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Din Tai Fung Dumpling Bar – Sydney

November 29, 2016

On the last night of our time in Sydney we didn’t have any specific plans for dinner, but knew we needed to eat something.  This was the most laid back day of our vacation, which turned out to be a good thing since this was the only rainy day we experienced during our trip as well.  We wandered around the neighborhood and did a little shopping at a historic mall a few blocks from our hotel.  Other than that, we spent time in the club lounge at our hotel enjoying the view and just relaxing.  But, when it was time for dinner, we needed to decide what to do.  We made the decision to keep dinner low key and walk across the street to a Westfield mall to check out their food court.

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We were delighted to find a Din Tai Fung Dumpling Bar!  Almost 2 years ago, I wrote about our experience at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in California and how much my husband and I absolutely fell in love with it.  After all, how can you not love xiao long bao (soup dumplings).  I guess, since Din Tai Fung is a well known Taiwanese chain, we shouldn’t be so surprised to find it in Australia.  Heck, if they’ve expanded to the United States, why wouldn’t they be in Australia?  What we loved was that this was an express dumpling bar, in a food court at a mall.  The portions were smaller here than at the restaurant, but it was made quick and easy and in no time you were sitting down and enjoy the same food you could get at their restaurants.  This was exactly what we were looking for to dine on this night.  And just like the Din Tai Fung restaurants, they even had a glass window where you could stand and watch the cooks making the xia long bao right in front of your eyes!

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I was delighted to discover that even though this was essentially a fast food eatery, they still offered a few of the great Asian-flavored drinks we found at the restaurant.  When we dined at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, they offered a number of different smoothies and slushes, and here at the Dumpling Bar, I discovered they had a slush they called the Mango Tango.  I can’t reasonably be expected to pass up a slushy drink made with mangos, could I?  My favorite fruit in the world made into a slush, this was going to be good.  Since this was a fast food establishment, the drink was served in a plastic cup with a sealed top so that you could take the drink to go, which was nice.  The mango tango was nice and refreshing with a few chunks of actual fruit in the drink, which was a nice touch.  It was sweet, but not too sweet, and the icy slushy goodness was terrific.

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My husband ordered the lychee mint freeze.  Though admittedly, the drink was more mint than lychee, just look at the color of the drink.  This was a sweetened mint slush with just a hint of lychee flavor. It was the lychee that adds the sweetness to the tangy mint drink.  Luckily, my husband is a fan of mint-flavored things, so this was right up his alley.  However, this lychee mint freeze also contained a whole lychee fruit at the bottom of the cup that was revealed once you drank the freeze itself.  Kind of like a little surprise to finish off the drink.

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Since this was a dumpling bar and not the restaurant, the portions were a lot smaller than you’d expect at the restaurant, but that’s good, because it made it easier for the two of us to share a couple of dishes.  We started with some fried shrimp & pork wontons served with a dipping sauce.  My husband and I aren’t big on sauces, so we never really discovered what the dipping sauce was as we never even opened up the package to taste test it.  The fried shrimp & pork wontons were fantastic and absolutely stuffed with shrimp and pork.  The wonton wrappers were thin and perfectly crunchy and crispy once it was deep fried.  The stuffing was all meat with no fillers, a little savory and a little sweet from the shrimp.  This was a great appetizer.

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But this was Din Tai Fung after all, and they are known for their xiao long bao, so we weren’t leaving without ordering some of the pork xiao long bao.  Again, since these were smaller portions, each order of pork xiao long bao only came with 4 pieces, so to satisfy our craving for amazing soup dumplings, we ordered 3 orders, or a total of 12 pork xiao long bao.  We figured that meant we would each get 6, and we could certainly finish 6 each.  If I’m being honest, we probably could have ordered one more order and we would have been able to finish that as well.  The pork xiao long bao are amazingly tasty and delicious.  It’s still mind boggling how they make these amazing xiao long bao.  Each dumpling is meant to be a one-bite wonder.  The xiao long bao is served piping hot right off the steam basket.  Pop a dumpling in your mouth and it just explodes as the pork broth is set free in your mouth.  The dumpling dough itself is perfect as it isn’t too thick and doughy, but just thick enough to hold in the broth and provide a bit of body to the dumpling along with the ground pork that’s inside the dumpling.  My husband and I just love the xiao long bao and can’t resist.

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For a something a little more substantial and filling to go with our meal, we decided to split and order of egg fried rice with black pepper beef.  The egg fried rice was exactly how I like fried rice, made with rice, eggs and scallions.  There is soy sauce flavoring, and nothing else.  No peas and carrots or any other additives that take away from the fried rice.  When I make fried rice at home, this is the kind of fried rice I enjoy.  The black pepper beef was peppery and flavorful.  Tender beef was sautéed with onions and green and red bell peppers.  The sauce for the beef was amazingly peppery, with each bite providing a very peppery flavor.  Together, the tender, juicy beef with the egg fried rice created the perfect combination.  For me, it reminded me of home and the kinds of dishes my mom would make for me for dinner.  These are the kinds of dishes I like and enjoy, and it’s comfort food.  To find a little slice of home in Sydney was unexpected but very much appreciated.

On the last night of our stay in Sydney, my husband and I wandered over to the mall across the street and decided to try to find dinner at the food court.  We had no idea what we would find and didn’t know what we were looking for other than the fact that we needed to eat dinner.  When we saw the Din Tai Fung Dumpling Bar, we knew we’d be eating dinner there.  The food was as spectacular and superb as we remembered it to be.  The pork xiao long bao was exquisite, and just like at the restaurants, you can see the cooks making the dumplings right in front of your eyes.  The fried shrimp and pork wonton was a crunchy and crispy, delicious starter and the egg fried rice and black pepper beef was filling and incredibly tasty.  The food at Din Tai Fung was exactly what my husband and I needed.  It was filling, rich and delicious.  Had we know this dumpling bar existed from the first day we were in Sydney, we may have come back to visit more than once.

