Ralph’s Delicatessen

Ralph's Deli.jpg“YOU’LL find it at Ralph’s,” the Baroness of Balmain instructed me. She was right. Not only was I able to source Maggie Beer’s verjuice but I was also able to pick up a bottle of Spanish pedro ximenez sherry vinegar as an alternative to Balsamic (something I am still looking at trying in a future culinary endevour).

Ralph’s Delicatessen is a Balmain institution and has been in the inner-Sydney suburb for more than 40 years when it was opened by Ralph Aliperti and his father in 1972 (who named the deli after young Ralph as he would one day continue running the deli).

Ralph's - Pasta.jpgThis family-run business on Darling Street is a treasure trove of culinary jewels and is such an incredible place that it is difficult to know where to begin. And that’s where Baroness thinks I should stop because as she puts it you can get everything at Ralph’s (and she’s right as she has always given them a call when she desperately needs an usual food item that a recipe calls for and Ralph has always delivered).

Ralph’s brings back fond memories of another deli institution – Vari’s on The Parade in the Adelaide suburb of Norwood – so I’m happy to write a few more pars.

It is possible to spend a good half an hour in the place just exploring (I could of but I was conscious that continual lurking would make me a shoplifting suspect).

There are wares from all four corners of the globe as well as home-made food items. Imported and local cheeses stand side by side with olives, salami and sausages, meat cuts and antipasti tidbits in a display fridge. 

20130419-163614.jpgThe shelves are packed with jars, tins and packets.

Ralph’s also has a huge range of olive oils and vinegar, an assortment of mustard and pickles, as well as jam and marmalade and other spreads; international confectionery, and chilli sauces from around the world (the Caribbean Walkerswood and Pikapeppa, a few varieties of Tabasco and the chili die-hards – Blair’s Death Sauces). He also stocks some of the top names in Italian pasta and sauces.

Ralph’s just isn’t a deli for the Europhile – there’s also a section of Asian sauces and staples, Irish and South American foods and Middle Eastern canned and jarred items (the Turkish Ajvar is a favourite).

20130419-163547.jpgAny decent Italian deli worth its salt would have a selection of homemade meals and Ralph’s has top quality stuff in all wonderful forms. It’s the freezer section that deserves the most attention when you visit here. Inside are homemade soups (like chorizo, cabbage and capsicum); and other “just like nonna use to make favourites” such as a Bolognese ragu made with veal mince and pork ribs (from $15). Trust me, this is a very special sauce.

You can even get a fresh sandwich made to order and a espresso and if you can’t find that item you’re looking for – just ask (it will probably be handed to you).

As the Baroness says: “You’ll find it at Ralph’s.”

The verdict: A Balmain living treasure on par with Balmain ‘s Dawn Fraser.

What: Ralph’s Delicatessen, 337 Darling Street, Balmain, NSW 2041 Australia. Phone: (02) 9810 2340. Open from 8am until 8pm.

Will go there: When I know the local supermarket won’t have it or when Baroness tells me to.

Advertisements
Posted in Grocery, New South Wales, Sydney | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Hugo Burger

20140601-175734-64654455.jpg

I NAMED my signature burger after my furry son – Lord Hugo of Rozelle and Balmain – as it’s strong, mischievous and bold just like him.

I’m having a bit of a burger craze at the moment ever since I got back from the USA last year and have been mixing up burger options at home. After much thinking through ingredients I have come up with The Hugo – more of an American-inspired burger than the good old Aussie fish ‘n’ chip shop style.

The Hugo Burger is a grilled blue cheese-infused meat patty seasoned with a few seasonings and topped with tomato, lettuce leaves, pickles and caramelised onions on a toasted bun with a squirt of sriracha-blended mayo (or some good tomato relish).

One thing I have learnt is that you can’t muck around when preparing burgers – you have to use fresh ingredients – starting with the meat. I use minced sirloin (you need at least 10 to 15 per cent fat content). If you can’t get to a butcher to mince it for you or you can’t do it yourself then premium supermarket mince can do.

When making the burgers there are a few tips you have to keep in mind so that they come out juicy and tender:

  1. Don’t over knead the mince or your burger will be tough.
  2. Make sure the meat is cold and not warm and your hands are cold when you knead – you want the fat to stay in the burger and not get stuck on your hands.
  3. Make an oval-sized depression at the centre on the burger as this helps the burger to maintain its rounded shape as it expands when cooking.
  4. Sprinkle a pinch of salt evenly over each burger just before grilling. Only use salt before cooking as salt can affect the proteins in the meat causing the patty to break up and go ‘mushy’.
  5. Cook the burger straight after making (or from resting in the fridge) as it will hold together a lot better.

And now I present you with ingredients to make the Hugo Burger:

Hugo BurgerTHE BURGER
1 kg beef mince
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
100g blue cheese, crumbled
100 grams of hot pancetta, chopped
1 teaspoon of dried tarragon
1 tablespoon of stuffing mix (Tandaco brand)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and black pepper

TO SERVE
6 to 8 soft burger buns, split and toasted
A handful of rocket leaves
Sliced tomatoes and dill pickles (sliced lengthwise)
Caramelised onions (three large red or brown onions)

Sriracha mayonnaise or tomato relish (or even Turkish Ajvar spread).

METHOD

Mix the mince with all the burger ingredients expect the crumbed cheese. Once mixed thoroughly (remember not to over knead or the burger will be tough), add the crumbed cheese and gently fold in and then divide into six or eight patties. Make a small oval depression on the top of each patty.

Crank up the grill and while this is warming  slice up some brown onions into rings and caramelise them using some butter and a little salt in a saucepan on the stove and then set aside. To make the sriracha mayo get some everyday quality mayonnaise and add sriracha sauce (I only use Huy Fong Sriracha), bit by bit to your taste. An alternative is some good tomato relish or quality ketchup

Grill your burgers to your liking. Make sure the grill is hot an you oil the grill. Place each burger on it – a high heat will ensure a good crust around the burger. Avoid flipping too often or pressing down on the burger as you want to keep all the flavour and juices inside. Flipping once is ideal – about four minutes ion each side is fine. I use a Weber kettle or Weber Q for my grilling and I tend to put the lid down for a few minutes to round the burger off after the first flip to ensure the blue cheese is melted inside. Like with all meat – allow the burgers to rest.

Once rested place the grilled burgers on the bottom burger bun and then top with tomato, rocket leaves and sliced dill pickles. Top with the caramelised onions and smear the top of the bun with the sriracha mayo or your favourite sauce.

Serve with a side of fries or coleslaw.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Hot Star Chicken (Sydney)

Hot Star 2HBV was pretty excited to learn recently that the iconic Taiwanese chicken joint, Hot Star, had landed in Sydney.

Hot Star is possibly one of the most flocked to fast food joints in Taipei. It started in Taipei’s famous Shilin night market serving Taiwanese fried chicken steak which is one of the better “junk foods” on the planet.

As mentioned in a previous blog, fried chicken steak or XXL chicken, is a flattened chicken breast coated in a mixture of tapioca flour and spices and then deep-fried. I have read that Hot Star in Australia uses locally-sourced chickens with all of its other ingredients (like flour and spices)  imported from Taiwan in order to replicate the flavours of its famous product sold in Taiwan.

I didn’t want to venture to Sydney’s Hot Star alone so I enlisted The Apprentice to make the sojourn with me for lunch. The Apprentice knows his fried chicken. He used to live on the American friend chicken stuff so much so that he was once the splitting image of Meatloaf. After some hard yakka (and cold turkey resisting The Colonel’s eerie smile), he now has the figure of Leonardo. Dragging him along took some coaxing because he thought that one whiff may lead to a fried chicken bender where there would be no escape.

Hot Star - CrowdSydney’s Hot Star Chicken is set in a small street front space with just enough room for staff to cook, season and bag, and when we arrived at its Liverpool Street store there was already a queue along the street. The menu features the Large Fried Chicken ($7.90) but also some sides (for smaller appetites who don’t want to go XXL or those who want to really increase their cholesterol levels and have then as an accompaniment). These sides are curly fries ($3.90); chicken bites ($5.90); fried sweet potato ($3.90) and fried mushrooms ($4.90). You can get a XXL chicken and a soft drink combo for $9.90.

I ordered the large fried chicken (spicy) while The Apprentice ordered a combo – a drink and a large fried chicken (original flavour).  Within about five minutes our numbers were called and the flattened 250g chook breasts were put into a paper bag and then placed in a carry bag for us to take away.

Hot Star - ChickenThe Apprentice went into a cold sweat as soon as he saw the enormity of the task he was to undertake – I forgot to tell him that Hot Star Chicken is about the size of your face (it’s at least 30cm long). He attempted it and left half. I, on the other hand, managed to get through mine (just). It was true to form – the batter was crispy and well seasoned and succulent and juicy inside. The spicy powder gave it a good hit – but I think I prefer having the original as the chilli can be a bit overwhelming when indulging in such a large piece of fried chicken. It would be ideal if you could get a half and half.

So, was it true to Taiwanese form? Yes, it brought back memories of the original experience at Shilin, but after such a feat I will need to wait at least six months for my cholesterol to lower before undertaking the task again (or sooner if I take up weigh-lifting and need a protein boost). As for The Apprentice, he has just got out of rehab.

The verdict: The Apprentice can’t believe Taiwanese don’t have physiques of Samoan rugby players. I’m happy to see yet another Taiwanese favourite come to Australia.

What: Hot Star Chicken, 6 Liverpool St, Sydney NSW 2000. Open Sunday to Thursday from 11am to midnight and Friday and Saturday from 11am to midnight. www.hotstarchicken.com.au/

Ate there: April 2014.

Posted in Casual dining, Hawker food, New South Wales, Street Food, Sydney, Taiwanese | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Temasek

I SPENT  some time on and off  in Singapore during my formative younger adult days and as part of that experience I learnt about the painstaking art of preparing Nyonya (Peranakan) cuisine. I say painstakingly because I was told at the onset at all my Nyonya cooking lessons that Nyonya dishes are prepared with love rather than “out of love” because of the time and trouble you have to go to prepare meals.

Peranakan is a term used for the descendants of Chinese/Malay “Straits Chinese” with the terms Nyonya referring to Peranakan women and Baba referring to Peranakan males. Peranakan cuisine is based on using Malay cooking techniques and blending distinctive Malay spices with Chinese ingredients. It’s also called Nyonya cuisine because it is the women who usually prepare and cook all the meals in the Peranakan household.

Temasek -LaksaLaksa is possibly the best known of the Peranakan dishes. It comes in a few varieties – Assam laksa uses a tamarind soup base and laksa lemak is a coconut curry soup. In Singapore the variety is laksa lemak (or aka curry laksa), and is typically an infused coconut broth containing clams, prawns, fish cake, bean sprouts, tofu and egg with rice noodle – all topped with laksa leaf and sambal. The east coast suburb of Katong is the best place to try it in Singapore and is home to fierce competition between laksa stalls. This rivalry, which has been coined the “Katong Laksa War”, has Singaporeans regularly reporting and blogging who is making the best laksa in the area (which has resulted in some stalls closing if they don’t make the grade).

The typical Australian version of laksa tends to be a laksa lemak with either prawns or chicken or a combination of both (anything else such as beef is a  bastardization of the dish in my book), with the usual bean sprouts and fried tofu and fish cake with vermicelli or egg noodles.

Laksa has to be made well and the difference between a great laksa and a fair laksa is the paste and the stock.  As my Nynoya teachers told me it’s also got to be made with love. I was taught that every ingredient for the paste should be pounded in a mortar with each ingredient added one at a time to blend and be smashed painstakingly for up to an hour (smashing is better than using a food processor as it just cuts the ingredients). One of my Nynoyas said with all the effort it took to make laksa it had to be love that drives you and another proudly proclaimed the constant smashing and pounding was also good for stress relief – (i.e. she would rather smash spices and herbs than her baba). After completing the paste the making of the stock is the next big step with the simmering of prawn shells or chickens. Finally, every bean sprout must be detailed as the stringy tails are bitter and don’t meld well with the finished product.

Unfortunately, in Australia, laksa is usually made with commercial pastes. Not so at one busy restaurant which I believe makes one of the best laksa in Australia – Temasek in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta.

Temasek is the Malay word for Singapore and the restaurant is tucked in a narrow arcade that runs along the restored art deco Roxy theatre. It’s a bit reminiscence of a lane way Asian restaurant with every square metre taken up by a table or seat and is sparsely decorated with a few framed Singapore tourism posters adorning the walls.

Temasek TeaI popped into Temasek for a quick lunch one weekday and got there deliberately early (around noon), knowing from past experiences it would get busy. Already the place was seething with office workers and families but I was able to get the last seat (a small table for two outside in the lane).

The menu features  some classic Hawker stall gems besides laksa: Hainanese chicken rice ($16.80); mee siam ($11.80); fried Hokkien prawn mee ($13.80); char kway teow ($12.80) and  mee goreng ($13.80). I made the effort to come to Temasek for one dish only – prawn laksa ($14.80). I also ordered an iced lemon tea ($3).

You can tell before you take your first sip that Temasek’s laksa is going to be good. Glancing into the bowl before you are chopped green laksa leaves and smashed up other fragrant goodness floating in the soup. The sprouts have been detailed and the stock smells that it’s been made with love. The broth is spicy and sweet with hints of galangal, onion, chilli and shrimp paste. The bowl has a good clump of fried tofu, king prawns,  fish cakes and thin rice noodle (essential as the pastes solids stick to the fine noodles making it a wonderful mouthfill) . A topping of spicy and char-flavoured sambal paste is delightful when mixed into the soup.

The iced tea is reminiscent of the teas from drinks stalls in Malaysia or Singapore – icy and sweet with a nice tang . It’s perfect for a warm day and helps round out the palate when eating spicy food.

Service at Temasek can be slightly hit and miss – especially when staff are trying to serve a full restaurant and deal with the bedlam of people queuing for a spot – but if you like Hawker food or want to be reassured that people can serve up a decent laksa outside of Singapore – Temasek should be visited.

The verdict: Sydney’s, if not one of Australia’s, best laksa. Be prepared to queue. It’s the food that counts and not the decor.

What: Temasek, Roxy Arcade, 71 George St, Parramatta. Phone (02) 9633 9926. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch from 11.30am to 2.30 pm and dinner from 5.30pm to 9.30pm.

Ate there: April 2014.

Posted in Chinese, Hawker food, Malaysian, New South Wales, Singaporean, Sydney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lomandra’s

Lomandras2THEY’RE a pretty laid back mob in Queensland and that is some of the charm (and sometimes the frustration) of the place.

The Baroness of Balmain, the Baronets (Miss Gob and DJ Hoot), and I spent our Christmas and New Year up in hot and sunny Brisbane and on our last night dined with family way up in Brisbane’s northern suburbs where we were staying as guests of The Broker and The Forwarder. On our last night we decided to shout the family for one more shin dig at Lomandra’s which was just up the road from The Broker and The Forwarder’s nest. We were also joined by The Matriarch of Griffin.

Lomandra’s is set among the lush and picturesque greens of the North Lakes Golf Club and is really the only “finer dining” option in North Lakes. I say “finer dining” because like many Queensland restaurants it offers a decent innovative a-la-carte menu in a laid back atmosphere as opposed to casual Queensland dining where you could get away wearing thongs (Southerners beware the Queensland dress code etiquette: formal one day – casual the next).

It is named after a native Australian grass that grows quite well in Queensland and the open restaurant space has floor-to-ceiling windows with an outlook over the fairways. I wouldn’t call it intimate (as you have the long bar to one side of the dining area) but it has a bit of panache to it and prides itself on offering a menu that caters for all dining occasions.

On the Friday night we dined we were also entertained by the vocals of Jared Alexander (who actually recognised The Broker form another colourful life).

Lomandra’s versatile menu literally offers something for everyone as the menu has cafe options followed with bistro options and finally for the evenings a restaurant a la carte menu (including degustation option). One marvelous aspect is that there also are a lot of gluten-free and vegetarian dishes available which are identified accordingly (well done, Chef, should be more of it in other restaurants!!!).

I was also impressed with the wine list. It offered something for those who wanted to celebrate with pizzazzdine in style or have a glass of a quaffer with their burger. A nice touch was that the main courses also recommended a wine to accompany the meal – something that I thought would be taboo in outer suburban Brisbane.

Orders are placed at the bar area. Some diners may frown upon such a convention but what Lomandra’s may lack in table service it makes up for with its vast menu and one of the better wine lists I have seen in a club. 

20140107-112348.jpgThe Baronets always have a sparkle in their eye when they see a kids’ menu with the word “hamburger” on it. Lomandra’s kids’ menu has three choices and all for $9: fish & chips with salad; chicken breast with chips and salad, cheeseburger with chips and salad and for dessert, ice-cream with a choice of toppings for $3.50. Each meal comes with a fun pack which was something initially forgotten by our waiter but as Miss Gob always reads the fine print she inquired about it and the pack with puzzles and crayons appeared. The burger was huge compared to the kids’ servings we have had of late and came with chunky chips (but there wasn’t any salad). I though it was a bit too perfectly rounded to be produced in kitchen and it had a slight processed flavour to it (sorry chef if I got that completely wrong) but I don’t care – kids’ love it and it would satisfy the hungriest of them. Gob and DJ Hoot ate it all and gave it a 4 out of 5.

For the grown ups the entrees offered wild mushroom and Parmesan infused risotto arancini ($9); home-made pork wonton with a ginger and soy dipping sauce ($9), home made Thai fish cakes with a nam jim dressing ($12); home made falafel served with humus and a marinated Greek yoghurt and mint-infused sauce ($9).

We skipped entrees and just went for main courses: Baroness and The Matriarch ordered Lomandra’s signature twice-cooked pork belly served with a sweet potato puree, seared Hervey Bay scallops, bok choy, sea salt dried crackle and an apple & cherry glaze ($32); The Broker and I ordered the coal-roasted beef tenderloin served with smoked potato rosti, roasted baby carrots , prosciutto, petite carrot salad & red wine jus ($35); and The Forwarder decided to go it alone and have the marinated lamb rump served with Mediterranean-filled eggplant, bubbaganoush, seasonal green beans, roasted chickpeas and lamb jus ($32). We also got a side of beer battered fries with aioli ($6) and some steamed broccolini with roasted almonds ($7).

Lomandra's Beef.jpg

My beef fillet was a nice-sized lump of meat cooked medium. The Broker found that the potato rosti was far too smoky – I tend to agree. A slight smoke would have really complemented the coal-roasted char of the beef but it was a bit too overpowering (I tend to think that liquid smoke may have been added to the rosti mixture – not a bad additive if used sparingly).

Overall it was a good serve with the jus being a good reduction to accompany the beef. The only fault was that the smoke of the rosti tended to dominate the palate which distracted from the flavours of the beef.

Lomandra's Pork Belly.jpg

Baroness and The Matriarch – tempted by the inclusion of scallops – were presented with a vibrant and good-looking pork belly dish. It was a case of now you see it, now you don’t – the plates were almost gleaming within a flash. The three scallops were seared well thus retaining their tenderness, and what I tasted of the pork belly it was certainly the dish of the night –  the crackling top was superb, the pork juicy and tender and the apple and cherry “glaze” a combination that did the pork proud.

20140107-112400.jpgThe Forwarder’s eyes popped out upon seeing the size of the purple eggplant that was a feature of her Mediterranean-inspired lamb dish. It swam in a lake of lamb jus and among pink slices of thick rump which sat on top of green beans. Small dollops of chickpea and fetta and spicy bubbaganoush (with a bit of tazaiki on the eggplant) made it a Mediterranean experience. The Forwarder couldn’t finish it. The lamb, she said was perfect, the eggplant though was too large and another vegetable substitute may have been a better alternative as there was already bubbaganoush on the plate (which is made from eggplant), and it was a bit of a case of aubergine overkill.

Other main courses included pan-seared Atlantic Salmon served with tomato and  salmon salsa, fennel and herb salad, confit beets and orange butter ($29); a roasted chicken breast with parsnip puree, braised cabbage, squash, asparagus, baby leeks and Madeira sauce ($28) and crumbed Red Emperor fillets and a seasonal green salad with marinated feta and vine ripened tomatoes,  beer battered fries and remoulade ($23).

All in all, Lomandara’s is a suburban gem offering a great wine list and some inspirational dishes – some well executed and some needing slight refinement.

The verdict: A pleasant surprise and an urban gem. Well-prepared and innovative multicultural dishes from a local club. Gluten-free options and wine matching options is a big tick. A pokie free zone. 

What: Lomandra’s, 1 Bridgeport Drive, North Lakes, QLD, Phone: (07) 3480-9210. Open for dinner Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and every day for breakfast (from 7am) and lunch with snacks throughout the day.

Ate there: 3 January 2014.

Posted in Brisbane, Casual dining, Fine dining, Modern European, Queensland | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Azure at The Royal Hawaiian

Pink Palace.jpgI FIND it slightly humorous that Waikiki’s famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel which is aptly named “The Pink Palace” (as it is painted in pastel pink) names its premier restaurant Azure.

Despite the conflicting contrast of colour names (but the Pink Palace does overlook the azure blue Pacific Ocean) – Azure is a wonderful Waikiki beachfront restaurant specialising in fresh seafood locally caught and bought daily from the fishing boats that come into Honolulu’s fish auction each morning.

Azure.jpgAzure is set in a pleasant oceanfront space. Outside, under the veranda, you can dine outside right next to the sands of Waikiki in a lavish cushioned cabana with a view of the beach and Diamond Head (and I dare say that they would be a very popular and hotly-contested option). Inside it’s like entering a plantation mansion that has been blended with a touch of the Moroccan – white columns, polished floorboards and Arabian-style lamps that sit on the benches, bar and tables. Azure - cabana service

Baroness and I decided to have an early and light dinner after getting back from our road trip from the North Shore (where we lunched at Fumi’s and had a dessert treat at the Dole Pineapple Planatation). Without a booking we couldn’t get a table (despite some free ones that remained free as we were leaving), so we opted to sit at the wooden bar where we were reassured that we would still get full service and the full menu.

I get a little awkward sitting at the bar to dine. In Australia I find that you tend to get treated as an inferior as you are a walk in without a reservation. But thankfully it’s different in the good ‘ol US of A. You aren’t stateless – you’re still a welcomed guest (and we were joined by others).

Azure bread.jpgBarman, Robert, was most welcoming and accommodating and was able to make some suggestions that proved to be spot on and without a doubt his advice contributed to Azure being one of the top dining experiences we had on Oahu.

The menu concentrates on seafood with local Hawaiian tropical influences (and a little fusion) and choosing such is perfect for the setting and the dining experience. It is balanced by some meat selections with a five-course tasting menu (that features both seafood and meat) for $75 or $99 with wine pairings.

The tasting menu was tempting but after a day in the sun and to honour the pact Baroness and I made months ago to no longer do the degustation thing (because we tend to overindulge our slender frames to bursting point), we would share a salad and have a main course each.

Robert brought us a basket of mixed fresh bread with house-made butter sprinkled with pink Hawaiian sea salt as well as some crab dip while we eyed the main menu.

20130828-144215.jpg

Salads are underrated. I am glad that we got one at Azure because now I have started to appreciate them again – especially if they are fresh and balanced with the right ingredients and dressing. The ocean salad ($28) could be a light meal in its own right and included a good handful of fresh seafood: kona lobster, dungeness crab, prawns, big island abalone, scallop and octopus. The seafood was mixed with avocado, baby lettuce, drizzled with a tarragon and crème fraiche dressing and topped with tobiko caviar. Fresh and crisp, it was a summer dish perfect for outside dining and was an ideal accompaniment to the 2012 Trefethen Riesling from Napa, California ($48).

Other entrees (appetizers) were Alaskan King Crab chowder ($13); hibachi garlic prawns ($19); sake-steamed Manila Clams ($18), and what would probably be a very rich and extreme dish: “kiawe smoked” petite Hawaii Ranchers butter-poached fillet and foie gras which is served with black truffle and Madeira ($29).

Baroness and I had to have fish, especially after a day touring in the sun. I decided to choose one of the local “catches of the day” (the opakapaka which is a pink snapper) and had it simply cooked – that is seared. I could choose two sides and decided upon the oven roasted Twin Bridges asparagus and braised big island spinach with garlic chips. It was a nice piece of fillet that was heat roasted and served with a white wine herb and lemon caper sauce. A classic.

Azure - Foyer Baroness can never resist scallops and ordered the seared Hawaiian yellow fin Ahi and Diver Scallop ($44) with “black magic” spice, sake braised spinach, prosciutto wrapped enoki mushrooms all in a port wine buerre rouge. The black magic spice is basically a Cajun-style blackened spice for the fish. It was pan fried and surrounded with plump scallops wrapped mushrooms and spinach. It all sat on a the rich wine sauce. Spicy with a rustic richness, the tuna was seared perfectly allowing its raw pinkness to shine through.

Other mains (or entrees as they are known in the USA), included a chilled seafood menu with various seafood delights served on crushed ice and smoked Hawaiian swordfish poached in aromatic duck fat with purple potato, sea asparagus and a tomato salad ($38). If you aren’t in the mood for seafood then there are some carnivore options: grilled Colorado lamb chop (with a hibiscus red wine and almond crust for $49); Shinsato Farms’ porchetta ($40); and a Hawaii Ranchers rib-eye steak with creamed sweet corn, mushrooms, crispy shallots and bordelaise sauce ($52).

Dessert was never going to be had but there are some temptations such as caramelised coconut flan ($11); Hawaiian pine “apple” crumble ($12), and the Azure cheesecake with a trio of sauces ($11).

The verdict: A wonderful restaurant set in an ocean-front icon, Azure offers innovative dishes with quality and service expected of a top notch establishment.

What: Azure (at The Royal Hawaiian), 2259 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, United States of America.

Ate there: 17 August 2013.

Posted in Fine dining, Hawaii, Seafood, United States | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Medusa Greek Taverna

Medusa-barjpg

HERACLES is a Greek God and he is also one of my colleagues. He was proud that he chose Medusa Greek Taverna for our end of year Christmas lunch bash as he is a fan of haloumi and apparently they do a good one here among other traditional dishes (and HE is a Greek GOD and GODS know this stuff).

I’m a fan of the European concept of the family table – big groups, lots of food, fun and laughter but at Christmas functions this concept translates into having the set menu (and so our family was the recipient of Medusa’s banquet menu – $44 for 10 dishes).

Now I have to confess this: when I found out we were going to a Greek restaurant and having read the set menu I wanted to send one of Medusa’s serpents to Heracles (something hopefully not lost on acolytes of Greek mythology). It reminded me of a menu I had to suffer at a previous Christmas work function – the only savour being copious amounts of retsina just to drown out the flavourless stodge that was presented to us as Greek national cuisine. The big loser that day were the Greeks exepect for the one that owned the place after tallied the drinks bill.

My unfounded bias and preconceptions of Medusa started to evaporate when I entered the restaurant. Medusa Greek Taverna, is on Sydney’s Market Street towards Darling Harbour and is housed in a modern, fresh and light-filled space. Out with the usual Greek restaurant kitsch (cement columns, fish nets, Alexander the Great busts and ambient Zorba the Greek music), and in with smart art work, contemporary furniture, linen tablecloths and attentive wait staff – some that look straight out of GQ Greece edition (and thankfully no Greek fisherman caps).

Despite Medusa’s beauty I was still stone cold skeptical that her treachery was yet to be revealed.

Medusa - Mezzes.jpgFirst up were the dips (or mezzes): taramasalata (fish roe dip);  tzatziki (a blend of Greek yoghurt, cucumber and garlic) and fava (chick pea olive oil, lemon) all served with warm sliced pita bread ably handled by our waiter who I swear was the reincarnation of Telly Savalas (minus the chuppa-chup)They were served with a Greek Salad of tomato, cucumber, capsicum, Spanish onions, fetta, olives and wild oregano. 

It was a great first impression. The taramasalata was creamy, salty and had just the right fish roe pizzazz to it not to be offensive. When it came to the tzatzkiki I will for now ever be guilty of committing as crime if I ever bought it in a supermarket tub again. Fava – good. Pita bread warm, soft and moreish with ladle-fulls of dip. The salad was fresh and appropriate. All went down well with the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc (and thanks be to Zeus there was not a retsina in sight).

Medusa - haloumi.jpgCould it get better? Yes. Next were the Greek starters: spanakopita (spinach and fetta & ricotta filo baked pastry), and the halloumi (grilled Cypriot cheese). The spanakopita was excellent. Light and crunchy filo pastry surrounding a creamy filling of feta and spinach with a touch of mint. If I was ever skeptical of anything that came out of Greece (besides Demis Roussos), it would be a nation that digs eating grilled salty goat’s cheese (even more so when vegetarians such as Fraulein Freud become wide-eyed when it was served).

Now I understand why the Greeks and the Turks are fighting over the stuff in Cyprus – it’s great and there should be a Royal Commission into why it isn’t a staple on the Aussie barbecue. It may not be as beautiful as a hand-crafted and buxom Italian ricotta but its rustic charm and genuineness won over everyone at the table. It was salty and seasoned with oregano and olive oil and easily out shone the spanakopita by a long shot. One point to the vegos.

Medusa - calamari.jpgEnter the fried calamari pieces of tentacles and sliced tubes lightly dusted with a concoction of flour, salt and oregano and then deep fried. It was crisp and golden, tender and moist inside, and served with a dill aioli.

It was so beautiful and so appetising that, like Medusa’s hypnotic glare, its tentacles lured Frauline Freud to sample a couple of meaty pieces (but I did pity her as her vegetarian option was a couple of dolmades).

I could have been content with just grazing on all of the above throughout the day with my family and another bottle of wine (and fighting off those sinful vegetarians from stealing more calamari), but there were still three more courses: moussaka, Greek lamb and the baklava.

Medusa - Greek Lamb.jpgThe Medusa Greek Lamb was a whole slow-baked lamb shoulder served with lemon potatoes and peas. Now, I am a fan of Greek-style roasted vegetables such as baked beans and tomato; lemon-infused roasted potatoes and stuffed eggplants, zucchinis and capsicums that a rustic richness and smokiness to them that go well with lamb (but it’s summer and the peas and lemon-dressed potatoes were the sensible thing to have). I couldn’t have been more delighted – this was the dish of the day – tender marinated lamb saturated in its own juices and intertwined with lemon, salt and oregano. Suffer the vegetarians at our table.

Had I known the dish was going to be this good I would have encouraged the New Zealand Warrior Princess who was sitting next to me to have more pita and salad but instead I had to battle it out fork against fork to get the best morsels (and when going up against Kiwis and lamb you really need Herculean strength). My experience was nothing compared to the blood-curling gladiatorial combat between Mr Paul Smith (another Kiwi), and Heracles over the same dish at the other table.

Medusa - Moussaka.jpgNow I was really starting to struggle (and so were others), but as everything was so right so far at Medusa I had to have a wafer thin slice of Mousaka. It was perfectly layered with backed potato slices, minced beef and a thick topping of bechamel with slayed roasted eggplant and sat in a puddle of rich tomato sauce. It had that certain home-cooking charm and innocence about it that I had a second slab.

Medusa - Ouzo.jpg

Then there was the dessert – the crowd pleaser baklava –  a sweet walnut-filled baked filo pastry smothered in cinnamon syrup and served with honey yoghurt. Thankfully it was the smallest course in the line-up.

Finally, in true Greek tragedy spirit, Heracles commanded ouzo and out it came – in bottles for our Greek God – and as a result we left Medusa, not in chariots, but slightly stone faced and floating above Mount Olympus.

The verdict: With a decor and attitude one would expect in a serious business-orientated city restaurant Medusa spoils you and not the food. Perfect for a business lunch or no-fuss group feast, Medusa takes Greek cuisine up to fifth gear and left HBV with a new appreciation for Greek cuisine.

What: Medusa Greek Restaurant, 2 Market Street, Sydney NSW 2000. Phone (02) 9267-0799.

Ate there: 13 December 2013.

Posted in Greek, New South Wales, Sydney | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment