Thursday, 22 March 2018

Gigi's Pizzeria, Newtown, Sydney, with street art

On our recent trip to Sydney, I finally got to visit the famous Gigi's Pizzeria and taste how amazing their vegan pizza can be.  We turned up at 5.45pm, hoping for an early dinner, only to find that the restaurant did not open til 6pm and there was already a decent amount of people.  I first heard of Gigi's Pizzeria when they decided to make the restaurant 100% vegan in 2015. It is amazing that 2 and a half years on, there still quite a buzz about the place.

Did I mention that they don't take bookings?  I think this adds to the buzz of people queuing on the street.  We felt quite special to get a table considering that there were a lot of people waiting.  However we felt less special inside.  We had a table at the back, it took a long time to be served and it was really noisy and dim.  It was too noisy to chat the waiters and they did not hang around long because it was so busy.

It was not my finest restaurant experience.  We were given peanuts in shells on the table but this did not help make the wait easier as Sylvia was a bit nervous about them, given her allergy, so I took them back to the counter.  My friends ordered a salad each but an extra salad was brought out that we needed to take back.  They enjoyed the salad though Martin needed more seasoning on his.  As well it being very noisy for chatting, the meals were all brought out in stages.  First the salads.  Then my pizza.  Finally Sylvia's pizza.  And as if to emphasise that no exceptions were made for kids, we had one strange moment when two soft drinks had been served and the waiter stood with a soft drink and a wine looking from 9 year old Sylvia to Martin as if unsure who had what.

I wonder if we got a bad night or Gigi's gets away with such service because the pizzas are so good.  Sylvia had the Marinara Tradizionale ($17) which had a fairly saucy topping of tomato, garlic, fresh oregano and extra virgin olive oil.  Sylvia scrapped off most of the sauce.  I was not a fan but I suspect it might appeal to those who like a tomato sandwich.  The base was very good, though.

I swithered over which pizza to try.  There were lots that appealed.  Finally I chose the Cavolo ($22) with cauliflower puree, artichokes, pinenuts, capers, currants, garlic, parsley and extra virgin olive oil (photo at top of page).  It was magnificent.  It would be enough to convince me to go without cheese on pizzas, as the flavour was just lovely and the toppings were just right.  The base like Sylvia's was lovely.  Very thin in the middle and puffy and slightly charred on the edge.  This pizza showed me why the place was so very busy.  I would have loved to have tasted more pizzas but it could be some time until I am there again.

While we waited outside at the start of the night more people came and started queuing around the side of the building.  When Sylvia and I came out, our friends having rushed off to catch their bus (that was replacing the train), we walked around the corner and looked at the street art.  Newtown is the sort of place for street art.  Lots of cafes and bustle and happening.  Here is a sample of the art on the wall of Gigi's.

Read more about my recent Sydney visit.

Gigi Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gigi's Pizzeria
379 King Street
Newtown NSW 2042
Phone: 02 9557 2224
Operning: 6pm-10.30pm Mon-Sun

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Bourke Street Bakery, Surry Hills, Sydney

Ever since I received a copy of the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook many years ago, I have dreamed of visiting the bakery.  On our recent trip to Sydney, I found that many of the places we wanted to visit on a Sunday opened at 10am but the Bourke Street Bakery opened at 7am.  It seemed the perfect way to spend an early Sunday morning.

We took the bus to Bourke Street in Surry Hills to visit the original bakery, though there are now quite a lot of Bourke Street Bakeries around Sydney in various locations.  The bakery is surprisingly small with a few small tables inside and more tables outside.  The array of tempting breads, savoury pastries and sweet treats is huge.  Fortunately when we walked in, there was no queue and a table inside.

It didn't take me long to choose.  I loved sausage rolls before going vegetarian and now I love trying vegetarian versions.  The Bourke Street Bakery offered a vegetarian Eggplant, chickpea, feta and spinach sausage roll for a reasonable $5.  Tomato sauce was 20c extra but it was home made and generous.

