Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BEER: HOPDOG Secret Santa 2011

Another day another Christmas beer. This time from South Nowra in NSW.

It's an 8.6% abv, 70 IBU, "Festive spiced Belgian style ale" that contains gingerbreads.

I've found the carbonation of Hopdog beers to be extremely unpredictable. This bottle pours a small head that quickly dissipates.

Interesting nose. You get the sweet malt and yeast like a normal Belgian strong ale, but there are more elusive smells of spice, egg and cream.

Low carbonation but a thick mouthfeel.

The taste up front is your typical Belgian strong ale: sweet, hoppy and yeasty. This gives way to an almost fruity middle of oranges, ginger, honey, malt. The finish is absent on the front and middle palates, but leaves some sweet and malty hops lingering in the background.

It's not a bad Christmas ale, but it's not really a great Christmas ale. I can barely see any of the gingerbread in it. Although, fans of Belgian strong ales will probably enjoy kicking back with this and slowly working through it.


Monday, December 19, 2011

BEER: MIKKELLER Til Fra Via (To From Via) 2011

Christmas means just one thing: Christmas beers!

Like many things, we’re a bit unlucky in Australia to be blessed with glorious sunshine during Christmas time. The weather may be great for eating prawns and laying on a beach, but it’s pretty shocking for drinking dark beer, which Christmas beers from Europe typically are.

Thankfully, summer so far has been a shocker and the weather is just cold enough to keep getting stuck into some darks (not like we did in 1788 <-- bad joke).

Very large, thick head. Heaps of carbonation; needed to give it a rest for a minute. Very pretty head. Blends from dark to light.

A lot of liquorice on the nose. Some chipotle spice. Malt.

Thick mouthful and a good level of carbonation which quickly dissipates.

Liquorice and blueberries on the mouth. Juniper. Vanilla. Chipotle. Not a huge bucket of flavour and it’s easily drowned out by the burnt malt finish, which has great length.

It’s a very nice drop, but a little out of balance with the bitterness for mine. If you like a thick, strong, bitter beer then this could be worth a shot.


Friday, December 16, 2011

BEER: BROUWERIJ DE MOLEN Bommen & Granaten (Bombs & Granades)

From my favourite Dutch brewer (oh, you don't have one?) comes a very big barley wine.

How big?

54 EBU, 15.2% abv, 750ml, wax and cork seal.

Despite the Fort Knox seal, my bottle is flat as a tack so I can't comment on carbonation. The unfortunate thing with buying beers from de Molen in Australia is that the carbonation is wildly unpredictable: you could get a flat beer, you could have a beer that tries to explode in your face (my roof is dented from the time a cork and net shot off before I'd even touched it).

That dark-brown/gold, hazy colour that all good barley wines have.

The smell of alcohol that all good barley wines have. Maybe a little sweet grain and red apple.

Front palate is yeast, alcohol, grain. Bitter sweet. Mid and back palate is where the fun is. Big tart red apples, orange peel, honey, yeast. Superb length in a delicious finish.

Another very good beer from a very good brewer. It's not my favourite de Molen (I rate Hel & Verdoemenis, Mout & Mocca, Bloed Zweet & Tranen and Rasputin higher (in descending order)) but it's up there.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

RESTAURANT: Momofuku Seiobo

Around 18 months ago I perched myself at a small counter in a New York restaurant. What followed was one of my top 3 meals in a year that featured meals at some of the best restaurants in New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.

The setting was casual, approachable and filled with awesome music (Explosions in the Sky during dinner? Yes. Yes. Yep.); I could hear the chefs breathe; I could see the entire dish evolve from ingredient to full-form; the food was incredible; deceptively simple; spot on execution.

And then, it's in Sydney.

Seiobo launches and is a pretty similar copy of Ko, that place where I had that amazing meal.

People complain about the booking system, but it's fair. I don't have to wait months for a table; I don't have to throw out different dates; I don't have to wait on hold. It's either confirmed immediately or it's not.

The people that complain about the booking system. Is this restaurant really for them? Are they will to play by the rules of the restaurant in order to have every part of the experience controlled? Will they like the awesome music, or will it be "loud"?

My first visit left me speechless. I wasn't expecting to have such an amazing meal in my backyard. It felt like I had to travel to find food so good.

The second visit: just as good. Tweaks here and there, matching beverages changed.

It's hard to call out great dishes as there are so many. Much talking has been done of the pork bun (or is that "Pork Bun"?) but you only need to last a couple more courses before you face the excellent marron with charred white asparagus, leek and lemon. Produce shines.

