Mr and Mrs TakaokaIn late 2009 when I launched this blog, I had no realisation of the generous opportunities that being involved with the hospitality industry would provide. My brief was simple, judge each dish on its merits, and critique accordingly. To have the honour of dining with The Consul-General of Japan, Mr Masato Takaoka and his lovely wife Mrs Yoko Takaoka at their charming residence in Bellevue Hill, was far beyond any of the expectations I had all those years ago.

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Blood macaron, quince & Stilton

Blood macaron, quince & stiltonChef Phil Whitmarsh talks, walks and breathes the nose to tail concept of dining, but even knowing that, the concept of a blood macaron even bended my mind. Replacing the egg whites fully with blood, and also incorporating it into the icing sugar and almond mix, without losing the effect of lightness, is quite brave and brilliant. To balance the underlying sweetness, and quirky resonance of the savoury aspect, with the saltiness of the Stilton, and the acidity from the quince, is right up my alley. Apparently, Fergus Henderson didn’t love the version he tried with the bone marrow custard, but I was absolutely besotted by this take. I unashamedly begged, borrowed and stole for more! In a month of quality dishes, this is the one that unequivocally captured my interest…

A ‘Tail’ of Two Chefs was a collaboration between Phil Whitmarsh and Darren Templeman, the first in a series of ‘pop up’ guest chef dinners to be held at O Bar and Dining.

See previous winners…

Anthony Sorbello - Leanne Lattouf - Ross SchinellaThe Schibello Caffé brand is bonded and forged through the meaning and values encapsulated in those three significant words. The Schinella and Sorbello families, richly steeped in the traditional joys of Italian heritage, combined their love and vast knowledge of coffee to form one single brand and destiny. To celebrate its first fifteen years, Schibello Caffé has launched its new Research and Development Roasting Laboratory in Rhodes. It comprehensively covers all aspects of coffee production, from the humble bean, right through to the cup. The depth of this commitment is only fully realised by a tour of this impressive facility.

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Dragoncello (14.5/20)

Dragoncello

Chef and Owner Roy McVeigh at Dragoncello (ex Berowra Waters Inn, Bar H, Bathers Pavilion, Guillaume at Bennelong, Attica and Royal Mail) has spent  significant time at quality restaurants in senior positions to ensure his first solo venture is followed with keen interest. Located in a corner two storey terrace, the next stage of the plan is to move the dining room upstairs, replete with PDR. This would allow downstairs, with an edgy Melbourne Wine Bar feel, to be utilised as a bar.

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What’s on my plate

That’s hot:

Pasture raised Burrawong Gaian spatchcocks, flying off the menu in Sydney’s top restaurants.

The pork belly at China Lane.

Chef Josh Niland at Cafe Nice.

that’s not:

Serving beer in a pub or restaurant on a hard surface without a coaster to absorb condensation.

Restaurants and Pubs who leave doors and windows open like a tent, in particularly hot and humid weather when they have a perfectly good air conditioner in working order. The food or drinks are only as good, as the environment provided to diners in which to enjoy it.

Chefs that don’t explore the full diversity of salt profiles that influence the primary ingredients of dishes differently, or the ones doing so, not listing that detail on their menus.

Roast Pork ShoulderWhateley Lane in Newtown, a small yet  vibrant Italian style canteen from the passionate La Rosa brothers behind  the popular Gelatomassi, only just a heartbeat away, doesn’t get too tricky. The menu focusses on traditional flavour based dishes at incredible price points. The porchetta, heavily influenced by the Lazio region of Italy, raises that bar to more lofty heights. Cooked in a special convection rotisserie oven for a touch over four hours, the result is absolutely stunning. Rich sublime crackling, encasing a luscious rolled pork shoulder, seasoned to perfection, with herbaceous and smoky overtones, is an absolute joy to savour.

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The Burger Games

Huxtaburger CBDMost of my readers would identify my blog with fine dining experiences, but in truth, I enjoy a damn good burger just like anyone else! Sydney and Melbourne over the last couple of years have pretty much hosted a version of “the burger games”, where competitors have tried to one up each other. Whilst, the outcome it is not going to change my world, the standard of the offerings given the price points has been fairly decent, and we all need to indulge in a guilty pleasure now and then.

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Yayoi (14/20)

Zensai Santen MoriYayoi, a modern take on a traditional Japanese Teishoku restaurant, and the initial Sydney venture from a very large empire throughout Asia, delivers far more than any clichéd franchise experience that others may offer. Refreshingly, the well presented food not only has sound technical foundation, but more importantly shows some soul, as does the classy but understated fit-out. The exceptional hand crafted ceramics by Morimitsu Hosokawa on display, no doubt also inspired some of the stunning plates being used, which showcase the cuisine beautifully.

