Friday, July 07, 2017

Good & Delish

Snack Foods Fri: That time I won a box of products from Good & Delish.

One day, I won a Twitter contest for Good & Delish, the premium house brand from Walgreens.  Yes, really.

When I received a direct message asking for my (physical) address, I almost thought it was a scam.  But, the sender was @walgreens, it must be real, right?  So I gave my address, not really sure what to expect.

A few days layer, a box showed up at my door.  I still wasn't entirely convinced this was real.  And then I opened the box to discover a serious bounty.
My Loot!
The loot was legit.

6 containers of candied nuts, 5 boxes of assorted cookies, 3 boxes of chocolates, gummy candy, and a stocking full of chocolates.  Um, wow!  These are all things I like!

Good & Delish is the premium house brand at Walgreens.  I'm no stranger to Walgreens products, as you may recall from my reviews of their other, lower-end, house brand, Nice!, which has shockingly good glazed honey buns (once you warm them up that is) and mediocre chocolate.

Neither line carries any Walgreens branding on the packaging, so unless you knew this is made by Walgreens, you likely wouldn't even notice.

The Good & Delish brand has basically ... every snack food imaginable, but I lucked out, and they sent me basically only sweets.

Most of the bounty was fairly mediocre, but, there were some decent surprises.  Plus, um, I got a free box of stuff!

Chocolates

The Good & Delish product line has a ton of chocolate products.  I won't enumerate them all here, but they make all sorts of chocolate bars, chocolate covered nuts, fruits, cookies, clusters, etc. 
Boxed Chocolates.
 I received 3 different boxes of assorted chocolates.  These were not good items.
The Continental Collection.
Each box is plastic wrapped, and then has a sleeve surrounding the box.

I started with the "Continental Collection", a box containing 10 different types of "milk and dark European Chocolates", 4 of each, 14 ounces total.  It was a hefty box.
Continental Collection: Unboxed!
The chocolates were arranged attractively, alternating colors and shapes.  Someone clearly put thought into the layout.  Inside the box cover was a guide to the chocolates, but it was rather ambiguous, just hand drawn pencil style.  From the sketches, I wouldn't have realized that the milk chocolate hazelnut was actually the white topped one, but luckily, the back of the sleeve contained a second, full color guide.

I'll review each chocolate in similar pairs.

Ojan's overall review: "There are times when I'd be in the mood for this type of candy".  Note the word candy, not chocolate.  He also immediately declared that I certainly wouldn't like these.  He was right.
Gianduja Nougat. Nougat Duo.
Gianduja Nougat(L):  I thought nougat was white? And soft?  Anyway.  The filling wasn't soft at all, and I also didn't taste anything hazelnut flavored.  I really thought I had the wrong piece, but checked the guide several times, and, this was the right one ...

Nougat Duo(R): An attractive two-toned piece.  Again, nougat?  I have no idea what the "duo" of flavors were supposed to be here, I didn't taste anything notable.
Chocolate Roasted Hazelnut. Milk Chocolate Hazelnut.
Chocolate Roasted Hazelnut(L): I somewhat expected a whole hazelnut to live inside of this, I'm not sure why.  It didn't have one.  Instead there was a dark chocolate top layer, a milk chocolate layer, and a almost creamy center that had a slight hazelnut flavor.  I'm not a lover of hazelnut, and this didn't do anything for me.

Milk Chocolate Hazelnut(R):  I was confused why it had white chocolate on top.  Wasn't this the milk chocolate hazelnut?  The white chocolate was waxy and truly awful, the sort of chocolate that gives milk chocolate a very bad reputation.
Vanilla Stick. Toffee Crisp.
Vanilla Stick(L): I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, what is a vanilla stick?  It was ... another thick caramel on the inside.  It didn't taste any more vanilla flavored than the others.  The aftertaste was bad.

Toffee Crisp(R): This was certainly the one I was most looking forward to.  I like toffee, I like crunchy things.  I was surprised when I cut it open and found that the crispies were just on the outside, and, well, they were like rice crispies, not toffee.  I guess the toffee was the thick caramel inside?  Very disappointing.
Soft Caramel. Toffee Caramel.
Soft Caramel(L):  At least this had a cute heart shape.  It is the first one Ojan went for.  He took one bite and said he wasn't really interested in this box of chocolates, and that he didn't want another.  Uh-oh.

I actually thought this was the best of the box.  The caramel was gooey, slightly buttery.  The milk chocolate shell had a nice snap to it.  I didn't necessarily want another, but, it wasn't bad.

Toffee Caramel(R): Ojan did eventually try another, the toffee caramel.  He said that someday he might be in the right mood for another one of these, comparing it to the same quality level as eating a Twix.

The toffee had a decent chew to it, but the chocolate had a strange bitterness to it.  I could see how Ojan compared it to a Twix though.  Not really my thing.
Orange Cream, Strawberry Cream.
These were the worst of the box.

The "cream" component of each was a crumbly white filling, chalky and really off putting.  The orange flavor was identifiable as orange at least, but, in a cough syrup sort of way.  The strawberry was equally awful, it tasted remarkably fake.
The Other Continental Collection.
"Milk, dark, and white European Chocolates."

Next up, another box of assorted chocolates.  This assortment was ALSO called the Continental Collection.  It also contained 10 different types.  6 were the same 4 were swapped out from the other collection.  I'll only review the new additions this time, again in pairs.
Nougat Heart. Solid Milk Chocolate.
Nougat Heart(L):  Milk chocolate surrounding a slightly different style of center.  Not what I think of as nougat, but, it had a slight hazelnut flavor perhaps?  I guess that is a style of nougat, but not the soft, white style I'm used to.

Solid Milk Chocolate(R):  This was about what you'd expect, just basic mediocre milk chocolate.  It wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't a quality item.
Vanilla Fudge. Whole Nut Soft Cream.
I just really don't understand the naming of these chocolates.

Vanilla Fudge(L): The "vanilla fudge" was a slightly chewy center, almost like a caramel.  Not what I think of as fudge.  Not vanilla flavored.  Mediocre quality all around.

