Monday, October 28, 2013

Bills, Surry Hills

Recently, my Canadian cousin visited Australia for the long awaited honeymoon. I sadly missed out on their wedding due to work commitments so it was time to make up for it and show the best places to see around Sydney for the newlywed couple. We met up on a breezy and somewhat warmish Saturday morning in Surry Hills for a casual brunch. Obviously so many choices of cafes to check out. However when you have no idea when you will be in Sydney next, you might as well check out Sydney's institution for brunch: Bills of course! 

Bill Granger is known for his easy, simple, no fuss recipes from his many cookbooks as well as delivering delicious brunches at his restaurants. In the past, I've been to Bills for lunch and even dinner but never for breakfast or brunch due to my hopelessness in waking up early on a weekend. While there was a line when we arrived at the cafe in the heart of Crown Street, Surry Hills; we didn't need to wait too long (about 20 mins actually). The menu outside gave us time to decide on the dishes and ended up going with pretty much all the dishes on Bills' classics menu. While the breakfast menu finishes at 12pm, thankfully the following classic brunch dishes are available for lunch until 4pm.

It was a long day ahead which will end with a crazy night out so a cup of coffee is needed. Bills uses Single Origin Coffee beans for their coffee so it wasn't too strong or bitter but the smooth texture was the highlight. 

Skim Mocha (Small: $3.90, Large: $4.50)

Cuz and Wifey were intrigued by the below drink. I wasn't too sure since this was my first time for brunch but looking at the ingredients, I just said "it looks like a health drink with lots of veggies mixed together. This drink contains green apple, cucumber, spinach, chia seeds and young coconut. Sounds like one crazy drink actually. Wifey thought the taste was too much to handle but Cuz enjoyed it and was satisfied by the health benefits that Bill Granger aims for in his cooking.

Bills Daily Greens ($9.50)

I didn't end up trying the below drink either but Wifey said that she enjoyed this one. Thought it was smooth, zesty and fruity like a smoothie. Refreshing to have on a warm morning. 

Sunrise - Orange juice, banana, yoghurt, berries (S: $6.00, R: $7.50)

Finally the dishes that we've been waiting for! Cuz had his eyes on the Full Aussie Breakfast which includes Bills famous scrambled organic eggs, sourdough toast, bacon, roasted tomato, swiss mushroom and pork and fennel sausages. So much to dig in but Cuz ate the whole thing without any trouble. I tried a bit of the scrambled eggs and thought it was soft and so creamy but light and (surprisingly) not too milky. Would love to give this a go especially for the pork and fennel sausages though we were stunned at the amount of butter wedged between the toasted bread.

Full Aussie Breakfast ($24.50)

From past visits, I can never ever get sick of the sweet corn fritters. These are seriously the best corn fritters I've ever had! No exaggeration. The fritters were packed with little fresh corn kernels into the lightly crispy batter. The bacon was nicely cooked, juicy and not too crispy while the spinach was perfect to have at the end since the other ingredients were a tad oily. The tangy flavour from the tomato added a touch of zing to the overall taste. What I loved about these fritters was that they were not as doughy or soggy as most other fritters I've had in the past. The portion sizes was also reasonable for me to eat literally everything off the plate. So freaking good!

Sweetcorn Fritters, Roast Tomato, Spinach, Bacon ($21.00)

I didn't try much of the ricotta hotcakes but shared a bit with the Wifey who ordered this dish. Although I have never tried ricotta hotcakes before I was blown away by the texture of this dish. Light, fluff, simple and not too sweet. It was everything that reminds you of Bill Granger's cooking style. I didn't seem to notice much ricotta when I had my share but Wifey said that it was hidden in certain parts of the hotcakes. While it looked so pretty on the plate, the honeycomb butter was incredibly generous and it was just too much butter for the guests to handle. Every flavour combination worked so well together from the fruitiness of the chopped bananas to the sweetness from the drizzle of maple syrup and the savoury texture of the butter and the ricotta.

Ricotta Hotcakes, Banana and Honeycomb Butter ($19.50)

Check out that melting honeycomb butter!

