Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cruffins @ Brewtown Newtown, Sydney

Cronuts, aka, croissant + donuts for those of you living under a rock, have taken the US by storm (for good reason).  When I was in Sydney, I kept hearing about their famous cronuts, from a place called Brewtown Newtown (although called "Brewnuts", because, trademarks).

Brewtown Newtown is actually mostly a coffee shop/cafe, not a bakery, so I was a bit skeptical, but so many food blogs raved about this place.  It is in Newtown however, further afield that our normal Sydney adventures take us, so I didn't think I'd really get in a visit.  That is, until we went for dim sum at Luly and Yum Yum, and I was left a bit unsatisfied by the lackluster dessert.  I always need dessert!  The group wanted to get coffee afterwards, and I knew Brewtown Newtown was just down the street.  They could get the coffee they wanted, and I could try a cronut.  Everyone would win.

So I lead us down the street to Brewtown Newtown, where we discovered just how popular it was.  At the front was a place you could order just drinks and baked goods to go (or, go drool over them in the display cases), and the rest of the space was for sit down dining with table service, absolutely packed.

The cafe actually sounds quite nice, serving breakfast and lunch, with seasonal menus focused around farm fresh, "paddock to plate" cuisine, free range, organic, yadda yadda.  Once we sat, I was able to see dishes delivered to tables around us, and it all looked good.  The most impressive is the Elvis Burger: "savory brewnut, canadian bacon, gruyere and mayo served with chips and relish".  Yes, that is a bacon and cheese topped burger, served with cronuts as buns.  OMG.  Many tables ordered this.  I actually laughed a bit, as there were many pairs of male + female together, and the males all ordered the crazy burger, and the females salads.  So ... stereotypical?  I didn't even see a female ask for a bite of one of these.  I totally would have!

Anyway, as for the coffee, they serve Single Origin roasters, one of my favorite beans in Sydney.  I tried a decaf long black ($3.50).  The coffee wasn't very good, harsh and acidic.  It had an oil slick floating on top, never a good sign.  It also had no crema whatsoever.  This is not representative of Single Origin's product, so I'm not sure what went wrong.  I asked to have it topped off with a bit more hot water to dilute it, and was brought a cute little pitcher of hot water so I could dilute it myself.  That was a nice touch.

Ojan opted for a hot chocolate ($4), which was unremarkable.
The place was packed, and we had to wait for a table even though it was about 3pm.  The vibe was lively and hopping.  Music selection was a bit hilarious, obviously very hip, moving from 80s pop hits to classical numbers, and everything in between.

The space has brick walls and exposed beams, very industrial feeling.
Counters at the front display the baked goods in all their glory, starting with the Brewnuts of course.

The flavors of the day were: cinnamon, glazed, chocolate crumble, blood orange, lemon myrtle, fruit & nut, passion fruit curd, and salted caramel with macadamia.

Unlike some other cronuts, these do not have any filling, rather, they are just the croissant donut, with a hole in the center, and nothing between the layers.  The flavors are all in the toppings.  They did look quite stunning.
But this is Sydney, and a hip place, so they have continued innovating.  In addition to cronuts they have ... cruffins!  You can probably guess what this is, a hybrid croissant-muffin.  But unlike the brewnuts, these ARE filled.  In my world, filling makes better, so even though I set out to get a cronut, I quickly changed my game plan and started drooling over the cruffins instead.

The cruffins available were lychee & rosewater, lemon meringue, dulce de leche, cinnamon, almond frangipane, and salted caramel with caramel corn.
Salted Caramel with Popcorn Cruffin.
We obviously had to go for a cruffin, even though the brewnuts are the item everyone raves about from Brewtown.  I couldn't resist having not only a croissant with awesome toppings, but filled too!

The lemon meringue looked awesome with the meringue on top, but neither Ojan nor I really like lemon desserts, so, we didn't go for that.  And I don't like rosewater.  Ojan ruled out almond. The cinnamon was too boring.  This left the sweet options of dulce de leche and salted caramel.  The salted caramel came topped with caramel corn, which just seemed a bit too awesome to resist, so, it became the winner.

