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Review - Avli




Avli is located on one of the two main thoroughfares running between Penrith and Richmond. It’s the only restaurant in the suburb of Cranebrook – to eat anywhere else you’d have to drive into neighbouring Penrith. “There’s not much there either,” our friendly waitress volunteers, adding: “when we want to eat out, we go to Parramatta.” So to say that this Greek restaurant is filling a gap in the market, is probably to understate its importance to the local community.



Emerging in 2017, Avli is partially housed inside a 1930s church.



If you venture into the main dining room, you can even eyeball the original wooden ceiling.



Owners Sophia and Kiriakos Tsaparopoulos have expanded upon the church’s original footprint with a verandah style extension and a covered backyard pavilion. A young and friendly floor team, clad in buttoned-up blue plaid, services the expansive seating area.



While lots of Sydney restaurants are couple world, Avli is definitely the domain of large groups. We try to get into the more lively atmosphere with a drink. Volkan Blonde ($9) is a beer that tells a Greek story. It’s flavoured with Santorini honey and Greek citron, and as a result, has a lovely aroma and well-cushioned bitterness. It’s also a beer with a lovely ethos – for every Euro of profit they make, half of it goes into paying down the Greek national debt.

 

With wine labels etched into the tables using pyrography - writing with fire, derived from the Greek pur (fire) and graphos (writing) – Avli are clearly are passionate about wine. Having driven a long way to get here, we opt for glasses rather than a bottle from their wine list. We contrast the Alexakis ‘Vidiano’ ($12/glass), which our waitress touts as the drier of their two Greek whites available by the glass, with the Knee Deep Chenin Blanc ($11/glass) from their new world selection. The vidiano (an indigenous Greek grape) was fruity but a bit one-dimensional, while the flinty citrussy Chenin blanc was enjoyable and really suited the cuisine.



What you’ll find on the plate is traditional Greek home-style cooking. Lahanodolmades ($17) are rice and beef mince-stuffed cabbage rolls, sitting under a thick faintly lemony sauce. Truth be told, they’re a bit boring for me – though I hazard many of Avli’s plain-eating guests might like them. Their smooth beefy interiors are finely grained and evenly dotted with rice, but to me they lack flavour and seasoning - even the paprika garnish is old and has lost its power.



Queensland king prawns cooked in ouzo and tomato salsa with feta, olive oil and herbs - Garides Saganki ($29.00) – fare better.



The sauce has been cooked for long enough to unlock all the umami in the tomatoes, so we put in a fast order for Pita ($4) to enjoy it properly.



Three skewers of charred Pork Souvlaki ($26) are balanced on a chips and a pita cone full of salad. While it does give the dish impressive height, the pita pocket is pretty much the bread equivalent of a towel swan. It also means it’s a bit soggy when you come to disassemble your plate in order to eat it wrapped around your tzatziki-smeared pig. With tomatoes being such a big part of a Greek salad, I’m a bit sad to find these ones hard and flavourless. Being surrounded by all this land, I was hoping for something tastier from a local market gardener.



There’s no tricky plating to Jimmy’s Plate ($38) despite the hefty price tag. It’s an honest, meaty goat stew with sundried tomato, capsicum, oven potatoes and feta, pitted against a homely, unadulterated mix of broccoli, carrot and cauliflower. There is a lot of food on the plate, so maybe this one would make more sense in a sharing situation.



Galaktobureko ($14) is one of my favourite Greek desserts. While the flavours are good, Avli’s rendition had the custard looking a bit curdled and the filo pastry seemed to have sat in the sweet syrup for too long, making it a bit texturally sloppy. With greater attention to detail, the stage is set for Avli to be Penrith's favourite Sunday lunch.


Avli
540 Cranebrook Road, Cranebrook
Ph: (02) 4729 1970

Avli Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Gweilo




The Evening Star Hotel was the kind of pub that literally made me quicken my step on the way to Central. An outward-facing smoking area constantly occupied by rusted on regulars meant it reeked of cigarette smoke. The flashing lights of pokies, only partially dulled by darkened glass, were their ever-present backdrop. So for me, the recent Paul Kelly Design refit, was long overdue.



The interior is now a curved, 50s futuristic, minty green, with murals and menu motifs that scream Blader Runner. Weekends are already pumping, I'm told by friendly bar staff, thanks in no small part I'm sure to the venue sitting just outside Sydney’s hated NSW Liberal Government lockout zone. While I’ve visited three times during daylight hours, it’s obvious that the superb wet Asian cityscape mural will look even better in the dark.



Weekday lunches are – thus far – a much more subdued affair, despite a Lunch Special ($20) that gives you one of their ‘bigs’ plus a bowl of rice and a house beer or wine for twenty bucks. In case the ‘white ghost’ translation of Gweilo has been lost upon you, what you’ll be eating is a blend of Western techniques and flavours mixed in with pan-Asian cuisine – as you'd find on the ground in Hong Kong.



In some cases – like the Wagyu Beef Shin, Carrot and Tooheys New Rendang ($25) - this fusion is remarkably successful. While the dish looks small, when you start eating it you’ll find it contains a generous amount of very well-handled beef shin in a rich, but not thick, beer-based rendang gravy. Being a bit sick of sous vide beef cheeks masquerading as curries but tasting solely of beef, I was pleased to find the shin showed deep flavour penetration from a 10-hour cook in rendang base stock. Well-rendered connective tissue was luxurious in my mouth, and the bold, mouth-tingling heat was fantastic.



In other dishes, like the Singapore Chilli Prawn, Egg Noodle, Poor Man’s Parmesan ($30), the fusion was less successful. The dish's aesthetic felt more like Americanised red sauce Italian, with soft tinned spaghetti lost in too much tomato sauce. Restrained chilli and crisped up breadcrumbs didn’t help, though it did also contain five gently-cooked, good quality king prawns.



I smashed out my lunch specials with their on-tap beer range, which runs from Kosciuszko to Furphy Refreshing Ale. The latter is by Little Creatures (owned by Lion Nathan/Kirin) and named for the company that supplied their stainless tanks & fermenters, Furphy Engineering. It's hazy, amber, with a tiny hint of bitterness, gentle hops and subdued fruit. It was a bit bland even for my pale ale palate, so I found myself preferring the pale and refreshing Gweilo branded beer.



From the 'smalls' I loved the punchy XO hit from the Smoked Pumpkin and Corn Dumplings ($12/4) topped with lots of green for us gweilo eaters who like seeing something resembling a balanced meal in every dish.



Round them out with a 'KFC' Bao ($6/each) with kombu fried chook, pickled cucumber and lashings of Bulldog sauce, and you have the kind of midweek lunch that begs for a cheeky cocktail.



The Hotto Pineapple ($22) is my go-to from the nicely inventive list. It teams chilli-infused Plantation Pineapple Rum, Green Chartreuse and Ardbeg 10 into a wickedly fruity mix that doesn't lose the whisky. It's kicked up even further with a spicy Togarashi rim that might mean you'll get an extra vegetable as you cool your mouth with cucumber slices.

Gweilo
Evening Star, 360 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9287 8177

Gweilo - Evening Star Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - The Nook




The Nook Manly offers up the perfect combination of style and substance. It probably didn’t hurt that co-owner Harrison Maher’s partner is an interior designer...



Taylor Heywood has really excelled in producing a stylish small bar with a New York deli vibe, all the way from the perfectly chosen font on the exterior signage, to the retro mosaic floor tiles on the floor.



Soft lighting from dimmable white ball pendants hanging over your gold-edged table, and a warm red glow from the exposed brick mounted neon that proclaims: It was all a dream; combined with distressed white-gold mirrors give The Nook a blurry charm, like memory.



Having Kieran Bailey – the other half of The Nook – designing the drinks, doesn’t hurt that blurry aesthetic either. Bailey’s extensive experience in bars includes Jamtown, Sugar Lounge, Miss Marley’s, Harlem on Central and Brklyn, and it shows in The Nook’s next-generation, sophisticated list.