While it took a while to get a table and the prices aren't cheap, the overall service and food delivery was fast, friendly and down to earth. Not to mention that the food was so delicious. It's no wonder that locals and tourists flock to Bills for their brunch feed. This is outstanding considering the other competition in the Surry Hills cafe scene lately. Will be coming back here to try more of dishes from the breakfast menu especially for those ricotta hotcakes.  

359 Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9360 4762
Breakfast: 7:00am to 12:00pm
Lunch: 12:00pm to 4:00pm
Dinner: 5:00pm to 10:00pm
Bills on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Let's Do Desserts aka Sugar Hit 2013: The Gallery Tea Lounge, Sheraton on the Park, Sydney CBD

It's that time of the year when I end up gaining a few extra kilos thanks to Good Food Month Sydney (formerly know as Crave Sydney and also Sydney International Food Festival). There are heaps of events happening around this time including Night Noodle Markets, Hats Off Dinners and Let's Do Lunch. It's a foodie's dream come true! One of the most popular events is Let's Do Desserts (also known as Sugar Hit previously) where restaurants, tea lounges and hotels create their signature dessert for only $20 including a glass of Brown Brothers dessert wine. There is so many to choose from though this time I decided to check out the dessert at the Gallery Tea Lounge located inside Sheraton on the Park. This hotel is also conveniently located across the street from Hype Park where Night Noodle Markets is happening. Perfect!

The setting was quiet, chilled, formal and relaxing compared to many other restaurants in Sydney CBD. The overall service was not as interacive but it was reasonably attentive. The room was almost empty but then I was there randomly at an earlier time at 7:30pm so it will probably get bus after 9pm when most of the Sugar Hit restaurants start serving their desserts.

The Gallery Tea Lounge's dessert offering is the Guanaja 70% Chocolate Millefeuille served with a Hazelnut Praline and Chilled Chocolate Orange Sauce. The dish itself was fairly cluttered to accompany as many elements on the plate as possible. I enjoyed the Millefeuille (reminded me of the biscuit layers of an ice cream sandwich) as well as the pistachio biscotti and the dried chocolate and honeycomb pieces for that added crunch while the smooth chocolate mousse melts in your mouth. The strawberries on the side as well as the hazlenut praline were very handy in to balancing out the overall flavour of the chocolate. Incredibly rich and filling for one person alone. Perfect for those who love their chocolate especially dark chocolate with its intense and bitter flavour. If you can't handle too much chocolate then this is not really the best option. This is coming from someone who really loves dark chocolate.

Guanaja 70% Chocolate Millefeuille served with a Hazelnut Praline and Chilled Chocolate Orange Sauce ($20.00)

All Sugar Hit desserts are accompanied by a matching Brown Brothers dessert wine for no extra cost. Fruity and sweet just like the dessert.

Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora Dessert Wine

Let's Do Dessert is available every night until 31st October. Bookings are recommended. For more info on which venues are offering 'Let's Do Dessert' for Good Food Month:

The Gallery Tea Lounge
Sheraton on the Park
161 Elizabeth Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9286 6650
When: 5:30pm - 10:30pm (Oct 1st-29th, 31st October 2013)
The Gallery Tea Lounge on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Flanagans Dining Room, Thirroul


For those who know me, life in the city has been too busy, hectic and stressful especially with work. So it was nice to get away from the bustling Sydney life and head into the more relaxing, quiet town of Thirroul near Wollongong (only 90 mins by train from Central) where we got the chance to check out Flanagans Dining Room. While it was hot, it was also incredibly windy but that didn't spoil our mood that day for a relaxing, chill out session by the beach.

Originally Flanagans was your typical fish and chip shop until it changed management with Claire and her husband (who also takes the reins in the kitchen). It even has the old signage at the front of the restaurant. Since getting head chef, Arman Uz (formerly of Efendy's) involved; the restaurant has turned a new leaf in bringing Middle Eastern and Modern Australian dining with fresh seafood to the Wollongong region. We were also impressed by the interior design that Flanagans give off. It appeared simple with wooden furniture and ocean decor surrounding the place which gives off a relaxing and soothing vibe.

