Category Archives: Fine Dining

French with friends @ Ananas Bar & Brasserie

I was having lunch a friend on afternoon and as we were saying goodbye, her eyes became a bit shifty.

“Hey, so, what are the restaurants at the top of your list that you haven’t had a chance to try yet?”

“Umm… I’ve wanted to check out this place called Ananas for a while…Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just because, you know, looking for somewhere nice to take my boyfriend and I want to eat there first before you do *nervous laugh* Okay, SEEYA!”

Didn’t fool me for a second. That was the most un-smooth attempt at “Let me sneakily find out where you want to eat so I can take you there as a surprise” anyone’s ever tried on me.

But who’s complaining? The important thing was that someone was going to treat me to a meal at a restaurant at the top of my to-eat list. Whether you reveal the venue or blindfold me and make me guess where I am by the smell – either way, I’m happy.

So, as I guessed, our friends booked a dinner for four at Ananas as a lovely farewell gift for me and Matt, before we flew off to Korea.

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“Ananas” is French for “Pineapple”. Pineapples don’t seem very French… but this French bistro is certainly very… pineapple.

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Props to the interior designer who must have had to scour the earth for these elegant pineapple-themed ornamentations. While the concept sounds more suited to a Tiki Lounge, the restaurant is actually a beautiful combination of heritage Sydney and art deco Paris. It’s an expansive space of exposed brick with separate bar and dining rooms – the latter furnished with intimate booth seats and mural-sized nude paintings that might make the more prudish diner a little bit uncomfortable.

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My friends and I were seated, and the waiter came by to ask us about water.

“Still or sparkling?”

“Um, still please!” my friend answered cheerily, before I had a chance to interject.

“What? Sorry, have I misjudged you? Because I didn’t think I was friends with the type of people who would happily pay $9 for a bottle of water imported from Italy when we live in a country with some of the cleanest tap water in the world? Or was that just a rookie mistake? Okay, let me show you how it’s done. When a waiter asks the “still or sparkling” question you never reply with either “still” or “sparkling”, you take the silent option (c) and say “Tap water’s fine thanks!” and then flick you hair and act cool because tap water IS fine, thankyouverymuch”.

Of course I said all this after the waiter had left, because I may be shameless enough to answer “tap” when that option isn’t even presented to me, but I’m not shameless enough to change an order from “still” to “tap”.

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And then, as if he hadn’t even noticed the very important moment we just had about the water, our friend burst out “GUYS, can you believe how good looking our waiter is?!”

I guess as Koreans we’re more used to middle-aged aunties waiting our tables, not bronzed model-esque frenchmen whose shirts look like they’ve been spray-painted on.

I took a sneaky photo, but meh, I’ve seen better.

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We started the evening with two super-French entrees.

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Escargot with garlic sauce ($18). The bed of foam is pure salt – we learnt this the hard way.

Honestly, the only reason I ever order escargot is for the novelty value. I’m not even sure what they actually taste like because they’re always so drowned in garlic butter. You could probably cook a wad of chewed gum in garlic butter and it would taste the same.

But you know, Snails! In shells! On a plate! With special tongs!

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The chefs selection of house made charcuterie, brioche ($22) was not as substantial as we hoped… it took us about two whole seconds to clean that plate.

When choosing mains, we convinced our skeptical red-meat loving friends to go for the fish dishes. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from our French dining experiences, its that fish beats all other land-dwelling creatures. You have to be delicate when cooking fish, and no one is more delicate than the French.

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Snapper with blue swimmer crab & squid risotto ($35) – this sounded amazing on paper, but our friend was a bit underwhelmed by the portion size and flavour.

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Whole flounder with lemon caper butter and pommes purée ($37) – one of Ananas’ signature dishes and definitely the most delicious thing on our table that evening.

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I chose the lobster ravioli with confit tomato and bisque $33. I’m not really a huge fan of shellfish but there’s something about lobster on a menu that draws me – maybe it’s just the cliche of lobster being the most expensive, luxurious thing you can order at a restaurant. This was pleasant, but the flavours were a bit too mild for my liking, so I just kept stealing forkfuls of my friend’s flounder.

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Matt chose (well… I chose for him) the navarin of braised lamb shoulder, roasted breast and gremolata crumbed brain ($34) – another signature dish. A classic country-style stew, complete with crumbed offal. This was the first time we’ve tried brain… and will probably be the last. I feel like the brain is one of those organs that God never intended to be eaten… along with eyeballs and the pancreas.

We had a lot of fun at Ananas – but I think that had more to do with the company, the cute waiter and unwanted bottle of still water than the food. The food was great, but I there are definitely French bistro-style restaurants in Sydney that are just as good but much less expensive. I suppose what you’re also paying for is the experience of dining in the Argyle with the trendy upper-crust of Sydney. And admission to the museum of pineapple art.

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Ananas Bar & Brasserie
18 Argyle St 
The Rocks NSW
Ananas Bar & Brasserie on Urbanspoon

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The Festival of Heather @ Bar H

You know those people who are really modest about their birthdays? They don’t tell anyone that their birthday is coming up, they don’t even have their birthday listed on their Facebook profile. They are happy for their birthday to just come and go unnoticed. They hate people making a fuss about them and the thought of a group of people singing “Happy Birthday” to them with a cake and candles in a public place is mortifying.

I am not one of those people.

My birthday is August 14 (write in your diaries people!) so I start getting excited around early-July. I start thinking about the presents I want. I start planning the food I want to eat. I casually tell people that my birthday is coming up and that my favourite kind of cake is lemon meringue tart (Jones the Grocer has a really nice one!). A firmly believe that one day is not long enough to celebrate a birthday – especially if your birthday falls on a weekday. No, I’m a strong proponent of the “Birthday Week”, and this year I shamelessly spread my birthday celebrations over about 10 days and called it “The Festival of Heather”.

The headline event of the Festival of Heather was my birthday dinner date with Matt. Since getting married, we only let ourselves splurge on fine dining for the most special of occasions, and obviously, my birthday is one of them. But I still wanted to exercise self-control – no $185 degustation at Momofuku. I wanted to eat somewhere fun and delicious without putting ourselves in debt. So I chose the very very appropriately named “Bar H”.

The Bar, including the food, is all very good looking. So I was really upset when I got home and had a proper look at the photos I took with my DSLR. I don’t need to tell you that I suck at photography, but I didn’t know that I sucked to the extent that I couldn’t even tell that every single photo I took that night was blurry even AFTER previewing them on my camera’s LCD display! I considered not posting this at all, or trying to improve the photos as much as I could with my dodgy iPhoto editing. I finally decided on a completely different approach: to embrace the entertainment value of badly taken photographs. So I downloaded a collage-making application and I now present to you – Bar H, through the lens of the worst food photographer ever (or a drunk person, or a person with Parkinson’s disease).

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Bar H is small, dark and intimate, with bar seating and a few tables (mostly shared). The walls are decorated with wine, the letter H, oriental graffiti and Hamish Ingham’s own range of gourmet sauces. The entire bar appeared to be attended to by one waitress, who still managed to stay very calm, friendly and attentive.

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For birthday cocktails we ordered the Gin Chi ($16)

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Tanqueray gin with lime, house pandan syrup & sesame leaf. I loved the foamy egg shape.

The menu is kind of like Asian Tapas, designed for sharing and racking up a ludicrous bill total without realising.

On our waitress’s recommendation we ordered the salt & szechuan pepper calamari with kimchi ($23) and the crisp rice noodles with sweet soy, peanut and bonito flakes ($16).

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The calamari needed a bit more of a crunch and a kick, but what interested me most about this dish was the kimchi. Of all the “white man cooks yellow man food” restaurants in Sydney, not many venture into Korean food (though I hear Bills does a Kimchi fried rice for breakfast now!!). Kimchi is also sold as a side dish for $5 which is kind of a joke, but I probably would have ordered it if it wasn’t included with the calamari, just to see what it tasted like. But I’m glad I didn’t… because it just tastes like normal kimchi. I’m guessing Hamish sources his kimchi from the same place my mum does – the local Korean grocery store. There was nothing interesting about the kimchi that made it taste “house made”.

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The crispy rice noodles looked sensational and tasted amazing too. My favourite dish from the night – and so simple! Just rice noodles with a bit of dressing. But I loved the texture of the noodles – crunchy outside, chewy inside, and the salty/sweet combo of the soy and peanut. Just yummy. This must be a signature dish, because it’s a permanent fixture on the otherwise seasonal menu.

We also ordered the steamed pork buns ($6.50 each) which came with a cilantro, mint and chilli salsa.

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These were less like the fluffy bbq pork buns you get at Yum Cha, and more like Korean steamed buns (Jjim-bbang) that you get at the grocery store – a bit doughy and filled with a mince, potato noodle and chive mix (these ones were filled with sweet pulled pork). Mum used to buy them for us as an afternoon snack – we ate them, but never really liked them. I felt the same about these buns.

As our “main” we chose the caramelised beef rib ($39).

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This looked really good, but was SO SWEET. Not sweet and sour, not sweet and spicy, just sweet and more sweet. My guess is that this is Chef H’s fine dining take on “Galbi Jjim” (braised short rib), which like most Korean meats, is quite sweet. But this took the joke too far. After we finished it, I felt like we had already eaten dessert. At this point, I started to think “I don’t think Chef Hamish really understands Asian flavours at all…” Yes, I feel qualified to make that kind of comment about a chef who was Kylie Kwong’s protégé – purely because I’ve spent my whole life eating Asian food.

We weren’t at all full, so we ordered dessert at risk of sugar-overload. Flourless chocolate cake with sorbet (can’t remember flavour – maybe pear?)

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I don’t think we could even taste this properly. Our sweetness tastebuds were maxed out. In the bottom left is my Meiwei cocktail – Vodka, pomegranate juice, rambutan & fresh lime.

I’m already not a huge fan of fancy Asian and Bar H didn’t win me. Hate to be down on a place that shares the same awesome initial as me, but I think there are a lot of places in Sydney that do it better, China Lane and Mr Wong for example.

I will close this post with the only two decent photos I took that evening.

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Bar H 
80 Campbell St  
Surry Hills NSW
Bar H on Urbanspoon

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Frenching @ Cafe Nice

I am a huge fan of the Fratelli Fresh group. If I was pressed to name my favourite restaurant in Sydney… I might even say Cafe Sopra. I love the Italian gourmet grocer + wine bar concept. It’s where I had my first date with banoffee pie. The meatballs are the best I’ve ever eaten and the caprese salad is without equal. From the bottle of chilli oil on each table to the $3.50 house white on the wine menu, there are so many things that I love about it.

So when I heard that the Fratelli Fresh team was branching out into French food with new venture Cafe Nice, I couldn’t wait to try it. Especially because it’s only one block away from my office – we all know how excited I get about convenience!

But after I read some bad reviews (interior styled like a McDonalds or a cafeteria, food no-where near as consistent or high-quality as Sopra), it quickly moved down my list until I had almost forgotten it existed. I was only reminded when I was looking for a nice place to eat dinner during a Sydney CBD “staycation” my husband and I organised. We had a room booked at the Sofitel Wentworth and wanted to eat somewhere that didn’t defeat the purpose of being able to walk home from the office.

Cafe Nice was the perfect choice. If our relationship had a “food theme” it would be French cuisine. Our first fine dining experience was at the Manu Fieldel headed Bilson’s, our honeymoon started in gay Paree and over the years, in the same way we have grown to know and love each other, we have also grown to know and love cheese, butter, wine, truffles, crusty baguettes, charcuterie, foie gras, rillettes and cornichons.

Unlike Sopra, Cafe Nice (“Neece”) takes bookings, which I really appreciate. Even if it’s midweek and you’re confident that you’ll get a table, the ability to make a booking just makes you feel so much more at ease.

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The entrance is marked by a striped awning and a bright pink neon sign – which could be perceived as a bit daggy, but to me it says “Hi, we’re a French restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

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The inside is light, friendly and simple. I kind of get the “McDonalds” comment, with the cushioned diner stools and tiled floor – but I dug it. Like Cafe Sopra, it strikes a nice balance between casual dining and being just a little bit posh.

The windows face towards Circular Quay station and the Harbour Bridge – but the view is entirely obscured by massive pot plants. Because we wouldn’t want a view of Sydney harbour the ruin the illusion of dining in a Parisian cafe!

(Apologies for the crappy iPhone photos – lighting was not ideal)

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Our wines came in glass with “Cafe Nice” printed on the glass in Curlz MT. So classy.

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We took a look at the menu and told the waitress, “Just give us the three frenchiest, fattiest, most buttery things on here!”

(Okay, not actually true, but we could have – looking at what we ended up ordering, the results would have been the same)

We started with, of course, the pâté. How could we not?

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A massive slab of creamy pâté de foie gras (or de canard… can’t remember) with toasted bread and cornichons. You might be thinking “That is a crapload of pate”. Yes it is. But we cleaned it up. With the assistance of a toasted bread re-fill. YOLO self control.

All the mains on the menu here comes with a “w Truffle” option at an additional $15 per dish. We didn’t feel like splurging so we ordered w/o Truffle, but the option is there for all you high-rollers.

I chose the Duck Confit (with cabbage, chestnuts and quince – $29) which, as classic as it is, I’ve never tried before. It was cooked beautifully, unbelievably rich in a way that only French food can be and falling off the bone.

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Matt ordered the pan fried whole rainbow trout with toasted almonds ($26).

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It comes swimming in a pool of herby butter soup. The French sure know how to cook a fish – I took one bite of the perfect pink flesh, with some crispy skin and toasty almond and kindly asked Matt if we could swap mains.

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Killed it. Wait, what’s that fourth bowl? Oh yeah, we ordered a side of pommes frites! Just to balance out the meal, you know?

After that healthy dose of salt and butter, we needed a sugar hit. Actually ‘need’ is the wrong word – what we really needed was to get our arses to the gym and put ourselves on a low-fat low-sodium low-carb vegan diet for at least a month to let our bodies recover from this meal. But what we wanted was a lemon donut with passionfruit caramel and vanilla ice cream.

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M: “Can we get something a bit… refreshing and not too sweet for dessert?”

H: “What about this?”

M: “Uh, that’s a donut.”

H: “Yes, but it’s a lemon donut.”

See my logic? Anyway, it was delicious.

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At Cafe Sopra, you can get away with sharing a pizza, a salad and a cheap wine and leaving with a split bill of less than $20 each. This won’t happen at Cafe Nice – with mains ranging from $26-$39 (excl. truffle), but this is still pretty reasonable when you consider the other French offerings in the CBD. I was quite fond of Tony Bilson’s now defunct Number One Wine Bar at Circular Quay, so this is a very welcome addition to the uptown CBD food scene. Need to try the roast chicken for two next time – maybe I’ll even splash out and add truffle!

Cafe Nice
2 Phillip St 
Sydney, NSW 2000
Cafe Nice on Urbanspoon

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