Saturday, September 25, 2010

Birthday Dinner, Sake Restaurant & Bar, Sydney

"No Memory Card Inserted" its every food blogging birthday celebrants worst nightmare. Between 3 iphones, and a point and shoot camera that had just survived a european holiday - we found that this was the smallest of the obstacles encountered on this birthday evening. 

Leading up to Gianna's birthday the struggle was trying to find a place where we could go out and celebrate. Japanese is something that we both like, quite a bit in fact and I thought it would be nice to go somewhere other than Toko. Don't get me wrong I love Toko. So so much, but I mean after the 40th or so visit....well you know. If Gianna had her way we would be at Makoto on Liverpool St. At the end of the day it came down to picking somewhere we haven't tried and where we could just drop some sake bombs and chow down on some sushi. Why not try Sake Japanese restaurant at the Rocks? 
The 3 hungry patrons and their Wirra Wirra Mrs Wigley Grenache Rosé 2007
Surprises and Gianna do not go hand in hand. All month she was nagging and trying to find out what birthday present she was getting and what we would be doing to celebrate. I stood my ground and kept the present secret but she had managed to uncover the plans for the evening. I made a booking for Sake a few weeks before. What I didn't anticipate was that she had done the same thinking that I wouldn't be able to do so of my own accord. Long story short I had made the booking for the spot that she was waiting to be cancelled. She is a pain. In the ass. In the nicest most possible way. So those difficulties aside the next obstacle was managing to pick something to drink. The indecisiveness between our little birthday party crew was astounding. After a debate that lasted 20 minutes on the merits of sake over cocktails or red wine we ended up settling on a bottle of Wirra Wirra Rosé ($41 / bottle). It was a good choice and served its purpose well..A bottle gone before the mains! 

Warm steamed Edemame with salt flakes
Fortunately picking food was not such an ordeal. The menu is quite varied and there are many things to pick and choose from that all sound so so wonderful. We decided on getting the edamame $8 (prerequisite for any Japanese meal) and  the chicken wing gyoza $14. The edamame was gone in a flash and the chicken wing gyoza were an interesting starter. The chicken was tasty and not typical of your usual gyoza dumpling. The stuffing was in a pocket between the chicken meat and crispy skin with a sweet dipping sauce that provided a nice contrast.

Chicken Wing Gyoza - with garlic chive pork mince stuffed wings, crispy fried with dipping sauce
For mains we picked Popcorn shrimp $25, Crispy Skin Pork Belly bites $15 and an assortment of sushi that consisted of Spider Maki $17, Philadelphia Maki $14 and Tuna Avocado Maki $14. Before we delve into details it must be said that the presentation of everything was just amazing. The colours popped and food was plated in a very well thought out manner. Shame that none of us had a good camera to capture it all, so we concentrated on what we do best - EAT. 

Crispy Pork Belly Bites with edamame puree, sweet cabbage, yuzu pepper and reduced balsamic teriyaki sauce
The dish thing we tucked into were the crispy skin pork belly bites - simply amazing. The skin was crispy and salty, the pork juicy and the flavours were out there. The sweet pickled cabbage was the standout for me, it just went so well with the crispy pork skin. Manners were discarded as we got to the Edemame Mash, not a smear was left on the plate. I think this serving is too small to share with anyone else.
Popcorn Shrimp prawn tempura with creamy spicy sauce
The second dish that came out was the popcorn shrimp. Now it does sound somewhat of a cheesy name but this would have to be hands down one of the best things any of us had ever eaten. The little balls of shrimp were in a crispy coating and bathed in an absolutely delectable spicy mayonaise sauce that made you just want you to suck the flavour from your napkin well after you had wiped the sauce from your mouth. Every time the chopsticks would go into the bowl everyone would eye each other out, it was very much a Mexican standoff as the shrimp plate got emptier and emptier. All the dishes are made for sharing - but they are so good, it would be the last thing you'd want to do.
Assorted seafood maki
Soon after we were well into the popcorn shrimp the maki rolls were brought out. Once again the colours were vibrant, the rolls looked so good you almost felt bad for even thinking about eating them. My favourite were the Philadelphia maki rolls. The salmon roe on top was a nice touch especially when they pop in your mouth and you get that little burst of saltiness. The spider maki was incredible, it's pretty hard to go wrong with soft shell crab. 

So at this stage we had decided to get a carafe of sake.  I can't remember the name nor Gianna. But it was good. Real good. It was one of those really smooth and easy to drink sakes.  So good that the alcohol content just sneaks up on you unexpectedly and then "BANG" there you go - hangover tomorrow. So full of Japanese courage we ordered desert but we had to get the Pork Belly Skewers $9 each for that one last savoury hurrah. Gianna and our friend Emmanuel chowed down on the pork that just melted like butter from the skewer. From the silence I gathered that they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. 
Assorted seafood maki and pork belly kushiaki

After the pork belly our very friendly waiter recommended something to cleanse the palate. Wanting to try something different we settled on a sake variant that the waiter referred to as Japanese Limoncello - Kozaemon Yuzu. What can I say, it was just heavenly. It was smooth, lemony, sweet and above all else just so effortless to drink, just ignore the lethal side effects. We were well inebriated by this stage but as you can see in the photos we were still able to master the physics behind making our glasses sit in a way that they were not meant to.
Banana, shiso and caramel spring rolls, raspberry apple dipping sauce

Warm chocolate pudding with sesame ice-cream & black sesame tuile
Managing to string a few syllables together - barely, we ordered 2 serves of the Chocolate Fondant with Sesame Ice Cream $15 and Banana Harumaki $13. The banana harumaki is basically banana and caramel spring rolls served with a raspberry and apple dipping sauce. Very very tasty. The outer skin was fried to a perfect crisp and the banana just added that softness that made the dish an interesting take on the spring roll. Now the fondants...woah. Lucky we got two. They were perfect. You could tell from the minute the chocolate sauce just gushed out once the spoon split the outer surface. Simply wow. 
Our Dessert Selection and Sake Toasts
Finishing with desert and not yet content to leave we just had to try and relive our experience of Tokyo a few months back. It was our personal challenge to be the last patrons at the restaurant. Feeling a bit nostalgic we ordered some plum wine - umeshu time! A perfect way to finish such a wonderful dinner and sharing a laugh whilst reminiscing about singing karaoke in random shoe box bars in the streets of Shibuya after downing 10 or so glasses.. it was as close to Tokyo as we could get.
Demolished Desserts
Now for the final evening's hurdle. Gianna's friend Mr Coriander decided to give her another suprise birthday visit for a third year in a row - a massive allergic reaction! A little history - in 2008 a group of us celebrated her birthday dinner at Chopstix Thai restaurant in Balmain. By the time we were at her party at Ivy, she was covered in patchy red marks while dancing the night away, thanks to the sneaky Mr Coriander. Last year we celebrated at Longrain Thai - everything we ordered was laced with coriander, but we had already worked our way through the cocktail list so 'patchy' and I just headed on home. This year, we thought we broke the curse but unfortunately there was some stealth coriander - the gyoza is the prime suspect. Although we cut the night short, it was still a very memorable dinner - my poor girlfriend dressed to the nines and ended up being covered in red patches. What a way to end the evening! The general consensus  however was of how awesome the meal was - there was a huge selection of dishes to choose from and the service friendly and attentive, despite a full house. The upside to going home early is that she gets her birthday present a few hours earlier... the only clue i gave her all month was "Orange"
Happy Birthday Gianna, here's to more delicious meals and coriander outbreaks!

Sake Restaurant and Bar, 12 Argyle St, The Rocks, Sydney. (02) 9259 5656
Last Booking at 9.30, Bar Menu also available.

Sake Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Wine Library, Paddington

