Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sydney Fish Market

We finally got round to a trip to the Sydney Fish Market today. I had no real expectations about what it was going to be like, I was just hoping to pick up some squid and prawns.

Sydney Fish Market is amazing. I feel like a whole new world of cooking has opened up to me. I used to think that the selection at Steve Hatt or Shellseekers was pretty good. I was living a lie.

Based in Blackwattle Bay, just under the Anzac Bridge, the market is the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. You'd have to go to Japan to get a wider choice of seafood. It's a wholesale market and auction in the wee hours of the morning and the retail market opens at 7.00am. You could do all of your shopping here, although I didn't see a butcher, as there's a grocer, baker and deli alongside the smorgasbord of fish. There's also a cookery school so you can learn how to cook your spoils. I wanted to cancel my weekend's plans as soon as I walked in to De Costi seafood and just spend all of my time cooking. Bri just wanted to get some calamari and sit on the wharf.

The plan was to buy some squid to make a stew for supper tonight and perhaps pick up some prawns for tomorrow. First decision of the day was which squid to go for. There was Queensland Squid, Hawkesbury Squid, cleaned squid, tiny squid, medium squid, squid rings and, probably, Oscar winning squid. It was a whole new world of squid. We went for Hawkesbury Squid from just round the corner. I think I went slightly into shock at this point and basically just wanted to photograph and then eat everything. Even Bri was open mouthed in amazement.
Down one side there was a "filet" bar where you can pick up ready filleted pieces. Across the back were mussel and pippi tanks as well as mud crabs, disabled with masking tape below signs warning that they are dangerous creatures. To one side, the largest swordfish I'd ever seen, bisected and ready to have huge steaks cut off. In the middle, the most perfect seafood stage, with piles of prawns, alternating raw and cooked, all graded by size. I managed to resist but concocted an evil plan to get some tiny green school prawns (to be an appetiser tonight) and some large prawns to get the garlic treatment tomorrow. I was planning how I might be able to get a whole snapper, perhaps roasted with chilli, into my eating plans and some scallops, which I want to roast with some soy and drizzle with balsamic when Bri dragged me away so we could explore some other parts of the market.

In Musumeci Seafoods I saw things that I had never seen before, like the bailer shells pictured above and the red cod below. Musumeci is a little more cramped than De Costi, but I think their range of whole fish might have been bigger. They had the most beautiful looking striped bonito and I was wracking my brain for recipes. I managed to keep myself on track though and ended up purchasing the tiny school prawns and some bigger ones too.

We were off to see family for lunch, but as we'd missed breakfast (and as this was our first trip here) we felt that we deserved a little snack. So Bri got his calamari and I scouted out some oysters. I haven't had oysters for a while, so I deserved a dozen, and I picked out some large Pacific and smaller Sydney rock oysters from Peter's Seafood, inside the main hall. This is a very slick operation with a delicious looking sashimi option with the fish sliced to order. Prices may be a bit higher here, it's definitely smarter than the freestanding shops outside, but I felt that the selection was a tiny bit more limited.

The oysters were delicious and needed nothing more than a squeeze of lemon and the smell of the sea, although I could have purchased mornay or kirkpatrick style to take home with me. I was expecting (there I go again) to enjoy the Pacific oysters more, as I usually prefer the looser, brinier ones. But the Sydney oyster was a revelation; creamy, close textured, muscular even, and a lot smaller than the Pacific. This was as good as snacking gets! Bri loved his calamari, although I thought they'd been sitting around a bit too long.

So tonight we're having the squid stew with pasta, a recipe from Neil Perry's new book. We just ate the school prawns, which I dusted with some paprika and semolina and then deep fried for 30 seconds or so. This was some seriously good eating; the sweetness of the paprika and tiny prawns contrasting with the semolina coating and the shells. You eat these critters whole, although I gave their tendrils (antennae?) a trim to stop them getting all tangled up. Below you can see the school prawns before they had their oil bath, and after. Now, can you guess where we're going next weekend?

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Monday, March 26, 2007


We went to the Manly Ocenarium (Australian for Aquarium) the other day to see their lizard show. The theory was that exposing me to a 3.5 metre long olive python would help cure me of my phobia. To some degree it has worked, and I managed to touch the snake and I was allowed some gelato afterwards for being a brave girl. The trip also introduced me to some new fish. Which I then ate later that evening. I've often been puzzled by my reaction to aquariums. I really love them, but they make me really hungry. I can't listen to the helper telling me which toys the octopus loves to play with, or watch the cuttlefish squirling about without thinking about a spritz of lemon and a good hot griddlepan.

It's strange, people don't walk around zoos saying "ooh, panda, that's delicious" but I see to think it's a perfectly valid response at the aquarium.

We had our first encounter with Jewfish at Manly. Yep, Bri and I did a double take on the name too. Turns out they're members of the grouper family and Jewfish is a catch-all name for a number of fish round here. The name's not considered derogatory in Oz and you'll also hear them called Jewies. In Florida, where they are a protected species, they're known as the Goliath Grouper. They can grow up to seven feet long, eat anything that gets in their way and were living quite merrily with Manly's nurse sharks.

They are also quite delicious as we discovered at Garfish, in Kirribilli, that night. I really quite liked this restaurant. More seats outside than in, a large selection of fish where you choose the method of cooking and the garnish and a good selection of wine by the glass. They say that their aim is "our fish, the way you wish" although our waitress was keen to tell us that that certain fishes respond better to different cooking methods. There were several fish that we'd never heard of, like the Blue Eyed Trevalla (bad deep fried it turns out) and the Leather Jacket. The fishes provenance was next to the name on the menu, so it was really easy to choose local fish and not add too many food miles to the bill. Bri went for the Wild Jewfish (he couldn't not, really) with soft polenta, roasted tomato and asparagus as his garnish, while I chose Ocean Trout with a pistachio, orange and plum salad. The trout came very rare and the salad lacked a bit of zing. The plum dressing was just a tad too sweet and some chili would have been a nice contrast to the rich, sweet fish. The Jewfish was excellent though; a good, thick slab with the skin griddled until crisp on a creamy bed of polenta. It's rare I get dish envy when I'm with Brian, but he totally won this time.

I drank a really amazing Tasmanian pinot grigio and am really looking forward to learning more about ANZ wine. We just got a flat today, so once we're settled I can start all of the courses, learning and cooking I've been planning for so long!

Garfish Restaurant,
2/21 Broughton Street
9922 4322

Branches also at Manly and Crow's Nest.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

The Eagle Has Landed...

This is the view from our apartment! We're only in this place for a month, but I still can't believe that we're finally in Sydney

I have limited email access at the moment and lots to write about. Today has been spent trying to get an apartment, but you can't do that unless you have a bank account, a letter from your primary school teacher confirming you're morally upstanding, a rent book, your passport and birth certificate, 42 official letters with your name and Australian address on them and a DNA sample.

So marginally easier than getting a BlockBuster video card then.

Of course we packed all of these things, along with our Sydney guidebooks, in the luggage we sent separately. With hindsight, we could have planned this much, much better...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hong Kong Day One

I don't know what day it is anymore, but we've left London and are now in Hong Kong, on our way to Sydney. I think I'm in a state of shock to be honest.

Our cabbie to the airport couldn't have taken a route better designed to show off London and the weather continued to taunt us. As we scooted past the Natural History museum I commented that I still hadn't been there. I guess next time I am back in London will be as tourist...

So we're now at the Jia boutique hotel in Hong Kong. Our suite is amazing; two chaises longues, "the comfiest bed in the world" according to Brian (although I think this might have more to do with the fact we've been in smelly twin beds for the past month in that horrible appartment), power shower and three gnome stools. Indeed. You can really tell that it was designed by Phillipe Starck. I am slightly reminded of the Long Bar at the Sanderson (only with fewer high class hookers and no Dean Gaffney) It's the sheer white curtains...Bri keeps walking around and touching things and saying that it's the lovliest hotel room he has ever stayed in.

We completely screwed up on the jet lag front and I forgot to set an alarm, so rather than having two hours sleep, we slept for six, wasting most of our first day and missing two meals. We took a longish walk to Victoria City Seafood ((which the concierege really didn't want us to do for some reason. Kept saying it was far too far to walk. With hindsight I can see how this is the case in the middle of summer and the humidity is up, but it was really pleasant today) in the Sun Hung Kai Centre for dinner, skirting through Victoria Park and getting our first view of Kowloon from HK Island through the haze.

Dinner was a brightly lit affair in a very quiet restaurant. I'd been warned that tables were hard to come by here, but I think that Hong Kong might take dinner a lot later than two jetlagged Brits. We started with deep fried century egg and pork dumplings with roe. The eggs were one of my things that I really wanted to eat while I was here. The individual eggs are packed in a mixture of ash, lime and salt and are buried for 100 days. The lime petrifies the egg and makes the yolk harden and turn a bluish colour while the white becomes gelatinous, translucent and brown. The eggs were then breadcrumbed and deep fried. The results are a very complex textural dish, with a nice contrast of hot on the outside and cold inside and the flavour is musty and slightly cheesy. The dumplings were much more familar to me and a really great example and I enjoyed watching our matriarchal waitress make sure that Bri didn't burn his tongue. The dumplings did lack the advertised roe though, so I wonder if we got the ferengi ones.

Next up were some prawns, simply sauted in ginger and garlic, which squeaked with freshness and some beans with minced pork which were sweet, savoury and healthy all at the same time. Our centre piece was a half roasted chicken (pictured) which had lots of scrakly skin and creamy flesh. We also managed some choi sum, sauted with garlic, because it felt like days since we'd had anything healthy to eat.

The bill came to about £42 which seemed like a good price for carefully cooked, very fresh ingredients. We travelled back on the double decker tram (or rather, we went to North Point on the tram because we were loving the ride so much and then just got off, crossed over the road and came back on the top deck)

Bri's now on the sofa asleep. Am sure it's time for bed for me too.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Peyton and Byrne

I'm not sure there's anything sweeter than iced cupcakes. They make me come over all Doris Day. Peyton and Byrne, squished, somewhat oddly, between Heals and Habitat on Tottenham Court Road, offers about 10 different flavours and it's almost impossible to choose. Add to that a wonderful selection of savouries, pies and OH MY GOD is that a scotch egg I see? you may find it hard to leave.

The store is the latest offering from Oliver Peyton and is, allegedly, based on his mother's recipes. I say allegedly because Roger Pizey is in charge of the kitchen, and I know that he's an amazing patissier. I know this because my mate Paul told me.

I called by on my last day in London, with my brother. We were planning an early supper, but we really couldn't leave without sampling a couple of things. I can recommend the chocolate praline cupcake, even though there was a little more icing that I generally like. The cake was moist and fudgy, not too sweet, and tasted homemade. I didn't even get to try Carl's raspberry and coconut concoction, but he was brushing crumbs off in a very satisfied manner. The scotch eggs are good too, with a good herb flavour to the meat, although I'm still noticed convinced about cold scotch eggs.

The only low point was the coffee, which just wasn't great. I'd recommend buying a box of cupcakes (the packaging is too cute for words) and getting to the Monmouth Coffee Company on Monmouth Street for your caffeine. If you like cake and good design (and really, who doesn't?) this is a must visit London store.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

The Perfect Morning In London

Sometimes only caffeine, fried dough and chocolate will do, so today started with breakfast at Churreria Espanola on Queensway with Moby, Maggie and Martin Amis. OK, so Martin Amis wasn't actually with us and I didn't actually recognise him but I never see famous people so I had to mention it.

This was a bit of an excursion for me. Since moving to Islington I rarely venture far from the number 19 bus route, but I took one of those lovely little black buses that drop you just where you want to be and beat the rush hour. 8.30am seemed like a hellish time to meet, especially as I knew that Arbutus would be a late one, but a croque monsieur, two caffe con leche, some chocolate espagnol and three churros with sugar and cinnamon soon put me right.

From here it felt like London was all mine and so I headed to the West End for a little more retail therapy before I leave. TopShop was my first shop, and is actually slightly less hellishly frantic than usual at 10.30am. It's no wonder that Kate Moss always looks so good, not having to shop on a Saturday when it's total carnage in here. Next up Jaeger and probably the cutest dress I have purchased in, oooh, three days. A walk through the back streets of Soho in the sun (with the wind making sure that the whole of Carnaby Street saw my M&S control tops) took me to Liberty, my favourite shop in the whole world. Who knew that I needed a peacock feather Liberty print, silk jewellery roll? Who even knew one existed...I restrained myself (a little) and just purchased some thank you cards from Billet Doux that are really sweet. Given that I still haven't got round to sending my thank you cards from my trip to Jo'berg before Christmas, it may be sometime before this self-gift becomes useful.

Next up, Covent Garden. Rough Trade records for a friend's musical education, Neals Yard Dairy for some samples of cheese (because I haven't had enough saturated fat yet today) and I end up buying some Berkshire, gherkins and petit lucque olives. I can't miss out on the Monmouth Coffee store, the best coffee in London, either. Even their decaf is delicious. Next I decide that I will try on bikinis and discover that they look much better if you're wearing hold-you-in-tights. Who knew? I decide not to buy as I am not yet sure that Bondi is ready for this beachwear innovation. It strikes me that I might look better in a bikini if I ate less, but lo, I magically find myself next to Beard Papa.

A trot up Tottenham Court Road takes me to FOPP for some more CDs not bought in a chainstore environment and then to Heals, for more lovely things for a little girl to have. It's not far to Drummond Street from here and great Masala Dosa at Diwani.

Then its home and I spot a chap wearing a bowler hat, entirely unironically, on the bus.

I can't tell you how much I am going to miss London.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Tom's Kitchen

"Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed."

Alexander Pope wasn't talking me about me when he wrote that. Over the past few years my expectations about food have got a bit out of control. I find myself starting any critisism about meals that I enjoyed with "It was delicious, but..." The fact that I typed criticism when I meant conversation tells you a lot.

So I went to Tom's Kitchen with very high expectations. New venture from Michelin starred Chef. Laid back atmosphere. Classic English food prepared with passion. Critics clambouring over one another to heap plaudits.

It was good. I'll get the criticism out of the way first. It's tiled. So it's a bit like eating in a toilet, only with worse acoustics. You sit refectory style, so should you have a small accident with the ketchup, your neighbour looks like an extra from a Tarantino movie. Moby says the butter was cheesy. They didn't have many sharing dishes when we went, and I was sort of looking forward to a casserole with a big ladle. There go the expectations again. I turned up to a restaurant where I know the menu changes daily and then I think it's fair to critisise it for not having a dish that I sort of fancied. I am turning into that man from Little Britain who wants a picture of a slightly churlish owl and nothing else.

The good stuff is really good. They have baked Alaska (for two), the promise of which, along with the duck ham on the charcuterie platter (for two), perked up a tweaky Fi and some cheesy butter with good bread (which is my kind of butter no matter what Moby says.) They use a lot of this butter in the chicken liver pate, pictured above, which made me want to bury my head in it and go "whubba whubba whubba", but a sense of decorum meant I just spread a lot of it on my sourdough toast. They served a burger which is made from proper chopped, aged beef, the likes of which we would have crowned King of the Burgers if we'd come across it when we were doing burger club. That said, I prefer a burger that's less aged and made with a less fat. Oh, and a burger thickness that you don't have to dislocate your jaw like a snake to eat might be good too. The sirloin was well aged, well cooked and came with some triple cooked chips that I found better than the ones at the Hinds Head. Maggie was pleased with her haddock and chips, which tasted properly of fish and we were assured that it was off the boat that morning.

Deserts are homely and proper; the baked Alaska was ignited at the table and the profiteroles filled with some of the best vanilla icecream I've had for a while. The hot chocolate sauce is made with a very good quality, high percentage chocolate that needed just a little of the vanilla icecream to sweeten it up. Espressos came in cute stainless steel cups, but could have been punchier.

I'm sure it was expensive, but my friends kindly picked up the tab so I don't know exact prices. That said, the richness of the food meant that it was the next evening before I was truly hungry again and I effectively saved the money that would have been spent on three other meals. Which, along with my concept of any item bought in a sale actually saves you money, is your introduction to the world of Suzi economics.

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