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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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.

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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

Sicilian, Parramatta ($$)

Address: 292 Church St Parramatta NSW

Tel: (02) 9633 2299

Website: http://www.sicilianparramatta.com.au/our-venues/

* * *

I received an email not long ago from Ms Gomesz of Sicilian in Parramatta, inviting me to visit the restaurant to try out some of the dishes from the new menu.

I had heard of the Sicilian before but had never actually visited it so I was intrigued and agreed to come in with MC to check it out.

Atmosphere

We had a booking for around 7.15pm on a Friday night.

As expected, Parramatta was just beginning to get busy and we were lucky to nab a spot in the carpark in Erby Place, just behind the restaurant.

We entered the restaurant from the back and I was impressed with the clean and elegant exterior of the restaurant, even from the back entrance.

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The lovely Ms Gomesz gave us a choice of seating and we chose a booth towards the front of the restaurant, which gave us a good view of one of the TV screens around the restaurant, whilst still having a bit of privacy.

We were also near the pizza kitchen, which was a small separate area that was sectioned off from the rest of the kitchen.  The pizza kitchen had a large wood-fire oven for the pizzas and there were two Chefs preparing piping hot pizzas in an unusual shape (see below!).

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The atmosphere at Sicilian was fantastic. It was a Friday night and the restaurant was as any great restaurant should be on a Friday night: busy. There were TV screens showing everything from football to the Discovery Channel, music playing in the background, the sizzling noises of hot food being prepared in the kitchen and the happy chatter of satisfied customers relaxing after a long week.

MC and I felt comfortable in the busy environment and enjoyed looking around at the beautiful paintings on the roof and walls and the Southern Italian styled decor.

Service

Well what can I say about service?

MC commented that it was “the best service he has ever had”, and I have to agree.

Right from the beginning staff were friendly and helpful.  We always felt well looked after without feeling annoyed about being bothered or “checked on” every 5 minutes.

Our waiter (I think his name was Enrique?!) was extremely professional, friendly and seemed quite experienced.

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Food

We soon ordered drinks, with MC going for his usual cider (the only choice was Monteith’s Crushed Apple Cider– $8.00).

I chose a refreshing cocktail, the “Woo Woo”.

This was a beautifully presented and absolutely delicious tropical cocktail containing vodka, peach schnapps, lime and cranberry.

It was served in a tall glass with a slice of pineapple on the side, which was a nice touch.

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Woo Woo, $10.00 (all day)

We began the meal with an entree of Arancini Balls with Aioli.

The arancini were mouth-wateringly good. The exterior was crunchy and perfectly golden but it was the inside which was the best part. The rice was cooked al dente and was full of flavour and the small vegetables and gooey cheese contributed to an interesting texture.

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Arancini, $11.90

For the main event we decided to get a side of Sauteed Seasonal Vegetables to get those vitamins in!

I loved that the veggies were bright and colourful, containing carrot, gorgeous baby potatoes, roasted capsicum, broccolini and beans.

Although MC isn’t a big veggie person and HATES capsicum, I managed to get him to try a piece of the sweet roasted capsicum and (dare I say it?) he actually didn’t mind it!

I thought the veggies were well cooked, until just done, and were bright and well presented.  They were a great side dish to complement the other dishes we ordered.

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Sauteed Vegetables, $6.90

MC’s choice for mains was a wood fire Agnello pizza.

This delicious specimen was made of succulent spit roasted lamb, barbecue onions, slightly salty feta, delicious creamy pumpkin slices and a handful of rocket tossed in lemon vinaigrette.

Not a fan of rocket, MC picked it all off. Despite his comment that “it would be better without the leaves”, he really enjoyed the pizza and commented that the lamb was really tasty.

The star of this dish for me however, was the delicious base. The base was soft and tasted slightly of sourdough.

The crust was amazing and while I would normally eat most of a pizza and keep the crust aside, I absolutely loved this one!

I am not big on lamb but I did really enjoy the tender meat in this pizza and it was perfectly balanced by the sweet onion and creamy cheeses.

