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Travel - Harvest Launceston




With Spirit of Tasmania docking in neighbouring Devonport, if you’re embarking upon a self-drive tour of Tasmania, one of your first stops should be Launceston. By timing your visit to disembark at 6.30am on a Saturday morning, by the time you get to Launceston you should be just a little shy of Harvest Launceston’s 8.30am kick off.



This produce-focussed farmers’ market that takes place in a quiet, inner city carpark is the perfect spot to load up the ice boxes before you venture forth to your first AirBnB.



There’s no need to find a café before you visit, either. Every manner of cute caravan has been converted into a food service vehicle and they're parked around the edges of this market.



You’ll find coffee, along with a range of breakfast and brunch eats, with morning tea options if you prefer to fill up on artisan doughnuts, gelato, pastries and cake.



Low wooden stools under a covered tent plus live music help to make this market an easy breakfast option.



In terms of the rest of the market, what you can expect to find is a range of Tasmania’s freshest, seasonal produce. For me, visiting in early January, that meant I saw an abundance of berries.



Bring your canvas bags and load them up with all the fixings for a fabulous cheeseboard; berries, Tassy cheeses, and naturally-leavened breads from Apiece Boulangerie.



Condiments you’ll find in abundance, with lots of chutneys and jams, either for your opening cheeseboard or to pack in the luggage for the journey home.



While produce doesn’t seem quite as wide ranging as Sydney markets, all of the fresh vegetables were top notch. Heaped radishes, red onions, beetroots and heirloom carrots made for a vibrant marketplace, even on a grey ol’ day.



Erinvale Farm potatoes are grown and packed locally in the Tamar Valley, and a five-kilo sack of these spray-free spuds will set you back ten bucks.



Team them with locally grown garlic and your favourite mix of micro-herbs from Huski Greens. What’s even better, they – like nearly every stall - cite a belief in natural, regenerative, organic farming that is also pesticide-free.



Seafood and meat are also well-represented, with the same ethical emphasis, be that line caught and sustainable, or hormone and antibiotic-free. Scottsdale Pork, located in Cuckoo Valley, run three pig breeds – Duroc, Large White and Landrace – and use cross breeding to produce the most tender pork. Animal welfare is paramount to their operation, with their sows living in large eco-shelters so they are free to forage, wallow and socialise with other pigs. At the Tamar Artisan Smallgoods stall, you’ll find dry cured bacon made using pork from Scottsdale pigs. It’s been salted with Tasman sea salt, and smoked with fruit woods (apple and cherry) plucked from the heart of the Tamar Valley.



My best find was Lenah Game Meats, the company who produced the wonderful wallaby shanks we enjoyed so much at The Taste of Tasmania. Wallaby meat is mild and low-fat (I like it much better than kangaroo). It’s also wild-sourced from the animal’s natural environment, with good environmental credentials too. A wallaby’s water consumption per kilo of edible meat is 70% less than sheep, and nearly 90% less than beef, plus they also do less damage to the land than their heavy-footed ovine and bovine neighbours. It’s enough to leave me pondering why we’re not all reaching for wallaby more often than the other two…

Harvest Launceston
Every Saturday from 8.30am—12.30pm
71 Cimitiere Street, Launceston, Tasmania
Ph: (0417) 352 780

Review - The Spot Bar & Grill




Commensurate with Liverpool becoming Sydney’s third CBD, along with the rapid population growth and impending jobs boom from Western Sydney Airport and the Aerotropolis, Liverpool is on the cusp of seeing an expansion in restaurants and bars. Facilitated by Liverpool City Council rezoning 25 hectares in the city centre with a vibrant, 18-hour economy in mind, some early adopters are already moving in.

The Spot Bar and Grill is a fourth venue for local Liverpool resident, Max Luciano, who began The Spot Group back in 2012 with The Spot Chocolate Bar. Five years later, The Shisha Spot joined his expanding portfolio, and this year Luciano opened Ground Floor Cafe/Restaurant and The Spot Bar & Grill. The two newcomers sit side by side at the base of a medium density residential block, separated from Macquarie Street by a plaza. This gives The Spot Bar and Grill an indoor-outdoor feel, with outside tables plus a row of little cushioned nooks where you can relax and enjoy shisha.



Inside there’s a clean and monumental fit-out dominated by rolling curved beige leather booths set around marble tables. By putting them on wheels, the space is easily transformed to fit a dance floor.



With excellent sound and a DJ booth in one corner, I am sure at night time it will be put to good use. Soft light floods into the room from a large, rectangular skylight. Patterned screens and soft gold accents provide the only decoration, bar from a tempting row of Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial Champagne bottles. I say tempting because NSW Liquor & Gaming are still dragging their heels on the liquor license – four months and counting – creating unnecessary red tape that’s particularly cruel to small businesses who might not have the deep pockets to wait for four months to sell booze after signing a lease.



If the lockout laws were genuinely designed around decentralising bars from our entertainment district, it makes sense to encourage and facilitate the establishment and success of venues like this one in our city’s third CBD. So it comes to be that I’m drinking a fairly bland Lemon & Mint ($9) frozen mocktail with my lunch when really I’d prefer wine.



With the advertising promising a Middle Eastern inspired modern contemporary menu, I’m a bit surprised to see bruschetta, arancini and salmon sashimi. Missing the obvious share-plates that would suit the bigger groups the large tables suggest, the menu is arranged into a short list of entrees and mains. Tapioca Calamari ($19.90) has an eye-catching golden puddle of saffron aioli, but is overcooked. The squid is tender through pineapple marination, but spending too long in the deep fryer has destroyed the flavour of the exterior lemon pepper and tapioca spice mix, meaning we have to drown it in the earthy, saffron aioli.



Skipping over non-thematic pappardelle and lamb shank gnocchi, I head to the Lamb Pizza ($25), which seems to better follow the menu brief with spiced lamb mince, labneh, harissa and mint. The base lacks the lightness of touch I’d hope for from Lebanese-inspired pizza, and is dominated by tomato without much evidence of the promised harissa twist.



I can’t say I like it, but it is early days, and Liverpool needs the Sunday sessions that will emerge once NSW Liquor and Gaming does their bit. I’m hoping The Spot Bar & Grill will slide into the hole left by venues like Byblos and Banta Room from Oxford Street’s heyday, and deliver Liverpool residents a reason to take a cheap Uber to eat, drink and party in their own CBD.


The Spot Bar & Grill
Shop 1 & 2/296-306 Macquarie Street, Liverpool
Ph: (02) 9053 2552

The Spot Bar and Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Cod's Gift




The room is awash with royal blue and aquamarine. Comfortable gold basket chairs stuffed with turquoise clam shell cushions alternate with black metal dining chairs cushioned with plush royal blue.



Over a long, padded deep blue banquette, two well-chosen abstract artworks draw from the same reduced colour palette.



Marble table tops - some with gold edges – and backlit marble room dividers, provide a sense of luxury; while twine-wrapped Monstera deliciosa plants inject a touch of the exotic.



Over a Salt’n’Vinegar Martini ($21) rimmed with black salt and topped with a cloud of vinegar foam that you’d be wise not to inhale, I muse that Cod’s Gift certainly isn’t what I expected as I made my way to Dural for lunch. Gin & Juice ($20) - my second selection from the ambitious list of signature cocktails - teams gin with dragon fruit and watermelon.



They stop the pink potion from being cloyingly sweet with a dash of Tabasco (give it a stir, it tends to sit at the bottom). While neither drink quite gets over the line for me, I’m taken by the fact that I’ve never drunk either of them before.



Sitting inside King Neptune’s palace, certainly inclines you to plunder the bounty of the sea (though the succinct menu does also offer up a beef, lamb and vegetarian option). With the Seafood Platter ($48/half) cleverly coming as half-sized and only featuring Australian seafood, my choice is easily made.



We’re soon armed with a battalion of poking, prodding and cracking silverware to dismember our Queensland blue swimmer crab, nudge Sydney rock oysters from their shells, and spear slices of flying fish roe-topped tuna.We quickly dispatch the well-presented plate that also includes king prawns and Moreton bay bugs drawn from the Sunshine State. Both go very well with wakame salad and a Japanese-inspired roasted sesame seed mayonnaise.



While the personable Mason LaRoche clears away all traces of our battle with the sea, he fills us in on the restaurant’s backstory. Cod’s Gift was initially a second venue for owners Caroline Neill Ryan and Che Vogler, who kicked off their Dural adventures at Wolfe & Co just around the corner.



