August 23rd, 2010

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Mad Spuds Cafe

Irish owner/chef Patrick Kielty is very good at combining flavours. I can see some influence from his time with Omar Majdi at Souk in the City on this menu, which elevates the humble spud beyond the food court and into the world of the gourmand. I also remember him from my visit to the now-defunct Bed Bar & Restaurant.

Pop into the newly renovated, spud-centric café (right down to the art and literature) for an inexpensive but very cheffy breakfast.

A lofty tower of Crispy Feta and Quinoa Spud Cakes ($14) sit on marinated feta under smoked salmon, an egg and a squidgy blob of preserved lemon that sets off the lot! It’s hearty stick-to-your-ribs material; as are the Grilled Organic Mushroom Polenta ($13) squares nicely balanced by a great tomato relish and creamy goat’s curd.

Condiment queens will love it here, creating their own flavour journeys on the Boxty ($14), a traditional potato pancake from the Emerald Isle.

The Black Pudding ($4) is a worthy side; and of course you should try out the work of the shiny King Edward Oven centrepiece in a few Cheesy Spud Skins ($4). The organic Robertson potatoes come up very nicely!

This is also the first outpost stocking Pigeon Coffee (carefully chosen so as not to spoil your palate for potato); great in a well-presented Latte ($3) or Flat White ($3).

Mad Spuds Cafe
479 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9698 8108

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Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Sake Master Dinner - Ocean Room

Before the weather warms up completely, I took advantage of the easier parking to stick the car under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and walk around to the Sake Master Dinner at Ocean Room, taking in the sights along the way. As you'll probably recall, I have been to this restaurant a number of times (HERE, HERE and HERE).

I'm still a fan of designer Yasumichi Morita's quivering wood-wind cathedral made of Javanese batons hanging from the ceiling, especially as seen from the front bar. The glass tiles containing flames are new, and very groovy; a nice concession to the cool winter night too.

The purpose of my visit of course was not to drink cocktails in the bar though, it was to drink sake in the private dining room, with guidance provided by Toshi Maeda from Sake Japan.

So many glasses of course required an innovative way to keep them sorted.

The dinner began with a plate of Ocean Trout Roe, White Anchovies and Smoked Cod Roe designed to show why you might want to choose sake over wine when it comes to matching food. With each of the three items, sake was a much better match than wine. The wine lingered on my palate, while the sake was refreshing and clear without interfering with the flavour of the seafood. The white anchovies were amongst the best I have tried.

The presentation of the Sake Jelly King Crab elicits much excitement at our table. No, Executive Chef Raita Noda didn't leave al foil on it, that's platinum leaf. The 'dangerous catch' Alaskan King Crab was cooked sous vide. While I found it interesting, I also like it cooked the old fashioned way - it's pretty much perfect as is if you ask me. It was accompanied by cured white turnips and a sake and sour plum jelly, and served with a ten-time gold medal winning sake - Eikun Ichigin Junmai Daiginjo. If you get a chance to try this sake do so, it's gorgeously soft and easy to drink with hints of juicy pear.

When you see the word Junmai, it means pure rice wine. In other words, this particular sake has no distilled alcohol added (they do it to help balance the flavour of a final sake). With Sake it's also worth looking at the numbers on the bottle. This one says (N) +3.5 which stands for Nihonshudo, the Sake Meter Value. A high positive number means the sake will be dry, a lower number (and they go into negatives) means it will be sweeter. Garden variety sake will generally be around a +2.

Our sake lesson was interrupted by the excitement generated by the arrival of East Meets West, a trio of delights including smoky ocean trout with houji-tea and a test-tube of ocean trout pearl vinaigrette to splash on yourself after you lift the glass trapping in the smoke. There's also lightly poached Arai Crystal Bay prawn sashimi with a green chilli and shiso salsa served on green bamboo. The final offering on this interesting platter is fresh cuttlefish and Tasmanian sea urchin roe 'ravioli' topped with coriander infused oil - it's achingly tender on the tongue. Our matching sake was Niwano Uguisu Tokubetsu Junmai (N) +3. I liked it, though not quite as much as the first one... it was supposed to have a hint of vanilla ice-cream on the palate, but I couldn't find it!

Tuna is always special at Ocean Room, and there's something rather nifty about getting a card explaining the combinations with your dish.

My favourite was the zuke (seasoned) akami with dry natto, negi miso and leek julienne. We enjoyed our blue fin adventure with Tateyama Junmai Ginjo (N) +2 which was easy to drink with a touch of sweetness and a dry ending.

A few more at-table theatrics with cellophane being cut away by amused staff occur with the arrival of the Cellophane Bag Steamed Snapper. Inside we found delicately cooked fish with broccoli, scallops, mushrooms, carrot and other vegetables. Our sake for this course, the Hatsumago Tonkubetsu Honjozo (N)+4 was served warm... basically you can decide how you like your sake served, but if you haven't spent many coffers on it, you might like to warm it to bring out the flavour a bit more.

Our delightful palate cleanser was a Umeshu Frappe with Umeshu Infused Ume. It's a green plum, and it's tart and delicious. I found it had a strong smell of marzipan, but not everyone on the table agreed with me on that. I also tried a straight glass of the Uguisu Tomari Plum Wine, Fukuoka and experienced the same aroma, I was interested because I tried a fantastic cocktail using this at Universal Restaurant a few weeks earlier.

It was nice to receive our Roast Angus Beef with Sake Scented Jus because all these tasty protein morsels had left us nothing to soak up the alcohol or fill our slightly sloshing stomachs. It went well with the seared wedge of Roquefort cheese, though I was not as fussed on the Garyubai Junmai Ginjo (N) +3 that accompanied this course - it was more like my first forays into sake with a bit of heat to the palate.

Our final offering is called Sake Abstract. It included a gorgeous little jobocabla chiffon cake with sake-infused creme fraiche, shochu marinated strawberries and a sake-kasu blancmange with daiginjo jelly. The accompanying sake Shirakawago Junmai Nigorizake (N) -25 and it was the hardest of the lot to drink, so foreign was it to my palate. My rather naughty dining companion dubbed it bukkake sake... perhaps because it was creamy, white and a wee bit frothy.

Ocean Room
Bay 4, Ground Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, George Street, The Rocks
Ph: (02) 9252 9585

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