Tuesday, July 31, 2007
So no camera, no photos, no mentally preparing what to write. Still I can’t help but post because the experience was simply wonderful. Andrea, the owner/manager/chef/head waiter brings his own warmth to each table. His thick Italian accent talks you through antipasti to have with your aperitif and points out the short comings of his grasp of the English language, as displayed ever-so-subtly on the menu. Still, such casualness in dealing with the customers doesn’t detract from the fact you are eating at a very stylish, very ‘schmick’ establishment.
The menu swings from simple pasta dishes, available in small and large sizes, to more substantial mains. It’s Italian as the locals might know it. There’s no bolognese, no lasagne and no tiramisu. If you want that go to Lygon St. However if you want something to tempt you to jump on a place and find any Italian household who will cook their regional specialty, come to Provincia. S-bo enjoyed Lamb Shanks on Polenta whilst I had Pasta with Osso bucco sauce.
The winelist includes a lot of Italian wines which I know wine lovers are wary of. S-bo and I chose an Australian Sangiovese only to be told it wasn’t available. But don’t worry, there was another one, an Italian, for similar price and better! We were dutifully provided with a bottle of Sangiovese Di Romagna, Umberto Cesario (I think). Whilst I’m not certain on the name luckily I remember the label because S-bo and I are going to hunt this one down. It was sensational. When we find it I’ll publish the actual name and you can all go forth and get your own! Trust me.
For dessert I couldn’t decide between the Chocolate Pudding or the Blueberry Panna Cotta with hazelnut praline. Andrea recommended the pudding and I was rewarded. I can’t remember such a sumptuous dessert. An individual made-to-order, soft centred chocolate pudding arrived with a pear poached in red wine and nougat icecream. Amazing.
So where is Provincia? It’s on Victoria Avenue, Albert Park. The number 1 tram will take you right past and I promise you wont regret the tip. Mains are priced reasonably at around $20-30, with pastas a little less. If you think travelling across the city is a bit of a gamble why not come on a Sunday or Monday evening: 2 courses + glass of wine for $25. Although Sunday nights you wont get Andrea’s service as he’s in the kitchen.
Monday, July 30, 2007
I haven’t eaten upstairs, but downstairs had the laid back feel you expect from a casual eatery, with warm, low lighting to add just a bit of “specialness” of an evening. Service is relaxed, as you would expect, with very bubbly and endearing waitresses. Perhaps the setting on its own isn’t quite enough for a special dinner but throw in a guest chef and hey presto! On this particular evening we were catered for by David Moyle from Circa, St Kilda. Like upstairs Stokehouse, Circa has also earned two hats.
The menu: For entrée Mum & Dad had smoked eel and roasted potato soup, bacon and crème fraiche, whilst S-bo and I both opted for slow cooked organic carrot salad, white onion, shanklish and sorrel.
The flavours of the salad were very delicate, with none overpowering the others. I’ve never eaten shanklish before, nor did I know what it was. I now know its cow’s milk cheese made in Syria or Lebanon, although some sources say sheep’s or goat’s milk as well. My take? It’s like a smooth version of feta. Apparently it comes in a ball, almost like a dirty tennis ball according to Wikipedia, however on this occasion it was crumbled through the salad. There was a form of creamy yellow dressing of which I’m still not sure what it was. I’d guess that it included some pureed carrot. The carrots themselves, little dutch ones with stems still attached, were sweet and tender but they were just carrots. What brought this dish alive were the flavours together as a whole. The white onion deserves special mention as well for bringing excellent tangy bursts to the plate.
Mum and Dad both enjoyed their soup. I tried some of the eel and it tasted, well, smoked. Funny that. They were both very impressed.
Mixing up the combinations for mains, Dad and I had confit lamb brik, parsnip and yoghurt puree with roasted lamb sauce whilst S-bo and Mum had wood roasted calamari, grilled radicchio, black Victorian olives and pink fur potatoes. S-bo enjoyed the calamari very much, whilst Mum found the sauce a little spicy. The sauce was actually quite mild but I’m sure my mother isn’t the only person around with a very low tolerance to spice. I think it should have been stated on the menu to ensure everyone had the best chance to fully enjoy their main.
Dad and I were a little dismayed when our dinner arrived. It appeared to be a small slice of lamb fillet, some strange rectangular thing and a couple of broad beans. Of course the strange rectangular thing was actually the brik and it was choc-full of flavour. Shredded lamb mixed with a myriad of flavours, including parsnip I guess, was drizzled with the yoghurt puree. Use all this to mop up the roasted lamb sauce and I was in heaven. Interestingly enough the rare slice of lamb was very tough to cut, almost like sticking a knife into rubber, but once in the mouth it was so very tender. Second to the lamb were the amazing tomatoes on my plate. You wouldn’t think that little tomatoes could stand up to a dish such as this but they must have been so fresh and ripe when picked off the vine. The last time I remember eating a tomato that tasted so good was on our road trip from Sydney to Adelaide via the coast. We picked up some ripe organic toms from a growers market and I decided to shed my childhood hang-up of not eating tomatoes. I’ve never looked back.
Dessert didn’t tempt us quite so much at the time. We skipped malted milk parfait with sherry and prunes for cake and coffee on Acland St. Always a winner…if you know what to choose, which of course varies from person to person.
Before ending this post I should mention the wine. We ordered a bottle of Underground Pinot Noir. Whilst not your most stunning Pinot it was still particularly enjoyable and at $33 a bottle restaurant price, is probably much better positioned for most of us than your stunning Pinot. Coincidentally Mum, Dad and I drove past Underground the next day on the Mornington Penninsula. We were going a little fast to stop and returned a different way in the afternoon, but it’s definitely a vineyard to keep your eye out for.
Downstairs Stokehouse has a couple of different weekly events including the guest chefs on Wednesday and some lunch specials. You should check it out if you’re after something a little different without paying the earth. You are also welcome to order off the standard downstairs menu too.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Still, these are the times you have to take hold and run with. They all say good food and wine is best enjoyed with great company and you can’t fully appreciate that if you’re stressing about going to work the next day, spending money or getting things done. So this was precisely my attitude when N2 suggested the Flower Drum for dinner last Wednesday night. Of late I’ve been hit by the money swallower…you know the mysterious force that keeps dragging the notes out of your wallet and you’re not sure where they’re going? Therefore, upon mention of Flower Drum after a cocktail at the Sofitel’s Atrium, my first thought was “eek…not this month, please…I really don’t think I can afford it”. Fortunately I decided I wouldn’t be a party pooper and I kept my thoughts to myself. Sometimes my inner-scrooge stops me from enjoying things and needs to be squashed.
Booked out on a Wednesday night, we had to wait a mere 30 minutes for a table which was fine. A phonecall drew us back and we were ushered into the lift. There’s a certain old world charm about the room and service, dating right back to the 1980s. I can imagine new and old money wheeling and dealing over their Cantonese; big business sealed with Peking Duck.
It took a little while for menus to be brought to our table and when they were we were bamboozled. What to order? So we let the waiter choose. You will see very few photos here. I tried, I really did but the waiters are so attentive it’s hard to get a minute to yourself. I don’t like drawing attention to taking photographs. Partly because I don’t want to disclose that I may be critiquing the meal in any written way and secondly I just don’t like to. Being as discreet as possible tends to make those at my table more comfortable. N1 and N2 definitely had a good chuckle the first time I did it, but they are used to me now. At one point the waiter saw me snap the Peking Duck and offered to take a picture of us all. I agreed and the 3 of us smiled awkwardly, explaining our food photographs under the pretence that a friend was meant to be there, couldn’t make it in the end and was very upset.
As I said, the service was very attentive. At some points I nearly felt I had been transported back to Colonial times. There was a style about the service that emphasized we were the diners, they were the staff and all are not quite equal. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m paying big bucks for a meal I want service that crawls, but never do I want to feel like we would be anything other than equals outside the restaurant.
Our food selection was nearly all thanks to our waiter. We started with Salt and Pepper Squid and King George Whiting on a bed of fried enoki mushrooms. The batter was light as a feather. You know when you’re eating fried food and your body knows it’s fried food but it tastes too good to be anything but good for you. The waiter kindly showed us how to dip our morsels into the lemon juice and then salt, warning us that the chilli sauce was very, very hot. We must have really looked like we didn’t know what was going on, as he rushed back with some raw enoki mushrooms just to fully explain what we were eating. It was very sweet (of him, that is not the mushroom).
Next came Peking Duck. We ordered our duck off the specials entrée rather than the regular menu. Our pancakes were prepared at the trolleys a little way away from our table and then delivered one by one. This whole process involved about 3 staff which was quite impressive. As you can see from the picture these are no frills and all about the food. The meat seemed a little dry to me. Some might interpret that as wonderfully lean however I would have like mine to be dripping with a little more fat. If you’re going to eat duck you may as well have it laced with the delicious fat. It was still the best Peking Duck I’ve ever had!
Mains arrived at our table all together: steamed vegetables, sweet and sour pork and what I think was Sichuan beef. As the waiter was describing the dish it sounded like he was saying Citron. However he was referring to a province in China so I’m thinking Sichuan? It was a beautiful cut of beef, quite rare and extremely tender. Chilli and blackbean sauce masked a lot of the beef flavour however this was all about texture.
Sweet and Sour Pork was my selection. I’m not sure why but I often crave the taste of sweet and sour. When I satisfy the craving I’m usually disappointed by fatty chunks of pork in deep-fried batter. Luckily this wasn’t so at Flower Drum. Unluckily Sweet and Sour Pork will never be the same again.
We polished off 2 lovely bottles of red something or other from Coldstream. That might seem particularly ignorant of me, however N2 took care of wine ordering and I was happy to sit back and let decisions be made for me as waiters dutifully topped up my glass. From what I’ve read, the winelist at Flower Drum is notable, so I’ll have to go back again, just to check it out.
I really did feel I was having a once in a lifetime dining experience. I do confess I’m not sure whether that was because of the restaurant or because of the reputation that preceded it. Either way I’m so grateful N2 suggested it, because I’m not sure that I would have got there otherwise. My evening ended at the same time as 3 other quite drunken gentlemen. Obviously regulars they pointed at a table which had held a large 21st party and said “that’s the biggest table I’ve ever seen at ‘the drum’, phft, they can’t afford it!” And whilst I was disgusted at such blatant show of snobbery, we were acutely aware that our wallets were a lot lighter. My advice? Go there if you can, throw all caution to the wind and pretend your Donald Trump cracking it big in the real estate game (that’s before he went bankrupt and re-built his empire).
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Leftover from the dumplings the other day was a lone egg yolk floating under some water in the fridge. I often end up with egg yolks and can never work out what to cook with them. Mayonnaise? Custard? My favourite is lemon curd but I don't usually have a jar that I can sterilise and keep it in. Until today! I had a look at a few different lemon curd recipes and opted for bills because it was "the new book" and because it used the least egg yolks. Flatmate brings eggs back from her parents farm and I feel guilty using them all up in my cooking frenzies.
Previous attempts at making lemon curd have yielded mixed results but they have taught me the whole double saucepan thing is not necessary. Still, I made bill's lemon curd by the book, finding it quite labour intensive as a result. All that whisking really does tax my short attention span and next time I'll probably go back to direct stovetop. Nevertheless I found the making of the curd quite therapeutic. I had some music on and the weather outside was sunny but very cold. What a better way to spend such an afternoon than in the kitchen.
I haven't tried much of the curd yet. A little lick of the spoon makes me think it tastes like lemon curd, surprise surprise. I will hold onto it for now, perhaps crack open the bottle one sunny morning and spread it on brioche. It's hard to wait really.
Bills Lemon curd
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup caster sugar
50 g butter cut into small pieces
Place the yolks, zest, juice and sugar in a heatproof bowl and whisk together until smooth.
Place the bowl over simmering water, making sure the bottom doesnt touch the water. Stir for 8-10 minutes or until thickened slightly.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time.
