Friday, June 27, 2008

Bentley Restaurant

Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
I had a not bad three course meal at Bentley Bar and Restaurant in Surry Hills recently. Unfortunately it was part of an eight course tasting menu, so I left feeling financially mugged and gastronomically frustrated.

Do I not like fine dining anymore? I’m really starting to wonder if my travels to eat in all of the temples of avant-garde cuisine were the mere folly of youth. Did I let my brain get in the way of my taste buds? Did I really enjoy all that molecularly modified food? Am I having some sort of gastronomic mid-life crisis?

I can’t actually remember the last time I left a fine-dining restaurant ecstatically happy. Tetsuyas? White truffle ice cream tastes of bad breath.. Hibiscus? Nice sausage roll.There are more, but I can’t actually remember any of the meals without going to Flickr and that’s part of the problem.

What I can remember are the roast chicken with bread sauce at Glebe Point Diner in Sydney. The locally caught mussels wrapped in home reared and cured lardo at the Sportsman in Seasalter. Neither of these are fine-dining (although the Sportsman does have a Michelin star) but both of these punch far above their weight in terms of their deliciousness, despite their lack of pomp and circumstance.

So why did I dislike Bentley so much and why I am writing about it, given I said that this blog was here to celebrate the good? Because sometimes you have to call people out when they are serving bad food. So here’s the new rule from the fabulous life of Binky Silhouette. I’m not just telling you about the good stuff anymore.

But I can’t resist some positivity. There was some good to be found here. The amuses bouches were unusual and delicious. I know I’m a patè whore, but serving jerusalem artichoke soup with a schmear of chicken liver patè at the bottom was a good idea, and one I will be stealing at home. The roasted duck breast with kohl rabi and black fungus was earthy and rich and showcased a nice piece of duck. The white chocolate and mandarin fizz with mandarin ice cream was a beautifully balanced desert, albeit with elements I first saw at WD-50 about five years ago. You can’t fault someone from re-using a good idea.

However, serving pork with salmon roe is not a very good idea. There’s a reason why pork and fish are generally kept apart. You can’t take a pork cheek, an unctuous, fatty piece of meat at the best of times and contrast it with the…unctuous, fatty, fishy richness of some salmon roe. You then can’t serve it with some smoked salmon and beetroot. Especially when the smoked salmon is inside an ersatz ravoli that appears to made out of purple-tinged polystyrene.

I’m going to stop here. I’ll let the Flickr set tell you the rest.

Bentley Bar and Restaurant is at 320 Crown Street. You don’t need the number. You won’t be going.

Glebe Point Diner is at 407 Glebe Point Road. You can make a reservation for one of their two dinner sittings on (02) 9660 2646.

I'll tell you more about the Sportsman very soon.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

North Bondi Italian Food

NBIF menu
Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
I think I’ve found a reason to want the Sydney winter to continue.

The Global Corporate Challenge has awakened my latent competitiveness and I now find myself walking everywhere. The planned walk from Spit Bridge to Manly had been cancelled (due partly to inclement weather and partly to 74 sub-standard Margaritas at La Cita the night before) but I had a terrible urge to “get the steps in”.

This is the only reason I have for why last Sunday, I was one of only three people walking along Bondi Beach in the sleeting rain and a force 12 gale. I’m fairly sure that the other two were also British.

If any Australians had spotted me, I’m sure they would have rolled their eyes twice. Once for the fact that they don’t think Bondi is “all that” and find my obsession with this beach risible. And twice because it was bloody cold.

But I was walking with purpose and I figured I would treat myself to lunch at North Bondi Italian Food, little sister restaurant to Icebergs.

It’s a casual (but not inexpensive), chic place, which doesn’t take reservations. It was already rammed at 12.30pm and the wait time for a table was an hour. Luckily, you can also eat at the bar, and given I looked like the wild wombat woman of Wooloomooloo (I love saying that. More “oohs” than a lorry load of adult DVDs), I can imagine that the Maitre’d was quite happy for me to be hidden by the door, away from the far more glamorous Sydney residents who’d already bagged a table. I love restaurants with a bar that solo diners can eat at. You feel much less inconspicuous (not something I generally worry about, but last night’s mascara was halfway down my cheeks and I was wearing a Yahoo t-shirt), you don’t feel the need to tip double (which I generally do in a nice place when I’ve taken up a two-top) and you can flirt with the hot barman (which, given I discovered the mascara when I got home was perhaps over-ambitious). The menu is utterly eatable and it took me a whole, very delicious, latte and about 26 complimentary monkey nuts to make my decision. It was meant to be a light lunch, so some salami and bread to begin and soup to follow.

Doesn’t sound like it’s going to amount to much, does it?

But this is a restaurant that takes its sourcing very seriously. So the salami is a cacciatore salami made from 90kg Black Berkshire pigs that have clearly had a very happy life. It’s served with some exceptional breads from Sonoma bakery and Fratelli Fresh olive oil. My only complaint was that you can’t get a tasting plate of the salumi and I really want to try to cutaletto and the guanciale. Next up was a massive, steaming bowl of twice cooked chicken broth with chicken polpette and chunky carrots. The bowl’s big enough to drown in and is everything that chicken soup could ever be. The stock was beautifully clarified, full flavoured and sparkling. The meatballs were firm and tasty, the chunky carrots all sweet and…well, chunky. It’s so easy to do chicken soup wrong, but all of the components were carefully thought-out and a lot of extra effort had gone into making this a wonderful dish.

I would have stayed for an averna (this place has a great digestive list) but it was getting hugely busy and I was being bumped and clattered from all sides. The noise level was unbearable. I’ll never understand the fashion for restaurants made entirely of hard surfaces that don’t even think to put some linen on the tables. I can imagine that this isn’t a problem in the summer, when the huge French-windows open and you can both see and hear the waves, but for now, my only criticism can only be righted by beautiful velvet drapes around all of the walls.

I cannot wait to go back here. It’s my new favourite place. Next time I want to get stuck into the (be still my beating heart) offal section of the menu, or perhaps try a roast of the day. And the marinated sardines. And some pasta. Oh God. I really can’t wait to go back.

North Bondi Italian Food is at 1 Notts Avenue, just opposite Bondi Beach.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fresh borlotti beans with prawns

Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
I’ve become slightly obsessed with Giorgio Locatelli’s book “Made In Italy, Food & Stories” recently. Not just because I almost had to pay an excess luggage charge to bring it back to Australia (it’s slightly heavier than a small breeze block), but it’s a great overview of Italian regional cookery and the life of a chef.

So it was a rainy Monday public holiday in Sydney, and decided to cook from it.

I’d picked up some beautiful fresh borlotti beans from (yes, you’ve guessed it) the Norton Street Grocer and some prawns from David Jones Food Hall. The beans didn’t let me down and podding them was a joy, revealing the speckled beans that look like little pink lizard’s eggs. The prawns were a bit meagre, but luckily I had bought plenty, so we didn’t go hungry.

This could be classed as cooking for inept single men. You don’t have to make the shellfish stock or cook beans from fresh, but sometimes it’s nice to go to a little extra effort, isn’t it?

Ingredients (for two as a starter, one greedy weasel as a main course)
About 400g of fresh borlotti beans, podded
½ head of unpeeled garlic, plus two extra cloves, minced
1 stalk of celery
Some herbs, I used parsley and sage
Nice olive oil
As many prawns as you fancy. I used medium sized green prawns
1 long chilli pepper (not too fiery, don’t use a birds eye one)
Some nice white wine (I used a pinot grigio from Harndorf Hill winery in Adelaide)
A couple of tablespoons of passata

To serve
Some chopped parsley
Some minced garlic
Your best olive oil

Start by cooking your beans. You want to boil them in plenty of unsalted water with the garlic, herbs and celery. It’s important to not salt the beans as salting them now will make them really tough. Which is appealing in an action hero, but less so in a bean. Cover them in cold water, bring to the boil and skim off any scum. Reduce the heat and simmer, with the lid on, until they’re soft to the bite (probably about 45 minutes to one hour). Once cooked, keep them warmish (I just left the lid on the pan).

At this point, heat your oven to about 180 degrees.

Peel your prawns, leaving the heads on and remove the digestive tract. This can be a bit fiddly if you’ve never done it before. I recommend first running your thumb down the underside of the prawn, which loosens the shell, and then peeling from there. Save the shells for the stock. Once peeled, lay your prawn down and slice the tail in two (known as butterflying). As you slice through you’ll be able to remove the digestive tract which runs along the top of the prawn. If you’re unfamiliar with the anatomy of a prawn, it looks like a thinnish black line encased in a membrane. To be honest though, you’ll be able to tell. Prawn crap is quite distinctive.

