Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Longest Sell-By Date

Now, look carefully at the sell-by date on this packet of supermarket garlic bread. Use by 16 October 3037?

I won't be shopping there again.

A Real Slow Food Weekend

Never mind A Taste of Slow, this weekend I did things my way.

For once I got up early enough to get to Victoria Market at a reasonable hour. Still suffering from my cold, I didn't delay, but headed straight for my favourite local winery stall to stock up on shiraz. Davd from Candlebark Hill winery chatted about famous people (he traded his story about Tim Spall for mine about Sir Ian McKellen). Six bottles better off, I wandered back through the throngs to my own local market in Footscray.

There I bought some beautiful pork belly from the Vietnamese butcher, and some diced beef. At the fishmongers I chose a nice slab of fresh tuna (which I froze when I got home for later in the week) and threw in a kilo of fresh sardines as they looked so lovely.

Back at home, I realised that the sardines would need gutting before we could eat them. Orlando vaguely remembered how, from his aunt Gloria, and after a brief instruction session I set to. Fifteen minutes later I had a big bowl of fish guts and 22 tiny butterfly fillets.

I remembered my chilli chutney from the Taste of Slow market, and combined it with garlic and lime for the marinade. I grilled the sardines lightly and we polished them off for lunch with some fresh bread.

It didn't take long to prepare the spices for my favourite Rick Stein recipe for crispy pork belly. You have to leave the meat resting in the spices for a day or so before cooking so I got that organised after the washing up.

While I was at it, I cleaned out and re-filled my trusty masala dhaba. From the top, we have lemon pepper, black mustard seeds, cloves and cardamoms, garam masala, turmeric, chilli powder, and finally szechuan peppercorns in the centre. Pretty, isn't it?

Then I took a nap.

Next day, I spent the afternoon on the sofa watching a remake of South Pacific, with a proper old-fashioned box of Milk Tray chocolates on my lap and a blanket over me. It took almost five hours to cook the pork belly to perfection and less than twenty minutes to devour it.

Now, that's what I call a slow food weekend.


Early spring is the perfect time to catch cold. I was smothering, and a little brain-dead, at the beginning of the weekend as I braved gale-force winds to drive across town for a family dinner. We owed Lee a posh dinner and she had chosen Donovan's as her treat.

We sat by the window as the wind howled and the waves crashed on the shore just feet from our table. Donovan's feels as if you are visiting somebody's cosy home: bookcases line the walls, the tables and chairs are mismatched, and the russet colours are a far cry from the minimalist decor so many trendy places go for.

Wines by the glass were limited but well-chosen. Lee and Orlando selected sparkling wines whilst I went for a local red, Amherst 'Dunn's Paddock' Shiraz 2004, from the Goldfield region about 100 miles from our house. I still love the fact that I live in a country which has local wine.

Every morsel was divine. My seafood chowder was augmented by slivers of prosciutto, giving it an amazing saltiness. The heavy sour-dough bread was served with olive oil infused with parmesan and basil. My seafood linguine was simply the very best I have ever had.

How I found space for dessert I will never know. Three Sweet Things served with my coffee were a tiny a square of passionfruit cheesecake, a home-made jammy dodger biscuit and a minute chocolate brownie. Sounds like comfort food, but again, all the best I have ever tasted.

40 Jacka Boulevard St Kilda www.donovanshouse.com.au

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Abla's is a bit of institution in Melbourne, reputed to be one of the oldest Lebanese restaurants in Australia. Able herself was born in Lebanon in 1935, and emigrated to Australia as a seventeen year old girl. During her young married life in Melbourne, she was taught to cook by the other women in the close-knit Lebanese community, as well as her uncle Joe. Abla's restaurant opened in 1979, in a terraced house in Carlton, and has been there ever since.

Inside, the restaurant still looks and feels like a house. Tables for two and four nestled downstairs near the kitchen, but they had put our rowdy table for thirteen upstairs in the open-plan area. It still felt like two bedrooms knocked into one.

We had ordered the banquet, so the food started coming as soon as the last person arrived. The white linen tablecloth was littered with wine (Abla's is BYO) as dishes of hummous, baba ganoush, and delicious think yoghurt came accompanied with flat Turkish bread. We tried not to fill up on bread but everything was so enticing.

Soon the starters arrived: bright green tabbouleh, falafels and silverbeet leaves wrapped around chickpeas and rice. the ladies' fingers were not okra, but sigar-shaped parcels of minced lamb, pine nuts and spices. Mena's favourite was the loubyeh, simple green beans tossed in a tangy tomato sauce.

The wine flowed and the conversation got louder. My wine bottle was emptying fast, and it was not my doing. The platters emptied one at a time, and we were wondering if we had space left when the main courses were served.

Chicken and rice was served beautifully, the chicken forming a crust around a mound of fragrant rice pilaff and almonds. The lamb skewers were perfectly grilled.

No dessert as such, just strong coffee served with the most divine Turkish delight and home-made baclawa.

As the evening drew to an end, Abla herself strolled from table to table, making sure to talk to each and every diner in her restaurant. Dressed in her utilitarian pinny she looked like a regular Melbournelady of a certain age, not the legend she is. She graciously stood for a photo with myself and Noela as we thanked her for a lovely evening.

It really did feel like you had gone to your aunty's for dinner: great food, wonderful service, engaging conversation with new people, and a chat with Abla at the end of the night. We shall be back.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blog by Mail incoming

Less than twenty-four hours after I sent my BBM package to Weekly Dish, I found a cardboard box on my doorstep from Jenny Collins from Salem, Massachusetts. Inside, I found lots of lovely New England goodies.

