Coffee Diary: The Haven, Sydney

IMG_3549I’d certainly noticed Haven on the little stretch of Chalmers Street between the two entrances to Central Station, the one across from the bottom of Foveaux and the other at Devonshire Street. This place had such a buzz when we walked by one Sunday, and I will make an effort to try out the food. The menu really looks interesting, contemporary Australian with an Asian influence. I stopped by for a quick coffee before a meeting in the neighbourhood, and voilá! Look at this: coffee on a cute little board, with a handful of currents. I’m not sure about the trend of food on a wooden board (anymore, I thought it was cool the first time) but I’m on board with coffee on a board. My latte was delicious, strong and milky and just right. I’ll be back to expand this snapshot to include food…
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Food Diary: Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, the Grampians, Victoria

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The Royal Mail Hotel is a two-hatted restaurant in the Grampians, some hours outside of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria. It’s also a hotel, with a magnificent homestead, the site of Diana’s 50th birthday party a few weekends ago, and some beautiful bluestone cottages (where we stayed). One morning we went for a walk, and kangaroos abounded (also the magpies kept trying to swoop us).

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It’s an out-of-date belief now, that small towns won’t have nice restaurants, though this still felt really surprising, how high quality and interesting the food was, and how far away it felt from… the city. We dined with the gang for the two evenings of the celebration (with food magnificently organised and catered by Monica and helpers…) but decided to treat ourselves to a Saturday lunch. Nearly all of the food comes either from the land around the hotel, or nearby!IMG_3474

It also felt quite modern that we could peer into the kitchen, not see exactly what they’re doing but sense the crew’s energy and efficiency. As you can see, the plating and presentation is amazing: vibrant colours and combinations. The parmesan gnocchi pictured below was a particular highlight (and has inspired me to roast or sear green onions as a decoration!). IMG_3475

Three courses including a glass of wine was $50, which seems to me really very cheap. I was so excited by the food, I didn’t take any photos of the restaurant itself, though you can drop by their website if you’d like to check it out (marvelous retro looking frontage). IMG_3476

As I hadn’t done my research before this weekend away, it was a lovely surprise to stumble upon a restaurant of such quality here. I love the idea of someone putting so much work and passion into creating it, and I love their philosophy of highlighting local food, and by local, I mean, it’s really local. Bravo Royal Mail Hotel.

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Food Diary: Cup Half Full, Sydney

IMG_3516I noticed that Fifi Foveaux was gone, the corner cafe in kind of a garish shade of red. I can’t barely remembering trying the place, but I think I did once. Apparently, the owners of Cup Half Full bought Fifi about two years ago, but just recently have given it a name change and a full change of decoration, really putting their stamp on it.

IMG_3518Hurrah. I was expecting a regular cafe meal and we got the extra touches that will hopefully allow the cafe to survive with so much competition around! My crumbed egg was unexpected, sort of like a scotch egg without the pork, served atop a generous serving of green peas, and though they called it a ham emulsion, it tasted more like a light pork broth. Though in the photo it does look nicely like a foam. I thought it was delicious and unusual. Oh, with a few slices of chorizo, it was delicious.

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My pal was happy with his pork belly sandwich, and the thin fries were very good. All in all, a very nice experience.

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Food Diary: Brickfields, Sydney

IMG_3537 I consider it a good thing to have to look up the names of food on a menu and for three items in both of the amazing ‘plates’ at Brickfields for lunch on Sunday, I did. My plate of kisir (a Turkish side dish with bulgur, parsley and tomato paste) was surrounded by some sour skordalia (a greek puree), some beautiful roasted carrots, deep purple not orange, and a generous handful of fresh herbs. Such a pretty dish, so tasty and unusual.

IMG_3540My pal had an egg on smoky eggplant, on toast, with a middle eastern sauce called zhoug. He loved it too.

IMG_3538It was packed when we were there, and their bread, pastry and sandwiches also looked superb. What an interesting and great place, tucked away on Cleveland Street, between Regent and the university, not really a pretty area but they’re making it charming!

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Food Diary: Orange, Surry Hills, Sydney

IMG_3462So, I was thinking of correcting the colour of the photos here, but the thing is: the name of the restaurant is orange, the waiter was wearing an orange apron, there were fake oranges hanging as decoration from the trellis outside and yes, the lighting is kind of orange.

And the food, at this tiny restaurant, only open for four months? Well, it was pretty darn good. The Korean Fried Chicken was stunning: perfectly crispy and light. I liked the radish vegetable strips, the two different dipping sauces and that unlike a few other Korean restaurants in town, I didn’t have to guess which KFC to try. While usually there are about 4 or 5 different varieties, the choices here are: medium and large.

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The various kim chee and pickled accompaniments were fine. Tasty. Nothing special.

We had a very nice bibimbap in a very hot bowl so the bottom of the rice became crunchy before we could finish it. Mmm…

We had lamb skewers in five spice, recommended by the waiter. A bit sweet. Tender. Quite nice.

Oh, and the homemade pork and shrimp dumplings, lightly pan-fried were really very good. They tasted homemade.

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All in all, we were quite impressed. It didn’t taste modern, but rather traditional. Cheap and cheerful. A menu that was big, but not too big (and confusing), and would tempt me back another time.

$60 for the two of us, and while we didn’t drink that night, looks like there’s a nice selection of Korean beer, and other grog. Thanks for the recommendation, Larry! It was a good one.

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Food Diary: Devon, Surry Hills, Sydney

IMG_3455Am I behind? Like really, really behind? I stumble on these reviews for the Devon which went from one location on Surry Hills to another on Danks Street. By the time, I try it, hidden in that strip of restaurants on Devonshire between Elizabeth Street and the entrance to Central Station, I find out it’s been there for TWO YEARS.

Two years during which I could have more of the above breakfast, delicate salmon, a tasty radish salad, smoked eel croquette and one of those fancy eggs cooked at a particular temperature. OK. It was $25… but it was absolutely stunning.

My pal liked his much simpler dish, and I spotted a cronut at the counter, the first time I’ve seen one in Sydney. When I express surprise that they’ve been around as long as they have, the waiter humours me and says it’s because the chef is famous, having worked at Guillaume, and the other location is getting attention.

I’ll be back here, and want to try that other location!

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The Current Lists 2015 (Books, Concerts, Exhibitions, Shows)

Concerts and Shows

  • West Side Story, live symphony playing to the movie, at the Grand Rex, Paris. Pretty fun.
  • Blood Brothers, Hayes Theatre, Sydney: A great cast, acting and singing for their lives, but gosh, I didn’t love this show, as a show. It seems very old-fashioned in its structure and music, and formulaic. Perhaps it was original when it came out in the early 80s.
  • Marlon Williams, Newtown Social Club. An interesting young Kiwi who may just be famous some day.
  • Sufjan Stevens, Sydney Opera House, Carrie and Lowell tour. See the review up on this site. 
  • Dogfight, Hayes Theatre. As usual, a strong cast, and I thought that the music was interesting. But what a dog of a story. 
  • Brian Kennedy, Vanguard. Playing songs from his ‘Love Letter to Joni’ (Mitchell) album, Kennedy’s voice is as sweet and incredible as when I first saw him in 1990 when he opened for Suzanne Vega in Vancouver. 
  • Phil Scott’s Reviewing the Situation (the Lionel Bart story). Good one, Phil!
  • B-Girl (IOTA). I think Iota is amazingly talented so was confused about this show. A woman in an abusive relationship has a glam-rock god in her head who tells her story, or ultimately inspires her to leave. I think. But the songs felt trite and repetitive. Rocky Horror meets glam David Bowie, and a poor imitation of IOTA’s bravado performance in Hedwig and the Angry Itch.
  • Mitchell Butel’s Killing Time, Hayes Theatre. Part of the Cabaret Festival. I think I saw Mitchell sing a song or two at the Speigeltent one year, and happened to by this same CD. Great to see him perform the whole show live. I think he originated the show five years ago or so. It had a number of moments of what I think of as cabaret magic: an unknown song, or an interesting interpretation of a song, that pulls me to full attention, immediate admiration and a great pleasure of discovery matched with feeling happy to witness such talent: I’d say that came in his performance of ‘Leaving Again/In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’ by Kurt Elling though I also loved his ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ and some very funny comedy numbers.
  • Bobby Fox & Michael Falzon’s Painted from Memory: Singing the full album of the Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach collaboration: wonderful musicians, great singing and amazing (though sad) songs. A fun night and show.
  • Queenie Van Zandt and Friends, Hayes Theatre, Cabaret Season.
  • Avenue Q, Enmore Theatre: How I love this show.
  • Smash, Vanguard: A bunch of musical theatre kids singing songs from the TV show. Lots of talent and a fun night.
  • Love and Information, Sydney Theatre Company: Caryl Churchill, I was so looking forward to this. But I didn’t find the dozens of snippets engaging, intriguing or poignant enough. Good moments but not to make up a whole show (that had rave reviews elsewhere, and in Sydney)
  • Heathers, Hayes Theatre: Amazing performances, great music. This was rather a lot of fun, and I felt Trevor Ashley really had done an amazing job of direction: it felt like all of the performers were really given a chance to shine and encouraged to give their all. High energy, dark, and funny.
  • Master Class, Hayes Theatre: I was always interesting in seeing this play by Terence McNally about Maria Callas. Callas is so frightening a personality I shuddered to imagine the Broadway performances by Patty Lupone, or in the first Australian production, by Robin Nevin. Maria Mercedes in this role was amazing and also sufficiently scary and the three younger cast members and the pianist were all very impressive too.

Exhibitions

  • Brancusi Workshop at the Pompidou Centre
  • James Turrell at the National Art Gallery
  • Project 30 – Marina Abramovic, Sydney

Books

  • The Selected Short Fiction of Lisa Moore
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Be Near Me by Andrew O’Hagan
  • Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (unfinished)
  • The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss
  • Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale
  • The Twyborn Affair by Patrick White
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (reread, since I was curious about the musical adaptation)
  • Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre

Movies

  • The Theory of Everything: He deserved that Oscar.
  • Boyhood
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Into the Woods
  • The Hundred-Foot Journey
  • To Be Takei: Not as fun or snappy a film as I’d hoped, but hey, George is a hero. Great to know more about him).
  • The Imitation Game
  • Date Night
  • The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Of course, I’d watch these actors, but it would have been nice to have a stronger and more coherent story. And the idea that a reserved, older Indian woman from a conservative society would hop into bed with a man after the first date, whether or not he’s Richard Gere, seemed so culturally wrong.
  • Life Itself
  • Strangerland
  • Wild Tales (Spanish: Relatos salvajes)
  • Pitch Perfect 2: Although I kind of liked the Central American hardship gags, the rest was such a mish-mash that I forgot why I liked the first one so much.

Television

The reason why the books list has gotten so short these years is that I spend my spare time watching TV. Ahem. So, a list is appropriate, I think, though possibly a sad reflection of a trade-off of literature for the easier thrills of TV, no matter how well made it is these days.

  • Downton Abbey, Series 5
  • The Good Wife, Series 6
  • Fresh off the Boat, Series 1
  • Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Series 7
  • Survivor, Series 30 (Thirty, can you believe it?)
  • House of Cards, Season 3
  • The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 1
  • Sense8, Season 1
  • Emperor of All Maladies
  • Being Human, Season 1
  • Orphan Black, Seasons 1, 2 & 3
  • Episodes, Season 3

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Food Diary: Gantry, Sydney

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Let’s make this clear right off. That ox cheek was delicious. With some cute little shimeji mushrooms, togarashi spice, and ‘smooth’ potatoes. Well, I’m not sure I even noticed the potatoes much. The cheek was tender and melty and delicious. I loved it.

We headed down to Gantry on a wintry night. There’s not a huge selection of restaurants pre-theatre at Walsh Bay, and not only did I have an entertainment coupon but there were some really good reviews, so good that I’d put it in my list of restaurants to try. English chef, working with artisanal producers, something about a contemporary philosophy of food, chef to David Beckham, worked at great restaurants, blah, blah, blah.

When we arrived, I was surprised. It’s the new incarnation of Front restaurant at the Sebel Pier One hotel. We’d been here before (also with a coupon…). The thing is: its weaknesses

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haven’t changed. It feels like a hotel restaurant (and that impression was confirmed by some sort of convention or meeting out at the bar which sounded like white guys yelling rap, never great background music).

The view and location is stupendous, of course, with a view out to the Harbour. The prices, because it’s a hotel restaurant, are steep ($20–$25 for starters, $30–$40 for mains). I just noticed that they have a pre-theatre menu, which we weren’t offered even though we arrived at 6:30pm.

I liked my jerusalem artichoke and chestnut soup, though didn’t love it. I don’t know. For a $20 soup, I want to go: wow! Our duck fat potatoes, ordered as a side to share, without really thinking that we were getting potatoes with our cheeks (we ordered the same main) were not as crisp as I would have liked.

So, I couldn’t shake the feeling, with the ambiance, and sweet but not necessarily polished service, that we were in a hotel, and not in a good way, but a slightly overcharged and lacking in ambiance kind of way. I’m always a bit confused when my opinion is so different from others. Are the other reviewers business travellers and like the feeling of a hotel? Did they get charmed by a hospitality event or the mention of David Beckham? Was it an off night or was I particularly grumpy? Life’s too short to worry about it, but I think I’ll be passing on a second visit here.

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Food Diary: Stinking Bishops, Sydney

IMG_3391Hipster paradise, here at Stinking Bishops. The waiters were hip and Inner West. The patrons looked like they were in the know. The first times I’d looked, they seemed to close early in the day, but I believe demand is high and they’re now open for dinner every night of the week except Sunday and Monday. We grabbed a reservation for a meal before seeing Avenue Q at the Enmore Theatre a few weeks ago.

The thing is: we should have done their specialties: plates of cheese and charcuterie. But their fish pie looked soooo good. So good that both of us had the same thing. And you know, it was absolutely delicious. With some tasty wine, it was a perfect pre-theatre meal, though having only tried one thing on the menu, I can’t say that it feels like I’ve properly experienced it.

(A stone’s throw away from Hakiki, I’d recommend grabbing some Turkish ice cream down the way for dessert…)

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Food Diary: Chicken Institute, Sydney

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I’d say this is the most elegant Bibimbap that I’ve ever had. Barely any rice at all (but lovely purple rice hidden underneath the centre) and mostly an explosion of colours and IMG_3395fresh and picked veg. It was delicious. I kind of missed the crunchy bits of rice you get when it served in a stone bowl, and there’s something satisfying about mixing everything together in the cheap and non-elegant version, but I loved this. The food instagrammer #PrincessPorky told me that this is actually the way bibimbaps are supposed to be. Who knew?

In any case, here I was, at the Chicken Institute in Surry Hills, just across from 4fourteen. It’s smaller than I thought it would be, just a narrow hole in the wall. Elegant though.

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I thought they nicely combined this feel of traditional… with modern. I liked the take on Korean Fried Chicken (as above). Tasty, crisp, a bit too salty perhaps for my liking, but IMG_3399crispy deep-fried chicken. What’s not to love?

This interpretation of the ubiquitous pork bun was ridiculously tasty. Instead of pork, an ‘eggplant cutlet’, deep fried and crunchy. It was surprising, and surprisingly good.

Which leaves us finally with some BBQ meat, we got a mix of the beef and the pork belly. Tasty. I kind of loved this place, inexpensive, casual, unusual and super tasty. They took reservations, which seems kind of necessary as the place was packed. I’ll be back!

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