Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fifteen, Melbourne

Basement, 115 – 117 Collins Street
Melbourne, Victoria 3000 Map


Wednesday lunchtime in Melbourne. Where to eat? Well, Jamie Oliver has always been a favourite of mine and my visits to Fifteen and Jamie’s Italian’s were always favourites of mine, so we thought we’d give Fifteen Melbourne a try. The restaurant is tucked away down a side street just off Collins Street and is fairly easy to find.

Fifteen, Melbourne is downstairs in the cellar of 115-117 Collins Street and is spread over several rooms. However, the space has been well thought out and is very light and airy. The private dining room looks absolutely fab, with its large table surrounded by walls full of various pictures. At lunchtime, they do a $35 special that consists of two courses and a glass of wine. We decided to try that.

After making our choices from the menu, of which there were several options for each course, we had some homemade bread and oil while we waited for the food to arrive.

I started with a Ribollita, a favourite of mine during my trips to Tuscany. It was good. Plenty of soaked bread and vegetables drizzled with olive oil. Very good indeed. A few more greens in there would’ve been nice, but that didn’t really make much difference.

Main course was Rotolo of baby spinach, baked ricotta, sliced mushrooms, marjoram and lemon with nutty brown butter, crispy sage and Parmigiano Reggiano. Yumm. It was lovely, especially the sage butter which had mingled with the lemon and marjoram to give the odd sweet and sour spot every now and then. It was a big dish, almost too big for lunch, but I ate it. The pasta was lovely and the spinach, ricotta and mushrooms line the pasta rolls nice and evenly.

The service was very prompt and friendly and we had a really nice lunch. There weren’t many people in, a few businessmen and a handful of couples - we walked in without a booking, but I guess it was Wednesday lunchtime, not traditionally the most busiest time of the week.

They did make a mistake on the bill, but that was rectified without any fuss – but I’m glad I checked it. The only downside were the toilets which, to be frank, were awful. I’m not sure if someone actually designed them to be that bad, but I’d expect something much more up-market in a place like this. Apart from that, Fifteen gets the thumbs-up!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Zest, Nelson Bay

16 Stockton Street
Nelson Bay, NSW 2315 Map

We decided to go to Port Stephens for the Queen's Birthday weekend. It was quite a novelty for me, a Brit, to have a day off to celebrate Queenie's big day, as it isn't a public holiday in the UK.

So, as the weather was lovely, we jumped in the car and drove the couple of hours from Sydney to Nelson Bay. There was a Country & Western music festival taking place in the town, so the place was quite busy and tales of lost loves, train wrecks and faithful dogs echoed from every corner.

We decided to see what we could find for a meal that evening and YourRestaurants on my mobile recommended Zest, a one chef-hat restaurant just around the corner from where we were having lunch.

So, after a brief phone call to see if they could accommodate my vegetarian diet, which they could, we booked a table.

They gave me a choice of dishes and I decided to start with Risotto Milanese followed by a Vegetable Tarte-Tatin.

The risotto was really good. I'd have to say that it was the best Italian dish that I have had so far since arriving in Australia, the peas were fresh and the taste of saffron wasn't too overpowering - it was just right.

The tarte-tatin was a mixture of vegetables, topped with fetta cheese and fennel which gave it a nice citrusy/aniseedy overtone but not too much to overpower the rest of the tastes. It was a very tasty and quite imaginative dish.

One of the desserts on the menu was a sort of rhubarb assiette that included a creme brulee (7), jelly, sorbet and ice cream. I'm not a huge rhubarb lover but it was reasonably tasty, and well presented.

It was an enjoyable meal and the restaurant itself is pleasant, with well spaced tables. They were very accommodating to my veggie request at very short notice, and the service throughout was excellent. If you are in the Port Stephens area, I'd recommend a visit.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Pino's Pizzeria Ristorante, Sydney

49 Willoughby Road,
Crows Nest NSW 2065 Map


Saturday night in Crows Nest is always good fun. Willoughby Road is buzzing as the restaurants fill up and this Saturday was no different. We had no plans, we hadn't booked so we thought we'd take pot luck.

We ended up at Pino's, an Italian restaurant near the to end of Willoughby Road. Pino's has been in Crows Nest since the seventies and has recently been refurbished. We decided not to have starters and I had Funghi Ravioli in Mushroom & Tomato which was homemade ravioli filled with ricotta & wild mushrooms in a cream, mushroom, chilli & fresh garlic sauce. The pasta was firm and al-dente and the sauce was really tasty.

For dessert I had the good old traditional Tiramisu. It was very good, but I would liked a little more alcohol in it. My wife ordered a Red Wine Poached Pear Pizza from the specials. It was just as it sounds - a pizza base scattered with red wine poached pears, spinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon with a dollop of ice-cream in the centre. It was great, and if it is ever on the menu when you go there, you must have it!

All in all, it was a very enjoyable and tasty meal and the service was very friendly and prompt. I love Italian food and this was very good. I'm certain that we will be going back.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Coast, Sydney

The Roof Terrace, Cockle Bay Wharf,
Darling Harbour, Sydney, NSW 2000 Map


Coast is ideally situated, overlooking Darling Harbour.

Unfortunately there was a mix up with our booking and when we arrived we discovered that we had been booked in for the week after. However, this didn't seem to phase anyone and we were quickly shown to a table.

I enquired of the waiter whether there was any possibility of myself having a vegetarian tasting menu and my wife having a normal one and after a quick word with the chef, we were told that it wouldn't be a problem.

One of the other waiting staff came over to explain the menus and then we were off.

First up I had Orange, Fennel & Coriander Salad. This is a dish that I was introduced to in Italy and I wasn't sure about the coriander being part of it. However, I needn't have worried as it really added to the flavour and made an already great dish even better.

The next dish was Mozzarella with Caramelised Onions. This was, I thought, the weakest dish of the night, although it was presented really well, with a small ball of mozzarella perched inside a hollowed out caramelised onion. Maybe I've been spoiled by the beautifully creamy buffalo mozzarella available in Europe, but the cheese in this seemed to be the chewy stuff that I normally would reserve for a pizza.

Still, not to worry as I was then presented with Beetroot & Ricotta Salad with two different colours of beet. It was very nice, however a nice goats cheese would have complemented the beets better than the rather bland ricotta.

Next up was a real treat. Tagliatelle with White Truffle Butter and Brussel Sprouts. Yumm! The brussel sprouts sounded a bit weird, but they really worked. They were single leaves crisply fried and they really added to the flavour. The truffle butter had flakes of truffle in it and tasted fab. This was the first of the dishes where my wife's menu and mine matched up and, as she's not a big truffle fan, I got to eat hers as well! What a result!

The next course was a real classic. Asparagus, Poached Egg and Parmesan. The egg was cooked perfectly and the asparagus was lovely. Simple and perfect, nothing else needs to be said.

After an Orange & Amaretti Granita to cleanse our palates it was time for dessert, or should I say desserts.

The first of them was Panna Cotta with Chocolate and Salt. The salt really brought the flavours up and it was lovely.

The final course was divine. It was Pears Stuffed with Marscapone and Saffron Jelly. The saffron jelly flavour was very delicate and the pears were gorgeous.

Then it was time for coffee and petit-fours.

The service was pretty much perfect. Coast offer a selection of wines matched to each course with the tasting menu but we decided not to have the full selection and asked the sommelier if he would just pick a selection of two or three which he did. And very nice they were too.

We went during Darling Harbour's 21st anniversary celebrations and watched the fireworks during our meal which added a nice touch. The whole experience was great and we're planning to go back in the not too distant future.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Muse, Pokolbin

1 Broke Rd,
Pokolbin 2320 Map

The guide books and Sydney's Good Food Guide all give good reviews to a restaurant called Terroir and the GFG noted that they had a vegetarian menu, so we thought we'd give it a go.

So we went to the Hungerford Hill winery and discovered that Terroir had had a complete change of management, chef and name and was now called Muse. Did they have a vegetarian menu, as their predecessor did, I asked. They replied that they didn't but they could change a few dishes to be vegetarian and mentioned the fettucini and gnocchi dishes.

Not really fancying a double-barrel of “pasta” dishes, I must've looked a bit skeptical. They then said that the chef was extremely good and very imaginative and would sort something special out. Okay, I said and we booked a table.

My wife was a bit skeptical and was convinced that I would just get a plate of uninspiring vegetables or worse. How wrong she was.

Once we had arrived and were seated, the waitress came over and presented me with a list of at least half a dozen vegetarian choices. I chose to start with a Truffle Veloute and to follow with an Assiette of Vegetables.

After an amuse of a single piece of blue-cheese gnocchi served on a teaspoon, the veloute arrived.

It was divine. It was amazingly truffly as you would expect and wonderfully creamy and smooth. I could happily have sipped on that all night.

Before the main course we had a palette cleanser of Lemon Sorbet.

The assiette of vegetables consisted of a plate of small vegetable tasters. It looked great and reminded me a little of the plates that are served at Terre a Terre in the UK. The dish included Chargrilled Asparagus, Kataffi Pastry Mushroom Parcels, Rainbow Chard with Goats Cheese, Fennel with Olives & Yellow & Red Tomatoes, Peas and a Truffle Reduction.

As a complete dish, it didn't work at all, but all the separate parts were really tasty, especially the mushroom parcels and the rainbow chard and cheese.

