Review: Mary’s City (Sydney, NSW)

154 Castlereagh Street
Sydney NSW 2000

After spending a morning at the French Consulate, I found myself roaming Sydney’s city streets looking for a good feed. It was a glorious winter day in my favourite Aussie city – sure, it was cold but the sun was out and the winds were (thankfully) nowhere to be found. There was no better way to spend the afternoon than by enjoying lunch outside, in Hyde Park.

Luckily, my favourite Sydney burger joint, Mary’s, has a branch in the city. The city joint is just a block away from Hyde Park so I decided that lunch that day was going to be burger, fries, gravy and a lot of bloating (totally worth it though… or so I thought).

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Predictably, the Thursday afternoon queue was massive. The diminutive city store only does take away and most of the people patiently lining up were hungry office workers. Fortunately, the line does move fast. (that said, I then waited an extra 15 minutes to the side for my food to be ready.)

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Taking cues from its Newtown big sister, the city store also has a wall where punters can scribble dick pics and lewd messages to their heart’s content.

Cheeseburger ($10)
Cheeseburger ($10)

Walking over to Hyde Park, I eagerly unpacked the contents of my white paper bag. Although the city store has all the Newtown menu favourites, its price point is a bit different. If you order a cheeseburger in Newtown, $15 will get you a generously sized burger with chips. Here, $10 gets you a much smaller burger and no chips. In fact, I was surprised at how small, deflated and sorry-looking my city burger was. I was even more surprised to find that it tasted like a Maccas cheeseburger minus the onions and pickle. It was hard to believe that this burger was actually a Mary’s burger. What. The Hell.

Gravy ($4)
Gravy ($4)

You can’t leave Mary’s without ordering gravy to go with your fries. Seeing as the burger came without fries, I ordered a serving of them ($4) and a tub of gravy ($4). Thankfully, they tasted just as I remembered; the chips were crispy and well-seasoned and while the gravy wasn’t as lusciously velvety as the ones I’ve enjoyed in Newtown, it was still delicious. God bless rendered chicken fat and a splash of warm stock, oh yeah.

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Look. Despite the #burgerfail, it was actually not a bad lunch.

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Review: Green Peppercorn (Sydney, NSW)

388 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 8080 7043
http://www.greenpeppercorn.com.au/

When Dom told me there was a place that served a decent Thai food in the same building as the Civic Hotel in the city, I wrinkled my nose. To me, the ‘Civ was in the same league as Melbourne’s Club Retro, a place that I’d only set foot in after 1:30am on Saturday morning after more than a few wines and after frequenting the city’s better night haunts. In other words, it’s not a place that I’d start a night off at.

Yet, Dom also happens to be my intel when it comes to good cheap Sydney fare so I did I protest when he lead me up to stairs to the Civic? Nope, not at all. The place we’re talking about is Green Peppercorn, said to be one of Sydney’s better Thai restaurants. Being from Melbourne and having lived on Gold Coast for more than a year now, I’ve had my fair share of mediocre Thai food so anything from a Sydney Thai restaurant was always going to be a marked improvement.

Green Peppercorn has two branches, this city one and one in Fairfield. Both promise casual contemporary fit-outs and a menu combining Lao and Thai cuisine, featuring traditional favourites and a few regional specialities from northern Thailand.

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I ordered a glass of white, Dom ordered a beer and we decided on several dishes to share.

Sai krok ison ($11.90)
Sai krok ison ($11.90)

We both enjoyed the Issan-style sausages. Made from a traditional Northern Thai recipe, these house-made pork sausages were slightly seasoned and grilled over charcoal for a smoky and slightly tangy flavour.

Prawn pad thai ($17.90)
Prawn pad thai ($17.90)

Much to Dom’s amusement, I decided to go all Aussie, mate, by ordering the prawn pad thai. Hey, don’t diss me – I’m allowed to crave pad thai just as you guys are allowed to crave Nutella donuts, okay? Green Peppercorn did a lovely version – the noodles were perfectly firm, the proteins all well-cooked and the sweet-sour ratio on point. Topped with bean sprouts and crushed peanuts, this pad thai was a study of what Thai restaurants in Gold Coast SHOULD be doing, rather than dousing the noodles with too much sweetness.

Roast duck red curry ($17.90)
Roast duck red curry ($17.90)

Our final dish was an excellent roast duck red curry. It was a beautifully hearty dish that soothed my cold bones, minus the heaviness. A handful of cherry tomatoes, pineapple and lychees worked well to counteract the creaminess while an appropriate amount of chilli provided a much-welcomed spicy kick.

If I had more room in my stomach, I would have loved to try some of the traditional Laotian dishes but hey, next time. My go-to place for Thai in Sydney city is still Chat Thai (sorry, you’ll always remember your first…) but Green Peppercorn is a great alternative if you can’t be bothered queuing up for a peak hour dinner table.

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Review: Yasaka Ramen (Sydney, NSW)

126 Liverpool Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9262 9027
http://www.yasakaramen.com.au/

There are several things you can’t really avoid when in Sydney city: riff raff on George Street at night, bad drivers and great ramen eateries. I happened to be in Sydney for a very quick afternoon stopover; it was cold and windy, and my stomach was yearning for a bowl of unctuous, porky goodness with lots and lots of noodles. My friend Dom, who is my go-to person for cheap eats in Sydney, mentioned Yasaka Ramen during a conversation we had one night so I knew that’s where I wanted to go for lunch before I even stepped off the plane.

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Word.

At 11:30 on a weekday, Yasaka was dead quiet so I had my pick of bar seating. There, for the next thirty minutes, I was able to slurp, savour and worship each spoonful of ramen in silence before Sydney’s office workers and tradies started arriving for their fix.

Tonkotsu shoyu with egg ($14.80)
Tonkotsu shoyu with egg ($14.80)

This. Perfection right here. (yes, I’m aware that the word ‘perfection’ is used way too much in food blogging but screw it, it really was perfection.)

Takoyaki (four for $6)
Takoyaki (four for $6)

I can’t say no to good dose of takoyaki and Yasaka does a fantastic version. Yasaka’s takoyaki comes in multiples of four or eight and you can choose from a range of toppings such as spicy mayo, wasabi soy sauce or even grilled cheese. I decided to be sensible and boring, though, by opting for four pieces drizzled with the original takoyaki sauce and shaved bonito flakes.

Slightly firm to the bite and full of flavour, they were pretty on par to the ones that I enjoyed on the streets of Osaka last year. No sign of soggy ball syndrome here, my friends.

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I could also wax lyrical about my bowl of tonkotsu shoyu ramen, which was reasonably priced given the amount and quality I received. The milky, flavoursome tonkotsu broth was infused with a soy sauce paste to give it that extra bit of umami oomph (not that it really needed much anyway). To top things off, there was a buttery piece of chashu, bamboo shoots, chopped spring onion and nori. Oh, and a soft-boiled soy egg – you can’t forget that.

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It wasn’t a terribly big bowl but I really did struggle to finish it (I’m blaming the takoyaki). Still, the ramen didn’t leave me with that nasty bloated feeling I get when I eat at some of the city’s other ramen restaurants whose offerings tend to be on the super-ridic-heavy side so that’s a good thing.

In terms of taste, price point and service, I’d say Yasaka is up there with one of my favourites in Sydney now. Cheers, Dom.

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Review: Mary’s (Sydney, NSW)

6 Mary Street
Newtown NSW 2042
+61 2 4995 9550

When I’m in Sydney, there’s only one place I go when the burger craving hits – and no, it’s not McDonalds, not even when I’m desperate. I go to Mary’s, one of Newtown’s favourite eateries and by that, I mean one that’s often frequented by hipsters and food bloggers.

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Blending into its grungy Newtown surrounds, Mary’s is befittingly dingy, dark and, let’s face it, uninviting from the outside. It’s pretty much the same story inside but with constant loud Angry White Boy music blaring from the speakers – not exactly a place I’d take my conservative Asian parents to.

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That said, the former sexual health clinic-cum-burger joint is strangely cosy and inviting once your ears get used to the thumping music. The team are friendly, attentive and full of energy, even on a Saturday afternoon before 1pm.

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Mary’s keeps its menu simple by offering only three burgers, including a mushroom one for the vegos. I usually go the cheeseburger ($15), though in the past I’ve sometimes gone for the namesake Mary’s burger with trashcan bacon (essentially bacon that’s been cooked in a trashcan, $15). All burgers come with a generous serving of crispy shoestring fries.

Irrespective of what burger ends up being ordered, they’re always consistently damn good. The bun is simple, soft and white (none of this overly sweet and buttery fancy brioche stuff if that ain’t your thing), the meat is well-seasoned and juicy and the whole thing is held together by salad and a squirt of ketchup. It’s simple stuff, done very very well and sometimes that’s really all you need.

Mashed potato and gravy ($5)
Mashed potato and gravy ($5)

I also make sure the mash and gravy is ordered. Ladies and gents, you really haven’t lived unless you’ve tried Mary’s mash and gravy. The potato was so soft and so silky that it was almost like eating a carb version of velvet. Meanwhile, the gravy was full of flavour, thanks to the generous amount of rendered chicken fat that was used to boost the flavour profile. Give me a spoon and I can eat this stuff all day long, baby.

The perfect beverage choice to match the burgers would be, of course, be a Bloody Mary’s. If you’re more into beers, however, Mary’s has a decent selection of pilsners and craft beers. The cocktail list is also worth pursuing – they even have a drink called the ‘Noble C*nt’ if you’re feeling particularly bold. In all seriousness though, just give me a beer, a burger and gravy and I’m a happy camper.

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Review: Pinbone (Sydney, NSW)

3 Jersey Road
Woollahra NSW 2025
+61 2 9328 1600
http://www.pinbone.com.au/

It’s been a while since I’ve had a dining experience that made me go ‘wow’ – and I don’t mean the ‘wow’ that’s usually uttered when you see the astronomical bill at the end of the night. I’m talking about the wow that’s normally reserved for those restaurants that offer something different, restaurants that don’t try too hard, restaurants that serve beautiful and refreshing food and finally, restaurants that just KNOW how to get everything right. Pinbone was a culmination of all those factors – and a lot more.

It all started one Saturday morning in Sydney. MVB and I were nibbling on dumplings at the markets, trying to figure out where to go for dinner that night. We didn’t have the foresight to book ahead at any of the hot and happenin’ places nor did we feel like queuing up for burgers at Mary’s. Someone on one of our Instagram feeds mentioned Pinbone, a Woollahra icon that had been around for as long as MVB could remember but he, himself, had never got around to going. We didn’t like our chances of getting a table but we thought we’d give them a ring anyway.

Predictably, the restaurant was closed when I rang them to see if I can squeeze in a table for two so I left a message on the answering machine with my mobile phone. Not even an hour later, a text from an unknown number came through:

‘Hi Libby, it’s Berri from Pinbone. I just wanted to check how many people your booking was for?’

And just like that, after a few rapid text exchanges, a table was booked for 6pm that very night. As someone who dislikes phone conversations, I was happy – an entire booking conducted by text message!

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We rocked up to the split-level restaurant at 6 on the dot before being ushered upstairs to a beautiful room, surrounded by white walls. Our soundtrack for the night began with the likes of The Cure before heading into Joy Division and New Order territory; that’s when I knew I had already fallen in love with this place – and we hadn’t even tasted any food yet!

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After a boozy night the previous night, we hadn’t planned on ordering drinks but decided to look at the wine list anyway. There was a very respectable list of whites and reds in addition to a succinct ‘fizzy shit’ list covering champagne and sparkling wine. No, that’s what it actually said on the menu: fizzy shit!

It worked though. Before we knew it, we were clinking our glasses of fizzy shit and sipping it while we waited for our little snacks to arrive.

Pinbone’s list individual snack also had some eye brow-raising items. There was ‘fairy bread’ listed as the first item as well as something called ‘smoky cheesy potato thing.’ Well blimey, both those items were ordered in addition to a few sundries that caught MVB’s attention. Yup, I’m a sucker for oddly worded things.

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Our spread of individual snacks.

Chicken popper ($4)
Chicken popper ($4)

MVB ordered the chicken popper which, to me, looked like a piece of chicken karaage on a butter lettuce cup with a bit of mayo hidden in there somewhere (‘lol lol lol san choy bao,’ I sniggered. ‘lol lol lol’). MVB said the chicken was crispy and succulent, but didn’t exactly blow him away.

Fairy bread ($4)
Fairy bread ($4)

My so-called fairy bread looked like it was a much better choice. The base was brioche, the ‘butter’ was masacarpone and the topping, flying fish roe. I enjoyed the wonderful contrast between the creamy, velvety cream and the soft, crunchy roe. This was sure better than any fairy bread I had back when I was a little kid.

‘Smoky cheesy potato thing’ ($4)
‘Smoky cheesy potato thing’ ($4)

Pinbone’s ‘smoky cheesy potato thing’ looked like a ‘very very naughty thing.’ Essentially, it was a hollowed out baked potato half that held a lusciously buttery gruyere and parmesan filling. I gave it my two thumbs up.

Crispy chicken skin, bread sauce, anchovy ($4)
Crispy chicken skin, bread sauce, anchovy ($4)

The crispy chicken skin was another fantastic snack – I’m a sucker for fried chicken skin so this dish was always going to be a winner by default. Chuck in a creamy bread sauce and a single anchovy though and you have me singing hallelujah, Dr Alban style.

Peanut custard, pickled peanuts, edamame ($20)
Peanut custard, pickled peanuts, edamame ($20)

We then moved onto the larger plates. The peanut custard was a dish that caught both our eyes because c’mon, who’s ever heard of peanut custard? We’re not normally ones to order vegetarian dishes (unless it’s a begrudging side dish to make ourselves feel better) but we were curious.

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The peanut custard was very much like a piece of silken tofu, but with a subtle nutty taste. I liked the custard itself (So light! So delicate! So silky!) but I didn’t think the dish was as cohesive as it could have been. The pickled peanuts just seemed like they were thrown in there as an afterthought and I’m not a big edamame fan to begin with so these didn’t exactly win points.

Grilled salmon belly, charred shallot, mirin ($22)
Grilled salmon belly, charred shallot, mirin ($22)

Much better was the grilled salmon belly, a silky, buttery piece of protein intertwined with lovely fatty goodness. A lovely dose of mirin broke down the richness a little while adding a lovely sweetness, while the charred shallot imparted a much welcomed smokiness to the dish. Flawless, absolutely flawless.

Chicken breast, prawn head gravy, celery ($28)
Chicken breast, prawn head gravy, celery ($28)

Chicken is not normally something we order at restaurants but I frothed when I saw ‘prawn head gravy’ so I knew we had to try this. The chicken was beautifully cooked; soft, succulent and verging on delicate, it was enough to turn me into a breast woman. The beautiful albeit pungent prawn head gravy more than enough flavour while the celery provided a nice crunch.

Roasted carrots with smoked macadamia ($14)
Roasted carrots with smoked macadamia ($14)

Of course, we had to have some vegetables to go with our naughty smoky cheesy things, chicken skins and chicken boobs. The roasted carrots here were on point – they were full of lovely charred goodness and sweetness, accentuated by the crunchy macadamias.

At this stage, we appropriately full – satisfied enough to go home without raiding the pantry for midnight snacks yet not full enough that we had food babies growing in our tummies. The problem, however, was that MVB wasn’t done.

Oh no, he wanted dessert.

And he wanted ALL OF IT.

‘We’ll order everything off the dessert menu, thank you,’ he casually said to the passing waitress. She raised an eyebrow just as my eyes grew wide. ‘ARE YOU SERIOUS?!’

MVB nodded. ‘Yes, EVERYTHING.’

I’m not much of a dessert person and goodness knew exactly how we were going to finish four whole desserts but somehow we did it.

Toasted sorghum ice cream, buttermilk, brittle ($14)
Toasted sorghum ice cream, buttermilk, brittle ($14)

There was the toasted sorghum ice cream (sorghum is a grain, btw) topped with a crispy popcorn covered brittle. A tick for me.

Daily Pinbone tart ($14)
Daily Pinbone tart ($14)

Then there was the rich chocolate ganache tart with vanilla milk ice cream. A would be tick if it hadn’t been for the orange flavouring they decided to chuck in there (never was a Jaffa fan, sorry).

Neapolitan ($14)
Neapolitan ($14)

Pinbone’s rendition of the classic Neapolitan ice cream did get a tick. I couldn’t decide which part I liked the most: the crispy chocolate-covered chocolate mousse, the strawberry tapioca or the luscious vanilla parfait. Dairy Bell, eat your heart out.

Lemon curd, burnt milk custard and black olive ($14)
Lemon curd, burnt milk custard and black olive ($14)

The tangy lemon curd provided a much needed sour boost to all the sugar we had and was probably my favourite dessert. It was paired beautifully with burnt milk custard and crumbs of dehydrated olive and brown sugar. Tick, tick tick.

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BOOM.

The meal was well paced without being too rushed so we were out of there before the second wave of diners started to arrive. Overall, it was a fantastic dining experience boosted by efficient, cheerful and attentive staff and a cosy environment. We had plans to return for brunch the next time we were both in Sydney but unfortunately, word on the street is that the Pinbone crew are closing their doors in a couple of weeks. I won’t be able to relive the Pinbone experience again (sniff) but it doesn’t mean you guys can’t – get on it, Sydneysiders!

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Review: Bin 12 (Gold Coast, QLD)

12 James Street
Burleigh Heads QLD 4220
+61 7 5535 3085
http://bin12.com.au/

Burleigh Heads is one of my favourite places in Gold Coast (that is, besides my house, the Asian grocery store and the airport). It’s got a beach, nice cafés, non-bogan drinking holes and a few decent restaurants. It also has a pretty neat wine bar, Bin 12.

Fellow food-loving Asian Chris and I decided to go there one Tuesday evening after work. We weren’t particularly hungry but we were in the mood for some vino and tiny bites to eat. Given that Bin 12’s menu is full of quirky little sharing plates that hover between the $4-16 mark, we knew this would be the perfect place for such a meal.

The guy behind Bin 12 is Daniel Ridgeway of French restaurant Little Truffle. Apparently Ridgeway decided to open up Bin 12 for something to do on the side but funnily enough, I think Bin 12 has slowly become more popular than Little Truffle – hell, it even has a sister restaurant called Bin 72 down in Coolangatta.

Seared salmon sashimi, jalapeno, coriander and yuzu soy ($12)
Seared salmon sashimi, jalapeno, coriander and yuzu soy ($12)

With glasses of wine in hand, we got to work with the plates. The first dish, a seared salmon plate was done beautifully – the fish was just seared, perfectly soaking up the delicious yuzu soy dressing that was drizzled on top. If I was to nitpick though, I’d question why this dish was referred to a sashimi because clearly it ain’t raw!

Fried zucchini flowers stuffed with prawn
Fried zucchini flowers stuffed with prawn

I’m not a fan of zucchini flowers but Chris was really keen on these babies – and I’m glad I listened to him for they actually didn’t suck. The batter was light and crispy and the filling, almost mousse-like in texture.

Scallops and chorizo
Scallops and chorizo

The scallops and chorizo were a nice dish but kind of unmemorable seeing as I didn’t even remember having it, let alone what sauce was used to flavour the dish (perhaps I should stay away from the wine list for future dinners…). I do, however, remember the scallops being plump and juicy.

Chicken karaage soft shell taco ($5, on special)
Chicken karaage soft shell taco ($5, on special)

Tuesday nights are $5 taco nights at Bin 12 so if you love those edible heroes in a half shell, then definitely order one or two. Chris and I both had a chicken karaage taco, which was decently sized at that price point. A simple combination of lettuce, coriander, Bulldog sauce and Kewpie mayo brought crispy chicken and tortilla flour together into one tasty package. This was definitely my favourite dish of the night.

Vanilla panna cotta, rhubarb compote, caramel and salted popcorn crumble ($9)
Vanilla panna cotta, rhubarb compote, caramel and salted popcorn crumble ($9)

The desserts here are also worth looking at, especially if you decide on another glass of wine. We decided to split a vanilla panna cotta which was presented in a drinking glass (a bit odd, if you ask me). A smooth layer of rhubarb compote added a lovely tartiness to the dish, while the salted popcorn crumble created a lovely textural contrast.

It didn’t look like we had a lot of food (let’s face it, we didn’t) but it was more than enough to sustain us over a few glasses of wine. I’m not sure if Bin 12 is a place I’d go to for a substantial meal as the menu is really designed for grazing over wine but I’ll definitely come back if all I want is wine and a few chicken karaage tacos on the side.

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Review: Lester & Earl (Gold Coast, QLD)

1097 Gold Coast Highway
Palm Beach QLD 4221
+61 7 5598 2889

Winter is the perfect time to curl up in cosy surroundings and enjoy slow-cooked meats, hearty carb-loaded sides and a bottle of red wine – in other words, the stuff that ain’t going to give you abs. In all seriousness though, leave all the clean eating and exercising for the summer months; winter is the time to indulge imo and Lester & Earl, Palm Beach’s hottest kid on the Goldie Highway block is perfect for that.

Sharky was briefly in town so we decided to hit up this American-style eatery that was already proving to be a hit with the locals – an impressive feat given that this place has no website (apart from a Facebook page) or social media presence as yet. Hell, I probably would not have heard about it if it weren’t for a colleague at work, a Palm Beach resident, who mentioned it in passing one lunchtime.

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It may have felt like Melbourne outside (cold, wet and miserable) but this spacious 300-seater restaurant was cosy and warm enough to take our minds away from the crappy weather. I can also imagine how great it’d be to sit here in the hot summer months – there is ample balcony seating for those who want to soak up the fresh easterly sea breeze and admire the view. (although tbf, a dingy car park and the Palm Beach Surf Life Saving Club ain’t the best view on the Gold Coast)

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Lester & Earl’s menu is all about burgers, smoked meats (brisket, pulled pork et al) and sides such as mac and cheese – you know, all the things you see in every second so-called eating house along Australia’s east coast these days. In saying that, the whole American-style slow cooked food thang is still relatively new in Gold Coast and it’s been a while since I’ve had this sort of food so I was keen as beans to give Lester & Earl a go.

Complimenting the food menu was a great selection of Aussie and American craft beer as well as spirits and cocktails. Sadly, I was on a self-inflicted alcohol ban so all I had to drink that night was an LLB but I’ll definitely be on the grog for my next visit.

Hereford/Angus cross brisket platter ($28)
Hereford/Angus cross brisket platter ($28)

Lester & Earl’s meat platters are certainly big enough to feed a hungry Gold Coast Titans player – Sharky and I shared one between two and we were more than satisfied. Lester & Earl buy meat from highly reputable suppliers so you know you’re going to get a good piece of meat here. Our brisket came from Cape Grim; beautifully smoked and full of flavour, we both gave it our thumbs up. Accompanying our protein was plethora of sides: honey mustard potato salad, tangy coleslaw sprinkled with fresh coriander and mint, soft white bread, cheddar and jalapeno cornbread and pickle. Apart from the cornbread (it was tough as nails), every side on the platter was delicious. The guys also threw in some crispy potato lattices in there too, even though I swore it wasn’t on the menu – nice one, guys.

Smoked mac and cheese ($6)
Smoked mac and cheese ($6)

I can’t go past a mac and cheese and pretty much anything that comes with the prefix ‘smoked.’ Lester & Earl’s mac and cheese came in a perfect brick-shaped formation which quickly crumbled at the slightest touch of my fork. The sauce was made from a decadent triple cheese sauce – oh god yes, so friggin’ good. A side serve was plenty for us but if you’re feeling extremely indulgent, go for a full serving for $16.

Peanut butter, chocolate fudge and bacon ice cream
Peanut butter, chocolate fudge and bacon ice cream

Lester & Earl didn’t have a proper dessert menu when we visited but when we asked our waitress if there was any chance we can have something sweet to finish on, she said that the kitchen can whip up an ice cream trio. The guys in the kitchen just so happened to be playing around with the ice cream machine and leftover bits of bacon and ‘would you guys like to try bacon ice cream?’

Um, hell YES?

The sexy trio was made up with the all-American flavours of peanut butter, chocolate fudge and bacon. The chocolate fudge ice cream was nice enough (but then again, I’m not the right person to ask when it comes to chocolate things because hell, chocolate is chocolate to me) but the peanut butter ice cream was something that I can have multiple bowls of at home while watching Orange Is The New Black season three – it was smooth, creamy and nutty with the slightly hint of caramel. The bacon ice cream, however, OH BOY THE BACON ICE CREAM.

It was insanely good. It had a caramel-vanilla base that worked well with the saltiness of the maple glazed bacon, all enveloped in an indulgently smooth texture. Multiple bowls? Man, I think need multiple FREEZER-FULLS of this stuff.

I haven’t been back to Lester & Earl since but I already know that I’m going back to try their fried chicken, pork ribs and burgers (yes, I’ve already planned my next outings there). Hopefully by then, their bacon ice cream will be a permanent fixture on their menu – on second thoughts, maybe not. After all, I don’t want anyone else getting their hands on that stuff, dammit.

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Review: Cucina Vivo (Gold Coast, QLD)

Jupiters Hotel and Casino
Broadbeach Island
Broadbeach QLD 4218
+61 7 5592 8100
http://www.jupitersgoldcoast.com.au/dining/Pages/Cucina-Vivo.aspx

Disclaimer: Adam and I dined as guests of Jupiters and Wonderland PR.

You might recall me whinging about the severe lack of good, authentic Italian restaurants on the Gold Coast in my last post. Sure, if bastardised Aussie-Italian food is what you’re after, there’s plenty of it here. Want authentic nonna-style Italian fare? You’re better off going to Sydney, Melbourne or booking a flight to Rome. Can’t afford a plane ticket? Then a meal at Cucina Vivo is probably your best beat if you’re stranded in the Goldie.

Cucina Vivo happens to be the Italian jewel in the newly refurbished Jupiters Hotel and Casino complex in the heart of Broadbeach. It boasts an spacious open air dining room overlooking the swimming pool plus views of the Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise skyline, making it a great venue to wine and dine during the warmer nights. In comparison to the rest of the (non-refurbished part of the) casino, it’s stylish, polished and effortlessly breezy.

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To start things off, Adam and I were presented with a selection of appetisers.

Schiacciata ($9)
Schiacciata ($9)

First up, the garlic pizza with pesto verde. A short stint in the wood fire oven gave this beauty a crispy exterior and a slightly chewy middle, forming the perfect base for a simple topping of fresh basil pesto perfumed by fruity olive oil and a bit of parmesan. Due to the massive amount of food that we consumed throughout the course of the evening, we weren’t able to polish this off but it made for a mighty fine lunch the following day.

Carpaccio ($16)
Carpaccio ($16)

The beef carpaccio was in the ‘nice but don’t rush to order category’ – it wasn’t a dynamic explosion of flavours or textures or anything, just a good ol’ seared sliced eye fillet drizzled with lemon and topped with shaved parmesan and perhaps a bit TOO much rocket.

Calamari fritti ($15)
Calamari fritti ($15)

The calamari fritti was a better starter; lightly fried, these tentacles were beautifully tender. The dill aioli that came with it was nice enough but I wouldn’t have been too miffed if the dish came without it – the calamari was already perfect on its own.

Filetto di Manzo ($35)
Filetto di Manzo ($35)

It was funny how we both decided to order the steak. Despite being half-Italian, Adam is still very much a steak and parma guy so he opted for the filetto di Manzo. The 180g chunk of 100-day grain fed tenderloin was gone within minutes – partly because Adam has a massive appetite and partly because it was apparently really good (I wouldn’t know, he ate it all before I even finished taking photos, the bastard). The heirloom carrots and farro that came with the dish also went down quickly, proving that they were no lame-o supporting acts to the steak. Even though Nonna may not have used farro in her day, hell, I think she would have been down with it if she took one bite of this.

Cape Grim rib eye ($41)
Cape Grim rib eye ($41)

I’m normally one to get excited over pastas at Italian restaurants but unfortunately, none of the pasta dishes caught my eye. Along with the usual carbonara and bolognese business, they had maybe one or two ‘house specialty’-type pasta dishes but nothing that really inspired me. For that reason, I went with the steak – that, and because Cape Grim is relatively hard to find in Gold Coast restaurants so you can imagine my excitement when I saw that Cucina Vivo offered it. The 300g beauty was cooked medium rare and served with crushed kipfler potatoes and a lamb’s lettuce salad; I couldn’t really fault anything in this dish – everything was well-cooked and tasty.

Despite my pasta comment, I still ended up ordering the lasagne ($16) much to Adam’s chagrin. He is of the view that restaurant lasagne is never as good as home-cooked lasagne, a very valid point. However, lasagne is one of those annoying dishes that requires time and patience to put together – two things that a lot of stressed out full-time workers like myself don’t have much of these days, hence why it’s usually always much easier to order it at restaurants.

In this case, I wish I listened to Adam instead of the left side of my brain that constantly thinks lasagne is the answer to everything in life. The lasagne was small (you can’t really see it but it’s in the background of the above photo), yet deceptively filling. Unfortunately, that was probably the best bit about it. The dish was sloppy, the meat layer was very skint and there seemed to be more cheese than pasta sheets. It didn’t taste bad, but it wasn’t a well-executed dish, this reinforcing Adam’s long-held belief that making your own lasagne is definitely the way to go.

Flavours of Italy dessert platter ($12)
Flavours of Italy dessert platter ($12)

We would have been happy leaving at this stage but the lovely folk at Cucina Vivo refused to let us leave without trying their dessert platter. Featuring a star-studded line-up of Italian desserts, the platter is definitely one of the best value dishes on the menu; $12 got you mini-sized versions of tiramisu, zuppa inglese, panna cotta and your usual gelati flavours of pistachio et al. They were all pretty good, but the coffee-soaked tiramisu with its delicate layers of mascarpone was my favourite.

There may have been a few misses over dinner at Cucina Vivo but there were definitely some hits. Do go here if you want breezy al fresco Italian dining in Broadbeach minus the bad faux accents and stodgy Aussie-Italian dishes full of cream, grease and tales of regret. And while you won’t miss much by saying ‘no’ to the lasagne, definitely order the schiacciata and if commit the sin of bypassing pastas for steaks, then you’ll be forgiven (no, REWARDED) by the Italian foodie gods.

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Review: Mario’s Italian (Gold Coast, QLD)

The Oasis
Victoria Avenue
Broadbeach QLD 4218
+61 7 5592 1899
http://www.mariosrestaurant.com.au/

Let’s continue with the theme of restaurants to avoid when in Gold Coast with Mario’s Italian in Broadbeach. Don’t worry, I’ll be spreading some cheerful Gold Coast love in due course – I just want to get the less than fantastic restaurants out of the way while I’m on roll.

So, my Melbourne friend Tim was in town for a visit one weekend – not to see me particularly but to watch his beloved Collingwood Magpies take on the Suns. I can totally understand; after all, Nick Maxwell is worth the flight up to OOL and not the friend of 12 years. It’s all good.

We were in Broadbeach one afternoon, checking out some beach babes waves when we worked up a bit of an appetite. This was at an awkward time of day too (as in, way too late for lunch but too early for dinner) so a lot of Broadbeach’s restaurants were closed. Frustrated, we decided to settle on the next restaurant that was open – and it happened to be Mario’s. Now, I’m not one to fork out money for a mediocre meal at an Aussie-Italian restaurant (those places seem annoyingly popular in Gold Coast) but Tim was getting hangry so we decided to walk in.

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The place was decked out in neon lights and faux neo-classical murals, so not unlike many Aussie-Italian places in Gold Coast. Thankfully, there was none of the fake exaggerated Italian accent thing happening and for the most part, service was great. Our food arrived quickly, though we did have to signal our waiter twice for water.

Fettuccini Princess ($25.90, for entrée-sized portion)
Fettuccini Princess ($25.90, for entrée-sized portion)

I ordered the curiously named Princess pasta which, imo, didn’t sound particularly princess-like. I mean, green prawns, bacon, mushrooms and shallots is a combination that sounds more like dude food to me but anyway. The mixture was tied together by a Napoli and cream sauce. Taste-wise, it wasn’t bad but for $25.90, I expected something nicer (better quality ingredients would have been a start too).

Risotto al Paesano ($27.90)
Risotto al Paesano ($27.90)

Tim ordered the above risotto dish which only came in one size. To me, the mix of diced chicken breast, mushrooms, peas, corn, semi-dried tomatoes just screamed out ‘special fried rice’ and ‘did the kitchen just chuck whatever ingredients were left from last night’s dinner service into one dish?’ with the basil and cream sauce along with the shaved Romano on top adding in more flavour confusion to the mix. Granted, the dish did taste miles better than the chorizo and mushroom risotto I had at The Hub but even Tim said that it wasn’t the best risotto he’s had (and he’s usually one to LOVE Aussie-Italian food).

I haven’t been to Mario’s since and I don’t intend to; like many Italian restaurants here, the dishes are overpriced, mediocre on a good day and you can forgot about getting anything remotely resembling authentic Italian fare. I guess the only time I’ll recommend going to Mario’s is if you’re REALLY hungry and can’t be bothered waiting two hours for the other Broadbeach restaurants to open up, or if you’re legitimately craving La Porchetta fare but your legs can’t walk the few hundred metres up to the Phoenician Resort where you can find said restaurant.

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Review: The Hub (Gold Coast, QLD)

4/240 Varsity Parade
Varsity Lakes QLD 4227
+61 7 5689 1771

Here’s another place to add to the ‘AVOID AT ALL COSTS!’ list when on the Gold Coast. Okay, so the list might contain more than half the restaurants in this fair city but seriously, The Hub one takes the prize for being the worst of a lousy bunch.

It’s situated just around the corner from Bond University so the place is always buzzing with students looking for a feed between tutorials or after a 6PM lecture. It also within walking distance from my house, so when my housemates suggested we try this place one evening, I didn’t bat an eyelid.

It was a Friday night when we rocked up, so the place was busy. To add to the vibrant atmosphere, they had a live solo act – a guy who was actually decent at singing sappy ballad covers but was way too loud so it was hard to have a proper conversation.

Bruschetta ($10.90)
Bruschetta ($10.90)

The four of us started off with a serving of bruschetta, a disaster before it even hit the table. Initially, the plate was topped with cold white bread and a shitload of diced tomatoes and stale parsley; that was it, no olive oil, no nothing. Fail for presentation too. We sent the bread back to be heated up in the grill oven which made the bruschetta SLIGHTLY better but c’mon, man, still no olive oil? So we asked if they had olive oil and after a quick nod, our waiter came back with a little bowl of it so we can dip our bread in it. The olive oil did improve the taste slightly but failed to hide the fact that this was a sorry excuse for a bruschetta. Seriously guys, at least TRY.

Chorizo and mushroom risotto ($18.90)
Chorizo and mushroom risotto ($18.90)

I had the chorizo and mushroom risotto, a dish that I no longer order today because I can make it easily at home now. But back then, I was a noob who had never made a risotto before and that’s what I felt like that evening. At first glance, it didn’t look appealing but at least it looked marginally neater than the bruschetta did.

It was a horrible dish, one that I immediately regretted ordering; there was no soul, no depth and no flavour except the rancid oil that emancipated from the very poor quality chorizo pieces. Additionally, the sauce was very watery – almost like the person cooking it had just chucked in chicken stock in the pan in one go (rather than gradually), saw that the stock wasn’t reducing, freaked out and then added cream to thicken the sauce.

Chilli coconut seafood pot ($15.90)
Chilli coconut seafood pot ($15.90)

Apologies for the above photo, I know it’s horrible but then again, so was the food we had so far. Surprisingly, the curiously named ‘chilli coconut seafood pot’ dish that the girls ordered wasn’t TOO terrible. Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves – it’s not going to win Gold Coast dish of the year but it was better than anything I ate that evening. Think of it as a watered down curry laksa, minus the curry but with lots of sweet chilli. It sounds really strange on paper but in some weird way, it worked. Sort of. In fact, the token male in the group ended up ordering a serving just for himself in addition to the salmon he had just devoured.

Our meal at The Hub was the worst I’ve had in Gold Coast so far – and trust me, I’ve had some shockers. Half my household aren’t into food but even they had to say that it was ‘very shit.’ So with that in mind, I’m not exactly sure why this place is always packed every time I walk past on my evening walks. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s the only vibrant place in the Varsity/Bond Uni area that isn’t a bogan pub and the owners don’t have to try so hard because they know they’ll always draw students in. I’m not one to reward mediocrity so I do think it’s unfair that places that don’t give a stuff about food succeed. I did, however, get the last laugh when not long ago, the Gold Coast Bulletin stated that The Hub got fined for breeching food safety laws and failing to pay adequate wages to staff. Perhaps things have changed since then but I’m really in no hurry to go back and find out.

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