October 29th, 2008

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Burger Bar

Here's another inexpensive one that is interesting because the owner, Matthew Page, was one of the pioneers of Sydney’s gourmet pizza industry, starting the very successful Wood and Stone in Surry Hills and Manly. Now that pizza place used to be a staple food when I lived in Surry Hills. Just down the road on Devonshire Street, he now has Burger Bar. Like those excellent wood-fired bases, his current damper buns (and gluten free products) are “vehicles for delivering flavour”. And fans of his old venture may find some similar flavours here too!

While the flavour on the Lamb Vindaloo Burger ($11.90/ burger only, $18.80/ with chips and salad) with a spiced ground lamb filet patty, banana, pine nuts, minted cucumber yoghurt and leaves, might not be authentic vindaloo, it certainly is interesting.

The Chilli Beef Burger ($10.90) was a bit of a messy mouthful with house-made jalapeno sauce and avocado sour cream dressing, but as Page advises, remove the stick, flatten the burger, cut it in half and then pick it up in your hands. You’ll still need a napkin or two, but his method worked for me. Add a serve of nice, non-oily Chips ($3.50) to any burger and you’ve got a filling mountain of food.

Interesting vegetarian choices like a Spicy Pumpkin and Zucchini Rosti Burger ($9.90); a small selection of cheap wines by the glass and bottle ($5.90-$7.50/glass); and an excellent alternative to an iced coffee – the Expresso and Caramel Milkshake ($4.90) – round out the experience. There are also special nights that offer a variety of discounts every Mon-Thurs, from 6-9pm including for example a free salad with a vegetarian burger on Thursday Night 'Veg Out'. You’ll be able to see why they’ve lasted three years in a market where burger joints come and go.

Burger Bar
118 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9690 0465

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Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Beresford Trattoria

Recognise this particular laneway anyone? I certainly spent many a party recovery sitting in it in my younger years - funnily enough it is opposite the site of the hospital I was born in, St Margaret’s. This is the newly redone and recently reopened Beresford Hotel. I had the absolute pleasure of dining in their new restaurant, the Beresford Trattoria the other day - two weeks after they opened, and I am very keen to share the experience.

The 1920s New York style refit is beautiful. Think 'new deco'  where old materials used in new ways. Overall it's quite timeless, and classic, and it really retains a classic pub feel. The front bar is fairly loud and convivial, whilst the atmosphere in the bistro is restrained and quieter. Peek through the windows and you'll see a wonderful large beer garden, perfect for summer! They even intend to show classic Italian movies there. I'll take you outside later...

So about that food... The food created by renowned modern Italian chef Danny Russo (Lo Studio) does not miss a beat. His menu contains everything from simple fare to more adventurous choices I loved the fact that it's all made in house - all the way down to the bread and grissini, which came with a lovely Venetian cultured butter, and a great olive oil to boot.

Start by slurp up briny virgin Coffin Bay Oysters ($3.50/each). Virgin means they're under a year old, and haven't spawned yet - hence they are small for Pacific Oysters size. They were freshly shucked, and came with a lovely fennel and olive oil dressing that worked very well with a squeeze of lemon. We had them with a class of Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling ($8/glass, $35/bottle), which suited them well.

The cocktail list is quite good - I really enjoyed my Pimped Fizz ($17) though I failed to take a photo of it, as it arrived en masse with food. It contained rasberry, mint, lemon, Remy Martin and Piper Heidsich. I also tried a Toy Boy ($16) which is made from limoncello, absolute vodka, lemon sorbet and champagne. It was beautifully balanced, and the limoncello (which is not really a favourite of mine) did not dominate.

We then started a specially created degustation menu. I have listed dishes with their price for a full serve, but please remember these are degustation serves when you read the prices - their serves overall looked quite large. I smiled the second my fork dipped into the perfection of the wagyu Lingua Tonata with yellow fin tuna, capers and anchovies ($19) - it was one of the best dishes I tried. The texture of the tongue was like cooked mousse, and if you combined all the elements on your fork, you had a true taste sensation.

We had this course and the next one with the 2007 Di Lusso 'Vino Rosato' Rose ($8/glass, $35/bottle) which reminded me of how much I had enjoyed it when we tried it whilst dining at Cucina di Lusso in Glebe. By the way, the wine list is seventy five percent Italian, and a real corker! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. An excellent list of six house wines including both of the wines I have mentioned so far, makes it possible to drink widely without breaking the bank.

Prepare yourself for a sublime moment with the pan-fried veal sweetbreads with sanguinaccio, Southern Highlands’ hazelnuts and peas ($19). The blood sausage, cooked on the premises the Italian way, with marsala, lardons and chocolate, is the best I have ever tasted. This was probably my favourite course... though it was a close tie with this and the course before. The sweetbreads were also the nicest ones I have tried.

You wouldn’t go wrong with a plate of jet black Squid Ink Tortellini ($26) stuffed with flavoursome crabmeat, either. They make the pasta themselves, and that's why they get that vivid colour. I was impressed that the flavour of the crab came through, against the bright acid of the tomato and the tasty, toothsome pasta. I loved the flavour, texture and resistance of the pasta. We had it with the 2007 Kooyong Chardonnay ($12/glass, $55/bottle) which is a lovely, lightly wooded drop from the Mornington Penninsula.

For the next course, we had a lovely glass of 2007 Waipara Hills Pinot Noir ($10/glass, $45/bottle) which I really enjoyed. I tasted Chesterfield leather, berries and forrest floor - perhaps only missing a mushroom/savoury character. The fruit was up front, and it had a lovely nose - not too hot/alcoholic. It was a good match for the well-cooked Barramundi, Porcini, Braised Ox-Tail and crema di cippole ($29).

