Thursday, 26 December 2013

Jono's birthday brunch (26th December 2013)

Finding a place that was opened for brunch on Boxing Day turned out to be harder than expected as most cafes and food joints have taken the opportunity to take a break during this festive period. So instead of taking the whole family out for brunch to celebrate Jono's birthday, we ended up having it in our lovely backyard, breakfast a la Angelica's kitchenI have never cooked big breakfast, let alone for four people - a wee challenge but I think I can manage (fingers crossed!).

Turkey sausages (to keep with the Christmas theme), scrambled eggs, lightly toasted Turkish bread (and gluten free bread for Cheryl), grilled tomatoes and portobello mushrooms, spinach, hash browns and baked beans make up my home-cooked version of the big breakfast. Oh yes, and not forgetting a glass of orange juice each (we had our coffees before brunch). Preparing the meal required time coordination as the various items have different cooking times. Every pot and pan in the house was used on the gas stove and I had the oven going as well for the hash browns and to keep cooked food warm. At one point, I found myself simultaneously stirring baked beans, flipping sausages and watching the oven! How do cafe chefs do it?? Took me about 30 minutes from preparation to serve and I must say for my first attempt, I was pretty pleased with the outcome :) 

4 x big breakfast coming right up!

Jono's birthday big breakfast - toasted Turkish bread, hash browns, turkey sausage, baked beans, grilled mushroom and tomato, spinach and scrambled eggs with side of orange juice

Happy birthday babe!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Four Friends, Crows Nest (11th December 2013)

I was recently contacted by Polkadot PR to attend an exclusive visit of Four Friends, a boutique chocolate cafe located in Crows Nest. The deal was simple: in exchange for the experience, the public relations agency would like me to write a review on my blog. A fair compromise plus I get to check out a cafe I’ve never been to in the area. Did I mention that it involves sampling some delicious chocolates too? :) 

Several emails later, we came to an agreement on the time of my visit and though all communications were done with Polkadot PR to date, the PR folks would not be on site during my visit. Instead, I would be meeting with Four Friends cafe owners Katze Ting and Jimmy Lai who will look after me and share their story for my blog. I arrived just in time for the 12.30pm visit only to learn that the owners were running late. No matter, as that gave me time to check out the cafe at leisure, taking photographs of the beautiful creations available in store. Hand-made chocolates, macarons, breads and other sweet pastries of assorted flavours, designs and colours filled the display counter. I felt like a kid in a candy store – so many sweet delights to choose from making it very difficult to pick out just a few items. I want to try EVERYTHING! Despite being a chocolate cafe, they do serve a couple of savoury breads though the selection is not as extensive as their sweet treats. Mmm, the lingering smell of chocolate and freshly ground coffee beans are just heavenly... 

Four Friends on Holstermann St, Crows Nest

Macaron tree

Pastries, savoury and sweet breads, and cakes

Assorted handmade chocolates

Christmas themed Chocolate Pops

Colour-coded macaron chart (very handy!)

Chocolate Santas

View of the counter (section where coffee is prepared)

“Would you like to try some tea while you wait?” asked one of the lovely girls manning the shop. Chocolates are Four Friends’ primary business but they also pride themselves in serving great coffee and offer over 40 varieties of tea sourced from around the world. I wanted something refreshing and went with her recommendation of their popular Cherry Lips Green Tea.

Over 40 loose leaf tea varieties to choose from

Cherry Lips Green Tea - green tea (Camellia sinensis), thousand day red flowers (Globe Amaranth), rose, rosehips, sweet apricot kernels & jasmine

Most customers would pop in to pick up a takeaway coffee or some chocolates  I was the only customer dining in during lunchtime. I thought the cafe had only the two tables on the footpath and one in the shop for seating; it turned out there was a larger dining area on the level above. I followed the staff upstairs and settled into one of the plush purple sofas. The place gave a sense of peace and tranquility – simple in design, comfy sofas and lounge chairs (even mini ones for the kid’s corner), several magazines strewn on tables, and soft soothing music playing in the background  you could not help but immediately feel relaxed, all stress and troubles quickly forgotten. “Ah, this is nice…,” I thought to myself, sipping my tea and feeling contently happy. My tea was served in a special see-through glass teapot (you can see the contents swirling in the pot) with a beautiful china cup and saucer set, and ornate teaspoon to match. Love the refreshing Cherry Lips tea!

