Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tapavino, Sydney CBD

Ever been to a restaurant where you had to pay a service fee because you made a large group booking? I know surcharges still exist in some restaurants, bars and cafes for group bookings and Sunday trading. But is it really worth it?

CC and I were looking forward to trying out Tapavino simply because we loved tapas and sangria and the prices didn't look too bad. It was also CC's birthday so tapas, sangria and it's close to the Ivy = winning combination! 

Since it was a Friday night, it was no surprise that the bar was incredibly packed and noisy. Because we already did a booking, we didn't have to wait long to be seated upstairs. The top floor is reserved for those who made a booking while the walk ins are seated at the ground floor. There was a cool and noisy vibe with dark lighting (sorry for the terrible photos), which is great for after work drinks and dinner for those working around the CBD. Initially it was very quiet upstairs but as the night goes on, the floor was busy, packed and cramped for us when we need to go to the restroom. Because there was about 14 of us, we had to go with the set menu of $58 per person (excluding drinks) for groups of 9 people or more. This is a good deal considering the generous selection of 10 Spanish dishes to share on the set menu. 

There was a very extensive selection of wines to choose from. When we looked at the wine menu, there was literally pages and pages (about 30 pages?) of various wines listed including the delightful sherry. As usual, we all decided on a glass of sangria. Unfortunately we could only buy sangria per glass instead of a jug but that didn't bother us at the time. Was fruity but not as strong compared to other sangria drinks in the past.

Sangria ($11 per glass)

We started off with a bowl of warm mixed Spanish olives dosed with olive oil matched with a pickled chilli. While we thought that the olives were a bit salty, they were still addictive for us (me especially) to gobble them up before they disappear. Very pleased with the olives here actually.

Warm Spanish Olives and Padron Pepper ($6.00)

The follow up dish had a rustic texture with the pile of chopped eggplants with a dollop of goat's curd on top. The goat's curd had a strong milky and creamy taste that matched well with the saucy and tangy eggplant and the crispy tostada (which was actually a slice of crusty toasted bread).

Galician-style Eggplant, Goats Curd, Tostado ($14)

I really enjoyed the cow's milk cheese and toasted walnuts in vine leaves with toasted sourdough dish as it was a bundle of surprises. When it came to our table, I thought it was going to be stuffed with rice or assorted veggies. After cutting through, a smother of melted stringy cheese poured out from the vine leaves. I wish I could upload my before shot but it was too blurry. Lovely to have to warm yourself on a cool and windy day.

Goat's cheese and toasted walnuts in vine leaves a la plancha with toasted sourdough ($14)

And if you cannot get enough goat cheese, there is yet another dish coming up. But oh my god that jamon serrano! I could eat jamon all day and still won't get sick of it. The beetroot complemented well with the cheesy and creamy goats curd with the extra laer of flavour and texture. I could see this dish being perfect with a few slices of Will certainly come back to try the many other jamon dishes on Bar Jamon section of the A La Carte menu especially the one with the mushroom and black truffled tart with shaved manchego and the 'Pata Negra' jamon iberico.

Jamon Serrano, baby Beetroot and Goat's Curd ($18)

We were getting a meaty and goat cheese overload so we were relieved to see fresh seafood dish like the one below. It was actually the highlight dish for most of us thanks to the light, soft and refreshing tuna seasoned with the zesty, crushed almond and the sherry dressing. I think a few of us felt a tad tipsy because of the sherry dressing at this point (or the sangria was catching up to us). Definitely a dish I would recommend at this wine bar. 

Yellow Fin Tuna 'Cruda', crushed spiced almonds and sherry dressing ($22.00)

By this point we were already getting full and we are still only halfway through the menu! Thank goodness for shared plates! The first look of this dish took me back to my trip to Barcelona where I saw so many similar looking dishes with familiar flavours and ingredients. The braised chicken was so soft that in falls apart as you bite into the meat. Due to the tomato salsa and the pimenton mayo, the flavour for the dish was tangy but not too overwhelming for the taste buds. Can definitely imagine having this dish somewhere in Spain right now.

I love anything with salsa verde so having this and a squeeze of lemon with a rather substantial-sized beef short-rib made it easier for us to chow down our servings. Very tender and flavoursome. 

Braised Beef Ribs with Salsa Verde ($28.00)

I do love a good fennel salad especially after all the meat and cheese. There were bits of manchego scattered on this plate but the fennel was that light touch that we really needed. 

Shaved Fennel, Mint and Manchego Ensalada (about $10.00)

I was initially excited about this rich and dense dessert because I love chocolate but the salty and olive oil taste were too weird and strange for us to enjoy. And I liked savoury chocolate such as mole poblano. Probably good to try if you want to have something more unusual for your dessert.

Chocolate Terrine, Olive Oil and Salt Flakes ($12.00)

Thankfully, our other dessert was a crowd pleaser. Loved the light and sweet taste delivered from the strawberries. It also had a creamy texture which was matched with the crunchy macademia nut. Some of us were not too keen to share this dessert at all. 

Macademia Nut, Crema de Flan, Strawberries ($10.00)

Now everything went reasonably smoothly until it came to the bill. For group bookings at Tapavino, you need to pay an 8% service charge on top of the total bill which is mentioned on the Bookings page on the website. The issues that got up our sleeve was that apart from the friendly front of house wait staff looking after the bookings and tables, the rest of the service experience was average and not too friendly to us on the night. Plus we weren't even allowed to have the birthday cake inside the restaurant due to restaurant policy. So to pay $58 per person for the set menu because of our large group plus an 8% service fee is a lot of money to spend especially since drinks are not included. 

Despite the service and the shock from the service fee, we all still enjoyed the food here. Tapavino was actually mentioned as one of the more affordable places to eat around the CBD (with a mention in the 2014 Good Food Under $30 guide) but I would say that it actually is cheaper if it was a small group sharing a good number of plates since there would be no surcharge. We all had a really good time because of the incredibly tasty Spanish food. In fact, I thought it was one of the better Spanish restaurants that I have experienced. I wouldn't make a group booking here but I will still come back to try the food on the main menu and a few glasses of wine with a smaller group for a catch up or after work drinks.

So tell me readers: have you ever paid a service fee/surcharge when you dined at a restaurant, cafe or bar? How was the overall experience if you had to pay for that?


6-8 Bulletin Place, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9247 3221
Mon-Fri: 12:00pm - 11:30pm
Tapavino on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 14, 2014

Shenkin Kitchen, Enmore

With the original cafe located in Erskineville and an Espresso bar in the middle of the busy side of King Street, Shenkin has been a notable part of the Inner West cafe scene with Shenkin Kitchen opening in Enmore early last year. It boasts a similar menu to Cafe Shenkin which should be good for those who spend more time in Newtown/Enmore area than in the quieter Erskineville area. Unlike your usual brunch fare like bacon and eggs, pancakes and whatnot, Shenkin Kitchen offers an all day brunch fare mostly consisting of dishes inspired by the Middle Eastern (Israeli) and Meditteranean cuisines. And it's open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday too!

The cafe has that usual buzzing atmosphere with an industrial looking fitout with wooden brown being the main colour across the venue. Since it was a rainy Sunday afternoon, the venue was quite cramped and it was hard to get a table especially for 4 people. Initially we had to sit outside close to the pouring rain but thankfully a table was available not long after we sat down. 

I had my usual mocha coffee made with Mecca coffee beans. This version had a rich and lovely scented aroma with a bitter taste. Nice to have on a cool day.

Milk Chocolate Mocha ($4.00)

After looking at many photos of the dish on various reviews of this cafe, it was no surprise that I had to go with the shakshuka with added chorizo. The shakshuka It was presented to us in a hot pan (so hot that you cannot touch the pan under any circumstances!) and two loaves of pita bread. Initially I thought the eggs were baked but they were actually poached in a heavy base of rich tomato, capsicum and garlic sauce. This dish had a very intense and zesty flavour filled with various spices like cumin and tumeric. This will bring lots of excitement to the tastebuds - if you can handle it. There was plenty of juicy and firm chorizo sausages to enjoy which is perfect for me. The pita bread was a bit harder and more crusty in terms of texture but still perfect to dip into the egg yolk and the heavy sauce. Very generous serving for one person alone but I managed to finish it. 

Shakshuka with Chorizo ($19.00)

CC and S both decided on the shakshuka with eggplant and haloumi mainly because of their love for haloumi and eggplant. They both thought that the flavours were way too strong to handle so they both struggled with finishing up their plates. While there was a bit of eggplant, there was barely any haloumi which was disappointing for them. I guess in terms of the flavours for this dish, it is something that you will get used to depending on what your taste buds can handle.

Shakshuka with Grilled Eggplant and Haloumi ($19.00)

MT decided to be different and went with the Portuguese omelette filled with chorizo, Spanish onion, tomato and herbs. While I didn't have a bite, he said that he was very satisfied with this rustic dish and wouldn't mind ordering it again next time. 

