Category Archives: Reviews

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

Cockle Bay’s very own Cafe Del Mar

The original Café Del Mar is not in Sydney – it’s in Ibiza, the bohemian party playground, where chilled out beats play all day long while long-legged beauties mill around in short jumpsuits, sipping coconut-inspired cocktails. Short of booking a trip to Spain, this Cockle Bay Wharf restaurant flavours the senses with fruity cocktails, Mediterranean flavours and smooth tunes. An interpretation of its international sister, the Sibella Court designed interior is split into a contemporary dining room and a lounge bar area with lush sofas. There is also a private dining room accommodating up to 30 seated guests.

Crumbed surf clams, and toasted almond romesco

Crumbed surf clams, and toasted almond romesco

Head chef Ben Fitton has worked across the globe, in Shanghai and America, which translate into a Modern Australian menu with hints of Spanish, Moroccan and Italian flavours. Generous dishes of premium, Australian produce dominate the menu; try the pasture fed, lamb shoulder sourced from South Australia or the Blackmores wagyu beef bresaola with potato skordalia and poached egg. Sitting beside the harbour, seafood feels like a natural choice; Hiramasa kingfish ceviche is served with cubes of star-anise scented sweet potato with a shot of vodka “tigers milk” (a Peruvian citrus marinade) while torched scallops sit atop a sweet tomato jam and rich, crunchy lentils.

Raspberry tart

Raspberry tart

Dishes are designed for sharing; the crisp skinned barramundi, served with gorgeously yellow saffron potatoes and steamed mussels lathered in a vibrantly green mint paste, coupled with the suckling pig and roast fennel, make a hearty dinner for two. Other shared mains include a lamb shoulder, which is marinated for two days in chermoula before being slow cooked for eight hours.

Anna Lisle

Café Del Mar offers express lunch deals for $25, including a glass of chandon or peroni.

Crafty business at Customs House Bar

Executive Chef Hemant Dadlani is passionate about Modern Australian cuisine. His experience in the Caribbean, Malaysia and now multicultural Australia has led him to understand what the cooking style actually means (an amalgamation of European and Asian food traditions), and it is reflected superbly in his gastro pub menu at Customs House Bar. 

From succulent braised galangal beef short ribs that are melt-in-your-mouth delicious, to crispy tempura prawns with preserved lemon aioli and juicy pork steamed buns, the progressive menu plays with culinary cultures like a DJ mixing Bhangra beats. 

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Mirza’s favourite cocktail: an old fashioned 

 

Nothing works better with this hearty mod-Oz fare like beer, and bar manager Mirza Baig knows it. He brings a worldly outlook to the humble brew, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He can rattle off beer names as though each was an old childhood friend, and his historical knowledge of the craft beer scene is infinite (note, he loves to be challenged). 

Mirza has expanded the Custom House Bar’s repertoire to include over 20 different local and international beers, with six rotating brews on tap. Like the food, the beer is dictated by the rhythm of the seasons with hoppier styles showcased in the winter, and lighter stouts in summertime. Brownie points are awarded to boutique breweries and those with a sense of tradition, like Sierra Navada and Weihenstephan, the old monastery brewery of the Benedictine monks in Bavaria. 

Warm heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad

Warm heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad



Now if all this sounds overwhelming, and you’re thinking to yourself, can’t I just order a Carlton Draught? Well, No. But don’t fret, to the left of the bar, the team has created a beer behaviour board, divvied up into four sections – ale, lager, sweet and bitter. The beer label is placed on the table according to its character, which makes it easier to understand the overall flavour. Matilda Bay’s Bees Neez, a sweet handcrafted wheat beer is agreeable and crisp on the palate, whilst other robust options include White Rabbit’s Dark Ale and Rogue’s incredible Hazelnut Brown Nectar, which sings caramel and chocolate notes. Opting for a beer flight is a fantastic way to sample what’s on offer and test your senses. 

Sami-Jo Adelman

Customs House Bar

Meat, smoke and water views

One oft-quoted piece of advice from entrepreneurs is that above all else you should focus on one idea and execute it exceptionally. Do not spread yourself too thin; just do one thing and do it well. At Papi Chulo, the first Merivale restaurant to cross the bridge, restaurateur Justin Hemmes does lots of things; and he does them all very, very well. Right on Manly Wharf, Papi Chulo is part steakhouse, part Brazilian cantina and the menu takes inspiration from all over the globe.

Ceviche with mango, chilli, coconut dressing

Ceviche with mango, chilli, coconut dressing

It’s packed on weekends, it’s packed at lunchtime, and it’s packed when the ferry comes in from the city, any time after 5.30pm. If it was open for breakfast, it would probably be packed then, too. Why are Sydneysiders going nuts? It’s got to be the food. Start with something fresh like the lime cured yellow fin tuna ceviche with guacamole. Move on to the hot-stuff, such as the split jumbo king prawns, marinated in lemongrass and coconut.

Papi Chulo BBQ platter (serves 2-4) – Smoked lamb ribs, 150gm each of: wagyu brisket, pulled pork and mapple black pork belly platter, served with coleslaw and soft bread 86

Papi Chulo BBQ platter (serves 2-4) – Smoked lamb ribs, 150gm each of: wagyu brisket, pulled pork and mapple black pork belly platter, served with coleslaw and soft bread 86

Then, tie-on your bib, grab a handful of napkins to wipe your sticky fingers and get stuck into the some smoky suffolk lamb ribs with Papi’s BBQ sauce. Tear the meat off the bone and stuff it into a fresh brioche roll, with a few dill pickles. This is comfort food, at its best. Especially when washed down with a coconut water, vodka, mint and lychee slushie.

Anna Lisle

Papi Chulo

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