The Norfolk, Redfern

Since having moved into my new place, I have made it my self-proclaimed mission to check out every single pub in the area until I find one I can deem “the local”. Since making this claim, I of course have been to about three out of the 84,000 pubs around me, so it’s not going particularly well.

To make up for this, a few dining friends and I went to check out The Norfolk Hotel on Cleveland Street a couple of weeks back. The Norfolk is one of those pubs where somebody was probably once stabbed, where the paintwork peeled and where bouncers through punters out the door and onto the street. It is one of those pubs where some hipster thought to themselves…I can make some money out of this hell-hole, and immediately appointed an interior decorator, some attractive bar staff, a couple of decent chefs and a drink called the Tijuana Camel Toe (it’s delicious).

A few beers (and camel toes) into our night, our stomachs made note of the fact that we had been drowning them in alcohol without so much as a stick of grissini to balance it out. We swiftly approached the bar, ordering a duck, a fish, a chicken and a beef taco (4 for $20), “salt n pepa” squid with jalapeno mayo ($14), a beef burger ($18.50) and a deceptively spicy “Chickn” Burger ($17).

Chickn Burger

We later worked out that the Chickn Burger had on it sriracha mayo, which we appeared to have missed in our menu selection. DF1, being a spice-sissy, regretted this decision immediately and swiftly went to gather as many glasses of water as would fit in his hands. Otherwise, he said the chicken was reasonably juicy and the bun was brioche-y. The chips, he said, were crunchy, but did look like they’d come out of a McCain’s packet. No picture of the beef burger, but the two did essentially look precisely the same (and probably could have been, given the number of beers we had consumed). DF2 said “good…nothing special” after wolfing it down.

Beef and duck tacos

The tacos were light, fresh, flavourful bites enveloped in a chewy tortilla of deliciousness. Both meats were tender and well marinated. The duck taco came with tart orange and surprisingly delicious cabbage slaw (for a girl that does NOT like cabbage). The accompanying wedge of lime added a delicious, fresh twang.

Salt N Pepa squid with jalapeno mayo

The Salt N Pepa squid was great. The squid was cooked perfectly – a light crispness on the outside, and perfectly cooked, non-stringy squid on the inside. The jalapeno mayo had a very decent kick, but not so much that it wasn’t enjoyable. The wedges of lime cut through the creamy sauce and everything was brought together beautifully.

I’m a fan of the Norfolk Hotel, not just for its crazy-named drinks. I like their fresh, no frills fare. I like the fact that their kitchen copes pretty well and produces pretty decent, cheapish food for what seems to be a pretty hectic affair. I think I have actually found myself a good, ol’ local.

The Norfolk Hotel
305 Cleveland Street
Redfern NSW 2010

The Norfolk on Urbanspoon

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La Brasserie, Darlinghurst

Feeling a little French the other day – ooh la la, oui oui, baguette, merci etc – I felt that given that this was the extent of my understanding of the great culture, I should probably get myself on down to something that was actually, really, Francais.

And oh it was. The waiters were French, the dishes were French, the music was French, the whole thing was so very deliciously, delightfully French. I’m talking about La Brasserie in Darlinghurst.

Having not ever been to a French restaurant, I (pretty easily) convinced DF to come on a culinary adventure of delicious wonderment last Saturday night.

Starting off with two warm, crusty complimentary rolls served with slightly salted, chilled butter our eyes glazed over with joyful anticipation at the delicious items on the menu. There was escargot (obviously), chicken liver parfait, duck neck sausage, goats cheese, steak frites, steak tartare, veal loin and oxtail. We ended up going with an entree of Soupe a l’oignon gratine (French onion soup, to the rest of us) ($18) and a Souffle au Fromage (Cheese souffle) ($16).

French onion soup with grantine potatoes

I’m constantly impressed with how the French managed to make onions into something I actually want to eat. A whole bowl-full, in fact. The soup was sweet, the potatoes were fluffy and you can’t really go wrong with a big smack of cheese to cover it all off.

Cheese souffle

My cheese souffle was similarly fantastic. It was a textural delight to eat this dish, it really was. Once the spoon crunched through the crispy, parmesan-y outer layer, there was a beautifully light, airy, lightly cheesy souffle and then deep down within, were some sweet, caramelly, mushy onions all surrounded by a deep, creamy, intensely cheesy almost-bechemal sauce.

We ploughed on in to the main courses: the pan roasted pork fillet ($32) and the confit duck leg ($33).

Pan roasted pork fillet with forest mushrooms and gnocchi

DF eagerly cut into what was a very reasonable-sized serving of pork. He noted that the pork itself was every so slightly on the dry side, but that it went very well with the field mushrooms and “sweetish glaze” that together it didn’t taste dry at all. At one point I did launch my fork across the table, catching DF unawares and hooking a hunk of pork on my fork. The edge was crisp and caramelly and the meat was flavourful as well, but I agree with the sliiiiiiight dryness without sauce.

