Monday, December 31, 2007

The customer is sometimes very right

Restaurant Rules;
If you are right, make sure the waiter doesn’t treat you like an idiot.

Out for a casual dinner on Boxing Day evening, I ate at Pizza e Birra in St Kilda. Having dined there also a few months back I was looking forward to an alternate to my usual i Carusi pizza joint.
Every thing was going fine, apart from my warm Campari soda on arrival, (not enough ice combined with warm mixers, don’t make a very refreshing aperitif), but I coped.
After some usual Italian inspired entrees, bresaola, prosciutto and crumbed mozzarella, our pizza and salad were delivered. The pizza was as ordered, and served with a crisp base and generous toppings, yet the salad, something along the lines of Insalata Verde; baby spinach, beans, asparagus, peas and goats cheese, just didn’t look right.
First impressions were that it was overdressed and wilted, so I dug into the pizza until I felt the need for some greens.
Upon picking up the bowl, it was really warm, I stuck in the service cutlery and it wilted further in front of me. After a glance at PDC for reassurance, I gave the eye to our waiter.
“I don’t think our salad looks right and …”, as he took it out of my hand he finished “and the bowls warm”. He took it back to the kitchen.
The thing about this is I am a pretty easy going customer, I rarely return food or complain, unless it is a serious oversight (like a small metal nail in a scallop sashimi dish at Tetsuyas a few years back!), so I was seriously surprised when the waiter came back to our table a few minutes later with the same salad and a story that he was new and didn’t know that it was a warm salad and that’s how it was meant to be…
Well, my restaurant experience flared in me now, “okay sure, but the menu said, spinach and this is rocket (pointing at the leaves), it also said, asparagus which is missing and we have zucchini and no peas”, “So I’ll bring a new salad them?” he asked, I nodded with a polite smile. A good waiter could have saved this situation, yet ours didn’t stand a chance, with one of the lamest stories in the book, I’m new. I really just didn’t care; I just wanted a salad that didn’t look like it had been under the salamander.
As we finished our pizza, our new salad was delivered, to my silent amusement, the chef had stood his/her ground and the vegetables were all warm, the rocket was now spinach and all the right bits were there.

It’s a shame because as PDC summed up, it sounded such a promising combination, yet it was so wrong. Overdressed salad leaves, in a hot bowl with hot vegetables and soft goats curd dolloped over the top, inviting it was not.
And an idiot I am not, especially when I have to tell the waiter that he forgot to put our wine on the bill, along side the $11 they charged us for the salad. (Of which I don’t mind as we did technically eat it, but again a good waiter would not charge for something that they even noticed was not ‘right’.)

Restaurant Rules; if it is wrong make sure you let them know why, sometimes it’s a mistake, sometimes it’s just a wrong chef.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Insalata Caprese instead of coffee?

Shopping in the city with all the other crazys, just before Christmas, I was washed out by a sideways thrusting tropical style storm. The car was at least a kilometre away and definitely too far away to be bothered about the possible parking ticket in the torrential down fall. So I slipped into the side of the GPO and to a table at the Federal Coffee Palace.
I know they have great coffee here and that was my intention until I remembered seeing a gorgeous Caprese style salad in someone elses bowl a few months back. I had food envy at the time and decided that today, despite the very coffee friendly weather, I wanted to eat the FCP version of the Italian flag for myself.

Insalata Caprese is all about produce, the best fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes and basil with generous seasoning and grassy extra virgin olive oil.
This version at FCP was true to the tradition, it had all the characteristics and was so pretty I just had to share with you. I don't think they had a chef in the kitchen that day, they had a food stylist, I just could not pick a thing in the elegant presentation of this dish. I've recently seen less care put into the presentation of three hat restaurant food (sorry, yes, and I will post on it!)

So December Dish of the Month
Caprese salad - Federal Coffee Palace

I did also have a coffee, quickly as the rain had finished and I was sure the intuitive parking inspectors were on their way to my car, and I was glad I did, the perfect Melbourne experience.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas with Jack

I had a quiet Christmas at home this year, PDC had been working like crazy, so I decided to prepare a modern Aussie style Christmas lunch for the two of us.

One of the difficult things about working out what to serve is that a lot of otherwise beautiful produce is usually so over demanded at this time of the year, that what is available is generally of poor quality. Take seafood for example, there are only so many fish/prawns/oysters etc to be caught and sold over that period so the chances of getting good produce over the other thousands at the market (no matter what you are prepared to pay) is slim, as the retailers will stretch themselves (and their prices - why were raspberries $6.50 a punnet last weekend, yet $4.00 the one prior, when the season is actually getting better?) to supply as much as they can sell.

Therefore my mission was to create a special, 'Christmas feeling' lunch without using the produce that everyone else wanted and would be easy to 'finish' on Christmas day and partially prepare the day before.

Therefore, the menu...

San Daniele prosciutto and seared scallops with saffron and manzanilla braised leek, peas and their tendrils

Rare venison fillet and quince sauce with anchovy and asparagus stuffed zucchini flowers and taleggio polenta chips

Chaource with pecans and bread to dip (actually on the menu but postponed until dinner...)

Black cherry and almond clafoutis with eggnog crush

So the entree (scallops, fitted my requirements as some of the best ones comes frozen from Canada or Japan) - served on a glass plate that you can't see here!

The San Daniele ham is my new favourite thing, I can't believe I have been getting by eating the plastic Australian stuff for years. After eating in Spain earlier this year and my new palate for Spanish jamon, I can confidently tell you this is truly up there!
The entree was matched beautifully by PDC with a fancy white burgundy, 1996 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne.

You can tell its summer when the zucchini flowers are at the market.

