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This Week's Food News - Cooking With Fire

Barely open a month, Lennox Hastie’s new spot Firedoor is already being touted as Sydney’s hit restaurant of 2015. As a nice counter to all the ‘paleo’ rubbish people seem to be lapping up, this restaurant celebrates the relationship between food and fire.  “Fire can be very addictive; it’s a very primal element that’s instinctively human,” explains Hastie. And what could be more honest than cooking with wood, the very thing that allowed mankind to begin consuming lentils and legumes? Now before you think it’ll be a temple of meat, Hastie has largely turned his attention to more delicate ingredients. Marron, mulloway, pearl perch and cauliflower all feature on today’s menu. Hastie pairs different ingredients with different woods to enhance their flavours, using techniques he honed in the Spanish Basque mountains at a restaurant called Etxebarri. You’ll find this restaurant on the back streets of Surry Hills, housed in a 1911 heritage building that celebrates the natural beauty of exposed timber beams, railway sleepers and other pieces of salvage sourced and artfully arranged by designer and architect Matt Darwon. As it’s already on the radar, make your reservation quickly, and watch this space for my upcoming review.


Review - Forest Lodge Hotel

Ryan Kennedy visited an old haunt this week, and found it had changed...

Festooned with fairy lights, a stocking-clad doll, vintage photos, and boasting craft beers on tap, the bar at the Forest Lodge Hotel —or Flodge as I once lovingly knew it—has come a long way from my fond memories of stale beer and aromatic football socks.

Where there were once VB jugs, rusted-on locals, and footy on the TV, there’s now Craft Beer Tasting Paddles ($15) and beard and flannelette-types relaxing to the tunes of The Strokes and Radiohead.

Moving down the paddle from a fresh and hoppy Murray’s Stone Kicker Ale ($7) to the wonderfully named, and smoke and barley flavoured Draughty Kilt Scotch Ale ($9), I’ve got to admit—things have changed for the better.

This becomes more apparent with the arrival of a perfectly cooked Kangaroo Fillet ($26), with chunks of burnished onion hidden under an earthy beetroot, walnut and goats cheese salad.

The madras-style Fish Curry ($20) we’re told is “famous around here”.

It’s turmeric heavy, mild and elegant, with a slab of crisp-skinned salmon; while Grilled Chilli Octopus Salad ($16) is reminiscent of a green papaya salad but a little too salty—nothing that can’t be fended off with a slurp of beer.

This is a very cosy local and well worth a look.

Forest Lodge Hotel
117 Arundel Street, Forest Lodge
Ph: (02) 9660 1872

Forest Lodge Hotel on Urbanspoon


Review - Mafi Mitlo: Kazbah Street Food

Kings Cross on a Friday night used to resemble a war zone; well before we got lumped with a Liberal state government, that is.

This makes the well-executed bunker fit out by Shawn West from 2D Studio, a little bittersweet for anyone who loved the vibrant Kings Cross of old.

With that off my chest, there’s still something pleasingly ironic about sliding into this subterranean M.A.S.H. unit setting to eat Arabic street food.

First thing you need is a beer, and if on-tap Aussie options like Coopers Pale Ale ($6/330ml) don’t grab you, get the affable staff to nip next door for the Lebanese 961 Red Ale ($8.50).

Yes, this is an offshoot of the now formidable Kazbah empire, owned by Zahi Azzi.

He’s put his stamp on the menu too, by using his mother’s recipe for the Kibbeh ($8/4 pieces). Mum clearly knows best, as it’s unsurpassed by any of the others I’ve tried.

The Sambousek ($8/4 pieces) are also impressive, especially in conjunction with strong garlic Toum ($6.50) or super-smoky Baba ($7.50).

Now most things involving kale I tend to treat as hipster affectations, not so the Kale Tabbouleh ($12.50) here – it’s fabulous...

...nudging out the Grainy Fattoush ($13.50).

Round out your meal with the fragrant Chicken Shawarma ($14.50) and surprisingly good Chips with Harissanaise ($6.50).

Mafi Mitlo: Kazbah Street Food
9/15 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross
Ph: (1300) 529 224

Mafi Mitlo on Urbanspoon


Review - The Balmain Hotel

Ryan Kennedy checked out the new menu at The Balmain Hotel...

With dumplings one buck each on a Thursday night, most patrons are tucking into steaming bamboo baskets—but at The Balmain Hotel there’s also a new menu to try.

This is an intriguingly designed pub, each room has its own style, with the dining area around the kitchen dark-wooded, low-lit and casual.

In here, salty creamy goodness is doubled down in both smoked cheese-enriched stuffed zucchini flowers and aromatic jalapeno croquettes, each irresistibly deep-fried and crispy.

Throw in some fluffy Peking duck steamed buns topped with fresh slivers of spring onion, and you have one tasty Share Plate for 2 ($35).

But this is a pub, and pubs live and die by their classics. Fortunately the Balmain Burger ($18) stands and delivers. This is classic Australiana: smoky, charred beef patty, sharp with grated beetroot and pickles, and freshened up with salad.

More out there is the overly sweet and slightly dry Chargrilled Mahi Mahi ($26), with pineapple and quinoa salsa.

For dessert, Salted Caramel Sliders ($12) are fluffy little ice cream buns with a nice hot-cold dynamic when dipped into the warm chocolate sauce. But beware; eat them quickly to avoid distressing sogginess.

This is a solid pub menu, and the stand out dish reflects it - that's one tasty burger.

PS. You can see an earlier review for this venue HERE.

The Balmain Hotel
74 Mullens Street, Balmain
Ph: (02) 9810 7500

The Balmain Hotel on Urbanspoon


Review - Rosan

Enter the world of the Japanese salaryman at this intriguing traditional Japanese restaurant tucked into downtown Darlinghurst.

The central table puts Australian communal table behaviour to shame - unrelated guests exchange meishi (business cards) and trade places to network over their Suntory Premium Malt ($11) beers.

Chef Hiroshi Miura is celebrated for his ability to finely cut fish.

Thinly Sliced Imperador ($26) arrives looking like a lace doily, with garnishes like momiji oroshi (grated radish with chilli) venturing beyond the ubiquitous wasabi-soy to truly celebrate the natural flavour of the gossamer fish.

Super pliable pancakes wrapped around tender Rosan Duck ($15/4) leave you wanting more.

More substantial Steamed Prawn Dumplings ($10/4) impress with the intensity of bisque-like (heads and shell) flavour.

A meatier version from the chalkboard, Crispy Deep Fried Prawn Mince with Fig ($15), proved another winner. If only all deep fried food came as beautifully balanced by broth, warm, fleshy figs and aromatic pickled ginger!

The koto music and enthusiastic welcomes ringing out from the convivial centre table encourage you to unwind. Choose an individual sake cup for your clean, dry Asabiraki Junmai Ohkarakuchi Sujin ($28/300ml), and enjoy it with Deep Fried Whole Flounder ($18).

The ever-so-lightly battered fish pieces are presented in a crunchy fried fish skeleton bowl, which transforms into a wonderful edible drinking snack.

PS. If you love Japanese cuisine as much as I do, become a member of Washoku Lovers (for free) and receive free green tea ice cream when you dine:

Shop 107, 46-50 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9357 2240

Rosan Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon


This Week's Food News - Olive Oils


In my home, Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil is our general all-purpose olive oil, and we usually supplement it with a premium olive oil like Joseph First Run or The Little General for dressings and finishing dishes. This month I’ve been trying out Cobram Estate’s ultra premium range, and it looks like our household will be making the switch.

The Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Reserve Hojiblanca [RRP $20/500ml] proved to be my favourite, and also won Gold and Best in Class in the recent New York International Olive Oil Competition. It’s fruity rather than grassy, with a lovely floral fragrance and very little bitterness. For a grassy, robust olive oil with a bit of sophistication, the Première Extra Virgin Olive [RRP $10/375ml] is the way to go. It’s another award-winner, taking out Gold and Best in Class as well, and it proved to be quite versatile. While only a silver medallist, the Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Reserve Picual [RRP $20/500ml] is round and pleasantly peppery. If you can afford all three, the whole suite gives you a broad range of ways to finish dishes at home, just like chefs do in restaurants. You’ll find the ultra premium range at IGA and other independent supermarkets, and at gourmet food stores.


I also tried out Moro's Seleccion Extra Virgin Olive Oils. They’re also single varietal extra virgin olive oils, based upon three Spanish olive varietals. The Moro Seleccion Hojiblanca [RRP $9.95/500ml] is the fruitiest of the three and would be useful for sautéing seafood; while the Picual [RRP $9.95/500ml] is more robust and peppery, better suiting red meat. The goat’s horn, or Cornicabra [RRP $9.95/500ml] olive oil is grassy and perfect for cooking chicken or pasta. While they’re not in the same league as the aforementioned Cobram Estate ultra premium olive oils, they were fine as general purpose oils for cooking.


Bar Fly: Barrel Bar & Dining

Sounds like Amie Barbeler may well get a second date with this one...

"This is stupid!" My date exclaimed, stuffing another fork full of sautéed oyster mushrooms and neon green parsley sponge into her mouth. "This is seriously so good that if I died right now, I'd die happy," she clarifies, stealing the remaining mushroom bark from my plate. Barrel Bar & Dining might have only been open for a few weeks but they're onto a winning combination: great service, a stunning space and eccentric share plates that taste every bit as good as they look.

Our evening started like all good evenings should – with copious amounts of wine. I went for a glass of the versatile Hiedler Gruner Veltliner ($12), while she went for the pleasantly tangy Isolabella della Croce 'Le Marne' ($12).


While my date went gaga over the mushroom ecosystem ($14), it was the deliciously bizarre combo of slow cooked carrots with smoked carrot puree and salted honeycomb ($14) that will have me coming back to Barrel.

Barrel Bar & Dining
3/362 Military Road, Cremorne
Ph: (02) 9904 5687

Barrel Bar & Dining on Urbanspoon


Review - Cottage Point Inn

Descend onto one of the leafy green fingers that protrude into the Hawkesbury, a mere fifty minutes from the city, for a rather special dining experience.

Parisian born Chef Guillaume Zika delivers a modern, fad-resistant menu that satisfies both the restaurant’s long-standing customers; while still containing something new for the adventurous.

Line-caught Snapper Carpaccio ($28) utilises familiar ingredients - strawberry sauce vierge and celery – united by white balsamic to transport the dish somewhere new.

Spatchcock ($45) scratches the old roast chicken dinner itch, but lands looking beautifully contemporary alongside endives topped with edible flowers, and snowy Parmesan and peanut crumb.

While floor staff fling strips of raw steak to a waiting kookaburra, I get equally excited by the Grilled Wagyu Rump Cap ($48).

Sitting under a fluffy layer of shaved foie gras, the beautifully cooked beef is perfectly balanced by plump blueberries, king brown mushroom boasting artful grill-marks, and roasted onion and lemon puree.

While strong French technique is evident across the menu, it explodes in sides like Dauphine Potatoes ($10.50) - the best crunchy mashed potato balls I’ve ever put in my mouth.

A fabulous wine list, producing an interesting and nicely textural 2013 Château Petit Roubié Picpoul de Pinet ($83), and a ripper Raspberry Salad ($19) dessert, further cement my affection for this unique spot.

Cottage Point Inn
2 Anderson Place, Cottage Point
Ph: (02) 9456 1011

Cottage Point Inn on Urbanspoon


This Week's Food News - Gran's Table

Mother’s Day can be about painful memories for those of us who don’t relate well to our biological families. Despite this, Love & Food at Gran’s Table [RRP$49.95] may still hold some value.  While Kiwi cook Natalie Oldfield’s book definitely celebrates grandmothers, it’s also about showing love “through simple, everyday actions” - something we can all do with our urban families of choice. What you’ll find within is a collection of recipes by sixty grandmothers from around the world. Being grandmothers, most of these recipes come from a time period before pre-packaged food, which is quite in tune with the contemporary food trend about ‘cooking with ingredients your grandmother would recognise’. So expect to find great recipes for Mustard Pickle, Lemon Cordial and Three-Fruit Marmalade. You’ll also find lots of comfort food, made on few ingredients, and generally inexpensive ones at that. Biscuits, sweets, baking and desserts are well represented, with the Boston Bun and Lil’s Saffron Buns both piquing my interest. The global nature of the recipes means Lebanese comfort food Riz Bi Jaj (chicken and rice) and Irene Elfriede Deckert’s Swabian Potato Salad from South-West Germany, are likely to get a run in my kitchen too. Interspersed with the recipes are stories about the lives of these female home cooks, including what making food means to them.


Bar Fly: Apothecary Bar

Amie Barbeler ventured into the Cross this week for a cocktail...

Denim wallpaper, disco balls, paranormal activity and taxidermied roosters... what more could you want from a bar, really? Set over four storeys, The World Bar is a labyrinth of rooms, booths, stairwells and hidden nooks. Calling the place eclectic is an understatement: it's a choose-your-own-adventure… with alcohol.

Upon arrival, my date and I managed to narrowly avoid a group of highly-spirited backpackers by escaping to one of the secluded booths in the stylish Apothecary Bar, where we shared a teeth-achingly sweet teapot cocktail of the Fruit Tingle ($18) variety. Think vodka, tequila, blue Curaçao and lemonade.

Food wise, the bar keeps it simple, with gourmet pizza being your only option. We settled on The Plato ($20): goat’s cheese, roasted pumpkin, snowpeas and cashews. Delicious. From jazz and dubstep, to hip hop and comedy, every night is different at The World Bar; but if you like music and you love adventure, then you’ll fit right in.

Apothecary Bar
The World Bar, 24 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross
Ph: (02) 9357 7700

The World Bar on Urbanspoon