MICF 2014: Justin Hamilton – Johnny Loves Mary Forever 1994

Justin HamiltonReviewed by The Laughing Kiwi

Johnny Loves Mary Forever 1994. It’s a title that gives away little but is later revealed to be so very important to the narrative so much so that the show would very possibly collapse without it.

The show begins by letting the audience settle in to the kind of music one would expect from a Justin Hamilton show; seasoned Hamilton fans would have absolutely no doubt as to who they were about to see while first timers in the crowd are put in the right mood for what is to come.

As soon as the first line is spoken, the mood is set. It is clear what kind of show this is. You are there to hear a story, not be a part of it. Hamilton takes you to a place that you know is real, not some hastily assembled environment where he fits in as many jokes as possible. Through his expert delivery, you are immersed in to the narrator’s mind.

In this show, Hamilton helps you understand a significant part of his life – when he decided that it was time for something new. This decision subsequently led him to being offered something far bigger and better than he expected, and unquestionably far more rewarding.

Throughout the hour we delve in to the mindset of a man exploring a whole new world that has opened up to him. We are taken on a ride and relive many moments with Hamilton; from the hilariously confronting explanations of a very real situation one would not enjoy being put in to, to the heart-in-your-mouth moments that have the audience on the edge of their seats.

This isn’t a show to go to for a quick laugh or to heckle the guy on stage. This is an enjoyable opportunity to see the inside of someone’s life and laugh along with him. Have no doubt, you will laugh, and laugh hard, but be prepared to learn also.

Johnny Loves Mary Forever 1994 is well prepared and expertly delivered by a well-rounded, seasoned professional. It garnered eruptive applause at its conclusion, and quite rightly so. Go in open minded and you’ll enjoy it.

4-stars

Justin Hamilton will be performing in the Accacia Room at the Victoria Hotel from March 27th until April 19th (not Mondays).  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

On Mondays throughout the festival, Hamilton can also be found co-hosting The Shelf, touted Australia’s best live comedy show, at the Toff in Town.  Click here for more details and tickets.

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Preview: Gordon Southern

Gordon Southern 2014

Reviewed by The Laughing Kiwi

I was lucky enough to be able to catch Southern during his week-long season headlining at The Comic’s Lounge in Melbourne where he not only showcased some of his best work but also took the opportunity to fine tune some new material for his upcoming new show, Your New Favourite Comedian.

Southern effectively followed on from material that had already been laid down by the preceding comedians in the lineup while effortlessly interacting with the crowd.  His act contained both current and local references, rather than solely relying on proven generic material.

Clearly a shining star in his field, this seasoned pro is unquestionably underrated in the Australian comedy scene.  Based on the reaction from the crowd tonight though, this should rightfully change.  Southern is “down under” until the middle of May, performing his shows of the last two years – A Brief History of History (2012), and The Kerfuffle* (2013) – before premiering his 2014 show in Adelaide for the Adelaide Fringe.

*Editor note: I saw The Kerfuffle at last year’s New Zealand International Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – check out my 5-star review of the latter performance here.

Southern is a comedian who never fails to deliver and has a great record of winning over even the coldest of comedy rooms with tales from his home in London and of his travels.  This overwhelmingly knowledgeable comedian expertly controls his environment to ensure each of his punchlines have maximum impact, all with the appearance of never even being slightly challenged.

Get in quick to get tickets to this star performer at every chance you can, he’s not one to be missed.

5-stars

Gordon Southern will be premiering his new show Your New Favourite Comedian at the Adelaide Fringe from February 13th – March 1st.  For tickets, click here.

Southern will then be performing at the Canberra Comedy Festival, Melbourne International Comedy Festival and New Zealand International Comedy Festival respectively.

For the Love of Patisserie

So in my previous post I mentioned how we made a special trip out to one-hatted restaurant Flying Fish – well that wasn’t the only place we went out of our way to go visit.

