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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Mad Cow, Sydney

Use your brain, I say, what did offal ever do to you?

Hearts, livers, intestines and tongues... I find it odd that so many people who fear offal, or think of it as 'disgusting' are the same ones who will happily plough into hot dogs and chicken nuggets: high processed foodstuffs that are commercially manufactured using mechanically separated meat or meat slurries. Liquefied meat never looked so good, baby.

It's a shame that offal is still off-limits for so many restaurant menus, when they can yield so much textural pleasure and flavoursome reward. This would explain my delight at attending the March Into Merivale Nose to Tail degustation at Mad Cow this evening.

Plating up entrees for service

I slip into the kitchen at the start of service, where head chef Christopher Whitehead admits he has been looking forward to this event.  "It's exciting for a chef to work with offal," he says. Offal needs a lot more care, especially with the temperatures used for cooking, he explains. In previous years he'd used a skirt steak for a main, but this year he is using offal in every dish, including dessert.

Mad Cow booth seating

We slide into the cream padded booths, wide enough to seat six and crazily roomy for two.

Bread and butter

Beef consomme with David Blackmore wagyu oxtail wontons, shiitake and enoki mushrooms
2009 A to Z Pinot Gris - Willamette Valley, Oregon

We start with a beef consomme that is beautifully clear and fragrant, bobbing with two slippery wonton skins holding parcels of delicate oxtail shreds. It takes some time for me to realise that the little buds floating in the soup are the tops cut off shiitake mushrooms, a decadent gesture that seems to imply the nose-to-tail approach to meat hasn't been applied to vegetables as well.

Terrine of lambs brains, crispy pigs ears, watercress and truffle vinaigrette
2009 Capcanes 'Mas Donis' Montsant Rosat - Catalonia, Spain

I've been looking forward to the terrine of lambs brains, and I'm pleased to see the brains still intact, marvelling over the pretty patterns in each cross-section. The brains are soft, sweet and creamy, although it seems a shame that the pigs ears are deep-fried so as to be almost unrecognisable.

Twice cooked calves' liver, caramelised witlof, fennel puree and sweet and sour sultanas
2008 Poggerino Chianti Classico Sangiovese - Tuscany, Italy

We guess that the twice cooked calves' liver has been cooked sous vide and then seared quickly for colour. The liver is tender, if a little squidgy in the middle, complemented by sultanas and caramelised witlof. The jus is glossy and gloriously silky; the swirl of fennel puree is ridiculously smooth. We both scrape our plate clean.

Tripes lyonnaise, green salad
2007 Luigi Bosca DOC 'Single Vineyard' Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina

Tripes lyonnaise uses one of my favourite offal cuts - honeycomb tripe which has a lovely gelatinous feel in the mouth along with textural interest from the lining. The serving is a little too large given its richness, especially after the three slices of liver which preceded it. However we enjoy its winter comfort, tinged with the slight acidity of vinegar.

The matched Malbec is my highlight of all the wines this evening, smooth with notes of plum and blackberry, and elegant in finish.

Fruit mince tart in the kitchen

In medieval times, mincemeat tarts were literally made with minced meat, dried fruit and only a small amount of sugar. Suet, the fat from around the loins and kidneys of beef or mutton, was essential in making the pastry.

Fruit mince tart with hard sauce
2008 Punt Road Botrytis Semillon - Riverina, New South Wales

I'm quite intrigued by the prospect of this fruit mince tart and look forward to it eagerly. We are told it contains mince meat as well as tongue, although both are well disguised in the heady onslaught of spices. The pastry is crisp with a tempting sweet glaze on the outside, and I develop much affection for the hard sauce, a slice of butter mixed with brandy.

Get into some tripe today, I say. It's offally good.

Grab Your Fork and companion dined as guests of Merivale. The full list of March into Merivale special events can be found here

Mad Cow

330 George Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9240 3000

Opening hours:
Lunch Monday to Friday
Dinner Monday to Saturday
Mad Cow on Urbanspoon
26 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/09/2011 02:38:00 am


  • At 3/09/2011 5:06 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Mmmm, lamb brain terrine. At least it'd hide the mushy texture. :-)

  • At 3/09/2011 6:44 am, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    Looks like that was an offally good meal :)

    I've only warmed to the idea eating offal in the last few years. There's a lot to miss with its exclusion from the diet.

  • At 3/09/2011 8:21 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Gorgeous terrine but you couldn't pay me to eat it

  • At 3/09/2011 9:04 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    That terrine is totally pretty... I'd eat it! But I think it's that twice cooked liver that looks really amazing, love the sound of the puree <3

  • At 3/09/2011 9:20 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't understand people who aren't willing to try food just because the way it looks or the concepts they have about it. My rule is: try everything at least once, you may be missing great flavour experiences.

  • At 3/09/2011 9:36 am, Blogger K said…

    Yes, it's interesting how people are turned off by tongue and tails but are happy to eat eggs, and when you really think about what eggs are and where they are from, eggs are rather 'gross' too. :)

  • At 3/09/2011 10:32 am, Blogger sugarpuffi said…

    ive been eating offal, tongue, ears, tails etc since very little mainly due to the fact that im asian and eats about pretty much everything! its nice to know that Christopher Whitehead is open to use meat pieces that are not widely recognised by others. great coverage :)

  • At 3/09/2011 10:32 am, Anonymous Lynda Lim said…

    I'm not a tongue and tail person but these look delish...beautiful photos!

  • At 3/09/2011 10:51 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…


  • At 3/09/2011 11:00 am, Anonymous Emily@NeedsMoreSugar said…

    I'm sure I'd love most of this once I got past what it was - just the initial shock of it...

    You're totally right though, all the rubbish that goes into processed foods - at least this stuff is straight from the cow. ;)

  • At 3/09/2011 11:12 am, Anonymous Nobal Glomad said…

    Tripe! (as I reach for a bucket)... gotta thank Justin Hemmes for his vision though. Given Sydney a good kick up the styling backside.

  • At 3/09/2011 11:48 am, Blogger Mel said…

    I think alot of it has to do with what you grew up eating...and if you didn't grow up eating certain types of food there is a bit of a bigger mental barrier to it when you're all grown up...well for me at least. Or perhaps I'm just a sook.

  • At 3/09/2011 3:02 pm, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    With this kind of menu I could easily be tempted. The dishes look smart Helen and interesting! Thank you for bringing me that little closer to offal!

  • At 3/09/2011 3:13 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Helen, I'm going to say something right now that is going to BLOW YOUR MIND. Are you ready? Really ready?


    I want everything except the dessert.

    Seriously. Just think about how much I loved the liver at the ottoman. Brain terrine and pigs' ears? YES. Particularly as my dog would be so jealous of me having pigs' ears.

  • At 3/09/2011 3:37 pm, Anonymous Sarah said…

    How can things that would usually repulse me look so appealing!

  • At 3/09/2011 3:48 pm, Anonymous Chanel said…

    That looks like a great night, although I'm still getting past the mental barrier of offal in general - I'm open to trying it though (which has so far always resulted in me liking it)! :D

  • At 3/09/2011 6:51 pm, Anonymous Celeste @ Berrytravels said…

    It really boils down to what you have grown up with (or without) and what you are used to. Me? I'll eat offal any day. But I'm still having a hard time convincing my local outback friends to even bear the thought of eating it.

  • At 3/09/2011 8:48 pm, Anonymous Phillip Nom said…

    I find offal challenging but its great to see you cover this with gusto. Way to go! I did mange to try out the March $33 offer at Mad Cow and was not disappointed!

  • At 3/10/2011 2:33 am, Anonymous jack said…

    Waste not want not - it's always great to see offal being used rather than wasted, especially when there are so many flavours and textures to explore! Great writing and photos as always. Your blog is one of a handful that convinced me to finally start my own after much um-ing and ah-ing. Thank you for bringing a little happiness into my day with every new post you write! My new blog is still a work in progress that will evolve, but feel free to visit and tell me what you think :)

  • At 3/10/2011 11:23 am, Blogger Maria said…

    I honestly think this is a great idea. Many people are so detached from the 'real' food that they can never even consider eating something like lamb brains. It's great to see a restaurant offering a range of dishes like this.

  • At 3/10/2011 7:53 pm, Anonymous Jenny @ Musings and Morsels said…

    Helen, you hit the nail on the head. We do live in a highly hypocritical society, don't we? Not to say that I'm completely without hypocrisy, but it's interesting how misconstrued our views can be. Same with chicken feet and all those other supposed 'odd' bits. Fact is, frugal eating should be encouraged, not discouraged. If you're going to eat an animal, or any other kind of food for that matter, don't waste!
    That said, and this is where the hypocrisy comes in I guess, I'm not a huge fan of brains or tongue - the latter in particular. I feel as though my mind is messing with me...a creature's tongue is touching my tongue...something ain't right about that for me haha.

    p.s. Very interesting tid bit fact there about mincemeat tarts. Food for thought, indeed.

  • At 3/10/2011 9:05 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Being a huge Fergus Henderson fan I love it when restaurants go beyond what the public expect as the norm and revisit old traditions. What a great menu especially the dessert!

  • At 3/11/2011 11:36 am, Blogger susan said…

    I love a bit of offal, but I don't think I could eat a whole degustation of it. I find it quite rich and lots of rich food doesn't sit well with me at all.

  • At 3/11/2011 12:09 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    BRAINS! I've never had brains before - it's a little confronting to see them cross-sectioned on your plate but strangely pretty as well.

  • At 3/11/2011 1:54 pm, Blogger mimbles said…

    I grew up eating quite a bit of offal, brains, liver and kidneys made regular appearances. My mum only tried to feed us tripe once though, apparently the whole family mutinied!

    We've been intending to make a proper meat based fruit mince pie for the historical reenactment stuff we do, we've got a few different recipes from medieval times to play with.

  • At 3/12/2011 12:43 am, Anonymous sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    Nice to see they stepped the nose to tail up this year. Last year was really enjoyable, but pretty mundane. I like what they have bought to the table for this one more.


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