Portuguese Omelette ($17.00)

Personally I really enjoyed my food and coffee experience but if strong, robust flavours aren't your thing then there are many other dishes to enjoy on the menu beside the shakshuka. While we were eating our meals, CC was constantly staring at the grilled chicken wrap nearby so we will most likely be returning to try that out. Since the weather is getting cooler, it looks like I will be making more visits to Shenkin Kitchen or even the sister branches nearby for their warm comfort food in the upcoming months.

Shenkin Kitchen
129 Enmore Road, Enmore NSW 2042
(02) 9550 5511
Sun-Tue: 7:00am - 5:00pm
Wed-Sat: 7:00am - 10:00pm
Shenkin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Moutai Store Opening Launch, Chinatown

A few weeks ago, I was kindly invited to attend the opening launch event for the Kweichou Moutai (aka Moutai) store. For those who immediately thought "What or who is Moutai?", this is actually the national drink for China whereby only the upper privileged class were able to afford drinking this mysterious spirit with a few of their oldest spirits costing you more than $5000! Despite the high price tag, it was fascinating to learn about the history of Moutai, how it was produced and exploring the many varieties of the liquor that were available inside the store.

But what's so special about Moutai that makes it so expensive? The first Moutai liquor was dated from as early as 135BC at an ancient town of Moutai in the Guizhou Province of China. It was made from sorghum, wheat and water that was distilled 9 times, filtrated 8 times, fermented 7 times then blended and matured - a complex production process which takes at least 5 years!

This results into an interestingly strong and complex aroma and taste of the liquor with over 155 different flavours and aromas in each drop. This ranges from wheat, grain, soy sauce, strawberries and even chocolate and caramel to name a few. You may only sense these flavours if you smell the aroma before saying "Gambei!" (cheers!) to your friends or family and enjoying the drink.

Outside the store, there was the usual welcome and good luck bouquets of flowers that you often see every time an Asian shop opens. Inside, there were friendly staff in traditional Chinese dress greeting guests with empty Moutai bottles used as decor for the ceiling.

There were three types of Moutai available for tasting on the night. Ended up trying them all. Personally I thought they all seemed very strong to me with a sensational after taste.

1. Moutai Flying Fairy (43% alcohol/vol - various sizes available) - the most popular in the range with its unique sorghum sauce flavour. Also available in 38% and 53% alc/vol.
2. Moutai Prince (53% alcohol/vol. 500mL) - lighter, mild and sweet with a shorter distillation period.
3. Moutai Shenzhou (53% alcohol/vol 700mL) - similar distribution as the Flying Fairy but sweeter. This was created to commemorate the launch of Shenzhou Manned Spacecraft.

L-R: Moutai Shenzhou, Moutai Flying Fairy, Moutai Prince

There were many other types of Moutai available on display at the store including the fruity Moutai Hanjiang, the highly prestigious Shenzhou Tianjiang, and the aged Moutai ranging from 15 to 80 years old!

We were all treated to Chinese finger food provided by the team at Golden Century Restaurant. Like wine, you can enjoy this drink when matched with Chinese dishes. 

During the night there were heaps of prizes for anyone who takes a random card out of a bowl full of lucky cards. Depending on the card you get you may win the Shenzhou Tianjiang Moutai - the highest quality of Shenzhou Moutai with an outstanding strong flavour with an elegant bottle. Which is what happened to me when I pulled my card out of the bowl. I was too shocked that I was unsure if I should accept because I didn't know who would enjoy this liquor. Luckily, the parents were pretty damn happy when they saw it. So were the mates. Might bring this to house parties later this year.

The Moutai liquor is perfect as gifts for special occasions whether it is a birthday, wedding or anniversary. If you end up receiving a gift of Moutai but not sure if you can finish it anytime soon, the staff kindly advised that Moutai gets better with age, which will be a perfect gift to share with you children and grandchildren!


Disclaimer: The Random Foodie attended the launch event as a guest of Polkadot PR and Moutai Australia.

Kweichow Moutai
398 Sussex Street, Sydney
(02) 9212 2288

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Village, Potts Point

A few weeks ago, I was kindly invited to try the new Ladies Lunch package at The Village. The weather was nice and breezy at the time which is perfect for a chilled out midday lunch or a simple catch up session with you girl pals. It has got me curious since most of my friends are actually guys so I do wonder if they would like the food regardless of the namesake.

On most days, The Village seems to operate as a bar at night with various shared plates including pizzas and chips to nibble. On Saturdays, the bar opens early for a bistro-style lunch if you prefer a relaxing day to chill rather than party all night. The venue is actually spaced out to include a ground floor with a bar, an outside courtyard and a dining area plus an upstairs bar area. The flowers and plants decor around the venue gave it an overall cute and chilled atmosphere...though I can't comment on what this venue would be like later in the evening or very late at night.

