Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Brunch @ Pinbone, Woollahra

On my second-to-last night in Sydney, I visited Pinbone for Saturday dinner.  It turned out to be the best meal we had in Sydney, no question.  I was devastated that I didn't discover it earlier in the 3 week trip, as I wanted to try many more dishes on the menu, and would have gladly returned multiple times.  As I said, we went the second-to-last night, which means we had one night left, and I would have returned that night, but alas, they are not open for dinner on Sundays, and so I had no more chances to visit ... for dinner.

Pinbone mainly serves dinner (Wed-Sat), but it is open one other time: Sunday brunch!  Of course, I'm a planner, and we already had brunch plans for our final brunch at other past Sydney favorites, but about two bites into our dinner at Pinbone, I declared that we needed to cancel our plans, and return the next morning.  The others weren't necessarily sold on venturing all the way back to Woollahra, particularly when there were other places they did want to go that were far more convenient.  I was still scheming to make it happen, so I asked to see the brunch menu before we left.  I was sold.  I didn't care if no one else joined me, I was returning to Pinbone the next morning.  I needed that brunch.  In the end, Ojan agreed to join, but the others did not.  Spoiler alert: everyone else missed out on the best brunch I had in Sydney, and one of the best brunches of my life.

Now, you know how much I love brunch.  It truly is my favorite meal.  I'm an obvious sweet tooth, so yes, some of the appeal is that I get to basically order sweets for my main course.  Yes, I'm the one who always goes for decadent brioche stuffed french toast or pancakes sporting more toppings than an ice cream sundae, and calls it "brunch", not "dessert".  Since I love baked goods, any time I can eat muffins, scones, or danishes, I'm a happy camper.  Our original plans for Sunday were to either go to the famous Bourke Street Bakery, where I could get some of my favorite baked goods in Sydney, and hadn't yet visited on this trip.  Or to Four Ate Five, where Ojan fondly remembered an epic meatball sandwich, and I was of course eying the french toast stuffed with bananas, mascarpone, and rhubarb.  But Pinbone drew me in with something even better: breakfast rice pudding!  I love pudding, and rice pudding in general, and the idea of one that was acceptable for breakfast was just too much for me to resist.

The experience at Pinbone for brunch was everything I wanted it to be.  The service was just as good as the night before, although a bit more laid back and casual, which matches the brunch feel.  The food was amazing, as you'll read about momentarily.  As I said, one of the best brunches of my life.

And the prices?  Totally reasonable, and far better than those at the other brunch heavy hitters we visited like Bill's and Devon Cafe, where the food wasn't nearly as good.  Plus, there was no wait (although, I hear there is earlier in the morning).  Pinbone was the trifecta of perfection for brunch: great food, reasonable prices, and no wait?  Unheard of!

Yes, I'm telling you that a fascinating menu, fantastic food, no waiting on the sidewalk, pleasant service, and reasonable prices actually exist, for brunch, in Sydney.  You just need to go to Pinbone, and you should do so now.

There are a slew of reasons I'd love to move to Sydney, but honestly, the mere existence of Pinbone is yet another.  It made me think more about the question of where in Sydney I'd live if I moved there.  I decided that I'd certainly consider going in the direction of Woollahra; it was so good, that I want it to be my local cafe.
Outside.
For Sunday brunch, they place a little wooden "Cafe Open" sign on the sidewalk.  Somehow, that one simple sign sets the tone for what is to follow: a rustic, casual touch, but one that shows fine attention to detail and feels so welcoming and inviting.

The two windows you can see in the photo are the restaurant, as I mentioned in my review of dinner, we were seated downstairs for dinner (bottom window), but the majority of the restaurant is upstairs (top window).
Upstairs Seating.
The previous night we were seated at one of the only three tables downstairs, but for brunch we were seated upstairs in the larger room, so I got a chance to check it out.  It is filled with the same style of tables and wooden chairs, just many more of them.
Brunch Menu.
The Pinbone brunch menu has all the classics you'd expect in Sydney, like toast (with vegemite of course), fruit and yoghurt, house-made muesli, 5 grain porridge, bacon butty or bacon and egg rolls, bubble and squeak, croque monieur (or madame), eggs benedict (with ham, or spinach, or salmon), and simple toast and eggs (cooked however you want).

But they are known for some more creative options, including a tart with creamy pumpkin spread and crispy bacon, scones with smoked cheese, sausage gravy, and fried eggs, and a savory fregola and creamed corn dish.  If I didn't have my eyes already firmly set on the breakfast rice pudding, the scones with gravy sounded amazing, as I love biscuits and gravy for brunch, and this sounded even better.

The list of sides is extensive, ranging from your choice of meats (bacon, ham, sausage, mortadella, blood booding, or meatloaf), vegetables (creamed corn, avocado, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, kale), to other goodies (haloumi, baked beans).  I also really wanted to try the grilled mortadella!  Too many amazing things.

They also offer lunchtime items including a few sandwiches, salads, and fries.
Specials Menu.
The goodness doesn't stop there however, as there were two additional menus, containing all the specials.

One featured a single item: the fried chicken sandwich, another dish they are famous for.  While listed as a special, it seems to be a staple.

The other specials menu featured my precious breakfast rice pudding, and a few other items.

I wanted more than half the menu.  Because it was just Ojan and I, we had to limit our choices,  and since we had seen the menu the night before, including the specials, we arrived knowing what we wanted to order.

We were prepared ... or so I thought.
Baked Goods on the Counter.
And then we walked in.  At the front counter near the entrance was a selection of baked goods, including incredible looking apricot & white chocolate muffins,  fig & ricotta muffins, and stuffed donuts with chocolate & hazelnut, baked cheesecake & blueberry, or malted custard & rhubarb.  OMG.  Remember that weakness for baked goods I was mentioning?  And, they also have a dessert menu, even at brunch, and it includes ... banoffee pie.  I was doomed.

The setup with the baked goods and coffee downstairs at the counter made me imagine that you could easily swing in just to get a takeaway coffee and muffin and/or donut, which I assure you, if I lived nearby, I would most certainly do.
Decaf Iced Long Black. $4.
Before I dove into food, I ordered coffee to settle in.

Pinbone uses The Little Marionette roasters, which I was unfamiliar with.  The previous night I had a hot coffee, but given the very, very hot Sydney day, I opted for iced this time.  I still wanted coffee with my brunch, but couldn't imagine drinking a warm beverage.

If you've been reading my Sydney posts, you'll recall that I tried to get a basic decaf iced coffee many times.  In the US, I'd order an iced decaf Americano (or really, an iced coffee).  I assumed that an iced decaf long black would be just as easy to do, but, let's just say, that the results were rather amusing.  Most commonly, like at Devon Cafe, I wound up with just a glass of lukewarm coffee with a token ice cube floating in it.  I regularly needed to order a separate glass of ice just to salvage it, like at Trio.

But Pinbone proved to be a winner in this department too, bringing me exactly what I wanted.  The long black was actually cold, and there was plentiful ice in it.  Perfectly refreshing for the hot day.  Finally!

The $3.50 + $0.50 decaf charge was on par with most places around town, which I still think is high for a drink sans any dairy.

We also had sparkling water, served in a carafe left on our table.  I imagine it was sparkled in-house?  Another point for Pinbone for unlimited, complimentary, sparkling water.  Whenever our carafe neared empty, it was noticed and whisked away and replenished.  Again, notable, given how often our water glasses went empty other places (cough, cough, BILLS!)
Fregola, Creamed Corn, Poached Egg. $18.
As I mentioned, Pinbone has a number of signature dishes, and the fregola, creamed corn, and poached egg is one of them.  If we had visited with a larger group,  it certainly would have been a dish we selected.

Of the purely savory dishes on the menu, it probably would have been my first pick, although I was also very interested to see their take on muesli, as I was rather obsessed with muesli in Australia.  Oh, and the aforementioned scones with smoked cheese, sausage gravy, and fried eggs.  Or any of the sides like haloumi, grilled mortadella, and some epic looking hash browns.  Seriously, I wanted it all.  But I had my eyes solidly on my first pick, so I passed up the fregola and creamed corn.

Yet you see a photo of it above.  I went to the bathroom to wash my hands after we placed our order, only to find that the fregola dish awaiting my return!  Ojan smiled, and said that it was sent out complimentary for us, as they recognized us from the night before.  Woah, regulars already?  I loved it!

I did groan a bit inside since we had already ordered two full dishes, and were hoping to save room for pie or a donut, and, we'd also already had a really big breakfast earlier at our hotel, since we were having a later brunch, and I adored our hotel breakfast spread.  I again wished that we had managed to convince more people to join us.  Still, I wanted to try it, and I figured I could take a few bites, and then somehow use willpower to wait for my real order, and not fill up too much on the fregola.  Ha.

I took one bite.  And another.  And another.  And another.  Suddenly, I cared much less about my upcoming breakfast rice that I had been so looking forward to.  I was glad there was no one else there to share this with.  Wow, it was good.

The flavors were incredibly complex.  I don't know what was in the seasoning, but the depth of flavor was unreal.  This was the sort of dish that makes your eyes roll back in your head.  I read later that it is cooked in a stock made from kelp, roasted corn cobs, and husks of corn.  It wasn't child's play.

The fregola was a bit crunchy, in a way that made it a pleasure to eat, particularly when paired with the softer, sweet corn kernels.  Ojan thought there was a lot of cream in it, but I really didn't think it was that rich.  Maybe I was just tricking myself.

The egg on top was perfectly poached.  It was a thing of beauty as Ojan cut into it and the yolk ran out, mixing into the dish, adding some richness.

Neither of us could stop eating it.  It didn't matter that we had more food coming.  We literally couldn't stop.  Just like at dinner the night before, I was blown away by the intense flavors and textures.  I loved how hearty and comforting it was.  It was also quite filling.  Whoops.  But wow, I'm so pleased that we were able to devour this, and I'd certainly get it again.  The menu lists creamed corn as a side option, I wonder if it has the fregola in it?  If so, splitting a side, sans egg, seems certainly recommended.

