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Review - Waitan

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After a shaky start, Haymarket’s ten million dollar player has found its feet.

Over a smooth MouTai Cocktail ($25) I muse: it’s a totally different restaurant to the one I first visited late last year for the launch and a subsequent dinner.

All traces of the somewhat uneasy fusion between East and West have vanished (along with the previous chef).

They have retained David Blackmore’s wonderful wagyu - try it as buttery Dry-Aged Ribeye ($49.80/100g) sizzled tableside on hot stones then accentuated by sauce Bordelaise.

So complete is the change, some menu specials are printed only in Chinese.

Never fear, I ordered a Lamb Hotpot ($69.80) from this menu anyway, enjoying the rich hearty flavour brightened by chrysanthemum (tong hao) leaves.

Precede your hero proteins with one of the Chinese cold dishes I’ve come to love - Sichuan Poached Chicken ($19.80) with chilli oil and sesame dressing - or experiment with beautifully toothsome Wood Ear Fungus with Onion and Wasabi Oil ($12.80).

Even the Duck and Preserved Egg Terrine ($18.80) impresses as an accessible way to explore salty preserved egg.

For the finale, get your hands dirty with Singaporean Chilli Crab with Chinese ‘Grissini’ (Market Price)...

...perhaps with some Braised Bean Curd with Vegetables ($19.80) and a mound of utterly compelling Fried Rice with Wagyu and Crispy Rice ($28.80).

1/405-411 Sussex Street, Haymarket
Ph: (02) 8218 1000

Waitan Restaurant Bar Lounge on Urbanspoon


This Week's Food News: August Events

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

August is shaping up to be very tasty, what with The Morrison bringing back their Oyster Festival including their legendary $1 Oyster Hour every night of the month, between 6pm and 7pm. Spare a thought for their chefs, shucking their fingers to the bone as you scoff tasty bivalves, or partake in Chef Sean Connolly’s Oyster Menu featuring his favourite oyster dishes, including oyster chowder. There are also oyster and wine flights ($30/3 oysters with matched wines), or if you like the fancy stuff: oysters and French Champagne ($59/2 glasses Pommery and half dozen oysters).


The Shangri-La Sydney is opening up their grand ballroom to four hundred hungry dessert fiends at Sweet Street on August 13 from 5.30pm-9.30pm. Your $55 ticket buys you ten tokens, which you can use to purchase plated desserts or takeaway goodies, as well as meet and interact with dessert idols like Adriano Zumbo and the hotel’s own Anna Polyviou. You will also meet folk from N2 Extreme Gelato, LuxBite and Cacao Lab, as well as enjoying cool tunes, street performances and prize giveaways, but only if you book in quickly on (02) 9250 6247.

Food blogger and barbeque fan, Jess Pryles - also known as BurgerMary - is bringing The Carnivores Ball to Sydney on Saturday August 16. The event, which has already been held in Melbourne and Austin, brings together fine local producers and kitchen talent in a totally Texan celebration of meat! Marrickville Town Hall will be decked out with country-styling, what with hessian tablecloths, mini cacti and giant custom-made smokers. Your ticket price of $78/head gets you four courses, starting with a “BurgerMary Blend” of Griffin Jerky and boozy duck pate from boutique producer Stella May Fine Foods. After that, Matt Fitzgerald from El Topo will share his expertise by way of slow-cooked lamb and slow-cooked beef short rib. Hillbilly BBQ will then serve up some Texas-style smoked brisket and “hot guts” sausage with cornbread and chipotle ‘slaw, and that’s all before dessert! If you’re concerned about drinks, rest assured, Young Henrys will be there running a pop-up bar, the perfect way to get loose before you ride the giant mechanical bull. Certainly sounds like my kind of party!


Review - Moon Park

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Two Claude's chefs, Ben Sears and his Korean wife Eun Hee An, are "learning what it is to manage a restaurant in Sydney," according to former Claude's manager Abby Meinke.

Under her stewardship the floor is seamless.

Abby's formidable wine knowledge now extends to soju, and her recommended Moonbae-sool Soju ($10) speaks of pear, and it's a pleasant way to kick-start your evening while rice crackers, kombu and thyme dissolve on your tongue. The wine list holds much excitement; I passed over interesting wines from France, Italy and America to stay local with the 2013 Ochota Barrels ‘The Flint Vineyard’ Chardonnay ($85).

It suited anju (bar snacks) like Moonlight Flat Claire de Lune Oysters ($4.50/each) topped chilli threads and plum vinegar, and briny Sea Urchin Roe ($6/each) presented on seed biscuits with black garlic.

Familiar cabbage-wrapped beef bulgogi - Ssam ($7/each) - were a meal highlight, as was... unusual smoky Eggplant with Egg Custard ($16) dish topped with nicely textural lotus root.

While Green Beans with Ssamjang ($6) were ordinary, and Samgyeopsal ($29) pork belly with diamond clams and crown daisy had too much unrendered fat for my taste, overall this is an exciting and innovative addition to Sydney’s Korean dining landscape.

Blow-torched marshmallow on the Moon Pie ($14) will ensure you emerge onto Redfern’s streets smiling.

PS. They also make vegetarian kimchi!

Moon Park
Level 1, 34 Redfern Street, Redfern
Ph: (02) 9690 0111

Moon Park on Urbanspoon


Review - Chica Linda

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You’d be forgiven for thinking designer Mike Delany dropped a tab of acid before choosing this riotous colour scheme.

It’s alarming, that is until a few Panamargaritas ($17) get your lips tingling with jalapeno, aloe drink, agave and tequila, and ease you into the swing of things.

Start your mock South American vacation with arepas. They’re dense, mitt-sized corn flatbreads stuffed with Soft Shell Crab ($6) or Smoked Pork Belly ($6) with honey chipotle glaze and pickled ‘slaw.

And even if you’ve been burned by chewy Chicken Hearts ($6) before, trust me when I tell you to order one of these skewers each, accentuating them with a squeeze of char-grilled lemon.

Asado Prawns ($15/3) are also worth ordering, particularly if you avail yourself of the on-table fiery, scotch bonnet sauce.

Pineapple, coconut sugar and cachaca ensure the Caipirinha Amazonica ($17) puts out any remaining fire as you head into mains.

They’re served Latino family feast style, so expect sharing platters of juicy Puerto Rican Roast Pork ($35) dripping in colourful tomato, corn and black bean salsa. A side of Coca Cola Rice and Beans ($9) is all your really need to make a meal for three, perhaps with a schooner of Kosciusko ($7) apiece?

The Guava Empanada ($14) is a nice way to finish.

Chica Linda
The Carrington, 563 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9360 4714

Chica Linda on Urbanspoon


This Week's Food News: Coffee

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The Rocks Aroma Festival on Sunday July 27th represents the culmination of a month-long program of coffee workshops and tasting events all designed to get you better informed about the beans behind your favourite brew. As you stroll the historic streets of The Rocks, you’ll find it’s a great opportunity to try a number of different coffees side by side, what with local business owners like Russell Beard from Paramount Coffee Project setting up shop between 10am-5pm.

While we’re talking coffee, this week I tried two coffee bean roasts from Griffiths Coffee. Just Fair and Mundial 14 [RRP $12.99/250g] both come in reusable and recyclable tins, and are available in independent supermarkets. While they don’t compare to my regular at-home bean – Golden Cobra – they do make a credible cup that’s smooth with robust nuttiness and a chocolate edge. Throw in that they are fair trade, using organically certified Arabica beans sourced from Honduras and Peru, roasted in Melbourne, and you finally have a supermarket coffee that in a pinch I’d buy.

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