Monthly Archives: January 2013

Tapas makes a comeback at Aquaviva’s

Remember when tapas was all the rage? Well, it is alive and well at Aquaviva’s on Stanley Street. And here, they do it properly. Owned by father and son duo Viv and Antonio Fernandes, Aquaviva’s hasn’t an ounce of the “I’m-too-cool-for-school” ‘tude that many of its neighbours exude.

The restaurant’s double doors open onto the street, beckoning customers into the refreshingly unpretentious two-storey terrace space. On street-level guests can mingle at the polished bar before retreating to the more formal dining area upstairs for dinner. Spent the day in the office? Head to the rooftop bar for a boutique beer and a generous bowl of warm, fennel-marinated olives.

Aquaviva's rooftop bar

Aquaviva’s rooftop bar

Described as a blend of Modern Australian and colonial Portuguese, the concise menu changes weekly and is designed for sharing. Most of the ingredients are made in-house such as the garlic and bay butter and the rhubarb vinegar that accompanies the complimentary basket of bread. This extra attention to detail is reflected not only in the flavour combinations but also in the presentation of each dish. A pretty dish of young calamari, cucumber and coriander, dressed with a perfectly balanced coconut and tamarind vinaigrette is subtle yet memorable.

young calamari, cucumber, coriander with a coconut and tamarind vinaigrette

young calamari, cucumber, coriander with a coconut and tamarind vinaigrette

The chickpea ‘jenga’ looks scarily similar to the children’s game with its crisp-to-bite-yet-fluffy-on-the-inside rectangles stacked in a pile and served with a smear of spiced yoghurt and pink peppercorn salt. Split prawns, topped with a nondescript foam are served with a side of peer-pressure, as diners are strongly encouraged by the chef to eat the entire crustacean – yes, that’s head, tail and flesh. It wouldn’t be fair to end a Portuguese dining experience without trying the reverse chicken and it doesn’t let the team down. But the pièce de résistance at Aquaviva’s? The chef serves every dish personally, with a detailed spiel explaining the cooking process and ingredients.

The dining room at Aquaviva’s is littered with vintage lounges, grand mirrors, guitars and mini cellos – a fitting taste of Portugese history and the passions of the family that are looking to share it with Eastern Suburbs diners.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Aquaviva’s here

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Filed under Aquavivas, Darlinghurst, Reviews, Uncategorized

Sydney’s latest American-themed dive bar, Frankie’s

“Would you like another drink, sir?” “Can I fill your pretty ceramic bowl with more activated almonds?” “Can I direct you to the bathrooms?” Sometimes (and I mean only occasionally) you don’t want to be mollycoddled like you’re the Queen.

Frankie's cheesy Italian restaurant

Frankie’s cheesy Italian restaurant serves pizza by the slice (how NYC of them!)

Enter Sydney’s latest American-themed dive bar. The neon-lit “Frankie’s” sign, complete with a picture of a pizza slice, sets the scene. I’m not going to sugar coat it, Frankie’s won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s grungy and dirty-looking, with retro-inspired décor and drinks that are served in plastic cups. So what’s the appeal, I hear you ask? I guess that question can be directed more broadly – what’s the appeal of any dive bar? For me, places like this provide a refuge after a mind-numbing day in the office. You don’t want to be pampered, you just want to escape and given that Frankie’s is open until 4am, you can do just that, well into the wee hours of the morning. And you don’t just come here to drink. Have a game of pinball, wander into the cheesy pizza parlour and order a $5 slice or simply slink into a plush leather booth and nurse a bottle of craft beer (Frankie’s has one of the most impressive lists of craft beer in town).

The team behind Frankie’s Pizza are like bar royalty, they’re the creators of Shady Pines Saloon and Baxter Inn and while Hunter Street may not have a reputation as a drinking destination, the addition of Frankie’s is set to shake things up.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Frankie’s here

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Location, location, location… The Bucket List

Sydney living doesn’t get much sweeter than this. Sprawling out onto Bondi’s promenade, within the Bondi Pavilion, is The Bucket List. It may be touted as the ‘playground of the Pacific’ by The Bucket Lists’ owners but to me it feels more like the ‘playground of Bondi’s beautiful people.’ Loose white singlets, Tsubi shorts and Ray Bans are the order of the day, as are ice buckets of lime wedge-topped Coronas and jugs of sangria or Pimms.

Not interested in beach views? The Bucket List is perfect for people-watching

Not interested in beach views? The Bucket List is perfect for people-watching

Snag a table outside and you’ll be blessed with panoramic views, not only of Bondi Beach but also of the Eastern Suburbs hipsters who wander along the promenade out front. The best bit though? Whatever day of the week, night or day, the atmosphere is abuzz. It feels like nobody has a worry in the world – no work deadlines, no houses to clean or mortgages to pay. Everything here is happy and carefree.

