Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Little Snail, Sydney

All right, a team lunch and we decide to go for French cuisine. We get a recommendation for The Little Snail, although we were told that people who are aware of the actual French cuisine call this one as not French enough. Nonetheless, we see a positive and wonder if it’s probably a good way to start our journey into the French cuisine by going with the hybrid first.
Now this one is located in Pyrmont. Just as you walk across the bridge on Darling Harbor, you see the little snail on the left. We had reservation done prior and arrived for lunch. Now location wise and décor wise, pretty chic. The staff was courteous and definitely seemed to have a French accent- at least the ones to our tables.
Now as we settled in, the menu was a three course lunch for a fixed amount of $38. You get to choose an entrée, a main course and a dessert. Additionally, if you want to get breads etc, that’s extra. Well there were four of us, so we did get to taste quite a bit of variety.

Let’s start with the entrée’s. There was the salt and pepper squid, which I ordered. Pretty good. A stack of calamari, crunchy on the outside, served with some rocket and spicy mayonnaise or the cornichons aioli. Look, I liked it. The calamari wasn’t too chewy or stringy. It had the crunch and I liked it.

Next was the King Prawns, fried and served with lemon Mayo and sweet chilli. Again, great stuff. Loved it. The sweetness of the prawn, with the crunchy coating of the batter, and balance with the sweet chilli. My friend who normally has allergies to prawns and avoids it, simply couldn’t stop raving about the prawns.

Next starter was the Pate Maison. Now I don’t know what the whole description meant, but it read Armagnac flavored duck liver pate with marinated champignons and date chutney and port vinaigrette. Let me tell you, when the dish arrived, it was breath taking. Looked very polished and fancy with a pate cylinder topped with date chutney in the centre and marinated mushrooms all around with a slight brown sauce. Looked just to master chef. So visually, looked very appealing. Served with bread slices, I tried it and somehow didn’t like the taste at all. May be not too attuned to duck liver pate, but taste wise this was quite the opposite and I didn’t like it, and neither did my friend. May be we aren’t used to pate’s.
The last starter was the Escargots De Bourgogne- a dozen snails marinated in herb infused court bouillon, oven baked in garlic butter. Again, visually very appealing. I have never had snails before and wasn’t quite sure what this was all about.  The dish looked good. An array of snail placed on a large white plate with a buttery and herb sauce. Very cautiously I tried the snail. You had to pull out the snail from the shell. It was a black kind of snail and tasted rubbery. The butter sauce was good, but perhaps I wasn’t too sure if I will have the snail again.

Coming to the mains, me and my friend ordered the Chicken Cordon Bleu. It was supposed to be a skin free chicken breast stuffed with Swiss cheese and ham, lightly coated with panko and with a tomato and basil coulis.  Again, with this being the only chicken dish and I wasn’t too keen to try either the fish or the lamb. There was always this wishful thinking about what if I get an awesome chicken dish with some crispy skins and all. Now when the dish came over, looked good, although a bit different from what I expected. It was a chicken breast with a golden crumb which had been fried with a tomato sauce on top of it. Served with a broccoli and a stack of square potato slices. As we started eating and dug in, unfortunately, this was not what I was looking forward to. To be honest this reminded me more of chicken parmiagna, with a crumb fried an topped with a tomato sauce. To me, while the chicken was juicy and succulent, it lacked flavors and salt. The whole dish lacked flavor. A few slices more and there was ham and cheese in the center. Now, if you are not used to having ham, please don’t order. The Swiss cheese was all molten and wow, but again, it didn’t bind the dish together. So a big disappointment for me in the mains. My second friend who ordered the same dish had similar views. 

The next mains was the Seafood Plate- which had a grilled salmon, garlic prawns, salt and pepper squid, chilli mussels and beer battered soft shell crabs and a salad. Overall, lot of fish and lot of fried stuff. For a fish lover like my friend, she loved it and every bit of it. For me who doesn’t like too much fish, I’d probably politely give it a pass. But yes, I’d say it’s a good dish, well presented, that I was tempted to dig in for a few nibbles.

