Monthly Archives: June 2011

Blue Orange

It’s a bleak, wintry night at Bondi Beach and all I can think about is my couch and a piping hot mug of hot chocolate. But that was before the twinkly lights of Blue Orange (and the blazing overhead heaters) lure my friend and I inside. Whilst the outside dining area is predictably empty, like much of Bondi in winter, we’re happy to find ourselves nestled at the front window, where we catch glimpses of a handful of over-eager surfers, barefoot and with board in hand, and are bemused by groups of teenagers carelessly chatting and laughing at the frozen yoghurt joint across the road. It was just the right amount of entertainment we needed after a long week at work.

Cosy Winter warmers

Blue Orange has been running for over ten years and while maître d’ Tasia Doukakis says “we’ve always had a modern Australian focus,” the menu has shifted in recent years from fine dining to a more casual, relaxed dining experience. The menu features all your classic mod-Oz fare with everything from beef burgers to seafood linguini, however it is the daily specials which catch my eye and it’s not just because it is written on a chalkboard. There is something endearing about specials being scribbled on a chalkboard – it gives the impression that each dish is inspired “in the moment” and not planned weeks ahead. Well, that or the restaurant managers are computer illiterate. Given that Blue Orange has facebook and twitter accounts, we can assume the best.

Blue Orange’s famous fresh seafood

The weekly specials always feature a seafood and meat dish. Tasia explains that with limited kitchen storage, their seafood is bought daily from Sydney Fish Markets and meat is bought twice weekly from Victor Churchill in Woollahra. I knowingly glance at my partner; there won’t be any frozen prawns consumed here. I am drawn towards the King George Whiting with roast fennel, confit garlic and thyme – the perfect balance of a light ‘girly’ meal but with enough confit’ed fatty goodness to ensure I won’t feel deprived. My dining partner opts for the prosciutto wrapped spatchcock with warm beetroot, mushroom and ricotta salad. While the whiting is seasoned well, I have to say it is a little overdone – only a nanosecond too long on the pan – but being matched with soft, buttery fennel and confit garlic oozing with flavour, I quickly forget this minor gaffe. My partner’s spatchcock arrives as four friendly mounds of succulent white flesh – snugly encased in a crispy thin prosciutto layer. A warm salad of sorts is arranged around the plate and a light, tasty jus ties the entire dish together.

Classic seafood with a modern twist

Not a lot is going for Bondi Beach on a frosty June night, all except this cosy restaurant on Hall Street. I’ll be back mid-summer, cocktail in hand, with thoughts of my couch far from my mind.

Anna Lisle

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Yuki’s At The Quay

The somewhat unglamorous entrance via the Overseas Passenger Terminal lift is but a distant memory once you enter the doors of Yuki’s At The Quay. Greeted with a smile that is worth a million dollars and with manners that I can only hope will one day be passed onto my children, I almost forget why we are here. All these unusual pleasantries have put me off my “Little Miss Critical” game. The restaurant is quiet and intimate and yet has a very chic New York feel to it – all glossy black, twinkling mirrors and low ceilings. My dining guest and I are seated with a view of the entire Opera House and there isn’t a panel of that odd-looking tourist landmark obscured. I make a personal note to bring any tourists to this restaurant. Even if it is just to sip sake at sunset in the outdoor dining space.

On the waiter’s recommendation, we start with the chef’s selection of 7 types of assorted antipasti. Expecting meagre mouthfuls, we order one each. Our boatful (and yes I mean BOAT-FUL) of Japanese goodness arrives and I briefly consider cancelling the rest of the order. But rather than filling us up, each dish awakens the taste buds. The simplicity of wagyu tataki (which is visibly marbled) topped with toasted white sesame seeds, tangy shallots and drizzled with a subtle ponzu sauce creates a textured and balanced mouthful. While the subtlety of the Natural Pacific oyster dressed with an eschallot and citrus vinaigrette is a perfect accompaniment to the crisp, crunchiness of the soft shell crab.

The chef’s selection of sashimi are a colourful array of thickly sliced raw fish –your standard kingfish, tuna and salmon trio are there but there are also more exotic varieties such as yellow-fin tuna, snapper and mackerel. As a sashimi lover, these are welcome additions. We’re informed that the seafood travels from the Sydney Fish Markets to Yuki’s on a daily basis and as I devour dish after dish, there is no questioning it. It is as fresh as fresh.

The array of fresh seafood

But the hero dish – Nobu’s black cod with miso remains one of the most pleasing dishes that has ever touched my lips, and while that memory has made its mark for all of my eternity – the grilled cod with sweet miso at Yuki’s is reminiscent of my Nobu fairytale. Two fillets of cod elegantly lean against each other, like old friends. As I tentatively place the chopsticks on the fish, it falls apart – exposing its moist and buttery flesh. A small bed of creamy spinach cuts through the slight saltiness of the miso and unifies the dish.

Seafood lovers will rejoice, as will meat-eaters. The Wagyu beef (sourced locally, I am assured) is a standout. Doused in what is described as the chef’s “special sauce” and as equally marbled as the tataki – each hunk of beef disintegrates with but a gentle chew. The wine list is extensive and the sake is all imported from Japan.

Melt in your mouth wagyu beef

There is not an ounce of pretension at this refined Japanese restaurant that prides itself on providing outstanding service and incredible food. But beyond the view, which is undeniably memorable and impressive, it is the warm hospitality of Yuki’s staff that will keep patrons coming back.

Sitting so close to Sydney Harbour that it feels a little like you’re being stalked by the Sydney Opera House (in a flattering way), Yuki’s At The Quay offers a sensational combination of scenery, hospitality and dynamic Japanese cuisine. The light, breezy and refined decor of the restaurant, with the addition of full-length mirrored walls, not only ensures that you can see each white curve of your landmark companion – and the panoramic harbour – but also gives the long, narrow restaurant an airy feel. An alfresco terrace area also allows diners to get even closer to the beguiling curve of Circular Quay.

The cuisine is no less impressive. Chef Kazushige (Hiro) Kato, who boasts an impressive career which has seen him travel and develop his understanding of Japanese and European gastronomy, brings a unique fusion of cultures to the menu. As a result, every dish at Yuki’s, while quintessentially Japanese in flavour, is unmistakably European in presentation. Rare frilled yellow-fin tuna sits beautifully atop king mushrooms and asparagus, with a drizzle of avocado wasabi aioli adding a chic French effect. Equally European-inspired is the grilled scallops and prawn mousse with ginger sauce. Naturally, as in most self-respecting Japanese restaurants, there is also a wide selection of sushi and sashimi (delivered fresh from the fish markets where Yuki’s has its own stand). At the completion of the meal anyone with room for dessert will not be disappointed. Distinctly French in influence, Yuki’s sweet selection offers delicious treats such as petite creme brulee and apple compote with virnouge sorbet. The experience is stitched together by the ever-obliging service and what have to be Sydney’s most reasonable waterside-dining prices.

Sorbet and fresh fruit compliment the light and fluffy dessert options

The food, the view and the sleek modern interior make Yuki’s a perfect place for wowing a business associate or showing off to an overseas guest. The Japanese are known for their professionalism and for their boundless attention to detail, and Yuki’s is an excellent example of both. Crisp white tablecloths, sparkling cutlery and elaborately folded napkins are the first things you’ll notice (once you manage to tear your attention away from the view). Then it’s the speedy service, which is so efficient that you barely notice it’s there. The staff here are obliging and professional, and each possesses a refined knowledge of everything on the menu.

The cuisine is no less impressive. Chef Nori Tsukatani, who boasts an impressive career which has seen him travel and develop his understanding of Japanese and European gastronomy, brings a unique fusion of cultures to the menu. As a result every dish at Yuki’s, while quintessentially Japanese in flavour, is unmistakably European in presentation.

Anna Lisle

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The reign of Spain

The unstoppable duo – Casey Death, renowned Australian food researcher and tour guide, and Spanish chef and cookbook author, Frank Camorra — are back again to lead an overeager bunch of Aussie foodies throughout Barcelona in September. When I first heard about this tour, I felt a pang of homesickness rush through me, longing to return to this country that I so adored. But rather than sitting around listlessly daydreaming about my Spain days, I thought I should share my experience – to show to you all how crazy it would be for everyone else to not take up this opportunity. See link below for details of how to book.

So, let’s go back 12 months…

I’d been spending way too much time behind a computer- my back ached, I was drinking coffee at the speed an Englishmen drinks beer at Oktoberfest and I was tired, constantly tired. So when I got a phone call from Casey to ask if I’d like to come with her on a culinary tour of Spain, I almost packed my bags on the spot. And that was before I knew that Frank, my favourite Spanish chef, would be joining us, too.

On a side note, the tour also conveniently coincided with the re-launch of our new magazine Top 10which just so happens to have an international section! But who’s taking notes, right?

The journey began, quite appropriately, in Madrid, the heart of Spain. Within hours of arriving I adopted “buenos tiempos” (said in a horrifically Aussie accent) into my vocab, which means, “good times”. Because that is what I had, all across Spain, for ten whole days.

To kick-start our culinary adventure, we sat down to a long lunch at the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin (and yes, you can check the Guinness Book of Records!). We feasted on platters of 3-week-old pork and 40-day-old lamb – specialities of this famous restaurant – before being taken into the kitchen where we were greeted like old friends by the Botin chefs.

Our time in Madrid was spent wandering the streets and meeting locals while grazing on tapas and sipping espressos. We all know the saying ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’ – and this proved true in Spain, especially when you’re rubbing shoulders with Casey. And this is what made the tour so unique. With the group trailing behind our foodie Spanish conquerors, Casey and Frank, we were taken to Mercado de San Miguel, one of Madrid’s oldest indoor markets. We stumbled our way through hessian bags filled with colourful spices, stalls laden with mouth-watering Iberico ham and baskets brimming with large red-shelled prawns. It was the perfect way to be initiated into Spanish life.

After our sensory overload at the markets and feeling windblown from the frenetic buzz of Madrid, we travelled to the South-West of Spain. Boarding a bus, feeling a little like we were on school camp, our next stop was a place called Extremadura. Stepping off the bus felt like I was walking onto the set of a Don Quixote movie and this is where we discovered the heart and soul of Spain.

The characters that Frank describes in his book Movida Rustica’s Tour of Spain suddenly came to life as we met the local farmers and producers. Each family we visited, we were shown a little slice of Spain. From our time with “Fasto”, we learnt of ancient Spanish legends while picking wild mushrooms and from Mario Blasco Rey, the owner of the famous Spanish Cheese Factory, Quesos del Casar, we discovered the oldest, and most traditional, process to make cheese. In Dehesa, we watched black-footed Iberico pigs roaming in the forest and learnt why Iberico Jamo is the most popular cured meats in the world.

But it was our trip to Palencia — where paprika is made (and also Jamie Oliver’s paprika of choice) — where the reign of Spain really started to take hold. I’ll never forget the smiling faces of the workers, picking the chillis to be smoked and dried before being ground into paprika. All the while, laughing and chatting the day away.  I remember questioning; have the Spanish discovered the true meaning of happiness? It was contagious. Still, 12 months later, whenever I get whiff of the unmistakable smoky scent of Spanish paprika, I am reminded of those laughing, smiling faces.

We finished the tour in true Spanish style – with a long lunch at a local Michelin star restaurant. We ate, drank and laughed till our hearts content and parted, wishing that this could go on forever…

And this leads me to my next exciting news – I’m heading back to Spain in two weeks to do it all again! If only I could stay until September for Frank’s next tour.

 

Yolanda de Groot

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A day in the Hunter Valley and Hayman Island

I didn’t have to pack my cossie or take any suncream, but I did have the opportunity to experience the fabulous food of the Executive Chef of Hayman Island , Glenn Bacon in the Hunter Valley last Friday.

As part of the June Hunter Valley Food and Wine Month, award-winning restaurant Esca Bimbadgen hosted ‘Hayman in the Hunter’ and treated myself and thirty travel agents, a taste of what to expect at Hayman Island when it reopens in August.

Executive Chef, Glenn Bacon of Hayman, was issued a challenge to create a menu featuring regional Hunter Valley produce, a world away from the local produce and seafood available from Chef Bacon’s tropical home. Chef Bacon unveiled a reconcepted and renamed ‘Fontaine’ restaurant in August. Fontaine will offer a beautiful setting including stunning dining platforms over the Hayman Swan Pond. The new menu will feature contemporary Australian cuisine inspired by the finest locally sourced produce.

In his preparation to delight Esca Bimbadgen diners, Glenn Bacon said, “The menu I have selected is a sneak preview of Hayman’s Fontaine restaurant concept, with a regional twist showcasing local Hunter Valley cuisine, paired with delectable Bimbadgen wines. I know it will be a winner, and a real celebration of a marriage between two incredible Australian destinations.”

Two great Australians are being brought together to recreate a stunning garden landscape which, for so long, has provided an incredible backdrop to one of the top tourist playgrounds in the world. Hayman, Australia’s idyllic island destination in the Great Barrier Reef, has engaged award-winning landscape designer, horticulturalist, and personality, Jamie Durie, to rejuvenate and refresh the beautiful garden surrounds of the acclaimed resort.

All the travel agents I met were really excited about the reopening, and it was great to hear that Hayman Island is heavily booked when they reopen in August. No doubt Chef Bacon’s reputation, for offering some of the best food in Australia in stunning locations at Hayman Island, has attributed to this.

Maureen de Groot

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