Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Apollo

It's rather ironic our dinner venue on a rainy night is a restaurant named after the Greek sun god, Apollo, but I hoped the food would make me forget the horrid weather we are having on the last day of summer. Opened only a few weeks ago, The Apollo is fast becoming talk of the town, so expectations were high when I walked into the restaurant promptly at 6pm.

Taking up the corner space of a 1930s building with archway windows, this Greek Taverna is run by Jonathan Barthelmess, former head chef of Manly Pavilion, and Sam Christie, co-owner of Longrain. While an elongated bar with marbled granite top dominated one side of the restaurant, the exposed ceiling and pipes, rough concrete columns and minimalist furnishing gave the space a simple yet modern and edgy feel; the oversized cantilevered lamps added a touch of elegance. 

High Mountain Ice Tea
While waiting for the rest of my dinner party to arrive, I sipped on a High Mountain Ice Tea (Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Medos Honey Vodka, Massenez Apricot Liqueur, Greek Mountain Tea, lemon, honey, mint). It was soothing, citrusy and a great way to wind down from the busy day I had at work. 

The menu is, as you may have already gathered, Greek inspired. The dishes are designed to be shared, as the menu proudly states: historically Greek food has been made to share, this tradition continues at The Apollo

First to arrive at the table was the complimentary housemade pita bread that came with taramasala topped with salmon roe in a sealed glass jar. And gosh, I could not get enough of the taramasala, it was creamy and smooth with an intense flavour. I was so glad when our order of warm pita bread arrived, it gave me a chance to finish off the jar of taramasala. 

Pig's Tail Salad
Next up was the Pig's tail salad, walnuts, sorrel, currants, pomegranate farro. I honestly had no idea what to expect when I ordered it. I'd have never imagined it to look like the dish that came out of the kitchen. Definitely no curly piggy tails here, instead, the tails are flattened and cooked as crackling, absolutely delicious! 

For someone who tend to avoid anchovies, I didn't actually mind the Macaroni, chicory, anchovies, chilli, garlic. The saltiness from the anchovies was well balanced by the macaroni and chicory, the very subtle hint of chilli and garlic added more depth to the flavour of the dish. 

The servings may seem small, but they were quite filling, or maybe it was all that pita bread I ate, but after sharing the Whole grilled Mackerel served with salsa verde and lemon, plus a Greek salad (cucumber, tomato, feta, olives) on the side, I had just enough room for dessert. 

Walnuts Filo Pastry
The Ouzo marinated watermelon, pineapple granita was refreshing, but the whole table favoured the Walnuts filo pastry, coffee cream. The pastry was light, add the crunch of the walnuts, sweetness of the currants and silky smooth coffee cream and honey, surely it's a dessert designed for the gods?

One thing to take note before you rush down to get a taste of the modern Greek dishes, reservations are only taken for a table of six or more, so it pays to arrive early if you don't add up in numbers to book a table in advance. I watched the Maitre d' bring out the waiting list less than an hour after the doors opened, and this was on a miserable wet week night too. 

The Apollo: 44 Macleay Street, Potts Point, NSW 2011  The Apollo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ms. G's

I have been meaning to check out Ms. G's ever since my friend mentioned to me that they have cocktails in the frozen form - Yuzu Slushee, and that was last year. So I was very excited when I finally got the chance to head over there earlier this month. The night out also involved catching up with a friend who I haven't seen since high school! 

Silver Cloud Fizz (L)
We arrived just before 7pm and with all the hustle and bustle you wouldn't know it's a Sunday night. The old terrace house has been transformed into an Asian restaurant with a very rustic atmosphere. The top floor bar is decked out with ropes, buckets and pulleys, graffitied walls and beer cases doubled as tables, an idea I might just borrow next time I have a party. 

To kick the night off I went for the Silver Cloud Fizz (Belvedere Citrus, white mango tea, St Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon), I liked the idea of adding white mango tea to the mix. The drink itself was citrusy and rather refreshing. 

The dinning area is on the lower floor of the venue, with hanging ropes and glass walls looking out to a forest of bamboo trees, it felt like we were in the middle of a jungle instead of the city. It took no time for our waitress to take our orders but then it took what seemed like forever for our food to arrive. The table next to us arrived much later and got their food around the same time as us. However, they did accommodate our request for a bigger table when we had an extra person showing up. 