We started off with a glass of sparkling and a starter plate of olives and nuts to nibble. Because of the amount of food coming up, we barely touched the nuts but the olives (dosed with olive oil) were too addictive to ignore for the both of us. They also weren't too salty so it was easier to polish up.

Glass of Sparkling

Selection of Marinated Olives and Nuts 

We were excited to see the neatly-presented shared plate on various entree dishes when it arrived to our table. The shared platter consists of (Clockwise L-R on below photo):Salt and Pepper Calamari with Parmesan Aioli and Fresh Lemon, Sweetcorn and Basil Cappucino with Tempura Cauliflower, Butternut Pumpkin Arancini with Buffalo Mozzarella and Fresh Basil, and Rocket Pear and Parmesan Salad with Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette.

The seemingly small range of shared plates definitely appeared to be light but the stomach says otherwise. We actually really enjoyed the rocket, pear and parmesan salad the most because of its light and fresh texture and it was fun biting into the cheese. The calamari seemed harder and even slightly grainy in terms of texture then we would have liked but the flavours were there. We both had a surprise reaction with the pumpkin arancini which tasted mild at first but the spicy flavours creep onto your taste buds very quickly. The sweetcorn and basil cappucino was another fave of ours with its warm, soup-like, creamy texture which would be perfect during the winter.

Entree Shared Platter

For our main dish, we were given a choice of seared fillet of huon salmon or the crispy skinned confit chicken. As that Ol El Paso ad goes, why don't we have both? These main dishes were served with a bowl of crispy chips on the side.

Hand Cut Chips

The huon salmon was CC's choice of main, which, in my opinion was the highlight dish. The salmon skin was so crispy while the salmon fillet was soft and well cooked with a slight pinkish colour. This is serious melt in your mouth stuff. It came with a marinated feta, rocket and parmesan salad that I didn't try but CC said it was nice but of course the salmon was the winner.

Seared Fillet of Huon Salmon with Marinated Feta, Rocket and Parmesan salad

On the menu it said that the confit chicken would be served with a white potato and shallot salad with red wine jus however it ended up having the same creamy and cheesy base with marinated feta cheese as the salmon dish. It was a slight bummer because I was keen on trying the salad and dipping the chicken with the jus. Thankfully, the chicken was reasonably tender and juicy and the skin was even better with its golden crispy and succulent texture. Compared to the salmon, I thought that the serving size of the chicken was decent enough to fill you up if you order this as a stand-alone dish. Also it was nice dipping the chicken and chips into one of the puddles of the spicy sauce that was used with the arancini in the shared platter.

Crispy skinned Confit Chicken

It was good that the service staff took its time between meals for our stomachs to settle rather than putting everything on the table at once because we were struggling at this point. But yeah gotta save some room for dessert right? We awed when the platter full of colourful sweet delicacies arrived to our table. The dessert platter consists of macarons (lemon, orange and lime), white chocolate panna cotta, nutella tarts, mini-lemon meringue pie and a couple of orange slices. 

We started off with the macarons, which we thought were very sweet. The small lemon meringue pie had a soft texture while the nutella tart was not overly sweet and slightly bitter. We both shared the white chocolate, which we found to be sticky, firm and not as wobbly as we expected. However, the flavour was nice and the decoration of black sea salt on top was very cute. After the amount of savoury and sweet food, we both grabbed the orange wedges. It was certainly zesty, juicy and perfect as a palate cleanser at the end of the set meal.

The Village Dessert Tasting Plate - selection of The Village signature desserts

Since it was just me and CC tackling this package, it was no wonder we were so full by the end. Nevertheless we had an enjoyable afternoon eating and relaxing on a quiet weekend. The service was polite and not overbearing, which is a plus. If you are keen for a girls day out or planning a special occasion that isn't too wild, or heck even a special double date(!) then this should be the package for you. I'm sure the guys will like the food too if they are keen. Wouldn't mind coming back again to try the other food on the A La Carte menu including the pizzas.

The Ladies Lunch package (including the glass of champagne and nibbles) is available on Saturdays from Midday and made to share for a minimum of 3 people for $59 per person. You can also order it on other days during the week for groups of 15 people or more. Reservations are essential.

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie dined as a guest of The Village, courtesy of Lily at Cav Con. Opinions are, however, my own. 

The Village
1 Kellett Way, Potts Point NSW 2011
(02) 8084 6057
Tue-Thurs: 5:00pm-Late
Fri: 5:00pm-3:00am
Sat: 12:00pm-3:00am
The Village on Urbanspoon