Snapshot: Walsh Bay

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Boy, does Sydney love weekends (I sure do anyway). A time to delve into those first world problems like, "Pinot or Sauv Blanc?" or "Where to go next?". Walsh Bay, a veritable arts hub by the harbour is the home of a new swathe of eateries to cater for all your pre-show cravings. Home of yet-another-branch-of-Fratelli-Fresh, here are a few others you should give a whirl.

The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf

Level 2, The Wharf Pier 4
Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

A mess hall with style, taking advantage of the magnificent vantage point and light. Interiors by Studio R Architecture

There are no prizes for the naming of this bar but it was also the obvious choice. At once descriptive but the task of finding this joint was epic. Google maps was even befuddled telling us we were walking on water...awesome. Basically, just go upstairs into the Wharf Theatre and trace your way down the STC's Hall of Fame. The Bar at the End of the Wharf is your all purpose venue for drinks, nibbles and more drinks. Lap up the sunset and enjoy the company on the balcony over a share plate or many. 

Sydney casual cool at it's very best Credit: Concrete Playground

The bar/restaurant is a pretty brilliant business move if you ask me. It's open 6 days a week and caters for the theatre crowd and walk-ins. The interiors are simple with a dash of Melbourne but with sweeping views of the Harbour Bridge (take that!). I'm so glad I came because it's been on the list for an age (totally worth the pilgrimage haha). Prepare to while away the hours, watching the sail boats go by with a whopping big smile on your dial. 

Lotus Dumpling Bar

3/16 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

A rather slick interior taking notes from Mr Wong in the city Credit: Good Food

If you have the need for speed before a show, then Lotus Dumpling Bar is your answer. Chef Lucy Luo takes the reins in the kitchen offering a neat selection of dumplings to whet your appetite. They also have the famed xiao long bao (which I've saved for another day) as well as larger mains to share: roasted BBQ duck, steamed fish with ginger and shallot and stir-fried noodles. All of this sits alongside a drinks menu that's enough to make you weak at the knees. Cocktails at lunch? You might feel so inclined at Lotus.

Jade seafood dumpling - fresh dumpling with prawn, king oyster mushroom and snow peas in spinach flavoured dough. Pretty little morsels filled with fresh prawns. The dipping sauces were pure magic; a mix of soy, vinegar and chilli XO style sauce with sesame seeds

Mixed mushroom dumpling - fresh dumpling stuffed with fillings crossing the European king oyster and Chinese mushroom with fresh vegetables. Lovely translucent dumpling skins with the perfect texture

Scallop & vegetable shu-mai - open dumpling stuffed with scallop and fresh vegetables and king oyster mushroom. Handmade and so delicious

Crispy eggplant with honey & Serrano chilli - topped with pan fried sesame seeds, dried onion and Chinese coriander. This dish was the crowning glory for me, the crispy fried outside with a sweet honeyed glaze in contrast with the gooey eggplant which is almost molten. This is the winnerrr...

If you've got the time (and the room), there's Gelato Messina on the dessert menu (because we're all screaming for ice cream right now). Lotus is a great lunch or dinner option - just be aware the place errs on the teeny side so there could be a wait ;) So there we are, Walsh Bay in a nutshell. A relatively quiet spot on the harbour with panoramic views just like this...

Not too shabby! The view from the Bar at the End of the Wharf Credit: Broadsheet Sydney

Thanks for reading!
Lotus Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon


Saturday, 15 February 2014

Here's to the new big fat Greek. In a nod to the hallowed dining halls of past, Alpha has swept in with a dash of style bringing modern Greek food to the heart of Sydney. Business lunch-goers will (and should) be overjoyed! Located on Castlereagh St at the Hellenic Club, the restaurant brings new vision to the historic site. Like Apollo in Potts Point (another Greek that's gone gangbusters), these venues are a refreshing change from the burgers and deep fried everything that are crowding our menus. It's time for Mediterranean sea-change!

Sesame leaf dolmades: almond rice, preserved lemon avgolemono. OMG this was divine. The avgolemono (a sort of eggy lemon sauce) was beautiful and refreshing. I could have polished off the whole lot

First impressions are crucial and Alpha's grand design hits you in the chops. This restaurant is surely the magnum opus of Greek designer Paul Papadopoulos of design firm DS17. With intricate light detailings (black fishing nets and white lanterns) and wide bench seats which are made for lounging - you are instantly transported to the seaside in Mykonos. The carved sandstone wall in Greek script might have been a bit OTT though. The vibe is casual and can easily accommodate huge groups, no kidding. We were sat at a large round table for 10, the only issue was we had trouble tactically sliding dishes to each other. A lazy Susan would have spoiled the feel, no doubt haha.

This is picture shows only perhaps 2/3 of the restaurant. It really is ginormous. The space is even extended at street level with a glass enclosed atrium for outdoor seating. Nothing's been done half-heartedly here Photo credit: DS17

The dishes are made for sharing and perfect for families or larger groups. Chef Peter Conistis has created a menu which combines the greatest hits of Greek cuisine with a few modern twists. The menu is quite lengthy, and I would love to come back and fill in the gaps. Prepare for your spanakopita, moussaka and tzatziki in spades. There is also Yia Yia's set menu that offers a selection of 10 dishes and matched wines. You might be in for the long haul with that one. 

Pita bread and dips for starter. Clockwise from above: Taramosalata (white cod's roe dip), tzatziki (sheep's milk yogurt, cucumber, garlic, extra virgin olive oil) and melitzanosalata (smoked eggplant). The pita bread had a lovely charred flavour to it and that was just the start. Each dip was flavoursome + unique - the taramasalata was a winner

Spanakopita: Spinach pie, leeks, fetta, dill. An early highlight of the night. Straight out of the oven, the flaky filo was perfectly crisp encasing that divine cheesy filling. The leeks offered a lovely sweetness. You HAVE TO try it...

Horiatiki salad: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, red onions, kalamata olives, fetta (left) and Rabbit and Black Olive Pie, Cephalonian Style (right). The feta on that Greek salad totally makes it. The pie was probably a bit heavy for a warm summer's night but the rabbit was so tender and lovely with the aroma of olives

Seafood Saganaki: mussels, Hiramasa Kingfish, King Prawn, fetta. Prepare for feta overload y'all. This dish was very generous with the seafood. My only issue was that it was slightly too salty by the end

Mastic spiced quail, fetta and watermelon salad. Presenting beautifully, the quail was gone in a flash. Tiny morsels that were garnished with jewels of pomegranate. The watermelon was a nice touch

Greek spiced slow roasted lamb shoulder, lemon roast potatoes, tzatziki. Again, perhaps not the wisest choice in Summer but delish none the less. A hearty dish with pull-apart tender lamb which was perhaps a bit bland (but all was forgiven with the quality of the meat)

Lemon ice cream, nectarines, Samos Muscat, Almond shortbread (left) and Loukoumi Delight Ice Cream Slice, strawberry, raspberry, fill cigar (right). That lemon ice cream was CRAZY good, with a hint of vanilla. We gave the loukoumades a miss this time

All I can say is I'm hoping Alpha has staying power because it's a great restaurant. Funny how you always end up scratching your head, trying to think of somewhere to eat in town. The answer is right here. Alpha is not only an exquisite restaurant to dine in, the play on Greek classics make for a satisfying meal with minimal fuss and friendly service. Give it a try next time!

Papadopoulos' ingenious lighting, although we were dining in darkness essentially. Pretty though!

Thanks for reading crew!
Alpha Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Cafe Paci

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Blink and you'll miss it. Chef Pasi Petänen has pulled a rabbit out of a hat with his first solo venture in Darlinghurst, Cafe Paci (ex-Cafe Pacifico with the 'fico' now scrubbed). It is a triumph on all accounts. The restaurant stakes in Sydney have just been edged up a notch, much to the delight of diners. Whether you're a glass half full or empty kind of person, this restaurant is only around for a year. Opening in August last year, Cafe Paci will be closing its doors so I'd advise you get your skates on.

Cue the fanfare! Surely a contender as one of Sydney's best desserts, Petänen's yoghurt, carrot and liquorice Credit: Time Out Sydney

Petänen has kept a rather low profile, working as head chef of Marque for 8 years before searching for a site to call his own. The restaurant is a Spartan grey which has been applied liberally by  George Livissianis (also designing for Apollo), right down to the tables and chairs. It's as if a paint bomb has gone off and the day's work was declared done. The sparse lighting also had the effect of the room getting darker and greyer as the evening progressed. Quite peculiar! Being such a huge garage space, the restaurant has a slightly underground feel which matches the experimental food nicely.

