New Year’s Eve 2018 @ The Point, Sydney

With another 10 hours to the countdown and people had filled up the spaces in front of Sydney Opera House.

Everyone was gearing up for the party as we got a knock on the door and received a complimentary bottle of champagne from the hotel. =)

The gates for our ticketed area opens at 5pm. Typically people would queue up earlier to get the best seats as the category we purchased is free seating.  The guests who purchased assigned table seating has the luxury of arriving later – although the downside is you cannot choose your seat.

For us, we went for the bench tables lining the coast for the best view and gave up on comfort…

Received our arrival entree once we passed through the gate. Spinach and ricotta calzone, Quinoa, brown rice and fresh herb salad, Marinated capsicum and olives, Linseed and thyme crackers with a bottle of water. Other drinks are available for purchase.

Dining stations would commence at 6pm serving Indian Curry, Slides, Pot Pies and Steamed Dumplings. We skipped the curry and pot pies and grabbed the Thai chicken slider with kaffir lime, chilli and lemongrass mayo which turned out to be unremarkable.

Thankfully we managed to stuff ourselves with the Steam Dumplings: Forest shitake mushroom and water chestnut dumpling and Prawn, chive and garlic dumpling served with a choice of red vinegar/black pepper dressing, black vinegar and mustard soy. While we didn’t bear high expectations of carnival food, these were still acceptable as the skin were not too thick and were served warm. The queue also moved faster than other stations. Needless to say, we went back for more rounds of these.

With the dark clouds looming over the city skyline, we anticipated the downpour to come… Ironically it was the first time we encountered rain during the 1 week stay in Sydney… =(

As the rain didn’t seemed to ease, the 8pm aerial flyover display was cancelled.  We started to ponder whether the 9pm fireworks would be cancelled too…All we could do was to curl up under the poncho and the umbrella; waited for the sky to clear up…

Up till 15 mins before 9pm, the sky was still cloudy…thankfully the show went on and we got a mini fireworks show – for us to find the right angles and setting of our cameras in anticipation of the actual countdown.

To me, the waiting time between 9pm to 11.55pm was the hardest cos our energy level started to dip… The desserts which was supposedly available from 9.30pm onwards were all snapped up quickly…The organiser said they finished giving out 2 out of the 3 desserts and we count ourselves lucky to be able to grab the last few of the Classic choc top ice cream when we went to collect dessert at around 9.45pm…

Things got excited only when we entered the last minute of 2018…and started counting down from 10.9.8.7.6.5.4.3.2.1!!!

Dazzling fireworks brightened up the sky as we were treated to a spectacular show.

Managed to get a better angle after adjusting our tripod based on 9pm show. Even with the wide angle lens I can’t capture the full fireworks on our right.

Although we were lucky to get the bench tables right at the shoreline, the yachts parked at the bay were still a factor we can’t control. It really depends on the current flow as to whether the yachts would block the view partially or not… The yacht closest to us in the picture happened to be one decorated with bright fairy lights. It was drifting from left to right during the 10 mins firework show. Hence some of my photos had the yacht in the foreground right in the centre of my pics…

Nonetheless it was a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience to witness the countdown in Sydney.

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Koi Dessert Bar, Sydney

Today is dessert day as we hopped from one shop that shot to fame on Instagram to a Chef that gained exposure through a popular TV contest. Reynold Poernomo was one of the top 4 contestants in MasterChef Australia (Series 7). He established himself as the ‘king of desserts’ on the show and opened his dessert bar (with his brothers) one year after making his mark on the show.

Lost for choice, we initially wanted to order the Set Dessert but it was not available during the time of our visit. Eventually we selected 4 mousse cakes from the display (clockwise from top left of the photo below):

  • Zen Almond sable, Matcha mousse, Yuzu curd, joconde, on a Matcha, mandarin, and raspberry soil
  • Cherry Morello cherry mousse, cherry and chocolate ganache, fruit mince soaked in brandy
  • Berry Cheesecake Almond sable, vanilla cream, cheese mousse, raspberry coulis, baked lemon cheesecake
  • Lavender Strawberry lavender mousse, berry compote, steamed berry sponge

While we did enjoy the four pieces, I must say none of them wow me. Guess I prefer the dainty and delicate ones from Hidemi Sugino more.

Surprisingly what impressed us was their Iced Lemon Tea – we crowned it as the Best Iced Lemon Tea ever~ It was a simple idea that worked its magic – Iced tea topped with a quenelle of lemon sorbet. Perfectly refreshing especially on a hot day like this. =)

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Black Star Pastry, Sydney

Australia‘s Black Star Pastry first caught my attention with their Glonuts aka Glow-in-the-dark doughnut.  While the idea of eating something covered in artificial ingredients didn’t sit well with me at first, I was glad to know that the doughnuts’ icing is a yuzu glaze that gets its glow from vitamin B, which is often used to create glow-in-the-dark food. Sadly it was a limited period product created for the Sydney‘s Vivid festival in 2017.

Little did I know that the pastry’s most famous creation is the Strawberry Watermelon Cake, dubbed the most Instagrammed cake in the World. We drove to the Newtown outlet to find a long snaking queue outside the shop along the otherwise quiet street.

As expected, almost everyone in the queue were there to grab THE cake. Good to see that there were enough of it left in the display cabinet for me!

Here’s a close-up shot of the diva – comprising two layers of almond dacquoise (a sort of meringue), rose-scented cream, watermelon and strawberries, garnished with pistachios and dried rose petals.

The Chef had found the magical combination that made this cake so amazingly addictive – from the refreshing taste to its charming looks, no wonder it made headlines on Instagram.  I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase the whole cake home if it’s sold in Singapore. I think it would be quite a challenge to buy and bring this delicate cake back on a 6 hours flight…unlike how we could bring back LeTao frozen cheesecakes from Japan conveniently.

Earlier Photos Taken:

Headed to Bondi Beach to take in the views before the crowd comes in. Heard many people commented that the beach will be extremely packed later and they were there this early so as to “chope” a spot first. You can easily google “Crowded Bondi Beach” to see how every inch of the beach will be filled up and people looked in an army of ants swarming over sugar Ant on Apple iOS 12.2 Ant on Apple iOS 12.2 Ant on Apple iOS 12.2

An iconic spot at Bondi Beach area – Bondi Icebergs Club with a large ocean pool at the edge.

Next to Bondi Icebergs Club is a coastal walk trail that leads to Bronte Beach with fantastic views.

Further up North of Bondi Beach is an other stretch of coastal cliffs easily accessible by car and with no crowd.

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Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Sydney

My 2nd experience dining at a two-hatted restaurant on this trip would be to Bentley Restaurant & Bar. For many uninitiated, the first question that pops up was “Is this place related to the famed car manufacturer?” But its not. Their only similarities were probably the dark leather banquettes and the dark timber tables excluding class and elegance.

The dining hall was so engulfed in darkness that I felt the best way to portray the place was to use an invert image.

Kicked off our meal with a spread of tasting portioned starters Kohlrabi Leaves + Whipped Cod Roe, Rock Oyster + Finger Lime + Scampi Caviar,  ‘Beet-strami’ + Horseradish + Beef and Spencer Gulf Kingfish + Sea Urchin + Tomato + Marigold (seasoned with liquid Shiro Koji).

The platter presented a good mix of textures and techniques. The crispy kohlrabi leaves was something different from the more well-known relatives – kale chips, and was well-paired with the creamy dip. This was followed by the fresh and plump oysters lightly perfumed with a tinge of finger lime. It was so smooth that it glided effortlessly down my throat. The most unique item was the ‘Beet-strami‘ which was a slice of beetroot processed the same way as pastrami. It was partially dried, seasoned, then smoked and steamed. It was served with beef powder on the side for us to coat the beet-strami with. If I had eaten this with my eyes closed, I might be fooled to have eaten a beef jerky due to its texture. Last but not least was the fish item which was velvety and brimming with flavours representing the essence of the sea.

The second round of dishes presented were generally richer than the earlier ones. Starting with Crisp Potato + Creme Fraiche + Chives, Parmesan Tart + Tomatillo, Heard Island Toothfish + Wasabi Leaf, Slow Cooked Wagyu Beef Tongue + Saltbush + Muntrie Relish. The first snack I tried from this group was the one on the top left corner and it had me nodding my head while still munching the mouthful of potato. Taken in one bite, the warm potato with a thin crust blended with the rich creme fraiche peppered with hints of onion flavour from the chopped chives.  This was followed by the fish wrapped in the mildly spicy wasabi leaf before moving on to try the tart. Although equally rich and creamy, when compared to the potato snack, the parmesan tart had savoury base, with a lighter filling finished with a mild acidic flavour cutting through.

Finished this round with the beef tongue. After hours of slow cooking, the beef tongue had turned really tender yet retained some of its chewy character. It is paired with muntries and fermented saltbush. Both muntries and saltbush are ingredients foreign to me, as both of them are Australian native plants. The saltbush has a salty herbal flavour while the muntries offered some tartness to this wonderful protein dish.

The Homemade Rye Bread + Black Sesame Butter was served before we progress to the main dishes starting with Kinawooka Mussels + Baby Peas + Garlic Flower. For people who know my eating habits, they might be wondering if I indeed ate this dish? After tasting many other delicious fresh pea dishes, I must correct that I do eat peas – only if they are fresh peas. I absolutely hate eating the the frozen type.

Hidden under the pile of green peas were the small and sweet mussels. It never crossed my mind that mussels could be paired with green peas to form such an amazing dish.

Our seafood feast did not end with the mussels as up next was the Bass Grouper + Smoked Pil Pil + Almond + Sunflower. Not sure if this dish was inspired by Basque cuisine’s Bacalao al pil-pil? Instead of salted cod, we had Bass Grouper that has a gelatinous texture. The emulsified sauce with almond and sunflower (seeds?) provided a nutty undertone.

It was easy to guess what was the main ingredient for the final main dish as it has made several appearances before this finale. When the staff served us the Wagyu Chuck Tail Flap + Asparagus + Black Radish + Salted Egg Yolk with Heirloom Tomato + Camel’s Milk Curd + Shiso we were relieved to see that the portion was well-controlled. Other than the tender beef that lived up to our expectations, I was particularly drawn to the crunch of the thinly sliced black radish wrapped around the asparagus.

We were truly pampered by Bentley’s generous tasting menu spread as we were treated to 3 desserts!  Goats Milk Sorbet + Boysenberries + Geraldton Wax had me thinking that I’ll be having a honey dessert? Turns out Geraldton Wax is yet another Australian native shrub that produces mostly pink and white flowers. After so many visits to Australia, this meal was an eye-opener that introduced me to bush tucker ingredients!

As for the next dessert  Olive Oil Ice Cream + Caramelised Lactose + Pineapple Beer, while I wasn’t wowed by the appearance of Olive Oil Ice Cream (eaten somewhere before), I was excited to see Caramelised Lactose and Pineapple Beer listed as ingredients. Notably, the use of lactose was described in Mugaritz‘s recipe as being able to produce textures similar to sugar, but hardly sweetens them. I guess the caramelisation probably provided a toasty flavour.

The dessert that took centre stage was Peach + Preserved Lemon Sorbet + Stracciatella + Blood Orange that was plated with an eye-catching “structure” topping the sorbet. Overall this was a dessert with much tartness – something that I have a love-hate relationship with.

After spending so many days in Hunter Valley, we decided to skip wine pairing and opted for the non-alcoholic pairing for our meal. Pictures arranged in order from top left to right and bottom left to right: Yuzu Sparkling Water, Hibiscus flower seeped in tea, Cloudy apple with cinnamon, Nectar? – missed out on this one, lemon and sugar, Nut and fennel, Pineapple sour with Darjeeling tea. I really enjoyed the concoctions made with aromatic and citrusy fruits. The only one with a more different profile was the Nut and fennel that somewhat tasted like Chinese herbal drink, which was understandably designed to pair with the meaty Wagyu chuck tail flap.

This was undoubtedly the best meal I had on this trip and Bentley absolutely deserve the accolade of a 2-hatted restaurant. In my opinion, they could be a worthy contender to be considered for the highest 3-hatted category like Quay and Attica.

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The Potting Shed @ The Grounds of Alexandria, Sydney

Having seen many beautiful instagram photos taken at The Grounds of Alexandria, we listed them in our itinerary with plans to stop by for a leisurely brunch at the photogenic cafe place.

Without any in-depth planning, we were overwhelmed when we reached the expansive compound. It was a maze filled with so many people wandering around that we felt really lost…

*PS don’t be fooled by the empty area under the flower arch…it’s a game of fastest fingers…

Initially we had doubts on whether we were at the right place. The alleys were filled with mixture of real and artificial flowers such as the bright pink Sakura blossoms. Endless stream of people were posing for photo opportunities along the narrow alleys…It seemed more like a marketplace selling flowers and garden plants as we walked by a florist shop (?!).

After trying to orientate ourselves, we found two main areas for dining: The Grounds Garden and The Potting Shed. The Grounds being a courtyard with free seating and self-serve concept, food served on takeaway plates. It was too crowded for my liking, so we tried our luck over at The Potting Shed that is a serviced eatery with a short queue.

I didn’t bear high hopes of getting a table since it was a busy weekend but decided to just queue and ask. Thankfully the staff informed that they have a table available for us, with a condition that we have to finish our meal within a 1.5 hours window – not a problem for us.

Once seated inside, it was a respite from the hustle and bustle of the crowd packing the walkway. True to the namesake, the area was filled with lush greenery with many draping potted plants hung from the ceiling. I’m loving the laid-back space filled with colonial style rattan furniture. There was also a feisty pet Macaw in the house.

It was only upon studying the menu that I realised that there was no Coffee nor Pastries served here when I was intending to have a Brunch… Apparently there was another area known as The Cafe serving a selection of breakfast dishes… So it is highly advisable to study the layout below before visiting, especially if you are going to brave the crowd on weekends. Somehow we didn’t manage to find this map on their official website when we were visiting…If we had known earlier we would have parked at The Grounds Carpark instead of the multi-storey one at 2 Huntley St…

Nonetheless since we hadn’t had any food since morning, we were desperate to fill our stomachs.

We ordered the Steamed South Australian Mussels with lemongrass, coconut, chilli and lime with grilled flatbread along with a Berry, Rose & Jasmine Iced Tea before rounding up with a Mango Parfait with macadamia crumble, vanilla, fresh mango & mango gel.

One can never go wrong with seafood in Australia as we thoroughly enjoyed every piece of the fresh mussels washed down with the refreshing iced tea.

Not wanting to forego my caffeine fix, we went over to The Garden to check whether it is served there.

Over at The Garden the key feature was the arbour which, unfortunately, was rather bare when we visited.  Since it was noon time the area was pretty warm and had to be cooled with mist sprinklers. I would imagine that it would look very pretty and more cooling if it was fully covered with climbing plants during the right season.  There was also a small area that house the resident pig, Harry Trotter, with a few of his feathery friends. Great corner to keep kids entertained.

I do want to warn others to manage their expectations. Before my visit, I had never read any reviews from the bloggers to prep me for the massive crowd (perhaps due to it being the holiday season and a weekend on the day of my visit?) nor the lack of layout map at the sprawling area.

While the concept and decor were all carefully curated and it worked its magic to draw in the visitors, it had grown a tad too touristy (the downside of a successful Instagram PR?). If you wanted to take those romantic and fairy-tale like portfolio shots, be sure to arrive early and avoid popular hours.

For me, I left the place happy after I finally managed to grab my cuppa. I would probably stick around much longer to explore all the spaces if it was not so jam-packed…

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Mr Wong, Sydney

With no dinner plans for the night, we walked over to try our luck at Mr Wong for a late dinner. Since it was already 9.30pm, we thought there could be chance of getting a table during off-peak hour. Turned out there was a wait list so we left our name on it and were told to return in about 1 hour’s time.

By 10.30pm, we finally got our table. Ordered the Steamed dim sum platter (8 pieces) as starters. The siew mai was topped with scallops and prawn dumpling topped with some caviar – avruga(?). Decent Chinese food though not exactly wow-ing.

For main we wanted to order their signature Chinese Roast Duck…touted to be best in Sydney… but they ran out of it. So we went with Honey glazed Kurobuta “char-siu” pork instead. The pork seems to be prepared using sous-vide before lightly grilling the surface? No doubt it was juicy and tender, but the aromatic char flavour was missing. Perhaps they are more health conscious and avoided food preparation that may be carcinogenic…

Our favourite dish was the Wok Fried Pippies with XO Sauce. We were scratching our heads on what are Pippies and had to google about it. It doesn’t help that the Chinese character listed on the menu wrote 岘. The only 岘 I know of is 岘港 (Da Nang – a city in Vietnam). Turned out that Pippies are actually what we know as Lala (in Malaysia and Singapore) which is a type of clams.

Although the XO sauce was not what we were used to eating (not the Hong Kong style), the sweet and spicy gravy laden with loads of chopped spring onions and coriander was decently similar to Tze Char dishes found back in Singapore.

While the quality of food here is pretty good, ultimately I felt that this is a Chinese place more for the non-Chinese… If not for the late hour, I would probably go to the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, foregoing the sophisticated ambience for more pragmatic comfort food.

Earlier Photos Taken:

Although the drive from Hunter Valley to Sydney is only about 2.5 hours, we took the opportunity to detour and made some extra stops along the way. One of which is Palm Beach – a suburb in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney.  We took a short hike up towards the Barrenjoey Lighthouse. There are two routes to the top: the more gentle and well-paved Access Trail or the shorter, but steeper and more rocky, Smugglers Track. It takes about 1 hour for the total return walk.

Next we stopped by the Sydney Harbour National Park for the city skyline view. This viewing spot is extremely accessible as there are parking lots right at this area. You can just park your car to enjoy this spectacular view. It was nice that there was a cruise ship making a turn at the bay.

Edging into the city area, we made stops at Milson Point and Blues Point Reserve respectively. This was the first time I ever shot Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House from across the shore.

My last stop before crossing into the CBD area was at Balls Head Reserve. This spot offers an unconventional view of Sydney with a great foreground.

With that many stops along the way, it took us about 10 hours after leaving Hunter Valley before checking in to our hotel in Sydney.  It was a great way to explore the various suburbs of Sydney.

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Muse Restaurant (Hunter Valley), Sydney

For our final dinner in Hunter Valley, we made a booking at Muse Restaurant – a two hatted restaurant in regional NSW. Coincidentally we spotted other guests who were on the same hot air balloon flight as us in the morning.

Started our dinner with some light bites of Veg Sushi, Buckwheat pancake with peppermint and Kingfisher corn taco.

The 1st course Celeriac, hung yoghurt, truffled pecorino, yolk, Japanese parsley is set for all guests (no option), while there were at least 3 options to choose from for the rest of the courses.

One good thing about having dinner in Summer is the ample daylight. Even at 7.30pm the sky was still bright, allowing me to capture the  lovely colours of this dish – Wagyu tortellini, ripe and unripe local tomatoes, burnt onion, chrysanthemum, smoked tomato broth. I was pleasantly surprised by the light broth which was well balanced with two types of tomatoes. The tortellini was nicely made with tender fillings.

The other dish was also light and refreshing – Smoked Newcastle blue mackerel mousse, green apple, cucumber, avruga, organic wasabi, dill. The mousse seemed to act as a paste to bring the various ingredients of different textures together.

Once the sky darkens, the dining hall was only lit by the small table lamps while I savoured the Wood fired quail, Dutch cream potato, fig, sunflower seeds and shoots, umi plum vinaigrette. The quail had a nice crisp outer skin with moist pinkish centre. Very well paired with a rich gravy that offers a balanced sour and fruity flavour.

The gravy of Pan fried Newcastle Mullaway, charred local cumquat, leek, shellfish cream, agretti left an impression in me for the rich umami of the shellfish thou it was a tad too strong for my taste bud. Nonetheless the fish was well-prepared with a thick crust and firm meat. The charred leek was a joy to eat.

Before hitting the dessert course, we were presented with palate cleanser of Semilion with golden raisin.

Next, the staff introduced us to the signature dessert of Muse coconut.  The husk is made of dark chocolate while the interior is coated with coconut mousse and filled with coconut water. As I’m not a coconut person, I wasn’t wowed by it though I appreciate the efforts in producing the parts required to plate this dessert.

The other dessert was something interesting as it was a fusion creation. Pavlova being quintessentially Australia/New Zealand paired with ingredients with strong Japanese origins. The result was Sweetwater ruby grapefruit, matcha ice cream pavlova, red shiso sorbet.

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