February 12th, 2009

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Orso

It's Sunday lunch and I am pretty chuffed to sink into the relaxed ambiance of this bayside restaurant up at The Spit bridge. It has a jigsaw puzzle marina view where pelicans paddle languidly past your table, and I love pelicans.

The decor is sandy and relaxing. Softly played music is reminiscent of a Mediterranean day spa. It suits the space, but eighty minutes later I did notice the same CD going around again. Considering the restaurant wants long languid three course lunches, it might be best to have a second similar CD.

The food is eye-catching and plating is clearly a strong suit of new Executive Chef Coop Woodside. This is Orso's Antipasto Plate of Summer Treats ($27.50) where most of the selections are drawn from the other entrees selections. The pasta, a salmon and fennel ravioli is al dente but my favourite bite is the goats' cheese terrine with the accompanying small cubes of pear jelly.

The plating is even better in entrees like the Summer Salad of Poached King Prawns ($27.50). In fact I would go so far as to say, nobody else in my memory has ever made prawns into cylinders before. Despite the bright colours, flavours across both of these dishes are quite restrained. In some of the offerings like the goats' cheese, it works because it allows the cheese to sing. In others, you find yourself wishing for a bit more taste.

The pelicans are increasing in numbers and whilst they look languid on the outside, their beady eyes give away their hungry intent. I begin to suspect the restaurant is feeding them, so I (perhaps rudely) ask if this is true, and yes, this attention is courted by the restaurant feeding them salmon carcasses. According to Silvio, they only like fish, not crustaceans. They get fed at a particular time each day. Pelican o'clock is apparently around two or three in the afternoon, and I suspect again after the evening meal. They get confused when we change to daylight saving, and Christmas Day perplexes them as well as the restaurant only serves lunch!

My favourite main was the Western Australian Scampi ($57.50). The chef has a deft hand with pasta, and this is probably the boldest dish we try in terms of flavour. 

That said, I did enjoy the delicacy of the Slow Poached Lobster Tail ($65) which let me appreciate the black caviar it was cleverly served with. The lobster is spear caught rather than caught in pots which is nice to hear.

It's starting to get crowded in the waters outside. Apparently they have between five and twenty two regular pelican visitors.

The food at this venue is pricy, and serving sizes anticipate you eating three courses; however I saw this as a positive because their Dessert Degustation Plate ($32) was a highlight, and normally I don't have room for dessert.  

My favourite bite was the pot roasted rhubarb and quince crepes with a brulee'd top and a scoop of coconut sorbet. That said, the chocolate pot containing a mandarin compote and a scoop of strawberry sorbet was also a real winner. You can have a selection of sorbets in their dessert special called 'La Dolce Vita' ($29.50/head) which takes you out on the water aboard the Orso Express... I think this is a quintessential Sydney experience that I will return for!

Despite the beautiful plates I found myself wishing for a little less restraint in the flavours. I put it down to this being a special occasion restaurant where the chef’s brief is to please a wide (read: conservative) audience. I look forward to seeing him given his head! However you could easily take your parents and grandparents here, and they'd probably be impressed and unchallenged (except by the prices).

79 Parriwi Road, The Spit
Ph: (02) 9968 3555

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Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - The Austrian Schnitzelhaus

A craving for comfort food landed me at The Austrian Schnitzelhaus in Gladesville, a little outside my usual hunting grounds. By way of explanation, there’s something about simple food done well that’s a big draw-card for me. My dining companion is also keen, and displaying his eagerness by getting in the way of my set-up shot!

The cottage surrounds and authentic decorations are inoffensive. The photo wall in the right hand photo documents those who have taken on the one kilo schnitzel challenge and triumphed - like James (whose photo I stole from their website). It gave me a chuckle and as you can see, this mega schnitzel and chip platter comes with a litre of beer and some schnapps too!

So how did I get here? Well firstly, I drive past this place on Victoria Road twice a week on my way home from work. It kept niggling at my memory so one day I looked it up on the web. I was fascinated by the idea of Pancake Soup ($8.50) – shredded savoury pancakes (the thickness of crepes) in a light beef broth. This turned out to be a lovely dish.

Bitterballs ($8.50) were the other great discovery - veal croquettes with a compelling honey mustard dipping sauce. The perfection of their crumbing made me look forward to my Chicken Vienna Schnitzel ($20.90) even more; and the speed of their kitchen meant I wasn’t waiting long. The chicken schnitzel was actually one of the real highlights of the meal - one of the best representations I have had of a chicken schnitzel for a while.

My dining companion tried the Veal Schnitzel ($20.90) with pepper sauce ($3.50) which was good too. I took a poorly focused photo in the millisecond before he dug in. While the saucing felt a shade pricy, it did impress by having zing! Both the flavoursome dumplings and the sautéed potatoes we chose as accompaniments stood out in comparison to those from Sydney’s other central European restaurants. 

The service ranges from well-intentioned to clear pride from owner Gerry Jansenberger (he’s an asset to the floor). Beverages were very well priced. Be adventurous and order an Austrian wine to balance and compliment your schnitzel - the dry, acidic Salomon Undorf Gruner Veltliner ($29.50) worked a treat for us! There was a dessert that beckoned too - a platter of three different struedels to share - but I was too full on this visit to attempt it. I think that provides a worthy reason to return.

The Austrian Schnitzelhaus

163 Victoria Road, Gladesville
Ph: (02) 9816 1036
Austrian Schnitzelhaus on Urbanspoon