Friday, June 24, 2011

[Kingscliff] Fins at Salt

FINS Restaurant & Bar
5/6 Bells Blvd
Salt Village
Sth Kingscliff
NSW 2487
Tel: +61 2 6674 4833

I can't wait to write about FINS. But I need to clear the backlog posts in chronological order or I am not going to be bothered about writing them ever again.

Now Fins? Steven Snow? Never heard? Snow's restaurant is in fact one hatted and he is a regular on the local lifestyle TV and regularly featured in local lifestyle magazine. You can read all about him and the restaurant's awards on the website.

Bad seafood experiences of the last two meals meant I craved for anything other than seafood. On the day we visited, there was no poultry or red meat on the menu, it was ALL seafood. We decided against dining at Fins after perusing the menu which changes all the time depending on produce.

Proceeded to other adjoining restaurants but the menu did not excite me, in fact, somewhat pedestrian. After some thought, we decided to go back to Fins.

We were seated promptly and caught glimpse of Steve Snow before he disappeared into the kitchen.

Princess saw him and asked, 'is that Matt Moran?' Haha, not every bald chef is Matt Moran darling. She knows all the Masterchef/junior masterchef/MKR contestants/judges/celebrity chefs' names. The 6 year old has a very fine palate who regularly gorges on macaron and drink regular coffee (not babycino, too weak she said, no taste kakakaka) and wanting to taste everything on sample offer at the market.

The dining room is housed under an awning extended to the restaurant and decked out like a garden with trellis of flowers on pillars and pots of plant/bush (real) dotted around the dining area. Come nightfall the dining room is very dark, some might find it romantic but its not to my taste. I prefer modern/contemporary clean decor.

Portuguese bacalhau balls and aioli
Amuse bouche - Portuguese bacalhau ball and aioli
Princess got this and it was gone so quick before I had a chance to ask for a taste. Not even the aoili was spared. She dropped some small chunks onto the plate while busy shoving it into her mouth and I quickly popped in my mouth. Smoky and sovoury with a light and crunchy coating. It was very good.

Sashimi on daikon pickle
Sashimi of fresh, local fish of the day on daikon pickle

The sashimi was beautiful, however, the sweet taste was somewhat masked by the heavy pickle underneath. In my opinion, a few shreds of the pickle would have been plenty.

Bread with capsicum jam
Entree - heart breads char grilled bio-dynamic sourdough, handmade and wood-fired in Byron Bay with house made capsicum, tamarind and mild chilli jam.

Hands down the BEST bread I have eaten so far, even the sourdough made from milled ancient Normandy heirloom wheat comes a close second.

The jam packed a punch without being too hot. I tried replicate the jam at home using capsicum, tomatoes, chillies and process it like a harissa paste. The taste was quite close.

Kids fish&chips
Kid's fish and chips

I don't really want to repeat myself and sound cheesy but the chips are hands down the BEST I have ever tasted (and now I hanker after Heston's version after watching it on Masterchef, could it get better than this?). They were crunchy like a dream and inside is like creamy and fluffy mashed potatoes. The chips somehow tasted like the sea. I suspect they sprinkled something like a chicken salt but the seafood version which complements the exquisitely fried fish to a tee.

Again, BEST fish and chips ever. We haven't been back to Fishmonger's Wife since. I only want to come back here for fish and chips from the kid's menu.

Snowy's fish
With Riesling, lemon and parsley, green beans, cauliflower puree and local Dutch Cream potatoes

When this arrived, I am disappointed and secretly relieved this was not my order, the dish looked like something I can easily whipped up at home in like ten minutes. But oh ho, looks can be so deceiving. Nothing is ever blah, mediocre, pedestrian at FINS.

The fish was so fresh, cooked to perfection and flaked away with just a tease from the fork. The beans and potatoes and cauliflower puree tasted so sweet and earthy, they could have been just plucked or dug from the garden.

Every mouthful is like an orchestra playing, each element finding its own place harmoniously.

Chilli as anything
Mauritian style king prawn and fish sambal, lotus wrapped rice and green papaya salad

Here comes again.

Hands down the BEST prawn I have ever tasted. Mind you it may not be the sweetest or the biggest but the way they were cooked and flavoured is like an art, I think Mr Snow had done the prawns much more than justice. They died a beautiful death in the hands of a maeastro. The spanish mackerel was very good too, normally I shun mackerel, I practically ate the fish since forever, but this Spanish species were in a league of their own.

The chilli tasted like our assam curry but several notches above. I wanna to barge into the kitchen and bow to the man but I restrained. Kekekeke.

I got to say this dish is not without negative, for me at least. The papaya salad was tasty but I absolutely hate coriander. There was so much coriander in there, I gave up after two taste. What's worse is the coriander lingers in the mouth till the following morning!! Disaster! So Mr Snow should think about toning down the coriander, it just overpowers EVERTHING.

And the rice :-(, I am Asian and somewhat an expert when it comes to cooking rice. My two cents, the restaurant should consider using another type of rice and steam it less in the lotus leaf. The leaf imparted a bitter flavour to the rice probably from spending too much time in the steamer. Having said that, the rice was cooked nicely and they were fluffy.

With brûléed fresh figs, house made ice cream and organic raw cocoa
I don't want to comment on this, I only appreciate eating chocolate in tablets or bars or handmade chocolates forms. But Big King said they are nice. The fig is somewhat bland, I don't know its purpose on the plate. The ice-cream is creamy.

Another view

With ginger and finger lime syrup

And finally, please bear with me.

Hand down the BEST panna cotta I have eaten so far. The texture is like a dream, you gotta go try to believe it. The finger lime offered an interesting taste and texture and the syrup tied the panna cotta and crumble together. I didn't get to eat the crescent pastry. Princess' hand was too quick. It was gone as soon as the plate touched the table.
I can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

[Holiday] Mongers Gourmet Fish and Chips, Byron Bay

Mongers Fish and Chips
Bay Lane
(behind Beach Hotel)
Byron Bay

Now this place is known by many names; Gourmet fish & chips, Mongers, Fishmongers fish & chips; probably all host of many others I don't know about by the locals. Anyhows, I don't really care.

Bay Lane
Bay Lane; a laneway of dining establishments.

Mongers fish&chips@Byron Bay
We walked in at 11.50am, the place is opened but lights off (pretty dark in there). A lady was at the counter staring at the cash register. Didn't once look up when we approached. Two minutes later, she (was finally awake?) told us, 'we opened in 10 minutes.' I asked if we can just sit and wait, she looked at me blankly and said, 'come back ten minures,' then diverted back her gaze/attention to the register.

I almost did not go back after the cold encounter but reviews about the place had been glowing and locals rate it as their favourite fish and chips in the WHOLE of Australia (probably those never venture out of their locals, I later cynically figured, I know I am evil, grrrr).

We were back in the shop 10 past 12pm and it was still dark, never once did the lights were flicked on. Well, fine, we can always sit out so we can actually see what we were eating. I thought too much, it really wouldn't have mattered anywhere I sat, dark room, under broad sunlight, reasons revealed later..........

Mongers menu
There were also blackboard specials near the register.

Half dozen Sydney Rocks $12 (swimming in broken shells)

Fish 1
Fish 2
Fish 3
Now, you might wonder how I put up three (identical?) photos of the fish dish. Truth is I can't tell which is which.

Story was we ordered 2 different kinds of fish, one pan fried, one grilled, one spicy, one with herb/nut rub and different sauces.

When they arrived, both fish looked exactly the same, you can only tell the difference by the colour of the sauce in the plastic container. Oh, I am eating the one with tartar, and oh I am now eating the one with herb mayo....

The kumara chips were drenched in oil and tough with a little crisp, you know how your thin chips taste like if its been out exposed to the air for a few days.....

The fish, oh, where do I begin......Princess asked after taking one bite, 'is this chicken?' Orz, I was a bit cross after tasting but Big King actually laughed and said,'its not but we can pretend its chicken'. Kakakaka, Chinese had this saying, 'find a bit of happiness in dire situation'. We couldn't finish the 'chicken' although we were starving after markets and walking around town, then chased away and sat in the playground before coming to this 'Gourmet' fish & chips.

My advice is, sometimes extensive research won't do you any good. Taste is a very subjective thing. Just go where the lines/locals are. In this case (Byron Bay), I noticed a lot of suits and ladies who lunch sitting comfortably inside Utopia just at the start of Bay Lane. The waitress looked attentive, bubbly and smiley and pretty if I might add.

The patrons looked like they were enjoying the food and the ambience. A big contrast to the experience we just had, 2 tables (presumably tourists who were lured by guides and reviews) occupied in the darkest dining room. It wouldn't have mattered if the place was dark or bright, the food tasted all the same with colder than cold staff.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

[Holiday] Bamboo Restaurant, Santai Casuarina

Santai Resort
9 Dianelle Drive

When I go on holiday, I like to do online extensive research for I am a control freak -_-".

I want to stay comfortably within the budget and eat the best local food. Shopping is secondary activity. It is always about food, food and more food. Call me obsessive if you want.

I knew I was very much into food when all I can recall from my early travel memories were this and that I ate. I associate a place with food it is famous of; the likes of Sibu kanpua (dry toss noodles/kolomee), Kuching laksa (and Hungry Horse at one point for its mashed potatoes, urghhh to die for!! I wonder if its still there, I haven't been to Kuching in 20 years!! =X) and Singapore's cakes at Le Meridien (however food was mediocre some 30 years ago when it was barren of any international cuisine/food outlet and the hawker food can't even compare to Malaysia's offering).

Ah, I digress, I should be writing about Santai at Casuarina. Hmm, what do I make of it. Would I rate it as luxury like its website proclaimd to be and the 'award-winning' Bamboo Restaurant?

The apartments were exactly as pictured on the website, however, it was letdown by dirty balconies with worn-out rusty lounger with stained cushion.

As it was next to a reserve/forest/jungle, there were lots of creepy crawlies everywhere you turn and some made it inside the apartment. The price to pay for being so close to nature, haha. Princess and me found two spiders when we checked out the second bedroom where she will be sleeping. We screamed so hard, hehe, ahem, ahem. Luckily the resort was pretty empty when we were there. That must be why we were put in the BEST apartment.

elax room@Santai Casuarina

I will rate it as 4 star, nice and comfortable but far from 'luxury'.

Santai Casuarina is actually in Kingscliff, a little over an hour from Brisbane; down the road from the glitzier Salt village which house Mantra, Peppers and a block of restaurant with an IGA express at the end.

We drove into Kingscliff city centre first, looking for a bite to eat. Imagine our horror when we found out the little town is DEAD (on a Thursday), no nice restaurant/pizza place is opened. The only place open is some cafe and some takeaway possibly a fish and chip shop. Ah, so disappointed, I don't want cold sandwich or cold salad for lunch on holiday *sulk* I want REAL food.

So we drove over to check out Salt village and the stretch of restaurants, horror, horror, none were opened!!

Disgruntled on empty stomachs at 2.30pm, we made our way to Santai hoping to grab a bite at the resort.

More horror! The restaurant is not opened!! We ended up muching through chocolates and chips that I brought for TV snacks.

Imagine the sigh of relief when I found out the restaurant is opened for dinner so we went down for an early dinner at 5.30pm after beach play and a dip in the resort pool and spa.

Bamboo at Santai Casuarina

Duck dish @Bamboo Santai

Fish dish@Bamboo Santai

Kid's fish&chips@Bamboo Santai
Kid's fish and chips

heesecake@Bamboo Santai

Chcolate mousse@Bamboo Santai
Chocolate mousse with coffee jelly (ambiguous ring of cocoa powder)

As you can probably tell from the lack of descripton on the dishes, the memories were hazy. I can't remember what I ate. Duck was still pink but tough, fish was overcooked, the cheesecake gluey (from too much gelatine) and the chocolate mousse too sweet and a bit pedestrian.

The mains were lacking in flavours and the desserts below average. You can see from the chocolate mousse pic that the coffee jellies were not even cut properly. The mousse itself was very sweet and the meringue on top was worse, serious sugar overdose. The cheesecake on the other hand needed less gelatine and more sugar. The thing was tart but the topping of nuts and raspberry coulis/puree was tasty, eaten together, they are fine.

All in all, less than mediocre food. But the manager was attentive and informative (to be expected when there were only two tables the whole time we were there) which makes the whole dining experience bearable. I was skeptical and suspicious when he said they get very busy on friday and saturday nights.

Umm, good luck I hope they do well.

Monday, June 20, 2011

[Holiday] Byron Bay Farmers Market

Mention Byron Bay and it conjures up images of surf and stretches of beaches.

But for a foodie, the MUST visit places is often the local delis and farmers markets.

So when we went for a day out in Byron Bay, our first stop has to be the farmers market at Butler Street Reserve (every Thursday and Saturday) which is close to town.

If you are used to Jan Powerhouse and Westend markets, Byron Bay market might disappoint you as this is on a much smaller scale with some repeat produce/goods/merchandise stalls.

However look closely and you will find some gems.

Byron Bay farmers market1

Byron Bay Farmers Market2

Byron Bay Farmers Market3

Byron Bay Farmers Market5
The fresh kind of fruit sticks/roll-ups. And available in ice-blocks.

Byron Bay Farmers Market4
Organic brown rice stall.
Now this is the kind of stall I am excited to see at any farmers market. Specialist produce/product and not some boxes of stuff you pick up a the local wholesale market and then resell at another market.

Quiche & gateau at Santai

I also picked up some baked goodies from the pastry stall. A humongous raspberry and white chocolate muffin . Chock full of raspberry puree/preserve in the middle and generously dotted with white chocolate chunks, however, texture was dry. I choked on first bite (too dry, stuck to the back of the throat and refused to budge for quite sometime, nightmare!) and refused to go back for second. Princess ate majority of the white choc chip and turn up her nose at the rather tart raspberry puree.

But the quiche I also got was a different story. Well made thin and flaky crust with tasty savoury custard and nicely seasoned roasted vegetables. The quiche is a winner.

After doing a round at the market, we walked around the town centre for a bit. To be honest, the place look no different than Gold Coast. So if you are used to Noosa's atmosphere, you won't like much of what you will see here.

We saw a French (looking) patisserie shop with a equally French sounding store name, L'Ultime at 5 Lawson St and decided to takeaway a chocolate theme gateau. Hmm, lets just say if you live in Brisbane and regularly visit Le Bon Choix or Chouquette, you might want to give this place a miss. I don't mean its all bad but when you are on a holiday, you want to make sure you eat the best local food and sadly L'Ultime is not up there.

And our lunch choice at a local upmarket fish and chip shop did not fare any better...........

[Brisbane] Mizu. Bellissimo.

2 Macquarie Street
Teneriffe BRISBANE
Open 7 days a week lunch and dinner

07 3254 0488

Bellissimo Coffee
30 Wandoo Street, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.
Open 7 days a week from 6.30am to 6pm

When I think of having Japanese food, I always think of Mizu first.

Katsu bento
Tonkatsu bento box $24

Deep fried panko crumbed pork fillet with Japanese BBQ sauce, fresh sashimi, crispy tempura of prawn and vegetables and rice in a traditional bento box served with dipping sauce, fresh salad and miso soup.

Mizu Bento
Special lunch bento box $28

Chef’s selection of two daily special dishes, fresh sashimi, crispy tempura of prawn and vegetables in a traditional bento box. served with dipping sauce, fresh salad, rice and miso soup

Mizu serves up really good value lunch bento boxes. Do drop by when you are in/near the lively Teneriffe area. Especially good is the big prawn tempura with juicy fresh prawn encased in the lightest crunchy batter.

The dressing for the salad is tasty and tangy and they sell it by the bottles at the counter.

You can turn up on the weekends and savour Japanese style brekkie and expect to find grilled fish, cucumber or daikon pickle, miso soup, rice, chunks of tasty fried chicken karaage and some seasonal veg simmered in dashi.

Hearty different breakfast which you will find nowhere else.

After lunch at Mizu, we normally pop over to Chouquette for a bit of Parisien patisseries or over to James St for a caffeine fix. There are lots of choices including Campos, Merlo, Caffeine Espresso and the less than a year old Bellissimo (and my current fav).

Bellisimo James St

Bellisimo Coffee
Most popular blend is the Emporio. It delivers hint of chocolates with a rich and full body while very smooth on the palate at the same time. Very easy-drinking.

Depending on the mood and time of day, sometimes I prefer the darker Italian roast and enjoy the smoky nutty finish on the back of the palate.

Do give Bellissimo a go next time you are looking for good coffee.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

[Brisbane] Bread basket, Banetton Bakery

Banetton bread basket

Got all this for only $19! from

You get New York Deli rye (sourdough and my personal favourite), multigrain (sourdough), brandied fruit (sourdough), two plain croissants, one chocolate croissant and a bar cake (I chose carrot cake).

Wooh, flour heaven and thigh nightmare.

[risbane] Burger Urge, New Farm

Burger Urge
542 Brunswick Street
New Farm QLD 4005
(07) 3254 1655

I can't believe it's taken me this long to write about Burger Urge, it's like a Brisbane institution. It was there long before Grill'd came along and still happening.

lamb burger@Burger Urge
Zorba the Greek lamb burger with sweet potato fries

Ground lamb patty topped with onion jam,haloumi cheese, whole egg mayo and pesto on a bed of cos lettuse and tomato. This is a monstrous thing for me to tackle. You'll need the size of Mt Everest mouth to successfully have a bite of every ingredient. I ate my burger with knife and fork for the first time.

The burger is very good, I especially like the squeakiness of haloumi cheese contrasting against the minced texture of patty and crispiness of salad, very interesting marriage of good flavours.

Chicken burger@Burger Urge
ABC chicken burge with potato fries

Marinated chicken breast, crispy bacon, avocado top with egg mayo on a bed of cos lettuce and tomato. Chicken breast is well cooked, still tender but I reckon the star of this burger is the crispy and smoky bacon which pull everything together. It's delicious heaven everytime you bite into the burger with a crunch and then the salty, smoky bacon hit the palate. Mmmmm.

Burger Urge@New Farm

Al-fresco seating available out the shop-front, however you'll have to eat and endure every pedestrian's stare...