After all that food, it was time for a wander. This is looking back into the restaurant from the lovely beer garden. Whilst we were wandering we heard the following patron conversation grabs: "Three nominations and I still haven't won one yet!" "My agent sent me to a holeproof ad, what is he trying to do to my brand?" "I'm opening at Roslyn Oxley 9 and doing her Melbourne gallery in December."

A shade too 'kool for skool' perhaps? Yes, I'll grant that it's an attractive and somewhat self-important, monied, foodie crowd, with a wide range of ages from young and super hip to old and debonair. But I coped , and I will cope again, largely because the food is that good.

The up-lighting makes for fun upskirt action. Speaking of raised skirts I also took a trip to the bathrooms. They're very futuristic with a unisex washing station, complete with orgasmic air-drying technology. According to a fellow diner: “It’s like an intelligence test!

I arrived back to a piece of woodfired pig - Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Fennel, Potatoes and cipolline ($28). I was particularly taken with the kipfler potato, one of the most flavoursome ones I have had, and the roast fennel. We had it with a glass of the 2006 Di Lusso Sangiovese ($8/glass, $35/bottle) which went with this dish well, and impressed me (and I am not big on bigger reds).

You shouldn't miss the shaved baby Brussels sprout salad with walnuts, pecorino and lemon ($8), it's an excellent salad, and one I would never have thought of. The baby Brussels sprouts function as cabbage would, without the stewed socks edge!

To end, a simply lovely 2007 Dogliotti 'La Caudrina' Moscato d'Asti ($10.50/glass) from Piedmonte, Italy, and a cauldron of sweet, alcoholic goodness (including particularly volatile cherries) in the form of a Zuppa Inglese ($15). We shared it, and there was plenty. It has an awesome meringue layer, peel and fruits, cake and a lovely custard. Like a trifle I suppose, without the horrors of nasty sherry, cream and jelly.

Danny Russo is a lovely host, and if you ask him nicely, he'll probably agree to prepare your table a custom made degustation too - on the night I went (with a full restaurant) he was running nine separate tables with different degustations. He made a point of speaking to many tables throughout the night, and is proud and enthusiastic about the cuisine he and his team are preparing. Rightly so - it's top notch modern Italian cuisine.

Beresford Trattoria
354 Bourke Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9357 1111
Modern Italian $$$-$$$$

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Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - La Brasserie (UPDATED)

I last posted a review of I last posted a review of La Brasserie in December 2007 HERE, and I liked it so much I have returned again since then, including once more recently with the Barbarians at the Plates group. So I was surprised to be invited back to sample the new summer menu from Executive Chef David Bransgrove but I quickly agreed that it was a perfect excuse to revisit and lap up the attention of debonair host Philipe Valet.

As I walked in, I was pleased to notice a small shelf of books, including Thomas Keller's Bouchon (ah the waffles, the waffles I cry) and the Larousse Gastronomique. These sort of texts bode well for a restaurant I think to myself...

The first thing I placed in my mouth was a Sydney Rock Oyster ($3.90) from Merimbula which won my heart by tasting as if it had been alive momentarily before arriving at my table. My entree choice was the foie gras - yes, since becoming a dining reviewer, I have become obsessed with this particular ingredient - it is the bomb. The caramelised Alsatian Foie Gras ($28) on brioche with spiced fruit compote felt like a taste of Christmas. It was set off beautifully by a 2007 Katz Pinot Gris ($53) from the same region.

The success of this restaurant has led to wine pricing discounts through increased purchasing volume, and it’s pleasing to see that Philipe has elected to pass these savings on to his loyal customers. If you look at the wine list, some of the mainstays have actually become less expensive, even with this worldwide fiscal crisis going on.

A beautifully plated Poitrine de Porc ($18) gave a summery twist to a nice, crisp piece of Kurobuta pork belly. Even with my mentioned obsession with foie gras, this dish was almost a dead heat with it, served as it was with yabbies, pine-nuts, muscatels, and a cider emulsion. I would rate it as the best pork belly dish I have has since the milk braised one at Deep Blue Bistro back HERE.

Choucroutie Garnie ($29) showed off the chef’s talent with a superb house-made boudin noir, and a tasty smoked pork and garlic sausage. This was my choice, and it is not from my usual repertoire of favourites (much more the kind of thing my dining companion likes) but as I was drinking the wine of Alsace I was keen to order a dish from Alsace. It really was a match made in heaven. The wine cut against the potential of the dish to be heavy and the fattiness of the pork, making it summery, yet meaty, and very much to my taste.

The Milk-fed Veal Breast ($28) shone most for the incredible mix of wild forest mushrooms. The baby cow was good despite me not ever wanting to eat it again after seeing a documentary long ago of poor baby cows kept in the dark to keep their meat pale on the plate. I am so weak when it comes to good food...

Many a good restaurant has fallen down with a Tarte au Citron ($13) but this one did not disappoint. Philipe noticed me ordering it, and commented that lemon tarts are usually poorly done. However he must have said his 'Touche' with supreme confidence, as this was really a superb exemplar of the dish.

If you fancy a final tipple, try one of the new 'Trous' - a martini glass of Trou Normand ($12) hits hard with Calvados, but kisses away the pain with a green apple sorbet. There were other types available, including one with a pear sorbet that I'd like to go back again and try. In fact I left so much of the new summer menu unexplored, I think I may be ready to plan another visit already. Any takers?

La Brasserie
118-126 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9358 1222

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