I'm going to remember 2013 as the year I fell in love with whisky...
It started with The Macallan and their recently unveiled 1824 Series: Amber, Sienna and Ruby. They are all single malt whiskies, with names representing their natural colours, which develop from their length of time in oak sherry casks. While Amber [RRP $105] and Ruby [RRP $220] were both mighty smooth, my favourite Scotch whisky was Sienna [RRP $160] - it captured my imagination with oranges, vanilla, figs, raisins and ginger.
Straight off the back of this, I met Sam Simmons, the global brand ambassador of another Speyside producer: The Balvenie.
He furthered my education by teaching me how to drink whisky: "Flirt with it - make her want you!"
He also told me that whisky drinkers are “the most promiscuous drinkers" of all, changing partners more often than other drinkers. Some whisky drinkers keep a harem of different whiskies.
My favourite of this range was The Balvenie 15 Year Old Single Barrel [RRP $120], which combined vanilla, butterscotch, delicate spicing, and honey with a peaty smokiness that gently reminded me I was drinking whisky. We enjoyed it against a collective menu at Chiswick that included a salad of heirloom tomato, watermelon and feta; jamon, grilled ratatouille, basil and olives; pickled vegetabels with avocado and dukkah; and a ceviche of kingfish, chilli and lime.
Of course no evening at Chiswick would be complete without Moran family lamb...
...and a host of other dishes which we tried against The Balvenie's 12-year, 17-year, 21-year and 30-year whiskies. To my (admittedly novice) whisky palate, the 15-year was where it was at.
You can see another visit to Chiswick HERE.
65 Ocean Street, Woollahra
Ph: (02) 8388 8688
Finally, if those whiskies are a bit rich for the budget – or you just want to support Australian made – take a look at Hellyers Road Distillery in Burnie, North West Tasmania. After trying the more expensive Scottish cousins, I admit I didn’t love the Hellyers Road Original Single Malt Whisky [RRP $80.50/700ml] straight away. The flavour is quite big on cereal, but over the course of the bottle, I have become quite the Aussie whisky convert!
For me it drinks best with the subtle companionship of Fever-Tree Ginger Ale; but I am also partial to a tall glass of Hellyers Road Whisky, cold milk, maple syrup and Niuean vanilla (buy it at Herbie’s Spices) as my last drink before bed. If creating your own nightcap sounds too much like hard work, Hellyers Road Distillery also produce a lovely Whisky Cream [RRP $37.50/700ml] using rich Tasmanian cream. You can buy direct online, or pick up a last minute bottle at Camperdown Cellars (Darlinghurst) or Porters (Pyrmont) if you’re still searching for gifts for those hard-to-buy-for people…
Alex Harmon is hot on the case of the Bondi exodus...
Bondi’s newest precinct, ‘The Hub’ is like the graduation program for successful inner-city businesses. Messina, Melbourne’s Sensory Lab, and now A Tavola, the Darlinghurst institution, have all set up shop on Hall Street.
You’ll still find the ten metre marble table, and it’s there that we’re treated to a sampling of ‘consigli’ (specials) and a purely Italian wine list.
The Stracciatella Con Fave ($18) whets the palate, like an amuse-bouche, this ‘egg drop soup’ contains broad beans, zucchini flower and pickled shallot, and is paired with a 2012 Poderi del Paradiso ($14/$59).
The Raviolo with Cuttlefish Ink ($32), is visually stunning and dressed with salmon roe, I could not fault it!
However the knockout dish - and thankfully a regular player (just look at the ribbons of fresh pasta drying in the kitchen) - is the Pappardelle with Wagyu Beef Shin ($34). It dances with a red wine and horseradish sauce, and it’s the apex of the night until Creminio ($14) – dessert - is served.
Cute as a button in a coffee cup with layers of chocolate, hazelnut, Italian meringue and salted caramel ice cream, it’s the icing on the communal dining cake. In a post-surf taco town, it’s nice to know chic and sleek can still work.
