If eco-tourism is important to you, consider this small Solomon Islands property, Wilderness Lodge. It consists of two beautifully carved and constructed beach-front bungalows, and two slightly less desirable rooms attached to the main house.
Wilderness Lodge is well-integrated into the surrounding village of Peava on the island of Gatokae, located in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. It's accessed by a one-hour DHC-6 Twin Otter flight from Honiara to tiny Seghe airport, then an open boat ride that takes between ninety minutes and three hours (dependent upon weather conditions). Before you wince, it's a very beautiful trip through thirty shades of aquamarine water, that's home to countless vividly green islands that make up some of the Solomon Island's 992 islands.
Being attached to a village means your sun-drenched days playing on the protected lagoon will have the gentle hubbub of everyday village life as their background soundtrack.
For the villagers, it's an opportunity to earn money to pay for things they can't otherwise have in their subsistence lifestyle. For Jack who served our meals, this was his school fees, but for other villagers it might be money for fuel, or imported products like rice.
Staff are particularly welcoming to visitors; keen to share details of their way of life, and interested in finding out more about yours.
With the Australian federal election taking place while we were there, much discussion took place about politician promises. In the Solomons, the promises offered to convince the locals choose between the two bigfela candidates were tangible items, like solar panels or outboard motors, both very useful in remote villages such as this one.
Snorkeling at the end of the lodge's pier immerses you in upwards of three hundred different species of marine life, including the lagoon's eight or ten black and white tip reef sharks.
They'll visit when the staff clean tuna, caught by villagers, and presented as sashimi and breaded fish for your dinner hours after it was caught.
Outside the lagoon there are three close islands that are wild and uninhabited - Malemale, Bulo and Kicha. All of which you can visit with a local guide on a very inexpensive boat trip. You'll find turtles and great chasms of coral at Bulo. Make sure they take you to them via the friendly pod of dolphins who leap and dive round the boat with particular glee when it goes fast! Kicha is very unspoiled as it has been a marine sanctuary for quite some time; while Malemale's protected side was picturesque in the morning sun, and absolutely teaming with fish.
Meals at Wilderness Lodge taken on the deck by kerosene lantern light, are plentiful, with local dishes like cassava pudding added to more Westernised items, ensuring there's always something each guest enjoys.
We particularly enjoyed trying the local river fern, poucha, that made an excellent cooked and salad green. You'll get as much tropical fruit as you care to eat, served up with each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner, the per night price here includes full board) including banana, papaya, pineapple, soursop, bush lime and jackfruit.
Despite the whole island being Seventh Day Adventists (yep, not much happens here on a Saturday) and not eating shellfish by religious decree, we were even cooked crayfish twice during our eight day stay (it was delicious). While their protein mainstay is fish, they were able cater to a vegetarian guest while we were staying there.
For those who are precious about mod-cons: the airy bungalow's bathroom has a toilet and clam-shell sink.
(You can see living clams just off the pier).
The shower is outdoors and cold water only. There was no electricity in the bungalows, bar for very dim solar powered lights, so your devices will need to be charged in the main house (they were perfectly safe there). Wifi on Gatokae Island is limited, and even worse when it's cloudy or raining (satellite), so your iPhone's most useful function while you're at Wilderness Lodge will probably be as a torch to read by.
As a Sydneysider keen to have both a people and technology detox, this made this place pretty close to perfect.
Peava, Gatokae Island,
Western Province, Solomon Islands
In Japan you get your yakitori (chicken-on-a-stick) fix in izakayas, informal gastro-pubs where salary men fill in the void between work finishing and dinner. Heading up a "young but enthusiastic” team, Tin Jung Shea (ex-The Cliff Dive) has recreated the same super-relaxed drinking atmosphere right here in Crows Nest.
Settle in for beverages and bites at the polished concrete bar with a bird’s-eye view of the stick-flipping action, or pull up a table and turn your visit into a casual dinner using clever sides.
First on the agenda is washing away the sorrows of your work-life with a palate cleansing ale. The one to drink here is the golden Orion Draft ($8/400ml) from Okinawa - the hip, sub-tropical outpost of Japan. It’s crisp, refreshing and mild enough to be a great sake chaser if you’re a fan of double-parking.
You know I am, so against a bowl of Edamame ($4.90) and some even better Burdock Root Chips ($4.90) that make a tasty, lightly seasoned alternative to potato chips, I got stuck into sake.
The Yurippi team prepared me three tokkuri (flasks) of different sakes and gave me some tips on which dishes they’d suit best. You can get them to do the same, or skip straight to my favourite, the Yuki-no-Bousha ($25/300ml), which has a full, round flavour that makes it a hit with grilled meat.
Start with the classic – Chicken Thigh and Shallot ($2.90/each) accentuated by sweet soy - before you hit the star: Tsukune ($4.50/each).
Popular in Japan, these house-made chicken meatballs are made by mincing chicken thighs with soft bones for added texture, shallots, ginger and garlic, basted with sweet soy, and served up with a runny 63-degree egg.
