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Travel - Lolli Redini




Despite the website ostensibly offering up a phone number for bookings, my advice is: don’t call Lolli Redini for a table. When we made that particular mistake, we were - somewhat rudely - redirected to their online ‘booking enquiry’ system. Two days after making our online booking enquiry, we were offered a table at 6pm, two hours earlier than the time we had requested. As Lolli Redini has a good reputation in the Orange region, we decided to dine anyway...



We dutifully rock up for dinner while there was still plenty of light in the sky, giving us a gander at the restaurant's domestic exterior, partially obscured by leafy green trees. Hearing the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five the moment we walked in the door - the only quintuple time (5/4) song ever to make the charts – distracts us from actually meeting the man with the heavy European accent who refused to take our phone booking.



We’re quickly settled in the compact front room, along a well-cushioned red banquette that runs the length of the restaurant. Above our heads looms a mantelpiece, and above it, the rich red feature wall is adorned with a Martin Sharp print he designed in 1977.



The neighbouring tables are set at a distance I’d describe as intimate, but the awkwardness is eased by the prompt arrival of bread and wine. The 2017 Borrowed Cuttings Piquepoul Blanc ($12/150ml) from Cowra is elegant, with softly cushioned but driving acidity. While touted as an oyster wine, the Lolli Redini team have matched it to their Mauri Gorgonzola Dolci soufflé.



This creamy, twice-baked blue cheese soufflé is one of three on offer on the menu, which you can enjoy as Two Courses ($75/person) or Three Courses ($95/person). While this version isn’t the Heidi Gruyere soufflé stalwart that has not budged from the menu since they opened in 2001, I’m a big fan of the soft, marshmallow-like texture contrasting with sharp cheese. The rich intensity is cut with roasted walnuts, batons of juicy beurre bosc pear, and lemony red vein sorrel leaves.



The Piquepoul is a particularly great match for the soufflé, and I’d also argue that’s true for the Moonlight Flat Claire de Lune rock oysters, despite the menu offering up a frothy 2015 Ross Hill Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Chardonnay ($16/120ml). Teamed with Champagne granita and cucumber brunoise then garnished with lacklustre Spanish Avruga caviar (it's not a patch on briny, fishy Beluga). The caviar was so lightly flavoured, it got a bit lost. Overall the six oysters were good, without being exceptional.



Despite the shaky telephone start, in person, staff are uniformly excellent. Plates are cleared before you even have time to think they should be. My Rhubarb Mojito ($22) is delivered at the same time as more wine, with the two waiters silently anticipating each other’s steps with the elegance of ballet dancers in a pas de deux.



The 2017 Philip Shaw Pink Billy Saignee ($12/150ml) is a beautiful, savoury rosé that still doesn't skimp on berry fruit. While it’s not the assigned match for the pasta ‘rotolo’ it suits the dish well. Sitting on sweet roasted butternut pumpkin, the loops of toothsome pasta have a festive Christmas stuffing feel, combining the textures and flavours of Cremona mustard fruits, Persian feta, lemon, sage and pine nuts with shavings of truffled pecorino and crisp amaretti crumbs. It’s clever and likeable, wanting only for a whisker of salt to balance the butternut pumpkin’s intense sweetness.



Astute wine service sees a taste of the 2014 Two Hands Aerope Grenache ($32/150ml) arrive when we order a glass to consume with our Rangers Valley Black Market Angus brisket. It’s far from your standard, jammy Grenache, and the clever unasked for taste prompted us to switch to the 2015 Patina Reserve Chardonnay ($16/150ml). With big French oak and creamy lees, this rich, textural white rises to meet the opulent dish that showcases three textures of brisket against silky sweet potato, honey-glazed heirloom carrots, buttered spinach, eschallots, mustard cream and horseradish. Matter of fact, under a scattering of textural thyme pangrattato - Italian fried breadcrumbs – this dish eats a bit like Christmas too.



Even a Wild Rocket ($12.50) side has a touch of opulence about it, with a glistening avocado flower perched on top of premium leaves, roasted macadamias and more juicy beurre bosc with Parmesan shavings to balance its sweetness. Amidst the backdrop of a rapidly filling dining room that’s noisy but convivial, it’s easy to see why Lolli Redini is Orange’s favourite celebration spot.

Lolli Redini
48 Sale Street, Orange
Ph: (02) 6361 7748

Lolli Redini Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Pizza Birra




Pizza Birra has taken a front row seat on Crown Street for the last twelve years. In that time they have undoubtedly seen many a pizza restaurant and chain come and go. Longevity doesn’t come without getting something right, especially in competition-heavy Surry Hills, so I headed on in to find out what it was...



I’m not sure it’s the music; though I did gain a new appreciation for Michael Jackson on the night I dined. Good acoustic panelling makes the wall-to-wall Jackson back catalogue sound warm rather than bouncy, no mean feat in what is essentially a concrete and glass space with polished aggregate floors.



We ease into the evening with a glass of free wine, because it’s Tuesday, and every diner is gifted with one. The House White ($7) is a surprisingly acceptable New Zealand sauvignon blanc – I’m surprised because I hate the varietal almost uniformly. This one has no cat pee; no gooseberry bush; and no burpy passionfruit.



We’re also treated to a bowl of pizza crusts to tide us over while we make a decision. Getting wine and good-tasting bready products the second you arrive makes my often-starving dining companion happy. He even makes a positive comment about not having heard this particular Michael Jackson track before.



We kick off our meal with a shared Carpaccio ($21) with a small plate full of thinly sliced beef hidden under a high hedge of dressed rocket and sliced mushrooms. It wanted for a bit of seasoning, but salt and pepper were on the table. This simple dish ain’t no Thriller, but it ate well enough against the accompanying garlic toasts - Pizza Birra definitely get bread right.



In preparation for our mains we hit up the beer list – beer is, after all, part of the restaurant’s name.



From the Italian beer selection, we opt for a Peroni Originale ($8) that’s amber and malty with coarse bubbles, and an Ichnusa ($10) with light, hoppy characters, a creamy head and tiny, Champagne-like bubbles.



Carbonara ($23) is a very simple plate of spaghetti with cracked pepper, pecorino cheese and guanciale (cured pork cheek) topped with a raw, organic egg yolk.



Beat It through the pasta, and eat the dish quickly – it goes a bit gluggy if it cools – dipping into the chilli oil and Parmesan cheese for more flavour.



My menu hit was the Tirolese ($27), a pizza bianca teaming taleggio cheese, porcini mushrooms, speck, Parmesan and truffle oil, on a mozzarella (rather than tomato) base. Pizza Birra use a 48-hour proofing process, and make their pizzas in the Roman style, which sits between thick and thin. It’s cooked slightly longer in the glowing red pizza oven that you can eyeball in the doorway as you wait for a table, and thus has a little more bite in the tasty crust.



Yep, their pizzas are definitely the reason that Pizza Birra have survived.


Pizza Birra
Shop 1, 500 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9332 2510

Pizza Birra Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Travel - Tonic Restaurant




It has been six years since my last visit to the historic town of Millthorpe. The character of the village seems to have changed a lot. Bar for the longstanding village hub, the Millthorpe Corner Store, everything is now trendy and expensive, with fancy providores, cellar doors and high-end homewares stores all vying for weekenders' attention.



Tonic Restaurant has been a village stalwart since 2003. It’s a big airy space that’s air-conditioned and thus nice to dine in on a hot day; offering up a cool colour palette and good table separation across two split levels.



As you’d expect sitting twenty-odd kilometers from Orange, wines from the local region are featured across the wine list, which also ventures as far afield as France and Spain. Against a saccharine amuse bouche of sweet corn soup, the 2015 Bloodwood Riesling ($60) shows a good acid spine, rounding out with more texture and nuance as it warms and the food gets more savoury.



Sunday lunch can be taken as Two Courses ($70/head) or Three Courses ($80/head) and arrives with complimentary extras like bread and butter. It’s popular so I’d suggest booking ahead.



When we arrive, blue plaid shirts abound in the dining room, mostly filled with older, middle-class Caucasian guests. Perhaps this is why the kitchen thought my pretty trio of kimchi scallops needed tempering with honey and crème fraiche. The kimchi itself is quite good, and the scallops, while small, are not overcooked. What I didn’t like, was eating something that tasted like an upmarket version of seafood with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.



Duck tortellini are thick and doughy, leading to their filling getting somewhat lost. While the broth was neither here nor there, the fresh spring presentation with baby carrots, broad beans, pea shoots and sliced bird felt seasonally appropriate to the country locale.



Under rubbery skin, the roasted pork jowl is well rendered and tasty. The rich porky flesh is well cut by stewed spiced apple, a tiny celeriac salsa and an appropriately, lunch-sized dollop of smooth pomme purée.



Pan-fried snapper had a salt-encrusted, crisp golden skin and yielding white flesh. Flavourwise it’s my favourite dish, but with a fennel encrese (this a fancy way of saying crushed fennel) that was super-salty, salted fish skin and an appropriately seasoned bouillabaisse sauce, it had me reaching for my water glass over and over again.



Reconstructing a tomato is a pretty cute idea on the very well-presented Tomato, Bocconcini and Basil Side ($12). With good quality produce and vinegar, it provided welcome palate relief, but proved slightly harder to share than I was anticipating. You basically needed a band saw to cut the garlicky bread disc it was sitting on.



