Sydney Food Diary: Yomie’s Rice x Yogurt 有米酸奶 | 金树店, Chinatown


Every single time I’ve passed by Yomie’s, there has been a line-up outside the door, and often, a long one. I could tell something was up, but had no idea what it was. I mean: what is a rice x yoghurt drink. Even now that I know (wait for it …), I can’t find on Google who came up with the idea and where it’s from. There are a few other similar food stalls around the world: in Singapore, in New Zealand. A blog post from Kuala Lumpur says that Yomie’s came FROM Australia to KL and is wildly popular. Other sources say that yoghurt-like drinks, like Yakult, have been popular in Asia for years, and this is the latest trend.

Still, a mystery.

In any case, after choosing the most popular flavour, yoghurt with purple rice, we waited while the drink was made up freshly on the spot, and put in a container, with a seal on the top, like you get for bubble tea, and then handed an overpackaged drink, with a plastic bag and a straw. And our drink wished us a Happy New Year, which I found charming. The cup said that the drink tastes best if you wait an hour, but who has the patience?

We dove in and, as described, it is sweet yoghurt drink that has bits of chewy purple rice in it that come up nice and evenly through the straw. It was quite delicious and we both liked it, probably enough to try more flavours, or go back to this one another time.

Yomie's Rice x Yogurt 有米酸奶 | 金树店 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Asian, Food n' Grog, Sydney | Leave a comment

Coffee in Sydney: Fratelli Fresh, Darling Harbour

Fratelli Fresh is a bit of an empire in Sydney, and I have watched its growth over the time I’ve lived here and understand why. Its first restaurants offered perfect, refined, simple and authentic Italian food, and sometimes groceries at the same time!

But I’m not sure what’s happened to it these days. I did find a meal at the Moore Park Entertainment Quarter branch overpriced (although everything at the Entertainment Quarter is overpriced), but man, these reviews on Zomato … this branch is getting slammed!

Perhaps it’s lucky we were only here for a coffee. Though I have to say that while it is standard to pay $4.50 for a large flat white, and $5 for a croissant, that when it adds up, I still think: $20 for coffee and croissants for two people. What an expensive city Sydney is.

In any case, the croissant was better than I expected: it was light, crisp and buttery. Yup, pretty high ranking. I wish the coffee had come at the same time; we’d basically finished our pastries by the time the coffee came, which was fine in taste, but a frothy mess. If you’ve read my coffee diary before, you know I love me some latte art.

I suspect with its location, the money that has been poured into (it’s very shiny) and the backing of other more successful locations, this branch will muddle along until it finds it’s groove. Or not! How long can a restaurant with poor service and mediocre food survive in Sydney?

Fratelli Fresh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Coffee, European, Food n' Grog, Sydney | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sydney Food Diary: Arthur, Surry Hills

It was fun to go with friends to their favourite restaurant, and it’s so close to us in Surry Hills, and I’d already had recommendations to check it out.

Arthur is doing a fantastic job at really elegant food, in a cosy neighbourhood setting and with fantastic value!

$80 for 5 courses seems a steal, especially for the quality of the food. The wine is a little pricy so maybe that’s how they’re surviving.

I pretty much liked everything. It’s as good as it looks, and was as good as it sounded.

I actually can’t decide a favourite.

Well, OK. Maybe the steak with the grilled peppers. That was awesome.

Also, while they offer one menu a night, with two seatings, if you have dietary issues, they’ll accommodate you easily, as they did for our friend that doesn’t like seafood.

(I didn’t take photos of his special non-fish dishes).

The steak came with a fennel salad, which was a good idea. I’ll have to make more fennel salads of my own.

Plus perfect service.

Out with friends with great food in old Sydney town. Life is good, and was even better with Arthur.

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

Posted in Food n' Grog, Modern Australian, Sydney | Leave a comment

Sydney Food Diary: Salt and Palm, Glebe

A friend in Glebe suggested trying out this Indonesian restaurant, and it was a fun night! The cocktails, during happy hour, are only $10, which is outstanding value for expensive Sydney! I found mine, with an intriguing ice cube coloured with butterfly pea flower, to be too sweet. Oh well.

We sat outside in the front, which threatened rain but didn’t and was very pleasant. The inside looks nice enough too, a sort of beach house feel, and there was an area out back which I didn’t check out.

I think my friend liked hers better than I did.

We figured out from the menu that you order a basic plate of rice and sides, and then you order other dishes to put on top of it!

We ordered squid (tasty), and king prawns, which came on their own little BBQ grill. Really, really tasty.

