Pei Modern, Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney

Pei Modern was on my list of restaurants I wanted to visit at some point in Melbourne, and then one conveniently opened in Sydney! Too kind.  We found the perfect excuse to visit: before seeing Damon Albarn play at the Opera House, as the Sydney restaurant is located in the Four Seasons Hotel at the bottom of George Street/ beginning of The Rocks, only 10 minutes’ walk from where we needed to end up.

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We started with glasses of lovely Clover Hill sparkles from Tasmania, then a perfect pair of salty-sweet Clyde River rock oysters. Remember folks: fizz first, oysters second, as lemon or vinaigrette will ruin your champers-appreciating palate.  The alternative is champagne plus bread and butter plus un-dressed oysters.  I went for this option.  The wood-fired sourdough was extremely good – one of the sourest sourdoughs I’ve had in a while, with a Seriously Chewy Crust™.  I also liked the presentation in the little hessian bread sock.  The waitstaff obliged us with a second sockful.

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We stayed with seafood for our next two starters: house-smoked kingfish (“ham of the sea”) and salt cod croquettes.  The fish really did taste like ham, and I wish I could remember what the fine strips of refreshing vegetable were.  Or fruit?  Perhaps watermelon rind?  Lightly pickled?  I’m certain it wasn’t the more obvious answer of cucumber.   And I’ve never met a salt cod croquette (nor a blob of aïoli) I didn’t like, but Pei’s were memorable for two reasons: the semolina-dusted exterior, and the grated potato insides.  Instead of just being tasty salty fried mush, they had two distinct and pleasing textures.

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Our last shared starter was, for me, the least successful due to its presentation.  To be fair, the “beetroots, fig and braised mustard seeds” did not call itself a salad, but once you add salad leaves to something (here, large folds of radicchio) it really needs to be more… salad-y.  This was an awkward dish to eat, as everything was too big and had to be sliced and divided so you could get a mouthful of the smokey beets (regular and mellow yellow) and the bitter radicchio and a sweet contrast of fig.

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The butter lettuce with chardonnay vinaigrette was more manageable, mouthful-wise.  Butter lettuce is a bit démodé but I love it, and it was nice to have such a simple side with our very flavour-packed mains.  Hubby had the “Snapper, old-fashioned celery, currants and verjuice” and I chose the “Casarecce, chicken dumplings and reggiano”.  Our waiter seemed very concerned about my choice and was anxious to ensure I knew what casarecce was.  I said yes, it’s a hand-rolled pasta, isn’t it?  Little tubes with a twist?  Oh yes, it’s very rich though – we cook the pasta in broth so it’s very rich.  It’s very rich with the broth.  Rich.  Broth.  I assured him I was fine to eat pasta cooked in broth, and was somewhat confused by his concern.  Did I look like some delicate waif who couldn’t handle anything more than a butter leaf salad?  (Does he not read my blog?)  And does he warn everyone, or just skinny girls?  Should I be offended?  Also what the hell is in this “rich broth” to make it such a concern?

See picture below:

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The broth wasn’t the issue.  It was the OFFAL our anxious waiter somehow completely failed to mention!  Hand-rolled pasta infused with chicken stock; beautifully light chicken meatballs; lovely bitey parmigiano reggiano melting into the broth; and…. kidneys.  And possibly also ickle chicken hearts.  And maybe even some liver in the meatballs: they had a silky smoothness very much like fine pâté or liver parfait.

Thankfully I don’t have a problem with most offal (I draw the line at tripe) as long as it’s not from an animal I don’t eat.  I was perfectly happy to eat more of the working parts of my feathered friend, but perhaps listing said parts on the menu would be helpful if the waiters are going to get all funny about it.  There’s quite a difference between “This dish is rich because we cook the pasta in broth” and “This dish is rich because it’s full of offal“!  It also doesn’t help that Hubby and I are halfway through series 2 of ‘Hannibal’, so offal has more sinister connotations to me at present!

Surprises aside, it was an incredibly good dish and I would order it again in an instant.  It was a very generous serving, too: Hubby had several bites and I still had plenty.  And yes, it was rich.

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No surprises, offal or otherwise, came with Hubby’s snapper, though I never did find out what “old-fashioned celery” was.  This dish was also a winner, and the portion of fish was larger than my photo makes it seem.  The finely diced and very lightly cooked celery had just the right contrast of texture to the fish without being too jarringly crunchy, and the sweet and sour elements of the dish were in perfect alignment.  Loved the pretty little edible flowers too!

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For pudding we shared the much-anticipated sorrel sorbet with house-made honeycomb, which my friend Lee Tran Lam had instagrammed the week before and I had been desiring ever since. It was as delightful as expected: chlorophyllically refreshing sorbet (acidic hints of kiwi fruit too) with a smokey sweet honeycomb counterpoint. It reminded me of my two favourite green cocktails ever – Cazador’s ‘Peahead’ (Newcastle) and Aberdeen Street Social’s ‘Pealini’ (Hong Kong) – but in frozen form.  More unusual green treats in 2015, please!

2014-12-16 20.16.46And to accompany our lovely meal and obviously working well with all the fishy dishes was a young bottle of Domain de Bellevue muscadet.  Spritzy, minerally, superdry: muscadet is the Italian-y French white I drink when I’m not drinking Italian whites!

Pei Modern Sydney is a strange contradiction: an inner city foodie’s dream inside a chain hotel at the tourist end of town.  The Melbourne one is similarly unhip in its location, underneath the Sofitel at Collins Place.  The menu screams converted industrial space, or an art deco ex- bank.  Not “opposite Jackson’s On George and in a carpeted hotel lobby”.  But it was so nice to discover somewhere cool to go in town for change, and doubly conveniently en route to our concert.  And apart from the failure to disclose offal, the waitstaff were attentive, helpful and obliging.  We had a cocktail afterwards at Grain Bar at the front of the hotel – also an unexpectedly cool discovery.

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I highly recommend you find an excuse to try Pei Modern.  And the sorrel sorbet is imperative!

Pei Modern on Urbanspoon

Inner City Eats in Pictures

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Friday lunch with work friends: ‘Special Eggplant‘ aka CRACK EGGPLANT at Sea Bay. Soft chunks of aubergine; fresh tomato; crunchy peppers, celery and bok choi; plus killer slivers of garlic; all doused in a sweetish soy-based sauce and infused with the smoky breath of the wok. Best dish.

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Saturday lunch chez parentals: Sourdough, leftover roast chook, Mum’s homemade confit onions, and fine slices of sweet, fresh Asiago cheese.

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Sunday brunch with school friends: dim sum at Nine Dragons. These prawn and spinach babies represent about 0.03% of the total quantity of dumplings we consumed.

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Post dim sum custard puff from Emperor’s Puff!

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Monday morning: cold drip coffee at Joe Black. Top marks for fancy presentation!

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Monday afternoon: an impromptu detour on the way home to The Little Guy. ‘Queen of Tarts‘ – gin, Campari, grapefruit soda water and coriander.  And free, bottomless spiced popcorn!

Noodle Soup Lunch XVII

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Not hungry enough for a Ramen Session yet not wanting to break a $50 at my beloved Chinese-Malay hole-in-the-wall Wong Kee for my usual $7 veggie rice noodle soup, I went exploring in World Square. Found a bustling Taiwanese place called Noodles Your Way. Looked promising! I chose the simple Shallots on Noodle Soup, and two side dishes: Shredded Beancurd and Snow Cabbage & Green Soybean. Totalled $14.40, so I felt less bad about paying with a pineapple.

All very tasty and a bit different from my usual noodle soup lunches.  Ramen-syle noodles (or rather, the original Chinese noodles which the Japanese appropriated), simple broth, nice crunchy green veg. I added the sweet soy beancurd to my bowl, which worked a treat. Salad-y thing needed a kick, which I added from the chilli oil and vinegar dispensers at the table.  Perfect!

I’ll certainly add Noodles Your Way to my Noodle Soup Lunch rotation.

Chat Thai: Now With Added Rose-Flavoured Cider!

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love Chat Thai longtime but recently it has become even more wonderful by the addition of Appleman rose-flavoured dry cider to its drinks menu. Some boutique hipster brewery from Bondi, apparently. I’ve not seen it anywhere else apart from Chat Thai and it’s DELICIOUS!  Crispy and gorgeously perfumed.

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Fish dumplings and apple eggplants in green curry. My favourite curry – the fishies and vegies are a nice light foil to the rich coconut cream sauce, which is otherwise not my friend when paired with heavier meat.

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Perennially excellent green papaya salad. So crunch, much juicy! Our Chat Thai newbie (now convert) was most impressed with this one and particularly enjoyed spooning the piquant sauce over her sticky rice.

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Emerald Duck. What a great name. BBQ duck and a lovely crunchy jumble of stir-fried greens.

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Crab special fried rice, with much generosity of crab meat and fried egg.

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The most splendidly presented pad thai with tofu, and my beloved water spinach with yellow bean sauce.  Cue five very full, very happy ladies!

Retro Taco Night!

At our last Ladies’ Evening for Ladies, E and I were pondering what fun DIY dinner we could do next.  Had we exhausted Asian Wrapped/Rolled Rice-Related Items?  Maybe we could change continents and make tacos?

This lead to mutual Childhood Taco Nostalgia, as we remembered the dreadfully inauthentic taco meals we both had as children, in the late-‘80s to ‘90s.  These involved an Old El Paso Taco Dinner Kit with 12 corn taco shells to be crisped in the oven; a sachet of Mild Taco Sauce (thin tomato ketchup with ‘bits’ in it but zero chilli); and a packet of mystery Seasoning Mix to be added with chopped onion to the minced beef (pulled pork? frijoles? pfft!).  The other taco fillings we would add were grated cheddar cheese, chopped tomato, chopped iceberg lettuce, and “guacamole” seasoned only with salt, pepper and lemon juice (any garlic if you were being really fancy).  No fresh chilli, no lime juice, and definitely no coriander.  Whilst in no way could these “tacos” be passed off as even remotely Mexican, they were delicious and with an added element of fun because you got to assemble them yourself!

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I spy coriander and green onion. That’s a bit too fancy a serving suggesting for us!

Retro Taco Night was immediately planned, but not just for ladies, as our husbands would clearly hate to miss such an event.  E purchased quality lean beef mince and nice cheddar, as a token nod to good taste, plus an Old El Paso Taco Dinner Kit, tomatoes and the no-substitutions-permitted iceberg lettuce. I made “guacamole” duly without lime juice or coriander, but I did add several shakes of Tabasco, which we certainly wouldn’t have had in the childhood version.  R further rebelled by adding chopped red chillis to our array.

We started our Retro Taco Night with a large packet of Nacho Cheese Dorritos (also not remotely Mexican) and a nice bottle of Blue Pyrenees 2010 Midnight Cuvée (Vic) blanc de blancs (attempting to elevate the ridiculous with the sublime…).  With everything else chopped and mixed, all we then had to do was fry the “specially seasoned” mince-and-onions, and warm the taco shells.

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Plus E had made me a Chivas-Regal-macerated fruitcake as a wonderful birthday treat!  She had made a similarly fantastic boozy fruitcake for my wedding.

A roaring success!  Such nostalgic flavours, and the perennial debate about How To Layer your Taco was revived.  My preference is mince first (it’s just wrong not to), then cheese (to melt on the hot mince), then salsa and tomato (salsa, tomato & cheese “go” together), then guac (because it’d be somehow wrong to put it directly on the meat or cheese), and then finish with the iceberg lettuce (because you can then press it all down and not get your fingers too messy).

We all ate at least three each.  In fact I know I ate four.  Taco Night was probably a monthly event at my house, and more frequently at E’s given that she had a younger brother and it’s such a kid-pleasing and easy meal to prepare.  We are definitely going to make Retro Taco Night a regular event!

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Tiny tacos. Must eat four.

Newcastle Weekender

Friday evening: Of all the evenings to be the designated driver!  The Squire’s Maiden (aka the James Squire pub) at Honeysuckle does a very generous happy “hour” from 4-7pm on Fridays, with all their nice beers and ciders for only $5/pint, and a range of rather delightful cocktails for just $8. In order to ensure I would have a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.00 at the end of the night (good red P-Plater me), I had at 5:30pm but one happy pint of Orchard Crush cloudy cider (arguably the best of all the generic ciders on the market). But as “the end of the night” didn’t come until 2:00am, in hindsight I could have safely drunk a lovely frothy sugar-crusted French Martini too, I’m sure. Here’s a picture of one of the many French Martinis enjoyed by my less-encumbered friends…

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Saturday afternoon: Made up for the night before with loads of pink champagne at a baby shower! This photo was taken after about the fourth refill of the finger sandwiches, slices, macarons and assorted mini cupcakes. Ladies love their baby shower nosh. It’s perfectly appropriate to eat 8 finger sandwiches and 4 mini cupcakes – they’re so dainty, they hardly count!

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Saturday night: An impromptu night out with the beaux-parents at the Carrington Place restaurant. I had Atlantic salmon with two lovely sweet scallops, spinach & leek cream, and a crunchy celeriac & carrot slaw. Everything was very nicely cooked and the serve was generous without being ridiculous. The others’ dishes were equally successful. Duck liver parfait with grilled sourdough & pickled vegies to start; and a friendly young Pinot Grigio from Orange to accompany. A very delicious evening.

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Sunday morning: We can’t have a weekend in Newcastle without brunch at Saluna. Instead of my usual Saluna Benedict, I tried a special of brown rice kedgeree with locally smoked trout, charred broccolini and a poached egg. It was phenomenally tasty, and I am happy to learn that it’s being added to the regular menu. The nutty, toothsome rice had a mire-poix base with the celery retaining some crunch, and it was flavoured with the usual warm Indian spices plus smoked paprika and a fancy dried chili, the name of which I forget. It was the perfect base for the salty fish, slightly acrid greens and richly oozing free range egg. Can’t wait for our next Saluna Sunday!

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