Four Friends menu

Upstairs dining area

Mini lounge chairs at the kid's corner

Fancy a cup of tea?

Cherry Lips Green Tea in a see-through glass teapot

Pouring my first cup of tea

I was shortly joined by Katze (pronounced ‘K-C’) who brought along a pot of tea for herself as well as a gorgeous tasting plate of selected sweet treats she calls ‘The Planet’ for me to sample. “They all look different but are still the same – sweet,” added Katze and explained that this creation was her way of representing the diversity of people, how we differ in skin colour and race but still share common values. 'The Planet' is perfect for sharing between two; she does have a version called 'Space' that caters for a larger group.

The Planet

Top to bottom, left to right: Mango macaron, Lemon tart, Orange macaron,  Sienna Strawberry, Poppy Raspberry macaron, Passion fruit

From left to right: Chocolate indulgence fondant, Popping Kitty, Vanilla, Jam tart, Rum

Over our teas (and me indulging in the tasting plate), Katze filled me in on how Four Friends was founded and shared with me life stories and values she holds dear to her heart – she was very approachable and open in our chit-chat. I learnt that Katze was originally from Hong Kong and has been living in Australia since the age of fourteen. Sydney is very much home for her and husband Jimmy, and their three young children whom they adore dearly (Jimmy didn't join us because he was keeping an eye on their baby downstairs). Whilst busy juggling their former business Cafe Sunyata in Artamon (this cafe is no longer in operation) and running the household, their lives took an unexpected turn when Katze fell very ill – she was diagnosed with scleroderma (the word is a concatenation of Greek words 'sclero' and 'derma' and translates to mean ‘hard skin’), a chronic disorder of the connective tissue of the body. A non-contagious disease, scleroderma affects mainly the skin but can cause serious damage to internal organs which can be quite disabling; Katze had both. At the same time, she also learnt that she was pregnant with her third child to which her doctor had strongly advised against keeping due to her deteriorating health. 

The pain she endured from the symptoms were insufferable – no modern day medicine could treat the scleroderma and she was not even able to carry out simple day-to-day tasks. Having my own share of injuries and illnesses, I can totally relate to her frustration and pain  I was not at all surprised when she told me she was constantly feeling negative and depressed as a result. But one day, she decided to take matters into her own hands and changed her life around. “I thought to myself, if I stay like this, I will pass on all this negative energy to my child,” she said and from that moment on, made the conscious decision to become more positive and grateful for the simple things in life. Her doctor was amazed because not only did she keep the child, her scleroderma symptoms have miraculously subsided! With newfound happiness and positive energy, this led to the creation of Four Friends last year, an avenue which Katze uses to share and spread happiness to the world.

The name and symbol of Four Friends is derived from a Buddhist legend of four harmonious animals – an elephant standing underneath a fruit tree carrying a monkey, a hare and a bird on top of each other, symbolizing interdependence despite the difference in size and strength, united as one in harmony. A staunch Buddhist, Katze wanted to share her spiritual outlook and the idea of enjoying small pleasures in life  this is clearly reflected in the thoughtful design and atmosphere of the cafe, a place she hopes will allow customers to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and relax, even if just briefly. She tells me that she sees too many 'unhappy' people everyday, including one regular customer who couldn’t even put his phone down for a second to order his morning coffee – he mouths his order, pays, grabs his takeaway coffee and is out the door, all the while talking on the phone. “That is not living life,” she added and I nodded in agreement. These days, we live such busy lives that we forget to stop and smell the roses. Her illness has made her realise that happiness is the most important thing in life and she strongly believes that the world would be a better place with less stress, less illness and less war. I concur!