For dessert I had Banana, Macadamia and Caramel Crepes with Ice Cream which were lovely. My wife had Lemon Meringue Muse which was a deconstructed lemon meringue pie where the curd, meringue and biscuit were separate on the plate. She said it was one of the best desserts she had had.

We both enjoyed the meal, the setting – in front of a huge stone fireplace – was great and the service was excellent. The amount of choice that I had really showed the imagination and versatility of the chef in cooking veggie dishes and those that I chose looked and tasted great. If you're in the Hunter Valley and are looking for a great vegetarian choice, give Muse a call.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Verandah, Hunter Valley

Calais Estate, Palmers Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320 Map

The Hunter Valley is about a two-hour drive north from Sydney, and it was here that we decided to spend our Easter break this year.

We were recommended the Verandah restaurant which is situated upstairs at the Calais Estate winery. It serves what it calls "Australian Tapas" and we chose a selection of dishes that were delivered to the table at various intervals.

The first to arrive were Bruchetta with Truffled Mushrooms, Spinach & Ricotta and Triple Cream King Island Blue Cheese with Pear and Honey & Fried Sage Leaves. The bruchetta was tasty and the mushrooms weren't too truffly. The cheese and pear was divine. The cheese was beautifully creamy and the honey was lovely.

Next to arrive was Battered Eggplant with Saffron Aioli. I couldn't taste saffron in the aili, but the eggplants were great. Accompanying that were Rosemary & Garlic Roasted Potatoes which were nice and crispy and extremely "moreish".

We then had Spicy Broad Bean and Mint Fritters with Couscous and Chickpea Salad. I wasn't sure about this when it was suggested but it was surprisingly good. The fritters were nice and the chickpea salad was really good.

For dessert the creme brulee rule came into play so I had Passionfruit Crème Brulee. It was really good, the passion fruit was spread evenly through the custard and it rates an 8.5 on the chart.

The Verandah is a bit off of the beaten track, but is definitely worth finding. The service was excellent and if you're there at lunchtime, try and get a table on the balcony, as the view over the vineyard is really nice.

Phuong, Sydney

87 Willoughby Rd
Crows Nest NSW 2065 Map

You can find Phuong on Willoughby Road, the main thoroughfare of Crows Nest. Although advertising itself as a Vietnamese restaurant it also has a section of the menu offering Thai dishes.

The menu has a fair smattering of dishes suitable for vegetarians and we've been there a couple of times.

The vegetarian spring rolls on the starter menu may be a simple dish, but it is lovely. The vegetables are crunchy and fresh and the bean sauce served with it compliments it perfectly. There isn't anything else on the starter menu that is suitable for vegetarians, but I wouldn't let that put you off, I could eat the spring rolls all day!

For the main course, there are several meat and fish free options and the ones I have tried are the Vegetarian Hot Pot and the Vegetarian Noodle. Of the two, I preferred the Hot Pot which consisted of various mixed vegetables and ginger in, what is described on the menu as, a vegetarian sauce. The noodle dish was fairly tasty and was pretty much as you'd expect - stir fried vegetables with noodles. For me, there was far too much celery in it. However, if you are a celery lover then this may be the dish for you!

We sat outside, which in the early autumn in Sydney is very pleasant. Willoughby Road can be quite busy, trafficwise, however the outside dining area is separated from the road by shrubs so this doesn't become a problem.

Service was okay, but the waiters could do with a little more training. I'd expect them to at least be able to tell which of the house wines were dry or sweet (or at least go and find out). Instead they just looked blankly at us until we gave up asking.

Apart from that it was a pleasant and reasonable priced evening.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beluga Wine Bar Restaurant, Sydney

15/425 Bourke St, Surry Hills NSW 2010 Map


When I left work in the UK, I was given a voucher for a meal for two at Beluga as my leaving present. My wife and I decided that we would use the voucher for a special occasion so we decided to go there to celebrate our wedding anniversary this year.

The restaurant is about a ten minute or so walk from Central station and is easy to find as Bourke Street is a main thoroughfare through Surry Hills.

We were the first there and were greeted warmly by the Maitre'd who showed us to our table and we chatted about food in Australia and other restaurants that we had visited.

One of the reasons that the people at work chose Beluga was that it had a vegetarian degustation menu and it was this that I chose.

The first thing delivered to the table was an amuse bouche of Green Pea and Basil Cappuccino. It was wonderful. The taste of the peas was so fresh and I could've drunk gallons of it! However, it was not to be. A small espresso cup was all we were given.

Shortly after we'd finished the amuse, the first course arrived. It was Cherry Tomatoes in Olive Oil with Tomato Sorbet. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that tomatoes are fighting for the top position in my pet-hate list along with parsley. However, surprisingly, this dish was rather good and the sorbet, dare I say it, was quite amazing.

