Coffee is one of those categories I don’t like to mess with. My first cup each morning sets the tone for the day, so I expect perfection; that’s why I’m pretty much addicted to The Golden Cobra, a boutique brand of coffee that’s roasted in Botany. So you’ll understand my deep suspicion when I was sent a bag of Mongrel Joe’s High-Octane Coffee ($15.95/200g).
Firstly, it comes from Marrickville (enough said?) and it’s packaged to look decidedly hipster in a hessian bag with a bloke with a moustache printed on it. Throw in that it’s marketed at gym junkies with lots of information about how it’s performance enhancing, high octane and rich in antioxidants. They even suggest pairing it with things other than cow milk – like coconut water, butter, protein shakes, and even sprinkling it on yoghurt.
So you could say, I approached Mongrel Joe’s Coffee almost wanting to dislike it… The thing is, I actually didn’t. It’s robust and sophisticated, and didn’t dissolve into a loosely chocolate or caramel flavour. It also suits my preferred home application – cold drip with added cow milk – and is enjoyable to the last mouthful, because there’s enough going on in the glass.
And in terms of sustainability, Mongrel Joe’s premium blend is made on coffee beans that are grown in India, on a plantation that has made a commitment to making a small environmental footprint. They’re achieving this using methods like top-notch water recycling, and turning the methane produced by coffee cherry husks into generating electricity.
Yep, I’m a Mongrel Joe’s Coffee convert – though I will say it’s pricy at $59.95/kilo. Guess they’ve gotta pay for that hipster packaging somehow…
Unit 3, 32 Lillian Fowler Place, Marrickville
Ph: (02) 9519 3114
Amidst all the red carpets and Australian premieres at Sydney Film Festival this month, there was a quiet launch for a new luxury London Dry Gin, BLOOM Gin. The event took place in the Sydney Film Festival Hub, which transformed Lower Town Hall into a flurry of filmmaker talks, parties, photo and film exhibitions, and a popular virtual reality showcase.
Hearing snippets of film conversations emanating from urbane folk quaffing Eden Road Wines perched on their favourite piece from the latest Herman Miller Collection was a wonderful way to kill time between films - especially with accompanying antipasto.
With Sydney Film Festival having a focus on female filmmakers this year, it seemed quite fitting that Master Distiller Joanne Moore, the world’s first female gin Master Distiller, was making their official spirit. Inspired by an English country garden, BLOOM Gin is actually a bit more floral than my usual favourite London dry gins. With upfront citrus, juniper and a hint of honeysuckle on the nose, the predominant flavours are chamomile and pomelo (the largest of the citrus fruit family).
The obvious match for gin is tonic, and BLOOM Gin recommends the herbaceous Fentiman's Tonic. While you can buy this combination in a pre-mixed bottle, if you do, I highly recommend pouring it into a balloon glass loaded up with ice.
Being a martini drinker, I ignored all recommended advice, and first tried out BLOOM Gin with my favourite Dolin Dry Vermouth. It was a bit of a train wreck with the floral gin fighting with the vermouth's thirty alpine herbs. Renowned mixologist Grant Collins explained my rookie mistake was adding the vermouth, because the floral notes of BLOOM Gin call for martinis made with sherry. Duly noted.
At the launch, Collins, who owns popular Kings Cross bar, The Powder Keg, showcased BLOOM Gin in three cocktails. He was most successful in the strawberry-topped deconstructed gin and tonic spoons that reassembled fizzing on your tongue, into a flavour approximating familiar drink. Under a long-lasting fluffy white cloud of Ferran Adria-inspired Champagne emulsion, Collins’ Wimbledon Martini was dominated by sweetness and raspberry pulp rather than highlighting the delicate BLOOM Gin.
Ably assisted by audience volunteer Rebecca Varidel from Sydney Scoop, Collins also recreated one of The Powder Keg's signature drinks, Gunpowder Plot.
With camomile as a key note in BLOOM Gin, it's no suprise that this cocktail's tea-infused direction worked well with this gin.
As for my own home-base experiments, I found BLOOM Gin lent itself best to combinations with pink grapefuit, home-made lemonade and more subtle tea-based cocktails. BLOOM Gin has such a smooth finish, gentled by a hint of sweetness and lovely citrus, you shouldn't neglect to try it straight.
Find out more about BLOOM Gin here: www.BLOOMgin.com.au
The Powder Keg
7 Kellett Street, Potts Point
Ph: (02) 8354 0980
Alex Harmon uncovers another killer cafe, this time in Erskineville...
As a knock-out pop up last year, it was no doubt that Erskine Villa would be here to stay. Serving up the most inventive brunch menu this side of King Street, this café is bold without being weird… for the sake of being weird. “It definitely has the eclectic-ness of Erskineville,” says owner, and longtime local, Ken Cheung, “which has traditionally been a melting pot area of ideas, creativity and different cultures.”
Take for instance the Autumn Congee ($17.50), which isn’t your standard rice porridge, but one made with slow cooked salmon, puffed wild rice and crunchy granola.
Or there's the Coffee Rubbed Black Angus Skirt Steak ($22.50) served on a deep-fried waffle, with bacon, onion sauce, and a fried egg.
I can’t decide if this is the perfect hangover cure, or if the Poutine ($17) should be offered the job? With fries, housemade black pudding, curry sauce, cheese, and a 63 degree egg, it’s a sophisticated but hearty twist on the Canadian classic.
Of course if you call it brunch, it's never too early for a Young Henry’s or a Bloody Mary ($17). The Erko version is made with Bombay Sapphire, and is sweet and spicy enough to jolt you back to life. If not, there's coffee by Little Marionette that will do the trick.
But don’t get me wrong, it’s not just comfort food, the Chia & Black Rice Pudding ($12.50) with poached rhubarb, yoghurt, and candied pistachio makes for an upbeat breakfast - or a glutton’s dessert.
With a Rose & Lychee Soda ($7), it’s a party. This diner is one for the foodies but will no doubt bring the hipsters, check out their events listings while you're there as Ken tells me he is throwing “some cool events with local creatives”.
63 Erskineville Road, Erskineville
Ph: (02) 9517 3957
This grand, Victorian two-storey corner spot comes with quite the pedigree. It made its name as Buzo, one of the first trattoria-style spots to really lift Sydney’s game on Italian cooking. More recently it was the home of young, talented trio, Jemma Whiteman, Mike and Berri Eggert, whose restaurant, Pinbone, won hearts with whimsical, parfait-topped chocolate crackles. The latest shift is a return to the illustrious Italian name under the stewardship of Phillip Fikkers and Mark Campbell from Macleay Street Bistro; but there's a twist - it ain't Italian anymore.
Start your evening downstairs in the bar with a navy-strength Negroni ($18) and some clever Pickled Red Cabbage Crackers ($8) topped with dabs of Parmesan custard.
Venture upstairs for Beetroot and Goats Curd Salad ($19) dotted with honeycomb shards and smoked almonds. In case you haven't already guessed, Head Chef Jason Dean, enjoys “playing with textures and colours in food, and trying not to take it too seriously.”
Dean has been tasked with gently shifting diners away from the spot's strong Italian ancestry with a six course Evolution Menu ($75/person) that's designed to be lighter and fresher than the rustic Italian this spot was once famous for. Confit Kingfish ($35) served with Jerusalem artichoke, crisp red cabbage and green edamame shows off this new menu aesthetic quite nicely.
Tucked under crisp kale leaves and framed with white radish, Cured Wagyu Tartare ($20) is an affable, healthy-looking version of this popular dish. Even the decadence of duck is tamed by presenting the usually rich protein as Duck Ravioli ($32) in a basil and wild mushroom broth.
Never fear, while the Malt Banana Parfait ($15) with coconut yoghurt, white chocolate and blueberries sounds almost healthy, it eats like a late night stoner breakfast.
The wine list's Italian entries are made easy in the hands of competent and personable Maitre d', Stephen Laing. And being Woollahra, you can even BYO ($14) on Wednesdays.
3 Jersey Road, Woollahra
Ph: (02) 9328 1600
“We found you,” rings out joyously across the dining room. Finding the relocated BBQ King is like running into a long, lost family member. Multiple tables are being particularly effusive with their nostalgia, accosting the slightly bemused owner, Philip Chau. We might not be family, but after countless late-night meals, it’s clear many of us feel great attachment to this thirty-six year old enterprise.
With the clock edging towards midnight, I order a Stone and Wood Pacific Ale ($7) to stick it to the man – Premier Mike Baird - whose Lockout Laws continue to erode our once-vibrant city.
Our Peking Duck ($14/2 pieces) arrives almost simultaneously, and I’m pleased to report, the fat, juicy slabs of duck still number among Sydney’s best. I salivate watching them manoeuvred onto pliable pancakes, with the customary spring onion, red chilli and hoisin.
The ducks hang in a shiny new curved window facing onto Liverpool Street, in the site of the old Spanish Club.
While you can order takeaway on the ground floor, if you’re eating in, you’ll be enjoying your heaped plate of gleaming Roast Duck and BBQ Pork ($38.80) in the split-level, 200-seat dining room upstairs.
Biting into the duck’s crisp skin releases an explosion of well rendered, flavoursome fat into your mouth. Balance it with a healthy plate of Braised Fried Tofu with Mushrooms and Vegetables ($18.80) and some Special Fried Rice ($12) and you’re eating the late night feast of champions.
It’s nice to know that behind the fancy backlit branding, the nuts and bolts of this place – their legendary duck – remains unchanged.
76-78 Liverpool Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9267 2433
Nothing says winter quite like strolling through a brisk, outdoor market with your hand dipping into a brown paper bag full of hot roasted chestnuts.
While The Rocks Markets, which take over Playfair Street, George Street and Jack Mundey Place every Saturday and Sunday, is not really a food market, you will still find plenty of tasty treats.
The Rocks Markets is also known as a place full of interesting stories. Start your visit at The Licorice Shop and let friendly proprietors Ric and Pam bend your ear about licorice. Before any of you screw your noses up, this is the place that finally sold me on black, unsweetened licorice with a product sample and a yarn about why it's good for you.
What keeps me coming back however, is their utterly delicious bags of Celery, Cinnamon, Turmeric and Cherry Licorice ($6.00/200g). Don't ask me to explain the flavour - just buy some - it's got no added sugar, but is still as addictive as crack.
Before wandering on, take a moment to relish the sight of long forgotten candy old-timers like Choo-Choo Bars ($1/each) and Aniseed Slate Pencils ($3.50/18).
The Rocks Markets have really come a long way from my memories of it being a tourist-focused market, only attractive to those collecting souvenirs.
While the covered George Street section of the market does retain an element of collectable Australiana, as you wind your way down cobblestoned streets towards Jack Mundy Place, you’ll find a surprisingly well-curated selection of hip designers.
With customised denim vests, and long white lace dreaming dresses, Garage 16 brings a bit of South American flair to our Aussie beachside life. Byron Bay jewellery designer Libby Pool takes the seaside motif a step further by fashioning vibrant aquamarine paua shell into the kind of bikini you'd expect to see gracing the pages of high-end fashion magazines. While Libby’s beautiful collection of New Zealand paua shell designs start at around a hundred dollars, and run all the way up to a gorgeous peacock necklace priced at $1600, at neighbouring stalls you’ll find items to suit all budgets, including Valeria D’Annibale’s quirky 3D printed hand dyed nylon rings and earrings.
Before heading back into the more crowded George Street market fray, take in a quenching ale at one of the many bars and restaurants lining the market's edge. Hearing the Löwenbräu Keller, famous for their dubious bus advertisements featuring busty, jug-clutching women, had recently been rebadged as the Munich Brauhaus I popped in for a peek into their cavernous beer halls.
My citrussy, refreshing Butcher's Bride Pale Ale ($8/300ml) and toffee-flavoured Hop Dog Wheat Beer ($12/500ml) were delivered by men and women clad in tightly fitting lederhosen. Biting into a Brez'n Bavarian Pretzel ($4.50) I muse that the perving is now at least equal opportunity...
Shaped like French Impressionist Claude Monet's haystacks, Mini Monet Cupcakes are worth another pitstop, if only to hear the story of their creator, Sheryl Fong, and her partner who quit his day-job to follow her into the cupcake business.
It'd be rude to listen in without also devouring a Coconut Mini Monet Cupcake ($2.50/each).
If you're a fan of filled chocolates but have always wished for a bigger filling-to-chocolate ratio, stop at the Emporium of Chocolate. Their dome-shaped, hand-made chocolates are beautifully wrapped and suprisingly satisfying to sink your teeth into, especially if the creamy, caramel Dulce de Leche ($2.50) is emblematic of the rest of the range.
Pumping the smell of caramelised cashews into the air, Your Nuts is another stall that's hard to walk by. I'm currently enjoying their delicious Macadamia Nut Butter ($6) on toast for breakfast too.
With talented live music acts like the Mimosa Duo adding to the festive feel of the place, The Rock Markets is certainly an enjoyable place to while away a wintery Sunday afternoon. By the time I left, my canvas bag was full of everything from soft South African style biltong made using Aussie beef by Brookvale favourite Biltong2Go, to rock candy from the corporate candy specialist, Sticky.
Impressive when you consider this Saturday and Sunday affair isn't The Rocks' food-focused market, which takes over Jack Mundy Place every Friday!
The Rocks Markets
10am – 5pm, Saturdays & Sundays
Playfair Street, George Street, Jack Mundey Place, The Rocks
Playfair St & Argyle Street, The Rocks
Ph: (02) 9247 7785
Sometime in the last five months, this bar found its groove.
Bubblegum flavoured margaritas have given way to cocktail classics, like Italy’s Negroni, Mexico’s Paloma or Britain’s East 8 Hold Up ($18). The latter is a refreshingly fruity mix of passionfruit, pineapple and lime spiked with Ketel One Vodka and a splash of Casoni 1814 Aperitivo Liqueur. They’re supplemented by a shorter list of cocktail originals, including the pretty Eton Fizz I enjoyed on my first visit, and a new, smoky mezcal-based, cherry number called La Cereza Ahumado ($21), which is better suited to the colder weather.
The menu has also had an update, with Peter Lew and Nicole Galloway from Barrio Chino stepping in with dishes inspired by a trip around the United States. They’re dishing up the Hawaiian raw fish salad, Poke ($16/4), on nori crackers with the soy-heavy bluefin tuna balanced by pickled ginger mayonnaise.
The Steak Tartare ($20) is where Lew and Galloway really kick things up to the next level, with the addition of bone marrow, smoked with maple chips. The marrow adds a rich, smoky edge to the well-seasoned eye fillet mix, topped with a quail egg, and counterbalanced by creamy celeriac remoulade. Smeared onto crostini, the resulting tartare is hard to beat, especially when accompanied with the Domaine Cornu-Camus Cotes de Beaune ($87).
It’s just one of the new French offerings on a wine list that’s being renewed by Restaurant Manager Thibault Bouclier. Being fruity with light tannins, this wine is also a winner with Nonna’s Balls ($17/3) – a trio of better-than-average pork and veal meatballs in a simple tomato passata, the acidity tamed with salted ricotta and buttery foccacia. This dish is brimming with garlic, and notable for not overcooking the porky meatballs – thanks Nonna!
Now if you’re craving food that’s more bar than restaurant, look no further than the Fried Chicken ($28). While they’ve made the ethical choice by using free-range chook, they’ve thrown calorific caution to the wind with duelling chicken gravy and maple butter. Slather them both on for a clucking good time!
While the lemon vinaigrette livens up Fried Brussels Sprouts ($10) hiding under a snowy dusting of Manchego, they’re probably a bit hectic alongside a super-cheesy Mac’n’Cheese ($8), especially if you're also devouring half a fried chook. Plus, you want to leave room for dessert, if only to lure the handsome French Restaurant Manager Thibault Bouclier back to your table to deliver a flaming Spiced Apple Pie ($16).
And who doesn’t like some at table theatrics involving flaming Calvados, especially when it lands on a pastry-topped spiced apple pie?
Bouclier knows just when to put out your fire too...
Darlo Country Club
235 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (0449) 998 005
Note: You can see previous visits to this venue back HERE and HERE.
Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse strive to represent good value to their customer base, who mainly live out West and in the Hills district. They see sourdough as more than just a hipster affectation – for them it’s something everyone should be able to afford to eat every week, because fermented foods are good for you! I’m in complete agreement, and sourdough has been our staple bread at home for the last fifteen years, stemming from the famous Infinity Sourdough Bakery in Kings Cross.
While Shepherd’s Crusty Italian Sourdough ($6) isn’t quite as sour as my favourite, it toasted wonderfully without making those rock-hard crusts that turn breakfast into a mouth workout. Their semi-sourdough Spelt Fruit Loaf ($7.00) proved another winner; avoiding the sugary sweetness of many other fruit loaves I’ve tried by adding a savoury sesame crust. Even the application of jam didn’t push it over the edge. However it’s the Organic Rye Vienna Loaf with Caraway Seeds ($5.50) that will win my business at their Carriageworks Farmers Market stall if I can't be bothered driving to Castle Hill. I tried it under pretty much everything from goats’ cheese and avocado, all the way to bacon and eggs. The caraway seeds are applied at a level that could be called overdone, but I loved their volatile flavour, especially against my favourite rye toast combination – silverside and sharp pickles.
If you have more of a sweet tooth than me, Shepherd’s croissants are the way to go. With tiny, diced apple pieces rolled through the pastry rather than dumped in the middle as a big lump, the Apple Walnut Croissant ($4.50) was an easy favourite, especially as the apple pieces retained some bite and acidity. Their Almond Croissant ($4) avoided the heavy marzipan flavours my partner hates; while ‘The Stach’ Pear Rhubarb Pistachio ($5) was pleasant, custardy and sweet.
A woman cannot live on bread alone, so if you visit Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse hungry, check out their pies. They’re folded into squares, which make them a bit less sloppy than your average meat pie, so they’re easier to eat on the run.
The Original Oz Beef ($5) is a chunky steak pie that’s a notch above the usual standard. For an interesting mince version, try the Scottish Shepherd’s Lamb ($5), which throws in some root vegetables for contrast.
Their Savoury Rolls ($3.50/each) aren’t going to unseat the masters at Bourke Street Bakery any time soon, but the Moroccan Lamb ($3.50) with pine nuts is tasty enough, especially when consumed in the proper Australian way (smothered with tomato sauce).
Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse
Level 1, Shop 209K, Castle Towers, 614 Castle Street, Castle Hill
Ph: (02) 9786 7697
Carriageworks Farmers Market
245 Wilson Street, Newtown
Ph: (02) 8571 9099
"Is it too early to have a cocktail," I ask, somewhat facetiously, as I have already decided I’m having the Geary Boulevard ($18). Even though the yardarm had barely scraped past noon, my waitress's firm ‘never’ further steadies my resolve. Plus I muse, this drink contains grapefruit - along with a generous helping of Calle 23 Blanco tequila - so it’s practically a breakfast juice.
I consume it outside on the sun-drenched back balcony, wondering why it’s taken me a year to return to Bloodwood. The cocktail list contains some gems (my smoky breakfast juice notwithstanding); the beer list is enormous by most restaurant standards; and the wine list produces gems like the 2015 Ravensworth 'The Grainery' ($67). The latter is an utterly approachable, field blend of marsanne, roussanne, viognier and chardonnay from the Murrumbateman area.
It's a textural white wine that traverses our widely disparate selections from the sharing menu well; starting with a lightly Sichuan rendition of raw Hiramasa Kingfish ($23) resting on a juicy, wet green papaya, cucumber and pomelo base, and ending with a curry.
Served on plantain chips, Curry Leaf King Prawns ($27) is a yellow king prawn and scallop curry, that Is presented dry rather than saucy, and feels loosely Sri Lankan in style.
By contrast BBQ Pork Ribs ($26) feel a little heavy handed; the meat is overcooked and the fat is not particularly well rendered. They’re coated in barbeque sauce so heavy even pickled mustard greens can’t combat it, and it effectively drowns out any porky flavour.
In terms of the innovative combinations Bloodwood owners Mitchell Grady and Claire van Vuuren are famous for, Grilled Octopus, Pastrami ($21) doesn't disappoint. Slathered in chipotle mayo, the salted cabbage base comes topped with hunks of house-made pastrami and fat Fremantle octopus tentacles, scattered with fried beans – yep, it’s multicultural surf and turf of the highest order.
The Goats Cheese Yorkshire ($20) will knock all thoughts of stodgy from your head. They've lined the traditional winter pud. with a chalky goats' cheese, and piled it on top of a shaved rhubarb and beetroot salad, sprinkling the lot with garlic crumbs. It's just the sort of filling salad you want to get stuck into on a beautiful, unseasonably warm, winter's day.
416 King Street, Newtown
Ph: (02) 9557 7699
“We moved out to Fairfield to serve our community, and watched five other South American butchers close down,” explains third generation Chilean butcher, Cristian Garcia. His store, Theo's Cecinas Butchery & Smallgoods, is Australia's only Chilean butchery, and I've already racked up two visits so far.
Theo's Cecinas Butchery & Smallgoods was first established in Crown Street, Surry Hills back in 1986, but followed the wave of South American immigrants hunting cheaper housing to Fairfield, where they’ve been for the last 25 years. For the last decade, Cristian’s mum ran the shop, with him jumping in when she needed help in later years with heavy tasks like breaking down carcasses - something he learned to do from his grandmother. In January 2015, Cristian took over the business completely.
Nearly seventy percent of Theo's Cecinas Butchery & Smallgoods customers come from outside the local area, with some travelling from as far away as Mudgee for their longaniza and Chilean chorizo which are made on the premises. “These chorizos are like wine – if I hold them for a week, they taste better,” explains Cristian. His chorizos run from hot all the way to a mild, no-paprika Argentinean ($15.99/kilo) chorizo and a yellow Colombian ($15.99/kilo) chorizo with capsicum, onions and shallots, which I particularly enjoyed. They’re stored best like mushrooms, uncovered in brown paper bags. After a week of ageing they get a bit firmer, and their flavour develops, Cristian explains, adding: “Don’t be scared of it looking a bit dry.”
“I don’t want to get much bigger at all,” Cristian says, telling me he’d rather keep firm quality control over the products he makes. Chorizo “is an artisan product, and not full of things to give it consistency”, meaning each batch is subject to rigorous in-store testing to account for the differing acidity levels in the meat. So expect to be offered some samples if they're cooking up a batch, perhaps with Pebre ($6.00) the traditional Chilean chorizo condiment made of coriander, onion, garlic, olive oil and aji peppers which is usually smeared on a choripán (a chorizo in a bun).
Pork Ribs Aliñado ($25.99/kilo) – or spicy, seasoned pork ribs done in their top-secret marinade – also number among the shop’s top sellers. I’ve returned to buy them twice now, and I’m not usually the type who buys pre-marinated meats.
Being a smallgoods specialist, you'll also find a great range of cold cuts many of which you might not have heard of. The Arrollado de Huaso ($29.99/kilo) or red chilli pork roll is beautiful, sliced a bit thicker than you'd take ham to prevent it from falling apart. If you can't handle the hot stuff, the Arollado de Lomo ($34.99/kilo) with the egg in it is particularly porky and lovely sandwich meat.
And don't stress about knowing what to order; both Cristian and his son, are warm, friendly and eager to impart some Chilean culture to customers visiting for the first time. Their hospitable welcome, and their high quality, artisan pork products, will certainly draw me back again.
Theo's Cecinas Butchery & Smallgoods
205 Hamilton Road, Fairfield
Ph: (02) 9726 0673