A celebration at MoVida

(Apologies that the photos in this post are so garish – I only had my iPhone on this occasion!)

In celebration of accepting a new job this week (finally, after almost six months of hunting) Mr T and I went to MoVida for dinner. When I rang, on the day, they were fully booked but advised us to pitch up between 5pm and 5.30pm to try for one of the tables they keep for walk-ups. A review I read claimed that in fact they keep half the restaurant unreserved for this purpose. Nevertheless, and in spite of the door-guy’s approval of Mr T’s unmatching Converse sneakers, we were too late for one of said tables when we arrived at 5.30pm. However, there was a spot at the bar with our name on it and we climbed onto high but comfortable chairs, breakfast-bar style, and settled in for the long-haul.

The bar is often the best spot to sit in some places. One great night at Bodega, also in Surry Hills, Mr T and I had the best seats in the house from where we could see all the clashing of pans and careful presentation in action – and even got an extra dish which had been a wrong order for another table. While the cooking at MoVida happens behind closed doors, the bar (two sides of a rectangle near one end of the room) is still a fun place to be, peopled by friendly, knowledgeable staff and decorated with bright patterned Spanish tiles, one of the few design nods to the restaurant’s country of homage. MoVida executive chef and owner Frank Camorra has four hugely popular eateries as well as a bakery and a deli in Melbourne, and the Sydney spin-off opened just last year to the delight of Sydney’s foodies.

While some at the bar are clearly here for just a drink and a nibble, we, on the other hand, mean serious business and order accordingly from most sections of the menu: embutidos (cured meats and sausage), tapas, raciones (share plates) and postres (desserts). We start with the jamon Iberico, a cured ham made from black Iberian pigs. At $50 for 50g it’s an investment, but we’re celebrating after all, and I’ve been wanting to try this ever since watching Rick Stein wax lyrical about it last year in his Spanish TV show. Plus, our lovely bar attendant tells us it’s “life-changing” so there’s no going back. Deep rose-pink with a slightly lacquered appearance and edged in fat, the ham comes in bite-sized slices in a chunky earthenware dish. It tastes sweet, nutty and deeply umami without being overly salty, rounded out by the rich creamy fat; Mr T likens it to Vegemite with butter, which is inspired! The texture has qualities of biltong but it’s moist and tender. It comes with a large square of toasted Turkish bread soggy with tomato and garlic, which cleanses the mouth (or as Mr T puts it, “scrapes the tongue clean”) between bouts of ham worship.

Jamon Iberico, MoVida

Jamon Iberico, MoVida

Next up, artisan Cantabrian anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet on a wafer-thin crispbread, scattered with baby capers. From all that I’ve read about MoVida this is the dish I’ve been most anticipating and it more than fulfills expectations. Mr T says it looks “extraordinarily sexual”, but we won’t go there. The succession of sensations is as follows: cold, crunch, sweet, smoke, salt and, finally, what I can only describe as grunt. If you’re keen on anchovies it’s worth coming here just to sample this one dish.

Artisan Cantabrian anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet, MoVida

Artisan Cantabrian anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet, MoVida

Zucchini hollowed out and filled with crab and a pea and mint gazpacho is fresh, light, cool and cleansing, topped with popping pink pearls of salty fish egg.

Zucchini filled with crab served with pea and mint gazpacho, MoVida

Zucchini filled with crab served with pea and mint gazpacho, MoVida

I slip down a Sydney rock oyster with manzanilla jelly and compressed watermelon. Manzanilla, I later discover, is a Spanish fino sherry. I wish I’d known this before I tasted it so I could have been conscious of the flavour. It could be I drowned it with lemon juice. Nonetheless, it’s a very fine oyster.

Sydney rock oyster with manzanilla jelly and compressed watermelon, MoVida

Sydney rock oyster with manzanilla jelly and compressed watermelon, MoVida

Mr T, not an oyster fan, goes for a grilled chorizo and padron (a small green pepper) sandwich which is, essentially, a slider. He lets me taste a corner for the sake of my blog. The soft white bun gives way to a slab of chorizo that is smokey-verging-on-burnt (in a good way), salty and oily with a hint of peppery bitterness, all enhanced by a good dollop of mayo.

Grilled chorizo and padron sandwich, MoVida

Grilled chorizo and padron sandwich, MoVida

A goat’s curd and quince cigar is a small cylinder of dehydrated sweet-and-sour quince purée filled with musky, tangy goat’s curd, topped with a dusting of chili flakes. The king of fruit roll-ups.

Goat’s curd and quince cigar, MoVida

Goat’s curd and quince cigar, MoVida

Moving on to the ‘raciones’, we sample salt-cod fritters: little soft-crunchy clouds of creamy, salty fish pie, with a light lime mayo, fresh parsley and chili to cut through the richness.

Salt cod fritters with Basque pil pil sauce, MoVida

Salt cod fritters with Basque pil pil sauce, MoVida

From the same section, we choose rabbit leg braised in an Andalucian sweet and sour sauce with pine nuts and raisins. The sweet and sour of the sauce comes from honey (plus the raisins) and sherry vinegar, finished with a squeeze of lemon juice at the end. It’s a deliciously warming and rustic dish but rabbit is a dense, slightly dry meat and it feels a bit heavy-going getting through the generous serving.

Rabbit leg braised in an Andalucian sweet and sour sauce with pinenuts and raisins, MoVida

Rabbit leg braised in an Andalucian sweet and sour sauce with pine nuts and raisins, MoVida

Mr T is quite defeated by this point but I insist on dessert – churros con chocolate and flan. The churros (Spanish doughnuts) are very light and crisp and the bitter, slightly aniseed hot chocolate is beautiful to drink but not quite viscous enough to properly coat the churros.

Churros con chocolate, MoVida

Spanish doughnuts with rich drinking chocolate, MoVida

My flan (crème caramel) is a mound of smooth, sweet, chilled egg custard in a pool of good, not-too-burnt caramel syrup. It comes with pestinos: tiny, sweet, flakey Christmas biscuits flavoured with cinnamon, popular in Andalucia.

Crème caramel served with pestinos, MoVida

Crème caramel served with pestinos, MoVida

This feast, along with two glasses of delicious Spanish rosé for me (2011 Espelt ‘Lledon’ Garnacha Rosado Emporda), comes to $200 including tip. Considering we have totally pigged out on fabulous food – including some very expensive pig – I think this is entirely reasonable. I’d bet the same again that we’ll be back in the not too distant future.

50 Holt Street, Surry Hills
Visited 15 January 2013


Spooning Goats, Sydney

It’s a cracker of a name, you’ve got to admit! However, for some reason the liquor license crew don’t like it so the official name of this small, basement-level retro bar is simply The SG. Its secret Moniker was dreamed up by owner Jason to encompass his Nan’s marvellous teaspoon collection which hangs on several wooden display boards behind the bar (yes, one of them is in the shape of Australia), and his love of goats. There is even a trifle bowl full of little ‘I heart goats’ badges on the bar for guests to take home as souvenirs. When I arrive Mirelle is already best buds with an awesome pommie lass who has been handing out the badges to passers-by on the street and is now sitting at the bar enjoying a few drinks. It’s got to be good if the staff drink here, right?

Mirelle and I cosy ourselves into two cream, embossed vinyl recliners with a faux wooden coffee table for a jolly good chin wag and a catch up. It’s a small, dimly lit space filled with mismatched suites of 70s furniture and brown geometric wallpaper to match. It feels like a cross between your Nan’s living room and a student common room. Jason, on one of a couple of occasions that he pops over for a chat, tells us that all of the furniture, in fact everything in the bar, is sourced second-hand, mostly on eBay. We comment that it feels very homely and relaxed and he says that’s exactly the effect he was going for.

We try a few of the cocktails, every one of them delicious and served in wonderful Granny glassware. (Unfortunately there’s no menu on the website and I can’t remember any of the names or ingredients.)

Cocktails, Spooning Goats

Cocktails, Spooning Goats

Getting peckish, we also order a charcuterie and cheese platter which comes served on a fabulous gilt-edged dish with compartments for the various things: salted wagyu beef, smoked salmon, Persian feta, a creamy blue goats cheese (from a choice that also includes triple cream brie and vintage cheddar), and small green olives, along with a generous quantity of crackers and crispbreads.

Charcuterie and cheese platter, Spooning Goats

Charcuterie and cheese platter, Spooning Goats

This keeps us amused for quite a while but an hour of gossip later we’re still a bit hungry so we get a pie to share – a veal and roasted tomato one served in a small white Pyrex bowl with two dainty teaspoons and a dollop of tamarind chutney on top. The richness of the meat filling and the tart chutney go surprisingly well together.

Veal and roasted tomato pie with tamarind chutney, Spooning Goats

Veal and roasted tomato pie with tamarind chutney, Spooning Goats

It’s not until we go to leave that I notice the window above the bar displays, along with some old candy-coloured glass jugs and matching glasses, two Star Wars Snow Walker models and a Hot Wheels plastic toy car track. This now makes greater sense of the lone Space Invaders machine in the corner. We’re also invited to admire Jason’s burgeoning collection of string art. It’s the perfect Gen X den of nostalgia! I’m envisioning (and hoping for) John Hughes movie nights right around the corner.

Spooning Goats (The SG)
32 York Street, Sydney
Visited 21 November

The Owl House, Darlinghurst

It was a greatly appreciated distraction from job hunting (oh, the joys of redundancy!) when I met up with a dear friend last Thursday evening at The Owl House in Darlinghurst. We had both expressed a desire to go there some while ago, but I was concerned that the menu lacked options for a vegetarian; I was proved quite wrong!

Monica is sitting at the bar in the small, candle-lit ground-floor room when I arrive and she is already excited about the venue, saying that it reminds her of bars in her homeland of Spain. I join her in a glass of rosé, a 2010 Coates Pinot Noir Barrel Fermented Robe from South Australia, and we climb the narrow, creaky staircase to the dining room upstairs. At the front of the building there’s an extremely narrow balcony with a shelf to eat off and we perch ourselves on stools there, feeling quite like the eponymous bird-life, peering down from our coop at the quiet end of Crown Street.

We order three very different dishes, all vegetarian, and are genuinely delighted by the originality and fabulous flavours of all of them. A whole grilled baby cos lettuce comes on a wooden board draped with Spanish white anchovies, semi-dried cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, chunky sourdough croutons and parmesan dressing. A robustly flavoured adaptation of a Caesar salad, the char-grilled lettuce is surprisingly moreish and the anchovies fat, shiny and sweetly briny, all drenched in creamy, cheesy dressing.

Grilled baby cos lettuce, spanish white anchovies, semi dried cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives with chunky sourdough bread and parmesan dressing

Grilled baby cos lettuce, Spanish white anchovies, semi-dried cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives with chunky sourdough bread and parmesan dressing, The Owl House

Cured bonito on pickled papaya and mint salad, with yuzo gel, chilli jam, wakame and radish is altogether a different story with refined, clean Asian flavours. The fish is of superior quality, like sashimi, beautifully complemented by the umami flavour of the seaweed salad and the papaya which is pleasantly reminiscent of mango chutney.  It’s pretty as a picture, too, with its vivid pinks and greens.

Cured bonito on pickled papaya and mint salad, with yuzo gel, chilli jam, wakame and radish

Cured bonito on pickled papaya and mint salad, with yuzo gel, chilli jam, wakame and radish, The Owl House

Also very attractive to look at is a warm salad of quinoa, broad beans, Boston Bay mussels and zucchini flowers, served with foamed mussel sauce. The most unusual of our three dishes, the crisp Spring vegetables and softly granular quinoa hide a wealth of large, plump, sweet mussels at the bottom, and the light sauce has a lovely lemon acidity with perhaps a touch of white wine.

Warm salad of quinoa, broad beans, Boston Bay mussels, zuchini flowers, served with foamed mussle sauce

Warm salad of quinoa, broad beans, Boston Bay mussels, zucchini flowers, served with foamed mussel sauce, The Owl House

To finish we share a butterscotch panna cotta with caramelized nuts and coffee liquor, served with almond chocolate candy. Monica declares it a proper Spanish ‘flan’, which is better known in Australia and the UK as a crème caramel. The contrast between the cold, very smooth, panna cotta and the crunchy, sticky nuts is inspired, and the butterscotch and caramel flavours are right up my alley.

Butterscotch panna cotta with caramelized nuts and coffee liquor served with almond chocolate candy

Butterscotch panna cotta with caramelized nuts and coffee liquor served with almond chocolate candy, The Owl House

This is a great little bar with an international wine list, adventurous and delicious food, and warm, friendly service. I expect we’ll be back!

The Owl House
97 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
Visited 8 November 2012

The Baxter Inn and Pendolino, Sydney

We get out of the office, three colleagues and I, and we’re in a taxi to the city on an unseasonally balmy Spring evening, discussing which bar we should go to – one at the Westin Hotel maybe, or perhaps PJ O’Brien’s, the Irish bar at Phil’s hotel, The Grace? Then Phil says, “I know this place we could go to”. So, once we’ve dropped off his bag he leads us through the foyer and out onto Clarence Street, left in a southerly direction for a bit, then left again down a dark alleyway and right past the back of what looks like a trendy bicycle shop/café towards a stairwell guarded by a bouncer. All very curious so far.

Ros, Cici and I follow Phil down the stairs below ground, he opens up a door and we emerge into the most magical, atmospheric bar I’ve been to in a long time. It’s packed with people, they’re playing loud 50s rock ‘n’ roll, the guys behind the bar look way cool (including one with a slicked-back short back and sides and a long waxed, curled-up moustache), and they’re beavering away dishing out drinks to a thirsty crowd. Behind them are bar-to-ceiling shelves groaning with the most impressive whiskey collection you’ve ever seen, enticingly lit by fairy lights and accessed from sliding library-style ladders that whizz from side to side. In between I can see a drinks menu at the top of which it says The Baxter Inn. The room is a reasonably large cellar with lots of small tables, dark-coloured carpet (helpful for absorbing the noise), very dim lighting from wall-mounted lamps, and bare brick walls and archways covered in framed black and whites of boxing champions and prints of race horses.

We get drinks and eventually manage to nab ourselves a table. One of the groovy bar staff works the floor constantly, collecting glasses and handing out little dishes of free pretzels. Those of our group who have been there say this place is very New York; I want to go there even more than I already did. I feel like I’m in some kind of prohibition-era speakeasy transported to the 1950s. Clinton joins us saying that he’s been queuing outside for quite some time to get in. We move on to the restaurant to meet the others, all raving about the bar and thinking Phil is so much cooler than we had ever realised. He lives in Melbourne and yet he’s the one who knows about Sydney’s hip, underground drinking dens!

The restaurant for tonight’s festivities is Pendolino, on the second floor of the elegant Strand Arcade. This place is all about authentic, regionally inspired Italian food featuring some of Australia and Italy’s most prestigious extra virgin olive oils. We’re led through a large, busy room, dark and sleek with white-clothed tables. Our table for eight is already set with baskets of beautiful bread and white dishes of three types of divine olive oil: one plain (fruttato), one infused with blood orange (sanguinella) and one infused with lemon (limone). Jeremy takes charge of the wine list and, following long in-depth conversations with the sommelier, chooses the Fontanafredda Papagena Barbara D’Alba Superiore 2008 for the red drinkers, and for the rest of us the Guerra Albano Pinot Grigio 2010 from Friuli, full of citrus and stone-fruit flavours. He tells me that he likes to take full advantage of the services of a sommelier and try wines that will challenge preconceptions and surprise people.

Once ‘Don’ Gerry has arrived and our party is complete, we’re given small table lamps by which to read the menu and we choose and order our food. To start I eventually settle on creamy freshly shucked oysters with salty salmon pearls that pop between the teeth and a lovely sweet-zingy tomato vinaigrette.

Freshly shucked oysters served with salmon pearls and tomato vinaigrette

Freshly shucked oysters served with salmon pearls and tomato vinaigrette, Pendolino

Jeremy, who I’ve commandeered to share his experience for my blog post, has the carpaccio of raw beef with truffled white walnut purée, Testun di Barolo cheese, rocket cress, wild baby olives and rosemary grissini. What’s it like? “Well, first you get the coldness of the beef, followed by the richness of the beef, and then the flavour of the truffle hits you at the end.”

Alba style free-range raw beef carpaccio with truffled white walnut puree, Testun di Barolo cheese, rocket cress, wild baby olives rosemary grissini

Free-range raw beef carpaccio with truffled white walnut puree, Testun di Barolo cheese, rocket cress, wild baby olives and rosemary grissini, Pendolino

In preparation for our main course, Jeremy calls the sommelier back over to discuss options for a slightly heavier red; he goes for the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Lalo Diubaldo Riserva 2005 which is poured into a decanter. Not usually a red drinker, I do try some of this, given that I’m eating beef, and I find it soft and spicy and very easy to drink. My beef is meltingly tender, slow cooked, oyster blade with sweet parsnip purée, al dente grilled green shallots and a beautiful, rich sour cherry sauce sporting a couple of whole cherries. It’s simply delicious.

Slowc cooked, pasture fed beef oyster blade, parsnip puree, grilled green shallots,  pearl garlic, Amarena sour cherry sauce

Slow cooked, pasture fed beef oyster blade, parsnip purée, grilled green shallots, pearl garlic and Amarena sour cherry sauce, Pendolino

My partner in gastronomic exploration has the roasted free range Corowa pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto on a bed of dried fava bean purée, with fresh fava beans and tomato, globe artichoke and crispy pancetta; he says it’s very tasty, especially the bean-tomato accompaniment.

Roasted free range Corowa pork tenderloin with dried fava bean puree, steamed fresh fava beans,  globe artichoke, tomato and crisp pancetta

Roasted free range Corowa pork tenderloin with dried fava bean purée, steamed fresh fava beans, globe artichoke, tomato and crisp pancetta, Pendolino

I don’t get a photo of David’s dish but you can picture it nonetheless: slow cooked Gippsland lamb with grilled white polenta, Tuscan black cabbage, baby carrots, dragoncello salsa and lamb sauce. I was very close to choosing this myself.

Menus are brought back for dessert and once again I struggle to choose. I’m drawn to the nougat and Ligurian honey semifreddo but settle on the vanilla bean and goats curd bavarese (which tastes a bit like panna cotta) with textured strawberry salad and wild strawberry consommé. The strawberry salad consists of some of the fresh variety (I think) but mainly what I suspect are freeze-dried strawberries which have a wonderful light, crispy texture and a concentrated flavour. The consommé is a clear, ruby-bright pool of perfect strawberry goodness.

Vanilla bean and goats curd bavarese with textured strawberry salad and wild strawberry consomme

Vanilla bean and goats curd bavarese with textured strawberry salad and wild strawberry consommé, Pendolino

Jeremy goes for blood orange olive oil ricotta fritters (which he likens to Nepalese cheese balls) with ‘fior di latte’ vanilla sorbet, a wonderful combination of hot-crunch and icy-smooth with intense marmaladey pieces of orange.

Blood orange olive oil ricotta fritters with “fior di latte' vanilla sorbet

Blood orange olive oil ricotta fritters with “fior di latte’ vanilla sorbet, Pendolino

Cici, our star guest this evening, has the most unusual sounding dessert: the Umbrian Christmas chocolate pasta with candied walnuts and honeycomb semifreddo. It’s really good, she says, but very rich; I think you can taste that just by looking at the photo!

Umbrian Christmas chocolate pasta with candied walnuts and honeycomb semifreddo

Umbrian Christmas chocolate pasta with candied walnuts and honeycomb semifreddo, Pendolino

Phil, on the other hand, keeps it simple and goes for the assorted gelati.

Assorted gelati

Assorted gelati, Pendolino

I wish I could feature every one of the dishes we had, but this would be a very long blog post and I didn’t have the most ideal conditions for photography; as it was I had several people around the table providing lighting from the torches on their phones! Thank you all for your patience and assistance and for a really wonderful night. And thank you for being such a lovely bunch of people to work with over the past two and a half years. I’ve certainly enjoyed the ride!

The Baxter Inn
Basement, 152 – 156 Clarence Street, Sydney

Level 2, Strand Arcade
412 – 414 George Street, Sydney

Visited 5 September 2012

A weekend in Melbourne

With a wedding in Melbourne last weekend, and friends and family to catch up with while there, it was inevitable that we were going to end up eating a lot (what a shame). For some reason I didn’t foresee quite how much, and I definitely hadn’t anticipated the quantity of pig fat…

A beautiful sunny Saturday sees us at Edinburgh Gardens in North Fitzroy to meet up with whoever is able to make it along. But getting there early and unbreakfasted leads us to seek out a suitable café. Marmalade and Soul hoves into view on a corner site at the end of quiet Queens Parade, but with a gaggle of people standing outside we fear the worst – a wait for tables. Fortunately said gaggle have presumably eaten their fill and are on their way out for we get a table straight away. Inside is a large two-roomed space with exposed red brick and quirky little displays of old, hardback books and retro storage jars on wooden shelves.

Marmalade and Soul

Marmalade and Soul

Waitresses are becomingly attired in pale blue striped shirts and sandy-coloured (I’m assuming some sort of raw natural fibre) aprons. I’m giving Marmalade and Soul an award right now for the most adventurous breakfast menu I have ever seen with dishes like ‘potted breakfast trifle’ and ‘spiced five rice porridge with curry and broken eggs’.

Marmalade and Soul

Marmalade and Soul

I go for hearty, sweet-spicy, richly tomatoey house-made baked beans with chorizo and chipolatas served in a small paella pan with crunchy croutons of garlic bread, all sprinkled with Parmesan.

Housemade baked beans with chorizo, chipolatas and garlic bread

House-made baked beans with chorizo, chipolatas and garlic bread, Marmalade and Soul

The portion size is huge and Mr T eats about half of it. That’s on top of his own breakfast, a titillating taste combination of caramelised orange and olive cake with maple bacon, burnt orange custard and raspberry coulis. Mr T especially loves the citrus bitterness of the custard, and the sweet-tartness of the raspberry, but finds the sticky bacon a bit on the tough side (“like trying to chew a Minty”).

Caramelised orange and olive cake with maple bacon and burnt orange custard

Caramelised orange and olive cake with maple bacon and burnt orange custard, Marmalade and Soul

We spend the rest of the day basking in the Melbourne Spring sunshine with friends and picnicking at a VFL match (Fitzroy vs. Hampton at Brunswick Oval, for those, unlike me, who understand these things), followed by a wonderful wedding with very good champagne and fabulous finger and buffet food – oysters and macarons, anyone?

Le Flaneur

Le Flaneur

Next day is Father’s Day, or Godfather’s Day as we rename it, since we are staying with Mr T’s godfather and his wife. We all meet up with their daughter, son-in-law and two gorgeous granddaughters for brunch at Le Flâneur in Hawthorn, a lovely laid back café with a French bent. Really good coffees all round to start, babyccinos for the girls, and a Valrhona hot chocolate for Mr T which promises greatness but sadly doesn’t deliver to his exacting (“I want it the colour of espresso coffee”) standards of strength.

Flat white, Le Flaneur

Flat white, Le Flâneur

To eat I go for the Croque Madame (a Croque Monsieur with a fried egg on top) which has creamy, stringy cheese sauce and good ham, but I’m not sure I’m a big fan of the sweetness of the brioche used here in place of bread.

Croque Madame

Croque Madame, Le Flâneur

Mr T has French toast (again made with brioche) with bacon and honey, topped with sliced strawberry and pear. The bacon is good quality and plentiful, the fruit fresh and beautifully presented, but the honey is not a very present flavour.

French toast, bacon, honey and fresh fruit

French toast, bacon, honey and fresh fruit, Le Flâneur

Everyone else around the table has beautifully made omelettes with various delicious fillings. We could happily, and do, spend quite some time here.

Le Flaneur

Le Flaneur

We decide to spend the afternoon, before our flight back to Sydney, hanging out in the trendy Gertrude/Smith/Brunswick Street area of Fitzroy/Collingwood where we’ve enjoyed much mooching time in the past. What actually happens is that we park on Smith Street and walk straight into Josie Bones, a bar/restaurant we’d both been keen to go to for a while.

Josie Bones

Josie Bones

Run by Chris Badenoch and Julia Jenkins who were contestants on the first series of Masterchef, Josie Bones is a fabulous place seriously dedicated to beer and nose-to-tail eating. A long chunky wooden bar runs the full length of the large room (below an enormous and confrontingly visceral mural of a skinned rabbit), purveying some 250 local and international craft beers, plus eight rotating beers on tap. We sit up at the bar and leaf through the exceedingly thick beer list, grouped according to type and origin. The friendly barman’s knowledge and description of beer knows no bounds and he helps me to choose a Croucher Pilsner from Rotorua in New Zealand which is deliciously fruity and hoppy.

Croucher Pilsner - Rotorua, New Zealand

Croucher Pilsner – Rotorua, New Zealand, Josie Bones

Despite having eaten only a couple of hours prior, we can’t possibly not sample some of their meaty offerings. We decide we’ll risk scurvy and skip the vegetable matter, cutting straight to the chase with pork crackling, lambs tongue sliders, pigs trotter and rolled pigs head. Enough pig, do you think? The crackling is fabulously crunchy and the lambs tongue sliders soft, sweet and slightly smokey with toasted brioche buns, tomato relish and creamy mayo.

Lambs tongue sliders

Lambs tongue sliders, Josie Bones

The pigs trotter is stuffed with black pudding on a bed of earthy braised Puy lentils. I’m used to black pudding being much richer and bloodier than this paler, lighter version which has a touch of fruitiness from the calvados-flambéd apple that they include. The salty, crumbed crispy pigs ears on top are a wonderful textural marriage of crunch and chew.

Trotter stuffed with black pudding with braised lentils and crispy pigs ear

Trotter stuffed with black pudding with braised lentils and crispy pigs ear, Josie Bones

The dish of the day is the pigs head which they braise in beer before pulling the meat off, rolling it up with the tongue down the middle along with herbs and lemon zest, and steaming it before it’s sliced and pan-fried golden brown to order. Decadence in a dish, it’s full of large chunks of unctuous, melting fat and falling-apart meat, topped with another shard of the fabulous crackling. It rests on a bed of jewel-green sauce gribiche; performing the same role as a salsa verde or a chimichurri, it’s the perfect foil to the fattiness of the meat with its inclusion of zingy, acidic capers and cornichons as well as fresh herbs.

Rolled pigs head with sauce gribiche and crackling

Rolled pigs head with sauce gribiche and crackling, Josie Bones

We waddle off to the airport sated and very happy but swearing off pig products for… well, as it happens, only two days! On Tuesday we have lovely thick pork chops with a syrupy balsamic glaze; can’t get enough of that pork on ya fork.

Marmelade and Soul
162 Queens Parade, Fitzroy North, Melbourne
Visited 1 September 2012

Le Flâneur
5 Church Street, Hawthorn, Melbourne

Josie Bones
98 Smith Street, Collingwood

Both visited 2 September 2012

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

The Commons, Darlinghurst

I go to meet my friend Monica here on an unseasonably warm evening considering it’s Autumn. I wish we could sit outside on the pretty front terrace but all tables are full, and we want bar food rather than dinner anyway, so I’m sent down a narrow staircase at the back of the building, past a dining room with lovely long pine tables and benches. Downstairs the tiny space reminds me exactly of an old English pub with its low ceiling, small tables and stools, carpet and beautiful walls hewn from sandstone blocks. When my companion arrives we joke that it would be perfect on a cold Winter’s night – it has reached 26 degrees today!

We order fried zucchini flowers with ricotta and lemon, patatas bravas and tumbleweed calamari with rocket. The zucchini flowers are big and generously filled with a light crisp batter. The patatas bravas are to die for – small, soft, roasted potatoes slathered in copious quantities of a sauce which I think is sour cream with loads of garlic, lemon and herbs.

Stuffed zuchini flower & patatas bravas

Stuffed zucchini flower & patatas bravas, The Commons

The calamari are not my favourite kind – plump, tender rings with a light crumb – these are more crumb than anything else, a bit like eating Twisties but better seasoned! Actually that’s not very charitable – for what they are they’re very good.

Tumbleweed calamari with rocket

Tumbleweed calamari with rocket, The Commons

We’re not quite sated so we order the polenta chips which look like long flattened-out fish fingers but on tasting are rather flavourless – nothing that a sprinkle of salt doesn’t improve.

I feel I’ve been a bit hard on this place – maybe it’s because the rather snooty barmaid annoyed me right up front by leaning across me to retrieve something without a word of apology, let alone an acknowledgement of my existence! I actually really want to go here again because I love the building and the philosophy that they talk of on their website, and there are plenty more things on the rather rustic menu that I’d like to try. They also have a lovely looking private dining room on the top floor for up to 16 people which would make a great venue for an intimate celebration. Something to bear in mind for significant birthdays coming up!

The Commons
32 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Visited 10 May 2012

Bootleg, Potts Point

I have been wanting to try out this place for ages and the opportunity finally arises this week when I meet two girlfriends for drinks and a catch up. When I arrive, Kimberley is sitting at a high table right at the front which is open to the street, but we move inside past the long bar to a small table down the back. The feel of the place is relaxed with candlelight and jazz, almost romantic – not what I’d expected from one of the first, mostly idiosyncratic, small bars to have opened in Sydney when the licensing laws changed. Rani arrives soon after and we study the menu. Rather than go for separate mains we decide we feel like some nibbly things to share – we choose crostini with egg mayonnaise, anchovy, preserved lemon and chili; a mozzarella and tomato salad; a salumi plate and a cheese board. To drink we pick a lovely bottle of Eden Vally Riesling. It’s ideal fodder for a good old chin-wag – and the music is suitably pitched that talking and listening is a breeze, which (excuse me for sounding old!) is a rare pleasure.

The crostini are a bit less exciting than their individual ingredients would suggest. But the mozzarella salad is a delight, perfectly seasoned with beautiful, rustically torn-apart, fresh mozzarella, pepped up with basil, mint, flat-leaf parsley and thin slices of peppery radish.

Mozzarella tomato salad

Mozzarella tomato salad, Bootleg

The salumi (sopressa, Serrano jamon, pancetta, bresaola) and cheese (pecorino, taleggio, gorgonzola) are delicious in all their fabulous Italian flavours, with plenty of sourdough bread and crunchy little parmesan biscuits to go with them, and a little dish of divine olive oil with sweet, syrupy balsamic vinegar.

Salumi plate and bread

Salumi plate and bread, Bootleg

The service is attentive but unobtrusive. It’s rather quiet considering it’s a Wednesday night. I can only imagine it must be pumping at the weekend – but I like it better like this. I really look forward to returning here again soon.

Bootleg Bar + Italian Food
175 Victoria Street, Potts Point
Visited 2 May 2012

Porteno, Surry Hills

Three visits to Porteño over the last couple of years have earned it a place in my top favourites list in Sydney. I constantly rave about it to anyone with an interest in food and demand that those who haven’t experienced it must go! But I always follow up my recommendation with specific instructions: thou shalt arrive at 6pm when it opens (don’t be intimated by the long queues outside), speak to the sparklingly efficient 50s-coiffed gal in the black-and-white-tiled entrance hall to put your name on the list for a table, sashay up the narrow stair case to another prettily 50s-clad young lady who will also take your name and seat you in the fabulous Gardels Bar for a drink and possibly a little morsel to whet the appetite. This is my preferred ritual, anyway. I love to soak up the luxurious dark-wooded, bovine-skinned atmosphere of Gardels with a tequila-based cocktail and some delicious ceviche croquettes or pulled pork sliders. Alternatively sit at the fabulous studded leather bar and watch your cocktail being made – here are masters at work. Feel transported to another era with rockabilly tunes and glimpses of the Elvis-quiffed, tattoo-armed chefs dashing through.

When your table is ready (which can take a while on busier nights) you’ll be escorted downstairs into a cavernous room with a central atrium and cozier spaces to the sides. The service here is impeccable and I love calling the sommelier over to impart his wisdom on the largely Argentinean wine list. The uninitiated are given an explanation of the style of dining – wood-fired meat dishes feed 2-3 people so order according to the size of your party, and accompany with some sides. We have tried both the 8 hour lamb which falls off the bone, and the pork which comes with copious quantities of the best crackling I think I’ve ever had. Favourite sides include shaved fennel, apricot and olive salad, and the brussel sprouts which are crisp-fried with lentils and mint, a very far cry from my childhood memories of this vegetable. All the sides have a zingy acidity which perfectly balances the richness of the meats. If you’re not squeamish you must also try the morcilla, or blood sausage, which comes with tender roasted capsicum. On our most recent visit I just about had room to squeeze in the South American style pavlova for dessert. Topped with jagged peaks of honeycomb meringue, this is an impressively large stack of sponge layers sandwiched with generous amounts of dulce de leche, custard and roasted peanuts. Dainty it ain’t but it sure is yummy.

South Americal style pavlova

South Americal style pavlova, Porteno

At around $70 per head all in, this is not a cheap night out but neither is it outrageously expensive. For me it works because it’s the full package – delicious food prepared with passion, service that runs like a well-oiled machine, and an atmosphere equally beguiling for a romantic dinner ‘a deux’ or a larger celebration with friends. Ariba Porteno!

(More photos to come).

358 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills
Last visited 30 March 2012

Small Bar, Crows Next

It’s Friday night and the friends we were going to have dinner with at The Sultan’s Table in Enmore have taken a last minute break from Sydney with their boys so we are at a loose end. Not for long – Karl calls Mr T. It’s cousin Deb’s birthday and they’ve decided to go out for drinks (“and food too?” I hopefully ask Mr T) in their home suburb of Crows Nest, and would be delighted if we would care to join them. And so we do, in spite of my protestations about going “all the way over the harbour”.

We meet them in Small Bar on Willoughby Road. As we enter the long, narrow room I think “Oh God, it’s one of those terribly noisy places”, and it is, but I quickly get used to it. After buying drinks (a lovely, reasonably-priced Marlborough SB pour moi) we study the menu and deliberate which of the share plates to choose. We settle on some pulled pork mini burgers with hoisin sauce and cucumber, an antipasto platter, chips, porcini arancini balls and lamb kofte.

The pork in its squishy buns is tasty but could do with a good deal more hoisin sauce. The antipasto comes prettily displayed on a rustic wooden board – good salami and proscuito, slices of pillowy boconcini, small shiny black olives and colourful marinated vegetables with slices of crunchy baguette. The chips come in cones of brown paper and are some of the best we’ve had in ages – really golden and crunchy with plenty of salt and also dried herbs which is a nice touch. The arancini balls are beautifully creamy inside their crispy shells. And the lamb kofte are juicy with plenty of tzatziki to dunk them in. We decide we haven’t had quite enough so we order two more lots of chips along with fried chicken wings that come with a little bath of soy sauce, and small crumbed tender calamari rings with mayonaise.

Sadly, so new is my blog that I forget to take photos until right near the end when we’ve only a few dishes left, and half eaten ones at that. I also forget to take a photo of the lovely beer garden at the rear with its thatched roof interlaced with vine and festooned with fairy lights. But so that I can practise inserting photos, here, for what they’re worth, they are:

Salted herby chips

Salted herby chips, Small Bar

Chicken wings & calamari

Chicken wings & calamari, Small Bar

Small Bar
Willoughby Road, Crows Nest
Visited 13 April 2012