Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Sydney - How I ate my way through a city...

Sitting in my apartment, I was reminiscing about my recent adventures overseas. Everything is relaxed, easy, you don't have to keep appointments, go to work, clean...
It was time to plan my next adventure. After such a big trip I decided on a smaller holiday. Thailand was my first thought, but it was pushed aside for the new year.
After much deliberation I settled on the idea that I wanted to visit Australian wineries. So where to go? My choices were plentiful... Barossa valley, Yarra valley, Hunter valley, the list goes on.
A good friend told me tales of his friend's romantic trip to the Hunter Valley where they drank wine, had picnics, lots of hugs and kisses and all that mushy stuff that us girls pretend to hate but secretly wish for...

Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard

The Hunter Valley had been selected but I could not possibly spend 10 whole days there so I needed something else. It'd been ages since I'd been to Sydney. That was added to the list. I've never been to Canberra. Can you believe that. I am as Australian as they come and I have never been to our nation's capital. I was so disgusted with my ignorance that Canberra was added in capital letters.

On Tuesday I headed off. By Tuesday night I was driving around the circular roads of Canberra. Dinner at "Little Brussels" Belgian Beer Cafe who had run out of mussels!!! I almost cried. Drank my favourite beverage; rekorderlig cider, I ate fish and chips. The food was rather nice. I'd definitely try it again in pursuit of some belgian style mussels. Off to the casino I went for a game of Carribbean Stud (or Canberra Stud as they have so tastefully named it).

Poorer than I was the evening prior, I woke at the crack of dawn, or rather 9am, and headed to all of the monuments before making the drive to Sydney.

My first night I ate terrible Moroccan food... Disastrous first impression Sydney!

The following day, determined to right the wrongs I headed down to the Opera Bar at the Opera house and spent my afternoon eating a seafood salad and chips and sipping on some lovely Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. If you can handle the seagulls then take a seat outside along the waters edge looking back at the Opera House and spend your day, in the sun, admiring the views. It truly was my second favourite experience this week. The view is gorgeous, the staff are friendly and the food tastes great. I could have stayed there for days.

View from the Opera Bar

After drinking more than my fare share of wine, I headed back to our hotel. On my way I passed Zumbo's and thought I'd pop in for their happy hour. The dessert train looks fantastic and the flavours of their macarons are bizzarre. Check out my post on Zumbo's

Zumbo's selection of A La Carte Desserts

The next day I caught the ferry over to Watson's Bay and sat on the verandah of Dunbar House, a beautifully restored mansion on the waterfront, eating prawns and bruschetta and a bottle of wine. Their Devonshire tea is also to die for. This was by far my favourite experience in Sydney. It was relaxing, the food fresh and seasonal and the setting is breathtaking. The lovely waiter was happy to entertain me with stories of his travels and experiences around the city and he made the day all the more pleasurable. As it started to rain and the weather cooled, they brought me a blanket so I stayed warm and topped up the wine :) they host weddings weekly and I can see why.
Check out my post on Dunbar House

Part of our lunch at Dunbar House

From Watson's Bay I made my way back into the city to check out Mr. Wong's; a new cantonese restaurant. Their food was unlike any Cantonese I have eaten before. Say good bye to your local Chinese dive guys, you will never go back once you have experienced this. And their cocktails...wow!
Check out my post on Mr. Wong

That night, after dinner, I ventured down to The Rocks at Circular Quay where they were holding a "village bizarre". You walked through market stalls with yummy looking food (was such a shame that I was so stuffed from lunch and dinner or I would have eaten my way through here too). They had spanish churros, cupcakes, a barbecue... I walked through the showcase stall to witness giggling girls getting their hair done... Down hidden lanes to bars and comedy shows. If it hadn't been raining I could have danced the night away at the silent disco.

The silent disco. You receive headphones playing music and dance.
From the outside it is very entertaining to watch

For my final full day in Sydney I decided to head to the trendy Surry Hills district. I began my adventure at Ruben Hills cafe for breakfast. It was delicious and the coffee was fantastic. I loved the feel of the place, very comfortable.


Brekkie at Ruben Hills

From here I explored the streets and happened upon Sparkle Cupcakery. Naturally I was unable to resist so I exited 10 minutes later, cupcakes in hand, ready to take on the world.
Check out my post on Sparkle Cupcakery

Sparkle Cupcakery - Surry Hills

Within an hour and a half I was standing out front the famous Bourke Street Bakery, my mouth watering as I observed all the pastries available. How could I not go in? The place is an institution.

After walking, and walking, and walking, I had returned to the city. Bellies full, thinking about where I should go for dinner. The choices were Jamie's Italian, which I had absolutely loved when staying in Covent Garden in London, or the Meat and Wine Company in Darling Harbour. I had such a lovely memory of Jamie's that I wanted to preserve it as it was, so I decided on the Meat & Wine Co. After a steak, I was once again full to the brim. A walk was required along the waterfront. 

During my refreshing summer night walk I observed a Lindt cafe hidden amongst the plethora of bars and nightclubs. "Dessert?". 
One hazelnut gateau later I was well and truly done with eating... for the day. 
I headed back to my hotel to commence a food coma and start all over the following day.

Next stop: The Hunter Valley. 

I had wines, cheese platters, pub meals, Thai. The region looks amazing. The vineyards are delightfully pretty and everywhere you ate had a view of the surrounding country. 
My favourite wine tasting experience was at Scarborough. They brought out a cheese platter, and you got a placemat to place your wines on with the names of each written so that if you returned to one to compare you knew exactly what you were looking at.


I visited McGuigan's winery, Brokenwood, Scarborough, Gun Dog, Audrey Wilkinson and Pukara Estate. 
Pukara Estate makes the most delicious olive oils and balsamics. Stay tuned for uses with Strawberries among other things... I bought the biggest bottle of Caramelised Balsamic Vinegar I could, and a smaller one for later and tried all the different varieties of olive oil. 

For food you have a never ending list of options. My breakfast was included in the B&B I stayed in so I got to enjoy a lovely country breakfast each morning at Peppers Convent. 

I visited Harrigan's Pub for dinner ate the largest lamb shanks I have ever seen. These things were gigantic.  This was easily the best meal I had in the hunter valley.

Enormous lamb shanks and my yummy pumpkin soup.

I also ate at a Japanese/Thai restaurant called oishii. The food was nice, seemed such a strange mix, Japanese and Thai paired together. The view was beautiful. The outside eating area was on decking so you had a complete view of the surrounding vineyard. It started to get cold but I refused to go back inside.

For lunch, I found out from one of the locals that Cafe Enzo was the nicest cafe in the area. It is a quaint little spot in the midst of a tasting room for a boutique vineyard and an Alpaca farm (of all things!). Their food matches their boutique surrounds, and although it is very tasty, the portions are quite small.

So after an 11 hour drive I have arrived home. I am still amazed at how much food I had eaten through the week. I feel like I've grown to twice my size. I love taking road trips to new places to try out the food that other cities have to offer. I still think Melbourne is the stand out in culinary genius though. You can never go past your own local favourites...

Farewell fireworks on my last night in Darling Harbour




Twenty & Six Espresso - our new leading lady

On my way home, driving through North Melbourne after visiting family the other day, I noticed a cafe I have not seen before. I am a massive fan of trying out new places around the city, god knows I eat out enough. So I stopped.

And I never looked back.


20 & 6 Espresso. Write it down, look it up, remember the name. Never have I thought about food as much as I did following this meal.

Their coffee is from Proud Mary, so they had me wrapped around their little finger after the first sip of my latte.


I was feeling adventurous with lunch so I ordered the Balinese Sticky Rice. Never heard of it, had no idea what to expect, and I was enjoying that experience. It was Black sticky rice with banana, fresh mango, finished with salted coconut cream, palm sugar and passionfruit pulp. When it came out I had my doubts, but it did look pretty.

Upon first taste I was officially in love. It was sweet, but porridge-y all at once. I don't think my descriptions could do it justice. It was fantastic and you must try it.

Balinese Sticky Rice

I left. More than satisfied, eagerly anticipating my next visit... 

I woke the next day, thinking what shall I do for breakfast.
I smiled.
I had been thinking about that sticky rice all night. And even writing this now, two days later I'm thinking of returning again, my mouth is watering...


I walked in. The guy that had served us the day before looked at us, somewhat surprised.
I sat timidly and he brought me over my latte. We had a chat about how I couldn't resist returning. I was hooked. He told me that 20&6 has been voted second best brekkie in Melbourne, after Duchess of Spotswood. Another establishment of which I am a fan.

The Russian
I pondered the menu once again. No matter how eager I was to try the pecan and rum soaked raisin bread I just could not get past that damn rice. I caved and ordered the exact same dish as I had inhaled the previous day. It was just as delightful as the day before. 

My next visit I and ordered "The Russian". Vodka and lemon salmon tartare, a poached egg, lemon labneh and avocado on seeded sourdough. Looked delicious! 

Since, I have also tried "The Hunter". Balsamic and port roasted portobello mushrooms, spanish chorizo, creme fraiche and black truffle oil on sourdough bread. It was just as yummy. You just ate and ate until the plate was clean. Never mind that you were full, there was simply no stopping until the entire meal had been devoured. 

The Hunter

You know you have found a gem when after four visits you are still sitting here hoping the opportunity will arise soon to return.

Visit their website
Twenty & Six Espresso on Urbanspoon

Sparkle Cupcakery - Who can resist a cupcake??

While walking through Surry Hills in Sydney I saw a familiar looking logo out of the corner of my eye.

Low and behold, there was Sparkle Cupcakery. I've seen their recipe book many times while I have been trawling the cookbook sections in shops. Anything with any association with sparkle is bound to catch my attention... And after this visit I just may buy the book next time I come across it (you can never have too many cupcake recipes!!).


When i spotted the cute little shop I was still sickeningly full from breakfast and thought "I just want to have a look... I couldn't possibly eat one." As I walked through the doors my excitement grew. All preconceived thoughts of my being full disappeared with my first glance at the display cabinet. They looked so tasty.


 I ordered two; the milk chocolate which appeared to have crushed flake-like bits over the top and a Red Velvet.

Red Velvet and Milk Chocolate Cupcakes

One step out of the store with my adorable cupcake bag in my hand, I stopped to take a photo. I had every intention of walking off my breakfast for a bit before devouring my cake but once the bag was opened there was no going back. Within two minutes there was no evidence there had ever been a cupcake in my possession, aside from the crumbs down my dress.


Fantastic after brekkie snack!!

Visit Sparkle Cupcakery's website
Sparkle Cupcakery on Urbanspoon

Zumbo's - The dessert train


I love dessert. If someone told me that I could only eat one meal for the day, it would be dessert. When the world is ending I am going to eat my way through a mountain of dessert. So when I decided on a trip to Sydney I thought "woo hoo! There's a Zumbo shop there".


Adriano Zumbo makes my mouth water when I see him on tv presenting some new weird and wacky creation. I attempted to make his gingerbread house from the masterchef magazine for Christmas last year and failed miserably. But not to worry, take two will be this year and I promise to post all the messy pictures online.


So naturally my first port of call when I arrived in Sydney, was the Zumbo shop at The Star. They have the most bizarre array of macaron flavours you will ever see. I bought a malted milkshake flavour, a salt and vinegar, a salted butter popcorn and mint chocolate. Immediately I ran to my hotel room (conveniently I just so happened to be staying at The Star) and devoured the strangely delightful creations.


 I loved the malted milkshake. Wasn't so sure about the salt and vinegar. It honestly tasted like you had just eaten a red rock deli chip. So odd.


After a couple of days of picking up macarons on my  way through I thought to drop into the dining area for happy hour on the dessert train. The train looks fantastic. Like you're sitting in front of dessert wonderland.


There are about 9 or so different desserts rotating around and you just take whichever you want, whenever you want. It was a blast. I was grabbing desserts left, right and center.


At the end you have a fantastic pile of dishes in front of you to leave you pondering how on earth you managed to make your way through it all.


I will admit that I was expecting the desserts to be just as intriguing and taste bud tingling as the macarons. They were great desserts, but featured chocolate fondant and honeycomb rather than bubblegum and all the strange odysseys that are featured in his book (which I was given for Christmas last year).


Having said that, the experience of the dessert train was a load of fun and the a la carte desserts and pastries, not to mention the macarons, are so much fun to try. There are lemon meringue tarts, chocolate cakes, and so much more.


The macarons speak for themselves, I mean, I was there for 5 days and each of which I was stepping into his shop to pick something up.



Definitely a must visit for any dessert king or queen, like me, and any Zumbo fan.


Zumbo's website here
Adriano Zumbo P√Ętissier on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Brownies - A fail-safe

As I have mentioned countless times before, it is a common occurrence for S and I to be sitting at home and one of us decides we want dessert. Now, this can never be at a convenient time when Coles is open or the little cafe down the street that is always open is still trading... It is always just as they are closing their doors and we know there is no chance we could make it in time.

But all is not lost. I have found the best recipe that anybody can make...

Delectable Brownies

If you ever bake a basic cake, or have ever had the inspiration to but lost interest, I can guarantee that the ingredients are sitting in your pantry right now. Go check when you read the list. I'll bet that not one of you are missing anything... Unless you used the last eggs to make breakfast this morning and haven't been to the shop yet...

The best thing about these brownies is that anybody feels like a master cook when they are finished. They always come out 100% perfect, every time. And once you get really good at it (I have made so many that I can now fit the entire preparation, from measuring ingredients to placing the tray in the oven, in around 10 mins) you can start experimenting with additives like walnuts, raspberries, pop rocks... Pretty much anything you want.

mmmmm. choc, butter and sugar! Who needs more?

This recipe, I am shattered to say, I cannot claim as my own. Donna Hay published it in her fast, fresh, simple book.
However, I shortened the cooking time to about 25-30 mins to have my brownies slightly chewy.

Before it goes into the oven

Now because this recipe is so fool proof there is no need to stress about precise measurements. Last time, I accidentally mis-read the butter quantity, added about 25g too much butter and ended up with the best brownies I've ever made. There is no going wrong (maybe burning??).

After it came out of the oven

Standby Brownies
Taken from "Fast, Fresh, Simple" Donna Hay.

150g butter
275g caster sugar
75g cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
75g plain flour

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius
2. Place butter, sugar & cocoa in a saucepan on low heat and stir until butter has melted.
3. Place into a bowl and add vanilla and eggs, whisk well.
4. Sift in flour (I don't bother with sifting and it still comes out smooth) and whisk to combine.
5. Spoon into baking dish lined with baking paper
6. Cook for approx 30 mins until centre is just set
7. Cool and cut into squares


I mixed a salted caramel spread I found in Versailles, Paris (Burch & Purchese in South Yarra also make one similar if you would like your own) so I put a heaped tablespoon of that in a saucepan with some creme fraiche until it became saucy... so yum!

Salted caramel and creme fraiche cooking away

Try not to eat them all in one sitting... If you can't resist don't worry, I won't tell anyone.


Happy baking!!!!

Mr. Wong - My Mr. Right... Cantonese food, but not as you know it.

I recently received a couple of Gourmet Traveller magazines from Paul and Alicia at Connoisseur. Thanks guys!
I've never read it before but now that I've had the chance I've realised that they are fantastic for people like me. Probably you too if you read my blog. It is all about travelling to new, or old favourite, places and eating out while you're there. It says go to Tahiti, while you're there make sure you eat here, here and here. I can't believe I have never been exposed to this before...

So upon reading the November issue that was so kindly given to me, I found out about a new Cantonese restaurant in the Sydney CBD. As luck would have it, I read it the week before I went on my little road trip.

View from the alley... in the pouring rain

Mr. Wong is slightly hidden if you don't know the streets of Sydney too well. It is down an alley and does not seem like much as you stare all the way down and get a glimpse of the windows. As you approach you start to get a clearer picture of what is in store. The small windows become clearer and you can see the people inside enjoying their meals, the kitchen behind cooking up a storm and as you enter you begin to realise the magnitude of what you have just entered. Standing at the entry, the restaurant looks huge. It's spans off to the left and right with the bar directly in front of you. There is an open storage cage filled to the brim with every wine you could possibly think of.


Between the bar and the wines there is a staircase leading down... To more seating. The waiter said they can fit around 250 people. As I was being seated I was told the place was fully booked for the evening. Fully booked for 250 people at a time, all night? I was blown away. And the whole place looks beautiful. All wood and a dark green paint, with beautiful faint portraits painted into the walls. You really felt like you had walked into a traditional restaurant in Hong Kong (I assume, I am yet to go).
I sat at my table and began to make my way through the pages of menu. Any Cantonese dish I had ever heard of appeared to be in this menu. It had everything... I had to stop myself from ordering everything, my eyes are always about 5 times bigger than my stomach.
 
I began with a violet and lychee cocktail. This purple creation was easily the best cocktail I have ever had... Ever.

Violet & Lychee cocktail

As I was sitting there taking in my surroundings, and I was marvelling at the genius of my fantastic drink, my first dish arrived. Peking Duck.
I am not too fond of duck. Everyone keeps telling me I'm missing out but I've never really seen the excitement to it. I've tried it a few times and still not really been a fan. This was another of those times where I decided to give it another try. This time I could see what all the fuss was about.

Peking Duck

This duck was amazing. Crispy, not at all fatty, just perfectly cooked. I have never appreciated duck before but I could have eaten this particular Peking Duck forever. it was delicious. Set up separately on a platter you took your own pancake and put the quantities of each component inside yourself. Genius. 

During this time I had finished my spectacular cocktail so flicked through the list to find another amazing concoction. I opted for the strawberry cocktail and it was just as pleasing as it's predecessor.

Strawberry Cocktail

My main arrived at the table. Kung Pow Chicken and Fried Rice. Just as tasty as my first dish.
The Kung Pow definitely packed a punch, that's for sure. Luckily I had my trusty cocktail to ease my taste buds.
The fried rice was just divine. Not oily, but full of flavour.

My bowl of deliciousness

With this I was stuffed. I know I am usually much more greedy when I order food but I had just come back from the biggest lunch of my life at Watson's Bay. Ill tell you what though. Next time I'm in Sydney I will not be eating at all before visiting Mr. Wong, purely so that I can sample as much of their menu as humanly possible.

Fried Rice

I could have stayed there all night, but my table was booked after 2 and a half hours so even if I didn't have prior plans I would have been ushered out in a timely fashion. In future I will be booking a large time slot in order to facilitate stuffing my face.

Kung Pow Chicken
Visit Mr. Wong's website
Mr Wong on Urbanspoon