Petit Fours: a Sydney food blog


Petit Fours: a Sydney food blog


Petit Fours: a Sydney food blog

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Quay Hat's Off - Sous Step Up, The Rocks

Some people like to spend their money on clothes, others on the latest Apple gear or rarely used gym memberships. Well I like to spend my money on food and that's exactly what I did on my final day of uni this year. The final few days before October foodie month finishes, I was pretty excited to hear a confirmation call a week before the Hat's off dinner after spending the entire month feeling disappointed over mistakenly believing I didn't get the reservation in on time. Seriously, Quay books out.
Peach Bellini
My good friend A and I came out to a moody and windy Spring day in Circular Quay. She's being dying to cure her Quay itch ever since the infamous snow egg and it made for easy convincing to the dinner event. Credit goes to her tonight for the pictures. Being seated down, I realised I didn't exactly get the table in the tower I asked for. There is something awfully fishy about that. You should definitely be allowed to ask for your table. However I don't think you can really get a "bad" view with a location such as Quay's so that was alright. There wasn't anything particularly exciting about the decor, just strong colours of purple and brown. What was interesting was the many many mirrors which really accented the view. It was advertised as a 6 course for $160 but ended up being an 8 courser on the night which still made my wallet cry a little but was a pleasant surprise. Our waitress repeatedly reminded us of the exciting night that would eventually unfold.

Parfait with Brioche
We first started off with a plate of chicken liver parfait and a brioche to share and I actually thought that this was Quay's twist on the usual bread and butter for a moment. I would of been happy with this. Some might think it's stingy, but I think the invitation to share dishes with your dinner friends breaks down the social barriers that fine dining usually imposes and it was a great way to start the night. The freshly baked mini brioche was incredibly buttery and in my friend A's words, better than a really good croissant. It may of been just me, but I think that chicken liver imparts a much more lighter and pleasant flavour than pork. The parfait was wonderfully rich and surprisingly didn't have that metallic taste. The accompanying pickled ginger salad and fresh herbs weren't overpowering at all and provided a nice acidity and freshness to cut through the parfait. As evident from my numerous brioche flakes on the table after I was finished, the dish was so good it made me appear like a savage.

After we finished the dish, the roof oddly started leaking onto our table. 3 chef hat restaurant right there. But the waiters were incredibly apologetic and after moving us to a comfier table, all was forgiven.

But hey, then came the actual bread and butter. The serving of bread was a bit stingy, but good things come in small packages. The bread was wonderfully nutty and I looked onto the butter, bemused at the perfectly quinelled roll of easily spreadable butter.
Young beetroot, warm goat's curd,
prune, licorice and spelt

Favourite dish of the night for A, she could just not figure out why she liked it so much. I, myself, did find much of the appeal from the overall earthiness. The goat's curd was enticingly aerated and light and didn't have an overpowering cheesy flavour. The beetroot and prune were incredibly juicy. Not a big fan of licorice but the hits of licorice were bearable and even necessary to accentuate the interesting earthy marriage of beetroot and goat's curd.

A Trip to Tokyo
Dashi custard, squid, yuzu, roasted rice, smoked eel broth
Wow just wow. Wow wow wow. This dish was brilliantly executed. I'm gonna say it right now. My favourite savoury dish of the night. An intense broth was poured out from a cool glass teapot on top of the dish giving out mouthwatering aromas of eel with a subtle mysterious smokiness. The dashi custard underneath was soft and yielding and gave out a faint and delicate dashi flavour. But the star of this dish was undeniably the squid. It would of needed a master magician behind the kitchens to get squid that thin. What resulted was slice after slice of impossibly tender ribbons of fresh squid. It was so good, I even attempted to be civilized for once and eat it slowly in hopes of prolonging this wonderful joy. To balance out this rave though, I thought the sliced radishes, though attractive on the dish, overpowered the delicate flavours with its strong rawness and sharp bite. Also the roasted rice kept getting stuck in my teeth. But they weren't enough to overshadow the dish, a truly marvelous display of culinary genius showcasing quintessential fresh Japanese flavours.

Smoked rainbow trout,
rye, watercress, Jerusalem artichoke, horseradish curd
Yeah see, I didn't realise there were decorative cracks on the dish until I revisited the pictures. Moody lighting does that. The trout was wonderfully cooked, cooked to the point of flaking, yet still retaining a sashimi like quality. The fish crackling added an interesting texture. I love the addition of horseradish curd, you first get that creaminess and then that little kick of horseradish hit in the end.
Wild hare, rose, white asparagus
If there was a night to try new things, this would be it. The wild hare was lusciously fall off the bone and had a nice gamey flavour, the rose provided an unusual yet somewhat pleasant texture and scent and white asparagus was delicate and sweet and also provided a nice texture. But... the jus underneath was incredibly heavy handed in saltage and I found it immensely overpowering. Because of that, it wasn't a huge winner for me.

