Monthly Archives: June 2012

An anniversary dinner at Rockpool Bar & Grill

It wasn’t really our anniversary. Our anniversary was back in April and on the big day we were living in Hue, Vietnam. We went out for the fanciest meal possible in Hue to celebrate… which cost about AU$8. It was a fantastic night, but we thought that maybe, once we were back in Australia, we could celebrate with a proper big night out. And in Sydney, it doesn’t really get any BIGGER than Rockpool Bar and Grill.

I wasn’t going to write a blog post about this dinner. We didn’t bring the big camera, just the point and shoot, and I didn’t want to be analyzing the dinner rather than enjoying it with my handsome husband of 6 years. But, since we were taking pictures on the evening anyway, and I can’t help but photograph food, and the food is so simple and well-made that it doesn’t really require any analysis, I decided I had all the info I needed to tell you guys about our fantastic meal.

The impressive dining room at Rockpool Bar & Grill

The chandelier made of over 2,000 Riedel wine glasses.

The dining room at Rockpool Bar and Grill is seriously impressive. It’s huge with massive marble pillars and moody purple and blue lighting. The large open kitchen on the right side of the dining room allows us to glimpse the cooks at work. And there, in a black leather jacket with his signature ponytail swinging behind him, is head chef Neil Perry. He didn’t look like he was going to be doing any cooking that night, but I was pleased to see him there.

Happy anniversary to us!

We were seated up on the balcony overlooking the whole room. At first I was disappointed to be so far from the action, but then I realised that the balcony gave us an incredible view of the room and a much quieter place to enjoy our meal and chat privately. It was perfect for an anniversary dinner.

Andy’s starter of chorizo with potatoes and white beans.

For his starter Andy had charcoal roast chorizo with potatoes and white beans. It was a very big serving, so he let me steal a few bites! The chorizo was very soft and smoky and the dish had a lot of heat. I was actually very impressed that it was so spicy. A winner.

My starter of prawns with goats cheese tortellini.

My starter was the seared King Prawns with goats cheese tortellini, burnt butter, pine nuts and raisins. About five years ago Andy took me to the original Rockpool restaurant in the Rocks and this dish was one of the courses on the degustation menu. We have literally been talking about this dish for the last five years. It. Is. Amazing. Andy thought I was cheating by ordering a dish that I’d already tried, but I think that if you still daydream about a dish five years later, you’re allowed to re-order it. This is pretty much my perfect plate of food.

Andy’s massive rib-eye steak.

For our mains, we both had steaks. Rockpool Bar & Grill takes their steaks seriously and we haven’t had steaks this brilliant since we were in Argentina. Andy had a Cape Grim Dry Aged 36 Month Old Grass Fed 350g Rib-eye on the Bone that had been aged for 81 days, cooked medium rare. Talk about pedigree! Andy thought that the steak, which was cooked on the wood fire grill, had been injected with butter because it was so rich.

My beautifully cooked fillet.

My steak wasn’t quite as big as Andy’s, but it was just as delicious. I had the Cape Grim Dry Aged 36 Month Old Grass Fed 250g Fillet, cooked rare. The steak had the perfect char and was still pink and soft in the middle. It was the best steak I’ve ever had in Australia.

Brussels sprouts with speck and chestnuts.

Sauteed potatoes with Wagyu fat, garlic and rosemary.

For side dishes we ordered the sauteed Brussels sprouts with speck and chestnuts and the Royal Blue potatoes sauteed with Wagyu fat, garlic and rosemary. The side dishes were both fantastic. I loved the sweetness that the chestnuts brought to the sprouts. The potatoes were insanely good, but we could barely eat them. We were so full. Instead, I asked the waiter if we could take them home (I can’t stand the thought of wasting food) and he boxed them up and brought them to us in an adorable little brown bag. I’m not ashamed to say that I ate them for breakfast on Monday morning.

A gorgeous bottle of Bishops wine.

The wine list at Rockpool Bar & Grill is bananas. It’s huge and there are bottles on the list that cost more than we make in a month. We settled on a bottle of Bishops Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. It was amazing… not too tannic with a sweet and fruity flavour. The perfect accompaniment for our steaks.

We were way too full to even consider dessert, so we just enjoyed the rest of our wine while we chatted and watched the staff in the kitchen. Our waiter was lovely and the service throughout the meal was flawless. We left feeling very pampered, very full and very very happily married. A perfect anniversary dinner.

Pickle People

It was a dark and stormy night in Hue, Vietnam.  Ok, it wasn’t stormy.  But, it was dark.  We’d arrived in Hue after an exhausting overnight train ride from Ha Noi.  All we wanted was a hot meal, a hot shower and a clean bed.  We dumped our things in our hotel room and set out into the night to find dinner.

Our little jars have been washed and are about to go in the oven.

We ordered our jars from Red Back Trading. They are American made Ball jars.

We ended up at a hole-in-the-wall noodle place that was filled with local people. Honestly, the food wasn’t great.  My noodles were a bit greasy and Andy’s soup was kind of bland.  Nothing really memorable.  But, I will always remember that meal.  Because of pickles.

Chopping carrots for the picking fun!

Peeled garlic (it took FOREVER to peel all this garlic!)

Getting ready to chop the white radish for the mix.

Alongside our noodles we were served small bowls of mixed pickled vegetables.  A chunky and tangy combo of carrot, white radish, garlic, shallots and chilis, the mixed pickles cut through the greasiness of my dish.  The pickles perked up Andy’s bland soup.  We tore through our bowls of pickles and asked for refills.  We are totally Pickle People.

Chopping the shallots for the mixture.

Aren’t these chilis stunning?? So glossy and red.

The pickling brine.

And, last Sunday, we Pickle People brought the memory of those Vietnamese pickles to life in our own little Eastern Suburbs kitchen.  We peeled and chopped and stuffed and boiled and sealed and… voila!  We now have 6 jars of Vietnamese mixed pickles in our pantry quietly brining away.  And we didn’t stop there!  We also made 5 jars of dill pickled carrots and a jar of pickled garlic (which has since turned blue, proving that we are not yet expert picklers!)

Boiling the jars.

Dill pickled carrot sticks.

Vietnamese mixed pickles.

Vietnamese mixed pickles

*We filled 6 250ml jars with this mixture.  If your jars are bigger (and they probably should be, ours are a bit too small) then increase the amount of brine that you make.

600g carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large white radishes, peeled and chopped (We found our large white radishes at  an Asian market… you could certainly substitute a big bunch of regular pink-skinned radishes)
8-10 large shallots, peeled and chopped
15-20 garlic cloves, peeled
5 red chilis, chopped

For the brine
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cup plain white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbs cooking salt (not kosher or sea salt, just the plain grain stuff)

Begin by sterilizing your jars and jar tops.  Wash them all in very hot, soapy water.  Then place them on a clean oven tray and place them in an oven set at 100C (about 320F) so they stay hot and clean while you prep the rest of the things you need for the pickles.

Now, start on the vegetables.  This took us a while, but it’s not complicated.  Just a lot of peeling and chopping.  We were making two different types of pickles, so we had carrots chopped two ways.  For the Vietnamese pickle, you want pieces of vegetables that are just bite-sized.  Chop the carrot, radish, shallots, garlic and chilis into pieces that are the same size… otherwise they won’t all pickle at the same rate.

When you’re almost done chopping get a helper (this is why it’s a great project for two Pickle People to do together!) to make the brine.  Place all the ingredients for the brine in a large pot and bring to the boil.  Then reduce the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for about 5 mins.  You want the brine to be hot when you add it to the jars.

Once you’ve got all your veg ready, carefully take your jars and lids out of the oven and place them on a clean surface.  Then, put a large pot of water on to boil. You need enough water to cover the jars by about an inch.

While the water is coming to the boil, fill the jars with the chopped veg.  Really pack the mixture in there… otherwise your veg will float up when you add the brine (this happened to a few of our jars.)  Once you’ve filled your jars, carefully pour in the brining liquid.  Leave about 1/4 inch of room at the top of the jar.

Place the lids on the jars while they’re still hot and tighten them.  Then, place the jars in the pot of boiling water for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and place them back on a clean surface.  As the jars cool down you’ll hear the tops begin to pull in an “ping!” Such a great sound.  Once the jars have cooled down, place them in a dark and cool place for a few weeks before opening and enjoying the pickles!


Le Grande Bouffe

Andy is really good with languages.  He picks up other languages very quickly and usually speaks with a great accent.  This is NOT true for me.  I get confused with tenses and verbs and pronouns.  Grammar throws me for a loop and I do not understand why some languages swap words around within sentences.

When we travel I usually let Andy do the talking in non-English speaking countries.  With one big exception.  I totally speak “food.”  I can read menus in about eight different languages.  Drop me off in a foreign land and I’ll be navigating the restaurant scene within days.  I can’t understand you when you tell me what time it is or where to catch the train, but read me the daily specials list and I’m right there with you.

When we went to Le Grande Bouffe (Shops 1&2, 758 Darling Street, Rozelle) we were with a friend from France.  A French person in a French restaurant.  You’d think that I, with my pitiful attempts at foreign languages, would have just shut up and let him do all the ordering.  Yeah, right!

Y’all… I was busting out some French!  The waitress totally understood me when I ordered for the table! I was defining all the French words on the menu for my fellow diners!  I even knew what grapes the Bordeaux wine was made from!  I was on a roll!  And then the French busboy asked whether we lived in the neighbourhood… and I was totally lost again.  D’oh.

Escargot with garlic and herb butter

Anyway, my Adventures in French Menu Reading aside, we had a fantastic evening at Le Grande Bouffe.  They started us all off with a complimentary amuse bouche of escargot in garlic and herb butter.  Stunning.  Probably the best escargot I’ve ever eaten  Not chewy or rubbery, just soft and sweet snails in an intensely savoury butter sauce.

Baguette with butter

We ordered a fresh baguette to help us mop up the extra butter sauce from the escargot and the bread was lovely.  All crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.

Bacon-wrapped scallops

There were four of us and we decided to share two starters.  I’m glad we did because the portion sizes at Le Grande Bouffe are huge.  We began with the bacon-wrapped scallops.  The scallops were beautifully cooked and the bacon didn’t overwhelm the flavour of the scallops, which is often an issue for me.

Rabbit rillettes on frisee salad

Our second starter was rabbit rillettes on a frisee salad.  I thought that the rillettes had a great flavour, but the meat had been formed into a puck and then cooked again (I think) and the outside was a little dry.  The middle was much better and the salad was sweet and crunchy.

Salmon with cauliflower, radishes and school prawns

For mains, I had the salmon with cauliflower, radish and school prawns.  It was a massive portion of salmon with all kinds of beautiful colours and textures from the cauliflower and radish.  The salmon was a little over cooked for me (I like salmon to be still pink in the middle) but everyone else at the table thought it was fine.  The rich sauce and little school prawns added extra flavour… and made me wish I had more baguette to eat with all the sauce!

Confit duck with lentils and carrot puree

Andy had the confit duck for his main.  There are a few foods in this world that Andy simply HAS to order if he sees them on a menu, and confit duck is one of them.  He loved the duck at Le Grande Bouffe, which was served with lentils and a carrot puree.  It was a great combination of textures and flavours and we all wanted a second bite!

Wagyu for two

Our friends shared the Wagyu rump for two, which came with sautéed mushrooms and amazing potatoes.  The steak was perfectly cooked and the mushrooms and potatoes were intensely meaty as well.  Between the two of them they were hardly able to finish the serving, so we all jumped in to help!  Aren’t we nice??

After that animal-meat fest (scallops, rabbit, salmon, prawns, duck, beef… oh, my!) we decided we really should have some dessert.  Just to balance things out, you see.

Glorious cheese!

Andy and I shared the cheese plate for dessert.  This was something of a victory for me, as there was creme brulee on the menu, which is another of Andy’s MUST order dishes.  But, I was persuasive and got my cheese!  There were four cheeses on the cheese plate, a blue, a cheese from Switzerland that was described as “Gruyere-like”, a seriously stinky soft rind cheese and a goat’s cheese.  I adored them all, but the goat’s cheese was a real stand out.

We were the last people to leave the restaurant, but the staff never made us feel rushed or hurried at all.  In fact, other than the fact that they were speaking French so I had no idea what was happening, the staff were flawless all evening.  It was “un grand soir!” (And I just had to Google how to say that.)

Dressing up

When I was a kid I was completely addicted to Catalina French Dressing.  Like, addicted.  We ate a lot of salads at our house and my plate usually held more dressing than vegetables… large puddles of bright orange liquid coating lettuce that had gone limp under the weight  of the dressing.  And I didn’t stop there.  I liked Catalina dressing as a vegetable dip.  I’d dunk bites of chicken in it.  Basically, for most of my adolescence, Catalina dressing was my lubricant of choice.

Don’t know what Catalina dressing is?  Don’t worry.  I literally had to Google it before I wrote this post.  According to Google it’s a salad dressing that was popular in the 1970’s (and was still very popular with me in the mid-90’s!) that is tomato based but also contains a lot of vinegar and sugar.

Catalina dressing!

Really, the mid-90’s was a salad-dressing heyday at our house.  We each had our preferred dressings and the half-empty glass bottles would clink together happily when we’d open the fridge door at dinner time.  I was a Catalina girl.  My brother loved Ranch dressing or a Balsamic dressing.  My father was an Italian dressing kind of guy.  And my mother… loved blue cheese dressing.

Blue cheese!

I always felt kind of bad for mom.  No one else would touch her lumpy dressing with it’s speckles of green and vague smell of cheesy feet.  I used to look at her tucking into her (lightly dressed!) salads and think, “Poor mom.”

I now know, I was a fool.

Ingredients for blue cheese dressing

I’m not sure when I came around on blue cheese.  But, just like my childhood hatred of olives and salmon and mushrooms, I’m now over my aversion to blue cheese.  And blue cheese dressing, in all it’s creamy, cheesy, tangy goodness, is now  favourite of mine.

I’ve explained here before that I don’t buy bottled salad dressings anymore.  I’m pretty much a vinaigrette girl most of the time.  Just a few ingredients in a bowl, stir and (lightly!) dress a salad.

The finished product

But, when I feel a bit more indulgent, or I want to use up a bit of blue cheese in the fridge, or I need a flavourful dip that I can whip up easily… it’s back in blue for me.

This recipe is really very easy and I use it for lots of things.  It’s a great dip for vegetables or chicken wings and it’s fantastic as a straight up salad dressing.  I used it yesterday as a dip for roasted sweet potato wedges and it was dreamy.

As usual, mom knows best.

Sweet potato wedges with blue cheese dip

Blue Cheese Dressing / Dip

1/2 cup plain Greek yoghurt
2 tbs sour cream
80g blue cheese
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients except salt in a mini food processor.  Blend until  combined.  Don’t over-blend.  You still want the dressing to have a few lumps of blue cheese.  Taste the dressing to see whether it needs salt.  It might not, as some blue cheeses are very salty.

Place in the fridge for about an hour before use.