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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant at the Fitzroy Inn, Mittagong

Burnt butter and frangelico parfait at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong

I grew up with Geoff Jansz on the telly. Didn't we all? What's Cooking at 11am on Channel 9 was a daily ritual during those halcyon days of university. His laugh. His charm. That hair. I still remember the time he looked straight down the barrel of the camera and said "I always get comments about my hair. It's not a wig. Trust me. It's real, " and then pulled at it to prove his hair wasn't going anywhere.

Geoff Jansz at the Campsie Food Festival in 2006
Geoff Jansz at the Campsie Food Festival in 2006

When What's Cooking ended, he moved onto Burke's Backyard, presenting a food segment for ten years until that too, ceased production. Now he's back, off the television and behind the pans at the Geoff Jansz Farm Table restaurant in Mittagong in the Southern Highlands.


Dining room at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong

Geoff isn't new to the restaurant business. Before his TV gigs he ran two restaurants: the first in Picton, the second one - Aviemore - in Wilton. He closed Aviemore to concentrate on a career in television. Fun fact: Geoff is also a qualified pharmacist, graduating from the University of Sydney in 1984.

Broccolini in the garden behind Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
The garden behind Geoff Jansz Farm Table

Geoff's farm in the Southern Highlands has been the source of several pickling products that he sells online and at markets and stores around Bowral. The restaurant is the realisation of a long held dream of his to get back into the kitchen. When we bumped into him at the Burrawang Easter Markets a few months ago, his eyes shone as he told us about how much he missed working in a restaurant.

Kale in the kitchen garden behind Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong

The Farm Table opened in May this year with a soft launch, taking over the former restaurant space at the Fitzroy Inn, a hotel retreat and restaurant set-up that reminds me of Biota Dining. Out the back is a kitchen garden complete with citrus orchard [edit: the kitchen gardens are not used or linked to the Farm Table]. The accommodation rooms overlook a sweeping garden complete with pond and a family of ducks that waddle past us as we make our way up to the restaurant.

Dining room at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
The dining room at Geoff Jansz Farm Table

The restaurant is large and inviting, splashed with natural light from the skylights above. The rustic charm of exposed sandstone, pockets of moss, raw timber and weathered shutter board windows is elevated with crisp linen and gleaming stemware. There's plenty of space between tables too.

Pickled chillies at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Home grown pickled chillies

The menu yields a choice of five entrees and five mains. The majority of produce is sourced from Geoff's farm. All the meat is obtained from farms that Geoff personally visits, our waiter explains. It only takes a few minutes for us to realise our cheerful waiter is Geoff's son, Harry. There's a strong relationship between Geoff and each of his suppliers, Harry tells us. He takes care to know each farmer from which he is buying product.

Wines by the glass are all an affordable $8 - two whites and two reds from South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand.

Pork hock terrine at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Pork hock terrine $18
Sweet mustard dressing, butter lettuce and pickles

We kick off with the pork hock terrine, three slices of soft and tender pork chunks set in a wobble of aspic. It's one of my favourite dishes of the day, simple but hearty, served on a salad of greens from the garden and a sweet mustard dressing that we want to lick clean.

Steamed ricotta, parmesan and spinach gnocchi at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Steamed ricotta, parmesan and spinach gnocchi $18
Heirloom tomato sugo and basil oil

The steamed ricotta, parmesan and spinach gnocchi are more like giant steamed dumplings, so delicate and light that a fork slips through them with ease. The heirloom tomato sugo and basil oil make one big Italian flag on the plate.

The Farm Plate at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
The Farm Plate $12
Pickles, dips, house cured or Salumi Australia charcuterie

We also spring for the Farm Plate, a selection of pickles, dips and charcuterie. The salamis are tasty but it's the quenelle of carrot that blows our mind, so smooth and nutty and sweet without being cloying. The grated beetroot and the pickled cucumbers are also highlights.

Housemade milk buns at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Complimentary house made milk buns

House made milk buns are perfect pillows of springy softness. They're sweet enough that butter isn't necessary, but we slather it on greedily anyway.

Cotechino sausage at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Rich and flavoursome cotechino sausage $38

Cotechino is an Italian sausage that combines pork meat with pork skin and spices. It's made by Geoff himself, something that Harry wasn't even aware of until we ask him to check. After initially telling us the sausage comes from a local supplier, Harry comes back from the kitchen and confesses that "Dad made it", a newly acquired skill after a recent trip to Italy.

The sausage is lush and succulent, complemented by a side serve of cauliflower cooked with anchovies and raisins that adds a Middle Eastern riff.

Slow cooked Moroccona lamb at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Slow cooked Moroccan lamb with raisin, onion and tomato relish $38

The Moroccan lamb is another dish borne from an overseas trip. "We went to Morocco together," says Harry, "and we're still working on the flavours of this dish." They needn't worry. It's a masterful blend of aromatic spices, with a deboned lamb shank that falls apart with a nudge of a fork. The accompanying couscous is almost tasty enough to eat on its own, each grain fluffy and separate, and bright yellow in hue.

Duo of beef dry aged Hunter Valley striploin and Cowra eye fillet at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Duo of beef - dry aged Hunter Valley striploin and Cowra eye fillet $42
with wilted rocket and garlic and red wine reduction

The duo of beef is the most expensive main but all is forgiven once you hit the Cowra eye fillet. The prized medallion is as soft as butter. The dry aged Hunter Valley striploin has a satisfying chew but it's the Madeira sauce that I'd happily drown in, a glossy demi-glace that hugs every tastebud.

Burnt butter and frangelico parfait at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Burnt hazelnut and Frangelico parfait $18
on a toffee, apple and date soil 

We're torn over the choice of four desserts, eventually passing up the spiced quince galette and the fruits in blueberry and Cointreau syrup for the burnt hazelnut and Frangelico parfait. It's a visually striking dish, especially with the shards of toffee that sparkle like diamonds against the apple and date soil.

The two fat wedges of parfait are rich and creamy, studded with bits of hazelnut praline and only a faint whiff of Frangelico. Together it eats a little bit too sweet - the parfait with the caramel sauce, date soil and toffee - but the parfait on its own is an easy crowd pleaser.

Gingered oranges and rich flourless chocolate cake at Geoff Jansz Farm Table Restaurant, Mittagong
Gingered oranges with cardamom anglaise and rich flourless chocolate cake $18

And in the name of research we have the rich flourless chocolate cake too. The slightly undercooked fudgy consistency is offset by the warm spiciness of the cardamom anglaise and the citrus zing of gingered orange segments.

There's no handshake tour of the dining room by Geoff today, but we do spot him in the kitchen, a rare reassurance that the chef's name on the door is the same person cooking your meal. I reckon Geoff wouldn't want it any other way.

The Fitzroy Inn in Mittagong



Geoff Jansz Farm Table at the Fitzroy Inn
1 Ferguson Crescent, Mittagong
Tel: +61 (02) 4858 0770

Opening hours
Lunch Saturday and Sunday from 12pm
Dinner Thursday to Saturday from 6.30pm


Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Southern Highlands - Bernie's Diner, Moss Vale
Southern Highlands - Biota Dining, Bowral

Southern Highlands - Brigadoon at Bundanoon
Southern Highlands - Mittagong tunnel mushroom tour
Southern Highlands - Mushroom picking at Belanglo State Forest

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/28/2015 02:13:00 a.m.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Nara deer and Johnny's Fried Chicken, Japan

Child with a deer at Nara Park, Japan

Japan's fondness for deer goes beyond simple affection. According to Shinto religion, deer were sacred and divine messengers from god. Today they're emblematic of the city of Nara, where the wild deer population of 1,200 freely roam the sprawling public grounds of Nara Park. And your fun fact of the day: Nara is a sister city with Canberra.

Map of our journey from Tokyo to Nara

We made a day trip to Nara from Kyoto, an easy one-hour journey on the shinkansen bullet train. There are plenty of signs pointing you towards Nara Park. To get to the area where the deer roam, it's about a 30-minute walk from JR Nara station.

Wild deer at Nara Park, Japan
Wild deer at Nara Park

Our first sight of the deer is so surreal we think the deer are statues. They're completely still and unmoving despite the surrounding chaos of gawking tourists.

Feeding the wild deer with senbei rice crackers at Nara Park, Japan
Feeding the wild deer with special deer senbei rice crackers

Visitors are instructed to only feed the deer special shika-senbei or deer rice crackers, made from rice bran and grain, purchased from vendors who dot the park.

Mother and child deer at Nara Park, Japan
Mother and child

On the day we visited it was a public holiday, which meant that thousands of tourists offering thousands of senbei rice crackers had already passed through the park. The deer all looked like they were in a food coma amidst the scattered remains of a rice cracker orgy.

Wild deer and tourists at Nara Park, Japan
Deer and paparazzi

It's still quite a magic sight to see herds of deer surrounding by eager tourists. The deer veer between patient and disinterested as people pat them eagerly and squawk with excitement.

Child feeding the wild deer at Nara Park, Japan
Persisting with the rice crackers even though the deer were full

They definitely weren't interested in food, even when the kid in the photo above tried with earnest for a good ten minutes.

Wild deer at Nara Park, Japan
Peaceful deer


Johnny's Fried Chicken
Johnny's Fried Chicken in Nara, Japan

Johnny's Fried Chicken might be hidden down an alleyway, but the photos of fried chicken near the entrance were like a beacon to our hungry stomachs.

Johnny's Fried Chicken set meal in Nara, Japan
Johnny's fried chicken set meal 750 yen / AU$8.25

All Johnny does is fried chicken: on the bone, thigh fillets or breast fillets as well as gizzards, cartilage and fried chicken necks if you're game.

Johnny's fried chicken on the bone in Nara, Japan
Johnny's fried chicken on the bone 1,050yen / AU$11.50 for 6 pieces

The chicken arrives blistering hot from the fryer. There's no heavy batter over the meat, but more of a light crunch that works well with the juicy flesh. The meat has been marinated too, giving extra flavour as you sink your teeth into each golden fried piece of poultry.

Johnny's fried chicken in Nara, Japan
Johnny's fried chicken on the bone 590 yen / AU$6.50 for 3 pieces;
boneless fried chicken with yuzu-kosho citron and pepper 390 yen / AU$4.30 for 4 pieces;
and boneless fried chicken thigh 440 yen / AU$4.80 for 4 pieces

The chicken on the bone is my favourite but there's also a tasty zing with the fillet sprinkled with yuzu citrus pepper. The accompanying wedges of lime and deep-fried peppers are a welcome touch.

Poodles at Johnny's Fried Chicken in Nara, Japan
Canines in-residence

We dig the casual atmosphere as we feast on fried chicken and beer, although Johnny's poodles parked in prams by the kitchen steal the show.

Johnny's Fried Chicken take out window in Nara, Japan
Johnny's Fried Chicken take out window

Kakigori shaved ice syrups in Nara, Japan
Syrups for kakigori shaved ice

And as we traipse through the park on a hot and humid day, our eyes light up at the sight of a street vendor selling kakigori shaved ice.

Adding cold syrup to kakigori shaved ice in Nara, Japan
Adding cola syrup to kakigori shaved ice

The shaved ice is piled into a paper cup and then drenched with your choice of syrup.

Adding lemon syrup to kakigori shaved ice in Nara, Japan
Ladling lemon syrup to kakigori shaved ice

I have the Calpis one. It isn't overly strong in flavour, and the ice chips are rather large and crunchy, but our parched throats are more than happy with this icy salvation.

Hojicha soft serve in Nara, Japan
Hojicha soft serve 300 yen / AU$3.30

Today's soft serve (because we tried to have one every day) was hojicha, a green tea roasted over charcoal. There's a mild taste of caramelisation to the tea, less green and more toasted in flavour. It's a sweet end to a day in Nara.


<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid


Johnny's Fried Chicken
Yubinbango, Nara, Japan 630-8224
Tel: +81 (074) 226 4421
Open 11.30am-8pm or until sold out

Nara Park
469 Zoshicho, Nara, Japan 630-8211
Free. Open 24 hours

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/21/2015 09:23:00 p.m.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ramen at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst

Chashu pork in the fat soy ramen at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst

It takes fifteen kilos of chicken meat, bones, necks and whole carcasses to make the ramen stock each day at Chaco Bar. Everything gets tumbled into Chef Keita Abe's 70-litre stock pot, a new kitchen purchase that has effectively doubled the number of ramen bowls he can produce each day. The old 35-litre pot could make about 35 bowls of ramen. Now he can push out about 70, ensuring that Sydney noodle-holics will no longer miss out on the city's latest ramen offering.

Chef Keita Abe's grandfather wall mural at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Chef Keita Abe's grandfather painted on the dining room wall

Chaco Bar has already won over Sydneysiders with its smoky yakitori skewers since opening in August last year. Ramen, or cha-co-men, as Chef Abe likes to call it, is a new lunch service offering available Wednesday to Saturday only. The first bowl goes out at midday. They keep serving until 3pm unless it runs out earlier.

Daytime dining means you get to actually see the entire dining room, a contrast to dinner service when it's all flickering tea lights and shadows.

Fish salt ramen at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Fish salt ramen $13

There are just two types of ramen on the menu: the Fish Salt or the Fat Soy. Both start with a base of chicken stock, then either fish stock or soy is added to create each variation.

Standard toppings on each include cha shu fatty roast pork, bean sprouts and a sheet of seasoned nori seaweed. The fish salt ramen comes with plump and silky wontons filled with a huddle of prawn and John Dory. Shredded leeks add a sense of brightness to each slurp of soup.

Black fungus on the fish salt ramen at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Black fungus extra topping $2

You can add on a host of extras including seasoned egg ($3), bamboo shoots ($2) and umeboshi pickled plums ($1). A tangle of black fungus ($2) provides crunch against the chewy noodles and lighter style chicken and fish stock soup.

Fat soy ramen at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Fat soy ramen $13

You're either a fish salt fan or a fat soy fanatic. You can guess which camp I belong to. The fat soy ramen is just as decadent as the fish salt is restrained. It's everything that's right with this world: a rich and fatty soup, thick slices of wobbly soft pork belly and half a soft boiled egg, soaked in soy for extra flavour.

Pork back fat menu options for the fat soy ramen at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Choose your pork back fat intensity

You're in control of how much pork back fat you want added to your soup. The scale runs from no fat to extra fat. Go hard or go home, I say!

Cha shu pork with extra pork back fat in the fat soy ramen at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Cha shu pork with extra pork back fat in the fat soy ramen

Extra fat rewards you with a soup so dense with goodness, it's practically opaque. There's a sweet and porky intensity to the soup, coating your tongue and the sides of your throat as it slides its way down.

Fat soy ramen noodles at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Ramen noodles in the Fat Soy

The noodles do well to stand up to the porky onslaught. The fresh noodles are cooked until just al dente, the crinkly ropes satisfyingly dense and chewy.

Steamed rice with pickled mustard greens at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Steamed rice with pickled mustard greens $4

The fat soy ramen should defeat even the hungriest of appetites but the bowl of steamed rice with pickled mustard greens provides a welcome palate cleanser.

Fresh ramen noodles in the kitchen at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Fresh ramen noodles in the kitchen

Chef Keita Abe lets me into the kitchen for a behind-the-scenes tour. The tiny space - once the site of Jazz City Diner - is tidy and well organised. Even the cloak of steam can't hide his grin as he plunges each basket of noodles into the boiling water. He's in his happy place. And so am I.

The ramen stock pot at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
The new 70 litre stock pot used for making the ramen stock

Chef Keita Abe draining cooked ramen noodles at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Chef Keita Abe draining the cooked ramen noodles 

Chef Keita Abe ladling stock into bowls at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Ladling stock into bowls

Chef Keita Abe transferring ramen noodles into bowls at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Transferring the ramen noodles into bowls

Chef Keita Abe adding the toppings onto ramen bowls at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Adding the toppings on the ramen

Chacomen ramen noodle bowl on the pass at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Cha-co-men ramen on the pass

Dining chairs and tables at Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst
Dining chairs and tables 

Entrance to Chaco Bar, Darlinghurst



Chaco Bar (Facebook page)
238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9007 8352

Lunch ramen
Wednesday to Saturday 12pm-3pm or until sold out (cash only)

Dinner yakitori 
Monday to Saturday 6pm-10.30pm


Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Chaco Bar yakitori (September 2014)

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/18/2015 09:59:00 p.m.



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