Friday, July 17, 2015

Nakd bars, UK

A few months ago, I took a trip to London.  During my time there, I of course ate my share of snack foods, including assorted bars.  Some were pretty mediocre (Eat Natural, Alpen Light), some were ok (Braw), and others were actually really delicious (Seed Stacked).  And then there were these bars, by nākd, that fell into another category altogether: awful!

So what are nakd bars?  They are "yummy natural ingredients such as fruits and nuts 'smooshed' together for you into a handy bar."  Basically, healthy bars, with no added sugars, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan.

They make two varieties of bars, basic bars and protein crunch bars.  I tried one of each type, but didn't care for either.

Eat Nakd Bars

The basic bars are known simply as "Eat Nakd Bars", available in 10 flavors, including some tempting sounding varieties like pecan pie, rhubarb & custard, and cocoa mint.
Caffe Mocha.
"Do you love the taste of smooth rich coffee mixed with a delicious chocolaty flavour? This gorgeous coffee flavoured snack is different to other cereal bars out there – it’s made from all natural ingredients and tastes like nothing you’ve tried before. Imagine the wonderfully rich aroma of freshly made cappuccino infused with chocolatey mocha, and you’ll get some idea of what Nakd Caffé Mocha is like. Why not try one yourself?"

I knew this bar was mostly made from dates, cashews, and raisins, and I knew that I don't actually tend to like bars made from these sorts of ingredients, but they drew me in with the promise of a mocha.

I should have known better.  A bar made from only dates (55% of the bar), cashews (26%), raisins (12%) and some cocoa, can't possibly taste like anything else.  I didn't like the texture, firm but crumbly.  I didn't like the taste, even though I do like dates and cashews.  I didn't taste any mocha at all.

I definitely didn't want another, and was not inspired to try another of their basic bars.

Protein Crunch Bars

The protein crunch bars add soya crunchies for additional protein.  Available in 4 flavors: banana, apple, strawberry, and cocoa.

However, they have only 5.5 grams of protein, which while higher than the regular bars at 3 grams, doesn't seem particularly notable, and not worth the taste of soy crispies, in my mind at least.
Strawberry Crunch.
"Our Nākd Strawberry Crunch bar is every bit as yummy as you would expect from smooshing real strawberries together with fruits, nuts and protein crunchies, resulting in a seriously satisfying texture and long lasting tingly sweetness. "

The aroma as I opened the package was distinctly strawberry.  This was a good sign.  It was also the last good sign.

It turns out, their marketing is correct.  It did taste just as yummy as I'd expect from having soy protein crunchies mushed in.  Which, spoiler, is NOT good.  The primary ingredient, 42% of the bar, is actually dates, which I also don't care for.  The oh-so-tasty soy protein crunchies make up another 17%.  Cashews and raisins each make up another 17%, and again, are ingredients I don't actually like very much.  Strawberries, the part I was looking forward to, are a mere 2%, with apple juice rounding it out.

The strawberry flavor was fine, but the texture was certainly that of a strange protein bar, and the taste of the soy protein, dates, and cashews was overwhelming.  Did not like at all, and it reminded me of Lara bars.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Espresso Roma Cafe

Espresso Roma is my shocking new find for a San Francisco coffee shop, located in the Marina no less.  Nothing about this place matched my expectations: not the environment, not the coffee, not the food.  I was blown away on every single visit.

After my first visit, I immediately went home to research more about this amazing little coffee shop.  And to plan a return visit.

Espresso Roma started in Berkeley in 1980, but now has a handful of locations in the country.  They still have a location in Berkeley, but their other locations are more fascinating: in California, they have a shop each in La Jolla and Los Angeles, but then they also have shops in Eugene, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado.  Fantastic cities, but such a strange mix.  Their sole San Francisco outpost is the one I visited in the Marina.

They roast all their own coffee locally in Emeryville.  They roast small batches, and ship out fresh the day of roasting.  This explains the incredible coffee.  They also bake all of their own baked goods, also in Emeryville.  Which explains why they are so good too.  There is much more going on here than meets the eye.

So this totally generic looking coffee shops turns out to be a coffee roaster and a bakery too?  I have no idea why they don't advertise these facts anywhere.  I'm sure they'd sell more pastries if people knew they were baked fresh daily and not from Costco, and that they take such pride in their coffee freshness.

Espresso Roma is a total gem, and I've since returned many times.  I absolutely cannot wait to explore their full lineup of baked goods!

