Spice I Am, Surry Hills

I have eaten at this favourite Thai restaurant so many times I thought it was about time I blogged about it. It’s become our default option every time we go to Belvoir St Theatre which is a brisk 10 minute walk further up Elizabeth Street. Everything we have eaten here is so fantastically full of flavour – and we try to sample new things every time – that we never tire of it.

Small, low-key, bustling and spilling out of its open frontage onto the street, this place at 90 Wentworth Avenue is the original of what is now a stable of four Thai eateries watched over by co-owner and Head Chef Sujet Saenkham. There’s also House (literally around the corner) which specialises in cuisine from Isaan in North Eastern Thailand, packing quite a punch with predominantly salty, sour and chili flavours; a much larger and fancier Spice I Am in Darlinghurst; and the newest member of the family, Spice I Am Balmain.

As is usual on approach to the Surry Hills joint, there’s a queue of people waiting for a table. The friendly, efficient, T-shirt-clad Thai girls who staff the restaurant will add your name to the list and take a phone number in case you want to go and have a drink nearby. While you’re at it, pick up a bottle of wine or some beers (there’s a bottlo at Triple Ace Bar on the opposite corner) as the restaurant is BYO only. Fortunately we’re early enough (6.15pm!) that we don’t need to wait too long.

This time we go for yum woon saen, a mung bean vermicelli salad with minced pork, cuttlefish, prawns, dried shrimp and peanuts. The key flavours are lime juice, fish sauce and lots of chilli (as could be said of many Thai dishes!) but it’s so much more than that, and the textures of slippery noodles, nuggets of meat and seafood, and crunchy peanuts are just fabulous.

Mung bean vermicelli salad with pork, prawns, dried shrimp and peanuts

Mung bean vermicelli salad with pork, cuttlefish, prawns, dried shrimp and peanuts, Spice I Am

We also get the deep-fried whole fish topped with tamarind sauce which is so yummy that we pick the bones clean and scoop up every morsel of the sweet-sour, fruity, jammy sauce.

Whole deep fried fish with tamarind sauce

Whole deep fried fish with tamarind sauce, Spice I Am

On previous trips here we’ve eaten the red duck curry with lychees and pineapple; pad prik king with crispy pork belly; crispy pork belly stir fried with Chinese brocoli, chilli and oyster sauce (yes, we really like pork belly!); green papaya salad with dried shrimp, peanuts and chilli; and the chu chee curry which is the most decadent combination of deep-fried protein in a rich, creamy sauce infused with kaffir lime leaves.

There are very few places we’ve tasted Thai as good as this, even in Thailand. And you’ll likely come away with change from $50 for two. According to their website, even Thai travellers to Sydney say you can’t get Thai food as authentic as this even in Bangkok anymore. So, if you love Thai food and you haven’t yet been to Spice I Am… well, what the heck are you waiting for?!

Spice I Am
90 Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills
Visited 28 August 2012

A grandmother remembered

My paternal grandmother, Joan Pearce (Granny, to me), would have turned 99 this year if she were still alive. I always remember the year of her birth because it was the year after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. It’s hard to imagine what her life would have been like as a young girl, coming into consciousness in the midst of World War One, blossoming into adolescence in the roaring 20s, only to live through another World War in which her husband fought with the RAF and was away for years on end on highly secret missions. It’s a wonder my father and uncle Gavin were born; obviously there must have been short spells of leave to return home! My father recalls meeting his father, for the first time that he remembers, when he was five years old, at the end of the war. Having been brought up solely until this point by his mother and his beloved Granny Lucy, it was very odd to suddenly have this strange man in the house.

My first memories of Granny are of visiting her on my own when I was six. I grew up on the Isle of Man and she lived in Montacute, a sweet little village in Somerset with a stately home that had enormous goldfish in a round ornamental pond. I also remember the sweet shop not far from her house where she’d buy me a quarter of pear drops in a little paper bag. And dragging a dolls pram down the back lane which she made for me from a cardboard crate and a piece of string. She also made me an outfit for my doll out of grey woollen material with red blanket stitch around the edges, and she knitted me countless jumpers, my favourite of which was an apple green mohair affair. We’d play hide and seek (I nearly always hid in the shed and locked it) and Grandma’s Footsteps, and I’d make mud pies from soil and water and stick little wild flowers into them. In later years, after she moved to the Isle of Man, she taught me to ride a bike on the promenade in front of her flat, to play Gin Rummy, and to knit, spin and weave. She also told the most wonderful ‘Farmer Guppy’ stories which were always based on my siblings and I and our cousins; my favourite one was about Christmas time when we’d go sledging with Mr Guppy and Mrs Guppy would stay home baking all sorts of treats for us.