Please don't get the wrong idea about me because for doing two consecutive posts on Wine Bars.. its not like that, really.. I promise - I have a valid explanation!
And if thats not enough, I actually visited the new Wine Library in Paddington twice in one day. All in good reason though..its was a Friday (hooray) and I celebrated my birthday last Sunday the 12th of September, so this was a kick off to the epic birthday weekend that was to come. Thats the excuse i'm going with.
The Wine Library is a new addition to the Woolhara end of Oxford St. The beauty of Paddington is that a place which would seem like a tiny shoebox from the frontage actually expands further and further back. They worked their work magic on this property - a well designed space that has a serviced bar, a few tables in the back section, an awesome cured meat closet (you'll see what I mean later..) as well as access to a garden courtyard. 
I've driven past on numerous occasions at night and wondered "What is that new place, why is it always busy and why haven't I been??" Luckily for me, its a hop skip and jump from the office - a perfect venue for a quick friday birthday lunch with my lovely G-Star girls! They are just as excited as I am to try this new place and to get away from our desks!!
Lunchtime was not busy at all, we grab a table in the back section with the awesome view of the "Meat Closet". A small tiled room displaying the imported cured meats and tempting everyones tastebuds! One can only guess that this little tiled room used to be a bathroom.. creative indeed! 

The photo on the where do I even start? My Epic birthday lunch aka everything Gianna could wish for on a plate - A stracchino and black truffle quesadilla. This right here made my birthday. It was ridicuously creamy, but with the right amount of saltiness. My fellow eaters were baffled as to how I could consume a dish so rich on my own! I love truffles - the smell, the flavour - I would order anything with truffles if it was on the menu. This is Wine Library's version of a truffle grilled cheese sandwich. If someone asked me what I would have as a final meal, this quesadilla would be on the list.
We were impressed by the quality of the wine list (finally, a place for proper wine in Paddo!) as well as the super friendly service. Maybe it was the midday red wine, the excitement, or it may have been the quesadilla that I didn't even think to take any more photo's at lunchtime. I figured I would be back soon, "Ill make my mental notes and take more proper photo's then". 
Fast Forward to 6 or so hours later. After some after work Birthday drinks and pizza at the London Pub on William Street (another Paddington Favorite) I was back, and this time with Demos in tow. I simply could not resist going back and to share the excitement with my other half. We were worried that we would'nt be able to get a seat because the small space was completely full! The bar simply transforms at night, dimply lit by the lights behind the bar and the bottle cut outs on the wall and ceiling. I absolutely love the attention to detail that was put into the interior. After a 5 minute wait we were seated at the bar with a perfect view of the wine selection and the open food prep area. 5 minute wait on a Friday night? Pinch me i'm dreaming!
We start off with the Sweet Potato Crisps ($5.00) and the bowl was empty in about two minutes flat. Such a morish snack, a tastier but probably an equally naughty version of the Smiths Thins chips - but not as salty of course! It went so well with the wine we chose. Demos tried the Delas Cotes du Ventous 2007 a red wine from Rhone Valley, France ($10/glass) and I wanted to try the Moric Blaufrankish 2007 from Austria ($14/glass) 
I spotted "Truffles" on the Menu again and this time its with the Chicken Terrine with Truffles and Pistachio and Pickles on the side ($13) A small portion, but still enough for two people to share and have a taste. The bread that comes with it is delicious - and looking around I notice that every dish comes with a different type of bread. This particular sourdough compliments the dish, which is packed full of flavour unlike some of the terrines I have tried before. Im glad we ordered this! Good things come in small servings!

Looking over the Menu, I still am a little bit confused as to what cusine this restaurant serves. Wine Library is the little sister of the very popular Buzo Italian restaurant in Woolhara, so there is a strong Italian presence. However, there seem to be a few mediterranean and spanish influences as well. One of the specials this evening was a Lamb Kafta with traditional Tzaziki ($3.50 /each). With Demothenis aka Iron Chef Greek proclaiming that this had to be one of the best Tzaziki dips he has ever tasted we knew we were on to a good thing. 

The night is never complete until the Jamon comes out. Wine Library does a mean Salumi selection - The Embuditos Y Queso ($20) is a selection of cured meats with a cheese. It also comes with a serve of Pan Con Tomate, a crunchy toasted sourdough soaked in tomato, garlic and olive oil. The meats were sliced   tissue paper thin and we received a selection of prosciutto, salami and coppa. Delicious indeed, although I would avoid this place if you are anti carbs because there is so much bread EVERYWHERE! No doubt we'll be back again - most likely this friday. It was a perfect start to an awesome birthday weekend.. and there will be more birthday meals to share. Its wednesday night and I still havent fully recharged (and digested) after the weekend of fun and food! 
Its only mid-week and I find myself counting down to Friday. It feels like a longer than usual week, but at least I have another visit to The Wine Library to look forward to! If you are in the area, feel free to drop me a line - I will love any excuse to run over for a glass of red..or two. 
Hey, don't judge me - i'm still on Birthday mode. 

The Wine Library, 18 Oxford St Woollahra (02) 9382 1600 
Open for Breakfast, Lunch and Late
The Wine Library on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Time To Vino, Darlinghurst

Sometimes you might be having 'one of those days' where nothing is going your way and you can't think of anything better than turning that computer off and storming out of that office and just downing a nice glass of wine to take the edge off the day that has unfolded over the past 10 hrs. You might be thinking that it sounds like someone has a few alcoholic tendencies but I think that at times there is nothing better than to sit back and unwind with good company over a glass of wine. Feeling a bit 'meh' one evening we decided to try a place in Darlinghurst that we have walked past a few times before. Time to Vino is a beautiful little wine bar in Stanley St, Darlinghurst. With nothing but red wine on the mind what more of a fitting place to go.
We stroll in and get seated in the back, the area is a small room dimly lit and with hundreds of books and magazines about wine for your enjoyment. It really sets the scene for some unwinding. At this stage we were feeling a bit peckish so we asked to have a look at the menu to order a few things to have with a few glasses of wine. While we were pouring over the menu it just so happened that there were quite a few things that sounded really good. What was meant to be a glass of wine or two ended up turning into a beautiful meal. 

But the important task at hand was getting the wine sorted. From what I remember we ordered a carafe of 2007 Poliziano Sangiovese from the Chianti Region of Italy, needless to say my favourite italian wine. It really did hit the spot might I add. To start appeasing the growing appetite that was on hand we ordered some marinated olives.... and pork belly.....and arancini.....and slow cooked crumble!

Orignially we wanted to try the gourmet toastie sandwiches that Time to Vino has been famous for this dinner. Yes, toasted duck rillette, swiss brown mushroom and sweet onion sandwiches - which unfortunately were unavailable that night. Oh well, another reason to come back right? The olives ($6) were an assortment of varieties and we were off to a great start. Marinated in oil, vinegar and herbs - a good friend for the wine.
The crispy pork belly ($15 / 4 pcs) served with pear went down a treat, the words 'crispy' and 'pork' always manages to light up the room. The saltiness of the pork and the sweetness of the pear was well balanced but there is nothing better than sinking your teeth into crispy pork crackling wherever you may be. One of life's finest experiences I would have to say - eating crunchy salty cant get any better than that!
The arancini ($12) were amazing. Small bite sized pieces that were lightly coated, stuffed with rice and gorgonzola cheese served on a bed of napolitana sauce, yes kids - gorgonzola everyone's favourite guilty pleasure. Just plain yummy and can fix whatever headache/toothache/emotional mess you have got yourself in. Cue 90's emotional music. "Nothing Copares to you" by Sinead O'Connor is fitting music for this Arancini.
Looking back in hindsight the Ribs were an impulse order ($15) that was most definitely not regretted. The meat was tender, the serving was large and the sauce was sweet, sticky and just so flavoursome you couldn't help but want to lick your fingers afterward, and maybe even the plate. So good and and it melts off the bone and if you look closely at the photo you can see the sweet sticky sauce dripping off.
Having finished the food and the wine and feeling quite relaxed and content we couldn't help ourselves so we just had to order desert. We felt somewhat compelled to do so given that the food was so so good. We couldn't go past the Apple and Hazelnut Crumble served with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ($12). It comes out warm in a brown clay pot with ice cream slowly melting over it. These pictures do not do it justice because I simply just wanted to dig in before Demos ate everything. The filling was piping hot and the apple was tart and sweet and the crumble added that nice texture making a beautiful desert overall. It was such shame that I had to share it with Demos. I'll know for next time. 
So my advice is that the next time you feel that it's become all a bit to much and you are thinking that it's 'A Time to Kill' just put the pens down, turn those computers off, say goodbye and know that it's "Time to Vino!" You know you want to!
P.S. Just how awesome is Samurai Domo from Japan? He fends off Traffic Rage.

Time to Vino
66 Stanley St Darlinghurst (02) 3380 24252
Open Tuesday to Saturday 4pm til Late

Time To Vino on Urbanspoon


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