Compared to most other brunch options, this was most satisfying and good value for money.  It is a sausage roll filling that I would never have thought of but it was really substantial and delicious with a wonderful flaky pastry.  The bakery offered a few other options such as spinach and mushroom quiche and spicy spinach and eggplant turnovers. I didn't find out what the sandwich options and vegetable salad was but I would be willing to give them a go too.

Sylvia chose a pain au chocolat.  I had a taste and it was excellent.  We also ordered an old school lemonade which was quite tart and very refreshing.

When we arrived and there was no queue I thought I would take photos later but then the queues started and filled the store for most of the rest of our visit.  When we decided to take away some bakes, I had to join the queue to purchase them.  But by then we were well sated and the queue moved steadily.  And the ambiance and service were really lovely too.

Sylvia chose a Italian meringue raspberry cream tart that was very good.  I only got a small mouthful but I really liked the fruity raspberry filling.  She was pretty happy eating it as soon as she could sit down, even though it was for later.

I had a chocolate and sour cherry cookie.  It sat in my bag for hours in a paper bag and by the time I ate it, the cookie was a bit dry.  I was really sad because I have admired this cookie in the cookbook for so long.  I like to think it would be much nicer if I had eaten it sooner.  Especially as everything else we tasted was amazing.

Lastly I bought a Semi-Sour Baguette.  This was an excellent choice to see us through the day.  It stuck out of my bag and I found Sylvia behind me nibbling the end of it quite a few times.  A satisfying breakfast and some good bread was enough to see us through a lot of the day without having to sit down for lunch.

Later I found there was a Bourke Street Bakery quite near the Aquarium which was our next stop.  However I was pleased to have visited the Surry Hills bakery, not just because it was the original but also to enjoy walking through the leafy streets of terrace houses and reflect just how many changes this suburb must have seen since Ruth Park wrote her classic Sydney novel, A Harp in the South. While it is easy to moan about gentrification and rising real estate prices in such inner suburbs, gems like the Bourke Street Bakery ease the pain.

Read more about my recent Sydney visit.

Bourke Street Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bourke Street Bakery
633 Bourket Street
Surry Hills, Sydney
+61 2 9699 1011

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Chinese Garden of Friendship and Tea House, Sydney

The Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney was a fitting place to catch up with an old friend and her husband.  I visited there many years ago with E and loved it, though I remember it being busy.  This visit it seemed less busy but every bit as peaceful.  It was a great place to wander around with friends and chat in a relaxed surrounding.  It is all the more oasis of calm for the constant reminder in the surrounding skyscrapers that we were in the midst of a busy city.

The gardens have many areas and I read you can't see all of the gardens from any one point.  Here is the bonsai garden that greeted us upon entering.  It was good to have a map to find where we were and what paths we could follow.

There were lots of interesting views through windows into the garden.

When I saw a couple dressed in Chinese robes I thought they must be part of a Chinese organisation.  But no.  They had just hired the robes to wander around in.  It was quite amusing seeing groups wearing Chinese dress.

The waterfall was really lovely.  It was a very popular spot for photographs.

The Clear View Pavillion was clearly visible from afar and a great place to view a lot of the gardens.

This gorgeous little statue was tucked away behind the Clear View Pavillion.  Can you see two little mice on the statue?

We spotted a lot of water dragons as we wandered around.  They are very ugly but fascinating to see.  Sylvia didn't like them at all.  There were also lots of large koi carp in the lake.

The Peace Boat Pavillion was one of my favourite buildings.  I also loved the weeping willows.  I am very fond of them because we had a weeping willow in my backyard when I was young and particularly loved it because we had an Andy Pandy book where he made a house in his weeping willow.  But I digress!

Here is a little of the intricate detail in the Peace Boat Pavillion.  And here is Sylvia being very intent on her Emperors Quest map.

The Emperor's Quest was a kid's activity where they had a map and clues to find the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac.  Each zodiac animal was a little red metal statues like this monkey here.  It was a fantastic way to keep Sylvia's interest throughout the garden walk.

Finally we got to the Tea House at the end of the journey.  It had large open archways with spectacular views of the gardens.

I was quite peckish, having only had very little at lunch at a vegetarian-unfriendly restaurant.  I was tempted by the vegetarian dumplings and the scones but went for the spinach quiche and salad.  It was good basic food.  The quiche was nicely warmed and the salad was as substantial as a green salad can be without dressing.  It was good to have a light meal this late in the afternoon as we were planning to go out for tea.  Sylvia had a milkshake and a strawberry cupcake.  Clare enjoyed a traditional tea.

By the time we finished, we hadn't enough time for the Powerhouse Museum but I think the Chinese Garden of Friendship was a better option.  It was nice for Sylvia to run around outside and a garden is far more relaxing than a museum when catching up with friends.   I look forward to the next time I have the opportunity to visit these gardens.

Read more about my recent Sydney visit.

Chinese Garden Teahouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chinese Garden of Friendship
Corner of Day Street and Pier Street
Darling Harbour, NSW, 2000
(02) 9240 8888
Emperor's Quest (kids activity)

Friday, 16 March 2018

Sydney visit: Aquarium, Harbour Bridge, Opera House etc

On the weekend, I flew to Sydney with Sylvia to visit a friend whom I worked with many years ago in Scotland.  It was a whirlwind trip but we managed to see a few icons, spend a lot of time by the water (sadly no swimming) and eat at a few places I've dreamt about visiting.  Here are lots of photos and reflections on the trip.

We stayed a night at the Capital Square Hotel.  It was pretty basic.  And by that, I meant that when it said "free toiletries" that meant a shower cap and some soap dispensers on the wall of the bathroom!  But it is was clean and comfortable and close to Central Station.  It would have been a nicer location if they weren't digging up the road for a new light rail system on the Capital Square.  But roadworks and scaffolding seem to be part of a big city!

We stayed on the edge of Sydney's Chinatown.  It seemed much bigger than the one in Melbourne.  Trying to find lunch there was a tyranny of choice.  We ended up walking into a place where they said yes there was vegetarian food but (after some miscommunication about spring rolls) it was just a tofu dish that was too spicy for me.  So Sylvia and I ate rice and drank soft drinks while my friends ate with a higher tolerance for spice.

Then we went to the Chinese Garden of Friendship.  This was possibly my favourite place and I have written a separate post on it.  We had intended to go the Powerhouse Museum afterwards but it was too late to go there or explore Paddy's Market by the time we finished at the garden.

Instead Sylvia played in the little fountains in front of the International Convention Centre.  It doesn't take much to tempt her to get her shoes off and her clothes wet.  I stood by and enjoyed the wonky reflections of the city skyline on the building.  We then hurried off to eat dinner at Gigi's Pizzeria (which I will write about in a separate post).

On the train home from dinner I decided to detour via Circular Quay to see the Harbour at night (left is the Harbour Bridge and right is the Opera House).  It is such a great view to have from a train station.  I really loved the trains in Sydney.  Sylvia was very excited that they were double decker and the seats could be changed to face either way.  I loved that we could get a train to the city in 10 minutes from the airport and that the underground stations have a fine history that is reflected in their decor.  And the city circle train is a great way to get around the city.

The next morning, once I had got over my drama of my camera battery dying and my phone charger being left at home (thank goodness on the second request, the hotel found a spare one in lost property), Sylvia and I took a bus to Bourke Street Bakery (another post coming on this).  Then we headed to the Sea Life Aquarium.

The Aquarium has one path that you have to follow to the end - no detours.  It has lots of really interesting information as well as lots of little windows with different sea creatures in the first section.  We really loved the above board which had names of fairy penguins and descriptions of them (such as "over dramatic, a good mum, loyal" or "good homemaker, keeps to himself but can cause trouble").  Kids could look a specimens wearing a lab coat or play a game to educate them about too much plastic in the sea.

One of my favourite parts of the exhibition was the jellyfish.  I could have stood for hours watching them moving about so gracefully.

I had expected that the tunnels would be my favourite part.  Last time I visited the aquarium I was mesmerised by the light infused perspex tunnels that allow punters to walk through the ocean seeing larger sea creatures such as dugongs and stingrays swim beside and over them.  But there were lots of little kids screaming and crying, which echoed around the tunnels.  It was so unpleasant that Sylvia just wanted to rush through the tunnels and get out.

She was not at all impressed by the stingray floating over her.  The dugong did not interest her at all.  I felt a bit the same about the dugong.  Then we went upstairs after seeing it and we were quite interested when we read about it.  Unfortunately there was no going back, we just had to keep going.  To the shark tank.  Sylvia had enough of the tunnels but now but we had to go forward.

By then she wasn't that impressed by the fish that looked just like they came out of Finding Nemo.  Nor was she impressed by fighting the crowd to see the penguins in the snow.  We hurried along the rest of the path, which seemed long by then, and were relieved to finally get to the gift shop.

As we walked out of the aquarium, we were both thirsty.  After reading all the damage that plastic does to our oceans, I was disappointed to see them selling plastic bottles in the aquarium cafe.  Sylvia begged for a drink from the fridge but I insisted that we walk on and drink from the reusable bottle in my bag.

So no ice cold drink but we did have a Rivareno Gelato each.  Sylvia chose the raspberry one first and I was exercising great self control until I tasted it.  Then I had to have one too.  They were lovely to eat while watching the ferries glide past on the Harbour.

One of my favourite things to do in Sydney is to take the local ferry service from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay.  It is a quick and cheap way to see Sydney from the water, to take in the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House, without having to fork out for a long expensive tour.  Above is one of the traditional green ferries.  Ours was not the traditional type.  But it was called the Shane Gould which pleased me as she was a great Aussie Olympic swimmer.

Our ferry was pretty crowded so I did not have the best view but I did insist upon being outside despite the sea spray in our face, which did not please Sylvia.  We got a great view of the city skyline.  When I see Sydney Tower I still remember my first visit to Sydney with my family when I was 14.  Who could ever forget a roadtrip from Melbourne with seven kids in a station wagon!  I think that might be the only time I went to the top of Sydney Tower.

I am also very fond of the old warehouses on the wharves between Millers Point and Dawes Point.  I went to a building heritage conference in one of these old buildings, many years ago.  In the above photo they are dwarfed by the bridge.  I especially wanted to be outside on the ferry just so we could look up in awe at how huge the bridge is when we went under it.  The Coathanger is wonderful to behold in the flesh.

Sydney Opera House is also quite special to see.  Sylvia had seen the postcards of it lit up with rainbow colours.  She looked at it musingly and said, I would love to see it lit up.  Bemused, I responded, but you did last night.  It turns out I had assumed too much and she had only noticed the Harbour Bridge lit up.

When we alighted at Circular Quay, I chose not to walk towards the Opera House (as we had when we took Sylvia to Sydney when she was one).  For this trip I had decided I would like to visit the Rocks.

It is a fascinating area with a colourful heritage of slum dwellings and unions imposing green bans to stop the buildings being demolished in the early 1970s.  These days the area is far more gentrified but I still am grateful to the unions for their stance in saving the historic buildings.

I had intended to walk around the Rocks to look at the old buildings that huddle at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  However we did not have much time and Sylvia still had to buy some souvenirs.  So we mostly spent money in the Rocks.

We were still thirsty so I bought this Roogenic Native Strawberry Iced Tea.  It was quite sweet but had a really nice flavour.  (And it came in a glass bottle.)  So refreshing on a hot day when we had been walking around a lot.

Finally it was time to collect our case from the hotel, hop back on the train to the airport and watch a few planes before we flew home.  I took a photo of our dinner.  It was quite surprising to have just one hot dish.  Mostly airplane meals seem to have lots of little dishes.  The pasta with olives, vegies and cheese was nicer than many airline meals I have had.

It was a bit of a comedown as we had flown business class on the way there in quite fancy seats.  The chairs could be moved in all manner of ways and had a massage function.  The screen was big and the headphones were more comfortable.  The food was nice and the service was prompt and friendly.  However they were so fancy they had big screens between the seats.  Not so great when your neighbour is your 9 year old daughter.

Coming back it was nice to not have to lean forward and crane my neck around the partition to see her.  The plane was really quiet so there was plenty of room for her latest cuddly companion to have his own seat!