All posts by ntranced

A Lot.1 of food

I’ve never had so much food from a set menu/degust before. Lot.1 on York St in the Sydney CBD was the venue of choice to mark 4.5 years of K and I. Having read good things and recommended by a good friend, it was time to give it a go ($20 back from AMEX and Dimmi helps too).

It was already pretty late for a dinner and the waitress did hint the 5 course option but we opted for the 7, seemed like decent value at $95.

First up, oysters, 2 each. Standard with lemon, nothing exciting.

Next up, chargrilled prawns with cumquat and bottarga. Cooked medium rare with good charring on the outside. The citrus in the cumquat gel was a great condiment.

A delay in service of this dish meant they gave us free champagne! Was mighty impressed with the attentiveness, we didn’t even make a comment or complaint!

The wagyu carpaccio was next and I was glad as it was one of the menu items I really wanted to try. Served with a pecorino cheese gelato and goji berries. The cheese just fused with the wagyu’s fat and the goji berries added a nice sweetness and crunch. It was excellent!

That was it for entrees. Next was mains, the Cavatelli, a pasta dish that reminded me of the Sepia forest floor dessert, except with pasta that looked a little like worms. Served with porcini cream, mushrooms and nutmeg. The taste of the mushroom really came through. A bit mixed on the pasta but overall still good.

Time for some protein, swordfish was up first and it was almost like a steak. The fish was quite salty but complimenting well with the sweet sauce and grilled bell peppers.

Pork neck came next and served with curly and super crunchy crackling. The fennel was a nice touch and it was cooked to perfection, really tender.

By this point we were super full and was hoping or assuming that this was the last dish, it was not. A plate of wagyu steak came out and while I really wanted this too, at this point I was about to explode. The Asian in me pushed on and I had 3 pieces, it was really tasty and the shaved carrots had a great colour and texture.

Overall really enjoyed this place and would recommend. Think the menu was adjusted for allergies but I think normally you’d still get 3 mains. The interior is nice with nice touches of colour, exposed brick and beams, makes for nice photos.

Dimmi also has limited number of 30% off deals for weekday bookings (don’t forget to link and use your Amex too).

Another lens – Samyang 135mm f/2

Hoping this doesn’t really become a habit, but more gear! I’ve been eyeing one of these Samyang 135mm’s for a while, never got one when shooting Nikon because manual focus without any guides is pretty difficult.

One of the great selling points of Sony is easy access to focus peaking which allows lights up the viewfinder of the in-focus areas making manual focus a breeze. This meant no hesitations with buying a manual focus lens.

First impressions were, “this is a lot bigger than expected” (that’s what she said).

It’s a pretty hefty lens, and you’d assume so given the focal length and aperture but at the same time it’s a lens that retails for only about $700. Since I’m unlikely to be shooting portraits professionally for a while I couldn’t justify paying so much so it’s been months of hunting for a used one, less than $400 was the goal. They don’t pop up very often and a few came up in my price range without any bids but I had forgotten about them and missed the auction :(.

Using it does take some getting used to, the focus ring spins about 180 degrees to go from minimum to infinite focussing distances but it’s silky smooth and precise. There’s no electronic aperture control and also no contact with the body, you’ll have to see the focal length for in-body stabilisation.

The results? Damn, this thing is sharp and blur blur everywhere (out of focus blur that is). If you think a nifty fifty creates great blur, this thing just spits it out left right and centre. Here’s a shot 1.2m away at f/2, the background just melts away.

At a cost of about $300 for this lens? I’m absolutely thrilled, hoping it gets a lot of use!

No flash on the A7, so what?

During dinner at Oscillate Wildly, I noticed a distinct problem when shooting with the A7. Firstly the 35mm wasn’t fast enough in the dimly lit restaurant and also remembered there’s no flash (not that I’d use it in a restaurant). It did lead me to question what to do if I needed some extra light.

Instead of a flash, I decided on a small LED panel, in particular the Aputure Amaran M9. It’s small, dimensions roughly of a credit card and about a cm thick. Figured it’d be a bit more versatile being able to hold it off camera as well as for any videos we’d want to record at night. It’s also very affordable, $59!

It’s got an inbuilt rechargeable battery and is decently bright given the small dimensions. The mount is a little bulky compared to the slim profile of the panel so I’m investigating options for a hot shoe mount that has a 1/4″ socket. I was hoping to use the GoPro arms to mount it as well, but that didn’t quite work out (plan was to use the tripod mounts end to end, but you can’t connect a 2nd tripod adapter).

A new Sony lens – 28mm f/2

Not surprising that it had barely been a month before getting my Sony A7 and 35mm f/2.8 that I’ve decided on another lens (and a half, sort of). Next purchase was the 28mm f/2 lens with the idea that it would be my walk-about lens.

So why the quick move away from the 35mm? Two reasons, one was my original hesitation of being a f/2.8 lens, I ended up finding in reality that I was pushing the boundaries of the cameras low light and stabiliser limits and not getting enough light in. Secondly the minimum focussing distance on the 35mm was a bit long, made taking photos of food at the table a little difficult at times.

In comes the 28mm, size-wise it’s just as compact and light as the 35mm so still makes a great combo to carry everywhere. The minimum focussing distance is 5cm less, which doesn’t sound much, but it’s the difference between having to lean back for a photo and not.

It’s goes a fair bit longer with the hood. The 28mm has a standard petal hood where the 35mm has an odd cap kind of hood, not a huge biggie for me.

Performance wise I’m pretty satisfied, focus is quick and the bokeh is quite nice. Sharpness I’ve got nothing to complain about but Ive accepted that as a sacrifice if I’m to stick with compact lenses.

The last reason I wanted the 28mm is because of some optional attachments, Sony make 2 wide angle converters. The first turns it into at 21mm ultra wide at f/2.8 and the second turns it into a 16mm fisheye at f/3.5. I bought the former. First impressions were that it’s a lot heftier than expected. It’s got 4 glass elements and feels really well built. Attaching it to the lens is snappy and secure and really feels like one unit.

The really nice thing Sony has done is being able to detect the presence of the attachment and updating the lens data as appropriate.

Photo quality is pretty okay with the attachment, I think it’s a worthy trade off for not having to physically unmount a lens and the flexibility between 21mm and 28mm. Really happy with this combo for travelling, it fits into my little Crumpler Pleasure Dome (m).

Next lens I’m trying to find is a long-ish fast lens. Have my eye on a Samyang 135mm f/2 but not really wanting to pay $600+ for one since there’s no electronic aperture control or contacts.

Sony MDR-1000X noise cancelling headphones

New pair of noise cancelling headphones and couldn’t be happier with the improved noise cancelling performance over my previous 770BN’s. To be honest, I felt like the 770’s took a step backwards compared to the 750’s that I owned; sound quality was great but noise cancelling no so much. I only realised how lacking they were when I put in a set of Bose QC35’s which are the benchmark for active noise cancellation.

So, first thoughts putting on the 1000X?

Wow, near-silence. Hums and whirrs from the plane completely gone and voices and chatter reduced to a mere murmur, the gentlest touch of music drowns it out. Compared to the previous set which seemed to only reduce the low frequency hums, I really couldn’t hear a thing outside.

 

Features wise, the improvements are a gesture controlled interface, ambient sound settings and LDAC capabilities. It retains the ability to go into corded mode (with or without power) and basic micro USB charging. LDAC is irrelevant for now but rumours have it that Sony have contributed its use in the next revision of Android (fingers crossed!). Ambient sound modes allow you to pass through voice while blocking everything else and lastly, the gesture controls allow you to cup or palm the touch panel and it’ll allow sound through while muting your audio. Great if you need to have a quick conversation without removing the headphones.

Sound wise, it’s not perfect but pretty damn good, its strengths are in its mids and highs. The mids have a real warmth to it and fills the space nicely, it then rolls really nicely into the highs which seem to go on forever without being harsh or fatiguing. To me they sound incredibly smooth and have a nice presence.

So what’s the weakness? Bass. It’s a little peculiar too, it seems to be missing the sub-bass notes so it lacks the punch. However in certain tracks, the mid-low bass range is super punchy and sounds good enough, it definitely doesn’t sound tinny.

One of my favourite songs to audition is Daft Punk – Contact (from Random Access Memories) and it’s bassline is pretty tight so any systems that over exaggerate bass falls apart pretty quick. Bass was lacking here but the rest of it was very warm sounding and individual notes and hi hats was distinct and clear yet seemed to roll off nicely into each over.

All in all they’re great and they were a great buy at $400, definitely hard to justify at retail though. If bass is super critical, suggest you have a listen to them first.

The Mavic Pro

I’ve got another drone, and it’s only been a few months since selling my last, why? Two reasons, the Mavic Pro is sick, it folds up and fits in a small messenger bag and secondly, I got it for a stupidly good price. As a matter of fact, I got the Fly More combo for the same price that I sold my Phantom 3 Pro for. Absolute bargain.

Contents of the Mavic Pro Fly More combo

I took it out for its maiden flight last weekend, initially I was a bit scared with some reports of the app not working with S7’s, but that seems isolated to the S7 edge. Unfolding it is simple, the 2 front arms open up and the back 2 unfold upside down, blades stay on and fold together.

 

I did find the sticks on the remote to have a bit more friction and felt that help with finer control. Flight-wise I couldn’t really feel any difference between the P3P and the Mavic, which impressed me even more given its form factor. Forward collision detection is pretty cool and certain does give peace of mind, the controller vibrates when you get close to something.

Lens is slightly narrower than the P3P and isn’t focused at infinite, something to get used to.

It’s arrived just in time for Hawaii and planning to take it out for another spin this weekend to get a hang for some of the smart flight modes and get some practice pulling some silky smooth shots.

Wildly oscillating to 28

As cold as winter is, there’s always one day to look forward to and that’s my birthday. Each year that means getting surprised and spoilt for a nice dinner with the girlfriend. The restaurant of choice this year was a small joint in Newtown called Oscillate Wildly, and to be honest I don’t think I’ve heard of it (then again, I don’t think I know many restaurants).

Not knowing what to expect, I didn’t even realise there was a small restaurant next to Black Star Pastry, and small it is, with only enough seats for about 20 guests. Taste-wise I could probably best describe it as Modern Australian with some Jap/Asian influence.

To get started was some pork crackling. Super crispy and airy like a chip but

Strangely enough, I really love it when there’s great bread and butter at restaurants. It’s important to be warm and crunchy on the outside and this bun sure delivered. No butter this time but something better, pork fat and what I think was some sort of pate. Delicious! We made a huge mess of the table as well. Apparently it’s only available during winter.

Last appetiser before the real meal started was a gin and tonic, in sugar cane form, it was quite fun biting into the cold fibrous cane to bring out the flavour.

First real dish was avocado, ponzu and fingerlime. This one blew my mind with its simplicity yet it just seemed to work really well. The acidity and sourness from the ponzu and fingerlime just kind of melted with the avocado.

Next up was peas, parmesan and lovage. Interesting dish with the sauce a really nice deep shade of green. There were some balls that exploded with flavour and really rounded off the peas and slight bitterness of the lovage and delicate parmesan. Really airy and subtle with the parmesan flavours being quite light.

Foie, cauliflower and maple would be the next dish. There was a nice crunch from what looks like popcorn which contrasts the smooth cauliflower puree, the shavings at the top give it a bit of resistance. Flavour-wise, lots of umami with enough maple to bring our the savoury flavours.

Next dish was basically just mushroom shitake sliced up, bits of enoki in a really dark broth. Really flavoursome and the mushrooms still retained their texture without tasting raw.

Going to something more substantial was simply fish and chips and that was really it to the dish. The fish was cooked really well but simply salted to retain the whiting’s flavour. The chips however were something spectacular, they were wafer thin strips and almost like a potato chip yet still had heaps of potato flavour.

My eyes lit up for the next dish as the waiter mentioned 9+ marbling wagyu beef. More enoki and a really nice black vinegar glaze which went really well with the perfectly cooked beef. The fat had rendered completely and just packed the meat full of flavour.

Desserts were now about to come. The first was chestnuts and vanilla ice cream. Really simple dish and I really liked how the shaved chestnuts gave bite to the dish and subdued the flavours a bit, kind of makes you savour it a bit more.

The last dessert had me a bit worried to be honest, liquorice, coconut and malt, not usually flavours I enjoy but it ended up being one of my favourites of the night. Super soft sponge cake with enough of a liquorice taste but minus the bitterness. The coconut ice cream was rather light and just finished it nicely. If it were up to me, it’d be something I could eat bowls of all day.

Kaz’s dessert was well plated which is always nice given her giant list of allergies. Beetroot, rhubarb and raspberry.

Some petit fours and a candle to finish the night, the jelly cubes were a nice way to wrap up the meal. We did get the matching wines to share and I think they’ve done a really good job to match the wine with the food. I won’t go into the detail, but I found it to be complementary both ways.

One thing that we noticed towards the end was the candle holder, felt a bit game of thrones-esque.

A very enjoyable dinner and I’d totally recommend this place. The dishes were all very well balanced, the flavours seemed to just subtly mix together and felt like they were carefully chosen but also very restrained; one way of putting it is it requires you be patient and seek out the flavours a bit.Thanks again for the lovely dinner and night out, I love how you always try to find a place that’ll surprise me. As with any other restaurant choice, it was perfect.

A not so Vivid

Vivid seems to be getting duller and duller for me as the years go by. This year everything felt super spread and to me that meant a low reward to effort ratio, that is having to walk too much to see so little. Thought I would have been a little more enthusiastic as well being the first chance to stretch the legs on my new Sony A7 mk2 but that could only do so much

First up was a quick dinner at the Malaya in King St wharf, just picked a random place with Dimmi and AMEX’ $20 off deal. It was a busy place, great for groups but not ideal for a quiet dinner. Entrees were the samosas and chilli fried chicken wings.

The former were super light with good skin and full of flavour; not cheap though. The chilli fried chicken wings had heaps of sauce, too much in my opinion and a lot of batter which masked any taste of chicken.

Mains were the king prawn laksa and chicken sambol.

The laksa was delicious, a lot better than I expected; plenty of flavour, chilli and not too heavy on the coconut. A richer version of the Hunter Strett laksa (which is definitely my favourite). If it wasn’t for the price, this would be a sure favourite. The sambol was also really nice, again they don’t skimp out on flavours, it was bold and spicy; I was a bit worried that the flavours would be watered down due to location, but I was pleasantly surprised overall.

So, back to Vivid. Bangaroo was a new addition this year and the night I went it was rather quiet. A walk with sting rays turned into immersion with projections and lastly aquanauts roaming the streets. Loved the detail in the suits and the cloud hovering about their heads.

The walk to Circular Quay (behind customs house) was a decent walk with my favourite being the colourful umbrella jellyfish (not sure if that’s what they were meant to be though). A couple of projections in the laneways, a canon stand taking photos of us and a sundial type clock (where you’re the dial) were pretty cool.

All shots were taken with Sony A7 mark II with either the Sony 35mm f/2.8 and a Zenitar 16mm fisheye adapted from a Nikon mount. One thing I didn’t realise with the fisheye before it was too late is that when adapted, the distance markings were out of whack, more so than when mounted on a Nikon camera. Most of the shots are out of focus with the focus going beyond what I was intending.

The rest of my Vivid trip was simply around the harbour with my favourite being an installation at the overseas passenger terminal which almost looks like heavy rain coming down. The opera house was quite pretty this year and I thought it was pretty cool that there was an interactive station where you could control what colour the bridge and surrounding buildings were; it did mean that sometimes the colour combinations were horrible.

All in all, quite happy with the A7m2, I wish the lens was a bit faster, f/2 would have been great, but the in body stabilisation does work well allowing me to go as slow as 1/10 with the 35mm without much trouble. I’m still getting used to the RAW files from the camera, but initial impressions is that that darks and shadows don’t hold as well as the Nikon files (that, or Lightroom doesn’t handle them as well).

That’s all from Vivid, photos aren’t exciting as previous years and I didn’t even bother with a tripod this time round.

Floofs at the park

Been spending time trying to consolidate and sort the photos I’ve taken over the years into a single catalog. Primary reason is so that it’s backed up to my server and then consequently to the cloud at backblaze. $5 USD for unlimited back up of the 1 computer, for home server, I’ve got over 9 terabytes backed up. The random collection today is from a year ago when we had dogs hanging out at bicentennial park.

First we had Congee the Corgi, his floppy ear is super cute!

Then Mo the Pom

Mo the pomeranian

Marlene’s Cookie

Amanda’s Ivory (only have a single shot)

Ivory

And Tofu the Spitz (also only have 1 photo of him)

It seems that I’ve lost some photos and there was another BBQ where there were more dog photos, but there’s more photos below:

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Sous vide Bo Luc Lac

For those who don’t know Bo Luc Lac, it’s a Vietnamese dish of beef cubes (usually scotch fillet or rib eye) served with tomato rice and salad. Translated, it means shakey shakey beef, or shaken beef – like a stir fry.

I’ve done a bit of a modern take on it and went the sous vide route, why? Because I can use a cheaper cut of meat like rump or blade and still have tender meat (usually it’s made with scotch fillet). My sous vide machine is Sunbeam Duos bought for me by my lovely girlfriend.

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Before you begin, you’ll need (this will serve 4):

  • Cheap beef –  800g of rump (discounted one too)
  • Onions – 1 large
  • Garlic – 4 cloves – diced finely
  • Oyster sauce – 3tb spn
  • Soy sauce – 2tb spn
  • Sesame oil
  • Neutral oil – Canola
  • Salt and pepper

To sous vide, i pat my beef dry, sprinkled on a few drops of sesame oil, salt and pepper. Vacuum sealed it, then dropped it into the sous vide machine.

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Settings? 50 degrees for 4 hours – aiming for rare here as the meat will cook a little further on the wok (and also because this is for lunch, I want to keep it on the rarer side as the microwave will cook it further). When done, I put the meat into the fridge (again this is to prevent overcooking when tossed on the wok.

The result? Consistently rare beef throughout.

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Once cool, dice up the meat into 1.5 – 2cm cubes.

Then marinate the meat – oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, diced garlic and 3 tablespoons of regular oil (typically I’d add salt, pepper and sesame oil, but that was added earlier). Toss, and let it sit for a while – the flavours here are quite strong so you don’t need to leave it for hours.

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In the meanwhile, chop up a large onion into large chunks. I just half the onion and then cut it into 12 portions.

Final step is to get you work and shake it up, importantly though, because I don’t have a proper wok burner, I cook my beef in small batches. It’s important to keep the work hot and smoking.

Heat up your wok til it’s hot, add some oil and quickly toss the onion in, keep tossing until all the chunks break up. Next add your beef and keep stirring/shaking, you want to ensure a nice brown colour on all sides of the meat. The goal here is to brown the meat.

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The end result – for lunch I served this with a basic tomato pasta and a side of salad; lettuce, tomato and capsicum.

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