Going for the stark grey on grey look @ Cafe Paci (Pah-si) Credit: Urban Walkabout

The menu gives practically nothing away, purely listing ingredients but behind the scenes is a different story. The technique, time (read: hours) and effort that has gone into each of the dishes is immense! You can almost imagine Petänen 'tinkering' as he experimented with new flavours and ingredients. The restaurant's kitchen sits shrouded behind a heavy grey curtain as if from a stage show (behind is where the magic happens). It really felt like the Wizard of Oz. The menu is set, like a degustation but for the bargain basement price of $85 (oh yes, you read right). We are left intrigued none the less as to what lay ahead.

Part 1. Snacks

The idea is something quite similar to Sixpenny, a restaurant dear to my foodie heart. These offer the perfect opportunity to improvise and try new things with a hungry audience.

A tribute to Cafe Pacifico, rye taco with sticky rice, egg butter, sour onions and chives (left). And (from left to right) rye crostini with dehydrated duck, rose and butter. Sweet corn with butter and shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7 spice). Cripy salt and vinegar barramundi skin. Butter seems to be feature prominently here!

Normally I wouldn't bother to show your bread, because hey - how interesting could it be? But boy, this mini loaf was incredible. A mix of rye and potato, then coated with sticky molasses for an extra sheen. This bread was a mini highlight from the start. The freshly churned butter doesn't hurt either

Part 2. Entrée & Main

Blue swimmer crab, sorrel, plum. A collective "Wow" was breathed when this arrived at the table. Such a beautiful dish showcasing seasonal produce in all its simplicity. The crab mixed with sorrel and mayonnaise was lovely and creamy but I think the fruit topped it off. Such an inventive combination. And that red plum! Probably the best I've ever eaten

Veal tartare, smoked bone marrow, broccoli, anchovies, onion. A splatter of shaven broccoli to garnish the tartare of the finest veal. It was a winner

B.L.B (Bacon, lettuce, bonito). A take it or leave it course (well, compared to the rest anyway) this was a re-worked Caesar salad. The baby cos (vegetable) component was a welcome relief, only to be laced with smoky bacon 

Photato: a new version of the Vietnamese classic. I was expecting a broth to be poured over the top but no. To be frank, the dish barely needed soup because everything works so well. The lightly seared Blackmore wagyu steak was incredibly tender and the fresh Tasmanian wasabi a nice accompaniment. Enoki mushrooms intermingle with potato noodles (resembling rice vermicelli only in looks), garnished with fried garlic chips, watercress and grilled Meyer lemon. A meal in itself!

Part 3. Dolce & Petits Fours

An unassuming dish at first glance, Petänen's carrot, yoghurt, liquorice dessert. Oh my word, this was AMAAAZING. A delicate cloud of yoghurty who-knows-what (perhaps mousse is the best word) hiding a very delicious secret. Inside is a carrot sorbet topping a thin layer of liquorice cake. The carrot is rather nondescript in flavour but the aniseed really comes through, and rather pleasant at that (understatement of the year). A clever play on the humble poached egg

Malt, banana, parsley. It was an impossible task to out-do the first dessert course but this was a stirling effort. A dessert inspired by a Marque original, a rich dark chocolate mousse coated in chewy malt (an inside out malteser), banana purée and parsley sorbet. The candied parsley leaf was a nice touch

Corn & butter (left) and pork & fennel (right). Fairy floss dusted in popcorn anyone? Finally, pork crackling covered in chocolate, salt and fennel seeds. What a Finnish (pun intended)!

Compliments must go to the chef. If this doesn't win you accolades, I don't know what will. Cafe Paci offers some of the most innovative food in town and it is all bloomin' delicious. Pasi Petänen is amongst Sydney's 'New Guard', mentioned in the Fin ReviewTerry Durack gave it a sensational 16/20, a real breakthrough! Probably one of the best things about this restaurant is its creative freedom. Based strongly on technique, Petänen has developed a very interesting and conceptual menu that mixes Finnish, Vietnamese and Mexican influences (go figure). The details in every dish are both intricate and exquisite, a real joy. May I suggest you try it before it's gone for good!

Thanks for reading!
Cafe Paci on Urbanspoon


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