Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Marrickville Market, Marrickville

I detest shopping at supermarkets. DETEST!  I've been know to make outlandish promises to The Boy if he'll do the supermarket shopping without me...oh you know, "I'll give you a TRILLION bucks if you go to Coles without me".  Surprisingly he thinks my promises are bogus and more often than not we trudge off to the supermarket together.

Shopping at Farmers Markets has been a revelation for me. It's enjoyable, relaxing, exciting, fun and inspiring. It makes me want to be a better person - to buy sustainable, local and ethical produce.  I'm not satisfied until my enviro-bags are near full to bursting. I look forward to exploring the various markets around Sydney, ear-bashing the stall holders about how great I think their produce is (and vice versa). You couldn't pay me enough me to miss an outing to a farmers market.

My recent dog/house-sitting stint in the inner-west meant I was a 5 minute drive to the Sunday markets at Marrickville. Even though I wasn't doing much cooking during my inner-west holiday (why cook when King Street is only up the road) I couldn't resit visiting the Marrickville Organic Markets and stocking up on a few goodies...and a coffee to kickstart the morning.

There is LOADS of fresh produce available - I picked up a good sized bag of mandarins for $5. There are quite a few stalls selling great sourdough bread (which would go well with my tinned soup during my "bachelor-ette month").

Truffle season has just begun when I visited and the "truffle dealer" was attracting quite a bit of attention.  Sniffs of the truffles were free, but anything more than that would cost you.

The mushrooms looked very tempting (same people selling here as at Castle Hill Markets) but in the end I walked away with some Smoked Salmon Pappardelle and an Olive and Mushroom Pasta Sauce which set me back $10 and will last for two dinners - again, excellent bachelor-ette food.

I was pleased to see a good offering of pasture-raised eggs as well as a butcher or two with pasture raised meat...though my favourite market Free Range Butcher didn't seem to have a stall.

The Marrickville Markets feel a lot more relaxed and alternative to say, the spiffy Eveleigh Market which comes across as a lot more polish and chic with its fabulous under-cover area.  Ever second person has a dog along for the shopping trip (something that most other markets don't allow). These markets feel "more organic"...more earthy. If I didn't know better I'd swear I was shopping in Armidale or Lismore and not just 5ks from the Sydney CBD.

The Marrickville Organic Market is on every Sunday between 9am and 2pm at The Addison Road Centre - 142 Addison Road, Marrickville.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Spencer Guthrie, Newtown

There wasn't a lot happening down the south end of King Street when I lived in Newtown back in the early noughties asides from some cafes (some good ones like Lou Jacks which is still there), furniture stores, random clothes shops and a few Chinese or Thai takeaways but that's about it. At night it was kind of dead. Really dark and quiet.  It freaked the bejuses out of me and I would race home as fast as I could as I didn't want the boogie man to get me (yes, I probably have an over-active imagination...but it makes for a good story).

Fast forward 12 years and this is the end of King Street I prefer to spend my time in.  The shops are more interesting and more left-of-mainstream than King Street proper..and the cafes as good as ever. The night life is picking up too, first with the arrival of Bloodwood and now with newcomer Spencer and Guthrie.

Miss Chicken and I make the most of my housesitting sojourn to the inner-west and decide to eat out on a Tuesday night. We arrive at 6pm and within 40 minutes the restaurant is almost full - people without bookings being turned away at the door! It's a popular place (though I'm sure the uncomfy Brentwood chairs ensure a high turnover high of food-bloggers with bad backs).

Even though it's a school night we decide to kick things off with a glass of wine each - a Mandala Sauvignon Blanc ($10.00 per glass) for me and a glass of the Magpie ‘The Shnell’ Shiraz Grenache ($11.00 per glass) for Miss Chicken.  I'm not a big drinker and I'm tipsy after half a glass....squeee, a GREAT night...squeee. The wine was nice though.

Dinner kicks off with a complimentary serve of freshly-made bread which we polish off toot sweet.  It's good to have something in our bellies as we peruse the menu. The menu at Spencer Guthrie is fairly simple - just five starters, five mains and five desserts. Their philosophy is to source local, seasonal and ethically raised produce (meat included) and the menu changes on a regular basis depending on what's in season and what's available. It really is heartening to see more and more restaurants sourcing their meat from ethical producers.

