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.