Whole Nut Soft Cream(R): There was nothing soft, nor creamy, about it.  Inside was an almond, surrounded in a chalky white layer, with milk chocolate, and a white chocolate shell on top.  The "soft cream" was really quite gross.

Neither of these were good.
Premium European Chocolates.
"Milk chocolate assortment with creamy milk and hazelnut fillings."

My final box of chocolates was a holiday themed assortment, a mix of 6 Christmas themed items: Santas, snowmen, sleighs, shooting stars, Christmas trees, and reindeer.  They came sorta randomly grouped together.

 I didn't really know what to expect for the fillings on these.  Whole hazelnuts? Ganache?
Shooting Star: Inside.
I started with a shooting star.  It was a milk chocolate shell with milk chocolate inside.  The chocolate both inside and out wasn't very good, somewhat plastic and stale tasting, while also being bitter and boring sweet.  Yeah, not good.

The filling was at least smooth and soft?
Tree: Inside.
Next, I went for the tree.  It had white inside.

What was the white?  I have no idea.  Was it hazelnut?  It didn't taste anything specific.  The filling was a bit sweeter than the dark filling, but I certainly couldn't identify it.  Like the milk chocolate one, the soft, smooth texture was nice.

It also turned out that shape had nothing to do with filling.  The next 4 chocolates I tried all had the white filling.  Another shooting star had white filling.  I'm not really sure how they were broken down by flavor.

Cookies

The Good & Delish line of cookies is fairly extensive.  In addition to the 3 varieties I received, they also offer oat & cranberry, butter cookies, shortbreads, macaroons, bite size chocolate chip, and some very temping chocolate and caramel truffle cookies.
Packaged Cookies.
My box of goodies included a mixed assortment, and two types of "creme" cookies.

The creme cookies turned out to be really quite decent.
Raspberry Fruit Creme Cookies.
"These cookies are delectable combinations of buttery flavored cream and raspberry jelly sandwiched between our delicious cookies."

Since I don't really care for cookies, and clearly not packaged ones, I didn't even expect to take a second bite of one of these.  Yet, I did.

They weren't awful.  I mean, for what they were, they were perfectly acceptable.

The cookies were sweet, but not any real flavor in particular.  One side was solid and printed with a design, the other had a hole in the center.  Slightly crumbly.

Inside was the "buttery flavored cream", which was again just sweet.  Not buttery.  It was the exact same texture as the filling inside Oreos, although, less sweet than that filling actually, and a slightly different flavor.

These two components reminded me of Vienna Finger sandwich cookies.  I haven't had them in years, so I don't know how accurate this is, but, that is sorta what they reminded me of.

In the center was a dot of raspberry jelly.  It had a strong raspberry flavor, but was really sticky, tacky.  I didn't like it much.

So, overall, not awful.  If I liked packaged cookies, I'd get them again.  They also make a lemon flavor, but I only received raspberry.
4 Star Maple Leaf Creme.
"These cookies are filled with smooth maple creme, which complements its crispy, delicious, wafer base. Made with real maple syrup and natural ingredients, this unique cookie is a delicious snack."

Well, huh.  Again, I don't like cookies, particularly hard cookies, particularly packaged cookies.  I again thought I'd take a bite, review my review, and move on.

But these were really decent.  The cookies were softer than I expected, with a light maple flavor.  The filling was delicious, super maple-y.  Yes, it was generic package cookie cream filling, but ... it tasted good.

My only complaint is that there was a lot of cookie and not much cream.  I preferred having one open-faced, just half a cookie with all the cream.  Either they need "Double Stuffs", like Oreos, or, they need to reduce the cookie part somehow.

If you like maple and packaged cookies, I recommend these.
Exquisite Cookie Ensemble.
"An assortment of 10 different cookies, all made with pure Belgian chocolate."

The last box of cookies I received was the fancy sounding "Exquisite Cookie Ensemble".  The names of each also sounded quite classy.  The cookies looked a lot like Pepperidge Farm or what you'd find in an airline lounge.  Not my style of cookies, not that I really like any cookies, but, hard, packaged cookies are certainly at the bottom of the barrel for me.  Still, I tried them.  For you, dear readers.

They ranged from highly mediocre to quasi acceptable.

Clockwise, from top left:
Symphony
"Rich crispy cookie dipped in milk chocolate decorated with fine dark chocolate drizzle". 
The cookie was more like a graham cracker, a dark color, not shortbread like the others.  But crispy.  The chocolate coating was ok.
Jamaica
"Crispy thin pastry covered with chocolate and coconut flakes".
A very thin, boring shortbread style cookie.  Chocolate coating was ok,  I liked the crunch from coconut, but, quite boring.
Celebration
"Rich hazelnut cream cookie covered with fine chocolate and dark chocolate decoration."
I know I tried all the cookies, but, I seem to have lost my notes for this one.

Venice
"A crunchy indulgence, crispy shortbread covered in luscious dark chocolate and sprinkled with nut brittle" .
The cookie itself was again quite boring, the chocolate mediocre, but I did like the crunch from the nuts.  My second favorite.

Balena
"Rich shortbread cookie with both ends dipped in smooth dark chocolate".
Basic shortbread cookie, not very buttery, soft.  The ends and bottom were coated in chocolate, it seemed more like milk than dark to me, but they say it was dark chocolate.  Not interesting.
Madeleine
"Fine biscuit enrobed on both sides with milk chocolate and fine dark chocolate decoration"
This biscuit itself was a darker color than any others, almost looking like it should be a chocolate biscuit, but it didn't really taste chocolate.  It had some texture to it, that was interesting, but, no real flavor to this.
Duet
"Round sunny biscuit enrobed in super-fine dark chocolate". 
Surprisingly good.  I have no idea what a "sunny biscuit" is, but, it was better than the dark "crispy cookie" and shortbreads.  My favorite.
Casanova
"Crispy fingers dipped in dark chocolate and decorated with white chocolate drizzle". 
Just a crispy cookie, mediocre chocolate, nothing interesting here besides the shape.
Melody
"Rich crispy cookie dipped in dark chocolate decorated with fine milk chocolate drizzle".
Just like Symphony, a crispy dark cookie, just with dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.  I liked this slightly more due to the dark chocolate.

