Monday, October 10, 2016

Pins on Lurline

It's been a long time between posts (about 3 years in fact!) and there have been countless food adventures that have gone undocumented. One recent experience has jolted me back into action.

Pins on Lurline, in picturesque Katoomba was the perfect evening stop in the Blue Mountains. About 800m from the Three Sisters/Echo Point, the restaurant is housed in the former Church Hall of a charming 118 year old house.   

Previously run by a Scottish and Japanese husband/wife team, the restaurant developed a loyal local following serving a mix of Japanese, Italian and Modern Australian. New owners, Jody and Kim took over in July 2016. Streamlining the menu, it is much more coherent and doesn't try and span too many cuisines. The focus is on high quality, seasonal produce all prepared in-house. You know you've stumbled across a good menu when there are multiple dishes competing for your choice and you just can't decide. 

House photo courtesy of Management of Pins on Lurline/TripAdvisor

Starter: House-baked rosemary and pine nut bread

After a big day, we arrived at the restaurant ravenous. Overcome by our appetites, we devoured the bread without even taking a single photo! It's a treat to eat freshly baked bread and the herbaceous flavour of this shone through. Moist and not overly crusty, the addition of pine nuts lent a little extra body. Served warm and pre-sliced, we smothered ours with butter.  

Entree: Scallops on top of confit of leek, rich celeriac puree and cucumber citrus foam

Plump, sweet scallops with rich celeriac puree is a match made in heaven. The confit of leek added an earthy flavour and textural contrast. The cucumber and citrus foam is added for a bit of freshness but I found it wasn't needed. I was more than happy to eat these succulent sea medallions with their rich puree and leeks. If only I could order this as a main!  

Next was zucchini flowers stuffed with apple, ricotta, cranberries atop a butternut puree, with pine nuts and parmesan. These flowers were a little different due to the lighter, crunchy polenta crust. It was a nice change from the thicker and sometimes oily batters that you find elsewhere. The filling was rich and creamy, counterbalanced by the sharp/sweet cranberries. The butternut puree and pine nuts also added a nice sweetness to this dish. Very moreish.

 Main Course: Eye fillet served with potato galette, broccolini, heirloom tomatoes, baby pickled onions and beef jus. Option of adding Cafe de Paris butter or Dijon Cream. We went with the dijon cream which provided a rich creamy sharpness to the perfectly cooked medium/rare beef. Homely yet sophisticated, this beef dish ticked all the boxes and satisfied our red meat cravings.

Lamb backstrap served with asparagus, broccolini, charred/pickled red onion and polenta chips. It's welcome to see main dishes thoughtfully served with vegetables. City dwellers are so used to purchasing their meals as 'components' that a main dish is rarely balanced and only contains the protein element of the meal. This forces you to purchase your veges and carbs at additional expense. Of course you can add side dishes to your meal at Pins (salad, greens, polenta chips, potatoes and bread), but the seasonal asparagus was a nice pairing with beautifully cooked lamb. Unexpectedly, the pickled red onion help cut the richness so your sated appetite could happily continue devouring every last morsel.  

Due to food envy of the the table next to us, we ordered an additional bowl of thick cut polenta chips, with parmesan and rosemary (no picture again - sorry). Crispy on the outside and creamy in the middle, the polenta chips were beautifully seasoned with the parmesan. The rosemary help elevate what can often be a plain tasting mix of cornmeal. Some chips had one side which was a little chewy (due to the skin that forms when the polenta is left to cool), but these were easily sliced off. I'm definitely a polenta convert. 

Dessert: Sticky date pudding with caramel sauce and house-made vanilla ice cream

With our stomachs about to rupture, we made the decision to share an old favourite in the sticky date pudding. The pudding itself was served in a shallow dish. I think a deeper dish would have made for a denser more moist pudding (at the expense of presentation). Still the flavour was excellent. The caramel sauce was lighter than the usual thick, cloying butterscotch sauce. Our stomachs were relieved. Then there was the house-made vanilla ice cream. Packed full of tiny vanilla seeds, you can taste the quality in the ice cream that unlike commercial products, is not packed full of emulsifiers and stabilisers etc. 

With that, our meal was complete. Other dishes I wish I could have tried included the pork belly, pork croquettes, duck tortellini, roasted chat potatoes cooked in duck fat, Chocolate trio, white chocolate panna cotta and their signature salted coriander cheesecake. 

Pins provides a sophisticated dining experience without straying too far from the homely feel you'd expect from a regional restaurant. The service was attentive, friendly and relaxed. Best of all, we weren't charged big city prices. We walked away thinking it was fantastic value given the quality of food served up. Already looking forward to our next trip to Katoomba.

M.S. Glutamate was a paying diner at Pins on Lurline

132 Lurline Street, Katoomba, NSW, 2780

Open for Dinner 5.30pm to 10.00 pm 
Tuesday to Saturday 

Ph: (02) 4782-2281

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Making Jung - the Chinese Ploughman's Lunch, not the Doctor of Psychology!

As the Chinese New Year approaches, my thoughts turn to a winter Chinese delicacy, Jung. Yum Cha Restaurants and many Asian grocery stores have versions all year round but none are so good as the ones your mother made for you as a child. I remember the kitchen filling up with steam as the huge metal pot (taller than me) would bubble away with the heady scent of sticky rice, salty pork and the herbal scent of the bamboo leaves they were wrapped in. Nothing beat the unwrapping of a freshly cooked Jung, scorching our fingers as you rushed to get the string and the leaves apart, then the first taste of the silky pork belly as it melted into the rice. Unfortunately, all good things take time and like all good Chinese recipes, this one needs a few days' preparation so:

Three Days Before Wrap Day:

Buy your Ingredients (the quantities below are per kilo of glutinous rice which should make approximately ten Jung, the final number you get will depend on how "courageously" you wrap!); any Asian grocery store should stock all but the pork belly which can be bought from your local butcher or supermarket:

250 gm pork belly
1 kilo glutinous rice
1/2 teaspoon MSG (monosodium glutamate - optional but hey, it's traditional)
25 g salt
100 g dried Adzuki or Mung Beans
30 dried bamboo leaves
12 cooked salted duck eggs (optional)

Also like all good Chinese recipes, you can add all manner of other things such as lapchong (chinese sausage), mushrooms, lentils, mung beans, etc., but I wanted to replicate the jung I had as a child so this is my mother's recipe (which I'm sure to be fiddling with as soon as I'm practiced enough with the basics).

As soon as you get home:
  1. Wash the pork belly and slice into thumb-sized chunks
  2. Rub a heaped tablespoon of salt into the pork and leave covered in your refrigerator to marinate. 

One day before wrap day:
  1. Unwrap your bamboo leaves, snip the hard stalks from the base of each bamboo leaf and soak in a basin of cold water. Make sure to agitate the leaves thoroughly and change the water at least three times. The bamboo leaves should be pliable. (If you forget to do this the day before, don't panic, you can use boiling water on the dry leaves on wrap day. This is also good to remember if some of your leaves rip, as they are prone to do during your first wrapping attempts, and you end up needing more. Don't worry if they do, these can be used as the third outer leaf.)
  2. Soak the beans in cold water.
  3. Peel the duck eggs, discarding the shell and the white (although the whites can be kept for adding to a stir-fry or porridge in small quantities), cut the yolks in half if you think they're too big and put in a covered dish in the refrigerator.
  4. Wash and drain the pork, sprinkle with a little fresh salt and re-pack in a dry container in the refrigerator. 
 On wrap day:
  1. Half an hour before you want to start wrapping, soak the sticky rice in a basin of cold water.  After half an hour, rinse the rice and drain the rice through a sieve into a basin at least a third larger than the amount of rice you have. This is to ensure you have sufficient room in your basin to add in and mix the other ingredients.
  2. For each kilo of rice, add 25g of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of MSG, if using, to the rice.
  3. Stir through the beans and mix well with your hands.

Time to wrap!
  1. Remove your bamboo leaves from the water but keep them covered with a wet tea towel so that they don't lose their pliability.
  2. Bring all your ingredients to a large table and have a tray to catch any rice spillage.
  3. Take one bamboo leaf with the fat end on the left and the pointy end to the right.
  4. Bend it into a parabola shape and make a small pleated fold from the middle of the leaf to the bottom making a pointed pocket.
  5. Scoop a little rice into the corner and two thirds of the way along the long ends of the leaf.
  6. Top with a piece of pork belly and egg yolk if using.
  7. Take another leaf and make a similar shape around the top edge of the first leaf, overlapping a little and without a fold. This is to give some  height to the casing so that you can pack more rice in. 
  8. Top with another small scoop of rice mix and try to enclose the pork/egg completely.
  9. Fold the bottom leaves up or to the right to envelope the rice.
  10. Fold the side and top leaves in and cover with a third leaf if necessary
  11. Bind with cooking twine.
  12. Place as many Jung as your biggest saucepan will hold, cover with water and boil for at least 3 hours, replenishing the water if necessary (check every hour) or until the fat on the pork has rendered and the beans are tender.
  13. Eat steaming hot immediately (or refrigerate or freeze and reheat) with a drizzle of sesame oil, white pepper and soy sauce to taste. 

Craving some now! 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Phoenix Rises, Again - Argo Restaurant, Pymble

The last couple of years have seen more restaurant closures in Sydney than I can fathom and this site in Pymble has had more than its share of those. Following a run of different cuisines and restaurateurs hoping to make a success of this upper North Shore location, ranging from well before the previously reviewed Ad Lib to the short-lived Spanish influenced Lounge 10'47 we are hopeful that Argo is to here to stay for a while.

Billed as Modern Australian, all the dishes were very appealing to our small group which encompassed eight adults and four children. With a range of pastas, tapas-style dishes, burgers and grilled meats, there is enough variety from which to choose and more than enough for a return visit.

Very family friendly, the children were served first while we adults looked on enviously and we were not disappointed.

As we wanted to try as much as possible, we started with the entire selection of a "Few Things to Share": Olives, Taleggio and Parmesan croquettes, Haloumi with Hazelnut dressing, Grilled Prawn Skewers with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, Chicken Wings with Chilli, Garlic, Rosemary & Lemon, Chicken Liver Pate with Onion Jam and Bruschetta of the Day (ours was mushroom and fetta and alas no photo!) $6 to $14

All the flavours were wonderful, exactly as you would expect from a really great kitchen. The wings and croquettes were hot and crispy, the sourdough toast was crusty and beautifully grilled, the haloumi perfectly coloured. The pick of the dishes to share was probably the Chicken liver pate and onion jam.

On to mains, we chose:

Calamarata with Bolognaise sauce $24
As with the other pasta dishes, al dente, flavoursome and satisfying.

Beef Burger with Scamorza, pickles, bacon, beetroot relish and chips $20
Neither too big nor too small, a brioche bun, melty cheese and sauce on the side so it doesn't run down your hand, whats not to like!

Scallops with Saffron & Corn Puree, Asparagus, Burnt Butter & Sage $22
Ordered as a main without fuss from the Entree menu, this (along with a side of Chat Potatoes with Roast Garlic and Rosemary Oil $7) made for a smaller main than the more generously portioned mains on offer for someone with a reduced appetite. It was the highlight of my meal. Scallops perfectly cooked, crispy but tender. All the flavours worked beautifully together.

1/2 Rack of Pork Ribs $32
Meat lovers everywhere rejoice! It also comes in a full rack!

Orecchiette with broccoli & pine nuts $22

Spaghetti with prawns, sea urchin butter, cherry tomatoes & zucchini $26

Perhaps our appetites for overindulgence have also wained over the years but in truth, we were all so well fed after the entrees and mains that we didn't have room for dessert. Ah well, next time.

Marrying food which celebrates its ingredients in classic yet solid combinations to a background of live music in the street-front window (at least there was when we were last there on a Sunday for lunch) and you can count on a more than pleasant dining experience. Please, give it Ar-go!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When East Meets East Meets East - Infuzions

Is there such a thing as too much choice? With the profusion of cuisines available in almost every suburb's dining quarter, the question about what to have for a meal when dining out becomes a battle of the strongest resolve, that is, s/he who is loudest (or has the means to pay!) inevitably gets to choose!

How wonderful then that Infuzions came along. With currently two locations, in Cammeray and Hornsby, the menu offers a wide array of Asian dishes spanning a number of the most popular cuisines, beautifully presented and flavoursome as well. There are tapas-sized dishes if you want to eat lightly or to sample more than one or two dishes or there are more substantial options if you are after a main meal or have a hearty appetite. We had a party of twelve to feed and although we ordered a large variety rather than multiples of the same dish to share, there were still many others that we didn't get to order. It must be said that when spice and heat feature in a dish, nothing has been diluted to cater to a wider palate, so if dining with young or less adventurous friends, ask before you order! 
Twice Cooked Pork Belly Pieces with Nam Jim Jiew ($9) - crispy crackling but a touch dry, it wasn't quite the melt-in-the-mouth that I wanted it to be but great to taste and so beautifully plated.
Prawn Patty Cakes ($8.90) - Prawn & Pork mince with garlic, coriander, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. These were a hit with the kids and adults alike and, in flavour and texture, were very satisfying. We ordered an extra serve.

Prawn Dumpling ($7.90) - Minced prawn meat, bamboo shoot & coriander - fairly traditional and not as large as some (which I prefer) but although the pastry could have been a little thinner, yummy to eat.
Scallop Dumpling ($7.90) Strangely, according to the menu, not a trace of scallop to be seen just "minced prawn meat, garlic, ginger & white pepper". We weren't sure if this was just lost in translation, honesty or what the foamy bits were but they didn't seem to have an impact on the taste which was still yum cha delicious.
 Prawn Betel Leaf  ($9) - Tamarind prawn and roasted coconut on a betel leaf with an Asian style sauce - this was quite delicious and we would have liked to have more of these.
Crispy Vegetable & Mushroom Dumplings ($6.90) - vermicelli, leek, onion, mushroom & ginger - a delicious morsel, as good as the best gyoza albeit a little light on the filling.

 Salt & Pepper Squid ($11.50) served with green apple som tum & plum sauce - the squid pieces could have been cut up smaller and marginally more tender and there either wasn't as much salt & pepper spice as I have come to expect or the batter didn't stick sufficiently to the squid to make it onto the plate.
Golden Tofu ($7.90) - Crispy tofu with sticky palm sugar caramel -beautifully presented and a good match for its Japanese counterpart.
Larb Salmon ($14.50) - Seared salmon, lime juice, ground rice, mint, coriander & fresh herbs - a Thai influenced dish for those who love Larb Chicken - this is a lovely alternative and it must be popular because they publish the recipe in the back of the menu!

Infuzion's Marinated Chicken  ($21.90) - served with steamed vegetables and spiced yellow rice. One of three off-the-grill items brought spectacularly to the table on its own spike, this is another dish for which I would return time and time again. The smokey chicken was moist and succulent and the accompanying crisp vegetables were colourful and unimpeded with sauce, allowing the chicken to shine. (Note: they do de-spike the chicken after delivering the dish to the table.)

Other offerings along the same vein were Roasted Red Moisture Infuzed Pork Loin and Grain Fed Sirloin Steak.
Crispy Pork Belly with Chinese Broccoli, garlic, chilli & oyster sauce ($8.50) - again slightly on the dry side but flavourful and we all need our greens!

Massaman Osso Buco ($9.90) with Kipfler potatoes & cherry tomatoes - another stand-out dish, we loved this with the accompanying jasmine rice. The meat was tender and the flavour was intense. Other curries available were Chicken Green, Red Duck, Mixed Seafood Yellow, Wagyu Beef Red and Rose Petal Fuk-Tong Massaman. More to return and try!
Pad Kee Maw with King Prawns ($9.90) - one of a selection of wok fried dishes which allow you a choice of protein from tofu, chicken, waygu beef and king prawns, this was a touch spicy to my palate but had lots of wok breath. Other choices included plain and Lobster Pad Thai, Crispy Chicken & Cashew Nut, Pad See Eew and Fried Rice.
BBQ Pad Prik Khing Lamb Cutlets ($25.90) - lamb cutlets basted with a thick dry curry paste, infused with lemongrass, garlic, galangal and served with green beans. Another favourite if you love lamb.

Pan Fried Roti ($4.50) - Not the multi-layered laced-with-oil type so healthier but alas, a little dry so perfect to scrape up the Massaman curry sauce.
BBQ Pork Buns ($6.90) - Traditionally sticky sweet sauced pork encased in fluffy steamed light bread.

Before we go, just to give you a sense of the breadth of the menu, for the first time, here are some of the dishes we didn't get to but love the sound of:  Infuzion's Oysters, Makhuea Tower (eggplant), Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls, Peking Duck Rolls, Seared Scallops, Prawns & Wild Mushrooms, Stir Fried Wagyu Beef Black Pepper, Infuzion's Grilled Meatballs, Garlic Pepper Soft Shell Crab, Ko Chu Jang King Prawns, Salt & Pepper Duck and Oven Roasted Salmon.
Hinting at Cantonese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean cuisines, the only argument will be what to order once when you get there! (Did I mention they do take-away too?!)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A trip to Italy Via Napoli

We all have food dreams, personally, mine is to have a limitless supply of fresh truffles but as that's an unlikely scenario, we fulfilled Lobo's dream instead - ordering TWO METRES of pizza.

Via Napoli, in Lane Cove, on the north side of Sydney, has earned a reputation for serving authentic pizzas. They have been around for a while but, as word has spread, their initially small home has expanded, even in the short time (3 years) between my first and next (this) visit. And so many diners can't be wrong.

We were there to celebrate Wag's birthday, the perfect venue because her favourite dessert is Tiramisu, but more on that later.

The pizza is infamous but to our delight, there was a selection of other yummy sounding dishes which we chose a smattering of for the table to share as entrees. 

We ordered Arancini ($10.00), which comes as two, tennis ball sized, perfectly golden fried balls a serve with a different filling in each - one with veal & pork mince, buffalo mozzarella & peas, the other with truffle & gorgonzola.

We also ordered Polip Alla Luciana ($22.00) - a dish of melt-in-the-mouth baby octopus presented in a lidded jar and filling our mouths with such a cornucopia of flavours that all gelled to make one tasty dish. Packed with capers, olives, stale chunks of bread which soaked up the glorious sauce infused with garlic, oil, chilli, parsley & white wine, it was probably the dish for which we will all be returning.

 Polenta & Gorgonzola ($15.00) - some of the chunkiest, crispiest ever tasted and presented with a dipping dish of melted peppered gorgonzola, ahhhh, heaven!

Tagliere Di Salumi ($20.00) - a selection of Italian cured meats (the deli slicer sits pride of place in the centre of the main dining room where the two wood fired ovens work overtime).
And the most glorious ball of buffalo mozzarella I have ever seen. I must admit, I'm not a huge fan (I don't even seem to have a photo of it) but in saying this, the texture was far more pleasing than any I had tasted previously and those who were fans assured me that it was amongst the best.

Spaghetti Marechiaro ($30.00) - seafood pasta - al dente of course as it should be and ever so tasty with the freshest taste of the sea in every forkful.

Just after we ordered, our appetites were immediately satisfied with the provision of two baskets of some wonderful crusty bread. Served the Italian way, with oil rather than butter, I initially missed the hit of salt which is usually supplied alongside the oil but a few mouth fulls in and the need was no more. The baskets were almost instantly empty and happily filled once more before our entrees arrived.

The stands on which our ëntrees have been balanced are cleared and we wonder how on earth we are going to fit in any more food. Then, it arrives.....

All TWO METRES of colourful, fresh-looking and smelling delicious pizza!
A word of caution: when you order TWO METRES of pizza at Via Napoli, the toppings are pre-ordained and, at the time of writing were:  Vesuvio (San Marzano Tomato, buffalo mozzarella, ricotta,  ham, salami, pepper & basil), Salsiccia e Friarielli (Fior di latte, italian sausage, cime di rapa, basil & chilli on a white base), Crudo e Rucola (Fior di latte, prosciutto di Parma, rocket, parmesan & basil on a white base), Margherita (San Marzano Tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil & olive oil) and Marinara (San Marzano Tomoato, oregano, basil & garlic). We certainly weren't quibbling but to me it looked like they had baked two one metre pizzas and placed them end to end on a two metre plank but in all honesty, we didn't care! We quickly found room in our stomachs.

And we weren't amazed when we had a family sized regular pizza left over.

Thankfully, Via Napoli are fully prepared with take-away boxes to pack our leftovers in.

What I really loved about the entire meal was that nothing felt overly laced with cheese. The flavours imbued by very talented cooking ensured that cheese was an accompaniment rather than the binder that it can be in lesser versions of these dishes.

Naturally, we had to leave room for dessert and coffee:


But I guess what you'd really like to know is:  would we order the TWO METRE pizza again?

If we had the numbers we had last time, hell yes!

Although some of the slices had lost their crispy base due to the freshness of the sauce and the thinness of the base, they reheated in our oven at home to crispy perfection, the second cooking intensifying the flavours, for a whole other meal the next day.  And we all know there's nothing better than reheated pizza!