Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Hartsyard @ Newtown

Hartsyard has been on my radar for some time.  I have heard so much about it, read so many articles and reviews and I just knew that I had to dine here.  It's the type of place I love to eat at.  Relaxed, laid back, funky, neighbourhood style, homey and southern comfort style food!

Being a Sunday, I was surprised how busy it is.  All tables are taken as well as stools at the bar and the communal table at the front.  It's dim lit with soft lighting and we are greeted by Naomi Hart, co-owner, front of house extraordinaire.  She is bubbly and friendly and makes you feel very welcome.  It's like coming home!

We are seated at the booth seats at the back.  Perfect for restaurant/people watching. Naomi chats with Mr G (he is a regular) and I for a bit and lets us know the specials before dashing off to meet the next diners.  Casey, our waitress will be taking good care of us tonight and it's not long before we have ordered a glass of sparkling wine to sip while perusing the menu.

Can you tell we were excited to be here, that things got a little silly?

Les Quinz Arpents, Vouvray Brut, Les Cave, France

Everything on the menu looks wonderful and I have a hard time choosing.  As Mr G has dined a few times he recommended a few dishes but asked me to choose for us so that I could sample everything I wanted. I WANTED EVERYTHING!

We decide on 2 Seeds (smaller plates) and 2 Feeds (larger plates) all designed to share.  However, Mr G states that it is probably going to be far to much food, so we cut it down to 3 dishes only.

We start off with crispy pigs tails.

I was expecting long, curly piggy tails piled on a plate, but was surprised when the plate had  2 crispy coated discs (they remind me of hockey pucks) on the plate drizzled with buttermilk dressing and a pile of pickles garnished with tiny baby radishes.  Inside the 'pucks' there is tender, rich porky goodness.  Comforting is the first word that comes to mind.  I'm very happy with the flavours.  Mr G and I don't need to argue over portions either, we both got one each! 

 Crispy Pig Tails
Hartsyard on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 20 June 2013

'Eat Ya Self Stupid' Tour - The Inner West

A promise of visting and sampling treats at 'secret' little gems in the Inner West had me buzzing with an excited energy. My fabulous friend, Mr G (or Gdawg as he likes to be called) came well prepared with a list of places we were visiting on his self made/self guided tour and a notebook and pen for me to take notes! (if you know me personally you would know that I am an obsessive list person and I had my own secret notebook stash in my handbag) I know now why we have been friends for nearly 25 years!

The list was shaping up to be an 'eat ya self stupid tour' ending with dinner at Hartsyard. A pace was going to have to be set. A game plan set in action. I'm glad I wore my stretchy pants!

We set out early and headed towards Marrickville with our first stop being Bourke Street Bakery yee of Surry Hills fame. This is the sister branch found in an industrial area, but that doesn't stop the locals heading there for their morning coffee and pastries. There are a few outdoor tables to soak up the rays on a beautiful sunny morning or bench seating along the inside wall with big windows or there is a big communal table that gives a birds eye view into the bakery kitchens, where you can watch the bakers in action.

Lamb, Almond & Harrisa Sausage Roll and a Skinny Cappuccino

I'm intrigued by the menu and we opt for the Lamb, Almond and harrisa sausage roll (harissa!!! I nearly asked where they got theirs from (or whether they make it themselves) - more on that later)).  Flaky pastries, great flavour and there are sultanas scattered through the mince filling.

BOURKE STREET BAKERY - 2 Mitchell St Marrickville

Our second stop takes us to the Hellenic Bakery.

You can smell the bread before you get into the store and it's memorising. When I step through the door I don't know where to start looking first! My head is darting around trying to take it all in, so I take a deep breath and start looking through each glass cabinet from the door and sweeping around the shop. First there are a selection of Greek biscuits and bread , then it's onto the Greek pastries. Fresh ricotta canollis and custard filled canollis catch my eye, along with freshly baked galaktobouriko, which is a baked semolina custard and phyllo pie drenched in sugary syrup and dusted with cinnamon.

I'm mesmerised by the decadent sweets on offer and try not to drool over the glass display cases.  Single serve pieces, perfect for entertaining, dessert or just an indulgent snack!  My taste buds are having a party in my mouth!

Macaroons, Lemon Meringue Pie, Galaktobouriko

We go with cannolis and a piece of galaktobouriko (to have after 'lunch').

HELLENIC BAKERY (facebook page) 371 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville
(02) 9559 2701

We find a couple of stops on the list closed unfortunately, but that doesn't dampen our spirit.  We just move along to the next pit stop! However we did pop in to see this little cake shop, which was a detour from the list.

Gorgeous cakes, Greek biscuits and lots of covered almonds.  We snacked on these tiny cannolis which were crispy and chocolaty and custardy goodness

baby cannolis

ATHENA CAKE SHOP - 412 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville

Tucked away behind a house at the end of a dead end street is a cheese factory.  A cheese factory that makes beautiful fresh Italian cheeses.  Family owned and ran this is the place to pick up fresh cheese.

The display case is packed with wonderful cheeses ranging from fresh caciotta with rocket and chilli to fresh burrata and buffalo mozzarella through imported cheeses such as fetta, provolone, cheddar, taleggio and blue to name a few. 

After some discussion with the helpful staff I walked away with 5 cheeses!  burata, fett, caciotta, taleggio and a hard goats cheese.  I don't think I've ever bought so much cheese in one go! (and realised that I may have gone a bit cheese mad lately with no less than 15 different types of cheese in my fridge (thankfully I'm entertaining over the next couple of weeks))!

lots of cheeses

PAESANELLA CHEESE - 27 Gerald Street, Marrickville (at end of street behind a house)

We drop into (The) Pasta Factory (which is also known as Chef's or Chef Express) just near Sydenham train station.  This is a little factory selling a wide range of foods including fresh pasta, sauces, gelato, finger foods, jams and condiments.  Pity they weren't selling this old stove.  LOVE!

Hank's Jam and the old stove

THE PASTA FACTORY - 17-19 Buckley St, Marrickville

However, it's the shop across the road that is the reason we are in the 'hood.  The shop that has a line out the door most mornings.  It's Faros Brothers Seafood and as I walk in I actually gasp with the abundance and variety going on!

There are prawns as big as my hand, fresh tuna and salmon, bottarga (or mullet roe), ocean perch, rainbow trout, octopus and squid, flathead and scallops, oysters and fish I didn't even know existed.  The best bit?  It's cheap.  I was very surprised with the prices.  We grabbed 2 trout and it only came to $12.25 and the fishmonger kindly cleaned them for us.  You want quality seafood but don't want the fish market hassle or prices.  Head this way!

yabbies anyone?

FAROS BROTHERS SEAFOOD ( - 34 Buckley St, Marrickville

Our last stop before lunch and a nanna nap was a walk down Marrickville Rd.  Mr G wanted to buy some meat for a stew.  We stumbled across a deli and I just had to go in.  I have been on the hunt for harissa paste in Sydney and have had no luck (seriously, I was considering going into making it myself and marketing it - in fact that's still not a bad idea).  Anyway, I could have hugged kissed the guy as he passed me a big jar of the stuff  and it only cost $7 (mind you I would have paid $50 by this point in time).  If you know of anywhere else that sells it let me know!

This deli is jam packed with wonderful groceries from the continent and further afield.  Olives, cheeses and beautiful deli meats are displayed in the glass cabinets.  Halva tubs adorn the counter tops, everywhere you look there is a new product on display.  I love places like this were my curiosity for new delights can be explored!

We also walked away with a slab/brick  (and I mean a brick, it weighed the same) of freshly made spanokopita.  It was dense and packed with cheese and spinach.

LAMIA SUPER DELI - 270 Marrickville Rd, Marrickville

We took the motherload of fresh produce back to Mr G's crib and to have a bit of a picnic with our produce.  I love dining table picnics.

