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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Smokey and the Bandito

The Pricks took a little detour to the Southern Highlands on the weekend – more about which later – and chanced upon this bit of fantasticness at a Hume Highway rest stop:


Would that we also had the Caribinieri’s, shall we say, liberal attitude towards traffic and speed enforcement in Australia… 

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Crossing the Great Side-Order Divide: Puffed Potatoes

Forget Arab versus Israeli or Catholic versus Protestant. Really, is there any more vexed question than whether French fries (or chips) are superior to mashed potatoes (or pommes purees if you want to get really fancy about it)?

On the one hand, adherents of the fried potato, in all its many iterations from the shoestring to the big fat wedge maintain that only a spud that has been par-boiled, fried, and then fried again for extra crispness has the right to sit alongside a burger or, better yet, a big ol’ ribeye.

On the other hand, the mashed potato brigade is convinced that, boiled and sieved and emulsified with the equivalent of Normandy’s weekly production of butter and cream is the most ennobling treatment for the humble pomme de terre.

Friends, this site may not be able to solve the more intractable problems of faith or geopolitics, but as a consolation prize, how about some gastronomic syncretism in the form of puffed potatoes? In one of those great “where have you been all my life?” moments, the Prick first noticed the idea in his Christmas copy of the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook (a wonderful volume worth the price of admission for the smoked tomato soup alone).

Then, a lunch at the Rockpool where a similar little side dish stole the show.

So how’s it done? Easy. First, get some potatoes peeled and chunked and on to boil – desirees, Yukon golds, anything waxy you have to hand, about a half-kilo’s worth (this recipe made more than enough for two, but is pretty infinitely scalable).

While that’s happening, make a simple choux pastry: Boil a big tablespoon of butter and a quarter-cup of water, and then take off the heat, stirring in a quarter-cup’s worth of flour. Return to a lower heat, and stir constantly until it forms a dough and pulls away from the sides. This won’t take long at all.

Throw this dough in a stand mixer and, with the paddle attachment, beat the dough with an egg; in a minute or so it’ll come back together.

When your potatoes are tender, run them through a potato ricer and toss into the mixer, and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

When ready to cook, form quenelles or balls or any damn shape you like and fry for a few minutes, until golden all over, at around 170 degrees C (or 325 degrees or so F). Remember, your oil temperature will drop when you add the potatoes, so get it up a good five or ten degrees above your target to start with.

Drain, salt, and serve with the best damn steak you can acquire.


Yeah, I know it’s messy, but I was too damn hungry to wipe the plate.

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Food, Fads and Freedom

In the Telegraph today, the Prick is taking on the latest anti-meat fad diets – and no, a cheeseburger is not as bad for you as a pack of smokes:

Anyone with a degree of skepticism and a memory longer than that of a goldfish will be forgiven for suspecting that this suggested low-protein diet will go the way of the high-protein diet, which not long ago was trumpeted as the sure-fire way to weight loss and a long, happy life.

Because beyond just playing with our protein intakes, we have in previous years and decades seen all manner of food fad, each one touted as the solution to all our woes, filling not just the bellies of their adherents but also a need for some sort of guiding hand as well.

Many diets demand cult-like adherence to a set of dietary rules as complicated as any faith, providing nearly the same assurance of rewards for sticking to it and punishment (including a fair bit of guilt) if one strays from the path.

Yet from fruitarianism to celebrity diets to best-selling diet book authored by “expert” doctors (who have no trouble contradicting one another) the programs keep on selling. One recent fad, the eat-like-a-caveman Paleo diet, has taken off wildly with cafes and cookbooks launching weekly to explain how our Neolithic ancestors had it all over us in the health stakes. Oddly, however, few of the diet’s adherents are willing to live like a caveman, hunt like a caveman, enjoy caveman-style healthcare, or date like a caveman. Wonder why?

The news came in too late for press time, but the science appears to be settling in this direction:

Fatty foods such as butter and bacon may not actually increase the risk of heart attacks, a comprehensive overview of health research has concluded.

NHS guidelines urging people to eat less “unhealthy” fat might have to be reviewed, say scientists who found no link between saturated fat and heart disease. 

 Thank Christ for that. Now, if someone could just tell Michelle Obama:

White House executive pastry chef Bill Yosses is resigning after First Lady Michelle Obama fundamentally changed his job duties to focus on healthier food.

Yosses is leaving the White House in June to work on a new project focusing on “food literacy” and The New York Times says Michelle is “partly to blame.” The openly gay chef was hired by Laura Bush in 2007 to make his trademark cookie plates and sugar sculptures. Mrs. Obama took over in 2009 and ordered Yosses to make healthier plates in smaller portions.

Yosses began replacing butter with fruit puree and sugar with honey and agave. But Yosses was never fully committed to the new policy.

“I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs,” Yosses said.

Good man. Listen to the chef. The science has spoken.

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Swine & Co: Beer Hall Putsch’s Unsatisfying Result

For as long as the Prick can remember the old former banking chamber at 16 O’Connell Street in Sydney’s CBD was home to an outlet of the Disneyfied Bavarian Bier Café mini-chain which until recently sated local office workers’ demands for a German theme bar where Oktoberfest runs twelve months a year.

Times changed, palates became more sophisticated, and at some point everyone’s obsession with gluten-free this and “paleo” that meant the critical mass of customers whose idea of a good time was deep-fried camembert and Spaten by the litre shrank to the point where covering both the rent and the cleaning bills for the waitress’s little Hans-und-the-lusty-milkmaid dirndl outfits became uneconomic.

Enter Swine & Co, which took over the space a few months ago with a big PR and social media push and the promising brief to “celebrate” the pig.

Alas in practice, this promise seems to be more of a porky.


Fried things. We like fried things!

In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that the Pricks’ meal here on a recent afternoon did not start off on the best of notes. Rocking up for lunch with another couple we were told we could only sit in the ground floor bar area. No worries; four hungry diners who’d skipped breakfast in full expectation of suckling pig don’t really care where they eat so long as there’s a flat surface and perhaps some cutlery.

You see where this is going, right?

Adamantine refusal to serve downstairs dining room menu items upstairs (despite everything coming from the same damn kitchen, the waitress said she was only following orders); bruised shins from Mrs Prick’s vehement signaling that no, now is not the time to re-enact the diner scene from Five Easy Pieces; and some of the most disappointing sandwiches this side of a poorly-catered “boardroom lunch”.

Of course, we put on a brave face, keeping minds and jaws open for what we were allowed to order. The ghosts of history are hard to exorcise, and we chalk the refusal up to some obsession with rules hanging over from the old regime. Handing back the big kids’ menu we were allowed to peruse from the downstairs ratskeller (which, by the most generous count, only gives about 25 per cent of itself over to the pig, odd for a place that supposedly puts swine centre stage) we start with some nibbles.

First, fries, good, and croquettes of what is claimed to be suckling pig. Tasty and porky, light with a proper ratio of meat, though to be honest not a patch on some ham hock numbers we whipped up out of Colin Fassnidge’s really delightful new Four Kitchens cookbook in the Stately Prick Manor test kitchens last weekend. And while one presumes these are made from trimmings and off-cuts, suckling pig is really too special to just mix with potato and fry. Which means it is very special indeed.

Then, sandwiches, the most substantial thing one is allowed upstairs. Mrs Prick’s pork and veal meatballs baguette features four ping-pong balls of protein on an oversized roll; a toasted “prosciutto and provolone jaffle” does what it says on the tin but looks disconcertingly like an after-school snack. The pork belly baguette is a big winner, though cabbage straight out of the fridge makes for a jarring chaud-froid mouthfeel.

And then, the Reuben.


Crimes against Reubenity

Short of dislocating one’s jaw like a python it is hard to know what to do when presented with a sandwich that consists of two thick (we are talking a good 1.5 centimetres here) slabs of untoasted brown bread that gets soggier by the second as it attempts to hold together a half-barrel of sauerkraut with a single thin slab of (as opposed to properly sliced and stacked) cured brisket that is supposedly the raison d’etre for the dish. While the kraut is sheathed with a half-melted slice of cheese, there is no Russian dressing, nor any of the glorious fat which makes the Reuben, done right, such a spectacular treat. It is an epic fail of a thing, sad to look at and sorrier to eat, and the proprietors of Swine & Co – as well as anyone else who wants a Reuben done right in this town – should avail themselves of Tony Gibson’s offerings at the Pyrmont farmers’ markets or head over to Momo’s on Elizabeth Street.

Add to this shambolic service – other tables’ orders kept showing up and a second round of drinks never made it to the table, but by the time the bill came no one had even the enthusiasm to check if they’d made it off the tab – and it is hard to imagine that the downstairs experience would be more satisfying. Disappointing in an area of town that is rapidly becoming a dining destination, it will be interesting to see how this little piggy fares in the market.
Swine & Co. on Urbanspoon

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Check Your Privilege Over Lunch at Rockpool

Readers who have had the (mis)fortune to spend any time around a humanities faculty lately may be familiar with the appalling phrase, “check your privilege”.

For the uninitiated – and the Prick is sorry to have to break this to anyone who’s been out of school for a while, this sort of nonsense is still going on – “privilege-checking” is the latest effort by campus Jacobins who would rather shut up their opponents than simply argue their case. The more “privileged” one is deemed to be, the less valid one’s opinion, because after all every time a white male speaks he is just reifying cisgendered phallocentric patriarchy … yada yada yada, you get the idea.  In any case for a bit of fun some wags have come up with a calculator designed to tell you almost instantly how much the victim or oppressor you are, and thus by inverse implication, how much or little free speech to which you are entitled.


“I’ve checked, your privilege will be right out…”

No one will be surprised to find out that the Prick clocked in at 180 privilege points, and that was without any questions about eating habits. Had the quiz’s authors divined that the Prick had just come from a lunch at Neil Perry’s new, relocated, refurbished, whiz-bang but oh-so-smooth Rockpool, the scale might have been broken permanently and returned a score heavier than all America’s founding fathers, William Shakespeare, the House of Lords, Margaret Thatcher, and Larry Summers combined.

Because lunch at the new Rockpool is indeed a privilege – even if at $79 for three courses, it is not an entirely unswingable one – and a right we Sydneysiders and those who visit Sydney with means and motive must not forget to exercise, or to be grateful for. Especially when it taken in the company of solid fellows like the gent behind Jugernauts, the brains behind Ask Tony Food, and the ubiquitous Simon Leong, all of whom earn a mention for sharing generously and letting the Prick eat off of their plates.

High ceilings, a muted, masculine paint job, a tightly-controlled but entirely non-shouty and very sleek induction-powered kitchen (doesn’t anyone use gas anymore?) behind the cool black-tiled bar, the new Rockpool is an exercise in restraint and rarified calm. It is a big change from both the nearly fluorescent Rockpool of old and the creaky, boozy suburban masculinity of the steakhouse chain the new outlet usurped. Were the Prick more commercial, he’d be doing business lunches here at every opportunity.

There is no view save for Bridge Street, service is friendly but discrete, and well-spaced tables and excellent acoustics mean no other conversations intrude. The diner needs focus on nothing more than the food and his companions, in contrast to some of the city’s high-end harbourside rooms. Local House of Cards devotees might recall Frank Underwood’s observation that “money is a McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart in ten years; power is the stone building that stands for centuries”. What holds in Congress holds in the kitchen, especially in Sydney, where a few long-stayers like Perry survive in a market littered with $2 million fit-outs that soon land in the hands of the receivers. Rockpool is a power place, in every sense.


The sushi was great, but the avo? Fish out of water.

And Perry is very much there in spirit, even if the kitchen is in the hands of the very capable Phil Wood. Some dishes are starred as “classics”, and of course there is the old Rockpool east-meets-west ethic and love of great product in evidence everywhere. Even the “since 1999” motif on the front window declares continuity: As the man said, if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.

Thus a simple plate of chirashi zushi – raw fish with rice – is anything but simple. The rice hides bits of squid and prawn, a little yuzu, and to finish a pinch of kim-chi and just, to borrow from the parlance of over-caffeinated My Kitchen Rules contestants, pops.

