Monthly Archives: July 2012

Modern British delights at Orto Trading Co.

When the winter sets in and it’s cold outside, nothing beats a cosy nook and comfort food. Orto Trading Co. on the Waterloo strip of Surry Hills may not be tiny but it sure is warm and friendly– both indoors and out. The fit out alone is worth a visit: the main dining room is light and airy with tall glasshouse walls and bare Scandinavian tables that are paired with two-tone wooden chairs. An exposed brick wall features at the back of the bar and an innovative installation of recycled glass bottles and flowers dangle over the wooden counter.

Glass jars filled with tea-light candles adorn the outdoor marquee which is well-heated however blankets are readily available for those who can still feel the winter chill. But, we can assure you, as soon as the restaurant fills up, which is very quickly, body warmth is all you’ll require.

The beautiful interior dining room and bar of Orto Trading Co.

The menu follows the rhythm of the seasons and dishes often change to accommodate the new bounty. However there are a few regular fixtures that steel the limelight. We start with one of the house specialties – a scotch duck egg is encased in a crusty shell of house-made pork sausage and served on a wooden plank. The British home-style undertones extend through to main course with a hearty slow-braised beef and ale stew with corn meal dumplings and winter vegetables. The market fish, a crispy skin snapper, arrives atop a mound of creamy cauliflower puree that is silky and smooth. The plate is scattered with watercress, crunchy macadamia nuts and crispy pancetta strips that lend textural complexity to a well-balanced dish.

The food is made for sharing and accordingly portions are incredibly generous. If you have a ravenous appetite, be sure to order the house bread, which comes toasted with a smattering of oregano and fresh roasted garlic (my absolute favourite) for you to smear across the surface.

Sami- Jo Adelman

Read more about Orto Trading Co. here

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Swish fish

Ah… so this is where the beautiful people go for fish and chips. But you won’t find anything wrapped in yesterdays Tele here. Attracting Potts Point-princesses and plenty of media heavy-weights, The Fish Shop is the latest venture from Jeremy Strode and Justin Hemmes.

The Hamptons-inspired design of The Fish Shop

The Fish Shop’s design has been inspired by seaside settings found in famous American favourites such as The Hamptons and Nantucket. Accordingly, fishing paraphernalia such as hooks, lures and buoys are scattered throughout the restaurant space while diners perch (no pun intended) on high wooden stools at tables titled “Barra” and “Abalone”. Seashells line the restaurant’s walls and staff strut around in blue and white striped Jean Paul Gaultier t-shirts. All in all, the fit out is kitsch and fun but it is hard to avoid the feeling that it is a little forced. Mind you, subtlety isn’t exactly a Merivale strong point.

While the decor is about as subtle as a slap in the face with a wet fish, the menu is multi-directional. If you hadn’t already guessed, seafood is the focus however dishes such as chicken and cabbage dim sim and Dan’s cheeseburger can be spotted on the menu. The end result, however, isn’t entirely disappointing. Cuttlefish with garlic, chilli and parsley is simple and full of flavour, while whole prawns are fresh and served with a top-notch smoked garlic aioli. Sending out that casual DIY vibe that maybe Jean Paul Gaultier uniforms don’t, cutlery is stored in Val Verde diced tomato tins on the tables, complete with a range of condiments including retro metal salt shakers and glass bottles of good-old Fountain tomato sauce.

If you’re looking for a Jeremy Strode-standard meal, book into Bistrode CBD however if food is more of an afterthought, head to The Fish Shop.

Anna Lisle

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A culinary journey to Piedmont, Italy at The Star

I was so pleased to be invited to Stefano Manfredi’s restaurant Balla at The Star this week to experience a culinary trip to Piedmont in Italy. With my daughter Yolanda heading to Venice on a superyacht from France this week, this was at least one way of experiencing a vicarious trip to one of my favourite holiday destinations in the world.

On the second Tuesday of every month, celebrity Chef Stefano Manfredi and Balla Head Chef Gabriele Taddeucci, hold a four-course dinner with matching Italian wines to showcase a menu representing each of the various culinary regions of Italy.

The stunning interior of Balla

Tonight it was Piedmont, in northwest Italy, an area where most of its wines are produced on family estates which are made up of relatively small parcels of land. Each dish served throughout the evening featured the very exotic truffle, which is now found in all states of Australia.