The aptly named Smoke’n’Mirrors ($19) takes a hard-hitting list of ingredients – Chivas 18-year whisky, Benedictine, Antica Formula vermouth, dandelion and burdock bitters, and a Chartreuse rinse – and smooths them into a deceptively easy-to-drink cocktail. For something more frivolous, the TN Swizzle ($19) takes plantation pineapple rum, and mandarin oleo-saccharum (an ‘oil-sugar’ that extracts the fragrant oil from mandarin peel) and swizzles it with powdered lime, fresh grapefruit and bitters.



It is bright and punchy, something you might actually need to cut through the excesses of pork-on-pork in the Piggie Smalls ($22). This crackling topped pork roll is taken from The Nook’s succinct, nine-sanga menu. It teams four kinds of pig - chilli, fennel and sage porchetta, maple pancetta, pork and apple stuffing, and everyone’s favourite bit of pig: bacon – with garlic collard greens, making for a rich and intensely porky mouthful.



Despite being a pork aficionado, it was actually the well-crafted Club 49 ($23) that won my heart. This classic sandwich teams hot smoked turkey, streaky bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, a fried egg and cranberry-mayo into a well-balanced triple-decker that – while slightly too tall for my mouth - did leave all of Sydney’s five-star hotels in the dust. We shared it against frosty glasses of the Pirate Life Pale Ale ($9), and even then it was so substantial, we felt a bit of buyer’s remorse about ordering sides.



Now, that’s not to say the shareable items aren’t great. Tossed Sprouts ($12) are a health-inspiring plate of charred Brussels sprouts with maple bourbon, scattered with toasted almonds and non-quite-enough creamy blue cheese. They’re big so a tad too crunchy for my liking, but it is getting past their peak season.



PK’s Stack ($18) is even more fun! This large plate is loaded with shoestring fries and scattered with the burnt ends of the house-cured and smoked pastrami they make for PK’s Reuben ($19). There are also McClure’s pickles, house mustard, Lillie’s Q Smoky sauce and Swiss cheese on this baby, which can be amped up even further with a dabble in the on-table vinegary hot sauce.

A final shout-out to our personable waitress, who was bubbly despite having already worked since 9am (at a second job to afford the rent in her Manly abode). Despite plenty of other guests, she was generous with her time. Her personal story, menu favourites and recommendations for our next visit washed over us like warm honey, making us feel all the more inclined to return.


The Nook
49 Sydney Street, Manly
Ph: n/a

The Nook Manly Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Sixpenny




The year was 2007; and my first introduction to Daniel Puskas came in a little Newtown restaurant called Oscillate Wildly. I ate a Denver (trimmed and deboned) leg of venison with pumpkin puree and chocolate soil that haunted me for years. Despite knowing this talented chef graduated to Sixpenny in Stanmore in 2012, I held off going for no reason other than growing weariness with degustation dinners; both with the oft-excessive amount of food and the time they take to orchestrate.



And so it was that a decade – even more – came to pass before I found myself in a charming parlour dining room eating my second Dan Puskas dinner. This time it's a 6-Course ($125/person) affair where I am but one of twenty diners arranged at lustrous wooden tables encircling a wooden service hutch where gleaming glasses hang in wait.



A flurry of snacks lands almost immediately. Lightly pickled cucumber in rose geranium and pepperberry dust cleverly position hunger-inducing vinegar before fluffy gougères delight.



Finely shaved Irish cow-milk cheese masks perfect choux pastry spheres with green tomato inners.



Pumpkin scallops offer retro chip shop charm without the grease or mouth-drying salt crust (yeah, okay, I missed the salt).



Bread, which comes in two waves against easy-spreading mascarpone butter, starts with a tasty white house-made loaf where the crust is the highlight and the centre is fluffy but somewhat bland.



It returns a couple of courses later as last week’s bread, where the body is now as complex as the malty molasses crust. Yes, last week’s unused bread has been recycled, and re-baked with roasted coffee grounds, playing hard to our current Inner West mantra: reduce, re-use and recycle. Both give our 2017 Domenica Roussanne Marsanne ($100) different opportunities to shine – and there’s nothing I don’t like about this standout Aussie wine.



Venison also makes an shy appearance in my second Puskas dinner, as a discreetly tucked tartare sitting under a super-thin Jerusalem artichoke crisp dusted in salty cheese. In flavour terms, it's anything but shy and retiring, having been treated to their house-made chilli sauce that is fermented under butter for three days right here in Stanmore. The sauce's brightness comes from it being a blend of smoked and fresh long red chillies and onions - it's tasty stuff!