Over the Hump
48 hr braised Brahman hump, grilled cabbage, warm truffle vinaigrette
At first I was thinking... two days ?!?! Wowee. It smelt marvellous, with the subtle earthy aromas of truffle. But in all honestly, I was quite disappointed with this dish. We were advised by the waitress that the meat would be so soft you could just use your spoon to pull apart the meat. That didn't seem to be the case and I ended up reverting back to my trusty knife and fork. Don't get me wrong, the meat was some what tender, but after 2 days I was expecting a bit more. It was really interesting being served hump and we were told it was the hump from a Brahman cow flown all the way from Queensland and when I asked the sommelier passing by what he thought of it, he said it was very marbled. That partially seemed to be the case however some cubes were intensely marbled while other parts were just dry. The salting here was again very heavy handed and the bacon didn't do much to alleviate it and that was what overwhelmed the undetectable truffle flavour.
Mandarin dessert
Okay, okay, okay, by now it may of seemed that the over seasoned mains brought down the great dinner that the entrees had achieved but I couldn't be more wrong. By 8.00, I had relinquished all hope of getting home on time but that seemed alright and forgotten with this dessert. I just realised that sentence is an understatement. This dish was mind-numbingly PHENOMENAL. Bloody brilliant. I don't know. It was just so indescribably good. If your looking at the dish description titled 'mandarin dessert' like I am, then your thinking it sounds boring. Wait what? Just mandarin? That's what it read on the menu. I don't even like mandarin that much. Actually i'm impartial but it wouldn't be the first fruit I'd choose as my favourites.

A melt in your mouth meringue roll housed a smooth and intensely concentrated mandarin sorbet. The meringue was impossibly light and seemed to just disintegrate on your tongue leaving nothing but a gentle sweetness. Underneath that was what seemed to be a gorgeous and unbelievably soft pannacotta thingy. This sat on top of a pool of nicely tart mandarin sauce to combine the components with an even more acidic mandarin flakes. Seriously, I have never tasted mandarin that sour but it worked perfectly to counter the sweetness. The jelly on the end was deceptively heavy in mandarin in flavour. To round it all out, a line of mandarin snow reinforced the seasonality and freshness of spring and was finished by a vibrantly yellow pansy.

It's hard to compare between this dish and the guava snow egg I had last year. The appeal of the snow egg to me was its deceptively simplistic use of one star ingredient to create such a beautiful and harmonious snow egg dish while the appeal of this dish was the complexity and ability for many unique components, textures and flavours possible from the one ingredient. It's made me reconsider what my favourite sort of flavours are because I am usually a big fan of bitter and rich flavours like chocolate. I'm gonna stop rambling now.

Blackcurrant Bush
How this dish was served to us was first in a bowl with only the cream and 'antlers', then with the blackcurrant sauce poured in front of us from a Chinese pot. We were then invited to grab a few brioche bits from the basket and crumb them on top. I reckon this sort of presentation at your tables invites a sense of interactivity with the diner and chef and really breaks down the boundaries between the two. You really feel excited after the fun of crumbing your brioche in, sticky, buttery fingers and all. The blackcurrant custard was incredibly intense in berry flavour. I would of thought the brioche biscuits would be too hard when eaten but the custard really softened it down and you get this really nice semi crunchy texture. I love the mixture between hot brioche and blackcurrant sauce and the cold wonderfully dense cream, it really plays with your mind and it's such a delight. Due to the flavours and the aforementioned antlers, this dish reminded me of Christmas.

Petit Fours
Hazelnut and chocolate friands and Italian meringue petit fours finished off the night. The Italian meringue was by far my favourite petit four bite this year. A caramelised meringue housed a white chocolate sphere which had a lightly flavoured passionfruit cream inside. The friand was quite nice as well.

You really get a sense of Quay's philosophy through their food and environment. Texture and inspiration through nature. It's prevalent with: its presentation- an almost Japanese sense of presentation with it's pristine, colourful yet simple arrangement of food and use of flowers as garnish and it's immense respect for the textures and subtlety of flavours of ingredients. With each mouthful, your biting into something different and exciting. The dark and moody lighting was, in reference to my advanced English years (see I did learn something), a double edged sword. With such beautiful food and interesting crockery, you need clear lighting to fully appreciate it. But as the night dragged out, I really believed it was absolutely essential to create that "Quay" intimate ambiance. In contrast to my previous visit to the restaurant, the staff were much more loose and jovial. Our waitress for the night was wonderfully informative and conversational without being intrusive and was so good, we were fretting over not having enough money to tip her.