Next up was Ricotta Dumpling with Cauliflower Purée and Avocado Brulee. This was the matching course to my wife's scallops. It worked pretty well, and I'm still deciding whether the avocado brulee should go on the list as, although it was a brulee, it wasn't actually a dessert. If it does, it would be an eight as it was very good, and avocado isn't a favourite of mine either but the combination of it with the slight burnt taste of the caramelised sugar worked a treat.

The next course was Sweet Corn Crepe with Carrot Saffron Emulsion and Micro Herbs. It was nice, the crepe had a very slight curry flavour and the saffron emulsion was very good, but the micro herbs were just a few small leaves on the side of the plate that had wilted badly under the lights on the hotplates. They did nothing to the dish not even adding a nice garnish.

Next a palate cleanser of Lime Sorbet with Yoghurt was delivered. Nice though it was, it didn't really work as a palate cleanser as there was too much going on in there. As well as he lime and the yoghurt, there was also the odd cardamom seed. It was very nice and would've worked well as a small dessert.

It was now that we noticed that the service was beginning to slow down and it took an hour to deliver the next two courses. The restaurant was by no means full, in fact it wasn't even half full, so I'm not sure what was causing the slowdown.

The next dish was described on the menu as Portobello Mushroom, Haloumi and Red Pepper Emulsion. I'm not sure what happened, as what turned up was polenta topped with pimento pepper, the aforementioned red pepper emulsion and, what was described to me as, porcini with champagne emulsion. Now, I know my mushrooms pretty well and can recognise a porcini at a fair distance and I have to say that the item on my plate neither resembled boletus edulis in look or taste and Patrick Harding would be in despair should anyone identify a bolete as having gills as the specimen on my plate so obviously had. As for the dish itself, it was okay but definitely my least favourite of all the courses so far.

The next dish on the menu was Polenta, Vegetable Terrine, Confit of Eggplant and Egg Yolk Pearl. I was wondering what the Egg Yolk Pearl might be and had visions of some of the things that come out of the kitchen of El Bulli. Alas, I wasn't to find out as what appeared had little in common with the description on the menu.

My disappointment was short-lived though as what arrived was Vegetable Terrine, Wild Mushrooms and Truffles! It was great and my favourite dish of the evening so far.

Before the desserts came Pear Sorbet and Strawberries. It was like eating a really, really ripe pear – yumm!

Service began to speed up now. The first of the desserts was French Chocolate Ganache, Saffron Ice Cream, Chickpea Dust and Strawberry Caviar. It was really tasty and the ganache and the ice cream went together perfectly. The chickpea dust added a slight bitter-sweet taste to the dish, but the strawberry caviar didn't really add anything – to be honest it was just like very small balls of strawberry jelly.
The final course was Coconut Bavarois, Pistachio Kulfi and Star Anise Soil. The star anise gave the dish a nice delicate Indian feel and was well presented, but it wasn't quite as tasty as the previous course.

We had wines matched to each course and we had the same wines despite my wife having the normal degustation menu. However, for me, they matched pretty well except for maybe one of the reds.

The service was very friendly, if a little slow in the middle. One thing struck me as odd though, especially as this restaurant is mixture of French and Indian influences, and that was that there was no bread. I'm not sure whether this is an Australian thing, but I would really have liked some with the first course to mop up the gorgeous oil dressing.

It was an enjoyable evening and we both enjoyed the meal. The tables are quite well spaced, offering a degree of privacy. The toilets could do with a decent tidy up, but that is a small criticism. If you're looking for a place for a special meal that is imaginative and not too expensive you could do worse than go to Beluga.

Healthy Soy Cooking – Japanese Vegan, Sydney


I saw the advert for this course on the noticeboard of our local Macro Wholefoods. It sounded interesting and after checking out the website, I booked up.

It took place in Bondi Junction in the Blanco kitchen showroom, which was quite interesting, although there were only a handful of people that popped in while we were doing the course and we weren't disturbed.

Yoshiko Takeuchi, the tutor, used to work at Tetsuya's, a Sydney restaurant that is currently number 17 on the Best Restaurants in the World list, so she should know what she's doing. And she does.

Japanese food is a mystery to me as it mostly seems fish or meat based, so to spend some time cooking with ingredients I'd never heard of was great.

To begin with we cooked Inari Zushi, which is rice in beancurd skin, something which I'd eaten before, but never knew its name. The process of boiling the skins, squeezing out the liquid and then simmering them in a mixture of mirin, soy sauce and dashi powder before splitting the skins to make a pocket so the sesame rice we cooked could be stuffed inside took quite a while but let me tell you, it was worth it.

Next up we made a pile of dumplings from flour and silken tofu. These were used in a variety of dishes and were paired with Zensai (a warm red been soup), Black Syrup & Kinako (a sweet syrup), Isobe Yaki (soy sauce and nori) and Green Tea Ice Cream and Sweet Azuki (sweet red beans). My favourite was the black syrup.

