Time Out Taste Test 2013

Friday, 29 March 2013

7 apprentice chefs + one Sydney rooftop restaurant make for a one off extravaganza! It was a chance I couldn't pass up really... An opportunity to try out the food from some of Sydney's youngest talent in our top kitchens. Marque, Momofuku Seiobo, est. and several others are the training grounds of these young guns. Not too shabby. This was the final event, the top 7 whittled down from 2 initial heats. It was a full house on this balmy Monday night at Uccello restaurant, part of the Ivy complex.

The restaurant interior, punctuated with yellow. The (paddle) pool makes for a Hamptons vs. Miami vibe Source: Harry Howard Fine Furniture

Given the opportunity to play food critic, we would try each of the dishes on the night and vote for our favourite(s). The lucky winner would win a trip to Singapore, certainly a bit of a food hub in South East Asia. The stakes were high!

You could feel the anticipation in the air and nervous energy coming from the kitchen. Our table was pretty much smack bang in front of the kitchen for prime viewing of plating. Huzzah. Myffy Rigby, Time Out Sydney's Food & Drink Editor was the night's MC. Apple Thief cider in hand, we were ready to kick off!

Here were some of the culinary highlights:

Sashimi kingfish with avocado mousse, pickled beetroot and rainbow chard. This dish had been prepared will in advance so the fish had pretty much come down to room temperature (eep). The colour and flavours of this dish were tops. Dish by Beau Conduit, a tattoo sleeved apprentice who could only have come from Three Blue Ducks!

Oliver Hua of est.'s grilled quail breast. Accompanied by caramelised plum, toasted almonds, sourdough crumb and eschalot vinaigrette. He had all the right ideas but...the execution was a bit off. My quail was on the overcooked side (i know it was a big ask for 100+ covers of the same dish) + the crumb was swimming in oil.

Australian Sunday roast, Italian style(y) by Stuart Webb of Black by ezard @ the Star. The little medallions of chicken in this dish were cooked well and the Spanish onions were lovely and sweet. On the flipside the pumpkin seed tuile was a touch sweet and the gnocchi a very strange texture (almost squeaky?!). No starchy pillowyness (lol) here. Shame

Sweetie, darling

Seeing green. Ashleigh Jack's (Establishment Pastry) Mint Pash (left) and Lemon Tart by Lauren Eldridge (Marque) (right). Ashleigh's mint dessert was my favourite dessert for sure, the level of complexity was definitely up there. Her aim was to create a dish inspired by a Mint Aero bar. I think she did a really good job. The lemon tart, without any lemon in it. Yeah...huh? The tart was created with lemon verbena and used spinach for colouring. The texture of the tart filling was quite smooth enough for me (nit-picking again!). On top was a clear sugar tuile. I question the quinelle of cream, I wish it was a yoghurt sorbet or ice cream of some description

Some of the dishes were a bit off the mark, many looked pretty as a picture but flavour-wise, didn't live up to expectation. I don't want to be a hard ass but some didn't quite work. But that's okay because I know it isn't easy.

The votes were in and the winners announced on the night. The winning dish was by John Javier of Momofuku Seiobo (Chang's Sydney outpost, a 3 hatted restaurant in its first year of opening). Can I just say, it was completely fabulous. A stand out.

Well done, kid. The roasted squid, eggs and butter. This was only the 2nd dish to come out but it totally stuck with me. The butter emulsion, lain out on top was slightly disconcerting (yikes...butter?!) but the dish wasn't made too rich by it. The tendrils of squid were so delicate and tender, like chewy noodles. The seaweed and broth were a nice medium for the squid but could have done with a bit more seasoning, maybe miso? I'll stop complaining now. Twas amazeballs

The man of the hour! John Javier of Momofuku Seiobo: I think the big boss (David Chang) should be proud Source: Time Out Sydney

I had a really good time, playing food critic is lots of fun! Seven courses down I was really feeling it, but still smiling! John was a deserved winner and I'm glad everyone else voted the same way. What was really great to see was everyone helping each other out in the kitchen, it was a real team effort. Sydney's food scene certainly has a bright future ahead.

Thanks for reading + Happy Easter!

Lamington 101

Sunday, 24 March 2013

I'm taking us all away from Spain for a moment *gasp!* and back to the kitchen. I have been neglecting my cookery a little lately - this was the remedy.

Presenting, my 2nd Road Test (only haha)! I'd like to share the trial and tribulations (mostly trials) of making lamingtons, a complete Aussie classic that I have somehow never made over the years! Their reputation is often tarnished by the awfully soggy supermarket versions that break apart on first contact, and fluffy sponge that stays so for days on end (suspicious!)

Twas a triumph! Admittedly this was my second attempt, but I was very pleased to  finally succeed

My first attempt was a bit of a disaster. The sponge turned out flat as a pancake. Trying a recipe without a leavening agent, I was really struggling to introduce air into the mix with a stick blender/whisk. 8 eggs later...yeah, that did not go well! I'm still dreaming of a KitchenAid, pretty much the Ferrari of the kitchen ;)

Here's the eye-candy, haha

The one and only...the KitchenAid KSM150 in Imperial Grey, matte finish. Yup, totally have the colour picked out already. This sits very high on my wishlist!

Here is my Frankenstein lamington recipe: a combination of 3 recipes from the NSW CWA (good on you ladies!), Gourmet Traveller and Broadsheet). 

125g butter, softened
3/4 cup castor sugar
2 eggs
1 tspn vanilla essence or 1/2 tspn vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups of self raising flour
2/3 cup of milk

200g coarsely chopped dark chocolate (at least 65% cocoa solids)
100ml pouring cream 

~200gm shredded coconut (or the texture to your taste) + extra

Okay, it's long winded but stay with me...

1. For toasted coconut, toast at low heat (around 120°C) for 45 mins or until even golden colour. I was a little impatient myself and cranked my oven, consequently taking mine to the brink! I mixed it with untoasted coconut in the end.
2. For the sponge cake, preheat oven to moderate heat (180°C). Line rectangular tray (28 x 18 cm or thereabouts) with baking paper. Or if you prefer, grease tin with unsalted butter
3. Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
4. Add vanilla and eggs one at a time, combining between additions
5. Add flour alternatively with milk in batches
6. Bake in oven for ~30 mins or until cooked through (skewer comes out clean)
7. Cool briefly in tin, then transfer to wire rack to continue. In order to help the assembly stage, it is a great idea to pop the cake in the freezer for an hour or 2 to firm up (wrap in foil 1st). Crumbling cake = not good
8. Whilst the cake is doing it's thang, prep the ganache: combine chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. I usually put the bowl on top from the very beginning to heat gently and prevent burning. When the chocolate begins to melt stir gently until combined, aiming for a smooth & glossy finish. Add milk to the mix (steady!) if it's too thick. The ganache should be nice and runny so that the excess can still drip off, add some boiling H2O if necessary
9. Slice cake into cubes (to the size you'd like), squaring off edges. I was a bit naughty and pretty much left mine as is...rustic, if you may!
10. ASSembly: this can get messy, so brace yourself! Using 2 forks or chopsticks (in my case haha), dip each side lightly in the ganache. Alternatively, use a spoon to ladle on. Let the excess drip off for a nice even coating. The more cooled the cakes are the easier this step will be
11. Roll those babies in toasted coconut. Shake off excess...
12. Oooooooh YEAAHHHH

And hopefully this is your finished product! Baha.

These are certainly not mine, something to work towards! I love Broadsheet's addition of the toasted coconut, I think it makes a world of (flavour) difference Source: Broadsheet Melbourne

Now I know a.k.a top tips!

  • Toasted coconut to a golden brown in the oven. Keep your peepers on it! Stir occasionally if you're worried/paranoid like I am
  • The freezer trick: harden the cake to slice easily and prevent crumbling
  • Make them as pretty-to-look-at as you like. I didn't even out my edges for perfect cubes. I can live with a little bit of chaos. Plus I'm not entering any baking competitions soon that I know of! And yes, the CWA ladies are probably all 'tsking' at me right now
  • Chopsticks, are an Asian girl's best friend!
  • After they've been assembled, pop the lamingtons in the fridge for 30mins-1hr for the chocolate to set. You'll probably have most of the chocolate & coconut on your fingers at this point...I certainly did!
  • Crisis aversion: store lamingtons on a bed of coconut to prevent them sticking together, leaving a mass trail of chocolatey destruction (yum!)

