A small, unpretentious but welcoming eatery on Newtown's busy King Street, The Bach Eatery serves up delicious food imbued with a New Zealand theme of freshness and fun. The extremely well priced Trust The Chef's menu features a range of share courses picked by the chef Darrien Potaka. The crispy pork belly with gnocchi and watercress puree is an exercise in delicious tooth sticking deliciousness and don't miss the Thirlmere chicken liver pate, NZ blue eye cod croquettes and the soft and silky pappardelle pasta topped with shavings of parmesan and a soft coddled egg. Not to mention the hokey pokey creme brulee!
It's funny how sometimes you tend to gravitate towards people from certain countries and cities. For me, a lot of my friends are from the country but two of my longest standing friendships are with New Zealanders Queen Viv and Miss America. These two friends have a real quirkiness to them - think the unique Flight of the Concords sense of humour. In that vein, they've taught me how to speak New Zealand with a proper New Zealand accent (it's much harder than you think!. I've even created a NZ based character called Chris Clark that comes out on occasion who is the sister of former prime minister Helen Clark. And along with the accent, I'm really well versed in New Zealand terminology.
Choosing a place for my birthday this year was a bit difficult. It needed to be a place that would fit me and my dearest dining companions. But we also didn't want to be hurried out and some had stricter budgets than others so I knew that it was getting close to the line when it was 7 days before my birthday and I still hadn't chosen a place.
Belinda had sent through a list of suggestions and one stood out to me: Bach Eatery in Newtown. Bach Eatery is named after a Bach (pronounced like batch, rather than the composer Bach), a uniquely New Zealand term meaning a small, unpretentious holiday or beach home popularised in the 1950's. The term bach came from the term bachelor pad although baches are typically a family sized home.
I rang to make a booking and was told that the only time that they could take us on a Saturday night was at 8:30pm. No problems, we meet at Earl's Juke Joint a few doors down at 7pm and settle in one of their wooden booths at the back with cocktails. Miss America arrives and then shortly after Nick and Belinda, The Wizard and Louise and Viggo arrive.
Honky Tonk $17
My Honky Tonk comes in a champagne coupe and is made with vodka, elderflower, lemon and blackberry. It's immensely good and has a good balance of sweet and tart. "You have to drink it all!" says Belinda. I had promised that on my birthday I would drink an entire cocktail because I'm an alcoholic lightweight and I can never finish them.
Around 8:30pm we walk a few metres away to The Bach Eatery. It's a small place but absolutely buzzing this Saturday night with a large table outside on the footpath. We walk past the open kitchen to our long table. Queen Viv meets us here and our group of birthday revellers is complete. We shimmy around the table, elbows knocking - it's snug but not uncomfortable. As befitting a bach the tables and chairs are mismatched. The restaurant is comfortable and service is charming and very hospitable. Prices are kept deliberately low to avoid it being seen as a "special occasion" restaurant and staff wear jeans and white shirts to evoke the casual vibe. And there's a special mention of the bathrooms emblazoned with chalkboard graffiti depicting areas of New Zealand, business and saying. NZ terms "jandal" and "sweet as" make an appearance.
Bach's owners Darrien and Philippa Potaka met in 1999 when he was sous chef at Level 41. The two travelled and worked in South Africa, Auckland and in Boston together. Darrien staged at French Laundry in Napa Valley before coming back to Sydney to work at La Grillade and Bistro Moncur. When Spencer Guthrie closed, they took its place. Darrien was born in Wanganui and Philippa in Auckland.
With the nine of us we decide to go with the Trust the chef menu at $50 per person ($45 without dessert). We can also let them know if there is anything in particular on the menu that we really want to try and they will include it.
NZ blue eye croquettes with sauce gribiche
The food arrives quickly and we are eager to dig in. The croquettes are first and there is one per person. They're fantastic - golden and crunchy on the outside and soft and full of fish inside. The sauce gribiche is similar to a mayonnaise with mustard that lifts the croquettes nicely.
Thirlmere chicken liver pate with seasonal pickles and feijoa chutney
If we liked the croquettes, we were all smitten with the Thirlemere chicken liver pate. Louise is a pate lover and she particularly liked that the liver flavour was very mild with this. It is flavoured with garlic, Noilly Prat, port and brandy and the molds are lined with Pork backfat. It is then cooked in a bain marie up until it is 68°C/154°F and then refrigerated. Indeed it's beautifully creamy and goes with with the sauerkraut pickles and feijoa chutney perfectly. Nick can't help but flirt with Philippa. "So are all of these things from New Zealand, including yoooou?" he coos noting her accent. You see he is coming down with a cold. If I can offer you any advice, it's that Sudafed and red wine aren't recommended to mix together because a no holds barred Nick is out tonight (and no he wasn't driving).
NZ marinated king salmon with verjuice dressing & toast
The lusciousness of the NZ king salmon is paired with a verjuice dressing. It would be almost too rich without it (did I really say that? I usually love rich food).
Cuttlefish, pepperonata with squid ink dressing
There's enough for each of us to have one piece of this cuttlefish. There's a pepperonata and drizzles of squid ink dressing and fried basil leaves. The squid is very tender and there's so much flavour to this dish that we think that we need to order more bread to soak up all of the sauces.
Pappardelle with wild mushroom veloute with cooked egg
And then the next dish comes out. It's a beauty - I was recommended this by my friend JY. It's a pappardelle pasta, silky and thin with a wild mushroom veloute, coddled egg and plenty of grated parmesan cheese on top. The idea is to mix the very soft centered free range egg with the pasta, melding it with the mushroom veloute and dressing it with its creaminess. And if we liked the other dishes, this suddenly leapfrogs to become everyone's favourite. "Let's get some bread," says Belinda and Louise orders some which we use to mop up all of the sauce.
Tomato salad with vincotto
There are three types of tomato with this simple tomato salad dressed with vincotto and olive oil. Miss America swoons over the simplicity of this dish and the sweetness of the tomatoes.
Pork belly, watercress and gnocchi
The pork belly comes out next and it's a beauty. It's one of those cuts that is often hard to get juuust right - the meat needs to be cooked and rendered so that the fat melts in the mouth but the crackling needs to be crunchy. Often one is better than the other. But here both are fantastic. Nick is so enraptured by it that he starts raving, "It's milk soaked, grain soaked, milk fed something...my god that's how succulent it is!" he says pursing his lips in appreciation. It is spectacular, every bite melting with a crunch. It is said to be a version of a NZ boil up. The gnocchi is tender and the watercress puree is delicious and it's almost a shame that this is a special because I want to come back and have this again. "As a Maori boy growing up in NZ this was a basic staple dish that feed many families, usually it’s a one pot dish, using pork bones, root veggies, puha or watercress & dough boys," says Darrien.
16 hour slow cooked lamb shoulder with pumpkin puree, brussel sprouts
The 16 hour slow cooked lamb is soft and comforting and is accompanied with a sweet pumpkin puree and roasted Brussels sprouts. Whilst it is good, we are actually getting quite full at this stage and this is our eight savoury course. It is phenomenal value for the price and quality of food.
Pavlova in a glass
But because life is too short to not have dessert of course we say yes. And the first item is one of those items that NZers and Aussies both lay claim to: the pavlova. It's a round of fluffy, light pavlova with a quenelle of cream and raspberry sauce and strawberries as well as pieces of crunchy meringue. And who invented the pavlova? I ask Philippa of the long held battle between the two countries to lay claim to its invention? "Lets just say for argument sake, we both did! However I do reckon that NZ has the best diary in the world so considering that, New Zealand!!" says Philippa.
Jelly Tip with white chocolate mousse
The Jelly Tip is an ice cream on a stick that Miss America knows all too well. It's coated in chocolate and has a raspberry jelly centre surrounded by white chocolate mousse. It comes with Dairy Milk shavings on top. I haven't had the original Jelly Tip ice cream but this is fantastic, especially when you get some of the raspberry jelly in the centre.
Hokey pokey brûlée
NZ is big on hokey pokey butterscotch so I had an inkling that this would be good. It's a creme brulee with butterscotch flavours topped with honeycomb and chocolate to add to the crunch against the smooth, silky brulee. Again, Nick is off. "Picasso didn't do the Mona Lisa like that!" he says pointing at the dessert with his fork for emphasis. "Yeah because he didn't at all," intones The Wizard behind a thick veil of laughter. Honestly, I love these guys so much it literally hurts my stomach laughing at their antics.
There's a single serve of this fig pudding, similar to a sticky date pudding except with figs. The sauce is rich and sweet and it is served warm. Although this is technically our twelfth course, we still hoe into it with as much gusto as our first returning the plate back completely clean.
And the bill? It comes in a little purse, a mini flax kete bag with some Pineapple Lumps.
I resist the urge to finish this post with the phrase "Sweet As!".
So tell me Dear Reader, do you put voices or accents on? Is there one that you can do well? And what was your favourite ice cream as a child (or adult!)? Have you ever been to New Zealand and if so, what did you think of it?
This meal was independently paid for.
And here's some additional info on baches and how they play into the kiwi lifestyle from Queen Viv.
"The traditional Kiwi bach, short for bachelors' quarters: the sheds where itinerant workers like shearers bunked up while they worked on a property/ a shack built by your or someone else's dad out of car crates and demolition materials scrounged from the tip on a block in the bush or near a beach. Rainwater tank and dunny traditionally a long drop, a scary torch trip down a track through the bush. Furnished with worn out stuff from home, pack of cards mandatory but no vacuum cleaner, larger ones always have a fire place, optional small verandah over the front doorstep where you kick off your gumboots.
What baching means:
You are 12 years old and have just landed a summer job working on your uncle's farm. Your quarters are a leaky shed with 4 bunk beds knocked together out of chunks of 4x2 with kapok mattresses with stains that you don't want to examine too closely, where you toss your sleeping bag. There might be a tap attached to the outside of the building. No heating. You can throw your clothes all over the floor, lie on your bunk and read MAD magazines, go to bed when you feel like it. It's your first time out on your own and you LOVE it.
Flash forward 10 years and you are going fishing with your best mates. Same as above but with outdoor barbecuing. You load up several slabs of beer and put them in the creek on arrival and take turns to fetch a coldie. You don't change your clothes or shave the whole time. You light fires, sit around and tell jokes and lose track of what day it is. You still LOVE it.
Now jump 20 years and change gender. You're a middle-aged woman with a family that exists for you to cook, launder and clean up after. You hit the bach, get the kids to unload the groceries and someone else to sweep the floor and knock down the cobwebs, send hubby to switch on the generator and cut back the grass, while you recline on the couch and catch up on your Mills & Boon. It's your first real holiday of the year and you LOVE it.
To be honest modern bachs are pretty flash but you can still find original cabins and fishing shacks, especially in remote spots at the end of an unsealed road."
The Bach Eatery
399 King St Newtown, NSW 2042
Tel: +61 02 8084 4093
Wednesday to Friday from 5:30pm till late
Saturday and Sunday from 12pm till late