69-71 Hall Street, Bondi
Ph: (02) 9130 1246
The austere minimalism of the room makes you concentrate on the subtlety of what's in the glass and on the plate.
Against a limited colour palate – even the kitchen and floor teams wear alternating navy and dark grey – I find myself leaning in to capture a whisker of smoke from the exquisite Roasted Oysters ($4/each).
It’s wood-fire that links Mat Lindsay’s cooking to the new style emerging from high-end favourites like Bridge Room and The Woods: pared back, unfussy, fundamental. So it seems fitting to try it with unpasteurised, artisan sake – Terada Honke ‘Katori 90%’ ($11/glass) - by a brewer who’s returned to pre-modern methods.
The Blood Sausage Sanga ($6/each) is so good, it’s causing me to have a Pavlovian response to Chippendale: my mouth waters and the steering wheel pulls toward the restaurant.
Eat sharing style (you get to try more). Let someone play Father and adorn the sticky Pork Hock ($32) with the juice of blackened orange.
Include a head of charred Cauliflower ($16) and...
...the Asparagus/Nasturtium/Egg ($16) combo for some green.
Take on any dessert the small menu cares to offer.
Three Milks ($11) pays homage to goat, cow and sheep, delivering a re-imagined Jersey caramel...
...while Mango/Passionfruit/Meringue ($15) looks like something Nanna would make, but surprises with both texture and taste.
46-52 Meagher Street, Chippendale
Ph: (02) 8068 8279
"He was smoking, I was eating and racking..."
Okay, overheard Eastern Suburbs conversations up on the "hidden" rooftop terrace with the epic view have a certain ruling class blasé about them… but you should hike up all those stairs and check it out anyway.
Break your journey with a drink in the eye-catching red and black Elephant Bar - well unless you find the Ascham School parents monopolising it too...
Afterwards park in the white, salon style bistro. It’s the work of BKH Architects who kitted out China Doll and Manly’s China Beach.
While craft beer choices are limited - best I could find being James Squire One Fifty Lashes ($8.00/schooner) - this is the only pub where I’ve enjoyed Grant Burge ‘Holy Trinity’ ($15) by the glass.
The chairs are comfortable - sinking into one inclined me to skip burgers, steaks and schnitzel for a grazing meal. After downing a dozen Natural Oysters ($30) I tackled the sharing plates, available in multiples of 1($10), 3 ($25) and 5 ($40).
Duck Pancakes ($10) and Sizzling Garlic Prawns ($10) were favourites.
Grilled Haloumi ($10) isn’t bad either, in fact visiting vegetarians will find smart salads and Grilled Field Mushrooms ($10) and Zucchini Fritters ($10). Slight hiccup: the last two were under-cooked on the night I dined.
*This was my PUB OF THE WEEK on 2GB 873 Fresh! with Luke Grant & Luke Mangan
on Sunday 8th December, 2013: http://www.2gb.com/article/fresh-sunday-d
The Royal Hotel
237 Glenmore Road, Paddington
Ph: (02) 9331 2604
Confession time: I find butchers, butchers’ aprons, Berkel meat slicers and sharp knives rather exciting.
However it was still disconcerting to find out my dining companion had a Hungarian butcher doppelganger - a brother-from-another-mother - whose image loomed over our table.
Just in case the photos...
...wall of meat grinders, and jar-enclosed lights didn’t give it away, this is a light-hearted space that’s meant to summon butchers’ shops of old.
While you won’t find sawdust on the floor (or get handed a stick of cabanossi), their open-style kitchen does dish up a mean burger and a great rack of ribs.
Their signature Wagyu Burger ($18) comes piled high with onion rings, salad, dill pickles and both pink and BBQ sauces.
With a James Squire The Chancer Golden Ale ($7) and some of their ‘famous’ Chips ($4/small) it’s all you really need for a fast casual bite.
Pork Ribs ($29) are marinated then slow cooked for eight hours, coming with chips and coleslaw.
They’re messy but compelling (the serve is slightly small) and a Kirin ($7) will cut against them nicely. Think of it not as fast food, but as good food served quickly, in a setting you won’t feel out of place - even wearing thongs on the way back from Balmoral Beach.
Ribs & Burgers
Shop 3, 19-25 Grosvenor Street, Neutral Bay
Ph: (02) 9904 5774
Looking like it has more in common with a trendy nightclub than an over-lit supermarket, Mercato e Cucina, is bringing a new style of fresh produce shopping to the good folk of Gladesville.
And with parking underneath the 1200 square meter premises, Inner West residents may just love it too…
Expect to find a butcher...
...cheese counter (with tastings including le Dauphin the ‘Prince of Brie’)...
...a 400-bottle wine cellar (also stocking a range of grappas and Italian aperitifs)...
...baker and a restaurant, all under the one roof.
Owner Vanessa Martin, who rose to fame at Inner West favourite Il Piave, is understandably proud of her rather epic endeavour. She pointed out their house-made heat-and-eat lasagnes, which encourage a waste-reducing connection between the restaurant and the fresh food store, with products like “veal bones sent to the restaurant kitchen to make demi-glace”.
Keep your eyes peeled for their own-brand products, like Coffs Harbour honey, which comes from a farm that Vanessa used to walk past every day when she visited her grandparents…
PS: I was hoping to also talk about the restaurant here, but on the day I visited every table was full and the restaurant advised me of a 20-minute wait. Instead I took home a selection of their products, and was mighty impressed...
Mercato e Cucina
297 Victoria Road, Gladesville
Ph: (02) 9817 3457
In January this year, a fire struck The Lansdowne Hotel, closing it for six months.
The good news – for students, indie bands, backpackers and budget eaters alike – is that from those ashes, the Phoenix Diner has risen.
Supported by all-new staff and management, this American diner-style eatery has taken over the first floor of this loosely New York loft-themed hotel.
Most visitors wrap their lips ‘round a burger, and - loaded up with bacon, Pecorino cheese, avocado, coleslaw and chipotle mayo - the Buttermilk Chicken Burger ($14) gives a pretty good indication as to why.
Clever toppings and easy sharing possibilities make their short list of 'Brooklyn Pizzas' appealing.
I got down and dirty with Sticky Fingers ($16) combining 12-hour slow-cooked pulled pork, pear, walnuts, watercress and blue cheese on a crisp, thin base.
Fat Jalapeño Poppers ($6) are hot - despite being stuffed with bacon and cream cheese - so best accompany them with a schooner of Kosciuszko Pale Ale ($5.80) or James Squire The Chancer Golden Ale ($5.80).
The already inexpensive food and drinks further reduce for multiple happy hour(s) and nine-buck Monday to Thursday long lunches (12pm-4pm); while for late-night munchies I’m told their Mauritian chef makes his own Biltong Jerky ($3) (sadly sold out on the day I dined).
*This was my PUB OF THE WEEK on 2GB 873 Fresh! with Luke Grant & Luke Mangan
on Sunday 1st December, 2013: http://www.2gb.com/article/fresh-sunday-d
The Lansdowne Hotel, 2-6 City Road, Chippendale
Ph: (02) 8218 2333
As the sun sets over the Balmain village, there are worse places to be sitting than the front yard of this picturesque cottage.
Throw in a punch bowl of Strawberry Sangria ($32) and you have the makings of a girls’ night out. Watching them through one of the cottage windows, I tell manager Chris Hughes: “I’ll have what she’s having!”
Soon after I had my own glass, resplendent with fragrant red berries – yes, summer’s officially here.
Inside, the kitsch, homely-vibe looks accidental, but is actually expertly crafted by Luchetti Krelle (responsible for Darlo. favourite Hinky Dinks). It’s broken up by an oddity – a large domed wood fire pizza oven – that Chris tells me, somewhat ruefully, is a throwback to the Italian restaurant predecessor.
As I tuck into a De Jamon Pizza ($26) bearing Monte Nevado Jamón Serrano, pear, walnuts, Parmesan and vincotto I’m thankful they didn’t rip it out.
Chef Ellen Young supplements the pizzas with share plates, won by juicy roast Chook ($24) with excellent wild rice pilaf, apricot yoghurt and pistachio crumb.
Throw in a Snow Pea Salad ($13) or her quirky Pumpkin Mousse ($12) and you’ll still fit in the Fairground Plate ($16).
With candied apples, cones, pillowy marshmallows and more, believe me: you want to go to the fair!
The Cottage Bar & Kitchen
342 Darling Street, Balmain
Ph: (02) 8084 8185
As we slide into the season of revelry, padding out our calendars with meetings involving food and cheer, I thought I’d throw in a CBD spot that slides under the radar…
This every-woman (and man) restaurant and bar is great for groups. It specialises in beer, and shows great vertical integration, with them also producing every beer on their (not-insubstantial) list!
Choosing your brew is made easier by knowledgeable staff, accurate tasting notes and smart tasting boards that present a quartet of beers with four snack-sized dishes.
While vegetarians are blessed with their own board, for the purposes of this meal I road-tested Seafood ($25) and Meat ($25).
The former was won by salt and pepper soft shell crab protruding from a compelling Oatmeal Stout, caramelised onion and chilli relish and matched to the quaffable Organic Pale ($11/pint); while the latter impressed most with a seared duck liver and braised red cabbage combination against their banana-flavoured German Wheat Beer ($11/pint).
Pick out a pint of your favourite – perhaps the approachable All Day Breakfast ($13.50/pint) that delights with hops and mango – to accompany a hearty main, like the Duck Triple Treat ($33)...
...or take on one of Sydney’s better burgers: the Beef, Beer and Brioche Burger ($25) which even includes a beer.
Hint: While you're there, keep your eyes peeled for their special seasonal beers!
Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe
201 Clarence Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9262 3303
October was a very big eating month for me so I'm still catching up on writing about it... Right at the end of October, I popped into the Shangri-La to see what Executive Pastry Chef Anna Polyviou had constructed for the Let's Do Dessert promotion. If you're scratching your head, this is an annual month-long October promotion that allows you to enjoy a dessert (with no expectation to dine) across many of the high-end restaurants and hotels in Sydney, complete with a glass of dessert wine for just $20.
Against a very pretty Victorian 2012 Brown Brothers Orange Muscat, Anna presented a trio of sweet treats in the elegant surrounds of the Shangri-La's Lobby Lounge. While no instructions were provided, I found this odyssey of chocolate ate best from right to left, starting with the white chocolate coated strawberries ‘n’ cream lollipop.
In the centre there's a shot glass that combines a range of flavours and textures, including crunchy cocoa nibs (Grue de Cacao), salted caramel, roasted hazelnut and thyme pear against the tartness of passionfruit curd. It's an adventure that strokes your whole mouth, and easily my favourite item on the platter. .
The last item was an intense milk chocolate delice - a little rich of me, but certainly eye-catching with beautifully tempered milk chocolate sheets
Now while we're talking about Anna Polyviou, this month she joined 37 other pastry chefs in a new cookbook called The New Pâtissiers [RRP $70]. The beautifully photographed collection of 89 recipes includes three other Australian chefs, including John Ralley from Wildfire, as well as a host of international pastry icons, like Noma's Rosio Sanchez. "I'm very excited about the launch of this book and extremely proud to be one of only four Australian pastry chefs showcased," said Anna. So if you think your pastry skills are sufficient to take on her lovely layered Tropic-Anna, you better get yourself a copy!
You can see another visit to this venue back HERE.
Shangri-La Lobby Lounge
176 Cumberland Street, The Rocks
Ph: (02) 9250 6144