Before getting seated inside, we were treated to a much needed refreshing drink of Blood Orange Gin and Tonuc. Unlike most Gin and Tonic drinks, this one was very sweet and not as strong. Loved this drink. Would love to see more of that drink at bars and clubs hahaha.

Blood Orange Gin and Tonic

The bread was sourced from the Berry Sourdough Company and the extra virgin olive oil arrived from Hunter Valley. There was a selection of woodfired sourdough bread including white sourdough, rye and spelt. Always loved this combination. Once I tried a piece, I got hooked and wanted more but alas must save my stomach for the rest of the degustation. Speaking of which, the degustation menu at Flanagans changes based on fresh produce. Therefore, you would definitely expect some surprises here no matter which day you head down to the South Coast.

Hunter Valley Olive Oil and House-made dukkah

Rye bread

Sourdough bread

We were treated with countless glasses of Crooked River 2011 Estate White Blend Chardonnay wine to complement with our many seafood dishes.

Crooked River 2011 Estate White Blend Chardonnay ($11 - glass /$44 - bottle)

I was in love with the first entree dish that arrived to our table. The seared scallops were cooked perfectly to our liking and it worked well with the tangy chilli paste. The scallops were also quite juice with a slight crispy outer texture. I would gladly order this dish again just for myself. 

Seared Scallops with Sambal Chilli Paste ($22.00)

With the hot weather that is happening in Sydney these days, a round of oysters was a refreshing treat before the main meals. Lots of zesty flavour action from the white balsamic and the pink shallots. 

Clyde River Oysters with Pink Shallot and White Balsamic ($16.00) 

The following dish showcases Arman Uz's Efendy origins with its Modern Turkish influence. The texture of cakes were light and bouncy which matched well with the creamy and garlicky baba ganoush, the fruity pomegranate and the bitter watercress. A very colourful and tasty plate that will test your taste buds.

Crab cakes with baba ganoush, watercress and pomegranate (price unknown)

Soon after we finished our entree dishes, FOUR plates of seafood and chips arrived to our table. I was gobsmacked at the amount of seafood that was presented to us. On the menu it is listed as 'Salt and Pepper Local Fish with Handcut Chips' where you get a choice between Bream, John Dory, Rock Cod and Snapper. Because of the restaurant being located so close to the ocean, you are guaranteed to get freshly caught seafood at Flanagans. The fish was fried and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper (I actually barely notice the seasoning when I tried the fish!). The outer texture was crispy while the inside was soft, easy to fall apart and juicy. There were lots of bones so we had to be careful when biting into each fish. 

Each plate also came with hand cut fries which were so crunchy and addictive. I believe that these were some of the most crunchy chips I've ever had - possibly twice-cooked? Either way I thought they were amazing that we all wanted to grab more but was disappointed at the serving size (about 4-6 chips per plate). Will recommend ordering a bowl to share (thankfully available for $10) or even just for yourself to gobble it up yourself.

Salt and Pepper Rock Cod with Hand Cut Fries ($28.00)

Salt and Pepper John Dory with Hand Cut Fries ($28.00)

Salt and Pepper Bream with Hand Cut Fries ($28.00)

Salt and Pepper Snapper with Hand Cut Fries ($28.00)

If you are one of those people who can't stand seafood (you know who you are!), you can also get the slow cooked lamb shoulder with smoked eggplant and Cavolo Nero. I can definitely see this menu appearing at Efendy with the use of lamb and eggplant. Those who know me will know that I actually LOVE my lamb so this was a satisfying experience for me. It was tender and soft to the point that it melts in your mouth. The parsnip puree had that sweet taste which complemented perfectly with all the savoury plates so far. 

We were all so full but we were still so eager on what to expect for desserts. Were we impressed? Yeah of course we were! Everyone was treated to three different desserts that were made to share. The kadaifi pastry was inspired by Uz's experience at Efendy. This was a favourite for everyone on the table. The nuttiness from the pistachio, the swirls of golden syrup and the pastry layers gave the dish a sticky and sweet crunch to the palate. And it looks so pretty!

