Friday, June 15, 2007

JUST IN CASE YOU NEEDED TO KNOW

There is a joke in our family (mostly made by me) is that when in doubt, there are a few surnames that should be tried when dealing with different ethnic groups. For instance, if you forget a Korean's last name, Kim, Lee, or Choi are reasonable guesses. Li and Zhang were both considered good guesses for Chinese people. That is about to change for the Chinese. Apparently 85% of China's 1.3 billion people share 100 surnames. That is an average of 11,050,000 people with each of those names! 100,000 people are named Wang Tao. Wait, I know that guy!

Anyway, in order to try to generate a greater number of names, the Chinese government is looking at allowing couples to combine their surnames in their children's names. The article quotes "for instance, a father named Zhou and mother named Zhu could choose to call their child either Zhou, Zhu, Zhouzhu or Zhuzhou." That will certainly create a (limited) number of new names, but it will probably not help you figure out whose kid is whose . . .

In other news, you can't trust restaurant reviews in Sydney anymore. I know that this is going to cause a big problem for many of you who like to pop over to Oz for a meal. Anyway, a court in Australia has ruled that a negative restaurant review was defamatory, attacking the restaurant as a business. The review, which is from the Sydney Morning Herald, written by Matthew Evans is below, so judge for yourself:

If a restaurant serves good as well as bad food, do you give it the benefit of the doubt? I wouldn't do that with a three-chef's-hat restaurant so why should I do it here? Especially when more than half the dishes I've tried at Coco Roco are simply unpalatable.

Coco Roco is the swank new eatery at King Street Wharf. The opening was touted as "Sydney's most glamorous restaurant". If glamour peaked at about 1985, then perhaps they're right. Something about the polished stainless steel around the open kitchen and the black reflector tiles in the bathroom make me feel I should be wearing a pink shirt and a thin leather tie. Maybe it's just me.

What isn't disputable is that this place has had a $3 million fitout, has views westwards over the water and scored Sarah O'Hare as its official guest at the opening. It has set itself up as a flash restaurant with big-end-of-town prices. Its business card even boasts that "A new level of dining comes to Sydney's King Street Wharf." I couldn't agree more.

Coco Roco is actually two restaurants: Coco, the posh place upstairs off Lime Street, and sibling Roco, also smartly fitted out on the foreshore. Forever in pursuit of excellence, we choose the more expensive option.

Expensive is right. Mains skid dizzily from a vegetarian dish at just under $30 and crash over the $50 mark. It's a brave restaurateur who tries that without the goods to back it up.

A degustation of oysters ($28 for six/$40 for 12) arrives as different flavoured bivalves, rather than oysters from various regions. There's a saffron-infused gin one. There's a seafood foam, which looks like it's been piped on top. The texture is scary and, let's be polite, not to my tastes. The limoncello, however, is worse flavours jangle like a car crash; all at once it's sickly sweet, overtly alcoholic, slippery, salty and bitter.

Only the lone natural oyster is gloriously free from interference and there's an exquisite verjuice jelly on another.

Next up, the carpaccio of beef ($22) comes with a dreary roast almond paste underneath and far too many yellowing rocket leaves on top. The meat itself is fine, although the parmesan cheese strips taste tired.

Small Queensland scallops ($24) on jagged shells with cauliflower and vanilla nearly work but are uninteresting.

Why anyone would put apricots in a sherry-scented white sauce with a prime rib steak is beyond me. A generous chock of meat comes perfectly rested, medium as ordered. But the halves of apricot are rubbery and tasteless (which is probably a good thing). I scrape the whole wretched garnish to one side. The meat has a good length of flavour and is a damned fine steak, even if it is $52. I can't help but think at this price I could be dining at Rockpool.

On a side dish, three house-made mustards milk, Guinness and lavender prove that some things are better left alone.

The other main, roast chicken ($35), is outstandingly dull, which is odd considering it's a Glenloth bird that I usually love.

A few days later, in the interests of impartiality, I'm back. This time it's salad to start ($8), sweetly dressed with honey and balsamic vinegar and topped with fine cress. It's not great but passable, except for a few wilting leaves.

A poached beef fillet ($46) shows, like last visit, that they can cook steak. This time it's medium rare, although the meat is curiously dry on the edges. But the accompanying broth is well below average. It is sticky sweet with port and overcooked potatoes floating in it do it no favours. Oxtail and sweetbread dumplings are a delight, however.

I've never had pork belly that could almost be described as dry. Until tonight. A generous square of pig's paunch ($33) is snuggled into a mass of starchy lentils. The meat is unevenly spiced with Moorish flavours and the lentils are poor. Texturally, it brings to mind the porcine equal of a parched Weetbix.

For dessert, honeycomb cheesecake ($17) has little to recommend it, with its soggy pastry base. Compared with the raspberry and shiraz sorbet, however, it's heaven.

A dismal pyramid of sorbet ($15) jangles the mouth like a gamelan concert. Poached berries underneath are OK, except for what I guessed might have been soggy blackberries.

It could be argued that Coco is still settling in. But apricots in sherry-scented white sauce aren't meant to garnish a rib eye of beef. The menu isn't held back by minor glitches; it's flawed in concept and execution.

In a city where harbourside dining has improved out of sight in recent years, Coco Roco is a bleak spot on the culinary landscape.

I mean, I would not eat at this place. To that extent the review is certainly damaging. On the other hand, from this review I know that if I did end up there (a) I would know that the bathrooms are very 1980s, and (b) that they actually can cook a steak. That's something.

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