I (or PDC actually) stuffed the flowers with a very quick combination of a finely sliced asparagus spear, a couple of chopped anchovies, a blob of goats curd, lemon and S+P. The flowers were panfried and then finished in the oven, the stuffing leaked a little when i turned them but still offered a powerful flavour punch that you could not miss.

Pre cooked and set buckwheat polenta, cut into 'chips' to be seasoned and panfried.

The cherries before the batter... (and during PDC's nap - hence time for a few extra photos)

They were large cherries, but not plum sized as they look here... And then...

Baked... yes trust me it tasted as delicious as it looks here (I was very proud!)

We ate this with what I ended up calling eggnog crush, essentially my recipe for eggnog that I froze some of this year, in the hope of turning into a rough ice cream, yet as I discovered my taste for booze in the eggnog also stops it freezing hard, so we ended up with s slushy consistency for the 'crush', but the flavour combination was outrageously good.
The incredibly interesting thing about the clafoutis was that if I had not cooked it myself, I would have argued about the fact that I could DEFINITELY tell that the cherries had been soaked in Amaretto. But since you can tell from the first photo there was no soaking just beautifully plump, fresh, fat cherries, the flavour had come from the seeds, the exact reason why they are traditionally left in this dish. I love it, and love the way the best understanding of something comes from doing it yourself.

I hope you also had a very merry christmas

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Noodle soup tour of Melbourne

It's one of those things that you don't even realise that your craving, but in the matter of a week and a bit, I deliberately drove out of my way to get a delicious bowl of noodle soup.

Each bowl had their own attractions, at Laksa King, it was the deep aromatic spices of the coconut curry, rich and satisfying, at Pho Dzung Tan Dinh it was the clean and healthy feeling of chilli and chicken broth.

Sliced chicken and rare beef pho

Seafood laksa noodle soup

The beautiful advantages of living in Melbourne, driving from the boring lunch den of South Yarra (I should except Suzuran as it is still a favourite) to the diverse opportunities of Victoria St (Pho Dzung Tan Dinh, #208) or Racecourse Rd (Laksa King, #320).
Both places have an obvious following, a lengthy queue can develop for the foolish late comers, yet a quick table for one never seems a problem.
Having been to Vietnam and Malaysia, the home of these dishes in the past few years, it reminds me of the complexity of flavours that you miss if you dine at the usual 'modern' offerings. No where else in Melbourne have I been able to identify the sweet mix of spice, coconut and chilli that I crave at Laksa King. Even the accessible Laksa Me doesn't live up to the true flavours and generosity of crunchy textural prawns, mussels, calamari, fish and fried tofu in a broth that leaves my tummy giggling as I just can't leave it behind.

My chicken and beef pho is reminiscent of the first bowl I ate at in Hanoi. A few years back, late at night, delirious from a flight we went wandering for food. Until a funny little place appeared on the corner, kiddy stools and tables, and remarkable soup that we pointed and ordered. The regulars giggled politely at us as we sign-languaged our way through a beer order as well. I could eat if for breakfast, lunch and dinner even in the Hanoi summer of 40C and 90% humidity, perhaps in between strong condensed milk iced coffees!

While on Victoria St. I find it impossible to by-pass Ming Tan II. They are the only place I know of in Melbourne where I can get 'snow balls' or glutenous rice balls. In Sydney, I would eat them with a coconut, sugar and sesame crumble centre, at Ming Tan II, it's usually egg custard, yet last week it was mango!

Chunks of ripe mango in sticky rice paste balls with sweetened coconut, a new favourite (190 Victoria St.) get in before the mangos are finished!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bookings at Tempura Hajime

Just a quick post to gloat about some upcoming reservations at Tempura Hajime.
I haven't tried to make a reservation at Tempura Hajime since the huge number of comments on multiple blogs, that they are booked out months ahead. So when I made a random phone call in early November and was told that they were booked out until the new year I was determined to make a booking for January. So on advise from the voice on the phone I called on the first of the month to book for the month following... with success. I am now the proud holder of not one but two 4pax reservations for different days in January.
The funny thing is I don't even know who PDC and I will be dining with yet, but can't wait to compare it with my experiences in March and April.
The funnier thing is, that I am pretty confident it will be just as good, if not better, as after I gave my contact details for the bookings and was asked if I had dined before Noriko asked "Is that the Jackie that dined with Simon?" I can't believe it, she remembered talking with us 9 months ago and remembered my name to identify me this time on the phone.
As I said in my older post, old fashioned quality service is alive and well in South Melbourne.
NB Do you think there is dollar value to be said for a confirmed 4pax on a Saturday night at Tempura Hajime? Could it be a Menu for Hope contender?

Monday, December 3, 2007

St. Ali

Saint Ali may well be the guardian of coffee, yet St. Ali in South Melbourne is the guardian of food stories.

Having breakfast last weekend I was pleased at my good cafe selection, to see John Lethlean and his family arrive for coffee. Not really interesting enough for a post, except possibly if we had shared the larger table and loudly continued our conversation about why Jacques Reymond did not ring our bells despite its 3 hats, (that did not happen, and even if we HAD shared the table and a wall not been between us, would I've?? Probably not...)

It's a bit of a sport of sorts, for PDC and I to spot food reviewers and see who else in the dining room notices, unless they were particularly cool at St.Ali, I have to say no one blinked an eye.

We had just gotten back to our eggs when in walks another familiar face, Bob Harts wife (sorry, I only know her face, not her name).

Hang on a minute, a possible double food reviewer sighting and from rival papers, this was getting interesting until they choose to sit outside, with Bob arriving less than 5 minutes later.

With our noses back in our respective eggs, nothing more was to be seen until the coincidental toilet dash saw both John and Bob standing side by side. No, paper fights, no harsh words just friendly smiles and hand shakes.

I guess communal good taste, accounts for the witnessing of the similarities, of different food readerships.


Dish of the month ...and a whinge

I've held out making this post until what has ended up being late. Not because of lack of dining experiences but because of wanting to hold out for what should have been my best opportunity for a fabulous dish of the month, dinner at Jacques Reymond.
I dined there very late last month and was disappointed to find that I could not list any one of the 9 dishes I saw that night as one worthy of the title... perhaps more needs to be said in other post, but it wasn't bad just not, I guess, me. Gosh sounds like a bad breakup excuse!!

So I therefore I get to nominate a traditional yet inspiring, 'Dish of the month' from dinner at Comme kitchen a couple of weeks ago.
I've raved about this intimate dining room before, about their Frenchy-Spainsh food, that has me bubbling with dining excitement as I read the menu (very rich coming from someone who writes menu descriptors for a living...!, or perhaps chef Simon Arkless has gotten into my brain??)
Comme truly offers, and supplies some of the best food in Melbourne.
The dish actually was ordered by PDC, but I used some of my best negotiation skills, to secure as many tastes as reasonable possible. Essentially it was a pot of brandade served with some pretty little farga olives and some impossibly thin and crispy croutons. On the palate it was a combo of warm and fluffy textured salt cod mixed with a rich potato, garlic and olive oil combo. The finished product was a sophisticated dish, perhaps best for sharing (lucky that, and yes that was one of the excuses I used!) that looked somewhat unexciting but was a marvel of the lightness of touch and considered balance.

November dish of the month
Brandade of salt cod, Spanish farga olives, croutons - Comme, Melbourne


Monday, November 26, 2007

Good karma 2

Yesterdays good karma salad seems a bit fancy... it's not always that fancy eating with jack, it just needs to be delicious and satisfying.

Such as this pasta base that also includes some of the good karma salad ingredients; the last of the boudin blanc, the last of the white zucchini and some black russian tomatoes that were looking worse for wear.
With some fresh garlic, EVOO and probably too much butter (to make it worthwhile going to the gym earlier) this was tossed with some spaghettini.
A glass of rose - also good karma, as I opened it last night.
I now just wonder what is to be done with the lentils from last night in the fridge and the watercress that is already probably beyond recovery. If only I didn't have an interesting reservation and dinner date tomorrow night.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Good food karma salad

This salad means a different kind of good food karma to me, than the topical SOLE food concept. It means that I have found a way to make a satisfying dinner from bits that may well have died in my fridge in the next few days. Now for some this can be easy or this can be hard, for me it's easy and hard in the same breath, unfortunately for me, I'm a bit fussier than the next...

Tonight's dinner started with some wild mushroom and chicken liver pate that was left over from dinner with PDC last night, he laughed when I decided to keep the small wedge. So the challenge was set!

What else was on hand to use up?
Watercress that was already picked and washed, just waiting for me to use it
Boudin Blanc, one of the highlights also from dinner last night

Next, I knew that these bits needed a sweet component, I instantly dreamt of figs, yet they are still a while out of season so fig vincotto would have to do.

I decided to play around with a way to incorporate these bits, so the base of the salad became the smeared pate, napped with the fig vincotto.

On top got piled the salad, and then after a quick couple of shots in the daylight saving twilight I devoured my rich and somewhat French inspired salad while still slightly warm.

Truffled boudin blanc, mushroom pate and fig vincotto salad
Boudin blanc, blanched
Mushroom and chicken liver pate
Baby pink eye potatoes
White zucchini
Watercress, washed and picked
Sugar snap peas
Du Puy style lentils, cooked in chicken stock until soft
Pullet free range eggs, soft boiled and peeled

1/4 extra virgin olive oil
Dash white truffle oil
1/4 fig vincotto
1/2 verjus

Boil the baby potatoes and remove when just cooked, in the same water blanch the sugar snaps and then drain well.
Cut the zucchini into half moons and pan fry until golden, keep warm in the oven.
Build into a mixing bowl; watercress, warm zucchini, halved baby potatoes, quartered eggs, sugar snaps and some lentils. Add dressing components and toss gently.

Pan fry some slices of boudin blanc until golden on both sides.

Smear the plate with the pate and drizzle some more fig vincotto, top with the warm salad and then the hot boudin blanc.

Enjoy with good karma...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Food Bloggers Banquet

This is already old news in the blogging community, where I think all attendees except me have posted on this get together... so here is my bit or was that bite??

Held at the St Kilda Vegout community gardens about 20 of us meet and shared dinner, food opinions, dining tips and in my case acquiring much needed blog advise.

I had the pleasure of meeting, Ed, Vida, Duncan, Sticky, Claire, Anna, Katie, Jamie, PG, Cindy, Josh, Elliot, Sarah, Thanh, Jon and a few blogging partners.

My contribution to the night was more in a support roll, I don't have the glory of the macaroons, the intensity of the secret sauce, the elegance of the barramundi or the will to get my fingers dirty and swish the dough (thanks Ed for making it and Katie for turning it into pizzas).

Apart from the macaroons that I should not continue to go on about, as I worry that Duncan will throw in the writing, for a career in macaroon making and we will miss his words... I have to say I ate (without even thinking...) a silk worm pupa. Googling this tonight after thinking about my dumb, eagerness to eat anything I stumbled across one of the funniest posts, which makes me feel even sillier for my dumb eagerness. Thanks Ed!

Not that I regret my dumb eagerness, I have never not eaten something offered to me (I only didn't eat the cockroaches in Asia, because I was unsure about the etiquette with the wings, to eat or not to eat??) And I have to admit my eagerness has gotten me in trouble before so I should be more aware, yet all I can say is they tasted nothing like chicken, more like a witchery grub in fish sauce!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sydney Rock Oysters

Oysters are one of those foods that are a required taste. Some love them and can't get enough, others are repulsed by the whole experience.

My parents both love oysters, yet I was never a fan until the last few years. The funny thing about this is that when I was growing up all food was to be tasted and tried, nothing was not eaten, yet oysters I never remember being made to eat... funny that!

As a result I love all food and was frustrated a few years ago that I just could not stomach oysters. Being one of the ultimate fresh luxury foods, I needed to learn. I am now proud to say that it is shucked to order, Sydney rock oysters that have gotten me over the line. These beauties from Wallis lakes in NSW, were shucked in the bar at The Melbourne Wine Room as we ordered them, muscle intact and served with just some lemon. Briny, with a iodine zippiness the rock oysters are a perfect size, not as intimidating as the often fat and sometimes OTT pacific oysters or as scary looking as the native angassi you see around occasionally.

As I have posted in the past, I also love the tripoid oysters that you can get as they are also more on the elegant side, but the Sydney rocks are always a safe bet at a 'good oyster' place that shucks as they are ordered, these places include:

~The Melbourne Wine Room, pick from the iced display
~France Soir, shucked in the bar in true French style
~Oyster, Little Bourke, always a selection of regions available
~Comme, pick the baby sized Merguez sausages on the side to push them out of the shell with, for a taste of west coast French oyster eating sophistication

Or better still buy them unshucked and do your own, the only catch is the ulcer I can feel developing as PDC shucks away in the kitchen, I just can't watch, it makes me nervous I will soon be on my way to the emergency department with a shucker blade through his hand!

Saturday, November 3, 2007


I'm trying to recover today from a huge few months at work, yesterday was my 'Everest' and now the following week holds the safe trek back down the metaphorical mountain. After a brush with fame in the local papers yesterday and today, I've taken a moment to reflect on what I have achieved outside of work in September and October.

So a couple of blog worthy highlights...
A serious food styling gig.
It's funny how when you slip out of something by accident, that you don't realise how much you love it until you do it again. I remembered a few weeks ago how much I love to be in a professional studio making food look pretty. The shoot (on a Sunday) was for a sandwich chain, and it was all about 'fluffing' the sandwiches to look as opulent and healthy as possible. It's such a strange world in a food shoot, you can actually forget your working with an edible product and start more looking at contrasting colours, highlights and smart angles to flatter the 'hero'. Here's a few of my happy snaps of the shoot.

The preening queue.

The 'hero' of the moment and the collection of tools that help bring it to life for the lens.
At the end of the day. The tagged list of shots, so we can track the difference from one wrap/sandwich/foccacia to another.

Other highlight as been the rediscovery of a favourite breakfast spot. A few months ago my favourite 'eggs place', Las Chicas, changed hands and hence my favourite coffee makers/eggs servers moved as well. So to track down the perfect caffe latte and smiley face, PDC and I have been travelling further along Carlisle St to The Galleon, St Kilda for weekend breakfasts.

This is a picture of my new usual, Bagel No3. A toasted bagel with crushed avocado and slices of smoked salmon. It comes with the cute wedge of lemon on top, all for the, how-do-they-make-any-money-off-this price of $8.50. I have mine with a single poached egg on the side (for an extra $2) of which I open the bagel up and eat on the salmon side, and then squeeze the lemon on the avo spread other side and munch after. A perfect breakfast in my book.

Another highlight was dinner with visiting family at Rockpool, Bar and Grill. I will not be doing a full write up because of PDC's conflicting interests there but I do list the little beef degustation that we created as a highlight.
The four of us shared three steaks for main course, all the house aged, grass fed Black Angus, but in different cuts and aging maturation. There was a large 700g ribeye, grilled on the bone and sliced, a 400g rump steak, and a 300g sirloin. The exciting thing was to be able to taste a different cut of meat after another and fully appreciate the differences in texture and flavour richness. Surprisingly the rump was the winner for flavour, it was aged the longest so perhaps this helped but offered a texturally firmer and meaty lusciousness. A very interesting little taste test.

I'll be back to normal posts shortly, looking forward to a few fancy meals out in the next few months and catching up with other food bloggers at the Bloggers Banquet that Ed has been organising on the 12th.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ladro is still hot...

Unfortunately for readers of this blog, I am often too vain to take photographs in Melbourne restaurants, which was the case at Ladro last weekend. I just can't bear it to drag out my camera and make all the waiters look at the tourist taking photos, generally, and I know this is a bit of an oxymoron for a food blogger that loves restaurants, I think cameras don't belong in restaurants.
When I worked as a professional waiter and would be asked frequently to take a group shot of guests, my cheeky line would be, "Well, I can't guarantee you will have heads... " hehehe
Anyway thats my excuse for not having any photos from Ladro.

Ladro must be in its 3rd or 4th year now and I have to say that it is as 'hot, hot hot' as it has ever been. Great food, interesting well priced winelist and smart, passionate service (and Geoff, my favourite waiter...!)
I'm very fond of classical flavours and was excited to see stracciatella soup. Whenever I see it on a menu, I have to order it. A classical rich chicken broth with whispy bits of egg white, parmesan cheese and parsley. The Ladro version was a classic and as I would expect a perfect example of what I love about the place. Simple, elegant and produce driven.
Love it.

October dish of the month
Stracciatella - Ladro


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Carefully, read the label

10 months, I don't think so...

Fresh almonds

Wandering through South Melbourne market yesterday, I stumbled across these...
Stephanie Alexander tells me that the season is December and January, yet here they are. And a bargin at $7.99 a kilo.
Now what to do with them??

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rocket from my garden

The possums have not cottoned on to this tasty addition to my garden. They manage to eat everything else but I think have not (yet) worked out how spicy and fresh this is, perhaps they prefer the young leaves out of the center of my succulents :(

I sprinkled a few seeds onto the soil outside my kitchen door a month ago and now I have a dark green, peppery spiced hedge.

