Food News, January 27, 2012

January 2012

Chinese New Year

Welcome to 2012, the year of the Water Dragon and, we hope fervently, the year of living better than we did last year. But what kind of a year can we expect from the dragon? Well, as with most things Chinese, it’s not that easy. One website trumpets “Hail mighty Dragon! Your arrival is most welcome. People and businesses around the world have had difficult times over the last few years, so the good luck you bring is timely and needed.”

In reality (if you can call anything to do with dragons reality), it depends on your own astrological sign (I’m a rooster) and whether you’ve a predominance of weak water, strong water etc. But my horoscope says, “Generally, as the Rooster and Dragon have good affiliation with each other, you can expect things to go more smoothly for the Rooster this year.” I humbly beseech the dragon to be kind to the rooster. You can find your forecast here.

Luckily, this column is coming out just in time to catch a couple of Chinese New Year Events. With luck, you’ll be able to get a ticket for the Chinatown Food tour on Wednesday, February 1, conducted by me and my friend — tea master and dragon maker Raymond Leung. A food and cultural tour through this fascinating precinct includes breakfast at Mother Chu’s and lunch at The Eight, $60 a head, bookings essential 9265 9333.

Or you can join in a Chinese Tea Appreciation Workshop and Yum Cha at Raymond’s delightful tea house, Zensation (656 Bourke Street, Surry Hills, Ph 9319 2788), which will set you back $45 a head and runs on a number of Saturdays and Sundays until January 29. Finally, another friend, the remarkable Dr Richard Wu, psychiatrist, painter and lover of Chinese food, is giving a talk on the history of Chinese cuisine on Wednesday, February 1, between 6pm and 7.30pm at the Education Building, Manning Road, Camperdown Campus, The University of Sydney. This one is free and you can book on 9114 0764.


First cabs off the rank

We have our first openings for 2012. First up, January 19 saw The Burrawang General Store (11 Hoddle Street, Burrawang, Ph 4886 4496) open — or reopen. And, according to a neighbour who has already eaten there, it’s pretty good. As the name suggests, it’s situated in a barn-sized room in the old general store, which has been meticulously renovated by a fanatic for detail. The menu looks edible and comfortable with nothing there to scare the horses and, pleasingly, will scrape in just under the $$ (entrée and main under $50) mark. And there’s a good wine list with lots by the glass. Well worth a visit if you’re in the Southern Highlands, which appears to be having a bit of a food revival, what with the SMH Good Pub Guide Best Overall Pub Award going to the Burrawang Village Hotel (14 Hoddle Street, Ph 4886 4206), which is just over the road. Burrawang is on a roll.
And closer to home, the old Duck & Swan in Chippendale has been refurbed and renamed The Duck Inn (74 Rose Street, Ph 9319 4415). And very attractive and rustic it looks, too — or “shabby chic”, as the release calls it. Two chefs, Chris Carless and Aaron Bettison, turning out admirably well-priced dishes (entrees start at $14, mains at $19) moving with the seasons. Another burgeoning food burb. We’ll report when we’ve had a squiz and a taste.

How much?

During the holiday break I found myself looking for breakfast on the northern beaches and opted for a little cafe that looked quaint and funky — and which shall remain nameless: naming and shaming is not the point of this piece. We had a croissant each with jam — or “preserves” as it was on the menu; me a double espresso, her a soy latte. Have a guess. $23.50. The coffee was OK, but the croissants were dry and fluffy. Not good. I did the numbers. Say croissants at $3 each, coffees $3 each. Jam, maybe 50 cents’ worth. That’s $12.50. It wasn’t a Sunday (we’ll come to that), just a weekday morning.

When I got back to Sydney, I rang my favourite bakery in Glebe, Sonoma (name and praise). They buy their croissants from Zumbo. How much for the same meal? $12.50. The croissants are crackers, the coffee super fine.

There has been a bit in the news about costs lately, with Melbourne’s George Calombaris complaining that with new penalty rates he has to pay his waitstaff $40 an hour on Sundays. Now, I know about the costs of running a restaurant like the Press Club (Calombaris’s flagship and a place I love) but check this out from the menu: The Press Club Greek salad, heirloom tomatoes, feta, olive, tsoureki tostaki (Greek toast) $29.90. Thirty bucks is a lot of money to pay for a Greek salad, even in a flash Greek restaurant.

It was a real whinge fest after a while, with chefs saying things like, “Sydney doesn’t know how cheap their food is” and “We can’t afford to serve food at the prices we have to charge.”

Well, sorry, but I’m the co-editor of a restaurant guide called Cheap Eats and it’s full of really good places to eat, where no meal is more than $50 for entrée and main.

And one other thing about Mr Calombaris. Someone did an analysis of what he should be paying his waiters on Sunday: under the modern restaurants award, the rate for full-time trade-qualified waitstaff and chefs is $18.06 an hour, $31.61 on Sunday. So George is paying above-award rates, good on him. But check out the menu at The Press Club,, and I don’t think he’ll need to sell his Porsche (if he has one).

Not sure whether the bloke who owns the café on the northern beaches owns a Porsche. But he won’t last long ripping people off like that.



Thinking about Mr Calombaris and his colleague Gary Mehigan, and Curtis Stone, I began to think about chefs and ads. It’s nothing new. Way back in 1999 I wrote a story about sexy chefs for The Age which pointed out: “In the glossy pages of the American magazine Food Arts, you’ll see an advertising campaign for a Cuisinart Vita-Mix blender, featuring svelte naked chefs, the sleek kitchen gadget only just covering their, er, whisks. Posing for these ads, among other ‘chunks’ (chef–hunks) are Jean-Louis Palladin of Palladin, and Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin.”

You could argue that it’s OK to flog a Cuisinart Vita-Mix blender; you could even — at a pinch of nutmeg — argue that it’s OK for Gary Mehigan to lend his name to Masterfoods. But Curtis Stone and Coles? Even worse is the latest sellout — not a chef but muso and cheesemaker Alex James (Blur) who, in a column he writes, compared McDonald’s with a Michelin-starred restaurant: “When it’s busy in a Michelin kitchen, all the chefs are doing is putting pre-prepared parts of a meal together, which is essentially the same as McDonald’s.” That’s right, Alex, they both deal with food ... well, with Maccas it’s food-like substances. But if you can’t see the difference, I’d suggest you stick to music and cheese. The weird thing is, he wasn’t even paid to say it.



My, we have dived into 2012 a bit whingy — but that’s all, folks. Exactly the opposite of a sellout is the food magazine Sprout, published quarterly by the inestimable and hard-working Diane Jardine. It’ll set you back $4 an issue or $25 for a year’s worth, including posting and handling. What’s so good about it? It’s free of chef worship, it deals with some of the serious food issues but still manages to be fun and have good recipes. The current issue features stories on the Australian dairy industry, wild foods and what to do with them and the latest on the National Food Plan, among others. I suggest you go to for more info on content and where you can find it.


Aussie pie in the sky

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never tried a Pie Face pie, probably because just up the road from where I live is Bariloche (333 Glebe Point Road, Glebe) where they make the best empanada in town — but I’m going to redress that immediately. The business, which was started in 2003 by a pair of fashion designers, Wayne Homschek and Betty Fong — not the first to abandon fashion for food ... the Hemmes family comes to mind — they now have something like 40 (franchised) outlets in Australia, and now they’re off to New York. Remember the words of the song? “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere...”

The little Aussie pie in the Big Apple. Good luck to them.

PS: Just did a trip across town to the nearest Pie Face and sampled a chunky steak and mushroom. Damn fine. Flaky pastry stuffed with well-cooked chunks of beef, good gravy but maybe not quite enough mushroom. Noo Yawk will love it.


Lyrical edibles

Every month or so a newsletter from The Australian Writers’ Network arrives on my screen. The latest informed me of a book of poetry by one David Wansbrough, poet, philosopher and artist. The book is called Le Pain Quotidien, and Wansbrough wrote the poems and supplied the illustrations. Each poem, as the publisher says, “celebrates the simple pleasures of life — from daily bread, food, wine, love and friendship”. A sample is published below. If you like what you see, you can order a copy from the publisher, Green Olive Press,


Salad Afternoons

Ladies-who-lunch like salads.

And I like to sit unseen and watch


These women
glow with health and life

and seem so capable of anything.

They look right through me.

My belt is longer than it was.

I am not adroit, or elegant.

I cannot decide between the fish

or thin shaved prosciutto on toasted

soda bread. Perhaps with the concession

of a pickled caper or a shred of horseradish?

Well, maybe I have chosen. I admire

how deftly a woman with a napkin

can remove a fragment of lettuce leaf

from immaculate front teeth,

while they knowledgeably talk

of changes in corporate tax laws,

and chat about their water skis,

then of avenues of cypresses, and Tuscan holidays


Continuing with food poetry, and from an entirely different source, a book of poetry from Moorish Spain, the poet, one Ibn Sara, about whom I can find nothing except that he probably lived in what is now Portugal and died in 1123. Below is one of three of his food poems.



Fine to taste they are,

Smoothly globular,

Fed by the sweet brook

In their shady nook.


Fronds at top and toe

Clutch them round, as though

They are the hearts of sheep

In the eagle’s grip.


I like poetry. I read it before going to bed, sitting on the throne, and on the bus. Listening to an interview with author Geraldine Brooks (Caleb’s Crossing, The Year of Wonders) I learnt that she reads a poem before starting work every day. Not a bad practice to loosen up the brain.


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