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!