We also made Nasu No Dengaku(eggplant with sweet red and white miso) which was wonderful. It was grilled rather than fried, so used a lot less oil than the traditional Japanese version of this dish. It also looked great.

Accompanying the eggplant was Agedashi Dofu (fried tofu with soy sauce) and Daikon & Edamame Salad with Ume Dressing (Japanese pickled plum dressing).

All the dishes were really tasty, and I enjoyed cooking with such unfamiliar ingredients. There were five of us on the course and we all got plenty of hands-on experience. Yoshiko is a great teacher and explained each of the ingredients as we went along gradually de-mystifying the techniques of Japanese cooking.

The recipe book that we were given also has a great glossary and a list of places where the ingredients can be bought.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable course and I can't wait to try out some of the recipes at home.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Caphrodite, Sydney

382 Military Road
Cremorne NSW 2090 Map

Caphrodite is a Greek restaurant next door to the Orpheum cinema in Cremorne. It is fairly basically furnished which gives it an air of authenticity. Being part of the same building as the Orpheum means that there are the odd touches of Art-Deco in there too, which sort of work, strangely enough.

There are a few vegetarian dishes on the menu and I chose to start with Grilled Kefalotiri a dish of grilled cheese that I remember having in Rhodes years ago. It was good, the cheese was firm and not too salty to taste.

For the main course I had Melitzana, which was eggplant stuffed with ricotta cheese served with a tomato sauce. It was quite a large dish, and although the ricotta on its own was a bit flavourless, in combination with the sauce it was really tasty. The tomato sauce had a sort of sweet and sour flavour that took away from the blandness of the cheese.

The service was fast and friendly and my only criticism would be that the menu was a little on the pricey side.

Micalini Cafe, Sydney

7/332 Military Road,
Cremorne Map

I've been to this small Italian cafe in Cremorne a couple of times now, once for breakfast and once for lunch.

The cafe is in a small plaza alongside other cafes and is fairly easy to spot as it is the one with most of its tables filled.

Every day they have a couple of specials that we were told are made by the owner's mother in law, Isabella. It was one of these specials, a gnocchi with napoli and bean sauce that I had for lunch on my first visit. The gnocchi was firm and light and the sauce was excellent.

On my second visit, I went for breakfast and had their version of Eggs Benedict. There are several versions on their menu and I had the one with mushrooms and rocket. The eggs were served on thick toast rather than the traditional English muffins, but that didn't make any difference as the dish was superb. There were two eggs, two huge slices of toast and plenty of mushrooms and hollandaise sauce. I wasn't sure about the rocket, but it worked okay.

The service at Michalinos isn't fast, but that doesn't matter as it is the perfect place to sit with a newspaper and a coffee while waiting for your food. The waiting staff are really friendly and service is always with a smile. Oh, and if you do visit, try the mango smoothie, it is divine!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mantra, Sydney

Grove Shopping Center Shop 12,
166 Military Rd,
Neutral Bay 2089 Map

Mantra Bollywood Restaurant was a tale of great food, shame about the service. The restaurant itself is upstairs in the Grove Shopping Centre in the Neutral Bay area of Sydney and is decorated with really gaudy "faux" Indian pictures and textiles. With the music that is playing there is no doubt that you are in an Indian restaurant. There are a couple of banqueting areas that have low tables and cushions and look great. I can imagine a meal with a large group of friends in one of them would be a real hoot.

The menu itself has quite a lot of options, including a good vegetarian selection. No baltis or chicken tikka massala on there which was refreshing. We started with a vegetarian entree selection that included potato cakes with chick-peas in a superb sauce, some lightly battered veg and leaves - again really tasty with a minty flavoured sauce - and vegetable samosas. The whole selection was lovely and we looked forward to the main courses. We also ordered a tomato and cucumber salad, which never arrived. More of that later.

My main course was panir cheese with peppers and tomatoes (in "happy colours" it said on the menu!) along with pilau rice and a potato and pea stuffed naan. My wife had a prawn dish. The cheese dish had a wonderful fruity flavour and just a hint of spice and was thoroughly enjoyable. The naan was great and had a lovely charred flavour. This was all accompanied by - what else? - a Cobra beer. Even on the other side of the world, some things stay the same.

Not everything however. One of the things that I've noticed here on Indian menus is that there are no vegetable side dishes. Which is a shame, as there were a couple of dishes on the menu that I would have liked to try, but didn't want a whole main dish size of them. Mind you I've only seen a handful of menus so far, my great "Down Under" food adventure has only just begun.

So, the food was great. The service however could be improved upon.

We had to request the wine list and my wife asked which of the white wines was the driest. The waitress looked completely blank and said that she would have to find out. Eventually a glass of white arrived, but it took a while to find out what it was. The starter selection arrived with no description of what any of the pieces were and, as I said before, one of the dishes never arrived. Halfway through the meal my wife ordered another wine which also never materialised.

