Rick Stein at Bannisters – How much for the Lobster!

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

I have always been a fan of watching Rick Stein on TV, and loved his seafood cookery book with step by step instructions and photographs on how to deal with seafood, filleting, preparing crab, lobster etc. , it is a virtual seafood cookery bible.

Several years ago, we made a trip to the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow in the beautiful county of Cornwall, England, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Rick Stein’s  NSW restaurant is located in Mollymook some 3.5 hours South of Sydney. A weekend trip down the coast gave us the opportunity to book in for Sunday lunch. Now mid May is pretty much the start of winter, but we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day, and were delighted to be offered a seat on the terrace.  I have to confess that I was surprised at how quiet the restaurant was on a Sunday afternoon.

Food was typical Rick, the freshest seafood, cooked simply with big bold flavors. I teased Mr T, as it appeared to me that he chose identical dishes to when we visited the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow a starter of Mussels with black bean sauce, coriander and garlic, and an Indonesian seafood curry for main course.  In my humble opinion the black bean dominated the delicate flavor of the mussels, however Mr T was quick to disagree!  The Indonesian seafood curry struck a nice balance, and I am sure will be chosen again!

For my starter I chose seared tuna served with guacamole and a lemongrass dressing. This dish was simple, but delicious, and one I will definitely re-create at home.  For main course I selected the Grilled lobster, priced at an eye watering $21 (£13.60) per 100 gms. My 878gm example set me back a whopping $184 (£119.14) and goes on record as the single most expensive main course I have ever consumed!

For dessert, we elected to share a chocolate fondant with ice cream, which was lovely and gooey, and surprisingly light, I could easily have demolished an entire dish on my own. Overall the menu was pretty similar to the Seafood restaurant in Padstow.

Staff were friendly, and helpful, very accommodating to our requests to sit at the other end of the terrace and even offered to move our table, when our table ended up in the shade as the sun moved west. Occasionally,  the staff were not always there when you needed them.

Overall this was a beautiful spot to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Good fresh, tasty food, the produce is not highly worked. At $500 (£323.64) for two, though you might expect a little more technique for your money. If we were in the area, then I would definitely return, however, this is not a destination restaurant in it’s own right.

Marks out of 10

Food  7.5

Service 7.6

Ambience  8.2

 

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Quay – mana from heaven and 8 textures of chocolate WOW!

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

Quay is considered one of the best restaurants in Sydney, certainly at number 26 in the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list, it is the highest placed Australian restaurant. It is also one of only 3 restaurants in Sydney to be deemed worthy of 3 hats in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide this year. When we arrived, on a wet Sunday night, with a group of friends, our expectations were very high, and we had been saving this visit for a special occasion, my birthday.

Now I have to confess that my experience of the service at Quay may have been extra special, as we had an ace up our sleeves.  One of the guests at our table is a wine distributor for some amazing boutique wineries, and we were fortunate that Quay are one of his clients. As a result,  we were treated to one of the best tables in the house, with views of both the Opera House and Bridge, fabulous service, and a delicious complimentary bottle of Clover Hill Sparkling from Tasmania, courtesy of Daniel the sommelier.  Service all night was exceptional.

The food at Quay was delicious, although we opted for the four course menu, over what the Aussies call the “dego” (short for degustation – how that makes me cringe), primarily because Peter Gilmore’s signature dish, the Guava and Custard apple snow egg, did not feature on the taster menu.

My starter of sea pearls was divine, a selection of beautifully crafted seafood dishes presented beautifully on a platter.  Mud Crab, Yuzu and Tapioca with silver leaf, Smoked eel, Dashi and Abalone and Sashimi of Tuna were all delicious and left us with the dilemma did one pop a pearl whole into one’s mouth, or did one use a knife and fork to examine the insides and savour it slowly. Needless to say each of us took a different line of attack!  In retrospect I believe that we were missing a 5th pearl, the Sea Scallop Sea Pearl. Check out this Peter Gilmore’s video and you’ll see what I mean!

The second fish course of southern squid & rock lobster, lettuce hearts, golden tapioca, lobster velvet, button squash, pea flowers, was a little unmemorable, but the Mr T’s Slow braised pig’s cheek with abalone, palm hearts and an amazing mushroom consommé was mouthwateringly delicious. For my main, I opted for the wagyu beef poached in an oxtail and morel reduction, molé puree, farro & ezekiel crumbs, which was accompanied perfectly by a 2004 Muga Rioja Reserva. Now in case you’re curious, Ezekiel bread is made without flour and is made from sprouted whole grains. It’s the original super food, and what the bible refers to as manna, i.e., mana from heaven. A pretty good description of this dish. Mr T chose the Confit of Suffolk lamb loin, smoked white carrot cream, fennel infused milk curd. This dish featured fennel pollen, although I have to confess I couldn’t really taste the pollen.

Lastly,  the  famous snow egg…..well never has something that’s so difficult to make, 3 hours and 8 different processes, been polished off so quickly. It was delicious with amazing layers of flavour.  I also had a very generous portion of Mr T’s 8 textures of chocolate, which arrived with a hot chocolate sauce in a separate copper handled pot, which when poured on top, melted into the pudding, like a glorious chocolate volcano.  Accompanied by a PX,  it was sublime. I know I’ll be choosing this dish if I return to Quay.

Overall, fabulous service, great views and divine food, although in the food stakes, this didn’t quite knock Tetsuya off it’s number one spot for me.

Marks out of 10

Food  8.9

Service  9

Ambience  9.2

 

 

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Tetsuya’s – It’s a knockout!

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

I have to confess Tetsuya’s has been very high on my list of restaurants to visit since our move down under. Despite losing a “hat” recently, it remains the most notoriously difficult restaurant in Sydney to bag a table at. Think Fat Duck, at the height of it’s fame and you’ll be  getting close! Waiting lists currently exceed 3 months.

The restaurant itself is tucked away on Kent St,  behind an extremely industrial looking grey wall and electronic gates. On entry, however one is greeted by a beautiful Japanese Garden and Villa. The steps up to the entrance are pretty intimidating, and one could be forgiven for thinking one was braving the domain of a noble Samurai Lord. Entrance to this exclusive domain is the privilege of few.

Our entry, on this occasion, was to attend The New South Wales Wine Awards Dinner, part of the Sydney International Food Festival, hosted by “Tets” himself (why do the Aussies have to shorten everything?) and  Huon Hooke, the Sydney Morning Herald’s wine critic. We were certainly in for a treat.  Hosted in the Private Dining Room, we were a little disappointed that we would miss the views of the garden that diners downstairs enjoy, however we were not to be disappointed in the food! We were greeted with a Glass of Centennial Sparkling and settled in to meet and chat to our fellow diners.

Our 13 course dinner was absolutely incredible,  and I am at a complete loss as to where to start.  Chilled Cucumber soup with sheep’s curd ice cream was deliciously refreshing, somewhat overwhelming the poor Pokolbin Estate Riesling that really didn’t have a chance. Sashimi of Kingfish with Black Bean and orange, was an exquisite dish, the citrus from the orange beautifully counter balancing the black bean.  Our surprise dish of “Just like Oysters”, turned out to be a shaving of scallop, with seaweed and foie gras, which with the metallic zinc seaweed tasted “just like oysters” but finished with an amazing rich finish from the foie gras! Delicious!

The NSW wine of the year, Tempus  Two’s Copper Zenith Semillon From 2003  turned out to be a revelation. It had a kerosene like nose typical of Semillon, but with layers and layers of complexity. It went surprisingly well with Marinated Scampi, Avocado, and caviar. Having been to this winery on a visit to the Hunter Valley, I was extremely unimpressed with their wines, and the poor knowledge of the staff at the Cellar door. The winery is located in one of the most stunning winery buildings I have ever seen, but all style and no substance does not  impress me! Earlier in the evening I had been fairly vocal about my disbelief that Tempus Two could actually produce a decent wine, only to discover that Scott Comyns the wine maker was at the table next to us! Oops! My embarrassing moment didn’t last long, and Scott proved to be a nice guy, who was delighted to have proved that his winery can produce a decent drop!

Tetsuya’s signature dish of Confit Ocean Trout followed. The accompaniments  to this dish are varied by season, and while the apple complemented the fish superbly, I found the flavours of the celery a little bitter.  Every dish was brilliant, and it is almost impossible to pick fault. The nuttiness of the grilled artichoke with the barramundi matched well with our wooded Chardonnay. Braised oxtail  just melted in the mouth,  the sea cucumber that accompanied this dish was an interesting experience for someone who had never before tasted this delicacy.  I found it rather bland, although the texture contrasted nicely with the softness of the Braised oxtail, making this one of my favourite dishes of the night.

I could wax lyrical for hours on how wonderfully exquisite and beautifully delicate each dish was. However I am conscious that a blow by blow account of 13 courses will  probably have your eye’s glazing over! The food at Tetsuya’s is simply world class. So how indeed did they lose a GFG Hat?  I was absolutely perplexed as to how this amazing restaurant could possibly be deemed unworthy of 3 GFG Hats?  The answer lay  half way through this meal,  when I was elbowed in the temple by a waitress. No apologies at all from this young lady!  In response to my discomfort, she retorted with a sarcastic “would you like an ice pack for that madam?” An hour later, with my head still ringing from the blow I’d received, I was beginning to wish I’d accepted that offer!  Quite shocking in a restaurant where other than this one incident,  the service was superbly courteous and friendly.

