Coffee in Sydney: Mission Cafe, CBD

Some blocks in Sydney have multiple choices for coffee, an oversupply. But wanting a caffeine fix before an appointment at HCF, this block didn’t seem to have a lot of options with so many big office buildings. Perhaps the coffee shops are all, like Mission Coffee, hidden away slightly in the lobbies. Or perhaps there aren’t many which would explain how busy it was.

The person at the counter mistakenly gave me my coffee in a take-away cup; I hate the environmental waste of that. But when I did sit down (at the only free seat!), I got the caffeine fix I was looking for. My latte was rich and strong.

Mission Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Goryon San, Surry Hills

A kushiyaki restaurant has opened up in Surry Hills, just a few minutes’s walk from me. What used to be the casual Mediterrean restaurant, the Reservoir, has suddenly morphed into a chic, buzzing Japanese place that specialises in grilled skewers. I’m a little embarrassed that I originally wrote it was a yakitori restaurant but yakitori refers specifically to chicken: all parts! So, while they serve yakitori, it is not just a yakitori restaurant!

I had seen the work on it, but no menu posted, and happened to walk by on their opening night, which was packed. It seems Surry Hills is ready for yakitori.

In Tokyo one trip, one of my most memorable meals was at Birdland, where they specialised in using every part of the chicken, and the chefs were right in the centre of the restaurant, serving up skewers in front of you at the square counter facing inward.

It’s an appealing concept. There’s choice, but a focus. The food is cooked just before you eat it, so it’s hot and crisp and tender and tasty. There’s a lot of noise and bustle. I love me a sake, and thought I’d try to cheapest one on the menu, for $11. It was delicious.

The waitress had recommended getting three skewers at time, so you eat them while they’re hot, and also see how hungry you are. There was a specialty that was sold out, something complicated I think about a sort of lettuce wrap on a skewer, but luckily another specialty, beef sukiyaki, was on offer.

Thin wagyu beef wrapped around a tightly roll of spinach and mushrooms, with some grilled onions, and an egg yolk to break apart and use as a dipping sauch. I thought it was sensational.

I also got skewers of chicken tail, pork sausage (basically a high-quality hot dog), pork belly and the chicken meatball, which also came with an egg yolk.






















All up, it was about $45 for an $11 sake and 5 skewers, so it did feel a bit pricy for the size of the food that you got, but I didn’t leave hungry, and thought it was a super-delicious and fun night.

Apparently there are branches in Tokyo in the Shibuya and Roppongi neighbourhoods. The menu, which is engaging, tells a nice story about how the restaurant was named, and the philosophy behind it. It feels like an authentic experience, with heart.

I can’t imagine the skill it takes to open a restaurant and hit the ground running in the first days, with a full complement of chefs and wait staff, all Japanese. How did they do that? How did they all get working visas when they’re making it so tough these days?

In any case, kampai. Cheers. I will definitely be back.

Goryon San Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Contrabando, CBD

This is a good choice for going to the Opera House or hanging out at Circular Quay and on a Wednesday night was surprisingly pumping. The wait staff seem mostly Latina, and kind of the same height and look, and there were many of them, who appeared at the table when we weren’t ready and disappeared when we were! But it was busy.

I kind of remember it before being a very traditional and not very busy Greek place (correct me if I’m wrong), and it’s always impressive to see how new restaurants can move in and shake things up. It’s a pretty quiet section of Macquarie Street but they’ve obviously got the right formula to attract the City crowd, and others. The theme is Latin-inspired Southern Californian Street Food. I’m down with that.

We had two tasty cocktails and then a selection of food, a bit too much, but each dish delicious. I have to say were were impressed. The 12 hour grass fed beef short rib was OMG ($35). Sweet and fatty and yum. Truck stop guacamole perfectly acceptable ($18). We both really liked the Big Mac-inspired Quesadilla ($16).

The lamb tacos were tasty, though was probably the extra dish that we didn’t need ($6). All up: buzzy atmosphere, great flavours. Worth returning to.

Contrabando Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Alpha Restaurant, CBD

Holy cow did I like this restaurant. In a lovely airy and bright space, Alpha serves up Modern Greek food. Years ago, some friends had the opportunity to live in Athens for a while, and said that while the food was great, it was all the same. They were bound by tradition to make the same delicious dishes in the same ways. So, I get a kick out of Greek food, which wasn’t associated with fine dining in my first memories of it.

There seem to be a number of restaurants in Sydney that use the flavours and ingredients and create wonderful, fresh, elegant dishes. We liked everything we had. The smoked eggplant dish with caramelised tomatoes ($15) doesn’t look quite as appealing as I remember, but the flavour was delicious (with perfectly grilled light pita bread).

I can never pass up a dumpling, so we also had a baccaliaro fritters (smoked fish), which were served amidst bonito flakes, almost hidden ($18). Very nice. Also cauliflower with pomegranate seeds and almonds as a side ($15).

For mains, I had heard about the scallop moussaka ($32). It surprised me, not like the casserole I’m used to, but two pieces of the most perfectly fried eggplant, topped with a tomato salad, in between juicy scallops, smothered in creamy taramasalata.

My pal had the pan-roasted kingfish with lobster dolmades ($38) which he said were as good as it sounded, and hmm… I think I should have stolen a bit of those dolmades. Very modern interpretations indeed. I’d like to go back with more people so we can try more dishes, or get their special Yiayia’s table offering (four people minimum).

Alpha Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Dovetail, CBD

Upstairs in World Square, Georgie Boy’s Coffee looked much hipper. But it was an unusually cool Saturday morning in Sydney, and I really wanted a place to sit down, read a little bit of my current book, Lily Brett’s New York, and have a coffee.

Dovetail did the trick. In wood, with greenery and glass, it’s does its best to overcome its location in the basement of a mall, brightly lit, and right across from Coles. And my coffee was just fine. It came with a little biscuit and quite good coffee art. It was more sour than I’m used to, strong also, but something in the taste wasn’t quite as creamy or integrated as I normally encounter, but I didn’t think it was bad, just another style.

The reviews on Zomato are horrible, but as a place to be out of the cold, sit down and have a perfectly acceptable coffee: it was fine.

Dovetail Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Botany View Hotel, Newtown

My pal who lives near the St Peters Station tells me that the pubs have some of the best food in the area. It’s the quiet end of Newtown and King Street is dotted with restaurants, but it is true: it’s hard to know where to go. This pub, the Botany View Hotel, is apparently famous for letting dogs have the run of the top floor, and I have to say I loved the neighbourhood vibe. A young couple managed to have a nice night out with a toddler, there were some folks who might have been taking a break from gambling, there was a guy at the bar with a full mullet. It was fantastic.

The food’s not half-bad either, and the drinks, bought from the pub, are nice and cheap (compared to the CBD or Surry Hills). My pal had a salad with tempeh (vegetarians know what this is). It was supposed to have a ginger jalapeno sauce, and it tasted a bit of ginger but of peppers not at all. But it was tasty and nicely presented.

I had a seafood linguine, and while the pasta was regular dry pasta, cooked al dente, and the sauce was not thick enough and sort of milky, they’d somehow imparted on the seafood, which was perfectly cooked, this fantastic chargrilled flavour which elevated the dish to really quite good.

I’ve give this place a solid four stars, but since I notice there are two mean ones, I’m going to give it a five as a protest (against the ones).

Botany View Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book Review: Banana Yoshimoto’s Asleep

AsleepAsleep by Banana Yoshimoto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was either a very good idea or a very bad idea to have ‘Asleep’ as my bedside reading for the last period. It’s not a long book: three short novellas, and it wasn’t that I was uninterested, but like her characters, in a netherworld between sleep and awakedness, between life and death, I just kept … falling asleep. But in the end, I’m very glad to have stumbled upon this book. I’d heard about Banana Yoshimoto for many years without reading any of her work. I found her characters interesting, although I’m not sure how well I knew them by the end of the novellas. The setting, contemporary Japan, with three young women at the centre of each story intrigued me. The stories are mostly about their interior worlds, their feelings, how they relate, tenuously, to people around them. There’s certainly a loneliness and ennui about them. The friendships between women are much more alive than their romantic entanglements with men. Death (or the near-death of a long-term coma) appears as a mystery; grief is more disbelief than sadness, and why be sad if the ghosts of those who have passed on can talk to you in your sleep? Occasionally, I found the language awkward and I wondered if there was a translation issue. ‘I’ll end up marrying some businessman … And then I want to put together a pleasant, bright, stable household’, said one character. But at other times, I found a lovely poetry in the writing, particularly in describing a natural setting or the weather or a quality of light as a stand-in for someone’s own emotional state. In the end, the book did awaken an interest in me to read more by Banana Yoshimoto. Maybe I’ll check out her blockbuster debut, Kitchen, next.

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Sydney Food Diary: New Shanghai, Ashfield

I have no idea how I haven’t blogged about New Shanghai in Ashfield yet. For a long period, this was my go-to dumpling spot, and a group of us from Surry Hills and Redfern would hop on the train to Ashfield to get our fix.

It also has some comical memories, as even the huge cockroach crawling up the wall next to us one night, nor a period where they were named and shamed for bad sanitation, could keep us away. We always ordered the same things and could never believe how cheap the meal turned out to be.

So, it was a pleasure to return here for a weekday lunch, although with only two of us, the variation was limited (and we had to bring half of the pan fried pork buns home with us). It is worth the trip here, and I should make the trip more often!

Even though New Shanghai has opened in two other locations (Chatswood and the Westfield Pitt Street Mall), I have the feeling their best work is here. Neither here, nor their now closed location in the Bondi Junction Westfield matched up for me. The super crispness on the bottom of the pork buns, the molten soup inside both them and the xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), weren’t the same in the mall locations.

So, the xiaolongbao were… savoury, super-hot and perfect bursts of flavour. Amazing. Also had their crispy radish cakes, with a light flaky pastry around shredded white radish. I loved them. But I had a revelation this visit. Even though I really love the pan fried pork buns, I can really only handle eating one of them, maybe two. They are pretty big, rich, doughy and fried, and even splitting the serving of 8 between two of us wasn’t manageable. And even eating two of them, on top of the other dumplings and pastries: some of the magic was lost. I’ll have to be more judicious and wait until I can bring 7 friends with me next time.

New Shanghai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Drinking in Sydney: Brix Distillers, Surry Hills


I love that there’s a moody little rum distillery in Surry Hills. Who doesn’t need a rum distillery, after all?

I met up with my old flatmate for a drink, and the menu almost tempted us into dinner: another night. But the Caribbean and Latin American-inspired dishes look awfully tasty. The menu of drinks is extensive, with cocktails and wine and flights of rum and then pages and pages of rum choices. For some reason, the backdrop of the menu is all X’s, some upright and some on their side, and I almost thought I was losing my sight. To remedy this, we had a cocktail each, and then…

Because we were at Brix, we thought we should do a little taster. For only ten bucks, you can try a sip of their white and gold rum (and a carafe of water with which to dilute said rum). I thought they tasted like… rum. I am obviously not a connoisseur. But it would be good to try one of the higher-priced flights and see what I can figure out.

Trevor liked his cocktail. I LOVED my cocktail. It was called the Long But Fat Like Buddha, and had Brix gold rum, Benedictine, Cointreau, a Blackcurrant Tea Syrup, Fever Tea Tonic and a Malbec Float. It didn’t taste complicated, more just a bit complex, with a nice sweetness but not too sweet, and a certain body. The touch of red wine didn’t really taste much of red wine, more like a hint of mulled wine, as it touched the other sweet ingredients. Anyways, did I say I loved it? I’ll be back.

Brix Distillers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Poly, Surry Hills

Paramount is a really great place to see films. It’s intimate, with not so many seats, and a good view from each of them. But it’s still a communal experience, which, if people remember they’re not watching Netflix at homes, is a fun way to watch a movie. I like hearing other people’s sounds of pleasure or surprise, or a collective silence during an intense moment. On the other hand, I don’t know why this couple talked to each other the entire way through the documentary on Alexander McQueen. I guess there will always be those who are a bit stupid and selfish.

Finishing the film (highly recommended, by the way), what a treat it was to wander down the block to Poly. I think it used to be a furniture shop, and then had some pop-up clothing sales. Very little has been done to the space: it’s open, with little adornment, but they’ve lucked out with (or have designed) the acoustics so it’s not too noisy.

I’d heard about the buzz (and it’s located across the street, pretty much, from Chin Chin, so the whole street has a buzz). We grabbed two seats, without a reservation, at a counter, and were thrilled with the whole experience. It was super buzzy and fun. The wait staff are fun and efficient.

And most of all, the food was sensational. A ‘donut’ with comte cheese ($15). Shitaake mushrooms in a creamy sauce (flavoured with pancetta) where the ‘shrooms have broken apart and taste like a noodle ($12). A delicious steak tartare hidden beneath a parmesan wafer (titled raw beef and grilled cheese) ($24). Zucchini flowers and ricotta gnudi (sort of like a gnocchi) with ‘smoked whey sauce’ ($24).

Each dish was tasty and surprising, with great textures as well as flavours. The mushrooms were my favourite but I wouldn’t hesistate to recommend any of them.

A humungous selection of very, very interesting wine. We ordered by the glass so we could try more.

So, yup, I could just move in here and try everything on the menu, including the wines.  Maybe I should.

Poly Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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