And also some tasty, sticky, and somewhat unwieldy ribs!

Oh, and some twice-fried potato patties, which were fine, nothing special but tasty enough (and cheap at $4). In fact, the cost of the food was very reasonable for everything.

It was a pleasant evening, with simple, tasty and inexpensive food. I would hope there are so many Aussies who have loved their vacations in Bali that they’ll find their way here to be reunited with Indonesian food in a relaxed setting.

Salt and Palm Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Asian, Food n' Grog, Sydney | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sydney Food Diary: Bennelong Restaurant, CBD

I think I may have managed to not dine, even once, during Guillaume Brahimi’s 12 years running the Bennelong restaurant at the Sydney Opera House, though I believe that I did dine there once, a few years before that, perhaps not long after my arrival in Sydney in 1999! I remember reading that it’s a difficult venue to run, something about the way the kitchen is located and the shape of the place, never originally intended as a restaurant (I think). In any case, I’d been reading about Bennelong under Peter Gilmore for the last few years, and how it’s been a huge success, and so what an amazing place to help a dear friend, Andrew, to celebrate his 50th birthday!

And really, this is the kind of restaurant you want to celebrate at. It’s one of those top-notch high-end restaurant experiences that is memorable, luxurious and expensive! It’s also not the kind of place to whip out the old iPhone and take photos for blogging and I suspect the lighting on the food would have done it a disservice too. So, you’ll just have to believe me.

The three-course dinner is $150, and each course covers all the bases so there should be something for everyone’s liking. It’s the kind of place where we all asked what each other ordered and then oohed and aahed over each dish: beautifully presented, with imagination, and flavour. My starter was a pasta of sorts made out of squid and mushrooms: a magician’s trick presenting a delicate, slightly creamy delight. There were bits of puffed rice on it too, which, while adding an interesting textural element reminded me of a breakfast cereal. Oh, I loved the little bit of crisp chicken skin hidden in the noodles. Surprise!

I also had a perfect piece of pork with a rich jus.

and for dessert, a combination of desserts:

Everyone was very happy with their meals, we ordered some beautiful fine wine, and lots of drinks and the view and atmosphere couldn’t be more special. I also like a bit of theatre, so when the waiter came and filleted the whole roasted John Dory for the birthday boy, that was fun, as was the chocolate cake where they spoon a sauce over the centre of it, which collapses into a perfect hole. I was actually a little jealous of everyone else’s desserts: elevated versions of pavlova and lamington. They looked really, really good.

All in all, a beautiful night, and Bennelong under Gilmore is well-deserving of its reputation!

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

Posted in Food n' Grog, Modern Australian, Sydney | Leave a comment

Sydney Food Diary: Alba Salentian Restaurant, Newtown

Our trips to Puglia, the heel of Italy, gave us some of our favourites memories of our Italian holidays, and that’s saying a lot! So, how exciting to find a restaurant opened in Newtown that is serving authentic food from the region.

I think there’s a perception problem though. The famous cuisine of the region is called cucina povera, it’s using humble ingredients (cooking of poverty) to make delicious, hearty and relatively simple dishes, but full of flavour. So, the food looks deceptively simple, but we thought it was absolutely delicious.

So, I find it a bit weird that some of the other reviews of the restaurant think it’s too expensive. Someone was complaining about $50 a head for a three course meal with an alcoholic drink. I mean: are you kidding me? This is Sydney.

The other thing is that the homemade pasta is made so finely and beautifully, it tastes like it could be storebought, because it’s a little too perfect. I noticed this complaint in another review, and my husband, momentarily, thought the same too.

So, I hope that they can manage to get across that they are making fresh pasta, and using fresh, high-quality ingredients, and that good food costs money, both to prepare and to eat!

In any case, we loved our meal. We asked for a special negroni, substituting campari with amaro, and it was interesting, and delicious. A stronger, darker negroni. We ordered the ‘feed me’ option, and got, to start with, the most delicious bruschetta with burrata, and then a specialty, pittule, deep-fried homemade balls of bread dough. Tasted better than it sounds!

Oh, we also had a delicious sort of savoury pastry.

A pork cutlet on super crisp potatoes was simple and tasty, served with a nice salad. The pasta, strozapretti I believe (priest-strangler is the translation), was a standout. The ragu was simple but full of flavour.

I was really a bit obsessed with pasticchiotto after I discovered it in Salento: a short-crust buttery pastry with a rich custard filling. Yum. Lovely to have one of these on Aussie shores. The other pastry was a little rich, but that’s the thing about Italian pastries.

