Monday, March 31, 2014

Taste of Sydney 2014, Centennial Park

Once again, another March full of so many food festivals and special events had come and gone. This means that Taste of Sydney is over for yet another year. It's one of those events where you know that it will do so much wallet damage but you just want to try everything that your stomach could handle.

Like last year's event, Taste of Sydney 2014 used crowns as their main method of payment for food and drinks with money being transferred and stored in a Crown Card. The general dishes were priced at 6 to 12 crowns while the Icon dishes were much higher such as Jonah's fruit de mar seafood platter costing 40 crowns!

There were the usual favourites such as the Taste Kitchen and Chef's Skillery table where chefs share their culinary dishes and cooking tips. Some of the chefs could also be found doing presentations at the Tasmanian Pavilion, which showcases various food and wine producers across the Tasman sea. There was also cooking classes and wine/beer/cocktail matching master classes if you want to a more hands-on experience.

Rowie Dillon at Taste Kitchen

There were also the usual drinking areas like the very popular Rekorderlig Cider Bar where you can try as many ciders as you want (or your tummy and wallet could handle). You can also try the alky at other drinking areas like the Galliano tent, the Patron XO stall and the Bundaberg Distillatorium whether you want vodka, Patron Margaritas or beer. If you just want to try the wine, there are various stalls across Taste of Sydney which did wine tastings. They also use only crowns which can either be good if you have a few crowns remaining and you are too full, or frustrating if you wanted to use them on the dishes which were expensive enough already.

Rekorderlig Tent (ordered an Apple and Blackcurrent cider but forgot to take a photo...sorry guys)

Strawberry Margarita with Patron XO

Entertaining the customers at the Galliano Tent

There was even numerous food exhibitors appearing at the festival for your shopping needs whether you want olive oil, sauces, sweet treats, herbs and spices and cheese. The Salt Meats Cheese stall was one of the more crowded stalls where you get to taste and buy olives as well as cheese and/or meat platters.

There were lots of new restaurants featuring at Taste of Sydney this year with many of them taking out the top prizes. A shoutout to Chow Bar and Eating House for coming in first in the Best of Taste award with the Beggar's Chicken with silken lemon tofu and vinegar red peanuts (Icon dish - 12 crowns). ToS fave Porteno came in second for the charcoal grilled entrada (more on that later in the post) and newcomer Aki's Indian Restaurant were placed third. 

At first, I wasn't sure if I should have the famed suckling pig by 4Fourteen/Four in Hand again since I've had similar dishes over the previous years but it just looked so appetising after observing so many people ordering this dish as well. Once again, the suckling pig was juicy, succulent, sweet and great to share. The girls really enjoyed it though personally I preferred more crushed apple or the previous year's version with coleslaw and hot sauce for the extra flavour boost as it didn't taste as flavoursome as I would have liked.

Suckling Pig with Smoked Potato Salad and Crushed Apple (12 crowns)

The below dish from regionl NSW restaurant, Biota Dining, popped up on my instagram feed quite heavily over the duration of the festival so it was no surprise that I had to get it. Plus it looked like hot and spicy chicken from KFC or the fried chicken at Naruone and Hartsyard (and you all know what I think about fried chicken ;)). While it may not be your usual fried chicken with its use of cornflakes for the fried batter, it was incredibly thick, crunchy and crispy - plus very messy to handle! Because of the crunchiness, the corn and local garlic creme balanced the overall texture with its smooth, thick and creamy sauce.

Hay Smoked Chicken Legs - cured and smoked chicken with corn and local creme (12 crowns)

Chur Burger was one of those stalls with incredibly long queues thanks to their delicious burger offerings and the recent gourmet burger popularity. It's one of those stalls where you really want to try everything off the menu. My pick was their Icon dish, the wagyu rossini burger with shaved fois gras, truffle and Madeira jus. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly) the truffle ran out so they decreased the crown payment from 18 to 8 crowns. This didn't bother me because I love wagyu beef anyways. The brioche bun was soft plus the beef was juicy and cooked medium rare and was quite rich and filling. While I ended up paying 8 crowns instead of 18 for this burger thanks to the lack of truffles, the serving size was small especially when you can get bigger burgers at the restaurant for $10. 

Wagyu Rossini Burger with shaved fois gras, truffle and Madeira jus (18 crowns with truffles, 8 crowns without truffles)

Another Taste of Sydney fave, Efendy, plates up some tantalising Turkish dishes including the intriguing panfried lamb testicles (10 crowns. I'm not joking about this dish). I decided to be tame and went with the charcoal lamb kebap instead which was delicious, flavoursome and easy to fall apart. It was matched with warm hummus that was tangy and added a spark to the overall dish. One of my faves from this year's festival. 

Charcoal Lamb Kebap, Warm Hummus, house pickles, organic chickpeas and pastirma (12 crowns)

Because fregola dishes are hard to find, the below dish was one that I was looking forward to the most. I really enjoyed the fregola dish that Popolo did last year but this year's offering was a bit ordinary in terms of flavour and too creamy and lumpy for my liking. The seafood parts including the calamari, prawns, cuttlefish and mussel were the saving grace for the dish though.

Fregola, calamari and cuttlefish ragu, prawns and mussels (16 crowns)

When I attended ToS on Friday night, the one stand that had the insanely longest queues was of course, Porteno - even longer than Chur Burger. There was porbably at least 100 people waiting to get served so sadly I bailed out for this session. Returning back again on a wet, damp and muddy Sunday, there was no queues (yay!) but my feet did not survive the muddy grounds.

It was fun watching the staff at Porteno including chefs Ben and Elvis working hard at the grill. 

Looking at the dishes, it was no surprise that there was so many people lining up for the many delicious offerings. I was initially planning to get the lamb from Asado but the award winning charcoal grilled entrana wagyu skirt steak ended up being my dish of choice. Cooked medium-rare, it had a tender yet slightly chewy texture as I cut through the meat though it was also so yummy to eat. Loved the zesty chimichurri and the sweet peppers for the extra flavour to this succulent and droolworthy dish.

Charcoal Grilled Entrana - Wagyu skirt steak with BBQ peppers and chimichurri (12 crowns)

Since I go weak at Mexican food, Rojo Rocket was too far for me to get to and it was on Thursday and Friday nights only, I pretty much pigged out at this restaurant. With the cheery staff and colourful costumes and decorations, it was no surprise that this restaurant won the Best in Taste award for 'Best Dressed'. The sashimi tuna tostada was refreshing to have on a warm evening though it was quite spicy as well.

Tostada de Atun Fresco - Sashimi Tuna Tostada, avocado, onion and chipotle (12 crowns)

The pulled pork taco was juicy and not too soggy. The restaurant used soft corn tortillas which is my preferred way of eating tacos. Gobbled this up so quickly that I didn't realised it was gone so soon.

Taco de Cochinito - pulled pork taco, corn puree, salad and salsa roja (6 crowns)

This year, Taste of Sydney hosted IconPark, an online restaurant and bar concept funded by the people aka YOU. Hundreds of entries signed up for their chance to launch their own restaurant on East Sydney's 78 Stanley Street in the duration of 3 months but there is sadly only one winner. There were six finalists showcasing their dish at Taste of Sydney for the hungry diners to decide online including Blackcats, British India Trading Co, Min Joo Social, Ruby's BBQ, Sedgwick Ave and Stanley Street Merchants. As of today, the winner has since been announced which was Stanley Street Merchants. Looking forward to trying the food and drinks at this joint when it opens in April. Personally I think they are all winners.

The IconPark marquee tent has attracted countless attendees and has been one of the biggest hits at Taste this year. You do have to decide on which dish you want to get before entering inside the tent. My first choice was Ruby's BBQ for their serving of Southern USA smoked BBQ. Ruby's BBQ reminded me of Porteno with an American Hartsyard-like touch with their smoked BBQ beef dish. The beef was so tender that it fell apart instantly as my fork touched it. Though there didn't seem to be as much sauce as I thought, the coleslaw was much needed after consuming so much meat. 

Ruby's BBQ: 16 hour slow smoked BBQ Beef with Coleslaw and Ruby's Homemade BBQ Sauce (10 crowns)

Another finalist that I was keen to try was British India Trading Co (cool name btw) mainly after seeing a bit of presence from fellow bloggers. This concept is more unique whereby it serves a fusion of British and Indian-inspried plates and ingredients. While the short-rib was well-cooked, the overall spicy flavours with the combined use of okra, cardamon, ginger and tamrind sambal were quite strong and exotic for my tastebuds. 

British India Trading Co: Cardamon and Ginger Spiced Short Rib, Mustard, Carrot Butter, Okra and Tamarind Sambal (10 crowns)

By the end, we were so stuffed but you know what we all say about desserts. The Cut Bar and Grill's cherry ripe dessert had been on my mind for the entire festival. And it's only 6 crowns! So glad that I got  to ordered this. When you bite into the coconut coated chocolate bar, you can taste that lovely crack from the hard chocolate coating and the smooth chocolate (mousse?) and cherry filling inside. Sooo good! 

Cherry Ripe - Chocolate sphere, coconut and cherry (6 crowns)

With my stomach having a massive food coma, I can say that I really enjoyed the many dishes, drinks and various products that Taste of Sydney offered. I have noticed that there didn't seem to be as many sweet dessert dishes with only a handful of restaurants offering them while others delivered an entirely savoury menu. Since it was pouring on the weekend, it would be nice to see more seating areas especially on wet days but I guess there would be so much logistics involved in making that happen. Since there is already an entry fee, I personally found it to be an expensive event especially when you want to try so many dishes from numerous restaurants. Having said that, I did have loads of fun trying and exploring everything that the festival offered and will definitely return when it comes back next year. Looking forward to see what's next in store for Taste of Sydney 2015. Bring it on!

Check out my recaps of Taste of Sydney 2013 and 2012.

Don't forget to hit up The Random Foodie on Facebook for more photos on various dinner outings and events as well as the occasional news.

Taste of Sydney
Brazillian Fields, Centennial Park

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Carlisle Bar, Potts Point

A few years ago, I attended a friend's birthday at Favela nightclub in the Kings Cross/Potts Point area back in the days. Recently, this spot has been transformed into a New York inspired bar catered for late night catch up drinks, shared plates, social functions and loads of cocktails. Quite similar to the nearby Love on Top only the venue itself is larger in comparison. It's a split-level venue with the front bar, main bar in the middle and the VIP room at the back of the bar. Bonus points for having plenty of couches around the bar if you need to sit down during the night. 

Late last month, I was kindly invited to a blogger degustation to discover the tapas and cocktail drinks that the Carlisle Bar offer. While the weather that night was insane, it didn't damper our spirits as we mingle and chill out while the live entertainment from Angelina Ciccotti (singer) and Adrian Petlevanny (guitarist) plays in the background. It was super awesome hanging out with so many lovely bloggers as well as getting to know those I haven't met till this night. 

The Carlisle Bar food menu was curated by celebrity chef, Chrys Xipolitas with a combination of Mediterranean flavours with an Asian flair. This was certainly evident in the four course degustation menu that was available for all of us to try on the night. We also got to sample (by that I mean drink the whole glass lol) a generous selection of cocktails from the cocktail menu led by bar manager, Benjamin Hickey. It is a bar after all. Of course we will be drinking! :P 

We started the night off with a few shared plates. The Carlisle Plate was a Greek inspired shared plate consisting of fresh pita breads, trio of dips, feta cheese and marinated olives. Let's just say I got way too addicted to the olives as always. And piling up as many toppings as I want onto the soft pita bread was fun and messy.

Carlisle Plate ($24.00)

If you are vegetarian then you can grab your fill with the Vegetarian Teasers plate. This includes chargrilled eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, marinated artichokes, semi-dried tomatoes and (more) olives served with crusty bread. These were too slippery to handle without a fork or even a toothpick as opposed to a spoon. Very tasty though. While it is quite pricey, I believe it is designed to share between two people so it's not too much.

Vegetarians Teasers ($26.00)

My personal favourite from the starter treats were the tortilla chips. The chips itself were quite crispy but what got me super nuts was the chunky and zesty guacamole (consisting of avocado with coriander chilli and lime) dip. Considering the massive number of bloggers, I know that sharing is caring but it was incredibly addictive after one bite. And the chilli was quite mild - to my standards anyway.

Tortilla Chips ($16.00)

Not soon after the shared starter plates were taken away that the four course degustation began. One of my favourite dishes of the night was the grilled haloumi cheese with purple grape and balsamic reuction. Apparently the haloumi recipe was made by an 86 year old Greek grandmother who distributed her recipe to only three people in Sydney including Chrys Xipolitas (curious to know who the other two were though). It is no surprise why she intended to keep this recipe as secret as possible. It was creamy, bouncy yet light in taste and well matched with the grape and balsamic for the extra sweet flavour. It wasn't too cheesy nor was it very salty which was what I personally preferred. 

Grilled Haloumi topped with grape and a balsamic reduction ($14.00)

In this degustation, there was a glass of cocktail paired with each designated meal. Each cocktail listed under The Carlisle Cocktails menu was priced at $18.00. The haloumi was paired with the Clover Club. This consisted of Aviation gin, lemon, raspberry and egg white. This was quite sweet, fruity and tangy which I enjoyed. It was also interestingly combined with thyme as a garnish inside the cocktail.  

The Clover Club

The next dish coming up was the lightly floured and fried prawn cutlets. Personally I found these to be light and just as addictive as the olives with its crumbled and crispy coating. This was served with a trio of dipping sauces including sweet chilli plum, soy teriyaki and  wasabi aioli (this was not spicy at all btw). Felt like wanting more after finishing my share. Reminded me of the salt and pepper prawns/squids that you would regularly spot at various Asian restaurants.

Lightly floured and fried prawn cutlets served with a trio of dipping sauces ($18.00)

The second course was paired with Eastside Fizz, a Manhattan-inspired cocktail containing Beefeater gin, lime, mint, Perrier water and sweetness. This was equally light, sweet and fizzy like a champagne. Very refreshing to have if you want a low-key night since the alcohol didn't taste as strong.

Eastside Fizz

The third course of spicy chicken thighs was juicy, tender, well cooked though the overall flavours didn't excite me too much compared to the first two courses. Plus I was more keen on drinking at this point of the night so my memory was quite fuzzy. From what I could recall, the spicy chicken wasn't too spicy though there was a slight hit. Maybe my spicy tolerance really has increased or I was a bit too tipsy to notice. This was marinated and BBQ'd with a secret sauce which has got us curious. You can definitely see the Asian inspired aspect of the menu with this course with the use of marinated spices and accompanying sauce. 

Marinated Spicy Chicken and thigh fillets, marinated in the chef's secret sauce and BBQ'd ($16.00)

YAY MORE DRINKS! The South of the Border cocktail was actually very strong compared to the previous drinks. This consisted of tequila (jebus), Mezcal, passionfruit, lime and vanilla. If you want a stronger drink to kickstart a crazy night then this is definitely the one for you. Unfortunately for me, I had work the next day because it was a Wednesday. Fadedddd...

By this point I felt like eating something meaty so it was good to know that the beef tenderloin was the final course (though I was also hoping for dessert but all good). The beef tenderloin was soft, flavoursome and peppery thanks to the meat being rolled in various peppers, BBQ'd, sliced and served medium rare - my ideal way of eating meat. This was plated with the savoury bourbon jus and crunchy garlic crisps. Quite tasty from what I could remember.

Beef Tenderloin - rolled in mixed peppers, barbequed and served medium rare with Bourbon Jus and Garlic Crisps ($24.00)

The final cocktail for the degustation was the sassy Blood and Sand (ok not the name of course but just look at the drink!). This contains various exotic ingredients including chivas, cherry herring, Antica formula, Ardbeg and fresh orange. This was also very strong, sweet and sour thanks to those many unusual ingredients. This was probably why I spent the following day at work quite hungover.

Blood and Sand

All in all, it was a fun night catching up (and possibly embarrassing myself) with many fellow bloggers on a weekday night while exploring the food at this new bar. Compared to other events, I thought this night was well-organised with dishes delivered reasonably on time and having the dishes on display in an underground room with better lighting. The venue was spacious so it was also not too crowded thus making it easy to mingle. While I don't know what it's like on a Friday or Saturday night, the overall vibe was cool, classy, chilled and relaxing with dark lighting throughout most of the venue. Wouldn't mind coming back another night for a drink or four on the weekend. 

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie attended the launch event, courtesy of Bonnie Wu of The Carlisle Bar. Opinions remain personal.

Don't forget to hit up The Random Foodie on Facebook for more photos on various dinner outings and events as well as the occasional news.

