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Review - Bistro St. Jacques




We needed a name that better said what we are,” owner Gary Prebble explained when I finally worked out Bistro St. Jacques was Pitt St. Diner rebadged. With gold lettering on pink, blue and white French doors, done in an appropriate French bistro font, backed by dainty black chiffon curtains, it’s an eye-catching shop front.



On display outside, the classic French bistro menu very nearly unseated my desire to visit Juan Bowl + Tea next door and was enough to lure me back on a second visit to Redfern the very next week. When we arrive for our booking, every table is full, and the restaurant buzzes with a convivial hum.



Edison bulbs held captive inside black mesh pendant light shades exude a warm orange glow that illuminated the pretty pressed tin ceiling. From the outset it’s clear this restaurant is serious about wine, with bottle racks on the wall of the long galley-like dining room, and in the intimate private dining room, which looks like a scene from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989).



The extensive wine list offers up some good descriptions of Prebble’s favourite wines, like the 2016 By Farr Viognier, Geelong ($125), which, though pricy is a wonderful drop packaging up power, concentration and surprising restraint. Prebble writes: “re-experience this varietal” and he’s right on the mone - without the heady perfume, it’s a non-characteristic Viognier that is worth trying if, like me, you avoid this varietal because of the floral elements.



Being lightly lemony with flinty minerals, this Viognier is made for oysters. Today they’re tight little Sydney Rock Oysters ($4/each) from Pambula on the NSW south coast. All they need is a squeeze of lemon, and they’re away, though the French shallot and Champagne vinegar they’re served with is sharp and enjoyable.



Thinly sliced rounds of house-made Bread ($2/person) are tasty and dense, especially when thickly lathered with the accompanying, bright apple and thyme-infused butter.



You’ll also get four little slices to accompany your Duck Liver & Pistachio Parfait ($16), which, if you carefully quarter the pink, unoxidised slice of parfait and spread it on thick, stays within the acceptable carbohydrate-to-parfait range. While the accompanying pickles are too sweet for me on their own, laid over your parfait covered baguette rounds like juicy, wet blankets, they work against the iron-rich flavour.



Coquilles St Jacques ($18) presents three tiny Tasmanian scallops gratinéed in their shells in a blend of butter, fennel, shallots, garlic and fresh breadcrumbs. While they’re pretty to look at, they’re cooked a bit heavily with the normally tender scallop meat getting a bit lost in translation.

With every table full, our mains take longer than they should, though we’re distracted by friendly staff and a discussion on the merits of Viognier, enhanced by a complimentary taste of the 2013 Alain Jaune Viognier, Cote du Rhone France ($69). I don’t like it as much as the By Farr I’m currently drinking, but as Prebble points out: “It’s half the price.” My dining companion succumbs to a glass.



When the Herb & Parmesan-Crusted Lamb Brains ($30) finally do arrive, they prove well worth the wait. The crisp crust hides pink, creamy interiors that respond beautifully to the tangy apple butter sauce at the base. Springy fresh parsley and crisp maple bacon complete the dish, both helping to ensuring that your mouth gets a complete flavour and texture workout. I love this dish.



It would obviously be remiss of me to come to a French bistro and not order Steak-Frites ($35), so I oblige with the 220-gram scotch fillet version against classic Bordelaise Sauce ($5). The beef is good, and the Bordelaise is impressive - the mid-palate of roasted bone is brightened up with a pleasantly not-too-heavy red wine. While the steak component of this classic dish that I ate at Macleay St. Bistro recently was better, Bistro St. Jacques wins hands down on the crunchy and compelling hand-cut chips.



Portions are predicated on eating three courses, so throw in a Baby Cos and Butter Head Lettuce Salad ($12) without fear. Chef Brett Jeffrey has a good eye for produce, and his duelling lettuces shine against pickled vegetables and a simple herb dressing.

 

Not being all that big on dessert, we go to pay the bill but kept in our chairs with free glasses of Spanish Vermut Negre (black vermouth) garnished with orange wedges and green olives. This pleasant digestive drinks a bit like cinotto, and is a lovely way to end the meal. The warmth of the welcome, combined with good food and great wine, really inclines us out-of-area blow-ins to become enduring friends with this above-average neighbourhood bistro.

