Stanley Street Merchants

Monday, 30 June 2014

Stanley Street Merchants is here for a good time, not a long time. A crowd-funded project by IconPark, SSM presents a new frontier on the Sydney dining scene. Fronted by chefs Matt Stone and Duncan McCance, the team is joined by bar manager Bobby Carey and general manager 'gin maestro' Jez Spencer. Together they may look like a renegade bikie gang but they're ready to serve you up decent tucker with some old fashioned Aussie hospitality. Don't mind if I do...

The rather fantastical spread of entrées that covered the table. We did still have four courses to go, mind you. I think we did good

IconPark is about concept above all else and their first instalment looks to be a brilliant success. But a viable business? Who knows, but there are definitely bums on seats. As I sit writing this, tonight is totally booked out, and it's only Monday. That's a pretty good sign, right? The celebrity card of Matt Stone was handy to get the idea over the line. He has gone from strength to strength cooking at Greenhouse in Perth and more recently Silo by Joost in Melbourne (my spiritual home, haha). 

The very thrown together appearance of the downstairs bar/eatery perfect for drinks or brunch. Upstairs is more formal dining for the 'oldies' like myself...! Credit: Alana Dimou, Broadsheet Sydney

We were quietly ushered past the bar hipsters and whisked upstairs where there is more of a proper restaurant going. Partitioned by wooden doors, it felt like we were eating in a train carriage (cute!). Rather cosy, and perfect for conversation over a drink to a soundtrack of Mumford and Sons. Can't complain. You can track the SSM team's progress as they worked busily to get the restaurant ready to open earlier this year. It's all happened very quickly and lends a rather unpolished feel to the place which has so much more soul. Tell me if I'm sounding ridiculous...?

Part 1 of snacks: charcuterie board and baba ghanoush and house made foccacia. Mild salami, bresaola and wild boar salami (pretty out there) served with aged carrot and miso toast. I could not make out the miso flavour at all unfortunately. The eggplant dip had a lovely chariness to it and the bread was a winner (can't beat freshly baked)

We decided to try the Chef's menu which is a five course affair - that part was non-negotiable. SSM's food philosophy is all about local (heard that before?!), honey sourced from Neutral Bay and native Australian ingredients featuring prominently. The sad part is that we know next to nothing about the beautiful produce growing in our own backyard. Kylie Kwong and Matt Stone are at the forefront of this movement - deep fried insects and all.

Part 2 of snacks: fried spice cauliflower (left) and fermented vegetables (right). These were stand out dishes for me - the cauliflower was cooked beautifully and had a lovely toastiness with all the heavy spice coating. The fermented veggies were punchy and tart and balanced out with some native sea succulent. Yum!

Fermented brown rice, pine mushrooms, parsley. Achieving a risotto like texture, the brown rice is soaked in whey overnight. The results combined with king oyster and pine mushrooms and the lurid green of a parsley oil make it a killer dish

Twice cooked corn fed chicken, sweetcorn puree and jerusalem artichoke crisp. This was another favourite - the chicken was so tender with crispy skin. The puree was so sweet it could have been a dessert course on its own. Pretty crazy stuff

A new addition to the menu for the night: grilled skirt steak with oregano and shaved Manjimup truffle. The meat was cooked beautifully but the truffle was overpowered by the charriness of the beef - shame!

Kangaroo, Australian native fruits, herbs & spices. The kangaroo was cooked well and complemented with the native fruits (including whoppingly sour quandongs) and astringent Warrigal greens. Can't get much more patriotic than this!

A collective sigh when this dish hit the table: poached quince, macadamia, wattleseed, and buttermilk ice cream. I definitely have a thing for quince and funnily enough, I've never cooked with it before (must change this). Ticking the dessert boxes of presentation, texture and flavour (A+). This dessert was everything I could ask for and more...

"No ants, I'm vegan" - I overheard these exact words from an adjacent table, no kidding. I. am. amazed. And not in a good way. This lovely morsel is served with its jar bottom screwed in containing cherrywood smoke. The dish itself is a charcoal toasted marshmallow, raspberries, flowers and ants. There was a bit of debate as to whether they were actual ants as garnish here (me being the cynic) but I can confirm that yes, they're real - in all their crispy glory

White chocolate and yoghurt mousse with kale/cucumber granita and rosella (left). This was plated beautifully, the white chocolate noodles added a nice height to the dish. The yoghurt mousse I could take or leave. The granita was delish, and melting fast. Aussie cheese board with dried figs and house-made carbs (oh yeaah)(right). The cheeses were a cheddar, blue and goats curd; certainly not to everyone's tastes but suits me just fine (!)

Stanley Street Merchants achieves what most Sydney restaurant/cafés could only dream of doing. Utilising some of the incredible produce Australia has to offer, I'm positive they would have no problem in another location once this 3 month stint is over. Bold in flavours and execution, SSM makes for a rollicking fun night out. They're also open for brekkie and lunch in case you're wondering. You better get in while it's hot as it's due to close (noo!) in roughly a month's time. We need something like this for keeps! My eyes and ears are peeled for the next chapter. Exciting times ahead.

Missing SSM already! Let's hope they reincarnate into something else pronto Credit: Alana Dimou, Broadsheet Sydney

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Modern Pantry

Thursday, 26 June 2014

This time around, my café/restaurant to do list had ballooned out to colossal proportions. Patiently waiting, The Modern Pantry had been hanging in there since 2012 - it was a long time coming. Anna Hansen and her team's modern diner flickered on my radar with their take on delicious seasonal eating. Luckily during this trip I found myself in Clerkenwell time and time again. The lure of coffee most certainly had something to do with it.

Pretty as a picture, right? Hands down, dessert of the trip i.e. perfection on slate. The blood orange curd tart that pulverises the competition, seriously.

This café definitely signals the good things to come for London. reminiscent of Bills for it's all-day dining versatility, Modern Pantry prides itself on a menu that changes daily reflecting the best produce on offer. Speaking of which, the menu is a complete tome with a 2 course daily special also on offer. Several visits are probably in order, or just show up with a big bunch of friends so you can plate swap (does anyone else do this?).

The sleek interiors by Colevin Interiors. The copper lamp accents add a nice touch. The private dining room upstairs is also not to be sniffed at Credit: Colevin Interiors

Happily caffeinated, A and I proceeded to suss out what everyone else was ordering, the choices were quite extensive. The downstairs café has a lovely airiness to it, punctuated with all that white. Upstairs there is a more formal restaurant style dining room as well as a private room for hire. Adjacent to the café is a little shop window filled with magnificent takeaway meals which are sold rather promptly (work lunch, you see) as well as some beautiful gifts - preserves made in house, canvas printed tote bags and the like. It was just getting better and better for me. 

Cappuccino and matcha latte. Okay, so they looked like they've been served to us off floor tiles but anyway! The cappuccino was actually not half bad (it's all about low expectations)

The service was a bit haphazard at times. We sat for the better part of an hour twiddling our thumbs waiting for the lunch menu to be available and ready to order. Quite bizarre considering kitchens have been prepping for the better part of the morning for whole day of service? We were then shifted to another table mid coffee because  our initial table had been booked for a group. Well okay then... Lucky I'm on holiday and not in a grumbly type of mood.

Crispy juniper and fennel braised pig's cheek, celeriac remoulade, pickled mustard seed and apple dressing. This was a stellar start to the meal, this was restaurant quality food knocked out of a modest kitchen. The pig cheek was perfectly crispy and the apple mustard dressing added a complementary punch to the dish. Big tick

When our meals made it out the presentation was consistently beautiful, taking notes from the realms of fine dining. It was obvious that each ingredient was there to serve a purpose, not tampered with and unrecognisable. The food definitely did the talking, as it should always do.

