Monthly Archives: July 2012

Panama has pedigree

The pedigree is worth noting at Panama House; Brent Mills, from New York’s Sweetwater Tavern, has teamed up with Anthony Kaplan, of Bondi’s bustling The Shop & Wine Bar to create the sleek and sophisticated Panama House.

Panama is part bar, part café and part restaurant

The dynamic duo, who also own The Corner House just down the road, have recreated the former Cafe Max venue into a space that screams of minimalist NY Meatpacking style slash suave Mexican cantina. Bondi Road may not boast the quintessential beach-side possy but the restaurant’s chic aesthetic makes up for the lack of crashing waves. The long narrow space, with a range of seating options caters to the all-day trade from coffee and breakfast to drinks and dinner. The long counter allows energetic exercisers to swig a quick espresso at the bar, while a handful of roadside tables out the front make people (or car) watching a breeze. Panama House is indeed a well thought-out space with a roof-top herb garden (talk about maximising space!) and a lighting system based on sensors – ensuring restaurant adapts to changing weather conditions.

One of their signature dishes: Southern Fried Chicken with sweetcorn puree

Food, however, is the hero. The menu at Panama House goes on a culinary journey through Central America, stopping over in Mexico, before returning to the deep South. For those with strong stomachs, the breakfast menu features dishes such as fried black pudding, served with a poached egg and fried sourdough while lunch and dinner is all about DIY tacos and finger-licking dishes like New Orleans sticky baby pork ribs.

With cocktails galore, cider on tap and a crowd full of Bondi cool cats, Panama House does its pedigree proud.
Anna Lisle

Read more about Panama House here

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A far cry from food court dining: Streets of Saigon

Please, don’t be perturbed by the location. Yes, it may be part of a food court but it isn’t just any food court. It is, in fact, the squeaky-clean, marble table-topped, ultra-mod Level Five Westfield Sydney food court.

Located in the far corner of the food court, near dumpling expert Din Tai Fung, Streets of Saigon is like a glammed-up street stall. While the colourful signage is fun, it is not the location or the restaurant’s aesthetic that wins us over – it is the food. Owner Tu Anh Nguyen said that after moving to Australia, she searched fruitlessly for a restaurant that served the simple flavours and street-style dishes of her home country. Nothing was worth writing home about. So, to fill this gap in the market, Tu Anh decided to open Streets of Saigon: “My passion is to bring the delicious street foods that I grew up with to Australia using traditional recipes and the freshest ingredients to retain the authenticity of true Vietnamese flavours – Streets of Saigon serves what I would serve to my family.”

Owner Tu Anh Nguyen at the launch of Streets of Saigon

Have you, like Tu Anh, tasted the real Vietnam? A piping hot bowl of Pho from a street stall in Hanoi? Or have you rolled your own rice paper rolls and slurped fresh sugar cane juice in Ho Chi Minh city? Streets of Saigon impresses with its steamed fresh rice paper rolls, salads and vermicelli – all served without MSG, gluten or any added preservatives.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Streets of Saigon here

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Rustic and wholesome, eat well at The Hill

In a town bent on reinventing the wheel, The Hill Eatery offers a humble change of pace. There are no tablecloths, waiters are dressed casually and the menu is simple and honest.

Designed by renowned architect Michael Benson, The Hill’s interior boasts a minimalist warehouse-chic decor. Uncovered light bulbs hang from ropes; there’s an unpolished wooden floor; and exposed ducts run along the ceiling. It is simple and elegant without an ounce of Bondi pretension. It is also nice to discover that the rustic-looking floor and tables are actually rustic, having been made using recycled timber from Botany.

Simple and stunning – with a vase of colourful poppies

This sustainable approach extends from the decor to the food. Owner and Chef Sam Smith (from Perth’s Balthazar and Duende and Paddington’s L’Etoile), together with Sarah Hendriks and Michael Benson (owners of Porch and Parlour, North Bondi), pride themselves on what they call “food excellence”. Rather than doing the token, “organic- this” and “eco-friendly-that”, these guys have put money where their mouth is. At the restaurant’s official launch, their beef producer from Scone discussed the “paddock-to-plate” process with the media crowd. The syrups used in the tales (cocktails) are all homemade (by the way, we strongly recommend the “Garden Fresh”) and Sam’s dad catches the fish in Port Lincoln. So when Sam says, “provenance is our mantra”, this is exactly what the man means.

