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Review - Swanson Hotel

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Another notch in the belt for Sydney’s expanding pub gentrification with Erskineville’s former Kurrajong Hotel being refitted and re-imagined British West Indies-style.

Not that I’m complaining, Balmain Pub Group - who also own The Riverview and The Balmain Hotel – do good work; opening their public houses up to a wider range of people.

Start in the first floor cocktail bar where a caramel smear makes the Espresso Martini ($18) rather special.

Move to a table in the long 80-seater restaurant to investigate Executive Chef Brad Sloane’s menu.

It reads like home cooking but has a technical edge you’ll appreciate, starting with pungent piccalilli accompanying a rustic Pork Terrine ($16). Sloane’s Beef Tartare ($16) is well balanced and served with smoky bread. If you’re having trouble picking, both dishes feature on the Tasting Plate for Two ($30) alongside Merimbula oysters and a pretty kingfish carpaccio.

The hero of the menu is the Char-grilled Spatchcock ($26), served on a fighting combination of Brussels sprouts, bacon, lentils and chilli.

It’s a perfect match for the 2012 Howard Park Flint Rock Chardonnay ($15/glass), while the small-run 2013 Amato Vino Vermentino ($12/glass) best accompanies the Herb Gnocchi ($22) made vividly green by peas, asparagus and spinach.

And pub desserts rarely scrub up as pretty as The Swanson’s Crème Catalan ($13).

*This was my PUB OF THE WEEK segment on 2GB 873 Fresh! with Luke Grant & Luke Mangan
on Sunday 13th July, 2014:

Swanson Hotel
106-108 Swanson Street, Erskineville
Ph: (02) 9519 3609

Swanson Hotel on Urbanspoon

Review - Paperplanes *UPDATED*

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Alex Harmon revisited an old favourite of hers this week...

It’s been two years since I visited PaperPlanes and like catching up with an old friend, things quickly fell back into place.

The purple lighting, skateboard paraphernalia and Tokyo pop kitsch are all still there, and the menu remains largely unchanged.

We munch on some Edamame with Chilli Salt ($6) a perfect match for the dizzyingly sweet cocktails: Tokyo Pop ($16) with popping candy for an extra sugar high and the Chee Chee Mule ($16), a cheeky lychee-based mule.

Two perfectly formed Lettuce Cups ($5/each) loaded with roasted duck go down a treat.

As does the Pork Belly Bun ($6.50), a standout dish and my hot tip for the next food craze – the humble bao. Cho Cho San may have made Japanese buns cool again, but you had it here first!

Of course you cannot go wrong with sushi and the Teriyaki Chicken ($15) brings it home. If you really love it, grab some friends and share a skateboard deck’s worth of Sushi ($160/50 pieces).

My old favourite, the Gyoza Pan-fried Dumplings ($16) with creamy lemon wasabi foam and crushed wasabi peas, stands the test of time, still with the high notes of drunken karaoke. It just goes to show, when you’re onto a good thing, why change?

Shop 15, 178 Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach
Ph: (02) 9356 8393

Paper Planes on Urbanspoon


Review - Centennial Parklands Dining

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Alex Harmon got to enjoy a traditional Sunday roast - without the washing up! 

What’s winter good for if it’s not for loosening the buckles and putting on some festive kilos? Having said that, Sydney isn’t a hibernating kind of city, we’d much rather go out and have home-cooked feasts prepared for us. That’s just what Trippas White Group is encouraging with the launch of Winterlicious menus across their iconic Sydney restaurants.

We checked out Centennial Parklands Dining, albeit on a rather sultry winter’s day, with sweet anticipation of a Sunday roast. The Chef’s “Special” Roast ($65) (rotates weekly) comfortably serves three to four people on Sundays. We had the lamb – cooked to pink perfection and served with roasted potatoes, turnip, beetroot, carrots, onion and gravy.

Matched with a Phillip Shaw merlot, it’s the kind of meal you need to schedule a nap after, especially if you’re going to start with a Ploughman’s Lunch ($23). It’s basically the prettiest tradie’s meal ever, with ham hock terrine, a cute jar of green tomato chutney, cheese, egg, apple salad and grilled sourdough.

