Beach Club @ Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel

Monday, 18 August 2014

Winding your way up New and Old South Head Roads, there's a vague feeling that you're traipsing to the ends of the Earth. A day excursion of sorts, with some spectacular views en route. Heartbreak Hill is nothing of the sort when you take a sweeping glance to the left. There's something special about Watsons Bay, because it is a 'visit once a year' sort of place, each occasion is special and gives out warm and fuzzy holiday vibes. This month I made the pilgrimage to Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel and Beach Club, a venue has been on my wish list for the longest time.

Lunch: my best impressions of a vogue living shoot! Loving the look of the concrete tabletops, functional to a T

A grand renovation saw the new and improved Watsons Bay Boutique throw open it's doors late last year, just in time for the summer season. Living by the harbour, Sydneysiders love a good outdoor venue and Watsons Bay is no slouch. With styling and interiors by Sydney company Alexander & Co., the outfit looks pretty schmick with a bold use of colour (and nautical stripes for that matter) and great attention to detail. Antiques and flowers dot almost every flat surface giving a very lived-in and comforting feel. Affording water views from inside and out, the Beach Club certainly maximises every inch of its precious real estate. The restaurant and bar occupy multiple levels for relaxed wining and dining.

Let the light in: glimpses of the harbour from one of the many window seats

Keeping it casual, orders for drink and food are placed at the bar and you take a table number. I can only imagine the kind of crowds that the Beach Club contends with during the summer months, but on the day I visited it was really quite civilised and relaxing at that. A quick getaway, if only for the day. The sheer size of the Beach Club itself is quite impressive and also caters for larger groups and conferences. The Sunset Room is also available for private hire and perfect for weddings (or miscellaneous party time). 

Interiors by Alexander & Co. perfectly encapsulate seaside chic. Now, if only we were in Byron Bay...

Executive chef John Pye has designed a menu for all ages (including big kids); featuring crowd favourites like fish & chips, the Bay burger and a dedicated kids menu. On top of that there are seasonal main courses (read: comfort food during this wintery wet spell) as well as all-day breakfast options for those of us who sleep past 10.     The direction is mostly casual and great for a long lunch followed by a luxurious beach stroll. Simple pleasures.

Crab carbonara linguine with pancetta and organic egg. This dish looked good on paper but unfortunately fell short. The sauce was far too rich ad overpowering for the delicate crab, a great shame for such a beautiful ingredient (which was rather sparse on the plate). Perhaps the addition of some sort of vegetable, like asparagus could do this dish a world of good. A bit one dimensional for me

Hot out of the oven, the rather generous serve of (Shepherd's) fish pie. Easily enough for two at lunch, this dish is the perfect winter warmer. The lovely gratinated top is just the start, with lovely large fresh chunks of fresh fish including salmon, mussels and prawn. Towards the end, I was digging for treasure, trying to retrieve each skerrick of seafood embedded in the thick layer of creamy mash. Everything I could wish for in a fish pie :)

The outdoor bar and dining area. Only for brave souls during the cold!

One couldn't help but notice there was a major shortage of pepper, also keenly felt by our neighbouring table. Only after surreptitiously going up to three or so tables and giving the pepper mills a good shake, were we able to find some. Small inconveniences like this stop me from heaping praise on this place, or perhaps I'm being fastidious. The shortcomings at lunch are more than made up for in the atmosphere, service and charms of the Beach Club. Watsons Bay Beach Club is well suited to but not limited to preppy Eastern suburbs types heading for a quiet cocktail or beer. Don't let the driving rain in Sydney (at the moment) deter you from the decent pub-style food and fun times to be had at Watsons Bay Beach Club. Keep this venue in your back pocket.

Beautiful little flower arrangements are a nice touch at Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel

Thanks for reading!
Watsons Beach Club on Urbanspoon

Gourmand dined courtesy of Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel. Thank you for having me!

Snapshot: Sydney Cafés V

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Sydney is now home to a swathe of new cafés, quickly swelling to Melbornian proportions (well, almost). Quite frankly, the industry has become a rather perplexing beast swaying under the pressures of sky-high rent, keeping up appearances on social media and somehow having 'an edge' over everyone else. Because let's face it, the standards of coffee and café fare at the moment are nothing to be sniffed at (go us :D). Now the rest of us can go forth and reap the spoils! Sydney café society is very much alive and kicking, particularly in the Inner West. Suburbs like Chippendale, Enmore and Marrickville are running red hot at the moment. Here are a few that are leading the charge:

Brewtown Newtown

6-8 O'Connell St, Newtown

I may just have a thing for great typography and signage. Here are the 23 karat gold leaf efforts by Lynes & Co Source: Lynes & Co

Ever since my time as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed undergrad (back in the day) I've always had a soft spot for Newtown. Not only for its accessibility and character but also all the cafés, bookshops and quirky boutiques that line King Street in their dozens, not to mention $6.50 thai food. It's utterly irresistible. It's a little cultural hub and if I ever lived there...I might never well leave! Ever since opening last year, Brewtown Newtown has had a dream run. I'm thinking the alliteration might have a role there. Taking over the old Berkelouw bookshop site with an 'industrial' revamp, this airy space is now home to a café, micro-roastery and boutique of nice things in O'Connell Street Merchants upstairs.

And so, the battle of the coffee ferns ensues... After watching the Latte Art Smackdown at the Aroma Coffee Festival this year I have a new appreciation for the pouring of milk. Crazy. Person. I feel as though coffee in Sydney has reached a plateau, but in a good way. Not quite to the ridiculous standards of Melbourne (ruthless) but we try!

It's a familiar story, these lads (and ladettes) are serious about their coffee.  Sourcing green beans from a far off plantation in Panama, they are then roasted onsite where all the magic happens under the name of Gnome Coffee Merchants. Brewtown prides itself on showcasing seasonal blends as well as single origin brews. Take your pick from espresso, cold drip or filter; it's all there and if you don't know what I'm going on about, just order your go-to like I eventually did. A regular cap, s'il vous plaît! The menu is nice and concise with options appealing to all. I zoned in on the most unhealthy thing on the menu - there were cronuts involved. I have to say that Brewtown is hitting all the right notes with their set-up. Definitely worth a try if you can get a table! Good luck with that.

Baked polenta with mushrooms, grilled asparagus, poached egg & parmesan ($15). A super popular dish on the Brewtown menu, this is a lovely combination perfect for lunch or brekkie. The eggs were poached well, with the polenta to mop up all the yolk

Elvis burger: ground beef, savoury cronut, canadian bacon, gruyère and mayo with chips and relish ($16.50). It looks half eaten but actually this was the perfect serving size considering how calorie laden every mouthful was. Hidden under the innocuous disc of cronut was a proper hamburger, and very indulgent at that. The relish was a nice touch and potato wedges go with everything...

Brewtown Newtown on Urbanspoon

Bion Societé

Cnr Layton & Lambert Streets, Camperdown

A decent cappucino, or maybe I was just dying for caffeine at that point!

Not far from Sydney University or RPA, Bion Societé is tucked away from the chaos of Parramatta Road. Like a suburban oasis for locals, this is the perfect local coffee shop by all accounts. The interior is quite striking with floor to ceiling windows, larger communal tables and a green wall. With a very warm welcome we are ushered to our table, crowned with a huge pot plant which I discreetly pushed to one side. With coffee orders placed, I was already in my happy place.

Another rather swanky and super appealing café interior Source: Bion Societé

Chef Cherag Baria and the team have devised a very thoughtful café menu featuring plenty of crowd favourites from the all day breakfast  as well as a few dishes with a Bion twist. The crispy skin ocean trout dish with harissa looked delicious! As soon as the dishes hit the table we were pleasantly surprised by the care put into the plating. From the get-go I was pretty impressed by the whole package. The food was also a cut above (in the café food stakes) with a nice attention to detail. A big tick from me!

Persian breakfast: oven baked eggs and spiced lamb slowly cooked in tomato, capsicum, ricotta & coriander sauce with toasted sourdough ($21). The eggs were perfectly cooked, nice and runny to trawl through the dish. A good effort although I do look back fondly at Kepos Street Kitchen's version

Smoked salmon stack: sourdough toast, avocado puree, feta, smoked salmon, trout roe, fresh herbs, pesto olive oil & marinated black olives ($14.50). A thing of beauty, you wouldn't dream of doing this kind of fancy work at home. And the perfect serving size

BION Café breakfast: 2 eggs (cooked to your preference) with caramelised tomato, herb butter, mushrooms, chorizo, bacon, wilted spinach & toasted sourdough ($20). Old faithful = the perfect hangover cure (not that we were hungover :D)

Thanks for reading!
Bion Societé on Urbanspoon


Thursday, 7 August 2014

If there's one venue in London that's been hit by the hype machine, it's Sushisamba. Seats have never been such hot property than at this fusion restaurant nestled near the top of Heron Tower. Downstairs to its decidedly tame buddy Duck & Waffle, Sushisamba lets its hair down in a tumble of bamboo and hanging light globes. If you're confused by the name, you're not alone. Describing itself as blending Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian influences I see this going only one of two ways: to soaring heights or a crushing low. And so the bar is set, and it's about 39 storeys high.

Yellowtail Sashimi Tiradito with lemongrass and jalapeño. The yellowtail was a bit on the fishy side for me i.e. could be fresher (shame!). The dipping sauce gave a nice spicy kick however

The Sushisamba name has officially gone global with venues also in Miami beach (well, duh) and Vegas. As you stroll casually into this vast space, you feel like you're at a nightclub in broad daylight...Ou est le dancefloor? CetraRuddy who took charge of the interior design really went to town with a restaurant floor bordering on the excess. I do appreciate the leather 'luggage strap' seats, they look great (and are really comfy). This is a restaurant designed for A-listers and Ibiza-type party people, and I notice the lounge area perfectly positioned for people watching. As for me? I'm hoping there's a bit of substance amongst all this style. I just want some decent nosh (it's all I ask for)!

If it's wow factor they were going for, they have it in spades. The rather dramatic bamboo and light feature sets the scene for a different kind of dining experience... Source: Pure Consult

One glance at the menu and you know it's not for the faint hearted, not only for the unusual flavour combinations but also the prices. Prepare to do some serious damageIf you fancy trying the ishi yaki (grilled) wagyu it'll only set you back a tidy 49 pounds ;) And the serves are not big here, let me tell you. If there's one thing that I will give credit for, it's concept. All those preconceived ideas about food in London being dull and lifeless are coming about to come crashing down.

Crispy taquitos: wagyu, avocado and shichimi mayonnaise. These were a standout of the meal for me. Delicioso! The combination of wagyu and avocado were divine. This was the perfect dish with a generous squeeze of lime. Must. Try.

Tuna seviche with pomegranate leche de tigre (say what?), maiz morado (translation?), wasabi peas and basil. I thought this dish looked stunning when it came out, like edible artwork. Although the foam was rendered a bit superfluous once it disappeared. After a while the flavours in the seviche sort of amalgamated together, so it ends up all tasting the same with an overwhelming, vinegary aftertaste - am I painting a picture here?

Ezo samba roll: soy marinated salmon, asparagus, onion, chive, sesame, tempura crunch, soy paper and wasabi mayo. Who needs nori when you've got soy paper? This was quite an interesting element. I could happily have eaten this roll with raw salmon (instead of seared). A bit more mayo would have been ideal

Pork ribs, BBQ miso, pickled yuzu apple. What can I say, you can't go wrong with meat that pulls of the bone like this did and a bit of stickiness from the glaze that coats the fingers...yes.

Teriyaki poussin, japanese-style mayonnaise, yuzu kosho. Poussin is basically a fancy name for a young chicken. The salty soy hit from the teriyaki sauce went beautifully well with the mayonnaise (which was itself a high point). A good effort, and the meat was well cooked

The Brazilian-Peruvian-Japanese fusion thing is admirably conceived and executed. As if going through some sort of identity crisis, the only similarity I can see between those cuisines is the use of raw fish (i.e. sashimi and ceviche). It still remains a little on the weird side and 'niche' for me, but I have to applaud the effort of it all. The plating for one is some of the best I've seen; full of vibrancy and delicate touches. Perhaps this has come at the expense of developing flavour. The more traditional Japanese dishes, the sushi and sashimi were nothing to write home about sadly. But look, it's difficult to criticise this emerging empire which is doing so fantastically well i.e. book well ahead. As a unique dining 'experience' Sushisamba certainly gets top marks; just be wary of becoming a victim of the hype.

My rather amateur photog effort - I'm blaming the equipment here! Haha

Thanks for reading!
Sushisamba on Urbanspoon
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