Would you like coffee while you wait?

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This advert is from a book published in Australia, in 1884. Doesn’t time fly?

It certainly  has for me, oops it’s been a long gap since my last review, in the lead up to food review #37 – which is still being written, btw.

What’s been happening? Lots! I’ve had some culinary history and foodie research on my plate which I will share with you soon.

Meanwhile, why don’t you take a moment to sit back and imagine – wherever you live – what might have been placed on your table to eat back in the 1880’s?

Below is an contemporary representation of the interior rooms of a row of old houses in Sydney’s The Rocks area – at Foundation Park. The stonework shows the actual layout of some of the rooms, which had a low ceiling height.

What to drink with your food? Spirits like rum were more available due to the lack of refrigeration for beer in the early days of colonial settlement.

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© Awia Markey – remains of buildings in Foundations Park, along Gloucester Walk

My next cafe review – of a contemporary venue – will be posted in a few weeks time. Thanks for your patience. Until then, bon appetit!

Pimp My Plate #32 – Will & Steve’s pop-up restaurant, Rozelle, NSW

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Salmon Tartare with peas, apple & fennel remoulade

Can Will & Steve’s pop-up restaurant PIMP MY PLATE?

 

‘The gourmet pommies pop up at TRAMSHEDS’

Anyone who watched Australia’s TV cooking show My Kitchen Rules last year will remember the charming and affable Will & Steve, or as they call themselves, ‘the gourmet pommies’.

Hailing from Britain, Will Stewart and Steve Flood were the winners of the 2015 series of My Kitchen Rules, and first met when they moved to Australia with the same investment bank.

When circumstances changed in their financial careers, the pair decided to fully embrace their foodie side, the catalyst being when Steve applied for them both to appear on the show. It was a good move.

Since their TV win, Will and Steve have continued their career in food, lifestyle and media. And for the last 12 months the pair has been busy producing their first cookbook, appropriately named Will and Steve, Home Cook, Aspiring Chef.

Tonight’s event is one of four pop-up dinners hosted by them, to meet some of their fans who share their love of good food, and to promote their new cookbook by serving us a 3-course meal from it.

The venue is Sydney’s new dining hub TRAMSHEDS at Harold Park. The atmosphere here is a bit like dining in a restaurant inside a restaurant. The freestanding kitchen space and tables are positioned in the busy Artisan Lane area.

It’s Saturday night and all around us, the whole of TRAMSHEDS is buzzing, while we sip champagne at our tables, in anticipation. Diners from other bars and restaurants walk by, glancing across at our tables twinkling with glassware and tea lights.

Will and Steve are happy to pose for selfies and answer all our questions, before, during, and after plating and serving. Both are energetic personalities – Will loves to engage and share a laugh, and Steve is passionate about food. And both are generous with their time throughout the night.

With a glass of champagne in hand we watch the boys’ hard work that usually happens behind-the-scenes in a kitchen. Their rhythmic precision is enjoyable to watch, and despite them having only one person to help them prep and plate, Will and Steve manage to make the work appear effortless.

Then our entrées arrive, a pretty pink and green plate of Salmon Tartare with peas and pea foam, and apple and fennel remoulade. It’s a light and refreshing start, served with slivers of crunchy black sesame seed lavoche on the side.

The main is a juicy and beautifully crispy piece of Pork Belly served with Colcannon, heirloom carrots, and apple cider juice. The only improvement on this dish would be a sharper knife to glide through that crackling and maintain the architecture of the pork. But sharp knives are a rarity in restaurants these days.

Dessert is a Chocolate, Beetroot and Milk Crunch with dramatic plating with a dark red sauce embellishment that is part strobe effect and part ‘how to get away with murder’.

As we finish each course, we flick to the corresponding recipe page in cookbook. It’s beautifully produced and also features fresh reinventions of classics, including The Perfect Steak with truffle butter and parsnip chips; Lobster Rolls with mango salsa; White Pudding with apple chutney; Sarnies (British slang for sandwiches); and a Maple Pumpkin Tart with sweet dukkha and yoghurt – a must-cook alternative to serving pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

Will and Steve are now touring around Australia to promote cookbook and share their passion for fresh flavours that showcase Australian produce. Will and Steve’s website also features their recipes so take a look and be inspired.

