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Review - Barrel Bar & Dining

Twenty-six year old Zac Stanning​ (ex-Public Dining Room) has been a head chef for six months.

Team that with a triumvirate of owners - Stephen Thompson, Tony Binning and Alex Searle – “all sommeliers by profession”, and you have what could be a recipe for disaster.

What you find, however, is a cohesive wine bar and restaurant reflecting the tastes, down to BYO proclivities, of the local area. Both Thompson and Stanning know their audience from their time in neighbouring Balmoral.

Stanning wants to cook “something that people will like”, expressed writ large in his soft, port-sweet Duck Liver Parfait ($17), but also in the wider absence of obscure ingredients.

Instead Stanning makes much ado about Carrots ($17) presenting them as a sweet orange symphony of 24-hour cooked carrots, pickled heirloom carrots, smoked carrot puree and crisp carrot tops offset by pebbles of honeycomb.

Equally exciting, though definitely more savoury, is the forest floor of Sauteed King Oyster Mushrooms ($17) scattered with crisp mushroom bark and a mossy green parsley take on Ferran Adria’s famous microwave sponge.

While seafood dishes from a pretty 12-Hour Cured Queensland Prawns ($18) to Line Caught Snapper ($31) with persimmon, zucchini and yellow squash, are solid and easy to like, desserts felt a little dated.

Wine is (obviously) another strong suit.

Barrel Bar & Dining
3/362 Military Road, Cremorne
Ph: (02) 9904 5687

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Review - Bertoni Farrer Place

Ryan Kennedy brushed up on his Italian this week in the CBD...

Despite sitting at the base of Governor Macquarie Tower in the heart of the CBD, Bertoni Farrer Place remains remarkably casual.

Maybe it is the warm Italian welcome, the backslapping enthusiasm of the owners, or the hearty Italian fare, but the end result is a good mix of suits, casual lunchers, and even a bike courier.

Hot out of the open kitchen, Quattro Formaggi Stuffed Zucchini Flowers ($18) are as densely stuffed as all zucchini flowers ought to be, oozing rich cheesy goodness on a necessarily sharp rocket salad; while the...

...classic Vitello Tonnato ($19) is lightened with salad leaves and exceedingly tasty capers.

It would be remiss of me not to tuck into some carbs, and you can’t go wrong with the earthy and shellfish-sweet Farro Risotto ($24), arriving perfectly al dente.

While n’duja spiced Gnocchi Sardi ($24) had a nice porky waft, it unfortunately lacked the flavour punch to match its heat.

An even more porky option is the glistening curl of fragrant Slow-Roasted Porchetta ($23); it's tender and unctuous, with an irresistible ribbon of crackling.

Though it’s worth coming here just for the Tiramisu ($12). Individual portions are served from a large tray that is brought to the table, and it is compulsorily accompanied by a Macchiato ($3.50). What could be more Italian?

Bertoni Farrer Place
Corner Phillip and Bent Streets, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9241 2127

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This Week's Food News - Nissos Craft Beer

After meeting personable founder of Nissos Craft Beer, Alexandros Kouris, I was keen to give his beer a whirl. What I found was a lovely, clean and refreshing pilsner, with enough flavour not to be boring. Nissos is coming all the way from the Cyclades archipelagos of the Greek islands, so it’s unsurprising that its herbaceous, citrusy and ever so lightly malty flavours are perfectly suited to Mediterranean foods, particularly grilled meats and seafood. (I drank mine with a Lebanese feast, and it went down a treat.) Nissos is definitely the kind of refreshing beer that should do brilliantly in the Australian climate. At this stage, you won’t find it in bottle shops, but you can try it at Nick’s restaurant and bar venues, including Cyren Bar Grill Seafood, Nick’s Seafood Restaurant, Nick’s Bar & Grill, I’m Angus Steakhouse and Adria Bar Restaurant for $9 per bottle, $8.50 on tap and $24 a jug (only at Stacks Taverna). With enough enthusiasm from beer lovers like you and me, hopefully we’ll get some take-home options for this great Greek beer soon - it deserves to be drunk by the sea!


Review - The Traditional Chip Shop

Alex Harmon certainly piqued my interest (& appetite) with her Randwick review...

Although they might not have the weather for it, the British sure do know how to make a decent fish’n’chips. Sure, it’s not exactly ‘catch of the day’ and the menu reads like a DIY heart attack, but it’s a damn good feed.

