Gastro Park

I’m still finding my feet in Sydney. Still finding my friends, still getting lost and still finding out about the latest restaurant to cause a fuss.

Gastro Park came up in a recent conversation and, luckily, was shortly followed by an invite, with a group of new friends. Gastro Park is one of the new places which seems to be appearing in every lifestyle magazine and newspaper as Grant King’s (ex Pier) new place.

Miss P, Sugarpuffi, CreamymiddlesIDreaminChocolate  and I were booked for a late Saturday lunch. I arrived to find a fairly quiet restaurant. Maybe it was the combination of the location, being Saturday and late lunch time but I thought it would have been packed. Good for us anyway.

The service was friendly. The interior of the restaurant is very simple. The tables and chairs are likened to a nice cafe althought the artwork is certainly not. The modern bold coloured painting  is on loan from the Tim Olsen Gallery. Unfortunately they have to return it soon or pay the $10,000 price tag. It really does sit well on the concrete wall though, shame.

Gastro Park have a snacks menu. I guess you can describe them as being between an amuse bouche and an entree in size. On arrival the snacks did not fail to have us wide eyed.

Could you ever imagine the Putanesca Wafer ($6) would come out like this???

The onion and mushroom macchiato with caramelised veal sweetbread ($9). I LOVE sweetbreads and the sweet caramelisation always brings enhancement to the little glands. The onion froth was full of flavour and the mushroom broth worked well with it.

What a beautiful plate, Raw scallop, tune bone, marrow, lime, sea salt, olive oil and chives ($16). I was torn between this and the sweetbreads but I love them too much to pass them over.

I chose the seared scallops, serrano ham, creme carrot, endive caramel and marcona almonds($26) next. It was enjoyable and the flavours worked but was there some serious, ‘not quite right’ crunch to the outside of one of my scallops. Alot of thought has gone into plates that complement the dish. That plate is gorgeous, isn’t it.

The word on the street is the snapper($39) is amazing everyone. So of course I had to see what the fuss was about. The calamari crackling was curiously good, I was just so intrigued how they did that? The scales are left on the snapper and hot oil is poured over them to crisp them up and make them palatable. It was an interesting texture at first and I liked the thought of the scales being edible but the novelty wore off especially after finding a few that had missed the hot oil.

The truffle dish of the day was seared scallops, sweetbreads and a mushroom and truffle jus. Even though the scallop was layered with truffles the flavour was quite delicate. I think thats why the original price of $55 kept reducing until we got the final bill of $39. Not enough truffles left at the end of service.  Not to worry, I’ve been spoilt with truffles before, was good of them to adjust the price accordingly.

The difficult choice of choosing dessert was quickly made once I saw the word rhubarb. I just love the stuff. It was an interesting array of rhubarb and citrus textures($20).

The other popular choice is the chocolate, honeycomb and mandarin sphere, cookies and cream($22). Lots of excited faces around the table when cracking open the sphere to find the creamy chocolate oozing out. I stole a bite of the ‘honeycomb’ that actually tasted like weetbix to me. I was happy to stay with the rhubarb.

Photo kindly courtesy of The Adventures of Miss Piggy

There is a balance between the basic simple-lined interior and the thought provoking, extroverted food. It makes it a comfortable space to enjoy the experience without the starchy clean lines often associated with this style of food. The crazy Gaudi-esque exterior is the perfect exterior to house the surprises inside.

Lilianfels, Darley’s Restaurant and Earth Hour

Escape and luxury relaxation, that’s what I was after. I needed a quite, beautiful getaway, not too far from Sydney.
That’s just what I found at Lilianfels nestled in the Blue Mountains. The boutique resort sits close to the edge of the Three Sisters Lookout in Katoomba. Katoomba and it’s surrounding villages are home to a few vintage curiosity shops which will keep me busy over the weekend.
Lilianfels has been around for a long time. It was built by Mr Frederick Darley the sixth Chief Governer of New South Wales in 1889 as a summer retreat for his family. When his daughter Lilian was 22 she died of tuberculosis and it is her Mr Darley named the original residence after. That building went on to host many international and royal visitors to Australia and is now home to Darley’s Restaurant while the later addition of the main resort is called Lilianfels.

I had tried to book a table at Darley’s on the day I arrived in Katoomba, yes I left it kind of late. It’s a popular restaurant and of course it was fully booked, but on checking into Lilianfels the front of house kindly arranged for me to have a table after 830pm. Now that’s the kind of service I like. They did warn me that they were participating in Earth Hour from 830-930pm and that my way to the restaurant would be lit by candles. If I wanted to eat to Darley’s I really had no other choice as they are only open for dinner and not on a Sunday (the only other night I was staying).

The staff at Darley’s are perfectly attentive, friendly and know their menu. They dressed a table on the enclosed verandah for me rather than sit me inside next to couples enjoying an intimate dinner. The tables had been set with large candles and I was brought another so I could easily read the menu.

