I’m back in London. We made it to the Olympic Men’s Gymnastics Qualifiers on Saturday night. It didn’t take us the three hours we feared to trek to the O2 at North Greenwich; only 25 minutes on a tube that wasn’t even as slammed as one at 8.45 am on a Monday. When we got there we gasped and clapped. We vowed to spend more time at the gym. I briefly pondered (in an awful objectifying way) if the men’s teams ever contemplated performing sans their singlets. They are amazing specimens. It was wonderful to be part of it all.
‘We’ve definitely got Olympic fever’; we concluded on the way home.
Correction. We’ve got the Olympics. And we’ve got fevers. Now three days into a dreaded summer coldflu (nastier than a cold, not as completely debilitating as influenza) I’m making yet more soup for dinner (pea, basil and lemon this time). And I’m taking a moment to remember some of the truly spectacular things I ate just a week ago when I was on the other side of the world.
The ten best things I ate in Sydney (part 2)
Read part 1 here.
Glazed brussel sprouts with hazelnuts- Orto Trading Company
‘These are not the same sort of brussel sprouts your grandmother used to make’. This is the prelude we’re given to the side dish of brussel sprouts ($9) at Orto Trading Company; a novel spot in a previously dreary area of Surry Hills. Not quite the fabric quarter, not quite the bustle of Elizabeth or Crown Street, Waterloo Street was once the domain of a sticky-tabled pub and tired terraces. Now there are four cracking restaurants, lined up like neat ducklings in a row. Orto is one; it may translate as Italian for vegetable garden, but what it specialises in is British influenced grub. The brussel sprouts are an inspired side; sticky and sweet, with blackened corners and a hearty crumble of hazelnuts for crunch over the top. It’s a side that’s upstanding, in all the right sort of ways. I can imagine these brassicas in my kitchen, perhaps kissed with maple, mustard or honey, daubed with butter, then roasted being a very happy friend to some roast pork once the weather starts to turn.
Orto Trading Co.
38 Waterloo St, Surry Hills
Twice cooked pork at Maleny Manor, Qld
Technical details aside (Maleny being in the Queensland hinterland, not Sydney), this counts as one 0f the best things I ate down under. It could have been because of the way the pork gently splayed across a fork when you plundered it; the perfect balance of fat to flavour. It could have been because of the sweet and piquant sauce that came with it. Or it could have been because of what was on the table right before it arrived. Wedding food is hard to get right. You want it to appeal to a multitude of tastes. You want it to be forgiving for the kitchen to prep and plate. And you don’t want it to upstage the real stars of the day. In this instance, the bonbonierrie that was placed on each of the plates at the start of the meal was the sweetest reminder of some of the best attributes of the couple in question. Both the bride and groom have a ferocious sense of social justice; so instead of sugared almonds, chocolates, or picture frames, on each place there was a piece of card.
Every guest at the wedding had been bought a present from Oxfam Unwrapped. Mine was a bag of seeds, to be stored in a seed bank in developing communities for harder times, or sown to grow crops to eat or sell. After reading that; everything tastes spectacular (though I promise, the pork belly was very, very good).
Honey Tart with Peanut Ice Cream – Bistrode CBD
For an Australian child reared on a household favourite of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, it doesn’t get much better than this. This is the reason Jane Strode’s sister gave us for why the honey tart with peanut ice cream has supplanted the superlative lime and maple tart with creme fraice sorbet on the menu at Jane and Jeremy Strode’s Bistrode (now upstairs in the CBD hotel). And it’s also one reason why this is a stonkingly good dessert. Here are a few others; the biscuit crispness of the pastry; the satisfying wobble of the honey centre; the occasional delight at finding a honey crystal stowed inside and the way that the slight saltiness of the peanut ice cream tags along like an old friend. It’s all the best things about a snickers bar and a childhood snack on a plate. Evenings don’t end much sweeter than this.
/1/52 King Street Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Warm vegetable salad with goat curd – Fix St James
When the new funky place that you used to pop into for a wine on a Friday night has morphed into a solid stalwart of the Sydney dining scene, that’s when you realise you’ve been away for a while. Fix St James is a beguilingly great place. From the outside it can look a little stern; tables propped up with with lawyers from the nearby courts shuffling briefs, but the menu (both scribed on mirrors and in front of you) is bursting with life. And the wine list is a cracker. When you’re in the city, sneaking in a bit of shopping and you just can’t quite bring yourself to eat in a food court (no matter how shiny and new it is), Fix St James is where I turn. While the charcuterie and pastas are grand, the ‘ladies who lunch’ option of a warm vegetable sala dwith goat curd is hard to go past. The flavours are anything but meek; the bitter punch of endive and radicchio and softened onions are aggressively seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s the gentle tang of the curd that provides relief. This is a grown up salad, and all the better for it.
Fix St James
111 Elizabeth Street, Sydney, 2000
Cup of Earl Grey in a blue mug at Mum’s
It might be the fact that it’s proper Australian milk. It might be that back home Twinings Earl Grey comes in a bag, with a string attached (something that infuriatingly, I can’t find here in London. I’m forever scalding my fingers fishing them out of mugs). It might be that she knows exactly how I like it. Or it might be about the mug. It’s chipped a little, but the handle is sturdy and the lip just wide enough to feel safe. The pattern is a little Wedgewood-lite. They were probably bought from Ikea. I think there are only two left in the cupboard now. Every morning of my high school years that I stayed at her house my mother would without fail deliver me a cup of Earl Grey in a blue and white mug to my room. Sometimes I was still asleep. Sometimes I was already up working. To this day, a cup of tea made for me is the taste of quiet care and devotion.
There are a few things that quickly tell me I’m home; the broad vowels at immigration at Sydney Kingsford Smith airport; the first time I drive over the harbour bridge. And a cup of Earl Grey in one of these blue mugs is one of them.
And now I’m back on the other side of the world; when morning is night and family are far once again, you can be sure it’s the first thing I’ll miss.