Monthly Archives: March 2014

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/

Berowra Waters Inn on Urbanspoon

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/

Deckhouse Cafe, Woolwich on Urbanspoon

Today’s Cake – Semolina and Pear Cake

I’ve been making this little cake for years, and it always goes down well. You need nice ripe pears for this, so given that they are usually sold rock solid, you’ll need to buy them a few days in advance to give them time to ripen. Alternatively you could poach them.

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Ingredients
6 eggs, separated
1 cup caster sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 tbsp. lemon juice
3 tbsp. almond meal
2/3 cup fine semolina
Icing sugar, for dusting

Filling
200ml thickened cream
2 tbsp. pear puree
1 tbsp. icing sugar
2 ripe pears

Making it

1. Pre heat oven to 180 C. Grease a 19cm springform cake tin and line base and sides with baking paper.
2. In a bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff
3. In a separate bowl, whip yolks and sugar until thick and pale. Add lemon rind and lemon juice and whip for a few seconds
4. Fold in almond meal and lemon juice. Then fold in egg whites until well combined. Pour into prepared tin and bake for about 30 minutes or until skewer inserted into centre comes out clean. If the top starts to brown too much during baking cover with foil.
5. Remove from oven, leave in tin for 5 minutes then allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Once cool use a serrated knife to slice in half.
6. To make the filling, in a bowl whip the cream and icing sugar until firm. Fold in the pear puree.
7. Peel, core and slice the two pears into half cm slices. Layer the slices on the bottom half of the cake, top with cream, then the top half of the cake. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

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SoCal, Neutral Bay

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From the team behind The Botanist in Kirribilli and Bondi Hardware comes SoCal, short for “So California”. So it should be no surprise that the menu is a mixture of Mexican and American classics like Mac & Cheese. There’s also a very tempting cocktail menu and we succumbed.

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Its a pleasant bar space, but there is also a fun outdoor beachy white balcony, which would be great to cordon off for a party.  How would I describe our night here? Relaxed, and casual, a place where you can have a few drinks, chill with friends, and snack have or a full meal. The food is overall enjoyable, but not necessarily of the innovative/blow your mind variety.  Sharing with a few friends, you can eat more than your fair share for $30-$40 per head, and I think that is about the right price point for the standard. The staff were really warm and enthusiastic, and keen to get our feedback on dishes.

We start off with some guacamole and salsa, and a side of Tater Tots.  The guac I’d say is just standard, but combined with the corn and salsa  and a crispy corn chip becomes lively. The TT’s on the other hand, just don’t do it for me and feel like they’ve come from a frozen McCains bag labelled kids snacks – although maybe nostalgia is the intention here.

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The kingfish is beautifully fresh, though the passionfruit doesn’t add enough of the intended acidity, a wedge of lime would have helped.

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One of my favourites of the night are the pulled pork quesiladas with eggplant.  I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to combine pork and eggplant, and its a combination which works well. I could eat a heap of these (and I think I did). If you were meeting a few friends for a drink, and just wanted a plate of something to munch on, this would be the perfect choice.

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We do see a bit of creativity with the cauliflower salad, combined with currants, pistachio, oregano and cumin yoghurt.

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The seared salmon is nicely cooked but the zucchini and walnut salad underneath is too salty.

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And our last shared dish of the night is stuffed squid, clams and kale (yes of course kale, no respectable Sydney restaurant dare be without it these days, I think they’d be blacklisted).  The squid are a little overstuffed and get a little lost, but it’s a decent dish, and the clams are delicious.

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We finish on a high note with a lime panacotta. Pretty to look at, and even better to eat.

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SoCal, 1 Young St, Neutral Bay, Ph (02) 9904 5691

SoCal on Urbanspoon

Sydney Cooking Schools

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Cooking classes are a great thing to do on your own, with a friend, or give as a gift. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a novice or an expert in the kitchen, you will always learn something new, and even better, for most of them you don’t have to worry about cleaning up the mess!  The photo above I took at Altitude in the Shangri La, who used to run classes once a month or so – great fun cooking with a magnificent view as your backdrop. Here’s a round up of Sydney schools.