I really didn’t know what to choose. The tasting menu is always great to sample what a restaurant can do but after a late lunch I opted for the three courses. The amuse bouche was a simple crispy shredded duck, beetroot cubes, cauliflower puree and boudin blanc. My entree (above) was a home cured Tasmanian salmon, with heirloom tomatoes, tomato sorbet, crab salad, tomato jelly and wasabi creme fraiche. I’m not a big fan of the whole savoury sorbet thing but it seemed to work well in this dish, providing a cooling relief for the punchy wasabi. On my waiters suggestion the dish was perfectly matched with a glass of 2008 Eagle Vale Semillon Sauvignon Blanc ($16).

As you can see taking photos by candlelight did play havoc with the point and shoot. Red Gate partridge confit, celeriac puree, en crepinette, and a blackberry jus was a strong autumn main. Darley’s certainly don’t skimp on the wine and I was wading my way through a large glass of  2009 Hewitson “Baby Bush” Mourvedre ($15).

A pre dessert amuse bouche of organic raspberry jelly, chocolate squares, hazelnut cream and toffee shards was completely delicious.

I decided to ignore the popular rhubarb/pannacotta dessert  for the passionfruit souffle and sour apple granita for dessert. The souffle was fluffy and softly scented with passionfruit. I liked the sour apple granita and the flavours worked well together but I wasn’t keen on jumping between the hot souffle and icy cold granita.

Staying at Lilianfels is like escaping to a place of soft down lined beds, white fluffy robes, foggy mornings and elegant dinners. Lilianfels also hosts afternoon tea in the beautiful lounge area of the main resort. I’m definitely planning my winter escape there, to sit by their fireplace sipping tea and eating cake. Oh and not to mention the vintage shopping fix I will require by then too.

(Dinner was $125 for three course, not including drinks.)

Bird Cow Fish

At the moment the weekends are mostly mine, trips to the markets, cafes and restaurants to visit, countryside to see….I have alot of catching up to do.

Wandering through Surry Hills on a Sunday lunchtime it’s really pretty quite. I found myself at the busy doors of Bird Cow Fish. A place I recognised, thanks to my friendly local newsagent in London who ordered Gourmet Traveller for me (and text me when it came in!)

Bird Cow Fish has a very relaxed bistro feel with dark timber tables, lighter timber floors, food art and French posters adorning the walls. Their food philosophy centres around seasonal and sustainable produce.

Not having a booking they found me a table just near the door but I managed to spot a couple leave and the staff kindly swapped my table. I had already decided to have fish for my main. The waiter suggested I order a side or an entree if I was hungry as the dish was not very substantial. Yes I was hungry, but as usual famished for a feast but quickly filled to bursting.

In the spirit of making summer last as long as possible I went with the waiters suggestion of a dry crisp 2008 Even Keel riesling from Clare Valley ($12). Don’t worry you do get more in your glass, I just had a few sips before I thought about getting the camera out.

I had my eye on the gnocchi with prawn meat sauteed in burnt butter, verjuice, capers and sage ($19.50). The waiter agreed as he tells me it was one of their signature dishes that chef, Alex Herbert, had demonstrated on Masterchef. Sounded good to me.

It was the best gnocchi I have ever had. I started to make hmm noises, in my mind I was rolling my eyes too, I hope no one saw. Alex adds a little parmesan to her gnocchi which adds a slight salty cheese flavour. I haven’t had much experience with verjuice, it’s not widely used in the UK. I knew there was something in the mix, not just olive oil but I couldn’t pick it until I read the menu again. It added a lovely light citrus acidity to the dish.

Palmers Island Mulloway Fillet with carpaccio of zucchini, olive tapenade and skordhalia filled fried zucchini flowers ($35.50). Was actually quite a sizable serving with two fillets upon which to work my way through. The crispy skinned fish was full of juice, and look at those zucchini flowers, the batter is so fine you can see the flower through it. If I was really picky a little acidity in the dish, maybe in the zucchini carpaccio, would have made it perfect for me.

Dessert special was roasted figs with vanilla bean ice cream honeycomb and caramelised walnuts ($15.50). Just looking at the picture you can imagine how good this was.There was still steam coming off the figs and as the vanilla ice cream melted into the caramel sauce, the chewy honeycomb sat sweet with crunch. I was still savouring my second mouthful when they brought over my macchiato ($3). Just looking at it I had a little laugh to myself happy in dessert and good coffee land. Fabulous food, lovely friendly, accommodating staff. I left happy. I’ll be back for sure.

Yes two days later in fact. Looking for a nice relaxing lunch I headed back. The weekend informalities had been replaced with crisp white linen and folded napkins. I opted for the lunch special of salmon fishcakes, watercress and frisée salad with hass avocado and a tartare sauce ($18.50). Not overloaded with potato and a touch of dill, the fishcakes were satisfying with a chunky tartare sauce.

A glass of dry Crawford River rosé ($11) on the side and some old issues of Gourmet Traveller magazine, made for a midweek lunch for one. And yes, I’ll be back….

Unfortunately Bird Cow Fish closed it’s doors in February 2012.

