Northern Italian smokehouse? I was immediately intrigued and decided to pay Grolla in Neutral Bay a visit. Nearly all the items on the menu have a smoked element, from appetisers to desserts.
My friend and I started with the Smoked duck breast. The smoked duck was beautifully prepared, paired with ricotta and a caramelised fig sauce. You can't go wrong with this combination.
The Smoked kingfish carpaccio is one of their signature dishes. The smokiness was subtle but noticeable. It presented beautifully with a drizzle of olive oil, flying fish roe and a sprinkling of beetroot powder.
Onto the mains and we went with the owner's recommendation and ordered the Smoked beef rib. The beef rib was incredibly juicy and melted in my mouth. The Mojo Verde packed a punch of flavour and really freshened up the dish.
Similarly, the Smoked pork jowl and cheek was infused with great flavour from the smoking process. Each mouthful, with the smooth, creamy cauliflower puree was a joy to eat.
Onto dessert and the food continued to impressive, both in taste and aesthetic appeal. A beautiful glass ornament landed at our table. Lifting the lid, we were greeted by our first dessert: Macadamia nut Lemon myrtle Coconut ice cream, corn puff, pistachio, smoked salted caramel. The ice cream was creamy and refreshing, and I loved the crunchy texture of the corn puffs. The smoked salted caramel tied the whole dish together.
The Mascarpone semifreddo looked equally stunning. The mango and lime curd center was simply divine. The semifreddo was topped with a sprinkling of the strawberry dust, and of course the smoked caramel sauce. I was impressed Grolla has been able to incorporate smokiness into desserts and actually elevate the dish, rather than being a distraction.
Grolla is definitely worth a visit, offering beautifully presented, fusion cuisine with unique flavours and personable service.
Hidden away from the bustling Military Road in Neutral Bay is La Puerta, a great place to dine if you are a fan of Latin American cuisine. The restaurant design features red, black and dark wooden hues with a dramatic mural depicting two dancers in the midst of a tango.
The food is made for sharing and we started with the Tiradito. Thin slices of kingfish have been marinated with Aji Amarillo (a chilli paste), dressed with lime juice and red sorrel leaves. It's similar to ceviche, wonderfully fresh, tangy with a bit of heat.
I love my grilled corn and La Puerta’s Mazarcada Corn is just as delicious as the ones I’ve tried at Mamasita or Ms G’s. The corn was topped with a generous amount of grated haloumi cheese and a delicious spice mix.
For the bigger dishes, we opted for the Grilled giant octopus with chorizo and crispy potato. The grilled octopus almost tasted meaty, and the capsicum chutney together with the aioli made for a great flavour combination. It was definitely a moreish dish.
Can’t say I’ve tried Pork belly with avocado puree so I was a little apprehensive, but it turned out to be a great combination. The pork was incredibly tender with crispy crackling, and finished off with a chorizo crumb. The smoked potato and avocado puree provided a good balance to the bold flavours of the dish.
Onto dessert and the Popcorn and soursop ice cream sandwich definitely caught my eye. I love the taste of soursop, but have usually only found it in some Vietnamese restaurant as an ingredient to a smoothie. First time having soursop ice cream and it was very refreshing and perfectly offset the sweetness of the dulce de leche-laced popcorn brittle. It was definitely a fun dessert to eat.
La Puerta has a lovely ambience and it's definitely worth a visit to experience some South American cuisine, tapas style. There’s an extensive cocktails and wine list too, featuring mainly Chilean and Argentinian varieties.
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.
Over the years I have been to many Japanese restaurants in Neutral Bay, including Sushi Samurai which has been rebranded to Izakaya Samurai. It is actually the sister restaurant of Izakaya Yebisu in the city. Like Yebisu, the restaurant features touch screen menus which makes ordering ultra simple. Before we had finished ordering, our first dish had already arrived. Talk about efficiency!
First up was the lotus root chips. I am not a fan of lotus root generally, but it is a different story when they are deep fried! Unfortunately these were a bit chewy and not crispy enough.
Seafood carpaccio with Japanese ume dressing. It's like a Japanese take on ceviche, the tangy soy dressing went really well with the fresh sashimi. It was something different to the regular sashimi...which we also ordered.
The main sashimi plate comprised of tuna, snapper, kingfish, salmon, prawn, salmon roe and scallops. The slices were beautifully presented and were quickly chowed down.
I love agedashi tofu so was very keen to try this variation - Agedashi Eggplant. It was delicious and the sauce was really nicely balanced. The eggplant was amazingly soft and just melted in the mouth.
Not so impressive was the beef tongue, which was a bit chewy.
One of the dangers of a touch screen menu is that it is just too easy to order. No need to find a waiter/ waitress, one touch of the screen is all it takes. The food kept on arriving...The skirt steak was tender and the ponzu dressing really lifted the flavour. The grilled kingfish was moist and flavoursome, although by this stage, I was feeling rather full. The scallop and garlic fried rice, is an example of a simple dish done really really well. I was surprised at how much flavour they managed to pack into it!
For a Japanese restaurant, the dessert menu was quite extensive. The Earl Grey Brulee caught my eye and it did not disappoint - and very reasonably priced as well! The earl grey flavour was obvious without being overpowering and I enjoyed every mouthful. The Green Tea tiramisu was also very well made, although it didn't have the wow factor of the brulee.
Izakaya Samurai is a great place for a casual Japanese meal with an extensive menu, with the added convenience of a touch screen ordering system.
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