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Rockpool (19/20)

Chicken wings w egg batter & konbu butterRockpool (est. 1989), redefined the perception of Australian cuisine forever. It provided the confidence to leave behind our clichéd culinary baggage, push through the staid conventional boundaries, and to stand proudly behind Modern Australian cuisine in a global context. Chef Neil Perry forged the road to Prawn katsu w coriander, chilli & rice rollsustainability by embracing small artisan producers, with whom he shared the same commitment. The food had both style and substance, and the renowned service surrounding it was beyond just an ideal, it truly meant something to share it with diners. The success led to the dream of expansion becoming a reality, although never at the expense of core group philosophy.

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The following restaurants have agreed to provide up to six meals for Starlight Foundation affected families this Christmas:

Booth Street Bistro T: (02) 96606652 W: http://www.boothstbistro.com/

Charing Cross Hotel T: (02) 93893093 W: http://www.charingcrosshotel.com.au/

China Doll T: (02) 93806744 W: http://www.chinadoll.com.au/

Popolo T: (02) 93619941 W: http://www.popolo.com.au/

starlight

W: http://www.starlight.org.au/

Shojin RamenIppudo may have only brought their Ramen revolution to Sydney diners recently, but it was first established in Japan back in 1985, expanding to over eighty stores at last count. Since opening in New York in 2008, it has spread globally with stores now in Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, China and London. With the unbelievable response to the Westfield store in Sydney, a second outlet has now opened in Central Park.

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Eschalot (15/20)

eschalotEschalot, located in the charming Berrima Village (est 1831), which is home to some of the finest Colonial sandstone architecture in Australia, is the quintessential country restaurant that every Owner and Chef dream of being involved with. Originally known as Breen’s Commercial Hotel (circa 1869), the picturesque building has a long history of hospitality, retaining the majority of its original character, including separate dining rooms and fireplaces with elegant ambience. E2, an offshoot of the restaurant across the road catering for weddings, functions and conferences, is on the site formerly occupied by The Journeyman. Without impacting on the quality of Eschalot, E2 adds another aspect and sustainability to the business.

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Seasonal ingredients have a natural affinity with each other.

Chef Philip Howard,  The Square

2015 Gault Millau GuideFood reviewing is a very subjective medium at best, as every diner has a very unique palate, food style preference, service needs, and above all the right to decide on how best to spend their hard-earned dollars. So a food guide is exactly that, albeit based on a very well measured and researched compilation of assessments. What is incredibly important though, is that the diner always has a respected  and robust second opinion. That point of difference ensures that the standards which make  our restaurant experiences worthwhile are celebrated and vigilantly maintained, through the objectivity of a fresh perspective of the industry.

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Paddington Tea

Organic Earl GrayPaddington Tea, fine tea merchants source their exceptional leaves from Sri Lanka, China, India and even locally in Australia. Their black tea range, which includes a superbly well-balanced and structured organic Earl Gray, also includes Organic English Breakfast, Lady Earl Gray and Darjeeling. The new Green Tea range includes Organic Jasmine Tea and Kashmiri Kahwa, along with extensive Herbal and Chai (Masala & Rooibos) options should that be more to your liking.

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BAH BQThe Brazilian Grill BAH BQ in Crows Nest won me over even before the first skewers appeared. Impeccably set tables, spotless glasses and cutlery reinforced that those fundamental standards are a fairly reliable barometer of the experience about to be delivered. Whilst not aspiring to be formal, looking after the small details ensures the bigger picture will take care of itself. Tucked away in a more parking friendly side street, the massive space is held together by some very smart interior designing, keeping the overall feel intimate. The vibe is upbeat, striking just the right balance, without descending into slap happy casual.

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SugarcaneReinventing and realigning the direction of a restaurant and style of food is never easy and rarely meets expectations. Owner/Chef Milan Strbac at Sugarcane has achieved not only that, but also an exciting exploration and interpretation of South East Asian cuisine during that transition. The astutely lit and roughly exposed walls, playful murals, silk handbag ceiling, and shared benches highlight the overall mood of the revamp. This draws diners gently into the world of thoughtful Pan Asian fusion. The bustling open kitchen, and passing montage of Surry Hills, adds that street influence to some of dishes on the menu, delivering just the right touch of symbolism.

