Sunday, 22 March 2015

Pazar Food Collective, Canterbury

At the midst of the busy multi-lane Canterbury Road lies a bustling Pazar Food Collective, a Mexican-Turkish fusion joint. It's loud, there's lots of people, even some standing out the front either waiting for a table or their takeaway. The atmosphere screams "this is the hottest restaurant to be on a Friday night", my partner and I listen though we're wishing we had more people with us since everyone's sharing colourful platefuls of food and all their ten fingers are in use. 

Pazar has an interesting ordering system where you are given their menu and a permanent marker. Once you have decided what you'd like, you colour the number of circles (they're probably meant to be plates) you'd like and hand it over to the waitstaff. I guess it's as self-serve of a system as you can get besides having those touch screen menus at certain Japanese restaurants. Perhaps it's encouraging conversation and engagement around the table as you have to make decisions as a group (there's something about markers that make you think the final answer you mark is in fact "permanent") but I think I prefer interacting with the waiters as you get to gage what their favourites are or what's the most popular dish. 

Another thing to note, this restaurant is cash only. Not my preferred method of payment considering the ease of PayPass and online bank transfers these days, no one really carries cash with them anymore. But I guess since the venue is designed to accommodate large groups of people, it could be easier to split the bill. 

But don't fret if you forget, there is an ATM towards the back of the restaurant, which of course makes us wonder though - does this mean they profit from every one of those cash withdrawal transaction fees?

Beetroot dip, agave walnuts, sheep's feta, $8.00
This is possibly one of the best dips I've had. The beetroot hasn't been pureed but chopped finely and mixed with just enough yoghurt to produce a vibrant fuscia chunky dip. The sheep's feta mellows down the sweetness of the beetroot and gives it seasoning and extra flavour. The candied agave walnuts are crunchy, sticky and sweet, playing along nicely with the rest of the dip. It's not at all heavy and the warm oiled Turkish bread makes an incredible start to the night.

Pide - Mushroom, sage, garlic, haloumi, $20.00
The pide is tastey, has all the ingredients as it reads, mushroom, sage, garlic and haloumi. It all works together to keep the inside moist and flavourful. But I wouldn't say anything really stands out. The haloumi has melted, creating a stretchy stringy filling which isn't how we commonly see this type of cheese cooked. The portion isn't huge so it feels like the another entree more than anything. We both enjoy it but I wouldn't really order it again..

Harissa wood roast chilli chicken, $28.00

Not what what you expect when you read 'Harissa wood roast chilli chicken' on the menu right? We sat there a little confused when our 'chicken' came out. I had a completely different idea of what we were going to get that evening, basically what it said on the menu, a chicken (or even parts of a chicken). Instead we got an expensive kebab which mostly consisted of pickled chilli, olivescoleslaw salad and yoghurt, all under pita bread . Don't get me wrong, the sides were tasty but it's hard to justify paying that price for something unsubstantial. The chicken itself was wood roasted but most of it wasn't even edible because the fat wasn't trimmed off (nor rendered, and clung to very little meat) and we got the backend piece that still had little bits of feathers on it. This was so disappointing, we had tell the staff about it.

We weren't hoping or expecting anything, maybe just a few pieces of chicken that actually had meat. We didn't want a whole new plate. Before we could even anticipate what would happen next, we see the chef walk to our table...

He apologises and immediately offers us more meat, asking if we'd like to try their lamb. We're a bit caught off guard so we accept, appreciative of his personal apology. He then brings us back another plate...  

This plate still consists of salad, sour cream, the infamous chicken and pita bread, but there is an addition of the wood oven smoked lamb shoulder. Unfortunately, the chicken is still the same, still very fatty and there's hardly any meat, but it's the lamb shoulder that we're grateful. The meat is falling apart, definitely packing in the smokey flavour and is served with a salsa-like tomato sauce that adds acidity. It's definitely our preferred meat out of the two, so if anyone can't decide between the two, I suggest going with the lamb.

I first heard about Pazar when reading Not Quite Nigella's post last year, where everything looked enticing and delicious. On our first visit last last year, we loved that it was tasty and punchy in flavour but thought some dishes weren't the best value. However during this recent second visit, it was a bit of a let down as it looks like there's been some portion control (which I understand from the business' perspective) but some of the prices have also risen. Either way, I do enjoy the food but it's hard to overlook the difference between what you anticipate from reading off the menu and what actually arrives to the table. Nonetheless, I will come back for that beetroot dip, even if it's just for takeaway.

325 Canterbury Road

8964 9334

PAZAR Food Collective on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Public Dining Room, Balmoral Beach

It becomes a special occasion when Public Dining Room offers 50% off on food at the end of your meal. We did it last year and no doubt when Dimmi sent me an email with their weekly specials and Public Dining Room was listed, we knew there was no other option but to make reservations and eat our hearts out. But of course with such an epic deal, it never comes easy. 

In order to claim the offer, you need to book via Dimmi or Urbanspoon but for days it told me my chosen date (the offer was limited to Monday, Tuesday or Thursday, before a certain date) was fully booked, which I of course did not believe. So I refreshed it constantly, tried during different times of the day and finally, one day opened up and I booked immediately. I tried to see if any other days were free but nothing. And soon after there were no bookings for any day yet again. It's quite a mystery but was it all worth it?

Candied walnuts, murray river pink salt, $8.00
We decided to go all out and order some snacks to start so we could nibble while we deliberated on the food for the rest of the evening. The candied walnuts are crisp and crunchy, possibly because the nuts were first roasted the sugar syrup may have hardened further. It has the right balance of sweetness from the candy coating and the sprinkling of the Murray River pink salt, making them moreish.

Marinated sa olives $9.00
I did my best to try a couple of these marinated SA olives, as I always give olives a go hoping one day I'll like them. Unfortunately, this was not that day. However my partner did compliment them as they aren't too salty with just enough rosemary flavour coming through, as well as the sweet olive oil coating the skin.

The waitress kindly came over to our table with a plate of warm slices of bread, which looks like rye sourdough though she didn't announce it. It's soft, not too sour and the butter on the table glides on smoothly.

Wild king fish carpaccio, chilli, capers, soy reduction, pomelo, sorrel, wasabi oil, $26.00
The wild king fish carpaccio is just as beautiful as it was delicious to eat. I loved that the king fish isn't sliced paper thin but rather if it was to be served as sashimi. But it's thick enough so it doesn't just melt in the mouth, allowing the slight cured flavours to emerge as you chew and the sweet fish being the predominate taste. Kingfish is my favourite fish to eat at its raw state, as it's lighter in flavour, slightly sweet but also a little tangy. The chilli and capers provide flecks of heat and saltiness to the fish. The soy reduction and wasabi oil mimic balsamic vinegar and olive oil and is the suitable dressing for the fish with the prominent horseradish notes. Bursts of pomelo unexpectedly pop up which is always the best accompaniment to kingfish. The sorrel makes a pretty garnish, tasting like spinach.  

Fried zucchini flowers, ricotta, parmesan, papillon roquefort, celeriac & cabbage remoulade, pangrattato, $24.00
It may not look as appetising as the kingfish but it certainly makes a statement in taste. The fried zucchini flowers are lightly battered and stuffed with ricotta and papillon roquefort, allowing for a crunchy exterior and smooth cheesy centre. The use of the two different cheeses make the filling tasty but not heavy as the ricotta gave it lightness and the blue cheese seasoned it all without dominating. Besides the cheese filling there are also a generous gratings of parmesan that lay over the flowers. All three cheeses manage to shine on their own without clashing against one another. The celeriac and cabbage remoulade provided a crisp salad against the fried zucchini flower and the pangrattato is another textural flavouring element.

Chargrilled chicken breast, skordalia, honey & orange balsamic glazed radicchio, spiced hazelnut & wattleseed, $39.00
My partner ordered the chicken and he enjoyed it but thought the spiced sauce was quite overpowering which I agreed when I tried it. I was hoping to taste more of the chargrilled chicken but it gets slightly lost when there are dominating components on the same plate. There are honey and orange balsamic glazed radicchio, fresh whole fig, spiced hazelnut and wattleseed, and also 'skordalia', thick garlic puree. As much as they compliment each other, it's hard for the chicken to not get lost amongst it all.

Broken nicola potatoes, marjoram butter, $9.00
On the few occasions I was able to take a break from my main, my attention was directed towards these broken Nicola potatoes, the perfect waxy buttery interior against the crispy skin that has slicked with the marjoram butter. I forget how essential it is to choose the appropriate potato depending on what you want to be cooking and what a difference it makes when they're waxy for roasting or starchy for mashing.

Brodetto - italian seafood soup, white fish, prawns, scallops, black mussels, bruschetta, $40.00
I try the soup first and it's rich with the taste of the sea. I forget seafood does get a bit salty so for those with a lighter palette might not enjoy this as much. Besides the saltiness, the tomato, onions and parsley come through in the soup, making it sweet and hearty. There are clamsblack mussels, a giant prawn, a scallop (still beautifully translucent in the middle), barramundi pieces and even salmon - all prepared and cooked perfectly. I cannot praise the chef enough for giving each individual seafood such care and attention. Nothing was rubbery, grainy or dry, they were all cooked as they should be. The bread is thick and soaks up lots of the soup but doesn't get too mushy. It was difficult to finish all the soup but I did, and it was thoroughly satisfying.