Rye-poached potato is gently enhanced by raw oyster, then served with raw discs of button mushroom and crisp kale and zucchini flower sails. It’s deceptively simple and focuses your attention on the key ingredient - the Dutch cream potato.



Beautifully cooked swordfish arrives tangy and sour with foamy buttermilk and rainbow chard. This intriguing dish brings out even better flavour in our wine.



Service at Sixpenny is refined but warm, with words chosen using particular care. The seasonal truffle addition ($25/person) is suggested in such a way that diners are left feeling their Rangers Valley chuck tail with mushroom and marsala will be wonderful, regardless of whether they opt to include the pricy fungi or not.



An egalitarian attitude in the kitchen also sees more than just Puskas make dish delivery forays onto the dining room floor, and gives everyone ownership over the pleasure they create. First come pearl onions cooked in soy and bonito, with a bowl of crisp leaves. Then the beef, cut from the rib portion of the chuck, lined with black truffle scales. The meat has wonderful bite – toothsome without being chewy - and suits the 2017 Farr Rising Gamay ($85) that is whole bunch fermented with savoury, gamey intrigue.



Dessert, like the rest of the menu, is both artisan and delicious. The kitchen makes mead, then mead vinegar, they uses the resulting liquid to flavour a golden custard. It sits in a puddle of strawberry consommé topped with tiny frozen raspberry niblets, and tickles all of your tongue’s taste zones.



Not being a huge fan of syrupy sweet wines, I’m cleverly shepherded into the 2015 Domaine Ogereau Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert ($15), a Chenin Blanc that starts sweet, but makes you salivate with a dry finish. It powers me into our second dessert, where, hiding under frosty passionfruit granita you’ll find a caramelised white chocolate disc and raw liquorice cream.



Despite us capping our courses at six, there was also a glistening chocolate mousse cake log to acknowledge me taking another trip around the sun. It had me musing that special occasions arise too seldom to put off revisiting this talented chef, who joins the ranks of Saint Peter, Lumi and Ester in putting out the kind of mature, elegant and contemporary dishes I wish to be eating.

Sixpenny
83 Percival Road, Stanmore
Ph: (02) 9572 6666

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

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Review - Ground Caffe




Cindy Oura has a story that I’ve heard repeated many times over the last few years. Cindy spent eight years as a financial controller after gaining a degree in accountancy in the United States. When she took over Ground Caffe, Cindy was acting upon a desire to “jump out of corporate and do something more fulfilling.



Like many tree-changing restaurateurs, Cindy reports the last eleven months have been a steep learning curve. “They need to love you first before they try new things,” said Cindy somewhat ruefully, before going on to detail her struggles converting this Lane Cove café from a bacon and egg roll shop, to something approximating her dream café.



Away from the hustle and bustle of Lane Cove's popular pedestrian mall, you'll find Ground Caffe next door to the Lane Cove Library. Unlike so many of the suburb's mall-side cafés, Ground Caffe actually gets the sun.



It's also dog-friendly, wheelchair-friendly and pram-friendly because the café's small indoor footprint is supplemented by a large, covered outdoor dining area.



Coffee was the first thing Cindy decided to fix in the café, which, formerly, was not known for either food or coffee. With onsite staff training from the roaster, Toby's Estate, you'll now find them putting out a well-made, robust Latte ($3.80). Coffee is supplemented by organic loose leaf teas by Rabbit Hole, like Ginger Snap ($4.50), with additional water offered by the staff if you feel like extracting a second pot.



Next Cindy set her sights on fixing the kitchen. Unhappy with the standard it was putting out, she fired everyone and worked in it herself for two months. The Healthy Breakfast ($17) is Cindy's own creation, though with a difficult pregnancy driving her out of the kitchen, it has been jazzed up by her new chef. The dish has everything you like about smashed avocado, teaming it with a poached egg on soy linseed toast, with the colourful additions of beetroot and pumpkin hummus, radishes, spinach, tomato and herbs. Toasted seeds and Danish feta help up the protein content, ensuring this vegetarian breakfast plate will keep you satisfied until lunchtime, when the bowl menu kicks in.