They’re also making their own dashi (a Japanese stock) using sake, shitake stems, soy, mirin and kombu, which is put to excellent effect in a delicate, Japanese Omelette ($4.90).
The long, brown seaweed (kombu) is also employed in butter form to accentuate sashimi-grade Scallops ($4.50/each). Handle them carefully though, coming straight off the grill, the shells are scorching hot.
At the more fun end of things, there are Bacon-Wrapped Mochi ($4.50) skewers made using glutinous rice cakes. They have a texture similar to roasted marshmallow, without being as sweet. Or there's Japanese fried chook, called Karaage ($4.90), served up here in a mini fry basket with Kewpie mayonnaise.
Now while kombu is the taste I’ll most remember this spot for – especially on the super simple Cabbage ($4.90) side – eating my first oden was a very close second.
This warming chicken broth is sold in Japanese convenience stores, with the floating additions added like we select lollies in a Pick-n-Mix! You can either let the Yurippi team do the selecting for you by ordering a six-piece Oden Set ($9.90), or choose your own favourites from tofu-wrapped creamy mochi, fishcakes, egg, yam cakes, or wedges of white radish (daikon).
I’d be hard pressed to remember another dish that I’ve eaten that made me feel more like I was experiencing something authentically Japanese. Yes, authenticity is something this tiny but charming yakitori bar has in abundance!
7 Falcon Street, Crows News
Ph: (02) 8041 9261
It’s a long way down from a beautifully plated almond pastilla with buttermilk, Opalys white chocolate and honeycomb to a somewhat stale trio of Praline Choux Pastry ($15) profiteroles with salted caramel ice cream. Yes, under new Executive Chef Alex Vilches, Stockroom is a very different proposition to the restaurant I first experienced in the hands of the talented Julien Pouteau. Though with hotel guests being notoriously finicky diners, it’s possible that this restaurant’s evolution into an upmarket steakhouse comes at their clients’ behest.
The room remains the same stately affair, thickly carpeted with ornate high ceilings, plush banquettes, and well-spaced, comfortable chairs. It’s moodily dim, prompting many of the mature clientele to read the succinct menu by iPhone torchlight.
Irregular plates give entrees like Maple Grilled Eggplant ($19) dominated by a large slab of haloumi, or the Slow Braised Lamb Belly ($22) with sunchokes and parsnip puree, quite a homey feel.
Perhaps pandering to homesick hotel guests, both dishes feel like something one could successfully replicate at home.
Reproducing the slow grilling over hot charcoal achieved on the hotel’s robata grill in a home-kitchen would be somewhat more difficult. It’s employed to good effect on an O’Connor Pasture-Fed New York Steak ($32/220gm), presented precisely as ordered - medium-rare – striated by thick grill marks.
A plumper Flame-Roasted Grange Silver Certified Angus Rib Eye ($42/350gm) was let down by being cooked past the requested medium-rare.
A few spud slices topped with three oven-dried cherry tomatoes decoratively accompany both mains, so you’ll likely want a generous bowl of Roasted Pumpkin, Orange Gremolata ($12). It’s an intriguing combination but eventually the doubled-up sweetness of pumpkin and orange wears thin. Grilled Broccolini ($11) works against macadamia and warm pepper vinegar, but their stems want for slightly more cooking.
The solid but pricy wine-list will appeal best to those who like drinking local (NSW) wines. Sneakily passed off as a Murrumbateman (NSW) wine, our chosen 2014 Lark Hill Chardonnay ($85) actually comes from Bungendore in the Canberra District. Overly barrel tainted, our off-kilter bottle was quickly and smoothly replaced by a similarly priced 2014 Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay ($80) by the savvy sommelier.
His selection carried us through to the Stockroom’s Lemon Meringue Mille Feuille ($14) – sadly an over-engineered feat to eat, with slabs of darkened gingerbread dominating its flavour.
See a previous review of Stockroom here: http://missdissent.livejournal.com/54317
InterContinental Double Bay, 33 Cross Street, Double Bay
Ph: (02) 8388 8388
Twenty-six years is a pretty good innings for a restaurant, particularly in Sydney’s fickle market. This Glebe restaurant, which opened back in 1990, was the original outlet of the Flavour of India restaurant group, which later expanded to include Edgecliff’s Flavour of India, Sydney's Indian restaurant to the stars (and the site of Michael Hutchence’s infamous last meal). After the group split, Nawaz was added to the name of what is also the oldest Indian restaurant in Glebe.
Restaurant Manager Rajiul H. has been running this brightly painted restaurant for more than a decade. He’s particularly proud of the shifts to the menu that have happened over the last seven years, responding to the way we Sydneysiders like to eat.
So expect to see a little flair with presentation on your Kerala Fish Balls ($15.90) which come with three different dipping sauces, and dustings of fresh herbs and chilli freshening up most dishes.
