Sunday, 25 September 2011

Hatted Bliss

We like to celebrate our birthdays with style and spice. They have become special events for us to look forward to - the secret preparations and anticipation on the one hand and the suspense and surprise on the other.

Previous lush* birthday dinners have been at Otto's, Sailor's Thai, The Boathouse and Spice Temple. Very diverse meals, locations and flavours and all hard acts to follow.
The common thread being a SMH Good Food Guide hat (The Spice Temple now has 2 hats but was only a new entry the year we went).

This year one of us turned 45 - which seemed like as good a reason as any to experience a fully-fledged 2 hatted restaurant.

With much anticipation and preparation (how do you pronounce it?) and to general delight this year we went to Guillaume at Bennelong.

It was hard to imagine how enjoying cocktails at the bar whilst looking across the harbour to the bridge and Luna Park could be topped, until we were lead by a friendly waiter to our cosy round table.
Discrete down-lighting allows each table to feel like an island and sweetpea was delighted by the high-backed, cushioned bench seating that curved around our table. 

I have no idea how I'm going to do justice to the menu - perhaps I will simply tell you what we ordered and let the chef's words do their own magic. 

I ordered the oysters with cucumber jelly and yuzu cream for entree and sweetpea ordered the scallops gently sealed and served with pea and smoked ham hock puree, girolle mushrooms and jus gras.

But before they arrived we were presented with a complimentary pre-entree (I'm sure there is some lovely French word for this, but it's beyond me) of tuna tartare with wasabi mayonnaise.
They were only small, but the tang of the wasabi mayonnaise turned out to be a lovely palate cleanser and they complemented the Mornington pinot gris we had moved onto to a tee.

For mains we went for the sealed John Dory served on a bed of carrot and ginger puree, coriander and pommes allumettes and the roasted chicken and yabbies with deglazed celeriac puree, fresh Manjimup truffle and jus gras. The individual flavours swam across your tongue with each mouthful.

And perhaps we should have stopped there!

The bottle of wine was all but empty and although the meals were not large, they were rich and filling.

But it wouldn't be a birthday dinner without dessert (& a little bit of gluttony and over-indulgence!) so we soldiered on.

Each dessert came with its own 60ml glass of dessert wine - and perhaps the sensible thing would have been to share a dessert.
The raspberry mille feuille with white chocolate, elderflower and raspberry sorbet (with a sticky from Bloodwood in Orange) was calling my name, whilst sweetpea was being tantalised by the Valrhona chocolate mousse with mandarin and vanilla bean icecream (and a sticky from NZ).
Instead we asked if we could share the 2 desserts and have 2 glasses with 30mls of each sticky.

To our surprise we were then presented with a pre-dessert dessert - a tiny platter with macaroons, jellies and chocolate treats.

By the time we had polished off all of the above a sense of fullness and silliness had overwhelmed us. Not even the bill could dampen our spirits!

Needless to say, the following day was one of general seediness and malaise. An experience that won't be repeated...until the next birthday!
* I use lush with all its various meanings in mind - tender, juicy, succulent, luxuriant and drinking bout!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Fennel Finally Writes A Post!

I actually wrote this post out a few hours ago only to have it disappear just as I tried to publish it.  Unfortunately, this version probably pales in comparison to my breath-stealing, knee-weakening, astoundingly amazing first draft so the world will never know what genius has been lost. Never mind.

I'm here to talk about fish, and my exciting double-meal-same-ingredient cooking experience. Cookies-and-Cream* and I decided to cook "a whole fish" (ie with the eyes and tail etc still attached) the other day.  While we were standing at the counter at our local fishmonger, we got chatting to a fellow customer who told us her favourite fish to cook was the rainbow trout we were in the process of purchasing. We asked for some tips on what to do with it and she told us not to go overboard with added flavours, and to "listen to the fish".

Back at home, the fish didn't seem in the mood for talking so we covered it in fresh parsley and dill, wrapped it in foil and popped it into the oven.  Meanwhile, I boiled some potatoes and covered them with butter and dill, and made the simplest, sexiest salad known to humankind: tomatoes, basil and bocconcini cheese.  The trout was delicious: a strongly flavoured creamy yet fresh flesh, kind of like the nautical equivalent of Swiss Brown mushrooms.

