“Life is not about the length of our time but moments in time that give us peace and joy.
By capturing these moments on this blog, I hope it will also
help you to relive your moments in time that make life worth living”
It is hard to believe today marks the third anniversary since Mysaucepan and I started this blog.
We began by sharing a few recipes with family and friends. But in the last one thousand and ninety five days, we foraged, cooked, ate, traveled and made some wonderful discoveries as we set forth to document our gastronomical journey.
Sydney has truly become a melting pot of world cuisines and we have been lucky to enjoy so much good food in recent times. Writing this blog and bringing you tales from our kitchen has made us appreciate that Australia is truly blessed with some of the best fresh food ingredients in the world.
ChopinandMysaucepan has opened our minds that living well with fresh and wholesome food need not be an expensive affair. Our blogging philosophy has guided us to bring you honest accounts of our food experiences, all made possible with the dedication of our farmers, providores, chefs and hospitality professionals.
Along the way, we came across many people, some of whom are virtual friends we have never met except through social media. These wonderful people, along with you our dear readers, have made our hearts a little warmer and our lives a little richer.
Our sentiments since celebrating our first blogiversary remains much the same – our passion for good food, music and travel is fueled by being able to continue sharing our journey with you. We did not write a second blogiversary post so we hope you will enjoy a brief recap of our posts over the last two years. We have saved the best for last.
Warmest wishes to you all,
Chopinand & Mysaucepan
I must have said this quite a few times now – Sydney’s dining scene is probably at its most vibrant in three decades. Restaurants come and go but in the last couple of years, I am certain more has come than gone.
Fine dining in Sydney took a big hit with so many high profile closures. But is this not to be expected when rent and wages, the two most significant overheads, are ever increasing while food prices at restaurants have not?
The shift towards casual and tapas dining makes a lot of sense. Our lives have become busier and with the ever increasing cost of living, sitting down for a big, expensive meal is very much a thing of the past for many diners. And we have had so many good meals over the last two years without having to bust the wallet.
Not many restaurants can dish out every item on their menu well. We do not recommend restaurants because they mean different things to different people. Rather, here are some wonderful dishes that we enjoyed.
Click on the images for a full review of each dish
Breakfast and café dining
Croque Madame; Eggs benedict; Big breakfast
New cafés have sprung up all over Sydney and it’s become so competitive breakfast eggs are finding new twists to woo you out of bed.
Poached egg with house-smoked salmon hash; Flamed ocean trout, fennel, mint & blood orange salad; Salt & pepper squid with chilli, crisp leaves and herb aioli
Over the last two years, I had some delightful breakfasts where poached eggs are cooked like an artform where runny yolks ooze out beautifully for the obligatory egg porn shot. I have been equally impressed during a couple of trips to Perth where restaurants are creating exciting dishes with seafood such as salmon and squid.
Over the years, many food lovers have been complaining about the lack of good restaurants and dining options in the Lower North Shore of Sydney. Suburbs in the city such as Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Potts Point have been hogging the culinary limelight.
Dining around Sydney’s Lower North Shore
But suburb like Kirribilli, Crows Nest, Cremorne, Neutral Bay, Mosman and further north towards Manly, Dee Why and the mid-north coast have been fighting back. Here are a few dishes in Sydney’s north I am happy to return for time and again.
Premium wagyu scotch fillet; deep-fried oysters; Blue mackerel with buttermilk, mussel powder & pickled onion
Two-hatted Ormeggio at The Spit with Alessandro Pavoni’s blue mackerel with buttermilk, mussel powder & pickled onion has a delicate balance of seafood aromas that teeters between pungency and ecstasy.
This dish is like a woman who is beautiful to some but not to others but being a mackerel lover, this dish is definitely like a beautiful woman to me.
Cured trout with konbu seaweed, lemon, lime orange zest and EVOO; Scallops with balsamic and pesto; Thai pomelo salad
How about a Japanese chef dishing out modern Italian cuisine? Chef Toru Ryu at Retaurant Sixteen in Neutral Bay does just that with his take on scallops with balsamic and pesto. Over in Chatswood, Pla Rajoratanavichai is wooing food lovers with his zesty Thai pomelo salad with fresh prawns tossed with kaffir lime leaves.
Seared scallops with pork hock, leek terrine and horseradish cream; Oyster plate – fresh with mignonette dressing, Bloody Mary shots and crisp fried with soy, mirin & ginger; Beer batter fish & chips with tartare & lemon
Garfish restaurant has been holding the seafood fort for Sydney’s Lower North Shore for more than a decade with its three restaurants in Kirribilli, Crows Nest and Manly. After all these years, it is heartening to see quality and service are still maintained at very high levels.
