has carved itself into my memory as an event on its own. Writing this, I feel as though I’m recalling a dish I ate moments ago, so vivid are my mental notes. That’s the power of great food – a mouthful can snap you out of consciousness and take control of my senses. I liken this sensation to yoga meditation – where one achieves a stillness of mind and a heightened sensitivity to your immediate surroundings.

The menu has a social vibe offering a variety of considered dishes that are conducive to sharing

The menu has a social vibe offering a variety of considered dishes that are conducive to sharing

The first course is a deceptively simple-looking dish of seared tuna, arranged on a pretty salad of enoki mushrooms, edible flowers and micro herbs. As you gather each ingredient on your chopstick, dollops of charred leek aioli emerge from underneath and, on closer inspection; a translucent pickled ginger jelly is delicately dotted around the plate. The combination of flavours and textures are a stroke of genius. The next dish includes skinny fried potato matchsticks that hide hunks of fresh kingfish, marinated in a chilli and miso sauce. The potato doesn’t detract from the kingfish but, rather, adds a salty earthiness that elevates this from merely sashimi to a complete, balanced dish. Next, we hit the robata grill with Kurobuta pork belly, alternated with spongy chucks of daikon and served with a mustard aioli. It feels like an Australianised version of robata but it’s delicious nonetheless. I keep muttering, dish after dish, “I think this is my favourite”. By the fourth or fifth course, my nonchalant dining partner rolls his eyes and my statements fade into insignificance.

Chef Chase Kojimo is truly one talented chef

Chef Chase Kojima started his career at the age of 11, working in his father’s Japanese restaurant

The pressure point dish is undoubtedly the miso cod. I take a mouthful, anxious to see if it’s up to scratch. Moments later, I’m scraping up the last morsels of caramelised miso from the plate and any anticipation I held diminishes. I want to eat this dish for breakfast, lunch, dinner and anything in between. Feeling surprisingly perky the next morning after Sokyo, I decided to take a yoga class. As I lay day on my mat in savasana and concentrating on my breathing – trying to “still my mind”, all I can think about is seared tuna, charred leek aioli and pickled ginger jelly.

Anna Lisle

Sokyo

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

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