Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Ramsgate Market round-up

There’s nothing quite like shopping at farmers’ markets. I love talking to the farmers about what’s best and in season and zigzagging around my favourite stalls, accepting a segment of mandarin here, and a slice of tomato there, ogling pert avocados, fat garden peas, enjoying the fragrance of pho (pronounced fuh), a square of sourdough and wheeling my retro nanna cart about to decide what to buy based on what's best and in season.
Market forces: shopping at Rusty's Market in my hometown of Cairns has given me very high expectations.
Go nuts
Sydney has its fair share of fabulous markets. There's the pioneering Growers' Market in Pyrmont, the equally slick Eveleigh Farmers' Market and Marrickville market in the inner-west as well as bountiful bazaars held everywhere from Hornsby to Manly, Bondi and Bulli.

DIY trail mix with a range of nuts and dried fruit.
To market, to market
When I have the drive, time and energy and am not chasing deadlines, I've been known to get up pre-dawn on a Saturday to drive across the city to the Sydney Markets

My family and I also make a day of it at the Grower's Markets in Pyrmont, Marrickville and Eveleigh. For the sake of convenience, I also stock up at my local Cronulla cafe, HAM, which hosts a pop-up organic market on Saturdays.

When I first visited Ramsgate Organic Foodies Market a year ago, it was not exactly radical when compared to what's out there. But one thing is for certain: the majority of what we buy from there is far better than OK.  The market seems to be improving every time we take the 25-minute trek across the Captain Cook Bridge from Cronulla in Sydney's south.
It's compulsory to make a rye request at Reuben Republic.

From little things big things grow

One of the many reasons I am now a regular visitor to the Ramsgate Organic Markets is because it's a relief not to fight the traffic or burn too many food miles driving across the city to source fresh organic produce.   Another market on my radar is Como Riverview Market, a monthly affair.

Stevenson's Fine Foods is a great pit-stop for a gourmet pie.
Vying for vegans
What I love about Ramsgate is what I love about all markets: that communitarian buzz. People stopping to taste and chat with artisan producers who are justifiably proud of their products. I am also so grateful that I have a market that is relatively nearby where I can jam with the apple-cheeked farmer about when she picked her pink lady apples and enjoy the fact that both a paleo stall and glorious counter of cakes share equal promise, depending on your perspective.  
Stevenson's is great for a guilt-free midweek meal or a gift for a neighbour in need.
Nutjobs unite for this chocolate hazelnut spread.

Snickers-me-not from the peanut gallery

Shopping at such markets is truly a sensual pleasure. Much of my motivation in making the drive comes from the fact that I want it to continue and it can only go from strength to strength if the community supports it.

On my last visit to stock up on food for Christmas, my first stop was at the Cream Fork stall where my sons eyed off the NOTella roasted hazelnut spread, Snickers-me-not tarts and raw vegan blueberry cheesecakes. The stall is paradise for paleos and the proof is also in the gluten-free, refined-sugar free, dairy free, almost raw and vegan pudding.
Say cheese ... my go-to stall for goat's curd.
Eat Fuh is a family affair.

Say cheese
Whether you're looking for an artisanal wedge of cheese to impress your dinner guests, or a quick bite to eat before traversing through the crowds, the market has much to be proud of: from the New-York-style sandwiches stacked with pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing to the fiery chilli chutneys and pre-made meals from Stevenson's Fine Foods to the air-dried meats from Backa.

The market's raisin d'ĂȘtre

My tailor-made itinerary always includes a stop-off at the fruit and vegetable stall manned by a young Mauritian just so I can hear him sing "Sweet, sweeeeeeeeet mangoes". I also like to time my run around lunchtime so I can pay a visit to the Eat Fuh folk, who offer shots of the Vietnamese noodle soup, pho, as testers in the hope that it will seduce you into buying the Vietnamese soup. It's a winning formula. The noodle soup, which The Urban List named as the #1 Noodle Choice at the 2014 Night Noodle Markets, is chock-full of bean sprouts and ginger and chilli and shallots and is so fragrant and comforting that - for fuh's sake - it is reason enough to cross the Captain Cook Bridge.

