Monthly Archives: September 2013

Lotus Dumpling Bar, Walsh Bay

002The distressed brick wall look is clearly in this decade. But I like it.  It’s what I notice first when I walk into this new dumpling bar at Walsh Bay across from the theatre, and I look around and there are other nice touches – the huge pots hanging from the ceiling, the quality tableware, a well stocked bar.  Don’t come here expecting cheap and cheerful, superior and sleek are the order of the day at Lotus.  It’s a relatively intimate setting, long and narrow, but the very high ceilings give it a good sense of space.

Definitely bring a few friends, because there will be a lot on the menu you want to try.   The dumplings are dearer than what you’ll find at Mr Wong or New Shanghai, but they are quality. What we ordered:

Prawn dumplings.  These are just fantastic and probably my favourite dumpling of the night, big chunks of prawn and a bit of snow pea.

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Xiao Long Bao – super fine dough and great flavour, though not as soupy as Din Tai Fung.

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Scallop and Pork shumai.  Delicate and like the prawns, great quality seafood.

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Duck Pancakes.  I can never resist these.  Great duck, and bigger than you would expect, but the cucumber slice was probably a little thick.

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Pan Fried Pork Buns – a thicker dough, as you would expect from a pork bun as opposed to a dumpling.  Good flavour and a little soup inside.

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Crispy eggplant with honey and chilli.  This was a surprise to all of us and a great dish, I really liked it.  Extremely crunchy coating, and tender eggplant inside.  If it had some kind of dipping sauce to go with it would take it to whole new level.

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Braised pork in Shanghai style sauce –  a little on the sweet side for me, would have preferred a bit more spice.

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Wok fried green beans with minced pork, very easy to eat.

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While the dumplings are not on the cheap side, if you take out the cocktail we had (each $18) and the dessert (gelato from Gelato Messina), the food was under $35 per person and we were very satisfied (we couldn’t finish our gelato), so overall it is quite good value for an attractive dining environment with friendly service. And if you’re going to the theatre across the road, you could have a quick pre-theatre drink and meal at the bar.

Lotus is a great little addition to the blossoming Sydney dumpling scene, I just wish it was in walking distance from my office!

Lotus Dumpling Bar, 16 Hickson Rd, Dawes Point, Ph (02) 9251 8328
http://www.lotusdumplingbar.com.au

Lotus Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Creamy Polenta with Mushroom Fricasse – Scott Conant

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On a recent visit to New York, one of the restaurants I really enjoyed was Scott Conant’s Scarpetta. There was a particular polenta dish which was just magnificent. He has published the recipe so I thought I’d give it a whirl. The recipe below is slightly modified because, funnily enough, I didn’t happen to have any truffle on hand, and also I didn’t have 3 hours to make the chicken reduction before moving onto the main event, so just used stock. In his recipe he suggests cooking the polenta for 2.5-3.5 hours, but I cooked it for about an hour and a half or so. You’ll know its not cooked if it still tastes grainy – it should be very smooth (and whatever you do, don’t use the instant variety!).  Polenta thickens very quickly, but that doesn’t mean its ready. It serves 4-6 as a side dish and is worth the effort. I may however, need to go back to New York and try the original again to make sure I got it right.

Ingredients
Creamy Polenta
2 cups thickened cream
2 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup polenta, preferably coarse ground
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Fricassee of Mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
2 cups mixed domestic and wild mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

Making it
1. For the creamy polenta: In a heavy-based saucepan, combine the cream and milk and heat over medium-high heat just until small bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Add the salt, and whisk the cream and milk until quite frothy.

2. Add the polenta and continue to whisk the mixture as it comes to a boil. Continue whisking for an additional 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan, and cook the polenta, stirring every 5 minutes or so (switch to a wooden spoon), until it is completely cooked and quite tender (check it after an hour if not keep going) for 2.5-3.5 hours.

3. For the fricassee of mushrooms: In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until the shallots just begin to color on their edges. Add the mushrooms and cook until the liquid is released. Add the stock, bring to a boil, reduce to a bubbling simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. (You can prepare the mushrooms ahead up to this point; reheat them over medium-high heat just before serving.)

4. Just before serving, stir in the butter, cheese and chives if using. The polenta should pour from the spoon as you serve it and will thicken as it cools. If necessary, you can thin the polenta with a little milk just before serving.

5. Just before serving, reheat the mushrooms if necessary. Toss the mushrooms with the chives. Spoon some mushrooms and some of the cooking juices over the polenta.

Ocean Room, Circular Quay, Sydney

Ocean Room is in a stunning harbourside location at Circular Quay. As I’ve said before, I’m a bit dubious about restaurants with Sydney harbour views, they tend to think they can get away with a bit on the food.  But this was a work function, and as I’ve been wanting to try Ocean Room for a while, it was a great excuse to check it out.

We were in a private room upstairs, magnificently encased in glass and showing off Sydney perfectly, but I noticed the downstairs layout was very spacious with a nice combination of tables and booths, and would be a very pleasant place to sit.

The menu was set for us that night, but given an overall good experience, I’d certainly come back and go a la carte, or try the 10 course tasting menu which looked quite good for $120. As I walked out I saw the kitchen dishing up plates of sushi and sashimi which looked like fantastic quality.

On our menu that evening:

Tasting Plate – Wasabi prawn with wasabi aioli, Pacific Oyster with tomato water jelly, and tuna tartare with soy pearls. This was beautiful, especially the oyster with the refreshing tomato water.  Actually the prawn was pretty fantastic too.

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Ocean Barramundi Fillet, with Sake steamed clam butter.  The skin was a little chewy. The clam butter was surprisingly light.

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Black Angus tenderloin with Tasmanian pepper jus.  A knockout piece of meat, and although it supposedly came with a jus, I felt like having a Manu-where’s-the-sauce moment.  There could have been better accompaniments than a bunch of cress and a squashed potato.

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Chocolate tasting plate – mousse, chocolate mud & pistachio, and opera cake.  I’m not big on chocolate desserts, but I really enjoyed this.

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Worth a visit if you’re in need of some harbourside beauty to accompany your meal, particularly on a sparkling summer day.

Ocean Room, Ground Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, Sydney Ph (02) 9252 9585

Ocean Room on Urbanspoon

Today’s Cake – Pumpkin, Sage and Brown Butter Cake

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We’ve been so busy the last few weekends, its been nice to stay home and potter in the kitchen. This recipe is from Martha Stewart’s upcoming “Cakes” book, which is going to be released in a week or so. They had three of the recipes available for download on Amazon, and this one piqued my interest. I used Jap Pumpkin. The result surprised me, it’s a really great cake! Looking forward to seeing what’s in the rest of her book when it arrives on my doorstep.

Ingredients
175g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing cake tin
1 2/3 cups plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 cup fresh sage, cut into thin strips
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs

Making it
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Butter a loaf pan and dust with dust with flour, tapping out excess.
2. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sage strips; cook until butter turns golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl; let cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. In a another bowl, whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, and sage-
butter mixture. Add flour mixture; whisk until incorporated.
3. Pour mixture into pan and bake for about 40 minutes. Once removed from oven, leave in tin for 15 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Ricotta Gnudi

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Following a recent visit to Hartsyard, I thought I’d try my hand at making some gnudi. Mamma Rosa was a gnocchi maker rather than a gnudi maker, so I never had these growing up. I think they are actually easier to make than gnocchi, as its easier to get the consistency right. I made them using an ice cream scoop so reasonably sized, and the recipe below made about 12, so you could do 3 each for an entrée or 6 each for two for a main. You could also add a little spinach or pumpkin or other vegetable you like. I served them with a basic Napolitana sauce, but again you could use any sauce you like.

Ingredients
450g ricotta, drained in a strainer for at least 2 hours
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
4 tablespoons plain flour
3 tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs (normal breadcrumbs are also fine)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Pinch of grated nutmeg
2 egg yolks

Making it
1. In a bowl, combine flour, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, parmesan and nutmeg
2. Add ricotta and combine well, then add egg yolks and combine well
3. Do a small teaspoon size test ball. Bring some water to the boil, then drop in the ball. If it doesn’t hold together or is too soft, add a little more flour to the mixture and test again.
4. Once you’re happy with the consistency, lay some baking paper on a tray and sprinkle with flour. Form the mixture into balls of desired size, lay them on the floured tray and set aside for 30 minutes
5. When ready to serve, cook in boiling water for about 2 minutes
6. Serve with some Napolitana sauce (or desired sauce), garnish with basil and sprinkle extra parmesan on top.

Easy and delicious!

Bangpop, South Wharf, Melbourne

Have you ever chosen a restaurant because of its name? When I heard of a Thai street food place called Bangpop, I had to try it. I’m thinking fun, exciting, explosive flavours must be the order of the day. Walking up you see the long row of red bicycles and it gives a nice playful touch.

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None of us are drinking that day, and a mocktail apple mohito is suggested to us – it is very refreshing and tangy and hard to believe it doesn’t have a little something extra in it. They then bring over four cute little ceramic cups, each filled with a condiment – fish sauce for saltiness, sweet chilli, hot chilli, and sugar. You can do a bit of DIY to change the balance or flavour of a dish to suit you.

To start we try the barramundi fish cakes (great) and marinated chargrilled pork neck (a winner but a tiny serve). We follow this with a prawn salad, surrounded with herbs and very refreshing. Then a duck curry, where the duck falls off the bone, and then some pad thai. I find most of the dishes don’t need the proffered DIY flavour intervention, but the pad thai is definitely on the bland side, and needs some help.

Barramundi and red curry paste cakes
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Spicy poached prawn salad
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Slow cooked duck leg red curry
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Deserts are nicely put together but strangely served on a scrap paper with parts of the menu.

Coconut jelly with young coconut
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Tapioca and pandan pudding with mango sorbet
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The staff are very friendly but on that particular day needed to up their game a little on attentiveness; I can imagine that on a very busy Friday or Saturday night there could be some frustration. I also think the serves are are on the small side for the pricing, especially the plates they name as Sharing/Larger. But they do have a $15 lunch special which is a dish plus a glass of wine which looks like good value.

Is it the best Thai street food you’ll find in Australia – no its not. But would I sit here by the river on a nice day for a relaxing Friday lunch, absolutely.

Bangpop, 35 South Wharf Promenade (off Dukes Walk), South Wharf ph (03) 9245 9800

BangPop on Urbanspoon

Ormeggio at the Spit, Mosman

005 Wasn’t it a lucky day for the Northside when the lovely Alessandro and Anna Pavoni decided they’d set up camp there? This tranquil, modern Italian fine diner is, literally, on the water, and a very pleasant spot to have a long lazy lunch or an intimate dinner. What is particularly appealing is that its fine dining without the hefty price tag – there are some lovely set menu and degustation options without you needing to take out a mortgage. This wasn’t my first visit but on this particular day we were meeting friends, all of us with our offspring in tow, so opted for an early dinner. The “sunset menu” is $59 for three courses which is pretty outstanding value for a two hatter. And kids are well catered for too – a great selection for $15 and under. (However I did think $9 for bread for the table was a bit much). They’re Italian, they won’t be surprised if you bring your kids (and great aunties, third cousins, a few nephews and your next door neighbour).  They also have some of the most beautiful plates and bowls I’ve ever seen – many of them are handmade by someone in Balmain, whose name I can’t recall!

The sunset menu has three entrees, three mains, and three deserts to choose from. I chose the veal agnolotti with onion consomme which was a fantastic start, just full of flavour.
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I steal a bite of the husband’s ling fish baccala, with polenta croutons and dutch cream potato and this too is delicious – the cream is not too heavy and the flavours of the fish come through.
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I rarely order risotto, as so many places get it wrong, but here – a canaroli risotto with saffron, liquorice and duck – I know I will be in good hands, and indeed the texture and consistency is just as it should be.
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The deserts are unusual, and a work of art at the same time. Look at how pretty this is – its carrot, with fennel seed ice cream, faro cream, vinegar caramel. Its an unexpected combination of flavours that works really well together.
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And then the toasted rice gelato, rice and ricotta cake, with earl grey. I didn’t particularly enjoy the foam, and there was a little too much earl grey for me, but I could have downed a whole bowl of that rice gelato and polished off a slab of the ricotta.
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To finish, some little lime and ginger zeppole.

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Who wouldn’t enjoy fine food sitting here?

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Ormeggio, D’Albora Marinas, Spit Rd, Mosman Ph (02) 9969 4088
http://www.ormeggio.com.au

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