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 :)

ごちそうさまでした!

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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!

Bleu, Blanc, Rouge Festival at Circular Quay

Last weekend there was a delightful francophone festival – BBR or Bleu Blanc Rouge – down at Circular Quay.  It was obviously timed for Bastille Day, but unfortunately coincided with Sydney’s Seriously Vile Cold Snap (Part I).  But the sun was shining, which meant the antarctic blasts could be tolerated, and the place was packed – I could hear so many differently-accented French speakers.  Fantastique!

In fact, the wintery weather was very fitting for a what was essentially a festival of rich food: poutine, raclette, stew, sausages, waffles, crêpes, éclairs, cheese, and oh so much chocolate.  Wandering around in the cold, you could almost pretend you were in Paris/ Lausanne/ Brussels/ Montreal (only a slight exaggeration there).  Plus: the barely two-digit temps made us all the more inclined to try as many signature regional dishes on offer as we could… and to start early on le booze :-)

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We were greeted at the entrance to the Swiss section by Cannon, a very placid Saint Bernard who seemed happy enough to pose for photos.  I’d not seen an real live one before, and didn’t realise they got so big – though having now searched Google I am reminded that the dog in the ‘Beethoven’ film of my childhood was a St Bernard, and he was giant.  Monsieur Cannon was only a 20-month-old puppy and already weighed 20kg more than moi!

After pats with Cannon, we made a beeline (as much as one can make a beeline when in amongst shuffling crowds) to the Lindt stall, not for chocolat but for vin chaud.  Mulled wine is a must in my book in any winter outdoor market setting.  It’s also completely appropriate to drink it at any time of the day, provided you’re outside and you can’t feel your fingertips!

Sensibly wanting to line our stomachs, we shared a plate of Swiss-style spaetzle or homemade chunky noodles, fried and served with meatloaf and a moreish onion gravy.  First country ticked off the list!
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Heading next door (though not in a world map sense) to Belgium, we found the Hoegaarden stall selling giant hotdogs with pork sausage, sauerkraut, multiple types of onion, a rich jus, and mustardy mayonnaise.  The enormous bun was of course a wonderful chewy baguette.  We washed this down with frothy Belgian white beers.  Santé!

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Moving on to France, we sampled low alcohol (but high taste) cidre rosé

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…then finished things off with a freshly made waffle and a cup of chocolat – the remaining unmelted blob of dark chocolate made a rich ‘surprise lollipop’ at the end! I chose maple syrup for our waffle topping as a nod to Canada, as we’d eschewed the poutine stall earlier.

2015-07-12 14.38.04It was an excellent afternoon of eating and drinking and speaking un petit peu de français.  Afterwards we popped in to the MCA for a bit more culture, and then round to the Lord Nelson for a cleansing dark ale, before walking home in the bracing air to balance out our afternoon of gastronomic indulgence.

I highly recommend keeping an eye out for #bbrfestival2016.

 

Ramen of Late

I have finally updated my Ramen Round-Up post to include Yasaka on Liverpool Street.  And I’ve also had some new and different ramen of late.  But the deal for me is still as follows:

  1. Ramen is Japanese fast food, akin to a kebab – and like with kebabs, pretty much all ramen is tasty;
  2. Despite point 1, Ichiran is my 一番, but they don’t have it here;
  3. Still despite point 1, Ippudou is my Sydney ramen haunt of choice;
  4. Yasaka is a close second, and conveniently close to my office;
  5. The vegetable (but definitely not vegetarian) tonkotsu ramen at Ikkyuu is also amazing, even though not having cha shu in your ramen is probably a crime again Instagram; and
  6. I’m not bothered about the soft-boiled eggs (thus breaking another Ramen Rule, as per point 5 above).

With that in mind, here’s three more tasty bowls of tonkotsu!

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Finally got down to O-san in the Dixon Street food court. This was the standard tonkotsu with extra kikurage mushrooms and a dash of chilli. Good stuff, no complaints. Particularly nice cha shu.  The dingey basement-level foodcourt was happy teenage nostalgia for my mate; and his reaction to accidentally eating a giant spoonful of raw garlic in his ridiculous Sumo ramen was comedy gold for me!

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Seasonal special at Ippudou Central Park. While I enjoyed the ever-wonderful Akamaru Shinaji, Hubby tried the Tokushima Niku Soba.  Misleading, as it was definitely ramen not soba. But it was nicely flavoured with soy sauce, topped with gyuu-don style stewed beef, an onsen egg, and prettily shredded chilli. The tonkotsu base was lightened up with chicken broth, so it was a veritable farmyard in a bowl.

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Meanwhile, I had the fishy one at Ramen Zundo.  The Zundo Light Niboshi is their lighter soup option (the tonkotsu/ chicken stock mix) which is strongly flavoured with dried anchovies.  Ramen Zundo is not my tonkotsu ramen of choice – though the convenience, décor and side dishes are plusses – but I had a free bowl to claim, and one can’t say no to free ramen, especially on a cold, rainy day.  The fragrant (wimps might say pungent) niboshi was definitely a winner for me – I’d order it again.

Pancakes, Twice

Recently I went to Pancakes At The Rocks for a 15-year-old’s birthday brunch. The last time I’d been to Pancakes At The Rocks was for a 14-year-old’s birthday party. When I was also 14. There is definitely an age for Pancake At The Rocks… or is there?!

Despite not being in the target age group, I thoroughly enjoyed my Bananarama (hold the ice-cream and add a chocolate pancake because chocolate pancake).  I also enjoyed most of Hubby’s overly-ambitious third pancake, and a goodly portion of the 15-year-old’s stack too.  Pikers.

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The fact that they sell their just-add-water packet mix (“Take The Taste Home!”) strongly suggests that Pancakes At The Rocks does not have a team of sous chefs cracking eggs 24/7 (as the restaurant proudly proclaims on its business card, “We Never Close”).  But their baking-powder-boostered shake ‘n’ pour offerings are, nonetheless, undeniable tasty (and strongly appeal to one’s inner teenager).  And whilst the pancakes were a bit fake, I was impressed that the cream was proper thick dollop-y cream, not a squirty one from a can.  And the grilled bananas and childhood nostalgia butterscotch sauce were the perfect old school accompaniment – no salted caramel or dulce du leche here!

Whilst I felt slightly ill after my excessive fluffy pancake consumption, as soon as this feeling wore off I immediately wanted them again (thank you, super high GI food item). I need to find more teenagers (or stoners) to justify a return visit soon :)

The following weekend, however, I made proper and rather wholesome wholemeal ricotta pancakes at home.  These had 2 eggs – whites and yolks separated, whites beaten ’til fluffy – plus smooth light ricotta and wholemeal self-raising flour, and I served them with extra ricotta and fantastic local honey (purchased directly from a farmer at the Royal Easter Show).

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I unhelpfully cannot remember the exact quantities, as I make these ones not infrequently and just know when the mixture is ‘right’.  I probably used a cup each of flour and skimmed milk, a couple of tablespoons of ricotta, and a big blob of honey.  And the eggs yolks.  Mix all these together very well, then fold in the fluffy egg whites.  Cook them in a frying pan sprayed with canola oil.  So healthful.  (Although on reflection, wholemeal flour on its own can be a little stodgy – half white half wholemeal is probably the better bet).

For more pancake recipes (with actual quantities provided, promise) here are my old posts on Blueberry Pancakes with Bananas and Banana Pancakes with Blueberries AND BACON!