A great number of my fondest memories of Granny involve food. As a little girl she’d give me tinned peach halves – two of them in a bowl with some syrup from the tin, and cream floating on top so that they looked like fried eggs. ‘Thunder and lightening’ was soft, white bread rolls split and spread with a magical mixture of butter and golden syrup. For a treat I’d have an orange into which she’d cut a hole at the top and push in a sugar lump or two to suck the juice through. We’d make chocolate chip cookies, which I remember being big, flat and crisp, and we’d eat them straight from the oven while the chocolate chips were still melty. She made a fantastic chicken and vegetable soup with pearl barley, and roast leg of lamb with wonderfully crispy roast potatoes. And she taught me how to cook leeks, braising them gently in a knob of butter with the saucepan lid on, a method I use to this day.

In my late teens I stopped seeing Granny so often, preoccupied with other things, and she eventually moved back to the UK, to Surrey, to be near our younger cousins. But after finishing university and moving to London, I’d visit her quite regularly, catching the train down to Guildford on a Friday after work, and then the bus to Cranleigh, or driving down with uncle Nick and his partner Kiki. We all had such fun together, taking Granny out for a nice pub lunch, or to a garden centre, and then in the evenings we’d do the cooking, telling Granny to put her feet up, although I know she found it hard to stay out of the kitchen. Then we’d chat or watch the telly, getting tiddly on Cointreau or Amaretto over ice.

For her 90th birthday the family threw a huge party in a gorgeous old tithe barn surrounded by lush green fields. It was beautifully decorated with flowers and balloons, my aunt Christine produced a fabulous buffet spread, and the weather was stunning, one of those rare perfect English summer days. Everyone was there: family spanning four generations, and friends young and old including Granny’s bridesmaid, now quite an elderly lady herself! I’d been living in Sydney for just over a year and was about to start my first proper job here; I was very concerned about taking any time off. But my employers agreed to let me go and I was gone and back again within a week, the most ridiculously short trip to the other side of the world that I’ve ever made! I’m so thankful that I did make that trip. By Christmas of the same year she had deteriorated further from earlier strokes, and in May the following year she died.

Thank you, Granny, for being a wonderful friend, a great teacher, and for your wicked sense of humour and surprisingly modern outlook on life. Thank you for fuelling some of my earliest food memories. I can’t look at a tin of peach halves, or a jar of golden syrup, without thinking of you.

Granny at her 90th birthday party

Granny at her 90th birthday party, July 2003

Darlie Laundromatic

Darlie Laundromatic still has its original blue lightbox sign and copper pipes with taps, now for hanging coats on, fixed along the walls. It glows welcomingly with dim, warm light as I arrive and enter, walking past a long communal table with high stools towards the bar. I’m greeted by a smiling woman in a lovely retro dress and I explain that I’m meeting a friend here. (One of the things I like most about the small bars of Sydney is how friendly the staff are.) Beyond the bar and down a couple of steps are some small tables, opposite an open kitchen, beneath washing lines pegged with tea towels and even a small crocheted cardigan. Tonight they’re also festooned with balloons and streamers; when I called earlier to book a table I was told they were having a little party for one of the managers of the bar. Past this area there is a small courtyard with more seating. It’s a little chilly on this particular evening to sit outside but give it a few weeks…

I take my place at our reserved candle-lit table with its jam jar of flowers and while I wait for my companion I sample one of their organic cordials with vodka and soda. I try the spiced sour apple, and when Monica arrives shortly after she goes for the raspberry and ginger – both are delicious, if a little bit short on cordial. There’s also a concise wine list of mostly Australian drops and four cocktails that make use of the aforementioned cordials. The food menu consists of snacks, share plates, mini hotdogs and burgers, and a couple of sandwiches and salads, plus a specials board. We share a grilled field mushroom sandwich on thick toasted sourdough with tomato, rocket, caramelised onion and harissa aioli…

Grilled field mushroom on sourdough with tomato, rocket, caramelised onions and harissa aioli

Grilled field mushroom on sourdough with tomato, rocket, caramelised onions and harissa aioli, Darlie Laundromatic

…and a grilled haloumi and eggplant salad with quinoa tabouli and mint.

