Chinese New Year is coming and I am really looking forward to it! Unfortunately I no longer receive red envelopes containing money as I did as a child in Hong Kong, but I enjoy any chance to celebrate festivities! You can imagine my excitement when hearing that a Chinese New Year themed high tea created by the lovely and extremely talented pastry chef Anna Polyviou would be featuring at Shangri La in Sydney this year.
I was recently invited along to Wok On Inn at the Rocks to sample some of their dishes.
Funnily enough I actually spent several months working at a friend’s company a few minutes’ walk away, so it was a good opportunity to visit one of my old haunts.
Please note that I was served ‘half size’ dishes, so expect a larger size for yourself when you visit. Given this in mind I would expect that double sizes of the dishes I sampled would be quite massive and filling!
There are so many Thai restaurants to visit in Newtown that sometimes the choice can be a little overwhelming! Recently a group of friends and I ended up in Newtown for dinner and wound up at Thai Passion and really enjoyed the food, service and great prices!
Coconut Juice $3.50.
I really enjoyed this start to the meal – coconut juice is always so refreshing and the coconut meat slices were perfectly tender and soft.
San Choy Bow (Chicken mince with shiitake mushroom and young corn in a crisp lettuce cup) $7.90
I really enjoyed this light choice for my dinner. The chicken filling was very flavoursome and was accented well by the crispy rice noodles in the lettuce cup. If you’re after a light meal, this would be a good choice as it was surprisingly filling eaten solo!
Vegetarian curry puffs (4pcs) $6.90
Crisp pastry surrounding curried veggies – this is a tough choice to go wrong with!
Chicken Laksa (Thai style curry noodle in a coconut milk soup) $12.90
The diner who chose this dish commented that the laksa was quite good quality with a hit of spice to it, but in general he prefers flavours of a Malaysian laksa to a Thai version, as it tends to feel more authentic.
Crying Tiger (grilled marinated beef served with thai nam jim jaew) $13.90
Tender slices of grilled beef marinated in Thai spices – this dish was a good pick of the evening.
Vegetarian Thai Fried Rice with egg $12.90
I sampled a spoonful of this fried rice and was surprised at the fantastic flavour that Thai Passion managed to bring out in such a simple dish. It had an almost saucy texture to the rice that made me seriously wish I had ordered this as well! Definitely would come back just to try this dish, as I have sampled many Thai fried rices over Sydney and really felt this one stood out of the crowd.
My dining companions were looking for some gluten and dairy free dessert options, so opted for the sticky rice cooked in banana leaf (minus the icecream). It looked like it had that chewy consistency that you can only get from sticky rice baked in banana leaves, and was a pretty good serving size for only $5.90. Might have been able to do a better job with the presentation (although this was served minus the usual addition of ice-cream, so maybe it looks better with that?)
There is a lot of stiff competition for Thai food in Newtown but I think that Thai Passion is definitely holding its own with good quality Thai food with great prices. Best dishes of the night were definitely the fried rice and the coconut juice. Service was friendly and helpful, which always makes a meal more enjoyable. We really enjoyed our meal and it’s definitely somewhere I would come again in future. It’s a short walk from Newtown station which is another plus for convenience. I also noted that they do $7.50 lunch specials which seem worth checking out (if only Newtown weren’t so far from my workplace!) Please note also (like many places), that they do not do split bills.
Some of you may remember not too long ago I interviewed Matthew McCool, head chef of Altitude Restaurant of the Shangri La. I found it very interesting to have a glimpse of what it’s like to work professionally with one of my great passions – food. So when the opportunity to interview the incredibly talented Anna Polyviou, Executive Pastry Chef at the Shangri-La in Sydney, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity!
As many bloggers do, I absolutely love baking – especially baking sweet treats. While I’m not sure if I would suit the pastry chef occupation, I do know of some friends who are interested in breaking into that field. I mean who could blame them – creating sweet treats that everyone loves definitely seems like a dream job!
So, let’s dive into the world of pastry with the legend herself – Anna Polyviou!
Anna Polyviou – Executive Pastry Chef at Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney
Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming the pastry chef you are today. Would love to hear about what inspired you to choose this profession and any favourite childhood memories you have about baking!
I kick-started my career in cooking at Hotel Sofitel Melbourne, where my only interest were the flashing lights at clubs; dancing and having fun. Then I was asked to enter a competition in pastry because the team of four required a pastry chef and they needed an apprentice. I was a kitchen chef and had no idea about cooking anything sweet. So I trained so I wouldn’t let my team down and the more I got involved in pastry, the more I loved it. Things turned around and I found my love for pastry!
I stayed at Sofitel and finished my apprenticeship. I was then awarded the title of best apprentice in the Hotel, which led to winning the Les Toque competition for best apprentice within Victoria which got me a scholarship to London. There, I worked at Claridges hotel in London along with doing University in Culinary Arts in pastry. I won gold in different culinary competitions and won best dessert in the UK which gave me an opportunity to go work in Paris with Pierre Herme. I then returned to Australia and did another competition for best plated chocolate dessert, won that and got a trip to Chicago to do training. I was at Bathers Pavilion for five years as the pastry chef there, which was a great stage of my career. I’ve been involved in cookbooks, judging, writing for magazines and I am also the founder of the Sydney Pastry Club.
I love how food brings people together along with emotions that flow within the room after eating and tasting different items. During my childhood, my family was forever cooking and the aromas that traveled within the house are indescribable. We have such great memories.
Do you have any pastry chef heroes?
My friends within the industry are my heroes. I admire the people I know because I have seen their work and their passion firsthand. I admire Kirsten Tibballs and have seen her build her business from the bottom up, even Adriano Zumbo from the small shop till now. I’ve seen friends on TV and the way they make an impact on the foodie industry. Julie Sharpe is my HERO, because when no one believed in me or wanted to give me a chance, she did.
Tell us a little about your favourite dessert!
I have a huge problem (in a good way) with custard desserts and also ice-cream. I’m starting to think I have an addiction with ice-cream with chunky bits and caramel flavored products. I like creating complicated desserts but I love eating simple- especially home baked goods.
Do you have any guilty pleasure baking reality TV shows that you like to watch?
I love watching anything on television that involves food, especially when it’s my friends doing the cooking. I get very proud of them and love to brag on their behalf to anyone who will listen.
What’s your favourite kitchen utensil?
I love the KitchenAid ProLine stand mixer. Mine is candy apple red! It’s 6.9litres litres with all the attachments. It looks sexy and works amazing, I take it everywhere; from demos at Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney to my friend’s houses when I go over to cook for them.
What is the most difficult ingredient you’ve ever had to work with?
I really struggle creating desserts with grapes and melons along with different Asian ingredients such as Green Tea/mocha because if you infuse it too much or under infuse, you don’t get the flavour you want. I’m willing to play around with melons and grapes a bit more, it just takes practice.
How about a favourite ingredient to work with?
Vanilla for sure, especially Heilala vanilla. It’s vanilla from Tonga and the money goes back into the community and supporting the local people. This product comes in extracts, syrups, organic sugar, paste and my most favourite is the vanilla beans. It’s a natural product that can complement any dish.
What tips could you give our readers that are interested in becoming a pastry chef and breaking into the industry?
I’d say take your time to learn instead of trying to be a superstar right away. If you can, work in places where you can learn from people that share the same interests as you. Most importantly – stay humble and be respectful to people and to yourself.
Best perk of the job?
The main perks for me is that I get to do my hobby every day and am able to influence someone’s emotions. I love getting people excited about what I create. I also get to travel a bit overseas and do fun things like recipe development for cookbooks.
Any tips for us at-home bakers?
My tips for home bakers is to invite me over so I can eat what they have created and they can teach me! My favourite baked goods are created at home. Make sure to:
• Pass on the knowledge and passion
• Use good quality food ingredients
• And most importantly – use Australian seasonal produce and fruit.
Finally, Anna has shared one of her wonderful recipes with us for her “Passion-ate about Yellow”. Thank you to Anna for sharing such a beautiful recipe!
Passion-ate about Yellow
200gm caster sugar
60ml passionfruit juice
In a medium to large pot bring the cream and sugar to the boil.
Once there boil for 4 minutes.
After the 4 minutes are up whisk in the passionfruit juice and bring to the boil again and boil for 4 minutes.
Take off the heat and fill moulds or glasses.
Pineapple and Champagne Jelly
175gm pineapple puree
10gm gelatine, softened
Bring the puree, sugar and water to the boil and whisk in the soften gelatine.
Strain and allow to cool, stir in champagne.
Ginger Microwave sponge
5gm Egg Yolk
40gm Caster Sugar
50gm White Chocolate, melted
10gm Plain Flour 12%, sifted
5gm Ground Ginger
In an electric mixer bowl whisk the eggs, yolk and sugar until light and fluffy.
When ready add the chocolate in on a medium heat but only just combine.
Take off and fold in the flour and ginger.
Make a small slice at the bottom of a paper cup and fill half way with the sponge mix.
Place into the microwave and cook for 40 seconds it may need another 10 seconds.
Cut down the side of the cup with scissors to remove the sponge and reserve until needed.
Mango and Passionfruit Sorbet
500gm Mango Puree
350ml Passionfruit juice
Mix the sugar and stabilizer place in a saucepot and add the glucose and water.
Bring to the boil and once there, pour over the puree and juice.
Strain and allow to cool.
(If you don’t have the ice-cream machine I highly recommend pure gelato to use mango sorbet is light fresh and very tasty).
I also had the chance to visit the Shangri-La to sample Anna’s high tea that is on at the Shangri-La at the moment (and also got a sneak peek into Anna’s magical kitchen!) and will be posting about this on the blog very soon – watch this space!
Thanks to Jessica Somers-Haggie for helping to arrange this interview with Anna.
I will admit – I am a self-confessed cherry blossom addict.
I was fortunate enough to visit Japan during sakura season and absolutely fell in love with them! Sadly they are very fickle and last for only 2 weeks of the year and although I matched my travel plans to the prior year’s cherry blossom dates, they opened 1 week earlier than normal, so make sure you’re aware of this if planning a visit during spring!
While I did still see several lovely cherry blossom trees, they were sadly not as impressive as they normally are at their peak.
You can imagine how excited I was to hear that Auburn Botanic Gardens’ holds an annual Cherry Blossom festival for two weeks every year (and you don’t even need to jump on a plane if you’re in Sydney!). People are welcome to bring picnics or enjoy the food stalls available and experience hanami (Japanese sakura picnicking) Sydney style!
Everyone enjoying the beautiful blossoms.
The reflection pool.
Majestic peacocks chilling out.
Turkish Gozleme stand.
Japanese stand selling sushi, teriyaki chicken wings and takoyaki.
We were very lucky to have such beautiful, sunny weather. I really enjoyed seeing the beautiful masses of blossoms and definitely think it’s worthwhile visiting if you’re a sakura fan. Bring your camera so you can take plenty of snaps of the beautiful blossoms while in bloom, typical Japanese style!
The Auburn Botanic Gardens Cherry Blossom Festival is running again this coming weekend on Saturday 24th August and Sunday 25th August. You can read more information about the festival on the Auburn Council website by clicking here. A free shuttle bus is running from the train station to the gardens but there is also street parking available nearby. Cost is a $5 entry per adult (children and Auburn residents free).
Hope you had a lovely weekend!