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Review - CheatDay Sydney

For a business centred around a pavlova cheesecake, Cheatday Sydney sure make a mean burger. Modelled around the fitness (fallacy) that consuming tonnes of calories in a single day can shock your metabolism into action, this cafe is aimed at gym-types taking a break from structured eating programs.

You’ll find it located at what owner George Mavridis calls “the golden triangle” between Mortdale, Oatley and Peakhurst. While this burger joint is deep in suburbia, it faces onto a light industrial area; though Mavridis is quick to admit the local tradies still head to the old-fashioned sandwich shop next door for their burgers.

Cheatday Sydney attracts the office worker crowd, plus a mixed bag of locals on weekends, so popular they were recently extended to include Sunday trade.

The Original Cheesecake Pavlova ($14) is based upon the passionfruit cheesecake that George’s mum, Ellie, used to make at home. Her cheesecake spun into a business – Ellie’s Artisan Cheesecakes – and a market stall at the Peakhurst Foodies Markets. By this time, George’s brother (and chef) Angelo Mavridis had made a few modern-day renovations, and the cheesecake pavlova was born. While it definitely has been designed with Instagram in mind, it eats as well as it looks with a surprisingly light texture and plenty of tangy tartness. I'm a fan.

According to George, a café can’t live on cheesecake pavlova alone – even if you throw in a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake Pavlova ($14) version (that was way too hectic for me).

So when George opened Cheatday Sydney a year and a half ago, he went back to his brother Angelo and together they came up with a range of burgers to round out the menu at the gym-themed space.

The Big Mav ($19.90) – takes on the litigious fast food giant’s Big Mac – with double beef, double cheese, pickles, lettuce and special sauce on a triple layer sesame seed-covered bun. It’s an improvement on the original if you ask me, keeping its shape throughout the eating experience using much less sweet potato buns. You also don’t get that nasty oil-slick the stewed Maccas patties leave on your tongue. Seasoned Fries ($4/add on) are also oil-free, with salty-sweet steak seasoning to keep you reaching for more.

The Big Mav impresses me more than the Philly Cheesesteak Burger ($18.90), though that's not due to any lack of quality. Chef Angelo has opted to include two cuts of high-quality beef – Angus beefsteak and smoked brisket – and kept them thick-cut so you can really taste them. The resulting burger is beefy and smoky; though a bit of a stretch from the original’s thinly sliced rib-eye browned on the grill then laid over with slices of provolone and American cheese. Here they use a Danish harvati cheese that I found a bit bland, making me wish for a chilli-based top note somewhere in the middle of all the green peppers and grilled onions.

With a big coffee window onto Lorraine Street, fuelling up on caffeine is another big part of the Cheatday experience. Mavridis is proud to be serving Little Marionette, roasted in my own Inner West stomping ground. It performs well in a Latte ($3.80) with subtle hints of liquorice.

I like it better than the Strawberry Thickshake ($10) served in a shaker bottle, that, for an extra tenner, you can keep. Maybe it's one for actual gym people…

CheatDay Sydney
64 Lorraine Street, Peakhurst
Ph: (02) 8502 8043

Cheatday Sydney Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thanks to Spooning for arranging this visit.


Review - ShareTea

When I first started drinking bubble tea or ‘boba’ in 2012, it was something of a novelty here in Sydney. Despite being developed in Taiwan back in the 1980s, it didn’t really hit peak popularity here in this town until the last few years. ChaTime – the first place I tried it - did most of the heavy lifting in Sydney, though in the ensuing years, I’ve reviewed a good collection of bubble tea outlets from PresoTea, King-T and Gong Cha to the super-pretty PaletTé.

ShareTea is another of the big Taiwanese chains with outlets all over Sydney. I recently discovered their candy-coloured Burwood branch when I was cruising the main drag at 11pm, craving something sweet after a fiery hot pot adventure. A little bigger than some of the hole-in-the-wall outlets I’ve visited, ShareTea Burwood offers up stools and pastel-tiled tables to consume your icy beverage.

While at first the array of choices was bewildering, these days I’m remarkably adept at knowing what to order. ShareTea Burwood do help you out with their top ten drinks illustrated on their front door. Their point of difference is their Tiger Tea ($5.50) which combines fresh Australian milk with brown sugar syrup and those chewy tapioca pearls that I’ve grown to love.

Not craving dairy or anything quite so sweet, on this visit I went straight for the fruit teas. Starting with a base of Mango Passionfruit Green Tea ($5.30) I amped up the texture and dessert-like qualities of my drink with Mango Jelly ($0.60) and Lychee Jelly ($0.60), while reducing the sugar to 30%. The resulting drink was sweet without being cloying, though in retrospect I should have knocked out sugar completely to balance the jelly and syrup sweetness. The jellies had particularly nice bite, even so late in the evening.

Passionfruit Orange and Grapefruit Green Tea ($5.30) was even better, and because of the tart grapefruit, reducing it to 30% sugar was bang on with this drink. For this one, I went with the standard black tapioca Pearls ($0.60), and enjoyed their chewy texture. My only critique of these drinks is the tea flavour was secondary to the fruit; I prefer to know I’m drinking green tea. Ice is also fully customisable at ShareTea, and as I pointed out earlier, they’re open late.

171A Burwood Road, Burwood
Ph: (02) 9745 2009

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


Review - Sichuan Restaurant

We lost more than just nightclubs when Gladys Berejiklian’s Government implemented knee-jerk lockout laws. Late night dining took a big hit, which is why I found myself heading to Burwood rather than the CBD, when work commitments dictated a late-night (post 10.30pm) dinner. Sichuan Restaurant boasts a 1am kitchen, which was pretty much why I chose to eat here.

When we arrive, the long, narrow restaurant isn’t full, though it has an air of having been well-used. The decor in the over-lit restaurant is pretty simple.

Along one wall, rope dividers give some sense of separation between tables, while on the other, there are booths where the seating and scratched glossy black tables have both seen better days. The exposed brick wall is decorated with what look to be cast iron burners.

Staff are subdued rather than welcoming, but it could be the hour. After leaving us with two different menus, they take a bit of summoning to come back and take our order. From the glossy picture menu of dishes the kitchen prepares for you, we opt for a Fried Chive Pancake ($6) to take the edge off our hunger. Arriving on a fan-shaped plate, the flaky pancakes are quite compelling.

From the short list of alcohols, that boasts beer, a single wine (Penfolds) and a number of distilled Chinese spirits, we stick with old faithful - Tsing Tao ($5) beer. It’s the right accompaniment to hot pot that you order yourself by placing ticks in boxes on the long paper menu. Your hot pot base is served in stainless steel trays; and includes a Half Spicy + Half Chicken Soup ($12/small) option.

It’s worth opting for the chicken soup, full of floating goji berries and dried red dates, to give your mouth a break from chilli, especially if you opt for a decent level of heat. Scared of 'extra', we chose the second-tier 'medium' on both pepper (numbing) and chilli (heat), which proved to be lively without ripping our faces off.

More frequent exposure to hot pot has meant we’re also getting better at saucing. Combining Homemade Sesame Sauce ($1) with Chilli Oil ($1) and glistening red cubes of Fermented Bean Curd ($1) in our bowls made for an excellent accompaniment. Smashing up the bean curd added a funky, round middle to the resulting sauce, that really shone with meat.

Nicely marbled Wagyu Beef ($15) is the perfect way to give it a good whirl, coming up better in our spicy soup. I find it easiest to use the slotted spoon to transfer the steaming hot beef to my plate, then chopsticks to dip it in my sauce bowl, and transfer the cooled meat to my mouth.

I repeat the process with thin tubes of Pork Belly ($8) that suits the lighter broth, and really works against the sesame in my sauce.

Clams ($10) are best held three or four at a time inside your slotted spoon. While messy to eat, when given a short dip in the bubbling soup pots, they're delicious, particularly on the spicy side. Quail Eggs ($6) are delicious wherever you happen to stick them.

While it does look overwhelming when staff swamp your table with plates, stacking the overflow on the small metal trolleys underneath them, contrast and wide ordering is what makes hot pot great.

We punctuate our hero proteins with Chinese Cabbage ($3) and sharper Pickled Mustard Greens ($4).

Mushrooms scrub up particularly nicely in both styles of soup, whether they be thinly sliced King Oyster Mushrooms ($7) or feathery Enoki ($7). Try to keep the enoki together in bunches as you place them in the soup for ease of eating.

Kept on the cob, Sweet Corn ($4) is worth the struggle because it’s a wonderful juicy, sweet contrast to the spicy soup. It’s another ingredient that really eats well against the cooling nutty dipping sauce.

I also like to include ingredients that soak up soup, like Fried Tofu ($4) puffs, that work for these Chinese soups like throwing bread into Western chicken noodle soups does.

From the staples section of the paper menu, you can add some bulk like noodles or rice. I’m a fan of the glutinous Rice Cake ($4), which are the same as Korean tteokbokki, because they’re chewy and delightful on the palate.

Bar from ingredients like Live Barramundi ($30), nothing on the hot pot menu is particularly expensive, so you can go to town and have a really diverse dinner. Along with four beers, our entire meal for two people here scraped in at just over a hundred bucks. After some slow and concerted eating we left feeling energised with our mouths still tingling from the hot, numbing spice.

Sichuan Restaurant
248 Burwood Road, Burwood
Ph: (02) 9745 2009

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


Review - Capriccio Osteria & Bar

Last night there was a festive air to Norton Street that reminded me of its long past heyday. As we made our way down from the jersey caramel-toned Leichhardt Town Hall, every restaurant was operating at close to full capacity. Those doing best, like Capriccio Osteria & Bar, were the spots that offered up al fresco dining options, allowing diners to enjoy the lively flow of people and the balmy night air.

A sea of sky-blue clues us in that the Sydney Football Club have done what countless Inner West Council initiatives have not, reviving the ailing dining strip with their A-League post-match overflow from Leichhardt Oval. While they weren’t successful in beating the Central Coast Mariners, a draw keeps the street mood light.

Fresh from a depressing Lebanese movie, Capernaum, at Palace Norton Street, that was centred around a young boy wising up to the reality of intergenerational poverty before he even hit puberty, we sink into outdoor seats and feed off the other diners’ happier vibe. Beer helps too – the Cricketers Pale Ale ($9) from Melbourne – a food beer that has a hint of citrus from being late hopped with Amarillo, and robust caramel from the use of three different malts.

It’s just the ticket with chef Nicole Bampton’s eye-catching Cured Ocean Trout ($26), where beetroot and vodka cured fish sits on a creamy bed of goat’s curd. Gleaming orange pearls of smoked salmon roe kick up the robust flavour of this deceptively pretty dish even further.

It’s the kind of carpaccio that works best when punctuated with House-Made Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia ($5) plucked straight from the wood-fire oven.

And being the kind of evening that calls for a grazing style meal, we give the wood-fire oven a workout with a series of small dishes. Wood-Fired Figs ($16) arrive as a trio, lewdly split open like fictitious triffid flowers. Their pink innards have been exposed for the generous application of oozing Gorgonzola cheese, with a splash of vincotto before serving.

Equally good are Padron Peppers ($21) left to blister in the oven, before being served on a bed of Persian feta cheese. Grown in flood-ravaged Queensland, these are all mild versions of the famous Spanish green peppers that can sometimes surprise with intense heat. They have a very short season, so you’ll have to hurry in if you’d like to enjoy them here.

Generous whirls of ‘nduja mayonnaise make eating Wood-Fired Chicken Wings ($16) lively and exciting. They’re served with sweet pickled celery to balance the spreadable salami's spicy burn.

Pasta is always a particular highlight at Capriccio. The small kitchen team makes most of their ever-changing pasta range by hand, including measuring and cutting pappardelle five sheets at a time. While Ravioli ($29), like the puffy pillows filled with chalky ricotta and spinach then served with simple brown butter, hazelnut and currant, are a bit of a staple, corzetti had me scratching my head.

Luckily charming owner Michele Rispol is generous with his time on the floor, and happy to offer up an explanation of this less-than-common (in Sydney at least) Ligurian pasta. It’s made by hand-stamping circlets of pasta cut from long sheets.

As the pasta has to be quite soft to take the stamp (hand-made for the restaurant in Italy) it then has to dry, meaning they’re making their labour intensive Tomato Corzetti ($30) a day ahead of you eating them. Served with a bisque-like sauce made with banana prawns, cherry tomatoes and zucchini, these silky corzetti are the highlight of my meal, with the circles in Capriccio's spiral logo helping to make the light sauce stick.

If, like me, you like learning more about Italian food and culture, Capriccio Osteria & Bar are having their next regional feast on Thursday night. The theme for this one in Venice Carnivale, so you can wear a mask or costume if you like, and be in the running for a $150 cash prize. This would effectively make your dinner for two people free, as the 5-course meal that includes booze is $75/head. Michele tells me there are still a few seats left, but you'd have to book in by Thursday morning to attend.