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Truffle pizzaFirstly, Rosso Pomodoro is unquestionably in the elite category of pizza makers in Sydney, and for that matter in Australia. So in 2011 when they added a truffle pizza to their menu, the food public and media instantly took notice. They currently move close to 150 per week, so the $40 price tag is not spooking either their regulars or newcomers, as clearly the quality delivers to that price point. The aroma of freshly harvested and spectacular local Tasmanian truffles, is totally enhanced by the sublime texture and earthy flavour of the truffle imparted through the eggs, which have been stored with those truffles to complete the overall sensory experience on the palate. Add the rich mouth feel of decadent speck with buffalo mozzarella, and you simply have the perfect pizza in my opinion. Trust me, try it once, and you will be back every year for more…

90-91, 24 Buchanan Street, Balmain (White Bay)

Tue-Sun 6-10pm

Reservations: (02) 95555924

Website: http://www.rossopomodoro.com.au/

Twitter: @rossopomodoroau

Chefs GalleryThe Chinese banquet, a much-loved tradition in Australia, has been reinvigorated at Chefs Gallery. The point of difference offered here is both quality and service, delivered at an outrageous price (11 courses for $50 per head, including 2 drinks) for a minimum of only eight people. On special occasions like tonight’s event organised by Whiteworks PR, the Chef will conduct a tableside hands-on noodle master class ($69 per person/min 8), which can provide some interesting results. My piping of noodles was fairly miserable, though I got off lightly compared to some of the far more brave souls who took on the resident noodle master in all manner of kneading contortions. For the most part, whilst providing great entertainment, it inevitably ended in a spectacular and joyous defeat for the ‘away team’. Should one however prefer to watch, the long glass fronted dim sum kitchen provides a compulsive and ongoing noodle master class throughout service.

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Massaman CurryAn exceptional Massaman curry is like a welcome warm embrace on a cold night. Having tried this twice, the raw authenticity of the Chef’s background resonates throughout the dish. The stunning base flavour of the curry paste, balanced with  the perfect ratio of coconut milk, provides a lovely rich consistency,  with a haunting, but not overpowering heat note. Both the lamb ($14.50) and beef ($11.50) versions are executed equally well, and whilst in my opinion the strength of the menu is found within the Thai curries, do not let that deter you; as cooking a great curry is an art, and a thing of beauty always worth travelling for.

490 King Georges Road, Beverly Hills

Mon-Sun 11.30-3pm, 5pm-10.30pm

Reservations: (02) 95861586

 

The DevonshireDevonshire Street is one of the more eclectic food strips in Surry Hills, so opening The Devonshire had a certain element of risk associated with it, although a vibrant room on a fairly non-descript Tuesday night is evidence that Chef Jeremy Bentley has gone a long way to winning the locals over. Waving corkage on the Tuesday is a great initiative, and offering a three course Prix Fix Lunch menu on a Friday for $35pp is the type of goodwill that is repaid with return covers. Set in an intimate terrace, the use of a multitude of gilded mirrors by designer Victoria Waters to fill one length would normally be a stretch, but it undeniably works well here. The understated smart feel of the room fits like a glove with the overall intention of both the food and service.

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Alfa chocPart of any worthwhile food journey is being introduced to new concepts and tastes from different cultures, so when Daniela Penno of Latin PR offered me the chance to try this favourite Argentinian snack, both my curiosity and a sweet tooth prevailed. The first thing that strikes me is the unique texture, which is almost cake like. Two large baked biscuits, lavishly dipped in the finest Belgian chocolate form a decadent sandwich, with a filling of ‘dulce de leche’ (literally translated it means ‘sweet milk’, sometimes also called caramel. I could picture them in an afternoon or high tea context, but in South America they are even known to devour them at breakfast or as a dessert. Founder Mariano Rodriguez tinkered for two years with his mother’s recipe before launching AlfaChoc which is now available in notable coffee shops and delicatessens around Sydney, including Café Hernandez, The Deli Potts, Rushcutters Bay Kiosk, Café con Leche, and Caffe Corto.

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Fig (15/20)

FigOccasionally, you discover an absolute regional gem on the back of a very solid recommendation from clued up locals. Surprisingly, the reviewing team in that area overlooked “Fig” in Sawtell, which is one such case. Chef Phil Woolaston (ex Fins) is an unassuming ambassador dedicated to showcasing the best produce of the Mid North Coast region and its surrounds. Underpinned by the technical expertise to implement this sustainable philosophy, Fig has the perfect direction a memorable regional restaurant should aspire to. Nicely positioned on the corner of the spectacularly tree-lined main street with a modest yet warm and inviting room, Fig welcomes the ebb and flow of the small village during service, with the doors and windows fully open to embrace the refreshing sea breeze..

