Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mr Wong, Sydney

"Foodies", "Hipsters", and "Foochebags" 

These are the terms I got from this food article I ran into.
Love them or hate them (albeit, us), is it true that they along with "gangsta chefs" are elevating the revival of street food and trending our taste buds?

With all the hype from Ms G's, us Yummers were intrigued by what Dan Hong's new venture, Mr Wong will bring to Sydney's food scene.

As there were 8 of us I thought I'd do the right thing and make a reservation.  After jumping through the Merivale empire's corporate hoops and signing my life and credit card away for a meal, we were booked in.  The dinner reservation form stipulated that a table of 8 guests had a mandatory 10% surcharge, a minimum spend of $70pp including beverages, $500 cancellation fee if less than 24hours notice, and $70pp fee for no-show guests.  Whilst I understand the frustrations of last minute cancellations I personally thought it was a bit steep and took the shine off the event.  On a brighter note, the Merivale reception were very prompt and professional with the reservation.

Mr Wong can be found at 3 Bridge Lane, Sydney.  It's a tiny, dimly lit lane-way that resembles the dark alley ways of Gotham city.  Once you step past the Mr Wong archway you are transported to a 1930's Shanghai tea house.  The fitout of this multilevel ex-night club is superb.  Splashes of industrial chic with exposed brickwork and iron fittings work really well with the rustic Asian decor.

Another small gripe before we start our meal ... you would think that after the special service we received above from Merivale that we would get our own table.  Instead we were placed downstairs (away from the open kitchen action) on a communal table (well, 3 reserved tables joined together), which made the seating quite tight.

Steamed Dim Sum Platter ($32) - (available for dinner only)

Scallop Shumai, Har Gau, Jade seafood dumpling, Mushroom dumpling.

Maybe we were too in awe of the decor, but I was kicking myself when I found out that we'd ordered two steamed dim sum platters rather than the a steamed and a fried, therefore missing out on my much anticipated introduction to lobster mei si roll and foie gras prawn toast.
What I did enjoy from the steamed selection was scallop shumai.  Plump, juicy, stacked with at least 2-3 scallops and encased in a delicate pastry skin.

L: Roasted 5-spice Pork Belly ($25)   R: Steamed Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce and Garlic oil ($12)

L: Mr Wong's special fried rice - Large ($24)   R: Twice cooked green beans, pork mince & XO sauce ($16)

L: Crystal Bay Prawns with black pepper, garlic, and butter ($32)   R: Wagyu beef with rice vermicelli - Large ($26)
Who doesn't like a succulent pork belly with a crunchy crackle or a non-oily fragrant fried rice with prawns.  But personally, I guess I was expecting a Dan Hong twist to the dishes - Ms G style!!  Don't get me wrong each dish was executed well and served as a great meal, but I guess the "hipster" in me was expecting a little more.

L: Salt & Pepper Lamb Cutlets with Fennel and Cumin ($32)   R: Sweet & Sour Crispy Pork Hock ($28)
The winner for me was the lamb cutlet.  Succulent lamb cutlets with a crunchy outer coating fused with fennel and cumin brought together with a squeeze of lemon.  It was so good we debated ordering seconds and YaYa tried to replicate this at home the following night.

Sweet and Sour Crispy pork hock was also top notch.  Maybe a play on the traditional Sweet and Sour pork, this dish is far superior with no comparison to the westernised version found in most Chinese take-away shops.  De-boned crispy pork hock with flaky innards that's permeated with a good balance of flavours - and no sign of extra large capsicum and pineapple chunks in a fluorescent sauce!!

L: Mr Wong's deep fried ice-cream with butter scotch sauce ($14)   R: Roast white chocolate ice cream, yuzu curd, logans, and raspberries ($14)
Dessert time, and as you can see, even the food blogging Yummers couldn't hold back for photos before digging in. First to go was Mr Wong's interpretation of the well known deep fried ice cream.  I liked the addition of coconut strands in the crispy coating and the butterscotch sauce was thick, gooey and surprising not too sweet.

The roast white chocolate ice cream was well constructed with multi-levels of flavor and textures.  I couldn't quite taste the yuzu though.

L: Green apple ice, osmanthus jelly, water chestnuts and coconut sorbet ($14)   R: Seasonal fruit plate (serves 2-3) ($18)
For you folk that don't like heavy desserts the Green apple ice is very light and refreshing, although the osmanthus in the jelly was heavily masked by the other flavours.

Yes, we even ordered the fruit platter and were somewhat relieved to find that it wasn't your standard complimentary plate of dry oranges, tasteless honeydew and powdery watermelon that you generally expect after a Chinese meal.  The platter was spruced up with the addition of fresh strawberries, raspberries, golden kiwi, and our new found love ... Jack Fruit!!

Strawberries, meringue, macadamia praline, cream cheese ice cream and Thai basil ($14)
The cream cheese ice cream dish really hit the spot for me.  Just the word cream cheese ice cream had me drooling.  I thought the addition of both meringue and praline would push this dish over the edge in regards to sweetness, but the tartness of the fresh strawberries livens it up and the Thai basil just takes it to another level - man I love micro herbs!!

Overall I think the mains are slightly overpriced.  Definitely good for that special treat and I'll definitely be back to try Yum Cha, and the foie gras prawn toast.

Till next time...we eat!!


Mr Wong on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 19, 2012

Food of the Gods

Mention Greece and, once you've clarified that you don't mean the musical, most people's visions are of aqua-hued Mediterranean seas and bright whitewashed homes built on seemingly impossible terrain with tiny aged women dressed in black from head to toe clambering along cobbled streets.

Having never visited, my impressions of Greece were formed from the myths and legends of early childhood schooling followed by movie matinees replaying films now long vanished from cinema screens.  The  stilted performances by American actors dressed in leather armour fighting stop-frame animated monsters by the groundbreaking (for his time) Ray Harryhausen, brought whole other worlds and times to my relatively unexciting young life. 
Perhaps it was my foodie roots sprouting - but even then I noticed that each film generally featured a feast of some sort, whether to welcome a stranger to the new land or to celebrate a victory or provide the catalyst for moving the plot forward. Poison in the goblet anyone? Naturally the Gods ate better than anyone!

What these influences said to me was that dining Greek was all about feasting. Xanthi is definitely a worthy contender to fulfil my cinematic dining dreams. 

Unlike the Thai next door, the designer has positioned the kitchen at the entrance. Trav-ersing the narrow entrance to the dining room itself feels like you are leaving the modern world and its shopping centre location behind. 

Once inside, with a fabric-draped ceiling and walls, exotic rugs and lamp decor, it is possible to believe that you are within a marquee on the banks of a river, noblemen and women, celebrating for the night.
Xanthi's menu has been cleverly designed by David Tsirekas (of Perama fame) to allow the diner to taste as many of his wonderful array of dishes as possible. 
We chose from an extensive list of Ouzomezadakia - little plates designed for sharing:

Lahanika Tiganites -  crumbed zucchini flowers, oyster mushrooms, eggplant and artichoke served with skordalia sauce.
Almost anything tastes great crumbed and deep fried, (we know that from lots of happy experience!) and this was no exception. We would have happily eaten a plate of these for the mains, our only "beef" being there was only one zucchini flower and four diners to share it! 

Fried Whitebait - served with a spicy raki tomato relish. This was pretty self-explanatory and satisfyingly crunchy and plentiful, the relish providing a little chilli kick.

Sheftalies - barbequed Cypriot style pork meatballs flavoured with cumin and coriander and wrapped in caul fat.
This was easily the highlight of the starters, the balls were flavourfully chargrilled while retaining the moisture and chewy chunkyness of a home-style meatball. Most of us could easily have eaten this for a main course as well.

Hot Smoked Eggplant Dip - freshly smoked eggplant (there is an approximately 10 minute worthwhile wait for this to be prepared) blended with coriander,cumin, lemon juice, yoghurt and kasseri. Served with toasted pita bread.

All agreed this was lovely. Never having had warm eggplant dip before, I found the texture a little bit gluey and a little underspiced but the freshly made pita bread was warm, soft and generous.

Miniature bottles of Creta Farms Extra Virgin Olive oil and salt for dipping - we didn't need to order additional bread as the dishes we ordered came with plenty.

Truffle Mousaka - Layers of eggplant, potato and mushroom brushed with truffle paste, then topped with a creamy bechamel sauce.

Served with a cucumber, fennel, apple mint salad with a honey vanilla balsamic dressing. 
Easily the highlight of the mains, this was everything a great mousaka needed to be and the inspired salad was enough to cut the richness of the bechemel so by alternating mouthfuls, you could fuel the desire for more of the other.

Naturally one of us had to order from the spit (thank you J)! Tonight's offering being either pig or goat, the goat was chosen. And although I would never have ordered it myself, the sample I tasted was enough to convince me that I should be more broad-minded. While a portion of the meat was a little dry (we assumed this might have been served almost as a garnish as crackling would have accompanied the pork) there was no "goatiness" to the meat unlike some cheeses where I have been turned off merely by the smell. Accompanied by a generous serve of the soft warm pita, sumac spiced tomato and tzatziki, J felt the tomato was not as ripe as it could have been.
The only dish ordered from the Apo Tin Plastira menu (meaning off the wooden board used to make the filo pastry featured in these dishes) twice cooked Pork Belly Baklava. I was disappointed that we didn't have room to try more of these as I love the pastry and this tasted just wonderful with the contrasting melt-in-your-mouth pork and crispy pastry and crispy crackling served on top of each slice of baklava.
BBQ Spiced Chicken - Slow roasted corn fed chicken, coated and marinated in herbs and spices and finished off on the barbecue, served with chips, pita bread and garlic cream.

I don't often order chicken when eating out as there are so many more interesting dishes from which to choose but I have to say that the meat was moist and the meal was sumptuous. (Plus, it was served with chips - the test dish of any menu and yes, they were good.)

We ordered two side dishes:
Skordalia - creamy garlic mash - and it was deliciously so, if only we hadn't been so full!

And Broccolini Gavros - Served with white anchovies, chilli, crunchy graviera crumbs and normally toasted almonds which the kitchen was happy to leave out due to a diner's intolerance.

Not knowing how long it would be before we could return, we had to sample at least two desserts, the intriguing and aptly named Garden of Aphrodite - an eden of honey milk panna cotta, caramelised figs,
candied almonds and almond milk sorbet.

The figs had us salivating with the toffee-glaze cracklingly crisp and the panna cotta was smooth, suitably wobbly and not overly sweet. 
The second dessert was the Banana Ekmek - baked kataifi (fine strands of wheat pastry) wrapped bananas served with spiced chocolate mousse and salted caramel.

Due to my egg allergy, we asked to have the mousse served on the side and it certainly didn't suffer but rather had its own pedestal as a result.

Reminiscent of a banana fritter without the oily residue, the pieces of caramel fudge added texture to the smooth perfectly salted caramel sauce. The mousse was spiced with cinnamon.

With its generous serves and variety of dishes on offer and young, enthusiastic and unobtrusive waitstaff, there is plenty for us to return to and I'm guessing it won't be too long before we do!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Some Like It Hot!

And I'm not talking about Marilyn!

I haven't always been a big fan of chilli - unlike some of my friends (you know who you are!). I never understood the appeal of burning your mouth so much that you couldn't taste the food. Apart from my relatively traditional (read relatively bland) Cantonese diet upbringing, I had an unfortunate first encounter with chilli that scarred me, if not for life, then for a good long time.

It was a working dinner and I was helping myself to some plain rice, on top of which I thought was a capsicum garnish (it was dark and I admittedly was not the foodie that I was to become). As a consequence I spooned a mouthful of chilli into my hitherto uninitiated palate. Suffice to say, I was unwilling to attempt chilli for a good long time afterwards! (No amount of softdrink or water helped and although I'm sure someone must have known about milk being the antidote, none was offered at the time!)

So although my household boasts no less than two bottles of Tabasco sauce, not once have I ventured to even sniff it for fear it scalds my nostrils! The closest I have come to chilli is the sweet blend which is offered with Vietnamese rice paper rolls and that is more sugar than chilli. And yet, as soon as I saw the label, I just had to have it!

But why would a confessed chilli avoider buy Tabasco brand?Well if you didn't know already, I'm a bit of a chocoholic and here's the rest of the label! :D

Open the pack and (lucky) 8 pieces of gorgeously dark wedges drop out. Obviously not a package designed for long term storage as there is no cellophane to keep the product fresh but who's kidding whom here, it is chocolate isn't it? He he!

Now depending on your chilli tolerance meter, these will just be a pleasant tingle on your tongue or a surprising burst of heat just when you think they're not so bad at all. Because the heat doesn't hit you right away, it's not dipped in Tabasco sauce, it's blended right through it so it doesn't hit until you start chomping into it. (Does anyone just allow chocolate to melt in their mouths? I'm way too impatient!)

I found these at the check-out counter of my local Thomas Dux grocery store. At $5 for a good quality dark chocolate with a chilli kick, I'm happy. If I keep developing my palate with these, I might even give the real thing a go soon... ; )

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lazy Labour Day Lunch

Sigh! Last long weekend of the year, last public holiday before Christmas, been a while since we last got together, so many good reasons to have people over but what to do when every day leading up to the lunch day is busy? Keep it simple and fresh!

Buying seafood from your favourite fishmonger means someone else does the cooking!

Tiger prawns, smoked salmon, whole smoked trout, oysters and salami

Sashimi salmon - yes we had fish done three ways but it was all about the texture!

Equally simple salads:
Baked fresh beetroot with sour cream and chives

 De-seeded cucumber with fried garlic, sweet chilli and fish sauce dressing

Waldorf  salad

Iceberg with a French vinaigrette for the traditionalists!

Carbs to accompany the meal -
Ciabatta and Sonoma sourdough

And the easiest dessert of all - my version of Jamie Oliver's Eton Mess.

Extra berries and although Jamie smashes his berries with his hands, I used a more conventional food processor. The low acidic yoghurt with the cream really helps cut the sweetness of the meringue and makes this a very light dessert!

And having one of your guests bring a selection of pastries from the Bourke Street Bakery also helps!

The only thing we cooked in advance was the beetroot, baked whole in the oven the night before so it was cool for the morning. Everything else was bought or prepped the morning of the lunch! Simple, fresh and easy!  :D

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I like to keep my issues drawn; it's always darkest before the dawn.

..and pretty much zip [Project Management] experience? Yep, I would have probably put you on a half to one million dollar project to start off with.” (as opposed to the current five million plus project?)

Dining at Azuma's in Chifley Tower is always fantastic. The service is consistently great with their attention to detail which marries well with the same high standard of food each time. This event was no different. Upon arrival, we were offered water and a glass of white or red to be paired with a couple of starter courses to stave off any sugar overloads in launching straight into a sugar hit. The first course was skewered grilled duck breast and chicken meatballs. They went down well.
Attention to detail and consideration for the customer is paramount in coming to an establishment such as Azuma's. The next course was inside out tempura roll and seared salmon sushi paired with a Brown Brothers Cienna Russo. It was approaching dessert wine territory but is light enough to be enjoyed much earlier on it's own as it isn't as syrupy. These starters were delicious in flavours, freshness and textures and it was quickly starting to fill us up like a full dinner.

Now for the main event, the East meets West – Dessert Bento box:
Kawaii Panna Cotta, Home made Yuzu Sorbet, Marble Gateux Cookies, Gateux Chocolate and a sake sample of Plum, Yuzu Nigori or Nigori Sake (if you go to the Sugar Hit, you'll have to pick one of the three). I won't spoil the flavours for you but it's pretty decadent. General consensus on the table loved the pannacotta and my favourite was the yuzu sorbet.

At the event, it was announced that the locations at Regent Place would be closing whilst renegotiation on new leases was in progress. No news yet on what would be opening next and where, only that it'd be dependent on the size of the kitchen. It seems concerning yet another restaurant is closing but to date I have truly enjoyed the Azuma brand and eagerly await their next venture.

..you know, even though it was hard, one of the great things in that session was the level of support everyone was offering – what can they do to help to get [the project] back on track?”

Standing at the edge of a bridge, will you fall or take a leap?

I have to confess the irony of the day certainly was not lost on me to support Diabetes on the day – attempting to fund raise at work for Diabetes Australia with a cake sale followed by a sugar-hit alongside a steady stream of alcohol, the things one must do!