Throughout the evening Stefano mingled with guests in the dining room, sharing his many cooking influences and his knowledge on truffles. We were all encouraged to touch and smell these exotic food items and, of course, we were treated to an exceptional four course dinner with matching wines.

Chef Stefano Manfredi presenting the Italian hazelnut and milk chocolate truffle dessert

We started off with antipasto which included vegetable puree with fontina and black truffle, followed by an entree of pasta, reggianno and black truffle. The main course, however, was the standout of the evening – Sella di coniglio al tartufo con lenticchie e cavolfiore gratinato – or, to us non-Italian speakers – rabbit loin with bread and truffle stuffing, braised lentils and Reggiano. This dish was simply spectacular. We finished the evening on a sweet note with an Italian hazelnut and milk chocolate truffle which, again, impressed.

Other regions of Italy explored on the menu in the following months at Bella include Lombardia, Sicily, Emilia Romanga, Puglia plus a special ‘Buon Natale’ traditional Christmas menu. Highly recommended for lovers of Italian cuisine and Italian wines. Phone +61 2 9657 9129 for reservations or click through here.

Maureen de Groot

Read more about Balla here

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Superyacht sailing on the Med – Yolanda’s on a trip of a lifetime

A lot of our clients in the restaurant industry have been asking where Yolanda has disappeared to.  Well, we are very happy and envious to report that while we are all shivering here in Sydney, Yolanda has taken some time off to spend in Europe, and the last update we receieved was that  Yolanda was  about to sail from  St. Tropez to Venice in a 30-metre superyacht.

Yolanda learning the ropes

Yolanda is helping a good friend, who spends each Summer in the Mediterranean as a chef on luxury yachts. Yolanda last ‘facebooked” that she was madly shopping in St. Tropez for food to last them the five day voyage to Venice.

What a shame – I think all grocery stores look the same – even in St. Tropez!

Tough life, but an amazing experience and maybe it will come in handy for our expanding web sites – maybe   Just in case anyone is thinking of chartering a superyacht on the Med next year here is the link to the yacht:

The “Dark Shadow” superyacht that Yolanda is on board

After this, Yolanda will be returning to London and then hopefully heading home but we are pretty sure it won’t be until the weather warms up.

Maureen de Groot

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Nguyen’s got a new one – Red Lantern on Riley

When a celebrity chef like Luke Nguyen opens a new restaurant, you can bet your bottom dollar that there is going to be a media stir. But is all the hype really deserved? We head to Red Lantern on Riley to test the waters.

The combined venture of Nguyen and former Red Lantern Head Chef Mark Jensen, Red Lantern on Riley is located just down the road from its well-established older sister. While Nguyen continues to man the Crown Street eatery, Jensen steers the Riley ship.

The design is inspired by French Colonial Vietnam

The restaurant is full when we arrive, and as our table is not yet ready, we are quickly swept away to the Red Lily Bar out back. Albeit small, the space is smartly dressed with wooden stools and a marble bar. The wine list features a good mix of international and Australian drops. Initially, we intend to sample a selection of wines but after we order a bottle of the 2009 Artardi ‘Estate’ Tempranillo from Rioja – there is no going back. We order another of the same to accompany our meal.

Like the bar out back, the restaurant’s aesthetic has a designer feel, reminiscent of French Colonial Vietnam. A melange of dainty pendant lights dangle in clusters around the ceiling, basking the restaurant in a golden glow that creates an intimate dining atmosphere. Plush booth seating flank the sides of the main room, whilst a long marble communal table runs down the centre.

Guests can choose either a la carte or a series of tasting menus, including the $65 ‘Hanoi Hunger’, $80 ‘Saigon Scrumptious’ or the $135 Delicious Dalat, which comes with matching wines.  We opt for a la carte, beginning with an entree of rice paper rolls filled with a trio of stuffings – pork and duck terrine, tofu, cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms, and tiger prawn and pork. While they are pretty on the plate, they tend to be lack-lustre in flavour (as rice paper rolls often are). Crispy five-spiced quail and roasted Burrawong peking duck are finger-licking good, but the braised Wagyu beef is disappointing. The hero dish is the crisp skin Burrawong chicken, poached in master stock with ginger and oyster sauce. The portion is generous and the flavours are perfectly balanced.

Goi Tom Thit – Tiger prawns, free-range pork belly and pickled vegetables

It is easy to be blown away by the style and professionalism of the restaurant, which runs like a well-oiled machine. Specifically catering to group dining, the restaurant handles the smallest of requests with ease, offering half serves of all dishes and willing to mix, match and substitute to ensure the whole group is happy.

