Monday, November 28, 2011


As someone who loves to check out new bars, Assembly was a must visit on my list. Opened its doors last Friday, this new bar, somewhat hidden in Regent Place in Town Hall, is one cool place to visit.

While it has a very industrial look and feel to it, exposed pipes, minimalistic furniture, concrete floor and walls; it also feels very homely like a New York styled loft. I can see myself relaxing on one of the couches with a drink or two for hours on end, actually, that's what I did tonight.

There is also an outdoor artificial garden where you can sit and enjoy your food and drink. The picket fence, huge white umbrella, green grass and a wall covered with plants will make you feel like you are in someone's backyard.

Whether you are sitting outside in the garden or found a comfy couch inside, clipboard menus are within reach everywhere. The cocktail list is impressive. Be it vodka, bourbon, rum, whiskey, gin or something else, name your pleasure and there will be a cocktail to suit. Wine and beer are also on offer, but my love for cocktails tend to steer me away from the wine/beer list.

There are many classic cocktails such as Dark "n" Stormy (Gosling Black Seal Rum + lime squeeze + Angostura bitters + ginger beer + lime & mint spring garnish + built in a hi-ball) on the menu, but then there are the Assembly cocktails. I favoured After Darkness (Hendricks Gin + lemon juice + rose water + egg white + shaken & strained + rocks glass), while my friend loved Last Kiss from Russia (Vodka + passion fruit puree + kaffir lime syrup + shaken & straied + hi-ball + topped with ginger beer).

Last Kiss from Russia (L), Betty & Camp (R)
We also managed to try a few others, which were all very different but delicious:

Betty & Camp: Campari + grapefruit juice + raspberry + lime juice + shaken & strained + hi-ball + topped with soda. "An Italian style tall cocktail which compliments any outfit and makes you look smarter".

Lavender Hill Cappucino: La Muany Rum + lime juice + apple juice + shaken & strained + martini glass + apple & lavender foam + Pop Rocks. "An exciting martini that will rock your taste buds world".

Rasp'n'Co: Vodka + raspberry puree + lemon juice + Cartron chocolate + shaken & strained + hi-ball + topped with soda. "A grownups 'Vodka raspberry' that tastes amazing and is way better for you. Despite the dash of chocolate liqueur".

The food menu concept here is all about sharing. Of course if you are feeling hungry or greedy, then you could have the entire dish to yourself. But what I love about sharing plates is that you'll get to try more dishes than if they were served as for individuals.

Its owner, Ben Toussa, who brought us Pocket Bar, informed me that Assembly is also a restaurant, there are a few items not yet available on the food menu as the chef is still refining the recipe and Ben wasn't comfortable putting them on the menu till they are perfected. Now that tells me I'm in good hands!

The dishes we ordered for the night are:

Citrus and Mozzarella Salad (L), Crab with a Kick (R)
Assembly's Fries: fries + cheese + truffle sauce
Citrus and Mozzarella Salad: mozzarella + fennel + citrus
Crab with a Kick: crab meat + avocado + dash of wasabi + sourdough

The salad was very refreshing as suggested by Laura, our friendly waitress who had a very welcoming smile, but the fries are the best I've had in a long time! Crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, they are to die for!

There is only one dessert on the menu, warm chocolate fondant + coconut gooey, unfortunately thanks to the big opening weekend there was none available tonight, so I'll have visit again soon to try it out as Laura guaranteed it'll please our taste buds.

Given its central location, excellent service and a great menu of food and drinks, Assembly is perfect for lunch between meetings or after work drinks.

Assembly: Regent Place, Sydney NSW 2000. Entry via 488 Kent St, or down the escalator from George Street entrance  Assembly on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hinky Dinks

Hinky Dinks goes by the motto Cocktails first. Questions later... just the way I like it! Opened only a few months ago, this is one funky small bar worth checking out.

Zombie (L), Madagascar Manhattan (R)
After being greeted with a free serving of popcorn, I was feeling adventurous, so rather than looking at the ingredients, I picked my cocktail the way I usually pick my horses at the races, by name. Maybe because I'm not a bourbon drinker but gosh did Madagascar Manhattan (Vanilla & citrus peel-infused Bourbon, sweet vermouth, agave, chocolate bitters; served with a cherry straight up) has a kick to it or what!

The most potent drink on the menu is Zombie (Silver, aged and OP rums, Luxardo, cinnamon syrup, fresh lime, passionfruit, grapefruit juice, absinthe flame; served tiki style), it's so potent you are only allowed 2 per night.

Oh and there is table service too, such a welcoming added bonus!

With its exposed brick walls, black and white checkerboard floor, red and white bar stools, a vintage fridge at one end of the room, it felt like I was being transported back to the 1950s. I could just see myself sitting at the bar, sipping cocktails and listening to Frank Sinatra, whilst dressed in a tight-fitting blouse tucked into a pair of slim-line Capri pants, short ankle socks and a scarf tied around my neck. Think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

A return visit is definitely on the cards, and I'm not going back just for the cocktails but also the food, I have to get my hands on the pan-fried olive & Parmesan sandwich!

Hinky Dinks: 185 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010 Hinky Dinks on Urbanspoon

Tastevin Bistro & Wine Bar

Tastevin is a gorgeous little French bistro and wine bar tucked away in the busy end of Darlinghurst. It was my venue of choice to take the birthday boy out for a meal. 

Upon arrival I was greeted by a French waitress, who turned out to be our waitress for the night. With a friendly smile she told me that my dinner companion was already there waiting for me. Yes, the birthday boy was a whole 20mins early, but he didn't seem to mind as he sat comfortably in the bar at the back working away on his laptop. 

A glass of water was promptly served while I settled into my seat and looked through the wine list the bar shares with the bistro. Furnished with dark leather lounges and armchairs, the dim lighting in the bar gave a rather cosy and intimate feel to it. Come to think of it, it is the ideal place to have pre-dinner drinks if you happen to arrive before the rest of your dinner party. There is also a small bar food menu if you should get peckish while waiting. 

The feel of the bistro itself is simple yet classy. 1920s art deco posters adorn the walls, white table linens are set against contrasting dark wooden chairs and comfy banquettes; the dinning space is softly lit by lamp shade chandeliers and tealight candles on the tables.

You'd think a small dinner menu would make the selection easier, but with all the dishes sounding so delicious, it ended up being a pretty tough decision. I think another visit in the near future is needed just so I can try the other dishes! 

To kick start the birthday dinner I asked for two glasses of Champagne, in my book bubbles are a must at any celebration event. Since neither of us are big wine drinkers, Gosset by the glass was the perfect solution.

The highlight of my meal was the main, Confit duck leg with parsnip purée, carrots "Vichy", duck sausages and jus gras. The dish was cooked to perfection, the meat was tender and fell off the bone, its saltiness worked extremely well with the sweetness from the carrots.

The birthday boy favoured the dessert, Flambéed Grand Marinier crêpes Suzette with crème fraîche ice cream. I'm not sure if the birthday greeting and candle that came with it (special request I made during reservation) had anything to do with the favouritism, but I certainly adored the wonderful tangy, zesty and sweetness of the dish. 

What we were both impressed by, without any doubt, was the consistent friendly and attentive service we received throughout the night. 

It doesn't matter if you are there for a romantic dinner or a group gathering, Tastevin's traditional French cuisine with a modern Australian twist will delight your taste buds; and the excellent service simply completes a wonderful dinning experience.

Tastevin Bistro & Wine Bar: Level 1, 292-294 Victoria Road, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010  Tastevin Bistro & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chefs Gallery

My most recent dinning experience at Chefs Gallery was more than just disappointing, it was appalling. Compared to my previous visits, the service and food have gone downhill so much it has hit rock bottom. 

When it first opened just over a year ago, Chefs Gallery was one of the most talked about new restaurants in town, I was among the many that raved about it and recommended it to all my family and friends. The waitstaff were friendly and attentive, the food was fresh and delicious. I was very surprised how much a difference a year has made to this place. 

It's nice to be left alone for a few minutes after being seated and handed the menu, but on a quiet Sunday night there should be no need for us having to wait for more than ten minutes and only got to place our order after flagging down one of the waitresses. Strike one. 

Wanting to try a few of the new dishes on the menu, we ordered the Fluffy Chinese roti with egg, shallot and onion and seafood pancake served with a creamy lime sauce. While the roti was light and fluffy, I'd preferred it with a bit more flavour; the seafood pancake was bland and uninteresting, it was probably the worst dish out of the ones we had on the night, yet it was listed as one of their signature dishes. Strike two. 

The final strike, and probably the most annoying thing happened on the night was we got asked to pay our bill half way through our meal. I can understand being asked to pay if we have stayed past closing time, but asking us to pay because they were closing their register while they were still taking orders from people who just came in to eat was unacceptable. Strike three.

It is unfortunately for what once was a great place to enjoy a nice meal, watch the chefs turning a lump of dough into delicate thin noodles in effortless fluid motions in the open kitchen, to have turned into a place that I will not likely be visiting again nor recommend it to anyone, instead I'd be more inclined to warn my friends about the bland food and poor service from here onwards.

Chefs Gallery: Shop 12 (facing Bathurst Street) Ground Level Regent Place Shopping Centre, 501 George Street, Sydney, NSW 2000  Chefs Gallery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


An eating house upstairs and a bar downstairs, Grasshopper is a laneway bar that's right in the middle of Sydney's CBD, its location reminds me a lot of Melbourne's laneway bars - well and truly hidden.

Finding it the first time may be a bit tricky, you'll need to look out for a laneway off George Street across the road from Strand Arcade. Even if it looks a bit scary at night, take a deep breath and walk to the end of the laneway. Your reward for bravery shall be a cosy and eclectic small bar, where cocktails are served in jam jars and beakers among the usual wine and cocktail glasses.

A small selection of bar food is served downstairs, but if you fancy a more substantial feed then head upstairs to the restaurant. While wine and beer are served at the bar, mind you there is only ever one kind of beer and cider on offer, you cannot and must not go pass the cocktails. The best thing about ordering a cocktail here is you don't ever need to remember names. In this bar, cocktails are ordered by numbers. The menu also changes slowly over time, when it first opened back in 2010, we picked our cocktails between #1 to #10, tonight we got to choose from #31 to #40. 

While one of my friends tried #32 (rested tequila, coconut syrup, fresh lemon and blood orange served in a jam jar; a.k.a small bar glass), I went for #35 (honey & ginger rice wine, fresh lemon, mint and lemonade served in a large beaker). The mix might sound a bit strange but both were delicious and refreshing.

In case you are planning to stay for a while, hand over your credit card and ID and open a tab, why? Because you will get a cassette tape as your bar tab card, cool huh?

With its relaxed atmosphere, 70s furniture including some rather comfy armchairs, plus the dim lighting, Grasshopper even works nicely as an intimate place to take your date for a drink. However, if you are going there with your date I suggest avoiding Friday nights, that's when the bar is full to the brim with the after work crowd, but it is probably the easiest night to find the place as people spill out into the laneway, sitting on milk crates chatting the night away over a drink or two.    

Grasshopper: 1 Temperance Lane, Sydney, NSW 2000  Grasshopper on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Gin Palace

Renowned for its excellent martinis, Gin Palace is where the locals go to relax after a long day at the office, or as the last stop on a night out given its late hours (open till 3am every day of the week). I was there for the latter of course.

With nothing more than a modest sign that reads GP above its double metal door, Gin Palace is a hidden gem among the typical Melbourne laneway bars that can be easily missed if you weren't looking. Walking pass the friendly doorman, you are suddenly transported into a New York styled bar that oozes class. 

After settling down in one of the comfy vintage armchairs, I ordered a Pineapple Julep (Geneve, Maraschino liqueur, house made raspberry syrup and bubbles; a Jerry Thomas' classics from 1862) while my friend went for the Blinker (Markers Mark Bourbon, grapefruit juice, house made raspberry syrup) from a menu that boasts some of the best martinis and cocktails in town. It is definitely worth to mention that you will be getting value for your money here and will feel the kick before even finishing your first drink.

With its vintage furnishing, soft lighting,  fresh flower arrangements, friendly table service and a very well stocked bar, Gin Palace is a venue of choice for catching up with friends, a romantic night out with your other half or throwing a party that your guests will be talking about long after the event. 

If I ever move to Melbourne, this will definitely be one of my regular haunts.

Gin Palace: 10 Russell Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000  Gin Palace on Urbanspoon