The next day I made a stock using the odds and sods of the fish, lots of fresh basil, parsley and dill, and all the slightly sad and wan looking vegetables left over from the week.  This happened to be: French shallot, fennel, and purple and orange carrots.  I just love making stock from scratch as it makes me feel like the craftiest, frugal-iest Earth Mother on the block.  Having never made fish stock before I was really pleased with how it turned out.  I now have 5 cups of lovely, purply, slightly sweet stock in the freezer waiting to be used at some point in the future.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Bushwalking with Benefits

Today sweetpea and I set out to explore Sydney.
We had decided to do the walk from Taronga Zoo, around Bradley's Head and Middle Head to Balmoral (click here to view map).

We planned ahead - we printed off the map a few days ago and we went to bed at a reasonable time the night before so we could be out the door by 9am.

The first change of plan was walking out the door at 10am. With the vagaries of Sydney transport plus the Sydney Marathon chaos it was 11:15 before we were actually heading out of the Taronga Zoo ferry terminal with our backpacks on and walking feet rearing to go.

It was very warm - dare I say, even hot. The secluded beaches in Athol Bay below us looked very inviting, but we were on a mission - to do the walk in good time so sweetpea could get home in time to watch the end of the V8 Supercar race!

The National Park and Wildlife folk were out as well. Asking walkers to do a survey of the walk and wear a watch to time their particular walk. We happily joined in.

The walk was peaceful and well kept. We saw dragonflies, rainbow lorrikeets, blue tongue lizards, magpies and kookaburras. The views back across the harbour were stunning.

But as were neared Bradley's Head a great big southerly buster blew in. Bringing with it dust and a cooler change.

After exploring the old military sites we continued around to Chowder Bay, holding onto our hats. At 12.30pm we reached a critical turning point. A sign - onwards to Clifton Gardens & Chowder Bay or a little detour to the left to Athol Hall were there was food and toilets.

Refreshments won!

Athol Hall is delightful. But as we walked around the corner we realised we could see the Taronga Zoo ferry terminal off to the right and all we had done was walk a big circle around the perimeter of Bradley's Head. Oh well, perhaps refreshments would give us the energy to power onto Balmoral.
Sadly, the menu arrived with a drinks menu and somehow we convinced ourselves it would be a good idea to have a glass of wine with lunch!

The setting was divine and deserved to be treated accordingly!

We shared a plate of Turkish bread with 3 dips (feta and pumpkin, olive tapenade and hommus) followed by a mixed plate of fishcakes, salt and pepper squid and spring rolls. The feta and pumpkin dip and fishcakes were particularly tasty.

And the rest is history. Of course the wine made us sleepy. So we walked back down the hill to the Taronga Zoo ferry - completing a 2km round trip with refreshment stop in just over 2 hours!

The map I printed out is tucked away safely in my backpack for next time.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Morning tea

This morning I went back to school to help one of the chickadees with their classroom art project.

It ended up being a 3 hour adventure with a morning tea stop at The Revolver Cafe in Annandale.

The coffee is always great, but usually in a take away cup. Today I had the time to sit inside and savour a proper mug of coffee. Revolver is always busy and can be quite noisy. The discreet nooks and crannies around the walls provide a little privacy and there are throw rugs available for the brave people who chose to sit outside.

The banana bread was not available today, so I ordered the pear and cinnamon loaf instead - toasted & buttered of course!
The smell was divine although the bread was a little soft and difficult to eat gracefully. It was presented on a lovely old floral china plate just like Grandma used to have and was thoroughly delicious.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Food for the Soul

Yesterday sweet pea suggested we have lunch at True Religion Espresso Cafe in Balmain.

He had recently read a review about how wonderful their egg and bacon rolls were and he had been salivating ever since.

We were lucky and got a table outside against the wall. We promptly ordered 2 flat whites and 2 bacon and egg rolls (his with tomato sauce; mine without).

Just as we polished off our flat whites, the bacon and egg rolls arrived at the table. OMG! Who would have thought that a humble bacon and egg roll could be a divine visitation!

The roll was light, soft and warm. It nestled neatly into our hands. Inside the egg and bacon layers jostled for our attention. The bacon was not too fatty - kept soft with just the smallest hint of firmness around the edges. Oh! And the egg! Cooked to absolute perfection with the yolk just beginning to harden, so that only a discreet amount of soft yolk dribbled along the cut edges.

Silenced reigned at our table for the next 5 minutes, only interrupted by the occassional heartfelt "mmmmmmmmmmmmm".

I am now a convert - a true believer - and I'll be knocking on your door soon to spread the good word!