Friday, April 05, 2019

Meat & Veggie Bars, from Wild Zora

I review a lot of snacks, but definitely not many of the, er, healthier variety.  So for once, a snack that actually is better for you, and even filled with protein.

Wild Zora makes 3 very different product line: snack bars, soups, and freeze-dried Paleo meals.  I guess the common thread is that they are full of protein and good for camping?  Not exactly my world, but I somehow wound up with a bar to try, and it was different enough that I decided to learn more, and review.

Meat & Veggie Bars

"Looking for Paleo snack bars, low-carb gluten-free snacks, or just a healthy snack the whole family will love?"
The bars are made from meat, veggies, and fruits.  The protein options are fairly varied (beef, turkey, lamb, pork), all treat the spicing as a key element, and most have a surprising ingredients or two (apricot? kale?).  They come in 7 varieties:
  • BBQ Beef with Kale, Tomato, Red Bell Pepper
  • Chili Beef with Kale, Apricot, Cayenne Pepper
  • Curry Turkey with Spinach, Dates, Cardamom
  • Mediterranean Lamb with Spinach & Turmeric
  • Parmesan Beef with Kale, Tomato, Basil
  • Apple Pork with Kale, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme
  • Taco Pork with Cilantro, Lime & Jalapeño 
All are gluten-free, grain-free, nut/peanut/tree nut-free, soy-free, MSG-free, and contain no added sugar, hormones, antibiotics, or chemical additives.

I tried one, but, I'm not rushing back to try more.
Packaging.
The bars come packaged with two mini bars (really, more like slices), in a pouch.  I liked the see-through window so I could see that it did really look like beef jerky.
BBQ BEEF BARS WITH KALE, TOMATO & RED BELL PEPPER.
"BBQ Beef Wild Zora Bars are our first and most traditional recipe with a zesty combination of 100% grass-fed beef, sweet red bell peppers, tomatoes and kale; mixed with dried apricots and a hint of chipotle and ancho chili peppers — but not so much that you'd call it, "spicy" (for that, see our Chili recipe)!"

Ok, this tasted as strange as it sounded.  Yes, it was sorta beef jerky, but ... it had so many savory vegetable tastes mixed in (red bell pepper, tomato, kale, celery), and aggressive spicing from ancho chili pepper, chipotle, and garlic, then the unmistakable texture and sweetness from dates and apricots.  It was just so strange.

The flavors, at least the savory ones, were good ... but not in this application.  The texture was not bad exactly, but if you wanted chewy beef jerky, this was certainly not that.  If you thought of it as a savory veggie bar, it kinda worked, until you tasted the beef.

Just, odd.  So odd.

I didn't like, but, I give credit for a healthy wholesome snack ... if that is your thing.

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Thursday, April 04, 2019

b. patisserie

b. patisserie has been on my radar basically since the day it opened in 2012.

It is the bakery of Belinda Leong, who departed her well lauded post as pastry chef at Manresa to open her own place.  The bakery was in the news originally for having one of the top, if not the best, kouign-amann in the city, but quickly gathered strong reviews for nearly all of the baked goods.  As a baked goods lover, I obviously perked up.

It is located fairly far from my house though, so I somehow didn't try it for several years.  And I still haven't visited in person.

My first encounter was when some friends brought over a box of treats.  I like my friends.  The next encounter? Uh, bribery at the office.  I like my co-workers too.
Assorted Treats.
The menu at b. patisserie is broken into three categories: viennoiserie, pastries, and tartines, but the viennoiserie are clearly the highlights, including the famous kouign-amann.

When my friends brought goodies, they came with a few assorted items, and we cut them all up so we could try them all.
#allThePastries.
A few months later, a co-worker showed up at my office with a box loaded with treats.  Literally, #allTheTreats. You can't even see the massive chocolate chip cookies at the bottom.

This gave me a chance to try many more items.  We had not one, not two, but three types of kouign amann alone, two types of twice baked croissants, a seasonal bostock, madelines, and pain suisse, plus the aforementioned cookies.  I'm probably missing a few things.

And yes, I tried ... most of them.  #forTheBlog.  As did my co-workers.  I'm pretty sure I've never seen pastries sooo well received, nor heard the phrase "oh my god" uttered by so many people.  This is where b. patisserie shines, and it was quite obvious.

Viennoiserie

The viennoiserie section of the menu is the most extensive, and includes everything like cookies, scones, coffee cake, banana bread (and chocolate banana bread), croissants, and of course, multiple types of kouign amann.
Seasonal Bostock: $3.50.
Bostock is not an item all that familiar to me.  I think I had my first bostock in the past ... 3 years, when the coffee bar at my office went through a very brief phase of serving it near daily.  I loved it then though, so I was excited when my friends showed up with the b. patisserie bostock, which apparently changes flavor seasonally.  

But this isn't really what I thought bostock was.  The bostock I had before was a slice of (day old?) brioche, soaked in a sweet syrup, and topped with almond frangipane and I think apricot jam?  I've heard it described as kinda like french toast before too.

This was a round cake, that didn't really seem like broiche, although it was very light and fluffy.  The outer edge was a bit more burnt than seemed desired.  It had a couple slivers of sliced almond on top, but it didn't have the thicker frangipane layer I wanted.  The seasonal flavor was passionfruit, and the sweet fruity flavor permeated the whole thing.

Overall, this was fine, but, not what I was anticipating, and mostly just a cake, which isn't my favorite type of dessert.

When my co-worker brought treats, I didn't try it since I wasn't impressed before, but my co-workers *loved* it.  I wish I had captured some of their comments.
Chocolate Banana Almond Croissant. $4.
My co-worker who brought in our big box of pastries was extremely excited about this one.  It wasn't what I'd normally pick, since I'm not the biggest fan of banana, but I do love twice baked croissants.  Still I was about to pick something else from the box, when another co-worker, French born and raised, proclaimed that he had never had pastries this good in the US after trying a bite of this.

I'm very glad they both advocated so strongly for this one.  I'm glad there were multple.  It. Was. Incredible.

The croissant was perfectly flaky, as it should be.  Soo crispy around the edges, but not burnt in any way.  On top, plenty of almond frangipane, plus sliced almonds.  Just as a twice baked almond croissant, not even counting the filling, this was a star, pretty much top of the game.
Chocolate Banana Almond Croissant: Side View.
But this item kept on giving.  It was a stuffed croissant.  Inside was chocolate and banana.

The chocolate was somehow soft, melted, even though at room temperature.  It oozed into the pastry in a beautiful way.  The banana was soft, but not too mushy.  The chocolate and banana combination is obviously a classic, and it worked well.

I think I probably would have preferred not the chocolate banana flavor, and they do make a seasonal twice baked almond croissant as well (at this time it was apple).  I tried the apple, and it too was a perfect almond twice baked croissant, but again, apple isn't quite the filling I'd naturally pick.

This was the third best b. patisserie item I've ever had, and I'd gladly, gladly consume many more again.  Yes, the competition for top place is just *that* strong.
Pain Suisse.  $4.
Um, yes.

That is all there is to say about the c.  Not a common item in the US, and I remember the first time I had it in Paris, and I loved the idea (custard filled! chocolate chips!) but was saddened by the actual result, too eggy for my tastes.

This however ... was perfection.

Flaky, crispy croissant dough.  Perfectly laminated. Of course it flaked off and made a mess when you tried to cut it in half.

And inside, lovely creamy custard, studded with chocolate chips for a bit of texture.  Plenty of it, not too sweet, and, essential for me, not eggy in any way.  Fantastic filling.

I truly enjoyed every aspect of this item, and would gladly have it again.  My favorite item ... I think, but second place was a *very* close second.
Kouign Amann Nature. $4.25.
The kouign amann is what put b. patisserie on the map.  I was delighted to finally try their version, after having many others over the past few years, as kouign amann have risen in popularity.

If you aren't familiar with kouign amann, it is a buttery-er, sugarier, crispier, just far more awesome version of a croissant.  The first time I had one was as the take-home goodie from Cyrus back in 2012, and I had no idea what I was eating.  Since then, I've discovered the joy that is kouign amann, including the local rival from Starter Bakery, several from the oldest pastry shop in Paris (Stohrer), and a fantastic version turned into a formal dessert at Clio in Boston.

b. patisserie makes seasonal flavors, but when my friends visited, the plain one was the only one remaining, so, we only got to try the basic one.

It was a very good kouign amann, as anticipated given the accolades.  I was surprised at the quality given that it was the end of the day when I had it, clearly not as fresh as could be.

It was buttery, flaky, well laminated croissant dough.  The exterior was crispy and caramelized, the interior moist and soft.  Very nicely done, and I'd gladly have another, and would love to try one of the filled varieties.

When we had these the second time, those who were unfamiliar with kouign amann were blown away (because, um, best pastry ever), but those familiar with what to expect were even more blown away.  We know that kouign amann are not normally *this* well made.  Again, my french co-worker was in shock that pastry of that quality was finally found in the US!
Chocolate Kouign Amann. $4.75.
When my co-worker brought in the box of goodies, he had all three types of kouign amann: natural, seasonal (passionfruit), and chocolate.  There were multiples of each.

Given that I'm not into passionfruit, and I'd tried the natural before, I left those for the others, and immediately snagged the chocolate one.

It ... was the best kouign amann I've ever had.  Yup, I said it.  It turns out, taking the ridiculously good natural kouign amann, having it fresh, AND stuffing it was a magical combination.

The pastry was perfection.  Incredibly crispy exterior, soo caramelized, soo messy.  Phenomenal.  But more impressive was the layers, soo many layers, all moist and buttery and decadent.  Just, absolutely the best kouign amann I've ever had.

And then, the filling.  Stuffed with a considerable amount of dark chocolate ganache.  The texture of it was fascinating.  I don't know how they did it, really.  It was smooth, creamy, not liquid, but not solid in any way.  At room temp.  I don't understand how this is possible.

I still can't get over how life changing this was, and I say that as someone who *has* consumed many kouign amann over the years!

Pastries

The other sweet category is individual pastries, elaborate little cakes.  My friends brought us one of these to try.
Vanilla Cassis Cake. $7.
"Vanilla Mascarpone, Sablé Breton, Cassis Ganache, Chiffon Cake."

This was a layer cake, with a crunchy sablé breton crust (sorta like crispier graham crackers), a fruity layer of cassis ganache, and then two layers each of alternating chiffon cake and vanilla mascarpone, dusted on top on one corner with cocoa powder.

This was fine.  I liked having a crunchy base and a sweet fruity layer, the cake was light and airy, the pastry cream thick and creamy.  For a cake, a fine, sophisticated cake, but I preferred the viennoiserie.
B. Patisserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Many Brunches at Cuckoo Callay, Sydney

Update Review, Brunch, Surry Hills, November 2018

In 2017, I made an incredible discover, Cuckoo Callay in Newtown.  It was incredible.  The souffle pancakes were mind blowing, the bacon mac and cheese phenomenal.  I dubbed it a "Top Julie Pick" in my overall Sydney dining guide.

I was very eager to check out the newer, larger Surry Hills location.
Surry Hills Location.
My guest and I arrived at 11am on a Saturday and were able to be seated immediately, although only outside, and it was rather chilly.

The meal was comical ... representative of so many things. 

Like the quality of service one gets in a Sydney cafe most of the time, and of the brunch scene in general (so many "precious" components).  Examples: they charged us for random items, the menu had things listed that didn't exist, the servers took away our silverware even when we said we were still eating, and so much more.
Quasi Successful Brunch.
The timing of the meal was a bit hard.  It was 11am, which was lunch time kinda, given my jetlag, except that I had feasted on a 4 course breakfast from 7-8:30, and I just wasn't that hungry yet.  But my dining companion was smarter and didn't do that, so she was more hungry.

Most of the menu is rather large, decadent dishes, so we opted to share 1 main and 2 sides, which seemed right for one normal hungry person, and myself.

The problem?  Well, one dish we ordered, a side of their amazing bacon mac and cheese, which isn't actually listed on the menu as a side but is part of the Bacon MacDaddy that I had before, wasn't allowed.  But they didn't tell us this, and it certainly used to be available a la carte.  So we ordered it, along with our other dishes, intending it to be our decadent item, and a substantial portion of our meal.  And then, only the single dish and one side were brought out, no word given about the mac and cheese until a few minutes later, when another server mentioned that the chef wouldn't allow it.  Well thanks for telling us ...

This was also frustrating because I know they do allow it, I've gotten it before, and I had called to ask about it in advance, that morning, at this location.  Sigh.  I didn't feel like fighting though, so let it go.  

To add to the interesting service bits, we were brought our bowl of porridge with no little bowls or plates to share it, even though we had said we were sharing everything.  We had to ask for share plates.  When we still had a decent amount of food left in the dishes, a server came by to ask if we were done, we said no, my companion even said, "No, I'll finish that", pointing at the panna cotta, and the server still took her plate and fork, leaving her with nothing to eat with, and without her share plate.  She was able to just take the panna cotta plate at that point, and take a spoon from something else, but, uh, what?  Our bill had a random charge for bacon sausage.  The menu had "Bottomless sparkling water" for $3 on it, so I ordered sparkling water, and was confused when a tiny bottle of Peligrino showed up.  I asked if this was "bottomless", and the server was very confused.  Another server came back and I asked her. She too was confused.  Eventually they told me the menu had changed, they don't have bottomless sparkling water anymore.  They could take away my Peligrino, or I could pay per tiny bottle.  The list goes on and on.

So, fairly poor service, mediocre food.  Not sure I'd go back at this point, unless they bring back those souffle pancakes.
Menu.
The menu is adorned with the same signature Cuckoo Callay pink flamingo.  I can't say I understand it, but, they have an identity at least.
Decaf Long Black. $4 + $1(decaf).
 Well, this was ... different.  And very confusing.  My long black came with a tiny sparkling water.

Now, I did order "a decaf long black and sparkling water", but, I had also received the expected glass of sparkling water already.  When my server came back by, I asked what it was, and she just said, "sparkling water, long black comes with sparkling water".

Uh, ok?  I don't really understand, but, I am not going to complain about a bonus (thimble) full of sparkling water.

The long black was decent.  Very dark and strong, no decaf funk.  It wasn't a complex coffee, but, it was fine.
Table Sugar.
Tables are already set with the sugar offerings, brown or white, large crystals, in glass jars, with a wooden spoon to serve.  No sweetener.
 Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Acai. $12.
"Acai, orange, strawberry, rosewater and chia seeds."

My acai loving companion ordered an acai based smoothie.  It came cutely presented in a glass jar, with a slice of banana floating on top, and chia seeds sprinkled on that.  Oh so cute.

I didn't try it, but she thought it was ok, but lacked the promised rosewater flavor.

The $12 price seems a bit high for a small little smoothie.
Chargrilled Halloumi (Side). $5.
To round out our meal, we ordered a side of halloumi, for 3 reasons:

  1. Sydney cafes do halloumi soooo well.
  2. My dining companion had never had halloumi before.
  3. Um, its halloumi.  Its delicious.
There wasn't anything particularly remarkable about the halloumi, but it was nicely prepared, grilled, slightly charred, served hot before it got squeaky.  Very salty, but in a good way.

Pretty standard Sydney cafe halloumi, which isn't a bad thing.
 Someone’s Been Eating My Porridge. $17.
"Pearl barley and quinoa pudding, rhubarb sorbet, macadamia crumble and kataifi."

Porridge may be a bit of an odd thing for me to order, but, I had three reasons for this order too.
  1. I was pretty fascinated by the idea of a warm porridge with sorbet on top, and of the macadamia crumble and crispy kataifi.  It had all the elements of what I love in my desserts (warm base, cold ice cream, crunchy stuffs), but, for breakfast, in a form that actually did sound ... healthy?  
  2. It was kinda chilly out, and the idea of a warm porridge sounded nice.
  3. I never opt for porridge in the US, but, again, Sydney cafes just do some things well, and porridge can be one of them.  Bills in particular taught me to love porridge (and corn fritters, scrambled eggs, and of course, ricotta pancakes!).
The dish was beautiful.  You can't actually see the porridge, nor the sorbet here, but the base of the bowl was the porridge, topped with a generous layer of macadamia crumble, with a scoop of rhubarb sorbet in the middle, a crispy kataifi crown, and pretty little flowers on top.  I had seen photos in advance, so I knew what to expect visually, but, it didn't actually taste as I was expecting.

Digging in, the porridge was ok.  Not particularly hot, but, warm.  The large pearl barley was a bit crunchy, not in an undercooked way, just in a way that gave it some chew.  I wished it was creamier, and that it had some kind of flavor to it.  It was very savory.  It really just tasted ... healthy.

The sorbet was sweet and fruity, not too tart as I feared it might be (because, rhubarb).  The sweetness was needed to liven up the porridge.

The macadamia crumble on top was great, and I'm glad soooo much was provided. Great crunch, and I love macadamias.  My dining companion remarked several times how much she liked that crumble.  Even crunchier was the large disk of kataifi, which I just adored.  Crispy, crunchy, fried thing?  Yes!

Overall, this was an interesting dish.  I'm glad I tried it.  I liked it in concept.  But, for me, it was just too healthy, and really was missing something.  I wanted ... at least honey to drizzle over it.
Kid's fresh fruit with yoghurt panna cotta. $10.
The regular (adult) menu has an amazing sounding breakfast panna cotta dish, called the "Roll Over Granola".  It is a lovely honey panna cotta, with housemade raspberry granola all around, compressed and stewed rhubarb, and, um, a small maple syrup milkshake on the side.  That dish sounds pretty amazing, and it was our second choice to the porridge, but we didn't want to order both, as we had ordered the mac and cheese and halloumi as well.

Now ... if our server had *told us* that they weren't going to actually let us order the mac and cheese, we probably would have picked our other dishes differently, going for the granola panna cotta instead of the porridge, but, alas, we were not told until just the porridge and halloumi were brought to the table.  Sigh.  We needed to supplement with something more, so I ordered the kid's panna cotta, knowing it wouldn't be as amazing as the adult version, but, likely more appropriate portionwise. 

It was simple, but good.  Slight tang to the panna cotta base from the yogurt, fairly sweet from honey, well set with a good jiggle.  In the land of panna cotta, pretty textbook.   The simple fruit, strawberries and blueberries, wasn't really enough to make it an exciting dish though.  I think that with the granola and stewed fruit (and milkshake!) from the adult version, it would be pretty fabulous.

Luckily, we had macadamia crumble that we could add to this, and a bite with panna cotta, macadamia crumble, and a bit of sorbet or fruit was pretty nice.

I wouldn't get this again, but I'd like to try the full version, as it sounds like something I'd really like.

Update Review: Brunch at Newtown Location, January 2019

After our lackluster brunch at the Surry Hills location in November, my dining companion from that trip and I headed back to the Newtown location 2 months later.  Newtown was the first Cuckoo Callay I had visited, so I had hope that it was just a location thing, and Newtown would be amazing again.  We gathered a group of 6 to give it another try.

The overall experience was much like all other visits.  The service was slightly better than in Surry Hills, but not great, particularly when it came to the end of our meal and we wanted to pay.  No splitting bills, even between two cards, was allowed.  The music was invasively loud, making it difficult to converse.
Brunch Feast.
Our visit was a mixed success.  Good drinks, a few good dishes, but I mostly left not particularly pleased.  Everything looked quite stunning though.

Beverages

Tap water was served immediately as we sat, before I could say "no thank you", but it was nice to have pitchers of water left on the table for those who wanted it.  I opted for sparkling, now just tiny bottles of Pelligrino for $4 each, rather than house sparkling.  Boo.

Everyone ordered an additional beverage, ranging from fresh juice, to smoothies, to coffee, to hot chocolate, to matcha lattes.  People were very pleased with the drinks, those drinking the espresso based drinks mentioned several times how good they were (and even ordered another round).
Orange Juice. $7.
The first drink to show up at our table was an orange juice.  I had to take a photo, just because I was stunned.  This came just from the fresh squeezed juices section of the menu, yet it looked considerably nicer than any simple orange juice I've seen before.  Which, given the $7 price, maybe it should?

But really, lovely presentation in a cute little bottle, garnished with slice of orange, and served with a pink paper straw.  I didn't try it, but, the person who ordered it seemed pleased enough.
I’m in Love with The Coco. $10.
"Pineapple, mango, banana, spinach and coconut milk."

I also didn't try the smoothie a fellow diner ordered, but it too came in a cute bottle with a pink paper straw, garnished with ... a spinach leaf.
Bon Bon real hot chocolate. $7.
Hot beverages started arriving next, including this ... hot chocolate!  The beverage itself was nicely done, topped with cocoa powder, but it came with a side pot of liquid chocolate, and a chocolate dipped marshmallow.

The presentation!
Decaf Long Black. $4 + $1(decaf).
My drink was far less interesting to look at, just a decaf long black, but it was actually quite good, a contrast to my previous visits.  No acidity, deep flavor notes of chocolate.  I quite liked it.  And no strange side of water with it this time.

Food

The last time I visited Cuckoo Callay with a big group, we shared everything.  This time, folks were less into sharing, but I did find one buddy to share with me, so we could go for both a savory, and sweet item.

The others had a range of items, including the "Tribute to The Greatest Reuben" that I've always thought sounded good, if I were to get a sandwich, and the stunning "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", literally in a crispy fried nest (I wished I got a photo!).  I think they mostly liked their meals?

For my sharing partner and I, we had one that I enjoyed, and one that I didn't, but I think she liked both.  So, mixed success.
Return of the MacDaddy. $20.
"Triple smoked bacon, bacon mac & cheese, tomato relish, 63° poached egg and fried shallots on a toasted croissant."

For our savory item, we had no choice but to get the Return of the MacDaddy.  I had loved it previously, and, we had been grumpy since our visit to the Surry Hills location when we tried to get a side of the mac and cheese and they didn't let us.  We needed it now.

It was nearly as good as I remembered.  Less decadent actually, less stuffed, which was sad, as the mac is the best part!

But the dish was good.  The croissant was large, buttery, nicely toasted.  A good croissant, although you really couldn't eat this as a croissant sandwich, even if you tried.  Just too messy.  I didn't find myself really wanting the croissant though.

The egg was perfectly poached, the yolk ran out easily, and infused extra richness into the dish.  I could do without the egg too, but it was done well.

The bacon was Australian style, so, flabbier and softer than I prefer, although I was able to get a crispy piece.  Plenty of bacon included.  Guess what?  Yeah, I could do without this too.

Now, finally, I'll tell you about the mac.  It was great.  Again, it doesn't look like anything particularly special, just generic mac and cheese, almost like from a box, unnatural orange color.  But it is good, the noodles not too soft nor hard, the sauce flavorful (in the same way that cheese powder is ...), reasonably creamy.  It is enjoyable to eat.

The tomato relish I had forgotten about, but I loved what it added, a complimentary flavor to the mac and cheese, I guess like a grown up version of putting ketchup on your mac and cheese (which I certainly did growing up), but it was also slightly sweet.  I really liked what it added.  The fried shallots were pops of savory flavor, saltiness, and crunch, and I liked them too.

So overall, everything was good, but for me, I really truly just wanted a big bowl of that mac and cheese, perhaps with a little tomato relish, and bonus points for fried shallots on top.

Why oh why won't they just sell it by the side?

We shared a few bites with others, and all but one said it was fabulous.  I was pleased to order this again, and would get it again.
I Speak Fluent French Toast. $22.
"French toast waffles, vanilla gelato, deep fried nutella, raspberry whipped ricotta, caramalised white chocolate, fresh berries and pistachio fairy floss."

For our sweet item, we went for one of the newest menu items: french toast waffles.  I had seen Instagram photos of this, so I knew what to expect.  Yes, it was a bit ridiculous.

I wish I could say it was good.  I didn't care for it much at all.

The waffles were the weakest element.  Two waffles, thin, gummy, not really hot, not crispy.  No idea what was "french toast" about them, I tasted nothing cinnamon, nothing like egg batter.  Just, really poor flabby waffles.

Stuffed inside the two waffles, and on top, was the raspberry whipped ricotta, which melted in quickly, and didn't taste of much, certainly no real raspberry flavor.  It was nice to have something cream-like, but this wasn't great.

The gelato was simple vanilla, fine I guess, but nothing special, not particularly creamy.  The fresh berries, also fine, but, just berries.

The deep fried Nutella seemed a bit like a novelty item, and given that I don't really care for Nutella in the first place, I didn't expect that I'd care about it, but, given how lackluster everything else was, I found myself going back to this, just because I wanted something to enjoy.  It was a bit too fried, the shell a bit burnt, and too thick, but the liquid Nutella inside was pleasant enough when combined with the gelato.

Speaking of novelty item, then there was the pistachio fairy floss on top.  That at least was fun, although, I didn't taste pistachio in it.  It was sweet, the texture was nice, and it was something to focus on while being disappointed by everything else.

My favorite part was the caramelized white chocolate crumbles all over the plate.

Overall, this was not a good dish, and although I had deep fried Nutella, gelato, and other toppings, I didn't particularly like it, and I certainly wouldn't get it again.

Original Review, Brunch, Newtown, July 217

One of my favorite things about Sydney is the cafe culture.  Cute cafes, with excellent food, are can be found all over the city.  Nearly everywhere serves breakfast (and weekend brunch) and puts serious energy into the menus, not just boring eggs and toast.  In particular, I'm always interested in the sweet items (ok, no surprise there), but they go so far beyond your standard pancakes/french toast/waffles, like the fantastic breakfast rice pudding at Pinbone or the unique breakfast tapioca pudding at Devon cafe.

I always try to plan at least one brunch adventure with co-workers when I visit, and usually I take it as an opportunity to venture further away from the city center, since we have the time on a weekend.

Last time, I dragged a group to Bread & Circus, and it turned out to be very lackluster.  The time before that we went all the way to Bondi, for the breakfast feasting platter at Trio, with both french toast AND pancakes (and bircher muesli, and 3 savory dishes ...), but it too wasn't actually very good.

This time, I picked a location in Newtown: Cuckoo Callay.  It is, uh, located at the train station.  And has a menu full dishes with names like "Magic Mushrooms", "Pretty in Pink", and "The Sideways Shuffle".  The egg dishes all feature 63° poached eggs, the fries come topped with bacon mac and cheese, and of course they have Nutella milkshakes.  It seemed likely that I was setting myself up for my third strike, trendy but wouldn't deliver, but, the menu was just far too tempting for me to pass up.
A feast!
My group of 4 met at 11am on a sunny Sunday morning.  We were able to get the last table inside, and the restaurant stayed packed the entire time we were there, although queues never built up.  We ordered 2 savory egg dishes, one sweet dish, and one side dish, which was plenty of food for four.

Service was typical Newtown cafe service, by which I mean, we were paid attention to to take our orders, but after that, we were never checked on, the food took quite a while, and we did have to flag someone down for the bill.  Basically, what I've come to expect.

And the food?  It was as ridiculous as I knew it would be, except, well, it was also delicious.  We had a wonderful feast, and I'd gladly return, particularly as I know Cuckoo Callay rotates the menu fairly often.

Setting

As I said, the location is at the train station.  Literally.
Outdoor Seating.
The majority of the seating is outdoors, under an awning, right up near the train platform.  A bit of a strange ambiance, but, I think the awning, umbrellas, and hanging plants in particular helps make it feel like you are not dining on a train platform?
Takeaway.
The outside area also features windows for takeout orders, for coffee, pastries, and a reduced menu, and, um, haircuts?

It was bustling, likely a great option for those actually taking the train.
Pastry Counter.
Inside was a pastry counter with incredible looking muffins (that I somehow didn't get in my photo) and gluten-free cakes.
Espresso Bar.
The espresso bar is also inside, serving both the seated customers inside and takeaway guests through the window.

The espresso bar rotates different single origin beans, and you can find the details of the day's offerings on the board.
Inside Seating.
The remainder of the seating is inside, which is where we were seated.  The inside is very small, but was a lot more quiet, so I'm glad we were able to get one of these spots.

Most seats are along the walls on blue benches, but our table was more central, so we had wooden chairs.  Tables were also wooden, as was the floor.  One wall was all mirrors.
Cutlery.
After we ordered, we were provided a can (from seriously old Campell's soup!) with cutlery and napkins for each of us, and tiny little share plates, as we indicated that we'd be sharing everything.

We were provided no extra utensils to serve, which did make cutting up and serving some of the dishes a bit difficult and thus we wound up with mac and cheese in our pancakes, but, alas, it was fine.  The little tiny share plates however really were too small, and it was impossible to try more than one dish at a time.  Still, I guess we give them credit for providing share plates?

Drinks

The drink menu is two pages long, one full page devoted to coffee beverages, beer, and wine, and the other to "exotic" juice blends, tea, milk shakes, and "cuckootails".

The milkshakes looked very tempting when I saw several go by, but they were huge, and we were planning to order sweet brunch items, so we choose to forgo the milkshakes (but the peanut butter & jelly, "matcha bliss", or even salted caramel really were calling my name!)

The "Cuckootails" include standard brunch favorites like bloody marys and mimosas, but also a drink dubed the "Frozé", a slushie drink made with rosé wine, strawberries, rose water, and, duh, watermleon.  If not for that watermelon, you know I would have ordered it.

Instead, we stuck mostly with coffee drinks.

When we were seated, chilled water glasses with ice cubes and a bottle of tap water were provided.  The chilled cups was a nice touch.
Decaf Long Black, Alchemy.  $3.50 + $0.50 (decaf).
Cuckoo Callay seems to take their coffee seriously.  They have several single origins, make cold drip, have a chemex ... but, the decaf?  Not good.

I tried one hot, and I tried one iced, and both were not good.  Very very strong, very very bitter.  No sweetener nor milk offered.
The Newzealander. $8.
"Kiwi, apple, basil and lime."

One of my companions went for one of the exotic juices, and although she offered me a sip, I declined because I knew the juice bar had watermelon.  Still, it was a looker.

Food

We were there for the food.  There was no question.  A menu of ridiculous names, and fascinating ingredients.  Narrowing in on just four dishes was extremely hard.

Cuckoo Callay's signature dish is the Bacon Mac Daddy: a croissant sandwich, with a poached egg, and ... bacon mac and cheese.  We knew we needed to at least try this famous, and very Instagram-friendly dish.  And everyone also wanted the chips (yes, fries, dear Americans), which were also topped with bacon mac and cheese.  Even though that meant we'd double up on the bacon mac and cheese, we decided quickly on these two items.

Next, I knew we needed at least one sweet dish.  I had my eye on the fondant pancakes from the first day they arrived on the summer menu, and it was pretty much non-negotiable that we were getting them.  Lucky for me, everyone else agreed.

Our fourth item was the hardest.  My second vote was for "the healthy granola dish", which is actually vanilla bean panna cotta with raspberry granola, pomegranate & raspberry coulis, and "textures of berries".  Um, panna cotta for breakfast?  Yes!  But the others were less excited about that.  There was also coconut pudding with rosewater and strawberry jelly, white chocolate ganache, and fresh kiwi and strawberries (again, pudding for breakfast!!) but I failed to get traction on that either.  My group wanted something savory, and we had plenty more choices, like the Mah-Sriracha with sriracha hollandaise, the Magic Mushrooms with a crumbed egg, The Sideways Shuffle with crab cakes, the Piggy Lilly with ham and cheese croquettes and green pea panna cotta ... so many options.  In the end, they wanted something with more vegetables, and I opted out of expressing opinions on the final item, since I knew it wasn't likely going to be what I wanted, and I was more than happy with the other three dishes anyway.