Still, the food was so tasty that we plan to go back sometime in the future and try some of the other dishes. Hopefully, the service was a one-off. I'll let you know.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Full Circle, Sydney

100 Willoughby Road,
Crow's Nest 2065 Map


Full Circle is a vegetarian Thai restaurant in the northern Sydney suburb of Crow's Nest. Upon arrival, confronted with a large glass frontage, it took us several seconds to work out how to get in until we noticed a small red circle with the instructions to “press to open door”. This we did and the centre panel of glass slid aside to allow us to enter the restaurant.

The restaurant itself is well decorated and has neat “white-clothed” tables down each side, which sets it apart from a lot of the other Asian restaurants in the area.

Having taken our seat we were presented with the menus and asked if we wanted a Chinese tea (which we did).

The menu is extensive and it took a while before being able to decide on what to have. There were a lot of dishes with mock meats made from gluten which I can take or leave, and mostly have out of curiosity.

We chose a mixed entree selection to start, not knowing what we would get. It turned out to be a plate of different mock meats! They were, we were told, mock barbeque pork, roast pork, mock intestines(!), beancurd skin and mock jellyfish. The jellyfish, in case you are wondering (and I suspect you are) was a salad of various vegetable with some very slimy noodles. Of the other dishes on the plate, the mock roast port was really tasty as was the beancurd skin. The barbeque “pork” was okay and the “intestines” had very little flavour to be honest.

It took a while to decide what to have for main course and, in the end, we chose King Oyster Mushrooms, Pine Nut & Vegetables in Birds Nest, Tom Yam Curry Tofu and Braised Sweet & Sour Eggplant.

The curry wasn't too spicy and had a lovely citrus overtone to it. It had a nice selection of vegetables including baby corn, broccoli and carrots and the tofu soaked up the curry sauce really nicely.

The bird's nest was filled with a selection of vegetable, tofu and mushroom in a tasty sauce.

The best of the dishes was the sweet and sour eggplant. The eggplant was battered and deep fried and just melted in your mouth. The sauce was gorgeous and although we were getting full, we just had to keep going back for more.

For dessert I had deep-fried ice cream, which was wrapped in a coconut flavoured coating, with caramel sauce and accompanied by some fresh fruit.

All the dishes were well presented and everything was nice and tasty. The service was very friendly and polite, and all of the dishes were delivered in good time, so there were no extended waits between courses.

We'll be visiting there again to sample more of the menu and maybe to get another taste of that superb sweet and sour eggplant.

Update (July 2009)
I walked past Full Circle today, only to find that it has closed and that the premises will shortly be opening as a seafood restaurant. This is a real shame as we had some good meals in there, and we'll both miss the sweet and sour eggplant.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Noodle Market, Sydney

Tonight we wandered up the road in North Sydney to the Civic Park where the “Noodle Market” was taking place. According to the signs, this happens every Friday evening. The “Market” consists of half a dozen or so food stalls selling such things as Morrocan tagine, pancakes, noodles, chinese dumplings and more all accompanied by a live band.

The weather was gorgeous, as it had cooled from the heat of the day, and it was very pleasant sitting on the grass listening to live music while munching on mushroom and vegetable dumplings followed by some banana and maple syrup pancakes.

What a great way to end the week.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Simple & Irresistable, Sydney

283, Miller Street,
North Sydney 2060


The last time I visited Sydney, in 2002, I came to this Thai restaurant for lunch with my wife-to-be as she was then and an ex-collegue of hers. I had the vegetable Pad Thai and it was so good that all others that I have had since then have been measured against it.

So, on our first evening back we decided to revisit it as it was quite close to where we are staying while we search for somewhere permanent to live.

I decided to try the Pad Thai again to see if it was as good as I remember. I'm glad to say that it was. There was plenty on the plate and the vegetables were fresh and crunchy.

My wife had a beef salad and declared that it was lovely. The service was very friendly and quick and the prices were very reasonable (compared to the UK at least). Simple and Irresistable is on our list as somewhere to go back to.

Down Under?

Yes it's true. Gaztronomy has relocated from Tunbridge Wells to Sydney, Australia. For the next couple of years, at least, I'll be living and working (and eating) in and around Australia and, just maybe, some “nearby” countries as well.

So, buckle up and enjoy the ride with me.

First off, there was the food on on board the aircraft. We flew with Singapore Airlines, mostly because they offer double baggage allowance for emigrants, which is very useful and something that they don't advertise and I only found out about it from the various ex-pat and migrant forums dotted around the internet.

So, the Singapore Airline food then. What's it like for veggies (or veggos as I'm now gonna have to start calling myself...)? Do you like spinach? If so, you'll be in heaven.

I don't. And wasn't.

