Nomad, Surry Hills

Nomad: (Greek, νομάς, nomas, plural νομάδες, nomades; meaning one roaming about for pasture, pastoral tribe), is a member of a community of people who move from one place to another, either with their livestock (pastoral nomads) or subsisting on hunting and gathering.

Move from one place to another? I hope not, they’ve spent an awful lot on a terrific fit out, converting what was once a furniture shop into a welcoming, spacious restaurant – the cured meats hanging which you see as soon as you walk in, the bar seating around the kitchen, and various shaped and well spaced tables.  The name instead refers to the “hunting and gathering” food to table philosophy, with the kitchen run by a seasoned professional (Nathan Sasi) who has worked for big names Neil Perry and Heston Blumenthal.

The menu reflects Nathan’s travels and experience and you can see the global influence. Service was great, an extremely bubbly and friendly waitress (in fact I thought she was going to slip her phone number into the pocket of one of my dining companions) and the other staff that helped serve our group of 7 were also warm and professional.

We start with the Housemade Nomad Charcuterie – this was really quite outstanding, in particular the beef cheek (the dark red) and the jamon.  For something a bit out there, there is also wallaby salami

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I’m a sucker for anything with foie gras, so the Foie Gras & Chicken Liver Parfait with radish and Iranian plum is a no brainer. And it’s silky smooth and served with quality thick slices of toasted sourdough.  One of the best liver parfaits I’ve had in a while.

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Although the pastry was a little dry, the filling of the Smoked Pork Empanada was succulent and delicious.  I thought it was great as it was, but my dining crew preferred it with a splash of the house harissa hot sauce they bought to the table.

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Summer tomatoes with shanklish and sumac.  Shanklish, by the way, is a Syrian cheese (why is it that menus don’t come with a glossary?). A beautiful summer salad, can’t go too far wrong here. There was a bit of dissension in the ranks about ordering of carrots (“how hard can it be to barbecue some carrots?”) but I don’t make labna at home and that was a beautiful accompaniment to some very tasty root vegetables.

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Nomad Jersey Milk Haloumi with BBQ zucchini, pinenuts, raisins – simple and delicious.

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Squid, squid ink, sobrasada, coriander – this was a little disappointing, the squid wasn’t fall apart tender. I had envisaged something as good as the Hartsyard octopus dish when I saw it on the menu.

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BBQ Mulloway Tajine with green beans and read onion pilaf – I was disappointed that this wasn’t actually served in a tajine, as when I asked the waitress about it before ordering she mentioned it was cooked in one.  It was in the ‘nice’ category, nice being a word you use to describe food when there’s nothing unique about it, but nothing bad about it either.

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Wood Roasted Pork with romesco aioli and lemon.  Crunchy skin, fatty pork, great romesco.

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Pedro Ximenez Magnum – flavour 10/10, eating functionality 1/10.  They really needed to serve these with little individual bowls.  While they could easily give Streets a run for their money, they fell apart on the first bite and the ice cream melted almost instantly, with most of us holding the delicious mess in our hands.

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Buneuelos with rosewater and cardamom custard.  Anything doughnut-y goes in the lamington category with me (bleuh!) – so I didn’t try these, but the custard was great.  The feedback on the buneuelos – “not worth the calories”.

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There is also a $65 banquet menu for groups.

Nomad, 16 Foster St, Surry Hills, Ph (02) 9280 3395
http://restaurantnomad.com.au/

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Simple chocolate cookies

These very easy chocolate cookies, from Smitten Kitchen, are a great treat for the kids (and adults as well!). A lovely chewy texture, and perfect for dunking in milk. Makes 45-50 cookies depending on your chosen shape and size.

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Ingredients
375g plain flour
55g cocoa
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
225g unsalted butter at room temperature
300g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Making them
1. Combine flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder in a bowl.

2. Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and then vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients until a nice dough forms, wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour

3. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees. Remove dough from fridge and roll it out on a floured counter to about half a centimetre thick, cut into desired shapes, and place on trays lined with baking paper. Bake for 8 to 11 minutes until edges firm and centres slightly soft. Remove from oven, allow to cool and serve

Mercato e Cucina, Gladesville

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It was a bad day when Vanessa Martin closed the one hatted Il Piave on Darling Street – her pasta dishes were always right up there.  Its been a long time between drinks, but finally here she is again running the show at Mercato e Cucina, where one side operates as a “mercato” where you can buy fruit and vegetables, meat, charcuterie, pasta, olive oil, and the other side as the “cucina” where you can enjoy a quick pizza or a long and leisurely meal.  The wine list too is fairly impressive, and the cocktails were unexpectedly good though a little on the small side for the price.

We start with the salumi board, a very attractively presented board with some top quality prosciutto, ham and the like which you can buy to take home from the store.  The olives too were fat and delicious.  We also go for the pork belly, which is tender and juicy; it has an onion jam on top which has a tang and a cabbage and apple salad underneath.

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The calamari was beautifully cooked and the accompanying mint, caper and red onion aioli is bursting with flavour.  The scallops on the other hand, served with a sweet corn puree with basil oil and crispy herbs fall a little short, I find them bland despite all the surrounds, perhaps a touch underseasoned.

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The pizza gets approval from around the table, a good crust and quality toppings.  The buffalo mozzarella is generous, no skimping here, and the seafood pizza too is beautifully fresh.  But the menu doesn’t mention that it is also full of anchovies, and it should, since it is one of those polarising ingredients.  I find they overpower the delicate mussels and vongole.

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And then comes a bit of a showstopper and the dish of the day – a white mushroom risotto with burnt butter and truffle pecorino.  Seriously rich and seriously good. I think it will go on my list of Sydney’s must have pasta dishes.

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The other pasta dishes also shine – the squid ink fettucini, and then a succulent ragu, topped with ricotta salata (and be warned, it is salty, so just take it off if its not your thing).  They are generous, which is what Italian food is all about.

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We were too full for desert, so I’ll have to try that next time.

I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews on this place, mostly directed at service.  I couldn’t really fault the food and we were warmly welcomed and the waiter we had was very polite.  They do however need a few more floor staff, particularly on a busy Saturday night, to make sure everyone is attentively looked after - if there are any shortcomings, it was that a few extra hands on deck would have been useful.

There’s also a semi private dining room and some well priced banquet menus.

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Mercato e Cucina, 297-307 Victoria Road, Gladesville, ph (02) 9817 3457

http://www.mercatoecucina.com.au/

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Today’s cake – Orange and Olive Oil Cake

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I recently had an orange and olive oil cake that our in house kitchen made for a client lunch – it was fantastic. I must ask them for the recipe, as it had great texture, and they must have used semolina or almond meal.  In the meantime I modified a recipe by Mario Batali (who I think is great!). A delicate, lovely cake.

Ingredients
100ml extra virgin olive oil
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup caster sugar
1 1/4 cups 00 flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 orange
Icing sugar, for dusting

Making it
1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees (fan forced)and grease 9-inch round cake pan and line the base with baking paper.

2. Zest and juice the orange, and combine in a bowl with the olive oil

3. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat eggs and salt together until frothy. Slowly add sugar while continuing to mix (about 2 more minutes).

5. Combine the flour and baking soda and gradually add to egg mixture. Mix about 1 more minute.

6. Gently fold the orange and olive oil mixture into the batter

7. Pour batter into prepared pan and place in oven and bake 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.

8. Turn onto a wire rack to cool, then dust with icing sugar and serve

Berowra Waters Inn, Berowra Waters

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It’s a gorgeous sunny Sydney Sunday in Autumn. We’re with four treasured friends, who we’ve known for fourteen odd years. Our collective offspring have been appropriately palmed off, the Bolly is chilled, and our driver, Ray, arrives. The cork is popped, giggles ensue, and we relax on the hour long drive up to Berowra Waters Inn. It doesn’t get much better than this. Ray wonders what he’s signed up for, these six laughing maniacs in the back.

We pull up to the restaurant’s private ferry wharf. More giggles now that we’re bubbled up. Tempted to take a bet that one of us falls in the water while trying to get on the boat. But we make it to the tranquil and serene restaurant, manned by Irishman Brian Geraghty, of Quay and Bilson’s pedigree. The room is simple, serene, tranquil, and the staff are similarly serene and welcome us warmly.

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The menu is a 7 course degustation, priced at $175, and there is a wine matching option. But, in one of those rarities in fine dining land, they allow BYO (corkage is $30). Ploughing through cobwebs and dust in our basements, we’ve unearthed some smashing vintages. Appropriate, as we discover, for the meal soon to be placed before us. Though ‘meal’ doesn’t quite do it justice. Experience? Indulgence? Irish flight of fancy? Whatever you decide to go with, the standout for all of us was the flavour that is so cleverly packed into every dish. I also loved the beautiful dinnerware that was used, different for each course.

First up, an amuse bouche – tomato sorbet with a tomato jelly, pistachio and rice crumb, and parmesan custard. Start with the refreshing top, then the texture of the rice and pistachio, and then the devine parmesan custard (Brian, would you mind passing on the custard recipe?) – we scraped every bit out of our bowls.

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Next the bread is offered – there is an onion brioche which we all love – absolutely gorgeous – and a white sourdough. Served with a tomato butter, which was mild in flavour, I think I would have preferred a top quality rich butter.

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Scallop with brandade and cauliflower – a beautiful menagerie of texture

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Confit of ocean trout, smoked milk, dashi and lemon foam. The trout itself didn’t measure up to Tetsuya’s (can anyone?) but combination of crunch and flavour was right up there.

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Bacon and egg. Not quite the bacon and egg you’ll find at your local café (they really must get with the program), and so very clever. Those super crisp angel hair type fries with the smokey bacon flavour throughout. Pure yum. Breakfast will never be the same.

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Sweetbread and pumpkin. Usually when I see sweetbread on the menu I run a million miles and it was time to face up to it. I figured that if I was going to try it anywhere it may as well be with by a chef who’s done the Michelin star restaurant thing. And turns out this was one of my favourite dishes. Again, the kitchen nails it on the flavour and texture front.

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Duck, cabbage and pear – the duck piece was underseasoned and we all reached for the salt. But the cabbage salad with macadamia through it, and the cabbage roll with duck were both very tasty.

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Prettier than a picture and delicious to boot, goat cheese, beetroot and liquorice. Check out the colour Mother Nature provides.

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And to finish, apple and doughnut was what the menu said and another pretty picture arrives on the plate. Caramel sauce, yoghurt, crumble. More more more please!

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The extravaganza takes us a leisurely four hours (let them know if you’re on a time constraint). Ray is wondering nervously what his passengers will be like on the return trip.  We get the little boat back across the river and meander back to the car.

Clever, beautiful, food in such harmonious surrounds. I’ll be back.

Berowra Waters Inn, Via East and West Public Wharves Berowra Waters, ph +61 2 9456 1027

http://www.berowrawatersinn.com/

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Middle Eastern Walnut and Pistachio Biscuits

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Made for special occasions and holidays, maa’moul are a type of shortbread filled with nuts or dates, the different shapes reflecting the filling.  I made two types – the longer ones are pistachio, and the little domes are walnut.  I discovered there are countless variations to this recipe – it is often handed from mother to daughter, so each family has their own way.  After reading about 20 different versions and comparing them, and having no idea which version to try, a (translated) phone consultation with Mrs E, a Renowned Maker of Maa’moul, set me on the right path.  She advised to go all semolina, no flour, and no milk. The all semolina pastry came out delicate and crumbly, and these were great with a morning coffee. I would like to give a combined semolina/flour version a go just to compare the texture.

I was surprised at how hard it was to find the molds, even Sydney surround Middle Eastern groceries had limited stock. I finally found them online at the Jo Shop, which sell them in packs of three with different sizes in each pack.  The quality was beautiful.  As for ingredients, you might struggle at your standard supermarket; again a Middle Eastern grocery store is the way to go. If you don’t have one in reach, on the North Shore you’ll find the Oriental and Continental Food store in Artarmon. This is one of those treasure trove food warehouse type places, where you can just lose yourself in the aisles.  It’s also great if you need to buy nuts in bulk.

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The recipe makes about 50. You’ll need to make the dough the night before and let it rest. The fillings can be made once you are ready to shape the biscuits.

Ingredients – dough
750g coarse semolina
250g fine semolina
500g unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground mahlab (also called mahlep)
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon rosewater
125ml orange blossom water
2 tablespoons orange blossom water, extra
Icing sugar, for dusting

Walnut filling
150g walnuts, ground to a coarse crumb
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Combine in a bowl and set aside until ready to use

Pistachio filling
150g natural pistachios, ground to a coarse crumb
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Combine in a bowl and set aside until ready to use

Making it
1. In a bowl, combine both semolinas, the sugar, and the mahlab. Add the butter and combine well using either your hands or a pastry cutter.
2. Dissolve the yeast in the rosewater and add to the dough, then add the 125ml of orange blossom water. Knead the dough until smooth and silky. Cover and let the dough rest overnight.
3. In the morning, add the extra orangeblossom water and knead again
4. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line some trays with baking paper.
5. Using a tablespoon measure, measure out quantities of dough and shape into balls.
6. Take a ball, poke your finger in the centre and then rotate the ball with your thumb to form a little pocket. This is really hard to explain – the easiest thing is to watch a youtube video on making maa’mould and you’ll see what I mean! (the picture on the left shows a pocket with the pistachio filling, on the right a walnut filling pocket being pressed into the mold).

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7. Put a teaspoon of filling inside the pocket, seal it, then press it into the mold. Turn the mold over and give it a whack on the bench (very satisfying!!) and voila! Place on a baking tray.
8. Once all done place in the oven for around 20 minutes until lightly golden. Allow to cool then dust with icing sugar.

Oriental & Continental Foods, 43 Carlotta St, Artarmon Ph (02) 9906 8990

Deckhouse, Woolwich

You can tell when it’s Summer in Sydney. We gravitate towards water, whether to swim in, sail on, or dine by. On the elegant Woolwich peninsula, around the corner from Cucinetta, you’ll find Deckhouse, part of the Dedes Group that owns Dedes, Flying Fish, and Watergrill. It’s a lovely setting, tranquil and hidden.

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The menu, as you’d expect, has plenty of seafood.

We start with some garlic bread. Rather than stock standard garlic bread, it was toasted country style sourdough with lashings of garlic butter

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Tempura crispy prawns with Asian sauce & slaw. These were enjoyable, but this wasn’t tempura – I would describe them as battered prawns instead given the thickness and texture.

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Roast duck with watercress, orange salad & peking dressing – slightly tough but very well flavoured – however it was three tiny slivers.

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Crispy soft shell crab on a pickled organic salad with chilli & green mango dressing – enjoyable and crisp

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Seared tuna with lime crust wasabi, soya & soba noodle salad.  When this came out, we had to check that it was the main course, the size meant we thought it was an entrée.  The tuna was melting, but the noodle salad bland and boring.

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Deckhouse fish & chips tempura batter & fat chips. Like the prawns, this was more a standard batter than tempura – though it was a good batter with flaky fish.  It looked like a generous plate, but there really wasn’t that much fish on there.

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Whole baked rainbow trout with wilted asian greens & tamarind glaze. A very generous dish which would have serverd two, and nice fresh Asian greens, but the tamarind was so incredibly salty that we had to scrape most of it away or the fish would have been inedible.

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Tiramisu with mascarpone & coffee chocolate bark.  A bit too dense and solid for my liking.

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Steamed fig & golden syrup pudding with hokey pokey ice cream. Good texture from the fig, but a little bit of false advertising – we got plain vanilla ice cream and not hokey pokey.

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Although the surrounds were lovely, and the staff were friendly, there were a lot of execution flaws in the food. I also found the children’s menu quite pricey (more expensive that one hatted Glass!) – the kids burger, at $17.50, consisted of a plain meat patty and bun, with some sauce, and a side of chips – what’d you’d pay for a gourmet adult burger with chips elsewhere. So I probably wouldn’t come back for lunch or dinner, but I might give breakfast a whirl given the setting.

Deckhouse, Clarke Road, Woolwich, ph (02) 9817 4394

http://deckhouse.com.au/

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