Quick tour of Canberra

An old friend of mine came back to Canberra for a quick work trip but not without seeing her favourite foodie friend and indulging in some of her favourite eating spots. We took her on a mini tour to see ‘new’ places which have opened up since she moved away but not without satisfying some of her ‘Canberra food cravings’ from the old spots.

Our journey begins at Dumpling Inn in Jamison, ordering enough shallot cakes to calm her cravings for now as well as sizzling bean curd and four season beans with pork mince.  We talk until they start to vacuum around us and we figure at 10:40pm there aren’t many places to go to continue the conversation but Max Brenner in Belconnen over a chocolate lick.

Chocolate lick ($2.50), just enough chocolate to hit the spot.The next day after I went and did some essential shopping in Kingston, TimmyC and I took a quick walk around the block to see what was new and exciting. By the time we finished walking around the whole perimeter, Little Brooklyn looked the most interesting so we go back to grab a quick late lunch.

Shopping at Essential Ingredient.This caught my eye as we walked around, La Osteria bar and restaurant is replacing La Rustica as they have moved to the foreshore. I think they are due to open by the end of the month.20140223-163703.jpgTimmyC and I take our friend to a nice dinner at Mr Wei’s in the city followed up by some dessert at Jamie’s Italian before we do a quick walk around showing her CBD dumplings, Hero SushiPappaRich, Farmers Daughter and Dolce & Salato (wow, a lot of things have opened up around there recently).

We do the rest of the tour via car driving through Braddon looking at Chez Fredric, Mood food, where debarcle had moved to, 86 and then I told TimmyC to drive further to see the Mandalay bus parked near Haigh park, it was odd going to a food van without feeling hungry or having a craving for oily food. I had heard that this bus had opened up again and I wanted to see what it looked like for myself. They had lots of lights around, a casual lounge area to the side and loud music blaring. I can see the appeal; the menu looked intriguing too, not just your average ‘chips and gravy and a jam donut’ type of food van.20140223-163618.jpgThe Mandalay bus menu.20140223-163630.jpgSunday lunch was spent catching up over a delicious burger from Brodburger complete with 50 minute wait as everyone else seemed to have the same idea. We ended the meal on a sweet note by visiting Frugii at the OBDM and exploring all his flavours (candied orange, vanilla, chocolate, popcorn, salted caramel, toffee apple, plum sorbet and papaya sorbet). While we talk about John’s exciting dessert venture of opening a dessert store in Braddon around October this year, we over indulged in multiple cups of ice-cream.

Popcorn ice cream made me smirk when the taste was spot on.20140223-163640.jpgWhere do you take interstate guests when they come to visit Canberra?

Courgette

It has been a while since I’ve been to Courgette but they now no longer have an a la carte menu, no more amuse bouche or petits fours with teas/coffee or palette cleansers. What they still do have is fabulous food, a romantic setting and attentive wait staff.

I had looked at my calendar well in advance before Valentine’s day and when I realised that it was a Friday and I had shopping plans with girlfriends, I asked TimmyC if we could celebrate fabulous food over a romantic evening on the Saturday instead. When he asked me where I’d like to go, my first thought was Courgette.

Four course set menu ($80.00 pp).20140216-085242.jpgThey have new cutlery since I’ve last been, I love their knives.20140216-085253.jpgComplimentary bread~ 

They serve beautiful warm bread with smoky butter.20140216-085314.jpgWhipped smoked butter – It was amazingly light and airy but with great smoky flavour.20140216-085303.jpgFirst course~

Alaskan king crab tortellini, oyster sauce creme, cucumber, baby radish, chilli straw, black salt and parmesan crumble. I absolutely adored the oyster sauce creme! A beautiful stunning dish; I had complete dish envy.IMG_9224A cross-section of the tortellini.20140216-085357.jpgLightly smoked duck breast, corn and polenta croquette, cucumber, apple and pomegranate salad. Punctuation matters! I thought the duck would be inside the croquette rather than the thin cold slices that were placed under it.  Overall I wasn’t impressed with this dish, I found the croquette filling a bit dry and all the plate elements seemed disconnected from each other. IMG_9219 A crisp croquette on top of thinly sliced duck.IMG_9221Second course~

Wagyu beef (8pt score) with fried eggplant, sherry marinated pimento, chilled potato and leek foam, guinness scratchings, herb salad. This was a tad over seasoned with salt but the beef was fabulous and tender.                             IMG_9226 I love this plate.IMG_9227Roast quail breast and twice cooked golden plains pork belly, asian slaw, soy pearls, mint and coriander. I’m not the keenest on quail and I expected more flavour from the skin and tender breast meat (I have to remember it isn’t like duck meat). My favourite part to this dish was the juicy fatty pork but the skin was not crispy, although it did have a little crackling ‘hat’.IMG_9228 The fat in the pork belly was so delicate and soft that if I sneezed, I’m sure it would have blown away.IMG_9231Third course~

Organic Inglewood chicken, smoked cauliflower puree, seared scallops, sugar cured speck, fermented black garlic. For someone who doesn’t eat that much chicken meat without a bone, I really appreciated the flavour and soft texture to the chicken. My favourite part of the dish (with the smoked cauliflower puree coming a close second) was the seared scallops, they were so sweet and juicy.IMG_9232 It was a very juicy scallop and huge may I add.IMG_9234Potato and parmesan gnocchi, asparagus, truffle, wild mushroom ragout, petite herbs. I’m not one to usually order vegetarian but I love love LOVE a good gnocchi and these were the softest pillows I have ever eaten. The parmesan could have been a smidge thinner but everything else was perfect, the asparagus was perfect, the mushroom was perfect, the gnocchi was… Perfect.

IMG_9238Sides~ 

Asparagus with eschalot and ginger ($9.00). Cooked perfectly al dente and the subtle ginger flavour really infused through the whole dish.20140216-085336.jpgParis mash ($9.00). I don’t know if TimmyC’s mashed potato has been spoiling me, but I didn’t think this ‘wow’ed me as much as it used to.IMG_9237Fourth course~ I was surprised to see that no typical crowd pleasers with chocolate/salted caramel/panna cotta something for the fourth course. We naturally went with the last two remaining options on the menu as TimmyC does not enjoy the combination of chocolate and orange, nor would he indulge with me in some fromage.

Fresh watermelon and fetta melange pistachio brittle, pickled cucumber, pressed watermelon, marshmallow. I didn’t enjoy the pistachio brittle after eating sweet meringues from the other dessert as it left a taste of bi-carb soda in my mouth. The rest of the dish was exotic and refreshing, I wouldn’t think to put these flavours together.       IMG_9241 The light was escaping fast, lucky it was the last course.IMG_9243Sticky meringue and lemon curd chiboust, fresh raspberries, elderflower sponge, basil infused milk sorbet. The meringues were soft and chewy and went perfectly well with a delicate fresh raspberry. IMG_9245 I never understood why Courgette no longer gets a mention in ‘Canberra’s top restaurants’ while places like A.baker, Aubergine and Sage get more press. I could have eaten another meal after dining at Sage, the menu didn’t thrill me at A.baker or Aubergine, while at Courgette I’ve never been disappointed nor have I left hungry. The only reason why it didn’t make it into my list last year was because I didn’t dine there in the year of 2013 but it would definitely make it into my 2014 list.

Mirchi Indian Cuisine

We hadn’t gotten far with our overseas planning for April before we felt that we deserved a break and go somewhere close by for dinner. I had quizzed Indian co-workers to find out which Indian restaurant was the best in Canberra and they had suggested Mirchi in Ngunnawal. Not only had I not heard of the restaurant, I was excited to go where Indians go (like how it’s a good sign if an Asian restaurant is full of Asians). The discussion came up that the butter chicken I’ve been eating all my life was one big lie, one big… delicious… sweet lie. Butter chicken is not supposed to have all the cream and sweetness that we have been getting fed but rather more spicy, they give it to us because that’s what we really like.

Mango lassi ($4.00 each). It has a thick yoghurt texture but it isn’t like every other restaurant as they use a hint of cardamom that we found very addictive.

20140209-202546.jpgEveryone had a ‘go to’ dish so instead of ordering four dishes between the five of us, we ordered five mains and an entree. 

Entree~

Samosa Chaat crispy samosa topped with sweet and sour yoghurt, topped with tangy tamarind and mint sauce ($8.90 for 2 pieces/$22.25 for 5 pieces). It wasn’t until I wrote this description did I notice all the lacking condiments, we all agreed that these were very nice but it would have went better with the usual yoghurt sauce rather than just the tamarind sauce that were given. I feel a bit jipped now. I couldn’t necessarily tell that there was meat inside these samosas but it didn’t matter because there was a lovely filling encased in crispy pastry.

20140209-202559.jpgAll it needed was a hint of mint yoghurt to balance out the sweet tamarind sauce.20140209-202609.jpgMains~ My phone didn’t really capture all the different rich colours of each curry but to me they were all very distinct looking despite my friends being confused about which curry was which.

Lamb Rogan Josh traditional Kashmiri styled lamb curry with fennel and garam masala (medium $16.90). This wouldn’t usually be a curry I would order and I definitely wouldn’t push the envelope and order it with ‘medium heat’ either but this was surprisingly the best dish of the night. It has a really strong lamb taste, the meat was soft and tender and there is only enough heat to let you know it is there.

20140209-202632.jpgButter chicken tender pieces of boneless chicken cooked in the tandoor, then pan finished in a rich, creamy tomato sauce (mild $16.50). Still creamy but a lot less sweeter than most butter chickens which gave it more in-depth flavour.20140209-202712.jpgBeef Korma tender pieces of beef cubes delicately spiced with cardamom, yoghurt in ground cashew nuts based gravy (mild $16.50). A very nice nutty based sauce with tender beef, this might have been better if we upped the spices too.20140209-202654.jpgAloo Gobi a Punjabi favourite of cauliflower, and potatoes cooked in the wok with onions, tumeric and fresh herbs and spices ($14.90). This had a very rich onion/tomato flavour, the only disappointing thing was that there seemed like there was a lot more potato than cauliflower in the dish.20140209-202703.jpgPalak paneer a classic vegetarian dish of fresh ground spinach and cheese cubes cooked with onions, garlic and mild spices ($15.50). The spinach was blended beyond recognition only lending itself to the colour and not the texture but the disappointing thing was it didn’t have much spinach flavour either. The paneer was surprisingly super soft but seemed like it didn’t have much of a saltiness to it leaving the dish overall a bit bland.20140209-202620.jpgThe paneer was super soft that some of us had mistaken it for tofu.20140209-202744.jpgGarlic Naan leavened bread with garlic freshly baked in the Tandoor and smeared with butter (4 pieces between the 5 of us was just enough $3.50/naan). The naan came out piping hot emitting a powerful garlic scent. Definitely one of the better naans I have eaten.20140209-202726.jpgAromatic basmati rice steamed basmati rice with cumin and saffron colour (4 serves between the 5 of us $3.00 per serve).20140209-202736.jpgYou can taste the love and care that has been placed into the preparation of the food. The meat in the curries were tender and flavoursome, the curry bases all had distinct flavours, weren’t oily and didn’t make you feel overwhelmed at the end of the meal (if you controlled yourself *looks at the boys*). I would have been keen to try desserts but we were waaay to full; there was just enough food for one of us to pack a lunch with an assortment of curries. Maybe we’ll be less greedy with our ordering next time.

Not just your average Indian take out but a proper Indian restaurant that has food you can really enjoy. I’m keen to go back and ask for a ‘traditional style’ butter chicken.

Venue: Mirchi Indian Cuisine

Address: Platypus Centre, 4 Riley Close, corner of Paul Coe Cres and Mirrabel Dr, Ngunnawal ACt 2913

Phone: (02) 6241 0011

Mirchi Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Alto closes

Just saw this on riotact:

Alto closing after tonight

By johnboy 14 February, 2013 9

“Goodfood brings word that Canberra’s top restaurant (in vertical metres at least) is closing its doors after getting the love birds out tonight.

Two years of unpaid rent can do that to a business.”

I didn’t get a chance to go there!

See article here.

CBD Dumpling House dinner

Taking international guests around for a very disorganized dinner is never easy especially on a Friday night but when they mentioned they wanted dumplings with lots of variety, I knew exactly where to take them.

CBD dumpling house has been open for three weeks now, but I haven’t rushed out and try it as their menu is almost exactly the same as their sister restaurant Dickson dumpling house (see my ‘must have’ list here).20140215-095406.jpgWhen we went in around 9pm on a Friday night, it didn’t take long to get a table for 6 without a booking. Inside was bustling with patrons, busy kitchen hands and servers whizzing by with orders.20140215-095428.jpg

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20140215-095448.jpgWithout taking any chances, I ordered majority of things from my ‘must have’ list with only two new dishes that I haven’t tried before. The dishes come out exceptionally fast which we as why I was hesitant to order until all 6 of us had arrived. Food quickly filled our table and before I could put my camera down, plates were shuffled around to accommodate the next dish. It was very squishy and we had to conglomerate plates fast to allow reasonable space for our plate, bowl and glass.

Entree~

San choy bao (4 per serve $13.80). The duck san choy bao was very good coming out promptly in fresh lettuce cups and the filling wasn’t oily either. I love the crunch in these!20140215-095303.jpgPan fried dumplings pork and beef (12 pieces $10.80). In my opinion, dumplings are always better pan-fried (unless it’s a xiao long bao). There wasn’t too much taste difference between the pork and the beef, they were pan-fried crispy although some where borderline burnt. Make sure you grab the right sauce as one is Chinese vinegar and the other soy sauce (very different!). They are bite size pieces which was always my only ever gripe about these dumplings.

Pan fried pork dumplings.20140215-095356.jpgPan fried beef dumplings.20140215-095332.jpgMains~

Yu Xiang eggplant with pork mince hot pot ($13.80). Eggplant was oily which was expected and it was retained its heat long after the bubbles subsided. There wasn’t much flavour in the way of pork mince and chilli and I thought it was a bit sub par in comparison to the recent eggplant hot pots I’ve had at the Emperor Court Chinese Restaurant in Yarralumla and Tak Kee in Dickson .20140215-095341.jpgChilli basil prawns ($19.80). The prawns had poor timing as it was the first dishes to come out. By the time we did the food table shuffle each and every time a new dish arrived then eat the san choy bao, this dish was cold.  It was a little chilli but nothing overwhelming and even though it didn’t lack flavour, overall it wasn’t a great dish and definitely not worth the money.20140215-095321.jpgChar kwai teow ($13.80). They weren’t too stingy with the Chinese sausage and all ingredients were cooked perfectly.20140215-095311.jpgBeef fried rice noodle ($13.80). I didn’t expect it to have any chilli in this dish it but it apparently did and I unknowing gave it to my friend who was only slowly introducing chilli into his diet. His lips tingled and became a bit numb but he said it wasn’t too bad. This was a bit oilier than the char kway teow but I thought both were very good.20140215-095349.jpgGeorge Costanza review. Knowing that the restaurant isn’t really inside the mall, I was curious to see the state of their bathrooms. The restaurant has their own bathrooms which were renovated rather nicely with beautiful basins. The only confronting thing was they didn’t have a sanitary bin but rather a bin with no flap cover. :/

The CBD dumpling house is nice quick place to get noodles and dumplings especially when you’re in a rush/very hungry and depending on what you order, the meal can be quite affordable. I didn’t have any trouble with getting attention from the wait staff to get more water/more bowls/placing my order but that may be because I’m loud and persistent, I know my friends went the previous night and they said the service was terrible.

I’m still working on expanding my ‘must have’ list but neither if the two new dishes (eggplant and prawns) I tried will be making a reappearance.

Venue: CBD Dumpling House

Address: Shop FG 13C Canberra Centre, just up from PappaRich on the outside away from Koko Black

Phone: (02) 6262 8855 or (02) 6262 8866

CBD Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

 

** 29th March 2014**

I came here on last night and tried their ‘salt and pepper pork ribs’ which is a common dish but it was awfully salty and had a weird coating. I won’t be ordering that again.

:/

Grill & Sizzle Fusion

When I wrote that there was a new restaurant that had opened in Dickson recently, I couldn’t remember for the life of me what the owner(?) said the type of cuisine was, all I remembered was that they said Japanese style of food with charcoal skewers and… PASTA! That was the eureka moment I had while I browsed through Grill & Sizzle Fusion‘s menu the day after I had discovered that this place had even existed. That’s a weird combination I thought (the same type of reaction I had when I went first went to Digress). Needless to say, I wasn’t going to order pasta from a heavily Asian influenced menu.

Inside the restaurant was a spacious setting, you could tell that they had spent a lot of time and money refitting the restaurant that was once the run down Jimmy’s Place but I thought the decor didn’t really suit the restaurant. They had elaborate lighting, gold seats and an uncomfortable looking couch that bordered one side of the restaurant, it was almost like walking into a flash nightclub during the day.

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20140209-221851.jpgThe first thing I thought about the menu was ‘whoa, this place is expensive’, considering I convinced my friend to come here with me even though our first choice was a <$13.00 meal from across the road, but we were open to trying somewhere new so we sat down and browsed through the menu more thoroughly.

We each received a complimentary salad and seaweed.20140209-203811.jpgJapanese crumbed curry chicken served with + bowl of rice ($17.80). My friend’s chicken curry set also came with a bowl of rice and three pieces of small sushi. The chicken was nice and crispy; it was an Asian version of a chicken schnitzel but with panko crumbs which was what I expected, but what was very underwhelming and disappointing was the curry sauce it self. It had a heavy taste of onion and gravy-ish/curry sauce with a strong aftertaste of pepper, I would have usually complained that the sauce portion was so small but this time it might have been a good thing.20140209-203842.jpgMy friend’s curry set came with a serve of three petite sushi pieces (she was too quick with her chopsticks before I took a photo).20140209-205045.jpgDiced Wagyu with seasonal vegetable fried rice ($17.80). When they say diced, they mean it; the Wagyu pieces were not much bigger than a pea. Overall there wasn’t much taste to the fried rice (although the garnish of seaweed paper was strong), the only saving grace was that it was served nice and hot. Between my bowl of rice and pieces of sushi (more rice), I was too full to finish my fried rice but for the price I paid for it, I took the rest with me.20140209-221741.jpgPrawn tempura roll (6 pieces $14.80 but they gave us 8 pieces?).The greedy girl inside of me wanted to see if their sushi was any good, plus it was probably a good thing considering I don’t think my friend was going to get full from that chicken curry set and I got bored just eating fried rice pretty quick. The prawn tempura was still slightly warm but the coating was nice and crunchy, giving each mouthful different textures. The caviar was juicy and burst in your mouth with every bite. This dish came out last and I have to say, it was the best part of our meal hands down.20140209-221753.jpgPrawn tempura, avocado, tamagoyaki and a crab stick all neatly packaged in a sushi roll covered in juicy caviar.20140209-221811.jpg

I understand trying to fuse food from different cuisines together to make something new but I think Grill & Sizzle Fusion seem to have been confused in the process, it is really just a mish mash of different types of food thrown together on a menu with Chinese translations.

I think if they want to stay competitive in the foodie area that is Dickson, they will have to come up with some decently priced lunch specials and have a more clear view of what kind of food they want to serve or create some cleverly fused unique foods. If anyone is brave enough to order pasta in a Japanese influenced restaurant run by Chinese people, let me know how it goes.

Venue: Grill & Sizzle Fusion

Address: 13 Woolley St, Dickson ACT 2602

Phone: (02) 6262 6669

Grill & Sizzle Fusion on Urbanspoon