Awia’s Kitchen: My TOP 5 Cookbooks for 2016


How to cull down to just five, all of the cookbooks published in one year?

It’s an impossible task, so I’ll start by saying that I’ve chosen the titles on this list based on a combination of personal opinion, and the following ‘ratings method’.

Each cookbook must ….
– make me excited to get into the kitchen, like right now!
– the recipe photos must inspire, and make you dribble with desire
– include recipes that excite you, not frighten you – well, not too much
– teach new skills or at least try to
– not just be on everyone else’s bestseller or Most Popular list
– promise and deliver on flavour … and, just be downright sexy!

(in no particular order)

1. NEIGHBOURHOOD – Hetty McKinnon
(Pan MacMillan, Australia)

2. GROWN & GATHERED – Matt & Lentil
(Pan Macmillan, Australia)

(Houghton, Miffin, Harcourt)

4. ORGANUM: The Food of Peter Gilmore
(Murdoch Books, Australia)

5. THE SKILLS – Monica Galetti
(Quadrille/Hardie Grant Publishing)




Hetty McKinnon
ISBN: 9781743538982

What’s not to love about this foodie fairy tale? Hetty, chef at Arthur Street Kitchen in Sydney’s Surry Hills, relocates to Brooklyn, NYC, and through her cookbook, shares with us her new community of foodie friends and recipes.

NEIGHBOURHOOD follows her previous book named, COMMUNITY, and includes a selection of plant-based recipes for salads and sweets which are modern, and delicious.

McKinnon also includes some of her Brooklyn-based friends in a section at the back of the book which shows ‘what food my friends would bring on a plate’ and includes their recipes.

And Hetty’s friends are good cooks – who wouldn’t like to eat a slice of Rhubarb Custard Tart with a macadamia shell with raspberry ice crumbled over the top? Not you? That’s OK, I’ll eat your slice.

Grown and Gathered Cover SI.indd

Matt & Lentil
ISBN: 9781743547410

‘Recipes and practical guides to grown, cook, preserve, trade, and live well.’

GROWN & GATHERED includes wholefood recipes from Matt and Lentil Pubrick’s seasonal, and regional diet.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with a book like this – or its authors Matt and Lentil. They’ve named the chapter titles in their book to convey their holistic food message: Observe. Grow. Gather. Nurture. Trade. Seek. Eat.

It’s a lovely book, and while it doesn’t aim or claim to be vegetarian, it’s chock full of plant-based recipes, as well as those using protein.

In their own words Grown & Gathered includes recipes for, “Cultured butter, feta and sourdough starter, our much asked-for long ferment gluten-free sourdough bread, sourdough pastas, sourdough crumpets, traditional fermented dill pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, and natural wine. Or try our pear and eggplant kasundi, green tomato ketchup, or home-cured and smoked bacon, and home-cured tuna.”

There’s plenty here to nurture your spirit and your palate.


Dominique Crenn
ISBN: 9780544444676

This is Dominique Crenn’s debut cookbook. Crenn was the first female American chef to win 2 Michelin stars for her restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco.

The bird’s nest shown on the front cover is symbolic of the restaurant logo and what she calls “the conjunction of art and nature.”

In Crenn’s culinary world, it seems art, fantasy and food collide.
Her creativity is to be applauded, awarded, and rewarded.

Her recipe for ‘Walk in the Forest’ – made of burnt pine meringue, and crunchy hazelnut – looks truly Dali-esque.

While appearing minimalist her cooking is about crafting food into a work of art, but without pretention.

Crenn doesn’t expect home cooks to religiously follow her recipes – one is seven pages long. Instead, she hopes to inspire cooks to worship food and act accordingly in their own kitchen.

This is Crenn’s interpretation of fish and chips…


With corkage at USD$50 per 750 ml at restaurant Atelier Crenn, buying the cookbook could be an economically sound investment to browse as you uncork your favourite bottle.


ORGANUM: The Food of Peter Gilmore
ISBN: 9781743368633

Australian Peter Gilmore is the Executive Chef of Quay restaurant which overlooks Sydney Harbour, and is a short stroll from Sydney Opera House.

Quay has been included in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and cookbook ORGANUM delights in food as opera – exhibiting texture, beauty, drama, colour, and style.

Gilmore aims to create “original cuisine where texture, purity of flavour and balance is paramount” and the recipes in ORGANUM are simply stunning.

Just take a look at the creativity of execution of his recipe for Walnut Floss, Bitter Chocolate Black Pudding, Fungi below, right. Or the part art, part engineering, precision of South Australian Octopus & Agretti, below left.

A seat at Quay overlooking Sydney Harbour Opera House on New Year’s Eve will cost you AUD$1500 per person, and while it may be a little out of my reach, diners will receive a degustation menu and absolutely the best fireworks in the world.


Monica Galetti
ISBN: 9781849497640

Whether you’re an amateur chef, or a professional looking to refresh basic cooking skills, it’s nice to have a cache of smart, easy to follow instructions for essential kitchen fundamentals.

THE SKILLS includes how to: joint a chicken, prepare a rack of lamb, fillet fish, or make basics like sauces, mayonnaise, pasta, meringues, caramel, and soufflé, breads, and pastries.

Then it’s on to the next level, with recipes that include her popular Braised artichoke with bacon and gin; Tartare of salmon; Roast lamb with peppers and olives; and Salt caramel chocolate ganache and Apricot sabayon.

Monica Galetti was born in Samoa and raised in New Zealand and is now one of the best-known female chefs in the UK through various food-related television roles, including appearing as a judge on MasterChef (UK).

Galetti launched, and was Head Chef at restaurant Le Gavroche des Tropiques in Mauritius.

In 2017 Monica and her husband David will open a new restaurant, called Mere, in London.

Also a special mention for these two titles:
PETAL, LEAF, SEED: Cooking with the treasures of the garden by Lia Leendertz
THE HEALTHY HEDONIST: 40 Naughty but Nourishing Cocktails by Nicole Herft


Pimp My Plate #34 – Native Feel Real, Manly, NSW


A ‘summer holiday vibe’ is just a ferry ride away…

Manly Beach is only a 15 minute fast-ferry ride from Sydney business district, but it feels a world away.

Thankfully there are no commercial high rise buildings blocking the beachfront, just towering Norfolk Island pine trees.

Bare feet, board shorts, and bikinis replace suits on the streets as well as the beach so it’s easy to embrace the holiday vibe even if it’s only for a lunch hour.

When you step off the ferry at Manly Wharf you have the choice of three beaches – Manly Cove, Cabbage Tree Bay, and Manly Beach.

On your left, West Esplanade runs along Manly Cove toward Manly Sea Life Sanctuary. If you turn right along East Esplanade you’ll be walking alongside Cabbage Tree Bay, and eventually arrive at Manly Yacht Club.

To reach Manly Beach itself, walk straight ahead through The Corso.

The Corso is the central hub of Manly, with lots of retail and several large pubs, and full of tourists, buzz, and buff. The smaller laneways connecting to it offer a feast of boutique cafés and bars.

Not many people know that The Corso was named after the Via Del Corso in Rome, and was originally a water inlet flowing from the harbour to the ocean.

Did you know that Manly was originally designed as a copy of the English city of Brighton?

Back in the 1850s, English-born merchant and politician Henry Gilbert Smith had a huge influence on Manly.

Smith envisioned Manly as an antipodean version of the famous Brighton seaside resort he revered.

He also introduced beachside attractions to cater for day trippers of the era – a miniature version of Vauxhall Gardens, a Camera Obscura, boat-shaped swings, and a bath-house located at the end of West Esplanade.

How I wish the Camera Obscura was still in operation, certainly a drawcard for me!

All these years later Manly has evolved its own vibrant personality and community. It is the birthplace of Australian surfing and was one of the world’s first surfing reserves.

It now has over 100 bars, cafés, and restaurants Manly has plenty to offer locals and tourists.

But that’s enough history, let’s eat…

Wandering down East Esplanade, I found Native Feel Real tucked just around the corner in Wentworth Street.

Native Feel Real is a small café with several tables outside. You can eat-in or takeaway.

Their menu offers raw and plant-based superfoods that are mostly gluten-free, and their philosophy is serving ‘nourishing food from Mother Earth’.

The lunch menu includes a Native Bowl ($17.50) – a salad of raw, seasonal vegetables; a Raw Pizza (cooked below 44°C) topped with homemade pesto, spinach, mushrooms, carrots, beetroot, pumpkin, sprouts and activated cashew cheese ($17.50).

Rawsome Spaghetti ($16) is made with raw zucchini spirals, homemade pesto, spinach, tomatoes and sprouts, and grated cashew parmesan cheese, and there’s also Rawsome Lasagne.

I chose the fully cooked Quinoa Risotto ($16.50) – a mix of seasonal vegetables pan fried with quinoa and coconut cream and served on a bed of mixed lettuce and topped with alfalfa sprouts and cashew cheese. Three words: It was delicious.

It’s hard to ignore the large range of raw sweets at the counter so I ordered an itsy bitsy white chocolate and berry cake ($6).

Native Feel Real is focused on raw and gluten free drinks, but has a nice arrangement with the bar next door. They have an espresso machine so you can buy a really good takeaway coffee to enjoy with your dessert.

Native Feel Real has a yummy list of power juices, and smoothies including Liver Scrubber, Be Yourself, and Mayan Warrior.

Their selection of naturopathic teas includes Green Goddess Detox, Fountain of Youth, and Golden Glow.

You’ll find lots of cafés in Manly, but I liked the peaceful and reflective vibe of this one.

Native Feel Real offers a nice yin-yang balance of healthy food and being able to hear yourself think.

Or write your own message on a post-it note, to add to the wall of café philosophy.

As things get pre-Christmas crazy in December, it’s especially nice to have a getaway from all ‘the noise’.

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RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4/5   Satisfies body and soul
VALUE: 4.5/5   VENUE ATMOS: Café philosophy
VIBE:  Feel real
Native Feel Real – Shop 1A, 40 East Esplanade, Manly, NSW

Visit me on facebook, twitter, or instagram: @pimpmyplate  #pimpmyplate  

Pimp My Plate #33 – The Boatshed, Tea Gardens, NSW


PMP is usually focused on brunch or lunches under $19 but we’re about flavour and value so we remain flexible.

Ducks, pelicans, local vibe = fabulous.

Snap! Sometimes a lazy lunch perched on a river is a much better bet than a citified Melbourne Cup lunch.

If you need convincing, consider a restaurant table overlooking a river, watching a duck family paddle past, while you’re served a complimentary glass of sparkling wine.  

Almost a moving meditation!

On the pier opposite, a large pelican basks lazily in the sun eyeing diners. Languid, but not crazy lazy, he is ready and alert to consume any food morsels that slip through the wooden decking into the water below.

Sometimes you want to slow the pace a little, because sometimes a lazy lunch can feel like a holiday in itself.

And sometimes you don’t even know you want to slow down until you do.

That’s the vibe you whole-heartedly and effortlessly embrace at Tea Gardens Boatshed. Why hurry paradise?

For me, Miles Davis’ ‘So What’ came to mind in an easy, ‘I’m where I want to be’ vibe.

Here there are boats, but no marina. Instead the river is fringed with mangroves and sea birds, not infrastructure.

The natural calm and serenity is punctuated by the pop of an occasional champagne cork, the clink of glasses, conversation, and easy laughs. Paradise, right? Are you relaxed yet?

The food at the Boatshed embraces this languid mood, but it’s not lazy, instead it glows with fresh goodness and attentiveness on the plate and the palate.

What brought me to Tea Gardens? I was travelling back from Tastings on the Hastings food festival and chose to stop over in Tea Gardens to break our trip back to Sydney. We had no set plans for Melbourne Cup Day or any expectations of fine dining.

We found both.

I’m a Sydneysider, and to see a poster advertising a Melbourne Cup lunch – the ‘race that stops a nation’ – for $60 a head felt a lot like finding an Eames chair for sale at a thrift store for $5. If only I had, ever.

So that was surprise #1.

Surprise #2 was that the Boatshed could accommodate our booking with only one day’s notice.

On Melbourne Cup Day, it seems that the locals in Tea Gardens are spoilt for choice between their own lounge rooms, their local RSL, and the local hotel. Perhaps locals consider it a bit ‘fancy’ to go to a restaurant, who knows.

The Boatshed isn’t ‘fancy’ it’s just simply fabulous. And it’s situated slap-bang on the river bank in a prime ‘embrace Nature’ position.

Which means we immediately felt any weight from city life instantly evaporate from our shoulders. Sun, wildlife, food. You get the picture.

We visited the Boatshed twice – once for the special occasion degustation Melbourne Cup lunch, and then again to eat on a regular work day.

I’ll start with The Cup lunch.

Canapes on arrival, a glass of sparkling wine, and then three courses of delicious food. We were ready.

The sun sparkled over the river as boats lolled about on the calm blue water, and sea birds stretched their wings in the sunshine.

We joined a small group of diners – a mix of locals, and Sydney expats.

You can’t fake “country hospitality” or its twin, “country congeniality”.

Where else would a restaurant come to a standstill as we demanded one of the diners don his inflatable horse and jockey garb – because we missed it first time around – while his wife held aloft a bucket of champagne because they won best costume of the day. They won for attitude and bravado, rather than celebrity. So much of that missing these days!

On this day, in this place, quality food, friendliness and inclusiveness surpassed any on-trend city hipster-ism.

Between courses, conversations swirled between local concerns like midges, art courses, dog-walking, and other local gossip. Temporarily, we felt like  adopted family. And that was even before one of the locals generously offered to buy everyone in the restaurant a drink. Name the last time that happened to you?

This Melbourne Cup lunch was the best I’ve ever experienced. And at $60 per head I kept kicking myself – is this real? It was. And it was really worth $160 per head.

So you can understand why we went back for lunch – and were similarly impressed.

The Boatshed serves great food – simple, full of flavour with, on special occasions, a flair that is easily comparable with Sydney bistros.

Spend your money here. Feel the love and enjoy the flavours. Feel special. Support the locals. Meet the locals.

RATED: Oh so, pimped!  FOOD: 5/5   Feel special and eat well.
VALUE: 6/5   VENUE ATMOS: A holiday in each bite!   VIBE:  Punching way about their weight and winning.

TEA GARDENS BOATSHED – 110 Marine Drive, Tea Gardens, NSW

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Thanksgiving Pumpkin Ice Cream


Had. To. Try. It.  In time for Thanksgiving!

With only 80gm of sugar in the whole recipe, what’s not to like?

How does it taste? The flavour of this Ice Cream is a sweet, subtle pumpkin flavour, with a very creamy, dense texture.

Don’t try making this with canned butternut pumpkin – I know you wouldn’t – it must be fresh! Did you know that the orange flesh of butternut pumpkin is naturally sweet? So there’s no need to kill the flavour with excessive amounts of sugar.

If you’re worried any recipe for Pumpkin Ice Cream for Thanksgiving is full of ‘pumpkin spice’ because you are so over that flavour, relax! The only ingredients in this recipe are cream, milk, sugar, and pumpkin. If you want to add a touch of spice I suggest grating half a teaspoon of fresh nutmeg into the pumpkin puree mixture. Trust me, forget the cinnamon and just grate in the nutmeg, to taste.

You’ll need an electric ice-cream maker to make this. Mine is a clunky older style but works fine. Check the ice cream maker specification and quantities for yours against this recipe before starting as my recipe uses more cream than milk.

Let’s get started…


Yields: approx. 3 cups
Serve with pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, pudding, waffles, pancakes, or in ice cream cones.


1 1/2 cups cooked butternut pumpkin
1 cup (8 oz.) of thick pouring cream
½ cup (2.5 oz.) of cold full cream milk
Orange Americolor food colouring gel – I used ½ teaspoon, or personal preference

3 egg yolks (use the leftover egg whites to make meringue – they stay fresh for 2-3 days)
1/3 cup of superfine white sugar
1 level Tblspn light brown sugar

7 oz. thick pouring cream

How to make Pumpkin Ice Cream

Step 1

Dice enough butternut pumpkin to fill 1 ½ cups, and steam in a medium saucepan until soft.

Take off the heat, and put aside to cool. When cool, transfer pumpkin into a small bowl and put into the fridge for 15-30 minutes until completely cold.


Step 2

Take the pumpkin mixture out of the fridge and spoon it into a food processor. Pour in the cup of cream and half a cup of milk, and puree until there are no lumps in the mixture. Then add the orange food colour to the pumpkin puree, and pulse again until completely mixed through. Set aside.

Step 3

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the egg yolks and sugar until fluffy and thoroughly mixed.

Stir in the pumpkin puree and mix through thoroughly.

Step 4

In another medium sized bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the remaining cream until stiff peaks form.

Fold the cream into the egg and pumpkin mixture, and whisk briefly until well combined.

Switch on your ice cream machine and pour in the mixture. Start churning the ice cream, to the manufacturer’s instructions.



Homemade donuts? Yes, please


NOV 5 is National DONUT DAY in the USA, so with a nod to New Orleans, here is my recipe for homemade donut-beignets – doughnets? This is my first attempt at donuts and as usual, I like to add a little spice.

I warn you, they are delicious! 

Makes 18-20 (4cm round)

Oil or candy thermometer
Metal tongs or metal slotted spoon


1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 large beaten egg
1/4 cup caster sugar
3 T melted unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups Sunflower oil, for frying

Sugar-spice coating: Mix together 3 T caster sugar with a generous pinch of ground Cinnamon and a pinch of Allspice.

Let’s get started…

Melt butter in a small saucepan on low heat and allow to cool. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, egg, and cooled melted butter.

Sprinkle flour into the egg mixture bit by bit. Use a mixer on low speed until all the flour has been combined.

Preheat oil over medium heat in a medium size saucepan or deep non-stick fry-pan (keeping an eye on the oil it as it is heating up).

Once the oil has reached 350 degrees, use a tablespoon or plastic coffee scoop to carefully plop the batter into the oil.

Cook 5-6 donut balls at a time, keeping a close watch on the oil temperature, adjusting down if necessary to keep the temperature consistent and not skyrocketing up in temperature.

Fry the donut balls about 1 minute on each side, or until golden brown. Carefully remove with metal tongs or slotted spoon and turn off the heat. Drain donut-beignets onto a plate lined with paper towels.

When hot enough to handle, roll the donuts in the sugar-spice mixture.

These are perfect with a cup of fresh coffee. Take some to work to share. Enjoy!


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

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

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


Spaghettini Bolognese a la Awia



In Italian cuisine Bolognese sauce is known as ragù alla Bolognese, a meat-based sauce originating from, you guessed it, Bologna, in Italy.

A traditional version of the 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.

On my travels around Sydney, I didn’t find anyone serving a version of Bolognese sauce that contained all the above ingredients.

Here is my version – it contains beef, bacon, carrot, onion, garlic, tomato and tomato concentrate. Yes, I skipped the celery and red wine, because I was happy with my version. Better than red wine is in a glass in your hand to toast the meal than in the sauce!

Instead of using freshly grated parmesan cheese, I use feta cheese, but you can grate fresh parmesan cheese over the top if you like. I didn’t use celery in this sauce as – personal preference – I don’t like adding that texture in this recipe.

Buon Appetito! And I hope you enjoy my version… sans the celery

Spagettini Bolognese
Serves 4



2 medium carrots, finely diced
1 brown onion, finely diced
Unsalted butter
Olive oil
8 grape tomatoes cut in half, then into thirds
5T Chicken stock
1 lean rasher of bacon
500g lean beef mince
4T (heaped) of tomato paste
400g can of whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper
100g piece of full cream feta cheese
Half a packet of spaghettini (durum wheat)
1-2 cloves garlic, grated


Heat 1T of butter and 1T of oil and cook diced carrot and onion over a medium heat, for 15-20mins, stirring continuously.


Add the grape tomato chunks and cook for a further 10 mins on a medium heat. Then add canned tomatoes and 3T of chicken stock, and simmer until the carrot is almost tender, then take off heat.


In another pan, cook diced bacon in 1T oil until browned. Add to the onion mix.

Cook the beef mince over a medium heat in 1T oil until browned and almost cooked. Add the can of peeled tomatoes, then add 4 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste, and simmer for 20 mins on a medium-high setting. Turn off heat. Season lightly with salt and ground black pepper.


Meanwhile, in a large saucepan heat water to a boil and then add the spaghettini and cook until the pasta is cooked al dente, then drain.

Combine the carrot and meat mixtures together in a large saucepan, and reheat, simmering for 15-20 mins. Add 1T of chicken stock if needed to prevent the mixture sticking to the pan. When cooked, crumble handful of feta cheese into the meat mixture and stir through.


Divide the spaghettini into bowls. Add the hot Bolognese mixture over the top and sprinkle with more crumbled feta cheese and mix through.


Feta cheese is very salty, so taste before adding more salt and pepper.

Serve with a green salad.

Pimp My Plate #31 – BAR ITALIA, Leichhardt, NSW

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

This month I’ve been posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish – Spaghetti Bolognese.  See my previous September reviews: Bravo and No Name.

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 week I twirl my fork at an Italian restaurant in Leichhardt. This is the third and last restaurant I’ll be reviewing in my search for that old favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese.


Bar Italia Restaurant – Ristorante #3

BAR ITALIA opened its doors in 1952. With a sunny façade and its Italian tricolour awning, it sits midway down Norton Street, Sydney’s hub of Italian restaurants and stores.  Nearby is a cake store that features an elaborate and mesmerising cake in its window – designed to celebrate a First Holy Communion – a giant cannolo tied with a blue ribbon.

If you like your coffee Italian-style –strong and full of flavour – this is one of the few places in Sydney you’ll find it.

Ordering at the counter is simple – once you can decide! The blackboard menu is extensive, and inexpensive.

Spaghetti Bolognese is my choice and I don’t even have to check the menu to see if it’s on it.

My order of Spaghetti Bolognese ($15.50), Garlic Bread ($3.50), and a Flat White coffee ($3.50) makes a satisfying and filling meal for $23.00.

Aside from Schnitzels, every option on the blackboard menu meets my usual Pimp My Plate $19 budget. There’s Focaccia and Paninis ($8.50), Pasta, Lamb Shanks ($18.50), Veal ($18.50), Soups ($12.90), Corsica Pizza ($19.50), and Sirloin Steak ($18.50). And they do Vegetarian Lasagne ($15.50).

BAR ITALIA is divided into two sections – the restaurant area, and the gelataria, where you can order a gelato and a coffee and sit at a table to eat it.

You can sit inside the restaurant near the framed Godfather LP record, or outdoors, under a canopy of flowering pink bougainvillea. I sit outside with the breeze occasionally sprinkling my table with petals.

My coffee arrives first, in a traditional red and green Vittoria Coffee porcelain cup. It’s what I call ‘industrial strength’ and that’s just how I like my coffee. And it’s coffee without compromise! There’s no Skim Milk, no Light Milk, and no Soy Milk served here.

My side of garlic bread and bowl of spaghetti arrives and I spy the now familiar powdered parmesan cheese.

The spaghetti is al dente, and the Bolognese sauce is good, if basic. There’s no parsley, no carrot, no celery, but the other two restaurants didn’t include those ingredients in their sauce either.

The garlic bread, a Kaiser roll, is better than most. Even so, I can’t finish eating it. Likewise, the quantity of spaghetti is too generous to finish eating it either.

I feel the need to apologise to the waiter when she comes to clear my table. No one likes food wastage.

In the unlikely event I was to run a marathon, this would be the fuel I’d consume. Instead, I plan a long walk along Norton Street, with a food-for-thought stopover at Berkelouw’s bookstore in lieu of dessert.

BAR ITALIA is the type of Italian café-restaurant we all want and need – in every suburb. It’s nice that the staff speaks Italian; it’s nice that the vibe is so relaxed; and it’s nice that you can eat a meal or just sit and enjoy a scoop of gelato.

*    *    *

That brings my quest ‘to see how easy it would be to find Spaghetti Bolognese on the menu’ to an end – for now. I’ll leave it for you to decide which restaurant offers the best overall value.

None of the three restaurants cooked a traditional Bolognese sauce – containing carrots, celery, or bacon, and none offered the option of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

With than in mind, I’ll be posting my own recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese tomorrow, that you can cook yourself.

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RATED: Chillaxed and well-fed  FOOD: 3.5/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Authentic   VIBE:  Old skool Italian
BAR ITALIA – 169-171 Norton Street, Leichhardt, Sydney, NSW

(Note: cash only, no cards. There is a multi-bank ATM facility on site)

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






Pimp My Plate #30 – TRAMSHEDS, Forest Lodge, NSW


Like so many other Sydneysiders, I ignored the inkblot sky and threat of rain to visit THE TRAMSHEDS – Sydney’s newest foodie space, housed inside the former Rozelle Tramway Depot, originally built in 1904. 

TRAMSHEDS is being touted as ‘A community of Food and Learning’ and today was their Opening Day – a palpable buzz of hungry shoppers, lots of cameras from phone size to full frame. Store vendors scrambled to keep up with demand while juggling brand new ordering and catering systems, as customers kept filling tables.

On offer is an array of artisan bread, pasta, organic produce, a butcher, and lots of cafes and restaurants. Providores share a large space full of natural light and industrial height ceilings. There are lots of hard surfaces but it’s not noisy.

My take-home bag of goodies to eat later included: a loaf of Sourdough bread ($4.95 which is unheard of in price) and several pastries from Supamart; and a jar of Tasmanian Pickled Octopus ($15) from Fish & Co.

My sit-down Lunch was a plate of Prawn Cakes from FISH & CO. ($21)

A fun day out with lots to eat.

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RATED: Urban edge  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Industrial chic  VIBE:  Eat, drink, and be merry – esp after finding parking!
TRAMSHEDS – 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, Sydney, NSW
Open 9am-10pm most days

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

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


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.

*    *   *

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