I made a lazy salad tonight from the rocket and a few other bits in the fridge. A big day in regards to work so I felt I deserved the decadence of some cooked king prawns from a local fish monger. The highlight of the salad was a fresh nam prik style Thai dressing. Balancing the richness of the prawns and avocado the dressing livened up what would otherwise be a boring, if perfect warm weather salad, especially with a glass of Eden valley riesling.
When I think about this salad though, I realise what an Aussie salad it is ... smart fusion, no confusion, just great simple produce served fresh and alive on the palate.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Poached rhubarb and strawberries

The rhubarb lady, Di I believe her name is, that frequents the local farmers markets is very passionate about her rhubarb, perhaps to the point of being a bit bossy about the way it is prepared... She has a little printed slip of paper that she gives out about how to prepare it which I think is great, but she can also be over heard constantly saying, "don't add anything to my rhubarb, no apples, just the rhubarb..." on and on. Of course, I and I'm sure many others comply, and have been rewarded with what has to be a some of the best stewed rhubarb on the planet (trust me it really is that good!).
When I was queuing to get my hands on some at the St Kilda markets last weekend, Di was advising that due to the lack of rain the rhubarb may need some orange juice to stop it sticking. I felt like I had been given premission to fiddle with 'the rhubarb'.

Poached rhubarb and strawberries
A bag of Di's fabulous rhubarb (or about 500g of the ordinary stuff)
A punnet of strawberries
A couple of tablespoons of brown sugar

Cut the rhubarb into bits as long as your thumb
Place in a large saucepan with the brown sugar and gently heat on the lowest stove top setting.
Once a little liquid has dropped, place the strawberries on top of the rhubarb in the pot, cut the larger ones in half, don't stir
Cover and gently cook until just before the rhubarb pulps down

I love this rhubarb for breakfast with bircher muesli or perhaps with some custard for dessert.

The Saint Marcellin I had on the train...

I was thinking about the last post and remembered that I took a bit of a tongue in cheek image of our lunch on the fast train from Paris to Lyon. All the bits were brought from a morning Parisian market (except for the 1/2 bottle of Beaujoulais, of which PDC brought back very proudly when he went looking for a bottle of water! Only in France I can assume...?)
The pot the cheese is in is the same one that was in my previous post that we brought home, but the key thing from this image is the sticker that I was looking for. It clearly is labelled 'lait cru' - raw milk, this was the remarkably rich and luscious St Marcellin and yes definitely superior to the pasteurised product available in Australia. One consistent factor is through, the incredibly ripe state of which we enjoyed it, the knife wasn't required just a crusty bit of baguette as a spoon and a quick tongue to stop it dripping everywhere.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


This is one of my favourite cheeses, perhaps because of the amazing disc of it that PDC and I ate for lunch on the fast train between Paris and Lyon.

We had been to one of the local markets that morning and purchased the cheese in the cute little glazed terracotta pot in the image above (we had to pay an additional Euro for the privilege of the pot, but how could we not?).

Since we have been back to normal in Melbourne, I noticed a few key cheese focused stores selling these beautifully ripe St-Marcellins in little plastic moulds, but they are so much more exciting when you have your very own St-Marcellin ceramic pot! A bit wanky, I know but when you don't need a knife to eat it, just crusty bread as it is softer than yoghurt, the little ceramic pot comes into its own.

What is it?
St-Marcellin - White mould, cows milk cheese from the French region, Dauphine, east of Lyon. The cheese is often eaten, quite ripe and creamy, the small surface areas allows for quick ripening and development of the creamy internal texture. In France we ate the local usual, unpasteurised version, but unfortunately in Australia is just a pasteurised version that the government allows us to buy. Not having tasted the pasteurised and unpasteurised side by-side I think my memory may be a little swayed due to holiday fun, but my experience in France seemed richer and more luscious.

Roast goat

I was inspired by the sticky roast goat that I ate as my last meal in San Sebastian, Spain, when I saw the suckling goat signs at Prahran market. Enquiring about the different cuts, I brought the shoulder and then came home to work out how to cook it...
After referencing several sources and being surprised at the lack of listings for goat or kid in others, I settled on a slow, wet cooking method with hot dry heat at the end. To be honest essentially I was making up, but knew that if it worked, I was really(!!!!) on to something.

Roughly the recipe for my roast goat is
~1.5 kg of goat shoulder
~3 carrots
~half a celery
~a leek
~lots of rosemary and thyme
~light stock (I used chicken)
~dry white wine

Dust the shoulder in well seasoned flour and then brown all over in extra virgin olive oil, in the roasting dish you intend to bake it in.
Remove the goat and add the roughly chopped vegetables and lightly caramelise
Position the goat on top of the roast vegetables and with half stock half wine cover the bottom of the pan up to where the goat sits on top of the vegies.
Cover tightly with aluminium foil
Bake in a 180C oven, turning every 40 minutes until the meat is tender enough to feel loose on the bone when you wiggle it with the tongs, mine took about 2.5 hours.
Remove the foil, heavily salt the skin of the meat and turn up the heat and on the oven fan if you have one.
Brown until it looks dark golden brown and is tender to touch.
Rest the meat.

During the final stages, I cooked some truffled polenta that was served quite wet and sauteed some asparagus and peas as a little side dish (you can see it below, in the background).

The meat was flaked off the bone and plated with the polenta and drizzled with a little of the reduced goat cooking broth.

I know I am biased but this was one of the most interestly, simple yet divinely sophisticated meals that I have cooked at home in a long time.