Oh and to finish off crema di limoncello, a version of limoncello (made by one of the owner’s mothers, I think), which I think I like more than limoncello!

All in all, we loved our meal here and wish them all the success in the world (particularly in Sydney’s competitive dining scene).

Alba Salentinian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in European, Food n' Grog, Sydney | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sydney Food Diary: Firedoor, Surry Hills

What does a 169-day dry aged rib of beef taste like, cooked medium rare, over fire, and costing $200? Well, it tastes like steak, the finest steak I’ve ever eaten. The crispy burned bits of fat melt in the mouth. The meat has some give and is tender and is not fall apart or melt in your mouth; it is not that kind of meat. It is juicy. It tastes intense and concentrated. It also tastes like ‘Yum. This is worth every penny.’

It was a good amount to split between us (it’s about 500 grams but that includes the bone) and I was very happy that we were seated in the very corner of the restaurant, so I ended up just picking up the bone in my hand and trying to gnaw off every bit of dry aged rib of beef goodness that I could. They served it with a simple salad, which was good, since I started to fall into a meat coma afterwards.

Firedoor has stood the test of time; I first came in November 2015 and then followed it up with a visit a few months later in January 2016. One of the reasons we came again was feeling that there are so many amazing restaurants at our doorstep, and we’re not taking advantage of them! So, for our 14th anniversary, this was a great meal.

I sort of like everything about Firedoor. I like the decor and vibe. I love the smell of the fire and grill. The gorgeous handmade ceramic plates. The service. The extensive wine list (and that they have Spanish sherry!). And of course the food.

We kept it simple this time. Some of the most delicious bread possible (is that butter smoked?) matched with some pipis, in a delicious and delicate sauce.

The afore-mentioned steak. Oh my god. And this masterpiece, a coral trout head and skate wings, which sort of exemplifies what I love about Firedoor. This food is a bit challenging (husband said it was the first time he’s had a fish head), and it looks scary! And it’s engaging. You really have to dig into to get out the good bits of meat from the head. And when you do: perfect fish bits, mixed with an XO sauce, and delicate charred bits of cabbage. This is really good eating.

I loved it. I should not be waiting another three years before I return here! Anyone up for steak?

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

Posted in Food n' Grog, Modern Australian, Sydney | Leave a comment

Sydney Food Diary: Caffe Bartolo, Surry Hills

Taking over from where Bill’s was located FOR 23 YEARS (before moving next door), Caffe Bartolo doesn’t necessarily have to compete with Bill’s, just welcome the overflow. After all these years and on a Sunday morning, the line-up for Bill’s was enormous! Not that we’d planned to go there. Caffe Bartolo beckoned: it has a charming fit-out, ye olde Europe and along with a build your own breakfast option (eggs and sides), there were a handful of specials on offer.

Anywhere that serves meatballs for breakfast has won me over already, so there you are. Matched with a poached egg, a rich sauce and super light, crumbly foccaccia, I was very happy with this.

Freddy had a sort of potato cake, with meat, and a sauce and seemed pleased with it. We both enjoyed our coffee and the charming service provided by, I assume, an Italian waitress. Hurrah for those working holiday visas.

In any case, brunch was so good, I’d be happy to try this on another evening: seems like they’re serving up good traditional Italian food … and cocktails too. I’m up for that.

Caffe Bartolo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Brunch, Desserts, European, Food n' Grog, Sydney | Tagged | Leave a comment

Coffee in Sydney: Organic Bread Bar, Paddington

There’s something very charming about the Organic Bread Bar. To sit and have a coffee just outside the bakery, with a view of delicious baked goods, in leafy Paddington, is a charming experience. Even though it’s on South Dowling Street, it somehow manages to feel tucked away in a quiet part.

From what I can tell, German-born baker, Andreas Rost, opened it up around 2012 (when all their press on the website dates to). There is a more recent cafe in Darlinghurst (Organic Bread Bar Darlinghurst) and there seems to be another Organic Bread Bar in Paddington on Boundary Road, though I’m not sure if it’s the same folks!

I had a large latte, which, as you can see, managed the shape of latte art but not much detail. It was perfectly fine in taste, a touch bitter, not in a bad way. I missed the little sign advertising sausage rolls so went with an almond, chocolate croissant.

It was more of a pastry really, with a sweet layer inside, and a sort of crunchy topping as well on top, and almonds, pressed down into a square shape, I suppose the traditional shape of a pain chocolat rather than the crescent-shaped croissant. It was nice enough.

