The weather is finally warming up which means that it’s time to go out and enjoy the sunshine! And what better way to enjoy the sunshine than a nice meal by the water where you can hear the waves lapping up against the pier and feel the warmth of the sun on your back.
The Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo is a great place to do this, as well as do a little bit of people watching while you dine. We visited Manta for lunch on a gloriously sunny day to celebrate The Cat’s birthday. We’d scored ourselves a voucher for 6 people for $259 – which came to less than $45pp for three courses. The set menu had a choice of three options per course, and also included a glass of house red or house white. Since we had a table of 6, we were able to order every item off the menu and I can safely say that all the dishes were delicious!
I started with freshly shucked oysters which included both the Pacific and Sydney Rock variety. The oysters came with a fresh lemon cheek, a sweet spring onion and apple dressing, and a tangy balsamic and pepper dressing. The oysters were deliciously briny and really didn’t need much more than a squeeze of lemon juice, but the spring onion and apple dressing also went quite well with the oysters.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Oxford Tavern is a seedy pub, seeing as up until last year, the main drawcards were the topless waitresses, jelly wrestling and the “live hot girls”. But since the Drink ‘n’ Dine group’s revamp of the inner west pub, the pokies area has been changed to a beer garden, “jelly wrestling” now refers to a dessert on the menu, and instead of girls, you can now get “live hot BBQ”!
Live hot BBQ sounds like something right up my alley, so we went to check out The Oxford Tavern’s new Black Betty BBQ. It’s an impressive beast of an outdoor smoker that has been operating for the past couple of months, churning out smoked meats cooked low and slow on the weekends until sold out.
There’s a range of smoked goodies on the menu, generally sold by weight. You can also see the prepared meats in the glass cabinet at the counter, and they all look amazing. Executive Chef of the Drink ‘n’ Dine group, Jamie Thomas, is there to serve up the meat himself, and he slices up a little bit of everything for us to try.
We end up with a huge platter of meaty goodness featuring all the menu items on the standard Black Betty BBQ menu, as well as the specials for the day.
The smoked chicken is the only poultry item on the Black Betty menu, and it has an amazingly smoky flavour and is succulent and juicy.
Even though there are plenty of cafes around my area, I still get a little excited when a new one pops up. Word on the street was that there was a new cafe in Artarmon that had awesome coffee and food to boot.
You’d never think that there was a hipster cafe down the little pedestrian walkway leading out from Artarmon train station, but in amongst the Japanese restaurants, convenience stores and bookshops is Salvage Specialty Coffee.
They take their coffee seriously here with the Mecca Dark Horse blend and single origin coffees on offer, and a rather amusing sign saying that any coffee “extras” cost 50c – extras that may or may not include “soy, extra shot, mocha, honey, vampire blood, unicorn tears, kisses from Zooey Deschanel”.
Apart from the normal espresso-based coffees, Salvage also do filter coffees including Aeropress and cold brews. The cold brew comes in a cute Salvage bottle and is served with a sphere of ice in a glass to keep it chilled.
Japan is a country that is a little obsessed with the cute and cuddly. You’ll see kawaii mascots everywhere in Japan promoting TV channels, transport passes and even the cities and prefectures themselves! So when I see the logo of Harajuku Gyoza with its cutesy face, it’s almost like I’m back in Japan.
Inside, the kawaii theme continues with Japanese-patterned melamine plates and light fixtures saying ‘HAI!’. The menu is equally as cutesy, proclaiming “Welcome, Customer-san!”, before comparing your appetite to Godzilla and saying “We want your happy face”. As for the food items, naturally the menu is gyoza-heavy but there are also other Japanese side dishes and izakaya style dishes available.
There are 5 gyoza dishes at $8 each, and we manage to try 3 out of the 5. For the pork, chicken and duck gyoza, you can choose to have these either grilled or poached. We’re after the crispy burnished bottoms of the fried variety, so we choose to have our pork and duck gyoza fried.
Because we have a decent selection of spirits and mixers at home, we rarely go out to drink. Making drinks at home gives us the flexibility to make what we like, when we like – without the hefty price tag that often comes with cocktails. But sometimes, it’s worth the money to get the professionals to make something different that just might surprise and delight you, and we definitely found that at Pocket Bar.
We arrived at 7pm on a Friday night, and the place was already buzzing. The alcohol shelves behind the bar hold a massive range of spirits, and the extensive drinks list reflects that.
It takes us a while to read all the cocktails on offer but eventually we choose our poisons of choice. Sir D chooses “Day of the Dead” – a tequila-based cocktail with grapefruit bitters and vanilla sugar. The 1800 anejo tequila is aged so doesn’t have the same harshness as white tequilas, and you can taste citrus notes from the grapefruit and orange peel. Call me a sucker for novelty, but I’m most impressed with the sphere of ice that swirls around in the glass. Having the ice in a sphere shape cools your drink without diluting it as much as ice cubes. Genius!
It’s a bit early in the night to be saying “take your clothes off” but if you want this cocktail, you’ll have to say it to order it! This is another tequila-based cocktail, but this time it is the un-aged blanco tequila that is used. I usually find this a bit strong, but the agave honey, lime juice, pear puree and cinnamon tones it down and makes it quite easy to drink.
Jaypee decides to go for the Tiki Times (in the English undergrowth) cocktail which is mai-tai inspired but given a gin twist. The Appleton rum base is mixed with Haymans Old Tom and sloe gins, and ruby grapefruit juice. Despite the 3 spirits within this cocktail, it doesn’t taste overwhelmingly of alcohol and is actually quite sweet.
We decide that it’s best to get some food in our stomachs before all the alcohol goes to our head, and there’s lots to choose from on Pocket Bar’s menu. The menu is inspired by street food from all around the world so it’s a great snack-like accompaniment to the drinks. First up are the cassava chips with salsa huancaína. We had no idea what salsa huancaína was but it turned out to be a spicy cheese sauce with queso fresco and aji amarillo chili peppers. It was a bit pungent for some but I loved it, especially with the fat fried batons of cassava.