Concorde
"Crispy wafer filled with milk chocolate cream".
This was the one I expected to love, since I like wafer cookies.  But, the wafers weren't particularly good, and chocolate cream wasn't creamy.

              Nuts

              The Good & Delish line has a slew of packaged nuts, ranging from basic roasted nuts (cashews, macadamias, pecans, almonds, pistachios, or mixed in several varieties), to chocolate covered nut "Gems", to coated nuts. 
              Assorted Nuts.
              I luckily received the candied nuts and the chocolate coated ones - yes!  Exactly what I would of picked, rather than just plain roasted ones.

              We had mixed success with these.
              Milk Chocolate Cashews.
              "Roasted cashews drenched in real chocolate"

              These were exactly what they claimed to be.  Whole cashews, fine cashews, but just cashews, smothered in milk chocolate.  The nuts were fine, although a bit bitter.  The chocolate was fine, but very basic milk chocolate.  The ratio of chocolate to nut seemed way off to me, as I mostly just tasted chocolate, but I think that is what they were aiming for?  There were some pieces that I actually questioned if they even had a nut in them, as all I tasted was the mediocre milk chocolate.

              I don't tend to really like cashews however, and just wanted them to be just about any other nut.  Nothing wrong with these, for sure, but to me, meh.  Other guests I offered these to slowly nibbled on them over time, but, no one raved about them.
              Praline Pecans.
              The praline pecans were the ones I was most excited for.  I love pecans.  I love praline ... butter and sugar?  Yes!  The bottle even proclaimed "made with real butter".

              The nuts were mostly halves, although there were some chunks.  All generously coated.  I eagerly bit into the first one.

              Eww.  I can't explain what was wrong with these.  I really, really didn't like them.  I tried several, just to make sure I wasn't going crazy.  They tasted more like walnuts than pecans, but, they were obviously pecans.  They had a strange bitterness to them.  They tasted ... not burnt exactly, and not stale exactly, but almost rotten?  I really don't know how to explain it.  The sugar coating, was generous, but didn't save them.

              My notes said very clearly: "Wow.  Do not want more of these."  Nor did anyone else I offered them to.  I even brought them to my office, where they went unconsumed.  That NEVER happens!
              Dark Chocolate Almonds Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar.
              I saved the best for last, unknowingly.  These were the winner of the batch, and actually good.

              Almonds, coated in dark chocolate and a sugary, crunchy, candied coating.  I liked how crunchy they were, and the dark chocolate was more complex than the milk chocolate on the cashews.  The ratio of chocolate to nut was also better than with the cashews; the chocolate accented the nuts, but didn't overwhelm.

              I would have preferred more salt however, but for those who aren't used to salt with their chocolate, I could see this being a good intro.  For me, I had to eat a whole handful at a time to really taste the salt, a single nut didn't have enough.

              We easily finished off the jar of these.

              Candy

              And finally, some candy.  I received only a single candy item.  It was not good.
              Greek Style Yogurt Fruit Chews.
              Fruit chews.  These sounded promising, although I was a bit skeptical of the "Greek Style Yogurt" part.

              The chews came in 5 flavors: cherry, blueberry, green apple, banana, and pineapple, each individually wrapped in plastic.  Plastic is a theme here, as it is all they tasted like.  You could smell the flavors, particularly the blueberry, but in terms of taste, there was nothing besides plastic.  Perhaps sweet plastic, but plastic nonetheless.

              The chew quality was decent, like a soft taffy, but, I really didn't like these.  Others were intrigued by them, and went back for a second or third try, saying they almost liked them, but in the end, no one was thrilled with them.
              Read More...

              Thursday, July 06, 2017

              Turkey Hill Ice Cream

              Ice cream.  While I don't necessarily review it often, I actually follow a pretty strict "ice cream a day keeps the doctor away" mantra.  Wait, that isn't a mantra?  Well, it is mine!  And to be fair, sometimes it is froyo.  My office has a soft serve machine, with DIY toppings, that I visit at least once a day, Mon-Fri.  My freezer is always stocked with regular ice cream, ice cream novelties, and more.  There was a time when I won 32 pints of ice cream (yes, really).

              But much like cookies, I don't actually generally consider ice cream a dessert itself (unless it is soft serve froyo, in a bowl, with tons of toppings, or soft serve ice cream, in a cone, with sprinkles, on a hot summer day).  But I don't just eat a bowl of hard ice cream, even with toppings, even as a sundae.  For me, ice cream is a pairing, e.g., it is what I have on the side with my warm fruit cobbler.  But anyway, yes, I eat a lot of ice cream.

              Turkey Hill is not a local, artisan, special ice cream shop.  They are just a national manufacturer of ice cream (and, ice tea?), owned by Kroger supermarket, located in Pennsylvania.  Turkey Hill Dairy started in the 1930s, just a farmer selling milk to his neighbors, and expanded to making ice cream in the 1950s.  They started distribution through stores in the 1980s, expanded rapidly, and were taken over by Kroger, although they say the family stayed heavily involved.

              I'm a little surprised I haven't seen Turkey Hill before now, as they are the largest manufacturer of refrigerated ice tea (so random!), and the 4th largest ice cream producer (after Nestlé (which includes (Häagen-Dazs and Mövenpick)), Unilever (which includes Ben & Jerry's), and Wells' (Blue Bunny), all of which I've reviewed before.  Maybe I just haven't noticed before?

              Turkey Hill produces >60 flavors of frozen products in several product lines: Premium, All Natural, Stuff'd, Light, and No Sugar ice ream, plus frozen yogurt, and sherbet.  They also make frozen novelties, like ice cream sandwiches, sundae cones, and ice cream cake.  I tried only the ice cream (specifically, the All Natural), at an ice cream social, where the host picked Turkey Hill.  I was pleasantly surprised.

              All Natural Ice Cream

              "Turkey Hill All Natural Ice Cream is churned with all natural ingredients and a little extra cream for unforgettable richness."

              All Natural is actually Turkey Hill's base ice cream line.  If you want higher quality or more fun flavors, go for the Premium line.  If you want healthier, go for Light or No Sugar Added.  And if you want decadent, Stuff'd is the flavors loaded with nuts, candies, and more.

              The All Natural line has 20 flavors, basically, the standards you'd expect, although there are a few fun ones in the lineup, like Blueberry.  Not many mix-ins though, for those, you need to go Premium.

              I tried 3 of the All Natural selections, and they were better than I expected.
              Salted Caramel.
              "Cream, milk, sugar, salted caramel, vanilla."

              First up, trendy (well, a few years ago), Salted Caramel.

              I was expecting a tan ice cream, with a homogeneous salted caramel flavor.  I am not sure why exactly, I guess just because that is what most salted caramel ice cream is, like, SF darling Bi-Rite, etc?

              Instead, this was a vanilla (?) base with swirls of caramel throughout.  The caramel was sweet, the swirl generous, but I didn't really taste salt, and this just wasn't I was expecting at all given the flavor name (to be fair, it did match the image on the front of the container).

              Overall, fine, but not what I thought I was going for.
              Chocolate Peanut Butter.
              "Milk, cream, sugar, cocoa, creamy peanut butter."

              Next up, Chocolate Peanut Butter.

              This was a great flavor.  Well, if you like peanut butter.  Which I do.  A lot.

              I don't normally pick chocolate ice creams, but this had such a thick ribbon of peanut butter that it was irresistible.  The peanut butter was thick, creamy, and, well, peanut butter-y.  It tasted like a peanut butter cup, and I loved it.

              Having a half gallon of this in my house would be dangerous.  I don't think it would last two sittings.
              Mint Chocolate Chip.
              "Cream, milk, sugar, chocolate chips, peppermint."

              And finally, for completeness, I tried the Mint Chocolate Chip.

              This was pretty classic mint chocolate chip ice cream.  Decent mint level in the base ice cream, large chips of dark chocolate.  Nothing to complain about.  Good execution of a classic.
              Read More...

              Wednesday, July 05, 2017

              Waffling Leftovers: Turon (Banana Lumpia)

              As you know, I waffle a lot of leftovers.  (Wait, you didn't know that?  Go read my master post, and then return here.  I'm not going to bore my regular readers with my preamble about waffling leftovers).

              While I waffle everything from fresh figs, to mashed taro, to pizza, to tuna noodle casserole, and just about everything in-between, desserts are a category I waffle less frequently than others.  Which, is interesting really, given that actual waffles are generally rather dessert-like, and, uh I eat a lot of dessert.  I guess most desserts just don't last long enough to waffle when I'm around.

              Anyway, this time, I went for dessert.  Filipino dessert.  Turon.

              You can also call it banana lumpia.  Or turrón de banana.  Or turrón de plátano.  Or lumpiyang saging.  Call it whatever you want.  I'll go with turon since it is the shortest.  It is a Philippine street food, usually a deep fried spring roll filled with sliced bananas and jackfruit, although more adventurous filling like sweet potato, mango, coconut, and cheddar cheese can also join the fun.
              Turon Transformation: Original -> Leftovers -> Waffle!
              We had a special Filipino dinner at my office, with turon as the final course.  It was fantastic when fresh, but, this was not an item that held up well at all.  Which I knew.  Yet I still saved one.  For science.  Or, er, you, my dear readers.

              Leftover Turon: Will it Waffle?  YES!  This one goes firmly in the success bucket, and was one of my biggest salvations to date, taking something that was basically soggy and gross into something wonderful.
              The Original: Fresh Fried Turon with Coconut Caramel.
              The original was fantastic, made only with banana inside, and drizzled with coconut caramel. 

              It was served fresh out of the fryer, nice and warm.  The exterior was a crispy spring roll wrapper, inside was a sweet warm mushy banana, and it had absolutely decadent coconut caramel drizzled over it.  I dunked the first one in plenty of caramel, couldn't resist returning for another, which I dunked into whipped cream too, but, it didn't actually need any of these additions.

              Hot and fresh, this was glorious.
              Leftover, Soggy, Turon.
              The leftovers however, were not glorious.  A fried spring roll wrapper does not hold up, particularly when it was drizzled with caramel already.

              The leftovers were extremely soggy.  The wrapper was shriveled and soggy.  It was incredibly unappealing.

              I tried a bite of one, and my suspicions were confirmed.  This was not tasty.  The banana inside was now hard and brown, and the wrapper, yeah.  I tried heating it up in the toaster oven, which made things a bit better, but, barely.

              I had only one choice of what to do with the next one.
              Into the waffle iron ...
              Into the waffle iron it went.

              I didn't bother scrape the caramel off, I knew that would caramelized up on the outside again, and make it even crispier.  I didn't crust it or do anything.  Just stuck it in, mushed down the lid.

              350° was my setting of choice, fairly arbitrary, but generally my default unless I know I need to sear.
              Grilling ...
              I checked on it a few minutes in, and things looked good.  It even looked like a waffle.
              Looks like a waffle!
              It extracted with no problem.

              It would have been fine to eat it like this (which, of course I did sneak a bite).  But I wanted to do more.
              Complete with Whipped Cream!
              I topped it with whipped cream.  Because I could.  Because whipped cream makes everything better.  Was it necessary?  Nah.  And did I later add ice cream too?  Yup.  Keep reading.

              The exterior was crispy from both the spring roll that re-crisped, and the caramel.  As I hoped, the caramel melted off, pooled up in the waffle grills, and then redistributed itself onto it, and crisped up as it cooled slightly.  Very successful exterior, and impressive even to me after all this waffling, to see something transform from soggy grossness into crispy goodness.

              Inside was now soft, molten, mushy banana again.  Who cares that it was brown?

              It reminded me of deep fried bananas.  Which, I always have with ice cream.  So I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream too.

              ZOMG.  Crispy exterior, fried goodness, sweet soft banana, contrasting hot and cold, crispy and creamy ... it was fantastic.

              Complete success, and I highly recommend this one.  For, uh, when you have some leftover turon?  (I bet it would work fine with savory spring rolls too ...)
              Read More...

              Tuesday, July 04, 2017

              Rockpool Bar and Grill, Sydney

              Update Review, December 2016 Visit

              On my last visit to Sydney, I discovered Rockpool Bar & Grill on my final night in town, and really wished I had found it sooner.  I had an amazing meal, which, you can read all about in that review.  So on my more recent visit to Sydney, it was no question that I'd return to Rockpool Bar & Grill.
              Drinks, Bar Food, Dessert!
              I visited on a Saturday evening, and again was able to snag a table in the bar area by arriving before 6pm.  From the bar, you can order anything off the regular menu, or the bar menu, and mix and match as you please, which we did.

              My dining companion and I split an appetizer from the main dining room menu, some small bar dishes, and of course, dessert.

              The food was good but not as mind blowing as my previous visit.  The service was as awkward as last time, in a way where you could tell they were trying to be non-invasive and polite, but just came across as strange.  The cocktail menu was fascinating, and the wine and liquor lists scary, as there were items like a single cocktail for $475, and glasses of wine for $350.

              I'm glad I got in another visit, and I'd still gladly return.  And one of these days, I'll have to visit the real dining room, and perhaps get a real entree ...
               TUXEDO #4. $22.
              "Neil Perry’s Barrel Select Patron Tequila stirred down with Hendricks Quinine Cordial, dry Italian Vermouth and a touch of Apricot Brandy. Savoury and contemplative."

              For a cocktail, I went with a selection from the Seasonal Favorites section.  It jumped out at me instantly, as it had both Tequila and Gin (or, so I thought.  It turns out, I just didn't parse it properly "Hendricks Quinine Cordial" is actually a cordial made by Hendricks, and I read this was "Hendricks gin and quinine cordial", doh!)  So, no gin.

              I also didn't taste tequila at all, which makes even less sense to me now that I know it wasn't gin either.  The flavors were strong, very alcoholic, but not harsh exactly.  It certainly wasn't what I was hoping for though.

              The glass it was served in was very precious looking.  Etched glass, small in size.  One side was coated with something on the outside, that I think was apricot peel?  I'd guess some kind of citrus, like orange actually, but that doesn't match any of the ingredients in the cocktail.  It was confusing, really.  Was I supposed to lick it off, a la a salted rim on a margarita?  It was chewy, and kinda like sawdust, not particularly appealing.  Really strange.

              I wouldn't get this again.
              Fried Calamari with Romesco (half-portion). $31.
              We picked a starter from the regular menu, from the "Hot Starters" section.  Since we were sharing it, the kitchen split it onto two plates, so this is only a half portion.

              Salt and pepper calamari is a staple on the Qantas first class lounge menus in Sydney and Los Angeles (catered by the same executive chef, Neil Perry), so I've had it many times.  While the version in LA didn't impress me, the one is Sydney is part of what made me declare the Qantas F lounge food some of the best food anywhere in Sydney, and remains the best salt and pepper calamari I've ever had.  I was very eager to see what the full service restaurant could do with fried calamari.

              The answer, unfortunately, was lackluster.  The calamari was cooked ok, it wasn't rubbery or anything, but the light breading didn't seem to coat it very well, and was falling off in many places.  It was just pretty meh.

              The calamari was served on top of a bitter radicchio slaw of sorts, too bitter for my liking.  The romesco was fine.

              Overall, very meh, and I wouldn't get this again.  Pricey for a lackluster dish.
               Kinkawooka King Prawn Cutlet with Aioli. $8. 
              For my "main", I went with an item from the Bar menu, small plates section, rather than a real main from either menu.

              The reason was simple: I had been snacking in my hotel executive lounge right before, and I just wasn't very hungry.  Add in an appetizer and plans to get the awesome, large, dessert, and I wanted something small.

              I really was eying the prawn po-boy, but, I knew that would be sizable, and wanted something smaller.  Thus, the prawn cutlet it was, sold as individual patties for $8 each.  I hoped it would be somewhat like the amazing crumbed fish burger from the Qantas lounge, just, without the bun and lettuce.

              The plating of this was really funny.  Our first dish was from the main restauarant menu, and was plated accordingly.  I knew the bar food usually looked a bit more rustic, but still thought it would be pretty.  This was ... yup, a cutlet, a wedge of lemon, and a puddle of aioli, all just popped on a plate.  No extra garnish, no embellishment.  It really made me laugh.

              The cutlet was fine.  Very crispy, not oily, good breading.  The prawn inside was firm but not chewy, not mushy.  Fine, but, a bit boring on its own.  It seemed like it belonged inside a fish burger, which, I think the po'boy would have been.

              The aioli on the side was ok, good enough garlic flavor, but not super rich and creamy.

              Overall, this was all fine, executed well, but, boring.  It made me wish I ordered the po-boy, with a brioche bun and flavorful mayo instead.
              House Made Chorizo Dog with Jalapeño Hot Sauce. $18.
              From the bar menu, sandwiches section, my dining companion went for the hot dog, at my strong endorsement from my previous visit.

              It looked incredible, and she said it was the best hot dog she had ever had, which, well, is exactly how I felt when I had it before.

              I took some of the jalapeño hot sauce for my cutlet, and mixed it with the aioli, and it was incredible.  Spicy and fresh, it combined perfectly with the creamy aioli, and gave my otherwise fairly bland dish some serious kick.  This jalapeño hot sauce is magic, and really should be bottled up and marketed!
              Warm Rhubarb and Strawberry Pudding with Vanilla Sauce. $23. 
              And finally, the real reason I was there.  Ok, that isn't quite true, I know Rockpool has great food and cocktails, but it was my memory of the warm pudding with vanilla sauce, made with blackberries last time, that I just couldn't get out of my head.

              Some kind of pudding seems to always be on the Rockpool Bar & Grill menu, the fruit variety just switches out seasonally.  For our visit this time, it was strawberry and rhubarb.  Just like blackberries, rhubarb isn't a favorite of mine, but, I was willing to take the gamble.

              I'm glad I did.

              The dish arrived looking exactly like it did on my previous visit.  The server poured vanilla sauce over it table-side, and left us the rest, just like last time.

              The dessert was warm, fresh from the oven.  The base was again a cake that I was ambivalent about, and above that was a layer of stewed strawberries and rhubarb.  I didn't care for the fruit choices though, as I expected, sweet, tart, and mushy, and I could have easily just done without it entirely.