Sheraton on the Park Club Lounge

November 16, 2016

While we really enjoyed having more breakfast buffets at The Feast restaurant while we were staying at the Sheraton on the Park hotel in Sydney, we also had the option of having breakfast, drinks and desserts and evening hors d’oeuvres at the Sheraton’s Club Lounge.

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Located on the top floor of the hotel, the Club Lounge was a very expansive and private place to just go and hang out, read, do a little bit of work or just to relax.  Decorated in a very modern way with a mix of colors, this warm space was filled with plush sofas and pillows and deep and comfortable chairs with small intimate table settings.  There was also an indoor fire pit that could be lit at night to provide some heat and, of course, some ambience.

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The lounge also had a couple of outdoor balconies with amazing, unfettered views out towards Hyde Park, over into Sydney Harbour, and all the way out in the direction of Bondi Beach.  Depending on the time of year and the time of day, this would be the perfect place to enjoy a sunrise or a sunset, or just a nice drink out on the balcony at the end of a long day to just relax and unwind.

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The space was set up with a main central area where that day’s food offerings and drinks could be found.  There was a coffee machine for gourmet coffee drinks, there was a long counter where breakfast offerings were set out in the morning, or cakes and goodies set out during the day, and a few hot food offerings set out during evening hors d’oeuvres.  At almost any time of day, you could walk into the lounge and find some sort of treat or goody set out for you to grab and go, or take a seat in the lounge area to just relax and enjoy the day.

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During the breakfast hour, there were displays of numerous bread and pastry options to choose from.  Croissants are always a popular option for any breakfast – add some butter or some jam and you’re good to go.  Lemon-filled or berry-filled Danishes are always quite popular, crusty and flaky with a tangy, sweet filling, these can be quite filling.  Sticky buns, bread rolls and chocolate muffins were also offered.

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There was another counter that was just with different sorts of fruit offerings for a lighter, healthier breakfast.  You could get fresh sliced honeydew, pineapple and cantaloupe.  There was apricots, plums and lychees.  I loved seeing the lychees, such a popular Asian fruit offering.

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Continuing on the healthy theme, there was smoked salmon, cheese, and cold cuts.  There were also accompaniments such as dried fruit and grapes for a cheese plate, or lemon wedges, capers, red onions and cream cheese for a smoked salmon bagel.  Or you could throw together your own morning salad with a choice of spinach or baby arugula, shredded carrots and a couple of different options for salad dressing.  There was also oatmeal offered and various kinds of yogurt.

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Then you had your hot food options.  This was obviously quite popular, the eggs Benedict.  Not to despair though, within a few minutes, they did bring out more eggs Benedict from the kitchen.

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The chocolate chip pancakes were my favorite.  Smaller, silver dollar sized thick pancakes laden with semi sweet, melty chocolate chips.  Add some butter if you want, and pour on the maple syrup and these bad boys were good to go.

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And again, sticking with a healthier theme, there was also broiled salmon filet in a soy sauce with sauteed bok choy.  This looked so good and I really wanted to have some, but I didn’t think that boy choy and salmon went really well with chocolate chip pancakes.  Just not a winning combination, so I held myself back and didn’t have any salmon, but it looked amazing.

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I asked the waiter working the gourmet coffee machine for a latte and a few minutes later, a piping hot, beautiful latte with a steamed milk leaf  was poured and delivered to my table.  That’ll wake you up in the morning.

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One afternoon, when it was cold, and drizzly outside my husband and I decided to head up to the Club Lounge and we were greeted with this welcome sight of afternoon treats.  Scones with berry jam and clotted cream.  Little tea cakes of pistachio, passion fruit and raspberry.  A coconut cake, biscotti and some candies were also offered.  Certainly a nice afternoon pick-me-up to be treated to.

Ultimately, my husband and I enjoyed having breakfast in the morning down at Feast Restaurant rather than the Sheraton Club Lounge, just because there was a wider selection of food options available.  However, having the Club Lounge was a nice perk of this hotel though.  We did enjoy going up to the lounge during the afternoons to just sit and relax with a cup of coffee or a soda and some tea cakes.  Or just to go up there and check out the view over Hyde Park and beyond out to the Harbour.  It was a nice getaway, relaxing space without being cooped up in your room all day.  And of course, it’s always nice just to have options.

The Landing Place

November 8, 2016

During the middle of our time in Sydney we decided to take a day and travel to Canberra, the capital of Australia.  Getting to Canberra from Sydney requires a 4-hour train ride, so that means in order to have any time in the city to see the sights, we needed to get up before sunrise and get on the first train of the day out to Canberra.  However, sometimes the best laid plans get waylaid.  A day or two before we were supposed to travel to Canberra, we received an email from the train company that due to work being done on the track, the train trip that we had already booked would be switched to a motor coach trip instead since we obviously couldn’t get on the train.  There was nothing to be done about it but make the best of the situation.  So we left Sydney at 7 am on a 4-hour motor coach trip to Canberra.  Once in Australia’s capital, our first stop was to the Australian War Memorial.  Out of all the museums I’ve been to around the world, I’ve never been to a more interesting war.  The museum focuses on Australia’s involvement in various world conflicts, but with a special emphasis on World War I, which I’ve not seen at other museums.

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After a couple of hours walking around the Australian War Museum, my husband and I decided to stop into the museum’s cafe, appropriately called the Landing Place, to grab some lunch.  It was a cold and rainy day, and we were looking for some hot and filling food to give us energy through the rest of our long day in Canberra.  Since we left the hotel so early to make our motor coach, neither of us had breakfast at the hotel, so by the time we found ourselves at The Landing Place, we were both starving.  The Landing Place had pre-made sandwiches and salads and desserts displayed in a refrigerated case that you could just choose from.  Or, they also had a limited menu from which you could order for the kitchen to make and have delivered to your table.  As my husband and I were looking for hot food, we both decided to order off the menu.

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I ordered a Peri-Peri chicken schnitzel burger with fries.  The peri-peri chicken schnitzel burger was absolutely delicious.  With only a brioche bun, tomato slices and lettuce, the star was the chicken schnitzel.  The schnitzel was very well made with tender chicken which was pounded thin, and a terrific batter that was deep-fried to a crunchy texture.  The batter stayed on the chicken very well and didn’t fall apart as I ate the burger.  The flavors were simple, but delicious and everything came together really well. The brioche bun was perfect for the burger, and the sweetness and acidity from the tomatoes played off of the tenderness of the chicken.  This was just a well made burger.  The fries were terrific as well, hot and crunchy on the outside, but fluffy and tender on the inside.  I am a huge fan of these big steak fries because you just get the terrific contrast of crunchy and a lot of potato body.  All around, this meal was really filling and very tasty.

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My husband decided to order the special of the day which was battered fish and chips.  Served with a side salad, tartar sauce and a wedge of lemon, this was a full meal.  Squeeze of lemon over the battered fish, and the fish was terrific.  The batter was light yet crunchy and held up well with the fish, which was flaky and light in flavor.  This was what battered fish should taste like.  The chips were, again, crunchy on the outside and fluffy and hot on the inside.  The salad, my husband gave that to me, and I enjoyed it, with a light and tangy dressing, the salad was made with mixed greens, tomatoes, red onion and crunchy cucumbers.  My husband was super happy with his order of battered fish and chips.  These meals really just hit the spot.

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Being that it was rainy and cold outside, and The Landing Place had a nice coffee machine and a barista who knew what they were doing, I couldn’t leave without ordering a latte.  A little milk art later and the latte was delivered to the table with a milk leaf atop the steaming hot combination of espresso and steamed milk.  This was an amazingly delicious latte with a terrific balance of steamed milk that the drink was foamy and luxurious.  After a morning of walking around the beautiful Australian War Memorial, sitting down to an amazing cup of coffee was just icing on the cake, so to speak.

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra is an absolutely fantastic, educational and emotional place to visit.  After riding a motor coach for 4 hours, traveling through the rainy city to get to the War Memorial and walking around for a couple of hours looking at the various exhibits, my husband and I were hungry.  Since the Landing Cafe was right there at the Australian War Memorial, we decided to sit down and enjoy a much needed lunch break.  What we got was an incredibly tasty and filling meal that provided us with the energy to keep going for the rest of the day.  All the food we ordered hit the spot, and the warm place to sit and rest our feet for a little bit was a welcome respite as well.  If you ever find yourself in Canberra, you must visit the Australian War Memorial, and poke your head into the Landing Place, if even only for a hot cup of coffee.

Feast

November 2, 2016

During our 5 day stay in Sydney, we stayed at the Sheraton on the Park, right across the street from Hyde Park.  With only a 10-15 minute walk to get us into Circular Quay where the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge is located, our hotel was in the perfect part of town, within walking distance to almost everything we needed to do and everywhere we needed to be.  During our stay at the hotel, their morning buffet breakfast was included in our hotel package, which made for a great way for us to start our full day of sightseeing.

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Appropriately enough, the hotel’s restaurant where morning buffet breakfast was served daily is called Feast.  And perhaps more than any other buffet breakfast from any other hotel, the Sheraton on the Park’s buffet breakfast really was a feast.  Serving a large crowd on a daily basis, the restaurant’s dining room is massive, and their buffet stations are spread out and numerous.

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As we were seated by the hot food station, let’s start with the various hot food options available to diners.  The same food wasn’t served each and every day, to add a little variety, but there were some favorites that definitely served daily.  Who doesn’t like to have eggs Benedict for breakfast when you’re not the one making it yourself?

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Lots of hot veggie options including steamed broccoli, butternut squash and breakfast potatoes.

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Baked beans always seem to be a very popular breakfast option at a lot of buffet breakfasts I go to, even though I’ve never really heard of baked beans being consumed for breakfast.  There was also some sort of mushroom quiche as well.

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Then there’s everyone’s favorite, or maybe just my husband’s, scrambled eggs.  And of course, the ever popular sausage.  Hard to serve hot breakfast without eggs and sausage.

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How about some roasted tomatoes, which I personally like.  More sausage, and of course, probably one of the most popular breakfast items, bacon.  Bacon makes everything better?

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Over in the corner, there was a station where you could get omelets made-to-order, along with fried eggs and eggs over easy.  There also hard boiled eggs.  Then there was a warming station that featured tarts, croissants and pizza slices for those looking for something a little different.  This station also featured a make-your-own-noodle station where you could pick up a bowl, load it with the noodles you wanted along with other additions such as spinach, and protein options such as chicken and tofu.  Then you hand the bowl to the cook behind the counter who then would cook your noodles for you and then put the cooked noodles back in your bowl along with a few ladles of broth to make noodles.

