March 8th, 2009

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Balmain Belgian Beer Cafe (Media Lunch)

I was lucky enough to be invited to a media lunch at the new Balmain Belgian Beer Cafe. Recently opened by the guys that began the Belgian Beer Cafe boom outside of Europe (they have a store in Cammaray and one in The Rocks), there is finally a location that suits those in the inner west! Their third branch is located down at the end of Balmain where parking is free and reasonably plentiful, so I can now gleefully partake in their speciality of excellently cooked fresh Australian mussels by the kilo.

As it was a media briefing, I got to try some sample plates with a number of dishes on each. The first one had Grilled Barramundi Fillet ($26.50) topped with a lovely tomato and olive salsa; there's also a sample of the Pan fried Tiger Prawns ($18.80) which were also a nice dish.

The Vegetarian Monk’s Tart ($15.50) and the Home-made Duck Pâté ($16.00) are both excellent - I was really impressed with the vegetatarian dish in particular, rich with eggs, spices and cooked with Leffe Blonde. I would go back with a vegetarian quite happily convinced that they would enjoy this dish - there was also one or two other vegetarian choices but it is mainly for meat/seafood eaters.

Of course the hero of the meal is the mussels. They come in at least eight styles - I won’t profess to having tried them all but the Hoegaarden Mussels ($24.90) are great, particularly with a matching Hoegaarden White Beer. I also tried the Mussels Provencale ($24.90) cooked with garlic, tomato and herbs. All pots of mussels come with chips and mayonnaise, as is the Belgian tradition, so expect a full meal.

But they were not done with us... next course showed off the Belgian Meatballs ($23.50) made with roasted lamb and oregano; and the Twice-Baked Crispy Pork Belly ($26.50) which were both good. Both feel a little winter to me, so I will keep this place in mind for a big hearty winter meal when the weather turns further.

The refit of the old Commercial Hotel with authentically imported Belgian fittings is beautiful and sensitive to the area with little change to the facade. It meets the needs of the area too with a great beer garden; and they take their beer very seriously here. Check out their elaborate pouring method! I tried a number of beers, liking (as a non-beer drinker) the Hoegaarden White Draught and the Duvel the best.

They like their chocolate as well - the Belgian Chocolate Mousse ($12.50) is a sure crowd-pleaser, but I preferred the Belgian Waffle ($12.50). That's probably just because I love waffles though.

Balmain Belgian Beer Cafe
82 Darling Street, Balmain East
Ph: (02) 9810 1663

Balmain Belgian Beer Cafe on Urbanspoon
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Sobo Bistro (CLOSED)


Stroll in off the beach in casual clothes to this recently revamped space. Adam Gerondis has transformed this former fine diner (read my old review HERE) into a warm, everyday bistro with dining specials and weekend brunches from 9am-3pm.

You do pay the usual Bondi view premium, but it’s a sterling view here, so dine early to enjoy what you’re paying for. Voyeurism is aided by a bottle of wine like the racy 2007 Salitage Unwooded Chardonnay ($46) from Pemberton.

(Seriously folks, I cannot rave about Pemberton as a wine region enough - tonight I tried an Ad Hoc Chardonnay ($22) from my local favourite bottle shop, Annandale Cellars and it was superb. This region is really my favourite Australian wine region at the moment, I haven't drunk a wine yet from there that I haven't liked.)

Chef Craig Schofield
eschews foams and follies in favour of simple, consistent, well-cooked fare, appropriate to beach-side dining. Start with nice locally produced Organic Republic Sourdough ($3) with olive oil – it also goes well with his super-approachable and compelling Chicken Liver Pate ($15). I loved this dish - pate has been a firm favourite for at least a year now, and if I was ever going to introduce someone to one, THIS is the one I would get them to try - think roast chicken flavours plus a slightly lemony edge.

While the Seared Scallops with Chorizo ($17) are popular for good reason...

...I was most impressed with the Pork Belly ($33). Beautifully cooked (as one piece) the pork was largely left to stand for itself in terms of flavour. I was also impressed with how consistent these all looked coming out of the kitchen.

Served on the side was a great house-made red cabbage cooked in apple cider vinegar which cut against the fattiness of the pork beautifully.

The goose fat Confit Potatoes ($9) are also worth a look-in.

Lamb Fillet ($28) is nicely cooked on a bed of flavoursome tomatoes; but do leave room for dessert. I apologise for the poor quality of my dessert photos... for some reason my camera chose not to focus, and all the coaxing in the world didn't help. Then the smell of this simple yet stellar Macadamia Fondant ($14) with a heavenly soft white chocolate centre got the better of me, and I ate it.

My dining companion loved the Expresso Creme Brulee ($14) and I'd agree, it certainly commands your attention with an intensity to the coffee that defies you needing a latte to accompany it!

All up, a very competent meal, and one I would happily return to if I found myself beachside and hungry.

Sobo Bistro
70A Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach
(02) 9300 8898