The distance between tables is so small that you could be forgiven for looking up from your phone and accidentally rejoining the wrong table’s conversation. Combined with what I’d call an excessive level of darkness, Monopole is much more a wine bar, than it is a restaurant. No matter, I’m partial to wine, and Monopole certainly has a good list. The shine does wear off the 500-strong list pretty quickly though when your first two choices turn out – just like the oysters – to be unavailable.
Making a good wine recommendation is as much about listening as it is about extensive wine knowledge. Landing a light-bodied Italian Vermentino when the diner expresses they like the voluptuousness of white Rhone varietals is unlikely to end well; ditto an unfiltered, natural style wine when they say they love an elegant Chablis or Chardonnay. We eventually agree upon the 2012 Domaine Charles Audoin Marsannay Burgundy ($98), which was rich but not buttery, and drank well throughout the meal.
What Monopole does well is cooking meat, starting with their House Cured Beef Pastrami ($8) presented on cracker boats with goats’ cheese and pickled cucumber.
The cold cuts, like Cured Rangers Valley Tri Tip ($10), are also great wine companions, the thin slices melting on the tongue like meaty communion wafers. Tart pickles and bread offset the well-kept charcuterie selections, hanging in a climate controlled fridge behind the bar.
Smoked Eel Brandade ($24) is another winner, its creaminess balanced by pickled beetroot and tiny dabs of burnt apple. It’s served on bark-like crackers, and makes our Chardonnay sing. I’m less impressed with my Moreton Bay Bug ($26) though the fault is entirely my own, this crustacean was listed in singular form on the menu. It’s split down the middle and treated quite simply with dill and chilli oil. There’s nothing wrong with the cooking or flavours, I’m just smarting at the price.
Having being drawn to try Monopole after falling in love with the nuanced vegetarian dishes at Yellow, I was disappointed with the only vegetable dish on the menu. Shaved Zucchini, Mint and Pepitas ($18) is overpriced, and something I could easily whip up at home. It does however play well with the more substantial end of the menu, which you shouldn’t be afraid of; size is of course relative, and even the most expensive Rangers Valley Brisket ($32) isn’t what I’d call big. It is however delicious, cooked slow on the charcoal grill after being brined. It's the epitomy of New York Jewish cuisine and I love it.
You'll love Monopole if you love wine, and places like LP's Quality Meats, but want your meats served with less generosity and a little more refinement.
71A Macleay Street, Potts Point
Ph: (02) 9360 4410
Housed in a typical 1870s Victorian terrace, The Tea Cosy was once the home of a merchant seaman and his wife, who lived in it from the 1920s until the 1970s when the Government tried to move the local residents on. Their neighbour, Nita McCrae, whose family had lived in the area from 1805, formed The Rocks Residents Group, a precursor to the green bans, in order to oppose breaking up her local community.
Flash forward to today when the Government is still trying to remove public housing tenants from the area, including those in the historic Sirius Apartments, which are listed by the National Trust of Australia (NSW). Luckily the historical tradition of strong resident action groups has continued, with the Millers Point Resident’s Action Group fighting hard to save their local community.
So as you take in tea at The Tea Cosy, which now managed by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, raise your cup to the tenacity of local residents, who have fought hard to ensure that Government takeovers of public housing in The Rocks have never gone well.
The Tea Cosy feels a bit like visiting Grandmother’s house. The upstairs rooms are populated with mismatched tea sets and chairs, knitted tea cosies, and unfinished baskets of knitting resting here and there. The drawcard is the freshly baked scones, pulled out of the oven at particular times each day, as indicated by scone o’clock on their chalkboard.
You can enjoy the scone flavours in the day in The Tea Cosy Tasting for Two ($45), a tiered platter bearing four scones, six ribbon crust-off sandwiches, two choices of jam and a pot of double thick cream. On the afternoon I dined, the scones were offered in both lavender and plain, against tangy rhubarb, raspberry and vanilla jam. Lightly golden, my scones were dense, crunchy affairs, failing to edge out BangBang Café’s airy, buttery lemonade scones for the best I’ve had in Sydney.
