Monday, July 9, 2012

Tomislav, Darlinghurst - My surprise (pre) birthday lunch, and my birthday weekend.

     The one time of the year I look forward to being spoilt. We forgo the presents on our birthdays in exchange for a nice meal out for the two of us. It's usually a surprise but my bad habit of asking too many questions usually means I half ruin it. Ryan did a very good job of keeping it from me this year right until we were almost on the doorstep. As soon as I walked past the famous Coca Cola sign of Kings Cross/Darlinghurst I kinda knew where we were going. Tomislav has been on my hit list for a while now and I know I've reminded Ryan about it recently.

     It's a very cosy little restaurant, we both actually thought it would have been bigger. The open kitchen allows you to see and hear all the action while you wait for your dishes. It was a quite Friday that day, only us and another table of two.

Nv Champagne Agrapart Terroirs Blanc De Blanc, Avize, France
     Because it's my birthday! Ryan also has a glass of red, I'm too busy with my bubbles so don't take a pic but I do get a taste of it. Can't remember what he ordered though.

RICE CRACKERS sour cream & chives
    The rice crackers are light and crispy and we both enjoy munching on them - much too quickly though. The sour cream is made in house and has a nice, smooth almost velvety texture to it and is quite nice to eat. Once the crackers are gone, Ryan happily picks up the spoon to scoop it from the dish. This appetiser has our appetites hungry for more.

The butter is churned in house and is super smooth. It has an almost nutty hint to it.

     The sourdough bread is bought from Iggy's. We pick up that there is an almost coffee like aroma to it. Goes very nicely with the butter.

First Course: VENISON TARTARE, quail yolk, mint crumbs
     Ryan chose this dish as he loves a good tartare and is always keen on having venison if it's on the menu. Though the menu says mint crumbs I can't remember tasting it in the small mouthfuls that I got to try. I do remember our waitress say wasabi crumbs. The tartare is served with some thin fried wafers of bread to add a bit of contrasting crunch against the rich quail yolk.

First Course: SCAMPI CARPACCIO, sour cream, pumpkin juice
     I chose this for something a little 'different'. The pumpkin juice was poured table side from a small test tube. The scampi flesh was firm and coriander herb crust added fresh flavours to the dish.

Second Course: GRILLED BLACKMORE’S TONGUE, beetroot, malt ice cream
     Ryan has developed a love for tongue so couldn't go past this dish too when he saw it on the menu. The thin slices of tongue are just so soft and tender, you wouldn't really think that you're eating tongue. The malt ice cream was definitely an interesting accompaniment that we didn't expect to see on a savoury dish but it worked.

Second Course: POACHED HEN’S YOLK, foie gras, green peas
     In another attempt to be different, I ordered the poached hen's yolk. This was definitely a surprise on a plate.  I began by tasting each element by itself and then eating it all together. The freeze dried foie gras crumble was crispy, but yet dissolved and was creamy and smooth on your tongue. Not exactly the sensation I usually expect when eating foie gras. The peas, well the peas were peas but I never would have thought they'd be so delicious to eat. The star of the dish is of course the egg yolk which I thoroughly enjoyed piercing to release the oozy runny middle which binded the other two elements together. I seriously wanted to pick up my plate and lick it clean.

Third course: ROAST VEAL SWEETBREAD, purple onions, popcorn milk
     Ryan seems to enjoy sweetbread too, so luckily for him it was also on the menu. Even after a forced mouthful I couldn't quite accept the idea of myself eating an animal's pancreas. Yes it was cooked to perfection but the taste was just a little too 'offal' for me. What was interesting was that popcorn milk, the flavour was only subtle but paired well with the caramelised skin of the sweetbreads.

Triple cooked chips.
    This isn't on the menu but our waitress mentions it and as soon as I heard those three words, I immediately said 'YES'. Potato chips make me go weak at the knees, and who can resists TRIPLE cooked chips? Unfortunately they were not as crunchy as we had hoped them to be so were a little disappointed.

Third Course: ROAST LAMB BELLY, wasabi, grilled pineapple
     Pork belly is a pretty standard favourite but I was keen to find out what lamb belly would be like. It was just like eating pork belly, but it was lamb. The lamb was cooked until it was soft and tender and there was a nice thin crackling on top. I've never really associated lamb meat with crackling before. The pineapple and wasabi together with the lamb was an interesting combination, which left me wanting to lick this plate clean too. I actually felt a little excited and disappointed at the same time at this point. Excited to know that the next course was dessert, my favourite part, but also disappointed that after such a fun dining experience it was coming to an end.

Fourth Course, dessert: MILK CHOCOLATE CREAM CAKE, mint, smoked banana ice cream
     Ryan was about to order the cheese option but his sweet tooth got the better of him. The cake was so nice and soft and not overly rich for a chocolate dessert and we wished there was more of the smoked banana ice cream.

VANILLA CHEESECAKE, apple ice, roast apple ice cream
     I was disappointed the apple crumble was no longer on the menu but was keen to see how Tomislav would serve up a cheesecake. There were 3 textures of cheese cake in this dish, with a set cheesecake in the middle, a soft velvety cheesecake mixture encasing it and then there are the cheesecake jelly cubes on top. The apple ice balanced the richness of the cheese cake and the caramelised apple slices added sweetness.

      Oh dear, after just one glass of bubbles my cheeks almost match the colour of my top! I really enjoyed my birthday surprise this year. It's not the type of food experience for everyone but Ryan and I really enjoyed it and appreciate all the work that went into the dishes, letting us experience food outside of the square. Hope that we get a chance to revisit soon.
     This was only part one to my three day weekend of feasting for my birthday. I hadn't initially planned for it that way but it just happened like that. Later that night we headed to Westfield Sydney for fellow June baby Ms Belly Rumbles' birthday dinner at Xanthi. We had a 10 course feast which sent me into a huge food coma by the end of the night, that along with the fact that Ryan and I had been in the city walking around all day.
     The next day kicked off with brunch at one of Ryan's local cafes Zenja and then dinner with friends at La Casa and then on my actual birthday Ryan took my slightly hungover self to a lovely little authentically French Cafe, Sel et Poivre in Darlinghurst for lunch. He knew how much I missed Paris and since he couldn't take me back for my birthday, he brought Paris to me. It was then back home for a nap before heading out to dinner with all of my cousins for a combined birthday at Silvas where another big banquet was had. By breakfast the next day at work I really didn't feel like eating anything at all!

Just part of the 10 course feast we had at Xanthi for Ms Belly Rumbles' birthday.

Brunch with Ryan at Zenja Cafe, Strathfield.

Dinner with friends at La Casa.

Suprise lunch at Sel et Poivre.

Dinner at Silvas to celebrate a combined birthday with all the cousins.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Strawberry Fields Patisserie, Dulwich Hill (and reminiscing on my food journey into adulthood).

    In the 20 years that I've lived in Dulwich Hill, there have been many changes to this humble little neighbourhood. It's actually quite scary to realise that much time has passed by since our family moved here and that I am now a child of yesteryear. Funny thing is it's only now that the memories which have shaped my love for food are flooding back to me, ever since I sat down to brunch with a fellow food blogger at this new addition to the growing food scene in my little neighbourhood.
       I remember the discovery of devon and tomato sauce sandwiches from the school canteen during my primary school days. I spied some little rolls in the window of a small Portuguese bakery on the main strip of Marrickville Road on the way home one day and knew that they were the exact ones that the canteen ladies used to make these sandwiches. With my pocket money I'd stop and buy half a dozen of these milk buns for something ridiculously cheap like a dollar or something close to that. I'd then go up to the supermarket, back then it was either Jewels or Franklins, and buy a small roll of devon. Tomato sauce and butter were fridge staples at home which didn't cost me anything. At that time I thought they were the one of the best things I'd ever eaten.

      My mum's knowledge of non Vietnamese/Asian food back then was not as broad as it is now so I infrequently ate anything that was not Vietnamese, or did not come out of a bakery (my parents owned a bakery up until when my sister was born) or a certain fast food chain. Pizzas, kebabs and fast food seemed to be the extent of non Vietnamese food in our household. Eating from the school canteen was an absolute treat for me because it introduced me to all sorts of weird and wonderful (to me) foods - baked potato with sour cream and chives (explains my addiction for potatoes), non Asian soups, chicken and mayo rolls, chicken and corn rolls, pizza pockets, lasagne and so much more.
      High school introduced me to hot chips and gravy, and chicken schnitzels, and charcoal chicken (yes, very deprived childhood). There were 3 charcoal chicken places in Dulwich Hill from what I remember but our favourite was the one next door to the pub. They had the best charcoal chicken there and did super sized serves of chips with some damn good gravy.

     As I've gotten older, my knowledge of food has broadened and so my palate has also evolved over time too. I guess this is the same case with my little neighbourhood of Dulwich Hill, and we're just talking about the main shopping strip here. There's a new little providore/specialised fine food store I frequently visit to pick up cheeses and and terrines and pates, and products which I generally can't find in the supermarket. The Larder Epicerie fine is the best thing that opened up for me. Of course I can't forget the little deli across the road which has been there from the beginning but there was one time in my life I would not have stepped foot in there.
     There are now so many cafes which have popped up over the last few years and I have not even visited them all (well, not that I need to when I can make my own breakfast/lunch at home from the great ingredients I can buy close by).      
     While I was online searching for something a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across some information telling me that there was a new patisserie in town. They've been open for a few months now and it has taken me this long to discover it. The shop front does not face the main road so I was really confused when I read the address for the first time trying to picture in my mind where it was exactly and why I had not noticed it. The photos on the website were the draw card for me and I scheduled in a date to go check it out asap - my crazy sweet tooth was just salivating thinking of all the great cakes and pastries awaiting me to try
     Faye Cahill Cake Designs actually occupied this space previously before she moved to Marrickville (also discovered by chance when I randomly changed my walking path), so it was a perfect platform for this patisserie. It has more width than depth, half to two thirds of the space is used for the kitchen and the rest of the space is the store front. The large windows let you have a glimpse into the workings of the kitchen which is great. There are a small number of tables and chairs out the front which filled up quickly when lunch peak hit. A blackboard sign on the footpath assures you that everything is baked on premises, and tells you to 'like' their facebook page for news and specials.

      If you havn't noticed from the logo, you'll notice from the photos on the wall and the menu where some items are named after the band members that this place has a bit of a thing for The Beatles. They're even running a promotion this weekend - free coffee for anyone who comes in wearing a Beatles t-shirt.
       The cabinet was full of so many good looking things it was hard to pick. If we had the stomach room (or more people to share food with) we would have definitely gone for one of everything. There's small selection of savouries - 3 varieties in 3 different flavours of for each type. Sausage rolls - Traditional (beef), Australian (lamb and rosemary), or English (pork, fennel and sage). Quiches - pumpkin feta and leek, lorraine, or smoked trout and dill. Scrolls - Spinach and feta (Paul), bacon and egg (John), and a third one that was scratched off the menu was salami, olive and cheese (Ringo).
      There were a lot of sweet options which made choosing even harder. Fruit tarts, croissants, pastries, mousse cakes, different individual cakes, macarons, brownies. The selection of baked goodies does change from day to day and week to week but it looks like favourites are menu staples.

T2 Earl Grey Tea.
     A few girly squeals came from both of us when my tea came out. Such a cute tea cup and saucer and the milk is served in an adorable little glass bottle.

Small Cappuccino. Double Shot Flat White.
     Helen ordered a small cappuccino double shot flat white, though she wished she ordered a large after reading the menu again. The large sized hot beverages are served in a French style bowl!

English Sausage Roll - Pork, Fennel and Sage.
     The pastry was buttery and flaky just how it should be. The filling was well seasoned though a little heavy on the sage for me.

Quiche - Smoked Trout and Dill.
     I really enjoyed this quiche. The filling was nice and creamy and not too overly eggy. Smoked trout and dill was a great flavour match and the pastry was just right.

Scroll - Bacon and Egg (The John).
     Who can resist the sight of that egg yolk waiting to be pierced. Helen declared this her favourite, I couldn't decide between this and the quiche which I liked better so I deem them both my favourites. The caramelised onion added a nice sweet contrast to the savoury bacon.

Gooey egg yolk!
     The runny egg yolk added another flavour and texture to the scroll, ingenious! They have managed to bake the scroll and then added the egg and baked that to a point where it stayed soft in the middle.

French Apple Tart.
     After our savouries we were pining for more as our stomachs were not satisfied yet and were hanging for some sweet treats. We went with a few classics starting with the apple tart. The pastry base was perfect, filled with an almond paste like that of a frangipane tart. We were both a little disappointed with the apple topping. The slices of apple were very thin and when eaten together with the pastry and filling you couldn't really taste them.

Strawberry Fields Forever - Strawberry Tart.
    Their signature. And it just looked so enticing sitting on that top shelf. Plump red glazed strawberries calling out to you. We were lucky to nab the last one as these seemed to have walked out the door while we were enjoying our first round. I enjoyed this one more than the apple tart though wish there was more tart to strawberry ratio. A little thin for me. The pastry and crème patissiere were nice but I wanted more to eat with my strawberries.
Almond Croissant.
     Both of us were expecting to see an actual croissant filled with some almond cream which brought up the discussion of what a real almond croissant is. The almond croissants I grew up with were what mum made in our bakery - actual croissants filled with an almond flavoured creme patissiere, topped with almonds and icing sugar. The one I recently had from Brasserie Bread was also similar though it was filled with an almond paste. I told Helen that when I had one in Paris it was similar to this one that we were having so we agreed that this must be the real deal.

Almond Croissant Innards.
     So what is the real deal? An almond croissant is not in fact anything like a regular croissant at all. It is actually a pastry made of almond meal instead of regular flour which gives it an almost cake like consistency. The dough is then rolled into layers then covered in almonds and baked. This one came with a chocolate filling which was a nice pairing with the almond. The thin edges caramelise and crisp up giving you some nice crunchy bits to bite into, Helen thoroughly enjoyed this part the most.

Macarons - Hazelnut, and Peanut Butter.
      I couldn't resist walking away without trying some of the macarons. For $2.90 they were a little steep I thought but they were larger in size compared to the ones I've had. The hazelnut macaron actually had a surprise whole hazelnut in the middle. The peanut butter macaron was filled with a chocolate ganache and a peanut butter middle.

Macaron Innard.
     I am a massive macaron snob, I'll admit that. I expect perfection when I bite into a macaron which means I am always disappointed when the macarons I bake at home don't hit perfection. I bit in with not too much expectation as there are not many good places that can dish out a perfect macaron in Sydney. My first bite was returned with a pleasant surprise. The shell was not too thick and not too thin giving way to a soft but yet firm and chewy biscuit. The filling to biscuit ratio was a perfect balance so it wasn't overly sweet.
   I am now happy that I don't have to go all the way into the city for macarons. The Baroque/La Renaissance macarons will always be my favourite but location is not exactly convenient for me. Now I only have to walk up the road :)
     ***Edit: I actually thought they were MakMak macarons when I first spotted them but the sign that said 'everything baked fresh on site' made me give them benefit of the doubt. I have since then discovered that my gut instinct was right and that they do buy in their macarons from MakMak. Nothing wrong with that though as the MakMak macarons are quite good and now I have a local suppler :).***

Plain Croissant.
    Knowing the boy's weakness, I bought a plain croissant for Ryan. I had to have a small taster too of course. Moist, buttery, and flaky. It was good enough to be on our top rank of croissants in Sydney, and there aren't that many on that list ;).

     Strawberry Fields is the second best thing that has opened up for me in Dulwich Hill, though just like my number one place I have to be mindful of how frequent I visit. All the indulgent treats will catch up with me if I don't be careful and totally give in to gluttony. It's been hard enough trying to keep the winter weight off before this discovery. Maybe a once a month treat. And I've just realised I now have a little slice of Paris on my doorstep ;)

Do you have any fond memories of early food experiences in your life?

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