I liked the experience more than the coffee and pastry, and will have to buy a loaf of bread next time to try it out … or perhaps drop by the Darlinghurst branch.

Organic Bread Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Cafe, Desserts, Food n' Grog, Sydney | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review: André Aciman’s Call Me

Find Me (Call Me By Your Name, #2)Find Me by André Aciman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A ridiculous, overwritten ode to romanticism and wish fulfilment, it’s so bad it may have ruined my affection for the prequel.

If you are reading this, I am guessing it is because you liked Call Me By Your Name and have also bought the sequel Find Me. And I did like the first book, an awful lot. It reminded me of my own romantic yearnings, as a teenager and young adult, not only to find the love of my life, a soul mate, but also a time when all of Europe seemed sophisticated and wealthy intellectuals who lived in or travelled to Europe seemed like the people that I wanted to be like.

I liked the story of Elio and Oliver, so much that I was willing to forgive the excesses of the book: it felt like both the romance and the physical expressions of romance were a fantasy, made up and not tethered to reality. Later, I learned that Aciman is a straight man, and that all the scenes of gay lovemaking were imagined, not from experience, and that made sense to me as well in that Elio and Oliver didn’t seem like gay men either: the messy business of sexuality and being in the closet and the politics of being a minority were absent. The lovers could have been straight or gay or lesbian: they really were fantastic genderless versions of human beings.

I remember my big criticism of Call Me By Your Name was a scene near the end of the book, in a restaurant, where suddenly instead of the lived experienced of the characters, they all start expounding on philosophy and literature, pages and pages of it. It bored me out of my wits. It was a preview of the faults of Find Me, where musings on love and memory substitute for an actual story.

I heard that Aciman was convinced to write a sequel, of sorts, to Call Me By Your Name, because of the success of the movie, and the desire of fans of the movie (and the book) to know what happened to the love story of Elio and Oliver, unfinished as it was. So, I can’t imagine a fan feeling anything but robbed on reading Find Me as, spoiler alert, their story only comes as the last 10 pages of 260. Seriously. I mean, if the whole point of a sequel is to follow-up on the main characters of the previous book, this is a slap in face, a mean trick, a sorry disappointment.

Instead, the book is composed roughly of two equal parts, the story of Elio’s dad, falling in love with a much younger woman on the train, and then Elio, seeming to fall in love with an older man at a concert. There is almost no plot and what plot exists is not interesting. You know how bad films can be good because at least it gives you something to talk about. It’s rare that a book frustrates me so much that I immediately think about how I’d write about it, but this is one.

It’s less a novel with a narrative than a treatise on romantic love. It’s a version of love that I imagined when I was 16 years old, and while I was a hugely romantic soul, it didn’t take me many years to come to believe that love is built and deepens; that love is likely not at first sight; that there is no one unique soulmate available for each person in the world; that it not only impossible to know someone else completely, including a partner, but that it is also not advisable. I allowed Elio his fantasies because he was a teenager. But these characters are adults, Samuel, a 50-something university professor, a 30-something year-old Elio, and the late 20s or early 30s something photographer, Miranda, Elio’s father’s love interest, and Michel, Elio’s love interest (50s or 60s even), and even Oliver, when we meet him in his early 40s.

Moreso than a rom-com version of love, what’s strange is that it seems this book is about loving oneself, or at least a number of versions of oneself. This is not the idea that we are attracted to what is different from us, or what is unknowable, or even what a romantic partner might have to teach us or challenge us. In Call Me By Your Name, Elio and Oliver were distinct. Elio was a young romantic, dramatic and erratic. Oliver was charismatic and cool, brushing off attention with an aloofness. So, how come all the characters in this book feel the same? Even when we meet Elio and Oliver at the end of the book, you have to follow the ‘Elio said’ and ‘Oliver said’ to know who has said what.

The characters in Find Me have approximate ages and names, but none are described physically (except as beautiful in each other’s eyes). They are so vague that they could be anyone. Except they are all the same. Their attractions are not limited to age (both Samuel and Elio choose partners across a large age gap) or gender (Oliver seems truly bisexual, but also apolitical and not tethered to a context where it matters what gender you are attracted to).

They really all seem to be the same person. Each character is cultured and artistic: a musician, a photographer, academics and historians. They appreciate art, music and food and can talk about them in particularly intellectual (some would say obscure) ways. They adore each other. They are verbose. Miranda tells Samuel early on, “Call it another one of my paradoxes fished out of my overfilled bag of notions.” Overfilled. Yes.

