Review: High Tea at Crowne Plaza, Coogee Beach

When K and are got engaged early last year, we had already been living together for a number of years. We are also both in decent jobs and realistically, lack for nothing. With some concentrated saving, we can generally afford whatever we want…it also helps that we have relatively simple tastes and we’re both not materialistic! Basically with all those factors in mind, the last thing we wanted to do was to start a wedding registry and solicit wedding presents.

Instead we asked guests to contribute to either one of two chosen charities, or to consider providing a small contribution towards our honeymoon fund, for an extended overseas honeymoon in 2015. Most of our guests did that, but some guests provided something special as well. We’re known as the couple that eats out together a lot, and many of our guests gave us restaurant gift vouchers to ensure that we could have special dining experiences.

Our first dining experience was gifted by my friend Bobbi, who I went to university with. We really bonded when we both studied overseas in Shanghai for three months during a summer semester of intensive Mandarin language learning. She chose to give us a High Tea on the Beach voucher through Red Balloon, to be held at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Coogee.

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K and I arrive at the hotel on one of the hottest days of the summer – the streets and beaches are packed with chicks in bikinis and guys in boardshorts. I’m silently thankful that we’re inside in a cool air-conditioned room enjoying a nice meal, instead of sweating it out on the beach with everyone else! We’re sharing the space that afternoon with a hens party – three large tables full of women aged between 18 and 75, all laughing and giggling away.

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Service is prompt, if somewhat abrupt. Without much fanfare, we’re quickly seated, asked for our drink order (jasmine tea for me, peppermint tea for K), and our tea is delivered to our tables within five minutes. There’s benefits to this prompt service though – I’m decidedly hungry and it seems that while the hens party have been there for a while waiting for the food to arrive, we’re going to benefit from their wait and have our food delivered at the same time! It seems that the kitchen had been working on our high tea platter at the same time, so we barely have to wait ten minutes for our food to arrive.

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I always think a high tea service is a thing of beauty. While each tier of savoury snacks and sweet delights can stand on its own as something completely enjoyable, combined, the whole high tea service cannot be beaten. It’s a real indulgence in every sense of the word.

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The Crowne Plaza put a bit of an Australian multi-cultural twist onto high tea with the inclusion of mini meat pies, mini sausage rolls, deep-fried wontons and curry triangles as hot savoury items. The best item was probably the mini meat pie which went really well with the Beerenberg tomato chutney on the table – the other hot items seemed as though they had been reheated from frozen.

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There was a mix of finger sandwiches provided, but unfortunately none of what I generally expect to find at a high tea. Fillings like egg salad and cucumber were not to be seen. The turkey and cranberry was probably the best mix out of the sandwiches, but overall the sandwiches suffered from an excess of mayonnaise.

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The sweets were a huge improvement. I really enjoyed the sweet chocolate ganache tarts, topped off by mini macarons – they were sweet and creamy without leaving that cloying mouthfeel. No doubt it was aided by the little slice of plain dragonfruit I had which helped to cleanse the palate in-between trying different sweet snacks.

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I also really liked the little friand-style berry cakes on the sweet tier. They were simple with just a hint of fruity berry goodness, but were so buttery and rich that they felt absolutely sinful.

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To top everything off, there were some “still warm, fresh out of the oven” fruit scones to complete our high tea experience. Funnily enough, these two scones came with a full bowl of cream – I don’t know how others eat their scones, but there was absolutely no way we were going to be able to eat all the cream with only two scones! I enjoyed a range of the Beerenberg jams with the fruit scones – I think my favourite was the blackberry jam!

I always enjoy a high tea experience – it’s so completely novel to spend hours in the mid-afternoon leisurely eating your way through a variety of small savoury and sweet nibblies, sipping on tea. Thank you Bobbi for gifting us with this experience!


Review: La Beirut, Killara

Over the course of any average year, I get a lot of friends and family who come to Sydney to visit me. Almost every time someone stays on our couch, they will say to me, “Can you suggest somewhere for lunch, close to your place?”

And the problem is, I have nowhere to recommend as I don’t actually eat anywhere that’s within easy walking distance of my apartment! While I eat in Chatswood quite often, it’s still a train ride away rather than reachable on foot. Most of the time if K and I are planning on going out for dinner, we’ll make it a destination dinner somewhere in the city.

Now though, I can finally recommend somewhere local to others, as K and I recently visited La Beirut in Killara, and it serves amazing Lebanese food – some of the best I’ve had.

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We went there with a Living Social daily deal voucher that I bought – $29 for a Mixed Grill plate and coffee and dessert for two people. For less than $15/pp, it was a daily deal that I just couldn’t pass up. It’s within easy walking distance of both Killara and Lindfield train stations (15 minutes either way), and is located in a stretch of Pacific Highway that’s otherwise almost entirely residential. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of a location.

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While not completely full on the Wednesday night that we were there, the restaurant remained quite busy throughout the night, with at least half the tables and booths full, and regular takeaway orders as well. It’s only been in operation for a couple of months, but it’s definitely proving popular with us locals!

Unfortunately, they seem a little short-staffed. The one waitress on the night was run off her feet – busily bustling between tables and kitchen, front counter and kitchen, and trying to take all the phone takeaway orders as well.

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I ordered a Mango Zabdo ($10), without knowing quite what it would be like. It came out as a yoghurt-type of drink, not dissimilar to an Indian-style lassi though I find it a bit sweeter and less tangy. It proves to be a surprisingly good accompaniment to the mixed grill plate to come.

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And here it is in all its glory! The Mixed Grill plate (normally $25) comes with “your choice of 3 skewers lamb, chicken and kafta served with hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli and falafel”. All three dips on the plate were done really well – the eggplant of the baba ganoush was delightfully smokey, the hummus was smooth and lightly spiced, and the garlic dip…well, it was so chock full of garlic that I was positively repellant to vampires for three days after the meal!

The various grilled meats were all chargrilled to perfection too. The lamb in particular was tender and tasty, the falafel had a good crust on it, and the kafta was really well spiced. The tabouli made for a good accompaniment as well, as it was well-dressed with a tangy citrus dressing.

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After absolutely stuffing ourselves to the brim on the massive Mixed Grill plate (keep in mind we had one each!), I found it really hard to justify indulging in a piece of Baklava (normally $3) to finish our meal…oh who am I kidding, I always manage to find space for baklava! Unfortunately this wasn’t exactly the best baklava I’ve had, it seemed a little stale despite being “home made”. I also feel like it was almost too soaked in honey (if that’s possible!), rendering the filo a bit too soggy for true enjoyment.

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K finished his meal with a small serving of Lebanese Coffee (normally $7) which I skipped.

I’m delighted to have found a ‘local treasure’ – somewhere that I can proudly recommend to friends and family as somewhere where they can find a good meal for a good price. While we went using a Daily Deal, the prices are so reasonable that I’d return and pay full price for that Mixed Grill plate again!

La Beirut on Urbanspoon


Review: Relish India, Surry Hills

“We need to start making time for each other again,” I declared to K. We were so busy at the end of last year with preparing for the wedding and the holiday season, that our regular ‘date nights’ slowly fell by the wayside as they were given up for dinners at home so that we could get more planning and preparation done at home. Quality, one-on-one conversations in an environment where we could focus only on each other became sparse as our time was consumed with conversations about booking cars, cakes, and wedding logistics.

Our first attempt at rejuvenating some quality one-on-one time came with a dinner at Relish India on Cleveland St in Surry Hills, a vegetarian restaurant. I had managed to score a Daily Deal voucher that entitled us to two Indian thali platters with drinks, for a mere $19. What a bargain!

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We started off with some complimentary nibbles, which weren’t even originally included in our deal. Made up of a mix of chutney and crunchy fried chickpea crumbs on a pappadum, these morsels were very more-ish and it was hard to stop at just two.

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We got glasses of lassi to go with our meal as well. This lassi was quite a bit sweeter than I expected, especially as it hadn’t been flavoured with fruit at all. This sweeter flavour actually meant that it paired particularly well with the thali plate to come, as it helped to counteract some of the spicier curries included with the meal.

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Now this was the first time I had actually had a thali plate, and I was very impressed by the variety of the different components included on the platter. There was a healthy serve of soft naan bread, along with a large crispy just-fried pappadum and some fragrant steamed basmati rice. My two favourite elements on the platter were probably the small pieces of Indian style pickles – coated with a spice mix that goes right up your nose and really makes your eyes start watering with the intensity of the chilli – and the sweet gulab jaman for dessert, soaked in sweet sugar syrup.

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With three curries and one daal on the platter, there was plenty of different options to sample from. In my younger, more naive days, I always thought that there couldn’t be much variation in “vegetarian curries” – how wrong I was! I think my pick of the bunch here was probably the creamy mildly spiced paneer curry. The creaminess and richness of the curry was definitely the highlight feature – so often, I find that curries are a little bit thin, and really need the addition of a spoonful of creamy yoghurt or similar to thicken it up.

Overall, It was disappointing to see the restaurant so quiet on the night that we were there. Given, it was only a Wednesday night, but I would have hoped to see more than three tables and a handful of takeaway orders in the one and a half hours that we were there. I know Maya Da Dhaba is popular for Indian food in that area, but I highly suggest that you consider visiting Relish India the next time you’re after quality vegetarian thali plates in Surry Hills!

Relish India on Urbanspoon