              But on top of that was the magic soufflé like layer.  Light and fluffy, yet creamy and custardy.  With a slightly crispy caramelized brûlée top.  And then lots of vanilla sauce.  That layer, with the extra sauce, is where the magic is.  Seriously, it is like the best soufflé ever, yes, better than my favorite Cafe Jacqueline, then also combined with creme brûlée, one of my favorite desserts, for that extra crispy top.  And, don't get me started about being left with a little pot of crème anglaise, which I obviously didn't let go to waste.

              Even though I knew what to expect this time around, it still was a pretty stunning dessert, and still unlike anything I've had elsewhere.  Sure, I could care less about the cake and didn't like the fruit, but it didn't matter, this was a really excellent dessert, and I can't wait to try it sometime with a fruit layer that I actually like!

              Original Review, February 2016 Visit

              For our final Saturday night in Sydney, Ojan and I decided to finally re-visit Rockpool Bar & Grill. We went the first time during our first visit to Sydney, and I have a vague memory of sitting in the bar eating a burger, but I don't recall much else. It clearly didn't leave an impression.

              So why return? Well, Rockpool Bar & Grill is one of Chef Neil Perry's places in Sydney, and I rather adore his food, even when it is served at the Qantas First Class lounge in the airport. Neil Perry's "flagship" establishment is Rockpool, where only a 4 course $150 or 8 course $185 menu are served. The place sounds fantastic, has been three hats by the Good Food Guide for years, but, we weren't up for such an extended (and pricey) meal.

              So Rockpool Bar & Grill it was. Now, the name of this place, combined with the fact that it is an entirely separate establishment from the flagship Rockpool, might lead you to believe that this is, um, a casual bar and grill. It is not, unless items like "Warm Salad of Wood Fire Grilled Quail with Smoked Tomato and Black Olives" or $290 full blood wagyu steaks are your idea of casual bar food. The dining room is a formal affair, with a huge menu focused around seafood and steaks. Reservations, made in advance, are required. It has a coveted two hats from the Good Food Guide.

              But the other side of the establishment is actually a bar area (albeit a fancy one), with a more casual menu. While still very upscale, the bar menu is a bit less expensive, and more importantly, no reservations are taken. If you arrive on the earlier side, getting seated is no problem.

              So, let's review: "Rockpool" could mean any of 3 establishments: Rockpool, the degustation only flagship down the street, Rockpool Bar & Grill Restaurant, a la carte but formal and high end, and Rockpool Bar & Grill bar area, which is where we headed.

              Now, I have to give a bit more context. I had been advocating for visiting Rockpool Bar and Grill pretty much the entire time we were there. Ojan never wanted to go. He also didn't remember it being great, and had no reason to want to go get bar food, or go somewhere fancier, when we could just keep eating casual delicious thai food. I wouldn't say I dragged him there exactly, but, he was certainly not excited, particularly when I told him we were going for hot dogs, onion rings, and dessert.

              It was excellent, the best meal of our trip. The food was good, service attentive, and dessert incredible. While my first visit wasn't memorable, I won't forget a couple dishes from this visit for a long time. Ojan talked about it frequently afterwards, wondering why we waited until the end of our trip to go there, mourning that we hadn't gone sooner so we could go multiple times during our trip (he really did propose going there the next night, our final night in Sydney, but, alas, not open on Sundays). We'll obviously return.

              There was so much appeal to Rockpool Bar and Grill for me. Bar dining really is ideal for me, particularly at a nicer place like Rockpool Bar and Grill. You get the amazing food (and opportunity to order dessert from the full menu!), but don't need to get quite as dressed up, and can go without a reservation. Service is more casual, the atmosphere is more relaxed, etc. Sure, you miss out on amuse bouches and other little extras, and it isn't the same as fine dining, but, for me, I'd generally rather be comfortable than have all that.

              The Setting

              Exterior.
              While I may not have remembered the food from my first visit to Rockpool Bar and Grill, I did actually remember the building, only because I remember it feeling somewhat ominous. The restaurant is housed inside the City Mutual building, a historic art deco building with an elaborate facade. The interior is also a bit crazy, I don't have photos unfortunately, but I recommend a trip to the bathroom, which involves steep back staircases, long narrow hallways, and a journey into the bowels of the building, past all their stunning private dining areas.
              Bar and Chandelier.


              We walked past the hostess stand that overlooks the main, formal dining area with its open kitchen straight to the bar area on the side. The bar side has standard bar seating, but also a generous number of tables with chairs. Tables, chairs, even the rug, were all black. Some tables had little candles to add a bit of light, but, overall, it was not a bright room.

              We arrived right when they opened, so getting a table was no problem. The room did quickly fill up. The bar itself was mostly a gathering point for pre-dinner drinks, whereas the tables were filled with folks who, like us, just wanted some tasty food. We were seated at a table on the edge of the room, likely hidden to the side since we weren't quite dressed up to Sydney standards. Which was fine with us, our little table was quite cozy.

              The bar has a stunning chandelier above it, made from wine glasses (2682 Riedel Riesling glasses to be exact). You can read all about it in the bar menu, as I'm sure people ask constantly about it.

              Drinks

              Since Rockpool Bar & Grill is highly Emil-approved, I knew to expect an excellent drink menu. It did not disappoint. Plenty of wines by the glass (including a $150 Shiraz, yes, that is the price for a single glass), classic cocktails (5 that have been on the menu since they opened in 2009), seasonal favorites cocktails (where I focused my time), a "choose your own adventure" martini menu (aka, choose your gin, your vermouth, your style, your garnish), non-alcoholic cocktails, and then pages and pages for spirits, aperitifs, digestifs, and beer.

              The bar menu is 40 pages long, only 2 pages of which are dedicated to food. This is a serious bar menu.

              I went for cocktails, but, the "exclusive and rare whisky" section certainly jumped out too.
              Hoshimotos Royal Punch. $22. 


              "A Japanese influenced Champagne Punch. Yuzu infused Sake, Bitter Cherry, Tanqueray. Yuzu Marshmallow "

              Our server was ... very eager to take our order. Perhaps because they had just opened and she didn't have any other tables yet, but, she came to take our drink order the moment we sat down. We asked for more time. She gave us a few minutes, but not nearly enough to take in the massive drink menu. In a panic, I rush ordered, and went for the Hoshimotos Royal Punch. I'm really not sure why, I think I saw gin and marshmallow, and somehow glossed over the multiple mentions of yuzu, aka, citrus, aka something I don't really like.

              My drink arrived quickly, as the bar wasn't backed up yet. The marshmallow on top, toasted, was a stunner. Ojan immediately tried to grab it to try it. Hands off! The drink also had a straw and a swizzle stick to stir.

              I took a few sips and ... doh. Why did I order yuzu? The drink was kinda sweet, and mostly all I could taste was yuzu. Oops.

              The marshmallow was great though, toasted to perfection. As soon as I finished my marshmallow, an attentive server whisked the skewer that held it away.

              But, I really didn't like the drink. I drank a little, and then tried to dilute the yuzu by adding water. I still didn't like it. Rather than keep "suffering", I decided to just accept my losses, and order another drink. When the server delivered that one, I asked her to take the remainder away, which she did without question.

              But then, a few minutes later, she returned to ask if something was wrong with it. I said no, that I just didn't like it, and that it was my fault for ordering it. She didn't ask any follow up questions, and I assumed she accepted my answer and moved on. When our bill arrived, this cocktail was removed. A great gesture on their part, but really, this was all my fault, not theirs!
              Smoked Peanut Old Fashioned. $21.


              "Peanut Washed Woodford Bourbon stirred with Cherry, Spice, Bitters and served smoking."

              For my second drink, I took more time to consider what I wanted, and went for the smoked peanut old fashioned. I wanted something a bit more grown up, not sweet, and, hey, why not have it be smoking too?

              A glass was brought to me, a nice heavy glass that I'm sure Emil would approve of, with a orange twist and large cube of ice inside. The cocktail came in another vessel, poured, smoking as promised, into my glass at the table.

              I liked this drink quite a bit, and had to be careful not to drink it too quickly, as, after all, it was basically just straight bourbon. I loved the bitterness, the smokiness, the complexity. And hard to ignore the gorgeous ice cube. I'd get it again.
              Pablow. $9.
              "Pineapple, Pink Grapefruit, Orange, Peychaud’s Bitters and Soda."

              Ojan actually had an entire section of the bar menu he could pick from as well, titled "COCKTAILS IN THE NAME OF TEMPERANCE", or, "Non-alcoholic beverages for whenever the stoic urge to abstain takes a hold of you... "

              The selection was interesting at least, including an ice tea with sherbet in it and a kombucha. Be Ojan opted for the Pablow, which came beautifully garnished with a large orange slice and chunk of pineapple.

              At first he declared it "just juice", but, after a few minutes, he said it grew on him. I didn't try it, as "just juice" wasn't exactly a compelling description and the bar did have watermelon behind it, so, I stayed away from all fruit.

              The Food

              Moving on to food, the bar menu has two pages devoted to food, including one entire page of small plates (ranging from olives and beef jerky, to finger sandwiches, to buffalo hot wings), 6 sandwiches (including their famous burgers), 4 main plates (wagyu bolognese, the classic Rockpool minute steak, fish, and a beef salad), and a slew of sides. For desserts, it just says that the "complete dessert menu is available" (obviously, a selling point for me, as I am the dessert girl.)

              We were pretty happy with the bar menu, as I had been craving good fries and onion rings (I know, don't ask what got into me, but it is what I wanted). I was also excited about the hot dog (yes, you are still reading the right blog, I have a thing for hot dogs ...), but we did also take a glance at the full restaurant menu, from which we could order as well. Our server also let us know it was fine to mix and match, selecting things from either menu as we wanted.

              The full restaurant menu is nearly as overwhelming as the 40 page drink menu. Just to start, it had 8 different "cold bar" items (caviar, oysters, fish crudo, yellowfin tartare, etc), 8 "Salads and other things" (4 different salads, steak tartare, grilled baby octopus, etc), and 10 "Hot Starters" (including many grilled and roasted items, plus steamed clams or mussels, fried calamari, and a warm salad). I was interested in the wood fire grilled figs with stracciatella, pistachios, and mint from the hot starters menu, but Ojan nixed it. The wood fire grilled baby octopus with lemon, oregano, capers, and smoked eggplant also sounded pretty good, but again, he nixed. Moving on to main dishes were 5 pastas, 5 "Seafood from the charcoal oven", and 5 "Main Plates". The sautéed abalone, king brown mushroom, and bottarga with maltagliati pasta jumped out, but Ojan wasn't feeling the abalone. I also could have picked the Black Lip abalone with tarragon, konbu, and caper butter main plate, for $70, or, the jaw dropping rock lobster thermidor for $320! The vegetarian main plate option was pumpkin kibbeh with chickpeas, spinach, garlic yoghurt, and pickles, although there was also a veggie pasta, handkerchief pasta with hand pounded pesto, cherry tomato, and ricotta. And THEN all of the main dishes from the wood fired grill and rotisserie, including about 15 different beef choices (all aged in house), plus a few others. Oh, and then the side dishes, including potatoes 4 different ways: potato and cabbage gratin (a classic Neil Perry dish, we had it at the Qantas First class lounge in LAX, sebago potatoes sautéed with Wagyu fat, garlic, and rosemary, potato puree, or hand cut fat chips. Does the charcoal roasted Japanese pumpkin and sweet potato with garlic yogurt count as potato too? If so, five potato dishes. There were also other decadent cheesy creations and some requisite green vegetables.

              So many choices. Overwhelming, really. We decided to just stick with the bar menu, plus desserts, to keep it simple, but I did see tables around us mixing and matching. Next time.

              I knew I wanted dessert, and we weren't starving, so we thought we were keeping it pretty simple and small by opting to share a salad, two side dishes, and a single hot dog. Um, before we knew it, our table was piled in food. I'd say oops, but, it was delicious, so we didn't exactly mind ...
              Onion Rings with House-Made Ketchup. $9.
              First up was the onion rings. Like I said, I was craving good onion rings, and figured onion rings at a fancy place would be excellent.

              They weren't quite what I wanted. Rather than standard white onion, they were made with red onion. I actually liked that aspect, but, it was a bit different, as they were harsher. The onion was tempura coated, rather than standard breading. Again, fine, except that they were just way too oily. I'm not sure if you can tell from the photo, but they were just drenched in oil (yet somehow still crispy ...). They were also crazy salty.