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Something I’ve never seen before was pancakes right next to boneless chicken tenders.  Perhaps this is Sydney’s version of chicken and waffles?  Of course there were the usual condiments of butter and maple syrup, but there was also peanut butter, which I didn’t quite understand, especially since we weren’t anywhere near the bread section of the buffet.  Also, there was a chilled freezer for ice cream right next to the pancakes.  So you could make a more dessert breakfast with pancakes and ice cream.

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Plain yogurt along with Greek yogurt with accompaniments such as macerated berries, peaches, lychees, raisins, brown sugar, prunes and mixed fruit salad was offered.  Also, containers of yogurt were also offered if you wanted speciality fruit yogurt.

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One neat item I haven’t seen at other buffets before was an actual honeycomb.  Rather than getting honey out of a jar or a bottle, you could cut honey from an actual honeycomb.

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There was a selection of fresh cheeses and crackers.  And there was also cottage cheese and cream cheese as well.

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Of course, you also have to have your selection of cold cut meats and smoked salmon, tartar sauce, capers, pickles tomatoes and red onions.  And if you wanted a simple salad, there were greens and balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Also crudités in the form of celery sticks, carrot sticks and dressing.

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An entirely separate section of the buffet featured all sorts of fresh cut and whole fruit.  You’ve got passion fruit, cantaloupe, bananas, oranges, applies, kiwi, honeydew, grapes and apricots.  If fresh fruit is how you want to start your day, you’ve got an unlimited selection here.

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Cold cereal options were plentiful with 6 different types of cereal to choose from.  There was also oatmeal as well.  Everything you could possibly imagine would be offered for breakfast could be found here at Feast.

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The last section of the buffet was the bread section featuring toasters that could be filled with all sorts of sliced bread: white, wheat, sourdough, French, and more.  There was also pound cake and a whole selection of different muffins and banana bread.  You’ve also got croissants, Danishes, cinnamon roles, buns and bagels.  And you’ve got your selection of jams, butter, nutella and any other type of spread you could want to put on your breads and pastries.

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The Feast breakfast buffet was so bountiful and plentiful.  There were so many choices, I didn’t know where to begin.  After making a decision on an omelet some potatoes and some bacon I decided to come back to the table to pace myself.  This was going to be one filling meal that would surely last me the day.  The nice thing at Feast is that you don’t have to just have orange juice or coffee for breakfast, but you can also have a speciality coffee drink, so I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to enjoy a nice latte for breakfast.  After round 1, it was time to round out breakfast with a plate of fresh cut fruit, but believe me, there was a day that I decided that pancakes with ice cream would be great for breakfast.  I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity for ice cream for breakfast.

Feast offered everything that you could want to enjoy for breakfast.  There was hot food, pastries, a noodle bar, cereal, fresh fruit, pizza and even ice cream.  What more could you want to load up on energy for a full day of sightseeing to come?  Feast really was one of the best buffet breakfasts offered at a hotel anywhere in the world that I’ve ever been to.

Aria Sydney

October 27, 2016

Our first full day in Sydney was one of the days of this trip that I most looked forward to.  When my husband and I made the decision to travel to Sydney, one of the first things I told him was that I wanted to see koalas and kangaroos.  So, we made plans to travel to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney where we booked a behind-the-scenes tour with an animal keeper who would introduce us to the unique Australian animals they had at the zoo.  We saw quokkas (I’d never heard of one before!), emus, fed grass to kangaroos and wallabys, petted a bilby and a couple of echidnas, had a feather tailed glider eating out of the palm of our hands, and got to take a selfie with a koala!  At the end of the day though, we needed to travel on the ferry from Taronga Zoo back to Circular Quay and this was the perfect time to sit and enjoy dinner with a view.

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My husband discovered Aria, right at the heart of Circular Quay where we were able to snag a table during their pre-theater seating.  Opening its doors in 1999, Aria is the brainchild of chef and owner Matt Moran who serves what he calls modern Australian haute cuisine.  Having won numerous awards both locally and internationally for its excellent cuisine and extensive wine list, Aria sits in one of the most coveted spots in all of Sydney.

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Situated right at the end of Circular Quay, Aria offers a glass-walled dining room with unfettered views of both the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Popular with the Opera House crowd for pre- and post- show meals, for a visitor to the city, the views from a window table are worth the price of admission alone, and this is before you’ve even eaten a lick of food.

The menu at Aria is a seasonal one, and as such, changes depending on what is local and fresh from the local purveyors of meats, fruits and vegetables that supply Aria with a bountiful supply of goods.  Meals are served off of a fixed menu where you start by deciding if you want to enjoy one course, two courses or all three courses.  The menu is then divided into three separate courses with each course offering at minimum 6 different choices of dishes.  Choose a dish from each course for the number of courses you wish to enjoy and you’re off to the races.  Sit back and wait for the food to be delivered to your table.  My husband and I, not surprisingly, both chose to enjoy a three course meal.  We could splurge a little considering we didn’t eat lunch at all on this day.

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After we made our selections for each course, the waiter brought to our table a small starter courtesy of the chef.  We were presented with a small tartlet filled with avocado, Spanner crab and sweet corn served upon a rustic cured section of carved wood from a tree.  It was all very rustic and creative and looked amazing.  The tartlet was quite delicious.  Perfectly baked and flaky without being overcooked.  The avocado was creamy and the corn was crunchy so it was a nice contrast.  The crab was soft and creamy, but between the sweetness of the corn and the creaminess of the avocado, it was really hard to taste the crab itself.

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Following our starter from the chef, traditional bread and butter was brought to the table.  However, this wasn’t actually your traditional bread and butter.  The bread was a sourdough roll, and we were presented with two different types of butter to go with our roll.  There was a salted butter, but the interesting and unique butter was butter made with dashi and seaweed.  Easy to make, but never really a combination that I would have thought of.  The flavor was really interesting and different and tasted a lot like nori.

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Out came the first courses that we each chose.  My husband’s first course was nasturtium and ricotta dumplings with grilled king oyster mushroom and Thai shallots.  If you are like me, I had no idea what nasturtium was, but all my husband saw was ricotta and ricotta means cheese, so in his mind, how could a cheese dumpling be a bad thing?  In reality, nasturtium is a tasty and edible flower.  The dish came with two large dumplings in this bright green colorful sauce along with some enormous shallots and grilled king oyster mushroom that looked almost as if it was a piece of grilled meat rather than a grilled oyster.  My husband said that the mushroom was incredibly meaty and woodsy.  But the star of the dish was the dumplings which were really tasty and delicious.

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For my first course, I chose the saikou salmon with apples, dill and horseradish.  I’m learning all sorts of new stuff with this dinner because I had no idea what saikou salmon was.  It turns out that saikou salmon comes from high in the mountains in the South Island of New Zealand where it is raised in a eco-sustainably manner with as little human intervention as possible.  The salmon has very little fish oil aftertaste and is sweet on the palate.  This salmon was different from anything I’ve experienced, but it was quite tasty.  The apple crunch was amazing and really provided the textural contrast the soft salmon meat needed.  The white flakes was freeze-dried horseradish and it was this horseradish that added the tang and flavor to the dish that it really needed to bring the whole dish together with the sweet salmon and the sweet apple.  This saikou salmon dish was quite interesting, but something I’d definitely order again.

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With my second course, I went with a meat dish.  My chosen entree was the black angus flank steak with smoked kipfler potato, garlic shoots, yuzu and soy dressing.  The steak was hearty and perfectly cooked to a nice medium rare.  The meat was quite tasty and flavorful and the jus sauce from the meat was really good.  The star of the dish for me was the smoked kipfler potato, it had great flavor and the perfect consistency.  The braised onions or shallots in the yuzu sauce was tangy and tart, but a little too much so that the flavors detracted from the flavor of the meat and potatoes, so I could have done with it.  The garlic shoots also seemed to just be decoration on the plate that didn’t add flavor or serve a purpose, so I could have done without those as well.  But then again, I’ve always said I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl, and all I need is the meat and potatoes, everything else is just window dressing.

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My husband also decided to go with a meat dish for his main course.  His selection was the pork belly and blood sausage with sugar loaf cabbage, cipollini onions and apple sauce.  My husband is always willing to try new things, and blood sausage was right up his alley.  If he can eat, and enjoy, blood pudding, then blood sausage is nothing.  The pork belly was flavored with mustard seed, which at first my husband was turned off by.  He was thinking of scraping the mustard seed off the pork belly until he tasted and then absolutely loved the flavor of the mustard seed.  In fact, he thought that the mustard seed was the best part of this dish, it had the right amount of tang and flavor, but without overpowering the pork and pork fat itself.  The blood sausage, my husband thought was quite tasty and good and he really appreciated it.  And the cippolini onions were actually quite good too and perfectly caramelized.  This dish was filling, but good to the last bite.

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With the third and final course of the meal being the dessert, my husband, the contrarian decided to order the cheese plate instead of a sweet dessert.  Listed on the menu as a selection of Australian and international cheeses, my husband was actually presented with 4 different cheeses along with an accompaniment of raisin bread and grapes.  The cheeses included a Stilton blue cheese, a wash rind French cheese that was semi-hard, Comte, another French cheese, and a goat cheese from Victoria (Australian representative).  With the Comte and the Stilton blue, my husband already knew what to expect as he has had both of these cheeses many times over.  Of the four cheeses, his favorite was the was rind French cheese which he thought was tangy and quite tasty.

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I stuck with a more traditional sweet dessert for my third course.  I chose the warm caramelized pineapple with lime and rosemary sorbet and poached meringue.  The dessert sounded different and interesting and I thought I’d give it a try as it contained ingredients that I could eat.  The caramelized pineapple was different and very creative, it reminded me of the dessert my husband got at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal when we were in London last year.  The rosemary sorbet was interesting, and at the time I had the dessert, I didn’t remember that the sorbet was rosemary and I couldn’t quite pick out the flavor of what it was on my own.  The flavor was subtle enough that I knew that it was herbaceous, but not strong enough that I could pick out the rosemary.  The combination of the woodsy sorbet and the sweet and tangy pineapple created an interesting combination in textures and flavors.  This dessert certainly had creativity and flair and I appreciated that.

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At this point, we thought that our meal was done.  However, the kitchen staff had other ideas as we were presented with a plate of petit fours that included lemon and poppy seed macarons, homemade vanilla marshmallows, and chocolate and hazelnut praline truffle.  For me, my favorite of these petit fours was the chocolate and hazelnut praline truffle, it was rich, but not too sweet as the chocolate and hazelnut make a great pair.  The lemon macaron was also terrific as it had a nice tart and tangy lemon flavor to it with just a hint of sweetness.  I loved the presentation of these petit fours to end our evening at Aria.

Aria was a terrific choice for dinner.  I would have dined here for the view alone, but the food was so good that it gave the restaurant a boost to be worthy of the spot it occupies.  As a visitor to Sydney, what more could you ask for than a fine dining spot with some of the best, most amazing views of iconic Australian landmarks.  Being able to dine with views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge right in font of us was amazing.  The creativity of the food presented to us and the ingredients used were perfect and a great representation of modern Australian cuisine.  For anyone looking for a signature Sydney restaurant with views that can’t be beat and a menu that is just as good, then Aria definitely fits the bill.

Gowings Bar & Grill

October 24, 2016

Board a red eye flight in Singapore, many hours later, arrive the next day in Sydney; in a different country, in a different continent.  Hit the ground running by checking into the hotel, getting over to the Central Business District, have a Chinese dim sum lunch, walk around Circular Quay and get our first glimpse of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, I’d call that a pretty good day.  But, we’re road warriors and who have to fit as much as possible into a day, so that’s not enough for us.  We had tickets in the early evening to go up to the top of the Sydney Tower Eye, conveniently located just down the street from our hotel.  Great evening views over the city, including views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.  Afterwards, it was time to grab a bite to eat.  We had dinner reservations at a funky, local restaurant a few blocks from our hotel.

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Gowings Bar & Grill, located inside the QT Sydney Hotel, is as eclectic and contemporary inside as the hotel it is housed inside of. Using only the freshest of ingredients from local suppliers, Gowings serves up what they call European brasserie food and features a wood-fired rotisserie.  The restaurant also features an extensive wine list and proudly displays their wine racks around an open bar situated in the middle of the dining room.  On one side of the restaurant is a semi-open kitchen, and the seating area for the restaurant is set up around the bar with the bar as its focal point.  Loud music, dark mood lighting and an upbeat, youthful vibe all contribute to the overall atmosphere of this hip and happening restaurant, again a reflect of the QT Sydney Hotel itself.

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To start off the meal, my husband ordered his standard cocktail drink of an Old Fashioned.  He definitely appreciated the heavy, goblet weight of the glass the drink was served in.  The bartender certainly didn’t skimp on the alcohol in the drink and didn’t water it down.  The old fashioned was flavorful, but not overly powered with whiskey so that you couldn’t taste the bitters and the orange aroma of the drink.  This was a very well crafted old fashioned.

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For starters, my husband and I each chose an appetizer to share.  Our first appetizer was the hot spanner crab cakes served with double smoked bacon, celeriac, hot sauce, aioli and lemon.  Using local Australian spanner crab, the meat is considered to be of a brilliant white color, very sweet and succulent and delicate.  For these reasons, using spanner crab meat to make crab cakes is a natural combination.  Interestingly, the crab cakes we were served were more shaped cylindrically rather than the round, patty cakes we are used to in the United States.  The crab cakes themselves were crispy and crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.  They were, however, made with a bit more stuffing and filling and a little less crab meat than I had hoped for.  The aioli sauce was the star of the dish, with a little tang and spice, it was quite flavorful.

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Air dried beef & eggs “a kind of carpaccio” was the other appetizer we ordered.  Described as “quail eggs, crisp pecorino cheese paper, fine cut tartare of gherkin, eggplant caviar, capers, and parsley,” the first words out of my husband’s mouth was “wow, it’s really good!”  The cheese crispy was a nice touch, and something different than your normal carpaccio.  It added the salty touch, but also crunch and texture to the dish.  The quail eggs were really good and soft boiled so they were creamy and soft.  The sautéed eggplant was an interesting touch as I’ve never seen eggplant on a carpaccio dish before, but it worked with the gherkin and the capers.  In my husband’s eyes, this dish was “top shelf,” which was interesting as I’m generally the carpaccio lover.

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For dinner, I ordered the baked pretzel topped whiting filets served with steamed French beans, dill, black sesame, finished with virgin butter and lava salt.  I was still a bit full from lunch earlier and was just looking for a light meal and this fish dish sounded like it would fit the bill.  The pretzel crumb topping on the fish filets were perfect.  They stayed in place and weren’t soggy, which was a win-win.  The fish itself was flaky and flavorful, but light and exactly what I needed.  The pretzel crumb add just the added crunch and contrast to the flaky fish to be perfect.  This was exactly what I needed and I was really glad that I ordered this dish.

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My husband couldn’t resist ordering the wood roasted free range pork belly.  It’s pork belly, so you can’t go wrong with it.  The menu described it as filled with malt bread stuffing, sage, parmesan on Paris mash potatoes, a bag of crackling, a boat load of black truffle vintage gravy.  This dish was impressive.  Just seeing the pork belly was amazing, this huge chunk of seared pork belly looked so mouth-wateringly good.  It was finished perfectly crisp and crunchy on one side.  But it was the serving of the black truffle gravy in the accompanying gravy boat along with a bag of crackling that just added the “wow” factor to this dish.  My husband immediately poured the black truffle gravy all over his pork belly and he went to town.  He absolutely loved the flavor of the black truffle sauce.  The mashed potatoes were a terrific pairing to the pork belly as the gravy worked for the potatoes as well.  The pork belly was such a star as it was perfectly cooked and tender and chock full of flavor.  The entire dish was A+ for my husband.

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When it came time for dessert both my husband and I were stuffed, but we couldn’t leave without at least sampling some dessert, so we decided we’d split a dessert instead.  My Pavola was our choice.  Soft and sticky baked meringue, passion fruit sauce, sugar bananas, green coconut flesh, candied coconut and vanilla chantilly sounded amazing, and when it arrived at the table, it looked even more spectacular.  The passion fruit sauce was absolutely mouthwatering in color and amazingly tangy and vibrant in flavor. The baked meringue was perfect with a nice crunchy shell and the vanilla chantilly sauce inside the shell was slightly sweet and created a terrific contrast in textures to the passion fruit sauce and the baked meringue.  Atop the cream was the sugar bananas, which I loved, and the green coconut flesh which again provided a flavor contrast and a textural juxtaposition.  This was an incredibly creative dessert and though we were full, my husband and I were so glad we decided to split the dessert.  It would have been a shame to miss out on the My Pavlova.

The setting and atmosphere of the Gowings Bar & Grill was as eclectic and vibrant as the QT Hotel inside which the restaurant can be found.  This was probably as far from a traditional restaurant setting as I could imagine for a meal in Sydney, but somehow it’s funkiness fit.  If you saw the hotel, you’d understand.  As far as the food, the restaurant served terrific food, though I did think it lacked a bit in creativity, other than the dessert.  I think my husband definitely enjoyed the setting and the food at Gowings more than I did.  But that dessert really helped redeem Gowings Bar & Grill for me.  One of the most spectacular and tasty desserts I’ve tasted, I’d go back to Gowings just for another “My Pavlova.”

Mr. Wong

October 18, 2016

After our brief 36 hour stop in Singapore, it was time to board another flight for another 8 hour plane ride to our next destination.  Truth be told, our next destination was the whole reason we planned this trip in the first place – the stops in Tokyo and Singapore to get to this destination were just add ons along the way.  But our real destination was Sydney, Australia.  This would be the first time my husband and I had ever been to Australia, and actually, our first trip to the Southern Hemisphere.  We planned this trip with 5 days in Sydney to see and do everything that the capital of New South Wales had to offer us.  Time to finally relax, sit back and finally unpack our bags.  My husband was responsible for choosing a lot of the restaurants we dined at while in Sydney, and this first one, a lunch right after we landed in Sydney in the morning, was a terrific choice.

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Mr. Wong was located right in the middle of the Central Business District, only a few short blocks away from Circular Quay and the harbourfront area.  Popular for both lunch and dinner, Mr. Wong serves up a classic Cantonese menu which is the brainchild of Executive Chef Dan Hong.  As the head chef for three different restaurants in the Merivale group (of which Mr. Wong is a part of), Chef Hong, along with his head chef Brendan Fong and head dim sum chef Michael Luo have crafted an unrivaled menu combining classic Cantonese flavors and ingredients into a modern menu which has won the restaurant countless acclaim throughout Sydney for their signature style.  From the time you walk the back alleys off of a busy CBD street and come to the front door of the restaurant, you’re transported back into time into a beautiful French-colonial restaurant.

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Large enough to seat 240-patrons, Mr. Wong, which boasts a full bar also features timber floors with inlaid tile, bamboo French woven chairs and slow turning ceiling fans.  Classic stone accents combine with a dark interior strategically illuminated to set the mood and paint the picture that you’ve walked out of the modern skyscrapers and loud noise of the streets of Sydney back into time.  My husband and I both felt like the restaurant was this juxtaposition of classic Chinese dim sum restaurant set amongst a 1920’s underground speakeasy.  It was brilliant, and beautiful.

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As we were dining for lunch, the menu was much too extensive for our needs.  With a menu that was a tome, we skipped all the entrees and concentrated solely on the dim sum menu so that we could sample a wide array of different small-bite dishes.  Besides, you can never go wrong with dim sum, and dim sum done correctly is truly an art.

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Since it was only lunch time, my husband and I both decided to start with the same mocktail to enjoy with our meal, the Mr. Wong’s Tiki Sling.  This was Mr Wong’s non-alcoholic take on Singapore’s national drink, the Singapore Sling. The Tiki Sling was made with pineapple juice, apple juice, passion fruit puree, almond syrup, lemon juice, Angostura bitters, and soda water.  This was quite an interesting drink when it was brought to the table, it was almost as if it was two separate drinks mixed together.  You’ve got your fruit juices mixed together and then a foamy, frothy top that never seems to settle and mix back into the drink itself.  The drink is garnished with an actual wedge of passion fruit, which was kind of cool.  The drink itself was fantastic, and both my husband and I really enjoyed it.  The passion fruit flavor from the puree really shines through, and that was really the whole reason we chose this particular mocktail.  The drink is a mixture of sweet and tangy, the sweetness coming from the apple juice mainly and the tang coming from the pineapple juice and the lemon juice.  The soda water gives it the bubbly and carbonation that really brings all the sweet and tangy flavors together.

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The first dim sum plate we ordered was the truffle and wagyu puff which was listed under the fried and poached section of the dim sum menu.  This dish was a combination of things both my husband and I love, the wagyu beef for me, and the truffle for my husband.  These little puffs came out looking like works of art.  The puffs looked incredibly delicate with multiple layers of thin dough fried to a crunchy crispy flakiness that was so appealing.  The stuffing of wagyu beef and truffle was a flavor punch with every bite.  The wagyu was so tender and the truffle flavor was powerful.  It was just on the verge of being overpowered by truffle and straddling that thin line, but not quite going over it.  Amazingly, these puffs were heartier than they looked, which made it all the better that the puffs were made with this amazing delicate and crunchy puffy dough to lighten the dish up.

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My husband really wanted to order the chive and roast duck dumpling.  Any food dish with duck meat in it automatically catches my husband’s eye since he’s such a lover of duck and it’s not anything we’d ever prepare at home.  Served in a bamboo steamer basket, each order comes with three dumplings stuffed with a combination of chives and duck meat before being stuffed in dough sealed up to look like a treasure purse and steamed to perfection.  The flavors of the duck were terrific and tender.  The meat was rich and the chives were the perfect accompaniment as it cuts through some of the fattiness of the duck.  The steamed dumpling dough was perfect as it was light and chewy and not over cooked in the steaming process.  My husband really liked these dumplings.

