Greenhouse by Joost, Sydney

Greenhouse by Joost

If you venture down towards the end of The Rocks in the next few weeks, you might see a bright orange and green building, with one side made out of large shipping containers and the other side covered in strawberry plants. Yes, you’ve reached Greenhouse by Joost, an eco-friendly pop-up restaurant that has been constructed using recycled materials and aims to be completely waste-free.

Pots of strawberries on the outside wall

The restaurant cuts down on waste by returning the packaging from milk, wheat and fresh produce to the supplier to be re-used and composting organic kitchen waste to be used in the rooftop garden. The building itself is made from recyclable steel framing and magnesium oxide board which actually absorbs carbon, while the restaurant furnishings are made from old aluminium pipes and leather off-cuts.

View from the wall cut-out ‘window’

Greenhouse by Joost is located on Campbells Cove which has stunning views of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. You can admire these views from the restaurant or from the rooftop bar, which has a herb garden running alongside. The bar serves beer on tap and other drinks out of plastic kegs which can be returned to the supplier, and it is probably no surprise that drinks are served in old jars or glasses made from recycled glass.

Fried spiced cauliflower – $9

After some drinks on the rooftop bar, the five of us head down and join the queue for the restaurant which has a no-bookings policy. Tables are mostly for 2 or 4, so on a Friday night it takes quite a while to be seated. By the time we’ve ordered from the short but seasonal menu, the natural light is diminishing quickly and though there are tea lights on each table, it’s hard to even see what we’re eating let alone photograph it. Luckily Suze uses her trusty Iphone 4 to shine some light on each dish. We start with the fried spiced cauliflower which is wrapped in a newspaper cone. It’s salty and spicy and reminds me of eating popcorn in a cinema, where you just can’t help but reach into the box for more.

Pizza – $15

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Jugemu & Shimbashi, Neutral Bay

Handmade noodles. There is something about them – perhaps the extra bite and chewyness, the fact that it’s fresh, or just that it’s been made with love – that makes them special. Here at Jugemu & Shimbashi, the soba noodles are all three of these things, with the noodles being freshly made by hand (and with love!) before each service and perfectly chewy.

The restaurant consists of two sides: Jugemu, which specialises in okonomiyaki and teppanyaki, on one side and Shimbashi, a buckwheat noodle house, on the other. Tonight we are seated on the Shimbashi side in a sunken wooden table where we must remove our shoes first. We’re given the menu which includes items from both sides of the restaurant, as well as an A4 sheet detailing their specials for today.

(left) Soba dips – $6; (right) Grilled beef tongue (2pcs) – $8

To start we order the soba dips to nibble on. The crunchy soba crisps are the perfect vehicle for the avocado and minced salmon sashimi dip and the dish is light enough to just whet the appetite. Sir D and I also share the grilled beef tongue skewers which are tender and flavoursome from the white miso marinade.

Asparagus wrapped with pork belly – $18

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Restaurant Balzac, Randwick

Complimentary bread – I love the butter to bread ratio here!

Friday lunch. One of my favourite times of the working week because a) it’s nearly the weekend, and b) there are lunch specials to be had! I’ve previously been to Assiette and Marque for their Friday lunch specials, but this time we headed to Randwick to try out Restaurant Balzac’s lunch special, which offers a three course set menu for $35.

The restaurant interior is clean and white with lots of natural light flowing through the windows. On this particular Friday it was pretty full and I saw that most diners were having the lunch special, though the regular a la carte menu and degustation are also available. We were presented with some complimentary bread while we waited for the rest of the food to arrive.

Lyonnaise tart with Holy Goat La Luna and fresh thyme

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The Rice Den, Chatswood

Tempura quail egg skewers (6 eggs) – $8

Those that know me will know that I love food on a stick. Even more when it’s been deep fried. And the deep fried quail eggs from The Rice Den are no exception. The eggs are soft and have a slightly runny yolk, and are encased by a crisp tempura batter and drizzled with a sticky teriyaki sauce.

Sesame prawn toast soldiers (3 pcs) – $6

The Rice Den is the newest addition to Chatswood’s burgeoning dining scene. It’s a small restaurant with Asian comic strip images adorning the walls, and a combination of two-person tables, large wooden tables for shared seating and bar style seats. The food is a mish mash of Asian cuisines rolled into the one restaurant and given a modern twist. The sesame prawn toast soldiers are a good example of this, with the Chinese prawn toast, Japanese wasabi mayo dipping sauce and the overall presentation of the dish being reminiscent of the Western boiled egg and soldiers.

School prawn stack – $12

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Chinese New Year’s Cake (年糕)

Kung Hei Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year everyone! What did you all do to celebrate? Since most of my family is overseas at the moment, I just had dinner with family and relatives at our place on the weekend. We’ve never been too traditional when it comes to celebrating Chinese New Year – there is no extensive cleaning of the house prior to the day, no buying of new clothes or getting haircuts, and no new year temporary vegetarianism. There is however, lots and lots of food and the giving and receiving of red packets.

Though my family doesn’t engage in a lot of Chinese New Year festivities or practices, I’ve been lucky enough to be introduced to some of the more delicious ones through friends. A few years ago, Queen Chu introduced me to Chinese New Year’s Cake (nian gao or neen gow). This is a sweet and sticky glutinous rice cake which is an auspicious food at Chinese New Year since the word 年糕 sounds similar to “high year”, symbolising an advance towards higher achievements and increasing prosperity each year.

I had a go at making my own this year and found it was surprisingly easy to make with very few steps (most of it was just waiting time). You can eat it as is but I like to pan fry it by itself, or dip it into some beaten egg and pan fry it. This not only warms it up but makes it deliciously crispy on the edges while retaining a soft, pasty texture on the inside. During Chinese New Year, it’s usually served alongside other similar yum cha dishes such as radish cake and taro cake.

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