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Best Restaurants of Australia.

Top Sydney Cooking Schools

Whether you’re a budding chef or passionate home cook, cooking classes are a great way to meet new people, indulge in delicious food and earn some serious cred at your next dinner party. Here are our top picks for getting a casual culinary education in Sydney.

Cucina Italiana, Annandale

If you’re looking to master the art of Italian cooking in Sydney, what better place to do it than in a heritage-listed villa in Annandale? Luciana Sampogna opens up her kitchen to those who love artisan cuisine as much as she does, with classes including “long Italian lunch,” “wood fire oven,” “gluten-free,” and, especially for the little ones, “bambini in cucina.”

For more information, go here

Luciana Sampogna  has been running Cucina for the last 10 years

Luciana Sampogna has been running Cucina for the last 10 years

Cheeky Food Group, Surry Hills
Cheeky Food Group reckons food is the perfect vehicle for relationship building and the Surry Hills establishment runs over 400 team-cooking classes a year to prove it. The interactive events span a range of cuisines, with tapas, Spanish paella, Italian gnocchi and Magic of the Middle East among those foodies can choose from.

For more information, go here

Signorelli Gastronomia, Pyrmont
The Signorelli family’s reputation for producing premium food and wine precedes them into the world of education. Naturally, their cooking school has an Italian bent, and even if you don’t leave with an ability to produce flavour like a Nonna, you’ll walk away from Signorelli Gastronomia’s kitchen having downed a glass of prosecco, the house’s famous antipasto and the meal you cooked up, plus you get a Signorelli Gastronomia shopping bag and recipe notes to take home.

For more information, go here

Sydney Seafood School, Pyrmont
Renown across the city as the destination of choice for foodies hunting for the freshest seafood for their celebrations, Sydney Fish Markets also offers a specialised cooking school. Students work in small groups in a state-of-the-art kitchen, then enjoy their handiwork in a stunning dining room with 360-degree views of Blackwattle Bay.

For more information, go here

Simon Johnson Cooking School, Alexandria
Sydney’s most renowned gourmet food purveyor, Simon Johnson, offers a range of cooking classes including two hour chef demonstrations and “Talk Eat Drink” sessions. All classes are held in their custom-built demonstration kitchen in Alexandria and each class is limited to 40 people. Guest chefs include Collin Fassnidge (4Fourteen; Four in Hand), Jonathon Barthelmess (The Apollo) and Ross Lusted (The Bridge Room).

For more information, go here

Guest chef Collin Fassnidge at Talk Eat Drink

Guest chef Collin Fassnidge at Talk Eat Drink

Accoutrement, Mosman
Accoutrement is the place to visit if you’re looking for culinary tips from the best in the business. The Mosman cooking school hosts private and group classes with celebrity chefs, plus they offer overseas and interstate gourmet food tours.

For more information, go here

Urban Graze, Kellyville
The kitchen at Urban Graze, is custom-designed to host hands-on cooking classes for up to 10 people. Adults and kids can sign up for a relaxed culinary experience that could take them anywhere in the world, from Sicily to Turkey and Japan.

For more information, go here

Urban Graze Junior forms part of the Urban Graze cooking school and is aimed at teaching 7-11 year old kids the basic principles of cooking

Urban Graze Junior forms part of the Urban Graze cooking school and is aimed at teaching 7-11 year old kids the basic principles of cooking

Spice Up Your Life, Alexandria

Ever thought you could find the man/woman of your dreams, all while cooking an organic soufflé? At Spice Up Your Life, participants can spend a fun evening mingling or reconnect with a loved one. Classes are broken up into age categories, with both singles and couples classes available. With just 8 people, the singles-only classes start with a drink and hors d’oeuvre’s, followed by organic gourmet meal. Spice Up Your Life also offers corporate team building classes).

