Rockpool, Sydney

Dinner at Rockpool feels like hopping onto a business class flight and touring around Japan, Korea and China in one sitting. The meal starts off with a barrage of canapes that are small in size, but plenty big on the flavour front. Take for instance the battered chicken lollipops with a addictive-as-crack konbu butter and a ‘mapo’ tofu luxed up with sea urchin and freshly set tofu cooked table side on a charcoal vessel. I felt an uncontrollable urge to squat like a tourist and take photos because it’s so cool.

The tempo switches to more substantial dishes and the hits keep coming with perfectly cooked pigeon that’s A-OK for some finger licking action (complete with wet towel) and a tongue tingling crab congee that is more like a Chinese risotto enough to shame any Nonna. The desserts complete the degustation on a high, capped off with a miniature date tart to finish. What a tease! Special credits for the killer matched wines which was only dampened by my need to drive. It was a crying shame and my sommelier shared a few tears.

Rockpool is a celebration of Australian multiculturalism in a very convincing 5-star package. It won’t convert cuisine purists and traditionalists, but like K-Pop, it catches on.

Rockpool on Urbanspoon

Ester Restaurant & Bar, Chippendale

I don’t know how to describe the food of Ester. You see, there are obvious nods to Asia with dishes like roast duck with black vinegar and kingfish sashimi with nori and burnt mandarin. Both are super tasty. But then you get a lobster sausage sandwich on steamed bread that’s so good, it brings back bad memories of Devon sangas in school lunch boxes.

The only thing consistent about Ester is simplicity in execution and purity in flavour. Every item on the menu that reads like a shopping list of ingredients packs a 1-2 wallop on your palate. It’s as if the chef here instinctually knows when to stop. We all know Steve Jobs had impeccable taste in design and a take no prisoners approach to simplicity. I feel that this kitchen is quite like Steve.

Ester on Urbanspoon

Sydney Food Recommendations

I get asked from time to time what are my recommendations. Perhaps people think I’m well eaten by looking at my belly. Here they are by category.

Modern Australian - over $100
Sepia, Sydney
Momofuku Seiobo, Pyrmont
(Regional) Biota, Bowral

Modern Australian - under $100
Cafe Paci, Darlinghurst
4fourteen, Surry Hills

Japanese
(All round) Sokyo, Pyrmont
(Ramen) Ippudo, Sydney

Italian
(Modern) Osteria di Russo & Russo, Enmore
(Pasta) A Tavola, Darlinghurst

Asian
Ms Gs, Potts Point

Korean
(BBQ) Tosung, North Strathfield

Indian
Abhi’s, North Strathfield

Cafe
Cornersmith, Marrickville
In the Annex, Forest Lodge

BBQ Chicken
Frangos, Smithfield

Ice Cream
Cow and the Moon Gelato, Enmore

Vietnamese
Pho Ann, Cabramatta
Phu Quoc, Cabramatta

Bakery
Black Star Pastry, Newtown

Overrated and underwhelming
Bridgeroom, est, ARIA, Marque, Sake Restaurant & Bar, Grounds of Alexandria.

Pho - a patience test

I had lots of fun creating one of my favourite dishes. It’s not particularly hard, it just takes time. Lots of time. In fact I think I spent 10 hours end to end, but most of it was watching the broth simmering away.

I was pleased with the lightness and clarity of the broth thanks to my over zealous skimming and cleansing. Probably binned two soup bowls full of grease and scum that would’ve ended up in arteries. I was surprised how much fish sauce and salt is required to bring the broth to a seasoned state!

The ultimate critics being my parents thought it was a good first attempt. I sense that there’s more to improve on!

Tips for next time:
- use more beef bones
- use ox tail bones
- simmer the spices in the last 2-3 hours as the aroma seems to be all lost if you simmer in the beginning
- char the aromatics more

Saikyo miso “cod”

25 minutes at 50 degrees in sous vide. Perhaps a tad longer next time. I’ll try 35 minutes. The fish was charred with a blowtorch at the end.

No black cod so Ling was used instead. Ling was marinated for 6 hours however flavour didn’t penetrate through as much as hoped. Perhaps doubling this will improve it.

Next day tweaking

Another 24 hours in the marinade (30 hours in total) together with 35 minutes cooking time yielded interesting results.

- Improved miso flavour penetration. A full 24 hours is worthwhile.

- Ling remained very firm and didn’t flake away as desired. Try a different fish next time.

- Try a different miso paste next time.

My first sous vide experience

Salmon brined for 4 hours in 5% salt solution.

In the bag: EVOO and a sprig of thyme.

Cooked for 20 minutes at 50 degrees. Skin was crisped on hot pan for 30 seconds on grape seed oil.

Nice flakiness and cooked through beautifully, but pale in colour. No fishyness.

My first sous vide experience

Salmon brined for 4 hours in 5% salt solution.

In the bag: EVOO and a sprig of thyme.

Cooked for 20 minutes at 50 degrees. Skin was crisped on hot pan for 30 seconds on grape seed oil.

Nice flakiness and cooked through beautifully, but pale in colour. No fishyness.

Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Sydney

Confident, assertive, suave and at times, daring. These are all terms to describe me on RSVP, but I’ve found a restaurant that fits the ‘perfect gentlemen’ bill - Bentley Restaurant and Bar.

Styled like a Seal concert, Bentley is dark, moody and very swanky indeed. The food ups the ante with clever use of science, left-of-field ingredients (e.g. Kangaroo, riberries) and technique to craft stunning food. A mound of freeze dried foie gras shaved over sashimi scallop and a dusting of dehydrated raspberry exemplifies this on a plate. Wickedly good.

Service still had a few wrinkles to iron out: rushed explanations, erratic and slow pacing of dishes are a little concerning at this level. But all is quickly forgotten as you conclude with the delights of aerated chocolate with lemon aspen. This place is palate swagger left, right and centre.

Bentley Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Grano, Wetherill Park

Nestled in the middle of industrial suburbia is Grano: styled like a backyard garage sale for a ladies tupperware party, it breaks the mould of the concrete jungle that surrounds it. The owners clearly saw something we didn’t.

You get all the hipster touches from mismatched furniture, herb garden beds and food served in pots and pans that seem to consume precious table real estate more than anything. Thankfully the food does make up for the clutter. It’s no gourmet’s dream, but for a fresh and rustic take on Italian classics, it satisfies like the duck ragu with gnocchi and broccoli salad with ricotta and walnut.

Grano’s generosity on the plate means this place is best shared amongst your tupperware party to get a spread on the expansive menu. At least you can chat about spring blooms whilst munching on a pizza.

Grano on Urbanspoon

Sagra, Darlinghurst

Just look at those plates, all you see is 2 or 3 things on it - that’s it. None of that heavy sauce, foams or garnishes that some chefs seem to get carried away with. The kitchen is intuitive in creating a tight seasonal menu that just knows when to give and when to stop. Impressive.

The best way to enjoy Sagra is to get a spread over the nibbles, house made pastas and then moving onto the bigger plates. The portion size might upset a nonna but the prices are a steal - $18 for a bowl of tagliatelle ragu? Hell yeah! The menu changes frequently which means that your favourite today may never return, but it’s certainly reliable when it comes to taste and service.

Sagra is the simple crowd pleaser to shake up the Italian institutions of overpriced red sauce and cheese joints. It’s like the iPhone of Italian restaurants in Sydney, with lots of ‘bon appetito’.

Sagra Restaurant on Urbanspoon