NOTE: You can see a previous feast at this restaurant back HERE.

Capriccio Osteria & Bar
159 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 9572 7607

Capriccio Osteria & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Eiju Fusion Japanese Dining

In Sydney there’s a small, talented group of Japanese chefs producing high quality Japanese fusion cuisine. Raita Noda, with his eponymous restaurant, Raita Noda's Chef's Kitchen is probably the best known, but there’s also his 'younger brother' Yoshi Harada at the soon to be defunct Kagura in Surry Hills; former Blancharu chef, Harubobu Inukai, who is now at Gaku Robata Grill in Darlinghurst; and young gun, Tomoyuki Usui, at Restaurant Plage in Cremorne.

You can also add chef Hideki Okazaki and his picturesque little restaurant, Eiju Fusion Japanese Dining, to that esteemed list. Okazaki has cooked in Japan, Italy, and here on Australian soil, honing his Italian skills with Steve Manfredi at Manfredi, and his French technique with Tony Bilson at Ampersand.

It’s all brought to bear on the great value 5-Course Set Menu ($59/person) he’s trotting out in Pyrmont.

With awning-covered al fresco tables on the quieter end of Harris Street, this 32-seater restaurant is date night’s new address.

It’s a textural space, with painted white brick and wooden paneling walls, and narrow asymmetrical shelving holding the chef’s own earthenware and a boutique selection of well-chosen wines. Overhead exposed bulbs, and one wooden fan light-shade, give the space an appealing warm orange glow. Soft jazz scatters notes like a trickling waterfall, blending in seamlessly with the gentle titter of laughter from the young and friendly floor team.

We inadvertently put them to the test right away, with a corked bottle of Steve Crawford’s obscure, small-batch 2017 Frederick Stevenson Marsanne Roussanne ($85), that’s handled well. Once bitten, twice shy, so we retreat to Lark Hill’s 2017 ‘Dark Horse Vineyard’ Mr V ($68) that throws viognier into their co-fermented field blend of the same two white Rhone varietals. It’s lightly embarrassed from a little skin contact, and easy to drink, particularly against my favourite dish: mentaiko spaghetti.

I am from Fukuoka where mentaiko is famous,” our waitress says proudly, as she gently places the umami-rich pasta dish before us. The spaghetti sits under a cloud of tart lemon foam balanced on a handful of shiso. It’s flavoured with spicy cod roe - just like the mentaiko rolls I love so much at Azuki bakery – and butter; and eating the degustation portion makes me wish I had ordered a whole bowl of it.

The set menu kicks off with scaled down version of the Carpaccio of Scallops ($16) where delicate slices of scallop are set off by red and yellow teardrop pepper flavour bombs. Their shape is reflected in comets of green basil apple puree, and shapely pearl onions, making for a well-designed dish that still centralises the flavour of the scallop.

You’ll note the same startling graphic design in the plating of the Miso Duck Breast ($18) where dots of yoghurt sit in stark contrast to black sesame. Down the other end are thickish slices of duck punctuated with preserved cherry compote and baby bocconcini. It eats as well as it looks, with bursts of orange rind and black sesame gentled by yoghurt mingling nicely with the cold duck slices. Bread, passed separately, stops you feeling bad you haven't scraped up every last skerrick from the plate.

Mains see diners make a choice between a simple plate of moist grilled salmon sitting under nicely crispy skin, and pig. It should be immediately obvious which one is better, no?

Presented as pork belly confit with roasted corn, crisp cubes of polenta and cauliflower puree, the pork dish is steered Japanese with a hint of teriyaki. It impresses with good porky flavour in the well-rendered, crisp skinned portion of pig.

Dining right before Valentine’s Day did offer us an advantage, with chef Okazaki-san sending out a tester of his V-Day dessert creation instead of the menu’s usual watermelon clouds. Presented on a circular plate, the attractive wreath of desserts contained love hearts of bright, dairy-free, raspberry mousse, along with white chocolate semi-freddo, dairy-free pineapple mousse that ate like a tart granita without being icy, and my favourite – cubes of moist and comforting green tea cake, all sitting on vanilla custard. Even without all this dessert fanfare, on an everyday night, Eiju offers up an affordable date night where you can get a well-presented and tasty five-courses plus a bottle of wine for less than two hundred bucks.

Booking through the kind people at Washoku Lovers (who also arranged my meal) will also give you a complimentary welcome drink: http://booking.washokulovers.com/client/eiju/?ref=DoesMyBombLookBigInThis

Eiju Fusion Japanese Dining
196 Harris Street, Pyrmont
Ph: (02) 8590 3433

Eiju Fusion Japanese Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Spring Yunnan

Escaping a tropical style downpour, we open the door into Spring Yunnan, and feel like we’ve stepped into another world. The beautifully decorated space is alive with riotous colour.

In the diverse décor elements, modern meets traditional, with the overall effect reading less like an interior designer’s clever theme, and more like a genuine attempt to reflect the diversity of China’s south-west province.

Dangling above your head are rows of embroidered tassels in eye-popping pinks and oranges, found on both people and buildings in Yunnan. The lights are made from shiny silver alloy crowns, worn by Miao women on special occasions. The Miao are just one of the ethnic minorities who can be found in the ethnically diverse Yunnan province, home to significant populations of twenty-six of China’s fifty-six recognised ethnic groups.

With all that ethnic diversity, defining Yunnanese cooking is difficult, though you can expect to find lots of (usually wild, foraged) mushrooms and soups flavoured with Yunnan ham, a dry-cured ham that is a bit like prosciutto. As it boasted both, the Rice Noodle Soup with Chicken and Mushrooms ($22.80) seemed like a good place to begin my next adventure into Yunnan cuisine. The fragrant, gentle soup arrives in a clay Yunnan steam-pot with a hollow tube in the middle that allows the condensation of steam to form a soup around pieces of super-tasty bone-in chicken, mushrooms, ginger, rice wine and medicinal herbs like ginseng.

Rice noodles (mi xian) are passed separately (so they don’t get soggy) and you can either add them into the steam-pot itself, or your own bowl, and spoon in soup. Top it off with spicy pickled mustard greens (baby gai choy), which are salty and spicy with a strong mustard bite, and some fresh green herbs, and you have yourself an amazing bowl of easy-to-like noodle soup.

Along with steaming bowls of broth, the kitchen – edged in brightly coloured screens – also makes a range of chilli-rich Sichuan dishes, along with some of the Cantonese dishes you probably grew up with. Deep Fried Chicken ($22.80) is basically kung pao chicken – though the tasty clusters of tasty, deep-fried kidney beans might be new.

Mandarin pancakes, which you’ve probably consumed wrapped around Peking duck with hoisin sauce, arrive here with a nutty stir fry of Shredded Pork ($20.80) and fermented soy bean paste. Load it into one of the super-thin pancakes with shaved spring onions and shredded cucumber.

While Spring Yunnan isn’t licensed, we were kept happy with Iced Smoked Plum Juice ($5.80) that starts off with juicy plum then has a good amount of smoke on the back palate. Their house-made grapefruit syrup is full of bitter pith and peel. Tamed with honey, it’s served lengthened with lemonade in a delicate and pretty Iced Honey and Grapefruit Tea ($5.80).

We end our meal with Yunnan Pastry ($8.80/2) round discs stuffed with sweetened Yunnan ham. While the ham, produced in Xuanwei city in north-eastern part of Yunnan, is pasty and gently sweet, the outer layer is incredibly short pastry made with flour, lard and sugar.

The resulting pastry of oil-free and eats like shortcake, which makes it feel comforting, even if it is a little exotic to the Western palate. Combined with a cheerful, friendly floor team who are happy to explain how to eat things, Spring Yunnan makes for a gentle and homey introduction to Yunnan cuisine.

Spring Yunnan
215A Thomas Street, Haymarket
Ph: (02) 9280 4537

Spring Yunnan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - The CheeseSteak Factory

With a lunch looming in Leura, a few suburbs further up the Blue Mountains, I didn’t have the stomach real estate to give The CheeseSteak Factory the going over it deserves.

Suffice to say, even on a short visit, their snack range alone makes it a worthwhile rest stop.

We pulled into this Lawson venue mostly because we were out of Stubbs Smokey Mesquite Barbeque Sauce ($9.99) an essential saucing component on my favourite, house-made bacon and egg rolls. They also stock the Beaver Brand range – another set of essential saucing for anyone who likes to eat hot dogs at home (and by hot dogs, I mean high quality German frankfurters or chilli cheese kransky from Mentges Master Meats in Taree). This time I picked up their Sriracha Mustard ($8.99).

The restaurant’s boutique product range, which mostly focuses on chilli products, also includes Herr's. They’re a Pennsylvania-based brand who make the best chilli cheese curls I’ve tried. While their Buffalo Blue Cheese Curls ($5.99) are still my favourites, Herr's Jalapeno Poppers ($5.99) have a wonderful green jalapeno chilli bite. On this visit I decided to road-test Herr's Bacon Cheddar ($5.99) because I hadn’t seen them anywhere else, and (most) everything is better with bacon, right? This proved to be one of the few occasions where the rule doesn't hold true - with no lively chilli, the bacon cheddar chips are tasty but not as good as the first two I mentioned.

Obviously the big-ticket menu item here is the Philly cheesesteak – a long bread roll filled with sautéed onions and thinly sliced beef that’s cooked on a flat-top grill, before being topped off with oozing cheddar cheese sauce. Doubting my ability to eat one and then have a three-course lunch, I settled for some CheeseSteak Fries ($8.50). What arrived was a cardboard box of crisp shoestring fries topped with thinly sliced grilled scotch fillet and a generous serve of golden American cheddar sauce. It was so tasty, it made me regret my life choices not to order the sandwich.

To offset all the oozing cheese, I hit up them up with the on-table Frank’s Red Hot Original cayenne pepper sauce, and the Remedy range from their well-stocked fridge. As well as making some of the easiest-to-like kombucha drinks on the market, this drinks producer - who started out on a kitchen bench in Melbourne - make vinegar-based switchels. Also known as ginger-water, these live cultured switchels are perfect to aid digestion. Remedy's switchels come in Finger Lime ($5.50) and Blood Orange ($5.50), with the finger lime and ginger combination proving slightly better.

Can't wait to get back here and shove a Philly cheesesteak into my gob!

The CheeseSteak Factory
Shop 4, 297 Great Western Highway, Lawson
Ph: (02) 4701 6211

The CheeseSteak Factory Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Travel - Mudbar & Restaurant

Just keep Mudbar in the back of your mind,” my newfound Tasmanian friend advised, as we bonded at a Taste of Tasmania dinner. We were discussing my impending visit to Launceston, and whether I should dine at picturesque, nineteen-year stalwart, Stillwater, or the city's more recent newcomer, Grain of the Silos restaurant with former Sydney chef, Massimo Mele, at the helm.

Reading menus as we took a winding route between Hobart and Launceston, their words echoed in my head, encouraging me to change my reservation(s).

Located at the Old Launceston Seaport Marina - a sixty-berth marina that was transplanted from Rushcutters Bay after being constructed as The Olympic Yachting Centre for the 2000 Summer Olympics - the restaurant sits at the base of the Peppers Seaport Hotel.

While the architecture isn’t anything remarkable, the darkened interior does keep guest attention focused on the floor to ceiling windows, and the view, aimed right at the Grain of the Silos.

With only a little bit of guilt, I take in the vista and the menu while stuffing my face with complimentary crisps.

Tasmania's bounty is a definite a menu focus here, so it’s hard to pass up a Martini ($19) made with a Tassy vodka or gin. The bar will make it just made just the way you like it (for me that’s dirty and extra dry) on the gin or vodka of your choosing, which in my case was Hartshorn Sheep’s Whey Gin. From their signature list, Aging Gracefully ($21), an aperitif that takes Ron Zacapa 23 Rum, orange cognac liqueur, aromatic bitters, smoked orange and rosemary and a squirt of Lagavulin’s sixteen-year-old whisky, proved a better oyster companion than the martini with its pine-like gin.

Looking a bit like a science experiment, the oyster shooters were actually the highlight of the Mixed Oyster Plate ($40/12). Rather than the ubiquitous Bloody Mary oyster shots, these oysters are immersed in the kitchen’s own wasabi reduction, which blends wasabi, soy, sakè and various spices. It’s my winner, though I appreciated getting to taste the Tassy Pacific oysters au natural, with a nahm jim vinaigrette, and finally with ponzu, pickled ginger and wakame, as I slurped my way around the plate.

Keeping my focus on Tasmanian produce, I opted to kick off my Two-Course ($60) meal with a Japanese sashimi plate. Arranged around a fairly bland bowl of sōmen noodles, are a row of thin slices of yuzu-seared beef and a colourful array of alternating fishes – yellowfin tuna and blue-eye trevalla – sitting in ponzu. While the ingredients are great, the fishes would have benefited from keener knife-work.

The Mudbarfarm lamb loin (from owner Doug Cameron's farm) and seared scallops felt like the kitchen just stuck a bunch of Tassy stuff that tastes really good on a plate – but who can argue with that? Scallops, in general, across Tasmania are about three times better than they are on the mainland, both in terms of flavour and texture. While I’m not quite convinced they meld well with lamb, both proteins are harmonious with the sweet (shiro) miso sauce, pork lardons, Japanese mint (shiso) and red yuzu; so it's a really tasty plate.

Centred around a mound of sticky rice, the blue mussel lemongrass curry bowl was my favourite mussel dish ever. Every mussel was open and perfectly cooked, taking away the usual diner indecision about whether to pry open a closed shell. The lively, Thai-style curry was made from scratch with whole spices, and when combined with briny mussel juices, it gave you an excellent reason to eat every mouthful of the clever sticky rice.

A prime yearling porterhouse steak (350g+) from the charcoal grill is well-cooked and tasty. It provides a perfect excuse to get amongst Mudbar’s excellent wine list, enhanced by Coravin technology, which allows you to taste some of the region’s pricier wines without shelling out for a bottle.

While it’s the first time I’ve coughed up sixty bucks for a glass of wine, I appreciated the opportunity to try the 2013 Glaetzer-Dixon ‘La Judith’ Pinot Noir ($62/150ml) from the Coal River Valley. The wine kicks off with blackberry and raisins; continuing with layers and layers of soft, unfolding texture over dry, lip-smacking acidity. There’s so much going on inside bottle number 434 (of the 574 winemaker Nick Glaetzer produced) it feels like a Sherlock Holmes mystery in a glass: tobacco, lead, leather and stuff I have yet to unravel. For contrast I drink a glass of the 2014 Bream Creek Pinot Noir ($14) that kisses you with dark cherries and chesterfield leather but feels hollow in the middle, and somewhat barbaric after La Judith (named for Nick’s mother).

In battle Chardonnay, the 2016 Hinton Bay Chardonnay ($22/glass) has an old-school style with butter, oyster shell and very evident oak, while the 2017 Tolpuddle Chardonnay ($26.50/glass) is leaner and racier, with good power, a lovely nose, and acidity that will soften over time.


Warm and personable service rounded out a great experience here that made me feel confident I'd selected the right place to dine. And, even with these indulgent wine blow-outs, the bill still scraped in under three hundred bucks.

Mudbar and Restaurant
28 Seaport Boulevard, Launceston
Ph: (03) 6334 5066

Mud Bar and Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Kelby's Cafe


After starting out as a staff member at the original Kelby’s Café, Moe Issa not only moved into an ownership role, he also expanded the business. The recent move into competitive Surry Hills comes after Issa put his own stamp onto the popular Marrickville original by redecorating it and bringing flavours from his own childhood onto the menu.


The new café is situated right at the bustling bus stop on the corner of Elizabeth and Devonshire Streets. While from the outside it looks like a takeaway shop, once you’re seated, you’ll find Issa has worked hard to drag your eyes away from all the traffic. Faux brick walls, a cheeky mural of the owner, and a gaggle of exposed Edison hanging over a large central table help to give this space the same cosy feel as his other café.


The extensive all-day breakfast and lunch menu has all your regular café favourites, along with a good number of Lebanese and Egyptian inspired items. The Chicken Shawarma Pocket ($12) takes pickles, tabouli and marinated chook, and stuffs it into a pita bread pocket for ease of eating, with extra lemon and yoghurt sauce on the side. Getting them to add some chilli wasn’t a hassle either.

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Being a hot day, I ate mine with a Make-Your-Own Juice ($5.90) combination of pineapple, mint, ginger and lemon, that was sharp and enjoyable (and freshly squeezed to order).

With the weather still warm, on my next visit I opted for the Mojo Mint Frappe ($6.90) made by blending apple juice, pineapple juice, mint and ice. It arrived with an embarrassed counter-hand and a tell-tale orange hue that suggested the juicer hadn’t been cleaned properly after the last drink. While they did offer to make me a new one, I drank the slightly off-kilter combination because I don’t like wasting food or drink.

I teamed it with the Kelby’s Hash ($19.90) a breakfast selection that’s flavoursome enough to also work as lunch. Presented in a cast iron pan, it’s a well-handled mix of baked, skin-on potatoes and tasty hunks of sucuk (Turkish beef sausage) gentled with golden fingers of pan-fried haloumi, baby spinach and caramelised leeks. The oil-free mix is topped off with two perfectly poached free-range eggs, dribbled judiciously with a light Hollandaise.

While at just shy of twenty bucks it isn't a cheap lunch, with the generous amount of buttered sourdough they present with it, you're not going to walk away hungry from it. With both visits producing something tasty, I reckon I'll return to explore the rest of the Kelby's Cafe menu - it's a good addition to this part of Surry Hills.

Kelby's Cafe
Shop 1, 414-418 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 7901 2359

Kelby's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Alexandra Hotel

As a frequent visitor to regional areas, I’ve long been worried about the effects of bypasses upon local businesses. In the case of Leura’s Alexandra Hotel, a Federation-era pub that now finds itself tucked on the westbound access ramp to the Great Western Highway, it seems to have been a catalyst for them to strive to better meet the needs of their local community.

With an original exterior, you’ll find this sprawling public house gets more renovated as you wander deeper inside.

While the front bar looks pretty original, the more expansive middle bar offers up a jukebox, pool and fireplace nooks furnished with comfortable brown, leather lounge chairs.

It’s serviced by a wood-fire pizza kitchen, manned by pizzaiolo Marco Marano, and to my eye at least, it’s turning out more credible looking pizzas than the better known, trendy Leura Garage.

Gentle railway theming – appropriate for what was once a railway hotel putting up short term visitors upstairs – sees the back bar indicated by a former Leura Railway Station sign.

This bar services visitors to Redfern Bistro, their formal dining room, and the back rooms teaming with birthday party guests. (Happy Birthday was sung three times during my visit, with friendly floor staff joining in with gusto.)

Right out back you’ll find the cleverly named Platform 3 lying just metres from the railway tracks.

It offers refrigerated glasses, beer taps and twenty-buck cook-your-own rump steaks that you prepare on a barbeque surrounded by shaded picnic tables.

This diverse food and beverage offering, headed up by Food and Beverage Manager, Ian McMahon, really gives locals plenty to choose from in a wide variety of settings.

We opt to dine in their bistro, settling in with glasses of Molly’s Cradle NV Premium Brut ($8/each) and Sydney Rock Oysters ($18/6). Nicely presented on a bed of rock salt, half of the oysters are served au natural, while the rest are topped with a sharp ginger mignonette. They eat better dressed, but only because they’ve been shucked a bit early and have lost their lovely liquor. The sparkling wine is crisp and citrussy - making it great against oysters - and feels like a bargain at the price.

From the kitchen, headed up by Anna Borna, we receive a generous ball of Spiced Liver Pate ($16). Served with caperberries, cornichons and grilled baguette slices, the silky-smooth pate has a delicate roast bone flavour that intertwines with Borna’s gentle spicing.

Pan Roasted Duck Breast ($34) arrives with crisp, well-seasoned skin and a juicy, tender interior. It’s part of an eye-catching plate adorned with caramelised citrus, duck fat potatoes, colourful heirloom carrots and house-made Peking sauce, that’s credible and tasty, with fresh, volatile ginger as a pleasing top-note.

It’s a well-proportioned, complete plate that might only leave you with a hankering for some Greens ($8). Today’s selection includes broccolini, beans and sugar snaps cooked so they retain their snapping fresh crunch under pine nuts and quality feta. The feta is made by Brancourts, a family-run business in North Sydney, who have been producing cheese for more than a hundred years.

By the time we get to the Seafood Linguine ($29) I really like this pub kitchen. The simple pasta, dressed with a classic garlic, parsley and white wine cream sauce and a selection of nicely cooked seafood. Baby squid, mussels and two types of fish are all cooked with care.

The biggest surprise turns out to be dessert: balanced on peanut praline, a crisp round ball of Sticky Date Deep Fried Ice Cream ($10) eats like pure late-night kitchen genius.

Frying off sticky date pudding around a ball of creamy ice cream throws in wonderful dark toffee notes that really sing against a generous drizzle of butterscotch sauce. It caps off a great meal at a locally-focused pub where the kitchen puts effort into technically good cooking on a please-all menu, appropriate to a public house.

Alexandra Hotel
62 Great Western Highway, Leura
Ph: (02) 4782 4422

Alexandra Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thanks to Spooning for arranging this visit.