“White Heat was the book that made boys want to become chefs.”
Chef Pierre Koffmann
April 2017, Sepia
Scampi, jamon cream, kabosu, cured pork cheek, woodear mushroom, crackling
Very good restaurants come and go, however truly great ones like Sepia are never forgotten. So many of Chef Martin Benn’s dishes will forever reside in our memories, as culinary flashpoints, and moments of sheer extraordinary genius. On this night of eighteen snacks and dishes, there was a mid-point succession of courses, that transcended exemplary, into something far more surreal. The brigade executed liked gods, not just like a well-trained and professional group of exceptional mortals ‘in the zone’. This course, danced both on, and within the edges of the elusive quest, a sublime combination of produce, cohesive flavours, subtle textures and exquisite balance. Perhaps, it was unfair to pick just one highlight from so many, but everything around me lacked relevance, as my senses acutely focussed and appreciated the sheer beauty and magnificence of that moment; perfection – The Holy Grail…
Note: Sepia closes towards the end of 2017
Ground Floor, Darling Park, 201 Sussex St, Sydney
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm, Lunch: Friday & Saturday from 12noon
Reservations: (02) 9283 1990
Mise en Place (http://gaultmillauevents.com/)
Burrawong Gaian Heritage Breed Chickens (https://www.facebook.com/lbvlebonvivant/videos/1500014213363932/)
Mains arriving when the entrees are not finished. This diminishes the experience for diners, and is a very poor reflection on the restaurant.
Delivering wines by the glass without either the bottle, or any detail of the wine.
Front of House without the faintest idea of where the produce comes from, or even worse when they ask, and the kitchen doesn’t know either!
March 2017, Amaru
Big Eye Tuna / Sweet Ginger / Trout Pearls / Cured Melon Juice
With the sustainability of fine dining under siege, it is hard not to argue that restaurants like Amaru and sixpenny, which redefine the boundaries, without the largesse and costs that are undermining others at the top end, are the more progressive way forward. Chef Clinton McIver, and his small but talented brigade, present dishes with notable finesse and balance, that speak and connect with a new generation of diners. This beautifully balanced, and vibrantly uplifting dish, resonated with a delicacy of flavours which is indicative of the new wave of impressive talent that is shaping our culinary future.
1121 High Street, Armadale
Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm, Friday and Saturday from 12.30pm
Reservations: (03) 9822 0144
February 2017, sixpenny
Tomatoes w Clam butter & Caviar
There is a notable maturity and self assurance at sixpenny, both in terms of the narrative and structure of the menu, and with how gracefully the front of house showcase the overall experience. The departure of Chef James Parry has seen Aaron Ward confidently fill that void for Daniel Puskas, who continues to surprise and wow diners with his intuitive vision and exceptional execution. This restrained yet sophisticated dish is just one example, with the precise acidity and clarity of the core ingredient offset by the lush silky mouth feel of the divine clam butter, with caviar being a fitting exclamation mark.
83 Percival Road, Stanmore
Wednesday to Saturday from 6pm, Saturday and Sunday from 12pm
Reservations: (02) 9572 6666
Hand rolled strozzapreti w Moreton Bay bug & crustacean butter
There should be a new reference point for the definition of sublime in the dictionary. Chef Phil Wood’s exquisite crustacean butter is extraordinary, and the joy from it being served with flawlessly hand rolled strozzapreti, and succulent Moreton Bay bug ticks all of my boxes. That rare gift of an intuitive sense of balance is bestowed upon very few in the culinary world, yet every single dish I taste from this Chef, convinces me he fully deserves to be considered in that elite category. If Eleven Bridge maintains these standards, it will forge a legacy in its own right, and I for one look forward to following its journey very closely.
11 Bridge Street, Sydney
Monday to Saturday from 5.30pm, Monday to Friday from 12pm
(02) 9252 1888
Squid ink fregola, calamari ragout, cuttlefish crudo, bottarga
There is an inherit beauty found within dishes embracing the simplicity of well-sourced produce, cooked with both love and respect. This memorable dish from the talented and ascendant Chef Naomi Lowry, and Popolo’s soulful pasta Chef Stefano Gaspa, is a perfect example of that timeless premise. The lushness of the flawless house-made squid ink fregola , offset by the clarity of flavour from the stunningly fresh calamari, amidst the nuance of textures, and haunting resonance of the sea, embodies the very essence of my love of food. It is a dish of abundant joy and promise, that celebrates the ethos and generosity of spirit, that passionate owner/operator Flavio Carnervale has encouraged, and seen flourish at Popolo, since opening in the shadow of more grandiose adjacent concepts, long since passed. This is a restaurant, that is genuinely both for, and of the people…
30 McLachlan Avenue, Rushcutters Bay
Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm, Friday to Sunday from 12noon, 11.30am to 2.30pm, Saturday to Sunday from 8am
(02) 9361 6641
Sautéed veal sweetbreads, with green peas, onions and bacon
Head Chef Frederic Colin pays homage to his grandfather Henri, who mentored him from the age of ten, with dishes from the heart, just like this one. The simple comforting joy of well cooked sweetbreads unfortunately been lost to a modern generation of diners, but occasionally there is a Chef nostalgic enough to revive them with as much humility as Bistrot Gavroche did on their menu. This classic dish is all about flavour and texture, and rarely is it as skilfully executed, and with as much love, as was evident here.
Level 1, 2-10 Kensington Street, Chippendale
Monday to Saturday 6pm to late, Sunday 6.30 to 9.30pm, Monday to Friday 11.30am to 2.30pm, Saturday to Sunday 10.30am to 3pm
(02) 8065 7223
In this age of globalisation, it is hard to find a tourist location that still has any sense of real authenticity left to offer like Chile, with such a vast range of diversity. Part of three continents (South America, Oceania, and the Antarctic), with over 6,000 km’s of coastline, it offers some of the most stunning and picturesque locations on the planet. This event promoted by ProChile, and held at the Ovolo Hotel Woolloomooloo, was coordinated with the arrival of the spectacular Chilean Navy tall training ship, The Esmeralda which was docked nearby. Launched on 12 May 1953, it currently sails as an ambassadorial ship of goodwill, promoting Chile, receiving invitations from countries all over the globe years in advance. On a previous visit in 1961, an estimated 100,000 people bid farewelled ‘The White Lady’ as she departed Sydney Harbour.
Coal grilled Burrawong Gaian Pekin duck breast
The synergy between the Chef and a Producer, who share the same ethical and sustainable philosophy, is “The Grail” that every true food lover searches for endlessly on every plate. In my opinion, award-winning Burrawong Gaian is the best poultry producer in Australia, and Chef Paul Cooper is one of the best exponents of showcasing their genuinely pasture raised produce in the land. The resonant smokiness from the sublime duck breast being astutely grilled over coals, served with intensely evil duck fat fudge, hay braised carrots, and a memorable coffee and pumpkin puree, ticked all of my boxes. This is what real dining is all about, spectacular produce, respectfully and innovatively prepared by a Chef at the very top of his game!
527 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Monday to Saturday (Lunch & Dinner)
(02) 8065 7223
Hand Picked Crab Salad
As the seasons change, so do the construct of dishes. Spring evokes a lighter and more vibrant touch on the plate, and Head Chef Darren Templeman playfully celebrates the breadth of that spirit, with this beautiful tribute to natures awakening. Stunningly fresh Fraser Island Crab, is delicately paired with smoked almonds, cultured curds and an eye-catching nasturtium dressing. This elegant dish of the month welcomes both the new season in style, underpinned by the culinary Holy Trinity of balance, textures and flavours…
Level 47, Australia Square
264 George Street, Sydney
7 nights from 5pm to late, Wednesday to Friday from 12 noon
Lounge Bar 7 nights from 5pm to late
(02) 9247 9777
Confit Duck Leg, parsnip, cherries, pistachio
Less is more. The beautiful simplicity of a well-executed dish is too often undervalued, but the Chef who understands the beneficial strengths of restraint, is at the very top of their game. Chef Richard Ptacnik at Otto showcases that philosophy, with dishes that deliver flavour and joy in abundance. His take on this timeless classic is both subtle and respectful, yet is delivered with distinctive texture and clarity. Less is more…
Area 8, 6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo
Monday to Sunday 12pm to 10.30pm
(02) 9368 7488
Melanda Park free range oven roasted suckling pig
Signature dishes are often thrust upon restaurants by the dining public, who simply make it impossible to remove it from the menu, as opposed to being immodestly self-appointed by the Chef. Sometimes, even despite its popularity, familiarity breeds a strange form of contempt through constant repetition, when far more innovative dishes sadly remain unloved on the menu. However, when quality suckling pig is lovingly oven roasted ‘old school’, with this level of intuitive precision, and such heavenly texture and flavour, you simply have to chalk one up for the power of the people, and be entirely thankful for their undying vigilance in ensuring others have the same opportunity to savour it as well!
