El Bulli Spanish Tapas

Earlier this week my family and I celebrated my graduation from Uni at Randwick’s El Bulli Spanish Tapas! I was really excited as I’ve wanted to dine here for ages but, because of its location (which is a bit far from where I live) its often been forgotten! Luckily though, mum suggested it and I am so glad that she did!

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When we arrived we walked into a dimly lit room, furnished with wooden style benches and a quaint little bar. It was warm and cosy (totally the opposite of the weather outside!) and the staff were very friendly and welcoming. The seated us at a window table, sort of like a nook, where one side of the seating was a long bench filled with comfortable cushions and furnishings. Right from the outset, the restaurant smelt fantastic so I couldn’t wait to start eating! My family and I have been to a couple of Spanish Tapas style restaurants, so our rule is always to try to order a couple of different dishes each time that we go and with the menu presented to us we were spoilt for choice. Personally, I love Spanish tapas style food, in fact I would love to cook it one night for my family, although I’m not quite sure about the logistics of it for five people, but still, that would be a great night! So as a result we’ve only ever really eaten Tapas at a restaurant, which is a shame because it can be quite expensive. I will say that while the meals at El Bulli weren’t cheap, the food was fantastic!

We started off with some Sangria (of course!) and then ordered a selection of tapas dishes to share. Our first dish to arrive was the Pinchitos de Pollo ($16.50) which are essentially chicken skewers. These were beautiful though, moist perfectly cooked chicken skewered and marinated in chimichurri (a herby, green marinade common in Spanish cooking) before being grilled and drizzled with lemon and a light mayonnaise. Perfect little portions of tasty-ness!

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Following this, the Patatas Bravas ($12.50) arrived, with soft, pillowy potato quarters fried to give them a crispy outside, before being cooked in a rich and spicy tomato sauce. Yum Yum! We also shared the Empanadillas ($17.50)  (a personal favourite of mine) which are a deep fried puff pastry filled with mince, herbs and egg! Seriously crispy pastry filled with the most beautifully seasoned and flavoured mince, I could have eaten these all day!

One of the evenings specials was the Zucchini Flowers which were stuffed with a ricotta filling before being lightly battered and deep fried! I love zucchini flowers, and my boyfriend (whose never tried them before) devoured these ones! So crispy on the outside and stuffed to the brim with rich, creamy ricotta. The flowers were plump and fresh and had so much beautiful flavour to them!

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Now if that wasn’t enough, we then ordered a seafood Paella ($29.50) for one to share, which was divine! Perfectly cooked rice with a rich tomato and saffron flavour topped with flavoursome choritzo, chicken and fresh seafood including huge King Prawns, Octopus, Mussels and Clams! It never ceases to amaze me with just how much flavour some people can pack into such a little rice dish! Seriously good and highly highly recommended!

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The highlight dish for me though was one that I had almost told mum not to bother with; Zarzuela ($33.50) a dish I don’t think I’ve ever seen at a Spanish restaurant before, but have heard of in cooking shows. Essentially, it is a seafood soup or broth but wow, I really don’t think I have ever tasted something so unbelievably flavoursome before. There were so many layers of flavours, salty, sweet, spicy and of course seafoody. It was all perfectly balanced and a perfect dish for such cold cold weather. I would highly highly recommend this dish, plus it was huge!! Even my dad loved this one, and he hates spicy food! The broth itself also had a light tomato flavour and just the right amount of spice to hit the back of your throat, but not overpower the soft flavours of the seafood. Now thats a dish I would love to learn how to make.

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We had hoped to order dessert (Churros) but at almost $17 per serve we decided to go to the Italian restaurant around the corner instead, which was a shame as churros would have been delish! Overall, we had a wonderful evening and the food was fantastic! It’s a shame they don’t have a set menu so that you could try more options (for a slightly cheaper price) but hey I’m not complaining, the food was phenomenal! If your ever in Randwick (or Surry Hills as theres another one there) then make sure you stop by!! You won’t regret it! Yum!!

Check out their website here….

 

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Dude Food – Sydney Steakhouses

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So today marks my first ever blog-rant! And what else to write about then the recent diner obsession with steakhouse style dining in Sydney! I’m hoping that I’m not judged severely as some sort of food snob for saying this, but these sorts of “restaurants” annoy me to no end with their overpriced, under value food and after a more then a few poor experiences I felt like it was time to share my frustrations. I had never really noticed the growing trend of places such as Hurricanes Bar and Grill, Outback Jacks, Outback Steakhouse and Ribs and Rumps, popping up around Sydney and perhaps its because my boyfriend LOVES meat, but had never really frequented them until recently either. I guess the opening of so many must reflect Sydney’s desire for such food; American style diners that serve up huge portions of steaks, ribs, chips and burgers and are renowned for their irresistible marinades and sauces! Now something like that sounds really very appealing to me! It’s definitely not something that we have a lot of in Sydney, so acts as a nice option for couples and families looking for a nice meal. But alas! It seems it was all too good to be true…or maybe its just me who’s had a bad experience?

I suppose the purpose of this rant is partly as a means for me to express my frustration, but also possibly to see where it all goes wrong. When it comes to dining at any of these venues I am always sure to make a booking. For some reason unknown to me, they are always fully booked on weekends, so I have learnt to book well in advance. Despite that though, I have never arrived to be told that my table is ready to go. Literally every single time I have dined at any of these restaurants I have been directed to the bar and asked to wait for periods of between 10-20minutes while my table is prepared. Perhaps it’s a ploy to buy one of their highly overpriced drinks (Rekorderling Cider for $12) or maybe it’s me thats confused with thinking that the purpose of making a reservation is so that you can be assured a table at a certain time. This past weekend, my boyfriend and I dined at restaurant X (lets keep it unnamed) after making a booking a few days prior for 7:30pm. Sadly, were running about 15mins late as we couldn’t manage to find anywhere to park. Upon arrival however, we were greeted by a very rude member of staff who told me that as I was late she had given our table away and that it was our fault that we would now have to wait an additional 20mins for another to be made ready! Aside from her rude manner (which is another point of frustration) I was never informed when making the booking that there was a time limit on holding the table. If I had been I certainly would have called to let them know. Additionally, most restaurants tend to give you a courtesy call to see if your still coming, but again that wasn’t afforded us. So, we diligently waited for our table.

In general, service at these sorts of places is always very very poor, which I wouldn’t mind entirely if the food was of a high standard or the prices were not so high. On another past occasion, my boyfriend and I were served a cold entrée of chicken wings (6 wings for $15.95!) which we had not finished eating before our (again) cold mains were plonked in front of us by a hurried staff member. On this occasion, I had ordered a steak (300g for $34.95) which was served with chips. Thankfully, I was able to change the chips to vegetables, which was really nice as often you have to pay extra for that service (again, what a joke!). Now, quite obviously to me, but evidently not this restaurant, I ordered steamed vegetables with the premise of being a little bit healthier, which makes me wonder why they were drenched in butter, a fact not shared with me when ordering or anywhere on the menu. At the time though, I thought thats ok, a little butter (well a whole lot in this case) never hurt anyone. So I proceeded to eat my meal. I had also tried earlier to order a drink off the menu, only to be told that “they actually don’t sell that here”. Then why is it on your menu? When the waitstaff realised that we had no plans to order any dessert (and thus not spend anymore money there) he quickly brought over our bill, on which he had highlighted and circled the tip line! I almost couldn’t believe it!

As I mentioned earlier, food is expensive and of a very low quality, although on a bonus the sizes are generally very big (so there is a silver lining if your into that sort of thing!) At a third restaurant (which we can name restaurant Y) I again ordered a 300g rump steak ($24.95) served with chips and salad. Again, I asked for no chips and just salad which to me then means replace the chips with the salad, I mean I’m still paying exactly the same price (I had asked to change the chips to vegtables but was told that would cost me extra, to remove something and replace it with something else? Are you serious?). Perhaps the kitchen staff thought it was a funny joke (I didn’t see the humour there) but when my meal was served I received the normal salad serve and in place of the chips a single piece of lettuce. Wow! Across from me, my boyfriend was looking just as puzzled after having ordered the steak and ribs combo ($39.95) and being presented with a tiny portion of steak and three baby ribs! Considering this was a combo and the price payed I was just as disappointed as he was. Aside from that, I have eaten at plenty of fine dining restaurants (where fantastic food is coupled with outstanding service) and payed a lot less for a lot more! Truly, how do people accept this sort of thing. On top of that, both our steaks were dry and stringy, which is confusing considering they are supposed to specialise in the cooking of such things!

Reading this back to myself, I am really starting to sound like the world’s biggest food snob and I promise I am not, I have just had enough of overpriced food at sub-par standard. How can people charge you $49.95 for a rack of ribs that I know costs about a quarter of the price and then not even follow through on decent service. Have we really come to a time when consumers will willingly accept this? Perhaps we have, because diners continue to flock to American-style eateries all around Sydney and I really still can not work out the appeal. Maybe its because there is so little competition, or that people have come to associate the chains to the product that they are not willing to give anything else a go. Either way, I am starting to think that I am in the wrong profession because owning a Steakhouse seems like an easy way to make a fast dollar! That or I have been very unlucky to have a bad experience every single time that I have ever eaten at a Steakhouse…somehow I am doubtful! On what can possibly be the only positive note, they always seem to have rather large portion sizes, and men in general seem to love them. So if you’re looking for a way to please a male and you don’t mind paying a fortune to do so, then without a doubt go for it! If not, then I would certainly (and somewhat sadly) give it a miss!

The Grounds

 

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The Grounds at Alexandria has got to be one of Sydney’s best kept not-so-secret places to eat. If your young, hip, trendy, health conscious, love coffee or just plain hungry it is most definitely the place to be, and trust me there are many many reasons why. But be warned, on a weekend you best be ready for at least a 2 hour wait!

Aside from brewing and making their own coffee, The Grounds presents a complete picture of everything diners are after, especially the locals of Alexandria. The cafe, bakery and restaurant are located in an old Pie Factory and the owners, Ramzey Choker and Jack Hanna have literally thought of everything! The decor is rustic and homely with wide wooden tables and vintage flair. Externally, the cafe is surrounded by beautiful gardens from which some of the kitchen produce is grown and it is here that you’ll find the little animal pen. Once again, a genius foresight by the owners, ensuring that yet another market is catered for; families with young children. 

On weekends, the Grounds markets add an extra special something, with fresh fruits and pastries available for sale as well as flowers and candles, roasted nuts and gelato. The staff are wonderful and are always willing to allow you to taste till your hearts content. Again, a brilliant idea marketing idea as while patrons are whiling away the hours waiting for a table in the cafe they can peruse and make extra purchases from the market stalls. And who can blame them! 

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The pastries alone look sublime! And they taste that good too, as does the freshly baked bread! So damn delicious!!

Luckily I used my brain and planned a trip to the gym across the road whilst waiting the hour and a half for a table (this was a very very good plan). Once seated though it was completely worth the wait! Sadly we missed the breakfast menu (which finishes at 11:30am) but the brunch and lunch menus were of course still available and equally as beautiful. For lunch I had the duck and pear salad which was filled with moist flakes of duck flesh, crispy radish and firm pistachio nuts. And such a nice big serve too I couldn’t finish it. To wash it all down I had the Banana Smoothie which is by far the best smoothie I have ever had! Sweet, creamy and thick, I completely understand the necessity for the giant, fat straw that it was served with. And I love that their drinks are served in mason jars! Very trendy and unique. 

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My boyfriend had a coffee first and he dubbed it the best coffee he has had in a while, very strong and full flavoured. Following that he had the lamb shank which was flavoured with middle eastern spices and served with wild rice. So much lovely flavour packed into a dish with beautiful, moist meat. Looking around though, the steak sandwich look beautiful with a huge serve of the house-made bread, caramelised onions, steak and pickles, Yum! On a previous occasion I have also ordered the New Zealand Salmon which is so perfect! Crispy skin salmon with moist flakey flesh served on a bed of quinoa and broad beans, mmm you literally can not go wrong!

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For those with kids, there is a great kids menu and overall the whole experience is reasonably priced especially considering the quality of produce and use of fresh, clean ingredients. Be ready to have savoury and sweet because the pastry display looks as good as it tastes! While I didn’t sample any of these delights on the weekend (hardest thing to do ever!) I have been told that the cinnamon and Nutella donuts are to die for! 

Regardless, I highly recommend a trip to The Grounds at Alexandria. Whether its for Sunday brunch with the family, coffee with your friends or just for a nice outing you won’t be disappointed. I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I have, and I can’t wait to get back there again!

4Fourteen Reviewed

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This past weekend my boyfriend took me to a restaurant that I have wanted to go to ever since I saw it on My Kitchen Rules, Colin Fassnidge’s 4Fourteen! The first thing that I noticed (once I got over the initial shock of the surprise) was the trendy, laid-back decor which is very modern and simple. There are small touches of pot plants and animal “skeletons” which allude to the quirky menu that uses a lot of “less traditional” cuts of meat. As the night progressed, we also enjoyed the lower level of lighting and the open planning of the space, which is actually quite a lot smaller then I had anticipated. Overall, service was good, with waitstaff very on top of all of their tables and there was no feeling of being rushed or hurried out (this was perfect for us as we both wanted to take our time). The service of our meals was also quite perfectly timed, with a decent gap between each of our courses.

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Now to the best bit, the food!! So to start we shared the Ham Hock and Cheese Croquette with Mustard Crème Fraîche ($4.5ea). These tasty little morsels are presented in an egg cup which was very cute and the mustard creme fraiche packed a beautiful little punch of flavour. The Croquette’s themselves were light and airy, and were filled with the creamiest cheese and ham mixture before being coated in a crispy outer layer. Following this we each had our mains, Mussels with Salted Fish and Batlow Apple Cider Sauce  ($30) and the Smoked Beef Brisket served with Roast Potatoes and Onion Rings  ($36). Wow!! Again my palate was thrown into a taste sensation! The Mussels were juicy and plump, served in a creamy fish broth (a little like a chowder but much smoother) that had a light sweetness to it which I can only assume came from the Cider sauce. Toasted pieces of bread dropped throughout the dish ensured that not a drop of that beautiful rich sauce was wasted (thats very lucky because I was tempted to pick the plate upand lick it!) My only complaint was that I wasn’t given anything to put my shells into once I had eaten them, but I made do. 

The Smoked Beef Brisket however, was the winner dish. In all my life I have never seen or tasted a more tender piece of Brisket! You honestly could have eaten the dish with a spoon it was that well cooked. The whole thing had a lovely rich sauce (of which there was the perfect amount) that was filled with rich deep flavours. The roast potato was a bit more like a smashed potato which had then been fried lightly (a gourmet hash brown perhaps?) as opposed to your traditional roast potato while the onion rings added beautiful texture and acidity. I would highly recommend this dish!Image

To finish off the evening I ordered the Peanut Butter Popsicle with Honeycomb ($12) which was slightly reminiscent of a golden gaytime ice cream. A slab of creamy vanilla ice cream, rolled in peanut crumbs and served with a side of crunchy sweet honeycomb! Delicious! Again my boyfriend picked a winning dish (he had the brisket earlier), selecting the White Chocolate Sandwich with Dulce de Leche  ($14). 

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A beautiful creamy serve of vanilla ice cream, sandwiched between two thin wafers, underneath which was a smothering of rich caramel sauce. And in case you wanted more caramel (which by the way, you did because it was so tasty) there was a small blob for you on the side!

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Overall, we had a wonderful evening filled with fantastic food, lovely wine and great service. To my boyfriend’s dismay the waitstaff were even kind enough to take a picture of us when I asked (he hates photos)! Would highly recommend this one. Next time though I wouldn’t mind being a little more adventurous with my food choices and going for something a little more left of centre…the Ox Tongue Sandwich perhaps?

 

Jamies Italian

ImageI have finally achieved one of my culinary dreams…dining at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant!! I have to admit that whilst Jamie Oliver himself wasn’t present, nor did he personally cook my meal I was so excited to finally dine at Jamie’s Italian in Sydney. Ever since I was a young kid watching The Naked Chef on TV I have dreamed of this moment (if you weren’t aware previously, I have a slight obsession with Mr Oliver and his cooking!) so needless to say I was like a little kid on Christmas when we arrived. 

I was having lunch with two friends from work and my sister and luckily you can make reservations for the lunch sittings for 2 or more people, whilst the dinner sitting requires a group of 8 to make a booking. That being said, you wouldn’t have a problem getting a table during lunchtime on a weekday because the table turnover is quite quick. Image

The four of us were seated downstairs, and I was very surprised at how long and narrow the restaurant was. All in all, it is actually quite a large space, which they have used very cleverly, including an upstairs dining area. The decor is very relaxed and rustic, with a collection of “mis-matched” chairs seated at wooden tables. The atmosphere is very welcoming and it’s really not that noisy (despite what other friends who have also dined there have said). The waitstaff are all very attentive and friendly, introducing themselves by first name when you are seated and continuously checking on you throughout. I have heard previously that the whole thing is a bit rushed, so as to turn over more tables and whilst this may be the case on a weekend or at dinner, my friends and I couldn’t have felt more different, sitting and chatting for almost four (yes four) hours! Another great thing about the staff here is that their knowledge of the menu is very thorough. They’ve all tried every dish on the menu and are more then confident to advise you on what’s great. 

ImageActually selecting what I wanted to eat though was a whole other kettle of fish! There were so many wonderful sounding, delicious dishes so it took me a little while and in the end my sister and I agreed to get two different dishes which we then shared (very clever if you ask me!) I also had to use a process of elimination, removing any dishes that I already have the recipe for at home! Personally, when I eat at an Italian restaurant I always order pasta! I really don’t know why but it’s the way I’ve always done it! For lunch I ordered the Prawn Linguini ($28 main) which was to die for. The Linguini was served in a rich tomato sauce with a slight hint of chilli and topped with big juicy Prawns and fresh rocket! What I loved most about this dish was the way the pasta tasted though. Perfectly al dente, with a nice bite to it and with that beautiful homemade taste and texture. The linguini was slightly thicker then your dried store bought pasta which i feel really added to the dish overall. My sister ordered the Wild Truffle Risotto ($25 main) which was again, just beautiful. Creamy, rich risotto that just melted in your mouth, topped with beautiful black truffles and strong parmesan cheese! MMMmmm yum!! Trust me, I had to resist the urge to lick my plate it was that good! I should also add that the serves were very big, and the two of us struggled to finish our meals together. Personally, I am not sure that I would be able to finish a whole main size of the Risotto, as the flavours were very strong and I tend to find truffle to be quite rich so it’s very filling.

That being said, we all had dessert (we had to!) and I wouldn’t regret it for a second. ImageThe four of us ordered the same thing; The epic Brownie ($10) (the name speaks for itself!). Oh wow! Even though I have the recipe for these exact brownies (best brownie you will ever taste) and have made them countless times before, this was a whole new level of yum! A rich, moist chocolate brownie topped with fudgy chocolate sauce, creamy amaretto ice cream and caramel popcorn! I could have eaten it all day long. Realistically, you could share this dish with two but hey, who would want to. You’d probably spend more time fighting over who got the next scoop so I’d recommend getting your own! 

Overall, a wonderful dining experience at my favourite chefs restaurant (I might be a bit biased but the rest of my party agree). I’m already planning my return for a couple of weeks time!! Highly recommended! 

Aria Restaurant, Sydney

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On Friday night my mum and I dined at Matt Moran’s Aria Restaurant, Circular Quay. We were on our way to see the Australian Ballet’s performance of Cinderella so opted for the three course pre-theatre menu ($89.00). We were seated at a table overlooking the Quay, providing us both with a stunning view of Sydney Harbour. I was really pleased as when i had made the reservation (online) I requested a window seat that overlooked the Harbour and thats exactly what I got! The waitstaff were very attentive right from the onset, without hovering or being invasive which was fantastic as mum and I had allocated plenty of time to enjoy the dining experience. 

One of my favourite things (aside from all of the food) about the fine dining experience is the fantastic service and attention to detail. Once seated and served our drinks, we were presented with a complimentary appetiser of ceviche and freshly baked bread rolls. I know it seems shallow, but wow that bread was good!

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For entrée, I had the Scallops which included plump, fresh scallops with calamari and clams floating in a fantastic green vinaigrette of celery, dulse and hazelnut oil. It was such a delicious combination of flavours and textures, both sweet and sour but perfectly balanced. My mum had the Salmon, pink, moist flakes of salmon accompanied by wedges of avocado and orange. It was such a fresh and vibrant dish with beautiful plating and balance.

Following this I had the Chicken for a main dish and wow, what an amazing flavour-packed plate! I would highly recommend this dish as it wont disappoint your taste buds. I was presented with a beautiful piece of perfectly cooked chicken breast, stuffed with sage, onion and brioche on a bead of truffled pearl barley and broccoli and accompanied with tarragon chipolatas. Everything about this dish was perfect to me so it’s lucky that it was such a big serve because I literally could have licked the plate! I’m not a huge fan of truffle as it can often be overused but in this instance it was a perfect balance of creamy rich flavours with the subtle crunch of broccoli. Mum chose the King Trout; a seared fillet with cauliflower, almonds, crab and radish which also looked and tasted divine. To share, we ordered the salad of green beans with quinoa and pear. Image

Because we were in a bit of a hurry to get to the ballet we were encouraged to opt for a slightly quicker dessert to prepare (so no souffle) but trust me, we were not disappointed. We both decided to go with the Chocolate which is honestly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever seen or eaten (and yes I did write seen because it was so yummy to look at I didn’t want to eat it at first..but i quickly changed my mind!). On a large round plate painted with dark chocolate was a slice of chocolate tart topped with caramelised hazelnuts. The vanilla choc-ice was presented in a log accompanied by two chocolate macarons. I could have eaten it all day long! mmmm just the thought of it makes me hungry again! So many smooth, rich, chocolatey textures with crunchy nuts and vanilla bean ice cream. And if that wasn’t enough, the chef sent us (and every other table!) petit fours which included a grape jelly, lime meringue tart, toffee brittle and chocolate truffle, so even if you don’t decide to order dessert, your sweet tooth will be amply addressed. Image

Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to Aria restaurant, Sydney as a treat. Fantastic food, exceptional service and a view that can not be beaten. Head to their website for more details or to make a reservation. I promise you won’t be disappointed!!

http://www.ariarestaurant.com/sydney/menu/dinner