We delve into buffalo mozzarella, spanokopita and the Greek pastries.

buffalo mozzarella, spanokopita, cannoli's and galaktobouriko

The mozzarella is creamy and grassy and has a smooth soft interior, the spanokopita is dense and rich and full of flavour and not short on cheese, it had a great lemon tang to it too, unfortunately upon reheating it got a little burnt crispy on the edges (but hey they're the best bits!) .  Dessert was the cannoli which unfortunately was soggy but the flavours were good.  I preferred the custard filled one over the ricotta one, but that just comes down to personal preference.  The  galaktobouriko however was glorious in all its syrupy goodness. The custard is firm but velvety. What's is happening to me? I'm developing a sweet tooth! 

Resting the feet and the mind over a cheeky glass of chardy (it was a respectable hour), we head back out for phase 2 of the tour. We head toward Alexandria, parking is crazy around The Grounds of Alexandria, so expect to walk for a few minutes. 
lemons, strawberrys, mandarins to make lemonade

fresh bread

awesome olives
It's mayhem. There are people crowded around the entrance trying to get inside, the garden area is packed with people sipping coffee and munching on BBQ and bacon and egg rolls. Wow it's changed since I was last here about a year ago. The smell of BBQ is making me salivate but today we are not participating. *sad face*. There are a couple of stalls from Salt Meats Cheese selling a variety of amazing chillies and fresh lemonade.

The green fiery olives are chilli-head hot! and actually makes me start to sweat a little, so I purchase some, along with a spoonful of middle eastern flavour kalamatas! 
I love kale 'flowers'
We check out The Grounds and are surprised that they now offer BBQ and Bacon and Egg carts...this is fantastic as it offers guests another option instead of having to line up to get inside.  It's laid back and very casual.  It's lovely sitting outside in the sun, in the garden, soaking up a little bit of green in what is really a concrete urban space! One the downside, it crowds more people into a lovely outdoor space, making it even more chaotic!

We stopped by to visit with Kevin the pig.
This is now my second visit to The Grounds in a year and I still have yet to step foot inside!
We head into Salt Meats Cheese and again I gasp. It's like entering a holy shrine! I take a moment to send a little prayer to the kitchen gods as I step into the walk-in coolroom packed with cheeses. 
Truly a religious experience for any foodie!

Deli meat delights 

We spend a good 40 minutes exploring the shelves, sniffing and prodding and tasting where we can. I'm in love with the flavoured salts range and am taken by a few but do not like the expresso flavoured one! I stand in awe as I look up to the ceiling in the deli! Hams, salamis and sausages hanging from the rafters.....They are selling ham and cheese rolls made with Iberico ham! My heart is palpating a little. I will be coming back here to purchase some very soon! 

Currently there is a promotion where, if you check-in on Facebook and make a purchase you receive a free box of pasta. We came away with 2 bottles of red and white vinegar, a bottle of tomato and vodka pasta sauce and free box of pasta! Easy peasy quick dinner party meal is sorted for next week!
(Yes I'll cheat using a jar sauce this time).

SALT MEATS CHEESE - behind The Grounds at Alexandria - 41 Bourke Road, Alexandria 

Out last stop of the day is King St, Newtown to visit a couple of spice stores.

This little Indian spice shop also sells music and videos.  I feel like I'm going to bust out a Bollywood routine in the middle of the shop as I pick out my spices!  I stock up on fenugreek and besan (chickpea) flour and we are enticed by the samosas and Indian pastries and sweets in the window. But we are heading to dinner soon and don't want to spoil our appetites so go with a small packet of Gulab Jamun, which is a little cheese like dumpling (mixed with flour) and fried then soaked in syrup. I'm disappointed, they are spongy, stodgy and dry (probably because they are pre-packaged earlier in the day). They also supply ready to heat meals, fresh and frozen indian vegetables and all sorts of kitchenware and toiletries and some odd products like this.....

Tinned corned mutton anyone?  Actually this is something my Dad would eat for lunch!
Indian sweets

Vinyak (Music, Videos & Spices) - 642a King Street, Newtown

We finish  up at Fiji Market. A vast array of spices, Indian products, kitchenware along with rice and pulses and they even have a decent Mexican/South American section too!

FIJI MARKET - 591 King St, Newtown

Our food touring part of the day has come to an end.  We are actually starting to feel hungry and realise that we didn't eat as much as we thought we would today.  The night is still young and we are both excited about our dinner reservations!

I would like to thank Mr G/Gdawg for sharing his neighbourhood delights with me.  I had a fantastic day spending time with a close friend, something that I haven't been able to do for a very lone time due to being overseas.  It's days like this, spending time with loved ones, that really fortify my soul.  Thanks G. Big love and hugs! x


Friday, 14 June 2013

Just pho fun

Tucked away in the upper levels of Hunter Connection in the CBD is a 'little known' food court.  You wouldn't know it was there unless you had happened to stumble upon it or someone told you about it. However, you wouldn't believe that statement when you see how crowded it gets at lunch time. It' seems half of the CBD knows about this little 'secret'!

It's predominately Asian flavour stalls however there is a couple of other fast food/takeaway shops. There are Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Sushi and Thai stalls and there is an Organic cafe, kebab place and a Subway and it's super dooper cheap!

For food court food it's pretty good.  I'm sure there is lots of MSG making its way into the dishes, but when you can get dishes for around $6.50 with rice it's a great budget lunch.  There is always a massive turn around at lunchtime because of the crowds and dishes don't sit around for hours and hours in bain maries. Yes, this food court has been criticised in the past for unhygienic practices (at a couple of the stalls) but it certainly hasn't hurt business. 

If you are dining with a friend(s) grab a seat before you order if you can because by 12.10pm there will be little to no seating and pouncing on tables or sharing tables with someone else is a must!

I have craving bowls of pho lately.  It's my go to soup.  Comforting and carb-y on cold winters days.  I have eaten pho at both Hong Hai and Pho Han oi in this food court a couple times (I have incidentally also introduced a friend to the pho culture at both of these places (he just happens to be a ramen head but now enjoys pho too)...I'm pleased to convert someone!

So for research purposes only (okay aways) I have recently eaten at both to decide which is better. 

Hong Hai
Beef Pho
Piping hot broth, fresh noodles, smattering of coriander and shallots.  The beef got a little overcooked in the broth and was a bit overcooked and I didn't get the baggie of lime, herbage and bean sprouts (not sure if this was an oversight because I asked for takeaway) and didn't realise until it was to late.
Pho Ha Noi
Beef Pho
Clear strong broth, full of flavour, coriander and shallots, lots of rare beef slices and a baggie full of pho toppings, lemon wedge, fresh basil and crispy bean sprouts. 
Is is evident by just reading each review which one is the winner.  Pho Ha Noi, you will be pho ever my fav at this food court!
The slurping continues on my hunt around Sydney for great pho!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

June Travel Photo of the Month - Victoria Falls, Zambia

This day, way back in 2000 was one of the most memorable days of my African trip and all of my travelling year!  It was filled with hiking across the river and falls, swimming on the edge of the falls (literally) in the Angels Armchair and bungee jumping off the bridge in no mans land between countries (Zambia and Zimbabwe).

Victoria Falls, Zambia (and Zimbabwe on the otherside).

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Nobu @ Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai

Back in late 2008 I was lucky enough to stay at the newly opened Atlantis Hotel on The Palm @ Jumeriah in Dubai.  They were offering residents of Dubai a 'soft opening' special and we took full advantage of the offer, seeing that I probably wouldn't be able to afford a 'staycation' once the hard opening was over. 

Unfortunately our weekend there was not memorable (well actually it was very memorable but not favourable!) I am not a person who would usually complain about things in hotels, unless it is absolutely necessary.  Hell I'm a backpacker so used some some dives!  However being a 5 Star hotel one would expect impeccable quality, unfortunately this did not happen (far from it).  The stay ended in alot of disappointment and concern and after having no option but to complain to the General Manager, who conducted the whole situation with professional discretion, we were given a free night to use at a later date and a very sincere apology.  I won't go into details.  It was along time ago, newly opened and bound to run into a few teething problems but these events took the cake!

So we gave them 6 months or so to iron out the issues before we booked our free night.  I am happy to report that this stay was so much more delightful.

