Sunday, 28 February 2010

Burger Fuel, King Street, Newtown

Disclaimer: I apologise for the quality of the photos, I am currently camera-less so I've had to use a video camera and take snapshots of the film.

I'd been craving a good, meaty burger for a fair few days now and I wasn't really keen on going to Hungry Jack's. Having heard mixed reviews I thought I'd give Burger Fuel a go but I was sorely disappointed.

I arrived at 12.30 to find a typical burger bar, complete with requisite sticky tables, slightly too-loud music and extreme sports on the TVs. I ordered (according to the menu) a 1/3 lb Wagyu beef burger with Melted Swiss Cheese, Caramelised Onion, Sour Cream, Relish and Aioli ($14.90), Small Spud Fries ($3), Fresh Natural Aioli ($0.50), and a Diet Coke. In total it came to nearly $22 for a burger and chips. Hardly cheap.

The chips, served in an "award-winning eco-friendly carton", were pretty bad. On the plus side, they were hot when they arrived but they were neither crispy on the outside nor fluffy in the middle, in fact they were very dry and floury inside.

The Burger was also very poor. The bun was a low-quality and dry; the caramelised onion was not caramelised onion. It was chopped onion, mixed with a sweet, preservative-laden sauce. Seriously bad. The meat was terrible quality, especially considering it was labeled as Wagyu on the menu. It was cheap, processed meat, with little flavour or texture and it was served lukewarm, topped with cold cheese and sauces. The cheese was thick sliced and also processed, although the tomato relish was fairly good, a nice balance of sweet and sharp. I'd ordered Aioli on the side, and while the flavour was OK, it was too thick for my taste, and judging by everything else I'd assume it was bought-in and pre-packed, despite it being so easy to make great, simple aioli. The highlight, I think, was the Diet Coke. To be fair, it did come in a glass bottle.

Burger Fuel
172 King St, Newtown,
Sydney 2042
(02) 9519 4700

Burger Fuel on Urbanspoon

Gelatomassi, King Street, Newtown

Following my disastrous visit to Burger Fuel on King Street, I stopped into Gelatomassi, one of the best Gelato places in Sydney and winner of the Best Ice Cream and Gelato in SMH's Foodies' Guide to Sydney 2007.

This time I tried the Pannacotta flavour, labelled as Gelatomassi's signature flavour. It was stunning; a beautiful balance of sweet and creamy, and so magnificently smooth, since it had been freshly made. It was drizzled with a great sticky butterscotch sauce which complemented the flavour perfectly, although I must admit I felt a little sick by the end of my one scoop ($4.50). However, I reckon that's more to do with my lactose intolerance rather than the gelato!
As a foodie, and as a chef, it can really suck being lactose intolerant, but there are some sacrifices I have to make - I'm not going to avoid so many of my favourite foods just because I feel sick afterwards!

I've been to Gelatomassi several times, and I'm certain I'll be back again and again - I've never found a fault with the food or the service. I love every flavour I've tried, the staff are so friendly and attentive, yet it's so laid back. Today Mr. Gelatomassi himself was there, despite being in his mid-70s, and hearing the rapid Italian banter flowing behind the counter brought a real feel of authenticity to the experience, as if I was suddenly in Sicily.

Top Right; Pannacotta with Butterscotch Sauce

262 King Street,
Sydney 2042
(02) 9516 0655

Gelatomassi on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Yee King, Sussex Street

A beautiful day in the city today, so naturally I decided to go to spend a couple of hours indoors, at the cinema. However, Essex wasn't really in the mood for any of the films on offer so we had a bit of a wander and ended up in The Civic, on Pitt Street. The TimeOut Bar Guide recommends it as the "prettiest" pub in the city... It was OK, hardly viewing pleasure though really. Just a pub. Still, good selection of beers on tap (I had Coopers, $5.50), and Essex had no complaints about her Vodka, Lime & Soda ($7.50). Unfortunately, the lounge bar upstairs was shut on Sunday afternoon. I might go back if I'm in the area but I probably won't make an effort to seek it out again.

