Sydney Food Diary: Baccomato Osteria, Surry Hills

Baccomoto Osteria sits right below the Cambridge Hotel on Riley Street, and it looks like they provide breakfast for the hotel guests. In the evenings, it’s been a reliable dining choice for many years for folks from the neighbourhood, no small feat when thinking about how quickly other restaurants have come and gone. The space is open and with little decor, but it seems cosy enough anyways, with the bar in the centre of the space (where people can also sit and eat).
I remember the pasta here as being wonderful, but we couldn’t go by the daily special: braise e barbera, braised lamb with a glass of Italian red wine of grapes which I learn are the third-most planted vines in Italy, but little known outside of the country. It seems the Italians hoard it for themselves. In any case, $25 for a main and wine seemed very reasonable when the mains alone range from $29 to $36. The lamb was pretty delicious.  And the fennel and mozzarella gratin was amazing. So moreish. Add to this a simple salad and we had a lovely, easy meal before heading over to see Jens Lekman play at the Oxford Art Factory. Apologies for the quality of the photos. Sometimes the light just isn’t right for my iPhone.

Baccomatto Osteria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Home Cooking: Chez Panisse Almond Tart (David Lebovitz)

Lord, this was good!

I first started following David Lebovitz’s website and newsletters when living in Paris. He had wonderful hints for living in Paris, hunting down the best places to eat and buy treats, and great recipes, which always come with a great story about why you should make them.

And the tone of his writing always felt like I was being good advice from a friend: a learned and cultured and quirky friend. I’ve tried a number of his recipes, and when I saw he’d posted this recipe for an almond tart from the restaurant Chez Panisse, well I knew I should try it.

It was not as difficult as it sounded. Granted, the top doesn’t look like the one on his webpage, suffering the ‘cornflake effect’ that he warned against (my husband just said the photo looks like a brain pizza). Then again, a little search of other posts about this recipe seems to show that no two tarts look the same.

I also wondered why I couldn’t just put the cake tin on top of a baking sheet, rather than precariously balancing it on the baking shelf, and then, as I did, spilling some of the filling onto the sheet below (but I dutifully followed the instructions). It took about 50 minutes instead of 30.

I was also curious that it only required 80 grams of almonds (and is called an almond tart), but it’s just the right amount of nuts to float to the top of the gooey, caramel base. The big surprise was how delicious the crust was: buttery and more like a biscuit or cookie than say, a crust for an apple pie. And the combo of crust and filling is perfect too. This was very delicious… I’ll be making it again.

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Sydney Food Diary: Jimmy Blanco, Surry Hills

I like a good concept and Jimmy Blanco is both playful and brash, announcing itself as a hybrid of Latin America and Australia, and a lot of fun. But branding wasn’t enough to save Jimmy on Friday night.

I’ve actually eaten at this restaurant in at least three different incarnations, maybe more. It’s got a long, strange shape, facing off against an Asian restaurant as a mirror image, and I suspect that the kitchen is small, and that’s the reason why the restaurants always serve tapas and casual food.

We came for the Pisco Sours. And they were very good, served in a champagne flute. Love me a Pisco Sour. But otherwise, it was a bit of a series of disasters, even though the charming manager did his best to try to save the day. They had messed up our reservation, so we sat right at the front, at a non-table. The manager gave us a complimentary first round of drinks for that, which was kind (and valuable, as the Pisco Sours are $17). The two young waitresses were very inexperienced. Sweet but it looked like it might have been their first days on the job. It was really hard to get their attention for the first half of the meal, when the restaurant was busy, and then they hovered over us during the second half, uncomfortably.

The beef enchiladas were very tasty. The ceviche was served on a bed of rocket. I thought the lime was too harsh, but the Chilean at the table liked it (and she would be a much better judge of ceviche than I). The guacamole was pretty delicious with chunky avocados. But when we asked for more corn chips to finish it, we were told we’d have to order a completely new dish. No extra corn chips!

We wanted to split a main; there were only two on offer. Beef nachos and some ribs. We ordered the ribs… and it took the manager quite a while to come and tell us: there are no ribs. The menu is pretty casual and other than the snacky type things offers burgers and burritos. Two of us had a buttermilk chicken burger which was… fine. A bit plain.

Also had some jalapeño poppers, which I thought were dee-licious. Hard to go wrong with deep-fried things with cheese. At the end, trying to pay, their printer was broken, and they couldn’t bring us the bill either. To be fair, the food was OK and the pisco sours were great, and the manager really did try to salvage the night. But I think in this tough Surry Hills market that it will be, very much like the section of Foveaux Street that they’re located on, an uphill climb.

Jimmy Blanco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Vietnamese Healthy Rolls, Surry Hills

It’s a charmless part of Elizabeth Street, just south of Cleveland, so a perfectly charming Vietnamese cafe gets extra points. Also, the air of mystery was intriguing since it’s hard to actually tell what the name of the restaurant is.

The local workers know about it, it seems. There’s a nice line up to get dishes freshly made or assembled by a woman who I assume is owner, chef, manager and waitress (who was also very charming). It being summer, she’s not cooking so much hot food yet , so there were no steamed rice rolls, and she also said she’s going to roll out the Vietnamese beef curry when it gets colder, which I imagine is tasty. There’s usually pho, but not on the Thursday we went, and apparently Vietnamese pancakes are served on Fridays… I almost went for a Banh Mi which looked stuffed with goodness, a generous combination of ingredients.

But I went for pork on rice noodles, which looked like it was going to be not much (from the containers in the counter) but when assembled came out as a beautiful combination of vegies and spring rolls and meat and noodles and a healthy dollop of chili sauce, almost but not too hot for me. I really thought it was delicious and fresh and wonderful.

The only drawback was that there’s an infernal automatic sensor that makes a doorbell type sound not only when anyone is entering the restaurant but when anyone is basically standing in the front quarter. Since I was enjoying catching up with my pal Sue, I don’t think earphones is a sensible recommendation, but it’s an annoying sound!

But not annoying enough to not want to come back here and try more homestyle, fresh, tasty Vietnamese food. It’s only open for lunches, and for you design mavens, Dinosaur Design’s discount store, Extinct, is just up the block and they’ve got some great stock at the moment…

Vietnamese Healthy Rolls Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book Review: Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels, #1)My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There was no question on finishing this book that I’d be reading the rest of the novels… but I was surprised at how I swept into it. First, I hadn’t done my research, so I didn’t know that the four novels really constitute one really big epic novel. I was surprised at what felt like a somewhat abrupt ending (as they all are perhaps). The characters go through their lives, full of drama and change, but there are no particular reasons, I think for the divisions. You have to stop somewhere, and then continue again… which could be one of the themes of the book.

In any case, this novel is one where the characters and situation are so far from my own life, and yet I felt attached to them, interested in them, and in some ways related to them, strangely enough. Lila and Elena represent the strongest portrayal of frenemies I’ve ever read, though we read about it only through Elena’s eyes. We meet them at age four or five and through them meet their families and the people in their rough neighbourhood in Naples, who we will continue to get to know throughout the novels. There is something of a thriller in the narrative; the chapters are short, and often end with short, sharp sentences or pronouncements that made me want to turn immediately to the next chapter. The first quarter of the book is about their childhood, and their interactions with school and education (and the violence of the neighbourhood around them).

The rest of the book, ‘adolescence’, takes us through a few narratives, the development of a shoe factory, Elena’s first boyfriend and first love (not the same person), and Lila being courted, including by one of two handsome, dangerous and rich brothers. They are only sixteen at the end of the book, but Lila is being married already. Most of the narrative drive comes from the portrayal of Lila: feisty, formidable, courageous, strong, bad-tempered and forceful of will and character. At one point in the book, I was getting tired of the repetition of Elena’s constant interrogating and analysis of their relationship, the way she viewed herself only in relation to her best friend; I was relieved when this shifted. But it still is the novel’s fuel, and I was delighted with the trick of the title, to have been lead to assume one thing from it and be proven wrong, or at least simple-minded, when the trick is played.

At the end of this first novel, I couldn’t yet figure out why I liked it so much. There is still so much to come in the lives of these remarkable women, but I found the narrative captivating, even while having to track all of the different characters (with the helpful index of characters)! So yes, a good book, a good narrative and good writing; I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

View all my reviews

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Sydney Food Diary: Shift Eatery, Surry Hills

If you check out the slightly tricky graphics of the signage for Shift Eatery you’ll note that the feel is contemporary, with a technological edge. This is not how, in the past, you’d try to sell people on vegetarian (or vegan) food. But it’s evident they’re trying to *shift* people’s ideas and consciousness away from old-fashioned restaurants with names like Green Goddess Harvest Bounty Cafe or We Don’t Kill Animals Lentil Shack to something else. Or perhaps they’re just fitting in with the Surry Hills hipster vibe.

We were impressed the moment we arrived, on a rainy Wednesday at noon. It was busy and by the time we left really crowded. There seemed to be a buzz about the place. We had some very tasty coffees (mine with macadamia milk) and I couldn’t pass up trying the raw zucchini pasta with red pesto. My god, it was soooo tasty. I loved the texture of the zucchni, and yes, they really did kind of taste like noodles.

My pal loved his Big Bowl, which has brown rice with quinoa, sweet potato, smokey beans, greens, slaw, cherry tomatoes, sauerkraut, turmeric hummus, lime and tahini dressing.

I was too full (and in a bit of a rush) but the desserts counter looked scrumptious. We’ll be back for dessert.

The only strange thing was that the kitchen is huge (and somewhat empty) and all of us patrons were crammed in together at small tables close together. While it would be a bit better in good weather when people could use the outdoors seating, Shift Eatery seems more popular than it has space for patrons!

Shift Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Bread & Circus, Alexandria

Yup, it was delicious. Conveniently located across from Dan Murphy’s (I’m only kind of joking), this warehouse space has always been appealing as a place for coffee, a snack or breakfast. Bread & Circus is brightly coloured and whimsical, and though husband thinks the lunch menu is more interesting, I liked my breakfast a lot.

In fact, three of the four of us had the parmesan-not-so-scrambled eggs with truffle oil. The sourdough bread was delicious. The generous amount of butter was of course delicious and the fresh herbs and greens really made this come alive. And the fourth of our party liked her porridge.

Coffee only comes in one size, and apparently soy milk isn’t natural enough so is not an option (but I thought the coffee was very good anyways).

Bread & Circus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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2018 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies, TV

(Obviously, a work in progress…)

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Muriel’s Wedding, the Musical: Loved the adaptation and update, music and cast. A fun show. I wonder if it will transfer overseas.
  • Darlinghurst Nights, Hayes Theatre: A thirty-year old musical revived, a love letter to Sydney’s bohemian scene around Darlinghurst and Kings Cross; great actors and a lovely score.
  • The Backstories: Moya Dodd, CAAP/Carriageworks: A fantastic sharing of a personal history in the style of William Yang’s performances, and such an interesting story and person.
  • Trevor Ashley’s Mardi Gala: As always, a fun, camp, community celebration… with special guests too.
  • The National, Sydney Opera House Forecourt: Aging hipsters, all of us, they seemed much more subdued than four years ago. Was the sound turned down? Did the terrible people in the Toaster that always complain about noise win? Even in their formerly most raucous songs, it seems sort of… unplugged. But I loved it just the same. Great atmosphere, amazing songs, and: really excellent videography, perhaps the best that I’ve seen at a concert, really allowing me to feel like I was at the front of the stage, from the comfort of further back.
  • The Mardi Gras Parade Sideshow 2018: Well, if the parade ain’t a show, I don’t know what is.
  • View UpStairs, Hayes Theatre: What an interesting musical, written by a young, smart writer and composer. Great cast, amazing set, and a good concept. Now I wish I’d seen it in NYC when I was there.
  • Merrily We Roll Along, Depot Theatre: Some songs that I’ve always adored. Seeing this show reminded me of how tricky it is to put on. I think the first time I saw it, I was so impressed with the conceit (deeply cynical, that life only gets better by moving backwards in time) that I overlooked the old-fashioned parts, the broad plot and how difficult it is to make some of the songs come alive.
  • Seu Jorge: The Life Aquatic, a Tribute to David Bowie, Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall: Great concert. So much charisma and musicianship, just him and his guitar, captivating the audience.
  • In the Heights, Hayes Theatre: Wow.

Books

  • Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (fiction)
  • Elena Ferrante’s Story of a New Name (fiction)
  • Elena Ferrante’s Those who leave and those who stay (fiction)
  • Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child (fiction)

Movies

  • Moana. I watched this hungover from New Year’s Eve and thought it was great.
  • Call me by your name: Romantic, languid and slow. Of course I loved it.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Entertaining, engaging with characters I was rooting for, and amusing space creatures.
  • The Shape of Water: What an odd film, but quite magical.
  • Lady Bird: I don’t think I liked it quite as much as the critics… and even though the film was playing with cliché and trope, some felt too familiar, but the central performance is compelling.
  • The Post: Fine. Engaging but somewhat predictable filmmaking.
  • Black Panther: Wakanda forever!
  • Love, Simon: Oh, I liked this. Review here.

Television

  • Stranger Things, Season 2. Pretty fun to watch, and some interesting developments from the first season though I’m not sure it always make sense…
  • Project Runway All Stars, Season 6.
  • The Crown, Season 2
  • And then there were none (mini-series, 3 episodes)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race, All Stars, Season 3

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Sydney Food Diary: Tokyo Laundry, Circular Quay

The entire Gateway complex was heaving. Heaving. On a Monday night. That tells me how great the need was for reasonably priced food in Circular Quay, probably Sydney’s most dense tourist area. And we needed something to eat before the National concert at the Opera House (outdoors, a glorious night: it was a great concert). Chat Thai was packed, and so was the Italian place. In fact, Tokyo Laundry looked to be one of the only places that could seat us!

It was absolutely fine. There’s a lot of competition in this space in Sydney, with some really interesting modern Japanese eateries. The spicy chili garlic edamame ($7.50) was one of the more interesting versions that I’ve had (and did you know these are really easy to make at home…). The Chicken Gyoza Dumpling ($15) was fine: light and crisp. I don’t often meet a gyoza I don’t like.

We also tried a few dishes from the Robata Grill: broccolini ($13.50) and pork belly ($14.50), both rather nice. I think the highlight for me was the Agedashi Tofu, as it was an unusual rendition: a thick savoury sauce, quite yummy, and some nice textures with the mushrooms and spring onions. We started the meal with refreshing apple martinis. The service was nice but seemed a bit confused.

It seemed that there’s a reason why it’s not as crowded as the other places, but I don’t think it would be too difficult to lift the service and tweak the food so that it’s really, really good, instead of just pretty good.

Tokyo Laundry Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Speedo’s Cafe, Bondi Beach

Husband tells me that Speedos Cafe has been around for yonks. When he lived in Bondi, he used to come down regularly. Looking for a casual place for lunch while showing some out-of-towners Bondi, this seemed like a perfect place.

It’s got a great atmosphere, open and casual, with friendly service. We had a bit of everything really: a pittaya (dragonfruit) bowl, a veggie burger with fries, an amped-up poké bowl and a chia pot.

These are Bondi (or Eastern Suburbs) prices, from $18 to $23. Hmm. $23 for a burger = ouch, but I guess I’m used to in Sydney. We were all happy with our food. The poké bowl isn’t really like the fast-food poké bowls sweeping across North America, I’d say it’s rather poké-inspired… And my chia pot looked like a big kid’s sundae. But why not? Four mains and a latte and a juice = $92. And did I mention it’s a perfect location?

Speedo's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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