Sunday, July 31, 2011


No question about it - this is the place to be right now. Oh yes, this multi-talented crew know their stuff.  From each and every angle Porteno is a winner. Needless to say the Argentinian food (both trad and inspired) is lipsmackolicious but the energy, the hospitality, the sense of being in someone's home (even though it is a seriously huge space), the music, the blazing asador and the sensational signature cocktails just make you wanna keep going back. This particular visit was on a teeth-chatteringly cold night, midweek during a long stint of torrential rain - and the place was pumping. You just can't keep em away. 
With first child Bodega being well cared for a few blocks away, Ben and Elvis keep themselves busy stoking the flames at Porteno, the gorgeous Sarah (this month's Sydney Timeout Covergirl) ensures you feel like part of the family as soon as you walk through the door and lovely Joe keeps the cellar well stocked with the good stuff. It is too easy to feel like you never wanna go home and I am pretty sure that there is the odd night when the crew have to tip a few stragglers out into the street when the amazing upstairs bar, Gardel's, shuts its doors for the evening. 
Pickled veal tongue, pork pate, house-made bread and cured olives, spiced eggplant - not a bad start..
Grilled Tuna with asparagus, charred jalapeno and garlic dressing
downstairs bar
Oh God - I can't even look at this slow cooked suckling pig without wanting to head straight to the restaurant... Succulent porky goodness with oh so crisp "i'll fight ya for it" crackling
Red cabbage slaw with grapes - a really light, zesty rendition that perfectly balances out the rich meaty fare
The famous fried brussel sprouts with lentils and mint  - too good to be vego!!
A nice bit o sirloin
Elvis doing some legwork
Burnt milk custard on orange jam with chocolate ice cream

Naturally we couldn't leave without a cocktail .... "Thank you for smoking" seriously rocks. Bourbon, house smoked Vermouth and maple syrup and chocolate bitters - ah, hello new addiction. However, the others all sound so good that I might need to make my way through the list. Above is just a small selection of the offerings..

How divine is this room? Porteno really manages to transport you to another place and time.
Gardel's  - the upstairs bar
The lovely Sarah's magnificent umbrella system!

Porteno has just been named "best new restaurant" by Sydney Timeout Mag! Congrats guys - well deserved. xx

Friday, July 29, 2011


Nothing like a lazy Friday lunch at Otto with two lovely friends.  Dining by Sydney's stunning harbour is one of the things I will miss when I head back to Japan shortly - but there are so many wonderful things to look forward to in Kyoto that I think I will probably cope....
The food at Otto has always been consistent and that is one of the things that keeps people coming back  - but right now,  it is the best I can remember it being. I really enjoyed this meal. Solid Italian flavours and a little bit of magic without too much fuss. The Wagyu liver above is a good example. Nicely seared, good flavour  - a little big of zjoosh with the garnish. Really got the tastebuds going. 

Pasta with truffles, egg yolk, hazelnuts... My only complaint is that I had to hare with my mates.   It was stunning.  I want this again. Soon. 
Sticky Lamb shanks ( not the official name of this dish of course...) - I was only allowed one bite but it was GOOOOD! Love a winter's shank!
Duck with quince - gorgeous. I was very happy to be selfish with this... there was fortunately little sharing to be had -  vego friends come in handy sometimes!
Corn soup with popcorn 
Fancy apple tart!
Molten chocolate cake
Corn custard
Our pic for winning dessert - this coconut gelato  - too good!

Lovely friends Fi and Finky. Thanks for a fab lunch guys. Will miss you xxx

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Attica.... and the lovely Mr Ben Shewry

I'll be transparent here - Ben Shewry is a friend. Not only that - he is a really bloody awesome, genuinely nice bloke.  I  also happen to have been working closely with him on a pretty incredible project for sometime now....  But you shouldn't let any of that information have bearing on what I am about to say about his food because it wouldn't matter if I'd never cast eyes on him  -  I just ADORE his grub. 

If you consider yourself a foodie and you have never eaten at Attica - you need to go - NOW! Well, whenever you can snaffle a table because they are booked out for about three decades.... well that is a slight exaggeration but regardless - you'd be well advised to book in advance...

Before I prattle on about the divine meal I ate there a week or so ago I also want to give a shout out to Banjo Harris Plane who is Attica's most recent acquisition. Banjo is a young wine guru  (ex sommelier Quay restaurant in Sydney) who also happens to be the new restaurant manager. He is an absolute star and looked after us like we were royalty (OK so, although he wasn't on duty - my date happened to be a restaurant critic and... I may have met Banjo in another life at Quay and he also might be going out with a friend  - BUT!!!  I SWEAR it Sooooooo DOESN'T MATTER - because I spied on him doing his thang and that boy is completely onto it). Uber professional, knows his stuff (insanely good taste in wine folks as you can well imagine - some very cool stuff on the Attica list right now) and he is just a delight. Good score Benny!  

Whipped olive oil or butter with your bread? If I hadn't been a bit clued up on what lays ahead of one during a dining experience at Attica I would have eaten the contents of this whole pot and licked it clean.  Its a pretty good start to a meal when you want to devour the stuff  in the corner that goes on the bread....
Crystal Moss hand-picked by the man himself -with a pop and flavour not too dissimilar to caviar.

  For those who aren't familiar with Ben's food - he is renowned for foraging for (non toxic!) plants -  from almost anywhere they might pop their heads up -could be beside the local railway track, on the coast where he lives, in the bush or the sea. Ben acquired the skill during his childhood in native New Zealand and it is indeed a passion. He forages daily for the restaurant  - and makes a last minute dash every night just before service starts so particular plants are at their absolute optimum for consumption. Now that is dedication. It also gives him a few moments of peace and solitude before the mad rush. 

While there is currently much hype surrounding the "movement" (mostly due to the profile of fellow forager and chef Rene Redzepi of Denmark's famed Noma Restaurant) Ben is quick to impress that it ain't a new thing.... credit where credit is due and all that - this style of food gathering is ancient. He also advises not picking up any old plant and giving it a chew - you really need make sure you well educate yourself first. Even with Ben's skills he has managed to poison himself in the past. Rest assured no one else will eat anything he hasn't tried and tested himself!
Oysters and seven seaweeds. Not only incredibly beautiful but the flavours were so very fresh  (instantly transporting me to Japan...) with a welcome salty hint from the very short seasoned berries of the salt bush plant.
Raw prawn and Jerusalem artichoke in a light dressing containing the sweet juice extracted from Jerusalem artichokes (no easy feat!) and mustard seeds  - the heat had been removed revealing a subtle nutty underbelly
Ah the "Snow crab"..  (using sweet mudcrab on this occasion) - a stunning dish  in ode to snow capped Mt Taranaki where Ben grew up. The 'snow' is flavoured with horseradish and the dish contains verjuice, barberries, puffed jasmine rice, salmon roe and freeze dried coconut.  Absolutely Sublime.   
Marron, Leek Egg yolk. Simply perfect. 

"The Potato" as it is affectionately known.  I am salivating at the memory. Inspired by the hangi cookery of NZ's Maori (indigenous) people - Ben cooks the potato in the soil it was grown. The perfect potato is accompanied by a lightly smoked curd, saltbush, coconut husk ash, fine shavings of salted, dried fish. Oh my. 
Meat from the pearl oyster with crisp, melt in your mouth pig's tail. This was wet your pants good. 
This dish included fresh, raw chestnuts as well as chestnut puree, salt-baked celeriac, very lightly cooked egg yolk, toasted almonds and a moat of creamy Pyengana cheddar sauce. Mix together before eating in rich textural spoonfuls. Winter. 
The gorgeous Banjo and one of his many wonderful selections. 
Beef tongue, vanilla, Myrtus, lettuce stems. 
Best tongue I've ever had... (sorry, I couldn't help myself)  - texturally insane - cloaked in a lightly spiced dressing of subtle mulled wine flavours. Add creamy parsnip puree, pickled lettuce stems, crisp wafers of dried cured beef, herbs, myrtus berries...  Incredible. 
Winter apples. A simple name for a dish of elegant complexity.  Essence and textures of apple with jellied avocado oil, apple cream and candied grape leaves - some green, others coloured red with beetroot juice
Mandarin and Honeydew Honey.  Fresh mandarin macerated in honey,  freeze dried mandarin segments,  sour cream & caramelised dessert wine sauce, rosemary flowers..... I can still taste each and every dish. What a joy.
And finally chocolate - in the form of a salted caramel filled Pukeko's Egg. The Pukeko is, to paraphrase Ben "a cheeky bird... known for raiding farmer's crops". Fellow Kiwi, fellow forager. 

Thank you Ben, once again for an incredible dining experience.  xx

Monday, July 25, 2011

Luca house - Seddon

When in Melbourne I sometimes stay with a dear and very generous friend in Seddon (thanks Jano!). 

When I first visited the area there wasn't a lot of action at the local shopping village to be honest - it was pretty quiet, with a distinct lack of decent coffee and cafe fare. But this is certainly changing..  Since the welcome addition of Seddon wine store ( a fabulous spot not only for its interesting wines and helpful, knowledgeable staff,  but also the fact you can stop for a glass of vino and nibbles of decent cheese, terrine, olives, jamon, pickles, anchovies etc) a few new foodie places have popped their heads up including the lovely Luca House cafe/providore - where I spent a little too much time recently... 
A great spot for breakfast  (they do a mean bacon and egg sambo with a spiced relish and mayo on toasted Turkish rolls and the coffee is goooood)  - but they also do a handful of lunch items, a few home made sweet things and sell a huge range of well considered pantry or freezer basics and condiments. 
Quirky and welcoming -the place has been evolving visually since my first visit and now feels like somewhere you want to kick back in for hours. And I have done - armed with my laptop and a bunch of work.... 
This lemon curd slice was lusciously moist and sweet with a very good pastry base  - will have to check out the chocolate tart and the vanilla slice (which I heard someone raving about) next time I am in town!