Sydney Food Diary: Inca’s, Stanley Street

I remember eating at this Peruvian restaurant, about a million years ago, when it was in Newtown. Moved to Darlinghurst, it’s in a brightly lit space that reminded me a bit of a living room or function hall, but with a family feel to it, and not without charm

One of my dining companions was Chilean and she provided us with guidance for the menu, which is relatively short. A few appetizers. Two choices of ceviche. Four mains and two specials, and some sides.

We started out with causa, a strange sort of potato mixture inside a soft crepe with some sauce and inside some prawns and vegetables, served cold. It was delicious. We liked it, though it was somewhat mysterious.

The ceviche was beautifully done. Very tasty. Bright flavours. Loved the dried corn with it.

We split three more mains, some lamb, perfectly nice; a generous paella sort of dish with prawns, and a quite delicious chicken curry.

Ah, and we had yucca chips. My favourite.

Peruvian cuisine is humble, I think, and the restaurant does a good job of retaining the feel of a homemade meal but presented in a restaurant format. It’s a fun experience, and tasty too.

Ah, and we all started the meal with Pisco Sours (yum, a most excellent contribution to the world from Peru and Chile) and finished with a dessert called Trés Leches, some sort of soaked cake with whipped cream and ice cream. Tasty! It cost us about $75 each and we were nicely filled and hydrated…

Inca's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Ouroboros Organic Wholefoods

As I’ve said before, Sydney’s a tough place to open a restaurant or cafe. It’s not enough to have good food, or a good idea. It has to be the right vibe for the right place as well. So, it’s great to see that the corner of Devonshire and Holt Street is hopping busy at the Ouroboros Organic Wholefoods Cafe.

Rather than the usual Surry Hills chic, this has a really casual cafe feel to it, as you can see. But on the rainy Thursday morning that I stopped in for coffee, there was a sizeable line waiting to order, and when I did order, I got a really, cheery and warm welcome, so sincere that I was jolted out of the rain!

I can’t really judge the cafe as a whole since all I’ve had both times I’ve been there is coffee (delicious) and one of the rather delicious sweet treats (this time a pistachio, coconut, cranberry bar: gluten-free!). But it’s easy to guess this cafe is doing just fine, and is a good option if you’re in the area.

Ouroboros Organic Wholefoods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Pieno, Surry Hills

So, I live pretty close to Pieno, as do friends of mine in Surry Hills. And it’s a funny thing. Pieno is on the CBD side of Crown Street, and Kawa is on the other side, and most friends prefer Kawa. At least my friend Davy says he LOVES the meatball sandwich there, and we discuss the pros and cons of each (I told him I wanted to eat at Pieno because I haven’t blogged about it yet).

Kawa is charming, and yet sometimes the charm is rickety, like those seats that are cute but almost seem to fall over. The service can seem spaced out, and the charming outdoor seating sometimes feels crowded.

Pieno has a much nicer feel to it, with lots of greenery and comfortable seats. I’ve been here when it’s packed, and I actually don’t like it: it feels too crowded. But it’s a pretty relaxed place to be.

I opted for the meatballs pasta (above) and I have to say it was absolutely delicious for $16. Davy has the grilled chicken salad, of which I had a bite. The chicken was tender and perfectly grilled and the couscous salad is… you have to admit… beautiful (I think the salad was $20).

Service was friendly. Lunch on Monday it was blissfully quiet. So, really: this is a solid choice to hang out, eat, have a coffee… And it’s been around for a long time, which in Surry Hills is a sign of a solidly good business.

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

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Buenos Aires Food Adventures: El Baqueano

This selection of quinoa is a signature dish, I think. Marvelously pretty.

El Baqueano describes itself as contemporary indigenous food both in terms of the produce and the cooking techniques.

Located in San Telmo, the corner restaurant has a cool and modern feel to it, and from the moment we stepped in the door, it felt like it would be a special meal.

OK. This is actually across the street from the restaurant. But I had to include it. San Telmo is so pretty and atmospheric!

They offer a degustation menu, that changes with the season, and with matching wines. Last year, it clocked in at #13 of the top 50 restaurants in Latin America.

Among the dishes that we were served: Duck bacon and butter

An upmarket interpretation of a humble sandwich.

It is an injustice that I didn’t keep track of the dishes that we ate. Sorry to the restaurant and to you, dear reader. But perhaps the photos are enjoyable in some way? The dish at the top of the page, by the way, had a llama tartare underneath that pretty quinoa and I’m slightly horrified now that I ate llama because I rather fell for the adorable guanacos in Patagonia. I felt their big sweet eyes staring at me contempuously after I ate some of them or their kin.

This one was Eggplant Escabeche 

Two of the other dishes we had included Yacare Caiman, a small crocodile and Patagonian hare but I can’t match the ingredients up to the photos!

As you can see, there is some techniques of various blobs of delicious sauces, and dustings of different powders of food. This was a fish in a squid-inked batter, something spongey, and a few tempura leaves. 

And the presentation is beautiful. This was an empanada, filled with something no doubt slightly rare. It was an interesting proposal, to take some dishes common to their cuisine… and then do something special with them.

The wines were great, as expected. I don’t meet many wines served at restaurants that I don’t like (though I occasionally buy something that is inexpensive and turns out to be not very nice). The pours were not as generous as at PuraTierra.

We also loved that there was a mother and daughter couple next to us, who spent some time sketching. What a lovely thing to do, we thought, to be creative and quiet and happy in their own spaces.

I was also quite charmed that the waiter sometimes asked us to identify the flavours, and engaged with us on what we thought the dish was. It was fun and I found myself really trying to think about the flavours that were put into the dishes.

One of the desserts was edible wood, lemon soup and cinnamon ice cream. Edible wood! Who would have thought of that?

Tripadvisor reminds me that it was about USD85 for the tasting menu. I’m glad that many reviewers had such a positive experience, with some of them feeling it was one of their best meals EVAH. I think the food is interesting and inventive, and I like the philosophy. It didn’t wow me though; even when the ingredients were obviously exotic (to me), they still felt slightly familiar. So there wasn’t a Wow Dish, or a few wow dishes. For my taste buds, a very nice evening but not as exciting on the tongue as it was intellectually.

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Sydney Food Diary: Stanbuli, Enmore

Enmore Road is chock-a-block with new bars and cool restaurants these days. I will be back to try some of the new ones I spotted, but was very glad to catch up with my excellent friend Mary to go to Stanbuli, which perhaps was one of the heralds of the new, hip Enmore.

Brought to us by the folks behind Porteño, I knew this was going to be good, and we weren’t disappointed. Turkish street food. What fun. Sat downstairs (walking in at 6:30pm on a Friday night, didn’t have any problems getting seated) and had an expensive but tasty bottle of a pinot-like Turkish wine and… ah, the food…

So good. We did order too much. Seven dishes from the left-hand side of the menu (mezze) and one from the right-hand side (grill). For the two of us, we really should have ordered one or two less dishes… We thought that the smaller dishes would have been smaller than they were!

The bread was so tasty, and apparently necessarily with some of our dishes. Olives lovely. The smoked eggplant with parsley and pomegranate seeds was a highlight.

Cuttlefish over some sort of potato salad. Lovely.

Stuffed mussels: wow. The taste of cloves was unusual. Just the right amount of rice stuffing. And I’ve never had stuffed mussels before.

I had one of the best kofte ever (though Mary found her fish sandwich a bit… fishy). The stuffed zucchini flowers were perfect.

We only had one of the main, grilled dishes. Perfect swordfish pieces, a cutlet served up in smaller bites, on top of an interesting grain in a tomato sauce.

Ah, and a favourite of the night: watermelon, feta and macerated dried apricots (in sherry). Sounds simple and I will try to make it, but the proportions, the combo, the flavours were just right.

Not sure about the long counter seating system. The woman next to me couldn’t seem to figure out how to eat without knocking into me so we shifted down. But the service was perfect, the sort of knowledgeable and efficient service by friendly young folks that Sydney seems to be specialising in these days. And I love that they kept the original store frontage of Mary Louise’s Hair Salon.

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

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Book Review: Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know whether being mixed race, of white and Asian descent, is having a moment, but with little design, the last three novels I’ve read have all featured mixed race protagonists. I don’t even know if mixed race is the right term anymore. Mom, from Hawaii, would use the Hawaiian word, Hapa, which meant ‘half’. I certainly remember a period of time, after university (in the early 90s), when there was an academic flirtation with ‘hybridity’ and ‘cyborgs’, combining man and machine, or man and science, or any two large concepts.

Things You Never Told Me is certainly the quietest of the three novels I’ve read, a family story, a family in the mid-West of the USA, where the main character is viewed more from the perspective of others than speaking for herself, the mixed-race daughter (with one brother and one sister) of a troubled couple.

The book seems to have gotten rave reviews. I liked it well-enough but perhaps my familiarity with the casual and not-so-casual racism that is one of the book’s main themes dulled the book’s overall punch. Similarly, while I should have been excited about her rendering of a family unable to communicate with each other, which reminded me so much of Asian-American families I know, I instead had a wave of sadness for all that is lost, with so much unspoken.

In any case, it’s a quiet book, well-constructed to draw you into its central mystery and with characters with a common humanity but who will likely be a bit unfamilar to most readers.

View all my reviews

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A word on food blogging

A starter at Barzaari, Marrickville

I met up with a few food bloggers for dinner on Friday night and have been reflecting a bit about food blogging. It’s been interesting lately. After I transferred my blog posts from eatability (bought out, turned into a crappy site) to urban spoon and zomato, things sort of heated up. Both Zomato and Yelp hired community liaison folks and started hosting events. I started getting invites to them… and meeting some of the other food bloggers. I then had a number of months where I got not only invites to some great meals and restaurants but even got sent some alcoholic vodka in the post (it was delicious). I’ve found this all rather amusing.

On the other hand, the bloggers in the know tell me that they’re souring on Zomato since the community liaison position was stopped. I haven’t paid any attention to Yelp since they invited me to be part of their Elite Squad and then kicked me out before I’d attended an event because I have a listing for my reiki business on yelp (a conflict of interest, they said, though I don’t think anyone has ever come to reiki because of that listing). TrueLocal has apparently started reviewing restaurants, and doing some giveaways too.

The thing is: while I find the freebies amusing, that’s not why I blog, though I admit to having put up a lot of shorter, insubtantial blog postings in the last year to get me blogging points on Zomato (the fact that they’ve gamified it really drew me in). I like eating; I like dining out. I like sharing my discoveries with friends, and have enjoyed hearing from friends who have found my reviews, unexpectedly, when looking up a restaurant they were considering going to.

A traditional grill in Montevideo, Uruguay

This month’s newsletter from David Lebovitz coincidentally talks about blogging in the same way (I think you can find it online here). He is an amazing chef and food writer who I started following when we were spending time in Paris. Love his recipes, love his blog, and love the feel for what he does. Anyways, he wrote:

I always considered blogging to be a win-win-win proposition. For the writer/blogger, you (or I) get to write whatever you (or I) want to write about without having to clear it through a publisher. For the reader, you get information, recipes, travel tips, or whatever it is that you’re looking for in a blog. And for businesses featured on the blog, they get exposure…

I often tell people that blogging, or writing about food (and travel), is about giving. Sure, you may be doing it for a living, but you always should be thinking of the reader first: How you can help the reader? It might be helping them find a good restaurant, bakery or chocolate shop, or it may be letting them know where there is a cookware shop in that specializes in baking supplies. Or an outdoor market, where they can spend Sunday morning shopping for amazing French cheeses, charcuterie, breads, and roast chickens…

The other day I saw a promo piece on tv about fashion bloggers that were jetting around the world, showing off their gorgeous clothes and modeling them on Instagram. I’m all for people doing what they love, but it seemed like the stakes for them were to get stuff. (And to take selfies to post online.) I’m guilty of a few selfies as well (and once in a while, I do get something), but I think most of my readers would rather see croissants and baguettes, than my mug all over the place. Even if I get a loaf of bread to take away after a bakery visit, or get invited to a beer-tasting, which I did, even though I’m not a beer drinker, but I wanted to learn more about it, it’s because I think or hope it’ll be interesting for people to read about.

