Friday, February 26, 2016

Jimmybars, Canada

One of the perks of my job is that I get to visit many other offices worldwide.  Not only do I get to travel, which is awesome itself, but I also get to explore the cuisine, even when at the office.  And I'm not just talking about the nice cafes, I'm talking about one of my favorite things: snacks!  Why?  Because each office has a little kitchen area, stocked with assorted snacks to get us through our days.  They mostly tend to have have lots of chips and nutrition bars, but some even have ice cream freezers (which you probably remember me talking about from Sydney and Zurich).

On my recent travels, I stopped by our office in Waterloo, Canada, where I did really enjoy their ice cream freezer offerings  (from Nestlé, but oh so much better than what we get in the US!).  But I also checked out some of their snack bars, which were perfect for when my timezone confused body needed a snack between meals.  After some mixed success with the Kewaza energy balls, it was time to try something new: Jimmybars.

Jimmybars come from a company founded by ... Jim.  It isn't a Canadian company though, they are based in Chicago.  Jim learned that he was allergic to dairy, eggs, and gluten, and decided to create a bar that he could eat, after being scared off by the laundry list of ingredients found in most bars at the grocery store.  His bars come in 4 varieties, with rather silly names, in two sizes.  All are gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.

The company's description reads:
"Gluten-free, dairy-free, natural, YUMMY. This bar is ridiculously healthy! We only use real, honest food, no white sugar or preservatives. This bar is perfect for a mid-day snack, meal replacement, or a pre-workout boost."

Jimmy Bars sounded probably too healthy for my tastes, but, they had tempting sounding names, so I dug in.  Spoiler: I still don't like date based bars.
Super Hip Chocolate Chip.
"Made from Non-Dairy Chocolate Chips, Peanuts, Dates, Almonds, Almond Butter, Walnuts & Crisp Brown Rice."

I started with the "Super Hip" option, promising me chocolate chips and peanuts, two items I do always love, and think go perfectly together.

The bar looked good, incredibly chocolately, loaded up with bits of the assorted chopped nuts and crispies.

But it was very bitter, most certainly not a candy bar, as it looked.  The only sweetener used is dates, there is no further sugar added, which made this just far more bitter than I wanted.

I liked the crunch from crispies, but the nuts were all ground up bits, so I didn't taste distinct nuts either.

Neither Ojan nor I wanted to finish this, despite being hungry, and stuck in traffic waiting to cross the US border (long story).
Peanut Butter Clutter.
"Loaded with ample protein and made from Peanuts, Dates, Almonds, Peanut Butter, Honey & Crisp Brown Rice."

Next I moved on to another bar promising me more peanuts.

This one did not suffer from the bitterness of the previous bar, as it had honey in addition to the dates.  Honey and peanuts make a good combination, so this was an excellent choice of natural sweetener.

The bar had a similar consistency as the Super Hip, very dense, but not bad exactly.  And, it did actually taste like peanuts.  But since I don't really like dates, the date flavor still overwhelmed this too much for me, and the bits of crisp rice inside were just a bit odd, crispy, yes, but not particularly good.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Waffling Leftovers: Eggplant Parmesan

Hopefully by now, you are familiar with my Waffling Leftovers series, where, each week, I review my experience in taking regular leftovers and sticking them into my waffle iron.  Sometimes the results are glorious, other times ... not so much.

Like last week's lasagna, eggplant parmesan is a success story.  So, to answer the question, "Will it waffle?", the answer is yes, but, with some caveats.
Eggplant Parmesan.
Here we have eggplant parmesan, pictured here in front, in its original version.  I had leftovers, obviously.

I figured waffling it would work like pizza, with the cheese bubbling out and getting crispy and delicious.

I reheated most of my leftover eggplant parmesan the traditional way, in the toaster oven.  It reheated like a charm, bubbly and just as delicious as the original.  I had no reason to waffle the rest, since the standard reheating technique worked fine, just like with lasagna.
Before: Leftover Eggplant Parmesan.
But ... I saved a tiny chunk to waffle.  Because, what else was I supposed to do while the rest was heating up up the toaster oven?  I had to entertain myself some way!
Waffled!
The first chunk I put in at the standard 400 degree temperature recommended by my waffle iron for making actual waffles.  The temperature was clearly too high, as burned.

But the potential was clear.  The eggplant was hot and tender.  The cheese was bubbly, crispy, and quite delicious (where it wasn't burnt).

The next batch I put in at 300 degrees instead.  It turned into a mess.  I wish I'd taken a photo.  No structural integrity at all, just cheese and sauce everywhere.  I waited patiently, thinking perhaps it just needed more time, like many items sometimes do when waffling.  No luck, still a disaster.

I cranked it up to 350, and that did the trick.  The cheese crisped up just enough to hold it all together.  And then I devoured it, right off the waffle iron, not even bothering with a plate.  I obviously forgot to take a photo, I was just too excited by the success.  I also didn't offer any to Ojan.  Whoops.

Conclusion?  Yes, it will waffle, but only when set to 350 degrees.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sheraton On The Park, Executive Lounge

Update Review, February 2016

This February, I returned to Sydney for another couple glorious weeks in my favorite city.  During my time, I stayed at both the Westin and the Sheraton again, each for just over a week.  Why do I split the time?  Well, there are aspects of each property that I really like, and aspects that I don't, and I honestly can't just pick one.  Thus, I split the time, and get it all.

The aspect of the Sheraton that I like the most is the executive lounge.  There really is no comparison.  They don't just offer up a token continental breakfast, or some basic cheese and crackers in the evening.  No, they have glorious waffles with nutella for breakfast and the most amazing evening canape spread you'll ever find.

I covered all of this in my original review in 2015, so I encourage you to read that first, and then return here for the updates.  The good news?  Still awesome.

Breakfast

Since my last visit, the layout of the breakfast buffet changed, but besides that, the lineup was pretty much the same, although some new breakfast carbs were introduced.
Fruit.
The fruit stayed where it was before, with a varied selection of really decent fruit (fresh, stewed, and dry) every day.

The fresh mango was again my favorite, as it was always perfectly ripe, and so much more flavorful than mango we have in the US.  The kiwi was a mixed bag, sometimes great, other times quite watery.  I appreciated the lychee, just because we don't really have fresh lychee often in the US, not because it was particularly great lychee.

I also liked the stewed apricots to add to my muesli, and the poached pears for the same reason.  Not items I want on their own, but against the tartness of some yogurt or bircher muesli, really quite nice.

One day even had fresh dates!  I loved those. 
New Baked Goods Lineup. 
The baked goods moved to a larger area, where the cereal used to be.  There seemed to be more selections, but sadly, they weren't much better than before.  Of course I tried them all though (except the rolls).

Top row, from left: Rolls, assorted mini muffins, plain croissants, jelly donuts, multigrain rolls.
Bottom row, from left: Cinnamon swirls, chocolate croissants, apple danishes.

There was also butter and margarine.
Raspberry White Chocolate Mini Muffin.
I tried a few of the assorted mini muffins, even though they were the same as on my previous trip, and I didn't care for them then.

The chocolate one was awful, it had a strange bitter taste to it, and it was very dried out.  Even the mini chocolate chips inside didn't taste good.

The raspberry one wasn't bad though, the berries provided nice pops of flavor, and there was a sweetness that came from the large white chocolate drops.  The base wasn't particularly good, don't get me wrong, but it didn't taste bad like the chocolate one.  It became my go-to when I needed a little something sweet ... the strangely moist top was actually nice, and the chips always sank to the bottom, so the bottom was just a pile of white chocolate.  Quality product?  Obviously not, but, it could satisfy the sweet tooth in a pinch.
Sugar Jelly Donuts.
The jelly donut I recalled liking the most last time, but it wasn't great this time.  Again, the dough tasted stale.  The filling was generous though, raspberry goo, and it was almost good.  Probably my ... 5th pick?  Certainly not worth going back for.
Cinnamon Swirl.
The cinnamon swirl was kinda gummy and mushy on the inside, and the dough was stale tasting.  One of my least favorites.
Raspberry Danish.
The first day, the danish offering was apple, on the next, raspberry.  It changed daily.  I arrived once right at 7am when the lounge opened, and they looked reasonably fresh, and thus ... I tried one.

It wasn't that bad.  The pastry didn't taste stale, it was reasonably flaky, although not nice and buttery.  The raspberry filling in the center was generous.  Shockingly not awful.  My third pick.

I had one a few days later, and again, it seemed pretty fresh.  Fairly flaky, aka, made a huge mess as I ate it, and it had lots of filling.  Really not awful.
Custard Danish.
The next day, the danish looked lemon, so I almost skipped it, but, curiosity got the better of me.  My curiosity was rewarded, as it turned out to be a custard danish.

Just like the raspberry danish, it was decently flaky, I liked the crispness to the pastry.  The custard filling was generous like all the other fillings, and it tasted good.  I would have been happy with a big bowl of that as pudding too.

This one re-appeared a few times, and I went for it every time.  The pastry was never great, but I always liked the custard.  My second favorite of all the pastries.
Apple Danish, Pecan Braid, Cinnamon Rolls.
A few days later, the cinnamon rolls had a drizzle of icing over them, but still didn't look any better.

But, the pecan braid looked quite tempting.  And, it was the best of all the pastries I had.  Crispy, braided dough, bits of pecan on top, and a pecan pie-like filling.  Ooey-gooey sweet filling, crispy exterior, not bad.  Again, not earth shattering, but, I quite enjoyed it.
Inside a chocolate croissant.
One day while I was dining with Ojan, he went for a chocolate croissant.  I asked how it was, and he said, "Well, there is chocolate in it".  He took a second bite, and handed it to me, saying he didn't want any more.

I understood his evaluation immediately.  The chocolate filling was more than generous.  So often with chocolate croissants they have just a tiny bit of chocolate inside, but that was not the case here.  In fact, with all of the pastries, I would never complain about the filling amounts, the jelly donut was generously filled, the danishes had far more jelly in the center than is usual.  Filling was never their problem.

Anyway, the croissant, like the danish, wasn't awesome.  It was decently flaky, but not remarkable.  The chocolate was ... fine.  It wasn't particularly good nor bad.  It did overwhelm the entire pastry though.  But, I was in the mood for chocolate, so that worked for me.  My 4th pick.
Cereal, Muesli.
The packaged cereal remained the same Kellogg's brand (Rice Bubbles, All-Bran, Nutri-Grain, Corn Flakes), plus the Australian classic Wheet-Bix and Carman's Gluten-Free muesli.

In back were two big bowls of muesli, one a natural style, one toasted.  You may recall me raving about the toasted one before, and I again really enjoyed it.  Kinda sticky, sweet with honey, and loaded up with all sorts of goodies, including tons of nuts - almonds, cashews, pistachios, and my favorite, macadamia.  I still like this best as finger food.  Highlight of the lounge, besides the waffles ...
Continental Selection.
The cold selection included very basic makings for salad and dressing, smoked salmon with cream cheese/red onion/capers/lemon, deli meats and cheeses, bircher muesli, and yogurts.

The smoked salmon, salad fixings, meats, and cheeses reappeared every night as well.

"Homemade bircher muesli with rolled oats, apple, raisins, nuts, honey, cream and yoghurt."

Sometimes I love this muesli, sometimes I think it is way too tart.  It really seems to just depend on who made it, and how much apple they put into it.  Sometimes it is perfectly balanced, a bit sweet, a lot creamy, super comfort food.  Other times it is all out of balance, and just way too tart, or way to yogurty.  You never know what you are going to get.  I found that adding more honey really helped when it was too tart for me.

The yogurt now comes as individual little pots, Yoplait (vanilla or mango) or Bulla Lite'n Healthy 99% fat free plain yogurt, rather than big bowls  they used to serve.  I actually really did like the Bulla one, it didn't taste fat free at all, it was nicely creamy.

The jam and honey was Beerenberg brand, an Australian company.  It was fine.  There was also peanut butter, vegemite, and nutella available to add on.

Hot Foods

As I mentioned last time, the hot food lineup changes daily, and each day has a selection of 3 items.  You may recall that these rotated frequently, usually offering one kind of egg (baked, scrambled, etc), one kind of meat (bacon, sausage, etc), and one wildcard carb (fried rice, congee, miso soup, pancakes, dim sum, etc).

Sweet Carbs

As you can guess, the "sweet carbs" was my favorite section of the hot foods.  During my week at the Sheraton, my options were: Nutella Stuffed Waffles and assorted pancakes (plain, banana, maple).
Nutella Stuffed Waffles.
On my first day in Sydney this time around, the wildcard slot held ... waffles!  The sign said "chocolate waffles", but really, they were plain waffles, stuffed with Nutella.

The waffles weren't really warm.  They were not light and fluffy, instead, rather hard, but not exactly crispy.  And I don't even really like Nutella.  Yet ... I really liked them, and went back for more and more.  I think the winning element was the pearl sugar, amping up the sugar level to the whole thing.  Oh, and they had syrup on the side too.

Easily my favorite part of breakfast, although I fully recognize that they weren't amazing, but just really hit the spot for me.
Nutella Stuffed Waffles: Inside!
The Nutella stuffed waffles returned the next week, this time labelled "chocolate chip pancakes", even less accurate than the "chocolate waffles" sign from the week before.  Lols.

This time they had no syrup on the side, and I heard another guest ask for it.  They were told that because there was chocolate inside, they were not served with syrup.  Interesting.

Again, the waffles were not hot, but, I liked the dense dough and the large pearl sugar crystals.  There was not nearly enough Nutella inside though, and none was available on the side to add on.
Banana Pancakes.
The next day, the waffles were replaced by "Banana Pancakes".  I say "banana" because I tasted absolutely no banana in these, but, they were labelled as such.  Given the "chocolate waffles", I don't exactly have a reason to believe the labels ...

I got to the lounge right as it opened, which is always a good thing for buffets.  I'm pretty sure I was the first to dig into the pancakes.

Like the waffles, and many of the "hot" foods in the evening, the pancakes weren't exactly hot.  If you put butter on them, it most certainly did not melt.  The pancakes were also an odd shape, as you can see here.  They were round, but, had these little halos around them, which I think is a clue into how they were prepared, likely baked in a mold?

And like the waffles, they weren't awful.  Again, if a fancy cafe served them, I'd be disappointed, but, they somehow hit the spot.  Very thick, crispy on the outside, moist enough inside.  The pancake didn't have much flavor though, so I took to loading it up with all sorts of goodies, including the standard options of butter and syrup, but also I tried adding peanut butter and strawberry jam.  Why not experiment?  The butter and syrup was the best version though, and I found this surprisingly satisfying.

The next day, the pancakes were again labelled "Banana Pancakes", but this time, they had visible chunks of banana in them.  I tried one, and actually really didn't like them.  The pancakes were flatter, not as light and fluffy, and not nearly as good.  I think they had been sitting in the chafing dish longer.

The day after that?  "Maple pancakes".  The same pancake base, this time with little drops of maple in them.  They were about the same as the banana pancakes, really not that great.

Eggs

The egg station turned out to be a surprise hit, even though I mostly ignored it at first.  The lineup during my time at the Sheraton on the Park was: scrambled eggs, fried eggs, Eggs Benedict, and baked egg cups.  Besides the scrambled eggs, the others were quite good.
Eggs Benedict.
I may not be an eggs girl, but I recalled liking the eggs benny last time I was at the Sheraton, although this was clearly a different prep (last time, it was served on a roll rather than traditional english muffin, and had smoked salmon rather than ham).

And again, it was somehow a winner.  Yes, buffet eggs benny.  I know.

The english muffin underneath somehow stayed crisp.  The ham was thinly sliced, lean, and had a great smoky flavor to it.  The egg was perfectly poached.  The hollandaise I didn't love, but, it is hard to resist creamy sauce.

So, crispy muffin, smoky ham, creamy sauce, and perfectly poached egg?  Kinda awesome, and better than all the sweet choices that day too.  I particularly loved the english muffin as it soaked up the yolk and hollandaise.  Yum!
Baked Eggs in Puff Pastry.
The next day, the egg selection wasn't labeled, but, I saw puff pastry, so I went for it, inspired by the delicious eggs benny.

This was a baked egg, with mushrooms underneath, in a puff pastry cup.  I liked the puff pastry of course, but the egg was basically just a hard cooked egg.  I don't really care for baked eggs like this, and it had a strange film on top too.  Underneath the egg was big chunks of mushroom.

I wasn't into these, but, I think my mom would have loved it.
Sunny Side Up Eggs.
So, this looked like a bit of a carnage zone, but really, what do you expect to happen with sunny side up eggs, in a buffet, served with tongs?  Each person reaches in with the tongs, punctures a yolk, and, well, this happens.

Anyway, the eggs were far better than they looked.  The whites weren't rubbery, and I really liked the cook on the yolk, just slightly runny.  And, as you can see here, the yolks were brilliant yellow, far more flavorful than our yolks in the US.

I added some salt and pepper, and really enjoyed my eggs.
Scrambled Eggs.
One day, I tried the scrambled eggs.  Bad move.  Like last time, they were AWFUL.  Such a strange consistency, which I later found out was because they are made from a powder.  No wonder.

Meats

There was always a hot meat item, usually, bacon or sausage.
Breakfast Sausage.
So, sometimes I really, really love sausage.  I don't know why, but sometimes, I do.  So, several days into my visit, I decided to try the "breakfast sausage".

The sausages were well cooked, nicely browned on the sides.  The sausages were moist inside, and herbs were even visible, well seasoned.

But, what kind of sausage were they?  I have no idea.  They didn't seem to be pork.  Or turkey.  Or chicken.  Perhaps veal?  Any would be fine, except, the texture, was not.  They were ... mush inside.  Super strange.
Crispy, Crispy Bacon.
Ojan went for the bacon often, and was glad it was crispy style, as is not often the case in Australia.  He commented on it enough that I finally tried it, and, yup, it was actually good bacon.  Crazy crispy, crazy oily, but in a good way, if that makes sense.  Dunked in some syrup, and I was quite happy with it.

Dim Sum

Some mornings, there was a steamed dim sum item instead of a "breakfast carb" like pancakes.  The dim sum was generally not labelled, or labelled rather generically, like "pork dim sum".
Steamed Veggie Dumpling.
The filling in these was ... mush.  I think it was cabbage and assorted veggies, but really, the texture was just mush and it was hard to even know what it was.  But the wrappers were nice, and they served it with a super spicy soy sauce on the side, which I quite enjoyed.

I had the "pork dim sum" one morning as well.  It was all mangled in the serving vessel, and it was cold.  Sad, because the wrapper and spicy soy sauce served on the side were quite tasty.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is served only on weekends, and I was able to catch it on two occasions.  A nice offering, but it pales in comparison to the breakfast or evening canapes.
Mini Cakes.
At afternoon tea, and evening canapes, they always have a bunch of little cakes.  They aren't usually very good.

I tried the green topped one.  It was ... an odd assortment of layers.  Every other layer was a dry vanilla cake layer.  The top, green, was perhaps a pistachio cream, and the only layer that was any good.  The other two filling layers were an orange gel, I think maybe mango or apricot?  The flavors didn't really work together, and the goopy gel consistency was not enjoyable.
Berry Compote, Whipped Cream, Strawberry Jam.
The scone toppings were the same as before, and again, not particularly great.  The whipped cream was plain, not sweetened, but was tasty when consumed along with a bunch of the stewed berries.

The scones themselves were the weakest link, they just had no flavor at all.
Snack with a View!
But, no matter how lackluster the snacks were, you really can't beat the view.  I had a balcony to myself, overlooking beautiful Sydney.  A talented musician was playing guitar and singing down in the park below, and the music carried up to where I was sitting.  Sweets with a view a nice live music?  Really hard to complain!

Evening Canapes

As with breakfast, the canape lineup was largely the same as my previous visits, although, re-arranged.  And, just like my last visit, I remained highly impressed.  There was always a selection of 3 hot items, several sandwiches and salads, sushi, oysters, cheese, antipasti ... and TONS of desserts.

Oh, and really decent wine.  I enjoyed the shiraz, the pinot noir, and the sauvignon blanc.

Cold Foods

Sushi.
The sushi station and cheese station switched places from my previous visit, giving more room for the sushi.  When we were here a year ago, the sushi usually ran out quickly, and wasn't replenished.  They seem to have fixed that problem, and I never saw the sushi platters go empty.

I tried the inari, and it was fine, although not as sweet as I like.  I also had a salmon, cucumber, and avocado roll, and it too was fine.  Not remarkable, but better than grocery store sushi.
Sushi #2.
Another night even had salmon nigiri, and another eel nigiri.  Ojan enjoyed the sushi, particularly as a break from dining out at overly indulgent restaurants the other nights.

Soy sauce, wasabi, ginger, and takuan were available to go with the sushi.  The ginger and takuan weren't very good, both strangely bitter.
Sandwiches.
The sandwich lineup changed every night, and, although I'm not generally a sandwich girl, I couldn't resist trying one of them one night.  It was ... awesome.  After its success, Julie, the girl who hates sandwiches, started getting the sandwiches regularly.

The first one I had was the smoked salmon pretzel roll sandwich.  The pretzel bread was soft and fluffy, and the filling was a mix of smoked salmon, with mayo, herbs, greens, and a slice of cheese.  The cheese was a bit odd with smoked salmon, but, otherwise, it was great.  Creamy, smoky, and satisfying.

The next day, the pretzel sandwich also called out to me, although I liked the fillings a bit less. Roast beef (meh), but I liked the crunchy asian greens and the soft cheese alongside.

I also tried another version of the smoked salmon sandwich, on a soft baguette, again with tasty cheese and red onion.  The bread was really soft, although of course I liked the pretzel roll more.

My most successful sandwich though was one I made myself: a pretzel roll (which were served on the side), filled with smoked salmon, red onion, arugula, and cream cheese (from the cold appetizers section).  This was inspired by the pre-made sandwiches, and was really quite tasty.
Oysters, Smoked Salmon, Salads.
The smoked salmon and oysters station was the same as before, with red onion, cream cheese, and pepperoncinis to go with the smoked salmon, and sauces and lemon to go with the oysters.  This area also had the makings for salads, including assorted greens, shockingly flavorful grape tomatoes, cucumbers, and a bunch of roasted marinated veggies, including tomatoes, eggplant, and more.

There were also pre-made salads that changed out every night.  These tended to be the highlights for me, and where the chefs clearly were experimenting, rather than just making the same standard items night after night.  You never knew if the salads would be composed from grains, veggies, or beautiful fresh seafood.
Bean Salad. 
For salads the first night, one was a bean salad, which I skipped since I don't like beans.
Pumpkin, Spinach, Artichoke Salad.
The other had baby spinach, artichoke hearts, and roasted pumpkin.  I appreciated the pumpkin, but the salad wasn't particularly flavorful.
Pasta Salad with Seared Ahi.
The next night, one of the salads was a creamy pasta salad, with red peppers, red onion, fennel, and seared ahi tuna.  Yup.  Seared ahi.  This was pretty tasty.  The pasta was nicely al dente, I loved the fennel, and it was super creamy and flavorful.  And the ahi was clearly high quality.  My 3rd favorite salad.

The other salad that night was a cous cous salad with assorted veggies and pistachios, also fairly tasty, a flavorful dressing, and I loved the addition of the pistachios.  My 4th pick.
Salmon/Grapefruit/Peppers/Red Onions/Tomato/Raisins/Greens salad.
This mix was a bit strange.  Salmon and red onion, sure.  Salmon and peppers?  Maybe.  Salmon and grapefruit?  Odd.  Raisins?  Wat?

But, the salmon was really nicely cooked, not fishy, and quality.  I think it may have been poached.  Pick #6.
Snapper Salad.
Later in the evening, the salmon in the previous salad was replaced with snapper, and it too was really quite good, nicely cooked.  Again, a bit random, but, I enjoyed it.  The snapper was an even better fit with the salad, it had a really mild flavor, but was expertly seasoned.  Pick #5.
Greek Salad with Chips.
This salad made me laugh.  It was made entirely of components already in the buffet - cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, peppers, and chips.  Not the most exciting option.
Chicken Farro Salad.
This was a farro salad, with chicken, sundried tomatoes, almonds, and a few other goodies.  The farro was pretty mushy, and I didn't have the chicken.  I missed the seafood salads!
Quinoa Salad.
Another grain salad, this one with quinoa, both white and red.  There was also baby spinach, pomegranate seeds, cooked pumpkin, and grilled leeks.

This salad was my favorite, surprisingly.  The grilled leeks were awesome, my favorite component.  But the other flavors and textures all worked well together, soft pumpkin, fresh spinach, crunchy pomegranate.  It was a healthy salad, and I really enjoyed it.

It was also well seasoned overall, with a nice light dressing.  This would make for a great fall salad, a pretty one at that.
Asian Prawn Rice Noodle Salad.
This was loaded up with seafood!

The rice stick noodles were nicely cooked, not clumped together, not mushy.  The prawns were nicely poached, deveined (thank you!), and not fishy.  I loved the crunch from celery and other veggies in the mix.  The salad also had an asian inspired dressing, sweet chili perhaps, also quite good.
Arugula, Pear, Blue Cheese, Candied Walnuts, Pecan Salad.
Spicy, peppery arugula, soft, sweet pears, pungent blue cheese, and candied walnuts (plus a few other goodies, like toasted pecans).  Unlike some of the salads, that often seem like a random assortment of ingredients, these all made sense.  Pears, plus cheese, and walnuts are a great mix, and the sharp arugula was the nice compliment.

My second fav.
Arugula, Walnut, Mandarin, Caramelized Onion Salad.
This one looked like a winner (caramelized onions! nuts!), but, I didn't like it.  The arugula was too bitter, I don't really like mandarin oranges, and the walnuts were burnt.  At least there was caramelized onions?
Fennel / Yellow Pepper / Pomegranate / Grape / Smoked Duck Salad.
Ok, another "random stuff thrown into a salad" salad.

I went for this because I saw fennel.  I wasn't excited about the yellow peppers, the pomegrante, nor the grapes.  But I also saw something else in here.  It looked a bit like squid. Or maybe fried tofu?  Or ... pork?  None of that seemed quite right, but I couldn't place it.

The answer?  Smoked duck!  It did have a lovely smoked flavor, but, it was a bit slimy, spongy, and, well, it was duck.
Cheese, Crackers, Dried Fruit, Dips.
The cheese moved over to the side area, and included 3 options.  None were very good, but one was gouda-like, one was brie, and one was cheddar.  All were pretty low on flavor.  This area also had crackers, dried fruit, and grapes.

The surprise hit of the night though was the dips.

There was hummus, which I skipped, as I don't like hummus.  Then, an eggplant spread, that was pretty good, but made my throat hurt a little (I think I have a slight eggplant allergy).  My favorite was the red pepper one, I think mixed with cream cheese?  The final was a mystery creamy pink dip topped with roe.  I still have no idea what the pink dip was, I think it must have had some kind of seafood in it, but it was creamy and tasty.  I think I liked the red pepper one slightly more, as it had even better flavor, but I really liked both of these.  One night, the pink dip was replaced with cucumber tzatziki, which made me quite sad.

Now, what did I do with those dips?  They had buttered crostini and tri-color chips set out on the side.  I took just a little dip and a couple chips the first time, not expecting anything of these items, but, wow, they turned out to be incredible.  The chips were green, red, and white, and super crispy and oily, but in a good way.  I couldn't stop eating them.  Seriously addicting, even without the dip.  Crispy, salty, and they perfectly paired with the creamy dips.  What a surprise.  I'm not admitting how many of these chips I ate during my time there.

Hot Foods

Every night there were 3 hot food selections, one always vegetarian.  The selections were varied, including dim sum, indian (veggie samosas, veggie curry puffs), thai (spring rolls, thai chicken rolls), and more classic British offerings (chicken and leek pies, sausage rolls).
BBQ Pork Buns.
On my last visit, I recalled enjoying the bbq pork buns on one visit, and not on another.  It seemed to depend on freshness.  When I arrived this time and saw the basket largely empty, I knew they weren't fresh and I did know better but ... I still had one.

It was cold.  The dough was dry.  The filling was drier.  The pork was really chewy.  There was no bbq sauce.  It was ... really not good.

A few days later, I was there right at 5pm when the lounge opened, and I got one fresh.  It still wasn't good.  The pork was chewy, there was no yummy sweet sauce inside.  Boo.
Pork Siu Mai
Continuing along the asian lines, one night had giant siu mai.  Like, ridiculously giant.

I liked the wrapper on the dim sum, but since I'm not a huge fan of pork, it had way too much pork for my taste in a single bite.  Not that you COULD eat one in a single bite anyway.  Giant sized!
Chicken Siu Mai.
The next night, we had chicken siu mai, the exact same style.

I like chicken even less than pork, so I again didn't care for the filling, but the wrapper with some spicy soy sauce (provided on the side) was satisfying enough.
Thai Chicken Rolls.
I know I don't like chicken, but one night, the options were the chicken siu mai, cheese quiche, and these.  Chicken, chicken, and eggs?  I was seriously not happy, so, I tried these.

They were *almost* good.  The filling was actually really flavorful, well seasoned.  But, alas, ground chicken is not my thing.  The wrappers were flaky filo dough, that had gotten a bit soggy sitting in the chafing dish.

If this had any filling other than chicken, and it was fresh, it really could have been a home run.

Veggie Spring Rolls.
I almost went for the veggie spring rolls a few nights later, but when I went to pick one up with the tongs, it was soggy.
Vegetarian Sausage Rolls.
The vegetarian sausage rolls were a bit better.

I really liked the puff pastry coating, flaky and crispy.  The filling however I wasn't a fan of, it was a strange mix of vegetables (I remember ... corn?) plus some veggie protein, and a curry flavor.  Meh.
Sausage Rolls.
A few nights later, we had real sausage rolls.  I again liked the puff pastry, but the filling ... I didn't like.  It was moist, but there was something in the flavor that I didn't like.  At all.
Oysters Kilpatrick.
Now, I don't love oysters.  I don't even really like raw oysters.  But last time, I liked the oysters rockafeller, so, I gave the oysters kirkpatrick a try.

And ... they were great!  Cooked oysters, in a smoky bbq sauce, topped with crunchy bacon.  Bacon, bbq, and oysters?  Delicious.  A few did have bits of shell in them though.

The same night had vegetarian arancini, with nicely cheesy rice inside, but the outside was a bit too fried for me.

Desserts

The dessert lineup always looked impressive, but was the weakest element.  Usually 5 different types of cake, and one pudding.
Desserts.
You know how much I love puddings and panna cotta, so it should come as no surprise that the first item I went for was the panna cotta, served in individual little cups.  It ... wasn't great.  It was creamy, but totally flavorless.  On top was slightly macerated strawberries, sweet and soft, and they were good.

So I moved on to the cake beside it, which I remembered from before.  It was a layered cake with a hazelnut on top, maple hazelnut cream, and I think even hazelnut cake.  It wasn't particularly good, but, it wasn't awful.  I almost liked the hazelnut cream.  The maple flavor didn't quite go with it though.

I also tried the rich chocolate cake, on the row below the panna cotta.  The chocolate ganache layer was thick and decent, but the cake, just like with the others, was dry and boring.  Meh.

A few nights later, I tried a chocolate brownie, also topped with ganache.  The ganache was thick and good, but, the brownie, dry.  Meh.

Finally, I tried the boring looking white cake, front right in this photo.  It was my favorite of the desserts.  The cake was boring white cake, the buttercream was a bit heavy on the mouthfeel, and there was a lemon layer (I don't usually like lemon), but, somehow it worked out the best.  I particularly liked the white frosting on top.  Not remarkable, but, better than the others.
Desserts #2.
The next night the panna cotta was replaced by chocolate mousse.  I don't usually have chocolate in the evenings, but, who can resist a fluffy mousse?

The mousse was a great texture, very light and fluffy.  The chocolate flavor wasn't too intense though, which I guess is good since I was avoiding the caffeine, but, the result was too mild of a flavor to be very interesting.  I liked the white chocolate stick in it.
Mystery Green Pudding.
Panna cotta -> chocolate mousse -> green pudding.

I have absolutely no idea what this was.  It wasn't mint, it wasn't pistachio, it wasn't matcha.  The flavor was ... bitter.  The aftertaste was ... awful.  I did not like it, at all.  White chocolate on top was nice enough.

Ok, so I asked what it was.  "Pistachio yogurt" was the answer.  I certainly didn't taste pistachio, and the yogurt must have been what gave it the strange taste?  I don't know.  Not a winner!
Mystery Pink Pudding.
Another pudding, this one I think was raspberry, and I think was also a yogurt.  Topped with whipped cream, pistachios, a blueberry, and white chocolate.  It was thick and strange, not the pudding I was hoping for.  I liked the white chocolate?
Coconut Sago Pudding with Mango.
 On my final night, finally, the strange yogurt-puddings were replaced by something much better, coconut sago.  This was ... decent.  The tapioca was cooked ok, it was in a creamy coconut cream, and there were bits of mango on top.  Not earth shattering, but not bad.
Fluffy Cheesecake.
Speaking of light and fluffy, I also tried another white cake, that was ... sorta like a crazy fluffy cheesecake.  But, like, really, really fluffy.  It had a crumble base and a slight cheesycake flavor (or perhaps buttermilk?), and was topped by a thin layer of gel.  It was my second favorite of the sweets.  However, I had it again a few nights later, and it was flavorless.
Maple Walnut? Cake.
A few nights later, I had what I think was the same cake as the one with hazelnuts above, although it didn't have a hazelnut on top, and the nuts tasted almost walnut-like?  But either way, it was almost good.  Crunchy layers, creamy layers, lots of maple.  I had several slices of this one.
Lamington-ish Cake.
This was sorta like a lamington.  Plain vanilla cake, in a pink raspberryish coating, with coconut on the outside.  And then a raspberry gel inside.

The cake was dry, the gel was pretty flavorless, this was not a winner.
Black Forest Cake.
One night, the chocolate selection changed to a cake that looked a bit more tempting, with a cream layer on top, and some cherries on the bottom.  The cake itself looked like it might be a mousse (it wasn't).

This cake was not very good.  Yes, it had cherries on the bottom, but the chocolate cake layer was dry and boring, the frosting flavorless, the chocolate shavings on top not dark chocolate.  Meh.

Original Review, March 2015

As you read about last week  I started my stay in Sydney at the Westin in Martin Place.  The bed and shower were lovely, some might say "heavenly", but the executive lounge left much to be desired.  Besides the little yogurt pots, breakfast was lackluster and the evening canapés were outright horrendous.  The executive lounge wasn't the real reason why we decided to switch hotels, but it was certainly part of it.  Really, I had my eye on the Sheraton on the Park the entire time, but it was outside my price range when I was booking.  The moment the prices dropped (not that I was watching ...), we moved.

I love the Sheraton on the Park, and have stayed there during previous visits to Sydney as well.  It was there that I first discovered, and fell in love with, bircher style muesli.  Seriously, why does the US not have this, when it is literally everywhere in Australia?

The location of the hotel is quite convenient, the staff actually seem to care, and there are a slew of other reasons to like the Sheraton on the Park, but for me, the number one selling point is the executive lounge.
Seating.
The executive lounge is the best I've ever experienced.  The physical space is amazing, as it is quite spacious, with many different types of seating, ranging from small booths, to high cocktail tables, to comfortable arm chairs, to my favorites, the round banquettes.

This is just one tiny corner of the lounge, it extends in all directions.
Balcony.
The real selling point is that it is located on the 21st floor with incredible views over Hyde Park, and they have multiple balconies, complete with seating.  This means that you can have breakfast in the sun, or an evening glass of wine and sushi, overlooking the park, by just stumbling into the lounge.  It doesn't get easier than this.

Throw in courteous staff, a stellar breakfast spread that makes the Westin's look like child's play, and evening canapés that are extensive enough to be considered dinner, and ... yeah, a winner.  This lounge, and its food offerings, trump any other hotel I've ever stayed at.

Breakfast

Breakfast is served Monday through Friday from 7am to 10am, and Saturday and Sunday from 7am to 10:30am.  The Westin was slightly better in this regard because they served until 10:30am every day.

At both all mealtimes items were inconsistently labelled, so you were left to your own devices to figure out what things were.  Sure, some of it is obvious, like bacon, but sometimes it was a little less certain, particularly in the evening when things tended to be fried or wrapped in pastry.  Not a big deal, but if I had allergies or was vegetarian, it could matter.

The lounge was always busy at breakfast, and service was generally fairly slow just to get coffee or sparkling water, and you can't really help yourself to anything.  They did always deliver it to your table, and magically manage to find you, but it would have been nicer to just grab a bottle of water myself.  I don't mean to imply that the staff were lazy in any way, they were really just very busy, between keeping all the food stations fully stocked, to cleaning and resetting tables, to preparing beverages, and the flow of patrons was constant.

The decaf coffee was instant, and rather abysmal, so the Westin wins another point there for having fresh ground decaf.  But, besides the hours and the decaf, the Sheraton blows away the Westin for breakfast.  Oh, and they actually have takeaway cups, so you can just swing through for a coffee on your way out the door, no need to stop at a pricy cafe nearby!

But the real reason you are there, or at least the reason I was there, is to eat.  And eat I did.  The options may not rival a pricey hotel restaurant breakfast buffet, you know the ones priced at  > $50 per person, but for an executive lounge, I've never seen anything like it.
Antipasti, Toast.
I'll start with the boring: cold antipasti section, which I mostly skipped over.

Several types of cheese, meats, smoked salmon, olives, capers, pickled onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts ... a bit of a strange assortment, but to each his own.  Many of these items, including the smoked salmon, also showed up in the evening.

The smoked salmon was quite good, but I found myself really wanting cream cheese or crème fraîche with it.  I'm also just not normally one for smoked salmon for breakfast, but, this was quality stuff.

There were also several types of sliced bread, along with the requisite spreads and a toaster, but I was never compelled to eat toast.
Cereals.
Moving along to more continental options was the cereal.  Normally I'd move right past the cereal, but there was a gem hidden in here.

Just like the Westin they had a selection of basic boxed cereals, all Kellogg's brand.  But then they also had bags of Carmen's muesli (which I'll review soon), plus open bins of muesli and granola.  The muesli was loaded up with dried fruit.  It was pretty good, for dry muesli.

The star was the insanely delicious granola.  I wish I knew the brand.  The granola was certainly sugar coated, and loaded with nuts, including cashews, whole blanched almonds, macadamias, pistachios, and slivered almonds, plus some assorted grains, including little sticks of ... something.  They didn't cut corners here, as it was clearly premium granola, as evidenced by the plentiful nuts.  I loved eating it just as finger food like trail mix, or putting it on top of yogurt, or eating dry by the spoonful, or drowning it in milk.  It sounds funny, but my favorite way to eat it was just as finger food.  It was just awesome.  I had it every day, and really wish I knew how to purchase some of my own!  I can't imagine it is house made?
Fruit, yogurt, bircher muesli.
Next up, fruit and yogurt.

The first morning I visited, I was sad to see the cut fruit selection: kiwi, several types of melons, prunes, and lychee.  Plus whole apples and nectarines in bowls near the entrance.

The fruit I tried wasn't particularly awesome.  The kiwi was a bit hard, the lychee not very flavorful.  At this point, the Westin actually did better on the morning fruit selection, since they had some tropical fruits.

They also had only one type of yogurt, unlabeled, with some fruit mixed in.  I tend to love the yogurt in Australia, so I was looking forward to it, but I didn't care for it the first time I tried it.  It was a bit tart, a bit thin, just not very good.  This one variety of yogurt was all that was available, no plain, flavored, or packaged yogurt was available.  The yogurt pots were quite literally the only thing I actually LIKED at the Westin breakfast, so they easily won the yogurt battle, at least at first.

But I kept trying the yogurt most days, to make sure I had enough protein along with all my other carby choices, and eventually it grew on me.  It was still not as rich and creamy as I'd like, but it was tart, and with some extra fruit and the magic granola added in it was pretty good, and became part of my daily routine.  Since I had the ability to add granola and fruit here, it did satisfy me more than the pots at the Westin, even if the Westin yogurt was a bit better.

Finally, bircher muesli.  On my previous stay at the Sheraton on the Park, I fell in love with the muesli.  And on every other visit to Australia, I loved it everywhere I went.  I guess I changed some, since I wasn't liking it anywhere on this trip: not on my flight, not in the lounges, not even out to nice breakfasts.  The bircher muesli here was no different; a bit too tart, too much yogurt, too much apple, and just not my thing anymore.  It was generously loaded with shredded coconut, which I also didn't like, and plump raisins, which were my favorite part.  I was a bit heartbroken, honestly.

So like the yogurt, I did keep trying a little muesli every day, and by the end of my trip, I was in love with it again.  I am guessing that I changed, not the muesli.  In particular, I discovered that I could top it with additional fruit, and a little of the granola for crunch, and liked it even more that way.
More Fruit!
So speaking of the fruit.  The second day, the fruit selection was much improved.  They had huge, huge slices of fresh, ripe mango.  Perfectly ripe.  Much, much better than the Westin's tiny little chunks of mango that sometimes appeared in the fruit salad.  I as delighted to discover the mango most other days too, and while it ran out quickly, they were always fast to replenish.  I could't believe how amazing it was to have fresh mango nearly every morning.

Most days they also had fresh whole cherries, which I enjoyed, and stewed stone fruits, that I used when I wanted a little extra sweet in my yogurt or muesli.

The fruits changed slightly daily, so I never knew quite what to expect, but days with mango and cherries were always my favorites.
Baked Goods: Muffins, donuts, croissants.
And of course, the section I was most excited about: baked goods!  There were several types of croissants, muffins, donuts, and rolls, but never any scones (those came out for afternoon tea though!).

After staying at the Westin, where the baked goods were awful, truly awful, I went into these quite skeptical.
Almond Croissant-Danish.
For croissant-like items, there were plain croissants, chocolate croissants, almond danishes, and  cinnamon rolls.

Ojan went for a chocolate croissant one morning, and I tried a bite.  The croissant dough was totally boring, not light and flaky, not buttery.  The chocolate inside was decent though, and there was a generous amount of it.  I didn't bother try a plain croissant.

The cinnamon roll was slightly better, moist on the inside, with good cinnamon flavor, and slivered almonds on top.  But the croissant base itself still wasn't very good, so it wasn't great.

The almond croissant-danish, pictured here, was the best of the lot, with a slightly crispy top, covered in a sweet glaze and crumbled bits of almond.  Inside was a decent almond paste.  But the dough still wasn't good, so it ruined it.

I don't recommend the croissant-like items, but they were marginally better than the ones at the Westin.
Muffins: double chocolate, raspberry white chip.
Next up, muffins.  The muffins were the same every day, three choices, all mini: double chocolate, raspberry white chip, and poppyseed.

I started with the decadent looking chocolate chocolate chip.  It was just ok.  Not particularly moist inside.  The chocolate chips were tiny and so they didn't really provide nice bursts of chocolateyness.  Still, it tasted a bit fresher than the ones from the Westin.

Next, raspberry white chocolate chip.  The texture and consistency were the same as the chocolate, not particularly good.  The little white chocolate chips were tasty, but they weren't melted at all.  The real issue was that there was just a really, really strange taste to it.  I can't pinpoint it, but I did not like it at all.

The lemon poppyseed was the best.  The top was rather gummy, and it wasn't actually a good muffin, but the lemon flavor was strong, and I liked the crunch from the poppy seeds.  Of course, when I had one another day, it was dried out and totally flavorless.  So not the most consistent.

And finally ... donuts!

The donuts were smaller than an average donut, but larger than a donut hole.  Basically, big enough that you didn't want two, but small enough that you didn't feel too gross after eating one.

They were filled with jelly, probably raspberry, and rolled in granulated sugar.  I'm a sucker for jelly donuts, so I rather enjoyed them, even though the dough itself wasn't awesome.   These were slightly better than the ones at the Westin, as those tasted stale, but the Westin ones had powdered sugar, which was better.  Even though the donuts were never awesome, I somehow wound up grabbing one on my way out the door most days.  Whoops.

There were also basic rolls and pretzel rolls.  They were dry, stale, and quite boring.
Hot Dishes.
And of course, hot dishes.  I pretty much skipped the hot food at the Westin, but after eating the hot food in the evening at the Sheraton, I had more faith in their kitchen, and gave the hot buffet a try.

Every day featured 3 hot items.  On the first day there were scrambled eggs, sausages, and some kind of noodles.  None were labelled, a common occurrence, and I didn't try any.

The next day, the selection was again scrambled eggs and sausages, but fried rice replaced the noodles.  I didn't have any, but Ojan said the eggs were quite bad.

Another day had miso soup in place of the fried rice.  This slot in the lineup seemed to generally tend towards asian offerings.  I didn't have the soup, but they had seaweed and pickled diakon to go along with it, which I really did quite enjoy, although a bit odd for breakfast.  A few days later this slot held a pot of congee, with peanuts and crispy shallots on the side.  Not what I normally go for at all, but the warm porridge was actually rather satisfying, and I'm interested to try congee again sometime.  The Sheraton on the Park, expanding my culinary horizons once again!

Anyway, the selection changed daily, but they always had some for of eggs (usually scrambled), some form of meat (sausages, bacon), and usually something carby.  Some days dishes were labelled, some days they were not.
Pancakes!
One day, I was in serious luck.  They had pancakes!  With maple syrup!

The pancakes were a crazy yellow hue, which I think was because they were cornmeal based.  Of course, there was no sign, so I couldn’t confirm this.  They had a grittiness to them that wasn’t normal for regular pancakes, again, indicating cornmeal perhaps.  I liked the grit, and I found the flavor to be pleasant.

Sure, they weren't fresh, fluffy pancakes, but for buffet pancakes, I was quite surprised.  And slathered with maple syrup, a bunch of fruit, and a dollop of yogurt ... perfect morning treat!

Of course, when they had them the next week, they were rather dried out and cold.  Timing is everything when it comes to buffets.
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict.
I was really shocked one day when the scrambled eggs were replaced with smoked salmon eggs benedict.  The scrambled eggs looked so bad that I never bothered try them, but this had potential.  Of course I realized that eggs benedict is something that should be served fresh, and this was sitting in a buffet.  I didn't exactly have high hopes, and loaded my plate up with other goodies too.

And, shocker, I really enjoyed the benedict.  Perhaps my body was just craving protein, as eggs, particularly not fresh eggs, are just something I never go for.
Not exactly a "poached" egg.
That isn't to say that the eggs benedict was particularly well done.

Rather than an english muffin, or even a biscuit, the base was just a white roll, the same stale white rolls that they always have out.  At least it was toasted?  I quickly discarded this component.

The smoked salmon was kinda overcooked, as it had been sitting in the hot serving dish, but, I liked the smokey flavor.  I imagine this is the same smoked salmon that they have at breakfast and evening canapés regularly, and always impressed me when I had it raw.

The hollandaise also suffered from being overcooked, it was almost more of a custard.  It was too lemony as well.  But ... still, creamy sauce.  I like creamy sauce.

Now, the egg.  Maybe it was nicely poached at some point.  But it was obviously way overcooked at this point.  The center didn't have even the tiniest bit of runnyness left.  Yet, I still liked it.  Australian eggs remind me a bit of Japanese eggs, with much richer, darker yolks, and I just adore that custardy flavor.

So, yes, this was full of faults.  It clearly suffered from being in a buffet.  I should have hated it.  But I really liked the egg and salmon, and devoured it, even though I had a plate full of sweets as well.  The best of the hot items I tried.
Breakfast On The Balcony!
By the end of the trip, I had found my perfect breakfast groove.  I stopped trying the mediocre baked goods, and only went for the hot foods if they were particularly compelling.  Most days I was perfectly satisfied to feast on yogurt, topped with delicious granola and fruit, with a little bircher muesli on the side, and as much mango as I could devour without getting a stomach ache.  And of course, I'd grab a donut on my way out the door.  I never got sick of this routine, even after nearly two weeks, which is miraculous, as I hate ever having the same thing two days in a row!

And on sunny days, you can bet that I snagged a balcony seat whenever possible, and soaked up the vitamin D, having my moment of absolute bliss.

Evening Canapés

Canapés are served from 5 - 7:30pm every night, a longer time period than most hotels.  A big complaint I had at the Westin is that it didn't start until 6pm, so this 5pm start was much better, as it was appropriate for a pre-dinner snack or drink, and didn't conflict with meal time.

Breakfast was great, but at the Westin, breakfast was passable, and evening canapés were horrendous.  So the first time I went to canapés at the Sheraton, I figured I'd just grab a glass of wine, unwind a little, and then move on.

But ... you could totally make their offerings a meal.  The spread was impressive, to say the least.  And as busy as I thought breakfast was, the evening was even more bustling, yet the service mostly kept up.  Glasses of red, white, and sparkling were waiting at the entrance, with any other drinks offered immediately as you walk in.

The wines were actually decent, but, wow, the food.  How was this part of a lounge?
Cheese and Crackers.
To pair with wine, you could start with simple cheese and crackers.  A blue cheese, a triple cream, and a hard cheese.  I went for the triple cream a couple times, and it was decent.

Assorted crackers, dried fruit, and grapes completed this section.  Not remarkable, but good to munch on with some wine.  I wished there were some mixed nuts though.
Dips.
Next, dips.  The dips weren't labelled, but one was a decent eggplant dip, another was hummus, and the other two seemed cream cheese based.  Served with two types of kinda oily chips/breads to spread them on.  Not remarkable, and I would have preferred some veggies to dip instead, but better than the Westin with only crackers.
Antipasti Bar.
Things started to get interesting with the antipasti bar.

Um, yes, the entire front section is oysters.  And smoked salmon, the same as breakfast, that was actually shockingly good, as I mentioned earlier.  It became my evening snack go-to.  There was also also an assortment of random things to pair with the smoked salmon including olives, capers, and pickled onions.  Plus some things to make a "salad", like cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and sprouts, along with dressing.

Sometimes there was an additional item, like the fresh spring rolls you see here, served with sweet chili sauce.  The filling was pretty heavy on the noodles, but the wrapper was impressive, and I of course liked the sauce.  Another day the spring rolls were replaced with soggy phyllo cups filled with cream cheese and caramelized onions, which were quite flavorful.

I do wish items were labelled better though.
Hot Dishes. Sandwiches. Sushi.
And, hot food!  These changed completely every night, and sometimes even changed in the course of the night, but there were always three hot items, generally dim sum inspired, but not always.

The first night, there were chicken satay sticks, vegetarian curry puffs, and pork shumai, each paired with a different dipping sauce.  I had the pork shumai, and although the filling was a bit firm, the wrapper was quite nice.  A few days later I had the shumai again, and this time they were soggy and slimy. Timing is everything when it comes to buffets.

The second night, the selection was bbq pork buns, chicken and leek mini pies, and vegetable samosas.  I went for a bbq pork bun, and it was shockingly good.  The bread was doughy and soft, and I really enjoyed it.  There wasn't much filling inside, but what was there was sweet and tasty.  A few nights later, they had the buns again, and this time they were soggy and not great.  It really depends on how fresh of a batch you get.  The mini pies weren't very good, the pastry lacking any butteryness or richness, and the filling mostly just chicken, not much leek as I was hoping.

Another night they had sausages along with fried prawn and scallop egg rolls.  The egg rolls I didn't care for as the filling was mostly just noodles, and they were very oily.  Even the sweet chili sauce served alongside wasn't very good, it was strangely gloopy.  The sausages however were really tasty, in some kind of sweet sauce, with caramelized onions.  Ok, to be more accurate, the sauce and the caramelized onions were really tasty, I'd have preferred them on something besides a sausage, but still, delicious.

Another night featured salt and pepper squid, which was actually really quite good.  Tender, flavorful.  When I got some fresh, it was even crispy, but it did get soggy fairly quickly in the buffet dishes.

Another night had oysters rockafeller, which I almost didn't try, but curiosity got the better of me.  The flavors were mostly lost in a sea of butter, not that that was necessarily a bad thing.  The same night they also had a cold gazpacho, with very unbalanced flavors.

One of my final nights was the real highlight however: fried mixed seafood.  The calamari was a bit chewy, but the fish, white fish, was moist and delicate.  The batter was the real winner though, I absolutely loved it.  Crispy and flavorful.  It beat the pants off the fish and chips I had at Watson's Bay Beach Club, and satisfied all my fried fish cravings.  The tartar sauce wasn't great however, a bit watery, and warm.

They also had vegetarian curry puffs, and while I didn't like the spicing in the pumpkin and pea filling much, I really liked the flaky, buttery pastry.  Too bad the pastry wasn't used for the mini pies too.

Beside the hot food lineup was a few other cold items, including sandwiches which I skipped most of the time, and were never labelled.  One seemed to be chopped ham and mayo perhaps?  The other was regularly a veggie wrap, with roasted eggplant and pumpkin inside.  I sorta liked the pumpkin, but the whole thing was very soggy, and sandwiches are never really my thing.  I only tried it for the vegetables.

And finally, sushi!  Yes, sushi.  This became Ojan's nightly pick.  He wasn't alone, as it was clearly the fastest moving item on the buffet, and often ran out only halfway into service.  I saw people filling up their plates with piles of sushi, clearly making it their dinner.  The offering most nights was salmon with cucumber and avocado rolls, with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger on the side.  It wasn't remarkable, but better than average.
Desserts!
And then ... yes, an entire dessert station.  You know me and my love of dessert, so this was clearly my favorite section.

They were not messing around here.

I loved the whimsy of the giant candy jar, filled with jelly beans and gummy fish.  A solid start, although the gummy fish weren't particularly awesome.  The jelly beans however were my favorite style, a bit bigger, chewy.  I will not admit to how many of those I ate.  Just like the donuts, they became my kryptonite, something I had to grab on my way out the door, no matter how much other sugar I had, or if I was on my way to a real dinner.  So good.

Then, a cookie jar.  Now, I don't even like cookies, but I grabbed one on my way out the door the first night because I couldn't resist.  It was actually a decent cookie, hard style, but loaded up with dried cranberries and white chocolate, pleasantly buttery.  The cookies switched to chocolate chunk at some point, and I didn't like them as much, but the base flavor was still good, although again, they were a hard style, which I don't generally care for.

And then ... cakes!  There were a slew of different mini cakes, plus cupcakes.  I never tried the one that looked like banana bread, but over a few days, I certainly tried all the rest.  I'm shameless when it comes to buffets, and to desserts in general, so, yeah.

The first was some sort of hazelnut maple layered cream cake.  I didn't love it, but I was fascinated enough by it to keep eating.  It had a crumble on top, sweet cream inside, and flaky layers.  I somehow finished my whole slice.  Sadly, it never showed up again.

Most nights had a basic layered white cake, the cake layers a bit dry and boring, the frosting tasted just like butter and nothing else, and the very top layer was just cloyingly sweet.

Another was a linzer torte, basically a cake with jam topping and lattice pattern, but it was fairly dry and flavorless.

Next was the real winner, a creamy passionfruit treat.  I think it might have been trying to be a passionfruit topped cheesecake, but it wasn't quite thick enough to be cheesecake.  Maybe just a basic mousse?  Regardless, it was fluffy and sweet and really quite tasty.  I had this a few nights later, and again loved it.  Creamy, sweet, fairly delicious.  It became my goto, and one I had most nights.

One night little round cheesecakes did show up. They were a bit creamier than I'm used to, not quite as thick, and not quite as cheesy, but, good enough.  Topped with a fruit gel layer and fresh fruit.  I think they were my favorite, but I only had one once.

I also tried a chocolate cake one night, which was really dry boring cake, with a thick fudgy frosting.  The frosting was fine, but the cake, really not good.

Another night there was a layered hazelnut and chocolate cake, again with the same fudgy frosting, and a hazlenut cream layer, but the cake was dry, and the cream frosting wasn't great.

The final cake was a rich caramel-like cake with macadamia nuts.  I wanted to love this, but the flavor just wasn't quite right.  Perhaps too buttery?  Yes, such a thing does exist.

The mini cupcakes weren't great, the cake part was firm and not very moist, but the raspberry frosting on top was quite tasty.

Last but not least, fresh fruit, including whole cherries and totally deliciously perfectly ripe mango, just like at breakfast.  I was in love with the fruit platter, really quite high quality fruit.

Overall, an impressive selection, and while not amazing, there were plenty of solid choices here.

Afternoon Tea

As if amazing breakfast and extensive evening canapés weren't enough, on Saturdays and Sundays, they also offer afternoon tea.  I was always out and about during the afternoons, but one day managed to catch the end of tea service.  

The patrons all looked quite happy, particularly an adorable older couple having their tea and scones together.  This really was a cute offering, clearly a remnant from British times, and if for some reason I was around the hotel on an afternoon, it is a really lovely perk.
Assorted Cakes, Jam, Cream, Rocky Road.
I somehow didn't get a photo of the main attraction, the scones.  Whoops.  They were in chafing dishes kept warm, available in plain or raisin.

The scones weren't particularly good.  They were dry, they didn't have an interesting flavor to the base, they just sorta were there.  But .... really, what is a warm scone besides a conduit for jam and cream?

There were two types of jam, basic strawberry jam and a mixed berry one loaded with chunks of fruit.  I greatly preferred the later.  The whipped cream was somehow uninteresting too, just fluffy cream.  Tasty enough combined with sweet jam, but not remarkable, and I didn't find myself compelled to eat spoonfuls of it, which is normally what happens when I encounter bowls of whipped cream (everyone does this, right?).

There was a large platter of assorted cakes, all the same offerings as from evening canapé time and chocolate rocky road, filled with marshmallows and nuts.
Cookies, Snack Mix, Marshmallows.
The jars were full of things to munch on.

The cookies looked like packaged grocery store cookies, hard style, so I didn't bother try them.  I wonder why they don't have nice ones like in the evening?  Perhaps this biscuit style goes with tea better?

The marshmallows were peppermint flavored, but otherwise uninteresting.  Not soft and fresh artisinal marshmallows.  I've clearly become spoiled when I expect marshmallows to be mind blowing.  But also just a strange thing to much on.  Perhaps intended to go in hot chocolate?

The final jar was the winner though: snack mix!  I really, really love snack mixes , and this was no exception.  There were tons of items in the mix, so it is hard to enumerate them all, but some were coated peanuts with crunchy shells, there were rice crackers, and assorted other crunchy things.  Spiced nicely.  I really liked everything except the plain peanuts, which unfortunately made up a majority of the mix.  They weren't bad, and had the spicing on them, but compared to everything else, they were uninteresting.  Ojan may have received a pile of peanuts.

So overall, I'm glad they held such a tea time, and many people seemed to enjoying it, but there wasn't anything all that remarkable to me in the sweet department, which is what I'm normally in it for.

Bonus!

Champagne and cake.
This one needs a little explanation.  Except I don't really have one.  It wasn't my birthday.  I don't quite understand what happened here.  I returned to my room one afternoon, and there was champagne chilling and a huge slice of cake laid out.  I first thought I somehow walked into the wrong room, but once I saw my name on the card, I knew it was intended for me.  Why, I still don't know, but, hey, cake!

The cake wasn't amazing, but for a totally unexpected treat, I was all for it.  The base layer was a somewhat dense, dry, cake, coconut flavored.  Like the mini cakes from the evening dessert lineup, they just don't do the cake itself that well.  Next was a strange layer that had passionfruit and chunks of something fruity, perhaps mango?  That layer had some weird textures, from the passionfruit seeds and whatever else was in it.  Fruity and tropical though.  Next up, a layer of a thick cream or pudding, and finally, the top layer was a fruity gelee.  No layer of this was awesome, but together they made a decent dessert.

The best however was on the side, a big pile of whipped cream, which I really liked.  And ridiculously tasty sliced peaches and raspberries.  I loved the fruit and whipped cream.  Oh, and the drizzle of raspberry sauce was really nice too.

I still don't understand why this was left for me, but, thank you Sheraton!
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