Jones the Grocer, Sydney CBD

It seemed like only yesterday that I was dining at Quarter Twenty-One in the Sydney CBD Westfield.  How quickly times change!  The old space was boarded up for a while with signage declaring Jones the Grocer to be opening soon. 

Now it is open and I must confess that I was not dying to visit (concept seemed a bit standard to my jaded mind) but my friend was super keen.  One weeknight after finishing work, we went to visit for dinner - don't forget to use the express escalator next to Sportsgirl if coming from Pitt St Mall for a quick ride to Level 5 of the Westfield!



Upon walking into the restaurant , it is a lot more spacious than it appears from the outside.   Not only is there a 'grocery' section with expensive teas, cordials, jams, nuts etc to purchase and a sofa lounge area, you can also see big glass cabinets where it looks like their cured meats are hanging and an open kitchen.   There is lots of seating and we were ushered into the dining area at the back.  

The lighting is a bit strange inside.  The tables next to the windows are almost in pitch darkness whereas other tables are awkwardly lit by glaring overhead lightbulbs.  We were initially seated at a window table and although there was a nice view of Pitt St Mall, we requested to move to another table because it was too dark for us.  I feared that I would actually fall asleep.  And squinting to see the menu.  Yes I am a nanna and a romantic dinner this was not!

I decided to order off the bar menu for my entree. 

Foie gras parfait with toasted brioche and pickles ($18)


I really like liver parfait and this was standard - not bad, not amazing but enjoyable all the same.  

Angel hair pasta with blue swimmer crab, chilli, rocket, garlic and grana padano ($19)



The angel hair pasta came out on a very small plate with a very small mound of pasta.  I tasted the dish and did not like it.  It tasted so bland!  There was a heavy taste of oil and a bit of chili.  This was my friend's entree and she didn't like it either but valiantly finished it off.

Our mains came out quickly after entrees were cleared away.

Pan fried Atlantic salmon fillet with cherry tomato and black bean vierge ($30)


My friend ordered the salmon which we both found to be slightly overcooked and dry.

Roast wild barramundi with crushed potatoes and sauce antiboise ($32)


Similarly, I wasn't overly enamoured with the wild barrumundi.  The skin was partly crisp, partly soggy. The body of the fish was cooked well but the overall flavour of the dish was bland.  In particular, I disliked the fact that the large, chunky potatoes were underdone and a bit hard in the mouth.  It would have been nice to have some other vegetables mixed in with the potatoes.  There also wasn't much sauce on the plate.  I felt like Manu from MKR - where is the sauce???? 

Jones chips cooked three times with tomato and fennel ketchup ($7.50)


My friend and I disagreed over the chips - she thought they were undercooked and I thought they were overcooked.  Maybe I just had the misfortune of selecting the extra brown ones.  I found the tomato and fennel ketchup to be strange and the additional flavour of fennel to be unnecessary.  The texture of the ketchup was also odd, it was runny and reminded me of soup.

Up until this point, I was underwhelmed with the dishes but then my dessert came out.

Warm sticky date pudding with salted caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream ($12)


Jones Assam Estate leaf tea ($4.50)


When I tasted the sticky date pudding, I finally thought to myself, this is gooooooooooooood.  It was so moist and rich.  So decadent!  There was an abundance of salted caramel sauce that oozed all over the plate and I liked how the salt counterbalanced the stickiness of the pudding.

I also enjoyed the looseleaf tea which was strong and served with a small jug of milk and sugar cubes.  After our dinner, I had a quick peek in the grocery section for the tea but was deterred by the $21 price tag. Eek.

All in all, I wouldn't come back again for dinner.  However I would come back for dessert with coffee or tea.  That sticky date pudding was the bomb! The staff were very friendly and attentive during the meal. 

My friend was still feeling rich after the dinner and left with a $16 bottle of cordial from the grocery section. 

Jones the Grocer on Urbanspoon
5

Abhi's Indian Restaurant, North Strathfield

I discovered Abhi's Indian Restaurant in the Entertainment Book and after searching for reviews online, found out that it is a rather popular place.  It is the sister restaurant to Aki's Indian Restaurant in Woolloomooloo which proudly boasts one SMH chef's hat on its website.  No chef's hat for the North Strathfield setup but the reviews prompted me to make a booking instead of just dropping by.