If the weather is warm, dip into a jug of their homemade ice tea. I was hard pressed to choose a favourite between Lemon and Lime ($13/jug) made on black tea, and Lemongrass and Ginger ($13/jug) made with a gentler herbal base and apple slices. They’re the perfect way to refuel if you’re taking a stroll through The Rocks Markets on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
The Tea Cosy
33 George Street, The Rocks
Ph: (02) 9247 4955
Is the macaron dead? MakMak’s Carlos Heng and Dan Pigott clearly don’t think so, opening up a new city store – this time a collaboration with Bakedown Cakery – late last month. “Sydney can be a competitive and fickle market for dessert companies,” Heng is quick to admit, adding, “being able to harness each other’s strengths allow us to do more than we could on our own.”
The MakMak team met Bakedown Cakery’s Jen Lo during a macaron-making class. Their new joint store called MADE, is located in the Gaffa Gallery Precinct, and is decked out with Astroturf and a Mondrian-inspired wall that was hand-painted by Heng and Lo “over some late, crazy nights!”
Guests at the MADE launch party were treated to trays of their chewy 36-hour Belgian chocolate chip cookies, their flavour enhanced with a quite generous sprinkle of Maldon Sea Salt. MakMak macarons of course made an appearance; with this store slated to showcase three seasonal macaron collections each year. We were kept well hydrated by the Young Henrys crew, who deserve special kudos for lugging their kegs all the way up to the Gaffa Gallery Precinct rooftop.
With the prime city centre location, MADE is definitely directed towards corporate clientele who’ll be able to work with the team to produce branded corporate gifts, or pick up a macaron cake ($120 serving 10 people) for their next employee birthday. For the rest of us, you can pop in for Bakedown Cakery cupcakes ($5.50 each); hand painted blocks of Pollack-inspired chocolate ($10/120g); MakMak’s famous macarons ($3.50 each) and layered dessert fingers ($7 each) in flavours like Malteaser and roasted banana.
City life just got a little bit sweeter...
MADE by MakMak & Bakedown Cakery
Gaffa Gallery, 281 Clarence Street, Sydney
Some places have a reputation that precedes them. Manfredi at Bells at Killcare Boutique Hotel, Restaurant & Spa is one such place, though strangely, despite its easy proximity from Sydney, I’d never visited. Taking the Gosford exit, and winding around the various channels and bays of Brisbane Water, you’ll feel like you’re about to holiday in suburbia. However when you come upon the entrance to this boutique hotel on the ascent towards Bouddi National Park, you will finally get the sense that you’re somewhere else entirely.
The property is centred on a large one-storey manor house surrounded by manicured gardens, dotted with a series of cottages.
They bandy about the word Hamptons to describe them; referring to the place where wealthy New Yorkers escape for their summer holidays.
For those not familiar with the proclivities of America's East Coast ruling class, it means faded blues and neutral linens, nautical stripes, white painted timber blinds and timber floors in spacious cottages that look artificially casual, when they’re actually luxurious.
Take the in-room snacks as an example: you’ll be doing your late-night munching on mackerel fillets in organic olive oil, and bags of honey smoked BBQ and wild thyme chips. Yes, Bells is the type of place where you feel like you need to speak in a whisper, lest they eject you for gatecrashing a playground of the super-rich.
While the Manfredi dinner menu prices even had me wincing, Sunday Family Lunch ($70/head) presents the opportunity to hobnob with the upper classes without too scary a bottom line. Leaving the comfortable dining room for dinnertime, we took advantage of the gorgeous day with lunch on the terrace, bounded by manicured green hedges.
The four-course lunch is served sharing style, starting with trays of antipasti bearing figs with Gorgonzola, and lardo crustini.
Cubes of spanner crab and zucchini frittata rank among the lightest I’ve tried.
For the pasta course, we tuck into patriotic trays of stracci alla Sorrentina that intertwine the rag-shaped pasta with red tomatoes, green basil leaves and torn white mozzarella.
