food roundup.

Faithful readers of this blog may have noticed that I've barely mentioned Australian food. I'm not sure exactly what my thinking was, somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I might just cram it all into one post. Maybe this is that post. Let's see, shall we.

I should probably say the food was great, really good, in a kind of "new comfort food" kind of way. Not heavy, but just like "stuff you liked". I'll try and explain better. We probably fucked up by not eating any Indian or Malaysian, or Chinese for that matter. But there were so many interesting "Australian" menus that we just didn't get there. Also our eating schedule kind of dictated a certain input: the first week or so we were getting up at 4am every day and asleep by 9pm, so most days we'd have two breakfasts, which worked out just fine because Australia has a bit of a serious breakfast obsession.

OK so here are some Australian things:

1) Sourdough bread. Possibly my single favorite thing about "Australian cuisine". It's real sourdough, tangy with a wide open crumb, and if you toast it properly you can hear the eventual crunch in the other room. Just great, great bread that I forgot I liked so much. So everywhere we went for breakfast had "slice of sourdough" as a menu option. They also almost always had some variation jams and jellies, and one with eggs, and some variation with avocado, which is so ubiquitous that they semi-annoyingly call it avo b/c they just don't have time for those other two syllables. Noooooo I think they just like making up fun names for things that end with O, probably because the Australian O is such an endearing feature of their spoken language. Yes I know avocado already ended with O before they shortened it, thanks.

Anyway, yes, sourdough every day. Possibly the best of these was at The General in Kangaroo Valley (above), homemade by a shadowy figure called Mrs Bread (no dot after the Mrs), served with unusually delicious hand-churned butter. This was a great omelette, too, Parmesan, kale and pine nut? Pecan? Some nut (EDITOR'S NOTE: hazelnut). Actually Nelson's breakfast was great too, sourdough rye with, yes, avocado, fresh cheese, tomato, and dukkah, which is going to be talked about again in a minute.

We tried to buy some of Mrs Bread's sourdough after breakfast but she hadn't baked that morning, we'd have to come back tomorrow, which...yeah we just weren't gonna do. We had a schedule. It was perfectly quaint that, had there been bread, it would've been on an unmanned cart with a box for you to put your money in, yes, using the honor system.

Anyway, we loved The General, and would've been back the next day if we could've.

2) Dukkah. At least one menu per day had some kind of dukkah on it. My own personal jury's still out on it. I'm not totally sure it improved anything it was served on, it might have just become a habit down there to throw it on things. Here's a kind of vapid HuffPost article about it, and here's a breakfast I had at the Hungry Monkey in Kiama called Purple Toast: "beetroot relish. Persian feta, free range poached eggs & monkey dukkah on soy & linseed sourdough."

3) Poached eggs. They really love their poached eggs. Which is great, because it means they're really good at poaching them. Again, every menu had them at least once. Below, The Serrano at Illi Hill: jàmon serrano, pecorino, watercress, walnuts, poached egg on white sourdough drizzled with truffle oil.

A wee bit overkilt, that one, the sourdough pretty much got lost, which is too bad b/c it sounded like a great sandwich. Wasn't bad at all, but better was this: Two Chaps' corn sourdough crumpets w/semi-dried tomato, rocket, cultured goat’s milk yoghurt and fermented tomato salsa. Plus a poached egg. Yes these are all still breakfasts.

4) Coffee. Man. It reminded me of Seattle circa 1995. Walking down the main drag in Kiama looking for a good front terrace to have a beer on and peoplewatch, you quickly realize a) there aren't any, you later find out it's because Australians do "beer gardens" instead, which are located in the back and serve a slightly different purpose, protecting you from the sun instead of helping you soak it up, and b) every other storefront is a coffee roaster.

You get kind of used to it pretty quickly, although the terminology was a bit confusing. But somehow it didn't have the sneery/snooty feel of hipstery bandwagon-jumping that 1990s/2000s America had, but who knows, maybe it was exactly the same. Anyway, at least baristas were very pleasant about us not knowing what anything was. Nelson finally figured out what her drink was a couple of days before we left: soy or almond latte with an extra shot. I drank long blacks. Yes I said that.

5) Vietnamese food. This was the only immigrant cuisine we successfully interacted with. Marrickville had more Vietnamese restaurants than almost any other kind of business. We had plans to go to Hello Auntie, but like so many other promising targets on this trip (Bloodwood, Hartsyard, Love Tilly Devine, Dehli O Dehli, Pete's Music Exchange), they were closed for "the holidays". At least we had a banh xeo and an interesting curry in Kiama, and I had a super banh mi from Marrickville Pork roll.

6) Corn. It kept showing up in surprising places. Especially baby corn. OK not that surprising I guess. Like we never saw it driving a car or delivering a TED talk. It was always on a plate in a dining setting.

Anyway. We went to Yellow because they have a fancy-ass all-vegetarian menu. Fancy-ass meaning expennnnnsive. The water was expensive, that kind of expensive. If I'm moaning a bit, it's not about the expense itself. People should get paid. And I guess baby vegetables are more expensive than their parents. I'm just saying you know how this kind of thing affects expectations. Like if you charge me 6 bucks for water then damn, your baby vegetable game and miso crumbles better be on point.

Everything we had was at least "good", cooked with care and designed with craft, it just wasn't very comforting or homey or I guess welcoming in any way. Like I'm not sure this is helping sell a plant-based diet, this kind of semi-ascetic, clinical cooking. I know, what's the other end of the spectrum, every hippie vegetarian cafe ever since the 60s with overcooked and underseasoned everything. I guess I'm saying "close but", one fraction more warmth or lusciousness or decadence wouldn't have hurt.

But back to corn. The best thing I ate that night was "baby fennel + chickpea miso + buckwheat streusel", very close to delicious. I'm pretty sure it was in fact. And the most interesting thing was "baby corn in the husk + miso milk crumb", because you ate the whole charred husk and everything (below, and below that the baby fennel), which felt weird but tasted pretty good.

7) Simplicity. In pretty stark contrast to Yellow, this describes everything we ate at Stanbuli and Continental. Two places run/owned by the same people that were so good in every way they made you want to have a restaurant too, because this is the way it should be done and they made it seem totally possible. The food was either simple and perfectly executed or slightly less simple and also perfectly executed. And just done by somebody who loved to eat. The service was awesome, super-attentive yet extremely casual, really trying not to be part of your night. And the look and feel of both places was almost painfully ggggghghhhhhhh I hate to say it, but it was.....cool, OK? But you didn't mind at all because everything was done so well. I'm gushing, I know, sorry. It was kind of inspirational though. Even the fonts and graphic design were ok, YOU FEEL ME?

At Continental, two outstanding things, maybe the most outstanding things I ate on this trip. 1) "fennel, charred green beans, peanut pesto & chilli", and 2) "risotto with zucchini, roasted tomato & béarnaise sauce." The fennel was mandolined and dressed with great olive oil, lemon juice and chili flakes as far as I could tell. No idea what was in the peanut pesto. And the risotto. Boom. Half because it didn't taste anything like a risotto, really, it was just a warm and gooey tongue-hug of goodness.

Stanbuli was totally different, but just as good. There was a line outside the door at 5:50pm for their 6:00 opening. Somehow we got a seat, just like the night before at Continental. Here's the outside of Stanbulli, which someone just fell in lllllllove with:

And here's what we had, according to the menu:

Village style Bread, Humus and Cypriot style marinated Olives

Pancar Salata
Roasted Beetroots in Vinegar, Garlic, Mint and Coriander

Karnibahar Kizartma
Fried Cauliflower, Tahini Sauce, Yoghurt and Chilli-Herb dressing

None of it sounds amazing on paper, but it was how you say "in the mouth": you could tell they cooked every bit of it from scratch. Someone roasted the beets, they didn't have that "everybeet" thing that all the pre-roasted grocery store ones have. Someone skinned the chickpeas. Someone baked that super duper bread.

And someone made the goddamned chocolate baklava. With cinnamon ice cream. Ohhhhhh shhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt. Someone at my table "orgasmed*" like four times during this.

8) Cocktails. Earl's. Kittyhawk. Corridor. Mary's. Ms. G's.

9) Service. What a pleasant surprise this was. I think from our very first meal we were raising eyebrows and being all "what's this, then" about how fucking professional everyone was. As if they'd been trained and were taking their job seriously. With the exception of anywhere near a beach in or around Sydney. That was kind of like 50% as good. But in general, great, and, they weren't doing it for tips, so no over-friendly desperation weirdness.

* not a valid sexual verb


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