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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Chur Burger

ImageIn honour of it being National Burger day here today I thought I’d do a little review on an awesome place I visited on the weekend, Sydney’s Chur Burger! I’ve wanted to visit Chur burger for ages and finally on Saturday night I got my chance. After we had driven around for what felt like forever to find parking we arrived at a small little restaurant/cafe space with a whole lot of people waiting outside! In my mind I was thinking “just great, every other Sydney-sider has also had the same idea as me and also come here tonight!” but luckily the friendly staff at the door took my details and ensured me it would only be a half hour wait. Thankfully, the Ridges was located across the road, so we just popped in there for drinks (I think that most of their customers, if not all, were doing exactly the same thing as us). While we waited, we got chatting with the bar staff who assured as that the wait was this long every night, even on weekdays, and then like clockwork, exactly half an hour later my phone rang with our table! Yay!

If you’ve not heard about Chur burger before (then your missing out!), but think of it as a trendy little burger bar located in Sydney’s Surrey Hills. The bar is owned and run by New Zealand chef Warren Turnbull, which gives some reasoning for the bar’s name (the word “Chur” apparently, is a slang New Zealand term meaning awesome, cool or thanks!). As we entered I found myself in a really cool, very laid back room, which, while small was filled with groups of people. The seating and decor was very eclectic, and I suddenly realised that I was actually sitting on a giant paint tin turned upside down with a cushion on top! It was all very Surrey Hills! Once you walk in you order your food from the bar to your right (they serve alcohol too) and then take your place at your table. The whole thing really reminded me of an old school milk bar with lots of shared tables and benches to sit at.

Between the three of us (myself, sister and boyfriend) we ordered two of the Pulled Pork Burgers ($10) and a Grilled Beef Burger($10)  as well as a bowl of chips with chilli salt ($5) and sweet potato fries with lime and garlic ($5). To drink, the three of us all got the salted caramel milkshake ($8) because, well lets be honest who wouldn’t want a salted caramel milkshake!

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The food arrived quickly but no so soon that you felt rushed. Often at “food bar” type establishments (particularly in Surrey Hills) I feel like I’ve got to eat quickly so that they can turn over the table but not here. We were presented with a beautiful big burger each and wow, just wow it was so good! Just as a burger should be, not showy or fancy but just a good old fashioned burger on a soft fresh bread bun. My Pulled Pork was for sure the winner, with tender pork meat, BBQ sauce, red cabbage and fennel mayo all served on a soft brioche style bun! Seriously so damn good, I couldn’t fault it! The Beef burger was also delish, and I was impressed that the patty was cooked perfectly medium rare! Wow! That one was served with tomato jam, pickle, cheese and mustard mayo, you can’t go wrong there! 

The chips were also amazing, with a crispy finish and light coating of chilli salt. i think my favourite though were the sweet potato fries where the combination of lime, garlic and cinnamon really got my taste buds going. And if your wondering, both styles of chip were the proper old fashioned fat cut! YUM!! I’d probably recommend sharing the chips as the serve is really big, even the three of us with our huge appetites couldn’t finish it all!

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The highlight for my taste buds though was the milkshake which, dare I say it, would have to be one of the best milkshakes I have ever tasted! I felt like I was drinking a salted caramel macaron. It was honestly everything a milkshake should be, served in a tall silver milkshake glass, thick and rich and full of flavour it did not disappoint! Almost a meal in itself.

I think that the only downside to this place was the noise/heat level that quickly built inside and I had to remove myself for a bit to get some fresh air. Aside from that though I can’t wait to go again! Get down there Sydney-siders, this place is sure to impress!

Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

Element 6 Cafe

ImageAs a kid, I never really stuck to the whole “3-meals-a-day” thing but sort of spent my days grazing away as I pleased. As I got a bit older and discovered the concept of “brunch” I felt excited at the prospect of having another reason to keep eating away. Nowadays though (and as my trusty metabolism has started to slow down a bit!) I tend to think of brunch as a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family on the weekends over a lovely cup of coffee and a plate of something delicious involving eggs. For me, the best sorts of places are those hidden gems; little local cafes that serve up beautiful homely food at a recent price. The service is friendly and laid back and the decor is warm and inviting. Sadly though, if asked for a local venue that fits this bill I probably wouldn’t be able to think of one. I mean, its not that my immediate local area in Sydney doesn’t have something to cater to this need, but more that I personally am not aware of any such places. Instead, I often venture to places in Rozelle or Alexandria, areas that have sort of made a name for themselves as Sunday brunch venues. Luckily for me though, a friend of mine recommended a fantastic little place thats super close and absolutely stunning, Element 6 at West Ryde.  

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The cafe itself is located amongst an odd collection of old corner and specialty stores on the slightly less pleasant (visually) side of the train station but don’t let that put you off. When you arrive, your greeted by some of the friendliest group of staff I have ever encountered! Literally nothing seems to be too much to ask of them and they somehow always manage to find you a table. The decor is a little unusual, with a collection of random artefacts around the walls but I think they were very much going for an eclectic artsy feel. My mum comments that its a bit like they’ve furnished the cafe with bits and bobs that they found in the op shop two doors down and I’d have to say that I tend to agree with her. That being said, I didn’t really mind that “look”, its comfortable and an inviting.

Taking a look at the menu, I really struggled to decide what to choose because there were so many delicious sounding options. In the end I went for the Moroccan Spiced baked Eggs with haloumi cheese and chickpeas and wow I wasn’t dissapointed. I was presented with a huge moroccan ceramic dish filled with two perfectly cooked eggs (runny in the centre) baked in a rich tomato sauce throughout which were loads of chickpeas and capsicum. On top were two lovely pieces of crisp haloumi cheese, which added a perfect level of saltiness and a fantastic spice blend similar to a dukkah! Every mouthful was heaven! to soak up all the goodness, a soft Egyptian bread was baked and placed on the side of the board. Now I don’t often eat bread but when I do its only if I know its a good one and wow was this bread good! So soft and fluffy and just perfect in every way! I was stuck in a weird position of not wanting it to end but being super full so in the end…i ate it all! To wash it all down I had the HoneyBee Smoothy which was a rich and thick combination of fresh banana, yogurt, honey and cinnamon! You can’t go wrong with that combination!

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My sister also ordered the N6 Eggs which included two huge pieces of organic sourdough bread topped with a mound of buttery, garlicy mushrooms, haloumi cheese, spinach, roast tomato and two perfectly poached eggs! Another divine dish, which I can safely support, considering I had it a couple of days later when we returned! My mum also commented on the coffee, which was nice and hot and very flavoursome!

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Overall, i would highly recommend a visit to this local favourite! A friend of mine eats there weekly and can not stop raving about it! Next time I think the french toast with mascarpone, seasonal poached fruit and pistachio praline will need a definite look in, I mean how can you resist that!! Yum Yum!!

Baked Ricotta Cheesecake with a Nutella Surprise!

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Baked Ricotta cheesecake is a beautiful thing and up until recently I have only ever enjoyed it at Sydney’s Pasticceria Papa (where I might add, they make the best ricotta cheesecake you will ever taste!). For Easter though, I really wanted to bake something special for my family for dessert and after a little bit of googling I came across The Wholesome Cook, a beautiful food blog with a recipe based on the very cake that I love to eat!! Jackpot!

Now, as it is Easter I had to incorporate some form of chocolate into this recipe (but by all means you can leave it out) and as my family loves Nutella (who doesn’t!) I felt it was only appropriate to make my cheesecake a ricotta and Nutella flavoured one. I also had a few difficulties with the recipe so I have made a few changes/adaptations to the original (which can be found here at The Wholesome Cook’s Blog). Overall, this cake is beautifully moist and creamy and the Nutella hit is subtle and well balanced. Its a very light mixture, which I love and is encased in a crumbly, buttery pastry! I’m getting hungry just remembering it. If thats not enough to convince you to give it a go then let me add that my aunty (who hates dessert and never ever eats anything sweet) ate a huge piece in complete silence, occasionally omitting Oooh’s and mmm’s every so often. At the end of it she told me that she loved it! So it’s pretty safe to say its a winner of a dish! I will certainly be making this again especially after I’ve now ironed out some of my original problems.

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I think that the most difficult part of this recipe is getting the pastry into the tin without having messy join marks. Now mine was far from perfect, but I think if you were just making a plain ricotta cheesecake then the best way to achieve this would be to roll out one big piece of pastry (with overhang) that you would lay into your cake tin, fill with mixture and then fold over the top (to join the side walls on the opposite side of the cheesecake). Because we are piping Nutella into it however, the cake needs to be baked without a lid, otherwise it cracks when you press the piping bag into it. The original recipe also only calls for 45mins of baking time, which I initially did. When I went to transfer it onto a plate on Easter morning however, I noticed that the base had gone all soggy, a sign that the cake was not cooked through properly. When I removed the lid I was faced with a nasty surprise, the creamy filling was entirely raw still! Luckily there was still time to pop it back into the oven. Somehow though, I lost my marbles right at that moment and put the cake back into the oven without a tin to support it. Great choice there by me, the walls collapsed onto it! It was at this moment that I went into panic mode but luckily my dad was around to save the day. He managed to push the whole thing back into the tin!! It then baked through for about an hour and once cooled held its shape! What a relief!! But all the difficulties were totally worth it to see the looks of enjoyment on my families faces! I hope you enjoy this one as much as my family did!

What you need:

For the Pastry:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • ¼ cup caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup fresh cream (35% fat)
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder

For the Filling:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup fresh cream
  • 500g full-fat ricotta
  • Small tub of Nutella

What I did:

1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.

2. The first step is to make your pastry. Put butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy then add your egg and cream and mix on a low speed to combine. Add your flour and baking powder to the mixer and mix on a low speed until combined into a dough. Kneed this lightly until just combined and set aside in the fridge for about 10mins.Image

3. In this time, make your filling by putting eggs and half the sugar into a bowl and mix with an electric mixer on high until pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl beat the cream cheese and remaining sugar on a medium speed until combined.

4. Combine the two mixtures with the vanilla extract and ricotta and mix on a low speed.

Assembling the Cake:

1. Greece your round cake tin with either butter or spray (I lined mine with baking paper which I think was unnecessary).

2. On a well floured surface, roll out your pastry to your desired thickness (don’t roll it too thin or it wont hold up with the filling. It should be about 4mm). Cut out a base first and place into your tin, then the side walls which you need to press into the base. Make sure there are no gaps or your cake will leak! Also cut out a lid which we will place on top later and prick this with a fork.

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3. Pour your filling into the tin carefully and smooth out the top.

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4. Put both pieces (the cake and the separate lid) into the oven and bake for about 1hr 45mins. The lid may be ready before this time so I would check on it at around 50mins and if cooked, remove to cool.

5. Once the cheesecake is cooked, it should have a slight wobble in the centre but be firm around the edges and have formed a nice “seal” on top. Turn the oven off and leave it to cool inside for 20mins with the door slightly open.

6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before chilling in the fridge.

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7. Using the nozzle of your piping bag, poke holes into the filling, piping Nutella into these as you go. You ca

n have as much or as little as you like then, when your happy pop the lid on top and trim off any extra pastry.

8. Dust the whole cake liberally with icing sugar and cinnamon and then serve and enjoy!

Happy Baking!!

 

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!