Grilled miso marinated onglet steak, cassava chips (the starchy root vegetable origins of tapioca), Kalamata olive salsa. The steak was cooked well to medium rare but somehow remained quite chewy

Slow roast Gloucester old spot pork belly, edamame purée, curly kale, spring onion and almond pesto. This was a nice piece of pork belly although I found it a bit dry for my liking, perhaps it needed to be more of a braise with lashings of sauce. The purée was also a bit bland and lumpy...oops

Blood orange curd tart, cardamom ice cream, blood orange and grapefruit salsa. From the solid start of entrée to the slight dip in the mains, the dessert was the shining star fo' shizzle. I am such a sucker for a citrus curd tart and this was probably THE BEST. The tartness of the fruit was perfectly offset with sweetness from the curd and the cardamom ice cream was outstanding 

Modern Pantry has gone from strength to strength in its 6 years of operation. Chef Anna Hansen is obviously doing something right, spending her early years under the tutelage of Fergus Henderson (FERGUSSS!!!) and Stephanie Alexander (our home grown foodie hero). She's also written The Modern Pantry cookbook which I can't wait to get my paws on. Serving as a jack-of-all trades, MP caters for the ladies that lunch, the business luncheon or a raucous dinner party to be had in the comfort of a private dining room. Life couldn't get much sweeter in my book.

The Modern Pantry, an all occasion all-star

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Workshop Coffee Co

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Ah, the thrill of the chase. C and I had made it our mission to search for that elusive winning cup of coffee, obsessives that we are. Workshop Coffee Co was on my list for rather obvious reasons, initially starting out as London's very own St Ali, a rather famous coffee empire in Melbourne. They have since parted ways, hoping to blaze a trail in its own right and haven't they done just that.

Shine like a diamond: the rather trendoid logo/signage out front

Three coffee bars and a café later, Workshop has proven it's the real deal. Sourcing and roasting their own beans is definitely a plus, and don't the East London hipsters know it. Their Clerkenwell branch is a veritable hub of tatt sleeves and cropped pant legs. The interior is a simply stylish affair with a smattering of seats, perfect for a quick gathering. Upstairs is where the roasting's at.  The whirr of the espresso machine is a very welcome sound. A quick perusal of the menu reveals a substantial number of choices from quinoa salad to slow-aged lamb loin. It all sounds rather scrumptious to me!

The timber coffee bar acts as the café's centrepiece (left) and some lilies to brighten up the grey day (right)

But now to the most important order of the day: coffee. My stock standard regular cappuccino was served promptly and it didn't disappoint. This cup had some great depth and punchy flavour; it shakes you awake. Certainly enjoyable and a solid effort, it sits pretty in my top 3 London coffees. As you probably know, Monmouth reigns supreme in my book. 

My default order (hey, at least I'm consistent) - a regular cappuccino grazie!

As with several of these cafés I do take slight issue with cost. In London you basically pay the equivalent value but in pounds. It is woeful for us Aussies. To illustrate my point, Trip Advisor has recently named London as the world's most expensive travel destination...ah-ha! Sydney manages to round out the Top 10 (fyi). It all boils down to the fact that I'm looking for an 'Australian' café experience with great coffee and high quality seasonal food at a reasonable price. I'm glad to say that we've pretty much nailed this at home (no bias or anything).

Hello healthy lunch! Maple smoked chicken salad with avocado and baby tomatoes. The menu description is quite literal but I didn't have any qualms there. It was very tasty but the smokiness didn't quite shine through in the chicken. The serving size was quite generous, even with the hefty price tag

Workshop Coffee has set a very clear message for itself in focussing 90% of its efforts in sourcing the best coffee beans, roasting and delivering good coffee to the masses. The other 10% is spent on cranking out a rather impressive brunch/lunch menu. On weekdays they even do a dinner service which is rather handy dandy. But the question remains, was it the best coffee I've had in London? Not compared to some of the crackers I've had in Oz, but it wasn't too far off the mark.

Lights! Camera! Coffee (please)!

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La Fromagerie

Thursday, 12 June 2014

This rather excellent cheesemonger calls Marylebone home and isn't it in good company. Not only is there great shopping (Daunt Books & The Conran Shop are essential) but the food offerings focus on artisanal and organic produce = top notch. If time were on my side I would have loved to give both The Natural Kitchen (café), The Ginger Pig (butcher) and Aubaine (a bit schmancy) a go. I suppose there's always next time (spoilt rotten...)!

Did I just die and go to heaven?! The famed cheese room Credit: hg2london

La Fromagerie is exactly as the francophile name suggests, enough to make anyone lactose intolerant weak at the knees. They pride themselves on sourcing the best regional cheeses and they've curated a perfect selection for the discerning cheese lover. I was amazed when one of the staffers was able to identify a cheese M had been hoping to find after several years...a comté no less! It was like playing 'guess who' (with a few wild stabs in the dark), needless to say both parties left the transaction quite chuffed. Neal's Yard Dairy better watch out!

The rather stylish interiors of the deli Credit: hg2london

The brilliance of this place is not to be understated. Open Monday to Sunday for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea & pre-theatre supper - it is here for any occasion. Split into separate sections, the store also has some designated seating for you to while away an afternoon. Chill back with a shared cheeseboard and glass of your favourite wine and everything else will come easy. I happened to choose (a very generous) glass of Chablis Vieille Vignes 2011 which was incroyable! 

The French cheese board running order (left to right). Those starred are not to be missed!
*Bleu D'Avergne - a stinky but delicious blue
Vieux Bologne - soft cow's cheese with beer washed rind
*Morbier - mild semi soft cow's cheese, more delicate
*Mothais a la Feuille - goat's
Brique du Larzac - soft, tangy sheep's milk

I was quite stoked with this cheese board, and you get the feeling that you are in very capable hands. If there's anything that the Brits (and French) can do well, that's cheese and dairy. In addition to the in-store offerings there is an online cheese room, as well as suppers hosted on Mondays (No 6 at La Fromagerie) and tasting events for the aficionados. Now, if only this was my corner store...

A nice selection of homewares for all your baked/fried/grilled cheesy goodness

Not that Australian cheeses are anywhere close to the quality of those produced in Europe but we do have a few decent purveyors to tickle one's fancy: Formaggi OcelloSimon Johnson and Paesanella are good starting points. And more recently, The Stinking Bishops has opened up in Enmore; a café haven for cheese lovers. The future is looking bright for us Aussies!

I couldn't resist another shot from the cheese room. The variety is endless, you could literally spend hours in this treasure trove!

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Rosé Paradox by The Selby

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Prepare yourself for some serious food envy. I recently came across this video featured on The Selby and couldn't pass the opportunity to share such a stunning event. The last posts I did with some of Todd Selby's work were way back when in 2012 (find them here and here). Featuring the Brains Trust of Gourmet Food, Dom Pérignon invited 9 of the world's best chefs to create a tasting menu to pair with and celebrate Dom Pérignon's 2003 vintage RoséThere aren't many brands we know on a first name basis but Dom certainly fits the 'iconic' bill. No pressure!

A brilliant partnership between the worlds of food and champagne Credit: The Selby

Set between Paris and Champagne (it ain't champagne unless...), the chefs got to business under the guidance of Richard Geoffroy, Dom Pérignon's Chef de Cave. From meandering through the age old cellars of Dom Pérignon to picking the best produce from Rungis Market the journey taken in this film is one that is shared with the viewer and ultimately enthralling.

The preliminary tastings, not too shabby! Credit: The Selby

Taking inspiration from the beautifully hued and complex rosé the chefs worked their interpretations into a menu rich in technique and detail. The chefs from all over Europe worked their magic into some incredible dishes oozing appeal. Infused with The Selby's signature style of playful graphics and plenty of macro photography the event was clearly a triumph. A spectacular way to show off some of the world's best bubbles and talent. Chin-chin!