Despite the energetic night that Hat's Off is with the booze seemingly free flowing inspiring a particularly rowdy group of diners opposite, Quay to me is the sort of place that time grinds down to an immeasurable halt. The outside world and all technologies lay forgotten and irrelevant to me while I was in there and seemingly miles away. The feeling of watching the ferries cruise away from the harbor and docking in, to the almost therapeutic bobbing of waves and watching the Opera house stand proud and tall, lights and all, against the dark night sky is indescribable. Some dishes were a miss, but others were spectacular and when you considered that this is the first time these dishes have been cooked, you begin to appreciate the versatility of the chefs behind Quay. To the sous chef that prepared both of my favourite dishes of the night (the squid and mandarin), Analiese Gregory- my hat's off to you. Quay was truly magical.

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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Porteño, Surry Hills

Hola Amigos. When the year old Porteno only recently got new restaurant of the year and 2 chef hats by GFG, with a bar of the year just upstairs to boot, and the fact that part of the team behind one of my most favourite restaurants (Bodega) run the place, I knew I had to try it. But Spanish food (or more specifically Argentinean food) isn't really Spanish food unless you bring company along to share it with, so I managed to round up a couple of high school mates under the promise of relatively cheap good food. And that it did deliver. A warm thanks to the lovely S for being our photographer of the night.

Given previous warning of the nightmare that is the Porteno seating plan, I was sure to book 2 weeks in advanced as well as come 20 minutes earlier. Excited much. When people say the place packs quickly, it really does, all 120 seats of it within 20 minutes of opening. We entered the restaurant, immediately met with smoky charcoal roasting smells, dim lighting and a warm hostess.

Quickly whisked to our seats, menus were handed but supposedly it was all up to me to decide what we all should have. So while blindly choosing away, the loud mariachi music and spirited buzz about the place inspired an interesting conversation with the others including and not limited to the topics : the origins of swear words, the reason why Asians break down alcohol better and the associations between hiccups and constipation I think? Long night... Dear readers, that is a story for another day. The obvious advantage with eating with lots of friends is the amount of sharing that goes on. The disadvantage would be that with so much food going on, your memory tends to start getting woozy and you start forgetting what things taste afterwards. So please do accept my some what brief descriptions of some dishes.
House Baked Bread with Olive Oil & Pork Pate $2 pp
I've always made it known I love butter more than olive oil, but the oil dip turned out to be quite pleasant and fruity and was really enjoyable. However the bread had a rather floury texture and the liver from which the pate was presumably made from gave out a rather disagreeable metallic taste. The other diners seemed love it, however, for it incredible richness, softness and easy spreadability.

Beef Empanada $4 each
Broccoli and Ricotta Empanada $4 each

At 4 dollars each, they were admittedly on the pricy side and the sealing of the empanada looked like a rushed job. However, cracking into the blistered and dry pastry of the beef empanada revealed a chunky filling of olives, eggs and saucy beef mince, you were instantly at bliss, ready to weather through the surprisingly cold spring day. We had a pescatarian among us and i'm glad we did, the few broccoli empanadas I ordered for her had to be much better. Cracking it open reveals a such a brilliant combination of broccoli surrounded by luscious folds of creamy ricotta.

Grilled Tuna with Asparagus and Charred Jalapeño & Garlic Dressing $22
This dish seemed like a huge table favourite and it was one of mine. Asparagus and Jalapeno were young and tender, grilled marvelously, imparting a wonderful smokiness and the garlic sauce underneath provided a nice flavour hit. Searing of tuna actually gave an interesting two textures, in the middle with the sashimi and the outside with the cooked.

BBQ Eggplant, Peppers, Cauliflower with Tahini & Quail Egg $18
Seems like a pizza but it's not. At least I don't think it was. I had quite a fun time dividing up this dish. Such a good flavour combination with soft and smoky bell peppers and spiced cauliflower dressed with nutty tahini on top of a crusty base. Hits of parsley and mint injected the dish with a bit of freshness.

Citrus Marinated Seafood with Cucumber, Grapefruit and Yellow Chilli Paste $24
This dish reminded me alot of the fish fingers I had at Bodega with the kingfish ceviche and similar flavour profile. Not that that's a bad thing because I love it. The fresh mixed seafood gave many out interesting textures boosted up with the sauce that gave a slight kick and balances the acidity that didn't overpower. Cucumber and grapefruit reinforced the freshness and overall, was one of my favourites of the night.