The caramel corn was indeed quite tasty.  Did it belong perched on top of my cruffin?  Not really, but it was sweet, crunchy, and went perfectly with my coffee.  I'd gladly purchase just their caramel corn.
I carefully cut it open to reveal the cream filling.  This was no easy task, as the cream came spilling out, and, croissants aren't exactly easy to cut with a butter knife.

The croissant dough was great.  It was crispy on the outside, buttery and flaky and perfectly laminated dough.  However ... I didn't like the cream.  I'm not sure what it was about it, but the flavor just didn't do it for me.  It was creamy and sweet, so I really should have.  Ojan loved it though, and said this treat made his day.  Of course, he added that he'd like to have some chocolate on top too.

So, this was a quasi-success.  The pastry was good, and that is the hard part to nail, so I have every reason to believe that I would have enjoyed another flavor.  Or, perhaps the Brewnut really is the item to get, as these aren't about the filling, more about the quality pastry.  I'm glad I tried it, and would return to try another item sometime.
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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dinner at Pinbone, Sydney, May 2015

You may recall that on my previous Sydney trip in February 2015, I came back absolutely raving about one place: Pinbone.  I went for dinner on my second to last night in town (and would have gone back the next night if they were open!) and returned for brunch the next day.  The dinner was amazing, the dessert stunning, and the brunch perhaps the best brunch I've ever had.  And I adored the ambiance.

It goes without saying that when I returned to Sydney in May, there was one and only one place that I knew I HAD to return to, and Pinbone was it.  I made a reservation for myself, Ojan, and two of our friends who are locals.  Since I've reviewed the atmosphere, menu concepts, and general elements of the restaurant before, I'll skip that this time around, and dive right in with the review of our meal.

Summary though?  The best chicken liver I've ever had.  The best sunchokes I've ever had.  Fascinating pickled peanuts.  A dish Ojan dubbed "toasted marshmallow salmon".  Overall, a entire meal of winning dishes, all fantastic preparations of familiar ingredients, combined in unexpected ways.  Still my favorite restaurant in Sydney.

To go along with my meal, I also wanted to sip on something alcoholic to truly relax.  The drink menu had two sakes, three beers, wine, and a couple classic cocktails.  Since no one else was drinking, I opted for a glass of wine, and, even though I knew I would mostly ordering seafood, I opted for red.  I was in a red sort of mood. I asked for a recommendation on the lightest option, since I was pairing with seafood. The suggestion was a Jean-Paul Daumen grenach, syrah, merlot, and cab sav blend, which I went for. It was a light, easy drinking wine.  I appreciated that they recommended the least expensive wine on the list, clearly not trying to upsell, and offering up the best one to go with my meal.  The others all enjoyed the house sparkling water, again left on the table in a carafe for us to serve as we pleased.

Individual Snacks

The menu again started with "Individual Snacks", small bites all priced individually.  There were more options this time, but the classics of the "fairy bread", "smoky, cheesy, potato thing" and lamb ribs remained, as did the gougère, although this time filled with corn and bacon, rather than corn and miso as we had before.  All the snack bites were again priced $4-5 each.

Since the snacks are priced individually, each person can order whichever selections they want.  And somehow, everyone in our group wanted slightly different things.  I only tried a few snacks, since I had my eyes on basically ALL the sharing plates that were coming up next.
Assorted snacks, $4-5 each.
We wound up with a hodgepodge of items, but somehow, the kitchen managed to deliver them all at once, very soon after ordering.  As before, I was impressed with the speed at which they pump out the snacks.  The meal throughout had a good pace.

We skipped only three of the "snack" options: the "oyster, beef carpaccio, dill pickle", the "mussel, pickled daikon, chilli", and the chicken popper.

From top left, clockwise:
  • Fairy Bread: This is one of Pinbone's signature dishes, a play on the Australian childhood favorite of white bread topped with butter and hundreds and thousands (yes, this is a thing, look it up).  I wanted to try it last time, so I'm glad I was able to this time.  The base was toasted bread (brioche, way more exciting than simple white bread!), and it was spread with creamy mascarpone (I love butter, but mascarpone is even better!), and then, assorted roe and chives.  It was really a fun bite, and I loved how the roe popped in my mouth as I ate it.  The inspiration from fairy bread was obvious, but it actually reminded me a bit more of something American: a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon.  It had the same bread base, creamy spread, and slightly smoky fishy flavor.  In any case, fun, playful, and tasty. 
  • Corn and Bacon Gougère: Since I had a gougère last time and didn't really care for it, I skipped it this time around, but the preparation was a bite different.  It had bits of bacon on top and oozed a redish filling, which I assume was a creamy corn with bacon.  Last time it was corn and miso.  I love miso, but, bacon always makes better!
  • Smoky, Cheesy, Potato Thing: I also skipped these, since I had them previously.
  • Crispy Chicken Skin, Bread Sauce, Anchovy:  Now this was kinda the definition of a perfect snack.  An indulgent snack.  It was crispy and super salty, just like you want any snack to be.  It had a slightly fishy aftertaste, clearly from the anchovy, but it wasn't bad fishy, just, fishy.  I really liked this, and think it would make an awesome canapé or appetizer for a party.
  • Pork Crackling, Ricotta, Smoked Rockmelon: Ojan went for this, but, due to the rockmelon, I had to abstain, although I did want to try the crispy pork crackling.  Crispy, salty, creamy, sounded like another great bite.
  • Lamb Rib: Another one I skipped, since I don't care for lamb.
All the "snacks" were met with success with the group, and we were off to a tasty, fun start.

Cold Sharing Plates 

Narrowing down our order of sharing plates was incredibly difficult.  I wanted so many of them.

As before, the menu was broken into sections, starting with five light seafood options, moving into six slightly heavier poultry and offal dishes, followed by four more substantial dishes, and finally the largest selection, six vegetarian dishes.

Since I love seafood, we opted for three from the first section, one from the second, and one vegetable dish, skipping the third section entirely.  The kitchen coursed this for us into two groupings, in a way that made the most sense, starting with the cold dishes, moving into the hot.
Chicken liver parfait, persimmon, toast. $18.
Our first course began with our one choice from the second section: chicken liver parfait.  I can't resist a good liver dish (although of course, I prefer it to be foie)!

The other dishes in this section were a rabbit tartare (skipped due to my history with rabbits as pets, I just can't bring myself to eat them), duck hearts (I'm not opposed to trying this, but, limited stomach space!), lamb sweetbreads (this would have been my next choice if we were getting one more dish), and quail (meh, poultry, meh, little birds.  Although honestly, I was interested to see what they could do with quail, since I never care for it, and the chefs here are magic).

When the chicken liver showed up, I was slightly surprised.  Pinbone has a way of taking a list of ingredients and presenting it entirely different than you imagine, and this was no exception, but in this case, it was due to the word "parfait" in the dish name.  I expected a layered dish, probably layers of chicken liver and a persimmon compote, with toast on the side to spread it on.  I was right about the toast, although it was more of a crostini even, super crispy.

The chicken liver was probably the best I've ever had.  It was incredibly smooth and creamy.  Expertly seasoned.  Really flavorful.  You could taste the liver, which I wanted of course, but it wasn't too livery.  I think even those scared of liver would like this.

The persimmon was soft, perfectly ripe, super sweet, excellent paired with the richness of the chicken liver.  Liver and fruit, always a great pairing.

The surprise element of the dish was ... radicchio.  Not listed on the menu, and not what I'd expect to be served with chicken liver.  It really was just pieces of fresh, bitter radicchio.  But it worked.  Once I realized I wanted more liver, but didn't want to fill up on bread, I realized I could create lettuce wraps with the radicchio, stuffing it with a generous spoonful of liver and a chunk of persimmon, and it was awesome.

The perfect bite really was crispy toast, spread with a very generous smear of liver, and topped with a chunk of sweet ripe persimmon.  It had everything going on texture-wise and flavor-wise, crunchy and creamy, rich and sweet.

I really, really enjoyed this dish, as did the others.  I wanted to save room to try everything else, but I couldn't stop going back for more and more of it

My favorite dish of the night, and Ojan's as well, which was surprising, since he doesn't normally like liver, but said it grew on him.  The two of us easily polished this dish off.
Bonus! Peanut custard, pickled peanuts, edamame. $20.
Ok, I lied.  The astute reader will notice that I said there were 6 dishes listed in the second section, I just showed you one, and mentioned 4 that we didn't get.  Where was the 6th?

The 6th dish was a fascinating sounding peanut custard.  We actually discussed ordering it, since it sounded unique, and I do love both custards and peanuts, but, we had to cull our choices, so decided to skip it.

But ... the kitchen brought it out for us, complimentary.  Aww, thanks!  I was secretly thrilled, since I did want to try it from the start.

The base was a chilled creamy custard, which reminded me of soft tofu.  I didn't detect a lot of peanut flavor in it, but I'm not really sure what that would be like, as much as I love peanuts, it isn't like I'd want to eat a big block of peanut butter (ok, wait, nevermind, yes I would).

But that isn't to say that peanuts didn't show up here in a dramatic way.  It was covered in the pickled peanuts, which were just totally crazypants.  I had no idea you could pickle peanuts.  There was so much tartness in these.  I couldn't stop eating them, out of complete fascination.  Pickled peanuts!  Who knew?

The other toppings were edamame and fresh snow pea tendrils.  I loved the burst of freshness against the strong flavors of the pickled peanuts.

It was served in a light vinegar based broth, providing additional tartness.

This was my second to least favorite dish of the meal, but the pickled peanuts were just crazy fascinating, and I'm glad we got to try this dish.  It was in no one's top three.

I again loved the rustic charm of the assorted dishware that everything came on, specially crafted for Pinbone by local artisans.  This one was particularly stunning.
Pickled octopus, white beans, orange. $20.
The final dish that came in our first grouping was pickled octopus, from the first section of the menu.  We skipped the other cold selection from that section of bonito sashimi, which I'm sure was good, but, sounded the least interesting of all our choices.

The octopus was cooked, chilled, and sliced mostly into disks, although we had a few tentacles in the mix as well.  Everyone was skeptical about ordering this dish, since octopus can be so chewy and rubbery, but when done well, I really love it.  Sadly, this went the way everyone feared.  The slices of octopus were quite chewy.

Also in the mix were large white beans, nicely cooked, not mushy, not firm.  It was all sprinkled with a nori dust.

The broth was a citrus based broth, full of flavor, and pretty tasty.  Ojan loved this sauce, and once the octopus was gone, he took a spoon and tried to lap all of it up.  He stopped just short of picking up the dish and licking, but, if it had remained on the table much longer, he probably would have.

My least favorite dish of the evening, but Ojan at least loved the sauce.  Still, not in anyone's top three.

Hot Sharing Plates

Three cold dishes down, it was time to move into the hot dishes.   Our individual plates were exchanged out between the two rounds, which was appreciated, and a brief pause gave us time to contemplate and discuss the previous round.  Ojan couldn't stop talking about the chicken liver, and I don't blame him, it was still on my mind too.
Grilled salmon belly, charred shallot, mirin. $22.
We started with the dish I was most looking forward to, grilled salmon belly.

I wanted to order this on our previous visit, but it didn't make the cut then.  I was so jealous when I saw it walk by time and time again, so this time, we were getting it, no question.  Plus, I knew the Pinbone cooks did great things with the grill, since I loved the grilled kingfish wing so much last time.

The salmon belly was lightly cooked, with beautiful grill marks, served skin on.  It was fatty in a luxurious way.  I thought the char imparted on the fish was great, but Ojan took his first bite, and didn't like it.  "It tastes like burnt marshmallow", he declared.

I thought he was crazy.  It had the perfect char, what was he talking about?  But of course, I was doing my classic technique of trying each component individually first, before combining into a "perfect bite".  It was the puree on the plate that had the strong char flavor, not the fish itself, he just didn't realize this since he was eating it all together.  The puree was made from charred shallots.  It was crazy smoky.  Yes, a bit like a burnt marshmallow, like when you are toasting marshmallows and get impatient, and decide to just let it catch fire and seriously char.  But it wasn't a bad thing, and I loved the flavor of the char, and thought it cut the fattiness of the salmon nicely.  I was also just crazy impressed that they managed to get such an incredibly strong char flavor into that puree.

Once he went into it with his expectations adjusted, Ojan decided he liked it too.  "Toasted marshmallow salmon" he dubbed it, not intending it to be a negative comment, just reflective of what he tasted.  He deemed it the most interesting dish of the night

I also really liked the grilled spring onion that was served with it, and claimed the whole thing for myself.

Overall this was tasty and interesting, my third pick of the night, and second pick of another diner.
Leatherjacket & snowpeas. $22.
Our second hot dish was the leatherjacket.

The final hot dish from the first grouping on the menu was steamed pipis in garlic butter, which we also skipped, since we had pipis a few days prior at Gantry, and they just weren't a favorite.

I had seen photos of this dish, and knew it would be a nice, light offering, which I wanted, since I knew we had several rich dishes in our order, and were gearing up for an epic dessert feast.

The leatherjacket was indeed light, delicate, and somewhat refreshing after the heavier food.  I'm pretty sure this was my first time having leatherjacket.  It was nicely prepared, but not all that remarkable.

It was served over snowpeas, which were thinly sliced and chopped.  I think that was also a first for me, I don't think I've ever had them chopped up so small before.  They were cooked really nicely, not too cooked down, still a bit crispy.  I liked them quite a bit, again, a fascinating preparation of a familiar ingredient.

There were also some tart onions in the mix, which I thought overwhelmed the other more subtle flavors of the dish.

This was my forth, middle-of-the-road pick for me, but a strong favorite of another diner.  He said it was hands down his favorite.  I was amused in this meal how we all picked totally different dishes as our favorites.  I'm used to some slight differences of opinions, but in this meal, reviews were all over the place, although everyone was happy.

As I mentioned, we skipped the third section of the menu, the more substantial dishes of kingfish wings (delicious, but we had this last time, although I was tempted to get it again, as I loved it!), chicken breast (meh, chicken), rump cap (meh, rump), and pork (meh, pork).
Jerusalem artichoke, parnsip, barley. $14.
Our final hot dish was a vegetable selection.  This selection of the menu had the most options, six different choices, all of which were listed just simply as a list of vegetable ingredients, like "fennel, enoki, nori" or "mushrooms, yolk, sake".  We had to ask for clarification on what these dishes might be.

In the end, we took our server's recommendation for her favorite.  Ojan raised some red flags right away, saying "Julie, you don't like artichokes!"  I reminded him that "Jerusalem artichokes" are what we know as "sunchokes", and he immediately took back his statement, knowing how much I love sunchokes.

I came into this expecting to love it, because sunchokes, but wow, even with high expectations, and love of sunchokes, it blew me away.  I've had a lot of sunchoke dishes that I've loved in the past few years, but this was honestly the best sunchoke I've ever had.

Let me break the dish down.

The base was a creamy parsnip puree, smooth, well blended.  It was sprinkled with barley, which I think might have been toasted, as it was a bit crisp, and added a great crunch.  On the side was a grilled lemon, to squeeze and drizzle over.

Those elements were all good, fine, but it was the sunchokes that stole the show.  I have no idea how these were cooked, but they were insanely creamy inside, entirely unexpected  Deeply caramelized on the outside.  So incredibly good.

A perfect bite could easily be composed with creamy and crunchy elements, something I always like.  The second favorite for myself and one other diner, and number one pick for the other.


After our feast, we were pretty satisfied, but you know me, I always need dessert.  The Pinbone dessert menu is small, only 4 choices.  You'd think this would make things easy, but we struggled between ordering three or all four.  There were only four of us, and we were pretty full.  I knew from past experience that Pinbone desserts are HUGE, but, three of the four did sounded amazing.  In the end, we ruled out the daily tart and the lemon curd dish since neither Ojan nor I tend to like lemon desserts, although it sounded really fascinating (more on that soon).
Ready for dessert!
Desserts at Pinbone, like the rest of the meal, are designed to be shared, so dessert bowls were soon brought out.  I was stuffed, but waiting in eager anticipation.
Decaf Long Black. $4.
I also ordered a decaf long black to go along with my dessert, as I always do.

I had it the last time I went to dinner at Pinbone, and at brunch the week before (stay tuned for that review), so I was going to leave it out of this review, except there is a funny story.

I ordered my decaf long black, and was told by the server that they didn't have decaf.  I hesitated, because, well, I knew they had it the weekend before.  "Are you sure?", I asked, telling him I had it just a few days prior.  He went to check and came back able to confirm that yes, they did have decaf.  Lols.

I'm glad I checked, since, as always, I loved having my bitter black coffee alongside my sweet desserts and it was the perfect pairing.

Neopolitan. $14.
We started with the "Neopolitan", which we knew that in true Pinbone style wouldn't just be some vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream.

And indeed, it wasn't.

The top layer was actually a vanilla ice, the least interesting.

Next came strawberry tapioca, with an incredibly intense strawberry flavor.  Like the charred scallion puree, I again wondered how they managed to get so much flavor into it.

And finally, chocolate mousse, coated in chocolate crumbles.  Creamy, rich, chocolatey.  Hands down my favorite of the layers.

This was my favorite of the desserts, mostly due to the chocolate mousse layer, but I also liked the strawberry and chocolate combination.  Ojan's favorite as well.
Toasted sorghum ice-cream, buttermilk granita, brittle. $14.
This is the one I was intrigued by, and, since I loved the ridiculous ice cream sundae last time, so I assumed it would be equally elaborate.

The ice cream was creamy, but I didn't detect a very specific flavor to it.  I'm only familiar with sorghum in its usage to make molasses, or toasted and popped for cereal, so it isn't a flavor I know much about, but, this just tasted like sweet, creamy ice cream to me.  Fine, but nondescript.

There was also a fluffy mousse (meringue?), I believe buttermilk flavored, that I didn't care for.  The texture was off for me.

But on top was brittle.  Crispy, sweet brittle, studded with bits of popcorn.  OMG.

I probably don't talk about it often, but I love brittle, and have it several days a week with my morning coffee.  And popcorn is one of my favorite snack foods, savory or sweet.  Caramel corn is always high on my list of munchies.  So, popcorn brittle is right up my alley.  I loved it, and stole most of it to crunch on with my coffee.  Simple, but delicious.

Overall, I didn't care for this dessert much, besides the brittle of course, making it my third pick.  But that brittle was a winner.
Lemon curd, burnt milk, custard, black olive. $14.
Wait, didn't I say I only ordered two!  Yes, yes I did.  We settled on two, but, the lovely staff threw in a bonus dessert for us as well.  I love Pinbone for the food and the atmosphere already, but the staff?  They are what set it even further apart!

As I mentioned, we ruled this out because Ojan and I don't tend to care for lemon desserts.  But it sounded so interesting, with burnt milk and black olives?!

It was also unexpectedly a warm dish, which made it super comforting.

While I didn't like the lemon curd, the creamy custard was lovely, as was whatever the crispy topping was (presumably the black olive was hiding in here, along with the burnt milk?)

I really enjoyed the experience of eating this one, crispy, warm, comforting.  A great end to the meal, my second favorite of the desserts.

While I ranked my preferences of the desserts neopolitan, then lemon, then sorghum, that was the ordering for the dishes in their entirety.  Each one had one component that really stood out, that I really enjoyed.  Ranking just those individually, my list is: peanut brittle, chocolate mousse, crumble topping.  One dinner refused to pick a favorite, saying she enjoyed all three desserts quite a bit.
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