Here are some of the highlights from the gallery:

The grounds of Dom Perignon, steeped in history Credit: The Selby

Just like a fairytale... Credit: The Selby

No expense was spared, obviously Credit: The Selby

Ricardo Zurita from Azul Condesa, hard at work Credit: The Selby

Where art meets food = completely glorious Credit: The Selby

It's in the details, with some whopping big pieces of truffle to sweeten the deal! Credit: The Selby

Laurent André, chef from Le Royal Monceau Credit: The Selby

Chef Renald Epie's dish adorned with black caviar Credit: The Selby

A celebration of summer berries, so beautiful Credit: The Selby

The star of the show, Dom Pérignon's Rosé 2003 Credit: The Selby

It's a hard knock life...Todd Selby Credit: The Selby

Many hours of hard work and bottles of champers later! Mission accomplished Credit: The Selby

Stay tuned for more foodie encounters in London
Thanks for reading!


Monday, 2 June 2014

Hot chocolate. I can vouch that the Italians definitely do it better. It seems like an age ago when I was in Florence, sampling the BEST HOT CHOCOLATE of my life at Rivoire standing at the bar on a chilly winter's evening. And yes, I did go back for more. I remember clearly it's richness and depth of cocoa flavour which has yet to be surpassed in my book. Said is one venue that has upped the ante by opening a second branch in London, with its original in fair Roma.

Even the window displays are enough to make one weak at the knees Credit: Said Facebook Page

I always bang on about the history of a café or restaurant and Said is certainly no exception. Operating since 1923 out of Italy, it was only at the end of last year that keys exchanged hands for their artisan chocolate café and shop in the heart of London's Soho. Said is actually an acronym for Societa Azinoria Industria Dolciumi, which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue! 

The café interior with all their edible wares on display

Akin to Koko Black in Australia or an upmarket Max Brenner, Said brings specialty chocolate products to the masses in London (and boy, are there masses). One of the first things you'll notice about the store is their keen eye for design. Lovely silver chocolate moulds adorn a feature wall and Said products are lain out in every nook and cranny. The packaging is beautiful in its simplicity and instantly recognisable.

A rather mini hot chocolate in an espresso cup. I ordered a chilli hot chocolate which came with chilli powder on the bizarre! What wimps do they take us for?! The chocolate had a lovely thick texture but was a little lacking in richness and chocolatey flavour (that sounds absurd). I'm almost expecting melted dark chocolate here...yikes. Rivoire has set the bar high it would seem!

Perch yourself on a milk can to have a peek at the menu which is short, sharp and to the point so you can pick your poison. Just make sure you order an Italian hot chocolate or chocolate espresso. The eats are nothing fancy and fairly predictable, a few cakes and biscuits from the counter display. The best part is being able to while away the hours, people watching with a hot drink in your hand. Simple pleasures.

Chocolate inspired wall hangings. Very clever! I'm enjoying the novelty size of the 'lamb' mould

We were on a roll, with service that left us wanting. Granted it was literally the first day for the waitress who served us, but being such a small café, all her trials and tribulations were on full display! Watching with fascination this staffer would dart back and forth from our table to clarify our order, serve other walk-ins and ask what goes in to make the different drinks. But never mind, we had some time and it was nice to have a sit down and chat.

The rather impressive looking chocolate bars. The higher the cocoa content, the better for me!

With all these superlatives being bandied about online it's hard to declare who actually is the fairest of them all. It is clear that Said means business with their chocolate, they take it extremely seriously. The hot chocolate may not be the best I've ever had but it's a pretty good alternative to forking out £200 for flights to Italy. But hey, why not make a weekend of it some time? Because YOU CAN.

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Said on Urbanspoon


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