There's no shortage of cafes on the lower north shore but not many serve as delicious food as Cavalier Specialty Coffee in Crows Nest.
But first, the coffee. I decided to go for the Chai Latte and it was velvety smooth with just the right balance of sweetness and spice.
For the food, we decided to go with the waitstaff's recommendation and ordered the Juniper cured ocean trout and the Hand made burrata with smoked almonds and cucumber.
First to arrive was the Ocean Trout which looked almost too pretty to eat, almost. The trout was beautifully cured and egg was perfectly cooked, interspersed with the mayonnaise, the buttery crumb and shards of toasted rye. The sprinkling of caviar just added that extra touch of decadence.
The Burrata was another beautifully constructed dish. Burrata on its own is already pretty tasty, but the crunchy smoked almonds and the refreshing cucumber soup really elevate it to a whole other level. The waitress advised that it's best to be shared as it's quite heavy, but I probably could have eaten it all myself!
The dish came with a croissant and a slice of rye bread, perfect for soaking up all those delicious juices.
Service was friendly and enthusiastic. I will no doubt be back again to sample the rest of the menu. Seating is limited in this cafe so be prepared to wait for a seat if you come during peak times.
Umii bills itself as a modern izakaya, located in Drummoyne. The food tasted fantastic but there were a few issues with the food matching what was promised on the menu. We started with the Scampi with foie gras and truffle oil. The food looked amazing when it arrived at our table but the question that popped into both our heads was: Where is the foie gras? After asking the waitress, we found out they were the little shavings on top of the scampi. Funnily enough, the table next to us ordered the same dish and asked exactly the same question. That aside, the scampi, served raw, was delicious with the sauce. If only there were a bit more foie gras, it would have made for an even more decadent dish (and perhaps justify a bit the price of the dish).
Continuing with the crustacean theme, we got the Grilled lobster tail. It was one of the blackboard specials and stated it came accompanied with grilled fresh figs. With no sighting of the figs, we again raised the question with the wait staff only to be told they didn't know. When we enquired further, we found out the chef had changed the dish but they hadn't updated the menu! Whilst that was pretty disappointing, we actually couldn't wait to dig into the dish as it was incredibly tasty. The grilled lobster were plump and perfectly cooked and the mix of the sweet and spicy furikaki seasoned crumb together with the black sesame sauce was very addictive.
The Lamb cutlet served in a traditional Japanese charcoal pot thankfully came as it was described. The cutlets were very tender and seasoned superbly. The smokiness from the charcoal pot came through without being overly dominating.
To apologise for their menu discretions, we were offered a complimentary dessert so we chose the Matcha roll with waffle cone. The matcha roll had that perfect sponge cake texture, and together with the gelato, had a really intense green tea flavour which I love. Topped off with strawberries and a black sesame waffle cone, it was a great way to end the night.
I left Umii with mixed feelings - the food and presentation were beautiful and a great showcase of modern Japanese cuisine. On the other hand, the menu deviations were irritating and some of the service inconsistent. Given it's a relatively new restaurant, hopefully they were just initial issues which have now been fixed as I would love to try some of their other dishes.
MediTrainean, Crows Nest
I love the concept of a sushi train - no waiting for your food, ability to see exactly what you'll get and bite sized dishes which means more variety. Taking the sushi train concept to the Mediterranean is what MediTrainean in Crows Nest has done. On the conveyor belt are a selection of mezze plates (served cold) for diners to grab on their own. For hot dishes, these are made to order including several from the grill. The blue and white colour scheme helps transport the diners to the Mediterranean.
The first thing I grabbed off the train was the Zucchini parmigiana. It very much reminded me of the eggplant version, with the napoli sauce and gooey cheeses making it a tasty start to the evening.
The Pearl cous cous was a wonderfully light dish and one that tasted great at room temperature. I loved the incorporation of the orange segments, together with the spiced roast pumpkin, apricots and walnuts.
The Smoked salmon went beautifully with the harissa mousse. The pickled vegetables were an interesting accompaniment, but somewhat overpowered the salmon.
The Porcini and provolone arancini had a crispy coating and were delicious, a sign that the highest quality of ingredients must have been used.
The Scallops grilled under a dukkah gratin was my favourite dish of the night. The dukkah gratin was just bursting with flavour and the scallops was beautifully cooked.
The Meatballs were unfortunately a bit of a let down as some of the meatballs ended up being cold whilst the others were piping hot. We had to send it back to be reheated.
We opted for the Baked Ricotta cheesecake for dessert, which was nice but did not have a wow factor.
The small plates are suited to the sushi train concept and I enjoyed the experience. Service was a bit inconsistent, and hopefully will improve as time goes on.
Toshiya is a Japanese fusion restaurant in Cremorne, run by the man Toshiya himself, a chef with over 23 years' experience. I was lucky enough to be invited to try out some of his signature dishes, courtesy of Washoku Lovers.
We started with the Sashimi tacos, which were spectacular. The salmon and kingfish sashimi were incredibly fresh, and the crisp and light taco shell were a joy to eat.
The Soft shell crab had the combination you want in such a dish - meaty flesh with a light batter. The flavours of the chilli mayo and shiso soy dressing was on point and really completed the dish.
Onto the Salmon carpaccio with truffle oil. The salmon was sliced so thinly, it was enveloped in the beautiful sauce and melted in my mouth. I only wished there were more slices.
The Tuna tataki was beautifully seared and the chili garlic oil is a little different to the usual accompaniments but I didn't mind it.
It's hard to go wrong with Grilled scallops with garlic butter. Served in their shells, the butter sauce was well balanced and we mopped up every last drop.
The Poached salmon was beautifully tender with cubes of salmon sashimi wrapped in the middle, which was a nice surprise.
The Volcano rolls are one of the most popular dishes at Toshiya and it's easy to see why. Amongst the pyramid of sushi is tempura fried prawn, giving it a great crunchy texture. The sauce definitely packs a lot of heat but is seriously delicious.
The Pari Pari chicen definitely didn't look like a dish you would normally find in a Japanese restaurant. Encased inside the crunchy spring roll pastry was a piece of tender chicken with cheese, vegetables and tartare sauce. Together with a sweet chili sauce on top, it was super tasty and I enjoyed this novel combination of flavours. It is a rather rich dish so would recommend sharing this one!
For dessert, we sampled the green tea brulee. It had a strong matcha flavour and cracked easily with the tap of the spoon, which is just what you want. The other dessert was the Chocolate spring rolls - dark chocolate and strawberries rapped in a deep fried spring roll pastry. It was sweet but not overly so.
All of the dishes were beautifully plated and well executed. I really enjoyed the fusion aspects of the menu, so it's a great place to go if you are after something a little different from your standard Japanese cuisine.
As a Washoku Lover's member, you can grab an Assorted Dessert Plate for a discounted price.
Being a big fan of tea, I had been eager to check out The Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar in Redfern. The cafe had a cool vibe and is beautifully decorated. There's a mini retail store inside with lots of displays showing the dazzling array of tea you can choose from (and purchase to take home).
The food in the menu all incorporates some element of tea into it. We went for the Green tea noodle soup with miso broth, shitake mushrooms and ginger dumplings. The broth was delicious and the dumpling filling was equally tasty. It was a very light and healthy dish, with just a hint of green tea from the noodles.
We also ordered the Slow cooked beef in black tea sandwich. It's hard to go wrong with a freshly grilled sandwich but I was still very impressed with the flavour combination. The beef was soft and the balance of the pickled cauliflower and the cheddar was spot on.
Not surprisingly, there are lots of tea to choose from in the drinks menu. After much deliberation, we went with the Gunpowder Green Tea (a suggested pairing with the green tea noodles) and a Ginger Snap Latte - which came in an adorable cup, with its own rabbit tail.
We were craving something sweet and opted for a Lavender and vanilla marshmallow. Great texture and flavour, it was just the little sugar hit we were after.
We definitely enjoyed our trip down the rabbit hole and it's great to see an organic tea bar thriving in Sydney. I'll definitely be back.
Manpuku joins a growing list of Japanese eateries in Chatswood, specialising in ramen. The interior of the restaurant is simply decorated with wooden furnishings and ropes draping from the ceiling. They had some interesting drinks on the menu so we decided to order an Organic plum wine and the Apple jelly wine. Both tasted quite fruity and not too alcoholic, and I loved the texture of the jelly wine - it felt like I was eating a dessert.
For appetisers, we ordered the Octopus Karaage and the Wing Gyoza. The Octopus karaage was freshly cooked with a crispy batter. They were a great accompaniment to the ramen.
The Wing Gyoza caught my eye when perusing the menu. Upon enquiring, we learnt that it 's basically a fried chicken wing stuffed with a dumpling filling. What is not to love about that? The fried chicken wing had crispy skin and the dumpling filling actually felt like it belonged inside a chicken wing!
Onto the ramens and there were a few different soup bases to choose from - chicken soup, pork soup or a miso broth. We chose the Long Name Ramen, a suitable name considering the actual name of the dish consists 14 words. The ramen came with two slices of pork belly, bean sprouts, bamboo shoot, a seaweed sheet and a soft boiled egg. The broth was creamy and flavoursome, and the noodles were still springy with some bite.
The other ramen we tried was the Shio Gara which uses a chicken soup base and comes with medium straight noodles. This is great if you prefer something lighter and cleaner tasting, with a more subtle flavour. For an extra flavour kick, we added the special Gara pepper, which is a white pepper with dried garlic, bamboo and onion.
Service was efficient and friendly, and I'm glad I've found another place to satisfy my ramen craving.
One last thing - If you are a fan of Japanese food, do join Washoku lovers, which offers a range of benefits at a growing number of Japanese restaurants.
Sashimiso dined as a guest of Manpuku and Washoku Lovers. All opinions are my own.
Kensington Street Social is Michelin starred chef, Jason Aterton's first foray into Australia, located in the hotspot of dining in Sydney right now -Chippendale. Arriving for a late lunch, we were seated at the bar with a full view of the frenetic action in the kitchen. The menu is designed for sharing according to the waitstaff but frankly, some of the dishes were so good I wanted it all to myself.
We started with the English breakfast tea and toast which was not what you would normally expect. It came complete with its own two tiered stand. The tea was actually more akin to a mushroom consomme, which was deliciously rich and earthy. Poured into the little cups of Parmesan foam, it was gone all too quickly. To accompany the 'tea' were super thin sourdough crisps topped with creamy bone marrow butter and gentlemen's relish (i.e. the original HP sauce). Definitely a little bit fancy!
The vine tomato stuffed with burrata inside is another must-eat. Dressed with a 25 year aged balsamic vinegar, and together with the semi dried tomato seasoning hidden inside, it was one tasty dish.
We love a good tartare and KSS's veal tartare did not disappoint. The egg yolk jam mixed in with the veal have it a good creamy texture and it was packed full of flavour.
Our next dish, Slow cooked organic hen's egg, sweetcorn, seaweed, parmesan, sage, chicken scratchings, comes with a little jug of chicken gravy poured at the table. The combination of the different textures and flavours just hit all the right notes. Salty, crispy chicken scratchings paired with the sweet, juicy bursts of corn; the umami of the seaweed and parmesan and of course, the gooey egg yolk!
For the last of our savoury dishes, we opted for the Paroo Kangaroo with soured sweet potato, cider poached pear, wattle seed, and land cress. It's easy to overcook kangaroo but in this case, it was cooked to a perfect medium rare. I don't think I've ever had such succulent kangaroo before. The jus that was poured on was delicious and I quite liked the sour sweet potato puree, which cuts through the richness of the meat.
Olive oil cake, where have you been all my life? The cake was incredibly moist and full of olive oil flavour. Served with a scoop of coconut sorbet, diced mango and passionfruit granita, it was a light, refreshing and seriously delicious dessert.
I was mightily impressed by Kensington Street Social - everything from the ambiance to the service and most of all, the food. It was exciting, and everything on the plate had spectacular flavours. Yes, portions are a bit small but on the upside, you have an excuse to try more dishes!
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.
So Cal, Neutral Bay
So Cal, as the name suggests, offer a little of Southern California on Sydney's north shore. The venue is buzzing with an outdoor courtyard packed with diners on a warm summer's night.
After trying out their signature cocktails, we started on the scallop ceviche. I love a good ceviche and this was no different - fresh and zesty, though the flavours were a little muted.
The Fish tacos on the other hand were perfect little morsels - the succulent pieces of fish together with the flavoursome pineapple salsa were a delight. Even though they were a little messy to eat, we finished them in a flash.
The Smoked beef brisket was another highlight of the night. Superbly smoked with a great depth of flavour, the meat was tender but still holding its shape.
The Spicy wings had a crispy coating and together with the house-made hot sauce, were finger-lickin' good.
The Jerk chicken salad had crisp, fresh flavours and the chargrilled chicken went perfectly with the citrus based dressing.
We finished with the churros and unfortunately, it was a bit of a miss for me. I found it quite doughy and too sweet for my liking. I much preferred the savoury!
So Cal is a great place for a night out with friends. The vibe is casual and the staff is friendly. And if you need another reason to visit, they have a pretty extensive cocktail list.
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