Sunday, January 25, 2009

Kazbah on Darling

As we arrive, it is packed, I am so lucky I booked as weekend brunches here are crazy. I would have to say it is without a doubt the best breakfast in Sydney. It's not your standard bacon and eggs but rather offers a variety of sweet and savory Turkish/Moroccan dishes that may not be what you are used to, but believe me, they are mighty good.

Bec and I take our seats and just observed. It is like organised chaos here. So many waiters running around but they all know exactly what they are doing and make sure that every single table is taken care of. We are served our water which is poured from a bulb like jug with a little spout on the side making the water path long and thin as she hold the jug further and further away from the glass making it look almost fountain like. I was impressed as I knew if I had tried I would have spilt that water all over our able, but you all know how clumsy I am anyways.

Ok choices choices, what to order. I have had the Za a'tar bread before which is a grilled flat bread drizzled with olive oil, topped with Za a'tar, dollops of labne (a creamy middle eastern yogurt), tomato, olives and rocket. It is so light and flavoursome and a really nice simple meal for breakfast. I just couldn't resist, and it was the first thing we had decided on, but it was a close call, as were tossing it up with the Breakfast Mezee. Hommus, labne, kasseri (a Middle Eastern/Greek cheese), olives, dukkah, za a'tar, tomato and Lebanese bread, kind of like a mixed antipasto for breakfast. Normally this would be exactly what I order as I love making up my own combinations of food and eating dips and breads, however we thought it was too big and since we wanted to try other things we would get the smaller out of the two.

The next thing that caught my eye was Foul. I had heard of it before but never tried it. Bec assured me it was scrumptious. Basically it is a dip like mixture made out of chick peas, fava beans, garlic and lemon juice. To garnish it had chopped boiled egg and shallots over the top which you are supposed to mop up with the flat bread it is served with. I was sold; garlic and lemon juice; and it did not disappoint as these flavours were quite strong but balanced by the heaviness of the beans. It was definitely an excellent choice, and great that it was served with bread, because as a lot know, us Greeks will wipe up every drop of liquid at the bottom of our bowl with bread to complete the meal.

The last dish we ordered, even though we knew we would be sufficiently full by this point was the Breakfast Tagine. We just could not resist. This is a dish made in clay pot which is shaped like an upside down cone and is called a Tajine. It acts like a pot or slow cooker in which everything is put in then it is cooked over a heat source usually for long periods of time. This particular dish consisted of Lamb Mince, Sucuk, Feta, Spinach, Capsicum, Caramelised Onion, Tomato, and Eggs, so it did not need too long to cook. The feta softened and was scattered throughout the whole dish which was all held together with the egg. The flavours of each vegetable were not lost, as they are with some forms of cooking, but rather captured and each bit released amazing flavours into my mouth. The lamb was seasoned with Moroccan spices (cumin, cinnamon, paprika, coriander, nutmeg and ginger) giving it a bit of oomph and making the dish that bit more flavoursome. It was a shame we could not eat any more but we severely over ordered (which is sometimes the case with me I will admit) however we enjoyed the whole morning.

It is such a relaxing space with its large windows opening up the whole restaurant and bringing natural light and ventilation in. I just love the butchers paper on the tables, which is there to be drawn on with the crayons provided. No matter what your age, I would say most customers would write a little remark or draw a little squiggle.

It is such a vibrant and interesting space, there is nothing that isn't fascinating. I recommend it for any occasion where you are looking for a casual place where you can enjoy amazing food with flavours you may not have tried before, but if I can make one suggestion.........BOOK, even if you have to wait a little for your table, it is definitely worth it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Olive Oil Cake

Ever since I did an olive oil tasting course last April, I have become absolutely obsessed with olive oil. There is so many factors which influence the flavour of an oil including harvest time, location and soil, type of olives, the way the oil is pressed and its purity level. I personally like a very strong pungent oil but also really appreciate fresh and fruity styles.

I recently came across an oil I have fallen in love with called Rich Glen and after tasting this oil you realise that there is a difference to a fresh olive oil and a supermarket oil which has probably been sitting on the shelf or in boxes for a few months, and if they are imported just imagine how long it was since it was pressed.

Olive oil does not last forever, it does go rancid, or off, and should be stored in a cool space away from UV light as this will affect the taste. This is why most bottles wither have a foil around them or are very darkly coloured, to prevent this from occurring.

Well now that I have told you a little bit about olive oil I will get into how I have used it in cooking. Usually I would make savory dishes with this olive oil, like a nice fresh salad with a small drizzle over the top to give it a bit of a lift, or I would make hummus with it which turns out so much smoother and creamier with a little bit more olive oil.

However, today I wanted to try a dessert with olive oil. I have heard of olive oil cake before but was always hesitant to try it as it seemed to be boring and I envisioned it to be bland as there are so few flavours. Quite the contrary. I was very shocked with the flavour and also the texture, but I will go into this a little later on, first I must tell you how I made it.

Trish's Olive Oil Cake

3 eggs, beaten lightly
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup Galliano (or Grand Marnier)
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
3 tsps lemon zest
2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

1. Firstly Mix together the eggs, sugar, olive oil, milk, Galliano, orange juice and zest.
2. Sift remaining dry ingredients together and add to wet mixture and mix until well combined. (It will be quite runny, and at first I thought too much so, but after baking it was fine so do not add extra flour).
3. I baked it for about 1.5hrs, 45 mins on 180 degrees and then 45 mins on 160 degrees. It started to cook too quickly on the outside and not enough on the inside, so I had to turn it down to make it more even. Mind you, I do not have a fan forced oven. It is arguably the worst oven ever, but we need to make do with what we have right!
4. Cool it on a rack and then serve with Orange Marmalade and a spoonful of cream or yogurt.

I decided to use a Bundt cake mould as I thought it would look prettier and nice to portion small slices from. It didn't matter that I sprayed that tin with a lot of olive oil spray so that the cake didn't did unfortunately and ripped the top off about a quarter of the cake. I was quite disappointed as it tasted so nice, but it happens, just means that I need to try again.

The cake had a nice crisp crust but was very moist, light and fluffy inside, which was surprising. It tasted slightly creamy and eggy which was a beautiful combination with the citrus, and yet due to the texture wasn't too heavy or rich that you cannot eat at least a slice (of course I had to while it was still warm). It didn't really taste like olive oil, but I realised this added much more to the texture. To compliment the flavours, it would be lovely served with some nice orange marmalade and a dollop of natural yogurt, I'm talking really marmalade with chunks or orange through it, not the sugar packed supermarket style.

Ricotta Tiramisu

I wanted to use the mound of ricotta I had sitting in the fridge, but instead of doing something boring like making strawberry ricotta muffins or a cheesecake I thought, why not try a tiramisu recipe but substitute ricotta for marscapone? I'm sure it wouldn't taste too much different, but I would play around with combinations till I got it tasting good.

I thought since marscapone is kind of creamy I will add some cream cheese and also some sugar as ricotta is quite a plain cheese. Then to give it a bit of coffee flavour I poured in a but of kahlua. I mixed that till it was smooth and still a little runny. You don't want it to be too thick as that probably means there is too much ricotta and it won't be sweet enough.

Now the fun part!!! Soaking the biscuits in coffee and alcohol. I made up some strong black coffee, plunger of course, then added kahlua + galliano. If you don't want it too strong just add kahlua or no alcohol at all, but I like my tiramisu with a bit of an alcoholic flavour to it (probably not the best idea since it is double demerits this Australia Day long weekend).

I soaked the biscuits till they were almost falling apart and then put them into the glasses. The reason I wanted them to absorb as much liquid as possible is because you want there to be some extra liquid which will combine with the cheese mixture. You then layer the biscuits then the cheese until you fill up the glasses.

N.B. you will probably have to top up the soaking liquid about 4 times as the sponge biscuits take up the liquid very easily.

Finally its time to dust with grated chocolate, and for all of you who know me well, you will know I love my dark chocolate, so it was a given I would be grating over some 85% Lindt. Now they just have to set in the fridge a bit. If you are leaving them overnight I would cover the top in cling wrap so the cheese mixture doesn't get too dry on the top.

So this is the final combination I came up with and they tasted fantastic, not too heavy yet still creamy and indulgent.

1 1/2 cups ricotta
3/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup kahlua
1/4 cup sugar
sponge fingers

1 cup strong coffee
1 cup kahlua
1/2 cup galliano
(these are only guides as I didn't really measure out the liquids, I just poured them in and tasted until they were balanced,but this can be adjusted to your own liking)

Now they are just waiting to be who is going to visit me tomorrow???

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Glebe Point Diner

  • Glebe Point Diner, 407 Glebe Point Road, Glebe (9660 2646)
This was a review I wrote after the first time I dined at GPD in February 08, just over a year ago. Since then I have been back at least 6 more times, so will write an updated review very shortly.

I had been so excited about lunch as I had read a lot of reviews and heard great feedback from friends which all put Glebe Point Diner up on a pedestal. They loved it as it was a casual yet sophisticated restaurant that has nice simple food.

The high ceilings open up this dining room, making it feel spacious and not congested during its fully booked lunch and dinner seatings. Dark chocolate brown walls and chairs are balanced by the white floor and butcher paper on the marble tables. Your eye is drawn to the brown and white striped wall facing the bar which is contrasted by the vibrant lime green couch running its whole length. The combination of colours and patterns instantly created a fun and welcoming setting, however, when light streams through the glass façade, this space really comes to life.

Head Chef Alex Kearns has created a relaxed menu that does not muck around with its ingredient. All locally sources, and organic if available, he has placed a large emphasis on freshness and quality, changing the menu twice daily to take into consideration availability and seasonality. His blackboard menu offers a choice of 6 entrees, 4 mains and 4 desserts all of which can be easily paired by Manager and Sommilier Andrew John, to one of their 200 wines. Still focusing strongly on NSW vineyards, this epic wine list is regularly being changed to ensure diners can always try something new and exciting as John is always searching for the next impressive drop each vineyard has released.

Within minutes of arriving, I had already bumped into people I knew, well it is Glebe. After stopping to have a chat, and catch a glimpse what they were eating, I could see that my expectations would not be let down. Andrew assisted us out with our order whilst still finding time to joke around to make us feel very comfortable, as if we were regulars.

For entrée, Phillip ordered the Fennel and William Pear salad with shaved Parmesan ($16), which was a contrast of sweet and sharp. I ordered half a dozen Clyde River Sydney Rock Oysters with Finger Lime ($3.50 each) as I planned to barter for a taste of the light and crisp salad. However, after experiencing the fresh oysters, I had to rethink my plan. The slight saltiness of the brine was balanced by the acidity of the lime juice, sweetness of the salmon roe and the creamy texture of the oyster. It was the perfect compilation of flavours that I could not resist but to indulge, nearly finishing the whole plate.

Liang on the other hand did not originally order an entrée, was taken aback by these dishes and decided that he needed to try one too. Not soon after, a plate of the Fried Green Tomatoes with Woodside Chevre and Basil was placed in front of him. I was so glad I savoured each oyster slowly because I had two left to swap for one fried tomato. As green tomatoes were used because of their tartness instead of a sweet truss tomato, the clean and light flavours of the goat’s cheese and the strength of the basil are able to really stand out.

I looked around and observed my surroundings. Relaxed chef’s churned out the meals, taking the time to attend to detail and presentation. All patrons were immersing themselves in conversation and looked calm and peaceful, as was my table who, tucked away behind one of the pillars next to the glazed wall, felt as though we were the only customers there.

As we saw our mains making their way to our table, our faces filled with glee. The hand cut potato chips were thick and crunchy just like we would get when we were kids.

I was a bit jealous when my companions dishes came out, as I originally wanted to order the, both. The Coorong Angus Skirt salad with shaved parmesan, watercress and baby potatoes looked as good as it tasted. The meat was so tender and juicy it just melted in your mouth.

It was hard to keep our utensils to ourself when the Broome Barramundi fillet, coated in tarragon on a bed of peas and lettuce which were accompanied by Potato Scallops. These were, until now, something of a childhood memory for us. However, these scallops looked like nothing we had ever seen before. Thick and crunchy, they were all irregularly shaped with batter protruded in many little peaks. Maybe that’s why I like this place as it put smiles on my companions’ face which are somewhat cheeky, just like a child would have if they had just eaten the last cookie from the cookie jar.
The fish was coated in tarragon which really gave this dish some bite.

Once MY dish had been served, I was glad I had ordered last, as I had definitely made the right choice. The Windsor duck salad with purslane baby beets, grapes and fried potato was a very generous dish. Not only the large wing of meat, but there were also slices of meat underneath the salad. The meat was so rich and tender, due to a new breed of ducks which are being farmed in the Hawkesbury. Originally from France, the Grimaud has a very low fat and high meat content. They eat a diet of what and a secret blend of minerals and vitamins. By the end of the meal it turned out that my two companions were picking off my plate and wished they had ordered the duck instead, which felt like a small victory for me.

My wine, I was educated, was a French Beaujolais, similar to a Pinot noir, and is served chilled, which was perfect on such a say as it was extremely humid.

We were given some time to think about dessert, and although we were fixated on the dessert of the table next to us, a perfectly shapes and delicate Black Fig Tart with marscapone and jam. Although I could not fit in another dish, my companions though it a necessity to try indulge once more. The Peach Melba ($14) was an assortment of luminous colours. A deep orange coloured peach which skinned, was so soft you could cut it as easily as a hot knife went through butter. Served on a bed of raspberry puree with a big ball of creamy vanilla ice cream, it was simple yet delectable dessert. In some respects it could be compared to a strawberry sundae, which my companions always loved as a child, and still do.

The Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnut Praline, which although was light and fluffy, was just too rich and needed something to balance it. As my companion was eyeing out the Peach Melba and wished he had ordered the same, I ordered an extra serve of ice cream to balance the dish. Although not the best pair with the mousse, it definitely made it more enjoyable.
I sipped my espresso happily, and of course managed to sneak a few spoonfuls of dessert, which you always manage to find room for.

All of these dishes were so simple and true to their flavours. They did not try to be anything but what they were, and because each ingredient is carefully selected from organic or local producers. Customers know that they serve the best quality they can get, and the flavours really talk for themselves.

I am now planning my next visit, which will be equally exciting due to the fact the menu changes twice daily, depending on what is fresh and the availability of stock. So I get to taste to a whole new assortment of dishes and flavours, but this time I will make sure I save room and treat myself to dessert.

Zensation Tea House

  • Zensation, 656 Bourke St, Redfern (9319 2788)
I have never had tea quite like this, and it was quite by accident. I was meeting up with a friend and when I suggested coffee they informed me they didn't drink coffee, and since I remember reading about tea houses just that week I decided to research and this is what I discovered.

It was such a unique experience, something I will never forget and I will always remember how theatrical each ceremony was.

To start we had to decide on three teas. You can have more or less but this is the package we decided on. The first tea was probably my favourite. A beaker of hot water was placed in front of us over a candle. I thought this was a bit different to a normal tea pot, but was curious to see why sand how such items were to be used. A bulb was then placed in the beaker. As the bulb heated up it grew right in front of us, into a flower. That flower was was an infused Jasmine tea. I couldn't believe my eyes and have never seen anything like it. The tea itself was so subtle and very easy to drink, as with most herbal teas, making us very relaxed very quickly. It was great as we were the only two people in there, but it didn't matter as we had out tea, privacy and good conversation.

The second tea was a 'milky' Oolong, which did not have any milk in it, rather it was a flavour of the tea. The hostess started to teach us about the different types of Oolong tea from China and Taiwan, each country arguing they have the best. Our tea was on fact from Taiwan, so now I suppose I will have to try a Chinese Oolong to compare.

It was again the procedure of serving this tea that was so fascinating and really involved us to the sense of smell. We were given two types of cups, a tall thin cup, and a short wide cup. Once the tea had infused in the pot the hostess poured some in the tall cup for us. We were then instructed to put the larger cup over the top of the thin cup and wait. Once we were ready, we were to hold the cups together and flip them over, pick up the thing cup and smell. It was this smell that just captivated us, it was milky and sweet and so strong from this cup. Once we were ready we started to drink the tea which tasted just as it smelled. It was beyond us that something to smell and taste milky without having any such thing in it, it is all the properties of the tea, which is a light yellow colour mind you!

Eventually we finished out Oolong and proceeded to our third and final tea. Not as adventurous as the first two yet still very enjoyable. It was a herbal Chai tea made from cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, ginger and infused in a large clear glass pot. It was a great tea to finish with at is was very soothing and one of my favourite teas to drink.

Most, but not all of the teas they offer are served with a little snack. With the Jasmine tea we were served a little sesame honey cracker, with the Oolong a Chinese custard tart but nothing with the Chai. I do not think anything is needed with that tea as the flavours are so complex and vibrant.

Three hours later, and many MANY bathroom trips and we left. It is so easy to loose track of time in such a place. When I left I felt so cleansed and relaxed that I wish I didn't need to leave. They also hold tea tasting nights which I am eager to try as there were so many more tea varieties that interested me.

I thoroughly suggest going if you like tea or want to be adventurous and try a few new things.

Billy Kwong

  • Billy Kwong, 3/355 Crown St Surry Hills (9332 3300)
Join the queue early to ensure you get a table at this tiny 50 seat restaurant, because if you miss out, it will be up to a two hour wait at the pub across the road. Once inside sit on backless stools and enjoy the theatre of Kylie Kwong's organic authentic restaurant which is carbon neutral. I would suggest the banquet to really experience as many dishes as you can (~$90pp). The stand out dishes to me include:

Sashimi of Hiramasa Kingfish

Steamed Prawn Wontons with Organic Brown Rice Vinegar Dressing

Crispy Prawn Wontons with Sweet Chilli Sauce

Homestyle Fried Biodynamic Eggs with Organic Soy & Homemade XO

Crispy Skin Duck with Blood Plum Sauce

---------> This was absolutely amazing. I think I was actually speechless as the plums just exploded in my mouth. I have never experienced such a burst of flavour and have dream about it ever since. However, due to seasonality, the sauce is altered with the seasons and I have also had it with an orange and cinnamon sauce, also nice but nothing as breathtaking as the plum.

For dessert you enjoy an organic fruit platter and organic dark chocolate to compliment the meal but not ruin the flavours you enjoy during the course of the night.
It is nice to watch the chef's and waitstaff work so smoothly in such a small and exposed space without imposing on your evening.
An excellent place to enjoy a long night with a close group of friends who want to try fresh Chinese or have a blurred vision of what true Chinese food encompasses.

The Victoria Room

  • Victoria Room, Victoria Road, Darlinghurst (9357 4488)

Walk up the wide dark wooden staircase and you will discover a smooth, intimate world which is a blend of antique vintage decor in a warehouse style area with exposed metal beams. It is dimly lit and an excellent multi use of space. At the back is the space are the lounges which are great to have supper or just enjoy the extravagant cocktail menu with friends. This area reminds me a little of Melbourne Supper Club as it is similar decor but a bit more colourful and due to the restaurant space being next to it, would be a much better place to chill after dinner service has finished or slowed down.

The restaurant has has leather booths along the sides of the room with the larger tables in the centre. It is quite cluttered in the centre with all the tables but to be in a booth, the rest of the world just slips away and nothing else matters, you forget where you are and only enjoy the company you have in front of you. The bar and more lounges are partitioned off from the dining area with a nice line of small green fern like plants. The bar area can be buzzing but due to the space it has a laid back feel of people enjoying themselves and chatting with nice drinks.

Now onto the food. They offer a menu which is a mixture of the Mediterranean, middle east and northern Africa. So you can start off with your mezze, or antipasto and follow by one of the mains which pretty much covers most meats and seafood options you may want in a simple menu. I will be honest and say I have not eaten there except for dessert, but if they were anything to go by then the savory items should be delectable.

Even more impressive oddly enough, apart from their cocktail menu, is the tea menu. I was so shocked at the flavours that were offered, but I suppose at the time I dined, I wasn't educated in the world of tea. So there are your standard English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, China Sencha, Chamomile & Spearmint, Lemongrass & Ginger, Turkish Apple and Chai, but of the exotics I haven't come across before include Russian Caravan (mild blend of Chinese black teas), Queen Mary (blend of Darjeeling & Ceylon), Scottish Breakfast (apparently their strongest blend) and Assam (strong Indian mountain tea with Orange Pekoe through the leaves).

It isn't shocking once I learnt they do a very good High Tea on Saturdays at 12pm and Sundays at 1pm.

One last thing which I have been meaning to try is the Supper menu which runs from 11pm-2am on Friday and Saturday nights. This is the perfect solution to nibbles and wine after a movie, especially if you have just gone Dendy at Paddington or maybe now that it is summer, the open air cinema.

The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay

  • The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, Ferry St off Glebe Point Road (9519 9011)

I absolutely love this restaurant, lunch or dinner, the atmosphere is extremely soothing and relaxing and has a view that is just priceless. I can picture a quiet romantic dinner with candlelight on my table, the city softly lighting up the bay which you overlook through the large glass windows. My mind also takes me to a carefree yet indulgent lunch with a group of friends who enjoy top quality seafood. As you look out over the bay you can see straight into the fish markets where all the fish were unloaded that morning after being caught.
I have dined in both of these scenes so I know that it adapts to whatever you want it to be. It is truly a place where time can seem to drift away any time of the day.

But onto the food....there is one must try delicacy , the oysters. There is a choice of 14 varieties:
Camden Haven Rock Mid North Coast NSW
Clair de Lune Bouton Rock South Coast NSW

Label Rouge Rock South Coast NSW
Macksville Rock North Coast NSW

Macleay River Rock Mid North Coast NSW

Manning River Rock Mid North Coast

Moonlight En Surface Rock South Coast NSW

Moreton Bay RockSouh East QLD
Wallis Lake Rock Mid North Coast NSW

Broken Bay Pacific Sydney NSW

Cupid Coffin Bay Pacific Eyre Peninsula SA

Pittwater Pacific East Coast TAS

Smokey Bay Pacific Eyre Peninsula SA
Moonlight Flat Angasi South Coast NSW

Served laid in a ring around a champagne eshallot vinegar, they are described when placed on the table so you can distinguish the differences and experience and learn about their different flavours, shape, size and colours. Nowhere else in Sydney, outside of the fish markets, will you be offered such variety.

The other starter which is quite unique, well one that I have never quite seen be served like this before is the sashimi. Plated up on a stainless steel thin long platter the different sashimi were arranged along the plate with accompaniments and the diner was given smooth stainless steel chop sticks to enjoy the meal. I have never seen such a presentation before, but then I have not been to many fine dining Japanese restaurants, but I am still very impressed with this dish.

Ok for mains the one dish which is so very well renown is the Snapper Pie. Served with smoked tomatoes and mashed potatoes it is a dish that is so regularly ordered that I have heard they have gone through a few chefs as these particular chefs were sick of just making snapper pie all day. The serving of the food is again impressive. The pie is wheeled to your table in its baking dish, then the waiter serves you some tomato and potato then finally add a serving of the pie to your plate which is then placed it in front of you. Creamy and rich flavours of the cream balance out the strong characteristics of snapper, with the light crisp pastry, it is really a very decedent dish and one to be shared among a few as I have only ever seen one person finish a whole pie, and this person was just infatuated with it.

IF you have room for dessert then be prepared to be served some works of art. Both the Blood Orange & Honey Parfait and the Pedro Ximenez Ice Cream, Chocolate Mousse & Coffee Granitaare absolutely scrumptious, but beware of incoming spoons as you may need to fight away as I am certain everyone will want a taste.

I think the strong focus on presentation and the artistic flare of the chefs has definitely been influenced by the large painting in the foyer by Jenny Dolezel, a New Zealand artist who was commissioned to create an artwork, in her dark style, which was to become part of the architecture, explain a story of what the Boathouse wanted to become whilst being challenging and in Dolezel's dark style. As you walk inside and are confronted by the large panels, it immediately introduces the space and the restaurant as a casual and fun place, not an exclusive upper class restaurant which is pretentious, they just want you to relax and enjoy the food and the view.

If you are not quite sold yet, I will say that the service is excellent, and this is not always the case in find dining restaurants. So be prepared to be treated like a king and sit back with your wine to just enjoy.

Emma's on Liberty

  • Emma's on Liberty, Liberty St, Enmore (9550 3458)
I must admit, since the boys at Campos introduced me to Emma's I have been an addict ever since. Prior to their Christmas break I was going in every week to get some hummus and fattoush. Now fattoush is something that is dying from authentic Lebanese restaurants but is such a lovely light dish. Made with tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, Spanish onion, fried Lebanese bread, parsley and mint with a dressing made out of lemon juice, olive oil and sumac. So light and refreshing especially with some nice dip or meat dish.

The other standard order we have are the lady fingers. NO ONE in Sydney will do them like they do. I am serious. These lady's fingers do not contain cheese. They are not made with thick pastry which needs to be deep fried. They are like little cigars which are filled with lamb mice, pine nuts, cumin, all spice and onions, wrapped in light filo pastry without a mountain of butter or oil washed over them, so they are quite light. They are then baked until lightly browned and slightly crispy on the top but still soft enough so shards of pastry don’t just break away as you devour it.

Moorish Chicken is the dish we order when we are hungry, which is in addition to the others, as it is quite filling but utterly devine. Chicken breast fillets are grilled and then wrapped in Lebanese bread which also has Spanish onions and sumac, served with roasted capsicum, a few pickles and garlic sauce.

Now I need to say that there are two types of Lebanese garlic sauce available and ordering the wrong one could potentially be fatal. I LOVE garlic and can eat dishes which are potent with garlic, so for people out there like me you want to try ‘Toum’ which is a dip made from garlic, olive oil and a touch of lemon juice. It is strong I warn and not for the faint hearted. The other type of garlic dip is a version of toum mixed with yogurt so it is lighter, less intense and a nice accompaniment to many dishes and salads. This is what is served with the Moorish Chicken.

Even though I have eaten at Emma’s a lot, and I always say I am going to try new things, I end up getting exactly the same dishes. Maybe I am scared of trying new things as I am just obsessed with the others. I suppose this year I will have to let go of these favourites for one night to try and be amazed by other dishes.

Wine Bars

WINE BARS (short blurbs to be expanded shortly)

  • Bambini Wine Trust, Elizabeth St, Sydney
A very exquisite and antique French fitout complete with stone floors and chandeliers. Just the place to get away and fade into the space with your companion as it is dim and intimate. The wine list is just as amazing as the atmosphere, something you would expect from a hidden wine bar in Melbourne (like the Melbourne Supper Club on Spring St). If you are hungry you can nibble at the very small tasting plate menu, but for a larger meal go next door to Bambini's Restaurant.
  • Time to Vino, Stanley St, East Sydney
It is one of the most casual wine bars around town offering a small but great selection of dishes which are displayed on a blackboard as you walk in. This small gem boasts two bars, one upstairs and one downstairs. If you venture to the first level you can relax on coaches on the balcony with large groups of friends........Definitely be temped into their dessert selection labelled "Who needs friends" and don't be shy to ask the Sommilier, Clint Hillery, about new favourites as he is such a friendly guy.
  • De Vine, Cnr Market & Clarence St, Sydney
This wine bar/restaurant has a strong focus on Italian wines which are imported by owner and sommilier Andreas Puher. The wines by the glass are very vast and will definitely satisfy every palate. The prices are the most memorable part of this experience as they are just so low. You can sit at the bar enjoying your wine and still order some nibblies, like a cheese board, off the restaurant menu, or just grab a pizza off the bar menu to share with friends.
  • Almond Bar, Liverpool St, Darlinghurst
  • Wine Odyssey Australia, Argyle St, The Rocks
Only new, this wine bar has a cellar, tasting room and dining room. It is the type of place that caters for all occasions, whether you want to try some amazing drops (like 25ml of a 2002 Grange, $28) or sit down and enjoy a food and wine tasting plate where everything has been matched for you..........I haven't been here yet but my friend has told me it is an amazing place and I must go!!

  • GPO Cheese & Wine Room, GPO Building, Sydney
My very dear ex work which I will always treasure. It was the place that taught me about cheese and wine. Can you believe when I started I had no idea what Roquefort or Gorgonzola where!

The offer an amazing wine list which is comprised of all the bottles in our cellar (at least 250), with 16 by the glass. There is no influence by one particular region, but rather we tr to find the best of the different varietals and if that happens to be from Australian or overseas it doesn't bother us as we know they will be enjoyable wines. The menu is updated for every season to as just to new cheeses and matching wines by the glass i.e. more reds in winter. They have about 25 cheeses to choose from as individual portions but a great way to experience a few types matched with wines comes in the form of a Cheese and Wine flight as each match comes with tasting notes which you can keep.
Once you have fallen in love with what you have just devoured you can definitely go into the retail store to buy some stock to keep you satisfied until your next visit.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Catching that rabbit

Upon the day I was to arrive home from apartment sitting we were having a long family lunch so we can all catch up around a table, talk and enjoy good food.

I wanted, as per usual, to cook with a meat I have not used before but in particular some sort of game. I was tossing up between Quail, Duck and Rabbit when my choice was made for me. I walked into Black Bull Butchery, Potts Point. I had had duck the night before for dinner so I was not too interested in cooking with it so soon. So my choices narrowed. I walked to the fridge where the game was kept. No rabbit. No Quail. I inquired. There was quail available in the freezer at the back and were frozen in packs of two OR the butcher had just gotten in a fresh whole rabbit that day that he was happy to prepare for me however I would have liked it. Now really the choice stops here, fresh produce or frozen meat.

Even though I was quite set on cooking quail wrapped in vine leaves on a rocket salad with feta and a pomegranate sauce, and had gone into Fratelli Fresh for a week straight asking when they were getting pomegranates in again, I was very excited that I was given such a piece of game. I could do anything with it, stew it, grill it, slow roast it, stuff it, roll it.........
I needed some inspiration so I went over to the bookshop and looked through a few Italian cookbooks. As it was a warm summers day I did not want to make a stew or a roast so I was immediately limiting my palate of styles. I came across a Ligurian recipe for a stuffed and rolled whole rabbit which was to be poached and then pan fried.

This seemed very interesting and had scope to be played with a bit. So I walked back to the butcher and asked him to de-bone and butterfly the rabbit for me. Once done I had to go shopping for ingredients. I remember the first time I had rabbit it was rolled into the shape of a cigar and wrapped in filo pastry. Although a very strong flavoured meat I fell in love with its earthy characteristics and how well it worked with the crisp and buttery filo, so I wanted to integrate this into the recipe.

The stuffing was made of pistachio's, parsley, lemon thyme and garlic. I ground it up in the mortar and pestle and laid out my beautiful rabbit. I smeared the stuffing all over the meat and then rolled it as tightly as I could trying not to let it unroll. I then wrapped it in this strips of pancetta and tied it tightly with butchers string. At this point I was supposed to poach it but I was wear of poaching the pancetta and thought it to be silly to add the pancetta after poaching as it would be very fiddly to attached so I instead wrapped the whole roll in filo pastry, which were only lightly oiled as the fat from the pancetta would seep through whilst I baked the whole log.

I added diced baby fennel to the baking dish as this is a vegetable which works excellently with game due to its strong flavours which some find unattractable whilst raw, but when roasted they soften slightly and become sweeter and not so strong in aniseed.

Once baked I cut the log into slices and then pulled out the string. I actually forgot about the filo part of my plan while tying, but that is ok, it was easily fixed. This was the end result. I will admit that due to not being used to a fan forced oven I might have slightly overcooked the meat, which was not as soft as I imagined, but still very tender and with an amazing flavour, not too strong as it was not a wild rabbit...........but possibly comparable to chicken (Jaime Oliver's words, not mine)

Baking my bread

Now I can't think of anything better than waking up to the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven wafting through the house. It is my absolute favourite food and I love baking it.

The recipe I have been using for the past couple of years is a family recipe and is very highly regarded by family and friends who I bake it for, however I will not reveal the secrets BUT am happy to teach you if you ever want to come over.

The olive bread I make is not 'bready' like other olive breads but rather is crusty on the outside and then the inside reveals a very thick roll of the olive stuffing, which consists of pitted and chopped kalamata olives, a tonne of mint and brown onions. I saute the mint and onion first in some oil until so that the onions soften and start to brown, then I add the olives and saute some more until the olives are soft and the mixture is fragrant.

You can add garlic if you would like, and I know you are probably shocked I haven't as I love it so much, but I think it would overpower too much and take away from the flavours of the bread and olives.

The haloumi bread is quite different, it is more similar to a brioche and although the bread has no butter whatsoever in it, the natural oils in the cheese seep through the bread as it bakes and makes the inside very soft, moist and delectable.

So once the 'secret bread mixture' is made and kneaded like crazy for about 10 minutes you need to let it rise in a warm place for at least an hour. I put it in an oven which i I have turned on for about 30 secs then turned off.

This is the result. My mixture makes four loaves so I quarter the mixture and start to roll it out into a flat 'canvas'.

Now I am able to add whichever topping I want, and really you can add anything. I have only deviated from these two standard fillings a few times to make a sweeter cinnamon sugar and walnut bread, but as I know how much the olive and haloumi fillings are enjoyed, I generally just stick with what I know works................really not like me as I am always trying out new and interesting ingredients. I suppose because it is such a long process I just do what I know. If you have any requests however, I am more than happy to try them out for you and give you a taste test.

After I add the fillings and spread them across the whole dough, I try to roll without too much falling out the sides ( I really try to pack as much in as I can, it just makes for a nice bread). Once I have rolled it the bread needs to rise again for at least another half an hour. (I told you it was long).

NOW WE ARE READY TO BAKE..........another 40-50 minutes at 180 in a fan forced oven and it should be done. Now having said that it usually takes me anywhere between 50-70 minutes as I do not have a fan forced oven, it is a shitty 70's module that heats just from the bottom so to prevent the bread from burning I have to place a tray underneath and sometimes even turn the bread so it gets an even distribution of heat.

Well as long and strenuous the process is, I must say the result is definitely worth it. In my house the bread doesn't last more than a day as it is generally eaten straight away. My family start to nag when I take all the bread I've made to my friends.

If I could, I would bake bread every day, but first I need a larger kitchen and definitely a fan forced oven......any donors?