The Entrance Lake House

On another of our jaunts up to The Entrance to have a butchers at the bi-weekly market, we stopped in for lunch at The Lake House. What a treat! As you know by now, I’ve been spoilt by the bright lights and excellent food of Inner West Sydney being on my doorstep, and hence I’m on the look out, always, always, for a great place to hang and eat.

Strikes me that the Lake House is going to be fulfilling both in my life from now on.

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Even on a chilly, rainy day, the view out over Tuggerah Lake was restful from our table through big plate windows despite the few hardy souls, dressed inappropriately, fishing out in the rain. Skipping the breakfast menu containing the usual brekkie suspects, we opted for lunch, which came in two flavours, set, or a la carte. We knew we’d have to wait until noon for our lunch so, having ordered, we settled down to Toby’s Estate coffee and a quiet mull over the week just gone. Mr C said his espresso was a little burnt tasting but that was absolutely our only teeny complaint of the whole lunch. Which is to say, miniscule.

Whilst waiting we flipped through the drinks menu, happily noting a theme of lots of local stuff such as Rabbit Hole Tea from Erskineville (funny, never noticed the fields of camellia sinesis while we were there) & Anoint Herbal tea from Gosford. This time around we weren’t drinking, but we’re coming back for 4 Pines Kolsch (Manly) and draught Murrays Whale Ale (Port Stephens), and maybe a couple of the not so local but interesting sounding  Barossa Valley Organic ale.

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I was delighted with the water bottles; antique ex soda syphons collected from round and about. Who knew Woy Woy manufactured soda once upon a time?

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As we pondered the bygone glass and drinks manufacturing habits of here & about, the cafe steadily filled with bedraggled folks, all of whom looked immediately happier upon reaching the welcoming interior. Having only been open 4 months, the place has obviously already gained a loyal following. A large table was set with linen and balloons for a celebration. Caffeine fiends braved the outdoor tables to sup their espresso, ponder the view, and bugger off again. Upstairs boasted of function space and parties.

Just after noon, as promised, our food arrived.

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Trio of crispy pork belly, citrus caramel

My pork belly was awesome. Crispy, as advertised, but without that over-salted thing that happens when you try to quickly crisp a crackling. Attached to the meat – no cheating by removing and deep frying or grilling separately. Somehow delicately flavoured despite the use of normally robust fish sauce and coriander, spring onions. And the meat itself just the right side of cooked; gelatinous fat (this is a good thing), soft flesh perhaps just tending towards drying out but stopped just before. For a cafe, such a surprise that I think my eyebrows disappeared up into my hairline for a moment or two. And the caramel was indeed, citrusy. But not cloying. Phew.

For some reason I plumped for chips, a decision I guilted about for about 10 minutes after ordering, given that I’m meant to be cutting back on fats in my diet. I considered calling back the lovely waitress & swapping for a salad. Jees, am I glad I didn’t.

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I don’t want to over state things here, but these were the best chips I’ve ever had in my life. Even better than the chips cooked in beef fat at the chippy in Aldeburgh, Suffolk; better than Tommislav’s chips with vinegar spray, better than the sweet potato chips we had at that burger joint yonks ago when we were really hungry. They were heroic, thick, properly chuffed potatoes, fluffy as on the inside, glassy crunchy on the outside. Seriously, that picture in no way does them justice. Mr C, who had a whopping great plate of perfectly decent pasta, tucked into them with gusto before I stabbed him with my fork. Those dippy things, not that they were needed, were garlic aioli, chilli salt and a chilli sauce with a mystery ingredient we were scratching our head over for a while. I thought Worcester sauce. Which makes it sound grim, huh? But it wasn’t. It was yum.

Turning to Mr C’s prawn linguine:

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This was a good solid, garlicky, prawns n pasta affair. Great stuff, but, as he put it, I won.

9/10

The Entrance Lake House, 27 The Entrance RdThe EntranceNSW 02 4332 5253

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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

Bacon. Food of the Gods.

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Earlier this year I signed up for one of the classes at Urban Food Market in Marrickville, run by Tim. He warned me that I’d be eating a lot of bacon. Really, a lot of bacon! I assured him I could never tire of good bacon.

For some time, I have been on the trail of the perfect smoky porky cut; that didn’t leak milky nastiness into the frying pan, and shrink by 50%, that wasn’t too salty, and which I could guarantee the provenance of – humane choice bacon – difficult to do under a supermarket monoculture, unless you have access to an excellent butcher. So the lure of easy, homemade bacon was strong. Seems I wasn’t alone – a Scottish couple in the class were also bemoaning the difficulty of locating a decent rasher.

Reading the excellent Cured, by Lindy Wildsmith, and researching slightly obsessively online, had suitably scared the beejezus outta me, with warnings about the dangers of improperly cured meats potentially causing a slow and painful death by paralysis (botulism). I wasn’t about to go off experimenting on my own. I rather like being alive. Continue reading

Momofuku Seiobo

I love the fanfare stage of a new restaurant – it’s interesting to read about the venture, the chef, menus etc. But it’s hellishly hard to get into Sydney restaurants that are still flavour of the month. I usually wait until all the hoohah has died down before trying for a table.

Not that that really applies to Momofuku Seiobo at the Star. Despite having been open for months, the place seems to be booked out the minute the new spaces are released online at 10am each morning. It’s a system almost designed to keep a certain mystique and exclusivity going.

Recently however, I was lucky – having already set up a login for their booking system (yeesh, ages ago) I was on the digital spot at 9:58, waiting. To my intense annoyance, rather than being able to just refresh the screen at 10am I had to log back in again instead, thus losing me precious seconds before getting back to the ‘select lunch or dinner’ screen. By the time I reached the booking screen itself some 90 seconds later, one of the 5 lunch timeslots was already booked out. Happily however, 12:20 remained, and my reservation was in! You have to hope it’s worth it after all this booking palaver!

Arriving unfashionably early on the day, we requested seats at the bar/kitchen area. It’s one of my favourite locations and has been foolproof entertainment at Bodega & MoVida in the past. And so it was to be again. We could take sneaky stares at part of the kitchen, noting the British flag stuck to a notice board (head Chef a Brit); watching the incredibly detailed weighing of individual pieces of dough as they were being cut and rolled; admire the glass refrigerator wall dividing Kitchen from Dining areas, and stare at the goings on of the chefs:

Continue reading

Toad in the Hole

These GF bratwurst appeared in my local Woolies recently – and as I’d been to Bavarian Beer Café the night before, all things Germanic were foremost in my mind. So naturally I immediately thought of Toad in the Hole. Well, actually, I thought of beer first, but toad in the hole a close second.

We’re not natural sausage eaters, Mr Chopsticks and I. It’s the whole lips ‘n’ hoof and fat thing. And all that salt to cover the horridness of it all.  Plus – Australians! What’s with the beef sausages?? Basic sausages are meant to be pork. Fancy sausages are allowed to be chicken, lamb or perhaps venison, contain herbs and other fripparies, but yer banger? Pork. Anyhow, I digress. We like to think our diet is pretty junk free (yes, sausages usually qualify as junk) so sausage just don’t feature much. Consequently I haven’t cooked toad in the hole in about 20 years – maybe I was feeling nostalgic (frankly probably just hungover). Anyway, dear reader, I bought those bratwurst, and here they are.

I’m not going to include the recipe I used – basically it was from Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef – because to be honest, it’s pancake batter and sausage. He uses rosemary too, so, being as I was clearly in unadventurous mode, so did I. That’s about it. What I did do was stick the oven on hotter than hades (250 C) and heat the tray and the oil first. This seemed to do the trick. Gotta say though Jamie, I think 1cm of oil in the tray is a tad overkill. Next time I’ll use much less.

Eat with abandon. And beer.

Deeply Crispy Piggy

If there’s anything I love more than hot buttered toast and a cuppa, it’s good pork crackling. I usually get a variable result depending on the quality of the meat (my fault for not sourcing top flight all the time), how long I have to prep, and crucially whether the skin is attached to the meat or not.

A while back I did a pork butchery class with the excellent (and genius knife skilled) Romeo Baudouin at Victor Churchill, Woollahra. Completely as an aside, he turned out an incredible, fluffy yet crispy crackling – using skin off the meat, not attached, and weighted between 2 trays at high temperature. I’ve been trying various methods to reproduce this ever since, and recently managed the best yet – and here’s how.

1)      Cut the excess fat from the underside of the skin, whic has been removed from the meat – the more you cut off, the easier it is to crisp, but cut too much and the resulting crackling can be saliva sucking dry. It’s a personal preference thing, this, you’ll have fun experimenting!

2)      Score – with a craft knife kept specially for this, unless your kitchen knives are ultra sharp. I like a 2cm width crisscross. Cut through the skin but obviously not so far as to cut it to bits.

3)      Dry your skin. Any way you can. Salt, which draws the water from the skin, and air drying in the fridge are best. Using larger grained salt crystals allow you to rub off the excess just before cooking. Rub the salt into the skin, place on a plate and pop in the fridge for as long as practical – half a day or overnight if you can. Dab periodically with a paper towel to remove the moisture sucked out by the salt.

4)      Pre heat your oven to as hot as it will go, 220 – 250C, fan forced if you have it. Ideally, do this just as you’re taking the actual roast out of the oven for its resting phase.  Dust off as much salt from the skin as you can, and place it on a tray – you’ll need one with a rim because there’s going to be lots of fat running off. Place another tray over the top, slightly smaller than the first. Stick in oven for 15 minutes at this temperature. You may as well stick on your extractor fan at this point too, cos it’s gonna be smoky! After 15 minutes, turn down to about 150C to finish – you can remove the top tray at this point – carefully as there will be fat running free. The skin should have puffed up nicely, but still be flat. Continue cooking until puffy all over and slightly browned.

5)      Serve! Betcha it doesn’t last until the roast is rested….

 

I found that the centre didn’t puff up so much initially – because of the trays – so I could have left this in longer. I’d actually got to the stage shown above in advance, and I basically trimmed the edges (ok, we ate them like piggies in the kitchen, burning our fingers in the process!) and stuck it back in for 10 minutes after the leg roast came out of the oven. Result – evenly puffed all over.