Insert comically loud clanking of knives on crockery in a quiet dining room here.

Tonic Restaurant
Corner Pym and Victoria Streets, Millthorpe
Ph: (02) 6366 3811

Tonic Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Crepe House Cafe




Despite the Eiffel Tower in the logo and a miniature version in the window, Crepe House Café isn’t French. “We are Greek; we grew up eating crepes,” owner Christina Varetimidis explains when I look perplexed.



It turns out that crepes are so popular in Greece, the number of crepe stands almost rivals the number of souvlaki stands. At these street-food venues, the standard crepe offering is folded and served in a paper cone.



At Crepe House Café their crepes are served on plates, but they are made in the Greek style from a Greek recipe. You'll also find plenty of Greek flavours in their wide range of fillings.



The cafe is set at the base of a low-rise modern apartment block that is part of a short suburban shopping strip in Earlwood.

 

It’s saved from the usual blandness with a quirky eye to decorating detail, running from clotheslines full of handwritten coffee cards; to taps pouring fake streams into red cups.



You'll find everything from hanging glass terrariums to a veritable battalion of bare Edison bulbs.



With four garlands of coffee cards indicating a solid trade, it’s not really surprising to find that Toby’s Estate beans are put to good effect in the black matt La Marzocco coffee machine. Across both a Cappuccino ($4) and its summery cousin that many Greeks favour, the Freddo Cappuccino ($6), the coffee is robust but balanced, making it easy to like. If you're new to freddo cappucinos, it's basically espresso topped with frothy milk, served cold over ice - just give it a good stir. Fresh Juice ($7/each) in orange, carrot and celery, and the sharper apple, lemon and mint, will also suit sunny weather. You might also appreciate the acidity once you get stuck into the crepes.



The Crepe House Café menu is extensive and rambling. It runs over two double pages, spills onto a separate waffle, pancake and Evia sweet yoghurt menu, and also includes colourful chalkboard specials on the back wall. Look to the Greek alphabet for breakfast items; the Greek gods for savoury crepes; and the goddesses for the sweet stuff.



With shredded chicken breast, feta, mushrooms, baby spinach and shallots, all lashed with “special sauce”, Atlas ($16) reminds me of chicken sandwiches served with high tea. The interior is layered and surprisingly substantial, though the sauce – maybe honey Dijon mayo. – is a bit sweet for me.



Omelette No.3 ($16) is a thin, flat and savoury omelette flavoured with oregano, and topped with sundried tomatoes, Kalamata olives and the chalky feta we prefer at home - Dodoni. You’ll like it if you hate the thick, gooey-centred, French-style omelettes that I usually go for.



The trident-wielding god of the sea, Poseidon ($19), has your smoked salmon needs covered. His namesake offering takes the popular, orange brekky fish somewhere different by perching it upon a crepe filled with haloumi, fresh avocado spread, baby spinach, shallots and tomato.



It’s fresh and likeable, though I was more a fan of Hermes ($15) myself. The god of war’s contribution is filled with turkey breast, bacon, tasty cheese, mushrooms and baby spinach, then slashed with an appropriately red sauce (a tomato-mayo. concoction).



While I was personally excited to find that Crepe House Café was more than just a dessert bar, you might want to come here for the sweets. Despite giving the newer pancakes and waffles a whirl, to my tastebuds this cafe does best when they stick to their original crepe mission; so it’s the island goddess Calypso ($14) that best curries my favour with Nutella, strawberries, coconut and biscuit crumbs.



Thin, Baklava Gelato Pancakes ($15) were fragrant but super-sweet against baklava gelato, drizzled honey, walnuts and fluffy pyramids of whipped cream.



The Hera Waffle ($16) is a thick, Belgian-style affair that’s lighter than most I've tried lately. Dressed with a simple combination of ricotta, fresh berries and maple syrup, Hera showed just why she’s considered the ideal woman in Greek mythology. Next time I’d like to try her namesake topping sandwiched inside a crepe.


Crepe House Cafe
202 William Street, Earlwood
Ph: (02) 8041 6024

Crepe House Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Travel - Dogwood, BX




Who would have thought that crumbling Saltine crackers over a steaming bowl of Louisiana Gumbo ($18) would be one of the highlights of my recent Bathurst trip? Flavoured with the holy trinity of celery, onion and green bell peppers, this hearty Creole stew was a fishing expedition that saw us reeling in chicken, crab, pickled jalapenos and house-smoked sausage. Each mouthful was different! The stew just wanted for more heat, but with green chilli sauce happily provided, this hearty entree made me as happy as a pig in mud.



While Americana is prevalent in Sydney, it’s rarely as well handled as it is at Dogwood, BX. Cue me: dining here twice across a four-night trip.



To be fair, owner (and bartender on both occasions) Evan Stanley, was a big part of the attraction. While he’s worked everywhere from Cowra to Fiji, Stanley is perhaps most famous for the fifteen years he spent in Melbourne, mixing drinks at Black Pearl Fitzroy and Le Bon Ton in Collingwood; and taking home the 2013 Australian Liquor Industry Award for Bartender of the Year. What you’ll find on his Dogwood, BX list is an intriguing blend of traditional – smash out a Sazerac for example - and bespoke, like the Empire of Dreams ($18). An ode to the American melting pot, the Empire of Dreams was created at the Black Pearl using Bacardi white rum, apricot, almond syrup and tart citrus against coffee beans for an enlivening nose. My advice? Kick off with a Kentucky Buck ($17) with strawberry, lemon and ginger beer; it’s a daytime take on whiskey if ever I met one, and will help you ease your way in.



My own drinking adventure oscillated between old school favourites, like tart Penicillin ($19) represented here with particularly wonderful smokiness, and new school offerings like the Key Lime Cooler ($18). Presented as a taste of Florida, it's an easy-to-like rum, orange liqueur, spiced lime and cola concoction that should appeal to Mai Tai drinkers. While I am normally a Corpse Reviver No. 2 ($17) fanatic, I thought the version here had too much lemon and not quite enough Lillet Blanc and absinthe intrigue.



Being an island-girl at heart, I found it hard to resist the lure of the Caribbean-themed Corn‘n’Oil ($17). With dark rum, spiced lime syrup and bitters, it’s a corny, moody, throat-coating sipper topped with a perfect, pith-free lime twist. It’s the kind of drink you want to sit back and get acquainted with over a pound of Buffalo Wings ($15) while mocking Jessica Simpson, who once famously refused them saying: “I don't eat buffalo.” While I've eaten better chicken wings, the blue cheese dipping sauce here is tangy and earthy, with a big cheesy hit that whispers: double dippin' is fine.



While food here comes out rapid-fire, you can circumvent the kitchen’s efficiency by ordering dishes one-by-one when you want to eat them. Smoked Rib Croquettes ($4.50/each) should be a given. Long strands of shredded rib-meat are rolled up with Mexican cheese and pickled jalapenos into crisp, crumbed croquettes that you can pop into your mouth smothered with Louisiana remoulade.



You can also dip into their chilli sauce collection – green is wonderfully hot, while the red one is more tasty. They’re bought in and re-branded, but my money is on the latter being Crystal Louisiana Hot Sauce.



Use it to cut the fat in The Mac Daddy ($15). Dogwood, BX's house mac’n’cheese is made with three types of cheese, but somehow still manages to feel balanced and tasty rather than gluggy and artery hardening.



Don’t let all my talk of cocktails make you think Dogwood, BX aren't big on beer. With passionfruit, orange and guava structured with a bit of bitterness, the Kona ‘Hanalei’ Island IPA ($10) is Hawaii's liquid aloha in a glass.



The Anderson Valley ‘Briney Melon’ ($12) is a salted watermelon gose that has Sydney summer written all over it. As such it’ll work against the Fully Loaded Wedge Salad ($22). An ode to iceberg lettuce, this simple salad is topped with charred dill-pickled chicken skewers, pico de gallo and lashings of ranch dressing with a pot of chipotle mayo. on the side.



I also knocked back an English-style Brooklyn Summer Ale ($11) that was bready and clean, prefect for lubricating corn bread with your Fix Yourself A Plate ($25) enamel tin tray dinner. With crunchy (rather than oily) Southern-fried chook, grilled corn bread smeared in maple butter (and red and green chilli sauces), and your choice of salad – I picked tangy red ‘slaw – this is a great single-person dinner.



Our Dogwood experience was further improved by a wide-reaching soundtrack that went everywhere from The Pixies to Louisiana Delta blues to the early Rolling Stones. With corn juice running down our fingers we bobbed along to Hayseed Dixie’s version of Highway to Hell before tackling the 400g New York Strip Smokehouse Steak ($38). Blackened well on the outside, but juicy and pink within, it’s a great advertisement for pit seared beef. The char suits tomatillo salsa verde, and you can mop up any juices with the accompanying triangles of grilled bread.



At the end of the night, your go-to sippers are the French Quarter ($19) a very well balanced drink dirtying up whiskey, cognac and sweet vermouth with Benedictine and Peychaud’s bitters. It has echoes of my favourite whisky cocktail, the Rapscallion. The Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned ($20) centralises artisan bourbon with spiced bitters and aromatic orange fruit peel for a fruitcake finish to the smooth, butterscotch-like bourbon.

