Criniti’s, Manly

With a Scoopon voucher in hand for an entrée, main and dessert, I checked out Criniti’s at their Manly location. Our table was in the window seats area, perfect for enjoying a gentle breeze on a sunny day. After a bit of confusion about the conditions of the Scoopon voucher (it was our waiter’s second day on the job), it was time to order some food.

Soft Shell Crab – lightly fried & tossed with garlic, chilli & shallots

  • A decent pile of little soft shell crabs that were on the salty side.
  • The lime wedge was a bit sparse, and the chilli didn’t come through.
  • More than edible but nothing special.

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Agnolotti – scallop & prawn with salsa pomodoro pachino

  • I had imagined visible pieces of scallop and prawn encased by the pasta but the filling was actually more of a semi-solid paste that didn’t taste of much.
  • The sauce had a slight kick from the chilli and I did like the very tender pieces of tomato that were proof of a long sauce simmering process.

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Tartufini – homemade profiteroles filled with chantilly cream, rolled in decadent dark chocolate fudge & covered in dark chocolate shavings

  • I went back and forth on ordering these as I had liked the description when perusing the online menu before my visit but the picture on the iPad menu made them look like little chocolate truffles that suggested a smothering of dense chocolate.
  • Thinking they’d be bite-sized, I was surprised when they arrived as full-fledged profiteroles with much less chocolatey intensity than anticipated.
  • They were definitely the highlight for me as they were light, not too sweet and lovely to eat.

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Criniti’s had a few things going for it – a very extensive menu, a spacious restaurant in a good location and the vague promise of authentic Italian food. The food came out very quickly but dessert took forever to arrive. I wouldn’t be opposed to eating there again but the food wasn’t phenomenal, and I would question whether it was overpriced without the Scoopon deal.

Jamie’s Italian, Sydney

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  • Over the years, I’ve eaten at Jamie’s Italian a couple of times and have always left with the impression that it doesn’t really live up to the hype.
  • The menu is a bit of a hit-and-miss, and a particular gripe of mine has been that the pasta dishes aren’t up to scratch considering that it’s supposed to be an Italian restaurant.
  • On my most recent visit, I went for some new dishes, as well as some I had eaten previously and liked.
  • My overall verdict is that Jamie’s Italian makes for a decent meal as long as you know what to order.
  • It’s always rather busy and noisy but the service is okay.
  • Portion sizes are a bit of a letdown (more on this if you keep reading the food breakdown below).

Fried Three Cheese Gnocchi – Delicious crunchy gnocchi with a fiery arrabiata dip

  • I was picturing this like a bowl of popcorn at the cinema except on a smaller scale i.e. a cute little basket with gnocchi instead of popcorn.
  • Oh, I was so wrong.
  • This was served on a long wooden plank that held a total of six small gnocchi pieces that were sitting on little dollops of sauce.
  • Bang for your buck? Nope.
  • Though, they were tantalisingly tasty (sauce wasn’t anything to write home about) so I would probably order them again.

Crispy Arancini – Stuffed risotto rice balls with sweet red chillies, mozzarella, spicy arrabbiata sauce & Parmesan 

  • These were crispy but very lacklustre and forgettable.

Polenta Chips – Crispy fried with rosemary & Parmesan

  • These are a tried and true favourite of mine.
  • The texture was crispy but there was a slight resistance/chewiness that made eating these chips very interesting and fun.
  • There was a hint of parmesan and the rosemary sang a little haphazardly but these are definitely a must-order item for me.

Wild Game Ragu Pipe – Slow-cooked seasonal game, red wine, tomatoes & Parmesan with pipe pasta

  • I did mention that the pasta dishes at Jamie’s Italian have been a point of contention for me in the past.
  • This pasta dish was actually not bad, and the best one I’ve had at Jamie’s Italian thus far.
  • The first forkful I had was too salty but I think that may have just been a case of poor mixing.
  • The game was tender, the dish was aromatic and it had that perfect wintry stew feel to it.
  • The pasta wasn’t soggy/super soft but still slightly overcooked for my liking.
  • Given that we went for the main size version of this, I shudder to think what the entrée size would have been like because it seemed kind of insufficient.

Prosciutto, Pear & Pecorino – Salad of prosciutto, rocket, crisp pear, toasted pine nuts & pecorino with an olive oil & balsamic dressing

  • This is another dish that I’m quite fond of.
  • It was a lovely combination of flavours.
  • The sweetness of the pear added an element of freshness but also mingled really well with the saltiness of the prosciutto.
  • The pine nuts added a bit of crunch, and the rocket wasn’t bitter.
  • Absolutely delightful salad that I’d recommend trying out.

Jamie’s Signature Porchetta – Slow-cooked free-range Australian pork belly filled with herbs, garlic & spices with fennel crackling & a watercress salad

  • The meat was tender, and the crackling was sound.
  • Seasoning could have probably been better.
  • Personally, I would pass on this dish because I’m not the biggest fan of pork belly but my dining companions liked this quite a bit.

Vapiano, Sydney

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  • I’m not quite sure how to describe Vapiano.
  • Upon entering, I was handed a chip card to charge my food and drink to.
  • Then, I joined my friend at one of the tables and we were left to our own devices to peruse the menu whilst taking in the bar, basil plants sprouting on the tables and individual food stations serving pizza, pasta and salad.
  • I suppose you could say that it’s a bit like a mini food court.
  • I placed an order for the Verdure pizza (grilled vegetables, fresh mushrooms on homemade tomato sauce and mozzarella) and was given a buzzer.
  • Leaving the buzzer with my friend at the table, I proceeded to the pasta station for the Gamberi (prawns, spring onions and fresh tomatoes in homemade tomato sauce) with some wholegrain pasta.
  • There was a certain thrill from watching the pasta ingredients sizzle and steam in the pan before everything was transferred into a generously sized bowl.
  • I wish there had been more clarity on the “grilled vegetables” component of the pizza as it turned out to be capsicum.
  • The base was thin, mostly crisp but the pizza lacked character (definitely a far cry from Mad Pizza).
  • The pasta was also lacklustre, though there was a good amount of prawns.
  • I appreciated the fresh ingredients aspect of Vapiano, the relatively spacious interior and friendly staff but wish the food had been more fragrant and tasty.
  • However, it may have been erroneous ordering on my behalf (at least where the pizza was concerned) so I’m willing to return for a second round at some point in the hopes of having a more adequate food experience.

Din Tai Fung, Sydney

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  • Dumplings are delicious morsels of food and Din Tai Fung proclaims to have “the world’s tastiest dumplings”.
  • I don’t know how they rate on a global scale but I can attest that Din Tai Fung’s xiao long bao are extremely tasty.
  • The thin and delicate pastry holds a tender pork centre that is surrounded by a flavoursome broth.
  • It’s a little bit like eating a pillow or cloud of yumminess as the soft meat combines with the pastry and a subtle ginger note gets added from the broth.
  • Not to get too carried away here by a steamed pork dumpling, but having tried various other things from the menu on numerous occasions (e.g. Shanghainese style drunken chicken, calamari light battered & served with a dipping sauce, crab meat & roe with pork dumpling), I always come back to the conclusion that the only thing worth eating at Din Tai Fung is many, many servings of xiao long bao.
  • On a final note, they’re not created equally:  the xiao long bao at World Square taste much better than those offered at Westfield Sydney.

Sushi Hotaru, Sydney

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  • Aside from my aversion to raw meat/seafood, I adore sushi and Sushi Hotaru is my sushi train of choice.
  • There’s a steady stream of sushi plates that circulate.
  • If nothing on the conveyor belt tickles your fancy, there’s the additional option of ordering hand rolls, udon, side dishes, etc. from the menu via iPads.
  • I find the selection of food varied enough without being overwhelming.
  • My usual repertoire tends to consist of dabbling with a serving of takoyaki, inari with seaweed and something with soft shell crab or cooked tuna.
  • And then I eat a load of seared salmon nigiri because it’s the most delicious thing.
  • Sushi Hotaru is definitely a good place to stop for a sushi fix – it’s tasty, food comes out quickly and I don’t have any complaints about the service.

The Pie Tin, Newtown

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  • I really want to love The Pie Tin.
  • The premise of it is great: sweet and savoury pies that are handmade on-site with quality ingredients.
  • It’s also got a whimsical and slightly quirky personality that is exemplified through the decor, metal sporks, pie etiquette 101 signage and tin plates.
  • If you’re in the mood for lunch, the savoury pies make for an okay meal.
  • I don’t think they’re particularly flavoursome but they do come with the option of some generous sides that would cover you in the hunger department.
  • I was hoping that the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Tart would resemble either Whittaker’s Peanut Butter block or at least Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in tart format.
  • The crust held a thick peanut butter layer beneath a smooth and rich milk chocolate ganache.
  • Chunks of crunchy caramel and peanuts were scattered over the top of the whole ensemble.
  • I alternated between eating sporkfuls of the tart to get a sense of what it tasted like as a whole and my preferred deconstructing layers methodology.
  • The milk chocolate layer was the best part.
  • The crust was kind of crumbly and tasteless.
  • The peanut butter layer was weak on the peanut butter flavour and could have done with a bit more salt to enhance it.
  • The caramel chunks weren’t particularly impressive as they were predominantly sweet and lacked any distinct flavour.
  • It may have been more interesting to top the tart with either salted caramel or honeycomb.
  • I wouldn’t order this tart again but The Pie Tin does have other variations I am curious about.
  • This means I’ll continue to frequent The Pie Tin when the opportunity presents itself in the hopes of finding something mind-blowingly good but with the realistic expectation that it’ll probably just be a mediocre experience.

Chefs Gallery, Sydney

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  • Generally speaking, I don’t gravitate towards Chinese cuisine when dining out as I usually feel like I can eat that kind of food at home.
  • Chefs Gallery, however, makes for a nice place to pop in.
  • Its biggest draw cards are probably the handmade noodles, as well as their famous piggy dessert buns (which I have yet to try).
  • The food photography in the menu is solid and showcases the variety of dishes on offer well, though the dishes that actually appear on the table don’t have the same level of presentation finesse.
  • My tried and true favourite dish from Chefs Gallery is spinach noodles wok fried with seafood.
  • On this particular occasion, they were out of the dried prawn roe so we had to order the version without it.
  • It was still okay but I think the dried prawn roe really elevates this dish as it adds a very interesting fishy flavour.
  • Wok fried green beans with finely minced pork was something I’d be happy to order again.
  • The beans’ exterior had a slightly blistered texture and carried the garlic flavour well.
  • The steamed dim sim sampling platter was a good approach to taste test but nothing really stood out, and I wouldn’t bother with their dim sims in the future.
  • All in all, a pleasant eating experience.
  • My only gripe with Chefs Gallery would be that their food seems to be heavy on MSG.
  • Being parched after a meal isn’t really a great feeling so this restaurant isn’t on my frequently visited rotation.