Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three Spoons

"Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical." 
Jonathan Swift

Next time you feel like being severe, grave and philosophical, do it over a cup of coffee from Three Spoons. Located in Concord West, Three Spoons is a quaint suburban café that makes a flat white that is creamy, well-mannered yet confident. I could have easily had another, but I'd already broken my rule of no coffee past midday. Sigh. 

Three Spoons on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Asparagus and Parmesan Risotto

After one of those days where the best one can manage to scoff down is the stale remains of yesterday's microwave popcorn, the thought of risotto for dinner is almost transedental. This risotto is sumptuous. It's creamy, unapologetic and is the perfect anecdote to a bout of winter hungries. The asparagus brings a lovely woodiness to the decadence of the parmesan and the crème fraiche. Like all risottos, you can't just slap this together. You must stir it with love. A risotto stirred with impatience simply doesn't taste as good.

1.5L chicken stock
2 bunches of asparagus
100ml olive oil
20g butter
100g shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
250g aborio rice
big handful continental parsley
100g grated parmesan
1/4 cup crème fraiche
squeeze of lemon

1) In a large saucepan, bring chicken stock to the boil and let simmer on low heat throughout the process of cooking the risotto.

2) Meanwhile, blanch the asparagus in a saucepan of boiling water for about a minute or two, drain and refresh under cold running water. Cut the tips from the spears and set aside, then finely slice the rest of the spears.

3) Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat, add the garlic and shallots and cook for about two minutes, or until translucent. Dont allow them to brown. Add the rice then ladel in the simmering chicken stock, stirring continuously until it is absorbed by the rice. Continue to add the stock a ladel-full at a time until it is all gone.

4) Once the risotto is cooked, stir through the parmesan and crème fraiche and add the parsley and asparagus, garnishing it with the tips and finishing with a squeeze of lemon.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Today Sydney turned on a spectacular sunny day and despite the chill-factor, the siren call of alfresco dining was too loud to ignore. Mr Bear, Mr Bear's Mum and I lunched at Delicado, a gorgeous little tapas place on Blues Point Road, McMahons Point. The Bears had been here many times before, but I hadn't and as per usual with any new place, I was rather excited! Delicado instantly earned bonus points when I unlocked their newbie deal on Foursqaure and scored us free sangria. 

Even before having any food, I was charmed by little things like Delicado's alphabet wall and their china, as I've said before, white plates become mundane after a while.

For me, tapas always presents one problem: what do I choose? The menu here is no different. Everything sounded great. Bread and olives were a must, so after ordering those, we began with the Ceviche Scallops. Mr Bear has a new-found love of scallops , his mother exclaiming,  "I never thought I'd see the day!... But that's why I just let you boys go, because I knew the right woman would come along one day..." 
The scallops were succulent and refreshing with a smack of paprika and sting of citrus.
The dish I picked was the Prawns with Squid Ink Risotto. The prawns were fat and juicy and were beautifully supported by the dense, inky risotto and caramelised shallots.

Mr Bear has a soft spot for chorizo... or is it that he has a soft soft because of chorizo..? So, chorizo was a non-negotiable. We ordered the special mixed plate of chorizo, lamb cutlets and fish cakes. The chorizo was super-charged as it came with a generous dollop of chimichurri (a sauce whose name translates as "give me curry", and is made from peppers and spices). The lamb had good flavour with its minted aioli, but was not rare enough for my liking. Lamb should always be pink. The fish cakes were golden and crunchy and not oily like some can be.

After watching a slicing competition of  Serrano Jamon on television, Mr Bear wanted to try some when he saw it on the menu. The charcuterie plate was your fairly standard plate. Particular shout out to the spicy salami. 

I have never been a big churros fan, the only one I have liked was my first churros that I had at Disneyland in 1994. Every churros since has been a disappointment. Mr Bear likes them, so we ordered some. Nyah. To me, they are just not my thing. They are not tasty enough or they're too oily or not soft enough or not crunchy enough or something... I'd take an Aussie cinnamon donut anyday. I did enjoy the hunk of caramel they came with though. A naughty, hulking mass of amber heaven... Drool.

The wine list is good and glasses of Rose and Tempranillo put the finishing touches on a thoroughly delightful lunch: sunshine, tales of London adventures, people I love and authentic, hearty fare. 

Delicado on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cao Thang

This week seems to be shaping up rather nicely. Not only did I receive fantastic news today about a recent audition (I'll be starring in Chess the musical in Melbourne this August) but I continued my exploration of suburban cheap-eats.
Having been introduced to the little Vietnamese strip in Flemington last year, I ventured back to try more of its hidden treasure.

Cao Thang is your usual suspect in the world of cheap-eats: awful decor, no frills, bustling crowds, great food. We sat down just after twelve, and within minutes the lunch crowd had packed the place out. The menu is rather long so deciding wasn't easy. In the end we went for the Szechuan prawns with rice and some sort of chicken rice noodle dish. 

The prawns were juicy and full of heat and spice, the vegetables still crunchy.

The rice noodle dish was my favourite. The wok had breathed smoky life into it and made it lip-smackingly good.
We left feeling full and satisfied but not button-poppingly so.
I suggest you get off the beaten track and head to this suburban culinary haven.

Cao Thang BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

BBQ One Kitchen

Still giddy from my supreme El Jannah experience yesterday, I thought I'd back it up today by exploring another suburban culinary haven: Eastwood. Out of the many Asian eateries, I tried BBQ One Kitchen, your typical shabby decor Asian place with the golden-skinned ducks all strung up. For $10 you get a huge (twice the size of your average take-away container) serve of rice, BBQ duck and greens.
The journey home was unfortunately rather extended due to bad traffic, so I think the duck lost a little crunch during transit. I pan-fried it when we got home to re-crisp it. I don't eat duck very often so I'd forgotten just how fatty it can be... Sorry arteries. The meat was juicy and flavoursome, with overtones of star anise from the five spice coming through and giving it a nice-dimension. I like duck, but I am not crazy for it like many of you are, so this has fulfilled my duck craving for sometime. For good cheap-eats BBQ One Kitchen is all that's it's quacked up to be.

BBQ One Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

El Jannah

When asking new friends what some of their favourite places to eat at were, Alice told me of El Jannah in Granville. She said their chicken with garlic sauce was utterly delicious and that I had to go. So today, Mum and I drove out to Granville and got ourselves some El Jannah.

With its take-away style decor it would be easy to walk past El Jannah and never give it a second glance, but once you know of the treasures within, you will relish it.

The must-have dish is their charcoal chicken which comes with a to-die-for garlic sauce. If you eat in, which we did, ten bucks gets you half a chicken, a great slap of this infamous sauce, pickles and bread. Such great value. If you opt for take-away, you can get an entire chicken for ten bucks. Steal!

I go back to our table, the sun is shinning so we sit outdoors, and I've barely sat down when the waitress brings out our food. Mum says she's not very hungry so we'll share this meal. I thought she'd only have a bit, but once she tasted it, I lost more than half, and she took all the best bits of chook for herself... Grrrrr!

The chicken is superb; the charred bits of skin taste of fire and cave men, and the flesh is sweet and juicy and that garlic sauce (toum) is utterly unbelievable. We make ourselves little wrap with the bread and fill them with all the goodies on the plate. During the midst of my feeding frenzy, I think of Mr Bear at work and feel sorry for him that he's missing out on this incredible chicken... But I'll take him soon.  

El Jannah now holds a place on my regulars list: incredible food + incredible value = happiness... What's your equation for happiness?
El Jannah on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 15, 2012

Stitch Bar

Stop the press! Tonight I had the best burger of my entire life. The. Best. Burger. I . Have. Ever. Eaten.

After a long week, especially for my dining companion the lovely Nicole, who had uni exams all week as well as work, we decided a Friday night out was in order and what better combination than a night of cocktails and burgers?

We planned on going to Stitch Bar, ignoring all advice about avoiding it on a Friday night due to the swarms of people there. We felt confident in battling the corporate crowds who on a Friday never return from their long lunches... We're young, pretty and sassy... We walk up York St, it's quiet, deserted almost, except for a small queue outside the bar. We join it and a few minutes later are inside. It's gorgeous.

A fairly new establishment, Stitch is a darling little boutique bar, brimming with the mystique and chic that its many Melbourne hole-in-the-wall counterparts have. This style of bar is long overdue in the Sydney CBD, but finally things are turning around. Stitch Bar to me, has a Spanish or Eva Perron Argentine feel to its decor (sewing kitsch decorations aside) with its wrought iron panelling that divides the dark booths. It's very small and dark and mysterious. We love it.

The bartenders are not only highly-skilled but seem to lack the obligatory dose of wanker Sydney bartenders possess nowadays. How refreshing! The cocktail list is impressive and thoroughly caters for all palates. I order a High and Dry: France’s favourite apple eau de vie Calvados blended with Krupnik honey liqueur, mixed with fresh apple juice, lime juice then sweetened with homemade Rosemary syrup. It is sweet and cool and sublime. They have used a juicer to freshly squeeze the juice (I have never seen this before at a bar) and the drink is alive with the tang of green apples. 

Nicole orders a Strawberry Swing: Summer combination of strawberries & basil leaves gently bruised, shaken 
with 42 below vodka & top up with chandon sparkling wine. "It tastes like a Margarits pizza in a glass!" She's right. The drink is a gorgeous savoury dance on the palate.