At least, I don't like spinach in large quantities. As an ingredient, with ricotta for example, or a few leaves in a salad or wilted into pasta it can be lovely. As a wet green lump, I would rather pass thank you very much.

So, the first meal I was served, on the London – Singapore stretch was a spicy bean mixture, spinach and sauteed potatoes. Now, spicy beans have their place, but the confined space of an aeroplane, in my opinion, is not one of them. So, although they tasted okay, I cared too much for my comfort (and that of my fellow passengers) to eat more than a mouthful. I've already made my feelings about spinach clear, but I did eat the potatoes. The other meals I had were similar and also featured a pile of spinach.

The best meal I had was on the Singapore – Sydney part of the journey (on an Airbus A380 if you are interested in that sort of thing) and was spaghetti with aubergines (I guess I've now got to call it eggplant) and sundried tomatoes. It was actually very tasty.

For some reason, and it has happened every time I've done this trip, on the flight from Singapore I always end up being given a vegan meal. Typically I don't mind, but it does mean that I have no milk for coffee and have missed out on a crossant for breakfast. On one flight (not this one I hasten to add) a flight attendant got quite vocal that I shouldn't have a croissant as my meal was marked as vegan and was very reluctant to give me one!

Still, now I'm here with no return ticket and a huge number of exciting restaurants and cuisines to try. So, dear reader, try not to feel too sorry for me!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kensington Place, London

201 – 209 Kensington Church Road
London W8 7LX


Kensington Place is in the same restaurant group as Skylon on the South Bank that I visited a couple of weeks back.

They offer a set price menu of either £16.50 for two courses or £19.50 for three courses. We decided that we would go for three courses and I started with Mushroom Tortellini, Butternut Squash Foam and Lentil and Truffle Vinaigrette. The dish consisted of a single tortellini on a bed of lentils. It was presented very prettily and tasted gorgeous, especially the lentils and the vinaigrettte.

For main course I had Black Trompette Mushroom Risotto, Caramelised Baby Onions, Balsamic and Parmesan. The risotto on its own was nice, however the balsamic onions gave the flavour a really nice “sweet and sour” twist.

For dessert, the crème brulee rule came into play. I had Hibiscus Crème Brulee and Green Apple Sorbet. The sugar was still melted and not crunchy as I like it. The custard was nice and of a good consistency. The sorbet had a really fresh flavour but I'm not sure it really went with the brulee.

The service was excellent and the value for money at £19.50 for three courses is superb. If you're in the Notting Hill Gate area, then give it a try.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Garden, Oxford

The Gardeners Arms,
Plantation Road,
Oxford OX2 6JE Map


The Garden at the Gardeners Arms is tucked away in part of Oxford that is called Jericho. It is well worth digging out as The Garden is a vegetarian pub/restaurant and as well as good food, it also has some fine beers.

Essentially it is a pub that serves vegetarian and vegan food. The menu is quite extensive, offering such dishes as Spicy Moroccan mince, beans and aubergine, Vegetable Balti Madras as well as burgers and wraps.

I'd gone there with a mate that lives nearby and we shared a tapas plate as a starter. This consisted of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, aubergine, pickles, roasted pepper, chillies, roasted tomatoes, hummus and a pitta. It was all very tasty and, with an extra pitta, made a perfect sharing plate for two.

For a main course I decided to try one of the burgers and ordered it with all the toppings (except tomato), emmental cheese, mustard and burger relish. The burger was one of the soya-type burgers and was quite firm and "meaty" and the salad toppings were fresh and crisp. The only disappointment was that it was served with standard shop bought "fries". If it had been served with homemade hand-cut chips it would've been perfect.

The chips aside, it's well worth the detour to find the Garden. As a pub it was friendly and the ales were good and for a veggie or vegan the selection and quality of food was excellent.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Dashwood, Kirtlington

South Green,
Heyford Road,
Oxon OX5 3HJ Map

Recently I was working near Bicester, in Oxfordshire and the firm put me up in a hotel called the Dashwood, a few miles away. I was going to be staying for a couple of nights and I noticed that their restaurant had only a single veggie dish on their menu. Would it be possible, I enquired, that as I was staying a couple of days that they could do something different for me on the second night.

I was told that it shouldn't be a problem and I had the vegetarian dish for that night - a risotto - which was very nice. The next night, they remembered my request and, once seated, I was asked whether I liked blue cheese. I said I did and they delivered a plate of field mushrooms stuffed with a very tasty blue cheese accompanied with pine nuts. Fairly simple, but very tasty and it was very nice to be given this level of service.

But the story doesn't end there.

A couple of weeks later I was back again, this time for just a single night. When I was checking in, the manager came over and said that, as they knew it was me, they had put a vegetarian dish on the specials board for that night. What a result!

I enquired about their general policy, and they said that if they are notified in advance they are happy to cater for any dietary restrictions which is great. The rest of the hotel is excellent too, the rooms are very spacious and clean and the prices are very reasonable. If you're looking for somewhere to stay in the Oxford area, you could do worse then check out the Dashwood.

Skylon, London

Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX Map


Our visit to Skylon was our second Toptable freebie. The offer meant that we could have two courses from a set menu for nothing, not bad when all I had to do this was to eat at other fabulous restaurants!

Skylon is in the Southbank Centre and overlooks the Thames. We were seated in the Grill right by one of the huge windows and had a wonderful view across to Embankment. It was quite dark in the restaurant (hence the bad photo) but I guess if it wasn't you wouldn't be able to see out as well.

The set menu was pretty good and we decided to go for starters and mains, then pay for dessert if we were still hungry.

I started with an Endive, Walnut and Stilton salad. There was plenty of stilton which was dotted around the outside of the plate and it was really creamy. Together with the endives, walnuts and the dressing it made for a really nice dish.

My wife ordered the Tomato Soup. From the very first sip she was raving about the flavour saying it had a flavour similar to a Thai Tom Yum soup, which she loves. I had a taste and it was really good, nice and tomatoey (if that's a word) with a hint of exotic spice.

For main course I chose one of my favourites, Melanzana Parmigiana. It was good, not too oily and the aubergines were quite tender. My wife had Salmon Fishcakes which she enjoyed.

I decided to go for a dessert and had a Fig Vanilla Brulee. This wasn't really a brulee in the way I undersand it as it was a "dome" of custard in the centre of the plate with a gentle sprinkling of sugar on the very peak of the dome. This was then surounded by a few figs. It was nice, but it didn't conform enough to a creme brulee to be added to the list.

The service was excellent - prompt and friendly - and my wife was so impressed that she's going back next week with some business collegues.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Gaztronomy Top Ten - 2008

It's the end of another year and time for me to put together a list of the favourites from all the places I visited during 2008. I didn't manage to get to everywhere that I wanted, but did make it to some really amazing places.

Choosing a favourite from the top three wasn't easy as they are all such fabulous places and the food in all of them is amazing, but in the end I plumped for the French Laundry as the location and occasion made it extra special.

1. French Laundry
Spending the afternoon of our Wedding Anniversary in the best restaurant in America was something special. The food was spectacular and the service just perfect.

2. Fat Duck
Heston Blumenthal's menu was an experience not to be forgotten. Each course was a surprise and an education in how mixing taste with our other senses can create a completely new food experience.

3. Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons
It was another perfect meal at Le Manoir. The food was superb, as was the service.

4. Caldesi in Campagna
This was my favourite Italian meal this year. The food was wonderful and it was great to be invited into the kitchen to meet Giancarlo and Gregorio.

5. Café Spice Namaste
I had a couple of really good meals here in 2008 and attended a cookery course where I met one of my veggie cookery heroes. The food is tasty and imaginative and, of course, Cyrus is just a really nice chap.

6. Thackerays
I've been to Thackeray's a couple of times this year and the food is superb. But, c'mon guys, sort out the service and you might get your Michelin Star back!

7. Drunken Duck
In the middle of the Lake District is this gem. The food is great and they even have their own brewery!

8. Benares
The best dessert I had all year!

9. Jamie's Italian
I love Carluccio's, but Jamie's Italian has pipped it to the post this year. The food was delightful and very reasonably priced.

10. Food for Friends
For a veggie Sunday lunch, there is no place better!

Woodlands, Marylebone

77 Marylebone Lane,
London W1u 2PS Map

Woodlands South Indian vegetarian restaurant is tucked away in Marylebone Lane and looks deceptively small from the outside. Once inside, the restaurant opens out into a large, spacious and well decorated area with well laid out tables.

I popped in one lunchtime and had the Delhi Royal Thali and a Cobra (well you have to, don't you..?) The thali consisted of chappatis, paneer sabsi, Dahivada (an Indian donut in yoghurt) , channa, korma, dal, pillau rice, and a dessert.

The paneer dish was really nice, but the top prize has to go to the channa which was really good. The chick peas were nice and tender and the gravy had a wonderful taste - spicy, but not too spicy. The dal had a bit of a kick to it, which was nice as I usually find them a bit bland. The Dahivida was tasty and was perfect to take away any excess spice or to clear the palate as I hopped back and forth between the dishes. The dessert, which was a sort of coconutty thing, finished it all off nicely.

For lunch, this was the perfect dish - the selection was great and the amounts were just enough to fill you up without leaving you bloated and in danger of falling asleep at your desk in the afternoon. The welcome was friendly and the service was good and very prompt, which is just what you need at this time of the day.

If you're around Oxford Street any time and have a hankering for a curry, then I recommend you make a short detour and give Woodlands a go. You won't regret it.