Grilled local sand crabs, green chilli condiment; Smoked pork ribs with Papi’s BBQ sauce; BBQ wagyu rump cap
Justin Hemmes’ Papi Chulo shows that a creative mind knows no boundaries. BBQ sand crabs with a spicy green chilli condiment and lime juice makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Or how about a slice of BBQ wagyu rump cap after a swim in the surf at Dee Why beach?
With an average of 320 sunny days in a year, Sydney is truly a paradise for BBQ and the surf beach culture. And the North Shore is certainly not short of restaurants jostling for a piece of Sydney harbour whilst dishing out some simple yet spectacular dishes.
Chinese cuisine ~ Sydney
Peking duck with Chinese pancake; Steamed whole eel in black bean sauce; ‘Kam heong la la
Chinese cuisine in Sydney has been evolving and becoming more sophisticated each year as the vibrant Asian and Chinese communities continue to grow. Peking duck used to be a delicacy that was only served by high end Chinese restaurants in the CBD and Chinatown. Today, you will find this iconic duck on the menu of most northern style Chinese restaurants in your neighbourhood.
Alaskan snow crab, chrysanthemum leaves, nashi pear and ginger; Red braised pork belly with fresh apple salad; Salt & pepper whitebait
Justin Hemmes’ Mr. Wong was awarded two chef hats and took out the Best New Restaurant in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2014 in its first year. It’s no surprise when exciting dishes like Alaskan snow crab with salmon roe, chrysanthemum leaves, nashi pear and ginger re-define traditional Chinese flavours with a modern and exciting twist.
Mud crabs with ginger and shallots; Xiao Long Bao; Stir-fried rice noodles with beef fillet
Meanwhile, surburban Chinese restaurants around Hurstville, Eastwood, Flemington, Cabramatta and Carlingford are giving the more established Chinatown heavyweights a run for their money. Fresh seafood and many popular dishes come with bold flavours but without the expensive price tag.
Steamed salted chicken; Steamed pork belly with preserved vegetables; Spatchcock in special soy sauce
While new dishes are giving diners more options and a sense of excitement, traditional favourites are equally as popular.
Choices are plentiful and flavours are authentic as long as you know where to go.
Dining around Sydney CBD
Back in Sydney CBD, the northern end of George street precinct has seen a revival with no less than ten new restaurant openings in the last two years.
With the high profile collapse of Justin North’s Becasse, Quarter Twenty One and its food empire, the upmarket food court on Level 5 at Westfield Sydney continues to be competitive among restaurateurs. This is good news for those that work and play around the city.
There are so many food options and you can get a decent feed for around fifteen dollars.
Hot spanner crab cakes; Slow roasted pork hork; Petuna ocean trout, crisp quinoa, miso cream, potato & dashi broth, red elk & smoked trout roe
The slow roasted pork hock ($48 for two) at The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room at the corner of George and Grosvenor streets is my pick for one hearty feed in the CBD.
Crisp crackling and succulent stringy pork meat washed down with a few cold beers ~ you can’t lose with this dish!
Black Angus (200 – 250 days Grass fed) rib-eye from Gippsland, Victoria; 350gm grain-fed Scotch fillet from Darling Downs Queensland; 400gm Grass fed rib-eye from Rangers Valley
Mysaucepan and I sampled quite a few choice beef cuts even though she is not a big meat lover like me. And we discovered a few of our favourite cuts of meat from Victor Churchill in Woollahra. Cooking these beautiful steaks at home is fun, relatively inexpensive let alone comparable to some of the best steakhouses in town.
Fregola with spanner crab and cherry tomatoes; Duck breast with shaved beans and beetroots; Tagliatelle al nero di seppia con polipo e bottarga
Italian has come a long way from the days of spag bol, carbonara and marinara which are still prevalent in Sydney’s ‘little Italy’ in Leichhardt. Some of the best pastas are found a lot further from this dated and old world suburb.
Just like Chinese food, Italian is becoming more regional and Popolo in Rushcutters Bay is serving up light and tasty southern Italian. Done away are the heavy sauces and pizzas come with minimal toppings albeit tasty all the same. A Tavola over in Bondi is setting the standard with chef Eugenio Maiale’s pasta freshly made each day.
Australian kingfish with radish and celery salad; Grilled John Dory risotto with fragrant truffle oil; Signature Fettuccine al tortufovo
Meanwhile, Stefano Manfredi’s Balla at The Star is dishing out seafood with a modern Italian twist. Australian kingfish with radish and celery salad cannot be any lighter and refreshing but say what you will, Armando Percuoco’s iconic fettuccine al tortufovo is still as popular as ever after a quarter of a century.
Metre long Neapolitan style Margherita; Pizza Capricciosa; Pizza Bufala: Tomato, mozzarella di Bufala, extra virgin olive oil, basil
I have recently found a renewed enthusiasm for pizza because Sydney is awashed with some awesome choices.
Via Napoli’s neapolitan style is “soggy” and meant to be eaten folded like a kebab. On the other hand, La Disfida’s in the inner west is just as appetizing with its crisp and thin crust. Either way, you cannot lose at these popular pizzerias.
Malaysian style char siew or BBQ pork
I know this char siew is world-class because every tender morsel gently melts away in my mouth and every mouthful is an eye-closing moment.
Braised pork belly in special soy sauce; Salt & pepper flounder; Vietnamese Mi Bo Kho
With the trend moving towards casual dining, some of Sydney’s suburban areas are thriving food hubs in their own right.
Food lovers need not travel if you are a fair distance from Sydney CBD. Sydney Morning Herald’s Cheap Eats Under $30 is testament that good food need not be expensive. It is sheer joy when we discover a new place that serves good, honest food at such reasonable prices. Sharing our discoveries with you is fulfilling and we look forward to even more new discoveries.
Japanese sushi and sashimi
Mixed sushi platter; Salt and pepper flounder
Japanese food used to be expensive in Sydney many years ago. Just like Peking duck, sushi and sashimi are sit down meals in upmarket Japanese restaurants in the CBD.
Mixed sushi platter; Vietnamese style crispy chicken; Indian style tandoori chicken
These days, sushi bars can be found alongside the neighbourhood Chinese and pizzeria. Having a takeaway sushi sitting in the park on a nice sunny day seems to be the preferred option over the boring old sandwich. Even non-Asian kids are happily chomping down on raw fish and nigiri during break time in school.
Pho with cooked brisket, tripe and tendon; Pho dac biet or special Vietnamese beef noodles
Pho is Vietnam’s answer to the traditional homemade chicken soup made popular in so many cultures. It is one of my favourite cheap eats in winter because it is the tastiest and best ‘woollen jumper’ without having to wear one.
Hainanese style chicken rice
Hainanese chicken rice is one of the most popular stall food in Singapore and Malaysia.
There are so many variations of this iconic dish throughout South East Asia but thankfully, the ones at Temasek and Ginger & Spice in Sydney are along the tradition of the likes of Tian Tian in Singapore.
Deep-fried Sa-teen chicken; Crispy aromatic duck; Korean style BBQ
Steamed Soon Hock or Marbled Goby fish; Stir-fried fresh water king prawns in ginger, shallots & crispy egg noodles; Ikan bakar or BBQ skate
Whenever we visit Kuala Lumpur, Restoran Soo Kee is a must-visit for its char siew, steamed soon hock fish and fresh water king prawns with ginger, shallots and crispy egg noodles.
Cheap eats appears to be here to stay in Sydney. These are predominantly Chinese, Japanese, and South East Asian food that is tasty and fuss-free. The entry of food trucks onto Sydney streets add another dimension to casual dining. Throw in social media that disseminates information so easily, things can only look better and brighter for casual food lovers.
I know some wine buffs who still think that New World wines are still a long way off from Old World wines.
However, there are so many factors that affect the taste of wine, let alone whether you are a white, red, pink, sticky or bubbly drinker.
The time of day, season of the year, mood and setting you are in and food you are eating will all determine how you will enjoy that glass of grape juice.
Over the years, I have found Australian reds, especially the shiraz and cabernet varietals to be much like our beloved sportsmen in the sporting arena. They are bold, brash and to some extent ‘in your face’ compared to the more subtle and elegant Bordeaux reds. Nevertheless, they are generally winners all the same if you give them some time to mature and to breath after opening.
Although I enjoy the outdoors in summer with a chilled glass of riesling, autumn is my favourite season of all. The splendour of Nature in its yellow, crimson and gold is awe-inspiring. It is a time for evening walks because the shadows are shorter and more melancholic, the cool air crisp and the music in my mind beautiful.
It is not quite winter so the big shirazes can stay put in the cellar. It is only April in Australia and this is the month for new season figs so I am preparing a simple figs and goat cheese salad (see recipe image below).
