Category Archives: Reviews

Just Pure Bistro at Swissotel Sydney

There is a tingly feeling that comes with dining in a luxury hotel. The place seems to exist on its own frequency, which gives even the jaded local the delicious feeling of rendezvousing in one’s own town. This is especially true of Sydney’s Swissotel, with its practically-hidden entrance on Market Street, across the road from the high-octane glitz of Topshop and the State Theatre.

Meredith goat cheese croquettes

Meredith goat cheese croquettes

The Swissotel’s new signature restaurant, Just Pure Bistro, also thrives on unexpected appearances. The mirrored elevators and marble tiles of the hotel sharply contrast with the styling of the restaurant’s entrance, which is piled with bales of hay strewn with pumpkins and wheels of cheese. Executive Chef Stephan Tseng is breaking into territory so far untouched by Sydney’s high-end hotels; the reasonably-priced bistro. JPB has all the makings of a budget-blowing restaurant – the Stolzle Lausitz glasses, plush furnishings and ambient lighting – but the menu has been thoughtfully constructed with comfortingly familiar dishes at equally comforting prices.

Grilled swordfish with organic soba noodles, smoky eggplant and stuffed zucchini flowers

Grilled swordfish with organic soba noodles, smoky eggplant and stuffed zucchini flowers

We are seated in one of the glass atriums that line the outside wall of the restaurant, the sinewy cables of Sydney Tower rise directly before us and the magic of the city skyline looms beyond. The hospitality of the staff is at once professional and homely. The delivery of the menus is accompanied by an insight into JPB’s focus on sustainable, ethical dining and a well-informed explanation of the farms that supply the kitchen with its produce. There is a complimentary serving of house-baked spelt with olives and a side of deliciously fruity olive oil from a small producer in Megalong in regional NSW.

Frozen nougat with fresh berry salad and green tea ice cream

Frozen nougat with fresh berry salad and green tea ice cream

What follows is a theatre of country-style flavours executed with five-star technique. The Hunter Valley organic chicken is served with a crispy, golden skin on a generous pile of green beans, mushrooms and puy lentils. The lamb rack, plate after plate of which seemed to be coming out of the kitchen for every occupied table in the restaurant, was juicy and flavorsome. The mille-feuille was a ballerina of a dessert, all wafer-thin layers of crisp pastry constructed with delicate slivers of pear and light vanilla custard.

Sydneysiders are notoriously image-conscious. Long-trapped between the desire to be seen in a dining room with class but wary of spending a small fortune on a weekday meal, JPB breaches the gap nicely.

Elizabeth Fenech

Read more about Just Pure Bistro here

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Filed under Just Pure Bistro, Reviews, Sydney CBD

Serious soul food at Sean’s Panaroma

Is this the most unpretentious hatted restaurant in Sydney? Sean’s Panaroma (note: say and spell, ‘pan aroma’) is a Sydney institution which opened on Bondi’s Campbell Parade, way back in 1993. A man before his time, Sean Moran was one of the first chefs to implement a paddock-to-plate eating philosophy. He’s against genetically modified foods and he, together with partner Michael Robertson, have designed their Bondi restaurant with a closed loop system that involves composting and recycling. Aside from the ethical eating to be done there, one of the big draw-cards of this restaurant is view. Stunning vistas of Bondi’s coastline can be observed from the dining room and it’s a landscape that doesn’t disappoint, regardless of the weather.

The humble dining room at Sean's

The humble dining room at Sean’s

The menu at Sean’s is simple. Four entrees, four mains and four desserts are scribbled on swinging chalkboards and dishes change daily. Rather than an over-descriptive explanation of each dish, Sean simply lists a couple of ingredients. We opt for the “mulloway, tarragon, pippies” and “hogget, eggplant, rosemary”. Steamed in a bag, the mulloway is served on a bed of lemon, olive oil, tarragon and snow peas, all of which are generously topped with pippies. The lemon is slightly overpowering but the olive oil broth is so well developed that any of the bitterness is lost. The hogget (mature lamb) is served as a rack and roasted. The meat is slightly overcooked however, coupled with an eggplant mash and snow peas, the dish is wholesome and tasty. This is the type of food that you would eat at home, sitting at your mum’s kitchen table. The food may not be perfect but it’s made with a bucketful of love. Sean offers serious soul food.

Mulloway, tarragon, pippies

Mulloway, tarragon, pippies

The wine list offers a selection of boutique Australian varietals, vintage and non-vintage French champagnes, and a range of digestives. You can also BYO for $20 per bottle. Sean’s may not be cheap and you certainly aren’t paying for the décor but each dish is absolutely delicious and also generously portioned. Plus, how can you put a price on love?

Anna Lisle

Read more about Sean’s Panaroma here

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Filed under Bondi, Bondi Beach, Reviews, Sean's Panaroma

Bondi’s PaperPlanes is a high-flier

Ever seen a ceiling made of 500 individually-painted, brightly coloured Japanese skateboards? Or walked through a tin fleet of origami cranes that hang in limbo? Chuck in a purple, 10-metre neon-lit bar and you have Bondi’s PaperPlanes. Hidden away from the tourist-driven chaos of Campbell Parade, PaperPlanes is the brainchild of brothers Matt, Chris and Tim Barge (of Barge8), who also own LL Wine and Dine in Potts Point, together with business partner Phil Capaldi.

PaperPlanes Functions & Events

The ceiling features 500 individually-painted Japanese skateboards

The restaurant design features a quirky mix of kitsch Tokyo pop culture (think Manga comics) and Bondi sass. When we walk in the doors, it’s like we’ve been transported to downtown Tokyo, but the crowd, mostly made up of Bondi’s beautiful people in all their golden-skinned, Tsubi-wearing glory, reminds us that we’re still firmly planted on Australian soil.

An origami-folded menu reveals an array of modern Asian cuisine that has a clear Japanese bent. It’s been created by former LL Wine and Dine head chef, Jin Kung. For starters, the edamame is served with a seriously hot chilli sea salt and provides the perfect excuse for throwing back one of their signature cocktails – the ginger and lychee martini. A sesame seed-crusted yellow fin tuna is seared and sliced in rectangular mouthfuls, topped with a pinch of fried garlic and macro herbs.

Kingfish belly carpaccio with chili oil and a sweet ginger and mirin sauce, topped with tempura jalapeno

Kingfish carpaccio with a sweet ginger, chilli oil and mirin sauce, topped with tempura jalapeno

The special of the day, a pretty ceviche dish of salmon, watermelon and avocado is testament to how well Asian flavours and Australian ingredients work hand-in-hand. After our cold appetisers, the kushiyaki (grilled skewers) become the perfect ‘transition dish’ from entrée to main. The shiitake mushroom stuffed with a truffle and prawn butter has a curious flavour that is beguiling but it is the red miso eggplant that is truly impressive. The cubes of eggplant ooze with a salty-yet-sweet sauce and the only problem with the dish is that there just isn’t enough of it. The sake-flamed teriyaki chicken is served with sautéed white wild mushrooms, giving the dish an interesting edge that makes you wonder, why don’t more Japanese restaurants serve this?

Char-grilled sea scallops with kushiyaki glaze

Char-grilled sea scallops with kushiyaki glaze

There are nine different sakes in 60-millilitre, 240-millilitre and 720-millilitre sizes, and an international wine list that spans European and South American varietals as well as Australian drops. The cocktails, however, are what you’re here for – with a range of standard concoctions, served with Asian twists like fresh yuzu, shochu and wasabi infused vodka.

Anna Lisle

Read more about PaperPlanes here

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Filed under Bondi, Bondi Beach, PaperPlanes, Reviews

Kings Cross has a new sweetheart

Rooftop bars are the cool thing right now. They’re up there with pulled pork sliders and boutique beer labels. But, I have to say, Sweethearts Rooftop BBQ has a few endearing qualities that make it stand out among Sydney’s other slick, sexy rooftop offerings.

 

Shrimps on the barbie with garlic butter & Paul Hogan

Shrimps on the barbie with garlic butter & Paul Hogan

Sweethearts is brought to us by the team behind hipster hangouts, The Winery, Gazebo, Cargo Bar and Bungalow 8. Knowing this, I dressed the part, complete with a silk top and my highest heels. I arrive at Kings Cross, before the doors of Sugarmill, at an hour when no one should ever really be found here (which, for the record, is anytime before 10.00pm). Eager to leave the Darlinghurst Road sidewalk and find a seat to rest my already-sore feet, I start up the stairs. One level, two levels, three levels. Am I in the right place? “Keep walking,” say the signs. “Stop walking” says my now-clinging, slightly wet silk top… Aha! Finally, 20 floors up, I emerge from the dingy, airless, winding stairwell, and the urban oasis that is Sweethearts is revealed before me, complete with a pretty vista of the city skyline. Why is Sweethearts unique? Well, because it really is on the roof. It’s so on the roof that I would suggest wearing your Kathmandu hiking boots to get there.

 

Crispy lamb short ribs with honey, chilli, caramel and lime

Crispy lamb short ribs with honey, chilli, caramel and lime

After such a trek, you really deserve a drink. A range of Australian and New Zealand wines are offered on tap. Then there’s some fancy drinks such as Little Creatures Pale Ale shandies, wine spritzers, pitchers of sweet lolly-water and spiked cider slushies. Due to dehydration, brought on by the stair-climb, drinks disappear quickly. Responsible drinkers know that lining the stomach is the right thing to do (particularly if your friends are more likely to pitch you off the roof than carry you back down the stairs) so the food menu is a welcome distraction. For us, a pile of salmon belly, chicken and beef skewers are the first to go down the hatch. A shot of chilli caramel or harissa aioli (one condiment per skewer included in cost) adds excitement to the otherwise simple grilled meat skewers. I’m sure the salmon isn’t belly but the skin is crispy enough to see me withhold my complaints. A dish of grilled watermelon, fetta, mint and pita croutons hardly tastes like rabbit food (the heading under which this dish appears on the menu) while a simple side of steamed green beans is just that – steamed green beans. The food doesn’t reinvent the wheel or attempt to push any culinary boundaries but the staff at Sweethearts are friendly, the music is upbeat and there’s just something cool about sitting on top of a building as the calamity of Kings Cross plays itself out below.

Anna Lisle

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Filed under Kings Cross, Reviews, Sweethearts Rooftop BBQ

The latest from the Bentley boys, Monopole

Taking over the former Sailor’s Thai space, Monopole is right at home in this trendy part of town. Dark, sleek and sexy, Monopole is located just down the road from hospitality heavy weights The Apollo and Gastro Park. The idea, according to Savage and Hildebrandt, was to open a wine bar and eatery where they could experiment with a “more casual concept”.

Monopole has been designed by Melbourne architect Pascal Gomes-McNabb

Monopole has been designed by Melbourne architect Pascal Gomes-McNabb

Monopole isn’t casual – it’s actually quite intimidating. Designed by Melbourne architect Pascal Gomes-McNabb, the dark and moody interior is dominated by a long bar that borders the open kitchen. Perch at the bar and get amongst the action as the bartenders sip, squeeze and shake their liquid concoctions before you. Order a charcuterie platter and watch as the cured meat is freshly sliced right before your eyes.

Salt cod, green peas, mint vinaigrette and pea shoots

Salt cod, green peas, mint vinaigrette and pea shoots

Despite the credentials of its owners and its terribly trendy location, Monopole is surprisingly unpretentious. There’s a liveliness about the restaurant that demands attention. And perhaps, gives the restaurant some leeway when it comes to the overpriced menu. The quality of the produce is all there – from the grilled scampi and roasted suckling pig to the Iggy’s bread and shaved heirloom vegetables –  but quantity, as well as robust flavours, are lacking.  However, the house cured and smoked duck breast and cured venison on the charcuterie platter are exceptional and make a visit to Monopole worth your while.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Monopole here

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Filed under Monopole, Potts Point, Reviews

Everyone loves Santa

When you think of badass Sydney, in all its beer-goggle glory, you’re probably bowing in the direction of Kings Cross. So what better place to open a grungy restaurant and bar than beneath the Cross’ infamous Coca Cola sign? Santa Barbara comes to us, complete with neon-lit signage, from the Drink n Dine team, who can rattle off The Norfolk, The Abercrombie, The Carrington, The Forresters and Queenie’s, as part of their impressive hospitality portfolio.

At first we were confused. Sydney is a town where you don’t just go out for Chinese, Thai or Italian food: You go out expressly for Sichuan, Laotian or Tuscan. But how about Santa Barbarian food? We hear you – we had no idea either. Basically, the menu heads down the American diner grub path, then gets crossed with flashes of Asian inspiration, before taking a quick trip to the trendy ‘burbs of Aussie dude food. But like the rest of the Drink n Dine portfolio – the Santa Barbara experience is about much more than just the food. Obscure portrait photos line the restaurant’s polished teak walls, while tacky plastic national flags hang from the low ceiling. There’s colourful Chinese-style paper lanterns and random bits and bobs of American paraphernalia. It really does sound hideous but that’s part of the charm of this dishevelled space. It’s fashionably mixed up but too cool to care.

BBQ prawn ssam

BBQ prawn ssam

The surprisingly large dining room fills up quickly on a Friday night – but it’s not so full that you can’t walk around without rubbing up against every other sweaty body in the joint. There’s no table service, so you place your food order at the bar and it’s served pretty quickly. After being handed a plastic number on a metal stand, I half-expect to hear “number 54” screeched RSL-style over an intercom…No, it’s not that bad, but yes, if you’re more accustomed to fine dining, then Santa Barbara won’t be your cup of tea.

 

The food is great value for money and perfect for drink snacking. The BBQ prawn ssam is a surprisingly elegant dish – crusted with quinoa and served with mango and a seriously good dose of chilli. The salt n pepa sweet potato fries aren’t so deep-fried that the flavour of the sweet orange kumara is lost. Rather than having chip-guilt, you actually feel vaguely wholesome eating them. The chicken dishes are the standouts; the jerk chicken wings are served with a ranch sauce that’s great for sweet potato chip dipping and the coke can chicken requires total body commitment; sleeves rolled up, elbows on the table and gnawing the meat off the bone. Don’t bother looking for a “healthy” option – the jerk prawn and papaya salad is so salty that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night gagging for a glass of water but I doubt the calorie-conscious will be particularly charmed by the brown booth seating and cocktail jugs, anyway.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Santa Barbara here

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Filed under Kings Cross, Reviews, Santa Barbara

Bending the restaurant rules… Pawn & Co

Shopping on Chapel Street has been given a new meaning at Pawn & Co, a thrift shop and bar that needs to be seen to be believed. Found high above Chapel Street, this bar may be the only place in the world where everything is for sale. From the furniture down to the glassware, owners Steve Wools and Josh Lefers of Big Dog Creative have proven that everything has a price. At Pawn & Co the interiors are nostalgic for the Prohibition-era, with an old-school wooden bar, velvet booths and tens of books lining the shelves, all ingeniously cut away to make room for a flask – which is for sale, of course.

Take a trip to the Prohibition era at Pawn & Co

Take a trip to the Prohibition era at Pawn & Co

With a room that is as much about the selling as it is the drinking, the menu is based on bites that can travel. Meatballs here are the order of the day, to be eaten separately or made into sliders, but with flavour combinations like Jamaican chicken; pork and apple; and double-bacon cheeseburger, it may be difficult to settle on just one. Just save some room for the ice-cream balls too. Each dish can be paired with a shot suggestion but for a taste of something a little more unusual try the cocktail list, which even features some creations made with absinthe. With regularly scheduled auctions organised to sell their wares, Pawn & Co offers the perfect escape from reality – just don’t let the green fairy do the bidding for you.

Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about Pawn & Co here

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Filed under Pawn & Co, Reviews, South Yarra