Bistro St. Jacques
96 Pitt Street, Redfern
Ph: (0478) 705 704

NOTE: See a previous review of this venue under its old name back HERE.

Bistro St Jacques Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Manjit's @ The Wharf




Much more than just a prominent waterside location, Manjit's @ The Wharf builds upon the success of the restaurant group’s Balmain stalwart. It’s the first time I’ve been back since attending their launch dinner in February 2016, and to my palate, this restaurant is eating much better than it did on that occasion.



Growing up here in Australia eating his parents’ Indian cooking, Head Chef Varun Gujral brings to the table both an Indian palate and an Australian sensibility.



Varun has further refined dishes like the Crab Uttapam ($19/3), which I tried on my first visit. Eaten like tacos, these flexible rice and lentil pancakes now sandwich a more flavoursome blend of blue swimmer crab, green chilli, coriander, ginger and toothsome yellow split peas, into two-bite finger-foods.



Without imli (tamarind chutney) the palette of Fish Malai ($16) is presented with slightly less artistic flair than last time, however it’s hard to complain when there’s so much kick in the colourful chutneys. Tender ling fillets are great vehicles for sampling combinations of these condiments, each of them so central to Indian cuisine.



As the restaurant fills up around us on this grey and moody Tuesday evening, we move onto Banjarra Tikka ($16).



Think of this as your modern summery tandoori chook, just painted in sunny yellow rather than red through the use of yoghurt and amchur powder made from dried, green mangoes. With delicately charred tips, the moist, chicken fillets are bright, sour and enjoyable against a lemony, coriander and cauliflower puree.

   

Against this barrage of entrees we hit up the cocktail list. It’s a delightful surprise to find that not only are the cocktails thematic, they’re also well-thought-out and balanced. I find it hard to choose a favourite between the round and enjoyable Imli Margarita ($18) that integrates tamarind, lime and tequila with just enough chilli to make your lips tingle, and The Smoking Napali ($18). Poured at the table in a whirl of smoke, the latter is a flashier affair that combines Nepalese Khukri Rum (who even knew Nepal has been making this dark oak-vatted rum since 1959?) with honey, fig and cinnamon, balanced by lime. It drinks like a steam train with a faintly medicinal quality, a bit like the classic Penicillin, against a sweetly contrasting rim. Both cocktails are so good, I only barely register pouring pani puri water into our crisp Gol Gol Gappa ($16/4) - there’s just a faint memory of spicy chick peas, tamarind and semolina crunch when I try to taste it again in my head!



We move onto beer – King Cobra ($23/750ml) a double-fermented pilsner style lager that Varun has secured exclusive rights to for the next few months – to accompany a Beef Vindaloo Pie ($15). This is where you can really see his Aussie-Indian hybrid at play, with an authentic beef vindaloo curry encased in buttery puff pastry.



Dilbahar Tikki ($14) is another great hybrid exemplar – this quartet of highly worked potatoes (basically the insides of samosas mixed with beetroot powder and lentils) eat like late night fun in an Aussie-Indian home kitchen.



Pausing between our entrées and our curries, I’m taken aback by the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity in the room. From hijabs to turbans, the clothing demonstrates that the restaurant is home to all manner of people, arriving to dine as couples, with work colleagues, their families or friends.



The centerpiece of our curries is the Lamb Shoulder Anarkali ($42). It’s a modernisation of Balmain’s ‘hadi walla’ lamb, North Indian in origin, but made contemporary with quality lamb shoulder presented on the bone against the brightness of pomegranate and molasses. The gravy is glossy and rich with beautifully rendered lamb fat, making it easily my dining companion’s favourite dish.



With my own family history including members of the British Raj, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I’m more taken with the spicy Chicken Madras ($27).It reminds me of the white bread chicken curry sandwiches I used to be teased about taking to school.



Bright red from the heavy use of chilli powder, and particularly excellent in combination with the Signature Manjit's Naan ($7.50) stuffed with garlic, paneer and spices, this curry is (on request) hot and a little bit fruity (tamarind).

 

With Baingan Takatak ($22) presented in the same smoke-filled glass cloches as the ones used at Manjit's Balmain, it’s impossible not to make a comparison between the two restaurants. This version has more coal-smoke flavour, but it’s heavy-handed with the tomato so it loses the eggplant somewhat.