Grilled haloumi and eggplant salad with quinoa tabouli and mint

Grilled haloumi and eggplant salad with quinoa tabouli and mint, Darlie Laundromatic

Both are wonderfully fresh and tasty – good quality ingredients in simple combinations. Monica is in raptures about the mushroom sandwich, declaring it the best mushroom sandwich she has ever tasted! I wash it down with a glass of Dal Zotto Reisling from Victoria, full of zingy fruit, and Monica tries the Yarraloch Arneis, also from Victoria, which is beautifully floral without being at all sweet.

Fully sated and very pleased with our cute, cosy new bar find, we emerge into the cool night air and climb the hill a mere 20 metres or so to bustling Oxford Street. Here we part ways, vowing not to leave it too long until our next catch up and our next new bar discovery mission.

Darlie Laundromatic
304 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst
Visited 16 August 2012

Braised rabbit, and banana cake with caramel sauce

In celebration of our beautiful new cooktop which arrived and was installed last Friday, I had a weekend of cooking. On Saturday I made a rabbit stew which has been on my ‘Things To Cook’ list for ages, and on Sunday a banana and caramel cake.

With the high winds on Saturday and only a bike for transport, shopping for my Thomasina Miers rabbit recipe takes until lunch time. I’m slightly stunned at the price of rabbits – two cost me just over $50! I had presumed, like many other slow-cooking cuts, they were going to be cheap, but alas, no. Never mind; I am determined, once in my life, to cook rabbit! I brown my two rabbits (which the butcher at the wonderful Dulwich Hill Gourmet Meats has jointed into four pieces each), first coating them in plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and put them into the slow-cooker. Next I sauté two diced celery sticks and 10 peeled whole French shallots in some clean oil (after wiping the blackened flour out of my pan), and put those aside. The next step is to caramelise, in a knob of butter, the cut surfaces of an orange cut in half around its equator, and a whole head of garlic cut likewise. Aside go those too. Into the pan now I put 100g of blanched almonds, fairly finely chopped, a tablespoon of chopped rosemary, a teaspoon of chopped thyme, two bay leaves, a pinch of saffron threads, an inch of grated ginger and the zest of a lemon, and stir them around until the nuts turn golden brown. Meanwhile I heat up 200ml of sherry. I pour the sherry into the nut mixture along with the sautéed vegetables, orange and garlic, and I’m supposed to light the sherry with a match and let it flambé. Perhaps the sherry isn’t hot enough because it refuses to ignite, so instead I let it bubble for a bit so that the alcohol burns off. Next I add 500ml of chicken stock and bring it to the boil before pouring the lot over the rabbit pieces and turning the slow-cooker on high.

By now it’s about 6.30pm because I’ve had to pop out mid-prep to the bottlo for sherry, and I’ve had a lovely Skype with my brother and twin niece and nephew, and dinner is clearly not going to be ready until bedtime! This happens to me a lot – I should always allow about twice the time that I think it’s going to take to make anything. Mr T has given up and gone to the pub for dinner with friends, and I resort to that most reliable of staples, pasta and pesto. Not to worry, the rabbit will taste even better tomorrow night…

Next day I set about making the banana and caramel cake, one of the fabulous recipes in my Bourke Street Bakery book. First I cream 250g of unsalted butter with 355g of caster sugar and the seeds from a vanilla bean (split lengthways and scraped out) in the Kenwood mixer (thank you, Jono!) with the whisk attachment. Only trouble is the butter is so cold (since I forgot to take it out of the fridge in advance) that it takes about half an hour of whisking, scraping the sides, whisking, scraping, to coax it into the right consistency. Then I whisk in four eggs, one at a time, with more side scraping to ensure they’re properly incorporated. Next in goes 200g of sour cream in two batches and 300g sifted self-raising flour, again in two batches. I mash three ripe bananas and sprinkle them with brown sugar before folding them through the mixture, and then pour it into a greased, lined 28cm tin. By now Mr T has arrived home from work so I give him the bowl and spatula to lick. (I have already had my fun with the whisk attachment!) The cake goes into the oven at 200 degrees celsius for 55 minutes initially, soon after which I place another piece of baking paper over the top to stop it going too brown.

Meanwhile, I heat up some rabbit stew. (There are another six helpings in the freezer. Before boxing it up, I scraped into the sauce the flesh from the now-soft orange halves and squirted all the garlic out of its soggy, papery skins.) Much of the meat has fallen off the bones but that’s only a good sign as far as I’m concerned, even if it doesn’t look terribly attractive. To go with it we have steamed broccoli and mashed potato with lots of butter, hot milk, salt and pepper and about four teaspoons of Dijon mustard; I once had rabbit with a mustardy sauce and it was a good combo. The result is delicious – the rabbit is tender and moist and tastes like a gamier version of chicken (but with a lot more bones!), and the sauce is crunchy with nuts and subtly orangey. The mash is robust in flavour and a perfect accompaniment.

Braised rabbit with rosemary and orange

Braised rabbit with rosemary and orange, Chez Mr & Mrs T

Dinner is interrupted a couple of times to check the cake. At 55 minutes a skewer comes out still sticky so we give it another ten and that seems to do it. Now for the caramel. Into a big saucepan I put 100ml of water and 300g caster sugar. Once dissolved I stop stirring and leave the mixture to bubble away on a fairly high heat for 7-10 minutes until it starts to go caramel coloured around the sides, taking it off the heat at that point to stop it burning. Meanwhile I’ve heated 200ml of whipping cream to near boiling point and now I add that to the sugar solution and it expands to about four times its original volume, bubbling ferociously up the sides of the pan, hence the need to use a big pan. This now goes back onto the heat and I whisk it until it’s smooth, after which I take it off the heat and let it cool slightly before whisking in 80g of unsalted butter for flavour and glossiness. I then pour it slowly over the still-warm cake, now out of its tin, into which Mr T has poked about 40 holes with a skewer so that the caramel oozes inside. Fortunately he has also had the foresight to put the cake in a pie dish with fairly high sides because much of the caramel runs off the cake forming a moat around it. I then spend the next 20 minutes basting the cake, trying to encourage more caramel into the holes!

When we slice it shortly after that it’s still so warm and soft that it disintegrates a bit, but it tastes amazing, so sweet and gooey, taking me back 30 years to the treacle sponge pudding we had at primary school. It’s crying out for vanilla ice cream but sadly we don’t have any. Next morning, after a night in the fridge, it’s completely solid and cuts easily like a dense cake, beautifully marbled and tasting much more of bananas than it did before. I take half the cake into work to share with colleagues for morning tea, by which time it’s reached room temperature which is another experience again. Now I notice the browned, toffee-coated crust which lends a lovely chewiness to contrast the sponge. Like the perfect little black dress, this versatile dish transitions effortlessly from desk to dinner table! Personally I think it shines best as a pudding, still warm from the oven and drowned in hot, runny caramel. Just don’t forget the vanilla ice cream.

Banana cake with caramel sauce

Banana cake with caramel sauce, Chez Mr & Mrs T

Petty Cash Café, Marrickville

Petty Cash Café has been in my ‘hood for a couple of years now, and I’ve been meaning to check it out pretty much all of that time, especially since it’s right opposite the gym we go to. And now we’ve been twice in the space of three weeks! The first time, Mr T took me there practically straight off the plane from London, in a bid to prevent me from going to bed and ruining my anti-jet-lag strategy. I had the Mexican Breakfast which is an enormous pile of scrambled eggs on sourdough toast, studded with slices of chorizo, roasted red capsicum, chilli and coriander. Seriously yum and very filling – I didn’t need to eat again until the evening.

Mexican Breakfast

Mexican Breakfast, Petty Cash Café

Mr T had extremely tasty duck, orange and pistachio sausages served with wickedly creamy mash, bok choy and a couple of different relishes which are all made on the premises. The sausages come from acclaimed AC Butchery in Leichhardt and they don’t supply just any old cafe, you know!

Duck, orange and pistachio sausages, mash, bok choy, relish

Duck, orange and pistachio sausages, mash, bok choy, relish, Petty Cash Café (photo borrowed from Petty Cash facebook page!)

Our second time was this very morning to meet fellow Inner-Westie friends (and a Redfernite, which is near enough). Coming straight from the gym on a rather chilly day I’m a little nervous that the only table that becomes available is outside, but it matters not – there’s a huge pile of multi-coloured, crocheted knee-rugs to wrap oneself in. In fact, if there are no tables, which looks to be a regular occurrence, you can take some of said rugs into the park opposite and they’ll bring your order out to you to eat picnic-style. They’re nice like that, the bunch who run this place; several armfuls of tattoos between them, they’re friendly, down to earth and proud to be producing good, homemade food in a relaxed, homely environment with quirky, nana-chic charm.

Coffees all round to start with, which come out in mismatched cups and saucers, and very nice coffee it is too.

Flat white

Flat white, Petty Cash Café

Mr T has a Belgian hot chocolate which is always a mistake since nobody, but nobody, makes it as strong as he likes it, except him. True to form it’s not up to scratch, but it’s not really their fault. I go for the Petty Cash Breakie (vego version): eggs (poached) on sourdough toast, haloumi, roasted tomatoes and homemade baked beans.

Petty Cash Breakie (vego version)

Petty Cash Breakie (vego version), Petty Cash Café

The roasted tomatoes could do with a bit longer in the oven but the baked beans are great – sweet, spicy, tomatoey goodness. Mr T finds his lemony lamb burger a bit underwhelming on the flavour front. Jono very much enjoys his poached eggs on toast with a side of relish, and Mindy’s boys hoover up their bacon and egg Turkish sandwich with barbecue sauce.

The star of the day, for me, is our shared ‘second breakfast’, accompanied by more coffees, of toasted brioche slices sandwiched with vanilla ice cream and chocolate ganache, covered with copious quantities of chocolate sauce, maple syrup and sliced strawberries. So eager am I to dig in that I completely forget to take a photo! It’s a bugger, really, because it means I’ll have to go back again soon and order the same thing – such a great pity, but there you have it.

Petty Cash Café
68 Victoria Road, Marrickville
Visited 12 August 2012

Arras Too, Sydney

This is going to be a short post after my last mammoth one but I simply have to write something about the delicious lunch I had on Thursday. My colleague Ann and I walked into the city for a spot of shopping on Kent Street, and I remembered there was a place in nearby Clarence Street that I’d been really wanting to go to. Arras Too is a barely more than a hole-in-the-wall with a few tables outside on the street, next door to its big brother Arras restaurant, a fine diner which moved here from Walsh Bay. The Clarence Street address is the same site that used to be occupied by Becasse and its baby version Plan B, before their ill-fated move to Westfield. But, enough of restaurant relocations!

Arras Too has good coffee and a great selection of gourmet sandwiches, salads, pork pies, sausage rolls and a few sweet treats like brownies and custard tarts. But the reason we’ve come here is for the Scotch eggs. Boy howdy, do I love a Scotch egg! When I was back in the Isle of Man visiting family recently I had one for lunch every single day. They’re not readily available in Sydney, as far as I can make out, so I had to get my fill back in Blighty. So, you can imagine my delight on hearing from a friend a while ago that Arras Too (which, as you might have supposed, is run by a British couple) not only had Scotch eggs, but they were homemade, and they were the bomb!

We have a Scotch egg each and split a roasted vegetable, bean and feta salad. I cut my Scotch egg in half with a sense of eager anticipation… it looks magnificent! The egg has a beautiful, moist, dark-yellow yolk, the sausage meat is wonderfully seasoned and oniony, and the crumb on the outside is crisp and crunchy. Homemade Scotch eggs are so superior to shop-bought ones! It’s safe to say I’m very happy at this point and know that Arras Too and I will become firm friends. The salad is really good too and the whole thing comes to under $16 for the two of us – and we’re full for the rest of the afternoon!

Scotch egg and roasted vegetable, bean and feta salad

Scotch egg and roasted vegetable, bean and feta salad, Arras Too

Arras Too
204 Clarence Street, Sydney
Visited 9 August 2012

Guillaume at Bennelong

With Mr T’s 40th birthday and our second wedding anniversary in the last week, something special was called for. We studied the menus of a few of Sydney’s top restaurants and chose Guillaume at Bennelong, Mr T’s reasoning being that the degustation features two desserts. Not only that, they involve both dark chocolate and raspberries!

In summary, the whole experience is exquisite: a masterclass in simplicity, refinement and balance, from the service to every morsel set before us. The only thing not understated is the magnificent setting inside the ribcage of the smallest Opera House shell with views of the city skyline and Harbour Bridge, which we are lucky enough to enjoy from the best table in the house at the ‘prow of the ship’. It pays to let them know beforehand if you’re celebrating a big occasion.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin! First the ‘amuse bouche’ which is a chilled, creamy oyster served in its shell, set in a soft, green jelly tasting of cucumber and briny oyster juices. The first course is a piece of raw sashimi -grade yellowfin tuna, wrapped in basil leaves and very subtly dressed with soy and mustard seed vinaigrette. It’s all about showcasing the clean, mildly rich flavour of the tuna.