I rate the Vegan Poke Bowl ($18) at Ground Caffe, despite it having nothing to do with sliced or cut fish as the Hawaiian term 'poke' suggests. Lined with vivid beetroot hummus, the highlight is the moist, tasty house-made quinoa falafel. You'll find them hiding under dribbles of green goddess dressing inside a nest of top notch produce - cucumber, carrot, cherry tomatoes, sautéed kale and bountiful fresh herbs. Roasted sweet potato cubes and toasted seeds help to ensure this vegan lunch is filling.



But enough about the healthy stuff, let's talk about waffles! Chicken Waffles ($17) sandwiches some nicely spicy Cajun fried chook, pickles, cheese and a mountain of fresh 'slaw, inside two buttermilk waffles, then drizzles the lot with maple syrup. It looks decadent and it eats better than most renditions I've tried of this popular American dish, because the buttermilk waffles actually have flavour, and the clever arrangement ensures the upper waffle doesn't get soggy. You'll find your naughty breakfast on a separate, short menu of waffles that also includes some sweet renditions sure to be loved by the kids.


Ground Caffe
Shop 14, 24-28 Burns Bay Road, Lane Cove
Ph: (02) 9418 3099

Ground Caffe Lane Cove Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Vecino




Canterbury already has some top-notch fusion form, with the Pazar Food Collective playing with both Mexican and Turkish flavours. Just down the road in a somewhat soulless, windswept canyon of new medium density housing blocks, Vecino builds upon the suburb’s appetite for experimentation. Co-owners Tony Lee and Eunice Lim are trotting out a unique blend of Korean and Mexican cooking in a little glass box at the base of one of the residential blocks.



The restaurant’s name means ‘neighbour’ and from the steady queue of walk-in customers lining the corridor of counter seats waiting for takeaway, it’s clear that neighbours are exactly who they’re here to serve.



Decked out with neon signs, hanging plastic plant baskets and steampunk style furniture, Vecino looks like something that builds upon the work of the Drink'n'Dine group, all the way down to the dishes arriving in fake newspaper-print lined plastic baskets.



Closer inspection however reveals it’s more artisan than artifice.



The Vecino team have made all their furnishings themselves, from the steam valve tables, to the bike pedal counter stools, to the pipe cage surrounds of their drink trolley.

 

Rather than use a name bartender to create their bespoke cocktail list, Lim explains they came up with Makgeoritas by trying the Korean rice wine “with everything… rum, vodka, tequila.” I give them a whirl in the Honey Makgeorita ($16) topped with fruit and a brûlée banana. It’s surprisingly good, with the sweetness of honey providing an easy way in for those new to drinking makgeolli. Personally, as somewhat of a Korean booze connoisseur, I’m more enamoured with the funky, savoury Chestnut Makgeolli ($14) by itself in golden anodised aluminium bowls.

   

Soju, another common Korean alcohol, is infused into their colourful range of cocktails. We take on the Fiery Skull ($15), which oddly turns out to be so cool, blue and refreshing, you can’t even taste any booze. With beer and fried chook being a perfect pairing called chimaek, throwing a Korean Fitz ($8) lager into your drinking mix should be a given.



This should also make the Chi Mc neon signage make more sense.



While fried chook is definitely Vecino’s main game, they also do a fine line in tacos. Bulgogi Tacos ($13.50/2) takes the classic soy-marinated Korean barbeque beef and teams it with cabbage, black beans and guacamole, under a clever two-sauce tango of teriyaki and Mexican crema. Load up your soft taco shells even further with pickled jalapenos and salsa, that are both passed separately, before shoving it in your gob for super-juicy flavour fix.



The same tender, bulgogi beef is employed on the Kimchi Bulgogi Fries ($14.90). These loaded fries were actually my meal highlight, so order some even if your fried chicken platter comes with chips. In this dish, the golden chips are decked out with a colourful mix of sautéed kimchi, tender bulgogi, pico de gallo and coriander, then glued together with mixed cheeses before being liberally lashed with sour cream and Vecino hot sauce.



We threw in little pots of Sautéed Kimchi ($1.50), fresh Kimchi ($1.50) and Vecino Hot Sauce ($1.50) for a more authentically Korean meal. The only one I wouldn’t order again was their hot sauce – it eats like a chilli aioli, so it just wasn’t hot enough for me. Luckily there was plenty of chilli bite from the fresh kimchi.



Kimchi will also help your stomach cut the fat from your chicken adventure. We opted for the Assorted Chicken ($48), which, with one-and-a-half whole birds, was more than enough food for a whole two-person dinner. The welcoming Korean floor team allowed us to customise our three types of chicken to their original gourmet fried chook, sweet spicy chicken and chimmichurri bird.



With a good squeeze of lime to balance the sweetness, the sweet and spicy was an easy favourite. Chimmichurri chook was pretty much the original topped with salsa, so I’d probably recommend you only order one or the other (there are two other types to try). The platter is rounded out with two salads where produce proved top-notch, and some chips. While Vecino isn’t likely to win an award for the best Korean fried chicken in town, I was pretty sold on the whole pub-style package, especially as it offered more Korean authenticity, better drinks and way better tunes.


Vecino
Shop 1, 1-3 Charles Street, Canterbury
Ph: (02) 9718 0343

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

Review - Honkas Bar + Eats




Sex services premises have given way to dog grooming parlours, and small bars have ceded space to yoga and pilates studios as the NSW Liberal Government's envisaged gentrification of Kings Cross proceeds apace. Honkas Bar + Eats is thankfully one of the rebadged suburb's exceptions.



It sits on a now-quiet corner of Kellett Way in the large indoor-outdoor, multilevel space that was once The Village, and, before that, Favela.



While it’s still predominately a drinking venue with an easy-going vibe, the short, to-the-point menu does make some concessions to the new dog-walking, clean-eating denizens of Potts Point.



Which is how I came to be eating a bowl of Kale ($14) with chilli and sesame, while pondering how much things have changed.



While the kale might have benefited from being smashed a bit harder with some flame, it’s a good accompaniment to a moist fillet of Steamed Snapper ($24) served with boy choy. The fish is well cooked, but the dish's sweetness could be more restrained.



Throw in a glass of the smooth, leathery 2016 Tommy’s Lane Pinot Noir ($12) and you have a very respectable post-work, mid-week solo dinner for the sum of fifty bucks.



Of course if you prefer to roll the old Kings Cross way, kick off with cocktails. Served in a Champagne flute, Snowcock Called Bubbles ($18) is my pick of the short list. Against rum and Prosecco, Campari and pineapple gives the drink enough bitterness to get the stomach juices flowing, so you can tackle some of the menu’s more hectic dishes, like Karaage ($17) fried chook. It's jazzed up with a wasabi dressing that I find quite compelling.



The PoPo Trio ($17) with sake, gin and cucumber is soft and likeable. It’s the type of drink you’re going to need against a lightly flavoured pair of sake-cured Salmon Rice Paper Rolls ($9).



Mushroom and Vegetable Steamed Dumplings ($9/4), on the other hand, punch umami. Dragging their gossamer skins through a double layer soy sauce and chilli oil dressing has me smiling.

 

I’m also impressed with the updated Prawn Toast ($12). Someone has needed to fix prawn toast for quite some time, and here they cleverly made it both prawnier and less toasty. My only wish: chilli sauce on the table. Yeah, I know this is a modern place, but endorphins never go out of fashion.

We enjoy our crunchy prawn toast sangas with a fruit-driven 2017 La Belle Pierre Grenache Rose ($11/glass) and a more unusual 2016 Tenuta San Pietro Gavi ($13/glass) from Piedmont. Both work well to cut through the deep fried creamy crustacean.



We work our way through sticky-sweet Pork Belly ($25) with Asian greens that would have benefited from better fat rendering, and a bowl of Korean Fried Rice ($15).



As the rice is dominated by bacon rather than gochujang, it doesn’t strike me as particularly Korean, but it is tasty. So, in a nutshell, you’re not coming to Honkas for authentic pan-Asian food. You’re coming for a taste of Hong Kong, which is a modern cosmopolitan city with a mishmash of cuisines and influences, presented as bar food against good drinking options, great atmosphere and tunes.

Honkas Bar + Eats
1 Kellett Way, Potts Point
Ph: (02) 9331 1184

Honkas Bar + Eats Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Kagura




Kagura has a seriously impressive Japanese whisky collection.



Taking up a counter stool inside the modest glass box gives you a bird’s-eye view of the bottles while you check out the prices on the nearly fifty-strong list.



Buy yourself some extra decision-making time with an on-tap Suntory Premium Malt Pilsner ($9.50). The short food menu is supplemented by chalkboard specials scrawled on every available surface of the somewhat cluttered space. Some of the blackboards are given over to chalk depictions of Shinto gods, homage to the restaurant’s "god-entertainment" name. Overhead a colourful collection of paper cranes hang from a chequerboard ceiling.

 

We place ourselves in the hands of Chef Yoshi Harada. Yoshi-san was one Chef Hiroshi Miura's (ex-Rosan) two apprentices. Miura-san’s other apprentice was Raita Noda, a man whom Yoshi affectionately calls “my older brother”. They have each taken their teachings into small restaurant spaces where drinking and eating go hand-in-hand. “This is more like a drinking establishment, but I put extra attention on the food,” says Yoshi-san as he hands over a Blue Swimmer Crab Cocktail ($15). It's an intense blend of crab and crab innards topped with roe, that eats pungently, like being in a rock pool on a hot day.



With Cuttlefish Cod Roe ($12), Yoshi offers us Sake B ($18/glass). Yoshi labels his three sakes as A, B and C because he keeps changing them. Today's 'B' is made in the yamahai method, that takes a bit longer, but produces funky, mushroomy intensity. It works to clean the palate after forays into creamy cuttlefish, salty cod roe and pools of hot chilli oil, dotted across the artistically arranged plate.



The Octopus Carpaccio ($12) dressed with dashi vinegar is at once creamy, soft and chewy. This dish is an easy favourite, as it celebrates both the subtle flavour and the textural beauty of this eight-legged sea creature.



It is best paired with something clean and simple, like the 2015 Katsunuma Koshu ($16/glass), a Japanese white wine made on an indigenous grape called Koshu.



As we work our way through slices of Grilled Ox Tongue ($16) marinated in Yoshi-san’s own miso, punctuated by sharp karashi (Japanese yellow mustard) I sink into the Bill Evans’ jazz soundtrack. The piano, double bass and drums interweave wonderfully with conversation inside this intimate space, allowing diners to get acquainted with the chef. Perhaps it’s our dueling corn and barley shochu talking, but there seems to be a synergy between the fierce technique of the musicians, and those applied by our chef.



My cooking philosophy is try to get the umami,” Yoshi says as he hands over his House-Smoked Pork ($16). Eight pretty slices of pig take him about a week to create, starting with a sugar and salt cure, drying, then hickory smoking, before landing on the plate with fresh chervil and a tangy-salty beetroot relish. They’re lovely and moist, with a texture that makes you want to keep rolling them around in your mouth.



In a marriage of like-meets-like, Yoshi-san teams his smoked pork with Hakushu Distillers Reserve ($22) that he smokes with sakura wood right before your eyes.



It’s a satisfying drink, and a satisfying dish, despite the relatively small amount of food it contains.



The 2016 Hitomi Soif Blanc ($18/glass) is my first Japanese orange wine. It’s made on two American grape hybrids, Delaware and Niagara. The first mouthful is hard to like – fizzy acidic sharp mandarin – but it’s strangely compelling. Eating a slice of the Vinegar Cured Mackerel ($15) with it cleans up the acidity and brings up salty mandarin. The fish is served with soy, ginger puree and three different toppings – sesame, chives and nori. Like much of the cooking here, it’s a dish that makes no concessions - mackerel is an intensely fishy fish, though with this pairing, it's magic.



The emphasis on curing and smoking continues into Cured Duck ($15). It’s done in a similar way to the pork, but with some time in the dehydrator as well. Unveiled in a cloud of sakura smoke, the duck has the chewy beauty of rawness against the flavour of cooked meat.