The husband and wife team have years of cafe experience under their belt - Katze looks after the food side of things while Jimmy (who is also the head barista) is in charge of the beverages. Those of you who have had the pleasure of being served coffee made by Jimmy would know that he is quite the latte art master – he won 3rd place in this year's national Pura Dairy Farmers Latte Art Championship and you can check out some of his fantastic latte art designs on the Four Friends Facebook page. Having a passion for sweet treats herself, Katze is a self-taught chocolate maker, learning the process from scratch with plenty of trial and error, constantly perfecting the craft and creating new chocolates. She enjoys playing with colours and ingredients, using only organic and natural products (no artificial sweetener or preservatives) and is a keen supporter of small businesses. The chocolate creations at Four Friends are constantly changing as Katze uses ingredients that are in season. Though friends have told her that using such high-quality products is not sustainable for business, Katze is sticking to her guns and not forgoing quality for money. I was shocked to learn that these individual chocolates range from $2 - $2.50 which is very cheap for such good quality. 

I wouldn’t normally go for a chocolate plate for dessert (let alone for lunch) as they are often too sweet and after having just two or three, I’ve had my fill; I was surprised to find myself polishing off almost everything on the tasting plate! The chocolates at Four Friends are made from organic and fair trade cacao from Belgium and because it is free of palm oil, it doesn’t leave the gluggy chocolate residue you would find with most off-the-shelf chocolates from the supermarket – these melt the moment you pop it into your mouth and leaves nothing but a clean palate. Makes me want more chocolates! Everything I sampled on 'The Planet' had a good level of sweetness (not too sweet) and each has its own unique eye-catching design, some striking in colour and taste with bursts of fruit flavours as you take a bite but none too overpowering – you can distinctly tell the treats apart. My personal favourite of the lot was the Vanilla chocolate (it was hard to pinpoint what flavour it was at first as the taste of natural vanilla bean is unfamiliar to me). “Try the Popping Kitty,” said Katze encouragingly. I had left that till last as it looked like a chunky block of milk chocolate. It was actually hollow and had popping candy on the inside  what a delightful surprise, bringing back fond childhood memories :) 

Oozing with chocolate goodness

Poppy Raspberry macaron

Orange macaron

Sienna Strawberry

Popping Kitty

Delightfully surprised to find popping candy inside the kitty!

When asked if she makes chocolates that are gluten and/or dairy free (I often keep an eye out for such goods since my in-laws are both gluten and dairy intolerant), she admitted that it is difficult to do so and further added that she herself can’t have any gluten, dairy or nuts as they were detrimental to her health. “How DO you create such wonderful chocolates when you can’t taste them yourself??” I asked in amazement and she proudly responded that she puts her trust their chef Gloria and her husband. At times, she would do the tasting herself just to make sure the flavour and consistency is right – she doesn’t sell anything she wouldn’t personally put in her mouth. In addition to in store products, Four Friends also offers services including catering for events, high tea, wedding bomboniere, gift packs as well as cooking classes and workshops for adults and kids.

Christmas creations - Belgium milk chocolate CDs

Close up of the chocolate CD

Jars of loose leaf tea

Katze was very kind to give me a little goodie bag to take home, a small box of selected of chocolates she helped me pick out as well as a jar of Pina Colada tea. I’m SO spoiled – thank you so much!

Thank you Four Friends for the goodies!

Top to bottom, left to right: Whiskey, Green Tea, Apricot Vanilla, Popping Kitty, Orange Baileys, Salted Caramel (Dark Chocolate), Vanilla, Caramel Robot

My little green man :)

Treat yourself to a visit at Four Friends and try out their delectable treats, sample one of their many teas, or check out the awesome latte art that comes with your coffee. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the cafe and I'm sure you will too! Thanks Katze and the family at Four Friends for having me today  looking forward to my next visit :)

I dined as a guest at Four Friends. Thanks Polkadot PR and Katze for inviting me to this exclusive visit of Four Friends.

