Birthday lunch at Sumalee Thai and oysters for dinner

So, I had a rather big birthday last Wednesday. Mr T was working all day but I had decided to take the day off (I really couldn’t spend SUCH a big birthday in the office), so what to do with myself? Obviously the answer was ‘eat!’, so I invited a few girlfriends to join me for lunch at Sumalee Thai at the Bank Hotel in Newtown. My thinking was that it was quite close to home (a bus-ride away from Marrickville), laid-back in atmosphere, outdoors (in a sunken courtyard at the back of the pub) and, plus, it’s Thai food (my favourite) and it’s delicious! I’ve been there numerous times before and it’s one of my fave Thai eateries in Sydney (along with Spice I am and Let’s Eat Thai). The menu features all the usual favourites and a few extras, plus there’s always a specials board with several more options. The prices (which might appear a little high) are deceptive because the portion sizes are huge and one serving is easily enough to fill two people. This makes it a great place for sharing a few dishes amongst a group since you end up with more than a tiny spoonful of each thing.

I arrive first and order a bottle of bubbles to get the party started! Once everyone is present we order food. Chicken satay skewers (which unfortunately I forget to photograph) are tender pieces of breast meat coated generously in a very moreish creamy, nutty, sweet, slightly spicy sauce, with a perfectly dressed cucumber salad on the side. Red curry with barramundi fillets and king prawns (the go-to dish here, as far as I’m concerned) doesn’t disappoint with beautifully cooked pieces of fish in a creamy orange bath of thick, fishy, coconuty sauce, topped with three huge prawns and sprigs of fragrant Thai basil.

Red Thai curry with barramundi fillets and king prawns

Red Thai curry with barramundi fillets and king prawns

We go for another fish dish, fried this time: pan-fried salmon steaks swimming in jammy, garlicy, spicy tamarind sauce – like a fancier version of sweet chili sauce. It’s divine.

Pan-fried salmon with tamarind sauce

Pan-fried salmon with tamarind sauce

Our final dish is a green curry of soft, white tofu cubes and mixed vegetables, milder than the red curry but no less flavoursome. The tofu almost has a dairy quality and the vegetables are perfectly al dente.

Green Thai curry with tofu and mixed vegetables

Green Thai curry with tofu and mixed vegetables

My other favourite dish here (which is usually on the specials board) is their pork spare ribs with sweet curry paste: an enormous bowl of meaty bones slathered in a sweet, spicy paste the consistency of treecle tart filling, topped with deep fried crispy basil leaves. Bowl of those and a couple of beers – job done!

It’s the perfect balance of flavours in the cooking that makes Sumalee more sophisticated than the myriad of Thai restaurants on King Street, no one flavour overshadowing the others but all melding beautifully to create a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. Well, I feel far greater (in size!) than the sum of my parts after all that and we don’t even finish it all. Apart from rice there’s a lonesome fillet of barra left, still in quite a lot of that delectable sauce. I’m tempted to ask for a doggy bag, loathe to let it go to waste, but I refrain.

By evening I’m still full but I’ve bought oysters, smoked salmon and brie for an evening picnic with Mr T. The weather is cool and quite blowy so we camp indoors for our picnic, trying to make Downton Abbey season 3 play on the computer since our DVD player appears to be kaput. Eventually, by about 8.30pm, I feel that I might be able to squeeze in an oyster or three, ably assisted by a couple of glasses more bubbles! I’ve got a dozen and they’re not going to be as good tomorrow so I manage to work my way slowly through them, savouring the smell of the sea and the taste of the plump, creamy bivalves in their briny juices. Or is that the tears wrung out of me by the emotional drama of Downton Abbey? I’m told there’s plenty more of that to come in this season. Can I fashion that into an excuse for more oysters?

Sumalee Thai at the Bank Hotel
324 King Street, Newtown
Visited 2 January 2013

Goodwood, Bonhams hospitality and another great gastropub

After a great night of spinach and ricotta cannelloni, too much red wine and dancing round the living room with Kiki in Highgate last Wednesday night, I head south to meet up with my dad to go to Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex. We’re staying in a very pretty little town with a fairytale castle called Arundel and we start with a look around to find somewhere for a bite to eat. We’re attracted to a blackboard offering scones with jam and cream at a café up a lane zigzagged with bunting, but on further investigation they’re out of scones and we settle for carrot cake instead. It’s good moist cake with tangy cream cheese and lemon icing but we conclude it’s not as good as my mum’s!

Carrot cake, cafe in Arundel

Carrot cake, café in Arundel

That night we eat at a promising looking pub by the river called The Black Rabbit. However, Dad is disappointed with his Sussex Smokey – basically a fish pie – and my steak and Tanglefoot (local ale) pie is perfectly good without being remarkable.

Steak and Tanglefoot pie

Steak and Tanglefoot pie, The Black Rabbit

The first two mornings at our hotel I have a flinglish, my brother’s name for a full English breakfast. Bacon, sausage, fried egg, tomato, mushrooms and baked beans – fanbloodytastic.

Full English breakfast

Full English breakfast, Arundel Park Hotel

This kind of breakfast is ample to sustain a person through until dinner time but there’s corporate hospitality to be enjoyed at Goodwood. As guests of Bonhams auctioneers we are looked after royally over two days in their courtyard within Goodwood House and then in the sponsors’ enclosure overlooking the racetrack. There are finger sandwiches with various fillings, baby quiches, smoked salmon, strawberries and cream and scones with jam and clotted cream, all washed down with magnums of perfectly chilled Veuve Clicquot, another sponsor of the weekend.

Smoked salmon and Veuve Clicquot

Smoked salmon and Veuve Clicquot, Bonhams hospitality

We attend Bonhams’ auction of vintage and classic cars on the Friday and have a lovely time looking at and taking photos of all the beautiful vehicles. The sale is riveting and highly entertaining to watch, the auctioneers so patient and professional yet quick and humourous – it’s pure theatre. The cars fetch a good deal more than was hoped for and it’s all going into trust for educational purposes so everyone is very happy – cue more champagne!

Scones and Veuve Clicquot

Scones and Veuve Clicquot, Bonhams hospitality

That evening, to avoid the traffic leaving Goodwood, we take the advice of one of the parking marshals and head for the hills, along with two of Dad’s friends, to a very nice gastropub. We do go round in a circle trying to find the right way and the Aussie navigator gets the blame, of course! At The Fox & Hounds the service is brisk and bright and despite being busy we are found a table pretty quickly. Dad has smoked haddock on mashed potato with a poached egg on top which, while a bit mean in size, is an enormous improvement in quality on last night’s microwaved (he suspects) fishy fiasco. I go for one of the specials – pan roasted duck breast with fondant potatoes, fine green beans and an orange and thyme jus. The duck is fanned into fat pink, slices with a thick layer of crispy fat; it’s rich and gamey but a touch on the chewy side. The jus is a lovely glossy gravy of reduced bitter marmalade flavours with only a hint of sweetness.

Pan-roasted duck breast with fondant potatoes, fine beans and orange and thyme jus

Pan roasted duck breast with fondant potatoes, fine green beans and orange and thyme jus, The Fox & Hounds

To follow most of us have raspberry crème brûlée. A wafer-thin shell of burnt sugar shatters easily to reveal a good creamy custard speckled with vanilla seeds and a layer of tart-sweet, lightly stewed raspberries at the base. My first ever crème brûlée had berries or rhubarb (I forget which) at the bottom and it’s been my preferred version of my favorite pudding ever since.

Raspberry creme brulee

Raspberry crème brûlée, The Fox & Hounds

Next day we venture past the Formula 1 paddock full of priceless modern racing cars and over the bridge to the other side of the racetrack where all the auto-companies have their trade stands. Enormous multi-storey showrooms, some with balconies or roof gardens, look for all the world like permanent structures but are in fact there only for the weekend, some costing as much as half a million pounds to build! We spend a while admiring a concept Bentley four-wheel drive, solid as a tank but stunning in every detail from the radiator grill to the wheel hubs to the two-tone leather interior with matching leather picnic cases in the boot.

In the evening we’re invited to a black tie ball at Goodwood House and we arrive at 7pm, duly frocked up, for more Veuve Clicquot on the lawns served by an endless parade of pretty girls in their distinctive orange aprons. Sadly I’m feeling rather off colour and by the time we’ve moved inside to the beautifully grand, ornately gilded Regency ballroom for dinner I’ve decided the only place I want to be is in bed and organise a taxi back to the hotel. Dad and the other 1500 guests go on to enjoy a very fancy three course dinner, a performance in the vein of Cirque de Soleil, incredible fireworks and a great rock band with the sort of volume that thumps you in the chest. What atrocious timing to come down with what turns out to be just a 24 hour bug!

The Black Rabbit
Mill Road, Arundel, West Sussex
Visited 28 June 2012

The Fox & Hounds
Funtington, West Sussex
Visited 29 June 2012

The great British gastropub and Pizza Express

I have always loved going to stay with Claire, the perfect hostess and my bestest buddy from our Durham University days. On the basis of a questionnaire about interests and habits they put us together in a shared room in college for our first year. The hilarious thing was that we’d both put that we didn’t smoke in fear of ending up with someone who would chain and stink the place out. Within five minutes of meeting we’d admitted that we did in fact smoke, if only socially, and were sitting on the wooden steps outside our room sharing the first of many fags. And so began a treasured friendship that endures to this day, almost 20 years on.

Well, neither of us smokes any more but we do love good food and a glass (or should that say bottle?) of wine or two. A delicious lunch last Tuesday of toast and paté, salami, marinated artichoke hearts and olives leads into school pick-up, play time, dinner and bath for her two gorgeous, golden-haired littlies. This in turn takes us nicely up to 6pm and wine and nibbles time – a crisp Pinot Grigio with salt and vinegar crisps and smoked salmon taramasalata. Once the children are settled in bed Claire takes me out for dinner in their impossibly pretty Oxfordshire village at a lovely country pub cum restaurant called The Sweet Olive. There’s rustic bread and olives on the table to eat while we’re looking at the menu and listening, several times, to the list of specials from one of the French owners.

Olives and bread

Olives and bread, The Sweet Olive

We both go for one of the specials – I for the panache of fish and Claire for the scallops with a sun-dried tomato and saffron risotto. My fish – a piece each of sea-bass, pollock and hake – is pan-fried so it’s crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked through. It comes in a beautiful creamy champagne and saffron sauce with fragrant lemon rice.

Panache of fish with champagne saffron sauce and lemon rice

Panache of fish with champagne saffron sauce and lemon rice, The Sweet Olive

Claire’s scallops are the winner of the day, sweet and melt-in-the-mouth, and the accompanying risotto is rich and flavoursome.

Scallops with sun dried tomato and saffron risotto

Scallops with sun-dried tomato and saffron risotto, The Sweet Olive

My photography antics get lots of curious attention from our fellow diners (not to mention the owners) and one man Claire knows comes over and invites me to take a picture of his lobster. After struggling somewhat with the focus I explain that I can’t possibly include it in my blog unless I can have a taste. He’s willing to let me but I’m not that mean and I leave him and his friends in peace to enjoy their meal.

The next day while the children are at school and pre-school we go to a nearby town for lunch. The suggestions are a café or Pizza Express and having loved Pizza Express in my London days I fancy that option. We have some dough balls with garlic butter to start (yum!) and Claire chooses a salad (garlic mushrooms, baby mozzarella, avocado, roasted tomatoes, spinach, rocket, balsamic syrup, honey and mustard dressing) and I, for old time’s sake, go for what I always used to have – a Fiorentina pizza (spinach, egg, black olives, parmesan) with a runny egg. It doesn’t disappoint after all these years. The base is thin but with a pleasantly chewy consistency, the egg is indeed nice and runny and I spread its yolk all over the surface of the pizza, the spinach is plentiful in its well dispersed little mounds as is the finely grated parmesan, and the olives add a bit of bite.

Fiorentina

Fiorentina, Pizza Express

After lunch it’s time to collect the children and take me to the station to catch a train back to London and on to the next visit on my whirlwind UK tour of friends and family. It’s a hard life but somebody’s got to do it!

The Sweet Olive
Baker Street, Aston Tirrold, Oxfordshire
Visited 26 June 2012

Pizza Express
12 Saint Mary’s Street, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Visited 27 June 2012

Lunch by the river and some nice French nosh

Henni took the day off work yesterday so we could spend it together and lucky for us the sun came out and it was lovely and warm. After a lazy morning eating bagels with lemon curd and pottering around her flat we head off in Bertie, her gorgeous black convertible mini, to Richmond for lunch. Once Bertie is safely parked we meander along the high street having a little shufti in some shops along the way, and then turn down a lane towards the river. It’s lovely by the water – there are people out in boats and barges, cycling along the towpath or sitting eating al fresco at the pubs and restaurants that line the river.

River Thames

River Thames, Richmond

While I snap photos Henni grabs us an outside table at a pretty, old pub with hanging baskets called The White Cross. We both order a burger and chips and a glass of rosé, fast becoming the drink of the holidays. The burger is fat and juicy with good tomato relish and the rustic skin-on chips are the perfect combo of crunchy outsides and fluffy insides. The only disappointment is the shiny plastic square of processed cheese inside the bun.

Cheese burger and chips

Cheese burger and chips, The White Cross

After lunch Henni puts me on the tube to Kings Cross to catch a train to Cambridge to spend the night with my old flatmate and great friend Jules. Coming out of the station at Cambridge I’m immediately struck by the sea of parked bicycles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place at one time!

Bicycles

Bicycles, Cambridge railway station

We walk to Jules’s lovely house and then in to town to meet her cousin for dinner. Cambridge is so ridiculously picturesque with all its beautiful, old college buildings, people playing cricket in whites on the green and bicycles everywhere – proper civilized bicycles with an upright riding position and a wicker basket on the front. Needless to say we are about 15 minutes late because I can’t stop taking photos!

We eat at one of a chain of French restaurants called Côte. Jules’s cousin Debbie has a bottle of champagne on ice in celebration of Jules’s birthday last week. I’m still stuffed from lunch so I choose a salade Niçoise, but I can’t resist the chicken liver paté so I have that to start as well! (Please excuse the out-of-focus photograph.)

Chicken liver pate with toasted brioche and spiced apple chutney

Chicken liver paté with toasted brioche and spiced apple chutney, Côte

The paté is beautifully presented in its little glass jar and really delicious – makes me want to make it again soon which is surprisingly easy. The brioche is delicate and perfectly crisp-soft and the apple chutney is a lovely sweet, slightly tart accompaniment to the paté. Having asked for my tuna in the salade Niçoise to be rare I’m pleased that they’ve taken me at my word. The salad is lovely and fresh with nicely al dente green beans and a little thinly sliced red onion which I always think I don’t want but which adds an essential base-note to the flavours. The boiled egg quarters are a delight to an egg-lover like me with their yokes still soft but not enough to run away. The only thing it all needs is a good grind of salt and pepper.

Salade Nicoise

Salade Niçoise, Côte

After dinner we take a well-needed perambulation along The Backs (behind the colleges), over a bridge and back through town. Final exams over, all the colleges are having their May balls (even though it’s June) and from the bridge we can see two such events in full flight. Music blares out, search-lights fan through the night sky illuminating the majestic spires of Kings College, and gigantic white helium balloons bob from the perimeter of the enormous lawns heaving with carousing black-tied students. It takes me back more years than I care to admit to my own university days in Durham and our fabulous end-of-year balls. Mostly it makes me feel like going home for a cup of tea and a nice lie down – and that’s exactly what we do.

The White Cross
Riverside, Richmond, Surrey

Côte
21 – 24 Bridge Street, Cambridge

Both visited 20 June 2012

The Carrington, Surry Hills

Having been out for a three-course lunch at The Apprentice I need somewhere we can get something small for an early dinner in Surry Hills before going to a show at Belvoir St Theatre. Some internet research leads me to The Carrington which does $3 pintxos on a Tuesday! Pintxos, we discover, are the Basque equivalent of tapas, and The Carrington is a former seedy pub that’s been done up by the same guys who performed the trendy-treatment on The Norfolk in Redfern which serves tricked-up and rather tasty tacos. I arrive early and get a high table by one of the shuttered windows, which is just as well – not long after Mr T arrives the place is heaving. With bare brick walls and wooden floors, The Carrington still has the laid-back appeal of a pub but it’s been given a mini Spanish make-over with red and black lace lamp shades over the bar, cocktails with names like ‘gringo’s surprise’ and ‘el presidente’, and Spanish tiles in the cosy adjoining restaurant.

We go for the $15 plate of all five $3 special Tuesday night pintxos and a great deal of fun it proves to be, especially washed down with a Spanish beer, Estrella, which is on tap and served in stemmed, branded glasses. The pintxos arrive looking extremely festive on a wooden board and speared with long cocktail sticks. They sound equally festive: a pork belly slider with white cabbage slaw; a potato, chili and smoked cheddar tortilla; a chicken, pork and pine nut sausage role with Basque ketchup; a mini chorizo dog with chipotle mayo and red onion jam; and a deep-fried paella ball with fried calamari.

Pintxos

Pintxos, The Carrington

The slider has a decent thick hunk of pork in it and some extremely good, crispy crackling. The sausage roll is clearly of the lovingly handmade variety (as opposed to the ubiquitous frozen party-fare kind) and the accompanying ketchup tastes of sweet roasted capsicum and smoked paprika – we ask for a second bowl. The tortilla is, as you would imagine, the blandest of the five pintxos but it’s comforting with tender potato slices glued together with subtly smokey cheese. A very cute little fried baby octopus crowns the paella ball which inside has a sticky, black, seafood risotto-type concoction – a delicious Spanish twist on the aranchini ball – and sits in a puddle of paprika-coloured mayo. The mini spicy chorizo (too mini for our liking) is encased in soft white bun which oozes chipotle mayo and onion jam as you eat. Salty, spicy, tangy and creamy all in one go, we could happily eat several full-size versions of this. Our other favourites are the sausage roll and the pork belly slider so we order another of each of these three. What is it about pig products that makes them taste so good?!

The Carrington
565 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
Visited 8 May 2012