Popolo, Rushcutters Bay
For Valentine's Day this year, my boyfriend and I decided to dine at Popolo, a restaurant focusing on southern Italian food in Rushcutters Bay. The restaurant had a special San Valentine five course menu. We both picked a different dish to try for each of the courses, so really it was more like a ten course degustation!
We started with the Seaweed fritters, offered as an apertivo. It looked like something from outer space - airy, green puffs on skewers. There was a subtle flavour of seaweeds and reminded me of eating prawn crackers, only in a spherical shape.
For Antipasti, we started with the Veal carpaccio. The thin slices of veal were succulent and went well with the gooey-ness of the yolk and crunchiness of the puffed rice. However, I was missing a little sprinkle of salt on this dish to really bring out the flavour of the dish.
The Spatchcock on the other hand, I had absolutely no complaints about. The char grilled flavour really came through and the accompaniment with the salsa verde gave it an extra kick of flavour. The roasted baby capsicums were some of the sweetest I have ever tasted. I could have definitely eaten this as a main.
For Primi, we opted for the Fregola and the House made spaghetti. The Fregola (a type of pasta from Sardinia) took on a stunning red colour thanks to the beetroot juice. Even though the truffle pecorino isn't visible on the plate, it definitely was the hero of the dish. The creaminess of the pecorino and the aromaics of the truffle really permeated through. We scraped the plate clean, it was that delicious!
The House made spaghetti with scallops, zucchini flowers and tomato was also one of the best pasta dishes I have had in Sydney. Again, it was simple with only a few ingredients but it was all cooked to perfection and brought together with generous lashings of olive oil.
Onto the Secondi... by this stage, we were already getting rather full! The Lamb backstrap was beautifully cooked but it did not have the wow factor of the preceding dishes. I did enjoy how the flavours all worked together with the sweetness of the confit cherry tomato and the smokiness of the eggplant.
The Duck breast was also very enjoyable to eat and I especially liked the roasted eschallots, which had an intense sweetness to them.
For dessert, we tried the White chocolate mousse with chocolate sand and balsamic macerated strawberries. The mousse was velvety smooth and well balanced with the chocolate crumbs and the strawberries (some of them macerated, others had a freeze dried like texture). It was a beautiful way to finish off the meal...
...together with our second dessert - the Cheese selection with house made fig jam.
For $95 pp, it was good value for the amount of food we ate. The service was efficient, but not as friendly as I was expecting, given the name Popolo means people in Italian. Overall, I was very impressed by the quality of the food and especially the two pasta dishes, which are some of the best I've had in Sydney.
Barrel Bar & Dining, Cremorne
Part wine bar/ part restaurant, Barrel Bar & Dining is perched on the busy Military Road in Cremorne. Seating options include high bar tables or a more relaxed atmosphere down the back of the restaurant which we opted for.
Not often is carrots the star of a dish, let alone having it pretty much be the dish. The carrots were prepared three ways - slow cooked for 24 hours, smoked and pickled. Every spoonful was a different mix of textures and flavours - sweet slow cooked carrots, smokey puree, crispy carrot chips, zingy pickled carrots sprinkled with salted honeycomb. It was a delicious dish and never had I enjoyed carrots so much.
The 12 hour cured Queensland king prawns with vanilla and coffee jelly sounded intriguing but sadly, it did not deliver. The overwhelming flavour I got was saltiness, which overpowered anything else in the dish.
On the other hand, the Chicken ballotine with pancetta, confit egg yolk, sweetcorn puree and onion ash was a very impressive dish. The ballotine itself was moist and tender. The sweetness of the puree balanced the saltiness of the pancetta, and the crispy onion ash added a new smokey element to the dish.
The Beef rib was tender and juicy, with a wild mushroom ketchup giving it a lovely richness. The crispy enoki and kale added a little lightness to what would otherwise have been quite a heavy dish.
Barrel Bar & Dining is a great place to go if you are after something a little more inventive and experimental. The plating was beautiful and the flavours matched (apart from that king prawn dish!)
Spice Alley, Chippendale
Spice Alley brings a taste of Hawker centers found in South east Asia to Chippendale. There's a range of Asian food stalls on offer, ranging from HK to Malaysian to Thai cuisine. On a warm summers' night, the place was bustling with diners enjoying their meal under the hanging lanterns.
From Alex Lee Kitchen, we got the Chatterbox Chicken Rice, Lee's take on the Hainanese Chicken Rice. The boneless chicken was silky smooth, with an almost gelatinous skin. It was served with chili ginger, dark soy sauce and a flavoursome chicken soup.
We also sampled the Cheese roti from Alex Lee Kitchen and were pretty happy with our choice. You can't go wrong with buttery and cheesy layers of flaky roti! The curry sauce and sambal were just the right accompaniments.
I've been missing my Char Kway Teow ever since I came back from my holiday in Penang last year - the ones I've had just haven't lived up to standard, but I was very impressed with Old Jim's Kee version. There were generous servings of prawns and the Chinese sausage, and the dish had a smokey flavour synonymous with the ones cooked on the streets of Penang...so delicious!
I love the concept of Spice Alley and being right opposite UTS, the prices are fit for a uni student's budget. I will definitely be back to try some of the other dishes.
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