It is hard to tell which person is speaking. At least three of the five romantically involved lovers comment, after sex involving bodily fluids, that they didn’t want to wash as they hoped strangers would smell it upon them afterwards. I mean, c’mon. One person was enough. Surely all of you can’t share this same proclivity. When a theme repeats so often in fiction writing, you really start to think it’s the author talking and not the characters. And where was the editor to point out how repetitive this is (and by repetition, less convincing).

Pretty much every character says about the other, “I liked this about them”, or “I loved the way they did this thing”. It’s maddening. The old writer’s rule about showing readers what’s happening instead of telling them: it’s broken over and over, as ridiculously, every few pages, Samuel says ‘I liked the way she talked’ or some variation. Oliver about a female object of desire later: “I liked hearing her laugh”. On only the page before about a male object of desire: “I love his glistening wrists”. Elio, holding hands with Michel, tells him “I do love this.”

Narrative sloppiness aside, I just can’t buy this version of romance. Let’s review the first. An older professor, Elio’s father, meeting a beautiful young woman on a train, and within 12 hours embarking on a mad and passionate romance. Their initial dialogue as they get to know each other is simply not how people talk to each other or get to know each other. They banter and tease each other, seeming to know what each other is going to say, and then compliment each other on how much they think the same.

The fantasy here is perhaps even more unrealistic than in the previous book. Here are two cultured, artistic people who read Dostoevsky and appreciate Italian sculpture, food and wine, who within a short time decide that ‘I am yours and you are mine’ and that the highest form of romance is to tell each other their most intimate secrets and to know everything about each other, as well as to promise each other their love, forever. Samuel says about Miranda, “I loved knowing about her life. I told her I wanted to know everything.”

(Later, Elio says about Michel that he “seemed to know me … better than I did, because he must have known it from the moment he’d [first] spoken to me”. Aside from the fact that Elio eventually dumps Michel: how can we know other people so intimately, without knowing them? This to me mistakes knowledge with projection).

In the meantime, Miranda and Samuel buy coffee mugs with their initials on them from a housewares store. They decide to have children. They plan to get tattoos at the same time. Listen, I’m not exagerrating. Elio, meeting them, less than 24 hours later, remarks that he can tell his father is in love. Samuel decides that because Miranda is reading Chateaubriand that he would now be happy to read this author for the rest of his life. Are you f*ing kidding me? I can forgive romantic fantasy in a teenager, but in a 50-something university professor?

The wish fulfilment also becomes creepy here, and reminds me of the endless Hollywood films where the male directors have aging male stars as their stand-ins, who effortlessly attract nubile, beautiful 20-year-old women. In this age of #MeToo, writing the fantasy of a beautiful young woman falling completely madly and deeply for a plain, much older man, and jumping into raunchy sex within hours of meeting is uncomfortable.

Elio falling for Michel in the second part of the book is less objectionable but doesn’t make much more sense. None of the couplings face any challenges. A short mystery is inserted into the romance of Elio and Michel, which is oddly academic and requires a technical explanation of the cadenza of a sonata (and Jewish liturgical music) to unravel. About the mystery, Michel tells Elio “I love that you’ve taken such an interest” to which Elio replies “I love it too, very much.”

Even at the end of the book, any conflict is skirted over. Elio dumps Michel to be with Oliver. Oliver dumps his wife and kids. They meet and talk not of the past, or of any problems with dumping their partners, but how madly and truly they are in love with each other, in spite of having almost no contact for 20 years. Though in visions, Oliver has imagined Elio saying “We’re still the same, we haven’t drifted.” Oh, how miserable I would be if I was still the same as I was when I was 17, naive, intense and erratic, sweet but unwise about the world.

These are fantasies that I can’t buy into, about a love that never dies, about people that never change, about love at first sight, about falling in love with someone because they are basically the same person as you. “For all I want is to think of you, and sometimes I don’t know who’s the one thinking, you or I”. This is Oliver imagining what he’ll tell Elio.

The book does strive for meaning, too hard. Miranda tells Elio about Samuel, “what I love about him [again, this obsession with describing what one likes and loves] … is the way his mind twists everything, as if life were made up of meaningless scraps of paper that turn into tiny origami models the moment he starts folding them.”

But this seems like a wish more than reality. These scraps of thoughts held no structure for me. They held together long enough only for me to want to write this review of disappointment and criticism.

View all my reviews

Posted in Book, Gay Life, Review | Leave a comment