Three Blue Ducks

Sunday, 30 March 2014


Here we are, I've thawed this post from the archives (read: lazy bones)! Three Blue Ducks is lauded as one of Sydney's finest cafés and I can understand why. Opening back in 2011 (the dark ages by today's standards) it is now a treasured part of Bronte and a must-visit. When descriptors like 'honest' are used for food it does make me cringe (can food somehow be deceptive then?) but I'm happy to make allowances for this suburban gem. This is a little café on Bronte's main strip that is definitely making waves.

As soon as this cookbook was announced I bought myself a copy, bringing a bit of the TBD philosophy into the home kitchen. The back stories are a fun read and the recipes delicious! Credit: Three Blue Ducks


I had been looking forward to FINALLY trying this place out for an age. Masterchef 3 also bolstered their popularity where the team delivered some fabulous food and beautiful plating, I suppose working in Tetsuya's is a good start (!). Three Blue Ducks is the product of a collaboration between 5 mates (so Five Blue Ducks, really) including chefs Darren Robertson and Mark LaBrooy. Sam Reid-Boquist is front of house, barista Chris Sorrell and Jeff Bennett put together the wine and craft beer list. 


The distinctive graffitied interior, which was largely done by the Ducks themselves. Pretty good handiwork I must say. The café is spread over two shopfronts with an adjoining portico Credit: The Australian

One thing that appeals about Three Blue Ducks is it's accessibility.  You have laid in front of you what could be restaurant quality food in a place where you could clearly wear flip-flops. TBD was constructed with not only a food philosophy in mind but an entire lifestyle (involving lots of sun and surf). It's no secret that the boys love to surf, so a beachside café starts to make a whole lot of sense. What's more, they also have an urban garden in which they grow a lot of their fresh produce and keep chickens in the "Chook Mahal" along with a bee hive. Not too shabby!


Eel, green tea and kombi. Perched atop daikon. I confess, I am a total sucker for eel, especially Japanese style Unagi-Don...AAAAh. The eel portion was rather on the meagre side here but the combination of flavours was intriguing but harmonious all the same

The menu is divided into small, big plates and sweets. Make of it what you will, you have free reign over the menu - have as many (!) or as few (boo) as you like. In the early days they did a dinner degustation where you chose your courses (up to 4), each costing $17. I for one never thought I'd write café and degustation in the same sentence but there you have it. The menu is literally your oyster (they're also on the the menu). It was a pretty sweet deal at the time; they must have cottoned on to how labour intensive degustation-anything is.


Calamari and smoked corn. By golly miss molly. This dish is a CRACKER. A smudge of corn purée (not enough) with perfectly fresh & tender squid laced with corn kernels. It is so light and delicious I could easily have had bowls of the stuff!

During daylight hours the coffee machine is busy whirring away but at night it takes on a different hat. It becomes the casual restaurant serving restaurant-quality food and that's the truth. The  formative years in fine dining establishments have clearly shaped the food at TBD. The technique certainly shows and speaks for itself. As you'll see, plating is elevated to an art form (watch out  Quay! Only joking). You almost forget you're in Sydney suburbia. They prefer the big plate, food on the side approachThis is classy, well thought out food without any of the fuss. Versatility is key here; being able to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner is surely an asset.


Mushrooms and grains: a generous pile of shredded mushrooms on grains cooked al dente? Err what's not to love?



Black cake, fried egg, apples and beets (left) and mussels, clams and lemongrass (right). The black pud, delicately hidden by the egg was so smooth and goes perfectly with apple (weirdly). The raw onions were not really my cup of tea

Wagyu, bone marrow and kale. Of all the dishes, this was perhaps on the plainer side flavour-wise but the cooking of the wagyu was faultless

Duck, rhubarb and licorice. Just. Wow. The duck breast was super tender, like unbelievably so. I could not get over that...dying to know their secret!

Orange, chocolate parfait and ganache. A tried and tested combination that totally works

Lemon, meringue and celery. The star dessert, by a mile. This looked stunning when it was presented. The skewed plating is almost a trademark, maximising the effect. The plating would probably have taken ages!!

This dessert was a big highlight for me, one of the best desserts I've had in a while. It is a take on a lemon meringue pie (deconstructed) with a dash of candied celery. The latter sounds bizarre but it did add a refreshing crunch to the dish. Curd? Tick! Meringue? Tick. With candied zest and lemon jelly, it was an intricate piece of handiwork

Expect the unexpected, that's what I took away from TBD. As I'm sure many Bronte locals do, you could easily drop-in several times a week. Finding excuses: the morning coffee run, brunch on a Saturday, the can't-be-bothered-to-cook night... is just too easy. Unsurprisingly, the Ducks have done so well that they've opened another café in Falls Creek which opens to during ski/snowboard season (another fortuitous venture? I think not). There's also another Inner Sydney café planned for Bondi Beach which is one to watch out for. Exciting times ahead for the Three Blue Ducks and their loyal fans.

