Thursday, January 20, 2011

Can Buy Me Love (aka, Kingsleys Steak + Crabhouse, Woolloomooloo)......

Cake and Knifelings, get up, please. Go to your larder now and fetch yourself a beverage and a snack. Better make it a low GI snack. Maybe some sea-salt roasted cashews and a nice cup of tea. We're going to be here for a while. I am sorry, but there's no other way. I can't do this in few words. I can't do it in few images. I have to take you slowly, artfully and meticulously through what went down the other night when Kingsleys Steak + Crabhouse invited me for dinner. Now, we have a special relationship, you and I. Honestly is the foundation of respect. Which is why, before we even dip our pinkies into some dense toffee cheesecake or some brilliantly blazed beetroot dolloped with a beguiling yoghurt, we have to get a little summin straight, first.
The invitation to come dine at Woolloomooloo popped up in my email one day, I was a bit hesitant. I don't usually say yes to these kinds of offers. I only write about places that wow me, and I also like the inspiration for the writing to come from the experience. If something is !'ish enough, then my finger pads start twitching for the keys. Sound like a priggish, anal retentive blogger who takes herself and her art too seriously? 
Yeah, well my hungry boyfriend (who is out to disprove the Free Lunch Theory) and has no qualms about such matters certainly thought so. I don't care too much for money, cause money can buy me love. Can buy me Love. Ohhh. Oh, Indeed. One wee, little guilt trip from Dan and a written understanding between Kingsleys that I would only write a piece if I loved the food... and i'd sold my soul to the devil. Oh no matter. The Devil. All he'd probably say is: Bechara! Not you again.
I want you to know straight up and from me to you, not to rub it in your povo noses or anything, that I didn't pay one red cent for this meal. I also want you to know, that I would have paid for it, and more. It was fucking amazing - you have my crab-stained mouth's most solemn word. Take it or leave it, it's a place I will be going back to again and again - God Willing. Dan will too, especially if I pay for him!
After completely stuffing up our directions, we finally end up on Woolloomooloo Wharf after a little, hypoglycemic detour through King St Wharf. There wasn't a fight in the car about who got the directions wrong, but there could have been! My favourite beer, Little Creatures Pale Ale, is whisked to the table before I can even register the spiteful, hateful rasping of conscience: You Torrid. Little. Sellout!
Conscience Schmonscience. That's the beautiful thing about cutting off the supply of oxygen to your brain via some chilled, malty beer. You can't quite hear yourself thinking as much. Brilliant beer and an even smoother merlot, a few moments watching a sinking Summer sunset bumping into the pointy tops of the Sydney skyline, and I am lying back and Thinking Of England. 
The ambience is fun. It's a packed Wednesday and lots of young power brokers in unbuttoned shirts are kicking back alongside wealthy tourists and Woolloomooloo riffraff. Lots of big, loud groups there to drink, laugh and eat a lot. This isn't an i'll-just-have-the-salad place. Thankgod. The group of three giggling women near me donning full-body plastic bibs as they eagerly await the onslaught of some delectable crab reassure me that I am in good, hungry, gusto-driven company.
I have no idea how one asks for something one isn't paying for, so I simply inform Kingsleys Manager, Tim, that I don't eat meat (he already knew) and to bring us whatever it was he thought was best. Then I sit there (nervously) acting like I do this sort of thing all the time. Danny, composed and as comfortable as ever, and who I should admit in good faith actually started me blogging, smirkingly informed me that: you're finally paying off. The man couldn't have said a truer word. 
Telling them to bring us their best was how we ended up in the most capable culinary claws of this feisty, fiery Alaskan. Alaskan Red King Crab. Oh my God. His Royal Highness hails from the Bering Sea. This sea is 2, 000, 000 square kilometers of pristine, isolated, freezing as deep-frozen-frudge conditions. The crab, which is snap frozen, trawler top, as soon as it meets its fate, is only available for fishing on 12 days of the calender year.
Such a short time span, you've got to get it while it's going (like the focused attention of a fully grown male) even if it is a messy affair. And it is. It's a deadly business, pulling these crabs in - and there's nothing that adds to the deliciousness of a meal more than the knowledge that someone almost did (and very well may have) died getting it to you. A noble death, I say. What more noble death could there be...
...than but to risk listless life and paltry, useless limb to bring us some of this! At $59.90 for 600g (assuming you're paying, of course) this is bloody worth it. Prickly, orange-red crab shell fought with and triumphed over, yields wonderfully SweetSalty shards and chunks of supple flesh. So beautiful, much more tender and delicately flavoured than lobster.
I get in there with my hands, none of those polite little crab utensils for me. The piquancy is unbelievable, it is a meaty, white, clean pure crab taste. Having it chilled in the shell with a wondrously thick mayonnaise to drench it all in is absolute perfection. The creaminess of the sauce is so warm and oily and thick-thick-rich against the livid saltiness of the crab.
We were absolutely aghast. I usually don't order raw seafood unless its sashimi, I like it, but I rarely find it remarkable or interesting enough to beat out other things on a menu. How wrong I was! The complexity of this dish is in its perfect simplicity. It is so good to deconstruct and break apart and lay into and pop and twist and pull and rip. It's nice to fight your food, very evolutionary and all that. The salt from the crab-meat stung a little against my pricked fingers but let me assure you that these were the battle scars of a woman who vanquished her foe (and then ate him).
Supple, soft - diaphanous flesh. Hues of gentle orange-red weaving through strands of salty sea-brined white. This was probably the most amazing thing I tried on the night. I kept going back to the mess of shell on the plate looking for little strands of crab to grab at. Like a desperate sort of seagull-human that couldn't really come to proper terms with the fact that the dish had ended.
This crab is astounding, simple and crazy, and so satisfying. There's something very luxurious about the sense you get from eating it. It's elegant and grand and simple. You don't need anything else to go with it, except maybe some bread and a good, cold beer.
Kingsleys offers mud-crab as well as Alaskan. The mud crab - usually found in more shallow waters, usually doesn't kill anyone who tries to fish it. Not unless they accidentally have an unrelated but simultaneous-to-fishing stroke or a heart attack under the water or something. The recommended get up for the mud-crab is Singapore Chilli Style. Which goes a little something like this...
Fried and fired in sultry, soaring chilli with tomato-drenched black bean. Beautiful and precious red shell, spangled with coriander green. If the Devil took his crab at Kingsleys, this is how he would take it: hot and spicy and in your face.
Crab is also up for crabs salt-and-Szechaun pepper style, as is Lobster Tail and Qld-King Prawns.
When I say the crab is all you need for the perfect meal, it doesn't quite mean we're ready to pack up and go home for the day. I was sitting there, tipsy and with salty-lemon-licked-crab lips - thinking I had stolen all from the seas that I would that day, all sighing in abject contentment when this lovely little dish decided to swim my lucky way.
Okay, for the love of God. This barramundi was soul-destroying. Shards of chilli-spiced, tangled greens set all the way to Crunch held this lost, little fishes culinary hand. The fish was obscenely well cooked. That is the only word I think can describe it accurately enough.
As fresh as a 17-year old's outlook on the world (but with more elegance), moist supple flakes of slightly salty white-fish flesh, agonizingly fold away with the slightest application of a quivering blade of fork. The fish is so full and plump and sweet. None of that fishy-fish taste, just delicate gorgeous barramundi and with a perfectly executed skin: all sharp, thin golden sea-silvered crust. The moistness of the flesh against just a little of the burnt depth of the warm skin offers a taste and texture in every superlative known in the English language or in any other. Wonderful. Astounding. IlliantBray ArramundiBray.
The little slivers of oyster mushroom like delicious turtles hudled beneath brought garnish perfection to full perfect circle. Meaty and salty with a slightly charred tasted, but still delicate and elegant with their own inner mushroomliness. I didn't think a steak/crab house would have the acumen to do fish this well. Far better than any fine dining fish I have had, far fresher as well. Crunchy and soft and green and white and salty and burnt and gentle. When fish can be so frickin magnificent, who needs steak?
Danny does. The Centennial, Woollahra has for so long claimed a special place in our stomach's heart as the most prized steak of all. That was to be no moo-re. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: meet the Angus Eye Fillet 150 day grain fed Steak from Gippsland Victoria. Holy Cow.
Rare and beautifully bloodied: steak should be nothing less. This is a seraphic chunk of bovine beauty. Flesh you could just caress for all its sweet, delicate, charming tenderness. Cut into it with a diabolic knife and watch brown give way to pink, watch the supple cross-section slowly bleed into the white, willing plate and you have murder on the mouth. With a slight charred criss-cross on top to add just a little fiery-charred nuance, it is all pinkness and softness underneath. Full, deep flesh. Love.
The eye fillet melts into your mouth, you can't really chew much, it's just too soft. Add a treacherous smearing of an unashamedly hot English mustard and just start burning up, inside, outside and all bloody over.
Toothsome and truthsome. And such playful steak. It's a canvas for you to paint on in mustard and in relish. Vary the bites. Take your time. A great steak, like recognition and a park right out front, is something that doesn't come by as often as it should in life. Savour and sigh and sit back. Think about it. Focus on nothing else. Find your own personal balance between solemn, sensuous, religiously reverential silence, and barking yourself mad at the top of your throaty lungs.
It's overwhelming, steak like this. Don't let good breeding get in the way. If you need to jump up, rip your clothes off, run over to the edge of wharf and plonk yourself into the water good and quick then you just do that. Do whatever you need to do to cope with the sheer stupendousness of it all. Howl. Kick. Scream. Cry. Weep. Bang your fist down on the table. It's all good. They'll understand.
Just make sure you get it out? Eh. It's not healthy to bottle feelings up. Like that gorgeous bottle of mustard. It's certainly not right to carry feelings like that inside, unexpressed - like the succulent, secret flavour, waiting for your mouth, within the steak. Express yourself fully.
And that's just over the steak. We weren't even talking about what was happening on the table and around the plate. Nothing was moving, my friends. It was as still as still could be. As still as the night. But I could have sworn there were earthquakes. Heavens rumbling. Worlds colliding. Oceans ripping up and under... Or was that just me churning?
Steakhouse chips. Thick and plump and salty. Soft and steaming with Irish pride. You know I adore chips, you know I love them. But I am sorry to say that Kingsleys chips, big and hand cut and gorgeous as they were splashed with mustard, mayo and sauce, were...
...nothing on this PinkedPurlple and white green scream-dream. This roasted beetroot, like people who live with The Apes, was something else entirely. Sweet and soft and with that gorgeous depth that root vegetables have when someone actually takes the time to cook them properly - to their full, fecund sweetness. They were so intense, almost bass-like, they tasted more like a good red wine than vegetable.
Slippery spheres of magenta magnificence take on a whole new meaning when you swathe them in a tart, salty yoghurt and watch two worlds collide: on the plate and in your mouth. Thick, luminous, luscious wet-white cannot wait to be stained with the sweet, deep, dark red. Watch it go pink and then bite into it, Tart-Sweet-Sigh-Deep-Rich-Wet-Warm-Cool-Salty-Slippery Drool. This was perfect. I could eat a whole big plate of it all on it's own. So balanced.
Ditto Zucchini, Pea + Mint w Persian Fetta. If Kingsleys had a collective back, I would have to take the biggest hand in the world and sincerely pat it, firmly and several times. They Get It. They have 10 or 11 wonderful sides to choose from, and you ought to get as many of them as you possibly can. Sides are a great way to tweak the flavour of a dish, especially with the steak they let you contrast/complement it with lots of different flavours. By trying the steak with the chips, with the beetroot, with the zucchini, it's not only the sides you get to try, but the steak in a new way each time. It's very playful, generous eating. Most of the sides are $7 or $8 and the portions are decent. You won't be able to get through most of them. Especially as you have to leave room in your stomach for the AfterParty.
I am actually sweating as I write this. I am on a big white couch with sun burning my feet. I don't know if I can go through it again but I know I have to. This is going to be exhausting. The first time dessert happened at Kingsleys it nearly killed me. But now I have to relive it all. I have to remember it, and think about and try to bring it back to life for you. Experiences like this probably shouldn't be talked about. They should just be treasured and frozen, left dancing in memory. But fuck it, here we go...
Toffee Cheesecake w Praline Icecream. Shhhh. I won't say a word if you don't. Just stand back in the shadows with me and watch it for a while...
See how both the light and the darkness fight over it? See how it's smiling at you from the shadows. It is solid, like sweet, rich clay and so, so dense. It is thick and moist and gentle. I cannot even imagine the privilege felt by the person who cut it all up into so many sharp, sticky slices. 
Nutted and toffeed. Like caramel kisses with cream. Cheesecake is usually a tart affair, nice and sweet, but very cream cheesed. Usually too much and a bit crude. This is not one of those cheesecakes. It is Cheesecake Superstar. It almost has an icecreamliness to it, but is softer and warmer to taste. It looks churned and buttery and glisteningly beautiful. It feels like a thick mousse on the mouth, it feels like every dream you ever had with spring and closed eyes and falling and running and poppies and fields of green going on forever.
A biscuittish base, so moorish and masterful, grounds the ambrosial expanse of startled SweetCreamyCheese. The cream is marinated in an utterly opulent toffeeishness. Not sickly toffee. Old-School-Wooden-Shutters-Toffee-In-Wax-Paper-For-A-Penny toffee. Like butter and sugar gone mad with cream. One bite needs quite a few moments to settle. It is so, so beautiful to eat.
The praline icecream doesn't balance the richness, it extends it artfully, but in a chilled, melting-frozen freshness. Like a pendulum between the two, your spoon. From warm, sticky toffee-cheese to cool sweet icecream kiss, back again, and then again, and then once more. It's a romance.
It tastes like shadows and secrets and all things good. It is loud dessert. Sweet dessert. For people who aren't shy about their cake. Don't be shy about your cake. Please. Be shy about something else. Never be shy about toffee cheesecake, or...
...about Peach Melba, either. This is Carmen Miranda Cake, and you had seriously better set your taste-buds to samba. Formless and layered, it is cream and crunch with a blush of raspberry and peach. Peach Melba. The name might sound like a long last Aunt, but trust me when I say it tastes more like good-looking, kissing cousins, except less offensive to morality.
Whimsical and fruity and light. Brilliant and bouncy like a ballerina. Simply made to disassemble, made for biting into, made for feeling and smiling at. The fruit is so berried and summery, the peach so winsome. It bewitches you with toffeed-like crunch, fragments falling like sugared-diamonds into the cloud-in-cream, all studded with peach-tart-red hues of the beautifully jeweled fruit.
It tastes alive and quick and sprightly. The peach was poached, I thought it might taste dull. Wrong wrong wrong. Peach explosion in happy confusion. Softened sweetness singing of summer. This was my favourite dessert. So fanciful and varied, bites of crunch against sweet, moist TartFruit doused with the calming-vanillaesque dolloped cream. Free and formless and fantastical. 
The creme brulee did Danny in. A shallow pot of scorched cream is there to make you remember what falling in love feels like - and for the first time. The thin burntness of this is abracadabra magical, there's not too much cream to crispy shell, every bite stays close to the crowning burning. The lightness of the cream is always against the carameliciousness of the crunch. It's like Lucifer french kissing Doris Day.
Velvety and lacquered and luscious. TongueSatinInGoldenCream. Spoon into and fracture the surface, watch it fall away under a few excited taps. Dip your spoon in and delve into custardy-ivory-creamed oblivion. TongueElysium that just might wake the Gods.
Sweet and burnt. Gentle and honeyed. Have a few pure bites and then stain it with some berry compote. SweetPurpleBlue and creamy and divine. We finished it all amidst an intense game of teaspoon hockey. I think Danny won because I kept going back to Melba. 
The Last Supper. I am so glad I came. Why I even still need to be alive and what I am hoping to get from the rest of my days that could ever hold up to or add to this dinner is beyond me. 
This is head chef, David on the left (I love you) and Lars, The Candy King/Dessert Chef on the right (I want to marry you). They should be in charge of the country, they should. Politics might go to shit and the economy might suffer, but like we could pop up from a Kingsleys steak or Melba even long enough to know what the hell was going on. Thankyou, thankyou David and Lars, talent like yours reminds me why dining is so exciting.
We've almost reached the end. Are you spent, as well? We both got here. We did it. We did. We're almost done, only: the Chocolate Coated coffee balls that kept us up all night, and...
A massive thanks to Sarah for setting this up, and to Bondi-living Victorian-bred Manager Tim Muschamp, my God, man! Now I understand the second syllable of your surname. I hope I have all my spelling right. I have never been ordered so well for in my life, Tim. Trusting you yielded such wonderful results I am thinking I might get you to make all my life decisions from me for now on? Thanks for taking great care of us, I will be back in the next two weeks!
Kingsleys happens at the end of the wharf, Cowper Bay Wharf in Woolloomoooohhhhhloo. Ph 1300 546 475. Website here

Selling Out: mm mmmmm!


Anonymous said...

Very clever on them to invite you for dinner in exchange for this post... it's brilliant! Although your description of the toffee cheesecake gave me a toothache :) So did you try the steak or was that your boyfriend's impression on the dish?

amanda said...

shhh i had a bite. i couldnt resist. it was unbelievable. he said if i missed it i'd regret it! with the mustard...jesus! the mustard actually hurt, it was really sharp, i love over the top mustard so was very pleased.

Simon Leong said...

i've never seen a blog post with so many macro shots in all my life hehe :-) i love alaskan king crab!

amanda said...

i like getting up close and personal, simon! how amazing is it?