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.

SoCal Neutral Bay 3.12 (3)

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.

SoCal Neutral Bay 3.12 (1)

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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

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

La Guapa Tapas, CBD ($$)

Address: 557 George Street (corner Liverpool Street), Sydney

Tel: (02) 8005 7077

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

Opening hours:

Open lunch and dinner 7 days a week

* * *

MDS, Nicole and I decided to head over and check out one of the restaurants between Town Hall and Central. We had  planned to visit The Dip but Nicole had already been there before and we had seen a few tapas places on the way over. We decided to instead try out La Guapa.

Atmosphere

La Guapa is a tapas restaurant located in Sir John Young Hotel. Although it doesn’t look amazing on the outside (or inside), it was quite busy and we hoped that this meant the food was good!

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Service

Service was alright but nothing special. The staff were very friendly but were not always attentive. We experienced a hiccup when we tried to order sangria at the restaurant but were told that we had to order drinks at the bar and food at the restaurant, which was a bit frustrating. Other than that, service was reasonable and staff were pleasant.

Drinks

We decided to order a jug of Sangria. It wasn’t very nice to be honest. The only fruit in the sangria was a slice of orange and some cubed apples and the wine was quite dry. Smaller fruit cubes, some orange or peach slices and a little more juice would really improve the Sangria’s presentation and taste!

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Sangria, $22.00

Food

We ordered a number of tapas dishes and chose a paella for 1 to share between the three of us.

First out was the Garlic Bread. We were disappointed to find that it used a soft multigrain bread rather than a bread roll or sourdough. The result was a soft (not crunchy) garlic bread which failed to impress. The garlic flavours were there but the crunch factor that you expect from a garlic bread, was not.

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Garlic Bread, $5.00

Nicole’s choice (which we all agreed with as it is a favourite tapas dish) was the Patatas Bravas- deep fried potato with tomato salsa and aioli. I really love this dish and I was pleased to find that it was tasty. The aioli was light and tangy in contrast to the well-seasoned crunchy potatoes and tomato salsa. Delicious!

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Patatas Bravas, $9.50

We also ordered some Albondigas en Salsa, which was basically meatballs with tomato sauce. The meatballs were large and looked nice in the oblong serving dishes, topped with the delicious tomato-y sauce. MDS, Nicole and I all enjoyed the tomato sauce as it was flavoursome, rich and plentiful.

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Albondigas en Salsa, $13.50

The Traditional Grilled Chorizo with spring onions was next. We were served long slices of chorizo, perfectly grilled on both sides to that they were crisp and slightly oily. Despite the fact that this dish involves almost no actual cooking ability to prepare, I really like chorizo so definitely enjoyed this side.

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Traditional Grilled Chorizo, $12.00

We also ordered the Gambas a al Sevillana which was a dish of spicy prawns in olive oil, garlic and tomato salsa. The salsa was much the same as that used for the beef meatballs, while the prawns were well-cooked (and especially, not overcooked) and large. The only issue with this dish is that there weren’t really enough prawns. All in all however, I really enjoyed the spicy prawns!

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Gambas a al Sevillana, $15.50

Finally, we received the Paella Mixtas – a paella containing seafood and chicken. The small paella pans were cute (I want one at home!), and added a more Spanish feel to the restaurant which is otherwise quite pubbish. The paella was quite well presented, with some lemon wedges and mussels sticking out, but looked nothing like the image portrayed on the menu which shows a paella piled high with seafood. Perhaps this is because we didn’t get a seafood paella but either way this one was nowhere near as impressive as what the menu shows. There was a lot of baby octopus in the paella, which I gave to MDS as I am not a fan of the little suckers! The seafood was all cooked quite well and was tasty but the paella itself was slightly dry, and slightly gluggy. It was OK but not amazing. It was cooked-well and filling but not exciting or indulgent.

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Paella for One, $30.00

Overall, the restaurant provided good variety and choice, decent service and a convenient location. The patatas brava, chorizo and meatballs were tasty but the garlic bread and paella fell short.

Cost:

Overall the meal came to about $30 each + $22 for a jug of Sangria which we split between the three of us.

Rating:

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

  • Service- 5
  • Food- 6
  • Ambience- 5.5
  • Value – 6.5

La Tapa Guapa at the Sir John Young Hotel on Urbanspoon

Barrafina, Wynyard ($$)

Address: Ground Floor, 2 Bligh Street Sydney NSW

Tel: (02) 9231 2551

* * *

Ever since I saw Excuse Me Waiter’s review of Barrafina tapas, I’ve been wanting to check the place out. I’d been quite busy reviewing a number of other restaurants since I saw the post but finally got the chance to check it out with MDS last week.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere on this Friday night was quite lively and fun. The restaurant wasn’t  even close to full (there were plenty of empty seats- see the photo, below), but there were more than enough people to provide a good atmosphere.

1

The bar area

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Inside seating area

Service

We went to the counter and were shown to a small table in the corner. The waitress was friendly and helpful and soon brought out the set menu and a wine list for us to look at. We both decided to have a lemon lime bitters to go with our tapas.

6Lemon lime & bitters, $4.00

After quite a bit of umming and ahhing, and going over which dishes we liked on each menu, we decided on Set Menu 2.

2

Set menus

For the rest of the night, service was a little disjointed. First we were served the wrong first two courses – dishes from Set Menu 1 instead of Set Menu 2. They told us we could keep the dishes but I was a little annoyed because they weren’t the dishes we had originally ordered. Then a different waitress brought out food which we had already tried. It seems that the system of food service at Barrafina is not quite organised and orders seem to get stuffed up quite easily. That said, the staff are quite friendly and pleasant.

Food

First out we were served a Tomato Bruschetta and Ham & Manchego Cheese Croquettes, although we were supposed to get Marinated Olives and Cured Ham, as per menu 2. Nonetheless the bruschetta was served on crunchy wheat baguette slices and was full of basil, fresh tomato and garlic flavours. Although the tomato was a little dull in colour, the overall taste of this item was quite nice. It was a fresh way to start of the meal.

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Pan con tomate, baguette rubbed with vine tomato, garlic and olive oil

The croquettes had a crunchy exterior, although not crunchy enough for my liking. They were served with a tiny smidge of tomato sauce and I could have done with more sauce on the plate to tone down the very creamy cheesey filling.

4

Jamon serrano and manchego croquetas, salsa tomate

Next up we were served Soft Shell Crab Sliders. The sliders were very well presented and looked really cute on the plate with the crab legs sticking out of them. The parts of the crab that were outside the bun were quite crunchy and nice,  while the crab inside the bun- with the mayo and avocado, was soft and flaky. I love harissa mayo and there was plenty on this bun. The avocado mousse was also quite nice and added a creaminess to the slider. I demolished mine but MDS, who was starting to get a little full, ate about half of hers.

8

Soft shell crab sliders with avocado mousse and harissa mayo

Next we had Fried Calamari with Aioli and Lemon. There was a lot of calamari in this dish and we were a bit surprised, as we were both starting to get full. It was really crunchy and delicious though and the dusting of paprika on top looked really nice. I love lemon and aioli and so I enjoyed this dish with generous amounts of each, on top of my calamari rings. Very good portion sizes in this item and a great tasty dish overall.

9

Lightly floured calamares, aioli, lemon

Next we were served a Chorizo and Salsa dish. The presentation was a little messy with all the elements mixing into one another on the plate. I expected nice evenly-shaped pieces of round chorizo but we were served lumpy elongated bits which didn’t look very appetising. “Chorizo a la plancha” literally means “grilled sausage” and the flavours of this dish were quite delicious as the chorizo had a lovely smoky flavour. The “salsa romesco”, a sauce made with capsicum, ground almonds and olive oil, was was quite spicy and added a nice texture to the dish. The “pedro ximenez caramelised onions” are onions cooked in a sort of sherry wine. There weren’t very many onions in the dish, but the sauce which surrounded the salsa romesco and chorizo was quite sweet and tasty.

7

Chorizo a la plancha, salsa romesco, pedro ximenez caramelised onions

Next up were the Pork Ribs. At this point we were really full and didn’t know how much more we could eat. After one bite of these delicious ribs however, I was hooked and couldn’t stop! As ribs do not have a lot of meat on them, I ate about three. They were sticky, sweet, and had a delicious jammy flavour. I was surprised when I later found out that “membrillo” means “quince”, as I often eat quince paste with cheese and crackers, and hadn’t recognised the quince flavour on the ribs. Overall this was a really tasty item which would be great for large groups (but is definitely too messy for first dates!). 

12

Pork ribs slow roasted in membrillo, sherry vinegar and rosemary

The Veal & Ricotta Meatballs were up next. They were served with some of the crusty wheat bread which we had with the bruschetta. We did not touch the bread though, as we were too full, and instead went straight for the meatballs and potatoes. The meatballs were well cooked and were not too dry. The sauce tasted a bit like a Sri Lankan curry sauce as it had a bit of a kick to it and contained a lot of tomato-ey sauce. Presentation was not great though, and I would have liked to see some fresh green herbs on top of the dish to liven it up a little.

10

Veal and ricotta meatballs, patatas and tomato frito

The last item was a Roast Pumpkin Salad. It was a light way to end an otherwise heavy meal. The pumpkin was soft and quite cold, and the sweetness of the pumpkin went well with the slightly tangy labneh. I didn’t really taste much of the coriander, and there weren’t many walnuts in the dish either. The beetroot leaves were alright but there was a lot of it on the plate for the amount of pumpkin and labneh.

13

Roasted pumpkin salad, house labneh, walnuts, coriander and beetroot leaves

Overall, we had a very enjoyable time there and the food was quite interesting and tasty. Some of the dishes were a little cold when served to us, and the service was not very prompt. However, the staff were friendly and generally the food was quite nice. This is a convenient spot in the heart of Sydney’s CBD which is great for dinner or drinks after work. Improvements to service and presentation would take it to the next level.

Rating:

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

  • Service- 5
  • Food- 7
  • Ambience- 6.5
  • Value – 6.5

Barrafina Tapas Bar on Urbanspoon

The Blackout Cafe, Lindfield ($$)

Address: 304 Pacific Highway Lindfield NSW

Tel: (02) 9416 9172

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

***

A post-work catch up with some school friends led me to visit The Blackout Cafe in Lindfield. Located close to Lindfield station, Blackout is popular with locals and is part of a new generation of wine and tapas bars that are popping up on the North Shore.

Atmosphere

As the name suggests, Blackout has quite a dark interior with dim lighting and broken plaster revealing the brickwork underneath. That said, the place does not look derelict or run down, but rather has a sort of artsy vibe to it. A few tables and chairs and a large bar take up most of the space, providing spots for people to mingle and chat, have a drink, or enjoy dinner.

Service

Service was great. The staff are friendly and very down to earth. There is no rushing about or superficiality. We were even given a bottle of Rose which was already open, free of charge. Food came out quickly and plates were soon cleared away after we finished with them.

Food

The menu consists of a number of tapas-style items, pizzas, and desserts. There is also a good wine list and a selection of other alcoholic drinks including spirits and beer.

We started off by ordering some delicious caramelised garlic bread fingers with olive oil and balsamic dipping sauces. The bread was sourdough-y and had beautiful garlic and herbs rubbed over it. It was slightly charred and went perfectly with the sweet tanginess of the balsamic.

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Caramelised garlic bread fingers with olive oil and balsamic dipping sauces, $7.00

Next we ordered a regular (small) sized spiced lamb, smoky eggplant, roma tomato and mint yoghurt pizza. The lamb was soft and tender, and was an unusual flavour on a pizza- I’ve never had lamb pizza before! The mint yoghurt was like a raita and was tangy and fresh, while the eggplant added a rich, creamy flavour to the pizza.

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Spiced lamb, smoky eggplant, roma tomato and mint yoghurt pizza, $10.00

The Media Guru of the team ordered potato and chorizo fritters with red pepper chutney. I expected actual FRITTERS, but what we received was croquettes. Nonetheless, they had a crunchy exterior and were filled with a delicious and soft potato filling. The chorizo (one of my favourite foods) was crunchy as well, and a perfect complement to the potato (like bacon and potato!). I didn’t find the chutney very spicy at all, but would have preferred some more of it. I also thought the green sauce they put on almost every dish was a bit strange, and couldn’t work out what it was.

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Potato and chorizo fritters with red pepper chutney, $11.00

My choice was the grilled haloumi with tomato and mint salad. The haloumi was grilled to perfection, just crunchy on the outside without being too tough or burnt. The tangy lemon with the tomato and mint was refreshing and diffused the salty flavour of the haloumi cheese.

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Grilled haloumi with tomato and mint, $13.00

When dessert came, we were all feeling quite satisfied but the delicious menu tempted us to get something more.

Our resident travel agent Hannah tried the orange chocolate cake.

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Orange chocolate cake, $10.00

I ordered the orange and cardamom brulee with pistachio ice cream and pistachios. It was divine. I love creme brulee and the crunchy top of the brulee cracked noisily under pressure from my spoon. The brulee was creamy and not too thick or sweet, toned down by the cardamom and orange flavours (the cardamom being the strongest flavour). The pistachio ice cream was cool and refreshing and the crushed nuts served both an aesthetic and a textural purpose. Overall a delicious, delicious dish!

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Orange and cardamom brulee with pistachio ice cream, $11.00

Media Guru and ClareBear shared a hazelnut praline cake, which they seemed to really enjoy, but commented that they were glad they shared it as it was quite rich.

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Hazelnut praline cake, $10.00

Cost:

All up the meal came to about $84.00 including dessert.

Rating:

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

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

The Blackout Cafe on Urbanspoon