First up, please note that Sari Rasa is at 24, not 29 Cavenagh St Darwin, and it’s down an arcade so you can’t see it from the street. I’ve mentioned this first as the address is incorrect on a few other websites and I had a bit of trouble finding it. Luckily there were some friendly locals nearby who had heard of it and pointed me in the right direction.
I had the chicken curry, fish curry with okra and dry beef curry with a little sambal oelek on the side. The dry beef curry is firm, chewy and moreish, almost in the style of beef jerky, and seems to be a local favourite as Jay from the coffee cart who gave me this recommendation insisted I try it.When I was eating my lunch at Sari Rasa a robust man came up to the counter and seemed very happy there was some dry beef curry left as he missed out the other day and was highly disappointed. I love to see people enjoying quality food made with love.
It’s $10 for a small plate, or $11 for a large and you can choose whichever three dishes you like. It was so good I brought some home for Phee, Joel and I to eat for dinner.

…so I left you in Piedmonte, Italy. The journey then continued in our little Alfa across the border into the south of France and the fragrant region of Provence.
We had a forgettable lunch in Nice. Somebody please give me some tips for next time because I thought it was trashy, touristy, dirty and awful. But then again, we were only there for a few hours so maybe that’s not fair. Anyway, we were relieved to get out of Nice and into Grasse, a beautiful little place full of Perfume factories. I dragged Dave to the Fragonard museum and gift shop. Have you seen that episode of Mr Bean in the perfume department? 🙂
We were staying at a little B&B called La Surprise run by an English couple and we had the best breakfast of our trip here. The combination of good (strong) tea and coffee with home made fresh fruit salad along with fresh bread and patisserie from the local boulangerie was magnificent. A pity we only stayed one night.We had a wonderful dinner at a little town 5 minutes drive from there and were lucky to get the last table at a tiny restaurant swathed in red fabric with an interesting looking menu. The waiter was the husband and his wife was the chef.
A spiced dip to start
Deep fried fish balls, delicious though quite rich
A savoury cheesecake
Pesto risotto and pan fried white fish
Some local cheeses
Bananas in baked custard
Some beautiful house made macarons
The next morning we took our host’s recommendation to get off the motorway and take the scenic route to our next stop, Aix en Provence (called ‘Ex’ for short) via the stunning Gorge du Verdon.
Dave did a stellar job of navigating the windy roads with no guard rails and drivers who don’t slow down for blind corners!
It’s embarrassing just how pleased I look with this apple tart that I bought at a little town we stopped at for lunch on the way to Aix-En Provence.
A laid back restaurant we found in Aix that had a delicious foie gras and specialised in grilled meats:
Our accommodation was amazing, one of the most memorable of the trip…Le Clos des Freres Gris:
We dropped our car back at the TGV train station where we caught the fast train up to Paris. Less than 4 hours later and we arrived in Paris! A cab to our apartment where we were met by our greeter who showed us around the apartment, handed us our keys, left us with a bottle of wine and some restaurant recommendations. We felt at home already.

The salted peanuts whet our appetites. I’d love to know if these are cinnamon sticks or cassia bark…
Lightly steamed oysters with ginger, shallots and soy
Chinese pickled vegetables, sweet, salty and sour with crispy wonton skins sprinkled with schezuan pepper & salt
Bugtail wontons with schezuan chilli oil
Crispy prawn wontons with a sweet Vietnamese style dipping sauce
Slow roasted lamb pancakes- peking duck style. The home made sauce was tasty but a little too thin for the application, it dripped everywhere! I am not a big fan of ‘thickened’ sauces (apart from gravy) as a general rule, but here it needs it.
A standout crispy pork belly dish. Salty and moreish, with a refreshing coleslaw packed with fresh herbs to balance the richness of the meat.
The silken tofu was delicate and beautiful with a poached egg in the centre of the plate.
Crispy skin duck with citrus sauce
Stir fried mushrooms, fresh, flavoursome, delicate and a wonderful foil to the rich meats we ordered.
Pears poached in red wine with sour cream and almond praline- cleansing and light

Watching an advertisement for Criniti’s while at the movies didn’t make me want to eat there. However, somehow I developed a raging appetite at the hairdresser after many hours of being analysed, foiled, washed, rinsed, treated, massaged, cut, heat protected, blow dried and styled. My hairdresser mentioned a great meal she’d eaten at Criniti’s about a week ago- lots of fresh seafood, a garlicky tomato sauce and bread for dipping. Then her assistant piped in about the 1m long pizza. I was sold, the greedy beast had won. There would be no healthy Friday night salad, who am I kidding, when do I ever feel like salad on a Friday night?
So we went to Criniti’s Parramatta last night. Called to book at 6:15pm and got a table for 8:30pm. Not a worry, had a bottle of McLeish Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (wedding research) and some washed rind and blue vein cheese at home which was a nice way to spend the time. We found a free parking spot down the road on George St and got there five minutes early and had to wait a few minutes until the table was ready, but were quite happy with this as there were people queuing up outside.
Once we were seated we soaked up the buzzy vibe of Parramatta on a Friday night. Unsure of serving sizes, I went for an entree size of the Zuppa di Pesce, a thick seafood ‘soup’ of large scampi, prawns, vongole, scallops, crab and calamari in a rich tomato sauce with two slices of fresh white bread on the side. This is definitely not first date food. I am a big fan of seafood served in the shell, and have no problem getting in there with fingers, teeth, whatever, to get at the luscious tender meat, but others may think this too messy for eating out. I was worried about splashing tomato sauce on my new scarf so had to make a bib of my napkin. Sounds attractive no? A Chinotto was perfect with the food.
Dave had Fettucine Boscaiola, also entree size.  It was tastier than your average Boscaiola, but not bursting with flavour. A nice, comforting, creamy dish if that’s what you’re in the mood for. It didn’t leave much room for pizza to follow so we had leftovers for lunch the next day.
I’m looking forward to trying the gelato for dessert next time, and am thinking this is the best pizza crust I’ve found west of Haberfield. A crisp but tender thin base with a little extra thickness at the edge and the distinct aroma of the woodfired oven. Addictive.
Recently, Crust Parramatta has been getting regular business from me, and now their only edge over Criniti’s pizza is that they deliver!
Criniti’s Parramatta
291 Church St, Parramatta
9635 0311

A few weeks ago we went to Filicudi, an Italian restaurant that came highly recommended by a colleague. So highly recommended in fact that discussion of my future firstborn arose. Don’t worry I didn’t promise anything.
Fiore di Zucchini. These were beautiful and cheesy, but starting with garlic bread and then these was not really a good plan considering we ended up having three courses.
Gnocchi Ragu- tender succulent gnocchi with a simple sauce studded with meat chunks.
Penne Granchi (blue swimmer crab in a ‘pink’ sauce is how this dish was described). This was probably my favourite dish, it absolutely tests the love in your relationship- if you’re willing to share this one then you know you’re on to a good thing.
Costolette d’Agnello. Marinaded lamb cutlets (garlic, rosemary and olive oil?) grilled to the customer’s liking (medium to medium-rare) on a bed of soft polenta that was neither dry nor bland.
Baileys Creme Brulee. With enough Baileys added to the mix so that you can actually taste it. The top was satisfyingly hard and shattered on a firm whack of the spoon.
Written up on the specials board quite simply as ‘Mascarpone’. Described by the waiter as a house special, it was magnificent, a rich, creamy, liqueur-laden tiramisu. I want to go back and try the Pere Filicudi- poached pears.
I also think the pizzas are worth trying as we saw several people walk past, arms laden with pizza boxes looking quite pleased with themselves.
BYO is accepted, and for $2 per person is fantastically reasonable.
11 Ramsay Rd, Fivedock
9713 8733

Bistro heaven. Professional service, but not layed on too thick, the food arrives quickly but with enough time between courses for conversation and anticipation. Food so good we order the cheese platter after we have had dessert, because judging by the previous courses, we know it won’t disappoint. We’re right.
Simple, beautiful salmon
Three pairs of greedy eyes all with menu remorse
N.B. I have since gone back to Damien Pignolet’s French book and made his basic double baked souffle. The recipe is written with such helpful detail you are much more confident of success. It is utterly delicious, however be warned if you don’t normally eat cream and cheese in copious quantities you may find it rather rich. I choose to put this in the ‘once a year’ file.
Phoebe tries to convince us that Joel has made the best choice with his crab souffle, but we all know it a ploy to keep us from the French Onion Souffle and crispy melting gruyere around the edges
Pasta may seem like a strange choice to order at Bistro Moncur, but it was perfectly salty and addictive with anchovy, ripe tomato, fresh basil and a herb sauce.
This is going to sound sacriligious but the crackling on top was so light it was like the ones in a chip packet. I forget the name, anyone, anyone, Bueller? The Berkshire pork was tender and flavoursome and tasted like it had been cooked with many herbs.
N.B. I have since had to go to the butcher in search of pork and crackling and even made apple sauce to go with it. I stuffed it with a silly amount of fresh herbs and learnt that pork can handle it and my overgrown herb pots have had a nice pruning in the process. I also used a new method for the crackling where you go over the scores that the butcher makes for you so they are really separated and then pour boiling water over it in a colander in the sink which helps open up the scores and then rub the top with sea salt. Made all the difference, didn’t have to remove the crackling so the pork underneath stayed nice and moist.
The figs were juicy and ripe with a gorgeous raspberry coulis
White nectarine souffle with creme anglaise
Two types of cheese with more fresh figs and some wonderfully crisp lavosh
Satisfied Customers? I think so.
Think I’m in a food coma

There’s something to be said for efficient food. Not necessarily in the preparation, but in the eating and the service. Not exactly fast food, but not slow food either. There are times when on a whim the idea of watching a new film at the local cinema sounds pretty good, and after the drama of finding a parking spot close by, a restaurant near the cinema holds great appeal.
So we visited Hilltop Phoenix with hungry bellies and an hour and a half up our sleeves. It could go either way, an hour and a half is plenty of time to eat unless it is busy, so on a Saturday night this is a bit of an ask. Luckily it’s still early and we’ve just missed the young family rush and have arrived before the later-arriving leisurely diners arrive.
After much indecision we decide to splurge on the Peking duck, it’s about $50 for two courses. First course is the pancakes, then choose how the rest of the duck flesh is prepared, either in a stir-fry with noodles or sang choy bau. I needn’t have worried about finishing the pancakes, they were perfectly powdery and soft in contrast to the crisp and rich duck skin, sharpness of the shallots and sweetness of the thick hoisin sauce. I could eat this forever.
Peking Duck
When the lettuce leaves arrive I’m curious as to what’s in the filling apart from the duck which is finely chopped, along with mushroom, onion, sesame seeds, sliced shallots, deep fried vermicelli and something crisp but the flavour alludes me. It’s familiar, bamboo shoot? I wonder, as it seems to be more about texture than flavour. I ask the waitress, she only knows the Chinese name, which is sun (sounds like soon) but she goes away to find out the English translation, and I’m pleased to find out it was indeed bamboo shoot. We make our film with plenty of time and consider it a successful dinner, if a little rich.
Sang Choi Bau
Our normal visit to Hilltop Phoenix involves Yum Cha on a Sunday mid-morning, and it’s now routine to tell the host how many in our party, grab a raffle ticket and take our place in the hopeful and hungry crowd, beadily eyeing-off diners who look ready to vacate. Even when busy it’s only a ten or fifteen minute wait. If you are a small group of two or four your chances of getting a table quickly are even better.
The Phoenix Group of restaurant has four restaurants in Sydney which are run by sisters Anita Yuen and Alice Lee. Hilltop Phoenix in Castle Hill Towers; Rhodes Phoenix at the top of Rhodes shopping centre; Manly Phoenix on the East Esplanade and Sky Phoenix at the top of Skygarden on Castlereigh Street in the city.
Roast duck with choy sum in background
Crispy fried rolls filled with prawn and dim sims in background
Cha Siu Baau (BBQ pork buns)
Steamed prawn dumplings
At Hilltop Phoenix the usual Yum Cha favourites are available, with dishes such as roast pork and duck floating around regularly for my dining companion. I’m satisfied with the many varieties of steamed dumplings, and my only gripe would be that I have to ask for chilli sauce, but when I do it arrives promptly.
Sliced BBQ pork
My coveted dish of the moment is jin deui, red bean paste surrounded in a chewy pastry with a peanut on top then deep fried. It truly is heaven and I can always fit these in no matter how much I’ve eaten. I can’t find it on any trolleys so I order it from the kitchen. If there’s no more jin deui, as sometimes happens if you come too late, there is always dan tat, egg custard in flaky pastry, still warm if you are lucky; or mango pancakes, thin and moist and filled with chilled mango pieces and a fluffy sweet cream, perfectly soft and delicate so that one cannot help but make a bit of a mess. It’s all part of the experience. At around $45 for two greedy people it is an indulgent lunch but then again, we probably don’t need much for dinner now.
Mango pancakes
In competition with Hilltop’s Yum Cha offer is the Excellent Chinese Restaurant outside Carlingford Court which offers a smaller venue and equally delicious food, but perhaps less range of dishes. I surprise the waiter by ordering Bo Lei tea which has a deeper, darker colour and flavour that is refreshing and cuts through the oilier dishes. He rewards my enthusiasm by pouring the tea with such grace that I feel inspired to tap the table with my knuckles to say thank you. He smiles and I feel welcome here in a way that a bigger venue cannot achieve.
If it’s tasty, efficient food you are after in the north west of Sydney, you would do well at both Hilltop Phoenix and the Excellent Chinese Restaurant, but perhaps your budget should dictate your final decision. After dining at the Excellent Chinese Restaurant your wallet will be thankful. We left content after five dishes and only $25 out of pocket. They may not have had the deep fried dessert that I love, but this is something I could do most weekends and feel good about.

At the risk of opening Pandora’s Box, I am going to show you what I’ve been growing in my cupboard. Part laziness, part curiosity, one dark cupboard and a frisky sweet potato makes…
a lobster!
Dave was entertained by this, until he learned that the sweet potato lobster then became
Lobster Salad! Made in true vegetarian style, with no lobster, just roasted sweet potato, blanched green beans, red capsicum, with a macadamia oil, lime and chilli dressing.
All this was really a side for
Whole Barramundi, cooked in foil on the BBQ with sliced garlic, ginger and lemon in its belly and some extra lemon juice on top.
The extra randomness of this post is an homage to the geeks who make my life easier (great IT knowledge and obsession to make things work at optimum efficiency) and at the same time highly entertaining. They admit this grudgingly.
Edit: The barramundi made a guest appearance as the Bigger Fish in this Darths & Droids strip.
Edit 2: In response to some of the comments on this post, in no particular order:

  1. Is Barramundi ‘sushable’? How many times does a new word need to be used to become listed? Anyway, back to the Barramundi. Not to my knowledge. Tuna, salmon and kingfish are the most common and delicious sushi found at Japanese restaurants and sushi bars in Australia. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be attempted…
  2. Macadamia Nut Oil- this seems to only be available in Australia, but you can also use another nut oil such as walnut or even Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO- also a Naboo-sounding name) with a splash of balsamic vinegar. I often use this instead. If you come across caramelised balsamic vinegar this is also tasty.
  3. Red capsicum is indeed red pepper, also:
  • Eggplant is Aubergine
  • Zucchini is Courgette
  • Rocket is Arugula
  • Coriander is Cilantro

They are all the ones I can think of right now!
Also, there is no D&D convention planned here. Yet. I wonder how many Barramundi would fit on our BBQ? Mmm…
Edit 3: Ok, I will clarify my comment on Macadamias. Yes, we all know they are native to Australia. They are also native to New Caledonia and Indonesia, but in terms of being grown commercially, they are available in Hawaii though apparently the industry is declining there due to poor weather and pestilence (ref: Wikipedia).

I hope you have been enjoying some outdoor eating this summer. One of my favourite meals recently was a quiet night at a friend’s place to take a break from the pre-Christmas madness.
A beautiful summer salad of perfectly ripe mango, cooked prawns, sliced spanish onion, baby spinach and pistachio nuts.
Great with the barbequed salmon fillets.
Under strict instructions to bring ‘some ice cream’ or something equally easy,  M dishes up a glamorous presentation of toasted pannetone, passionfruit gelato, cherry ripe batons and fresh cherries and blueberries.
You do need a saucer for these ice shot glasses. M got very cold fingers while we ran to get her one 🙂 You can then throw them in the sink with great force, Greek-style and they just melt away, no washing up! D was very proud of them.