And no better wine would go with this salad other than the plummy, jammy and earthy nuances of pinot noir. I find this varietal to be neither light nor heavy, a bit like autumn itself.
Australian wines have come a long way and they can only get better. For now, I am happy to nurse my red while the aromas from a hearty autumn stew fills the air.
Australia’s food culture over so many decades have invariably been moulded into its current form by the generations of migrants that have called this country home.
What better term to call the eclectic mix of European, Mediterranean, Chinese and South East Asian in our cuisine as ‘modern Australian’ then?
Due to the influences and our close proximity to South East Asia, we have been embracing the flavours of Asian food like never before (See my blogpost on Asian food warfare – The rise and rise of Asian food in Sydney).
Since we began blogging, we have met many chefs and hospitality professionals who are so dedicated to transform fresh ingredients into beautiful and tasty food on the plate.
In the last couple of years, new restaurants open every month and older ones are forced to refurbish, upgrade and keep up or face the prospect of irrelevance.
In these competitive times, these passionate food people have to strive much harder than before just to keep their business running let alone turn a decent profit.
Their dedication has made Australian dining what it is today.
Veronica Stute & Justin Wells, Two Skinny Cooks; Master Patissier Herve Boutin, Dulce Luna; Tom & Nic Meli, Lorenzo’s
Justin Wells and Veronica Stute of Two Skinny Cooks in Berrima in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales believe in the sustainability of local produce.
Pla Rajoratanavichai, Khao Pla; Armando Percuoco, Buon Ricordo; Darren Taylor, Cafe Boheme
Plan Rajoratnavichai, Armando Percuoco and Darren Taylor are the brains and passion behind their Thai, Italian and French restaurants respectively.
Service with a smile
Camila Garcia Maanon, Barrafina Tapas Bar; Helene, Antoine’s Grill; Sebastian, Cafe Nice
Our food will not taste the same without the effort and dedication of these front-of-house professionals. They are the voices for their chefs in the kitchen and they ensure our dining experience is every bit as enjoyable as we expect.
Mysaucepan and I also sampled some of Melbourne’s restaurants most of which are pretty impressive.
Unlike Sydney restaurants, many do not have harbour views to mask any potential shortcomings.
We found a pan-seared Patagonian tooth fish with sugar snaps and zucchini to be truly one of the best we have had. It’s texture is cod-like but I believe the magic lies in the style of cooking.
There is probably no better way to eat this fish than how the folks at Lau’s Family Kitchen have prepared it – crisp light batter outside to soak up a special soy sauce while the meat is flaky yet succulent.
Incidentally, three of my favourite dishes in Melbourne restaurants happen to be soups. Is there something to do with Melbourne’s weather?
Cauliflower and smoked trout soup; Pea and ham soup with slow cooked hen’s egg
Malaysian style Hokkien noodles; Cold smoked tuna, goat’s curd and mustard seeds; Chinese roast duck and egg noodles
Malaysian style Hokkien noodles at Jade Kingdom in Heidelberg, north of Melbourne is arguably one of the best in Australia. Chinese roast duck at Pacific House in Richmond is right up there with the best that Sydney can offer.
Yarra Valley, Victoria; Charcuterie Platter at Greenpoint Brasserie, Chandon winery
The Yarra Valley is a mere 45 minute drive north east of Melbourne CBD and is probably the closest major wine growing region to any capital city in Australia.
We managed to sample a few exceptional pinot noirs from Yering Station, Tokar Estate and James Halliday’s Coldstream Hills.
Last but not least, I sampled Frank Camorra’s MoVida and MoVida Aqui and on both occasions, I was truly impressed by the way Camorra has elevated Spanish tapas by so many notches that we have not seen before.
Whoever knew that Anchoa – a small dollop of smoked tomato sorbet, a sliver of anchovy on a crispy crouton could create so much fuss among the tapas fraternity?
Melbourne can boast there are three MoVida restaurants in the city. We are only glad that Camorra has decided to bring his brand of Spanish tapas to Sydney since, and where else but in Surry Hills at the site of the old Cotton Duck restaurant on Holt street.
Mysaucepan and I enjoy cooking at home and in the last two years, we created a few recipes that we have grown quite fond of.
Our spanner crab salad was inspired by a similar salad at Flying Fish.
We adapted by using pink grapefruit instead of fresh palm hearts which are not easy to find and this salad has been a show-stopper during our home parties.
Apart from the head, salmon belly is the cheapest cut of the fish but it is full of awesomeness when seared to a crisp on the outside. The belly flesh is soft, oily and chock full of Omega-3 goodness.
Smoked ham hock minestrone; Figs and goat cheese salad, Pan seared lamb cutlets
These three recipes above are not only simple, they are tasty and ingredients such as smoked ham hocks and figs are in season.
Truffle flavoured ling fish pie; Chicken pie; Beef Bourguignon
Mysaucepan‘s truffle flavoured ling fish and chicken pies are big meals on their own. Apart from the hearty filling, the best bit is always the crisp puff pastry. As winter approaches, a Guillaume Brahimi-inspired beef bourguignon is best with some creamy mashed potato and a glass of cabernet sauvignon.
SPAM fried rice; Grilled scampi with herb & garlic butter
I am not a fan of SPAM but it tastes absolutely brilliant when added to fried rice. It is comfort food when there is sports on the telly for me. Grilled scampi with herb and garlic butter is one of our favourites in summer although I am keen to have it anytime of the year.
Teochew steamed gunard; A & W Coney Dog; Christmas ham with honey mustard glaze and roast apples
Our A & W Coney Dog recipe is one of the most popular and searched for among our American readers.
One of our favourite moments was when we attended the wedding of our friends Ben Naftzger and Corrine Walker in autumn last year at Bather’s Pavilion in Balmoral beach.
Mate, it’s hard to believe one year has just flown by and sorry we missed you both when you were in Sydney recently. I hope we can catch up for more than a few beers next time around.
Hatch cottage, Moss Vale, Southern Highlands NSW: Evening walk; Happy hour; Roasting chestnuts
It was two years ago this time that Mysaucepan and I were staying in Hatch cottage on a 40-acre farm in Moss Vale. It was a nice break away from Sydney and the evenings were spent walking, having a few drinks and roasting chestnuts by the open log fire.
Sunset at Hatch cottage, Moss Vale; View of Tasman Sea from Dee Why, New Year’s Eve 2012 by Sydney harbour
Picnic at Balmoral beach, Mosman, NSW; Wooden deck at Coldstream Hills winery, Yarra Valley; Mountain biking around City Beach, Western Australia
Bushwalking at Sublime Point, Blue Mountains; An afternoon soujourn; Walking trail
I am certain that if the male judges at the International Chopin Piano Competition and the International Tchaikovsky Competition were blindfolded, we would see a lot more women winners.
A silver medalist at the 2000 International Chopin Piano Competition, her musicianship is every bit as impressive as her reading of this sensitive concerto.
Multi-talented, Fliter also paints when she is not playing the piano. She poses some of her paintings on Twitter and you can see them here.
When diminutive Chinese pianist Yuja Wang made her Carnegie Hall debut in October 2011, the classical music world has already acknowledged the arrival of the then 24-year old prodigious talent.
Hailed as a musician with “super-human artistry and control of the piano keyboard”, she has already captured the imagination of millions of music lovers, from classical music-loving baby boomers to Gen X & Y fans of contemporary pop music.
Wang’s playing is refreshing because there is youthful vigour and elegance. Yet her power and explosiveness comes to the fore when called upon. At the same time, I hear a renewed interest and style that is different from the great virtuoso of the 20th century like Horowitz and Rubinstein. Her rubato playing especially with Chopin’s music and the late romantics are not as distinctive as her male contemporaries but elegant enough to command attention and respect that says she is different.
Together with her brother Richard, they became Carpenters that went on to record hit after hit and sold more than 60 million albums around the world in the 1970s until Karen’s tragic death in 1983.
Gone too soon, and the world mourned the loss of an immensely talented soul that brought smiles and happiness to so many.
Growing up in the 70s, I recall most of my friends were listening to the music of Led Zeppelin, Earth, Wind & Fire, Pink Floyd, Beatles and Rolling Stones. But I was truly captivated by Karen’s voice and have fond memories of my childhood playing their tunes on the piano.
Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii; Argentinian pianist Sergio Tiempo at Sydney Opera House; Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise
Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii was blind from birth but his visual impairment never stopped him from becoming the first Japanese and blind contestant to become the joint gold medal winner at the prestigious Van Cliburn Piano Competition in 2009.
I leave you to contemplate the beauty of a sunset at Cottesloe beach that looks into the Indian Ocean in Western Australia. Rachmaninoff’s Etudes-tableaux Op. 39 no. 2 in A minor known as The Sea and the Seagulls depicts the powerful force of nature and beauty of the sunset and the sea.
So dear readers, do you have a favourite dish, recipe or piece of music that you are fond of to share with us?