That rather struck a chord with me. And serves as good advice for me as I continue to share my eating and travel adventures, book reviews, and very occasionally thoughts on life, to ask myself why I blog and generally stay true to that spirit of sharing and making connections.

The latest cooking experiment was red wine risotto with peas (delicious) and pork belly roasted over garlic, white wine and milk (good crackling but the meat could have been more tender)

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Sydney Food Diary: Barzaari, Marrickville

I love a restaurant in an unexpected place, and while I’d heard about this much-lauded restaurant in Marrickville, it was still a surprise to walk along a humble section of Addison Road to find this stylish fit-out among the other storefronts. We had a seat at the open window, lovely with the setting sun, ordered a bottle of Spinifex Vermentino (the cheapest wine on the menu, about $40, very drinkable), and settled in for a great dining experience.

I’m not sure we could find fault in anything. The food was interesting, flavourful and fresh, often with a texture or taste that surprised me in a good way. The service was warm, friendly and efficient. A bit of grilled fig, one with a slice of pork, the other without, was melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

A little cheese pastry number was like the nicest canapé you’ve had all week.

Grilled haloumi has its downmarket version, served at many a cafe in Sydney. But this wasn’t it. Grilled fruit, fresh herbs, long cucumber slices, and of course, perfectly done haloumi…

We had two other vegetarian dishes (the waiter patiently pointed out which dishes had no meat). I loved the grilled broccoli with labneh and dukkah and grilled grapes; my pal loved the brussel sprouts in a somewhat sweet sauce, not as charred and grilled as I like ’em but nice.

The dessert was the only thing that confounded us. Watermelon balls, ouzo sherbet, jelly and I think an almond custard. And a candied fruit and fresh grilled dill, I think. There was a lot going on, perhaps too much.

Yet all up, what fun. Loved this place. Will come back. I think it was $90 each, including the wine and a somewhat generous tip.

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

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Sydney Food Diary: La Renaissance Cafe Patisserie, Waterloo

We were browsing carpets in PYD. Yup, we were.

In need of coffee, and perhaps a little snack, we stopped by here. We actually did a macaron class here years ago, so we know the quality of the pastries and they really are beautiful creations.

We decided to go with a little less sugar and decadence this Saturday morning and so just had a palmier (which my family called ‘palm ears’ when I was growing up; I’m not sure whether they were joking or not) and a croissant.

But were tasty. The croissant was flaky and crisp and had a nice buttery flavour, though I am rather critical having done so much croissant research in Paris. I thought this was fine; not the best I’ve had, but certainly OK.

The coffee took forever though. It wasn’t busy; they were just really slow.

La Renaissance Cafe Patisserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Buenos Aires Food Adventures: La Cabrera

  Clocking in last year at #33 on the Top 50 restaurants in Latin America list, La Cabrera seemed like the obvious choice to try a traditional Argentinean grill during our recent trip to Buenos Aires. Located in a fun, chic neighbourhood, Palermo Soho, we were seated inside and it was like a magical cave filled with crazy artwork hanging from the ceiling and sort of every space and corner filled with some sort of decoration.

The service was exhuberant! The only fault was that they could have told us that we had ordered too much food. The steaks already come with sides, so many little interesting dishes, that the delicious empanada and grilled provolone we ordered as appetizers were unnecssary… and then only after I had mostly conquered the largest steak I had ever seen, larger than the size of my face, did he mention that people often split it between two of them.

In any case, the flavours were intense and delicious, and the atmosphere terrific and we ate far too much (and drank delicious Argentinean wine). Also, it’s easy enough to book online through their website. I’d say this is a must for meat-eating tourists!

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