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!