Four Friends Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, 29 November 2013

Sushia Izakaya & Bar, Sydney (29th November 2013)

Today was the first time I stepped foot into a Japanese restaurant post-traumatic experience at Kenji @ Opera Kitchen - it has been a while since I last went to Sushia Izakaya & Bar for lunch and I’m pretty confident there won’t be any seagulls trying to steal my food when dining at this indoor restaurant!

“Ooo, new sushi train menu…,” I noted walking past the large sign by the entrance. Good thing I'm here, get to sample their new menu ;) There were hardly any diners at 12pm and plenty of seats to choose from. Being a lone diner, I took up my usual spot at the bar. Hmm, looking at the items on the sushi train, I noticed there were a couple of new salmon variations though the sushi selection were limited, perhaps because it was still early for lunch; the chefs were busy making more to add onto the train. After eyeing the conveyor belt for about 5 minutes while sipping my warm cup of green tea, I decided to start off with a few dishes from their sushi train menu (you can order from the menu at any time with the wait staff) and got myself a Salmon Sashimi and a single serve of Agendashi Tofu. 

The Salmon Sashimi is my absolute favourite here at Sushia – thick cuts, fresh and SO good. I could happily eat another serving but it would burn a hole in my pocket. Just have to slowly saviour the six slices on my plate…

Salmon Sashimi ($6.50)

The Agendashi Tofu was made on order so took some time but well worth the wait. Served warm in a small bowl, the deep fried silken tofu sits in a broth mixture of dashi, mirin and shoyu, topped with finely sliced spring onion, nori and bonito shavings. The only way to consume the cute little dish is with a spoon – delicious! 

Agendashi Tofu ($3)

There were various signs placed on the train and one of them had information on how you can obtain a discount for your bill. Check in a photo of your meal on Facebook and receive 10% off the food bill (drinks not included); all you needed to do was show your check in when paying to get the discount. One cute tofu dish checked in!

Throngs of corporate workers started filling up the place as time passed by. I was still feeling peckish so waved to a nearby wait staff, this time putting in an order for a Lobster Salad and a Soft Shell Crab hand roll, both of which too weren’t available on the conveyor. While waiting for them to be made, I helped myself to a Grilled Eel nigiri from the train – tasted as expected, nothing to shout about. 

Grilled Eel ($4.20)

My Lobster Salad turned up shortly and though it was tasty, my small gripe was that the sushi was made a little too big; I couldn’t have it in one mouthful (had to take two bites) and my sushi was disintegrating as I ate :/ The first bite was a slight shock to the system because the salad came straight from the fridge i.e. it was cold and I happened to be the first diner of the day to order the Lobster Salad. 

Lobster Salad ($4.20)

Last but not least was the Soft Shell Crab hand roll – skilfully wrapped in a nori cone with ingredients spilling out the open end, I ate it with my hand, dipping the roll in the spicy mayo (served on the side) with each bite. Woah, that mayo has quite a kick! The soft shell crab was totally fried through and it even had some roe in it (mmm, eggy…yum...). 

Soft Shell Crab hand roll ($4.20)

Cost $22.60 all up including my 10% discount which was more than what I would normally spend for lunch but bugger it - the food was great and worth the cost. Come check out the new menu - I'm loving it :)

Sushia Izakaya & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 25 November 2013

Parlour Burger, Sydney (25th November 2013)

Sydney has what I call food fads, short term phases of what the new 'in' food is in town that gets everyone talking and eating – first there were the dumplings, then the ramen joints, and let's not forget the yoghurt stores that were mushrooming EVERYWHERE (how is it even possible to have 3 of such stores on the same block on George St???) and these days, the new craze is burgers. Yep, you heard me right - BURGERS. Once a feature of fast food restaurants, the burger is taking Sydney by storm with several well-known chefs opening up burger businesses of late (think CHUR Burger and The Burger Shed) and now followed by The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room opening their very own burger bar, Parlour Burger.

To celebrate the launch, Parlour Burger was giving away a total of 1,000 burgers on its opening day (that's today!) from 12pm to 2pm, and again from 5pm to 7pm. Fellow food blogger Jugernauts very kindly shared the free burger offer link on the Sydney Food Bloggers Facebook group (which many Sydney food bloggers and foodies are a part of) last week - all you needed to do was to sign up for the offer on The Morrison Facebook page and shortly receive an email confirmation that entitles you to one free burger on launch day. I managed to snag an offer (score!) and there were still about 250 left after I signed up. You gotta be in quick before it’s all gone! Thanks Jugernauts for sharing :)

I headed over to Parlour Burger located a block away from my office about 11.45am for the launch event and there were at least 20 people ahead of me in the line leading into the venue, most like myself with a printed paper in hand (we needed to show the email confirmation in exchange for the burger). On the dot at noon, the staff at the bar sounded the hand bell signalling the start of the event. Eager patrons were let into the smallish venue in waves to collect their free burger – I managed to get in with the second wave just a little after 12pm. I headed straight for the bar where the staff were busy handing out burgers. “What is that??” asked one of the female bar staff, pointing to my printout which I attempted to hand over to her. When I told her what it was, she gave me a nonchalant wave of the hand saying it wasn’t necessary. Huh? No confirmation required?? It seemed to me the staff were giving out free burgers to anyone who rocked up to the bar without actually checking if he/she has an offer confirmation. This is going to get pretty ugly when the burgers run out and folks who DO have a confirmation get nothing. Seriously, what is the point of signing up for the offer when the organisers themselves do not adhere to the rules?

In line outside Parlour Burger for a free burger as part of their launch

Free burgers handed out at the bar - choice of either chicken or beef burger

I was really hoping Parlour Burger would be giving out their quirky The Black Widow burger (made with charcoal brioche bun, ground beef and extra hot sauce) but no such luck - diners were given a choice of either the chicken or beef burger that came ready prepared and wrapped in tin foil. I decided to go for the beef and with burger in hand went to find myself a seat; most folk collected their burgers and headed off. 
The decor of Parlour Burger was similar to that of an American diner with its high bar stools and tables except it had a more upmarket feel and looked sleek with the black and wood tones. The place was quite packed so I ended up sharing a high table with another solo diner. 

Inside Parlour Burger

The small burger bar filled with happy hungry customers :)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were given full-sized burgers; I was expecting the free burgers to be just a small sampler. My beef burger turned out to be The Original Morrison burger - fresh lettuce, tomato, gherkin, chipotle mayo and a fist size chunky beef patty cooked medium rare sandwiched between two soft buns. Tasted pretty good though I'm not sure if the pink middle would be a huge hit with diners - it was more towards the rare side and even though I normally have my steak medium rare, I would have preferred the beef patty a bit more cooked. The burger was a substantial serving and reasonably priced for the normal cost of $10.

Fun Times & Good Burgers

The Original Morrison Burger (with chipotle mayo) ($10)

Medium rare beef patty - brown on the outside, pink in the middle

The menu at Parlour Burger has been kept simple - $10 burgers (5 options to choose from) and a couple of sides including The Morrison famous Duck Fat Chips, Cabbage & Parmesan Slaw, Beer Battered Onion Rings and Deep Fried Pickles. Definitely coming back to try The Black Widow and Deep Fried Pickles, both of which sounds very interesting to me!

Parlour Burger menu

$10 burgers - choose from the five options available

I left the burger bar around 12.15pm and my god, the queue has now grown all the way around the block: 

Those of you who are coming for the 5pm session, make sure you come early to secure your free burger!

Parlour Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato