Monday, September 15, 2014

Ester, Chippendale

Ester is certainly Sydney’s darling at the moment, especially after winning awards at both the recent Time Out and SMH Good Food Awards. Despite its recent accolades I had no trouble making a booking for a Friday night recently.

Set in an unprepossessing location in the gritty(ish) backstreets of Chippendale the restaurant nestles amongst new apartments, old warehouses, terraces and warehouse conversions and the new Central Park development looms overhead. I really love that a restaurant that is sort of the middle of nowhere (as much as anywhere in the inner city can be “in the middle of nowhere”) is going gangbusters. Proves that if you build something great you don’t need to be on bustling Crown or King Streets for the customers to turn up.

Ester is much more spacious than I was anticipating and despite the concrete walls, the wooden floors and the gale blowing outside the place was lovely and warm. This is no doubt due to the big wood-fired oven they have blazing away in the kitchen. I really like the big arches on the wall - the remind me of the arches of a wood-fired oven. I wonder if that is the intention they were going for?

Whilst we pondered the menu we were given a little bowl of roasted chickpeas with salt, rosemary and (I think) fennel seeds (or something else with an aniseed flavour). I wish I could've lingered over these more as they were all gone by the time my wine arrived.

After a particularly craptastic day I was keen for a glass of wine...or two. I don’t really know much about wine varieties so out waitress was happy to recommend something close to the only wine I know I like (which FYI is a Pinot Gris). I pleased to say my Dario Princic Chardonnay Pinot Grigio Bianco '12 Friuli Italy (wow that’s a mouthful) ($15.00) went down a treat. Ester has a good choice of beers if you’re that way inclined and Dave went for the Mountain Goat Organic Steam Ale from Victoria ($8.50). His beer had a great, fruity scent and flavour and was super easy to drink.

The menu at Ester is a little cryptic. There’s no description, just a few things are listed separated by a forward slash. You can either cross your fingers and hope for the best or ask your waitress for a bit more information. We’re happy to go the first route and are not disappointed at all.

A lot has been written about Ester (by bloggers, avid Urbanspooners and “proper” journalists alike) and many people sing the praises of the Roasted Oysters ($4 each). I’m an oyster lover from way back and couldn’t pass these by. The oysters are served slightly warm (sounds gross, but trust me it’s EPICALLY good) after a brief stint in Ester’s famous wood –fired oven and dressed with a horseradish mignonette. If you’re an oyster lover too then these are a must order.

I think the Lobster Sausage Sanga ($9 each) is a new item on the menu. The “snag” is lovely and tender with a wonderful hit of lobster within. I was particularly enamored with the bread which was thick, moist and crumbly, almost like cake in texture. Excellent.

We were ordering quite a lot (whoops) so just ordered one Smoked Pork Croquette ($5 each) between us to try. The smoky flavour from the oven was really evident in our croquette and I think the lemon was a good way to really lift the flavour to something a bit special.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually ordered bone marrow before but I know a few people who are devotees so I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. Ester’s Bone Marrow and XO sauce ($17) is served with some deliciously smoky (yes, everything is smoky) wood-fired bread which matches SO well with the unctuous, fatty, buttery marrow. Yum.

The cauliflower / almond / mint ($8 for a ½ serve) is another now-famous Ester dish. We’re told the cauliflower is quite a big dish but they are happy to offer a half serve if you’re wanting it as a side to your main...which is what we do. I really love when restaurants are happy to bend a little with their menu to allow their customers a bit more flexibility in ordering. The twice-cooked cauli is served with on top an almond purée and topped with almonds and fresh mint. It really is VERY delicious.

The Honey Glazed Duck ($38.00) is a special for the night and we HAD to order it as Dave finds it nearly impossible to pass up duck on a menu. He was pretty happy let me tell you! The Asian-inspired duck had a super crisp skin, a sweet honey glazed and a subtle Aniseed flavour (Star Anise)?

During dinner I confess that salad is one of my favourite things to eat, a confession brought on no doubt by the salad we ordered. The salad of cos / walnut / white anchovies ($9) is a good counterbalance to the rich, fatty duck and the white anchovy dressing was a thing of beauty. Whilst I declare that I LOVE salad I think what I really love is a good good dressing...something that for me is hard to replicate at home.

I like that the Salted Caramel Semi-Freddo ($4) is just a little dessert. Sometimes you want something sweet after dinner but cannot face a whole dessert. This of course is not that time for us as we also order the whoppingly large Citrus Curd Meringue Pie ($15). The pie comes not served by the slice, but packed into a rather hefty bowl. I have flashbacks of the Magic Pudding as soon as it’s placed before us. Once we dig down beneath the soft, fluffy meringue the citrus curd is *just* on the right side of being eye-squintingly tart, with just a hint of sweetness. The whole lot sits on a dark, crumbly cake-like base. Absolutely LOVED this!

I paired my desserts (well, technically “our” desserts) with an interesting glass of Japanese dessert wine. I’ve never had Japanese dessert wine before, or even heard of it, so it was fun to try something new. Loved the apricot flavour and slightly sour afternote. Much less sweet than other dessert ones I’ve had.

I really enjoyed my dinner at Ester. The food was excellent, hearty, rustic and flavoursome though I have to admit nothing blew my socks right off my feet. I'm keen to go back and try a few of the other things on the menu though as there is SO much more to try (like the prawns please). Soon I hope. If we can get a booking.

Ester Restaurant and Bar is at 46-52 Meagher Street, Chippendale. Phone them on 8068 8279.

 Ester on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 08, 2014

Guerrilla Eats Progressive Dinner, Darlinghurst

Miss Piggy and friend dined as guests of Guerrilla Eats. Terrible photos are all my own work as per usual. 

Sydney based company Guerrilla Eats is bringing a fun, new dining concept to those of us who are keen for a bit of adventure, and a brisk stroll, whilst enjoying a meal out. For those of you old enough to have memories of progressive dinner parties from the 70s and 80s rest assured you don’t need to bring your own plate along to the neighbour’s house in order to take part in this revamped version of the progressive dinner.

A few days before our scheduled Guerrilla Eats experience we receive a “treasure map” via email directing us to where our dinner kicks off, along with our other stops for the night. My friend and I both thought this was great fun and it really got us into the mood for a fun night out.

First stop is Hinky Dinks (185 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst) – a groovy small in Darlinghurst that has a bit of a cool 1950s “cocktail bar” vibe going on. I couldn’t think of a better place to relax on a Friday night and enjoy cocktail hour. Included in our Guerrilla Eats package is a cocktail each and a choice of one item each from the food menu.

Speaking of cocktails – we both decide to order the special cocktail of the night, the classic margarita. We’re giving a little basket of popcorn and also a bowl of beetroot chips to help the margarita along.

In order to maximise chatting and drinking time we ask our waiter to select the food for us…which is always a great idea in my mind as who knows the stellar menu items better than those people who work at the place? He doesn’t disappoint us, sending out a plate of lusciously fluffy, and tasty Jalapeño croquettes (4 per serve) and a box of moreish popcorn chicken with BBQ sauce.

Before we know it our time as Hinky Dinks is up and we’re off searching for the next place. I actually had no idea where Jekyll and Hyde (332 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst) was having not heard of it before so it was fun actually having to “search” for the venue.

Turns out Jekyll and Hyde occupies the spot where Café Fellini used to be – which is where Dave and I had our very first date a billionty years ago. It was lovely to see how the place had transformed into a warm, inviting space with a bit of a Brit meets Paris vibe going on.

More cocktails are on offer and my buddy and I decide on two different cocktails that take our fancy with the view to sharing them…sharing is caring after all. My favourite of the two was the Jekyll’s Elderflower Sour (Hendricks Gin with St Germain Elderflower Liqueur with fresh lemon juice, hopped grapefruit bitters and and rose – served on the rocks). Luckily my friend prefers the French Mojito which was just a *bit* too potent for me (Havana blanco, Peach Liqueur, Chambord, lime and mint shaken with sugar syrup, finished with a splash of Sparkling Wine for something different).

Our “dinner” portion of the evening kicks off with a few smaller plates including a battered and fried haloumi with a lemon honey syrup (yum), crispy fried zucchini flowers with roasted pumpkin and thyme stuffing with an aioli dressing and finally a deconstructed warm beetroot and goats cheese tart with candied walnuts and a beetroot dressing.

For our “large plates” I was really keen to try the slow cooked beef rillette served with a beetroot relish and chimmichurri sauce - served with crispbread of course – as it’s totally different to the French style rillettes we enjoyed in Paris last year (think duck, goose and pork). It wasn't as unctuous or fatty as the French-style rillette, and was still quite rich in flavour so the relish and sauce was welcomed. The rillette was accompanied by a sweet potato rotolo that I was really too full to enjoy properly. My stomach let me down!

By this stage I was feeling pretty (very) full so I was glad to get up and stroll to our final destination, The Darlo Bar, for a nightcap. Here we get to enjoy a tap beer or a house wine and watch all the cool Darlinghurst people having fun in this retro style pub.

This was a GREAT night out and with so many different Guerrilla Eats options on offer there really is something to suit everyone. I love the idea of making the experience of dining out a real adventure – and as a person keen to try ALL the restaurants Sydney has to offer what could be better than getting to try three places all in one night? Nothing!

You can visit the Guerrilla Eats website here, or phone them on 8078 4776 or email on

Hinky Dinks on Urbanspoon

Jekyll & Hyde on Urbanspoon

Darlo Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 01, 2014

Armory Wharf Cafe, Newington

Keeping with the theme of exploring all things local at the moment, we make a visit to the Armory Wharf Café at Newington with Dave’s family. We’re there to celebrate his brother’s birthday with a spot of Segwaying around the Armory, followed by lunch at the café.

For the record, Segwaying is AWESOME fun. If these things ever become street legal in NSW (they are not at the moment so anyone you see not on private property is breaking the law) I’m giving up walking and replacing my legs with a Segway...

Now, onto the food. After seeing everyone else’s meals I think I could’ve been more adventurous with my ordering. I NEED to stop order things based solely on whether or not they come with chips or not. Nevertheless my grilled scotch fillet ciabatta roll (toasted), with caramelised onion, gruyere cheese, Smoky BBQ sauce, roquette slaw ($18.50) hit the spot. As did the chunky chips.

My father-in-law wanted something light and ordered the Beetroot Cured Atlantic Salmon on a nicoise salad of potato, green beans, onion, capers. and olives ($22.00). This was topped with a poached egg.

The crispy battered flathead fillets with chunky chips with a side of lemon, caper and garlic sauce ($20.00) was a pretty popular choice at the table. The fish pieces were HUGE, totally eclipsing the decently sized serve of chips. The batter was as crispy and cracking and is looks. The inclusion of a token salad ensures you don't feel like a total fat blob eating this. Food envy.

The salt and pepper squid with orange and fennel salad and served with aioli ($21.00) was another popular choice. The red onion rings were pretty tasty (I may have stolen one...or two).

Dave was carb-loading post our Segwaying adventure and ordered the Trio of Dawgs ($22.00). Each of the the three soft brioche buns showcased a different type of "dog".  We have the traditional American Frankfurt, mustard and onion; a Bratwurst and Sauerkraut; and for the French want-to-be in all of us a Toulouse sausage w/ five-spice marmalade, and goats cheese. In case you're still peckish after all of this rest assured this dish comes with a serve of chunky chips.

More food envy with this fact this is the dish I really REALLY wished I'd ordered.  Here we have VERY large ravioli filled with pumpkin, potato and pine nuts finished in the pan with a sage and beurre noisette and pine nut sauce ($22.00). Served with a side radicchio you do. I stared longingly at this dish for the ENTIRE meal and my niece finally! offered me a taste. Excellent.

Overall we had a pretty nice lunch at  The Armory Wharf Cafe.  We were a big group and I think we were well looked after given how busy and chaotic this place was on the day we visited. I'd be keen to visit again on a much more sunny (and warmer) day.

The Armory Wharf Cafe can be found in the Blaxland Riverside Park, Jamieson Street, Newington. Phone them on 9714 7513.

Armory Wharf Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 25, 2014

Badmanner Thymes Cafe, Parramatta

I'm thrilled that another Parramatta cafe has decided to open up its doors on weekends for the locals to enjoy. It seems a lot of new cafes initially open Monday to Friday (which is great if you work in the 'hood {which I don't so it's bad for me}).  Once these weekyday cafes find their feet the locals are set to benefit with weekend opening times. Yay!

Badmanner Thymes Cafe is...compact with a lovely, cozy fit out. I love the old leather Chesterfield that sits against the back wall (channeling "Central Perk" from Friends perhaps)...and there are interesting little bits and pieces to feast your eyes upon whilst you wait for your food. It's a great space that feels really warm and welcoming.

We kick things off with coffees - a piccolo latte for me and a cappuccino for Dave. Both of our coffees are great, very smooth and easy to drink.

One of the specials of the day is a Big Breakfast which Dave immediately orders...he doesn't even need to look at the menu. He's VERY happy with his breakfast...the scrambled eggs are nice and fluffy and the plate is crammed with baby spinach, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon and a smokey, delicious chorizo.

There are two Korean inspired rolls on the menu (though the chef isn't Korean...he just has a thing for experimenting with Korean food). On this visit I go for the Bulgogi Roll (and next time I'll hit up the Kimchi Roll). This roll is REALLY delicious! The toasted wholemeal roll and is filled with thin slices of marinated beef, pickled white radish, Spanish onion, band topped with a generous serving of sweet potato crisps. There's a little chilli hiding in amongst this medley of chilli whimps beware! I loved how the crisp sweet potato crisps offset the soft roll and tender beef. The aoli is really lovely, with just a little bit of "zing" to it.

I'm normally able to avoid the temptation of the sweet offerings at cafe, but the lure of a cabinet filled with Cronuts (aka "Brewnuts) from Brewtown is too much to resist.

We decide on a Cinnamon Cronut and our waitress heats it up for a little. It's not as mind-blowing as the Cronut from Brewtwon which I enjoyed pretty much fresh from the oven, but it's still pretty impressive to have THE LEGENDEY CRONUT IN PARRAMATTA! We've hit the big time now folks.

I'm not in the mood for a second coffee so decide to try one of their fresh juices. I opt for the Ginger Zinga as I love ginger in juices. The drink comes in a (hipster) jam jar glass sans paper straw (thankfully). I think paper straws are cute but it's nice to be able to linger over your drink without your straw disintegrating on you.

Badmanner Thymes is a great new weekend addition to Parramatta's weekend eating options. The cafe is cute, has great coffee, a good menu and some really friendly staff. At the moment they are just opening Saturdays (til about 4pm) but hope to open up on Sundays in October(ish).

Badmanner Thymes Cafe is at 1 Horwood Place, Parramatta.

Badmanner Thymes on Urbanspoon

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