Falafel salad, quinoa tabouli and tahini dressing $19

The menu speaks to the inner-health freak in us all with wholesome dishes such as falafel and quinoa tabouli salad, grilled calamari with crunchy greens and dukkah and pan-seared King George whiting with avocado salsa. For those not bothered by calorie-counting, the classic parmigiana gets spruced up, with the meat courtesy of Thirlmere and served with fettucini and cherry tomatoes. Got some English blood? The slow braised organic beef is served in individual ceramic ramekins on a wooden chopping board, with a side of pea and mint mash. The flavours in each dish are clean and simple with just the right amount of oomph to satisfy. The Hill Eatery is the type of place that nourishes you, both inside and out.

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Hill Eatery here

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With or without hats, Aqua Dining is one of the best

Some restaurants spend years investing their time and energy to be part of the exclusive chef hat club, while others prefer to devote their resources in keeping their customers happy, such is the case at Sydney’s Aqua Dining.

The restaurant, which opened in 2000, is part of the AQUA Dining Group, owned by Bill Drakopoulos. As well as Aqua Dining, Drakopolous also owns the four restaurants that bear the “Ripples” moniker at striking waterside locations such as Milson’s Point, Chowder Bay, Sydney Wharf and Whale Beach.

With Head Chef Anthony Redondi (see the Harbour Bridge in the reflection!)

Aqua Dining offers 180-degree water views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Photos just don’t do the vista at this restaurant justice. To one side, you can watch as fitness fanatics energetically swim lengths of North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool. Or, for those who have forgotten to exercise that day and prefer to eat their meal and sip their wine guilt-free, guests can angle their seats out towards Sydney Harbour, where the Harbour Bridge and the iconic Sydney Opera House loom impressively overhead. Renovations by renowned architect Sidney Koh in 2011 have transformed the dining room into a fresh, uncluttered space with pearl white tables and chairs with natural beech framing. Drenched in natural light, with a relaxed and casual vibe, Aqua Dining combines everything that a waterside restaurant should.

$39 Red Wine Flight – char grilled quail breasts with lentils, twice-cooked pork belly with mandarin mustard fruit and beef fillet with truffled potato puree – includes three 50mL glasses of wine

Food is still the most important component in a meal out, of course, and Aqua Dining has that area covered, too. The 2011 renovations also instigated a new Italian-influenced menu under Executive chef Anthony Redondi. Before his time at Aqua Dining, Anthony was Head Chef at Trattoria La Vigna in Camden and prior to that, Executive Chef at the Stamford Hotel in Circular Quay. On the day we visited, Anthony had just returned from a two week trip to the United States where, together with Drakopolous, the duo explored new ideas for the restaurant and menu.

The effort that the Aqua team invests in ensuring that the restaurant stays at the cutting edge of the hospitality industry shows. From the $39 “White/Red Wine Flight” dining special to the restaurant’s sleek aesthetic, all elements of the Aqua experience have been well researched and professionally implemented.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Aqua Dining here

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Filed under Aqua Dining, Milsons Point, Reviews

More than your average pub, The Forresters

According to Michael Delany-Korabelnikova, the man who has recreated iconic Sydney pubs such as The Abercrombie, Flinders Hotel, The Norfolk on Cleveland and The Carrington, there is, in fact, a specific formula that can be applied to ensure the success of a pub.

This formula comes in the form of a new type of hybrid venue. Pub Disco Diner. Not generally three words used to describe the same place but, it is these three elements that, once combined, will create pub magic.

The former Forresters was tired and run-down but positioned in a cool enough location to warrant a steady weekend crowd. After Michael’s touch, The Forresters is now trendy and glamorous, with just the right amount of “I don’t give a sh*t” attitude that 20-something hipsters tend to like.

The elegant upstairs dining room

In the “about us” section of The Forresters website, five things are listed: cold beer, hot pizza, rotisserie meats, wine and pasta. For a pub that has just spent a substantial sum in renovations, surely there has got to be more than that. And thank goodness there is – from the 1950s American-style diner, complete with leather booths and a smoking room with candy striped banquettes, to its sort-of beer garden out back – The Forresters offers a bit of everything and somehow it all seems to work.

