Friday, 21 September 2012

The Larder, Otto Ristorante, Woolloomooloo

The Larder is a pop-up extension of Otto Ristorante, situated right next to it at Finger Bay Wharf and open only on week days until the 27th of September. I'd heard of its provision of rustic fare for low prices (low for Otto, in any case) and was looking forward to satisfying my tastebuds with hearty dishes. The food was sadly left wanting.

The waitress explained that the menu is designed for sharing, so we ordered 3 savoury dishes, holding off from any desserts in the event that we'd stuffed ourselves too much - which we did.

The first to arrive was the pork rillette sandwich with dijon mustard and gherkins, served on a wooden board. It looked incredibly inviting but as I bit into it, I was greeted with carbon. Turning over the top layer of bread, I found the entire underside to be burnt. I sent it back to the kitchen and they prepared another half, the waitress explaining to me that the burnt part comes from the bread being toasted on the grill. I  appreciate the grill marks on food as much as the next foodie, but eating pricey burnt toast isn't very pleasurable.

The pork rillette was slightly cold at room temperature, reminding me of a tuna sandwich in both flavour and texture. Overall, it was alright - edible, slightly bland... Not great.

Pork rillette sandwich ($16)
Next came the john dory and chips with tartar sauce, the highlight of the dinner. The fish was light, fresh and cooked to perfection. The batter was crisp with just the right amount of seasoning (which tasted like chicken salt). The herby tartar sauce was refreshing and complemented the fish well. However, the fish was let down by the chips - soft and not particularly appetising.

Fish and chips ($26)
Finally, the chicken skewers with peri peri sauce arrived. Given the price, I'd expected either very tasty chicken or more than 4 skewers. Evidently neither expectation was fulfilled. The chicken was moist but the meat that wasn't covered by the tangy sauce had a strong gassy (as from a gas-stove) flavour.

Chicken skewers ($26)
We decided not to stay for dessert as the sandwich and fish and chips were more than enough to fill our stomachs.

The staff is friendly and the concept of The Larder is packaged very prettily - casual dining with views of the wharf, candles, a cosy ambience, and food presented in pans/ boards/ charming plates. Would I return? Probably not.

Otto Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 September 2012

Holy Basil, Sydney CBD

Holy Basil is located in the Shark Hotel, just a couple of minutes' walk down Liverpool Street from Downing Centre. At the entrance was a giant statute and a screen saying Holy Basil, but the combination of the neon Shark Hotel sign and dim lighting rendered me confused and utterly deterred from venturing there alone - which was just as well, as their portions are quite sizable.

Since then, I've been there twice - once for lunch and once for dinner. To find Holy Basil within the hotel, venture up the stairs of the entrance. It's situated just past the bar and lounge area and fairly hard to miss due to the prominent decor.

Lunch was my first visit, upon which I realised that it's best to share whatever you order. I got a bowl of steamed jasmine rice and a beef Gang Dang/ red curry, both of which can be seen to be pretty big (relative to the spoons).

The red curry, as expected from eating Thai in Sydney, was sweet and very rich from the coconut milk (lemak, as Malaysians would describe it). Spiciness (or lack of) is not a problem, as you can select 1 of 3 levels of spiciness. The beef was tough and dry, and the vegetables weren't the best (the green beans felt and tasted old). However, one can't complain too much given the price and size of the meal.

Steamed jasmine rice ($3) & Beef red curry ($12.90)
The lunchtime crowd wasn't too bad and it was easy to get a table.

Friday Dinner, on the other hand, is a bit of a gamble if you want to show up without having made a booking beforehand. Some childhood friends and I decided to use it as the location for one of our catch-ups, and one of them thankfully had the foresight to recommend booking a table, as the restaurant turned out to be very full.

It's not a good place to have a discussion, as you're surrounded by chatter from the other tables. If you've been to a busy Chinese restaurant before, think worse. Sitting at a table for 4, we ended up shouting and still had a hard time understanding each other.

We started off with a Thai papaya salad. It was fresh but contained too many bean sprouts for my liking and came off as a bit tasteless.

Som tam salad ($10.90)
Our mains were then delivered. We had glutinous (sticky) rice that came bundled up in a woven basket to eat with our red roast duck curry (gang ped yang) and seafood oyster sauce stir fry (pad nam mun hoi), which came with broccoli, carrot and mushrooms. We also ordered a beef pad thai that tasted like ketchup was used for sauce.

Glutinous rice ($3)

Gang ped yang ($17.90)

Pad nam mun hoi ($16.90)
Beef pad thai ($12.90)
We finished off with the fried ice-cream, which is by far the one thing that distinguishes Holy Basil from all the other Thai/ Laotian restaurants out there. Its novelty not only comes from it being FRIED ICE-CREAM, but from the pastry they use to package the ice-cream with. The pastry is flaky, crispy and light. Paired with the sauce, it tasted like caramel popcorn. Each parcel is quite big, so a lot of tables split them between 2 people.

Fried ice-cream ($13.90)
Moral of the story: eat the fried ice-cream if you eat nothing else there.

Holy Basil on Urbanspoon

Monday, 3 September 2012

Encasa Restaurant, Haymarket

Whenever 'tapas' and 'Spanish' are mentioned, my mind immediately conjures up images of meagre offerings for exorbitant prices. I was pleasantly mistaken upon visiting En Casa, which serves up generous portions for more affordable prices. Don't let the narrow shopfront deceive you, either, as the restaurant could easily sit a few groups of 5 - 10 (which is fantastic when you want to sample loads of high-fat dishes in one sitting!).

So without further ado, I shall proceed to launch (with lurid detail) into my account of the meal...

I started with the sangria, a cocktail of red wine, chopped apples, and what was probably lemonade (of the carbonated variety). Light, bubbly and a tad fruity, it was a good complement to the procession of dishes that ensued.

The first to arrive was the patatas bravas - fried chopped potatoes coated with garlic mayonnaise and tomato salsa. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, it was a carb-lover's delight. They overdid it on the sauce, but the excess was scraped off easily enough.

Patatas bravas
Next up was the chorizo a la plancha, or grilled chorizos. It was hot, bubbly and fatty, but oh so delicious. As with the potatoes, I had to limit my chorizo-intake to a little bit at a time.

Chorizo a la plancha

The potato and corn croquettes (above) were on the Specials Menu. As you can see, they came with their own cream sauce. They're similar to the Japanese ones, with their lightly battered, crunchy exterior and their mashed up interior.

Egg dish
We also ordered an egg dish (the name of which has escaped me), which came with slices of buttered bread, mushrooms and chorizos. It was a hearty breakfast dish and very much complete on its own.

Below, you can see the vieiras en azafran, scallops sitting on shells with a saffron, shallot and cream sauce. The scallops were firm but not tough and overall cooked really well. That was probably the highlight (along with the potatoes!).
Vieiras en azafran

The five dishes and drink amounted to $66 for two. I don't eat Spanish often so I'll leave it up to you to make a judgment as to whether that's reasonable. I should also add that one should take into account the need to balance dishes. If your palate isn't overwhelmed by the amount of oiliness, creamy sauces and sausages, your stomach might be the one to protest not too long after!

Service-wise, the food came quickly and the waitstaff were efficient and alert. Don't expect too much in terms of ambience, as it can get pretty loud and busy - though some might regard it as a manifestation of the casual dining atmosphere.

Encasa on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Rockpool on George

A family member took us to Rockpool for a lunchtime birthday celebration. Since it's located in the historic site of the Rocks, parking nearby was elusive but not impossible to find.

Rockpool is tucked amongst a bunch of shops and cafes, and we passed it several times trying to find number 107 before we saw the sign. The doors opened at 12pm sharp and we hoisted my grandma up into the restaurant - there's quite a high step, so it's hard to access if you are of limited mobility (it is definitely not wheelchair accessible as they do not have ramps).

We were welcomed cheerfully by the staff and taken up their spiral staircase to a more private area. The lunch menu was a three course affair, but our host graciously asked for plates of fresh oysters (see below). The accompanying sauce complemented the oysters well, the chilli sauce giving them tanginess.
Oysters, Chilli Bean Sauce and Salt
The style of the dishes on the menu was mainly asian fusion. For my entree, I selected the chirashi zushi, a Japanese dish with a selection of fish, prawn, squid, rice, black sesame, avocado and the (addictive) chilli bean sauce. Once again, the freshness of the chilled seafood really popped out. As a cold dish, it was probably not such a great choice for a winter meal, but it was nevertheless very enjoyable.

My main dish was a medium/ well-done wagyu beef, which turned out to be very tender and succulent (despite what many people might have thought!). The crunchiness of the accompaniments melded well with the fatty meat, and it was consumed all too soon. My appetite is generally quite small so the portions were just right for me, but heavier eaters would probably have to order some sides to feel comfortably full.
Chirashi zushi
Wagyu fillet, fennel, onion, olive and celeriac
While waiting for our desserts to appear, our host ordered cheese platters and dessert wine. I'm not one to appreciate strong cheeses, but I am assured that they were very good, so I drowned my blue cheese in honey.
Cheese platter
Next came our desserts! I had the vacherin of pandan custard, coconut parfait, jasmine sorbet and lime granita. The outside doesn't look like much, as the meringue encases all of the layers. It cracked open with the pressure of my fork, and citrus from the lime granita ensured that the overall dessert was light on the palate, not overbearingly sugary.

Vacherin of pandan custard

Cracked vacherin :)
Below are some of the dishes that the others ordered:
Baby octopus, shaved cuttlefish, okra, mushroom royale and ponzu
Goat's cheese lasagne, fondant potato, thyme oil, white leek sauce and burnt leek and balsamic
South Australian lamb, borlotti beans, turnips, tea smoked mussels and preserved mustard greens
Passionfruit souffle and passionfruit ice cream
Milk chocolate and saffron terrine, hazelnut praline, poached pear and cocoa nib ice cream
Birthday cake and the last few strands of the spun sugar tower
Lunch concluded with coffee and petits fours!
Petits fours - violet mini eclairs, orange jellies and orange chocolate

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Chinese Garden of Friendship

Since I got a new phone, I've been champing at the bit to try out its camera. I think the colours came out pretty well - and it's certainly a lot better than my old point and shoot compact camera!

I was surprised that the entry fee was so cheap - $3 concession and $6 adults - since I could have sworn that it was a lot more expensive a few years ago. The flowers weren't really in bloom because of the winter, and I think they closed off part of the garden (which was already small to begin with). Nevertheless, it's a nice patch of serenity in which to stroll around, amidst all those high rise buildings.

It's a great place for families, as they have a section where you can rent traditional Chinese costumes and strike poses.

Onde, Darlinghurst

A couple of months ago, we decided to visit Onde after having passed it various times on the way to other restaurants around the area. The wooden tables and cushioned seating whispered "warm and inviting", and even on a Sunday evening, small groups of diners strolled in for a bite to eat.

Fried Squid, $17.50
In keeping with the winter theme, Onde ran a "double duck" special, with cute rubber ducks accompanying each table. For the sake of our health, however, we decided to keep it simple and ordered a starter of fried squid with rocket leaves, tomato and aioli. I've always been a fan of tentacled creatures, and this dish did not disappoint.

For my main, I ordered the linguine with tomato and chilli. The dish wasn't as spicy as I was hoping it would be (the chilli tasted more like capsicum), but the dish was still tasty and the portions were generous.

The vegetable side dish that we ordered consisted of buttery Brussels sprouts. I can't comment much about them because I don't appreciate the bitterness that ensues from partaking of them, but Onde masked the bitter flavour fairly well.

I have to say, I experienced a bit of food envy when I stole a chunk off of my +1's main - the fish of the day (I can't recall what it was... barramundi maybe?) served with fennel and chickpeas.

And that was the end of our dinner! As tempting as the dessert menu was, I had no room left for anything substantial. Maybe next time...
Linguine, $21.50

Brussels sprouts

Fish of the Day, $29.50
Onde on Urbanspoon