Category Archives: Reviews

Tutti A Tavola – ‘everyone to the [La Scala on Jersey] table’

Perched above Paddington’s iconic Light Brigade Hotel and beside hot new experimental restaurant Pinbone, the revamped La Scala has taken a step back, offering casual, neighbourhood dining in humble surrounds. At first glance, the restaurant isn’t radically different; only subtle changes like the removal of tablecloths and the addition of timber fixtures. What is left is a more down-to-earth space, thanks to the adept touch of designer Annie Snell.

Mamma Maria’s pickled carrots, goats curd, oregano and mint

Mamma Maria’s pickled carrots, goats curd, oregano and mint

This same approach has been applied to the menu, with a focus on seasonal and local produce, without all the usual fine dining fluff. Massimo Mele is the face behind this menu and he’s as charming (and good looking) as one would expect from an Australian-Italian; born in Tasmania but raised in Naples, Italy. Like all good Italians, Massimo’s love of food came from his mother; growing up in the Mele household “every day was Sunday and every Sunday was like Christmas.”

Zeppole, Italian doughnuts, nutella and vanilla custard

Zeppole, Italian doughnuts, nutella and vanilla custard

When it comes to pre-dinner cursors, Massimo plays tribute to his childhood, offering Mamma Maria’s pickled carrots, goats curd, oregano and mint; Nonna’s antipasto of marinated octopus salad with potato, celery heart, chilli and fennel; and an Amalfi Coast classic of grilled lemon scented veal meatballs. The menu changes weekly, depending on what is available from The Cooks Co-Op, who supply the restaurant with produce from the Hawkesbury region. La Scala on Jersey also offer monthly winemaker’s dinners that take place in their private dining room, which can seat up to 26 guests.

Anna Lisle

Bib up and dig in

 Gloves. Check. Bib. Check. Scissors. Check. Crab pick. Check. Dining at House of Crabs is as surgical as it sounds, though rather than pain, you experience nothing but tastebud bliss. There’s no plates around me. Just a steaming plastic bag containing one full Snow Crab swimming in a pool of sauce.

lobster BR

Choose from Blue Swimmer, Snow and King Crab

Then comes the equipment. I’ve got to say, I’m a bit of crustacean rookie so I start delicately and slowly, dissecting each piece. A few mouthfuls in, I’ve tossed away a few empty crab shells and with that, my dining dignity. It’s too tasty to waste time on manners and etiquette. Sauce is splashed on the table and all over our clothes and I dare say, even Manu would be impressed by this amount of liquid gold.

As I come up for air midway through the bag, I look around the room – fishing and seaside paraphernalia adorn the roof and walls and the bar is in the shape of boat hull. It’s quirky and fun but there’s no time to waste, the real magic is in that plastic bag. Nurse, the crab cracker, stat.

 Anna Lisle

Singing Italy’s praises – Popolo

Experience has taught me that if a restaurant bears the title “authentic” in its name or menu, it’ll be anything but. At Popolo, there’s no mention of it anywhere but the evidence is where it counts – on the plate. The menu is influenced by seasonality, with a pesce dish that changes daily or weekly, depending on what’s been caught that morning from the fish markets.  The menu delivers regional classics without scaring off your conservative Italian dining companions (you know, those friends who won’t order anything but margherita pizza). Inspired by the heritage of co-owners Flavio Carnevale and Fabio Dore, both ex Fratelli Paradiso, there’s hints of Sardinia and Basilicata dotted throughout the menu.

Popolo is not only open for dinner. Next time I'll be trying the breakfast and lunch menu

Popolo is not only open for dinner. Next time I’ll be trying the breakfast and lunch menu

To start, the swordfish carpaccio, a fleshier and more textural fish, marries well with a dehydrated mandarin peel crumb and toasted almond flakes. If I had to find a fault, the dish could have used a squeeze of lemon that would have taken it to the next level. The squid ink tagliatelle, cooked al dente, involves just a few ingredients, as the best Italian dishes do, with hunks of spanner, king and blue swimmer crab, a handful of sun ripened cherry tomatoes and torn shreds of basil. The fish of the day is a piece of crisp-skinned snapper, served with roasted baby zucchini flowers and cherry tomatoes. Classic flavour combinations, executed perfectly – this dish was a reminder that simple is often the best.

