Universal night black and bubbly
FRESH from annual hols, the staff at Universal Restaurant in Sydney’s Darlinghurst are back with a flourish for their second year, and Dom Perignon 2000, $290/$49 a glass, served in DP’s signature black crystal flutes, is on the toasting menu.
With the doors barely open, chef Christine Manfield hosted a Seven Sensualities Dinner as part of Sydney’s recent Dom Perignon Week. The normally open-tothe-night and flamboyantly orange and hot pink restaurant was wrapped in black velvet, diners sat at a black-swathed communal table decorated with white orchids, sipped Dom Perignon 2000 and smoky vintage teas from tea master Madame Tseng ( Yu Hui Tseng) of La Maison des Trois Thes in Paris, and tasted an extraordinary line-up of mini-plates. Even the Universal regulars, of whom there were several, were astonished, though FoodDetective sniffed out what might have been a faint aroma of protectionism from the French presence. The dinner is an annual tradition of the champagne house, which creates the seven dishes; Manfield had added seven of her own to the list. But what could be more Australian than challenging tradition? And what more French than upholding it?
This month a Raise the Red Lantern dinner features Manfield’s regional favourites, to honour Chinese culture and the Olympics (August 28, $125 sans wine).
As for those staff hols, Manfield tells Detective the team took off in all directions, from Buenos Aires to the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, Victoria. She and partner Margie Harris explored St Petersburg (‘‘caviar good but expensive, good fish pie and coulibiac, but food generally dreadful,’’ she says).
And Sicily. Manfield tells Detective they sought out traditional anticosiciliana dishes. Siracuse and Catania were high points ‘‘ but the whole island is jammed with delightful pleasures’’, she says: the produce markets, even in small towns, the fish and the ‘‘ baroque towns of Noto and Modica, which have Italy’s best gelati and chocolate, respectively, and are not to be missed’’. www.universalrestaurant.com; www.domperignon.com. ■ MEANWHILE, down at The Rocks in Sydney, Neil Perry is dressing for dinner once again at Rockpool after his brief flirtation with casual dining under the name Rockpool (fish). ‘‘ Fish’’ has been discreetly removed from the door and the white linen is back on the tables. Travel&Indulgence editor Susan Kurosawa puts on her glad rags and reports ( Tables , this page).
Perry plans two new Sydney openings: Rockpool Bar & Grill in January (flagged in Detective , September 29-30 last year), and Spice Temple late this year. ■ AUSTRALIA’S ‘‘ Dream Team’’ of wines, selected by experts Max Allen and Campbell Mattinson, will be lined up for tasting at Sydney’s Landmark: Great Australian Wines Past, Present and Future. Rarities such as Giaconda Chardonnay will be matched with emerging superstars of the same style. Most are in limited supply. Glebe Point Diner chef Alex Kearns’s menu will match the dream: $235 a head, Museum of Contemporary Art, August 20. www.winefocusaustralia.com.au. ■ AND back at the Royal Mail in Dunkeld, Old Masters Wine Dinners are regularly hosted by the hotel’s sommelier, Lok Thornton, and the Royal’s extensive cellars are plundered for rare tastes. A Victorian Masters dinner is next, a ‘‘ snapshot of what makes Victoria one of the world’s great wine-making states’’, with wines from Giaconda, Crawford River, Bass Phillip, Mount Mary and more, served alongside a 10-course tasting menu by Royal Mail chef Dan Hunter. August 22, $450 a head. www.royalmail.com.au. ■ MIXED drinks are on the agenda in Brisbane, with cocktail and canape packages at Brisbane Hilton’s Below 7 Lounge. (Three cocktail choices for each sipper.) Bookings, between 10 and 30, $65 a head. (07) 3231 3166; firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, find out how to mix your own cocktails. $59 a person includes interactive presentation, canapes, glass of sparkles, cocktail kit and recipes. September 27 and November 22. Bookings: (07) 3231 3231. ■ SLOW Food Sydney has contacted Detective to point out that last week’s Slow Food mention ( Detective , July 26-27), which referred to a vote of approval for the formal registration of Slow Food Australia from the international body, was ambiguous.
In practical terms, Slow Food is already flourishing across the states, with more than 3000 members in 37 conviviums, making it the fifth largest association in the world network. www.slowfood.com. ■ ABSOLUTELY Abruzzo Tours, which Detective has travelled with and still savours the memory, offers a true insider’s look at central Italy with unique food experiences. AbAb has a gourmet long weekend, Wine and Dine in the Apennines, for those already in Italy. Slow-food, cooking class, village market, tastings. Departs Pescara airport, Abruzzo. Until October 26 and dates in 2009; $975 a person twin share. www.absolutelyabruzzo.com. ■ DETECTIVE loves: Chocolatier Koko Black has created two ‘‘ dark new treats for Father’s Day’’ (September 7): cocoa nibs or whole roasted coffee beans in 74 per cent dark chocolate blocks ( Detective won’t be relinquishing hers); $7.50, 100g. www.kokoblack.com. ■ DETECTIVE loathes: In full agreement with Queensland reader Clive Hodges who loathes the fact many restaurateurs continue to ignore noise, Detective is developing a chronic throat problem. Diners often need to shout at each other to be heard, Hodges writes. ■ FIND of the week: Sofitel Wentworth Sydney chef Jess Ong’s entree of seared Hervey Bay scallops on a soft bed of parmigiano reggiano-scented polenta with a dressing of minced truffle, bacon and chives; on the menu at Garden Court and alone worth a visit. www.sofitelsydney.com.au.