Category Archives: Paddington

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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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
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Finishing The Bellevue chapter, Pignolet is back

Pairing a restaurant with the perfect chef can be as rocky as finding one’s soulmate. Some never do. Epicure and Short Black mourn weekly over the latest broken hearted eatery left reeling when its head chef walks out for a younger, trendier establishment. But like all good love stories, when the perfect partner is found, it’s like fireworks. Damien Pignolet and Claude’s, back in 1981, was one of those magic combinations and as a young food writer, I have always wished I was born just a little earlier. Pignolet, together with Tim Pak Poy, created what was touted as the quintessential French dining experience, receiving much acclaim across the country.

Pignolet’s history with the Bellevue Hotel began when he bought the hotel in 2005

But it is not all about Claude’s, throughout his high profile career Pignolet has established nine successful restaurants including Butlers Restaurant, The Old Bank in Darlinghurst, Bistro Moncur, Moncur Terrace, Bistro Deux at the Sackville Hotel, Cleopatra Restaurant and Guesthouse at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. Hold on, I’m almost finished the bio – Pignolet’s history with the Bellevue Hotel began when he bought the hotel in 2005, before selling it in 2011. His return to the iconic pub brings much excitement but also a chance to complete his original vision. “To me, it [The Bellevue] was always an unfinished chapter,” explains Pignolet.

Smoked duck with king brown mushroom carpaccio

Hidden at the back of the two-story building, The Bellevue dining room boasts a modern edge with a beautiful open glass ceiling and white washed concrete walls. The place oozes understated elegance with subdued decor, seasoned service and Pignolet’s magic touch on the menu. Weight watchers will have food envy with dishes such as pork, veal and fennel sausage with mashed potatoes and pork belly and duck confit cassoulet stealing the limelight. A simple crisp skin salmon glaze with shellfish butter is pleasurable, as is a generous prawn and mussel linguine.

Take an iconic heritage-listed Paddington pub, combine it with a stunning refurbishment and then throw in one of Australia’s most renowned chefs – The Bellevue Hotel has all the makings of a great dining experience.

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Bellevue Hotel here

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Paddington’s best kept secret, La Scala on Jersey

It used to be said that any publicity is good publicity. After Darren Simpson, the former La Scala Head Chef, endorsed a burger range for fast-food giant KFC, I doubt restaurateur and owner, Dean Haritos would necessarily agree. But unlike many restaurants, La Scala is still standing and standing proud it is.

The decadent dining rooms at La Scala

Sitting snugly between the iconic Light Brigade Hotel and hatted restaurant Buzo Trattoria, the entrance to La Scala is discreet. Once inside, however, discreet isn’t a word that comes to mind. La Scala flamboyantly displays its Italian heritage with bold feature walls, gilted vintage mirrors, a funky cocktail bar and glass bowls of fresh produce such as bright red capsicums strewn around the various dining spaces. A chair installation protrudes from pin-striped walls and giant metal whisk lights spiral elegantly from the ceiling.

The restaurant’s design may be theatrical but the menu at La Scala on Jersey is deceptively modest, showcasing a down-to-earth display of classic Italian cooking. Ruben Martinez, who was formerly Darren’s Sous Chef, fronts the kitchen. Martinez, who has done time in some of Sydney’s most successful restaurants including Aqua Luna, La Sala and Barrenjoey House, has created a menu that implements organic cuts of meat, local seafood and house made sorbet and gelato.

La Scala’s signature dish: Brodetto Marchigiano – a classic fish stew from Marche

Keeping things local, we start with a small bowl of organic marinated Lakelands olives and a glass of 2006 Montose Omaggio (barbera) from Mudgee. While the wine list does predominantly feature Australian wines, there are also has a range of French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and New Zealand drops on offer. Salty, luscious and textural, the Lakelands olives are a standout, and I take note to return at a later date purely to get a second taste of these. Brodetto Marchigiano (a classic fish stew from Marche), is one of La Scala’s signature dishes. Aesthetically, it is a spectacular display of seafood, topped with a crusty slice of herb bread. The stock-based stew is overflowing with octopus, barramundi, mussels and squid, with strong hints of saffron and marjoram. The Italian lamb or “nose to tail eating”, comes highly recommended by wait staff and once it is placed in front of us, we can see why. The free-range lamb is sourced from the clover pastures of North Motton in North West Coast of Tasmania and the dish is served with different cuts every day. Another on my “must-return-for” list is the sformato, similar to a soufflé, it is a smooth blend of Jerusalem artichokes and hazelnuts.

From the food to the service, the restaurant runs like clockwork and Andrew Carson, the restaurant manager, is key to its success. The sophisticated private dining room, which seats up to 26 people comfortably, is an impressive location for corporate and private events. For larger occasions, the restaurant and bar can be exclusively hired for up to 200.

Anna Lisle

Read more about La Scala on Jersey here

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Darcy’s – a pillar of traditional Italian cuisine in Sydney

In a society of Twitter and Facebook addicts, it’s easy to forget about restaurants like Darcy’s. This Paddington institution swung open its doors in 1968 and continues to remain at the forefront of the Sydney dining scene today. An impressive feat in an uncertain time for the hospitality industry.

While many know of Darcy’s, standing proudly on the corner Hargrave and Elizabeth Street, this regal restaurant is not often frequented by our food-obsessed, hip youngsters. Too busy working through their lists of cafes/bars/restaurant from SMH guidebooks and standing in the queues of small bars in Bondi or concept cafes in the Inner West, the focus tends to be on quantity, not quality. In a society like this, loyalty is a forgotten-about commodity. Restaurants like Darcy’s, however, are all about loyalty. Loyalty to their staff, suppliers, producers and, of course, their customers. At the heart of Darcy’s is one man. Italian-born Attilio Marinangeli visited Australia over 40 years ago and never left.

The upstairs private function room

Stepping into Darcy’s is like stepping back in time. Elegant and intimate, the restaurant features dark wood fittings, gold patterned wallpaper and Norman Lindsay artworks. We are welcomed at the door by Attilio himself. Dressed in a dinner suit, complete with a bow-tie, Attilio is a true man of hospitality. Gracious and affable, Attilio flits about the restaurant, serving wine and food and, for those interested, sharing a story along the way.

The menu features traditional Italian favourites, with an emphasis on Central and Northern Italian flavours. For primi, we share beef carpaccio with parmesan and olive oil and a dish of grilled asparagus with burrata cheese that Atillio regularly has flown in from Italy. Simply presented, the quality of the produce speaks for itself. The special of the day, pork belly with a prune relish, is rich and luxurious – perfect for a chilly winter evening while a grilled fillet of John Dory is fresh and unpretentious. The desserts will ensure a memorable finish to your meal, and are well worth a kilojoule blow-out with classics such as crepe suzette, tiramisu and crème brûlée a highlight on the restaurant’s menu.

Off the special’s menu – seared scallops wrapped in crispy pancetta and served with avocado, lemon and mixed leaves

Darcy’s has not featured on Masterchef, nor has it ever offered a Groupon or Living Social deal. It has, however, hosted Britain’s longest serving prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and been the desired destination for power lunches between socialites like horse-racing trainer Anthony Cummings and mining magnate Nathan Tinkler. It may tend to stray from the hospitality limelight but Darcy’s is one of Sydney’s most respected restaurants, establishing itself as a pillar of traditional Italian cuisine in Sydney. Now add that to your list.

Anna Lisle
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Review: La Vucciria

As soon as I opened the red lacquered door of La Vucciria, a spell was cast over me. I felt like I was in a fairytale, only for adults. Moody tea-light candles seductively flickered in the window and racks of wine winked at me from behind the gray-veined marble bar. A vibrant playlist of reggae, blues and modern tunes echoed off the polished wooden floorboards and a prickly pear tree cheekily sat in the corner of the restaurant. Despite feeling exhausted, I couldn’t help but smile as I looked around. And smile I did, for the entire evening.

Photographs of La Vucciria – a centuries-old food market in Palermo

For my visit to La Vucciria, I recruited a friend who had just returned from a six month holiday where, lucky for me, she had spent much of her time in Sicily. As soon as we took out seats, a beautiful wine list bound in leather arrived on our laps however we left it up to the experienced hands of sommelier Brad Dickson to choose a drop. As we sipped our wine, my friend couldn’t stop gushing about how everything in the restaurant reminded her of Sicily – from the black and white photographs to the religious paraphernalia and Sicilian pottery scattered around the restaurant. But the food was to be the true test.

The menu is written in white chalk on a blackboard at the back of the restaurant – and the menu changes daily, depending on what Fabio finds at the market. Luscious Sicilian olives arrived in a white porcelain bowl with a platter of thinly shaven slices of prosciutto. As we sipped our sweet, crisp wines, the saltiness from the prosciutto and olives were the perfect match. The arancini prawns were light and fresh– not loaded with parmesan and butter – and biting through the crisp exterior, the prawn inside was a textural surprise. While I usually steer clear of any kind of braised fish dishes – on the waiter’s recommendation, I opted for the tuna tagliata. The pink fish was tender and packed with flavours with a sweet balsamic jus and salty, crisp sage leaves.

The floor-to-ceiling blackboard menu

As we neared the end of the night, we were told that the strawberry tiramisu was a house speciality however I only had eyes for one thing. The chocolate pistachio cake. The vibrant green nuts created a crust on the top of the cake that contrasted perfectly to the moist and rich interior. Each dish throughout the evening offered something special and the menu is a tribute to the experience and knowledge of a chef who is quite clearly working in his element. Fabio’s food is made with love, just as it should be in a fairytale.

160a Flinders Street, Paddington NSW

Anna Lisle

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