Scones get the high society treatment when slathered with Pepe Saya butter.
Use your scone
Paddy the Baker has also graced the market with his presence. I adore the baker's Irish soda bread, a squat loaf of airy bread that is best enjoyed with a wodge of Pepe Saya butter.  Sweet tooths are also sated with freshly baked scones, butter and jam. Worth noting is that the bread contains no nasties or preservatives and the potato bread, according to Paddy, is the best outside Ireland.
Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker's man.... with bread from Paddy the Bakers.
In a pickle? Talk to James Bron Mackney.

Ferment it good
One of the surprise winners of the market is Ferment It. Hippocrates said: "All disease begins in the gut. Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food."

I've fallen hard for the raw organic pre- and probiotic packets of goodness, which are full of essential digestive enzymes and super living probiotics to encourage vital intestinal flora.

Ask James Bron Mackney or partner Belinda Smith and they will happily tell you why we should be eating more fermented foods. For starters, the enzymes strengthen our immune system and assist with eliminating bad bacteria.

Batter up
If you are mad for macarons, visit Coco & Bean stall.
Arrive hungry and try Chilean street food from Pochito corn fritters from Fritter House, a pot of chai tea or choc chip cookies, a yoghurt pot from Stefano's Kitchen or some smoked salmon and trout dip from Snowy Mountains Trout.   Add to the list the Isis River Farm organic meat stall, macarons from Coco & Bean, the stall devoted to artisan cheeses - my go-to is the goat's curd - cronuts, waffles and organic wines. So, Cronulla peeps, get out and support Ramsgate market until such time as the beachside suburb pulls together its own farmers' market.

Ramsgate Organic Foodies Market is located at Ramsgate Public School, Chuter Ave, Ramsgate. It is open 8am-1pm every Saturday.   

Want to know what is in pho (fuh)? Read the in-pho sheet, 


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Hazelhurst Cafe: the ace of spades

Gymea has found its groove thanks in part to the efforts of chef James Watson, who is now gripping the reins at Hazelhurst Gallery Cafe and giving the 'burb a big giddy-up. Watson is like a rock 'n roll version of Jamie Oliver. And he's brought a bit of that 'oright geezer' grit to Gymea, in Sydney's Sutherland Shire.

Chef James Watson has upped the ante in the Shire.

Watson's Bay
For those who don't know much about the English-born chef, he first earned his culinary chops working under Gordon Ramsay, at Aubergine, and then St John Restaurant in London where it seems he was also prepped in the art of peppering a kitchen with expletives.

The 38-year-old migrated to Australia in 2002 where he quickly gained attention at Balmain's Riverview Hotel. He has since earned a lot of cred for being one of the first of the city's award-winning chefs to look at Sydney's outer suburban strips anew.

After Watson opened the Peacock Trattoria in 2010 in a non-descript smear of shops in Kyle Bay he shifted his gaze to Gymea, with the launch of the Italian Stallion and Hazelhurst Gallery Cafe in August 2014.

The 'cock' as I like to call it, is one of my all-time fave neighbourhood bistros in Sydney and I was beyond happy when I heard the chef's culinary aspirations had crossed Tom Ugly's Bridge. The fact Gymea is just 20 minutes' drive from my home in Cronulla is also a beautiful thing.

The Italian Stallion has helped give Gymea a leg-up in the culinary stakes.

Giddy-up Gymea

The Husband and I were so excited about the arrival of The Italian Stallion Bar and Griglia we galloped there a week after it opened. We both loved how deliciously New York divey and vibey it was and were impressed with our Planet of the Grapes mojitos followed by a few glasses of riesling and the chef's signature duck salad and divine crab linguine. The service from restaurant manager Fabio was also fabulous. So much has been done to rejuve the Stallion since then that it deserves a return visit in the the next few months, when the renovations are complete. (Watch this space.)
Hazelhurst Gallery Cafe has helped Gymea find its groove. 
From garden fork to plate
Now for the heads-up on Hazelhurst. Thanks to Watson - who was also responsible for the recent reworking of the Seawall Restaurant in Walsh Bay - the gallery cafe has benefitted from more than a few tweaks. The new design is rustic and real and references the garden aspect with a feature wall of vintage tools, communal tables that could double as work horses, tin tubs spilling with flowers and well-placed branches, lemons and pineapples providing many points of sculptural interest.

Hazelhurst Gallery Cafe now takes advantage of its location, overlooking a sprawling garden.

The newly rejuvenated Hazelhurst Gallery Cafe is now a place to linger longer.
Art and about
Taking pride of place inside the cafe is a mural by Mulga the Artist that is based on a caricature of the Italian Stallion's Fabio. The character is wearing sunglasses that frame the pass where the chefs peep out onto the floor and it sets the tone of the new cafe, mainlining it with personality. It doesn't matter where you sit, Fabio is there, wearing hot pink frames, glowering at you, challenging you not to be impressed. Watson's notion - to make the gallery cafe a cool place to stay and hang - has paid off. In fact, it's a trademark of his eating houses that you don't want to leave.

Heading them off at the pass is a mural painted by Mulga The Artist.

Perfectly potty
What I really love about the new-look cafe, which was fairly staid in its former life, is that the pensioners in sensible shoes and cardigans feel as welcome as the couples with young kids tumbling about on the lawn next to arty hipsters and locals looking smug that Gymea has lifted its game. It's also fantastic that it's drawing more and more people to the first-rate exhibitions on show in the gallery space next door.

Shear genius - the cafe has been reworked and is now both rustic and refined.
Hello pumpkin
The cafe is an all-day dining affair serving breakfast and lunch until 4pm each day and the menu itself taps into the zeitgeist in that it's food we want to eat. Expect proper ballsy cooking with breakfast options such as Persian pumpkin pancakes, haloumi, dukkah, egg, herbs and Syrian chook or the Big Breakfast Bruschetta, with poached eggs, bacon, herbed mushroom and tomato.

Scones with jam and cream served in pretty terracotta pots.
For all those in-betweeners
There is also an in-between menu with scones with berry jam and double cream served in cute terracota pots and a tempting kids' menu of chicken schnity and chips, quesadilla or fish 'n' chips all served with a nudie popper and seasonal fruit.

House-baked muffins and friands are the order of the day.
Hello ducky
Although the 'cock's signature crispy duck salad, with nectarine, hazelnuts, witlof, watercress, radicchio and vino cotto makes a cameo on the lunch menu, diners are enticed to branch out with solid options such as Tuscan panzanella salad, heirloom tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, crisp bread, baby basil, tomato vinaigrette designed to thrill. As for the reuben sandwich filled with corned beef cooked with golden syrup and malt vinegar, Swiss cheese, pickles, red cabbage and onions? Out. Of. Control.

The reuben sandwich is reason enough to visit the Hazelhurst Gallery Cafe.

There's a song in my art
Hazelhurst Gallery has always been a hot local spot, with major exhibitions, art classes and markets. Now the cafe also deserves attention in its own right, as does James Watson who has made the Shire a better place than when he arrived. Now, head chef Sarah Marsh's ingredient-led menu sits comfortably alongside tidbits 'foraged' from the garden and the mains look like they've riffed with Mulga on how to pull off being a key player.

Breakfast muesli and fresh fruit and yoghurt in a jar ... what a perfectly poised start to the day.
It's elementary, dear Watson
"What I've tried to create is an upbeat, funky modern place to go where the breakfast is good, the lunch is good, the service is good and there are lots of add-on activities in the area. Everything is taking shape and really all I did was capture the goodness in the place ... the bones were there, we've just put some flesh on it," says Watson.

Click go the shears at Hazelhurst Cafe.

The ace of spades
Watson has certainly captured the goodness in the garden cafe in spades. The place is poised and perfect and, like the rest of his restaurants, is lacking in pretension and intent on doing things well rather than being self-absorbed. Add upbeat tunes, a buzzy local vibe and order from a wine list that swaggers around the globe and the result is what Shire locals crave: a gloriously civilised cafe with accomplished chefs delivering food that thrills with the bonus of a garden view. Booyah.
Mulga the Artist has also helped the gallery get its groove on.
Tuck into a tropical fruit pavlova which is bolstered by lemon curd and passionfruit sorbet.

Hazelhurst Gallery Cafe, 782 Kingsway, Gymea, NSW. 2227. For bookings, phone (02) 8536 5755. Open 9am-4pm Mon-Sun.