“On the beach”, Moore Road, Freshwater
Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm, Tuesday to Sunday from 12noon
(02) 9938 3331
Pumpkin & mascarpone tortellini
The restaurant scene in Canberra does not get much hipper than eightysix. The next generation front of house and brigade have a distinct swagger about them, but significantly they walk the talk, delivering dishes as accomplished as this one. The textbook house-made tortellini is absolutely flawless, with a silky pumpkin filling that harmoniously sings with the moreish burnt butter sauce, and crispy sage. The mascarpone adds a lush element, that seals the deal.
cnr Elouera & Lonsdale Streets, Braddon (ACT)
Monday to Sunday 6pm to late, Friday 12 to 3pm
(02) 6161 8686
Pork belly, cuttlefish, sweet corn, kimchi butter & radish cress
The recent evolution of the culinary landscape in the ACT, owes much to its passionate local advocate, Chef Ben Willis, and his fine dining restaurant Aubergine. The standards set since 2008, have been of a consistency that very few have been able to maintain, and is one of the significant reasons why the legacy of this restaurant will continue to resonate for a substantial period of time. By way of example, this exceptional dish, epitomises the nuance of balance, sublime texture and innovative flavours, that clearly identified Aubergine as the best restaurant in this region. The techniques and produce that underpin this dish, are precisely why it remains a destination restaurant for lovers of fine food throughout the country.
18 Barker Street, Griffith (ACT)
Monday to Saturday from 6pm
(02) 6260 8666
Sesame Roasted Broccolini, Fried Summer Squash, Roasted Baby Onion, Dashi Braised Carrot, Buckwheat Custard, Sake Lees Vinegar Dressing
Chef Kerby Craig, who worked with Tetsuya Wakuda at Rozelle, showcases his own take on contemporary Japanese cuisine at Ume. This impressive standout from the 7 course tasting menu ($96), is one of the most cohesive and memorable vegetarian dishes that I have had; a veritable master class of technique, texture, flavour, and balance. Apart from each element being executed with precision, the synergy between the elements was absolutely outstanding.
478 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
Tuesday to Thursday 6pm to 10pm, Friday to Saturday 6 to 10.30pm, Saturday 12 to 2.30pm
(02) 9380 7333
Homemade orecchiette w Italian sausage & broccoli drizzled w EVOO
The simplicity and sheer joy of a dish made with both love and care is timeless. Da Vinci’s in Summer Hill is the quintessential friendly neighbourhood trattoria we all wished was just around the corner in our suburb to share with friends and family. The fact it may just serve the best gelato and pizza in Sydney and surrounds is something that I will revisit in more detail at another time, as this humble yet divine orecchiette dish deserves a special mention. Not one element needed to be tweaked, as each mouthful delivered the harmony and passion of a kitchen that is immensely proud of both its culture and tradition…
25 Lackey Street, Summer Hill
Monday to Friday 5pm to 9.30pm, Saturday to Sunday 11am to 3pm & 5pm to late
(02) 9716 9000
Crispy Skin (Burrawong Gaian) Duck
What culinary magic is possible on the plate when celebrated Chef Kylie Kwong collaborates with award-winning Mid-North Coast Burrawong Gaian poultry producers Beth and Hayden McMillan?
The result is a spectacular signature dish of exquisite balance and harmony, spicing, textures, and flavours. The Humane Choice accredited pasture raised duck is trimmed, covered with Szechuan pepper and salt, and left to marinate overnight. It is then steamed for one and a half hours, cooled, de-boned and then coated with plain flour, deep-fried until perfectly crispy, and finally left to rest. What seals the deal is the spectacular citrus sauce that features sublime organic Davidson’s plums, consolidated with caramel (water and brown sugar), cassia bark, fish sauce and star anise.
Ultimately, a Chef’s primary job is to interpret, honour and showcase the integrity of the produce, and I am not sure I have seen a better example recently of that synergy than this…
Shop 1, 28 Macleay Street, Potts Point
Seven nights from 5.30pm (and from 12 noon to 9pm for lunch and dinner on Sundays)
(02) 9332 3300
Squid ink spaghettini w chilli & orange
Owner Stuart Knox sensibly has never allowed Fix St James to be something it is not, which allows Chef Mark Archer to produce such simple, but immensely satisfying dishes like this divine squid ink pasta. The texture and silky mouth-feel, delivered with along with a stunning clarity of flavour, with just the faintest hint of a heat note from the chilli, balanced off nicely by the orange zest, completes a very more-ish dish that represents the DNA of this very popular restaurant.