              I wanted to love these, but just didn't. Ojan did like them, although, I think inspired by the tempura batter, he wanted a soy dipping sauce to go with them, rather than the ketchup (more on that ketchup soon). The serving was far more than the two of us wanted, particular as we ordered fries too. They would have been better to share with at least one more person. The $9 price was fine.

              I'd skip these next time, and they didn't quite satisfy my onion ring craving.
              Hand Cut Chips. $12.
              We also ordered the fries, er, chips, mostly because I wanted rings and Ojan wanted fries, so we decided to just get both, particularly since we were sharing a main dish, we figured this wasn't overkill. Shoestring fries were also an option, but we opted for the thicker chips, since in Australia, we tend to love the wedges.

              The chips were a somewhat rustic style, skin on, all different sizes. I liked how big they were, almost like wedges rather than fries. They too were salty, with big salt crystals on the exterior, but I really liked the salt level.

              What I didn't like however was the house made ketchup. It was soupy, thin, with a strange spicing. I sorta reminded me of pureed chutney? Neither of us liked the ketchup and it really ruined our experience of eating both the rings and the chips.

              But I liked the chips, I just needed something better to dunk them in. I called our attentive waitress over, and asked if there was anything else we could use to dip things in. Sure enough, Rockpool Bar and Grill has a "condiment service" that goes along with the steaks, and one of the condiments is barbecue sauce, so she suggested that.

              We got a pot of barbecue sauce, and it was pretty good, definitely better than the ketchup. Really though, I wanted aioli.

              Anyway, these were pretty good chips, but, alas, needed better sauce.
              Radicchio, Cos and Endive Salad with Palm Sugar Vinaigrette. $9.
              I'm not quite sure why we ordered a salad, I think we felt a bit guilty ordering fries, rings, and a hot dog and wanted something to balance out our meal. There were three choices of salads, but one had avocado (I'm allergic), and one was just mixed greens (boring), so we opted for this slightly more interesting sounding one.

              It was ... not very good. The radicchio and endive were both super bitter, as you'd expect. The bitterness should have been balanced nicely by the palm sugar vinaigrette, except that the salad was incredibly overdressed and was just too sweet. The dressing also just had nothing going on besides the sweet.

              Ojan tolerated this a bit more than me, but still said it was a dud due to the "very boring" dressing. We wouldn't get this again.
              House Made Chorizo Dog with Jalapeño Hot Sauce. $18. (Split)
              And finally, the chorizo dog. OMG. The kitchen nicely split it for us onto two plates, cut evenly in half.

              Ojan wasn't exactly thrilled to be ordering a hot dog, but I really wanted it, so he went along with my plan. Let's just say he was glad I insisted. Two bites into it, he proclaimed, "This hot dog alone was worth coming here for".

              So, what made it so amazing?

              Let's start with the bun, a fluffy brioche roll, toasted crisp. Excellent vehicle for the dog, no wimpy, soggy bun here.

              Next, the garnishes. Under the dog was kraut and pickles, adding freshness, crunch, and tang. Excellent. On top was ketchup and mustard, but the real winning element was the jalapeño hot sauce, served on the side. It was spicy and just totally delicious. We both smothered our portions of dog in it.

              This hot dog was very, very good. I realize it is just a hot dog. I realize I was at a fancy restaurant, and could have been eating a house aged wood grilled steak or high end sashimi. But this is what I wanted and I loved it. I'd return for another in a heartbeat. So would Ojan.
              Warm Blackberry and Almond Pudding with Vanilla Sauce. $23.


              After our pile of fries, rings, and hotdog, we were actually totally full. We considered not getting dessert. And really, we were kinda giddy over that hotdog (seriously, so good!). Ojan said he'd have "one or two bites at most" of a dessert. I looked at the dessert menu. The full size desserts were all a commitment. They cost >$20 each, more than our entree. I figured they'd be huge and epic, and way too much for one person at this point.

              The dessert menu also had a section of smaller petit fours, but, not a single one of those jumped out ... cupcakes? Lamingtons? Truffles? Meh. I almost walked away. But I couldn't. One dessert had an incredible sounding ice cream served alongside, so I tried to order just a scoop of that. No dice.

              I still almost walked away. But ... I'd seen Instagram photos of a few of the desserts, and I just had to try one. I couldn't decide between the waffles or the pudding, but Ojan helped make that decision, saying he had no interest in the waffle dish. We do both love pudding.

              Best. Decision. Ever. Even better than the hot dog decision. When we ordered this, Ojan thought "pudding" in the American sense, but I knew this was a pudding in the British sense. Rockpool Bar and Grill always has some form of this dessert on the menu based on seasonal fruit, and during our visit, it was blackberry. Not what I'd ever pick for my fruit or berry of choice, but, that is what our choice was. (Side note: I'm pretty jealous because the current offering is rhubarb and strawberry, much more my style!)

              Anyway, what did we have here? This is so hard to describe. It had so many things going on.

              At the very bottom was a cake. I didn't really care for that layer, since meh, I'm just not a cake girl. But above that was a light and fluffy layer, airy like a soufflé. It was incredible. I couldn't get over just how fluffy it was. And then, magically, the top was caramelized, like a crème brûlée. The crispy top is one of the reasons I love crème brûlée, so I was thrilled to see that component here in a totally different style of dish.

              And then ... the "vanilla sauce", served in a pitcher on the side. The server poured some on tableside, and then left the rest with us. We smothered the entire thing in it. It was incredible, warm, sweet, and actually vanilla flavored. Oh, and yes, there were big huge blackberries in the pudding, which I wasn't into, but even big blackberries and cake didn't ruin this dessert for me.

              This was a thing of wonder. A dessert unlike any I'd had before. It was warm, fluffy, sweet, crispy, fruity, creamy ... it was everything, all rolled into one. I'd get it again in a heartbeat. As would Ojan, Mr. "I'm just having one bite". $23 might seem like a lot for a dessert, but, this was entirely worth it. Best dessert I had in a long, long time.
              Rockpool Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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