Monthly Archives: September 2012

Balmain’s new darling, Corner Bar

What used to be a chicken shop is now the intimate and atmospheric Corner Bar. Trendy brunch café by day and community drinking den by night, Corner Bar is the masterwork of two young Brisbane brothers – Ryan and Daniel Singer (of Two Brothers Hospitality)— and local Balmain boy, Lindsay Egan.

Corner Bar embraces a quirky, community-focused vibe. Water arrives in old rum bottles, an old tram scroll lines the roof, a silent film plays on the brick wall behind the bar and a sortie of pop-funk music hum overhead. There is a bar to one side that transitions into a lilliputian kitchen, its exterior flanked by original timber planks from the old Double Bay jetty. Across from the bar, diners can sit on tall red and silver stools at the window bench and embrace the Darling Street fishbowl effect.

Corner Bar embraces a quirky, community-focused vibe

The boys are not fond of fine dining, and accordingly, the menu is a reflection of their culinary tastes, spanning from street sambos and pizza slabs to tapa bites and a hearty antipasti share board. We begin with the antipasti of chilli salami, pan fried chorizo, warm haloumi, mixed olives, arancini, hummus, aioli and toasted bread. The chorizo is juicy and drizzled with melted cheese and the arancini are refreshingly light and herby.

A large vat of wine sits impressively on the bar counter, which reads ‘Blind Corner Winery, Margret River’. Made by vintner Ben Gould (recently named one of Gourmet Travellers 10 most exciting new producers), this biodynamic Shiraz is made via traditional hand (and foot) techniques with the aim of best reflecting the vine and soil origins in the wine. It’s definitely a winner. But a glass of 2011 Uco Valley Malbec from Mendoza steals my heart and the Eldferflower Martini gets a big thumbs up.

For a largely boyish menu, it is interesting that about 70% of the clientele are women. Looking around, the narrow passage is bursting with groups of girls chatting away and the bar is “couple’s territory”. Lindsay informs us the crowd ascends towards the weekend, especially on Sundays when a DJ is set up behind the coffee counter and the bar transforms into street party mode.

With its reliable, good-natured staff and friendly atmosphere, it seems Corner Bar is solidifying its place as a cool community hang out, and with a chalkboard inside the lavatory that reads “this is the bathroom chalkboard, now get back out there and have fun”, it’s easy to see why.

Sami-Jo Adelman

Read more about Corner Bar here

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What do dolls, beaches and lanes all have in common?

The entrance to China Lane sets the scene of the evening. Pop through from George Street and meander down a cobblestone road, past the buzzing Felix and Ash St Cellar, where diners spill out onto the footpath. Are we in Paris? Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, perhaps more Melbourne? Take a left into the narrow alleyway that is Angel Place and look to the sky. Metal birdcages of different shapes and sizes dramatically hang from wires, creating a ceiling that’s intimate and majestic. Linger awhile and sounds of birds chirping from hidden microphones can be heard from above. Forget Melbourne – are we in an aviary?

The dynamic duo behind China Lane – Baci Moore as manager (ex Spice Temple) and Ben Haywood as Head Chef (ex China Doll)

Once inside the China Lane doors, the mood is ebullient. The fitout features hints of the garish urban 60s with lime green trimmings and then we take a quick trip across the globe to Shanghai – from a bygone era – with Chinese mahogany cupboards and doors. Head to the bathroom and we’re transported to the space age with its uber modern soap containers and tiny cubicles. Who knows what design they are going for but who cares? China Lane is cool.

Are we weary of small plates, those minuscule portions that so often add up to nothing but a persistent, belligerent hunger? Are we tired of formal fine dining, where the atmosphere is a stiff as the white cloth napkins on the table? The food at China Lane isn’t glamorous or exotic but it is the type of food that is almost impossible to stop eating. Listen carefully to the well-versed waiters as they point out which dishes can be ordered as half serves. Take guidance from their recommendations as each waiter artfully balances the salty, the sweet and the sour flavours of each diner’s meal. This attention to ordering pays and like sister restaurant’s China Doll and China Beach, the dishes here are generously-portioned and perfect for sharing.

Prawn san choy bau

The liberal use of herbs characterises the best dishes on the menu. A salad of jellyfish, pomelo, prawn and slow roasted pork belly is lavishly overflowing with Vietnamese mint and Thai basil. Chunky morsels of prawn, roasted cashew nut pieces and crunchy shallots complete an impressive dish of san choy bau. It is easy to understand why the salt and pepper prawns are one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes – the tapioca flour batter is so light that the focus is less on the deep-friedness and more on the prawns’ moist texture and slightly sweet flavour. The pink snapper fillet with ginger, soy and shallot, while simple, is one of the standout dishes. The vegetarian options don’t let the team down, either. A simple stir fry of pumpkin, baby corn, tofu and cashew nut is blamelessly good – with the leftover sauce perfect to drizzle over rice.

China Doll has the wharf, China Beach has the beach and China Lane has bird cages. Each of these China-empire representatives offers the same infectious combination of great food, fine wines, exotic cocktails and prime real estate.

NB: Arrive at least 10 minutes before your booking time so that you can appreciate the outdoor bird cage installation.

Anna Lisle

Read more about China Lane here

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It’s not the place, it’s the people – at Rainford Street Social

Surry Hills may be the most food-intensive neighbourhood in Sydney but there is always room for one more good one. The latest to hit the streets of 2010 is Rainford Street Social or, to those in-the-know, RSS. The project of Matt Darwon, proprietor of the estimable Toko and Tokonoma (both of which are located just two shops up), RSS is being sold as a neighbourhood bistro, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “The idea is comfort, as if one were at home” says owner Matt.

Bird Cow Fish has been transformed into an open, elegant space

RSS is not what I expected and nor is it what I would associate with as a second home. Like Toko and Tokonoma, the RSS scene is as important as the drinks, and the drinks are as vital as the food. With its warehouse-inspired space and seasonal, organic and home-style menu, RSS seems to define the restaurant thing at the moment. Bare brick and mortar, red ironbark tables, bookshelves filled with apothecary bottles and hanging bulbs – it is warm and comfortable but I’m hardly about to turn up in my trackies and jumper. (Mind you, a beautiful chesterfield sofa sitting in the entrance looks quite welcoming). Don’t get me wrong, it may not be home but that doesn’t mean RSS isn’t good.

Salad of old-fashioned beets, radish, leaves and whipped feta with ginger bread

The dining concept is sharing, which seems fitting given the collection of large communal tables. Not dining with a crowd? RSS takes counsel from Toko, offering a handful of seats at the bar, giving diner’s uninterrupted views of the expansive kitchen. The staff, however, are the restaurant’s major asset. They are knowledgeable and familiar without being overbearing or pretentious. As they say, it’s not the place, it’s the people and at RSS, this most certainly rings true.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Rainford Street Social here

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Have you paid proper attention to Potts Point’s Concrete Blonde?

With the barrage of notices about new restaurants coming from all sides, sometimes a worthy older one slips through the cracks without proper attention. Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Bayswater Road, Concrete Blonde is tucked inside an elegant little alcove of boutique shops and luxury apartments in Potts Point. Concrete Blonde feels less like a restaurant and more like a destination. It’s a lively, kinetic space with flames, water fountains and rotisserie grills. There is a floor-to-ceiling glass encased wine cellar and fluro-lit features while wrought iron drain pipes dramatically hang from the exposed concrete ceiling.

The impressive theatrical space of Concrete Blonde

The glamour, however, isn’t reserved soley for the decor. Head Chef Ian Oakes, together with General Manager Emmanuel Benardos, have created a restaurant that matches food with service. Ian and Emmanuel first worked together at The Grand National Restaurant in Paddington and their efforts were awarded with one chef hat for four consecutive years.

With Head Chef Ian Oakes

At Concrete Blonde, Ian has created a menu that reflects the diverse nature of our country –Asian, European, Mediterranean and Modern Australian — diners can take a quick trip across the globe. But this isn’t just any fusion food. It is food that has been so seamlessly combined that it feels as though it is a cuisine in itself. A fresh and balanced entree of seared scallops, truffle puree, celeriac and apple is an elegant reminder that food can indeed be art. The truffled puree has a subtle depth that, combined with the tartness of the Granny Smith apple slithers, compliments the mild sweetness of the scallops. There is always a reason why a dish is a signature dish, and Ian’s marinated baby tuna, crushed pea salad and goats curd is one of the best. While it may appear simple in nature, the combination of flavours, textures and quality of produce make this the restaurant’s stand out dish. Mains such as slow roasted Mirrool Creek lamb shoulder with garlic puree and Jerusalem artichoke and pan roast barramundi with crushed Dutch crème potatoes are the types of dishes that you would happily order over and over again.

Seared scallops, truffle puree, celeriac and apple

They say it takes two to tango and with Ian and Emmanuel at the helm, Concrete Blonde is in full swing. And, just a quick tip, make sure you pay a visit to the space-age bathrooms where “modern” would be a conservative adjective.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Concrete Blonde here

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Ban the “S” word because oh-my, O Bar and Dining is here.

What was once the famed Summit Restaurant (oops – I said it) is now the beautifully re-modelled O Bar and Dining. Internationally renowned chef and owner Michael Moore is the driving force behind the venture, which has been re-designed with simple, plush interiors and a stylish palette of chocolate browns, silvers and black. What hasn’t changed, however, is the famous 360 view, which captures the glamour and excitement of our beautiful city.

Salon Privé by Champagne Taittinger – an exclusive private dining room – is the one aspect of Summit that remains.

On Wednesday night, the Best Restaurant team headed to the iconic Harry Seidler-designed Australia Square to celebrate the launch this stunning space. It was indeed a star-studded affair with Kerri Anne Kennerley, Kurt Pengilly, Jane Flemming and Layne Beachley joining in the celebrations. Chef Moore briefly chatted to the vivacious crowd, thanking his family and warning the crowd that anybody who uses the word “Summit” is banned from the premises.

Michael Moore is the driving force behind the creative evolution of this Sydney icon

As the crowd explored the new O Bar space, including an incredible revolving outer floor, guests were introduced to a range of dishes from the Moore’s revamped menu. Drawing inspiration from the healthy eating philosophy from Moore’s latest cookbook Blood Sugar ($45), guests sampled sesame crusted salmon tataki with quinoa salad, beef capaccio with house mustard and sprouts and a selection of crisp corn tacos.

Read more about O Bar and Dining here

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Filed under Events, O Bar and Dining, Sydney CBD

Spencer Guthrie pushes the green envelope

Holding an unassuming position beside an overwhelming collection of cheap Asian eateries and eclectic cafes, Spencer Guthrie is an intimate restaurant that pushes the green envelope without pretension.

What was once an old Thai takeaway is now a 30-seater fine diner with a polished bar and kitchen up the front and a long narrow stretch of floor space opening into a small dining area up the back. From the table-tops to the floorboards, all the furnishings at Spencer Guthrie are recycled, with much of it sourced from iconic wharves across Sydney. There are also visual reminders of the restaurant’s eco-friendly credentials including a wall of fern green foliage and weathered plaster walls featuring textural canvasses of countryside settings.

The Spencer Guthrie team hard at work in the open kitchen

The vibe emanating from the open kitchen is focused and assured with seasoned chefs and close mates Troy Spencer (ex L’Etoile) and Oliver Guthrie (ex Lucio’s) at the helm. The Modern Australian menu is a reflection of the quite confidence of the duo with prettily plated dishes that offer a serious experience with textures and flavours. There are five entrees and five main courses which all reflect the sustainable, locavore philosophy of Spencer Guthrie. Meat is sourced from Feather and Bone and the Urban Food Market while fish such as Red Gurnard and Ocean Mullet is caught in Australian waters.

There are five entrees and five main courses that change weekly

We are immediately won over by the two meat mains featuring Milly Hill lamb and Wagyu 5+ oyster blade. A glass of light biodynamic ‘Kalleske Grenache Shiraz Mataro’ from the Barossa Valley is the perfect match to the perfectly-pink and buttery texture of both meat dishes. The wine list is concise but over priced by the glass, so go for for a bottle instead. Alternatively, Tuesday and Wednesday nights are BYO, with $15 corkage per bottle.

The highlight of the evening is the ‘all things chocolate’ dessert, which in itself is a feat of textural ingenuity. A base of salted dark chocolate crumbs is topped with three cornels of white, milk and dark chocolate mousse and buttoned with cubes of dark chocolate jelly and cacao rich chocolate pieces. The only part of the evening that can rival the resplendence of dessert is the service – personalised, passionate and well-informed.

Portion sizes are petite, so don’t come expecting to satiate a ravenous appetite. But if you’re after a meal where quality is of the essence, then Spencer Guthrie gets the green thumb of approval.

Sami-Jo Adelman

Read more about Spencer Guthrie here

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Filed under Newtown, Reviews, Spencer Guthrie

David’s has undergone a facelift and isn’t it fabulous

Tucked inside a converted warehouse on the cool-side of Melbourne’s tracks, David’s has undergone a facelift – shaking off its fine-dining façade, and embracing a fresh and youthful new look. The linen covered tables have been stripped and replaced with exposed wooden tables, while place mats now serve as menus. On first glance, David’s appears to be capitalising on what every other modern Asian restaurant in Melbourne is offering, until, of course, we remember that David’s has been winning Chef Hats long before most restaurateurs’ even left school.

David’s is set inside a converted warehouse on Chapel Street

Owner and former Chinese herbalist David Zhou has adopted a “back-to-basics” philosophy that is a far cry from your typical pan-Asian restaurant. David has created a unique menu of regional Shanghai home-style dishes. We start with David’s signature one bite soft shell prawns. Light, meaty and slightly sweet, these soft shell prawns are a vast juxtaposition to the often heavily fried and dry versions that we have all experienced before. For those who like it hot, the 50/50 fried chicken with stir-fried chillies and Szechuan peppercorns will satisfy but just make sure you’re within reach of the water station. The highlight of the meal, however, is the whole braised barramundi, wrapped in a blanket of spring onion and filleted tableside. The crispy outer skin, combined with the fish’s soft flesh is perfect with a side of Buddha’s fried rice that soaks up all the sticky juices from the plate. End on a sweet note with soft centred white chocolate dumplings sprinkled with coconut, a signature dish, available from all of David Zhou’s restaurants.

David’s signature dish of one bite soft shell river prawns

In keeping with David’s humble philosophy, a grab-it-yourself communal cutlery station features in the centre of the restaurant and each dish is large enough to share with a group. Diners eat off the same plates that David has at home, and although there is table service, guests happily help themselves to whatever they need, just like they would at home.

Whole braised barramundi with spring onion blanket

To be voted as one of the top 50 best Chinese restaurants outside of China is no easy feat but David’s has hit the mark – offering Melburnians an authentic Shanghai dining experience.

Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about David’s here

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