The bonus of having a such a diverse and intriguing wine list, presented by such well-informed and passionate front of house, seals the deal as you relax and just watch the frenetic pace of the world pass you by…
111 Elizabeth Street, Sydney
Monday to Wednesday 12pm to 9pm, Thursday 12pm to 9.30pm, Friday 12 pm to 10pm, Saturday 5.30pm to 9pm
(02) 9232 2767
White miso-glazed ruby tuna w robata-charred asparagus, Japanese turnips, lemon and quinoa
Some dishes read particularly well on a menu, then seduce the eye and senses, and this was one of them. Chef Darren Templeman and Owner Michael Moore have made eating well a guiltless pleasure, as they continue to redefine the limitless possibilities and boundaries of healthy eating. This was a fresh produce driven dish, that was a masterclass of balance, textures and flavour, from a kitchen that is fully delivering on its promise.
Level 47, Australia Square
264 George Street, Sydney
Monday to Sunday from 5.30pm to late, Friday from 12 noon
Bar & Tapas 7 nights from 5pm to late
(02) 9247 9777
Braised pork jowl w lemon balm, caramelised parsnip & fennel salad
There are certain Chefs who can deliver the core flavour profile of produce better than others, and Chef Leigh McDivitt is undoubtedly one of them. However, that clarity of flavour and layering of textures is underpinned by very sound technical skills that enable him to assemble a multitude of components on a plate with both cohesion and purpose. This simpler, but nonetheless extremely well executed dish, is an unapologetic homage to everything that is entirely joyous about food. The sublime richness of the fatty jowl and reduction, is intelligently cut across by the freshness of the lemon balm and fennel, leaving the diner in a state of sheer unadulterated bliss.
233 Darling Street, Balmain
Wednesday to Friday 6pm to midnight, Saturday to Sunday midday to midnight
(02) 9555 8750
Quality local restaurants that risk pushing culinary boundaries are a rarity. Chef Leigh McDivitt (ex Three Weeds and The Morrison) originally dabbled in the CBD with One6eight, but decided to return to The Peninsula in the hope of reinvigorating the flagging dining scene on Darling Street. Legitimately, an independent restaurant without large backing to compromise its vision, it has both a soul and identity that is unmistakable. The striking plush red interior is as exuberant as partner Amanda McDivitt, who recently was deservedly recognised as a front-of- house professional of the year finalist by Gault&Millau.
What better way to showcase premium hand harvested sea urchin, than to slice impossibly thin sheets of fresh cuttlefish, to form a pristine sashimi take on ravioli. Garnished with luscious salmon pearls, black salt, yuzu zest and sesame, it is the very essence of divine culinary perfection, that dissolves like a stolen kiss. With only just eight seats, immensely talented Chef Raita Noda (ex Ocean Room) has the privilege of creating such masterpieces, literally in the moment…
Suite 1, 222 Riley Street, Surry Hills
Monday to Saturday 7pm to late
Reservations: (02) 8093 9807
Occasionally a new product completely surprises. When WordstormPR offered me to try some samples, as a fairly traditional beer drinker, the concept of a strawberry flavoured beer challenged the perceptions of that comfort zone. However, I always judge a plate of food, or glass of wine on its merits, and beer should be evaluated on exactly the same basis. Zeven Lemon’s Strawberry Blonde has a refreshing, zesty, and well-balanced flavour profile, and that is the key behind its success. The brainchild of young self-taught brewer Leimin Duong, who left her job in the corporate job to explore her passion for beer, she began experimenting with blending natural fruit into beer.
One of the fringe benefits of writing a food blog is not so much the invitations and opportunities that arise from it, but occasionally finding one that similarly resonates with your identity. Bonne Maman, unapologetically French in its pitch and style, yet quirky enough to create a conserve using the unique qualities of a native Australian bush fruit, instantly appealed to me. Sourcing the Lilly Pilly in sufficient quantity and quality was one challenge, but finding the right balance to showcase it was another. Enter Jude Mayall, renowned Outback Chef, who was engaged to embrace the possibilities of this brave foray into incorporating local bush tucker into traditional French jam.
Michael Moore is not only a very talented Chef, successful cookbook author, and impressive worldwide advocate for the dietary management of diabetes, but also is a very savvy restaurateur as well. The appointment of Darren Templeman (ex Restaurant Atelier) as Head Chef at O Bar and Dining, who previously worked in all the major London kitchens, under the legendary Chefs who forged modern cuisine as we know it, has reiterated his intention to relentlessly strive for excellence. In doing so, the standard perception surrounding revolving restaurants has been cast aside by some of the best executed and innovative cuisine in Sydney. The fact that it comes with a jaw dropping view is an added bonus, as the primary focus is absolutely where it should be; on the plate.
In 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.
The 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.
Whateley 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.
Most 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.
Yayoi, 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.
Rockpool (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 sustainability 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.
Ippudo 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.
Eschalot, 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.
Food 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.