Apart from the ritzy fit-out, Red Lantern on Riley isn’t that different from its Crown Street counterpart but, then again, it is a little like ordering a second bottle of the same wine. Why do something differently and risk being disappointed when you can happily enjoy the same thing over and over again?

Sami-Jo Adelman

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Darcy’s – a pillar of traditional Italian cuisine in Sydney

In a society of Twitter and Facebook addicts, it’s easy to forget about restaurants like Darcy’s. This Paddington institution swung open its doors in 1968 and continues to remain at the forefront of the Sydney dining scene today. An impressive feat in an uncertain time for the hospitality industry.

While many know of Darcy’s, standing proudly on the corner Hargrave and Elizabeth Street, this regal restaurant is not often frequented by our food-obsessed, hip youngsters. Too busy working through their lists of cafes/bars/restaurant from SMH guidebooks and standing in the queues of small bars in Bondi or concept cafes in the Inner West, the focus tends to be on quantity, not quality. In a society like this, loyalty is a forgotten-about commodity. Restaurants like Darcy’s, however, are all about loyalty. Loyalty to their staff, suppliers, producers and, of course, their customers. At the heart of Darcy’s is one man. Italian-born Attilio Marinangeli visited Australia over 40 years ago and never left.

The upstairs private function room

Stepping into Darcy’s is like stepping back in time. Elegant and intimate, the restaurant features dark wood fittings, gold patterned wallpaper and Norman Lindsay artworks. We are welcomed at the door by Attilio himself. Dressed in a dinner suit, complete with a bow-tie, Attilio is a true man of hospitality. Gracious and affable, Attilio flits about the restaurant, serving wine and food and, for those interested, sharing a story along the way.

The menu features traditional Italian favourites, with an emphasis on Central and Northern Italian flavours. For primi, we share beef carpaccio with parmesan and olive oil and a dish of grilled asparagus with burrata cheese that Atillio regularly has flown in from Italy. Simply presented, the quality of the produce speaks for itself. The special of the day, pork belly with a prune relish, is rich and luxurious – perfect for a chilly winter evening while a grilled fillet of John Dory is fresh and unpretentious. The desserts will ensure a memorable finish to your meal, and are well worth a kilojoule blow-out with classics such as crepe suzette, tiramisu and crème brûlée a highlight on the restaurant’s menu.

Off the special’s menu – seared scallops wrapped in crispy pancetta and served with avocado, lemon and mixed leaves

Darcy’s has not featured on Masterchef, nor has it ever offered a Groupon or Living Social deal. It has, however, hosted Britain’s longest serving prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and been the desired destination for power lunches between socialites like horse-racing trainer Anthony Cummings and mining magnate Nathan Tinkler. It may tend to stray from the hospitality limelight but Darcy’s is one of Sydney’s most respected restaurants, establishing itself as a pillar of traditional Italian cuisine in Sydney. Now add that to your list.

Anna Lisle
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The perfect neighbourhood restaurant, The Mess Hall

The Mess Hall is an unpretentious diner, in the heart of Melbourne’s theatre district.

Under the helm of Frank Stella (who also owns Stellini Bar on Little Collins Street), The Mess Hall is the ideal neighbourhood restaurant. Residing in what seems to be a former split-level terrace, the restaurant space is flooded with natural light and detailed with Victorian architecture. Bright and airy, guests are welcomed by efficient, friendly staff and a wave of appetising aromas from the kitchen. Scents of butter, bread and olive oil provide the perfect appetite stimulator and create a homely atmosphere in the restaurant.

Split over two levels, the atmosphere at The Mess Hall is homely and relaxed

Despite its no bookings policy, the turnover of tables is quick and we are quickly ushered to an intimate table near the kitchen. A far cry from an army mess hall, this restaurant has established a reputation as a reliable provider of terrific pizza and pasta dishes of a northern Italian bent. In true Italian spirit, the starters are designed for sharing with dishes such as calamari fritti and harissa croquettes. The pizza, pasta and main plate menus are generously-sized – with the standout choice being the sausage, provolone and chilli pizza. The beetroot salad with Bulgarian fetta, Japanese mushrooms, yoghurt and herbs works well as a side dish, offering a fresh reprieve from some of the heavier Italian dishes.

The Mess Hall embodies all the makings of the perfect neighbourhood restaurant – it is consistent, casual and full of charm.

Anna Lisle

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