Friday, November 27, 2009

Visit to Bacco Wine Bar and Pasticceria - no longer alone

Isn't it strange (or is that ironic) when you don't see someone for years, then you bump into them several times in a matter of weeks?  So it was when I went back to Bacco Wine Bar and Pasticceria in Chifley Plaza - it had been ages since my first (lone) visit, then I ended up there twice in as many weeks.

So what you see here is a combination of the lunches that I had with some friends...

The Bacco Wine Bar is a cafe that is at the back of the foyer of the Chifley building.  It's a dark, inviting space with a preparation area to one side, where fresh pasta is rolled out, and a separate wine 'cellar' that has a door handle shaped like a bunch of grapes.

The menu is Italian, and is split into sections, including Antipasti, Formaggi, Salumi, and Pesci.  You also get bread with olive oil when you order.  On both occasions that I ate there, my friends and I stuck with the Primi pasta dishes (same menu both times).

First visit: The risotto con scampi ($24) was a reasonable serve of creamy risotto in scampi bisque topped with scampi pieces.  Slightly over-salted, but flavoursome, so I'm told. 
I had the gnocchi di rape rose ($23), which was beetroot gnocchi with calamari pieces and broccolini puree.  This was really good, with the small-sized  gnocchi being smooth and beautifully cooked. 
The tortelli di asparagi ($22) was tortelli filled with asparagus puree and fresh ricotta, served with 'montasio fondue', which was a cheese sauce.  My friend was hoping that this wasn't going to be a single tortelli, so was pleased when five fat tortelli arrived on the plate.

A nice touch: the waitstaff place the plates with the Bacco insignia facing the diner.

Second visit: I wanted to have the beetroot gnocchi again, but decided to go with the fettucine al cervo ($22), which was pasta tossed with venison ragu.  While the fettucine and sauce were very good, I found the venison pieces a bit dry.  And while I was eating, I thought I tasted cleaning product - has this ever happened to you? You know, where you get a whiff of fragrance but don't actually taste it?  Strange.

Another strange thing - whenever someone at the table orders dessert, I have to have a dessert, too!  So we had a tiramisu ($12) and the cestino di ricotta alla Siciliana ($12). I was disappointed with my cestino - it was a pastry basket, according to the menu, with 'ricotta, berries and vanilla sauce'.  They must have run out of berries, because it came with a bunch of grapes, so I felt a bit ripped off.  The pastry basket had gone soft sticky so it was hard to snap pieces off it, so I left most of it.  The tiramisu was a much better option.

We also had a variety of coffees - another nice touch is that the ladies' coffees had a heart drawn into the foam...

All up, both meals were good, reasonable value.  The service is friendly and efficient, and you feel like you are being looked after.

On the way out, you have to walk past the Pasticceria, where there is an amazing array of cakes displayed in the glass cabinet.

Being quite satisfied from lunch, I bought some macarons to take away - can't remember what was what although the white one was coconut.  No discernible flavour (except sweet), but they did look good.  The Pasticceria remains a place to ogle the cakes and plan my next visit.  I might take bets on when that will be.

Bacco Wine Bar and Pasticceria is on the ground floor of 2 Chifley Square, Sydney, NSW.  Ph: 02 9223 9552
Bacco Wine Bar Pasticceria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Zumbo Summer Range - and an honest opinion


Here are some more of Adriano Zumbo's Summer collection.  They weren't in the store when I got my first fix, but one of the benefits of living local is being able to drop into the patisserie when the mood strikes.  And it strikes, oh, a couple of times a week...

First, we have 'Alessia, I like big buns'.  I saw this on the Zumbo description sheet and was fascinated by the name most of all, then by the ingredients.  Then I actually saw the cake and, wow, it looks fantastic.

So how does it taste?  Unfortunately it didn't do it for me.  The green pistachio creme mousseline tastes like marzipan (not my fave), and the centre of pale yellow Dijon mustard creme Anglaise is unusual but does not go with the rest of the cake.  The strip of brown dukkah in the centre is crunchy and not unpleasant.  To me, the best part of the cake are the fresh raspberries around the edge.  All up, I'd give this one 8/10 for looks, and 4/10 for taste.

Picture below is of a sleeping Tabitha cat being used as a TV tray:

Today, we had 'Nancy's Crumbed Cloud'.  Like the previous Clouds, it is meringue on citrus in a sable shell.  This one has citrus curd, yoghurt and green apple pieces.  The meringue was sort of runny on the one I had, though I did like the 'crumbed cauliflower meringue', which were crunchy bits on the meringue, blowtorched to a dark hue.  There was a hint of gas or butane in it that reminded me of a barbeque, for some reason.
I give this one 7/10 for looks, and 7/10 for taste.

And have you seen Adriano Zumbo's feature in Gourmet Traveller (Dec 2009)? Lots of Christmas sweets that are as exotic as they are picturesque - passionfruit, lychee and coconut buche de Noel, anyone? Yes, please!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Adriano Zumbo Summer range - he thinks and builds

Welcome to another round of crazy names and out-of-this world pastry confections - the Summer Autumn Adriano Zumbo Patissier range is out now!

Named 'I thought it You brang it I built it You bought it', the range consists of nearly 20 new cakes, and several new macaron flavours (you would have thought they'd be macaroned out after Macaron Day).

I only managed to make it to the shop late this Saturday afternoon, but thankfully there were several cakes still available.  Here are some of the ones I saw:

1.  Ed & Sons First Day at School - the cake (hazelnut biscuit, coffee creme, tonka bean mousse, creme citron) resembles a sandwich, and its contained in a paper lunch box with a fruit of the day and juice of the day.  10/10 for presentation!
2.  Clancy, the rains are coming - remember the McCain corn cobbettes advert, where the kids are eating juicy corn on a tin roof and their father thinks it's raining?  This dessert in a glass has corn and mango salsa with saffron creme brulee, mango jelly and pain d'epice, and citron punch in a squirter.
3.  Pink finger - like a finger bun, this is choux with creme patissier and raisin, coconut and cinnamon.

Take a breath, there's more to come:

4.  Weekend in the Cross - what do these names mean? This one looks and sounds incredible: pistachio pate sucree, rose brulee (oh, yes!), rhubarb compote, fresh watermelon and watermelon powder in a little plastic sachet.  Oh, I get it now...
5.  Tin Tin Mandago - another interesting combo: mango sable shell, genmaicha (green tea) ganache with mango agar and rice crispies
6.  Not too s-h-a-b-b-y - flourless biscuit, muscavado creme brulee, chocolate mousse, choc malt creme legere.  Not too shabby, indeed!
7.  5 6 7 8 - pineapple palm sugar sous vide, lemongrass pandan and vanilla creme leger, coriander creameaux, peanut sable.  The only thing I don't like about this one is the coriander, but the rest sounds nice.

 And the orange cone one (that looks like Finding Nemo) is called 'Is Anybody Working?' - apricot mousse, avocado creme, almond jelly, coconut dacquoise.

And for those who are gluten-intolerant, some of the cakes are gluten-free. 

There are also some great macaron flavours, including Mint and Lemon Verbena, Sweet corn, Saffron and Vanilla, and Mango and Sticky Rice.  There is a chocolate tart, too, with a cherry on top:

There is a thoughtful cheat sheet available at the shop that lists all the cakes.  Not all the cakes were in-store when I went today, and I for one am waiting for the 'Alessia, I like big buns' and 'All in one builders friend'. *snigger, snigger*

I did get this cake, though.  It is 'Your Frund in the Frudge.... Toasted!':

It looks like a sandwich, and tastes burnt.  See those black flecks?  They are burnt bits in the toast mousse.  The 'bread' is caramelised puff pastry, and there is also tomato jelly and melted cheese creameaux.  The tomato jelly was the best bit.

I also got some macarons, but I'll show you them next time.  Oh, and if you have any idea where the names come from, please let me know.
Toodle-loo for now!

Adriano Zumbo Patissier is at 296 Darling St, Balmain, NSW.  Web:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cheese and Avocado Quesadillas - a Mexican hit

Definition: Quesadillas are a Mexican snack consisting of cheese cooked in a flour or wheat tortilla. In fact, roughly translated in Spanish, queso is cheese, and dilla is tortilla.

Lately, I have tried the quesadillas from one of the Mexican fast food places that have sprung up like shady sombreros. However, I’ve found them a bit lacking in flavour and substance, so the next best thing is to make your own. This is no real hardship, as quesadillas are simple to make, and unlike tortillas and burritos, the ingredients do not have to be cooked beforehand. While we are on the topic, quesadillas also differ from tortillas and burritos in that they are usually folded, not wrapped.

So here is my interpretation of the quesadilla. And while taking advantage of the ‘no pre-cooked ingredients’ adage, I am aware that during preparation, this quesadilla looks somewhat like a pizza.

Cheese and Avocado Quesadillas
The ingredients here are for 1 quesadilla. Serve 1 to 2 quesadillas per person, depending on their appetite.

2 soft flour tortillas
2 tblsp store-bought tomato salsa (mild or hot, depending on preference)
½ an avocado, sliced
1 large handful of spinach or rocket leaves
15-20g (about ¼ cup) cheddar cheese, grated
Sour cream and extra salsa, to serve

1.  Heat a non-stick frypan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle or spray pan with a little olive oil.
2.  Place one flour tortilla on a plate and top with the salsa, avocado, spinach and cheese.
3.  Put the other tortilla on top and place the whole thing into the frypan.
4.  Press down on the quesadilla with a spatula while it cooks for 2-3 minutes, until the bottom becomes slightly golden and crisp.
5.  Spray a bit of oil on the top of the quesadilla before turning it over and pressing and cooking for another minute or so.
6.  Transfer to a plate and serve with sour cream and more salsa.

Health tip: I used 'reduced fat' tortillas (El Paso brand), and they tasted great.

Marvel at how the quesadilla resembles a pizza at this stage. 
You could cook it in the oven if you want, I suppose.

But I cooked the quesadilla in a frypan.

Olé and ¡Buen apetito!
Serve with sour cream and salsa

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yummy Seafood and Masthai Seafood - spot the difference in Beverly Hills

Every couple of weeks, I return to the 'home' to visit and have dinner with my family.  I'm fortunate that they live near the 'Eat Street' of the southern suburbs, and that the street has so many good restaurants on it.  I'm talking about King Georges Road, Beverly Hills.

The Chinese restaurants here are not the usual suburban ones, though; you know, the ones that have a fork and spoon beside the chopsticks on the tables.  They are often packed on a Sunday night with families getting stuck into the Cantonese cuisine, prepared in a Hong Kong style.  And you know what they say about Chinese restaurants that are full of Chinese people...

There is a triangle at the top of King Georges Road that has a cluster of good restaurants.  We usually go to the same ones, including Rising Sun and Peking Duck, which I've talked about before.
The past few weeks, we've gone to Yummy Seafood Chinese and Masthai Seafood.

Yummy Chinese Seafood is opposite Rising Sun, and is just as popular.  The atmosphere here is better, in my opinion, being less crowded and cleaner.  They do take bookings though it doesn't make much difference because you'll probably have to wait for your table anyway (frustrating but unavoidable).

Typical interior shots of Yummy Seafood - lots of seafood ('market prices') on the menu, and fish tanks out the front.  It's always crowded with Sunday-night diners.
The food is great, with the standard dishes done well, with good serving sizes.

Complimentary soup always gets points, and Yummy's one tonight was pork-based, with lots of unidentified 'bits' in it - tasty.  My favourite dish here is the Wasabi Beef - chargrilled tender beef pieces with a wasabi mayonnaise.  The heavenly tofu (not sure if that's its actual name) is poached egg white mixed with tofu with seafood (scallops and prawns) and veges (mushroom, carrot and asparagus) on top. 
The whole fish was from the tank and they had a special on it for $25 per fish.  All up, these dishes, plus rice and tea came to under $80 for 4 people.  Note that the lobster was popular here - virtually every second table had a large platter of stir-fried lobster/crayfish brought to it.

Then, 2 weeks later, we had a similar meal at Masthai Seafood Restaurant a few doors down.  Equally delicious and good value for money. 
Masthai is not a Thai restaurant, although there is a Thai-looking wall-hanging on the wall. It's Cantonese, again, with the obligatory fish tanks in attendance.

This time, we had steamed chicken with shallot (tender but bony), seafood and tofu hotpot (full of fish pieces, scallop, char sui pork and tofu), and, yet again, the fish special, which was, surprise, barramundi
The method of cooking at Masthai and Yummy is identical to me, so the fish tasted the same at both places, ie. pretty darn good.  Rather than plain boiled rice, we had Fukien fried rice with the meal - this is fried rice with a moistening of sauce, and boy, is it fantastic!  Probably not quite healthy, but I could eat this all the time.

There is no complimentary soup at Masthai (no points from the parent), but they do have fruit and sweet red bean soup at the end of the meal (points are restored!),  The meal, plus tea came to under $80 for 4 people. Ooh, deja vu...

So, even if you are not from the area, it's worth making the trip to try the food in Beverly Hills. There is also a sprinkling of non-Chinese places, including Rhinedorf (hearty German), Taj (Indian), D to D (pleasant cafe), Casa della (pizza) and Lulu's (patisserie).  And lots more Thai and Chinese further down the road.  A proper eat street.

Yummy Seafood Chinese Restaurant is at 503 King Georges Rd, Beverly Hills NSW. Ph: 02 9580 0788
Masthai Seafood Restaurant is at 495 King Georges Rd, Beverly Hills NSW.  Ph: 02 9580 5609 
Masthai Seafood on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Huevos a la Flamenca - can't get enough of new dishes

I've found that when you get something new, it's best to use it as much as possible, as soon as possible.  Otherwise, you might forget that you've got it and a) never use it again, or b) go out and buy exactly the same item a couple of weeks later.  Case in point: my stamping and crafting supplies - just how many Colorbox Queues in Primary Elements do I need? Answer: Is three too many?

I haven't yet done this with many cooking utensils (though there was a close call with a sugar thermometer once), but I did want to use my Microstoven dishes again, erky name aside.  I remembered seeing some Huevos a la Flamenca (baked eggs) at Almost Bourdain and thought they'd suit the dishes.  To make the meal more substantial, I added some potato and capsicum, and also some spinach to give it just a *hint* of healthfulness - hey, every little bit counts.

Huevos a la Flamenca (with potato)
serves 2

1 tblsp olive oil
1 chorizo sausage, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 tsp crushed garlic
pinch of dried chilli flakes
200g diced tomatoes (about 1/2 a can)
1 roasted capsicum, seeds removed and chopped
50g baby spinach
2 eggs

1.  Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add potato and onion to the pan with a few tablespoons of water.  Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally until the potato starts to brown and crisp.
2.  Add chorizo and cook for 3-4 minutes, until chorizo is browned.
3.  Add garlic and chilli.  Cook for 30 seconds.
4.  Stir in tomato and 1/3 cup of water.  Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the spinach and mix in until it wilts.
5.  Transfer the mixture to 2 ramekins or small casserole dishes.  Make an indentation in the mixture and gently crack an egg into each indentation.
6.  Bake for 15-20 minutes in a 200 deg C (400 deg F) preheated oven until the egg whites are set.
7.  Serve with crusty bread and lemon wedges

What you'll need - pretty much anything you like!

Cook the potato and onion, then add chorizo;
stir in chopped tomatoes and water

Add some spinach leaves (for the green colour, really);
transfer to a small dish and crack in an egg

Bake and enjoy with bread, and lemon for squeezing over

Friday, November 13, 2009

I ate my way through Jenius's book launch

It’s always inspiring (and still quite unusual) for someone to change careers and embark on a path of re-invention and discovery. So it has been for blogger Jennifer Lam of She left her job to pursue her varied interests photography, publishing, digital marketing, and, of course, food, and the result is her first publishing effort, ‘I Ate My Way Through Singapore and Vietnam’.

Jen was kind enough to extend an invitation to her fellow bloggers to the book’s launch at Global Gallery in Paddington, NSW. Combined with a photographic exhibition of images from the book, the launch was a happy, crowded affair.

Photographic exhibition on the walls of the Gallery.

Jennifer Lam of ‘I Ate My Way Through Singapore and Vietnam’

She is popular!

Book signing and book sales were a feature of the launch night

In her speech, Jen talked about the influence of food in her life, and the influence of her family who were in attendance. Ten percent of proceeds from the book sales will be donated to KOTO International, a not-for-profit restaurant training program that assists street and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam.

Jen speaks, with little bro Bryan looking on; Lorette from KOTO talks about the work they’ve done; hospitality students, who gave really professional service throughout the night. And they didn’t mind stopping for photos to be taken of the food, etc. – always a sign of good waiting!

Suitably, the food was wonderful. Provided by Saigon Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant in Glebe, the canapés included goi cuon (summer rolls), deep-fried spring rolls (really hot and fresh) and crispy prawn wontons. Perfect finger food. I’m looking forward to dining there because I also won a lucky door prize of a voucher for Saigon Saigon (thanks, all!).

As with most events, positioning is key – you need to stand close to where the food is coming out from, otherwise you could miss out. We were in a good spot.

Wines were supplied by Aja, and consisted of a Moscato-style Blush and a blended White (meant to be drunk with Asian food). They are light and refreshing, and even though I’m normally a non-drinker, I actually enjoyed both wines.

It was great to see Jen’s entrepreneurial spirit in action. The book launch was so enjoyable and well-organised, and the book itself is a riot of colourful images and useful information that evoke the essence of travel to Singapore and Vietnam. The photographic exhibit is on until 15th November.

Global Gallery is at 5 Comber St, Paddington. Ph: 02 9360 5728

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lunch at Aria, Circular Quay - let's do it!

This isn’t so much a post about the food at Aria restaurant, as it is about my experience in dining there. This is because I visited Aria during the Sydney International Food Festival’s ‘Let’s do lunch’ promotion which is now finished for another year.   The restaurant is back to its usual menu, though.

So, my friend wanted to visit a 5-star establishment for our lunch (ie. somewhere we normally wouldn’t visit because of the... erm, ... prices), and we settled on Aria.  A last minute change of plan by us meant that we had to give up our original booking (made 3 weeks in advance) and rebook. Luckily, Aria were able to accommodate us at short notice (though they said we had to be out by 1.30pm for a 12pm booking).

The restaurant is divided into two dining sections – the one with the Harbour Bridge view, and the one with the Opera House view. We scored a window table with a Bridge view. I must say, for a weekday lunch, the place was packed. This may have been due to the SIFF promo being on, but I got the impression that Aria is a regular spot for business lunches (men in dark suits) as well as for ‘ladies who lunch’ (ladies in pastel suits).

I’ve found that the service in posh places like Aria can often border on the snooty, but our waitstaff were surprisingly agreeable, friendly without being too familiar. It certainly made for an enjoyable hour or so. Again, maybe it was because it was a lunch service, but it was pleasant, nonetheless. The waiter, in particular, was helpful in suggesting that we order a dessert to share because it was a reasonable size, and just right if ‘you just want something sweet to finish with’.

The Let’s Do Lunch offer consisted of a fish main, with a glass of wine (glass of 2008 Brown Brothers' Vermentino) or San Pellegrino water, and tea or coffee. All for $35. You also got bread and an amuse bouche, which is a pretty good deal all round.

Amuse bouche was soup - leek, I think.  It was very, very good.

The main dish was barramundi:

Roasted fillet of barramundi with fennel and calamari risotto
I have to say, this was sublime - the fish was perfectly cooked with a crispy skin.  The risotto was creamy, tasty and well-seasoned, with tender calamari pieces through it.  The size was right for lunch.

On our waiter’s suggestion, we decided to share a dessert from the Let’s Do Lunch dessert menu (different to the regular menu). It was split into ‘tastes’, with dishes incorporating a key ingredient, such as chocolate, mango, banana, coffee and strawberry. I chose Mango, and it came on a platter with 3 delightful mini desserts.

Mango: Cheesecake with ginger crumble, lime jelly, roasted pineapple sorbet ($20).
The lime jelly was topped with foam, and was tingly on the tongue.  The sorbet was my favourite, mainly because of the way it looked, like an egg on a nest of sand. 

Like my incredible dinner at Quay restaurant, our visit to Aria enabled us to have just a tiny taste of multi-hatted dining.  It's definitely worth a revisit, for a special occasion, when someone else is paying, or when I join a neighbourhood group of ladies who lunch (if you need a new member, ladies, please contact me).

On the way back to my day job, I walked through Angel Place, the laneway that connects Pitt Street to George Street.  There was an installation of birdcages over the lane, complete with birdsong. It was kind of surreal to look up at the empty cages swinging in the breeze, while being serenaded by chirps and tweets.  I floated back to work...

Aria is at:
1 Macquarie St
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: 02 9252 2555
Aria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tapas-style Garlic Prawns with Chorizo in new dishes

Believe it or not, this recipe came about because of a couple of stoneware serving dishes.
Take a look at these dishes and tell me if you don't think that they are the very, very  good-looking...(said in a Zoolander voice)...

They have the unfortunate name of 'Microstoven' because they can be used in the microwave, on the stove and in the oven.  But best of all, they are non-stick!  I saw the square baking dish first of all, then got the smaller round dishes when they went on sale (the dishes are by Maxwell and Williams, available from Myer and David Jones, etc).

I wasn't sure what to do with the round dishes, but they are the perfect size for tapas for two.  Here is a recipe for garlicky prawns and chorizo that does them justice. 

Garlic Prawns with Chorizo
serves 2

1 large chorizo sausage, sliced thinly
60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
400g large green (uncooked) prawns, peeled with tails intact
2 tblsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tblsp dry sherry
Lemon wedges, to serve

1.  Heat a large non-stick frypan over high heat.  Add the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until golden and crisp.  Transfer the chorizo to a plate lined with paper towel.
2.  Reduce frypan heat to low.  Add oil and garlic to the pan and cook for 1 minute.  Add the prawns and cook, stirring for about 3 minutes or until the prawns curl and change colour.
3.  Add the chorizo, parsley and sherry to the pan and stir to combine.
4.  Divide the prawn and chorizo into serving dishes.
5.  Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Sliced chorizo sausage, ready for cooking

Garlic prawns with chorizo.  And yes, those are potato gems in the other dish.