With overnight stays in the king deluxe safari tents running over the six hundred dollar mark; Paperbark Camp takes glamping (glamorous camping) to a whole new level.
Whether or not their rack rates lie within the realm of possibility, there is another way you can experience the peaceful forest surrounds and elevated natural wood architecture of The Gunyah – the camp’s restaurant and hub – without breaking the budget.
For a mere thirty dollars per person, you can join the in-house guests for breakfast any Saturday or Sunday morning between 8am and 10am. It’s perfect if you’re doing a weekender in Huskisson, or any of the other Jervis Bay beachside locales.
Take a gander at the building designed by Trevor Hamilton from Nettleton Tribe, which unites the camp’s reception, a fireside lounge, an outdoor cocktail area, and a large airy dining room at canopy level.
Plentiful glass and allows both natural light and forest views inside, flowing seamlessly into the organic furnishings and sympathetic colour palette.
You can dine inside, or get even more acquainted with the forest on the wide veranda.
Breakfast starts with a Continental buffet – the highlight of which is the house-blend of gluten-free muesli.
It’s a captivating mix of long strands of coconut, almonds, walnuts, grains, dried cranberries, apricots and other types deliciousness set off by thick, indulgent yoghurt and your choice of poached rhubarb and pears.
With a plate of comb honey catching your eye, it’s hard to resist adding a drizzle of sweetness – though a muesli with this much variety doesn't really need any accentuation.
Get stuck into the jams with a selection of breads, bested by fruit toast – though it’s no match for the amazing Scottish malt loaf at local standout, Huskisson Bakery Café – or play it safe on space with a selection of fresh fruit and yoghurt.
Sink back into your safari chair with a passable coffee – a little on the weak side in a latte – or a well-balanced carrot, apple and ginger juice, and listen to the birdcalls.
Also included in the thirty-buck price, each diner can also select a hot breakfast. We were given a choice between mushrooms, spinach and poached eggs on toast, or golden scrambled eggs with bacon and vibrant oven-roasted tomatoes piled on top of a toasted bread square.
We left the cool, calm forest well sated, boasting a bargain shopper's satisfied grin from having experienced how the other half holiday for a much keener price.
The Gunyah Restaurant
Paperbark Camp, 571 Woollamia Road, Woollamia NSW
Ph: (02) 4441 6066
Flying under the radar, Ahgora has been part of Glebe’s dining landscape for nearly three years, with very little of note written about it.
The narrow terrace is quite striking inside, with a bold geometric paint line and clever asymmetrical strip lighting design, softened by vertical plant trellises.
Chef Marek Oravec is dishing up modern dishes inspired by Greek and other Mediterranean cuisines, starting with an excellent Moussaka ($34). Long fibres of beef brisket, grilled eggplant and kipfler potato are lightly smothered in an airy ricotta béchamel that cuts against their intensity perfectly.
Equally good are Haloumi Ravioli ($24) – Ahgora’s signature dish. The salty intensity of the cheese is tamed by silky, thin pasta skins and a burnt butter sauce that is given interest with crisp sage leaves, plump golden raisins and house-made lemon jam.
Decision making is made somewhat easier by ordering the Five-Course Banquet Menu ($55/head) where you get a shared mezze plate between two, your choice of three mains, two sides and a shared dessert. The Mezze Plate ($19) offers up two dips – tarama and tzatziki – some olives and smoked pitta bread.
I’m more taken with Seared Prawns ($26) – a thoroughly modern, summery dish of tenderly cooked prawns, chive emulsion, pickled tomato, smoked fetta and puffed rice for texture. They go down well with the 2012 Roustabout Chardonnay ($65) from Pemberton in Western Australia.
While service is well intentioned, they could improve upon wine knowledge. “I just know whether I like it or not,” doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to explaining Greek wines, particularly when it would have been easy to liken the 2015 Fteri Arcadia Moschofilero ($12/glass) to gewürztraminer.
We end on a shared Lemon Strudel ($16). The strudel itself is plain and lacks the expected lemon hit, but it's rescued by sharp lemon curd, apple sorbet and crisp apple straws.
94 Glebe Point Road, Glebe
Ph: (02) 9518 7695
Around the corner from the popular hawker-style outlets of Spice Alley, Holy Duck! is the latest new entry for Chippendale’s eat street.
It’s a modern, stylish space with a chop shop up front, and a kitchen in the rear.
It’s lit by having its name - Holy Duck! - in lights, and some fake candles I’m a bit less enamoured with; probably because I’m old enough to remember real candles before the fun police came to town.
Despite the upmarket setting, the menu is an unusual hybrid of Aussie takeaway shop and modern Chinese, taking on everything from sliced whole duck to burgers, to hand-held items you can buy and eat on the run.
While the What the Duck! Burger ($16) is hard to go past, what with a branded bun holding all the same contents as a traditional duck pancake sitting alongside a handful of compelling duck-salt, shoestring fries, the chop shop commands attention.
I settle on a tray of Roast Holy Duck! ($24/half) and throw in some Mandarin Pancakes ($8) to eat it with. It arrives on a board, gleaming but stone cold, with pickles and a small pot of their signature duck sauce. The duck is flavoursome but fatty, and with only a Qoo White Grape Juice ($3.50) to cut against it (they’re strangely not serving alcohol), I’m not loving it quite as much as I wanted to.
Throw in that the signature sauce is a thin, dripping-everywhere disappointment, and my pancakes repeatedly tear, and I’m thinking this Chefs Gallery offshoot may have to lift their bird game. After all, they're not located very far from BBQ King – every confirmed duck lover’s Mecca – who are themselves back on the scene with fancier surrounds.
The largest part of the Holy Duck! menu is made up of roast and BBQ rice bowls, which are basically whole meals, served on plates. Yeah, I'm confused too. Semantics aside, the Crispy Crackling Roast Pork Belly Bowl ($16) positions moist slices of well-rendered crumbed pig, drizzled with Pommery French whole-grain mustard, next to pickles and a mound of rice.
Pay the two bucks extra for the more interesting taro rice version, and it makes for an enjoyable and well-rounded single-dish eat that I could see myself coming back for at the end of a big night.
The Old Rum Store, Kensington Street, Chippendale
Ph: none provided
My friend Laura’s unbridled enthusiasm for the Potato Rosemary and Truffle Bread ($6.50) is what got me intrigued about Strawberry Fields Patisserie in Dulwich Hill. Pastry Chef Godefroy (ex-La Gerbe D'or) only bakes it on Saturday mornings, and if you arrive too late, he’ll have sold out. I know this because I’ve already been back three times to get more of these soft, golden loaves, dotted with potato chunks and pungent with rosemary and the earthy scent of truffle oil.
Arrive earlier in the day by skipping breakfast at home in favour of John’s Scroll ($7). Uniting a cheesy, pastry scroll studded with bacon with a runny yolk poached egg, this is easily in my top three breakfast pastries of all time.
Taken with a well-made Gusto Latte ($4) or Flat White ($4), it’s a hearty and decadent breakfast that’s pleasant to consume on their outdoor tables, shielded from the worst of New Canterbury Road traffic by low, green hedges.
Flaky layers of buttery puff pastry make a lean pork pie an object of beauty, besting a more standard cheese stick.
Owner Tina Nguyen, herself a qualified pastry chef, worked alongside the original owner of Strawberry Fields Patisserie, Simon Bimson, for nearly two years. She took over the shop completely in 2015. While she has chosen to keep many items from the previous chef, she has modified them in terms of improving taste and flavour.
“When it comes to our dessert items, every week we try and experiment with new flavours, resulting in our own 'twists' in cakes such as the classic Vanilla Slice, Concorde, Opera cakes and flavoursome mousse combinations such as raspberry and lychee, mango & coconut, passionfruit & white chocolate... the list is endless,” explained Tina.
I try a seasonally appropriate Raspberry Danish ($4.50) decorated with a generous amount of raspberries, which impresses with just the right balance between fresh fruit tartness and sweetness from the delicate custard.
The custard success of Danish prompts us to order a nutmeg-sprinkled Custard Tart ($5.50). A far cry from baked Portuguese-style custard tarts, this shuddering dome of custard summons old-school Aussie custard tarts of yore, then manages to notch up on nostalgia. The crisp pastry shell sits in sharp contrast to its contents - rich, silky-smooth custard that threatens to erupt with every dripping, decadent bite.
Equally as good, the Ricotta Tart ($7) employs a chalkier, scalloped short pastry shell and a ricotta-based filling that’s satisfyingly dense and indulgent. Thin slices of lime and orange offer your palate some acidity in a pleasurable little jolt - the perfect counterpoint to all that rich, creamy goodness.
The only problem you'll find here is choosing – and knowing when to stop.
Leaving with a box of cakes and a bag of Honeycomb ($5) was perhaps a bridge too far...
Strawberry Fields Patisserie
Shop 2 420 New Canterbury Road, Dulwich Hill
Ph: (02) 8021 2294
More than three years on from my initial Penny Fours review, I'm still obsessed with Penny Ransley's ham and provolone croissants. I trot up there regularly on Saturday mornings to get my hands on these flaky-buttery beauties, made with the ham and cheese rolled up inside. Another reason I’ve been keeping up my regular visits has been to keep my eye on Penny’s progress with her latest bakery innovation – sourdough. Penny spent time in Bronte cult bakery Iggy’s Bread, and you better believe it shows in her new range of breads!
Trying a crusty brown loaf of Penny Fours Sourdough ($8) was a revelation for me, neatly putting an end to a decade of driving back across town to Infinity Sourdough in Darlinghurst, despite living in the Inner West. The crust is flavoursome without being ridiculously chewy, and the interior is pillowy soft. If you’re smart enough to visit on weekends, Penny is also putting out some special flavours. I’m a fan of the high quality mixed olives in her Olive Sourdough ($7). You’ll also find other flavours popping up – like garlic and rosemary, cranberry and sunflower seed – all based on the same wonderful dough.
Matter of fact, I think I need me some of this good tasting sourdough bread now - lucky Penny Fours reopens tomorrow after a short January hiatus.
141 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 9572 8550
It’s our first visit to Canley Heights, and we’ve got our nose to the ground, following a food trail. This adventure started with a recommendation from Tracey, a Vietnamese waitress at the Bayview Gladesville. The trail leads us an unassuming shopfront, with a bright LED sign assuring us we’d found the right place.
Tracey recommended Pho Lam for their bun bo hue – a spicy noodle soup with beef, pork, pork trotters and blood jelly – but on the day we’re swayed by two signature dishes immortalised on menu cards in their window, endorsed by the Fairfield City Council. The first is a Seafood Combination Laksa ($13), which is rich, creamy and nicely spicy, filled with shredded chicken, prawns, calamari and broccoli.
What we like even better however is the Bánh Canh Cua Chao Tôm ($12), a crab soup that hides wonderfully fat, chewy tapioca noodles. The noodles give the broth a syrupy thickness, while your palate is kept interested with floating pieces of sugarcane prawn and fried bread stick, a scattering of fresh herbs and crisp, fried shallots.
You can dress either soup with bean sprouts, lime, or aromatic chrysanthemum greens (tan ô) for added bitterness, provided on a separate plate.
Prices this keen of course come with modest furnishings, but you will find an entrée of Roast Quail ($12) to be generously proportioned. Pho Lam’s Vietnamese Iced Coffee ($4) is also a winner.
210 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights
Ph: (02) 9723 6626
Gleaming translucent fishes are elegantly draped across hand-formed ovals of vinegared rice, then dressed with toppings so small they appear to be in miniature.
I’m sitting at the sushi bar at Shiki, one of Sydney’s oldest Japanese restaurants, with more than three decades of experience under their obis. I’m dining with a friend who comes here often, so I’ve left him in control of ordering. He’s thrown out menus in favour of leaving our meal in the hands of Shiki’s skilled sushi chef, capping it with a seventy dollar per person spend.
We’re greeted with hot towels, which you place on curved holders for use later in the meal, then our adventure begins with an Amuse Plate ($24) of Japanese appetisers. In one pot, fried tofu and shimeji mushrooms are served in chilled dashi and soy; a second offers boiled horenso spinach resting on a thick pool of white sesame paste; while the third – my favourite - presents barely cooked scallops in vinegared miso with egg studded with bright green edamame. Along with a shot glass of Sunset Akanesasu ($9/60ml) – a junmai sake brewed from organic rice in the Nagano Prefecture, this trio of dishes paradoxically serves to both sate my gnawing hunger while at the same time making me hungry for more.
With a slate tile placed in front of each diner, it’s clear we won’t be waiting long. The slate remains at the top of the counter, and you use your chopsticks to collect the procession of nigiri.
Unlike many Japanese restaurants where this would be fraught with peril, the rice mix here has the perfect balance between delicacy and functionality. No pieces crumble upon touch – and when a twisted conger eel (anago) nigiri unwraps slightly, it is immediately discarded and remade.
And before you go looking for soy sauce, they’ve cleverly removed it from diner control, with the chef applying it himself as required. He’s also putting a putting a dab of wasabi inside the nigiri sushi, though you’re able to add more from your slate tile directly on top of the fish if you’d like. We work out way through scallop (hotate), salmon belly nigiri, and two presentations of tuna.
One is served plain with finely diced chives; the other is circled by a thin band of marination and topped with black and white sesame seeds – they interest your mouth with texture as well as flavour.
Crustaceans here are a particular pleasure – gently kissed by the heat of a blowtorch, the aburi prawn nigiri is topped with a tiny pat of melting butter.
A gleaming scampi nigiri arrives with a tiny crown of flying fish roe (tobiko) and is the epitome of delicacy and sweetness, while a cooked prawn provides your mouth with more toothsome pleasure.
We break the rhythm with a diversionary snapper shabu shabu hotpot that recharges our palate without filling us too much, before returning to the slate for some more nigiri sushi.
After a stunning and silky block of slightly sweet egg (tamago), made using the house’s special dashi, and a gunkanmaki (warship roll) of salmon roe, we’re afforded the opportunity to select our last two pieces.
I opt for another marinated tuna, and a butter-topped aburi prawn, enjoying the delicate balance of flavours in both pieces the second time 'round.
Over a ball of matcha green tea ice cream, I muse that while Shiki is an expensive restaurant, I’d be hard pressed to recall a better Sydney sushi experience. Everything from the sushi rice, to fish quality, all the way to the temperature each piece was served at, seemed carefully controlled.
Seasonal menus give diners one way to avoid cost blowouts; and from the tantilising aroma swirling around the dining room, it seems many guests are enjoying the Wagyu BBQ Special Set ($90/head). This menu includes super premium wagyu cooked at the table on Himalayan pink salt. Despite being utterly sated with sushi, the aroma is enough to entice me to come back and enjoy it myself, ideally with a window table with a view down Argyle Street to the harbour.
Level 1, Clocktower Shopping Centre, 35 Harrington Street, The Rocks
Ph: (02) 9252 2431
After my introduction to Afghani cuisine in Merrylands with Taste Food Tours, I entered Bakhtar Restaurant in Liverpool somewhat emboldened.
Skipping straight past the mantu (dumplings) I had tried before, I went for Ashak ($11.99). Arriving under the same tomato-based lentils, these dumplings, originating from the city of Kabul, are filled with chives, and drizzled with garlic-yoghurt. They taste fresher and greener than mantu, and you can season them yourself with chilli powder and sumac from shakers resting on every table in the small restaurant.
While basically furnished, the bright green walls and fiercely modern chandeliers give the room some visual interest, along with three prints of Afghanistan. The central print is of kebabs being grilled over charcoal, and that’s just what you should order here – they’re a specialty of the house. A Mix Kebab Platter ($16.99) gives you the trio – lamb minced on the premises, marinated, juicy chicken and plump lamb tikka – all charred, smoky and nicely lean. They’re presented with their drippings on a piece of Afghan bread, accompanied by washed onions, lightly pickled red cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, and a half tomato that has been blackened on the grill. Wrap up your own selection in a torn off segment of hot bread, served straight from the tandoor.
We also try Bolani ($4.99), which reminded me of Mexican quesadilla. They’re made by frying off Afghan flatbread stuffed with mashed potatoes and leeks, and served with a spicy tomato sauce for dipping.
To complete your authentic Afghan experience, try them with a glass of Dough ($3). This tangy yoghurt drink is a surprisingly salty digestive flavoured with dried mint and lemon. It has a cooling and refreshing effect on your palate, though it wasn't great at quenching thirst, so perhaps it’s best enjoyed side-by-side with a self-service soft drink from their fridge.
Shop 8/48 Elizabeth Street, Liverpool
Ph: (02) 8798 2795
The best new addition to Leichhardt in 2016 wasn’t a new restaurant, rather it was the wide balcony gifted to local area stalwart – The Royal Leichhardt. Actually it’s more restoration than new addition – the 1886 hotel was built with a balcony that was removed in the mid to late 1920s.
Only once comfortably ensconced at an alfresco table can you begin to appreciate the views this new outdoor space affords – both up Norton Street, taking in the heritage facades, and across to the city. The afternoon sun even gives the uglier red brick neighbour a pleasing, golden glow, as rainbow lorikeets come screeching in to roost in the neighbouring tree. We take it all in over Sandía Rosa ($40) – a generously proportioned, old-fashioned punch bowl of Bombay gin, watermelon liqueur, rosé and Prosecco, with bobbing spheres of pink watermelon and floating edible flowers.
When you’re ready to eat, you’ll find The Royal Botanical menu walks the line between interesting, modern dishes without forgetting that it’s a pub. Start with a well-presented Beef Carpaccio ($16) dotted with shaved Pecorino, vividly green edamame, crisp eschalots and a scattering of baby herbs.
The standard pub steak here is a pretty fancy 280g Cape Grim Grass Fed Sirloin ($34) from North West Tasmania. Their hormone, antibiotic and genetically modified organism-free, British breed (Angus and Hereford) beef is cooked to order, and presented under a fat pat of horseradish butter, against mash and a nicely dressed salad. It was a flavoursome steak, but wanted for a little bit more time resting.
Ever the traditionalist, my Mother-In-Law selected Beer Battered Flathead ($24) from the short menu of traditional pub favourites. She was kept happy with a generous amount of lightly battered flathead fillets, piled atop of good pub chips, with salad and a pot of tartare.
Craving something lowbrow after the excesses of the season, I just wanted a decent burger. The Royal Burger ($22) delivered without resorting to ridiculous excess, combining a wagyu beef patty, bread & butter pickle, oozing American cheese, bacon, onions, lettuce, tomato and the pub’s own special sauce, on a super soft bun.
Along with the balcony and beautiful new interiors, The Royal Leichhardt has also installed a fancy Enomatic wine system. For the uninitiated, this means you can try high value bottles of wine by the glass, because the system ensures the remaining wine doesn’t spoil, by pumping out the air and replacing it with argon gas. So I took my burger with a glass of Penfolds RWT Shiraz ($40/150ml) and luxuriated in the jammy yet silky Barossa Shiraz - another example of this venue straddling the line between local pub and something finer.
The Royal Botanical
Upstairs, 156 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 9569 2638
Following in the footsteps of forward-thinking clubs like Fairfield RSL and The Epping Club, Wests Ashfield Leagues has added a flagship restaurant that will revolutionise the way its members dine.
Executive Chef Oliver Heath has chosen a farm-to-fork strategy for the expansive, 300-seat restaurant, taking time to visit the farmers who will be supplying his kitchen.
His cooking is produce centred, letting the high-quality ingredients speak. The resulting Bone Marrow on Toast ($15) from Linga Longa farm near Wingham, is a pretty dish of oven-roasted bone marrow served with an onion, parsley and lemon juice relish on Sonoma sourdough toast.
Other dishes – like The Farmer’s Plate ($24) – change according to what’s seasonally available. On the evening I dined, it was grass-fed beef brisket and sirloin, presented with enough beetroot, asparagus and yellow squash to be a complete meal.
This made the well-priced side of Scorched Cauliflower with Labne ($5) we ordered tasty, but a little redundant. Across the board, the only fault I could identify was with temperature.
The cold enamel tin plates meant our dishes, including a surprisingly tasty plate of Pork Roll-Ups ($14), arrived a little cold. Luckily the excellent ancho chilli braised pork and surrounding chilli dip generated a different heat source - fire in the hole!
The dishes are traversing a very large dining area, full of interesting nooks and crannies, including a central lounge with fireplace that will be perfect come winter. The restaurant design by Altis Architecture and Rebecca Vulic from X+O is laid out like an English garden, draped with hanging fronds of greenery, and utilises as much natural light as possible.
We take in the early evening skies and leafy suburban Ashfield views from the round conservatory, sipping on an Eden Valley Freya Riesling ($9/glass).
Staff show a lot of personality on the floor. They’re clearly excited by the venue’s transformation, and keen to introduce local residents to their new dining playground. Eduardo helped me choose between two great sounding pizzas by explaining he ate the Potato, Rosemary, Shallot and Goat’s Milk Cheese ($20) version “seven times in a row.”
With the flour hand milled inside the well-equipped kitchen, and a dedicated wood-fired pizza oven manned by two pizzaioli, I had high hopes for the pizza here. This clever purple potato pizza did not let me down - the base was nicely charred, and the toppings harmonious and in correct proportion, giving me the inclination to return to sample the rest of their eight pizza list.
Wests Ashfield Leagues Club,
115 Liverpool Road, Ashfield
Ph: (02) 8752 2000