Our very first Chinese hot pot experience

A dear friend of mine, Qi, invited us around to their place for a vegetarian Chinese hot pot. Her sister brought her an electric hot pot—all the way from China—as a present. So, Qi wanted to share this authentic experience with us by cooking everything vegetarian. How cool is that?

It was also the cold at the time. She told me that Chinese hot pot is the ultimate winter food; the ultimate comfort food for the winter. I totally agree with her.

Before I explain what Chinese hot pot is, I’d like to share a photo of our starters for the night: Garlic chives and egg dumplings. The pastry is made with boiled water which sets it apart from other dumplings. And, they are made by Qi’s sister.

OK, back to the description now:
Chinese hot pot is a cooking method or a dinner style, so to speak. Basically, a soup base is simmering at the table and ingredients are dropped into the pot. Once they are cooked to your satisfaction, you serve yourself along with the condiments. So, the whole cooking process is done at the table. It’s quite social because your involvement is required.

A typical hot pot would include meat, fish and seafood. However, my friend went out and bought some vegetarian meatballs to substitute. The great thing about that was, aside from her thoughtfulness, even the non-vegetarians loved those vegetarian meatballs!

The vegetarian hot pot my friend prepared for us had two different stock: one savoury, one hot. She told me that some people cannot handle a hot soup base so the host should provide an alternative. This style of hot pot is called yuanyang. I’m guessing it’s yin-yang?

Our vegetarian hot pot ingredients included:
• Tofu
• Wontons
• Various vegetables, especially white (Chinese) radish, sliced lotus root
• Various mushrooms such as shitake and fresh black fungi
• Bean curd skin
• Noodles (ours was sweet potato noodles which were quite interesting)

Condiments:
• Chopped spring onions
• Coriander
• Soy sauce
• Peanut sauce
• Chopped peanuts
• Hoisin sauce
• Fresh coriander
• Crushed garlic

Here you can see our food gently simmering…

Thank you Qi, Shawn and Harry for sharing this incredibly authentic experience with us. Next stop: our place 🙂

Nilgiri’s did it again!

It’s always a pleasure to dine at Nilgiri’s. I must admit, this time around we have had one of the most interesting menus.  Here’s what we had:

Starters

Aloo Chana Dal Samosa with pomegranate chutney (above)

Thanda Baingan (charred eggplant | dry lentil chutney | seasoned yoghurt & caramelised onions)

Paneer Tikka Chaat (tandoor-cooked ‘paneer’ | mint chatni | spiced chick peas & ‘besan’ vermicelli)

Main Dishes

Bhindi Til Aur Imli (baby okra | ground sesame, tamarind & curry leaf sauce)

Zeera Gobhi Saag (cauliflower flowerettes | roast cumin, coriander & turmeric garlic & fenugreek tempered spinach puree)

Paneer Methi Kofta (house-made fresh ‘paneer’ kofta fresh fenugreek & ginger filling | ‘malai’ sauce)

Lahsooni Dal Makhani (slow-cooked trio of lentils fresh garlic & ‘pepe saya’ ghee ‘tadka’). I must admit, Nilgiri’s dhal is an absolute triumph! It’s so creamy and moorish.

Pilaf (above)

Dessert

Fig Almond & Honey Kulfi (fig & local ‘two creeks’ honey-flavoured Indian ice-cream with almonds)

Gigi Pizzeria in Newtown, revisited

This is our second time at Gigi Pizzeria in Newtown. Last time it was us and Rachel as her husband couldn’t make it because of an emergency operation. This time though, we all made it. Eventually.

Gigi Pizzeria is one hip vegan pizza place in Newtown and their pizza is quite a hit even among the meat eaters. Well, they must be doing something, right?

This was their special for that particular day and I have no idea what the ingredients were but it was quite tasty. That’s all I have to say about that.

I know what this one is because we had the same one last time. It is called Funghi e Radicchio (Swiss brown mushrooms, garlic, dairy free blue cheese, parsley, radicchio, & roasted walnuts, extra virgin olive oil).

As for the dolci (desserts), we had:

Tiramisu di Gigi (above). Coffee soaked homemade Savoiardi biscuits layered with plant based Marsala cream dusted with cacao.

Torta all’arancia (above). Orange almond & polenta sponge served with orange candy & fresh berries.

Pastiera di gigi (above) which is orange blossom whole wheat & candied citrus tart.

The Wine Room with Don and Lorraine

Dona and Lorraine has been raving about The Wine Room (which is a part of Balgowlah RSL Club) for a very long time but we only managed to get ourselves there recently.

A realistic image of a fireplace in the middle of Australian summer? Really? Anyway, we had a glass of bubbly before dinner, sitting down and watching the flames dance while catching up with friends.

They have nice vegetarian options at The Wine Room. Here’s what we had:

Starter no 1: Fried zucchini flowers, goat’s cheese, basil and tomato cardamom  chutney (above).

Starter no 2: Grilled haloumi, preserved lemon and cherry tomatoes (above).

Our main course was roast pumpkin, leek and labne tart, Roma tomato, rocket and dukkah (above).

Lorraine and I didn’t have dessert: we had port instead but this is John’s Creme Brulee.

Sunday Dinner at Qi and Shawn’s

We were invited to Qi and Shawn’s for a Sunday dinner last night. Qi went into a lot trouble cooking vegetarian. We were absolutely spoilt!

Here’s what Qi prepared for us:

Schezwan tofu dish (below)

Preserved duck eggs (below)

Lotus root with schezwan pepper and spring onions (below)

Qi’s corn dish (below)

Fried rice (below)

Mushroom dumplings (below)

Edamame (below)

Max (below)

Another family member (below)

Selfies with Max

Thank you Qi and Shawn! We had a lovely time and the food was fantastic, absolutely to die for.

Celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary at Bentley’s

My husband and I are celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this year. It has been a journey but a really good one. And like we always do, we decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary at Bentley’s. Well, we weren’t going back to The Gantry, that’s for sure. If you want to know why, here’s my review of the place.

One thing we decided to do differently this time round though is that we went for premium wine matching. Yes, it was extra money but how many times do you celebrate your 15th anniversary?

So, let’s talk about the food, shall we? Here’s the current vegetarian tasting menu:

Current Vegetarian Tasting Menu
Sugar Loaf Cabbage + Kohlrabi + Desert Lime + Cucumber
Heirloom Cauliflower + Lemon Aspen + Pistachio
Salt Baked Celeriac + Shiitake + Salt Bush
Broad Beans + Broccolini + Kelp Butter
Sweet Corn + Job’s Tears + Pickled Golden Beetroot
Jerusalem Artichoke + Bayleaf + Burnt Pear
Yoghurt + Mandarin + Parsley
Sake Lees Ice Cream + Tonka + Macerated Strawberry

$130 + matching wine $90
Premium wine match $150
Non-alcoholic match $60

The night started with some complementary nibbles and bread and butter. I am so happy that they still make these guys. I absolutely love them and this time the photos are better, too.

Sugar Loaf Cabbage + Kohlrabi + Desert Lime + Cucumber (below)

First course of the night had this incredibly fresh—almost Thai—flavours even though the dish is made with native Australian ingredients. It was crunchy with its kohlrabi and cucumber filling and a blanket of sugar loaf cabbage on top, not to mention the desert lime underneath all of that. What a refreshing start!

Because it was our wedding anniversary and they knew it, our sommelier for the night, Chiara, matched this dish with a glass of champagne (NV Gosset) instead of whatever they had on the premium wine pairing list. It was incredibly light and refreshing with an interesting nose and citrus on the finish. It was dry yet not yeasty at all. A very good match, I have to say.

Heirloom Cauliflower + Lemon Aspen + Pistachio (below)


The second beauty of the night. The flavours of Heirloom Cauliflower + Lemon Aspen + Pistachio were very well balanced. You could taste the raw, natural state of vegetables. And it was matched with a white burgundy made by a natural wine producer from France. It was quite intriguing because we had to take some time to define this wine. Here’s the verdict: it is savoury, it almost evaporates, there is a hint of sweetness on the nose, not tart; almost cherry-like with beautiful acid balance and a subtle mushroom or woodiness. I could be wrong with the mushroom part but I absolutely loved it!

Salt Baked Celeriac + Shiitake + Salt Bush (below)


The whole dish had all the textures in one go like, creamy, crunchy, tart, soft, chewy and leafy or you may say herbaceous. Shiitake mushrooms were cooked to perfection; they were soft, a little bit of the chewiness was retained but they were not rubbery. Celeriac was crunchy (I love the way they roll them up), buttermilk sauce at the bottom of the dish was creamy and quite tangy. Celeriac leaves on top just freshened the whole thing. Just beautiful. And this beauty was matched with an orange wine: Matassa Cuvee Marguerite. This was an exceptional wine. It was citrusy, peachy and tarty with a funky nose and fruity yet dry/astringent finish. Again, exceptional match.

Broad Beans + Broccolini + Kelp Butter (below)


I love the fact that this dish was made with fresh broad beans. Dried beans are always more floury and starchy so there is a huge difference. My husband is not a huge fan of broad beans but the fresh ones are always a different story. As in this dish, broad beans are in a green, creamy base (kelp butter) and I could taste some kind of aniseed somewhere but I could be wrong. The dish was paired with a glass of natural, organic Montenidoli Vernaccia from Tuscany. We thought it was an unusual wine with spritzy, dry, light and fresh notes. It had a big, savoury nose but not heavy.

Sweet Corn + Job’s Tears + Pickled Golden Beetroot (below)


The crunchy texture of job’s tears in a soft, creamy environment creates a surprising contrast in this dish. Not to forget the tangy crunchiness of pickled golden beetroot. I also noticed some çağla in the mix which is unripe almonds. We add them to our fruit platters back in Turkey. I love their fuzzy green skins. The dish was paired with a glass of gamay (Descombes Brouilly) which was the first red of the evening.

Jerusalem Artichoke + Bayleaf + Burnt Pear (below)

I absolutely love the way they do their Jerusalem artichokes at Bentley’s. There is a raw egg yolk in the middle of that parcel you see in the photo, guys. It sits on top of a bed of pureed Jerusalem artichoke and when you cut it, the yolk oozes out nicely. Pear sticks, when you bite into them, are like unexpected doves being released during an already pleasant event. As for the wine pairing, the dish was paired with a glass of savoury Nebbiolo (Barbaresco Fletcher). Flavours just work together at Bentley’s.

Yoghurt + Mandarin + Parsley (below)


This was the first dessert of the night and it was one citrusy, creamy and herbaceous dessert. As for the wine: it was paired with a glass of Spatlese Clemens Busch. The dessert wine was shy initially but it opened up nicely. When it did, it was fruity with well-balanced sweetness and a long-lasting finish.

Sake Lees Ice Cream + Tonka + Macerated Strawberry (below)

The second dessert of the night was absolutely divine and it was paired with a glass of stunning Domaine Pichot Moureaux. However, that wasn’t it for the night: we got this plate with “Happy Anniversary” written on it and it came with more divine nibbles.

Thank Yous
Thank you, Chiara, our sommelier for the night. Your knowledge and experience in wine is spectacular; it was one of the best wine pairings we have ever experienced. And also, thank you for writing down the wines on my menu so that this review would happen.
Thank you, Max, for great service and your hospitality. Enjoy the rest of your time in Australia.
And lastly, thank you ‘Team Bentley’ for making our wedding anniversary celebration so special. You are fantastic food artists!

Tried the new menu of Nilgiri’s Indian Restaurant

We went back to Nilgiri’s on Friday night with a friend of ours, Jana, to try their new menu. We have been wanting to do that and catch up with Jana for some time, too. She is a huge fan of Nilgiri’s as well as the sister restaurant: Tellicherry.