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The next dish delivered to the table was one I chose, the bbq pork rice roll.  Using long flat rice noodles, bbq pork was used as a filling and the noodles were rolled up and cut into bite sized pieces and served in a light soy sauce.  The noodles were perfectly cooked to be light and soft and tender.  The flavor of the bbq pork was meaty and rich and full of flavor – Chinese bbq pork is one of my favorite things.  And the amazing soy sauce is light and salty and really just brings the whole dish together with the soft, tender noodles and the rich, hearty bbq pork, the soy sauce gives the noodles moisture and a salty touch to round it all out.

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My husband was most impressed with our next dish, even though, it’s probably the dim sum dish we order most often when we enjoy dim sum.  On the menu here, it was called king prawn and bamboo shoot dumplings, but it’s more widely known in Chinese as har gaw.  Har gow happens to be my favorite dim sum item, and as it’s served on almost every dim sum menu, I’m always ordering it.  In this case, what my husband absolutely loved was the size of the king prawn and how meaty and sweet it was.  Rather than chopping up the prawn and trying to form bits and pieces of prawn meat into a ball combined with bamboo shoots, Mr Wong took a whole prawn, mixed with chopped bamboo shoots and stuffed it inside the dumpling dough.  The dumpling was then steamed to absolutely perfection.  The dumpling dough was thin enough that it almost became translucent once you steamed it.  The fact that the dough was so thin was a positive for my husband as you can go to places where the dough is so thick you can’t taste the shrimp inside the dough because it’s so chewy.  At Mr. Wong, this was the opposite.  The dough was so thin that the star of the dish was the king prawn and the bamboo shoots.  And believe me, the prawn was fantastic, big, hearty pieces that were tender and sweet and perfectly steamed.  And the bamboo shoots were slightly crunchy and just added to the texture and flavor of the dumpling.  This was the one dumpling that I ordered that my husband expected to like the least because it was the most ordinary of dumplings, and at the end of the meal, he walked away thinking about just how much this king prawn and bamboo shoot dumpling absolutely impressed him.

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Of course, the one dim sum item that really caught my husband’s eye, so much so that I think we ordered 3 orders of this particular dumpling (hey, there’s only 3 pieces per order, can you blame us?) was the pork xiao long bao.  Xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, have to be one of the greatest items ever created.  These little hand formed dumplings that are packed full of amazing ground pork and flavorful broth, it’s still a mystery how these are made.  These xiao long bao were fantastic and packed full of flavor.  These dumplings are meant to be one bite pockets of goodness, so that when you popped it into your mouth and bit into it, it just explodes with amazing soupy broth that is just fantastic.  My husband and I loved these xiao long bao.  I told you we ordered 3 orders of this, right?

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The next, and final, item on our dim sum tour of Mr. Wong’s menu was all my husband’s selection.  Crispy foie gras and mushroom sticky rice ball caught my husband’s eye and he had to have some.  All the menu had to say was foie gras and he was all over it.  I wasn’t quite sure how foie graz, mushroom and sticky rice would all come together, but it was actually pretty amazing, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like foie gras or mushroom.  The foie gras and mushroom mixture was stuffed inside a ball of sticky rice, and then the rice ball was then lightly deep fried so that outside was nice and crispy and crunchy.  The texture and feel of the crispy sticky rice was so different and interesting than I had ever imagined.  My husband said that the foie gras and mushroom stuffing was rich and amazingly delicious, combined with the sticky rice, which was actually sweeter than we had thought it would be, was a great combination that combined texture and flavor into one crispy, sticky, delicious ball.  This dish was actually a bit more like a savory dessert that was succulent and savory and good to the last bite.

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Finally, as if all of this wasn’t enough, my husband and I decided to give in and order a dessert to share.  We had vacillated back and forth as to whether or not we wanted to get a dessert, but as soon as I saw the menu, I knew there was one particular dessert I needed to try.  Banana fritters with chocolate cake, passion fruit and banana curd, peanuts, and milk tea ice cream.  Um, yes, please?  What in that dessert description didn’t sound good to you?  This dessert was both visually appealing and amazingly tasty as well.  A sphere of milk tea ice cream sat atop a bed of passion fruit and banana curd surrounded by chunks of chocolate cake and fried banana fritters that looked more like a bird’s nest.  This dessert was incredibly creative and different and full of different textures from the ice cream to the curd to the cake to the crunchy fritter as well as a diverse amount of different flavors from rich chocolate cake, to the cook subtle ice cream to the sweet bananas to the tangy curd.  The banana fritters were actually still warm when the dessert was presented, which just added to the taste and texture of the dessert.  The crunchiness of the banana fritters was fantastic and the star of the dish followed by the amazing passion fruit and banana curd.  The contrast between the warm banana fritters and the cool ice cream also added to the wow factor of this amazing happy ending.  This was one amazing dessert and a memorable one as well.

After having flown all night from Singapore to Sydney, dropping our bags off at our hotel, and making our way to the Central Business District of the city, we were seriously in need of some sustenance.  Mr. Wong hit it out of the park for both my husband and I.  The setting of the restaurant was so far removed from anything I had ever pictured for a Chinese restaurant, but yet it worked and was fantastic.  The laid back, mellow feel of this 1920’s underground speakeasy bar set the mood and the scene for what would be a fantastic lunch.  The real star of Mr. Wong is the food, as it should be.  The dim sum lunch was perfect as it allowed us to sample a bunch of different small bites of food.  It’s amazing how full you can get from some dim sum.  And it’s somewhat ironic that we can order dim sum dishes with foie gras and wagyu beef, and yet, the one item that most impressed my husband was probably the simplest, most common dim sum dish possible made with king prawns and bamboo shoots.  Just goes to prove that you don’t always need the fancy products to make the most delicious food.  I would definitely recommend Mr. Wong for anyone who is looking for something a little different and really tasty when they are visiting Sydney.