Charcuterie plate $13
Prosciutto, Spanish salami, bresaola, roasted olives, pickles and grilled sourdough
The smart Mediterranean brasserie, Olio, is the last thing you'd expect to find at The Forum, a jostle of takeaway stores, a supermarket and a non-stop thoroughfare of commuters. It's barely a dozen steps away from the humdrum of train travel, but Olio is an oasis of calm - a warm and comforting palette of caramels and chocolate browns. The dining room, expansive and softly lit, is bordered by banquette seating, an open kitchen and a twinkling beaded curtain.
Recent media coverage of Olio has tended to focus on its new cafe menu item of kopi luwak -- the coffee beans extracted from civet droppings -- but tonight we're here for the full dining experience, with newly appointed head chef Damien Naughton (ex- La Grillade and Pond) at the helm.
We start with a charcuterie plate, nibbling on shaved prosciutto, Spanish salami and thin slices of bresaola air-dried beef. The meats are draped artistically on a rustic wooden paddle, and served alongside saucers of olive and pickles.
Thick wedges of sourdough have a smokiness from the grill-marks on their side, and are good enough to savour on their own.
Crispy pork hock $13.50
with seared scallops, fennel, rocket and ruby grapefruit
The menu is surprisingly varied and comprehensive but there's no way I can tear my gaze away from those three magical words "crispy pork hock". Three chunky slices of pork are generously fatty, the richness of the meat alleviated by the bitterness of radicchio and rocket leaves, thin shavings of fennel, and scattered segments of ruby grapefruit.
Three discs of scallop are a little lacklustre in flavour, but they are seared to a delicate caramelised crust, still plump and juicy inside.
Potato gnocchi house made $19
with sauteed exotic mushrooms, spinach, grana padano cheese and truffle oil
It doesn't take much for me to convince Hazchem
we should share a potato gnocchi
for entree as well. The dish is beautifully presented, simple and clean, with a few shavings of grana padano cheese on top. The potato gnocchi are light and buttery pillows, almost like soft polenta in texture, although I find the use of truffle oil a little overwhelming, its harsh intensity determinedly pervading every mouthful.
"Daube de beouf" - Slow cooked beef cheeks in red wine $28 (Blackboard special)
with mashed potato, broccolini and broad beans
We opt for daube de beouf
, one of four blackboard specials for our mains. The stump of dark meat is livened by the graceful tumble of micro leaves. The meat is tender, slow-cooked so the tendons and sinew have become soft and gelatinous, and it's a welcome treat to see more vegetables than meat on a dish. The stalks of broccolini are bright green and full of crunch.
Duck, orange and cognac sausages house made $28
with puy lentils, cabbage and pancetta
House-made duck, orange and cognac sausages are the ideal comfort food for winter. I find the sausages a little grainy -- others might call it rustic -- but the flavours of orange and cognac really come through, lingering on the palate. Puy lentils are satisfyingly chewy, especially on the bed of creamy potato mash. A crown of pancetta is super crisp and I secretly take delight in the two onion rings on top.
Roasted brussel sprouts with chestnuts $8 (Blackboard special)
A side of brussel sprouts
provides plenty of greens, pan-fried with pancetta and butter, although we wish there were a few more chestnuts pieces.
Vanilla creme brulee with biscotti $12
We move onto vanilla creme brulee for dessert, a shallow terracotta pot with a rink of toffee we take great satisfaction in dismantling with our spoons. The custard is silky smooth, sweet and eggy, and generous enough without the accompanying shard of pistachio-studded biscotti. We do notice there are no tell-tale vanilla bean specks though.
Tiramisu with shaved chocolate $11
Tiramisu is an alcoholic's delight, Savoiardi fingers boozed up and layered between rich but fluffy layers of mascarpone cream.
Coffee cupping spoon
Usually it's dessert that forms the highlight of my meal - everything else leading up to it is simply an obstacle. Tonight it's the post-dessert coffee I'm looking forward to most. Hazchem has come prepared - a self-confessed coffee nut and coffee judger, he doesn't go anywhere without his coffee cupping spoon, a deep-bowled spoon that helps tasters amplify the nuances of coffee brews.
His spoon even has its own protective pouch, sewn for him by his craft-clever sister, and whilst he doesn't end up using it this evening, I remain fascinated by its weight, shine and purpose.
Kopi luwak with petit fours $9
It's true. Kopi luwak comes from Asian palm civet droppings. The cat-sized mammals, a native of Indonesia, eat ripe coffee berries, which pass through their digestive tract relatively unchanged in shape. What has changed, some say, is the action of the civet's digestive enzymes on the fleshy pulp of the coffee berry, changing the proteins, reducing its bitterness and partially germinating the bean through a malting process.
The beans are washed, dried and lightly roasted - its flavour is said to be smoother and less bitter.
For nine dollars, there's an impressive sense of ceremony that comes with your espresso shot of kopi luwak, a slate grey rectangular tile offering caffeine worshippers a palate cleanser, petit four and brown sugar cube.
We're told to drink the ginger spritzer first. Hazchem and I defy instructions and cleanse with plain mineral water instead. The coffee has an notably rich flavour, unfolding itself across the tongue in demonstration of its balanced palate. There's a definite punch of flavour with only faint notes of bitterness. Hazchem thinks the beans may have been slightly over-roasted, detecting a smokiness to the brew which disguises its original characteristics.
We take a generous swig of the ginger spritzer and notice that the kopi luwak becomes sweeter as a result. Hazchem also tries the kopi luwak espresso with a dash of milk, and we find that the milk also brings out greater sweetness in the coffee.
The coffee, meanwhile, has been a runaway success for Olio. Initial estimates of 20-40 serves of kopi luwak per day have instead peaked at 100 coffees per day. What's that saying? Oh yes, one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Grab Your Fork and Hazchem dined as guests of Olio.
Shop 1, The Forum
201-205 Pacific Highway
(the main piazza at St Leonards train station)
St Leonards, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9439 8988
Monday 7am - 4pm
Tuesday to Friday 7am - 9pm
Closed on weekends
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