Sunday, 30 November 2014

Flavours of Urban Sydney

Slow-roasted pork belly, carrot + green apple puree, 
pickled radish + celery, P.X reduction
Serves 4

1kg of boneless pork belly
300g rock salt
2 sprigs of thyme
zest of one lemon
500g of carrots, thinly sliced
3 granny smith apples peeled, cored, thinly sliced
1 tsp fennel seeds
100g of unsalted butter
50ml of honey
2 red radishes, cut into matchsticks
1 stick of celery, thinly sliced
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
100g caster sugar
100ml water
50ml mirin
20ml white wine vinegar
200ml Pedro Ximenes
50ml extra virgin olive oil


1. Place the rock salt, thyme and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor and mix until combined. Cover the pork belly with the rock salt mixture on a tray and allow to cure for 3 hours, wash off and pat dry, then place on a roasting tray with a rack to allow the fat to drip down. Roast for 90 minutes at 180C until the pork skin is golden and crackly.

2. Meanwhile, while the pork is in the oven in a medium-sized pot with a lid on it, add the olive oil, butter and fennel seeds and slightly toast them for about 1 minute on a medium heat. Next, add the carrots and cover with the lid, stir every 10 minutes or so until the carrots start to soften, then add the apples and cook for a further 10 minutes until soft. Add the honey and blend until smooth.

3. To make the pickled celery, place the sugar, mirin, white wine vinegar, water, star anise and cinnamon into a small pot over a medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Allow to cool and add the celery and radish and rest for an hour before serving.

4. To make the Pedro Ximenes reduction, place the PX in a small pot over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and then set aside and allow to cool.

5. To serve, cut the pork belly into 1cm slices using a serrated knife to keep the crackle intact. Next, spread the puree onto the plate with a spoon and garnish with the pickled radish and celeryDrizzle with the PX reduction to finish.

This recipe was provided courtesy of Croydon Lane Wine and Tapas Bar in Cronulla. The recipe is also featured in the recently released book for cooks, Flavours of Urban Sydney, available for sale at the eatery. If you'd like to receive more posts and links to my latest articles, enter your email address on my website:

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Down the lane

Croydon Lane Wine & Tapas Bar is warm and moody and a convivial place to hang.
Croydon Lane Wine and Tapas Bar turned two today.  I've been a massive fan of this place since I first stumbled across it after hearing whispers a new wine bar had opened up down in the pedestrian part of the mall. The fact the dinky little bar is hard to find - it's tucked away behind the Women's Rest Centre in Cronulla Plaza - only adds to its appeal. It's lovely and low-key and it still makes The Husband and I feel like we've discovered a secret place each and every time we visit.

Croydon Lane Wine & Tapas Bar is full (wine) flight mode.
Owned by Johnny and Cindy Rechichi, it's the little bar that could. It's where the lights are low and the vibe is discreet, the staff remember your name and are bright and chirpy to boot.  Sounds like a flashback to an episode of Cheers, right? Erase Ted Danson and enter Johnny Rechichi, who works the floor with confidence and charm and that signature grin. He really is the consummate professional and the staff follow his lead.

The wine list at Croydon Lane Wine & Tapas Bar is extensive and full of top global drops.
When I first reviewed Croydon Lane for Good Food, in The Sydney Morning Herald, I wrote that it had a "Snoop Dogg-meets-Martha Stewart" vibe. The place has continued to be pimped and prettied up in equal measure with its oversized red velvet chairs, vertical hanging garden of herbs and Cindy's hand-sewn cushions bigging up that boho-meets-brothel feel. It's the sort of tapas bar that, if it had its own soundtrack, it would be A Little Bit More, as belted out by Tex Perkins and His Ladyboyz.

Croydon Lane Wine & Tapas Bar co-owner Johnny Rechichi (second from left) and team.
Croydon Lane is full of the right kind of noise. It's a proper grown-up place, conducive to conversation, sharing plates of terrific tapas and tasting great wines. Perch at the bar in front of that wall of impressive bottles and watch the rockstar bartenders roll like whirling dervishes - mixing, polishing glasses, stirring and pouring and shaking it all about.

Seared scallop, potato confit and morcilla? Don't mind if I do.
Croydon Lane has the boisterous spirit of a tapas bar that you might stumble across in the back streets of Barcelona and is filled to bursting with patrons crowding around wooden tables all in the mood to socialise. It also ably demonstrates how chef George Sideris has well and truly earned his chef's whites. Yes, he has manned the pans alongside Luke Mangan at Glass, at Sydney's Hilton and at Azafran Tapas in Surry Hill. But it's at Croydon Lane where the chef's Greek heritage is written all over the menu, which emphasises uncomplicated food with bold flavours.

It's a laneway festival... Croydon Lane Wine and Tapas Bar a bonafide neighbourhood gem.
Arrive hungry to savour the slow-roasted pork belly, carrot and green apple puree, salad of pickled radish and celery and a Pedro Ximenez reduction. If it's light and summery you're after, cue the kingfish ceviche, sweet potato, pink grapefruit and spanner crab or salad of haloumi, olive cheeks and heirloom tomato salsa.

Salt and pepper quail breast, salad of pickled cucumber, crispy shallots and herbs.
The degustation is also worth doing, as are the regular wine flights, paella Sunday lunches, gig nights and informative evenings custom-built for lovers of good food and wine. To celebrate Croydon Lane's second anniversary, chef George Sideris has provided his recipe for slow-roasted pork belly, carrot and green apple puree, which is featured in the recently released book for cooks, Flavours of Urban Sydney, now available for sale in the eatery. The recipe will be featured on my site tomorrow.

Confit ocean trout, Persian feta, salad of pickled cucumber, crispy shallots and herbs.

Croydon Lane Wine & Tapas Bar, Shop 8/30 Kingsway, Cronulla. For bookings, phone 0434 742 265.


Friday, 28 November 2014

The food scene in the Shire

As a fairly recent resident of the Sutherland Shire - 10 years is not long enough to claim local status - I have watched the food scene here evolve with a keen if not obsessive interest. As a food and travel writer, it's all in the line of duty for me to keep up with what's hot, what's not, what's on-trend, represents good value, is great for a first date, fancy nosh-up or family dinner. Having Italian heritage also makes me a bonafide food snob; I would prefer to cook at home rather than fork out for something under par. 

Since moving here a decade ago, I'm now more than happy to say I've been made to eat my words about my initial assessment of the area's food scene. While there will always be eateries that are not up to scratch and, sadly, are bowled down like skittles, there is now a plethora of places that have raised the bar, shaken and stirred things up for the better.

It's my local knowledge coupled with my experience as a writer that led the Sutherland Shire Council to invite me to present a talk to local gastronauts at Cronulla Library about the ever-evolving food scene in Sydney’s south.
Grind Espresso turns out consistently great coffee.
It was with great pleasure that I spent an hour waxing enthusiastic about the excellent places and spaces that have sprouted like alfalfa around Sydney's south for the past decade.  I've recently decided to do as so many of you have requested and share my insider knowledge and local secrets on my blog and website, where you will also find links to food and travel stories published in national and international publications.

As well as being constantly quizzed on where to go for a drink, cup of coffee, slice of pizza, Indian or Italian feed, both friends and strangers are also keen to share their secrets and inform me of their favourite cafe, butcher, baker or suburban gem.

I'm also intent on casting a wider net beyond postcode 2230 to celebrate those hidden hot spots in the city and surrounding suburbs, and welcome your ideas. Please sign up if you'd like to receive new posts and links to the latest articles on my website or like my Facebook page to receive regular updates about food events and hot spots.

To whet the appetite, I've included a link to a story I wrote for Good Food that was published in February 2014. Since that time, there has been an implosion of new and exciting places to eat and drink and I look forward to sharing them with you.
In this first post, I'd like to just make mention of The Good Cafe Guide's 2014 Local Hero, Richard Calabro, of Grind Espresso. Clearly, this cult cafe is not a local secret. In fact, it's known all over Sydney. But no guide to Cronulla or Sydney's south would be complete without mentioning Rich, who really was one of the region's original game-changers. 

What began as a hole-in-the-wall on the Kingsway has morphed into an institution and I have enjoyed watching Grind evolve from a cupboard-sized space into the warm, convivial laneway cafe it is today. Richard is in the process of curating tours to Costa Rica for coffee geeks to learn about sourcing the prized bean in situ. 

Coming soon: a feature on another oldie but goldie, HAM cafe, where I have been invited by Harry and Mario to have a sneak peek inside the pimped-up new premises over the next few weeks. 
Richard Calabro sourcing the prized beans for your daily Grind in Costa Rica.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Alexandria the great

The Grounds of Alexandria shone a light on the potential of the inner south.
A few years ago, right before Salt Meats Cheese opened to the public, I happened to be there, on the scene, following my nose, which is notoriously good at sniffing out exciting places to eat, shop and drink. I'd been at The Grounds of Alexandria for an interview I was conducting for Good Food and shared the publication's enthusiasm for the area that has gone from strength to strength since I worked down the road at delicious. magazine a decade ago, when the lovely French bistro Bitton was one of the only inspired options in the area.   
The big formaggios at Salt Meats Cheese, Edoardo Perlo and Stefano de Blasi.
What's in a name?
After wrapping up my interview at The Grounds, I walked into the adjacent car park, where I noticed a sign for Casa Gusto plastered along the side of a giant warehouse in Bourke St. The vintage-inspired branding intrigued me, so I popped my head in. What I didn't realise at the time was that the runaway success of The Grounds of Alexandria would soon be bolstered by the arrival of these two Italian boys, cousins Edoardo Perlo and Stefano de Blasi. I've decided to feature Salt Meats Cheese because it's one of the places I love to go to stock up on gourmet goods. Edoardo and Stefano are authentic and charming and I believe their energy and enthusiasm has helped give the 2015 postcode the edge as a lively, sophisticated community hub. 

The Grounds of Alexandria has swelled to include a garden, courtyard and eatery bar.            

Grounds for inspiration

Grounds for approval
It's now a few years since the outlet opened and I've become a regular in the area, dedicating a day or two a month to whizzing into the inner south to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables at Eveleigh Market, on Saturday mornings, buying bread and coffee beans from The Grounds and bagging a swag of groceries from Salt Meats Cheese, formerly known as Casa Gusto (the name of Stefano's family food import business in Italy).

As The Grounds has swelled to include The Potting Shed, a garden, coffee roastery and courtyard replete with clucking chooks and fat pigs, SMC has simultaneously settled into its prime position really well. It's a symbiotic thing between the two spaces.

These days, Stefano and Edoardo refer to me as Carla Columbus, as they claim I was the first food writer in Australia to discover them. I'll take that. Like the two cousins, I nail my colours to both the Australian and Italian flags and love the fact the fellas offer old-school deli service my late nonno would have appreciated with gourmet offerings that would appeal to my hip cousins from Milano.

The Grounds of Alexandria got the ball rolling in the inner south behind places such as Bitton.

Salt Meats Cheese has morphed from selling dry goods into offering pizza, panino and pasta.

Pizza, panino, pasta and granita 

On my last visit to the warehouse, I was met by one of the young Italian staffers who ushered me in to perve on the brand-new pasta bar and open kitchen serving pizza and panino. With Sinatra crooning in the background, I was also nudged toward the lovely Salvatore Luigi de Luca, at Cremeria de Luca's pop-up granita counter and urged to try a refreshing lime granita.
Salvatore de Luca manning the pop-up granita stand at Salt Meats Cheese over summer.
Salt Meats Cheese is like Madonna, the mistress of reinvention.

Meat packing district
The providore also encourages genuflection at that cathedral of cured meats that is the Galeria de Jamon and a walk down the aisles to choose from a carefully curated selection of gourmet dry goods - from bonfire smoked sea salt to squid ink linguini and a range of quality Australian extra virgin olive oil, flavoured salts and specialty grains. 

The cathedral to cured meats that is the Galeria de Jamon.
Midweek meals made easy
As a busy working mum, what also takes my fancy are the meals that help me through the mid-week hump, when I'm juggling deadlines and parenting duties: three pizza bases for $10, which I whip out when I have a house full of hungry boys, as well as a selection of Sicilian olives, hot sauces, proscuitto and cheeses to make entertaining easy. I appreciate that SMC is a one-stop shop, stocking ingredients with accents ranging from Italian to Asian. 
These Salt Meats Cheese pizza bases are perfect for whipping out to feed the hungry hordes.

The extended remix of Salt Meats Cheese includes an eatery and pasta, pizza and panino bar. Oh and turduckens, too.
Alexandria ripe for changeWaterloo and Alexandria are both part of the Green Square Village – the City’s highest growth area – and home to 14,802 people. By 2030 the population’s expected to rise to 48,848 residents, a 230 per cent increase thanks to the $8 billion Green Square development.

City historian Lisa Murray lives on the fringes of Waterloo, in Redfern, which has also sprouted a swathe of sophisticated new spaces. “As an historian, I’m interested in the past, which is reflected in the changes that are happening in this area today,” Murray says. 

"The reasons these areas are popular today are the same reasons they were popular when the colonists came here in the 19th century: they are on the fringes of the city, but still far enough away to enjoy an interesting lifestyle. This area used to be wetlands, which in turn attracted industries and, up until the early 20th century, it was a pretty smelly place to live. It has only been the last few decades that the area has started to become a destination in its own right,” she says.

The Grounds has helped transform the inner-south suburb into Alexandria the Great.

Deck the aisles with panettone, fah-la-la-la-lah, la-la-la-la.
The inner-south a corridor of growth 
“Cities can never be preserved. Sydney is a dynamic place that is constantly shifting and changing and these industrial-era areas reflect that. There are more and more cafes and art galleries opening up and little boutiques and that has created momentum. That’s how gentrification works: it’s never about a suburb staying insular,” she says.

Murray says as well as connecting the community with the history of suburbs such as Waterloo and Alexandria, her role as an historian is to help develop its future. 
While this once blue-collar area now attracts it's fair share of well-heeled comers, keen home cooks and A-list chefs, the wholesale prices on the gourmet food items also makes the place accessible for those on a budget.   The fact that I can buy quality food items in bulk is reason enough to make the 30-minute drive from Cronulla to Alexandria. Note: lucky locals now have access to the pizza home delivery service on Friday and Saturday nights.
Welcome to panini paradise ... at Salt Meats Cheese.

Like many of the SMC mafia, I appreciate the fact the outlet is not too lah-de-da and, with its cooking classes, food festivals and special events, is a bit of a lifestyle enhancer, mounting a convincing argument for living on the fringes of the city. 

Take your cue from the queues at the SMC pasta bar.

Salt Meats Cheese, The Potting Shed and The Grounds of Alexandria are all located on Bourke Rd, Alexandria, NSW. Phone: + 61 2 9690 2406.