Sunday, 27 January 2013

Mad Spuds Cafe, Surry Hills

One day I decided to embark on a trip to Le Monde. Alas, it was a Sunday. It turns out that Le Monde is closed on Sundays. Instead, I headed to Crown Street to partake of the organic potatoes from Robertson* (where they filmed Babe).

Crown Street, that strip of trendy cafes and bars, was packed, with sizable lines outside various shop fronts. Mad Spuds was no exception, and we had to put our names down to wait our turn. There's a cute stationery/ card shop right next door, though, so we browsed around to kill time.

*: I just realised why there's a big potato in Robertson.

After about 15 minutes' wait, we were led inside to be seated. The interior is quite small but turnover seems quite high and there's a bit of outdoor seating. The waitress serving us was really friendly but I think we gave her a fright when the two of us decided to order 3 mains (not realising how generous their portions are).

The coffee arrived soon after. I must say that even though the spuds are the main attraction, the coffee is kind of amazing. My flat white had a really strong coffee aroma and taste but lacked the bitterness that I often find accompanies that amount of coffee flavour. It was creamy, rich, and made me want more. I later learnt they were given 2 coffee cups in the SMH good cafe guide. Definitely seems well-deserved.

Cappuccino ($3.50)

Flat white ($3.50)

My choice of dish was the 'boxty' - a potato pancake with mustard, bacon, avocado, fried egg, apple puree, white sausage, and what seems to be a dash of curry powder or paprika (tasted more like curry powder!). The boxty was crisp and formidably filling, tasting astonishingly nothing like your typical potato. The bacon was fried till dark and crunchy (the way I like it), and they were generous with the slabs of avocado. The egg yoke was half runny and the apple puree contributed some sweetness to the otherwise savoury dish (which I could actually have done without, but if that's the traditional way, who am I to comment). The white sausage patty was meaty and felt like mince, making the entire dish rich and full of carbs and protein. I should have been content with sampling one dish for the duration of that visit. Alas, I'm a committed glutton.

Boxty ($16)

My brunch buddy had a  vegan dish, which was a stack of tofu, avocado, corn bread, potato and lentil, and many many Boston beans (with a slightly Mexican twist), and crispy quinoa puffs. It was tasty, but I think I preferred my tower of food because of the greater variety of ingredients.

Vegan brekkie stack ($16)
Finally, we shared a dish of twice cooked potato skins. At the time of ordering it, we thought that potato skins would be like crisp cut French fries - a mere snack and easy to share. When the plate of spuds arrived, I felt dismayed at the fear of not being able to do it justice. We managed to get through most of it (with a lot of trouble), so thankfully we didn't waste too much.

The taco flavour refers to the Mexican style of making the spuds. The dish consisted of 4 halves of potatoes with crispy skin on the outside and supporting chunks of mozzarella cheese, beef (spiced but it wasn't spicy), chilli sauce and coleslaw. It's definitely a main and deserves the respect of people who order it as a main.

Taco potato skins ($15)

 And so our brunch ended with our stomachs completely filled to the brim with starchy goodness. My conclusion? I would totally go back for the good coffee, excellent service, and cheap (and filling and aesthetically pleasing) food.

Mad Spuds Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Shingle Inn, Chatswood Westfield

Shingle Inn is a chain of cafes, of which I had heard nothing about until the Chatswood branch opened about half a year ago. Since then, I've been curious about their $24.50 (per head) high tea, and I finally gave it a try earlier this month.

Shingle Inn is situated on the same level as Coffee Club and Dymocks (one level above IGA and the Miracle Asian supermarket, and one level below the food court and Roy Young chemist). It's not hard to miss, as the signage is prominent and the layout is quite distinct.

Upon entry, we were invited to seat ourselves and informed that we would have to order and pay at the counter, after which we were provided a number. It seems to be after this stage where table service at Shingle Inn commences.

We sat ourselves at one of the cushy booths and waited for our food. There was a bit of confusion over whether the high tea came with both the mint julep (a minty spider) and either tea or coffee, as the menu was worded to include both a cold and hot drink and contained a photo of the high tea stand with coffee and a mint julep. The owner promised to clarify this with the head office and got back to us promptly. He told us that this was a typo but that he would provide us with both the tea and the julep, which sufficiently pacified us - and goes to show how important it is to proofread!

Rose mint julep
I decided to have a rose mint julep (as opposed to a lime julep), which was fizzy, refreshing and sweet, but contained more mint than rose.

Green tea
For my hot drink, I opted for green tea and it came in a small ceramic pot. It was pretty nice - not too weak but not that strong either.

High tea stand
The high tea stand had two tiers - one level per person. The general contents of each item was the same but they alternated between flavours of items such as the tarts and patty cakes, which meant that there were plenty of things to cut in half!

As with all high teas, you want to start off with the savoury treats. I commenced the affair with the bite-sized ham and cheese sandwiches. They were nothing outstanding, but the bread was multi-grain and I felt pretty healthy after eating it - though this feeling shortly faded away.

The beetroot tartlet was... interesting. I'm personally a fan of beetroots, but it was strange eating warm cubes of it. The feta was sprinkled on top and inside the tartlet, introducing the texture of minced meat. There was perhaps too much beetroot and not enough feta (or some sort of meat/ filler). It wasn't too bad as the tartlet was quite tiny so the pastry helped to balance out the beetroot.

Beetroot and feta tartlet
Next, I tried the salmon potato rosti, which was around the size of the tartlet. It was alright with the salmon and single caper plonked on top, but it mostly tasted and felt like a hash brown with a bit of carrot grated in. It also lacked the crunch that rostis should possess - and you can see from the lack of brown in the photo that it isn't crisp.

Salmon rosti
Shingle Inn's Peking duck pancake is... different. Toasted tortilla is used instead of the traditional pancake, there is a distinct lack of Hoisin sauce, and instead of cucumber and shallots, chopped carrots are used instead. Needless to say, I didn't enjoy it - particularly as it was quite dry.

Peking duck pancake
So that was the last of the savouries. On to the sweets. The best thing out of the high tea would have to be the scones - they were large but tasty with a fine, crumbly texture. The way scones are made vary from place to place, but most of the time they're crunchy and biscuit-like, or just really dense and bready. Despite the sliced fruits situated on top, these ones are actually pretty conventional. Not bad - the next time I have afternoon tea at Shingle Inn, I'll probably just order the scones.

The chocolate caramel slice tasted alright as well, though it was very sugary. It was a good thing the slice was so small.

Chocolate caramel slice
 I will address the last two of the sweets as a whole, because they weren't standouts either. The patty cakes (cupcakes, really) tasted like pre-mix and were extremely filling. The lemon curd tart was quite sour, which my lunch companion quite enjoyed, though the chocolate caramel alternative (as seen below) was more sugary. The tart pastry was mediocre.

Chocolate caramel tart

Overall, for $24.50 the high tea is a bargain. The portions are generous and the scones are delicious. However, not all of it is tasty and the sweet to savoury ratio is skewed in favour of sugar, which for me is a negative because I like my high teas to be more balanced. Also, you get what you pay for - it lacks the sophistication of the afternoon teas you find in the big luxury hotel chains. Nevertheless, we were feeling pretty bloated at the end, the service is friendly, and it's a good impromptu way to spend the afternoon.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Sagunja, Mandarin Centre, Chatswood

Generally, I loathe sushi. Cheap sushi, anyway. And by cheap, I mean those dodgy sushi trains that claim to charge you $2.90 to $5+ a plate with the majority of sushi offered falling within the upper brackets of their price list. The sushi served is often poor quality with dry rice and tough nori.

Sagunja, on the other hand, is different. There is no price hierarchy, which means that it's easier to budget for, the portions are great for the price, and the food is a lot tastier. I've been coming here since they opened yearssss ago, back when all plates were $2.50. Since then, they have raised their prices in increments all the way up to... $2.90. It's distorted billing a little bit, as $20 happily bought you 8 plates. Nevertheless, they allow for split bills, and $2.90 is still a steal in comparison to places like Sushi Bar Makoto.

The number one thing I look forward to is their scallops. They have two types - raw and half-grilled. The raw scallops aren't marinated with anything, so the seafood taste can be a bit too strong for my liking. The marinated half-grilled scallops, on the other hand, are amazing. Every time I go, I stuff my face with at least 4 plates of them and scan the food preparation area eagerly for any activity involving blowtorches.

Raw scallop on rice
Half-grilled scallops

The half-grilled salmon below was served with chopped Spanish onion and the same sauce used with the cooked scallops. As with the scallops, the proportion of meat to rice is excellent. 

Half-cooked salmon
The salmon sashimi is fresh, but I tend not to eat more than one plate of these, as my taste buds tire of raw food easily. It wasn't too fishy, but I would prefer that they squeeze some lime or lemon over the top.

Salmon sashimi

The slices of salmon below were attended to by the blowtorch and garnished with Japanese mayonnaise and nori furikake (seaweed and sesame seed mix). The garnishing added a welcome touch of salt.

Half-cooked salmon

Just as a note, if you're like me in the late 2000s and had sashimi-obsessed friends but was unwilling to risk contracting something from the consumption of raw fish, Sagunja does offer a range of cooked dishes. These include takoyaki (octopus balls), plates of teriyaki/ chilli chicken strips, chicken schnitzel sushi, gyoza (dumplings) and deep fried prawn wontons.

Sagunja on Urbanspoon

Garfish, Crows Nest

As its name indicates, Garfish focuses on seafood - more specifically, fish. With an open kitchen and clean, minimalist decor, Garfish looks both approachable and upmarket. The menu is extensive, partially due to the seasonal specials menu that lists a range of fish, cooking methods and sauces from which one is able to mix and match at leisure.

Generally, the more expensive and fancy the restaurant is, the more the food is handled and the more complex the dish becomes. Nonetheless, when it comes to seafood, there are times when it is best to allow the natural flavours of the ocean take centre stage. Garfish tends to do this.


 The waitress who came to take our order was very friendly and stressed that the chefs are open to adapting menu items, such as having main-sized entrees. We didn't need this flexibility, but it's something that I'm sure many appreciate.

When ordering the grilled ciabatta, I was given an and/or choice between the garlic butter and black olive tapenade toppings, to which I answered, "Both please!". The slices of bread were toasted lightly - no rock-hard or burnt bits - with thin layers of spread. The garlic butter tasted lovely, but the olive paste stood out more (probably more because it's less commonly found).

Grilled ciabatta ($4.00)
The second entree to arrive was a plate of oysters that were prepared in three ways. All the oysters were fresh and not too fishy in flavour.

The shot glasses in the middle contained the 'oyster shots', which consisted of fresh oyster sitting at the bottom of Bloody Mary. While it was an interesting combination, the taste of the tomato was quite overpowering, making it too sour for me to finish. In the end, I only drank about half of the shot before picking out my oyster and moving on to the next part of the oyster plate.

Oyster plate (half dozen) ($20.60)

I actually started off my oyster plate with the oysters natural, which were accompanied with mignonette dressing. The sea salt and vinegar provided a nice kick to the oysters, refrained from interfering with its natural flavour, and was probably my favourite method of preparation for the day.

Oyster natural
The third set of oysters were crisp fried and served with soy, mirin and ginger. The crunch of the batter and the lime juice that we squeezed over the oysters reinforced the Asian influences of the dish.

Oyster crisp fried
My third entree was a plate of grilled marinated baby octopus with garlic, rocket, red onion, lemon, capsicum, and a creamy sauce. While the taste was nice, the octopus was tough and rubbery. As someone who grew up choking easily on various items of food, I was concerned that I would find myself amidst feelings of deja vu. I tried slicing the octopus into bite-sized pieces, but ended up failing to saw through it.

Baby octopus ($18.00)
My lunch partner ordered the fish and chips (or in this case, snap peas). One of the pieces of beer battered fish was heavily sprinkled with sea salt, so it's important to spread it around as evenly as possible to avoid choking ("Well of course," one might say, but alas, this salt calls for extra care). I have no complaints about the way the fish was deep fried - the batter was crispy, the fish was not too fishy, and the meat was soft and flaky.

Beer battered fish ($25.50)
The main that I ordered was poached Atlantic salmon with cauliflower puree and fresh greens. Though it doesn't look elaborate, the salmon was cooked perfectly - it was especially mouthwatering when eaten with the creamy puree. The fish tasted fresh, and the meal was light overall.

Poached Atlantic salmon ($30.00)

Conclusion? Garfish manages to deliver tasty fish dishes that are uncluttered by excess ingredients. Nevertheless, the jury is still out regarding their treatment of other types of seafood.

Garfish - Crows Nest on Urbanspoon