I usually struggle with eating left overs, but these where eagerly treasured...even better than the first time around.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dish of the Month

My dish of the month
Yes a new feature, inspired by PDC. I'm known to make rash statements, "like this is easily the best dish we will eat tonight" (when we have barely started entrees) or "it's new world pinot, maybe NZ", (when I have only smelt the glass), so when I remarked last week end that this was my dish of the year, PDC urged me to start this as a monthly feature, to see if I was right... he's tricky isn't he!

So here it is, my pick for September.

Tom Cooper smoked kingfish with pinenut sorbet - MoVida

This dish was a special, but it was very, very special. The elegantly smoked kingfish was dressed with a creamy pinenut dressing, some oil and a scattering of micro herbs and pinenuts, and then the component that made the others sing, a quenelle of creamy, nutty pinenut sorbet.

Tom Cooper is a legendary Melbourne smoker. An expat Canadian that moved here when our food scene was much less sophisticated and has worn a few different foodie hats in his time, but now he smokes things. When I say things, mainly hand pin-boned fish but also the odd tomato, and the odd handful of salt (god knows how he does this). The key thing about Toms smoked products is the attention to detail, care and passion, this is the highlight of my dish at MoVida. The gentle smokey flavours that meld with the others on the plate to create a dish of contrasts and complements.

Seasonal salad

I love this time of year. Some winter foods are still around and yet some Spring produce is becoming available.
This salad is inspired by what produce is beautiful in Melbourne at the moment.

Baby cos, blood orange, avocado and pistachio salad
I was in a rush when I made this salad to accompany a bowl of meaty spaghetti, so I just built it into the bowl.
~Torn baby cos leaves, then
~1/4 avocado, chopped
~1/2 blood orange, flesh cut from the skin and pith and a
~sprinkling of chopped pistachios (I brought them out of the shell, very dangerous for quick grazing, so they don't last long!)

I dressed this salad in my usual cheeky way, a spray of extra virgin olive oil (you can get EVOO sprays in the oil section of the supermarket) and then a spray of sherry vinegar (I think mine was from Essential Ingredient, but it has lasted so long I can't remember) and then some salt and pepper.
I know its VERY cheating but I find the salad dressing sorts itself out and seeps through the leaves as you eat.
Apart from a celebration of all the seasonally good things this salad offers some beautiful contrasts of flavours and textures and is particularly pretty in the colour palate it offers.
Arrrhhhh, ...Spring!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bone Marrow, St John

You never get offered bone marrow as a special at a restaurant. So someone like me feels an obligation to make the chefs night, by ordering the dish that they wished they could sell but doubt will. The thing is it is likely to be the dish of the night...

The dish was described as Bone marrow, St John. Implying a reference to a similar dish served at St John Bar and Restaurant in London and the chef/owner, Fergus Hendersons commitment to 'nose to tail' dining, using the whole animal.

The marrow was rich and messy to eat, I guess it's one of those dishes that you shouldn't order unless you are happy to 'get amongst it'. Essentially two large roasted bones with charred bread and and a parsley, red onion and caper salad. Very Henderson...

So what does one drink with bone marrow on toast?

PDC was insistent on me having a glass of oloroso sherry. A medium dry, aromatic sherry that has a nutty, oxidative quality about it. The flavours together were intense but fitting, the fat of the marrow balanced against the sweet, caramel viciousness of the sherry. Delicious.
So if I wasn't in London last week, where in Melbourne could I've eaten this?
As an additional hint, this clafoutis was from the same evening. Perfectly cooked, still soft in the middle and unfortunately the stones removed...unlike the one I ate in Lyon. This was one of the most delectably, simply fantastic desserts I've eaten in a Melbourne restaurant in ...ages.

So which restaurant was I at?

Tagged - 7 Things about me

I'd never been "tagged" before, until last week, when I was tagged twice.
Christie at Pigeon Pair and Duncan at Syrup and Tang have tagged me with quite similar rules to the tag, 7/8 things that "you didn't know about me".
So here goes:

1. When I was recently in France and Spain, for my first time, I didn't enter even one museum, art gallery or church, there was far to much eating to be done, no time for cultural visits. I did go to the Louvre, considered going inside, yet decided to check out the cool bar across the road.

2. I did Year 10 work experience in a kitchen. I had wanted to be a pastry chef, until my career planner at school told me pastry chefs start really early in the morning... well that solved that, cooking wasn't for me! I often think, that I should have trained as a chef, yet would I still love food as much, possibly not, there are a lot of chefs out there that don't love their jobs.

3. I ONLY go to the gym so I can eat whatever I want and often come up with some great work food ideas while pounding away on the crosstrainer.

4. I hate shopping at the supermarket, and would always rather to spend double the time at a market or a great shopping strip where I can go to the butcher, the fishmonger, the fruit and vegie man, the baker and where ever else looks desirable. It often sends PDC crazy that I can 'just look' in a butcher or at a fruit shop, even with no intention of a purchase.

5. Occasionally, I have to shop at a supermarket, due to the hours I work. I love to stand in the long queues and look at what people have in their baskets as they go by. Perhaps it's the food snob in me but I internally giggle at the silly people with the apple pie and the low fat custard, or the people with the old looking 'fresh' vegetables and diet coke.

6. Very few people that actually know me, know about this blog. I don't like to talk about it with restaurant friends, it just gets too politically tricky. Anyway this community have very little knowledge about the world of food blogs, so the ones that have worked it out (my full name is listed on my profile) get full points for savviness when it comes to local blogs.

7. When I worked making food look pretty all day, as a photographic food stylist, I had virtually no appetite, touching, manipulating and thinking about it all day. People would say, wow you must get so hungry doing that work, no way, it's not real food, it's painted, preened and glued in scary ways.

8. Apart from some seasonally long hours, I think I have the best job in the world for me. It's still feels funny being paid as 'the food expert', as my boss likes to say when he can't remember my official title (Menu Concept Designer), but that also brings other stresses like having my lunch scrutinised by the office as they walk past, wondering what the food nerd eats! Feels like I am in the supermarket and the roles are reversed!


NB So who do I tag in return, ... ?!!?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Spring chicken

I cook a lot at home, yet I usually blog about restaurants I dine at... enough... here comes the food I love to cook...

Lemon zest grilled spatchcock with Spring vegetable gnocchi
Spatchcock, it's one of those restauranty words that you rarely see at the market, that's because it is actually the preparation of the chicken, or any poultry. I believe, the term comes from the shortening of 'dispatch cock', where essentially the backbone is removed so that the bird can be cooked quicker. I figure that if I'm going to get a chopping board dirty to do this, I may as well take the ribcage out as well and make it easier to eat, just like in a restaurant. Last night when I prepared this, I used baby chickens or poussins (size 5 birds are a perfect size for a main course).
Lemon zest grilled spatchcock
Rub lemon zest and a generous amount of salt and pepper over an olive oiled spatchcock. Leave to marinate for an hour or two.
Spring vegetable gnocchi
For me its all about what looks best at the market, what I brought yesterday was:
~Asparagus with gorgeous purple tips
~Baby fennel
~gnocchi (mine was Alligator pasta from Per Tutti in Prahran)
My garden pesto
I wouldn't usually put parsley in pesto but it's going crazy in the garden so PDC gave it a 'trim'
~Parmesan (not the plastic Australian fake)
~Garlic (Australian, not the bleached Chinese stuff)
~Extra virgin olive oil
~Salt (I love the pink Murray river flakes)
Pound together a large handful of basil and some parsley if you want, with a couple of cloves of garlic and salt. Once broken down, add a sprinkling of pinenuts and parmesan shavings and pound again with a little olive oil.
I like it a bit rough looking, so stop here, otherwise keep pounding until you have a dark green paste, if the paste looks creamy you have probably gone a bit crazy with the nuts or cheese, but don't worry it will still taste great.
To cook the spatchcocks, I popped them skin side down on a smoking hot barbeque, until the the skin caramelised, then I finished them skin side up in the oven with some extra salt to keep the skin crunchy. When the gnoochi was ready to go, I squeezed on some lemon juice while they rested.
Gnocchi cooks best in a huge pot of boiling salty water, once it floats work fast otherwise you will get squishy watery mash potato balls.
I pre-blanched all the vegetables so they could just be tossed with the gnocchi, pesto and bocconcini while the spatchcock was resting and the plates heating. I also added the liquid that dropped from the chicken as it rested, no point wasting flavour. Be generous with the olive oil here (and even perhaps a bit of butter) as this is what stops it all sticking together.
To eat
On to some warm plates I served the gnocchi, vegetable, bocconcini and pesto combo and then shaved over some fennel.
I cut the baby spatchcocks down the center so I could stack them on the diagonal on the plate, and drizzled with any extra chicken/lemon pan juices, and some more extra virgin olive oil.

My 'Quince Caramel'
I had to share this photo of our cheese, the feature being my accidentally amazing 'quince caramel' as I have christened it.
It's the translucent pink blob on the right and was made from the left over poaching juices form some very long cooked quinces. I couldn't bring myself to through the left over syrup down the sink so I tried reducing it to make a jam and ended up with this headingly strong 'quince caramel'. The texture is like a firm stretchy caramel yet it is perfectly clear and florially fragrant still from the quince. I am really savouring this concoction as I doubt I can ever make it again... Oh yeah, it was perfect with the Saint Vernier cheese and pistachio nuts.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Mugaritz, Spain

Mugaritz is refreshingly casual in its refined approach, yet offered a seamless experience that melted away the many hours we spent in the dining room and paved garden... I guess fifteen courses can take some time.
Mugaritz, it is a complete package, coupled with incredibly professional, savvy service and an inspiring wine list, the food at Mugaritz is courageously simple and refined, it features some edgy, and some classic combinations.

In a nut shell, I loved everything about it. From the style of cuisine; refined and exciting, to the gorgeous old building, the friendly sincere staff, and to the just out of town location, it really does feel like an experience to treasure.

This year Restaurant Magazine (UK) ranked Mugaritz as the seventh best restaurant in the world, an accolade that sees the restaurant getting a lot of media attention, yet surprisingly they where far from full for lunch the day we visited. I'm sure this is not always the case but how much more fabulous do you have to be to full all the time, a small constellation for all the restaurateurs out there and perhaps a scary indicator of seasonal out of town dining at its trickiest.

Andoni Luis Aduriz, the chef and owner of Mugaritz, visited Melbourne early this year as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, unfortunately I didn't get to see him but apparently it has been good for business at Mugaritz with the staff telling us about the huge influx of Melbournians visiting. This was supported funny enough, by us sitting next to a chef from a regional Victorian restaurant, it really is a small world.

Truly an international restaurant experience, we were greeted in Spanish and then spoken to in English for the reminder of our experience,including the menu we were presented with. Though I am not positive, I'm sure most languages could have been catered for from the variety of accents filtering through the elegant room.

Especially in Mugaritz’s case, I feel a picture can tell a thousand words, the whole experience as you will see below is about class and multiple personal dedications to the highest possible level of restaurant experience.

An interesting little starter served with aperitifs in the paved courtyard.
"White clay coated potatoes with aïoli"
The main ‘stone’ is a creamy centred perfectly cooked potato, coated in clay, that reminded me of biting into an easter egg. The stones underneath are real river stones that are heated to keep the ‘stone’ hot. I love the beautiful linen used on this dish and the over the top garlic aïoli to dip.

Seated at a double clothed table looking into the courtyard, we selected the extended degustation menu, (why would you come this far and not go the whole hog?) "Naturan" at €118 Euros, about $AUS200 each. The wine list, at this stage occupied PDC for some time until the sommelier offered her assistance. A bottle of white, 2004 Pazo Pineiro Lusco Albarino, a glorious local Spanish style and a bottle of red, 2002 Gloria Reynolds, a light Portuguese table wine made from an indigenous grape variety. The wine service was smart, passionate and precise; just like the rest of the service team.

Then the food began...

"A broth of whitebeans served in the cooking broth, garlic, onion and mastic" (additional to the degustation, not printed on the menu)
Served in a beautiful bowl, it was very delicately flavoured, the mastic waxiness builds on the palate as you sip the broth.

"White asparagus and shaved jamon" (Additional to the degustation, not printed on the menu)The jamon was like jelly, so fine it was translucent, yet rich and coating on the palate. The asparagus was just cooked and slightly wet from its poaching liquid. The petal was the first from this beautiful theme of florally decorated dishes, so much for dodgy curly parsley!

"Vegetables, oven roasted and raw, sprouts and greens, wild and cultivated, seasoned with brown butter and dusted with seeds and petals. Emmental cheese generously seasoned."
A striking dish, that is served to the table without the broth of which is poured gently in front of you. The emmental broth is perfectly creamy milk in colour but it "blushed" with the movement of the baby beetroot underneath as I began to eat. Fresh, clean and the kind of perfect kitchen garden food that any restaurant would vie for the opportunity to serve.

"Chilled vegetable soup, shrimp, herbs and fern shoots"
By this stage, I think they had worked out we were in the industry, so to speak, and we were given a supplemented version of this dish, with the addition of shaved summer truffle. The broth was pungently aromatic yet refreshing and light.

"Confit loin of blue mackerel, coated with an infusion of crushed sesame seeds and milk skin"
One of the more unusual dishes of the experience, the 'milk skin' breaks up on the tongue.

"Carrots cooked in clay, ash and perfumed grains. A concentrated broth of sauteed squid and Arbequina olive"
From the most amazing bowl, the most perfectly cooked baby carrots, each slightly different in size, yet all firm yet cooked. The squid also was firm yet perfectly cooked.

"Representing mini mozzarelas(sic). Butterfly Idiazabal cheese gnocci(sic) in salted Iberian pork bouillon, contrasting vegetables"
The tiny gnocchi were as light as air yet offered surprising palate texture.

"Jellied vegetable stock on a sticky paste of rice and baby squid"
A strange course with a set 'custard' (perhaps ground rice?) under the broth and pretty purple garlic shoots. The squid was balls of black squid ink though the 'custard'.

"Hake fillet with baby garlic, hazelnut praline, soured cream and purslane"
The hazelnut praline sauce was very intense and the fat of the nut heightened the tang of the garlic and the soured cream. The purslane was not present to my eye.

"A piece of beef, roasted and perfumed with vine cutting embers, fragments of thyme and natural anthocyans. Cinders, salts and crisp radishes"
A striking dish, that the photo doesn't represent as well as it looked, the meat was pitch black with the charcoal dust. The meat inside had a rich intensity to it that reminded me of eating well marbled wagyu beef. The green herb on the plate was trimmed leaves of very spicy Vietnamese mint, a contrast to the palate weight of the beef.

"Tradition, ocean and land: braised Iberian pork tails and pan fried languostines(sic). Reduced braising juices infused with iberican jamon"
Easily the ugliest of the dishes, yet also as easily my favourite. The stickiest deboned pig tails hiding langoustine meat and napped in jamon braising dishes. Rich, rich, rich, and absolutely remarkable. The richness of this dish pushed us into the full category, yet the show must go on, so we accepted an additional course to the degustation, some cheese to share... crazy I know!

The additional cheese course that we shared; local cheeses with individual accompaniments. Not in the image was a tall shot glass of chilled apple juice that was served as well. I can't recall the names of any of the cheeses, which were all interesting, if not as truely inspiring as the French cheeses we were eating the week before.
The accompaniments were matched running from bottom right to the top, then bottom left to the top, in order of the cheeses from the bottom up on the plate. The last cheese, the blue was served with a reduced Pedro Ximenez paste and dust which was a remarkably spot-on combination. Another accompaniment of interest was the confit grated carrot with a matured cows milk cheese. I loved how the cheeses were presented with the rind cut off, if appropriate.

"Seeking a contrast of temperatures, textures and cultures. Violet Ice cream, hot almond marzipan, shavings of spiced bread and green tea"
A very pretty dessert, with intense aromatic flavours that awoken our fading palates. The chocolate in the middle was dusted with crumbs of savoury green tea crumbs and the spice bread to the right crumbled as we put the fork through it.

"Ripe figs grilled over vine twigs, dipped in a cold punch of fruits, grains and zests"
The quenelle shape on the plate, tasted of ice cream made of pure cream, I could only manage a small taste of this with the poached fig.

"Interpretation of vanity: moist chocolate cake, cold almond cream, bubbles, smoke and cocoa"
The show stopper... apart from not being able to stop talking about the name of this dish (I personally am heralding the return of 'named dishes', Caesar Salad, Beef Wellington, Tournedos Rossini...) it was a clever grande finale to the meal. The bubbles didn't last long, but neither did the soft mousse like chocolate log with the caramel centre. A smear of gold paste to the far side of the plate.

We finished our experience as it began, in the courtyard of the dining room. With the best coffee I drank in Spain (that would not have been hard though!) and some small chocolates in a gift box to take with us.

Perhaps from reading this piece you can have an empathy for the sheer delight I portray in my Mugaritz experience. From the exquisitely planned and executed food, the timely and friendly service and the overall passion and excitement that oozes from the restaurant. I can't help but give it the highest of my personal dining accolades.