Food News, August, 2011

August 2011

This month’s column takes you from a tiny Turkish bar in Balmain to an organic farm near Bowral; looking for the best Italian in Sydney — according to a couple of Italian chefs; and two expos, Organic and Gluten Free. You’ll meet a couple of mullets and get up to speed on the new olive oil labelling laws.

Organic Exposé: It’s that time of the year when all the best of the organic industry comes to town to spruik its wares and to set us on the path to righteousness: it’s Organic Expo time. As well as all the goodies and wine (and the organic wine awards) there’ll be a special emphasis on such important issues as the finding that around 836,000 Australians suffer from food allergies and that all those chemicals that make your new car smell so good are toxic. There’s an organic kids’ fun zone with a pen full of baby animals to pet, feed and eat — only kidding — and a creepy-crawly garden where you can study insects under the microscope. Fun for the whole green family. Sydney Exhibition Centre, August 5–7, 2011.

Ask the Italians: One thing is for sure: ask two Italians for the best Italian places to eat in Sydney and you’re going to start a long, loud argument. Surprisingly, I recently had lunch — separately — with two Italian chefs (no names, capisce?) and they agreed on two out of three favourites. They were Osvaldo Polletti (148 Norton Street, Leichhardt, Ph 9560 4525) and Cipri Italian (10 Elizabeth Street, Paddington, Ph 9331 3333). So far, agreement. But then a split. One loved Amarcord (96 Bronte Road, Bondi Junction, Ph 9369 4071), the other, meh. But the same chef offered another favourite, Libiamo (2–14 Bunn Street, Pyrmont, Ph 9552 1509). Anyone out there want to nominate some other great Italians? Me, I’ll kick off the list with A Tavola (348 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, Ph 9331 7871). I’ve since tried the pizza at Libiamo: damn fine — almost up there with my favourite, Lucio (248 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, Ph 9332 3766).

Speaking of capisce — (pronounced cap-eesh), which loosely translates as ‘understand?’, a word beloved of Tough Guy Mafia bosses when intimidating errant Wise Guys — who remembers the wonderful exchange from The Simpsons circa 1995? A Tough Guy corners Bart: “Hey, kid: one more thing. If you ever set foot in this store again, you’ll be spending Christmas in juvenile hall. Capisce? Well, do you understand?” “Everything except capisce,” replies Bart.

Balmain booming: Had a great lunch at Efendy (79 Eliot Street, Balmain, Ph 9810 5466), the occasion a benefit for the Bridge For Asylum Seekers Foundation, thanks to the generosity of owner and chef Somer Sivrioglu. The meal was, as always, terrific (among other things, the best baklava in Sydney).

On the way in I noted two interesting developments. The first, Efendy’s Bar Mey, which Somer correctly calls “the smallest bar in Balmain” and which serves top-notch Turkish raki, Efe Green, made from fresh grapes, and the triple-distilled Efe Black as well as cocktails like Turkish Delight and wine by the glass. Cute as.

Just around the corner, a new eating house has popped up on the site of an old fish-and-chip shop. Little Darling Diner (485a Darling Street, Ph 98120 5255) has elegant balloon-back chairs and a big champagne bath with a bottle of Moët & Chandon on the front bar. I’ve since spoken to co-owner (with Nour Atalla) and chef Melinda Omerod, who told me it’s a French bistro and will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as high tea and will soon offer takeaway picnic baskets. The Moët? It’ll be available by the bottle or the glass with a selection of boutique wines. Melinda cooked at Barnaby’s in Parramatta when it was owned by my friend Michael Fischer and Nour’s last outing was Aqua in Bondi. We’ll drop by — and if you do, let us know what you think. They opened on July 26.

But wait, there’s more — and more. Late August, a Balmain branch of Thai favourite Spice I Am opens at the other end near Blue Ginger, where co-owner and chef Sujet Saenkham will be serving up a selection of the best dishes from SIA1.

Meanwhile, back at Sunday lunch at Efendy, we sat next to Leichhardt Mayor Rochelle Porteous and the talk turned to the proliferation of cafes and restaurants along Darling Street. She said, while she was supportive of local cafes and restaurants, “What I’m interested in is a thriving and sustainable shopping centre where people can have access to services and facilities in their area.” I agree. We love our eating and drinking joints but sometimes you have to buy a pot of paint or a magazine. Often, when I’m driving around Sydney, it seems to be turning into wall-to-wall eating joints. The problem is, there’s nothing councils can do at the moment to restore balance. They’re working on new local environment and development plans to ensure we have a good mix. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Bowral bounty: Toured Phil Lavers’ Moonacres organic farm a couple of weeks ago. After 14 years working in the finance business in Tokyo, Phil decided he needed a tree change and here he is, growing gorgeous greens, perfect potatoes — many varieties — and a lot of garlic in the Southern Highlands. A long way from Tokyo. We munched on Brussels sprouts, baby leeks and broccoli straight from the ground and took home a big bag of assorted spuds. Phil delivers his produce direct to many restaurants, including Berta (17 Alberta Street, Sydney, Ph 9264 6133), whose chef O Tama Carey is planning one of her Wednesday Sagra dinners celebrating seasonal produce around his mizuna, cavalo nero and breakfast radishes. Go to for details of these terrific, and terrific-value ($55 four courses), dinners.

We stopped for lunch on the way back at Gastronome (23A Boolwey Street, Bowral, Ph 4861 3614) where they also use Phil’s produce. Damion Alves is the owner with his mother Patrizia in the kitchen. She’s Italian, Dad’s Portuguese and the food reflects this: simple, using good local produce. And they roast their own coffee, which is damn good. Bowral has raced ahead in all sorts of good and bad ways since last I passed through. Good: places like Gastronome and Biota Dining (18 Kangaloon Road, Ph 4862 2005). Bad: lumpy supermarkets bulging everywhere. Ah well, got have the good, the bad and the ugly, I guess.

The gluten problem: Confession. I was a gluten-free sceptic. Until I saw what a difference a gluten-free diet made to my eldest daughter. She’s not a coeliac; it’s just that gluten made her sick. Glutens are proteins found within the seeds or grains of wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut and triticale. The theory is that, because we only began to eat these cereals about 10,000 years ago, some of us don’t assimilate them well and they can trigger some pretty terrible diseases — from insulin-dependent diabetes to chronic fatigue syndrome. If you’re unlucky enough to have any sort of problems with gluten, you’ll want to go to the Gluten-Free Expo on Saturday and Sunday August 26–27 at Sydney Showground, And how good is it that we recognise and can do something about this problem?

Goodbye BS olive oil: Lovers of imported olive oil will be pleased to learn there is now an Australian standard for the labelling of the lovely stuff. Especially anyone baffled by such meaningless weasel terms as “light”, which usually means either nothing or that the refined oil has been passed through chalk to make it lighter in colour; and “premium”, “super” and “pure”, which curiously meant not pure but refined. “The new standard will establish a benchmark for olive oil quality to ensure that consumers get the product they pay for,” said Colin Blair, Chief Executive Officer, Standards Australia. So now when you want to buy an extra-virgin olive oil, you’ll know that’s what you’re getting. Next stage: some sort of standard to ensure that Australian extra virgins are indeed of the same standard as the Europeans. But that’s another story. For more information, go to

Funny fish tale: Talking with Wayne Hulme at Joto seafood provedores (see On Plates Now) he told me Neil Perry once put such a beautiful fish on the menu as Coorong yellow-eye mullet. Didn’t sell a single serve. Then he had a brainwave. Put it on again as Coorong yellow-eye. He couldn’t get enough. We are very strange about fish names. I ate sea mullet at a Slow Food Seasonal Seafood night, cooked by Iain Suthers, a Professor in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at UNSW based at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science. For an academic, he’s a pretty good cook. He split the lady mullet down the middle (packed with sumptuous roe), cooked it skin side down on a hot plate, turned it over, cooked the other side and we ate it with nothing but lemon juice. Mullet heaven. Because of sustainability issues, we’re going to have to start eating all these lesser-known fish. Let’s see it as an opportunity to get to know, understand and enjoy a wider range of fish than we do now.

Article Tags: Balmain restaurantsBowral restaurantsItalian restaurantsorganicgluten free

Balmain restaurants, Bowral restaurants, Italian restaurants, organic, gluten free
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