In summary then, the food at Tetsuya’s is an absolute knock out, that is providing the staff don’t knock you out first. Despite my bad experience with one waitress, I would not hesitate to return. Simply, despite the blow to the head, this probably is the top dining experience of my life.  If there’s one restaurant that’s worth flying across the world for, then Tetsuya’s is it.

Marks out of 10

Food  9.2

Service  6.9 (Should rate a high 8 really)

Ambience  9.0

 

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Bilson’s – homage to Nouvelle Cuisine

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

I would suggest to any foodies planning to visit Sydney, that they should try if at all possible, to visit in October. Not only is it the beginning of Spring, but it is also the Sydney International Food Festival, a month long festival, where Sydney celebrates everything good and great about food and wine. From Picnic’s on the Harbour Bridge to 100 Mile meals,  Lunch on Fort Dennison to Market Tours with Celebrity Chefs.  From Shoot the Chef (a photography competition) to Night noodle Markets and Hats Off Diners, this year the festival had over 600 events in one short month!

This year Bilson’s chose as it’s theme for it’s weekly Hats off dinner, a homage to Nouvelle Cuisine. A menu designed to showcase the iconic dishes from Chef’s such as Paul Bocuse, and demonstrate how Nouvelle Cuisine has influenced contemporary cooking. The menu comes with a complimentary glass of champagne, and we decided to go for the option of matching wines, which were without exception sourced from France.

Our first dish, with the deceptively simple name of “Eggs and Caviar”, inspired by Michel Guérard the Godfather of Nouvelle Cuisine, was a complex layering of smoked eel, smoked eel mouse, coddled eggs, creme fresh, asparagus foam topped with chives and caviar, and accompanied with asparagus and Brioche soldiers. Beautifully light, the dish disappeared in a couple of mouthfuls, leaving me wishing for more.

Our second course of Mussels in Saffron Sauce (Roger Vérge) was tasty, a light saffron foam with very fresh mussels. I would question the necessity for the julienne of carrot and leeks underneath. I know it adds some texture to the dish, but I will never understand why is it that Australians have to serve carrot with everything?

The fish course was Salmon a l’Oiselle  inspired Jean and Pierre Troisgros. The Salmon was beautifully pan fried, and slightly pink in the middle, which is just how I like it, however I have to say that the Sorrel sauce was bitter, and while Jean Troisgros has a reputation as the Master Saucier, I would rather this part of the dish had been omitted.  The accompanying green beans were deliciously tossed in butter!

The Main course, would have to be my dish of the evening. Partridge accompanied by peas, lettuce, and salami, lending a  twist on this classic french combination. The partridge was deliciously rich and beautifully tender.  The dish was inspired by Paul Bocuse, and somehow manages to remain light while retaining the original rich earthy flavours from which this game dish is inspired.

I love cheese, and even better than cheese, I love a good cheese souffle.  Our cheese course, Petit Fromage Affiné, inspired by the eponymous Michel Roux Senior, for me was a slice of heaven! In fact if I could die and go to a heaven padded with this fluffy cheese Souffle instead of Clouds, I would be a very happy bunny indeed!

Our last course of Mille-feuille  with Red Fruits accompanied by a Chantilly Cream and raspberry coulis rounded off the perfect meal.  Coffee and Petite Four made a nice finish, and I couldn’t resist a 1959 Armagnac from Darroze.

Service was good, and it appears that all of the front of house staff are either English or Scottish. Initially they seemed a little aloof, but seemed to warm to us eventually. I would also question having just one restaurant manager who is also the Sommelier. Andrew Cullen is a nice guy, however he did seem to be running around, and was very rushed, which is not ideal, especially when you consider that we were dining early and the restaurant was quite empty to start with.

The  dining room is nicely decorated, but at the end of the day, it’s just a hotel dining room. One has to question whether a restaurant of this calibre really needs gimmicks such as a Clock where the hands are made of knives and forks, and re-hydrating wet towels. However they make for a little light entertainment, in what could otherwise be quite a stuffy dining room. Great food, although sadly, as I visited in the same week as dinner at Tetsuya’s, perhaps I didn’t really appreciate the quality of this restaurant as much as I should.  A good excuse to go back and try their normal menu!

Marks out of 10

Food 8.2

Service 7.5

Ambience 7.0

 

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Bécasse Cellar Night

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

I joined the Sydney Wine group several months ago, but seemed to keep missing the monthly events, because of previous engagements. An off “piste” Cellar night at Bécasse was a fabulous opportunity to meet some of the members for the first time. I love the concept that you can take your own wines to a restaurant to match a pre-published taster menu. With 10 in our group, this allowed a very generous couple of bottles per course. We kicked off with a couple of fabulous  champagnes, including a 2002 vintage Veuve Cliquot. The Canapé tarts were accompanied by lovely soft, warm artisan breads.

