Wednesday, October 14, 2009


62 NewQuay Promenade, Docklands, VIC

A night out with some colleagues, two of whom don't eat glutens and one of whom doesn't eat seafood, meant that the Melbourne defaults of Italian or seafood were out. Greek it was.

It started well. Very well. Friendly staff, prompt wine service, lovely dips and bread. The conversation flowed, we perused the menu. The blokes went for large plates of meat of the souvlaki-sans-bread kind, and the girls shared mezze. Meatballs: gorgeous, done in a sundried tomato saucey thing. Cabbage salad: so good we ordered it twice. Lemonade potatoes: ditto. Grilled calamari: came in a complete grilled body, amazingly tender, perfectly grilled. Apparently the secret is to marinate in kiwi fruit beforehand. It went on and on.

Then we asked for the bill. Seven people, $50 each. No problem. Two of us remarked on the difference between the UK and Australia, in that you had to carry more cash than usual in Australia because of weird restaurants rules and the non-global acceptance of cards. It turned out, it was true of this restaurant. Three of us had cards, four had cash. The waitress did not know how to put through more than one card, and insisted that the only option we had was for at least two of the card-holders to take a ten-minute return trip to the nearest ATM in a howling gale on a windy horrible night (and one of them didn't have a coat). Luckily I had cash myself (but only because I had found $25 in my coat pocket). The others. the ones with only cards, were ropable.

We paid and left. Despite the good food, the old-fashioned approach to bill-paying will prevent me from going there again. Who carries that much cash around with them?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pinot Week dinner at Montalto

With our own little slice of Burgundy on the doorstep, it seemed churlish not to get involved in the Mornington Peninsula's Pinot Week this week.

Eileen organised tickets for the Montalto event - an afternoon of tastings at three of Halliday's five-star-rated pinot wineries, followed by a gala dinner at Montalto itself. The weather held: a beautiful sunny (but brisk) afternoon spent wandering through sprouting vines is no bad way to go.

First winery was Scorpo (not Scorpio) winery, where we tried barrel samples from this year's vintage and got a sneak preview of the 2008 vintage. I even went as far as to try the Chardonnays on offer, which as most of you will know, is a miracle for me.

Off on the bus to Prancing Horse Estate, who practise organic and bio-dynamic viticulture. We sat in their beautiful house (about 30 of us) sampling their locally-produced pinot and comparing it to their very own Premier Cru Burgundy whilst Sergio explained the origins and basis of bio-dynamics. A huge platter of gooey cheese perfected the experience.

Back at Montalto as the sun - and warmth of the day - started to fade, we stood in the piazza under gas heaters whilst owner John Mitchell and his chief winemaker Robin took us through three 2009 barrel samples from three different blocks, explaining how clone types and aspect differences make for such varying wines despite their close proximity to each other.

Sipping a glass of bubbly and downing oysters, sushi and tempura, we watched the light fade over the vines and olive groves before dinner was served. Interesting flavours abounded, including my personal favourite of wild hare ravioli served in a pinot and chocolate sauce. Sounds odd, but it really worked. We sampled six more pinots from 2001 upwards, and put the world to rights with Eileen and Kelvin.

A long drive home (thanks Orlando) meant a 2am end to the day, but a great start to spring.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Eileen's Quick Bouillabaisse

Serves 4
WeightWatchers: 4.5 points per serve
Prep: 10-15 mins
Cooking: 10 mins

Saffron threads ½ tsp
Leek 1 finely sliced
Potato 1 (120g) cut into 1com cubles
Chicken stock 1 litre (4 cups)
Diced Italian tomatoes 800g can
Lemon juice 2 tbs
Seafood marinara mix 750g
Mussels 12, cleaned
Flat-leaf parsley 1/3 cup roughly chopped
Fresh red chilli (optional) 1 red finely chopped

Combine saffron and 1 tbs hot water in a small bowl. Stand for 5 mins.

Spray a large deep non-stick saucepan with oil and place over medium heat. Add leek and potato. Cook, stirring for 3 mins or until softened. Increase heat to high.

Add saffron, stock, tomatoes and lemon juice. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes to infuse the flavours.

Add marinara mix (you might want to separate out the different types of seafood and add them according to how long you want them to cook). Last, place mussels on top of bouillabaisse. Return to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered for 3 mins or until mussels open. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into deep bowls and sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

Monday, June 15, 2009

things I learned from my masseur

Paul is a remedial masseur who works in Peppers Mineral Spa in Hepburn Springs, the heart of spa country here in Victoria. He is a refreshing change to those twenty-something beauty therapists who cannot work in a silent room, thus resorting to whale music, Enya or stilted conversation to make themselves more comfortable. Paul, happily, is content with no mood music, and when he does speak he is more likely than not to come out with an interesting fact or story, not "Been on holidays recently?" like a bored hairdresser.

And so, you might be wondering why this post is being added to a food blog. Well, I learned a few fascinating fun facts from Paul last week about the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who (as we all know) founded the Epicureanism system of philosophy.

Now I, like many others I suspect, would define an Epicurean as a gourmet, a person concerned with fine food and drink, or refined sensuous enjoyment. And from this I would deduce that Epicureanism was related in some way to Hedonism. Which is true.

However, Epicureanism is based more on the philosophy that the "greatest good" is to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear. Over-indulgence, in fact, was frowned upon, as it could lead to dissatisfaction later, such as the grim realisation that one could not afford such delicacies in the future.

So, Epicurus actually promoted a simple life and not an indulgent one. He believed that the person with whom you eat is of greater importance than what is eaten.

Therefore, as those who know him can testify, Orlando fits the description of an Epicurean better than I do myself. Who knew?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

bok choy tang

Federation Square, Melbourne

Dinner for thirteen is a challenge, so the group takes turns every six weeks choosing a restaurant. Orlando - unsurprisingly - chose a posh Chinese. We had been to Bok Choy Tang before, late last summer on a stormy night. Our memories of the food and the service were good.

I was last to arrive to a rowdy table. The waiter was busy trying to take our order, so I had about two minutes to choose. We had all decided to order individually so the waiter advised that all of our food would not come out together. Why not? If this was any other type of restaurant we would all be served more or less at the same time.

I chose the pork dumplings, given that this is a Northern Chinese restaurant, and Orlando chose the duck pancakes. The pancakes were strange: they came to the table in a woven basket, already made up and then deep fried. A bit pub-food-looking. They had a crisp coating reminiscent of those "southern-fried" oven chips you can buy. They tasted fine but you could not really taste the duck, or any of the complex flavours you expect from duck pancakes. My dumplings were perfectly cooked and of a decent size, although there were only three of them. No dipping sauce however - I had to steal some of Orlando's sweet chilli sauce which is not what you want for your dumplings.

I went with something nice and reliable for main course. I have great memories of delicious Szechuan chicken from our journey through China, and this was the taste I was looking for: perfectly fried chunks of chicken with plenty of dried chillies and onion. It came out exactly as I wanted, and a generous portion too.

About half of us got served at the same time, whilst the rest waited. Orlando, Nat and Craig had to chase their food a couple of times, and the waiter looked pretty perplexed. I reckon there had been a mix-up because they had ordered dishes that others had already been served. Finally Nat and Craig got their food but Orlando was still waiting. Most people had finished eating when his steamed chilli barramundi came out.

After all that waiting, his dish was a disappointment. There was no chilli at all on the fish, just a generous coating of diced red capsicum. Although steamed to perfection and filleted by the waiter at the table, it had little flavour.

The other small gripe was that the rice was served in very small individual bowls, so if you wanted more you had to order it again. Given the time it took to get served, this was not really an attractive proposition. I could have done with more myself.

Strangely, we were not given bowls to eat from, but small flat dishes with a vertical side much like a small flan dish. No good at all for eating with chopticks. I ended up eating from my tiny rice bowl which was difficult given the size.

Most people were happy with their orders, and the bill at $56 per head was excellent value given the amount of alcohol consumed. However I would not recommend Bok Choy Tang for a large table of diners again. Best to go in a smaller group so that you can be sure of better service.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

colmao flamenco

60 Johnston Street Fitzroy

With one gluten-free dining companion and another that doesn't eat anything that swims, where does one go for dinner? Not Italian. Not seafood. Not Thai: we had that the week before. I know, I thought: tapas and a nice bottle of Spanish red. Perfect for an unseasonably cold April night.

Our original destination on Johnston Street was the bar next door. Kanela looked inviting enough until I realised that it was the very bar upon which I had danced - sober - on a birthday night out years ago. I am not sure if I thought somebody in there would recognise me, with more than ten years gone by and a good 10kg piled on. Anyway, it did not seem right so we headed to Colmao.

We were greeted by a friendly face, white starched tablecloths and a neighbouring table of Spanish people: a family celebrating a birthday. Promising. I was delighted to see one of my favourite Spanish wines on the list. The 2001 Pata Negra Valdepeñas was not as divine as the 1991 Gran Reserva, but it was still fabulous: a welcome change from an Australian wine.

We ate. A lot. It was all finger-licking delicious: well, except for the tortilla which should be the best bit but was a bit tired-looking and - dare I say - microwaved? The patatas bravas were crinkle-cut and perfectly cooked. The capsicum-laden spicy sauce was not for me but I bravely ate around it.

The garlic prawns were garlicky and full of chilli. The albondigas were firm in a lovey tomatoey sauce. The Champinoñes Maytip, sautéed in oregano, olive oil and white wine, were new to me but full of flavour. The chorizo was braised in tomato, onion, garlic and white wine. The baby octopus was delivered in a clay pot in a rich caramelised sauce full of green peas. To die for.

We ordered more albondigas, more garlic prawns. We knew we would be hell to sit beside next morning but to hell with it.

We ordered another bottle of Pata Negra. Silly not to.

In the end, full to pussy's bow and with Swine Flu seriously warded off with all that garlic, we gave up. Well, what I mean is that I ordered flan and we shared it. However, after all that red wine I am afraid I cannot really remember if it was good or not.

On some nights at Colmao they have a flamenco singer and guitarist. Must go back for that and some more of those garlic prawns.

bistro vite

Southgate, Melbourne

I will admit the main criterion for choosing a place for dinner this night was location. We had tickets to see The Bar at Bueno Vista in Hamer Hall, and we needed to be close. Eliminating all the Italian places that would have been higher on my list to accommodate Orlando, this was what was left.

At least it was cosy. There were people dining outside, and whilst it had been a pleasant day, it was pretty chilly when the sun went down. The wait staff were nice enough but absentminded. The maitre d', I have to say, was aloof.

Starters were a mixed bag. Orlando's smoked salmon salad was decently-proportioned, and Kelvin's zucchini souffle looked good enough, but not much like a souffle. Our French onion soup was tasteless. We tried some salt, and then Eileen went searching for black pepper. Neither improved the taste of this blandness. A bowl of hot beef Oxo would have been nicer.

Two roast ducks and two steak frites came next. The duck was nice enough, Eileen and Kelvin said, but the skin - the best part of course - was limp and not at all well-cooked. Our steaks were generous but less than average. I left the last one-third of mine because I couldn't get through the gristle. The French fries were nice I have to say: a huge bed of them with the juices of the steak mingling with the tiny amount of garlic butter I had allowed to melt before I took it off the plate.

All in all, a pedestrian meal. I would not be lining up to dine in Bistro Vite again.

Monday, April 27, 2009

namaste indian

225 King Street Melbourne

A "last supper" with friends before their trip to London required traditional English food. A curry was in order. I'd eaten at Namaste Indian on King Street about a year ago, and remembered the food as being predictable but tasty. I booked to visit again.

On a chilly Friday evening the restaurant was almost empty, although quite a few tables filled up whilst we were there. Sadly with so many empty tables to choose from the second group to arrive were sat right beside us. They turned out to be an exuberant and loud (but good-natured) bunch of blokes out for a curry after a few beers. It meant we could hardly hear ourselves speak for the duration of the meal, as we looked longingly at quieter tables on the other side of the restaurant.

We had an inauspicious start when the first bottle of wine I ordered was not available. With such little choice to start with, I ended up with a distinctly average bottle of Hunter Valley cabernet sauvignon, whilst Orlando made do with nothing as they had no sparkling wines whatsoever available. The menu also appeared much more limited than I imagined: the menu listed on the website is from their Bundoora restaurant and that is more like what I remembered. The menu we had to choose from was severely limited.

Our starters arrived piecemeal, with Chris waiting an age for some mashed potato patties stuffed with spiced mince. Orlando's tandoori mixed grill looked appetising and generous, whilst my fish tikka was a miserly three tiny pieces seasoned badly. Robyn's tandoori mushrooms looked miserable: they were undercooked with a dark-coloured seasoning on them which did not look at all tandoori-like. Hmm.

The main courses fared a little better. The naan bread was fine and the beef and lamb vindaloos were perfectly edible but not amazing. Robyn and Chris' twin Namaste chicken curries were tasty enough, but again left me a little cold. I could have prepared better myself at home.

Afterwards, at least two of us felt a little ill and continued to do so for at least a day. Not sure if we ate something that didn't agree with us, but I won't be recommending Namaste in a hurry.

Friday, March 27, 2009

maldini hobart

47 Salamanca Place Hobart

Dinner with colleagues in Hobart led us on a quiet Tuesday night to Salamanca Place. Usually buzzing at the weekend, most places were still doing a fairly brisk business in the early evening, but we chose the one with most diners in.

With a good view of the open kitchen and some friendly wait staff, we settled in for the evening. The frequently opening main door proved a little chilly at times but there were no other seating options. Plenty of wines by the glass was a help to the white wine drinkers, and Don and I chose a nice Rufus Stone shiraz to warm us up.

The bruschetta we ordered to share for starters were lovely - lots of flavour and fresh. I hardly ever order risotto in a restaurant but I couldn't go past the chicken risotto: it was hearty, flavoursome and generous in size. I ate slowly and enjoyed every mouthful. Julie's wallaby looked lovely and she attested to its tenderness.

With a bill of $210 in total, I am not sure it was great value despite the fact that the food was very good. The wine was $50 in total so that is $40 a head for four people. Nothing to complain about but given we only had two bruschetta to share for starters, it seems a little steep. Nonetheless, a pleasant dining experience overall.

st. jude's cellars

389-391 Brusnwick Street Fitzroy

A frantic dash across the Tasman Sea from Hobart saw me arriving late on Brunswick Street for a major catch-up and gossip session with my best friend Eileen.

St. Jude's Cellars is a canteen-like funky space with a cage full of wine that you can choose from and drink at your table or take away. We sat at a cosy table for two and the maitre d' hid my luggage away in the manager's office out of the way.

A glass of The Story shiraz soothed my frequent flyer worries away. After an epic month of flying to every corner of Australia, this had been the final trip and I could feel myself winding down as I sipped at my generous glassful.

The ham hock terrine we both ordered to start was lovely - it almost tasted like "proper" Irish ham (which is cured in brine rather than smoked as is the Aussie way), although there was a little too much aspic for my liking.

My rabbit pie was perfect for a late summer evening - full of flavour and goodness. Eileen's lamb special was three different cuts of lamb on the one plate - a huge serving and all delicious.

Service was attentive and friendly, the food obviously well-chosen from the best ingredients. The menu advised that the jams and chutneys were sourced from the local primary school - now that's fresh and local taken to the extreme!

I sense this place will become a well-worn favourite especially over the winter months with such hearty food and such a warm welcome.

Friday, March 20, 2009

le parisien geelong

15 Eastern Beach Road Geelong

A long lingering lunch with my sister Mena was in order. We had much to catch up on. we headed to Mena's favourite place on a breezy Sunday afternoon, to sit by the water and graze the afternoon away.

I was feeling really ill, with a chest infection picked up in Perth just not going away. I kicked off with two paracetamol and a full-fat Coke to get the heart going, quickly followed by a nice glass (or two) of Austin shiraz - a local red. I was starting to enjoy this.

We both chose the seafood chowder to start, and we were not disappointed. This is one of my favourite soups and it is rare to get a good one anywhere I find. By the time I had soldiered through mine I was feeling much better and wondering how I could fit my main course in.

The waiter had taken a shine to me so our service was impeccable. The owner, a grand-sized Frenchman, also took time to visit each table and chat with the lunchtime crowd. It was a nice vibe and we really felt at home sitting at the window. There was no rush.