Next came the desserts. Two of my friends ordered a sticky date pudding. When it was served, it looked gorgeous. A neat circular portion of sticky date pudding, topped vanilla ice cream. On top of this there was a delicate round maze of wafer thin butter scotch. To my Indian friends, it resembled a jalebi. The whole stack on a white plat with a syrup all around. Looked immaculate and tasted good. The warm pudding with the ice cream and the crunchy butterscotch maze. Wow. I would have gone on and on, but the real treat of the dessert was what I ordered. And as much as I hate to loathe and glorify myself, it was truly one of those moments when I virtually patted myself on the back and said – good you mate.. Well done PK, you are a star to have ordered such an awesome dessert. I had ordered the Kahlua Infused Chocolate Mousse. Well, as it was presented, it took my breath away. I was hypnotised, and I felt like singing that song, “ Baby, thought Id died and gone to heaven” or Bryan Adams Heaven. A neat elliptical chocolate cylinder, standing tall like a tower.  And inside this cylinder was chocolate mousse. Topped with a strawberry, this looked real ultra chic. The taste fantastic. The chocolate cylinder was a thin chocolate covering wafer which was frozen and solidified and tasted of dark chocolate. Inside, there was a chocolate mousse, which had  distinct aromatic and taste of Kahlua, and tasted delicious. Trust me, it is one of the bet deserts I have had.  If I had a chance, I would go again to little snail and have this again.
So overall, mixed reviews. Starters were good, mains not really and an out of the world dessert. Was it French enough? Not that I know too much, but didn’t seem to be too much French cuisine. May be the snails and the pate. But then fish, salmon, chicken breast, all seemed to be may be modern Australian, but not really French.
Would I visit again here? May be not, except for the desert. So a very average feedback from me. You can have good ambience, location, French accented staff, but the food is not exceptionally out of the world.

Phone: 02 9212 7512
Fax: 02 9211 6706

50 Murray Street
Pyrmont NSW - Sydney

Opening Hours:
Monday - Thursday
12pm - 3pm & 5.30pm - 9pm

Friday - Saturday
12pm - 3pm & 5.30pm - 10pm

12pm - 3pm & 5.30pm - 9pm

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ashgrove Cheese Factory

All right, if you are in Tassie and around Launceston- this one is a must. Well, we had landed at Launceston Airport, picked up our car and started driving towards Devonport on the Bass Highway, about 70kms from the airport, you come across the Ashgrove Cheese Factory. Well, to me the excitements was because – one it was cheese and second, I have always seen Ashgrove cheese products at the local woollies or coles all the time. To see the place of origination of a brand is always excitement. Well, there is a big board or the highway with signs to the factory.  As you park and go towards the shop, there are award winning cow sculptures.

Now initially I thought this would be like a big industrial factory, but it wasn’t that big. You head into a small shop and as you enter and look around, you realize, that the cheese is being made right beyond the glass walls. There are 
  cheese making vats and it takes about 10 liters of milk to make about 5 kgs of cheese. And while the area looked small, it had two vats which can store about 10,000 litres of milk for processing which in turn produces about 1 tonne of cheese.

Further down and there was the storage area where stacks and stacks of cheese were held. There is an open counter where you can go for cheese tasting. The factory shops focusses on milk, cheese tasting, jams, marmalade and sauces. Other products such as Tasmanian wine, almonds and cashews are also sold.
Coming to the cheese tasting, you just got to do it. Loads of variety such as the premium vintage cheese, rubicon red, wasabi favoured cheese are all there for tasting. Just lovely. You can buy the various cheese packs or get one of the mixed packs like the beer lovers cheese which has 5 variety’s of cheese.

Further, there is a small café in house which does coffee’s, hot chocolate etc. In addition the do this cheese sandwich, which is so out of the world. Unbelievable. It’s a Ashgrove Havarti  cheese, avocado, chicken and mayonnaise sandwich. Just lovely- the stretched mozzarella, the smoky cheese favors with the avocado and mayo- Beautiful. Must have guys.

Must Must Visit!
Ashgrove Cheese Factory
6173 Bass Highway, Elizabeth Town TAS 7304
(03) 6368 1105

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mick Hundals Spice Rack, Woolgoolga

All right, we are at Coff’s Harbour over the long weekend in June. We decide to explore a nearby area of Woolgoolga. About 25 kms from Coffs, this place is a small village which has a Sikh Temple. So we head down and visit the temple. Apparently Sikhs have been in this region since the time of the federation. At the temple, you get pamphlets of the Anzac Sikhs- who have fought as Australian forces in the World War I and II. Well Sikhs came in in the early 1900’s and worked in the banana farming and then settled there. As you go ahead of the temple, down into the village center and beyond, you reach Woolgoolga Heads- and there are some superb and breath taking elevated views of the beaches and islands nearby. Now being in this area, I search for food and trust me, at 2 in the afternoon, the options are so limited. A subway, and maybe 1 or 2 cafes. Alongside, there is a wishful thinking if there is a good curry place here, given the large number of Sikhs here. We do come across a couple of Indian grocery stores, but nothing else. This is until I search online and notice that there is a restaurant called Mick Hundel’s Spice Rack. Few reviews but all great reviews. Having my craving for Punjabi style curry, I follow to this place, only to realise it doesn’t open in the afternoon. It only opens from 5 P.M. so we head up to the subway in the afternoon, drive down back towards Coffs, to Sealy Look Out Point and then return back to Woolgoolga in the evening. So a lot of driving. Top it up with the fact that we have to drive back again to Coffs to get the train in the night and a GPS malfunction leads to us driving for another 10 kms until we found a cut and drove back.

  1. So as you can make it, we were getting on the edge and wondering if it was worth all this. Now Mick Hundal’s Spice Rack better be good. When I heard the name, I probably thought wow, what a name. I thought, may be its an Aussie bloke like Gordon Ramsay or someone who is in a remote place and cooks real great curries. Of course, the irony was that I didn’t realise why would an Aussie be selling curry in a place dominated by Sikh’s. Any ways, as we reach and head in, it’s a small little eatery. Very basic. And its got this very family feel to it. Its like a small little cosy home. And this is when we realize, Mick Hundal is actually not an Aussie bloke, but a Sikh gentleman. Came to Australia in the 40’s with a dollar in the pocket and working hard to making it big here. And then he started cooking to follow his dreams and passions.

The eatery is full of pictures of his family, of his wife, his sons, daughters. There are origami birds decorated on the wall and on the tables. A small makeshift bar – having a few bottles on the table. As I walk in, it is his son, who takes us to the table and gives us the menu. There is another table with an Aussie couple dining. The other table has a group of Punjabi boys celebrating birthday over some whiskey.

We settle in and look at the menu and decide to order a tandoori chicken and fish fry for starters, for mains, we ordered the chicken curry and an assortment of breads. As we were ordering, the son of the owner taking the order asked us, if there is anything specific and he can customer the curry for us. So I ended up telling him that I don’t want any of the regular curries like the vindaloo or the butter chicken. He does mention that he can customize the curry and that I should just describe it. Well I do that – tell him that I want the typical home made Punjabi curry with onion and tomatoes paste with coriander and it shouldn’t be those typical creamy curries.

Now we start with our drinks and conversation. It’s a cold night and the craving for a warm curry is high. The décor is very simple and it gives a very family feel to it. The next table has an Aussie couple who are on their way to Queensland. Apparently they do it every year to travel to warmer areas during the winters and every year they stop here. The other table which ad bunch of Indian Punjabi boys, celebrating drinks over their mate’s birthday was quite the thing from India you probably didn’t expect. 

These guys were just wonderful. A few drinks in and then they were speaking in English and then further went to be quite friendly with all of us in the restaurant, including offering free drinks and dishes. Simple boys, clean hearts and open mind, it was good to be in the company of them. They did talk about working in the nearby farms and then the fact that how Coffs Harbour is an area for the growth of blueberries, strawberries and cucumbers. Although it is famous for the big banana and the banana farming, truth is that now Queensland is now the place for banana cultivation.

Coming to the food, well, the fish fry came and so did the tandoori chicken. The fish fry was lovely. It was soft fish dipped in a besan batter and deep fried.  Beautiful Loved it. Especially considering the trauma we faced two nights before when we had the soggy and crappy fish fry in Oberoi’s Indian food. So good fish fry, wouldn’t mind trying again. Next comes the Tandoori chicken. Now tandoori chicken is one which has achieved fame worldwide and hence, has also been corrupted and abused. So while I hoped for something awesome, I hoped it wasn’t abused with incessant color and over spiced chicken. Well, it was my day and the tandoori chicken was perfect. One of the best I have had. Perfectly grilled, well spiced, and succulent chicken. Again I liked it. It had this char grilled burnt flavor on the sides.

Next came the chicken curry and the breads. The chicken curry was just what I wanted an expected. At times, you want the real stuff, the real curry that you get in India, the curry that you make at home. Sometimes, you are just sick of the creamy pre-cooked curries with the predictable taste. You just want fresh cooked gravy. And let me tell you- this was it. Beautiful red color with oil floating on the top, fragrant and flavorsome.

One of the best chicken curries I have had so far in Australia. So as of now, the hidden jewels for me in Australia for the best Indian Chicken Curry is Spice Rack at Woolgoolga and Lync’s Hotel in Narooma.

The breads were good, a bit too generous with the oil or butter. Towards the end of it, we were given Gulab Jamun’s and these were so awesome, seemed fresh and home made. So full marks for the food.

The place is alive like a little Punjabi family. The gentleman Mick, actually in between the cooking comes over and sits down with you, has a drink and shares interesting stories. Its so wonderful to have met Mick, who is like a larger than life figure. He is caring, talks freely, treats you like his own kids and just makes up the evening. I was so enchanted, as he spoke about his days in the 1950’s when he came over to Australia with a dollar and very little education from Punjab and moved onto working in the farms, meeting an Aussie lady here who supported him. An interesting story is how he struggled with English and couldn’t learn, until they did a challenge for him to learn one word every day and in return he gets a beer. It’s just the human determination and kind heartedness, which gets you overwhelmed.

All in All, I am dying to be back here again for the next visit. Loved this place and highly recommended to anyone in the region.

Mick HUndal’s Spice Rack Indian Restaurant
5/31, River Street, Woolgoolga NSW 2456

Ph: 02 6654 1900

Mobile: 0407469001

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