This chippie has a mix of British and Irish specialties like haggis, black pudding and deep-fried Mars Bars. There’s even a deep fried jam sandwich; but if you want to ease yourself in, go for the Cod ($14.95) with hand cut chips. Throw in some Mushy Peas ($2.50) and douse it with vinegar for a bona fide taste of England.

The Curry Cheese Chips ($7.50) are a standout – like an Irish poutine, they’re decadent hangover food.

Wash it down with an Irn Bru ($3), the ‘national drink of Scotland behind Whiskey’ – basically a sherbet-flavoured soda. The Southern Fried Chicken ($9.95) is more familiar territory; the Irish owners use a family recipe to fire up a really tender piece of chook.

Their Scampi ($11.95) is crumbed nicely and ties in perfectly with Pickled Eggs ($1.60).

The Jumbo Battered Sausage ($5.95) looks like carnival food to me, but for my ex-pat. dining partner, it’s a delicacy that should be taken seriously – with a good shake of the tomato sauce bottle.

The Traditional Chip Shop
49-55 St. Pauls Street, Randwick
Ph: (1300) 2447 7467

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Review - Alpha Restaurant

During his recent visit to Australia promoting Nissos Beer, founder Alexandros Kouris, told me Alpha Restaurant produced the best Greek food he had in Sydney. Sliding into the stately restaurant, that simultaneously summons monumental history and lazy days by the seashore, I start to see why.

Chic apron-clad staff exude effortless cool. They’re confident in the menu, and they should be – parts of it, like the Scallop Moussaka ($27), have stood the test of time.

To think I could have been eating this clever dish, with rounds of tomato-topped eggplant sandwiching seared scallops...

...glued together with a smear of standout Taramosalata ($12) (also available in dip form with addictive, house-made pita bread), back in 1993. More fool me.

Other classics, like Spanakopita ($20), result in an airy, golden-topped spinach pie dissected at the table by a member of the universally handsome wait staff.

They’re also dab hands at translating wine preferences into Greek if you’re keen to branch out. The 2013 Boutari Assyrtiko Santorini ($11/glass) has a beautiful mineral character with citrus notes that readily complement simpler grill options, like Mastic Spiced Quail ($27) with fetta and watermelon hunks.

Make Head Chef Peter Conistis’ Greek Spiced Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder ($38/$58) the centrepiece of your meal – roast potatoes don’t get much better.

Alpha Restaurant
238 Castlereagh Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9098 1111

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Bar Fly: The Gantry Bar

Amie Barbeler took these week's date somewhere fancy...

Thanks for warning me that this place was fancy,” my date snarks as we enter the bar. “I might have ditched my hoodie and Kmart jeans for a dress if I’d have known we were going to posh it up.” Perfectly framed against the backdrop of Sydney’s harbour is The Gantry: a gorgeous bar/restaurant with pretty cocktails and an even prettier view over Walsh Bay.

We start off with a cocktail off the bar’s Winter menu that’s so new it doesn’t even have a name yet. It’s a decadent and punchy blend of chai-infused vermouth with cognac and chocolate bitters. I’m hereby christening it The Sweet Tooth Vermouth ($18). Foodwise, we settle on The Gantry’s Beef Short Rib Burger ($24) with havarti and a dill pickle, which we enjoy almost as much as we enjoy eavesdropping on the rich lovers who sip Champagne and canoodle on the couch in front of us.

The Gantry Bar
11 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Ph: (02) 8298 9910

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Review - Firedoor

It's big, it's heavy, it's wood. It's log…" Ren & Stimpy aren’t the only ones obsessed with logs. Firedoor’s log is the first gnarly object to catch your eye, right after the fancy sliding door spits you unceremoniously into the Surry Hills warehouse, your arm awkwardly half-raised.

Fink Group backing makes this the perfect sibling to Bridge Room; oozing the same casual luxury.

Ned Goodwin has curated a great wine list, and Bar Manager Phil McElory delivers it with aplomb, steering me into a lovely blend of chardonnay and Chenin blanc, the 2011 Lammershoek Roulette Blanc ($77).

The long banquette provides a vantage point to view the open kitchen, where Chef Lennox Hastie puts the skills he learned at Spain’s Etxebarri​ to good use.

Employing wood fire and variety of different logs (including nectarine wood), he gently coaxes the best out of your dinner. Jersey Curd ($16) balances smoky creaminess with pickles.

