Monday, August 29, 2011
Just when you thought Surry Hills was at maximum cafe capacity, along comes another great new addition: Joe Black.
With a mural showing the evolution of human caffeine dependency, this place takes its coffee ultra-seriously. The blackboard offers two Single Origin special brews a day and a house blend, there are take-home packs galore and you may find yourself sitting near a ditting machine or siphon bar. And besides the usual orders, you can ask for a cup of Magic ($3.50). "Not real magic, just ask", says the menu. Turns out it's a 3/4-sized double ristretto flat white; so after a few sips, it performs quite a disappearing act. Hence the "magic".
This, I'm told by Joe Black's staff, is a "Melbourne thing". And the moustache logo on all the takeaway cups? Another influence from that city, too. It's a jokey tribute to the fact that many baristas in Melbourne each sport a mo.
And while the two brothers behind the counter (mischievously) won't own up to who actually runs Joe Black, they will admit that the cafe isn't named after them. Joe Black might as well be the coffee-toting man in the mural.
And even with all this talk about a certain caffeinated drink, Joe Black is not so singleminded about roasted beans to forget that there's more to a cafe than this.
The menu, while currently short, is pretty good (and quite funny). The Pikelet Stack With Stuff ($11), despite its amusingly vague title, is filled with noteworthy ingredients: airy ricotta, a lovely jam-like berry compote and a good topping of strawberry and apple slices. It's an excellent breakfast option and quite fun to structurally demolish with a knife and fork. (And its greatness estranges it from the dreaded vegie stack of the 1990s, of no flavour relation.) Like this dish, there are other offerings with amusing commentary on the menu: Granola with Diced Apple & Berry Compote (very fancy) ($8.50) and Chivi Steak Sandwich with Graviche (it's French for yum) ($13). And yes, Joe Black's Milkshakes (bring the boys to the yard).
I also really enjoyed the Mushroom & Hummus on Rye – a great vego sandwich. The surprise layer of parsley-flecked mushroom pate just bumps it up an extra notch. And the home-baked White Chocolate & Raspberry 'Blondie', made by barista Gemma, is an excellent treat; as you cut into the slice, the raspberry bits bleed all over the chopping board, as a sign of how satisfyingly sticky and sweet it is.
This is just part of the limited selection on offer at Joe Black; surely it can only get better as the cafe expands to a full-range menu?
This tiny joint has only been open for two weeks and its likeable approach inspires "hope this place does well" feelings. Besides its fine menu, Joe Black also has wit and personality on its side (how could you not like a cafe where the staff addresses familiar faces as "gangsters" and chooses to decorate the walls with a picture of JFK, an eye chart and a poster of Peter Norman?). We may have only just met, but Joe Black is someone I'd want hanging around for a long time.
Joe Black, 27 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills NSW. Follow on Facebook or Twitter.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Visiting the Cara & Co restaurant is like trying a spritz of tester-bottle perfume – a few hints are enough to transport you to a place that's unfamiliar and alluring.
The high-end DNA of this eatery comes from Moscow, where the original Cara & Co store was named "one of the best boutiques in the world" by The Wall Street Journal. Its second and only Australian outlet just opened in Westfield Sydney and thrives off the flipside of namedropping – its "No Logos Fashion Only" motto means its clothing, jewellery and accessories have all been created especially by designer labels, minus the ostentatious branding.
The fashion seeps into the attached restaurant, too, with its looped projections of sulky models taking very expensive footsteps down catwalks, wearing designs that reflect what is on sale in the boutique.
Beyond all this haute couture and its mandatory gallery of perfect cheekbones, the interior has quite a few elements to hook your interest. There's the glass floor lit up like a disco in neutral mode, the cute rows of mismatching chairs, the blaze of intriguing pendants and a huge, vintage contraption in the corner that has no obvious back-story. "It's a time machine from Russia," quips the waiter. (Contradicting this, of course, is this ageing instrument's plaque containing French writing and a Paris address that I recognise for the least romantic of reasons: rue LaMartine is where, for the price of a few euros, I watched the tumble-dry ballet of my ever-rotating shirt sleeves and pant legs, every rising degree getting closer to the cycle's finish.)
The food at Cara & Co. is witty and adventurous – one dish is called Back To Your Roots ($22) and has baby root vegetables "planted" in soft cheese and a "soil" of textured crumbs. The Devil's Risotto ($28) is bloodbath-red from all the beetroot juice it's been cooked in. Cubed apple and horseradish add a sneaky touch (to cut through the beet-rich intensity, the contrast levels could be pushed a little higher on these other ingredients though). The United Textures of Chocolate ($23) is a fun civil war of flavours, with airy chocolate grounded on a hazelnut biscuit base, passionfruit seeds fighting off choc "pop rocks" and scoops of coffee and passionfruit ice cream. This lighthearted mood is conveyed in the names of other dishes, too, such as In Rhubarb We Trust ($21) and The Cheese Trap ($35).
The menu has been overseen by Belgian chef Dave De Belder, who runs De Godevaart in Antwerp and, according to Scott Bolles in Good Living is "tipped to join the ranks of Michelin-starred eateries in the next award season". With the food, the chef wants to convey dishes that are "typically Flemish but with an Australian touch". By "Flemish", he means pure flavour – the instant "wow, I want take another bite" effect; also crucial is a strong dose of visual magic ("people eat with their eyes," he says) and the wonder of high-contrast textures. The local touch comes through Australian produce (beef, salsify, truffles). And, yes, a Vegemite-inspired dish, is on the cards for the next menu.
And while both the chef and waiter insist that "there is nothing else like this in Sydney", ultra-scientific, inventive dishes alive with rat-a-tat flavours are not hard to find here. Think Bentley, Arras, Gastro Park – even Biota Dining in Bowral.
The whole dining experience at Cara & Co, though – with its catwalk video loops, one-of-a-kind design and shared gene pool with a high-end boutique – that truly isn't like anything in this city right now.
Cara & Co Restaurant, Shop 4001, Level 4, Westfield Sydney, 188 Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW (02) 9226 9988, www.caraandco.com/en/restaurant_caraandco. Finding the restaurant after hours can be tricky – best bet is to take the escalator near Sportsgirl all the way up to Becasse on Level 5, then go one floor down and you'll see Cara & Co.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
You could accuse 2011 of being a repeat offender when it comes to good new places to dine.
Surry Hills is often the scene of this particular crime, given the location of the recently opened The Carrington and its likeable pintxos bar meets old-school pub approach; the truly excellent Orto Trading Co. (still titleholder of "favourite new restaurant" for me) and its Latin street-food neighbour, El Capo.
Only footsteps away is the brilliant 121BC Cantina & Enoteca, which opened in early 2011. It's a spin-off from the Vini family, which has a great culinary gene pool. Like at Vini, owner Andrew Cibej creates magic from the smallest of kitchens – and the vegetarian options are excellent, from the fried cauliflower with mint and taleggio to the creamy clouds of buffalo mozzarella spiked with chilli or the beautifully fanned out artichokes (only $4). And you can tour all the regions of Italy simply via your wine glass.
Macarons somehow seem immune to overkill – despite being ubiquitous like a tabloid celebrity no one wants to read about anymore, people are still keen to get their meringue/ganache fix. And when it's done with invention and skill, like at Cre Asion (which is also, yes, in Surry Hills and actually located next to Vini/121BC's sibling, Berta), then this sweet's unending popularity is well justified. Owner Yu Sasaki pays tribute to his time in the kitchen at Universal with an excellent Golden-Gaytime-flavoured macaron named after former boss Christine Manfield. The flavour spectrum spans from Cranberry to Yuzu ($2.70 each, or $21 for 8), with oddities such as White Miso (a buttery-salt-bomb). You can also pick up excellent toasties, like the Kalamata Olive, Tomato, Basil and House-Made Ricotta sandwich, with its golden grill marks (a telltale sign of well-toasted goodness), and takeaway packages of Olive Shortbread ($7). Oh and when you're there, waiting amongst the butterfly stools, how could you not fall in love with Cre Asion's amazing ode to Mr Bread?
2011 has also seen Sydney go through Bad Mexican Food Rehab, with some excellent (and overdue) takes on the often mishandled cuisine. Mexicano in Narrabeen opened at the start of the year and is still the best of its kind I've had in this city. I still think about its street-style Grilled Corn with chipotle mayo, lime and cheese – all fired up and charged with flavour. There's of course, Dan Hong's excellent take on Mexican (via a culinary stopover in Vietnam) at El Loco in Surry Hills. I've yet to try any of the soft-serve offerings on tap at this canteen, but the Cinnamon Bun with Churros option sounds awesome. On the topic of Mexican food, Barrio Chino in Kings Cross is not too bad, either. And though its cuisine spans many more borders, within walking distance of that eatery is the culinary wonderland that is Gastro Park.
When it opened in May, I remember saying that The Dip inspired "I'm so glad this exists" gratitude. I'm obviously not alone as this canteen is increasingly more popular with every visit I make. And while the eternal Ice Cold Guac vs Cookies & Cream dessert-ordering battle continues (they are both flat-out great, so how to decide?), complicating this has been Levins' recent addition of Peanut Butter & Jelly as a special and Ross Eldridge's talk of experimenting with a Bubble O' Bill-style concoction only makes things more interesting.
And in 2011, there have been great new places to park your drink on a coaster, from the living-room-sized Grandma's Bar in the city, where beverages are served with doilies, to Stitch's offering of curly fries, cocktails and couture and Dry Land in Redfern's two-in-one handiness as both a diner and bar, saving you from the "where to go next"? debate that can often go nowhere after a meal is long-finished and you really need to get things moving.
And here are some note-worthy places that are due to open later this year:
-In September, the John and Peter Canteen pop-up cafe gets a makeover and a later curfew – besides lunch, there'll be a dinner service, too.
-Brilliant chefs Daniel Puskas and James Parry (who have wanted to open a restaurant together since their time at Oscillate Wildly) are finally teaming up for Sixpenny in Stanmore, scheduled to be ready in October.
-A new Fratelli Fresh and Cafe Sopra (with mozzarella bar) is slated to open on Bridge Street in the city.
-The wonderful Arras has relocated and is setting up in Becasse's old spot on Clarence Street in the city, with a hole-in-the-wall cafe called Arras Too due to keep it company.
-The also-great Bentley has a city offshoot in the works, scheduled for later this year.
-Chui Lee Luk of Claude's will be opening a casual Asian eatery in Surry Hills in November (I joked on Twitter that I hoped she'd honour the Chinese restaurant tradition of leaky teapots – she wittily replied with "maximal tea spillage guaranteed if you request it".)
-And Star City will see the opening of the new David Chang restaurant and Adriano Zumbo patisserie (with interiors done by Luchetti Krelle, a local studio known for its award-winning and diner-impressing work).
Tell me what I've missed …!
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Hey, here's a shameless mention of a few things I'm part of.
If you turn up to Feast Your Eyes, you'll find a bar recipe booklet with contributions by Levins (The Dip), Spod, We Buy Your Kids, Jake Stone, Elmo Keep and many more; some of the accompanying illustrations will be available as artwork; there'll be music (including my low-level DJing/attempts to brainwash everyone into wearing away their dancing shoes) and food-as-bribery to entice you if the preceding drawcards aren't enough. I'm writing the intro to the recipe booklet, too.
It's on Wednesday August 17 at The World Bar (home to the about-to-be-unveiled Apothecary Bar), 24 Bayswater Rd, Kings Cross, from 7-10pm. The whole night doubles as the launch for the food section of The Brag, as well.
Nearby at FBi Social, a new weekly night is making a play for your diary. Pot Luck is a mix of "readings, skits, bingo, art installations, film, crafternoons, astrologers". It launches this Friday with a quiz, live music, a giant chess set (!) and stories from Penguin Plays Rough. Next week, Friday 19, there'll be a mini zine fair, and yes, I'll be shilling my food zine. So drop by FBi Social, Level 2 at the Kings Cross Hotel, 248 William St, Kings Cross, if you're curious.
And I promise, there'll be a normal post soon!