VEG (almost)

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Gee whiz, doesn't time fly... Sunday was Xmas day and soon I'll be hitting my mid 20s! Nothing like a quarter-life crisis to throw into the mix. I've been a busy little bee recently and will only tease you with une salade.

Zucchini and Green Bean Salad with Tahini dressing

I'm partial to a nice macro shot, and this veggie creation
Serves 4


2 tbspn olive oil
3 medium zucchinis (400g) sliced thinly into rounds
Juice 1/2 lemon
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
125g french beans
4 handfuls of salad leaves
12-18 oven dried tomatoes (chuck in halved tomatoes in oven at 100 deg C with some sugar, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, olive oil and some S & P for as long as you can muster). Alternatively, use semi-dried tomatoes
Handful of shredded mint (optional)
3 chicken thigh fillets (optional, for the carnivore in each of us)

1/2 garlic clove, crushed with coarse salt
2 tbspn light tahini (sesame seed paste)
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Juice 1/2 orange
1/2 tbspn honey
2 tbspn olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Pan fry sliced chicken thighs in olive oil and salt and pepper. Note: add the oil etc to the chicken before putting in the pan. Once cooked, set aside
  • Heat 2 tbspn olive oil in a large pan over high heat and cook the zucchini slices in batches, until tender and browned on both sides. Transfer to a bowl once cooked and season with S & P, lemon juice and chilli. Toss together well
  • Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Tip in French beans, return to boil and blanch beans quickly (but depending if you like them crunchy or soggy and limp, lol)
  • Drain beans and rinse in cold water  to stop coooking and refresh. Drain and pat dry, add to zucchini
  • For the dressing: put the crushed garlic into a small bowl with the tahini, lemon zest and juice, orange juice, honey and some black pepper. Stir well. If the dressing is thick and grainy, thin with 1 tbspn of water at a time. Stir in olive oil and season to taste
  • Assembly: spread salad leaves in the serving dish, scatter over zucchini and beans, tomatoes and shredded mint. Top with chicken pieces and dress generously. Et voila!

It's a little 'rustic' but I'm not complaining. This photo was taken literally about 5 secs before I launched in. The dressing tastes awesome and the salad itself has the right balance of texture and flavour. Props to Hugh
This plate of deliciousness was conjured by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, of the River Cottage empire (coming in a close second to Jamie's diabolical plan for world domination). Restaurant openings (and closures, for that matter) have been gracing our media all year - Jamie's Italian in Pitt St is no exception. Pity, it's not exceptional, according to grand master Durack [13/20]. 

I first heard about Hugh when I watched an ep of his River Cottage series. It was a rerun from 50 billion years ago but I thought it was rather charming, especially the huge garden that supplies the restaurant fresh fruit/veg/herbs bit. The English countryside is always a winner too. I bought this cookbook, cheap as chips off the interweb and it has served me well. Who knew there are so many ways with the humble bean, or beetroot! Btw, the baby beet tarte tatin looks fan-freakin'-tastic. There are plenty of recipes to whet your appetite for greens, but I usually add a smatter of meat (like pan-fried chicken pieces par example) for something more substantial . There really  aren't any rules so cook what and how you feel like!

When Hughie cut off his luscious locks (see his former glory here), I must admit I was a little shocked and appalled. It was akin to Enrique Iglesias having his face mole lasered's not like we didn't notice! Source Le Delicieux
Another list: What I like about Hugh F-W
His honesty: a bit corny I know. F-W is not a trained chef but has made a profession out of his passion. There is none of the pomp or pretence that comes with your Ferrans, Hestons or Redzepis - many of whom have become too big for their boots.
He doesn't want you to sous vide anything
His food philosophy: he is a big believer in cooking and eating more vegetables (hence, the vegetarian cookbook) but is definitely not veggo (see this installment). Yotam Ottolenghi, a UK chef is on the same page with Plenty (def on my wish list). True, it 'tis the usual, sourcing the freshest in-season ingredients yada yada (rant) but it all rings true.
Hugh F-W's hair, in the early days (pre-2011) - see caption above. It became a sort of trademark for him and signified his hobo-esque image of "the farmer who could cook". Well nevermind, now he just looks like your average joe in a cabbage suit...

Dapper as anything. If ever you are in some sort of culinary crisis or in need of some comic relief. ..this is your man. Source The Guardian

Happy silly season! Peace out.

Snapshot: Beba Y Cene

Saturday, 15 October 2011

You've got to love Sunday nights out in Surry Hills. Here we came for some not-so-posh nosh at the restaurant attached to The Carrington corner pub. It has recently undergone refurbishment and acquired a Spanish inspired tapas menu. Gotta love the share plates people. It's a great excuse to try a little bit of this and that...

Le dining room: pretty cosy. Maybe I'm just getting old but I found it to be quite noisy, especially as the punters became progressively more drunken. The pub carry-on was only a corridor away too. I'm not really used to shouting across a lil' 80cm table. Photo credit: Concrete Playground

Recommended: Morcilla stuffed squid with tomato salsa. That's black pudding to the uninitiated...YUM. There's your iron intake, sorted.
We ordered the squid along with Media Noche - a glorified ham and cheese toastie (unbeknownst to us) and the torn salt cod, olives & tomato Russian salad (good, but needed more leafy greens). And what's a Spanish meal without sangria? Breakfast.

The salad add-on following meat overload. Quite tasty, but more cress please! Photo credit: The Carrington
Churros con Chocolate i.e. chocolate dipped fat sticks. These were alright (a'ight), although they probably look better than they taste. They were fried to an absolute crisp, all shell and no fluffiness on the inside. They should take a leaf out of Donut Kings book... :o
How and why did Terry Durack rate this joint 15/20? I'm a bit puzzled myself, that is quite generous in my opinion. Granted, the food was passable 'pub grub' and the prices were reasonable. If you want real, authentic Spanish food (and not an Aussie rendition), hit up Liverpool St (THAT's where it's at). Over and out ;)

A Walk in the Park

Monday, 3 October 2011

Okay, so maybe not. The weather is absolutely miserable on this Labour Day long weekend in Sydney. But that's fine, eating out still counts as eating in, right? The start of this month marks my mum's birthday, which is the perfect excuse to visit yet another restaurant that's sprung up in recent times.
Gastro Park has been getting a lot of favourable press lately, Monsieur Durack awarded it 16/20 which is as good as it gets from him (short of being Sepia). At the helm of this new venture is Grant King, previously head chef of Pier restaurant. These days who you work for is critical. Your reputation and resume precede you...if you are the protegee/chef spawn/chefling (yes, i'm talking about grown men here) of so and so with more hats than you are years old - you must be good.    

What's your type? The logo reminds me of an ink political cartoonist - who exactly i couldn't tell you. 

The location however is another story. Two years back, the Potts Point site was home to Blanco, a casual diner owned by the crew of Bistro Moncur. Funnily enough, the family and I made the pilgrimage (all 400m away) to Blanco when it existed, at this time of year for the very same occasion! It was a'ight - i remember ordering a soft shelled crab club sandwich (so predictable). Since then, the restaurant had been reincarnated as Steak Haus (why Haus is better than House, I don't know), yet another specialty steak place in a niche that is already saturated. Basically, this place has been changing hands too frequently to bode well. 

The original group that did the refurbishment did the bulk of the work to convert the space into a restaurant. The work done by Debra Cronin Design for Gastro Park was largely cosmetic. A lot of vintage pieces have been thrown in to house weirdly growing plant life and the restaurant is dotted by wartime-esque lamps that are more for show than function. I half expected them to flicker on/off and sway in the breeze that was blowing outside. I'm sure i've complained about the low lighting in restaurants these days, my eyes were going bad just fine anyway. Just when I thought, "Could they possibly make it dimmer?" Yes, they can! (Not the most inventive political slogan was it) The restaurant was made darker in the middle of our sitting...just what we needed.

Interiors by Debra Cronin Design. This is place is dark even during the middle of the day! I guess the black on black doesn't help too much. Photo credit: The Australian

The restaurant management team consists of a Francophile and a Scandinavian (methinks), one the consummate professional, the other a bit of a joker. At one time, the waiter was 'steering' my brother's dessert plate at the table and pouring water into his glass from half a metre away. We had a bit of entertainment both in and outside the restaurant. There was a shindig going down in the alleyway neighbouring. A red carpet into a club was walked by a group of old(er) ladies arriving in a stretch hummer (gross @ the car), a cross dressing man (those ain't no lady's legs) and  a fire-twirling stilt walker. Am i hallucinating here? It was absolutely mind boggling! Apparently weird stuff happens in this neck of the woods.

Exhibits A, B and C: the cheese selection sitting pretty under glass domes. Photo credit: Debra Cronin Design

The menu was a simple A4 affair with quite a limited selection of dishes. There were only 4 mains (we just had to order one of each), none of which were vegetarian. There were some in the entrees though which i'm sure they make concessions for. The 'snacks' menu was quite extensive though and the table next to us seemed to be going for the 'one of everything' option turning the meal into an unofficial degustation. I approve.

Now, to the main event! 

As you all well know, my philosophy is always to try something that I wouldn't normally have at home, and boy oh boy did i pick right. For his first solo venture, King has really let the creative juices flow. Dappling into molecular gastronomy and erring between the weird and wonderful, the technicality and sheer involvement of each dish is astounding. The waiters lost me after liquid nitrogen, my foodie brain exploded.

To prove or disprove the critics, I had to order the dish that everyone was talking about. My fellow diners and I decided to be diplomatic and order one of the four mains each. I chose the snapper and was pleasantly surprised by the fantasticality of the textures on the plate. Namely, the bubbly black calamari squid skin that reminds me of a posh prawn cracker. The snapper fillet was generous and cooked well, and crowned by its own crispy fish scales. This was a rather brave choice but i admire the adventurous spirit, especially when catering for a largely anglo (i.e. not Asian-willing-to-eat-or-try-everything) demographic. The 'crunch factor' of the scales was fine although they did tend to scratch on the way down...let's hope they didn't cause any permanent damage (that would suck). The other elements did a fine job of supporting the lead. The squid ink sauce was silky smooth, and was pleasantly reminiscent of the sea (with a subtle tinge of salt) and the calamari strips were delicate and chewy. All in all, a real beauty.

Oh la la: crispy scaled snapper, smoked potato puree quinelle, calamari crackling, ink sauce. Talk about wow factor!

The other mains on the night were a lamb loin, beef fillet and groper (misspelt 'grouper' on the menu - tut). I must say that the latter dish was a bit too stingy in terms of portion size (my mother needs the protein, if anything). As they say, we eat with our eyes and the plating of the beef fillet was a little clumsy, it tended towards a home style-look. Call it rustic if you will, but it won't fly in a two-hatter. These are relatively minor notes however, on dishes in which the flavours soared.

Pretty as a picture: Loin of lamb, cauliflower couscous, wild french mushrooms, jus gras. Aren't the baby chanterelles just lovely?

The sides of potato mash and green leaf salad were more than acceptable. The salad ignited a new interest of witlof for me. This has previously been an 'occasion' vegetable, with each piece costing ~$1, last i checked. It's sort of like the vegetable cousin of pear. The bread we received was a sour rye (it tasted of health), served on a black slate tile with a smear of freshly churned butter and sea salt. It was a bit unorthodox, having two tiles in the centre instead of individual plates (conducive to a crumb trail falling across the table) but we managed to deal. 

The highlight of the night was definitely the dessert course. I ordered the Nitro pav (that must be liquid nitrogen right...?)
which was a dead-set winner. It left the meringues of supermarket ill-fame for dead. I was amazed at the soft mallowy texture and utter lack of sweetness (hooray!). And hidden from view is the guava sorbet, that is tucked in the centre - a nice touch. This tropical treat was worth the wait, and the crystal plates are utterly gorgeous. The chocolate dessert and pain perdu were also polished off quite nicely (not a skerrick was left)! The cracking of the chocolate orb with a spoon was very reminiscent of the Quay snow-egg (one day, you will be mine...)

Looks can be deceiving: okay, so it looks like a drowning fish...(exactly). Nitro pavlova filled with guava sorbet, pineapple pieces at the base and coconut foam
Other worldly: this dessert looks like a solar system model. White chocolate shell with molten white and milk chocolate inside, honeycomb cubes, mandarin sphere, cookies & cream

With any luck, Gastro Park will be able to outlive its predecessors at the Potts Point address. It's all guns blazing as SMH's Good Food Guide 2012 awarded the restaurant 2 chef's hats on debut. In its first year of existence, Gastro Park has striven(?) to break the mould of the table-clothed institutions of Sydney dining. What we needed was a bit of spice and excitement and I think we've been rewarded handsomely. Thanks for reading.

Gastronomic blowout (Part II)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

I think I have found the perfect soundtrack appropriate for this 'blowout' series of posts...

The beauty of travelling to Melbourne during weekdays is that you're not jostling with other tourists/foodies/locals (who already know it's all good) to get into places. This was certainly the case with the Cutler and Co., Andrew McConnell's fine dining venture (see my review of casual diner Cumulus Inc. here) located on Gertrude St, Fitzroy. I think i was a little too excited, when i walked past Radio bar & cafe on the same street which has featured a couple of times on Offspring (plug, plug). Man, the restaurant front was pitch black, except for the neon blue ampersand (&) tucked in the glass window. We could well have walked straight past...

Front and centre: the front half of the restaurant is the designated bar, where there are smashing cocktails and bar snacks to be had... Photo by the Round
Cutler & Co. was an easy tram ride away from where we were staying (don't you just love it). S and I had a table for two at 6. There was a bit of an embarrassing situation when we strolled straight into the restaurant part only to be redirected back to the entrance to meet the maitre d standing at the front rostrum. I'm not really sure how we managed to just miss each other but anyways. Clearly, we had never eaten there before and there was unspoken etiquette.

We were one of the first tables to be filled in the restaurant so we had a chance to admire the interiors. S was not really a fan, opting for the schmancier, polished look of the Press Club from the night before. I on the other hand, liked the work of Pascale Gomes-McNabb - who is responsible for the design all of McConnell's restaurants. I would call it 'modern eclectic': a roughly whitewashed walls (juxtaposed? haha) with an ultra-modern glass atrium full of wine (temperature and humidity controlled, no doubt), mesh encased hanging lights and sliding automatic glass doors in and out of the kitchen. Flash.

The dining room. Apparently being on time (i.e. us) is not cool, so we had the restaurant (almost) to ourselves for a moment
Having arrived punctually, we had swarms of wait staff hovering around, catering to our every beck and whim. It was awesome but very conversation fragmenting... "Would you like a drink to start? Would you like water for the table? Would you like to see the wine list? Have you dined with us before? Would you like me to explain our menu to you?". Me: "Could I have a margarita please?". Usually, people/bouncers are very suspicious of me whenever I order an alcoholic beverage. The awkward i.d. moment hasn't happened to me in a restaurant before [It has however, happened to me on a plane when I tried to order a vodka lemonade - i don't drink and fly now because it's such a hassle. And i hear a hangover at altitude is 1000x worse], and tonight was no exception. It must have been because S and I were oozing of sophistication and maturity, lol!

I read the degustation menu longingly, a whopping 8 course menu selection for $140. It would have been such a treat but my wallet was heaving at the thought. Again, by some freakish coincidence we were flanked by 3 tables that each ordered the degustation menu. And once again we were privy to the delights. 8 could take a while. It must be a sign for my dining future (please!). Vue du Monde is pretty high up there on my list (literally, and figuratively). The restaurant has recently relocated to the 55th floor of the Rialto building. One day my friends, one day... Off the a la carte menu I steered clear of the duck, because I didn't want to ruin the best duck dish i had ever had (bold, i know) from the Press Club. I had fun quizzing the lady on what 'hapuka' was (white fish) and 'pain perdu' off the dessert menu (literally translates as 'lost bread' in french). Anyway, I 'settled' (well, hardly) for the roast suckling pig, morcilla (black pud, but morcilla is a nicer way of putting it), sweet & sour shallots and almond. Get ready for this -

What a fine choice. Nothing much beats a slab of suckling pig on a winter's evening. All I need now is a crackling fire and a wool blanket.
Helloooo! The suckling pig was an absolute joy. The portion size was very generous, melt-in-your-mouth good and the crackling was divine (usually i hate crackling because you get the sensation that your teeth are going to break apart). That black stuff i.e. the morcilla was well seasoned and tasty - ask me about 5 years ago and I wouldn't touch the stuff with a ten-foot-pole (apparently, also an American punk rock band, lol). The lashings of sauce are also great to mop up with any residual bread roll (don't tell anyone, but we asked if we could have seconds...the answer is YES). Anyway, S's dish was like a work of art!

¡Hola! Presenting the wild barra, prawn, young garlic, pickled pine mushrooms & nettle (I always thought that was a weed) main.
I'm very happy to report that Cutler & Co. are generous in terms of what you get on the plate. You do get what you pay for. I'm not a big fan of being served 'pretentiousness on a plate'. You know, what I'm talking about right, the one molecular gastronomy mouthful that costs an arm and a leg. It's because of the litres of liquid nitrogen that were used to prepare it...too harsh? Sometimes WOW factor is great but still being hungry after a meal? Not so much. But enough of my whinging, it's dessert time!

Quenelle'd perfection: violet ice cream, chocolate ganache & sour cherry & clove meringue
Sadly, we couldn't go with the dessert smorgasbord that we did last night, because our numbers had halved (just the 2 of us). We managed to show some restraint and picked one each. Mine was a simple play on texture and flavour, that was very well executed. The ganache & ice cream were the best parts. What I would do for an ice cream churner...honestly! The powderised, sherbety stuff was pretty interesting - still not entirely sure what that actually was.  S on the other hand ordered a sexed up version of an iced vo-vo...

Fun times with a piping bag: strawberry marshmallow, white chocolate, coconut ice cream & shortbread.
The mallows were the bomb by the way. Funny how you admire the dish for a split second and then promptly proceed to demolish it (we're all class). A good dessert is one way to win the hearts of diners, and 'Pastry' has certainly won mine. Somehow we had managed to stretch out our dinner for 2.5 hours - woot go team. We had an awkward moment, post bill paying when we just sat there waiting for our coats to be brought out, only to ask for them and then be ushered back to the front where the maitre d had them ready. I swear, I had no idea how this thing worked. The Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide, ranks Cutler & Co. as the #1 restaurant in Australia (2011). That's a big call, they're certainly up there I'm sure. I'm not sure if my 'dining experience' is broad enough to be able to qualify it just yet...something we'll just have to fix! Until next time xo

Market Value

Sunday, 10 July 2011

There's nothing I like better than to get up early and brave a chilly winter's morning to go to one of the fresh food markets happening around Sydney. Where I am, I am a little spoilt for choice: there are the Grower's Markets at Pyrmont, Eveleigh Farmer's Markets at Carriageworks and finally the Kings Cross Organic Food & Farmers Market. The latter two markets run every Saturday, so they are perfect to do the weekly shop whilst Pyrmont's occurs on the first Saturday of every month (except January). 

It's not unusual that I go to said market, only to return home laden with green bags full of fresh vegies, fruits and meat. It's almost like an Ikea-type scenario (you never walk out empty handed, do you?). One of the best things about going to fresh food markets is that you see a lot of produce that doesn't appear in the big chain supermarkets, and I feel happier to cut out the middle-man and pay the grower so all profits go to him/her (am i making it sound like a charity? :S). Matthew Evans, has a great philosopy of having 1° of separation from all of your food suppliers. I suppose a tree-change and living on a farmlet in Cygnet, Tasmania makes things a little easier...Movies like Food Inc. featuring prominent journalists cum food writers Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (In Defence of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma), are important to inform the masses about where our food really comes from (i.e. not off a shelf). 

The promo poster for Food Inc.: I think the tips on the right are a great starting point. Take note of #7! Image from Anomalous Material
There are some images from the film that really stuck with me. The chickens on a factory farm in the States are grown to full size in 42 days, which is unbelievably fast. Given an unlimited supply of feed, antibiotics to prevent infection (we ingest these too) and no doubt growth hormones they grow so rapidly and to such a size that they can no longer stand. The weight of their oversized legs and breasts is literally too much to bear. The second is that from an abattoir, again in America (but no doubt across the world). Pigs that are brought in to be slaughtered are herded into these elevator type contraptions, which shoot down to a gas chamber in which they will be slaughtered, on masse. I won't soon forget the shrieking and grunting of the pigs, in absolute fear and terror,  as they were about to be killed. It was spine-tingling. I am vaguely aware that things like that do happen but I never had such a vivid mental picture. Surprise surprise that the most shocking images are to do with animal cruelty. Now, does all this put me off meat? Not necessarily, but I know that I can make a choice to buy free-range and organic produce (such as eggs for starters) where I can be assured that animals led a happy life (free to roam and do as they please) and were killed 'humanely'.  

And now back to the topic at hand...I have a tradition with my Dad (an avid market goer) of turning up, having a little brekkie in the sun (coffee is compulsory) and then doing a round of all the stalls. The time spent is fleeting, but lots of fun. In the few years that I've been going, the markets have really surged in popularity as people have come to realise the fun of an age-old tradition (that your grandparents knew about all along), amazing variety available and the atmosphere (i swear there is happiness in the air). 

Here are my personal market highlights:

Kings Cross (@ Fitzroy gardens)
- Brasserie Bread: as seen on MC, their bread is available at select grocers but mostly cater for commercial clients (restaurants and the like)

Eveleigh (a weatherproof venue, best on a drizzly day)

Housed in an open warehouse, Eveleigh markets has gone from strength to strength over its 2 years. Photo from NSW Events
- Bird Cow Fish restaurant is represented by a cafe stall which has a lovely selection of muffins and pastries (mushroom tarts with goats cheese anyone?) as well as hot breakfasts. The Oh-My-Goshlette, a 3 egg omelette filled with mushrooms cooked in butter with eschallots, parsley, and a splash of balsamic vinegar and served on a 'bamboo' boat (very cute) is delicious, as is the Crooked Madame, a wonderfully simply sourdough toasty of ham, cheese (?gruyere) plus a fried egg & dijon. Both of these go down a treat. 
- Numerous organic growers, much more so than Pyrmont which seem to have more wholesale-type sellers. Look for the organic salad leaf people and the farming couple with an all-you-can-fit-in-a-bag deal for $10 (lots of apple varieties, citrus, pears and some vegetables) - the novelty value alone is totally worth it. Most of the vegie/fruit stalls here are organic and they proudly display their certifications telling us so (they're bloody hard to get apparently). Also, the stall selling heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers gets a big thumbs up.
- Billy Kwong: yes, unique to the market but not really to me (ouch?). Yesterday, Kylie Kwong was there (in person, omg) tossing salads and whatnot and man, was she pulling a crowd. There's no greater marketing tool than a bit of celebrity. Notice, no Asians eat from there - i'll let you ponder why...

Pyrmont (a lovely waterside setting)

A sea of food, and bobbing heads. Being by the water is a very Sydneian touch. Photo from Crave Sydney
- The old timer in terms of markets in Sydney. There's even a 'centre stage' where you can catch Marion Grasby (MC, again), Peter Evans (Hugos), Armando Percuoco (Buon Ricordo), Mark Jensen (Red Lantern) etc hosted by Joanna Savill. Yes, they're usually flogging their upcoming cookbooks but it's all in the name of fun. 
-  Lowes Mount Truffiere: hailing from Oberon (love that name), this stall has a strictly limited season and really draws the crowd, if not to buy, to look and admire. I haven't even tried truffles properly before...Here they come at a cost of $2.50 per gram
- The Table Sessions: a catering and events project (and foodie's wet-dream), run by chef Darren Robertson who are newcomers to the markets. Try their pulled pork and beetroot slaw sandwiches. They're pretty hearty at 8:30 of a morning but they go the distance.
- The pastry makers with a BBQ tacked on the side. The smoked salmon roll with dill mayonnaise is a winner.
- There are pretty much more meat-sellers here than you can shake a stick at. You'll find anything from beef and lamb to game. Pedlar pork purveyor: this lady pours her heart into looking after her "piggies" (as she calls them) on her farm. Pigs need TLC (see the aberrations mentioned above). Tinja Organics (beef cattle breeders) also deserves a mention.
- Regal salmon: this NZ company breeds a special type of King salmon farmed in Marlborough Sounds, that has a high level of omega-3's. The oiliness of the fish makes it unlike Atlantic salmon and mucho delicious. I first discovered this delightful salmon from the WLG pop-up restaurant last year.
- The Little General olive oil producers: I love the fruitiness of their extra virgin olive oil, all you need is a pinch of crusty bread and you're golden. You're welcome to try before you buy.
- Formaggio Ocello: now with a cafe/cheese shop in Surry Hills, this is an indisputable cheese heaven. The team at Ocello will cut you fresh slices off of huge cheese wheels...sooo good.

Eveleigh/Pyrmont (the double dippers)
- The Columbian Coffee Connection: we've heard all about your Single Origins and Toby's Estates, now here's the next up-and-coming roaster in town. The barista recognised the pair of us the other day, I love that. 
- La tartine (sourdough bakers): somewhat of a market exclusive, these artisan breadmakers hail from France and know their way around sourdough baguettes, batards, fruit loaves and fruit crumbles. The lady at this shop also recognises us - not many people spend as much as we do on bread!
- The potato people: you'll know who i mean. These farmers specialize in growing all sorts of potato varieties, and every time I go there, there always seems to be one more that i've never seen or heard of before. Granted, there's only so much you can do with a 'tater fry/mash/roast/jacket etc etc, but it's nice to try something new. 

Phew, I think that's it.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some of the creations whipped up from fresh market produce (love!):

The pretty colours! Heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella bruschetta, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. So simple, yet so delicious
Roasted duck marylands with figs, leek and potato. These figs, cooked to a jammy consistency were yummo

Smoked salmon, avocado, beetroot & basil 'stack' with heirloom tomatoes. Some jaw dislocation action was needed here to eat the thing - worth it.
Thanks for reading and make sure you get out there to support your local farmers and growers! xo

Gastronomic blowout (Part I)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

No Melbourne experience would be complete without having at least one exxy dinner :) I figure that you go to these places once (or twice, depending), with high expectations and test those waters. Since time was of the essence (two and a half days is never enough anywhere really), S and I managed to narrow down our short list of dinner venues to just 2. You would honestly need a few years to be able to try everything once - this is exactly why you need to take up residence there for a while haha. Anyway, after very little deliberation, the Press Club was one we decided on. Having made the booking in person that morning (a Tuesday, so luckily we got a table) we were ramped up for a modern Greek-Cypriot feasting.

Now I will be honest, I had never heard of George Calombaris until Masterchef aired on tv. The fame monster probably can't hurt his cheffing career, and nowadays it has turned into a bit of a popularity contest. Once you've made it on tv (with your own series or whatnot), you've made it, so to speak. In fact, being a chef is becoming increasingly glamourized. I have no idea why - I can only imagine what it's really like - with the searing heat, the stress, ridiculously long hours, repetitive/menial tasks and the hierarchy of the kitchen (clashing egos much?). It's not really my cup of tea. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain is a good eye-opener on the subject (White Heat is next on my list). So sometimes it pays to actually go out and eat something special - chefs have been slaving for hours to plate up your dish come 20:00.

But I digress.

The Press Club on Flinders St is George Calombaris' first restaurant baby and since its opening, has certainly left its mark on the Melbourne dining scene. He was crowned the Age's Young Chef of the Year back in 2004 (when I was still in high school!) and then Chef of the Year 2008. His claim to television fame were some appearances on Ready, Steady, Cook which I will choose to ignore...(not a fan). The Press Club group now has its name to 6 different restaurants in Melbourne. It's a veritable (mini) empire in the making.
The Press Club's bragging rights...
Awarded (critics don't lie, or they shouldn't)

  • 2 chef's hats, 16.5/20 (The Age Good Food Guide, 2011)
  • 1/3 stars, #66 in the top 100 Australian Restaurants (Gourmet Traveller Australian Restaurant Guide, 2011)
  • Best new restaurant (The Age Good Food Guide, 2008)

Alrighty, so S, a couple of other friends and I were booked for the second sitting of the evening, at a quarter to nine. As soon as we stepped through the doors we were met with the maitre d, who as if psychic, knew who we were (we were seemingly the last table to arrive, and only 5 minutes late) and glided to our table, at the same time offering to take our coats for us (it was chilly out) and asking whether we preferred still or sparkling water. Well, okay! I'm rolling with the whole professional wait staffing thing. It's a nice change from all the waiters that a) don't care b) don't know what they're serving c) forget stuff. These people were a collective well-oiled machine. 

Our water glasses were these gorgeous kosta boda (i'm guessing?) orange glass tumblers that weighed a ton but looked great. Don't judge me cos i comment on glassware :P Anyhow, the restaurant was pretty dark, as they all seem to be these days and it was PACKED!! TUesday night, at 9pm and all the tables were full. No one's complaining I'm sure. I've heard from somewhere that the restaurant's takings from Friday and Saturday cover the running costs (rent/linen/wages etc) and money from other days is bascially profit. The demographics of the place were basically business men, middle aged couples and foodophiles, like myself. The table of 6 suits beside us went all out and each ordered the 'symposium' degustation of 8 courses. We couldn't help but have a sticky beak, it seemed like they tried a bit of everything but a fifth of the size of normal. I love the idea of a succession of little plates, but i doubt i'd be able to enjoy it as much, come the sixth or seventh course...which is a shame really. I've heard on the grapevine that it takes weeks or months for you to get a table at the Press Club on a Saturday night - crazy.

From the inside out: the view from the kitchen. The seats in the foreground are called the Chef's Table and you get a fantastic view of the pastry chefs plating up their dessert creations all night - awesome stuff. Photo from Broadsheet
The menus come attached to newspaper holders which is nice and keeping to theme. I was quick to pick my main, but note that George's Mum's roast chicken was on the menu (share between 2) with black truffles and "all the trimmings" - whatever that means. It's probably some sort of heavenly chicken smorgasbord, which i'll have to leave for 'next time'. My choice for main was the Duck: duck breast and leg, celeriac, cabbage, kokkinisto and pink fir.

And behold...

Nevermind the jus is a bit splattered, it's beaauuutiful. Even looking at this photo now brings back happy (and delicious) memories
Wow. Just wow. Don't you hate it when the plate looks so gorgeous you don't know where to start? It is true, we do eat with our eyes...and noses and tastebuds. Let's start with the star attraction: the duck was beautifully cooked and blushing pink. It almost melted in the mouth. How was it kept so tender? I'm not sure, but some secrets should best be kept. The slices of duck sat on a bed of red cabbage which was wonderful and sweet. The kokkinisto or duck sausage on the left added another texture to the dish. The celeriac puree (smooth as) and jus (glossy and lush) topped it all off. Not a skerrick was left when I was through... This is a great example of how to execute the perfect dish - all the checkboxes receive a big tick from me. 

S ordered the sal-mon. A wise choice...

Hello, salmon. Another masterpiece of plating
Whenever I eat out, I like to share - and in return, sample everyone else's food haha. I'm sure that's how the critics do it - order one of everything and then divide the spoils. For this dish, the salmon was tender and moist (under normal circumstances, I hate that word). The crispy kalamaris (squid) ticked the 'crunch' box and the eel kroketes (croquettes) were beautifully rich and creamy. I give props for this one also.

And then, in a moment of madness...

We ordered every dessert... We totally went there. We essentially had ourselves in for a dessert degustation. Oh, yes there is always room for a sweet, or 4. It was funny when they all came out, the poor waitress had to describe each dessert in vivid detail, what's on the plate, how it's prepared - you could really feel the pressure she was under to get it all right. She ended with a sigh of relief and  "I think I've got everything...". Meanwhile, we're all thinking, let us get stuck in! It is nice they make the effort though, it is not unappreciated.

The dessert collage - oh, you know I just had to. Top left: Aphrodite, top right: a Greek rendition of tiramisu, bottom left: chocolate tasting plate with ice cream and chocolate mousse, bottom right: butterscotch and pear tart
 The Aphrodite is a real scene-stealer. Featured on Masterchef, the dish comes along with a board full of rose petals and pretty things and when liquid nitrogen is poured in, you have the smell of roses wafting over the table - it's like you've just stepped into a rose garden. This is such a Heston thing to do, making dining a very sensory experience. The passionfruit and white chocolate mousse is to die for btw... Another dessert highlight, was the Greek tiramisu - we finished that one off pretty quickly! A cheeky waiter made a comment when he came over to clear our plates, "Whoa, you guys did well. Can I get you another round?". Thanks mate, now what exactly are you implying?

Opinions on this restaurant seem to be divided, there are some (including Georgie's own mother) who believe that his take on greek cuisine, modern with elements of molecular gastronomy 'bastardize' traditional greek food. I think the whole point is that the inspiration for his food lies in yaya's homestyle cooking. He's certainly not rejecting one for the other. I for one, thoroughly enjoyed myself and the food on offer. Our feasting at the Press Club was finally complete and a fantastic experience. We waddled out to the tram stop late in the night, happily patting our new potbellies. Thanks for reading xo

B'FST, Melbourne styley

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Too many things, there are just too many things that I want to write about on my little blog. I mentioned previously that i had made a recent trip to Melbourne. A city which I absolutely love - so much so that i can pretty much see myself living there one day. What is it about Melbourne that pulls at my heart? Coffee, food and laneways full stop (.) - and friends of course :P The trams are also a bonus. I'm sure this hunger for expenditure must be a generational thing, yay for Gen-Yers! We are well and truly fuelling the Australian economy. Well, I'm doing my part anyway.

Anywho, so last week I went for a 3 day trip down to Melb with an old work friend of mine, S. It was completely a spur of the moment thing, we literally booked the Friday morning to leave on Monday. Spontaneity for these kinds of things (impromptu minibreaks!!!) just adds to the excitement. We arrived at about 11pm on Monday night, dropped by a minibus on the side of Queen Vic markets. Now I'm not sure if you know the area, but it's sort of like sydney's Haymarket - an awesome food market during the day but abandoned and a bit on the dodgy side at night. I suppose the thick fog didn't help much. Anyway we found our lodging quickly and fell asleep ready for a huge day ahead...

The next morning was overcast with a decided wind chill in the mix. Typical. First stop was brekkie at Cumulus Inc. a wee diner on Flinders Lane (google maps anyone?) set up by chef Andrew McConnell - who has become some sort of demi-god on the melbourne restaurant scene. On route to the cafe we dropped into the Press Club to make a dinner reservation. They'll be more on that later ;) S and i had been scouring through the several restaurant guides i had brought with me on the plane (some would call me a food nerd). I'm sure the snoozing lady in our row didn't appreciate our squealing as we resolved to visit some of the hatted restaurants in town.

Cumulus Inc. 
15/20, one hat (The Age, 2011)
Readying ourselves for a big day of EOFYS shopping, the first coffee of the day was in order. The cappuccino that I had was brilliant, with plenty of foam that didn't deflate as soon as it was set on the table (take note baristas). Tick! I ordered the Cumulus Inc. breakfast (akin to a house special) which included a boiled egg (i would have liked soft boiled but forgot to ask/clarify), toast, preserves, natural yoghurt with winter compote (rhubarb and the like), organic orange juice & coffee. Can't complain really. The table next to us had ordered the shakshouka (baked eggs with roasted peppers and marinated Persian fetta) which smelt divine. Look, our trip really was too short...

The door signage. Flashy, but me likey. Weird, I seem to have a thing for signs on this blog. This shot is by Studio Round, the design firm responsible for the logo handiwork.
Another big plus for me is the interior design. This place has a really high set ceiling making it feel really spacey, with classic modern table settings - basically the kind of place i like to find myself (does that make any sense?). There is a proper bar by the windows along with front row seats of the kitchen (where all the action happens) and then the usual table/chair set up in between. It's a pretty nifty space. And I didn't seem to mind the scraping of chairs on the floor boards after a while. Apparently, you can also book them (as in Andrew McConnell and chefs) to cater private functions, within the Arc Gallery which is just next door - how handy...!

What I'm going on about. Isn't it gorg?! It's a miracle what a wide angle lens can do for a place. This still is from Australian Traveller who rate Cumulus Inc. #45 in Australia's top 100 gourmet experiences - okily dokily! 
Gee, i should be employed by tourism Australia. I do apologise for my personal lack of input on the photo front but i haven't entirely mastered the "subtle-camera-whip-out-to-take-an-instant-masterpiece" move yet. I did try however, and surely that must count for something? P.S. the restaurant pic i took had some crepy random lady, standing outside the door peering in. Slightly awkward and she probably didn't want to be in the spotlight. Moving on however...

Mr Tulk 
1/3 cups translating as very good coffee and food (The Age cafe guide, 2011)
This dinky place is the cafe attached to the State Library of Victoria and is a veritable gem. There's nothing better than catching up with the melbourne crew, and introducing them to 'new' spots. It strikes me as kind of funny but when you count the urban sprawl that goes on (Sydney is heaps worse let me tell you), most people live around the city and not in it (well, obviously). If you find the name intriguing, the cafe's namesake is Augustus Tulk, the SLV's 1st librarian. It's like his name (character) is straight out of a novel :) 

Monsieur Tulk. Man, I was sweating over how to merge these jpegs lol. I love the old school high arch windows, how do I get me some of those? Big central tables seem to be en vogue around these parts e.g. Journal cafe on Flinders Lane
The staff are friendly and the vibe is cheerful. The coffee is decent (pretty much all melbourne coffee is decent, as in very good and above Sydney's par) and my standard 'cap' order went down a treat.  Foodwise, I ordered the corned beef hash with 2 poached eggs and dijon mustard. This brekkie is apparently a must try, recommended by someone (I forgot who - i do a lot of food reading, okay). I was a bit perplexed by the prospect of 'corned beef hash' but it turned out well. It's essentially a hash brown, with shreds of corned beef incorporated. The thing is then shaped into a plump sausage-like shape (different from the picture), crumbed and cooked. Btw, the poached eggs were perfectly spherical orbs (how, i don't know) and had beautiful running yolks :D You can't say I'm a tough critic, but i do like my eggs done right. Haha   

Corned beef hash @ Mr Tulk circa 2007. Still by Agnes and her DSLR (i'm jealous).     

Brother Baba Budan
3/3 cups i.e. the best coffee and great food in a special setting; in some cases, the best coffee but limited food (The Age cafe guide, 2011) - i believe BBB falls into the latter category, sadly.
Now, on our last night, S and I stumbled across (not the drunken type btw) this place completely by chance after 'de-meandering' back home from a laneway bar, Murmur. Of course, the name BBB rang a bell - the name is pretty distinctive, nevermind the chairs they have for a roof. BBB is another spawn (i write as if it were a bad thing) of the Seven Seeds coffee empire that is taking over Melbourne one cafe at a time...

See what I mean?! BBB have effectively made a puny space punier but it just works for some reason. You can thank my phone for the blurriness, it makes for artistic effect.
So the next morning we hopped on a tram down Lizzie street to Little Bourke where this little nook resides. I was a bit trepidatious (lol) because it looked like the place was chockers, which it was. But the sweet thing about being in Melbourne during the working week is that most places are pretty quiet... Yay, for the suits who only had time to grab a takeaway double shot long black in their keep-cups. BBB feels like the kind of joint that is opened and run by a bunch of friends who have license over the coffee machine (a great monstrosity of a thing, probably equivalent to a Rolls in the caffeinated world) and the soundtrack. It is very laid-back (apart from the coffee orders that keep rolling in), which is a nice step back from the freneticism (here i go making up words again) of the sidewalk metres away. 

Somehow, we managed to get a seat right in front of the pastry cabinet. How convenient! Apparently the Russian pastries are the ones people go on about but there wasn't anything russian in sight so we opted for some almond croissants instead (old faithful). My order of a regular (full fat, ftw!) cap came out looking pretty as a picture. I must say, though it was very good, I was expecting a little bit more (some of it must be due to hype). I thought the coffee at Cumulus Inc. was a touch better (more creamy and better depth of flavour), but maybe it's because that was the first coffee of the trip and my first great coffee in ages...? I dunno, to be honest I really am nitpicking here. 

Now how could I write a Melbourne coffee/cafe post without showing off some coffee art? That is one good-looking coffee
All in all, nowhere else in Australia is the cafe culture as strong as in Melb, Sydney tries really really hard and doesn't quite get there. Melbourne probably has more cafes/coffee vendors/baristas per capita than anywhere else in the world. But I really can't argue against it if the results are this good. A bit of healthy competition never hurt anybody now did it :P xo


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