Saturday, May 24, 2008

WINE: BOLLINGER La Grande Annee 1999

Type: Champagne
Origin: France
Approx Cost: $180

I’ve had the 97 of this and enjoyed it quite a lot. The 99 is good but isn’t quite up to the same standard. As you would expect from Bollinger, a very well constructed wine with a good mousse and fine, persistent bead.

Still has that Bollinger taste to it. Plenty of toast and yeast flavours. The fruit is interesting. Caramelised lemon, orange and apple. A good mix of the fruit with the yeast. Very creamy.

This will improve with age, but I can’t see it blowing anyone away.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

EVENT: Element Bistro Degustation Night 3/5/08

Type: French
Location: 163 King St, Sydney
Booking Required: Usually
Cost: $85 for the food

Related Review

We went along to Element Bistro for what is hopefully the first of many monthly degustation nights, which will be held on the first Saturday of each month.

I was a little nervous about the whole night, since some of the dishes are a bit hit and miss on the normal menu. But that was just foolish. Each and every course was delicious and well thought out.

The first course was a cream of cauliflower soup with poached Barossa chicken, celery cress and Munster Gerome. It looked innocent enough, but this was a serious dish. Incredibly creamy, with big chunks of Barossa chicken and creamy Munster Gerome hiding beneath the surface, ready to pounce.

After such a rich start, the second dish was just what we were after. Heirloom tomato and a medallion of WA lobster with croutons and lemon mayonnaise. Very light, very refreshing. The palate got to settle down before the serious eating started. Very clean flavours. Not one of the best dishes of the night, but a dish that was essential to the enjoyment of the evening as a whole.

Following that was a crispy piece of barramundi served with braised savoy cabbage, pea puree and puy lentils. A classic combination of flavours and perfectly cooked. This is an exceptional dish. Up there with the duck confit as the best dishes I've had at Element. It was a dish that just works. I hope to see something similar on the regular menu.

Finally it came time to get heavy. It came time for a slow roasted beef fillet stuffed with bone marrow and spinach with a fondant potato and shavings of white summer truffle. Beautifully cooked meat with some excellent flavours complimenting it. I wasn't a fan of the white summer truffle, as they tend to taste a bit like cardboard compared to the black winter truffles, but the whole dish was very enjoyable.

I found it hard to contain my joy when I saw that the dessert would be a dark chocolate marquise with poached orange and pistachio crunch. Marquise is probably my favourite dessert and the matching flavours would be a perfect match to the richness of the dark chocolate. I wasn't disappointed. So rich and so satisfying. Even though I was full at this point, when I saw someone else at my table wasn't going to finish most of their marquise I had to eat it. It really was too good to waste. Also a great match for the bottle of de Bortoli Black Noble I brought along.

Finally we made it to the cheese platter. A great mix of blue cheese, ashed goat's cheese, Munster Gerome and the legendary Quick's Cheddar. This was served with lavosh, oatmeal bread, fruit bread and fig paste. We were all incredibly full at this point but couldn't let such wonderful cheeses go to waste.

All in all an excellent night. The food was delicious, the menu well thought out, portions generous (almost too generous) and service was as excellent as always. My only concern was that there were so few other diners there. This night needs to be supported because it would be a shame to see it go. French food this delicious and affordable is hard to find.

If the menu changes next month then I'll definitely be back. I hope that word gets around and a lot of other people also decide to pop in, because this is a night that needs to be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

50in2150: The End

I just can't do it anymore. Too many mediocre cafes. Too much bad food and mediocre coffee.

The 50in2150 Project is formally over.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

50in2150: 6. Coffee House Cafe

Location: 81 George St, Parramatta
Price: $9.60 for a coffee and salad

Far out. This wasn't the best of experiences.

The coffee was okay, the staff weren't bad but the food was just not that good. My thai chicken salad consisted of colourless iceberg lettuce, floury tomatoes, red cabbage and sliced (wait for it) chicken schnitzel topped with bottled sweet chilli sauce.

I just can't get past that salad.


Food - 4/10
Coffee - 3.5/6
Service - 1.5/3
Decor - 2/5
Bonus - 0/3

Total - 11 out of 27

50in2150: 5. MacQ Cafe

Location: 70 Macquarie St, Parramatta
Price: $11 for large pasta and coffee

One time I was walking past this place and a lady was coming at the diagonal, trying to get into this cafe. She was powering through. Rather than seeing me, who was walking with the normal flow of foot traffic, and slowing down she kept going. I stopped and let her through. She looked at me like I'd just asked if I can slap her.

I think I can understand it now. While it's not the most glamorous place, MacQ Cafe is definitely a place you'd look forward to if you're starving.

The food is nice (warm chicken ravioli with cream sauce hit the spot on a cold day), the coffee is solid (a little watery but good on the whole) and the service is great (staff are happy but relaxed and the older woman running things really takes charge).

The location isn't great (opposite an intersection and a small store) but the other ingredients are there for a pleasing lunch.


Food - 7.5/10
Coffee - 4/6
Service - 2.5/3
Decor - 2/5
Bonus - 0/3

Total - 16 out of 27

Sunday, April 13, 2008

50in2150: 4. Dane's

Location: 101 George St, Parramatta (I think)
Cost: $7.70 for a salad and coffee

I'd been warned that this place was pretty bad beforehand. But it wasn't really that bad really.

The food didn't look terribly exciting, but I opted for the Caesar salad and the usual coffee. The salad was okay, but a little plain. Egg, thinly sliced bacon (or was it ham? hard to tell) and lettuce with a nice dressing. A little disappointing because I like to see things like croutons and anchovies in my Caesars. But it hit the spot.

Coffee was okay. Not awful but I wouldn't go here again just for the coffee. Competently made but I don't think it was the best quality of beans.

Breezy location which I think would be good to sit in and have lunch on a nice day.

Service was relaxed, which is how I like cafe service.


Food - 6/10
Coffee - 3.5/6
Service - 2/3
Decor - 4/5
Bonus - 0/3

Total - 15.5 out of 27

Saturday, April 12, 2008

50in2150: 3. Kanteena

Location: 18 Smith St, Parramatta
Cost: $9.50 for a turkish bread sandwich and coffee

The first time I walked past this place nearly every table was dirty. Plates, napkins and unfinished food sat all over the place.

It looked terrible, so I couldn't wait to go there for the 50in2150 project.

Turns out it's not so terrible. But not great either.

I arrived and headed to the counter, absolutely starving. I saw the salads and my appetite diminished somewhat. They didn't look great. I opted for a toasted chicken and avocado on turkish bread sandwich. It was packed with chicken and a good amount of avocado, which is great to see. But the chicken just wasn't right. It was like sliced chicken you'd get from the Coles deli or something.

The coffee was a better story. While it wasn't the best quality of beans, it was quite well made and was an enjoyable drink.

Service was good from some people, but a bit forgetful from others. The manager had a go at one of the staff in front of everyone so that wasn't great either.

The main thing I noticed about this place is that all of the single people come here. In the other places I've gone it was always a couple of people together, but when I visited Kanteena there were only 2 people dining together, around 10 other tables were taken by singles reading a paper.


Food - 6/10
Coffee - 4.25/6
Service - 1.5/3
Decor - 2.5/5
Bonus - 0/3

Total - 14.25 out of 27

Thursday, April 10, 2008

50in2150: 2. Di Pacci Espresso Bar

Location: Shop 2/130 George St, Parramatta
Cost: $9.50 for a wrap/roll/salad and medium coffee

Prior to starting the 50in2150 Project, Di Pacci was my regular cafe. Mostly because it was the only cafe nearby that looked decent and didn't scare me off upon first visit.

Di Pacci has good wraps, good rolls and passable salads. They also have a guy running the place that really takes control. He guards the register and all orders go through him. They also have a great little room near the counter full of couches and a huge screen TV.

The salads are a little underwhelming, but the wraps have always been solid.

Coffee is quite good. Nicely roasted but feels like it was made a little too quickly. The flavours aren't in harmony.

While it's still early days for the project, Di Pacci is going to be hard to beat.


Food - 7/10
Coffee - 4/6
Service - 2/3
Decor - 4/5
Bonus - 1.5/3 (for the big TV and couches)

Total - 18.5 out of 27

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

RESTAURANT: Beluga Wine Bar

Type: Wine Bar, Modern Australian, European
Location: Shop 15, 425 Bourke St, Surry Hills
Booking Required: Usually

Owner/chef Opel Khan has had this place open for nearly three months now, and barely a word has been spoken about it. Yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to see big things happening in this funky Surry Hills eatery soon. But more on that later.

It looked like it was going to be a quiet night when we walked in. Only one other table was taken in the whole place. Sure it was early and a Tuesday, but I’m always suspicious of barren restaurants. But we were there so we took our seats like good children and requested the degustation with matching wine ($156).

The first dish, a sweet corn and tarragon cappuccino with white truffle, arrived. It sounded horribly pretentious, but tasted absolutely divine. The sweetness of the corn was beautifully restrained and the tarragon and truffle made it beautifully aromatic. And, as you’d imagine from something described as a cappuccino, terribly light.

It was a great way to start the night and alleviate our fears.

And then the serious food started. Tomato sorbet over what I think was an ox heart tomato confit and brioche. Wow. The sorbet brought the palate to life with the natural sweetness and herby flavours of the tomato. Hints of vinegar and pepper teased the tastebuds on the way through. A beautifully balanced dish, matched with a nice, bold sauvignon blanc.