I believe lemon curd will last quite some time in a sterilised jar. I have it in the fridge too, just incase. Otherwise any container will do but you should use it within the week.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
In my quest to bake all of my recipes I don't often step outside my standard collection of chefs and cooks. This is no exception, with the cake coming from Stephanie Alexander's Cooks Companion. I'm no expert on banana cake recipes but I think this one is pretty damn good. It's quite easy and straightforward to make, creating very little washing up along the way. The recipe suggested a brown sugar and walnut topping, to be added before baking. But I was keen to have a nice thick icing. The low fat cake has a very poor excuse for icing, it's main drawback actually. It's a watery mix of icing sugar, lemon juice and water. Where's the butter you may ask? Well that wouldn't be low fat would it. To make up for previous deprivation I aimed for a thick, rich cream cheese frosting from Women's Weekly Cupcakes. I'm always on the search for a great cream cheese icing. This one was pretty good. Nice and thick on the cake. I think next time I will increase the cream cheese just a tad.
So am I wholeheartedly converted to banana cake? Absolutely. I will revert back to the low fat cake on occasion. I enjoy providing kilojoule-conscious friends with clear conscience cake. I might swap the pathetic slop of icing for the creamy, cheesy delight however.
The full fat ensemble goes something like this:
Simple Banana Cake (Ali-K's version)
125 g softened unsalted butter
1.5 cups sugar
2 ripe bananas, mashed (this is the perfect banana balance for me and can depend on the size of the bananas. If you prefer a more consistent result aim for 1 cup mashed banana)
A few drops (or small slosh) of vanilla essence
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup buttermilk or 1/2 cup milk mixed with with 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
In true Ali-K style I realise as I type this that I left some ingredients out. You could add 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/8 ground allspice however the cake probably wont miss it, considering I didn't realise until now. Flatmate laughs and thinks I should make a guessing game of the things I leave out of recipes. At least it wasnt the bicarb this time!
Butter and flour a 22 cm square cake tine, then line base with baking paper. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs, banana and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients and add to the mixture, alternating with buttermilk.
Spoon into tin and bake for 1 hour or until a fine skewer inserted come out clean.
Cool cake in its tine on a wire rack for a few minutes before turning out. Cool completey before cutting or storing.
Cream Cheese Frosting
30 g butter
80 g cream cheese
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
Beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
I'm not sure where this recipe came from, it's one I've had floating around for a fair few years now.
1 red chilli, seeds removed and flesh finely chopped
1 tbsp min, chopped finely
1 tbsp coriander, chopped finely
8 round wonton wrappers
Bring your chosen broth to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the dumplings for 3-4 minutes.
Asian Pea Broth
I will try and recount the recipe I used, however it is a combination of that given with the dumplings and that from "the BIG book of wok"
1 large leek
2 cloves garlic
3 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
4 tbsp Chinese rice wine
750 mL chicken stock
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 stick lemongrass, white part only, sliced thinly into rounds
150 g frozen peas
Heat the oil in a pan and stirfry the leeks for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stirfry for a further 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and continue cooking until most of it has evaporated.
Add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and add soy sauce, peas and dumplings. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
1 knob butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg yolk
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup currants
Sunday, July 08, 2007
In my quest to cook up all my recipe clippings, I’ve had my eye on this one for a while. Banana, Brown Sugar and Sour Cream Ice-cream. The reason I kept it out in the first place is because it doesn’t require a churner and I don’t have one. So whilst it might not quite fit the bill of sorbet, I jumped at the chance to make it. As it’s winter down south my firm belief is that any dessert should be at least a little fattening.
The recipe involves whizzing the ingredients in a food processor. Why do I mention licking the bowl? Because this particular recipe is divine and so is the resultant mixing bowl! The strong taste I normally associate with bananas is softened by the creaminess, whilst the brown sugar makes the final product taste just a little like banana cookie dough.
There’s no repeat mixing required, just whiz it all up and place in the freezer. It works best if you give it a little time to soften, however an important note is it doesn’t freeze rock hard. The recipe makes about 2 litres so there’s plenty to go around and my friends have been very receptive. For just a little class, add a sprinkling of nutmeg…
500g ripe banana's
4 eggs, separated
2 tsp lemon juice
100g dark brown sugar
300g sour cream
100g (about 4 tbsp) glucose syrup (aka corn syrup)
Peel the bananas and whiz in a food processor with the egg yolks, lemon juice and brown sugar until smooth. Mix in the sour cream and pulse until silky.
Whisk the egg whites with the glucose syrup and salt until soft peaks form. Gently fold 1/4 egg whites into the banana mixture until nearly combined, then fold this lightened mixture into the remaining egg whites until you get an even consistency. Put into an ice-cream container and freeze for at least 3-4 hours.
Don't forget to lick the bowl.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Have I sold it to you yet? Well don’t fear, this meal was amazingly quite delicious. The subtle flavours of zucchini, lemon, ricotta and almonds combined so well that flatmate couldn’t stop assuring me it had turned out ok. I can have quite a low cooking-esteem at times and a bland looking dish when I’ve promised to cook can really get to me. I used dried fettuccine and can only imagine how sensational this would be with fresh. Italian dishes can often be so bold and rich that it’s easy to forget the effectiveness of simplicity. Just look at the best pizzas around.
I will add a humorous note and say that my quest for inexpensive nearly came undone when I took the zucchinis to the check out. They truly were mammoth, with no littlies in sight. The recipe says four medium so I thought 2 large would do the trick. When I went to leave the checkout chick informed me that “those zucchinis will be about $12, do you still want them?”. I decided it probably wasn’t necessary for two of us so I just took one. I can’t remember what the price per kilo was and whether they were particularly expensive or just so damn big.
Fettuccine with zucchini, lemon, ricotta and almonds
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp flaked almonds
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1 cm pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
400g dried fettuccine (500g fresh)
125g fresh ricotta
2 tbsp flatleaf parsley, chopped.
Heat half the butter and fry almonds until golden brown. Strain to remove excess butter and reserve.
In a pan gently cook the rest of the butter, oil, zucchini, garlic, stock and lemon juice and half of the zest, covered until zucchini is quite soft (recipe says about 20 minutes but it didn’t take very long at all). Put aside. Cook fettuccine and drain. Return zucchini to simmering point, add ricotta in chunks, then pasta, then season. Tip into a warmed bowl and mix through, adding parsley and remaining lemon zest, then scatter with almonds.
Monday, July 02, 2007
With that out of the way, here's how my weekend panned out and what I ate along the way. I've already mentioned Sarti on Thursday night, which was divine. Friday night included a trip to Bluestone Bar on Flinders lane for drinks and pizza to celebrate AO'B's birthday...mighty good pizza however a slightly surly barman. Mental note to all, if you don't know a wine that's on your wine list that's not the customer's fault!
A late trip to the airport on Friday night saw N (from Tamworth) join us for a coffee at Albert Park Deli on Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon was a shopping trip and Risotto in one of the little cafes in Block Arcade followed by the rugby! Pre match drinks were at the Imperial, during match drinks were at the ridiculously slow bar in MCG Ponsford Stand and post match drinks back at the Imperial. We wrapped up the night with a streetside hotdog (classy) and a trip to Albert Park's 24 hour fruit shop! That's right, a 24 hour fruit shop.
Feeling guilty for eating such rubbish the night before, N (from Tamworth), S-bo and I trekked off to South Melbourne Markets and bought ourselves a Sunday feast of dips, bread, cheese, olives and lamb cutlets. What a way to finish off the weekend.
So you're asking, where's the meat and 3 veg? I have no respectable pictures of the weekend so I thought I'd post a picture otherwise destined for back-post: Chicken Baked on Sweet Potato Rosti.
The sweet potato is cut thinly and tossed with parmesan, garlic, pepper and oil. Sadly mine didn't crisp up after baking for 20 minutes at 220 degrees, but the flavour was great. The chicken is another example of the virtues of good quality ingredients and a simple recipe. I bouth the breasts skin on from the market, rubbed the skin with salt and pepper, cooked in a pan for 5 minutes and then in the oven till cooked through.
Dessert was also simple: Chocolate Sausage Rolls. Not quite, but they looked like it. Take a thawed sheet of puff pastry, cut into 4 portions and sprinkle each portion with 1/4 cup chopped chocolate, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 2 tbsp roasted hazelnuts. Instant dessert! Well not quite, you do need to cook in a 200 degree oven till puffed and golden.
Even better, you can eat them hot or cold. So evening time was chocolate roll with icecream, and morning tea the next morning was chocolate roll snack!