Monthly Archives: November 2012

Give yourself a break…leave Christmas to the professionals

December 25…you’re sweatily rushing around the kitchen, tripping over the kids’ toys and struggling with trays while your family pick from half-finished plates to provide “feedback” on your dry, overcooked turkey. If you’ve ever found yourself up to your elbows in stuffing wondering why you indulge in the self-inflicted torture of cooking Christmas lunch, it’s time to start a new festive tradition. Celebrate with your loved ones at a beautiful restaurant – it means no menu planning, no grocery shopping and the best bit – no washing up!
Here are our top picks for Christmas Day dining… brasserie at Hilton Sydney, Sydney CBD

Christmas is a time to indulge, so go all out and book a table at Hilton Sydney’s glass brasserie. Celebrity chef Luke Mangan has created a special Christmas-inspired three course menu. We’re pretty sure your family will be satisfied enough here to keep their cooking tips to themselves.

glass was awarded One Chef Hat – SMH Good Food Guide 2012-2013

2.360 Bar and Dining, Sydney CBD

Christmas Day lunch with revolving views of our glorious city sound good? Watch Sydney sparkle while you toast to great food and great company. Adult: $140 / Child: $50. Reservations are for 11.30am or 1.30pm.

3.Biota Dining, Bowral

Take a well-deserved mini break in the beautiful Southern Highlands to enjoy a special Christmas Day lunch at critically acclaimed Biota Dining for $165 per person. Cost includes a glass of champagne on arrival. Children aged under 13 only $65. For reservations, please call +61 2 4862 2005.

This Southern Highlands restaurant takes the words “locally-produced” to a new level

4.Botanic Gardens Restaurant, Sydney CBD

Enjoy a festive three course lunch at Botanic, featuring a range of traditional and seafood options. Adult guests will be welcomed with a glass of celebratory bubbles. Adults: $150 and children: $50. Lunch will be served at midday, with a second sitting at 2.30pm. Bookings are essential.
5.Altitude at Shangri-La Sydney, The Rocks

Take your Christmas celebrations to new heights, 36 levels above the harbour at Altitude Restaurant. Christmas Eve Dinner includes four courses and a glass of Champagne: $150 per adult and $75 per child. Christmas Day Lunch includes five courses and matching wines: $295 per adult and $150 per child. Christmas Day Dinner includes four courses and a glass of Champagne: $195 per adult and $130 per child. For bookings please email or call (02) 9250 6427

36 levels above Sydney, Altitude is the perfect Christmas dining destination

6.Bistro Fax Restaurant & Bar, Sydney CBD

Christmas for under $30!? You read it right! Bistro Fax is bringing the festive cheer with freshly baked bread to start, followed by a healthy summer salad and a mouth-watering main course served with crispy beer battered chips. Best of all, it comes with a complimentary glass of wine and free WIFI internet access. Available leading in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
7.Centennial Parklands Dining, Centennial Park

Enjoy a BBQ in the surrounds of the beautiful Parklands, when Centennial serves up a banquet lunch for the whole family. With traditional and seafood BBQ cuisine on the grill, this relaxed atmosphere offers the quintessential Aussie Christmas experience. Adult: $130 / 5-11 years: $60 / 2-4 years: $30. Lunch is served from midday until 4pm.

Surround yourself with parkland, in the heart of the CBD. Centennial Park
Credit: Evoke Photography

8.Ormeggio at The Spit, Mosman

In Australia, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the water in sight, and with absolute waterfront tables at Ormeggio, plus an incredible four course menu on offer, this is a day that absolutely MUST be booked in advance! Enjoy Italian hospitality with a unique and memorable menu and location. Buon Natale!

Ormeggio’s risotto with red capsicum and crab

9.The Bathers’ Pavilion, Balmoral

If your idea of a perfect Christmas involves sun, sand and sea, Bathers should be in your sights. Enjoy brunch for $125 per adult, 9am start – 10.30am finish. The Restaurant, Cafe and Room are open for Christmas lunch: *RESTAURANT – 4 courses, $275 per adult. 12 noon to 2.30pm. *CAFE – 3 courses, $195 per adult. 11.30am to 2pm OR 2.30pm to 5pm. *Buffet lunch in the ROOM. $210 including drinks, 12 noon to 3pm

Anna Lisle

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Filed under Christmas Day Dining 2012, Features, Uncategorized

There’s no sin in gluttony here

Moom mam? Mum Mam? How the hell do you say the name of this place? Let’s just call it “Little Glutton”, which is a very appropriate description for the restaurant and also the meaning of its unusual Thai name.

A colourful wall mural livens the restaurant’s space

On a Wednesday night, Little Glutton is packed. Is it full of people who couldn’t be bothered waiting in the queue for MoVida? Having visited pre- and post-Camorra craziness, I can happily assure you, it has nothing to do with Frank. Rather, the queue may be accounted for by a vegetarian and gluten-free menu that actually looks appealing even to a carnivore. Or perhaps it’s the unusual selection of Thai flavoured gelato and desserts? Maybe the reasonable prices and the option for BYO? For me, it was none of the above – all it took was a shredded banana blossom salad, bursting with prawns, roasted cashews and coriander.

Banana blossom salad with roasted cashews, coriander and prawns

Alright, I’ll admit, I’m not that easily won over. Turmeric grilled spatchock with a green papaya salad and the ‘crying tiger’ wagyu beef both made a stamp in my culinary consciousness. Add to that a couple of dishes from the specials board – including ocean trout larb and a prawn and chilli jam stir fry – and I was sold.

Trout and caviar betel leaf with coconut, ginger and tamarind

It’s not as cheap as your local takeaway, but the food is a definite notch above your mid week snatch and grab meal anyway. The atmosphere is lively and the décor suave. I fear Muum Maam has turned me into a little glutton.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Muum Maam here

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Jump on a ferry to Sydney’s East – Dunbar House

How is it that we live in a city surrounded by water and yet casual harbour side dining venues are few and far between? Sure, we have Icebergs and ARIA but what about a restaurant that doesn’t sap up half your weekly wage in a few meagre mouthfuls? Not only is Dunbar House located in one of Australia’s oldest standing buildings, it also happens to be 30 metres from the shores of Watsons Bay.

Colourful Missoni fabrics and William Morris wallpaper make up the cafe’s interior

Ask for a table on the sandstone verandah to experience harbour-side dining at its best or, if it’s too windy, head inside where you will discover a chic and elegant sanctuary where groups of Eastern Suburbs ladies enjoy long lunches and high teas. Glamorous gold gilt mirrors hang on walls that have been lined with William Morris paper while custom-made furniture, upholstered using vibrant Missoni fabrics, make up Dunbar’s interior. The elegance isn’t reserved for the décor – high tea is served on pastel-coloured Wedgewood china plates, sauces and stands, all from the Harlequin collection. Looking around, I half expect to see women dressed in full length dresses with gloves and exotic plumes.

From Dunbar’s “Summer Nights” menu – pan fried scallops, blue cheese, radish and witlof.

Despite the suave surrounds, the menu is expansive, with enough options to appease even the fussiest of Eastern Suburbs diners. For breakfast, the waffles with honeycomb butter and poached seasonal fruits are worth an indulgent splurge or for those watching their waistlines, there is a selection of omelettes and dishes such as bircher muesli and house baked granola. The lunch menu puts other café menus to shame with dishes such as salmon ceviche, wagyu meatballs with orecchiette and spiced lamb and haloumi salad. It reminds me of Café Sopra at Fratelli Fresh – and the quality of the ingredients speaks in the same tongue.

Watsons Bay is geographically pretty close to the city (11km to be exact) but it isn’t the easiest place to get to. If you’re visiting during the week, the drive is easy and quick but for weekend bookings, it is best to catch a ferry to avoid the city-to-east traffic.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Dunbar House here

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Crown’s hot new couple – Mr and Mrs Hive

The launch of Mr Hive Kitchen and Bar’s new Spring menu has aptly coincided with Melbourne’s gradual acceptance that summer, and the holiday season, is finally approaching. Located inside the beautiful Crown Metropol Hotel, Mr Hive is abuzz with activity as Melbourne’s foodie elite all arrive to taste the exciting new dishes on offer.

A bar is conveniently located at the entrance to the restaurant, providing guests with a liquid kick-starter to tonight’s celebrations. Already looking like spring has sprung, the sun-drenched dining room features a faux-grass floor and blonde wood tables, creating the perfect backdrop to sample the works of Head Chef Tom Lawson. Lawson, who has trained under Raymond Blanc and been awarded The Age’s Best Young Chef of the Year 2011, has established a star-power in his short career.

