Monday, June 30, 2014

Santaro @ Hinoki Japanese Restaurant: Fresh Sushi, Sashimi and Innovative Dishes

Pumpkin under Snow (S$18)
Pumpkin under Snow. If there ever was a dish that evoked the feel of a Chinese painting, this might be it. The ethereal egg white is so light it floats like clouds above the lake of pumpkin puree. The sweetness of the pumpkin is juxtaposed with the savoury highlights of an exceptional broth. I was immediately piqued and had to ask, "What is in that stock?"

It seemed the judges at the inaugural Washoku World Challenge in Tokyo had asked the same question. This is the acclaimed dish that won Chef Santaro Li top honours at the competition.

Chef Santaro Li at his restaurant Hinoki
With over 40 years of experience, Chef Li or Li-san deserves his repute as a ryori-jin or masterchef, someone who has perfected his skills in all aspects of Japanese cooking (sushi, grilling, boiling, stewing, etc). Li-san who came to Singapore from Guangzhou many years ago, is now one of Singapore's forefathers of Japanese cuisine.

He trained with Japan's first Iron Chef Michiba Rokusaburo, worked in Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, as well as Fort Canning Country Club and Nogawa locally. Many of us remember his own Santaro restaurant, where he served many luminaries and dignitaries.

While he is classically trained, he remains very open to using non-traditional ingredients like foie gras. Li-san can come up with numerous creations on the spot, focusing on the harmony of flavours.

Trio of Appetiser (S$18)
Trio of Appetiser (S$18)
From left to right: Shirako (fish milt); Century egg tofu; and Sujiko (salmon roe, salted and marinated while still in the sac)
The appetisers may change according to season. I also realised this one is a whole platter of reproductive items - sperm and eggs. Funny.

Sashimi platter (S$60 includes toro, but this one comprises baigai or sea snail, scallop, hamachi, tai, and salmon belly)
The sashimi is pleasantly fresh, succulent and sweet. This is one of the highlights here. We were very tickled by the sushi chefs painstakingly moulding a wasabi snowman.

Takenoko (Winter Bamboo Shoot) S$12
Takenoko (Winter Bamboo Shoot) S$12
The bamboo shoot has been boiled and poached in its skin along with rice husks for six hours in 90-98 deg C water. The result? There's no more musky bamboo smell! It's then grilled with white miso paste. Clean-tasting and delicious.

Sea Bream with Foie Gras (S$25)
Sea Bream with Foie Gras (S$25)
This is one of Li-san's more artful creations.

Sea Bream with Foie Gras, unfolded
The pink pickled giant radish unfolds to reveal the sea bream rolled around the foie gras like a maki. The taste combination is amazing. Even my friend who does not like foie gras loved this.

Sushi platter
Sushi (S$60 including toro)
Foie gras makes another appearance here, laid atop the shrimp and given an aburi treatment. Pop the whole thing in your mouth while it's warm, and enjoy the "oh my god" moment. I also love the maki with aji, wasabi, pickles and truffle oil - ridiculously delicious. Oh, how I wanted more.

Ice cream (Goma and Yuzu, S$6 per scoop)
Ice cream (S$6 per scoop)
The quintessential flavours of goma (black sesame) and yuzu make the perfect cap to a lovely meal. The natural flavours get to shine through because they are not too sweet.

Santaro Hinoki has a long sushi bar
Hinoki has an 18-seater sushi counter where you can watch the chefs in action.

But the best thing is to see Li-san himself coming around to serve you and chat with you. You can read about his fascinating life story (and see more delicious photos) in other blogs; I won't duplicate it here.

22 Cross Street
#01-50/53 China Square Central
Singapore 048423
Tel: +65 6536-7746
Opening Hours: 11:30am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10.30pm

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Moosehead Kitchen-Bar at Telok Ayer St: Edgy, Expressive Mediterranean with Asian Touches

Moosehead Chef Manel Valero and Owner Daniel Ballis
Meet Manel Valero and Daniel Ballis. These guys are behind Moosehead, a hip livewire of a kitchen bar, serving edgy and inventive cuisine combinations. Chef Manel is from a town close to Barcelona, but found his passion for cooking in Beijing. Owner-operator Daniel with his dad Glen are avid world travellers and restauranteurs from Australia. Together they infuse Moosehead with a 'global soul' where they create tasty treats with freestyle expression.

Moosehead Kitchen-Bar is a shoebox of an edgy indie eatery
Moosehead feels cosy and edgy all at the same time. It's a narrow shoebox configuration at this corner prewar shophouse. There's lots of vintage wood grain, a bit of industrial metal, and long plaster walls in earthy browns and grays. You'll see shabby chic in repurposed items like wardrobe doors that are now giant wall mirrors, and flea market wall racks that hold wine glasses. 

The open kitchen features an awesome charcoal grill oven, from which many smokily delicious things emerge, as you'll see.

Chef Manel painted a moosehead on the wall which also features a collage mural by Samantha Lo
Quirky wall art lends an urbane and slightly subversive. Chef Manel himself painted a moosehead amidst the collage-like mural done by Singapore street artist Samantha Lo (closed circuit TV cameras amidst stylized motifs of Peranakan tiles? Big Brother is watching!)

Manel had studied art and design in Barcelona before a stint with a catering company sparked his interest in cooking. He left for Beijing to work in the Spanish restaurant Migas, and then came to Singapore in 2012. Manel helped open FoodBar Dada (now defunct tapas bar), Prive Grill and helped with research at 2am:Lab, before setting up Moosehead.

This chef has also been spinning as a DJ since he was 16. His keen interest in music is also why Moosehead has this indie energy in its in-house play-mix - jazz, reggae, funk, hip-hop and techno.

Moosehead also showcases the playful imagination of its owner-operator Daniel Ballis. Daniel himself has lived in Asia for 12 years, and went to school in Phuket, Bintan, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur - pretty exotic for a Melbourne native. He worked at Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney before coming to Singapore. He still travels, and loves checking out new eateries, mostly for ideas and experience.

The furniture is an eclectic mix of repurposed items, like sewing machine legs
The place is peppered with eclectic furniture, some of which are unusual tabletops on cast iron sewing machine legs. Seating comes in all shapes and mismatched sizes.

But it's a place where you can let your hair down, relax with friends, and tuck into the 'elevated street food' inspired by Manel's and Daniel's travels and experiences in many countries. The food can best be described as modern Mediterranean spiked with Japanese and South-east Asian influences.

Manel likes to combine bold flavours and textures, as is evident right from the appetisers.

Bacon wrapped chargrilled dates, roast garlic aioli, pine nuts
Bacon-wrapped chargrilled dates, with roast garlic aioli and pine nuts (S$8) will make the sweet toothed swoon. The grilled dates are meltingly warm and soft on your tongue, while the bacon works savoury magic all over. The dates with the chargrilled caramelisation are ultra sweet though.

Grilled avocado, ajo blanco, quinoa, salmon roe
The Grilled Avocado, Ajo Blanco, Quinoa, Salmon Roe (S$18) is a stellar example of contrasting textures and rich flavours coming together. Hot and warm, crunchy and creamy, sweet and umami. The ajo blanco sauce is interesting - made of olive oil, bread, almond and garlic - and gets its creamy colour from the almonds.

Chef Manel shaving a frozen apple over the warm grilled avocado
You get some chef action with this dish too. Here's Manel shaving a frozen apple over the warm grilled avocado. The effect is amazing - watch the apple practically melt all over the avocado.

Crispy spiced pigs ears
Crispy spiced pig ears (S$16) make a great beer snack. They are ultra crunchy and addictive, with the spices which seem to include cumin, coriander, paprika and pepper.

Chef Manel had wanted to make deep-fried pig's face, apparently a popular street snack in Spain. But he could not get the face skin alone; only whole pig's heads were sold. So he hit on the idea of using pig's ears instead. It worked. I'm glad, cos I love pig's ears!

In fact, I wrote a whole piece on pig's ears after this, for Yahoo Makanation.

Maitake, potato foam, yuzu, soya sago (S$22)
Maitake, potato foam, yuzu, soya sago (S$22)
I was surprised at how much I liked this. What intense flavours. The Japanese mushrooms are beautifully grilled, and the salty soy mini tapioca pearls are especially fun to eat.

Burratina, Turkish bread, tomato, basil oil (S$21)
Burratina, Turkish bread, tomato, basil oil (S$21)
This is probably the most conventional dish here - it's a staple favourite from the Mediterranean.

Roasted cauliflower, salsa verde
Roasted cauliflower, salsa verde (S$14)
Another winner here from the grill. Smoky grilled cauliflower drizzled with a creamy sauce and more sparingly a green sauce that's potently umami - I know the secret ingredient, but will let you try and guess what it is.

Asparagus, leeks, garlic miso (S$14)
Asparagus, leeks, garlic miso (S$14)
The simplicity of this dish works, although the leek shreds are a little hard to chew. This is also vegetarian, by the looks of it. That grill works wonders with vegetables as much as it does with meat.

Speaking of meat, let's move on to the mains.

Wagyu chuck rib, teriyaki mushrooms, sweet potato, bonito (S$38)
Wagyu chuck rib, teriyaki mushrooms, sweet potato, bonito (S$38)
Moosehead gets its wagyu from the Stockyard farm in Australia. The beef is not too fatty but is unusually gamey for wagyu. The medley of mushrooms and root chips add fun and texture.

Lamb rack, warm curry spinach, glazed carrots (S$36)
Lamb rack, warm curry spinach, glazed carrots (S$36)
The spice-crusted lamb pairs very well with the curry dressing in the spinach here. Sweet carrots round up this hearty and aromatic main dish.

Iberico, Boston scallops, nori and porcini (S$28)
Iberico, Boston scallops, nori and porcini (S$28)
From time to time, they have special creations, as Manel comes up with new ideas. This nice ensemble features plump scallops from Boston, Iberico ham and crispy seaweed that I just feel like wrapping around the scallops and soaking them in the porcini puree.

Experimental chicken bulgogi
Chef Manel also brought out an experimental chicken bulgogi, with sesame seeds and horseradish mayo. I liked the seasoning and the chargrill aspect, but mayo is a little too rich and overpowering. Maybe a lighter citrusy dressing would balance the sweet and spicy marinade? Or maybe I'm getting too old for greasy food.

There are not a lot of desserts here, but the one you have to try is this:

Gula Melaka frozen foam, chili pineapple, banana, chocolate (S$14)
Gula Melaka frozen foam, chili pineapple, banana, chocolate (S$14)

A seriously refreshing Chili Pineapple ice pop with Gula Melaka frozen foam, banana custard and chocolate soil. We're advised to eat all the elements together, but I kinda enjoyed them individually as well.

Chili pineapple ice pops are popular in Mexico. Manel took this to a whole new level, incorporating local ingredients like gula melaka.

Pistachio cake, yuzu creme fraiche (S$12)
Pistachio cake, yuzu creme fraiche (S$12)

Also by popular demand is the pistachio cake, but it does pale in comparison to the fun experiment that is the chili pineapple ensemble. This is a pretty dense cake, and can be a tad dry, so take it with lots of the fresh cream.

Moosehead Kitchen-Bar is at 110 Telok Ayer Street
Moosehead is certainly a great place for dinner and drinks, but for lunch, you can get a good Reuben sandwich or some items from the dinner menu (about 70% of it might be available). Go with friends so you can try more plates. Eat + drink + share, as their motto goes!

110 Telok Ayer Street
Singapore 068579
Tel: +65 6636-8055

Opening hours
Lunch: noon to 2.30pm
Dinner 6pm to 10.30pm
Dinner 6pm to 10.30pm

Closed Sundays


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tupperware VentSmart Fridge Storage Containers; NanoNature Water Filtration System; Eco Bottles

Tupperware has introduced the modular VentSmart fridge storage solution. It helps your produce stay fresh longer by controlling the air ventilation in the container.

There's a slider that adjusts the air circulation vents to open, closed or half open, to complement the breathing patterns of the produce stored.

Fruits and vegetables fall into three categories based on the level of oxygen they demand.

Low respiratory produce like carrots, celery, cucumbers and grapes are stored with both vents sealed.

Medium respiratory produce include beans, cauliflower, lettuce and apples are stored with one vent open.

High respiratory produce such as broccoli, corn, brussels sprouts and artichokes do best with both vents open.

There are pictures of how to store different produce
There's a handy "cheat sheet" printed right on the side of the container. This food chart recommends which fruits and vegetables can be grouped that have similar breathing patterns. They even tell you what not to store! Tomatoes, eggplant, avocado and bananas don't need containers or refrigeration. I do wish I could find out about vegetables beyond what is shown though.

So does nifty ventilation thing this really work?

I did an experiment with my most troublesome items - spring onions and coriander. They rot and wilt so easily if you store them wrongly. Under the VentSmart system, these go into a box with vents that are half sealed, half closed.

Coriander and Spring Onions after almost three weeks
This is what they look like three weeks later! Still pretty fresh and alive. Well, most of the time, we use them up before a week or two is up. But it's nice to know you can keep your produce fresher for longer.

The curved sides and the built in grid at the bottom helps keep food away from moisture that leads to rotting and deterioration. The seals on the containers are pretty air and liquid-tight too, like most Tupperware items.

The containers stack neatly and nicely together. When not in use, they can be nested away to save space.

Tupperware VentSmart stores more veg in the fridge
My fridge's original vegetable compartments also have the air vent control system but the flimsy plastic cover just gave way. Well, I never have enough space for fruit and veg anyway, so these VentSmart containers really came in useful. There are several sizes to choose from to optimise space arrangement. Some of these can be a bit bulky, so plan your produce combinations wisely!

Here's a video on the VentSmart.

A set of the VentSmart Rectangular Set (A840) comprising two medium low containers and three small high containers (all of which are 1.8L in capacity) is S$92. You can also purchase the medium high container (4.4L) at S$34.60 with every purchase of the A840.

I also managed to try a sample of the filtered water from the NanoNature Water Filtration System (NNWFS). Wow, it tastes like FIJI Water! Clean, fresh and with a lovely mouthfeel.

Well, you know what our tap water tastes like. And what it used to be.

The NNWFS uses the same technology employed by NASA to purify space cabin water. Filters with NanoCeram technology remove 99.99% bacteria and viruses. Carbon blocks remove chlorine, heavy metals and contaminants while improving the taste and water clarity. Japanese Bakuhan rocks add 19 beneficial minerals and increase water alkalinity.

The upfront cost for system with filter cartridge and enhancement tank is S$1,290. The cost of filtered, purified and enhanced drinking water? Estimated at about 25.8 cents per litre (S$358 per 5000L).

Coupled with the Tupperware Eco Bottle (this I really like!), you can save a lot of mineral water bottles! Right now, I have two of the 500ml Lime coloured bottles (S$8) that my girls are using for school. The design is simple but elegantly functional. The screwtop cover seals tight, but is easy enough for kids to use. It's got a nice ergonomic grip, and a stable base.

Tupperware Brands’ VentSmart™ can be purchased at:

Tupperware Singapore
Address: 85 Defu Lane 10, #01-00, Singapore 539218
Tel: 6285 3988  

Tupperware Brands’ VentSmart™ is also available through an independent Tupperware Brands consultant situated in the following locations:

Tampines Hub
Blk 419 Tampines Street 41
#01-82, Singapore 520419
Tel: 6789 8133 
  Toa Payoh Hub
  Blk 94 Toa Payoh Lorong 4  
  #01-10, Singapore 310094 
  Tel: 9633 5008
Yishun Hub
Blk 769 Yishun Ave 3,
#01-279 Singapore 760769
Tel: 9781 6521

West Coast Hub
Blk 505 West Coast Drive
#01-214, Singapore 120505
Tel: 9368 5252

  Woodlands Hub
  No. 268 Woodlands Point, #04-02
  Woodlands Central Road, Singapore 738931
  Tel: 9271 1406


Friday, June 27, 2014

Fitness Friday: Jillian Michaels' One Week Shred is the Best Workout DVD Ever! Plus, How Alcohol Makes You Fat...

Jillian Michaels is right now my favourite home workout trainer. I like that her workouts are well-paced with challenging bits weaved in. There are usually interesting moves to keep you coming back, and she pushes you on in a tough but encouraging way. The workouts are also short (30-mins) but not some lazy 7-minute shortcut. Seriously, 30 minutes with her, and your time is well-invested. That's great for busy people!

I really liked her Yoga Meltdown DVD (full workout 1 at the link), so when this One Week Shred came out, I picked it up on Amazon. It's designed to be an intense burst to get fast results when you need to look good urgently - be it a wedding, vacation or crazily special date. I didn't have that urgency, but I was curious what she would put in such a workout.

Well, here's a collage that gives you an idea. The DVD is divided into two half-hour workouts - weights in the morning, and cardio in the evening. Makes good sense. Our bodies normally have more energy at 5pm, so I read somewhere.

And there's Kenta for eye candy and competitive inspiration. He is in the weight-training workout, which, by the way, is awesome and I really like. It's tough but doable, although I did feel like I needed two days to recuperate when I first tried it! The cardio section has me utterly defeated at certain stages, but it does get your heart rate up and going. If you have bad knees, you may want to modify some of the high impact routines.

Anyway, I felt results the very next day. You feel more toned and streamlined already, definitely more energetic. Too bad I could not do the whole workout 7 days in a row, which must give phenomenal results. It's something to work towards! If I ever manage that, I am going to find myself a special event just to treat myself!

She also gives a meal plan you can follow; it includes recipes:

Looks good, well-balanced with lots of lean protein and veg (Jillian is a certified nutritionist). I like the recipes. I'd just use whole eggs instead of egg whites alone. The nutrition from the yolks far outweigh the bit of fat it contains. And it's good fat, which we need anyway.

Here is Jilian with The Rock, another one of my fitness inspirations - his Instagram is real cute. Whenever I am close to giving up, I think, "Geez, this workout would be nothing for The Rock...come on, you sissy!" and miraculously, I can continue. Well, just for five more seconds before I collapse.

The other thing I learned from Jillian is the effect of alcohol on your body. A woman asked about what works to get rid of the stubborn layer of fat over her abs, since crunches don't work. She added that she was not giving up her daily glass of wine.

Well, sorry. The science is clear, especially for women.

Alcohol raises estrogen levels in the body, and this makes the body store more fat. Alcohol is far more sinister than sugar or fat. It has to be metabolised in the liver first. Enemy no.1 when it comes to weight loss, apparently.

Other tips for abs:
1. Quality of diet is key. Cut out processed foods. I like her definition - "If it doesn't have a mother and didn't grow from the ground, it's processed!"
2. Stay hydrated - drink water to lose water. And keep sodium down at 1500mg.
3. Minimal calorie deficit, maybe just 500 calories a day. Don't make body store fat by starving.
4. High intensity training to burn calories. Go for multiple muscle groups, core training, and incorporate body weight in the workouts.

Red wine can still be a superfood but in great moderation.

I love my food but fortunately I've never been fond of alcohol - it sometimes triggers allergy-like reactions in me. I'm one of those Asians lack that critical enzyme and who flush red at the slightest bit of alcohol in the system - which means I'm at greater risk for esophageal cancer.

I also learned that alcohol makes you puffy! It's almost immediate, as I have seen in photos!

So I've pretty much given up drinking. I don't miss it. Occasionally I get curious about how a certain vintage or cocktail tastes like, but a test sip is all I will do.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pursuing Pleasurable Pain

水煮鱼 Fish Filets in Hot Chili Oil

Oh, don’t we just love a good stinging pain? No, this is not some sado-masochistic bent to be released only in deep dark privacy. The quest for tongue-burning and sweat-inducing spicy thrills exist in almost every culture. Our tolerance for fiery blasts of heat is openly celebrated and even boasted about. Spicy food is an addictive love affair.

From the numbingly hot “mala” Sichuan cuisine (possibly the most spicy of all Chinese cuisine), we have chili-laden dishes like the signature 水煮鱼 Fish Fillets in Hot Chili Oil (photo above), steaming mala hotpots, and Chong Qing deep-fried chicken nibblets that taste like heavenly crispy pork lard infused with devilish heat.

Yum Woon Sen (S$10) - Seafood Vermicelli Salad
Thai food is often exceedingly spicy hot, thanks to the liberal use of chili padi or bird’s eye chili. A good tom yum should send your pores perspiring to douse the heat. Even their salads like som tum and yum woon sen (above) will burn. And watch for the dipping sauces - they are often spiked with chili padi.

Mexicans love spicy food too - mixing lots of herbs and spices into their staples of beans and corn. Mexican chili peppers range from subtle (poblano) to strong (habaneros). If a snack or dish is not spicy, they will add hot sauce to it. The ancient Aztecs and Mayans believed chili peppers were an aphrodisiac.

Indians have their iconic spicy vindaloo, among many complex spicy dishes. Chettinad cuisine is probably the most spicy regional Indian food. The Portuguese gave us “piri piri” sauce, made using African birds eye chili. The Japanese who usually have low tolerance to chili heat also have uncharacteristically spicy ramen variants, usually nicknamed hell bowls.

You can choose your nasi lemak toppings - here, fried chicken wing, ikan kuning and omelette (all in only S$3.50!)
Locally we can’t do without chili in our dishes. What would nasi lemak be without its sambal? Our Hainanese chicken rice without the gingery chili sauce? Peranakan dishes without sambal belachan? Something would feel sorely missing.

Even for our rice and noodle dishes, we need that chili kick. We need our chopped red chili, pickled green chili, XO chili, and ground dried chili in oil. Salt and pepper just doesn’t cut it as additional seasoning.

But with so much chili in our dishes, we are often reduced to needing quick relief. Drinking water, even cold water, doesn’t help - it just spreads the oil-soluble chili around the mouth, causing possibly more heat sensation where previously was none. You need something to wash away the excess chili fast. Milk has fat in it that helps, but it’s a lot of saturated fat. What I find works for me quickly in a pinch is an ice-cold glass of Coke. Coke Light or Coke Zero works well if you don’t want extra calories. The fizz also distracts from the chili heat.

Capsaicin is what makes things spicy, and the good news is - it’s an antioxidant. The more capsaicin, the hotter the sensation, and the more antioxidants you’re consuming. The pain stimulates a rush of endorphins - morphine-like compounds that give you a natural high! Out of pain, comes pleasure.

So go ahead and indulge. If you’re not one for spicy food, don’t worry. It’s something that can be trained. Just like weight-training, you add on a little more each time. And soon you’ll be a spice-hardened champion. Just keep some Coke handy always!

Follow @cokesg on twitter to find out more tasty treats.

*This post is brought to you by Coca-Cola®

Monday, June 23, 2014

Fine-Dining in Sydney: Exquisite Italian Lunch at Otto Ristorante at Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo

Sydney is a gastronomer's dream. There's fresh quality produce, a variety of cuisines, and highly skilled chefs catering to discerning tastebuds. And gorgeous restaurants set amidst scintillating city skylines and seascapes.

Otto Ristorante overlooks the FInger Wharf marina
Perhaps one of the prettiest views would be from Otto Ristorante at the historical Finger Wharf. At over 400m, this stunning Edwardian wharf at Woolloomooloo is the longest timbered-piled wharf in the world. Once the stage for wool exports, troop deployments during World Wars, and disembarkation point for new migrants, it is now a picturesque marina boasting million-dollar skylines, the finest residences and upmarket restaurants.

Otto, meaning "8" in Italian, commands a prestigious spot at Shop no.8 on this wharf, serving some very fine Italian dining to a rapt crowd dotted with celebrities. Its steady existence since 2000 illustrates a rare lasting power in a city where restaurants close as swiftly as they open, amidst fierce competition.

Head Chef Richard Ptacnik has been at the helm since 2009. He joined the restaurant in 2003 after working across Europe. His style is unabashedly simple - the focus is on modern Italian rooted strongly in classics. The restaurant has consistently won One Chef's Hat from the SMH Good Food Guide from 2008-2013, and Two Stars from Australian Gourmet Traveller 2011-2014.

The CAPESANTE (AU$29): Seared Scallops, Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes, Black Pudding, Pork Crackling, Marsala Dressing (first photo) is an example of the chef's ingenuity in combining complimentary yet contrasting flavours, and allowing produce freshness to speak for itself. The scallops were simply amazing, seared with the dressing.

Wonderful rustic breads with top notch olive oil
Expect nothing less than crisp linens and elegant service. They spare no effort even in the smallest details. The rustic artisanal bread is exquisite, served with extra virgin olive oil.

AFFETTATO (AU$29) - cured platter including Cacciatorini, Lonza, Speck, Wagyu Bresaola and Crispy Pig Ears
AFFETTATO (AU$29): Cacciatorini, Lonza, Speck, Wagyu Bresaola and Crispy Pig Ears

This was a glorious platter of cured meats. Ethereal cured ribbons of lonza and lightly smoky speck - just sublime. The cacciatorini (far right) is a dry salami of pork and beef, with flavours intensified. The dark wagyu bresaola (air-dried beef) was quite unusual too. I was extra thrilled to see crispy pig ears too. You may sometimes get truffle salami or San Daniele prosciutto.

STROZZAPRETI CON CALAMARI E GAMBERI (AU$29): Strozzapretti Artisan Pasta, Yamba Prawns, Garlic, Chili and Black Olives in a Tomato and Calamari Sauce
STROZZAPRETI CON CALAMARI E GAMBERI (AU$29): Strozzapretti Artisan Pasta, Yamba Prawns, Garlic, Chili and Black Olives in a Tomato and Calamari Sauce

This looked like an intense tomato pasta, and it was - in a very good way. The hand-rolled strozzapretti ("priest-chokers" in Italian, with interesting legends) was perfect for picking up and storing lots of sauce, and the seafood paired superbly with garlic and olives.

RISOTTO AL FUNGHI (AU$26): Mushroom Risotto
RISOTTO AL FUNGHI (AU$26): Mushroom Risotto

The seemingly simple mushroom risotto will probably be one of the best you've had, with the crunch and aroma of forest mushroom, al dente rice, all anchored by a seriously good stock.

COSTATA DI MANZO (AU$55): 400g Char Grilled Cape Grim Sirloin on the Bone, Smoked Onion Puree, White Beans, Smoked Ham Hock
COSTATA DI MANZO (AU$55): 400g Char Grilled Cape Grim Sirloin on the Bone, Smoked Onion Puree, White Beans, Smoked Ham Hock

This sirloin was so huge, we needed several people to help polish it off. The doneness is beautiful, pink in the middle but well-seared on the outside. The addition of ham hock, sweet caramelised onions and beans just pushed this over the top.

RICCIOLA CON FINOCCHIO E ASPARAGI (AU$41): Kingfish, Roast Fennel, Asparagus, Confit Tomato, Dill Vinaigrette
RICCIOLA CON FINOCCHIO E ASPARAGI (AU$41): Kingfish, Roast Fennel, Asparagus, Confit Tomato, Dill Vinaigrette

But the real surprise was the kingfish. Grilled lightly crisp on the skin, with sweet tender flesh and earthy, tangy accompaniments. This was so good, we were picking at its bones.

Even the Petit Four is incredibly amazing
Our two-course lunch did not include dessert, but fret not, as the petit fours do incredibly well as a substitute. Wonderful nougat and truffles.

Very good coffee at Otto
Of course, after such a meal, there's nothing better to do than to kick back with good Italian coffee and enjoy the view.

For Italian fine-dining indulgence, Otto is a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike. Seasonal ingredients feature strongly, so you may see menu changes from time to time. They also carry an extensive wine list from Australia, New Zealand, Italy and France. No BYOs.

Who knows, you might even spot Russell Crowe (who lives nearby) popping over for a meal!

Shop 8, 6 Cowper Wharf Rd
Woolloomooloo NSW 2011
Tel: +61 2 9368 7488
Open daily noon to 10.30pm
Dress code: Smart casual, upwards.

Celebrating Australian food with Tourism Australia. To find out more, check out the best of Australian road trips.

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