Friday, September 12, 2014

The Big Three-Oh Birthday Celebrations including Balla, Four In Hand, La Casa, Shangri La, The Deck...

      So the festival of Angie came around again in June... this year I celebrated the big THREE-OH! My birthday fell on a Tuesday but festivities started the Friday on the weekend before it. Ryan surprised me with dinner at Balla (at The Star), one of our favourite Italian restaurants. I was actually hoping for Tetsuya's this year but aapparently Tetsuya's is to be saved for a much grander occasion to celebrate he says... 30 isn't grand enough to celebrate??
      I love it when restaurants serve complimentary bread and butter or olive oil. I could live on good bread and butter, though olive oil might be a bit better for my health.

      We started with a selection of Salumi, we chose the pancetta and the bresaola which came with a couple of bread sticks. The thin slivers of cured pork fat on the pancetta absolutely melts in your mouth, it's something that is a bit of a guilty pleasure when we get the chance to dine at Balla.

      For entree, we chose (or more like I persuaded Ryan to agree with me) the crispy polenta. Not as crispy as I had hoped, but still tasty. The pickled cabbage helped to cut through the richness of the cheesy polenta.

      For his main, Ryan chose the beef. It was cooked and seasoned well, the beef melted in your mouth and the mushroom ragu was a perfect match for it.

      I decided to have something I don't usually order and chose the Yamba prawns which come butterflied and have a lovely smokey taste to them from the grill. A cabbage salad with orange dressing complements the prawns well, even Ryan was picking up the shells and sucking out the flesh and he usually doesn't like prawns in the shell.

      We decided to also order a side of the green beans, which were absolutely delicious. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, who knew beans could be so good!

      I was happy to skip dessert, but Ryan let me talk myself into having a look at the menu. Though to be honest I am not the most impressed when it comes to the dessert menu at Balla. As I'd never actually tried any of the desserts I thought we could share the tasting platter - sneaky Ryan had it planned all along. The little miniature desserts were cute but nothing to write home about unfortunately. I think I enjoyed the gelato the most. I will stick to the savouries at Balla.

Not quite yet officially 30 but already celebrating, the first of many birthday 'cakes'.

      I already knew what I wanted for my big 30th birthday dinner way back in January... After watching a whole suckling pig being carved up at a 1st birthday party in the family I thought that turning 30 warranted a suckling pig to celebrate too. I did some research on which places served up whole roast pigs and Four In Hand was at the top of the list of being the best in town. As there was only one private dining room I thought that the earlier I secured my booking, the better. Four In Hand have since renovated though so they now have two private rooms for exclusive use.

      As much as my birthday was about me turning 30, I wanted to treat those nearest and dearest to me.

      I thought that canapes would be a great way to start the party while everyone arrives and people could mingle before we sit down for the main event. There was a choice of 8 items on the canape menu which are based around the restaurant's main entree menu. I chose 4 items per person which were: Corned Beef with Nashi Pear and Buffalo Curd, Chicken Wing and Liver Parfait on Crisp Tortilla, Braised Beef Brisket with Chard and Smoked Potato Mayo and Black Pudding and Bacon.
The entrees were all absolutely delicious, everyone commented on how good they were, I couldn't wait for the suckling pig to come out.

      Once everyone had arrived we were asked to take our seats and not long after we were served a surprise amuse bouche of a seafood soup of some kind - this was completely unexpected and a nice gesture from the restaurant. I can't remember exactly what it was but I do remember it was a seafood base which meant that unfortunately a couple of my friends could not eat it.

      Amuse Bouch from the Kitchen. The soup had a lovely depth of flavour and was quite complex.

      I knew that I wouldn't be able to take photos of everything so 'hired' my wonderful food blogger friend Simon of The Heart of Food to take photos at the birthday dinner. I mean, who would be better suited to take photos of food than a food blogger? Of course I wanted photos of people too, and I didn't want to give that responsibility to any of my friends as I wanted them to enjoy the night. Simon wasn't banished to the corner of the room for the whole night though ;)

Cheers! To good food and good friends :)

      Ryan helped me choose a lovely white wine for the night - a Sauvignon from France 'Chateau du Cros'. I entrusted the choice of red wine to the Sommelier and also chose a French cider for the night. I didn't get to try the red or the cider but it looks like everyone enjoyed a glass or two of something with their food. My glass of white seemed to be bottomless that night ;)

Hi, Babe!

Photo of an Asian, taking a photo of food ;)

I'm sorry but I don't make friends with vegetarians...

Give me some of that butt cheek.

      The whole suckling pig is served with a selection of sides, including Colin's famous Irish style mashed potato - Colcannon.

Roasted brussel sprouts.

Roasted carrots.

Pickled Cabbage... I think, can't remember.

Cabbage salad, apple and vanilla puree.

I think this was horshradish?


Of course I was going to take a photo of my food.

Simon's beautiful plate.

Time for cake!

      I left Ryan in charge of my birthday cake. He kept it a surprise and I was able to not ruin my surprise this time. We got to try the lovely Zen cake from Black Star Pastry.

      After all that food it was a struggle to finish my piece of cake. I forced myself to though as I didn't want it to go to waste. The Zen cake is actually a very rich and dense cake, you don't need a huge serving of this at all. I loved the layers of pistachio, lemon and white chocolate.

     I made a little thank you gift to all my friends for celebrating with me - lychee & rose cake pops. I also left all the spare pops behind for the staff.

      Thank you to the lovely Angelique for looking after us! Though we had the private dining room all to ourselves which meant we had dedicated wait staff, they were attentive without being too intrusive and looked after us very well. It was also very easy dealing with the restaurant manager Oliver via email throughout the whole process from booking the room to finalising the menu. And the food, I could not fault anything at all. I'm keen to go back and have dinner some time. Some of us were a little disappointed though that Colin Fassnidge was in Ireland at the time.

      Sunday was time to celebrate with family. We were originally going to do a bbq and get everyone to chip in. My cousin suggested a meat & veg kind of dinner with lamb cutlets which I thought would be a little pricey and also time consuming to cook. I ended up roasting two lamb legs, spiked with prosciutto and sage, and got my couins to help make some mash potato. Also roasted some pumpkin and steamed some beans and broccoli.

      I bought a chocolate mud cake from Strawberry Fields Patisserie to share a triple birthday celebration with one of my cousin's and another cousin's husband. We served up the mudcake with some vanilla ice cream.

      It's my birthday! I couldn't take my birthday off work because I had a whole day of training. They did let me out for a cake break though :) Also received some flowers from fellow admin colleagues.

      Ryan took me out for dinner again on my actual birthday. As it was mid week he wanted a casual low key dinner and took me back to another one of our favourite Italian places, La Casa which is in Drummoyne. This is the first time we'd revisited since the change of owners though. After perusing the menu we decided to start with a serve of bruchetta to share.

A glass of moscato each to celebrate me being officially 30.

      It was a cold winter's night which called for beef cheeks. A little on the tough side I thought and definitely not as good as I remember it.

      And Ryan felt like pasta, fettucine with mushroom ragu. We both agreed that the pasta was unfortunately a bit on the bland side, we kept adding parmesan and chilli oil to help boost it.

      A birthday is not a birthday without dessert! Ryan went with the panna cotta, I think he actually has a bit of a soft spot for vanilla panna cotta.

      I am a sucker for ricotta cannoli and really like the ones that La Casa makes and the cannoli isn't exactly the same as anymore. It wasn't bad though but La Casa's cannoli used to be my favourite. It's a shame that this experience at La Casa was a bit underwhelming, I really hope it was just an 'off day'.

Birthday Cannoli!

      A friend from work wanted to make Magnolia Bakery's banana pudding for me to try since I didn't get to try it when visiting the bakery on my trip to New York this year. Since there was too much cake and eating going on the week of my birthday, it was saved for the week after which meant that birthday celebrations continued!

      ... and continued! A couple of weeks after my birthday I was at the Shangri La with a couple of friends whom won a high tea session from Anna Polyviou's Dessert Degustation with Adriano Zumbo. Ryan had actually tried to contact Anna about making me a birthday cake but she missed his messages and felt so bad that she surprised me with a cake when she came out to meet us.

      And the week after that I went to lunch with my admin colleagues and bosses since one of them had been travelling. We went down to The Deck restaurant at Luna Park overlooking the harbour. It was a lovely break from work though the food was nothing to write home about unfortunately.

      And just when I thought that was the end of it... We went out for dinner a couple of weeks ago to The Little Snail in Pyrmont using a gift voucher that I received for my birthday from our friends Celine and Jessica. Had a lovely midweek night out with Ryan dining on one of our favourite cuisines. Glad we got to try this place because we will definitely return.

      The biggest birthday gift that keeps on giving would be the two gift vouchers for cooking classes at the Paris International Cooking School which I received from my dear good friend Diana. I recently completed a term of 8 weeks (one night a week) of the French Patisserie cooking class. I still have one voucher left to use but will go back next year. Havn't decided if I want to do a sweet course again or try my hand at savoury cooking.

      What a way to start my 30th year... definitely something worth celebrating! Thank you to all my family and friends and colleagues for celebrating this milestone with me.