A letter from Jenny said:

Hi Mairead -

I thought long and hard about what to send - things that would be sort of exotic to you (or at least hard to get in Australia) but not so exotic that no sane person would try them. They also had to be sturdy enough not to melt, or be crushed, or otherwise destroyed in transit. So here's what I came up with. A bunch of things that are cloal to Massachusetts, and to New England generally:

Dried cranberries and wild blueberries

A jar of jam made with cranberries and raspberries

The Toll House Cookbook - it has lots of old-fashioned New England recipes - pot roast, Indian Pudding (I love it, but it's an acquired taste, I think), and grapenut pudding. It also includes the original Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. The bad news - it uses American temperatures and measurements so you would have to convert to use it...

A tin of Cope's dried sweet corn. This is from Amish Country in Pennsylvania, not New England. It's very good, with a caramely sort of taste due to the special drying process. There's a recipe on the tin, and more at

Hope you enjoy!


I am fascinated by the dried sweet corn (what do you do with it? Sprinkle it on your breakfast? Put it in a stew?) and will research fully before cooking with it.

Thanks so much for the lovely package, Jenny!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Blog by Mail outgoing

I had a lot of fun putting together my blog by mail package. This is what I included:

Gourmet Dips ( Mexican)
Add to mayo, sour cream or fromage frais as a dip, or use as a rub for meat. I bought this recently at the Melbourne Food and Wine Fair.

Vittoria coffee
Melbourne is a real coffee-lover’s paradise, like Seattle. Vittoria coffee is Melburnians’ choice for coffee in a city who take coffee more seriously than anyone in the southern hemisphere.

Twinings Irish Breakfast Tea
I struggled to find much from Ireland here in Melbourne, but we are famous for our reliance on tea. Twinings is the nicest Irish tea we can get here. Great with a nice fruit scone (recipe on this blog!).

Tree of Life Macadamia Oil
Macadamia nuts are a huge Australian crop. This Australian oil is great for cooking or salad dressing.

Outback Spirit wild rosella jam
Rosellas are a native fruit. This preserve is reminiscent of a tart raspberry or plum jam.

Outback Spirit mango native mint chutney
Native mint is fresh with a peppery finish, and goes really well with the Australian-grown mangoes.

Mangal tea masala
One of my absolute favourite drinks since living in India. Add half a teaspoon to a pot of your usual tea, or sprinkle a quarter teaspoon on your café latte or hot milk with plenty of sugar for a taste of real Indian chai. Chai lattes are all the rage here in Aus, but the ones served in coffee shops are ridiculously expensive and are more sweet than spicy. This is the real thing.

Mangal butter chicken masala
This spice mix (masala simply means spice mix) is easy to use and results in a creamy rich chicken curry.

Mangal vindaloo masala
Vindaloo is hot and vinegary, my favourite curry of all. It comes from Goa in India which was colonised by the Portuguese until the mid-sixties. It has a reputation for being searing hot, but it should be strong-flavoured and not overly chilli hot.

Spice Bazaar outback pack
A pack of spice blends using native spices like lemon myrtle and spicy-sweet pepperberries, not available outside Australia .

…and for dessert:

Tim Tams – the classic Aussie chocolate biscuit, craved by Australians when they leave the country
Cherry Ripes – my personal favourite Australian chocolate bar

I also included the ABC Delicious magazine, which I enjoy reading.

Hope Jenny in Baton Rouge enjoys it!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Five Things to Eat Before You Die - preamble

Traveler’s Lunchbox has been hosting a Foodblogger’s Guide to the Globe, asking everyone to list their top five things to eat before you die. The list is up to 1,245 not including those left in the comments. Fascinating reading.

Some people have specified not only what dish, but where you should eat it and who should have cooked it. I think this is cheating a little bit, because how are we ever going to sample “my mother-in-law’s oxtail stew with butter beans” or “a piece of my world famous carrot cake”?

I preferred Harmonia’s approach:
1151. Quinoa
1152. Hummum
1153. Avocado
1154. Tea
1155. Garlic

…or the contribution from doodles:
1156. Cioppino in San Francisco
1157. White pizza in Italy
1158. Beer in Munich
1159. Chinese food in Toronto
1160. Lobster in Maine and Mexican food in Topolabumpo

But my favourite was probably Andrew – simple and yet perfect:
261. Picking the bits off a chicken carcass
262. Fruit straight from a tree
263. Blackberry and Apple Pie
264. Mr Whippy Ice-cream
265. Any meal with friends

I am still working on my top five, but in the meantime here are five things I will be eating in Ireland (far too specific to be included in my real list):

1. Proper Irish brown bread
2. Irish sausages from my mother’s pork butcher, Peadar Kelly, in Palmerstown
3. Bananas!
4. Smoked cod and chips from the local chipper
5. Real apple tart made by my mum


They say Pellegrini's has had one paint job in over fifty years, and it left the place looking exactly the same. I wandered in there one cold Monday night, walking the length of its 1950s bar to the cosy kitchen at the back. The red leather barstools are comfortable enough for a weekday lunchtime or an afternoon macchiato and slice of apple strudel, but the dark evenings make the big communal kitchen table beckon.

There is no menu as such; an old wood veneer menu hangs from the ceiling above the bar. It lists a handful of dishes but there are no prices. Over time you get to know the daily specials - spinach and ricotta cannelloni makes a guest appearance on Tuesdays and gnocchi cameos on Fridays. The waiters charge you whatever they like, but it is always great value.

I sat with a man and his young son to one side of me, and the owner himself on the other, trademark silk kerchief at his neck, apparently being interviewed for an article. The young boy chatted comfortably to the woman at the cooker about his recently deceased pet rabbit, while she cooked him his “usual” and taught him a few more words of Italian.

The cooker was simmering with pots of bolognese and napoli sauces whilst the oven opened briefly to display an enormous lasagne. The cook lady turned out plates of pasta ordered in shouted Italian from the bar beyond, whilst seeming to talk away to herself in between times (in Italian too, so I couldn’t eavesdrop).

My plate of steaming ravioli bolognese came with two freshly buttered doorsteps of bread and a cold glass of water. No alcohol here in Pellegrini’s, but the food is good enough to entice me to eat even without a glass of red in my hand. When asked, the lady happily heaped lots more parmesan onto my already loaded plate from her bowl by the cooker.

I ate slowly, taking in the surroundings. An ancient poster of the Chianti region and an old advertisement for Besana pannetonni adorned the walls, darkened by years of grease and heat. Beyond a hatch in the wall the bar was half-full of diners but it felt sleepier than daylight hours. The oak table was about eight inches thick, and the stools about an inch too low for it. The forks were bent and the white crockery dull and chipped in places, but my supper was sublime.

Later, as I sipped my long macchiato, the cook lady silently left her position at the cooker and came back with a saucer of home-made biscuits for me. I dunked them in my sweet coffee, feeling even more at home. They didn’t charge me for them.

Lygon Street

This is my personal favourite on Lygon Street. Cheap and cheerful, you are likely to be surrounded by students while you eat. But the pizza is wafer-thin and divine, the pastas rich and delicious, and the house wine just begging to be quaffed.

Il Cantuccio
A little quieter and more grown-up than many of its neighbours, Il Cantuccio offers traditional Italian fare in a real trattoria ambience. No pasta or pizza on this menu, but there is plenty more to entice. Sit outside and watch the world go by, or find a quiet table away from it all inside for a more cosy feel.

Enoteca Vino Bar
A gastronomic delight and an oenophile's paradise, Enoteca Vino Bar is way up the top of Lygon away from the noise and bustle. Come for the wine list and the menu of assaggini (Italian tapas) will tempt you to stay for more. Don't leave without trying the whitebait.

St. Kilda

Stokehouse, 30 Jacka Boulevard, St. Kilda
The Stokehouse is a bit of a Melbourne institution, located right by the water on the St. Kilda beachfront. Downstairs is casual dining and drinks, with an outdoor terrace – great for anytime of the day or night. We used to come here when I had no money and sit for hours over a coffee, watching the St. Kilda people roller-blading by. Upstairs is fine dining, with similar spectacular views across the bay.

Soul Mama, St. Kilda Sea Baths, Jacka Boulevard, St. Kilda
Great vegetarian food and fantastic cocktails, with spectacular views across the bay.

Café Tien Tien, 217 Barkly Street, St. Kilda
A wonderful Chinese/Singaporean restaurant with a great wine list and fascinating décor including a genuine Buddhist shrine. Food is beautifully presented and service is impeccable.

Chinta Ria Soul, 92 Acland Street, St. Kilda
This is the first Malaysian restaurant I ever visited, and my niece had to order for me! The food blew me away the first time, and every time since. The music is laid-back, and you don’t have far to fall to find a great cake shop for dessert afterwards.

Café Barcelona, 25 Fitzroy St., St Kilda
They say the food isn’t completely authentic, but it’s still delicious. Sit on the sidewalk and sip a sangria and let them bring you a parade of tapas as you watch the world go by. (but check out my more recent review for a cautionary tale)

Vineyard, 71A Acland St., St Kilda
It’s a bit of a see-and-be-seen spot, but a truly democratic crowd from locals to backpackers to people just off the beach. Modern Australian food, a decent winelist and buzzy atmosphere.

Cicciolina, 130 Acland St., St Kilda
A Melbourne institution, Cicciolina’s is reputed to be the best Italian restaurant in Melbourne. Owned and run by women, this cosy restaurant is the favourite eatery of many of Melbourne’s biggest chefs – and I guess they know their stuff. The back bar is where Melbourne’s finest wait for their (unbookable) table, and the wine list is legendary.

Mr. Wolf, 9-15 Inkerman St, St Kilda
We ate here one very hot Melbourne Sunday with friends who have just moved in to a new town house across the road from this bar/restaurant. As as result the place was deserted, most people having fled to the beach. Secondly the air-conditioning had not been adjusted accordingly so by the end of our meal I was fast approaching frostbite. That said, the pizzas were light and delicious. Toppings such as the Signore Lupo (roast tomato, roast cauliflower, mozzarella, sausage, pancetta and chilli) and the Patate (potato, taleggio, parmigiano and rosemary) make for innovative dining, and the wine list is decent enough too.

East of Town

Café Sienna, 402 Chapel Street, Prahran
No visit to Chapel Street would be complete without lunch at a café watching all the Melbourne beautiful people going by. Where better than Café Sienna – if there is nobody interesting walking past you can always watch the clientele… lunchtimes bring a mix of drug dealers, students and rich girls. Caeser salad is pretty good too.

Botanical, 169 Domain Rd South Yarra
Botanical's recent transformation is complete - with its style and exceptional food making it the Good Food Guide Restaurant of the Year 2004 and Best Wine List 2005. According to their website, the Bubble Bar at the Botanical is the perfect place to take somebody if you wish to seduce them!

Thy Thy 1, 142 Victoria Street, Richmond
“Bloody good cheap grub” is how somebody once described this great local restaurant, upstairs above the shops on Victoria Street. Service is efficient in this slice of Vietnam right in the middle of Melbourne. You won’t get to linger all night – or even have a table to yourself – but the food is worth it every time.

West of Town

Thien An, Footscray
Little Vietnam is full of cheap and cheerful eateries, many within or beside the cavernous Footscray Market (recommended by no less than Rick Stein for the quality of its fresh produce, meats and seafood).

Closer to the train station, though, is a famed little place which has a loyal following - you will see a small crowd of people waiting outside each evening before opening time. It's BYO (bring-your-own) as you would expect, and $20 a head will buy you a substantial three-course feast.

Thai Angels, Barkly Street, West Footscray
Hidden down in West Footscray, this tiny place boasts a lovely coffee shop during the day, but serves up some of the best Thai food in Melbourne at night. The young waiting staff are friendly and attentive, and if you ask for "Thai hot" your taste buds won't be disappointed! It's BYO too although the wine list has plenty of good-value choice too.

Sirens Restaurant, Williamstown Beach
One of my local favourites – this lovely restaurant in the old art deco bathing pavilion looks out over the bay, and is a great place to watch the sunset or the pelicans flying past.


Man Mo, 42 NewQuay Promenade, Docklands
This beautiful restaurant with intriguing curtains made of kitchen sieves and tea strainers, offers the very best of Chinese food with excellent views over Melbourne city.

Bhoj, 54 NewQuay Promenade, Docklands
This new version of the famous Templestowe original is reputed to have stolen the crown of best Indian restaurant in Melbourne. Certainly looks the part! Looking forward to checking this place out from the inside next time I am in town.

Livebait, 55b New Quay Promenade, Docklands
Occupying one of the best locations in the new Docklands development, Livebait’s speciality is modern seafood with a strong Mediterranean influence.

Cargo Restaurant & Supper Club, 45 New Quay Promenade, Docklands
Famous for its unisex electromagnetic toilets, made from transparent glass which only turns opaque when the toilet door is locked! The 270 degree views across the Melbourne skyline are pretty good too.

Port Melbourne

Right beside the Tasmanian ferryport, Campari has an interesting mix of Mediterranean food on its wide menu. Tapas are fresh and varied, the paella is authentic and rich, the pastas to die for, and the hot plate dishes are a meat-lover's dream.

The inside is not as atmospheric as the outside tables - a bit café-ish - although they are open for breakfast too (try the churros and chocolate). But sit on the deck and watch the passers-by watch you eat with the beautiful people.


Gertrude Street Enoteca
My friend Noela introduced me to this charming, cramped little wine bar on bohemian Gertrude Street. It is owned by Brigitte Hafner (chef and food writer for The Age Epicure). The Italian tapas-style dishes come mainly from the Piedmont region, the server told me.

The wine list is enormous, with a decent number served by the glass. They also have an excellent selection of whiskies and whiskys. I spied such exotic (for Aus) bottles as Barbados’ Mount Gay Extra Old rum and Spain’s Cardenal Mendoza brandy on the shelves too.

I am told the highlight is the real Valrhona Hot Chocolate with rum. I will be back.

Guru da Dhaba, 240 Johnston Street
This local Indian has a friendly feel although the décor is more country house than Indian palace. Good street food is listed alongside the usual menu and a weekly specials list. The chef always comes out to ask if your food was OK. The vegetable vindalho is particularly good. BYO.

Sukho Thai, 234 Johnston Street
Sit in the front of the restaurant, and passers-by will think you are sitting cross-legged on traditional Thai mats at low tables. Actually, your feet are cunningly hidden in holes in the floor, so cramps are unlikely.

The satay has a good bite to it, and the pad thai filling and delicious. Everything else we saw served looked appetising and well presented. BYO.

Mario’s, 303 Brunswick Street
A Melbourne institution, Mario’s was set up twenty years ago by two Marios as the front for their catering business. Their breakfasts are legendary, their wines by the glass well-chosen (try the Black Chook shiraz) and the food traditional Italian for the most part. Sit and watch bohemian Melbourne stroll past, and listen to the jaded but droll waiters rule supreme.

Panama Dining Room, 3/231 Smith Street
Climb about six dimly-lit flights of stairs to reach this airy loft space filled with mis-matched furniture and quirkly light fittings. Shoot some pool or lounge near floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Fitzroy roofscape. The menu is limited, but well-selected and excellent value. Eating well here for under $20 is to be expected, and the wine list is interesting too.


Red Emperor, Unit 3, 3, Southgate Avenue, Southbank
We went here for Mena’s birthday and it was a treat. Red Emperor is known as one of the best places for yum cha (or dim sum as we know it is Europe) in Melbourne. The food is sublime, the river views expansive, the service polite and efficient.

Lee’s rules for eating at the Emperor include:
- Always order the “all you can eat” option
- Never order rice or noodles
- Try not to choose from every trolley going past
- Save some space for the really good stuff at the end
- Don’t bother with dessert unless you like melon or semolina

Miyako, shop UR2, Upper Level, Southbank
Beautiful views of the river from the sheltered balcony, waitresses in kimonos and delicious food. What’s not to like?!

E Gusto
This is so popular with local office people that the company I'm temping for call it "the boardroom". An easy-going popular place with outside tables right on the river, E Gusto has a good Italian menu and a relaxed feel.

Blue Train
This is a great place to meet with friends as the menu is so wide it pleases everybody. Wood-fired pizzas with original toppings are my favourite, although the Asian fusion dishes are also tempting - try the beef curry. Wine list is short enough but well-chosen with almost everything available by the glass.

Bear Brass
A trendy bar in the Southgate building, it's a great place to people-watch after work or on an early summer's evening. Cocktails are good and bar snacks hit the spot.

Melbourne CBD

Syracuse, 23 Bank Place
(03) 9670 1777
This beautiful old building with high ceilings and marble-top tables reminds me of Prague or Vienna. The focus is totally on the wine at Syracuse. The wine list is dozens of pages long, with prices ranging up to the thousands of dollars. The food is served in smaller tapas-like platters, mostly with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern flavour.

Our garlic prawns were sublime, and the ordinary-looking chicken liver pate was amongst the best I have ever tasted. The waiters are knowledgeable and helped me navigate the encyclopaedic wine selections without taking out a second mortgage.

City Wine Shop, 159 Spring Street
Opposite Parliament and downstairs from the fabulous Melbourne Supper Club, the City Wine Shop feels as if it has been a part of Melbourne for years. Sit on the tiny outside terrace, inside at the bar or in the back room on the high stools surrounding the communal table.

Sample the cheeses of the day and choose from a wall of wine worthy of the famous Cul de Sac wine bar in Rome. The tiny menu is hard to resist too. But the best thing – of course – is the wine. Sample the fruits of unusual varieties such as arneis, viognier, durif and langrein without having to fork out for the whole bottle.

Ezard at Adelphi 187 Flinders Lane
Teage Ezard is the gastronimical high priest of Australian fee style food, as he calls it. A visit to this restaurant is less of a night out than a pilgrimage. The eight course tasting menu is recommended.

Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Lane
The Melbourne equivalent of Ronnie Scotts and the home of the Bennetts Lane International Jazz FestivalCookie, 252 Swanston StreetYou will find an obscenely long bar in this place, with a similarly impressive wine and beer list. The balcony is a good place to people-watch.

Victoria Market, 513 Elizabeth Street
Victoria Market is a historic landmark in Melbourne – it is the largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere. Originally known as a food market, it is now the place to buy anything from organic fruit and veg, authentic Mediterranean food, hardward and of course Aussie souvenirs.

The Night Market takes place on Wednesday nights in summer, Its major focus is on food and entertainment. About 20 food hawkers provide a culturally rich range of food including African, Mexican. Spanish, Malaysian, Indian and Middle Eastern street food – not to mention the wineries who set up stall and sell fantastic wines by the glass or case! A great place to spend a summer’s evening.

Feddish, River Building, Yarra Terrace, Federation Square
In a city like this, sometimes a sunny spot is not what you seek. On one of the hottest days of the year, the outside terrace at Feddish is a shady spot where you can relax and watch Melbourne melt whilst you sip a cold martini. The food is not bad either: modern Australian staples with interesting choices such as peking duck risotto and char-grilled crocodile on rainforest rice. Pretty good wine list, with a decent by-the-glass selection which actually offers non-Aussie wines too.


Ding Dong Lounge, 18 Market Lane (close to Chinatown)
Rock 'n' roll meets modern Australian in this decidedly cooler-than-thou bar in central Melbourne. Shades optional.

Flower Drum, 17 Market Lane
Considered to be one of the best (and most expensive) restaurants of any cuisine in Australia, the Flower Drum is almost impossible to get a table in. But well worth the wait.

Camy Shanghai Dumpling & Noodle Restaurant, 25 Tatterstalls la
This cheap canteen serves up the most delicious dumplings and lots more. Sit at the formica tables, help yourself to tea in a plastic cup or bring your own wine or beer. Select at random and feast for pennies.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Lygon Street and beyond

Our slow food appetites sated (for now), we headed off again on the bus, inspecting our purchases and reading from Mena’s Australian Countrywomen’s Association Book of Cooked and Uncooked Slices. There were no less than three Cherry Ripe slices to choose from.

We hopped off at the top of Lygon Street and Sam marched us all into Percy’s Bar. It wasn’t until we saw the footy on the TV that we realised what all the rush was. It is week one of the 2006 Finals, which is sort of the quarter-finals onwards. All very crucial games of course, especially in footy-mad Melbourne.

Percy’s is an old-fashioned bar, with little room for more than a U-shaped bar, lots of bar-stools, a TV in the corner, the local character in the other corner, and a well-endowed pretty barmaid. But this is Little Italy: the men at the bar avidly watching the footy were not sat in front of pints of beer. On the bar in front of each of them sat an ice bucket or wine cooler, with a nice bottle of white wine. Or in the case of the burly Mafia-looking bloke beside Mena, a lovely fruity sparkling rose in a pretty Mateus Rose type bottle. A refreshing look at masculinity in the twenty-first century, we thought.

Onwards and upwards to Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar, a Melbourne institution. We only stopped for a quick drink. A few tables inside were taken up with people long past their lunch and unable to drag themselves home. Outside in the small leafy courtyard a bunch of student-looking people sat around an obscene number of bottles of wine whilst we sat and reviewed the day and rested our tired feet for the walk ahead.

Enoteca Vino Bar is at the far end of Lygon Street, past the main strip, north past Jimmy Watson’s and Percy’s, further beyond the council flats and the new university digs, a few minutes’ walk past the cemetery. It was worth the wait.

Enoteca Sileno next door started out as an importing company, bringing the finest Italian wines, artisan-produced pastas, olive oils and numerous other Italian goodies to Melburnians. They opened Enoteca Vino Bar next door in mid-2004.

We entered through the shop itself, with high shelves stocked full of wine, pasta, olive oil, and other Italian specialities. Our table for ten was in private corner around the back with some more friends of Sam and Amanda’s. There we feasted on assaggini (the Italian version of tapas) including the most delicious whitebait any of us have ever eaten, and some amazing wines by the glass, mostly Italian.

My choice was a lovely Sardinian red, not too robust. Mena chose a rosé which was served unchilled but was no less enjoyable for it. Orlando started with a glass of proseccho which tasted incredibly sweet. The waitress noticed after some time that he wasn’t touching his glass, and volunteered another sparkling wine she thought might suit him better. Now that is what I call good service.

Our main courses were beautiful, and beautifully presented. My seafood linguine was served in a baking paper package, which was unwrapped at the table in front of me. As a result all of the flavour was trapped inside. Divine. Mena’s slow-roast lamb looked and smelled delicious, and there was a mountain of it. Orlando’s spatchcock was well-seasoned but a little dry, he said.

All in all it was a perfect Slow end to a perfect Slow day. We hopped on the tram outside the door and stopped off in Hairy Canary, a favourite haunt of Mena’s, for one for the road. Home again on the train after almost exactly twelve hours of celebrating good food, good wine, and good friends. What more can you ask for?

Chocolate Heaven

We wandered the last little pocket of the grounds as the crowds started to die away. Many of the stallholders had sold out and were tidying up or standing around chatting. I noticed a preserves stall and Mena and I tried a Food Symphony divine raisin, tea and tokay preserve – perfect for a bread-and-butter pudding or, well, simply sitting quietly and eating with a spoon direct from the jar.

The outright winner was an impossibly rich chocolate, vanilla and port dipping sauce made with real Belgian chocolate. Even Orlando was deeply impressed. I immediately asked to buy a jar and Jamie, the owner, said he only had tasting stock and had none to sell. I vowed to go straight to David Jones the next day and buy some. We thanked him for his time, took a business card, and walked away. Moments later I felt a tug at my sleeve. Jamie stood with his last remaining jar of the chocolate sauce, and handed it to me. “A gift”, he said. “You loved it so much I couldn’t not give it to you.” What a lovely guy.

Orlando took it straight off me and put it in his backpack. I guess I won’t be seeing that again.

the Ark of Taste

Back around the other side of the convent, Orlando and I entered the Ark of Taste. It was all quite mysterious: we queued for about ten minutes to get in, and stood in a dark confined space surrounded by red velvet curtains whilst a woman called Astrid explained what we were about to see.

The idea of the Ark of Taste is to try and protect some of the world’s food which are endangered. The International Ark Guidelines state that to be accepted onto the Ark of Taste all products must be:

- Outstanding in terms of taste
- Endangered or underthreat
- Related to or part of the history of a group of people
- Related to or part of the history of a place
- In limited production

Inside, we were given tasting implements (spoon, dipping stick etc.) and wandered from stand to stand tasting and hearing about the many foods which are endangered.

An elderly lady from the Australian Countrywomen’s Association explained that backing skills were being lost as so many people were too busy and relied on shop-bought cakes and sponge mixes instead of using the old methods. She patiently explained not to “go at your sponge mix like a bull at a gate” but to stir it gently so as not to remove the air from the mixture. Certainly the sample I tried was as light as a feather.

The aged beef was unbelievably tender and full of flavour. I asked the man what the ideal time was to hang beef, and how long the usual supermarket meat had been hung. His reply was that three to six weeks was a good time to age beef, whilst the stuff we buy in the supermarket was so fresh it was “still yelling” as he put it.

The leatherwood honey from Tasmania had a distinct smoky flavour to it. The rare smoked eelhad a distinctive and delicious taste.

A poignant stall showed Mount Emu cheese which used to be made in rural Victoria, by introducing a particular mould into the cheese making process. When the cheese-maker’s lease expired they had to move to new premises, and the new local council would not allow them to use this particular mould for health and safety reasons. Without it, the cheese was no longer special. The last of these amazing cheeses were manufactured in 2004, and the cheese maker has not gone out of business permanently. And we think that the EU has the monopoly on bureaucracy.

Orlando got chatting to a man called George from up near Albury on the border with NSW. He was there with his wife and daughter. The daughter had just graduated and was finding it as hard as we had to get a job in Melbourne, where who you know is more important that what you know. The man’s sister and brother-in-law had a stall in the Ark of Taste with locally-produced fortified wines, a fino, an amontillado and an oloroso. We tasted all three and Mena squirreled two of their tiny tasting glasses away in her pockets.

I tasted some real butter, made from the milk of a single jersey herd, and never frozen like the mass-produced butter we buy. What a completely different taste.

Slow Saturday

Saturday started with a walk to the train station to meet Sam and Amanda for the trip to the annual Taste of Slow festival at Abbotsford Convent. We met up with Mena at Flinders Street, then managed to get on the wrong train: an express train to the slow food festival. We sat helpless as the train rushed past our destination station, before getting off some time later and flagging down a local bus heading back in the opposite direction. However, with our Slow attitudes firmly in place we did not worry.

The queue to get in was already lengthy. Sam (not a patient man) was anxious to get going, his Slow attitude already beginning to slip. The sun same and went and the weather looked changeable. In time we paid our money and got our plastic bracelets, and we were in.

The original intention was to do a leisurely circuit of the grounds, then get a coffee and make a plan. This was destroyed within moments of entering.

“Ooh, the beer tent.”
“Ooh, Mount Langi Ghiran winery.”
“What’s that over there?”
“Where is that amazing smell coming from?”

Within 15 minutes two people had glasses of wine and a platter of cheese in their hands, I had bought some Australian spices from Spice Bazaar for my Blog by Mail care package, and we were all looking longingly at the Angus Beef kebabs and mashed potatoes on the Tasmania stand.

Mena discovered a man from Northern Ireland selling steamed mussels and ordered some. She came back to our outdoor table with a dreamy smile, remembering his lovely accent. I went over to enquire, and ordered some too. I thought he was Canadian, perhaps from Nova Scotia. “It’s all the same”, remarked Mena. Then I asked him. He was Danish, and had spent a lot of time in California. How wrong could we have been? The mussels took forever, and were eaten in less than a minute, but they were divine washed down with a glass of All Saints shiraz.

Orlando and Sam disappeared and came back with Angus beef kebabs. Sam and Amanda opened the cheese pack and an impromptu picnic ensued. Amanda had managed to nip back to the Mount Langi Ghiran winery tent and was drinking my favourite wine.

We managed to drag ourselves away to check out more stands, but Mena and I came back minutes later with prawn and barramundi fishcakes from the Queensland Slow Food tent. We tried the delicious Hope Bakery breads and promised to come back later and buy some (they sold out within three hours).

Around in the kitchen garden children played amongst the lettuce plants and more stalls nestled under the cloisters. People sat and ate on hay bales. We bumped into my workmate Bernard and his wife. As the rain finally fell, we tasted the most divine chilli chutney from Susan Neville. I couldn’t resist a jar.

Next to her, more Tasmanian produce: soft cheese with capsicum, thyme and black pepper had to be purchased.

If only we’d bought that bread.


Our gourmet weekend started on Friday evening with a visit to our favourite local Vietnamese restaurant with friends. Thien An was the first local eatery Orlando and I visited when we moved here. Its multicoloured chairs and canteen feel were welcoming on a cold spring evening. Six of us squeezed in beside another couple, in such close proximity that the lady beside me formally introduced herself (Chris), and when leaving, thanked us for a lovely evening. There is no standing on ceremony here.

We chose Thien An’s famous Vietnamese rice paper rolls or spring rolls to start, then variously selected noodle soup or fried noodle dishes to follow. All the food was delicious, freshly made with the freshest of ingredients. We washed it all down with green tea served from stainless steel flasks to keep it warm.

Friday, September 08, 2006

your favourite sandwich fillings

Turkey and provolone with lettuce, tomato, onions and cucumber

Grainy brown bread, sliced buffalo mozz, sliced fresh tomatoes, a few chopped sundried tomatoes and avocado with lots of ground black pepper and a scrape of mayo on the bread

Turkey, with american chees, lettuce, onions, green peppers and tomato (no seasonings) on a footlong honey oat sub

Tuna with a little creamy mayonnaise, slices of tomato, boiled egg, a little tapenade and baby spinach leaves or roquette

Tinned tuna mixed with pizza express dressing, cherry toms black pepper in the sarnie with rocket

Roast lamb, mayo and salad (with pickled onions and cold sliced roast potato

Sandwich, smoked ham, strong cheddar, tomato relish with mayo and lettuce.

Avocado, mozarella,sundried tomatoes, basil and a tiny bit of olive oil

BLT, with proper back bacon and mayonnaise

Sun Dried Tomatoes, strong salami, and avocado with a little olive oil

Thick sliced bread, chips, salt and butter with Econa West Indian Hot Chilli Sauce

Although sometimes its mozzarella, tomato and basil, ideally with pesto.

“Club” bagel filling in itsaBagel (incl Chicken Breast, Mayonnaise, Red Onion Marmalade, Brie Cheese)

Ham, cheese, mustard, coleslaw

Cold - cheese salad (lettuce, cucumber and tomato) but must be mature cheedar and proper floppy lettuce (non of this iceberg stuff) with salad cream not mayo.

Chicken and Chorizo with Jalapeños and pepper sauce

Turkey, cranberry, cheese and rocket toasted

Cheese and salad. No tomoatoe but with Avocado and olives

Avocado, chicken, goats cheese, spinach

Avocado chicken salad

Bacon (heated), SWISS cheese and coleslaw

I think it has to be egg mayonnaise and crispy bacon

Fish fingers, cottage cheese & spring onion

Crayfish, Avocado & Salad


Strong Cheddar, a bit of chopped spring onion and mayonnaise

Toasted chicken, cheese, avocado on rye

Tuna, anchovies and black olives

Chicken, avocado and mayo

Cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers

Tuna and sweet corn mayo


Cold - Cheese, salad & pickle

Ham & Cheese with mayo

Egg mayonnaise

Egg mayonnaise

Sleeze and tickle (I think she means cheese and pickle!)

Bacon and egg from the roadside roach coach washed down with a big cuppa

And occasionally it’s smoked salmon and cream cheese.

Grilled crispy bacon and fried egg

Egg sandwiches made with Heinz salad cream not mayonnaise

Croissant, blue cheese (camboz or stilton) and granny smith apples thinly sliced.

Hot - hot lamb with mayo in a crusty roll

Vegemite and mature cheddar for me

Curried egg and lettuce

Egg & Lettuce

peanut butter and honey

chicken and bacon

Hot - Bacon and philidelphia



Peanut butter


Roasted chicken

Coronation chicken

the humble sandwich

“Ask not what you can do for your country.

Ask what’s for lunch.”

Orson Welles

Given the name of my blog, I thought it fitting that my first non-recipe posting would be about a subject close to my own heart - the sandwich.

I've always been a bit of a cheap date. When presented with a world of amazing and delicious food, I will often find myself focusing on the bread or the potatoes or the rice. Not sure if it is something in my own family history, or the spectre of the Irish famine still hovering over me. Or maybe I just love bread.

We in the Western world have a terrible reputation. Unlike those Mediterranean countries where everybody stops for two hours at lunchtime, we are known for grabbing a sandwich at our desks without stopping our work.

Sad, it seems. But I don’t know. As somebody who spends most of her waking life obsessed with food, my lunchtime sandwich means a lot to me. It is an oasis of luxury and indulgence in a busy working day. I take my lunchtime sandwiches very seriously, and many of my friends have the same mindset.

So I did a quick poll amongst 55 of my closest friends, to see what they would say about the role of the humble sandwich in their lives. I got 55 clear answers to the question “What is your favourite sandwich?” but it was detail of those answers which told the most interesting tales.

With my analytical hat on, I did what any engineer would do given all this data: I put it all into a spreadsheet.

The most popular sandwich filling was cheese. Almost half of respondents chose cheese, and most people specified very clearly the type of cheese they wanted (cheddar or mature cheddar being the favourite). Next popular filling was bacon, followed closely by chicken.

In terms of additional ingredients, the surprise was that avocado was joint favourite with salad. Avocado is really popular here in Aus, but these responses came from all over the world.

Mayonnaise was by far the most popular condiment, which I guess is no surprise. However a small but vociferous number of people (all UK-based) made impassioned pleas for salad cream over mayonnaise.

Somebody once said “Life is like a sandwich – the more you add to it, the better it becomes.” The highest number of ingredients listed for one sandwich was six (four people had this) and the average was three.

Regional inconsistencies such as vegemite (an Australian living in London) and coronation chicken (UK) were nice to see. UK folks also love their egg mayonnaise. I have to say it is one thing I really miss here: proper egg mayonnaise seasoned with white pepper is divine, and not really seen here at all.

Only two people chose sweet sandwiches: we had peanut butter and honey, and banana. I was raised on banana sandwiches and I have to say they would be up there in my top five fillings, but it is so long now since I saw a banana I can barely remember what it would taste like. It is ironic that I will have to wait until I go home to Ireland to have bananas imported all the way from the West Indies, when I have been living in a country which has banana plants growing outside city buildings and can’t afford bananas. Cyclone Larry has a lot to answer for.

Around a fifth of respondents were very, very specific about their ingredients:

“proper floppy lettuce (none of this iceberg stuff)”
“must be cherry tomatoes”
“bacon and egg from the roadside roach coach washed down with a big cuppa”
“croissant, blue cheese (cambozola or stilton) and granny smith apples thinly sliced”
“egg sandwiches made with Heinz salad cream not mayonnaise”

Only a tiny number specified that they wanted their sandwiches hot or toasted (a surprise, as I love warm sandwiches), or clearly defined what type of bread they required.

The award for the weirdest sandwich goes to Victoria at work, simply because her ingredients wouldn’t be a normal or ubiquitous presence in my fridge:
“Roast lamb, pickled onion, cold sliced roast potato, mayo and salad"

The When Harry Met Sally award for the pickiest sandwich definition was difficult to decide as there were one or two prima donnas, but Katharine Haines won in the end:
“Cold - cheese salad (lettuce, cucumber and tomato) but must be mature cheddar and proper floppy lettuce (non of this iceberg stuff) with salad cream not mayo.”

Finally, the award for traditional sandwich with a twist goes to Marian Barretto with her unique rendition of the glorious chip butty:
“Thick sliced bread, chips, salt and butter with Encona West Indian Hot Chilli Sauce”

The full listing of responses are on a separate page in case you are in the market for new ideas.

Hope this has livened up your tastebuds a little, and given you some inspiration for your next lunchtime treat!

fettucini pollo e funghi

This is one of my favourite comfort foods, derived from a recipe first taught to me by my sister Annette. It is quick, easy an delicious, and anything but low fat, but the taste is divine: rich and creamy. Works just as well without the chicken.

500g chicken, diced
400g button mushrooms or sliced mushrooms
250g broccolli florets, chopped as small as you like (frozen works well)
1 small tin of Campbell’s condensed chicken soup
1 glass of milk
200g grated cheese
olive oil

Fry the chicken pieces with the garlic and olive oil until golden brown.
Add the mushrooms and cook until soft.
Tip in the chicken soup and milk and stir until warmed up.
Add the broccolli and cook until soft (this will obviously take longer if using frozen).
At this point put your fettucini (or rigatoni or whatever) on to cook.
Throw in your grated cheese a bit at a time and stir in until melted to make the sauce as cheesy as you want.
Serve immediately with lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Marilyn's dips

Marilyn is an interesting woman, the PA for the Chairman of the London Ambulance Service. When you meet her first she appears incredibly sophisticated and urbane. However this polished veneer hides a wicked sense of humour, and a glass of wine or two usually unleashes an uproarious laugh worthy of a fishwife.

Here are some of her favourite things to have on the table as you drink.

Hoummus b'Tahini

Makes approx 3 cups Make sure you leave enough time to soak the chickpeas overnight – or use tinned, they are just as good.

1 1/2 cups chick peas, soaked overnight
2 tsp salt
approx 2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup tahini (white, slightly bitter sesame paste - obtained from food stores or delis and keeps indefinitely)
1/2 cup lemon juice
pinch cayenne and 2 tbs chopped parsley to garnish

Drain soaked chickpeas, place in pot, add 3 times their amount of water. Add 1 tsp salt and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, turn heat down, cover saucepan and simmer about an hour until they are very soft. Drain liquor (keep liquor) and reserve.

Reserve a few whole cooked chick peas for garnish. Puree remainder. Crush garlic with remaining teaspoon salt, add to puree. Slowly beat in tahini and lemon juice alternately. Blend in little of the reserved cooking liquid to make mixture creamy consistency. Adjust salt and lemon.

Baba Ghannouj

1 large eggplant
1/4 cup lemon juice
4-5 tbs tahini
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp salt

Either roast eggplant in hot oven until soft and outside blackened (15-20 minutes) or hold onto stem and place over open grill turning until the skin is charred. Allow to cool.

Remove skin carefully, mash pulp thoroughly and slowly beat in lemon juice alternately with tahini.Crush garlic with salt and mix to a paste. Blend into eggplant mixture.