8 hour Woodfired Free Range Lamb $42
That 8 hour lamb was. Truly. Glorious. Butterflied out onto a cross, fire roasting away in the asador ready to be set upon by hungry carnivores, it comes generously served, piled up, with shards of crisp skin jutting out and a bone or two to gnaw on. Laced with copious amounts of fat, the meat was sublime: salty and melting and had diners fighting over the last pieces. In all honesty though, I didn't really detect the wood smoke that was so prevalent when I walked into the restaurant. However it may have been just me, overwhelmed by everything else beautiful about the lamb.

Chimichurri, Criolla Salsa
Affectionately known as choo-choo sauce and choo-choo sauce #2, these sauces sat on our table at the beginning of the night as we sat in bewilderment at what to use it for. As the meats came out later on plainly served on a board, I realized it was necessary to spike the meats with the sauce as a wonderful herby touch.
Crispy Fried Brussel Sprouts with Lentils and Mint $14
When in doubt, deep fry it. And that certainly did the trick with the brussel sprouts. A gorgeous nutty taste resulted from it.
Polenta with Provolone Cheese $14
First time I've ever tried polenta and it is irresistible, moreish, rich and incredibly decadent. Spoonful after spoonful, the desire for more was unrelenting yet admittedly it became sickening after a while. But I kept going. It was that good.
O’Connor Grass Fed Angus Beef Short Ribs $30
I found these ribs delicious yet unremarkable, perhaps a tad overshadowed by the far more amazing 8 hour Lamb. They were slightly chewy and I would maybe consider a more marbled cut next time.

Shaved Fennel Salad with Apricot, Black Olives and Amontillado Dressing $12
My friends commented on how this dish tasted very medicinal, however I found this dish necessary as the strong acidic bite and freshness cut through all the heaviness encountered in the meaty mains.

And then came the onslaught of sweets. There's enough sugar in one of these dishes to last multiple crazed children going through the Easter long weekends.

Burnt Milk Custard with Orange Jam & Chocolate Ice Cream $14
There was nothing remarkable about this dish, however the brulee custard was a nice touch, and nothing's more exciting than having the first crack. The ice cream was rather ordinary and reminded me of paddlepop ice creams.

With Coffee Sauce and Peanut Butter Ice Cream $14
I seriously love my coffee, I live on like 8 cups a week but that sauce was enough to put that to shame. It's incredible bitterness turned the other diners off. However, cutting the fondant revealed it's rich, gooey, chocolatey centre and I love anything related to peanut butter so that ice cream was real winner.

South American Style Pavlova $14
Sweet again. But I loved this deconstructed version of pavlova. A sponge cake sandwiched layers of caramel and cooked fruit topped with pretty puffs of cream and shards of meringue jutting out. It's a really interesting concept and you soon forget the sweetness and the yumminess takes over. I, however, have never been much of a fan of cooked fruit as they reduce it to a texture similar to can fruit and you lose all the freshness. But that's just me.

Pineapple Soda & Coconut Rum Ice Cream $14
The drink had us wondering for a while on how we were going to share it. A nice refreshing balance to all the punchiness of the other sweets, the coconut and pineapple pieces floating around gave the drink a real boost in acidity and flavour.

The asador where 2 lambs and pigs roast away
Open kitchen

On the rare occasion that I've been to a 2 hatter, this was unlike any. But that was the thing with this place. There is nothing like it. All the diners commented on the wonderful ambiance it had and it was hard to disagree. Clear glass roofs, upbeat music, lack of table top covers to reveal a rustic, stable marble table, appropriate lighting, a horseshoe here and a mysterious cellar room there, twisting staircases, exposed stone walls and the very exciting architecture created a much more relaxed atmosphere. Porteno is loud, proud and very cool. And service was slicker than the waiters' quirky hairdos. Water cups were subtly filled nearly after every sip I took. The hostess, with her quirky Marilyn Monroe 50's haircut, was incredibly warm and amiable and food came out so fast, we contemplating a walk around the block for an hour before having dessert again. Honestly with friends along, no sweets or drinks, $30-$35 or less easily will leave you very full and that's the way it this place should be had, with lots of company and good conversation. We had an inspiring, exciting and spectacular night at Porteno. Until next time, 8 hour Suffolk Lamb.
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Friday, 14 October 2011

Aria Let's do Lunch, Bennelong

When October foodie month hits, bam i'm into it like there's no tomorrow. Rain or shine, 5 assessments due or none, there is no resisting the lunch-time fine dining hit. After that infamous and notoriously difficult chocolate tasting plate, I've had my eye on Aria ever since. And what better excuse to go there then with the promise of a lunchtime deal that involves barramundi and crab? I've walked past Aria on the way to the Opera House so often, this is one of the rare times I've never gotten lost on the way to a restaurant. Impressive. A kind thanks to my friend D for being the photographer of the day.