As a splurge my friend and I had made a reservation at the world renowned Nobu. Nobu Matsuhisa has had a colourful and illustrious career and has taken the world by storm (if not a little stormy in the earlier days).

Dubai was naturally one place to open a Nobu restaurant.

We decided to have a cocktail in one of the tiny hotel bars in the Atlantis before heading to dinner.  I decided on a Turkish delight, which is one of the best cocktails I have ever had.  It tasted exactly like a fresh Turkish Delight and took me back to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  Unfortunately they would not divulge the recipe! :)

Don't you just love the look of this and that glass was exquisite to sip from!

Turkish Delight
Onto Nobu, we were faced with deciding what to have.  The degustation menu looked amazing, however my friend does not eat raw seafood and dishes were not interchangeable.  Our waiter suggested that we allow the chefs to surprise us with a menu for approximately the same price as the degustation menu.

Okay. Sorted!

Wine - we are both red drinkers so we went with a bottle of Margaret River Shiraz, which being Dubai was at least 5 times the price LOL!  I will never learn!

looking towards the restaurant and kitchen
lobster salad with spicy lemon dressing
 tempura prawns in creamy sauce

Dover sole in lemon sauce
beef tonka

cabbage stuffed poussin

black cod miso

 vanilla and green tea ice cream, passionfruit sorbet and chocolate pudding

 cheese cake
* note: some of these items not long appear on the menu
This is firmly in one of the top 5 most amazing meals I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.  Yes there ended up being far to much food, but we just managed to get through it as we took our time between each dish.  Every morsel of each dish was perfect.  I won't even go into each dish.  If you ever get the opportunity to dine at Nobu...DO IT!

Sharing main dishes and desserts to the value of the degustation menu was a mammoth task and had we known that there would be that much food we would have ask them to stop.
We waddled back to our room.
Needless to say, this was an absolute highlight of our stay. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

BBQ with Jamie Oliver

Like many, I wish Jamie Oliver could be a guest at one of my BBQ's, but I had to be happy enough with cooking a few of his recipes from Jamie's America cookbook.

I'll confess, it took me a long time to 'discover' Jamie Oliver's cookbooks.  Of course, I watched TV shows and flicked through Naked Chef cookbooks, but just never got into the hype (I know where have I been) but it was after seeing Jamie's American series and hence the purchasing of the cookbook that I became a big fan! Now I'm hooked!  Why did it take so long?  I can highly recommend the cookbook.

Anyways, I'm a convert now!

This particular weekend (going back 18 months or so!) I decided to cook for the folks and lil' brother. I hadn't been back in Sydney that long and was slowly settling into Sydney life.  I hadn't cooked for the family in a very long time.  I wanted to wow them with my inner domestic goddess (hahah).  It was nearing the end of summer but it was a cold, blustery, rainy day. Not great BBQ weather but perfect for slow cooking some ribs!

The ribs take about 7 hours in the oven.  So I spent the morning preparing the rub and marinades, shoved the ribs in the oven and  left the house to go test drive some cars (as one does)!

Five hours later I came home to a house full of wonderful BBQ aroma and a new car!  I'm not sure which I was more excited about?

So what did I actually cook?

Daisy May's BBQ Ribs,  Chili Cheese Cornbread and an Apple and Walnut Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing with corn cobs on the side

Daisy May's BBQ Ribs

The ribs were succulent and meaty and were very tender. In the photo they look a little dry but they weren't. They could have had another hour in the oven for more fall of the bone tenderness but I've learnt that for next time.

Chilli Cheese Cornbread

The cornbread was rich with cheese and jalapeno chillis and had a dense texture with some crumb but was delicious.
Apple & Walnut Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing

This was surprisingly a very crunchy fresh salad, despite the blue cheese dressing being a little heavier.  This was a big hit.

The family demolished the meal, so I'm thinking it was a huge success. My brother raved about the cornbread that I froze the leftovers into portions for him to eat over the next few weeks.  It was gone within 3 days! I will admit that I had the cornbread for breakfast one morning, toasted with lots of butter and a poached egg! YUM.

This was the first time cooking a Jamie Oliver meal and it won't be my last!