Fright Night

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Oh what a night!

On Friday a few gal pals and I went to a Halloween Dessert Degustation over at Studio Neon, Waterloo. I've always been a long time fan of pop-up events but being in another state has always stopped me from attending such events in Sydney! Anywho, times are a changin'! This was the first blogger event hosted by Billy Law (Masterchef season 3, blogger @ A Table for Two), Karen (Citrus & Candy) & Phuoc (Phuoc'n Delicious). Food blogger pride!

The long table (lovin' this!) and our three hosts for the evening: Billy, Phuoc & Karen (left to right) - busy little bees the whole night (Gangnam style!)

Our first mission was to find the venue, we wandered a little lost only to be eventually directed upstairs. The layout was so nifty and you could tell there had been a lot of work put into the decorating. Black speakers were stacked up to the ceiling along one wall (death metal was the prevailing theme there), spooky static on several TVs around the place (reminded me a little too much of the Ring, eep!) and dozens of wax dripped candles (naturally). The dining area comprised a single long table with mismatched chairs and an abutting lounge area to enjoy a tipple and a Reese's peanut butter cup (couldn't resist). I couldn't help but feel a little bit festive. I hadn't done anything for Halloween since trick-or-treating back in my primary school days :P

Just chillin': I was super impressed with the set up here. Who knew Sydney was hiding away places like this? Sneaky.

Unbeknownst to us, we were in store for a dessert marathon (should've paid more attention to the event title)! Those Reese's might have been a bad idea. No matter, we had party bags to stow them away with for the road/significant others :)

It was all looking pretty profesh really! The planning and I'm imagining the prep would have been meticulous. I distinctly recall Billy blogging that he had tempered about 5kg of white chocolate for his dessert. Incredible, him slaving away all for us. Masterchef, eat your heart out! What's more there were two sittings for the night. There'd be some definite red-eye for the hosts methinks! They even had a bar set up with creepily themed cocktails ($13 each). Take this one for example:

Think of the children/babies! This pastel green number was appropriately named 'Human Sacrifice', a minty chocolate cocktail. Other drinks creatively employed dry ice and fake blood! Don't mind if I do...

An interesting twist to the night was that the 6 course degustation was played out in reverse. We started with petits-fours (no tea or coffee however!) and ended with an amuse bouche. By the fourth dessert, we were gagging for a bit (i mean, A LOT) of salt, let me tell you! Lucky we had bowls of spicy pop-corn (smoked paprika, cayenne pepper & burnt butter) on tap (phew!). That and litres of water to wash the sugar down. What is typically referred to as a 'sugar rush' (with all those warm & fuzzy connotations) was more a friggin' sugar tsunami. We were fighting off diabetes with a stick that night! Sighs of relief emanated from along the table when we were told that the last two courses would be savoury...OH THANK GOD. Anyway, here were the night's proceedings:

Petit-fours: a trio of balsamic strawberry jubes (not very acidic, more sickly sweet), pineapple marshmallows (lovely hint of pineapple here and so pillowy soft!) & la pièce de résistance: Billy's macarons. The original dessert queen strikes again haha. Look out Zumbo/Ladurée (no seriously)! I don't have to tell you what a macaron should taste like but those black sesame shells were perfectly crispy. The filling was pretty out there (fine by me!) - pumpkin puree and blue cheese! KA POW!

Phuoc's dessert contribution: a deconstructed apple crumble (left) and molecular gastronomy cocktail (right). The moscato cocktail was topped with apple spheres that we watched them make beforehand with a syringe of gel/puree, dropped into a magical mystery chemical. Very Heston/Ferran Adría! The crumble put a nice spin on a very traditional British dessert. A quinelle of refreshing apple sorbet lay on a bed of crumble laced with popping candy to keep us on our toes! Garnished with a square of cinnamony puff pastry and ribbons of apple jelly. If apple was the brief here I think it was pretty much nailed!

1234: trust Billy to inject theatre into the night :) His Snow White dessert was the star of the show (or should I say dessert diva?). Warm raspberry coulis was poured over the tempered white chocolate dome to melt away and reveal it's innards. MUAHAHAHA...inside was an icy raspberry/rose/lychee mousse hemisphere with pistachio & oat crumb. Phwoar! A complete show-stopper. 