Because Jana doesn’t have any problems with eating vegetarian with us, we all opted for vegetarian tasting menu. It’s $46 per person and you get a really good variety of dishes. Here’s the menu for vegetarian tasting menu:

PAPPADUMS & DIPS
lemon pickles, raita of the day, sweet mango & nigella marmalade

ENTRÉE
ALOO PANEER ‘SIKKA’
‘paneer’ & potato pattie, mung lentils crust, oven-baked, lemon honey chutney
POORI AUR CHANA
chickpea & rice flour cocktail pooris, ajwain-spiced chickpeas, date chutney
GREEN PEAS & POMEGRANATE SAMOSA
tamarind tomato chutney

MAINS
LAHSOONI PALAK PANEER
house-made fresh ‘paneer’, garlic tempered spinach purée
TANDOORI GOBHI TAMATAR TARI
cauliflower, mustard oil kashmiri chilli rub, tandoor-cooked, ginger-spiced tomato ‘tari’
ALOO SHIMLA MIRCH
chat potatoes, baby capsicum, fennel-flavoured green herb sauce
TADKA DAL MAKHANI
slow-cooked trio of lentils, cumin & coriander ‘pepe saya’ ghee tadka

ZEERA PULAO & SELECTION OF BREADS

Here’s what we had:

Pappadums and Dips of the night:
Lime pickle, raita of the day was a delicious eggplant one and sweet mango & nigella marmalade. Of course, they all come with pappadums to die for.

As for the starters, we had:
ALOO PANEER ‘SIKKA’ (below)
‘paneer’ & potato pattie, mung lentils crust, oven-baked served with lemon honey chutney.

POORI AUR CHANA (below) chickpea & rice flour cocktail pooris, ajwain-spiced chickpeas topped with date chutney. We couldn’t stop eating the chickpeas even after the pooris were gone. It was so delicious!

GREEN PEAS & POMEGRANATE SAMOSA (below)
Samosa is one thing that you get pretty much everywhere these days. However, these were different. They are served with tamarind tomato chutney.

As for the mains, we had:
TANDOORI GOBHI TAMATAR TARI (below) cauliflower, mustard oil kashmiri chilli rub, tandoor-cooked, ginger-spiced tomato ‘tari’ and it is one of the best cauliflower dishes I have ever had in my life, including my Mum’s bake. A total triumph, if you ask me!

ALOO SHIMLA MIRCH (below) chat potatoes, baby capsicum, fennel-flavoured green herb sauce. This is an incredibly well-balanced dish with subtle yet interesting sauce.

TADKA DAL MAKHANI (below) is a slow-cooked trio of lentils, cumin & coriander ‘pepe saya’ ghee tadka. No one does dhal like Nilgiri’s. However, this was by far their best! The tempering was also incredible.

Zeera Pulao (below) Yes, you get zeera pilao instead of plain rice.

Naan Bread (below) I don’t know about you but I could live on naan bread.

Olly’s birthday card for his Dad

When I saw this… I couldn’t resist 🙂

Celebrated our birthdays at The Gantry and what a disaster it was

We decided to try a new place to celebrate our birthdays this year. A new place to have a vegetarian degustation menu with wine pairing experience, to be precise. John found this place called The Gantry. It’s located at the end of The Rocks (Walsh Bay), right underneath the Harbour Bridge with a spectacular view (video attached). However, the experience did not match the location.

The moment our first entrée was served, a waitress who was passing by and carrying wine spilt the wine over John’s side of the table, soaking his arm, his cardigan as well as his shirt (they both need to be washed now). Our starters and John’s bread were drenched, too. Accidents happen, we get that but she didn’t even do a good job of cleaning up. John wiped the table with his napkin because it was still wet after her attempt. They took away our starters and John’s bread. Five minutes later, we were served again but nobody noticed that John’s bread was never replaced.

So, that’s how our birthday dinner started…

We decided to go for 7 courses vegetarian tasting menu as some of the dishes were more interesting and we didn’t want to miss out. It’s $119 per person and you add $85 on top of that for wine pairing. Here’s the menu:

THE GANTRY
7 courses vegetarian tasting menu

Curd – slow cooked grains – mushroom – smoked prune
Chestnut – brassica – white raisin – potato
Panisse – sour peppers – green garlic – almond
Sunchokes – endive – pine mushroom – mustard
Sheep cheese – kohlrabi – onions – salted egg
Blackberry – yoghurt – shiso – grape
Fig – brown butter – oats – honey – milk

Curd – slow cooked grains – mushroom – smoked prune
This is the first starter of the night. It was a well-balanced dish however the curd disappeared into mushroom broth, the smoked prune was very light on smoke so it was very much like biting into a dessert rather than a savoury starter. The ancient slow cooked grains were farro, quinoa and barley and they were quite filling. The wine which was paired for this first course was Wickery’s Riesling. It is a typical Australian Reisling. Quite acidic that the sourness of it catches you at the back of your palate. I guess it was okay but nothing special.

Chestnut – brassica – white raisin – potato
Caramelised purple cauliflower with white raisin, chestnut foam and white Riesling sauce. I couldn’t taste the earthiness of chestnut in this dish at all but the potatoes were nicely done. The dish was paired with an Australian Gruner Vetliner with an incredibly elusive nose, almost like white spirit. In the taste department, it wasn’t saying much. On top of that, the wine did not go well with the dish at all.

Panisse – sour peppers – green garlic – almond
The sour peppers in this dish were so sour that they put Turkish turşu to shame. Panisse was done very well. As for the wine, it was paired with a 2016 Yarra Valley chardonnay and thank God it was wooded. I really don’t like unwooded chardonnay. It doesn’t matter how popular or trendy unwooded chardonnay becomes, to me it’s like flat coke.

Sunchokes – endive – pine mushroom – mustard
Sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) were beautifully done, the onions were caramelised well in this dish. The whole thing was topped with very thin potato skins. This dish was paired with Cooter & Cooter 2015 Shiraz from Australia and it was such a disappointment. It was raw, rough with very coarse tannins. No softness or finesse whatsoever. It’s the kind of wine you get from a cheap pub. Another disappointment!

Sheep cheese – kohlrabi – onions – salted egg
I must admit, this was the most disappointing dish of the night. What you have here is caramelised onions (again), farro porridge, kohlrabi and very rancid cheese. I couldn’t finish mine and it gave John a funny tummy. To make things worse, it was paired with an Italian Nebbiolo which was very basic. No nose to speak of, either.

Blackberry – yoghurt – shiso – grape
This was presented as a palate cleanser but it was the first dessert. Palate cleansers are served earlier on to transition you from mixed flavours and prepare your palate for the next dish. It was basically blackberry sorbet with bitter shiso. It was paired with a dessert wine which was nice.

Fig – brown butter – oats – honey – milk
And the second dessert. They talk about seasonality however the fig was under ripe, big time. It was paired with a 2016 Frogmore Creek dessert wine from Tasmania. It was a nice dessert wine but it’s so hard to get dessert wines wrong.

The Verdict
The Gantry was by far the most disappointing vegetarian degustation experience we have ever had. The food sounded interesting on paper but the flavours didn’t match that well. Contrasting flavours don’t create well-balanced harmony on a plate every time. As for the service, there wasn’t much floor management happening either. It’s a shame because we were so looking forward to trying a new place. Well, we are definitely going back to Bentley’s for the next celebration (our wedding anniversary, that is) or Yellow.

Chatkazz with Berfu

We promised Berfu that we would introduce her to Indian street food one weekend. So, we visited Chatkazz in Harris Park.

Our mocktails: Mojito and watermelon juice for John.

Chatkazz is always busy as you can hear at the background.

We had Pani Puri as well but I didn’t take a photo of it as it’s not the most photogenic dish. This one is Dahi Puri.

Chinese Bhel was spectacular, again.

Khaman Dhokla (above)

Chhole Bhatura (above)

Chatkazz Indian Sweet Shop
On our way back, we popped in to Chatkazz’s Indian sweet shop and waited to be served for quite some time. Every other person was served but I guess you need to be Indian to be treated fairly in that shop. Anyway, in the end we had a box of sweets to take home like jalebi, ladoo, pista barfi, kaju and mango cakes.

I love the box!