To make your stock, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and sauté the shells with a splash of white wine, about half a chilli, a couple of smashed garlic cloves and a tablespoon of passata. Add enough water to cover, but don’t go mad as we’re trying to concentrate the flavours. Cook for no more than 10 minutes and then strain through a sieve, making sure you scronch down the shells and push all the flavour through. Don’t forget to scrape the underside of the sieve, the stock will be thick and concentrated here. Just stir it in.

You’ll need your biggest pan. If all of the prawns won’t fit, cook in two batches. We want to fry the prawns and get them caramelizing, not steam them. Heat your oil, add the garlic and chilli and cook for a few moments to flavour the oil. Do not allow the garlic to burn. This is the critical part of the recipe. Burnt garlic tastes of ass. Season the prawns and drop them into the pans on their backs. Resist the urge to shake or stir, let them caramelize. Once this had happened, press down on the heads to release the brains. I’ll let you into a secret. Prawn heads are the best bit of a prawn. Next time you have them, suck the heads. Pure concentrated essence of prawn. Don’t want the heads, I’ll have yours. Once cooked, keep your prawns warm in the oven. You did turn it on, didn’t you?

Use a slotted spoon to add the beans to the pan that you cooked the prawns in, season and bring to the boil. You’re going to sauce the beans, either with some of the cooking water or the stock (depending on how much effort you wanted to go to). If you’re using the water, add the passata and some wine, but don’t let the sauce get too thin. Crush some of the beans to mingle the flavours from the prawns and to thicken the sauce.

I plated this by placing the beans in the centre of the plate and then artfully arranged the prawns ontop, drizzled with some best olive oil and some chopped parsley, a couple of rings of chilli and some garlic.

A full photoset is available on Flickr

Monday, June 09, 2008

Perfect Manhattan

Carl in MurmurHow do you know when you're in safe hands? Eating and drinking out is an act of trust and I've come to believe that there are benchmark items everywhere. I mean the single thing you need to order to know if the establishment knows what they are doing. A pain au chocolate in a patisserie, patatas bravas in a tapas bar, xiao long bao (aka Shanghai soup dumplings) in your yum cha joint of choice. And when I'm in a bar? Fix me a perfect Manhattan. It used to be a Margarita, but having drunk too many that reminded me of battery acid, I switched. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the world's best Margarita is at Adobo Grill in Chicago.

I've had some really good Manhattan's recently. The smoked Manhattan seems to be in vogue, and although I usually give short shrift to remixes of classics, both Cristal bar and The Victoria Room in Sydney do a fine job. Perhaps it's because we're in indoor smoke-free times (and the Manhattan is best enjoyed with a Marlborough light) but both drinks work. So The Victoria Room serve theirs with a smoked cherry and Cristal seem to waft some burning paper in the general direction of the martini glass.

So what goes into a Manhattan I hear you ask? Well, it's a drinkers' cocktail...No fruit puree, no sugar syrup, nothing sparking with bubbles. It's whiskey, vermouth, bitters and a maraschino cherry. All of the major food groups represented then.

I take mine straight up and perfect (meaning equal parts red and white vermouth) and, ideally, with Makers Mark. It's always nice when you have a choice.

Other great Manhattans I have known are found at Murmur in Melbourne (where the photo of my brother was taken) and at the Majestic Hotel in San Francisco. Both are, quite simply, perfect. Like my drink.

The Victoria Room is at Level 1 231A Victoria St, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010 (02) 9357 4488
Adobo Grill is all over Chicago, but my favourite is at 1610 N Wells (at North Avenue)
Murmur is at
Level 1, 17 Warburton Lane, Melbourne, Victoria (03) 9640 0395
The Majestic Hotel is at
1500 Sutter St, San Francisco, +1 415-441-1100

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008


pomegranite thai.jpg

I’ve only ever had one motto when it comes to food. "Never eat more than you can lift." For that, I have to thank my spiritual guide, Miss Piggy.

But now I have a new one. Never fight a Papua New Guinean for pork. Especially when the pork in question is the caramelized pork hock at Longrain.

Longrain is a terminally popular “modern Thai” restaurant in Surry Hills. They’ll tell you it has a “Manhatten feel” but they’re wrong. This is the quintessential Sydney restaurant. But, of course, they’ve gone and opened an even more glamorous branch in Melbourne. It’s my omni-restaurant, one that is suitable for all sort of occasions and I send *everybody* there. Fun first date when you want to see if your potential partner knows their way around a menu and can share? Longrain. Dinner for a group of less than nine that’s fashionable and noisy? Longrain because you can’t book. In need of a quick pick-you-up at lunchtime? Longrain and sit at the bar. The menu won’t tell you this, but about 40% of the dishes are available in smaller serves, so you can go by yourself and not have to just order one dish. Cocktails after work with some friends and you just want a nibble? Longrain and have a couple of plates of the betel leaves with smoked trout. The cocktails are sensational too.

I love this restaurant. It’s consistent, fun, delicious and even caters well to our vegetarian friends. They can have the salt and pepper tofu. You have the pork hock. You deserve it.

I’ve been so many times that I’ve eaten the entire menu. If you’re a first timer, have the crispy pork hock with five spice. It’s chewy and porky and fatty and the caramelized vinegar tips the whole thing over the edge. The soft-shell crab with pork and a papaya salad is the best soft-shell crab you’ll find in Sydney (that’s a challenge. Know anything better? Prove it). There’s a dab-hand at the fryer here, so the crab’s ethereally light and disappears in seconds. The barramundi isn’t killed to order (despite the fact that the menu tells you it’s from the tank. If you’re going to tell me it’s from the tank, I want to see the number of barramundi diminishing during the evening. I checked recently and the story is that it’s more humane to kill and skin them outside of service. I am not entirely convinced, but then, I am strangely into fish being killed to order for me).

Even the deserts are good, and I am not the biggest fan of the Asian banana/palm sugar/coconut combo. Have the sampler plate. I’ll eat all the roasted coconut ice-cream.

But best of all, for me, are the betel leaves with smoked trout. I think this one mouthful of food might have been what convinced me to move to Sydney. Obviously Bangkok might have been a more obvious choice if I wanted Thai food on-tap, but sitting at that bar in January 2006 and having that explode in my mouth made a lasting impression. It’s a bit like being mugged by a gorgeous man with a bottle of fish sauce, who tickles a chili under your nose and spritzes citrus in your left eye while he slaps your lips with a piece of smoked trout.

The light in there isn’t great, so instead of a photo of Longrain, you’ve got a similar betel leaf dish from Pomegranate Thai in Balmain. You could go there instead, but it’s not as good.

Longrain is at 85 Commonwealth Street in Surry Hills. I’ve developed a homing device that means I know when I am within about 400 meters of the place. I really hope you love it as much as I do.

Longrain is at 40-44 Little Bourke Street in Melbourne.

Pomegranate Thai is at 191 Darling Street in Balmain. They also have a place called Prasit’s Northside Thai at 77 Mount Street.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Broccoli Pasta (for inept single men)

Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
I’ve had a request and am very excited. Someone has asked me for a recipe! It seems that finally I might have found my niche in life, and that’s to provide recipes for inept single men. I would request, however, that if any inept single men have any “success” with my recipes, you post a testimonial on the site.

I need to know if this stuff works.

It all came about when this chap shared his recipe for “pasta with vegetables” with me. It was more a jumble of misconceptions than a delicious meal. It was something along the lines of capsicum, tomatoes, zucchini and…yes, you’ve guessed it, pesto. The single man’s lubricant of choice.

I’ll never understand a. what possesses people to purchase store bought pesto and add it to whatever pasta dish they’re planning. Pesto has its place, ideally when you’ve got a beautiful bunch of fresh basil, a pestle and mortar and a really great chunk of pecorino.

Anyway, I digress. Here are the rules of healthy(ish) pasta and vegetable dishes.

1. Pick one vegetable. Perhaps two. Certainly no more.
2. Plan your flavour accents. Garlic, olives, anchovy, onion, herbs, dried chili, perhaps some cheese. Not all of them.
3. Find a texture contrast. Pine nuts, hazelnuts, toasted flaked almonds, sesame seeds, perhaps some cheese.
4. Have some sort of sauce. Might just be oil, might be a splash of cream, could be some melted anchovy.
5. Keep it simple. This is easy cooking for a Tuesday night, not Iron Chef.

So, for this dish, our vegetable is going to be broccoli. The flavour accents are chili, onion and garlic. The texture is going to be pine nuts. I’d recommend using penne because the onions and pine nuts get stuck in the ridges but the smooth penne has worked for me because of the smooth pasta with broccoli floret contrast. Works for me.

Ingredients (to serve two)
A handful of pinenuts
A red onion, sliced into elegant, thin strips
A clove of garlic, mashed or sliced, up to you (I don’t wish to be proscriptive)
About ten anchovies in oil
A teeny tiny dried red chili, crumbled
A very large head of broccoli, perhaps two
Enough pasta to feed you both

Begin by toasting your pine nuts. Pop them into a cold frying pan with no oil, and watch them constantly. Pine nuts are slippery buggers and will burn in a pico-second if you leave them unattended. Set aside.

Add some of the oil from the jar of anchovies and a little extra EVOO, warm and add the onion. We’re aiming to wilt the onion so it’s slippery, not crisp it. Add the garlic, chili and the anchovies. The anchovies will melt into the onion and garlic.Yum. Keep warm.

Find your largest pan and fill it with boiling water. Wait until it’s at a rolling boil and then add lots of salt. Most people don’t salt their pasta water enough. It needs to be as salty as sea water, although don’t use sea water for convenience and don’t ever try tasting your boiling water to see if it’s salty enough. You’ll burn your tongue. Just throw in a really good handful of (preferably Maldon) salt. Bigger than you think you should. Live a little. The reason restaurant food tastes better is because they use more salt and butter than we do at home. I cook the broccoli and pasta in the same water (to save on washing up) and I steam the broccoli over the top of the pasta. You could just mix them, but the broccoli will cook first, so you’ll need to fish it out.

Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of water. Mix all the ingredients together, adding some of the cooking water for lubrication (not pesto). The cooking water contains a lot of starch, so it will, curiously, help to thicken your sauce. Don’t use too much though. Sprinkle on pine nuts. Or toasted sesame seeds. Or some nice hazelnuts now I come to think of it. Chow down.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


There’s an old Italian proverb about soup.

Sette cose fa la zuppa, cava fame e sete attuta, empie il ventre, snetta il dente, fa dormire, fa smaltire, e la guancia fa arrossire.

Which, for those of us who don’t speak Italian, translates as;

Soup does seven things; it takes away hunger and thirst, fills the stomach, cleans the teeth, makes you sleep, makes you slim and puts colour in your cheeks.

I always cook soup when it’s cold and I’m feeling a little peaky. I find making soup restores the soul, so maybe there’s an eighth thing in there too. Whatever case, soup is the thing I turn too when I need a bit of cheering up. Well, that and shoe shopping.

So today I set about making some ribollita, while listening to Micah P Hinson and the Gospel of Progress. Truly great stuff for the soul. Especially as I’d got the last bunch of Tuscan cabbage at the Norton Street Grocer.

There’s just no point making ribollita without Tuscan cabbage, also known as Cavolo Nero. Its dark green leaves are packed full of iron and it’s also great sauted with some chilli and anchovy. But today it was the soup pot for these leaves. My version isn’t exactly authentic, as I couldn’t resist adding some pancetta, but feel free to leave it out.

A good size bunch of Tuscan cabbage. It should be squeaky fresh.
Two white onions, diced
Four sticks of celery, sliced and diced (I sound like Hannibal Lecter)
Three fat cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
A tin of cannelinni beans (I like La Gina brand), rinsed
A couple of slices of pancetta dolce, cut into batons
A tin of chopped tomatoes (I like Annalisa brand)
At least 200ml of good chicken stock
A good chunk of slightly stale ciabatta
Your best olive oil

Begin by rendering the fat from the pancetta in some light olive oil. The idea is for the fat to melt, rather than for the meat to crisp, so keep the heat down low. Once the pancetta is soft and plump, add the onions and soften. Then add the garlic and the celery. The idea is to build up layers of flavour, so it’s important to give each ingredient time to coat in the porky oil and give up their goodness. I took a shower and blow-dryed my hair once everything was in the pot, to allow the flavours extra time to mix. Once you’re happy with your blow-dry (or the base for the soup, depends on which comes first) add the stock, tomatoes, ¾ of the beans and bring to a good simmer. Add the cabbage and cook for around 30 minutes.

While this is happening, you want to puree the rest of the beans (you can use a blender or just mush them up), as they, along with the bread, will thicken the soup. Add the puree and the stale bread, which you’ve ripped into chunks and return to the heat. Check the seasoning and the consistency, ribollita is meant to be thick. If you've used pancetta, you probably won't need too much salt.

Serve with a glug of your best olive oil on top. World becomes better place.

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