Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bali Adventures

As one of my friends that I've known for 2/3rds of my life was getting married in Bali, we (and a bunch of our friends) jetsetted to Bali to celebrate the amazing occasion. My friends and I were all risk adverse and hence, preferred to stay around the resort areas or be escorted by drivers. However, we still managed to duck out for some yummy feeds during our short stay.

One of these yummy escapades was to the famous suckling pork place in Ubud - Ibu Oka for Babi Guling. The "suckling" pig (ie. babi guling) was MASSIVE and much much bigger than the Chinese version of suckling pig. The crackling was thicker than the Chinese version and my plate of crackling and fat was quite tasty and super crunchy. However, some of my friends were a bit underwhelmed as their skin was a bit chewy. The meat portion was doused in a substantial amount of spices and was tasty enough but probably not suited to my chinese taste-buds.


 suckling pig skin

 Suckling pig meat
Fruit juices in Bali were a plentiful and a favourite of one of my friends (who absolutely loved the papaya juice). Coconuts were a must and we also had some super tasty starfruit juice. Unfortunately for this occasion, my pineapple juice was a bit unfavourable... a bit artificial-pineapple-smoothie tasting.

Close to Ubud, there are also rice paddy fields galore. Our driver, knowing our risk-adversedness, decided to drop us off at a super safe Kopi Luwak ('cat poo coffee') place - Bali Pulina. Here, not only are there rice paddy fields, they also grow a galore of expensive spices and herbs. They also offer a free tasting tea and coffee menu and their famous luwak coffee (for around AUD$5). Tastiness in an awesome environment. Why not? :)

from left to right: lemon tea, ginger tea, ginger coffee, ginseng coffee, chocolate coffee, pure cocoa, vanilla coffee, Bali coffee
Kopi Luwak
As though we hadn't had enough rice paddy field-ness for a day, we also had dinner at Bebek Tepi Sawah - a place for super awesome 'dirty duck' to be enjoyed whilst viewing rice paddy fields. We had their crispy duck and their grilled duck - both were super duper delicious that we had to order seconds! We also tried their smoked crispy chicken. This was super smokey in flavour but unfortunately, a bit too dry for my liking. Oh -and we'd ordered this 'soto ayam' soup which tasted like curry cup-a-soup noodle soups....

Toxic soup

Crispy duck

grilled duck

smoked chicken
Another highlight of this place was their satay skewers. Deliciously tender and tasty and came out sizzling hot. Was pretty awesome!

satay skewers
As my friends and I were staying in the Jimbaran area, and Jimbaran was known for it's seafood, we couldn't resist but to have a seafood feast on our last day. We went to Menega Cafe, a place with seafood sitting on piles of ice and live fish, lobster, clams and the lot in fish tanks for you to pick out your feed. We got a live grouper fish, some jumbo (massive super huge prawns - bigger than the size of my hand), some king prawns and some squid. Everything was cooked on an open barbeque and coconut shell fibre things which give it extra flavour and tastes. YUM!

kang kong

king prawns

Jumbo prawns

grilled grouper

bbq squid

So that was our short and sweet Bali food adventure - or atleast the food we dared to eat outside our resort/villa areas :)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quay - The Rocks

Peter Gilmore's 'Quay' restaurant has probably received the highest accolade of Australian dining. There's an asian twist on a lot of his dishes, along with fresh ingredients and harmonious textures and flavours. I had put off coming here for years for fear of being disappointed but I knew that hubby had always wanted to try this place. So, for his birthday (or rather, 6 months before his birthday), I booked us a dinner for two at Quay. Having booked so early, we probably had one of the best tables of the restaurant - awesome view of the bridge, opera house, circular quay area and luna park.

Service is quite impeccable and we were served promptly and with smiles all round. I don't know if its cos we were Asian, but there was an unusually high proportion of Asian waiters serving us. I started with an interesting sounding mocktail - cloudy lime juice and pineapple were the main ingredients, and though I encouraged hubby to get the matching wines, he decided that he would be better able to enjoy his food without being super tipsy before the last few courses.
The amuse bouche was small bowl of potato mash with shaved truffle on a pool of ox tail consomme. The truffled mash was smooth and creamy and the clear broth was really rich. Loved both elements - but separately. Eating them together was a bit odd... there's a reason why most people don't put mash in broth.
First course on the degustation menu was a beetroot dish. Raw beetroot cubes served with rosehip, cultured cream, Manjumup truffle and violets. The frozen cream was an interesting element and I think that the dish went together nicely, but hubby was not 'wowed' by it.
As I am not a beetroot eater, my first course was subbed out for a salad of celery heart. It was refreshing and light. The thin celery heart slices were served with Pantelleria capers, feta, herbs and flowers. It was a pleasant dish with subtle flavours.
Course 2 was a mud crab congee. I'm used to my mud crab congee coming in massive bowls from Beverly Hills. This was a little different. It was delicate. The rice was soft and congee-like, there was plenty of sweet chunks of Australian mud crab, circles of fresh palm heart and the yellow thing on top was a creamy egg yolk emulsion. It's the 'high class' version of an asian congee. I liked it.
Bread came with the next course. Perfectly quenelled melty butter with a choice of sesame or sourdough bread. Both bread times had a crunchy edge and soft innards. Both tasty (I think I overheard that it was from Sonoma? ... could be wrong).
The pig cheek was probably the highlight of my savoury dishes tonight. Although you can't really see it in the photo, there was a perfectly succulent and juicy smoked piece of confit pig cheek hiding under the scallop and crumble mixture. The crumbly bits comprised of kombu, koji, shitake and sesame - reminds me of japanese jako rice. Loved the flavours and the textures of this dish - absolutely deliciousness!
XO sauced seafood was next. I could pick out abalone, scallop, cuttlefish, octopus, prawns and I think there was one more. It was an attempt to vamp up the traditional XO sauce. The crispy pancetta was nice... but really, XO sauce is XO sauce. It's a sauce that's hard to 'vamp up' because the original format is already so tasty and delicious.
Onto the mains - the first being the duck . No crispy skin >.< . The duck was cooked or roasted in a masterstock. It was tender... but not melt-in-your-mouth so. There was also a thick layer of fat which posed a dilemma for me... do I eat it? If so, it feels super unhealthy and if not, it lacked a bit of flavour. The duck was served with crispy black rice, thin persimmon slices, miso, endive cream, and the white flowers you get on chinese broccoli. Tasty, but not super impressive.
The beef felt like repetition. Again, a succulent but not melt-in-your-mouth protein with crispy black things. Except that the crispy black things were barley and not black rice. There were also some shaved truffle on top. Again, tasty but not anything to write home about.
By now, I was a bit full and glad for a change of flavour - from savouries to sweets. The much anticipated signature dessert - the snow egg - was a lot larger than I imagined. Yes, all the elements were there. The crack of the egg, the powdered sugary snow, and soft meringue and custard, and the cold shaven granita - all delivered and was delicious. All the flavours were well balanced and I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. Although, due to how bit the dessert is, I couldn't finish it - but when the waiter saw that I'd left some, he made me eat all the last few bites. Oh well - tasty anyway.

My favourite chocolatey bits of the night were next. The chocolate ethereal was this chocolately blob with caramel, almond and muscatel hidden and spokes of tempered dark chocolate, toffee, milk chocolate and milk film (? I don't know the technical word) sticking out. It was delicious! Loved the chocolately/caramelly/toffee-y combination.
And I couldn't leave Quay without having their Eight Texture Chocolate Cake. We've all seen Masterchef contestants struggle with the 8 layers of chocolate done in different ways. And it's delicious. But I have to say, it all kind of mushes together to be a really chocolately dessert. Yes there's crisp and there's mousse and there's biscuity... but in my mouth ? Just chocolate. I love chocolate ... but this is definitely a cake to share as it's super rich and decadent.
Petit fours and coffee and tea were also presented to us. All four chocolate bites were yum! But you have to bear in mind that I just demolished a chocolate blob and a massively chocolatey cake. Chocolate truffles were less appreciated than what they would, at other times, be. Luckily, they gave us another four to have a home - and these four were enjoyed immensely :)
So all up, we had a great dining experience. Friendly staff, good food, amazing views. I don't feel comfortable in rating the food... I know it's meant to be super WOW - but we weren't that impressed with most courses. We loved the pigs cheek, snow egg and chocolate ethereal, but we judged the other courses as rather average. Wouldn't be rushing to dine here again, but I would encourage people to eat here at least once in your lifetime.

Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
5 Hickson Road
The Rocks
NSW, 2000
Tel: (02) 9251 5600

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Grove - Auckland

For our recent trip to Auckland, hubby booked us in to dine at 'The Grove' - one of the top restaurants in the city. It's a softly lit restaurant set in a slightly odd 'L' shape. Service is quick to collect our coats and offer us drinks. We had a choice of a-la-carte or degustation. I think hubby was leaning for the degust, but for the night, I just wanted a simple tasty meal.

Due to lighting, my photos are just not great... sorry!
Amuse Bouches came. All I remember was that it was deliciousness. Crispy elements and smooth pate elements.... that's all I remember... >.<
As for our entrees, hubby got the crayfish and blue nose boudin blanc with creamed potato, savoy cabbage, and bottarga. LOVED it! The boudin blanc was creamy and full of flavour. The bottarga also added a good punch to the whole dish and the mash tied the whole dish together. Wonderful really!
I got allured by the thought of truffled scampi, served as a terrine with leeks, roasted chicken juices and cholorophyll. Unfortunately, the terrine lacked a bit of flavour. It was mainly chicken flavour... but barely even that. Small bits of scampi was scattered throughout... but where's my truffle flavour? :( I quite like the chlorophyll though~
The mains exceeded my expectations. Hubby got the veal, super slow cooked, super tender and super melt-in-your-mouth. Soooo tasty and delicious! It was served with scampi, stuffed morels, aubergine and young carrots. Yes the scampi was just a tiny bit on the end of the plate, but who cares when the veal was so amazing?
My hapuka was also really tasty. Perfectly cooked fish served with a champagne veloute which was also crazy delicious. On top of that, there was salt baked turnips and toasted macadamias. The whole dish was packaged well and delivered more than I expected.
We also got a side of greens with cafe de paris butter and bacon which was decent enough. Dessert-wise, none of the sweet options enticed me and so, we just opted for a NZ local cheese. I remember that I really liked the pre-dessert. I think it was like a strawberry sorbet with a crisp and a marshmellowy foam? Again, my memory is hazy. The cheese we got at the end was also a good end to the meal - nothing too overly special but.

All up, we had a great time at the Grove. A delicious meal with fresh NZ produce. YUM.

Food - 8.5/10
Service - 8/10
Ambiance - 7.5/10
Value for money - 7/10
Overall - 31/40

The Grove
St Patricks Square
Wyndham Street
Tel: (09) 368 4129

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Milse - Auckland

On my resent trip to Auckland, I had read up on this new hip dessert cafe - Milse, in the Britomart area. I had my heart set on trying their Salted Caramel & Hazelnut Gelato Stick but funnily enough, when I stepped into this relatively small, dessert-packed cafe, we ordered lots of salted caramel stuff... just not my initially wanted gelato.

Hubby got sold by the 'Verrines'... little pots of sugary goodness. The one he picked was the hazelnut, salted caramel, valrhona alpaco one. It was sugary and sweet. The salted caramel was gooey and nice and the little chocolate bits was a good accompaniment. Not a bad dessert but no salted caramel gelato.

I decided on their macarons. I got my favourite - salted caramel macaron. It was delicious! The tiramisu one was yummy too.
It was not until we got our last choice of sugary goodness that I wish I just stuck to my first decision of grabbing a gelato stick and walking. Hot chocolate here is $7. The 'salted caramelia hot chocolate' is $11. Neither of us thought this would be "WOW" but we decided to get it anyway... for some odd reason... and No, it was NOT wow. I thought it was a bit weird. Not quite sweet not quite caramelly and not quite salty. I didn't like it. Hubby didn't mind it though. He thought it was exactly what he envisioned salted caramel hot chocolate  would taste like.
We were sitting at the bar during the course of our sugary meal. We saw them make all these different desserts - gelato pops, wobbly custardy things, sundays, tarts etc. I would definitely come back next time I'm in Auckland for more desserts :)

Food - 7.5/10
Service - 6.5/10
Ambiance - 7.5/10
Value for money - 7/10
Overall - 29.5/40

27 Tyler Street
(the pavilions at Britomart)
Auckland City
Tel: (09) 368 9487

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Stanley Street Merchants (Icon Park) - Darlinghurst

I'm not good with details. So when my friend say's - let's meet at 11.30am for brunch, 11.30am is the time I think I need to get there. Any changes that occurs in following email chains just go 'whoosh' over my head. As such, I roused/pulled hubby from our warm beds early on a Sat morning to make it to Stanley Street Merchants at Icon Park at 11.30am only to find out that the kitchen wasn't going to be open til 12noon - nor were my friends going to arrive until that time. Nonetheless, they were happy for us to chill and sip our coffees and sneak glances at Matt Stone (recently on MasterChef - all about sustainable cooking and worked at multiple famous places) as he chilled out with his chefs and waiters.
The coffee was good. The vibe was good. The aromas wafting from the kitchen was enticing and we were so focused on eyeing their busy-ness we didn't even realised that our friends snuck upstairs. In our defense - they didn't see us either!

We pretty much had the whole upstairs area to ourselves. As we were a party of 8, they said that we had to get the set menu. There's no actual 'menu' but we realised soon enough that getting the set menu meant that the chef just dishes share plates out for like 3 hours until we can eat no more. Throughout this time, I seriously felt as though I ate a whole Australian farm... not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

First thing to come out was pickled vegetables. Cauliflower was a big chunk of the ingredients on the plate, and it just so happened that I like cauliflower and I like pickles... So I found this refreshing and tasty. One of my friends disliked veges and dislike pickles... I felt as though she didn't really get much food the whole lunch as we got a whole lot of veges done in different ways.
The baked spiced cauliflower (I think Cumin?) came out next. As I said - I like cauliflower so I liked this. However, I think I would have liked it just as much (maybe more) if there were no spices on it.

I was unimpressed by the next dish. The negative space on the plate just highlighted the creepy crawly creatures hiding under the sparing green leaves. Yes - grasshoppers and worms. Deep-fried and seasoned. But I hate insects. I want insects far far far away from me - yet it was on a plate, served as food... and my friend was emphasing how natural and normal it is to eat insects as it's super sustainable and in years to come, we might just all be eating these creepy crawlies....*shivers* Some of my friends lapped this up - couldn't stop eating it. "Just like chips" was how they described it. Me? I had to deliberate within myself and psych myself out to put a grasshopper in my mouth - chew - swallow - water - gargle. Not my type of food. End of story.

I don't normally eat eggplant, but for some reason, when it's in the form of baba ganoush I don't mind it. This baba ganoush combined with the thick cut grilled bread was yummy and smoky. Really really smoky. It made sense for the eggplant to be the smoky thing... but somehow, I felt like it was the bread that had the smoky flavour. Maybe the grasshopper that I ate just before this altered my immediate mental capacity...

The favourite dish of one of my friends was the beef tongue 'kimchi' burger. I use the word 'kimchi' lightly because it didn't taste like kimchi - just lettuce. The beef tongue was really tender though and the brioche was quite good. Not a bad little slider.

More veges came. I think it was carrot, parsnip and sweet potato? with labne and a sprinkle of smokey dust. There were also these really tasty seeds sprinkled on top... don't remember what they were...
The next dish was the chicken confit with sweet corn puree, artichoke chips and friend corn husks. Corn husk is normally part of the corn that I chuck out so I was really eager to see what it tastes like on a dish. Result? I think I chuck it out for good reason. The chicken wasn't as tender as I expected but it was tasty enough with the corn puree to carry it.
Next up - Kangaroo loin with some bush berries and wilted greens and mash. I don't usually eat kangaroo. This didn't change my mind. Hubby ate a bush berry and got the shock of his life - super strong, akin to warheads. The greens also had a really strong bittery aftertaste. Though the mash wasn't spectacular - that's what I stuck to in this part of the meal.

Then it was dessert time! White chocolate mousse with white chocolate spaghetti and kale & cucumber granita. I quite liked the white chocolate and I quite liked the granita. Separately. But eaten together? It was a bit odd in texture and flavour.
Last but not least - cheese platter. A super creamy mild blue cheese and a reasonably strong and tasty cheddar. Loved them both! Served with honeycomb, fig and a jam.
This meal took much longer than we expected. It also left a bigger dent in our wallet then expected. I seriously felt like I ate an Australian farm an though it was an interesting experience, I'm not sure if I would return. If you'd like to try - I think they will be open for another month or so?

Food - 7/10
Service - 7/10
Ambiance - 7/10
Value for money - 6/10
Overall - 27/40

Stanley Street Merchants
78 Stanley Street (temporary location)
NSW 2010
Tel: (02) 7901 0396