The Space

Espresso Roma is about as nondescript of a coffee shop as I've ever seen, exactly the type of establishment that you'd walk by 1000 times, and never even notice or stop in.  But once inside, it feels like a real neighborhood sort of place, and since they have free wifi, patrons spread out with laptops, all working away for hours on end.  It wasn't ever particularly busy during my numerous visits, although it also wasn't deserted either.

On my first visit, the folks next to me spent the time talking about learning Javascript in order to make their business website more dynamic.  Subsequent visits were no different, with techy buzzwords readily floating through the air.  While this is totally normal in SF obviously, I wasn't in SOMA, I was in the Marina.  No offense Marina-folks, but this does not match my stereotypes of you.  In fact, the entire place doesn't feel like it fits in in the Marina.  It just feels so non-trendy.  The menu boasts no claims of organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, etc anywhere.  There are no hipsters.  No yoga pants.

Just a down to earth neighborhood cafe, albeit one with amazing baked goods.
Outdoor Seating.
Outside are a few small tables, which look like they'd be perfect for people watching and fresh air, but were always in the shade when I visited.  I've yet to visit on a day hot enough to want to sit out on the sidewalk in the shade.
Indoor Seating.
The decor inside is simple, wooden tables and padded benches.  One interesting thing is the selection of greeting cards and magazines for sale, a bit of a strange offering, which I never saw anyone even glance at.  I wonder if they really sell many?
Front Counter.
The front area contains a cooler with beverages, a few bags of chips, and, of course, the interesting part to me was of course the huge array of baked goods in the case.  All standard offerings, and none looked remarkable.  When do random little cafes have good baked goods?  Spoiler: when they are Espresso Roma Cafe!
Menus, register.
The menu contains simple sandwiches and salads, a few breakfast dishes, standard coffee drinks.  Again, nothing remarkable, although I did note the large selection of tea, all loose leaf, in glass canisters behind the register.  Under the menu board was an equally large selection of flavor syrups, probably the largest collection I've ever seen.  Clearly, they care about offering variety, but still, this all looks pretty "normal" and unremarkable.

Service matched everything else I felt about the place on my first glance; I was barely acknowledged, and while not un-friendly, the person taking my order seemed to care less about my existence.  A second employee (or owner?), was always seated near the back door, talking away on a phone, not working the counter or register, even when it backed up.

Judging the cafe on looks alone, I had zero expectations that it was even worth trying.  It truly seemed like as mediocre of a place as I'd ever find, and the Yelp reviews agreed.  3.5 stars, no rave reviews.

But ... it was fantastic.  Good decaf coffee (such a rare find), and the baked good compete with my favorite bakeries.  I'm not joking.  By my third visit, I no longer wanted to just run in and grab something and be on my way, I wanted to sit and linger, as the ambiance won me over, and I felt entirely at home.


As I mentioned, they roast their own coffee beans, and it shows.  The decaf coffee is among the best I've ever had in San Francisco.
Decaf Iced Americano.  $2.50.
This is, hands down, the strongest decaf I've ever tasted.  I took one sip, tasted the deep complexity, and wondered if I was accidentally given regular.  But, given that I did not get wired from it, I think it really was decaf.  Just really, really great decaf.  Probably the best I've ever had.  They say they roast in small batches, and serve it right after, and, well, it shows.  Since decaf is particularly finicky, I've often thought freshness matters more than for regular.

If I were drinking it hot, I would have left it black, and savored the amazing flavor in this cup of coffee.  But, it was a hot day, and I'd ordered it iced to be refreshing.  For some reason, I always like my iced coffee a bit milky and sweet, so I added milk and sugar to it.

The drink condiment station is well stocked, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and cocoa to sprinkle on, in addition to standard sweeteners and an array of milk offerings.  They did have non-sugar sweetener by the condiment station, but it was a generic brand.  Splenda was also available, but only at the register, which I found a bit odd, why wasn't it with the others?

I was also impressed that for lattes and whatnot, you could choose from a large selection of milks, including both almond and soy.  As I noted above, the lineup of flavor syrups available is probably the most extensive I've ever seen anywhere.  They really do provide a slew of options.

On my second visit, I ordered another iced decaf Americano, because it was again a beautiful sunny day.  The Marina seems to win on weather.  Or maybe I just never bother venture that far on colder days.  Anyway, it was again very good.  And on my third visit, same result.  Insanely strong, very good decaf.  By my third visit, I even stopped adding milk, just appreciating the coffee for its deep flavor.

I'd love to return to try a hot beverage, because this decaf was shockingly good!

$2.50 is a reasonable price for a drink, particularly given the location.  On my second visit, I was charged only $2, which is the price for a non-iced.  I'm not complaining, but I thought it was interesting that they clearly add $0.50 to any iced drink on the menu, but charged me for non-iced.  On the third visit, it was back to $2.50.  I'm assuming he just keyed in the wrong thing on my second visit.

Baked Goods

The lineup of baked goods is incredible, the entire front case is filled with goodies.  Muffins (carrot, blueberry, lemon poppyseed, raisin bran), scones (currant, cranberry), apple turnovers, croissants in more flavors than I can count, cookies of all styles, biscotti.  None were labelled with variety or prices, so I had to obnoxiously ask what the flavors were on each visit.

The baked goods didn't look like ones from any of the big bakeries that supply most coffee shops in SF, so  I asked where they came from.  I was told that they were baked in-house.  Hmm.  They didn't look particularly special.  And what nondescript coffee shop makes great house made pastries?  Apparently this one.  They rival most bakeries I've been to in SF.
Cheese Puff.  $1.75.
On my first visit, I got something called a cheese puff.  I know that sounds like a savory product, but don't be fooled by the name, this was a dessert.

To start, I really have no idea why I picked this pastry.  I love paring a baked good with coffee in the morning, but it was afternoon when I visited, so my standard choice of muffin or scone didn't seem quite right, and I don't really like cookies.   So I picked the strange looking "cheese puff", which turned out to be puff pastry dough, filled in the center with sweetened cheese, dusted with powdered sugar.

It was fantastic.

First, the dough.  It was some of the best pastry I've ever encountered.  It was incredibly flaky, with visible layers like a croissant, but it was thick and crispy on the outside, like a pie crust.  I'm really not sure what technique they used here, but it was basically all the best parts of a croissant and a pie crust, all at once.  I adored how flaky it was, but how it was easy to break off in chunks like a pie crust, if that makes any sense.

The filling was sweetened cheese (ricotta?), accented by citrus notes (lemon?).  Because of the form of the puff, there was a very generous amount of the filling, far more than you get in a traditional danish.  I really liked how well this shape worked for maximizing the filling, generally one of the best parts.

The whole thing was dusted with powdered sugar which sweetened it up a bit.

I adored this creation.  So hard to classify what it was exactly, somewhat like the cross between a mini pie and a cheese danish.  I have no idea if they make puffs with other fillings, but I think fruit or nut fillings would be equally successful in this form.  I'd gladly get another, but I'd also like to try their other offerings.

The price of only $1.75 for a fresh baked pastry was incredible.  None of the baked goods had prices listed anywhere, so this was a pleasant surprise when I was rung up.

Update: I had to try this again, and did so several visits later, but I was far less enamored with it.  The dough wasn't nearly as flaky or crusty as I remembered, and almost seemed stale.  The filling didn't seem as generous, and the cheese seemed almost almond scented?  It wasn't bad, it just wasn't nearly as good as I recalled.  I finished it easily, but it wasn't really something I'd want again.


The croissant lineup was as impressive as their flavor syrups: plain, chocolate, almond, raspberry, apple, ham and cheese, sweet cheese, and probably a few others.  I had no reason to believe that their croissants would be good, as they looked totally generic and good croissants are hard to find.  But, spoiler, I loved them!
Sweet Cheese Croissant.  $2.10.
On my second visit, I was hoping to get a scone, since I'd been on a serious scone kick, and I visited in the morning.  But the only type of scones they had were currant, which, just didn't seem exciting.  The muffins didn't really look great, so I didn't want one of them, which left me with croissants, not that the croissants looked like anything special themselves.  But, then again, I wasn't impressed by the looks of the cheese puff either and loved it, so, I decided to give a croissant a try.

Inspired by the delicious sweet cheese filling from the cheese puff, I went for the sweet cheese croissant.  I'm not actually sure I've ever had a cheese croissant before.  I've had cheese danishes, but not croissants.

Anyway.  The croissant dough was pretty good, and I enjoyed the flavor, clearly made with plenty of butter.  The dough was sweetened.  I liked the sweetness to the dough, making it more like a sweet bread than a standard croissant.  It wasn't particularly flaky or crispy, but it was fresh tasting and moist.

The filling was absolutely delicious, and I loved the additional moistness it added to the center.  Sweetened ricotta, just like the cheese puff.  I was seriously impressed by how much they stuffed inside.  No skimping here, and almost every bite I had contained a generous amount of the cheese filling.