The Carlisle Bar
2 Kellett Way, Potts Point NSW 2011
(02) 9331 0058
Thurs-Sun: 6:00pm - late
Mon-Wed: Closed
The Carlisle Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Love on Top, Potts Point

I could go on about what I think about the new lockout laws but that's for another Facebook post or Twitter status. So it was intriguing when I received an invite for a bar located incredibly close to all the crazy nightclubs in the same block where so many restaurants have closed down over the last couple of years. Even the neighbouring business Buns and Balls has relocated out of the Cross because of the new lock out laws with plans to reopen in Bondi.

The name 'Love on Top' seems to refer to its location being one level above the street level so it is quite hidden if you just walk past the area (don't ask me about love btw :p). Love on Top operates as an Asian fusion dumpling bar owned by the same team as Name This Bar at Darlinghurst with former China Doll's Kenny Kong as the head chef of the joint. This is interesting considering that the popular Harajuku Gyoza is only a few blocks away on the same street. The majority (if not all) of the food are actually gluten free which should be perfect for anyone who is on a gluten-free diet.

Yup that's Chef Kenny!

In regards to decor, there seems to be a bit of floral, grassy action happening with flowers and plants scattered around the small bar. There is also a layer of (fake?) grass in the outdoor courtyard near the entrance which is good in case you accidentally drop a glass or two.

Since it's a bar, it's no surprise that there were quite a few drinks flowing throughout the night. In fact I was offered more drinks than food in the duration of this event lol.

Ciders or Pils?

Despite getting more drinks than food, I was quite sick that night so I didn't drink too much or try all of the tastings on offer that night. From what I did try that night, I was satisfied by the quality and texture of the dumplings. While most fillings were traditional such as scallop and prawn siu mai and the vegetarian spinach and Asian vegetables, there was also less traditional fillings including the spanner crab and garlic confit as well as the pork, mushroom and peanut dumplings. Texture-wise, the dumpling skin was noticeably thicker and a bit larger. I do love the look of colourful dumplings which was what stood out for me with this event. Each one has a different shape and colour rather than the usual plain ones that you would see at most dumpling joints.

Pork, Mushroom and Peanut ($10.00 for 4 pieces) - cannot get sick of these dumplings! Decent size and hot to handle. Filling was surprisingly good with the peanut.

Scallop and Prawn Siu Mai ($12.00 for 4 pieces) - huge fan of siu mai dumplings and these were just as delicious with a firm and thicker skin and well-cooked filling

BBQ Duck ($10.00 for 4 pieces) - sticky, shiny and meaty. The BBQ flavour packs a punch to your tastebuds 

I didn't get the name of the below dish but it definitely was some kind of crab (spanner crab since it was mentioned on the menu?) with garnishes. Was very refreshing after the hot dumplings.

Deep fried Lobster Spring Rolls (I think that's what they were called. Not on the regular menu)

Crisp pork belly on a toasted Chinese steamed bun with pickled radish, carrot and hoi sin glaze ($10 for 2) - so crispy it's droolworthy

Mango pudding with almond crumble ($8.00) - this has a nutty yet slightly creamy texture which should excite any dessert fans. Cute cherry!

Haven't been here on a Friday or Saturday night but it seemed like a place to chill out and chat. The venue was small and intimate like the many small bars popping up around Sydney over the last few years. The service was friendly although we noted that our table was often skipped over so we didn't get to try as much as we wanted. Missed out on the green pandan crepes because I was too sick on the night but they looked so tempting to try. In terms of food, this was similar to the high quality dumplings I would expect at bars (think Uncle Ming's and Mr Wong). They are also made fresh to order which is bonus points. It is slightly pricey with $10-$12 for 4 pieces for dumplings. Will certainly visit again next time I'm in the Potts Point/Kings Cross area for dinner to try more dishes especially the spanner crab dumplings and the pandan crepes.

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie attended Love on Top Media Launch as a guest. Opinions remain personal. 

Love on Top
Shop 1/33 Bayswater Road, Potts Point NSW 2035
(02) 8021 9112
Tue-Fri 5:00pm - 12:00am
Sat 2:00pm - 12:00am
Sun 2:00pm - 10:00pm
Love On Top on Urbanspoon