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.