Quay

Quay is the SMH 2010 Restaurant of the Year, it’s also the Gourmet Traveler’s 2010 Restaurant of the Year. It is one of the only two restaurants in Australia that received a 3 hat rating for 8 years in a row.

For someone who loves food, I was, understandably, ecstatic, over the moon, couldn’t believe our luck etc etc.

So how did it turn out?

We chose the four course dinner instead of the other option – the eight course tasting menu – because we wanted to try a bit of everything. I had sea pearls for the first course. They are, from left to right: something encased in tapioca with violets and a silver leaf; octopus; sea scallops and sashimi tuna. The presentation was beautiful and my favourite was the scallop pearl. The one encased in tapioca was a little weird on the palette, and being Asian, I’m used to eating tapioca as a sweet dessert rather than combined with raw seafood. They took off the usual $15 supplement for the sea pearls (yes, I have been ogling Quay’s menu for a while now) – I guess it’s a good thing!

Ben had the mudcrab congee as his first course. The congee is not the usual velvety and satisfying texture you get at yum cha places, or even the ones that we make at home. It is instead, very soupy. Besides, it looked really weird when it came out, with a huge dollop of creamy textured ‘sauce’ on the top.

For the second course, Ben had the crisp confit of pig belly with green lipped abalone and cuttlefish, complete with handmade silken tofu, Japanese mushrooms and chive flowers. The presentation was beautiful and I especially loved the pig belly and the handmade tofu. Both were outstanding. Whilst the individual elements of the dish worked really well on their own, I’m not so sure about putting all of them together on the same plate. Personally, I find it a little odd to combine pork, tofu, abalone and cuttlefish.

I had the partridge breast for my second course. This is a medium-rare breast of partridge, sitting on a bed of chestnuts, bitter chocolate black pudding, milk skin and walnuts. There are also truffle shavings on the top. Whilst I didn’t mind the rest of the dish, the partridge was a let down. There are quite sinewy parts to the partridge, which shouldn’t be there because the bird is medium-rare. Not my favourite dish of the night.

I ordered the pig jowl for the third course. It came with amazing maltose crackling, giant and plump prunes, cauliflower cream, and prune kernel oil. It was apparently one of Peter Gilmore’s signature dish. I really loved it and the pork went beautifully with the prunes. Ben didn’t like it though, and found the pig jowl way too fatty.

Ben had the veal for his third course. It was quite tender (also medium-rare). It came with baby vegetables which were so cute and quite nice. It was discovered though that Ben doesn’t like his game.

For dessert, we ordered the two house specialties – the Guava Snow Egg and the Eight Textured Chocolate Cake. Both looks quite ordinary, the snow egg even artificial in those pictures. Oh I must mention that the lighting was so dark that we couldn’t even see our food properly. Pictures aside, both desserts were awesome. The snow egg, from what I can make out, has several layers. The middle is a creamy layer, it is then wrapped in the softest marshmallow. A crispy toffee(?) layer comes next, and the whole thing is then rolled in icing sugar (?). It sits on a bed of guava sorbet, and there are more cream and guava jam/jelly (?) on the bottom of the glass.

The eight textured chocolate cake was a decadent creation. I haven’t yet worked out what the eight textures are. I have so far: hard chocolate, chocolate mousse, tempered chocolate, chocolate grenache, chocolate biscuit on the bottom….

We loved the dessert, but it was a little disappointing on the whole. It wasn’t the ‘truly unique dining experience, one that is completely removed from the everyday’ experience that its website promised.

Quay and Sir Ian McKellen – pt 1

“Hi, I’m calling from Quay, someone just cancelled their reservation for tonight, would you like to come in?”

“Sorry, where are you calling from? Pier? In Melbourne or Sydney?”

“Quay, in Sydney.”

“Ohhhh…let me just check…”

I didn’t hear it properly the first time. Then it slowly sank in. I must have made a reservation at Quay a couple of months ago, and was put onto the waiting list. I hate waiting lists, so I just gave up on the idea and arranged something else for dinner this weekend. But now that they had a cancellation, it’s too good an opportunity to miss.

I eagerly accept. It’d be a perfect finish to a perfect day as we’d be in Sydney watching Waiting for Godot, starring Sir Ian McKellen. How great is that? Just like seeing Magneto and Gandalf on the same day.

The matinée was great. It’s a pretty ordinary story-line if you are not into the whole existentialism thing, in fact, it is famous for ‘nothing happens twice’. But Sir Ian McKellen was brilliant as the eccentric and forgetful Estragon  and his ever-so-frequent mockery  of the other characters made an unforgettable performance.

The performers were collecting donations at the end of the show for this actors’ charity in NSW. After we drop some notes into his hat, I quickly run back to the theatre and grab a photo with Sir Ian McKellen. Out of sheer stupidity, I forgot to set my camera on flash 😦 😦 he could’ve been any old homeless man from the streets.

Anyway, disappointment aside, I did get to converse with him. Well, it was technically “Would you mind if I take a picture with you?” and a “Yes, go on” from him 🙂

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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Monday misery

I am thinking about ramen after reading this. The more I think about it, the angrier I get.

Canberra is tragically deprived of good Japanese food, especially ramen. Sure, there are lots of bad Japanese food, such as Sizzling Bento in Kingston with its pseudo ramen in a less than palatable broth, Mee’s Sushi in Manuka which shamelessly adopts two-minute noodles as ramen and charges an inexcusable amount for it, and Wagamama in Civic that serves fast Japanese food made by English apprentices rather than the authentic fare. To think that Wagamama is as good as it gets in Canberra…

Japanese ramen has Chinese origins. The word ramen in Chinese is pronounced ‘la mien’, which translates into hand-pulled noodles. It’s not as big in China as it is in Japan, but I do remember eating curry beef la mien inside street stalls in Shanghai when I was little. The noodle was sold by weight (the measurement was ‘liang’ = 50 grams), and would come in a rich curry beef broth with lots of coriander. The beef was thinly sliced and goes amazingly well with the herb in the curried broth. This is probably very different to Japanese ramen versions.

Talking about ramen is making me hungry. I think I will go eat last night’s dinner now. As for ramen, I will have to wait until Sydney.

**ETA**: We went to Wagamama last night for ramen (because we just couldn’t hold it out any longer). It was terrible. I had a chilli chicken ramen which came really fast but the quantity was measly. Ben had a Wagamama ramen which came nearly 20 minutes after mine and was just as bad. The quantity and quality were so lacking, in fact we went to Nando’s afterwards for a second meal.

Jay Chou, Sydney 3 July 2009

A night of crazy fans, good performance, rear views, and a lot of Asians. But like Ben said, why would Jay come all the way from Taiwan, do one concert, and not sing Tornado?





Löwenbräu Keller

Cnr Playfair and Argyle Streets
The Rocks, Sydney

I used to hear Ben rant about Löwenbräu, and have read about numerous food bloggers’ obsession with the Bavarian beer hall. Since I was in Sydney, I decided to give it a go!

The bare stone walls, the long wooden tables and the waiters clad in traditional attire transformed the restaurant into a semi-authentic German setting. The place was loud and lively, and there was a band playing silly old songs on a raised platform at the back of the restaurant.

For some reason, everyone in the photo was wearing black.

Cabinet full of what I assumed to be beer cans/mugs?

Since I already knew what I wanted (the famous pork knuckle), it was a matter of choosing the beer. I picked the mango weizen (mango wheat beer), which tasted like mango juice combined with beer – it was heavenly.

Mango weizen

My pork knuckle finally came, and man, was it a sight! The giant knucke balanced dangerously on a bed of sauerkraut and mashed potato. It was encrusted in a ring of heart-attack-inducing crackling, but oh-so-delicious.

My special steak knife dug into the meat, which fell off the bone! The meat was cooked well, kept moist, with only some bits that were a bit dry. I teared off the crackling in one swift motion and polished it off.

Enormous pork knuckle 🙂

The aforementioned pork knuckle after I was done with it.
The dessert plate (which a colleague ordered) also looked amazing. I tasted some apple strudel, which was ok, but probably not the best I have had.

Dessert platter

I would definitely recommend this place for any meat and beer lover (vegetarians beware)!