Monday, August 17, 2015

Brunch Takeaway from Pinbone, Sydney

On my trip to Sydney in February, there was one place that stood out in my mind as my top restaurant choice: Pinbone.  You read about my fantastic dinner there  It was so good that I returned for brunch the next day, which I deemed one of the best brunches of my life.

On my recent trip in May, I wanted to return to Pinbone again, and, I wanted to go for both brunch and dinner ... at least once each!  But, brunch is only available on Sundays, and although I was in town for two Sundays, I had plans with one couple on the second Sunday who didn't want to go to Pinbone (crazy folks), and the first Sunday was Mother's Day, which would bound to be crazy.  Since Pinbone doesn't take reservations for brunch, the waits might be extreme.  And we had huge dinner plans that night, so an epic brunch wasn't really in order.  I made my booking for dinner (which was excellent, as expected), and started scheming about how to solve my brunch dilemma.

Undeterred, I figured out a solution.  Sure, I couldn't do a full on decadent dining event at Pinbone for brunch, but I could still swing by to pick up a few of the items I eyed on my previous trip.  Remember how I said if I lived in Sydney I'd totally stop by Pinbone just to grab a muffin, donut, or dessert for takeaway on a Sunday?  This was my chance!

I proposed my plan to Ojan, saying we could get a salad or something light for a savory dish, plus a few treats, and go sit in nearby Centennial park to eat.  In my head, we'd have a cute little picnic and it would be sunny and warm. Sydney didn't quite co-operate, and it turned out to be a bit cold, windy, and totally cloudy.  Doh.  It was also my third day in Sydney, and somehow my jetlag hit way harder than the previous days.  I was exhausted, but absolutely could not sleep the night before.  I didn't feel well, and was pretty grumpy.  Ojan warned me that my mood was so foul, I wasn't going to like anything.

We still went ahead with the plan, and arrived at Pinbone right around noon.  As expected there was a wait on the sidewalk.  We entered and peeked at the treats behind the counter display.  How on earth were we supposed to pick just a few items?  Everything looked fantastic, from the muffins (orange & white chocolate or pear & ricotta), to the donuts (stuffed with chocolate, baked cheesecake & blueberry, or malted custard & rhubarb), to the assorted cakes and tarts (carrot cake, chocolate, macadamia & whiskey tarts, and of course, banoffee!).

Many moments, (ok, minutes), of indecision later we settled on one salad (to have some vegetables to justify our indulgences), one donut (because, really, how could we not?), and a mini banoffee pie (because, well, duh, banoffee).  I really wanted a muffin too as they looked so amazing, and the sound of the chocolate/macadamia/whiskey tart was almost too much to resist, but ... we did it.

Our food was packaged up within just a few minutes, and handed over in a plastic bag, complete with silverware for our picnic.

As before, the staff were very friendly and accommodating, and multiple staff members applauded our use of takeout as a great idea for the day.  Still being able to have the food but avoiding the craze of Mother's Day?  Genius!

Sadly, I didn't love anything we got.  It was all good, but not as nearly magical as my first visit.  That said ... I was tired, exhausted, and very, very grumpy.  Ojan really loved the donut, and has since compared every donut he has encountered to it.  Next time I'm in Sydney, I'd obviously still like to go back for brunch, but even if I can't squeeze in a full brunch, I'd certainly go get some treats togo again.
Bacon, maple, pumpkin tart. $12. 
We unpacked our bag to find a bonus goodie on top, wrapped up in foil.  Berri, the front of house manager, had snuck a little something extra into our bag!  A warm slice of their signature savory tart, an item from the regular brunch menu.

Pinbone has a number of signature dishes, and on the brunch menu, the creamed corn and fregola that we enjoyed last time is one of them, but this tart is the other.  A savory tart, with a base of puff pastry, a thin layer of pumpkin mash, and topped with bacon, plenty of bacon.  I'd seen plenty of great reviews of this, and really, there was nothing not to love here, so I gladly dug into our bonus treat.

The puff pastry base was very moist, not flaky and crispy as I'd expect.  It was heavy and buttery, not light and airy.  I think I would have liked something drier and crisper more, so you could actually pick it up.  That would also add a little crunch in the base?  It is also possible that when served in the restaurant the puff pastry was crispier, and it got a bit softer here since we took it to go.

The pumpkin layer was just a mash, but it was really creamy, and expertly seasoned.

The bacon slices were overlapping, so the edges that were exposed on top were crispy, but the pieces tucked under others were soft.  I really only like crispy bacon, so I liked the edges, but not the rest, as it was fairly fatty and just flabby to me.  But, this is just me; if you like bacon that isn't crispy, the tart certainly delivered.  There was sooooo much bacon.  Ojan really liked the maple flavor in the bacon.

Overall this was good, and Ojan devoured the maple bacon, but it wasn't really my sort of dish.  I did appreciate the seasoning in the pumpkin, and the fact that I got to try it though.  Thank you Berri!
Roasted carrot & beetroot salad with ricotta & baby spinach. $16.
Next we went for a salad, because I felt like we needed something savory, and we have a habit of literally eating no vegetables when we are in Australia.  We couldn't just order sweets and baked goods, right?

Salad choices were a cabbage/pecorino/walnut/pear salad, or this one with spinach, roasted carrots, beets, and ricotta.  This was a no brainer.  On our previous dinner at Pinbone I really enjoyed the roasted, caramelized carrots from one of the vegetarian dishes, so the roasted carrots immediately called out to me.  Plus ricotta?  Sold!

The salad was ok, but not remarkable.  The spinach greens were fresh and crisp.  The carrots were baby carrots, nicely roasted, still with bits of the greens attached.  Beets were lightly cooked, and chunks of both purple and yellow beets added pops of color.  Globs of creamy ricotta finished the dish.

I can't actually fault anything with the salad, but I just didn't really care for it.  There was no complexity to it, no wow factor.  The dressing seemed a bit too acidic, too tangy.  Then again ... when do I ever really like a salad?  I only ordered this attempting to be responsible.  I think my mom would have loved it though, I know she really likes beets, spinach, and ricotta.  Since it was Mother's Day, let's say I had it in her honor?
Baked cheesecake & blueberry donut. $5.
Moving on to the good stuff, a donut!

The donuts were just too hard to resist.  Huge stuffed donuts rolled in sugar.  How do you not try one?

We took a long time deciding which flavor to get.  Both the malted custard & rhubarb and the baked cheesecake & blueberry sounded like winners.  A creamy rich component and a fruit component?  Um, yes?  In the end, I let Ojan pick, since I was dictating everything else, and, really, I would be happy with either.  He picked the cheesecake and blueberry.

The donut was a big puffy donut, almost more like a sweet roll, given how large and doughy it was.  It didn't taste too fried, which is the one downfall that some donuts can have.  No gross, old oil flavors here.  It was absolutely coated in sugar.  Both Ojan and I loved the sugar coating.  It made it even more of a guilty pleasure.

The cheesecake filling was creamy and a bit sweet, perhaps a bit cheesy, but I'm not sure I would have called it "cheesecake" necessarily.  Ojan did point out that it clearly wasn't just a sweet pastry cream, and had some cheesiness to it, which, was true.  The blueberry compote on top was sweet and  a nice balance, although I would have preferred raspberry or strawberry.  Not that I don't love blueberries, and in general, I'd pick blueberries over raspberries or strawberries, but I also totally adore classic sugar coated jelly donuts, and this reminded me of a jelly donut, so I wanted a more standard flavor to match the donut.

My final criticism is that I wished there was more filling, as the donut was just split down the center and partially filled, and many bites went without filling.  I mentioned that I was grumpy and ridiculously picky, right?

Ojan really liked it though, saying he really liked how it was somewhat of a cross between a donut and a roll.  And every donut he had after this over the next few months he has compared to this one.  So, it was a success, and I'd try another of their donuts for sure.
Mini banoffee pie. $8.
And finally ... the banoffee pie.

Pinbone sells full size banoffee pies, or, mini tart style pies, as we opted for.

Now, to pack up for a minute, let's talk about banoffee.  I discovered banoffee on my first visit to Sydney.  It is not a pie that we have in the US.  I'm not sure why.  We are clearly missing out.

The first banoffee pie I had was from Cafe Sopra, in Pott's Point.  Sopra is famous for their banoffee pie, and it became a staple of my diet while in Sydney.  On every single visit to town, I make a point of going at least once to get a decadent slice of banoffee pie.  Even once I had a vandetta against Cafe Sopra and I vowed never to return to the restaurant for a meal (long story), I still made an exception to swing in for just a piece of banoffee, or, more often, picked up a slice to takeaway.  I had a vandetta, yes, but ... banoffee.  So good.

Over the years I've tried to find banoffee other places, and have even asked a few pastry chefs to make it for me, but none have ever come close to the Sopra version.  As much as I am grumpy at that place, well, they make great banoffee.

So let's just say that I was quite excited to try Pinbone's version, since, well, I clearly love banoffee, and I was eager to find somewhere else that made a version I liked.  Plus, I've loved so many other items from Pinbone, I could only imagine what they might do with banoffee.

Sadly, I didn't love it.  The tart shell was a hard, basic tart shell.  It didn't have the buttery richness of the Sopra version.  I think it was just a regular tart shell, not made with digestive biscuits.  The crust was a bit too thick, making it too dominant of a component, and it was hard to cut into.

The next layer was the toffee, sweet, creamy, a generous amount, but ... it just wasn't anything special.  I think the Sopra version uses a layer of chocolate between the shell and the toffee too?

On top of that was fresh slices of ripe banana, good enough.

The cream on top was fantastic.  I don't think it was just whipped cream.  It almost seemed like a whipped mascarpone perhaps?  I loved the thickness and flavor to it.

Finally, a sprinkling of chocolate.  It wasn't just dusted with cocoa powder, but instead was coated in little chunks of really flavorful, high quality, chocolate.

Overall, this was a mixed bag.  I really, really enjoyed the cream and the chocolate, but, the tart shell and caramel weren't awesome.  Ojan said he preferred the Sopra version, and noted that this needed a more chocolate to it.  I'm glad I tried it, and I had no problem finishing all the cream, but, sadly, it wasn't my favorite banoffee.  I guess I'll have to continue to return to Sopra.