Mr Hive is Crown Metropol’s signature restaurant

Highlights of the evening’s menu included Mr Hive’s signature corn bread, which is bursting with fresh kernels and slathered in homemade honey butter. A jicama ravioli, where pasta sheets are ingeniously replaced with a thin sliver of this Spanish root vegetable, are stuffed with avocado, vegetables and micro-herbs. Another standout is a very British-inspired ocean trout, served on a bed of potato and celery salad. Each plate is perfectly paired with bio-organic white wines from around Spain and France for a lovely summery touch.

Berry eton mess

Savoury may be good, but sweet is definitely better. Especially when the whimsically named Mrs Hive’s Dessert Bar is involved. Located in one corner of the dining room, rather than showcasing bottles of hard-liquor, Mrs Hive’s shelves are stacked extravagantly with an assortment of hard candies and homemade chocolates – enough to give diners a toothache from just looking at it. A signature deconstructed bread and butter pudding is made from crumbled cardamom-spiced bread and served with blueberry compote, and a luxurious white chocolate and cauliflower ice cream.

 Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about Mr and Mrs Hive here

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de Groots Media goes international… first stop, London

What a great decision it was to take some time off from de Groots headquarters in Sydney and fly to London to see Yolanda, who has been living here for the past year, setting up the company’s UK venture. Sydney was picture perfect when I flew out, all summer sunshine and blue skies. London has turned out to be its dreary self – grey clouds hang low and dense like a bunker, the sun disappears by 4.00 in the afternoon and a constant veil of rain obscures our vision. But I don’t regret the city swap for a moment.

A dreary yet beautiful welcome to London

Yolanda has set up an office in Lancaster Gate – not a bad address for the new office – across from Hyde Park and within walking distance to Mayfair. We have had a number of business meetings to discuss our exciting new venture, in between riding bikes in Hyde Park, spending an afternoon at the Christmas Markets at Embankment, window shopping in Mayfair and Bond Street and sitting in London pubs enjoying a glass of wine. We also shopped till we dropped at Portobello Markets and Covent Garden before a well-deserved brunch at Bill Granger’s restaurant in Notting Hill, Granger & Co.

Yolanda’s London life – at Roux at The Laudau – Langham Hotel

The highlight of my stay would certainly be today’s lunch at The Ledbury in Notting Hill, one of London’s leading restaurants. It was opened in 2005 by one of Australia’s best exports, the young Brett Graham. The boy who started his career in a simple fish shop in Newcastle has built such a reputation for his restaurant that it now bears two Michelin Stars to its name. Brett blazed a trail to London via a stint working under Liam Tomlin at Sydney’s highly acclaimed Banc restaurant, where he won the Josphine Pignolet Award. This recognition is one of many he has amassed, but possibly the most influential, as it granted Brett a trip to the UK, where he secured a job at The Square under Chef Phillip Howard.

Chef Brett Graham is one of Australia’s hottest exports

Needless to say, The Ledbury is busy every day and evening, so Yolanda and I were very lucky to get a table when we visited and delighted when the restaurant manager invited us down to the kitchen to meet Brett.

Yolanda and Maureen, the dynamic mother-and-daughter duo behind de Groots Media.

I have been looking forward to next week, when we will get down to business and discuss our UK plans, but Yolanda had another surprise in store for me before we get too engrossed in official business. She has booked a weekend in Barcelona so we are off to Spain tomorrow. I guess we will have to make time over tapas and wine or whilst walking through the Gaudi to discuss business – or maybe I’ll just have to extend my stay here, it seems the office is running perfectly fine without me.

Maureen de Groot

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Thaitown’s best asset – Chat Thai

I made the announcement to a group of close friends. There was a deafening silence at first and then the reprimands began. ‘You haven’t been to Chat Thai? Like, none of the Chat Thai’s?’  No, I whisper. ‘But you love Thai food?’ I try to defend myself by explaining how the first time I tried to go it was a 2.5 hour wait. But it was pointless. The group were unanimous in their decision– there was no excuse.

I may not have dined there but I do know all about Chat Thai’s founder and owner – Amy Chanta. A migrant success story, Amy moved to Australia in the early ’80s, leaving her two small children in Bangkok with a Chinese nanny. Two years after working as a machinist, Amy finally had enough money to bring her children to Australia. Stints at U-thong in Cammeray and even McDonalds gave Amy the skills to open her own restaurant and so the Chat Thai empire began.

Each dish is overflowing with fresh herbs and vegetables

Unlike most restaurant chains, each Chat Thai outlet offers something slightly different. There’s the Chat Thai at Manly Wharf – delivering piping hot takeaways to hungry office workers who’ve just jumped off the ferry and then there’s the flash new Westfield one – tucked beside Xanthi on Level 6 – with its super cool dessert degustation delights. Tonight we’re at Haymarket – where a late night supper menu feeds shift and hospitality workers until 2am.