Now I’ve always been one with a sweet tooth, for as long as I can remember.  In the last few years, however, I’ve become really incorrigible – totally obsessed with cupcakes (especially cupcakes!), pastries, desserts…just anything sweet that I can get my little mits on!  I used to be able to go without but now dessert is an absolute MUST every time I go out to dinner.

On a slight tangent, I bought ramekins the other day which made me happy; now all I need is a blowtorch and then it’s CREME BRULEE time!

Anyway, if you’re a foodie and have watched Masterchef Australia, or have some knowledge of the Australian food scene, you will be familiar with a certain patissier called Adriano Zumbo.  He is most known for his amazing croquembouche, a French pastry which consists of hundreds of profiteroles (cream puffs) dipped with caramelized sugar and presented in the shape of a high reverse cone.  It is said to be one of the hardest pastries to make and put together – and also (potentially) the most painful;  if you’re not careful when coating the profiteroles, the caramel could burn your fingers badly!

But I digress.  So I was fully planning on going to Adriano Zumbo’s patisserie when I got to Sydney – little did I know how far away it was!!   See, I had assumed being as famous as he was, that his store would surely be in the CBD, where there would be the most traffic.  That assumption was wrong.  He has 3 outlets and all of them are quite a ways away.  We decided to go to his flagship store in Balmain, which is a suburb in the inner-west of Sydney.  So on the bus we went.

What an interesting trip to Balmain it was.  Apart from Zumbo’s little “blink and you’ll miss it treasure trove” there is nothing else in Balmain.  I kid you not.  The township is made up of pretty much just the one main street of shops.  We did go off for a bit of a wander and while we did stumble across a couple of quaint little pop-up shops, apart from that there really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.  Their only claim to fame is Adriano Zumbo’s patisserie.  In fact, when we were getting our bus tickets, I should have already expected this because without us having to say anything, the cashier already knew we were going to visit Mr. Zumbo.  Well duh, if it’s the only “tourist-y” thing to see there…

When we got to the patisserie, I was like a kid in a candy store.  First off let me tell you that the store is TINY.  There is just a long counter with all the cakes on display on the right and a one-lane space for you to walk along it on the left.  And of course, because this wasn’t just any regular cake shop, the store was chock-a-block; there was a constant queue of people, even to the point of spilling out the entrance.

I have to say the whole “system” was a bit silly, in my opinion.  The space was way too small for the amount of people that were coming through the door.  Moreover because Zumbo’s creations are not just your run-of-the-mill everyday slices of cake but beautiful molecular gastronomical works of art, people would take awhile to actually decide what they wanted.  Myself included – I actually walked up and down the counter a few times gawking at all the amazing things that were on display before I made my decision.  This caused a bit of a crowd control issue, but I have to say, the pastry chefs behind the counter worked brilliantly – they knew who to serve first, who was next in line.  I expect they’ve gotten used to the space constraints and have a bit of a mental system going on.

The other thing I didn’t understand was why not have a bigger space that could accommodate a couple of tables for people to sit and enjoy Zumbo’s creations right there?  I would have liked to sample a selection of his cakes but because it was takeaway only, sadly I could only admire the lot but purchase just one (I was flying back to Auckland the next day).  See if we could have eaten there, I would have most likely gotten two cakes to enjoy there, and then another one to take home.

I was also kind of disappointed that he didn’t have little “mini croquembouches” for sale at the store – I really want to try one because word has it, it is every sweet tooth’s dream!  Maybe I should pitch this idea to the man himself.  I mean it is, after all, his claim to fame, thanks to Masterchef.

Anyway post-visit, all I have to say is this: Adriano Zumbo is the king of patisserie.  I just couldn’t believe the beautiful and amazing cakes that were before my eyes.  He is so creative and what he puts together is so much more than just tasty sweet treats that look good;  it really is “art on a plate”.  I especially love how he incorporates molecular gastronomy into his creations – “fried egg” chocolates that look exactly like fried eggs, pastries made in the shape of a whole chicken but filled with chocolates, “chop suey” cakes that look like slabs of sushi and while they do have savoury elements to it, still primarily tastes like a sweet dessert – so clever, that whole play on making things look differently from how it’s going to taste…absolutely brilliant.

I managed to sneakily take some photos – be prepared to have your visual-socks knocked off!!

It was a tough decision but in the end I decided on getting “Don The Pandan Man” – a pandan mousse with pandan financier, kaffir lime and coconut crunch, coconut kaffir lime dacquoise, pandan toasted brulee and rice pudding.  It’s the last picture in the cluster of photos – it’s the green cake next to Chop Suey.

I have had a lot of cake in my time and let me tell you, this was THE MOST DELICIOUS CAKE I have EVER eaten.  I could have eaten a whole entire cake of it.  I would have felt completely sick after, but I would not have regretted it one bit!!  The pandan flavor was infused perfectly, that mousse and dacquoise was so light and just melted in your mouth. The kaffir lime and coconut crunch base gave the cake a nice crunchy texture and the rice pudding at the top added a nice savory kick to it.  The flavors just all worked together beautifully and harmoniously.

I had planned on getting some of his famous macarons to take home, but unfortunately by the time I got to the front of the queue, they had all sold out.  I was so excited to see what his satay macarons tasted like!

I hope Adriano Zumbo crosses the ditch one day and opens a patisserie here in Auckland because I’m just dying to try everything else!  Until that time comes – keeping my fingers crossed! – for now all I can do is drool at my photos and also his Patisserie Menu.  (which for some reason has a more boring-looking version of Don The Pandan Man.)

Review: Flying Fish

To mark the end of our Foodie Adventure in Sydney, Reena and I decided to splurge and spoil ourselves by having our last meal together at the infamous Flying Fish restaurant, owned by “seafood king”, Peter Kuruvita.

Situated right by the pier at Jones Bay Wharf, it is pretty secluded and quite a ways away from anything else.  I love seafood and so ever since I learned of this restaurant I have been waiting for this day to come!  It was almost a no-go too, since it was completely out of the way from everywhere else we had already decided on going to; lucky we decided to make that special trip out in the end.

So after a pretty long walk from the tram stop, which included walking through pitch black darkness along a mostly deserted pier (the restaurant was right at the end) – we finally made it.  I remember at one point I was almost half expecting that we would have to find some secret passageway in order to get there, ala Platform 9 3/4 (sorry for the Harry reference, I couldn’t resist!).

First impression: the restaurant looks absolutely stunning.  Right by the main entrance is a full bar with a little deck area with comfy seating overlooking the water.  It was pretty dark so unfortunately there wasn’t much of a view to behold, but I can imagine how beautiful it would be during the daytime.  On a hot summer’s day, sat in one of those comfy chairs enjoying a cold cocktail…absolute heaven.  Stepping into the actual restaurant, the first thing I noticed which was a bit of a surprise to me, was that the kitchen was just, well, there.  Now we’ve all seen restaurants with kitchens that are “in the open”, that is in the same place as the dining area but separated by the counter (think Wagamama – well the one here, anyway), but this one was pretty much like an open-plan kitchen, like the sort you would see in some city apartments  – except way fancier, bigger and better equipped, of course!!  To the right there was what looked like a private dining area within this amazing wine cellar – wine bottles were perched on the walls from floor to ceiling.

We were taken into the dining area which was in the adjoining room on the left (there was also seating upstairs).  The dining area was very classy, what you would expect from a fine dining restaurant.  Floor to ceiling windows meant direct views out into the ocean – I can only imagine how incredibly stunning it must be during the day.  Shortly after sitting down at our table I looked around to take in the lovely ambiance.  Then I looked up – and gasped.  The upstairs dining area actually overlooks down to the downstairs dining area (where we were) and so basically both levels shared one very high ceiling (if that makes sense).  Hanging down from this ceiling were a whole bunch of pretty fairy lights – how magical and gorgeous!  Almost like looking into the actual sky on a starry night – and I’m sure that is the intention.  Definitely a very romantic setting, I’m sure the place is packed on Valentine’s!

I did take some photos but obviously they do not do the restaurant any justice.  The website provides a virtual tour of the place though so go check it out!

Everything on the menu sounded so delicious.  Prices are pretty steep but is to be expected considering the caliber of the restaurant and that it was seafood.  I think they did have one or two non-seafood dishes, although who would order steak at a seafood restaurant is beyond me…  The couple next to me, the guy was eating like this MASSIVE lobster – it looked really good.  In the end I decided on the prawn ravioli with poached scampi, shaved abalone, zucchini flower and tomato and coriander vinaigrette for my entree, and pan fried John Dory with king prawn, young summer vegetables, yuzu and seaweed butter for the main.

The ravioli was really good although I think what I enjoyed the most was actually that vinaigrette.  So simple but yet the flavor had so much depth and it was very refreshing too, thanks to the coriander – love coriander!  On the flipside I didn’t care for the abalone at all.  As for the main, WOW.  I’ve never had John Dory before so I was really excited at finally being able to try it after hearing about it all the time on cooking shows.  The fish is a very flat fish and really quite ugly (have a look at his ugly mug here) but boy did it taste delicious!  The fish was cooked perfectly and seasoned so well; skin was crispy and the flesh tender but still with some bite.  Now the fish was definitely the star of the dish but let me tell you, those vegetables sure gave Mr. Dory a run for his money!  I have this weird thing where I only like my vegetables soft – so really, I only eat/enjoy my veges steamed.  The veges that were on this plate were absolutely divine, they were so full of flavor and just melted in your mouth!  And that yuzu and seaweed butter was one of the best things I have ever tasted – just brought the whole dish together.

Following the success of the dessert platter at the Red Lantern, we decided to do the same here and go for the dessert tasting plate.  What a scrumptious ending to a fantastic meal it was – passionfruit souffle with burnt orange ice cream, toasted coconut marshmallow and pineapple, fig carpaccio with creme fraiche sorbet and carrot financier, and lime cheesecake, almond strusel, lime curd, guava sorbet and compressed kiwifruit.  My favorites were the toasted coconut marshmallow (they were like fluffy coconut-ty pillows!) and that guava sorbet – so refreshing.

Here are some photos, again please excuse the poor camera quality!  Additionally because I was trying to be discreet, most of the pictures turned out a wee bit out of focus too, unfortunately.

Overall, an excellent (fine) dining experience.  If I can ever afford to eat there again, I will go there for lunch so I can enjoy the views.  I must mention that the waitress who looked after us was top notch; very friendly, attentive and knew the menu pretty much like the back of her hand – she got a really good tip from us.

One last thing I simply HAVE to mention – as if everything about the place wasn’t already completely amazing, wait ’til you hear about the toilets!  They are magical.  I kid you not!  When you first step in, you will notice that the cubicles are see through.  The whole cubicle is just one giant translucent glass box.  So you start to panic for a moment.  Then you figure, well no one else is in here right now, I’ll just hop in, quickly do my thing and hope that I will be done before anyone walks in.  So you get in and here’s the craziest-but-most-amazing thing – the second you shut the door and lock it – WHOOSH!! – the whole glass box gets all cloudy and is no longer see through!  What is this black magic?!?!  But how cool is that!

Hands down.  Best.  Toilet.  Ever.  (and I’ve been to a lot – curse you, weak bladder!)

So yeah to sum up, if you love seafood, if you want to treat yourself and that special someone, or if there is a special occasion of some sort – consider making a night of it at Flying Fish.  When it comes to food this is my motto: life is too short and pretty crappy most of the time, so every once in awhile treat yourself to the good stuff!

Whimsical Banana rates Flying Fish: 5/5 Bananas!

Review: Red Lantern

Apologies for the delay in getting my restaurant reviews up, as had been promised in my previous blog entry – it has been a crazy past few weeks!  I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment though so I will be blogging a bit more regularly now.

To start the food-ball rolling, I will begin with Luke Nguyen’s Red Lantern Restaurant in Surrey Hills, just outside the Sydney CBD.  For those of you who watch Masterchef Australia, you will know who Luke Nguyen is and/or have heard of his restaurant.

Being Malaysian/Asian, obviously I love Asian cuisine, but being very “Western” too, I enjoy European food as well.  What’s the best of both worlds?  Asian fusion cuisine!  And that’s what Red Lantern is all about.  Vietnamese cuisine with a modern Western-esque twist to it.  As if that wasn’t already music to my ears, what scored more brownie points in my book – the restaurant’s “mantra”: ethical eating.  They are committed to leaving as light an environmental footprint as possible through using only the freshest in local sustainable and organic produce.  They dedicate a whole page on this on their website, you can check it out here.  This is something I feel quite strongly about and have been practicing in the last few years so it’s really great and inspiring to come across a restaurant that believes in the importance of being environmentally conscious.

So we hadn’t planned on going to Red Lantern that night (even though it was on my “places-I-must-eat-at-when-I’m-in-Sydney” list) but due to being behind schedule and the awful weather, among other things, it became the most convenient place to go for dinner in the end.  We hopped in to a cab and were halfway there when we realized that we hadn’t made a reservation, and it was a Saturday night.  Since we were nearly there we thought we’d just try our luck anyway, and if we couldn’t get in, we would just pick another place – the restaurant was on a street that was a bit of a “restaurant zone” so we would be spoiled for choice.

Got there, and of course, it was fully booked.  Being a Saturday night I was thinking that our chances were pretty slim.  It was still pouring down so we were all wet and cold, and by this point we were all starving too.  Luck was clearly on our side though because while they were fully booked, the hostess had some promising news for us – she was still waiting on a group of 4 who still had not arrived yet – and what do you know, there were 4 of us!

So after a 10-15 minute wait, we finally secured a table – YAY!  Everything on the menu sounded so scrumptious, and not too ridiculously over-priced too, which was the best part!  After some debating we finally decided on the following for our meal:  Entrees: their famous roast duck and enoki mushroom spring rolls followed by char-grilled chicken skewers marinated in preserved bean curd paste, lime and garlic.  Mains to share: char-grilled pork cutlets marinated in honey, lemongrass and shallot oil, Asian mushrooms wok-tossed with tofu, lotus root, Chinese broccoli and glass noodles, and crispy skin chicken poached in master stock with ginger, shallot and oyster sauce .  And to finish, we decided we just had to sample a bit of everything so we got the dessert platter.

Here are some photos to tantalize your taste buds.  Please excuse the poor camera quality.  We were seated outside and the lighting was quite dim, didn’t help that my camera doesn’t take photos well in the dark!

The food was absolutely to die for.  I have eaten in some great places but this is definitely near the top of my list.  The duck rolls were fantastic – you get so used to eating those “regular” deep fried party spring rolls that you forget that spring rolls can be so much more than that.  The best spring rolls I’ve had have been in Vietnam itself; be it fresh or deep fried, they were always packed full of flavor with a good mix of veges, fresh herbs and meat (usually prawn).  You would think duck would be a strange kind of meat to have in a spring roll but it was a match made in heaven – well Sam would beg to differ but he doesn’t like duck so he doesn’t get a vote!  The duck meat was sliced finely, moist and seasoned perfectly, the enoki mushrooms gave a great texture and the herbs just married all the flavors together.  The chicken skewers were tender, juicy and marinated to perfection; such a simple “pedestrian dish” and like any other normal chicken skewer that you can get anywhere, but it tasted amazing, so full of flavor, and even though it was char-grilled, the meat somehow stayed tender and just melted in your mouth…while still having that nice char-grilled flavor to it.

With the mains, the crispy skin chicken was definitely the hero of the night.  You should have seen the looks on our faces when we took that first bite, it was like we were having little food-gasms!  The skin was so crispy and tasty it was like pork crackling…sounded like pork crackling too!  The meat though was so soft, and had bags of flavor in it – I would really love to know what “secret ingredient” they put in their master stock, and how long it has been there for, because that’s just magic in a pot.  I wasn’t too keen on the pork as it’s not my favorite meat but it was recommended by the hostess.  I had a taste and I was actually pleasantly surprised; there was so much going on in that one cutlet that it actually masked the pork flavor which is what I don’t like and why I don’t often eat pork.  The vegetable dish we ordered was probably the most “normal” dish out of the three, but having said that, again, it didn’t disappoint on flavor.  As we all know there is not much flavor – if at all – in tofu, and yet the tofu in this dish was silky smooth and super tasty.  I also really liked the lotus root in the dish, gave the dish texture and it definitely needed that extra bit of crunch.

Now at this point we were all pretty stuffed but who can say no to dessert?!  I’m glad we didn’t pass and I’m even gladder that we got the platter because WOW.  The platter consisted of sesame and rice flour dumplings filled with sour sop served with black sesame ice cream, black sticky rice with caramelized pumpkin, jackfruit and coconut cream, and date and tamarind pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream.  I don’t think I need to say much because I think the descriptions should speak for itself.  Simply, utterly heavenly.  My fave was the dumplings (which the hostess did wholeheartedly recommend) but it was a pretty close race!  Desserts have always been a very Western thing.  Growing up in an Asian family, all we had for dessert – and even then dessert wasn’t a regular affair – was ice cream and/or fruit.  It’s just so inspiring to see desserts like what we sampled at Red Lantern – taking inspiration from European classics but using Asian ingredients and flavors.

I am so chuffed that we managed to get that table at the Red Lantern because that was truly one of the best dining experiences I have ever had.  I left completely satisfied, not completely out of pocket, and I will definitely make a return visit the next time I’m in Sydney.  Food aside, the service was absolutely flawless – hostess was friendly, attentive and very knowledgeable about the menu, the wait staff were equally friendly and very efficient.   I felt the waiting times were spot on, it was just enough time between the courses – a top notch job considering it was a full restaurant.  Ambiance was lovely – tasteful Asian inspired decor, cozy and while it was a fancy restaurant it wasn’t too upmarket or “hoity toity”.  I liked that the small space gave the restaurant a very “exclusive” feel to it, almost like you were part of an invite-only party – and in some ways maybe it’s intentional?  It’s quite tucked away even considering it’s on a main street – it’s like, blink and you’ll miss it!

However I don’t think Luke Nguyen is worried that he will lose any customers because his restaurant is located rather obscurely.  He has definitely made a name for himself in Australia; this lil’ gem of a restaurant may not have a physically imposing presence but it certainly is a culinary force to be reckoned with, make no mistake about that!!  What I found really fascinating was that when I was in the local department stores in Sydney, I soon realized that Luke Nguyen was somewhat of the Australian version of Jamie Oliver!  He has his own range of utensils and cookware (down to cute lil’ dipping bowls!), and his book is pretty pricey considering he’s a “local chef”.  I was pretty tempted to get those dipping bowls or something in his range but considering I already had 2 cook books to lug back to NZ, I thought better not!  Maybe next time…

In conclusion, if you love Asian fusion cuisine, you love food that has complexity of flavors and packs a punch, then you HAVE to pay Red Lantern a visit!  Any Aussies reading this, get your butt down to Surrey Hills.  Everyone else, if you plan on visiting Sydney, make sure you put this on your places-I-must-eat-at list!

Whimsical Banana rates Red Lantern: 5/5 bananas!

Next Up: I review seafood legend Peter Kuruvita’s Flying Fish!