Category Archives: Restaurants and cafes

Christina Tosi at the Sydney International Food Festival

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The Sydney International Food Festival runs throughout October and there are special foodie experiences to be enjoyed throughout the city. The program includes everything from fine dining meal specials at top restaurants with international guest chefs to night noodle markets and breakfast at Bondi Beach. Whether you are a visitor from out of town enjoying the sights or a local getting out and about, the festival is a fun way to see and enjoy Sydney.  And Sydney is at its Harbour sparkling best in spring.

One of the Festival’s special guests this year is Christina Tosi from Momofuku Milk Bar in New York. I went to see her talk about Milk Bar at one of the World Chef Showcase sessions. The baker in me was so inspired and excited to see her.  It was amazing to hear someone proudly proclaim their love of sugar, and laugh about often preferring doughs and batters to the finished products. The great inspiration was the story of someone who has been able to turn her philosophy of having fun and not taking herself too seriously, along with a serious sweet tooth,  into a successful business. This ‘fun philosophy’ (along with a nod to American food traditions) is the starting point of her recipe ideas and the heart of the success of Milk Bar.

Christina Tosi is particularly known for her cereal milk, compost cookies and crack pie, all of which are featured in her new cookbook: Momofuku Milk Bar.  We tasted a compost cookie during the session and it was lovely – great crunch with a delicious tang from the coarse ground coffee bits.  However, my three picks from the book are the pistachio cake, chocolate chocolate cookies, and the cornflake chocolate chip marshmallow cookies.

Milk Bar also bakes savoury treats, which also have their own unique twist – think unexpected fillings, savoury butters in croissants, etc. Some of these are meals in their own right.

Christina is currently developing new recipes focusing on gluten-free, sugar-free and other bakery options to meet a broader range of dietary preferences. I am looking forward to her new ideas, but in the meantime, I will enjoy the inspiration that she shared at the food festival and the recipes in her wonderful cookbook.

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Mariners Restaurant Hamilton Island

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The Whitsundays is a chain of islands off the Queensland coast in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.  There are 74 islands, most of them uninhabited, all of them beautiful. Hamilton Island is one of the larger islands and is essentially a giant resort. Hamilton is a good base for investigating the Whitsundays and the Reef. There are all sorts of activities available: sailing around the island, yachting between the islands, sports fishing tours, helicoptor tours, and of course a trip to the reef at some point is a must – although some people, like me, need to conquer seasickness and a fear of being so far from land. The Reef is truly amazing, the coral isn’t as colourful as I expected it to be the first time I went but it is still amazing to see, and the fish are outstanding. Every bit as colourful and abundant as any brochure claims.

 

What I love most about Hamilton is that you can just hang out there on the island. You don’t have to do any tours or go anywhere else. Being there can be enough – there are swimming pools all over the island (the one with the cocktail in the middle is my favourite) and doing nothing aside from lounging around enjoying the view with a good book and a cold beverage is a fine way to spend a holiday.

This trip, during the last week of June, was well into winter.  Winter in Hamilton is reputed to be very mild and sunny, with reported average maximum temperature of 24 degrees C (74 F), but we were most unlucky to have cold wet and windy days – and a house with no heater!  It was still beautiful, but not ideal.  It didn’t stop the kids from jumping into every swimming pool they could, or taking the catamarans out, and we even had one day good enough for a hike out to the reef.

                                                                           

However the bad weather gave us lots of time indoors, and plenty of time to think about food! We were hoping to go to try Bommies at the yacht club while we were there, but discovered that the minimum age for dinner reservations was 13, which ruled out taking our family.

One restaurant that we did go to was Mariners Seafood Restaurant.  I had been there before and loved it, and so I was keen to go back. Mariners is on the main street in town – Front Street and has a lovely view by day looking out over the marina to the islands beyond, and at night sparkling in the marina lights. The service at the restaurant is a joy.  Friendly and attentive without being obsequious.

I began with the seered scallops and pork belly. The scallops were juice and plump with a subtle sauce.  I expected the pork belly to be over-powering against the lightness of the scallops but found I enjoyed the contrast. The only failing of the dish was that there were only two scallops, when three would have been satisfying.

For mains I had the Thai-style Jungle Curry with Queensland tiger prawns.  The prawns were fresh and cooked perfectly, but the sauce was a little heavy on the fish sauce for me, alhtough Wal thought it was fabulous. I also thought the presentation was bland, but the portion size was very generous.

And just because we were there I couldn’t go past dessert.  A pear and caramel tart with a berry coulis.

I am normally not a huge fan of pears, but I do love caramel and any kind of berry, so I thought it was worth a try.  It was very rich, so I was glad I was sharing with one of the sprogs, and had some unusual flavours in it (still haven’t figured them out), but was delicious.

It was a lovely meal and a great night out, but overall I felt the food wasn’t quite at the same standard as my previous experience.  Still worth a go if you are visiting the island. I would go again…

The Quarterdeck at Narooma

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Narooma is on the far south coast of New South Wales, around 350-ish km south of Sydney.   Narooma is a tourist town, once a fishing village, and boasts a large ocean fed lake.  It is famous in fishing circles for deep sea sports fishing.  Narooma is the closest point on the coast to the continental shelf, where all those impressive game fish like marlin and swordfish can be found.

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Narooma from the north (on a sunny day!) is the spectacular azure blue waters of Narooma lake as you cross the bridge into town.  Dolphins and seals are often seen around the breakwater heading from the lake out to the ocean.

  Seals also hang around the fishing charter boats in the hopes of a hand out. They come right up to shore and look friendly, but they can be quite aggressive.  This particular seal is known for being very bad tempered.

The Quarterdeck is a cafe on the Wagonga Inlet (ie on the lake).

Its decor is ‘fishing kitsch’ – it is fun and welcoming,

and it also has a killer views over the lake.

The staff at the Quarterdeck are unfailingly cheerful and attentive. The owner is friendly and he has the biggest collection of Hawaiian shirts I have ever seen (outside of Hawaii perhaps) – and they are fabulous!

  The food

 These days I often buy a main meal for the sprogs to share, because the quality of what is offered on kids’ menus can be terrible.  At the Quarterdeck the kids meals are good – especially the calamari and chips.  The calamari is always very fresh, and is perfectly cooked.

 

Wal and I shared an appetiser of Lemon Pepper Squid.  It was absolutely lovely.  The pepper was in the right proportion and the lemon gave a nice but subtle tang and it was cooked just right.  The best thing, however, was the super-light barely there batter – just enough to hold the flavours together.

For a main I had the Prawn Salad with Aioli. The salad had a good variety of greens and other vegetables, the prawns were fresh, plump and cooked exactly right, and the salad dressing was tasty but not overdone.  It had a lovely hint of coconut in the background. Even on a cool and overcast day, the room temperature salad filled with warm prawns was filling and satisfying.

 They keep the menu at the Quarterdeck simple, but the specials of the day are where they show their imagination and offer interesting variety.  If you find yourself venturing near Narooma,I think this cafe is well worth trying.

The Quarterdeck is open for breakfast and lunch Thursday to Monday from 8.00. and is fully licensed.  Riverside Drive, Narooma, 02 44762723.