It was also drizzled with icing, which was the component that almost made me not pick the croissant.  Not because I don't like icing, but because it looked hard, and was scraped off in some places.  It looked like it wouldn't be good and couldn't possibly be fresh.  But, keeping in theme with this review, although it didn't look good, it tasted great.  The dough was sweetened, the filling was sweetened, but somehow the extra icing didn't throw it over the top sweetness-wise, it just accented it perfectly.

I really liked everything about this, and although it was huge, I easily devoured it.  I'd get another, but first I wanted to try the entire lineup.  (After trying more croissants, I deem this one my favorite flavor, and is what I'll go back to when I get my next one).

Again, no prices were listed, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it ring up for only $2.10.  For a housemade, filled croissant, a huge one at that.  Really?  The prices are incredible.
Raspberry Croissant $2.10, Decaf Iced Americano $2.50.
On my next visit, I went for the raspberry croissant, since I was eying it before.

Once I received it, I realized that I'm pretty sure I've never had a raspberry croissant before either.  Raspberry danishes, sure, but not croissants.  And I realized I had no idea what I expected to be inside.

The croissant itself was just like the cheese one, flaky on the outside, moist on the inside, well layered, full of buttery flavor.  And just like the cheese croissant, it had icing drizzled all over the top, this time pink, and actually raspberry flavored.  It also was hard, which didn't turn out to be a bad thing, and I appreciated the crunch it added.

The filling was raspberry jelly, just like you'd find in a jelly donut.  I took two bites, and realized the genius of what I was eating - it was a mix between a jelly donut and a croissant!  Second to apple fritters, jelly donuts are my favorites.  The extra icing on top was similar to having sugar on the outside of jelly donut, something that always seems unnecessary due to the sweet filling, but, well, necessary too.  The end result was something better than the sum of its parts.  I'd pick this over a jelly donut any day.

The only downside is that, unlike the cheese croissant, and unlike the cheese puff, the amount of filling inside this croissant was a bit lacking.  I had many bites that were without any of the raspberry jam.  Sure, the croissant was very good on its own, but, it would have been much better if more generously stuffed.

The $2.10 price tag was again entirely reasonable.  I liked this quite a bit, but I did prefer the cheese one, mostly due to the quantity of the filling.  I'd be tempted to get this again just to see if this was a fluke, if it normally comes with more filling, or I'd gladly go back to either of the cheese creations.  Or ... maybe time to try the almond croissant?
Almond Croissant.  $2.10.
So, on my next visit, I went, prepared to finally move on to an almond croissant.  Except I didn't see one that looked almond.  When I asked what kinds were available, the guy mentioned almond.  So I ordered it, even though I didn't know which one I was selecting.

I didn't realize it was almond due to the fact that that I didn't see almonds; generally almond croissants are crusted in slivered almond, right?  This did have a few slivers of almond, but they were buried under powdered sugar.

That isn't to say that almond was under-used in this croissant.  The inside was absolutely loaded with ground and slivered almonds.  This was unlike any almond croissant I'd had before; usually they have  almond paste inside, this didn't have paste at all, it actually just had the almond.  The almond flavor wasn't as intense since it wasn't a concentrated paste.

There also wasn't just one layer of almond filling, rather, each layer of dough had almond filling between it.  Certainly the most filling I've seen in any croissant.

And, like the other filled croissants I have tried at Espresso Roma, it wasn't a standard, flaky croissant, but, I still liked it.  The outside was crusty, and the inside was more doughy.  Sooo much butter was clearly used, and I really liked the sweetness of the dough itself.

This was certainly the most unique almond croissant I've ever had, and I did easily finish it, but I won't go for this one again.  Back to the cheese or raspberry!  (Although, really, what I want is raspberry AND cheese, which I don't think they make ... ).
Apple Filled Croissant.  $2.10.
Another visit, another new croissant to try!  It was hard to not just get the raspberry or cheese croissants again, since they had a new flavor: apple, perfect for the fall weather.

It was a really interesting pastry, basically, an apple pie stuffed inside a croissant.  Cooked cubes of apple, soft but not mushy, well spiced.  Clearly actual chunks of apple and not just a goo like danishes so often have in the centers.  So far, so good, except .... I don't really like apple pie, or apple filling.  Which, I should have realized before I ordered it.  There was nothing wrong with the filling, and I thought it was fairly unique, but it really wasn't for me.  I scraped out the apple filling and enjoyed the croissant itself, because that was truly delicious.

Flaky, crusty top, crispy bottom, doughy layers inside.  Slightly sweet, perfectly buttery.  I love the mix of crispy exterior and moist interior.

Like all of their croissants, it was huge, yet I devoured it.  I can't get over how delicious their croissant dough is!  But, I obviously wouldn't pick this flavor again.


I finally decided to try something other than a croissant.  Espresso Roma offers a slew of muffins including all the standard flavors of blueberry, lemon poppy, and bran with raisins.  And, low-fat blueberry.
Low-Fat Blueberry Muffin.  $2.
For some reason, I picked the low-fat blueberry.  Now, when do I ever go low-fat?  Never.  But ... I went to Espresso Roma directly after a barre class, and I was feeling ... healthy.  Ok, healthy is relative here.  I used it as inspiration to finally try a muffin.

Bad move.  Maybe their muffins just aren't as good as the croissants.  Maybe low-fat was the problem.  I don't know.  It wasn't good.

It was crazy dense.  A medium size muffin, but, it weighed a ridiculous amount.  So.  Dense.  A brick.  And not a flavorful one.  It just tasted too ... healthy.  The only good thing was the large blueberries inside.

I brought it to Ojan since he likes blueberry muffins, but, he took a single bite and didn't want any more either.  Clearly would not get again.

$2 was a ridiculously reasonable price for a muffin though.


I avoided trying a scone from Espresso Roma for a long time.  There were many reasons for this.  First, I'm just very particular about my scones.  I like them crispy on the outside, moist inside, with a great crumble to them, and a nice tang.  I usually want them warm.  And served with jam and clotted cream.  The Espresso Roma scones looked like they would satisfy literally none of my criteria.  And, on all of my visits, the only varieties available were cranberry or currant, flavors I would never pick.  I want nuts, I want glazes, I want fresh fruits inside.

It took a long time for me to try a scone.
Cranberry Scone. $2.25.
I decided to give one a go, just for research purposes.  For you my dear readers.

It didn't look like any scone I'd ever seen.  It was really cake-y.  It looked like a cross between a cake and a cookie.

And it pretty much was.  The base was slightly sweet, a bit tangy, not crumbly like I like my scones.  But, the flavor was good.  While I'd prefer anything other than dried cranberries, they weren't awful, and the bit of chew added was nice.

So, I did actually like it.  It wasn't what I think of as a scone, but it paired with my coffee just like a coffee cake would, which really was what I wanted anyway.  I'd get another, although I still wish they had more flavors.

At $2.25 it was the priciest item I ever got at Espresso Roma Cafe, and I'm not really sure why it is more expensive than the others, as it seems like the croissants should be far more labor intensive, but this price was still entirely reasonable.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Gantry Restaurant & Bar, Sydney

The Gantry is a new establishment in Sydney, located along the waterfront in Walsh Bay, inside the Pier One Sydney Harbour hotel.  They specialize in on of my favorite cuisines: fresh, local seafood.

On my recent business trip to Sydney, I visited Gantry with a group of 4 other co-workers for dinner on a Monday night.

Yes, I picked a new, waterfront, hotel restaurant, with seafood on a Monday night.  All sorts of red flags should be sounding now.  Going to a restaurant in its first few months of opening isn't usually a recipe for success.  Better to give them time to work out the kinks.  Dining with waterfront views?  Generally pricey and overrated, with the food paling in comparison to the views.  And seafood, or even higher end dining in general, on a Monday, when the executive chef isn't around and seafood is less fresh?  Not ever recommended.  (And to be honest, higher end dining in Sydney in the first place?  Not something I really recommend.  I've kinda ruled it out, choosing to focus on what Sydney does well, which is casual cafes, awesome brunches, and flavorful thai food).  Oh, a hotel restaurant?  Right.

But, here I was, seeking out The Gantry.  I did have some restrictions that lead me there, such as one diner with a nut allergy, which ruled out my thai choices, plus a vegetarian, and the fact that it had to be a Monday, and many places I'd like to go weren't open.  That all said, I actually had decent hopes for The Gantry.

While it had only been open a few months, initial reviews were positive.  The photos I saw of the cuisine looked good.  And, they have a really large cocktail list, another element that mattered to my group.

Thus, The Gantry it was.  Spoiler: I wasn't disappointed, and we even returned with a much larger group to visit the bar later in the week.  They really take quality seriously at The Gantry, and it shows.  I'd be happy to return.

The Setting

As I mentioned, The Gantry is located inside the Pier One Sydney Harbour hotel.  We couldn't find any signs out front, and kinda awkwardly peeked around until someone asked if they could help us, and then they directed us inside.

The front space is a generous lounge, with comfortable seating, dim lighting, and a nice atmosphere.  They serve cocktails, bar snacks, and a more casual menu than the main restaurant here.  It is this area that we returned to a few days later.
Adjacent to the lounge area is a gorgeous bar with seating.
Dining Room.
We were seated in the main dining room, very dimly lit (hence the awful photo, sorry!)  Tables are wooden, without tablecloths, but with cloth napkins, modern.  Our table also had a small lamp and salt and pepper grinders on it.  The vibe was a bit energetic, with nice music playing in the background.

The decor was more casual than I expected given the cuisine, which I appreciated.  It wasn't stuffy at all.  The ambiance matched the service level.  The service was good, far better than most in Sydney, but not fine dining level.  For example, when I left to use the bathroom, my napkin was not refolded.  Crumbs were not scraped away between courses.  But service was attentive, friendly, and polite, and that is what matters.  Water was glasses were kept refilled, sharing plates and utensils were brought between courses, and our needs were perfectly met.
Seafood Counter.
One end of the dining room houses the seafood counter, with the day's offerings visible on ice.  I thought this was a bit gimmicky, but I guess it was nice to see the fresh seafood?
Shellfish: pipis, mussels, scallops, oysters.
The Gantry reminded me a bit of restaurants in San Francisco, in that they pride themselves on the fact that the chef visits the fish market every morning to source the seafood, that produce comes from within close proximity to the city, etc.  This is all totally normal in San Francisco, but not something you see often in Sydney.  They were eager to tell us about their sourcing.

Next to the seafood counter, still out in the dining room, was the cold apps station, where I was able to watch a cook plating up salads and assorted seafood throughout the night.  I always like to watch the action.
The rest of the food came from the main kitchen, which runs along the other wall, not quite open, but you could somewhat see through the pass.

The Executive Chef is Chris Irving, and, just like telling us about the seafood and produce sourcing, our server wanted to tell us about him.  He worked for Gordon Ramsey at some point, and was personal chef to the Beckhams before coming to The Gantry.  Fancy.


POSH Derby. $19.
"Makers Mark smashed with powdered citrus sugar, mint and blood peach puree ~ Served tall and frosted as any great swizzle should be!!! "

I started with a cocktail, and opted for the "POSH Derby", presumably named after POSH (remember, the chef worked for the Beckhams, and if you aren't up on your pop culture, means he worked for Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice).

My first sip certainly delivered a punch.  This was a strong drink, and you could really taste the Maker's Mark.  But it was also very sweet, sweeter than I wanted.  It was somehow both incredibly alcoholic and incredibly sweet, all at once, but not in a balanced way.  The saving grace was the mint, which added a refreshing element.  Luckily, the glass had a generous amount of crushed ice, and as it melted and watered the drink down a bit, I grew to like it more.

Other cocktails enjoyed by the table seemed more successful, and I wish I grabbed some photos, as each was served in an entirely different manner, one with a hand cut ice ball, another quite frothy on top.

The $19 price was in line with Sydney cocktails.
Mocktail, Not Too Sweet.  $12.
As always, Ojan went for a mocktail, and gave his standard guidance of "not too sweet" and "not just fruit juice".

He liked the result, a refreshing ginger based drink, with some serious tartness from yuzu perhaps?  It also had a frothy top.

Savory Food 

The menu is broken into several sections: "The Seafood Counter", Starters, Mains, and Sides.  We of course hit all areas of the menu.
Seafood Counter: Balmain bug, grilled, half. $15.
We started with an item from the Seafood Counter, because it clearly is a focus of the restaurant.  Our choices were oysters, assorted cooked shellfish, or grilled selections of rock lobster, king prawns, or Balmain bugs.

We opted for the Balmain bugs, since they are the most unique to Australia.  You may recall that I've had different bugs a few different times, to varying degrees of success, but I knew Balmain bugs are larger than prawns, smaller than lobster, and are known to be fairly sweet, so I was eager to try them so simply prepared, to really experience the bugs themselves and understand them better.

And indeed, the preparation was simple, and simply presented.  Our half a bug, split open, grilled, and served up on a wooden board with a small garnish of greens and red onions, plus a lemon to drizzle over.