Rozelle Markets and Le Grande Bouffe

There are often things in your mind that you remember differently to what is actually reality. I’m not sure if that is what happened when on a return trip to Rozelle markets or I have just been spoilt.Every Saturday and Sunday the markets are held on the ground of Rozelle Primary School. It has been about 15 years since I was last there so I guess my mind played tricks on me although their website does claim they are Sydney’s favourite second hand market. Really!? Surely not. 

There are alot of second hand clothes, brick-a-brac and plants. If you have a really good look you may find a few odd things but I doubt it will appease the yearning for a good market find. There was one little stand at the back of the school grounds enclosed in it’s own white marque which stood out form the surrounding brick-a-brac. The stallholder had gone to alot of trouble to present her goods in a more appealing way. It did work and I was drawn into her marque away for the impending rain. 

Although, if you want quality vintage pieces I suggest you save your pennies and head further up the road to quintessential duckeggBLUE.

I had already planned to head to love.fish for lunch after reading about it on Katie’s blog but unfortunately it was closed. Saturday lunch in Rozelle closed?? Apparently only open 5-930pm daily. Anyway I headed to the nearby Le Grande Bouffe which was busy busy busy. I arrived about 130pm to be told there would be a 45min wait for a table. I was hungry but after pounding the pavement all day I was not prepared to walk back into Balmain to find lunch. The “old man’s pub” on the corner provided a quick drink while I waited.

The lightest entree on the menu was a salad of smoked trout, radish, lettuce, and trout roe in a horseradish cream. It was a pleasant first course, crispy crunchy lettuce, very light horseradish and popping trout roe.

Fish of the day was bonito served with carrot puree, potatoes and a red wine jus. I love crispy fish skin, although the fish itself was over cooked. Combined with the sweet carrot and flavoursome jus it managed bring moisture to the dish. The raw tomato cubes lifted the freshness of the dish. If only the fish wasn’t over cooked I would have loved it.

Dessert, sour cherry clafoutis with vanilla ice cream was the highlight. Even the outer edges of what some may say are over cooked, were a flavour filled texture crunch. The vanilla ice cream was very sweet but balanced with the sour cherries a great match. Thin but fluffy, I wanted another.

It was a good way to end a meal and I was well looked after by the staff who continued to smile during the lunchtime rush. When I’m back in Rozelle I will ring ahead for a table at Le Grande Bouffe. The area was obviously in need of a neighbourhood restaurant of this caliber and has welcomed a bit of french flair amongst the overload of Asian and Italian restaurants which line Darling St.

Cafe Sopra at Fratelli Fresh and their no photo policy

I have read a few blog posts now where people warn against taking photos, or at least asking politely, at certain restaurants and cafes. Even though my blog is still in it’s youth I have been avidly taking photos of food for many years. Lunch at Cafe Sopra was the first time I have been asked not to take photos and to be honest I was a bit stunned.
It seems to me that if you use your common sense about when it is appropriate or not to get your camera out you shouldn’t get into too much trouble. I didn’t take photos at the Waterside Inn or Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley as I didn’t feel it was an appropriate atmosphere for photos but my camera was going crazy at The Fat Duck.  I am discrete, I don’t use a flash and only take a tiny point and shoot to restaurants.

I thought I had used my common sense at Sopra. It’s a very relaxed place, in fact it sits above the Fratelli Fresh warehouse in Danks Street, Waterloo. Fratelli Fresh stocks fresh food and produce for commercial use by restaurants. They also open their doors to the public to purchase the same stock as the restaurants, such as Iggy’s bread, smoked trout, olive oil, herbs, imported pasta and cheese etc etc.

I managed to briefly snap two pictures before being politely asked not to take photos. Unfortunately they were before the food arrived, so no food shots. 

It was another steamy day in Sydney, the place was very busy and I sat at the bar very close to the till. They have some new wines from Italy on their menu and a ’08 Paolo Sordo from Roero Arneise, Piemonte ($9.50 a glass) was recommended to me as a crisp dry wine. Loved it so much I had a second.

Sitting so close to the till I heard one of the waitresses come past mentioning to the other that she had to tell someone else not to take photos. So curious to know why, I asked. The waitress said the owner doesn’t want any of his team photographed in a compromising position and that the concept is his original idea and he doesnt want anyone to copy it.

Interesting, yes the produce warehouse/cafe is a great idea but hardly ground breaking and it’s open for anyone to walk into, you don’t need a camera to copy ideas. I don’t get it. I think there is more to the story than just stealing concepts.

All being said, the staff were very polite and happy even though it was hot and they were woking hard. I could sit then and enjoy my meal thinking it was a bit crazy but knowing I wasn’t the only one told ‘no photos’ today and I wont be the last.

The smoked trout fishcake with soft boiled egg and a herb and caper mayonnaise ($20) came out looking like it might not fill me, with one fishcake on the plate but it was huge and the potato mix inside the crispy fried 2 inch thick fishcake definitely did the trick.

My eyes being larger than my tummy decided that I must try some dessert too. Orange cake with almond sorbetto. Baked in a flan tin with thinly sliced orange decorating the top with the almond sorbetto melting into it. It was great but I could only manage half, yes too full.

If you want to see a post of someone who managed to get some photos here is the link to one by Grab Your Fork