For more information, go here

Kids Cooking Classes with Sheridan Rogers, North Sydney
Specifically designed for little hands, Sheridan’s kids’ cooking classes aim to teach children to prepare wholesome, nutritious meals they will love to eat and can reproduce easily at home. Classes take place in Sheridan’s home in North Sydney during school holidays periods, with a mixture of demonstration and hands-on cooking aimed at children between the ages of 8 and 14.

For more information, go here

Sheridan Rogers is an award-winning food and travel writer, broadcaster and food stylist

Sheridan Rogers is an award-winning food and travel writer, broadcaster and food stylist

Majors Lane Cooking School, Hunter Valley

Enjoy vineyard views and an Asian cooking class at Hunter Valley institution, Majors Lane Restaurant. Under Head Chef Ben Sales, Majors Lane offers Thai, Balinese, Sichuan, Indonesian and Vietnamese classes. With a maximum of 14 people, classes are small and hands-on. Private classes are also available for groups of 10 or more people.

For more information, go here

Nadine Abensur, Mosman, Byron Bay (and various locations across Australia)
Best-selling international cookery writer Nadine Abensur offers vegetarian cooking classes across Australia. Guests learn to use wonderful but often neglected vegetables such as fennel and celeriac, and inject new life into staples with delicious techniques such as gratins, braises, pestos and tagines.

For more information, go here

Biota Dining, Bowral
Whether you’re a culinary novice or an experienced cook looking to improve your repertoire, Chef James Viles and his team at Biota Dining in Bowral will share their passion for food, focusing on artisan produce and seasonal botanicals, whilst supporting both local farmers and growers alike to create simple yet delectable cuisine.

For more information, go here

Biota is just a two hour drive from Sydney

Biota is just a two hour drive from Sydney

Flavours of the Valley, Kangaroo Valley
Just a two hour drive from Sydney in the beautiful surrounds of Kangaroo Valley, this cooking school offers a range of hands-on Mediterranean classes. From Italian and Moroccan to the Farmers Table six-course degustation class, ingredients are all sourced from local farmers, gardeners and artisan producers. Flavours of the Valley also offers private bookings for special occasions and events.

For more information, go here

Urban Food Market, Marrickville
Focusing on ethical sustainability, Urban Food Market offers quirky cooking classes like “Bacon Curing and Smoking”, “A Lebanese MeatUp” and “Butchery 101”. Urban Food Market is also a catering company and wholesale retailer, supplying Sydney chefs with free-range meats. All cooking classes are 2.5-3hrs in duration and include a comprehensive session on ethical and sustainable farming practices and on how to shop ethically.

For more information, go here

Victors Food Cooking School, Waterloo

Release your inner chef at Victors Food – from “French Bistro Cooking” and “Learn to Be a Chef” to “Perfect Paella” and “Thai Street Food”, Victors offers a range of classes to suit a every skill level. Cooking classes are built around a banquet menu so you learn more and get to experience several dishes while you create part of the meal. Classes are limited to 14 people. Victors also offers Sydney Produce Market food tours (Farm Fresh Feast) which includes a cup of Toby’s Estate coffee, market guide, tastings, demonstrations and samples to take home.

For more information, go here

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The “new” Neild Avenue

It’s a mammoth task to reinvent a restaurant, anyone will tell you that, but things get even trickier with a restaurant that’s in the public eye like Neild Avenue. Since it first opened, Neild Avenue has been accused of being too dark, too noisy and too expensive. So after spending three million dollars on its initial design, what has owner Robert Marchetti done about the public response? He’s changed the interior, shaken up the menu and abandoned the no-bookings policy.

Start with drink in the suave bar area

Start with drink in the suave bar area

The “new” Neild Avenue is a happier, brighter place, thanks to the adept touch of Dinosaur Designs artist Stephen Ormandy. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know, Anthony Lister’s blurred superhero animalia remain on the front timber-framed ‘house’. Ormandy has painted a second ‘house’, which has been carefully decorated with the mod 60s shapes and bold colours synonymous with the Dinosaur Designs brand.