Credit: Three Blue Ducks Instagram (@joelbennetts)

Thanks for reading!
xGourmand
Three Blue Ducks on Urbanspoon

An Apple Cake for the Afternoon

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


There's nothing quite like settling down to a cup of tea at 3 in the afternoon with a wee slice of cake. Afternoon tea is an incredibly English institution (nothing wrong with that) which I've taken into my own hands. Here is a recipe adapted from The Real Food Companion by Matthew Evans a.k.a. The Gourmet Farmer. The result is a deliciously moist cake with a fine crumb that you don't have to do the hard yards for i.e. my kind of recipe. Enjoy this one, especially as the days get cooler.

"Just a small slice": the best thing about this cake is certainly the apples. Cut into generous cubes, they are the star of the show here. Land yourself some apples from you local farmer's markets, the growers can advise you on which are best to use

Ingredientsss
1kg cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1.5cm dice
200g raw sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
A few drops of vanilla extract
125ml extra virgin olive oil
200g walnuts, roughly chopped
250g self-raising flour
1.5 tspn ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees, grease and line a round 28cm cake tin (I've used a loaf tin out of convenience)
2. Mix apples in a bowl with sugar, egg, vanilla, oils and walnuts
3. Sift in flour, cinnamon and salt and stir
4. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for ~45 minutes
5. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 5 minutes until turning onto a wire rack to continue cooling
6. Serve that baby up!

Don't be alarmed by the apple to cake batter ratio, it does seem like an awful lot of fruit to be baking in there. Miraculously though, it just works with beautiful results!

This cake is just one of those recipes that are handy to have around, when friends drop by or you're craving something to tie you over until lunch time. It will keep for a good 3 days in a container  too. Can't go wrong with this one!

Thanks for reading and happy baking!
xGourmand

Under Lock & Quay

Thursday, 20 March 2014



Despite having spent two decades in the one place, there are still a multitude of restaurants and bars that I haven't visited. I've barely scratched the surface in fact, it's quite amazing. The contemporary dining scene is an ever evolving beast. We've seen the emergence of small bars in Sydney (FTW!), 'dude' food (enter: deep fat fryer) and Mexican is having a major moment. Fads come and go but there are few restaurants that have stood the test of time and come out swinging on the fine dining scene. Quay is certainly one of the above.  


Amuse bouche: goats cheese with capers, roe, olive crumbs and dill. In the tiniest glass we were served the first treat. A lovely balance of textures and flavours, to jumpstart the palate

Ranking 48th Restaurant in the World and 3 chefs hats for 12 consecutive years, Quay has been sitting right at the top of my foodie bucket list for the longest time. It's the epitome of fine dining in my home town and tonight was the night! The restaurant itself makes a bold statement in polished metal and floor to ceiling glass windows. Perched atop the Overseas Passenger Terminal it affords some pretty prime views of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Although I do have an axe to grind about all the cruise liners that virtually eclipse it all (everyday during peak season).


Congee of Northern Australian mud crab, fresh palm heart, egg yolk emulsion. This was an instant favourite on the table!

With its stellar reputation for execution of technique and marrying native Australian and Asian influences, Quay barely needs the publicity. But it was certainly the feature of a certain dessert on TV that got my attention. The 'original' guava snow egg featured on Masterchef Season 1 was just about IT for me. I was completely sold and dying to try it for myself. After that came the 8 texture chocolate cake. Oh mah gawd... Don't try that one at home, it's doomed to fail. Essentially, Peter Gilmore seems to know what he's doing (massive understatement). It's been Restaurant of the Year just how many times now..?


Sashimi of local lobster, bergamot, young almonds, grapefruit, elderflowers. Look, if you're going to give sashimi anything a crack, I think Quay is the place. The sashimi (cut so thin it is barely perceptible in the dish!) is draped on a hill of tiny grapefruit segments - each individually picked! The lobster meat is so delicate that it is slightly overpowered by the strong circusy tang of the grapefruit

The service for one, is quite exceptional. I could only describe it as 'ultra' professional, it's definitely up another notch. The whole  evening functions like a well oiled machine, the service is almost choreographed. You get precisely what you pay for, and that's quite a relief. The starched white tablecloths act as a blank slate for each successive course. After each the plates are whisked away and new cutlery replaced, gleaming. Degustation dedicates a lot of time to ritual and routine.