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VapianoVapiano, was established in Europe in 2002, and at last count had 135 restaurants in 26 countries over four continents. The style is casual Italian, with the emphasis on using freshly sourced produce (and predominately Australian wines) to underpin and drive the concept; giving it some essential local roots. On arrival everyone is given a chip card, which is your virtual bill. The large L shaped pass, which is the focus of the multi-level space, is divided into salad and antipasti, pizza, and pasta stations from where you progressively order. The Bar also doubles as the dessert station, and surprisingly on only the second official service, the whole operation runs like clockwork. Everything on the savoury menu is made to order, which is a refreshing point of difference for a chain style restaurant, which no doubt is one of the major factors behind its global longevity.

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Main display cabinetSome have attributed the origin of the éclair to legendary French Chef Marie Antonin Carême (1784-1833), but regardless of that speculation, we do know it was originally known as “pain à la duchesse” or “petite duchesse”. I am fairly sure even given their penchant for culinary largesse, the Parisians back then would not have envisaged a savoury éclair, but I am certainly glad someone did later in its historical timeline, as I have just devoured one with foie gras at the opening of La Maison de L’eclair in Bondi. Frederick and Laurence Caillon, the talented pastry team behind the multi award-winning Croquembouche Patisserie that opened in 2000, are ready to spoil us all over again with this dedicated éclair concept store.

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Thee WilliamsOn my recent trips to Melbourne, visits to Pope Joan, Code Black Coffee and Duchess of Spotswood had me lamenting about the lack of something plausibly similar in Sydney, apart from The Grounds of Alexandria. Essentially, all started out as Cafes at the core, but simply refused to be restricted by that strict definition. Sensibly they chose to challenge their culinary brief, whilst always keeping the food real on the plate. Fortunately Three Williams on Elizabeth Street in Redfern has thrown its hat in the ring also, in an absolutely huge open space, which is truly everything to all people. It is 1.30pm on a nondescript Tuesday in its third week, and the joint is cranking with hipsters, mothers, foodies and working types who don’t appear to be in any particular hurry to go anywhere. The other thing that strikes me is the generous spacing of the tables, and the number of floor staff, which indicates that providing a comfortable space and relaxed experience is of premium importance to the owners.

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There is something special about dining adjacent to a bay or seaside that both liberates one from the usual demands of time, whilst also instantaneously establishing a connection and sense of place. Throw in the romance of fishing boats, locals lazily meandering along the UlladullaUlladulla beach and the experience has the potential to be memorable. Occupying the absolute dress circle position, featuring unobstructed split level views, Ceto Restaurant and Bar located in Ulladulla is not only blessed with spectacular natural ambience, but most importantly also has the kitchen brigade to seal the deal. Alex Dawkins, former executive Chef at Bannisters, sensibly keeps the menu accessible yet never condescending for the locals, as establishing trust and respect is rightly the foundation block of all successful regional restaurants.

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Attica (18/20)

Walnut in its shellAttica is more the extrapolation of a personal vision, rather than a world acclaimed destination restaurant. It clearly represents an ideal; an entirely unique reinterpretation of nature, which holds true with every dish plated. Refreshingly this is achieved, with only conventional perception getting ‘lost in the translation’. Standing behind all this is New Zealander Ben Shewry, both a gifted Chef and natural story-teller, whose cultural and family heritage underpins every concept. This is not a transparent journey of three hat dining by the numbers, rather an opportunity to ponder the ecological issues raised; with a look below the surface rewarding those who dare, with an immensely profound experience.

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What do Katnook Estate, Aria Restaurant and Opera Australia have in common as they converge on the iconic Utzon room in The Sydney Opera House on October the 24th? How about a sense of style and place to start with, but most importantly all underpinned by a great deal of substance, which is truly evidenced by the clearly undeniable longevity of their Katnook Estaterespective achievements. The 2011 vintage and 30th release of Winemaker Wayne Stehbens Estate Cabernet Sauvignon marks the occasion, with ABC Classic FM’s Damien Beaumont hosting an exquisite night of matching wine, operetta and food.

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Jacques Reymond (18/20)

FireplaceTo announce retirement when your justifiably acclaimed world class restaurant Jacques Reymond is still at the top of its game, not only exudes class, but sound judgment in choosing to step aside on your own terms. With eighty Good Food Guide hats since 1989, including “three hats” on seventeen occasions, it is an extraordinary achievement that places Jacques Reymond at the elite level. The legacy of not only the restaurant, but the man is immeasurable, and it has substantially enhanced the culinary landscape in Australia.