Roast chook with quinoa tabouli

Roast chook with quinoa tabouli

Despite its location, the prices are reasonable and the food offers a range of nibbling options, as well as more substantial delights. Looking to impress an out-of-towner? The Bucket List is your answer.

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Bucket List here

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An Amazing Bathurst event to remember – the Country Larder Leisurely Lunch

One of the highlights of 2012 was my weekend in Bathurst in October to celebrate the launch of Amazing Bathurst, a collaborative project undertaken by local business operators, passionate about offering world-class experiences in the heart of the Central West. It was such a pleasure to be a guest at this wonderful event and I must say one I will not forget. Christine Le Fevre owner/operator of Bishops Court Estate Boutique Hotel had very kindly invited me to attend the lunch and stay the weekend.

Amazing Bathurst’s first project came to fruition on 13th October – supporting All Saints Cathedral to raise funds for the restoration of its historic bell tower. The event was held at the private chapel of the magnificent Mayfield Gardens near Oberon, one of the largest privately-owned cool climate gardens in the world, nestled within a 5,000 acre working farm.

Wandering the stunning surrounds of Mayfield Gardens

Wandering the stunning surrounds of Mayfield Gardens

Christine came up with the concept of ‘The Country Larder Leisurely Lunch,’ a totally unique spring event that was aimed to bring people together to literally break bread and share good food, wine and the passion of Amazing Bathurst. In true country style, the lunch table was set with traditional jars full of preserves, condiments and other delicious things all made with passion from family recipes.

“We wanted to celebrate traditional values and local produce, so the starting point was to bring a team of volunteers from All Saints to my kitchen at Bishop’s Court to make everything from preserves and terrines to freshly baked country tarts from old heritage recipes. We made everything from marinated local cheeses, figs infused with earl grey, citrus and thyme jelly, cranberry and onion jam and beetroot relish just to name a few, all presented with handmade tags and labels explaining their history to really conjure up the sense of a true country larder,” Christine said.

Dean Anne Wentzel, Mary Moody and Christine le Fevre

Dean Anne Wentzel, Mary Moody and Christine le Fevre

In the chapel, guests were seated at tables laden with an abundance of country larder, local wines and homemade lemonade. Bishop Richard Hurford broke the first loaf of bread and everyone proceeded to share the preserves around and settle in for the leisurely feast – all prepared offsite with passion and transported with care to the chapel. Local author and gardener Mary Moody, who lives part of the year in France, was called on to MC the event and ensured that all 90 guests enjoyed plenty of French-inspired conviviality.

We had many of our Amazing Bathurst members on board – wine was provided by Renzaglia, Vale Creek and 3 Views Wines, along with Stone Pine Distillery. Legall Patisserie baked 60 loaves of bread and provided their sensational pastries for dessert and the meal ended with coffee from Fish River Roasters and gorgeous sweet treats made lovingly by the Anglican ladies.

The table was overflowing with local cheeses, home made breads, preserves and relishes

The table was overflowing with local cheeses, breads, preserves and relishes

Christine had invited two very talented musicians Rob Shannon and Veren Grigorov to play guitar and violin throughout the meal, which created a wonderful ambiance.

Thank you, Christine for the invitation, I am looking forward to promoting Bathurst this year and coming back to your beautiful hotel. It is one of the best places I have ever stayed in Australia and I could easily compare it to some of the boutique hotels in Europe. Readers, put Bathurst and Bishop’s Court on your itinerary this year, as it is definitely worth the drive over the mountains to experience the hospitality, food and wine of the Central West.

Maureen de Groot

Read more about Bishop’s Court Estate here.

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Stars come out for a Taste of Tennis

The Australian Open is in full swing, and we were lucky enough to be invited as guests to the launch of Swisse Taste of Tennis at the Grand Hyatt last week. Over the past 13 years, AYS Sports Marketing has produced this fantastic event in New York to kick off the US Open Tennis Championships but this was the first time it has hit Australian soil.

George Calombaris, Kerri Anne Kennerley and Lleyton Hewitt

George Calombaris, Kerri Anne Kennerley and Lleyton Hewitt

Kim Attwells and myself had no hesitation in accepting the invitation from Brian Hester, the organizer of the event, who had flown out from the USA. We spent the night mingling with the guests, chatting to the chefs and playing ‘spot the celebrity tennis player.’ With over 400 guests, the event was a great success. There was just one problem – we must have missed the memo that stated, “must be mid-20’s, tanned, good looking, have long legs to attend”.

Maureen with Sake chef Shaun Presland

Maureen with Sake chef Shaun Presland

The fun continued at the after party at Silk Road. Here we had drinks with a very good-looking Argentinean who introduced himself as Horacio Rearte – at the time, we weren’t sure if he was one of the players so we didn’t display our ignorance and ask about his day job, but on googling him back in the hotel room we discovered he is one of the of the world’s most prominent tennis coaches, who has trained the likes of Jennifer Capriati and Andy Roddick.

Melbourne's top chefs and restaurants helped kick off the Australian Open

Melbourne’s top chefs and restaurants helped kick off the Australian Open

Staying at The Grand Hyatt topped off our Melbourne trip, not just because it’s such a beautiful hotel but we also got to rub shoulders with many international tennis stars. It was a lovely treat to just “bump” into the athletes in the lifts and lobby, but going to the gym for a workout riddled us with anxiety. The thought of being on a treadmill besides Roger Federer or doing a few laps alongside Maria Sharapova in her swimmers wasn’t as appealing. Fortunately, our self-esteem remained intact as we were able to work out celebrity-free.

Events like Taste of Tennis make the many hours of working to build de Groots Media worthwhile. It was such a fabulous couple of days and now watching the tennis back in Sydney is even more exciting, having met many of the players and coaches that grace the television screen. I was only disappointed Rafael and Roger were not at the event. Would have loved a pic with them for the de Groots album!


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Filed under Events, Swisse Taste of Tennis 2013

Can’t get enough of Darlinghurst’s new izakaya restaurant… Kaya

The smell wafts out onto Oxford Street and hits us before we even enter the front door. If I hadn’t already booked a table at Kaya, I would have ditched my original plans and made a reservation here. “It’s the robata,” explains Tim Lackey, Kaya’s energetic co-owner who greets us at the door, “It’s seriously amazing.” Suddenly, we’re ravenous.

Moody and atmosphere, Kaya is perfect for first dates

Moody and atmospheric, Kaya is a perfect first date restaurant

Once home to the darling of Darlinghurst, Rambutan, Kaya’s interior has been designed by the visionary team, Splinter Society. Kaya’s dining room draws inspiration from traditional Japanese izakaya bars, whilst utilising Australian materials such as cypress pine from the Dandenong Ranges to create a dynamic space that incorporates high and low-tech features from sound-proof walls to manga graffiti.

Straying away from your standard sushi and sashimi Japanese offering, the menu at Kaya stays true to the traditional notion of “izakaya” dining —that is, a series of small dishes designed to share while you drink. With the seductive smell wafting around the restaurant, robata dishes are our main priority… that is, until we see the venison tataki and sashimi don on the table next to us. We start with the rice wine and seaweed cured kingfish and ocean trout, sweet shell-grilled scallops doused in a zingy citrus ponzu and miso eggplant.

We recommend you start with this rice wine and seaweed cured kingfish and ocean trout

Start with this rice wine and seaweed cured kingfish and ocean trout

Being don-devotees, we can’t resist ordering both the sashimi and chicken yakitori options. At that point, the shell grilled scallops and venison were competing for the title as ‘favourite dish’. That was until the (take a deep breath for this) 600 gram, 24 hour slow cooked, glazed wagyu rib arrived in front of us. The race was over, a winner was declared.

“It’s a Friday night – of course you’ve got to have a cocktail!” I have to admit, it doesn’t take long for my efficient waiter to convince me to order the green appletini and as soon as I take a sip of smooth combination of freshly squeezed Granny Smith apple, vodka, lime and sugar, I’m in a picture of satisfaction.

From the moment we smelled the robata grill to that first mouthful of venison tataki – we were hooked. There isn’t much that falls short of amazing at Kaya.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Kaya here

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Filed under Darlinghurst, Kaya, Reviews, Uncategorized

It’s all about DIY at the David Jones Wine Bar

‘You have to do it yourself?’ I hear a smartly-dressed lady ask her equally well-dressed friend. It seems like a very “un-David Jones” thing to do but yes, at their new wine bar – the novelty is Do It Yourself.

Tucked away in a discreet corner of its sprawling basement gourmet food court is the David Jones Wine Bar. There are a handful of stools that line the bar for solo dining and a few large tables are perfect for groups of up to six. One wall is lined with emerald green floral Tea2 teapots, cups and saucers, adding a touch of frivolity to the otherwise serious bar-like surrounds.

Tea2 teapots, cups and saucers line the bar's back wall

Tea2 teapots, cups and saucers line the bar’s back wall

The idea is simple: put some credit on a plastic card and then walk over to the glass wine cabinets that run the length of the wall and touch the button above your wine selection. Not a wine connoisseur? Never fear! The David Jones philosophy of selling “the best and most exclusive goods” still applies to its high-class vending machines and there isn’t a glass on their wine lists that isn’t worth drinking.

The DIY nature of the wine bar may not be for everyone, but it’s a novelty that’s worth a visit – even if you just wind up with a bagful of chocolate-coated-strawberries from the main food court on your way out.

Anna Lisle

Read more about David Jones Wine Bar here

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Filed under David Jones Wine Bar, Reviews, Sydney CBD