February 20th, 2008

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Gazebo Wine Garden



My photo doesn't do the Gazebo Wine Garden justice - it's a pretty location, in the old Gazebo hotel, close to the police station and fountain in Kings Cross. While you can sit inside, most diners opt to dine al fresco - and once you see the pretty lights, and enjoy the gentle hum of conversation in Sydney's currently ambient evening temperatures, you can see why.



One thing I noticed was that most of the diners were female - in fact, most of the groups were groups of women without men. In fact when I chatted to the vibrant restaurant manager, Justin Wydeman (who I last met on the floor at Pello) I heard that he and his team of handsome, engaged wait staff basically see their job as pleasing women (and the men they may choose to bring), and the demographics I had noticed are no aberration. 



One way they do this is the focus on wine rather than beer - they have a pneumatic wine system that allows wine buffs to taste before you buy. Yes with over 50 wines by the glass ($7.50-$36) it sure is a chicks’ place! You can ask the sommelier to show you the way it works if you’re interested - but there's a word of warning about sommeliers in the ladies' toilet:



However in this case, it didn't seem to be true. We had a great tasting of 10-15 wines before we even sat down to dine - in fact we had practically forgotten that we were there to dine! On the back page of my menu was a nice little reminder...



So we settled in to try chef Heidi Flannagan’s cuisine - starting with the high point, her expertise with mussels (she used to work at the Heritage Belgian Beer Cafe and Epoque. We had a pot of White Wine and Chive Cream Mussels ($21.50). She’s smart enough to avoid overcooking them (even if that means a fair few don’t open) and the white wine and chive cream sauce had us scrabbling for bread - one of the best pots of mussels I have had for a while.



I also really enjoyed the special of Blue Swimmer Crab Pasta, but it could have been improved by it being served with a crab cracker.



Calculating ladies may even gain the admiration of fellow diners by ordering ‘just’ a Salad of Warm Beetroot, Eschallot, Goats Cheese and Walnuts ($19), secure in the knowledge that lurking under those greens is a buttery pastry shell, and capping the hidden tart is creamy, dreamy cheese from plump Gloucester goats. As for me - I went: "This isn't a salad, it's a well disguised tart!" Justin just smiled.



If you do take a man, he may enjoy (as mine did) the Grilled Rump Steak on Kipfler & Speck Hash with Bone Marrow Butter ($25).



But frankly, I think I'd make this one a girls' night out - or better yet, why not enjoy a more alcoholic wine based Girls Picnic complete with snacks any weekend between midday and six? It's a nice answer to the High Teas (usually dominated by baby showers and hen's nights). For a picnic, you don't even need an occasion to grab your girl posse and spend some quality time together.



I will leave you with my favourite piece of quirky writing on the wall:



Gazebo Wine Garden
2 Elizabeth Bay Road Elizabeth Bay
Ph: (02) 9357 5333

Gazebo Wine Garden on Urbanspoon
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Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Astral



As a non-gambler the Star City Casino rarely registers on my horizon, but after dining at Astral, I’d mark it as the venue for one of Sydney’s must-do experiences. Skip the flashing lights by parking in Pyrmont Street (take lots of change as the meters seriously rob you) and enter through the hotel lifts.



I was really surprised to enter the comfortable, elegant dining room set off by the dazzling view of the sunset reflected in a city reduced to a diorama. As the light in the sky faded, the city got brighter and more beautiful...



And as you can see, just out from our table there's a lovely smoking terrace that allows you to take a jaunt from the table to take in the view. I loved standing on the terrace, and joined my dining companion for most of his cigarettes as a result, which seriously made the meal less boring for me.



And there was only a small hint of where we actually were if you looked off to the right... yes, you're up level with the neon of the Star City Casino!



As for the menu, you can order ala carte ($105/ 3 courses) or try a tasting menu (and vegetarian friends will be happy to know that they also have a vegetarian degustation available) ranging from $125 (without wine) to a high rolling $1000 (that includes luxury ingredients).