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I saw the golden age of gastronomy. I saw that beautiful, romantic period. And then the world changed.

Chef Marco Pierre White

LibertineThe romance of dining is the unspoken ‘grail’ within the world of hospitality. Without it we would simply be fulfilling a biological need that would never nurture the soul, or imprint our priceless sense of memory. The act of giving and sharing, with a truly heartfelt duty of care, underpins any memorable restaurant experience. Very few ever get that elusive mix right, ultimately ending up feeling overly contrived, and not particularly genuine. However, you sometimes find that rare gem which touches your heartstrings, and makes the tapestry of any food journey worthwhile. Libertine, no sooner found in my case, is now  gone, but it would be remiss of me not to reminisce over the passion they showed their diners throughout the years.

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Sepia (18.5/20)

It is heartening to know that whilst the calibre of a Chef as thoughtful and skilful as Martin Benn showcases his craft, fine dining will never be dead. Does high end dining have to re-invent and adapt 'Kingfish bacon' w smoked trout roeitself to the volatile environment in which it precariously co-exists? The answer is a resounding yes, and impressively Sepia has done so without compromising on its own standards, or the expectation of the diner looking for ‘that’ special experience in Sydney.

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Sushia Bond St Exterior

Sydney based entrepreneur Danny Kim, and owner of Sushia Izakaya & Bar, launched his modern twist on traditional Japanese in food areas of regional NSW, in order to establish and refine the overall brand, giving country diners a totally new Scallop Carparccioand more diverse experience. With Sushia Roll and Fresh Bars in Taree, Orange, Bathurst and Port Macquarie successfully implemented, award-winning JNP Architects were commissioned to complete a stunning yet versatile fit-out for the more elaborate Bond Street location in Sydney’s financial hub. The innovative timber fins dominate the aesthetic of the main room, with the nuance of the more subdued lighting suspended above the sushi train providing a nice counterpoint.

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DylanIt is said if you are good enough, you are old enough. The success of young Chef Dylan Carter’s first pop-up restaurant certainly adds credence to that expression. Only just having turned fourteen, he has already staged at Ormeggio, Flying Fish, Biota Dining, Becasse, Pier, Assiette, Cutler and co, Vue de monde, Jacques Reymond, Attica, and Four in Hand. Clearly, his rare talent has been both recognised and nurtured by key figures within the Industry, and all things being equal, his future looks immensely promising. I have always maintained that an understanding of balance of flavours is a very intuitive skill, and there is no doubt that this gift underpins the quality of his food, even at this formative stage

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Billy KwongBilly Kwong, the food temple of celebrity chef Kylie Kwong, is the quintessential example for any local restaurant wanting to ethically source its produce. Take time to read the menu and you will be hard pressed to find many restaurants that are more accountable in every facet of their operation. This drives not only the restaurant on Crown Street, but also their weekly presence at Eveleigh Farmers’ Market, and the Chef’s affiliated media “spinoffs”. While such integrity clearly impacts on the pricing of dishes, the success and longevity of Billy Kwong proves that diners will be supportive; providing the motives are transparent and genuine.  

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3 Weeds (14.5/20)

3 WeedsIn the testosterone fuelled environment of male-dominated kitchen brigades, it takes a very resilient female Chef to not only earn respect, but to break out and establish their own foothold within the industry. Lauren Murdoch, whose distinctive style of flavoursome and uncomplicated produce-driven dishes, emerged under the legendary Janni Kyritsis at Concourse and MG Garage. Lauren subsequently headed up Lotus, Ash Street Cellar and Felix for the high profile Merivale Group to much acclaim. The subsequent move to 3 Weeds, a boutique gastro pub in Rozelle, was an ideal opportunity to express her vibrant personality, and style on the plate at a far more intimate level.

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Vietnamese salad & ginger creamOpening a regional restaurant of substance, which fronts a village car park, requires a fair deal of vision, courage and persistence to make it successful. The owners (Chef Grant Farrant and partner Rachel McNabb) of Restaurant Como in Blaxland, the lower Blue Mountains, not only embraced this challenge, but in doing so have earned the trust of the locals who have been integral to its longevity and development. Clearly, it has a loyal following of serious Sydney food lovers, who recognise its evolving and cutting edge food techniques, and are comfortable in the knowledge that the service aspires to same level of excellence.  

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