Apologies for that, but there really is no other word to describe the sensation: the rice is sweet and briny; the fish melts on the tongue; the Korean pickle at the end, washed down with a glass of gruner veltliner, is bracing and thrilling like the first time you put a 9-volt battery on your tongue as a kid. The only off-note are the slivers of avocado that feel forced, like a too-deliberate reminder of its naughty nineties origins. Slowly but surely abuses like this are forcing the Prick around to Sam de Brito’s position on this over-used ingredient in any location other than guacamole or sandwiches for the Three Little Pricks.  

Other starters are tempting, including a beef tartare tricked up with Chinese black olives, black bean dressing, and really great little prawn toasts almost wins the day but the Prick is a purist on this dish. Stir-fried squid with noodles gets good ratings from down the other end of the table and is, delightfully, served with bibs to protect one’s tailored shirt front a la a New England lobster shack.

Things are not always what they seem on the menu, something that can cause regret as much as reward. The Prick eschewed a main course of suckling pig due to prejudice against the accompanying “shiitake oat porridge” (it’s a texture thing, long story) but the plate is now firmly on the “next time” list.


Tastes like chicken, but worlds better.

Meanwhile a Burrawong chicken – a bird as different and superior to the nonsense you find in the poultry aisle as the car you reserved for your European holiday is to the one they try and foist on you at the airport – is given the Asian hot pot treatment, including a crock of tea-steamed rice that cooks at table. The produce is stunning, and delicately treated with a fine broth and a little halyard of noodles knotted and stowed underneath, but the presence of the word “Sichuan” on the menu had some of us looking for heat as well as light. Nevermind.

Speaking of menus, don’t go past the sides, particularly the potato “dauphines”: quenelles of potato that have been whipped and worked into a light dough and fried to puffy perfection with a bit of kombu butter for an extra kick. A bowl of these and a beer at the six-seater bar would be a one-man lunch of champions.

For those contemplating dessert, there is really no other choice but the passionfruit soufflé – tell them when you sit down and you can still make your afternoons’ meetings. The entire complement of sweets was consumed by the table, but those who got the little copper pots got the gold. 

Rockpool on Urbanspoon

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Don’t Just Stand There, Do Nothing!

My word I’ve been lousy about posting lately, haven’t I? Sorry folks, there have been a number of other non-culinary projects on the boil including painting half of Stately Prick Manor — an experience the Prick found almost meditative but which anyone else would find as boring as, well, watching paint dry — so there has not been a lot to say over here in the food department.

That said, my latest in the Daily Telegraph may be of interest. The Prick doesn’t like processed food any more than the next inner-west bourgeois bohemian, but expensive government meddling (as in the “star system” to rate products recently axed by the in-strife Fiona Nash) to no result leaves an even worse taste:

Amazingly, however, neither the government nor much of the press is focusing on the most important question in the story. That is, would such a website — or any other star-rating system for food — do any good? …

There’s no question that foods should be labelled so consumers know what they’re getting (and that information is already there).

But nutrition is complex and hardly “settled science”, as anyone who has visited a bookshop and seen titles urging readers to either quit or keep eating sugar side by side can attest. And this is the heart of the matter: just because you offer consumers more information does not necessarily mean you are offering good, or genuinely useful, information.

Reducing the relative healthiness of any particular product to one simple index is near-impossible. An index of nutrition is nothing like a rating to indicate how much power or petrol a new washing machine or automobile might consume. Nor do stars help the millions of Australians who need to avoid particular ingredients such as sugar, salt or allergens.

Under close examination it becomes clear that the axed system had more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. Under the system, it is reported that high-calorie, sugar-laden fruit juices would have received a five-star rating, the best there is.

Would consumers be forgiven for thinking washing down a bowl of poorly rating, highly processed, sugary breakfast cereal with a big glass of the stuff might still average out to a healthy meal?

Read the whole thing, as the saying goes, and have a lovely Friday. The Prick is off to partake in some noms processed by the Big Food empire of Neil Perry. Full report over the weekend.

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