Three courses stood out for me,  Our first course of a delicately flavoured Civet of Cloudy bay clams, prawn and scallop. This French Broth was delightful, if a little cold, due to the wait for our whites to be opened.  The 2nd course of Cobia which is a meaty fish, and accompanied by lightly battered Oyster Beignets that just simply melted in the mouth. Both were accompanied by a beautiful German Riesling and the lovely Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon that, had layers and layers of complexity.

Lastly our cheese course of Holy Goat La Luna with preserved rhubarb and toasted kugelhopf, a fruit cake/bread that is believed to be of either Austrian or Alsatian origin. Legend has it that the kugelhopf recipe was brought to France by Marie Antoinette who was born in Austria.  Regardless of it’s origin, the toasted kugelhopf made a lovely accompaniment to our slightly warmed goats cheese.  The caramelised apple tart deserves a mention too, however I felt that the veal dish was a little dry, although the sweetbreads and roast garlic accompaniments were delicious. The Wagyu beef rib, was a little tough.   This may have been because my dish was sitting under lights to keep it warm, while I had popped to the loo, or simply because the accompanying wines were so magnificent that the courses accompanying them, simply paled into insignificance. Our host had very generously provide a bottle of Penfold’s Grange 91, which was still showing a fair amount of American oak! A description offered by one of my fellow diners of “pop corn” proved very apt!

Our increasingly rowdy group, didn’t seem to bother the other diners too much, although normally you cannot here a pin drop in this hushed establishment. Staff were friendly and jumped through hoops in order to double decant our wines, and assist with crumbling corks! They were extremely helpful and accommodating, although some might argue that with a 15% service charge, they should be! Adding a service charge is not common practise in Australia, although I always leave some sort of tip if the service is good.. Overall a superb evening, and I will certainly return for another cellar night!

The Menu

Canapés
Bécasse artisan bread
Veuve Cliquot 2002 and Champagne Grand Cru Marie-Noelle Ledru 2006
Civet of Cloudy Bay clams, scallop and prawn
Seared fillet of cobia with horseradish and baby gem butter, oyster beignets
Fricassee of 12 hour cooked veal shank, tendon and sweetbreads with beetroot and roast garlic gnocchi, beetroot shoots
Roast rib of Gundooee organic wagyu beef with parsnips en papillote, Tuscan onion rings
Holy Goat La Luna with preserved rhubarb and toasted kugelhopf
Caramelised apple tart fine, chewy apple sorbet and brown butter veloute

Marks out of 10

Food 7.6

Service 8.2

Ambience  8.0

 

Update June 2012 – The group of restaurants run by Justin North which includes Becasse, have gone into administration.  See Smartcompany artical.

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Manta & Blue @ Woolloomooloo!

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

I have been meaning to visit Woolloomooloo for quite some time, and finally got the opportunity when a friend invited me to a Bordeaux tasting at the amazingly chic  Blue Hotel. The name Woolloomooloo,  had always held out a fascination for me.  Needless to say 21st century Woolloomooloo bears no resemblance to the outpost I had imagined, instead, this former docklands area has now been re-developed, in a very sympathetic manner.

Manta is one of several top restaurants that line the length of Finger Wharf, housed in the former dockside warehouses, that typified this area. We decided to take advantage of their lunch offer of 2 courses and a glass of wine for $49. As the sun decided to honour us, despite being winter, we elected for an outside table, which offered water views as well as sunshine!

The food was very tasty, with 2 of our party going for the Goats cheese, chive and hazelnut stuffed cannelloni which was deep fried, and delicious. The alternate starter of Prawn cocktail, enlivened with an avocado dip, was superbly fresh! The Sirloin was beautifully done, rare, and accompanied by a divine side order of “Angle Fries” which were topped with shaved parmesan and truffle oil! At $15.50 this one of the most expensive bowls of fries I have ever had, however the amazing taste probably justified the cost. We polished the bowl off, quick smart!

Time did not allow for desert, and we regretfully headed off to an amazing Bordeaux tasting, where the highlight was a 1909 Domaine Sainte Croix Rivesaltes, a partially fortified wine from the South of France. We ended the day laughing, as the gentlemen drawing the prize, bowed to one of our party and offered her the opportunity to pull out a name from the box. She pulled out a name with a flourish,  only for her to draw out her husband’s name from the box! Brilliant! The prize a magnum of 2001 Domaine de Chevalier, Classed Growth Pessac Leognan, which was taken home to be laid down! Great day!

Marks out of 10

Food 6.5

Service 5.8

Ambience 6.9

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Manta Restaurant –NoExpert Food Blog – NSW, Australia

Blue Hotel – NoExpert Food Blog – NSW, Australia