Line caught iku mime Tasmanian squid, squid ink custard, society garlic, pink turnips. Wowsers, this was a great dish, the squid was cooked beautifully and so tenderrrr. If you didn't know you'd think they were noodles!  

One of the very best things is the surprise and delight when each dish hits the table. A sigh of joy, wonder and anticipation settles around the table. It's so wonderful! You can't even begin to fathom how a dish was made let alone the conception of each dish. Gilmore is clearly an ideas man, quite the genius. And the beauty! You can barely start digging in for spoiling it! 

The mains:


Poached Rangers Valley beef, bitter chocolate black pudding, morel, ezekiel crumbs, shaved mushrooms. Such an interesting flavour combination in that sauce

Suffolk lamb loin, eggplant skin and olive purée, sheeps milk crème fraîche, fresh and preserved flowers. Meltingly good...

Roasted snapper, Japanese white turnips, barletta onions, sauce made from the roe. Flowers have never looked this appetising...

Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil. The faux crackling nearly fooled me, apart from the sickly sweetness. The cream was incredibly smooth and the primes a lovely richness that matched the pork perfectly. YUM

DOLCE. 
Wait for it...!

Sampling each of these delightful dishes I couldn't help but wonder where restaurants like this are heading. Gilmore's food is at once harmonious, balanced and considered to the 'n'- th degree. Quite extraordinary considering the surge of American, fast food-type that has become so popular. Well, Quay is basically their diametric opposite. My concern is that these legendary institutions are destined to become museum pieces. The state of the economy is undeniable and these restaurants need to stay in the game with good business acumen. The prix fixe or lunch special is just one way to keep ahead.


Quay's eight texture chocolate cake. The drama in this dish is swoon-worthy. The warm chocolate sauce melts through the centre of the cake. It is at once complex and so simple, certainly something to behold! 

The highest of highs in the dessert world. Coconut and cherry snow egg, an exclusive for the summer. Surprisingly it is quite a sizeable dessert (all the more for eating & adoring)! Mind. blown.

The not-to-be-missed macro shot. Poached meringue, cherry granita and fresh cherries. The latter being so essential to a true Australian summer. So many elements that have been utterly perfected. This is an iconic dish, if there ever was one. AMAZING

Quay is just one of those places that you need to experience for yourself. The critiques are the minutest of minute, it's practically flawless. Gilmore and his team in the kitchen deserve praise for the time, dedication and effort put towards every component of each dish (of which there are sometimes dozens). Find your excuse and save the date, mind you it could be 6 months away if you're hoping for a Saturday night. An essential dining experience in my book!

To top it all off, there are these beautiful views to boot! #touristinmyowncity

Thanks for reading this rather epic instalment!
xGourmand
Quay on Urbanspoon

The Sailors Club

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Jacqui Lewis steers The Sailors Club ship with a deft hand. Sitting pretty on the ex-Pier restaurant site operated by Lewis' father, chef Greg Doyle, this is casual dining at its finest. Jutting out into the bay itself the panoramic view is a stunner and can be enjoyed rain, hail or shine. Rose Bay is the playground of the Eastern Suburbs yachting set, where private schools jostle for position and luxury cars crawl from one red light to the next; Sailors Club has found itself in high society.

The Sailors Club interior with design and styling by Lewis herself. One thing to note is that the restaurant space is rather narrow and the ceilings low making for quite a racket in the full throes of service Credit: The Sailors Club

That's not to say it's elitist. Anyone can join ranks, you just have to have the gumption to travel this far east. Jacqui Lewis has done all the interior design work herself, citing influences from a trip to Palm Springs. And boy does that canary yellow sing. The atmosphere is delightful if you're one for weekend afternoon drinks after a meander in the 40-footer (I do jest).


Prepare to get comfy! The lounge is the perfect place to start off or round out the night Credit: The Sailors Club

The menu is a straight forward affair with plenty of crowd pleasers.  Burgers, fish and chips and steaks are sure to be flying off the pass. With seasonal specials also on offer there's something here for everyone. The staff were also quite helpful as several on our table were strict vegetarian. Short of eating french fries and lettuce leaves for dinner, they offered to whip together a sort of caprese salad spaghetti.


Salt and pepper calamari with chipotle mayonnaise. I think alarm bells were collectively ringing at the sound of chipotle mayo but it was actually quite mild. They could even have put in a bit more, just for good measure. The calamari were nice and crisp and not cloying

Special of the Day #1: Cured King Salmon, with diced egg. This dish was an early favourite of mine, would have loved to have had a little bit more of the gorgeous salmon! Citrusy, zingy & yum

Once our order was off the ranks we thought we'd be set, early sitting, get in and out in around 2 hours. Didn't really happen that way. We got our starters, wolfed those down quick smart and then had  a shedload of time to wait for our mains. It really wasn't a good look, and we were getting really hungry (again). This was the major downer for me, even though the food is quite good. The time spent to prepare our order was not really justified unfortunately. But anyway, we plodded on...


The Sailors Club Hamburger, beetroot relish, aioli, cos, tomato & fries. You can't really beat a burger, a rather respectable one at that. The beef was a lovely pink and tender. I must say thought, the gherkin on the side was rather strange. You'd take a bite of the burger then pick up the gherkin and chomp into that. It felt very disjointed, it could have been sliced and IN the actual burger, no?

TSC Fish and Chips in Coopers beer batter, tartare sauce. You'll be pleased to know that the fish changes daily, depending on what's going. The fish had a lovely crispy golden batter

Daily special #2Pan fried barramundi, speck, carrot purée. The portion size of this dish was rather on the small side. One could perhaps nick some chips from your fellow diner's fish & chips? Nevertheless, it was done well 

(LA) DOLCE (VITA)

The Sailors Club Tiramisu, creme fraiche, chocolate glass, malt coffee powder, marsala syrup, nitro chocolate mousse. In powdered form, everything comes together to taste like a tiramisu *gasp*! A new take on nonna's classic

Banana split, chocolate mousse, chestnut crumble, banana sorbet. Resembling nothing of the old school dessert, there isn't a banana boat in sight here

Perusing the interwebs, opinions on TSC are mixed to say the least. I can say that we had a reasonable time with staff although the wait  was really too long for our food. In all seriousness though, The Sailors Club seems to hit the right notes. Suitable for all occasions, a drop-in (good luck) or an anniversary dinner; it is highly adaptable. The large bar area is also very accommodating if you find yourself inadvertently without a table at 8pm on a Saturday night (a rather common dilemma one would think).  In these tough economic times, The Sailors Club is one to ensure that the good times keep rolling.

Thanks for reading!
xGourmand
Sailors Club on Urbanspoon

Snapshot: Paramount Coffee Project

Saturday, 8 March 2014



When Reuben Hills exploded onto the Sydney scene near two years ago, we were mighty pleased to hear that a spin off was not far off. Paramount Coffee Project was here to rescue the spillover, or so I thought. The space itself cannot be faulted, open plan with lots of natural light. The cafe space is shared with Tokyo Bike, a steady rotation of pop-up stores and the Golden Age Cinema (the old screening room of Paramount Pictures). The whole concept is a genius approach to commerce, a veritable hipster magnet.

Coffees to start: iced latte (beans from Reuben Hills), the perfect way to start brunch

Arriving at the ebb of the brunch crowd was a good move, we waited only 15 minutes for a seat at what was little more than a tray table for 3 people (a bit optimistic?). The service was brisk and perhaps a bit forgetful (it's okay, you can write it down). Lucky we weren't in any great rush. The cafe itself is rather plush with its metres high ceiling, big windows and space for coffee tastings, a central banquet and outdoor tables. Just what we needed I think.

Modern, clean and minimal interiors by Fox Johnston which are a triumph Photo credit: Fox Johnston and The Design Files

The menu takes its inspiration from Reuben Hills' revival of dude food but perhaps PCP takes it a step too far. I'm all for a greasy handful of a Reuben sandwich once in a while but this was a bit much in hindsight. The poached chicken salad and Avo on rye seemed like more sensible options, which I promptly ignored. Bad move? The aim of the game at PCP is quick turnover = lots of covers. The service is rather fast and furious but we rather deliberately took our time.  

Crab Po Boy: soft shell crab, house slaw, ranch dressing, milk bun and onion rings. Oh yes, this was the pièce de resistance I think. Who doesn't love a bit of SSC in a brioche bun? My only comment would be that the onion rings were a bit undercooked/blonde. They should take a squiz at The Rook's version = to die for

Elvis in Cuba: pork, kimchi, bacon, kewpie, swiss cheese and pickle ($19, I die). This was my own rather unfortunate doing I know :S Both bacon and sliced pork with kimchee and melted cheese - I think it was doomed to fail from the start. Nothing went together here and it reminded me of a rather thrown-together home hangover cure...nasty. This dish proves that kewpie does not make everything better

Meat Waffle: shredded pork neck, BBQ, green tomato, fried egg, shallot and hush puppies. I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to take this baby on. Let me assure you, this is no duck waffle from Cumulus UpI was rather curious as to what 'Hush Puppies' actually were apart from rather ergonomic footwear. Turns out, they're balls of dried up polenta, crumbed and fried. This dish proves that deep frying does not make everything better

Pot Pourri/Rose iced tea (left) and Schnickers/Vanilla Malt shake (right). A couple of saving graces, the shake was amazing apart from the hefty price tag ($8)

Look, I'm probably standing alone here but I was fairly disappointed and I think it stemmed from the rather uninspired menu. Riding on the successes of Reuben Hills, you can't deny how outrageously popular PCP has become. It's a beautiful space for sure and you can be guaranteed yourself a good brew (of the coffee variety) but that's about where it stops sadly. The concept of this space is so brilliant but is let down in execution. My advice? An early morning cup of coffee and you're set. That, or head to Reuben Hills where the grass is definitely greener. 

Fancy a bike? Score a fixed gear beauty for a small fortune @ Tokyo Bike. Err what's with the wallaby? Photo: Fox Johnston

Thanks for reading!
xGourmand
The Paramount Coffee Project on Urbanspoon

Carlisle Bar

Sunday, 2 March 2014




When I received the invite in my inbox, my interest was already piqued. Any mention of 'tapas' or 'cocktails' and I'm pretty much there with bells on. Tonight The Carlisle Bar was launching their new cocktail and bar food menu, much to the delight of myself and my fellow blogger compadres. The latest revamp of the Sapphire Lounge site, Carlisle is a newbie boasting 3 different bar areas which are also available for functions.  

A cocktail production line was in full swing for most of the night. A great action shot, photo credit: The Carlisle Bar

Starting with bubbles in hand, there was a nice relaxed environment in which to mingle. It was nice to see a mix of the old hands (of which I probably am one now) and newer bloggers on the scene. It was nice to swap recommendations and blogging advice.  What can I say but these are my people! As the first course was announced, cameras and phones were at the ready...

This course definitely brought it. Haloumi, home made by an 86 year old Greek yaya who 'supplies' only to a handful of Sydney venues. I think that just about seals the deal. The balsamic glaze was super sweet, but again that haloumi was so pillowy, with just the right amount of give. Really top notch

Clover Club cocktail (left) with Aviation gin, lemon, raspberry and egg white (photo credit: The Carlisle Bar) and of course that incredible haloumi again, up close and personal (right)

The event had gotten off to a great start and I couldn't help but wonder what an excellent marketing platform this was. Instead of hiring PR big wigs why not just invite a bunch of very snap happy bloggers?! Brilliant idea. The menu designed by chef Chrys Xipolitas is very easy to eat (logistically) and mixes together Mediterranean and Asian flavours. In a flurry of hashtags, a dSLR scrum and  chinking glasses we pondered the pros and cons of each dish. All accompanied by the sounds of a live band fronted by singer Angelina Ciccotti. 

With a short but tangible delay between courses, next was the crispy prawns. The prawns were under-seasoned by themselves but the dipping sauces made all the difference. The wasabi 'aioli' which everyone called the mayo was lovely but almost too light handed in the spice department. A little bit more and it would have been bang on

The beverage accompanying the battered prawns, Eastside fizz - Beefeater gin, lime, mint and Perrier water. Almost like a lemonade with a hint of gin, definitely my kind of cocktail and my favourite of the evening

Beef tenderloin - rolled in mixed peppers, barbecued and served medium rare with a bourbon jus and garlic crisps (left) and Spice Chicken - thigh fillets marinated in 'secret sauce' and BBQ'd (right). Unfortunately the beef looked a lot nicer than it tasted, which is not to say it was bad necessarily. It was cooked well but lacked any real flavour apart from pepper (photo: The Carlisle Bar). The chicken was a bit of a downer, being quite dry and bland but we shall move swiftly on...

To drinks! South of the Border cocktail with tequila (!), Mezcal, passionfruit, lime and vanilla. This one was a had a big (no huge) whiff of tequila in there. It definitely got better as you went. Credit: The Carlisle Bar

All in all, the night was a great success. A very hungry bunch of bloggers were treated to a sneak peek of what The Carlisle has to offer. Ignoring the fact I was still hungry after the 'degustation' (which it certainly wasn't), we left pretty well hydrated (if you know what I mean) and it was all served gratis. Definitely a bit of fun away from the stuffy 9 to 5. 

The main bar with its dramatic marble back drop

As always, thanks for reading!
xGourmand
The Carlisle Bar on Urbanspoon
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