Not quite as picturesque, our braised beef cheek main arrives on a plentiful amount of mushroom puree. The cheeks split easily with a fork, with all their internal connective tissue transformed into melting, meaty richness.
We pass around bowls of green beans and roasted parsnips to offset the dish’s hearty intensity.
Nobody leaves hungry, especially after honey gelati draped by crostoli with a scattering of seasonal fruit.
The extensive wine list celebrates Italian wines, but has plenty to amuse those who favour other global wine regions. It’s here your bill can easily begin to climb, but it’s possible to drink well at the bottom end of the list, or you can stick to craft beers like the Lord Nelson Brewery Pale Ale. After dabbling extensively in an off-dry Germanic Riesling I take in the indigenous Australian healing techniques at the Bells Day Spa, while my partner squeezes in a last swim of the season in their inground pool. Therapist Ngaire has indigenous heritage, and clearly believes in the Li'tya product range she’s presenting across a rhythmic Kodo massage, relaxing facial, and heated Quandong hair and scalp treatment followed by a lovely Yulu tea. They’re all part of the Bells Signature Special ($220/90 minutes), which leaves me relaxed and rejuvenated, and almost ready to take on dinner.
Dinner’s where the train came off the rails a bit. After a good start with freshly shucked Oysters ($30/6), my partner looked a bit disappointed with his measly serve of Spaghetti ($38) lightly coated with Tasmanian sea urchin butter and dusted with bottarga.
Poured across a flat, black plate, my Gnocchi ($38) with black mussels, broccoli puree and broccolini was more plentiful, but otherwise unremarkable; not branching far from something we could make for ourselves at home. A fairly plain Glacier 51 Toothfish ($50) kept the in-laws happy with accompanying borlotti beans, leaks and mild pepperoncini.
Perhaps the problem is that as a diner, there’s an upper limit to what I’ll pay to worship at the altar of rustic Italian. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve enjoyed better rustic Italian dishes for considerably less coin, including at other Manfredi restaurants like Balla Osteria without leaving Sydney. Yes, they’re making everything in house, but so do many Sydney restaurants who charge half the price, leaving me to wonder should diners really be penalised for heading to regional gems?
A King Spa Suite at Bells at Killcare will set you back $420 for the night. Breakfast is included in this not inconsiderable room rate, but I was surprised to find this boutique property didn’t see fit to include the little things, like a turndown service helping guests by storing day cushions, spraying for (plentiful) nighttime mosquitoes, and shutting all those picturesque wooden louvered blinds.
Well-made Espresso di Manfredi coffees, house-made pastries and breads, verrines of strawberry topped tangy yoghurt, bircher muesli and fresh fruit are supplemented by a made-to-order hot breakfast.
Despite knowing the smoked bacon comes from Sydney gem, Pino's Dolce Vita, in combination with lovely yellow scrambled eggs, it somehow leaves me with the sense that I'm finally in the country, with happy pigs and chickens roaming close by. I guess that means the whole Bells of Killcare experience was restorative after all.
Bells at Killcare
107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Heights
Ph: (02) 4349 7000
The name of this restaurant lets you know it’s a father and son affair. In Arabic, abu means “the father of” and it’s used as a nickname, so your friends might call you “abu” followed by the name of your eldest son - in this case, Ali.
The cuisine here is Iraqi, and you’ll be eating it in a rather glorious dining room. The room is lined with bright red banquettes and woven Iraqi tapestries. One wall has bright orange ogee arches inset and filled with knickknacks running from camels to dallah (Iraqi coffee pots), while the other hold shelves of beautiful blue ceramics.
Almost all Iraqi foods are eaten with sesame and nigella seed sprinkled flat bread.
The flat bread, which is freshly made on the premises, is cooked in a tandoor, just like flat breads from the Indian Subcontinent. Torshi (pickles) are also served with every meal in Iraq, and the ones you find here are stained-yellow, and all at once crunchy, salty and sour. The pickles are nicely wet, working well against the dryness of kubba al mosul, which has been fried into a crisp, brown disc. This dish is the famous flat version of the Lebanese dish you should know as ‘kibbeh' that originated in the city of Mousel, a couple of hundred klicks north of Baghdad.
The dish you should come here to eat is called Parda Plaw ($17.99), and arrives looking rather unremarkable – a bundle of golden brown pastry.
Cutting into it you’ll find a wonderfully aromatic biryani with super-long grains of basmati rice interspersed with hunks of lamb, vermicelli, nuts and fried onions. Biryani is another dish showing the geographic link between Iraq and the Indian Subcontinent, though here it’s aromatic (think cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom) rather than chilli-hot. The fragrant spiced rice is wonderful, and when eaten in conjunction with the tender lamb and pastry, it’s a satisfying meal, in and of itself.
Finish with sumac-dusted Minced Lamb Kebab ($12/3), cooked on the open fire charcoal grill – after all they are a speciality of the house, and one of the most popular dishes with Iraqi diners.
Seeing as there’s no illustrated picture menu here, if you crave a facilitated experience, you can attend this restaurant by booking the Babylonian Delights food tour of Fairfield run by Taste Food Tours. They're a not-for-profit social enterprise that employs people from the local area to act as tour guides, with the proceeds being invested back into the local community. Their aim is to increase understanding of others through food, and as a result, their tours are always tasty!
Kebab Abu Ali
1/41-47 Spencer Street, Fairfield
Ph: (02) 9723 3644
Settling into blogger life after journalism, I decided to investigate a Zomato Meetup at The Tilbury. Zomato hosts these events for some of the 300-odd restaurants who advertise on their Australian platform, allowing them the opportunity to be seen by social media influencers who post about them. By having more activity on their restaurant listing, these advertisers climb the Zomato rankings and are thus seen by hungry Sydney diners more often. My Zomato staffer dining companions tell me this not-quite-organic way of improving visibility on Zomato can never beat actually being the next big thing.
As someone used to dining as a twosome, group meals are a whole different ballpark. Rather than seeing individual entrees, our amicable waitress tells us we’re being served the whole range of them on a platter.
When it lands, the awkward sport of sharing them fairly begins, but only after copious Insta-worthy photo documentation, with one clever lass peeling back the sourdough toast to reveal a visually impressive Wild Boar Terrine ($18).
The Ox Tartare ($22) entree I would have ordered, sounded adventurous on the menu, what with coal oil, kohlrabi, egg yolk jam and a charcoal cracker, but ate quite subtly.
Intense beads of miso dressing and the shock of red chilli elevate Hiramasa Kingfish Carpaccio ($22) into something quite engaging. It’s surprising to see so many raw dishes – there’s also a yellow fin tuna tartare - still featured on the menu so late in autumn. I put it down to this year’s seemingly endless summer.
Head Chef James Wallis has immigrated here after making his mark in the Mother country. You’ll see modern British influences peeking out in mains like New Zealand Snapper ($33). The crisp skinned fish is pan fried and served up on a bed of saag aloo and lentil dahl with lashings of lassi (yoghurt). The gently curried spuds would make the British Raj proud.
For regulars at The Tilbury, these modern British leanings offer nice continuity, running on from dishes like the ever-popular Beef Wellington trotted out by previous Head Chef, Elton Inglis. With cosy padding wrapped wooden chairs, plenty of natural light and earthy tones, the dining room has a casual informality that speaks of long Sunday lunches.
I can see myself sitting back with an Australian Cheese Board ($24) bested by an organic white mould goat’s milk cheese from Holy Goat, and a fruit-forward 2014 Croix de Bézard Picpoul de Pinet ($11/glass).
For something more decadent you can load up on the sweet stuff with the Chefs Selection Dessert Platter ($50/4 people). Alternatively you can cut to the chase and get the standout: a moist Carrot and Walnut Cake ($15) offset by an intensely green quenelle of coriander sorbet. Chocoholics may also appreciate the addition of cardamom, and pretty rose water ice cream with their gooey-centred Chocolate Pud. ($15). As for me, I reckon I'm back to sneaking into restaurants as a twosome, so I don't have to share...
