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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

Congratulations Cuckoo Callay

Just outside Newtown Station, Cuckoo Callay is a newcomer in the trendy Inner West scene. Inspired by the playful and whimsical nature of Lewis Caroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’ poem, Cuckoo Callay cleverly utilises their space and ties in numerous design elements to create a quirky and relaxed cafe environment.

Ricotta hotcakes

Ricotta hotcakes

The Instagram worthy “Hashtag Brown” is a proven favourite, the  crispy potato hash brown is topped with an oozing poached egg and accompanied with pea puree, wedges of avocado and your choice of bacon steak, house cured salmon or grilled haloumi. While I’m satiated, there’s no way I can turn down a delicious salted caramel thickshake. At this point, I didn’t think it physically possible to eat any more, however one bite into the triple chocolate brownie served with icecream and I am reminded of why they say dessert is a second stomach – it is quickly demolished.

Triple chocolate brownie

Triple chocolate brownie

Owners Ella & Ibby’s attention to detail is not only apparent in the carefully constructed cafe menu, but in the modern and chic decor too. The walls are brightly painted, the mirrored walls create the illusion of a larger space and a custom-made cuckoo clock hanging from the ceiling befittingly cuckoos every hour. Cuckoo Callay offers convenience for local commuters on the lookout for delicious coffee and other takeaway options. For everybody else, sit back and enjoy amazing cafe food with a freshly squeezed juice or a cheeky “cuckootail” or two.

Jenny Wang

Cuckoo Callay 

The Cliff Dive opens underground tuckshop Yurippi

Who would have thought a Papuan dancehall-cum-bar could be such a hit? Having won over Sydney’s clubbing scene, Cliff Dive co-owners Alex Dowd, Jeremy Blackmore and Russell Martin are set to tap into another demographic; our foodies.

“We’re constantly on the lookout for ways to improve The Cliff Dive experience. And the best way we figure is to make the experience last longer" says Alex Dowd

Yurippi is the name of Cliff Dive’s new yakitori eating house

As you descend the stairs of Cliff Dive, get ready to be transported to a place that’s warm and tropical, despite the lack of a white sandy beach. To compliment its beach island vibe, complete with bowls of pineapples and a legit Bali long boat as the backbar, Cliff Dive now offers “yurippi” – South East Asian inspired skewers. The chef, referred to as “Honky”, fell in love with yakitori after spending some time in Japan and this is exactly what you’ll now discover at our favourite Darlinghurst themed bar. With ingredients sourced from local Thai grocers, each skewer has its own unique marinade, with standouts including the wild ginger beef, turmeric lemongrass pork and chilli octopus. Teamed with some house-pickled vegetables and pandan coconut rice, you won’t even have to go via Hungry Jacks just across the road for a midnight feast.

Anna Lisle

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

Avo-bravo

Forget about your ho-hum prawn cocktail starter, Chef Mark Jensen from Red Lantern on Riley hosted a five-course tasting menu that challenged guests to reconsider the use of the humble avocado.

After touring Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne, the avocado masterclass program touched down in Sydney, with over 40 of Sydney’s best chefs eager to expand their repertoire.

Chicken and avocado congee

Chicken and avocado congee

Beginning with a sensory exercise, guests soaked in the ambiance of Red Lantern on Riley while sampling four small pieces of avocado; natural, salted, sugared and a firm avo that had been pan fried with rocket, chilli and garlic. A simple exercise that demonstrated the versatility of Australia’s much loved avocado. Throughout the next four courses, Mark incorporated both firm and ripe avocados, to create not only taste but texture in his dishes. When you read a menu, you generally have a preconceived idea of what you will see and taste when the dish arrives.

Wild boar, shrimp paste, lemongrass and chilli with a pickled avacdo and radish salad

Wild boar, shrimp paste, lemongrass and chilli with a pickled avacdo and radish salad

Avocado and chicken congee? Would it just be an avocado soup with chicken in it? Would it be warm? The questions around the table were endless, and the general vibe was trepidation more than anticipation. With Mark Jensen in the kitchen, our concerns were wasted and our bowls scraped clean by the end of the masterclass. A diced, firm avocado offered the same texture as the rice, with shreds of chicken and gutsy Asian herbs. An avocado banh bao (steamed bun) with lobster and Vietnamese salad and braised wild boar with pickled avocado, continued the high standard. Finished off with an avocado and coconut shake, mung bean cake, avocado ice cream and a condensed milk crumb.

Anna Lisle

Red Lantern on Riley

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 

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 

Must-eat dishes in Sydney right now

From humble and wholesome roast dinners to traditional Japanese yakitori, here are our Top 10 dishes that deserve to be devoured.

Anna Lisle

1.      Glazed beef brisket “narnie” with slaw, gherkins and chipotle mayonnaise at Three Williams Café

Redfern newcomer Three Williams Café has garnered a reputation for their “narnies”. What’s that, you ask? A sandwich made from naan bread. D’oh! Go for the glazed beef brisket with slaw, crunchy gherkins and mayo – this dish is a game changer. Move over Mexican, “narnies” just might be the next foodie trend.

Three Williams Cafe, Redfern

Three Williams Cafe, Redfern

 2.      Falafel, hummus, tabouleh, mint, schiacciata bread at Kepos Street Kitchen

More than a café, Kepos Street Kitchen delivers inventive Middle Eastern fare that pleases from breakfast to dinner. It’s hard to choose a favourite but Israeli-born chef Michael Rantissi combines crunchy morsels of falafel with a smooth, not-too-garlicky hummus, and a piquant tabouleh to create a winner dish.

 3.      Yakitori stuffed chicken wings at Sepia Wine Bar, Sydney

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. Sepia Wine Bar not only boasts a drinks list that spans over 40 pages, it’s also home to a yakitori menu that rivals the best in the world. Order the deboned and stuffed chicken wings ($22 for two) and let Chef Martin Benn prove how special this ancient cooking method really is.

 4.      Wood roasted Moran family lamb at Chiswick, Woollahra

Straight from the Moran family farm in the Central Tablelands, just south of Bathurst, the lamb here is the best in town. The process of wood roasting for four hours infuses a rich, smoky flavour and the meat literally falls off the bone in strings. Doused in a vibrant mint sauce, with a side of roasted pumpkin and baby carrots ($66, to share), this epitomises the perfect Sunday night meal.

Chiswick, Woollahra

Chiswick, Woollahra

 5.      Margherita ‘extra’ at Da Mario, Rosebery 

There will be no “hold the basil” here; customers are not allowed to make any modifications to the menu as Da Mario has received the official seal of approval by Verace Pizza Napoletana. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry – all you need to know is that you’ll be getting authentic pizza, just like you would in Napoli. The margherita ‘extra’ involves tomato, buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato and basil ($25).

 6.      Alaskan Snow Crab at House of Crabs, Surry Hills

Forget your dining dignity, a bagful of snow crab ($38 per 500g), doused in oriental sauce is far too delicious to waste time on manners and etiquette. Don your gloves and bib and be prepared to get dirty. Please note: House of Crabs is probably not the most sexy location for a first date (or second or even third, for that matter) –  but it will certainly break the ice.

 7.      Squid ink tagliatelle at Popolo, Rushcutters Bay 

The squid ink tagliatelle, cooked to textbook perfection, 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 ($29). A classic flavour combination – this dish is a reminder that simple is often the best.

8. Pan fried duck egg, black pudding, ham hock and red pepper at 4Fourteen, Surry Hills

Don’t turn your nose up at black pudding (blood sausage) until you try this dish. Fassnidge, who embraces a nose-to-tail eating philosophy, counterbalances the richness of the black pudding with a sweet capsicum relish and a fried duck egg, with the runny yolk forming a sauce for the dish ($22). Throw in some salty sweet chunks of ham hock and some watercress springs to garnish and you’ve got texture, saltiness, sweetness, freshness.

4Fourteen, Surry Hills

4Fourteen, Surry Hills

 9.      Whole wood roasted Holmbrae chicken at Hotel Centennial, Woollahra

Once only used by Italian restaurants serving authentic pizza, wood fire cooking is now popping up in some of Sydney’s finest establishments, including newcomer Hotel Centennial. Unbeknown to many, the wood fire is tricky to use but once mastered, it’s a formidable tool. You can’t go past this old favourite: roast chicken, complete with roast gravy, greens and thyme (serves 2-3 people, $54)

 10.  Steamed black mussels with sofrito and chorizo at The Potting Shed, The Grounds of Alexandria

Steamed black mussels (small $12, large $18) swim in a fragrant tomato sofrito with chunks of chorizo that provide an unusual contrast to the slipperiness of the mussel meat. The sofrito itself is a little too sweet especially with the mussels but the saltiness of the chorizo and the sharp garlic bread counterbalance the dish with an aftertaste that leaves you wanting more and more and more. I want to eat the dish twice as fast as I physically can, a sure sign it’s a winner?

Our little secret…

It’s no easy task to open restaurant. It’s especially difficult if you open just before two consecutive long weekends and following that, the coldest weekend of the season. The New Hampton may have swung open its doors to a slow start, but that can be good news. Want to know why? It means you’ll be able to get a table and enjoy the fantastic food before it becomes the hottest place to “check in”.

HARVEST restaurant

HARVEST restaurant

Walking into the bar, the first thing you’ll notice is it’s grandeur – it’s a 450 person venue with two separate bar areas and a separate restaurant, HARVEST. The dimly lit, stone and wood detailing has a rustic, European vibe, combined with a French-influenced Modern Australian menu, this place is perfect for a date.

Gorgeous details at New Hampton

Gorgeous details at New Hampton

I assumed The Hamptons was mainly a bar so my expectations of the food were low. As I glimpsed the dishes being walked out past our tables, my assumptions were quickly shattered.  The roasted duck breast was incredibly tender, combining perfectly with the al dente texture of the lentils and flavoured with a rich jus. It came with a small portion of duck sausage roll, which I very much hope takes off as its own dish. The char grilled beef was small portion of fillet, again, served with a sweet, caramel jus and onion puree. With twenty wines by the glass there’s an impressive selection to choose from, a highlight being the Santa Cristina Sangiovese/Merlot IGT from Tuscany, a lighter style that paired well with the duck. The rhubarb brulee was a lighter take on the classic, with stewed rhubarb at the base, served with a slice of shortbread to scoop it up with. The vanilla pannacotta, however, was the pick of the sweets, served with a coconut crumble and fresh figs.

A Monday night dinner would certainly be a different experience to a heaving Friday night, but that is where New Hampton’s appeal lies – perfect for both a quiet mid-week date night or to have a classy drink on a Friday night.

New Hampton

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