Sunday, June 28, 2009

boon chocolates, darlinghurst

Boon Chocolates was recently featured in SMH and I've also seen it mentioned elsewhere on the web (for example on herecomesthefood). We went early on a Friday night before a late dinner and enjoyed the cosy atmosphere. There are only a few tables upstairs for eating in - it almost felt like sitting in someone's lounge room.

Hot chocolate is served with a deliciously light chocolate mousse and a praline. It was fairly dark upstairs so I didn't bother trying to photograph the drinks, but here's some shots of what we brought home:

Gift box of 5 pralines. I remember the pralines individually were $1.75, but I don't remember how much they were with the gift box and everything. Gift boxes of 8 and more also available.

One of these two chocolates is the Schubert, which features Earl Grey Tea. The other is the Jasmine, which has jasmine tea in it. Alex, who runs the place with his sister, told us that there's also a Mahler chocolate for the other classical music lovers out there. He named the Schubert because of how the flavour stays with you after you've finished it, just like Schubert's music.

Arabica, with coffee.

The gorgeous Janne, with rose.

Kurobiko, with rice crispies!!

The passion that Fanny has for the chocolates is really evident, especially in the elaborate perfume bottles made with chocolate that sit in the display drawers. It's worth dropping by just to see them.

Boon Chocolates
251 Victoria Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010

(02) 9356 8876

You can find more information here

Open Tuesdays and Wednesdays 12 midday to 8:30pm
Thursdays to Satudays 12 midday to 10:30pm
Sundays 12 midday to 7pm
Closed Mondays

Street parking available close by; note that the section of Victoria Street that Boon is on is a one way street

Sunday, June 21, 2009

gia hoi vietnamese restaurant, city

This new Vietnamese place is where Saigon Village used to be, next to Pasteur on the southern end of George Street. It's actually a new outlet of a chain that's already in Canley Heights and South Bankstown, but I'm not sure if it's the same menu at all 3 stores.

We had a large special beef noodle soup ($10) and special vermicelli ($11), washed down with a longan drink ($3.50) and coconut juice ($3.50). All worth a try if you're in the area. The soup of the beef noodle was a bit oilier than our benchmark (Toan Thong in Flemington), but nice nevertheless.

I didn't take any photos of the food because at the time we were too hungry (argh, city traffic!) But here's the menu for reference... a lovely grandfatherly type man was standing at the front of the restaurant beckoning people in and told me to take one :) Click on each image for magnification to a readable size...

Gia Hoi Vietnamese Restaurant
711 George Street
Haymarket NSW 2000

(02) 9211 0221

Open 7 days 10am to 10pm

Also at 230 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights NSW 2166
(02) 9723 7324

And 299 Chapel Road, South Bankstown NSW 2200
(02) 9796 3388

I think I read on the drinks menu that the Canley Heights outlet is open until 2am on Friday and Saturday nights. Adds another alternative to the kebab/pizza/pie late night snack...

sweetness the patisserie, epping

Look where we went this weekend :)

Sweetness the Patisserie was recently featured in the Good Living section of the Sydney Morning Herald (you can see a reproduction of the article in Beansprout's Cafe), but we discovered its sugary goodness earlier at the Rouse Hill markets. I was so excited to find out at the North Sydney markets that Gena planned to open a retail store in Epping. It's now open for business, and was quite a hubbub of activity on the Saturday afternoon that we dropped in...

Hazlenut and cranberry nougat (150 grams) - $7.50. Also available in 300 grams ($13.50). Gena cut a new batch of this while we watched. So fresh, so delicious...

The ever-popular mallows. In 385 gram bags ($15)...

And 150 gram bags ($7.50). Flavours vary from season to season - chapflap was disappointed to find they weren't making mango at the moment, but we did enjoy the strawberry, raspberry, passionfruit, lime and vanilla mallows currently available.

I would've loved there to be a cafe on site to try the biscuits and cakes straight away, but at the moment the premises is mainly an open kitchen with a small retail section at the front. You'll just have to tear open your packages in the car, like we did!

Sweetness the Patisserie
38 Oxford Street
Epping NSW 2121

(02) 9869 3801

Open Mondays-Wednesdays and Fridays 8:30am to 5:30pm
Thursdays 8:30am to 8:00pm
Saturdays 8:30am to 5:00pm
Closed Sundays

You can see more information here

Street parking available in front of the store. Epping station is about a 5 minute walk away.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

sushi-ya, chatswood

This was a rather special looking dessert that I had with my parents - red bean dumpling with vanilla ice-cream mochi ($7.80). Capped off a grand feast at this popular Japanese restaurant which is just a couple of blocks down from Chatswood Chase (helping to explain its popularity). If you go as a couple try at all costs to avoid sitting in the little corridor that provides access to the toilets - not the most romantic setting!

174 Victoria Avenue
Chatswood NSW 2067

(02) 9413 3300

dan-dan japanese dining & noodle bar, neutral bay

Read about this new noodle place in a Chinese newspaper and wanted to try it because it's run by the same group that run Sushi Samurai (Neutral Bay and Pyrmont, both of which are very good). Headed there for a late lunch on a Saturday and I must admit I was a bit worried that'd be shutting up shop by the time we arrived at 2pm, but funnily enough it actually got busier (and they kept serving) as we had our meal.

Agedashi tofu - $5.80. The sauce was very thin, almost like a soup, which is different to the agedashi I've tried elsewhere. Nice though.

Rice balls (or should that be pyramids?) - ikura (salmon egg) $4.50 and takana (mustard leaf) $3.80. Both very good - I'm a big fan of pickles so the takana went down well, and the seaweed was very fresh and crisp.

Inside of the ikura rice ball. Delicious...

Ramen with extra pork in tokotsu miso soup - $10.80 + $2 for the pork. Which meant it was cheaper than the roast pork ramen which retails for $14.80. Stingy, much? :) Maybe they give you more pork with the roast pork ramen... chapflap found the soup a bit too salty, we saw on the menu that you can ask for less salt so maybe that's an option. It was also slightly chilli which I found unusual, but chapflap said that some types of miso are chilli.

Karaage chicken ramen in shio (salted) soup - $12.80. I should've asked for the chicken on the side because it got soggy, but apart from that it was good. I especially liked having a whole egg (because at Ryo's you only get half an egg; although the Ryo's egg had a lot more flavour than this egg) and the seaweed sheet (at Ryo's I always get myself into a dilemma trying to decide whether to have a ramen that I don't like as much, just to have the seaweed, or to have the ramen I'm really after, but to sacrifice the seaweed). The bamboo shoots were also very fresh and tasty.

I liked how there's an option of 6 soups for the ramen (sho-yu or soy based, miso, shio, tonkotsu sho-yu, tokotsu miso and tokotsu shio), so you can definitely choose the combination that's to your liking. Apart from ramen there's also udon and soba, as well as rice bowls with teriyaki, tempura and funnily enough "ma-bo tofu" (痲婆豆腐). I must say I've never seen it before in a Japanese restaurant.

Another highlight was the innovative interior design - they've used a mixture of English and Japanese newspapers to line one of the walls, which makes for interesting reading while waiting for your meal to arrive. Otherwise there's a open kitchen so you'll be sure not to be short of entertainment.

Dan-Dan Japanese Dining & Noodle Bar
Shop 3/197 Military Road (intersection with Rangers Road, on the southern side of Military Road)
Neutral Bay NSW 2089

(02) 9904 1888

Open 7 days from 12midday to 3pm (see, I had nothing to worry about arriving at 2pm) and 5:30pm to 10:00pm (last order 9:30pm)

You can get more information here

On the little take-away menu I got, it says "no booking available for dining". Parking is notoriously tight around Military Road, you can park at the nearby Woolworths carpark (entrance on Yeo Street) for free if you buy something from Woolies (which means yes, the parking's not really free, but if you buy something that you're going to need anyway, then it's ok)

Monday, June 08, 2009

coolendel camping and cabins, west of nowra

Look Ma, wombat!!
Coolendel is located about 30km west of Nowra, and features camping grounds as well as cabins set in a nature reserve. We camped for just one night and enjoyed getting to know the local wildlife...

We spotted a peacock being shooed out of a family's tent - definitely keep the doors zipped up!

It was amazing how nonchalant the animals were about the humans hanging around. This wombat was very content just to keep munching grass and grooming him/herself. One of his/her friends woke me up in the middle of the night with his/her very audible late night snacking.

There's a wallaby hidden there in the undergrowth...

The wildlife theme continues - I thought that the end of the branch right at the top of the picture here looked a bit like a wombat. Or was I just imagining things?

Apart from the wildlife, there's also canoeing to try in the Shoalhaven River, plenty of space to pedal around in and bushwalks to wander through. It's definitely a very family friendly place, with hot showers, free BBQs/gas stoves and flat fields perfect for kicking a ball around. My only miff was loud music/conversation continuing beyond around midnight; the group of teens were good about turning it down though once chapflap had a word to them about it.

Aaaaww... we love camping :) Definitely a change from my high school Duke of Ed days, when a rolled up jumper serving as a pillow was the height of luxury! Not only does Coolendel have hot showers (and very clean toilets) and cooking facilities, but there's safe drinking water which I was told is sourced from the Shoalhaven River and treated on-site. So even though you could readily bring your own drinking water in (since you can camp right next to your car, saving the need to lug things from a carpark to the actual site), there's really no need.

Coolendel Camping and Cabins
Grassy Gully Road
Coolendel NSW (approximately 30km west of Nowra)

(02) 4421 4586

Cabins from $100/night (off peak season, sleeps up to 6 people)
Camping from $16/night (off peak season, per adult)

You can find more information here

Coolendel was reviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald a month or so back but I can't find the online version now. All I remember was that it was a very favourable review. I actually found out about the place before the review came out (just by looking around on the web, there are a lot of reviews of the place on 4WD websites and the like) and was worried that it'd get booked out with the SMH review! There's definitely no need to worry though, there was plenty of camping space to go around when we were there.

Note that the 30km drive out of Nowra to get to Coolendel is very straightforward for the first 20km or so (100km/h, excellent) but then the last 11km is windy and unpaved (but fairly compacted, so it's not like there's dirt flying everywhere or anything). The drive's do-able in a 2WD (good suspension will make the ride more comfortable...) but try to set out a bit early so you can get through it before dark (and setting up a tent is always much easier with natural light... no, there were no hissy fits when we were setting up our tent at 6pm, none at all...). If you don't want to risk the 11km windiness, we saw the entrance to another campsite along the 20km paved road called Grady's Riverside Retreat. Looks like there are no wombats resident there though unfortunately :( There are clear signs leading out of Nowra to Coolendel, just follow the directions on the Coolendel website (and once you turn out of Nowra towards Coolendel there's only really one road you can go on, so it's unlikely you'll get lost)

illawarra fly, knights hill

On top of the world at the Knights Tower, Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk, Knights Hill

This tourist attraction opened in 2008 and had no shortage of visitors on the Saturday of the long weekend that we were there. The walk itself doesn't take very long to complete (give it about 45 minutes to an hour, maybe more if like an adorable girl we saw, you require a bit of coaxing to get up the Knights Tower) and the views are great; but is it worth the $22 admission fee for adults ($9.50 for children between 6-16 and $20 for seniors)? I'd read on a blog (that I can't find the link to now, argh) that you can get similar views from lookouts in the nearby Budderro National Park, but I figured that if we were in the area, we might as well buy into the whole commercial experience. No shame in that, right?

Overall I think admission was fairly pricey in relation to the experience, but it was a well-constructed walk with lovely views, so I won't complain about that.

I think I saw a sign saying that the Minnamurra Rainforest Centre in the Budderoo National Park is currently closed for renovations - it looks like it's re-opening in July 2009. So maybe wait until that re-opens before heading down to the area and taking in both the Illawarra Fly and the Rainforest Centre.

Illawarra Fly
182 Knights Hill Road (off Jamberoo Mountain Road, all very well signposted)
Knights Hill NSW 2577

1300 362 881
You can find more information here

Open 9am to 5pm seven days a week

robertson pie shop, robertson

Found out about this place from the Illawarra Fly website - I'm usually sceptical of places billed as "famous" and it seems that every second pie shop outside metropolitan areas claims to be the best in the country/world/universe. But I was glad we made a pit stop at Robertson Pie Shop during our long weekend sojourn around the South Coast/Southern Highlands - yummy pies and a laid-back atmosphere made it hit home that we were on holidays :)

My potato pie. There's really nothing like instant mashed potato, especially since my proposal to take a packet camping was vetoed.

The all-important sauce anointing ritual. I think that's the curry chicken pie.

A work in progress - a chunky beef pie. Mmmm.

And a before shot of my lemon meringue pie. Crispy fluffy meringue, tart delicious lemon curd... I wonder if they make it in the microwave like they did the other night on Masterchef?

Afterwards. Yum.

We returned to Robertson Pie Shop on our way home to pick up a large steak and mushroom pie and two large sweet pies (apple and rhubarb and apple and strawberry). All very nice (although I didn't get to try the steak and mushroom myself, I'm just going on the fact that it was all gone within the day we got back). Definitely worth a stop if you're in the area - a warning though that the Macquarie Pass (part of Jamberoo Mountain Road, towards the Robertson end) from Albion Park to Robertson is a bit treacherous, but not so nerve-wracking that a warm pie won't settle the tummy.

Robertson Pie Shop
Corner Illawarra Highway and Jamberoo Mountain Road
Robertson NSW 2577

(02) 4885 1330

Open Monday to Friday 7:30am to 7:00pm
Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 8:00am to 7:00pm

During winter the shop's closing at 6:00pm Mondays to Thursdays.

From memory small savoury pies will set you back between $3-$4, small sweet pies from $3. Large pies around the $13 mark.