Scallops with XO sauce vermicelli

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Being frugal

Nothing is certain but death and taxes. Add to that, bills. Lots of bills at the same time (funny how all good things come at once). Desperate times call for desperate measures, it’s time for some penny-pinching and belt-tightening. This is all for the greater good, so that I can heedlessly spend up on lavish shopping trips in Dubai and keep my savings at a respectable level for future contingencies.

So how does one embark on frugal living? Well, one can easily start with some thrifty dinner ideas such as a simple yet delicious pumpkin soup. We topped it off with some bacon and egg sandwich – not exactly the most frugal thing, but everything were already in the fridge/pantry.

It also helps when the boy eats everything and anything you make. Bless him and bless my (soon-to-have) Chanel.

Cooking the pumpkin soup

Awesomeness

Eating our way around Sydney

IMG_2006Macarons from Adriano Zumbo Patisserie

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the best places to satisfy your tummy are concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne, and since I live in neither of these two cities, it is highly unsatisfying to learn about wonderful places to eat and not being able to visit them.

Thus, a dinner booking in Aria at Circular Quay to celebrate our 18 months spiralled into a culinary journey (ok, it was more like a pigging out expedition) to experience what the rest of Sydney had to offer. Aria and Matt Moran, were, of course, the reason that we were in Sydney in the first place, but I took the opportunity to satiate my thirst for Adriano Zumbo’s baked goods at Balmain, taste the delicious ramen from Gumshara in Haymarket, and revisit the wonderfully authentic crispy-skinned chicken at Cabramatta. I don’t know how we managed to fit all those food in, and I am pretty sure that I have packed on a couple more kilos from this trip.

So here goes, loads of pictures and my reviews to make you drool!

Aria

The availability of a booking on the weekends is almost non-existent. We managed to secure a booking at 9pm (yes, 9pm!) for dinner.  We obviously lacked some foresight in making plans, and wondered aimlessly around Sydney CBD and the Rocks area for what seemed like forever in order to kill time. The anticipation and hunger were truly built up as we walked towards Aria at 8:50pm, not wanting to waste any more time.

Aria is very much like a small hotel reception as you walk through its heavy doors. A waiter stood behind a very simple counter and asked for our booking. A short corridor on our right leads to the main dining areas, which are divided into what I call the ‘important people area’ and the ‘newbie area’. The former would have had sweeping harbour views and easy sighting of the Opera House. The latter had glimpses of the harbour, but more like an upper deck area of those alfresco cafes dotted along Circular Quay. In case you were wondering, we were seated at the newbie area.

Seating aside, the food was truly amazing, and the service was near-meticulous. We started with an amuse-bouche, which I think was a carrot soup of some kind. This was both sweet and sour, which acted as a great appetite starter. Oh, I should mention at this point that the restaurant was very naughty with its lighting, so my pictures all had to be photoshoped, but they were done to the best of my ability and as close to the true colours of the dishes as possible.

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We were then served sourdough, and had a choice of either the roll or the slice. A very nice touch! The mains arrived quickly, I ordered the roasted trevalla with glazed witlof, chestnut mushrooms, white beans and a chicken jus, and Ben had the sirloin which was not on the menu, and I have totally forgotten how it was done. But suffices to say that the steak was cooked to perfection, and the sauce (what was that sauce?!) was most amazing. We also shared a side of truffled potato mash. The mash simply blew me away – it was extremely smooth, creamy, with a little bit of garlic, and tinged with a smokiness from the truffle oil. Granted, it was probably made with artificial truffle oil judging by the price, but the mash was excellent nonetheless.

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Although Aria is one of the top restaurants in the country, I did have a complaint to make about the trevalla. It was a beautiful piece of fish, but it was just a tad over cooked in an oven with the temperature set too high. This almost blackened the skin and left a bitter aftertaste. Together with the witloaf which was also a little bitter, the dish didn’t really go down that well. A little disappointing, especially after the crap that judges give to the contestants on Masterchef about overcooking fish, and they didn’t even burn the fish!

The desserts were good though. I’m not usually a chocolate slice/cake/tart fan, but just had to get the Valrhona chocolate delice with chocolate sorbet (because they made it on Masterchef!), and Ben ordered the mango cheese cake with ginger crumble, lime jelly and mango sorbet. The chocolate tart came out looking exactly the one I saw on TV, and was extremely satisfying. Ben’s cheesecake was more of a deconstructed cake, the ‘cheese’ bit sits on the plate, and the ‘base’ part is the ginger crumble, which are truly ‘crumbled’ around the ‘cheese’ part. It tasted quite refreshing after my rich chocolate tart. But for some reason Ben didn’t particularly like the mango cheese cake.

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Adriano Zumbo Patisserie

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Going to the patisserie was the result of a special request made by me. I was eager to experience the creations of this master of desserts. I think Ben was a bit unconvinced at first, but he walked away saying that it was the best cake he’s ever had. Point proven 🙂

So what was this ultimate cake for Ben? It’s called “Amanda Made the Cut” and consists of, ok wait for it….milk passion caramel mousse, lime creme, passionfruit marshmallow, coconut crunch and brownie! Sounds super delicious? You bet it was! (it also sounds super difficult to make)

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Amanda Made the Cut $7.90

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I managed to capture the remains of Amanda Made the Cut before it disappeared for good.