It was very crowded for a Saturday night and I was glad that we made the booking.  Although it was a cold night outside, it was very hot and stuffy inside the restaurant.

Coca Cola ($4.00) and Mango Lassi ($4.50)


The Mango lassi tasted ok.  A sweet yoghurt drink that is good for cooling the mouth after hot curries.

Chatpata squid ($18)
Salt and pepper squid dusted with spiced flour, lightly fried and served with a tamarind and ginger dipping sauce



We ordered the fried squid to share as an entree and it didn't take long to come out.  It was very hot and coated in a light batter.  The portion size was on a smaller side.

After we finished the entree and the plate was cleared away, we found ourselves waiting a long time for the rest of the meal came out.  After a while, we started to look at our watches and the other tables around us - who also didn't have any food on the table.  All up, we timed that we waited about 50 minutes in between the entree and the main.  Not to sound like a big whinger but I had developed a big headache from the stuffiness of air inside and just wanted the food to arrive already!  My friend was also feeling poorly from hunger. 

When the food finally arrived, we fell upon it like a pair of rabid wolves.

Garlic naan bread ($4.20)


The garlic naan was fresh and good to mop up the curry sauce.

Vegetable pilau ($3.80)


I picked the vegetable pilau for us to share and I was glad - the veggies add more flavour and colour to the meal.

Chicken makhni ($21.80)
Tender boneless chicken roasted in tandoor then finished in pan with a subtly flavoured blend of fenugreek, tomato and cream


It was an interesting bowl that was used to serve the chicken - I was impressed that none of the sauce spilled out onto the shallow end at the bottom.  Having said that, we had to be careful when scooping it out of the bowl. The chicken was good - slightly overcooked and a few pieces were tough but the flavours in the sauce were nice.

Seafood Moily ($26.80)
A Kerala favourite of prawns, scallops and fish with ground coconut, onions, tomato, fresh curry leaves and mustard seeds.


The seafood moily reminded me of the laksa that I like to get for lunch from Happy Chef.  The coconut soup tasted exactly the same!  My friend hardly ate any of this dish and I was forced to do clean up duty on it - I felt like it would have been a shame to waste given how long we had waited for the meal!

I probably wouldn't come back.  The food was nice but quite average and not standout enough for a return visit.  It is on the pricier side but definitely seemed popular with the locals. 

Abhi's Indian on Urbanspoon
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Napoli in Bocca, Haberfield

When I started reading about Napoli in Bocca on other food blogs, I knew I had to go try it.  Rave reviews about the delicious authentic pizza being served there made me salivate.  I dragged my friend along with me on a sunny Sunday lunchtime and we arrived to a full restaurant.

"Got a booking?" the old man at the counter asked.  When I answered no, he ran his eye down the reservation book and decided there was a table free for us - phew!  The place was bustling and we were seated next to a long table having a family lunch.  Later on, another large group arrived and we looked enviously at the large platters of pasta being placed along the tables.  It seems like it would be a good meeting place for a group feast.

Our pizzas came out quickly and they were big!

Carnevale ($19.50)
Tomato, Mozzarella, Ham, Mushrooms, Olives, Anchovies and Capsicum


Margherita ($17.50)
Tomato and mozzarella


I had the Carnevale and it was yummy. The pizza base was soft and pliable and there was just the right amount of topping.  I couldn't finish it all and had the remaining slices wrapped up to take home.  It was just as good the next day.

Napoli in Bocca on Urbanspoon
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Cafe Nice, Circular Quay

Let me start off by saying that Cafe Nice is in one of the most convenient locations possible.  I am in love with the LOCATION of this restaurant.

It is right next to Circular Quay station meaning next to a heap of bus stops and ferries and one block from my work.  It could not be easier for me to get to Cafe Nice.  And here is my tip for the day - the address of Cafe Nice is 2 Phillip Street but the entrance is located around the corner on Albert Street.  Now that you have my tip, you won't have to stand like fools in front of the building staring blankly up at the restaurant wondering how to get in.  Like we did.


Cafe Nice is the new venture by the good people who created Fratelli French.  Unlike their other venues which are Italian, this one focuses on French cuisine.