Okay so after the third consecutive dessert course my blood sugar was reaching crisis point. We had but one more to go...! It was time to call on my eating willpower (boundless as you well know) and 3rd stomach...

Karen's 'Bowl of Dirt': definitely looks better than it sounds lol. A chocolate parfait covered with minty chocolate dirt (Fisherman's friend apparently!), caramelised white chocolate crumb and maraschino cherries. Mm-Mmm. At this point, I was half keeled over in my seat. The portions were SO GENEROUS that there was no way I could finish the thing. Props to whoever conquered the beast.
And to the next course! Roll up, roll up...

We welcomed the next two courses with open arms and mouths. On the right, we had a platter of lamb ribs and pulled pork accompanied by braised balsamic red cabbage and apple puree mixed thru with walnuts. Very yummy. The meat was deliciously tender (hours in the oven I am sure). And I can't forget to mention that cauliflower puree that was so creamy it might have been more cream/butter than vegetable. Well, won't we all just be a picture of health once we're done?! HELP! The last course was an amuse (thank goodness!) - a pumpkin soup with just a hint of carrot and pork crackling croutons (them were good). Don't you just love the lil espresso cups they used?

So! I won't be hungry for days.

I must say, I felt so at home during this event. It was food blogger heaven. At each course unveiling, we would all have cameras/phones poised to capture EVERYTHING. It was a lovely atmosphere. I for one always feel pretty self-conscious whipping out my camera to shoot something but food photography was most definitely encouraged. Won-der-ful! Billy, who was so apt at playing host was on the case during the night and has already posted about it all here. By the end of it all, I was so contented I couldn't get up from my chair. We reluctantly left following requisite book signing/mini photo sesh and into the night. Let me just say that the three of them did a magnificent job. The night ran so smoothly and they executed it with aplomb. I had a great time. Can't wait for the next event...a tea party perhaps? Fab :D

Happy Halloween peeps and thanks for reading! x

Mr Wong, Mr Wong!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Oh man, this ad cracks me up. Produced before I was born actually, it plays on almost every Chinese cliché there is!

"What kind were they?!"

If you hadn't already guessed it, I'll be reviewing my visit to Mr Wong - the new mega-restaurant opened up by none other than Merivale group (set on world domination one bar/restaurant at a time). This is their third venture in 2012, it was only last month that I posted about the Fish Shop (right here). The 240-seater venue is tucked away in Bridge Lane, in the basement of the Establishment Hotel. The space was previously incarnated as Tank Nightclub and at the snap of his fingers, Justin Hemmes has wrangled the cavernous space into a multi level Chinese yum-cha bonanza. Good for him!

Hemmes, with the help of stylist Sibella Court has done it again fit-out-wise. Reportedly costing $4 mill (loose change, really), the restaurant speaks to the colonial stylings of the 1930s Photo credit: Broadsheet Sydney

Upon stepping inside (no queuing for lunch service today, thank goodness), we were welcomed with the hustle & bustle of the kitchens x2. Not surprisingly, Hemmes has roped in Dan Hong and Jowett Yu (BFF chefs from Ms G'sto run the 36 strong kitchen. Dim sum is taken care of with a little help from Eric Koh from Michelin starred Hakkasan in London. We were shown to our table down yonder, taking the staircase winding around the massive glass elevator shaft of a wine cellar (a massive whiff of modernity there!). It soon became clear how important alcohol is to this business...give me a pot of Chinese tea however and I'm a happy camper. The bar takes up a good spot on the lower floor, the ridiculously-good-looking bar staff (what did you expect :P) doing their job with a hospitality-grade smile.

An interesting departure from tradition was their à la carte menu. Luckily I had already read a thing or two so I knew what dishes looked like. I was pretty keen to order the Dim Sum platter, but sadly that's only available for dinner. It felt slightly odd ordering what was 'apparently good'. It's true what people say, you do eat with your eyes. Call me old-fashioned but I love being able to look at what's available from the trolleys being pushed by the little Asian ladies at yum-cha. And of course 'the requisite' chair legs being crashed into mid meal by out of control trolleys...whoops! And what about the cards that you get stamped with each dish? I'm such a tragic, I know.

Wonder wall: so much effort has been put into the details in this restaurant. For example, the curtain downstairs is hand-strung with beads sourced from Ecuador, yikes. This wall is very Chinese herbalist (all we need is a set of scales). 

Sydney Rock oysters, fried shallots and ginger vinaigrette. These were scrumptious, fresh oysters with minimal interference can't be beat. I managed to snag one before one my dining buddies demolished up the rest!

Mr. Wong's drunken chicken. As a galantine?! I think they Frankenstein-ed that a bit too far. Chicken bones contain so much flavour, it should be cooked as a whole. I know that many people have a thing about bones in food, but seriously!

Chueng Fun (steamed rice roll) with prawn - this was rather yum. I liked the addition of the asparagus slices, which gave it a nice crunch. The garnish here is really not necessary ;)

Abalone chicken shumai: a delicacy in Asian cuisine it was good to see that this was a popular choice. 

Prawn har gau ($9) - plump mouthfuls of prawny goodness. The skins of these dim sum were nice and delicate. Eric Koh's influence is a clear winner on the dim sum front

I distinctly get the impression that Mr Wong is trying to teach an old dog new tricks. The dim sum here are rather refined, slightly smaller sized and done with some delicacy (read: $$$). The garnish is more an afterthought, there's absolutely no need to trick up anything here. Posh yum cha is clearly not my thing. With daily covers of up to 850 (scary) and queues snaking down Bridge Lane come dinner time, the hungry masses beg to differ.

Don't mind the flailing chopsticks, it's the Chinese Roasted Duck (half). A labour of love, this duck takes 3 days to prepare. At a tidy $34, this was surely the highlight of the meal. Crispy skin for days (hah) and beautifully juicy duck meat - so so good with a bit 'o' plum sauce! That 3-tonne custom duck roasting oven was obviously a good investment...

Mr Wong's westernised version is basically an entirely different experience to traditional yum cha. The first thing I thought when I sat down was, "Where are the trolleys?". They do actually serve a purpose to keep the bamboo steamers piping hot, so when they get to the table they're not luke warm (like our char sieu bao, damn it)! Whilst the food was very decent, there was something about eating here that I sorely missed. Yum-cha is a cultural institution that has been ingrained in me from a very young age. Half of the experience is that raucous energy that you get from eating in a massive hall that quite literally, seats hundreds. The noise, the heady aromas floating in the air and the authenticity (not quite HK, but you know - we do try).  This version has been sanitized and prices jacked up for the Aussie market. Okay, I'll stop ranting now.

This one is set to be a downright crowd pleaser, particularly to the Western audience who might find Chinatown yum-cha a little intimidating (may I suggest carting your Asian friends along!). It's location also suits the business lunching type down to a T. In case you didn't already know, Mr Wong has been heaped with praise in the press. Time Out Sydney gave it an adoring 5 stars. Even chef David Chang of the Momofuku empire has also given it his stamp of approval - must be a'ight then.

Thanks for reading! x
Mr Wong on Urbanspoon

Upstairs Downstairs

Monday, 22 October 2012

Claude's has undergone an extreme makeover of sorts. A complete overhaul in interior design has ushered in a new era for this little Woollahra shopfront. Gone are the days of pushing the doorbell to be admitted and of the stuffiness of Sydney fine dining. Claude's has been visited by swathes of food critics raving about the new do. And according to Terry Durack, apparently it's not half bad (17/20). Chef Chui Lee Luk has stayed true to applying French technique to Asian inspired dishes to deliver a menu that is clean but somewhat unconventional. Hello to the new you!

The downstairs bar: like visiting your uber trendy friend ja...with bar and bartender handy. The distinct lack of table cloths here speaks to the gen-Yer, more casual scene downstairs. The dangling pendant lights over each table made pretty eye candy. Pascale Gomes-McNabb has waved her magic design wand once again (see here). Photo credit: Daily Addict
If there were not a massive hill preventing me, I could easily see this as my neighbourhood bar that I could stroll over to. It would be perfect for a pre-dinner drinkie or two before having a proper dinner. P.S. it's a good idea to book beforehand to guarantee yourself a table if you're planning to stay and dine :) Situated a couple of doors down from Wine Library on Oxford St, there have been so many times I have walked passed Claude's and not taken any notice. But today, I'd be sampling the menu available at the bar downstairs.

Attack of Ziggy Stardust: the upstairs (degustation only) dining room has been hit with the technicolour stick. It's a nice talking point before you get stuck in to your hours-long-feasting. Photo: Caroline McCredie
We were shown to our table (one of two proper tables basically) and I could catch glimpses of the kitchen backwards through one of the bolt shaped mirrors. It was a very professional outfit with Chef Luk at the helm, head down and busy busy. And it was so quiet! Brilliant. The complimentary sparkling water was a nice touch. On perusing the menu it was a rather eclectic mix with offerings of charcuterie next to a Swiss cheese souffle to individual rock oysters. I suppose it all fits together in the end. Trying to fashion a dinner for ourselves, we ended up adding more dishes onto our order. Standard.

It soon became glaringly obvious who had come for the degustation dining experience and the plebs who had not (us included). We entertained ourselves trying to guess who was going upstairs and who was staying down. One clue was definitely age, clearly the baby boomers of the Eastern 'burbs were there for 'the real deal' whilst the gen-Yers stayed downstairs for bar snacks and wine (occasional alcoholics that we are). It was all a bit too easy - we discreetly judged diners wearing fur (get upstairs IMMEDIATELY), strappy stilettos and smoking intriguing that the class divide has reached the restaurant scene! We even sighted a certain SBS news reporter heading up amongst them. Nice. Here's how we rolled:

Pig's face, black fungus relish sandwich. This slider trend is just unstoppable. Pork belly and chinese black fungus made for an interesting rendition. My only gripe here would be that the pork was cold. I would have preferred it warm thanks :) Nevertheless, Asian pride!

Spanner crab, burnt butter crumbs on French toast. We lapped this one up! A couple of pieces of french-toasty brioche and bites of crab mixed with prawn meat. This one was completely delicious, and not an easy task to share amongst four!

Ocean trout, apple dashi, palm heart. Flaky and beautifully smooth ocean trout with Asian greens. Clean, fresh, simple - bingo! It felt like having a wee detox before the next dish...

Yowsers: Rangers Valley short rib, red wine & cafe de Paris. My heart stops just looking at the thing (uh, literally). Maybe that's why it's so small (and so expensive $38). So luxurious and naughty - the beef just melted in the mouth and the Paris butter helped it go down a little bit faster. And a beautiful glossy red wine sauce to round it all out.

We also ordered the Boston Bay mussels with chilli and tamarind - a lovely sauce and fresh mussels, tiny as anything but so sweet!

The review of Claude's featured in Australian Gourmet Traveller is quite complimentary and I would echo those sentiments. The reservations they had about the downstairs operation (service) I can safely lay to rest. The food on offer is certainly 'no slouch' in the taste department. I'd imagine we only had a small peek into what delights are available to the lucky few degustation-ing. Each dish came as a small delicate portion (i.e. we want more!), each considered and finished with a delicate touch (tweezers ahoy!). Chui's food talks in moving whispers, not so much shouts across the room. The flavours are not slap in the face like we are so familiar with these days (read: Spice I Am, Porteno) more a brush across the cheek. Can you see the poetry here people? Baha.

Lemon curd, milk ice, muscovado. That bloody brilliant dessert that everybody's raving about (not quite but you get the picture) - my, GOD. Rated as one of the top ten desserts in Sydney. This is my #1 (at the mo anyway). The lemon curd was custardy with the right tang, accompanied with muscovado jelly (with a slight alcoholic note), coffee meringue and shavings of jersey milk ice ---- that's me DYING right now. So so perfect. Everything a dessert should be... balanced, restrained, all encompassing. Trust me, the kitchen had probably never seen a plate so clean! Photo: Caroline McCredie

Dessert continues: Burnt honey souffle. I always delight in being able to order a souffle. The ones I've had at home have been rushed out from the oven only to deflate in front of your very eyes - magic! Not. A gorgeous souffle done well can't be sniffed at. Definitely not this one. Light, airy and yum! And aren't those copper pots adorable?!

Chocolate Indulgence cake. Incredibly, this precise cake has been on the menu for over 30 years at Claude's and is a recipe by Josephine Pignolet. Her son Damien has a similar recipe featured here. Apologies for the terrible photograph - choquante!

Apart from that dastardly green eyed monster (the whole night I so desperately wanted to go upstairs for the meal x8 i.e. degustation) I had a nice time! I am now busting to try the revamped and much touted upstairs dining room. Er, could we get an upgrade? The only conscientious objector to degustation amongst our party was described as being 'so weak'. Maybe next time... certainly something to look forward to! :)

Thanks for reading xo


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