Next up is the radish with the most incredible sauce of ever. Burnt watermelon, fermented blackbean, wagyu. Every sense gets swamped, then cleared by the radish. It's like that burnt edge of a roast in drink form.

Soon after, silky pasta tossed with goats cheese, chilli, pickled tomatoes, mint and fried basil. Sweet, sour, fatty, smooth, crunchy. Totally delightful.

Next up is a roasted bit of trumpeter (a fish which also features near the start) with an awesome squid ink sauce.


You know what... Just bloody well go there.

Oh, and it's easy to call out the average dishes. There are none. Every dish is at least "very good".

Matching beverages (wine, sake, beer) are all spot on from the infamous Charles Leong and the extremely likeable Rich Hargreave, and service from the whole floor is relaxed, cheery and smooth.

I think the thing with Seiobo is that it's not for everyone. The music, the booking system, the bar seating. Your grandma probably isn't going to like it. But if listening to Mobb Deep and eating pork with her hands sounds good, then Momofuku Seiobo is her fine-diner.

It's definitely my new favourite fine-dining restaurant in Sydney. And, as such, is the first to earn this rating:

RATING: Will constantly return to [?]

Momofuku Seiōbo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

BAR: The Baxter Inn

The other day, I took a quick look at Baxter Inn, the new venture from the kids behind the stupidly popular Shady Pines.

You'll be pleased to know that it's hard to find. Busy on a Monday night.

Billed as a Chicago sports bar with no sports, it's probably more of a post-prohibition/speakeasy bar that is a bit more common.

I always find Shady Pines a little confusing. Do I get one of the beers from the tight list, a well-made cocktail or a shot of scotch? YOU CAN'T DO EVERYTHING WELL, SHADY PINEZZZZZ.

Here, there is no doubt. Scotch. So much scotch.

An extremely strong range that will keep you occupied for months, including some of my favourites like Ardbeg and Bunnahabhain.

Thankfully, the Shady Pines feel is maintained. Casual, fun, approachable, excellent.

In short, an essential stop for anyone that appreciates scotch, or wants to become a said boring person.

RATING: Will return to [?]

The Baxter Inn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

BEER: 4 PINES Kolsch

Out of Manly comes an impressive and drinkable kolsch. For those unfamiliar with the kolsch style, it originated in Germany (obvs) and is something like a pale ale, but with less bitterness, more citrusy sweet tones and more of a straw colour.

Head disappears pretty quickly. Kind of funny because the last 4 Pines beer I had is their stout which has a massively thick, lingering head.

Citrus on the nose, with a little white sugar and slight floral notes.

Low carbonation, but a good level if you don’t want to start on a fizz bomb.

Tastes like sweet citrus at first, then gives way to slight bitterness and malt. Full but clean mouthfeel.

Lingering slight bitterness on the finish but overall quite clean.

Drinks well and easy. Uncomplicated. A clean and refreshing drink that would be great to start with. Would go well with seafood and salty/oily bites.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

RESTAURANT: Cafe Sopra (Bridge St)

I've been wanting to check out Cafe Sopra and Fratelli Fresh for a while now, but could never be bothered visiting one of the existing outposts. So I was quite happy when a new one seemingly popped up overnight in the CBD, where I do the majority of my culinary consumption.

Everything I hoped for. In short.

Produce is stupidly good, dishes are uncomplicated, prices are very reasonable, flavours are spot on.

The caprese is one of the best versions I've ever had. Totally basic in terms of ingredients and presentation, but with some of the most delicious tomatoes I can remember.

Panzanilla with white anchovies is similarly delicious.

Fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese? Forget about it. Deliciously cheesey, executed perfectly and moreish to the detriment of my health.

Pasta features heavily on the menu. While the spaghetti in tomato sauce is simple, the meatballs are superlative. A bit of cumin giving them a meaty sweetness.

Orechiette with peas and salsice is simple but extremely delicious.

Oh, and massive. The portions are huge. After a zucchini flower as an appetiser, an entree, a side of bread and a bowl of pasta each we're ridiculously full. But... you know... dessert and all that...

I go for, of course, the tiramisu. It's a tiramisu and it's bloody good. Creamy, a little sweet, a little bit of coffee, a little bit of booze, a little cakey. It's the sort of tiramisu you'd get at home.

The wine list is short, but interesting and well priced.

Service is fine. The place can occasionally be dominated by irritating banker-types that spoil the Italian atmosphere, but the food quickly distracts. Although I wouldn't want to be on the end tables that people constantly wander past after they meander down the stairs.