Following that came a plate with two seared scallops sitting atop fanned out cauliflower puree and an avocado crème brulee. I wasn’t ready for this dish. Too good. Just TOO good. The scallops were good to perfection, the cauliflower puree was sweet and subtle and the avocado crème brulee was a revelation of subtlety and sweetness. On their own wonderful, together remarkable. Matched with a nice riesling. This really was the dish of the night, if not the year.

Next up was the soft shell crab with wild mushrooms and snapper chips, alongside a lovely riesling. A good dish, but after the scallops it wasn’t as spectacular. The snapper chips were nice, the mushrooms delicious and the soft shell crab sweet but a little underwhelming. Although the soft shell crab was really lifted by a great sauce.

The ravioli took me by surprise. I hadn’t looked that closely at the menu and wasn’t expecting it. A large, bulging raviolo sat on a plate with a thin covering of a buttery, creamy sauce. Inside the ravioli was a chunky and well flavoured mixture of seafood and herbs. While this was a very good dish in it’s own right, the pinot grigio it was matched with was a glorious compliment and lifted it even higher.

After all of that a break of tomato water was served to cleanse the palate for the final onslaught.

First up was the lobster crepe with a saffron and carrot emulsion on top a pea shoot salad. Now we’re talking. Beautiful combination of flavours here. Everything was doing its part. On my notes I’ve just written one word next to this dish: excellent.

While tis the season for white wine, I began to wonder where it was. Waiting for this next dish, our last of the savoury options. Thinly sliced wagyu beef sat atop button mushrooms and a nice jus. Probably the wine of the night, but one of the less impressive dishes. After so much innovation it was a little underwhelming to have just steak and mushrooms. Still, it all tasted excellent so I can’t complain.

Signalling the end of the savoury and heralding in the sweet was a melon ice with black olive granita. A good palate cleanser again, but there was just a little too much salt from the olives dominating the sweetness of the melon.

And then it was time to be blown away. The dessert platter arrived. Hazelnut gelato, strawberry caviar and a chocolate ganache with chick pea dust. The pink moscato it was served with was a little ho-hum but my god the food. The hazelnut gelato was luscious and creamy. Really well flavoured with restrained sweetness. The chocolate ganache was excellent on it’s own but the addition of the chick pea dust cut through some of the sweetest and added a nice nutty flavour. It reminded me a little of tofu chocolate. The strawberry caviar was a work of art. It perplexed me how strawberry could look like salmon roe. The waitress explained how it was made and I had no response. From memory the strawberry is made into a compote, then with an eyedropper a drop is added to hot water, which gives it the shape and texture of caviar. So it keeps its shape they had to carefully pick the little pearls out of the water.

Finally, the warm sangria is the last dish to hit the table. Sweet, aromatic, warm syrup with poached pears, ice cream and toasted pastry. It's a nice way to finish the night.

There really is something happening here. Khan pops out during service to speak to the diners and he really seems to be passionate about what he’s trying to create in the funky brown room. The menu is inventive, the food wonderful, the matching wines all Australian.

It’s almost too much for the setting. While it’s a sexy looking place, the wooden chairs and plain floor tiles don’t scream luxury. The service is friendly and open, not stuffy and formal. That’s what he’s trying to do, but with food so good it’s almost like a really hot person wearing average clothes. They could be so much more if they wanted to be.

But I’m glad the hot person decides to dress modestly. The prices are good for the food on offer and it’s a really inviting place. You want to go there for everything from an informal lunch to a celebratory dinner (if you have the cash). They don’t think of absolutely everything because they don’t try to.

I really do think that this place is going to be big. I hope it is. If the menu continues to evolve and some of the weaker dishes are improved then it really could be one of Sydney’s best.

RATING: Will return to

Beluga Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

50in2150: 1. Cafe One 80

Location: 180 George St, Parramatta
Cost: Around $9.50 for a wrap and small coffee

And so this is where it all begins.

Feeling a little nervous about this whole project, I walk into Cafe One 80 and get to inspecting. There's not a lot to inspect really. It's a fairly standard cafe.

I look at their menu and nothing really jumps out. A lot of wraps and sandwiches. I see some odd looking wraps on display and point to one. I wasn't sure what it was.

It took me a good 4 bites to realise what the wrap was. It was either tuna or chicken, most likely chicken, sweet chilli sauce and koss lettuce. Nothing to write home about.

The coffee was nothing special either. A bit watery and gritty tasting. Not awful though.


Food - 4.5/10
Coffee - 3/6
Service - 1/3
Decor - 3/5
Bonus - 0/3

Total - 11.5 out of 27

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

50in2150: The Rating System

All cafes in the 50in2150 project will be rated accordingly:

Food - out of 10
Coffee - out of 6 (I will order a long black everywhere to ensure consistency)
Decor/location - out of 5 (if it's a place you want to go to)
Service - out of 3
Extra marks - out of 3 (can be given if the place does something special, ie has a great speciality, good deals on certain days, etc)

Total Marks: Out of 27

Monday, April 07, 2008

ANNOUNCEMENT: The 50 in 2150 Project

Parramatta, postcode 2150, is a suburb over-run with cafes.

Everyone has their own favourite, which they won't hesitate to share with you. But there are so many choices, so closely packed together that vary rarely do people have the same favourite.

So in the interests of providing a public service and modern day exploring, I will eat at and review 50 different cafes in Parramatta.

There will be a special set of expanded criteria that will be used to evaluate these cafes, which will be revealed with the first review.

The important thing to know is that this is only cafes. No bakeries, restaurants, take-away shops or juice bars. Just cafes.

Will I do it? Will I get bored? Who knows...

The Rating System

The Reviews:
1. Cafe One 80 - 11.5
2. Di Pacci Espresso Bar - 18.5
3. Kanteena - 14.25
4. Dane's - 15.5

Saturday, April 05, 2008

RECIPE: Asparagus Sauce

  • Approx 12 asparaguses (is that what you call them?)
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed with the back of a knife
  • 3 French shallots, chopped finely
  • 20g butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

This is a really simple sauce that looks awesome on a plate and goes great with things like pork, salmon, pasta.

Break the wooden bits off the asparagus, then cook them in some salted, boiling water until cooked. I like to save some of the spears for garnishing later.

Drain the asparagus, but keep the water.

In a pot cook down the shallots and garlic with the butter until they start to look translucent. Be careful not to burn the shallots or it will affect the taste of the sauce.

After the shallots and garlic are cooked, add seasoning to the mixture, then add the asparagus and some of the water. With a hand mixer, blend this until it turns into a runny liquid. Add more of the water that the asparagus was cooked in if it is still too thick.

Give it a taste. Sometimes it needs more seasoning or maybe even some more butter. If it's too strong then just add more of the cooking water.

It will come out a lovely vivid green colour. I served it with some wine baked pork and beans. So colourful, so easy, so fantastic.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Type: Thai
Location: Campbell St, Sydney (between Pitt ST and Castlereagh St)
Booking Required: Not at this stage

Okay, so after deciding not to brave out the Spice I Am 45 minute wait we stumbled into this place, too purple to ignore.

The first that you notice after you get over the purple is that they have this awesome sofa seat sort of thing. It's really awesome and really sticks out. I think that's a fantastic thing for a "fun" restaurant to have. We had only been there 10 minutes before a group came in and said "bags the sofa!" rather excitedly.

We then found out that this was actually the opening night of the restaurant so, regrettably, around a third of the menu was unavailable. But that's okay.

We started with the BBQ chicken salad. An interesting mix of barbequed chicken, tomato, lettuce (or cabbage) and a few other things. It was an interesting dish, almost more Vietnamese in style. Not bad, but the combination of ingredients was lacking a little harmony for me, and the sauce hadn't fully penetrated the chicken. But I did like that you could taste the elements of the dish, rather than just the one dominating flavour that seems to happen at a lot of other Thai places.

Second to arrive was the jungle curry. I'm not normally a fan of this curry and this didn't convert me. I won't judge too harshly since it isn't in my tastes, but again the flavours didn't seem to harmonise enough. The beef was a bit tough as well.

The final, and most successful, dish was the beef nam tok (beef salad). Always a nice combination of beef, basil, onion and a few other ingredients in a citrusy sauce. It was damn spicy, but also quite nice.

Because this was opening night I won't criticise too heavily, but there are quite a lot of kinks that will need to be ironed out before I visit again in 2-3 weeks to see what the progress has been like.

RATING: Pending. See it for yourself and see what you think of this new Thai place.

Chonsiam on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Type: Italian
Location: 143 Enmore Rd, Enmore
Booking Required: Usually

A tough place to pick really.

Really pleasant service on the floor. Good prices. Nice location.

But the food. The food left a bit to be desired.

Their take on the caprese was disappointing. It’s probably my favourite salad and I’m almost certain I can make a better version myself. Bocconcini is a tasteless cheese and over the top of standard tomatoes it doesn’t really inspire. The rucola was a better attempt.

A selection of bruschetta was good, but didn’t really have much of a punch.

The mains, again, were a bit hit and miss. While the crab and tomato risotto was well flavoured, it was also undercooked. The gnocchi was also nice, but a little overcooked. But that was probably more because of bias for simple flavouring on gnocchi.

Tiramisu-the yardstick for all good Italian places-was a nice end to the meal.