This is duck taken to its absolute height, and it makes me feel humble, like I did when I ate Matt Moran’s scampi for the first time, quickly realising all the scampi I’d eaten before it had been overcooked. I savour my slices against small sips of Nikka Pure Malt Black ($22).



We wrap up with a Kagura Mini Ramen ($15), made with both chicken and fish stock, as we converse with the people next to us. Despite living in Bathurst, they have managed to visit Kagura twenty times.  We bond over liking the mackerel. There’s a beguiling looseness to this restaurant that really makes me feel at home. I foresee a repeat visit focused upon the Japanese whisky collection in my near future.

NOTE: This restaurant is so small, you really need to book. Here's a dedicated booking link: BOOK HERE

Kagura
72-84 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9212 1981

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

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Review - Yang's Dumpling Express




With a soft spot for Shanghai ever since visiting the amazing city, the next course in my progressive Burwood dinner was an easy choice. Yang’s Dumpling makes a great case for Shanghainese food on their social media. They’ve been in Shanghai for more than two decades, and are particularly well established in Burwood, boasting not one, but two outlets.



The one I visited is their hole-in-the-wall express outlet on Burwood Road. It has just two tables and a couple of bar stools for those waiting for takeaway.



The tiny store has a surprisingly hipster fit-out that includes the requisite fake flower-laden bike, caged Edison bulbs and shelves holding jarred food and plastic pot plants, along with a particularly fetching white maneki neko (lucky cat).



The menu is short, the service is brusque, but the dumplings really are excellent. You’re here for sheng jian bao or Pan Fried Pork Buns ($8.80/6). They’re crisp-bottomed, doughy dumplings filled with tasty pork mince surrounded by syrupy, pork bone broth. Every element is good – the textural balance of crispness to doughiness, the broth, the non-gristly mince, even the salt level...



If you nibble off the top of the bun, pour some chilli oil and black vinegar into the steam vent, and allow a decent amount of cooling time, you’ll save yourself from a searing pork broth explosion. Yang's Dumpling also make a version of these with shepherd’s purse, which is perhaps more interesting in flavour, though I think the purity of the original is also worth sampling. Get them both by ordering Pan Fried Pork Bun + Pan Fried Vegetable and Pork Bun ($8.80/3+3). The buns containing the greens can be identified by the white sesame seeds.

I’ve tried sheng jian bao in numerous places across Sydney, but these are my favourite so far. Next time dumplings call, I’m going to give their bigger restaurant on Deane Street, Burwood a whirl.

Yang's Dumpling Express
Shop 3C, 127 Burwood Road, Burwood
Ph: (0405) 029 115

Yang's Dumpling Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Lovin' Lamb




For a sleepy Sunday night, Burwood sure is alive with people. Burwood Road has the same vibrancy and colour once associated with Kings Cross, before the NSW Liberal Government got their greedy mitts onto it. As I walk along the streets of Burwood taking in the lively collection of hawker-style food outlets and throngs of people, I feel bereft that they were able to kill off the Cross' equally vibrant nighttime economy to line the pockets of their rich, property developer mates.



Anger soon turns to hunger and I notice every second person seems to be carrying a cup full of sticks that reeks of charcoal cooking. Lovin’ Lamb, a few doors down from the Burwood Chinatown development I have been frequenting, has a throng of people outside it gathered on the pavement.



As the name suggests, sheep meat is the store’s main agenda, though they also make ox-tendon skewers and a plum tea. While this street-food dish has its origins in Xinjiang, they’re consumed all over China. It’s not even the first time I’ve encountered them in Sydney, with Lamb & Cumin at the Taiwan Night Markets in Eastwood quickly springing to mind.



At Lovin' Lamb, the skewers of Lamb ($3/each) are richly seasoned with cumin and chilli and then grilled over coals in billowing clouds of smoke and fire. The Ox Tendon ($3.50/each) skewers highlight the spice blend even better, and surprise me by being fatty and soft rather than chewy.

My fellow street-eaters have no compunction about carrying their cups of skewers into other hawker outlets and munching on their snacks as they await the next part of their progressive dinner. It seems like a good idea to join them...


Lovin' Lamb
125 Burwood Road, Burwood
Ph: n/a

Lovin'Lamb Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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