According to Michael’s pub wisdom, food is the key ingredient and The Forrester’s menu doesn’t disappoint, especially the weekday $10 specials lunch menu. Think pappardelle Bolognese, smoked mozzarella aracini or duck, fig and pecorino salad. Or you can really bust the budget and for $12 order a generous piece of crispy skinned barramundi served on a bed of saffron and mint fregola.

Standout dish: crisp skinned barramundi served on a bed of saffron and mint fregola

Great food, a lively atmosphere and a prime location, The Forresters is worth a visit.

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Forresters here

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An afternoon sampling the wines of Chile and Argentina

Yesterday afternoon the de Groots team made their way to an exclusive wine tasting event at The Oak Barrel Sydney to celebrate the addition of the new release Bosque De MatAsnons drop to the extensive wine portfolio of WoCA (Wines of Chile and Argentina).

Special guest Jaime Postigo, GM of Bosque de MatAsnos with the de Groots team: Scott Winter, Sami-Jo Adelman and Anna Lisle

We have to admit, our knowledge of Spanish wine is somewhat limited, however, our friendly hosts promptly placed a glass in our eager hands and we embarked on an educational wine tasting experience. We sampled a range of Chilean and Argentinean wines including a fruity full-bodied Rutini Malbec and a notable Chilean drop from Perez Cruz.

Special guest Jaime Postigo, general manager and winemaker of Bosque de MatAsnos, Spain, spoke passionately about his new Crianza 2009 and the Ribera del Duero viticultural region of Spain. The small gathering was indeed engrossed; however, we are not sure whether that had anything to do with his demi-God stature, chiselled jaw and deep olive skin. You take your guess.

Thank you WoCA for a fabulous event, we can’t wait to crack open a bottle at our next fiesta!

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A secret trip to the Middle East

I write this, still full from last night’s eight-course Middle Eastern degustation, a Secret Foodie event hosted by Ms Darlinghurst. At 5pm, I got the text “Tonight’s Secret Foodies dinner is in Darlinghurst. At 6pm you will be sent the final address.” An hour later a second text: “52 Oxford Street. See you at 7pm”. As curiosity reared its sprightly head, Google was my first point of call. Embers Mezze Bar? What’s that? I thought for sure it would be Almond Bar. I have never heard of this place.

At 6.55pm I tentatively walked up to the commanding sandstone edifice, not realising that my perceptions of Lebanese cuisine were about to be turned upside down.  As the earthy flavours and rich textures of Chef Simon Zalloua’s modern Middle Eastern fare were put on display, all pre-conceived ideas of tabouli laden meat skewer feasts were swept away.

Simon Zalloua busy in the kitchen preparing for our Middle Eastern feast

Greeted at the door by Ms Darlinghurst herself and friendly owner Henri Azzi, thirty odd foodies were ushered into a spacious dining room lined with tall arched windows, bold artwork and plush banquette seating.

With a glass of Lebanese wine in one hand and a crispy feta, lemon and herb pasty in the other, we mingled under a soft golden glow, emanating from lanterns strung high on the ceiling above.

Hummus with Afghani and sesame bread was first on show and the perfect way to begin before diving head first into a sweet mess of dukkah-spiced honeyed carrots with a goats curd cream. More Lebanese wine, and a colourful herb salad buttoned with chickpeas and cauliflower florets arrived at the table, dappled with pomegranate jewels and a zesty dressing. It was a hot favourite of the evening, along with other dishes such as scallop nayeh (a kind of ceviche with thinly sliced raw scallops), char grilled quail and melt-in-your-mouth lamb accompanied by pita bread to create a DIY shawarma.

Our mouthwatering desserts – rose jelly, sahleb cream and sumac strawberries and tahini and dried persian fig brulee

The night was full of lively banter, fine food and wine, culminating in a Q&A with Chef Simon Zalloua. His Hercules-like stature was a bit too much for some of my dining cohorts, putting them into a tizzy (or perhaps that was just too much Lebanese wine?). Having worked in the kitchens of Rockpool and Alira, it’s easy to see why the food was so good. A sexy chef putting sexy back into Arabic food. Now who doesn’t want a piece of that?

Sami-Jo Adelman

Read more about Embers Mezze Bar here

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