After an almost intolerable wait of over an hour (the crowd is in a lingering mood and nobody vacates their tables) we get a table and order. We are starving. I haven't eaten all day, so this burger better be pretty damn good. My BLT burger arrives: beef burger with smokey chillies, bacon, lettuce, vine ripened tomato, mayonnaise, mustard, dill pickles, and cheese. It also comes with a side of curly fries. I dive into the curly fries. They are hot, juicy and coated in that spicy, paprika, herb mix. Yum. I pick up the burger and bite into it. I come up for air, my face covered in mustard. I quickly wipe it off and go in again. It is utterly amazing. It is smoky and full-blooded and succulent and everything else the ideal burger should be. Nicole is just as eagerly chowing down her lamb burger. The thought goes through my mind, this is one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. Nicole turns to me and says, "This is the best burger I've ever had." As soon as I heard it out aloud, I knew it was true. 
"Yes. This is the best burger I've ever had."
I cannot express in words just how good this burger is, but the fact that I have eaten hundreds of burgers over the course of my life from all around the world and this one is the best, says enough. Excuse this picture being out of focus, I was shaking with anticipation!

We also ordered a bowl of hand-cut chunks with roasted garlic, rosemary and sea salt. They are delicious, but alas we are too full from our burgers and fries so after stuffing ourselves with a few, I offer them to a table of guys who welcome them with open arms. I hate food going to waste.

Mr Bear was meant to be meeting us and having a burger, but he calls to tell me there was a queue and he doesn't do waiting. You see, he thinks it's some up-itself bar full of try-hards, so he goes down the road to the pub to have a beer and wait until we're finished. We finish and let loose the barrage of praise for our burgers and he decides that he'll go back for one after all.

He orders an Old-Fashioned and is delighted by the friendly bartenders. He is even more delighted by how the drink tastes. It's mighty fine. And I love the sphere of ice they used. So stylish.

Mr Bear's burger arrives, the BLT on my recommendation. He bites into it. BEST BURGER EVER!

History was made tonight friends, it really was. 

Stitch on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chewy Speculaas Blondies

A day of misery and rain and nothing better to do than watch the Tony awards and curl up with a blondie (brownie's sister). This recipe comes from Edd Kimber's The Boy Who Bakes and is the perfect treat to bake on a cold winter's day as it is full of glorious spices that warm the soul.

This recipe takes the spicy flavours found in the Belgian biscuit, Speculaas, and marries them with a blondie, which is similar to a brownie but is made with brown sugar.

225g unsalted butter (extra for greasing)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamon (I love cardamom so I doubled this quantity)
400g light brown sugar
2 eggs
250g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
80g good-quality milk chocolate, roughly chopped
80g hazelnuts, chopped (I didn't have any hazelnuts to used almonds instead)

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees (160 fan-forced). Grease a 23 x 33cm baking tin and line with baking paper, leaving a 5cm overhang to make removing the blondies easier.

2) Melt the butter in a pan over medium-high heat, add the spices and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring constantly before taking the pan off the heat.

3) Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then whisk in eggs and fold in the flour, salt and baking powder. (I found 5 minutes was not enough cooling time. Give it 10). Stir in the chocolate and hazelnuts, then pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes.

4) Allow to cool completely in the tin. Blondies take a few hours to firm up, so refrigerate if you want to expedite before cutting into squares.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spanish Inquisition

This winter is all about red; exploring, questioning, probing the multitude of magnificent red wines that are on the market. I'm starting with Spain... Spoilt for choice for lots of incredible Australian wine, I don't tend to explore the European wines as much as I could. Spain seems a great place to start, and this bottle for $20 is a cracker.
The 2008 Hito C21 Ribera del Duero is a gorgeous, deep maroon as it pours from the glass and has a nose full of luscious berry. The wine is well structured with concentrated, yet supple tannins and dark berry fruits on the palate.
Enjoy now with hearty winter pastas or red meat or cellar and enjoy in several years time.
I love the label too. I know it's not right to judge a book by its cover, but full points to the design team for their slick and sophisticated label.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vivid and The Lord Nelson

After renaming Vivid Muted last year, Aos and I were not expecting to be blown away. We enjoyed the projections onto the front of the buildings, the MCA and Customs House looked amazing, but the smaller street sculptures mostly looked like poorly strung Reject Shop Christmas lights. 

I should have brought my tripod with me, but alas I did not so please excuse the blur... Kind of artistic though. The Opera House looked great with projections of people on its beautiful white sails.

Customs House was the favourite. 

So cute.

Aos looking suitably unimpressed with one of the Reject Shop-style exhibits.

Chandelier on the Harbour. Stunning.

After Vivid had given us all it could, it was time to meander through the Rocks and find a suitable pub. We were starved. We first went by the Hero of Waterloo, however, the crowd was very male dominated, surly and rough and it was almost like being in Thatcher's Lancashire mid-mining-strike. No thanks. So we went up the street to The Lord Nelson. I have walked past this many times, but never actually gone in. It is the perfect winter pub. 

Dating back to 1841, it is packed with old-world charm.

We both felt like pies. The pastry was a bit of a let down, not light or flaky but the flavour was good and the mash and peas were great. The Lord Nelson brews its own beer, and I had a Victory Bitter, which was all caramel and spice on the palate. Delicious. We had to sit outside in the bitey air, so if you're going for dinner be prepared to wait for a table or get there early (before 7pm).

Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel on Urbanspoon
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