Ceci e Tria - originally from Lecce, pasta strips cooked two ways, chick peas, pecorino mousse

Ceci e Tria – originally from Lecce, pasta strips cooked two ways, chick peas, pecorino mousse

Co-owners Flavio and Fabio explain the motivation behind Popolo: “We want our guests to be able to close their eyes and be transported to Positano, Puglia, Basilicata and Sardegna with every mouthful.” I’ve got to say, dinner at Popolo was undoubtedly an inexpensive Italian holiday, albeit a little short.

Anna Lisle

Niji Restaurant and Bar impresses Double Bay locals

Double Bay has had a new lease of life with the opening of exciting new restaurants in Bay Street. Knox Street has been where everyone has headed to for a coffee, brunch or a late night dinner with  Dee Bees, Cafe 21 and The Cosmopolitan dominating the Double Bay restaurant scene for many years.  And then overnight, Bay Street seems to be where it’s all happening with Mrs. Sippy, Royal Oak Bistro and now Niji Restaurant and Bar -  a cool, refined, Japanese restaurant.   A number of good chefs have tipped their toes in the Double Bay restaurant scene with Lucio Galette, Tony  Bilson, Deitmar Sawyer over the years but there has never been an upmarket Japanese restaurant.

The revamped Bay Street

The revamped Bay Street

Bay Street is tree-lined street with wide footpaths, blending itself to outdoor dining, with very little traffic and  some very exclusive shops such as Max Mara and Diane von Furstenberg for some after dinner window shopping. Even the Royal Oak has had a makeover with a great new bistro replacing the Aussie style bar, with Mrs Sippy pumping all day with the young and attractive eastern suburbanites.

 

Wagyu with amayaki, herb salt and cherry tomato

Wagyu with amayaki, herb salt and cherry tomato

The service at Niji is exceptional  and the decor is stunning with a curved wooden slats overhead resembling the hull of a wooden fishing Boat.  Blonde wood is a feature from the sushi bar with soft lighting giving the whole restaurant loads of atmosphere. Niji is quickly developing a reputation as the go-to destination for a cocktail and delicious Japanese snacks,  or a long dinner where guests can choose from a six course degustation dinner paired with Sake or some  dishes from their a la carte menu. You can choose to sit at the  sushi bar, in the restaurant or in the  outdoor tree-lined area. Niji has it all, I will be back and all my friends now have Niji on their list of ‘must go to’ restaurants.

 

Maureen de Groot

 

March into Ms. G’s

The charismatic multilevel space of Ms G’s certainly plays to a moneyed crowd, luring in Potts Point socialites and Bondi hipsters who only drink coconut-water. It’s an eclectic clientele but food is their common ground.

March into Merivale $33 meal deal - 2 courses and a glass of wine @ Ms G's

March into Merivale $33 meal deal – 2 courses and a glass of wine @ Ms G’s

You can hear Ms G’s before you see it. Hip tunes and excited prattle waft along Victoria Street, luring undecided diners to join the restaurant’s queue, which there inevitably is with a no-bookings policy. The buzz of the room’s neon lights can be distracting, but the food is worth paying attention to. Spicy snow crab, sweet and salty all at once, served in a bitter sesame leaf is the perfect starter. Topped with a dollop of sour cream, together with the crunch of tiny small balls of fried something-or-others create small explosions of flavour with each mouthful. The next dish is a creative take on scallop ceviche. The plump chunks of flesh are tossed with tomato and a creamy miso dressing and served in a fried cassava cup (think south east Asian pappadum). Al dente egg noodles are doused in a fragrant XO sauce, which could have been a little punchier but, served with shreds of braised duck, it’s a forgivable oversight. The hero, however, is a still-translucent piece of crisp-skin barramundi, lathered in a fire-engine red sambal sauce.

