Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Dining Down Under (Part 3)

Once back in NSW, having left behind the lush scenery and produce of QLD, I did what any self-respecting food lover would do and headed straight for my next culinary experience at Pilu at Freshwater. This was a big event for me as I had been planning it for some time – my friends will back me up on this as I bored them senseless with emails in the lead up. I researched for weeks trying to find the best venue for my purpose, which was to thoroughly enjoy myself at a top Sydney restaurant with my closest friends. Pilu at Freshwater stood out for it’s Sardinian cuisine (I love Italian food – who doesn’t), superb coastal location with stunning views of the ocean, great colonial building and, of course, the reputation of the chef. Giovanni Pilu is the chef and owner of Pilu, with a string of top Australian food awards including the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide prize for the Wine List of the Year and a place in The Australian (newspaper) ‘A’ List Top 50 Australian restaurants. I couldn’t find a bad review. It seemed to fit the bill.

We had made the long journey to Manly from Cronulla during Saturday traffic over the Harbour Bridge, then via Military Road through Neutral Bay, Cremorne, Mosman, and over the Spit Bridge on a 32 degree day. My friend of 20 years and travelling companion Mr H was not amused. I was berated at length about my choice of restaurant location as Manly in the north of Sydney was almost as far as you could get from Cronulla which is the outer-most suburb of South Sydney and where Craig lives. I was hoping that Pilu lived up to it’s reputation or I was in danger of having a table full of grumpy guests before we even started. Nobody was coming from near by. Luckily nobody was disappointed. We all arrived a little dishevelled due to the temperature, but instantly perked up when we saw the restaurant and the stunning beach below. Two lovely, but frazzled members of the party decided it would be a good idea to walk to the restaurant. It was a decent 20 minute walk from Manly and all up hill so I wouldn’t advise it. Luckily I was in the party that chose the cab. After we completed our excited hellos – I hadn’t seen half of my friends for 3 years – we set about checking the menu. The atmosphere in the restaurant was perfect by the way. Despite the reputation of Pilu for it’s fabulous food, and it’s above average prices, it was relaxed and lively if that doesn't confuse you. Everybody seemed to be having a great time and there was no trace of stuffiness.

I had decided not to have an entrée as I was far more keen on a main and dessert, but my fellow diners decided to choose a selection of entrées that included Zucchini Flowers (courgettes), fresh oysters, sautéed prawns with baby globe artichokes, fregola, tomato and chilli, as well as de-boned quail wrapped with pancetta, stuffed with chicken livers, potatoes, tarragon & served eggplant (aubergine) caponata. I was assured all of these were stunning dishes. Amongst our mains were suckling pig, slow roasted for several hours and served on the bone with pig sausage and condiments. This looked fabulous although my friend was not happy that there was so little of it. The presentation was beautiful and not at all rustic as you might expect from a dish like this. Another memorable dish was the Zuppa dei pescatore, a selection of shellfish, scampi, Spring Bay mussels, vongole and fish in a rich tomato broth served with a carta di musica (Mediterranean flatbread). This looked incredible, arrived covered for extra drama and Mr H, who had ordered said dish, was given a bib to wear. This was one of the highlights for me – seeing Mr H in a bib that is. The fish was beautifully cooked as you would expect and the flavours were intense. A number of us also ordered the veal tenderloin with herb crusted porcini mushrooms, porcini cream and roasted garlic, which gained much verbal applause. Now I have to confess that by the time our main courses arrived at the table we had consumed a generous amount of the Clare Valley Knappstein Chardonnay which my sister & brother-in-law worked very hard to keep flowing throughout the meal. Consequently much of the remaining lunch was given up to laughter and concentration on enjoying the company more than the fabulous food and drink. The Knappstein was the perfect fruity and light match for the hot day, but after several bottles (between us) I was ready to try a Sardinian wine. We then tried the Argiolas S’elegas Nuragus from Cagliari in Sardinia and this was a very pleasant change, being slightly sweeter and richer than the Knappstein with a touch of bitterness.

I have very few earth-shattering pieces of food analysis to offer on each dish except to say that it was all very special, but I can honestly say that the pannacotta with abbamele was outstanding. Abbamele is a Sardinian product made from slowly cooking honeycomb, honey, pollen, lemon and orange zest. I like pannacotta very much, but any that I have in future will, unfortunately for it, have this benchmark to match up to. The depth of flavour was spot on and it was perfectly rich. The honey and citrus flavours cut through the vanilla offering a respite from the creaminess although a respite wasn’t altogether necessary. It was my favourite dish of the day and one of the best desserts I have ever had in a restaurant. Three of my fellow diners enjoyed the Amedei chocolate tasting plate which included 2 different chocolates matched with 2 different dessert wines. Amedei chocolate was voted ‘Best Chocolate of the World’ in 2008 apparently – I have done some research (read ‘Googled’) and can confirm it has won numerous awards in the last few years for it’s dark chocolate – and it was very good although I am no chocolate connoisseur. The dessert wines, which are normally my favourite wines of any meal, were not exactly to my taste with the 2000 Sella e Mosca ‘Anghelu Ruju’ Vino Liquoroso Riserva being my favourite by far. The Ceretto Barolo Chinato was not at all good for me as the spicy flavours made it reminiscent of cough medicine I’m afraid to say. This is no doubt a problem with my palate rather than the wine. All things considered we walked away from Pilu having had a fabulous lunch that felt special, but not in any way forced or uptight. If I was in Sydney looking for an out of the ordinary eating experience for a special occasion I would definitely put Pilu high on my list of places to go.

My family lunch at the Patonga Beach Hotel was going to be a much less elaborate affair, but I couldn’t wait to see my family and visit Patonga again. I have been to Patonga Beach on the Central Coast on many an occasion. It sits at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, across from Palm Beach in far north Sydney so it’s in a glorious position. My Great Aunt Betty has lived in Patonga for, it seems, countless decades and it was the place where our family Christmas was always held. I have very fond memories of watching and playing cricket out the front of Aunty Betty’s house and swimming at the lagoon Christmas afternoon. Going back to Patonga is never a hardship. The Patonga Beach Hotel was a real surprise on this trip though, having not been there before, but it makes perfect sense that someone has recognised the beauty of the spot and decided that a good hotel was needed. The owner built the hotel in the style of the 1912 Patonga General Store which sat on the same site, incorporating some of the original store walls. The Sandbar, the main bar area of the hotel, contains the mahogany and Australian jarrah wood bartop from the old America’s Cup Bar at the Sydney Hilton Hotel. I’m not sure why he decided to do this, but it is a very attractive feature and Australians are very proud of winning the America’s Cup yacht race back in 1983, taking the trophy from the New York Yacht Club who had held it since 1857. The sandstone used throughout the building fits perfectly within this fishing village and gives the hotel just the right amount of character without tipping it into the ‘mock’ realm.

Lunch at the hotel is fairly basic (compared to some of my feasts) with a choice of very local seafood, chips, salads and sandwiches. I chose the Moroccan squid with chips and salad and after 2 weeks of drinking wine, a sparkling mineral water with lemon. Salt and pepper squid – simply battered calamari with lots of salt & pepper in the batter - is a standard offering at many Australian eateries, and I absolutely love it. The Moroccan twist worked well, with a decent sprinkle of paprika added to the salt and papper. Salads in Australia are not for the faint-hearted. They are never small garnishes. This one didn’t disappoint either with plenty of rocket, tomatoes and a citrus dressing. It was the perfect choice for the day. After a lunch that rivalled Pilu in terms of location and company, I had to say yet more goodbyes and make the car journey back to Sydney with my aunt, uncle and cousin. With only a few days left before I had to fly my travels were fast coming to an end.

My last, but by no means least, feast, was to be at Dank Street Depot in Waterloo. My foodie friend Miss J and daughter Miss A aged 16 months, had very kindly agreed to drive into the city with me and enjoy a spot of Italian grocery shopping (browsing for me) and a flash lunch, before I flew off towards Heathrow later on that day. It was a great way to end my trip. We arrived in Dank Street without a hitch and grabbed a parking space across the road from our first stop which was a good sign. Fratelli Fresh was recommended to me by my BFF in the UK who is a big fan of Australia and has sniffed out many a good food establishment in Sydney, despite being a Devonshire lass. The space is a warehouse, but it is a traditional grocery store in many ways, catering to the public and stocking a gorgeous array of Italian goodies. Apart from the usual fruit and veg, you can buy freshly baked breads, cheese, meat, including sausages and free range chicken (I didn’t see much free range chicken in Australia), as well as pasta, olives, wines and sauces. It was a wonderfully rustic delicatessen and I was seriously jealous of Miss J, when after lunch we popped back in to get some bits and pieces for her family dinner that night. Upstairs in the warehouse is Café Sopra, a glamorous looking Italian café which looked so inviting I almost wanted to stop there for lunch. I had to mark it down as a future destination. The Fratelli Fresh/Café Sopra coupling has 3 locations across Sydney in Waterloo, Walsh Bay and Potts Point so there are a few to choose from.

We crossed the road and headed for Dank Street Depot, now quite hungry (you should never food shop on an empty stomach). The décor is urban chic meets industrial. The wood is dark, which I like, and there is enough character to keep me happy. I can’t bear white tablecloths and clinical surroundings. Dank St. Depot drew me In because of it’s commitment to supporting local producers, seasonal ingredients and keeping their food miles down to a minimum. They only sell Australian wines and are in the process of implementing an ‘All Australian’ ingredients policy which is admirable. I had decided, before I went in that I wouldn’t have a glass of wine for lunch because I was flying and I try to avoid any alcohol on the day that I fly, but that went out the window when I realised this was my last lunch in Australia so I gleefully ordered a glass of the 2007 Bethany Riesling from the Barossa in Australia and thoroughly enjoyed it. Australia does great Riesling in my view. The German Rieslings are too dirty and bitter for my liking, whilst Australia can produce a fresh, sweet and clean riesling that fits the Australian climate and cuisine perfectly.

Nothing much on the menu grabbed me hugely on that day – I think I was a victim of having eaten too much over the previous 2.5 weeks – but I liked the sound of the potato tortilla with roasted capsicum (pepper) and goats cheese. The goats cheese was by a producer called Woodside, down near Adelaide, and it was wonderful. Goats cheese has a reputation for it’s strong flavour and can sometimes overpower your meal, but this cheese worked very well with the capsicum and jazzed up the simple potato tortilla. I also ordered the rocket, peach, walnut and parmesan salad which was beautiful, although Miss A liked my peaches so I didn’t see much of them. My realisation that my next meal (on that damn plane) was going to have a foil cover on it and was no doubt going to be lukewarm, convinced me that dessert was also a good idea. What tipped me over the edge was the fact that they had pavlova on the menu. I am a complete sucker for pavlova and this one was served with whipped cream, mangoes and passionfruit. What a way to go! The only other place where I have had pavlova that good was at Rick Stein’s St. Petroc’s Bistro in Padstow – I had a passionfruit meringue there a few years back (with Miss J again) that has stayed vividly in my memory ever since.

Well, that’s about it for my travel tales from the land Down Under. I had a wonderful time and ate myself silly. If you go there in the future, maybe you can check out some of these spots. I will say that wherever you go in Australia you will find great places to eat – the Aussies take their food and drink very seriously!