The Fish Shop, Potts Point

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Wow, two posts in recent weeks – maybe 2016 will be The Year My Blog Unbroke.

On the first Saturday of the new year, our dear expat Hong Kong friends had one dinner left in Sydney – which naturally had to involve Hubby et moi (and cocktails).  We headed to Potts Point, thinking most things would be open and there’d be options if our first choices were full.  We were sullenly informed by the bored door hipster at The Apollo that they probably wouldn’t have a table free until 10:30pm.  Yeah… nah – also you work in doorway; you can lose the attitude, mate.  Front-of-house fail.  By contrast, at our next stop, Cho Cho San, we were met with a politely apologetic “We’re fully booked all night, I’m so sorry guys” – to which I say thank you and see you next time, nice Cho Cho San lady!

Continuing around the corner into Challis Avenue we split up and joined two short queues – and it turned out my venue could seat us the fastest.  It was The Fish Shop, another Merivale winner headed by Jeremy Strode, whose old Bistrode and current Bistrode CBD I have loved.

We waited for about 10 minutes happily at the bar with special $10 margaritas and a Bloody Caeser (containing something exciting called “clamato” juice, plus an actual clam).  The décor reminds me of the beachy vibes at The Bach Eatery, but with more nautical whimsy and without the Kiwi touch. The food is simple, fresh, and of course fish-heavy. Menu below:

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We started with a dozen Sydney rock oysters which sensibly came only with a token pot of mignonette dressing and some lemon.  And I was very happy to see a Loire Valley muscadet on the wine menu.  Crispy, acidic and slightly salty – you couldn’t pick a better oyster wine (apart from picpoule de pinet).

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We also shared a bowl of stubby, clearly hand-cut, and well-salted chips (we were each two cocktails in by then, plus wine, so grease was good) and the softest curls of cuttlefish swimming in a garlicky and chili-spiked vinaigrette, which we discovered was most excellent for dipping the chips into.  Mmmmm.  All the tasty oils.

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Three of the four mains were a roaring success; the other (barramundi with sour curry) was unfortunately described incorrectly by our (otherwise awesome) waiter, and turned out to be not what was expected, and not super amazing.  But the other three dishes were perfect: the boys had the poached snapper and the catch of the day – can’t remember the fish but it was a fillet in a simple lemon cream sauce with pippies.  Now I think about it, I had a whole-fish version of this at Bistrode CBD with rainbow trout.  Jeremy is on to a good thing!

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I had a supremely lovely risotto with sweetly succulent Balmain bugs and nicely al dente asparagus and courgette flowers.  The watercress garnish was also very pleasing.  A shared side of tabbouleh made with quinoa (of course) rather than bulghur wheat and with added feta was terrific.  On the whole the portions could’ve been a tad larger for the prices, but the prices weren’t unexpected for the postcode, nor were they exorbitant.

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I enjoyed a very retro rhubarb ripple ice-cream sandwich with salted caramel sauce (very salty – may not be to everyone’s taste and was not printed on le menu) and a glass of Chandon NV, and the boys finished with Negronis because holidays.  The service had been attentive and friendly and the general vibe of the place was fun.  The signage on the loos was “Gulls” and “Buoys”, which amused me no end after two margaritas:)  Ahoy me hearties, etc.  Go sink your anchor at the Fish Shop.

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Christmas Whisky Dinner at Tokyo Bird

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Yuletide felicitations!  I am coming out of blog hibernation to post about the delightful dinner we enjoyed last night at my favourite yakitori bar, Tokyo Bird.  I had seen it advertised at the start of November and immediately signed us up (Hubby et moi, and our dear friends E & R) despite the fact that I don’t reeeeally like whisky.  I don’t dislike a highball or whisky sour, or a hot toddy for a sore throat, but I’m certainly not one of life’s whisky connoisseurs – unlike Hubby and R.  E also doesn’t reeeally like whisky, but we did like the sound of the fun Japanese Christmas-y fixed menu, plus an interesting lesson in Japanese regional whisky distilling, and with the possibility that we might indeed appreciate something new and yummy.  Menu below:

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The first thing I learnt was that oysters and whisky pair up extremely and surprisingly well.  The starter whisky was a blended one from Nagano – Mars Whisky Karuizawa Club – which tasted to me, the non-whisky connoisseur, like your “stereotypical whisky”.  Smelled lovely and tasted very mellow, but still to me the taste did not live up to the fragrance.  I love the complex bouquet of whisky in general.  I just struggle with the whisky taste! As E said, “Whisky always tastes like burning”.  But despite the burn, there was something about the slight smokiness that worked a treat with the metallic tang of the nearly-naked oyster.

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The second course was a table favourite: potato croquettes flavoured with edamame and pork belly, topped with a fiery chilli mayonnaise.  Fluffy mashed potato with little nuggets of porky deliciousness, coated with a satisfyingly contrasting panko crunch. The whisky was a single grain from Miyagi prefecture – Nikka Coffey Grain. It was knock-your-socks-off strong and neither E nor I could manage more than a teeny sip.  I did keep sniffing it though, as if it were a reviving muslin bag of smelling salts for ladies prone to fainting.  Quite possibly I absorbed the alcohol by the fumes alone – it was 45% proof!  The boys unsurprisingly loved this one.

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However, to everyone’s surprise I was the biggest fan of whisky number four, Ichiro’s Malt & Grain from Chichibu in Saitama, a place name which always gave me the giggles when I lived in Tokyo not far from the Saitama border.  This blended whisky tasted intensely of stone fruit and immediately reminded me of slivovice or plum brandy, aka Easter European Firewater of Death.  Of course that’s why I liked this one!:) I drank my full mini nip then finished everyone’s discarded ones on ice.  The salmon dish with crunchy rice was E’s favourite for the night, though we agreed it needed more soy sauce.  These would be a great addition to the regular Tokyo Bird menu, which is a bit lacking in carbs other than Japanese lager:)

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Putting the grains back in liquid form only, our final savoury course was a triple-whammy of delicious meaty things on sticks: chicken & baby corn, bacon-wrapped cherry toms, and suitably festive tsukune of turkey & cranberry.  These meatballs were the highlight for me, hands down.  I can’t remember the whisky at all (I think I was still finishing everyone’s slivovice) but the boys were very keen as it was a vintage and prize-winning one: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17.  The yakitori assortment met with resounding yums, and Tokyo Bird newbies E & R were suitably buoyed for a return visit for more tasty sticks.

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The pudding course was almost too pretty to eat: strawberries & cream profiteroles, with a sugar crust like an Asian bakery pastry (I’m thinking pineapple buns and meron pan) in bright Christmassy red.  Like little Santa Claus puffs!  We had Suntory “for relaxing times” – Yamazaki Limited Edition 2015 single malt.  I definitely got a sweet sherry vibe from this one, and again preferred to add an ice cube (apologies again to whisky connoisseurs).

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The menu had been a delight, and would have been enough food for the amount of hard liquor had we not gone off script with a few more beverages… so we sensibly ordered an extra round of sustenance: house-made pickles and miso aubergine skewers (because vegetables are very important), chicken hearts (iron intake sorted for the week), more of the special chicken & corn ones (Hubby’s pick for the night), and the regular chicken tsukune (my perennial favourite).

Tokyo Bird has two new fans, the boys have various new whiskies to look out for (this is not necessarily a good thing…!), and I discovered the perfect blend (lol) of my Czech heritage and Japanese pursuits.  Gochisousama deshita, Tokyo Bird, and merii kurisumasu xxx

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Hawker Malaysian Street Food, Sussex Street

Apologies for the radio silence.  We’re in the death throes of our renovations.  Weekends are now for painting architraves rather than perusing menus and photographing my food😦

But on the few occasions I’ve dined out of late, three of them have been to Hawker on Sussex Street.  I have a new favourite dish, and a favourite cheap Asian eatery to rave about!  Yay!  It’s the sister restaurant to Mamak, serving some cross-over items, no roti and curry, but instead loads of interesting and frequently noodle-y things.

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This is my new absolute favourite dish in Sydney. Ipoh Sar Hor Fun. Rice noodles in a clear chicken broth with poached chicken, prawns, garlic chives and a dash of prawn oil. I’ve had a similar thing at Pappa Rich, but Hawker’s dish is the winner with that prawn oil. Incredibly moreish. The bowl is big enough to share if you’re having a few other things, but a perfectly acceptable size for solo dining too!

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I’ve twice had the Popiah or fresh spring rolls, Malaysian style. Schmeared inside with a sweet sauce and chilli paste, and filled with yam bean, Chinese sausage, shredded omelette, minced tofu, lettuce and crispy shallots. I’ve googled ‘yam bean’: it’s the root of a type of vine, and can be eaten raw or cooked. In the Hawker rolls it reminds me of cooked daikon radish, perhaps crossed with cooked apple.

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Or Chien. Omelette filled with Sydney rock oysters and served with fiery sambal. Aww yeah. Strictly for oyster-lovers only though, mind. There’s all kinds of delicious slimey happening inside there!

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Bowl of happiness!  Feat. Chicken Rice (rice cooked in rich chicken stock), some Kangkung Belacan (stir-fried water spinach with spicy shrimp paste – also a must at Mamak), and some Ipoh Bean Sprouts (totally sexed up with sesame oil, soy oil and crispy shallots). 

Unlike Mamak, Hawker has a bit more attention to decor and also a liquor licence. Excellent for group dining. I can’t wait for visit #4!

A Long Lunch at Cho Cho San, Potts Point

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On a recent Saturday our good friend was having a birthday and wanted to have Nice Grown Up Lunch. It proved a little tricky trying to find somewhere a bit fancy that could seat a group of 13, but we ended up with a late lunch booking at Cho Cho San, on Macleay Street in Potts Point.

Cho Cho San effectively means ‘Madame Butterfly’, as opera aficionados will know; and it’s also of course a clue to the cuisine: modern Japanese.

The space is sublime in its imposing minimalism (not a tautology, I promise).  Every surface is pale and plain and monochrome; and the space is brightly yet subtly illuminated, but not by any natural light sources nor obvious light fittings.  Rather, there are giant translucent panels on the ceiling, which are either uber modern skylights or are disguising light fittings above (I think the latter, as the level of light didn’t change as the afternoon went on).  The effect is as though you are in an Instagram filter.  It’s curious; flattering to customers and consumables alike; and completely perfect for the ‘muted industrial minimalist Zen’ vibe they’ve got going on with all those sleek concrete surfaces.

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The food was exquisite and plentiful – we had the $65 banquet and some fun drinks (we possibly had too much fun…) and I’d be keen to revisit and upgrade to the $80 version.  We started with a round of Japanese-inspired cocktails; mine was the Kimono, a sort of Japanese martini with Tanqueray 10, Cointreau, and sake. Most elegant.

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We whet our appetites with pretty edamame and miso soup with corn…

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The first proper course was the most tender sashimi of petuna ocean trout with black pepper and wasabi in a light soy dressing.  This was heaven and I would’ve eaten the whole dish had it not been a share plate!

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The ‘carb course’ featured 和風 (wafu) or Japanese-style Western (ish) dishes. The base was udon noodles but served like pasta with toppings: the carnivore option was called ‘Japanese bolognese‘ and had a (surprisingly) very spicy mince sauce with lashings of Kewpie mayo; the pescetarian version was also spicy and mayonnaise-y but liberally scattered with smoked bonito shavings.  Both dishes were unexpectedly rich and filling (and laid good foundations for more delicious Japanese drinks – I moved on to a pleasing barley-based shochu at this point).

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My blurry photo of the next dish is not the result of said Japanese drinks, I swear😉  These were whole grilled prawns in kombu butter.  We were encouraged to eat them whole – I am fine with legs and tails but only managed one head.  I still can’t quite get my head around prawn heads, excusing the pun.  It’s the eyes and all those pointy bits…
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These were prettily furled お絞り (oshibori) or warm hand towels, post- kombu butter prawnies.  They looked like marshmallows and caused some confusion!

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The last main dish was the fabulously presented teriyaki beef short-rib, which even I ate and I’m off beef.  As this was exceptionally good beef, I felt it would have been disrespectful to the cow not to eat it.  (The pescetarian substitute was a teriyaki fish collar – more heads!)

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The deceptively rich main dishes were off-set by with the prettiest palate-cleansing salad of finely mandolined cabbage, radish and ginger with adorably neatly snipped chives.  I do love a snipped chive.

2015-08-15 15.47.59The banquet finished on a whimsical note in the form of matcha soft-serve ice cream in waffle cones.  The perfect balance of sweet and bitter; creamy and chlorophyllic!

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We rolled out of Cho Cho San after a leisurely 2 – 2 1/2 hours of excellent noshing.  The pace of the dishes was good, and the selection didn’t leave you feeling over-stuffed nor still peckish – though the crazy soft-serve at the end had certainly helped.  I think adding plain white rice to the banquet would’ve made it perfect, but that’s because I’m a Japanese rice fiend:)


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A Sydney Farewell feat. ALL THE PUDDINGS

My dear friend Rasta has finished her Sydney sojourn and is now back in Newcastle. We suitably farewelled her being my frequent dining companion with numerous cocktails and, most importantly, cakes, including a waffle luncheon at Lindt and more pudding than dinner at Hartsyard…

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WAFFLE WEEK. Waffles on special for $10 at the lovely Lindt Cafe. I had the salted caramel with dark chocolate ice cream. Rasta had the choc hazelnut. Both phenomenal. Totally an appropriate lunch item! **UPDATE: Instagram tells me that WAFFLE WEEK is back on this week 10 August!!**

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…even better when accompanied by a dark skinny mocha in such pretty layers of milk foam, espresso and molten chocolate:)

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Rasta had a Newcastle weekend and kindly returned with my favourite cupcake – Apple Pie – from Cupcake Espresso, which used to be down the street from our office (dangerous). Vanilla bean cupcake with cinnamon-spiced apple filling, Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean frosting, and a shortcrust pastry heart on top.  I don’t care that cupcakes are a bit 2008. Cupcake Espresso’s beauties cannot be beaten.  The Lemon Meringue is also magic, and there’s a new version of the Apple Pie with a champagne-poached pear and crème fraîche frosting which is on my Have To Eat list next time I’m in Newy (or if anyone would like to personally deliver one to me in Sydney…?)

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Our Final Friday was spent first at Earl’s Juke Joint drinking gorgeous cocktails in poor lighting, and then we got the happy phone call that a spot at the bar was free at dear Hartsyard.  We stuck to two vaguely lighter vegetarian dishes in order to have room for two whole puddings. Even post- Andy Bowdy it’s still imperative to get the Softserve of the Week, which that week was Mexican Hot Chocolate. This comprised marscapone soft serve, milk choc dip, mini churros, cinnamon chilli choc crisps (seriously spicy!!), sugared corn, milk jam, and a hot chocolate drizzle.  Gah.:)

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Bye bye Bowdy but hello Harry – the new pastry chef has added this incredible dish of Roasted Earl Grey Tea Custard to the pudding menu, which we clearly had to try.  It was a wonderfal mélange of textures and complimentary though curious flavours.  Instagram has assisted me in identifying the various components: pain d’epices (very generous chunks), whipped maple caramel (loved this), sailor jerry compressed pear (that was intriguing – I was thinking dried pineapple), lemonade fruit, pear purée, freeze dried apple powder, and lemon ice-cream rolled in brown butter crumb (a crunchy exterior like a Gaytime ice cream).  I’m still not quite sure which bit was the roasted custard.  But all of the things on that plate tasted fantastic!

Sydney misses you already, Rasta.  It’s been a great feast xxx

Take Me Back to Café Morso – Now!

I finally visited Café Morso in Pyrmont, and luckily chose a Sunday to do this, as they are closed on Saturdays for private functions.  Having by chance got the day right, I enjoyed up the most fabulous weekend brunch I’d had in a while. 2015-07-05 11.22.41 The ever-amenable and photo-patient Rasta and I shared truffled scrambled eggs with mushrooms on toast, and the smoked pork ‘breakfast risotto’. The truffled scrambled eggs were so prettily arranged in an elegant swirl, like a silk scarf nonchalantly discarded on a sofa.  They were silky in texture too; scented with – rather than drenched in – truffle oil; and with the perfect smattering of snipped chives.  A generous quantity of sautéed mixed mushrooms was hiding underneath the sourdough toast. 2015-07-05 11.22.51 The ‘breakfast risotto’ was also a dish of beauty.  Smoked pork, gruyère and spinach, topped with a poached egg AND hollandaise, and ornamented with micro herbs.  If you want to split hairs, it was really ‘tasty soft cheesy rice’ rather than a proper risotto, as it was blatantly absent the creaminess which comes from stirring the rice for the requisite 30 minutes to release the starch, whilst retaining some bite to the rice.  Clearly this hadn’t been stirred to order.  But!  Bugger proper risotto technique – there was smoked pork and hollandaise!!  The combination of ingredients was divine, and I complain not. We dutifully ate exactly half of each, each, then swapped. Equally delicious, and a good match of flavours to share.  I’d also had my eye on the bacon gnocchi with poached egg, for the trifecta of decadent eggy breakfasts.  Next time… 2015-07-05 11.22.56 It seemed only fitting to have breakfast dessert, and the specials board listed an apple rose tart with green apple sorbet and crème anglaise.  This sounded divine, and both looked and tasted just as good.  A takeaway muffin for Hubby (peach, from memory) also got the thumbs up. 2015-07-05 11.47.06 The one blip in our delicious brunch was the coffee – not sure what happened there – but their loose leaf tea selection looks enticing AND they do a breakfast Bloody Mary.  So my drinks order for the next visit is already sorted:-) I very much look forward to a returning to Café Morso with a healthy appetite and a brunching companion who’s amenable to sharing everything I want to try!