A long, elegant bar splits the restaurant space in two, with a suave lounge area to one side and the restaurant’s dining area to the other. A mini charcuterie counter sits at the entrance, where cured meats hang behind glass cabinets; visual reminders of Marchetti’s Italian background.

The new look is courtesy of Dinosaur Designs artist Stephen Ormandy

The new look is courtesy of Dinosaur Designs artist Stephen Ormandy

We start with a drink in the bar area. This is the perfect way to take in the unique space; perched on a soft leather lounge, dimpled beer mugs full of cold Birra Moretti in-hand. Efficient waiters, dressed completely in white, flit around the room. The bar menu puts a Mediterranean slant on your standard booze food – souvlaki mini slider buns, flashed fried calamari and sliced-to-order cured meats are substantial enough to call dinner.

The hip staff uniforms

The hip staff uniforms

The revamped restaurant menu has taken hints from sister restaurant, North Bondi Italian. There’s the “cartoccio style” crab spaghetti, baked in a bag with tomato sauce, and those light-as-a-feather arancini balls. North Bondi Italian Food may be one of my favourite restaurants, but tonight we’re here for Mediterranean food. Central to the menu is Marchetti’s stance on sustainability and simplicity. The calamari is line-caught, the lamb is milk fed, the chicken is organic and the meat is free-range. Seafood dominates much of the menu, with a range of whole fish main courses, served with bold salads such as frisee, mint, radicchio and zucchini. The coal grill takes the spotlight with various cuts of beef on offer, while the spit roast takes care of the souvlaki. Each dish is generously portioned, perfect for sharing.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Neild Avenue here 

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Criniti’s 10th birthday bash

Their motto is “Italians do it better” and this week, the Criniti’s family certainly proved this true. In celebration of their 10th birthday, Criniti’s pulled out all the stops for a bash that featured everything we love about the Italian approach to socialising; which is pretty much summed up by the adage that more is more.

Criniti's glitterati - the guest list certainly left us feeling a little star struck

Criniti’s glitterati – the guest list certainly left us feeling a little star struck

The guest list left us feeling a little star struck, with celebrities and us regular folk rolling up in their monochromatic best for the black and white dress code.

The ravishing Ricki-Lee Coulter

The ravishing Ricki-Lee Coulter

Of course, it wouldn’t be a party without champagne, and the fountains of Veuve Clicquot, along with a steady stream of cocktails and red, white and green canapes, went down a treat.

Rooster's star Anthony Minichiello

Rooster’s star Anthony Minichiello

Congratulations to the winner of the Criniti’s Facebook competition, who scored a trip to Rome, including flights, accommodation AND $2k worth of spending money. Bravo bellissimo!

Keep your eyes peeled for the video of the night on our YouTube page.

* Photography courtesy of www.jonesphoto.com.au

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Kepos Street Kitchen: The happiest cafe on earth?

The first thing you notice about Kepos Street Kitchen (KSK) is the vibe. Maybe it’s the sunlight that pours through the huge front window or the lime green cups from The Grounds that are carried away by a steady stream of locals. All we know is, people here are smiling. Not the clients (they’re positively beaming), but the staff. In a Sydney cafe that’s pumping on a Sunday morning, that’s got to be some kind of record.

Tucked away on a quiet corner in Redfern

Tucked away on a quiet corner in Redfern

We think the positive chi comes from Chef and owner, Michael Rantissi, who can be seen in the open kitchen assembling Israeli-inspired dishes like a machine as he banters with the clientele. Michael, formerly Sous Chef at Bathers’ Pavilion, makes the kind of food you didn’t realise you’d been craving until you see it on the menu. Middle Eastern flavours play a huge role in keeping things interesting at Kepos Street. While the rest of Sydney felt privileged to choose between having their eggs boiled or fried, we departed from cafe food altogether with “dad’s favourite breaky”: a dish which combines hunks of schiacciata bread, falafel, hummus, a hardboiled egg, labneh and a pretty tomato salad with mint, sesame and olive oil dressing.

We loved Dad’s favourite breaky: schiacciata bread, falafel, hummus, a hardboiled egg, labneh and a pretty tomato salad

“Dad’s favourite breaky”: schiacciata , falafel, hummus,  egg, labneh and a tomato salad

From the falafel and hummus to the tabouleh and baharat tomato jam, everything here is lovingly made in house by Michael and his team. The rest of the menu is a showcase of inspired Israeli twists. Think za’atar with smoked salmon or a strawberry salad dressed with pomegranate pearls, mint and rosewater yoghurt. On a scale of one to delicious, I found myself texting friends between mouthfuls of falafel to say, “Get down to KSK for breakfast. Seriously. Now.”

Strawberry salad with mint, rosewater, yoghurt and pomegranate pearls

Strawberry salad with mint, rosewater, yoghurt and pomegranate pearls

Oh, and also, the coffee goes down a treat, but if you’re after a fruity pick-me-up, the kitchen makes lemonade from scratch and mocktails that arrive in cute jam jars with handles.

Cafes in Sydney, take note, this is how breakfast is done. We can’t wait to come back for dinner. What’s not to be happy about?

Elizabeth Fenech

Read more about Kepos Street Kitchen here
Kepos Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Melbourne’s Best Bars

Melbournians are justifiably proud of their bar culture and thirsty citizens are never short of a place to drink. We noticed the city is becoming grungier in its dining habits, but drinking seems to have gone upmarket. Here are our top 10 picks for Melbourne bars, be they the high-glam, low brow or secret laneway variety.

The Everleigh

The Everleigh

EDV. 1 Malthouse Lane, Melbourne.

This cocktail bar with a whisky focus is hidden, fittingly, in a lane called Malthouse. EDV’s penchant for cocktails is balanced by its masculine decor; think jazz tunes, leather and polished mahogany. Bring your friends for a cocktail degustation dinner, a brave new territory where a five course food extravaganza meets and greets the very best of booze.

Izakaya Den. Basement  114 Russel Street, Melbourne
Notoriously difficult to find, descending into Izakaya Den can fill the uninitiated with nervous excitement , but never fear, what you’ll find here are friendly faces and a space devoted in equal parts to the art of Japanese eating and drinking. Note the performance art that goes on behind the open kitchen and bar, with the chefs and mixologists dancing around each other. Obviously, all drinks have a Japanese bent, from sake to imported beers, but the range is wide and there is something for all tastes.

The Everleigh. 1/150-156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

The Everleigh’s location, hidden so that only those looking for it will notice it, says a lot about its character. It’s a proper American-style cocktail bar of old, when drinks were bespoke and each glass was treated with courtesy. Candlelight glints off vintage chandeliers, well heeled patrons slide into mahogany booths and the air is filled with smooth jazz tunes that make you feel like you’re drinking in a golden age.

The Black Pearl. 304 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.

Cocktail powerhouse The Black Pearl is the place to visit if you’re looking for a classy bar where you can drink posh without having to maintain a ramrod-straight spine. Downstairs, drink beer or whisky from vintage ‘70s tankards. Upstairs, in The Attic, maroon-shirted waiters serve exciting cocktails in crystal cut Royal Doulton glassware. Table service makes The Black Pearl personalised and civilised, but on the weekends, the bar is swamped three-persons deep with patrons determined to have a knees-up good time, whatever their poison.

Kodiak Club. 272 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.

If you’re going to name a bar after a 500kg native American bear, you might as well have one represent. And the Kodiak Club does. Melbourne’s only bourbon bar is dominated by a wall-mounted Kodiak that watches over its patrons as they dig into all-American bar food. The space is warm and welcoming, much like a mountain lodge in a blizzard, and the bar is dominated by bourbon and rye whiskies, with a smattering of quality wines, beers and cocktails, plus some trashy Mexican beers for good measure.

The Kodiak Club

The Kodiak Club

Cookie. First Floor, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne.

Any bar that describes itself as a “disco eating house and beer hall” is bound to make its patrons happy. Cookie somehow manages to fuse beer hall, cocktail bar and modern Thai restaurant with flair. The bar stocks a plethora of micro-brews and 350 different wines, plus, a hidden corner bar pours an endless stream of innovative cocktails. Cookie is smack-bang in the middle of the city, but transports you to a cooler plane, with its pastiche of French doors, Juliet balconies and manga inspired murals.

Red Spice Road QV. QV Melbourne, 31-37 Artemis Lane, Melbourne CBD.

Overlooking the hustle and bustle of Lonsdale Street, Red Spice Road QV may be more of a restaurant, but it does a cracking martini.  Sweet, sour or short, the cocktail menu is well-researched and the perfect side to the spicy cuisine of South East Asia. Take up a seat at one of their communal tables and enjoy a Red Spice mojito jugtail, the perfect complement to one of the restaurant’s banquet menus (either $60 or $75; with vegetarian options available).

Red Spice Road QV

Red Spice Road QV

Lily Blacks. 12 Meyers Place, Melbourne.

Lily Blacks is a high end gin joint and cocktail connoisseur’s dream that’s open till 3.00am, every night of the week.  The decor gives a little nod to the 1920s speakeasy, with its potted palms, a wooden bar and doilies under the ashtrays. Lily Blacks takes a sophisticated approach to booze – the classics are served with a twist and assembled using the freshest ingredients and a flair for drama. There is a generous list of wines by the glass and for drinkers who prefer a simpler brew, there are numerous beers and ciders on tap. We recommend lining your stomach with Lily’s bar snacks, like charcuteries and cheese platters, olives and brandy-soaked prunes.

Rooftop Bar. Level 7, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne.

Curtin House. Seven floors up. There’s a bar on the rooftop. What more is there to say? This venue is unquestionably one of the best for an open-air drink that’s as good as the view. In summer, opening hours are extended, burgers, wraps and ice cream sandwiches are on the menu and you can pull up a deck chair and catch a movie. Don’t despair the winter months, that’s when the Rooftop Bar’s relationship with MissChu bears fruit – in the form of rice paper rolls and other Vietnamese goodies, that is.

The Waiting Room. Lobby, Crown Entertainment Complex, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank.

The Crown Towers lobby plays host to The Waiting Room, with its glamorous low lighting and mirrored jewel box interior. The bar has revived the sophisticated art of mixology, with cool cocktails, classic martinis and premium champagne the order of the day. Of course, the drinks have to share the limelight with Neil Perry’s impressive array of bar snacks and light meals.

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Keep calm and eat chocolate

The Sydney food scene is serious business. Even hip, casual restaurants seem to warble in a state of self-reflection. Are we hip enough? Please notice our designer light fittings. That’s why it’s so refreshing to go to a place with a bit of carefree whimsy.

Max Brenner is like wonderland for grown-ups. A place where you can check your cool in at the door and wear a gaping grin as you wander past huge vats of warm chocolate and follow the maze of pipes that run across the ceiling with markings assuring you that their contents are “100% chocolate”. One corner of the Broadway store is styled as a vintage sweet shop, like something you’d find in Diagon Alley or at the end of the yellow brick road.

Max Brenner is like wonderland for grown-ups

Max Brenner is like wonderland for grown-ups

A place with a motto like “Chocolate by the Bald Man,” may seem ditsy, but this guy approaches the humble cacao bean with precision, innovation and overwhelming affection. For those of us who find ourselves mindlessly polishing off a packet of Tim Tams in front of the telly, Max Brenner’s brand of chocolate appreciation is a new world.

The restaurant has developed its own cutlery and crockery specifically for the needs of the chocolate connoisseur; a hug mug allows you to caress your hot chocolate made by the professionals or you can take a stab at concocting your own with the Suckao, a mug with a tea light candle beneath it, served with a jug of milk and a small mountain of chocolate drops for experimenting. It is Max Brenner’s signature straw-spoon, however, that is quite possibly the best thing since sliced bread. What could be more ingenious than an implement enabling you to drink chocolate milk through a straw, but also scrape the gooey chocolate goodness that’s left behind at the end?

Titti-frutti waffle – warm Belgian waffle, melted chocolate, ice cream,  strawberries and banana.

Titti-frutti waffle – warm Belgian waffle, melted chocolate, ice cream, strawberries and banana.

The chocolate dishes, too, are developed with imagination, but executed with a flair that comes with knowing how to handle the glorious bean. Of course, there are Belgian waffles drizzled in chocolate sauce and served with strawberries, ice cream and banana. There is a rich chocolate soufflé, oozing molten chocolate from its centre. Look out for the exploding chocolate shots, which involve popping candies suspended in melted chocolate. Then there’s the nostalgia-inducing I Scream Max-Wich, an enormous hunk of vanilla ice cream bookended by giant soft-baked chocolate cookies, served with melted chocolate and hundreds-and-thousands. It’s every (big) kid’s sweet dream.

A word of warning for the uninitiated; the servings at Max Brenner are very generous and it’s likely that your eyes will be bigger than your stomach (piles of sweets tend to have that effect on us, too). Bring a friend and wear stretchy pants, because everywhere you look, the Bald Man entices you to share in his love story. It’s a calorific affair, but hey, you only live once.

Elizabeth Fenech

Read more about Max Brenner in Paddington here
Max Brenner Chocolate Bar on Urbanspoon

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For fried crickets, cactus plants and the Virgin Mary – head to El Topo

Bondi Junction’s El Topo is riding the taco revolution, which shows no signs of slowing. This isn’t your standard quesadilla joint, however. The unusual location, on the rooftop of The Eastern hotel, amongst the retail high rises of Bondi Junction’s Westfield complex, may be a deterrent for some but those put off probably aren’t El Topo’s target market, anyway.

There’s an indoor restaurant, which offers a colourful array of booth seating, plus there’s an outdoor terrace and bar

There’s an indoor restaurant, which offers a colourful array of booth seating, plus there’s an outdoor terrace and bar

There’s an indoor restaurant, which offers a colourful array of booth seating, plus there’s an outdoor terrace and bar. Hand-painted Oaxaca tiles make a colourful tabletop and glass sculls, imported from Mexico, are scattered around the space.

Like the location, the menu is unexpected. Rather than offering Tex-Mex or California-style fare, El Topo prides itself on serving dishes that are authentically Mexican. For the brave, there’s fried crickets and unusual accompaniments like jicama fruit and cactus. The chipotle chile prawns are not for the feint hearted, either; they’ve got a rich and layered heat, and they’re served whole (head, tail and shell). Just like you’d get in Mexico.

Soft shell tacos

“Taco de cerdo” – guallio chile pork, roast pineapple, lettuce and coriander

The tacos are soft-shell, not hard, and the mushroom quesadilla is filled with ingredients like Mexican truffle, salsa verde and queso oaxagueno (a white, semi hard chese from Mexico). It’s not overloaded with cheap fillers and it doesn’t ooze cheesy oil when you pick it up.

Homemade mango, strawberry and coconut paddlepops

Homemade mango, strawberry and coconut paddlepops

The mandate for authenticity comes from head Chef Matthew Fitzgerald. While his resume doesn’t list a host of Mexican joints, he has earned his stripes at reputable establishments including Bathers’ Pavilion and Bentley Restaurant and Bar in Sydney, and Oxo Tower and Fig Bistro in London.

El Topo is constantly buzzing with a cool Hispanic vibe, but on Thursday nights the volume is amplified; they’ve got the dinner and the party combination down pat. If only every night was late night shopping.

Anna Lisle

Read more about El Topo here

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