Just like that it’s December and I am still trying to catch up with October. Here are some late photos from the Like Mum Used to Make exhibition at Mars Hill. It’s a bit of a learning curve for all involved, but it turned our rather well and expect to see it again next year.
I am shockingly behind with all my blog post, a hectic work life has managed to suck a lot of my energy (again). In any case, about a month ago I visited Azuma Kushiyaki with fellow MSGers as part of our nearly monthly gathering for Midweek Supper Group. I wanted to see what this new addition to the Azuma chain was all about. As an added sweetener, Azuma Kushiyaki offered Sugar Hit as part of SIFF making it doubly interesting to visit.
Azuma Kushiyaki specialised in Japanese bar food common to izakaya. The word kushiyaki referred to non poultry skewers, this in contrast to yakitori (skewered chicken). The restaurant offered both types of skewers and if you would like a taste of the different skewers you can’t go wrong by ordering the Assorted Kushiyaki set (5 assorted skewers). The assorted set came with a chicken, okra, beef, lamb and scallop skewers and provided a great overview of what was available.
If ordering individual skewers the Quail eggs with Kushiyaki sauce was an unexpected winner. The sauce and the egg complimenting each other in terms of taste and flavour.
Although the restaurant’s specialty was meant to be its skewers it surprised us to note that for a number of the meat skewers, the meat was dry and in a lot of cases cold. Despite being the only large group within the restaurant the kitchen could not cope with our numbers, even if they were pre-warned with all our orders being pre-ordered hours before we arrived.
Unexpectedly it was all the other non skewer dishes that impressed us that night. The soft shell crab was perfectly crunchy, the sashimi platter was generous and fresh…
In terms of possible lunch food, their onigiri or rice ball was enough to keep anyone happy for a mid day break. It was also a lot bigger than the photo suggested.
I was quietly impressed by the Azuma Ramen, it consisted of egg noodles in a mildly spiced sesame soup. The stock made it for me, it was flavoursome and complex. Perhaps not the same standard as Ryo, but definitely something I would look forward to for a quick lunch.
Before we knew it, it was 9:00pm and despite our bulging stomachs we waited eagerly for dessert to make its appearance. We were not disappointed when two square, black bento boxes arrived bearing sweet goodies inside. Described as a blend of East meets West this particular Sugar Hit offering was the most impressive in a long line of Sugat Hits. A typical Sugar Hit usually includes a sweet wine and a number of mini dessert. In most cases the selection contained three if not four desserts. A chocolate one, a creme brulee of some description , a “fruit of the season” dessert and a the restautant or hotel’s signature dessert.
In terms of presentation and content, Azuma Kushiyaki’s Sugar Hit blew me away. I started by tasting the fluffy Vanilla Cheesecake, before moving on to its polar opposite; a Belgian chocolate mousse. Although both were delicious, they were exactly what I expected at a Sugar Hit and therefore did not have the wow factor I was hoping for. After a few spoonful I shifted my attention to Box number two.
Box number two contained a Green tea roll with chestnuts. I have always been a big fan of macha flavoured dessert and this subtle offering was one of my favourite so far. It wasn’t until I ventured into the rather ordinary looking shot glass with vanilla ice cream that the surprise started. Not listening to the instruction I started by nearly choking on he incredibly sweet brown sugar syrup before pouring it on to the vanilla ice cream. I took my first bite of the ice cream and could understand why Marc, who was sitting in front of me was wearing an expression of utter bliss. The subtle vanilla sweetness was given a punch by the brown sugar syrup, and when combined with the two balls of mochi deep within the glass, the texture combination of smooth and chewy was amazing. Excited I turned to the Nori seaweed cat’s tongue biscuits. Looking rather like an ordinary rice cracker, I did not expect the mix of sweet and burst of savoury courtesy of the sea weed flecks. I could happily munch on a whole box of these little beauties!
It was close to midnight when we decided to make it a day. This Sugar Hit was easily my favourite, being unexpectedly different and delivering on its promise of East Meets West. As far as the dinner went, I had some mixed feelings about what we had. I didn’t think the skewers in general were outstanding, although what was impressive was the variety of skewers available. In terms of service, they were marginally acceptable, but mind bogglingly slow throughout the night. Despite the fact that it was a very quiet night, they were unable to cope with our group’s order. One order went out, then forgotten multiple times throughout the evening. Our waitress seemed to not understand our requests due to a language barrier, and despite being the booking that made up more than half their night’s intake we were often ignored throughout the evening.
What frustrated me most was the number of hoops I had to jump through to book a table for a group of 14 people. Azuma Kushiyaki has a policy that for groups of nine or more, you can only order from their $55 per head set menu. I had to ring for two days offering different suggestions to go around this, before they suggested that maybe as the booking will be on a quiet week night, we can pre-order beforehand. What annoyed me was that even with orders being pre-ordered the same dishes arrived at different time with different temperature.