In all its toasted 'coconutty' goodness. I was relieved when they turned out. Chocolate and coconut do fix everything!

Et voilà! Yes, lamingtons can be a little bit fiddly but they're totally worth the effort! I cannot believe I have been without them for so long. This batch was gone in a matter of days. Very very happy :)

Thanks for reading!

B'FST, Madrid styley II

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Now would you look at that. I have reached the big "5-0"...in posts that is! I'm rather happy with what I've achieved on my wee blog which is 20 months young. To celebrate I'm letting you in on this little gem...Bar Tomate, an all day diner in the Salamanca district. Olivia te Cuida was definitely a hard act to follow but Bar Tomate is a sure fire winner. Sure, it has been featured in Condé Nast Traveller & the NY Times no less, but the glowing praise rings true. 

Stepping through the glass walled atrium/entrance, I was surprised to see the size of this space. Laid out in an L-shape, a more casual dining area with booths and benches abuts the main restaurant with it's charming book lights....literally Source: Te veo en Madrid

At a very early hour (by Spanish standards) we were seated on a bench that we could lounge comfortably on. We took the liberty of laying out our Madrid map on the table to plot our day's itinerary (NERDS!). We were practically the only people there to begin with. After the obligatory café con leche order we tentatively made our way to the banquet/bar where there was laid out the most glorious spread of breakfast muffins, croissants, sandwiches, freshly squeezed OJ and cake (heaven forbid). It was like breakfast heaven no joke. Not quite sure how to proceed (err, what's new?), the staff kindly helped us put what we liked on a plate. Reminded me of a refectory (old school)!

Okay, so it was horrifically dark in there but we made do. The coffee was watery *sigh*, I am starting to see a trend here. Is it that the milk is not as good in Spain? Maybe it's just the ratio being a bit off, who knows. Anyway, the freshly squeezed orange was magnificent (as juice can be anyway). We finished the jug of it ourselves...whoops!

Here was the selection of freshly made mini sandwiches available. Akin to a breakfast 'picnic' or tapas sitting this is exactly what we needed (after having churros overload). The one on the left had creamy slices of brie + black olive tapenade (unusual!), the right thin slices of mushroom 

The potato frittata: the perfect antidote to a winter's day. Gives me the warm and fuzzies!

I probably went back to the counter a good 3 or 4 times for refills, 'samplers' and the like. It was pretty much irresistible, lain out like that! After we had gotten through they had to downsize the buffet size. I'm a bit embarrassed about that to be honest! They were probably thinking, "They're coming...batten down the hatches!" It ain't far from the truth ;)

The CHEESECAKE. You must be thinking - huh?! At breakfast?! Umm, yeah... Contrary to how it looks the cake was quite light (like a Japanese cheesecake) and the slice was the perfect 'slither'. The smidge of strawberry jam on top was manageable (I usually scrape it all off) 

I had a jolly good time here and left a very happy camper.  And with the wealth of breakfast options available (not necessarily healthy, which I'm okay with) I left full and grinning ear to ear. And all that for just €33,50 for 4 people, I almost felt guilty afterwards! Almost.

Thanks for reading!

Estado Puro, Madrid

Friday, 15 March 2013

Let's make it short & sweet xx

Barcelona is known to be Spain's hub for achingly hip tapas bars. I tend to think that Madrid can hold it's own however. Allow me to show you... After wandering the streets for hours post "Prado dash", we were hunting for lunch venues - this would turn out to be a big ask on NYE! We ended up stepping into Estado Puro, a modern eatery attached to the Hotel NH Palacio de Tepa (5 stars, baby) on Plaza del Angel.

Chef Paco Roncero (how cool is that name) has delighted Madrid locals with his tapas. There is another branch of the Estado Puro family, right across the road from the Prado museum which was absolutely jam packed! It has the same menu FYI. We were forced back onto the streets and found the 2nd branch entirely by chance :)

Woo-hoo: I'm a big fan of the modern interior and clever use of the white 'hair clips' over the ceiling (left). I didn't hesitate for a second to try the gin fizz on their drinks menu (right). There's nothing wrong with a mid afternoon cocktail, as it was by that time (in my defence)!

We were very grateful to be handed our menus en Inglés. They've done a very clever thing, using traditional Spanish women's hair pieces to line the roof in an undulating wave. Continuing on with our 2x 'big' meals per day thing this is what we managed to sample:

Up close + personal: oh boy, here we have the 'Mini-burgers. Filled with mustard and a succulent beef patty these were pretty brilliant

3 sliders amongst 4 people. You do the math. Pardon the mess at the back, that's our "Imperial Salad" - Roncero's version of a Caesar with confit chicken. The stringy potato fries were a nice touch, though a touch oily

Taters. Boil 'em mash 'em stick 'em in a stew! This dish was beauty on a slate tile, the "Ali-oli" potatoes. So delicious, the cubes were smeared with a luxurious garlic + aioli mayonnaise. I'm having potato flashbacks as I write this

Marinated duck, pear and soy salad. Even attempting Asian flavours, they cannot do any wrong. The shavings of duck went in a flash!

I can't explain why, but I had the feeling like I was eating at a 'fast-food'. I mean this in the best possible way, because this meal was so delicious and tasty (and yes, the service was pretty speedy). Ultimately, I'm really happy I found this place and the price was definitely right (as are most places in Spain)! Macca's eat your <3 out.

Thanks for reading!

B'FST, Madrid styley I

Friday, 8 March 2013

And the show rolls on, literally thanks to the Renfe ave. Though our visit to Spain's capital was to be a fleeting one, we made it count. Here's where we found ourselves seeking refuge (read: caffeine) from the chill of those winter mornings...

Olivia Te Cuida

Santa Teresa 8, 28004 Madrid

I must confess that I had a tip-off for this one. Kinfolk magazine, a simply gorgeous publication written on 'the art of entertaining' featured Olivia Te Cuida in it's 3rd issue and ain't it a beauty. Monocle Issue 42 gave it thumbs up in their Spain Guide and Sherie Mujis also featured it on her blog back in January. It's a teeny tiny space (no joke) but it has the kind of homely feel where time slows, momentarily. Like visiting an old friend, Esther Campoy runs the restaurant with care and attention along with her sister and husband. And they do a smashing job.

Pretty pictures of Olivia Te Cuida from Kinfolk Magazine Vol. 3 - only my favourite quarterly! Source spartanjournal.com via Kinfolk on Pinterest

As always, we were wandering up and down Calle Santa Teresa trying to find the place. Inconspicuous and unassuming, we were met with a mere 3 tables in the café, two smaller ones by the window with single stems in vases and a larger central table 'adorned' with toasters, their power cords strung from the ceiling. The details are carefully considered and everything seems to work in perfect harmony.  

A beautiful fruit platter (left) and my standard order café con leche (right). Sad to say my coffee was burnt (again), but sugar makes everything better.

We were pretty lost at first, to say the least. It took us a while to realise that the condiments were for us to share (we ended up asking for some more tomato). The degustacíon part on the menu had us fooled haha. The freshly churned butter and homemade orange marmalade (peel central!) were a delight.  Happy days :)

I do hate to rant and rave but when has jam and toast ever tasted this good? I don't remember. The homemade element to this small meal makes it complete joy. The little DIY toasting is a brilliant idea - make it just as you like. The lady next to us burnt her toast to oblivion, we were momentarily stunk out in there, "Someone open the door?". The bread was so fresh that I didn't toast it at all actually (why spoil something so good?), there was a selection of rye and a white sourdough. Simple pleasures people.

Olivia's rendition of fruit & yoghurt muesli (left) and the soup of fresh fruits  (right). I love their tableware - organic, neutral and sometimes chipped. I was always curious about how Spain manages to have all these super exotic fruits at its disposal, then I thought "Oh yes, the old colonies" i.e. South America...

It's a small space yes, but they seem to be hitting all the right notes. Open only on weekdays from 0900-1800, Olivia Te Cuida is a café/restaurant with a whole lotta soul. Like a little oasis tucked away in the backstreets of Alonso Martinez, I felt ready to hit the ground running (window shopping should suffice :P).

Blink and you'll miss it! The entrance/shopfront: simple + elegant = yes pls

Part 2 is on its way ;)

Thanks for reading! 



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