Seafood options, from barely-set WA Marron ($46) to plump Pippies ($32) with garlic and chilli, prove menu highlights;

...the latter necessitating Wood Fired Bread ($7) for mopping up tasty, briny juices.

Meatier options, like Lamb Rump Cap ($48) with perfectly cooked borlotti beans – form an ideal bridge to dessert: root vegetables made super delicious as roasted Spaghetti Squash ($16) with pepitas and pumpkin ice cream.

23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 8204 0800

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Bar Fly: Social-Laneway

Amie Barbeler found some community spirit(s) this week...


You'll have trouble finding a bar in Sydney with a more welcoming vibe than this cosy wedge of community spirit. Day to day, Redfern Village's Social-Laneway, located fifty metres from the train station, operates as a busy cafe/espresso bar; but come Thursday and Friday nights, the bar is transformed into a lively (but still intimate) hive of music, performance, artists, food and drink. You won't find an extensive wine or cocktail list here, just the option of a few reds, whites, beers or ciders. However, my date and I found that the Spy River Estate Sav. Blanc ($9.50) was the nicest wine we'd ever tasted.

The bar has partnered with neighbouring restaurants, meaning that if you're hungry, you have the option of ordering elsewhere and having it delivered directly to you at Social-Laneway. Alternatively, the bar does offer some food in-house, like the light but filling creamy chicken pie with garden salad ($11). Yum.

Social-Laneway: Espresso. Wine. Dine.
Shop 5/157-161 Redfern Street, Redfern
Ph: (0457) 775 000

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Flour, butter, sugar, peanut butter, eggs and salt - the reassuring ingredient list of the Peanut Butter and Sea Salt Biscuits [RRP $10/150g] is something your grandmother would recognise, but my Nanna never made biscuits quite like these! Noted food writer and home-cook extraordinaire, Stephanie Clifford-Smith has graciously released the products of her labour to the public, in a boutique range that currently extends from sweet biscuits to pickles. Stephanie tells me: “I started Clifford Smith Handmade as a way to do even more cooking, always my greatest love, but do it on my own terms. I've always enjoyed preserving and baking so the chutneys and biscuits were a no brainer. Sure there are lots of these things on the market already but nothing quite like these flavours, being produced in small batches with freshly ground spices.” Her round and complex Indian Eggplant Pickle [RRP $12/330g] leaves a satisfying tingle in the mouth. To fully appreciate the long, satisfying palate length, you will have to still your hand from immediately reaching out for more - no mean feat!


Review - Osaka Bar

Sydney has undergone a quiet Japanese revolution. Sushi trains have made way for izakayas, Japanese-style pubs where food accompanies drinking.


Slick kushiyaki bars have appeared; and regional Japanese cuisine has landed.

This spot celebrates the dishes of Japan’s second largest city, Osaka, famous for inexpensive street food.

It’s the birthplace of Takoyaki ($8.50/8), and the gooey-centred offerings here are the bomb. Just keep your on-tap Suntory Premium Malt ($8.50) handy; they’re served piping hot.

You also need to try their pressed, rectangular oshizushi. This Osaka specialty is made using cooked fishes and a less-vinegary rice mix. The BBQ Eel ($18.50) version stuffed with shitake mushrooms then topped with cucumber, egg and chives, proved excellent, and much easier to handle with chopsticks.

Konamomo – flour-based dishes – including tasty Ika-yaki ($8.50) squid pancakes, are also popular with the people of Osaka.

Alongside golden-crumbed deep-fried stuff on sticks – kushikatsu – from moist Zucchini ($1.50) to Potato Croquettes ($2.50), they make excellent drinking snacks.

In that regard you’ll find plentiful sakes, including Uragasumi Junmai ($29/720ml), and...

...Japanese whiskies like the fabulously smooth Nikka from the Barrel ($21/glass).

Balance bar bites with Hokkaido Pumpkin and Prosciutto Salad ($8).

Chef Kazu Nakatani is renowned for his saucing (different with every dish) so his special steak-sauce with Grilled Wagyu ($10.50) is your final must-try.

PS. If you love Japanese cuisine as much as I do, become a member of Washoku Lovers (for free) and receive two free takoyaki when you dine:

Osaka Bar
Shop 15, Llankelly Place, 24-30 Springfield Avenue, Potts Point
Ph: (02) 8970 1143

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