Basil infused Yellowfin tuna, soy and mustard seed vinaigrette

Basil infused yellowfin tuna, soy and mustard seed vinaigrette, Guillaume at Bennelong

Next is a royale of globe artichoke, a light-as-air artichoke mousse which hovers above your tongue, beautifully complemented in its creaminess by a small pile of mud crab, both of which are cut through by the acidity of a barigoule vinaigrette floating on top with the crunchy texture of very finely diced carrots, celery and chives.

Royale of globe artichoke, mud crab, barigoule vinaigrette

Royale of globe artichoke, mud crab, barigoule vinaigrette, Guillaume at Bennelong

After that comes scallops, pan-fried with a golden crust, sitting on a watercress sauce and lemon foam (in which the flavours of watercress and lemon are strangely illusive). Perched above is the finest potato crisp with the texture of wafer, topped with little bubbles of salty caviar that pop in the mouth, and for a little drama there are dark purple edible petals.

Scallops, lemon emulsion, watercress veloute, Sterling caviar

Scallops, lemon emulsion, watercress velouté, Sterling caviar, Guillaume at Bennelong

This is followed by a fillet of John Dory, again beautifully crispy on the outside, surrounded by a puddle of carrot and ginger purée with coriander, accompanied by a delightful tumbleweed of crispy, angel-hair potato allumettes (matchsticks). Talk about fancy fish and chips! The flavour of the purée is fantastic and instantly makes me feel like making soup, and there are beautiful sweet, buttered heirloom carrots too.

John Dory, carrot and ginger puree, coriander, pommes allumettes

John Dory, carrot and ginger purée, coriander, pomme allumettes, Guillaume at Bennelong

Next up is a cube of Grimaud duck, rich, fatty and dark pink, served with little mounds of divine sweet potato and foie gras purée and a wedge of fresh fig, rounded out by the bitter, slightly burnt flavour of char-grilled radicchio and fine swirls of balsamic jus.

Grimaud duck, sweet potato and foie gras puree, figs, radicchio, radish, balsamic jus

Grimaud duck, sweet potato and foie gras purée, figs, radicchio, radish, balsamic jus, Guillaume at Bennelong

The final savoury course is deboned rib of Tajima Wagyu, tender, very rare and streaked with fat, accompanied by tiny, herby mushrooms and a generous couple of spoonfuls of Paris Mash which is velvety and sticky and melt-in-the-mouth buttery. Seeping out from underneath the beef is a pool of thick Merlot reduction (20 bottles of wine to one or two litres of sauce!), a viscous, blackcurranty syrup of heady deliciousness.

Debonded rib eye of Tajima Wagyu beef, shimeji mushrooms, baby spinach, shallot, merlot sauce

Debonded rib eye of Tajima Wagyu beef, shimeji mushrooms, baby spinach, shallot, Merlot sauce, Guillaume at Bennelong

It’s Mr T’s lucky night because instead of two desserts we actually get three, on account, I think, of his birthday. The first is fresh, plump raspberries on a smear of vanilla cream with a little almondy pistachio cake, a perfect miniature crème brûlee and a quinelle of raspberry sorbet which tastes exactly of fresh raspberries.

Fresh rapberries, pistachio gateaux, vanilla cream creme brulee, raspberry sorbet

Fresh raspberries, pistachio gateaux, vanilla cream crème brûlée, raspberry sorbet, Guillaume at Bennelong

Next is a Valrhona dark chocolate soufflé served in a tiny copper saucepan with a scoop of vanilla bean and cherry ripple ice cream inserted, at the table, into the top. Mr T’s verdict is that it’s not chocolatey enough but I thoroughly enjoy its feather-light consistency with slightly chewy bits round the edges, although I don’t detect any cherry flavour in the ice cream.

Valrhona chocolate souffle, vanilla bean and cherry ripple ice cream

Valrhona chocolate soufflé, vanilla bean and cherry ripple ice cream, Guillaume at Bennelong

Our bonus dessert is the Valrhona ‘Guanaja’ globe: dark chocolate ice cream rolled in caramelised chopped hazelnuts and topped with gold leaf, sitting inside a hollow chocolate globe with Swiss-cheese holes, on an expanse of vanilla bean crème anglaise that spells out the words ‘Happy Birthday’. Mr T finds this dish “intensely chocolatey” which in his world is a very good thing!