Sydney Fish Market Seafood School, Pyrmont
A Sydney institution that is incredibly well organised, good value and has some amazing celebrity chefs regularly showing you amazing things to make with our freshest seafood.
http://www.sydneyfishmarket.com.au/

Cucina Italiana,  Annandale
Native Italian Luciana Samponga started small and now runs a large variety of classes.  The “Saturday Long Lunch” is very popular
http://cucinaitaliana.com.au/

Salt Meats Cheese, Alexandria
Enjoy shopping in this Italian food emporium, then go along to a class to find out what to do with it all! See the pasta class I attended here
http://www.saltmeatscheese.com.au/

Sushi School Australia, Neutral Bay
Small group sessions teaching basic Japanese sushi making techniques including preparing sushi rice and filleting fish.
http://www.sushischool.com.au/

The Raw Food Kitchen, Sydney
If you want to learn how to, um, “cook” raw food, this is the place for you.  They run two day retreats as well
http://therawfoodkitchen.com.au/

Baroque, The Rocks
Always wanted to know how to make macarons? Then this is the place for you.  They also teach French bistro favourites.
http://www.baroquebistro.com.au/Masterclass/

Simon Johnson Talk Eat Drink, Alexandria
A nice range of classes followed by sitting at a big communal table and enjoying what you’ve made.
http://www.simonjohnson.com/

Gelato Messina, Darlinghurst
This famed gelataria have a Gelato Uni – but be quick, the classes book out months and months in advance.
http://www.gelatomessina.com

Williams Sonoma Cooking School
A relative newcomer to Australian shores, this kitchenware haven have now introduced classes.
http://www.williams-sonoma.com.au/cooking-school-ws-au

Signorelli Gastronomia, Pyrmont
The Signorelli family’s food temple teaches Italian favourites like pizza but also unique sessions like a whole porchetta.
http://signorelli.com.au/

Patisse, Chippendale
Vincent Gadan teaches the secrets of French pastry and sweets.
http://www.patisse.com.au/

Victor Churchill, Woollahra
If you’re not confident about cooking meat, this is the place to learn.
http://www.victorchurchill.com/

The Cheesemaking Workshop, Northbridge
Who doesn’t like cheese? The six hour workshop making soft cheeses – including camembert and mascarpone – sounds devine.
http://thecheesemakingworkshop.com.au/

Casa Barilla, Annandale
The Italian pasta empire teaches you how to their secrets to perfect spaghetti, every time.
http://www.barilla.net.au/casabarilla/casabarilla.htm

Cooking for blokes, North Sydney
If your other half is useless in the kitchen, send him in this direction.
http://cookingforblokes.com.au/

Pino’s Dolce Vita and Fine Foods
Pino’s is an institution of Sydney’s South, and does a roaring trade in cured meats. Pino decided he should start teaching others how to do it.
http://www.pinosdolcevita.com.au/

Accoutrement, Mosman
A store for “all things culinary”, they have a great line up of classes including some run by fantastic celebrity and hatted chefs. I’m going to a class with Lorraine Godsmark in May, can’t wait!
http://www.accoutrement.com.au/

Sailor’s Thai, The Rocks
A long time Thai favourite for many Sydneysiders, they hold cooking classes once a month.
http://www.sailorsthai.com.au/

Sydney Chocolate School,  Mosman
For those with a sweet tooth, classes from beginner to advanced.
http://www.sydneychocolateschool.com.au/

Brasserie Bread, Sydney
Want to learn all things bread? Some great classes here on artisan baking, plus classics like lamingtons and scones. They also offer an enormously popular kids baking class.
http://www.brasseriebread.com.au/