Cast Off! Sustainability Festival

castoff53_1And so we find ourselves back in the Woy, NSW, and I’m starting think this is becoming quite the groovy place to be. Two organisations seem to be contributing mightily to Woy Woy’s foodie ascendancy – the Gnostic ’empire’ and The Fisherman’s Wharf.castoff31

It’s the latter spearheading Cast Off!, on its second outing for highlighting sustainability in the region. Especially, naturally enough, of fish. But also, importantly from my point of view, obviously, as it’s an Australian do – beer, wine and cider.

Spread out all along the wharf at Woy Woy, and across into Fisherman’s Wharf itself, on a bright and sunny Autumn day, the rows of cheerful stalls ran, mostly representing local produce and enterprises, as well as one or two from further afield.

I was surprised to see that New Zealand had a showing from Cloudy Bay Clams, selling what looked like a seafood curry in a giant paella tray:

The ‘Malaysian sauce’ didn’t taste that authentic to me, but I can’t argue that the seafood – mussels, prawns and two distinctly different types of clam – wasn’t pretty damn tasty. They insisted this was still sustainable seafood, despite being flown across to Oz, vacuum packed. Well, if they say so.

Other seafood offerings from further afield included some lovely, tender octopus all the way from Fremantle, served up by Avoca locals bombini:

Contented customers wallowed nearby in gaily striped deck chairs, soaking up the sun and possibly the cocktails from this chap, of Bar Toto, Ettalong, fame:

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Though we noticed another bar from Ettalong mixing up the drinks nearby, from Gusto. No wonder everyone looked so relaxed.cast2

Whilst on the subject of drinking for relaxment (do believe that’s a new word, there; you’re welcome) we are lucky enough to have not one, but two, artisan breweries on this bit of the Central Coast. The rather fabulous six strings, of Erina, who’ve gone down the canning route (flying in the face of fashion there) and relative newcomers Block’n’Tackle, who prefer to encourage reusable mini kegs and bottles.

No surprise then perhaps that after all that booze, and watching of bands, we were feeling a tad fuzzy…

Happily there was more food; the fish tacos were good, though very wee, which probably explains why there were orders coming through of half a dozen at a time. Bit steep at $5 a pop I thought but hey ho, I’m notoriously stingy.

Plenty of other options available mind; loads of fish including albacore tuna, swordfish, paella, fish & chips, pippies and pasta, fish burgers, and many more. Coffee boost from the lovely rustic looking All Ears: 

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There were take home options too, with Six String Lemonade and Coastie Ale, jars and spice mixes, and gluten free from the No Bull Food Co:

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In the desserts corner were ice creams, churros, margarita slushies (that counts as dessert, surely?) and the rather splendid Fat Meringue, which I obviously made a beeline for. Miso ginger meringues!

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So excited was I, I almost forgot to pay. I l loved the caramel syringe – as if there was ever any chance of not eating every last sugary drop – it was still fun to inject through the crunchy outer shell.

For those bored with eating and drinking sustainably, there were cooking demonstrations lined up all afternoon long from a variety of chaps; Matt Kemp while we were wandering past, plus an information section with advice about sustainable local (Hawkesbury) fishing, just for the look of it, you know.castoff52 (2)

Finally, sated by the all afternoon nibbling, we headed round the craft and goodies stalls, checking out the lovely plants and homewares:castoff1_1 castoff1_5 castoff1_6 castoff1_2

This sort of do is a real plus for the area, well organised and well ‘stocked’ with quality vendors. Go The Woy!

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Fishy Take Overs

Well, been a quiet year here on LeftHandedChopsticks, because conversely, it’s been a hectic one for me personally. But there’s still been food adventures, here and abroad. Part of what I’ve been working on is a series of experiments with kimchi, of which hopefully more later in the year.

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More recently, I’ve been delighted to see those excellent chaps (and chapesses) at Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf (WWFW) have been inviting guest chefs to a short residency at their place, allowing us Coasties to eat out big city style and still be able to walk home. Well, nearly walk home.

Previously they’ve been graced by chefs from such leading lights as Momofuko Seibo, Longrain, and Pilu at Freshwater. This weekend was the turn of Troy Rhodes Brown of Muse fame, all the way from the Hunter Valley.

Muse, currently boasting 2 SMH Good Food Guide Hats, consistently gets good reviews from punters, and we could certainly see glimmers of that on Saturday. The ambience was there (they’d rolled out the actual linen napkins rather than paper towels!), the candles were twinkling, the view over the water as good as ever & our waiter was knowledgeable, attentive and generally awesome. All of which is, of course, WWFW rather than Troy/Muse themselves, though when I mentioned my food intolerance, they were more than happy to accommodate it, despite it being a major part of the dish in question. All the more disappointing therefore that the food itself, though excellently cooked, largely came out on the bland side. Our expectations were fairly high here and, whilst it wasn’t actually bad in any sense (and it must be tough working in someone else’s kitchen) it’s just that my socks were not really much moved, let alone knocked off.

Yes, I know this is a matter of taste; purely subjective & so on, but there we have it. With the exception of the dessert and the more gutsy Squid and King Brown Mushroom Noodles dish; easily the best of the evening for our table (as well as at least the one next to us, judging by their reactions), I came away wanting a bit more pizzazz. That squid though; local, Hawkesbury Squid shredded alongside the mushrooms to form thin, perfectly cooked noodles, dressed with a custard of miso and sake and topped by a (faintly sinister looking) black tapioca crisp, coloured by squid ink. Blobs of yuzu and ginger gels along with pretty pink garlic flowers zazzed up the flavour further.IMG_2693 IMG_2696

sans disturbing looking wafer

Other dishes of the set menu included a week-long marinated tuna – with a seaweed & ginger/garlic crust that neither of us could actually detect – which tasted…mildly of tuna. Medium rare and with an oddly crumbly surface texture, presumably from whatever it was marinated in for all that time. Much was made of the 9 hours roasted truss tomato which in my case was very salty, not very tender and off-puttingly refrigerator cold alongside the otherwise warm dish. Mr C ate it for me, which had the benefit of his being able to compare and contrast – mine was both colder and saltier than his so I guess that was just one of those plating up errors. Along with the rather tough piece of fennel.IMG_2699

The other appetizers fared slightly better, with the ocean trout rillettes coming out in cutesey little pots, differing on each table and paired with the only carbohydrate of the evening, some rather nice warm sourdough. IMG_2685The rillette itself was nice enough – apparently teamed with New Zealand wasabi, though again, neither of us were aware of it. I couldn’t help thinking it would have been stronger if the trout had been smoked perhaps; as it was I was having a hard job working out what kind of fish it was. Ditto the kingfish tartare – could’ve been any white fish. Looked a picture though. IMG_2689I wanted it to be more zingy, and from the looks of the write up, it should have been – pickled choko, shaved eschallots, shao hsing reduction, coriander, lime and spinach – absolutely none of which we could identify.  By the time it was wrapped in the baby cos leaves, it basically disappeared flavour wise. It’s a rum do when your dish is overpowered by lettuce.IMG_2691

I did like those little crunchy bits of what I’m sure were porky crackling, though it wasn’t mentioned in the summary.

Let me not give you the impression it was all dull, heavens no.

The share plate dessert, Coconut Cloud, was a perfection of frozen coconut cream offset beautifully by the tart mulberries, with tiny crunches from the black coconut sugar crystals and a bit of body from the coconut water sago pearls. IMG_2703IMG_2705Liberally sprinkled with flowers, it looked gorgeous – and huge, but strangely disappeared everso very quickly. Mr C displaying his more Labrador qualities whilst I was distracted by trying to get my camera to operate in the low light, I suspect.

We didn’t have the matched wines, though these were a very reasonable additional $30 (did say it wasn’t quite a walk); instead I had the rather splendid Victorian (but French style) La Sirene’s Saison, which I’ll be having again just as soon as I return. Which of course I shall. It may not sound like it from our grouches here (oh & did I mention the wait between the courses really was a touch on the lengthy side?) but we’re actually pretty keen to support any small business in the region keen to try out something new; and I do believe these guys are worth supporting.

So vive la guest chefs! Next up is the turn of Merivale’s Mr Wong – 4th & 5th December. Get in quick, Coasties….

Woy Woy Take Over, Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf, The Boulevard, Woy Woy

$80 per head plus drinks

Fishermen’s Wharf, Woy Woy

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Fishermen’s Wharf has a surprisingly varied beer menu. This totally gets my vote. Woy Woy is utterly devoid of decent drinking holes – actually, holes is a better description of what there is – so forking out to eat good seafood in order to drink beer with a water view doesn’t seem too much of a hardship. Sitting out on the Wharf itself you could be forgiven for thinking you’re actually somewhere rather nicer than, well, Woy Woy. The view is of Brisbane Water, Pelican Island and pelicans – lots of pelicans, some of them roosting mere feet away, eyeing up you, and more specifically, your fish based meal._MG_4484

A pelican…

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Pelican Island, as seen from your table….

There’s actually 3 parts to the ‘Wharf: it’s a multifunctional wet fish/takeaway chippie & cafe/fish restaurant and seems to be pretty popular, particularly since recent accolades. The restaurant is at the back, approached via a side passageway (look up as you walk along, to see curious (hopeful?) pelicans looking down at you from their perches on the roof), and is kitted out bare boards/casual/rustic stylee._MG_4495

Rustic Stylee…..We’re not sure why…

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The restaurant wharf extension

We’d had fish’n’chips from the takeaway before; reasonable stuff (still looking for an Australian equivalent of my beloved chippie in Aldeburgh, in the UK, with its amazing chips and beef dripping fried batter), but – and this might be my imagination – the chips are actually better from the restaurant than from the café out front. And I’m sure it’s the same kitchen. Is there a chip class system in place? Do they hold back the good stuff for the classier types round the back??_MG_4512

Fish of the day – $19.50

For these chips are really pretty good – approaching a glassy crunch on the outside, nice levels of those yummy, slightly browner, more translucent bits – only a fraction more fluffy action on the inside could make them any better. Practically a 9/10. Portion sizes decent too – I had 4 pieces of gurnard in my generic fish of the day and chips (“fry only” – like you’d want them grilled. Pah!) – $19.50. Mr C was cock-a-hoop with 2 fair sized blue swimmers in his crab hot pot special – $28, and though I think we could taste generic sweet chilli sauce making up the basis of the sauce, it was augmented with spring onions and other spicing to make it good enough for me to be chip dunking most of the evening._MG_4504

Blue swimmers, chilli crab

He’s previously had a lightly tarragon flavoured cream sauce with juicy clams plus a snapper & scallop ceviche during another visit – so that’s twice now he’s chosen better than me.  Not that my fish wasn’t well executed – crispy batter top and bottom, fish perfectly cooked through but not over on the thinner parts. I just wanted what he had. Again.

And then there’s the beer. A range of bottled from as far away as Mexico, California & Japan (2 types of rice beer!!) and as nearby as Erina (Six String Brewery, whose easy drinking Hefeweizen I rather took to), with home grown classics in between (Lord Nelson, Stone & Wood, Mountain Goat, Montieths from NZ). Something for everyone, just in time for summer.

I foresee many more visits….

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Port Stephens, NSW

There was a public holiday here in NSW recently and the House of Chopsticks decided a trip to the nearby Port Stephens was called for. In the interests of promoting this lovely part of the world, (Sydneysiders! Life outside the City!) here’s a little travelog.

Staying in Nelson Bay seemed the obvious choice as it’s the most densely populated town-let with the largest range of accommodation (well, largest for a last minute booking – maybe that speaks volumes in itself?), but the real beauty of the area is all around the bay. The rugged, rocky southern side of the peninsula is grandly wild – where it isn’t covered in allegedly the largest moving sand dune in the Southern Hemisphere.

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One of the things that’s a given while you’re here is sandboarding on the famous Stockton Dunes, where you hire a tiny plastic board and are 4WD hauled out to favoured, precipitous spots, ready to spend as long as you like whizzing down ridiculously steep slopes. Well, as long as your legs hold out, what with the walking back up to the top each time. Mr C was dubious about the appeal of this at first, but was soon shrieking like a girl as he plummeted down.

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Check out the height of that dune! We went with Sand Dune Safaris, but there’s plenty of companies to choose from and you can just rock up at the Lower Car Park, Birubi Point, Anna Bay without booking.

And yes, there really are camels, though sadly not wild ones; they were packed up and sent back to their farm home at the end of each day of plodding tourists along the sands.

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But of course it was the food I was most fixated on. No trip to the area can be complete without a trip to Murray’s Brewery – I note they’re doing wines as well these days – and they do a brisk trade of a public holiday weekend, I can tell you. Their Moon Boy ale was a winner with us, as was their most basic (cheapest at $18) garlic pizza:

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They were doing a roaring trade that weekend, and we hadn’t booked a table, so we ended up, as did many others, happily picnicked near their vines, under the shady trees.???????????????????????????????

As to Nelson Bay itself, it’s a fair enough little place. For a relatively small town there is a range of pretty reasonable eateries, alongside the usual seaside offerings. There’s good breakfast and coffee options all along the front, near the Tourist Info office, and a couple of streets in from the Marina are popular cafes recommended to us by several shop keepers. We ate at Sandpipers Restaurant, a nice enough choice but I don’t recall what I ate so…Mr C enjoyed his prawn hotpot, usually a starter but ordered as a main. Through ‘yum’ noises, he commented that its richness could’ve done with a little something green to set it off. I was disappointed that the wholefood cafe Essence on Donald was closed for the public holiday – as they stock foods from Ritual Restaurant (of which more later) and I was ready to pay in blood for their kimchee.

Much is made of the local prawns and oysters – next time we’ll try the Fishermans Wharf and the intriguing sounding ‘Bubs’. But this time we were saving ourselves for our dinner at Ritual. And I’ll tell you about that, next time.

The Unintentional Food Tour of New Zealand

It was meant to be a walking holiday. You know, getting out into nature, the quiet, the solitude, the tweeting of only the birds. Bit of exercise to work off the flab of Christmas. Hopefully a bit cooler than the oppressive Sydney Summer.

As it turned out, NZ was in the middle of a mini heatwave, and temperatures topped 34 in the south of the South Island on Christmas day. Not prime walking conditions in my book, being a bit of a wuss when it comes to exertion.

Thus it was that we spent more time eating than we did actually hiking. And drinking beer. Lots of beer. Turns out that there’s something of a craft beer thing going on in NZ. Nice.

Our first hint of this occurred at the excellent Pomeroys in Christchurch. A cab ride from our accommodation, but worth every taxi cent. Huge range of local, proper beers from peeps such as 3 Boys, Four Avenues, Emersons and Harringtons. The 3 Boys coconut milk stout a particular favourite. Range of single malts for Mr Chopsticks, all with unpronounceable gaelic sounding names. He heartily recommends Balblair 2001 Vintage and Kilchoman ‘Machir Bay’ (apparently Islay’s smallest distillery). Burgers & cheese plate weren’t bad either. And there was live music. I mean, seriously, what else could you possibly want in a pub?

Next up, the initially incongruous seeming Japansese restaurant in Lake Tekapo village, Kohan. Incongruous until we realised there was an excellent salmon farm at nearby Mount Cook, that is. The salmon sashimi was sublime:IMG_2428  Continue reading