Salad of Husband & Wife
The most interesting dish on the menu has to be the Salad of Husband & Wife, the adventurous me went ahead and ordered it after the waitress explained to us what it was. I thought it was nice, but a bit too salty. Perhaps that's how pig's ears are, since I have never eaten it before I don't know how it's suppose to taste. All in all, the dish was an experience. 

If you want to play it safe, then go for the BBQ octopus & crispy pork noodle salad and Jow's Sweet & Sour lamb ribs as both were delicious. 

When it came to dessert time, we couldn't go pass the Pandan chiffon cake, strawberries, coconut sorbet and "Stoner's Delight 2.0" (doughnut ice cream, peanut butter, raspberry jam, candied bacon, potato chips, mars bar slice, banana fritters).

One of Merivale venues, Ms. G's is a funky Asian eatery that's tongue in cheek, just look at the letters in its name (MSG) and the neon sign that says six two one (food addictive number for MSG). Chefs Dan Hong and Jowett Yu bring you the flavours of Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan and everywhere in between without you ever having to leave your seat. As for the menu, I know I couldn't argue with its declaration - Asian mums are the best mums.

Ms. G's: 155 Victoria Street, Potts Point, NSW 2011  Ms. G's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Invivo Wine Nights @ Helm Bar

Last week Helm Bar launched its summer series of Wine Nights in partnership with Invivo Wines and it was the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about wine. Rob Cameron, Invivo's winemaker, was on hand to introduce the range, taking us through the wine making process and tasting notes.

First up was Bella, a low alcohol (9%) Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough), great find for those after a low calorie wine that does not compromise on the taste. Fruity and citrusy, Bella is soft and full in texture and quite refreshing.

Next up Invivo Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough), its tropical aromas will make you think of summer sunshine, well, that's how Rob put it. This beautiful full bodied wine matched perfectly with the Tempura Prawns served with wasabi mayo. Cheers to summer sunshine!

Caramelised Onion and Goats Cheese Frittata
Moving onto the reds, the spicy musk scented Invivo Pinot Gris (Marlborough) was up first; matched with soft and cheesy Caramelised Onion and Goats Cheese Frittata, it is a full bodied fruity red with soft texture, very easy on the palate.

Sophie's Rosé (Marlborough), made using the French saignée method, is named after Sophie Findlay of Zambesi, a New Zealand fashion designer who helped to design the unique Invivo label. This dry Rosé has a beautiful rose petal colour, smells like crushed strawberries and tastes of berries and citrus. Rob noted that it will match seafood perfectly, but I can only attest to the flavours of the wine on its own. The waiters serving the matching canapés Sichuan Salt and Pepper Calamari completely missed our table on their rounds.

Last wine of the night was the Invivo Pinot Noir (Central Otago), Rob was particularly proud of this one. Handmade and aged in oak over spring and summer then bottled without any filtration, using the winemaker's words, it is a labour of love. With an earthy tone, dark cherries and plums to the nose, this is a sweet red that was the perfect partner in crime to the Peking Duck Pancakes.

This range of premium New Zealand wine from Invivo, "in life", would make a great companion for summer nights. And for five weeks, a different Invivo wine will be on offer each Thursday night from 5pm at $5 a glass, now that's good value!

Helm Bar: Aquarium Wharf, Wheat Rd, Darlingharbour, NSW 2000  Helm Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

John and Peter Canteen (CLOSED)

Started out as a lunch time pop-up venue, John and Peter Canteen quickly took up permanent residence at CarriageWorks. Its black and white chic decor is a complete contrast to the bare concrete and steel converted railway workshop complex it resides in, but it is that contrast that makes it a very cool venue to dine in. The black and white theme flows from tables and chairs to banquets and cushions; white streamers and hanging theatre lights overhead, complete with a massive crane reaching across the length of the restaurant. Love it. 

The menu is Italian, and by that I mean it is written in Italian. If you are like me, and probably most of the diners there, don't speak a word of Italian, let alone reading it, flag down one of the waiters and ask. There is nothing embarrassing about getting them to explain the menu. If a restaurant presents you with a non-English menu in an English speaking country, they expect you to ask.

The wine list consists of mostly Italian wines, there are two pages of bottled wines to select from; but if you want to go by the glass, then your choice is limited. Cocktails and boutique beers are also on the menu for the non wine drinkers.

Roast Pork Belly
For entrée, our waiter recommended the Asparagi con cacio e pepe, which is asparagus served with a classic pecorino (Italian cheese made from sheep's milk) and pepper sauce. It might not sound very tempting but I have to say I was surprised by its delectable flavours and it was easily my favourite dish on the night. As for the Smoked eel, fennel, parsley, I found the smokiness of the eel overpowering and as a result I could barely taste the fennel. For main, my friend had the Pollo alla diavola, a quarter of generously seasoned roasted chicken served with roasted potatoes; while I went for the Roast pork belly, braised fennel, salsa verde, the meat was tender and skin crackling, just the way it should be. We also ordered Green beans, garlic as a side dish, which was a top choice as the beans were crisp and delicious.

Unfortunately we underestimated the dinning time, after our mains we only had 15mins to spare before the start of Thyestes. Having been told there is a complete lockout we had no choice but to give the dessert a miss. I did have my eyes on the Baked white peach, amaretto, amaretti, but it'll have to wait till next time.

A perfect place for pre-theatre dinner, John and Peter Canteen serves up some great dishes; with its simple and clean presentation you can focus all your attention on the flavours of the ingredients. It would be nice if the menu had English for dishes with not-so-obvious Italian names, but perhaps getting the waiters to explain the menu to you is part of the dinning experience.

John and Peter Canteen: 245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh, NSW 2015  JOHNANDPETER Canteen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 12, 2012

D'Vine Wine Bar & Grill

A few month shy of its first birthday, D'Vine Wine Bar & Grill hosted its first Wine and Degustation showcase for 2012 this week and it was an intimate affair. 

After being warmly greeted at the door we were quickly seated at our table, a printed menu lay neatly on the plate listing the four courses and the matching wines. Windowrie Wines from Cowra NSW was the wine maker being showcased on the night.  

Ilker Bicer, co-owner of D'Vine, certainly knows his wine and is such a pleasure to talk to. When I told him that I'm still learning to appreciate wine and tend to have trouble picking a wine when eating out, he shared one of his tips with me - rather than base your choice on the label, look at the wine regions on offer, then all you have to do is go for the grape variety a particular region is famous for. For example, if you are after a Semillion, then Hunter Valley would be a top pick as Semillion is considered the iconic wine of the region. I guess from now on wine lists won't be so daunting again.

While glancing over the menu, two of the dishes caught my eyes:

Grilled stuffed baby squid, tomato oil and caper berries; matched with Windowrie "The Mill" Verdelho 2011.

Lamb back-strap, salad of artichokes, black olives, lamb port jus; matched with Pig In The House Organic Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Okay, I may be somewhat biased on picking the second dish as one to look forward to, I love lamb and artichokes, but it also meant I'd be harder to please when the dish is served since I often order lamb in restaurants and I've had some amazing lamb dishes. 

Grilled Stuffed Baby Squid
I think my friend's comment "I'd like to have the squid with every single dish served from now on please" speaks for just how unbelievably delicious the dish was. The grilled baby squid was stuffed with lime and herb risotto, it was tender and full of flavour, and when matched with the Verdelho, dry with hints of passionfruit, my taste buds went straight to heaven.  

Just when we thought it couldn't get any better than the baby squid, the duck and rosemary terrine served with orange segments & mint salad that followed blew us away. 

The question then was, how can the next course possibly top all these? Well, Paul Vichr, head chef and the other half of D'Vine, may be a man of few words on the night but the food that came out of his kitchen was simply amazing. And the lamb dish was no exception. Tender and pink, the lamb back-strap was cooked to perfection. I was impressed. The matching organic wine was quite different to the wines I've had, it may demand an acquired taste. 

Sticky Fig Pudding
Oh and the Sticky Fig Pudding, words cannot do it justice!

Located minutes from the famous Bondi Beach, this little wine bar and grill is a great place to hang out with friends or taking that special someone for a romantic candle lit dinner. The dark red walls, wood furnishing, cushioned banquette and soft lighting gave the whole place a relaxed and intimate feel. The black fishnets casually thrown across the white window frames is a little nice reminder that the sea is near by; every time I looked at it I could almost hear the waves hitting the rocks. 

Whether you are there to enjoy the tapas styled dishes with a glass of wine, or if you happen to be lucky enough to attend one of their special events, like the Wine Makers Dinner I just attended, you'll be leaving there wanting more. Especially that sticky fig pudding! 

D'Vine Wine Bar & Grill: 206 Bondi Road, Bondi, NSW 2026  D'Vine Wine Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bar 99

We intended to check out The Little Guy after watching a performance of The Taming of the Shrew at Sydney Shakespeare Festival, given that none of us has been there before we ended up walking into a bar what we later discovered is actually Bar 99.

I've always found that the places you accidentally stumble upon are often some of the best places, and Bar 99 just made it onto the list.

The ground floor consists of a sitting area, the bar, the kitchen and an outdoor sitting area in the court yard at the back. Drinks and food menu are scribbled on the wall, if something runs out it is simply crossed off.

Mid level is decked out like a living room, complete with various board games and the Ping Pong room occupies the top floor.

The giant melting candles and dim lighting added to the casual and relaxed atmosphere that spreads from the bottom to the top floor. It makes you feel like you are at someone's home rather than in a bar.

Cocktails are offered, but it's not the main focus of this old terrace house bar. Ciders, beers and wine are the more popular items at the bar, but take note, this is a cash only bar so make sure you visit an ATM beforehand.

Bar 99: 99 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, NSW 2037  Bar 99 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sydney Shakespeare Festival

In its 5th year,  Sydney Shakespeare Festival is a family friendly event held each summer promoting the wonderful works of Shakespeare through an outdoor theatre. 

While Sydney is splashing through one of its wettest summers on record, we were lucky enough to get a clear sky last night. As a BYO event, it meant we got to enjoy a picnic under the stars while watching The Taming of the Shrew.

Julie Baz and David Jeffrey are the creative team that drives this festival and the talented cast certainly put on a great performance. 

With the Sydney Harbour and city skyline as its backdrop, this is one theatre event that will definitely remain on my summer to-do list for the years to come. 

Sydney Shakespeare Festival: Bicentennial Park, Glebe Foreshore

Friday, February 3, 2012

Societé Food & Wine Bar

I was rather disappointed with the way the chef served spaghetti, but I did find Societé Food & Wine Bar to be a great place to relax whether you are there for food or drinks. The vibe is casual and friendly, you can enjoy the fresh air and leafy outlook from the alfresco dinning area or get comfortable in the glass room while appreciating the artworks on the wall.

Cheese Platter
Specials are written on the blackboard, along with an all day breakfast menu, but if you want to get serious with food or wine, ask the staff for a full menu. There is a good selection of dishes, including sharing plates and tapas. Matching wines are also suggested for some of the dishes. 

The Cheese Platter is probably one of the best I've seen, great presentation and a good selection of cheese too: Mature Cheddar - Vintage, Old Telegraph Road - Triple Cream White and Sapphire Blue, Yarra Valley - Black Savarine Goats Cheese. Our bottle of Riverstones 2009 Shiraz went down nicely and complimented the cheese quite well.

For dinner we ordered from the specials. My friend had the grilled salmon, which was served with mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. It looked pretty good and I was told it tasted good too. I had the Spaghetti Bolognese as I have been craving for it for the past two weeks. Unfortunately it turned out to be such a let down. For whatever reason, the chef decided to serve the spaghetti in 2cm pieces instead of in its original long strands. 

The disappointing Spaghetti Bolognese
I'm still not too sure what to make of it. I have seen people cutting up their spaghetti at the table and never understood why, perhaps with the exception when children are involved. For me, something was lost in the cut up pieces, not being able to twirl my fork to wrap the spaghetti around it felt strange. The whole dish lost its appeal very quickly.

Despite the spaghetti disappointment I would still go back, I quite enjoyed the few hours I spent there chatting and drinking wine. And if spaghetti should pop up as a special again, I will be sure to remember to ask the chef to serve it uncut.

Societé Food & Wine Bar: Shop 1, 9-15 Danks Street, Waterloo, NSW 2017  Societe Food & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon