Monday, December 17, 2007

Moons Espresso Bar Lorne

We stopped here in Lorne for breakfast at the weekend, having passed by the usual fry-up joints in search of some good granola. We found the granola, but at a price.

After waiting (being ignored?) at the front desk for about five minutes, we finally ordered and sat down. The place was pretty busy I admit, but there were at least six staff members visible to me at the time. Not too sure why the service was so slow in the end.

My weak Earl Grey tea finally arrived. It was strong - too strong to drink, especially as I had specifically ordered weak tea. So was the green tea we ordered: presumably they were prepared and then left sitting for ages to stew. We sent them back. The long black we also ordered was too bitter to finish. I am rarely a fan of Genovese coffee.

It took an inordinately long time for the granola to arrive, but I will say that when it did, it was sublime. The yoghurt was simple and creamy, and the granola was made of the very best ingredients, toasted. Unfortunately the third person in our group had ordered eggs, smoked salmon and bacon, and this did not turn up until we had finished eating. So much for sharing a meal.

All in all, it was not an experience I would repeat. For the price - $54 for three - the service was appalling and it detracted seriously from the food, which was pretty good. Again, given the number of staff on show, I was expecting so much more.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Katharine's Lentil Soup

225g split red lentils
25g butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 carrots, scrubbed and finely diced
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1150ml light vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

1. Pick over the lentils and remove any stones. Rinse well.
2. Heat the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the diced celery and carrots and let the vegetables sweat for 5-10 minutes.
4. Stir in the lentils, add the lemon rind, stock and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
6. Roughly blend the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. It should not be too smooth.
7. Check the seasoning and reheat gently.


Sunday, September 30, 2007


A lazy Saturday afternoon in front of the TV had me craving a good curry. When I suggested take-out from our local, Orlando recommended a little local place near his work called Bedi's. He'd been there with workmates and had spoken about going back there with me.

Bedi's is a well-known place, one of the first Indian restaurants in Melbourne, and the owner was a bit of a TV personality back in the day. We arrived at eight o'clock and the small restaurant was less than half-full - but seemed to be doing a really good take-out trade too.

The menu was fairly limited, particularly in terms of main courses, but they had a handful of dishes I was happy to order. My chicken lasan starter consisted of two large chicken drumsticks, the ends wrapped in tin foil, which seemed to have been baked or roasted with plenty of garlic and no other seasoning that I could discern. They were not cooked well enough, and the texture of overly-chewy meat was not appealing. I made a half-hearted effort to eat them and Orlando scolded me for not cleaning the bones.

The main courses were better: Orlando's tandoori platter looked good, and even his chicken lasan seemed better cooked than my starter. My beef vindaloo was large and delicious. I tried valiantly to finish it off but had to stop, stuffed to the gills.

I would say it was an entirely acceptable meal, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary. Our local West Footscray places, Aangan and Krishna, are superior in my opinion. Not sure if I would make the trip across town again: Bedi's has had its day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


I've wanted to eat at this restaurant almost since we arrived here. Another Melbourne institution, this Italian restaurant doesn't take bookings so you have to choose your moment to dine here. I have crashed a work dinner of Orlando's here once, but still didn't feel that I had experienced the full Cicciolina's thing. So back we went on a chilly Friday night after a hard day's work trawling the bookstores of Melbourne.

We arrived before seven-thirty and put our names down for a table for three. We were told there was a two hour wait. Amazingly we quickly procured a booth in the back bar and settled down with two glasses of wine, happy to be sitting comfortably after our marathon day out.

With two hours to wait, we scanned the blackboard and ordered an antipasto platter to keep us entertained. It was a pretty good spread: salami and prosciutto, goat's cheese, grilled mussels, a couple of dips, marinated mushrooms, black olives, sourdough bread.

In the end, we had barely polished off the last morsels when our waiter came and called us into the main restaurant.

The place was buzzing, the atmosphere helps along by the fact that the tables are very close together. I ordered a raviolo stuffed with ox tail to start. Sitting on a bed of spinach, the single stuffed square of pasta looked simple and small, but it was filling. And divine.

For main course, Orlando ordered a fillet steak and Mena a lamb roast. Both looked and smelled great, and they were happy with their choices. Mena was still talking about hers the next day. I chose pasta again: linguine with a spicy ragu which was much more complex than a matriciana sauce, but I couldn't tell you what was in it. I savoured every mouthful and washed it down with a few glasses of Pizzini sangiovese.

All in all, the experience was fantastic. Even the wait for a table doesn't have to be too bad if you are lucky to get a seat in the back bar.

The European

The European is a bit of a Melbourne institution, and I've loved it ever since I lived here for six months way back in 1998. The long, darkly-lit, wooden interior reminds me of all the best Spanish, Italian and French bars I've eaten in, and it is a great antithesis to the classic Melbourne eateries we are used to.

So Mena and I found ourselves having breakfast there last Friday morning. It was an auspicious date: twenty-six years to the day since she and Lee left Ireland to travel to Australia, and the spring equinox to boot. We were on a bookstore crawl to celebrate Mena's birthday the month before.

We sat in the back near the kitchen hatch, and settled in with two glasses of bone-dry champagne to get us in the mood. The staff are supremely professional, but started off a bit cold but perhaps it was just the time of day. They ended up being lovely.

My eggs benedict was divine, accompanied at my request with some grilled portobello mushrooms. Mena chanced the Croque Madame, worried that she might be disappointed, but she was also delighted. The champagne flowed, as did Mena's long macchiatos and my Earl Grey tea. Our waiter complimented Mena on her "double-beveraging" when she ordered fresh coffee.

Almost two hours and almost a bottle of champagne later, we finally prised ourselves from our table to get on with the bookstore-crawling. We could have stayed there all day, chatting and nibbling. Why can't we start the day with breakfast at the European every day?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Cafe Lalibela

We promised each other we were going to eat locally. Footscray is full of Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, Indian and now African restaurants and canteens. Almost two years in, we have our favourite Chinese (Ha Long), Vietnamese, (Thien An), Thai (Thai Angels), and Indian (Aangan), but we have not savoured any of the African delights on offer within a few minutes of or house.

So this evening we chose Cafe Lalibela, a small local Ethiopian restaurant beloved of the "new white intelligentsia" as one newspaper called them. The two doyens of restaurant culture, The Age's Epicure and Mietta's, herald this little canteen as one of the best in the inner west.

So we presented on a balmy spring Sunday evening, bottle of red wine in hand, ready to be impressed. Most of the tables were taken in the ten-table room, and as far as we could see there was one cook and one server. Unluckily our bottle was a screw-cap, so we waited almost twenty minutes with the wine ready to be poured, but because they hadn't needed to uncork the bottle we were unhappily without glasses.

We ordered quickly, a special chicken "wat" or stew, and a dry-fried beef dish. Both would be accompanied by plain rice as our server advised us they had run out of injera, the traditional Ethiopian bread used to mop up the wat sauces. No problem, we thought. We like rice. There was no choice of starter.

An hour passed. We sat chatting. They seemed to be cooking each table's order as it presented, and there were three tables ahead of us. People came, sat at tables, and left without ordering. Some people came in, sat at tables, went into the kitchen (were they friends of the owner?) and left without ordering. The wine bottle's contents slowly decreased. My hunger increased.

Finally two bowls of plain white rice came out, with two dishes. One was filled with small cubes of the most over-cooked fried beef I have ever seen, garnished with a few strands of blackened fried onion. The other held a very dark brown sauce - this was supposed to be the chicken dish. I rummaged and found a hard-boiled egg and single scrawny chicken drumstick with no more than a mouthful of flesh on it. The rest, as far as my taste buds could tell, was finely chopped onion in a thin gravy.

We ate a few mouthfuls of each, then decided to combine both dishes to extract the best from each. After an hour's wait we cleared our plates, but it was more out of hunger than enjoyment. Fifteen minutes after the food was presented, we were paying and leaving the restaurant.

My challenge will be to present, "Ready, Steady, Cook"-like, a list of ingredients, to see if anybody can come up with anything more palatable than our Sunday evening meal:
  • one scrawny chicken drumstick
  • a large quantity of onion
  • about 400 grams of stewing beef
  • however much white rice you need
  • whatever spices you want

I reckon anybody could some up with a meal more exciting than what we were served at Cafe Lalibela, even for $26. You have been challenged.

Cafe Lalibela, 91 Irving Street, Footscray

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Amo Roma

Nine years ago, in August 1998, I was travelling around Mexico on a Trek America tour with nine or so fellow travellers. One of those fellow travellers was Kaz Kaufman, a Sydneysider, with whom I shared many margaritas under the stars. We remained firm friends, and I was a welcome guest in the home she shared with her partner Phil and dog Renton.

Kaz, incidentally, is allergic to chillies. The merest whiff of one brings her out in blisters. So it was pretty brave of her to travel around Mexico where the words "sin chile" indicate only that the chef should be a little less extravagant with the chillies. It would never dawn on anybody to put NO chilli in anything. Similarly for India and most of the rest of South East Asia, all of which has been extensively traveled by the indomitable Kaz.

So it was this evening that I found myself in in Sydney, meeting Kaz for dinner in Amo Roma, a charming Italian place in the most touristy part of Sydney, the Rocks. You would think it would be a tacky venue, but it was lovely. We sipped salty margaritas in the outdoors dining area on an unusually balmy August (late winter) evening, and put the world to rights.

The staff were simultaneously unobtrusive and attentive, patient with two people more interested in catching up on the gossip than reading the menu. The menu included the standard pasta and pizza fare, plus interesting winter dishes such as slow roasted lamb shanks and chilli-marinated calamari (naturally we didn't order this one). Kaz chose a simple pizza with mozzarella, anchovies and black olives, while I ordered the lasagne. Both were delicious. The wine list was respectable enough, with a number of Italians wines by the glass. I chose a WA Shiraz.

The gas heaters were switched on just before the chill got too much, so there was no rush. We ordered coffees - incredibly smooth Vittoria espresso - before settling the bill, a respectable $104.

By the time we left the place was almost full. For such a tacky part of town most of the diners seemed like locals meeting up after work. Not bad for the Rocks. I will be back.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ballyfermot Resource Centre

The place I grew up in Dublin is a working-class suburb. In my whole time living there, there was never any place you could go to eat out, unless you counted the takeaways or the pubs which sometimes did food at lunchtimes.

In England, even if there are no restaurants you will always find a little cafe where you can pick up breakfast or lunch on the run. Ballyfermot didn't even have this. Until now.

My brother is associated with the Ballyfermot Resource Centre, a place which provides services for the local community like self-help groups, a counselling service, adult education and childcare. It also has a little cafe which offers breakfasts and lunches to the people in the adult education centre upstairs and anybody else who wanders in. They also cater for the local meals on wheels service.

Whilst being shown around by my brother one morning, Theresa the restaurant manager offered me lunch but I couldn't stay. So I popped in another morning for a chat and breakfast. Most people in the cafe at that time of the morning were eating a full Irish breakfast which looked and smelt delicious, but I opted for a toasted bacon sandwich. Well done bacon and well done toast, I said cautiously: there is nothing worse than a limp undercooked bacon butty. Theresa sat down with a healthy bowl of muesli for her breakfast, and Angela the centre manager joined us for a chat.

My mug of tea was scalding hot, and the teabag had been added to the mug at the kettle (the little things one takes for granted in Ireland - most tea in Australia is made with not-quite-boiling water and it shows). My bacon sandwich was perfect: excellent quality Irish bacon well cooked on the grill, and perfectly-done toast. I savoured every mouthful.

Angela and Theresa laughed when I promised them that I would post a review of their cafe online, but here it is. I was only sorry I couldn't stick around for lunch. I shall save that for my next trip.

Avoca Handweavers

The Avoca Handweavers story came into being almost 300 years ago in the tiny Wicklow village of Avoca. In its latest form, owned by Dublin business couple Donald and Hilary Pratt, Avoca has developed into a concept store encompassing homewares, clothing, kitchen shops, gourmet foods, and in-store cooking and baking.

The newest Avoca Handweavers store opened recently in Rathcoole, not far from my mum's home in Dublin. Having already popped into their stores in Dublin city centre and Wicklow's Powerscourt Townhouse, we were interested to see what they had created on our doorstep.

This large concept store has almost equal square footage given to retail space and dining space. Upstairs a large airy self-service cafe offers freshly made soups, hot lunches, breads and patisserie to the well-heeled local residents, as well as busy business people taking a break from their travels. next door a more formal table-service restaurant offers similar fare in more refined surroundings.

The salads are divine. The Mediterranean tomato and vegetable soup almost needs a knife and fork to consume it. The cakes and scones are so large that we had to share one scone between us (and we like scones). The jam is homemade, runny, and intensely flavoured.

Downstairs, we bought some brown scones for my sister's breakfast, and the lady at the check-out gave us a taste of a freshly-baked Bakewell slice. The shelves groaned with gourmet pastas and sauces, marmalades and mustards, nuts and exotic dried fruits. I escaped empty-handed only because of Australia's heavy restrictions on importing food.

I have a feeling that our local Avoca Handweavers will become a fixture in our family outings from now on.

Don Giovannis

Back to my mum's favourite Italian on my last Dublin trip, and the waiters are as charming as ever.

We spoke to John, the owner for the past sixteen years, a charming man who recognised us from the photo on the first posting I made last year. Clearly proud of his domain, he credits his success on excellent chefs and personable staff. I saw him greet many of the diners personally, and people obviously come back here again and again because of the friendly atmosphere as much as for the tasty home-style Italian food.

Mum's steak was perfectly cooked (well, cooked to her liking which is most important), my lasagne was delicious and our home-made soups were a welcome start to a meal on a chilly spring day.

Dining here just days after an expensive (but enjoyable) meal at the Unicorn, I know which one I will be coming back to on my next journey home. See you soon, Don Giovanni!

The Unicorn

The twenty-year anniversary of our graduation from the old UCD Engineering School around the corner was the occasion for a dinner at the Unicorn. Hidden down an alleyway off Merrion Row, the Unicorn was for years my favourite Dublin restaurant. As a student I used to gaze down the alleyway and imagine what it would be like to have the money to eat in a place like that.

A couple of scoops in Doheny and Nesbitts, and six of us arrived for our table at nine o'clock. Naturally, we had to wait at the tiny, cramped bar (the Unicorn doesn't rush you out the door) but we were entertained by a nice bottle of Chianti and a couple of plates of parma ham freshly cut from the specimen on the counter.

The Unicorn's menu looks a bit dated now, and then the waiter told us that there were no prawns. On second glance, the menu was pretty heavy on the prawns and Dublin Bay Prawns. That meant about half the dishes were no longer available. Disappointing. The pasta options were a little obvious - carbonara, amatriciana etc. I found myself struggling to choose something appetising. Finally I opted for the goat's cheese salad to start, followed by saltimbocca, and was not disappointed.

I guess we were focusing more on the conversation than the food, but what I saw around the table was predictable and perfectly edible, but forgettable really. The place was full to bursting, and still has a reputation of a place to see and be seen, but for the price (90 euros a head including wine - that's about $150 Australian) I would be expecting a lot more.

Service was lovely - professional, friendly without being overbearing (except perhaps when he tried to explain to me what parma ham was ) and efficient.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Stir Crazy Thai
Shop 5, 1 Broughton Street, Kirribilli
(02) 9922 6620

Tiny cramped loud canteen-style place serving huge portions of delicious spicy food. BYO alcohol, and don't expect a leisurely pace - you will be handed the bill as soon as the last mouthful off food is eaten. Cheap and well worth the walk across the Harbour Bridge.

Nick's Seafood Restaurant
The Promenade, Cockle Bay Wharf, Sydney
(02) 9264 1212

Nick's at Cockle Bay Wharf is one of half a dozen restaurants in Sydney owned by the same group. The focus here is on fresh seafood. The restaurant is pretty large and can suffer a bit from large family and work parties in the evenings. But there is ample outdoor dinig with views of Darling Harbour (a great place to people-watch) and the service is excellent. The crab ravioli starter is sublime, the seafood chowder is OK but not the most fantastic in the world, the vongole and crab meat pasta is wonderful but filling, and the fresh grilled fish (any fish) is fantastic. I have never eaten anything but seafood here, but they do have other dishes on the menu.

Jordon's Seafood
197 Harbourside, Darling Harbour
(02) 9281 3711

A bit of a Sydney institution, Orlando and I dined here years ago, on the famous three-tiered seafood platter. Last time I tried the bouillabaisse even though my waitress said it was "too big for a female to eat". And it was: an enormous platter of shellfish and other seafood, the centrepiece being a huge steamd crab. Delicious, but don't eat for two days beforehand. The fish and chips here are pretty good too.

Vegetable Meme

Another Outspoken Female from "Confessions of a Food Nazi" tagged me for this meme.

1. Is there a vegetable you hated as a child, but came to love as you got older?

Tomatoes, believe it or not. I couldn’t manage to eat even one slice of the very first pizza I ever ordered because I could not stomach the tomato base on it. I still can’t eat raw tomato (unless marinated in oil and garlic like a bruschetta) but I simply could not live without cooked ones in all their forms.

2. Most underrated vegetable?

Cabbage. My childhood was spent eating overcooked cabbage boiled for hours in bacon or ham water (the traditional Irish way of cooking it) and it was years before I discovered it as the versatile, delicious vegetable it is - cooked or raw.

3. Name one favourite summer vegetable dish.

Tuna Nicoise. Done the cheater’s way with tinned tuna (don’t ask me why, I just prefer it that way). With lots of black olives and new potatoes and green beans and proper cos lettuce (none of your new-fangled rocket or mesclin).

4. And one for winter?

My vegetable curry.

5. What vegetables are in your fridge and freezer right now?

None in fridge. We have been away for the weekend. Baby sweetcorn and garden peas in the freezer. Pathetic.

6. Is there a vegetable you really like but don't make much yourself?

Pumpkin. It seems to be Australia’s national vegetable but we just don’t eat much of it in Ireland/England. I learned to make a good pumpkin soup when I was here years ago on a serious budget, but haven’t touched one since in my own kitchen. Maybe this winter will be a new beginning.

Stir Crazy Thai

Stir Crazy is a tiny loud local Thai place nestled in between about a dozen other eateries in Kirribilli – Thai, Chinese, Japanese, seafood, pasta. They don’t take bookings and the place is tiny. Prospective diners stand around outside on the pavement alongside the open-air diners crouched over their food on stools.

Inside it is cramped and loud; the waitresses waver between friendly and harried but they do their best. But the food was fantastic.

I ordered a vegetarian stir-fry – hot, I told the waitress – and Orlando ordered the chicken and beef stir-fry. They arrived in shallow bowls on banana leaves, steaming hot, incredibly spicy and quite sweet. I devoured mine with a sprinkling of steamed rice.

As soon as we were finished the bill was thrust under Orlando’s nose – no standing on ceremony here. For two huge dishes of food the total was $32. Brilliant value; so much so that we ate there again only two days later.

Mecca Bah

It’s a bit inconvenient going to Mecca Bah on a busy weekend evening, as they don’t take bookings. And Docklands is not the best place to be wandering aimlessly waiting for a phone call from the restaurant after putting your name down.

So we took the opportunity after seeing the matinee show of Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays, to pop down to Mecca Bah early and put our names down for dinner. We weren’t disappointed, and barely had time to sip a G&T in the achingly hip Fix Jamm Room before we were summoned to our waterfront table.

With three out of four at our table seriously watching our weight, we chose carefully (for the most part). Everything being served to the tables around us looked and smelled divine.

I started with boureks, tiny triangular spicy lamb parcels on a bed of fresh yoghurt. I savoured each mouthful and was careful not to overpower the melt-in-your-mouth lamb with too much yoghurt. Others had bastilla, little chicken pastries stuffed with tender chicken fillet, or a dish of tiny falafels. It was a good start.

For the main course two of us had the spicy lamb meatball tagine, one had harissa spiced Turkish pizza, and one a dish of beautifully cooked calamari.

My tagine was rich, spicy, warm, filling and utterly delicious. It was served with a bowl of feather-light couscous but I only needed a spoonful or two to soak up the last of the sauce. Orlando’s Turkish pizza was oblong-shaped like a little boat. It was filled with spicy shredded lamb, and topped with fresh rocket and a drizzle of yoghurt. The calamari was lightly cooked, spicy, and sensational.

There was plenty to watch out on the water as we dined and watched the light fade: we each chose what leisure cruiser we would buy with that elusive lottery win, and wondered what these people do for a living.

Everything was washed down with a generous glass or two of Mountadam Shiraz from the Barossa region.

Mecca Bah, 55a Newquay Promenade, Docklands

(03) 9642 1300

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Yeah Maan

There is only one Caribbean restaurant in Melbourne (well there is a cafe called Babble On Babylon but it is only open in the daytime). It happens to be that our local bus takes us straight there, through the city centre and out the other side, right to the nearest corner. Some friends had warned us that the food was good but the portions were tiny, but we needed to see for ourselves.

And so it was that we took five mates along there one Saturday night to see if it was anything worth talking about.

Yeah Maan is a tiny terraced building, converted from a house, with enough seating for about forty downstairs and another small dining room upstairs. Instead of the expected reggae blasting out, we were delighted to hear some classic soca tunes. We had a reservation but they didn't seem to know anything about that. We were shown to the upstairs room, and although we had explained that it was a reservation for seven people, we were asked to sit at a smaller table until we insisted we needed more room.

Once everybody had arrived we were pretty desperate for a drink - or at least some glasses for our BYO wine. In the end Orlando obliged by going downstairs himself. We thought that might shake up the waitresses, but we waited quite a long time for anybody to come and see if we were OK. It was the girl's first night so she didn't know much, but she was sweet.

Apart from myself and Orlando, we had three people who had only eaten Caribbean food in our house (Mena, Eileen and Kelvin), and two people who had no idea what they were in for (Australian Ida and Italian Viviana). The Trinidadian doubles served up were generous and talked about for days; Mena's Stamp 'n' Go was a huge portion and absolutely divine. Orlando and I both had the Pick Up Salt Fish, which was saltfish mixed with onions, tomato and peppers served on a dumpling. It reminded both of us how much we love saltfish, and I promised to go get some and start cooking it again. Pity we can't get ackee anywhere though...

The chilly janga roti (chilli prawns) were not too hot and spicy, which was probably just as well for the virgins. You could probably ask for them to be made a bit hotter. Kelvin chose the aloo pies, a huge portion of spicy potato balls which were tasty enough but nothing exciting.

The mains were even better. Eileen was served an enormous portion of jerk chicken and cassava fries, which she struggled manfully to consume, but ended up pleading with everybody to finish for her. She said it was lovely, but not as nice as Orlando's (well, you can't get Walkerswood here either).

The curried goat was really lovely, but I forgot to ask for mine to be made hot, so although it was tasty there was no kick to it. Orlando had asked for his hot, but it wasn't much better than mine. The rice and peas were made with small kidney beans (guess what? No gunga peas in Aus...) but it worked fine. Mena scored again with the ginger tamarind chicken which was beautifully seasoned, a good strong kick. The calypso chicken looked good, but even for the virgins it seemed very mildly-flavoured.

The service didn't get any better. We helped ourselves to more napkins, water and fresh glasses from behind our personal minibar in the corner, and raided the other tables for new candles for the table. Even when we wanted the bill, it warranted another trip downstairs. Maybe if we had been seated down with everybody else it might have been better.

Nonetheless, we were not in any hurry and the relaxed vibe certainly didn't ruin the evening. We put the world to rights without fear of annoying other diners with our noise, we finished a few bottles of wine and enjoyed some fine West Indian food. The rumours of small portions were well and truly scotched, and we will definitely come back again for more.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander Winery

A summer's evening in Healesville brought me to the new Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander pizzeria-bistro-artisan bakery on the outskirts of town. It is a modern new complex where you can tour the winemaking facility, try any of their wines, have lunch on the terrace or dinner in the airy restaurant.

I sat at the bar and tried a glass of their chilled rose. The wines are stored in temperature-controlled fridges and the beer casks are in full sight behind glass, rather than hidden in the cellar.

The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, and the restaurant was fully booked for their regular Curry Night that evening.

I am looking forward to coming back to try their Harry's Monster, a huge cabernet/shiraz/merlot/ petit verdot blend retailing at $49 a bottle.

BYO white wine only

Take a look at the conditions applied by this Chinatown restaurant on their BYO policy. I wonder if they are trying to save on laundry bills?

China Bar

It was Chinese New Year and an acquaintance's thirtieth birthday: what better opportunity to try another cheap and cheerful Chinatown eatery. China Bar came recommended by a few people. There are three branches, two in the city and one in Box Hill. We met up with the others at the Russell Street branch, right beside the entertainment stage where Chinese dancers, gymnasts, singers and performers entertained the hundreds of Melburnians who had braved the forty-degree heat to celebrate New Year in style.

China Bar is pretty small. It probably holds about fifty diners when full. Full roasted chickens and ducks are displayed proudly in the window, and above the counter a selection of dishes are displayed in full photographic glory.

We sat down the back with six others at the formica table, and helped ourselves to extra glasses for our BYO wine. Hunger, and the sheer beewilderment of the number of dishes on offer, made choosing an impossibility. Others picked my first choices - Mongolian beef, belly pork, choice of two roasts - and I was reluctant to order the same dish twice for the table. For the first time in my life, I sent the waitress away with no order from me after everybody else had chosen. Finally, somebody suggested that I limit my choice to the Specialities section, and I finally opted for satay beef.

We shared rice, noodles and stir-fried vegetables along with our own personally-chosen dishes. Everything was enormous and delicious.

We thought nothing could have detracted from our evening, until one creepy-crawly was detected on the wall near our table. In the course of the evening four baby cockroaches were seen emerging from the air-conditioning vent on the opposite wall, and making their way over to our table. They were dispatched with the aid of roll-up newspapers, but not before one almost made it into my hair, and one onto the table itself.

Now, a week later, the memory of the delicious food is fading as quickly as the memory of the cockroaches is growing. Despite the amazing food, I'm not sure if I will eat there again.


French chef Jacques Reymond has lived and worked in Melbourne for almost 25 years. His eponymous restaurant in Windsor is one of the top restaurants in the city. A few years ago he opened a new, more casual restaurant in the city's Federation Square, Arintji.

We ate there on a weeknight, and the place was full of after-work functions, birthday dinners, couples and small groups of friends. I arrived first and ordered a glass of Jacques Reymond Selection shiraz, from the Victorian Pyrenees.

The decor is modern and low-key, and you can see clearly into the open-plan kitchen. The menu is described as pan-national or modern Australian in the reviews I have read, but there is a distinct Asian slant to most dishes. Orlando started with croquettes of chorizo, spanish hard cheese and potato aioli and my starter was a warm salad of green beans, olives and feta (alright, these dishes are more Mediterranean but keep reading). Both dishes were very small but perfectly balanced in terms of taste and texture. So far, so good.

The main courses were a mixture of delight and disappointment. My stir fry of pork, shiitake mushrooms, kim chi, water chestnuts and rice drops was divine: a generous bowlful of dark and delicious goodness. Orlando's roast duck noodle salad with ginger, sesame and soy was so small he called the waiter back to enquire whether he had been given a starter portion by mistake. The waiter explained to Orlando that the dish he had ordered as a main was actually from the starters list, and that the noodle salad was the correct size. It was gone in a few delicious mouthfuls - and I had to give him some of my stir fry to keep him from wasting away.
Later we checked the menu online and Orlando's tiny dish was actually listed in the "Mains" section. Admittedly it was one of the cheaper dishes, but at $15 it was neither value for money nor a genuine attempt to satisfy a normal human's hunger pangs.
Lee's scotch fillet was perfectly cooked and amply proportioned, as was Daniel's pork cutlet with piquillo pepper and grape couscous.

The evening ended with three of us satisfied by both the quality and quantity of what we had been served, and one slightly hungry individual who was left wanting more.

Monday, February 12, 2007


A hand-written notice in the window of our local Indian restaurant (I won't embarrass them by naming it) proudly advertised a new takeaway offer:


I wasn't sure if I was reading it incorrectly, in that they would come to your house and serve it to you on a tray, or whether they were in fact offering entrees free (which is what starters are called here).

I also surmised whether they were doing what my friend Denis in Goa did: when choosing a name for his new beach shack, he came up with Stringfellos, spelt incorrectly with no "w" at the end. His rationale was that arrogant British tourists would delight in coming up to him and pointing out his mistake, at which point he would thank them and invite them to sit down for a drink/lunch/whatever. His gift of the gab would take over at this point, and they would be persuaded to stay at his shack for the rest of their holiday and spend all their beach money there.

You would be amazed at the number of people this worked on...

Anyhoo, the day I stopped my car to take a photo of the aforementioned offending notice, they had discreetly changed the word to "entree".

Now you will never believe me.

Cafe Barcelona

It was the St. Kilda Festival this weekend. We popped in to BarCelona on Fitzroy Street early on Sunday evening to excape the crowds, the heat and the hurricane-force wind that had caught us in a dried-grass-storm... and got ripped off.

We should have known when we asked for a jug of water as soon as we sat down, and were told we couldn't have one. Large bottles of still or sparking water only today. We opted for the sangria, and were charged $28 compared to the standard menu price of $24.

Strangely, as soon as our two companions had ordered their food, the waitress disappeared so quickly that our calls for her to return went unnoticed. I wonder what she thought we two were going to eat?

Our companions ordered a platter of antipasto-type food for two at $20, and it was measly. The calamari, mussels, chicken wings, beef skewers and leak and parmesan croquetas were perfectly fine in fairness, but the food came out in dribs and drabs, and even our attempts to be given cutlery and napkins went unheard.

At $96 for four people, it was not value for money. And I'm sure it's illegal to refuse to serve tap water, regardless of whether you charge for it or not?

I've eaten at BarCelona before, and enjoyed it, but I won't be returning.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mairead's vegetable curry

POINTS® Value: 2
Servings: 4

A tasty filling dinner - serve with boiled rice (rown is best).

Use whatever vegetables you like, but the chickpea/spinach combination is particularly good. The instant coffee is used to cancel out some of the sweetness of the vegetables, especially the tinned tomatoes. Add cooked potato and/or chicken if you wish, but don't forget to count the extra points.

1 medium onion
400 g canned chickpeas
200 g mushroom
400 g canned tomatoes
1 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 medium head of cauliflower
3 cloves garlic
1 whole fresh red chilli
1 tsp chilli powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
150 g frozen spinach
2 tsp instant coffee

Fry onion and garlic and chilli
Add rest of vegetables and cook for 3-4 minutes
Add rest of ingredients
Simmer for an hour

(tastes better made the day before!)

Gourmet City

We have a date tonight with Lee and her boyfriend. Easy - two serious food-lovers in a city full to bursting with amazing places to eat.

So why did it take us over two days to finalise the venue?

Melbourne is a foodies' paradise. Both Lee and I started obsessively looking for places in the central business district we'd like to visit. We traded possible lists, avoiding seafood (they ate last night) or Italian (my WeightWatchers meeting is tomorrow). We couldn't come to a landing.

After the first day, we both started making phone calls to get tables at some places we fancied. Lee called Melbourne Supper Club: full. Then she tried Movida: also full. What's going on in Melbourne on a Tuesday evening?

By mid-afternoon today we were four hours from meeting up, and miles from agreeing where. We were browsing Miettas and the Age Epicure sites for inspiration. It was a bit like being brought to the best shoe shop in the world with no notice, and told to pick one pair of shoes: impossible without serious soul-searching.

In the end I called it. I booked a table for four at Arintji, Jacques Reymond's place at Federation Square. Lee phoned expressing relief that somebody had decided on something.

Kid in a candy store...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

WBW#30 - the verdict

WBW this month was right up my alley. Living in Victoria, Australia, I am surrounded by more shiraz wineries than I know what to do with. Luckily, I had just stocked up on two of my favourites just before WBW#30 was announced.

A girls’ night in at Glenda’s house was just the venue for our tasting. We had three bottles to hand:

Paulett’s Polish Valley Shiraz 2001 (Clare Valley, South Australia) – one of Noela’s favourite drops
Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2003 (Grampians, Victoria)
Candlebark Hill Shiraz 2005 (Macedon Ranges, Victoria) – my favourite

We started with the Mount Langi. This is the affordable shiraz in the winery’s range, and it is a classic shiraz, all berries and pepper (other tasting notes refer to coffee flavours but I didn’t get that). The grapes for the Cliff Edge wines are selected from local small producers with younger vines, who do things by hand. While 2003 was a late vintage in that region, Mount Langi Ghiran was one of the last to harvest, and it shows.

The result is a smooth, classic Shiraz with the signature spiciness/pepperiness so often found in Grampians wines.

Our second bottle was the Paulett’s Polish Valley Shiraz 2001. It followed on well from the Mount Langi, and the few extra years in bottle were apparent: a really smooth red. Lots of fruit flavours, less spicy than the Mount Langi but more loaded with tannins. I liked it.

Our final bottle was my local hero, the Candlebark Hill Shiraz 2005. I love this little winery in the Macedon Ranges – it is one of the closest wineries to our house, and I buy direct from the winery owner, David, at Victoria Market. They say that the Macedon Ranges is at the “sharp end” of cool-climate viticulture, but it turns out the soils of the northern Macedon Ranges is perfect for cool-climate shiraz. And Candlebark Hill is a classic example.

I brought some of this wine home to Ireland last year. My brother opened his two bottles on Christmas Day, and subsequently told me it was the best wine he had ever tasted (and he has drunk his share of shiraz). This wine is rich, full-bodied, and almost assaults your taste buds from the first mouthful. After the highly-regarded 2001 Paulett’s one might have expected to miss the nuances, but Noela’s first sip stopped her in her tracks. The Candlebark Hill shiraz may not be long past bottle-shock, but it displays an unexpected maturity and roundness of flavour that is hard to beat. It’s what brings me back to this boutique winery again and again: they have not let me down for six or seven years now.

They make pretty delicious muscats and tokays too, but that’s for another WBW…

Next evening we continued our WBW weekend (as it was turning out to be) at our local Thai restaurant with our mates Sam and Amanda. Sam had brought along another favourite of mine, Pepperjack Shiraz. Pepperjack is a stalwart of the Barossa Valley area in South Australia, taking its grapes from fairly old vines in the Barossa and Eden valleys. It is another firm favourite of mine. It is a beautiful ruby red in colour and never fails to impress. Another classic shiraz with plenty of plummy fruits and spices, and maybe a touch of liquorice. Pepperjack is consistent and elegant and will always have a place on my wine rack.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

WBW#30 kicks off

Winecast is hosting this month's WBW, which is on the wonderful topic of New World Shiraz. Now, this is a topic I can really run with.

I already have a girls' night out lined up for Friday night, and I happen to two have to fantastic local Shirazes to hand, so it is looking good.

The first is my old favourite Candlebark Hill from the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne. We will be trying the 2005 vintage which has already been drinking quite well. I stocked up at the Queen Vic night market the other night, served by the owner himself, David.

The second is a new favourite of mine, the affordable shiraz label from Mount Langi Ghiran in the Grampians region north-west of Melbourne (we also love their main label shiraz but at $55 a bottle it's certainly a special occasion drink). We passed the winery on the way home from a trip to the mountains last weekend and I picked up a few bottles of their 2003 Cliff Edge shiraz. Arlene and I had a bottle of this at Stokehouse the other night and it's gorgeous.

Read the official tasting notes here next week! If you want to participate, simply head over to Winecast and read the rules, then either send your tasting notes to him directly, or I'll be happy to post your opinions here on FUOB.