I found more delicacy in the cooking at Balmain, and more clarity in the curries, though naan are definitely better handled here at King Street Wharf. Staff at this restaurant lack the confidence of those at the Balmain original, speaking too softly when introducing dishes - though honestly, I’m splitting hairs – both restaurants really deserve your business.



Finally, while the menu here has been largely unchanged since opening, Deconstructed Shahi Tookra ($17) is the new addition you have to eat.



Reminiscent of Spice I Am’s Better Than Sex, taken to the Indian subcontinent, this is bread’n’butter pudding cooked in sweet, buttery ghee, offers up all the flavours of a gulab jamun (evaporated milk, cardamom, rose water, pistachio) when you pour on the creamy, saffron milk reduction. It’s super rich, sweet and decadent, so you probably only need one to share to end your night on a considerable (sugar) high.



Manjit's @ The Wharf
10/49 Lime Street, Sydney
Ph: (1300) 626 548

NOTE: You can see a review of this restaurant when it first opened HERE.

Manjit's @ The Wharf Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Event - Summer Pomegranate Masterclass




Getting a Lancashire lad to cook pomegranates is a bit of a stretch, but despite being more about pork fat than these 'winter apples', chef Nelly Robinson rose to meet the challenge.



Joining me at Nel Restaurant in Surry Hills was an all-star audience of Robinson's peers. Everyone from Roy Ner (Nour) to Lauren Murdoch (Merivale) sitting beside her early mentor, iconic Sydney chef Janni Kyritsis, who cooked at Berowra Waters Inn, Bennelong and later opened MG Garage, was seated along two tables stretching the length of the intimate, basement space.



For me, it was the first time I’ve been back to this restaurant since my initial review back when it opened in 2015, so I was keen to see how it’s eating now across a five-course menu. We kick off with a Pomegranate Spritz, a summery indulgence that combines pomegranate arils, pomegranate syrup and Azahara Chardonnay Pinot Noir – a finely beaded sparkling wine. Robinson continues to operate his restaurant on a nightly degustation-only menu ($118/8-course) that rotates every six weeks, plus a three-course ($78) lunchtime menu.



Pork fat and POM Wonderful pomegranates from California were both employed in our bread and butter offering - freshly cooked crumpets liberally smeared from quenelles of pomegranate and bacon butter.



As we scrape salmon rillettes from rounded river stones onto fennel and pomegranate crackers, we hear how Israeli-British chef Yotam Ottolenghi and his popular cookbooks were a driving force in getting pomegranates onto our tables.



If you eat pomegranates at Xmas time – and their vibrant magenta hue certainly lends itself to the Xmas table – they are likely to be imported fruit from the Californian picking season that runs from September to November. The southern hemisphere picking season runs from February to May. Their sweet and sour flavour, colour and texture make pomegranates worthy additions to dishes like Robinson’s snapper tartare. Surrounded by pool of yellow capsicum gazpacho, the bright pomegranate arils are also a nice tart counterpoint to the slightly creamy raw fish.



While we’re waiting for the next course to be plated, we’re led in a round-table discussion on culturally divergent uses of the pomegranate. When choosing one yourself, look for a fruit that feels heavy with the weight of the juice. They’ll last for three weeks in a cool room, though Janni advises: “Like passionfruit, once they start to get a bit wrinkled on outside, they’re better.” So do cut it open and try it, before you throw one away. Eating the white pith is unadvisable (may cause vomiting) so don’t get lazy when it comes to separating the arils (which reportedly number 613) from their casing. Stored by themselves, these seeds will last for three days in your fridge. “Take juice in a pan, bring down to syrup, and that’s your molasses,” Janni advises the room of eagerly listening chefs.



Pomegranate also makes a good marinade and baste as we see in Robinson’s beef short rib. Here the beef has been marinated and glazed in pomegranate, treacle molasses, soy and a little star anise, using its acidity to cut through the fatty rib. Presented against black garlic, onion and textural mushroom slices, it’s rich and satisfying in a small portion. Portions, by the way, are something Robinson gets exactly right on this multi-course meal.



Appropriate portion control ensures I approach my pretty dessert with relish. It’s right up my alley too - an elderflower soubise with strawberry and pomegranate sauce made with the same sparkling wine as our opening cocktail, garnished with bright white meringue. Leaving with three juicy-heavy Californian pomegranates in my handbag, it inspires me to use create a simple dessert of pomegranate with sheep milk yoghurt at home.

Did I mention they’re also nutritious? Beyond being high in antioxidants and fibre, pomegranates are a good source of B vitamins, vitamin C (one pomegranate contains a third of your daily requirement) and potassium - so I ate my second dessert of the day guilt-free.

Nel Restaurant
Lower Ground, 75 Wentworth Avenue, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9212 2206

NOTE: You can see a previous review of this restaurant back HERE.

Nel. Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - The Lobby Cafe




Being in Mascot’s industrial area, there’s probably no way you’d stumble into The Lobby Café accidentally, but if you happen to be one of the eight thousand people employed by Qantas next door, it should be on your radar.



It’s a five-day-a-week business aimed toward pleasing the diverse group of people who work in the building itself and next door.



This is a test kitchen for us,” explained owner Andrew Kennedy, who took over the twelve-year-old business about fourteen months ago.



He’s busy streamlining processes – like removing the five-and-a-half-minute sandwich press and replacing it with a 90-second speedy oven – adding on a liquor license four weeks ago.



The end goal is to create a franchisable business model that could roll out into any office block.

 

Good processes start with “the mindset that you don’t want to disappoint anyone,” Kennedy explains.



Being a workplace canteen, the menu he has created “is about speed and the food being familiar.



Every day you’ll find six pre-made salads, plus four sides and six main dishes in their hot food bar.



There’s also a little salad bar that Kennedy used as market research to create a salad range based upon his clients’ most popular choices.



The hot dishes, which ranged from sweet and sour pork to cannelloni, are served Build Your Own Plate ($12.90) style, with one protein-based dish and two sides.



Any leftovers go into creating tomorrow’s pie, which, in the case of the Thai chicken curry one I tried, allows the curry's flavours to develop before they are encased in buttery puff pastry and scattered with sesame seeds. The Thai red curry pie has a nice, lip tingling heat, with plenty of chicken and tender mushrooms to be found within. It’s served with your choice of salad – for me that was halloumi salad – mixed greens dotted with roasted vegetables and hunks of grilled cheese.



Burgers are well-priced and popular at The Lobby Café, either alone or as a Combo ($13.50) with chips.



The Chicken Katsu Burger ($9.50) sees deep-fried crumbed bird presented with a simple, well-drained ‘slaw and lettuce on a bun that isn’t sweet. The chips are pretty ordinary, but the oil they were cooked in is clean.



The coffee trade is brisk. The beans are roasted locally by Gypsy Coffee Roasters in Alexandria, and perform well across a Cappuccino ($3.50) and a Latte ($3.50).



We also get a bottle of Purezza sparkling water for free, with The Lobby Café opting to absorb the eight cents it costs per bottle. As you can see, they really do want their customers not to be disappointed by either quality or price.

The Lobby Cafe
Aero Building, 247 Coward Street, Mascot
Ph: (02) 9693 1007

#247 The Lobby Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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After shuffling down Elizabeth Street a couple of hundred metres, Himalaya Pakistani & Indian Restaurant makes up for the lack of dining room windows in their new space using colourful, Indian-inspired murals.



On one wall, the Taj Mahal is swathed in fiery skies and reflected in the still water that stands at its base; while on another, four elaborately clad figures interact against a natural, leafy backdrop in shades of blue, yellow and green.



This Surry Hills restaurant is one of five outlets owned by the group, who, just like the Manjit’s group that I reviewed last week, also own a function centre that caters to Indian weddings. As the name suggests, they’re serving desi food from the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora, which can broadly include Pakistan and Bangladesh. They attracted my interest with their weekday long lunches, which run until 4.30pm, making them perfect for people who never quite manage to step out of the office at the assigned lunch hour.



The Tandoori Chicken Thali ($19) is basic but covers all your lunch needs, spreading them across the compartments of a shiny, stainless-steel thali tray. Two smoky pieces of bone-in charred tandoori chook, served with green capsicum and long loops of onion, are complemented by a chicken curry of your choice. If you like heat, opt for the one labelled chicken curry rather than butter chicken. While it isn’t going to blow your head off, it’s tasty with sweet sweated onions and whole cardamom rather than cream or coconut. There’s also a soft and pliable naan sliced into quarters, rice and pappadums hiding frost green mint chutney that’s more yoghurt than it is mint.



The Lamb Thali ($19) comes in a similar format, switching out the tandoori chicken for two tubes of flavoursome seekh kebab that have also been roasted in the tandoor. They’re made from minced lamb mixed with onion, fresh herbs and spices, rolled onto metal skewers, which are pulled out before serving. The lean, well-spiced kebabs are served with a lamb curry that has had a long slow cook in a gravy with a round and balanced tomato base, until the pieces of lamb are nice and tender.



The restaurant’s main menu is also available at lunch time. Craving something with a bit more kick (everything I tried on the thali plates was very mild) I hit up Paneer Tikka Masala ($16.95). Labeled as medium-hot on the menu, the home-made cheese arrives in a dense tomato sauce broken up with sweet onion and still-crisp green capsicum that is almost sweet against the mild, lip-tingling heat. There’s a generous amount of tender, rather than chewy, cheese in this decently proportioned serve, and the dish leaves me with a satisfying aftertaste. Rather than rice, I choose to team it with a Peshwari Naan ($4.50) that has a bright orange interior stuffed with lots of fruit and coconut. It’s particularly enjoyable against cheese and the acidity of the tomato-heavy curry.

Service is variable during the day, with just one floor person, who often spends more time on their phone than they do looking after the dining room, but I suspect that would improve with more custom at night.

Himalaya Pakistani & Indian Restaurant
396 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 8068 6088

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

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Event - Roman Festa




Heading up the kitchen in an everyday Italian restaurant on the competitive Norton Street strip, doesn’t always give chef Nicole Bampton the chance to flex her formidable skills. The Capriccio Osteria & Bar team, which includes Bampton’s partner and restaurateur Michele Rispoli, have devised a series of regionally inspired dinners to give her the opportunity to have some fun in the kitchen.



For their recent Roman Festa ($65/head), Bampton spent hours trawling ancient Roman recipes to present a five-course banquet that started with shapely knobs of rustic bread. With cuts placed in the top of each knob, it was up to the friendly group of diners gathered in the sunny yellow upstairs dining room, to rip it apart and consume it with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.



What’s bread without wine, whatever the era you’re dining in? Our tablemate, Poppy Gresson from Fourth Wave Wine, reckons that “Grigio is where Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc drinkers meet in the middle.” She gets our table onto brightly coloured bottles of the 2017 Fontavera Pinot Grigio ($55/bottle) from Venezia at the base of the Alps.



It’s pale in the glass and easy to like with juicy pear and flinty stone that suit our fried green olives stuffed with pork mince. All the pork Bampton employed across this banquet menu was Australian pork.



With the PorkStar team partnering in the event, they were on hand to give it their pink PorkMark. This is basically their seal of approval, which you can look for when buying pork to ensure it's Australian-grown rather than imported.



Luganega sausage showcased Aussie pig quite wonderfully. Presented on braised lentils cooked with carrot and celery brunoise, the smooth coil of sausage was gently seasoned with aniseed in accordance with the old recipes.



We break up the all-porcine feast with free range chicken rubbed with coriander seed then roasted inside a pancetta sheath. It’s served on farro (an ancient, cultivated grain) and roasted root vegetables, like juicy baby turnips. It's a well-handled, simple and old-fashioned dish that sees me reaching for the tongs more than once.



The showpiece of the menu is rolled Roman porchetta that arrives, along with the chef, to be carved in the dining room. “I tried to use what they used back then,” Bampton explains her menu, before adding that ancient Romans used a lot of spices we might not regularly use in the same dishes today. This is how aniseed appeared in the sausage, and the porchetta came to be rolled with apricot and fennel.



Like Bampton's everyday menu, it’s honest, good-tasting food, presented in a way you generally wouldn’t normally be able to experience when dining as a pair. Plus there's the pleasure of being part of a convivial dining room, watching as your host, Rispoli, carves the head-on porchetta, his knife sinking into its crisp and crackly skin.



Soon we're all eating generous slices of this great tasting pig against simple cauliflower and white beans, just like the ancient Romans.



Bampton returns to the kitchen to prepare our cheeky 'Sanguinaccio Dolce' dessert. Almond biscotti arrive just before long, fragrant shot glasses of dark chocolate and blood orange custard. We find the biscuits hard to stay away from; laughing to find out they also contain pig. Who knew pork lard would be the missing ingredient to soften, enrich and improve the humble biscotti?



Dipping it in warm chocolate doesn’t hurt either.



This communally shared feed felt more honest than gimmicky, and was a loving ode to my favourite meat. If you’d like to take part in their next regional feast, it is focused upon Liguria - think stuffed squid and handmade pasta. It’s slated for Thursday 20 December and you’d be wise to book in quickly here: https://capriccio.sydney/events

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

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

NOTE: See a review of the ala carte menu HERE.

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Review - Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant




They’re using pancakes as spoons,” cries Lisa Simpson. We’re watching an excerpt from The Food Wife (The Simpsons, Season 23, Episode 5) on Yibeltal Tsegaw’s phone. While it’s not our first trip ‘round the Blacktown Main Street block, or our first Ethiopian meal, I’m never-the-less delighted to see the popular show covering this cuisine.



Tsegaw is one half of Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant, who took over the space formerly occupied by Blue Nile African Cuisine & Café, right next door to Abyssina Ethiopian Restaurant, who also make Ethiopian food. I’ve eaten in all of these restaurants, though my visit to Gursha is actually due to Tinsae Yigletu, who catered an Ethiopian dinner in my home under her Dinner with Tinsae business, which regularly runs dinners in the Blue Mountains.

 

The interior of the modest restaurant has been slightly refined, with the removal of the willow twig fence wall decorations, but the layout is still the same. In the rear you’ll find a little handwashing station that prepares you to wrap your meal in injera - pliable, sour (fermented) pancakes - in order to deliver it to your waiting mouth.



We could learn a thing or two about sharing from the Ethiopians, who are used to meals delivered on a single shared plate. The Gursha Exclusive ($50/2 people) arrives on a round plate blanketed with injera. The centerpiece is doro wot, probably Ethiopia’s most famous dish, which sees boiled eggs and chicken drumsticks coated in a rich gravy made glossy with sweated onions cooked in niter kibbeh (Ethiopian ghee flavoured with cardamom and other spices). Unfurl your bedroll of injera and you’re away - ripping, wrapping and relishing this tasty stew. “Holy casserole-y, that’s good gloop,” Marge Simpson exclaimed, and she’s not wrong.



We each get a pile of tibs – tender beef hunks cooked with rosemary onions and greens – that make for good punctuation between forays into wot (stews). The piles of lightly cooked beef mince are called kitfo, which can be served raw, rare or medium. The cooked version uses more of the spiced clarified butter and mitmita (a powdered bird’s eye chilli spice blend) which we ask for more of, to give it more kick. It’s delivered with a smile and a warning that it’s very hot, along with a milder pepper sauce that has aromatic echoes of wasabi and horseradish.



Rahel Woldearegay – the other half of Gursha – arrives with a basket holding two extra rolls of injera. We use them to scoop up the remaining alicha wot (split pea stew), little mounds of crumbly, cottage cheese (aybe) and siga wot (beef cooked in red pepper sauce). It’s a substantial and satisfying meal that sits surprisingly lightly in your stomach. Just like Haile Delicious Ethiopian Food, the fictitious restaurant Marge visits in Little Ethiopia (a neighbourhood of Springfield) Gursha will delight you if you find yourself stranded in Blacktown (and you should).


Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant
Shop 3, 115 Main Street, Blacktown
Ph: (0451) 007 281

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

Review - Don't Tell Aunty




You’ll barely recognise the former 4Fourteen, now decked out in riotous colour. Don’t Tell Aunty is painted pink and furnished with rolling, royal blue velour banquettes and copper basket chairs.



There are green leafy plants that match the original forest green kitchen tiles; electric blue under-bar lighting, and gleaming stacks of copper pots arranged along the kitchen counter. When you throw in all the colours generated by large photo murals of Indian aunties, dueling Indian flicks playing on opposing walls, plus a noisy crowd, the space is a cacophony of colour, sound and motion.



The plentiful floor team is young, happy and eager to please – possibly too eager, but it’s still early days. My missing dining companion, half an hour late, is a cause for consternation because they want to get my table underway.



By contrast, owner and chef Jessi Singh, clad in a baseball cap and apron, oozes confidence during his constant forays onto the floor. “A little gift for you from the kitchen, but the whole thing has to go into your mouth in one bite, even the flower, but don’t tell Aunty,” he says as he deposits an eye-catching, edible bloom-topped Gol Gappa ($12/6) in front of me. The crisp semolina puff is filled with an explosive combination of sweet and gentle chutneys with a flower hiding the hole.



The namesake Don’t tell Aunty ($18) cocktail swirls smoky tequila with beetroot's earthy intrigue. The root vegetable’s natural sweetness is balanced by a black lava salt rim. It drinks better than my first glass of the 2017 Bobinet Poil de Lievre Chenin Blanc ($17) which comes up a bit lemon and oyster shell, whereas a second glass, clearly from a different bottle, is bright, acidic and cloudy like an orange wine.



A big fan of sea urchin gonads – or, as they colloquially known, roe – I am quick to order the market price Uni Biryani ($30). Presented on ice urchin shell has been cleaned and emptied of its treasures, and stuffed with a cold long grain white rice mix that has been cooked with urchin parts, turmeric, dates, shallots and ginger, into something that’s sweetish rather than the promised spicy. It’s topped with just two meagre lobes of urchin roe and a scattering of salmon roe, which make it unbalanced – too much rice filler, not enough urchin thriller – and a chore to finish once the uni roe is devoured.



I can’t say I’m keen on our Daikon Salad ($10) either. Despite the sexy sounding black lava salt and lime rap., it is a modest, boring, Jenga-like arrangement of daikon radish batons on loops of Spanish onion under a green chilli, with four cherry tomato half sentries.



Despite me craving some fresh vegetables, it’s quickly forgotten in favour of dipping naan in curry, when our Naan Basket ($12) arrives. Sadly, the mix of plain and garlic and chive naans are thin and crisp, rather than my preferred plump and pliable, making me wish I’d ordered rice.



Coconut Fish Curry ($26) is probably my meal highlight with its bright yellow, turmeric-rich gravy. There’s a hint of mustard seed, but it’s mostly creamy coconut against tender hunks of blue eye cod.



Chana Masala ($16) is round without being exciting, taking chickpeas and flavouring them with garam masala with brightening it up with sour mango powder. While neither are what I’d call hero curries, both would be likeable enough as part of their ten-buck canteen-style lunch against a beverage you grab yourself from their fridge.

Don't Tell Aunty
414 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9331 5399

Don't Tell Aunty Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Mamma Teresa




After battling the Kingsford stretch of the eyesore that is Gladys Berejiklian’s incompatible, delayed, and over-budget light rail disaster, it was a relief to finally sink into our table at Mamma Teresa, right beside a beautiful tank of fish.



Along with a trio of goldfish, this eye-catching tank - which doubles as a transparent room divider separating diners from the pizza kitchen - is full of hardy African fishes.



Watching multitudes of babies swim about feels curiously reassuring, perhaps because one suspects that if a restaurant can keep a fish tank so healthy, they might keep their kitchen in a similar condition.



I’m also reassured by diners at the next table, who, upon seeing me photograph my entree, lean over and volunteer that “it tastes as good as it looks.” They’re locals and regulars, and some friendly conversation ensues.

 

Mamma Teresa has existed in this spot for more than forty years. Mahyar Kianfar (Kian) took it over a few years ago, but kept the name, and is proud of the restaurant's history as “the first Italian restaurant in the Eastern Suburbs.” Kian has ensured a smooth ownership transition by retaining the same chef who has cooked at Mamma Teresa for the last eight years.



Together they have opted to keep a wide menu of Italian classics, like rough, hand-made gnocchi, which you can opt to eat as creamy Carbonara ($14.50/entrée). With pepper and extra cheese added at the table, my only complaint was this well-cooked pasta dish arrived a lot faster than our wine!



After a gentle nudge, my rogue Lawson Dry Hills Pinot Rose ($7/glass) arrived just as I finished scraping up the remaining skerricks of creamy sauce flavoured with bacon, shallots and egg using crisp Garlic Bread ($5.50).



Pale pink and dry, the rose is an easy-to-drink, fruit-driven drop, which impresses more than a Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio ($8.50/glass) that's a bit acidic and golden apple-heavy for me.



These characteristics do help to cut through the grease on the remaining portion of our antipasti Chorizo & Halloumi ($14.90). The deep-fried and overwhelmingly salty cheese was a bit of a surprise on this dish. I found it dominated the tasty, pan-fried chorizo cooked with rosemary, garlic, chilli and lemon, and there weren't enough leaves to balance it.



Rosemary was also well-employed in Veal Romano ($23.90) where two thin slices of tasty, crumbed veal were adorned with silky pink folds of ultra-thin leg ham, with a black pepper and white wine sauce rounding out the dish.



Grain-fed Eye Fillet ($28.90) is well-rested and insanely tender under a good green pepper sauce dotted with whole green peppercorns. We both opt for salad as our meal accompaniment, which is crisp, and generously proportioned. It’s dressed in quite a vinegary way that helps to cut through the creamy pepper sauce. Capsicum proves a particular delight, though produce quality is good across the board.



While the dishes here don’t look flash, they offer up good technique for a decent price, which makes Mamma Teresa an easy favourite for locals. While the light rail destruction does make the view out the front windows a bit of a write-off, in the rear Martine Emder’s seaside mural painted back in 1998 has an almost luminous quality that from a distance fools the eye into thinking it’s a seaward window. Until Gladys Berejiklian finally gets it done, this illusion of tranquility will have to suffice.


Mamma Teresa
412 Anzac Parade, Kingsford
Ph: (02) 9663 5031

Mamma Teresa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Chungking




Chungking, or Chongqing without the anglicised spelling, is a major city in southwestern China. Part of the Sichuan province, in culinary terms Chongqing is known as the birthplace of the hot pot; though the local cuisine includes more than forty different cooking methods, running from pickling to drying to steaming.



You’ll find many of them illustrated on the well-photographed menu that lured us into choosing this Burwood Road restaurant over its countless Asian counterparts.



The long galley-like restaurant has a stylish, modern interior ending in a black and red box bar that sits in front of the kitchen.



Down one side of the space there’s a long wooden banquette and tables with punishing wooden stools. We opted for one of the tables surrounded by brown bucket chairs on the other side, but be warned, they’re lower than expected.



Blonde wood detailing on the walls and ceiling, plus an array of rusting woks, make up the only decorations in the dimly lit space, which is saved from being too dark by hanging spot lights beaming onto each individual table.



We kick off with Chungking Pickles ($3.80) which are light, bright and surprisingly salty. There’s a good crunch to the cabbage and carrot mix that reminds me of what KFC coleslaw could be, without all the creamy sweetness.



They’re the perfect counterpoint to one of the chef’s recommendations – Steamed Duck with Glutinous Rice ($22.80). It arrives with a (frankly odd) arrangement of flowers in foil and plastic wrap, looking like a fried then baked dish that has been cut into chopstick-appropriate fingers. The steamed duck has been placed on the bottom of the slice, with glutinous rice pressed over the top of it.

 

They’re tasty but dry, and really need a double dip in soy then sesame chilli sauce to really sing. Luckily the kitchen was happy and fast to oblige. I will say they made me powerfully thirst, so there may be the hidden hand of MSG in their crisp coating. Luckily there was both my old faithful – Calpis Water ($3.50) and Tsingtao Beer ($5) on hand to quench it.



With many dishes here on the inexpensive side, you can afford to take some risks. We tried Steamed Chicken with Mushroom in Lotus Leaf ($7.80) which presented morsels of chicken coated in a nutty, creamy egg mixture then steamed with tender but toothsome shiitake mushroom pieces. Beyond the mushrooms, this one was a bit bland for me, but I don’t usually order steamed dishes.



While I didn’t stumble upon a winning dish, there’s plenty more to see on this extensive, well photographed menu supported by an easy-to-understand order form that doesn’t require much cross-cultural communication.


Chungking
Shop 3, 89-91 Burwood Road, Burwood
Ph: (02) 8387 7809

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

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