Eppur si muove: You spin me right-round baby at O Bar & Dining

Revolving restaurants, friends. What does the phrase mean to you?

The horror show slop served to foreign tourists and hopeless suitors atop that Sydney Tower space needle building downtown?

The running gag about Hank’s Look-Around café in The Larry Sanders Show?

Or do you think about food that, if you’re lucky, exists one step in quality above the served at an American ex-urban steam table dinner theatre? You know, the sort of place where diners gum at their flaccid cauliflower and “mixed vegetables” while the Hartford Community Players hack out Death of a Salesman and the local paper’s food columnist quietly mutters “Eureka!” as he reaches for his pad to note his upcoming review’s opening zinger, “This chicken Kiev is liked, but it is not well-liked”?

It has been a while since we’ve met in this space: The Prick has been away a bit, seen a few things, refocused a few priorities, and of course is as open-minded as always, if not more so. And thus while it is still the firm belief of this house that anything west of the Summer Hill Wine Shop is pretty much all just sea monsters on a map, the Prick can also report that contrary to previous opinion – wait for it – revolving restaurants can also be good, damned good.

Or at least one can be. Take O Bar & Dining, atop the Australia Square building in what the Sydney Morning Herald robotically calls “the top end of town”. The structure was built in 1967, which is all you need to know about why they decided to crown it with fine diner on bearings. And while it has had its ups and downs for the past several years the space has been the domain of English chef Michael Moore. Moore still owns it, but he recently made the move of installing fellow Englishman Darren Templeman to run the kitchen as executive chef.

Templeman is one of Sydney’s great yet until now unfairly under-recognised talents. Those in the know will have visited his Atelier Restaurant when it still stood in Glebe or attended one of his private dinners over the past year where he would do things like follow a dirtily sexy, off-to-confession sea urchin chawanmushi with a proper canard a la presse, done according to the ancient rite, and just leave everyone’s heads and taste buds spinning for days. His is a great “High Anglican” cooking of the sort you find in Michelin restaurants in London and around the world, French-influenced but not dominated, and somehow it’s all changed planes in Kyoto on the way to Oz.

Don't come the raw trout with me! Or, actually, do.

Don’t come the raw trout with me! Or, actually, do.

Now Templeman is running a much bigger show as the Executive Chef at O Bar and Dining. He’s making a damn fine fist of it too, if the buzz that hits diners even before they step off the lift is any judge. On a school night just before Christmas, the joint was positively jumping, with private parties galore and a bar scene of good looking youngsters that would have made Justin Hemmes scratching his head in wonderment: You mean not every establishment in Sydney needs a ‘roided-up Tongan at the door to show people who’s boss?

But this is still a serious dining restaurant with table cloths (remember those?) and its panorama – it takes about 90 minutes to get around; no, you can’t speed it up or slow it down or otherwise work the controls, we already asked – means that this will still be something of an “occasion” place for a lot of diners.

Happily, the food lives up to the ever-changing view, in turns bright, punchy, and surprising in an oh-I-never-noticed-that-was-there-before sort of way. A veneer of virtuousness also sits above the whole thing. Moore has a “healthy eating philosophy” which informs but does not annoy the menu and even throws up a few twists that make one think that if adopted elsewhere in one’s life, the coroner might not need to write “Cause of Death: Bearnaise” on the final paperwork.

Thus a little jar of potted shrimp with pickles opens the batting nicely; washed down with Hendricks and cucumber it is both a stimulant for the palate and a cleanser of the day just past. A couple of different raw fish platters are next, each with different dressings but a cobia with finger limes, coriander, truss tomatoes and avocado oil wins the day, rolling the palate through a variety of sweet, sharp and savoury sensations all in one go.

Hemingway could have gotten twenty pages out of the psychic arm wrestle we had with the menu over mains (incidentally the steaks are some of the nicest meat at some of the relatively most reasonable prices you’ll find in town at this sort of place). Just as one of us decided we wanted fish the other would want meat and, well, we weren’t having two different bottles of wine and going to work the next day, and so it went, but finally amity was restored with the decision to go not different, but same-same.

Canard a trois...

Canard a trois…

We were glad we did, both of us ordering the duck three ways (pink breast, confit leg, and a glorious peppery little duck sausage made out the back filled with more spare parts than a botched IKEA assembly job). It took us back to the old days at Atelier. Figs that had just been kissed by the plancha brought a hint of smoke to the dish and an “almond tahina” (there’s that sensible eating thing again) was as creamy as any classical puree and despite the description did not taste as if it should have been served in the rectory after the 10am interfaith guitar mass.

There was no doubt we would finish on the soufflé, and it did not disappoint – even if we did have to dive to another tables to get spoons to eat the things with – washed down with a special “sour” from the bar. O Bar and Dining, like its view, is changing, slowly but perceptibly, and my God it is hard to avoid a “great heights” metaphor here. Suffice it so say that the Prick would never endorse going to a “view” restaurant in any other town, but here in Sydney, we’re special, right?

Oh, and apparently they’re rebooting the bar menu as well, so one can call in for drinks and nibbles as well as sitting down for the whole box-and-dice.  Either way have fun, and tell ‘em the Prick sent ya.

O Bar and Dining on Urbanspoon

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How Twitter Got My Dog Back

Today in the Telegraph, the tale of how Maggie the Iron Terrier was lost and found … by Twitter.

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Oh, Deer! That’s Good Venison

Pictures of food. Pictures of our dinners. Pictures of stuff we cooked. Are we still doing that?

Well, yeah, we are. Or at least this Prick is, because this was pretty damn good:


What you’re looking at is a plate of venison loin, done for about 45 minutes at 53.5 degrees and seared, with baby beetroot, watercress, pickled cabbage and the greatest where-have-you-been-all-my-life condiment we’ve encountered in a while, smoked mayonnaise.

The recipe comes from Colin Fassnidge’s Four Kitchens cookbook, which has become something of a Stately Prick Manor favourite of late. It’s not one of those manifesto cookbooks that promises the road to enlightenment, nor is it a big glossy Christmas coffee table number never meant to be cooked from. Recipes are short and concise, the food isn’t fiddly in an assemble-with-tweezers kinda way, and it assumes the reader is a reasonably competent home cook who knows what he is doing and is excited by the prospect of making vats of porky “hock stock” to use in various dishes or smoking a sandwich spread and incorporating it into what becomes a somewhat fancy-pants dish. (Especially when paired with an old bottle of Tannat that had spent years under the stairs just waiting for his chance to come out and play and enliven a Monday night.)

So take the Prick’s advice and buy this book. Use it for ideas and techniques as much as the recipes. The ham-and-cheese croquettes on p. 19 sound simple as hell but are alone worth the price of admission, so ridiculously good that afterwards you’ll try really hard to stay up and talk about how good they were but just wind up rolling over for a snooze like you always do.


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Guest Post: School Holidays with a Chance of Meatballs

Followers of the Prick’s Twitter feed will be aware of this site’s sometimes unhealthy obsession with “reality” cooking show My Kitchen Rules. Something about its finely calibrated manic combination of personality disorders, domestic voyeurism, high school politics, and “yeah I could do that” food (if the producers ever banned cooking with eye filet they’d be without a show) makes it utterly compelling, a lowbrow culinary House of Cards.

Yet out of this entertaining mire have risen some genuine gems, including the happy young couple Uel and Shannelle. Ultimately too nice to win, they gave us a lot of laughs over the weeks and won the coveted title of “only people on this whole damn show we’d ever let in the house”. And that includes Pete Evans, especially if he showed up with a sack of activated almonds as a hostess present.

Uel and Shannelle turned up at Salt Meats Cheese over the school holiday, where they held a meatball-making master class for the next generation of reality cooking show contestants. The Three Little Pricks, no stranger to a kitchen, went along for the ride. Here’s Eli’s account of the day, with an assist from younger brother Kip and older brother Nicholas:

On Wednesday the twenty third of April I had meatball making class with Uel and Shannelle. If you do not know who they are they are the people from My Kitchen Rules. My Kitchen Rules is a cooking show, and  if you want to know how to make a delicious meatball read on. If you’re not interested in making yummy meatballs stop reading right here.

The first step to making your lovely meatballs is to get some pork and some beef mince and mix it well. Now get an onion, chop it up, and put it in with your pork and beef. Mix that well, and after you have done this, now get a clove of garlic, chop it up, and mix it with your ingredients.

After you’ve done all of that get some breadcrumbs and stir it with milk. After your stirring you get some grated parmesan cheese and add two spoons of it. If you’re a cheese lover you can put some more cheese in to your mix.

Now it’s time to put some grated carrots into your bowl and mix the carrots around. Now it’s time to put your breadcrumbs into your mixture and mix it around. If you don’t want your hands to get dirty you can put some gloves on and mix the mixture now get some egg and mix that with your meat. Now shape the meat into nice round meatballs and stuff it with cheese. Now place it on a baking tray and let it cook for twenty minutes if you’re bored and are waiting for your meatballs to cook you can play some games for example you could play heads down thumbs up or you could just sit there and wait (very boring).

Once they have cooked you can take the meatballs out and enjoy if you want to make your own pasta with your meatballs read on.

Now it’s time to boil your pasta if you need some pasta go to your local store and get the pasta that you would like with your meatballs [or make your own!-ed.]. Once your water has got to a boil dump your chosen pasta until it has cooked al dente if you want.

Yes now you have made your own pasta and meatballs once you take your first bite it is so delicious.


Thanks to Salt Meats Cheese for having the Little Pricks along and to Uel and Shannelle for a great session. A great time was had by all, and Salt Meats Cheese remains one of the happiest places on Earth, or at least in Sydney.

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Dive! Dive!: Meeting the Mermaid at a Sixpenny Sunday

It has been a good dozen or so years since the Prick first alighted at Kingsford-Smith and it’s fair to say that all things considered and to borrow a phrase, Sydney been berry berry good to me. That said, one picks up some peculiar habits living here so long.

Like, for example, regularly contemplating giving one’s local council vote to the Greens on the theory that despite being fairly insane they remain the best bet to stop some shonk from throwing up a twenty-story flatpack apartment block next door. (What was the old line about capitalists selling the commies the rope they’d eventually be hanged with? Yeah, that.)

And then there are restaurants. In a town of four million people, but with only a million or so clustered in the sort of inner-west to inner-east orbit where there’s a critical mass of diners to support such things, the honest truth is that no matter how vibrant our economy we can only sustain so many nice restaurants. Yet we flit around like teenage magpies off their Ritalin looking for the next big thing when we should focus on nice joints down the road and giving them our trade and custom for years.

The Pricks are as guilty of this as anyone, and admittedly this little blog habit doesn’t help. Thus even though we have a really great one-but-should-be-two hat restaurant just down the hill from Stately Prick Manor in Sixpenny – the subject of one of this site’s earliest reviews – it was not until we got an email inviting us to a special Sunday lunch cooked by a guest chef that we decided to give the place another burl.

Silly, right? But there’s that novelty thing again. (Oh, and that invitation to lunch? It came with a bill happily paid at the end – don’t get the wrong idea, this ain’t that kinda food blog).

The chef was Nic Wong, a guy who’s been all over town from Rockpool to Billy Kwong, but the big draw was the news that he dives for his own sea urchin – about which more later – and word is he is about to hang out his own shingle over in Potts Point.

The Sixpenny experience remains very Sixpenny, even with someone else on the pans: It’s the same clean Scando-Sydney design, and the service is that same really charming affair where chefs and servers all have a go and everyone’s up for chat and you kinda want to say, hey, pull up a chair and get on this really great riesling, it’s a stunner, mate!

So what of Wong’s cooking? Well, good – really good. A baby shower followed by an engagement party the previous day may or may not have left Mrs Prick feeling a bit tired and emotional but a glass of Champagne and a whole series of pitch-perfect Asian-influenced early-Sunday arvo bar snacks set things right. If in his new place Wong only served snacks like fried kipflers with Japanese green pepper and crumbed (with scales!) mulloway and sweet grilled baby Asian octopus and skewered teriyaki-ish chicken wings with a heaping great ice-cream scoop of rendered and whipped chicken fat (!) for dipping (!!) and milk buns with kombu butter (!!!) we really would cab over after work for beers and nibbles a realistic once a fortnight.

But it wasn’t all izakaya-style snacks; the kitchen turned out some great proper plates of an afternoon. A cut of David Blackmore wagyu done on hibachis in the kitchen was pure and beefy and backed up by fresh wasabi leaves, which in and of themselves reveal themselves with every crunch with sweetness and heat and horseradishy pepper. There’s an ultimate Japanese-influenced Bloody Mary just waiting to be made in all of this.

A vegetarian plate of pumpkin and glazed chestnuts with raw chestnuts on top makes the second actually good stand-alone non-meat plate of food we have in as many days  A piece of hapuku comes simply steamed, gingery with mushrooms and bits of seaweed.

And then of course was the sea urchin. Apologies for working blue, but these may be the sexiest things to come out of the ocean, all salty and silky they were and are – in the words of a long-forgotten writer – like going down on a mermaid.

As expected, sommelier Dan Sharp teed up some great and unexpected pairings (including a sweetish, out-of-far-left-field Romanian rosé), the best bottle being a magnum of 2011 Salomon Undhof Kremstal DAC Reserve ‘Von Stein’ Grüner Veltliner shared around the room, at least one of which will destined for the cellars here if we can shake enough change out of the sofa.

Desserts were, well, hits and misses, to be honest. A sort of passionfruit cannoli encased in white chocolate was yummy on its own, though a very Asian dessert of some sort of shaved ice and set almond milk was just confusing and texturally all off, like eating a breast implant just out of the fridge. Fortunately, a morsel of a light sour cream cake with lemon curd and green tea powder saved the day, along with a couple of generous slugs of Calvados.

The moral of the story? Nic Wong’s a helluva good chef and we look forward to following him in his adventures. And Sixpenny’s a helluva good restaurant where anyone within shooting distance should become a regular, time and resources permitting.

Pictures for the visually-minded once I can get them off the damned phone below:


Snacks and snacks…

snacks 2

…and more snacks! And chicken fat!


And the beloved sea urchin…


…with some wonderful peppery, wasabi-leaved wagyu…

good dessert

…and a dessert that saved the (final bit of the) day…


…makes for one very happy Prick indeed.


Sixpenny on Urbanspoon

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Taking Some R & R at Osteria di Russo & Russo

Like remaking Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka or letting Michael Bolton cover Otis Redding, the idea of re-inventing, re-creating, re-imagining, or re-anythinging Italian food and restaurant culture is, or should be, a nuclear minefield fraught with horrors one can’t even begin to imagine. Except, of course, when it isn’t, and more specifically, when the project is led by real-deal Italian restaurateurs and a chef, Jason Saxby, whose CV is pretty much a catalogue of once-in-a-lifetime restaurants including The Ledbury and Per Se.

The result is Osteria di Russo & Russo on Enmore Road’s busy café-and-cocktails strip, a restaurant that nods respectfully to the red sauce joints of old while doing something entirely new with a cuisine whose fiercest partisans still brood over Catherine de Medici trotting off to France, recipes in trousseau.

Russo & Russo’s narrow space authentically and intentionally references the past and more specifically the cultural nexus where the Old Country meets the New World. It could be kitsch, but it’s not, and for a moment you wonder if Tessio’s men managed to tape the gun to the back of the toilet so you can take out the corrupt police commissioner. Thus marble café tables and bentwood chairs, old prints and the Blessed Virgin on the wall, and what looks like a very cool little bar up the back. The house cocktail is a “Doctor, Lawyer, or Accountant”, which almost screams for a follow-up “But Ma, I Wanna Dance on Broadway!”.


Russo & Russo: More scallops than scallopini

Sitting down, things go a bit off-piste without ever turning into an overly ironic or self-aware piss take. Menus are pasted into repurposed old books which are themselves food for thought: Open the one stuck in an illustrated libretto of Handel’s Messiah and you could find yourself meditating on the redeeming power of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Get the one that’s pasted into a ‘70s era microwave cookbook, however, and you’ll soon stop thinking how cool it’d be to live in the American Hustle era while thanking the aforementioned Saviour that chef hasn’t decided to do an “ironic” “deconstructed” “take” on that nuked-ham-and-pineapple-rings extravaganza on page 197.

And on a Friday night the place is heaving, raucous, and convivial, proving correct the old Joe Kennedy rule of event management, i.e., slightly too many people in slightly too small a space builds its own energy. An early-middle-aged Prick can sit close enough to elbow a happy table full of young birthday party hipsters playing at being grown-up and no one feels the need to glass someone with a sustainable jelly jar cocktail. The whole vibe is very Melbourne, and not in a painfully earnest, “I’m suing the government because a transit officer assaulted me for not showing my myki card when I was taking the tram to St Kilda for the big rally to protest cuts to legal services for transgendered indigenous sharks” kind of way, either. This is fun.


Tastes good, eel’s good

Back to the menu, do note that ordering a la carte can be a little confusing as things are not organised around the traditional antipasti-pasta-meats-then-sweets order of battle. Best to go for the chef’s tasting menu, which for $65 per person for six courses is stupidly good value for money. And should something particularly take your fancy, they’ll figure out a way to work it in.

A plate of scallops opens the batting, dressed as a simple crudo with apples and herbs and a dill sauce, with the protein handled just-so to bring out taste and not just texture. These scallops taste of the sea, as well they should, and too often don’t.

Smoked eel croquettes are obscenely good on their own in only the way properly-fried things can be, but garnishes of peas, preserved lemon, zucchini flowers, and myrtle ash – this last thankfully added not as cheffy vanity but because it genuinely brings something to the dish – take an early lead as “dish of the night.”

And as deeply skeptical of vegetarianism and all the other ‘arian-supremacist food movements which purport to confer moral privilege on their adherents as we Pricks are, a dark and brooding plate of grains and pine mushrooms turns out to be spectacular. Brightened by blobs of taleggio (“whipped into submission!” our server reports, delightedly) the dish pairs so well with a Piano del Cerro we are accidentally given that we ignore the minor miscue over the wine and press on with a gorgeous 2007 Tuscan number that starts out all herby and complex and gives way to silk and chocolate.

Braised pig cheeks – a special request off the menu; they’re accommodating about their omakase – is “inspired by tiramisu”. This is the only time the evening momentarily wobbles under the weight of cute, but with just a bit more sauce this unlikely combination of pork and chocolate and rich, gooey, hazlenuts could be the sort of thing that diners would riot over were it ever taken off the menu.



Negative space, dessert on the side

Especially as the dish is such a great illustration of what Russo & Russo is all about. Saxby’s voice comes through on each plate and he’s doing something genuinely new that could have in other hands been disastrous: There’s a style and talent at work here, one which ably caroms sweet and tart and sour and five kinds of umami off one another like a series of snappy combination billiards shots. This stuff is there in the Italian classics, too, but is all too often buried under the accreted burden of history and tradition and routine.

A cheese course involving a sweet Monte Veronese and quince and candied pine nuts bridges the gap from the savoury courses, while dessert is perhaps the most “Sydney” of all the dishes: An off-centre barricade of quenelles and crisps and some very adult Rice Krispies treats runs across the plate delivering punches of sweetness and salt and crunch in happy, rapid succession.

So go to Russo & Russo. Put yourself in their hands. Have a blast. And tell ‘em the Prick sent ya.

Osteria di Russo & Russo on Urbanspoon

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A Good Time AND a Long Time

Further evidence for the Prick’s long-held belief that dietary “-isms” are the road to ruin and that one should simply eat good food that tastes good:

Vegetarians may have a lower BMI and drink alcohol sparingly, but vegetarian diets are tied to generally poorer health, poorer quality of life and a higher need for health care than their meat-eating counterparts…the vegetarian diet — characterized by a low consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol that includes increased intake of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products — carries elevated risks of cancer, allergies and mental health disorders.

Vegetarians were twice as likely to have allergies, a 50 percent increase in heart attacks and a 50 percent increase in incidences of cancer.

That’s enough for me. The science is settled!

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