"I feel like I'm at my uncle's 60th birthday party."
It's not hard to see where Lox is coming from. Serviette roses spray forth from wine glasses, the function-centre-style chairs are a familiar peacock blue, and the tables are nestled close and set with white tablecloths, butchers paper, side plates and cutlery.
But just like Uncle Frank, this 70s time warp only lends itself to irresistible charm. This isn't fine dining. This is the Sydney Portugal Community Club.
The club, open to all members of the public, is not the easiest to discover. Hidden within the depths of Marrickville's Fraser Park, we make a wrong turn and end up at the State Rail signals office. The staff there set us on the right track, and we backtrack to make our way across two soccer fields, nervously skirting past the ten-year-olds earnestly practising ball-handling drills under the golden glow of stadium lights.
Everyone else gets lost too. The neon sign off Marrickville Road is clear but once under the railway bridge there's little else to guide you towards the bacalhau. One friend asks a soccer mum and is told to "keep going until you see a building that looks like a toilet block".
Ahhh and how true it is.
Chourico Assado $7.00
Portuguese smoked sausage flambee
We are eleven people tonight; a good-sized group to try a variety of dishes. We are immediately served baskets of soft bread rolls with foiled pats of butter and a neverending supply of black Spanish olives. Sangria is a necessary lubricant, generously alcholic and filled with an unusual fruit salad that includes rockmelon and honeydew.
Queijo Fresco $5.00
The chorizo, sliced thickly on the diagonal, isn't as spicy as I expect but there's plenty of juicy fat within the seared pork sausages, embellished with bits of gardeneria and more of those Spanish olives.
I'd been curious to try the queijo fresco, or fresh cheese. It's a soft mild cheese much like ricotta. Two fat chunks of it rest on a lettuce leaf, a healthy-sized portion given it's priced at five dollars.
Camarao com Albo $9.00
There's plenty of delicious chilli in the garlic prawns, plump fresh prawns sizzling cheerfully in a terrocotta wading pool of aromatic oil. Though resplendent in chilli it's a little lacking in garlic. We mop up the lot though with torn bits of bread.
Bacalhau a Churrasqueira $19.00
BBQ cod fish with fried potatoes and onions
No Portuguese meal is complete without bacalhau, the salted preserved cod fish that is the pride of Portugal. We have ours tonight in the style of bacalhau a churrasqueira, the salted fish fillet hidden beneath a blanket of crispy fried potato slices and caramlised onion. The cod-- rehydrated and boiled to remove the excess salt--is plump, soft and satiny. It flakes easily with the caress of a fork, firm yet tender, and imbued with a subtle yet constant salty undertone.
Porco a Alentejana $18.00
Pan-fried pork pieces with vongole
There's plenty of salt in the Porco a Alentejana, a classic dish from the Alenteja region in Portugal's south. Cubes of pork and baby clams are simmered in a tomato and white wine sauce and served with cubes of crispy fried potato. I find the saltiness a little intense for my tongue, but for others it's their favourite dish of the evening.
Drunken lamb slowly cooked in baker's oven
The drunken lamb is strong in flavour, weak at the approach of a fork. Two huge slabs of lamb have baked for hours in a combination of wine, onions, garlic and paprika. It's a simple rustic dish that is appropriately adorned with whole boiled peeled potatoes.
Seleccao do Chefe $25.00 (min 2 persons)
Chef's seafood selection
A seafood platter rounds out our mains, a generous serving of prawns, fish, octopus and vongole. There's more than enough to feed the masses, although I'm a little disappointed the seafood isn't more charred in appearance and taste.
Mousse de Chocolate (chocolate mousse) $5.00
Background left to right: Arroz doce (rice pudding) $5.00 and
Pudim Flan (creme caramel) $5.00
There are five dishes available on the dessert menu, scrawled in Portuguese on the specials blackboard menu. Veruca and I scrutinise them all up close in the dessert cabinet, then ask for two of each. The waiter thinks we're joking until we repeat our request again with earnest.
The arroz doce rice pudding is quite firm, the grains of rice still distinct in their thick creamy coffin. Pudim flan creme caramel is also fairly solid, more a reluctant shudder than a tremulous wobble. Its level of cookedness does however mean a tasty find of extreme caramelisation at the bottom of one of our flans.
I'm not a huge fan of chocolate mousse but I quite like this one. Smooth and light, it's not overly chocolatey but that also means it's not overly rich. A good thing given the amount of food we've eaten.
Baba de Camelo (caramel mousse) $5.00
Baba de Camelo literally translates as as "camel's drool". I can't vouch for any comparisons in taste but we find it tastes remarkably like a liquidised Crunchie, a foamy pudding of honeycomb crumbled over with biscuit shards. In fact it's made with a tin of caramelised condensed milk and six eggs, the yolks beaten in first, stiff beaten egg whites folded in afterwards.
Pudim Molotof (egg pudding) $5.00
And the piece de resistance: the Pudim Molotof egg pudding. Made purely from egg whites, sugar and lemon juice, this soft fluffy meringue is just what dreams are made of.
I know what I'm dreaming about tonight.
NB. It won't include camels.
Been to any other great community clubs in Sydney with restaurants open to the public? Leave a comment and let me know.
Sydney Portugal Community Club
100 Marrickville Rd, Marrickville, Sydney
(inside Fraser Park - see directions below)
Tel: +61 (02) 9550 6344
Open 7 days (yes 7 days) for lunch and dinner
Bookings are recommended (essential for Fri and Sat nights)
Directions: Head east down Marrickville Road and take the third right after Victoria Road, marked with the neon sign above. Try not to miss this turn, as the left lane ends and you'll be forced to do a loop past Sydenham train station via Buckley Street.
Drive underneath the railway bridge and turn right. Drive past the graffitied walls, past the soccer fields on your left and keep going until the road ends and you reach the final car park. Look for the flat roofed building--affectionately called "the toilet block" by a local--and head into the door marked Restaurant. Turn left into the corridor and enter via the first door on your right.
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Portuguese Festival, Petersham 2006
Portuguese Festiva, Petersham 2005
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7/16/2007 11:54:00 pm