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

Categories
Bakery Café Chinese

Bengong Black – Darling Square Haymarket NSW Bubble Tea and Bakery Review

Let me tell you about a vibe.

Back when my partner worked in Concord, she would often come home with milk tea from Bengong. We always enjoyed their milk tea, imbued with a stronger tea flavour than most outfits. We were therefore suitably surprised and a little bit proud when we found that they had opened up a branch in Darling Square. The Concord Hospital boba tea shop had finally made it.

I really enjoyed this Tea Cube Milk Tea when I first had it. I was confused when they asked me to choose a flavour, and I chose lychee. I thought it was so cool that they had somehow created this drink where they put concentrated tea into jellies. I went back a couple of days later and asked for one but without fruit flavouring, and the staff member looked at me as if I were crazy but was ultimately happy to oblige. What I got was a simple milk tea with a lot of ice. I was an idiot. The tea cubes weren’t actually tea cubes, merely fruit cubes.

The Wuwu Oreo Sundae was pretty good! Just a soft serve over hot brown sugar and boba syrup, with an oreo on top. It melts quickly so be sure to eat it just as fast.

Bread is bread. This particular strawberry flavoured bread was not that good.

Bengong Black Haymarket
91 Harbour St, Haymarket NSW 2000

Bengong Black Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Categories
Fine Dining Italian Middle Eastern

Bart Jr. – Redfern NSW Restaurant Review

Our recently dog-positive Redfern based friend took us to one of Redfern’s many dog-positive night time venues. We had the $65 per person feed me tasting menu, with the addition of a round of raw beef toast for the table.

I’m not very well versed in olive culture, but these green Sicilian olives were pleasantly crisp and only lightly salted. Not bad, but not something I’d willingly order from the a la carte menu for $5.

The ricotta, potato & leek fritter with smoked tomato sago and aioli was the first non-olive dish of the night, and also the start of what was essentially an abuse of shaved pecorino. Whilst I’m usually quite anti-fritter, these frittery balls were coated in a nice tomato sauce, with good internal texture and flavour. Not bad.

This visually interesting dish is Bart Jr’s kingfish & scallop crudo with yuzu kosho, buttermilk, cucumber, poppy seeds, and dill. I’m pretty sure there’s some salmon and pomegranate snuck in as well. This was a fresh tasting sashimi based dish, and whilst many of the ingredients – for example buttermilk and poppy seed didn’t make a huge difference in flavour, the dill really shone through. Dill generally pairs quite well with seafood, and this was no exception. Well liked around the table. Pretty good.

The raw beef toast with duck dripping, chives, pecorino di fossa, and crispy onion atop grilled garlicky sourdough ($9 supplement each) was not included in our tasting menu but probably the best morsel of the night, and a must get. Each bite of these juicy, thickly topped slices of sourdough was extremely decadent, with the cheeses, sauces, and raw meat all melting together in the mouth. A nice hit of umami that I wish there were more of. A really elevated snack.

The sheep’s halloumi in rosemary butter with burnt honey, verjuice, currants and hazelnuts is the rare sweet halloumi dish. Despite the multiple sources of sweetness and the contrasting innate saltiness of the halloumi this dish was able to avoid being over-flavoured. It was pretty nice, but I think a bit of bread served with it would’ve gone a long way.

Speaking of bread, the next dish on the menu was the rosemary and garlic focaccia with fermented chilli butter and olive oil. My feelings towards this bread dish are not as fond as some of our friends. I think that the fermented chilli butter, whilst good, was wasted on the focaccia which was already quite adequately flavoured and salted on its own. I would’ve preferred to have the chilli butter (as well as the preceding halloumi) with some more plain bread so that it could’ve been enjoyed more on its own merit. The combination of bread and chilli butter was, in my opinion, the combination of two strong and non-complimentary flavours.

The pasta formosa with lamb shoulder ragu, green peas, pecorino and pangrattato was the third appearance of Bart Jr’s overreliance on pecorino. The pasta was quite al dente, moreso than I normally like, but still pretty good. The serving of beef was generous, and while the ragu flavours were good, they were no more special than any other ragu at any other restaurant we’ve been to recently.

The salad dish was made of baby gem leaves, eschallot vinaigrette, pecorino, and fennel seed pangrattato. Are you starting to see a trend? Maybe pecorino was on sale at the supplier.

Whilst I didn’t really enjoy the roasted hasselback potatoes with creme fraiche and aleppo pepper, thinking to be a bit too dry even with the sauce, my potato-positive partner thought that it was “a fine potato”

The charred ocean trout skewer with caramelised fennel, harissa, yoghurt, and mint was NYL’s least favourite dish, and in my opinion probably the weaker of the two options for mains. It is a 200 gram skewer of trout cooked in a Middle Eastern style. The fish is well cooked, to a safe degree whilst still retaining a semi-rare moist inside. I wasn’t a big fan of the fennel, however, and I thought the harrisa-heavy flavour, though not bad on its own, was a bit incongruous with the tone set by the rest of the meal.

I get highly anxious about driving after any quantity of alcohol, so this Heiwa Shuzo ‘Tsuruume’ Yuzushu was perfect as an inclusion on Bart Jr’s tasting menu. It was pretty tasty and refreshing (tart, not too sweet), but takes this somewhat disordered journey from Italy, to the Middle East, and now Japan.

VERDICT
Bart Jr’s was generally pretty good, with the major standout being the raw beef toast. They have a minimum spend of $60 per head, so you might have to get some other food and drinks unless you want 7 pieces.

Bart Jr.
92 Pitt St, Redfern NSW 2016
0401 899 845

Dog tax, mid-corkscrew vs giraffe toy

Diners: JW, PX, NYL and dog, LH

Categories
Modern Australian

Clove Lane – Randwick NSW Restaurant Review

My partner and I had a late post-work dinner at Clove Lane recently after a difficult and scary medical procedure. While we were tempted to order their $99 per head tasting menu, we ended up choosing more granular control and picked some of our favourites from the a la carte menu. Any savings we might have gleaned by skipping dishes we weren’t interested in were immediately negated by the Clove Lane’s expensive but delicious Clovemopolitan cocktails.

Very small pancake with baba ghanoush and capsicum

The amuse-bouche, a very small pancake with baba ghanoush and capsicum, was an unexpected treat, though not very good. It was a soft and floppy pancake with very mild flavours that didn’t amuse the mouth but rather disappoint it. Luckily this amuse-bouche was not indicative of the quality of the rest of the meal.

Iggy’s warm sourdough, whipped burnt butter

The warm sourdough with whipped burnt butter ($8) was a wholesome start to the meal. Whilst not in-house, the bread was good quality, soft and warm, having being sourced from Iggy’s. The whipped burnt butter had a caramel-like aftertaste which I wasn’t a fan of but my partner enjoyed.

I enjoyed the stracciatella, confit cherry truss tomato ($18), especially eaten with the aforementioned bread. The stracciatella was nice, light, milky. While I was drawn in by the concept of confit tomatoes, it was difficult, when eating them, to differentiate these tomatoes from other tomatoes cooked in more traditional methods. The stracciatella was ultimately good, but I don’t think the confit process added anything special to the dish.

Seared scallops, almond, golden raisin, cauliflower

The seared scallops, almond, golden raisin, cauliflower ($37) was excellent. The base dish comes with three scallops for $28 though we added an extra scallop for $9. The scallops were huge, full and plump, though I thought their flavour was a bit mild on the seafood side. The sauce of chopped almonds, golden raisin and cauliflower was salty and sweet with a lot of umami. Though $37 for just four scallops the taste and presentation excelled and ultimately justified the price. I can recommend getting this dish.

Kipfler potato, capers, shallot, truffle cured egg yolk

My partner – a huge potato fan as readers of this blog will know – couldn’t walk past the roast kipfler potato with capers, shallot, truffle cured egg yolk ($12). I personally didn’t really like them. I thought they were too potatoey and not flavourful enough, however she thought that the capers provided enough variety and flavour to the dish and ultimately enjoyed five out of seven potatoes.

Roast pasture fed sirloin, green beans, butternut pumpkin in red wine sauce

The roast pasture fed sirloin, green beans, butternut pumpkin in red wine sauce ($45) was another star of the night. The beef was soft, juicy, and tender, rested for 45 minutes prior to serving but still warm inside. There was very generous amount of the beautifully savoury red wine sauce, enough for the steak as well as the pumpkin and greens. I would strong advise against leaving Clove Lane without having had a serve of this sirloin.

Saltwater barramundi, du puy lentil, green apple, kohlrabi

The saltwater barramundi, du puy lentil, green apple, kohlrabi ($42) was the weaker of the two mains, with its light and subtle flavours. The fish was a little dry and had a very light taste only. It was only when combined with the lentil and kohrabi cake that the meal had any real taste to it. While more suitable for pescaratians I’d definitely pick a different main over the barramundi were I to go again.

My partner enjoyed the clovemoplitan ($20) so much that she got two. It was a bit tangy and not too sweet.

One negative aspect of our meal was that we did feel a bit conned into donating $4 towards DineSmart. The $4 donation came directly onto our bill without us being asked, and it was framed in a way where we would’ve had to ask them to produce a new invoice to remove it. While I have a no problem donating to social enterprises like DineSmart it did feel like our hand was forced in this, and that wasn’t really OK.

VERDICT

We had a good meal with good service and good food. While a 2% donation on our bill was definitely a very small amount of money, the way it was sought left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

4/5, points lost for opt-out donation.

Clove Lane
19 Clovelly Rd, Randwick NSW 2031
(02) 9326 3573