Even though the menu is small I find myself wanting to order everything on it. I finally settle on the chicken + duck liver parfait with carbonated grapes + warm ginger bread ($20.00) as my entree. My parfait is lovely, smooth and very rich in flavour - I wish that I had more bread though as the small serving wasn't enough to match the generous serving of parfait and I was probably eating more parfait than ideal (translate: heaping it on) on each morsel of bread.  Miss Chicken ordered the brandade cannelloni, crispy oxtail, roast pepper puree and potato crisp ($19.00)...a really flavoursome dish, the oxtail was divine.

I wanted to order the pork but I seem to have some psychological barrier to eating cheek which I very soon got over when I tasted Miss Chicken's glazed pork cheek with roasted fennel, apple fondant + mustard ($31.00). The cheek meat was so tender and the crispy bits of pork...wow!  Bah, next time pork cheek you will be mine...all mine!

Luckily my lamb rump, with smoked garlic confit, pickled radish and turnip ($30.00) was also wonderful - so my food envy quickly dissipated. The lamb was so tender and so well cooked. Loved it. We chose the Leaf and herb salad ($8.00) to add a bit of greens (and reds) to our main event.

We decided to share a dessert as we're both trying to be good.  The chewy meringue with caramelized pear with blood orange ice-cream ($15.00) may look like two boobs (or is it just me that sees that?) on a plate but it was a GREAT dessert. The meringue was soft and chewy, the pear soft, sweet with a hint of ginger...the whole lot drizzled with honey to give it a real sweet kick.

Spencer Guthrie is at 399 King Street, Newtown.  Phone them on 8068 1080.

Spencer Guthrie on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Menya Oiden, CBD

In 2011 I developed a bit of, well, an addiction to Menya Mappen. I literally couldn't get enough of their steaming-hot bowls of fat, slurpy, chewy udon noodle soups. I'd find myself at Mappen at least two times a week (sometimes three, or even four times a week if I could wrangle it).

About half way into my year of addiction something interesting happened in the shop next door to Menya Mappen.  A sister restaurant opened developed solely to rice bowls. I was intrigued but just could not make myself bypass my beloved Mappen noodles for...rice!  Rice!

Menya Oiden always had queues out the door, but it just didn't interest me. And then one day The BFF said we're going to Oiden...and that was that.  Bossy.

The set-up is the same canteen style that you'll find at Mappen...join the queue, shuffle along, grab a tray, point at want you want from the menu, pick your deep-fried goodies of choice, grab any little extras you may like, top the lot with shallots and tempura bits, pay, grab your table...and wolf it all down. Simple.

On my foray in to the world of the rice bowl I decided on the Ontama Tuna Tataki (Medium $7.50) - it's one of a handful of seafood options on the menu.  Upon reflection I'm pretty sure the egg wouldn't be free range in a cheap-as-chips place like this. At Mappen I don't miss the egg in my bowl of noodle soup, but as this particular rice bowl is fairly dry I think it needs the egg to help moisten up the rice a bit.

The BFFs plate of Ontama Curry looks...well, how do I say this - a bit, umm...sloppy (but moist unlike my bowl of Tuna Tatakai, so that's a win).  I bet this is the kind of meal that Uni studetns in Japan whip up for themeselvses every night - no two minute Maggi noddles for those guys. I'm told the plate of Beef Curry with an half boiled egg and rice (Medium $4.90) is filling and warming. 

Whilst Mappen has an array of Tempura options to add to your noodles at Oiden it's all about Kushiage - breaded, deep-fried "things on sticks". Miss Piggy likes Kushiage! I tried both the Potato Croquette Kushiage and the Battered Prawns

Confirming once again that our eyes are much bigger than our (pretty big) stomachs we can't seem to bypass the little salads on offer. The Potato Salad ($1.20) is a winner, soft, creamy and impossible to stop at just one mouthful.  This is real comfort food.  The Spinach with Sesame Sauce ($1.20) is a lighter side dish without the creamy hit of the Potato Salad.

I was never going to fall madly in love with Oiden as a bowl of rice topped with stuff doesn't hold the appeal of a lovely big bowl of Udon Noodles piled high with pieces of tempura this and that.  I ventured to the dark side and I'm all the better for it.  I now know 110% that I'm a Mappen girl through and through.  It's a pity they don't punch a hole in the wall bewteen Mappen and Oiden so we can expereince the best of both worlds...Noodle Soup with kushiage and potato salad. Yes please!

What about you - rice or noodles?

Menya Oiden is at 537-551 George Street, Sydney.  Phone/fax them on 9267 1368.

Oiden on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 23, 2012

Room 10, Potts Point

It seems the area officially called Kings Cross is limited to one sleazy street these days (and we ALL know the street I'm talking about). I'm sure it wasn't too long ago (or at least in my living memory) that Llankelly Place was in Kings Cross...but these days it's migrated to Potts Point...it's moving up in the world. It's a lovely little lane way and has a very British feel about it...the lovely old style apartments  blocks, the narrow lane ways...it's very quaint and very appealing. And what makes it an even better little street is that it's CRAMMED with coffee shops, little bars and other eateries.

Room 10 is one of those little coffee shops and I'm drawn here by it's stellar reputation for churning out great coffee and eats.  The cafe is TEENY TINY...literally just a hole in the wall, like most of the places on this street. So pull up a pew...and keep your elbows in as there's not much room in here!

I'm here for an early morning breakfast before a meeting (one of the only times I'm let out of the office is to scout the occasional meeting venue). Their breakfast menu is pretty big...bigger than the cafe I'd say.  I start things off with a skinny cappuccino (no idea how much this was) and it's got quite the kick to it. I really don't know much about coffee so I'm not going to pretend I do...it was strong, and it woke me up. There you go.

For my eats I chose the delicious Breakfast Pane with smashed (organic free-range) egg, tarragon infused Hollandaise and French Chervil ($9.00).  The Pane came with ham but I asked them to leave it off...the waitress kindly offered to let me squish something else into my sambo as a ham substitute so I ended up with avocado.  It was nice for this to be offered as an option rather than having to ask for it...shows pretty good customer service I think.  Man, this was a GOOD breakfast sambo. For an extra $2.50 I added a glass of freshly squeezed OJ

The cafe may be small, but it sure delivers in terms of great food and great service. The baristas were non-stop filling coffee orders for the regulars, most of whom they knew by name.  It's a great little spot - wish it were my local (along with Circa and 3 Ropes of course)!

Room 10 is at 10 Llankelly Place, Potts Point. 

Room 10 on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 20, 2012

Balcony Garden, the beginning

One good thing about our unit (asides from being 20kms from the CBD that is {yes that was sarcasm}) is that it has a VERY long, north-facing balcony. It's basically too hot for humans to go out there, especially in summer as we don't have an awning.  However, it turns out to be a very good spot for growing "stuff" as "stuff" likes full-on sunshine.

I pondered growing "stuff" on my balcony for ages, but I really never did anything about it as I'm a pretty lazy person.  Why grow stuff when I have episodes of Mad Men + Game of Thrones to watch and blogs to write?

Then I happened about the gardening blog, Saucy Onion, and was given a copy of her book (The Edible Balcony) which was turned out to be my balcony gardening bible.  This coupled with my more frequent visits to local farmers market has really made me want to grow my own food, as much as a apartment-living-city-dweller can.  I felt...inspired to become an urban farmer.

I began by a trip (or three) to Bunnings (where else) and stocked up on pots, organic potting mix, seeds, plant labels and some seaweed plant booster stuff.  I got busy busy and planted some herbs (basil, parsley, coriander, rosemary) and a few vegies (pak choi, carrots, radishes). I was also given some lettuce seedlings from a fellow urban farmer who I work with.

And then I would spend HOURS on the balcony each weekend watching the dirt willing for "stuff" to appear in my grubby little pots.  And in a few weeks it did!!!  It's funny how all the seedlings for all the different types of plants looked the same - like tiny two leafed clovers.

I give the plants a good watering every day in the warmer weather, and every second day when it's not so hot. I have NO idea how much watering is too much...or not enough, but it's great to finally have a reason to go out on the balcony...I LOVE my little garden.

I've had some great success with my little balcony farm and it's quite an addictive hobby.  The radishes were FANTASTIC and I used them in salad. The lettuce was used in a Thai Pork-Mince Salad and the pak choi went into bowls of wonderful wonton noodle soup.  The chives are a great garnish for all of the soups I addicted to cooking in the current chilly weather.  The mint has been going into homemade mint tea (yes, I made my own tea)!

The basil, coriander and parsley were all used in garnishes for salads or soups. The best thing about growing herbs is not having to buy a WHOLE huge bunch of herbs when all the recipe calls for is a few teaspoons - we're certainly wasting less herbage that's for sure.

It's not all been success though.

I managed to kinda grow one shallot - God knows what happened to the other 10 seeds that went into the pot with this lonesome little fella.  The rosemary didn't sprout at all, so I bought a rosemary bush that has since gone belly up. I thought rosemary was EASY to grow...apparently not.  The silly little pots I bought for the herbs really are too small - I'm going to abort mission with them and start again with bigger pots so they have more room to swing their leaves about. And there's been an infestation of aphids on my lovely flowering plant that The Boy and I were given for Christmas.  And fat green caterpillars have been eating my crop! How rude!

Stayed tuned, Miss Piggy has just planted her second crop. Will the aphids make another bid at ruling the balcony garden? Will that damn rosemary EVER just grow?  Can Miss Piggy grow more than one shallot at a time?  Only time will tell.

Miss Piggy xox

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cornersmith, Marrickville

There are SO many things that appeal to me about Cornersmith that I barely know where to begin. But the thing that made me fall head-over-heels in love with this little Marrickville cafe was a sign over the kitchen that said "Cornersmith does not support factory farming"! AMEN! I was so moved by these few words, the kindness and respect behind them that I was honestly almost crying (no, I didn't have PMS)!

In my perfect world all the meat that we eat would come from animals that have been pasture raised and lived their most natural life...as nature intended. Free to roam, forage, give birth to babies and raise them outdoors. Free to roll in the dirt and feel the sun on their bodies. Animals wouldn't be confined to cruel cages that are barely big enough to hold their bodies or in over-stocked barns where they can hardly move just so we can have a cheap piece of chicken or pork. They wouldn't be bred to grow so fast that the weight of their bodies literally crushes their bones and renders them unable to walk to their source of food or water. They would be loved and respected and not treated as a commodity. When I'm president of the world things are going to be very different!

Along with this wonderful stance on ethical meat I love the locavore concept Cornersmith has embraced. The board above the kitchen lists all the places this weeks produce has come from: ham from Feather and Bone, Country Valley Milk, Citrus from Sarah in Marrickville, Rosemary from Lynne, Bay Leaves from George and Ralph and so on.  Cornersmith will happily accept produce from backyard gardeners...they'll take your surplus off your hands and trade you from some lovely homegrown honey or homemade conserves.  To add to the quaintness the cafe closes on Monday's for pickling! I've died and gone to lovely retro, cafe heaven.

It wasn't all gushing and crying...we did eat a beautiful lunch and had some lovely drinks. The Boy indulged in a luscious Hot Chocolate ($3.00) made with lovely Country Valley Milk from Picton.  I decided on the Pear, Rhubarb and Vanilla Yoghurt Milkshake ($6.00) which was a departure from the type of milkshakes we're used to.  Instead of being syrupy and sweet my milkshake was slightly tart from the yoghurt. It felt...healthy (not something I've associated with many milkshakes in my past).

I thought The Boy's lunch was incredible value. Free range eggs with pasture raised ham, sourdough toast and Beetroot and Ginger Relish for $9!!!  I think this just goes to show that a great brunch made from ethically sourced produce can be cheerfully cheap and deliciously yummy.

My favourite type of meal is one with a plate piled high with bits of this-and-that. I'm a greedy-guts at heart and I want to try everything that's on offer.  I was never going to be able to bypass the Ploughmans Plate ($18 for a plate for one person) which was overflowing with tasty morsels: Sumac Lamb (New Horizon Dorper happy happy Lambs), Caraway Labne, Pears, Sourdough, Rocket and Slaw topped with Beetroot.  Oh and what's that? A sneaky Pickled Brussel Sprout...that actually tasted really good...not like a Brussel Sprout at all (which is a good thing)!

And it's not long before I'm back at Cornersmith for another brunch - this time with Miss Chicken and Mr Shawn.  I was so taken with the Ploughmans Plate on my previous visit that it was impossible to order anything else.  It's constantly changing due to what's in season so the plate will be different each time.  The Ploughmans Plate must be one of my favourite things to eat - a huge plate crammed with lots of tasty morsels:  pasture-raised ham, cheddar cheese, radish + yacon salad topped with feta and pomegranate...and of course sourdough and a great Quince + Pickle chutney (housemade and SO awesome I bought a jar to enjoy at home).

Mr Shawn confessed his GREAT love of Porridge, but funnily it's something that he only eats when out at a cafe - it's a special treat, and when prepared in such a lovely way I can totally see his point. This morning the porridge is prune + cinnamon served with toasted fruits, baked seeds + honey ($10.00). I'm not a porridge eater, but I think this bowl could convert me (next time)!  Miss Chicken decides on the Poached (free range) egg roll ($12) with pasture-raised ham, cheddar, garlic aoili, quince + pumpkin chutney and greens. It's a version of my ploughmans plate...in a roll.

Cornersmith is a popular little cafe so expect a bit of a wait. I was seated in under 20 minutes (on both visits) which seems to be pretty standard in Sydney these days. Just don't tear up when you're talking to the staff like I did cos you'll embarrass your dining companions...Miss Piggy "the crazy-crying-blogging-pig-loving-cat-lady"!

Cornersmith is at 314 Illawarra Road, Marrickville.  

Cornersmith on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 13, 2012

Billy Kwong, Surry Hills

Billy Kwong in Surry Hills is somewhere that has been on my Eat List for what seems like eons. EONS!

Why?  Truthfully I'm a little starstruck by owner Kylie Kwong and I've always been keen to try her style of Chinese fusion cooking made from ethically raised, organic, bio-dynamic and seasonal produce. This type of ethical produce has become even more important to me since I've started learning about where my food/meat comes from and some of the really heartbreaking and inhumane conditions livestock are raised in. I was looking forward to dinner at Billy Kwong where I could go nuts eating ANYTHING I wanted knowing upfront that it the type of ethical food I wanted to support.

The restaurant is fairly small - and until last month it wasn't even possible to book a table.  The queue of diners waiting to get into the restaurant at 6pm was a common sight on Crown Street.  There are probably only 40 seats (stools no less - oh, my aching back) in the whole place and turn over is pretty high.  I was lucky enough to score a seat at the table Viv had booked as party of a charity auction for Starlight Foundation. 

We had $250 to spend on food as part of the charity gig and I was thinking this wouldn't go very far as some of the dishes are quite pricey. Turns out we had more than enough to eat and even had a bit of spare change at the end of the meal.  Infact, I'd happily go back here with a group of four people again - I think we'd get away with spending about $60 each and would leave pretty happy.  Individually some of the dishes are quite pricey, but somehow it doesn't actually add it to all that much for what is essentially a great quality meal with ethical produce.

A never-ending pot of delicious Organic Mint and Ginger Tea ($3.80 per person)
Our food frenzy begins with Crispy Prawn Wontons with Sweet Chilli Sauce ($19.00) and a serve of Crispy Organic Old Man Salt Bush Cakes (from the specials menu)...yes, we like crispy things.  The Prawn Wontons were similar to most other prawn wontons that I've had before, but the Salt Bush Cakes were really special.  The Salt Bush was just every so slightly salty and it was nice to experience first hand what so many of our sheep eat on a daily basis...ha ha. It helped that the salt-bush was encased in a lovely taro-cake and given a whirl in the deep-fryer.

My FAVOURITE entree of the night was without a doubt the Wok-Fried Rice Noodle Rolls with Braised Biodynamic Beef and Black Beans ($25.00). The beef was SO flavoursome and SO tender - truly incredible. The Homestyle Fried Biodynamic Eggs with Organic Tamari and Homemade XO ($19.00) was not at all what I was expecting. Rather than the hard-boiled eggs I was anticipating, the eggs were fried,with a still-runny yolk oozing out over the plate. This dish tasted really great with a spoonful of plain rice.

And onto the mains and the dish we'd all been waiting for - Crispy Skin Duck with Organic Davidson Plum Sauce ($49.00).  The duck was wonderful, crispy skin and not overly fatty...the Davidson Plum sauce was surprisingly tart (so don't go putting spoonfuls of it on your rice like did).  My favourite main however was the incredible Red-Braised Caramelised Black Berkshire Pork Belly with Organic Yellow Box Honeycomb, Organic Meyer Lemons and Fresh Organic Lilly Pillies ($42.00). Wow wow wow! This was AMAZING. The succulent piece of pork belly came topped with an oozy piece of honeycomb that we mixed through the dish to create a delicately sweet flavoured pork. The only problem with this dish was that I had to share it.

Curiosity got the better of us in our decision to order the Stir-Fried Cobbler's Peg, Milk Thistle, Dandelion, Cavolo Nero and Silver Beet with Young Ginger + Shiro Shoyu ($15.00) mainly so we could find out what Cobbler's Peg is. So what is Cobbler's Peg?  It's an introduced weed that has naturalised itself into our environment...and it's pretty tasty.

We finished off with the Dessert of the Day - Poached Pear with Macadamia Praline and sour cream - nice and light and I loved the Praline. Oh, and a complimentary serve of dark chocolate to end the night.

Billy Kwong is at Shop 3/355 Crown Street, Surry Hills. Phone them on 9332 3300.

Billy Kwong on Urbanspoon

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