12-18 Nicholson Street, Woolloomooloo
Ph: (02) 9368 1955
With clean white tiles and white t-shirts with rolled up sleeves, Good Times Artisan Ice Cream aims to tug directly on your nostalgia by summoning up images of ice-cream men leaning out of Mr. Whippy vans with your favourite childhood cone. Except, at least in my memories, they didn’t quite have the tattooed guns this bloke is sporting, as he hands over Johns Sweet Candy ($10).
Johns Sweet Candy is constructed on a blueberry and maple soft serve that relies only on a fruit puree for its purple-blue tinge. Served in a cone or cup, it comes studded with hardened mini pancakes and bacon crumble that is glued to the soft serve with lashings of caramel maple sauce. It didn’t quite win me over, though it’s hard to tell whether it was the blueberry maple flavour wearing thin, or flashbacks to that article I read detailing all the chemicals that are put into soft serve to keep it soft.
Ziggy Stardust ($10) on the other hand, is my kind of man. Taking raspberry, coconut and rosewater sorbet as a starting point, it ups the ante with strawberry powder and a dusting of pop rocks that keeps things fizzing. Freeze dried blackberries add some more adult tartness, and the whole mess is topped off with a gold-dusted white chocolate star. Too much? Nah, Ziggy is a smile-maker.
Creator Nathan Sasi, who you last saw at Nomad, will be rotating flavours regularly, so keep your eyes on the Good Times Artisan Ice Cream Facebook page. And if getting back in touch with your inner child right in the middle of Potts Point is all too much, Sasi is also doing ice cream sandwiches. La Dulce Vita ($10) inserts salted caramel ice cream between two black and white swirled macarons, with a hidden pocket of caramel if you can eat your way through all that sweetness. Maybe it’s better shared? Sharing also knocks the price down to something more reasonable for an ice cream, too...
Good Times Artisan Ice Cream
87B Macleay Street, Potts Point
For a lesson in geography that you can eat, head into Shandeez Restaurant in Fairfield. The cuisine is Iranian, which might not initially be familiar to you, but you’ll soon taste the culinary through-line running across the whole geographic region from Lebanon on the Mediterranean Sea, all the way to the Indian Subcontinent.
Eggplant is ‘the potato of Iran’ and thus a diet staple, making the Kashk E Bademjan ($5) – fried eggplant dip topped with curd - a must-order.
Enjoy it on flat bread, but make sure you also order rice.
The rice dishes here are exceptional, light and fluffy with nicely separated grains. It’s hard to choose between the yellow saffron and berry (barberry and pomegranate) topped Zereshk Polo ($12) served with chunks of chicken, and the Baghali Polo ($13) turned green with broad beans and dill.
You’ll probably find Koobideh ($10), an Iranian meat kebab made from prime lamb mince, and...
...Joojeh ($11) saffron marinated chicken, taste quite familiar.
To explore something more unique, order Ghormeh Sabzi ($11) - a stew with lamb, kidney beans and dried limes (a common Iranian flavouring). Add a squeeze of lemon juice from the bottle on every table, and a dab of Mast-o-mousir ($4) – shallot-topped yoghurt - and eat it on your rice.
Dining at Shandeez Restaurant as part of Babylonian Delights (by Taste Food Tours) gives you the opportunity to ask as many questions as you like about the cuisine. It also gives you a rare opportunity to explore the culture; politics; and history of a region we are seldom afforded opportunities to ask questions about.
Over lunch, our tour guide Yamane explains the “love and hate relationship” between Iranian and Iraqi people stems from the long war in the Eighties: “There’s not one family that hasn’t be affected by the war.” She also gently encourages us to remember that Iranians speak Farsi, not Arabic, and thus aren’t fond of being referred to as Arabs.
The pricing at this restaurant is keen, so however you come to dine, load up your table and have a proper Persian feast. Illustrated menus with English descriptions make ordering easy, and the texturally rich dining room is a welcoming space, complete with comfortable, wide, fabric-covered booths.
