20 November 2011

what she said..

She is Kylie Kwong.

I am currently reading her latest book, "It Tastes Better". I will write about this incredible example of a labour of love another time - it is really, really wonderful. Reading this book has come at a perfect time, when I am just starting to explore and understand the importance of issues surrounding sustainability in our food production, which, incidentally, I have come to via my experiences this year shopping at my local organic farmer's market. Is it actually an organic farmer selling me his ware ? Yes it is. Picked that week ? Yep. Does it TASTE BETTER ? YES.

In short, Kylie Kwong wrote this book over 3 years, during which time she toured Australia, conducting extensive farm/vineyard/fishery visits and interviews with the producers from whom Kylie sources the produce for her (immaculate) Surry Hills restaurant, Billy Kwong. I had been reading the chapters on the seafood producers last week, when I read an update from her facebook page about a fish delivery that she had just taken at Billy Kwong.

A Kylie Kwong status update is an incredibly detailed affair where she writes with a HUUUGE amount of enthusiasm for the produce that they (@ Billy Kwong) will be working with for that night's menu. After reading one afternoon last week about some amazing Pink Snapper and wonderful fisherman who caught it, I felt compelled to post the following question:

So, I said:

Kylie, I have just finished reading the seafood chapers of "It Tastes Better" and am, genuinely, totally inspired by these fisher-ppl ! I LOVE that we can come to your restaurant to enjoy their seafood - WOULDN'T IT BE GREAT if Billy Kwong could somehow enable more ppl to connect directly to this sustainably produced/caught seafood via some ordering service, so that we can ALSO cook it at home.. ? (A la Feather + Bone.. or something...?) I know it's a long shot, but after reading about it all in so much detail, I just want to support them + eat more ! : )

And then, she said:

Tanja, you can!!! Go to CHRISTIES at the Sydney Fish Markets for example and tell them you are totally into sustainably caught seafood and they will have the fish for you - they are one of the seafood mongers I use ( very much because of their sustainability policy ), they are incredibly diligent about ethically caught seafood etc. Tell them KK sent you! I speak with them every day!!!! They are like the lovely Grant Hilliard of Feather & Bone, as you mention above ( now, HE IS SPECIAL! Infact, I source my beautiful Melanda Park pork belly mince from Grant for my Market dumplings and for the Sung Choi Bao of Pork, at BK ) I always encourage people, to ASK, ASK, ASK QUESTIONS of their providore - 'What is this fish called? Tell me about it's provenance? Who caught it? When did they catch it? How did they catch it? Where did they catch it? " All VERY SIMPLE, straightforward questions Tanja that the person, selling the product, should absolutely know! If they DON'T know, then you need to change providores. When they DO know the answers, then you can rest assured that the product will be beautiful, because you are buying it from someone who 'cares', you are dealing with a person who has taken the time, who has 'integrity', who has RESPECT. I source a lot of my organic fruit & veg from Eliot Rickards of Wholefoods House, Alexandria / Woollahra - ask him any question about any of the stunning produce that sits on his shelves and he knows the entire story, the entire history; just wonderful! I feel so INSPIRED by such people, I then go to BK and tell these stories to my chefs and my waiters, who then pass it onto my customers, and at the end of the day, 'everyone wins' don't they - cos the 'energy' and 'good karma' so to speak, of all these growers, fishermen, winemakers, bread makers, etc - can be literally 'tasted' and 'felt' on a very subtle level. This is precisely why I am going absolutely 'NUTS' with excitement about Patrice Newell's biodynamic garlic, and Mike & Gayle Quarmby's Native Australian bush food - when you know the stories and motivations and intentions behind the people who grow the food, then one's entire eating and dining experience is enhanced. Thankyou for taking the time to read my book, I really appreciate it ... we cooks are only as good as the produce we are able to put on our plates .... K x

Wow, I love it. I mean, talk about passion ! Inspiration is alive and well in the Billy Kwong kitchen !

So, hence, my blogging-silence was broken by a message that I thought worth sharing, from a person worth listening to.

ps I'm so painfully aware of how little I've blogged this year, despite how much I feel I have learnt + delicious experience I've had ! Having taken on a Masters on top of working this year, it has really eaten into 'blogging time'. Anyway, hopefully I'll catch up a little in the holidays.

12 August 2011

tsukemen ramen (yum)

Hello there !

As many of you will know, I have been away for a few weeks discovering some corners of the unconquerable city that is New York. What a place. I hope to post about some highlights soon. However, in the meantime, there is something I have to tell you now !

While I was in NYC, the inaugural issue of David Chang's mag "Lucky Peach" was released. True to form, Chang (of momofuku fame) dedicated the first issue entirely a subject VERY close to his heart - RAMEN. The issue is excellent - if you have any interest at all in this masterpiece of Japanese cuisine, check it out.

Why am I telling you this now ?!

So, the issue opens with a mouth-wateringly detailed account of a 6-day foodie hop around Tokyo that Chang does with a food journo friend, Peter Meehan. At one point, Chang talks about a certain type of ramen, called "tsukemen":

"[Tsukemen] is when they serve chilled noodles on the side of a broth that's a little more intense that usual. Once you think about it, it's like, "Oh, of course. What don't we eat pasta like that all the time ?" 
Whenever you eat pasta in broth, it's breaking down. The idea with tsukemen is that you cook the noodle and then shock it to stop the cooking process. Then you have the perfect chewy noodle, and, next to it, and over seasoned broth for the noodle to pick up. A well-made noodle picks up broth just like you'd what garganelli or cavatelli to pick up sauce.
So that's why tsukemen isn't a soup, per se. The broth is more of a dipping broth, seasoned aggressively to the chef's liking. That's what I love about it: you can eat it fast, but you don't burn your entire f*cking face. And after you eat all your noodles, you can ask for the sobayu - the cooking water - to add to the dipping sauce and thin it out into a soup. You still get the full soup experience, but it's deconstructed." 
The bowl of tsukemen ramen they go on to eat after this description obviously changes their lives forever.. ("This is some next-level shit."/"The noodles are insanely good"/"Totally chewy. And this broth is like.."/"It's crack.")

I was reading the Lucky Peach mag on the plane on the way home, and when reading about the tsukemen, my heart sank a little - where could I possibly get tsukemen ramen in Sydney to try for myself ? For tonkotsu, you can't go past the master at Gumshara, but tsukemen...

WELL ! RAMEN KAN ! That's where ! 

A friend from uni took me here tonight, and there it was on the menu !

And, it was delicious ! The broth was verrrrry tasty, and the noodles were eggy and chewy. More than anything, I was delighted that Sydney had come up with the goods + I was at least given the chance to try the noodle-dipping ramen for myself ! 

So, there you have it, tsukemen ramen, and where to get it ! If you're a bit of a noodle-nut, like me, you'll love it. More noodle = better life. Give it a go. 

17 July 2011

Small Adventures in Cooking - James Ramsden

"James Ramsden is one of the best young food writers around."

Well, yes. Yes he is !

I love this book. I LOVE this book.

James Ramsden ? Who is James Ramsden ?

James Ramsden is a very articulate 25 year old Yorkshireman, living in London. James is a cook who trained at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland - a highly regarded cookery school, internationally renowned for its "farm to fork" cooking philosophy. In their own words, "this means cooking in season with just-picked produce from the garden, fish caught hours before from surrounding waters and cream skimmed off milk from the farm's own cows." The school is built in the middle of an organic farm and celebrates sustainable food choices. I think understanding this about James' background, explains a lot about the character of his first book. 

James runs The Secret Larder supper club out of the flat that he shares with his sister in North London. I have been captivated by the idea of underground dining since I read Jenn Garbee's experiences in the US in her book Secret Suppers. The idea of regularly cooking a lovingly prepared 3 course meal for friends + friends of friends is truly my idea of a wonderful Saturday evening.. maybe one of these days...

Evidently, James and his sister have worked out how to make the Supper Club dream a sustainable reality,  and he writes about this on his blog.. and in The Times, The Guardian and other reputable British publications. 

That's right, James is a Gen-Y cooking and writing dynamo. 

So, the book.. 

Well, as I may have given away earlier - the book is wonderful. 

Small Adventures in Cooking by James Ramsden is the best book of its kind by at least a country mile. What kind of book is that ? Well, I'm not sure exactly.

One thing that stood out for me about Ramsden's book is how distinct it is from any other cookbook I've come across. More than a cookbook, it actually reads like a blog. Ramsden's voice in the book is articulate and witty, but also very warm and friendly. Like a blog, the tone of the writing is very personal, like a a good friend speaking from their experience to a good friend. 

Stuff like this:
Surely the kitchen should be a place of comfort and reassurance... a place where, at the end of a long day, you unwind, play some music, have a drink and get stuck into some cooking. I find it an ideal time to get lost in my thoughts. Humdrum jobs such as peeling potatoes, washing salads or podding peas become opportunities for involuntary meditation. Your mind wanders, the day is processed, problems are solved, and you soon realise you've been skinning the same spud for ten minutes. 

.. and advice like this: 

People love to talk about food. From the strange Polish man with a penchant for potatoes who introduced me to tinned sorrel.. to the drunk in the local pub who spend an entire hour talking me through his recipe for Pheasant Picardy, it's common ground for everyone and people enjoy offering an opinion. As well as making for great entertainment, such discussions are inspiring reminders that there are very few absolutes in in cooking. In fact, there are hundreds of ways of doing everything - therein lies the fun. Sticking to one method gets boring very quickly, so see what you find out next time you ask the person at the checkout how they roast a chicken. See p. 57 for tips on chatting up shopkeepers.
You see, one of the reasons that I am so effusive about this book is that so much of what Ramsden says about food, cooking, shopping, seasonality, particular ingredients... it is seems to be almost EXACTLY what I would say about these things ! In fact I DO say these things - the above two quotes represent conversations I have had.. many times.. with many of you !

With such a down-to-early, refreshing and positive outlook, it is the PERFECT book for anyone who might be a little tentative in the kitchen, or for anyone who would just like to discover a little more of that joie de cuisiner.. 

And I haven't even mentioned the simple-yet-delicious recipes, the beautiful, honest photography, the hashtags - every recipe is assigned a hashtag (#lazycurry) to group any comments that people may have made about the recipe on twitter ! Very now, indeed.  

I would call Small Adventures the perfect thoughtful person's cookbook. Check it out.

ps The book has been published as in a series called "New Voices in Food" (I wonder when everything Gen Y - we! - do will cease to be referred to as "New") ... I came across another young writer who was to have a book published in this series - Niamh Shields (named by the London Times as one of the top 10 food bloggers worldwide).. I'm going to keep a look out for that one, too... 

11 July 2011

who do you read ?

A very wise, older cousin of mine once said that, when looking for a good cookbook, it can be very useful get to know a good food publisher. This cousin told me this in the context of a conversation a few years ago, when I had just discovered growing interest in cooking and was only discovering the true value of a great cookbook. At the time, E was taking about Phaidon, and right she was - for comprehensive, (exhaustive) reference,  "go-to" cookbooks, Phaidon can always be trusted. Very good.

18 May 2011

sprouts !

So, tonight was the night ! Tonight was the night that I re-visited the brussel sprout for the first time in my adult life.

Like many others of my generation, I was served boiled brussel sprouts when I was a kid. This is, clearly, not the way to eat brussel sprouts. In fact, it should be completely BANNED -  it can onnnly end in bitter disaster.

During dinner at Orto recently (new local), I enjoyed their side of brussel sprouts, carrot puree + other things. Without a hint of the acridity that I remembered of the brussel sprouts of my childhood, I really enjoyed the freshness of the vegetable + felt like this could be a new taste of autumn.

I thought I would share what I did with the sprouts tonight  -  it was simple, tasty + made for a quick (and v seasonal!) midweek meal.

If you're a market go-er, try and get the little green gems at the markets over the coming weeks - direct from the farmer, they are so fresh + have often been so delicately handled, they are a complete delight.

sprouts with parsnip mash
(this would, of course, also work with a buttery potato mash.)

Slice leek + soften in the pan with olive oil. Place halved brussel sprouts in pan, cut-side down. Place lid on and allow sprouts to soften. After a few minutes, take off lid and leave on low-med heat to allow to caramelise. Increase heat and add sliced smoked ham (or similar) and toss. After a minute or so, add pieces of (FRESH) walnuts + toss. Keep on heat for a few more minutes to allow flavours to mingle. Check for seasoning.

The mash is completely based on Maggie's mash that was in the first MasterChef masterclass. 
Grate the parsnip + put in a pan with some butter + a little salt. Put on lid and cook on medium heat until soft. Add small amount of water, replace lid + continue to cook until parsnip starts to break down + is very soft. Check for seasoning + stir through small cubes of (beurre bosc!) pear.

Take out your (pre-warmed) favourite wintry comfort food bowl, add hot parsnip mash + a generous spoonful of the sprouts over the top. 

Leeks should be verrry sweet, embracing all the other autumnal delights in a delicious celebration of the humble sprout ! Makes for cosy eating - enjoy. 

06 May 2011

flash in the pan

So, I've recently had an experience only shared by 49 other people in this country. In some form or another, the experience continues for some of those 49; and, at different times and in various ways, it has ended for others. 

Yep - I somehow ended up in the Top 50 of series 3 of the Australian MasterChef. After a spectacular brain-flip, I managed a gloriously early exit. However, what a wonderful time it was, whilst I was there. 

Food-love seems to attract a certain type of person, I think. What I really didn't expect from the experience, was to meet just SO MANY delightful and like-minded people. In attempting to explain this to people afterwards, I figured: if you really enjoy cooking and cook often, it's unlikely that your 'joy' in cooking comes from simply cooking delicious things just for yourself over and over. Rather, I think that there is some element of human GENEROSITY inherent to a love of cooking. The most JOY in cooking is derived from cooking for others - sharing the fruits of, sometimes, hours and hours of 'labour' with family and friends - old and new ! Then, of course, there is the AESTHETIC element. A food-lover delights in all the delicious flavours, colours, shapes, textures and even sounds ! Not to mention the CREATIVITY required to elegantly draw these elements together. I used to say that my favourite thing about cooking was the amazing creative process it represented - from conception through preparation, to presentation and enjoyment - the whole process is such a relatively short one ! Before you know it, you're sitting down to a glass of wine and your delicious meal with friends, who are dutifully and very happily enjoying the output of your work !

So, if the majority of MasterChef contestants are marked by generosity, aesthetic appreciation and creativity... that's probably not a bad group of people to meet. Even more so, if you're about to share with them the most surreal (or hyper-real), unpredictable, stressful but FUN week you're likely to have... 

The things you do... ! 

08 March 2011

book of the moment: PLENTY (by Ottolenghi)

My book of the moment is PLENTY, by Yotam Ottolenghi. 

This book is completely excellent.

Much more than just a vegetarian cookbook, PLENTY is a book that celebrates MEAT-FREE DELICIOUSNESS. I wonder how much of this distinction has to do with the fact that Ottolenghi is not a vegetarian....... ? 

Ottolenghi might be described as London's chef du jour, running 4 signature eateries around London and, just a few weeks ago, opening his new restaurant NOPI in Soho. PLENTY is essentially a collection of recipes that appeared in Ottolenghi's weekly column in the Guardian called 'The New Vegetarian". When the Guardian approached Ottolenghi to start the column, a number of the Guardian's readers were outraged that their vegetarian column was being written by a carnivore; (it might not have helped that he once wrote that a particular salad would go well with some barbequed lamb chops...!) In any case, the very popular column, which he started in 2006, continues to this day, and happily for us, an edited collection is now available in your local bookshop !

The spirit of celebration emanating from these recipes is already captured in the very simple title. Ottolenghi's concept for the book is summarised in the opening lines of the book where he writes:

I'll start with something as simple and unassuming as rice. When I try to think of all the uses for this grain I immediately go dizzy with the countless possibilities - within and between cultures, pairing with other ingredients, all the types of rice available, the methods of cooking and when you serve it... I think of paella, wild rice salad and ho fan noodles. I visualize arancini with their golden breadcrumb crust, Iranian saffron rice with potatoes, Chinese friend rice, rice pudding... I can then move on to another cereal grain such as wheat, then lentils, beans, peas... herbs, leaves, seeds, flowers, roots, bulbs, fruit and funghi - each part of a separate little universe, with a million varieties and variations within it...

What I'm getting as is how lucky we are... to be cooking in a world that offers such a spectrum of ingredients and so many cultural heritages to draw on.

Inspiring stuff !

And, more than just inspiration, I reckon this book demonstrates a degree of culinary genius. There are techniques he uses with veges, that would just never occur to me. Combinations of veges/herbs/grains which are just so clever, and so DELICIOUS, I seriously think I could eat of this book most days of my life and be very, very happy. 

Since discovering the book, I may have raved about it somewhat to those around me (put your hand up if I've talked you into buying this book in the last month ?) but, I take nothing back. If you're thinking about reducing your meat intake (becoming a flexitarian, as I believe it's now called) or you would like like to be more excited about preparing veges or vegetarian meals, BUY THIS BOOK. I am convinced you won't regret it - let it be your vegetarian cookbook for life. Everything I have prepared from it has been excellent and also flexible, which is always good. The caramelised garlic tart (with two types of goats cheese in) was a particular highlight... need I say more ?

ps Okay, just one very small thing... in the 'capsicums' section, Ottolenghi does a "Multi-vegetable paella". Ah - call me precious, but I can't quite cope with this. Vege paella ain't paella, friends. None-the-less, it still looks like a very tasty recipe ... !

15 February 2011

moving with the times

Sometimes you just have a feeling that things have moved on from where they once were. Sometimes, whether you like the change or not, you made just need to go with it.

This is what i have surmised, in my humble opinion, after my experience a few weeks back.

About two weeks ago, Jimmy and I were going to try out a brand new local in our hood - The Devonshire. Having read about it on twitter, noted its location very near to home, I thought it might be a nice one to try out when Jimmy returned home from a long work trip. The restaurant had some stellar reviews from very trustworthy tweeps - it sounded small, quaint and was promised to be good value for money.

These sorts of commendations set the place up, in my mind at least, to be a great new local.

What is a local ?

I think that a local might be a place that is very well-situated. what I think i mean by this is that it is a place which has opened up in a neighbourhood, to which it is well suited. If you love where you live, and I certainly do (ahem, iheartmyhood.net), then you will be excited about a place that is opening to appeal to you and your particular like-minded peeps in your hood.

So, with all this in mind, consider our response when we stroll up to The Devonshire and are quite taken aback by what we find. We find a restaurant awash with crisp, white tablecloths and low lighting...


Somehow, after very much looking forward to an evening of fine food in the 'hood, all of sudden, we became self-conscious about how we were dressed, how loudly we were speaking, whether or not we were in the 'mood' to go into a place that seemed to have such a 'serious vibe'...

This vibe was so unexpected, as was our reaction to it, that we were a bit 'weirded out' and decided not to go in.

And, I haven't even made mention of the menu - it looked delicious ! So, what were we doing ??

I had a bit of a think about what might have been behind this knee-jerk reaction.

Sometimes, I think, things just move on.

You read in Terry Durack's short article in the(sydney)mag that Warren Turnbull opened District Diner as "a more casual bistro than his Surry Hills fine diner, Assiette". So, when Durack describes District Diner simply as "Assiette without tablecloths", what does this mean ?

And then, of course, there's the world-famous precedent set by Rene Redzepi in his Copenhagen restaurant, Noma. Almost any article you find about the Redzepi-phenomenon describes his restaurant as a tablecloth-free-zone. I think this might be because Redzepi is quite adamant about the issue. In his own words, from an interview with the Guadian, Redzepi says he prefers "a nice wood table to a shitty table in fancy tablecloth".

What is the significance of this ? The article in the Guardian goes on to say:

In the early days, before Noma became insane He talks a lot about "rawness" and "authenticity". Only occasionally does he say haute cuisine-like things. "It used to be," he said, marvelling, "that people came into Noma on their way home from work, just for a meal!"

Hmmmm... I think that's what I was expecting. 

So I'm not saying that this place needs to place itself on a trajectory to become the next Noma... ! Just, white tablecloths says to me "stiff, dull, dated". As it turns out, unless I'm going out to a place that I expect to offer a real "sense of occasion", the places where I want to eat , do NOT have the tablecloths and, in my (humble!) opinion, are the better for it. If you're reading about the world (of food), the white tablecloth is not meanlingless.

I checked - it really isn't just me. Below a review of hip, verrry popular Parisian eatery Kitchen Galerie Bis:

Opened in the fall of 2009, KGB is riding high as one of the trendiest go-to spots of the moment. "The key is determining how to stay hot," insiders told Luxury Travel Advisor. Its white walls hung with colorful, contemporary canvases, the restaurant resembles an art gallery-- a minimalist space with no frills and-- needless to say-- no white tablecloths.


So, maybe a place on Devonshire St may may not need the crisp white tablecloths ? (Not to mention, crisp white napkins ..?)

If you would like to get a great sense of this for yourself, simply google "no white tablecloths", and you will see exactly what I am talking about. There is absolutely a movement AWAY from the white tablecloths in manyforward-thinking, innovative, authenticity-appealing restaurants, world-wide.

It just feels like the 'experience' (http://www.thedevonshire.com.au/) that the people at the Devonshire are aiming to provide for their customers is very much in line with the places around the world choosing to strip their tablecloths. My feeling is that, the appearance of a room full of tablecloth-clad tables will have a very significant impact on most people's first impression of the place.

So, that's all. I hope that wasn't too much of a rant. Just some food for thought.


Having said all that(!), the menu at The Devonshire looked DELICIOUS from beginning to end and I will DEFINITELY be going there... it's just, it will have to be one of those nights when I feel like a hush-hush, white tablecloth experience, that's all.

Redzepi quotes taken from http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/nov/06/rene-redzepi-noma-restaurant. Photo from another Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/may/24/noma-restaurant-copenhagen-jay-rayner

19 January 2011


A fun thing about working at the opera is that twice a year we swap performance spaces with the (Australian) ballet and head down to Melbourne for a time. 

Melbourne is a pretty wonderful town and everyone has their favourite haunts. Here are a few of mine that I visited on my most recent stay in December.

Izakaya den 

Man - so hot right now. This place is on the cnr of Russell and Little Collins street, through an innocuous  looking doorway, down the stairs, past the black curtain and there you are. This place has got to be my new favourite Melbourne place. My first visit was on this most recent trip to Melb -  I took myself there after a concert midweek. Their kitchen is open until midnight so it's a fantastic late night option if you're looking for great japanese food late at night in the CBD.  

More than the food, however, the place has a wonderful vibe - fun soundtrack, great long room full of people sitting up at the long bar (comme moi!) or at little high tables against the opposite wall. The food is without exception, quite delicious - clean flavours, beautiful presentation and delightful service. Have you ever had umeshu (japanese plum wine) ? This is a great place to try it - straight up on the rocks, delightful ! Siphon coffee ? It's a bit of a hobby horse of mine (#espressoainttheonlywaytodrinkcoffee), but really, it's just SO lovely - the perfect after-dinner coffee to follow the clean flavours in a japanese meal. It's a very light brew and it's served in a delicate glass tumbler - it feels comparable to drinking coffee like wine. At Izakaya Den they use Sydney Single Origin beans - I love the panama.

Everything I ate was delicious - when I went along by myself, they looked after me very well. I was offered most dishes as a half-serve so I could try a few different things.  The eggplant was delicious, the pork fillet katsu with cabbage (coleslaw-esque) salad, very tasty, beans with tofu , clean + lovely, but best of all was the wasabi tuna tartare with taro chips. I'm not a great wasabi-fan, and there was a fair hit in the tuna, but I LOVED it. The taro chips was a lovely salty, fried counterpoint... mmm 

Izakaya den was a very fun place to be, with a great vibe, very, very enjoyable food and a late night kitchen. This is going to be a Melbourne season fixture. 


A great new player in the Melbourne landscape, I LOVED Mammasita. To be honest, I was catching up with a good friend that I hadn't seen in a long time over dinner at Mammasita so I might not have paid as close attention to the meals as I otherwise would have !

We both had a fantastic time - from the margarita, to the guac + chips, crab tacos, ceviche, pork something... everything was really fresh tasting and delicious. The place was full of people having a similarly good time, the service was informed and friendly - I'd go back in a heartbeat.  (Sorry - no photos this time !)

Persimmon at NGV

How many of you know about Persimmon ? I discovered this one with some colleagues a while back - SUCH a lovely place for a civilized, delicious + peaceful lunch. With a beautiful outlook onto the NGV garden,  the space is flooded with natural light, with fun decor (as befits a gallery) and spectacular Dibbern glassware (my fave) !

By comparison to many of the ridiculously OVERPRICED, unimpressive places around the southbank area, Persimmon is INCREDIBLE VALUE for money. Check out the lunch special, 2 courses + wine for a very good price (that I've since forgotten).

De Clieu

The latest undertaking of the 7 seeds folk, this place is on Gertrude St (oh how I heart Gertrude St). The best coffee I had in Melbourne was here - JUST delicious. Truly complex, roasty + quite creamy flavours. Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum. When I came here for lunch, I had their their veal roll - like a serving of vitello tonnato on a roll... um, delicious. 

It's a busy place, but worth a visit. 

There are lots of other places to mention - regular favourite Journal (I could eat the mozarella + prosciutto baguettes EVERY DAY of my life), France Soir (DE-LIGHT-FUL bistro where the evening might go: Pastis, baguette, foie gras, wine, steak tartare + chips, wine, creme brulee, coffee and you'd be the happiest person on earth), Nihonbashi zen (where I enjoyed their plate of sashimi, but went CRAZY for their CRAZY cream cheese-tofu in dashi... ??! Amazing.) Books for Cooks (one can't even imagine how much I love this place - made some EXCELLENT purchases that I will probably rave about in due course...) Mamma Vittoria's pasta (343 Smith St, Fitzroy - GO HERE, you don't even KNOW ! Passionately well-made pasta - ricotta, spinach basil ravioli, feta + LEMON MYRTLE ravioli are my faves) and French Brasserie (whose kitchen I could spy on from my bedroom, but which was booked out when I tried to go on my last night)........ but that's all for this time.

Until the Autumn ! 

06 December 2010

3 foodie things I learnt on the weekend

1. making fresh egg pasta with parsley + basil together works well.

2. you can buy Paesanella burrata from Fratelli Fresh for about $10.50. (If you don't know what a burrata is, go to FF, purchase one and it might be the best $10.50 you EVER SPEND.)

3. the light green variety of tomato that has the darker green pattern on the skin has a very fruity (think passionfruity) flavour.

04 December 2010

GUEST POST pt 2: And so to the US...

And so, we are treated to part 2 of Sam's excellent adventures... Enjoy.

(by Sam Russell)
Ahh, America.  Really, I love you like a fat kid loves cake, but I don’t understand you.  You’re a journey into the sublime and the ridiculous, with not a lot in between.

New York - Esca

After the epic, hours long journey from Newark airport to my hotel (thanks to a combination of using one of those shared shuttle dealies where I was the last to be dropped off, and half of Manhattan being closed off due to the Veterans’ Day Parade) I had just enough time to freshen up and get myself to my (business) dinner date at Esca.

Esca is an Italian seafood restaurant, and chef/part owner David Pasternack has rightly been described by The New York Times as “a fish whisperer”.  He has developed his own style of ‘seafood crudo’:  raw seafood.  It’s closer in approach to the Italian idea of carpaccio than to sushi or ceviche.   My date informed me that Chef Pasternack himself attends the fish market every morning, personally cherry-picking from the offerings.  In addition, many a fishmonger will set aside their choicest bits of catch especially for him, and if it’s good, Chef P will work out what he can do with it.

I chose sea urchin for my crudo experience.  There’s a sea urchin offering regularly on the menu, but the one I chose was a special of the day – exceptional specimens had been caught in the waters off Santa Barbara and flown in.   (I bet their trip from the airport was better than mine.) 

Here in Australia, we’re used to seeing sea urchins that are, what – about the size of an overgrown golf ball, including the spines?  This baby had a centre slightly larger than a tennis ball, and including the spines was roughly the size of my head.  The urchin was simply cut in half, its insidey bits tossed with good olive oil, a touch of seasoning and a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs (I know not what), slid back into one of the spiny halves and presented on the plate with a parfait spoon.  I hate to use the clichĂ© ‘it tasted of the sea’, but it did.  Fresh fresh fresh.  There was a slight but not unpleasant bitterness that played into the grassiness of the oil, which in turn led into the light green flavours of the herbs, and back to the urchin.

My main course was a blackfish with roasted root vegetables, chestnuts and caramelized crabapple.  I wish I could tell you more about it.  I do remember that it was as fresh and beautiful as the first course and all the autumnal, caramelized accompaniments were sweet and a lovely palate change after the little bitterness of the sea urchin.  But that’s as much as I can manage.  The sea urchin was so extraordinary to me that it wiped all other recollections.  Now I think of it, I vaguely recall that there may have even been an amuse-bouche?  I think it was a Nantucket Bay scallop, also served crudo style.  And it was really good, but, you know… the sea urchin.

The table decided to pass on dessert but we were presented, compliments of the house, with a dish of house made gelati for sharing and palate cleansing.  There was a chocolate, a hazelnut and something else.  Really yummy, but, you know… yeah.  The sea urchin.

Esca isn’t far from Times Square and the theater district, but if you’re going, don’t be too tempted to fit it in before a show.  The service was brilliant and could accommodate you if you really wanted, I’m sure.  But choose to take the time to linger and see what the sea can do.  And make sure you book in advance.

The Street Vendors

30 November 2010

the importance of cookbook photography

Below is an excerpt from a book review "Plenty vs Around My French Table" from Food52.com. I just really appreciate how the author articulates here what is, I think, probably behind my subconscious reactions to different cook books and different styles of food photography. Bad food photography really is very bad.

I can especially relate to her positive "out loud" reactions... ("There are some photos of eggs in this book that will stop you in your tracks" - HA !)

In Dorie's book, the styling and the photography were a considerable set-back for me. There's a shot of a cracker that's supposed to look like someone's just taken a bite out of it. No one has been near that cracker. In another, there are crumbs carefully arranged to look not carefully arranged. Salad Nicoise ingredients are nestled together hyper self-consciously to appear as if some avid cook was simply collecting her mise en place. Schmears of food on utensils are meant to look as if the shot were taken mid-meal and really, this food and that utensil were nowhere near anyone's actual meal. Check out the traces of cheese-topped onion soup left on the spoon in the shot on page 54. What is it doing there? No one has been eating that soup. Conversely, there's a shot of a piece of beef that's meant to look as if it has just, at that moment, been cut into, but the knife and fork are spotless. I really puzzled over it--it wanted to convey French food with all of its connotations of lusciousness, insouciance, and casual effortless elegance but somehow managed to come across as rigid, antiseptic and unripe. High and tight, I kept chuckling to myself page after page after page, hunting for even one photograph that let the food look real and delicious and appealing.

There is almost no sense in my trying to persuade you to my opinion about the photography and styling. This is distinctly an "a chacque un son gout" story. Dorie LOVES these photos, this styling, this strangely retro era of heavily-propped and aggressively-lit cookbook design. She effuses about it in her acknowledgements and said she burst into tears of joy when she learned she could work with this team on this book. Me, they killed the food. By the time they got it in the right tableau, the right crock, the just-so schmear and crumb and the light meter checked and the silver umbrella tilted another hair to the left, the food had long ago died. I wanted to cook exactly nothing from the book based on the photography.

I did not have this problem with Ottolenghi's book. Once past the odd and counter-indicative cover (you could not be certain that this is a cook book -- it could as easily be an interior designer's fabric sample binder), I reacted aloud -- an involuntary "oh" or "oh man!" or " mmm" and even a "holy shit!" at every single turn of the page. There are some photos of eggs in this book that will stop you in your tracks. Even collapsed roasted eggplants, still on their roasting sheet and just out of the oven, look appealing. The shots are taken of the food in its most alive moment -- the butter is foaming in the cast iron skillet of sweet potato cakes, the ice cubes are glistening in the green gazpacho, the pickled red pepper slivers veritably swim like live brilliant sea creatures in a tidal pool of pink-tinged olive oil. I've seen this in British books before, particularly in the food photography of Jason Lowe and the photographer who shot Nigel Slater's books Tender andKitchen Diaries -- the British really have something great going on there, and as a direct result, I yellow-stickied 22 things I wanted to cook from the book, just by looking at the photographs.

(photo taken from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

(read more)

29 November 2010

GUEST POST - Sam Russell's excellent UK adventures !

One of the best things about keeping this blog has been people's new-found propensity to share with me detailed accounts of recent WONDERFUL FOOD EXPERIENCES ! I hang off every word - I love it !

Last week a colleague of mine at OA returned from a work trip in the UK and US with a raft of fairly exceptional food experiences. I was so rapt by Sam's stories and astute observations, I asked if she would do some 'guest blogging' about them. Sam agreed (woohoo!), and so here is her first entry. The account is gloriously detailed  (!) so, get a cup of tea, settle in and indulge in some UK-inspired foodie escapism. Enjoy.

(by Sam Russell)
I’d be a terrible MasterChef contestant. When asked what my food dream is, rather than give the stock standard answer of “opening my own restaurant making people happy with my food vision spreading joy and yumminess blah blah blah”, I’m afraid I’d have to be terribly honest and confess that my food dream is to eat my way from one side of the planet to the other. Perhaps, if I must, make a TV series about it as I go. But that would get in the way of the eating and enjoying, I would think.

I recently had the opportunity to do this a bit when I had to travel to the UK and the US for work. As all work and no play makes Sam grumpy, hungry and in search of a stiff drink, I was determined to fit in some foodie fun. And some of it found me. Some of the funnest fun comes in the simplest of places.

Part 1 – The UK

Day One. Stupid o’clock in the morning.

Ok, it’s a nothing thing, but I felt it worth noting that after 26 hours of airline food and a further hour on a bus from Heathrow to Gatwick, a large (which is much larger than Australian large) espresso coffee and an entire bag of M&S Mini Jaffa Cakes while waiting to be collected by your hosts is manna from the gods. I meant to bring a bag of those home. Bugger.

English Pub Food

And when I say English pub food I mean the honest, regular kind, not the fancy schmancy ooh la la gastropub food, screaming “OOH LOOK AT ME, I’M ARTISANAL!” masquerading as the pub grub it sprang from. I mean The Real Thing. Done well, there’s nothing wrong with it and I don’t know why it comes in for so much flack. My first proper meal on English soil was in a pub called The Swan Inn, local to my hosts in East Sussex. An inn since it was built in 1399, it looks like something from off a Franklin Mint plate your nanna might have on her mantelpiece. Low ceilings. Open fires. Dogs mooching under tables. Local real ale on fat, elaborate tap. Deep grooves worn in the brick floor from centuries of folk coming in for a pint. My stomach was feeling a little delicate, so I had a simple potato and leek soup served with a rough hewn chunk of granary bread. The soup had the ideal consistency and texture. The creaminess was supplied by nothing but perfectly pureed potato. Not too grainy, as you often get (the soup, not the bread. The bread was suitably grainy). And it just tasted… fresh. Just potato and just leek. It was completely unadorned – not a chive, sprig of parsley or dollop of anything to be found - and it was great.

I was fascinated by a flyer I spotted pinned on the wall. The pub was holding its annual pickling contest. To enter you had to submit a batch of pickled onions, pickled eggs and sloe gin. It was made very clear that you had to submit all three items or you’d be disqualified. It was Very Serious Business. I’d have loved to have seen that.

Other pubs I went to both made good use of Harveys, the locally brewed real ale. The White Horse Inn in Bodle Street Green has Fish and Chips night every Tuesday, offering the traditional cod, haddock or plaice in a crisp Harveys beer batter with hand cut chips (I must admit, we went both Tuesdays I was there. I was most pleased that they keep their oil nice and clean. Stale, tainted oil is a pet hate of mine), and at The Rose and Crown in Burwash I ate a deliciously melting and comforting ox cheek, slowly braised in ale with mash, followed by a sticky stodgefest of treacle tart. My stars, what a gooey guilty pleasure that was. I sampled a couple of Harveys at The White Horse, too: the standard Harveys Sussex Best Bitter (malty, caramel, with a hint of citrus tang on the finish) and a seasonal offering I think also came from Harveys, but I can’t be sure. Whatever it was, it was infused with cinnamon, which made a winter-warming ale even warmer.


I had the good fortune of sampling the output of two of the UK’s best known chef exports: Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian and Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food. I had planned to say that it might be comparing apples to oranges, but given that the Italian idea is a chain of affordable restaurants and the other very much sees itself as an actual restaurant and not just an upmarket airport cafĂ©, on reflection it might be a more level playing field than I first thought. In both cases I've done my best to ignore the hype and the sleb angle, concentrating on food and concept.

28 November 2010

eat your weeds !

