Sunday 30 March 2014

Al Tavola: to the table we go

You know your pasta is going to be fresh when you are seated next to the person making it. At one end of the 10-metre long marble communal table is a group of friends enjoying a long Saturday lunch under the pretty glow of the low hanging copper lights.  At the other end, a chef has set up shop and is industriously rolling out fresh pasta, which he hangs in strips outside the open kitchen.

The showcase restaurant of the new foodie complex on Hall Street’s Boheme – on the site of the former Hakoah Club – it sets a new standard for Italian food in Bondi. I’d been meaning to visit for ages; it wasn’t until I was sitting next to an diner in Pyrmont who was rapturously describing a recent meal at A Tavola Bondi, saying it was the best bowl of pasta she’d ever had that I decided – it’s time.

The inspiration for A Tavola (meaning “to the table”) derives from head chef and owner Eugenio Maiale’s childhood. As a child he would play in the backyard of his Adelaide home waiting to hear the call of “A Tavola” to indicate dinner was ready.

His mother made her own pasta and he honed the technique during childhood trips back to Italy where he would watch his relatives make an assortment of pastas, including pappardelle and gnocchi, rolling the pasta on big wooden tables either by hand or with broom handles.

Eugenio’s concept of simple and elegant food started with his first Sydney restaurant in Darlinghurst continues in Bondi. The cuisine is predominantly “Abruzzese”, a region next to Rome, with a heavy emphasis on dried and fresh pasta cooked to order and seafood.
A Tavola’s printed menu is short but sweet, featuring olives, three entrees, three pastas and three salads to supplement the daily blackboard of specials based on what’s available fresh that day.  

We snack on focaccia with rosemary dipped in chilli olive oil and baked olives, skipping the entrees. We decide to share two bowls of pasta: the tagliatelle with mussels, clams, fish and cherry tomatoes in a light tomato sauce from the general menu and the ravioli from the daily specials. The ravioli is filled with mascarpone, ricotta, mint and peas and covered in a butternut sauce with small pieces of asparagus. It melts in the mouth and is one of the best ravioli dishes I’ve had in Sydney – and definitely the best in Bondi.

For dessert we inadvertently order the signature dish, the Cremini al Cioccolato. It came in an ordinary looking cup, almost like we’d ordered a coffee. But this was no mere flat white. Breaking through the chocolate-sprinkled meringue to the bottom of the cup you get spoonful’s of bliss: biscuit, layers of chocolate and hazelnut, salted caramel ice cream, and sugar sweet light meringue.

But don’t just believe me. This has to be the first time I’ve been out in Bondi with the Bondi Curmudgeon and he’s described a meal as “fantastic”. Like a grumpy old man, he complained about the chairs being uncomfortable but the meal melted his curmudgeonly heart so much he volunteered to go for a swim at the beach. In a couple of weeks.

At this rate we’ll be living back in Bondi in no time.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

A splash of Tokyo Pop in Bondi

Rather than braving the crowds at Randwick for Melbourne Cup we decided to stay local and head to a restaurant in Bondi. After debating between The Bucket List, PaperPlanes and Bondi Hardware – who all had Melbourne Cup parties – we ended up choosing PaperPlanes.

For $100 you got a three-course lunch, glass of Chandon on arrival, live music from The Myall High Club and various best-dressed and lucky door prizes.

Billed as a Tokyo Pop style bar and restaurant, it opened in the Beach House near Bondi Hotel in April. The Barge brothers – Matt, Tim and Chris – who also have LL Wine and Dine in Potts Point, and their business partner Phil Capaldi, own it.

You can sit at the purple lit bar and watch the sushi chefs in action or in the main dining room staring up at the collection of 500 hand painted skateboards and origami paper cranes suspended from the ceiling or in the laneway outside.

We were seated inside, handed a glass of champagne, some form guides and settled in for a serious afternoon of gambling, drinking, listening to music, feasting and watching everyone else win the prize draws and pick the winning horses.

There were about 50 people there, which gave the restaurant a lively atmosphere without feeling like you were stuffed in like Japanese businessmen on the Tokyo subway. Staff was attentive and friendly and kept the champagne and wine flowing as we worked our way through the list trying mysterious white wines from Argentine, South America and finally France.

They also kept up a constant flow of food over several hours. Highlights of the entrée included the salmon tartare nachos with wasabi miso dressing, chives and salmon roe (with prawn crackers instead of corn chips) and prawn gyoza with creamy lemon wasabi foam, crushed wasabi peas and fresh prawns. This was followed by a huge Kushiyaki and sushi platter including eggplant and zucchini dressed in butter, red miso sauce and white sesame, shitake mushroom stuffed with prawn, butter and truffle glaze as well as spicy tuna rolls and asparagus rolls.

My main of barramundi with shitaki mushrooms and edamame broth, crispy sage and grilled lemon was delicious and light and came with sides of brocolini, tofu and wakame salad and rice.

I couldn’t eat another thing by this stage, not even a chilli salt sprinkled edamame. Well, that was until I saw dessert. The cheesecake came in a novel ceramic pot, with a pretty mint garnish, which meant it would be a shame not to at least try it after they’d gone to all that effort.

Stuffed and content after a great afternoon, we headed out of the nightclub dark into the bright Bondi sunshine for The Bucket List. For one last drink. As you can see from the photo below Bondi Curmudgeon had a great day as well. Just don't tell him I said so.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Set for a few drinks...

Set, a bar that is tucked away at the top of Westfield at Bondi Junction near the movies has been flying under the radar since it opened without fanfare about four years ago. Owned by Event Cinemas, the bar has gun barrel views over Waverley to the city, with a direct view of the Harbour Bridge.

All decked out in red and chocolate brown, it's a great space, that's just waiting to be discovered.

We've been going there for years for a sneaky wine before and after the movies - Bondi Curmudgeon loves that he can always get his regular seat (below) by the window.

Now there's a new manager in charge (previously of the Civic Hotel) and he's got big plans to turn it into a happening place. We're quite happy with it being undiscovered, but as long as we can still get that window seat, then I guess we can handle the extra people.

He's so serious about this that there's an extended Happy Hour Thursday-Saturday nights where you can get $5 glasses of wine and imported beer ALL NIGHT! Just don't sit in our seats while you're drinking them.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

What a view: Sculpture by the Sea 2012

It's on again! Sculpture by the Sea 2012 kicked off last weekend. Hugging the coastal walk from Bondi to Bronte, there's 100 sculptures from Australian and international artists.

There's a mix of the quirky, the beautiful,  the whimsical, the funny, and the clever.

Some of the best ones  have been themed to the setting, and require a double take as it looks like they have always been there. In fact, it's a shame they can't be there all yearlong. (Minus the crowds of course).

Now considered the world's largest outdoor art festival, it's on until Sunday November 4 and is well worth making a festive day of it.

Here's some of my favourites.

Sunday 29 April 2012

Sean's Panorama: an elegant and cosy restaurant that's one of Bondi's best

Nestled into a small space between Aqua Bar and a red brick apartment block is Sean's Panorama. It's a restaurant best saved for special occasions: significant birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other celebrations.  Or you could - like us - just go because you feel like treating yourself.

The idea was to go for Easter Sunday as a reward for staying in town rather than succumbing to the temptation of a long weekend away, but it was closed so we took the next available booking, which was the following Sunday.

A long lunch on a Sunday is one of the joys of life so we made it for 1pm. The restaurant is small'ish, but every seat gets an ocean view thanks to a mirror reflecting Bondi Beach for those tables facing the wall. There are sea-themed paintings on the walls, making it feel like a beach cottage, white tablecloths and vases filled with rather old-fashioned red, yellow and pink roses like my mother used to grow. There's a mix of families, couples and a small group of friends celebrating a birthday party complete with their own balloons.

Sean's Panorama has been a Bondi stalwart for years, serving consistently good food and staying true to its offering as restaurant fads come and go and restaurants change owners and cuisines. I first went about ten years ago and the meal was as memorable then as it was this time around.

The chef is Sean Moran, who has a farm in the Blue Mountains where he grows a lot of the ingredients that end up on our plates. He's Australia's answer to Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in San Francisco with his belief in the paddock-to-the-plate philosophy.

I've always thought that he's got a pretty good set up, a country estate in the mountains and a place by the sea in the city. And the Blue Mountains happens to be Bondi Curmudgeon's favourite place (maybe because it is so far from Bondi).

We order of bottle of Arneis, most of the wine list is Australian or you can bring your own bottle for a $20 corkage fee. The menu is written on a blackboard daily. I was going to have a main and a dessert but choke on my decision and order the squid ink calamari as an entree instead. It's the most tender calamari I've ever had but it's very rich in flavour so I'd recommend choosing two entrees and sharing it. I would have shared with Curmudgeon but his prawn chowder is gone before I can say, 'do you want to share?'

For the main I have roast chicken, and if I could make roast chicken like this at home I would bring back Sunday roasts.  Cooked in sage and butter to a golden brown, the skin is fried to a heavenly crispiness while the chicken inside remains moist and tender. Curmudgeon had roast beef and Borlotti beans and proclaimed it delicious.

 Unlike many restaurants where you have to order the sides and vegetables separately our meals come with a big bowl of roast potatoes and autumn vegetables: beans, turnips and squash. I would have loved to try the dessert menu, but I was too stuffed to fit in a single morsel of the famous noughart so we called it an afternoon and walked back to Rose Bay.

Monday 13 February 2012

Three Blue Ducks in Bronte: a foodies' paradise

OK, it is in Bronte, but that’s only a couple of suburbs over from Bondi, so after reading this review in the Sydney Morning Herald of Three Blue Ducks by Terry Durack I jumped online to book. 

Three Blue Ducks first gained a reputation for its breakfast menu and was awarded the Best Breakfast in Sydney in the Good Café Guide. Late last year is started opening for dinner Thursday-Saturday and this is where it gets tricky to get a look-in. The first available booking was three weeks out and we had to be there at kiddies’ hour of 6:15, and out by the time the adults arrived at 8.30pm to take their seats at the big table.

I took it. Lucky I did, as it was the only table available for another month. 

Now, in case you think I’m a slavish follower of restaurant reviews, the clincher in Durack’s review was thus: “I might as well say it up front: for three nights a week, you can eat as well in this cool little cafe as anywhere in Sydney. For $17 a course, for food cooked by former chefs from Tetsuya's. I think I now have your attention.”

He certainly had my attention. The café is on the main drag on Macpherson Street, a short stroll to the beach so no views (except of the main road and the bus stop sign). It looks like a rather funky café rather than a bastion of fine dining and this is part of the appeal:  murals line the walls, the tables are wooden, the waiters are dressed in shorts and t’shirts. 

This could be because the founders are local surfers, Sam and Chris. It was while he was running a hostel for surfers in Morocco that Chris met Mark, who had trained at Tetsuya’s and they decided to come home and start a business together.

The produce is sourced from local suppliers from in and around Sydney where possible, to help reduce the impact of transport. And organic produce is preferred: the bread comes from Iggy’s, which is four doors down the street. 

There are 15 dishes to choose from, each dish costing $17. The menu starts with oysters and ends with cheese and crackers.

kingfish ceviche
calamari and smoked corn
pot of pork and pickled veg
lobster and soft polenta
mushrooms and grains
mussels, clams and beach spinach
egg, blood cake, apples and beets
mackeral, tomato and eggplant
carrots, pumpkin and nettles
pressed pork shoulder
beef, burnt onion and mustard seeds
strawberries, sea salt meringue and passionfruit
chocolate and fennel
cheese and crackers

We chose seven dishes, which came out two at a time, with the exception of the egg, blood cake, apples and beets, which Bondi Curmudgeon had for his dessert. We started with the calamari and the pot of pork with pickled vegetables, which came out as a terrine on soft, crusty bread.

The mussels, clams and beach spinach make no mention of the amazing coconut sprinkled on top and the coconut sauce – this was the standout dish for me. Apparently it is a family recipe handed down and adapted. The mushrooms and grains and the mackerel, tomato and eggplant rounded out the meal. This with a bottle of wine, a glass of dessert wine (and maybe a couple more glasses of wine) took the bill to $200.

Quite a lot for a café, but reasonable for what we had and we left raving about the flavours, the freshness of the food and the subtle experimentation.

It’s definitely worth getting in line but and waiting your turn. 

Thursday 12 January 2012

Bondi Curmudgeon's review of the Rum Diaries

I was really excited about going to the Rum Diaries on Bondi Road tonight and I was even going to write a review.

However, Bondi Curmudgeon changed our plans at the last minute and said since we've been there hundreds of times, he would write the review.

And here it is: 

Rum Diaries Review

The Rum Diaries is a great place to drink many different types of rum, have a hearty stew and generally pretend you’re a pirate.

The Rum Diaries is not a great place if you need to answer your phone because you’ve locked your husband out of the house and he can’t find you.

The End.