Restaurant Round-Up Winter 2012

by Jan


Macleay St, Potts Point 2011

This is a caring and sharing restaurant. The dishes are made for the option of sharing and the service is caring.  Seats around the bar are ideal for singles and couples. But when a table for two became vacant it was offered to us. The waiter and barman both had an observant eye; always good for repeat business. They’ve had a lot of this since Nicole and Keith dined there several months ago. And I thought dining out was mostly about the food.

Formerly an Indian restaurant, it has been stripped back, and decorated in the new old and worn out look, replete with some Corinthian columns. All painted pale greyish, wooden tables and tasteful bentwood chairs.

The menu is also new and old, and very sharing. The octopus entrée seemed as if it had been slow-cooked, then grilled to order, served with potato, jus and herbs. Nice with the Greek rose 2010 Prorogos Florina Greece ($9 a glass) – quite a heavy wine with legs, suggesting sweetness.

The Greek winter vegetable salad consisted of white beans, fennel, carrot, black olives, purple onion ($15) with a wine vinegar dressing. Multi-coloured, multi-nutritional and delicious, though cold – not ideal on a cold night.

Instead of the ubiquitous slow-cooked lamb, we had the ubiquitous slow-cooked belly pork, coriander, green tomato ($30). It tasted as if it had been smoked a bit, but as expected, it was melty and moreish. And cut with a ragout of green tomatoes flecked with red capsicum. Unusual, but would order it again.

This place is popular; it was full by 7pm on a cold wet Monday night.


Watts on Crown

Crown St, Surry Hills 2010

This local restaurant on approach looks as if it used to be a shop, in the same way that Bistrode in Bourke used to be.

Inside the glass frontage are small tables dimly lit, and the reception inviting.

The menu looked as if it were going to be difficult. All the dishes looked too delicious not to be chosen. The flavour combinations seemed vibrant, Mediterranean, and a little French.

Freshly shucked oysters ($3.50 each) with sherry and shallot vinegar were proclaimed a hit. Not quite such a hit was octopus braised in tomato with quinoa, parsley and pomegranate. The tomato and pomegranate seeds were mismatched, because they are both acidic. Some chopped basil or lemon thyme would have been a better option.

The chef offered his version of bouillabaisse which consisted of pan fried gurnard with braised fennel, mussels and prawns ($27). It had its own condiment of sauce rouille, and chunk of grainy sourdough. We could have ordered another, it was so good.

We had a wonderful German wine: Schloss Schonborn Trocken Riesling 2010. It made such a beautiful and unusual change from the default NZ sauvignon blanc, SA Riesling, semillon, or ubiquitous chardonnay.


The Fish Shop

Challis Ave, Potts Point 2011

This has to be the best fish and chip shop in Sydney. I have been there three times in the last six weeks, and it hasn’t failed to impress.

This restaurant is part of the Merivale Group, and is located where Lotus used to be. It’s casual in style with high stools at the front, and an ersatz fishing shed which serves as the bar at the back. All bare and recycled wood with fishing paraphernalia hanging around, plus photos of fishermen showing off their best catches. Help yourself to cutlery from the recycled tin, and your food is served on enamel plates.

All of the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. One of them could even take the order for a table of 4 without writing it down. The menu is cutely styled like a newsletter, and thankfully not too extensive. There is also a blackboard menu, which the waiter explains.

It’s often good to share dishes, for example a large enamel plate of black mussels cooked with cider and cream, with some chunky pieces of bread. Then we shared the fisherman’s basket, which is conventionally some frozen items thrown in the deep fryer. But this version was fresh and included condiments such as Sauce Rose Marie, and some pickled chillies.

All this can be washed down with the least expensive wine by the glass: 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Forget Me Not ($7).

On another occasion I had barramundi cooked en papillote with curry spices and curry leaves. Beautifully moist and the spices didn’t dominate ($27).

The spiced braised octopus and chickpeas ($13) seemed Sicilian inspired. The octopus had been slow cooked in a tomato paste with green olives, spices and a dash of chilli – all rich, hearty and moreish.

Another blackboard menu item was pan fried blue eye with lentils, and grilled radicchio ($27). Lovely moist fish, but it could have used a squeeze of lemon juice.

Another dish on the blackboard menu is smoked eel on a bed of mashed potato (about $25). This dish is so good that the diner has had it twice.

Regular fish and chips ($18) is served with mayonnaise, and  proclaimed excellent.



Broughton St, Kirribilli

Negotiating a table at this restaurant is like trying to do business in a third world country. You need to get the right person at the right time, but you are not required to grease their palm with some folding stuff.

A gruff reception on the phone, we tried our luck on the way to the Ensemble theatre. The first person we spoke to implied that it would be difficult. Out came another waiter and took our booking without hesitation. A few comments on websites forewarned us about wobbles with service.

It’s also difficult to negotiate when your dining companion is negatively disposed, having received a brusque tone over the phone.

That aside, the food is excellent. The natural oysters and deep fried ones were accompanied by a soy, mirin and ginger dipping sauce.

The Moroccan fish tajine was a rich and satisfying concoction of tomatoes and tajine spices (cumin, coriander, paprika mainly), along with chickpeas and red capsicum. The cous cous as sprinkled with flaked almonds, and accompanied by mint puree.

On top of a bed of mashed potato there was a chunk of moist panfried blue eye, surrounded by a beurre blanc infused with kaffir lime leaf. Beautiful, but a hit of acid from a wedge of lime would have provided a bit of zing.

All this was washed down with a bottle of Scarborough chardonnay 2009 which went especially well with the buttery kaffir beurre blanc.

A free dessert was a birthday treat for anyone on the Garfish mailing list.

I chose the prune and Armagnac crème brulee – yellow, velvety and truly luscious. Especially good with a free glass of botrytis.

Not only were there barriers to entry mentioned initially, but there was a glass of wine took a tumble, which I nearly wore. This is the sort of thing which could have caused some to default to a knee jerk princessy whinge, recently reported in Sydney food blogs. But I saw it as merely an accident, and did not ruin my impression of the excellent food.


Sailors’ Thai Canteen

The  Rocks, Sydney

It’s good to return to this restaurant after many years. It’s a stayer and for good reason. Easy to get to on public transport for people coming from a variety of suburbs. Plus there’s the attraction of being situated at the Rocks.

It seems that the canteen has only the one long table, and fills up pretty quickly. So it was early in and early out. There were four of us, so we ordered four dishes to share, plus jasmine rice. DIY cutlery and never mind the table cloth.

Crisp pork belly with sweet and sour sauce tastes and feels as if it had been twice cooked. Dark, sticky, not too fatty, and we can’t get enough of it. It is deliciously cut with Yealand’s Estate Gewurztraminer 2011 ($39) –this wine is a treat and a wonderful deviation from the default NZ sauv blanc, or Semillon quaffed nightly at home.

The pork was contrasted with Som Dtam – the green papaya salad with peanuts, dried prawns, spicy and sour dressing, and a little sweet pork ($23).

We felt the need for greens, and had stir-fried bok choy and sugar snap peas with oyster sauce ($14).

Someone wanted Pad Thai ($17) which I wouldn’t have ordered as it’s available in every food court. And it was perfectly nice.

Would return to this restaurant in a flash with half an excuse. Probably the best value restaurant in this very touristy area.



Macleay St, Potts Point, Sydney

Thursday nights are offal nights at Brass, so I was hell bent on making a booking. This brasserie is located where Yellow Bistro used to be, but the décor is more blackboard and mirrors, decorated by their chalked specials. I wish they wrote it in italics rather than in primary school self-expression.

We didn’t need a torch to read the menu or ear plugs to drown out any cacophony. The waiter was friendly and helpful with interpretations. We both ordered a glass of Chateau Riotor Rose ($11 per glass), a classic compromise, beautiful, and unusual. It matched our choice of offal dishes.

Crumbed deep fried sweetbreads on spinach and artichokes ($22) reminded us of our childhoods, fortunate to be fed offal. These were warm and creamy encased in crunchy roasty bread crumbs, and cut by a sherry vinegar dressing.

The tripe ($29) was braised in tomato not unlike the French classic tripes a mode de Caen. I loved it.  As a child I hated tripe done in white sauce and onions. And it stunk out the whole house.

Liver Veneziana ($29), which I discovered at Cordon Bleu School, and a great leap forward from liver and bacon. Onions are such an underrated vegetable. For this dish, they were caramelized and their natural sweetness complemented the liver.

This restaurant produces brasserie classics really well, and is well worth a visit. It’s a huge relief that there’s at least somewhere in this city which has the guts to offer offal.

Unfortunately, this restaurant is closed.