Unfortunatley, I didn’t take any pictures of our meals at Cabramatta, but here are more pictures of the other meals we in Sydney, including ramen at Gumshara Ramen (Haymarket).

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Doing it tough in Sydney

Because of work and personal travels, I spend an average of 2 to 3 months a year staying at hotels. It may be novel at first, but the excitement soon wears thin, and it’s not something that travel allowances and airport lounges alone can restore. Top of the list on the things that annoy me when travelling, other than being away from the boy, is the hotels.

Due to my obsessive compulsive attitude towards hygiene, I am particularly weary of hotel rooms. The first thing I check, as I swipe through the door, is the bathroom – everything from the shower to the toilet bowl, and the sink to the floor. I then turn on the hot water full blast in the shower. What for? Well, to kill all those disgusting germs and the putrid odour that I am sure lingers in every single hotel bathroom. The second thing I stress over is the bed – I throw all the decorative cushions on the ground (leaving them there for the rest of my stay), peel back any throws or covers, and check the sheets. I then inspect the pillows one by one, not too carefully, for fear that I would see things I do not wish to see. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I would never use the mini fridge unless absolutely necessary – for some reason, I am a firm believer that the fridge would house millions of invisible bacteria unbeknownst to the human eye. I have developed a habit of purchasing a bottle of antibacterial hand wash upon arrival, because all you get is a bar or two of soap which of course does not defend you against those nasty germs. God forbid if I throw my clothes on the carpet or the bathroom floor, who knows what’s been there. The same goes for bare feet, so I always travel with a pair of thongs. Finally, the golden rule is to touch as little furniture as humanly possible.

I am in Sydney this time. My dislike for hotel rooms does not lessen one bit, but eating out makes up for it, as it always do.

Random Ukraine restaurant called TT’s, at Surry Hills

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Light and delicious fish cakes from TT’s for lunch, served with horseradish cream (YUM!) At only $9, it didn’t break the bank either.

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My coffee haunt in Surry Hills – ‘Strawberry X’ – has the friendliest barrister ever. Great service every time – oh did I mention cheap drinks too? By Canberra standards, anyway.

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Random picture of the kitchen in the apartment I am staying at. Sigh, the germs!

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But yummy Vietnamese combination rice makes things much better. This one was delicious, a huge serving with chunky lemongrass pork and all the trimmings, from “An An” in World Square.

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Breadtop, always a palate pleaser. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, but I assure you that it’s all for the boy.

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Ben’s potato and leak soup

For some reason Ben wanted to make potato and leak soup. Leaks are in season, and incredibly cheap. I’m not a big fan of the leak, and see it more as a gigantic shallot. But leaks and potato are a match made in heaven, and the soup is so easy to make that Ben could attempt it without much fanfare =P =P

So this is all his hard work. It was a great success. DELICIOUS.

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The seven (six) course Asian degustation

Degustation is a culinary term meaning “a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods” and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company.

Inspired partly by Masterchef and partly out of sheer insanity, I decided to make a 7 course Asian degustation. But due to time constraints (I started at 3pm and managed to finish at 7:30), it turned out to be a 6 course degustation. I did some preparation for the other dessert course, but it would have taken a little more time to put together – so watch this space!

Without much further ado, onto the menu!

The first entree is salad of beansprouts with sesame dressing on an egg net. This one is Korean-inspired. The beansprouts are blanched first then dressed in sesame oil, salt etc.


The second entree is Vietnamese pork meatballs with sesame-infused soy sauce and mayonnaise. I cheated with both the soy sauce and the mayonnaise – soy sauce is from the farmers market at Pyrmont in Sydney and the mayonnaise is the famous Japanese Kewpie brand. For those that are about to scoll at me for using store-bought mayonnaise, I did make my own the other day!


The third entree is steamed cabbage rolls in a light chicken broth. This Chinese dish consists of julienned carrots, shitake mushrooms and dried tofu sheets wrapped in steamed cabbage (wombok). The broth is made from no other than Campbell’s chicken stock (so good and so easy).


The first main course is Dong Puo Rou with tea egg. What is Dong Puo Rou you ask? It’s really just a fancy Chinese name for slow-braised pork belly. The eggs are cooked with star anise and black tea, giving it a special fragrance.


The second main course is chicken and potato coconut curry. Mum used to make this curry with curry powder from Shanghai, which had a special flavour. Western curry powder just don’t taste the same. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find it here, so instead I improvised and added coconut milk to the curry, making it a partly-Chinese, partly-Indochina dish.


The dessert is Japanese green tea mousse with ai-yu jelly. This one was a quickie – I used Japanese green tea mousse from a packet, and the jelly came in a can 🙂



Like I said, the second dessert course wasn’t prepared because I ran out of time, but will make it sometime this week!

Da Lu Noodles (大卤面)

Da lu noodles (大卤面 or 打卤面) is a popular noodle dish found in northern Chinese provinces. It consists of pork, wombok, egg and noodles in a delicious thick broth. You can also add julienned bamboo and dried mushrooms.

The secret to this noodle dish is black peppercorns. The spice brings a special fragrance to the broth which is tinged with a little kick from the peppercorns. It’s certainly not the prettiest dish, but full of flavour and simple to make.