Date Archives September 2011

¡Hagamos una fiesta!


Which, I’m told by Google means “let’s party!”.

Mad Mexwhose food I’ve reviewed before – has just opened a brand spanking new location in George St in the city. It’s right near Central Station, and shines like a bright beacon of tasty food right before you descend into the yawning maws of the underground tunnel that leads you to the train station.


The opening night had a more-festive-than-usual atmosphere – balloons, colours, and of course, the food.

But before all that, Clovis Young – founder of Mad Mex – brought us through a course in tequila and salsa.


Part of the flavour of the salsa comes from charred vegetables.


Onions, peppers, and tomatoes are blackened over fire and then chopped up and placed into a blender. Sounds simple? Well, don’t go breaking out the gas stoves just yet.


Fragrant, spicy Mexican chillis are then added to the mixture, giving it a kick that I can only describe as piquant and incredibly addictive. The variety of chillies that are used here really give it a certain something extra, which sets the salsas apart from salsas from other origins that can sometimes taste rather…flat. Apparently, Mad Mex uses about 20,000kg of chillies and 12,000 kg of avocados a year!

Now, onto the juicy bit, THE FOOD!


What seemed like every imaginable condiment was laid out before us while the servers worked in a conveyor-belt-type line to keep hungry people fed.

Clockwise from left: Mad Mex menu, Crispy Tacos, Grande Melt

That night, we had a choice of anything on the menu, and boy did my tummy appreciate it.

Beef Burrito

Beef Nachos

Out of everything I had that night, my absolute favourite had to be the Nachos. While the flavour of all the ingredients – and there were some that were pretty common across the board – works together nicely, I liked having the option to just have certain elements on their own. The Burrito was good, as usual, and the Grande Melt deserves special mention – I brought half of it home and it reheated very nicely the next day.

The most obvious thing that I noticed that day was that I didn’t feel overly sick and filled with grease. No, I essentially ate till I dropped and still got away with it! It tasted fresh and light, and while filling, didn’t weigh you down at all! It’s a great change from the typical Mexican fare that can get rather oily and heavy. Especially good for a quick lunch in the city!


Clockwise from left: Clovis Young, founder of Mad Mex, Sean ordering at the counter, the high-energy staff at the George St store.

And what’s a great party without the great people?

There was a mariachi band that night, and friends and family were all invited for a feed. It had great energy that night, and I think it’s great that it was a similarly great energy when I went to the Darlinghurst store previously. No matter how much I like the food, the service is always what I come back for.

Good food, great people – what else could you ask for?

We ate at:

Mad Mex
815 George St
Ultimo NSW 2007

Mad Mex (George Street) on Urbanspoon

View Larger Map

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

View from Flying Fish, where we had dinner.

Isn’t it beautiful? The lovely people at Wine Selectors and Keepleft PR invited a few bloggers and myself to a wedding – to be specific, the marriage of food and wine.


We were first greeted by little wedding favors – Bombonieres – of sugared almonds. Champagne was cheerfully offered, but knowing my extremely low tolerance for alcohol, I tried to politely defer till dinner. In the meantime, I ordered something else to drink in the meantime.


Behold! The only non-alcoholic drink in the room!

Regardless of my (dis)ability with alcohol, I had a very lovely pre-dinner chat with Chris Barnes – consultant wine educator to Wine Selectors and visiting lecturer in Wine Studies at the University of Melbourne – about the science of wine.


From left: 2005 Chrismont Riesling, 2010 Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling

We started out with two really nice Rieslings. The younger of the two smelled distinctly of fresh pears and apples, and the older had a slightly more complex scent of ripe fruit.

Clockwise from left: Toasted Brioche with Duck Rillettes and Foie Gras Mousse, Cornet of Ocrean Trout Tartare with Chive Creme Fraiche, Freshly Shucked Sydney Rock Oysters with Soy and Ginger

The younger Riesling worked really nicely with the oysters, and the older of the two cut through the richness of the Duck Rillettes and Foie Gras. While I enjoyed the lighter, juicier Riesling more, the more layered, older Riesling worked better with food. I guess what I’m trying to say rather clumsily is that I would enjoy the younger Riesling on its own, but would rather have the older Riesling with food.

We then had a choice of two different mains that we could have, and Simon and I went halfsies!

Roasted Blue Eye Trevalla with Textures of Potato, White Anchovy and Herb Vinaigrette

The fish was marvelously flaky, but the best part of this dish for me was the tasty, tingly vinaigrette! There was such beauty in the way that the flavors sparked my tastebuds and the silky-yet-flaky white fish felt in my mouth that the individual elements didn’t really make that much of an impression. It was just a glorious, light, soul-lifting whole.

Dutton Park Duck Breast & Confit Leg Pastilla with Buckwheat, Quince & Pan Juices

As much as I usually prefer seafood – and that fish was divine – this duck was everything a duck should be. Or any meat for that matter. It was chock full of flavor, juicy, and I finally can say that I understand why there is such a tizzy about duck fat. There was just a certain satiny richness that coated my tongue, mellowed out the sharp saltiness of the pan juices and gave a great depth of flavor to the buckwheat.


The mains were paired with two Pinot Noirs – 2010 Riposte by Tim Knappstein No 1 Pinot Noir and 2008 Tarrawarra Estate Reserve Pinot Noir. To be honest, to a wine novice like me, the reds were just a bit much. I could definitely appreciate the jammy berry scents in the older of the two reds, but as far as the tasting, I was just a little bit lost. I did, however, learn about the importance of oxygen to flavor.

The oxidation process apparently allows for a greater complexity of flavor. Chris likened it to the process of cooking – oxygen molecules are excited and the flavor of the food changes. Hence the idea of letting the wine “breathe”, which apparently is a misnomer as the wine doesn’t exactly go through expiration and respiration. The process of oak barrel maturation was explained to me like this – the wood allows some of the liquid to evaporate, and oxygen is then pulled into the barrel, which then interacts with the wine and brings out a more complex, deeper flavor.

At least, that’s how I understand it.

A final red – 2009 Coriole Vineyards Sangiovese Shiraz – was then poured out for us to enjoy with the cheese platter.


We had two different kinds of cheeses that night – an American Cheddar, and a Delice de Bourgogne. The shiraz had a dark, chocolatey flavor, and the tannins cut through the creaminess of the oozy Delice de Bourgogne really well. It was really enjoyable, although I still felt that there was a limit to which I could enjoy the Shiraz because I couldn’t fully understand it.
But that’s the thing.

In my chats with Chris, what I really learnt from him and this wonderful dinner with the people from Wine Selectors is that you’ve gotta start somewhere. The perception of wine seems either to be that it is intimidating – probably because of a lack of exposure – or that it is pretentious. I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t have to be either. It is a little bit like food, I guess, because you win some and you lose some. I’ve just realized that while I wouldn’t consider myself a wine lover, I do like a young Reisling. And seeing as how I started my love affair with cheese with creamy white mould cheeses and now love a good sharp blue, I’m pretty sure that before long I’ll work my way up to appreciating a nice, full red.

A big thank you to the nice people at Wine Selectors and Keep Left PR for inviting me to this lovely dinner, and the intriguing introduction to wine.

Note: Insatiable Munchies and other food bloggers mentioned in this post dined as guests of Wine Selectors and Keepleft PR.

We ate at:

Flying Fish
Lower Deck Jones Bay Wharf,
19/21 Pirrama Road
Pyrmont NSW 2009
(02)9518 6677

Flying Fish on Urbanspoon

View Larger Map

Happy 120 Years TAFE!! Weird Food Dinner


As you all would know, I love LOVE odd food. Chances are, if it’s really out there and doesn’t really sound like food at all, I’ll desperately want to try it. Which is why TAFE’s Weird Food Dinner – which is part of the Ultimo Science Festival and TAFE’s 120 year celebrations – was my PERFECT idea of dinner. There’s just something about edible creativity that really sparks my interest.

When you first walk in The Apprentice – the resident TAFE restaurant where the cookery and hospitality students get to use all the skills (and probably more) that they’ve learnt in their TAFE courses – two large television screens greet you.


These screens both show footage of what’s going on in the kitchen. The whole dinner is actually prepared by students in Year 2 of the Commercial Cookery Certificate III. The hum of conversation rises as everyone speculates what dish is being prepared in the kitchen. All the footage is live, and provides great insight to the tension, the energy, and the nerves that go on behind the scenes. I actually saw a student’s hand shake as she lifted little white beans (more about that later) from a tray of clear liquid. As a self-confessed food nerd I must admit that I watched with endless fascination like a child at the aquarium.


The dinner started out with baskets of warm bread being rolled out by the Food and Beverage Certificate IV students. Smartly dressed in monochrome tones, fragrant rolls of chewy goodness were waved temptingly under our noses, singing its siren’s song of toastiness. There were a few different varieties (I kinda scoffed them all before I remembered to take a photo. FAIL) but my absolute favourite was the Beetroot Bread (right). There was the subtle sweetness of beetroot, mixed with the amazing chewy texture of the bread. Plus, the vibrant infusion of fuchsia was absolutely stunning.

P8246586Appetizer: Diego Munoz, Bilsons. XL White bean, Kurobuta pancetta, black garlic

When the appetizer came, I actually had a really strong impression that I’ve seen this dish somewhere before. Especially the XL White Bean.

Does anyone else get food deja vu?

Anyway, the XL White Bean is actually made up of white bean that has been first poached in ham stock, pureed, then had alginate added, before careful spoonfuls were dropped into a calcium chloride solution. This process is called spherification, and the idea is that a thin skin forms on the outside of the puree, giving it its form. This large “white bean” is then delicately topped with the thinnest sliver of Kurobuta pancetta. Buta is japanese for pig, and Kurobuta refers to a specific sort of (I believe) black pig that has a good amount of fat bred into the species. Sounds exotic? Well, it’s nothing compared to the other element – the Black Garlic.

Apparently, the way you would get black garlic is to ferment it for 40 days at a specific temperature. Most methods that I’ve seen online call for a heating element (but not too hot) and low humidity. The result of all the kerfuffle? Beautiful, soft garlic the colour of inky night skies with a strong umami flavor that leaves your tastebuds tingling in excitement. If ever there was a relatable definition to “big mouth feel”, this is it for me. I was specifically instructed by the cook/chef that accompanied my waiter that I was meant to eat a full bean, the garlic and then the full bean again. It was almost as if the first “bean” was to set me up for the explosion of flavor that the garlic gives, and the second “bean” was there to bring me down gently in a cloud of white bean puree. My only gripe would be that I didn’t really taste what the pancetta brings to the party. After hearing so much about this pig – bless you, Iron Chef – I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to experience what this little piggy was really meant to do.

P8246593Entree: Patrick Dang, Concrete Blonde. Giant red claw yabby, bisque ice cream, bacon powder, porcini broth

About 30 minutes after the appetizer was served, the dish that I was anticipating the most came through the swinging doors of the kitchen. I have a weakness for crustaceans. There. I’ve said it.

When I first looked at it, I was pretty sure that my scoop of bisque ice cream had fallen of its yabby pedestal, but I like to think that it might have been a creative decision by the person preparing my dish because it kind of looks like an abstract melting Dali crustacean from the side. I think it’s cute. And that’s what I’m sticking with.

I think this had to be my favorite tasting dish of the night. The fresh yabby had a great spring in its flesh, the porcini broth imparted a great ‘meatiness’ to the dish, and the bisque ice cream. Oh, the bisque ice cream! It was divine. I could’ve eaten a whole tub. The shellfish flavor that I’m so addicted to came through all the creaminess like a bright light shining through a paper lantern – its potential glare was kerbed by the soft, melting creaminess that hugged the tongue. The bacon powder sounded like a great idea, but didn’t actually do much for me. The rest of the dish was so yummy that – rather than provide a contrast in texture like I think it was meant to do – it actually kind of sat there like an un-needed appendage.

Still, I feel that all the omnomnomminess outweighed any and all potential negative the dish might have had. It was just yummy. And let me state for the record that it is very difficult to try and scrape your plate clean in a fancy posh setting. Just sayin’.

layoutMain: Alfonso Ales, Jonahs. Aylesbury duck, “Apicus” Hunter Valley

The main came out of the kitchen in a waft of gorgeous aroma. The poached and spiced pears and citrus fruit were carefully arranged in a line beside the duck, adding fresh colour to the earthy palette on the plate. I was actually quite excited by the thought of this dish – I don’t know why, it might have been a fantasy fueled by the visions of Heston Blumenthal’s Duck a L’orange. Somehow the sight of duck with citrus just triggers that fantasy for me.

But anyway.

I’m sad to say that this dish wasn’t exactly my favorite of the night. While the fruit hit all the right notes, the duck was a little bit…overdone for my taste. Excuse my plebeian tastebuds, but it tasted just a little bit powdery for me. Just a little. Maybe it’s an acquired taste for the texture, like liver.

The skin and the sauce however, went really well with the fruit.

layoutDessert: Nathan Griffiths, Ultimo College. Bistro Burger “all the trimmings”

If the Entree was my favorite flavor profile of the night, then this has to be my favorite visual. As a fan of Heston Blumenthal, I LOVE the idea of a certain food masquerading as something else. And this hit all those targets and captured my imagination. Smooth, custard-y vanilla ‘buns’ were topped with a chocolate mousse ‘patty’, raspberry ‘tomatoes’, pistachio biscuit ‘pickles’, white chocolate ‘cheese slice’, pistachio sponge ‘lettuce’ and another wobbly dome of vanilla ‘bun. And on the side, dehydrated pineapple ‘french fries’, accompanied with raspberry coulee ‘ketchup’ and mango ‘mustard.


You can’t really go wrong with those flavors : it’s not exactly ‘out there’ but meh, who cares when it is so CUTE! It tasted good, I don’t think I really have to say anything else.


And when you think you’re done, the dinner is topped off with a white chocolate lollipop (is it scattered with cocoa nibs? I’m not sure) and a selection of chocolates.

In all, it was a fun and informative dinner, which was well worth the $75 price tag. True, it wasn’t exactly my idea of “weird”, but then again, I watch a lot of programs that feature Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria, so maybe I’m a little biased. Hey, at least I got to enjoy the creations of these great chefs, TWO of whom worked for Ferran Adrià!! I’m now only separated by 2 degrees!!! *Squeals like a fangirl*

Anyway. The food was good and the staff were absolutely lovely. I’m not sure what the menu at The Apprentice is like usually, but I wouldn’t mind going there again to find out. And a quick flick through the Ultimo Science Festival program that was given out before dinner showed me all the really cool stuff that I had missed out on this year. =(

I definitely know what I’ll be doing next year though. Any food nerds want to join me? 😀

I ate at:

The Apprentice Restaurant
Level 7, Building E
TAFE NSW Sydney Institute, Ultimo College
Harris Street, Ultimo 2007
(02) 9217-5527
SI.TheApprentice (AT)

Apprentice on Urbanspoon

View Larger Map