Thursday, 27 September 2012

Taste Baguette, North Sydney (27th September 2012)

I've always wanted to try Taste Baguette - each morning, I would walk to work from North Sydney train station, passing by this cafe on the way. And each morning without fail, there would be a hoard of customers standing around the counter waiting for their morning orders of takeaway coffee and breakfast. Crowds at a cafe to me tends to be an indication that the coffee and food are pretty good, and with Greenwood Plaza's recent EAT YOUR HEART OUT! promotion (the promo girls at the plaza have been handing out a booklet filled with offers from the food retailers on site), there was no excuse not to use the $9 chicken baguette and water offer to check out the cafe.

Around 12.30pm, Julie-Ann and I headed over to the Taste Baguette located on the Metro Level of Greenwood Plaza (next to Diva accessories store) for our regular fortnightly girls' lunch. I was surprised to find there was no queue during the lunch rush hour but what was even more surprising was the customer service provided by the male staff/barista at the counter - he didn't take the slightest interest in us or even offered assistance as we stood by the counter looking through the menu on the boards. "Could I get a coffee if I paid more and not get the water?" I asked politely when I handed my voucher and got a flat out no with a 'hurry-up-I'm-busy' look of irritation from the guy. Okay...frankly, he could have just told me that I had to pay for the coffee separately ($3 for a flat white) - I would be more than happy to do so. And when I asked him if I should be paying him for my meal or at the collection counter, I got a non-responsive grunt which I took it for the latter, only to then get a fixated hostile look from the guy as if I was going to run away without paying him. WTF?! I totally didn't expect the service to be this ridiculous - how do customers put up with such attitude like that? Julie-Ann had it equally bad - the guy didn't even bother serving her whilst she was standing at the counter ready to order and purse in hand. Sheesh!

Despite their poor customer service, fortunately the food and coffee made up for the bad experience. My flat white (which I ended up getting Julie-Ann to include in her order) and baguette was pretty good. The Vietnamese Style Lemongrass Chicken I had was one of their signature baguettes - grilled chicken marinated in lemongrass, coral lettuce, tomato and rocket filled the wholemeal baguette (you get a choice of plain or wholemeal baguette). I love how the wholemeal baguette was nicely crusted on the outside but still soft on the inside - the cafe bakes baguettes fresh on site every 15 minutes during lunchtime and I believe this is the reason why they do so well selling their baguette sandwiches. Nothing beats freshly baked bread! Both Julie-Ann and I thought the serving was a bit too much for us - we only managed to eat two-thirds of the baguette (and that was with some effort too!).

Taste Baguette in the Metro Level of Greenwood Plaza

Dine-in customers sit at the tables located nearby

My takeaway Vietnamese Style Lemongrass Chicken
- grilled chicken marinated in lemongrass served with coral lettuce,
tomato and rocket in a freshly baked baguette

Taste Baguette Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Aida (19th September 2012)

As part of Opera Australia’s Introduction To Opera offer, Jono and I had purchased tickets to two operas - Aida and Madame Butterfly - at a discounted package price back in July. Going to the opera in Sydney is extremely expensive and to be honest, we probably wouldn't have considered going to any of the other operas this season (we saw La Traviata in March) if it wasn't for the reduced cost. Tonight we were headed to Sydney Opera House to see Aida, an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi about the tragic love story between Radames (an Egyptian military commander and Aida (an Ethiopian slave) who are on opposite sides of a bitter war, torn between their love for each other and their country. Normal adult ticket prices range from $105 - $297 but with the discounted package, we paid only $140 each for our A Reserve seats located at the Circle section of the Opera Theatre.

I met Jono at the Opera House around 7ish and with time to spare, we decided to get ourselves a drink before the show. The chap behind the bar had popped open Jono’s bottle of beer and started pouring my sparkling Semillon when the 15-minute to show commencement call was heard – he was very kind to inform us that we could opt out of buying the drinks (sadly no drinks allowed in the theatre) but we went ahead anyway, draining our drinks in 10 minutes before heading in to look for our seats. All that alcohol is going straight to my head...

The opera began at 7.30pm, performed in Italian with English surtitles. Our seats in the Circle section were a bit far back but good enough to take in the view of the orchestra, stage and surtitles projected above the stage (no eye-flicking up and down between the cast and surtitles – yes!). Act I sets the scene and introduces the key characters in Aida to the audience. In the hall of the royal palace at Memphis, high priest Ramfis (played by David Parkin) tells Radames (played by Rosario La Spina) that Egypt is threatened by the advancing Ethiopian army. Radames dreams of gaining victory in battle and hopes to be chosen as the Egyptian commander. He is loved by princess Amneris (King of Egypt’s daughter played by Milijana Nikolic) yet himself in love with Aida (played by Jacqueline Mabardi), Amneris’ handmaiden who unknown to the Egyptians is the captured daughter of the Ethiopian King Amonasro (played by Warwick Fyfe). Ah-ha, that why the Ethiopians are invading Egypt – daddy’s coming to the rescue! Amneris is suspicious that Aida could be her rival for Radames’ heart but hides her jealousy whilst keeping a watchful eye at how Radames’ reacts whenever Aida is present. With the Ethiopians marching towards Thebes, the King of Egypt (played by Jud Arthur) declares war and proclaims Radames to be the leader of his army. Sacred rites are performed in the temple of Phtah where Radames is presented with a consecrated sword and blessed for victory in war. Aida on knowing this feels torn between her father, her country and Radames.

In Act II, Amneris tricks Aida into revealing her love for Radames, falsely telling her that Radames died in battle. Filled with grief and despair, Aida confesses her love for Radames much to Amneris’ rage. Meanwhile, Radames returns victorious and the King of Egypt decrees that on this triumphant day, Radames could have anything he wishes for. The Ethiopian captives were brought forth to the king and Aida, seeing her father Amonasro among the captives rushes forwards but her father warns not to betray his rank and their identities. Amonasro declares the Ethiopian king was killed in battle and the captured Ethiopians pleaded the Egyptian king for mercy but to no avail. Radames uses his reward pleading to the King of Egypt to spare the lives of the prisoners. The king agreed on condition that Amonasro and Aida remain as hostages to ensure that the Ethiopians do not revenge their defeat. The king also offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to Radames.

Act III - on the eve of Radames and Amneris’ wedding, Amneris and Ramfis heads to the Temple of Isis to pray. Outside, Aida meets Radames under the persuasion of Amonasro to help him find out where the next location of the Egyptian invasion will be. In their meeting, Aida convinces Radames to flee to the desert with her and when discussing the best route of escape, Radames inadvertently reveals the location of the Egyptian army. Upon hearing this, Amonasro appears from hiding and declares himself the Ethiopian king. Shortly after, Amneris and Ramfis exits the temple and seeing Radames with the captives, calls the guards. Aida and Amonasro escape and asks Radames to come with them but he refuses and is arrested by the imperial guards as a traitor.

In the final act (Act IV), Amneris implores Radames to declare his innocence and offers him her love and the throne but Radames refuses. Amneris cries and pleads with the high priest to show mercy. There was nothing the princess could do and Radames is sentenced to be buried alive. He is taken away into the lower floor of the temple into a dark crypt. Thinking he is alone, he hopes that Aida is alive and safe when he discovers that Aida is actually in the crypt – she has come to die with him. The ending sees Amneris weeping in despair while the lovers embrace and await their slow death.