The bug was nicely grilled, as you can see with the char on it, which gave it a great smoky flavor.  The flesh was tender and sweet, not at all rubbery.  It was light and fresh, and I appreciated the little salad on the side.  The lemon definitely enhanced the flavor.

Overall, the best Balmain bug I've had, and I'm glad we tried it, but I wouldn't get it again.  My least favorite item of the night.  Just not really exciting, but it was a nice, light opening to the meal.
Starter: Heirloom tomatoes / Shaw river buffalo cheese / black garlic. $16. 
Moving into the starters, we got two orders of the heirloom tomatoes, since we had one vegetarian and everyone seemed to want to try it.

I didn't intend to really have much of this, as I was saving my stomach space for the upcoming seafood and desserts, but, once everyone started raving about it, I couldn't resist.

The presentation was stunning yet rustic, also served on a wooden platter.

The base was actually grilled bread, not listed on the menu.  Like the Balmain bug, it had a smoky quality to it that I really loved, and it was perfectly oiled up and yet still crispy.

Heirloom tomato chunks came in several colors, and all were quite fresh and ripe.  I was starting to understand the point they make about sourcing great produce, as they really did seem to.  The cheese was creamy and obviously quality.

The most surprising component was the balsamic aioli, in little pools on the platter.  It was super strongly flavored, but went perfectly with the dish, and far more interesting than just balsamic.  You know me, I'm a sucker for creamy sauces.

Tomatoes, mozzarella, and bread, with balsamic and oil is obviously a classic dish, but this was a really beautiful way to compose the dish, and we all really enjoyed it.  I particularly liked the tomato with balsamic aioli, as I used to always snack on tomatoes with mayo, and it reminded me of that, just in a far more flavorful way.  And the smoky bread of course, which just kicked the flavors up a notch from standard toasted bread.

My second favorite dish of the day, and the favorite of several others.
Starter: Spanner crab / green apple / bergamot / radish / sorrel. $22.
We then moved on to another starter (which we actually asked to have served with our mains, a request that was accommodated with no problem).

This was the dish that I had been eying.  I love crab, but I'm used to Dungeness crab in California, and I'm not that familiar with Spanner crab.  I was quite curious, and had read reviews that mention that it was creamy, and, well, you know me and creamy, mayo based things.

It was another stunning presentation, with three generous quenelles of the crab mixture, thin slices of various radishes and apples, garnished with sorrel leaves.  I saw the appetizer chef actually picking garnish from live herb plants near his station, they were that fresh!

This was really, really good.  The crab mixture was creamy, but still felt light and fresh, not too mayo-ed down.  It also had some kick to it, which woke up my palette instantly.  Some of the radish was pickled, which gave an awesome tartness.  The only component I didn't care for was what seemed to be an apple puree doted on the plate.  It complimented the fresh apple slices, but was a bit of a strange consistency for me.

This was beautiful, flavorful, light, and hands down my favorite dish of the meal.   Most certainly the best crab salad I've ever encountered.  I'd get it again in a heartbeat.  The $22 price was very reasonable given the large serving of crab.  It definitely should be shared though, I think the full serve would have been a bit too much, even though I adored it.
Main: Fresh linguini / Field to Feast zucchini flowers / garlic scapes / white wine. $19. (with pipis).
Moving into the real mains,  which included lamb chops, rib eye, duck , or huge sharing plates of lamb shoulder, tomahawk steak, or a whole chicken for the non-seafood fans, plus a single vegetarian choice of pasta.

No one opted for the meats at our table, but our vegetarian diner went for his only option, the pasta.  One other diner also opted for this dish, but added in pipis once the server suggested it.

I tried a pipi out of curiosity, even though I don't tend to like that kind of mollusk.  It was basically like a little clam.

Neither of the folks who picked this dish were particularly impressed, they felt that it lacked flavor and complexity, a sad comparison to the previous dishes.  I didn't try the pasta, so I have no comment.
Main: Petuna sea trout / tamarind / warrigal greens / fennel. $32.
Of course, I was there for the seafood.  Cooked seafood choices were barramundi, sea trout, or flathead fish and chips.  I actually really wanted the fish and chips, and once I saw some served to nearby tables I was a bit sad that I didn't get it, but opted for the sea trout instead.  On previous visits to Sydney I recalled really enjoying the trout.

The trout was very moist, nicely cooked, served skin on, but the skin wasn't crispy as I'd prefer.  It didn't have much flavor or seasoning however, and, being a sauce girl, I somewhat wanted a sauce with it.  There were flavorful components on the plate however, like the onion marmalade.  The flavor in that was incredibly strong, and everyone else loved it, but I didn't like it at all, and didn't see how the crazy strong flavor was supposed to pair with the fish.  It just blew away the delicate nature of the fish for me.

The fennel was a light and refreshing salad on the side, quite fresh, but not particularly exciting.

What was exciting however were the sautéed warrigal greens, hiding under the fish.  This was my first time encountering warrigal greens, indigenous to Australia, and I think not really exported elsewhere?  They were just slightly wilted, perfectly seasoned, and full of flavor.  I would have gladly devoured a huge serving of the greens.

Overall, this was my third pick of the night, but, the greens alone did rank above the tomato starter.  Everything was well prepared, but it just wasn't that interesting.  The $32 price was entirely reasonable for quite a large portion of trout.

I still really wanted to try the fish and chips, or perhaps the fried fish sandwich on the bar menu ...
Side: Beetroot homefries / dill aioli. $8.
And finally, we picked one side dish to share, the beetroot homefries.  These weren't anything that the others would have ordered, but I knew they were supposed to be quite unique.

The chunks of beet had a slightly crispy coating and were deep fried.  The cook on them was just right, they weren't mushy, they weren't too crispy, they weren't too oily.  The others adored these, but to me ... they were just chunks of beets.  Everyone appreciated how hot and fresh they were served as well.

This was Ojan's favorite dish of the night, and we all really liked the creamy dill aioli.


Next, moving on to a part of the evening that I always look forward to: dessert!
Dilmah Peppermint Tea. $4.
Since I love to have a bitter coffee alongside my sweets, but didn't want to drink caffeine at night, I ordered a decaf long black.  My server's face fell.  "I don't think we have decaf ..." she said.  Indeed, they didn't.  This was the first place in Sydney that didn't actually have decaf, which surprised me.  In Tokyo I recall many places not having decaf, but Sydney always has!

I asked about the tea selection instead.  Standard choices of English Breakfast, Chamomile, Earl Grey, and Peppermint were options, so I opted for the mint.  It was Dilmah brand, served in a individual tea pot.  It was fine, but I really wanted coffee.
Ebenezer goat’s milk pudding / rosella / oatmeal crumble / fresh honeycomb. $15.
The dessert menu had only three items on it (besides a cheese platter), but that was fine with me, since I was eying this one.  I love puddings, particularly when combined with other textural components.  I read reviews where it was described as a cross between a dessert and the ultimate comfort breakfast, like a dessert version of a greek yogurt, honey, and fruit parfait.  This all sounded great to me.

The astute reader might still wonder why I'd order this, since it was a goat's milk pudding, and, I hate goat cheese.  Somehow in my head I thought that I wasn't goat's milk adverse, only goat cheese.  Whoops.

I eagerly dug into the creamy pudding, to find ... doh, yup, it tasted goaty.  And I really don't like goaty.  The oatmeal crumble that I thought would add a great crunch was rather soggy.  And the jam, which I guess was rosella jam, was far too sweet, you really had to be careful not too get too much of it in a spoonful.

So even if I didn't have a thing against goat milk, the other components of this also didn't quite work for me.  For once, I wasn't compelled to finish a dessert.
Persimmon parfait / local mascarpone / coconut /  coriander. $15.
Of course, I never get just one dessert.

The menu listed a mango parfait, which I was eying. I love mango, and in particular, mango in Sydney is so, so good. But alas, mango season has come to an end, and even though the printed menu still had mango on it, they changed it out to be persimmon instead. Less exciting for me since persimmon is abundant in San Francisco, but we still opted to get one as our second dessert, since there were 5 of us, and one dessert was clearly not sufficient.

It turned out to be a winner, quite fascinating.

On top was fluffy coconut shaved ice, light, refreshing. The body of the parfait was a mascarpone mousse, also really light, far airer than it looked at initial glance. It was sweet but subtly infused with coriander, which added an interesting additional layer of complex flavor. On top was something crumbly, which I appreciated for the additional texture, although I never quite identified what it was. And of course, the sweet fruity persimmon.

I really liked it overall, but could have done without the ice. But the creamy light mousse, fruit, and crumble were all winners, and I appreciated a good dessert that didn't seem way too decadent. I realize now in writing this up how light many of our options were all night, from the simply grilled Balmain bugs, to the crab salad, to the sea trout, to this. There were heavier options on the menu, like fish and chips, but overall, it really was a nicely balanced menu.
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