 

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RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5   Fresh flavours
VALUE: 4/5   VENUE ATMOS: Industrial modern   VIBE:  Friendly and generous

http://www.willandsteve.com.au

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

 

Pimp My Plate #29 – NO NAME, Darlinghurst, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

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This month I’m posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish. Remember that old Italian-Australian favourite Spaghetti Bolognese?

‘Pimp my Bolognese, again!’

In this week’s quest to see if Spaghetti Bolognese has disappeared from Sydney menus, I twirl my fork in one of Darlinghurst’s oldest Italian restaurants.

As I mentioned last week, a traditional version of Bolognese sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

This is the second of three plates of Spaghetti Bolognese I’ll be reviewing.

No Name Restaurant – Ristorante #2

It seems like NO NAME restaurant has been in Darlinghurst for …. forever. Decades ago, when I worked in an advertising agency nearby NO NAMES (as we called it) was a regular hangout on Friday afternoons with the tribe.

I remember this restaurant from as far back as the mid-1970s. Even so, I’d have been shocked if Spaghetti Bolognese had disappeared from the menu.

My heart skips a beat …  Yes! It’s still on the menu. ‘Of course it is,’ I reprimand myself.

I order a ‘small’ Garden Salad ($4 – say whaaat?) to accompany my bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese ($10), and with that I get a complimentary side of bread, a glass of cordial, and a glass of water.

‘Parmesan cheese?’

‘Yes,’ I answer without any expectations of fresh Parmesan cheese.

When it first opened, NO NAME began a tradition of offering simple, no-fuss Italian food, with a rustic style.

Not much has changed since in the style of décor or the food, and that’s its charm. The fact that over so many years NO NAME continues to offer basic Italian meals at a price that seems oblivious to inflation is unique. Especially in a large city like Sydney, where change is a constant of this city’s restaurant scene.

If my memory is correct, the only thing missing on my table compared to ‘back then’ are the little glass salt-shaker bottles full of dried chilli flakes. Part of the Friday lunch ceremony was sprinkling copious amounts of chilli flakes over our bowls of spaghetti. In their place is a sea of bright yellow plastic squeeze bottles full of vinegar. What these are for, I’m not sure, and I don’t care to find out.

My bowl of spaghetti arrives and it looks good, and tastes good. There’s no garnish or carrot – no fuss – but I notice a pleasing ratio of sauce to pasta.

This is cheap and cheerful food. It offers flavour and fills you up, and does both at an incredibly good price. So my second experience of Spaghetti Bolognese is filling, no-frills, and enjoyable. And there’s enough sauce.

NO NAME’S blackboard menu features other dishes including, Schnitzels ($15-$24), Scaloppini w Mushrooms (another old favourite), and Osso Buco (both $12), Liver and Onions ($14), and Steak and Onions ($15).

About the name NO NAME – how did it begin?

According to urban legend, the original restaurant sign kept being knocked down by passing rubbish trucks. Faced with having to continually replace the restaurant sign, eventually the restaurant was left with no name – literally.

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After lunch, I head downstairs to Darlinghurst’s other long term resident, THE ARCH, for dessert: a great cup of coffee and a crunchy pistachio biscotti.

My next and final Spaghetti Bolognese encounter is next week.

RATED: No frills  FOOD: 3/5
VALUE: 4.5/5   ATMOS: Minimalist   VIBE:  No-frills fun
NO NAME – 2 Chapel Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW

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Pimp My Plate #23 – Wollstonecraft, NSW

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PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $19 or less.

‘Up the garden path…’

Botanica  Garden Café

It’s easy to drive straight past Botanica Garden Café without seeing it – its leafy green exterior acts like a camouflage. But you’re more likely to find on street parking further down Bay Road anyway.

Colourful empty birdcages hang from the tree canopy at the entrance, and silver teapots hang from the ceiling above your table. There is a menagerie of bird ornaments, and a delicious scattering of design whimsy surrounds you. A small sign announces that all items are recycled, used, or vintage – and all are weather-worn.

In a suburb as affluent as Wollstonecraft, a free-spirited café with plants sprouting out of rusting Campbell Soup cans is a delightfully incongruous and welcome find.

There is an easy, organic creativity to the décor and the menu.

Today’s Specials include a Spicy Pumpkin Soup ($12.50), various homemade sandwiches, and a great selection of desserts: Apple and Rhubarb Strudel; a Lemon Myrtle, Lime and Mint tart; a Salted Caramel Popcorn and Pretzel tart; and a gluten-free Orange and Berry Teacake. I’m avoiding sugar today, so I avoid making such a challenging decision.

I see a platter of Baits & Beets ($16) – whitebait, beetroot, and corn fritters, served with pickled leek, sundried tomatoes, cress salad, and tzatziki and beetroot relish – fly past my table, but I decide it is too big a meal for one person, but perfect for a share plate. It’s delivered to the four women at the next table, prompting murmurs of delight that punctuate their stories of travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Another temptation was the Roccan’ Chicken Pie made with olives, chickpeas, carrots, raisins and Moroccan spices, topped with a flaky pastry lid, and served with grilled corn ($17.50).

But when I read the menu description of El Barra Burger ($19) – a beer battered fillet of barramundi, served with fried jalapenos, corn salsa, pickled slaw, and Swiss cheese, and served with ‘hand cut chippies’ I was sold. Forget everything I’ve said previously about burgers on menus.

I have an ongoing gripe about knives – cutlery knives. The majority of Sydney cafes and restaurants don’t offer sharp knives. I don’t know if this is for customer safety, a homeland security initiative, whether their budget just doesn’t stretch that far, or, whether they’ve just never used their own cutlery to eat with. Trying to cut through steak or toasted sourdough with the blunt equivalent of a butter knife is a chore.

But not here!

When my burger arrived it was staked to its wooden platter with a steak knife – like a culinary dartboard. The tartar sauce in the burger made it a little messy to eat, but it was full of crunch and fresh flavours, and it really hit the spot. The ‘chippies’ however, under-delivered, but that’s not a biggie.

Coffee here is good, so good that I ordered a second one and moved up to the verandah area, now bathed in winter sunlight, for some serious ‘after-nooning’.

I nestled into one of the squashy sofas and sipped my caffè latte, while admiring the three large canine ‘rapper’ portraits attached to the back fence.

BOTANICA is one of the rare breed of cafes that make you feel like you’re sitting in a friend’s lounge room, rather than a food enterprise. And that’s a nice feeling. Staff is attentive and friendly, and the food is homemade and satisfying.

Another rarity is the background music, set to the perfect volume to create atmosphere, while allowing easy conversation with your friends.

BOTANICA GARDEN CAFÉ turns 4 years old this week, and I think they’ve created the type of space they set out to. ‘A place where you can escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy homemade food and a great cuppa in a garden oasis …. A place that induces happiness.’

Yes you have. Nicely done.

RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 4.5/5   VIBE:  Eat, drink, and hear yourselves talk
BOTANICA GARDEN CAFÉ – 61A Bay Road, Wollstonecraft, Sydney

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Pimp My Plate #22 – Surry Hills, NSW

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PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $19 or less.

‘What’s up pussycat?’

CATMOSPHERE Cat Café

Who doesn’t want to visit a cat café? And if you live in a cat-free environment, for whatever reason, then a cat café is the purrfect excuse, and place, to play with four-legged fur balls.

I was really curious what a cat café in the heart of urban Surry Hills might ‘look like’.

Catmosphere’s catizens live in a terrace house, with cafés and fashion outlets for neighbours, that you may want to purrruse after your visit.

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You can ‘pop in’ to Catmosphere anytime for a coffee, but it’s not a regular café space with cats threading themselves between your ankles and table legs. If you want to spend time with the cat residents, you need to book in, which is easily done online.

Catmosphere offers several ways to spend time with its cats: yoga with cats ($25), a party with the Cat-stronauts package (POA), or coffee and cats. I chose the Coffee + Cookies with the Catstronauts ($16.50) option, which is 30 minutes of quality cat time.

The process involves booking a play date and time with the cats and prepayment. The lengthy disclaimer makes purrrfect sense because they take their cat safety seriously. ‘As a visitor, you must not try to dress up or put makeup on the cats!’ I agree!

After I arrived at #66, I checked in at the counter and ordered my flat white coffee and cat cookie. As I glanced down the corridor I saw a cute black kitten staring back. It was love at first sight, and I was itching to give it a cuddle.

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Cat playtime is one-on-one, shared with other cat lovers in a group session. Our group waited for our turn in the small café area, surrounded by cat posters and a cat-sized magazine rack stocked with issues of PUSSWEEK magazine.

Then the ‘cat herder’ appeared and ushered us into the cat play area. It has various cat toys, bowls of cat food, and, discreetly out of view, kitty litter trays.

Any coffee taken into the cat area must be in a paper cup with a sealed lid so that no accidents occur. I also discovered that kittens – well one in particular – really liked the smell of coffee and would have had a sip if the paper cup wasn’t fitted with a lid.

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You can sit on a chair, or on the floor, and then you just …… play. Cats have such great personalities and there were no cat fights and no scratching, only backscratching.

It’s best to go with a several people you know, so book a session with a group of your cat loving friends so you can be as shamelessly silly and kitty gaga as you like. Being in a group of strangers made everyone in my session a little too well behaved, so the atmosphere wasn’t as uninhibited as I expected.

So take your feline-mad friends with you, and wiggle those cat toys shamelessly!

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The great thing about Catmosphere is that their residents are rescue cats, so your patronage helps feed and shelter these cats safely, until they’re adopted. Funny, but thinking about it later, it’s the first time I’ve played with cats that I didn’t know the names of.

And perhaps there’s a reason for that – any of the cats you play with are eligible for adoption, so if you are smitten by a kitten you’ve just spent quality time with, you can organize to adopt and take it home. Or, you can sponsor a cat for $30 per month.

It was a fun experience, and I’m keen to go back and try the Yoga with Cats session – I wonder if the downward dog asana is renamed Downward Cat?

I’ll have to go and find out!

RATED: Purrrfect!  COFFEE: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5  ATMOS: 4/5  VIBE: Catmospheric
CATMOSPHERE CAT CAFÉ – 66 Foveaux St, Surry Hills, NSW
catmospherecafe.com

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

Pimp My Plate #17 – Broadway, Sydney

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $18 or less.

‘Meet you on Broadway’

The Black Groodle – Street food. 

Autumn leaves are falling like stars along Broadway on this rainy morning.

Rain puddles dot the wet pavement like stepping stones that stretch down Mountain Street and straight to The Black Groodle.

A groodle is the name of a very cute type of curly haired dog. It’s also the name of a café offering me shelter from the storm.

The menu hints of Middle Eastern flavours as I gaze at the items scribbled in blue texta on the tiled wall behind the service counter. I can’t decide between Beirut Eggs or the Kafta Lamb Scrambled Eggs so I engage in a minor interrogation with the staff.

For me it’s brunch, or to be honest second breakfast, so I order the Kafta Lamb Scrambled Eggs and take a seat up the back. As I sip my coffee I can overhear a media marketing deal being done at the table nearby me, and I secretly wish I had the equivalent budget to toss around.

From my table I can see the inner workings of the café – cooking, cleaning, and prepping.

Large tagine bottoms without lids are being piled high with salads for lunch service – sweet potato and pearl couscous, chickpeas, and green bean salads.

The coffee is good, which why people queue each morning.

My Kafta Lamb Scrambled eggs with chutney ($13) arrive and I ask for chilli flakes, which arrive without fuss. It’s good. Although a little more spice in the chutney and I’d have added a little less chilli.

In modern times, the right plate and plating can take you on a metaphoric magic carpet ride to the home of the cuisine you are eating. On this drizzly grey Sydney morning, the pretty plate pattern – which looked Turkish to me – did just that.

As I ruminated over my scrambled Kafta Lamb, this Kafka quote come to mind: ‘So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.’ Franz Kafka. I hear you, the food is Middle Eastern and Kafka is Czech, but Kafka is always relevant.

So by the time I finished eating brunch and ears dropping on my table-neighbours’ marketing plan, I noticed the text pen Brunch menu had been replaced by the Lunch menu. If only I could fast forward my appetite.

Lunch goodies on the menu that I didn’t get to try included: Spinach Stew ($14) served with Lebanese rise; Minestrone Soup ($10); Hummus and Beans ($10); Lamb Kafka, and Beef Shawarma.

I’ve heard The Black Groodle also serves a Ginger Turkish delight, and Kanef later in the week, so I’ll be back to try those soon.

RATED: Pimped my eggs  FOOD: 3.5/5
VALUE: 5/5  ATMOS: 3.5/5  VIBE: Magic carpet plate
The Black Groodle – 55 Mountain Street, Broadway, Sydney NSW (7am-4pm M-F)

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Pimp My Plate #11 – Royal Easter Show, NSW

Graze Alfresco Dining,
Sydney’s Royal Easter Show: 17-30 March

Easter in Sydney usually includes a visit to our annual Royal Easter Show, known simply as the Show.

Crowds of city and country folk watch The Grand Parade with pride and awe, as prize-winning cattle and horses do a circular sweep of the showground; and we cheer at the sheep dogs mustering sheep, the equestrian events, and the wood-chopping. It’s a day of excess, and an excuse to buy armfuls of Show bags full of sugar and tat. We sigh at the size of prize-winning pumpkins; peer through the glass at proud prize-winning cakes; and overeat all kinds of food on sticks.

These city-meets-country activities, underlined by the aroma of horse poo, define the soul of this popular Sydney event. It’s an event that draws together a diverse crowd of ages and cultures and everyone is there to have fun.

Pink and blue fairy floss, Dagwood dogs, and Curly Chips spiraling down sticks are street food perennials. New additions include Waffles on Sticks in both sweet and savoury configurations. This year I noticed more ‘American’ style BBQ stands claiming to represent Arizona and Texas, and signs boasting Turkey legs “bigger than the state of Texas”. I’ll leave it to you to test those claims.

As you enter the Showground you’ll notice an Information booth handing out free Daily Telegraph Show Guides. I suggest you download the app version of the guide, as the newspaper guide doesn’t include any Hall numbers, and only a few Street names. It could have been so much more useful.

If you’re hungry as you enter the showground from the Olympic Park railway station, take a right turn after the Information booth and walk across the grass to a large eating area called Graze Alfresco Dining. It offers a good selection of Italian, Asian, Mexican, Thai, and Chinese fast food – all in one place, and you can sit down in an area undercover, out of the sun. The range of burgers, tacos, and other meals all looked fresh and appealing. You can also buy a glass of beer or wine at the counter right next to the dining area.

My choice was Thai food, and I found it good value: Chicken Pad Thai ($13), and Lemon, Ginger, and Mint, Iced Tea ($5). The tea was overly sweet for me, but it was a hot day and I figured I’d burn up those calories fairly quickly walking around. The Chicken Pad Thai was basic, but generous and filling. I wish I had asked for chopsticks though, as trying to manoeuvre those slippery flat noodles with a single plastic fork proved a challenge.

This is food designed to keep you fueled for the many-more-than 10,000 steps you’re likely to walk between exhibits, animal pavilions, the fresh food dome, food and gadget demonstrations, and of course the last stop, the Show bags pavilion.

Dessert? I restrained myself but I did notice the stand selling tempting little glass pots of Lemon Meringue Cheesecake; Cheesecake and Raspberry; and Nutella Tiramisu – all around $10.

Some other food-on-the-go standouts for me were found in the Woolworths branded food dome: de Costi’s plate of six super fresh Sydney Rock Oysters for $10, (there’s also an oyster rack on display), and don’t leave without tasting a scoop of Lemon Myrtle and Macadamia Nut Ice cream from a stand selling Lemon Myrtle products – it’s creamy and has a uniquely delicious flavour.

You can also feast your eyes on the agricultural displays from around Australia – who knew that 2016 was International Year of Pulses (legumes)?

For me, watching farmers chatting with children, and showing them samples of real cotton, real wool, and different seeds and grains was as beautiful as looking at their displays of canning jars filled with meticulously cut vegetables. And it was a rarity to see an iPhone or similar device in anyone’s hands. Boom!

Over in the Arts and Crafts pavilion you’ll find prize-winning cakes of all shapes and sizes, with my eyes drawn to the jars of homemade lemon and passionfruit butters on display.

If you’re a cat lover, be sure check the status of cat-viewing before making the trek past the rows and rows of horse stables to the cat pavilion. The day I went most cat cages were empty. Disappointing, but considering how hot the day was and how hot the pavilion can get inside, I was actually glad they were somewhere else.

For convenience, I recommend you take your own bottled water as I didn’t notice any water bubblers, or vendors selling plain bottled water. Water will keep you hydrated, and help avoid over indulging in sugar-laden sweet drinks.

If it’s a hot day, finding a shady place for us humans to sit down to eat, or even just to take a break is tricky – be sure to take a hat… And that’s that.

RATED: Food to keep you going!  FOOD: 4.5/5
VALUE: 5/5   ATMOS: 4/5   VIBE: Value for money and a chance to sit down
Graze Alfresco Dining – located behind the Information booth, and facing the Food Dome

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Pimp My Plate #10 – Surry Hills, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas – I pop up all over over the place. My foodie challenge to find a good meal – lunch or brunch – with a limited budget of $18 or less for the main plate.

‘Suzy Q’ coffee + records

Tucked down an inner city laneway, Suzy Q offers a trifecta of good food, coffee, and vinyl records.

Taking a quick flick through their racks of 12” LPs brought back memories of seeing some of these bands live in concert: Earth Wind and Fire, Jimmy Smith, Smokey Robinson, Culture Club… the Cars.

Suzy Q combines their love of quality produce, with quality music. Menu sleeves are fashioned from old record covers, and menu items include LA Woman, Sex Machine, and Heartattack and Vine.

Elliot Landy’s 1969 photograph of festival goers at Woodstock covers the feature wall. It evokes another time, place, and mind space. In NSW, the AQUARIUS festival was the first equivalent counter culture festival. It was held in Nimbin in 1973, and was later described as the birthplace of Australia’s hippie movement.

Suzy Q’s owners named their café after the song ‘Suzie Q’, written by Louisiana-born singer and guitarist Dale Hawkins. Its connection with Woodstock is that it was performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival on Day 2 of the festival. You can find the live recording of the song from Woodstock online, but the audio quality isn’t great.

Over the years, lots of bands have recorded cover versions: the Rolling Stones, José Feliciano, and even Suzie Quatro. Why not take a listen to Ray Hawkin’s original rockabilly version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wq2f_X_6Nk

Suzy Q café is an energetic little meeting space for young mums with bubs, friends, business folks talking biz-between-bites, ad agency types with cool haircuts, and locals ordering from their take away menu.

I bypassed the brioche buns and sandwiches and ordered the Daily Special – Freekeh Salad ($17).

Freekeh is basically ‘green wheat’, young wheat that has been toasted and cracked. It’s a whole grain food, similar to bulgur wheat, high in fibre, with a delicious nutty flavour, and chewy texture. Although freekeh is a relatively ‘new’ ingredient in Western kitchens, this grain is popular in cuisines from Iraq, Egypt, North Africa, and Jordan.

My Freekeh Salad arrived – a colourful food mosaic on my plate, pimped with flavour, and quality produce.

Yum! This salad was loaded with texture, and freshness: blanched and seasoned cauliflower florets, yellow squash, roast pumpkin, pomegranate seeds, sliced red radish, pumpkin seeds, tahini, yoghurt, and feta cheese, and the addition of pickled red onion strips added some sweet-sour crunch.

I don’t have gluten intolerance, so for me this salad was one of the healthiest Pimp My Plate lunches I’ve eaten. Go to Suzy Q, you won’t leave Blue.

RATED: My salad was Pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5
VALUE: 5/5  ATMOS: 4/5  VIBE: Music for your mouth
‘Suzy Q’ coffee + records – 1/18 Hutchinson Street, Surry Hills, NSW (Mon-Sun)

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Pimp My Plate #9 – Hornsy, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas – I pop up all over over the place. My foodie challenge to find a good meal – lunch or brunch – with a limited budget of $18 or less for the main plate.

Bluwater Grill – restaurant

Bluwater Grill sprawls across a corner where the mall intersects at the Victor Cusack-designed giant water-clock installation. The water-clock is the central belly-button of the mall, but years later it still has birthing issues.

The water clock and Hornsby Council ‘have history’.  The sculpture’s maker, Victor Cusack, has accused the council of breaching his ‘moral rights’ as an artist, and has threatened to invoke a rarely used clause in the Copyright Act in a bid to force the council to restore his artwork to its original working form. It is in working order as a fountain, but not as a clock.

You can sit indoors or outdoors at this a large, airy, café-restaurant and pass the time, or ponder if time has stood still, as it currently has with the water-clock.

Bluwater’s menu is divided into starters, salads, pastas and risottos, light meals, and some interesting sounding tapas plates to share.

With Mediterranean flavours as a starting point, the tapas menu also includes Asian-inspired tapas flavours: Twice baked crispy pork belly bits with sticky soy dressing; Peking duck pancakes, with shallots & hoisin ($14.95); and Seared scallops with a seaweed salad, ($16.90).

While these flavours sounded delicious, I was looking for one main plate to satisfy a hungry patron – me!

It was hard to scroll past …. BBQ salmon, prawn & pistachio burger w pickled cucumber, avocado, lime mayo w fries ($18.50).  Quite a mouthful, and it literally was. I asked the waitress to deconstruct this description for me and she answered, ‘salmon burger’.

I shivered a little, reminded of a not-so-good salmon patty experience elsewhere only a week before, but that’s another story. Bravely, I pimped my budget by fifty cents and ordered it.

The “salmon burger” arrived with layers of flavour and texture – pickled cucumber for crunch, accompanied by a side of chips with the crunch of twice-cooked, thrice-cooked …. Who cares when you just want to eat every single one of them?

Full marks for the construction of the burger, and the texture of the salmon patty. The fact that I could cut this burger in half with ease, with a butter knife, was a feat of culinary engineering to be celebrated – at least by me.

Salmon, with tomato sauce? I say No. Or in burger-speak, Hell No. I would suggest that the folks at Bluwater ‘pimp their plate’ and replace it completely, or offer the option to upgrade ($) to a choice of fresh, homemade salsa, or unctuous sauce. A chunky, citrus-based, fresh mint salsa, or a thick garlicy baba ganoush, or Middle Eastern-inpsired sauce would lift this burger to ‘a whole ‘nuther level,’ if you like.

A ‘high five’ from me to the burger bun maker, or supplier. All Sydney’s bars-&-grills seem to be reading from the same (recipe) book, but this is best bun I’ve eaten. This is kudos indeed, as Bluwater Grill isn’t trying to be American-themed, or stuck in what I call a ‘burger rut’.

Instead, Bluwater consider their menu ‘a fusion of European and modern Australian cuisines’ and they aim to appeal to a ‘wide range of clientele’.  I would call their menu a mix of Mediterranean and Asian options aiming to offer something for everyone: business types with swag, mums with strollers, pensioners in floppy sun hats, and everyone in between.

‘Something for everyone’ are usually dangerous words because it’s difficult to offer consistency, and it can fall over, but looking around other tables, they seem to be doing it successfully, and with a smile.

If you are in the area, and looking for a café that you could invite your friends, workmates, siblings, elderly family, or mothers’ group to, that offers a happy, lunchtime buzz, without needing to shout over the noise, Bluwater ticks the boxes.

Thursday is market day in Hornsby mall, and it’s dotted with lots of stalls selling fresh vegetables, soda bread, fresh made ravioli, loaves of sourdough, and seafood, so take your recycled shopping bag with you.

RATED: Keeping it real  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5 ATMOS: 3/5 VIBE: diverse – from Pensioners to Prada
Bluwater Grill– Cnr Hunter & Florence Sts, Hornsby

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Pimp My Plate #4 – ALEXANDRIA

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas – I pop up all over over the place. My foodie challenge to find a good meal – lunch or brunch – with a limited budget of $18 or less for the main plate.

POTTING SHED – The Grounds of Alexandria

Sitting in a leafy ‘potting shed’ – that has wait staff – on a hot Summer’s day is an ideal setting in which to eat lunch.

I tried two items from their menu – Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($16), and their Summer Fruit Pot ($14), pictured, which won on price and spectacular presentation.

The Summer Fruit Pot is a very pretty fruit trifle served in a terracotta flower pot, with layers of yoghurt and fresh fruit, on a base of vanilla sponge.  The sponge was a bit cloyingly sweet for me, but perhaps that’s personal taste as I prefer semi-sweet.

For me the other standout was the Eucalyptus Fizz ($7) – such an unusual and innovative flavour idea that’s an oh-so-refreshing summer sip.

Staff are super friendly and professional, which is always a treat when dining in Sydney. There are other indoor bars and eating areas in the Grounds Of Alexandria space, including a bakery selling spectacular cakes and an interesting range of loaves of bread, plus an outdoor cart with cool drinks and eye-gasm cakes and pastries.

A truly creative space with good food you’ll want to revisit – even if parking is a challenge.

RATED: Pimped!    FOOD: 4/5    VALUE: 4/5 
ATMOS: Surrounded by leafy eye-candy    VIBE: Buzzing!
The Potting Shed – (inside) The Grounds of Alexandria, 2 Huntley St, Alexandria, NSW

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