The moody Spring day threatened to rain but fortunately the weather held. The decor inside isn't particularly eye-catching and was rather uninspiring, but I suppose that's to avoid detracting from the gorgeous view of the harbor and the house and the ocean that separates us. The restaurant was unsurprisingly packed so there is an element of coziness albeit a comfortable distance still separated customers. I did, however, ask for harbor side views well in advance. We got a table against the wall which provided slightly inadequate views so that was slightly disappointing. We were swiftly handed menus, however I already had in mind what I was going to order. It's good to see Aria being one of the only fine diners that offer salt and pepper grinders in that they acknowledge customer's individual tastes.

Sourdough was served and was freshly baked, warm and fluffy and came out with room temperature, softened and easily spreadable butter.

A complementary amuse bouche was given out which was a sign of Aria's generosity. The gazpacho was quite pleasant as you could taste the quality of the tomatoes boosted up with hits of basil and quality olive oil.
CONE BAY ROASTED BARRAMUNDI with Alaskan crab and pumpkin risotto $38
Barramundi was the protein of the day and appropriately so. My friend D adores her barramundi, nevertheless there was a certain reluctance from her as agreeably, inexpert pan frying does tends to dry things out. No fear, that barramundi was moist, flaking and incredibly well cooked. The skin was delightfully crisp. The picture doesn't do it any justice. This is the epitome of barramundi cookery, it was THAT good. One would doubt the seasonal appropriateness of serving pumpkin, however I am not one. I've never really minded and I found the pumpkin gave it a certain heartiness to cheer up the gloomy day. If I had a qualm though, it would be that the Alaskan crab wasn't given out generously enough where I could only see small flakes of it and couldn't taste it at all. Fun fact: Alaskan Crab fishing happens to the be the most fatal job in the world.

Truffled potato mash $15
The mash was as mash should be: creamy, moreish, buttery and just so bloody yummy. It was so good that it had my friend raving for hours after and happily declaring that she could sit down with a bowl of it everyday for the rest of her life.

CHOCOLATE Valrhona "caramelin" mousse with candied cumquats, gold leaf and pecans $20

I appreciated how this dish was plated up with the tempered chocolate roll housing a smooth mousse. Valrhona chocolate was delightfully dark and the crisps provided a nice texture. What was really cool was the gold leaf that had us bemused for minutes. Ahhh the little things. However what I really didn't enjoy was the addition of kumquats. To me they tasted very medicinal and it wasn't really helped with the addition of honey.

BOMBE mango and vanilla bombe with black sesame tuille and raspberry sauce $20

This dish was OVERWHELMINGLY good. If spring and summer had a taste, this would be it. And I would eat it daily. At first I was wondering where the raspberry sauce was, in cracking the meringue "Bombe", it revealed a pool of coulis daintily housed around a nicely separated duo of creamy and fragrant vanilla bean ice cream and delectable mango sorbet. The caramelised exterior of the meringue added a very subtle and enjoyable chariness to the dessert. Pieces of fresh mango and a quinelle of mango sorbet reinforced the flavours and the black sesame tuille gave a pleasant nutty texture. By far one of the best desserts I've had this year.

PETIT FOURS chocolate truffle, raspberry jelly, macaroon $5
Score! These petit fours were given out free of charge however I didn't really know whether it was a mistake on the waiter's part or the restaurant's generosity. I really do hope it was the latter. Despite the chocolate truffle being nothing out of the ordinary, I still really enjoyed the rich darkness of it. The raspberry jelly tasted like normal jellies however a lot softer. The macaroon obviously tasted very coconutty.

I really appreciated how seriously Aria takes their "Lets do Lunches" in October. They've got two new menus dedicated to this time and despite the dessert menu being the same as the regular one, they've actually become a few dollars cheaper around this time. I really implore you to go to Aria especially during this time because usual prices admittedly are a bit steep. However it is definitely worth it but I think i'll consider going for entrees next time round instead of desserts.

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No, we aren't the most amazing gastronomes or chefs. Heck, half our team doesn't even know how to cook... well. However, what we really love is eating. And lots of it. We enjoy that occasional freebie, filling up that craving for a midnight snack and finding a 20 in our pockets that we thought we never had, and using that as an excuse to go out eating. As we battle the ongoing war on uni student poverty, we'll bring you the most swoon worthy recounts of our latest foodie adventures.