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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Squinting at the copy on their site, all I could infer from the curt paragraphs were that Reuben Hills opens on the 1st and they do “Public Coffee Cupping”. Drop those three words in a sentence and I’m sure the next person thinks you’re referring to something rather questionable; Wikipedia however steps in and stops my imagination from swooping too close to the gutter by defining a Coffee Cupping as an experience whereby groups can “observe the tastes and aromas of coffee …[via] sniffing and slurping to measure aspects of the coffee’s taste (body, acidity, flavour and aftertaste).”

Unfortunately a last-minute meeting means I have to forgo the PCC but we manage to turn up on an overcast Sunday for a late brunch instead. As I walk past the front, two guys sipping macchiatos were talking about Baxter Inn in an awestruck drawl; inside revealed a long space with fluorescents-as-art, polished concrete floor, graffiti, revealed brick work, wooden school chairs and young men in cloth slip-ons who enjoy protein powder with their caffeine hit. It’s a hipster’s paradise.

I gingerly sit down on a rusty-metal-beam-cum-bench and ask around before a customer points to the counter and advises I get my name onto a waiting list.

It’s not long before the manager signals that I’m able to sit at a table and my two companions drift in. The guys here are serious about their coffee and it seeps through every level of the operation: from roasting their own beans on site to designing an origin inspired menu.


$3.50 Cappuccino

Despite the muggy weather I start off with a coffee whilst Dan opts for a peculiar “chocolate and ginger” milkshake.


Salted Caramel milkshake $6.50

Plonk! A metal cup of frothy goodness arrives but one sip and we realise it’s salted caramel (which isn’t listed on the menu) but Dan seems pleased with the taste and we don’t have the patience to wave down a staff member and opt to keep this delicious orphan cupful instead.


Baleada: Pimento pork, chimol, crispy onions $9

The food items available are a mix of South & North American fare, with a breakfast trifle sitting side by side with a listing of baked beef empanadas. The big seller here it seems are the baleadas: described as a Honduras flour tortilla stuffed with goodies and in this instance the goodies are hunks of pulled pork and salsa which I polish off in a jiffy.


Flat white with a shot of premium espresso $5 + Baked eggs with shaved Jamon, steamed spinach, Ranchero sauce and Schiacciata $13

The menu also lists a changing premium espresso for under $5 which we request to be served with milk as a flat white. The cup arrives and looks deceptively common but revealed a complex yet smooth earthy mouthful, I was shocked that this little shot had it all: brains and a good body.

The pleasant surprises endure as moments later two ceramic bowls arrived, each with a perfectly toasted finger of bread sharing plate space with a couple of quivering baked eggs shuddering under the weight of the Jamon and spinach. We pop the yolks and watches as it glides and pools before mopping it up with the crusty Schiacciata.


Doggs Breakfast: Ice cream ‘sandwich’ with salted caramel $8

No gluttonous foray of ours is complete without a sweet ending and so I urge my companions on with an order of the cheeky ‘Doggs Breakfast’. It took some effort to find a waiter willing to stop and take our order (the first saw my waving hand, raised an eyebrow and kept walking) but soon before us, a square of cake and ice cream stands upright on our prison plate in a luxurious puddle of dense salted caramel.

We ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ over that thick sauce and roll the remaining cake crumbs through the orange slick before licking our spoons clean. As we move to pay and leave we received no smile or pleasantries, disappointed by the coldness of the well dressed crew we shuffle out. At least our stomachs were smiling.

Three out of five

The Verdict
A unique offering of identity rich food and coffee which would satisfy the most picky of caffeine connoisseurs. The coffee is roasted on-site and created with a lot of shiny gadgetry whilst the food is cooked by a graduate of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen. Service was cool and indifferent although perhaps we caught them all on a bad day; the crowd can be dense with hipsters but it’s worth enduring for a beautiful feed.

Reuben Hills
a. 61 Albion St Surry Hills
t. 9211 5556
w. reubenhills.com.au

Reuben Hills on Urbanspoon

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2011 was the year we finally experienced a wind change and saw a plethora of quality South American eateries blow into town. I’m sure you’re thinking “hey trying all those tacos and pulled pork dishes is hard work” and you’re right, luckily you can now sate your queso fresco induced thirst with some Latino beer and deliciously alcoholic Agave juice at Tio’s.

Tio’s Cerveceria is billed as a ‘Guatemalan tequila bar and beer hall’ opened by two moutached Shady Pines alumni and the pedigree shows: it’s got that innate chilled out kitschy vibe with layout focused on the long wooden bar running the length of the establishment.

Drinks here are well…tequila, 70+ tequilas in fact so if it’s never been your thing, this is your best chance of converting.

Annie and I are here to down a (few) drinks before an exhibition; it’s knock-off hour but the cavernous small bar remains relatively empty except for a few chicas sipping cocktails and chatting to Jeremy Blackmore, Alex Dowd and their crew.

The whole place feels like a south-of-the-border-summer-break-frat-party waiting to happen with plastic owls, parrots, dripping wax and religious iconography dotting the walls and looping through the rafters. We pull up two stools and Jeremy arrives and asks what we’d like, we’re stumped as always so he pushes on asking whether we prefer our drinks sweet or sour. An awkward pause ensues so he declares he’ll make one of each.


Tequila with juiced lime (left) $10

I’m given the sour: he explains that they juice half a whole lime including the pip so it adds a touch of bitterness to the drink, which turned out to be quite sweet and refreshing without any trace of bitterness.


Tequila with apple, cucumber, hebs $10

Annie’s was really fruity with the strong freshness of the cucumber shouting above the herbs and apple, the drink was comparable to a Mexican Pimm’s punch.


70+ Tequilas

All the while, one of the guys behind us had been working hard to fix the broken carnival pop corn machine. With our drinks almost finished a fat paper bag of chilli corn goodness suddenly popped onto the bar in front of us; Annie and I twist open the top and started the uncontrollable munching.


Complimentary chilli popcorn

I thought it’d be wise to order one for the road and requested “something quirky”.


Tequila with coffee and condensed milk $10

A chocolated coloured glass mug arrived, it turned out to be a Vietnamese inspired concoction of coffee, condensed milk and of course, tequila. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t a revelation either (perhaps it’s because they were using Nescafe) although I admire the boys’ creativity.

We sadly smooth out our wrinkly popcorn-bag carcass and as we chat away, a soft plop sounds the arrival of another fresh bag! We can’t resist hanging around longer, nibbling on popcorn, admiring the mismatched tiles and plastic figures until we realise time got away from us and we were running very late.

I guess a holiday in Mexico can do that to you.

4

The Verdict
A quirky laid back Tequila bar serving great drinks and free popcorn at an un-Sydney price (I’ve heard they sell salted and limed $5 tinnys). Those who aren’t fans of cerveza will be glad the boys will have brought out a printed cocktail menu by now (on the back of Mexican post cards no less). Noise levels can vary, it was murmur quiet when I was there but a friend later informed me they arrived at 8 to an uncomfortable wall of sound. But just a quiet word between you and I: Tio’s is the best place to expand your tequila based repertoire and train your liver in anticipation of that Latin getaway so swing by and start “salud”ing soon.

Tio’s Cerveceria
a. 4-14 Foster Street, Surry Hills
w. www.tioscerveceria.blogspot.com

Tio's Cervecería on Urbanspoon

My friends sometimes ask how I can afford to eat out as much as I do since it appears like every meal’s a hatted multi-course magic ride into the culinary clouds (okay those are my words not theirs) and the creative profession is rarely a well-paid one. The thing is there’s no secret oil tycoon fiance; sometimes good things come in cheap packages, you just have to know where to find them.


Latte $3.30

Wilbur’s place sounds like a jolly place to chill out with your porcine host but in actuality is a new little eatery from the guys at Bourke Street Bakery. The other up side is the prices seem to be from the 90’s with the most expensive item a dinner plate of duck leg, roasted plums with vino cotto which would still return you a gold coin’s change from a 20 note.

This concept seems to hit all angles of the magical triangle (good, fast, cheap) and I’m so keen to visit I blab on about this place for weeks. Upon their reopening for the new year, three of us rock up for a long lunch at this alleyway digs.


Seranno ham, grapefruit and fennel salad $12

We settle in with some coffees on the outdoor table and start with the Serrano ham, grapefruit and fennel salad. The combination sounded intriguing and light: the ham and grapefruit added nice touches of salt and bitterness to the salad. Strangely though the fennel was limp and quite sugary and acidic.


Cappucino $3.30


Complimentary Duck liver parfait, toast & cornichons (Normally $12)

Our lovable waiter Ben approaches us with a surprise: a complimentary dish of duck liver parfait for us to nibble on, it’s buttery smooth and we pull sad faces when we run out of brioche.


White anchovy, cucumber, celery, croutons $12

White anchovy, cucumber, celery, croutons was our second choice: another interesting combination. Sadly this too tasted overwhelmingly like apple vinegar and we asked Ben to check for us. He returns and advises the kitchen only adds salt, pepper, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon to the salad but there’s no fresh lemon zing and the sugary limpness of the celery betrays an overwhelming acidic taste. Cathy notes the kitchen may have pre-dressed the celery and fennel in apple vinegar in the morning and accidentally macerated the vegetables resulting in an overpowering sweetness.


Porchetta plate, white beans and bread $14

I’ve been looking forward to the porchetta plate for quite some time, which time-poor locals can get in a roll for only $8 a pop. We food tourists though have all the time to languish in the sun and slowly devour the pork with beans and sourdough. The meat is quite tender and doused with rosemary, with a streak of fat running through, on a bed of jus which we mop up. Midway through Cathy pulled a piece of trussing string from her portion and we’re also disappointed to note that the beans haven’t been cooked enough and are quite hard on the inside; the jus itself was also a bit sticky from being over-reduced.

We manage to finish most of our food though and remain optimistic about dessert. The ice cream for the brioche sandwich is made by the staff and the sound of a meringue covered flourless chocolate sponge seems intriguing but Ben tells us his absolute favourite is the custard tart. We’re still wondering what to order when he arrives with the tart in question and places it before us.


Complimentary Custard tart (Normally $12)

We dig in and sigh over the delectably smooth custard blanketed with a generous amount of nutmeg. Dessert’s over in seconds and we each leave having spent well under $20 each. We wave goodbye to Ben and Paul and waddle off down the alleyway: our hip pockets barely lightened but stomachs well full.

The Verdict
Have you ever bumped into two siblings* and noticed one got a lot luckier with the gene pool lotto? The Bourke Street crew have baking down pat and the menu at their new sister restaurant is simple but imaginative, so it’s quite sad to see poor execution letting everyone down. The service is affable and the prices are very kind to all and sundry; I’ve just got my fingers crossed that the kitchen simply has the start-up jitters and will soon develop into a well-oiled machine by the time I return for that duck and perhaps some ocean trout fingers.

*This is a metaphor and is not in reference to any persons living or dead.

Wilbur’s Place
a. 36 Llankelly Place, Kings Cross
t. 9332 2999
e. info(at)wilbursplace.com
w. www.wilbursplace.com

Wilbur's Place on Urbanspoon

I’m a pretty awkward person and sometimes life feels like a string of trailing sentences, weird pauses and failing social graces. Trivial interactions become overblown dramatic scenarios or I sometimes just forget to use my inside voice (oops). Whilst I still feel extremely uncomfortable stepping into a luxury bag store or having bell boys carry my luggage, drop me off at a three hat restaurant and I’ll still feel at ease enough to make lame dirty jokes while asking for more complimentary buns (boom boom tish).

The three of us are at est. for the latest promotion: the Sunset menu which includes an entree, main and cocktail for $50. Considering mains alone at Doyle’s darling normally go for about $60 a pop this is a pretty sweet deal.

Jenny and I are late and as we drift up in the quiet hum of the elevator I can’t help but hold my breath a little, awaiting that magical moment when the doors slide open and we step into an alternative universe: a glorious vista of white waistcoats, marble, ebony, palms and french doors.


We move through the dimly lit corridor and into the dining area, a flurry of waiters welcome us and I’m a little alarmed by all the bowing and scraping but we’re soon sauntering over to our table and perusing the wine list while buttering some sliced sourdough.


Sunset cocktail: Vodka, cranberry, elderflower liqueur and apple, Kaffir lime leaf

First to appear are the blushing cocktails, an aromatic mix topped off with a Kaffir lime leaf which slowly infuses your drink with that familiar pep; I’m smitten and we vow to recreate this at home.


Italian buffalo mozzarella with fresh peach, serrano jamon and belgian endive

The menu itself is curt and we’re given two options for the entree and main. None of us were tempted by the market fresh Oysters with ponzu and instead opted for the mozzarella with peach and jamon. Three waiters decked in white appeared and uniformly served us our entree in one elegant gesture. The mozzarella was pillowy soft and compliments the classic flavours of jamon with fruit; Jenny mused that although delicious, the dish was a little overly simplistic and something we could easily make ourselves.


Pan roasted Palmer Island Mulloway fillet, tahini yoghurt, broccolini, green peas, dukkah

For the mains we were all eyeing the pan roasted Mulloway served with a slight Middle eastern bent. The fish was cooked perfectly and the nuttiness of the tahini proved an interesting contrast to the crispy clean flavours.

Halfway through a mouthful of Cathy’s fish, I pulled out a short bone from my mouth, a passing waiter inquired whether I’m alright and on spotting the bone, paled a little before fleeing to inform our waitress and the kitchen.


Pan roasted black angus beef fillet, wasabi miso and shallot butter, pak choy

I actually wanted the fish and am normally suspicious of anything served with pak choy but for the sake of multi-dish-ism I requested the Asian influenced beef instead. A round medallion of black angus appeared with a quiff of wasabi miso butter on a puddle of jus: the fillet was incredibly tender and the grittiness of the wasabi in the butter gave each mouthful a bit of punch. Overall Jenny considered this dish a more interesting proposition whilst I thought the flavours a little jarring.


Valrhona chocolate delice, caramelized banana, toasted rice ice cream $28

Although we’re penny pinchers, it would be blasphemous to leave without sampling a dessert. We settled on the creamy delice paired with a deliciously subtle banana cream, banana segments and a wafer thin layer of caramelised sugar which shattered on the tongue.

Vanilla bean latte cotto, berries, wafer – complimentary (normally $28)

By some strange sort of magic (or it turned out, the manager’s generosity) we’re given a second dessert to sample (perhaps something to do with a certain stray bone)! The latte cotto translates to “cooked milk”, a delicate sister of the traditional panna cotta which quivers under our spoons as we scoop up little segments along with the trail of berries.


Petite fours – complimentary (normally with tea or coffee $8)

Our sweet waitress comes by again to ask if we’d like tea or coffee but we can barely fit anything else in and so decline. However, a long plate of petite fours slide in front of our eyes, another kind gesture from the managers we suppose. Not one to waste food we divvied up the spoils of macaron, chocolate truffles, raspberry jube and basil jelly before licking our lips with satisfaction.


Although the sitting is timed we’re allowed to while away an extra hour sipping (tap) water, laughing (too) loudly and watching men with pocket squares and preening girls strut past. Maybe this isn’t quite ‘me’, but every now and again it’s good to sit in the company of the other half and pretend we’re a world away from the one we know below.

The Verdict
I remember Quay, Marque and Sepia vividly but always seem to fail to recall est. as being a three hatted destination. In order to make the offer viable, the food served at for the Sunset menu are simplified versions of existing est. dishes and it shows. Each element of the dish is well considered and plated with an eye for perfection however the whole never seems greater than the sum of its parts. Despite this, if money is of no concern then I could easily eat here several days a week: the dishes are timeless and never smack of fads or appear spurious. The waitstaff are efficient and act with consideration and touching small gestures (one waiter even came over to kindly push Jenny’s chair in for her as she returned from the bathrooms). If the prices make your mouth drop but you’ve always been curious, then this is a great opportunity to see what the fuss is all about.

The Sunset menu runs until the 31st of January and includes an entree, main and cocktail for $50. Bookings must be made for a 1.5hr sitting starting between 6-7pm.

est.
a. Level 1 Establishment, 252 George Street Sydney
t. 9240 3010
w. www.merivale.com

Est. on Urbanspoon

Sydney’s never been much of a secret city, we’re all nip & tuck, flash and show, social pages, champagne and technicolour; we leave the cobblestones and noir to Melbourne. If you really look though, you’ll see we can be a playful city too.


Taken by J. Pang

Located in by far the most secret location of them all, the only telltale sign of this new speakeasy is a trail of bright young things emerging from a fire escape in a dark driveway on an otherwise deserted Clarance street. Don’t worry it’s not a drug bust but some slightly inebriated customers leaving Baxter Inn: the newest child from the boys of the beloved Shady Pines Saloon. So if you’ve avoided Jason Scott and Anton Forte’s stellar initial effort because of a crippling doraphobia or peanut allergy then this new American sports bar should draw you back into the cool crowd.

We arrive late one evening and without having to wait (pretty chuffed especially having spotted a 1 hour queue at Shady Pines) down the rabbit hole we go and emerge in a lively underground Chicago sports bar. Candle and boxing memorabilia clutter the low underground space while a mixed crowd of suits and youths sip cocktails and whiskeys along to some old blues tunes.

Depending on who you ask these guys have either 150 or 300 whiskeys at hand, given I’ve probably tried about 4 in my lifetime both counts sound impressive to me. Inundated with choice (Whiskey cognescenti can choose their tipple based on region and age) I ask our bartender for his favourite and he pours us two single malts served neat over a block of hand chipped ice.

Glenmorangie Original 10 years $10 + Glenmorangie Nectar D’or 12 years $13

The original is incredibly floral and smooth and my drinking companion seems impressed. From the same distillery the Nectar D’or has been aged in hand picked French (Sauternes to be precise) casks and is quite sweet, this is definitely my preference although seasoned drinkers may find this too cloying.

If whiskeys aren’t you thing don’t fear, they’ve got a cocktail menu, beers on tap, wines and cognacs in the cellars and all the regular spirits at hand. Ask for your complimentary bowl of pretzels and I’ll wager you’ll lose a few good hours in this cosy hide away.

Who’d ever thought, we’d soon be out-Melbourning the Melbournians and I for one ain’t complainin’.

4

The Verdict
Easy going communal watering hole with fair priced tipples and the largest collection of whiskey at hand in the heart of the CBD. You hear that? It’s the silence of an office just emptied out. Join your friends there and play a little.

Baxter Inn
a. Basement, 152-156 Clarence St Sydney (walk down the driveway and turn right)
e. pretzels(at)thebaxterinn.com
w. www.thebaxterinn.com

The Baxter Inn on Urbanspoon

Walsh bay is a slick glass & sandstone version of residential Sydney: a patchwork of locals, tourists, apartments, commercial studios, old heritage buildings and wharves – all existing under an inescapable view of the Harbour Bridge. Once the clock hand ticks over to pre-theatre hour though, it morphs mid kick Matrix style into an every-woman-and-man-for-themselve frenzy as each group tries to play a suburban-sized game of musical chairs to get a table and down their food competition-style, before the prosaic 8:30 call of the loudspeakers draw the punters to their flip seats.

Cafe Sopra, the prodigy nestled within the Italian produce laden Fratelli Fresh’s walls is a clear local favourite and the first to fill up. Although dinner service starts at 6, try not to arrive a heart beat past 5:59 or else you’re likely to be the head of a long queue waiting for a table at this one Hat chain.


Italian Sour $12.50

We arrive in time to get one of the few remaining tables and it takes a moment to flag down a waitress zooming past. We start with a couple of classic apéritifs and then quickly over-order off their giant blackboard menu.


Chicken Liver Paté with cucumber, green bean and toasted Ciabatta $20
+ Campari & Blood orange $9.50

First is the chicken liver pate, a blushing pink served with a refreshing mound of onions, beans and cornichons. I’ve never had such a bright pate and Cathy informs us it’s a sign of freshness since pate browns as it oxidizes.


White Anchovy Panzanella $20

The simplicity of the Florentine salad go down well with the soft hits of anchovy, my only wish was for more pane in the panzanella.

Mussel Fusilli Insalata with eschallot, avocado, cucumber & tomato $20

Normally ‘special’ dishes denotes something imaginative or super fresh and punchy so I was drawn to the prospect of the quirky combo of mussels and avocado. Unfortunately the insalata was a wallflower: a few shreds of this and that tumble through a large mound of pasta that seemed to disappear within itself.

