Friday, February 17, 2006


*** Note: This blog will be in hiatus for about 2 weeks as I will be away in Sydney starting a postgrad diploma, hopefully will return with stories from the hospital, stories about food and maybe even stories about hospital food. If I survive it that is ... my stomach having become more refined to tastes such as what I am about to review, and less like cold pizza.***

Within the first few weeks of arriving in Cowra, my bosses had sussed me out to be a foodie and raved about a local restaurant, Neila. At the first special occasion we got which happened to be Valentines Day, Richard surprised me by arriving from Sydney (we were dating long distance at the time) and whisking me to a dinner booking here. We were floored by the unique dishes on the menu, including oyster shots which I had tried to emulate in my humble kitchen.

Hence, it seemed apt that we spend our final (belated) Valentines celebration in Cowra, back at the same restaurant which we gazed starry eyed upon each other, and less at the food. This year I have to add that it is five years later and so more attention was paid to the food ;) I have been extremely lucky that my boss has chosen this elegant venue to hold each years staff Christmas dinner. The produce on their menu is always local but the flavours change with the seasons and with chef Anna Wong's imagination. Born in Australia and of Chinese descent, Anna's dishes bring new meaning to the term 'fusion cuisine'. There is never an overstatement of one particular flavour. A hint of ginger here, a dash of kaffir lime there, married with ingredients fresh from the farms, including their own herb garden, is enough to create an extremely enjoyable and unforgettable meal.

A humble shopfront, Neila is the first in its block entering from the west side of Cowra, just after the bridge over the Lachlan River. Its interior is modern and cozy, with dim lighting to create a comfortable ambience. The menu is not extensive, but extremely varied to cater to most. Entrees are $16, Mains $29 and Desserts $14.

My entree, the steamed shitake mushroom custard with wagyu-x beef roll. I had half expected a hot Japanese chawanmushi style custard and eyed the cold shotglass full of custard with some doubt. I took the first spoonful and stand corrected. Being still summer and with the night outside balmy, this was perfectly refreshing and an excellent appetizer. The brown sauce on top tasted like shitake mushrom essence, slightly sweet and bringing out tasty flavours of the silky tofu-like custard. Each of the two beef rolls were wrapped around julliened carrot,scallion and seaweed and they were carefully cooked to maintain its flavour and tenderness.

Richard's entree, the asparagus in sesame batter with lime and peanut sauce. This is a good way for getting kids to eat their veggies, if mum and dad don't grab all of it first! The fresh crunchy asparagus had a wafer thin coating of batter randomly dotted with black sesames and was dressed with a tangy slightly sweet dressing that also hinted of ginger. We commented that we had never seen such huge asparagus stalks, nor tasted asparagus done so well.

My main, the caramelised pork hock with green papaya and cashew nut salad served with jasmine rice. Again I had half expected a small pork hock sitting on the dish. However, the hock had already been pre-cubed for eating convenience and more importantly, thorough infusion of the flavours and a crisp even caramelised coating of dark sauce. The pork was melt in the mouth although dieters beware! The tenderness in pork comes with a price of having fatty regions. I merely trimmed these away and enjoyed how well the soy based sauce went with the magical green papaya salad which had mild flavours of five spice in it. The slightly salty taste of the soy pork, the sweet sour of the green papaya, the crunch of the cashews and the fragrance of the jasmine rice ensured that all my taste buds were kept extremely entertained.
Richard's main, the roasted atlantic salmon fillet with avacado and soba salad in wasabi dressing. Everybody knows it is hard to cook fish well but nowhere else have we had fish cooked to perfection as this. Richard has ordered this a few times over the years we have been here and it is always slightly crispy skinned to remove the fishy taste, with pink to orange flesh in the centre, tender yet with substance to ensure that it melts in the mouth yet never falls off the fork in flakes. The soba noodles salad with its slightly bolder soy and wasabi taste, softened by the avacado chunks complimented the milder tasting fish.
Our shared dessert, fresh fig with black sesame praline semmifreddo. I had to look up the definition of semifreddo on and it states that it is italian for "half cold". Culinarily,it refers to any of various chilled or partially frozen desserts including cake, ice cream, fruit and custard or whipped cream. This was really amazing. It was the second time I have ever had fresh figs and the soft slightly sweet flesh drizzled with honey went with the velvet texture of the praline, given a bit crunch with the black sesame. It was a perfect dessert. Not too sweet and full of new flavours and interesting textures.

After taking the last picture of the dessert, Jerry who is the maitre'd and also Annas partner could not contain his curiosity any longer and asked me what I was doing, photographing all the food. I went red as I had been busted! I had to explain that I have a blog and a ring of blogging foodie friends who would be interested in food from other parts of the world. I hope if both of you (Jerry and Anna) have time to read this, that you will like my little review. I am of course neither a food critic nor expert but defintely a food lover and a fan of this restaurant which has put Cowra on the dining map, having been awarded a star a few years in a row now by the Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine and a 'chefs hat' award four years in a row by the Sydney Morning Herald's good food guide. If you're not from these parts, it is defintely worth the drive out here to investigate.

Neila 5 Kendal St Cowra (02)6341 2188


At 2:03 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hi Rachel - Good luck in Sydney! Looks like a nice meal!

At 2:39 AM, Blogger Shauny said...

ohhh neila, how i love thee! yum yum yuuuummm yuuum.

that was a cracker of a post, everything looks so delicious! your photos are great.

(i had the pork last time too, back in october, mmmm it was so nice. my husband had the wagyu beef, which was hilarious as he claims to be vegetarian. he was powerless to resist!)

good luck in sydneytown :)

At 12:34 AM, Blogger Dr. Mommy, D.D.S. said...

good luck on your trip, doc. what kind of post-grad thing-y is this? continuing ed on spiders ;-)you gotta check out my last post, btw, you're not going to believe the story, but you especially would appreciate it.

be safe, be well, and learn lots!

At 2:37 AM, Blogger Clare Eats said...

We are soooo going there next time! But will it compete with Paella? We will have to find out!

At 5:22 AM, Blogger RON said...

more restaurant should grow their own herb garden like Neila does. Especially in the country. See you again in two weeks.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Katie said...

I hope you'll be contacting me while you're here in Sydney!

I went to Neila once - unfortunately I usually couldn't afford it. I went there with Tom, I think.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

Hi all! able to only get on short time from hospital computers.

Kirk, Thanks can't wait to read up on your yummy posts when I get home.

Shauna, indeed been dreaming of that semifreddo with the figs. Bought some figs here but not as fresh as wherever they sourced it from!

Dr. Mommy, doing a course in IV sedation and pain and anxiety management. Its a 2 year diploma with 10 weeks of clinic and operating theatre time where we learn to cannulate, intubate and learn advanced resucitation.Rest of time is spent in research and writing essays. Been really interesting!

Hi Clare! yeah can't wait to take you there. Not sure why we haven't so far... I think it was due to cost factor.

Hi Ron, hehe we have lots of "herb" growers out in the country :P

Hi Katie! Been pretty busy as course is qutie demanding and tiring. Will give you a call sometime though.


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