Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What to serve with New Zealand roast lamb leg

Roast lamb whether in Australia or not, makes me think of lots of root vegetables cooked in the same roasting pan with peas, gravy and even maybe mint jelly.

If I've eaten it (and swooned over it) a thousand times, no doubt our kiwi friends across the ditch are as equally drained of inspiration. So cooking a family dinner a couple of nights ago in Christchurch New Zealand, PDC and I challenged the idea with a rustic pissaladière along side all the vegies!
Pissaladière is an onion based tart originating from Nice in France, the key components are caramelised onions, anchovies and local olives - all fantastic flavours with lamb - and served on a bread or pastry base.

The books tell me that tomato is only used occasionally on this tart but every version I had either across the country or in Provence had a slight smear of fresh tomato sauce. Hence my addition as you can see.

Pissaladière wedges

I used a bread base, made from a basic recipe in a bread machine (seems like a commonly found addition to a kiwi kitchen that unlike in Aussie kitchens, actually gets used!)
The dough was spread over a tray with olive oil and par-baked and cooled before topping. You could also try a plain supermarket pizza base or a shortcrust pastry, again make sure you partially cook it first.

5 large onions
A handful thyme - picked
3 bay leaves
4 very ripe tomatoes
2 cloves garlic - crushed
pinch brown sugar
olive oil
anchovies, at least 12 fillets
black olives- niçoise or kalamata are best*, pitted
Par-baked bread base

Make the caramelised onions ahead of time
Finely slice the onions and very slowly cook in a little olive oil with the thyme the bay leaves
Keep the temperature very low to avoid browning, after about 1.5 hours the onions will pulp down to a thick paste
Finish with a teaspoon of butter, and allow to cool

Very simple tomato sauce
Roughly chop the tomatoes and gently simmer in a splash of olive oil with the garlic, salt and pepper and brown sugar
Reduce until fully broken down, about 15 minutes

To make the tart
Smear the tomato sauce on the bread base, all the way to the edges
Top with the caramelised onion, the trick is to add what you think is enough and then double it, the onion is the best bit, you will need all the recipe
Criss-cross the anchovies, using as many as you think your guests can handle, to make large diamonds
Add the olives to the center of the diamonds
Bake until golden brown and the bottom is crisp, cut into triangular wedges and serve along side your lamb roast

We also had a bit of a treat, some potatoes that were dug up from my in-laws cottage in the country. Maori potatoes they are called locally, but I thought they looked like what I'd call pontiac potatoes and purple congos. This had been out of the ground for less than a day when we cooked them, and I thought these ones were fresh!

The local potatoes were roasted with some kumara (of course) and baby parsnips, all unpeeled for ease of preparation and to retain the vitamins under the skin.
I had purchased out of interest some yams the day before, that I wanted to get more of but there was none left, no wonder they roasted up as sweet as candy, with hot pink skin and a caramel coloured flesh.

The lamb was studded with slivers of garlic and small pieces of rosemary. Initially I didn't think the tart would be that popular, yet there was no pissaladière or roast vegies left, or meat on the bones... obviously a success.

*Olives can be a confusing purchase, don't go near those sliced ones that you may see on cheap pizzas. You're best to get whole black olives from a local market or deli and squeeze the pit out

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Kiwi Klassic - Whitebait fritters

You know you are an honoured guest in a Kiwi house when you are served whitebait fritters.

I remember one of my first trips to PDC’s family nearly ten years ago; I was served them as an arrival ‘nibble’ with a fabulous glass of off-dry local Riesling. I remember seeing the little fishes eyes googling me as I devoured the warm fish fritter. They are softly textural, slightly fishy and salty, but mostly a bright fresh taste of the sea, just like a good oyster.
I definitely ate more than my share; I had no idea of the costly nature of whitebait, and I have since learnt it’s available in the local supermarket freezer chest for $120 per kilo. Whitebait fritters are especially expensive because of the way they are served, no mucking about, the baby fish, egg and some flour, into a very basic batter and then a hot pan, served warm. Not served like caviar or other delicacies, as just a garnish, the produce is the main ingredient and star.

This whitebait is from a ‘trench’, the term used for the permitted whitebait fishing spot, near the mouth of the Hokitika river on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island.

Whitebait are sprat galaxiid, if you happen to see Hunger for the Wild, a Kiwi series from the chefs and owners of Wellingtons Logan Brown Restaurant, you should watch the whitebait episode, just intriguing. Note: this is nothing like what we call whitebait in Australia, this recipe is only relevant for the true kiwi classic.

New Zealand whitebait fritters
About 400g New Zealand whitebait
3 whole eggs
1 tbsp plain flour

Whisk the eggs until foamy and then add the flour to create a simple batter

Add the flour and a little S+P, mix, essentially you are trying to get the texture right, add a little more flour if it is too wet
Add the white bait and then spoon onto a buttered hot pan
Fry until golden and serve warm with a squeeze of lemon and a little sprinkle of salt

Thanks to PDCs Mum for the recipe and cooking demonstration.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chilli chocolate dipped cherries

I prefer to make small foodie gifts if I can, and came up with the idea for these as I stood in the chocolate aisle of my supermarket earlier in the week. I was about to grab the 70% cocoa Lindt when the chilli flavoured caught my eye... Umm an idea in the working.

A lap around the supermarket collecting random necessities, and I had justified the combination in my mind, yes cherries dipped in chilli chocolate should be very good.

And you know what, they were fabulous!

Chocolate and chilli is no revolutionary idea, both originally from South America, the flavours have a strangely alluring relationship together.

Chilli and fruit is another inspired combination. In South East Asia I love the little pounches of chilli/sugar/salt that comes with sliced seasonal fruit, the street food in Bangkok is the best in the world, and this is a definite highlight for me.

So thinking laterally, using chilli chocolate for my dipped cherries is not a crazy stretch of the palate, and this is coming from someone that would usually prefer the classic food combos over the fashionable.

Do you need a recipe?
No way... Just melt the chilli chocolate or infuse your own if you're feeling fancy (but getting the portions right scares me!), make sure your cherries are straight from the fridge, dip in the hot chocolate and lay out on baking paper lined trays.
Refridgerate until set and firm. Eat as soon as possible.

I placed mine into a vintage glass bowl and wrapped in pretty paper and ribbon and had an impressive Christmas inspired gift with a twist.

NB Would you believe that when we shared these after lunch, I had not disclosed the chilli flavour, yet the first taster blew the fun for everyone announcing - "wow that chilli chocolate is great"! Bloody ex-sommeliers and their freaky palates!

Merry Christmas everyone.

Laughing out loud

This article on the Guardians Word of Mouth blog about the changes to Cadbury's mixed chocolate box has had me laughing out loud.

And then I remembered my impassioned despair a few years ago, learning that Allens were no longer making Kool Chocs (yes the 'Fruits' use to have siblings).
I rarely eat lollies but Kool Chocs got me through Uni and were a nostaligic treat, yes I was as the Guardian article quotes, BITTERLY DISAPPOINTED (capitals are necessary for dramatic effect...).

Any favourites you've missed recently? Are you bitterly disappointed?

Friday, December 19, 2008

2009, the year of more voices

2008 was (I should be writing is, but it feels so over already) an exciting year for me and Eating with Jack. We have grown together and I have have never been prouder.
There are some interesting projects on the horizon for my little addictive hobby that I hope to be able to share soon, but in a larger Melbourne sense this coming year will be quite interesting.

As no doubt you have read across a multiple of Melbourne bloggers, that the editors of The Age Good Food Guide and writers and reviewers for The Age, in Epicure and other sections have resigned to move to The Australian newspaper.

This strikes me as a huge coup for The Australian, and it must be a pretty sweet deal for John and Necia. But the thing that I think is the sweetest, is the opening and changes to happen in our food reading opportunities and what that will mean for food bloggers, and in fact all Melbourne foodies.

I can only assume that the Australian is trying to secure a little of the Melbourne food reading public, and I guess a restaurant review book must be part of the deal (why would you take new roles, lesser than your current deal?).
Obviously, The Age will replace these writers and readers will get to know new reviewers and/or go searching at The Australian for something more familiar or even perhaps look around for other voices - this is where bloggers come into it.
Google is the tool of choice now days for finding anything online and as we all know blogs are pretty powerful when compared to other websites. I anticipate the shakeup will mean a broader readership as people readjust, search for identifiable and trusted food writers, blogs no doubt will benefit.
So keep your fingers warm, and keyboard clicking away, an opportunity to attract a new group of eager readers awaits.

As for Ed's speculation about Jill and Terry, oh please bring them back to us (they were in town recently 'visiting Mum'), but how can we in little old Melbourne town compete with what seems like the ultimate international lifestyle in London?
Matt Preston, apparently no longer with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, seems like a likely person to step up?

In other food news, I hear that "every chef in Australia" has applied for roles with Masterchef Australia -presumably as judges - shortlists are currently down to the last handful, so who will it be? Quietly I am pleased that the industry is supporting this program and lending it a good measure of credibility, to what seems like an adjusted format from the UK series.

So bring on the shake up, I'm looking forward to what eventuates and seeing a new round of Melbourne food writers and reviews on our pages and computer screens.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can you guess where I dined last week?

Melbourne's cheapest, shucked to order, oysters from a selection of regions

A wine list that informs and challenges in it's industry startling breadth

Professional service, no 19 year old, recent tafe graduates here

International cheeses served in copious portions, for what must barely cover their costs

Full at 11pm on a Sunday evening, and people still trying to get tables

I hadn't dined there for nearly two years, I'd forgotten about how much I enjoyed it. Have you?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Baby pink eyes

I was on foot at the Prahran market recently but still had to buy a kilo of these most perfectly pretty potatoes.

Baby pink eyes.

Michael Mow from the speciality potato stand can't get enough of these little suckers, they fly off the shelf and no wonder.
They are from South Arm, Tasmania, just south of Hobart and were out of the ground for 4 days before I ate them. Now that's perfect seasonal produce.

Washed and ready for a quick steam.I've enjoyed mine, simply steamed and seasoned with fish, roasted with thyme and served along side chicken and last night just a quick boil and then tossed in butter and chives.

With many of these potatoes smaller than a grape they make the ultimate fast food. I reckon I could cook these quicker than thinking about how easy takeaway would be.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The craft of service

One relationship is broken and another fails to launch, its been a tough week for service in my dining shoes.

About six months ago I wrote about a newish place that I had developed a relationship with - a trust.
I go there, I eat and drink. I enjoy the staff and their service. The location is convenient for me, I therefore can and do go regularly. But the relationship has been strained recently, I have had a few patchy experiences, PDC has had worse. I went there again the other day, a little cautious now, it seemed great and then it all went sour. It was wrong, they just didn't care, the service was appalling, and not even rude just absolutely careless.

I'm sad and angry, I had recommended this place, I have spent time there, but I just can't justify going there again - perhaps ever. They have been given many chances, but the culture has changed (perhaps reflecting on other bloggers at the time, its been like that all along?).
It's broken, it's over.

Another local relationship this week didn't even get off the ground.
A highly reviewed pub dining room, recommended strongly by friends (to their embarrassment, when we all dined together), the service was uneducated, untrained and strained. The staff didn't know better, the management didn't respond to my calls for love (ie clearing my own table to the bar and asking for dessert and cheese menus).
The food was good, even great in parts but was let down by the service and some faux pas like kitchen oversights, such as uncooked soggy chips or the lack of bread being offered.
I wanted to form a relationship, to become a fan like my friends, but I can't.

I can not and will not tolerate bad, uncaring, inconsistent service. I can not support managers and owners that think people don't know better or don't care what another 'number' in their business thinks.
I'll patronise places that make me feel good about being there, places that value my relationship with them... it goes both ways and I have been given nothing back.
Its over, and it never began. What a sad week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

MoVida Next Door

I'm loathed to do it from a point of view of balance on my little blog, but the truth has to be told.

My Dish of the Month for October is an inspired tapa from MoVida Next Door. The reason I am so torn is because my very first dish of the month, back in September last year was from MoVida, before the little brother next door was born.
I hate the imbalance of two dishes of the month from the same group of chefs, but the food tells me it was the best that month and trust me it was fantastic. So I can't deny it...

October Dish of the Month - Cantabrian anchovy with fresh curd from MoVida Next Door
A crunchy, golden breaded, anchovy served on top of a disk of fresh curd (so perfect you could still see the drainage hole marks from the mould) a sprinkle of chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil $4.50 each

PDC and I dropped in for a bite, late last month, just before I went across the road to have a look at the über savvy Greenhouse by Joost.

We had been warned by experienced Next Door addicts, to be there very early and be prepared to wait for space - even a 6pm. So there we were, at 6 on the dot and managed to secured the last free spaces for what I am sure would have been the rest of the evening.
We managed to eat our way through most of the offerings but the anchovy and fresh curd has been lingering on my mind ever since.
So much so, I just had to phone and ask some questions so I could give you the full run down (this is definitely a first for Eating with Jack).
I spoke briefly with Dave Roberts the head chef at MND and was very pleasantly surprised to learn that they make the fresh curd every morning in the kitchen. Just normal pasteurised cows milk (though he said they would like to use sheeps milk in the future) and a little rennet left at 38C in moulds and then voila, fresh curd. Topped to order on a rustic looking plate with the fried Spanish anchovy.
Next time I'm ordering two, actually maybe three!

If you haven't been to MoVida Next Door yet, you really must.

Monday, November 17, 2008

School prawns and fresh garlic

So what do you cook with this?

The freshest, hot enough to make you squint, garlic.

The most vividly fresh, green school prawns.

If you love simply prepared produce as much as me, you make...

Crispy fried school prawns with PDC's "forget tomorrow" aïoli

Inspired by Giuseppe Arnaldo and Sons, but they would never be brave enough to serve as devilishly, vampire repellent aïoli as this is.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ugly furniture seals fate?

Has China Tea House on Chapel St, South Yarra closed down already?

It's been open since May and scared me off because of its hideous furniture and fit out, and a menu that features Thai and pan Asian flavours with a Cantonese focus - ie yum cha daily. Well not today anyway...

I have been curious about this place after reading the glowing reviews here, here and here. I was terribly tempted to twist PDCs arm and head there for some dumpling action tomorrow but unfortunately it was closed lunch today and again dinner tonight and they are not answering the phone, not very positive signs for a trading restaurant.

Perhaps that furniture has scared off more people than just me? Have you dined there? Does an awful fit out disturb you as much as a good one inspires me?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Umm, it's nice but a bit sweet...

Quote of the day, and possibly my year.

Today I did a cooking demonstration at my local market, Prahran; it's a regular gig that I am finding fun and love chatting about food with shoppers.
Part of my recipes today were some Anzac biscuits that I prepared and baked.

A lovely old lady approached and a politely asked if she could taste, as she threw her hand forward towards the unbaked biscuit tray.

I tried to protest, "no they are not baked, have one of these" gesturing towards the rack of warm chewy cookies.

She didn't respond.

Did she hear me, I question internally.

"No, no they are not cooked" I more pointedly reason, again no response, and then she had the disk of biscuit dough in her hand.

At this stage, the thing is I could yelp and wrestle her (a 80 year old fragile women) for the oat and coconut mix or just let her go with a smile.

I did the second. And turned away as I giggled to myself and another shopper, as they watched in amazement at the cute audibly challenged woman.

"Umm, its nice but a bit sweet" the lovely lady assured me, as she tootled off munching on her cookie dough.

"Did she just take from the unbaked tray", they asked.

"Yes" I smirked, "perhaps have these baked ones instead".

Monday, November 10, 2008

Legumes for Spring

This year, after a bummer crop of selected goodies last year, my small garden is planted with quite a potential banquet of fruit and vegetables.
This image shows the beginnings of my sugar snap peas, planted straight into the dirt, I also have some baby heirloom tomatoes, cavolo nero and silverbeet in punnets still getting enough strength for replanting. I shot these from seeds purchased from Diggers, a great site for those keen to grow varieties that your local garden shop has never heard of.
In anticipation of a successful harvest of sugar snaps, I recently cooked with some beautiful in season fresh borlotti beans. You can have a look at them and my recipe here.
Bring on the warmer days and I'll have more beans than I can handle; if only I can keep the pesky possums away.
The water pistol seems to be working...!! ;)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Greenhouse, Melbourne

Where in Melbourne can you eat a menu written by Shannon Bennett and prepared by Raymond Capaldi and Robin Wickins?
The answer is the luckiest function space in Melbourne; Greenhouse by Joost.
If your not familiar with Joost,... then which designer rock have you been hiding under in Melbourne lately? Joost is the über talented florist/structural artist (in my humble opinion, check out his site for his view) that creates some of Melbourne's most interesting installations.

Tonight, I drank cocktails from thick rimmed jam jars, prepared by the crew at Seamstress and ate canapes from a rickety tins, courtesy of the Vue de Monde associations.
Open for the summer, this interesting space slots tightly into a Flinders St location just before the Swanston St corner. The building looks like it belongs there, but is only open for the sun to shine in for the next few months.
Featuring those newish toilets, were the hand basin water refills the bowl, and a whole lot of milk crates to hold up the stylist cheese displays... (tight budget I guess...;), a sustainably focused building of recycled materials.
I love the open brilliance of the space and the fashionable nature of the design, food and beverage.
Welcoming the warm spring Melbourne weather...

Friday, October 24, 2008

The worlds most decadent, fudgy chocolate mousse

The roles seem a little confused in the local blogging scene; Duncan is cooking and Jack is baking... well kind of.

This recipe is from the inspiring Culinaria series; European Specialties book.
I first made it a few years ago and have even shared the recipe with a close group of friends, but it comes with a condition, I have to know that they are fairly good cooks first. Why you ask? Well this mousse is really tricky, not just a little bit, but really tricky. I have stuffed it up many times and ended up with decadent chocolate truffles, instead of the worlds most decedent, fudgy mousse.

The trick is you need to follow the steps to a tee, in that order, no mucking about, and really trust me in that no chatting is also a requirement. PDC knows there must be absolute silence at the critical moment.

Now that you are adequately intimidated, I need to tell you why you should make this chocolate mousse, the title I have given it doesn't even tell you half of how amazing this mousse is.
You really must try it for yourself.

The Worlds Most Decadent, Fudgy Chocolate Mousse
I usually make half this recipe, as it is plenty of chocolate love to have in a two person house.
I use large eggs, and for a half portion 2 yolks and 3 whites works fine.
Make sure you allow at least an hour in the fridge for it to firm up before eating.

300g bitter chocolate - I get great results with Lindt 70%
4 egg yolks
130g sugar
50ml cream - I use the thick pure cream with a high fat content
250g egg white

Melt the chocolate gently in a bowl over simmering water or a double boiler
At the same time beat egg yolks until frothy, with 2 tbsp of the sugar
Stir in the cream
Sh!!...Now the critical stage...
Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and mix together with the egg yolk and sugar mix
Mix quickly to combine, it should be fairly soft, if not your chocolate was too cool and now you have a nice chocolate truffle mix... :)
If its all going to plan for you, then well done!
Beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar until stiff
Gently fold through the chocolate mix in batches, keeping as much air in the mix as possible
Pour into individual serving bowls or one larger bowl and chill

I love this mousse served with cassis macerated strawberries.
Buy the smallest ripest strawberries available, toss with a couple of teaspoons of pure icing sugar and a generous glug of cassis. Leave to seep for half an hour.

I hope you do try this mousse, it is an absolute hit whenever I serve it to friends. Being rich it's great as a small sweet taster after an extended meal.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How to get a reservation at el Bulli

I’m forever giving advice about how to get a reservation at this place or that; can’t get the time needed or the right day or even a look in at all? Having problems getting the perfect spot, at that perfect restaurant? Any restaurant? Think you have virtually no probability of dining at el Bulli?
The thing is it’s really not that difficult, you just have to follow a few restaurant savvy guidelines.

Want to know more? Please read on…

Restaurants are fickle beasts, with many intricate workings and big personalities at play.
But the one personality that you have the most power over is your own... and this one is the key to getting a reservation, at any restaurant.
Gone are the days were you phone up and tell them your preferred date and time; now there are a whole lot of complications - no reservation polices, limited group reservations, credit card confirmations, email only bookings, months ahead bookings and just plain too-hard-baskets.
Well trust me, if a human nature is at play, as in just about all examples (lets exclude Momofuku Ko and their computer program for now) you can get a booking there by playing the reservation game well.

I saw Ferran Adrià speak in Melbourne on Sunday, he was here to promote his impressive new book A Day at elBulli. One of the things that struck me was his embarrassment at the books touted “2,000,000 requests for 8,000 places every year”. Matt Preston asked, virtually on behalf of the audience, so how do we get a booking? The response was a jumble of comments with an ‘I don’t know how he (the dining room manager Lluis Garcia) does it’ kind of philosophy and then jokes about how he couldn’t even get the interviewers a table.
In short, the reservationist has the power. And in short this happens every where…

So let us get this straight, at what I can only assume is the worlds most sort after restaurant reservations – el Bulli – Mr Lluis Garcia has the power to control the fate of your dining pleasure. I think it’s important to understand who is managing these things day to day; even within the most rigid computer based systems someone is managing the changes and substitutions, yes, a person. And this is where it gets interesting, because from experience being the person on the other end of the line, I know what works, and what doesn’t when it comes to getting that elusive table.

First of all, it’s about being realistic
A lot of Melbourne restaurants have recently opened with no reservation polices. So how do you dine there at 7.30pm on a Saturday night? Essentially, you don’t.
Some of the best advice I can give about no reservation polices is being flexible and empathetic. If you know its going to be busy - I assume it’s good, that’s why everyone is trying to go there – understand this and either arrive early (like 6 or 6.30) and get a good spot or be prepared to wait probably in their bar or close by, until space is free.
If you are part of a group larger than 2 or 3, this is more often than not, going to be the case. It can be like tetrus, mentally shuffling tables around to get the configuration right so as many people can dine as possible. This is good for both you, and the restaurant.
--In the case of el Bulli, find out when reservations open, know when to email, be open to different dates, BUT be realistic, you know the chances… you are likely to need to try a little harder. Keep reading on.

Second of all, it’s about being organised
If they do take bookings and you need that 7.30pm on a Saturday night, then book ahead. Ring weeks/months ahead if it’s a birthday or anniversary (you already know the date!) but don’t try that trick on a Friday afternoon and say it’s desperate because its your wife’s birthday, well sorry…
--In the case of el Bulli, you now know whom you are emailing, take advantage of that, email at the right time, have organised travel dates and leave the el Bulli date flexible. Does it have to be a Friday or Saturday night?

Be nice and ‘memorable’
Saying the right words will make you stand out from the crowd. When you phone that new hot restaurant, it doesn’t have to be grovely but using terms like “any chance you have spot free on Thursday night” or “I’d like to make a reservation, we would love to dine on Friday evening”, “we are flexible with time, when do you have free?” While the reservationist is flicking through pages or searching through the computer reservation system, be friendly tell them that you have heard great things – I can only assume its true and that’s why you want to dine anyway – it doesn’t hurt to be nice. If your lucky the last person to phone was abrupt and condescending (this is common, especially when reservations are hard to come by, people assume they need to fight for their place), and you will be remembered for your politness.
--In the case of el Bulli the memorable part comes into full swing. So you want to dine there, just the meal its self will set you back a few hundred dollars and that without travel costs and accommodation. Think of it like buying a large white good; for a new fridge, you’ll think about what you need, research it, shop around and then buy one. This could take many hours, why wouldn’t you invest the same amount of thought and time into securing a restaurant reservation were you quite likely will spend the same money.
Be creative; state your case about why you need to dine there, write a poem, make a short youtube video and send it to them, draw a picture, send a photo of you and your prospective dining companion. Be cheeky; email regularly, try phoning, get a Spanish speaking friend to help – no doubt it’s a saying for a good reason, the squeaky door does get the oil…

Accept a waitlisted table, but follow-up regularly
Or if one is not offered, ask for it. Better still accept the 9.30pm reservation you are offered when you tried to book the 8pm but ask to be waitlisted for something earlier. And make sure you call back, the day before and the afternoon of – most tables are allocated and shuffled for a dinner service the day of the reservation, lunches are often allocated the night before – make sure you follow the previous rule, be friendly and persistent. Try a “hi, me a again, any chance you’ve had a cancellation on an earlier table, just thought I would check, we would love to come earlier…”
Take a reservation of a different less busy night and be waitlisted for the desired night, they then know that you really want to dine their, your flexible and because they have spoken to you on the phone, they know you’re nice. The odds are in your favour.
--In the case of el Bulli, don’t accept no as an answer, ask when is possible, could you be waitlisted, is there something else either side of your requested dates. Ideally you want to have made an impression before this stage, but if not enough, keep on trying using the memorable techniques.

Things to remember
-don’t lie, you will get caught out and black-listed and then never be able to get in.
-don’t ring when it is likely to be busy, the idea is to have a chat and make a friend, you can’t do that when the dining room is full of guests. Some restaurants have dedicated reservations, but many don’t so don’t risk it. Call between 10am and 12noon or 4pm and 6pm. What about even popping in if you are close by, the perfect chance to make an impression!
-don’t name drop, don’t imply that your more worthy than others, don’t say that your friends with the owner, chef, supplier anyone (of course if you are then get them working for you, you don’t need to be reading this). As A Waiter says, restaurateurs don’t have friends, don’t push your luck, if your really a regular then the maître d' will see your wait listed name and look after you, of course, thank them when your next in.

If all else fails don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the reservationist, “How can I get a booking, when is it best to ring?” Ask them the rules of their game; no doubt they will be flattered you care.

And back to el Bulli. No I haven’t dined there yet, BUT I know that should I be heading to Spain again soon, I will be in a much better position to secure a booking than most of the other 2,000,000 enquires that year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The smell of Spring

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the smell of Spring; namely one of my favourite parts of it, asparagus.
In the hospitality industry we have certain special understandings of human nature, and when nature calls, and Spring is a time of dread.
I LOVE asparagus and could eat them every day when they are in season but in a restaurant when a special features them in abundance, no body wants to do the necessary toilet checks during the night - asparagus makes urine reek - and put that in a small environment, on a busy night with lots of asparagus loving customers... well I'll definitely be very busy when the toilet check needs to be done.

Apparently, this phenomenon happens very quickly, within half an hour of ingestion, so asparagus entrees are the most deadly. Google tells me that only some people can smell these special aromas, unfortunately for me I am one of these people with a talented nose.

So eat up and enjoy, but avoid restaurant toilets in Spring. Perhaps you would like to cook some at home?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dish of the Month - August and September

Well, here we are again...

A hiccup in my blogging world has lead me to combine August and September dishes of the month. This really needs to stop I know, but I'm none the less glad to share this with you, belatedly.

Dish of the Month, and probably dinner of the month, for August belongs to Cumulus Inc.

I had a mammoth 4 hour experience there grazing at the bar, watching the chefs, sipping wine, chatting to friendly faces and just loving the space.

I could include any number of dishes; from the broad selection of interesting charcuterie, to the salt cod soup, the sows ear silk purse or the as-boozy-as-you-can-bear rum baba. But the loving care that the shucked to order oysters received, has to make them extra special.

August Dish of the Month

Oysters at Cumulus Inc
Carefully, a wiggling shucker breaks the seal into the oysters briny home, pops the top off with a slip of the knife and they are ready to go. Plated with a cheek of lemon and perhaps a little swipe from a tiny artists brush to remove any shell remnants, you can watch them twitch as a squeeze of lemon juice dresses them before the plunge of your oyster fork.

The night we dined, I tried all 6 that were on offer, the Moonlight Flat angasi were the stand out. The menu lists that these have been identified as nearly identical to the celebrated French Bélon oyster. Meaty, iodine flavour with firmly textured flesh and a large white adductor muscle.

September Dish of the Month

Gravadlax at Gills Diner
An incredibly generous portion of house cured salmon, cured Scandinavian style with salt and sugar, also known as gravlax. Sliced thinly and served with a salad of picked soft herbs, some sliced cornichons, a lemon cheek and a quenelle of herby crème fraîche.
Clean, bright salmon flavours perfectly seasoned and utterly moreish, just the thing to accompany the fantastic house made breads.

I still have not gotten past the entrees at Gills, the portions are just too generous and we love the selection of sharable dishes.

I can't wait to get back to both of these Melbourne dining institutions in the making. No doubt with the current economic woes, casual dining spots like this - were you can feel comfortable having as much or as little to eat as you like - will become even more popular to the detriment of the formal experiences.
I for one, will not stop dining out but will probably be a little more tempted towards the accessible end of the market then the fancy end. I think dining out has become cultural for many Australians and giving up a key social part of the week will not happen, it will just become a little more informal, laid back and in line with the dining experiences of Cumulus Inc and Gills Diner.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lucky Melbourne

Who says you need to travel to be inspired by the worlds best cuisine...

In the next six months, right here in little old Melbourne, I am seeing four chefs from the world's ten best restaurants, as voted by World's 50 Best Restaurants.

Next week it is Ferran Adrià from the #1 restaurant, El Bulli.
He is here to flog his new book, A Day at elBulli, of which I am also buying as part of my ticket price.

Then in March, at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Masterclasses, I am seeing Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck, rated #2, Thomas Keller from The French Laundry and Per Se, rated #5 and #6 respectively, and also René Redzepi from Noma, #10.

Now that's a pretty impressive list of powerful chefs to be visiting Melbourne. No doubt our local chefs will be on their toes should one of these guys turn up for a quick bite between engagements...

I wonder where Ferran will eat while in Melbourne? If you hear before I do, I'd love to know!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A question I didn't have the balls for...

During my European holiday last year I visited markets all over France, Spain and the UK.

Market images make up a huge component of my holiday flicks (luckily there were a few of PDC and I together - probably at a market...).
Some of these images made it to Eating with Jack, some didn't because they were boring, and some others didn't because I couldn't torture you with them; they were a bit gory on reflection.

But one in particular, I have always wanted to post, as I didn't know what it was and I hoped you may be able to help. The thing is, I now know the answer and it actually quite funny so look away if you need to...

Some time after my holiday, I labeled this image "what is it", the answer I have just discovered is... wait for it... testicles.
The Guardians blog had a funny piece and identifying image of them a couple of days ago.

If only I knew the answer at the time it would have set the pace all day for ball-sy jokes!

Now that I have shared a rather grisly image from my files and I'm sure the vegetarians have already clicked over to Michael and Cindy, here is my favourite holiday market image.

Also fabulously entitled, "toothy smiles".

Poor little buggers I know, but I bet they make great Greek lamb soup or something like that.

The thing about these images, that is not funny, is how removed we are from the raw ingredients in Australia. Rarely would you see such large displays of offal and obvious bits - such as heads - that remind us of the real source of our food. Perhaps if it was more common, we would be more discriminating, respectful and mindful of our decision to eat it.

Don't get me wrong, I couldn't give up meat, but I am becoming more and more aware of the sources of my food and the effects of what I put in my body.
What about the idea that if you were to increase your fruit and vegetable intake by 20% you are likely to lose weight... I can't remember the source, but I know its true for me.
After my holiday this year and a strict diet of 3 meals a day, stuffed to the gills just enough to go and lay back on the beach, I actually lost weight I believe, because of all the vegetables, fruit and seafood. Not breads, meats and dairy, I consumed.
I'm not a nutritionist, but I know that if I am stuffed full of fresh, fantastic veggies and fruit then I don't even think of the other stuff that weights me down and requires more hours at the gym.

It's a good thing that I like my veggies and like the idea of eating more of them, as there are some pretty dramatic lifestyle changes, likely to force themselves upon us with increasing food costs in the future. Some of the ideas are old fashioned yet very embraceable - I planted my little vegetable patch today, rocket again, tomatoes, cavolo nero, and silver beet - others ideas perhaps will take a little getting use to.

Take a moment and read this piece by David Chang (the chef owner, of that impossible to get a reservation at 12 seater in NY, Momofuku Ko) found it incredibly inspiring.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rumi, Brunswick East

It's pretty obvious from just glancing over these pages that I'm a bit of a food freak, or nerd as I like to say.
I love it all; eating it, talking about it, playing with it and writing about it but one foodie area that I know I need to improve in, is my understanding of Middle Eastern food.

Lets just say, that I have a growing appreciation, for appreciating it more.

I've tried the usual suspects, Abla's et al, yet find the lack clarity in each flavour challenging - yes, I know that's the point - the flavours are actually combinations of flavours; spices, herbs and eclectic ingredients. It's a mine field of foreign-ness that can be intimidating, unless you grew up with it. I didn't, it was grilled lamb chops, peas and mash for me.

I love the subtle hints of these flavours in modern Melbourne food - Greg Malouf can take full credit for his influence on a whole generation of chefs - yet to understand the food better it's not just a flirt with the flavours that I need, it's a full on affair with the cuisine... but perhaps within an accessible modern package!

Here are a few of these modern Middle Eastern dining rooms in Melbourne. I liked Mama Ganoush, I'm keen to try Maha and I am awaiting Momo's reopening, but the answer right now is Rumi.

Situated on Lygon St, a tram ride north of the cheap Italian joints that the tourists frequent, Rumi is in a simple corner shop front, that just hums from opening time at 6pm. You can tell that you are in on a good thing when a place is this busy from the moment it opens. I feel like I have stumbled on a Middle Eastern version of Spice I am.

The room is basic, quite a few tables packed tetrus style into the space, but the friendly professionalism of the staff make you forget that you could easy steal a meatball from the table next door. An perhaps you should... the dishes are intended to share after all!

We begin by asking a few menu questions, this then leads into our waiter ordering for us, the trust was built and we feel in good hands, our only request was that the Persian roast goat be included and I'm glad we did, it was fabulous.

First was the sigara boregi; perfect cigar shaped rolls of crunchy pastry filled with a combination of haloumi, feta and kasseri cheeses. Who doesn't like warm cheese and pastry?

Next it was some 'baharat' spice dusted school prawns that were fried whole until crispy, these were served with an avocado, tahini and lemon dip. The prawns were well cooked and lightly seasoned, yet perhaps the idea of dipping them in avocado was a little strange to me. Avocado is definitely one of those fruits that are very wrong hot, but the rich creaminess was a great match to the textured, sweet prawns.
The prawns were served at the same time as a very seasonal little salad of baby beetroots, broadbeans and labne garnished with tarragon and mint. Fresh, fantastic flavours.

Then we had our way, the Persian goat. A few random cuts; part of a rack, some rounds of leg shank, a little bit of shoulder. All cooked to a sticky, pull apart and suck the bones perfection. Served with a side pot of spiced salt, essentially sea salt flakes with aromatic sweet spices of cinnamon, cardamom and perhaps some fennel seed. I could eat this dish everyday for a month and not tire of it, definitely on a must try list should you go.
To balance it all off there was some pilaf rice and a sweet and sour dressed cos leaf salad.
Unfortunately the desserts are forgettable and appear to be an after thought, so don't bother further than a couple of pieces of Turkish delight and perhaps a strong and sweet Turkish coffee.

The service at Rumi nearly stole the show over the food; friendly, accommodating, and happy to explain as much as possible. They are no doubt, use to people like me being unfamiliar with the cuisine style and have found a niche in sharing the experience with a wide variety of diners.

Rumi is a place that I'd recommend; the food is exciting and fresh in flavours, the service is smart and passionate, the wine list is simple, (but with BYO at $10 you can bring something nice from home) and the room absolutely buzzes with happy diners taking advantage of a reasonably inexpensive meal that educates the palate, and the mind.

132 Lygon St
Brunswich East
ph: 93888255

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Simple Thai style garfish

I've got a bit of a soft spot for garfish.

Such a slender elegant looking fish that is a little misunderstood. See, I can think of nothing better than these just dusted in seasoned flour and panfried until the skin is crispy and flesh vivid white, yet others think of them as bait... well that's what happens at my fish shop.

Just recently, I was patiently waiting as a elderly man ahead of me purchased 4 small gars, as he was gathering his coins I placed the same request, smiling I made small talk,

"you like the small ones as well? Just perfect with a salad" I volunteered,

"erh no, these are for bait..." and off he went.

If only he knew.

These cleaned baby garfish are from the Claringbolds fish auction that I mentioned last post. Well was I mistaken or what, no it wasn't 7 garfish for $5 it was 13! All cleaned and beheaded (unfortunately) and ready to go.
Not up for a mess of the kitchen, I cooked them the simplest way possible, dressed and then baked in foil. Simple Thai style garfish
Whole cleaned garfish (guts removed, scaled and preferably head on)

Nam Prik
Coriander roots and leaves -washed
Whole hot red chilis -birds eye
Shallots - roughly chopped
Garlic - roughly chopped
Fish sauce
Palm sugar
Lime juice

Pound in a mortar and pestle about 6 coriander roots, 2-4 red chillis, a tablespoon of each shallot and garlic.
Pound to a chunky paste.
Add equal parts fish sauce and lime juice and then add about 1 tablespoon of palm sugar to taste.
It should taste sweet, sour, hot and salty.

Place garfish on a large square of aluminium foil, top with a few tablespoons of the nam prik, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some chopped coriander leaves.

Cover with more foil and tightly seal the edges.
Bake in a hot oven until you can hear it bubbling inside, about 10 minutes in my case.
Tear open the foil and serve the fish and cooking juices. Drizzle with the rest of the nam prik and garnish with extra coriander.

Hopefully your plate will end up looking like this.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Second best? No way!

PDC had a little giggle at me just before in the car... I realised it... I'm just not good at accepting second best, especially when it comes to my food.

Yesterday afternoon, it was a trip to Prahran market for the Claringbolds fish auction; quality fish at bargain prices, all bundled into $5 bags and auctioned off. Seven whole baby garfish for $5, 350g of yellowfin tuna for $5, a pack of Huon smoked salmon $5 the list goes on... I also manged to justify a gorgeous grassfed organic sirloin to make steak tartare tonight.

And then this morning; the sun is shining, we are out to breakfast and it just has to be Mart at the Middle park tram stop.

After some poached eggs and salmon, I twisted PDC's arm to 'drive by' (it was very certainly, very out of the way!) Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder for some cheese. The funny thing about this especially is that I took a good 15 minutes looking at the cheese options yesterday at Prahran market but just knew that it was never going to be as good as what would have been handle with care and maturation at RHCL. So there was no compromise and we purchased some oozingly ripe Fromage de Meaux (it can't be called the real name of Brie de Meaux, as it is pasterised ) and some of what formally was know as Morbier, again new regulations mean that the pasteurised version is not called the really name... its really quite boring living in a country that makes its citizens eat second class cheese.

Next on the way home the stark realisation hit me, as we were siting in the St Kilda bound traffic patiently anticipating the Baker Chirico bread we were about to buy that is to go with the cheese, seafood and steak tartare tonight.

It takes a lot of driving and time to be this food fussy. Now if only I could have come up with a very good excuse to have driven to Carlton this afternoon as well, to pick up some seriously good terrine from Parisienne Pâté.... maybe next weekend. I'll have to plan better.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A change...

I've been a very bad blogger, yes I can admit it.

Things have been a little chaotic with me lately; in the last six months I have gone from gainfully employed to not, and to now gainfully self employed.

It has been a tough road, one with a lot of self belief, and at times none, and one that has shaken up my productive little blogging schedule so much that it had become a bit of a guilty chore.

The catch is I love Eating with Jack and don't want to let it die a neglected death, so I am back to face the tutting fingers that have been harassing me for not posting and recommit to having sorted myself out enough to be able to share this with you all now.

The funny thing is I have been still thinking of myself as a blogger, taking the photos, mentally planning the posts, yet just not writing them.

So here I am back with a new zeal and a pretty picture of my breakfast this morning, a zucchini, goats curd, tomato and percorino omelette.
It's a perfect scenario, no one misses me from the office and therefore I can now cook myself something healthy and desirable and not be 'late' for work!

Please keep reading Eating with Jack, I love feeling your presence in my eating travels, I promise there is many good meals to come.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A waiters rant

I’ve been reading Waiter Rant for a few years now, long before I even understood about blogs, so it’s with anticipation that I finally got my hands on a copy of his recently released book.
I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘A Waiter’s writing and witnessed my own waiters rant story the other day, perhaps it was my mood and anticipation of opening my newly purchased book, but I stopped with amusement and listened into this interesting conversation.

Waiting at the bar was a regular customer; always impeccably dressed in an old fashioned suit, complete with matching tie and pocket hankie, he sits waiting patiently, sipping his first Crown Lager for the day. Mr Old Fashioned, does old fashioned boys business, he conducts his business wrangling from the comfort of a plush restaurant, he is at this plush restaurant today and many others, many other days, I would not be surprised to learn if it was one every day of the week.
He waits patiently, flicking through the paper for his dining partner to arrive, we are friendly and jovial but he never seems interested to strike up a more personal conversation so, typically it’s only the paper that is his beer drinking companion. To be honest, we are usually too busy sipping first coffees of the day to mind.

Soon the other part of the dining duo arrives and they chat, order more drinks and eventually move in to the waiting table. As they walk through, another guest calls out and greets Mr Old Fashioned, quick introductions all round and then The Other Guest makes polite conversation that he is not at the other More Famous trattoria around the corner.
“No, I can never seem to get a table there” Mr Old Fashioned sighs
“oh” The Other Guest nods
“It’s just that they don’t have the right table, at the right time”
“Well it’s good here anyway, and have you tried the schnitzel?” The Other Guest changes the topic

I smile to myself, as I know EXACTLY what they are talking about and more importantly, why he can't get a table.
Mr Old Fashioned sits down and orders another Crown and the water glasses are removed (he doesn’t ‘do’ water).

I walk away and can’t help but openly giggle to myself, I was wondering about all of this, just the other day.
The More Famous trattoria is familiar to me, I worked there when it was hot, and Mr Old Fashioned was merely another punter. We didn’t like him because he was new and didn’t understand the rules… the tipping rules.
We did not give two hoots how often he came, (the owners did not seem too fussed either, actually) and it was in fact more painful, the more he dined. It became our responsibility to try and 'educate' him; by giving him the bad table, only at a late or early time, or just never quite being able to remember the brand of beer he liked, or perhaps remembering when they were a little warm… all sad but true.

The moral of the story is Mr Old Fashioned just doesn’t get the rules; tip or risk becoming a second priority customer. He doesn’t get it, or perhaps he does and stubbornly has moved on from the More Famous place as a result. Unfortunately, The More Famous place, had many more famous customers, so they probably have not even missed him.

I'm not sure if his 'education' will continue at the new place; experience has taught me, that these things work themselves out by the end of the week but with labour shortages in the hospitality industry, most waiters don't have this clarity from experience... he is at their mercy. So, perhaps a table by the toilet with a warmish Crown for a few months will prove the point. It’s always extremely professional, but never dream service; that’s saved for the people that do ‘get’ the rules.

Oh and before you all get parnoid; no, waiters do not spit in your food if they don't like you. Even 'A Waiter', says that is just going too far and from what I've read of his book, he does like a waiters game or two...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wow! A night of surprises at The Good Food Guide Awards

Well, PDC and I sit here with proud smiles as I report on the excitement of The Age Good Food Guide Awards.

A few new awards and a couple of shocks...

2009 Awards
Restaurant of the Year - Attica (a fantastic result, well done!)
Best New Restaurant - Bistro Guillaume
Chef of the Year - Frank Camorra, MoVida
Young Chef of the Year - (two winners this year) Justin Wise, The Press Club and Christopher Donnellan, The Lake House
Service Excellence Award - Martin Fairhurst, The Lake House
Professional Excellence Award - Will Studd, -Cheese Campaigner (nice title!)
Outstanding Achievement Award - Con Christopoulos
Dish of the Year - Smoked trout broth, Attica (not too far removed from the pork broth that I loved there)
Country Restaurant of the Year - Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld
**Best New Country Restaurant - Tea Rooms of Yarck
**Winery Restaurant of the Year - Giant Steps (in the Yarra Valley)
Wine List of the Year - Circa, the Prince (again, congrats!)
Best Short Wine List - Ten Minutes by Tractor
**Bacchus (Don Levy Fitzpatrick) Award - Bar Lourinha
Website of the Year - Three, One, Two
Wine Service Award - Rocco Esposito, Wardens in Beechworh
**Interior Design - Giuseppe, Arnaldo and Sons (my friend was right, it is really amazing)

2008 Multiple hats of interest…
Three Hats
Jacques Reymond and Vue de Monde is back sharing the top pinnacle

Two Hats
Verge (back up again) MoVida (up from '07), Bistro Guillaume (a new entrant from across the boarder), Royal Mail Hotel (country section)

Up and Down
The Press Club - fallen a little from two hats, Chef and New Restaurant of the year in '08 to one hat... ouch

Well, I heard whispers that it was all about demotions this year, these places lost their only hat -
The Argo, Da Noi (nice dig!), Delizia Cucina, Fenix (watch for Ray next year), France Soir (ouch!), The Graham, Hotel Lincoin, Idea..., Maisonette, Maris, Middle Brighton Baths, Mirka (I told you it wasn't all that), Punch Lane (a sad loss), Shiranui

Controversy and surprises…
Taxi Dining room - did I miss it or did they lose two hats?? :O
Becco - 'The Boys' have had it good for a while, and now the playing field is levelled ;)
France Soir - hatless after such a long service to Melbourne

**New awards this year

Thoughts on the results??? Please join in...

12.30am Opps correction... Sorry to the Taxi team, as corrected by Niki, Taxi still has their two hats. Perhaps it was Shaun Micallefs speed to announce the winners or the bottle of Tuscan red in front of me, but I missed it and their hat status remains unchanged. Cheers and sorry!! Jack

Good Food Guide Awards tonight

Live streaming from The Age is just about to start.

So who wins what?

I'll be watching at home tonight and will report back with winners once the show is over.

Bon appetite...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An addiction

Hacked open with the tiny blade from a wine knife, the treasures inside are addictive and cheap.
About 50c AUD for eight locally grown panama passionfruit in Dalat, Vietnam.
I ate them like mad before holidays as well, and combined them to make an exotic twist to My Mums Impossible Pie.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lazy, beautiful breakfast

I can’t apologise enough to readers at home, keeping warm in what I read has been the coldest winter for some time, but I’d love to share my breakfast experience of the last five days at the Muang Kulay Pan Hotel in Koh Samui.

Lets start with the setting, just beautiful, have a look for yourself… above is the bell that you ring for service, if a smiling face is not to be seen.
Pretty little raised tables and seating. Elegant, yet simple. We were served to start, freshly squeezed orange juice from green skinned, mandarin tasting oranges, individual fruit platters and green tea for me and strong black coffee in a small thermos for PDC.

Breakfast was a choice of ‘American breakfast’ – eggs with sausage, bacon and ham, ‘Continental’ -chocolate croissant, yoghurt and more fruit or rice congee and curry dishes that we did not explore.
Eggs it was, most mornings, as I was a little scared of the croissant and yoghurt option (how good it could possibly be -I usually err on the side of some thing that I know I will enjoy, especially at breakfast), yet I should not have been afraid; the yoghurt was rich and tangy as it should be and the croissant better than some from fancy French bakeries in Melbourne.
Breakfast was also served with some grain toast wrapped in a thick linen napkin with a selection of housemade jams, the caramelised pineapple was a highlight nearly as bright as the banana, lime and palm sugar jam in Laos. PDC was so ravenous from an early run along the beach (I know, sorry!! ) to also order the banana pancakes in addition to all of this. Stretched out on a lounge, being served breakfast from fun, friendly, yet careful staff it makes it hard to leave but that was what we have done today. The staff were sad to hear that it was our last day with them, “have a safe trip and we will see you next year”, a mutal wish, but with our penchant for travel to new places, I’m not sure it will happen, but it is a nice way to bid farewell – see you next time!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dishes of the Month - June and July, opps!

The end of June got a little crazy and well here I am with Dishes of the Month for both June and July. Funny enough, they are both steeped in French tradition yet could not be a world further away from each other.

I should explain...

A trip to Healseville in the middle of June, was as always an opportunity to eat at the Healseville Hotel were I have a enjoyed many fantastic meals over the years. This time was no different, if anything I think it was the best yet.

The dish was actually dessert and as I have mentioned before I not much of a sweets person yet I'm a sucker for a tarte Tatin. A classic French upside down baked tart of apples, this was a quince version with fruit from the local region.

June Dish of the Month

Quince tarte Tatin with almond milk sorbet -Healseville Hotel

Slow cooked fragrant quince baked with a soft almond frangipane and a crispy puff pastry base served with a scoop of a nutty and light almond milk sorbet

My Dish of the Month from July was from Dalat, Vietnam. Now, I usually strictly eat the local food when on holidays but recommendations lead us to the cutiest little French bistro and the most amazing artichoke of my life.

July Dish of the Month

Poached artichoke
(yes, as simple as that) -Le Cafe de la Poste, Dalat Vietnam

I took a bit of a educated gamble ordering this, I knew that lots of artichokes were grown locally, they were everywhere at the market, so hence in season and the Dalatians take artichoke very seriously as they have a local artichoke tea. The artichoke was very traditionally prepared, perfectly poached so the leaves can just wiggle off and served with a side pot of red wine and mustard vinaigrette.
The eloquent way to eat the artichoke is to pull off the leaves one by one with your fingers and dip into the dressing and then scrape the flesh off the leaf with your teeth as you bite in. As you slowly eat, -this can take some time- you will reach the middle and the main fleshly part that should be eaten with a knife and fork. The best artichoke I have ever eaten.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Catch up...

Well, my planned postings have not eventuated. But that does not mean I haven't been thinking about it; I have a camera full of images and a mind full of posts, and now its catchup time.

Yum Cha or Dim Sum is a favourite past time at home, so in Hong Kong it was a must. I had loss sleep in the lead up thinking about it; where is the best place? Will it be as I expect? Will it be carts? I'll explain further in my Hong Kong piece, but this was my favourite dumpling of the trip. A vegetarian number with mushroom, bamboo shoots, water chestnut and chives.

A great way to start the day, a Vietnamese coffee with 'milk' - condensed milk and ice. Not quite a caffe latte at The Wall in St Kilda (we miss you!!) but pretty delicious and a definite coffee kick. A snorkeling boat tour lead to an interesting offer, fresh sea urchin that the divers would collect for us. Probably illegal and perhaps a little unethical but a proposition that we could not deny. A plate of raw urchin some onion and a lime and salt pepper mix. Intensely rich and a hedonistic treat.

After holidaying in Vietnam three years ago, I was eager to have one of these creme caramels again. Generally available at carts in the evening the better ones are from the little dessert shops with access to ice. There the caramel was turned out and topped with crushed ice, a coffee syrup and condensed milk straight from the can. I could eat five if it didn't seem greedy.
A very pleasant surprise was the Louisiane Brewhouse on Nha Trang beach. Beers are brewed on site by an Aussie and served in several styles. I enjoyed the ginger beer (alcoholic of course, it is holidays!) flavoured with fresh ginger and a little lemongrass. Great ginger beer in a style that fits with the local food, perfect.

In Dalat, in central Vietnam, we undertook a regional tour that included one of the many coffee plantations in the area. This is ripe bean (yet harvest is not until November), the red outer hides two halves of the green coffee bean. An extended post about all the sights is on the way with highlights as wide ranging as coffee and tea, to some very hungry silk worms, mushroom farms and beautiful flowers.

I promise to work on the Dalat and Hong Kong stories, I'm really looking forward to sharing it with you. Must pop off now for some fiery Thai for dinner and hopefully not too many tears!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Portuguese custard tarts in Macau

Foreign occupations of countries can only be good for one thing, the sharing of food cultures…
Having not been to Portugal these have to be the next best thing to eating them on the home soil, the best in Macau.
Soft custardy centre, delicately crispy pastry shell with a distinctive swirl on the bottom from the hundreds of layers of pastry folded onto itself.

Holiday update

Wow, it has not stopped until today, when I spent the day snoozing on the beach in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Dining in Hong Kong was remarkable, I have an extended post on the way featuring a breathtaking Hutong (breathless because of beautiful food and intense chilli action!), a high attention to detail L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, and gamey roast goose. Yes I finally got there!

All up in the next day or two, but sorry off now to eat some more lychees from the market, these ones got me started in Hong Kong... and now I can't get enough.

~~Loving the unsecured wifi...


The Amazing Race detours in Ho Chi Minh – Vietnam

In the style of ‘The Amazing Race’ we clamber through the sticky airport; international arrivals then to the domestic terminal and search the tv screen boards for the next flights to Phu Quoc or Nha Trang.
Having just missed the last flight to the island of Phu Quoc the decision is made, Nha Trang here we come… yet we have nearly three hours to kill until the first possible standby seats may be available. So we take, as the say on the Amazing Race ‘A Detour’, otherwise know as a stopover lunch in Ho Chi Mihn city.

Dumping the bags in storage at the terminal, and with a recommendation from an American sounding Vietnamese girl as she coded our bags, we jumped in a cab and head towards the Reunification Palace and what was promised to us as a local lunch spot “Not for tourists”, was the deal, “I eat there many times, it’s great”. Sold.

We are off, on the scooter and car horn filled streets, zig-zagging our way towards lunch, 25 minutes and a few grey hairs later we are standing out the front of an old colonial style house with a bamboo garden around the outside and what later turns out to be the prep kitchens for a large menu of simple Vietnamese dishes. Seated inside at a large thick wooden table I am excited, the food shooting past looks amazing – fresh, vibrant food – and lots of locals tucking in. Luckily the waiters are happy to play along and be patient with our guide book language skills.

Three dishes and a couple of Saigon Specials later we are satisfied, the suggestion has been fantastic. A salad of lotus stems with prawns and pork was garnished with prawn cracker spoons and had a side dish of a caramel, sticky chilli dressing. Delicious.
Next was a DIY number; some spiced prawn mince around sugar cane sticks with a plate of rice paper, some salad and herb leaves and slices of cucumber, star fruit and little squares of soft vermicelli noodles. A little bit of everything, a snug wrap and a dip into the nuoc cham dressing makes a bright fun dish, that PDC and I have instantly added to our barbeque share food repertoire .
The last dish was Banh Xeo; a favourite from the markets in Nha Trang that we experienced 3 years ago. A crispy pancake filled with meat and seafood, bamboo shoots and herbs, served folded with more fresh herbs and salad leaves and another dressing featuring chilli, fish sauce lime and sugar.

Total cost of this leg of the race
Banh Hoi Thit Heo Quay Cuon Banh Trang (DIY Rolls) 48 000 VD
Goi Ngo Sen Tom Thit (lotus stem salad) 42 000 VD
Banh Xeo (pancake) 24 000 VD

For the grand total of $12 Australian, including beers, water and tip.*

Quan an Ngon
138 Nam Khoi Nghia C3

Back out onto the street we hail a cab and head back to the airport. Mission complete, detour successful, tummies in-check and satisfied. Now to that plane to Nha Trang, and dinner to worry about.

*Out of interest, one Aussie Dollar is equal today to 15500 Vietnamese Dong.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Free Billecart Salmon Brut or roast goose in Hong Kong?

I must boast, I flew to Hong Kong yesterday, but my flight was delayed by nearly three hours.
We were given a voucher for food at the airport to tide us over for the wait, but all I could think about was that nothing was going to replace the roast goose I should have been eating on my arrival in Hong Kong… so we had Champagne. It was only just midday on Saturday but hey, we were on holidays!

More news to come from Hong Kong
~Lots of yum cha (dim sum in HK)
~Tomorrow night is L’Atelier Joel Robuchon. Will it be as good as the Paris original that I visited last year?
~Tonight is Hutong. Many food writers that I respect think that this place was overlooked for the Top 50 restaurants of the world list (it would be the highest ranking Chinese if listed) I’m looking forward to the chilli of Hutongs food, to clear out the head cold I developed just before the trip, just typical!

Stay tuned…

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cumulus Inc, Flinders Lane

A friend tempted me to join her on a quick lunch at the very newly opened Cumulus Inc. last Tuesday.
In a nut shell I loved it, yet look forward to going back for dinner when they are a little more settled in, unfortunately they are still waiting for their liquor licence, (when I enquired when they were expecting it I was told “three weeks ago”), it's all smiles for now but this is far from an ideal way to open your business.
If you must head in immediately, as I had to, try the salted cod soup served in a glass with chilled parsley foam on top. It settled like a good Guinness as the two layers became one.
The Wagyu bresaola with threads of celeriac remoulade, is also worth seeking out, but don’t miss the 12 hour roast pork. Belly meat with soft melted fat and crispy skin served with picked watercress and some slivered poached lemon rind and flesh.

The room is all about attention to detail and the gorgeous features such as an iron bar, beige tipped Thonet chairs and clog coat rack, reak smart designer. I’m looking forward to seeing the room in the evening to get the full effect of what looked like, just as well thought out, lighting.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The ultimate diet food


Yes that's right; virtually no fat and low in energy (less time on the treadmill!) and with more zinc than any other food and more iron than red meat.

They also have heaps of vitamins and minerals and gram for gram are better for you than white flesh fish.

Oysters can seem somewhat celebratory in nature, but don't wait, crack a few (dozen) open now as they are gorgeous at the moment.

Have a look inside?

Menu boo-boos

I've been thinking a lot about menus lately... my reasons will make themselves be known in good time, but to be quite frank, I am a little tried of it.

So it really must be funny for me to crack a food nerd smile as I was flipping through the hundreds of images that I have just never gotten around to blogging on (does everyone else have these vast files??).

This image was given to me by a friend that lives in Japan, it's from her local 'wine bar' that serves Italian food.

I love the idea of a Japanese restaurateur translating into English an Italian dish, the thing I most wonder about is whether the English is a direct translation from the Japanese characters (any insight from clever readers is appreciated).

Of course, the prostitute style pasta is puttanesca; a classic combo of tomato, garlic, chilli, capers anchovy and olives, yet I giggle to myself at the simple yet on-the-mark translation.

Funny enough I should admit, I was given this image after dinner at GA&S a couple of months back and used the idea of this basic translation in my description of the "angry crab pasta" - Arrabbiata, I had enjoyed. I found out only recently that even PDC did not know what I had meant by this... arh food nerd, at least I laugh at my own jokes. ;)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"The pork belly (for your gut), Sir?" - You are what you eat

Having always been on the leaner end of the scale, in the last few years I have had to start moving my arse at the local gym to keep in my favourite jeans. I totally understand the problem, I like food too much, but not the kind of food that generally makes people fat; good food just enjoyed a little too much, really it's a more of a food loving lifestyle habit than a fueling stop for me.

I was truly embarrassed to read recently of Australia's new title of worlds fattest nation, truly I was, and though I don't fall into the category of over 25BMI, I thought long and hard before I served PDC and myself some beautiful cheese the other night.

The thing is, that it's a very complicated issue mostly based around an un-food-educated public and the fact that we don't move enough, but it's also got a lot to do with portion sizes.

What has happened to the idea of an elegant sufficiency as my Nan would say? Why do we strive to finish the huge American sized popcorn (drenched in awful, salty, butter tasting oil) at the cinema while we sip from the impossibly too big to hold coke.

Growing up in the country, I understand the one-up-man-ship of finishing the biggest steak or drinking that extra beer, but we all really need to understand that this is the reason we have won this scary world wide anti-accolade.

I have been working back in restaurants recently and a fresh set of eyes has given me a new perspective of what the dining public eats. It's far too easy, while running food to look at the table ahead and pick who has ordered what dishes. The largest steak with bearnaise sauce goes to the man with the large round tummy with the empty beer glass in front of him. The confit duck leg with fondant potatoes goes to the lady that should be wearing one size larger, but can't admit it enough to feel comfortable in her clothes. The slow cooked pork belly goes to the person, with the porky belly... it's a sad sorry state.

Rarely am I surprised as I deliver food to tables, I understand that most of these people are perhaps celebrating, but food needs to be part of your long term life style choice and if you look like the food that I just delivered you then, this does not seem like a one off.

I like to play a game at the supermarket and stand in the long queue and peer into peoples baskets as they go past, it's always the love handles with the guilt ridden apple pie or the chubby teen with the large bottle of softdrink and chips.

An even more fun game, if you are ever tempted by the convenience of a fast food shop, is to stop and watch the customers for a moment, I bet there is very few bodies you would like to emulate. If you don't like the look of the butts in the queue, don't join it or you'll get a matching one, is the story that goes through my head.

As I step of my high horse now, I can also enlighten you that two entrees is the choice of the trim and terrific crowd and a glass (or even two) of a quality wine, is also duly acceptable instead of the saddening routine of multiples of spirits with 'diet' softdrink.

Do you look like your food? I'm off to buy some organic carrots!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Yarra Valley for the weekend

We have neglected the Yarra Valley a little lately, we have been drawn down the coast to Mornington or to the south west for food adventures but not to the Yarra for too long.

Last weekend saw the drought broken, (no not really, but it was very green out there) and a trip to 'The Valley' undertaken.

One of the highlights was our first visit to Giant Steps in Healesville. The warehouse style room was amazing; a huge glass wall looking into the winery on one side and the other an open kitchen featuring pizzas and artisan baked goods. I loved the smart branding, young funky vibe and communal tables.

I also loved this sign...

All too often, kids run amuck in places like this, while the parents bury themselves in conversation with friends.

This brought a smile to my face.

We enjoyed some pizza and salads, pretty good coffee and pastries on two separate occasions over the weekend.
Of course all the usual winery visit stuff can be done, such as tastings and purchases, but we just enjoyed a retreat from the rain in an establishment that would easily be able to hold its own in the big smoke.

Dinner at the Healesville Hotel also held its own as a fantastic dining destination, be it in the country or city. A perfect spot to sip an interesting selection of glass wine by the open fire, before dinner featuring local wild mushrooms, hand made house charcuterie and international cheeses.
A dessert of quince tarte Tatin with almond milk sorbet was one of the best things I have eaten this month and a hot contender for Dish of the Month. Lets see what can woo me away from this in the next few days, before I tell you more...

I'm looking forward to my next visit, hopefully much sooner than the last, to check out the very newly opened Mandala cellar door and restaurant and crossing-my-fingers that next time the De Bortoli cheese room, may have some of the Richard Thomas fromage blanc that I convet.