If gumbo, great drinks and well chosen tunes don’t send you back out into the world smiling, nothing will.

Dogwood BX
87 Keppel Street, Bathurst
Ph: (02) 6331 2410

Dogwood, BX Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Sang by Mabasa




On first glimpse, Sáng by Mabasa, is a modest and minimalist space. You’ll find it on Fitzroy Street, a busy Surry Hills thoroughfare, that has little else to recommend it.



Once you take your place at one of two long tables of eight, or along a narrow bar facing a white-painted wall, you start to notice the details. One wall is covered with a textural arrangement of white painted wood palings.



A row of domed copper lights hangs low over the counter seats facing the open kitchen; while hat-shaped copper lights hang over the communal tables. Lining the kitchen counter there’s an almost scientific collection of differently sized pickle jars, where alien-looking lotus root cross-sections float in colourful juice.



For Kenny Yong Soo Son and the rest of this family team - his partner Youmee Jeon, and parents, Jin Sun Son and Seung Kee Son, in the kitchen - Sáng is a second generation restaurant. The eight years of experience they cultivated at Mabasa in Balmain is evident both on the floor, and on the succinct, all-thriller, no-filler, menu.



Using Kenny's welcome advice, we narrow down a selection of the many dishes we want to eat, and are soon tackling Du-Kimci ($7) with the beautiful wooden spoons and matching chopsticks. Presented with a light, refreshing white kimchi and a block of steamed tofu, the highlight of this plate is red kimchi, chopped, stir-fried and served warm.



With banchan, or side dishes, being such a bit part of Korean cuisine, Assorted Seasonal Sides ($6), is another must-order, with dense cubes of bean curd winning favour over gyeranmari (rolled egg omelette) and namul (seasoned lightly cooked spinach). The aforementioned pink lotus root pickles are yours for the taking on Assorted Seasonal Pickles ($6), served with mushrooms and yellow ribbons of fennel.



With the basics covered we move onto pancakes. First up there’s Baechu Jeok ($12), a beautiful, pale green napa cabbage leaf (you might know it as wombok or Chinese cabbage) dragged through batter on one side, before being fried and served with a tangy soy-based dressing.



We follow it with Gamja Jeon ($11), a less exciting potato version that had me wishing I hadn’t gobbled all the stir-fried red kimchi.



By this stage of the evening, all of the 25 seats have filled, making the rest of our meal much louder. It’s hard not to be intimately involved with your neighbours here, with the couple two chairs up providing menu advice to all and sundry. They’ve visited Sáng multiple times, but haven’t covered the menu yet because they’re stuck on the same dishes. They talk up the Octopus ($18) or moon-eo sook-hwe, a simply summery dish of tender poached octopus slices, radish slices, coriander and chilli, that demonstrates a lightness of touch.



With wintery Korean food – stews and barbequed meats – already well represented in Sydney, it's exciting to finally see dishes more appropriate to their short, hot and humid summer. Yuk Hwe ($19) – a seasoned raw beef dish - Korean's answer to tartare, is also light and fresh.



With hand cut beef, nashi pear, cucumber and toasted almonds bound together with egg yolk that you stir through, it’s a pretty dish but wants for a salty, spicy or garlicky centre.



We knock off the rest of our chosen chardonnay – Sáng is one of the few places left in Surry Hills that still allows you to BYO wine for a very reasonable $4/person – against steamed Doenjang Clams ($19). The briny, fermented soybean paste leaves a nice hole for the tasty little bivalves.



Despite the cheek-to-jowl communal seating not really being my thing, I leave Sáng planning my next visit’s dishes. Unlike my chatty tablemates, there’s literally no danger of me eating the same thing twice. Next time I'm determined to try their clever little booze list, if only to cup one of those well-shaped Korean ceramics in my hands

Sáng by Mabasa
98 Fitzroy Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9331 5175

Sang by Mabasa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Travel - Vine & Tap




While bigger towns usually boast at least one regional fine dining gem, along with a quality café that shows off local produce for fewer than twenty bucks, they can often be a bit hollow in the mid-range category. Bathurst proved an exception to this rule with Vine & Tap, an Italian spuntini wine bar, set off the main street down a covered cobblestone pathway edged with dripping vines.



The walkway takes you behind the historic Brooke Moore Centre, built as a one-storey church house back in 1852, then extended skywards by another storey in 1900. It opens out into a lovely al fresco courtyard, slightly marred by restorative building works on the evening I dined, but still buzzing with a convivial hum.



With every outdoor table occupied, we're guided to the mezzanine level to enjoy our meal of contemporary Italian share plates against a backdrop of exposed wooden rafters and framed photographic scenes of Italy.



Be warned though, if you don’t like traipsing up and down stairs, ordering is done at the back-lit marble counter downstairs, and tap water is a similarly self-service affair.

      

Logistics and ordering taken care of, I soon have a Premium Negroni ($20) in my hand, and begin to relax into the pace of the place. Made on Tanqueray No. Ten, Rosso Antico and Campari, the cocktail is smooth and pleasantly bitter. I also enjoy The Outsider ($17) teaming gin, Campari and Lillet Blanc with bitters and lemon juice for a tart aperitivo that works against a bowl of Gorgonzola Stuffed Olives ($14). The piquant green fried olives arrive perched upon their promised stuffing, which, to my eye needs more bitey gorgonzola and less creamy filler to really sing.



Wild Mushroom Arancini ($17) however are a big hit. The crisp risotto balls offer up perfect texture and bags of flavour using grilled mushrooms, a surprisingly sweet mushroom pickle, a dusting of cheese and earthy truffle mayonnaise. They even managed to woo my canape-weary dining companion, after he spent a decade working at Sydney Opera House where Matt Moran’s catering arm trotted out arancini at every single event.



Beef Brisket and Bone Marrow Meatballs ($18) in tomato sugo look mild-mannered but cause a smoky bone marrow explosion in your mouth.

 

The beef is lean and good quality, but I found the marrow-based richness so intense, I struggled to eat a second one, even with the help of the See Saw Pinot Rosé ($9/glass). Locally sourced from Orange, the blush pink wine is a lovely, savoury and elegant rosé. Eating the meatballs on Grilled Bread ($10) also helped out a little with their intense fatty richness.



Roasted Cacciatore ($15) eats like late night stoner chef food. Crack the egg yolk, give it a mix, then eat the sticky-sweet hunks of Italian salami on grilled bread, and they actually make sense. This dish is too sweet otherwise.



While pricy for the size, the Calabrese Salad ($26) employs such amazing oxheart tomatoes you’re probably not going to care, especially if you're from Sydney (like me) where tomatoes are almost uniformly terrible. Here the thinly sliced reds are set off with creamy burrata, basil and anchovies, and lubricated by a drizzle of black olive oil. It’s a textural and flavoursome dish that’s only hampered by a fraction too much acidity; however after eating those hectic meatballs, you might be grateful for the palate strip. With the kitchen already closed for the night, it made me slightly regretful I hadn't ordered dessert.


Vine & Tap
The Brooke Moore Centre, 142 William Street, Bathurst
Ph: (02) 6358 0875

Vine & Tap Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato



D.A.R.E. – or Delicious and Responsible Eating - is a quirky and idiosyncratic place that is really reflective of the owner, Ms. Lee Freeman, and her concerns. Her Maroubra café is a continuation from a business she began in The Rocks. In its former location, D.A.R.E. was a long-term, established small business of eighteen years, with a strong local following of people who worked in the area.



Unfortunately the revolving door bureaucrats at the landlord - Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) – proved too hard to deal with, and refused to renew Freeman's lease. As Freeman explains it, her neighbour, the Swagman’s Post Courtyard Café (another long-term business in The Rocks that was run by two Armenian brothers) was lost in the same way.



Losing the best kebab, and the best under ten-buck lunch in The Rocks, has of course been Maroubra’s gain. The second generation D.A.R.E. is haphazardly decorated with a homely amount of clutter.



There are quotes scribbled on the walls; an old-fashioned black telephone mounted on the wall; plants growing in cups; old photos in mismatched frames; and a lounge room type set-up in the rear.



You can peruse the menu scrawled chalkboard-style on the walls, or in printed form.



Campos coffee is a good place to begin, as they manage to extract robust flavour and balanced bitterness from the beans across both a Latte ($4) and a Flat White ($4).

   

From a little green-tiled juice station half way down the café emerges a steady flow of freshly squeezed juices. It lures me into a frothy, kale-topped Morning Boost ($8.50) that makes a healthy collection of carrot, celery, ginger, beetroot and apple into a likeable drink.



I’m a gluten free vegan,” Freeman explains, by way of introducing her menu, “so I like to keep it as clean and as natural as possible.” This notion is applied as far as possible on the generously proportioned Big Brekkie ($21.90), with organic bacon proving too pricy to be viable at the price point. You will find organic, lean beef sausages, free-range eggs whatever way you please (we chose scrambled), an oven roasted tomato, sliced mushrooms and crisp sweet potato chips made without using a deep fryer. While my dining companion was slightly disappointed Freeman’s no “preservatives and sweeteners” stance meant chilli sauce was out, he did get a tiny pot of chilli flakes.



The Avocado Smash ($14.90) here is nicely presented and filling, whether you opt to add Bacon ($5) or Smoked Salon ($5), or just consume it plain. The toast is smeared with a generous amount of smashed avocado and grilled haloumi under a pair of poached eggs. The dish is seasoned with za’atar, drizzled with pomegranate molasses, garnished with strawberries and surrounded by scattered edible flowers and mixed leaves.



In the glass front counter you’ll find an array of bought-in croissants and house-made treats.



Grazing across a selection of Banana and Mango Bread ($5); a sugar and dairy-free Big Slice ($5) made from muesli, peanut butter and dates; and a Raw Cube ($4) that didn't quite grab me, nothing is overly sweet.



And for a final feel-good moment at this locally-focused café, as we leave Freeman is busy collecting up every bit of plastic to put it in a bag to take to Coles for their plastic recycling program. It’s nice to see someone doing what they can to make their business contribute to people and the planet in a more positive way.

D.A.R.E. Delicious and Responsible Eating
765A Anzac Parade, Maroubra
Ph: (02) 8540 2936

DARE Delicious And Responsible Eating Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Event - Glamping in Mayfield Garden




My last memory of camping was with my biological family as a teenager, to somewhere in the vicinity of the Wombeyan Caves. The idea of staying in a tent didn’t really enter my mind again until a chance win of an overnight glamping stay in Oberon’s Mayfield Garden.



My visit took place during their recent Spring Festival, which ran from October 13-28. During the festival, alongside the 36 acres of Mayfield Garden that are open to the public all the time, an additional 120 acres of the Hawkins’ private gardens are able to be viewed.



While the family friendly camping area is right at the Cafe and Produce Store and car park entry to Mayfield Garden, an adults only camping area is just a short walk away, inside the garden proper.



There’s reasonable separation between the fifteen, cream-coloured tents.



The tent interiors glow with a warm golden light during the day. Each tent is furnished with a Hugo Sleep mattress lifted up on wooden pallets from the natural fibre floor coverings. Two leather stools, and wooden crate bedside tables complete the tent's interior, that’s tall enough to stand in around the central pole.



With endless blue skies and sun blazing down, we took the time to explore the rest of the camping ground.

    

There are cubicles offering press-button hot showers, a clean and permanent toilet block, normally used by guests of Mayfield Garden, and a central space where a power box is supplied to charge the essentials, like your mobile phone.



We set up our wooden table and canvas chairs in the shade, and settled in to watch the sun go down over afternoon drinks. Belvedere vodka and Lo Bros. organic kombucha drunk from enamel-coated tin cups feels very rustic.


Before it gets too dark – they do supply you with a rechargeable lantern - we head on down to the Café & Produce Store for dinner.



It’s a simply furnished room with products down one side, and a counter in one corner.



There are two communal style tables, plus a host of smaller ones surrounded by farmhouse-style wooden chairs. The Glamping Package ($290/couple) includes dinner, set up in heated metal servers on one of the big tables.



It’s a simple, one-course affair with bread and salad, though glampers can add on a Wine + Antipasto Platter ($55) to their package. Wines are all drawn from the local region, coming from as close as O’Connell and Georges Plains, as well as slightly further afield in Orange and Mudgee. We decide upon the Phillip Shaw Pink Billy Saignee Rose ($43/bottle) from Orange; it's a savoury, salmon-pink blend of Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.



Taken against the antipasto plate which offers up charcuterie, pickles, crackers, and simple cheeses, it’s an easy-to-like-sipper. The highlight of the plate was the earthy beetroot relish, eaten with herbed cream cheese on the house-made lavosh style crackers. Both the relish and the fruity olive tapenade are made onsite, using produce drawn from the estate.

 

Reducing the distance from farm to table sure makes a difference to salad. You can actually taste growth and chlorophyll in the collection of mixed leaves – they’re so good I actually eat two plates of them.



They’re served with smoky, tasty slow-cooked beef presented in long strands against a collection of cooked vegetables and potatoes, making for a healthy plate of simple food.



Over dessert, set around a metal campfire, we bond with our fellow glampers. They’re mostly from the regions or outer reaches of Sydney – places like Dubbo, Windsor and Wentworth Falls. We swap stories as we flame commercial marshmallows then roll them in chocolate sauce and flaked almonds for an Aussie version of s’mores. This American dessert's name comes because you’re likely to want ‘some more’ – though I hazard this would be more accurate if the kitchen had tried their hand at making their own marshmallows.



Campfire conversation continued back at the tents around blazing fire pits that helped us ward off the night-time cold.



The backdrop to your conversation sounds like a chorus of banjos being plucked, and it comes courtesy of the Eastern Banjo Frog. They sing up a storm for most of the night from the nearby obelisk lake (and people reckon cities are noisy). The star field is amazing with the only light nearby coming from lanterns inside the softly glowing tents.



We found it hard to get comfortable in the cold air, struggling with getting overheated in the queen bed topped with quality linen but disappointing pillows and way too many blankets and quilts. The benefit of this struggle to sleep was that we were up at dawn, taking in mauve and peach painted skies against another loud dawn chorus, this time from screeching birds.



Walking around the dew-covered garden in the gentle morning light worked out better than the shower, which without temperature you can control, can leave you feeling a bit like a cooked lobster.



Do note that the shower cubicle gets almost completely soaked, so choose where you bundle your clothes and shoes very carefully.



Our early start also meant we were first in line for breakfast, served back at the Café and Produce Store. While breakfast isn’t included in your package price – and to my mind, it should be – Garden Entry ($35/person) is, including buses up to the farther reaches of the family garden. I fuel up for the big walk ahead with a Bacon & Egg Brioche Roll ($12.50) set off with Mayfield relish.



My dining companion opts for the Mayfield Breakfast ($23), a not too-abundant collection of fried eggs, bacon, chorizo, and collection of cooked vegetables sitting on a crumbed mushroom that don’t quite work at breakfast time, even when doused in more Mayfield relish.



Drinks include a Latte ($6) and Orange Juice ($5.50) poured from a container rather than freshly squeezed. After checking out of your tent by ten, the day is then your own, to either explore the garden itself, or the surrounding countryside that includes the small, picturesque town of Oberon, just fifteen minutes drive away.

NOTE: See a previous review of this venue HERE.

Mayfield Garden Cafe & Produce Store
530 Mayfield Road, Oberon
Ph: (02) 6336 3131

Mayfield Garden Cafe & Produce Store Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - La Favola




La Favola eats better than it looks; but that’s not to say the space is unattractive. The King Street restaurant, which opened in February 2018, is clean and welcoming - brightly lit in warm, white tones.



White painted bricks, tiles and minimal decorations help the small room - densely packed with pale tables and little wood and metal stools - not seem too poky.



A blonde wood frame and hanging leafy ferns also help create a sense of spaciousness, distracting your eye from the exposed building fixtures, while still keeping height.



At the front of the room, a brick counter is backed by a row of wine bottles and a menu board that explains the steps to designing your own pasta creation. It was this menu format, along with sitting on a stool in a cafeteria-style arrangement, that had me fooled into thinking La Favola was going to be a fast and convenient pasta eatery, something like Newtown’s ever-popular The Italian Bowl.



So when our Carpaccio ($20) lands I’m a bit taken aback. With wafer-thin slices of raw beef dressed with truffle oil, crisp kale leaves, capers, rocket, Parmesan cheese and blobs of truffle mayo. it is round and particularly satisfying if you manage to get everything in your mouth at once.



By the time our second entrée, a special of Calamari, Rocket and Cherry Tomatoes ($25), arrives, it’s becoming clear that everything that comes out of Chef Fabio Stefanelli’s kitchen is as attractively presented as it is simple and flavoursome. The delicately cooked calamari is tender with a big coal-cooked punch. It’s presented in a cast iron skillet with garlic oil that’s still sizzling, adding to the wonderful smellscape emanating from the open kitchen. Scooped onto Sardinian flatbread – pane carasau – with lightly wilted rocket and bright cherry tomatoes, it is fresh and summery.

    

Spying a typical Italian drink shelf in one corner - Bacardi, Smirnoff, Aperol, Disaronno and Campari - I imagined the list of  Italian cocktails that could be made with that selection. I didn’t think of the Caprese Cocktail ($15) based on the tomato and basil salad by the same name, though it’s what I ended up drinking. Think of it as a white Bloody Mary – fresh and summery with a white rum kick – perfect for a blustery hot evening.



My dining companion kept it simple with a 2016 Collefrisio Vignaquadra Pecorino ($15) – floral, lemony, and great with seafood, which worked out well, because our chosen pasta was a house-made Gnocchi Seafood Ragu ($35). Topped with a perfectly cooked Balmain bug presented in the half-shell, the bisque-like sauce was great. While I found the gnocchi itself a little soft for my personal preference, it’s less about overcooking then it is about it being freshly made (two hours earlier) with ninety percent potato and ten percent flour.

 

We contrast it with a design-your-own pasta selection from the regular menu. Casarecce Tucker Dal Bush ($22) takes the restaurant’s authentic Italian brief, and situates it here in Australia by using lean kangaroo mince and bush spices in a bright, acidic Mutti Pomodoro San Marzano sauce. It’s nice to be eating a sustainable, environmentally friendly meat in a convivial environment, that’s filled up around us with diners of all ages and nationalities, from students to people popping in on their way home from work.

Thanks to AGFG for arranging this visit.

La Favola
170 King Street, Newtown
Ph: (02) 8021 0002

La Favola Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato