Food News, November 24, 2011

November 2011

Jamie in Sydney

When I told a friend — urban gardener, very green and also a chef — I was going to Jamie’s Italian, he paused and finally said, “There’s nothing I don’t like about Jamie Oliver.” I agree. He’s a no-fuss chef whose recipes are edible and doable, kids love him and love to cook his food, and he’s one of those who use their celebrity to do good. So why am I ambivalent about his new venture in Sydney, Jamie’s Italian? The food was fine. The room was interesting, buzzy and full of Sydneysiders of all ages enjoying themselves and the food — it will no doubt go gangbusters and yet, and yet ...

It’s a simulacrum — defined as “something vaguely similar” — of the whole Jamie thing. It’s a franchise, run by very nice people who have done a really good job of creating a Jamie-style restaurant with Jamie-style food. But that’s just it. Mr Oliver has left the premises. He has left a long list of prohibited food additives and specified the kind of produce he wants to serve. We shared a cured meats plate and a buffalo mozzarella with chilli jam; I had a cuttlefish paccheri (little tube pasta), which was fine if a little over salted, and I had a nibble of my neighbour’s lamb spiedini, which was OK.

What’s better than OK is the food prices and the reasonably priced wines — and the enthusiastic and friendly service.

Go for yourselves and make up your own mind. I might be old-fashioned, but I do like a restaurant where the owner is on the floor, at least some of the time. There’s a hole in Jamie’s Italian: a Jamie-shaped hole. Which wouldn’t matter if it was a fair-dinkum franchise, but it’s a franchise pretending to be a stand-alone restaurant. 107 Pitt Street, Sydney, Ph 8240 9000


Ever lovin’ Adelaide

A friend was having a significant birthday and his partner, Cath Kerry, is one of the best cooks in the country, so we flew to Adelaide for the shindig. Cath is the executive chef at the restaurant in the Art Gallery of South Australia, which is where the party was held. A morning in the excellent gallery and lunch at the restaurant is not a bad plan (Art Gallery of South Australia, North Terrace, Ph 08 8232 4366 for the restaurant).

But you can’t visit Adelaide without a trip to the Central Market — a mouth-watering basket of stalls all under one roof, in the European style. My day there usually starts at Lucia’s Café (Stall 2), a ritual for many city dwellers. Across from Lucia’s is Mushroom Man’s Mushroom Shop (Stall 68, — and not just any mushrooms (check out the shot of the sign in the window) but fresh, white Italian truffles and a basket of chanterelles. Then there’s the Smelly Cheese Shop (Stall 44) with an astonishing range of cheeses, many imported by owner Peter Heaney. And, finally, what I’m pretty sure is the only Moroccan grocer in Australia, Marrakesh (Stall 19) where owner Anouar Senah mixes his own ras el hanout spice mix, makes a fiery harissa and preserves lemons. A tajine was bubbling away on the day we were there. Adelaide Central Market, 44 Gouger Street, Ph 08 8203 7494.

We discovered a relatively new late-night cafe while there, Dragonfly, where we sat outside overlooking Victoria Square and nibbled on vodka-cured ocean trout and fried haloumi, drinking — what else — Coopers Pale Ale. Dragonfly, 193 Victoria Square, Ph 08 8212 5661.

Now, I haven’t been to this place but it’s brand-new and was reviewed by my friend John McGrath, one of Australia’s finest — and funniest — restaurant reviewers, so I have no hesitation in passing it on to you. It’s called A Hereford Beefstouw, and it’s the only link in a chain of Danish steakhouses in Australia. Sounds strange, but what’s even stranger is that it has a salad bar. Which John also loved. Next time. 143 Hutt Street, Adelaide, Ph 08 8232 6868.

Finally, a comment on the Hotel Richmond. Nothing wrong with the place but it’s on Rundle Mall and, apart from the Big Greek Wedding one floor down on Saturday night, on both nights we were woken at 4.30am by a street sweeper masquerading as a 747 taking off.


Our top fisho

I’ve been writing a story about Mark Eather (look for it in Good Living), a behind-the-scenes hero of the oceans: eat wild-caught fish at Rockpool, Momofuku Seiobo, Billy Kwong or Tetsuya’s and chances are it comes from one of Mark Eather’s boats. All his fish are killed the Japanese ike jime way — with a spike straight into the brain, which is more humane and less stressful — and line-caught and handled with kid gloves.

I recently went to a dinner at the Convention Centre. The first course was tuna sashimi and ocean trout with hot ginger consommé and wasabi sorbet, cleverly served on an ice pedestal (the theme of the dinner was fire and ice, in homage to the Tim Storrier painting in the centre, a version of Point to Point). It looked terrific, the ocean trout was good, but the tuna ... the tuna was like no other tuna sashimi I’d tasted: luscious, rich, sweet and with a creamy texture. Chef Uwe Habermehl told us he’d had to stop it being shipped to Japan. I asked him was it caught by Mark Eather. “Yes!” he said. “Mark-san is the Sakana [fish] Master of Australia,” says Tetsuya Wakuda. No argument.


Parramatta comes to Walsh Bay

You may have eaten at El Phoenician in Parramatta (328 Church Street, Ph 9633 1611), a terrific Lebanese run by the El-Bayeh family since 2004. Now you can nibble on their felafel at Walsh Bay, where they’ve opened another and much more elegant branch, with second-generation Matthew El-Bayeh (son of George) in the kitchen and wines under the care of sommelier Nicole Gallaway. 7 Towns Place, Walsh Bay, Ph 9633 1611,

Also at Walsh Bay for the summer, Simmer (13 Hickson Road, Ph 9247 2457, will have a pop-up bar where a pre-theatre main course and glass of wine will be going for just $25.


Beirut in the raw

Speaking of Lebanese food, a friend currently working in the Middle East sent me a picture (opposite) of a meal he recently had at Al Halabi in Beirut. This is his description of it: “... raw lamb’s liver and a sort-of spiced lamb paste [raw] and a lamb tartare, not to mention the fat tail lamb fat served on a wedge of onion drizzled with lemon juice and sumac, a great meal ...” but not one you’d find in Sydney, I think. Of the dishes mentioned, I can think of only one available in Sydney: the spiced lamb paste (also raw) mixed with cracked wheat (burghul) and spices. If you’re ever there, Al Halabi is at Antelias Square, Ph (04) 523555.


A few of our favourite things

How could you say no to a dinner called Beef Butter and Wine? Peter Clay from Taralga Springs is providing the grass-fed meat; Pierre Saya hand-makes Pepe Saya cultured butter in St Peters (watch him do it here and the wine is coming from Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards in McLaren Vale. Peter reckons this might be the first of a series of dinners that play on the themes of provenance, terroir and artisan foods, the idea being to “highlight the difference from homogeneous factory-farmed and lab-produced pseudo-food” but it is, as he says, “a work in progress”. Get in on the ground floor at Darren and Bernadette Templeman’s Restaurant Atelier (22 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, Ph 9566 2112 on December 12, 7pm, $90 a head, bookings essential by phone or email — but hurry, only 30 places left at last count.


Know your noodle

The press release told me that Umi Sushi + Udon, a new restaurant in Darling Harbour, decorated in the Kyoto style, will be serving Sanuki-style udon freshly made daily on site. Wow. Sanuki — love that word. It’s vaguely wicked for some reason. What does it mean? First, it’s a thick and rather stiff noodle from Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku Island, and Sanuki is a big deal there. Even though it’s the smallest prefecture in Japan, in 2008 it housed 700 udon restaurants. It appears that a Buddhist monk called Kukai went to Japan in the 9th century and took the big, thick noodle idea with him. Sanuki province claimed to be the first place to have adopted it from Kukai.

I’ll get down and try some of those big, fat noodles hand-made by chef Miyamoto Yasunari soon. TR10 Darling Quarter, 11–25 Harbour Street, Darling Harbour, Ph 9283 2006.


Schools to get mixers

I could be cynical and say they’re only doing it so mugs like me will write about it. But what the hell. I like the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and I like that 250 government schools will be getting red KitchenAid mixers to play with. Good on you, KitchenAid. It’s a great product and if you’re going to get free plugs, it’s a decent way to do it.


Big mo time

I guess Movember is a better idea than No-vember, the latter being a month off the sauce. And, although it’s almost over, those publicly minded chaps who sprouted lip hair might like to wrap their hairies around the Union Hotel’s Mo Pie — their famous Le Bistro Ratatouille pie — before the end of the month. The most lustrous mos will get free pies and the pub will donate $5 to the foundation raising awareness and funds for prostate cancer and male depression. Sheilas (our PM has deemed it OK to use that word again) can buy a fake mo for $5 (if their mos aren’t up to the judges’ standard), which also comes with a pie. 217 Pacific Highway, North Sydney, Ph 9955 5844.

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