Crisp confit duck leg with carrot cumin puree, orange glazed Belgium endive and sauce Bigarade

That picture came out significantly less clear than anticipated. But the duck was mind blowing. The skin – as described – was super thin and super crisp. The meat was so tender and juicy and fell off the bone with the slightest of touches. The puree was silky, sweet and delicately spiced with cumin. And the sauce added a further balsamic-y sweetness. I quickly worked out that I am in no way a fan of Belgium endive. Its bitter aftertaste was definitely not my cup of tea. It went surprisingly well with the sweetness of the sauce and puree, but I still couldn’t really get past it.

Once again ignoring our protesting waistlines, we skipped right on over to dessert. We had been contemplating strolling across to the newest trend in dessert gustation, Gelato Messina, but as the night grew cold and as our expanding waistlines made it more difficult to move, we settled in for the third course. DF opted for the Fondant au Chocolat, while I went for the Baba bouchon (both $15).

Chocolate fondant with coffee foam and pistachio icecream

The chocolate fondant came out deliciously messy. We were almost confused that it was some form of saucy mess, but then realised that it was a tasty, light coffee foam, under which sat the rich, molten chocolate fondant. DF said that the cute cup of pistachio ice cream was a very nice contrast to the warm, gooey mess to the right.

Rum soaked cake with passionfruit poached pear and passionfruit banana sorbet

My baba bouchon came out, a cute little cake complete with a gorgeous, fragrant poached pear and a sphere of sorbet. The cake was almost brioche-y, but dryness was nicely compensated for with a delicious, but not overpowering rum syrup. The pear could have been poached for just a little longer – sometimes it took a bit of effort to slice through with the fork and spoon I was given – but was sweet and light, all the same. The quinnelle of cream was probably unnecessary, but the passionfruit banana sorbet was nice to add some tart freshness to the dessert.

La Brasserie was a delightful way to spend a cold winter eve. The restaurant was popular and bustling, the service fairly attentive, the meals warm and inviting and the lighting dim and romantic. I’ll be back when I start saying “oui oui” again…

La Brasserie
118 Crown Street
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010

La Brasserie on Urbanspoon

You do win friends with salad

The Simpsons once claimed that you don’t win friends with salad . Well, Simpsons, I claim to the contrary. I made this salad for a picnic party a number of moons ago and everyone went wild with delight. They could, of course, have been going wild for the cute boy that walked past or the fact that a dog ran through our picnic and almost took with it the very salad in question. But the point still stands – that salad was all people were talking about.

Anyway, today’s saladacious delight is a haloumi, pear and walnut salad. This salad takes approximately 8 minutes to make and approximately 2 minutes to enjoy. (Did somebody just steal my salad? How is it gone so quickly?) That’s 10 minutes. Efficiency in a salad. I don’t know who it was, but at some point over the last 5 years, someone was like “holy sh*t, haloumi!”. This line has since spread like wildfire because I have never met a non-dairy-intolerant person who has said “man, haloumi sucks”.

Step one: it tastes a bit nutty (no, not that sort of nutty). Heat a fry pan on high, with no oil. Tip a handful of nuts – I find walnuts works the best. They have a relatively strong, nutty taste which seems to tie in well with the smack of freshness from the pear and the “rubbery” salty haloumi. This time in particular I used toasted almonds. Not bad, I quite like the aroma of almonds, but I felt their taste was a little too subtle. Once toasted and a bit golden, take off the heat and set aside.

It’s a bit nutty

Step two: you’re so cheesey. Chop up a block of haloumi (last time, I just bought one of those blocks in the cheese section, nothing special) into decent sized squares (say, 2cm by 1cm?). Heat some olive oil in the frying pan on a fairly high heat, tip in your cheese, and wait for golden, delectable scents to waft your way. Check after, say, 30 seconds and flip. The idea is to get the sides of your haloumi crunchy, golden and delicious while the middle is oozy and warm. Cooks pretty quickly, so check frequently. Take off the heat when done.

Delectable, golden, crispy, oozy chunks of salty goodness

Step three: eat your greens. While the haloumi is cooking (or after…I actually get really stressed about having to watch the haloumi. Someone could be choking in the background, and I wouldn’t be able to help them). Slice a beautifully, fragrant, ripe pear into slices or chunks – however you like it, and however you like to eat it. Wash a few good handfuls of delicious, peppery rocket as well.

Step four: sir mixalot. In a large bowl, with not a whole lot of delicacy, tip ’em all in. Combine the beautiful toasted almonds, the crunchy and warm haloumi and the fresh, ripe pear and sharp rocket leaves. I like to pour a decent swig of a lemon olive oil (or just regular olive oil and a nice squeeze of lemon, with a shaving of lemon zest). Rattle everything around so they’re all good friends and eat quickly!

Mix it up

Ecabar, Darlinghurst

‘Twas an excited party of diners (DFs) last Saturday morn, awake with long-weekend-excitements since it broke dawn. To the snow we were headed for adventures a-plenty, and it was….going to be epic. (What even rhymes with a-plenty?)

Anyway. Facing a five hour drive, we had to divert the hunger that had been a-brewing by mid-morning. Our party of six did this by heading on over to Ecabar in Darlinghurst.

We started off with a couple of chai lattes, a flat white, a latte and an orange juice. The juice conversation had gone something like this:

One of the DFs: “could I please see the juice menu?”
The waiter: “Sure, it’s orange, carrot, apple, pineapple…etc, etc, etc”
One of the DFs: “uhh, so…early…to…be…making…decisions…orange”

My chai – if you remember from my Tripod Cafe review, I admitted my snobbish ways with the great drink of chai. I’m going to have to say that I didn’t love this one. It was very…white. It sort of tasted like warm milk with a jar of cinnamon waved in the general vicinity with a decent stack of sugar lumped in afterwards. No complaints from the coffee drinkers though.

I can confirm the presence of cinnamon

Next up, I painfully made everyone wait to dig in while I photographed their brunches. We had perused the menu for a decent while and I noticed that a number of the more interesting dishes on their website were not on the menu. We settled on an eggs benedict with smoked ham ($15.50),

Eggs benny

a ham, cheese, tomato and dijon mustard toastie ($8.50),

So arty with the shadows and the triangles and stuff

a….toast with vegemite (lame! $5) and three dukkah spiced eggs ($15)

Dukkah spiced eggs

The toast was as you’d expect it. Toast. Two pieces of it. With a smack of vegemite and butter.

The dukkah spiced eggs…Ecabar seemed to take the same approach to this one as they did with their chai: not actually flavouring the main ingredient with spices, but rather, waving spices over the main ingredient’s general vicinity. Here, I guess I was expecting some form of eggs baked in a terracotta pot with deep, spicy, flavourful dukkah throughout a rich tomato-y sauce as opposed to two largely vinegary poached eggs with a sprinkle of the spice dumped on top (oh, and an artsy line across another part of the plate). I was also expecting a little more effort from the avocado/hummus mix underneath the eggs rather than literally avocado smashed up and mixed with hummus. It was as described, I guess, but at the same time, I was probably expecting more than a little bit of toast, a smoosh of avocado and two vinegary eggs for 15 bucks.

No complaints from the other parties (how wrong can you really go with toast?), though the eggs benedict looked like it had been sitting around for a good 5 minutes and had developed that custardy skin on the top.

Ecabar…I probably won’t be back. We want our brunches full of excitement – deep flavours, warming undertones, surprising freshness. Or at least comfort. Big, warming bowls of comfort. Not flat, boring, small, un-innovative serves of blandness. Sorry, Ecabar…

Ecabar Cafe and Wine Bar
2/128 Darlinghurst Road
Darlinghurst NSW 2010

Ecabar Cafe and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Telling porkies

Now, I’m not usually one to re-post other recipes but I have just finished wolfing down what is one of the most delicious dishes I’ve cooked in a while and had to share.

For my first ever attempt at cooking pork belly (yes, yes, pork belly is apparently the only cut of meat to eat these days), I utilised the sacrilicious crisp pork belly with caramel vinegar recipe of Bill Granger. Thanks, Bill.

Step one on your journey to ingestible heaven: start telling porkies. I used a 400gm piece of pork belly (try and get the end of the belly that has slightly less fat on it. The skin will still be shatteringly crisp, and you won’t be downing what seems like the fat of one thousand animals). Score the skin (stop before you hit the meat itself) at about 1cm intervals (this will also help when you’re slicing the pork later on) and then rub a good few teaspoons of salt all over the skin. Leave for 30 mins.

I hear tattoo artists practice on this sorta thing

Step two: it’s roasting time. Set your oven to 220 degrees (fan forced). Wipe the salt off the pork skin and dry well, with kitchen paper. Lightly oil a tray and place the pork skin side down – don’t worry, I too was sceptical that this would result in a limp, juicy skin as opposed to the crisp, crackly, airy delight I was expecting. Whack in the oven for 30 mins. Turn the oven down to 190 degrees and continue baking for a further 30 mins. At this point, turn the pork over so the skin is facing up and roast for a further 20 mins or until the skin is crackly. Take out of the oven and let it hang out for around 20 mins.

Sorry, I think you’ll find that I’ve drooled to the left

Step three: this gives you just enough time to steam some rice and make a delectably sweet, saucy caramel syrup to accompany (oh.. and veggies if you really must). In a saucepan, pile in 1/2 cup of brown sugar along with 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, a cinnamon stick and 2 star anise, and boil on high for about 5 mins until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has evaporated to be slick and syrupy. Pour in about 1/2 cup of chicken stock and the juice of an orange and – same process again – reduce until deliciously thick. I slipped in a few slices of a long red chilli right at the end to add a bit of colour and a smack of freshness.

Slick…syrupy…spicy…yummmmm

Step four: 2, 4, 6, 8 – dig in, don’t wait. Slice your deliciously-rested and juicy pork and place atop a mound of rice. Drizzle with the syrup, discarding the cinnamon and star anise, of course! Eat ravenously.

Can’t…..wait…..any……longer

Well, I never claimed it was good for you, but it is delicious for you.