The Art of Dating – 1st Date

Dating is a game of chance encounter, meeting of the eyes and hide-and-seek. If one puts out too early, one may come across as desperate or sleazy; vice versa, if your approach is too casual, one may lose the target early on in the game. For the seasoned daters, they will leverage the choice of venue for their rendezvous to allow them the home turf advantage in this delicate balancing act which we call dating. Environmental factors like seating positions, lighting, style of food, noise and time of the day can all play roles in helping you to achieve your objectives, whatever those may be. The key is to get the mix of environmental factors right in order to put you in the best light and in turn maximise your return (a hug, a kiss, holding hands, inappropriate touching) on investment (footing the bill, at least your share). First impression does tell a lot about someone, as a result, the strategic choice of a venue is probably more important than ever.

Time of the day:
Sunday 4 to 5pm for a drink. If you get along, you can then move on to dinner. If conversation turns stale after 15 minutes, you can then make a quick escape without having to endure a three-course meal.
Venue:
Balcony at the Newtown Hotel is a superb spot for drinks on a first date. It’s usually lively and the passing traffic and colourful characters of Newtown should provide loads of conversational subjects to eliminate the awkward silent moments. The afternoon sun also casts a calming light on to the balcony but it becomes progressively more seductive as the evening wears on and the date gets more intimate.

Newtown Hotel
Address: 174 King St, Newtown NSW 2042
Phone:(02) 9557 6399

Being in Newtown, there is also a never-ending offer of restaurants to dine at should you choose to kick on after the initial few drinks. Liza is a casual and friend Japanese joint where you can sip sake and show off how cultured you are by being able to use chopsticks properly. Further a field in Erskineville (good opportunity to sneak in a cheeky hand-holding on your way there), there is Kuki Tanuki, a modern Japanese restaurant with intimate lighting and upbeat background music. Chicken yakitori skewers and pork gyozas make perfect accompaniments for the imported Japanese beers while their slow poached duck makes a perfect shared plate.

But if Newtown is out of the way for you though, there are also some great alternatives in other Surry Hills. Try start the date at courtyard of The Winery By Gazebo on Crown Street then followed dinner at Zushi or the terrace of The White Horse and finish the date on a sweet note with a cheeky scoop of gelato from Messina. I know I am biased in suggestion Japanese restaurants for the optional dinner venues but if your date doesn’t like Japanese, then forget it, he/she is a no-hoper.

And if you’ve survived the first date, then be sure to stay tuned for the next post on 2nd date where we further exploit lighting and seating to further the romance.

Taking A Leap Of Faith

The fast approaching silly season makes me do silly things. Take the below selfie taken at a work Christmas party as an example. I will live to regret it for the rest of my life. Ok, there may have been a stupendous amount of alcohol involved and I may have skipped a meal or two on this long day of drinking session, but sillily jolly nonetheless.

Silly Season 1The festive feelings are more often than not infectious. The carols you hear on the PAs in shopping centres, the Christmas decorations around the house, the alcohol-fuelled work Christmas dos (*cough) can very easily make one feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. And when that feeling reaches you, you just can’t help but spread it to others around you. There can also be a slightly sad shade attached to the holiday season, knowing that families are overseas, reminiscing about the previous family gatherings when a deceased family member was still with us, or simply replaying the joyous moment of Christmas morning when you exchanged thoughtfully curated gifts with a partner who is no longer your partner. But if there’s a silver lining to this shade of sadness, it is that memories we have are cherished, and that happiness is only just around the corner instead of being buried deep in the back of our heads. Happiness is within our reach. So while you are reminiscing about the good ole days, I urge you to take a leap of faith, forgive the ones that have hurt you or do wrong by you, reach out and spread the love. Like me, you will feel much better for it.

While we are on the subjects of taking leaps of faith, I applied the same silly season principal to a new cafe in Kingsgrove. “Where the fuck is that?” you may ask. Work has taken me to a lot of interesting places, Kingsgrove for one. It s a south western suburb in Sydney, between Bexley North and Roselands. On my fortnightly visits there, I used to dread the lunch options available. Burnt coffee, numerous days-old servo pies, RSL Chinese lunch and heart-attack inducing fish & chips  are some of the prime examples. The banh mi shop cum bakery was only thing that stopped me from eating my clients alive. But it all changed when All Good Things Eatery opened up. It is situated on Marsham Ave, slightly tucked away from the heaving traffic that is Kingsgrove. I stumbled upon it during a store visit with my client to the newly opened Woolworths at The Pottery. When I spotted it, I really had to do a double take and remind myself that I’m not in Surry Hills or Alexandria. Decor-wise, it ticks all the boxes: repro chairs, wooden tables, communal dining bench, industrial shelves stocked with pickles and open kitchen – I was immediately swept off my feet.

Upon close-up examination of the menu, it was equally full of characters. There was the slow-cooked pork belly with crispy crackling, the ceviche, tuna taco and not to mention the burrata, which has fast become my favourite light meal of choice lately.  In fact, I was so impressed that I went back not only once, twice but thrice over the next couple of weeks to try out all the things I wanted to order on my first visits!

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Shop 9-11 Mashman Ave
Kingsgrove, NSW2138
All Good Things Eatery on Urbanspoon

Taking a leap of faith often leads to many pleasant surprises. And with a bit of luck, more happy memories with the family and loved ones are just around the corner. But until then, I have pork bellies, ceviches and burratas to keep me company.

The Deal Breakers

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If you are like me, who have been dating for the majority of your life, hopefully by now you would’ve figured out what the qualities are you want in a man. For me, there’s the essential characteristics like honesty, kindness, compassion and empathy. There is also the nice-to-haves, such as sense of adventure, playfulness, career-focused. But then there’s also the inevitable deal breakers.

A week ago I went out on a date with Mr. Redfern. He lives in the neighbourhood, has a stable job and is a home owner, so good on paper. However, I had a small hesitation about him on our first date – he didn’t know what polenta was. I was quite surprised that he had never heard of polenta but then again, maybe I do have an unusually wide food repertoire. “Stop being a snob”, I thought to myself. So I continued on with the date and he must’ve picked up that I am very fond of Japanese food as he showed me a picture of okonomiyaki. If you haven’t had or heard of it, it basically is a Japanese cabbage pancake,drizzled with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, bonita fish flakes and nori flakes. I love okonomiyakis and they fondly reminds me of Osaka. While this okonomiyaki in the photo was shaped into a long rectangular block on a stick, probably deep fried and certainly didn’t look very appetising, he promised that it was the best he had ever had. I was a little sceptical but very quick to remind myself about the “open mind” motto.

After the hype about okonomiyaki, it was only fair that we put it to the test. So second date on Tuesday night, we sipped sake while patiently waited for the okonomiyakis to arrive at the table. And when they did, it was a let down – no sauce, no bonito flakes, no nori flakes, no nothing… Just deep fried pieces of cabbage & batter on a stick. It tasted nothing like the real deal. But I know that I should act graciously and not dwell on it, so conversation very quickly moved on to coffee. Mr Redfern then very proudly told me that his favourite coffee was Gloria Jeans. I wasn’t expecting this declaration and nearly fell off the chair. Then when I regained my balance, I then accidentally let out this howl that sounded like “Why? Why oh why??!!” He was quick to explain that it was the only place where they make their coffee hot enough etc. But at that point, I knew that he had landed himself on a deal breaker. And I am not even going to waste my time elaborating the importance of the temperature to coffee, the shiteness of Gloria Jeans coffee and its association with an evangelical church organisation that actively opposes my lifestyle.

After the date though, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would tolerate his fondness for Gloria Jeans coffee, had he knew what polenta was and thought the idea of serving deep fried okonomiyaki on a stick sans sauce and toppings is an abomination… Deal breakers, are they the convenient excuses to reject someone’s affections because all others will make you seem shallow? Or are they genuinely against your core values? As I ponder this questions on Thursday night, I treated myself to some homemade okonomiyakis that are exactly how they should be. So readers, what are your deal breaker? Leave them in the comment box below!

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Recipes as follow:
Premixed Okonomiyaki flour 200g
Dashi stock – 250ml
2 eggs
4 slices of bacon
8 mushrooms
finely sliced cabbage 250g
Dried shrimps (option) a handful
Okonomiyaki sauce
Jap mayo
Nor flakes
Bonito flakes

First of all, combine mix flour, egg and cold stock and let the batter rest of at least 1 hour in the fridge. Then finely dice cabbage and mushrooms and set them aside. Combine the rested batter with cabbage and pour 2 ladles into a heated frying pan coated with cooking oil. Top the batter with 1 strip of bacon and mushrooms. You will know it’s time to flip it when the air bubbles star to appear. Flip it so the bacon side cooks, for another 2 to 3 minutes on medium heat. Remove the pancake from the frying pan, drizzle on okonomiyaki sauce in square blocks then repeat with Jap mayo. Lastly sprinkle on the nori and bonito flakes. Then voila, there you have yourself a little authentic taste of Osaka!

Posh Nosh – Architect’s Fish & Chips

Posh Nosh is a painstakingly funny parody mini cooking series and an all time favourite of mine. It consists of 8 episodes and in each one, they bring “Extraordinary Food” to “Ordinary People” and demonstrate the dishes using snooty comments, exotic and often extinct animals and unusual cooking techniques, such as “embarrass the vegetables”, “annoy the fish”, “disappoint the potatoes”. Such clever writing and the characters’ snobbery in food is a spot-on match with my sense of humour. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you check out the links below. And if you have. then it certainly won’t hurt to revisit!

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Experimental Wednesday: Three-mushroom Risotto, Japanese Style

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In my normal life I am generally quite content and tend to become a creature of habits. But when I’m in the kitchen, I quite often challenge the status quo. My dad will probably disown me if he hears me saying this but I think I was Japanese in my previous life. Sure, there’s worse thing he could disown me for (smoking, wagging school and the list goes on) , but being born to a patriotic Chinese family, this is pretty high on the offending list. I mean if I was stuck on an island and had to eat only one cuisine for the rest of my life, it would have to be Japanese. But I am (almost) equally fond of Italian food, so maybe the reincarnation before my Japanese ninja past-life was an Italian peasant. Armed with such conflicting feelings about my hypothesised cultural heritage, when I opened up the pantry last night after a long day at work, I decided to indulge in some experimental infusion of Japanese and Italian. The outcome, is a three-mushroom risotto Japanese Style which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The key ingredients are:

Dry Porcini mushrooms – a small handful, soaked for 20 minutes in warm water and then drained
Dry Chanterelle mushrooms – a small handful, soaked for 20 minutes in warm water and then drained
Fresh Swiss button mushrooms – 4 to 5 heads
Risotto rice – 200gram
Dashi stock – 2 cups
White wine – 150ml
Toasted dried baby shrimps – 1 tablespoon
Nori flakes (Seaweed flakes) – a handful
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Truffle oil (optional)

To conjure up this culturally ambiguous mess, heat up the frying pan with olive, throw in the risotto rice. Fry the rice until it turns opaque then pour in the wine. Once the liquid is fully absorbed, pour in the dashi stock one ladle at a time. Also turn the heat down to medium. Keep adding stock and stirring the risotto.

risotto-japanese-style-cooking

While the risotto is simmering away, toast the dried shrimps in a saucepan. It should take no more than 30 seconds for the shrimps to turn into a golden hue. Remove them from the stove immediate and the residue heat of the pan will keep them warm and crunchy until the risotto is ready.

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How long does it take to cook the risotto? I am not really good at measuring the exact time but generally when I finish my second glass of wine, the risotto is at the point of al dente. And if you leave it until the third glass of wine, then you might as well eat baby food. Just before the risotto is ready, we want to add in the mushrooms in the last 5 minutes of the cooking process. You will know the mushrooms are ready when they start to change into a darker colour. Check and adjust consistency with stock while the mushrooms are soaking up all the creamy risotto liquid, as you want a fairly runny and almost soupy consistency.

Lastly, plate up and sprinkle on the toasted shrimps and nori flakes. And there you have yourself a little mongrel risotto. And of course, to mark this special moment, you can’t go wrong with just a few dollops of truffle oil. But who am I kidding, I would add truffle oil to plain old steamed rice. Oh wait, I have!

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Heroes of the Golden Triangle

Redfern

I live in a very eclectic neighbourhood. It is in an area which I dearly refer to as the Golden Triangle. No, it’s not the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia that you are thinking of, but the Golden Triangle that is Alexandria, Redfern and Waterloo.  In fact, I am smack bang in the middle of this melting pot. If I walk 2 two blocks uphill to Saint Germain Patisserie for a toasted croissant, I am in Redfern; if I cross Botany Rd to get to The Rag Land for their Nasi Lemak on a weekend (and it’s only served there on the weekend), I am in Waterloo; the newly opened Fratelli Fresh is just 5 minutes walk and three blocks away. If only there’s a gelato shop within walking distance, I will never have to leave The Golden Triangle.

You see, one might think that Surry Hills and Darlinghurst are better neighbourhoods to live in because you are basically spoilt for choices when you step out the front door. But just like my attitudes in relationships, I believe in investing financially, temporally and emotionally. There is almost an unspoken pride about witnessing the gentrification of a neighbourhood, as if you have followed an indie band for a long time and all of a sudden, they have become international phenomenon, at which point, you would think that they are sell-outs but still is still secretly proud of the fact that you were one of the original groupies. I have the same relationship with the neighbourhood I live in. Like all great suburbs and cities, the gentrification phase is often the most exhilarating part of the history; think Paris in the 20’s, Buenos Aires in the late 90s, Surry Hills and Newtown in the early 2000’s and Marrickville in the last 3 years. Was I really naive in comparing my neighbourhood to two of the most beautiful cities in the world? Very much so. But I can also see the similarities in these places. When I first arrived in Sydney over three years ago, I read an article that has stuck with me ever since. It is a very insightful article on SMH by Elizabeth Farrelly in which she explored the reasons behind gentrification of cities and drew on her own experience with London that  “…[London] is a perfect place for the miserable … [but] it’s being miserable that gets things done. No one comes to the capital to be happy. They come here to do stuff.” It is the collective effort of a number of individuals who make significant contribution to the cultural and culinary development of this wonderful neighbourhood but their individual efforts are usually omitted in the glossy reviews. So I feel like it is my mission to dig deep and uncover identity of these people that are changing the food scenes in this neighbourhood. Please, stay tuned for the 1st instalment of Heroes of The Golden Triangle series, out next week. And of course, the best way keep track of it is to subscribe.

You sty classy.

Stealing Time @ Beejay’s

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My favourite day of the work week is Tuesday when I drive past Marrickville on my way to visit client. For a long time, I was really adamant about moving to Marrickville. While this plan didn’t come to fruition, I seek consolation by stopping by at this rapidly changing suburb with many great ethnic restaurants and hipster-friendly cafes. And what a way to start the day by taking some time out in the morning and grab a bite in this charming neighbourhood.

Beejay to me is the quiet achiever of the Marrickville cafes. It doesn’t have the Timeout rave revies or the Good Food Guide seal of approvas but I think it is just a matter of time before it does. At the age of 20, owner Benjamin is very likely the youngest cafe owner in Sydney, if not the entire universe. Service is casual by friendly and they are always up for a quick chat if they are not busy whipping out lattes for those in need.

One of the many things that meditation teaches me is  to observe and acknowledge my feelings. Sitting at the window at Beejays in the morning and watching the world go by certainly brings me a feeling of calm and tranquil. A fantastic coffee and a breakfast bruschetta with poached eggs, grilled asparagus and truffle oil are just the icing on the cake.

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Beejays Cafe
395 Illawarra Rd Marrickville NSW 2204
(02) 9558 8860
Beejay's on Urbanspoon

The 30% That We Don’t Love …

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We humans are a greedy bunch and we are always looking for the next best thing. It is the very same greed, or motivation, as some would call it, that improves our quality of life, drives us to achieve our goals. But what happens when you achieve that short term goal? Do you get a bigger loan? Do you upgrade to more luxurious car? A longer overseas holiday?

I have always approached my relationships with a can-do attitude, because I am a realist about the fact that no one is perfect. If I find a guy who is 70% there, then we’ve got a pretty good foundation and we can improve the remaining 30%. Sounds logical, right? Take Mr G for example. He was one of the most charming young men I had met and we instantly connected. But there was just one small problem – he was still at university and was making next to nothing from his 10-hour-a-week retail part-time job. Naturally, being the relationship renovation expert that I am, I encouraged, pushed and *may* have even shoved him into finding a new job. Hell, I even pulled some strings with my friends and got him an interview with a company he ended up working for, for a much better pay! And with the finance and career situation resolved, I thought I was off to a flying start and about to embark on a perfect relationship, But the reality could not be further away from perfect. I started to feel like he was distancing himself away from me, in the end, I had no choice but to end things with him. Years later on a chance encounter, I bumped into him again and found out what was going through in his head.. So it turned out the desire to improve, this can-do DIY attitudes of mine, does not make him feel good. In fact, he confessed that it made him feel inadequate and emasculated. And what a revelation to me it was! I can think of countless occasions where I made suggestions to my partners to change this, get rid of this bad habit, get a better job, quit smoking, etc, whereas the whole time, I am the one who needs work on the remaining 30%! Even better, instead of focusing on the 30% of negatives, why don’t we focus on the 70% of positives that we love about the other person! Easier said than done I know, but I intend of putting it into practice next time I am in a relationship.

Outside of Comfort Zone

For a long time, my comfort zone is made up of Surry Hills, Newtown and even Darlinghurst if I can stretch myself for a cab ride beyond $10. And I had my little routine too. If I was to brunch FourAteFive, I would ensure that i would save some room for a little lavender for cupcake from Sparkle as dessert. Dinner in Newtown somehow always ended up at Cow And The Moon in hope that popcorn gelato would make a comeback on to the menu. Similar to my dining comfort zone, I have also been dating within my comfort zone. The guys I’ve dated in the past few years are almost identical, their builds, facial hair, interests and more often than not, their attitudes towards love, sex and relationships. While this comfort zone has provided me a lot of comfort over the years, the once familiar flavours have started to taste tiring. The fact that I haven’t been back to Cow and The Moon for the world’s best gelato since the end of my last relationship is the perfect proof.

So on Saturday, I went out of my comfort zone, crossed the bridge and visited Salvage, a local cafe in Artamon in search of a new comfort zone. Salvage is situated in a lane way cafe strip, cutely tucked behind the train station. While the lane way provided a quaint back drop for the outdoor seatings, the interior boasts boasts a rock-a-billy atmosphere. Sign of a good cafe already. I ordered the beef brisket with cauliflower puree, poached eggs and quinoa salad. And may I say, OH MY GOD, the beef brisket was juicy and tender while the cauliflower puree gave it a smooth finish. The poached egg was equally beautiful – as i prodded the egg, the yolk was runny and bright orange. Great food, scrumptious coffee and strapping barista, it appears I have just found the new reasons to travel outside of my comfort zone.

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Salvage Coffee on Urbanspoon

The Upside of Being Single

Movida

Being single is hard. There’s the inconvenience of Sunday mornings when you wake up by yourself with no one to send down the road for a coffee. Then there’s the time when you lock yourself out of the flat. But there are also many upsides to being single, such as not having to change the sheets for weeks at a time, rediscovering the long lost interests such as learning salsa etc. But my favourite one is having more time to reacquaint the city by visiting many of of the new restaurants and bars that have opened. And last weekend, I did just that.

Friday night, Jane and I caught up for a few cocktails at Baxter Inn, one of the many CBD small bars that have popped up. The wait to get in was about 30 minutes which was a bit daunting, considering we both dead sober at 7:30pm which was unprecedented. But once we were inside, the bar was full but it wasn’t shoulder-to-shoulder full and we were able to order drinks quite easily. At that point, I thought to myself, “thank god they are strict at the door.” Funny how one’s perception changes so quickly. We asked for Apple Juice (with apple being freshly juiced and a dash of vodka of course) but the mixologist recommended Apple Juice with Whisky with a promise to completely change our lives.  Although miracle didn’t happen after one sip, it still was a pretty bloody decent drink. Whiskey definitely gave the otherwise boring apple juice more depth – so simple yet brilliant. Maybe miracles will eventually happen if I have more of these? Like all off-springs of Shady Pines bars, the barmen were super nice attitude-free guys, combined with their excellence in mixology, tattoo clad forearm, strapping moustaches, they make the perfect boyfriends. Come to pa pa!


The Baxter Inn on Urbanspoon

A couple more drinks each later, we moved on to my spiritual home Surry Hills and had a couple of drinks and nibbles at 121BC while we waited for a table for Movida. 1 hour, 4 glasses of wine and a plate of nibbles later, we were seated at the bar bench of Movida which I find is way more intimate than sitting at a table, so it was more than fine by me. Paletilla Iberico ham melted in the mouth. Beef cheeks was beautifully slow cooked and as a result, fell apart at the slightest protrusion with a knife, while the Pedro Ximenez cut through fattiness that is usually associated with this cut of meat. Two well deserved hats from Good Food Guide indeed.MoVida Sydney on Urbanspoon

While most people stay in on Monday night, a bunch of food savvy friends and I went to Longrain Food and Wine Trivia. Our team name was The Betels, which paid homage to my favourite Longrain dish. We took advantage of their $10 happy hour cocktails and  without hesitation decided on a Pacific Pash, which is 42 Below Passion Fruit with pineapples, mint and pineapple juice. 42 Below cocktails always get me, reminds me of home really! While the food at the trivia didn’t come with normal Longrain price tag, it was definitely a triumph, too. The duck salad had a bit of a kick to it but beautifully balanced nonetheless. The vege green curry was also a highlight too. We did better than expected but just fell short of winning a box of produce which was the prize for third place. But I was particularly impressed with our food tasting round where we got 5 of the 6 Thai styled arancini ingredients right. Wine tasting though, we didn’t do so well in. But overall we had a really fun night and was impressed with the effort we put in. Details for the trivia night can be found here
Longrain Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Being single definitely has its upside and I am definitely glad that I have some amazing friends to take advantage of it with.🙂

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