I doubt I will revisit this place with a group bigger than four in the future, but would definitely drop in for a quick lunch here and there.
T: (02) 9267 7775
F: (02) 9267 7776
Ground Floor Regent Place Shopping
501 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
One would think that one World Showcase Dinner in a month, let alone a year is enough to last for a while. Then again, if the experience was so great, why not repeat it? It’s a week after Bras at Quay, Y and I were the first to arrive for the World Showcase Dinner with Sergi Arola at Bentley in Surry Hills.
Aside from being well known for his restaurant Gastro, Arola was famous for training at the well known el Bulli and was considered to be even then, one of the most promising chef in the industry. When this is combined with Brent Savage’s of Bentley’s highly experimental approach to fine dining, I was expecting something rather extraordinary.
We started with Patatas Bravas and Ajo Blanco with Cherry Caviar ( both from Arola), Kingfish Ceviche with Pickled Daikon and Yuzu Mayonaise and Smoked Eel Parfait with White Soy and Seaweed Salad (Savage). This particular World Showcase Dinner came with matching wine for all courses and this one was the MV Lancelot-Pienne ‘Cuvee de Table Ronde’ from Cragmant Champagne.
I wasn’t quite sure how the partnership between Savage and Arola was going to play out until this first course arrived. When it did, it dawned on me that it wasn’t exactly a duet of styles, but more of a solo of their signature dishes appearing side by side. Looking around the web later on, I wasn’t suprised to see that the Patatas Bravas and Ajo Blanco with Cherry Caviar usually appeared on Arola’s menu. I personally would happily nibble on the Patatas Bravas with its cute aoili topping all night, there was something deliciously more-ish and simple about the little dish.
Next was Arola’s Scallop and Bacon Saugage, Jerusalem Artichoke and Smoked Scallop matched with the 2007 Marques De Riscal Limousin Verdejo, Rueda Spain. The bite sized sausage was surprisingly bacony (if there is such a word) had I ate it with my eyes closes it would not be surprising to believe I was eating bacon.
Next was Savage’s Black Sesame and Pea Fondant with Snow Peas and Goats Curd. We were a little puzzled with this one, noting the strong presence of licorice, but missing out on the Black Sesame flavour. Whilst pondering whether they managed to mix up licorice and black sesame in the kitchen I sipped the 2008 Keller Trocken Riesling, Rheinhessen Germany and discovered a whole new dish. The fruity sweetness of the wine perfectly balanced the strong licorice flavour of the dish.
By this stage in the evening the light was getting dimmer, the decor and the light combined threw shades of red on everything we ate and my photos became progressively more abstract.
The next dish was Arola’s Snapper Sandwich, Mango, Haricots Verts and a Rockfish Consome paired with 2008 Bodegas Campante ‘Gran Reboreda’ Treixadura Blend from Ribeiro Spain. It wasn’t the most memorable of dish to me, being basically pan fried snapper with fish stock.
I couldn’t say much about Savage’s Pork Belly and Bubble, Green Olive, Apple and Tonka paired with Sidra Extra Brut Lagar De Camin, Lavandera Spain. I can understand the idea behind matching pork with apple cider, apple and pork is a magical classic pairing after all, but I found the cider too overpowering for my poor pork belly topped with crackle and had to put it away.
Arola’s Foie Gras ‘coca’ with Roasted Bellpeppers paired with 2004 Marques De Velila Crianza Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero made up for the other two dishes. Described as a Spanish pizza it was a magical layering of a crusty base with caramelised capsicums.
Next was Savage’s Duck Breast with Sweet Corn, Pistachio and Asparagus paired with 2004 Muga ‘Reserva’ Tempranillo Garmacha, Rioja Spain. It was a nice dish, but after the high of the ‘coca’ it was somewhat of a let down. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Bras at Quay and Arola at Bentley was the direction of the dishes as the night progressed. At Quay there was a definite theme and direction with each dish, whereas at Bentley it was rather like observing two very different performers on the same stage without quite knowing what the theme of the show was.
With dessert coming soon, I finally abandoned my manners and took out my flash. I hate taking it out when out in restaurants like Bentley, but thought a few discreet flash would hardly make a difference. The Seared and Marinated Watermelon, Hibiscus Infusion, Pomegranate Seeds and Green Tomato Ice Cream paired with the delicious lychee scented 2007 Fustanova Moscatel, Valencia Spain was a surprisingly savoury tast dessert with a hint of tomato.
Reading the menu earlier in the night we speculated how Savage would present his Hazelnut White Chocolte and Blubery. I predicted it will turn up as a block whereas Y predicted a tube, when it arrived it turned out that we were both right. The white chocolate tube contained yogurt sauce that glide out when pierced. It was paired with 2004 Alain Brumont Pacherenc ‘Larmes Celestes’ from South West France.
The last dish for the night was Arola’s Dark Chocolate Mousse, coated in Mango Chutney and Toasted Sweetcorn, Coconut Espuma paired with the 2006 Castano Dulce Monastrell from Yecia Spain. I think Arola served this dish himself on the night. Instead of staying in the kitchen he was very much visible throughout the night making his ways to different tables. I remembered the fact that the chocolate mousse was not as dark as I would expect and the sweet corn was so subtle it appeared only for an instant on my tongue. If sight contributed to sensation when eating, I must confess I was eating blindly by this stage of the night and what you see on the photo with the aid of flash was not what I remembered on my plate.
It was close to eleven when we staggered out. There were some definite hits during the night, also dishes that didn’t quite work. At the same time it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to taste dishes that I would have to travel to the other side of the world to experience. The experience also reminded me how food and wine can be amazing when done right, and although I drink the occasional glass or two with my meal it made me rethink the idea in a whole different light.
It’s Monday evening and I am on my way towards Circular Quay to join Y, M and Mitch for a World Chef Showcase dinner with Sebastiean Bras at Quay restaurant. On a day where most of are cursing the start of yet another work week, it is the unofficial day off for the lovely people in the hospitality industry. This partly explains the rather festive atmosphere floating in the air the moment I stepped through the door and noted the presence of food critics and chefs alike, but regardless of who you are that night, you were there to worship at the altar of gastronomy.
The event was part of SIFF’s World Chef Showcase. A first of its kind in Sydney’s gastronomy calendar, it partners some of Sydney’s best restaurants with world class chefs from around the world for an unforgettable dining experience. Priced at around $300 per head, it wasn’t the cheapest of dining experiences, but when considering the fact that you are able to eat at one of the top ten restaurants in the world without leaving the city it was an amazing deal.
My dining experience can be best summarised by Uhh:
Sebastian Bras at Quay
Bras, the restaurant he and his father Michel run in the centre of France is considered that country’s finest and one of the top 10 in the world. There they gather amongst other things local vegetables, herbs and flowers and combine them to dizzying effect. Sydney’s Quay is arguably Australia’s finest restaurant and it too has gained a worldwide reputation based on chef Peter Gilmore’s understanding of the natural. Those lucky enough to afford it will be treated to a six-course menu by these two like minded souls.
We started with a fresh apertiser consisting of vongole, burghul and goats curd. This simple, but beautifully balanced dish was a perfect introduction to the rest of the evening.
Next was the signature Gargouillou of young vegetables, with grains, herbs and grilled almond eggnog. Also known as the most beautiful combination of vegetables and petals on a plate, I’m sad that this photo did not it any justice aside from capturing the endearingly tiny baby radish. Each vegetable was braised individually to bring out its flavour, and it was unbelievable how much flavour each piece of piece packed in every bite.
Next was a feast of colours with juicy sauteed scallops on sugar -loaf cabbage, white apple and garden cress, apple juice and almond prune oil.
Next was the rather surprising orange dusted king prawns wit a vegetable broth and touch of coriander. I could barely remember the coriander from this dish, but I still remember the sweet orange dust on the side of the plate like edible fairy dust that burst in my mouth.
I should mention that although wines were not included as part of the meal, matching wines were thoughtfully recommended within the menu. I decided to have a glass of the 2007 Ramon Bilbao, Viura, Rioja, Spain with the next dish. Aptly named Earthly Flavour it consisted of green asparagus crusted with black truffles, toasted barley and ham. It reminded me of a mini haggis in appearance, but the flavour was smoky, green and very earthy. A complete turning point to the previous light and delicate flavours.
Next was the roast rack of lamb on the bone: chopped aromatic herbs, Mexican tarragon with salted lemon and slightly spiced sauce. It was beautifully done, but not the most memorable part of the meal. I wonder now if I had ordered the wine, it would have made the pairing more interesting.
There was a noticeable lag as we waited for the longest time for our cheese. During this time both Sebastien Bras and Peter Gilmore wandered around to say hello to all the diners. Too star struck to say anything I just watched them walk closer and closer to us.
Dessert could not come soon enough with the first being meringues shaped into the sails of the Opera House garnished with a palette of local fruit, rose petal and gentian. It was unexpected and eventhough shaping food in the form of the Opera House is sometimes trite, it seemed fitting this time around. I am not a big fan of meringue as a rule, but found this version not too sweet and matched brilliantly with the fruits and sugar coated rose petals.