As announced on my Facebook page, I am moving across to a new blog space.
“Could you ever have guessed the best cheese cake comes from Singapore? Thoroughly enjoyed my short trip to Singapore where I finished the year and on a somewhat ‘monsoonal’ note
Now, after 2 years, I am moving on, and instead of a facelift I mentioned earlier I have decided to move to a simpler and more personal blog space
At this stage, I am not going to transfer any old content, until such time I might be desperate to even consider recycling old photos. Thanks to the loyal readers who still check my blog on a daily basis, it hasn’t been updated for quite some time. I hope you’ll still read the new blog.”
I always wondered whether there would ever be a clone of Flower Drum in Sydney as there is one in Melbourne. I still remember the waiters circling my table, and checking those huge red wine glasses for finger marks – Flower Drum in Melbourne was really something special. Which candidate in Sydney would come close? Of the ‘fine dining’ Chinese restaurants in Sydney, there is China Doll in Woolloomoolloo and now China Lane on Angel Place …. very impressive, especially for the cocktail and dessert menus. The Cantonese restaurant Mr. Wong in Justin Hemmesphere … maybe? Zilver or The Eight …. apart from its ‘modern’ twist on Chinese cuisine, there are still many boxes that are left unchecked. My favourite so far has remained to be Marigold.
Before I visited The Century, I really wondered what this sister restaurant of Golden Century was going to deliver in terms of my ‘vision’ of a Flower Drum-similar establishment. I think my conclusion is: in a nutshell it’s just like Golden Century but with more service. So I leave my vision of Flower Drum in Sydney in my pocket, until the time, when maybe I will open one myself before someone does.
There are live seafood tanks at the entrance of the restaurant – all looking fresh and very alive! There was a bit of wait for our pre-booked table but that wasn’t out of our expectation – this is Golden Century, right! ? Always a queue. As we were waiting at the entrance, we saw parties of formally-dressed people walking in, then we knew what a hip spot this was to be for private dinner parties. The biggest difference from the Sussex Street restaurant.
See these stand-up banners with foodie quotes lined along the foyer on one side, with the other side being the private dining ‘rooms’ which are separately ‘Chinese walls’ i.e. a lace curtain! Anyone making a trip to the toilet must go pass these banners and the private rooms. The minimum charge for private rooms is $800.
Now comes the dining floor. There are perhaps too many tables on the floor or some of the table sizes were a tad big – although there is enough privacy to not overhear what the next table is talking about, the restaurant was on the aggressive side!
On the drinks, I cannot be any less complimentary about the wine list, which is extensive with some great wines from around the world. I had The Century label sauvignon blanc which was really beautiful.
Food-wise, it is just like the Sussex Street menu, probably dearer by $2-$3 per dish. Soup of the day, followed by XO-sauteed pipi’s on fried rice noodles, deep-fried salmon head, sweet and sour pork, and some stir-fried baby bok choy. Complimentary dessert (middle top picture in the collage) surprised us with the much loved sticky glutinous rice balls with brown sugar, in addition to the usual petit fours and fruit.
Service is efficient, attentive as I know the staff has been hand picked from Sussex Street to work here, and have been trained the ‘Western’ method of service. For example, where possible, our soups were served on the right hand side and cleared from the other.
Not surprised the tables turned over very quickly – I estimate approximately 1 hour 20 minutes per seating. After 2 seatings, staff would be sent back to Sussex Street where custom was still flowing.
It is a nice restaurant, a nice Chinese restaurant indeed.
Was at this place in Lane Cove in the middle of winter; because it was so impressive, shortly after I went back again but it was closed for renovations. I am sure the renovations are complete by now ready for the summer!
Via Napoli Pizzeria
Look at how the pork belly is served – flamed right in front of you. What a warming dish!
One of the specials on the night, salt and pepper squid, with an aioli dressing on the side. An entree dish.
Here comes the pork belly (from the picture above) with roast potato on the side, an event to watch it being served. The meat could have been a bit more tender but nevertheless very filling.
The famous 1-metre pizza, which we didn’t have enough room in the stomach to have. But a simple wood-fired pizza of margherita and parma ham … which oozes of loads of tomato sauce on the base. Plus chilli on the side for more heat. Straight out of the oven on a cold winter’s night – pure delight!
Here’s the view looking back towards the wood-fire stove, and the kitchen. See the metre-long pizza boxes underneath the bench? They say if you can’t have one right now, take one away!
That it was packed out on a Monday night at this time of the year does say a lot about the food and service here. There were too many pizza choices, the locals come back time and time again to try something new. A bit of a hang out spot for local birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations …. but casual as it is, there is something special about this place which outshines many other poshy places. Of course, we’ll be back again.
- Shop 2 & 3, 141 Longueville Rd, Lane Cove
- (02) 9428 3297
- Closed on Tuesdays. Wed-Mon, 12-3pm, then 5-10pm
- BYO Wine Only
The BBQ season has started for sure, and as we ready our stoves for the season, I think it’s time to start collecting new marinade ideas. And so we can have lotsa BBQ’s this summer and not get bored of eating just ‘meat’. Explore every salad on the planet to add more creativity to the BBQ party.
This lemongrass chicken wing recipe has been modified a couple of times and I think I have finally mastered it. Thanks to my mother-in-law who helped out along the way so she deserves all the credit for this. The key ingredients are LEMONGRASS + FISH SAUCE.
For fish sauce, I would try to use an MSG- and preservative-free version. (And similarly, an MSG-free soy sauce would be great.) You should pick a good quality fish sauce from the Asian grocery store it is worth every cent.
This MegaChef fish sauce actually worked out really well – produced in the Gulf of Thailand, and prepared with anchovies and pure sea salt and nothing else, it tastes salty, fresh but without the offensiveness like some varieties in the market.
Fresh lemongrass, ground to a powder
Finely chopped garlic
Pinch of white pepper and salt
1. Clean and trim chicken wings to remove any hairs and unsightly skin. Soak in a bowl of hot water (not boiling) for 10 minutes to get rid of any unpleasant defrost smells. Drain and pat dry.
2. In another bowl, mix lemongrass, fish sauce, a bit of soy sauce, a pinch of pepper and salt. Keep tasting. Add a tiny bit of sugar to balance out the saltiness, and add garlic chopped garlic at the end for an extra ‘kick’. Just keep tasting until it tastes right for you!
3. Finally, mix the marinade with the chicken wings in a clean plastic bag, and refrigerate overnight.
4. The chicken wings are perfect chargrilled. They are also excellent baked in a pre-heated convection oven at 200C. When the wings are almost cooked through, brush on diluted honey mixture, and grill/baked until golden on both sides.
You know when you’ve been going to the same place for years, expecting the food to stay the same, and chances are, nothing has changed (i.e. all is good).
To’s has been kind of an institution for many years in a suburb (North Sydney) that is probably not the most logical location to have a Malaysian laksa house.
Over the years, I have seen days when the place is packed out during lunch hour during the week. On Saturday, customers spent their family lunch time lazying over laksas, har mees or nasi goreng. Or even eat-in plus takeaway beef rendang for dinner.
I have noticed the majority of customers on weekends used to be Malaysian Chinese, and SBS reporter Lee Lin Chin making regular visits there.
It was a few months ago when I visited To’s, and the manager who used to say hello was not there. A younger manager told me that he had retired and the next generation had taken over. I did wonder what was to come of this noodle house, but nevertheless believed things would stay the same because the food was still fine.
So this week I went back and things have certainly turned. My laksa tasted only so mildly because the coconut milk basically overpowered the laksa base. Then, there was only rice noodles, no more half hokkien noodles that used to be mixed in. Way too much rice noodles, only a few bean sprouts.
So this was enough for me to conclude – it is a completely different recipe. The next question was – did whoever handed the restaurant over not passed on the original laksa recipe? I am only guessing.
There were also a different team of staff serving customers. The Malaysian Chinese customers were fewer and certainly weren’t the majority.
I can surely talk publicly about my feelings right, and I can say that I was utterly disappointed.
Will I ever return ever? If I did, it would only for the vegetarian spring rolls, which really are a Chinese food. I say, times have turned.
This is for memories only:
This was my birthday dinner and I certainly left the restaurant as a satisfied diner. Inside the newly refurnished hotel at The Star (formerly Star City Casino), Sokyo is amongst the signature restaurants in The Star complex including Momofuku Seiobo, The Century (which only opened late July this year), Black by Ezard etc.
Sokyo – now on the top of my ‘favorites’ list
We’ll surely be back for another Omakase by Chase.
- Level G, The Darling, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont
- (02) 9657 9161
- Lunch: Friday-Saturday 12-2:30pm
- Dinner: Monday-Thursday 6-10:15pm, Friday-Saturday 6-11:15pm
- Sunday closed
- Head chef: Chase Kojima (Nobu trained, and made Executive Chef at Nobu Bahamas)
Some edamame with sea salt flakes to kick off the meal ….
Without a long wait, the first dish Kingfish, natto, mandarin yoghurt, does the job of waking up the tastebuds for this Omakase – the Japanese word for “I’ll leave it to you” i.e. leaving the dinner courses/selection to the chef. Beautifully seasoned dish.
This Chawan mushi, scallop, burnt butter, truffles was like a treasure hunt – underneath the truffle pieces is a ‘salad’ of sashimi scallop with a heavenly egg custard. Add a touch of parmesan cheese, it is the playful mix of ingredients.
To pull all these surprise back a bit was this Spicy tuna poke salad. Visually powerful presentation.
This was probably my favourite savoury dish in the menu – Scampi, foie gras, apple - the flavour combination means you have to have a bit of scampo + foie gras + apple in one bite. Delicate but fresh flavour of the scampi is highlighted by the strong and heavy foie gras, with the fruitness of the apple balancing the two together. I think I could have a few more serves of this amazingly designed fusion dish.
The biscuits on top are not wafers – they are baby sardines – wonderful crispiness of saltwater sardines on top of tofu and pickled spring onion – Tofu, tatame iwashi, tokyo negi, sesame. Another brilliant design.
The Cuttlefish, pancetta, potato & black garlic was the first first ‘main courses’. Look at the black ‘paint’ against the white plate which was not squid ink but was a thickened vinaigrette. There seems to be so much going on here but that doesn’t take away the central ingredient which was cuttlefish pieces wrapped with panfried pancetta, on top of chargrilled kipfler potato – the flavours and textures are similar to the scampi dish, and by now, all dishes reflect clearly what the chef is wanting to say/do with his ingredients. No second guessing.
The next course is indeed amazing – Squab, pearl barley, sansho – which is a pearl barley cooked ‘risotto’ style except the pearl barley is cooked just al dente for texture. Matched with the squab and a rich jus, there cannot be a better way to finish off the main courses before sushi.
To prepare for the sushi were two in-betweens – Sambal Miso and a refreshing cleanser. Of course it wasn’t a surprise to have miso soup but it was unexpected to see if flavoured with a South East Asian Sambal chilli sauce (very mild one though). Apparently, the purpose of this was for ‘calming down’, which we didn’t quite comprehend still.
So for sushi, Chef Chase appeared at our table (he actually so kindly took the sushi out to our table). Starting from left to right was a build up of flavour intensity -> fresh (the toro already in our stomach when the photo was taken), sour, sour + seawater (from the beautifully crunchy seaweed) and flame seared. Plus ginger that is not the coloured type that comes out of a packet. No ordinary sushi, actually, extraordinary.
Here comes dessert, as the omakase menu draws towards an end – tapioca, passionfruit, banana, arare – the ‘arare’ is a Japanese rice cracker giving a slight kick in the creamy tapioca mixture, while the acid in the grapfruit flesh and passionfruit cuts right through this decadent dish. This would be my second favourite course in the menu – a must try.
Sadly, here comes the final course, but which had my birthday wishes on it – a beautiful Lime, shitori cake, lychee - another showcase of chef’s knowledge and brilliant execution. We have a crunchy candy-sweet lychee wafer on a citrus-y lime sorbet, on a rich cake. Nice way to finish off the night.
Finally, some petit fours to go with our green tea – we really like the blackcurrant jelly.
The general manager Jean-Baptiste asked if we would come again – without a doubt, we will be back for the next omakase! I hope I won’t have to wait for the next birthday because that would be too long!
While Mackay is only 2 hours away from the reef activities (actually there are some quieter beaches close by), Mackay city itself has not yet developed into a tourist area. Even the beaches are not commercialised at all – don’t think Bondi when you think Mackay’s beaches.
Also the capacity of motels and hotels is barely catching up with the demand for lodging resulting from the mining infrastructure for the Bowen Basin. So anything with a bed, a roof and four walls would fetch a customer. (The map was taken from the Mackay Tourist Information Centre noticeboard.)
In the city centre, the pace is still fairly laid back, with nightlife concentrated around Victoria and Gregory Streets on Saturday and Sunday nights. The restaurant scene is even more relaxed and some of it quite family-oriented, very much reflects local life of these Queenslanders. Here is a list of the casual dining places that I visited.
1. Breakfast at Toscani’s Cafe Bar & Restaurant, 31 Gordon Street
Good for: a decent coffee shop that’s next to grocery shopping (Coles next door)
2. Home style Sushi & Ramen Japanese Cuisine, Victoria Street (nearest cross street Macalister Street)
Good for: homesick Asians looking for something exotic such as Vietnamese Pho (!)
3. A delicious snack made from scratch at Café La de da, 70 Wood Street
Good for: cheery and friendly service
4. Freshly ground spices in everything at Spice n Flavour, 162 Victoria Street
Good for: the Vindaloo for the not-so-faint-hearted; try: kashmiri naan that has freshly grounded spices & fenugreek leaves
5. Try a lemon Margarita (with tequila) at The Original Montezuma’s, 94 Wood Street
Above: The carne is a combination of chilli con carne, beef taco, beef enchilada on rice & guacamole.
Good for: a Mexican fix just like any other Montezuma’s; an excuse for drinking Margaritas
Something fi-shy’s pick: spice n flavour definitely! Restaurant I would love to visit if I went back: Kevin’s (Singapore cuisine)
Where is Sarina?
Sarina is about 30 minutes’ drive south from Mackay and the journey along Bruce Highway is lined with fields of gold which make a stunning scenery as you travel along Bruce Highway. The Sarina district is one of the largest producing sugar cane areas in Australia, growing approximately 40 tonnes per acre (source: Sarina Sugar Shed brochure).
I had the opportunity to visit the Sarina Sugar Shed for a tour during my weekend at Mackay.
Sarina Sugar Shed
Below are the photos from a sweet afternoon in Sarina.
#1 Queensland has the perfect conditions (much better than its neighbour NSW) for growing sugar cane, which was first brought to Australia from South Africa with the first fleet in 1788.
#2 Mid-June is the beginning is the harvest season all through to December. At present (around mid-june), the crop has about 11% sugar content. Farmers are paid by the sugar content in the crop and also the tonnage supplied to the mill.
#3 In ‘real life’, cane juice comes out muddy because the sugar cane does not get washed beforehand. Therefore, cane juice has to have limejuice added to remove impurities, and then heated, and thereafter boiled as part of the processing. Our tour guide washed the sugar can he used to juice for me.
#4 Sugar + yeast together makes ethanol, and here is a small showroom of rum drums that are in maturation. This makes great use of the molasses that is a by-product alongside L.P. and bagesse as fertiliser and an energy fuel.
#5 There is a variety of “Chefs’ Gusto Sauces” that are locally made and bottled at the Sarina Sugar Shed. Vinegars, sauces and chutneys – this is definitely a ‘think- outside-the-box’ idea for the sustainability of the business!
#6 Fairy floss anyone? The tour guide treats us kids to fairy floss. It was such a fun way to end the tour.
#7 Our absolutely lovely tour guide posing – too sweet!
Sadly, the trend has been the closure of mills in the industry, and therefore the tour was concluded on a somewhat melo note. The growth in worldwide production especially in Brazil (20 times Australia’s volume) has driven sugar cane prices down while the cost of inputs, while already an efficient operation, continues to rise. It is therefore so difficult to make a dime out of sugar cane farming here – the land may as well be sold to investors and cash in. Family tradition also starts to break down when the younger generation may not see their parents’ business to be very appealing to follow suit.
Continuing on from my last blog post about passion and business, I have some random thoughts again after reading about Becasse chef Justin North’s group companies falling victim to reduced consumer spending, as the group has entered into voluntary administration. Earlier victims have also included Manly Pavilion, Milsons in Kirribilli and Bruno’s at the Hunky Dory Social Club, which have all closed (AFR, 8 June 2012).
The worst is yet to come
And I believe there are many more to come – the RBA had held the breaks firm on keeping the cash rate on hold earlier this year, until May when it decided to drop the rate by 50 basis points, and then this week, by another 25 basis points. Although there are certainly mixed signals whether jobs are being created outside of the mining sector, it is clear by now that consumers and businesses have been cautious with spending for quite some time now. Anecdotal evidence also suggests companies tightening their belts on the size of entertainment budgets. At this particular time of the year, things are looking pretty quiet for the casual fine dining scene.
It is a gamble
When Chef North invested in millions of dollars into a piece of the newly refurbished Westfield, I thought it was a very impressive but overly ambitious move – moving the Becasse from a street level shop front into a shopping mall, and opening other eateries including the more casual joint Quarter Twenty One, takeaway bakery Becasse Bakery and Charlie & Co burgers, plus a food store and cookery school there. Yes, perhaps there could have been efficiencies gained when the businesses are close to each other, but it is another thing to direct traffic into this corner of a shopping centre. Rent and salary costs only will kill a restaurant as quickly as it is to burn paper over a naked flame. Putting money into the restaurant business is more like a gamble than an investment – it could be all or nothing. If you don’t love what you do, there is no point doing it at all.
What is like burning money
Chef North mentions that the biggest issue is that while from Thursday to Saturday, restaurants generally do well, what hurts is that unpredictability of diners for the rest of the week. This doesn’t help also by the penalty rates payable to staff on weekends. I think what is more scary is when business is dead quiet on a weekend, in a business which already runs on such thin margins (especially in fine dining) and relies on those days of the week to supply a big part of the business’ cashflow. I feel uneasy too being a customer walking into a restaurant on a Saturday night, and the place is empty. I can’t help but wonder – what is wrong with this place, or should I walk out now? The last time this happened was only yesterday, a restaurant that only had 1 customer at 7pm, and I couldn’t empathise more with the owner whose stress levels must have been sky high.
The X factor
There are restaurants that do defy gravity and do extremely well (judging from covers) regardless of the economic sentiment. Restaurants like Mamak and Chat Thai still buzz with the busiest crowds, Jamie’s Italian and Golden Century still call for a ‘wait’ for a table, Rockpool Bar & Grill still has their loyal patronage pouring in their cash for their grilled steak, and your Longrains and Sakes too. In Chef North’s case, there might be a case for Becasse to stay, though it does need to stay close to its customer and know their verdict, keep its food quality and not perpetually rely on the ‘fame’ of himself. However, I am not quite sure what there is in there with Quarter Twenty One and especially with Etch – they seem to be the “same same” sort of fine dining joints that are everywhere, and apart from the status of the chef, don’t really have that ‘something special’ for the customer who is paying $40+ for a main course. I am only talking about the restaurant business which needs a bit more thought in, and I must commend the pairing of the food store and a cookery school together – the concept works as the two can cross sell and can become interdependent on each other; with a bit more marketing I believe the cookery school / food store could be viable businesses, together with the takeaway bakery & burger shop.
Jones, Grant, Leading Chef Justin North feels the heat as restaurant group placed in administration, 8 June 2012.
How often do you hear about people who have a passion for what they do? People who really have a passion for something don’t keep on blabbing about how much passion they have, because they don’t need to. I tend to think passion should be avoided as much as possible in a self-label, and it should be saved for the third person to label them. I started to have this arrogant thought after coming across a couple of people – one the owner and chef of a Hong Kong style cafe in Eastwood, and the other, a sommelier in a Japanese fusion restaurant.
Fusion Cafe, 127 Rowe Street, Eastwood
I was introduced to this chef/owner of Fusion Cafe in Eastwood (not to be confused with the one on Balaclava Road) by a friend who owns a business in restaurant point-of-sale software and terminals. Four of us came here for a casual dinner and two of us ordered steak. While both steaks were meant to come out medium-rare, one of the steaks came out rare. After we finished the meal, I went to ask the chef why this was the case, and we only realised it was the waiter who pressed the wrong % (doneness) on the machine. Then chef took the opportunity and spent about 20 minutes taking us through his meats, the different cuts and showed us how to cook a steak properly.
I first knew about this chef (his name is Ben) on a Chinese pay TV channel, TVBJ, demonstrating how to cook a type of meat or talking about food in general. I thought of course, his new restaurant just opened and it was logical for him to do a show on TV to market the business. This chef in person talks the same as he does on TV, and his passion really comes across even in such simple things such as cooking a piece of steak – how to treat a piece that comes out of the fridge and a piece that has been sitting at room temperature – to the level of doneness required. A chef who cares to talk about his cooking this way s always one who cares about his food and what goes on the customer’s plate.
I wouldn’t say passion will always translate to business success. There are just too many factors in place – competition is big in Eastwood, and to position a Hong Kong style cafe (which is characterised by high customer turnover and “value meals”) at a slightly higher place (using better quality cuts of meats, serving espresso coffee etc) and therefore a higher price point, is a very risky proposition. A few months down the track, Fusion cafe is still hanging in there. At a more recent visit, I think quality has stabilised and is only starting to build a regular base.
Latest update (June 2012): the business is actually up for sale at the moment, with Ben pursuing a buffet restaurant business further away from Eastwood!
WAQU, 308 Pacific Hwy, Crows Nest
This fusion Japanese has probably become some kind of institution – it’s good value ‘fine dining’ which is very important to Asians, besides dishes which cope well with the Asian palate. I didn’t actually choose the matching wines with the degustation dinner but two others on our table did. The sommelier has a Japanese background but clearly also has a competent command of English. Compared to a waiter on the day who seemed a bit shy that she would just slam a dish on the table, announced it in a flash and ran away, this sommelier had the confidence to stay there with his customers to explain his wines in his own words and answer questions. My feeling was that he was genuinely interested in what he was recommending his customers. Too bad I didn’t take the matching wine option, otherwise I could make the most of his service.
Take note next time when you do come across someone with passion. Discount someone who ever calls him/herself being passionate, until you see it for yourself. Actions speak louder than words.