One of the best savory brunch dishes I've had in my entire life.
Croque Monsieur. $12.
Ojan's pick was the croque monsieur, made with Barossa ham and smoked cheese sauce, on Luxe Bakery bread.

It was a very decadent item.  The bread was well toasted and crispy, clearly coated with butter to achieve that effect.  Inside was creamy, smoky b├ęchamel AND a ton of melted cheese.  I took the first bite, and the stringy cheese seemed like it was never going to end.  I loved the creamy b├ęchamel, and would have gladly eaten more of it, but, after the bonus starter and with my meal still in front of me, I stopped after a few bites.

Ojan really liked it, but he only made it through half the sandwich himself.  After the filling fregola dish, it was just too much.  Plus, he said it was actually just a bit too decadent with all the cheese.

He said a half was just right though, and that this would be a good share dish in the future.  Or, perhaps just served as a half sando with a side salad?
Breakfast Rice with Vanilla, Almond & Fruit. $14. 
And finally, my main dish: breakfast rice!

This was the reason we were at Pinbone.  I saw it listed as a special when I looked at the brunch menu the night before, and I knew we had to return solely for this dish.  Sure, I was optimistic that Pinbone would do a good brunch in general just based on the dinner performance, but, this dish is exactly the sort of thing that I love.  Pudding.  Yes!  We really don't have brunch dishes like this in the US, but in Sydney I found the tapioca brunch pudding at Devon Cafe just the week before (although that was totally different, a cold dish).  Perhaps pudding-breakfasts are a thing in Australia though?

The amusing thing is that I actually don't like rice, at least in savory preparations.  When I eat Indian food, I always skip the rice and just use naan to soak up my curries.  When dining on any other rice-centric cuisine, like Chinese, Thai, or Persian, I just skip it completely.  I am obviously not carb-adverse, I just never like rice.

Of course, that all changes when it comes to desserts.  On this trip alone, I ate a slew of rice based desserts, including the mango and sticky rice at Home Thai and a bunch of different items that included rice at Chat Thai.  Even the night before at Pinbone, we had the black sticky rice and banana dessert, partially because I wanted sticky rice.  So I love rice in my desserts, and in particular, I love rice pudding, any style (although I've become partial to Turkish style baked rice puddings lately).

Anyway, I digress.  I wasn't entirely sure what "breakfast rice" was, but I had a hunch that it would be like a rice pudding.  A cross between a porridge and a dessert, hopefully?  Exactly the sort of thing that I really like.

And ... it was!  There were several assorted types of rice, including a short grained white rice and a crunchier heartier grain, in a cream base.  It was obviously sweetened, but it wasn't too sweet, and didn't push too close to the dessert boundary (not that I would have minded, since I'd had the savory fregola already at this point, I was ready for dessert!)  The whole thing was drizzled with a vanilla syrup, which really infused a subtle vanilla flavor in nearly every bite.

On top was fresh fruit: figs, blackberries, and apricots.  Please recall how I feel about blackberries ... I hate them!  I tried one, just to see if somehow Australian blackberries weren't full of horrible seeds, but alas, they are, and I didn't like these, but obviously, that was just personal preference.  The figs were fine, but we have really great figs in California.  I have a lot of fruit envy when I'm in Sydney (particularly for their mango!), but figs are one fruit where California really does spoil me.  The apricots were delicious.

My favorite component was the candied sliced almonds on top.  Since the rice pudding itself wasn't too sweet, the candied nuts added pops of sweetness, but also, an incredible crunch.

I'm a textures person, and this dish had it all going on.  The rice had just the right amount of chew, the base was creamy, the fruit was soft, and the almonds were crunchy.  It was so easy to form perfect bites encompassing every texture and flavor I was after.

I liked the dish, but after the corn and fregola, it was a bit of a letdown initially.  This wasn't a bad thing really, and I decided it was good that I didn't love it, since I'd be able to leave some untouched and not stuff myself even more than I already was.  I put my spoon down with quite a bit left and thought I was done.  I declared out loud to Ojan I was done.

But ... I went back for just one more bite.  Interesting, it grew on me as it cooled down.  The texture changed, as it became thicker, and I liked it more that way.  I got completely immersed in crafting perfect bites, incorporating the almonds.  It was just so comforting and creamy ... but still, I vowed to stop.  I was already full!

And then, somehow, with Ojan's help with the blackberries and figs, I finished the entire thing.  Literally, the entire bowl full.  It hurt, I won't lie.  I went into such a state of food coma that I didn't want to move.  Getting up out of my chair and going on our planned walk around Centennial Park across the street took sheer will.  But, wow it was worth it.  Sometimes, you just need to stuff yourself, enjoy every moment of it, and deal with the consequences.

In the end, I loved the dish.  Like most of Pinbone's creations, it was all about the balance of textures and flavors.  I always want sweet items at brunch, but feel I need to be "responsible" and order something that isn't just sweets, but this dish managed to satisfy my sweet tooth perfectly, without making me feel like I was eating dessert for brunch.  It was a hearty, satisfying dish in every way.  It was everything that I had wanted the Devon Cafe tapioca dish to be .  I'd get it again, in a heartbeat.  And I'd finish it all again too!  But I would eat a smaller breakfast beforehand.
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