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!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Temple of Heaven in World Square

An evening at:

Newly opened at the Chinatown end of World Square (it's easiest to locate by heading to the corner of George and Goulburn Streets, the escalator takes you right to the entrance and makes you feel like royalty!) the highly anticipated China Republic (it was two years in the fit-out) is a feast for the eyes as much as the stomach.
Once you enter the authentic metal studded doors guarded by a 4 metre tall replica of an entombed warrior harking from Xian, you leave Sydney behind. While atmospherically dark, the spot lighting, with an array of fittings ranging from elaborate to sleekly modern, and light projections, create pools of warmth, highlighting specific architectural features.

The restaurant spans two levels. The lower level is a shallow U-shaped dining room wrapped around a drinks bar and two bar-like showcase food preparation areas ...

... surrounded at floor-level by a metre-wide koi pond, keeping the curious from getting too close while adding its own charming element of feng shui. Keeping the dining room narrow with partitioning maintains intimacy and you can easily forget that you are dining with up to 260 other patrons. 

The upper level, while providing an overflow general dining area, also houses the restaurant's four private rooms, seating variously from 6-7 and up to 18 patrons in the largest. 

Each room has its own subtle variation on the theme, the smaller rooms allowing grander chairs.  

The piece de resistance, however, is the Emperor's Room or, as we called it, the "throne"room.  
Accessible via its own private entrance, and with plinths for your feet, the starting price is a $10,000 membership, already subscribed and plans are afoot to introduce $20,000 and $30,000 memberships. Imagine walking in, ordering whatever takes your fancy and leaving without being presented with a bill. Yep, in my imagination too, but we can dream!   

The fittings, from the stacked roof tiles which make up an entire wall of the restaurant, the open bricks which make up another, the display cabinetry, the teapots which form part of a display wall (at least 140 of them - but who's counting? - hand-made and unique), the multiple scale bamboo replicas of the Imperial Palace which take pride of place in each private and the main dining rooms, were all imported from China. As a result, the authenticity of the restaurant is a given. 
(Even the unisex toilets, each an ensuite complete with basin and hand towels, are worthy of a visit!)

This dedication to authenticity flows through to the selction of Executive Chef and co-owner Mayson Yu and his team. Harking from Beijing and with an impressive folio of previous engagements behind him, his vision for China Republic is to take traditional Chinese flavours and present them in a modern way. 

Decadence aside, although the dishes aren't as massive as your normal cheap and cheerful, with the arguable exception of the Peking Duck, the prices certainly aren't exorbitant for the setting and the presentation. 

Whilst not billed as the signature dish, (indeed, it doesn't even make the Top Ten menu, and Executive Chef Yu declaring that, having personally developed each of the dishes, they were all his signature dishes), the Peking Duck bar has certainly been raised a notch and if you really want to know how it's done, click on the following link: How do you make Peking duck? (courtesy of Fairfax Media). This 3 1/2 minute clip, featuring Chef Linyi Yuan of China Republic, takes you through the process and helps you to appreciate the Duck just that little bit more.

Dining as guests of World Square's PR company, The PR Partnership, our menu was chosen for us and showcased key dishes, but the main menu and the Top Ten menu teased us with many more, providing an incentive to return another day. And so we ate:

White Cut Chicken with Spicy Lemon Sauce - smooth-as-silk chicken served cold as an appetiser with a lemony wasabi-infused emulsion. Whilst the flavour was lovely, I would like to have had less sauce overall, some for presentation but the rest served on the side. This would allow those who want less of the condiment to take as little as they wanted. 

Sauteed Eggplant served with a bean sauce - never have I been served eggplant so delicately prepared and presented. The flesh was smooth and melt-in-the-mouth yet held its shape. 

Chicken Broth with Seasonal Mushrooms - a wave of umami with every spoonful, my dining partner declared it the dish of the night. My only reservation had to do with the fact that I had so much of the wasabi seasoning in my bowl from the previous dish, that I didn't really have a clean taste of the soup. That said, I can say it was very rich and satisfying, main meal worthy! 

Spicy and Sour Cucumber - palate cleanser!