Thursday, 21 July 2011

fish at the rocks

there is nothing i love more than a relaxed dinner which to me involves a nice bottle of wine, good company and most of all the willingness to share. our sunday night excursion to fish at the rocks in sydney (two colleagues and i) turned out to be exactly that. we figured it would be worth treating ourselves to a relaxed dinner before the kick-off of the commonwealth law ministers meeting which is what had brought us to sydney in the first place.

az and i have become lunch and early supper companions after having discovered our mutual love for food. i had never known that j loved food with an equal passion. it was at his suggestion that we ended up rotating our mains throughout the course of dinner so that we could all get a taste of each other’s food (i intend to replicate this practice with my other half).

we all skipped the entrees and were probably glad we did given the size of the main course. we also all settled on fish that we had not tried before. j chose the whole baked baby barramundi, de-boned, stuffed with diced prawn and vegetables, served with a red coconut curry and steamed rice. i chose the hiramasa kingfish fillet, grilled with morracan spiced green lentils, spinach, harissa and cucumber raita. az settled on a daily special made with hapuka and a tangine with dates. 

i enjoy trying different kinds of fish not only for the flavour and texture but also the kind of foods that are paired with the fish. one thing that struck me most about the menu at fish at the rocks was the boldness of the flavours paired with white fish. our main course choices revealed why it was possible to have this combination, as despite being ‘white fleshed’ the barramundi, hapuka and kingfish had a complex meaty flavour with a compact texture almost akin to a steak. the fish broke away in chunky flakes.

j’s barramundi was excellent with it’s stuffing of prawns and vegetables. the red coconut curry was mild on spice with a strong coconut cream taste, and if i had to vote for one of the three mains that night it would be j’s that would take first place. my hiramasa had a strong meaty flavour that stood up well to the lentils and the harissa. and although i usually don’t eat the skin, the one on this was crisp and very tasty (a bit like the skin of a well browned chicken roast). az’s hapuka was the mildest of the three with very delicate flavours accompanied  by a mildly spiced vegetable tagine. the sweetness of the dates was mellowed by the spice and actually went surprisingly well with the fish.

i could have easily skipped dessert however was told that i must order one in the spirit of cooperation and partnership. i was recommended the profiteroles and the brownie with mint ice-cream. i’m not a big fan of the former and the mint ice-cream in the latter didn’t sound exciting so i settled on the boozy affogato with cointreau. az went for the passionfruit crème brulee and j for the trio of sorbets. out of the desserts it was mine that turned out to be the best. az’s brulee was a disappointing affair with an over eggy custard that overpowered the vanilla. j’s sorbets were good. however, the combination of vanilla with a nutty and smooth cointreau laced espresso was just perfect!

Fish at the Rocks on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


 on thursday fourteenth july the legal division wrapped up our flagship ministerial meeting. the team had been working on this meeting since last year and it was a great relief when it was done and done well. after a team drinks at the sir stamford hotel some of us went off to dinner. the concierge at the intercontinental had recommended a japanese restaurant called masuya.
masuya is in the basement of a rather nondescript and unlit building. so it was quite a surprise to the five us to come down the stairs to a brightly lit and very busy space. even on a week day it was packed and we had a short wait before being seated. there were a fair number of families eating hotpot. i would have loved to order one but that’s only possible when you are dining with people who are interested in the same things as you.
what strikes one about masuya is the presentation and generosity of the sushi and sashimi. the menu includes visuals of the dishes making (in az’s and my case the choice harder). luckily for us, we were both interested in trying the wagyu beef which was very reasonably priced.  however, being seafood lovers as well we wanted to have the sashimi too. so, whilst the rest of the team ordered individually az and i picked a dish each with a view to sharing them. out of the two wagyu dishes i suggested we pick the one with miso paste instead of the teriyaki. i have had miso marinated onglet and i love the pairing of this salty soybean paste. with that we had the assorted sushi and sashimi which included salmon, tuna, king prawn, california rolls and spider sushi rolls.  
the fish in the sushi and sashimi was excellent. the only thing i could fault the sashimi on was the thickness of the cuts. sashimi is meant to be delicate and thin and these pieces were quite chunky. but where it lacked in finesse it more than made up for in taste especially the salmon and tuna. we had asked for the wagyu beef to be cooked medium rare. the sliced beef had a seared dark edge around a dark pink centre. strangely though it was served with mashed potatoes which both az and i found quite peculiar not least because miso and potatoes do not work well together. but once again the potatoes were eclipsed by the beef. to say that the beef was tender is an understatement. it literally melted in the mouth. i have never eaten beef like this before.
pity that wagyu is so expensive in england. and that travelling to sydney is too expensive otherwise i'd love to be eating more of it.