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Agnello pizza, $27.90

My choice was the Moreton Baia Bugs.

As I am sure you know, I love seafood. I take any opportunity available to choose dishes which feature crab, prawns or other shellfish.

This particular dish was well presented and contained two grilled marinated Moreton Bay bugs on a basil infused mash with roasted vegetables and Sicilian’s citrus hollandaise sauce.

The bugs were delicious and juicy, not overcooked at all.

MC had never had bugs before but enjoyed prawns and crab on previous occasions.  He and I both enjoyed the subtle flavours of the bugs, which were fresh and warm, together with the tangy Sicilian sauce and lemon juice.

The one thing I did not like about this dish however, was the mash and vegetables.

I felt the mash was very dense and heavy and the dish would have been better with a fresh salad on the side and perhaps some roasted potatoes instead.

Apart from that, we both enjoyed the dish and I was glad I chose it.

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Moreon Baia Bugs, $34.90

After clearing our plates, our friendly waiter brought out the dessert menu on a rustic looking clipboard.

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By this stage MC and I were feeling pretty full so we decided to skip out on a full dessert, which included sticky date puddings, tiramisu and cannoli.

Instead, MC went for an Affogato, an espresso shot served with a shot of ice cream.

While the ice cream was a little icy (perhaps the freezer needs to be turned down a bit?), the espresso was delicious and together they made for a wonderfully invigorating combination.

MC who is not normally a coffee drinker, really enjoyed the affogato and perhaps has acquired a taste for sweet, Italian coffee?

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Affogato, $6.00

I went for one of my favourite post- meal teas, Peppermint. Peppermint tea is soothing and great to freshen up your breath after a garlic-laden meal. It is also known to aid digestion and is quite healthy when enjoyed without sugar.

The tea was served in a cute cut with an individual tea pot and was a nice way to round off the meal.

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Peppermint tea, $4.00

Summary

Overall, MC and I had a wonderful meal at the Sicilian.

The service was the best we have had in a while and we were made to feel comfortable and welcomed, in true Italian style.

Food was tasty, if a little expensive.  The pizza was delicious and next time I would like to try some of the other types available, and perhaps a pasta dish as well.

I will be returning and I would recommend this place to locals looking for a great venue for a date night or family gathering (there is also a large function space at the back of the restaurant!).

Rating:

I would rate my experience (out of 10):

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

TCFB and MC dined as guests of The Sicilian, thanks to Ms Gomesz.

Sicilian 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

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

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

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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

Q & A with Wooden Spoon Bar & Restaurant’s co-owner Livia Wang

I had the pleasure of visiting Wooden Spoon last Wednesday and thought I would ask the lovely owner some questions about the restaurant to give you more of an insight into the hip new venue.

1. How did you get into the food/hospitality industry?

Our family background is food/restaurant business. When my husband and I met each other 5 years ago, we decided to open a restaurant/bar. He is a bartender and I’m the floor manager. Wooden Spoon is our third business and we love this industry!

2. When was Wooden Spoon Bar opened?

It was opened in March 2012.

3. Why makes Wooden Spoon Bar different to other similar restaurants/bars?

Cremorne is a very “residential” area. We do not treat our “customers” as customers, we like to have long term relationship and treat them as our family. We focus on the “network” a lot; we have wine tasting twice a month; cocktail tasting evenings once a month; mother groups; corporate tasting evenings etc. We think Wooden Spoon is the place for everyone to get together.

4. What is the one dish that you would recommend on the menu?

I do like our “Mini beef mignon, green lentil and speck ragout, shiraz and mustard emulsion sauce” dish.

5. What is your favourite drink on the cocktail menu?

I will say…Strawberry and Cream; Sailor Jerry Rum shaken with strawberries and lemon juice with a strawberry cream float.

6. If you could invite any celebrity to dine at Wooden Spoon Bar, who would it be and why?

This is a good question! Maybe I will say North Sydney council’ Mayor Jilly Gibson and Councillors. Because here is somewhere people get together.