Mango & lychee bombe alaska, coconut crumble, green mango, toasted meringue, $18.00
A dessert mainly composed of fruity elements always ensures it's never sickly sweet but light and refreshing which I much prefer finishing with at the end of the meal. This was simply glorious. I immediately break open the bombe alaska casing, a perfectly toasted meringue to reveal mango sorbet and lychee ice cream. In order to truly appreciate the taste of it all, you need to have a spoonful with a little bit of everything: tangy icy mango sorbet, smooth subtly flavoured lychee ice cream and the sweet marshmallow-y meringue. It's simply a tropical party in your mouth. Then of course with all Public Dining Room dishes, there are other textural elements: the coconut crumble that accentuates the tropical flavours further, balled fresh fruit including green mango and also dollops of mango puree. The perfect summer indulgence.  

Textures of chocolate, vanilla creme, hazelnut crumb, passionfruit sorbet, $18.00
Upon choosing this dessert, we interpreted the 'textures of chocolate' in its literal sense, we imagined various chocolate forms on a plate. So when the actual plate came to the table we were a little confused. On the plate lies a quenelled of sour passionfruit sorbet dotted vanilla cream on a floor of gold dusted hazelnut crumb. Now for the main event, the chocolate textured cake slice is rich and decadent. Beneath the dark chocolate casing are layers of white and milk chocolate textures: smooth and creamy perhaps a mousse, something in the middle that I've forgotten, and a biscuit like base. The sorbet contrasts the chocolate textures nicely but I do prefer the bombe alaska - it's really hard not to. 

And to answer the question I asked at the beginning, yes it is. It's hard not to fall in love with the restaurant as it plays out the perfect setting for a beautiful meal. We got to taste some incredible creations that's inspiring and memorable which I'm sure we're going to reflect on for months. A chef's attention to detail doesn't go astray because you find yourself noticing depths of sensations and flavour combinations as you dive further into the dish and uncover more surprises. It becomes something more than just eating but receiving the full experience, the way the chef purposely intended.

2a The Esplanade 
Balmoral Beach

9968 4880

Public Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

BahBQ, Crows Nest

In the beginning of the year I mentioned I had a $50 Dimmi reward I'd been meaning to redeem. There's a huge list of places to go and of course, being the most indecisive person, I had so much trouble choosing where to go. Since I had no idea when my reward was going to expire, we decided to just go with somewhere we know we love that has guaranteed great food and a relaxing dining experience. So away we went, booked a table for two at BahBQ in Crows Nest to engorge ourselves with lots of meat.

The thought of eating unlimited amount of Brazilian barbeque meats can be intimidating, but rest assured they give you smaller pieces if that's what you fancy or you can ask for more slices if you're keen for it. For me, it helps that I don't usually much meat, even some days none at all, so it becomes a fun experience as you get to try a little bit of everything. Just remember to take breaks because they can start coming at you from every direction and you haven't even finished what's already on your plate.

You can eat as much meat as you like for $55 per person which is accompanied by condiments and sides, that can be replenished for a little extra. They also have an a la carte menu that offers only five mains as the restaurant predominantly features the traditional Churrasco dining.

Chimichurri, Tomato & Red Pepper Salsa, Chili Jam, Roasted Cassava Flour and Hot Chilli
I didn't partake in trying out these sauces as majority of them are spicy and might deter the original flavour of the spit roasted meat. However I did try the roasted cassava flour, an arrowroot that doesn't give away too much flavour but acts more like a topping to whatever it gets dipped to. And for the rest of the chilli sauces, consume with caution, as they seem to take an eye-watering effect on those who spoon generous amounts and prematurely claim, "Na.. it's not that spicy"...

Fried Polenta, cassava, cheese bread and spiced crumbed banana
Since I didn't eat the fried polenta immediately after we got them, by the time I got around to it, it lost its crisp and is a bit chewy on the outside. The cassava and cheese bread are mellow in flavour, which may have been better eaten with the sauces or alongside the meat - silly of me not to have done so. My favourite was the spice crumbed banana that was sweet and melted, probably resembling something served in a dessert of some kind because it was so caramelised.

Fine herbed rice with toasted almonds
Black bean and streaky bacon stew
Hm, sorry for the blurred photo. I didn't taste the beans this time but when I did on our last visit I enjoyed it as it's not salty and if you have it with the rice, it helps cut through all the seasoning from the meat. Or better yet, have the beans and rice in between bites of meat to even out the saltiness as your taste buds probably need a rest from all the meat. I like the sprinkle of almonds, gives the rice a little something extra.

Creamy potato salad
Along with the mashed potato in the salad, there's also chunks of potato, chives and pieces of bacon. I think lighter and fresher salads may have been a better accompaniment to the meat as it's very salty from the bacon.

Rocket and parmesan salad
The rocket and parmesan salad was a bit too generous on the cheese. I would have preferred just a little as the rocket leaves on its own would've been great for its slight bitterness. Adding slices of pear to the salad would've made it the perfect side.

I had started the meal taking photos of the meat as they arrived one by one. Waiters would come zipping around to your table with long knives skewering the food where they would ask if you'd like any, and if you did, they'd carve slices onto your plate. But soon enough it started getting messy with bones and meat juices spreading all over the plate. I couldn't bring myself posting those photos. I didn't want to make the meat look unappetising since many pieces were heavily charred and often there would pieces of meat I was still in the middle of eating which I had to pause for the arrival of the next meat. I don't think any of you would want to see a plate of bones, some blood juice, half-eaten meat and very dark meat crust, now would you?

So I've tried my best to memorise all the meat we ate that evening:

My craving for steak was definitely satisfied when the beef rump cap came around. However, I got the crust side which is quite seasoned and made it rather salty. But the meat is delicious and flavoursome. Do ask the waiter for the inner slices, it's less salty but it may mean it's rarer.

Beef tri-tip is just as enjoyable as the rump cap, only slightly less juicy. I do like it though and I eat every bite of the piece I ask for.

On my last visit, when the waiter came around with chicken hearts I politely refused, a little afraid. But this time I thought I'd give it a go, at least give it a try. For some reason to me, it tastes kind of like mushrooms. The texture is springy but a little grainy as most offal are. I can't say it's something I'd voluntarily order as the biggest problem I had was I couldn't stop thinking that it was a chicken's heart.

The chicken thighs are tender and succulent. The meat is moist, definitely relieved that they didn't use the breast because with the amount of char, it wouldn't have been nearly as soft inside.

We were both given two chicken wings each and I must say, we wanted more. The marinade is sightly sweet but nicely charred. They're addictive to eat and definitely finger licking.

The chorizo are served as small sausages differing to the usual larger sized sausages that are sliced or chopped into pieces. These are very small and the overly seasoned meat meant I couldn't finish even if they were tiny. Though I'm sure I could've eaten it if it wasn't served on its own.

Whenever haloumi is on any menu, I always order it because it's such a delicious treat that I never eat it at home. The fried haloumi is fried in small pieces, crunchy on the outside and smooth from within. I liked that it wasn't salty at all, making it delectable to eat.

I didn't take a piece of the lamb ribs because I didn't really feel like any as lamb isn't my favourite meat. My partner assured me that it was a good idea I didn't because I wouldn't have enjoyed its rich taste.

We were given another lamb cut, I'm not sure what it was, possibly lamb shoulder (?). I found it a bit gamey but I did finish the piece I sampled.

The pork neck pieces came to the table early on and it was surprisingly moist despite a good dark char on the outside. I believe we asked for seconds when the waiter came back around after we sampled everything to see if we had any favourites we wanted to eat again.

The pork sausages were the first to arrive and it was a great start as the skin's slightly crispy, a bit salty but definitely tasty.

The prawns aren't at all overcooked, remaining juicy and noticeably the more popular skewer of the restaurant since it's the only seafood of the evening. Mmm I wanted some more.

BahBQ's famous spiced pineapple finished off the the meal. I very much enjoyed the slices compared to my last dining experience because my tongue got very furry very quickly. But this time it's soft, juicy and warm. I thought it was so tasty that I asked for another serving. Ahh, I loved it and so glad we ended on it.

This might be a heavy evening of lots of food but I feel like BahBQ is somewhere we can return if we've got a hankering for a lots of variety of meat. Sensibly speaking, we should only have it once or maybe twice a year since it does get pretty heavy and quite salty as I mentioned many times. Though it definitely helps that there's one kind waiter who constantly refills your water glass. The venue aims at large groups as the way the food is served is interactive and generates conversation between the waiters and the diners, but also around the table. If you're a fellow meat eater, give this a go as it's not often you get to eat ten different cuts and types of meat in one sitting.

35 Albany Street
Crows Nest

9966 8203
BahBQ Brazilian Grill on Urbanspoon