40 Ware Street, Fairfield
Ph: (02) 9755 5247
Last week PorkStar celebrated the beginning of their second decade under the sails of the Sydney Opera House. More than just a slightly risqué series of advertisements encouraging consumers to get some pork on their forks, PorkStar is also a chef ambassador program that recognises the chefs working hard to inspire us all to eat more pork at home.
Packing out Bennelong with more than one hundred of Sydney’s best chefs, Australian Pork Marketing and Communications Manager, Mitch Edwards, made a short but rousing speech in celebration of their work. With everyone from Manu Fiedel to Colin Fassnidge to Christine Manfield in the house, the pressure was on Bennelong Head Chef Rob Cockerill to come up with the goods, starting with circulating trays of mini slow braised suckling pig pies.
Soothed by a brunch-like mix of roasted black pudding, brioche cream, morel, hazelnut floss and grains, I sank into an easy conversation with Head Chefs Jamie Irving from Berta, Naomi Lowry from Popolo and Leigh McDivitt from One6Eight. Our meal was punctuated with discussions of menu costings, and the solutions they have devised to attract in Sydney diners on a Tuesday night. For journalists like myself, this wonderful annual event affords us the opportunity to stay connected to the daily struggles chefs face in running their restaurants. Often times when reviewing a restaurant, I never even meet the chef I’m writing about, despite reading everything in their bio. and eating their cuisine in each of the three restaurants they’ve headed up before this one.
The showpiece of the menu was a gelatinous slab of pork belly turned seaward with delicate scales of finely sliced sea scallops, roasted seaweed, Jerusalem artichoke and umami butter. Sitting with chefs has other advantages, with Irving rattling off a recipe for umami butter I’ll likely try out at home.
While looking plain from outside, the updated Bennelong dining room impressed with ‘curtains that match the drapes’ in the form of rusty red chairs and pearlescent table tops that reflect the extraordinary architecture of the surround sail. The carefully chosen crockery was another strong point, with the side salad attracting more attention from the brigade of chefs for its stylish bowl, than the contents.
A small pot of muscatel and pecan trifle with muscovado ice cream saw us off into the afternoon, with sloshing bellies full of Ross Hill wine, Two Birds Brewing beer, and locally produced Aqua Botanical water. I left feeling warmly toward pork, no longer ‘the other white meat’ it’s imminently about to overtake beef as Australia’s favourite protein, combined with a hankering to return to Bennelong to see their full menu in action.
Check out this great video of the PorkStar Sydney 2016 event:
Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9240 8000
Kicking off today, the inaugural Double Bay Good Food Week will run until Monday 16 May. The week is designed to celebrate the diverse food offerings of the suburb Double Bay. Late last month I joined Deputy Mayor of Woollahra, Susan Wynne and 90 key Double Bay business owners and media at Stockroom in the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay. The General Manager of the hotel, Paul Walters, used the occasion to introduce his new Executive Chef Alex Vilches, who made an immediate impression on guests with platters of tender char grilled lamb with green peas.
The hotel is a key sponsor of this foodie initiative, and will be hosting a number of its own events including an interactive Gin Masterclass at Stillery. I’m a fan of this stylish gin bar, having already completed my own gin masterclass, which you can read more about back HERE. Guests willing to fork out $125/head very quickly HERE (it’s on tonight) will have their gin adventure led by master mixologist Grant Collins.
Tucked under the hotel, Sake Restaurant is offering up a Sake and Sashimi Masterclass on Wednesday 11 May at 6.30pm. The $95 ticket buys you a six-course meal with matching sakes. For events with a lesser spend, more than twenty Double Bay restaurants will be running fixed prices dinners between 10 – 16 May at $50/head. Participating restaurants include Le Bukhara Mauritian Indian Restaurant and Pelicano, with a full list available on the official Double Bay Good Food Week website.
Note: You can find a previous visit to Stockroom under a different chef back HERE.
InterContinental Double Bay, 33 Cross Street, Double Bay
Ph: (02) 8388 8388