Anna Lisle

Jamaican me hungry

They say it’s going to be the next Mexican… Jamaican cuisine, that is. I’m intrigued but not convinced, yet. The Drink & Dine Group have applied their tried and tested restaurant/pub formula to The Forresters, transforming upstairs into the Caribbean-themed restaurant Queenies. In classic Drink & Dine style, the fitout at Queenies is over the top but not in a bad way. There’s a straw-thatched ceiling, wooden floorboards and photos of former Miss Jamaica contestants lining the walls.

Pork, jicama and peanut San Choy Bow

Pork, jicama and peanut San Choy Bow

It’s sometimes hard to take the menu seriously, especially with themes such as the “Bob Marley Chowdown” and “Wake and Bake” but don’t be deterred. Here, it’s all about the jerk chicken and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser, rich and spiced chicken pieces are cooked to a smoky barbecuedness, coupled with some sweet potato chips, it’s 10/10 for tastiness. Beyond jerk, the menu delivers some Jamaican classics like BBQ corn and dirty rice, with a twist plus a few random additions like vego curry puffs thrown in for good measure.

At Queenies, you’re not going to be blown away by the food but you won’t be disappointed either. Here, the atmosphere is just as important as the food and drinks but what’s wrong with that? There’s more to a good night than the food.

Anna Lisle

A fresh take on French at The Dining Room

Looking smack-bang across to Bennelong and Australia’s most famously-shaped house of opera, with water lapping on the edges of the wharf just below, dining at the Park Hyatt encapsulates everything we love about Sydney’s burgeoning food scene.

Blue fin tuna tartar, crunchy vegetables, mango & passion fruit sauce

Blue fin tuna tartar, crunchy vegetables, mango & passion fruit sauce

The Park Hyatt is the Rolls Royce of Sydney’s five star hotels (former guests include Elton John, Bette Midler, Jerry Seinfeld, to name a few), and the food at The Dining Room reflects the kind of service you’ll receive if you’re lucky spend a night upstairs. Despite the location and its pretences, the restaurant is surprisingly relaxed and cosy. With floor-to-ceiling windows, the restaurant itself is bathed in natural light, which allows diners to focus on what’s important – the food and the view.

Green pea & mint gazpacho, organic goat’s cheese.

Green pea & mint gazpacho, organic goat’s cheese

Some chefs think they know everything. Franck Detrait is not one of them. When he arrived in Sydney late last year to take over the kitchen, rather than immediately asserting his power with a classic French menu, he sought the advice of Sydney chefs and suppliers. “I wanted to use local produce”, explains Franck, “and I created a menu around those ingredients, rather than the other way around”. The menu is not shackled by classic flavour combinations, instead, Franck’s menu features tuna tartare with mango and passionfruit and duck foie gras with Jamaican peppercorn jelly and umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum).

Lamington cake, white chocolate & Malibu ice cream

Lamington cake, white chocolate & Malibu ice cream

For me, the standout dish was one which didn’t challenge any culinary conventions – simple flavours but executed to the highest standard; plump Hokkaido scallops, quickly seared, served with a ginger, coconut and lemongrass bouillon, poured at the table – magnifique. To top it all off, there’s a superb wine list and the service is politely old-fashioned, but not stuffy.

For more information see here

Anna Lisle

Cool and class collide @ North Bondi Fish

Cool and class collide at this hip eatery, which has been virtually booked out since it opened last year. North Bondi Fish has the comfortable air of a neighbourhood place, the sort of restaurant that ought to be serving burgers and beer. Instead there’s a suave bar at the entrance and the menu has the finesse you’d expect of chef Matt Moran and restaurateur Peter Sullivan, the revered team also behind ARIA and Chiswick.

Yellowfin tuna ceviche , daikon and shallots

Yellowfin tuna ceviche , daikon and shallots

As the restaurant’s name insinuates, the preferred food group here is seafood. With Bondi’s sparkling beach winking at you every time you twist around to admire the sunset, who would want anything but? All the fish is well prepared and served with imaginative sides, standouts including a tart celeriac and kale salad and a sort-of caponata. Start with a few morsels of charcoal grilled Fremantle octopus, dipped into a blood-red romesco sauce or get your hands dirty with a prawn bun. Next, it’s the big bites, and you really can’t go past the beer battered flathead fillet with chips and tartare sauce however for the calorie conscious, the grilled snapper fillet with asparagus and avocado won’t leave you unsatisfied.

Dish of the day - beer battered flathead

Dish of the day – beer battered flathead

Desserts are homey and not too sweet, with things like fresh fruit platters and homemade mango and passionfruit sorbet. If you’re meal isn’t complete without a sugar kick, opt for the donuts served with a spiced chocolate sauce. The food is simple, but it’s simple, done well.

Anna Lisle

Big Love for Love on Top

Bayswater Road has always been a difficult area to open a restaurant – you’d be lucky to go to the same restaurant twice in a year. However, I have a feeling that Love on Top, the latest bar to open, is going to buck the trend. The Chinese-inspired cocktail bar next door to Hugo’s Lounge, with a spacious outdoor area that overlooks the beautiful bay trees lining the street has a relaxed but elegant vibe. The small bar makes excellent use of the space – the outdoor garden section with lawn chairs and pretty fairy lights combines seamlessly into the timber bar area, where the open bar and kitchen stretches down one side, lending a busy warmth to the indoor area.

Garden setting at Love on Top

Garden setting at Love on Top

At the opening, we are greeted with a glass of Mumm champagne and get comfortable on one of the outdoor seats. As we shivered in the cold weather we were brought a sample of freshly made dumplings to warm us up; pork, mushroom and peanut and bbq duck, both of which were tender and fell apart in our mouths. A macao martini, with vodka, lillet, plum wine and orange bitters with a twist of lemon had a clean citrus note which allowed the delicate plum wine to come to the forefront. Next, we tried the scallop and prawn siu mai and crispy pork belly on a toasted Chinese steamed bun, with pickled radish and carrot and hoi sin glaze, the latter which was rich and tender.

 

Pork dumplings with mushrooms and peanuts

Pork dumplings with mushrooms and peanuts

A point of difference in the Kings Cross area, Love on Top is the perfect place to have a cocktail in the early evening while it’s light and balmy and you can people-watch on Bayswater Road. Equally good in cool weather, sit at the bar and eat your way through the Chinese-inspired tapas menu.

La Dolce Vita at Cipri

I adore everything about Italy – from the simple and fresh food philosophy to the way the locals seem to welcome complete strangers into their homes and Cipri, in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, embodies everything that I love about that boot-shaped country.

Brothers Joe, Anthony and Carmelo are the driving force behind this Paddington stalwart, while their mum, Maria, can still often be found out the back, rolling fresh pasta. Vintage photos line the restaurant’s walls, telling the Cipri family story. As soon as you walk in the door, you know that this restaurant has been in the family for generations; true blue (or should I say, “vero azzuri”?) hospitality is in the Cipri family’s DNA.

Layered eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, basil and tomato coulis

Layered eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, basil and tomato coulis

In true Italian style, the menu features dishes with just a handful of ingredients, paying utmost respect to the quality of the produce. We start with burrata (a fresh cheese made from mozzarella and cream), which sits proudly on a colourful heirloom tomato salad.

Slow roaste Hawkesbury suckling pig, red cabbage salad, mustard fruits and pistachio

Slow roaste Hawkesbury suckling pig, red cabbage salad, mustard fruits and pistachio

A smoky, yet creamy eggplant puree is the perfect complement to sesame crusted tuna, the seeds creating a textural contrast to the meaty flesh of the fish. Squid ink ravioli, stuffed with snapper, calamari and crab, is coupled with a subtle broth of cherry tomatoes, prawns and asparagus. Cipri stands for the two things that I value and appreciate most in life – food and family and it is a pleasure dining there.

 

Anna Lisle