Monthly Archives: August 2012

Moving with the hospitality times, once Pier now The Sailors Club

Michel Roux has done it. Jacques Reymond has done it. Now, Greg Doyle has done it too.

Pier at Rose Bay has been at the forefront of the Sydney fine dining scene since Doyle opened in 1991, holding the highly coveted three chef hat status from 2007-2010. However, it was during 2010 that Doyle controversially handed back his chef hats, explaining “I don’t want the intensity of it any more… … that is, the level of attention to detail it requires, the constant development of new dishes, staffing levels and the cost of maintaining a three-hat restaurant.” (SMH, Sue Bennett, May 18th, 2010). Since this time, Doyle has gradually changed Pier’s focus, cutting main course prices and simplifying the menu. But the biggest change came in August of 2012 where Pier completely shed its fine dining skin and Greg, like Michel Roux and Jacques Reymond, handed over the reins to his daughter Jacqui Lewis.

Canary yellow metal chairs and white picnic-style tables dominate the dining room space

The starch white table cloths were stripped away and the formal table setting was replaced with canary yellow metal chairs and white picnic-style tables. Splashes of bright turquoise feature around the restaurant’s long narrow space and exuberant fabric prints adorn the lounge. Fun, fanciful and a little bit retro, The Sailors Club embodies a 1960s Palm Springs vibe. The only thing missing here are tables of women wearing psychedelic printed mini dresses, with big hair and false eyelashes.

Grilled yellow fin tuna, beetroot, witlof and radish

The food at The Sailors Club is an interesting evolution from Pier’s classic seafood-focused menu. Under Executive Chef Steve Skelly, burgers and minute steaks sit beside dishes like duck confit and oxtail bucatini. A main of grilled yellow fin tuna, beetroot, witlof and radish is elegant in aesthetic and while not a complicated dish, it is exactly what I want. The flathead in Cooper’s batter, with skinny chips and tartare sauce isn’t heavy with oil and is generous in size (there are two huge flathead fillets). Accessible and diverse, with all mains being capped at a more-than-reasonable $30 mark, The Sailors Club is a place where you could happily eat night after night.

A great restaurant moves with the times – adapting, changing and shifting to suit changing hospitality and dining trends. The Doyle family are not afraid of shake things up and their newest incarnation, The Sailors Club, deserves all the success in the world.

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Sailors Club here

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Filed under Reviews, Rose Bay, The Sailors Club

Upholding the Reymond reputation: Bistro Gitan

Siblings Antoine, Edouard and Nathalie Reymond – and yes, their father is none other than renowned French Chef Jacques Reymond – have joined arms to create Bistro Gitan – a charming restaurant that proves that French fare doesn’t need to be all high-class.

Antoine Reymond with our Melbourne food writer, Aphrodite

In a town where most high-end restaurants require a compass to locate, it is refreshing when one is actually visible from the street. Set at the top end of Toorak Road, Bistro Gitan’s converted Victorian house is as pretty as a picture, both inside and out. Reminiscent of a Parisian apartment, Bistro Gitan features worn wooden floors, vintage posters, familial portraits and tall arched windows that offer diners the perfect chance to people watch.

The restaurant’s aesthetic is quaint and charming but the focus is all on the food, sans pretentiousness. Under Head Chef Steven Nelson, who has worked for the past three years at fine-dining establishment Jacques Reymond, Gitan’s menu is broken into small, average and main sizes, with a large chalk specials board displayed next to the open kitchen. Here, classic French bistro dishes are served alongside Spanish and Italian influences, which have also found their way into the wine list. And, we must remember, “Gitan” is French for gypsy, so the menu’s curious combinations are not only executed perfectly but also make perfect sense.

Salad of roasted duck breast, sausage morteau and fresh borlotti beans with persillade and tomato

Formule Lunch Gitan – a simple course of soup and salad provides a perfectly balanced meal which, upon tasting, is anything but “simple”. When we visited, the soup was a rustic fish broth accompanied by a salad of roasted duck breast, sausage morteau and fresh borlotti beans with persillade and tomato. While the Formule Lunch Gitan comes highly recommended, the standout dish was six buttery escargots from the petite menu. Arriving in a dimpled ceramic dish, served simply with toasted baguette slices, Gitan’s escargots are just like those you would be served at a side street bistro in Paris. The baked hapuka fillet, a specialty from the Reymond family’s village and a Bistro Gitan signature dish, also comes highly recommended.

There is more to Bistro Gitan than fine family pedigree, with its comfortable, warm atmosphere and articulate menu, this restaurant is indeed an asset to Melbourne’s dining scene.

Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about Bistro Gitan here

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Filed under Bistro Gitan, Reviews, South Yarra

Bringing the Roaring Twenties back at The Alibi

Keep the fat lady waiting because it’s not over yet. Fine dining, I mean, and The Alibi, in all its sleek and sophisticated glory, is proof.

