Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spice I Am, Surry Hills

Late night thai food cravings - we've all been hit by them at one point in time or another. But on this particular evening a craving for some thai food hit me like a ton of coconuts. Sure there are the other Thai street food haunts such as Home, House and Chat Thai - which we do frequent when these cravings can't be turfed - but I am a bit ashamed that this was my first visit to Spice I am. This Surry Hills fixture has been feeding the masses of hungry patrons since 2004, so what have I missed in the last 7 years? Plenty.
They were out of Thai Milk Tea that night so Demos opted for the Young Coconut Juice ($4.50) but not before attacking my Lemon Iced Tea first ($4.00)
A little bit of happy snapping while we wait of course.
Looking around and we see a constant turnover of tables, it really is a busy place! Now I have to clarify for you curious observers - there are 2 Spice I am's in Sydney and we are at the bustling "original" and more relaxed location on Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills. There is a fancier Spice I am restaurant in Victoria Street, Darlinghurst. Chef's Padet Nagsalab and Sujet Saenkham really created a food institution and the writing is on the wall with several food award displayed.
The busy dining space at Spice I Am 

Chicken Pad Thai $13.90
Now, for what we are for - annihilating the food cravings.
Chicken Pad Thai is just one of those standard dishes that we tend to order when at Thai. Doesn't everyone? Demos has the obsession of finding Sydney's best Pad  Thai - I guess its a dish that takes us back to our broke uni days where we would live on this dish. The Pad Thai on offer is a very substantial portion and could easily be shared by a group. The noodles are not oily and the flavours are not overpowering - a tasty dish. Snaps for not being stingy on the chicken too, as my pet hate is pad thai with minimal protien and peanuts.
Fried Rice with Crab Meat $17.50  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hugos Bar Pizza, Kings Cross

"Hugo's Sunday?"
There was a phase not too long ago when this text message was received clockwork at around 7 pm on a Sunday night. The troops would be gathered, we'd put on our Sunday best and indulge in Hugo's $5 pizza's and cocktails on their balcony at Kings Cross. My lovely friends (affectionately nicknamed the Mediterranean Gossip Girl - we are far less glamourous and all we like to do is eat) would dance the night away and dread monday mornings all together.
Barbera d'Asti $50.00
One particular Sunday, we decided to get together for dinner at Hugo's Bar and Lounge, a place we have often ignored as we'd walk up the stairs to the club..or stumble back to our cars.
Although they have a mean cocktail list, we did the adult thing and ordered two bottles of Barbera d'Asti. The vino went perfectly with our Italian meal - it was not overpowering or bitter, and very easy to drink with dinner. We took our places by the window sill in the beautiful dining room and looked upon the groups lining up to get to the club, dressed to impress. 
Pumpkin & Sage Tortellini $28.00
The first dish we tried was the Tortellini filled with pumpkin and mascarpone in a burnt butter and crispy sage sauce. This was an impressive and hearty pasta dish, the burnt butter sauce was not too overpowering or oily and each tortellini was generously filled with hot pockets of pumpkin and creamy mascarpone.
Polenta Chips $10.00
The polenta chips arrived as a side and they smelt divine. They were thick portions and had that delicious crunch - so fresh that when you split them, a burst of steam comes popping out. The polenta chips came with tomato chutney which was nice and tangy and also a plain whole egg mayo dip. We would have all love the added naughtiness of a gorgonzola sauce to slather these bad boys with.
Sicillian arancini filled with pork ragu, mozarella $18.00 Salad of figs with prosciutto di San Danielle, buffallo mozzarela & apple balsamic dressing $24.00
More delicious entree's arrived to share. The arancini's were of perfect rice and filling proportion and glued to a bed of sauce that is packed with the tanginess of tomato. Now for the prosciutto salad - could there be any better pair than this wonderful meat and fresh figs? Our group had to make sure our proscuitto slices were shared evenly as we all could not get enough. The apple balsamic added a punch to the greenery and before you know it our plate was empty.
Fig Pizza $26.00
I think there was a phase where my friends needed to book me into therapy because I was heavily addicted to Hugo's pizza's. There is nothing like them - thin (tick) crispy (thick) super tasty (double tick). For Christmas, I even asked Santa for the Pete Evans pizza oven.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fog Bar and Restaurant - Prahran, Melbourne

Its never a relaxing holiday with us Empty Fridgers. My poor other half - he knows that there is no sleeping in, no lazing by the pool and no romance as such. Demos and I have travelled together on mini breaks but we have NEVER had a romantic holiday getaway by the beach. Although we blame the lack of a beach body, the palm trees we usually chase are those that line Rodeo Drive. Which is why we are off to Melbourne for this Easter weekend. One short plane ride away and your at the beck and call of wonderful rooftop bars, wonderful basement bars, late night wine bars and umm.. wineries. Im not going to lie, its a fun place for your favorite boozehounds, well that and there's plenty of dining gems to discover to.
Now a while ago, I had to fly to Melbourne on a day trip to work. I came up with strategies - yes, strategies. Im a strategic planner - when it comes to food of course, and most of my trips away do involve a high level of obsession as to where to eat. Needless to say, my flight got delayed (Of course I booked the earliest flight to fit in two breakfasts..) and when I left to go to lunch - i had walked all the way down Chapel St only to find that I left my wallet in the office. 
Thank God for interstate friends who rescue sleep deprived disheartened eaters. We get to Fog and immediately I knew that this was exacly the place I wanted to be. Distincly cool interiors, a hip and not so corporate crowd (okay, it was a school night) and a beautiful bar.
Vino's and Veuve - oh my!
Fog has a very large dining area as well as an outdoor section, which I was told, get filled to the brim on weekends. Its such a lovely space, roomy and well laid out. To orientate us Sydneysiders, its just off the Prahan side of Chapel Street, on the very uber cool Greville Street. This place is super sleek, shiny black laquered columns - very sexy.. but now what about the food?
We started with the Spicy fried calamari with hot sauce, fire roasted peppers, chorizo and garlic aoli ($22). I was a bit apprehensive when I saw hot sauce, but im currently trying to build my tolerance from spicy foods. Some people exercise, I tame my tastebuds. My strategy was to dunk it in the tangy garlic aoli to cut the fire, but suprisingly I was able to tolerate it. The calamari was cooked perfectly, not ruberry and dusted with a light spicy coating. The serve was also generous enough to start off two hungry diners. 10 points for Fog.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Duke Bistro, Surry Hills

Late one evening we stumbled up the inconspicuous stairs to the side of the Flinders hotel; on a mission to make it to Duke and duke it out with the promise of awesome food,  imagine the horror to be told that we had no chance of getting a table that evening. Not too disenchanted we thought we would save it for another night, we here at the Empty Fridge are used to the new and cool places around Surry Hills not taking bookings, Duke being one such cool place. Luckily though one of us Empty Fridgers had the sense to call ahead a few weeks later (good work Gianna.) and managed to get a table at a reasonable hour on a balmy Friday night. 
Having heard nothing but good things about Duke we were really keen to try it out. Not only does it have one of the coolest names but the food has been touted as some of the best in the Sydney food and bar scene. With fried chicken on the menu and plenty of alcohol, it's pretty hard to get any better of a mix. Somethings are meant to be together, it is our belief that fried chicken and anything alcoholic just works and makes the world go around. However there is more to the Duke menu than fried chicken - with ex Tet's chef Thomas Lim and 2010's Young Chef of the year Mitch Orr in the helm they truly keep things exciting. There were  a number of delectable dishes that are well worth making the trip out to try including Smoked Eel with Saba and Pancetta but being indecisive we relied solely on our waitress' suggestions.
So what does the Empty Fridge duo do best when they are at a bar or anywhere licenced at all? Well they order a drink or four of course but being on their best behaviour (both of us had made the mistake of driving) we ordered some Monteith's Apple Cider ($8.50) and an Italian Highball - Campari, grapefruit and Fever Tree Tonic ($16). Refreshing drinks for a warm night and before anyone makes the assumption - the photo above is a bottle of water; served in a gin bottle, keeping in line with the Duke's left of centre approach to the dining experience. There is a wordly wine selection available, plus a mean cocktail list to match. Why oh Why did we drive? 
The bistro has a really cool vibe with a mixture of cool lights adorned with old veuve bottles and of course a boars head by the bar. It really is a pretty cool place and rightly so given that it's a right smack bang in the middle of Surry Hills hipster scene, with heaps of Sydney's cool kids coming out to eat and have a drink. Yes even Sydney's hipsters eat believe it or not, how can't they when the food on offer is as cool as Duke's.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Cooking Class with South Australia's finest Chefs - Sydney Seafood School, Pyrmont

Its an exciting time for the dining scene in South Australia with plenty of creative juices flowing from up and coming young chefs taking the local produce new levels. We were lucky enough to learn first hand from chef Cole Thomas, Callum Hann, Lachlan Colwill and Emma Shearer as well the best produce South Australia had to offer.
Scallop with Squid Ink Soil, Trout Roe and Fennel puree
The venue for the evening was the Sydney Seafood School above the Fish Markets in Pyrmont. It is a very modern cooking theatre, complete with TV screens focusing on the preparation bench, where you can see in detail each demonstration taking place. Its like being back at Uni all over again for us Empty Fridgers, complete with fold away tables only this time we were attentive and well behaved students. Not even the Barramundi skin wallpaper could distract us as we wanted to pick up on any techniques and skills on show.
Sardine Spring roll and Chef Cole Thomas at work
 Exciting stuff is happening within the dining scene in South Australia and Chef Cole Thomas enthusiastically tells us about some newly opened restaurants. He is the Executive Chef of Hentley Farm at the Barossa Valley and also owns Cullenetic and the Adelaide Central Market Kitchen. Cole is all about innovative cuisine has a strong focus on optimising quality focus. He tells us of a dish he has developed a dish which involves levitating a small piece of tuna at the table giving new meaning to "flying fish".
Cole prepares a deep fried Spring Roll with macadamia nut pieces, apricots, capers, cabbages and a sardine fillet. Chef Cole has directly worked with producers in South Australia to shine some light on the under-utilised species of fish readily available. The sardines are just that, as well as flavoursome and an interesting addition. A Scallop entree is also prepared and Chef explains that the variety produced in South Australia is smaller but more dense compared to the water-pumped American counterpart. The scallop is served with squid ink soil, trout roe and a fennel puree. Both starters were interesting dishes showing how a mix of unlikely ingredients can be mixed together to produce great flavours, much like what is happening with the food scene in South Australia. 
Chef's Emma Shearer and Lachlan Colwill were up and ready to go for the next demonstration. The duo work together for the Trim Hospitality Group, The Grace Establishment and the Manse Restaurant where Lachlan runs the kitchen operations and Emma heads up the dessert pastry menus and is the Senior Pastry Chef. Lachlan also runs Sparrow Kitchen and Bar in North Adelaide. Emma demonstrates tonight's dessert which is a Barossa Vache Curd Mousse, Meringue, Lime Curd and Freeze Dried Passionfruit.
Vache Curd is produced by Barossa Valley Cheese Company and is similar to goats curd but uses cows milk instead. It takes two days to make the curd - one day for fermenting the milk and then another day for the curd to set. It was a good thing that both chefs were working together to make this dessert as Lachlan spent the whole time whisking the lime curd over the stove. The result is an interesting and loosely constructed cheesecake dessert with contrasting textures and flavours. The soft vache curd mousse adds a strong tart flavour, which contrasts the crunchy sweetness of the meringue. The freeze dried passion fruit scattered on top packs a vicious punch of unexpected flavour also.
Callum, everyone's favourite Masterchef runner up contestant hails from the Barossa Valley and was here to represent. Pairing up with Lachlan; the pair proceeded to demonstrate how to carve up a duck, showing techniques that can be applied to other winged creatures. The large duck we are working with tonight is from Waechter Dux, a free range duck far within the Barossa Valley. The ducks are on a special Barossa grain diet and lead a happy life roaming the farm fields. 
 The duck breast meat was to be part of the dish we would be recreating later in the evening. Lachlan demonstrated with ease how to carve out the breast from a full duck. In a nutshell the wings and legs are extended and the bones broken and cut off. Any joints are used as an indication of where to cut through the skin folds. Lachlan made this look very effortless, however this might not be the case when trying it at home. We were then showed how to cook the duck breast, pan frying it until golden and then popping it in the oven for 8 minutes to finish the job. Meanwhile Callum was showing everyone how to concoct the swede puree we would all be cooking later in the evening. 
 After the lesson in poultry carving we were presented with a big Kingfish. More specifically it was a Hiramassa Yellow Tail Kingfish, farmed by Cleanseas in South Australia. Lachlan was explaining that the quality of the fish is amazing because the flesh is not damaged or bruised. It's the perfect fish for sashimi because it is fleshy and full of flavour. 
He procees to then explains to us how fresh this partucular fish is with its firm texture, glossy sheen and as morbid as it sounds - the bright red blood. After a "gutting" demonstration, Lachlan expertly slices the fish along its spine from the base of the head working right down to the tail. With surgical precision, he produces a fine piece of boneless hiramasa fillet and proceeds to slice it into bite sized pieces. 

And now, it was our turn to re-create these delectable dishes.
 The second part of the Seafood School was the fully equipped modern kitchen. We were assigned groups and provided with the recipes to recreate the Kingfish and Duck dishes demonstrated earlier. Our group of five consisted of Bridget aka The Internet Chef, Carmel aka @CarmR, Bianca from the PEPR team and this Empty Fridge duo. Teamwork was cruicial in getting the two dishes underway and everyone was given a component of each dish to complete.


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