What’s on my plate

That’s hot:

The Sepia Cookbook (http://wp.me/PEpb9-1wq)

The 2015 Gault & Millau Guide expanding to coverage of both Sydney and Melbourne Restaurants (http://www.gaultmillau.com.au/)

Chef Darren Templeman’s appointment to Head Chef at O Bar and Dining

that’s not:

The art of service being devalued

The Opera House Restaurant site unnocupied

Keying P.I.N numbers in at the table


Beef fillet, smoked brisket, pumpkin & caramelised onionsChef Jerad Dunnohew, originally from Wyoming can certainly cook protein with both confidence and precision. Having previously worked  in Omega, Manta and Restaurant Balzac sensibly he does not overcomplicate the flavour combinations, and rather places trust in his produce and technique to deliver a robust dish that could turn the most devout vegan. Alternating slices of exquisitely rare beef fillet and astutely smoked tender brisket are accompanied by a thick unapologetic concentrated jus that hits all the right primal  notes. Despite the peripheral textural plays, this is not a dish that will not be remembered for its nuance, but I would not change a thing.

24 Old Hume Highway, Berrima

Dinner Wed to Sat 6 to 10pm, Lunch Thu to Sun 12 to 3pm

Reservations: (02) 48771977

See previous winners…

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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Seasonality is really important to me – it just makes sense.

Chef O Tama Carey,  Berta

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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Artisan Wine Storage - Methuselah's CellarTrust me on this one; having developed more than a passing interest in wine, it starts innocently which inevitably leads to a passion for collecting, which ultimately ends with a massive storage dilemma. Issues of managing inventory, accessibility, climate control and insurance cascade out of control until you sensibly decide to make it someone else’s problem, and get back to just enjoying the Artisan Wine Storage - Penfolds Grange collectionexperience of drinking it, which is precisely the reason why you started. Understandably, when I received an invitation to launch of Artisan Wine Storage, I was very interested in what point of difference they had to offer both the wine collector and storage marketplace. To say I was impressed, after receiving  a comprehensive tour of the facility, is an understatement.

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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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Pork ribs in special shallot sauceOccasionally you order a dish that unexpectedly delivers the wow factor in spades, and the pork ribs in special shallot sauce ($18.80) at Lisa Wang’s My Chinese Kitchen in Burwood is most definitely one of those. Presented in foil, the aromatics seduce you, before the depth of flavour and indulgent texture; induce more than just one sigh.  Whilst not all the dishes hit that lofty mark, it is most definitely worth a visit for…

My Chinese Kitchen, 195a Burwood Rd, Burwood

Mon-Sun 11am-3pm, 5pm-10pm (Tuesday open for dinner only) Phone: 97156699