Categories
Fine Dining Modern Australian

Poly – Surry Hills NSW Restaurant Review

We ate at Poly to welcome my friend and colleague HZM into the warm embraces of the NSW public service.

The fried potato with salted egg yolk ($16), layered internally and topped with some chives was a bit of a cube-like hash brown. I think it’s generally well liked, and certainly my potatohead of a fiancé liked it, but it didn’t really do much for me. It was just salty and oily like every other fried potato dish out there.

This comté tart ($20) was small and expensive but kind of amazing. The pastry was good, but the filling was superb, rich and creamy flowing cheesy umami, though I think it was a bit less warmed-up than the online photos from secondary sources show it as.

The cannibal sandwich ($18) with mostly raw beef (presumably) and horseradish cream between buttery fried bread was excellent. I don’t know if this photo shows a quarter or half of the full serving, but either way the quantity you get is low, but the taste is high and you shouldn’t look past it if you’re an animal eater.

The grillda ($12), was very good. I didn’t love the gilda at Continental Deli, but this skewer of anchovy, tuna, olive, and pickled chilli was a completely different story. So umami, and yet so fruity. Incredible.

I don’t know what this was, but do not really care enough to try and find out. Some kind of plant. Didn’t wow me.

This Black Angus sirloin steak with bone marrow and pepper sauce ($68) was not bad, but not astounding. I don’t really like to order steak at restaurants as I feel like I can cook steak myself without much drama and to a fairly good degree, and so I am always quite doubtful of the cost-quality balance. I know that there are many out there who will disagree, but the combination of small butchers offering dry aged beef and easily accessible home-based sous vide techniques has really changed the game as far as steak is concerned over the past decade. Sure, I might not be able (or rather willing) to make a pepper sauce to smother my steak in, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the optimal thing to smother a steak in anyway. Essentially all this is to say is that it was fine.

COMMENTS
With a lot of very good but expensive things and a constantly changing menu, I think I will be back, in time.

Poly
74-76 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 8860 0808

Categories
European Fine Dining

LP’s Quality Meats – Chippendale NSW Restaurant Review

It’s been about a year since I first tasted LP’s class-defining mortadella, and about a year that I’ve been dreaming about dining at their Chippendale smokehouse and restaurant. After a couple of setbacks and false starts we finally found the opportunity to go last night, taking advantage of the tables left free by those spending Good Friday at home with family.

We chose the $65 tasting menu with the addition of a serving of smoked chicken. Whilst the serving sizes are in general fine, certain fixed serving sizes, for example for the pork loin, are not adjusted for odd numbers of diners, meaning that it is better value to go in a group of four rather than the five that we had.

The first item on our menu was the malted sourdough & butter. There was nothing really special here. The bread was crusty on the outside and a bit gooey on the inside, possibly reflecting its malted nature. The ratio of butter to bread was adequate.

The oysters with mignonette dressing were fresh and delicious, though not differentiable from any other inner city oyster. When ordered a la carte, these oysters are $5 each, which is quite expensive.

While I can’t remember the name of this off-menu metal dish of vegetables, it is probably LP’s rendition of giardiniera, a classic Italian salad. It is essentially a vinegar-marinated combinastion of cauliflower, capsicum, carrot and onion. Quite the tangy palate cleanser, paired with the salumi.

LP’s salumi plate, featuring fully in-house smoked and prepared (though not husbanded) mortadella, salami cotto, and saucisson was a treat. You’ve heard me wax lyrical about LP’s mortadella more than once now – this soft, mild smoked pork sausage is the best I’ve ever tasted. The salami cotto and sauisson were also good, both ssavoiding being too salty or overflavoured, as salumi often is. Whilst LP’s cold and cured meats are also available for sale from their in-house deli, the price of their mortadella at $77/kg was no cheaper than when I had bought it from Woollahra luxury butcher Victor Churchill, and I chose not to further indulge.

LP’s grilled beef tongue with smoked beef fat vinaigrette is one of their signature dishes, and for good reason. Unlike most renditions of beef or ox tongue, LPs slices theirs longitudinally rather than transversely, the end result being a visually arresting, tongue shaped tongue meal. The tongue is extremely tender, falling apart with minimal fork-based instrumentation, which is actually fully different to the hard and chewy mess that I get every time I try and cook it at Korean BBQ. Each mouthful is an umami bomb, thanks to the smoked beef fat, though perfectly tempered and matched by the tanginess of the salsa verde and vinaigrette components. This is a truly next level dish that I can recommend as a must try.

I’m not normally the biggest fan of mussels, but these steamed mussels in nduja were actually very good. There was none of the feared grittiness present in most low-tier mussel dishes, and the sauce was both umami and lightly spicy. This dish would’ve been even better with some bread to soak up the delicious sauce.

The pickled beetroot salad was very tangy. Not the most enjoyed dish around the table, but then again it’s LP’s Quality Meats, not LP’s Quality Beets.

The 800 gram pork chop with mustard sauce and grilled onions was pretty good, but not something I’d necessarily mention in a letter home. The meat was cooked well, the sauce was inoffensive, but apart from the size and spectacle of an entire giant pork chop cut and rearranged into shape there was nothing truly special about it. It’s sad that with 5 people we did not get a 1000 gram pork chop.

This mesclun salad, mixed herbs, palm sugar vinaigrette was pretty unexciting, and definitely not as exciting as the name.

This smoked half chicken in sauce pearà ($31 supplement) was an add on from the a la carte menu. I had heard a lot about the chicken at LP’s, and this dish certainly did not disappoint. The skin of the chicken was crispy, whilst the meat of the chicken was soft. The smoked flavour, mixed with the creamy flavour of the sauce pearà made for a mouth-watering, umami-filled dish. This chicken was well received around the table, and would be my other must-have at LP’s.

This dish of ember roasted pumpkin, chard, and anchovy did nothing for me. I thought that the flavours were too strong, with the pumpkin being particularly oversalted.

The chocolate tart with chantilly cream was made of very dark, semi-sweet chocolate. I liked it, and I think my girlfriend would have enjoyed this too, but she didn’t go so we will never know. It was a divisive dish, as a few of our friends did not like the bitterness.

The savarin au rhum, essentially wet sponge cake, was also just fine. The cream in both of the desserts was quite good, described aptly by my colleague GL as tasting of a melted vanilla ice cream.

VERDICT
Thank you for reading my pegfeed. The chicken and beef tongue were truly standout dishes that I would recommend a visit to LP’s for, whilst some of the other dishes – salads, mostly – did nothing for me. I had a good time, but would’ve had just as good a time ordering the big hitters off the a la carte menu.

4.5/5

LP’s Quality Meats
16/12 Chippen St, Chippendale NSW 2008
(02) 8399 0929

Diners: JW, HWJ, NT, GL, CJP

Categories
Fine Dining Japanese Latin American

Nikkei – Surry Hills NSW Restaurant Review

After a couple of aborted attempts at eating at Nikkei over the past year, my partner and I finally made it over there to try their $88 pp Japanese-Peruvian tasting menu, inspired by the apparently quite significant Japanese diaspora in Peru. This is a restaurant from the group that runs Osaka Trading Co (which I did not love), but is much better.

The first thing I noticed and enjoyed was this sweet wooden communal dining table. It looked expensive, perhaps carved out of a single tree, and potentially a lot of money. I’d love to have one of these tables in my home one day, to entertain no one. The second thing was this nice drinks menu, bound in a very Midori Traveler’s Notebook esque leather covering, complete with a little bit of patina which I hope continues to develop as the restaurant continues to exist.

Our first little nibble were the empanada bites, two of which were allocated to each diner. These small deep fried bites were crispy and crunch, mostly unidentifiable generalised fried stuff (perhaps it is the edamame but reconstituted?) filled with a small amount of surprisingly large-grain choclo (Peruvian) corn and topped with parmesan cheese. The smoked mayonnaise topping and bottoming, which held the bites to their paper base, was well liked by my colleagues around the table.

These Hokkaido scallops were quite special, presented in a huacatay (Peruvian black mint) butter, tangy acevichado (ceviche-like) salsa, and tiny balls of arare cracker. The scallops were sweet with a nice torch-born sear to them. The sauce that they were bathed in was both creamy and citrusy, while the lightly puffed arare cracker added additional textural interest, like tiny rice puffs. I would recommend eating this with a spoon to not miss out on all of those beautiful flavours in the sauce.

While not all colleagues around the table were impressed by the ceviche de pulpo, I actually thought it was quite good. This was a classic-ish ceviche with a nice tender octopus instead of fish, bathed in a marinade of lime juice and spices, and served with cancha corn, or toated corn kernals. My partner, lover of citrus but hater of certain seafoods, enjoyed this dish, as did I. I thought the flavours were quite bright and fresh, and again enjoyed the variety of textures and flavours offered by the crunchy toasted corn.

The causa sushi is in my opinion an attempt to innovate just a little too much. On offer was a piece of scampi nigiri topped with ikura, and a piece of yellowfin tuna gunkan each. The twist here is that Nikkei has used a mashed-potato base as opposed to rice, an ingredient we were told is common in Peruvian cuisine. While I had a bit of hesitation to eat raw scampi (thinking back to this allergic reaction I had at Moxhe) I told my two anaesthetic colleagues that I was for full resus and went to town on the first scampi I’ve had in a very long time. I think I might have become desensitised.

The seafood was fine, the scampi was sweet and the cubed tuna a little spicy and actually quite tasty. Unfortunately I wish they had just stuck with rice though, as the texture of the causa just didn’t do it for me. Poor rice in sushi can mean the difference between good sushi and bad sushi, and not-rice sushi just makes it all that much worse.

The wagyu maki that followed renewed my sadness that the causa sushi was not just regular sushi. The rice in this was actually quite good. The lightly seared thinly sliced MBS8+ rib eye was well liked by one of my learned colleagues, though to be honest I was less of a fan of the meat itself, but still a fan of the overall package. I enjoyed the mixture of yakinku sauce and anticucho sauce, a sauce we were told was commonly used in Peru for grilled chicken, as well as the crunchiness of the vegetables rolled inside the warm sushi rice.

The chuleta de cerdo was again another dish that was well liked by all the friends around the table except me. I personally thought that the Tokachi-style kurobota pork rib eye was a bit too fatty for me – certainly there was enough lean meat to go around, but perhaps my first piece was just 40% fat and it just set a bad tone for the rest of the dish. I can’t criticise the meat’s tenderness or sweet-savoury flavour, but it is just unfortunate that the texture of the first bite was offputting. What I did enjoy thoroughly in this dish was the delicious sweet potato chips, which were thin, tasty, and went well with just a bit of the meat’s sauce. This dish was served with some charred lemon to squeeze onto the meat, but I didn’t find that it improved my experience. Again – the three other diners on the table universally loved this pork but I just need to tell you how I feel.

I wasn’t crazy about the ensalada de verano. I thought that while they did innovate a little with some spicy yuzu kosho, the leaves were a bit bitter. Whatever. It’s vegetable.

This matcha alfajor dulce de leche ice cream sandwich was actually quite good. A bit difficult to crack without smushing the ice-cream out from under the biscuit, but really quite pleasant tasting. Not too sweet.

THOUGHTS
I quite enjoyed the opportunity to eat all of these Peruvian ingredients (particularly interesting corns and sauces) that I’ve never had the chance to eat before. Some of it was quite different, but still tempered in the familiarity of all the Japanese food that my partner and I tend to eat. I quite enjoyed the raw seafood based dishes at the start, moreso than the cooked dishes towards the end, but I do think that overall Nikkei gets a recommendation from me. Many blessings to this crew. (I also enjoyed the unobtrusive but good and knowledgeable service.)

Featured colleagues: AG, LMMH

Nikkei Bar & Restaurant
216 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 8880 9942

Categories
Asian Fusion Fine Dining Modern Australian

Odd Culture – Newtown NSW Restaurant Review

Fermented things have recently and unfortunately become my enemy, and so naturally one of my last dines of the year was had at one of Newtown’s newest wine bars with a focus on cultured and fermented foods.

The Beer Bread ($5 for 3 pieces) was your classic house-made sourdough with salted cultured butter. It wasn’t mindblowing, but it did actually have a bit of a beery flavour to it, which made it many times more interesting than yet another bread. And a soft, salted butter and bread is always a winning combination.

The delightfully small and expensive fish on toast ($10 each) was an interesting and probably South East Asian inspired mouthful of mango and fish. The toast base was extremely buttery, with a mouthfeel that reflected its many unseen layers. The scallop sashimi, as well as possibly some other white fish, was soft and sweet, and complimented by the soft ripe mango. The jalapeno advertised was not easily found. This was a really great snack, but I wish it were a bit larger or a bit less expensive.

The beef tartare ($20) was a bit different to the normal formed slab of raw meat, instead in this mixed in with puffed rice and seasonings. Herbs were used to great effect in this dish, imparting a unique flavour. It was however a little bit physically difficult to eat, and a bit of cracker would’ve gone a long way.

Recently burned by a $12 fermented tomato, I was a bit hesitant and wary about the tomato dish, ($22). It turned out however that I was foolish in my concern, as one taste of this tomato dish was able to justify their price. The tomato in this dish was fresh but umami, and delightfully sour but also tempered by the creamy soy milk yoghurt on top. It was an unexpected but wonderful fresh type dish, even suitable for vegan-types.

The chicken liver pate ($16) was really good. I particularly enjoyed the thick cut and lightly salted potato crisps, which had such an amazing crunch that is probably better than any other potato crisp I’ve ever had. They had the perfect size and structural integrity to scoop up (probably too many) gobs of rich, silky smooth chicken liver pate and deliver them to my mouth. The fish sauce caramel base was inventive and delicious, and while my girlfriend didn’t like this dish she was wrong. I only wish that these same chips could’ve been available to scoop up the beef tartare.

The blood pancake ($26) with pork jowl, fried egg, and maple syrup was much sweeter than I thought it would be. Looking at the photo and ingredients list you would likely imagine a savoury dish, but the truth of the matter was that even if the pancake had been savoury in and of itself, the swimming pool of maple syrup would’ve taken care of that. Despite the pork jowl and blood, the pancake was ultimately only a little bit savory, the majority of the flavour coming from the maple syrup which soaked through the entire cake. While I did enjoy the interesting texture, I think ultimately this leaned too much into the sickly sweet side of the flavour scale.

The koji roasted chicken ($42) was good but not a revelation. Juicy, succulent and tender, the chicken was well cooked, with a koji-miso flavour. I didn’t realise that there was congee in the dish, which I am only just seeing now looking at the photo. That might have added something to the experience, but really (and my girlfriend will attest to this) I can cook something similar and not spend $42 doing it.

This semifreddo ($16) with black sesame and white chocolate was very good. Specific details escape me but even the bed of crumbs was delicious.

The panna cotta ($14) with fig leaf and blueberry was visually interesting but orally mediocre. A good choice if you like juicy stewed berries, but a boring choice if you can choose the semifreddo instead.

COMMENTS
Overall I quite enjoyed our meal at Odd Culture. Many of the dishes were very good, and even the least good dishes were at least OK. I’d probably not go again until their menu changes, but could recommend it to a colleague or friend. The chairs were sadly not comfortable.

Odd Culture Newtown
266 King St, Newtown NSW 2042
(02) 8317 3057

Categories
Fine Dining Modern Australian

Babyface Kitchen – Wollongong NSW Restaurant Review

New South Wales comes out of its lockdown and our first fine dine of the season is at Babyface Kitchen, one of only three or four restaurants in the Illawara region to boast a tasting menu.

We start off with the classic sourdough bread and cultured butter. This was exactly as advertised, with nary a hint of innovation.

The snacks course was next.

My favourite of this was the honey bug in bug sauce, grilled over charcoal. The meat of the bug was very similar to other bugs, but what stood out was the deeply umami sauce that surrounded it. It was so good that I actually chewed and ate much of the shell just so that I could taste the sauce that coated it. My girlfriend made fun of me for this, before succumbing and having her own nibble. It’s all just chitin and calcium carbonate after all, and probably not even 1.2g BD of the stuff.

The deboned chicken wing on wasabi leaf didn’t quite do it for us, which was surprising as chicken is my most commonly eaten source of animal protein. I think that outside of extreme desert dryness chicken is something that’s easy to do reasonably well, but I also think that the strength of the mighty chicken wing is not only in its quality but also in its quantity, and the fact that you can just eat like ten or fifteen of them in one sitting. While I understand the whole concept of serving small foods in large plates, having half, maybe one chicken wing fried in a way that did not excite and sitting pretty on a leaf just doesn’t do it for me.

The beef tartare tart was not only a mild play on words, but also the first time I’ve had raw meat in a long time. I trust a restaurant’s ability to not give me EHEC much more than I trust my own. My only complaint here is that it came and went too quickly.

The tea light I accidentally knocked and spilled into the pool of water surrounding it. Tell me you’re poor without telling me you’re poor.

Our snack course was followed by an oddly-timed palate cleanser of fresh pineapple topped with passionfruit lemon myrtle sorbet and zest of blood orange. My partner enjoyed this fresh tart treat (mostly enjoying being able to eat pineapple without the drama of cutting it open and preparing it), but personally I didn’t feel like my palate was so dirty after a piece of bread and three snacks that it needed cleansing.

Our second bread of the night was made of 50% potato flour and lathered in marron butter. I was quite happy with this bread, and found that it had an unsurprising blini like quality. I was however an idiot and ate most of the bread by itself, rather than with the rest of this course.

The aforementioned bread was served with Western Australian Marrow in XO Sauce. I have some feelings about this dish, but the general vibe is that I felt much less spoken down to than when I went to Quay, which was the last time I had marron at a restaurant. Positive elements of the Babyface dining experience included the larger size of the marron, the interesting and fresh tasting accompaniment of white asparagus, Newcastle greens (a microgreen growery), and ice plant (wow! it looks like it’s covered in ice! You can feel the ice buds with your tongue!), and the fact that no one tried to explain to me that yes, we are indeed in Australia. The sauce was enjoyable and had good umami flavour, however in no way would I describe it as an “XO” sauce, a label which generally hints at a bit of spice and a whiff of scallop. I also found myself wanting for a spoon, a utensil that was provided in plenty at the bread and snack courses but not at the course that actually had a bit of soup. My fault for not saving my bread to mop it up.

These skewers of Port Lincoln squid and pork jowl were seriously good. The Port Lincoln squid offered a creamy texture with just enough crunch, whilst the pork jowl absolutely melted in the mouth. The smokiness of ironbark and the natural umami of the squid was amplified by the delicious squid ink sauce underneath, and possibly a hint of black sesame too. This was really top tier, and even my seafood-averse girlfriend eventually grew to enjoy it, even if she needed a bit of coaxing to actually put it in her mouth.

The squid and pork skewers were accompanied by this buckwheat noodle, sauced with black garlic and covered in pecorino. I must admit that while much care seems to have been taken to prepare them, these did not really enthuse me. I thought that while they probably had enough random complexity of flavour, they didn’t actually have enough general flavour to ward off the tastelessness of the soba. I ended up mixing the leftover squid ink sauce from the skewers into my noodles.

Our main course was based around a piece of 7-day aged lamb rump from some kind of station, presumably in the Australian Outback. It was served medium rare in a pool of its own juices – tender, but not really with any other flavour. The lamb rump was accompanied by the most beautifully caramelised piece of fermented pumpkin, however, which really stole the show.

The main course also featured some potato ?accordions in a strange white sauce that my partner enjoyed far more than me. She loves potato.

The salad, composed of green asparagus, Newcastle greens, and flowers in a bread sauce, was a nice and fresh reprieve from the lamb jus. I could eat this every day.

Time for dessert now, and this cracked puff filled with pistachio cream was excellent. They The exterior had a slight pineapple bun quality, but was more structure and much better than the pastry of every other cream puff I’ve ever had. The pistachio cream was nice and not too sweet. They even poked a candle into one of them to mark the occasion. The girls on the table next to us shared one cream puff and sent the other back. They were full, or should I say fools.

I didn’t care much for the second dessert, a malt ice cream on top of chocolate mousse and mulberry. I thought that while the malt ice cream was good, the white slabs were just a bit too sweet.

So this is actually revolutionary. Babyface Kitchen gives you a little take-away dessert snack to have at home following your meal, or even the following day as a little extension to your culinary adventure.

COMMENTS
I had a great time getting back into some tasting menu dining for the first time in over five months. Not every dish was perfect, but I very much appreciated the variety of tastes and experiences on offer. $110 per person was a reasonable price to pay for this meal in regional NSW, but I do hope I will get the chance to return for their cheaper and ever changing a la carte offerings in the future. I also enjoyed the very bare minimum of conversation we had with our waiters and waitresses, who were frequently drawn into deep conversation by the middle aged woman on my left. Her poor husband.

Babyface Kitchen
1/179 Keira St, Wollongong NSW 2500
(02) 4295 0903