Saturday, October 29, 2011

Magnus Nilsson at Marque

Marque Restaurant
4/5 355 Crown Street
Surry Hills
NSW 2010
Ph : +61 2 9332 2225

Magnus Nilsson and Mark Best at work on the marrow

Amongst the CRAVE Sydney Food Festival “Showcase Dinners” was Magnus Nilsson at Marque. Through the magical mystery tour of randomness that is twitter, I found myself at the second of these dinners, as a Nice Someone’s dinner companion for the evening.

Turning up at 8.30pm to the sold-out dinner, I had no idea what to expect, as I’d read a few articles about Nilsson including this one, but not really delved into his dishes.

The menu was not given to us, as a momento of the evening, until after the meal, adding to the air of expectation of what was to come. Many of the dishes turned out to be adaptations of what Nilsson does at Faviken. He transplanted his approach to food to Australia, and in the process, made it one of the most ‘Australian’ meals I have ever eaten. As I didn’t drink any of the wine, I include that information for interest, but can’t comment on them or the pairing.

1. A little lump of very fresh cheese & lavender

2. Crust of dried pig's blood and urchins

3. Charcuterie

Served with Vouette & Sorbee 'Fidele' Champagne, France.

The cheese was basically curd. The pig's blood and urchins - had I known of this, there’s a strong chance that I would not eaten it, as I don't like blood pudding, and things of that ilk. I admit that it tasted better than I would have expected, even though I remain a bit uncertain. Strong, but not too much so. It looked like a bite-sized little chocolate, with the urchin on top. Faviken's equivalent dish is "lightly salted wild cod roe in dried pig's crust". The charcuterie, as you can see, was insanely fatty, but ever so soft, and almost juicy.

4. Angasi Oyster cooked over charcoal & tea tree branches

Served with Bridge Road Brewers 'Chevalier, Saison', Beechworth.

I mentioned that some of his dishes appeared to be a local variation of his own dishes. This was one of them, an adaptation of his "scallops cooked over juniper branches". It was a lot of fun to look at, with the smoky sweet oysters in their shell (the lids resting gently on top) buried amidst a plate full of branches and vegetation.

5. W.A. Marron with Oatmeal, Sprouting Barley, Fermented Vegetables & Almost Burnt Cream

This is where my enjoyment started to go up exponentially. The marron was perfectly cooked, with such sweet flesh. The “almost burnt cream” and the barley in particular, just brought the marron up to something special for me. Perfect combination, and I wanted more of it.

6. Hapuka with Young Cale Steamed So Briefly That It Is Dying On The Plate, alcoholic vinegar & pine

Served with 2008 Goisot 'Corps de Garde' Fie Gris, Saint-Bris, Buorgogne, France.

I was still savouring the taste of the marron when this arrived. It was stunningly good. From the sweet flesh of one water beast to another even more sweet, it appeared to be coated in honey, and was slightly caramelised. My dining companion made a comment about it being similar to miso cod, which is a better description than I could come up with on the night. The kale/ cake and vinegar combination was nice and tart, to balance the sweetness of the fish. One of my favourite dishes of the night.

7. Raw Blueshell Mussel & Pea Pie

8. New potatoes cooked in leaves from last Autumn

Served with 2008 Benanti 'Biancodicaselle' Carricante, Etna Bianco, Sicily.

I joked on the night that his inspiration for this was a pie floater, and part of the constant theme throughout this meal of how very Australian everything was, in the best possible way. Lasting but a mouthful, I can’t say much more than that it was full of flavour, and a lot better than a pie floater. 

9. Leeks, cream whisked with beer, vinegar & dried mullet roe

Served with 2008 Egon Muller 'Sharzhof' Riseling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany.

This rather austere dish was probably a tie for the dish that I understood the least, it was too subtle for me. The dried mullet roe, I could happily have eaten more of. Faviken's original is "preserved leek, sheep's milk whisked with vinegar fermented beer, grated cod roe".

10. Dice of raw beef heart with marrow, Spring flowers, toast and herb (celery) salt

Served with 2010 Mac Forbes 'Yarra Junction' Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Vic.

This was the dish that I found the most confronting that evening. I don't like offal, and had I been told there'd be diced raw beef heart, I don't know what I'd have done. Squesmish of me it may be, but the idea of eating heart doesn't appeal to me, let alone raw. It was diced into very small pieces, the taste of the marrow more delicate than I had expected. The Spring flowers gave it the visual beauty that it needed, as well as some contrasts of texture. The combination of it with the celery salt and toast helped me a lot from the perspective of eating it, but I’m not sure that I understood this dish. The Faviken dish from which this was adapted is "dice of raw moose meat, forest herbs, bread crumbs, vinegar jelly, drops of sour milk, egg yolks and concentrated birch sap". I think I'd have preferred the moose meat version.

11. Really Aged Cape Grim Rib Eye with green juice & herbs

Served with 2005 Giuseppe Mascarello 'Santo Stephano di Perno' Barbera d'Alba, Piedmont.

If I could bottle up the fragrance of this dish, I’d make millions. This is now my benchmark steak. The aroma was just unbelievable. I put my nose down and wanted to do nothing but inhale. Pure beef perfume. The beef had been dipped in kidney fat (sounds awful, heh) then aged for 120 days. It was truly a magical meat experience. I don't know if I'll ever eat beef like that again. I've had Cape Grim few times before, but clearly, the ageing method and process are where it’s all happening. The other times? Chalk and cheese. 

12. Raspberry ice

13. Oatmeal Sable, pudding of soured cream, wood sorrel and frozen buttermilk

Served with 2002 D.des Baumard Close St Catherine Chenin, Coteau du layon, Loire Valley

The dessert was an interesting experience. As soon as I saw sorrel, I laughed, as my previous sorrel dessert experiences have been alright, but not something that I’d have chosen. I just don't feel that I quite understand sorrel desserts.

As is my habit, I took a bit of the top layers of the dessert i.e. of soured cream, wood sorrel and buttermilk, and tasted it. Paused. I was then told to eat it as it was meant to be, cutting it so that I got a bit of every component in each bite. That made all the difference. What started off as my thinking that I was never going to understand sorrel desserts ended up with my enjoying it a lot. The whole was very much more than the sum of its parts; it had been cleverly constructed so that eating it all in a mouthful made the sorrel sweet, any sourness disappear, and just a really balanced dish, with the sable’s sweetness quite addictive.

14. Fruit and nuts

15. Coffee by Single Origin. Blends - "Santa Ria", "Matagalpa", "Huila"

Was it worth the $295? It's expensive, but yes it was. His restaurant is fairly isolated, and it sits 12 people. My chances of going there are minimal, even if I go back to Sweden.

Magnus Nilsson visited most tables, and was just a lovely humble guy, genuinely wanting to know whether we enjoyed each dish. Would I eat Nilsson's food again? Yes. I also want some more of that aged Cape Grim.

At our table of eight, there were two other doubles. There was also one couple who departed just as I was arriving, so I didn't get to meet them, but I was told that when they realised it wasn't going to be a romantic evening a deux, they left.

Paying six hundred dollars for a meal and deciding not to stay for it just because of seating arrangements? Your loss, in so many ways.

These are the sorts of meals where you may not get a ‘wow’ from every dish, because not everything will suit everyone’s taste, but there will be dishes that you will remember, and there will be tastes and combinations that will make you think about them not just during the meal, but for days afterwards. It was a privilege to be there that evening.


Marque on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three years on : Seiko's Limited Edition Spring Drive Moon Phase

Sometimes I like to look back on a watch a few years after its release, especially if, at the time, it was much heralded for technical and aesthetic reasons, and an award winner to boot, to see how it’s faring, and to assess whether my feelings about it have changed. This is one of those watches.

Having been launched in 2005, Seiko’s Spring Drive is no longer considered a novelty, and far more widely known and accessible than it was at its birth, when its availability was fairly restricted.

If you don’t know of the Spring Drive range and why it is so special, technically speaking, here’s an introductory video. You can read more about the Quartz Astron that is mentioned at the beginning of the video, here.

In 2006, the first Spring Drive Moon Phase was released, and it proved to be the most popular design in the collection. In 2008, Seiko released a new limited edition (200) Spring Drive Moon Phase, the SNR017.

Technical Specifications

Spring Drive Moon Phase SNR017 (limited edition of 200)

Caliber : 5R67
Case : Stainless Steel, 42.3mm
Diameter : 30mm
Thickness : 6mm
Parts : 288
Jewels : 30
Accuracy : Equivalent to +/- 1sec/ day
Power Reserve : 72 hours
Strap : Crocodile
Crystal : Sapphire with anti-reflective coating.
Water resistance : 10 Bar
Caseback : Sapphire crystal

Despite being quite an elegant timepiece, it is also a fairly robust one. The case and crystal cannot be called delicate, and it sits quite largely for a 42mm watch because of its thickness.

To my mind, this is arguably the most beautiful Spring Drive (limited or otherwise) produced by Seiko to date (though I am also partial to the Spacewalk). As is the brand’s habit for dress watches, the dial is very clean, the moon an example of a pure and pared-back design that is very modern, but not dated.

When it was released in 2008, the LE Spring Drive Moon Phase it won German watch magazine Uhren-Magazin’s "Golden Balance Wheel Award" in the "up to 5000 Euros" category. 

A Spring Drive’s gliding hands are something that has to be seen in the flesh, if you have not seen it before. I was drawn to the look of the watch when I first saw it, and three years have not diminished its beauty for me.

It has proven to be a versatile watch, worn equally well with shirt and jeans as a suit. Functionally, it has been gliding along happily for its owner, with no problems. It has not been a safe queen. Semi-regular use has not resulted in it looking a lot the worse for wear, and the sturdy strap is still in very good condition. All up, the Moon Phase has proven to be a watch that has given a lot of pleasure, has not dated, and is a 'keeper'.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bau Truong Marrickville

Bau Truong
185 Marrickville Road
NSW 2204
Ph : (02) 9569 4938

“Where did you hear about us?”

Bau Truong had only been open a few weeks, and we were here with Carrie. I’d actually read about this latest offshoot at Sydney blog Noodlies during my search for a Vietnamese restaurant to which to take her.

The Marrickville Bau Truong is all shiny surfaces and modern, with bold blue and red a dominating colour theme. Split between two levels (the bathrooms are on the upper level), there is an attractive semi-private area at the top for small groups.

There were three of us, and we were fairly hungry. The sheer size of the menu, which comes in three physical menus, will be daunting for those who have difficulties dealing with too much choice. We eventually narrowed it down to ten items.

BBQ Pork on Crackers ($10)

Marinated, with peanuts and shallots, with some rice noodles. Enjoyable, but the rice crackers had started to go a little soft in the middle.

Vietnamese Pancake ($15)

Bahn Xeo is not just one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes, but one of my favourite dishes, period. There’s just something marvellous about a large crunchy rice flour pancake bursting with filling. To skimp on the filling is a regrettable thing, and takes away much of the enjoyment. This one was passable in this regard and in terms of taste, but a greater generosity of meat, prawns and sprouts would have turned it into one that I’d travel back there to eat.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

MoonFighter : Crazy or Cool?

I mentioned Romain Jerome's Space Invaders watch earlier this year. Now, the brand that believes that there are never too many things that you can put bits of the moon into has come up with the “MoonFighter” pen range.

A pen or an expensive toy (of sorts) that happens to have a dual function as a pen?  Fun or utterly over the top ridiculous? You draw your own conclusions. Whatever you think, there will never be any doubt that this is a Romain Jerome production.

With moon dust in the cockpit, it comes in a three variants: Heavy Metal, Black Metal and Vintage. Each is limited to an edition of 888, adorned with 48 hand-applied rivets and ‘docks’ in a carbon-finished docking station. The fountain pen's nib is titanium.

Prices start at 1,990 Swiss Francs.


Black fountain pen with a with its docking station, composed of spare parts of Apollo XI


Palladium fountain pen with its docking station, composed of spare parts of Apollo XI


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Azuma Japanese Restaurant
Level 1, Chifley Plaza, 2 Chifley Square
(Cnr. of Phillip & Hunter Streets)
Sydney NSW 2000

Tel : (02) 9222 9960
Fax : (02) 9222 9962

Opening Hours (bookings can be made here at their website)
Lunch : Monday to Friday 12.00pm - 2.30pm
Dinner : Monday to Saturday 6.00pm - 10.00pm

It has been a couple of weeks since I visited Azuma, which was one of several meals I had in the company of the visiting Carrie whilst her chef son Luke was at the Blinman Camp Oven Cook Off with Franz and others. We had a few meals during this period, including sushi e and lunch at Marque, Carrie had more memorable meals with Luke and Franz on their return, and I had one or two more of my own, including a CRAVE/ SIFF dinner at Marque with Magnus Nilsson. I mention this because looking back, it wasn’t just that upon leaving Azuma, I felt that I wanted to visit them again the next day, but that in comparing that night retrospectively with the other meals during that period, it stood out as one of the top few.

Why? Well, let’s start with the food.

Wakame seaweed salad served with Azuma’s soy vinaigrette ($16)

The bowl in which this was served was large and heavy, perhaps weighing a kilogram and in this beautiful bowl was a magnificent looking specimen of a salad. Generous, fresh, full of different textures and tastes, this has got to be one of the best salads I’ve had. Despite our valiant efforts to finish it all at once, in the end we had to stagger it a bit. There was easily enough there for four people.

Wagyu beef carpaccio (Marble Score 5) $39

Another beautiful presentation, another good sized dish. The carpaccio was textbook perfectly cooked, the beef tender, and despite there being a lot of dressing quantity wise, which looked excessive at first glance, its balance of tart and salty (with a touch of sweet, I thought) flavours wasn’t too heavy handed, so the beef did not taste as though it was sitting in a small pool of dressing.

Deep-fried Pacific Oyster wrapped in Kataifi Pastry ($15)

Having eaten at sushi-e on the previous night, where Carrie had been introduced to Australian oysters (steamed and raw), it was time to give her a third experience. With a dollop of mayonnaise and salmon roe (which I love), the perfectly cooked plump and juicy oysters encased in golden kataifi were destined from the start to be a favourite of mine. These were rather addictive, I could happily eat a few more of these.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tech Talk No. 5: Water Resistance Explained

How Water Resistant Is Your Watch?

This is in fact a very confusing issue to many, and a question that is often asked. Every time it is asked, a seemingly different answer is given. So, to clear all confusion and marketing speak/ hype, here is the definitive answer to the question, which you can use as a guide to work out whether or not you can swim with your watch.

There are many different terms used by various watch companies to indicate water resistance rating - 5 ATM, 5 BAR, WR50, 50m…etc etc...They all mean the same thing.

One thing that must be kept in mind is that "water resistant" does not mean "waterproof".

A watch is never waterproof, according to the US Federal Trade Commission : "The word proof connotes a measure of absolute protection that unfortunately does not exist with respect to watches, especially over prolonged periods of time."

Also, 50 metres water resistant does NOT mean your watch will resist water at a depth of 50 metres.

Pretty much ALL watch companies recommend getting watch seals checked every 12-18 months if you plan to use your dive watch for actual dives (as opposed to desk dives), as the seals are what's keeping the water out of your watch, and seals DO degrade over time and lose their effectiveness.

And remember, DON'T wear your watch in the shower. Why the heck would you do that? To time your shower in order to save money? Unless you like taking cold showers, take off your damn watch!

30m to 50m

Generally speaking, the depth rating on watches are a measure of atmospheric pressure and not actual depth of water. This means that if you see 30m or 50m, it's only really splash proof, meaning if you get splashes of water on the watch from the rain or from washing your hands, it's still ok. If you're rinsing your hands under the tap for extended period of time, take off the watch. Don't swim with the watch on. Note that there is an exception: Swatch watches are rated to 50m and they guarantee you can swim with them, probably due to the way they're constructed - i.e. a one-piece case.

50m to 100m

I still wouldn't swim with this watch on. It is likely that the watch won't have a screw-in crown. That means there is always the possibility of water getting through the most minute of spaces.

100m to 200m

If the watch is rated to 100m, and has a screw-in crown, then it is safe to swim with it. However, keep in mind that it is the pressure of water on the watch, so if you dive into the water, that will exert extra pressure/stress on the watch/ seal/ gasket. So, just to be on the safe side… However, as some of our more astute readers have picked up, there are other different types of crowns that will also be water resistance. For example the push-in crowns like on Panerais.

200m -300m

You'd probably be okay with the watch on for pretty much all water activity, unless you're a professional diver, in which case, you probably have a Rolex Submariner/ Sea Dweller or a Citzen Promaster already. One thing that doesn't come up often, but should, is that if you do plan to dive with your expensive $10,000 Swiss dive watch, make sure it comes with a double safety clasp, or something that has a fail safe in place i.e. if one fails, the watch will still stay on your wrist. So those "basic" Rolex clasps - the ones that go under and over, are probably also the safest, and withanything with a push button, single/ double folding clasp, the chance you might lose the watch is much higher.

300m +

Let's just say… the watch will still be ticking, even when you aren't…

So, here a few simple rules to live by. Keep these, and you won't find yourself with a fogged up watch, rusty movement, and an overhaul cost that's equal to getting a new watch :

1. DON'T wear your watch in the shower
2. If it DOESN'T have a screw-down crown of some sort, assume the watch is NOT water resistant. Unless of course the watch is rated to 100m and up, and/or it has some other type of water resistance protection on the crown...(push in, lever, compression key, etc)
3. Check your crown is screwed down before immersion. (or whatever protection it has is "on")
4. Don't unscrew the crown whilst in water, etc etc...
5. Have the seals checked regularly if you DO wear your watch in the ocean, in the pool etc.
6. Always rinse your watch thoroughly after it's been in the ocean/pool (chlorine, salt = enemies of seals).
7. Don't subject the watch to chemicals such as perfume (again, not good for the seals).


Saturday, October 15, 2011

sushi e

sushi e
252 George St
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9240 3041

After a "drinks and nibbles" tweetup at the bar at Lauren’s Felix for the visiting Luke, a group of us ended up nearby at sushi-e, as the perenially popular Felix was full, with no spare tables. The food (and saké) choices were left up to the chefs.

Prawn shu mai (4)
Chinese influenced steamed prawn dumpling with ponzu dipping sauce

Wondefully delicate in texture and taste. Unexpectedly, probably one of my top two items for the evening.

Sashimi (large) 18 pieces

Fabulously fresh fish, it was hard to pick my favourite, but it was probably the kingfish.

Steamed pacific oysters 
(oysters steamed with soy, mirin, shallot and peanut oil then finished with eschallot)
Freshly shucked sydney rock oysters - served with ponzu or a tomato salsa

I only had one of the fat and juicy shucked ones with the ponzu, which I enjoyed, but I’m told that the steamed ones were even better.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Silver Spoon Cafe

Silver Spoon Café
98 Glebe Road
The Junction
Newcastle NSW 2291
Ph : (02) 4962 2382

After our visit to Coffee on Crown for some coffee and Death Sauce, we took a scenic route  through Newcastle's city centre to the Silver Spoon.

A charming café incongruously located next to a shopping mall, it is divided into a small inside room with a few tables, and a very pleasant courtyard area, complete with water feature.

Silver Spoon uses Campos coffee and has a one page menu with light items such as toast, quiche, toasted sandwiches, wraps, a salad, and a weekly special. In addition, there are some sweet things available at the counter.

There has to be a tableshot, doesn’t there? See the Coffee on Crown link above for more details about these watches.

First up - chicken, aioli, sundried tomatoes, Swiss cheese and greens ($9).

Some days, there's nothing better than a toastie. This one was good,  the proportion of each filling well balanced, and initialjh wished that he'd ordered a second one.

My choice was Spring risoni with smoked trout, spinach and citrus ($12).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sold : John Wayne's Rolex King Midas

(Photo from Heritage Auctions)

The "Personal Property of John Wayne Signature Auction", conducted by Heritage Auctions, has just closed, with an astonishing total of $5,382,492 for the sale.

Amongst the items sold was Lot 44182, described as follows :

"An 18K Gold Rolex Cellini King Midas Integral Bracelet Wristwatch, Circa 1967. The Case: 28mm, reference #9630 (No. 557); sticker still in place; Dial: solid gold with gold "Baton" hands, sapphire crystal; Movement: manual wind; Bracelet: 18K gold integral with deployant buckle; Gross weight: 193.5 grams; watch is in working condition."

(Photo from Heritage Auctions)

The estimate had been $6,000 - $8,000. It sold for $26,290.

Apart from this watch having been owned by John Wayne, is there anything else special about it?

Well, Elvis also wore a Rolex King Midas Ref. 9360, number 343. It currently forms part of the collection at Graceland. Elvis’ King Midas was given to him as a token of appreciation for playing 6 days of sold-out concerts in 1970 at the Houston Astrodome Livestock Show & Rodeo.

Designed by Gerald Genta (Rolex had no idea of this, as the case was made separately in France, where Genta had found a case and bracelet manufacturer who could both meet and supply his requirements), the King Midas was a limited edition of 1000. First released in 1964, it was made from 18 carat white or yellow gold, and both the most expensive and the heaviest gold watch that Rolex were producing at the time. The words “King” and “Midas” are etched on either side of the crown, and on the clasp.

In a design move reflective of contemporary watch box designs which reflect the theme of the watch, the King Midas came in a black and red ancient Greek-styled urn. The ref. 9630 was followed by the ref. 3580 King Midas, also produced in a limited edition. The ladies' model was named Queen Midas, ref. 3581.

The watch is often confused for the later Rolex Cellini Midas, but word “Midas” is on the dial in the traditional Greek i.e. “ΜΙΔΑΣ”, as opposed to the “Cellini”, which appeared on the Cellini Midas models. As you can see, Heritage themselves made an error in the description, by referring to it as "Cellini".


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Coffee on Crown

Coffee on Crown
3 Crown St
NSW 2300
Ph : (02) 40233118

Having read about Coffee on Crown in a Sydney Morning Herald article about top baristas in Sydney (and environs), a spur of the moment one day trip to Newcastle by aptronym to visit initialjh seemed to perfect opportunity for coffee nerd initialjh to try out their beans.

Situated a few minutes away from the Newcastle train station, and in the city centre, the cafe has a welcoming informal feel, with tables both inside and outside. There were a few people sitting outside on the morning of our visit, but we were the only ones inside, perched comfortably on stools at the window (chosen mainly because it was the best location for taking watch photos, of course).

Espresso – single shot. 

Coffee on Crown is owned by James Orpe, who started his own coffee company called Rare Roast, and fellow barista Justin Oliver. 

They use a Florence made La Marzocco GB/5 espresso machine, and grinder wise, use the Compak K10 Conic, Compak K3 Touch, and the Eureka Delipro deli grinder.

The espresso had a great aroma and beautiful crema but was slightly acidic. I think  that I will have macchiato next time - maybe a dash of milk may temper the acidity?

Speedmaster 145.022-68 (left on NATO) and Snoopy LE Speedmaster 3578.51.00 (right)

An above average hot chocolate with a good chocolate taste and sufficiently hot.