Sitting at the bottom of boutique hotel Morgans on Victoria Street, The Alibi is the brainchild of brothers’ Dane and Alex Bouris. On paper, The Alibi team have a culinary resume to boot – co-head chef Adam Lane has worked at Tetsuyas, Nobu London and Sake while Shimpei Hatanaka (also co-head chef) can rattle off Masterchef, Sushi E and Sake as his former stomping grounds. And the credentials extend from the kitchen to the floor with ex-Merivale employee Andrew Thomas as mixologist and manager Will Smallbone, from Bayswater Brasserie and The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay.  While the Bouris brothers (owners of Morgans) may not have hospitality in their blood, they certainly know how to pull together a good team. But, as we all know, what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate. In this case, however, The Alibi is on the money. From the well-trained wait staff and bartenders to the inspired menu and restaurant aesthetic, The Alibi is out to impress.

Braised pork belly with purple amazu cabbage and umeshu and lemon grass reduction

Boasting a 1920’s jazz-inspired design complete with crystal chandeliers and sleek black trimmings, The Alibi’s space has been well thought out. The tables are spread out – and combined with dimmed lighting – the atmosphere is intimate and moody. No shouting over one another or elbowing the person next to you, a night at The Alibi is a sophisticated affair.

The modern Japanese menu is designed for sharing and while The Alibi doesn’t come cheap, it is money well spent. We start with a selection of starters – the blue swimmer crab betel leaves are subtle in flavour and the delicate mouthfuls provide the prefect appetite stimulator. Scampi spring rolls are pleasant without being memorable however it is the scallop and ocean trout tartare that plays The Alibi’s trump card. Served in a cocktail glass, the ocean trout is doused in white truffle oil, with layers of pureed avocado and topped with a smoky torched-seared scallop.

The hero dish: seared scallop and ocean trout tartare

Roasted Blue Eye cod led us into our mains and while portions are small, each dish is artfully presented. A confit duck breast is pink and sliced on top of braised witlof and white bean, with a mustard soy dressing.  The braised pork belly is the most beautiful dish, with a purple amazu cabbage creating both colour and texture and an umeshu and lemon grass reduction combining all the flavours.

A happy combination of setting, great food, polished service and a well researched wine and cocktail list, The Alibi has a bright future.

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Alibi here

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Filed under Darlinghurst, Reviews, The Alibi

The 2012 Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Awards at Hilton Sydney’s glass brasserie

The elegant surrounds of Luke Mangan’s stunning glass brasserie proved to be the perfect location to celebrate the 2012 Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Awards on Monday night.

Unlike the Award finalists, who anxiously awaited for the winners to be announced, the Best Restaurant team happily spent the evening sipping Henschke and enjoying the food station offerings. A rather theatrical roast pig – with tail, feet, eyes and all — impressively on show, was not for the food feint-hearted, but, we must remember, we were rubbing shoulders with Australia’s culinary elite. An oyster bar, sashimi counter and cheese station all delivered the goods while the seared pieces of Wagyu beef and tempura zucchini flowers won us over.

The de Groots’ team enjoying the night: Anna Lisle and Sami Jo Adelman

Hosted by the vivacious Jill Dupleix, the night was a fantastic celebration of what has arguably been a tough year for the hospitality industry. Jill paid tribute to the next generation of culinary stars that made up this year’s Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Awards national finalists – and, together with chefs Peter Gilmore and Mark Best, announced the 2012 winners.

de Groots’ Producer Scott Winter with Lyndey Milan

The awards, recognised as one of the industry’s most prestigious, were presented in front of the nation’s culinary elite including Giovanni Pilu, Terry Durack, John Fink and Lyndey Milan. Aiming to inspire and encourage the future heavyweights of the hospitality industry, the Awards aim to retain culinary talent in Australia, despite the allure of overseas fine dining and Michelin stars.

The happy winners – Katrina Birchmeier, Peter Gilmore, Mark Best, Stewart Wesson, James Audas

Electrolux Australian Young Chef

Runner Up

Winner

Electrolux Australian Young Waiter

Runner Up

Winner

Electrolux Australian Young Restaurateur

Runner Up

Winner

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Best Restaurants in Melbourne for the “DOP Italia Australia” press conference

To celebrate “DOP Italia Australia” –a partnership program between The Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Australia (ICCI), the Best Restaurant team attended a rather educational press conference this week in Melbourne.

Yet as tanned Italians in fitted suits filed into to William Angliss’ Occaisions restaurant, clearly running on European time, it became quickly obvious that this was no usual press conference. The suited consortium gave italophiles and foodies alike an opportunity to sample the fruits of their nation’s regional labours, while offering a small lesson on production technique and tradition.

We sampled an array of olives, bread and mozzarella cheese

Through the help of a translator, and some very elaborate hand gestures, we learnt that Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP), or for those without an Italian tongue, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), is a seal attributed to foods classically produced in various regions of Italy, and one which is synonymous with quality and genuine products.

From the south of Italy, we tasted crispy wood-fired bread from Altamura and hand-picked, delicate table olives and olive oil from Cerignola, while the North showcased creamy buffalo milk mozzarella, formed into perfect oversized balls from Campana. The only thing missing after all this food was a good glass of Italian wine to wash it all down.

Aphrodite Vlahos

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Braza does a Brazilian barbecue like no other

If you’re expecting a carnivores-only meat-fest, Braza Churrascaria is not your restaurant. Sophisticated and suave, this Brazilian restaurant takes the quintessential South American barbecue to elegant heights.

Located in Darling Quarter, the restaurant’s mood is upbeat, its ambience casually elegant and friendly, its decor warmly minimalist. Since this is definitely not the kind of dining to rush through, if you’re planning to eat before an event at the nearby Sydney Entertainment Centre, reserve a table early. Better yet, see the show tomorrow and make Braza Churrascaria the centrepiece of your evening’s entertainment.

Braza is home to the first cachaca bar in Sydney (cachaca is a Brazilian spirit made of sugar cane)

If you’re keen to get your iron levels up, opt for the traditional churrasco where diners can sample a range of wood fire and charcoal rotisserie grilled meats for $47; including a range of side dishes. Here, waiters rove the floor, each with a metre-long skewer or a big plate holding a succulent seafood offering. Flip the little wooden totem at the edge of your table to its green side, and they stop at your table and carve as you neatly pluck off the pieces with a pair of tongs. They don’t stop coming (chicken hearts, beef rib, pork belly, lamb leg, cheese, pineapple) until you turn your indicator back to red.

Spit-roasted BBQ prawns on confit garlic

The traditional churrasco is great for groups, especially with live entertainment on Saturday nights. However for those who would prefer something less meat-focused, Braza also offers a more-than-pleasing a la carte menu. An entree of spit-roasted BBQ prawns sits atop of confit garlic mash with a fresh gremolata while hiramasa kingfish carpaccio takes a Brazilian twist with the addition of wild chilli. A generous fillet of barramundi is served with an Asian-inspired broth of king brown mushrooms, coriander and soy and the pork ribs are finger-licking tasty. For large groups, families or a romantic dinner-for-two, Braza Churrascaria has a little something for everyone.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Braza Churrascaria here

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Filed under Braza Churrascaria, Darling Harbour, Reviews

For the love of cheese, Buffalo Dining Club

First Sticky Bar, then Table for 20 and now Buffalo Dining Club in Surrey Street, Darlinghurst. It seems Michael Fantuz and partners Marcelo Garrao and Peter Kypreos are making quite a mark on Sydney’s dining scene.

Giving new meaning to the word “small bar”, the twin-levelled Buffalo Dining Club is crammed with tiny tables and stools, and this is without any customers. No bookings are taken and it is a requirement that the entire dining party is present before being seated. First to arrive, I was greeted at the door by the handsome Mantus (his real name is a secret) and ushered to the so-called ‘bar’ (a tiny two-seater counter overlooking a liliputian kitchen with a little bench where the boys prepare drinks).

Small and intimate, expect to wait for a seat at Buffalo Dining Club

What it lacks in size, Buffalo Dining Club makes up in aesthetic – from the waitstaff to the décor. A legendary wine wall, designed by Michael’s wife features vertical rows of evenly spaced wine bottles, laid out horizontally on hooks, with space for the trio to jot down memorable sayings in white chalk.

There are expressions like ‘Viva Chile’ (an ode to a stalwart Carmenere), ‘Pocket Rocket’ (a feisty Italian waitress) and ‘Crash’ (a girl who sent two wine bottles crashing to the floor after a night of drinking and merriment) that represent various occasions and people that have influenced the Buffalo team. After asking the boys about this wall – it turns out that customers from far and wide send email upon email requesting to get their “tag” on the wall.

jamon and mozzarella – the perfect pair

Naturally, the menu is dedicated to cheese. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is flown in three times a week from Fattorie Garofalo, just north of Naples. There is a set strategy to ordering, which requires the guest to select a cheese – mozzarella, burrata (cow’s milk cheese) or caprino (100% organic goats cheese) – which is served with two small sides from a list spanning from honeyed carrots to braised lentils. We start with the silky mozzarella, served with grilled aubergine and salty white anchovies. The cheese is undoubtedly the hero, but the sides wield a power of their own. Our second choice is goats cheese, served with grilled broccolinni and polenta chips doused in gorgonzola. Again, it is all about the cheese. The polenta chips lack body and flavour, the gorganzola completely absent on the plate, and the grilled broccolini is, well, grilled brocollini.

Beyond cheese, a variety of salumi is offered in 30-gram, 60-gram and 90-gram weights, sliced to order and served on waxed paper. We order the Jamon Iberico and it is a great move. Spanish ham is incontestably the best; boasting a flavour and texture that cannot be rivaled. Crunchy taralli (savoury biscuit rings made from olive oil and boiled before baking) and bibanesi (crispy wheat biscuits in the shape of mini baguettes) accompany all the dishes and while they are good for nibbling with the meat, their presence on the other plates is overwhelming….trying to make up for the shortfalls of the sides? Pasta also features on the menu, their signature dish being buffalo-milk ricotta gnocchi, paired with a rich tomato sugo and basil. Spaghetti is served with a side of theatrics, brought to the table in a hollowed-out wheel of buffalo-milk pecorino. A full-bodied Argentinian Malbec from the wine wall is the perfect accompaniment.

Sami-Jo Adelman

Read more about Buffalo Dining Club here

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