A must order – khanom buaing – sweet thin wafers are filled with meringue and threads of candied egg yolk

Chat Thai’s Thaitown offers an ever-changing menu that specialises in market food from different regions of Thailand, bridging the gap between takeaway and fine dining. Start with fried fish cakes or gai satay, following by the popular crying tiger – char grilled beef with smoked chilli and tamarind relish. The pad ki mao with roasted duck comes highly recommended, as does bpla raadt prik – a whole snapper deep fried and served in a roasted chilli and garlic sauce. Throw in a green papaya salad and a chicken larb and there’s your DIY Thai banquet. If you don’t want to expand your culinary repertoire then there’s always pad thai  and we are happy to vouch that this is undoubtedly the Rolls Royce of all pad thai’s.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Chat Thai here

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In the Vicinity

Alexandria is an unlikely place to find a rocking restaurant, let alone cooking of this calibre. The mastermind of restaurateur Rob Rubis, Vicinity boasts a theatrical, glamorous, Soho-meets-Sydney warehouse design with soaring ceilings, dramatic room dividers and low slung metal lights. Despite its aesthetic, Vicinity has the snugly comfortable feel of a local favourite. But it’s not just a restaurant – this 250-seater is also home to a private dining room, an outdoor area with intimate fireplaces where guests can mingle over a pre-dinner cocktail and a casual lounge area apt for long weekend brunches. Tick, tick, tick.


But you can spend all the money in the world ($2.5 million, to be exact) on a fitout and if the food falls wayside, you haven’t got a chance. Thankfully the kitchen is in the confident hands of Head Chef Paul Pereira who has wooed foodies across the globe at establishments such as Lindsay House in London, Finefish in Cremorne and most recently, Forbes and Burton in Darlinghurst. There’s clearly a formula to Pereira’s style and it revolves around cooking on the spit or grilling over wood. Tonight the ‘kindle, coal and fire’ specials include sirloin and barramundi. We opt for both. The sirloin is coupled with potato fondant, carrot puree and drizzed with bone marrow butter while the crisp skin barramundi is paired with black olive puree, chorizo cubes and mayonnaise. Pereira’s combinations are spot on and both proteins are cooked to perfection.

Roasted beetroot, green lentil, labne, mint. Recipe here.

The chips come highly recommended, served with a range of salts and mayonnaise – none of which are really needed and a side of crunchy cauliflower bulbs topped with tempered mustard seeds, curry leaf and green chilli will convert any hater of the usually-bland white vegetable. The ticks continue. We also like that they aim to keep things mostly local, with wines (which can be served in 500ml carafes) from Mudgee, Marlborough, Orange and Yarra Valley and coffee from Morgans in Emu Plains.

Sydney’s Inner South has never really been a dining destination. That was until The Grounds of Alexandria and Bread and Circus– now Vicinity has hit the scene, all I can say is watch out 2010.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Vicinity here

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Fine dining, with a touch of theatre – QT Sydney’s Gowings Bar and Grill

Whatever your memories of the Gowings building, the latest incarnation of Sydney’s historical department store will blow your mind. Somehow, the old and new worlds collide in a moodily lit art deco dreamscape now home to the boutique hotel QT Sydney.

The first floor of QT is pocketed with intimate lounge areas decked out with mod-Italian furniture and backlit by vintage films of D-Day parades but the second floor is where the magic happens. Follow the neon-lit Broadway sign and head upstairs to Gowings Bar & Grill where you’ll be immediately reassured that, while the wait staff are dressed to the nines, their ethos is good, old-fashioned service.

The vibrant design of QT

We start with a basket of fresh artisan bread rolls (on the house), hand dived wild scallops with garlic basil butter and a delightfully zesty detox organic vegetable salad. The menu is broad and driven by the wood-fired oven; selecting just one main each is a challenge. The quail is surprisingly meaty, and the smoked ham and pea stuffing provides layers of homely flavour. The beef bourguignon falls apart at the slightest touch and its sauce is rich and creamy. The men of the table unsurprisingly both settle on rib eye Black Angus steaks, with sides of shoestring fries and Paris mash. Always brutally honest, when I ask for their expert carnivorous verdict – neither look up from their plates – “really, really good” was all I get out of them before their dishes are scraped clean. For dessert, the hot German doughnuts sound too irresistible to leave and our decision pays off – the dough is as light as a feather and sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg sugar.
A trip to Gowings is something of an adventure. While the journey no longer ends with a new suit or a rucksack of camping gear, visitors in the 21st century are rewarded with an elegant dinner and a show (of class). Each nook and cranny here tells a story. We recommend you come with plenty of spare time to explore its hidden treasures.

