Leura Garage

What a happy surprise. I guess it’s been just over a year since I had a little getaway to the Blue Mountains. Not long after that visit the Leura Garage was transformed from a working mechanics shop to a cafe/restaurant. The process of renovating the space, responsibly and creating a low carbon footprint cafe is well documented on their website. So successful were their efforts that they have won 2 MBA Excellence in Construction awards.

The place is light and airy, the furnishings are comfortable with touches of the industrial, in keeping with the buildings prior function. There are tyres stacked high above one wall, reproduction industrial light shades, concrete floors, old mufflers above the bar and a wall dedicated to look like rust.  I also noticed some knee blankets tucked away for those chilly days when diners may be keen to sit outside.

Owner James Howarth and chef Misha Laurent have definitely thought carefully about their menu, keeping it relatively simple. Breakfast is only available on the weekends, there is a limited lunch menu available til 3pm and an all day menu available 1130am until 6pm. They are also open late most nights, details of which can be found on their website here. The owners have been clever in servicing a huge gap in the lunch time dining options which exist around Leura and Katoomba. There are some interesting cafes around but most seem to be stuck in the 90’s serving quiche with side salads of chopped lettuce, grated carrot and alfalfa, sorry, but that’s what I ate for lunch on my last visit. I mean it was fine but a little boring.

It looked like I had arrived just in time before the lunchtime onslaught. I couldn’t believe how busy they became, even turning people away. I guess it was the week after Easter and there was still a holiday crowd lulling around, or maybe that’s a normal Tuesday for them.

Still the menu is interesting and I thought I’d ask the waiter for some recommendations. He thought the bruchetta was a good choice but I wanted something more substantial, paella. Water came to the table quickly upon being seated, follows by a glass of Canobolas-Smith Chardonnay. I love that they support wines from Orange and Mudgee. I’m crazy about the wines coming out of there at the moment. Great new discoveries, I can’t remember trying one I haven’t liked yet, seriously. And if anyone knows me, I can be a pain when it comes to choosing wine. I don’t think it went with the paella but a great wine never the less.

The paella was full of flavour and the seafood soft and perfectly cooked. The dish was elegantly portioned, which was fabulous because I could easily fit dessert in.

Baked stone fruit, meringue, gelato (your choice of 4) and pistachios. Just look at that dessert, beautiful and it tasted just as good. The meringue was both crunchy and chewy, great.

A few people around me seemed to be getting frustrated with the slow service and inability to get the waiters attention. All I can say is chill people, your in the mountains, it’s relaxed here and you might need to relax too!

Did I mention that you can also get takeaway coffee as well! There is a little window to the outside world, near the coffee machine, where the barista can take orders.

As you can probably tell I was pretty happy to stumble upon this place. I can imagine it would be great for a relaxed evening meal too. If your walking up the main street in Leura, take a right when you get to the roundabout at the top and your there. Enjoy.

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The Gourmet Traveller Challenge. February: The Montpellier Public House’s potted trout with dill cucmbers

Gee it’s nearly the end of the month and I haven’t made my monthly GT recipe challenge, and this is only month two! Time seems to fly so quickly, if only the weekend had one more day…

After my recent visit to The Montpellier Public House, there was no question what I wanted to make from this months GT magazine.

Last month I had enthusiastically made my first pickled cucumbers, so I didn’t really see the need to make them again when I still had some left. The recipe was much the same anyway.

I also didn’t read the recipe properly before I went shopping and bought a fillet instead of a whole fish and because I thought the recipe called for a fillet and the fishmonger had none I bought ocean trout instead of rainbow trout. I think it worked out ok anyway.

The recipe is simple (ok, so I think I’m going to break my own rules everytime). Here is the link to the recipe on the Gourmet Traveller website.

If you like the aniseed flavours of fennel and dill your going to love this recipe. It’s perfect for an easy dinner or a light lunch. I think it would be great for a picnic too. For me, it will be perfect for those nights I finish work late and am too tired to cook and nearly too tired to eat. I guess the trout will keep for a few days. The cucumbers will keep for a few weeks or sealed in a sterilised jar for 5-6 months.

The Montpellier Public House

Terrines, brawn, pate, rillettes I adore them all! I think Matthew Kemp does too.  He is the man behind the transformation of the fine dining establishment, Balzac, into The Montpellier Public House. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to Balzac before it closed, but I’d always heard great thing about the place.

I’ve been eyeing off The Montpellier for months and months. It was finally time to go! They have a restaurant upstairs but I was happy to stay in the more relaxed downstairs area for lunch.

The set lunch menu is ever changing and today’s offerings sounded like it would hit the spot.Pressed pork wrapped in more ham, fat and all, is excactly the sort of food I like to eat. I was so inspired by the country terrine that I went home and dragged out some books to try and make my own. That hasn’t happened yet but I have not forgotten. I’m just working out which one to make first.

The staff are attentive and great at advising those of us whose eyes are usually bigger than their stomachs. Heeding that I chose the pan fried sea mullet for main, instead of the roast I was thinking sounded good. Skin was crispy, salad was balanced, bread had soaked up all the flavours, ticked all the boxes.

A simple dessert of raspberry ripple and elderflower ice cream served with shortbread. I’m not a great lover of heavy deserts and this was perfect for me. The ice cream was so rich and creamy, thank goodness I didn’t have access to the rest of the stash.

The Montpellier is one of those places you can easily see yourself returning to again and again. Randwick folk, consider yourselves very lucky to have this place on your doorstep.

The Gourmet Traveller Challenge. January: Porteño’s barbequed calamari with chickpeas and preserved lemon

If your anything like me, you are a Gourmet Traveller magazine addict. I used to buy it when I used to live here 10 years ago, then when I left, I packed them up and kept them.  Still having Gourmet traveller magazines from 1996 may be slightly obsessive and lean toward being a crazy hoarding woman, but hey they are interesting to browse through though and to see how far we have come. OK, I know I have to get rid of them.

Even when I lived in London, my local newsagent kindly used to order it in for me and text me when it arrived. Now that is service!

And so the obsession continues. I have noticed, however, that I hardly EVER make anything from them. Shocking isn’t it. So that is my challenge this year, to make something from every issue. There are a few simple rules I must follow:

1. Make at least one recipe from each issue

2. Choose something I may not usually make.

3. Don’t choose something easy just to complete rule 1.

So January brings the BBQ issue. Every month there is a section where they fulfil the request of diners, by gathering favourite recipes from their loved meals. I was drawn to the Porteño offering.

The recipe was not difficult, except for the calamari. I wanted this to be a one stop meal so after popping into Broadway Harris Farm Market,  I road the escalator to the seafood shop above in the shopping centre. I could only see calamari from Thailand so I asked if they had any Australian. Bargain squid at $3.99/kg, but I would have to clean them myself. What! is this a new Sunday sabbath, no clean rule for fish shops? Anyway, no problem, I quite enjoy the satisfaction of cleaning my own anyway, thanks to a little stint at Rick Stein’s Seafood School.

But it was squid, and a big one. I only cooked the tentacles (which should be more tender), but they were still a bit tough. I think a young calamari would be much more tender. The recipe suggests buying ones only about 12cm long, and not squid twice the size, as mine was. My remaining squid was thrown into the freezer in preparation for a slow cooked red wine and blood orange stew.

Other than my squid dilemma, it was a great dish. The chickpea base was lovely with the yoghurt, and the watercress leaf makes a great change from the over used rocket. I think I will use the leftover base and watercress with some wedges of roasted pumpkin. If you’d like to make it you can find the recipe here.

I encourage you all to take up the challenge and cook something from the food magazine that you subscribe to! Please tweet me some photos if you do, I’d love to see them.

Momofuku Seiōbo

There was so much excitement and anticipation at the arrival of David. I have to say I was swept along too. Not so much because the irreverant David Chang was opening his first restaurant outside New York City, but because Ben Greeno was also coming.

I first met Ben at the Loft Project. He had just left Noma and had done his stint at Momofuku NYC. Clayton Wells, now sous chef at Momofuku Seiōbo, was also there with Ben. At the Loft Project, the kitchen is your own, your free to push the boat out as far as you please. What came out from that was nothing but exciting. So to imagine what together David and Ben might create for Momofuku Seiōbo kept me in a bubble of anticipation.

There was alot of talk about the restrictions of only having a $175 degustation menu and the online booking system, but none of them deterred me. I registered online and got a booking reasonably quickly, no problem there. As far as the menu goes, there are so many great cheap eats in Sydney, I think it’s was only appropriate David opted for a higher level of dining. Besides why would he go to all the trouble of coming over to open a noodle bar? This way Momofuku Seiōbo gets to show Sydney how they ‘do’ food and in any case the famous pork bun is on the menu, and yes it is as good as everyone raves about.

The music was pumping and I had a front row seat over the million dollar kitchen. This is what showed up on my plate…and don’t be shocked by the petit four, it’s mean’t to shock, that’s just David all over.

Snacks – Shitake chip, nori, mochi

The steamed pork bun

Kingfish, warrigal greens, furikake

white asparagus, marron, szechuan pepper

Beef, radish, fermented black bean and burnt watermelon

eel dashi, hailstone radish, chive blossom

spanner and swimmer crab, butter, pepper, biscuit (yorkshire pud)

baked egg, toasted rice, brown butter

hand torn pasta, goat cheese, chilli, mint

striped trumpeter, broccoli, horseradish, potato

lamb neck, daikon, pickled turnips

pecorino, honey licorice, bee pollen

wattle seed, malt, crispy milk skin

miso, pickled strawberry, toasted rice, mustard

petit four-sweet pork

 Momofuku Seiōbo

The Star,

Pyrmont,Sydney

Bookings: http://www.momofuku.com/restaurants/seiobo/

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.)