Monday, March 24, 2008
The menu-bait was in place. Once we heard that Holy Cow in Surry Hills served cherry and coconut naan bread, we snapped up a booking instantly (my aversion to restaurants with bad puns slipped into a convenient lapse). So when we turned up and ultra-fine-combed the menu and couldn't find the dish at all, we went into a culinary panic and pondered what our Plan B could be. We were so keyed up about the idea of tasting it that the glum prospect of going home without doing so was hugely disappointing. "We just have to order it confidently!" said Tabitha. The whole Chinese whispers about the coconut and cherry naan bread had been traced back to Michael, who touts Holy Cow as his favourite place to eat in Sydney. Surely he'd know about its unexplained disappearance from the menu? Or how we could go about summoning a fresh-cooked batch of it for our table? Tabitha emergency texted him and his reply was a very comprehensive "Dunno".
In the end, we resorted to the old-fashioned technique of just grilling the waiter and it turned out that the much-anticipated bread masqueraded under a different name - Peshawar Sweet Naan ($4). Even though it sounds desserty, you can have it as a starter, or to accompany the savoury dishes or as a sweet end note. We decided to have it as you'd usually have naan - with the main dishes (Nathan even uses his wholemeal roti as substitute cutlery). The idea of cherry and coconut with spicy chickpeas or almond 'gravy' may sound weird, but is wonderful and so moreish that it will make you abandon any polite notions of sharing - this is snatch-worthy bread!
The above pic, of course, does not feature naan but Vegetable Samosas ($5.50), which were nice but a little cold for our liking. Next time, we might just stick to a mono-diet of Peshawar sweet naan. It is that good.
Holy Cow, 456 Cleveland St, Surry Hills NSW, (02) 9698 9220
Eating out for breakfast is one of those great weekend-centric activities (along with sleeping in lots, being a night owl with your friends and doing regrettable things that you have a whole extra day to get over). So it's weird that a lot of breakfast places are closed on Sundays (all you get is extra stomach rumbles if you turn up to Two Good Eggs, Vargabar, Cafe Sopra and other such eateries on this day). So, I thought I'd list a bunch of good places where you can tuck into breakfast on a Sunday (after a good dozy sleep-in, of course).
Strangers With Candy is the best kind of wake-up call. Even though I love prospecting for new breakfast joints to try, this cafe is the place I keep bounding back to.
Tabitha once said to me that after a while, eating out for breakfast is just one samey blur (how many ways can you have eggs and toast, really) but this is where Strangers breaks with that crusty old notion. Sure you can get your traditional fix of yolks on bread, but I am completely smitten with their inspired Avocado & Tomato Salsa Breakfast Bruschetta ($16.50). While the word 'salsa' might bring up this horrid image of tomato mush that haunts bad Mexican food, the salsa here is more like a zesty capsicum relish, paired with generous avocado arcs and parmesan shavings on char-grilled chunky bread. The smoky, sublime dollop of eggplant puree on the side is just an extra note to make your tastebuds hum. It is easily the best vego breakfast dish I've ever had and I've seen many friends converted by it in a simple bite. The home-made baked beans are a good side dish to crowd onto the plate as well.
Even though it's wimpy and middle-of-the-road to always order the same thing, I'm so swayed by this bruschetta dish that the idea of ordering anything else seems like an act of tastebud treason. Will is similar, he always has eggs on toast, with double smoked ham and the roast tomatoes (which impressively come with their own spunky mohawks).
We've been to Strangers With Candy for dinner too, but the menu is a lot heavier and richer, and I prefer the light, zingy flavoursome feel of their breakfast. We did have some truly stunning home-made ice cream though. And good to know the mohawked tomatoes still get a showing at night too.
96 Kepos Street (corner Phillip Street), East Redfern NSW (02) 9698 6000,
Two blocks from Strangers With Candy is Wah Wah Lounge. In the same way you can accessorise what you wear around a shirt you really like, everything I order at this cafe plays supporting role to my love of their juices ($6.50) and Crispy Chat Potatoes ($6.50). Their Breakfast Bruschetta With Poached Eggs, Roast Tomato, Basil and Parmesan ($14) is like the William H Macey does-its-job-quietly equivalent to Strangers With Candy's limelight-stealing megastar (a la Vincent Chase) Avocado & Tomato Salsa Breakfast Bruschetta. It's not as blow-out amazing but it is a much nicer alternative to the yuppie-esque Danks Street Depot , where everything is pricey (think $6.50 for a side of mushrooms) and just reading the menu is enough to make your arteries clot on impact (there are dishes featuring the holy heart attack trinity of cream, butter and oil - think Creamed Eggs with Roasted Mushroom and Truffle Oil ). I used to love going to Danks St as a treat, but the last few times, I was overwhelmed by how pretentious and pipe-clogging the menu sounded.
Thankfully, Wah Wah Lounge is a more casual affair (any place named after a rock-out guitar pedal has to be). I mean, their strawberry-and-mango frappe is called the Wah-zu - there's no way an uppity eatery could cope with scrawling that screwball name on their fancypants menu. I could happily spend all day attacking their 'taters and sipping away on their drinks, like the cheesily-named The Pal (pear, apple and lime bliss!) or In The Pink (a blitz of watermelon and pineapple) which does the thirst-sating trick too.
Wah Wah Lounge, 1 Danks Street, Waterloo NSW (02) 9699 3456
The UN may have declared 2008 to be the International Year of the Potato, but that doesn't make my potato-hog tendencies any more respectable than they really are. It's good to know my weakness for spuds isn't a sole freaky affair though. Once at Bitton, when one of Sally's roesti potatoes ($3.50) slid clean off her plate and swooped straight onto the floor, she was compelled to apologise to the crisp-fried tater for letting an aerodynamic misfortune turn it into inedible fare. It's not such a weird thing to be so vocally sorry in such a circumstance because the roesti is pretty good at Bitton. It can be a little too well-oiled (perhaps explaining its easy flight onto the floor) and you probably need to let the grease sog up the paper before attacking the stack, but the golden crumbly pucks aren't something you'd order if you were feeling diet-saintly anyway.
Bitton's one of those places that does the trad eggs-and-toast-and-sides thing very well, while adding some inspired breakfast options too - think Savoury Crepes with Mushrooms and Bechamel Sauce with Salad ($13). If the menu doesn't clue you to the fact, Bitton is a bit of a French affair and I love that when France were doing really well in the last soccer World Cup, the ABC news didn't just quiz the usual sports commentators about it but actually asked the Parisian-born cafe owner, David Bitton, for his two centimes on how the French team would do.
It's hard not to stretch your appetite to waistband-tight extremes at Bitton - but if you don't walk out of Bitton clasping an over-fed stomach, you can always stock on oils and condiments from the Bitton empire and other groceries at the gourmet food store next door.
Bitton, 37a Copeland St, Alexandria NSW (02) 9519 5111, bittongourmet.com.au
Bodhi, like any kind of yum cha, is a complete lottery depending on what bamboo steamers and small plates end up on your table. One plus about Bodhi is that it's out in the open, so it has that bonusly breezy weekend feel. The other plus, if you're a vegetarian or vegan, is that you don't have to cross-examine the waitress on whether each dish passes the dietary minefield or not - everything is vegan.
You have to be a bit prissy when at Bodhi - you can't say yes to everything or you end up with a big pile of dishes you can't finish and an eyebrow-raising bill to boot. (Lisa and I once did this, where we ended up with an $80 bill between the pair of us.) When you've got a big table of hungry people and everyone's vocally campaigning over whether to take up the wontons or dumplings or Chinese donuts that the waitress has bought - it can be quite fun. Like Yum Cha Idol, in a way.
I remember once meeting a Jewish person who said they would fight to the death for the "pork" buns at Bodhi, such was their yum cha loyalty to the kosher-friendly pastry. As with any yum cha experience, some dishes are brilliant and others can be so-so, but my favourites include the Tofu Salad which comes in a soy pocket and gets slathered with satay sauce, the Steamed Greens (the key to enjoying this is drowning it in the sweet sauce) and the Passionfruit Jelly. The Coconut Jelly is also good, but the problem with these wobbly sweets is their Teflon-slick surface can result in a Bitton-style aerodynamic accident, where everything glides straight from your spoon and launches straight onto the ground, becoming a dessert fatality. I guess you can only be Zen about it.
Bodhi, Cook and Phillip Park (downstairs from the forecourt in front of St Mary's Cathedral), Sydney NSW (02) 9360 2523
At Le Petit Crème, you can order a Croque Monsieur, a Croque Madame or better still, the fabulously named Croque Boum-Boum ($11). Or you can go for other Frenchy delights, such as a Camembert Baguette with Salad ($10) or Crepes with Calvados ($8.50) or an Onion Soup. Of course, my first potato-centric thought is, bring on the Frites. Ask for them and Le Petit Crème serve up these delicious potato discs. I used to dream about these frites all the time when I used to work nearby, and I would even say that they are contender for best chips in Sydney.
Just to trigger a skip down French holiday memory lane, I had the Omelette Provencale with Salad ($12), which had garlic and tomato generously folded into the creamy yet light, fluffy eggs. Omelettes can feel like a slight rip-off because they fill you up for only an hour, but this left me satisfyingly full. Will had the Potato Omelette and agreed. Bien (or Boum-Boum) indeed.
Le Petit Crème, 118 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst NSW (02) 9361 4738
OK, yes, Cafe Sofia also serve potatoes on their breakfast menu and I admit to liking them very much. They also have a lot of great vego dishes and a Vegan Breakfast ($10.50) to boot. But it's the Poached Eggs With Potato and Spinach ($11.50) that is always top of my ordering list.
Will is a fan of their Muesli ($6.50), nicely presented with fanned fruit.
Cafe Sofia, 7 Swanson St, Erskineville NSW (02) 9519 1565
I know I've already blogged about A Little On The Side, but it's such a breezy place to go to, I can't help but drill this notion in a little further. Sure, I love their Haloumi Burger, but I also love the fact they do these extra little things they don't have to. Like when Will and I decided to go halves on their Hotcakes With Passionfruit and Mango special, they divvied it up onto two different plates for us. Or that they've frequently given away their housebaked muffins for us to take home, because we're one of the last diners of the day.
I think there'll be quite a few more Sundays I'll be spending there.
A Little On The Side, Corner of Boundary and Ivy Lane, Darlington NSW (02) 9698 2342
Sunday, March 23, 2008
At Bistrode, the Surry Hills bistro run by Jane and Jeremy Strode, what's on offer goes beyond your meal for the night. You can also snap up the chefs' cookbook (Two's Cooking), and even stock up on Jane's range of jams and relishes. But the French-style bistro can be very limiting in other ways - ring days ahead to let the restaurant know you're vegetarian, and you'll sadly get cast-offs as an actual meal.
Sure, the French base entire dishes on dried duck's blood and are famous for their love of goose-choked foie gras, so they're not the poster country for vego-friendly cuisine. But having eaten great meals at French restos such as Elysium and Assiette without even having to first tip off the places that I was a pesky vegetarian and wouldn't be able to have anything meat-centric, I was a l'il ticked off that the advance notice I'd given to Bistrode was to no avail: they still served me random vegetable bits and pieces fossicked from the other mains. I guess the site's former life as a butcher shop was hard to shake off.
For my main, my plate was plopped with shreds of cabbage and fennel, a tomato, some baked potato, a bit of salad, a slop of tapenade, and a ramekin of bland tomato-stewed borlotti beans with peas and corn. The tomato-bean mix tasted like what my sister used to get fed at childcare. (If her childcare centre had boasted a chef's hat and $30 mains, she would have been making unimpressed faces too.)
My friends didn't suffer from such menu misfires though, happily digging into entrees such as the Leek & Bacon Tart ($18) and Pig's Head Terrine ($16.50) and mains like the Warm Duck & Fig Salad ($33) and Blackmore Wagyu Corned Beef with Potato and Anchovy Salad ($32.50).
I also lucked out on the sweet tooth front, my White Peach, Raspberry & White Chocolate Sorbet ($17) sounded exquisite in print but was pretty flavourless to tuck into. Will, on the other hand, scored the dessert hit of the table, with the Honey Tart & Peanut Butter Ice Cream ($16.50). Just so I don't come across as a sour-faced diner, I did enjoy my Passionfruit Turkish Delights ($3) and stealing nibbles from the Cheese Platter ($23.50) that Matt and Al had ordered - especially the 'Valdeon' Blue from Leon, Spain.
Interestingly, while Bistrode gets critical buzz, the punter reviews on Eatability are on the cooler side of lukewarm. One diner nails it when she confesses to being bamboozled over why the restaurant has a chef's hat (it's the most disappointing hatted place I've been to too), and the fact the Strodes were writing for Good Living in the Sydney Morning Herald . Funnily enough, they've had a vego recipe almost every week since I ate there. Surprisingly, the instructions don't say "just add whatever meatless bits you've got lying about in the kitchen - vegos don't mind being demoted as second-class diners anyway!".
Luckily, I was with such warm and buzzing company that the night was incredible and far from a write-off. If only what I'd ordered had matched those heights.
Bistrode, 478 Bourke Street, Surry Hills NSW (02) 9380 7333, www.bistrode.com
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Over cute and likeable strums on his track Hiccups, Darren Hanlon sings, "Some day without trying you'll find something that's rare/Like an eight-letter word with a triple-word square". I think this Scrabble cake could well live up to the exceptional standards his lyrics outline. If only I was brainy enough describe this sugary creation with a word that includes high-scoring Scrabble letters 'J', 'Q', 'X' and 'Z'. In any case, it's an impressive co-production between Tabitha and Nathan. The colourful gateau celebrates the one year anniversary of the monthly Board Games Night that they take part in.
And the cake also happens to be vegan. Double foodie score!
P.S. More posts to come over the Easter holidays.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Things I Like About Nazimi:
1. It is a cute little basement Japanese diner with miniature lamps on each table and easy-on-the-eye Eastern crockery to boot.
2. It takes care of that pesky "what to eat in the city?" dilemma.
3. It's way less greasy than the former "what to eat in the city?" front-runner (cheap & cheery Chinese, served with a bonus pool of oil. Hey, I know, sometimes that extra glisten is what makes slurping hand-made noodles fun).
4. The waitresses are very sweet and even walk with you (sometimes even RUN with you) en route to the toilet, just so you don't get bamboozled and lost. The toilet also has an aesthetic attack of the Japanese cutes, with a mobile of soft plush pink hearts hanging down the wall (I'm not making this up).
5. When Chris ordered the Spider Roll, it was served on a dish with an artfully drip-drawn spiderweb made out of Japanese mayonnaise and the roll was plonked right in the middle like a proper spider. (Despite the name, the main ingredient is actually soft-shell crab. Chris notes the creature's wimpy "protection" means that the vegetarian/moral defence against gobbling it up doesn't really hold - when an animal has a soft shell, nature is basically pushing you to eat it.)
6. The Vegetarian Dinner Box, although slightly exxy at $18 a pop, is packed with goodies: a serving of agedashi tofu in its own little tentsuyu bath, crunchy potato korokae, salty-sweet eggplant steak, a corner stack of edamame (or "edamamas", as Chris calls 'em), veg tempura and inside out sushi rolls. And a bowl of miso soup, which is no wishy-washy affair: it's smoky and thick with flavour.
7. And though the Soba Salad ($9.80), isn't quite as dangerously addictive as the one at Sushi Bar Rashai, it still is bracing and noodle-slurp-satisfying.
8. Sure Nazimi may be more intimate than a capsule motel, yet strangely, I've always gotten a table straight away (bar that Friday night where we had to wait, maybe, 5-10 untroubling minutes).
9. And even when Emme and I were the last ones there, slowly scooping our way through glasses of green tea ice cream very close to closing time, the waitresses didn't stand there death-staring us and pointing at their watch. In fact, they were very lovely and smiley and told us to take our time and not worry.
10. It's a sweet little joint. I always feel a little more upbeat after being there.
Basement, 141 York St, Sydney NSW 2000, (02) 9283 2990
Saturday, March 1, 2008
There are no victory laps, hokey national anthems or teary
press conferences about drug allegations, but there sure is a
lot of good toast involved.
Recently Will and I kick-started the 'Breakfast Olympics', an overly-dramatic name for our "breakfast-off" where we take turns making breakfast (and secretly try to trump each other's efforts in the process). It all began when Will received a slightly eccentric present from his parents - it resembled something Madonna would wear in concert if she was born in the year 2970.
Its function isn't so sci-fi lingerie-esque though: it's basically a
pair of silicon moulds for poaching eggs.
Undergarment-resemblance aside, it's actually pretty cool and useful, given that neither of us have perfected that bizarre art of poaching eggs, which involves this head-scratching method of dripping vinegar into swirling hot water to stop the egg whites from spreading, and everytime I've done it, I've just ended up with waterlogged egg-wrecks. So this nifty mould manages to sideswipe all of that high-maintenance silliness and make poaching easy - even for lazybones like myself.
So Will started off the first week, with a wonderfully simple eggs on sourdough and a side scoop of strawberries and yogurt.
(I added a few shaves of cheese to my eggs - because who doesn't love a bit of savoury-melted bliss on bread?)
The next week, I followed up with avocado (with a squeeze of lime and a crackling of pepper) paired with garlic-roasted cherry tomatoes on sourdough and - as Will calls them - "poachies".
I picked up the bread from Crispy Inn, the great 24-hour bakery in Newtown. After working out their arcane "bread code" (you can figure out which flavoured sourdough is which on the shelf by reading the marks on the bread - it seems very Mason-like!), I bought some potato-and-herb bread which was a fantastically homey loaf. (Not only is it a breakfast treat, I bet it would be awesome, matched with a good winter soup - which brings me to another thought: if we can have fancy dinners with 'matching wines', surely someone can kick up a menu with 'matching breads'?
You could run the gamut of classic plain breads to the nutty, olive-studded ones and finish up on a dessert note with some fruit-plump loaves. I hope to see this in a good restaurant one day!)
Will has this very cute ritual where he has to scrape every last scrap on a plate into one perfect fork bite. (Whereas I'm a messy eater who is happy to keep re-spearing bits of food remains that fall off my fork.) In his amazingly-neat style, he managed to compact every last bit of his meal into a Zen-like cube of pure form. It was such an eerily-precise serve that I was actually compelled to make him take a photo of it.
For 'dessert', I served mango and kiwifruit in wine glasses, drizzled with yogurt, a sprig of mint and some pine nuts. It totally lived up to the truism that any sweet looks good in a wine glass. It was one of those ridiculously easy things to make that has a high yield of "yums" in return.
So we're thinking of ratcheting up this Breakfast Olympics game a notch. Will is going to make Dutch-style poffertjes and is thinking we could up the ante even further with a breakfast degustation, with tiny plates of muesli and fancy eggs and pretty fruit and the like. I'm up for it.
As for the food situation with the actual Olympics in Beijing, there's been a bit of scandal already: a United States Olympic Committee caterer bought supermarket chicken in China and found it "so full of steroids that we never could have given it to athletes. They all would have tested positive”, The New York Times reported recently.
Crispy Inn, 203 King Street, Newtown NSW (02) 9557 3910