Elizabeth Fenech

Read more about QT Sydney’s Gowings Bar and Grill here

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AQUA/ HTN’S Young Culinary Achiever Scholarship for work experience at London’s Ledbury with Brett Graham

It was with much excitement that I received the news of the 2012 Young Culinary Achiever Scholarship. Fuji Taukatelata was the winner of this prestigious scholarship that recognises young culinary students with a commitment and passion to excel in the hospitality industry.

The hospitality industry is a tough business to be in, especially for the younger generation trying to make a break. Opportunities such as this Young Culinary Achiever Scholarship, established by HTN and Aqua Dining Group principal Bill Drakopoulos — are invaluable for the future of our industry and we are indebted to those who invest their time and energy in these programs.

Aqua Dining Group principal Bill Drakopoulos with Lyndey Milan, Fuiji, Simon Thomsen and Kurt Van Buren

Judges Lyndey Milan, Simon Thomsen and Kurt Van Buren were unanimous in their decision to award Fuji the coveted prize of work experience in London with renowned Australian chef Brett Graham at his 2 star Michelin restaurant Ledbury, $1,000 spending money, airfares and accommodation.

“Fuji’s dish showed a variety of skills – a lot of dexterity to bone her Quail Galantine dish and managing to keep the quail moist, as well as a well developed philosophy of what food is all about” said Lyndey Milan.

The Awards were held at a sumptuous dinner at Aqua Dining with the popular broadcaster Jonathan Coleman as MC, to a packed house of sponsors, families, friends and chefs with whom the contestants work.  The two runners up were Kyiah Jones from Garfish in Manly, and Tommy Ly from the CBD’s Ash Cellars.  The trio each created starter dishes in a 5 course degustation dinner.

Winner Fuji Taukatelata with runners up Kyiah Jones (Garfish, Manly), and Tommy Ly (Ash Cellars, CBD).

Fuji works at Campbelltown Golf Club and studied at TAFE Ultimo. Her achievements include Taste of Success Graduate/Scholarship winner 2012.  She is the present Ambassador of HTN, and the Face of Ultimo TAFE.

“I owe my Mum a lot” said Fuji .This fabulous prize will benefit me and also my family, employers past and present who have shaped me into the chef I am today.  Work experience with Brett Thomas will help me further develop my skills in this fast paced, spontaneous and rewarding industry.”

Maureen de Groot

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The essence of the Melbourne Marriott

With stunning floor-to-ceiling windows, Essence Restaurant at the Melbourne Marriott Hotel capitalises on its central corner location offering sensational street-views to diners. In keeping with its aim to impress, the restaurant’s design boasts a contemporary flair – decorated in hues of chocolate and finished with comfy suede-back chairs and banquettes.

Essence boasts a prime CBD location

Chef Clinton Jackson, formally of the Surfers Paradise Marriott, heads the kitchen at Essence, offering a succinct menu studded with the restaurant’s signature dishes. A roasted beetroot salad, plated with walnuts, caramelised shallots, fetta cheese and a honey-thyme vinaigrette is tangy and flavourful, while a seafood stack for two comes highly recommended, displaying both hot and cold servings of Western Australian prawns, steamed New Zealand mussels, freshly shucked oysters, blue swimmer crab, Tasmanian salmon and salt and pepper calamari. Steaks are sourced from local Victorian farms and are served in a delicate pepper rub with perfectly cut chips on the side. The crispy-skin salmon, said to be Essence’s star dish, impresses with its sweet manuka honey soy dressing, crunchy asparagus and kipfler potatoes. The wine list features a good selection of wines by the glass, with a focus on Victorian and Western Australian varieties, while a range of premium champagnes and Australian sparkling are available for celebrating.

Steaks are sourced from local Victorian farms

Desserts are a highlight at Essence and its hot chocolate fondant served with an orange salad and sorbet certainly makes a mark in any foodie’s culinary conscience. This dish has been a firm favourite at Essence since and after just one mouthful, it is easy to understand why. If diners are rushing to get to a show, a theatre menu is also available in two- or three-course express options, while sharp service ensures that your opening curtain will not be missed.

Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about Essence Restaurant here

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