On a whole it was a good experience. While the food was only okay, the service and mood they created made up for it. I won’t jump to go there again, but I won’t hesitate for a second to give it another go.

RATING: Okay, may go back

La Ricetta Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 24, 2008


Type: Seafood
Location: Ground Floor, IMAX Theatre Complex, Darling Harbour
Booking Required: Usually

Despite being directly below a massive concrete overpass, it’s the location that really makes this place worth dining at. If you get a seat near the front of the restaurant then you have a lovely breeze blowing in off the harbour and a fantastic opportunity to people watch.

Unfortunately, aside from some nice cocktails there wasn’t much else going for it when I visited. While it is a seafood restaurant, my salmon was kind of average. I’ve had better pieces, cooked better in a number of other places. While the mains seemed to lack something, the chocolate crème brulee really was delicious.

Service was a little hot and cold.

While this would be a good, casual “date” restaurant, for normal dining it just didn’t do enough for me. The quality didn’t match the price.

RATING: Okay, may go back

Ice Cube on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Restaurant Rating System Explained

Let me break down how the restaurant rating system works on the site, since it's a bit different to the norm.

The idea behind this system is that a system based on scores/grades/stars isn't usually suitable for every day use. For example, a restaurant may be rated 15/20 but because it's fairly expensive or it's too formal, you may frequent a restaurant rated 10/20 more often.

Most rating systems will favour fine-dining restaurants like Tetsuya's or Quay, simply because they're supposed to have good food, service and atmosphere for the price. Surely an awesome tapas place--one that has above average tapas and an excellent atmosphere for a good price--should also rate highly? Sure, the service might not be as polished as at Tetsuya's, but what if it's great when you compare it to similar restaurants?

So our system rates the restaurant according to how well it competes with similar types of restaurants, how well it reaches what it's set out to achieve and how exciting it is to eat there. Take, for example, the review on this blog of now-defunct Omega. While the food was exceptional and it ticked a lot of other boxes, it was lacking in some areas when we visited. So the next time we were looking for a dinner of that style and that price-range, we looked elsewhere.

Compare that to the review of Chinatown staple, Chinese Noodle Restaurant. Right there is a place that makes you want to go back to over and over because, for the money you pay and the food you get, it's superior to similar places (at least in our minds).

Let me break down the different ratings:

Will constantly return to - For something to make you want to constantly return to it then it really needs to be doing something special. There must be a very clear distinction that this place is above it's peers. You will fight for this place and recommend it to everyone who will listen.

An expensive fine-dining place can still receive this rating but it doesn't mean that we have the cash to go there once a week. It means that when we have the appetite and budget for some fine-dining then this place will always be considered.

Will return to - Still a very strong rating. A restaurant at this grade will be consistently good. You will want to go back there, but it doesn't quite have that same level of excitement as much as a place in the higher category. You'll still come here every now and then (and enjoy it!) but it's in competition with many other enjoyable places and new places that you're keen to try.

Okay, may go back - While this is still a good restaurant, it does have flaws. You wouldn't go out of your way for this restaurant, you'll rarely consider it as a dining option and probably wouldn't recommend it to people. If you're nearby or if someone else suggests going there, you won't mind too much, but you won't be too excited by the prospect.

Will probably not return to - This is where it gets unfavourable. The flaws are at a point where you wouldn't go here, even if you were in the area. You would only go here if someone else suggested it and they weren't interested in your alternative suggestions. You probably only go here out of duty to someone.

Will never return to - They have either stuffed up massively or just aren't offering anything good to get this rating. To get this rating, it needs to be so bad that you just do not want to go back under any circumstances. Even if someone suggests this place or organises a meal there, you will resist as much as possible.

Happy reading.


Type: Spanish
Location: 501 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills
Booking Required: Usually

I’ve been here twice and, while there have been flaws, I’ve left pleased twice.

On the first visit on a warm afternoon we got a table near the bar, which had a nice cool breeze blowing through it. We worked out way through some good tapas dishes and imbibed the ubiquitous sangria.

The meat platter is excellent and got me into blood sausages periodically. Fried whitebait was also quite nice, as was the jamon with rockmelon. I don’t remember any of the other dishes on that visit falling short. Combined with pleasant service it really was a nice evening.

The second visit was a little less successful. A larger group of us sat out the back in the converted courtyard sort of room. And while it was a rather hot day, the heat was nearly uncomfortable in the room. Having sweat pour down my face while I dine isn’t the best way to spend a meal.

Again, good, solid dishes arrived one after the other. But the mussels, cooked in a chilli tomato sauce, were terrible. Just lacking a fresh taste. The majority of the bowl sat untouched.

But again, good service, good food and good sangria made a good night. While this didn’t topple Encasa as my favourite Spanish in Sydney, it has cemented a spot firmly in the top three.

RATING: Will Return To

El Bulli Spanish Tapas on Urbanspoon

WINE: DE BORTOLI Show Liqueur Muscat NV

Type: Muscat, Fortified
Origin: Riverina, NSW
Approx Cost: $20

Really nice for the price.

Golden amber colour with green tinges. Full bodied sweetness. Sultana flavours really dominate, with some richer caramel lingering in the background. Nice length.


WINE: INNISKILLIN Ice Wine Vidal 2004

Type: Ice Wine
Origin: Canada
Approx Cost: $80 (375ml)

I tried this wine 6 months ago and have only now gotten around to putting up the notes. Silly of me, because it really was a fantastic wine.

Before I put my notes up I just need to confess my love for ice wines. Yes they are expensive, but they are made in such inhospitable conditions. To make an ice wine you know that a lot of pain and effort and disappointment has gone into it. The finished product is a triumph over nature.

Deep apricot in colour. And it smells just so rich on the nose. Apricots, orange. And then the glorious taste. Apricots, caramelised citrus fruits, stone fruit. Really full bodied and full flavoured.

I can’t recommend trying ice wines enough. And if you want to try one of the better (but still easily available) ice wines then look no further than this.


Saturday, March 22, 2008


Type: Champagne
Origin: France
Approx Cost: $250

Dom is sexy. There’s just no doubt about it. This vintage comes in a sleek black box with silver outlines. Once you press the buttons on the base and lift the lid up it only gets sexier. That familiar bottle shape with the timeless logo.

Couldn’t wait.

There has been a lot of discussion about this vintage. Initially a lot of people said it wasn’t great, but lately the tide has been changing and positive reviews have been more forthcoming. Could it be a grower?

Pop the cork and the aroma just fills the air. It’s nothing short of extraordinary. Peach, honey, lemon and apricot swirl around before me.

It pours with a nice mid-gold with the slightest touch of green.

The mousse and bead are a work of art. Tiny, persistent and explosive. They help the aroma circulate even more.

Finally, the sip. It really is an explosion of that familiar Dom taste. The fragrant, fruity elegance that is just so unique to the brand. The peach, honey, lemon and apricot promised on the nose deliver and are joined by some more savoury flavours. A touch of spice, tobacco and a little pineapple. The bead is still furious and forces everything into every corner of your mouth.

It’s still really tight and shows good signs for the future. 5 or so more years will do it a lot of justice and give it time to settle.

I wouldn’t say it’s an outstanding vintage, but it really is quite nice and well worth the price.


Monday, March 17, 2008

RESTAURANT: Newton’s Cucina

Type: Mexican
Location: 403 King St, Newtown
Booking Required: Sometimes

Good Mexican in Sydney seems to be impossible to find. I don’t know why, we seem to cover most other cultures pretty well. But no one has been able to get a great Mexican place going.

Newton’s Cucina is yet another name on a long list of mediocre Mexican places. It’s not that it’s bad. There’s just nothing special about it that makes me want to go back.

Upon arrival you get a complimentary shot of what seems to be tomato juice with Tabasco. Not a bad offering, but it would be nice if it was something that was a bit more cleansing to the palate.

Fajitas seem to be their speciality here. And while they’re okay, you get the feeling you can make something similar or better at home.

Big servings so even though it’s all a bit costly for what it is, you won’t be able to last 3 courses here. And, with the place like it is, I didn’t really feel like sticking around for much longer.

RATING: Will Probably Not Return To

Newton's Cocina on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 13, 2008

RESTAURANT: Element Bistro

Type: French
Location: 163 King St, Sydney
Booking Required: At peak times

Sometimes as regular diners and amateur food critics, we all get carried away looking for the next big thing. We want to find that new tapas joint doing funky dishes, that modern oz place putting flavours together you could never imagine, that French/Japanese place fusing ingredients and styles in unforgettable ways. But sometimes it’s the simple things that surprise us. The home truths.

Because I don’t get a chance to eat out that often, when I do eat out I want to try something new, something I haven’t had before. It’s rare that a place pulls me back, especially if it’s a little costly. But Element Bistro manages to do that.

Pardon the pun, but it pulls all of the elements of dining together in a fantastic way.

It’s only a small place, tucked away basically under the sidewalk on busy King St. So you go in and see if they have a table. They usually do. You take your seat and you’re offered tap water, but of course sparkling or bottled if you so wish. It’s great to see a place that encourages tap water, rather than looks at you weird if you ask for it. And have a bread roll and some delicious butter while you’re at it – complimentary of course.

I find it an odd menu. Made up largely of classic French dishes, but with a tiny twist that makes everything look so appealing. It makes me want to order everything there. But, of course, I can’t.

