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Review - One6Eight Balmain

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Balmain boy, Chef Leigh McDivitt, has come home to roost. Being back on the peninsula - along with his wife and front-of-house dynamo Amanda McDivitt - clearly suits him.

Dishes like his Hop Smoked and Blackened Rump Cap ($36) benefit from being less fussy on the plate. The grilled baby leeks and golden ale gel both make good foils for the rich, blackened beef, which is further enhanced by a serve of compelling Thrice Cooked Chips ($12) cooked in aged beef dripping. It’s a combination worth coming for.

A slightly busier plate of Seared Scallops ($20) on burnt apple puree with torched prawn and pork dust, modernises our Aussie obsession with surf and turf.

In Amanda’s capable hands, the drinks list also produces winners.


Her Bacon Old Fashioned ($18) had me creating my own Kilpatrick at the table against a couple of Sydney Rock Oysters ($4/each) topped with Hendricks and cucumber granita.

She’s also picked a beauty in the 2010 Lillian Marsanne Roussanne ($16/glass, $68/bottle) from Pemberton. Its honeyed notes will complement a pleasurable plate of Braised Pork Neck with Apple Cider Cloud ($36).

The chairs are high backed and comfortable; the passing trade interesting to analyse; so sit back and enjoy the whole bottle at the latest addition to Balmain’s popular restaurant row.

One6Eight Balmain
233 Darling Street, Balmain
Ph: (02) 9555 8750

One6Eight Balmain on Urbanspoon

Event - Li-Sun Exotic Mushroom Tunnel Tour

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Mushrooms – I love them – so when the opportunity arose to tour an 1866 disused railway tunnel full of them, I leapt at the chance. Located between Bowral and Mittagong, the Li-Sun Exotic Mushroom Tunnel is run by microbiologist Dr Noel Arrold.

Noel is also the charismatic, spore-loving host for the occasional tours, which next run on the Australia Day Long Weekend.

Walking the length of the 650-metre tunnel is an eerie experience, like entering a catacomb, with damp mossy sides and rows of shimeji and oyster mushrooms growing in clusters on pasturised blocks of wheat straw. Beyond being a working single-track railway tunnel up until 1919 – the tunnel was also planned to be a refuge for the people of Bowral when Japanese got to Sydney Harbour, as well as being a munitions store for the Australian Air Force up until 1953.

Australians are the second largest consumer of white button mushrooms, however when Noel first started growing the Swiss brown mushroom, he says, "nobody wanted it - dirty mushrooms".

Luckily Sydney chefs adopted it, and these days, televised cooking shows like Masterchef have further popularised exotic mushrooms, including king brown, enoki, woodear and, Noel’s mainstay, shitake mushrooms.

Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms, named for Noel’s children Lisa and Sunner, are all Australian grown. However if you need a better reason to buy them, you might consider that cheaper versions from Asia “take three weeks to get here on a container ship."

And believe me, freshness makes a big impact upon mushroom texture and flavour.

(This mushroom risotto was made from using only Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms pictured above.)

Now if you’re keen to know the next big thing in the Aussie mushroom sphere, keep your eyes open for golden enoki. They have better flavour and a bigger cap than the usual variety.

You can also check out this tour yourself at 10.30am or 12.30pm on Sunday 25th January for $35/person by booking in on (02) 4871 2524. With the tunnel only open to visitors a few times a year, the tours are understandably popular.


Bar Fly: Mr Moustache

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Viv McGregor shows that she knows how to start the drinking year off right...

Mr Moustache
Unit 3/61-79 Hall Street, Bondi Beach (02) 9300 8892
It takes a while to convince my date to try the worm salt. At first glance, Mr Moustache looks like a typical, elegant, upmarket Bondi bar, but this Mexican-inspired cantina has the third largest collection of mescal in the world. I begin to doubt my ability to ever leave here… After we “share” (I drink most of) a Mescal Margarita ($19), we try The Cloud People ($20), made with chile ancho-infused Nuestra Solded mescal, pineapple, lime and agave. It’s rich, smoky and spicy, and we may have to marry the staff members who recommended it.

We’re swamped with tapas-sized offerings of delicious Mexican-style food, like the Tostaditas de Atun ($15), sashimi-style tuna on tortilla discs, and then we’re presented with our mescals shots, accompanied by orange slices sprinkled with Sal de Gusano (worm salt). Mr Moustache has an extensive cocktail list, but my date and I are coming back for more smoky mescals direct from Oaxaca…with extra crushed worms.

Mr Moustache on Urbanspoon


Review - Customs House Bar

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Ryan Kennedy went all white-collar this week for a post-work pint...

The post-work white-collar crowd is quaffing pints and cocktails amid wine barrels and wooden tables. The gathering is generic, but the beverages are not. Customs House Bar’s point of difference is the 23 beers on tap, 17 of which are craft—some of which are only available here and at The Local.

If all that choice is too much, just ask the staff to sort out a sampler set, with each taster costing two bucks Make sure they include the Founders Porter, an intensely bitter chocolate and coffee flavoured draft.

When it comes to food, things come on wooden boards, scattered with herbs and edible flowers; so much so that the pickles with the Tajima Wagyu Burger ($20) are almost too pretty to eat.

The menu is split into four sections with various themes from pub grub to local market, but it’s all gastro-pub-good. The wine-rich and unctuous Braised Galangal Beef Short Ribs ($21) are a standout; and...

...the Roasted Young Chicken ($19) comes skewered, charcoal crispy and summer fresh.

Tempura Prawns ($24) are about as luxurious a drink-snack as you can imagine, and the Parmesan Fries ($9) with truffle mayo are compulsory.

As far as CBD pubs go, this one is hard to beat.

Customs House Bar
17 Macquarie Place, Circular Quay
Ph: (02) 9259 7792

Customs House Bar on Urbanspoon


This Week's Food News: Gelato

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Alex Harmon squeezed some gelato into her busy schedule...

This summer don’t sell yourself short with two scoops and a waffle cone. At Watsons Bay Gelatissimo, you’re encouraged to sit down and dine in for the full gelateria experience. Their desserts are playful works of art, like Sushi Gelato, panna cotta gelato rolled in chocolate sprinkles and served with a caramel sauce that looks deceptively like soy. Or there’s Noughts & Crosses, for those who like to play with their food before they eat it – this is also the best way to sample ten different scoops of the gelato range. Gelato receives a fine dining touch with the Scattered Sundae, and goes old school with the adorable Milk and Cookies. There’s something for everyone who has time to stop and smell the coffee this summer – as long as you take the time to visit Gelatissimo in Watsons Bay.

Gelatissimo Watsons Bay
Shop 3, 18-20 Military Road, Watsons Bay
Ph: (02) 9337 4405

Gelatissimo on Urbanspoon


Review - Mere Catherine

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It seems fitting to do my thousandth review at one of Sydney’s smallest restaurants.

Weighing in at just sixteen seats, this tiny terrace on Victoria Street, Potts Point, delivers a disproportionately memorable dining experience.

Answering an inquiry from our hostess Nanette, the wife of Chef Gerard Humair, my dining companion explained he’d last visited the restaurant twenty years ago. “The menu has not changed,” says Nanette deadpan, with a twinkle of mischievousness.

It’s a refreshing departure from Sydney’s trend-driven dining, down to a wine choice of red or white (if you choose not to bring your own).

The red, a 2013 Chemin des Papes Cotes du Rhone ($55/bottle) is quite drinkable, particularly against Garlic Escargot ($29.90/12).

The hand-delivered specials board (which does change) produces Duck à l'Orange ($49.90) – a straight-ahead classic roast half duck with vibrant citrus sauce dotted with orange segments.

Made without cream, menu stalwart Roast Chicken with Tarragon Sauce ($29.90), is surprisingly indulgent, especially with a side of Spinach and Bechamel Gratinée ($7/couple) that's so good, it’s hard to remove your fork.

Eavesdropping on other tables “this has got to be on the bucket list” turns into a convivial whole restaurant conversation – it’s that kind of place. And we’re sent off smiling into the night with strict instruction: “Don’t wait another twenty years…

Mere Catherine
166 Victoria Street, Potts Point
Ph: (02) 9358 2000

Mere Catherine on Urbanspoon


Review - The Grand National Hotel

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Recently refurbished, The Nash – one-time darling of the Paddo pub scene – is back in business.

And it’s already attracting Paddington royalty, with Bruce Pollack spotted in a booth in the low-key front bar.

It’s been gifted with a down-to-earth, hands-on publican in Lance Burrows (ex-Bar 333), one of a triumvirate of new owners who have all lived locally.

On a Saturday night you can come in and the three of us will be having a beer in the front bar,” Lance explains.

Out back Woods Bagot have created a spacious, relaxed and light-filled space that’ll take you through to dinner with a bottle of Squealing Pig Pinot Noir ($44).

And to ensure you want to stay for tea, Burrows has nabbed Chef Martin Sutedja (ex-Ananas) and got him to put a contemporary spin on pub classics, without losing the steaks the venue’s always been famous for. Consequently, the 250g Bindaree Trinity Pasture-Fed Scotch Fillet ($27) makes for good eating, not least of which for the crisp shoestring fries and excellent Béarnaise to dip them in.

Sutedja’s experience with seafood shows in Queensland Spanner Crab Tortellini ($28) and the even better Hiramasa Kingfish Tartare ($16).

And his Beetroot Salad ($17) with goat’s cheese and pistachios is just what I want to be eating this summer.

The Grand National Hotel
161 Underwood Street, Paddington
Ph: (02) 9363 3096

Grand National on Urbanspoon


Bar Fly: Lonely Only For You

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Viv McGregor ends her bar reviewing year in Redfern...

Lonely Only For You
139 Redfern Street, Redfern (0414) 553 224
After trying most of owner Amelia’s favourite wines, and eating an entire cheese board ($10/person), we come to the tipsy conclusion that Curtis Mayfield is really, really awesome. Lonely Only For You stands out in the Redfern bar scene for being delightfully understated. It’s a dark, elegant and mod-inspired space, and the furniture, the vintage glassware, and every heavily shaded lamp has been selected to compliment the low-key 1960s lounge bar atmosphere.

The bar list isn’t extensive (try not to panic – there are only two beers), but the wines are excellent, well priced and constantly changing. There’s a range of good Australian choices, with the best by far being the Wills Domain Shiraz Viognier ($40 bottle), and a scattering of European and South American wines, like the Argentinian Broquel Malbec ($15/glass). Most astonishing of all are the Brown Brothers house wines, which are five bucks a glass. In Sydney. Five bucks. It’s like I’ve travelled back in time…

Lonely Only For You on Urbanspoon


Review - Fino Par

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Two minutes after walking in the door Brett Harris (ex-Hello Sailor) had me laughing, and loving La Perla ($18).

It’s a unfolding blend of Manzanilla sherry, reposado tequila and pear liqueur with a lemon twist, and my pick of his clever list.

Not that you shouldn’t try the rest - Brett’s enthusiasm for the cocktails he’s making is infectious! Oaxacan Calling ($17) with joven (young) mezcal and fino sherry proves another winner, not least of which for the burnt candied lime floater.

The gently smoky cocktail echoes the flavorsome Seared Wagyu Montadito ($4.50/each), and together they epitomise what this spot’s about: fine pairs.

Utilising the original Vibe Hotel kitchen crew, Executive Chef Nelson Burgos (ex-Foley Lane) has put together a menu that scratches Spanish itches, old and new.

At the traditional end, the Salted Cod Croquettes ($4.50/each) are made from a recipe that Nelson says: “has been in my family for the last 30 years”.

The bright, green Asparagus Tartare ($14), on the other hand, is quite fresh and contemporary; as is...

...his Octopus Carpaccio ($17) cooked in its own juices.

Alternatively, pull up a bar stool and munch “little mounds” of Grilled Chorizo ($4.50/each), black garlic and chilli salsa, as Brett plies you with Barrel Aged Sangria ($8) charged with his own ginger beer… eso es amor.

Fino Par
111 Goulburn Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 8272 3300

Fino Par on Urbanspoon


This Week's Food News: My Little Cupcake

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While some might argue that Sydney’s cupcake craze has been and gone, they clearly haven’t visited My Little Cupcake. Darlo’s newest kitsch cupcakery has to be one of the most charming stores I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.

It’s decked out with pink planter window boxes and an interior featuring gorgeous chandeliers, carefully selected baubles, scented candles, fresh flowers and (of course) cupcakes.

Beyond looking (almost) too good to eat in an array of pastel shades topped with sugar flowers, these beauties also really taste the part! The moist and fluffy vanilla hidden under vanilla butter cream frosting reminds me of the buttery pound cake I grew up enjoying. As the dashing, personable proprietor Tim Ball explains: “We don't cook with oil, so it's all the good old fashioned ingredients, baked fresh daily.

And if you don’t feel the love in the cooking, you will see it in the packaging, down to separating each cupcake in your box with coloured tissue paper. Certainly an improvement upon so many of Sydney’s cupcake stores, who have been disappointing on the nuts and bolts of the very item they’re selling – cake!

My Little Cupcake
329 South Dowling Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9380 4455

My Little Cupcake on Urbanspoon