Automata, Chippendale

Automata, plural of automaton:
Machines that ​operate on their own without the need for ​human ​control, or people who ​act like a ​machine, without ​thinking or ​feeling.

When a restaurant calls itself Automata, I think of a restaurant that runs with machine-like precision and accuracy, where the staff are cool, calm and collected, and the kitchen executes every dish perfectly, every time.

Automata, a new-ish restaurant at the Old Clare Hotel, comes pretty close. As soon as we entered the restaurant, we got the vibe of a smooth running machine, with the industrial polished concrete and raw wood decor. We were promptly seated on a large shared table on the lower level, which had a clear view of the open kitchen. With Clayton Wells at the helm (ex-Momofuku Seiobo), all the chefs were working quickly and quietly – like a well-oiled machine – to push out food to hungry diners.

The five course set menu ($88) changes frequently – in fact, 3 out of 5 dishes have already changed since we dined there in late February. We also opted for the beverage pairing ($55), with each beverage being explained to us by the knowledgeable sommelier upon pouring. The pairing included an “orange” wine (skin contact white wine) and a cocktail of sake and yuzushu.

We started with some snacks – a baby gem lettuce with a striking violet mustard and chives, and wagyu beef with brown rice miso and enoki mushrooms. The gem lettuce was crunchy and tangy, readying the palate for more. The wagyu beef was super juicy, with slightly crunchy enoki mushrooms and a burst of umami flavour from the miso. The moment when I popped the wagyu into my mouth, I knew this was going to be an amazing meal.

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Cafe Sopra, Alexandria

Italian food is like that person you know who somehow manages to be friends with everyone. It’s simple, crowd-pleasing and reliably delicious – I mean, have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like pizza or pasta?

So when it comes to choosing restaurants, one of my fallback plans is always Cafe Sopra. The food is consistently tasty and reasonably priced, and there are multiple locations around Sydney including the CBD and Potts Point which makes it super convenient.

Today we pay a visit to Cafe Sopra in Alexandria, which has both indoor and outdoor seating. It’s a beautiful warm day, and the windows are opened to let in fresh air and sunlight on the otherwise dark interior.

Arancini with mixed herbs, taleggio and salad cream – $18

There’s a selection starters, pizzas, pastas and heavier meat-based dishes on the menu, which I think are best shared so you get to try a bit of everything. Arancini are always a crowd favourite so we start with those – crispy fried balls of risotto with mixed herbs, fluffy shavings of taleggio cheese and a creamy dipping sauce.

Chicken liver pate with green beans, cucumber and toast – $22

It’s a hot day so we opt for some cold items as well, like this huge slab of chicken liver pate. It’s served with crusty bread that’s been toasted until crispy, and a slide of green bean and cucumber salad. There’s so much pate that you can generously slather on as much as you like on the toast and there will still be plenty left for everyone. The flavour of the pate is also on point – not too strong on the liver taste and also nice and smooth.

Pizza speciale
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Bennelong, Sydney

When I found out that Guillaume by Bennelong was closing, I was sad that I never managed to eat there before it closed, even though it was definitely on my wishlist. There was a lot of back and forth about who exactly was going to take over the iconic Opera House space, so when The Fink Group re-opened Bennelong under the helm of Peter Gilmore, I was so ready to book a table.

This proved more difficult than it sounded, because even though it’s been six months since it first opened, Bennelong shows no signs of slowing down. We had to book a couple of months in advance just to find a Saturday night booking that was at a reasonable time (i.e. not a 9.30pm booking), and so it wasn’t until late last year that we managed to finally sit down and enjoy our meal there.

There’s a choice of dining in the Cured and Cultured area or in the Restaurant. We chose to go down the Restaurant route, which meant that we were seated on the lower level of the dining area underneath the soaring glass windows that give you unparalleled views of the Bridge and Sydney harbour. The three course a la carte menu will set you back $130pp with about 6 different dishes to choose from per course.

Grilled Lady Elliot Island bug, organic turnips, radishes, XO sauce

The first thing that strikes me with each dish is that it is impeccably plated. Every dish is styled to perfection, so that your eyes can feast on the food before your stomach does. The grilled Lady Elliot Island bug is no exception, with a golden piece of the bug meat draped over turnips, pink baby radishes and micro herbs. The XO sauce really accentuates the seafood flavours of the dish, and complements the sweet, juicy bug meat nicely.

Smoked Blackmore Wagyu tartare, fermented chilli paste, cultured cream & grains, mushrooms, seaweed, egg
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A day trip from Osaka: Miyajima and Hiroshima

Even though this is about a Japan trip I did more than a year ago, I’ve had quite a few people asking me about where to go and what to do in Japan, so I thought I might as well do a post about it, even if it is a bit outdated.

Apart from visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine and Kyoto, we decided to spend another day out of Osaka to visit the floating torii gate at Miyajima, and the Peace Memorial Museum at Hiroshima.

Floating torii gate at Miyajima

Miyajima island is just off the coast of Hiroshima, and is easily accessible with a JR pass. From Shin-Osaka station, we took a shinkansen to Hiroshima, then hopped on a local train to Miyajimaguchi station, which is closest train station to the island. At the station, there was plenty of signage to direct tourists to the wharf, where Japan Rail operates a Miyajima ferry to take people to and from the island.

Leaving the mainland on the ferry

The first thing we noticed when we got off the ferry was the number of deer walking around the island. They weren’t wary of humans at all and mostly kept to themselves, though look out for the daring ones who will try to steal your food!

Sleepy deer
oh hai!

We timed our visit to coincide with high tide so that torii gate looks like it’s floating. At low tide, you can actually walk all the way out to the gate itself.

Floating torii gate at high tide
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My 10 favourite foods from 2015

I’m trying to squeeze in one last post before the new year! I’ll admit it’s been tough keeping up with blogging, and having Instagram has definitely made me lazy about lugging around my DSLR everywhere. But that hasn’t stopped me from doing the actual eating part heh. So here are ten of my favourite foods that I ate in 2015:

Favourite breakfast/brunch dish: Miso Yummy at KIN by us.

My Kitchen Rules couple, Uel and Shannelle, opened a cafe in Macquarie Park and it turned out to be a huge hit since the queues were out the door! The Miso Yummy dish of miso salmon, two onsen eggs, sesame spinach and a piece of sourdough bread was a winning combination for me, with the rare salmon and the gooey eggs being cooked to perfection every time.

A photo posted by Jacq (@jacq_in_a_box) on

Special mention also goes to these Nutella and mascarpone pancakes I had at The Moody Chef which were super fluffy, sandwiched with Nutella and drizzled with Canadian maple syrup!

Favourite fried chicken: Smoked hot wings with comeback sauce at Papi Chulo

So much love for these wings. Partly because they’re wings and therefore the best part of the chicken, but also because they have this amazing crisp skin and smokey flavour. And that sauce! It’s just not the same without the comeback sauce.

Favourite pasta: Spelt ravioli at LuMi Bar & Dining

This was like no other pasta dish I ate this year. I do have a soft spot for filled pasta like ravioli and agnolotti, but this pasta was so delicate, reminiscent of xiao long bao where the dumpling skin threatens to tear at any second. The filling was also a burst of flavour, with sweet pumpkin puree pairing well with the burnt butter sauce. I would have eaten a huge bowl of this with no hesitation.

Favourite ramen: Shio tonkotsu ramen at Manpuku

Manpuku was a new one for me this year because they opened up in Chatswood, making it heaps easier for me to get to. I’m so glad that they have because there’s even more choices for ramen on the north side now. The photo above is of their signature ‘number 7’ ramen, but my favourite is actually the creamy and umami-loaded shio tonkotsu ramen. I realised I don’t actually have a photo of it, probably because I’ve been too eager to dig in (oops) but trust me it looks just as good as the number 7!

Favourite burger: The Truffe at Mister Gee Burger Truck

I ate a lot of burgers this year and my waistline is not going to thank me for it, but I still can’t go past the burgers from Mister Gee. The meat patties are always perfectly seasoned for me, which kind of makes up for the fact that you’re eating in a pitch black carpark. My favourite is still the Truffe burger, with the melty cheese and that oozy truffle aioli.

Favourite ice cream: Soft serve at Aqua S

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I was late to hop on the Aqua S bandwagon, but when I tried it, I finally understood what all the hype was about. Sure, their flavours can be a bit hit and miss (their tea-based flavours tend to be pretty on point though) but it’s all about the silky smooth texture of the soft serve!

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I also have to give a special mention the gelato at Ciccone & Sons because it is freaking amazing. I first tried it a month or so ago and have been raving about it ever since. It’s all about creamy jersey milk – the buttermilk & passionfruit, and the mascarpone & strawberry flavours are my favourites.

Favourite dessert: Blueberry, basil, buffalo yoghurt and milk dessert at nel. restaurant

This was a tough one because there were so many good desserts this year. But I think this blueberry dessert from nel. takes the cake not only because of the taste but because of the presentation. It was a stunningly beautiful dessert and the fact that it tasted as good as it looked with the sweet blueberry ice cream and creamy, tangy yoghurt only made it better!

Favourite overall meal: Sushi omakase at Sokyo

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This was an amazing meal that I wish I could eat over and over again. I think it blew me away so much that I didn’t really know how to write about it because I still haven’t written up a blog post! Let me just say though, if you are a sushi lover, you NEED to book yourself in for the sushi omakase at Sokyo – you’ll thank me for it. While the price is pretty steep (starting from $130pp), the sushi is impeccable and of the highest quality, even rivalling the sushi that I ate in Japan. If you have room at the end, say yes to dessert too!

Favourite overseas meal: Yakitori at Torimatsu, Kutchan (Japan)

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If you’re ever in Niseko and want to eat yakitori, hop on a bus to Kutchan and visit Torimatsu. It’s a tiny little yakitori place with grill master, Matsuo-san, carefully placing each skewer on the coals and grilling each one to perfection. The place does get incredibly smoky after a while, but it’s worth it for the grilled meats. especially the tsukune chicken meatballs with egg yolk, which are the best I’ve ever eaten.

Favourite random, uncategorised item (because I really liked this but couldn’t fit it into a category): Connecticut style lobster roll at Waterman’s Lobster Co.

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Aaand finally I had to do a shout out to the lobster rolls at Waterman’s Lobster Co. Because melted butter + lobster + toasted roll + crispy fries = awesomeness.

Thanks for sticking it out and reading my posts this year. Here’s to even more delicious eats in 2016!

A Sydney food blog