My friend and I went on a Friday night and it was pretty busy. We had a booking for 6.30pm and the bar section was filled with people, as was the restaurant area.  It was quite dark where we were seated so I am grateful to my friend for the photos in this post - my own photos came out even darker and grainier than these ones!

The service was very attentive at the start of the night.  A waitress came over to ask if we had any questions about the menu which was partly in French.

We started off with a French classic - ratatouille.


Ratatouille nicoise with slow-cooked egg ($18)



The ratatouille was served with a slow cooked egg that oozed everywhere after being prodded.  The capiscum, eggplant and tomato worked really well with the grilled bread.  We shared this entree and both enjoyed it.

For my main, I decided to go with fish cooked in paper - something I have never tried before but have heard a lot about from Masterchef!

Mulloway cooked en papillote with leeks, peppers and herbs ($29) - on the right

I actually enjoyed the fish cooked in paper more than I thought I would. After carefully unwrapping the paper, two fairly decent sized portions of mulloway were unveiled. The paper had become greasy on the inside so next time I would try not to touch it with my hands - or rest my cutlery on it!
My friend had the lamb rump and liked it.
Les pommes frites ($8.50)


We also ordered french fries and they were standard.

Towards the end of our meal, the service deteriorated. We struggled to catch the attention of staff who seemed to be zipping around with their heads down. This really put a bad end to what had been a nice dinner. It took us about twenty minutes to flag someone to get the dessert menu and then another twenty to catch someone again to take our order!

Chocolate noir mousse with cocoa nib brittle ($14.50)
Berry and lemon curd mille feuille ($14.50)
The lemon curd mille feuille tasted sour and acidic on my tastebuds. I think I prefer the traditional mille feuille i.e. with lashings of custard! The dark chocolate mousse was very more-ish and dense.

By the end of the meal, I had noticed how loud it was inside the restaurant. We both found ourselves raising our voices to be heard. There were a lot of people inside but I also wondered whether it was the sounds echoing around inside the restaurant that made it even noisier.

Having said that, I would still come back. The food was tasty and as I mentioned earlier - the location is the best.

Cafe Nice on Urbanspoon
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El Loco at Slip Inn, Sydney CBD

Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit Merivale's newly permanent El Loco at Slip Inn for a Blogger's Fiesta dinner.  Of course I jumped at the opportunity - who can resist anything with Fiesta in the title?


I have not visited the Slip Inn in a very long time.  Thinking of my previous visits during my uni days (years ago!), I remember having an occasional pub meal in the courtyard on weeknights, Chinese Laundry once or twice on Saturday nights and sometimes dropping by for a quiet drink with friends.  After a while, I didn't really have any reason to visit because there wasn't anything new and the only distinctive thing I could say about it was that it was where Princess Mary met her Prince Frederik!

It has changed a lot since then.  Now that El Loco has taken up residence, there are pretty lights strung over the courtyard, bright colours splashed everywhere and a general flair of Mexican fun.
 
The dinner started at 6pm and it was a great excuse to leave work early.  Usually I don't finish work until late and I am always taken aback by how many people are out and about at this hour.  Oh the envy!  The Slip Inn was no different.  Even though it was relatively early, most of the tables in the courtyard were already filled with people kicking back and starting their night.  I guess Sydneysiders know when they're onto a good thing!

I also wanted to arrive on time so that I could get the most out of meeting some other food bloggers.  As it turns out, I met one within seconds of walking into the courtyard - the very lovely JENisHUNGRY tapped me and asked if I was also a food blogger - turns out we were both lost trying to find the others!

We manged to find our way to the table and were greeted with lots and lots of drinks...

A variety of cocktails (L-R)
Passionfruit Batida - Espolon tequila shaken with apple and lime juice, fresh passionfruit and Agave SyrupPink Cuco - El Loco's house slushy of tequila, pink grapefruit and lime juice, homemade coriander and raw ginger syrupLoco Rojo Magarita - freshly pressed beetroot and lime juices shaken with Espolon Reposado, pomegranate and grapefruit bitters, lime zest sea salt rim

I had a Pink Cuco and the slushy texture was fun.  The taste reminded me a bit of ginger ale.  I thought the fresh Passionfruit Batida was cute served with the fresh passionfruit on top - and also fun to scoop it out the flesh for an additional zing!
An army of different tacos came out for us to try.  My favourite was the Baja Fish with chipotle mayo served with salsa verde on a lettuce leaf.  All of the tacos can be substituted for lettuce leaf instead of a tortilla and I actually prefer the lettuce leaf.  The lettuce is crisp, adds another flavour and reminds me of an Asian style sang choy bow.


A word of warning - I think it is humanely impossible to eat tacos without spilling juices and filling everywhere.  Make sure that you have napkins and forks handy!


The entrees continued and included Dan Hong's famous hot dog.  The hot dog is pretty darn good.  It's a grilled frankfurt served on a pillowy soft bun with pickled jalepenos, pico ge gallo, mayonnaise and cheese.  That soft stringy cheese is kind of addictive.



The piping hot french fries served with chipotle dipping sauce made a good addition to the feast.  As did the corn chips with fresh guacamole and salsa.  You really can't go wrong with these in a group setting.

 Char-grilled baby corn and heirloom tomato salad with popcorn and ranchero dressing


Grilled corn always tastes so good!  This was one of my favourite dishes of the night.  I love corn used in salads, especially when it's served with a creamy dressing.  I would order this again all for myself.

Cobia (black kingfish) ceviche
with fennel and lime dressing, Vietnamese mint, green apple and coriander salad


I didn't expect to see a ceviche on the menu and it seemed a bit out of place but I wasn't complaining.  I can eat raw fish any day and the small mountain of greenery on top made me feel healthy :)

One of the differences between El Loco at Slip Inn and the one at Surry Hills is that this venue serves more mains.  We were told that it was to cater to the pub crowd and I think it's a great idea.  The mains were ginormous and I can see how a hungry CBD worker could fill up on one of these.

Roasted pork belly, crackling, Mexican rice, apple and cucumber salad with pineapple salsa


BBQ chicken with chipotle mayo, salsa roja, radish and fennel salad, Mexican rice


The BBQ chicken is served charred but the meat was surprisingly still soft and tasted like it had been marinated for a while.  In case you can't tell, that is literally like half a chicken on the plate. A generous serving for sure and you can go to town like Fred Flintstone on it!

Grilled minute steak -200g scotch fillet, radish and fennel salad, chipotle fries, pico de gallo


The only thing that seemed Mexican with the steak was the serving of pico de gallo on the side.  I probably wouldn't order this myself but I could see how it would appeal to the customers who are used to the old Slip Inn pub food.

 Grilled fish fillet, salsa verde, radish and fennel salad, Mexican rice


I ordered the fish as my main and it was delicious.  The fish was well cooked and fell apart with a prod of the fork.  The salsa verde was a nice touch and I also enjoyed the mexican rice as a side - come to think of it, I liked every part of my main.

By this stage, I was feeling stuffed to the brim.  But there was still dessert!

Churros with dulce de leche dipping sauce


Hot hot hot! These were liable to burn your fingers off, they were so hot and fresh from the kitchen.  Coated in sugar and soft on the inside, the churros were a nice way to finish the meal.

The whole night was so much fun and I should also mention that the DJ played the best music too!  It was really nice to meet the others and put some faces to names (of blogs).

I'm glad that they revamped the Slip Inn and I can see how even more people are going to flock here - myself included. 

The Food Book dined as a guest of SBPR.

El Loco on Urbanspoon
7

Chef's Gallery, Town Hall

In these frantic months before June, we have been attempting to use up as many Entertainment Book vouchers as possible before they expire.  A crumpled voucher for Chef's Gallery has been in my wallet since the end of last year and the impending expiry was just the kick that I needed to finally go.

In my defence, I have walked by the restaurant previously but was put off by the queues at the front door and the long wait for a table.

This time around, it worked out perfectly as we ventured for a late dinner during the week (not Friday night!).

Chef's Gallery is what I like to think of as upscale Chinese dining.  It has refined interiors, several staff wearing high tech headsets and that special something that you won't find in your cheaper Chinese establishments - a posh ambience.


 Since we were starving, I was incredibly pleased by the efficiency of the staff.   We breezed through the menu and easily picked a few items to share.

 Mixed dim sum sampling platter served with salad ($19.80)


The dim sum platter immediately caught my eye.  Usually reserved for morning yum cha, I couldn't resist needling my friend into sharing it with me.  Late night dim sums is quite the novelty.

I was a little bit amused at the big box used for the small dim sums.  But the amusement was overridden by the yumminess of the chicken and prawn siu mai and the prawn dumplings.  The crab meat spring rolls were also nice but I couldn't taste the crab in the filling.  The little golden cubes were fried savoury daikon radish cakes - my friend claimed these as favourite of the box but they were a bit oily for my liking.

I thought the cucumber side salad was refreshing with the mildly pickled cucumbers.  Unfortunately the chili dressing was too spicy for me and my friend chowed most of it down.

Noodles with chargrilled waygu beef dipped in Sichuan spicy soup ($16.90)


And yet again my weak tastebuds let me down as they could not handle the spicy Sichuan soup.  I did taste the waygu and discovered it to be tender with a lovely, light charred flavour. 

Noodle soup with fried pork ribs ($14.90)


Luckily for me, the light chicken broth with regular handmade noodles and fried pork chop was right up my alley.  It was a simple bowl but incredibly tasty.  The fried pork chop had become soft from the soup and it was comforting to eat.  I also loved the texture of the handmade noodles - soft and springy, not rubbery like ones from the packets.

After the 25% off from the Entertainment Book voucher, the bill came to approximately $20 each.  It was a good deal considering we both left full due to the generous serving sizes of the noodles.  I guess the crowds are onto a good thing.

Chefs Gallery on Urbanspoon
2

Mo Vida, Surry Hills

I have wanted to go to Mo Vida ever since it opened up last year but it seemed to be perpetually booked out.  Finally months later, we decided to make a booking well in advance and even then our first two date options weren't available.  We settled for a 6.30pm timeslot on the following Monday night. 

The restaurant is a very short five minute walk from Central Station, Devonshire St exit.  Our table was right next to the window and it was only halfway through the meal when I realised that the whole top half of the window was completely open without a fly screen - hence I had a mosquito bite at the end of the meal and caught the smell of cigarettes more than once wafting in.

Glass of sangria ($9) and wine


The sangria was icy cool, wasn't too watered down and went well with the tapas. 

Complimentary bread with olive oil


The bread was refilled throughout the night but I didn't want to fill up on it so for once, left most of it alone.  It does make a good accompaniment for mopping up any sauce.

Anchoa
Artisan Cantabrian Anchovy with Smoked Tomato Sorbet ($4.50 each)


Having previously read some rave reviews about these anchovies, I was keen to try them.  Would I order them next time? Probably not.  I was not a huge fan of the cold sorbet combined with the salted anchovy.
Calabacin
Zucchini filled with Crab served with Pea and Mint Gazpacho ($9 each)

Out of the two tapas that we ordered, I preferred the zucchini filled with crab.  The flavours in the dish tasted fresh and the saltiness of the roe combined with the zing of the mint was new, something I hadn't tasted before.
Cecina
Air cured Wagyu Beef with Truffle Foam and Poached Egg ($21.50)


Oh em gee.  This was my favourite dish of the night.  The waiter explained that you were to smush the poached egg in the middle, mess it around with the foam and then fold the paper thin slices of cured waygu over it. As he was talking, he then proceeded to smush the egg himself and start folding - I would have liked to do the honours!  Hands off mr waiter please!


From the specials menu - ox tongue with salsa verde


From the specials menu - Tasmanian surf clams


Both of the larger dishes that we ordered from the daily specials menu were tasty.  The ox tongue was gelatinous, falling apart easily and the surf clams were fresh and chewy.  We had originally also ordered the rabbit meatballs from the specials list but were later advised that unfortunately they were sold out for the night.

The dessert options seemed quite traditional compared to the rest of the menu.

Crème Caramel served with Pestinos ($14)


Churros con chocolate ($12.50)

The flan was nice and not too eggy.  The churros were cooked perfectly - a far cry from the churros that I have tried before!  These were really crispy and burning hot on the outside, then soft on the inside.  The chocolate dipping sauce was slightly too bitter for my taste.  Still, I would order it again for those perfectly cooked churros.

Mo Vida was worth the wait and effort in booking.  I haven't been to the Melbourne locations so can't compare to the original but I'm glad that they have opened up in Sydney!

MoVida Sydney on Urbanspoon
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