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
Winding underground on curved low-lit staircases lined with glass cabinets bearing orderly rows of alcoholic miniatures (a Merimbula inheritance); you’ll feel like you’ve slipped into post-war Paris.
The check-in desk sees you shunted either into the formal Beatrix Dining Room, complete with shiny, black, baby grand on a tiny scarlet-curtained stage, or in my case with the restaurant being full, into the more intimate, candlelit, wood paneled surrounds of Bar Normandy.
Roussanne, White Grenache, Gamay, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Grenache and Pinot Noir… the extensive wine list favours my most loved varietals. It pulls my attention away from Negroni, Bellini, Martini - the classic twenty-buck-apiece cocktail list etched onto signboards behind the bar.
For a flying visit, the by-the-glass list is eclectic and well described on the menu. Tasting notes backed up by knowledgeable floor staff are just the level of service you’d expect from the experienced team behind Shady Pines and Frankie’s Pizza - Anton Forte and Jason Scott from Swillhouse Group. I’m pleased to note they’re also fans of winemaker Gary Mills. His 2014 Jamsheed Roussanne ($14) is indeed a beauty, jazzing up a smooth but straightforward Duck Liver Parfait ($17) with maple syrup jelly.
Moving onto the 2014 Domaine Pichot Vouvray ‘Clos Cartaud’ ($15), we tuck into Oysters ($24/6) presented with classic eschallot and black pepper vinaigrette on a darling retro oyster plate.
For something a little bit naughty, get a gooey, cheesy, mustardy ball of Malakoff ($12) into your gob, punctuated by sharp dill pickles. It’s made on Gruyere and one of the best fried cheese experiences in town.
Chef Dan Pepperell (ex-10 William Street) also produces a lovely hand-cut Prime Beef Tartare ($22). Half-covered by a mountain of cascading French fries, the beef is balanced by egg yolk, capers, chives and cornichons. Overall this dish is slightly salty, encouraging me to reach for a sweeter wine. And, once again, the extensive by-the-glass list obliges, this time with a German 2013 Georg Breuer Auslese Riesling ($15) that balances sweetness with excellent acidity.
The whole Restaurant Hubert experience is so immersive – running all the way to freshly sprayed textured concrete ceilings - it’s hard not to be nauseatingly positive. Birthed in a period when Premier Mike Baird is eroding Sydney’s nightlife hour by hour, street by street, it’s nice to cast our eyes back to sunnier times, as we carve out new ways to commune underground over a bottle of wine. Will it lure me back – this time with a reservation – for dinner? Yes, it certainly will.
15 Bligh Street, Sydney
Ph: No phone
After a year as Group Head Chef at Trippas White Group, Nick Whitehouse is using his restaurant business acumen to revolutionise the food offerings at The Epping Club. Though Whitehouse “hadn’t thought of cooking in a Club,” he tells me he took the job, “because their food vision aligned with the food I wanted to cook.”
The open kitchen at Rawsons is quietly humming with industry. Whitehouse is training his young team in core values, such as eliminating waste, which will no doubt serve them well in their future careers.
He transforms an oversupply of honeycomb into an intriguing honeycomb vinegar gel, slathered onto a plump, Cold Water Scallop ($13).
The scallop is seared to golden brown but sliced to reveal its barely cooked innards – it’s beautiful, outperforming Oysters ($16/6), which arrive without enough of their natural liquor.
Whitehouse is making everything in-house, starting with salt-flake crusted butter and the “Og” House Smoked Salmon ($16.90). The subtly smoked, dry cured fish is thinly sliced, then scattered with capers, dill and rye crumbs, against a dollop of sour cream cheese.
The bread is an import from Grain Organic Bakery in Rosebery - another nod to Whitehouse’s time with Trippas White. The bread is excellent, a simple pleasure, which encapsulates a lot of what Whitehouse seems to be about here: taking a few key ingredients and allowing them shine.
This philosophy is well illustrated by Whipped Goats Curd Ricotta ($14.90) painted onto stylish earthenware under a pretty panzanella salad of scorched tomatoes.
Scottish Cock-a-Leekie soup is the inspiration for a homey, skin-off, free-range Chicken Breast ($25) sitting on leek puree, with a clever prune garnish.
It’s simple yet well executed, and will likely have you reaching for compelling Triple Cooked Chips ($8) to scrape across your plate. I endorse this action – even in the restaurant’s fancy surrounds, which include offshoot dark wood private dining rooms with contemporary chandeliers.
And if the hunks of dry-aging beef loitering in the meat fridge at the entrance didn’t clue you in, beef is somewhat of a speciality here. Smoked on Australian red gum hardwood, the Smoked Wagyu Cap ($27.50) works nicely against sweet steamed onions with blow-torched edges.
Portion control – the key to profitability – is another Whitehouse strong suit, ensuring you're left eager to attack a Mango Soufflé ($12.90). Wobbling elegantly a good five centimetres from the ramekin, this textbook pudding delivers a lot of bang for your buck.
While the wine list was a little too pedestrian for my liking, it’s hard to complain when there’s Charles Heidsieck NV Champagne ($110/bottle) on hand. And truth be told, I’m probably not the average Epping Club diner, however after this meal, that could be something I remedy.
The Epping Club, 5 Rawson Street, Epping
Ph: (02) 9876 4357
Campbell’s Superior Meats of West Pymble came to my attention last year during Porkstar’s bacon awards. The annual competition saw this butcher’s traditional hickory smoked short cut bacon dubbed best in the state, but it was pipped at the post for the Australia-wide title by Canberra’s Pialligo Estate Smokehouse.
Giving it a road test had been on the back of my mind ever since, so when I finally found myself driving North, I took a detour through the leafy, green streets of West Pymble. Owner Rhett Campbell is a third generation butcher, and makes his bacon using an old family recipe and traditional processes: “48 hour brining, true wood-smoke, 8 hour slow cook and no shortcuts.”
It’s a truly artisan bacon that can take up to five days to get from boning the carcass to the finished product. As Rhett explains, “a lot of today's mass produced hand and bacon, are brined full of water, salt and water retentive additives and liquid smoke flavouring, then boiled to cook product.” What Rhett’s tried and true method ends up with is a porky, smoky and truly versatile bacon that’s as at home as the star of a Sunday fry-up with scrambled eggs, mushrooms and a tomato, as it is on a fast, mid-week bacon and egg roll.
It helps to start with good raw product, and winning a Porkstar Bacon Award means you can be sure this bacon is made on one hundred percent Australian pork. If you need more convincing, Rhett only stocks free range, sow stall free pork. His beef is all grass fed, and the chicken he sells is hormone, chemical and antibiotic free. “This is certainly an area where people are becoming more concerned about their choices and wanting more information on welfare. Being an independent butcher, this is one advantage I believe we have over the major supermarkets; we source from producers and wholesalers directly.”
The other advantage you’ll see when you visit his beautifully laid out meat counter is the extensive ready-to-cook range. With his own young family, Rhett is pretty clued in to the demands on the local area: "We have a lot of young families living in the area, and due to most families having a massive mortgage to live there, this means that both parents are working fulltime, hence they are time poor, and looking for an easy, nutritious and most importantly quick meal for the family.” He sees the ready-to-cook products as a way to get a little creative, and comes up with ideas at home (where he does all the cooking), through modifying cookbook recipes, and at the store during quiet times.
Rhett’s global meal ideas include everything from North African chermoula chicken breasts, to Argentinean chimichurri beef short ribs, to chicken souvlaki made on La Ionica thigh fillets. They’re all clearly labelled with simple, clear cooking instructions.
Despite this not being my usual category of purchase, even I was convinced to take home his chunky Black Angus beef pies – and I was far from disappointed!
You’ll find Rhett's well-appointed store in Philip Mall, a charmingly old-fashioned corridor of shops stocking all the basic necessities of life. While you’re there, stick your nose into Tom’s Cellars – it’s a notch above your average independent bottle shop (the only places you should be buying alcohol if you believe in supporting small business). The proprietor, Tom Mazzei, is friendly and gives great advice, moving me onto D1 London Gin, which has rapidly become my go-to gin martini favourite. He’s also a whisky aficionado and runs tasting events that I've earmarked to attend in the future.
Campbell’s Superior Meats of West Pymble
Shop 4, Philip Mall, Kendall Street, West Pymble
Ph: (02) 9498 5238
Fast on the heels of their new Bankstown store, Chefs Gallery have added a Parramatta restaurant to their fledgling empire.
While it’s part of Westfield Parramatta, Chefs Gallery Founder Kaisern Ching has cleverly seen it situated it on the outside edge of the monolith, ensuring you can dine without actually entering the shopping centre.
Chefs Gallery Parramatta joins an already impressive line-up of casual eateries, including Thai Riffic and Sushi Bay as fellow outside neighbours, and Malaysian chain PappaRich situated just within.
Residents and workers in the area touted as Sydney’s second CBD will now have access to the same range modern Chinese dishes us city folk enjoy. The glam new 200-seater store has the same glass walled kitchen, ensuring you can watch your hand-stretched noodles being made. Their trademark green noodles served with king brown mushrooms are coloured using spinach, and a firm favourite at the flagship store.
Two hungry busloads of city slickers arrived en-masse and consumed tray after tray of Macanese-style mini burgers stuffed with pork fillet, pork floss, lettuce and sweet-chilli mayo.
Later we numbed our tongues on tender slices of tataki wagyu beef with Sichuan-style spicy dressing. Baskets of crisp wonton skins and salt and pepper calamari kept us drinking long into the night, before the gun restaurant PR team Cardinal Spin loaded up any stragglers onto luxury coaches for a tipsy ride home.
Westfield Parramatta Ground Floor, Shop 2184, 159-175 Church Street, Parramatta
Ph: (02) 8810 8881
Joining Monopole, The Apollo, Cho Cho San and Yellow, Missy French is yet another exemplar of the changing face of Potts Point. The muted, sophisticated room is packed with urbane diners, blithely tucking into Caviar ($89), using mother of pearl spoons to apply it liberally to freshly made (if somewhat thick) blini.
The exposed guts of the building, painted in the same grey as the concrete block walls, melt from view, softened by long, gold-lit curtains and linen banquettes. Patterned floor tiles and little table lamps draw your eyes downward, creating intimacy as well as illuminating menus for the venerable clientele.
Wine recommendations roll easily off our French waiter’s tongue. After declaring ourselves to be Chardonnay aficionados, he steers us away from thematic Chablis toward the 2014 Domaine Naturaliste ‘Artus’ Chardonnay ($85/bottle) from the Margaret River. He’s on the money: it’s elegant with surprising complexity, suiting freshly shucked Oysters ($4/each) with mignonette, or an even better lemon ice, chervil and Joseph olive oil treatment.
The menu sits at the juncture between old and new. The French bistro classics have been updated to reflect contemporary tastes, but they’re still familiar and presented without fuss. Steak Tartare ($22) arrives carb. light, prompting a request (and then a reminder) for bread. It’s mixed at the table, with the flavours well balanced against silky, hand-cut beef.
Sealed with a lovely cognac jelly, a little glass tub of Holmbrae Chicken Liver Parfait ($21) arrives with tart cornichons and an ample sufficiency of toasted brioche.
It’s tasty but not exceptional, bettered by Sautéed Veal Sweetbreads ($21) carefully seasoned and presented on a bed of green peas with hunks of smoked bacon.
My dining companion and I weighted our meal more heavily toward entrees, and when our shared pot of Cassoulet ($38) lands, we’re glad that we did. Made on pork and chicken rather than the usual duck, the white bean casserole is generously proportioned, but this update lacks the soul of the original dish.
Shaved Cabbage Salad ($12) works as a countering side, along with a pricy glass of Frederic Magnien 'Bourgogne' Pinot Noir ($25/glass). Yes, Missy French will let you know come bill time that you’re dining in the restaurant of Josephine Perry, Neil Perry’s daughter; but for your dosh you get solid, modern French bistro eats and great plonk in a ritzy but mostly A-list free space.
22 Rockwell Crescent, Potts Point
Ph: (02) 8599 4912
Dining at the top of town has definitely taken a turn for the better with Elton Inglis at the helm. His accessible, fixed price menus - 2-Course ($75/head), 3-Course ($95/head) or the 6-Course Chef’s Menu ($99/head) – appear to have led to the democratisation of a space traditionally reserved for the ruling class.
With the price of your dinner locked in, allow yourself to get waylaid in the cocktail bar to take in the spectacular view with a Tennessee Breakfast ($21). A newcomer from their autumn menu, this cocktail moderates house-made bacon bourbon with orange, honey and pomegranate syrup, cleverly united by thyme.
Arranged in easily explicable categories, the extensive list had me flicking straight to For The Most Adventurous and a Smokey Eye ($21) that tamed Ardbeg Uigeadail with Grand Marnier and maple syrup.
Engaging with their equally strong wine offering should be enough to lure you to your table and get things underway. Company Sommelier Andres Aragon is an excellent ambassador for the weighty list. By listening carefully to diner preferences and imparting vinous back-stories with warmth, emotion and genuine enthusiasm, Aragon intrigued me into drinking my first Slovenian wine – the 2012 Château Belá Riesling ($69/bottle) – before winning me over completely with the 2014 Roux Beauté Roussanne ($140/bottle).
With luscious texture and a taste that reminded me of grilled pineapple, this juicy, biodynamic Roussanne ends quite dry. By teaming it with the menu highlight – an indulgent smoked ham hock and foie gras ballotine, gentled by ginger bread, pickled shimeji and blackberry – Aragon made me into a lifetime fan. The clever dish has become something of a menu signature, heralding the arrival of Head Chef Elton Inglis, and remaining on the menu ever since.
What Inglis does very well here is land beautiful dishes that are also very enjoyable to eat. With lime green peas, sweet watermelon and just a hint of wasabi, Inglis tames kingfish sashimi using bonito flakes into a dish that should please even those who aren't all that keen on raw fish.
Tomato and basil consommé ensures the oyster course equally accessible, especially against the 2014 Joseph Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis ($18/glass); a standout on the well-populated by-the-glass list.
Adding anticipation and drama into your night, Inglis teams roasted quail breast, baby beetroot, goat’s curd and barrel-shaped semolina gnocchi with a quivering soft-centred quail egg. Dispatch it quickly with your knife, and allow nature’s own rich, golden saucing to pool across your plate.
The grill is put to good use on a range of beef from across the Eastern seaboard. Your beef options run from O’Connor in Gippsland, though to Rangers Valley in New England, all the way to Master Kobe in Queensland. The 230g Master Kobe 9+ striploin is juicy inside, and well charred outside, cooked to the recommended medium, though it does add on a menu surcharge of $45. Equally exciting, and available within the set price, is a beautiful piece of Ōra King salmon from New Zealand - luscious orange flesh lies under crisp skin on a bed of braised celery, with mussels and cherry tomatoes.
There’s a good case for coughing up ten bucks apiece to level up to the 360 dessert platter for two featuring all five of the desserts.
Debating which is the best as the city whirls around you is the perfect way to cap off a great evening. (It’s the Granny Smith green apple, with apple foam, sorbet, pistachio cake and mascarpone...)
360 Bar and Dining
Sydney Tower Dining, Reception Level 4, Sydney Westfield, Sydney
Ph: (02) 8223 3883
Amie Barbeler comes up with a sure-fire way to beat a hangover at Olympic Park...
The day I dined at Sydney Olympic Park's Wok on Inn, I was in my average state for a Wednesday lunchtime – hungry and hungover – and I couldn't have come to a more appropriate place.
Wok on Inn serves up traditional Asian hawker-style street food. It's vibrant, spicy, inexpensive and much more exciting than a packed lunch.
After my (much perkier than me) lunch-date and I snagged a table in the sun, we started with the Chilli Squid ($5.50) and sriracha Mayonnaise, which we decided we could easily eat fifty of in one sitting.
Tender, spicy and addictive; it definitely outshone the Lemongrass Chicken Cakes ($4.95).
However it was Uncle's Drunken Noodles ($13.95) with beef that really soothed my post-booze belly. The combination of homemade chilli paste tossed with flat rice noodles, beef, basil and egg was exactly what I needed.
While I recounted last night's actions, I picked at my date's delicious Pad Thai ($12.95) with chicken and vowed never to drink again for at least three days.
Wok on Inn
Tenancy 6, corner Dawn Fraser Ave & Olympic Boulevard
Sydney Olympic Park
Ph: (02) 9763 5500
Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre Youth (CPAC Youth) were tasked with creating an event that “would interest young people, and of course themselves, and represent the diversity of Western Sydney," coordinator Jax Hornjik explains. Her pride in her young team is palpable as she introduces their resulting event, A Place At The Table.
The collaborative process between Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and local youth allows young people to feel involved with their local arts centre while at the same time as gaining valuable skills in performance, marketing and event production. As Jax explains, each month CPAC Youth come up with new work, “and we just go: we'll write the risk assessment for you."
Aimed at young people aged between 12 and 25, A Place at the Table brought together many of the cultures present in the wider Liverpool Council catchment. For a minimal spend of $20, guests were treated to a ten-course degustation celebrating ten different cultures, with the dishes supplied by local businesses. Beginning with fat pockets of crab meat inari from Sushi Hub, Casula and ending with a quartet of desserts from Italy, Uruguay, Poland and Cambodia, the shared meal was created with the assistance of Taste Food Tours.
Each course was accompanied by a short cultural performance designed and performed by CPAC Youth members. None were more poignant than An Le’s My Story; her own narrative of being a first generation Vietnamese-Australian. While guests tucked into chicken spring rolls from VN Noodle House, Liverpool, An told us that "life growing up here in Liverpool was mostly a really positive experience."
As a teenager An rebelled against the Vietnamese language classes her Mother sent her to, but in later years she came to recognise the importance of knowing her cultural heritage. Amidst a flurry of tears, An related a conversation with her Mother where she asked why she wasn’t mad when her daughter rejected her culture. An said her Mother told her she immigrated because she wanted her kids to be happy, and have choices, because “hers were so limited at my age.”
Chilean empanadas, supplied by popular Carramar bakery, Lion D’Or, were a lucky dip of flavours; but guests were able to choose their favourite type of Serbian burek.
Opting for meat, I was particularly excited by the airy ripples of flaky pastry in the offerings sourced from Royalty Bakery in Liverpool. (I've even noted down their address at the end of this post, so I can visit it at a future date.)
A short break in proceedings afforded guests the opportunity to wander the grounds of the art centre; experiencing the cacophony of sound generated by the river’s extraordinary bird life, and take in the art.
The large oil and water tanks, remnants from the venue’s time as an electrical substation, are one of the few legal art walls available to street artists in Sydney.
You’ll also find pieces like a poured concrete ‘old skool’ boom box if you keep your eyes peeled.
"Zionists invaded our land, which they were promised, but we were not warned," reads Renee. She’s wrapped in a Palestinian keffiyeh and illuminating us on the plight of the Palestinians as we resume our meal, tucking into falafel and hummus from Yum Yum Bakery in Guildford.
We also hear about the struggles of the Khmer in Cambodia while eating coconut jelly from Mrs Op’s Shop in Bonnyrigg. Both performances neatly put paid to the lie that young people are politically disengaged.
“Leichhardt? Don’t go there for Nonna’s cooking, it’s rubbish,” volunteers the vivacious Amelia Morgano. She’s summoning her Italian Nonna for a cannoli demonstration that co-opts a few audience volunteers. We’re kept from getting too envious with our own vanilla, chocolate and ricotta cannoli from Divine Sweets in Casula; licking our fingers to a bubbling monologue seemingly streamed direct from the lips of her Italian Nonna.
We start to hit maximum sugar overload when trays of Uruguayan cakes from Lion D’Or bakery are circulated, fast on the heels of glazed, plum jam-filled Polish doughnuts from Copernicus Café and Restaurant in Liverpool.
It's hard not to leave impressed about the positive impact this metropolitan arts centre is having on the young people of South West Sydney. By engaging youth in the process of producing art-based events, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre ensures it has a youth-relevant programme while simultaneously equipping the area's young artists and event producers with hands on experience that will flesh out their creative portfolios - a win-win situation!
Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre
1 Powerhouse Road, Casula
Ph: (02) 9824 1121
162 Macquarie Street, Liverpool
Ph: (0435) 014 710