Valrhona chocolate globe, vanilla creme anglaise

Valrhona ‘Guanaja’ globe, caramelised hazelnuts, vanilla bean crème anglaise, Guillaume at Bennelong

I go for the matching wines as it’s such a fabulous opportunity to try some drops that I’d never normally have the imagination (or the budget!) to sample, given my propensity to stick to what I know and love. They’re all delicious and I’ll certainly be looking out for some of them at the local bottlo.

Although we have a truly wonderful night, we’re not sure if it’s worth the $500 plus that it costs. But then you don’t go to a place like this for value for money; you go for the experience which, as I said at the beginning, is exquisite. And if you can’t do it to mark a 40th birthday, then when the bloody hell can you?!

Guillaume at Bennelong
Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Visited 3 August 2012

Revolver, Annandale

Forgive me readers for I have sinned; it’s been nearly a month since my last blog post!! And oh my goodness I’ve missed it! So, on with the show…

I really needed to go into the city at lunch time on Tuesday to do some last-minute birthday shopping for Mr T, but instead I was arm-twisted to go for lunch, with the lovely ladies in my pod at work, to Revolver in Annandale. Boy am I glad that I did!

This beautiful building was originally intended to be a pub, back when it was constructed in the late 19th Century, and it’s clear why with its big corner site and wrap-around balcony. In a terrible state of disrepair when they bought it, the current owners have lovingly restored it – don’t you just adore them already? Inside it’s all dark wood and warm tones with a fire in one corner and a sliding library-style ladder, which I covet, attached to the produce-laden shelves. I could seriously move in for the Winter!

Two of my companions have been here before and there’s much oo’ing and ah’ing as we study the menu and choose food as well as tea all round. Apart from the wide selection of delicious premium teas it’s the genteel ritual of it that we can’t get enough of – our infusions arrive in individual delicate glass teapots with pretty, assorted bone china cups and saucers.

Boost: echinacea, Siberian ginseng, spearmint, ginger and yuzu citron honey

Boost: Echinacea, Siberian ginseng, spearmint, ginger and yuzu citron honey, Revolver

Food arrives shortly after, also on mismatched china plates. My lemon myrtle cured, house smoked ocean trout on sweet corn rosti with chilli, capsicum relish and avocado is simply delicious, although the rosti does get a bit soggy and I could have done with a little more of the very succulent trout to go with the generous amounts of the other elements.

Lemon myrtle cured, house smoked ocean trout on sweet corn rosti with chilli, capsicum relish and avocado

Lemon myrtle cured, house smoked ocean trout on sweet corn rosti with chilli, capsicum relish and avocado, Revolver

Everyone else declares their meals divine too: Amanda goes for the veggie stack with sweet potato, roast capsicum, zucchini, spiced eggplant, grilled haloumi and a mixed seed and rocket salad;…

veggie stack with sweet potato, roast capsicum, zucchini, spiced eggplant, grilled haloumi and a mixed seed and rocket salad

Veggie stack with sweet potato, roast capsicum, zucchini, spiced eggplant, grilled haloumi and a mixed seed and rocket salad, Revolver

Clare has harissa poached chicken breast on a green pea, mint, baby spinach and organic red quinoa salad with tarragon buttermilk dressing;…

harissa poached chicken breast on a green pea, mint, baby spinach and organic red quinoa salad with tarragon buttermilk dressing

Harissa poached chicken breast on a green pea, mint, baby spinach and organic red quinoa salad with tarragon buttermilk dressing, Revolver

…and Ann decides on the Revolver veggie big breakie: baked eggs in housemade beans with buttered mushrooms, roast tomato, avocado, Danish feta, hummus and toast, plus a side of honey-cured bacon. Are you salivating yet?!

Baked eggs in housmade beans with buttered mushrooms, roast tomato, avocado, danish fetta, hummus and toast, plus a side of honey-cured bacon

Baked eggs in housemade beans with buttered mushrooms, roast tomato, avocado, Danish feta, hummus and toast, plus a side of honey-cured bacon, Revolver

I seriously can’t wait to take Mr T here, although I will be heeding the advice of the terribly friendly and enthusiastic guy who served us (possibly one of the owners?): on the weekend, arrive before 8am or after 2pm if you want any chance of getting a table. That’s one hell of a popular place!

Revolver
291 Annandale Street, Annandale
Visited 31 July 2012