Masuya Japanese Seafood on Urbanspoon

the bar at the lord nelson brewery hotel

on my last day in sydney i had a whirlwind tour of the city which ended at the lord nelson brewery hotel in the rocks. the rocks is one of the oldest parts of sydney. it was here that the first fleet of convicts arrived with captain arthur phillip. the gentrification of the area sometimes makes it hard to imagine what it’s history was like. however, in the little alleys there are steel cut outs of captains narrating the history of the area. there is also a museum which unfortunately i was unable to see.

the lord nelson brewery hotel was established in eighteen forty-one. the downstairs bar has that slightly distinct yeasty smell that is customary of beer. the walls are adorned with interesting snippets of history about the hotel. as it is famous for it’s brews i figured it would be best to try one of ales. l picked two pale ales for me to choose from. the one that i chose was the colour of a pale honey and tasted like mead. the ale also determined my lunch choice of tempura ale battered fish and chips with wasabi mayo. it didn’t seem quite right to be eating a chilli and crab spaghettini with shaved reggiano. i also asked for my chips to be swapped with peas.

the fish and chips arrived in rather enormous proportions (more on the lines of what you would expect in the us of a). i must confess that in general the three times that i ate out in sydney, the helpings were really generous. i think though that two battered fish's is a bit excessive. i wasn’t able to finish all of my fish but it’s probably the best fish i’ve had in quite a while. the slightly bruised peas were excellent as they retained their shape and texture and were fresh. 

perhaps the wasabi mayo could have done with a little more kick.   

Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel on Urbanspoon

ash's table

manly beach, sydney
ash’s table has as its view the point where the sea meets the sky. on this rainy day on manly beach the lines of blue had blurred into oneness and a silver sheen sat on the ocean. a reflection of grey angry skies. we were lucky to have found ourselves a place to breakfast just before the rain came down. and the plastic shield on the front of the cafe/restaurant was a welcome buffer. 

having settled down to long black and flat white respectively, l and i turned to the menu. it was a bit of a struggle deciding on what to order as the pancakes looked tempting, as did the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs served on wood-fired bread. but in the end it was the eggs tuscany that both l and i settled on.
i am not entirely sure why our breakfast was called ‘eggs tuscany’ as its composition was more on the lines of an eggs benedict meets egg florentine and eggs royale/montreal (these are the aussie/kiwi version where salmon is substituted for bacon). perhaps ash’s table was intent to capture the global nature of what was on the plate by reference to one of the food capitals in the world. and since i forgot to picture it here is what the plate was composed of - there was tasmanian smoked salmon, baby spinach and two poached eggs on an english muffin with a side of hollandaise sauce.
for me, this was an ideal brunch. it had a distinctly home-made feel with the poached eggs having been dropped into a swirl of water, their whites wrinkle wrapped over the yolks. i have over-time come to strongly dislike eggs poached to perfect roundness. it isn’t pleasing to eat something that resembles the female anatomy, albeit a surgically enhanced one. tasmanian salmon is quite different from the smoked salmon i’ve eaten in england. it’s got a buttery flavour but doesn’t feel as fatty on the palate. the spinach aside from adding freshness was good to cut through the hollandaise and salmon. l and i wiped our plates clean.  

Ashes Table on Urbanspoon

establishment bar, sydney

sparkling wine after a 12+ hour day, a recent twenty-four hour journey and a +10 hours time difference is not a wise thing. but all that wisdom flies out of the window when you are in good company, surroundings and a really laid-back city. it’s also when you learn the ramifications of opening times that read 11am to late. 
establishment bar features on the world’sbestbars. and it is the bar takes centrepiece not merely because it is all marble but because it is also very long. the lighting is just right. warm and not too bright. l took me there was what was supposed to be a drink after a long day in a meeting followed by an event on women as agents of change at the new south wales governor general's house. l and i spent quite a few hours at the bar sipping a chandon brut from yarra valley alternating with homemade dips, olives and toasted breads. 
if i lived in sydney, i can safely say that i’d be at establishment bar quite often. 

Sunday, 3 July 2011

shochu lounge

shochu lounge's neon sign is at odds with it's dim interior and dark mahogany tones. as its name suggests it is a lounge type bar with low comfortable sofas. o had picked roka for my birthday dinner and we both agreed it would be better to reserve at shochu because then we'd get the best of both worlds - cocktails and food. 

the cocktails were worth it, fruity but not too sweet with lovely citrusy and sharp flavours. shochu is described as vodka-like distilled spirit which i personally think is a bit misleading as it is much lighter and smoother than vodka. i loved my nightingale which was a combination of lime, elderflower and orange bitters. but even better was the summery peach tanuki with a hint of lemon to enhance the peachiness of the cocktail. we started with a bowl of the nutty tasting salted edamame squeezed from their pods. in hindsight it would have been wiser not to order these as they fill one up fairly quickly and leave too little space for what follows.

we tried to pick a mix and match of dishes. from the specials of the day we picked the langoustine nigiri with a peanut dressing. as we discovered through the course of the evening, presentation was as essential as the flavours and ingredients that made up the dish. and so the nigiri was served as a reconstructed shellfish. from the snacks, salads and soups part of the menu we picked the butterfish tataki with a yuzu dressing. the name of the fish accurately describes its taste. the flesh is the colour of a hand churned butter. the citrusy yuzu added the right sharpness to the buttery fish and the tobiko, texture. it was my favourite dish of the night. the fried eggplant, sesame miso and katsuobushi  salad was recommended to us. small curved pieces of aubergine with shallow incisions in its purple skin, the flesh oily and silky and cooked to perfection. on the platter was smeared the sesame miso dressing and a thin scattering of katsuobushi leaf. it was really good.

from the roka dishes we picked the rice hotpot with king crab and wasabi tobiko which o really liked. whilst i could not fault the dish on the generosity of the crabmeat and tobiko, i felt that it lacked the depth of flavour that i have had with other rice hotpots like say the one at sake no hana. the rice was too wet and bland like baby food. it would have been nice if the rice developed a crust from the heat of the pot and had a sharp lemony kick. i found the black cod, crab and crayfish dumpling with roasted chili and ponzu dressing to be outstanding though. triangular dumpling with a delicate filling of three mild fish with a sharp ponzu dressing were just perfect! i am still mourning the fact that o got three and i got only two of those. 

from the robata menu o picked the quail marinated in plum wine and miso. plump little deboned quail whose meat was made tender by the plum wine and miso marinade was grilled really well. on the side was the sharp sour umeboshi pickle and some kind of an onion pickle. the tart sour of the pickle was essential for the fatty meat. once again, we really loved this. 

despite being very full both o and i had dessert. it seemed right to conclude a birthday dinner on this note. i had the signature roka chocolate and matcha pudding. o had an artistic creation for dessert - a combination of black sesame ice-cream with cherry macaroons. on the face of it the dark chocolate and matcha pudding was like most other molten chocolate puddings; a souffle like pudding whose centre was a mixture of chocolate and a really green matcha sauce with pear ice-cream on the side. but it was the matcha sauce itself which was excellent with a strong matcha essense. it was well that the ice-cream was more like a sorbet as otherwise it would have been too rich. well worth the greed!

we'd definitely recommend shochu lounge for a special night out on town.