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Food Diary, Mere Catherine, Sydney

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Meringue with Chantilly Cream that kind of looks like an armadillo.

We’ve been meaning to go to this tiny, unassuming restaurant in Potts Point FOREVER. A sign says that it seats just 14, and you can’t see into the restaurant from the street. It looks like someone’s kitchen. Inside, it’s a tiny, homy place with tables and chairs close together, not unlike a number of French bistros we dined at in Paris.

It is evidently an institution. Imagine the changes in the neighbourhood and Sydney that the chef-owner and his wife have seen over that time. Inside though, I have the feeling the world has changed very little. It was hot and steamy, and felt like it could have been a hot summer night in France.

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Lucifer Soup. The devil’s going to get ya.

My better half’s French Onion Soup was as good as the reviews say. Rich and with texture and served with a splash of sherry: really, this is good french onion soup. My Lucifer soup (pictured) was a surprise. A kick of chili spice that you’d never taste in conventional French cuisine, but a rich buttery base which is the epitome of French cooking. With a splash of cognac, this was AMAZING.

We split the Chateaubriand with the traditional Bearnaise sauce, and had sides of some small crispy and tasty roast potatoes and some boring steamed broccoli.

For dessert, a classic crème caramel (parfait) and an unusual meringue chantilly, which was as perfect a meringue as possibly on top of thick chantilly cream, piped in a lovely pattern over just enough ice cream to make this dish really quite interesting for how simple it was.

In many ways, the food reminded us of classic French bistro food, but none of the food at the Parisian bistros matched up to this. This is a step above. Really beautiful and luxurious cooking, frozen in time, applied to classic French dishes. It’s not cheap, and remember it’s cash only, but boy oh boy, this was a great meal, and the restaurant and service was full of charm.

Mere Catherine

166 Victoria Street, Potts Point, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9358 2000
Tuesday to Saturday 6pm-11pm

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Food Diary: Subcontinental, Sydney

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So, Sam Christie. I’ve never met the guy. But starting with Longrain, he’s moved onto opening the Apollo (amazing modern Greek food), Cho Cho San (just been there recently, IMG_3119amazing modern Japanese food) and lately, we stopped by Subcontinental (amazing modern sub-continental IMG_3125food). This guy is like my culinary godfather, filling my life with foodie happiness.

For Subcontinental, now joining Bang Street Food, a stone’s throw away, has done the alchemical magic of combining wonderful South Asian food with contemporary Sydney cool. Take the pappadums, our starter: I’ve had these at a million Indian restaurants, and I’ve bought cheap packs of them IMG_3121for a dollar or two which I found puff up magically in the microwave (rather than just frying them). But these ones were thick tasty crackers, a completely different form, and served with a fresh tomato sauce: marvelous.

IMG_3123The Sri Lankan black curry with pork belly and pickled banana blossom was amazing; the fish of the day came in banana leaves that were charred, it really was a ‘street’ flavour matched with coconut, mustard seeds and curry leaves. The biryani was the nicest I’ve ever had.

With daily gin cocktails (delicious), how could you go wrong with that place? We had not a complaint, and finishing with kulfi popsicles, well…

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Welcome, Subcontinental, to Sydney. It’s destined to be another hot spot… so perhaps get in while you can.

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Food Diary: Hawker, Sydney

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My Malaysian friend, Lai Heng, suggested trying the new Sydney hotspot ‘Hawker’ and what better thing to do than eat Malaysian food with a Malaysian friend. It really had the lovely feeling of successful contemporary Thai restaurants in Sydney like Home, House and Chat Thai – or of Mamak, the Indian-Malaysian restaurant, of the awesome rotis, and apparently the mother ship of Hawker.

In any case, Hawker has a menu that’s enticing and accessible and clearly has food that isn’t dumbed-down for non-Malaysians at reasonable prices. It’s focus is on Chinese-Malaysian food, rather than Indian-Malaysian.

We had two noodle dishes, a side or two, and those crazy ice-tea-coffee Malaysian drinks. The dish that didn’t make it into a photo was the best. Stingray with a spicy sambal sauce. It was outstanding. I’ll be back: I really need to try more of these dishes…

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Book Review: Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘Be Near Me’

Be Near MeBe Near Me by Andrew O’Hagan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Because I’d raved about O’Hagan’s Marilyn Monroe book (as narrated by her dog, Maf), a new literary friend loaned me one of his favourite books, ‘Be Near Me’. To be frank, I was a bit confused by the whole experience. There is an immediate distancing because the narrator can be unlikeable, partly because of his own lack of self-knowledge. It’s evident early on that this fault is going to get him in trouble, and it like watching a slow motion car crash.

Thematically, there was also distancing. As a Canadian living in Australia, the complications of the class divides of the United Kingdom are often beyond me, and this is something that is a key theme of the book: privilege vs non-privilege; education vs non-educated; wealth vs poverty, and all of this on top of a clear English vs Scottish rivalry. And while I’ve certainly read enough stories about the British education system (so many novels set in Oxford and Cambridge, and their environs!), I feel distanced from that milieu as well. It comes through in the narrator’s attachment to ideas, history, philosophy, fine wine, and appreciation for classical music and art. I think of myself as worldly and well-read, but often, the narration of ‘Be Near Me’ made me feel like I was on the wrong side of the tracks, one of the ruffians in smalltown Scotland.

By why should this be? To say that I relate more to 50s North America, Hollywood and a narrator who is, for godsake, a dog, in the O’Hagan novel I loved, seems ludicrious. And in fact, I think what O’Hagan’s novel actually demands is objectivity. He offers an explanation for why the character gets himself into so much trouble, the more sympathetic and in-fact wiser character is his cleaner who values knowledge but comes from a modest background; he draws a truly diverse set of characters who cross classes and political ideologies.

All of this is amidst beautiful writing, and an urgency and narrative that drives the book, which I read rather quickly, considering my reading speed these days, slowed down by TV and other distractions. So, while themes of class divide and religion didn’t engage me, and the consequences of a repressed sexuality were not new to me, all in all, I’m impressed with O’Hagan’s inhabiting of his narrators, his willingness to tackle big issues and some lovely writing, imbued with not a small measure of melancholy and nostalgia.

But if you’ve read this far, and haven’t read his other book, ‘The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe’, please do so. It’s amazing.

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Food Diary: Egg of the Universe, Rozelle, Sydney

IMG_3001We’d stopped by one morning in Rozelle to poke around the Essential Ingredient, the upmarket and rather amazing kitchen supply store. And we were hungry. The very amusing shopfront ‘Egg of the Universe’ beckoned our attention. It’s a yoga studio and a restaurant, with a lovely courtyard way out back.

IMG_3002But a yoga studio and restaurant combination didn’t immediately provide me with confidence. It felt like the many natural wholefood stores and cafes that I’ve run into where the food is usually tasty, with an emphasis on healthy, but not particularly elegant, and I somehow don’t end up feeling virtuous about eating virtuously.

This restaurant breaks the mold. There may have been healthy yoga-clothed Sydneysiders at the other tables, but, in addition to the emphasis on healthy food, the food was so tasty and well-presented, it made me think of the words ‘hip’ and ‘sophisticated’ rather than ‘earth mother’.

High recommendation.

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Food Diary: Pie in the Sky. Upper North Shore, NSW

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First of all, if you’re looking for Pie in the Sky, this is the Pie in the Sky, formally in Cowan, though we were going for a drive near Berowra, which is also near Dangar Island and just inland from Palm Beach and Whale Beach.

It is not the Pie in the Sky in Victoria, near Mount Dandenong, which seems to have some fame, nor the Pie in the Sky Roadhouse in Belpin in the Blue Mountains, and not the Pie in the Sky Bakery in Erina. IMG_2960

This is the Pie in the Sky in Cowan with the slogan ‘unbeatable pies’ and rather a slick and shiny website. They also have good pies. And, being home to a bikie gang, or the preferred pie shop of a bikie gang, means some local colour too.

If you happen to be in the area, it’s a great place for snack. Their pies seem popular enough that they sell them as big whopping pies to take home. Raised in Canada, the frozen meat pies that I used to stick in the toaster oven, had a flakier butter crust, and there was something in the artificiality of the gravy and mince meat that I loved. So, while I thought it was a good pie, I’d have to defer to the authority of my Australian partner and his parents. His mom couldn’t believe how tender the meat was; my partner loved that the meat tasted like meat, and the gravy like gravy. I deduce from their comments that these are top-notch Aussie pies.

And a mighty good name for a pie shop.

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Book Review (of sorts): Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I understand the fuss, and also the frustration.

The writing in this book is simply beautiful, and the portrait of Cromwell, and his negotiations, machinations and dealings, is complex and interesting.

If I hadn’t watched the ‘Tudors’ TV series, I think I would have been completely lost though, and as much as I liked it, it took me two months to get through. I liked it but I wasn’t compelled, particularly by the end, when I realised that very little had happened.

Apparently, the action is in ‘Bring up the Bodies’

Yes, it is hard to follow the narration, and too many people have the same names, or are referred to in different ways. But I kept on stumbling on passages of writing which put me in awe. I think I’ll take a break for a while, and tackle the sequel at a future date.

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In the meantime, good old Goodreads. I couldn’t resist doing a short review so I could get a nice little image of the cover in the corner of this page. But my other thoughts about the book are of a different nature:

I remember falling in love with books in university, and it was such a quiet experience. I hid away in their pages, and perhaps discussed them in classes and with others, but I remember a feeling of personal connection and interest with the authors (at the time, being obsessed with Margaret Atwood and then Michael Ondaatje), and a sort of tranquil intimacy.

What a different age we’ve entered. Now my reading experience is mediated by, well, media. I couldn’t help but envision the actors from the Tudors in the book. And now, after watching two episodes of the Wolf Hall mini-series, the characters are a mix between the two of them (though Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Damian Lewis, both playing Henry VIII, are so physically dissimilar: it’s impossible to meld the two).

There’s also the stage adaptations, which I’ve read the reviews of.  And I can read hundreds of reviews by others on sites like Goodreads to compare and contrast reading experiences. I suppose this would only happen with blockbusters, but the possibility of a mass communal reading experience seems a particular feature of our time. I do find it interesting, though, that such a complex, difficult and nuanced book should be so widely read. That seems a good thing.

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Food Diary: Tokyo Bird, Sydney

IMG_3036I’ve always loved little Japanese bars and restaurants. I love, in my visits to Japan, that some specialise only in a few kinds of food, and that the experience is an integrated one: have a drink, and have a delicious bar snack to go with it.

IMG_3066So, I love that Tokyo Bird has opened up in my neighbourhood, in Belmore Lane, near Commonwealth Street. Their specialty is yakitori, the delicious BBQ skewers of chicken, meat or vegetables, and they actually serve more than that. They have an interesting list of cocktails and Japanese whiskeys though I find it impossible to go past sake when it’s on the menu.

IMG_3074It seems to all be run by a young group of stylish and hip young Asian-Australians, and I loved the vibe. Found the lotus root chips a touch too salty, the skewers of chicken thigh and pork belly delicious, and I tried this weekend, but failed, to recreate the delicious creamy sesame dressing on a deceptively simple cabbage salad. Oh, and the chicken mckatsu nuggets were as expected. Yummy. A perfect light dinner for the two of us, with nice drinks. 60 bucks. I’ll be back!

Tokyo Bird
2/226-228 Commonwealth Street
Entrance on Belmore Lane
facebook.com/tokyobird  IMG_3035

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Food Diary: the Apollo, Sydney

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I ate here with my friend Dan ages ago, and I returned, maybe a year or two later wondering: is it as good as I remember? The answer, whole-heartedly, is yes. It was hard IMG_3009to go past the ‘Whole Greek’ menu that included homemade taramasalata which is to die for, and a honey-lemon saganaki, which my better half wondered why he’d been missing this all his life.

IMG_3012Then there was roast lamb, perfect potatoes – super crispy and bite-sized, and an interesting dessert. And olives. And two little glasses of Ouzo. $70 each.

The decor is Sydney cool. We sat at a table by the window next to some tourists from Quebec who were putting the charming waiter through hell: ‘How much garlic is there? IMG_3013Can we put that on the side? How is this dish done? No, we won’t keep our cutlery. Give us clean ones.’

From us: no complaints. The food was so good, I forgot to take photos, and the truth is that as a pre-theatre meal, we didn’t allow enough time and it was too much food. Much better if stretched over a longer period of time.

But GOD IT WAS GOOD.

This place is the bomb. Get there.

The Apollo
44 Macleay Street
Potts Point
http://www.theapollo.com.au/

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