The running time of the show was approximately three hours and ten minutes including two twenty-minute intervals. The stage itself was quite small for the full cast yet the creative team made fantastic use of space including the use of a lateral moving walkway where dancers and/or characters stand and pose, and is then transported across the stage. We thought it was rather unique and clever though come Act III, the walkway was overused in the choreography and has lost its initial wow-factor. The Egyptians wore flowing garments adorned with hues of precious gems and plenty of gold giving them a stature of grandeur, their eyes highlighted with black kohl making them look rather menacing yet sensual at the same time; the Ethiopians on the other hand had sprayed on brownish skin colour with an Afro or dreadlocks, and wore more drape-on style clothing with hippie bracelets (Amonasro reminded me somewhat of Blanket Man in Wellington with the dark skin, long dreadlocks and draped top). The music and singing overall was very good - the characters who really stood out for me would have to be Amneris, Aida and the King of Eygpt (Jud Arthur's voice was fantastic - loud, foreboding and deeply low). Rosario La Spina sang well but I felt his acting was a bit rigid and his figure didn't help (he didn't come across as a convincing heroic warrior). Bizarrely, almost all promotional material for Aida features Amneris (she's fabulous in both song and act - there's no doubt about it) which I have to agree with Jono didn’t make a lot of sense when the show is titled Aida...

The show season ends 13th October so there’s still time to get yourself a ticket if you're keen to check it out!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Rag Restaurant, North Sydney (13th September 2012)

With Karley (our business analyst from the Wellington office) in town this week, it was an opportunity for the North Sydney team to catch up so we headed over to the Rag & Famish Hotel for lunch. "Urgh, not Rag & Famish again," I would often say whenever the boys suggested heading over to the corner pub located a block away from the office on Miller St. The beer selection was alright and priced reasonably but almost every time I've been there for lunch, the food choices available weren't great - typical pub fare and snacks. Oh, and their Famous Famish Pies (and you know I don't like pies very much so totally not an option for me). The pub is a classic Australian heritage hotel and the oldest pub still trading today in North Sydney (established 1860) - the bar area is carpeted and often reeked of spilt beer, and areas not carpeted had a sticky surface (you can tell when you walk past). Not somewhere I see myself going to regularly but I would still tag along with the guys if I wasn't able to persuade them to go somewhere else - definitely not my favourite pub in the area. My view of the place however took a change on my last visit. I knew there was an upstairs area but everyone had thought it was just a function room. It turned out The Rag Restaurant was located on level 1 and we only knew of it when Marcus and Andrew convinced me to head over for our team lunch one day - we arrived late and the bar was closed for lunch but the staff told us to try the restaurant upstairs. What do you know, the Rag & Famish has a fancy a la carte dining area! And when we told the rest of our colleagues about it, they were curious about the restaurant which was how we ended up there for lunch today :)

Serving only lunch and dinner Mondays-Fridays, The Rag Restaurant offers modern Australian cuisine - unlike the bistro downstairs where you have to order your food and drinks AND collect it from the bar, here, you get table service. A popular lunch spot for groups from nearby offices, I would definitely recommend reserving a table if you have a large group like ours (there were 7 of us). We were quite a chatty bunch, and over drinks and food, everyone shared stories of what has been happening in our lives of late. 

We each ordered our own main and there were garlic and herb breads as well as sides of salad and Roasted Chats with Rosemary Salt for the table to share. On my earlier visit, I tried their Crispy Skin Ocean Trout with Prawn & Seafood Bisque which was lovely but a bit rich; this time, I went for one of the specials, the 250g Wagyu Sirloin with Red Wine Jus and Fries (cost $45). Hmm, the steak was rather disappointing - it was cooked medium rare but the meat seemed old or tough and the overall dish wasn't very tasty. Not worth the cost, that's for sure but fortunately lunch was on the company so can't really complain much. Perhaps I would try the Confit Duck Leg Cassoulet with Pork Belly & Chorizo next time - most of us who took a bite from Shankar's plate all agreed that it was really good.

Garlic bread ($10)

250g wagyu steak with red wine jus and fries ($45)

Team lunch at The Rag Restaurant (l-r): Karley, Andrew, Shankar, Vijay,
 James, me and Julie-Ann

The Rag & Famish Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato