Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining, Sydney CBD ($$)

Address: Basement level, 82 Elizabeth Street, Sydney NSW

Tel: (02) 8084 2505

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

Opening Hours:

Monday to Friday -12.00 pm to late

Saturday- 4.00 pm to late

* * *

Pendulum Communications invited MC and I to Rabbit Hole Bar and Dining’s (RHBD) first birthday party, located underground on Elizabeth Street.

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The entry

Celeb guests included Justine Schofield (of MasterChef and Everyday Gourmet fame), Nacho Pop, Sam McMillan and Brittany Cairns, while fellow food bloggers; Simon from Simon Food Favourites, Bob from Jugernauts, and Tina from Food, Booze and Shoes were also in attendance.

Atmosphere

RHBD has a very quaint almost 20’s feel to it with lots of neutral colours and old fashioned cartoons on the walls.

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There are two bars: one in the main area, and one in another more intimate space around the corner.  

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Main bar

We headed over after work, about 6.30pm and managed to find a table in the room to the left of the main bar area. 

This space had a bar in the middle and featured cushioned seats on one side of the wall and mismatched wooden chairs, large round barrels and stools around the rest of the space, some covered in white rabbit-like fur.

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Smaller bar area

It was quite dark and the only light we had came from down lights, mirrors, sky lights and candles which added depth and brightened up the dark spaces.

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The place has a quirky and private feel and features mysterious Alice in Wonderland-like accents such as rabbit-related cartoons, flowery cushions in contrast to the dark bar and seats, and “DRINK ME” worthy cocktail concoctions!

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The music was quite relaxed and laid back and contributed to the “classy hipster” vibe.

Service

The staff were pretty attentive, walking around to collect empty glasses and to ask if we wanted another drink, and the bar staff were great at pouring the drinks, serving them up with flair and informing us of the ingredients.

Food

Owner Doug Laming has appointed a new chef, Jeremy Metivier who has worked in Michelin star restaurants and who is the driving force behind RHBD’s new French fine dining menu.

The menu included dishes such as:

  • Goats Cheese and Beetroot Apples
  • Scallops on Beetroot Shortbread with Mango and Beetroot Emulsions
  • Mini Wagyu Sliders with Brie Cheese and house made Relish
  • Slow Roasted Lamb with Artichoke Puree, Coriander and Wine Jelly
  • Salmon Gravlax with Cucumber and Aloe Vera “Snow”
  • Chocolate Skulls, with Firm Spicy Pirate Cream and Coconut Cake

Unfortunately, as MC and I were seated on one side, most of the food never made it past the crowd at the front of the room, so we only got to try 3 dishes.

One of the dishes we tried were the Goats Cheese and Beetroot Apples.  This dish was very elegantly presented on a bed of golden crumbs with glossy grapes and peppered balls of goats cheese covered in an almost waxy edible red coating.

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The other savoury dish we tried was the Salmon Gravlax appetiser, mini versions of the salmon gravalax, cucumber lake, orange cream and aloe vera snow dish available from the dinner menu.

These were little morsels of heaven; perfectly sliced salmon with a green cucumber jelly, delicate edible decorations of orange, red and white and beautiful purple flowers to garnish.

An exquisite tasting dish which had a flavour that matched its appearance.

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Finally, for dessert we enjoyed the Chocolate Skulls– spoons of a spicy custard-like cream with coconut cake rounds, chopped summer fruit and dark chocolate skills with a gold dusting.

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These skulls were lit on fire, leaving the custard warm, the chocolate slightly melted and the on watchers in awe!

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Overall, while we didn’t get much food to try, the menu looked quite appetising and the dishes that were on offer seemed to be different and well put together.  I can see how this place would appeal to the office works and corporates in the Martin Place and CBD area with its fine dining dishes and creative cocktails.

Drinks  

As RHBD is owned and run by Doug Laming, a “molecular mixologist” (read: awesome cocktail maker who uses physical and chemical modification of ingredients to create interesting drinks), it makes sense that he would put his skills on display and serve up an array of cocktails. 

Some of the cocktails we tried included:

  • The Smoked Apple
  • Breakfast Bouquet
  • The White Cloud Above Mount Gay
  • The Wood and Smoke
  • You’ve Gone Nuts
  • Stolen painkiller

Although we didn’t have much food, we did have a LOT of drinks!  We wanted to try one of each of the ones we saw so we ended up sharing quite a few between us.

First up was the Smoked Apple. It contained  torrontes and pomme verte layered agar apples, Ceylon tea infused cinnamon syrup, rhubarb butters and cloudy apple juice finished with fresh cider, smoked salt and some apple slices.

It was a pleasant looking dish, served in a short glass and while the smokey flavour wasn’t really to my liking, MC enjoyed the fresh flavours and boldness of the drink.

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We then shared one of the sweetest drinks, the Breakfast Bouquet.

This drink has larios, gin, double creme de cassis, rose and strawberry jam, wild willow water, fresh lemon and a dash of rhubarb bitters.  It is a complex yet sweet looking cocktail which looked lovely, topped with a rose petal and blueberry.

As you drink the cocktail the scent of the rose petal wafts up and leaves you feeling as though you are walking through a field of roses!  Lame but true.

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We also enjoyed a rum and marshmallow foam cocktail which was called the White Cloud Above Mount Gay.

Mount Gay extra old rum is shaken with black pepper, pineapple caramel, fresh lime and more pineapple, and is then poured over marshmallow foam which leaves a white cloud on top.

The drink is another sweet one which, after the previous sweet drinks, we found a little hard to swallow.  While it was interesting to watch it being made, I wasn’t a fan of it as it was a little too sweet.

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The Wood and Smoke was an interesting cocktail which the menu says is made from ingredients including Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, Laphroaig single malt whiskey, quassia (bark chips), barberry bark syrup, acid phosphate and bitters.

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After shaking up a storm, the bartender pours the slightly cloudy drink over ice, where it settles and turns from creamy to clear.  A cinnamon stick is placed in the drink and is then set alight, giving a woody and smoky scent.

While I preferred the sweeter drinks, MC, a Jim Beam and Jack Daniels fan, enjoyed this smoky, cinnamon flavoured cocktail over the rest.

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The You’ve Gone Nuts drink contains Sierra Millenario infused with tonka beans, and shaken with Disaronno amaretto, house-made peanut and cashew syrup and finished with walnut bitters.

The cocktail looks like it is full of lemon juice with a sugar rim but in actual fact, like the other cocktails, it was quite sweet rather than sour.

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Finally, the Stolen Painkiller, a first for me, this powdered cocktail tasted like fizzy sherbert pops.  It contained powdered rum, pineapple, coconut and passionfruit powder and was served in half a passionfruit shell.

The interesting presentation and tangy sour taste was a great way to finish off our cocktail tasting and we enjoyed it, although one of the guys seated next to us wasn’t a fan!

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Rating

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service-  6
  • Food-   5 (what food?)
  • Atmosphere- 7
  • Value – 7

TCFB dined as a guest of Pendulum Communications and Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining.

Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining on Urbanspoon

 

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Barrafina, Wynyard ($$)

Address: Ground Floor, 2 Bligh Street Sydney NSW

Tel: (02) 9231 2551

Website: http://www.barrafina.com.au/barrafina-tapas-bar-location/

* * *

Barrafina tapas invited me and three guests to review the restaurant and try out their new menu.

I had been to Barrafina previously and while the food was tasty, service was quite disjointed and the portion sizes were not fantastic given the price.

This time around I was pleasantly surprised as our experience was much much better and we were impressed by how much things had changed.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere on this particular Wednesday was pretty good.

When we arrived around 6pm it was pretty quiet inside (outside was roaring with the sound of happy post-work diners). By the end of the evening however, the inside was packed out too and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. ??????????????????????????????? The decor is quite cute, and hadn’t changed much since I last visited.

There is a lot of yellow, grey and white furniture, which gives the place a very modern and funky atmosphere. The cute illustrations on the wall add some character and remind you that you are in a Spanish restaurant as it features wines, seafood and guitars. ??????????????????????????????? My Mum and I really liked the quaint little plants on the windowsill, which added a little colour and life to the place. ??????????????????????????????? Overall it is a very nice restaurant with lovely modern decor and a busy atmosphere.

Service

Service was great despite the fact that they were pretty busy, it being a Thursday night.

Our lovely waitresses Camilla and Paloma gave us each a menu and brought out some drinks.

Paloma suggested about 8 plates for 4 people, but we ended up ordering a bit more than that as there were so many new dishes to try. ??????????????????????????????? For drinks I had just a diet coke, as they did not have lemon lime bitters.

Mum and Nos, who dined with MC and I, wanted fresh juices but they only had bottled ones, so they settled for bottled apple and orange juices. ??????????????????????????????? MC ordered Estrella Dam, a Spanish lager which was recommended by Camilla. ??????????????????????????????? Estrella Dam, $8.50

Food

Food at Barrafina had improved a lot since I last visited with MDS.

Last time, MDS and I thought the food was tasty but not very well presented.

This time around, presentation was excellent. Every dish was plated up with flair and attention to detail.

The food was cooked well and was colourful and appealing to the eye.

We were served portions of four items per dish as there were four of us dining that evening.  However, Paloma informed me that most dishes usually have about three items each- something to remember if you decide to dine there- 3 or 6 people would be ideal.

We started off with a light and refreshing dish, the Yellow Fin Tuna.  This was a seared piece of tuna, which was glossy and beautiful in the middle and just cooked on the outside.  The outside had a coating of spices which made it crunchy and salty. There was also a delicious white peach dressing and chilli vinaigrette, and an olive tapenade on top. We all loved this dish and it was a lovely light way to start off the meal.

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Yellow Fin Tuna, $16.00
Next we enjoyed the Crisp Zucchini Flowers with Salted Cod Mayo.
Definitely the BEST zucchini flowers I have ever tasted, they were large, golden, crunchy and beautifully presented. The mayo was slightly fishy, but tasted a bit like aioli.
The zucchini stem was small and firm, yet cooked through, and the flowers were delicate and tasty.

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We asked for the Yamba King Prawns with lemon, confit garlic, chilli and micro herbs ($22.00), which sounded delicious. Unfortunately, they were out of prawns so we had to order something else.

Paloma brought out the Octopus, but after seeing the large tentacles, none of us were keen to try it.  It was nothing to do with the dish, but I just couldn’t fathom putting those little suckers anywhere near my face! ??????????????????????????????? Octopus

We decided to swap it for the Queensland Scallops with Chorizo and Sweetcorn Puree. This was a much better option, which we all enjoyed.

The scallops were slightly tough, just slightly, but the crispy chorizo and sweet, chunky corn puree were great with it.

Nos, who doesn’t eat pork, simply ate the scallops with the corn puree, and commented that she loved the texture and taste of the puree.  ??????????????????????????????? Queensland Scallops, $24.00

Next up were the Crispy Moroccan Cigars with, sheep’s feta, and charred eggplant puree.

The cigars were very crunchy and had a creamy taste from the sheep feta and a smoky taste from the eggplant puree, which tasted like baba ghanouj.

This is a delicious and tasty dish that I think everyone would enjoy. IMG_5651 Crispy Moroccan Cigars, $9.00

We then enjoyed the soft shell crab sliders. MDS and I had tried this previously but I liked them much much more this time.

The bread was sourdough and was soft and fresh. The crab wasn’t as crunchy as it could have been but was still delicious and salty, and I liked the addition of avocado. The harissa mayonnaise was tangy and sweet and the presentation was very cute. ??????????????????????????????? IMG_5655 Soft Shell Crab Slider, $9.00 

We enjoyed the Jamon Serrano and Manchego Cheese Croquetas with Tomato Salsa. Jamon Serrano is a Spanish cured and salted ham, similar to prosciutto, but made from a different breed of pig.

The croquettes were crispy and golden, almost perfectly round, and very nicely presented.

We enjoyed the creamy taste of the manchego and the little pork bits inside the croquettes. ??????????????????????????????? Croquettas, $10

On the recommendation of Paloma we tried the Beetroot Salad, a salad of gold beetroots, Spanish goats cheese, hazelnuts, sherry vinaigrette and baby beetroot puree.

The salad was vibrant and rich in flavour. The golden beetroot was a sweet and pumpkin-like vegetable which was lovely with the light and fluffy puree and tangy vinaigrette. I wasn’t a huge fan of the sheep’s cheese but there wasn’t too much of it in the dish. IMG_5664 IMG_5662 Beetroot Salad, $13.00

We moved on to the Wagyu Hanger Steak, a 5+ marble score piece of juicy meat, served with seasoned salt and herbs.

The steak was cooked medium-well (my preference) and came out perfectly cooked, juicy and succulent. The meat was already salted and didn’t need any of the salt on the plate. ??????????????????????????????? Wagyu steak, $22.00

After this feast, we shared two desserts between the four of us.

First up was the White Chocolate Parfait with Pistachio and Berries.

The ice cream element of the parfait was delicious and creamy but didn’t taste strongly of white chocolate. The crunchy tuile on top was lovely and added a beautiful texture.

We enjoyed the (very fresh and in season) blueberries and the lovely berry sauce. ??????????????????????????????? White Chocolate Parfait, $9.00

Next up was the Lime and Mango Crema Catalana with Summer Fruit.

The dish was well presented and my Mum loved the little glass jars.

The lime and mango curd at the bottom was delicious and tangy, almost like passionfruit. The crema catalana, is basically creme brulee. It was creamy and rich, super decadent and perfect with fresh fruits. A lovely way to end the meal. IMG_5677 Crema Catalan, $9.00

Rating:

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 7
  • Food- 8.75
  • Ambience- 8
  • Value –6.5

TCFB and guests dined as guests of Barrafina tapas, complimentary. Barrafina Tapas Bar on Urbanspoon

SoCal, Neutral Bay ($$)

Address: 1 Young Street, Neutral Bay NSW

Tel: (02) 9904 5691

Website: http://socalsydney.com.au/

* * *

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

Buns & Balls, Potts Point ($$)

Address: 33 Bayswater Road, Potts Point, NSW

Tel: (02) 9326 9054

Email: info@bunsandballs.com.au

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

Opening Hours:

Tues – Fri: 18:00 – late
Sat – Sun: 15:00 – late

* * *

Reviewed by: Wicko

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Buns and balls is a beautiful restaurant “in the heart of Potts Point”. True to its name it features a range of meatballs, and burgers, as well as a variety of freshly made cocktails to go with.

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It advertises itself as “a burgers and booze joint with a twist in the heart of Potts Point”.

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Atmosphere

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The restaurant is only a short walk away from the main street of Kings Cross, perched in a cozy corner underneath a nice looking apartment building.

The vibe of the place hit us instantly as we walked in.

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The layout was nice, with an inside and outside area.

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Having this option is always good.

The area was very comfortably decorated, and I felt it presented the character of the place very well.

The roof was decorated with writing, as were some of the walls.

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I often found myself reading them with interest, had I perhaps been there with someone I had recently met, I can imagine these being very helpful conversation starters or points of discussion.

I was certainly impressed with the amount of people eating there, for a Tuesday night, it had gathered a considerable crowd, creating a buzzing yet relaxing atmosphere which contributed greatly to the mood.

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This was helped by a relaxing mix of music which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I overheard that song requests could be made if you asked them online (most likely on their Facebook page).

Service

After being greeted straight away, we were guided to our table, where we were soon happily sitting with freshly made cocktails in our hands.

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Watermelon, lime and vodka cocktail, $12

t was freshly made and tasted amazing. This cost $12 with alcohol and $7 without. Considering the freshness and quality of this, I feel that it is an appropriate price.

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Pineapple, ginger beer, vodka and bitters, $12

This I did not like. I feel this is due purely to my personal dislike of the taste of regular ginger beer; it seemed only as if the bitters made it worse.

I found that the service was great, we were frequently checked on by the friendly staff, yet not in an annoying way, or during the middle of a conversation.

They seemed to have a great knowledge of all their products, and were very enthusiastic about what they were selling.

Food

Our food came relatively quickly, and was well spaced out, it seemed that each consequent part of our meal come exactly when we were about to move on.

Soon we were given all the flavours of meatballs that they had to try. All of them cost $9 for about 4-5 meatballs. This is quite expensive and would not be satisfying to order on their own.

The flavours were;

  • pork and beef in a chunky sauce with shaved parmesan (tasted amazing, it was soft, had a crunch and seemed to have a punch of flavour)

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  • barramundi croquettes with tartare sauce (similar to the beef and pork in texture, but definitely my personal favourite)

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  • chicken in a spicy Louisiana sauce (I found it very tasty, however my sister though it was a bit too spicy so I can understand some people not liking it)

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  • tofu meatball (while this isn’t strictly a “meatball”, it was potentially the best tasting tofu I have ever had; the tofu was cut up very small and had some shallots in it).

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We ate these with a side of garden salad.

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Green Salad, $7.50

We also got Spicy Louisiana Chicken Wings, which I devoured happily.

They had an amazing crunch and taste to it, but admittedly I did have to reach for a drink for relief once or twice, however I overall felt that the reward outweighed the cost. A bit less chilli might make it more appealing to those who aren’t keen on the hot stuff!

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Spicy Wings, $1 each (either 3, 6, 9)

Next came the main event, our burgers.

TCFB got a Grilled Chicken Burger with BB’s chilli sauce, while I got the Char-Grilled Cheese Burger.

TCFB really enjoyed the chicken burger and loved the sauce and texture of the chicken. We were told that the sauce is the original Oportos recipe which Gary, the owner of Buns and Balls kept when he sold Oportos, his previous business.

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Chicken Burger, $10

I really enjoyed the beef burger.

It seemed as if the beef was just perfectly cooked and spoke for itself. In comparison I felt that the chicken’s sauce did the talking for that burger, which is fine as chicken often has less flavour than beef, I find.

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Char-grilled Cheese Burger, $10

Last of all came our deserts.

Served on one wooded board was both an ice cream sandwich and doughnuts in chocolate. The doughnuts were amazing, they didn’t feel heavy or oily at all, but were simply crisp on the outside and soft on the inside; the chocolate sauce that we dipped them in complemented it perfectly.

TCFB preferred this; however my obsession was with the ice cream sandwich.

It was one of the best tasting cookies I had ever had, sandwiching in the ice cream between its choc-chips. The warmth of the cookie and the coldness of the ice cream contrasted well, and I was definitely a fan of this desert.

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Donut bites, $8 and Ice Cream Block, $14 to share (with 3 sandwiches)

P.S Here are some pics of more food we tried when we visited another time:

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Hand-cut and twice cooked fries, $8.00

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Sweet potato fries, $9.00

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Overall

The food tasted amazing and it was a great night with a great atmosphere.

The music was great and it was pleasantly filled with a good amount of people. Service was quick and friendly.

While some items may be considered slightly pricy, I feel it is a great place to go with friends or family for a tasty feed!

Rating:

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

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

Buns & Balls on Urbanspoon

Lobo Plantation, Sydney CBD ($$)

Address: Basement Lot 1, 209 Clarence Street, Sydney NSW

Tel: (02) 9279 4335

Website: http://thelobo.com.au/

Email:  info@thelobo.com.au

Opening Hours:

Monday-Thursday 4pm – midnight
Friday 2pm – midnight
Saturday 4pm – midnight

* * *

The Lobo Plantation is a South American styled rum bar with a Caribbean influence, which has brought the grandeur and exoticism of Cuban sugar baron, Julio Lobo’s life to the Sydney CBD.

MDS, Mitch, Wallace, MattyCakes and I headed over to Lobo Plantation with some other friends for a birthday dinner.

I had never been to Lobo before, let alone heard of it, so I was intrigued by the unusual name and the interesting location in a basement in Clarence Street (not quite in the usual spots at Circular Quay, Darling Harbour or Kings Cross).

Atmosphere

After waiting in the queue for about 15-20 minutes, we were finally allowed in.  Our friends who arrived later waited 1 hour, so be prepared to stand outside if you arrive after 6.30pm on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night!

The place is pretty crowded and, as it is in the basement, it is probably not the safest place to be if there is a fire or emergency.  The only way I could see to get out was the windy, narrow and steep staircase that we came down on.

Most of the tables were taken up so we stood around the bar and ordered drinks before taking a seat at a red booth.

I ordered the Jamaican Julep ($18.00).  It contains Appletons VX, lychee and black tea syrup, passionfruit, mint and ginger beer.

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While the cocktail was delicious and the range on offer is extensive, they are a bit pricey at $18 each.

That said, I would definitely suggest trying one if you come here as they all sound amazing and it is interesting to watch them being made.  I even saw the bartender using flames for one of them!

Service

Service was OK. I think that generally, the staff were friendly and I definitely noted that the bar staff were skilled and knowledgeable on their alcohol.

However, as it was so busy, I feel that we didn’t get as much attention as we would have liked, and the service seemed a little rushed.

Perhaps earlier in the week it would be better?

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MDS and I having a bit of fun!

Food

As I had gone with some friends, one of the other members of the group decided to order for everyone.

She ordered a variety of dishes from the menu, which the eight of us shared.

I have to say that while the menu features some interesting and unusual dishes, the dishes were tasty but I did not think they were anything amazing.   This is the sort of food I would expect to see but I was not surprised or wowed by anything on offer.

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We enjoyed the:

  • Slow braised beef and chorizo meatballs in alcaparrado sauce, $9.00
  • Ensalada de Lobo, $11.00
  • Black bean stew, $11.00
  • Cuban paselitos with beef, raisin and guava, $8.50 for four
  • Ropa vieja, $13.00

The Slow Braised Beef Meatballs were tasty: slightly pink on the inside, with a rich and thick tomato sauce.

The Ensalada de Lobo.  By the time the dish came around to me there wasn’t any Cuban spiced chicken breast left.  We did enjoy the fresh salad but it was nothing special.

I am not a fan of black beans, but the stew was not bad. The chicken was delicious and cooked well, and the beans weren’t too mushy or starchy so I didn’t mind them.

I do enjoy a good Ropa Vieja, which I have seen before at an Argentinian cafe (see Boca).  The flank steak was soft and rich, and the chickpeas and cream added a bit of bite and lightness to the dish.

The crispy Paselitos were definitely my favourite dish, fried pastry with a sweet filling and a delicious sauce which was perfection.  It was a mix of sweet and savoury and had the crunchy of pastry and the softness of the beef filling.

Overall

The food here is reasonably priced for tapas, but probably better suited to groups of 4 rather than a large group of 8, as the dishes weren’t big enough for us all to share. Perhaps it would have been better to order two of each dish.

Cocktails are delicious but can be expensive.  They are worth a try but I would probably have pre-drinks before coming here!

Service is average as the place is quite busy, but staff are knowledgeable on the menu and drinks and are quite efficient.

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Rating:

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 6
  • Food- 6.5
  • Ambience- 8
  • Value – 5

The Lobo Plantation on Urbanspoon

Chur Burger, Surry Hills ($)

Address: 48 Albion Street Surry Hills

Tel: (02) 9212 7979

Website: http://churburger.com.au/

Opening Hours:

Mon 11:30AM – 5pm
Tues – Sat 11:30AM – 10PM
Sunday Closed

* * *

After some Thursday night shopping and a little Nespresso tasting at Westfield Sydney, MDS and I headed over to Chur Burger in Surry Hills.

I had heard good things about this place, a new Sydney foodie hotspot which has even been described as having Sydney’s best burgers (Good Food, SMH).

Atmosphere

MDS and I walked in, past some people who were sitting outside.

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We didn’t know about the set up or how the whole reservation thing worked so we just waited near the door until someone came over to us.  We were told that we could get a table in 15 minutes, so we put our names down on the list and waited outside with the others.

We waited just 10 minutes before being shown to a high table with some stools around it.  While we had to share our table with two other groups, the table was pretty wide so we didn’t get in anyone’s way.

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Inside, Chur Burger has a very hip hop warehouse feel to it. There is loud music playing in the background (Kanye West at the time) and a large kitchen area on one side. You order at a small window on the right side of the room, and pay upon ordering.

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It was a bit of a different set up to anywhere else I have been and as I am a fan of hip hop, RnB and rap, I enjoyed the music and loved the chilled out atmosphere.

Service

Service was quite average and we didn’t have much interaction with the staff. However, the girl who put our names down for a table and greeted us was pretty friendly.

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Our food came out quickly and with no fuss and our used plates and cups were soon cleared away.

Food

MDS and I ordered a burger each and decided to share chips.

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I ordered the Grilled Chicken, Hot Sauce Mayo and Minted Slaw burger ($10.00).

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The burger was pretty large and although I was hungry when I started, I couldn’t finish the whole burger. I ended up leaving the bun and eating the filling!

The sauce was not hot at all but it had a nice spicy tang to it. The slaw was tasty and fresh and the chicken had a lovely charcoal taste, which I enjoy.

MDS ordered the Pulled Pork, Chur BBQ Sauce, Red Slaw and Fennel Mayo burger (also $10.00).

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She enjoyed this colourful burger, but she too could not finish the whole thing.

For sides we shared the Chips with Chilli Salt ($5.00) and the Sweet Potato Fries with Garlic and Lime ($5.00).

The chips were crunchy and hot and the added kick of chilli was great!

Sweet potato fries are healthier than regular fries, and the sweetness of the thick cut chips was nice.  I couldn’t really taste much of the garlic and lime though.

Overall

I definitely think these burgers are some of the best I have had. There is some great variety on offer here, the burgers don’t take long to cook, service is fuss-free and the atmosphere is great.

A very cool option for a late night dinner and there is also a dessert and milkshake menu!

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Cost

Our burgers and fries came to $30.00 all up.

Rating:

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

  • Service- 6.5
  • Food- 9
  • Ambience- 8
  • Value – 7.5

Chur Burger on Urbanspoon

Helm Bar, Darling Harbour ($$)

Address: Aquarium Wharf, 7 Wheat Road Darling Harbour NSW

Tel: (02) 9290 1571

Website: http://www.helmbar.com.au/

* * *

I was recently invited to Helm Bar’s menu launch and was allowed to bring some friends along.

I brought MDS, Wallace, MC, Dino, Daniel, SenoritaLay and MRyan.

MRyan Photography was the guest photographer for The Casual Food Blogger on the night and took some fabulous pics. Check out his webpage for more!

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About the event

The event was a launch party for the menu, open only to Gold Members.  Becoming a Gold Member was free; all we had to do was sign up.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Complimentary and priority entry to Helm Bar when your card is displayed
  • Complimentary venue hire on your birthday, as well as a bottle of Champagne on the house
  • 10% off all food and beverage, 7 days a week until 9pm
  • Loyalty Points Program where you will receive points for every dollar spent. These points can be redeemed for food and beverage
  • Receive regular updates of all Helm Bar’s exclusive events and members only specials

Atmosphere

 We arrived at the bar at 6.30pm after work, and MC, Daniel and I found a spot at the back area of the event.

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The girls enjoying some drinks

The “function space” was sectioned off with a black tape but, unfortunately, it wasn’t really enclosed.  People from outside the sectioned off area came in, and those from inside went out to get more tables and chairs.  Not exactly ideal if you are having a function and are paying for food as other people can easily crash your party!

The atmosphere in general was pretty nice though There is a great view of the Harbour with it’s bright lights, and the open layout makes it feel more spacious and cool. The venue had comfy seats lining the side of the bar, small stools and high bar tables scattered throughout.

The DJ was playing some great tunes and MDS, Wallace and I found ourselves bopping to the beats a couple of times through the night!

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TCFB, Wallace, MDS, Dino, Daniel, MC and SenoritaLay

The only issue we had with the venue during the night was with people smoking next to us. Although one side of the bar was somewhat open, the blinds were pulled down and so you couldn’t really say it was outdoors. I would definitely have described it as “enclosed”. The guy who was smoking next to us made our clothes smell and made it a little harder to enjoy the night, and none of the staff members seemed to notice him smoking!

Service

Initially, service was pretty average.  This was because all the food was being taken to the front of the event and those of us at the back were missing out on some of the dishes.

I think there were maybe one or two dishes we missed out on, including chicken satay skewers.

After MRyan spoke to some of the staff members, they were really helpful and began serving some dishes to the back first. This meant MRyan could get some great pics, and we could actually try some of the dishes on the winter menu!

Despite the above hiccup, service overall was pretty good as the staff were very helpful, extremely friendly and pleasant.

Food

There was free wine tasting for those in the event, and MDS, Wallace and I tried about 2-3 different wines.

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We also got free cocktails, including the Tom Collins – described on the website as “a classic: Tanqueray Gin mixed with fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda to create that traditional lemonade taste”, and the Strawberry Woo Woo– described as “a British classic: Ketel One Vodka with Peach Liqueur, muddled strawberries and cranberry juice.”

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Tom Collins, $12.00 and Strawberry Woo Woo, $14.00

However, it was the new food menu that I was interested in! 

All of the food was extremely well presented, and MDS and I loved the cute little bamboo style baskets the chicken and paella were served in.

We tried (please note these are only sample sizes and don’t reflect the true portions):

Cajun Style Seafood Paella – w/ chorizo sausage, mussels, calamari, prawns & cajun chicken (normally $26.00).

The paella was hot and slightly spicy, with large prawns and pieces of chicken. The rice was well-cooked and overall, the paella was really tasty.

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Peking Duck pizza– peking duck, oyster mushrooms, green shallots,
hoi sin sauce, chilli oil, w/ fresh cucumber ribbon salad (normally $20.00).

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Chargrilled Chicken Burger – marinated chicken breast fillet, tomato, lettuce, cheese, aioli & peri peri sauce (normally $12.00 or $18.00 with fries).

The chicken burgers had a delicious sweet chilli flavour to them and the chicken breasts were generous.

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Thai Marinated Chicken Drummettes w/ lime aoli (normally $15.00).

The thai drumsticks were fantastic, with juicy pieces of chicken, cooked through (no pinkness) and full of flavour. The coconut milk on top and chilli pieces scattered over it added colour and creaminess.

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and delicious Margarita pizzas (normally $18.00).

The pizzas were a decent size and had a good amount of toppings on them. They were served on a nice wooden board, hot out of the oven.

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Overall, I was pretty pleased with the menu. It showed some great crowd -pleasing items such as pizza and chicken burgers, whilst delivering food with great flavour and depth, such as the paella and Thai drumsticks.

Overall a very interesting menu, and one that is adaptable to both meal -sized and canape-sized portions.

Rating:

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

  • Service- 6
  • Food- 7.5
  • Ambience- 7
  • Value – 7

Helm Bar on Urbanspoon