Après, Potts Point

I recently celebrated my 21st birthday by having dinner with family and close friends at Après restaurant in Potts Point. The staff there were lovely for setting up two long tables for us complete with candles and printing out personalised menus.

I selected three entrees, three mains and three desserts for our group’s set menu and I sneakily sat myself next to two people who I knew would share dishes with me so I could sample all three of each course hehehe (thanks Sir D and Charm!). The price for 3 courses was $60.

French martini: Grey Goose vodka, dash of pineapple, chambord – $17.00

Sir D and I chose a French martini from their extensive cocktail list whilst waiting for all the guests to arrive.

Escargots

After our orders are taken, we are presented with a not-so-pretty amuse bouche of escargots. Don’t be put off by it’s appearance though – the snails are soaked in a rich, garlicky butter which just leaves us all wanting to mop up the sauce with some bread. Unfortunately there’s no free bread tonight and I seriously consider just downing the delicious garlic butter, but thankfully the plates are removed before I have time to clog up my arteries with fat.

Presse of rabbit, mushrooms and serrano ham with mustard fruits


The first entree I sample is the rabbit and mushroom presse, with a layer of serrano ham on top and a side of mustard fruits and olives. The presse with the serrano ham is quite salty, but pairs well with the sweet and spicy taste of the mustard fruits. The rabbit is not too gamey, and still allows the flavour of the mushrooms to shine through.

Seared tuna belly with confit garlic, asparagus and capsicum coulis 

The next entree is the seared tuna belly, cooked to perfection with the tuna still being rare in the centre. Charm particularly likes the sweet capsicum coulis, even though she doesn’t like capsicum, and it serves as a great accompaniment to the tuna. I’m in love with the garlic cloves which look still raw but are sweet and soft when I bite into it.

Roasted quail with caramelised eschallots, beetroot and olive jus

The quail is quite substantial, containing two breast sections and two leg sections of the bird as well as pieces of soft beetroot and sweet, caramelised eschallots. The skin of the quail is nice and crispy whist the inside meat remains moist. I don’t taste much of an olive flavour in the olive jus though, but this is a good thing because I don’t like olives anyway :)

Pan-roasted kingfish fillet with fennel, haricot blanc and bouillabaisse jus

After a brief interlude the mains arrive. The kingfish fillet is absolutely delicious, being moist and flaky but with a lovely crispy skin. The fennel imparts a strong aniseed flavour to the beans and is very overpowering; so much so that I can’t detect any of the boillabaisse flavour in the sauce. The fish itself is devoured quickly but most of the beans get left behind.

Poached pork tenderloin with celeriac remoulade, cauliflower puree and jus gras

The pork tenderloin arrives sliced on the plate and you can see the lovely pinkness in the centre. The meat is gorgeously tender although perhaps lacking a bit of flavour. This is easily rectified though by eating it with the deliciously creamy cauliflower puree or the crunchy celeriac remoulade.

“Spatchcock au vin” with ballotine of leg, parsley and roast carrots

By far my favourite main of the night is the spatchcock au vin. The breast piece of the spatchcock is rich with red wine flavour, but it is the ballotine of leg that sends me in raptures. The meat is succulent and tender and although not as strongly flavoured with wine as the breast, is flavoursome nonetheless. Queen Chu and DB can’t finish theirs and immediately Sir D and I swoop down upon their plates and start fighting over their leg pieces. It is that good.

Macerated summer berries with apple jelly and vanilla marscapone mousse

Completely stuffed from the food (and also from scamming food off friends’ plates), I’m glad for the wait between the mains and dessert to allow me to digest. Especially since desserts are my favourite part of the meal! The macerated summer berries are beautifully presented in a wine glass with a layer of apple jelly, marscapone, berries and topped with a round of vanilla marscapone mousse. The mousse is flecked with vanilla and a nice sweetness to counteract the tartness of the strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. There are also berries hidden in the apple jelly and all in all the dessert is a great summery way of ending the meal.

Banana and hazelnut tarte tatin with lime and praline semi-freddo

The tarte tatin was all sorts of banana-y goodness, with the tart being served warm and encrusted with crushed hazelnuts. The semi-freddo was delicious, being mostly sweet with tiny pieces of praline scattered in amongst the ice cream and the occasional hit of sour lime.

Vanilla creme brulee with mango and passionfruit

The creme brulee however was definitely the crowd favourite, with more than half the table ordering it! The toffee was a little disappointing – although it delivered a fantastic crack when the spoon went through, there just wasn’t enough of it! The actual custard part was delicious though, being smooth and creamy and not too eggy. The passionfruit cup was used creatively as a little bowl to hold the mango foam – very cute.

It was a great way to celebrate my birthday with family, friends and great food. Thank you to all the people at Après for the friendly service and fantastic meal, and thanks to all my family and friends who attended – you certainly made my day!

Après
32 Orwell Street
Potts Point NSW 2011
Ph: +61 2 93331 1889
Lunch: Thursday & Friday, 12-3pm
Dinner: 7 days, 6pm til late
10% surcharge on public holidays


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March Into Merivale 2010 Launch Party

Yes, March Into Merivale is back! And it kicked off with a bang last week with the inaugural launch party held at The Ivy. I was lucky enough to be invited to a preview of the event before the doors opened to the public.

The Pool Club

We went up to the Pool Club for some drinks and were very well looked after by Renee and Debbie from Merivale, before we went downstairs to the Ivy Room to check out the chefs in action!

Nobuyuki Ura, head chef of sushi e, preparing sushi for the launch party

It was great to watch the Merivale chefs prepping their canapés and plating them up right in front of our eyes. Lucky for us we got to sample some of the canapés before the masses were let in.

Pork “Banh Mi” croutons

Skewer of prawn crusted with “Tasty Toobs”

Ocean trout ceviche with Thai flavours

Dan Hong from Lotus cooked up some tasty treats with my favourites being the pork “banh mi” croutons and the prawns topped with “Tasty Toobs”.

(left to right): Chocolate indulgence; Goats cheese and fig tartlet, balsamic glace; Brandade, cured salmon, gribiche, en croute

The friendly crew from Bistro CBD assembled a “photoshoot” of their canapés on the table which was awesome! They even blowtorched the top of their Chocolate Indulgence to give a lovely chocolatey sheen.

Roast duck: shallot with Yuzu Kosho sauce

Spicy salmon roll (L) and Establishment roll (R)

Sushi e was offering some succulent roast duck as well as two types of sushi rolls. I particularly liked the Establishment roll with the super fresh tuna and crunchy pieces of tempura inside.

Ready to serve drinks to the masses!

It was about 6pm and hungry people started flowing freely through the double doors of the Ivy Room, so sadly I didn’t get to try all of the canapés. I did manage to grab some canapés and take a few quick snaps of the food from est. which was amazing. One of my favourites (and also a crowd favourite seeing how quickly they disappeared) were the spoons of scallop tartare and pork crackle – definitely a winning combination in my eyes!

Gingerbread, chicken liver parfait and Tasmanian black currants

Grilled scallop tartare, olive oil, lime juice, washed red onion and pork crackle

Skewer of Serrano jamon, compressed rockmelon and nasturtium

I also got to sample some of the canapés at Mad Cow whose juicy chunks of Wagyu flank steak were a big hit.

Heirloom tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil with preserved lemon

Chicken liver pate on crouton

Grilled rangers valley wagyu flank steak with chimichurri sauce

I just managed to squeeze my way over to Uccello to grab some of their parmesan and prosecco risotto which was being spooned from a giant hollowed-out cheese wheel. Sadly, that was the last canapé I was able to get my hands on, but the chefs and waitstaff were working extremely hard to make sure everyone was fed and watered so I think it’s safe to say that the launch party was a great success!

Parmesan and prosecco risotto

March Into Merivale is on until the 16th April, with $33 lunch and dinner offers as well as special events on throughout the period. Check out their website for more info and to sign up for the latest updates.

Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday which marks the start of Lent. I’ve always associated Shrove Tuesday with pancakes, and thanks to trusty Wikipedia I learnt that this was because pancakes contain ingredients such as fat, sugar and eggs which are traditionally not included in the fasting season of Lent. So Shrove Tuesday was considered the last day to enjoy these foods before engaging in 4 weeks of a restricted diet. Any excuse to eat pancakes, I say!

These pancakes were made using my favourite pancake recipe from Donna Hay. The recipe uses buttermilk which produces a deliciously light, fluffy pancake – if you don’t have any buttermilk on hand, you can substitute with normal milk and lemon juice. And since we have so many gorgeous summer fruits available at the moment, I decided to top my pancakes with some mango pieces, whipped cream and maple syrup. Enjoy!

Pancakes

from Modern Classics 2 by Donna Hay

2 cups plain flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder, sifted
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cups buttermilk (or substitute with 3/4 cups milk and 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice)
75g butter, melted

1. Place the flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl. Place the egg, milk, buttermilk and butter in a separate bowl and whisk until combined. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

2. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat. Pour 1/3 cup of the mixture at a time into the pan and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Turn the pancake and cook for 1 minute or until golden. Keep the pancakes warm while cooking the remaining mixture.

3. Serve in small stacks with maple syrup, lemon and sugar, butter or fresh fruit. Makes 15.

The Garden Court at the Sofitel Wentworth, Sydney

As part of the Viva Sydney promotion by Tourism NSW, Sir D and I headed off to the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth hotel to dine at The Garden Court, which was offering a buy one get one free main meal offer for lunch or dinner.

The dining area has a clean, polished garden setting look with indoor plants studded around the place. The large windows letting in the sunlight and greenery from outside makes you feel as though you are actually sitting in which makes you feel as though you are actually dining outdoors in a beautiful garden.

We start with a small sourdough baguette which comes with a plate of olive oil, vinegar and dukkah, as well as a slab of butter in a cute little dish with a silver lid. Naturally, we go for the butter, although I try a little of the dukkah as well which has a pleasant, peppery citrus flavour.

Amuse bouche: Sweet potato veloute with parsley puree


The complimentary amuse bouche arrives and today it is a sweet potato veloute with parsley puree. Sir D finds the parsley too overpowering while I find it compliments the flavours of the veloute nicely.

Braised pork belly with seared scallops, caramelised apple, pea and mint puree, herb salad – $34.00

We decide to forgo entrees this time and skip straight to the main course. I had no hesitation in ordering the braised pork belly with scallops – two of my favourite things in the one dish! The pork belly was meltingly soft and tender and it was topped with a crackling which strangely enough wasn’t blistered on the top but still super crunchy! The pea and mint puree was lovely and creamy and not too strong on the mint which was good (since I’m not a big mint fan). Three fat, juicy scallops sat on the other side of the dish and boy were they delicious! Seared on one side and still a bit raw in the middle, they were perfectly cooked and had a slice of caramelised apple hiding underneath and a herb salad garnished on top.

Grilled boneless quail with a chicken and truffle filling, glazed baby onions, trompette mushrooms and parsley puree – $35.00

Sir D went with The Garden Court’s signature main which was the quail. It came wrapped around a chicken and truffle stuffing and was moist and juicy. Whilst I liked the stuffed quail part of the dish, Sir D’s favourite part were the deep-fried quail legs sitting on top of a swirl of mashed potato. He described them as being “like KFC, but better”. I personally found them a bit dry but they certainly had a fried coating on the outside resembling that of KFC. The glazed baby onions were nice and sweet but we both found the trompette mushrooms very chewy as though they hadn’t been soaked in water for long enough.

Pre-dessert

After a short wait the pre-dessert arrived. There was no explanation of what it was when it was placed on the table so I flagged a waitress down later who told me it was a “strawberry thing”. Hm, how helpful. Anyway we tried to decipher it and it tasted like the top layer was a strawberry puree, with a lightly whipped cream layer underneath and strawberry juice or water on the bottom. It had a nice balance of sweetness from the cream and tartness from the strawberries.

Raspberry soufflé, white chocolate sauce and white chocolate ice cream – $18.00

The raspberry soufflé was a dusky pink creation that had puffed out from its ramekin and was lightly dusted with icing sugar. We found the raspberry flavour of the soufflé to be a bit too subtle, I would have preferred a more intense flavour but the light and airy texture was perfect. The soufflé was accompanied by a rich white chocolate sauce and white chocolate ice cream.

Vanilla pannacotta, strawberry jelly, strawberry and rose granita – $17.00

Our last dessert was the pretty vanilla pannacotta with strawberry jelly and strawberry and rose granita. I liked the contrast between the fruity jelly and granita with the luscious, creamy pannacotta base which was specked with vanilla.

The Viva Sydney promotion runs until 31st March 2010, with food and wine offers as well as hotel and arts specials. Check out the website for more details.

Oh, and P.S. Happy Chinese New Year and Happy Valentines Day to everyone :)

The Garden Court at Sofitel Sydney Wentworth
61-101 Phillip Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: +61 2 9228 9188
Breakfast: Monday to Friday, 6.30am-10.30am, Saturday to Sunday, 7am-11.30am
Lunch: Monday to Friday, 12pm-2.30pm
Dinner: 7 days, 6pm-10pm


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Strawberry Meringue Layer Cake

It was my grandma’s birthday and my family had requested I make a cake for her. Something light. Something ‘healthy’.

I didn’t think there was such thing as a healthy cake but I spent my time poring over cookbooks to find one that didn’t have too much fat and wasn’t too dense and heavy. I came across this beautiful cake in Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer and since my grandma’s favourite colour is red, I thought it was quite appropriate to have plump, rosy red strawberries standing out against a white cream surface.

It all seemed to be going well except when I took my cakes out of the oven, the meringue hadn’t puffed up as I expected it to but instead had flattened down into a sugary, slightly chewy layer. I read and reread the recipe and I’m quite sure I did everything right, so anyone have any suggestions as to why my meringue didn’t puff up?

In any case, the cake was still ethereally light and sweet and sandwiched a delicious combination of lightly whipped cream and strawberry halves in the centre. It was well received even by my grandma who even ate a whole piece to herself! She usually insists she can’t eat that much and tries to offload some cake to other family members or gives it to my grandpa. I took it as a compliment that she managed to polish off her own slice of cake this time :)

Strawberry Meringue Layer Cake

adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

1 cup plain flour
3 tbsp corn flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
100g very soft unsalted butter
1 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
1 punnet strawberries

1. Preheat oven to 180ºC. Line, butter and flour two 22cm springform pans.

2. Combine the flour, cornstarch and baking powder into a bowl. Cream the butter and 1/3 cup of the sugar in another bowl until light and fluffy. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks into the butter and sugar, saving the whites to whisk later. Gently fold in the measured-out dry ingredients, add the vanilla, then stir in the milk to thin the batter. Divide the mixture between the two prepared springform pans.

3. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, then gradually add the remaining sugar. Spread a layer of meringue on top of the sponge batter in each pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the meringue begins to turn a dark gold on top. Let the cakes cool in their tins, then spring them open at the last minute when you are ready to assemble the cake.

4. Whip the cream, and hull and slice the strawberries; that’s to say, the bigger ones can be sliced lengthwise and the smaller ones halved. Invert one of the cakes on to a plate or cake stand so that the cake crumb is uppermost. Pile on the cream and stud with the strawberries, letting some of the berries subside into the whipped whiteness. Place the second cake on top, meringue upwards, and press down gently, just to secure it. Serves 8.