Decisions made, our order was quickly taken, share plates were brought out, and then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  40 minutes from the time to order until our food arrived, which seemed quite long for a cafe.  We were completely ignored during that time, no refills of beverages offered.

Still, my grumpiness faded as soon as the food arrived.  It was worth it.  So worth it.
 M.A.C Cosme Chips. $14.
"Bacon mac’n’cheese chips - awesome!"

The first dish we all dug into was the M.A.C. Cosme Chips, because it was the only one where sharing actually made sense.  I think we were all intimidated by cutting the others into 4 portions, plus, how do you not just dive into this?

The base was chips, standard fries, not thick nor thin.  They were fine, but just fries.

The fries were smothered in mac and cheese, and the mac and cheese turned out to be amazing, even though, I'll admit, it didn't look like much.  It looked like Kraft dinner.

The pasta was straight, standard macaroni.  No fun shapes, nothing out of the ordinary.  It didn't look particularly creamy nor cheesy.  It wasn't crazy decadent.

But it was good.  Very good.  The cheese sorta tasted like cheese wiz, which I don't mean in a bad way.  There was something immensely comforting and satisfying about this mac and cheese.  I couldn't get enough of it.

The bacon I could have easily done without, as it was Australian style, flabby bacon, and I only like really crispy bacon.  On top was lots of green onion, which added some color, but was quickly lost among the fries and mac.

Overall, I could care less about the fries and bacon, but that mac and cheese was just really damn good.  We all really enjoyed the mac, and agreed that it was shockingly good, in ways we couldn't really pinpoint.  The others mentioned appreciating that it didn't feel too heavy, and not quite as guilty as some mac and cheese can be.

The mac was my favorite savory dish, and made me not care that the $14 price was a bit high for a bowl of fries with a scoop of mac and cheese on top.
Bacon Mac Daddy.  $18.
"Double smoked bacon, bacon mac ‘n’ cheese, 63° poached egg, tomato relish & fried shallots in a croissant."

The mac and cheese was featured again in the signature Bacon Mac Daddy, a dish that turned out to be fairly hard to split, but I'm still glad we ordered it.  It was served open faced, but I believe you were supposed to turn it into a croissant sandwich, and somehow eat it that way.  Most of my group ate it open faced, but I managed to make a mini croissant sandwich.

The base was a huge croissant, grilled.  It was crispy, and a decent croissant.

On top of that, bacon mac and cheese, just like the chips.  It was again amazing, creamy, cheesy, comforting, and awesome.

On top of that was more bacon, large slices of flabby Australian bacon, that none of us were really into, and we left unfinished (actually, literally, the only thing we didn't finish out of all our dishes).

The egg was nicely poached, and once we cut into it, the oozy yolk added an additional layer of richness and creaminess (as if the dish really needed it!), and of course, great egg porn.

It was loaded up with crispy shallots, which were also amazing.  I loved the crunch they added, and the flavor pop.

The menu said there was tomato relish, but we never found it.

Overall, this was ridiculous, but good.  Does it make sense to eat a huge croissant stuffed with mac and cheese?  Carbs in carbs!  Bacon two ways?  Fried shallots?  No, no it does not.  But that doesn't mean it wasn't great.  The croissant wasn't necessarily anything special, and I'd leave off the bacon, but that mac and cheese, particularly with the shallots, was just too amazing.

One diner declared this his favorite dish, and I gladly literally scraped up every last bit of cheese from the plate, just like another did with the fries.  These dishes were winners.
 Gorgeous George. $19.
"Smashed avocado and roasted truss tomatoes on sourdough served with shanklish, house-made basil pesto, yuzu sesame and a 63° poached egg."

For a healthier dish with vegetables, the group went for the Gorgeous George.  The base was sourdough toast, which I don't like, and the primary component was avocado, which I'm allergic to, so, it wasn't exactly hard for me to pass this one up.

The others said that it was a very good version of avocado toast, and praised the pesto in particular.

I was interested in exactly one thing on the plate: the shanklish.  Cuckoo Callay managed to find an ingredient I was unfamiliar with!  Shanklish is a type of cheese, and I was able to grab a bite from the corner of the plate.  It was soft, salty, and very herby, although maybe that was pesto mixed in?

Anyway, not the dish for me, but one diner said it was her favorite.
Summer Lovin'. $20.
"Lemon & white chocolate fondant pancake, vanilla crème fraiche, blackcurrant ice cream swirl, macadamia crumble and sour cherry sauce."

And finally, the dish I was waiting for, the fondant pancake.  It was stunning.  In looks, and in taste.

All our dishes arrived at once, and I think we were all a bit intimidated by this one.  Cutting up the Bacon Mac Daddy was a ridiculous feat, but, breaking into this was something else entirely.  Plus, shouldn't we eat the savory first?  Except this was hot, and the ice cream would melt ...  I wished we had asked them to course our meal a bit better, starting with the chips, then the two egg dishes, and then this.  Anyway.

Did I mention, stunning dish?  It turned out to be fairly easy to portion into four sections, which I quickly set about doing once coming up for air after a pile of mac and cheese.

On the plate was the pancake, 4 dots of vanilla crème fraiche (perfect, one for each of us!), a small scoop of ice cream perched on macadamia crumble, more crumble, lots of fresh strawberries, edible flours (yup, 4 of those too), and a little pitcher of sour cherry sauce.
Fondant Pancake: Inside!!!
I cut into the pancake to portion it into four chunks, and my heart skipped a beat.  The center was molten, and liquid white chocolate came spilling out everywhere.  Much like the yolk from the poached eggs, except, um, white chocolate.

Oh, yes.

The pancake was a thing of wonder.  The outside was like a baked cake, but inside was a thick liquid core.  Liquid white chocolate.  Crazy sweet.  Crazy rich.  Crazy delicious.

The macadamia crumble, much like the fried shallots from the mac, added a great crunch and textural element.  I appreciated how much crumble was provided, both under the ice cream and on top of the pancake itself.  We used it all.

Speaking of ice cream, the blackcurrant ice cream was fine, although not particularly memorable.  I do always like ice cream with my hot desserts though, and I appreciated the cold element here.

The vanilla crème fraiche I expected to really care about, since I love that sort of thing, but alongside the fondant and ice cream, it somehow disappeared.

And finally, the little beaker of sour cherry sauce.  It was tart, and good to have something to cut the sweet, but we all agreed we still didn't really taste it much.  After we finished everything else though, one diner decided to finish off the sour cherry sauce (and, it wasn't me!), and discovered it had cardamom in it.  The rest of us didn't really believe her, so we all took a spoonful of the sauce on its own, and, yup, it had cardamom.  No question.  It was quite strong actually.  But none of us tasted it when all combined together.

Overall, this dish was great.  Lots of textures, lots of flavors, multiple temperatures, but very sweet.  The entire concept of the fondant pancake was new to us, and I think we were all fascinated by it.  That said, I think it needs some refinement.  It was a bit sad that several elements were entirely lost in the dish, simply over powered.  Still, highly recommended, and I'm curious to see them evolve this dish.  I kept following Cuckoo Callay on Instagram long after I left Sydney, just to play along from home.

My favorite dish, one other diner's favorite dish, and the other two both said it was just too hard to rate on the same scale as the savory dishes, but, if they could order only one thing, they'd go savory.
Cuckoo Callay Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Better Burger, Sydney International Airport

Another random Sydney airport dining review.  So very lackluster.  My least favorite venue so far.
Muffins and Ice Cream ... not a success.
There was nothing about this visit that was a success.

Service was awful, I waited a full 4-5 minutes just to order, as there was no one there to take my order, the staff person coming around and acknowledging me, saying, "it won't be long", but then taking forever to come back.  I ordered decaf coffee, paid for it, and was then told they didn't have any.  Knowledge of the ice cream was ... limited at best.

Perhaps better for lunch, for the namesake burgers, or for sides, but, wow, what a unimpressive visit I had.  No desire to give another shot.

Setting

Better Burger is located near gate 10, right past duty free, once you enter the International terminal, airside.  Just turn left, and its right there.

Primarily a burger place, with fries and milkshakes, although it is open in the morning as well, which is when I visited around 10am.
Menu.
Even though it was 10am, the menu only had the lunch items displays.  It also just said "A selection of salads", with no details.

Not helpful, as I know they carry breakfast items, such as egg sandos for example.
Baked Goods / Yogurt / Fruit.
The display cases showed some lackluster looking packaged yogurt and fruit, very non-authentic bread-like croissants, and a trio of muffins: chocolate, blueberry, orange poppy.

Nothing looked great, but you know I can't resist baked goods.
Seating.
The seating area is modern and attractive, with stools, benches, and unique design.  It is a small area with only a few tables, but it wasn't busy during my visit.

I'd say the seating area is the only part of this establishment that I found positive.

Food & Drink

I ordered a decaf long black, paid for it, but about 10 minutes later was told that they don't actually have decaf.  Sigh.
Blueberry Muffin. $6.
From the muffin lineup, I opted for the blueberry, since I don't care for orange poppy, and there was only one chocolate muffin left, and I wasn't particularly excited for it, so I figured I'd save that for someone else.

It was ... better than the blueberry muffin from Peroni Bar (review soon!), less good than the one from Mach 2 (stay tuned!).  Basically a generic, convenience store quality muffin.  Clearly loaded with preservatives, sweet, but, not dried out nor spongy, so, not that bad.  It had a good number of blueberries.

The berries were well distributed, but weren’t fresh juicy berries, instead, they were seemingly dried?  Overall, this trended on the sweet not wholesome side, but, much like a Costco muffin, I did enjoy it somewhat.    I shared it with a friend, who enjoyed it, saying it was "nommy".  I think that was an endorsement.
Soft Serve Ice Cream. $3.
I love ice cream.  I love soft serve ice cream in particular.

I did not love this ice cream.  I did not even like this ice cream.

But to rewind, I first asked if there were toppings available.  I was given the choice of chocolate, caramel, or strawberry.  I asked for caramel.  Then the cashier said, "oh, let me check".  After a consult with someone else, he said it was broken.  I clarified, "no ice cream, or just no caramel", curious about the word choice of "broken" and "caramel".  He implied no ice cream at all, so I said a bit louder, "Ok, so not just no caramel, no ice cream at all?", in which the other worker, the one who had said the caramel was not an option, said the ice cream was fine.  And that all toppings were broken, whatever that meant.  Clearly, they came from some kind of broken dispenser?

So, plain ice cream it was.  Only offered in a bowl.  Of course I had my own sprinkles with me, so I was ready to jazz it up, but it proved unnecessary, as I only had a few bites and threw it out.

It was grainy, icy, sour.  The texture was bad, the flavor was bad, and honestly, I worried if it had spoiled.

Um, yeah.  Clearly, would not get this again.

Better Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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