In March this year, they sold off their popular café to focus upon this spot, which neatly doubles as the local fish and chippery via a kitchen window that pops out into the outdoor courtyard.



I contemplate the takeaway menu over a lovely, lemony and linear 2015 Henri Darnat Bourgogne ‘La Jumalie’ Chardonnay ($111/bottle) that’s over-priced but a perfect seafood wine none-the-less.



It goes gangbusters with Barramundi ($34) served on a beautiful plate with a cluster of tender little vongole and a squid ink risotto nero. The crisp-skinned Northern Territory barra has spent a smidgen too long in the pan but is saved by the wetness of the risotto that's big on punchy, salty midpalate.



The 2014 Capel Vale Mount Barker Riesling ($48/bottle) comes from Mason’s home state of Western Australia. It’s textural with a bit of underlying funk; lending it rather nicely to the Champagne Lobster Linguine ($29). Sitting on a whirl of pasta, two split lobster halves are kept in their shells, then topped with Bloody Mary sauce and a crisp, fresh parsley pangrattato. It’s another loud but fun dish at a restaurant that has a relaxed looseness and the confidence to march to its own beat.



Dusted with more thematic gold, Cinnamon Honey Figs ($18) with smooth coconut and kaffir lime sorbet, wraps up my meal nicely. If I found myself in Dural again, I’d give the Fish & Chips ($19.50) – served grilled (silver dory) or fried (flathead) – from their takeaway window a whirl without any hesitation...

Cod's Gift
Shop 4-6/3 Ward Place, Dural
Ph: (02) 9651 3336

Cod's Gift Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thanks to AGFG for arranging my visit.

Review - All Hands Brewing House




Still shy of its second birthday, All Hands Brewing House is one of the more recent newcomers to the King Street Wharf precinct. It is owned by Red Rock Venues, who kicked off their empire of function spaces, restaurants and pubs in Melbourne.



The micro-brewery is one of two forays the group have made into Sydney (they also own P. J. O’Brien’s), and part of an expansion that now sees them operating in four states.



The All Hands Brewing House occupies a prime waterfront position on the edge of Darling Harbour. Fronted by an expansive, dog-friendly, beer garden, it extends deep into the bowels of King Street Wharf.



Tucked behind the shiny silver fermenters of the working micro-brewery, you’ll find some more intimate spaces to host your party, no matter how many mates or colleagues you choose to descend with.



We pull up in the Port Quarter of the busy beer garden for a casual midweek dinner for two. While the wine list doesn’t suck for a brewery – you’ll find a lot of dependable wines that are not overpriced – obviously the main game here is beer.



With most of the taps given over to their own beers (as they should be) the All Hands Tasting Paddle ($18) seemed the obvious way to go.



We ordered one apiece, to be able to take in eight of their nine draught beers.



Presented with tasting notes, from the core range my favourite beer was the Fruit Bat Summer Ale ($11/pint), which gives you a last blast of summer with tropical fruit notes from two standard and two rotating types of hops.



With stone fruit and a spicy end, plus a big burst of hop flowers, the Rouseabout Pale Ale ($10.50/pint) was a close second for me. At only 4% ABV, it’s definitely in the all-day drinker category too.



However where I think head brewer Sam Clayman has really struck gold, is in the seasonal and special release beers. My first mouthful of Backyard Harvest ($11/pint) tasted like the Australia I grew up in, where slightly wet lawn clippings mingled with the smoky fumes of the Victa lawn mower. The wet grassy notes come from the use of NSW hops, hand-picked then driven immediately to the brewery for infusion, allowing you to taste the provenance in this fresh, green and citrussy beer. It's certainly one of the most unique craft beers I've tasted.



My only real gripe is beer matches are not listed on the menu, knocking out a great opportunity for diners to learn which eats to team with their favourite craft beer.



The one-page menu presents a please-all range of dishes running from share plates to salads to smoked items and seafood.  Basically, whatever you feel like eating, All Hands Brewing House has got your back. Wanting to taste across the menu, we hit up the Wharfies Platter ($95) that purports to be for two people, but probably could accommodate a third wheel. Far from greatly reduced portions on an artfully arranged board, it results in our table being swamped in a feast of individual dishes.



To be fair though, fearing a lack of vegetables, we did add on a Baby Gem Lettuce Wedge ($5) side. While totally unnecessary, drizzled with blue cheese dressing and scattered with walnuts, it was well-priced and quite enjoyable to eat.