Meatballs with fresh tomato sauce and Tagliattelle $22

I’ve read about grown men crying at Sopra when they realise the meatballs have sold out, so it was best we secured a plate for ourselves and see what a heart-breaker three balls of meat could be. The meatballs were huge, topped off with a small grating of Parmesan; as we cut into each one I was in love with the fluffy texture bathed in a slight tartness from the fresh tomato sauce.

Whole baked Trout with Mint and Marjoram

As good as the meatballs were, the trout was the queen of the night. The rosy meat slid off the bones easily and each bite was a comforting mouthful of soft flesh, lemon, mint and marjoram.

Since over-ordering and ambitious eating has been our forte we decided to be consistent through the last legs of the meal; we couldn’t decide which dessert to have so egged on by the waitress, we just ordered both.


Chocolate Cannoli with honeycomb and fresh Mango $14.50

Two fingers of cannoli arrived with honeycomb filling and a tussle of mango cubes. It was a pleasant combination of flavours but we were disappointed the filling was only pipped halfway through and the cannoli having lost a little of its crispness by the time it arrived on our table.

Bluberry swirl Semifreddo with Minted sugar $14.50

Last to arrive was my semifreddo. My first and only was a smooth block of almond cream sandwiched between two wafers in Verona so this was something I wanted to relive again! The blueberries and mint here worked off each other’s sweetness but I found the water content in the blueberry swirl meant the texture became icy and a little grainy.

Three out of five

The Verdict
Exuding all the rustic, seasonal charm ladies decked in big earrings, felt scarves and resin bangles love: everything at Sopra is about classic Italian done with fresh local produce. It’s been an effective business plan and if their SMH Hat and latest opening on Bridge street is any indication, one which can’t keep up with ravenous demand. I’ve been to the Walsh Bay eatery twice (and failed to gain entry twice) and would say each meal has its hits and misses although I’m unsure if this is a sign of bad ordering or perhaps a personal inability to appreciate certain flavours. Regardless, the well-oiled machine has been pumping out winners close to a decade and I’m sure you’ll be able to find another gem between the aisles.

Cafe Sopra at Fratelli Fresh Walsh Bay
a. Shop 8, 16 Hickson Road Dawes Point
t. 8243 2700
w. www.fratellifresh.com.au
Cafe Sopra on Urbanspoon

Happy 2012 folks, another year of feasting (and broken resolutions) lie ahead. If you’re looking for a few spots to while away your Summer break maybe check out a few of these shiny new places and I’ll meet your derrier there!

Recently(ish) opened is Baxter Inn a new venture from the boys at Shady Pines. It’s just a cool underground bar dressed up in American boxing memorabilia with a ginormous collection of whiskeys (300+) and free pretzels to boot.

Another themed dark drinking hole from the fine Pines family is Tio’s Cervecera: opened by a couple of their ex bartenders. It’s a Guatemalan beer and tequila joint which serves up free popcorn: please go if you like your drinks salted and limed…so that’s 90% of you I’d say.

Speaking of fantastic pedigree the boys from Bourke Street Bakery have opened a local that’s all about cheap and tasty fare. Nothing at Wilbur’s Place is over $20 and the thought of duck pate, beef ragu, porchetta rolls and home made pie is already making me hungry ok got. To. Stop. Talking. About. This. Place.

Fans of Nadine Ingram (former pastry chef of MG Garage) are going to be happy that Flour and Stone has finally opened! Tarts, sandwiches, cakes and ginger bread shaped unicorns and pirate ships are all going to be meeting my friend Stomach soon.

Other super worthy mentions are: the Roosevelt which will hopefully open soon in Potts Point (pretty sure anything by the guys at Eau de Vie will be an amazing success especially since it’s going to be Mad Men cool); The Little Guy and Mr Falcon Bar are two new watering holes for some lucky Glebe locals; Glebe-ians are also to welcome a whole stash of new cafes including the new Madame Frou Frou who’s special enough to be stocking some uber tasty Black Star Pastry ginger ninjas; the sadly out of a job Beer Baron has now turned to providing alcohol to you at his own premises, the Dock in Redfern and in case Surry Hills was somehow short of their 1 cafe per capita goal I’m sure they’ll reach it soon with the opening of Reuben Hills today, a cafe and bean roaster which serves coffee with a capital C.

See you there.