Drizzled with duelling sauces (tamarind and yogurt) Palak Patta Chat ($14.90) takes spinach leaves, batters them in besan (chickpea flour) then then fries them until crunchy. Presented on a bed of gently spiced potato and chickpeas, it’s an engagingly vegetarian dish that’ll please even those suspicious of spicy food.
The same flour is used with added diced mango and shredded sweet potato to turn small prawns into fritters, Prawn Pakoras ($14.90/3 piece). It's let down a little bit by saucing - sweet chilli sauce has no place in my world.
While I favour beer – a Kingfisher ($7.50) - over wine as a food match with curry, the Beelgara Black Label Grenache Rose ($6.50/glass, $28/bottle) is both inexpensive and inoffensive.
The wine’s berry characters are just the ticket against the robust Handi Goat ($23.90) – my curry of the night.
This slow-cooked goat curry has a rich gravy that begs to be mopped up with bread – and with a tandoor oven here, you can count on the Garlic Naan ($3.50) and Plain Naan ($3.50) to be great.
And while it’s not my usual fare, the Chicken Butter Masala ($17.50) here is better than average as it’s made on tandoori chicken fillets adding a smoky edge to the creamy tomato- fenugreek curry sauce.
Vegetarians are not forgotten with a nicely filling Kadai Paneer ($17), a paneer (cheese) curry with capsicum, onions and tomato. It’s even more filling on their fruit and nut-heavy Basmati Rice Pilaf ($5.90).
Nawaz Flavour of India
142a Glebe Point Road, Glebe
Ph: (02) 9692 0662
Alex Harmon revisits an old friend in Bondi...
It was one of the first pubs I ever went to... a “few years ago,” I embellish.
“So, back when there was carpet,” says manager Luke. Yep, I definitely remember spilling a few beers on that sticky carpet. Fast-forward to now, and the Hotel Bondi has been given a coastal makeover by the Maloney Hotel Group. Fresh wooden floorboards, wide arched windows and chic beachside furniture.
The group also took over the kitchen, keeping the classic staples of a pub menu and giving them a bit of a sophisticated twist. The Salt and Pepper Calamari ($13) isn’t your usual floury chewy mess, but rather delicate, soft squid with loads of flavour.
The Chicken Parmigiana ($21) ($15 during the week) is your pub test and it comes out swinging in size and flavour. Arancini Balls ($10) are popular, I’m told, and they make for a perfect drinking companion - because mateship is alive and well in this establishment.
The fresh new cocktail menu has all the classics for only fifteen bucks, like an Espresso Martini ($15) and the Bondi Raspberry Highball ($15), which is like Bondi’s fruity version of the Moscow mule.
The Pumpkin Beetroot and Quinoa Salad ($15) with Bulgarian feta and walnuts is more substance than style, but seems like great value for its heartiness – what you want in a pub salad, right? Team it up with an Aperol Spritz ($15) or a glass of Fickle Mistress Pinot Noir ($9) and you’ll kid yourself into thinking you're on a summer holiday.
Unpretentious and inviting, Hotel Bondi is still a pub at heart, which if you look around town, these days is pretty rare.
178 Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach
Ph: (02) 9130 3271
If Sydney’s winter suddenly makes the idea of a sizzling cast-iron plate of garlic prawns sitting under your nose, very attractive, get thee into Encasa Restaurant for Gambas Al Ajillo ($16).
What looks to be a small, dark restaurant from the Pitt Street entrance, dominated by the woodfire pizza oven, widens out into a larger white room, filled with animated, Spanish-speaking family groups. Following their lead, we kick things off with Ambar 1900 Pale Ale ($8.50), an easy-drinking Spanish beer.
As fans of the famous Spanish black-footed pigs, we find Tabla De Embutidos ($23) hard to resist. The tabla (board) is covered with thin slices of the aforementioned jamon Iberico, Pamplona (cured, paprika-heavy sausage) and salchichon, a dry-cured, gentle, white pig sausage.
With the board bearing more meat than bread, you might want to balance things out with some Garlic Bread ($3.50) or the slightly more sophisticated Torrades ($5) – sourdough toast you rub with garlic, drizzle with olive oil and eat with freshly sliced tomato.
Another Spanish product I’m fond of is Queso de Valdeón, a blue cheese that has a good balance of salt and spice. You’ll find in a simple but satisfying bowl of Rigatoni Valdeón ($17) or joining three friends – mozzarella, goats cheese and another Spanish beauty, Manchego – on Cuatros Quesos ($15/small).
This four-cheese pizza's thin, wood-fired base allows the golden cheesy quartet to really shine. Round your meal out from the paddock or the sea. Entrana Con Chimichurri ($16) would have to be the most tender rendition of skirt steak I've tried...
...however the quartet of small, saffron-tinted scallops, Vieiras en Azafran ($16/4), served on their shells, also had its charm.
It's pretty easy to see why this popular, long-standing Spanish restaurant group is busy signing new leases - including most recently in Chifley Square - to deliver their generously proportioned, reasonably priced tapas plates to even wider audiences.
423 Pitt Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9211 4257
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