Monday, April 13, 2009
Monday, April 06, 2009
It is true, I have not had much time in Melbourne this year and this particular humid Saturday morning I found myself at the Parap Markets in Darwin. The top-end capital is known for being an Australian frontier from which South East Asia beckons. Furthermore, it is a melting pot of local cultures and of those that seep in from the north. Nowhere is this more evident that at Parap markets. Wander past the paintings from Arnhem Land and the over-priced pendents and the markets open out into tropical fruit heaven. Dragon fruit, paw paw, passionfruit and monkey bananas all compete for space while stall-holders slice up pineapple into snack size pieces.
I had not had a latte for four days, so I was naturally drawn to Just Coffee. Glance over the many blends of beans lining the counter while you wait for your fix. And fix it did… for about 5 minutes. The coffee was strong and bold however after only a few sips I realised this was a bad idea. As I sweated like someone who’d eaten too many chillies I decided that the varied fruit smoothies on offer would have been a smarter option. We live and learn.
After buying Morrocan Cous Cous, Pumpkin Ravioli and Beetroot and Feta salads to take home for lunch, I turned my attention back to the Asian influences. Gado Gado from Jakarta was sold alongside Thai Sweets and the steaming hawker food was a tempting mid-morning snack, despite the heat. As is standard for many of these markets in Australia all of the offerings were fried with nothing steamed in sight. Disappointingly the money bags, chicken satay and beef spring roles reminded me that all too often markets like this smell better than they taste. Nevertheless, the oppressive humidity, the vapours of wok-tossed meat and tropical fruit made me feel just for a second that I really was in a hybrid country of Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, so close yet so far from Australia.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Goaty Hill was our pick for lunch and you'd wonder why I've decided to rave about it on my blog when our cheese platter, although lovely, was reasonably run of the mill and there were only two wines on taste. No, I'm not raving because it's a sponsored post (it's not), I'm raving because this little Billie Goat is streaking ahead despite being reasonably young. Their riesling has won a swag of awards, including a gold medal for the 2008 vintage at the 2009 International Cool Climate Wine Show (Redhill). And their 2007 Pinot Noir vintage was sold out after taking home best Pinot from The Taste of Tasmania 08/09 Festival.
We got to taste the award winning 2008 Riesling which really left a crisp clean taste in the mouth. Not being so hot on "wine speak", I had to consult their website to tell you that this wine has grapefruit characters and hints of citrus.
What I don't need to read from the website is that the 2008 Pinot Noir had earthy flavours that took me right back to the first Pinot I ever tasted, which happened to be on the Mornington Penninsula (Stoniers I think...although there were a few by the end of the day). I really like the complex smokey, earthy flavours that the Mornington is so good at. Whilst I probably won't be cracking open the 08 Pinot I brought home for at least another year, there's definitely some great flavours even at this young age.
Goaty Hill has also just advertised to mailing list members their 2006 Museum Release Riesling. Again, more awards (incl. The International Riesling Challenge). How can you get your hands on this one? Well with only 50 cases released you'll just have to be on the mailing list (see their website). For interest's sake the 2008 Riesling and Pinot Noir are $19.95 and $27.95 respectively, and they do deliver to Victoria.
A brief mention also should go to Velo Wines who had a great Unwooded Chardonnay and sensational Reserve Shiraz. At the time of our visit they had just begun supplying Vue De Monde so, whilst they're not currently distributing anywhere else in Victoria, it's another label to keep your eye out for.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Fast forward 5 hours and we limped back to Settlement, our sore butts barely supporting the body’s quest for food. Enter the Quokka Arms Hotel. Newly refurbished, this pub is part family friendly leisure and, I would imagine as the evening creeps in, part Frat Beach Party, especially during the infamous leavers’ week. Whatever’s going on, the broad beach frontage allows you to choose a group whose vibe you approve and sit near. S-bo and I kicked back with beer, chips and pizza. Rottnest heaven (and the pizza wasn’t bad either).
The following day was my chance to finally chase down some of the places recommended to me. S-bo was playing golf and I realised time was too short to put a dent in the essay Matt (Abstract Gourmet) had emailed. Still, I thought I’d treat myself to a great lunch, and from the email it seemed like Balthazar or Must Wine Bar were the places for me. It was a toss up but I chose Must Wine Bar for two reasons. First, I got the impression it was a little more laid back and that appealed to me. Secondly, I have a friend who used to live in Mt Lawley and I wanted to check it out. I took a cursory glance at the street directory and thought “surely it’s not that far to walk from the station”. I should’ve taken a bus, but all of a sudden I was alone and could’ve been overseas for all I knew. I’d got the trains, I’d figured them out and knew how to buy tickets, when to get off etc etc.
I did not know how to walk from the station to Beaufort st. Which side of the station should I exit? Do I go left or right? Am I heading in the right direction? Where the hell are the people that live in this suburb, I need to ask directions. Phew. All on my own I eventually limped onto Beaufort st, my smart little lunching attire not suited to neighbourhood walking in Perth humidity. And yet where was the wine bar? I had forgotten to record the street number so I just walked some more. I walked and walked and nearly gave up. Sadly, when I finally got there I did. It was quite a large venue and it was completely empty. Now I trust Matt’s judgement and I knew the food would be good, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat alone when I was outnumbered by the waiters. Every cloud has a silver lining however and my blistered feet headed back up to Cantina.
Cantina was recommended a few times and I was a little surprised when I first walked past it. Perched on the edge of a shopping arcade it looked nothing more than a suburban sandwich café. However, stepping inside I was greeted by warm timber and distressed walls, an effortless rustic feel that really worked. Limited menu choices typed onto plain white paper suggest, although I’m guessing here, the menu changes often, making use of whatever produce is best at the time.
Ham and cheese ciabatta seemed a little plain for my lunching expedition and whilst the three panini’s on offer sounded delicious I reasoned there were plenty of good sandwiches in Melbourne. Clearly a venue that relies heavily on its char grill plate, the choice of three mains included a salad of char grilled local prawns or char grilled veal tongue in a green sauce. Despite these delectable offerings, how I could resist prosciutto that was labelled “the best from Italy”? Teamed with char grilled bread I agreed, until about half way through my generous serve. I realised that a whole plate of prosciutto to myself was a little over the top, and whilst it broke my heart, I did leave a few slices behind. Not to worry, extra bread and an olive oil that had more floral notes than bitey grasses helped the meal pass, as did the glass of 07 Bollini Pinot Grigio.
Bravo to Cantina for its laid back feel and service to match. And bonus points for pouring my wine at the table, just a small thing that showed this little Cantina is punching well above its neighbourhood café appearance. I was tempted to stay for coffee but I was determined to try at least one more of Matt’s recommendations. Enter Spring Espresso in Subiaco.
Why Spring when I was in Mt Lawley? Well I was keen for a wander through Subiaco and I certainly wasted some time in Simon Johnson’s along the way, although I had forgotten the trend of price tags there. Is it really expensive or am I spoilt by Melbourne’s food accessibility? Spring Espresso wasn’t quite what I had in mind for a mid afternoon coffee and cake but I liked it. Bright yellow walls scream “Wake Up”, and it’s all down to the business of getting coffee and moving on. I could see that this was many people’s ideal barista fix as they dashed to work each morning. So I grabbed a takeaway and ambled back to the station.
Thank you Matt, and everyone else who made suggestions, for helping me to find some of Perth’s gems. Even if I didn’t get to try many. Despite early eating times and higher-than-Melbourne prices it really is easy to make any meal enjoyable in a city as laid back as Perth.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Shortly I’m going to have to start a “recipes to cook” list too. I’ve always had a folder of clippings which I like to try before they are transferred to a more permanent collection, but now my delicious magazines are starting to stack up. The new edition arrived yesterday before I’d cooked anything from the last month’s. This is in part due to our trip to Perth and to S-bo playing a greater role in the kitchen while I partake in extra-curricular activities (sailing, pilates, tennis, touch football…how good is summer). I’m very thankful and fortunately he’s really enjoying it.
I’ve heard of people who cook practically everything in the magazine before the month is up and I wonder how I could justify buying such a range of ingredients, often exotic, every month. And this brings me back to my lists above. It’s all very well to have these lists, but they do tend to clash with my conservative spending tactics. I don’t deliberately set out to save money, I just can’t escape the values instilled from an early age by my bank manager father. Compared to my parents’ generation I live an extravagant lifestyle, however I think that by “Gen-Y” standards I really don’t spend much at all. I don’t buy new clothes every week and, more importantly, I really struggle to treat myself to dinner at a top restaurant for anything other than a very special occasion. Let alone order three courses. What kind of foodie am I? I love Melbourne’s liberal licensing laws and the great venues it fosters, but I miss Sydney’s BYO trend and the ability to have a great bottle of wine over dinner for half the price. I cling to restaurants in my area that do BYO every night of the week, as they are rare in my immediate surroundings.
Still, I think I will clutch these lists all year. I’ll know exactly what to pick up in the bottle shop on the way to a friend’s house for dinner and I’ll have perfect book ideas for birthday presents. What’s more, I’ll have ready access to restaurant ideas for those nights when you find yourself in the city, or a little-explored suburb, and can’t decide where to eat. Slowly, very slowly I’ll tick great restaurants off my list, only to have more added by the continuing life-cycle of Melbourne openings.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
A simple recipe of 1 tsp sugar, 2 tsp dry yeast, 1 cup warm water, 450 g flour, 1 tsp salt and 60 ml olive oil got us underway. Although I imagine we should experiment with a few different dough recipes. As far as toppings go we've been pretty ad hoc, but the spicy salami has been a standout success.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Tim White wrote a brief, but intersting article in AFR about possible relationships between wine and music. One example was a session tasting Rose accompanied by Rachmaninov's Second Symphany (in E minor). Apparently an enjoyable combination. White mentions a researcher, Clark Smith, who, I would assume from the article, has investigated relationships between food and wine. Apparently his theory is that grape varieties respond differently in the presence of differing music styles. (I presume this refers to music being played whilst tasting, as opposed to serenading vines...)
The scientist in me is horrified at my secondary referncing for this post. Ideally I should search this Clark Smith guy and quote from the source. However I'm penning (literally) on a plane, with little (no) resources for research, and it has me wondering. Does music really affect the taste of wine or do we draw on common connotations shared by varieties and music alike. For example, drinking a clean, crisp Pinot Gris goes hand-in-hand with afternoon al fresco grazing, as does the laid back sounds of acoustic folk music. Thus one could clearly see a complimentary connection between the two.
I'd love to hear about your favourite wine and music combos. However whilst you are sitting back, sipping and listening, spare a thought for the victims of Australia's bushfire tragedy as we near 7 days on. Click here to donate to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal or here to donate to Wildlife Victoria.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Sunday morning Lovely & the Doctor took us to their neighbourhood brunch spot, John St cafe. Popular with the pram set, this place was busy and we were told to expect a 15 minute wait for a table. As it was a leisurely Sunday we didn't mind, until we noticed that those who came around the same time as us were not only seated, but eating. Checking in with the waitress
it was discovered that a devious bruncher had pretended to be us. Perhaps we should have hovered around the entrance instead of politely waiting near the coffee window. Perhaps the waitress should begin writing brief descriptions if she can't remember groups ie. 'Ali, 4, green shirt'. Either way the queue jumper is destined for bad karma I'm sure (our good karma came the next day when we jagged a prime parking spot at the beach).
I got the impression that John St Cafe is a bit of a "place to be" and you couldn't blame people for wanting to enjoy their weekend breakfast under such huge norfolk pines. The food on offer contained standard breakfast ingredients in both regular and not-so regular combinations, including the vegetarian stack (above) with hollondaise. My pick, being a non-egg eater, was the breakfast bagel, smeared with cold cream cheese, bacon cooked to perfection and a slightly-too slim wedge of avocado.
Despite the initial hiccup we left satisfied, a decent coffee under our belts to kick-start the day. It should be mentioned that a return visit yielded a weak, lukewarm coffee so lets hope the latter, rather than the former, is the exception.
The next day we were feeling a little slow after our friend's wedding the previous night but a quick dip at North Fremantle beach perked things up. Heading down to the centre of Fremantle we wandered around and explored the markets. I thought the fruit and veg looked especially vibrant and fresh, particularly as I'm becoming sceptical of the freshness of some produce I've been picking up at South Melbourne Markets. After a prolonged period inhaling the aromas of flavoured coffee, which I'm happy to smell but probably wouldn't drink, we felt it was our duty as out-of-towners to head down to Little Creatures Brewery.
I'd heard a lot of this place and certainly sampled their pale ale in the past, but I didn't really know what to expect. What I found was an energetic space into which a lot of time, effort and money has been poured to achieve the effortless. They did it well. Wooden tables, booths and schoolyard style steel chairs have been assembled as though the brewers stumbled upon an early 1980's government auction and thought "hey, lets buy this stuff and set up a bar in our massive shed".
We had our pick of tables,which I'm told is unheard of, so when it got a little warm outside we easily packed up and shifted inside. Fortunately this placed us under the care of a seemingly more competent waiter. We had a few beers, the famous frites with aioli and what S-bo claimed to be the best Nachos he's had! It's a huge call but I can't refute it. With beef, chunky guacamole and, of course, sour cream it offered a just-westernised dish, topped with the most amazing jalepenos to give that extra mexican zing.
Our day was destined to end at an Australia Day bbq but we were just to comfortable at Little Creatures. We bypassed the bbq and even the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown and eventually made our way home for more delayed telecast Australian Open.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
However there are a few highlights so far...
Friday night saw us land and head straight for a pre-wedding get-together at The Vic, a pub conveniently located next to the accomodation of most wedding guests. I really enjoyed kicking back in their beer garden drinking Redback beer, especially with slices of lemon. Unfortunately the pizza we ordered doesn't deserve mention, something tells me it's more a boozy, good-time pub rather than a top place for meals.
We didn't stay too long as Lovely and the Doctor, our generous accomodation providers, had us booked in early Saturday morning to accompany them on a Swan Valley Wine Tour. Having decided Margaret River was a little far for this trip, we were eager to boat our way up the Swan and be picked up and ferried around the wineries by bus. In the past I've been sceptical of wine tours by bus, fearing that you only get taken to large, commercial wineries with a bunch of uni students or American tourists. However this was a great day out. Joining the boat in downtown Perth, with it's airline-style seating (complete with tray tables) we glided up the river, tasting some not-bad table wine courtesy of a couple of large commercial wineries. It was very pleasant and I was most impressed by the lovely Swan River.
Somewhere along the line we were greeted by Abi and we left boat for bus to visit 4 wineries, a brewery, a nougat company and a chocolate factory. Phew. We drank a lot of Chenin Blanc, Verdelho & Viognier from Garbin Estate, Jane Brook Estate, Jarrah Ridge and Edgecombe Brothers.
At Jane Brook Estate the champenoise style of wine making was explained and I must confess that I didn't realise the huge difference between champenoise and other sparklings. We then had lunch (included) consisting of cold meats, salad, olives, bread & dips. The platter was beautifully presented with extremely fresh ingredients however we could have managed something a little more substantial with so much wine tasting.
Chaos at Margaret River Chocolate Factory
And finally the brewery consisting of beer and German Sausage (strangely accompanied by corn chips). Not much on our trip to Little Creatures (more to come...)
Feeling slightly tipsy with very full stomachs we headed back to Cottesloe where the boys enjoyed a dip. Incase we needed more alcohol we strolled up to The Cott for a beer, watching our first WA sunset over the water. The plan was to have Cottesloe fish and chips but we were feeling so unhealthy that we found ourselves ordering grilled snapper and salad from a burger joint who's name I don't remember. Four sleepy bodies then polished off our meal back at home with a bottle of Jarrah Ridge Chenin Blanc & the Australian Open. Zzzz......
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
To satisfy this craving and to cook something nice for S-bo, instead of taunting him with yummy creations, only to take them to work morning teas, I decided to make a Mango and Coconut Cake (pictured) last week. Would you believe I still have a folder full of uncooked recipe clippings, after all that effort in 2007. This clipping is so old that I can’t even remember where it came from, all I know is it’s on the back of my faithful and popular Caramel Mudcake recipe.
So has it made the cut and gone into my permanent recipe collection? You betcha. I chose the cake because, apart from begging to be cooked for a very long time, it seemed appropriate for this time of year, with the summery flavours of mango and coconut. The cream cheese icing takes on the personality of yoghurt, and could even do with a little more mango nectar, while the coconut gives the cake a great crunchy texture.
So where is the disaster? You might be asking this question due to this posts title, but if you’re familiar with my baking style you’d probably be asking it anyway. The cake is missing an egg! I realised this about 2 minutes after the cake went into the oven. If I used particularly large, good quality eggs then I might not have panicked so much. However the eggs had been floating around the fridge since before Christmas and appeared to come from a 7-eleven or similar, not well known for free range, quality produce I’m sure. No offence to 7-eleven if I’m incorrect as this is my preferred place of purchase when I’m in a blind panic, half way through baking late on a Sunday evening, only to find no eggs in the fridge. Back to the present disaster though…
Two minutes into the oven (the cake, not me) and I’m wandering whether I can pull the cake out and stir in a beaten egg. I opted for no. Instead I wrung my hands for the entire 85 minutes, expecting to be rewarded with a strangely textured cake. Fortunately my 3 piddly eggs must have been sufficient, as the cake turned out fine.
Phew, I’ve made it through my 2nd post AND survived a baking disaster. This is definitely rebirth by fire. Email me if you would like the recipe.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
My haul included a subscription to ABC’s delicious. magazine, which in itself would be enough to keep me busy all year. However it comes complete with Valli Little’s new book Faking It. Top that up with Fast Food, a great little book which I always seemed to have on the shelf thanks to generous housemates. When S-bo moved in I lost access and have since been craving the salt & pepper chicken recipe within. Chinese Five Spice here I come! Completing the new collection, from my brother in London, is a hefty copy of Gordon Ramsay’s Sunday Lunch with bonus DVD, which I have yet to watch.
That’s not to mention the books Mum received which I’m sure I’ll borrow at some point: Two of Donna Hay’s Simple Essentials collection, “Fruit” and “Pasta, Rice & Noodles” (some great sushi ideas I’ve got my eye on).
This very lucky little cook can also add some beautiful homewares and handy kitchen gadgets to the Christmas bounty. S-bo and I both walked away from the Christmas tree with a chopping board and water jug each. Luckily all are sufficiently different to a) avoid the store return and b) have their own special place in our kitchen and on our table. A handheld beater will also make cooking easier. After the demise of my mixer last year I had saved enough money to buy something flash (ie a Kitchenaid) however the size of our kitchen means the money is still sitting in my bank account and will remain there until we have a larger kitchen. I thought I could make do with my food processor, and I did remarkably well considering my penchant for kitchen disasters, however beating egg whites just didn’t work.
And last but not least is the bbq cover. Late last year S-bo and I moved from the apartment to a small house so we could enjoy all things alfresco, with the bbq being high on the list. Unfortunately our super small bbq is a little hard to clean. There’s nothing like having to clean the bbq before you cook on it to send you scurrying back to the indoor frying pan. I flew home at Christmas armed with a raft of ideas to make my own bbq cover. As happens with all my home-time holiday projects, my mother had visions of being left to complete an impossibly ridiculous project on her own while I scurried back to the city. So she went out and bought me one. Thanks Mum ad Dad.
To begin writing again at this point in the year is a tough task to set myself as I have a very busy January ahead. Mum and Dad are staying at the moment, part of their annual Australian Open pilgrimage. Then Friday Sam and I are off to Perth for 6 days. We have a wedding to go to and lots of friends to catch up with, but I’m sure we’ll have some time to visit Perth’s “must eat” venues…let me know if you have any favourites.