As Essex and I wandered down to Chinatown, following my cravings, we realised the Chinese New Year parade was going through the city today. Unfortunately, that meant that every restaurant in the area was absolutely packed.

We were on the verge of giving up when we spotted Yee King Noodles, one of the few restaurants without a queue outside... Not a good sign, I thought. Nevertheless, in we went and were seated promptly by the friendly, if very busy, staff, and we brought colourful menus with pictures of many of the dishes, as well as a pot of delicious (complimentary) jasmine tea. Before long, to my relief, a queue quickly built up at the door - we'd pretty much nabbed the last table. We were just lucky I suppose!

Essex, being indecisive as ever, told me to choose what to order, as we had decided to get a few small plates to share. Despite how busy it was, our food was brought to our table quickly enough, no more the 15 minutes after ordering.

Boiled Chive Pork Dumplings, 12 for $8.80

First to arrive were these pork dumplings, which were OK. I wouldn't be surprised if they were frozen since the stuffing was packed into such a perfect little ball, but I can't really say for certain. The flavour was relatively generic. It's a pork dumpling, much the same as you'd get from any number of Chinese restaurants in the area. It wasn't bad, and they were cheap.

 Vegetable Spring Rolls, 6 for $4.80

 The spring rolls were a little disappointing. I didn't think there was enough filling, and the sweet chilli sauce accompaniment tasted very cheap - far too sweet with no spice at all, undoubtedly not made on the premises. But then, I'm not sure I'd expect it to be.


Pan-Fried Dumplings, 12 for $8.80

The second plate of dumplings were much like the first. Not bad, not great. Just OK. Good Value, again. I think it was probably beef in the dumpling, with diced onion and a little chilli. I much prefered these to the Pork Dumplings however, with a better depth of flavour - whereas the Chive Pork Dumpling was just that - the chive, the pork... then the soy & black vinegar coming through.

Overall, Yee King isn't too bad but it doesn't stand out amongst the dozens of other Chinese restaurants in the area. Considering we paid less than $15/head including a soft drink each, I was satisfied with the food, and the service was surprisingly good considering how busy they were - as soon as we wanted attention, we got it, and not before. However, I doubt I'll go back considering amongst the wide range of similar restaurants I have yet to try, I'm sure I'll find a standout leader - hopefully, Yee King isn't it.

After standing to watch the CNY parade outside the restaurant, we got bored of waiting and wandered up to Darling Harbour, hoping to find a nice Gelato place somewhere along the way. We first came to Gelatissimo, but skipped it in favour of an independent. Next up was Cold Rock - I've heard good things about this place, but Essex and I continued in search of a local Gelato place to support. I'd like to say we came all the way back to Newtown to go to Gelatomassi, but I'd be lying. We got to Darling Harbour and went into a branch of Gelatissimo. How dissapointing, having tasted the delights of Gelatomassi half a dozen times before. I chose Blood Orange and Passion Fruit, while Essex opted for White Chocolate and Strawberry.


The Blood Orange wasn't too bad, but the Passionfruit was very dissappointing, and Essex' were both quite fake-tasting... none of the four flavours were anywhere close to as good as Gelatomassi. I definitely won't be returning to any Gelatissimo store soon; I will be back at Gelatomassi next time I'm on King Street.

Civic Hotel                                                      
388 Pitt Street (Cnr Goulburn)                          
Sydney 2000                                                    
(02) 8080 7000                                                

 Yee King Noodles
 408 Sussex Street
 Sydney 2000
 (02) 9211 1138

Yee King Noodles on Urbanspoon

Mussels in Santiago

My final South American food post, and just a quickie.

In Santiago, Scoops and I went to the fish market in the Mercado Central. It's a beautiful old building, and the market is great to look around, with a plethora of fresh fruit and vegetables and, of course, an overwhelming array of fish.