Pretty much everything I look for in a restaurant in terms of food an experience though. Simple, uncomplicated food with a few, excellent ingredients, executed perfectly and priced reasonably.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Café Sopra on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 05, 2011

BEER: MIKKELLER Black Hole (Peat Barrel Edition)

Surprisingly large, thick head.

Smells of burnt peat and malt.

Tastes so beautiful. Chocolatey malt up first, then coffee, then vanilla, the hazelnut, then a burnt peat finish.

Finish is sweet and peaty and lasts.

If you’re a fan of scotch and imperial stouts this is an essential purchase.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

BEER: MIKKELLER George! (Bourbon Barrel Aged Edition)

Another bourbon barrel aged imperial stout. You’d think I’d tire of this, but I don’t.

Brewed as a tribute to George Foreman, apparently. 12.12% abv.

Not much of a head. Thick and greasy as hell.

Nose is beautiful. Caramelised malt, chocolate milk, bourbon. JESUS COCKTAIL.

A taste. Yes. Finally. Thick, light carbonation. Maaaaaaalt. Round and full. Rich. Sweet from the bourbon. The balance is spot on. Tremendous mouthfeel; exactly what you want from a full-on, intense imp stout.

The finish is bitter, coffee and sugar. So thick it coats your tongue and lasts for ages. For just how long I have no idea, I couldn’t wait for another sip.

My only gripe is the 250ml bottle. Add another 0 to that and we’ll talk.


Saturday, December 03, 2011

RESTAURANT: Number One Wine Bar

It's been a crazy couple of years for Tony Bilson.

After being dropped to two hats in the 2010 edition of the Good Food Guide, 2011 looked like it was going to be a redefining year for Bilson. He regrouped and appointed Diego Munoz as head chef at his flagship restaurant in the Radisson. It took the team a while to readjust to the new approach, but once it did Bilson's was one of the suddenly hottest restaurants in the country. It continued it's spectacular run with restoration to three hat status a few months ago.

Then, pretty much overnight, it was all gone. Bilson's had gone bust. Along with Number One Wine Bar.

A few weeks later, despite Bilson's and Number One still being under administration, Tony Bilson flagged that he was going to reopen Number One with new backers. Much to the delight delight of staff and creditors that were still owed money. In fairness to the man, Bilson too had lost money in the collapse.

It all makes for juicy reading, but I went to the relaunched Number One purely to try and get some good, simple food from a dude that has been cooking French food at a high level for pretty much ever.

Number One and Bilson's share more than a chef in common: the decor is dated in both. My chair feels like it's going to retire at any second.

The menu is mostly classic, simple French bistro fare. Tripe a la mode de Caen sits happily next to a pot au feu on the menu. Prices are reasonable: entrees average around $20, mains $30 and desserts $15. And we're in a wine bar, so there's a good range of wine on offer by both the glass and bottle, with plenty of bottles around the $50 mark.

Snails in puff pastry are a good start. Each snail individually wrapped in a puff pastry shell, with watercress and an amazing sauce that is something like bernaise. It's not modern food and it's not modern presentation. It looks like something you'd see in the 90s. But it is a good dish.

Gazpacho is a fresh, simple starter, served with a piece of jamon on toast. It gets good reviews, as does the creme of foie gras, again served with toast.

Mains are a little less successful. While the flavours of everything on the plate make the confit duck a tasty dish (again, superb sauce), the meat isn't as fall-off-the-bone as you want from confit duck. Nor is the skin quite uniformly crisp. I wrestle with the meat for a while before leaving a fair amount of it on the bone.

The execution of the duck breast is more on point, and goes down well. Though the whole cherries it's served with make for some difficult eating.

The suckling pig gets a good but not great verdict. It too is served with whole cherries and potato chips.

Desserts are solid efforts. Again, the presentation is fairly dated and, again, the sauces are excellent.

Bilson's daughter and son work the room, looking after the front of house and wine, respectively. The family feel adds some warmth to the place, but when Tony comes out of the kitchen to survey the room (which happens often) the stress of the still-warm collapse is clearly affecting them all.

Service as a whole still has some kinks to work out (the re-opening was only last week) but I can see them getting there.

Putting aside the past--which isn't easy when you're in a restaurant and the godfather of Australian fine-dining is in the kitchen--I leave Number One having had a decent meal. The prices are reasonable and the food is reasonable. But reasonable food isn't enough in a city that is bursting at the seams with places in this price range that can deliver great food. I would happily go back to Number One to eat again and look forward to a good meal, but I don't think I'll be rushing back or recommending the place to others. That said, here is a man that has done a lot for the Australian dining scene and I hope he succeeds.

RATING: Okay, may go back [?]

Number One Wine Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon