Bowery Lane – Sydney CBD

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Working in the city centre has always seemed like a nightmare to me, people everywhere, dealing with the argy bargy folk that are either on a mission and nearly knock you over. Or the kind that stop mid walk and you nearly knock over. Which is why I count my lucky stars I work in Surry Hills, were I’m blessed with both my personal space and some awesome café’s.

I do however, get a little bit of food envy when I hear about recent openings in the city – power lunches are a bit of a mystery to me. I only get half an hour at work to scoff my food, have a chit chat and race back to my desk so I’m always a little envious of those milling around at lunchtimes. Which is why I devote most of my Fridays (my day off) to food related adventures, coincidentally always in or around the city.

Bowery Lane was on my ever growing list of places to visit, I was drawn to its New York inspired menu consisting of Bagels, Boston Beans and Burgers. Opening initially just for breakfast and lunch, Bowery Lane recently expanded to dinner services on the 9th of September.

Walking into Bowery Lane you instantly feel transported to a swanky NYC eatery, with exposed rendered concrete walls, wooden floors, prominent black furnishings and snug booth seating. Not overly stylised but with a clear chic, industrial vibe.

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Plonking ourselves down on the large communal table we settled in along with 15 or so other Sydney Food Bloggers for what was going be a ginormous meat fest. First up, from the ‘snacks’ portion of the menu, were the ‘Char Grilled Lamb Ribs’ – w/ chimmi churri & rocket. $14. Delectably soft and easily pulling away from the bone, these were one of the highlights of the night. I generally dislike most things on the bone, predominately because I’m lazy but these were tasty little morsels. We all liked the addition of the chimmi churri adding that punchy herby flavour hit.

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Next were the ‘Manchego Croquettes’ – w/smoked chilli aioli’ $14.  Always a sucker for an arancini or croquette (general gist is fried cheesy goodness). The first bite was an instant hit of the smoked aioli, which I enjoyed. The aioli was quite strong  so it was a little hard to discern any manchego flavour but these were still delicious with and without the smoked chilli aioli.

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Being a big big fan of hamburgers, what could be better than full grown burgers?  Baby burgers!! I’ve gotten into the trap of thinking ordering trio’s of sliders totally cancels each other out and equal one regular sized burger. I like that illusion and will blissfully continue living in my happy place. A sight to behold for any food lover, boards full of sliders were then brought out to the large table. With trays of both ‘Yamba Prawn Sliders’ – w/ iceberg & fennel slaw. $16 and the ‘Rare Tuna Sliders’ – w/guacamole and pickled cucumber. $16. It was unanimous amongst the FFS’akers that the prawn slider was the favourite with the tuna slider having a pleasant taste but unusual mouth feel.

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Moving along to ‘entrées’, we then had the ‘Master Kobe Wagyu’ – 9+ inside skirt w/chermoula, lemon. $16. Another standout dish, the wagyu was a perfect ‘medium rare- medium’ and benefited from the forceful kick of the chermoula – a marinade consisting of herbs, oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin and salt.

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We then sampled the ‘Jamon Serrano’ – w/ buffalo mozzarella, witlof rocket and shaved pear. $19. A really strong dish, having a bite with every element, the flavours balanced out nicely.

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The last dish from the ‘entrée’ portion of the menu was the ‘House Smoked Hickory Salmon’ – w/puffed wild rice, bottarga salad and burnet’ $17. Perhaps after all the heavy hitting flavours we had tried prior, this was a rather subtle dish that may have flown under the radar for many. I’m not the greatest fan of seafood anyways, so this didn’t do much for me.

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Vegetarians avert your eyes.

On to the shared plates. Between the table, one each of the four ‘shared plates’ were placed on the table, as we all did a  bit of to-ing and fro-ing swapping dishes back and forth. We happened upon the ‘Pork Collar & Scratchings’ – w/ apple, parsley & fennel salad and spiced pear chutney. $46. Juicy and tender, the apple and fennel salad added some much needed texture as the pork was very soft. And the crackling? Who doesn’t love crackling!

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We then sampled the ‘Whole BBQ Organic Chicken’ – w/ lentil & grains & smoked yoghurt. $48. The chicken was succulent and moist, I did enjoy the creamy addition of the grains, lentils and yoghurt tying it all together.

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Next was the ‘1KG Braised Wagyu Short Rib’ – w/ horseradish cream & roasted garlic $58. This was the shared dish I was probably most looking forward to, having a little bit of an obsession with all things slow cooked these days. Falling straight off the bone, these short ribs did not disappoint, getting a little too caught up in all the eating I didn’t try it with the horseradish so can’t comment on the cohesiveness of the dish, all I know was that short rib was dee-lish…

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The last of the shared plates was my pick of the bunch, the ‘Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder’ – w/ lemon garlic dressing & watercress. $55. A really well executed slow cooked lamb. I really could not fault any of the shared dishes, they were all equally delicious and would easily feed 3-4 people.

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My penultimate favourite of the night was the ‘Tempura Soft Shell Crab Burger’ – w/Asian slaw and miso mayonnaise. $22. Off the main menu, several were brought to the table for us to divide and share. Prior to Bowery Lane I had never had a fried soft shell crab, let alone one in a burger. Boy had I been missing out. Yes, while I’m not that keen on loads of seafood, generally battering it and throwing it in the deep fryer works miracles. One of the stand outs on the whole menu.

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And because we had hardly eaten anything all night……. We were given the option of ordering our own mains. We were told this earlier in the night so purposely left a little space in the tum tum, for myself I had my eyes on one thing and one thing only…the Cheeseburger! Devastation, is probably the word I’d use when we found out they were no longer available. I sucked it up because… well really, I think we’d all eaten enough at this point.  Vanessa opted for the ‘Pork Cotoletta’ – slaw, garlic aioli, lemon and sea salt. $27. Fancy talk for Schnitty and this was a good one, was a tad oily so it became incredibly heavy after a few bites but the flavour was there. We passed tipping point about 2 dishes earlier so we had a few bites and had our mains boxed. Alex and I shared the ‘Duck Ragu’ –w/pappadelle, chilli pancetta & parsley $26. I kind of blurted this one out when I was asked for a main, it’s a complete 180* from anything I would ordinarily order. Pasta was perfectly al dente, the duck was soft and plentiful and melted in your mouth but ultimately I found the ragu itself quite thin and a little bland.

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We also couldn’t resist the ‘Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup Milkshake’ $7. We opted to get ours with skim milk because everyone knows when you add skim milk to anything you can totally add more chocolate and ice-cream. I’m a peanut butter fan from way back and loved the strong peanut butter flavour, I just wished it was a little thicker.

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Sadly we’ve all been cursed with a massive sweet tooth and despite being full to the brim we shared two desserts between us. The first being the ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ – w/vanilla bean ice-cream & macerated berries. One for those wanting to end a meal on a lighter note.  It was quite a refreshing way to end the evening. The very last dish of the night was the ‘Jar of Cookies & Cream’ – w/honeycomb, vanilla & dark chocolate. Our preferred dessert of the night, we loved the addition of the chocolate cookie crumbs. A much more decadent way to end a meal.

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We were pretty impressed with the food and venue and will now make it our mission to come back for that elusive cheeseburger.

Bianca

Photos by Alex

V.B.A

Bowery Lane on Urbanspoon

*For Food’s Sake were invited to Bowery Lane by Wasamedia, all opinions however are independent and our own.

Provence by Antoine – Mortlake

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I was clearly in a French mood when I decided to visit both ‘Antoine’s Grill’ and chef and owner Anthony Moscovitzs latest venture, ‘Provence by Antoine’ in the same weekend.

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Provence happened to be on my weekend walk route so I watched its relatively quick development from a former tapas restaurant into what is now an airy, open planned, provincial suburban cafe/restaurant. I loved the vibrant yellow running through the restaurant which contrasted nicely with the brown hues of the wooden chairs and floors. It felt homely and chic at the same time. Covered outdoor seating is also available but on the day we went it was both raining and freezing. So we nestled comfortably indoors. Staff were very friendly and were happy to make any changes we requested with our meals.

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Accompanying me today was Madre and second mum ‘Mumma Cool’. Naturally a round of coffees were ordered, we loved the addition of the token marshmallow with the ‘Skim Mochas’ $4. Always a nice touch. The actual breakfast menu isn’t particularly vast but it has your standard breakfast suspects, as well as having a small kiddies section which parents will appreciate.

Madre decided to go with the ‘Eggs Benedict’ – smoked salmon & poached eggs with lemon & lime hollandaise sauce & toast. $18.50. Mum always gets her hollandaise on the side but never eats it, why she doesn’t leave it off entirely I never know – she’s special. I will sometimes sneak a try but I was too caught up in conversation so completely forgot. Never the less Madre enjoyed her breakfast.

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Mumma Cool happened to get my second choice that day the ‘Croque Madame’ – Classic toasted bacon & cheese, topped with cheese béchamel and fried eggs. $15.50. To this day, I’ve yet to try this French classic, so I may have to go back. It was quite stunning when it was brought out and mumma cool really enjoyed it. My only gripe is the egg(s) plural, making any one that orders one think there may be more than one egg on the dish if they aren’t familiar with a Croque Madame.

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I wanted to get a general scope of the breakfast offerings from ‘Provence’ so went with the ‘Le Provencal breakfast’ – Crispy herbed tomato, Eggs (any style – I went with poached), pork & fennel sausage, cured streaky bacon, mushroom ragout, potato gratin & toast. $18.50. I’d go out on a limb and say this will no doubt become their signature breakfast dish. It was pretty much a knockout. The eggs were perfectly poached, I loved the crispy element on the tomato adding some interesting textural elements, looking back, the tomato was actually one of my most favourite aspects on the plate and I can usually take or leave tomatoes. The mushroom ragout was another interesting take on the standard mushies for brekky. All other aspects were equally delicious, any complaints were relatively minor, the bacon tasted like regular run of the mill bacon, I did not pick up on any differential flavours, besides…isn’t all bacon cured? Blonde moment?

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I have to say, I’m pretty chuffed Provence by Antoine isn’t too far away from me, I am keen to check out their lunch and dinner offerings.

Bianca

V.B.A

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Bills – Surry Hills

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Deciding on where to eat for lunch when you’re not entirely hungry can be a bit of a tricky one,  knowing I felt like something sweet, myself and Michael went to Bills to of course ….. get the ricotta hotcakes, what else?

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Simple menu and simple restaurant layout, it’s safe to say I’m very excited about the new Bills opening in Bondi! It’s funny watching all the hotcakes and fritters (‘classics’) leaving the kitchen.

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Michael decided to order something that I would never even consider. The ‘Yellow fish curry’ – spiced pumpkin, peanuts, brown rice and cucumber relish $26. An interesting array of flavours that all went well together. The fish had a bit of crunch to it which was quite nice as it contrasted well with the soft spiced pumpkin. The actual flavour of the curry was not overpowering at all, a mild dish that was surprisingly really really tasty!

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The Ricotta hotcakes’ –  banana and honeycomb butter $20 sorta speak for themselves don’t they? It’s what everyone thinks about when they think of Bills. Rich and moreish, the honeycomb butter was definitely the stand out, it was such a shame there was only a small pat. Make sure you have a bite of the hotcake with the banana, helps to balance out all of the unique flavours!

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Just a quick post this time round. Until next time!

Alex

V.B.A

Bills on Urbanspoon

Antoine’s Grill – Concord

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The restaurant/ café scene in Concord has definitely lifted its game the last 10 years or so, with cuisines ranging from Italian, Thai, Japanese, Lebanese and French in the form of ‘Antoine’s Grill’. This marks my 5th visit, meaning this quaint suburban restaurant must be onto a good thing because I love to mix things up and visit new places often.

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Joining me tonight was my high school friend Alex (Having a penchant for nicknames, let’s call her ‘Truffle Lover’). With a bottle of Merlot in one hand and a brolly in the other we made our way to Antoine’s for a touch of provincial French cuisine on a ‘school night’. Chef and owner Antoine Moscovitz has quite the impressive resume, having worked under famed French chef Alain Ducasse. A little closer to home he carved out careers at both Salt and Bather’s Pavilion. As well as recently opening ‘Provence by Antoine’ in Mortlake. Which I visited two days later (review to come).

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Most meals these days usually involve some butter….oh and some bread. We decided to share the ‘Crisp ‘Le fournil’ baguette with butter’ $7. A delicious warm baguette more suited for three people, we however, soldiered on and made the sacrifice. Perfectly crispy made even better with glorious slabs of butter, with what looked like shavings of truffle.

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On to mains, Truffle lover – always keen for a risotto, went with the ‘Mushroom ragout risotto’ $24. A very striking dish that tasted even better than it looked. Some may be put off by its dark colour but taking a single bite I was instantly blown away, a defining rich explosion of flavours. One to make note of if you’re a fan of rice based dishes.

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I was tossing up between the steak and the Pork Belly. Three of my previous visits I always went with steak, seeing as it was a while between visits and throwing in the fact that I rarely eat red meat unless it’s sandwiched between two slices of bread and generally called a hamburger. I got the ‘200g Eye Fillet’ – 200 day naturally pasture fed, buttery texture. $30. A bang on medium rare steak that was both flavourful and texturally exceptional.  Accompanying my steak was Antoine’s ‘House made BBQ Sauce’ as well as a serving of ‘Confit roasted butternut pumpkin, thyme & quince mascarpone’ $8. A devilishly addictive concoction, we did get it to share but I think I ate most of it. I happily mopped up my steak and any remaining bread in the mascarpone. I didn’t pick up on any strong quince flavouring but no complaints here – this side dish was the bomb.

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Pants were getting tight at this point, I wear jeans everywhere, clearly amateur hour. In the future, if you see a dishevelled brunette with balloon pants, burger drippings on her hands and tomato sauce on her face. Don’t be alarmed, it’s just me!

We had a nice long chat between courses to rejuvenate our stomachs because everyone knows we have a second separate stomach for desserts. I always gravitate towards chocolate based sweets and luckily, truffle lover was on the exact same page. We shared the ‘Callebaut chocolate velvet fondant’ – Grand Marnier sauce, miniature iced ‘magnum’, nougatine dust. $15. A heavenly, comforting and decadent way to end a delightful evening. Breaking into the centre of the fondant the insides were incredibly oozy and gooey. I didn’t get any discerning Grand Marnier notes, it tasted like a basic anglaise sauce. I enjoyed the playfulness of the ‘magnum’, a bite sized ice-cream rolled in nougatine. I mainly left that untouched because I kept gravitating back to the fondant.

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I’m pretty chuffed to have Antoine’s Grill in my trusty Rolodex of good eats in Concord, I’d happily recommend to locals and for those willing to pay slightly higher prices than your typical local restaurant for a bit of French flair, excellent steaks and friendly service.

Bianca.

V.B.A

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Armory Wharf Café – Newington

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Dining options in the Home-bush/Newington area, generally leave a lot to be desired. Being the recent purchaser of an apartment in the neighbouring Wentworth point, I wanted to scope the area out for any potential local café to be my new ‘haunt’.

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Rocking up this rainy Saturday afternoon the place was incredibly busy indoors, I had reserved a table prior, knowing that it is quite popular. It’s such a shame they don’t have adequate coverings for their outdoor seating, seems a bit silly not to capitalise on the extra tables. I saw a number of parties being turned away because there just wasn’t any room indoors yet there were 10 or so wet empty tables outside.

The café itself is nestled right on the Parramatta River in Blaxland Riverside park – my GPS virtually abandoned me on my quest to find it, something along the lines of “We cannot provide accurate directions but head to the red dot on the screen” mighty helpful whilst driving and navigating.

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Now, for those that don’t know me, I don’t visit a restaurant/café without checking out the menu first. So I knew what I was going to get before I even arrived.

Alas it wasn’t to be, the menu was slightly different and by slightly different the only thing that had changed was the ONE thing I was planning on ordering. The three sliders. I hate surprises.

Whilst settling on what to order,  my friend and I shared the ‘Garlic, oregano and parmesan sour dough slices (4 pieces” $6.50). All in all, a fancy way of saying ‘garlic bread’. No complaints here, it was very tasty. I could have happily eaten all four slices myself.

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I finally settled on the Crispy battered flathead fillets’ – w/ chunky chips & a side of lemon, caper & garlic aioli with a small salad on the side. $23.50. I LURVE a good fish and chips, I hardly order it when I go out because it is sooo bad for you. But now and then I do like to reward my fabulousness with a greasy treat. Unfortunately this was a let-down. The fish was crispy, that was about the highlight. The batter had absorbed an exorbitant amount of oil making the fish very heavy to eat. Not even a ¼ of the way in, I was feeling a little sickly. The chips were soggy, I’m assuming from the run off oil from the garnish salad. The entire dish, including the side salad needed a pretty big whack of salt and I never add salt to anything I eat.

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My friend also indecisive, went with the ‘Armory Pie Floater’ – Lamb shank pie w/ shortcrust pastry and topped w/ smashed peas and red wine jus. $25.  The first thing we were struck by was the odd presentation, the ‘floater’ alludes to the pastry precariously balancing on top of the pie filling. With the shank bone, unceremoniously dangling out of the corner of the plate. Looks aside, this was also disappointing. The lamb was tender but the sauce marrying all the ingredients was very thin and the whole dish, again, lacked seasoning.

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Not the greatest start to my ‘new local’ hunting. Such a shame considering the view and its location.

I plan to come back again and check out the breakfast offerings. Fingers crossed.

Bianca

V.B.A

Armory Wharf Cafe on Urbanspoon

Vapiano – King Street

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Finding affordable, fresh and flavoursome Italian food in Sydney’s CBD is not necessarily an easy task. In saying that, a lot of city workers have no doubt heard of ‘Vapiano’. A restaurant that creates classic Italian offerings sourced from local Australian produce that pulls in crazy crowds at lunch and dinner. If you can stand the crowds at peak times then look no further, because you’ve found your perfect Italian restaurant!
_MG_0007A beautifully large open plan kitchen let’s you see all the action where you can watch your food being made right in front of you.

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As myself and Bianca arrived, we were directed to the bar before we took our seats (no complaints here). Bianca opted for a ‘Raspberry Crush’ and in keeping with tradition for the past couple of months, I got the ‘Espresso Martini’. The Martini didn’t have that thick texture on the palate that a lot of other places have but the flavours were fantastic, with a lingering coffee flavour. The perfect pick me up as I was a bit flat until that point. (Also notice the pot plant behind the martini? That is actually fresh basil that can be used to garnish your dish. A great idea and the fresh smell of basil always reminds me of my grandparents garden!)

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The first dish of the night was the Classic Pumpkin Soup’ with your choice of parmesan, cream, croutons, and basil $6.9. We got the whole lot on ours and this was actually one of my favourites of the night. Warm, hearty and perfectly seasoned. It was impossible not to finish the whole bowl. The garlic croutons added a further texture that worked so harmoniously with the thick and creamy soup. Definitely a winner.

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Only up to the second dish of the night and the pumpkin soup left little room for what was to come but next was thePizza Porporano’, a home-made tomato sauce and mozzarella base topped with bresaola, rocket, shaved parmesan, and a drizzle of truffle olive oil. $19.90. With such an array of different flavours, I was at first a little apprehensive as to what to expect, but I was blown away. Each element complimented the next perfectly and with a fresh, well cooked pizza base it was definitely a crowd pleaser. The bresaola (air-dried salted beef) that Vapiano uses is supplied by Speiss Australia. The meat goes through a lengthy process of seasoning, drying, fermenting etc. before it reaches the plate at Vapiano. Interesting to know how the meat gets its distinct flavour. It was a nice alternative to the usual prosciutto based rocket pizza’s.

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When I saw the ‘Pasta Gamberi Con Rosso’ (freshly made pasta served with prawns, chilli, semi sun-dried tomatoes, and sun-dried tomato pesto) $19.90 come to the table I thought it’d be impossible to eat as it would’ve been to heavy, but as I started to take a few bites, I was surprised as to how light the pasta was. With no thick or creamy sauce in play, the dish was really fresh with the flavour of the sun-dried tomato being the stand-out.

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The final savoury dish for the night was the Risotto Pollo Levanto’, a creamy risotto with chicken, bacon, red onion, garlic, and chilli topped with parmesan and basil. $19.90. What a fantastic dish. The chicken had a slight crisp to it that complimented the little cubes of bacon, with a rich creamy texture to match. This vibrant, colourful and slightly spicy dish was the perfect way to finish and welcome us into spring!

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Of course we couldn’t leave without dessert and what was brought to the table was a heavenly White chocolate Cheesecake’ with Salted Caramel and honeycomb $5.90. The table was in silence as we all looked in awe at the gooey salted caramel and chunky pieces of honeycomb. The cheesecake was rich and creamy and melted in your mouth. At first I asked Bianc, “where’s the biscuit?”, but as I delved deeper I reached the biscuit base and alas, perfection was found. Each component worked so well with each other. By this point I was way past tipping point and thinking about walking back to the car made me cringe so unfortunately I couldn’t finish it off, but it was definitely a perfect way to finish a fantastic night off!

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A simple but effective layout, with great, hearty Italian food to match. Vapiano sure has won me over.

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Thanks to Vapiano, For Food’s Sake also has 4 vouchers to give away! Each voucher entitles the winner and a guest of their choice to a choice of a main from Vapiano’s Spring Menu as well as the delicious white Chocolate Salted Caramel that we had.

No booking is required, just show up to Vapiano and the team will be ready to help you out. The vouchers must be used by Friday 31st of October as that is when the spring menu finishes! The vouchers are for use at Vapiano Sydney ONLY, and For Food’s Sake will post the vouchers to each winner’s address.

You can enter the competition by going to instagram, following @4foodssake and @vapianoaustralia, and either commenting on our latest Vapiano post with your ideal Italian getaway, along with your favourite Italian dish, OR take a photo of your favourite Italian dish with the hashtag #getfreshwithvapiano and tag 4foodssake and vapianoaustralia in the picture.

Or for those that do not have instagram, leave a comment on this post, telling us your favourite Italian dish and where in Italy you’d like to be eating it. (Details will also be on our instagram on how to enter the competition) Have fun and good luck!

COMPETITION ENDS ON THE 25TH OF SEPTEMBER.

Alex

V.B.A

*For Foods Sake were invited to try Vapiano’s new spring menu, all opinions however are our own. A big thank you to the lovely Clare for the invitation.

Vapiano on Urbanspoon

Hunter Valley Hens

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Celebrating the first of two hens for fellow FFS’aker Vanessa’s upcoming nuptials, we headed to the Hunter Valley for a girl’s weekend away with eight of Vanessa’s friends & family. We ate, drank, laughed, admired the view …… then we ate again.

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The first night we feasted on cold cut meats, bread, crackers and cheese before moving on to dinner, consisting of a delicious home-made Beef Lasagna and Spanakopita made by Vanessa. As well as a Greek Salad and Quinoa with Sweet Potatoes, mixed nuts, dried fruits and cherry vincotto. One of the high points of our weekend away was the major surprise the bridesmaids managed to pull off. A stripper for our hen, virtually in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think anyone will be able to get the image of the ‘police officer’ coming down the stairs to perform for the horde of screaming women.

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The next day we had organised a wine tour, visiting four wineries, an included lunch, stopping for a cheeseboard and gobbling up some chocolate covered strawberries, all for $110. With Neal (our bus driver) steering the ship, our first stop was at ‘Tallavera Grove’, a stunning winery overlooking the rolling hills and vineyards of the Hunter. Also home to the restaurant ‘Bistro Molines’.

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Second on our hit list was ‘Ernest Hill Wines’.

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Having started our tour at 11am in the morning and striking off two wineries before lunchtime, to say we were famished is well and truly an understatement. Lunch was at the beautiful restaurant ‘The Cellar’, in the heart of the Hunter Valley Garden Village. We all selected our desired mains at the beginning of the tour on the bus, so no need for indecision.

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On the table were a selection of spreads and olive oil. ‘House Sourdough roll’ $3. I honestly could have easily eaten 2 or 3 of those little bad boys, warm out of the oven they were delicious, slathered in whichever ‘poison’ you chose. I was enamoured with the olive oil on the table, the ‘Olio Mio’ – Corregiola. So much so I tracked it down to take a bottle home with me. Easily the best $20 I spent that weekend.

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All of the girls barring myself went with the ‘250g Cape Grim grass-fed sirloin’ – served with chips and a side salad. $32. Feedback was good, some of the girl’s steak were a little underdone but they all enjoyed their meals. Not wanting anything particularly heavy, I opted for the ‘Pan fried Haloumi’ – with roast Italian vegetables, preserved lemon, chilli, parsley and pine nut salsa. $39. As we ordered off a sheet without prices on the bus, I was a little puzzled when I saw the price for this dish whilst writing this post. It seemed quite exorbitant for what it was. While it was delicious and a generous portion I don’t necessarily think it was great value for money.

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After lunch we made a stop at ‘Brokenwood winery’ where I picked up two of my favourite type of wines, a tawny port and the gorgeous ‘Sticky Wicket Semillon’. I’m all about the dessert wines. The last winery on the tour was ‘Misty Glen Wines’, a charming cottage in Pokolbin offering boutique wines. I really enjoyed their ‘White Harbour’ port.

The last two stops couldn’t have come at a better time, we needed a little something in the stomach to soak up four wineries worth of booze. We stopped at the ‘Australian Regional Food Store & Café’ where we shared three cheese boards between us. As this was included in the tour, I can only estimate prices based on their website. They offer a cheeseboard with three varieties of cheese, grissini and crackers for $17. We all enjoyed the variety of cheese but the cracker to cheese ratio was slightly off. Not enough for the amount of cheese on the plate, so a few little chunks were left behind.

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Our final stop was at the ‘Hunter Valley Chocolate Company’ where we each had two strawberries coated in milk chocolate. After hoovering that up in a less than respectable time I made a beeline for the store where I picked myself up some ‘Salted caramel fudge’, ‘Dark chocolate coated peanuts’ and some ‘Hawaiian crunch’.

After a big day of wine tasting and eating, we made the trek back home and walked up the steep incline back to our rental abode for the weekend.

Our last day in the Hunter we had a leisurely breakfast then cleared out of the house. Of course having not eaten for at least two hours we were ravenous…I can honestly say I did not eat out of ‘hunger’ the entire weekend.

Our last meal before parting ways was at ‘Verandah Restaurant’ perched above the ‘Calais Estate’ winery. Overlooking the surrounding vineyards, we had a perfect spot on the verandah, right in the corner.

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Service was slightly haphazard but the young female servers were nice enough. The emphasis here is shared tapas style dishes. We decided to order two servings each of four different main sized tapas. The first was the ‘Blue Swimmer Crab Ravioli’ – with sautéed zucchini flower and prawn bisque. $36 (main sized servings = 4 portions). This was my least favourite dish of the day, I found the smell and the taste incredibly overpowering. I don’t deal with fishy dishes at the best of times and I found this one particularly unbearable. I gave up after one bite. The consensus after the first course was a round of bread to soak up the residual bisque. I gnawed on mine whilst the others dipped theirs. The bread had a rather strong burnt/charred taste which I didn’t like, it didn’t seem to bother the other ladies.

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Next up was the ‘Cumin and Cayenne baby calamari with lime aioli’ $34. I loved the punchiness of the Cayenne and enjoyed the smaller variation to the typical traditional size, I tried not to think of the wee baby calamari I was happily devouring. The only drawback was the excess oil it became a little heavy but it was a generous serving for the price.

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We then had the ‘Pulled and pressed lamb with potato roesti and gremolata’. $36. My favourite dish of the day. The slow roasted lamb was moulded into four little square servings topped with the potato roesti. The lamb was so tender it yielded at the slightest touch. I loved the contrasting textures, it was a subtle dish executed perfectly.

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Lastly we got one serving of the ‘Duck liver parfait with cornichons, onion jam and charred sourdough’. $30. I bypassed this one as I’m not the biggest fan of pate but feedback from the table was all positive.

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For myself and the others not keen on the pate, we ordered the ‘Tea smoked duck breast’ – with orange and honey glazed rosemary cherries and pistachio soufflé. $36. The duck was perfectly cooked and paired well with the accompanying sauce. Most surprising of all, was how well the soufflé wedge went with the duck. Tying everything together and being a great vessel to mop up the left over sauce on the dish. We were all at tipping point, so most ladies got a hot beverage before we took off. I enjoyed the view and for the most part the food but prices were high for the portions.

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After a little bit of a shop at the home-wares store downstairs, we all said our goodbyes and headed back to Sydney after our perfect little Hunter Hens getaway.

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Bianca

V.B.A

The Cellar Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Verandah Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Panama House/Le Maison De L’éclair – Bondi

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After being ill for a few weeks, getting out of the house was like a God send – so myself and Bianca decided to venture to the Eastern Suburbs. The weather was temperamental but for the most part the rain held off. So some hearty food was just what we needed!

Our first stop was Panama House’, positioned discreetly (to us anyway) on Bondi road, offering a fusion of American and Mexican dishes that brought back some pretty vivid memories from our recent trip to the US.

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The restaurant/cafe is quaint and while you might be within close quarters to other customers, in this circumstance I think it adds to the charm of the place.

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Bianca and I sat on some stools that looked out the window onto Bondi Road, yes the seats were uncomfortable, probably best to sit there if you’re just having a coffee and not eating, let alone taking hundreds of photos of your food and then having nowhere to put your camera, my mistake.

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As we perused the menu we had noticed that many of the options that we had seen online were no longer on the menu, like the Po-Boys, the Mac & cheese and the onion rings so it took us a while to get our bearings and re think our situation! Eventually we decided to share the ‘Panama Burger ‘- hanger steak patty, grilled swiss cheese, house pickles on a soft bun with Parmesan Fries $19 and a new addition to the menu, the ‘Fajitas’ w. fried chicken, pulled pork, guacamole, cabbage, and black beans $22. To accompany the fajitas we were brought different salsas from mild (far left) to hot (far right).

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The fajitas were a bit of a hit and miss for me. The guacamole was almost perfectly seasoned, I just think it needed a bit more tang to give it some oomph and the pulled pork was fairly flavourless, even when combined with all the other elements on the plate. The fried chicken however was delicious. The skin was perfectly crunchy but still had the soft texture once you bit into it. I would’ve gone all fried chicken if I could’ve! Oh and I went for the tomato salsa, I chickened out on trying the really spicy one but Bianc did…and it was funny.

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The Panama Burger…wow, I think it’s safe to say that this is definitely up there for one of the best burgers in Sydney. The patty to bun ratio (very important) was perfect and the cheese flavour was evident but not too overpowering. My favourite addition was the crispy onion rings creating an added texture to the burger that stole my heart. The parmesan chips were also a knock out. Incredible smoky flavour from the chunky chips that was balanced so well with the hint of parmesan and yes we slowly moved all of the pickles out-of-the-way and left them so we could make way for the chippies! Now Bianca loves her burgers, so if she piped down after taking her first bite we knew we had a winner.

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A great addition to the Bondi scene and once summer hits I will definitely be back to get the burger after a tiring day at the beach of doing nothing! If you really have some extra room go for a takeaway coffee with one of their freshly made cookies or muffins!

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For us though, some coffee’s weren’t gonna cut it. A quick stroll up the road from Panama House is Le Maison De L’éclair’. A place that is so delightfully dangerous, it’s almost impossible not to be tempted by all the beautiful eclairs. Flavours range from the classics, Espresso, chocolate, to the ‘W.O.W!’ collection including Lemon Meringue, and salted caramel, there is literally a flavour for everyone. They even do savoury temptations and croissants.

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We got a bit carried away, but these are the eclairs we took home to live with us:

-Bounty 

-Raspberry 

-Salted Caramel + a mini one

-Snickers 

_MG_9733My favourite was surprisingly the raspberry, but all of them were delicious, it’s impossible for me to say anything bad. Bianca loved the Salted Caramel. They weren’t sickly or overly sweet, and there was a clear distinction between each flavour which was the best thing about them. So now enjoy some photos of these babies!

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Clearly an eventful day of stuffing our faces, but hey what else is new?

Until next time!

Alex

V.B.A

Panama House on Urbanspoon

La Maison de L’éclair on Urbanspoon

Southern Adventure

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Wanting to experience the south but finding the prospect of doing it ourselves a little daunting we decided to finish our USA adventure with a Contiki tour. We were all a little apprehensive about doing an organised tour especially a contiki. Everybody’s pretty much across what happens during a Contiki sojourn, the ‘contiki cough’, late nights leading into early mornings, and copious amounts of alcohol – not exactly my scene. Give me a good book and a slice of cake any day.

We started the tour in New Orleans which I covered in a previous post, our second stop was Memphis where we visited Elvis’s Graceland (a trippy experience if there ever was one) carpet on the ceiling anybody?

Most the of the meals on the tour were pre-planned with Contiki’s affiliate restaurants so most of the time it was pretty hit and miss, there were occasions when we were able to head off on our own and seek out any restaurant that took our fancy. We were advised that some of the best fried Chicken was to be found in Memphis, at the world-famous ‘Gus’s Fried Chicken’ to be exact. I’ve never been one for KFC, so fried chicken has never really held a place in my heart. But boy oh boy, was that some of the best chicken I had eaten in my life, it was slap your mumma good. I do this often, so my mum won’t be offended.  About 16 of us landed on Gus’s early one evening, lines for a table were insane but when you’re on holidays you have no excuse to be impatient everything is a treat.

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We were keen to try some of the side’s we don’t experience much at home, so we got one each of the ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ and the ‘Fried Pickles’. Both served of course, with ranch sauce. The FGT were interesting but had no discerning flavour, it was very similar in taste and texture to the pickles. Which were awesome and I’m usually the one tossing my pickles on my McDonald’s cheeseburgers.

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Now the reason for our visit, the chicken. Both Alex and I went for a serving of two pieces on the bone  -‘Breast pieces served with fries’. The exterior was ear shatteringly crunchy, the inside moist. Most surprising was how little oil the chicken had absorbed, any experience with KFC in the past has left the usual offending oily hands/lips. None to be found here. Alex and I were also impressed by the heat in the chicken, we weren’t expecting the chilli at all but it was most welcome. We ended our last night in Memphis, also Alex’s 19th birthday with a few drinks at ‘BB Kings Club’ where we watched some of the semi-finals for the International Blues Challenge.

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Dallas was our next stop and definitely not what one expects when someone thinks Texas. Where were the ‘Howdy Maams’, the cowboys, the quintessential Texas attributes? Okay I’m being very general and stereotypical here. We were surprised by Dallas and just how ‘urban’ it was. We came across quite a few boutique designer stores with exorbitantly priced goodies which Alex and I hopped in and out of for a looksie. Our first night in Dallas we had dinner at ‘Ellen’s Southern Kitchen’. We were bustled into a warmly inviting chic restaurant with bar space, that was (now looking back) deserted. Perhaps because our 50+ group took up more than ¾ of the restaurant but the food was absolutely delicious.  One of our favourite meals during the Contiki ‘portion’ of our holiday.

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I seemed to have gotten nostalgic on my travels and found myself ordering meatloaf a few times. Which is slightly weird because I have never eaten a traditional meatloaf at home, my mum would make the woggy version, Polpette. I had the ‘Ellens u.s.d.a prime meatloaf’prime angus beef meatloaf with pan gravy and crispy onions, also served with two fresh vegetables’ $13.99. I decided to go with the green beans and the mashed sweet potato. The behemoth that was brought to the table was both welcome and laughable. Things were starting to topple off the plate it was so full. Despite the enormity of the plate it was all very tasty.

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Alex always a sucker for schnitzel got the hilariously named ‘Chicken Fried Chicken’ – Organic chicken, breaded then fried, topped with cream sausage gravy and served with two fresh vegetables. $12.99. This is one place I would recommend for anyone making the trip to Dallas. To end the night, we headed to ‘Kung Fu Saloon’ which offer free arcade games, giant jenga and other large-scale games for free. Also props to the handsome bouncer who told me all about his life in the army and his experiences in Afghanistan. We noticed generally that the people down south were a might friendlier than what we had experienced so far.

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Our second day was spent at the John F Kennedy 6th floor museum, which was touching, mind-boggling and overwhelming. Lunch that day was a quick affair, shared a ‘Cheeseburger’ – with fries $7.75 with Alex from ‘Hoffbrau Steaks’.

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Our last night in Dallas, we headed to the famous Dallas stockyards. Dinner was at ‘Risckys Barbque’. Our longing for traditional Texas BBQ of any sort, no preference for styles. Was sadly not to be the case. This was hands down the worst meal of the trip. Having heard the many murmurings of delicious slow cooked brisket, I knew that night, we were to cross paths. I opted for ‘Risckys famous sliced Beef Brisket’ served with a piece of toast, coleslaw and potato salad. $13.99. Where do I even start….The brisket, thankfully, was moist and melted in the mouth but it was cold. The main theme running throughout my meal that night was the temperature of everything. Stone cold limp toast, potato salad (that was obviously meant to be cold) but tasted horrid and the sad little mound of coleslaw. Very disappointing indeed. After dinner we went to our very first Rodeo, definitely an American experience personified. It was at times confronting, some of the ways in which the animals were handled for those not so accustomed, seemed a bit rough, but when in Rome..I was also knee-deep in a Contiki game called ‘Assasin’ whereby we were all given names of a fellow travel companion who we then had to ‘kill’ by whispering and not being overheard, the words “1,2,3 you’re dead”. Before I was caught (by a bunch of cheaters, fyi) I had a nice little collection of 8-10 names. My Bounty Hunter licence is in the mail.

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We then spent one night in Amarillo, TX. Staying at the famous Big Texan Inn, which has a restaurant adjacent to the old school coloured hotel rooms. Home to the ’72 oz Steak Challenge’ seen on the reputable and classy TV show, Man VS Food, hahaha Adam Richman is my hero.

_MG_8723Two fellow Contiki travellers/suckers tried their hand at the 2kg+ steak and sides challenge but were beaten by the meat. The Big Texan also brew their own craft beers, that night I tried the ‘Pecan Porter’ – a dark ale, rich malty aroma of pecans, light notes of chocolate, molasses and brown sugar. On to the food, as the meals were pre-booked by Contiki, we had to choose our meals a few days in advance, so Alex and I would co-ordinate most times so we could try two options. I cannot recall the exact cut of meat I had that night. But as you would expect from a steak house, the meat was juicy and very flavourful. We were told, as we were such a large group they would be cooking all steaks medium. Beggars can’t be choosers here. Alex again went for the ‘Grilled Chicken’ which we then split.

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Big Steaks = Big Beers

Onwards and upwards, the next stop on our Grand Southern Adventure was Santa Fe, New Mexico. A really interesting amalgamation of old school Pueblo Indian villages and southern charm. Driving into Santa Fe was almost an ‘other-worldly experience’. The architecture is described as ‘The Spanish Pueblo Revival look’, with prominent earth toned buildings and rounded corners. This wasn’t to be an overnight stop unfortunately, an express lunch stop and some sightseeing.  Santa Fe, despite being one of the shortest visits on our itinerary became one of my US highlights. It was truly something I had never seen in my life. New Mexico’s food is a mish mash of Spanish, Mexican and Pueblo Native American, typically shying away from the standard Mexican and Tex-Mex found in other US states. After using my trusty Yelp, I happened across ‘Café Pasqual’s’, also a solid recommendation from our Contiki tour manager.

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Alex had the ‘Quesadilla with Chicken’, I couldn’t find the exact item on the menu but he enjoyed it.

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I had the ‘Blue Lady Enchiladas’ – jack cheese on two corn tortillas with red chile, black beans and cilantro rice. $12.75 (I added Chicken for an extra $6). This was SPICY, my eye’s may or may not have watered. Taking a bite, it pretty much put any comparable ‘Mexican’ meal to shame.

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Just for pure visuals I had to mention the ‘Huevos Rancheros’ – two eggs any style with black beans on a corn tortilla with tomatillo d’Arbol  salsa, melted jack cheese and scallions. $13.75. Our Contiki buddy enjoyed her offering and had a few of us on the table a little jealous.

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From Santa Fe, we made our way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We only had a few hours of daylight, when we arrived, so Alex and I made a beeline for Old Town Albuquerque. We ducked into ‘The Candy Lady of Old Town’ where we wolfed down various samples of fudge – peanut butter, chocolate covered peanut butter, peanut butter brittle and peanut butter crunch.(yes, bit of a theme here). We also picked up a little sachet of the Breaking Bad candy, ‘Blue Ice Candy’, The Candy Lady store were approached to create the ‘Ice’ for use as props for the TV show.

_MG_8937Another one of those moments of a lifetime was our stop in Durango Colorado, where we snowmobiled on Purgatory Mountain. After our snow filled, freezing day we made our way to our accommodation then onto dinner. The streets of Durango City were perfumed by the potent whiffs of marijuana, having been made legal on the 1st of January 2014. We happened to visit during the annual ‘Snowdown’ festival – with this year’s theme being the ‘Safari so good’, which made for some interesting sights wandering the streets. We ate that night at ‘Carver Brewing Company’. I had the ‘Navajo Taco’ – Beef chilli served on a baked flatbread topped with local turtle lake micro greens, melted cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapeno’s and sour cream. $9. I was really interested in trying the Navajo taco, as I haven’t seen anything like it before. It ended up being a little disappointing, the ‘taco’ had absorbed a lot of the juices from the chilli mixture.

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Alex was sitting on a different table that night but he thoroughly enjoyed his meal of ‘Carolina BBQ Grilled Chicken’ – Marinated grilled chicken breast, bacon and melted Swiss cheese topped with a honey-Dijon vinaigrette. Served with fingerling potatoes, sautéed green beans and onions.

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Moving on from Durango we made our way through to the Grand Canyon via Monument Valley, a pretty awe-inspiring view. We spent two days in the Grand Canyon, sightseeing, hiking (had to stop mid-way because snow and Alex’s ‘fashion’ boots weren’t totally appropriate) and generally just relaxing. Most of our time was spent in the main lodge where the heavenly wi-fi was located.

Our Contiki Southern Adventure was everything and more than we were expecting, we met some pretty awesome people, shared some unique experiences, great food, many laughs and way way too much alcohol.

Our last stop on our tour was Vegas but thought it should have its own special post.

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Bianca

Photos by Alex

V.B.A

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

Ellen's Southern Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Hoffbrau Steaks on Urbanspoon

Riscky's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

The Big Texan Steak Ranch on Urbanspoon

Cafe Pasqual's on Urbanspoon

Carver Brewing Co on Urbanspoon

Brooklyn Social – Surry Hills

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So I can assume most people have seen a few photos of THAT burger from Brooklyn Social. When I saw it I knew that it belonged in my stomach. Alex and I decided to go on a Friday for lunch, it took us a few good minutes to find it, when in reality it’s really in a prime location. Occupying the old ‘Mexico Food and Liquor’ site opposite Central station.

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Now I wasn’t fortunate to make it to MF&L before they closed but Brooklyn Social hands down have the coolest entrance I’ve seen in some time, whether it was there before I do not know. Black vinyl strips hang from the ceiling cloaking the entrance, Alex couldn’t help but mutter as we walked in “I feel like I’m going to a brothel”. I haven’t been to a brothel so I can’t confirm the black vinyl….Alex?

Touted as a restaurant/dive bar, the inside is rather grungy with dark wood, photos of tittays and old school bands, not to mention a myriad of neon signs. As well as having the coolest bathroom. Props to the music selection as well, with some old school 80’s jams playing when we visited at midday.

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I pretty much bypassed the hotdogs straight away, I kind of have an aversion to oddly shaped processed meat. We obviously went for the big kahuna the ‘Meat Packing District burger’ $14. When it was placed in front of us it was certainly a heart stopping moment, two thick wagyu patties wedged between a toasted branded brioche bun with oozy American cheese trickling down the sides.  Visually it was stunning but that’s kinda where it stopped being great. Taste wise, the meat was incredibly overwhelming, it was hard to differentiate any other flavours, I could see the cheese, the pickles, onions, lettuce, tomato and sauce but sadly couldn’t taste any of it. Very disappointing.

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We also got the ‘Thunder Thighs’ – tender crispy chicken thighs, lettuce and chipotle mayo. $12. I feel like I need to high five the creator of this aptly named burger. While this one wasn’t as visually impressive, taste wise it blew the ‘Meat packing burger’ out of the water. The crispy skin was outta this world. I’ll gladly say it’s one of the BEST chicken burgers I’ve ever eaten. It was a task sharing this with Alex, it would continually make its way back in front of me.

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Finally to share we couldn’t go past the ‘Curly Fries with Chilli Salt’ $6. Can’t go wrong with a batch of  these crispy bad-boys.

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It was hard to describe the vibe in Brooklyn Social because it was deserted during our visit, it would be interesting to see this place on a Friday night.

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We were too full to try the ‘Methodonuts’ $6 ea. There’s only so much my delicate little stomach can handle. We then tried to make amends by doing the Bay Run. If anybody saw us, I apologise for our heaving and heavy breathing (its damn hard with half a cow in ya).

Bianca

Photos by Alex

V.B.A

Brooklyn Social on Urbanspoon

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