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

The 'M' word (Aaaaaaaah!!)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

I must say, it's pretty hard to contain my excitement here (can you tell?). Last night, I made my first batch of macarons - chocolate flavour, as requested by brother dearest. I made a half batch thinking, "What the hell am I going to do with 40 of these puppies?" - only to have them half eaten post-assembly. Well, nevermind...

Macarons have gotten a huge amount of press, including from yours truly (see my first ever post) and a lot of emphasis has been put on perfecting the process. I'm pretty sure I could do better next time but for the moment I'm gloating over the fact that I made something that resembles an actual macaron (woot!).

Oh yes, you better believe I did it. Food styling seems like such an awesome job - that and being a food critic (just putting it out there...)
There's nothing better than getting some new equipment to get you back into the kitchen (did someone say Kitchenaid mixer?)- not that I needed convincing otherwise. But the day before yesterday my online order arrived containing my piping bag kit - 6 tips and disposable bags (because they do get wrecked after each use. Gone are the days when I've had to use the $2 POS (not point of sale) bag from the supermarket. Now I can look like a pro without being one haha!!

I wrote before about the book I bought, and unfortunately Maréchal harks on the fact that you need to make an Italian meringue (cooked sugar) for better results. Not having a sugar thermometer, nor knowing anything about the stages of cooking sugar - soft ball/hard ball whatever.. I wasn't really game to try. But apparently the wait time is ~30 mins. So in actual fact I've made a hybrid macaron using two recipes including one from the book but employing the french meringue technique (uncooked sugar) described by GT. Granted, the massive downside of doing it this way means that you have to croûtage i.e. dry to form a shiny crust (does it sound like I know what i'm talking about?) for 4 yea hours, that is. Believe you me, that was one long wait - occupied for a lot of it by me just looking at them and testing to see if they'd crusted yet. Note: it's kind of obvious, they're not so runny anymore and develop a film on top that lightens the colour.

The longest time. 4 hours later: the croûtage stage is finally complete!
There was a moment of panic, at this point though when they hadn't formed feet yet. I was lamenting that I had botched the batch until sensible mum told me they'd form in the oven...phew! Funny how I was so worried about stuffing up (this exercise was a big time investment!). Lo and behold, baking at 150°C for just over 10 minutes. My macarons had feet - rejoice!

After crisping up in the oven for ~10 minutes. I will admit I was pretty much glued to the oven door - watching them grow!
I probably could have cooked them for a bit longer but it's difficult to tell from the shell side up. After they had cooled and I was lifting them off the paper, they were sticking a bit too much for my liking, so maybe a few more minutes next time. It's important to tweak the cooking time according to your oven. Maybe it's a good idea to have an oven thermometer even. Baking is great for people like me who are utter control freaks (I tease). 

Assemblage: divide the batch into half and pair them up with another shell that is approximately the same size. I had made a dark chocolate ganache to fill these babies earlier and took it out of the fridge to discover it was as hard as a rock. Even after softening it a bit over the stove, the ganache was still pretty solid and not oozy enough - mental note. Anyway, I piped away (I'm still pretty unco at it but practice makes parfait!) and stuck the  other halves on top - ta dah!

The colouration on the shells is a bit odd I know - I'm guessing it's from using a french meringue/oven heat weirdness.
I'm not showing you all my ganache inside because it looked gross and i'm not really one for toilet humour... :P The reason why you can't see it well in the pictures is cos I got overexcited and piped the ganache pretty cold. When I put them together the ganache stayed pretty much exactly how I piped it and in the centre of the base. Minutiae really but ooh well!

I only managed to assemble 16 macarons out of a supposed 20. Definitely because of my piping inconsistency - I'll just have to try again then :P

Le goût (the taste): I must admit that they tasted pretty good. Yes, the shells were sweet (as all meringues are I suppose) but the bitter quality of the ganache - which wasn't sweetened, helped to counterbalance that (i'm sounding like a contestant off Masterchef - ick!). The shell didn't quite have that textural crunch that we all look for but that's okay, a couple more minutes in the oven and we should be sweet (pun intended)! Let me tell you, 16 macarons do not go a long way in this household.

For the diehards: this is a peek into the anatomy. Btw how is my hand modelling? Lol.
To sum up, this was me diving head first into the art/science of macaron making. All in all, I'm quite pleased with the results - I had been deliberating on how/when/which to make for ages so this was me biting the bullet (in both senses). It's pretty hard work to do this and that right but the results speak for themselves (and your taste-testers will love them!). On a more practical point, calculating my potential profit from this venture, I could have made $40 (piddly when you think about it) from this batch of 16. The cost of raw materials is relatively small (depending on the quality of chocolate you use) but the labour of love is priceless. Strangely, you grow attached to them, especially when you've spent 6 hours making them - they become like children (and I ate two of them)! xo

Fin. Look out Adriano (not)!

Asian Pride (monosodium glutamate)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Good morning sunshine. Who knew that a Sydney winter could be so accommodating during my uni holiday. The sun, is actually warm here - a rather sad fact since I spend 90% of my time in the nation's capital (ice box). I'm currently sitting in my pyjamas, munching on a slice of brioche (homemade I might add and a smashing first attempt - see the recipe here) accompanied by a soy latte. Simple pleasures people.

Good things. That's what I've heard, or read rather, about the new joint set up by Dan Hong and Jowett Yu of Lotus fame (or maybe not?). Sometimes you need a casual dining setting once in a while. Fine dining is golden, don't get me wrong but I still find I have these awkward moments when wait staff come to set cutlery/pour wine etc and I feel compelled to abruptly stop conversation. I'm not sure why I do this, I'm not ripping apart the restaurant or anything (usually). But then again, I don't really want to share my bitching. And so, we sit in silence in that time, and then mutter a near inaudible "Thank you". Only to continue the raucous laughter/D&M as soon as they leave our vicinity! Anyway, back to the matter.

The street front signage. There's also another neon sign with "six two one" on it - the additive number of MSG. Photo from Concrete Playground
Ms G's - a clever (maybe too clever *shifty eyes*) use of Asian cookings' frenemy MSG. First thing, the walk to the restaurant takes about 10 minutes tops (that's more a leisurely stroll) which is awesome. Any place that I can walk to within a reasonable amount of time (30 minutes is my upper limit) has potential from my point of view. Once you step through the front door you are hit by a wave of decibels. The soundtrack may have something to do with that as well. It's a blend of old-school funk and soul with a but (in a kiwi accent) of modern stuff. For example Islands by the XX and For the Love of Money by the O'Jays. I always find music choices interesting... but they've done well to feed an atmosphere which is abuzz.

The faces. Jowett (left) and Dan (right) run the show at Ms G's. P.S. I like their wall, and birkies. Photo by Daniel Boud, published in Time Out Sydney
Being situated in a terrace house in Potts Point, there isn't a lot of wiggle room. But they've tried to squeeze in as much seating on the three 'levels' be it bench, booth or stool by the bar. You can tell that Merivale (read: Mr Hemmes) has invested a lot in the fit out although you can't tell. I think they were going for the "oh, this was just something we threw together" look without really succeeding. It's a bit contrived, but that's not to say I don't like it. Our table was a perfect vantage point to see in the kitchen. Excellent!

The point of deliberation: our usual rule is to order a dish each minus one if sharing mains but we may have underestimated the portions of each so we ended up adding dishes to our order. I'm sure they weren't complaining either! 
Anywho, this was it:
1. Egg noodles with XO sauce, braised duck, soft poached egg - more duck please!!
2. Wok fried cultivated mushrooms, baby corn, sugar snaps, jerusalem artichoke - delicious sauce and nice variety of mushrooms (pretty!) 
3. Queensland spanner crab, broccolini, silken tofu, shellfish dashi - okay, the tofu was a little firm but crab is always a treat
4. Jow's sweet and sour lamb ribs - OMG (in a good way), the only way to eat these is with your hands - just so you can lick the glaze off your fingers haha. Definitely my favourite dish of the night

Cuties. Maybe for next time, mini bánh mì - chicken katsu and crisp pork belly. Photo from Spicy Ice Cream
Other popular choices of the night (I was definitely peeking at what was coming out of the kitchen) were peking duck pancakes (the night's special), buddha's delight (extremely healthy looking salad), ceviche (a random latin american menu addition), the mini bánh mì (the vietnamese version of a pork/chicken slider) and the stoner's delight dessert (an American inspired sugar smorgasbord). There was also the Pandan chiffon cake, strawberries and coconut sorbet - featured in a pressure test on Masterchef. Temptation was resisted because...

At home there was a homemade Japanese cheesecake awaiting!

Why, hello.
The beauty of these cakes is that they're so light. Even though we were heartily stuffed with dinner and only walked about 500m back home - there's always space for an incey slice of cake. I first tried this baby from Savoy cake shop in china town YEARS ago - and they really can't go wrong. Recently, my dad found a recipe for this and we haven't looked back! The results are heavenly...

Heavenly, I tell you! It looks fluffy cos it is ;) The dessicated coconut and sultanas make a world of difference too.
Japanese cheesecake recipe (adapted from Diana's Desserts)

140g granulated sugar
6 eggs, separated
1/4 tspn cream of tartar
50g butter
250g cream cheese
100mL milk
1 tbspn lemon juice
60g cake flour
20g corn flour

1. Lightly grease and line a round cake pan with greaseproof paper 
2. Melt cream cheese, butter and milk over a double boiler. Cool the mixture (in the fridge if necessary)
3. Preheat oven to 160°C
4. To the cheese, fold in flour, corn flour, egg yolks, lemon juice and mix well
5. Whisk eggs whites with cream of tartar until foamy. Add sugar and whisk until soft peaks form
6. Add cheese mixture to the egg whites and mix. Pour mixture into cake pan
7. Bake in a bain marie (water bath) for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until set and golden brown
8. After baking, let cake cool completely. Again, in the fridge if necessary (this may take several hours). Patience is a virtue and totally worth it! xo


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