New Shanghai, Chatswood Chase ($$)

Address: Lower Ground Level, Chatswood Chase- 345 Victoria Ave, Chatswood NSW

Tel: (02) 9412 3358

Website: http://www.newshanghai.com.au/splash.php

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Wicko and I attended a menu tasting at New Shanghai in Chatswood.

Wicko has started covering a few more events for me as I try to manage work and blogging and transition to being a part-time uni student from March onwards.

This event was particularly appropriate for him  as he went to school in Chatswood so knows the area quite well.  He also is quite a fussy eater so I thought exposing him to something different would be good to develop his blogging palate!

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Atmosphere

The restaurant is located in the food court of Chatswood Chase shopping centre, so we decided to park in the centre and walk down.  This was a good idea on the way there, but was a little creepy when we had to walk through the shopping centre in the dark on the way back!

The atmosphere at the restaurant was a little different to what I had expected.

It was a lot darker, almost a little grungy and it gave off a “busy modern city meets traditional tea house” vibe.

The place was packed out with busy diners, quite good for a Wednesday night out of the CBD.

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There is a small drinks bar on one side, featuring prints of a smiling Chinese girl and a large printed umbrella.  The colours brighten up the dark space and the slightly faded look gives an “old-yet-new” feel.

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There was also a private dining room which was being used when we entered (this photo is from after the meal as I did not want to take a photo while there were people in there).

I loved the red, shiny bamboo wall paper on the walls, an elegant way to brighten up the space.

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Wicko and I also liked the glass windows (similar to those at Din Tai Fung), which showed off the skills of the dumpling and bun makers, kneading and rolling away until each dumpling was perfect.

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The final touches were the antique-looking carved wooden windows ….

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the red windows and bunting….

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and the bamboo coloured neutral table settings.

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Service

We were looked after by the friendly and pleasant Jerry, the Chatswood Manager who was overseeing the staff taking our orders and delivering food.

After perusing the menu, we ordered drinks.

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Some chose pineapple, some Yakult and others pineapple an coconut.

The drinks took a while to come out and all came out at different times but they were really nice and worth the wait.

Wicko chose a Kiwi Blended Ice which was not at all sour, like some of the kiwis you find here. It also contained large chunks of Kiwi on the top.

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Kiwi Blended Ice, $5.80

I chose the Lychee Blended Ice, which I found tasted like lychee jelly, rather than fresh lychee, which was not a problem for me as I love lychee jelly anyway!

The drink was refreshing but I would have liked some pearls or jelly in there like at Easyway and Chatime.

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Lychee Blended Ice, $5.80

The lovely Georgie, who was sitting next to me, chose the Strawberry Blended Ice, which came out topped with a couple of strawberries and some mint.

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Strawberry Blended Ice, $5.80

Food

Food. Boy was there a lot of it.

The menu at New Shanghai is seasonal except for the key basic dishes so in order to try a bit of everything we had both Dim Sim and Mains to share.

We started off with the delicious pillows of pan fried pork buns that were soft on top, crisp on the bottom and full of juicy pork.

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Pan Fried Pork Buns (8 pieces), $10.50 

Next were the Xiao Long Bao, pleated dumplings with a delicate and soft skin, these dumplings were bursting with broth and pork flavour. Delicious and quite a generous serving for the price!

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Xiao Long Bao (8 pieces), $7.80 

One of the more exciting dishes on the menu and definitely one of my favourites, was the Prawn Wonton tossed with peanut butter, red chilli oil and spice. The creamy, nutty flavour of the peanut butter (which you can see in the middle) was perfect with the spicy chilli and cool cucumber and the prawns were cooked until JUST done!

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Prawn Wontons with peanut butter and chilli sauce (10 pieces), $14.80

The steamed Pork Belly Buns were soft and slightly chewy with a tasty sauce, however, the pork was quite dry so I didn’t really like this dish.

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Pork Belly Buns, $6.00 (2 pieces)

The pan fried pork dumplings were great as they were so golden and delicious on the bottom, perfect with the vinegar and soy sauce.

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Here’s a photo of the bottom of the dumplings:

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Pan Fried Pork Dumplings (8 pieces), $9.90

After we had enjoyed the Dim Sim, we moved on to the Braised Tofu and Mushroom in Sweet Soy Sauce.

While I am definitely not a mushroom person and couldn’t handle more than a bite of these slimy looking things, I did enjoy the tofu, the glossy sauce and the braised greens.

Great for the vegetarians!

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Braised Tofu and Mushroom in Sweet Soy Sauce, $16.80

Next were the Stir Fried Claims with XO Sauce. The claims were well cooked, the sauce was sweet and a little spicy and the shallots were crunchy and added some freshness and colour.

Wicko also enjoyed his first clam, noting that he had caught one once on a fishing trip by accident.  Nice.

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Stir Fried Clam, $15.80

The Steamed Fish with Seaweed was soft and flaky, falling apart easily when prodded with our chopsticks. I’m not 100% sure exactly what the sauce was or how much it cost though as I couldn’t find it on the menu.

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My favourite dish, possibly of all time, had to be the Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab.  This dish was a winner all round and we enjoyed the super crunchy fried crab, the spicy chili and the well seasoned batter.  The presentation was also nice with some bright colours to lift the look of the dish.

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Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab, $29.80

Next we had the King Prawn in Ginger and Shallots with Vermicelli.  There were plenty of prawns in this dish, even if they were a little overdone and hard to peel (HOW do you peel prawns with chopsticks and a soup spoon!?).

The ginger and shallot sauce was tasty but I wasn’t a fan of all the noodles at the bottom, a little too much vermicelli for me!

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We then had the Salt and Pepper Deep Fried School of Prawns, which were the same as the soft shell crab, except crunchier.

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The Sizzling Seafood Hot Pot was next.  A pot full of seafood broth, steaming vegetables, tofu, fish, prawns and squid, this dish was something light that you could enjoy with fried rice of noodles, without feeling super guilty that you just ate all dat fried crab.

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Rainbow Beef, $17.80

It was served with some steamed plain bread that you were meant to place the beef in, although I only ended up trying a piece of the bread and a couple of pieces of the beef.

The bread was light and pillowy and very cutely shaped so that they looked like little clouds!

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Finally, the last dish was the Fried Rice with XO Sauce.  The rice was so flavoursome and colourful and I loved the prawns and egg in there.

A great dish to complement any of the other mains, especially the steamed vegetable and seafood dishes.

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Fried Rice in XO Sauce, $11.90

For dessert, we shared HUGE bowls of shaved ice, ice cream, fresh mango and strawberry (yes, fresh!), and some condensed milk.

Despite half the dish being ice, once the ice cream and ice started melting the combination of fruity flavours mixing in with the ice made for a cold and satisfying dessert.

We were surprised to find that all this was only $10.80, however, you are only able to choose either mango or strawberry when you order this at the restaurant.

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Fresh Mango or Strawberry Shaved Ice, $10.80

Summary

The food was very tasty and there was so much variety, flavour and technique used in making these dishes.  Great value as well and large serving sizes.

The decor is traditional meets modern, and I loved the glass area where the dumplings and buns were made and the beautiful red and black antique looking features.

Rating

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service-  8
  • Food-  8
  • Atmosphere- 7.75
  • Value – 8

TCFB and Wicko dined complimentarily as guests of Wasamedia and New Shanghai. 

New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

SoCal, Neutral Bay ($$)

Address: 1 Young Street, Neutral Bay NSW

Tel: (02) 9904 5691

Website: http://socalsydney.com.au/

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I had seen SoCal pop up on FB a few times and was pretty curious to find out what it was all about.

Sydney’s North Shore isn’t exactly a hip and happening spot for a night out.  A few places such as Blackout Cafe, Cabana Bar, the Greengate, Kipling’s and The Far North have improved the North’s nightlife, but apart from these you have to trek about 40 minutes on a train into the city to get a good bar.

I was super excited when I then got an invite from the lovely Jo at Pendulum Communications, inviting me to the SoCal launch on Tuesday.

MC and I caught the train to North Sydney after work and jumped on a bus for a 5 minute ride to SoCal.

It is pretty easy to get to on the way there but the irregularity and infrequency of buses on the way back makes it a little difficult to stay out very late if you’re not driving or getting a lift.

That said, Neutral Bay is a nice area and SoCal or even The Oaks would be great for a day time visit for lunch on the weekend.

Atmosphere

SoCal is a new initiative by Chef James Privett of Bistro CBD, and Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll of Applejack Hospitality (which also own Bondi Hardware and The Botanist).

The place has a 2.00am licence and can fit 100 diners inside and another 50 outside.

As we walked in and up the flight of stairs we were greeted by about three different ladies all dressed in various shades of yellow.

The girls were all friendly and welcoming and invited us to take a seat somewhere while drinks were being prepared.

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We chose a seat outside at one of the little tables in the middle of the court yard and had a look around.

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The outdoor area is full of bright and summery colours, particularly blues, yellows and oranges.  The white furniture and planters contrasted strikingly with the colour and gave the place a very beachy and fun look.

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I could definitely see the Southern Californian touches with the painted stools and South American influences such as habanero sauce on the table and palm trees around the courtyard.

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The outdoor area also had a semi-covered pergola with coloured lights which looked beautiful at night time.

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After a few hours outside, we began to get a little cold (summer hasn’t quite kicked in fully), so we decided to move indoors.

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SoCal’s indoor section has beautiful cushions, high tables and a bar area with a DJ and stools around a tiled table.

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It’s a cosy and fun setting and the chilled out atmosphere, combined with funky unique music and funny bar tenders makes for an awesome hang out spot!

Service

Once the place started to fill up a little, the staff came around with some drinks.

The menu on the table featured a variety of cocktails, wines, beers and spirits.

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On offer were some of the American brands such as Pabst Blue Ribbon, Pacifico and the very Mexican, Coronas.

MC enjoyed both these beers and had quite a few!

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I, on the other hand, went for the Del Martini, featuring vodka, peach liqueur and nectar, lime juice, sugar and peach bitters.

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The martini was delicious, very sweet and fairly strong, just the way I like it.

The beautiful bright yellow and the refreshing mint leaf made it feel very tropical and I enjoyed pretending to sip on a cocktail and imagining I was at a beach house in Mexico.

Food

Once the food came around (past the other hungry scavengers waiting by the kitchen and the bar to grab some!), we were quite pleased with the variety on offer.

First up was a Hawaiian Tuna Poke. What is a “tuna poke” I hear you ask?

Well I thought the same thing. A quick Google informed me that it is a raw fish appetiser, served in Hawaiian cuisine.

This “poke” was served on a toasty corn tostada.

I really enjoyed the refreshing taste of the slightly oily tuna combined with a little lemon or lime juice and fresh herbs. MC, who is not really a fan or raw fish, and who only ate sushi for the first time a few years ago, actually had a second serving of this tuna poke when it came around AND he enjoyed it. Amazing!

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After a loooong food drought during which one waitress kept serving food to the same crowd of people, leaving none for us, MC finally managed to pick up two hot dogs on his way back from the bar.

The hot dogs, SoCal Chilli Dogs, were mini frankfurts on a soft and chewy bun, topped with black beans, chilli, cheese, tomato sauce and mustard.

They weren’t my favourite thing on the menu (especially when I ate parts that weren’t covered in the chilli) but MC enjoyed them, so maybe it’s a dude food?!

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Next up were the Crab and Sopressata Empanadas.

These tasted a bit too fishy for my liking, but the crunchy pastry and creamy sauce (I don’t know what was in it) were delicious!  The pastry reminded me a little of the pastry used in Sri Lankan patties.

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We managed to pick up some Pollo Loco Pinchos – spiced chicken skewers on rice with sauce Mole.  The cute boats were perfect for this dish and made it look very beachy and exotic.

The chicken pieces were well cooked through without being too dry and the quinoa, pea, lemon and herb mixture was very fresh and light.

I really enjoyed this dish and would order it again.

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Finally, for dessert, we had Churros with Chocolate Sauce. Of course, being a sugarholic, I loved this!

The churros were tasty and golden, cooked until crunchy and coated in cinnamon sugar.  The dark chocolate sauce was a little bitter for the churros but was a nice way to end the meal.

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Overall

Overall, MC and I had a fun night out at SoCal.

We enjoyed the music and fun atmosphere, loved the funky and beachy decor, and enjoyed the interesting and unique food on offer.

This will definitely be one of summer’s hot spots on the Lower North Shore.

Rating:

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 6.5
  • Food-  7
  • Ambience-  8.75
  • Value – 7

TCFB and MC were invited as guests of Pendulum Communications and SoCal.

SoCal on Urbanspoon

Khao Pla, Chatswood ($$)

Address: 7/370-374 Victoria Ave, Chatswood NSW

Tel: (02) 9412 4978

Website: http://www.facebook.com/KhaoPla

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One evening MC and I headed to Chatswood to watch a movie at Hoyts Westfields.

Our movie was due to start in about 20 minutes but we still hadn’t had dinner yet.

We were pretty hungry so, after a quick walk outside Chatswood Westfields to see what was available, we discovered Khao Pla, and decided to try it out.

We figured that the movie wouldn’t start until about 20-30 minutes after the set time due to ads.

Atmosphere

When we walked in, the restaurant was already about two thirds full.

People were chatting away enjoying their meals and staff were zig-zagging between the tables, taking dishes to and from the kitchen.

We were soon greeted by a waitress and led to a small table by the very cool printed wall. The wall features photos of various scenes from Asia and adds a funky look to the restaurant.

The decor in Khao Pla is quite modern and I felt that the restaurant was a funky addition to Chatswood which, I feel, has quite a lot of traditional-styled Chinese restaurants.

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Service

Service was pretty good. Considering we had about 30 minutes to get in, order, eat, pay and get out, we were pleased that we managed to get our food with enough time to gobble it down and still make it to the movie in time.

Despite us having to bother the waitress every 5 minutes about how long our food would take, staff were always friendly and polite.

Food

Chef Pla Rajoratanavichai, the owner of Khao Pla, has worked at restaurants including Ms G’s, Spice I Am and Mr Wong. He has now started his own restaurant and made his mark on the North Shore in a big way.

I found the food at Khao Pla equivalent to what I have had at Spice I Am, Mr Wong and Ms G’s, but the service and atmosphere was even better as we did not have to wait long for food or a table.

MC and I were excited to try the food and ordered a couple of dishes to share.

First up was steamed rice, served per person on beautiful black plates.

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Steamed Rice, $2.50

We chose the option of the Chicken Gaeng Panang Curry as Panang has been one of our favourites since we first tried it at Arawan Thai in Ryde.

This curry was rich and creamy, quite spicy and had a strong lemongrass flavour.

We both really enjoyed the dish and I think this will be a fall back that we will go back to again and again.

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Chicken Gaeng Panang

We also ordered a Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab dish.

Being a seafood lover, Soft Shell Crab is one of my favourites. It is a great way to eat crab without the difficulty of getting the meat out of the shell.

This Crab was delicious. Unlike some other restaurants where you get a smaller serving for seafood than chicken, beef, pork or lamb, this serving was large and generous, especially considering the price!

The batter was crunchy and delicious, the seasoning spot on. I loved this soft shell crab and again, I will be back for more!

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Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab

Overall, MC and I had a great time at this restaurant and enjoyed the delicious food, funky atmosphere and friendly service.

I would highly recommend this place to anyone looking for a good Thai meal on the North Shore.

Rating:

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 6.5
  • Food- 8
  • Ambience- 6.5
  • Value – 8

Khao Pla on Urbanspoon

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The Oaks, Neutral Bay ($)

Address: 118 Military Rd, Neutral Bay NSW

Tel: (02) 9953 5515

Website: http://www.oakshotel.com.au/articles/Home/1

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The Oaks in Neutral Bay, is owned and run by the Thomas family. They purchased it about 40 years ago from the Furlong family, which had held the licence for it since 1918. It has been described as an “institution”, serving lower north shore patrons since 1885, and has become an icon in the food and bar world, especially north of the bridge.

When I mentioned that I was going to The Oaks this weekend, a number of my friends (mainly those who are older than me- in their 30s and 40s) exclaimed “oh, The Oaks”, or “yeah I know that place.”  When I had asked people my age, some had heard of it but not many had visited.

Based on these reactions, it is was easy to see that The Oaks was more popular with the older crowd, or even with Generation Xers, than the recent 18-25 year olds.

In order to attract a younger crowd, The Oaks recently hired renowned architect Paul Kelly, who has worked on masterpieces such as Black By Ezard, Sokyo and Cargo Bar. The majority of the $4 million renovations were recently completed, and I was lucky enought to be invited to try the new menu by Celebrity Chef Danny Russo and long time The Oaks cook, Denise Brinson.

Owner, David Kelly and the lovely George from Wasamedia took us on a tour around the historic hotel.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere varies depending on which room you are in.

The Bar & Grill area is where we started our tour, and concluded it.

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It is the newly renovated area of the Hotel, with dark colours and funky lights, beautiful wooden finishes, and a modern yet classic look.

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The cellar in the Bar & Grill room makes this room feel more like a restaurant than a pub

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The glass partitions add some depth to the room, while the dark colours ensure the room is still cosy and welcoming

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The stone walls and chequered carpets ensure that The Oaks retains some of its pub characteristics, despite its classy new look

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The bar area is quite large and there are plenty of great beers on tap

The Oaks Butcher sources some of the best meat in Sydney and The Oaks offers diners the option of cooking their own meat! While some find this a little strange (why would you pay to cook your own meat?), others (such as MC) are fans, and think it is a novel way to make cooking exciting, like Korean BBQ!

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Fun fact: apparently the purple lighting in the room was a mistake!

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In the outdoor area, you can cook your own meat on the DIY BBQ and enjoy the lovely sunshine or the shade of the giant oak tree, planted by Ms Kathleen McGill (nee Furlong) in 1938.

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The BBQ area is located in that little hut with a chimney…

It was a custom of the store in the 1930s to give an Oak Tree to any patron spending more than Ten pounds in one purchase.

It is now a tradition that good luck comes to anyone struck by an acorn from the tree in Autumn.

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The Garden Pavilion is coming soon and renovations are currently underway for this area of The Oaks.

Following this, Mr Thomas led us to Nineteenthirtysix, the funky bar which opened in that same year.

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Mr Thomas told us that the bar was popular with locals in the area who would rush in for a beer after work at 5.00pm, before it closed at 6.00pm.

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Mr Thomas giving us a tour of the Hotel

He said the bar originally had many doors facing onto the road, and the actual bar was in the middle of the room, to make it easier for the crowd to get in and get out in the one hour after work.

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It was interesting to see the original tiles and the $90,000 painting hanging in the bar, which are historic parts of Sydney’s history.

It was also intriguing to see the Bottle Department window where patrons used to purchase bottles of beer and alcohol to take home.

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While the bar looks a little dated, I think the old school retro vibe adds character and authenticity to The Oaks.

We moved through the back kitchen areas to the Garden Bar, a quaint little art deco space with a lovely view of the courtyard.

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The Garden Bar from outside

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The view from inside

Inside, the bar is the perfect sports bar, and offers a great space for a chilled out drink or a game of pool.

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The Garden Bar area

Next we headed up to the Cue & Cushion, the pool table area of the bar, located upstairs.

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Mr Thomas told us that the wooden stairs and paneling are all original. They looked to be in excellent repair and I was impressed that a Hotel that is over 100 years old could be in such great condition.

We walked through some of the many pool table rooms, and the outdoor balcony area which can be hired out for functions including birthdays and special occasions.

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The upstairs bar

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An old telephone, still mounted on the wall in one of the rooms

Walking through the rooms we were led past the poker machines, and back down the stairs to the Bar & Grill. 

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The tour gave us a lovely insight into the historic Hotel and really brought home the importance of supporting local businesses which work so hard to preserve Sydney’s historic and cultural history.

Service

Mr Thomas was lovely and MC and I both commented on how he and his son, Andrew worked in the pub, wearing the same uniform as the rest of the staff, and doing the same jobs.

They were friendly and down to earth, and you could see that they had a real connection with the patrons and locals in the area.

MC and I both noted that the staff were also quite relaxed and friendly, very helpful and polite (although I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that we were a table of food bloggers!). 

Nonetheless, we had no complaints with respect to service.

We were also excited to hear Chef Danny Russo’s explanation of the menu.

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Chef Danny Russo

He mentioned that it was designed to deliver tasty and exciting food which is good quality, without alienating the locals who were after good value pub grub.

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He also noted that there were plenty of salads and dishes to please the ladies, as well as a number of good sharing options. 

Food

The Oaks has about 5 different bar and restaurant areas: Bar & Grill, Garden Pavillion, Cue & Cushion Bar, Nineteenthirtysix and Garden Bar, each with it’s own distinct style and vibe.

We dined at the Bar & Grill area and had an array of entrees, mains and desserts.

We started off with a drink- I had a Lemon Lime Bitters and MC had a cider.

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Entrees

To start off with we had:

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Brioche bun with smoked butter, $6.00

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Buffalo wings with blue cheese aioli, $15.00

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Beer battered potato scallops, with sea salt and vinegar, $10.00

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Fried buttermilk chicken with aioli, $15.00

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Popcorn shrimp with chilli mayonnaise, $19.00

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Ocean trout gravlax with baby capers, radish, horseradish cream & fresh dill, $22.00

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Fried baby calamari with lemon and aioli, $18.00

All the entrees were delicious: the salmon fresh and light, the calamari and chicken crunchy and golden, the brioche (best I have ever tasted) soft and sweet, and the blue cheese aioli, creamy yet tangy.

There was a great selection and although some of the entrees were a little pricey for their size, they were quite filling and all were great quality.

My favourite entree: a toss up between the Buttermilk Chicken and the Brioche. The chicken was so crunchy and flavoursome, and the brioche was just soft and moreish.

Least favourite entree: the potato scallops were a bit too oily for my liking and not very crunchy either.

Mains

For mains, we shared a variety of dishes around the table:

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Slow roasted Pork Belly with cauliflower puree, brussel sprouts, bacon, red wine jus & apple cider relish, $28.00

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Roasted brussel sprouts, crispy bacon & almonds, $8.00

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200g fillet mignon (grain fed), wrapped in bacon with spinach and mash, $28.00

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Not sure which steak this is (I think sirloin- 300g $28.00?), served with Cafe de Paris butter 

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Eye fillet, 200g (grain fed), $28.00

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Au Congo Mussels, cooked with coconut cream, lemongrass & chilli, $29.00

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The Original Burger with tomato, lettuce, ‘tomato ketchup for grownups’, fries & condiments, $18.00

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The Vegie Burger with grilled zucchini & eggplant, roasted tomato, rocket, haloumi cheese, caramelised onion, aioli & fries, $22.00

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The Classic Cheese Burger with tomato, lettuce, beetroot, cheese, apple wood smoked streaky bacon, ‘tomato ketchup for grownups’, fries & condiments, $23.00

All the dishes were great but the delicious steaks were cooked to perfection (we ordered them medium rare). They were soft and juicy and there was a lot of variety from the meat to the sauces.

The burgers were great too, with a quirky brioche bun and some crunchy and golden chips on the side.

Favourite dish: I loved the pork belly, I am always a fan of it but the crunchy crackling and soft belly, paired with bacon (double pork) and apple cider relish, is definitely a winner.

Least favourite dish: the mussels. Although there was a fabulous portion size, the flavour of the mussels did not appeal to me, it was a little too much as I would prefer them with fresher flavours like chilli and garlic. Perhaps Provencale would have been better!

Desserts

Finally, we tried three of the desserts:

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Hot apple pie with vanilla bean ice cream & cream, $14.00

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Warm sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce & vanilla bean ice cream, $14.00

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Banoffee pie served with caramel gelato, $14.00

All the desserts were tasty but the Sticky Date could have done with a little more sauce (personally I thought my own version of sticky date was better and so did MC).

I would have liked to try the soft centred chocolate fondant with hazelnut gelato ($14.00), and the passionfruit creme brulee with passionfruit gelato ($14.00), but we ran out of time and couldn’t wait the 15 minutes for the fondant. Oh well- next time!

Favourite dish: Can’t beat a banoffee pie, and this one was delicious with a gooey caramel and a creamy gelato.

Least favourite: probably the apple pie. It was pretty average and just not as good as the other two!

Summary

Overall, The Oaks is a fabulous place for a Sunday lunch or a post-work drink. It is a 30 minute bus ride from the city, and the Coles carpark in Neutral Bay has free parking on weekends (there is also metred street parking).

The lovely family-owned Hotel has a warm and welcoming atmosphere and the renovations are modern but still in line with the pub feel of the Hotel.

The new menu is extensive and full of great options which are sure to please anyone and everyone.

Definitely recommend this place!

Cost

TCFB and MC dined as guests of Wasamedia and The Oaks.

Rating:

Overall I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 8
  • Food- 9
  • Ambience- 7.5
  • Value – 7.5

The Oaks on Urbanspoon

Wooden Spoon Bar & Restaurant, Cremorne ($$)

Address: Shop 3 /362 Military Rd Cremorne NSW 

Tel: (02) 9904 5687

Website: http://woodenspoonbar.com.au/

Opening Hours: 

Tuesday -Friday: 5.00 pm till late
Saturday: 12.00 pm till late
Monday & Sunday open for Functions only

* * *

I was delighted to receive an invite from Taylor of  Foggo Gourmetto a bloggers-only event introducing Wooden Spoon’s new degustation menu. Located in Sydney’s Lower North Shore, Wooden Spoon was previously a restaurant, but has now been transformed into a modern and exciting tapas bar. The bar is the joint venture of the lovely Livia Wang, and chef, Noel Phear. 

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Exterior of the restaurant

It is conveniently located near the Hayden Orpheum, making it the perfect spot for a pre-show nibble or post-show drink. I decided to take my mum (Super Mum) along with me for a second opinion, as she is one of the best cooks I know. Super Mum’s powers include being able to whip up a 5 dish Sri Lankan meal in about an hour, and making extra-hot prawn curries, the effects of which, can only be withstood by those with equally awesome super powers!

Super Mum and I caught the bus from North Sydney Station after work. As we live near a train line we don’t often catch the bus, so we were a little anxious about how to get there. However, it was quite easy as bus stand D is situated just outside North Sydney Station, and the first bus that came along took us right in front of the bar. Getting home was another matter though, as we had to get a bus back to Wynyard Station and then a train back down the North Shore Line!

Atmosphere

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Upon arriving we were greeted by the lovely Taylor and the equally lovely Livia. Looking around the restaurant I was impressed by the cute and quirky decor. I loved the dark colours on the walls, and interesting ornaments in the bookshelves.

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The mood lighting and candles added a warm and intimate feel to what is quite a large area. 

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From the seating area you can see the bar and also see part of the kitchen where the chef was at work. It is quite a nice layout, with the bar and kitchen area located in the centre of the space instead of in the corner, where they are often found in other restaurants.

At the back of the restaurant is a more private area, probably used for functions. The space would accommodate about 40 people comfortably, and contains dining tables and chairs as well as some comfortable-looking couches. The hanging ornaments above, bring some depth to the space and make it more interesting to look at, while the cute green plants on the tables add some colour.

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Service

Taylor led us to a bar table with a couple of stools around it, where we were served some water. We were soon joined by Brenda & Belinda, sister bloggers from The Lamstock. After chatting with Taylor and the girls for a while, one of my uni friends, DK, and his co-blogger Yvonne, from Excuse Me Waiter joined us at the table.

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During the night service was great. Staff were friendly and helpful and service of the food was quick and faultless. Our used plates and cutlery were cleared away quickly and fresh ones brought out after each course. Our water was refilled and we were frequently offered drinks.

Drinks

We were served a variety of “mini cocktail tasters” including one called “Stay Classy San Diego” ($16.00), which contained sparkling wine, vodka, mint, and elderflower. As soon as I tasted this drink I knew it contained vodka, sparkling wine and mint. It was quite refreshing and very cool, as the menu suggests.

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Stay Classy San Diego

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We were then led into the back area where we were seated with all the other bloggers at a long table. This put me next to Kevin from Shiitake & Stuff, and near Viv from When the World Stops Spinning.

We were soon served up the Earl of Cremorne cocktail, featuring earl grey tea, lemon juice, rum and gin. Although Super Mum wasn’t a fan, I really enjoyed this drink and thought the rimming sugar made all the difference, sweetening what would otherwise be quite a bitter drink.

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Earl of Cremorne

Later on in the night I tried a strawberry mocktail. It was quite sweet and tasted like “fake” strawberry (perhaps frozen?). Not sure what was in it, but it did have an odd taste. I also tasted some coconut juice or water in there. Overall it was not a bad drink, but fresh strawberries would have been better.

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Strawberry Mocktail

Super Mum tried a passionfruit mocktail which was basically slightly bitter orange juice with half a passionfruit. The presentation was lovely and, once I poured the passionfruit pulp into the glass, the drink tasted quite refreshing.

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Passionfruit Mocktail

Food

The degustation menu at Wooden Spoon consists of 5 tasters for $59.00 per person, or $99.00 with matching wines. We were served a smaller version of the degustation normally served to customers, but at the end of it we were all full, so I am sure this would be more than enough for any paying customer!

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The menu

To start, we enjoyed the pan seared scallops, with ox tail sausage, pea and lemon puree, apple and pork jus. The dish was beautifully presented and the scallop was perfectly cooked, with a golden glaze on top. I have never had ox-tail sausage before but decided I would try it. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to try as I could not find where the ox tail was in the dish. I assumed it was broken up into pieces somewhere in the pea and lemon puree. I would have liked to see a nice slice of browned sausage under the scallop instead. I also couldn’t really taste much of the apple in the jus. Overall however, the scallops were beautiful and the pea and lemon puree had a lovely texture. The dish was well-presented and tasty, despite the absence of ox tail sausage.

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Next we were served my favourite dish of the evening, zucchini flowers-salt cod and potato brandade, tomato and vanilla fondue, whitebait and lime crisps. This dish was just art on a plate. It was so pretty! I couldn’t wait to eat it and. when I did. I was impressed! The white bait was well seasoned and tasted soft on the inside with a crunchy outside. The zucchini was perfectly cooked and the flower itself was coated in the most delicious crunchy batter with a soft potato mash on the inside. The acidity of the tomato was counterbalanced by the mild vanilla taste, making the perfect sauce. Absolutely delicious dish and one that you must all try!

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The pecking (did they mean peking?) duck dumplings with bamboo with ponzu sauce were next. Again, very well presented. We were served two dumplings each. This dish normally comes with prawn dumplings as well, but we did not receive them on this occasion. The dumplings were soft and moist, but I could not really taste the duck in them. This is probably a good thing as, while I have eaten duck (accidentally), I don’t like to because I used to have a pet duck. I did however taste a strong licorice-flavoured spice (anise or star anise?) which did ruin that particular mouthful. I am not generally a fan of licorice and an unexpected bite of it in a dumpling was not pleasing. Overall though it is quite a nice dish. I would have liked to try the prawn one as well!

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Finally, after a short wait, we were served the final two dishes on a wooden board: confit pork belly, butternut squash and toasted cumin puree, pickled leek and apple salad and the mini beef mignon, green lentil and speck ragout, shiraz and mustard emulsion sauce.

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Everything was exquisitely presented and looked delicious. I started with the pork. I found my pork to be soft and easy to eat, with a delicious crunchy crackling underneath. The leek and apple salad with carrot was refreshing and cut through some of that fat in the pork. I did find it quite chewy and fatty, but it is pork so that is somewhat expected. Super Mum said her pork had a piece of hard meat at the bottom and she didn’t enjoy the flavour much. As for the butternut squash and cumin puree, it was nice with the pork, but tasted a little mustardy. I would have the squash flavour to be stronger.

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The beef fillets we both got were cooked perfectly and were soft and tender, slightly pink in the middle. The bacon wrapped around it was delicious and crunchy and added some salt to the beef.  The lentil and speck ragout was tasty, as was the shiraz sauce, but the mustard emulsion tasted like mustard mixed with cream and I did not enjoy it.

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Overall the two final dishes were both tasty but minor aspects of the dishes, such as the mustard emulsion and the way the pork was cooked, affected the overall quality and flavour of the dish.

To finish off the night, mum had a latte which was very pretty and which, she said, was the perfect end to the meal.

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In summary, Wooden Spoon Bar & Restaurant is a great place for drinks and tapas. The food is tasty and well-presented and I can see this becoming one of the area’s most popular venues. I would definitely recommend giving this place a go!

Rating:

Overall I would rate my dining experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 7.5
  • Food- 8
  • Ambience- 7.5
  • Value – 7

If you liked this review, see here for a Q&A with co-owner Livia Wang.

Wooden Spoon Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Flaming Tandoori, Willoughby ($$)

Address: 531 Willoughby Rd, Willoughby NSW

Tel: (02) 9958 8544

Website: http://www.flamingtandoori.com.au/

Opening Hours: Dinner 7 nights a week from 5.00pm

* * *

Groupon

I was approached by Groupon with a voucher to use towards reviewing one of the restaurants offering a deal on it’s site.

I chose a deal for a six-person “All-You-Can-Eat Indian Feast with Wine” in Willoughby, which came to $69.00 (excellent value, I thought).

The main reason that I chose this deal was due to its location in the North Shore, which made it easy for me to visit.

The Restaurant

Atmosphere

The restaurant is conveniently located on Willoughby Road, one of the main roads in the area. It was pretty easy to find and, as we went after 6.00pm, roadside parking was free.

From the outside the restaurant looks like a typical Indian restaurant. Upon entering, the decor is quite dated, with some framed sari-like material hanging on the walls, and stereotypical beaded cushions. I did, however, like the wooden framed mirror with window “flaps” and the two wooden elephant tusks hanging on the wall, which were beautiful and probably should have been given more prominence.

Service

When I tried to book the restaurant a week earlier, I found that there was no way to get through to them via phone, unless it was after 5.00pm when they open for dinner. This seems like a sure-fire way to lose business as, if I didn’t have a voucher, I would have just called another restaurant instead.

I ended up making a reservation via their website. When I did get a call back, the person on the phone was friendly and polite.

At the restaurant there were only two other tables with two people seated at each one. My parents, brother, friend, MC & I were greeted by a waiter who seemed not to care too much whether we were there or not. I told him that we had a reservation and showed him my Groupon voucher and he waved us over to a table on the side.

The table had stools around it which were against the wall on one side, with the beaded cushions propped up against the wall. When my parents, who were seated on the other side of the table, asked for seats with back support, the waiter told them that they couldn’t swap the seats as they “would need the chairs if other customers came in.” I thought this was ridiculous as it was clear that the restaurant was not busy and it was unlikely that anyone else would come in that night. No one else did come in that night while we were there. My parents ended up sitting on the side with the cushions and leaning against the wall.

We were offered a choice of red or white wine, included in the deal. My parents chose red and MC and I chose white. The red wine came from an unopened bottle while the white was from an opened one and tasted a little vinegary. We ordered soft drinks for my brother and friend, at our own cost.

I asked how the “all-you-can eat” worked and the waiter informed us that we would get pappadums first then an entree then mains. He told us that rice and naans were not included, and that we could select up to 12 serves of the dishes in the banquet menu (there were only 6 choices available).

I thought this sounded odd as I probably wouldn’t have purchased a deal that didn’t include rice and naans, so I checked the Groupon website and found that it said “all dishes are accompanied with a bed of rice and naan or roti.” I also noted that “all-you-can’eat” does not mean “all-you-can-eat-to-a-maximum-of-12-serves”.

I ended up showing the waiter the webpage and he agreed that naans and rice should be included. He did not agree that it was all you can eat and said the deal stated “up to x value” next to it and this equated to 12 serves. I told him that I did not agree with that argument as other deals I have purchased have said “up to x value” but this means that you are getting a deal worth x for a lower price. Anyway, we agreed to accept this.

Note: I also found later that the deal said we could choose from butter chicken, rogan josh lamb and beef korma, spicy vindaloo dishes with a choice of meat, prawns marinated in a sweet chilli and garlic sauce or coconut fish fillets, or a selection of vegetarian dishes. The menu we were given to choose from did not have as much variety. 

Food

The meal started off with some pappadums -only 5 despite the fact that there were 6 of us. They were a little stale as well and had lost some of their crunch. To improve, they should make the pappadums fresh and serve them generously- especially as they barely cost anything.

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Zoomed in photo of a pappadum so you can (sort of) see the cumin seeds

Next we decided on the samosas. They came out on a bed of lettuce and the presentation could have done with a little more colour (perhaps some carrot, slices of cucumber and tomato wedges?). They were however, a good size, the pasty was nice and the filling, quite tasty. They were accompanied by a mint raita which was a beautiful green colour. I would have preferred the raita to be colder and more chilled as it is a dairy product, but that is a minor suggestion. Overall the samosas were very enjoyable.

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Samosas, 2 for $6.90

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Raita

The rice (2 plates) and naan (1 basket) were served (no roti), and we were pleased with the amount of each serving. The rice was soft and warm and the naans were delicious and garlicky. We later ordered one more serving of rice (for the bro).

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Rice, $2.00 per serve

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Naan- garlic $2.50 each and plain $2.00 each

For mains we were given a choice of butter chicken, beef korma, lamb rogan josh, garlic scallops, vegetable korma and one other veggie dish which I can’t recall the name of.

To start off we ordered one of each dish to try them out. When they came out, we found that they were quite small portions of each dish, and some had a lot of gravy but little meat.  Some of the dishes took a while to come out and the waiter told us they only had three burners operating in the kitchen, which is ridiculous for a restaurant- we have four at home!

The butter chicken was delicious and we ended up ordering 4 serves of it all up. My brother is a HUUUGE butter chicken fan and ate about 3 serves himself. He noticed that the third and fourth serves were a darker colour than the first and second serves, and that these darker coloured butter chicken dishes were more flavoursome. We all agreed however that the butter chicken was very good, generally.

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Butter Chicken, $16.90

Next was beef korma, It was cooked in a mild sauce which was creamy and rich, as Indian food should be. The beef was soft and tender. We ordered 2 serves of this

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Beef Korma, $16.90

The lamb rogan josh was quite spicy and contained some capsicum (which I really like in a curry). I struggled to eat much of it as it was very hot, but my parents really enjoyed it.

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Lamb Rogan Josh, $16.90

The scallops. The sauce in this dish had a nice garlicky flavour, but was less creamy than the other dishes. It contained scallops and mushroom. Unfortunately the scallops were overcooked as they were hard and chewy. This made them difficult to eat, but if cooked properly this would have been a nice dish.

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Scallops, $17.90

The vegetable korma was delicious. Creamy and tasty and with good-sized vegetables, it was a nice accompaniment to the meat dishes and had plenty of gravy.

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Vegetable Korma, $13.90

Finally, the other vegetable dish was a dry dish, with no gravy, However, it contained a good amount of spices and the addition of some fresh herbs and tomato.

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Vegetable dish, approx $12.90-$13.90

Overall, the food was quite tasty and enjoyable. Although the waiter was a little rude and not very accommodating at first, he later became friendlier and more helpful. We left there feeling satisfied with the food and content with the service despite the issues we had originally encountered. 

The restaurant could do with a slick of fresh paint to update the interior, perhaps some customer service training for the staff (the issue with the chairs was one I was particularly unhappy about), and a better answering machine/reservations system.

Food wise, they should make the pappadums fresh to order (it only takes a few seconds), work on the presentation of their entrees, and get some more burners so the food comes out faster.

Rating:

Overall I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 3.5
  • Food- 6.5
  • Ambience- 5
  • Value – 5

Flaming Tandoori on Urbanspoon

Balmoral Beach and Chowder Bay

Since we had a day off work and a beautiful Sydney day, we decided to explore the Mosman/Balmoral area of Sydney. The area is situated in Sydney’s lower north shore area and is one of the more expensive areas of Sydney due to its beautiful beach views. 

We drove through Mosman to Balmoral Beach and found a 12 hour parking. We paid $15.00 for about 4 hours of parking at Balmoral and $3.50 for an hour of parking at Chowder bay as there is virtually no free parking in the area.

We walked along the length of the beach, with its beautiful golden sand and crystal clear waters.

We also explored the little “island” called Rocky Point, which is connected to the beach by a small bridge.

 

You can see Rocky Point and the bridge leading to it in the background of the photo above.

 

 

A little boy flying his kite near Rocky Point

At the entrance to Rocky Point

Here are a few pics I took of the view from Rocky Point island:

 

 

Relaxing and enjoying the views 🙂

 

 

 

Balmoral has a beautiful gazebo/rotunda which is the setting for Shakespeare plays in summer, and is also a popular location for weddings.

Gazebo

As we were starting to get a little hungry, we had a look at the menu at the Bathers Pavilion which, although it sounded lovely, didn’t appeal to us today.

Bathers Pavilion

 

We decided that the weather and beachside location called for some fish and chips, and so we headed over to the nearest take-away which was buzzing with people and ordered 2 fishermans baskets and some iced tea! Yum!

Takeaway Shop

Fish n Chips

The fish was battered using a light tempura-styled batter, and the chips were crunchy and hot. We made sure to coat them well in chicken salt before we left the shop. Although I was soooo full afterwards, I thoroughly enjoyed this naughty meal!

We then continued our walk down the beach, stopping to take a few photos and admire the beautiful views.

 

 

We came across a little wishing well with sections for different types of wishes….

 

 

…..and the cute looking boatshed!

When we had walked the length of the beach, we turned and started walking through Balmoral park, heading towards the Balmoral to Taronga walk.

 

 

 

 

We continued on the walk for about 20 minutes (it takes 60 minutes in total), and decided we were too tired/full/fat/hot to continue!

So we turned back and grabbed some ice blocks, Rekorderlig cider and cold water from some stores by the beach to cool off.

We then jumped in the car (with an hour left on that ticket which we didn’t use) and drove to Chowder Bay.

Chowder Bay was named after the seafood chowder made by whalers and fisherman from their catches in and around the bay. There is a navy base located nearby and although the bay is small, there is a playground and a couple of restaurants including Ripples and the Sergeant’s Mess function venue to keep everyone happy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a lovely afternoon relaxing by the beach, we headed home.

I really enjoyed the day out and the perfect weather certainly helped. Although parking felt like a bit of a rip off, the view was beautiful and there was a lot to see and do.

I would definitely recommend a visit to Balmoral Beach or Chowder Bay this summer!