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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


They got him started and now its on...

I have eaten the evidence of his excellence and read his impassioned (some say fanatical) writings on the topic, we are expecting the retraction any day now... no seriously!! ;)

Passion and knowledge is power. Duncan has my vote.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Steamed winter goodness

Another bargain for $3, is the steamed pork bun from Ming Tan II on Victoria St Richmond.

I have been a fan of these for a while but did not realise my obsession until I kept driving out of my way to just 'pop' in and grab one as a rich and wonderful winter lunch. I think I can justify them so easily, because I usually also get a sticky rice snow ball as well - as a treat - and because they are so cheap that it seems like a waste of a trip not to.
The steamed buns are available hot, for immediate consumption or from the chilled display for tomorrow.

The thing I love about this bun is the consistency of the fillings; there is always a soft yoke quails egg, a slice of roast pork belly with crackling, vermicelli noodles, cloud ear mushrooms, a couple of pieces of Chinese sausage and the subtlety of ginger.
In my mind, this is the Chinese version of the Aussie 'mystery bag' (as my Dad lovingly calls meat pies!), but the beauty is you can actually see and taste the individual flavours.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pearl Café

What do you expect when a quality restaurateur opens a café? Smart food, good prices, quick service, value?

I expect all of these.

Pearl Café (or is it Café Pearl?) has opened just up the road from the Pearl Restaurant, that we know and love.
I think it's a big daunting step for a restaurateur to step back and open a café, perhaps that's why it took a year longer than the initial reports speculated.

Attached to the stylishly attainable RG Madden store, Pearl Café is a small space with a large communal high table on warehouse castors (that move a little, unfortunately) some standard tables and a line of chilled displays. The menu is on an impressive cloud printed board that takes up most of one wall space.

We arrived for brunch at 11.30 to learn that breakfast is only served until 11am. Bummer, I am I the only one, that loves eggs on the weekend, even if it is lunch time?

Moving on from this, we ordered the Vietnamese baguettes; pâté, Asian salad and herbs in a crunchy roll. These were actually quite delicious, with the incredibly crunchy bread, being just like the ones I will eat agian, in a months time in Vietnam and the dressing as tangy and hot. My only gripe would be to add an extra smear of pâté and a little more meat for my $10, please.
A ugly, yet decadently good chocolate crackle, topped it off with a cafe latte.

My only hint to Pearl Café would be to sort out their staffing. Some were very obviously 'helping out' from the restaurant (read, stiff formal 'sir/madam' style service) others were cafe juniors that reeked of the skills shortage that is hurting the industry at every level. A balance needs to be found and no I don't want to see the wine list - for the third time - thanks.

No doubt Pearl Café will be popular for the growing Richmond market. I'd love to try their eggs, as one of my favourite fancy breakfast places was the bar at Pearl (restaurant), I'll just have to get myself organised earlier in the morning next time.

40% les fat then butter - Brie!

Got a taste for Brie? You know, the yummy fancy imported ones?

This is Fromagerie 31 in Paris, my favourite cheese shop, possibly in the whole wide world. I can just smell and taste it from here...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Everything old is new again - Sunnybrae Restaurant

Life is cyclical…
Kitchen gardens were once a necessity to supply food to hungry dining rooms, now they are clever marketing tools capitalising on our desire for fresh S.O.L.E. food.

Collected rain and spring water provided sustenance to regional areas, now it’s bottled and sold as a fashion accessory.

Going to a friend’s home for dinner was a special occasion, now we dine at fancy restaurants, as we can’t remember how to cook.

Seasonality is an old fashioned term that existed before the days of air freighted food that supplies goods all year round from far away places.

Family style platters of real food were prepared with love, now restaurant a la carte and degustation are kings - or worse - the fast food epidemic.

Meals use to be inexpensive and yet high on quality, now meals can be either very expensive and high on quality or inexpensive and poor on quality.

This is the reality of food today; yet everything old, can and is becoming new again.

Sunnybrae at Birregurra is a perfect example of this.

I had the pleasure to dine at the reopened Sunnybrae a couple of weekends ago and experienced the old fashioned hospitality of George Biron’s restaurant and home. With excited anticipation of the trip, I spoke with a few friends whom had dined at Sunnybrae in the 1990’s before it had a 7 year hibernation, to try and get a feeling for the experience; it seems very little has changed.
Visiting George’s blog, you get a warm, passionate insight to him as a chef and restaurateur, this was my motivator for the day trip to Birregurra, in person George completes the picture, he does not just offer words on a website.

The food at Sunnybrae was (more than) generous and refined. The menu consisted of five courses, plus house baked bread served with Georges own just-pressed olive oil and some local olives. The experience is low on the need for decision making; perhaps a chat about different main course options if you like, or otherwise it’s wild rabbit with beetroot and pomegranates, and pick your dessert/cheese course and your done. The handwritten menu changes regularly and is filled with the fruits from the Sunnybrae garden and the surrounding region, it's seasonal and classically respectful.

The meal is a set price of $66 per person, a price that George feels is fair and right, and that I think is too little for such a banquet. I doubt that many people would blink an eye, if that learnt that the price was $99, the sense of value would still be strong. This more than reasonable price is obviously obtainable from a combination of having your own property and the desire and know how to develop the garden to produce fresh food or use basics to add value at the table. Most people charge money for the advantages that their skill and experience brings, Sunnybrae seems happy to share the love.

Milk-fed lamb for main course

Succulent salad - served with main course

Upside down spiced cumquat cake for dessert

We drank rainwater from the property and enjoyed some served sparkling, as promised, from retro soda siphons, we also byo’ed a special bottle of Champagne to share and selected from the list of local wines – again very well priced – no balancing act going on here, with the wine list subsidising the menu.

My favourite dish and actually my May Dish of the Month (a tad late!) is the
Spanish-style ham with spiced tomatillos, avocados and limes – Sunnybrae

The ham was curiously gorgeous; soft, nutty and delicate, as good as any I have eaten in Australia, yet the flavour combinations of the salsa blew my socks off.

The South American combination of ripe avocado, lime (and zest?) and the pickled tomatillos was always going to be good but this was amazing, slightly textural, slightly creamy, slightly tangy, just delectable.

A day trip to Sunnybrae is an experience that I hope all passionate foodies get to experience, it’s an old fashioned country restaurant offering modern, enchanting food in the surrounds of a large property (with a sadly dry lake), with friendly staff and a great cook. For me it’s a shame that it's such a drive away but I have since learnt about the possibility of taking the train (and a walk to and from the station), something that I think would be perfect in the right weather and look forward to doing this once it warms.

Being at Sunnybrae refreshes my mind about what pure hospitality is all about - a little taste of this, a splash of that - a desire to share, both time, skill and love of good food. Some old things do become new again, but usually only the good ones.

Welcome back Sunnybrae.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Thank you Clotilde

I receive the Chocolate and Zucchini newsletter and am an admirer of Clotilde's blog, so was interested in this video interview from her recent book tour through the US.

Apart from being inspired by seeing her speak and not just reading her, I loved the smart advise she offers about dining at french restaurants.

If I may, I'd like to suggest this also applies to Australian restaurants were, as Clotilde advises, you are entering what should be treated as an extension of the owners home, don't rearrange stuff or change things around, she likens it to going to the theatre.
I find that all too often restaurant experiences are altered for the worse by people that demand changes to menus, move furniture (then complain when waiters bump their chairs) and generally don't go with the flow like an invited guest. I guess the rule of thumb for me is if the experience is not right then leave with the realisation that its not for you, don't go trying to change it to suit, I doubt you will ever be 100% happy with the result.