There are dozens of small restaurants crammed in next to the market, and after perusing the selection, Scoops decided which we should eat at. (Naturally, it was the first one we'd seen)

We both ordered Mussels - different on the menu but as it turned out, they were in the same sauce only that Scoops' mussels were larger. Or something. It was all in Spanish.

Anyway. Great Mussels, absolutely enormous (by European standards, they're very similar here in Oz), and the simple white wine sauce was excellent.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Argentina = Steak!

I don't think I've ever had such brilliant steak as I did in Argentina. My first long-awaited sample was in Salta, where I chose Bife de Chorizo (taken from the fattest part of the Bife Angosto - nothing to do with the spicy Spanish sausage!), which was covered with sweet semi-dried tomatoes and melted mozzarella, as well as sharing a fantastic bottle of local Malbec. Or three. Absolutely divine, served with perfect chips - crispy on the outside and soft like mash on the inside.

Later in Argentina, specifically Mendoza, I toured the vineyards by bicycle, rented from the slightly eccentric but absolutely legendary Mr Hugo. Mendoza is the home of the Malbec grape, and the free tastings at the dozens of cellar doors here were excellent; I think to this day Malbec is probably my favourite red wine. Our first stop was probably the best, at the Bodega Familia di Tommaso, where we had a tour of the buildings courtesy of a stunning Argentinian, followed by fabulous tastings and while I didn't eat there, the food is supposed to be incredible too.

 Stunning views across the vineyard to the Andes

Weeks later, in Buenos Aires, I twice visited La Cabrera, an amazing Argentinian Parilla (Steak House) in the Palermo Viejo district. The steak is simply the best I have ever had. And they're insanely huge. Perfectly cooked. Comes with a heap of small side dishes, included in the very reasonable price. If you're ever in Buenos Aires, you'd be a fool not to pay La Cabrera a visit. Unless you're vegetarian. Then probably just don't go to Argentina.

These two photos, courtesy of La Cabrera - More tasty photos here!


Some seriously good steak.
Yes, I ate this all to myself.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Minuteman Pizza

I know it's only pizza, but this is the best Pizza in Bolivia, if not the whole of South America.

Run by an American guy and his Bolivian wife, Minuteman is a welcome sight to almost every tourist that passes through the small, dusty town of Uyuni on the edge of the Bolivian desert. If you happen to be in Uyuni, I beg you not to miss out on Minuteman.

Inside the legendary restaurant
Image Courtesy of Matthew Shaw 

There is a huge range of pizzas available, from the classic Margherita to any number of combinations of cheeses, meats and veggies. The restaurant is laid back and friendly. Order at the kitchen window, where you are then given a playing card. I got the 8 Diamonds. Ten minutes later and the friendly American owner comes over to our long table and yells out my someone else's card. I'm distraught. I'm so hungry I can barely see any more! Finally he arrives with the 8 Diamonds and I'm greeted by a huge steaming plate of glistening mozzarella cheese, spicy chorizo sausage, beautifully sweet caramelised onion, rosemary, sweet-yet-sharp homemade tomato sauce, and that perfectly crisp base. Whoever said pizza is just pizza has never had a good pizza like this. Simply epic.

Minuteman also serve up a fantastic selection of South American wines, as well as a few local beers including Chala, a white ale brewed in Sucre. Plus, while I didn't get to experience it firsthand, I understand Minuteman also offers an excellent breakfast menu including American Pancakes or Eggs Benedict, ideal for those craving more than the complimentary hotel breakfast of mueseli and toast.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Bolivian Sushi

No, it's not some new style of Sushi from the depths of South America. Sorry. I just had some great sushi in La Paz.

 My entree came with a side dish... Am I a glutton?

Kiwi, Essex and I headed to Thai Old Town, a pan-Asian restaurant just across from our hostel in central La Paz. The food was excellent; I had an enormous 18-piece sushi platter to start, followed by delicious teriyaki mixed seafood with jasmine rice and miso soup.

The following day while I was out exploring the city, a few friends of mine shared this ludicrously large pizza, and generously saved me the empty box. Thanks guys. Still, I reckon the size alone deserves pictoral recording on this blog.

36" Pizza, anyone?

Lake Titicaca Reed, then More Ceviche, Confit Guinea Pig and Mint & Pisco Mousse

OK so I'm skipping alot of my trip due to poor/unmemorable food and we're in Puno, close to the Peru/Bolivia border, next to Lake Titicaca.

Met this woman grinding wheat to make flour. 

While doing a tour of the lake, we stopped off at the Uros floating island. I don't really have a meal to report from there, although we did get a chance to try one of the indigenous staple foods, the reeds that grow around the shores of the immense lake. It was fairly bland, I suppose I'd probably liken it to daikon - a very mild radishy flavour. However, as a free and almost limitless foodsource for the locals, it wasn't bad. Plus, I was told it contains heaps of Iodine which prevents goitres. You learn something new every day!

 Me, eating Reed.

After arriving back from the island, Kiwi and I stumbled upon a small restaurant that was offering a two course lunch for 2.50 Soles (About £0.60 / AU$1). The food wasn't terrible (I had Moron Soup to start, followed by Pan-Fried Fish and Rice) but for $1, you really can't complain! (I still don't really know what moron is though!)

The Lunch Menu

In the evening, we are taken to a very nice restaurant (especially by Peruvian standards) to which the main downside is it offers "traditional" dancing while we eat. Painfully touristy.

I apologise in advance for my lack of photos, I cannot remember why but I didn't have my camera with me... ANYWAY, on to the good stuff, the food...

V and I shared a bottle of Concho y Toro Exportacion - a delicious Argentinian red - while I had Pejerrey (Kingfish) Ceviche for starter and Confit Guinea Pig for main.

The Ceviche was good but not great; it needed more lime and alot more chilli, but the presentation was excellent; it looked fantastic on the plate.

The Confit was served with quenelles of mushroom mash, sauteed vegetables and red wine jus - it was quite delicious, the flavours worked brilliantly together, but there was far too much jus so it did overpower the dish somewhat, and the cuy (Guinea Pig) was undercooked. It was cooked, but as a confit it should have been cooked slower and longer - the meat was not tender enough and it was still fairly fatty. The presentation was not bad, although the plate did look a little plain, it definitely needed some more colour.

I also ordered dessert - not because I could possibly eat any more, but purely because it sounded fascinating - Mousse de Muña Sour en Terciopelo de Ayrampo (Andean Mint & Pisco Sour mousse in Ayrampo Velvet).
Disappoingly, however, it was by far the worst course. The Mousse contained too much mint, so as you cannot taste the Pisco, and it was far too firm; there was too much gelatine in the mix. It slmost felt like eating a sponge, flavoured with terribly artificial peppermint extract. Ayrampo is a type of cactus seed, apparently, but I failed to recognise any type of "velvet", whatever it was supposed to be!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Cuzco, Peru : Quails Eggs

Outside of the huge market in central Cuzco, I met this street vendor, selling hard boiled quail's eggs for around 50c for six. It was, for me, a very wierd sight to see a local with three quails in a cage, a box of raw eggs and a box of still-warm, hard boiled, peeled eggs. They were served in a paper back with plenty of sea salt and were absolutely delicious.

Inside the market, I was amazed by the variety and quantity of.... pretty much everything. It's incredibly rare to find a market as good as this back home in England; I wandered the aisles of the market here in Cuzco for over an hour, longing for a time when markets like this were the norm, rather than pre-packaged fruit & vegetables in the supermarket.

Guinea Pig again: Chivay, Peru

Heading across Peru to the Colca Canyon, we stopped in a small town for lunch at a small cafe/restaurant. They were expecting us, and had laid out an enormous and delicious buffet for us. We were treated to Alpaca steaks, Llama kebabs (with a satay-ish sauce), a spicy fish stew, and various other fantastic dishes.

Later in the evening, however, having arrived in Chivay, we were to visit an indigenous family to sample some real Peruvian home cooking. Our welcoming guests (who spoke absolutely no English) invited us to help prepare the dinner, and I jumped at the chance to learn some new techniques.

Sylvana, the new commis chef.

I wasn't quite expecting the job they gave me, however. Having joined the family in the kitchen, they gave me a live guinea pig, and explained (with the help of our Peruvian guide/translator) how to kill and prepare it. I'm not squeamish by any means, but it was the first time I had had to kill a mammal for food. I'd killed fish before, but that just seems so much easier. They don't squeak or wriggle quite so much.

Still, holding the Guinea Pig firmly behind it's head, I pulled and twisted its neck, as directed, until I heard it break, then pulled and twisted some more to make sure. You'd be surprised how easy it was; the Guinea Pig died quickly and humanely, and to be honest I was quite proud of how well it had gone.

Anyway, the job wasn't over as I had to pull the fur off the carcass, before slicing open the belly and removing the organs. From there, I left it to the lady of the house to finish preparing the meat and cook it, while I returned to the dining room with the others, most of whom hadn't wanted to help/watch me kill their dinner.

Twenty minutes later and our food was presented to us, starting with a typical yet tasty Quinoa and Vegetable Broth, followed by seared Alpaca Steaks, and finally the unlucky Guinea Pig. I can't say it tasted any better knowing that I'd slaughtered it myself, but I am happy to have taken part and experienced that, and I would definitely do it again when called upon.

After dinner, we were all fairly exhausted after a long day's travel but rumours of the Highest Irish Pub in the World (we were at about 4000m altitude here) spurred us on long into the night.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Huanchaco, Peru: BBQ, Cabrito, Chocolate Bananas and Beef Heart!

On the way to some Incan ruins in Huanchaco, Northern Peru, we stopped at a typical restaurant serving the local specialities. I opted for Cabrito a la norteña (Northern-Style Baby Goat), which had been slowly braised and was beautifully tender.

Another speciality of the region was Pato (Wild Duck), which was also good, but nothing new - seared duck breast served with a typical spicy pickled salad and rice.

Cabrito a la Norteña 
Image Courtesy of Buen Provecho

That evening, back poolside at the hostel, we had a huge BBQ in honour of Lia's 25th Birthday. Sylvana, our Peruvian guide, made Beef Heart kebabs, which had been marinated in chilli, garlic and cumin. They were awesome, and surprisingly tender but few people would even try it - all the more for me! I also barbecued corn on the cob, sweet chilli chicken thighs, garlic prawns (not garlicky enough!), beef ribs, and "fish en papillote". The sweet chilli sauce/marinade I made myself, simply by dicing fresh chilli and simmering in a sugar syrup until sticky. So simple yet so good. The Ribs I just seasoned with salt and pepper, while the fish I steamed in a foil papillote with a splash of white wine, plenty of lime juice, fresh sliced chilli, some ginger and garlic. No idea what fish it was but it turned out pretty fantastically.

Everyone seemed happy enough although when I made chocolate stuffed bananas on the remaining embers, everyone was delighted - I was amazed at the amount of people that had never tried it before. Simply make a long incision halfway through an unpeeled banana, stuff as much chocolate as you can in there, and wrap tightly in foil. Throw it onto the cooling BBQ (or in a warm oven) until the flesh is soft and the chocolate melted.

 Image courtesy of On Food and Wine

As well as the masses of food, we were also drinking well - Sylvana making delicious Pisco Sours. Pisco is a distilled wine from the region, and is blended with lime juice, sugar syrup, egg whites, and ice for a delicious cocktail, similar in a way to Caipirinha. If you can get hold of Pisco, it's definitely worth trying - put three shots pisco, two shots lime juice, one shot sugar syrup, and one egg white in a blender with plenty of ice and blitz until frothy. Good Stuff. 

Image Courtesy of

More South American Cuisine

While much of the food in Ecuador and Peru is typical 'peasantry' cuisine - cheap cuts, lots of rice and potato - there were some fantastic dishes to be had, and as we headed inland and into Peru, llama and goat were common on menus. Llama is eaten in a wide variety of ways, from steaks to stews to kebabs. It's a very good and versatile meat, not entirely unlike lamb, and it's the cheapest meat in most parts of Peru, at least outside of the tourist restaurants!

In Southern Ecuador, I again tried Guinea Pig, although this was at a ranch in the middle of nowhere. The farmer, who breeds Guinea Pigs for food, slaughtered one for us and after preparing it with lots of cumin, chilli, garlic and ground coriander, his wife cooked it on a heated stone. It tasted much, much better than the one I'd tried in a restaurant in Quito, although I still found there to be very little meat on it.

Near Cuenca, the richest city in Ecuador, a group of us went walking through the Cajas National Park, home to wild llamas and alpacas, as well as lakes teeming with Rainbow Trout (brought here by European settlers). For lunch we stopped at a small roadside restaurant where the guide recommended we have the trout, since it was not only as fresh as you can get, but it was also a pest so we'd be helping the environment - I wasn't about to refuse! The fish was simply delicious, despite having been deep fried, and came accompanied by a typical Ecuadorean salad with lots of chilli and lime, and rice.Obviously, presentation wasn't really that much of a big deal in restaurants here, but I think it really added to the rustic charm; it felt like you were eating like a local, not like a tourist where everything is exaggerated to seem "traditional".

Sunday, 14 February 2010

South America

It's been a while since I travelled South America, but I still clearly remember some of the fantastic foods I tried there.

My first stop was Ecuador, where Cuy (Guinea Pig) is a delicacy. Me being me, I tried it on my first day in a frankly dingy-looking restaurant in central Quito. As a starter, I had Caldo de Pata, which I knew from my very limited Spanish was some kind of soup. It turned out to be a creamy broth containing boiled cow hooves, lots of soft herbs and quinoa; it was surprisingly delicious, and extremely filling. Apparently, Ecuadorian men believe it to increase virility, I can't say I noticed any difference though!

Caldo de Pata
Image courtesy of Street Gourmet LA

My main course, the guinea pig, was much more disappointing. It had been breaded and deep fried, and it was barely distinguishable from a KFC. In taste, it was fairly close to rabbit, only much fattier. I can't go into much more detail because there really isn't anything else to say. It wasn't offensive, but it was a long way from being good. Fortunately, I blamed the method of cooking and the quality of restaurant, and tried guinea pig a few times across Ecuador, and it did improve elsewhere.

A few days later, still in Quito, I tried another Ecuadorean speciality, Ceviche. I love ceviche, I'd had it a couple of times in England, and this first time trying it in it's native country I opted for the Ceviche de Concha (black clams). I wasn't really a fan of the clams, however, as they were very inky, but the ceviche I had elsewhere in Ecuador and Peru was always fantastic (only I didn't order the Concha again!).

Prawn Ceviche
Image courtesy of Picasa Web

Ecuadorean ceviche is different from the (slightly inferior) Peruvian edition in that it is more like a soup. In both cases, the fish is served in lime juice with heaps of chilli, shallot and chopped coriander, but in Ecuador it is traditiionally in a thin gazpacho-type tomato broth, which adds that extra bit of colour and flavour to the dish.

After my ceviche, I had the most tender beef tongue you can possibly imagine; it was divine, seared and served slightly pink with a simple parsley cream sauce and rice.

Scallops and Pancetta

Welcome to my new blog. I've always wanted to have a proper food blog, Unfortunately my digital camera recently passed away, but I hope to buy a new one soon enough, and then I shall have some "great" pictures to go with my "gripping" prose concerning food, and stuff...

For anyone that doesn't know me, I'm a chef from England but I now live and work in Sydney, Australia. I travelled through South America for four months on my way to Australia.

Any more than that, you'll have to derive from reading the blog. Or you can just ask.