As we perused the menu we were given our first taste of chef Sean Connolly's cuisine in the form of a crumbed cylinder of Capparis Goats Cheese (from Gloucester) with a tomato puree that you inject into your mouth as you eat the cheese. It was both novel and good. I recently purchased some Capparis cheese from The Cheese Room, newly opened in Alexandria.



We chose the Astral Tasting Menu ($125). Talented sommelier Paul Gardner (ex-Aria) makes the matching wine packages (starting at $85) well worth doing for his presentation of the wines alone. I asked for a glass of champagne to start, of his choice, saying that I liked champagnes like Gosset - fresh, with apple notes, not sweet. He gave me a glass of NV Delamotte which was perfect - and it went with the first course (a chef's canape) a treat. It was a disc of foie gras on a mini Yorkshire pudding.



Our second dish was called Smoked Ocean Trout with creme, yoghurt jelly and apple served with a 2005 Vouvray Marc Brédif. It was a great dish and the wine match was a corker.



We then moved on to a Eggplant Moussaka with cumin, tomato confit, eggplant caviar, basil and béchamel foam; served with a 2003 Tallarook Marsanne from Central Victoria which was interesting.



The next dish came with my favourite wine of the night - a 2003 Craigow Pinot Noir from Southern Tasmania. The dish was called Poussin (a small, young chicken) which turned out to be a slowed cooked piece of breast with asparagus, fricassée of beans & vanilla velouté. We were most impressed by the plate it was presented on - it was all curves and super sexy, designed for very small food in the middle of a big white plate.



For the next course, we had a choice. My dining companion chose what I thought was the dish of the night. It was the Angus Tenderloin served slightly pink on a sensual bed of confit portobello mushrooms, dripped with garlic butter and matched with a 2005 Teusner Joshua from the Barossa Valley.



My choice was the Ruby Snapper with sautéed baby gem & lucky crab, clam & squid, lemon served with a 2004 Curly Flat Chardonnay from the Macedon Ranges - it also looked great on the plate, but was blown away by the beef dish.



The Additional Cheese Course ($15/head) is well worth a look with 16 perfectly ripe international and local cheeses to choose from and a matching glass of  2004 Bunnamagoo Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rockley Central Table Lands, NSW. We chose three cheeses each, and ended up with way more than we could finish! The wine wasn't to my taste (I find big, chunky reds a bit much) so the sommelier found me something I would like better.



Our palate was refreshed with the Berries Smoking Pre-Dessert, a well presented dish you can barely see through the dry-ice haze...



The dessert was a Vanilla Panna Cotta with tomato and passionfruit. We drank with it a 2005 Moscato D’Asti Vietti. It was really interesting to see tomatoes used as a fruit, rather than a vegetable. I liked the dehydrated tomato skin on top of the incredibly acidic passionfruit sorbet, and I liked the tomato and passionfruit salad. I even liked the vanilla bean infused panna cotta, but I must say, it was a bit like eating the poison (passionfruit sorbet) and the antidote (vanilla panna cotta).



At this point, I had mentioned an interest in hearing about the Inniskillin Canadian Riesling Ice wine ($230/half bottle) as I had seen a documentary on them making it - they leave the grapes on the vine until the snow starts to fall in winter. The sommelier (who was really worth his weight in gold) took it upon himself to crack open a bottle and give me a glass. My partner was jealous and thus got his own glass of the luscious, sweet, late-picked wine that is both rare and interesting. Funnily enough, I thought it would be more exciting in the mouth than it was...

There was also tea, coffee & handmade petits fours - if you could fit them in! Then roll yourself back to your car for the short drive home. Yes, sometimes it's worth a trip to the Star City Casino after all!

(By the way, I think the bill for this meal would have been around $636, but I think it would be possible to try this restaurant for considerably less. They had a bottle of wine for $36, so you could do the cheapest degustation with that bottle for two people for $286).

Astral

Level 17, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont
Ph: (1800) 700 700

Astral on Urbanspoon