Kadaifi Pastry with Pistachio and Golden Syrup ($9.00)

These dessert treat also had a nutty and sticky sensation with walnuts stuffed inside the figs and topped with maple syrup and clotted cream. While I'm personally not a fan of white cream, I would say that the cream actually helped in balancing the overall sweetness from the plate. 

Sun Dried Figs with Walnut, Maple and Clotted Cream ($9.00)

I love creme brulee and I haven't had it in a looong time so imagine my face when I saw this dish. This is also shared between all of us although the serving size is much smaller. This dish would be perfect to have for yourself actually...hehehehe. It had everything that I like in my creme brulee - smooth and creamy vanilla custard combined with a burnt sugar topping so you can have a good time cracking it open. I was also gazing at the raspberries on top of the brulee topping. Very nice to have after a rich, sugar overload. One of the better creme brulees that I've ever had (in my opinion of course). 

Creme brulee with Mastic and Vanilla ($9.00)

Before we knew it the day was already over. The dining experience was lots of fun and even got to catch up with everyone who I haven't met in a long time. The service was wonderful, down to earth and friendly and that complemented well with the quiet, peaceful setting with ocean views. Will certainly come back here if I ever head down this way. Definitely worth it for a getaway from the busy Sydney life that's for sure. 

Claire (owner of Flanagans Dining Room) and Arman Uz (Head Chef)

The degustation menu at Flanagans Dining Room is available on Friday and Saturday evenings for $75.00 pp or $115 with matching wines. Bookings are essential. 

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie dined as a guest, courtesy of Wasamedia and the Flanagans Dining Room. Opinions are personal.

Flanagans Dining Room

Thirroul Beach Promenade, The Esplanade
Thirroul NSW 2515
(02) 4268 1598
Breakfast: Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays from 8:00am
Lunch: Wed-Sun from 12:00pm
Dinner: Friday and Saturday nights
Flanagans Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Old Town Hong Kong Cuisine, Chinatown

Usually when it comes to eating joints with a substantial amount of hype, I would have first heard about it through various blog reviews appearing at once. For Old Town Hong Kong Cuisine, I actually first heard about it through CC who checked it out one night with a mutual friend when it only just opened. At the time, I did not hear any word about it even when we did a quick stop for takeaway once about a week later. Eventually the reviews came through and then the queues appear out the door of the grand-sized restaurant. Strange how things work out.

When entering inside the restaurant, we thought that the decor of this eatery kinda reminds us of Mr Wong even with the two-levelled, spacious and old fashioned Colonial Style layout. The difference here is the lower prices which is evident throughout the entire menu with the majority of dishes priced at less than $20. Furthermore, the service at this restaurant is incredibly friendly and attentive which is saying something for a Chinese/Asian restaurant in Haymarket/Chinatown area.

We were greeted with a crowd of people standing outside the restaurant. Thankfully, the people were served really quickly so it didn't take too long for us to get to our tables. We ended up sitting by the bar near the kitchen area where we saw roasted meats hanging around like those Asian BBQ butcheries in the Cabra area. We didn't mind at first because we wanted to sit down since the weather was freezing that night (damn you cold winds). We eventually wished that we waited for a proper table because our dishes were delivered all at once. Which is good if you are in a hurry but not so good when you feel rushed and want some time for your food to settle down. Still, bonus points for quick service.

Roasted meat display

Complimentary Tea

Since it was cold that night, CC was craving for a hot drink and was recommended to try the hot milk tea. She didn't end up enjoying the taste though and struggled to finish it. 

Hot Milk Tea ($3.50)

I was craving for lemon lime bitters all of a sudden despite the weather. Was nice to try and quite balanced with its flavours though I drank the whole thing way too fast.

Lemon Lime Bitters ($4.50)

Because of the vast amount of dishes on the entire menu, we took a while to decide our dishes. We did try to order the pan fried pork buns but it always sells out each time. Must be an incredibly popular choice or there are limited batches. Instead, we decided on the Old Town pan fried pork and vegetable dumplings. The skin had a nice crisp and the pork filling was juicy to our liking. Similar to Chef Gallery's version but much cheaper. 

Old Town pan fried pork and vegetable dumplings ($6.80)

With all the hype about buns (or baos) lately, we couldn't help but try all the buns that Old Town has listed on their menu. Each one of them were delicious to try with its sticky and sweet bun, hoi sin sauce and shreds of green onion. CC's fave was the roasted pork belly bun with its thick slab of meat. The peking duck was also a winner with me with its crisp skin and tender meat. While the BBQ pork bun was tasty, it didn't wow us as much as the other two flavours. I still prefer the Ippudo pork buns for its secret sauce but these ones impressed us enough to order again at our next visit. 

Old Town buns (L-R: BBQ Pork, Roasted Pork, Peking Duck)

Roasted Pork bun ($8.00 for 2 buns)

When we saw this dish we immediately thought of those restaurants that serve handmade noodles (like Chinese Noodle Restaurant, Chefs Gallery and Seabay). I didn't end up trying this meal but CC enjoyed the plump dumplings and the light soupy broth since she was craving about it in further visits.The amount of noodles served was too generous for one person to finish so it was a struggle and ended up doing take away. 

Shanghai Wonton Noodle Soup ($10.80)

I went along with the Old Town Homemade Noodles with XO Sauce since I have been craving for handmade noodles lately. The noodles were actually very oily for me to enjoy though the spiciness from the chillies and the XO sauce balanced the overall flavour. It's a decent serving so I would recommend this dish to share. 

Old Town Homemade Noodles with XO Sauce ($12.80)

We made another visit at Old Town Hong Kong Cuisine recently on yet another cold and windy night. Damn cool change. CC decided to get the Seafood Congee which ended up working a treat in warming yourself because she was still noting that the bowl was still very hot later that evening. While I didn't end up trying the congee, it appeared to be creamy and lumpy. While the below photo did not show it, CC mentioned that there was a decent amount of seafood. 

Seafood Congee ($12.80)

When there's congee, there's gotta be fried doughnut fritters. I always loved eating these crispy treats on its own since I was a kid. Can never get sick of it. Old Town's version appeared to be two fried fritter sticks stuck together. Great match to have with the creamy seafood congee. 

Deep Fried Fritters ($2.50) 

While the serving size of the Soy Sauce Fried Egg Noodles was still generous and oily like the handmade XO noodles, it was easier to finish due to the crispy texture from the egg noodles. The presentation might be simple but the taste was delicious. 

Premium Soy Sauce Fried Egg Noodles ($10.80)

We were planning to get the below dish as our entree but I guess a lot of precision was involved in creating the bird's nest so it would have taken its time. It was a tad pricier than many other dishes but it ended up being one of our favourites. The laced nest was crunchy which matched well with the succulent, piping hot and juicy pork dumplings. There was eight dumplings served so it's great as a shared dish. 

Pan Fried Pork Dumplings in a Bird's Nest ($14.80)

Good selection of desserts

The decor may appear to look modern and contemporary like Mr Won compared to the old school Chinese restaurants in the Chinatown area but the prices remain cheap and friendly to those on a budget. What should be noted is that the dishes were delivered incredibly fast though rushed. There were moments when many dishes were delivered at the same time which was overwhelming for us. Still I would say that this dining joint is great for a catch up with friend after work or class. The crowd was mostly students so the atmosphere had a casual and noisy vibe. You can even check it out after a night out at a bar or clubbing or a drunk karaoke session because it opens till 2am every night. Will definitely return to try the many other dishes on the menu including the dumplings, desserts and the specialised Hong Kong dishes. Would still like to know how I could get my hands on those pan fried dumplings that always sells out every time I'm there.

Old Town Hong Kong Cuisine
10 Dixon Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9264 3888
Old Town Hong Kong Cuisine on Urbanspoon