A nice wine list too. Small, like the surroundings, but strong. Some really good choices on there. Excellently priced too. I’m sick of seeing the price list of wines and thinking “ambitious” straight away.

We settle on the kingfish carpaccio, marinated in citrus with pomegranate, and the baby beetroot salad to start. The carpaccio is beautifully flavoured and plays well with the pomegranate and other ingredients on the plate. The beetroot salad is just fantastic. Combined with soft, creamy feta, greens (tiredness and poor memory don’t help) and nuts (again) and just the slightest tang of balsamic, it all comes together perfectly. I use the remains of the bread to greedily mop of the juices that have stayed on the plate. On previous visits we have also enjoyed the textbook French onion soup (delicious) and richly delicious duck liver parfait.

Mains are where this place really succeeds. On my first visit I had one of the best pieces of corned beef I can remember and enjoyed the grill of the day. This visit was even more successful. The salmon was out of this world. The skin reaching it’s ultimate crispiness, covering the perfectly cooked flesh and that melted apart. This sat atop a bed of fennel and beside – interestingly - a colcannon of potato, bacon and shallot. While the colcannon was a little dull and oniony on it’s own, with the salmon it was fantastic. I tried this before my main arrived and nearly regretted my order. But when it did arrived – the duck confit with roasted potatoes, seared scallops and asparagus heart puree – all regrets totally disappeared. This dish was truly something else. There was not a grain of this duck that was not packed with flavour. Whether it was the subtle taste of the brine that gave it a nice salty punch or the fat that soaked up everything, it was all good. The jus it was served with only added to the experience. My only question, and it was such a small question, was the scallops. I didn’t really feel they added much to the dish. Fat, juicy scallops would have. But these ones were a little dry and were a little overpowered by the huge flavours going on elsewhere. But man, I didn’t care. I ate those scallops up and enjoyed them.

On our second visit the service was really called into question. For the most part it was fantastic. The waitress on the floor was utterly charming at all times, sharing jokes and sharing information about the dishes on offer. She even remembered that on his last visit, the person I was eating with felt a bit under the weather. That visit was a month ago and it was only the second time he had visited. When we arrived he immediately mentioned that the last time he was here the waitress was fantastic. We only saw more of that on this occasion. Even a stuff up – not bringing the correct main for me – was handled with genuine apology and bucketloads more charm. While this would have annoyed me at a place I didn’t like, I really couldn’t have cared less at Element.

The first time I ate here we were too full to have dessert. But this time we made sure we had enough room. We didn’t even need to see the dessert menu, with that trademark charm the waitress offered to make the selection herself for us if we trusted her. We were more than happy with this, and so it was. She even warned that what she had in mind would take a while, so she can think of something else if we were in a rush. It’s the small things like that which add up to a good dining experience.

The desserts selected, crème brulee and chocolate fondant with mint and lime granita arrived with matching wines (botrytis Semillon and muscat, respectively) and looked inviting. The crème brulee was quite good but lacked a bit of body to it. Not disappointing but not remarkable. The chocolate fondant, filled with rich chocolate sauce, was much more successful. The richness was beautiful contrasted with the refreshing granita, which stopped that sickly sweet feeling that plagues many rich chocolate dishes from creeping in.

The desserts are finished, the water glasses are filled again – just as they have been all night – and the bill comes. The price is good for what we’ve eaten, and my happiness doesn’t subside like it does at many other good restaurants.

Element really is doing something special with essentially basic things. Why this tiny place isn’t constantly booked out I have no idea, but I’m thankful for it. The food isn’t on the next level, but for the price it goes for, it really is something special. Not many places will make me want to go back and spend that sort of money. Not that it’s astronomic (of even “ambitious”), I’m just a bit poor.

So that’s why this place becomes only the fourth ever and only the first pricey place to get the following rating:

Rating: Will Constantly Return To

Element Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 17, 2008

RESTAURANT: Faheem’s Fast Food

Type: Indian, Pakistani
Location: 196 Enmore Rd, Enmore
Booking Required: No bookings

God I love Faheem’s. It’s my local Indian take away and it’s one of the best Indian take-aways I’ve ever had. The food is a tad oily but for the price I am yet to see it matched elsewhere. The haleem curry with a kashmiri naan from here is hard to beat. Especially if you follow it up with some chicken tikka.

Yes the food is oily and no it’s nice an attractive place to eat, so get some take away, take it home, get plenty of naan to soak up the oil, crack a bottle and enjoy. And you know it won’t hurt your bank balance as well.

RATING: Will constantly return to

Faheem Fast Food on Urbanspoon


Type: Lebanese
Location: 489 King St, Newtown
Booking Required: Sometimes

Arabella is a bit of a so-so place. Nothing about it really grabs you. The food isn’t bad, but the rest is a bit average. The wine list is poor, the service can be a bit patchy, the televisions in the room really detract from the ambiance and they seem to really pack group bookings in. To the point where I don’t know how someone can physically fit in such a small seat.

It’s main strength is that it’s a no fuss place. If you’re in the area and want something that isn’t Thai then you can come here with a couple of friends, get a banquet (around $40) and know you’ll be well fed.

RATING: Okay, may go back

Arabella on Urbanspoon


Type: Thai
Location: 321 Sussex St, Sydney
Booking Required: Sometimes

Thai food has become so common in the Sydney landscape that it’s hard for a restaurant to really stick out and make you want to go back. Sussex Thai manages to do that.

They do it by offering good food, at a good price in a nice location with good service. Nothing is outstanding, but the total package is hard to fault.

The entrees are really quite delicious here and whenever I come I usually get a mix of those. The chicken in banana leaves has a fantastic flavour to it and is one that I’ll always order. The mains can be a little hit and miss though. Their curries are sublime and the garlic soft shell crab an absolute monster of a dish (they must have an entire bulb of garlic on it), but the scampi wasn’t great and the stir fried pork belly is nice but almost prohibitively spicy.

But whatever you do order, it’s never a terrible disappointment, and you know that the next dish will be better.

RATING: Will return to

Sussex Thai on Urbanspoon


Type: Japanese
Location: 76 Ultimo Rd, Haymarket
Booking Required: No bookings

There is something about this place that is just awesome. Really. The place is tiny. It only seats about 12 people and there are usually half a dozen chefs cramped into the impossibly small kitchen. I don’t know how they do it. I’ve seen bigger news stands in the city.

But in addition to defying the laws of physics, they also make some really good Japanese food for a great price. Really satisfying raman noodle soups, delicious takoyaki, Moorish fried salmon skin and great sashimi for the price.

Service is lightening quick, so don’t ponder over your choice for long. Just think of something and stick with it. Chances are you’ll like it. I’m yet to be disappointed with anything I’ve gotten there and I have it as one of my few trusted places for food.

Ignore the queue and get in the line if you’re after a quick, cheap bite in Haymarket. There may be places doing things better than Kura, but everything Kura does is consistently good and for a great price.

RATING: Will return to

Kura on Urbanspoon

EVENT: The Sydney Royal Wine Show

February 16, 2008
Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park
Cost: $55 at the door ($50 pre-sale)

Last year we had so much fun that we decided to go again for some serious tasting. And boy am I happy that we did return, because it was even better. Last year the entry price gave you the chance to try 18 medal winning wines, and as many non-medal winning wines as you wanted. This year you could try whatever you wanted and as much as you wanted. Last year the challenge was to allocate your tasting allowance on your favourite categories and those wines that interested you. This year, the hardest decision was what to try next.

After getting a few Aussies sparkling I’m yet to try out of the way (Houghton’s Pemberton sparkling was a good surprise) and moving through some other categories, I decided that it would be fun to put my effort towards my favourite categories. And so I did. From sweet white wines to muscats to ports to brandies, I tried everything sweet, fortified or late harvested that they had in that room. McWilliam’s took my award of the day for two utterly sublime wines in the Hanwood Tokay 2 and the Hanwood Grand Tawny.

Another improvement on last year was the introduction of the Trophey Room, where you could enter for a limited amount of time and try all of the wines that won trophies at the event. This gave everyone a chance to try everything they wanted and made sure there were no crowds around some areas.

Once again it was good to see what some of my favourite producers were awarded. I was really pleased to see that Banrock Station’s The Reserve sparkling wine picked up a very well deserved silver medal. Blue Pyrenees Estate were also well rewarded for some of their better wines.

Produce from the Royal Food Show was also impressive with a great selection of dips, meats, nougat and bread on offer.

This event is simply a must for anyone who takes their wine seriously and wants the opportunity to try a lot of the better wines coming out of this country all in the one room.

WINE: YARRA BURN Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier 2005

Type: Sparkling
Origin: Yarra Valley, Victoria
Approx Cost: $25

I’ve been neglecting this blog horribly lately, so I suppose a gesture of good will is in order. Yes, I will review a cheap sparkling wine. That will make you all happy. Yes.

It pours with a good mousse and has quite a fine bead.

It’s always a worry to see a cheaper sparkling wine have all three of the traditional grapes included. Almost as if it wasn’t a good wine with pinot noir and chardonnay so they scraped some pinot meuniere together and decided to add that in.

It smells average, with a bit of citrus and yeast fighting for dominance. And that’s pretty much it. Citrus and yeast on the palate with a bit of a toasty edge. But really not that impressive.

It’s not going to disappoint terribly for the price, but it won’t impress.

Welcome back.