Doing my bit ! These were being sold at Taylor Square markets yesterday by the people at Champion's Mountain Organics - I bought it instead of rocket - very tasty, it's a little bit like baby spinach without the offensive starchiness and with an earthier, more pleasant flavour. Yum.

27 November 2010

a brave new world ?

photo by Peter DaSilva courtesy of NY times article
In the beginning, there were the French with their julienne, their confit and their sauces. Then, along came the Spanish with their foams and their soils. Now, enter the Nords with their garden variety weeds, blossoms and barks. It's a brave new world where chefs FORAGE for ingredients, and I love it.

Check out this article from yesterday's NY times - headline: Chefs look for Wild Ingredients Nobody Else Has. It seems that since Rene Redzepi of Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, was in Sydney talking about his food concept, it's all I keep hearing and reading about ! I was very sorry to miss hearing Redzepi speak in Sydney (his talk was held in the Concert Hall on on same night as Rosenkav opening !). The fundamental principal behind this new movement is to root cuisine in "time and place". Discovering and utilizing what is growing natively locally, Redzepi argues, is the truest way of creating an authentically local cuisine.

A very sustainable and very interesting concept and the more I read about it, the more convinced I am. The creativity required to make these 'new' ingredients work is exciting and even a bit inspiring ! It must be said, however, for those fans of the UK River Cottage, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a champion for local foraging from way back - he was doing it before it was cool ! (What a guy.)

23 November 2010

feather + bone !

Hello everyone ! Home again, home again...

So, on Saturday the lovely people at Feather + Bone held an open day in their warehouse-space in Rozelle.

"Feather and Bone ?" I hear you ask ?

Well, prior to last Saturday afternoon, I would have asked the same question. It was only when scrolling through my twitter feed on Saturday morning that I saw the open day advertised by the good people at Bird Cow Fish. Upon such a good recommendation, and thought it might be worth dropping by...

WELL ! I'm very glad I did.

In their own words: Feather and Bone are providores who are passionate about where food comes from and how it's grown. We source directly and exclusively from producers committed to nuturing the health of the land and the plants and animals it sustains.
Feather and Bone provide produce to such reputable establishments as Sean's Panaroma, Rockpool, Billy Kwong's, Red Lantern, Glebe Point Diner, Bistrode, Longrain, Universal... and the list goes on. However, not only do they supply top tier restaurants, but if you sign up to their weekly email list, YOU TOO can order what is on offer that week and have it delivered to your home ! The open day provided an opportunity to spread the good news about this wonderful service + meet the people behind the 'meat' (and other produce).

So, on Saturday many of these proud farmers + producers had travelled to Sydney to answer questions about how they do what they (wonderfully) do.

And, oh my - the passion ! Honestly, I was almost bowled over by the sincerity of the passion each producer demonstrated whilst talking about their animals. They explained in fascinating detail the process of breeding + rearing amazing livestock, caring for the animals + their environment and also the science of creating an end product with utmost integrity and flavour... Wow.

As a number of these people pointed out, being a boutique grower or farmer is often by far not the most lucrative path a farmer can take. Many of these people are often motivated by their conviction that they are going about their work in, simply, the best possible way - for the land, the animal and, dare I say it, the discerning consumer.

Speaking with each of these farmers who spoke about what they do with a glint in their eye was very inspiring ! In addition to all of these producers, the wonderful people from Single Origin were there with their new syphon coffee (espresso is not the only way to drink coffee, people !), as were the great folks from Vini + Berta (dearly beloved establishments). Fun times, fun chats - I even may be heading behind the scenes at Vini for some kitchen time soon... love it !

So, have a look at Feather + Bone. Some special mentions from some memorable conversations:

Vince from Moorlands Biodynamic Lamb is a 5th (I think!) generation sheep farmer and he loves it ! On their chemical-free, organic + biodymic farm they breed Poll Dorsets + Texels, which is, apparently, quite rare and produce sweet meat with a very silky texture...

Organic Ways Biodynamic eggs sound like they have the most incredible tasting eggs around. The chickens are fed a biodynamic (that is, SUPER healthy) mix that is made into a porridge with real, full cream milk from their biodynamic cows ! Unique + apparently amazing. Not to mention their paradisical mid-north-coast hinterland home... wow.

Grant from Burrawong Pasture-raised Poultry had a lot to say about how they look after their chickens and it was all v interesting + convincing ! In short, they do everything, EVERYTHING on site at the farm, themselves. Lots of control, and from the way he was speaking, lots of care too. The night before Grant had been to Rockpool for the first time ("blew me away, hey !") and had eaten his chicken at the fine establishment... introduced himself to the chef, went back into the kitchen, an all round great night in town.

The pigs lucky enough to spend their days on the lush green banks of the Hawkesbury at Melanda Park Free Range Pork are a very, very lucky breed. The pigs roam the property of this organic farm, eating from the vege patches and whatever else that takes their fancy on the property as they roam free... what a place, and what pork it must be ! As I was standing there asking the randiant young lady farmer about her life, another lady came up and interrupted us as she was bursting to tell the farmer that her pork is the "best, best, best pork I have ever eaten in my life ! I buy it and serve it to guests and everyone says the same thing - it's absolutely amazing !" Well, there you have it. I'm looking forward to trying it.

And, lastly, Martin's Seafood for serving up this DELICIOUS, FRESH salmon + dill burger, and for putting pickled carrot in the salad... good thinking.


09 November 2010

away for a few weeks...

Dear all,

I shall be away for a few weeks + so shan't be blogging again until about the end of Nov.

Love to all !