Kicking off with slices of lightly-seared togarashi-dusted tuna was a good way to ease in. While I appreciated the inclusion of a classic – the prawn cocktail – I wasn’t quite sold on the smashed avocado addition it was sitting on (bring back the simple prawns with iceberg lettuce and Marie Rose sauce).



Presented full-size, the Avruga caviar-topped Ceviche of Tasmanian Salmon ($19) was a winner. Eaten from the clever cassava sails, it’s a far from shy and retiring mix of raw fish, chilli, lime and smoked garlic that summons chipotle and South America for me.



The Blue Swimmer Crab Sliders ($18.50/3) I would probably skip over. The buns weren’t soft or delicious enough for me, but I do acknowledge that a brewery menu is smart to include some rapid-fire, absorbent, hand-held carbs in the mix.



In a batter made from the All Hands Hump Day IPA ($11.50/pint), an alcoholic drop (6.2% ABV) that throws bitterness and pine resin with a lot of different hops, the beer battered fish and chips is crisp and absorbent. I was more taken with the Smokey Salted Squid Salad ($20) that - while frankly seemed a little bizarre, with pickled chillies, sugar snaps, pea tendrils and burnt shallots - turned out to really work against crisp golden fingers of tender salt and pepper squid, mostly because of the intriguing Baja cream.



Saucing is something this kitchen does very well. I was blown away by their hot and flavoursome ghost chilli sauce, extracted upon request from the kitchen by our warm and bubbly Brazilian waitress (who incidentally has the same three favourite beers as me).



It’s a magnificent way to up the ante on my favourite dish – the Bug Tail Mac’n’Cheese ($34). Presented as a full-size pot of cheesy pasta, this dish has umami in spades. It goes so well with the ghost chilli sauce, I’m sure it has a whisker of it in the mix already, neatly helping you avoid death by cheese.

This one is solid and dependable, especially if you're dining with the masses.


All Hands Brewing House
22 The Promenade, King Street Wharf, Sydney
Ph: (02) 8270 7901

All Hands Brewing House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Suburban Gem: Belmore




Belmore has a busy shopping strip, where many shopfronts go large to stand out from the crowd. A few doors down from more lavishly decorated blue-and-white striped souvlakia, you’ll find Belmore Meats and Souvlakia. Their modern 3D LED lightboxes (the work of Eastwood’s Sebal Grafix) are done in simple black and whites.



Popping up late last year, they attracted my attention on Instagram with trays of sheftalia – Cypriot skinless sausages wrapped in white nets of caul fat. The pork mince is flavoured with onion and finely chopped parsley and they’re grilled (preferably on charcoal) until the fat melts away into a charred crust.



They’re made fresh then frozen, in trays that will set you back nine bucks (for 6) or sixteen bucks (for 12).



In the long, glass counter you’ll find Greek lamb ribs and chicken wings that you can accompany with creamy white tubs of excellent Tzatziki ($9) that you’ll find in the fridge along with haloumi and taramasalata.



The sausage range is also interesting, running from Continental Sausages ($13.99/kilo) to Macedonias Loukaniko ($15/kilo). Rather than the red wine soaked Cypriot version, the loukaniko here are Greek pork sausages, made according to the butchers’ family recipe from the Macedonia region of Northern Greece.



Despite the modern logos, at its heart, this is an old-fashioned butcher where you’ll actually see into the spotlessly clean area where they’re butchering and preparing meat.



To fuel up after your meat shopping adventure, head across the road to the vividly pink Mastika.



This loudly decorated shopfront lured me in with signboards advertising Künefe ($12.50).



Here the cheese pastry topped with crisp kadayif (angel hair) is served with your pick of gelato from their brightly coloured display. Choose from contemporary flavours like crunchy doughnut, black Hawaii (charcoal enriched coconut) or classics like pistachio and chocolate.



Wanting to taste my cheese, I opted for a simple vanilla that was adequate without being exceptional - with the name, I was surprised not to be eating stretchy Turkish ice cream. The kunefe here was super-sweet and hard to finish.



More exciting was the drinks fridge, where a beverage with a similar name to the shop, Mastik ($4.50) turned out to actually be made with the mastic tree’s resin. It drinks fresh, like being in a pine forest, and is a nice counterbalance to all the sweet. We also tried Koozo ($4) an adult cola flavoured with star anise – be sure to give the bottle a roll before opening, the spice tends to sit towards the bottom.



With plenty more of Belmore to explore, including an intriguing handmade tofu store called Hoa Hung Tofu that caught my eye as I was leaving, I doubt it will be long before I return to this bustling shopping strip.


Belmore Meats & Souvlakia
415 Burwood Road, Belmore
Ph: none provided

Mastika
396 Burwood Road, Belmore
Ph: (02) 8385 0571


Mastika Gelato And Dessert Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Event - Porkstar at Chin Chin




Headin’ down into Chii Town - the private dining rooms below Chin Chin - is more like entering a warehouse party than a restaurant.



Lit only by the green glow of exits signs and lurid pink neon, we walk down a grungy, stripped-back stairwell and corridor with exposed ceiling fixtures.



They open out into a large basement, with cracks of natural light from high windows that peek up onto Wentworth Avenue.



Along with more than a hundred of Sydney’s top chefs, and media personalities like Simon Marnie, I joined the Porkstar team here for a bespoke pork feast. Chef Benjamin Cooper and the Chin Chin team were kind enough to adapt their successful pan-Asian menu to specifically highlight the pig. Kicking off with bowls of pork crackle with spiced cashews, we necked Endeavour Vintage Beer Co. beers as the room rapidly filled up around us.



Slippery pork wontons in chilli soy sauce proved popular at our table of chefs, including former Sepia sous chef, Rhys Connell, journalists and the Chief Executive Officer of Australian Pork Limited, Andrew Spencer.



Bowls of nam prik ong – a Northern Thai dip made with dried chillis, minced pork and tomatoes – eaten with lotus chips and greens were too hot for some at our table, though my dining companion hoed in undaunted.



Mildly flavoured medicinal Thai-style pork bone broth were well-placed to sooth everybody's burning lips.



With seven different curries on Chin Chin’s regular menu, it’s unsurprising that my favourite dish was a curry. Cooper’s fragrant gaeng hang lay is based on a curry that originates in Northern Thailand near the Burmese border. The thick red chilli gravy has little bursts of orange turmeric, sweet onions and tender, falling apart pork meat, and would appeal to anyone who loves rendang or massaman.



Showing pork’s versatility, we move onto grilled pork ribeye steaks, kept whole under a nicely balanced black bean sauce that allowed the pig to shine through.



The meal was rounded out with greens – broccolini with sesame and peanut sauce topped with pork scratchings, pickled cucumber and spicy pineapple som tum with black fungus, garlic chives topped with just enough pork floss to keep things thematic.



Known for his palate-shocking big pan-Asian flavours, Cooper produced the boldest pork-themed dessert I’ve eaten at a Porkstar function (and I’ve been to a lot - the program is already in its fourteen year). In a little glass bowl, each guest was presented with candied pork belly topped with coconut sorbet, lashings of Asian caramel, peanuts and shiso cress – sounds crazy but it worked.



This dinner certainly provided enough reason for me to head back and review Chin Chin’s regular menu, so stay tuned…

Chin Chin
69 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9281 3322

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

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Review - Solander Dining & Bar




Hotel restaurants have a tough brief. The best ones have menus that provide a sense of place, without making guests too homesick with an avalanche of foreign techniques and flavours.



To my eye, Executive Chef David Vandenabeele, gets this balancing act right at Solander Dining & Bar. Located inside the funky West Hotel Sydney, Solander is an attractive space that offers up a range of settings for your meal.



Make your selection from well-proportioned bucket chairs set around well-spaced tables, a comfy cushioned banquette lined with tiny round bar tables, or take in the night air in the leafy, green internal atrium.



We pull up in an intimate window nook, each on our own individual, plush blue couch. A little table lamp casts a defined circle of warm, golden light.



Along with wall dividers, it helps us feel like we’ve got the restaurant to ourselves, so we’re soon a glass deep into a bottle of the 2016 Tarrawarra Estate Chardonnay ($64).



With a long and creamy palate, balanced by elegant oak, it’s good, whether you choose to drink it with or without the complimentary bread rolls.



Illustrated with plants, Solander’s one-year-on menu continues to play to Australia’s native flora and fauna. Double Boiled Wallaby Broth ($18) takes Vandenabeele’s ‘Chicken Tea’ from his time at The Langham in New York, and gives it an Aussie twist with lovely lean wallaby meat, a quail egg, enoki mushrooms and goji berries.



Presented in a transparent tea pot, it’s a comforting and pretty, tea-like broth with gentle spicing that suits the cooling mid-season weather.



Charred Bugs ($24) summon the Aussie barbeque, presenting one of my favourite crustaceans in chilli butter. Two well-cooked bugs are presented split down the centre, adorned with a tangle of greens, freshly diced tomato and chilli threads. They pull out of their shells easily, with the portion feeling generous for an entrée – easily enough to share.



I’m surprised to see our mains arrive in lidded white crockery pots. It’s not what I expect from a hotel restaurant living in the Instagram age, which actually makes it all the more charming. Young Henry Braised Pork Cheeks ($40) are tender and tasty against shiitake mushrooms, shallots and Kakadu plums.



They edge out the Slow Cooked Wallaby Shanks ($32) because the flavour profile of this dish, with quandong berries and macadamia crumble cream, feels slightly off-kilter to me. My critique comes only because I’ve eaten some amazing wallaby already this year; though to be fair, I suspect Hobart’s chefs are more familiar with this sweet and gentle game meat.



Despite each pot of protein feeling quite generously proportioned, sides are necessary if you want something other than meat on your plate. Warrigal Greens ($9) with black garlic are sure to excite anyone bored with spinach, with their balanced grassy and bitter notes.



Juicy red piquillo peppers and pomegranate arils give Wok Fried Sprouting Broccoli ($10) with toasted almond slivers a unique twist.



When taken together with sides, mains here do feel pricy, however if I was dining as part of a bigger group, I suspect you wouldn't need to order a protein and side apiece. What I do like is the meal feels, homey, Australian and healthy to eat.



Presented as a pretty wreath arranged around a ball of strawberry sorbet, the Strawberry Plate ($17) plays with texture using puffed barley, chickpea meringue, strawberry sponge, and earl grey tea jelly.



I’m more taken with the Asian-inspired Watermelon Raindrop Cake ($20). Suiting the crockery beautifully, Vandenabeele has created a pond life scene with a quivering salty watermelon jelly dome sitting under a lacy, charcoal pepper tuile surrounded by glistening sloe gin pearls and micro basil leaves. Juicy, wet and refreshing, it’s adult in flavour rather than over-sweet.


NOTE: See a previous review of this venue back HERE.

Solander Dining & Bar
West Hotel Sydney, 65 Sussex Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 8297 6500

Solander Dining and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Travel - Pearls on the Beach




With the rest of the Central Coast subject to Sydney-like urban sprawl, the little, green enclave of Pearl Beach is somewhat of an oasis. Accessed by a narrow, winding road, this sheltered, horseshoe beach and surrounding residential village boasts just over six hundred dwellings, artfully tucked into the bushland landscape.



At the southern end of the golden arc of sand, you’ll find Pearls on the Beach in a softly-hued weatherboard beach cottage.



Placed so you can pretty much step from verandah to sand, the restaurant is airy and open, with its walls decked out in creamy coastal sand colours.



Faded old wooden floorboards, white tablecloths and cream chairs complete the look, kept carefully neutral to keep your attention on the (plate) art and the idyllic view.



Led by owner and head chef Scott Fox and his wife and restaurant manager, Melissa Fox, the floor team all display an easy-going, coastal charm.



Our waiter, from nearby Umina Beach, encourages us to order three small plates apiece. Dining as a trio, it makes sense to order the whole list of nine small plates, so we embark upon a share plate degustation of sorts, that kicks off with a pretty tangle of pea tendrils.



Fresh Ricotta ($24) sits at the base of the dish that celebrates vividly green produce – smashed peas, grilled zucchini, mint and sugar snaps – all fresher than you’ll find them at your local green grocer. It’s a great start to a well-realised menu that is dotted with unexpected combinations and broad multicultural influences.



Topped with puffed wild rice, the Cured Kingfish ($25) is made mild and creamy with mint jelly mayo. and juicy with a unique, honeydew melon surprise.



Plump, beautifully cooked Sea Scallops ($25) have a lovely interplay between bitter (beach greens and nasturtium oil) and milky (macadamia cream) with a native spiced nut crumble adding texture to the visually spectacular plate.



With entry-level wines starting in the fifties, the wine list, arranged by weight and texture, won’t kill you with their mark-ups. In a break between waves of dishes, I settle into my 2015 Domenica Roussanne Marsanne ($85), which is hard to find in a bottle shop much shy of fifty bucks. With stone fruit, flint, and floral notes, it’s a cracking wine easily able to gentle down for our earlier courses or expand to match the more gutsy dishes that are on the way.



Mexican Masa and Corn Fritters ($24) prove interesting against green mole and earthy huitlacoche (corn fungus) mayonnaise balanced by pickled onion, with pistachio crumbs adding texture.



Wrapped in reed basket of gai larn, XO Roast Eggplant ($24) with sesame, edamame, nori and puffed rice, ensures that eating vegetables at Pearls on the Beach is equally as interesting as eating meat.



Piled with three large BBQ King Prawns ($25) the next dish to land is an inspired, modern British-influenced, carrot vindaloo bisque juxtaposed with a green carrot top puree (nothing is wasted), black rice and yogurt. In flavour terms, this dish is a real winner; there's lots going on without losing the primacy of the meaty king prawns.



Our last wave of dishes kicks off with KFQ ($25). While the Korean fried quail is tasty, the banchan (Korean sides) lack the bite, texture and pungency I love about kimchi.



No matter, the next dish - Char Sui Pork Rillettes ($25) – is a return to form with the French classic taken Chinois against cassava crackers and wood ear fungus salad, with black vinegar to cut through the richness. It’s testament to the adventurous nature of Fox’s cooking that in nearly fourteen years of reviewing restaurants, I’ve never eaten a similar dish.



By the time we hit Twice Cooked Wagyu Beef Intercostals ($25) I’m getting a bit full – the small plates are more generously proportioned than the three each plus a dessert apiece rule makes out. Topped with juicy wet cucumber shards, pickled wakame, shallots and soy braised peanuts, the tender rib muscles are tasty and well-rendered with the sharpness of the kimchi dressing helping to cut the fat.



Schibello Caffe with a companion Pistachio and Ricotta Cake ($18) is a lovely way to wrap things up. It’s a really good savoury cake, with silky olive oil ice cream to balance the chalky cheese and nuts. Roasted cherries provide the only sweetness in this comforting but adult dessert.



While a quenelle of coriander sorbet is undoubtedly going to be polarising on the Coconut Sago ($18) that teams sago pearls with tart, pepper roasted pineapple, and cashew and palm sugar brittle, it illustrates Fox’s cooking well. Fox plays to the unexpected, and thus his restaurant is far from the twinset and conservative white pearls the name might summon. You'd be better placed if you consider Pearls on the Beach as an exotic, black, South Sea pearl - the highlight of my Central Coast dining thus far.

Pearls on the Beach
1 Tourmaline Avenue, Pearl Beach
Ph: (02) 4342 4400

Pearls on the Beach Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Liu Rose




Walking into Liu Rose is like entering a James Bond movie – The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) to be precise - which was shot in The Sea Palace, a floating restaurant in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen Harbour, that was completed in 1958. Even with a more recent external mural, the darkened glass exterior gives little hint of the rich visual treasure that lies within.



While the padded red leather surrounds of the well-stocked bar might have faded, the restaurant’s fabulous ceiling – erected in 1971 – trots along unchanged.



Hexagonal ceiling features frame shaded chandeliers that cast light upwards so you can see the jade green ceiling details.



Circular red and gold door arches take you through from bar to dining space where cleverly moderated late afternoon light adds even more sparkle to the shiny gold walls.



There’s a fish tank room divider separating the main dining room from the bar, and well-framed art positioned so it’s viewable as you move between the three dining spaces.



Waiters in traditional black and white, complete with waistcoats and bow ties, move silently and efficiently through the large dining space. With one hand behind their backs, they’ll do full silver service on your Special Fried Rice ($11/small) – this is "the ultimate in Chinese cuisine” after all.



This big claim – spotted as we drove through North Strathfield and repeated on their plastic-wrapped menu – was actually what drew us into Peter Liu’s restaurant. While it feels grandiose, there’s a sense of grandeur to this Cantonese restaurant that must have looked like a palace when it first emerged nearly fifty years ago.



While you’ll find all of your Aussie-Cantonese favourites, running from honey king prawns (that the folk at the next table highly recommend) to sizzling platters of Mongolian lamb, we combed the menu looking for exotics. The Liu Rose Flower ($7.50/2 pieces) is unique. These golden, round balls eat like a cross between a Chiko roll and a pork siu mai. Their crisp battered exterior contains a mix of pork, prawns, ham, cabbage, mushroom and water chestnuts, served with a lurid sweet and sour dipping sauce. They easily best the more commonplace spring roll.



Mermaid’s Tresses ($10) make an ideal drinking snack with your favourite bottle (BYO allowed). It piles flash fried choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage) with pork floss and peanuts, and is incredibly compelling.



For something green, Temptress Sping Beans ($19.50) take the Peking (Sichuan) standard of lightly fried, young green beans with pork mince, and elevate it by using tender, hand cut pork pieces. Flavoured with garlic, ginger, shallots and dried shrimp (rather than the usual hot chilli) it’s an easy way to include more vegetables in your meal.



For something with a bit more heat, Spicy Quails ($28) takes farmed tender whole quails, marinates them in ginger juice and red wine, deep fries them, then chops them up before tossing them in chilli, garlic, shallots, parsley, celery and five-spice. While a bit fiddly, with lots of tiny bones to pick clean, they’re quite good eating.



Skipping over tank seafood on display in the main room, we draw our final dish from the crocodile section: Crocodile with Coconut Milk Sauce ($30). This other ‘other white meat’ scrubs up better than pork or chicken in the creamy white sauce made with sliced onions, shallots, chillies and coconut milk. It’s silky and syrupy in a way only corn flour can produce, and eats particularly well over fried rice.



‘You are about to embark on a most delightful journey’, my fortune cookie proclaims.

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Maybe it's for you, if you follow in my footsteps and dine at the historic Liu Rose...


Liu Rose
243-247 Concord Road, North Strathfield
Ph: (02) 9743 2209

Liu Rose Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Pizza Madre




Oozing corner store charm, Pizza Madre adds a deep red glow to an otherwise industrial corner of Marrickville. Even on a night plagued by torrential downpours, it’s rammed, with a queue waiting for an inside table to escape the overflowing storm-water drains that threaten to spill over onto the pavement.



Inside you’ll find two simply furnished rooms packed with people, with the front room dominated by a large round pizza oven. We pull up on a high marble table with stools on two sides, and a wooden window seat on the other.



Both the menu and the drinks list are single page affairs. Catching up with a mate, we’re in the mood to wine, so kick off with the Express Winemakers Chenin Blanc ($15/glass) a minimal intervention wine from the Great Southern in Western Australia. With lime, chalkiness and an interesting funky rumble, it’s easy to drink with or without waiting for your pizza. Looking more like borscht than pinot noir, the unfiltered Good Intentions Wine Co. Noir Dee Toot Dah ($16/glass) is actually more fun than it first seemed: think sour cherry soup with the tart fruit overlaying something dirty, earthy and rather delicious.



Owners Piero Pignatti Morano and Kim Douglas, who are also behind Two Chaps café that’s located a few blocks away, have kept a little continuity between their businesses by using their sourdough starter (rather than yeast) in the Pizza Madre dough. They’re living a buy-local ethos by using Australian flour (rather than imported Italian 00 flour) in their puffy and blistered Neapolitan-influenced sourdough bases. The bases are soft and chewy, with an earthy, faintly tart, smoky flavour.



The softness makes the sweet’n’smoky Butternut Squash Pizza ($27) with walnuts, purple trevisano radicchio leaves, fior di latte, smoked garlic oil and generous splats of buttermilk ricotta, a knife-and-fork job. I’m impressed with the topping – while not classic Italian, it’s certainly complex and delicious, and leaves me enough unadorned real estate to appreciate the base.



It edges out a Potato Pizza ($26) that teams the expected thinly sliced spuds with fior di latte, English spinach, smoked cheddar and fried capers, then drizzles the lot with vividly green watercress purée. While it’s tasty enough, it does have me reaching for the (slightly disappointing) house-made chilli oil to inject some heat. What impressed me most about Pizza Madre is the effort they’ve gone to in creating flavoursome bases with interesting, high quality toppings to ensure you won't miss seafood or meat.

Pizza Madre
Shop 2, 205 Victoria Road, Marrickville
Ph: none provided

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

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