Or, if winter feels like wishful thinking, try the very fresh and summer-esque Poached Chicken Quinoa Salad ($22).

But we do suggest a piece of the cosy winter dessert Pumpkin Pie ($15) served with cinnamon ice cream; because, even though it doesn’t snow, it doesn’t mean you can’t gain a winter coat.

Centennial Parklands Dining
Grand Drive, Centennial Park
Ph: (02) 9380 9350

Centennial Parklands Kiosk & Cafe on Urbanspoon


Review - The Colonial

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Some Indian restaurants celebrate authenticity; some celebrate a particular region; this one celebrates the time period of the British Raj.

Television screens depicting the period of British colonial occupation clue you in, though a chat with owner Harmohit Singh is even more illuminating. Singh was inspired by the evolution of Indian cooking that occurred during this period, where collective cuisine became the individual made-to-order dishes the British favoured. Jump to today where Chicken Tikka Masala ($17) is now a staple in the British military’s meal packs for Afghanistan.

Expect to find it and a range of curries inspired by London’s Brick Lane, including a bright Chicken Chettinad ($16) with coconut, mustard and chilli.

Breads, from Naan ($2.50) to wholemeal Roti ($2.50), are well handled and nicely presented.

Low-priced entrees are divided into vegetarian and non-vegetarian “tapas”. The resulting portions however are quite generous, from a trio of fat chicken drumsticks Tangari Kebab ($10) marinated in mint yoghurt, spices and cheese, then cooked in the clay oven, to...

...plump (bought-in) Coconut Kachori ($8).

Best dish I tried were cottage cheese-stuffed Paneer Jalapenos ($10).

While the Tamarind Martini ($14) piqued my interest, neither it, nor the Imli Mirchi ($14) featuring tamarind, Tabasco and tequila, drank well. I’d advise you stick to the well-worn curry and Kingfisher ($8) combination.

The Colonial
118 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 8084 6700

The Colonial Darlinghurst on Urbanspoon


Review - The Spice Cellar

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While the somewhat lurid colours of this year’s Vivid painted this town, I slipped twenty feet underground to investigate this sunken cellar.

By cleverly rolling everything you want from a small bar - food, wine and cocktails - in with a nightclub vibe - DJs and dancing - they’ve...

...created the perfect way to avoid the Sydney lockout blues.

Fuel your mini-club adventure with a better than average bar food selection, that might see you start with witlof boats of Tuna Crudo ($15/3 pieces) dusted with fresh horseradish...

...or a duo of freshly shucked Oysters ($8) with Champagne mignonette.

Vegetarian dishes are well represented on the short menu, from baked feta-stuffed Filo Cigars ($9/4 piece) to fat golden slabs of Grilled Haloumi ($12/4 piece) with shaved cucumber, lemon and dill.

The standout is a Warm Cauliflower Salad ($8) with chickpeas, parsley, tahini and black sesame seeds.

The light and surprisingly healthy dishes suit wines including the Spanish 2012 Colours Chardonnay ($9/glass), however if you ask me, cocktails are where this bar shines, starting with a cleverly designed absinthe float on the gin and pink grapefruit-based Good Voodoo ($18).

Later in the evening, Keep On Keeping On ($18), with an energy boosting glass of banana-infused Tennessee whisky stirred over ice with bitters and smoked maple syrup.

The Spice Cellar
Basement, 58 Elizabeth Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9223 5585

The Spice Cellar on Urbanspoon

Review - Casa Ristorante Italiano

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I’d come here for espresso martinis and the chocolate tart,” declares my dining companion at the end of our meal.

She’s not wrong – the smooth Sovereign Espresso Martini ($18) with Patrón XO Café and Grey Goose would make an affable post-meal companion for their standout Warm Chocolate Tart ($12).

I’m sipping Old Smokey ($18) another martini-style drink uniting Remy Martin VSOP Cognac and Ardbeg 10-year whisky using a dash of Disaronno Amaretto.

It’s a cut above what I’d expect to be drinking in Darling Harbour, at the site formerly known as Casa di Nico; and testament to the success of their shift from a family-style red and white tablecloths joint, to a more sophisticated eating and drinking venue.

And if you’re after drinking snacks, the pumpkin and smoked mozzarella Arancini ($16.90) here, eat better than most.

Paul Papadopolous’s (DS17) redesign included making space for a traditional wood fire pizza oven, so do try out Sicilian-born pizzaiolo Salvatore D’Avola’s work, perhaps alla Gamberi ($27.90) dotted with prawns, goat’s milk fetta, semi-dried tomatoes and rocket?

You’ll also find a charry 400g Angus Bistecca Alla Fiorentina ($34.90) cooked on the bone and served with lovely rosemary potatoes; plus Lobster and Crab Ravioli ($29.90) in a shellfish butter sauce – pasta a shade thick for my taste, but decadent none-the-less.

Casa Ristorante Italiano
42-48 The Promenade, King Street Wharf, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9279 4115

Casa Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

This Week's Food News: The Cottage

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Alex Harmon found she felt perfectly at home at this Inner West bar...

The Cottage is perfect for winter – cosy and inviting. It’s like stepping into a Hobbit’s home, except it’s full of tall, beautiful people. So it’s no surprise the launch of their new winter menu went down a treat. Guests were invited in to try Head Chef Ellen Young’s new menu of comforting dishes including roasted cauliflower with pulled lamb shoulder; maple and cider braised beef brisket, mushrooms stuffed with barley; and Yellowfin tuna tartare – to name just a few. Cocktails showcased by co-owner Osman Misirlizade included the Speyside Sour with Glenfiddich 12-year, ginger liqueur, honey water and orange bitters; The Slow Cuban with Plymouth sloe gin shaken with pressed mint and lime and charged with soda; and the Lemon & Basil Gimlet made of Citron vodka and limoncello shaken with fresh basil, lemon and lime. With tunes from  musician Dom Cotton, the evening was geared towards unwinding, by the time you left you honestly felt like part of the furniture.

The Cottage Bar & Kitchen
342 Darling Street, Balmain
Ph: (02) 8084 8185

The Cottage Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

This Week's Food News: RivaReno Gelato

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Well it might be winter, but my craving for gelato continues unabated, so I headed back into RivaReno for another one-on-one with Kieran Tosolini.

While the store’s colours have changed (it’s a bit less fluorescent) the pozzetti – those temperature-controlled cylinders that keep RivaReno’s gelato velvety in texture – remain.

And, texture, according to Kieran, “is one of the most important things with gelato.

What I’m nuts about is flavour, and if there’s one flavour category that RivaReno do well, it’s nuts! Leonardo, cream of pine nuts with toasted pine nuts, was my standout, though Pistacchio Bronte - made on pistachio nuts from Bronte, Sicily, which are harvested every second year – was a close second.

You’ll also find a lovely Nocciola Piemonte featuring pure hazelnuts from Piedmont.

While it doesn’t really need any additional bells and whistles, you can now also eat their gelato on a stick dipped in 73% dark Belgian chocolate.

And if gelato isn’t your favourite winter treat, they’re also doing an intense, thick Italian hot chocolate using Valhrona 'Manjari' Single Origin Cocoa from Madagascar. It’ll put hairs on your chest…

RivaReno Gelato
280 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9356 2669

RivaReno Gelato on Urbanspoon


Review - Rocketboy Pizza

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Dan Luxford is a man “on a mission”: he has a five-year plan to move to his own farm. Keeping him busy in the meantime is taking four of the five Doughboy stores in a new direction - one that will hopefully pave the way. Inspired by an appearance on Matthew Evans’ Gourmet Farmer, Dan took a look at the products he was putting on pizzas, and decided to start making a sustainable switch.

First in line were the prawns, which are now wild-caught Aussie prawns, best shown off against fresh parsley, garlic, lemon and baby spinach, on the simple Chilli Prawn Pizza ($17/M, $22/L, $26/XL).

The bases include a healthier spelt option, most enjoyable when it’s consumed hot in the now-green surrounds of the Petersham store.

You’ll also find organic chook from Australia's largest organic poultry producer, Inglewood Farms, popping up on the new Chicken Gorgonzola Pizza ($15/M, $21/L, $25/XL).

On your accompanying crisp Caesar Salad ($10) you’ll find free-range eggs and bacon, with the option of Organic Chicken ($2.50).

Consider it a starting point for Dan, who’d actually “love to work with a little farmer.” It’s also a step towards that dream farm, where he’ll get to be the change he wants to see in the world - and I’ll raise my Peroni ($6) to that!

Rocketboy Pizza
Shop 3, 88-94 New Canterbury Road, Petersham
Ph: (02) 9550 9988

Rocketboy Pizza on Urbanspoon


This Week's Food News: Bacon Week

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Today is the beginning of Australian Bacon Week (22-28 June). Consider this your reminder to race into one of Adriano Zumbo’s stores to try Miss Piggy. The wobbly piggy-shaped treat combines bacon and crème fraiche mousse with strawberry anise sponge and a bacon-hazelnut crunch. It’s just one innovative use of bacon I got to sample at Eau-de-Vie last week, when I met the official Bacon Week winner: Pialligo Farm Smokehouse. Using traditional cold-smoking techniques chef Peter Curry picked up in Ireland, they make a beautiful, gently salty rasher, which has a hint of brown sugar sweetness, and a kiss of smoke at the end. They don’t add water, so you won’t see much shrinkage in the pan if you buy some from Hudson Meats. You’ll also find Kevin Bacon gelato featuring maple and whiskey gelato dotted with candied bacon at Gelato Messina; Boss Hog bacon beer at Rocks Brewing Co. and bacon bourbon will make its way onto the cocktail menu at Eau-de-Vie. And when you’re buying bacon, be aware that over two-thirds of the bacon sold in Australia is made from imported pork. To support our local industry, look for the pink PorkMark.

And while we're talking about the pig, I'll also give you a brief rundown of a recent visit I had to Bentley Restaurant & Bar in its new home at the Radisson Blu Hotel. We were brought together for a Porkstar event, so the place was wall-to-wall chefs, farmers and media. I managed to get some time talking pig with Lauren Murdoch (formerly 3 Weeds), Grant Croft (formerly The Cut), Ruben Martinez (formerly La Scala on Jersey, now Gira Osteria), Paul Cooper (Bishop Sessa), Rebecca Ingham (Bar H), pig farmer Lee McKosker (Melanda Park Free Range Farm) and Australian produce ambassador Dame Lyndey Milan over a range of canapes including crisp pork skin and prawn, crisp potato and chorizo, and ham and Parmesan crisps.

All those salty snacks work up a powerful hunger and thirst, so while we sat down to Appleman ciders, James Squire beers and Skimstone wines, Mitch Edwards from Australian Pork dragged chef Brent Savage out of the kitchen for a chat about his dishes for the evening.

It was a short discussion because Brent was "deep in the weeds" - and kudos for him for saying so, because it reminded us all that no matter what level you cook at, it isn't easy putting your restaurant on display for a hundred of your peers all seated for dinner at the same time.

The dishes we ate included guanciale (cured pork cheek) with kingfish, cucumber and apple.

...and a macadamia-milk pork belly with wattle crumbs and rhubarb.

Bentley Restaurant & Bar
27 O'Connell Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 8214 0505

Bentley Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

FREE BACON: Now if you lasted all the way to the end of this post on the pig, you must be a real fan, so I will give you two secret events where you can get free bacon infused booze...
Secret Event #1: First 50 people through the Rocks Brewing Co. door at Alexandria at 3.30pm on Sunday 22nd June will receive a FREE Boss Hog bacon beer and a packet of the award winning bacon.
Secret Bacon Event #2: First 25 people through the Eau-de-Vie door in Darlinghurst on Tuesday 24th June at 6pm will get to try the smoked bacon bourbon cocktail FREE.
Of course if you miss out on the free stuff, you will be able to purchase both drinks at both locations.

Find the other businesses mentioned:

Adriano Zumbo Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Eau de Vie on Urbanspoon

Gelato Messina Surry Hills on Urbanspoon

Rocks Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Hudson Meats on Urbanspoon