An elderly lady came in to lunch alone, nicely dressed up in a navy blue suit complete with hat. Perhaps she had been to church that morning. It seemed to me that she was a regular - maybe she had a favourite dish she had every week. She stayed about an hour and then walked briskly on home along the waterfront in the wind. I want to be like her when I am that age.

My fillet steak Cafe de Paris was huge: topped with sauteed mushrooms, bacon, onions and garlic butter it was a heart attack on a plate but I dug in and mopped up the sauce with chat potatoes. We tried to ignore the complimentary French fries on the table but failed dismally. My defence is that I did my sore throat good with all that salt.

How we managed to leave I do not know. We sat for over four hours putting the world to rights, sipping on our wine and finishing off with a couple of good quality lattes before facing the long drive home. It was comfort food at its best, and a location probably best enjoyed in the autumn or winter months when you want cosiness with your lunch.

At $202 the bill was not cheap, but I can see why it is Mena's favourite and I will find an excuse to accompany her there again!

pee wee's at the point

Alec Fong Lim Drive, East Point Reserve, Darwin

After a full day out exploring the beautiful Litchfield National Park near Darwin, my plans to experience a spectacular sunset over the ocean were scuttled when I had a blow-out on my 4WD in the middle of nowhere. Luckily I still had a faint signal on one mobile phone (how I wished I'd borrowed a satphone from work though) and RAC were soon on their way to help.

Hurtling back to Darwin I could see the sun disappearing fast and I knew my dreams of sipping a glass of wine whilst enjoying the sun melt into the water were gone. Nonetheless, hungry and worried that all the restaurants would be shut by the time I got back to the hotel for a shower, I headed for my original destination, Pee Wee's at the Point.

The sky was almost dark by the time I got there and I could see the lights of Darwin lighting up across the bay. I could imagine how beautiful it would have been an hour earlier. Friendly wait staff showed me to a table with the best night-time view and I settled back with a glass of Henry's 7 shiraz viognier from SA. The wine list was pretty good with lots to choose from by the glass including sparkling shiraz (must remember this for Orlando).

My starter was a single bug tail raviolo with lemon thyme and a tomato confit. It looked innocuous enough but it was divine: I was almost full afterwards.

Having been recommended to eat all the barramundi I could in NT, I chose a pan roasted crispy skin barramundi fillet, marinated in green spice paste, with coral Enoki mushrooms, asparagus, a crispy mudcrab potato cake and sea urchin butter. Couldn't actually tell there was real sea urchin in the butter, but nonetheless the whole dish was fabulous - well balanced, beautifully presented and the fish was falling apart with freshness. The tiny rectangular potato cakes looked innocuous enough: delicious and full of flavour, but very heavy. Despite myself I could not finish them. I am not sure they "went" with the rest of the dish - maybe more of a dumpling idea would have been preferable.

Sitting back with a pot of peppermint tea I could imagine why this is one of the favourite dining spots of Darwin. I will certainly make plans to get here in time for sunset next time I am in town.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

darwin trailer boat club

Atkins Drive, Fannie Bay, Darwin

It's not the most sophisticated dining destination in Darwin, but by god it must have one of the best locations. The Darwin Trailer Boat Club is just a local boating club, with a simple bistro menu at excellent prices. You place your order with the lovely Dan at the cash register in the corner, wait until your number is called then go up and collect your dinner and fill up on salad and vegetables at the self-service counter. Nothing complicated, just good home-cooked food.

We got there in plenty of time for the sunset and sat outside at a trestle table in awe of the spectacular view across Fannie Bay. We could see already that it was going to be an amazing sunset. We bought a bottle of red (served chilled in true NT style), ordered our food and sat back to watch the show.

As the colours changed and the sun hung low in the sky on one of the most perfect St. Patrick's Days I have ever had, we sipped our chilled shiraz and counted our blessings on having been sent here to work.

We were called for our dinner and I filled my plate with extra vegetables. It wasn't gourmet food but with those views it was a perfect end to a perfect evening. Not even the Crocodile Warning on the steps down to the beach could dim my mood.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Red Cross coffee snaps

Our colleague Amanda brought a fresh batch of these amazing biscuits in every morning, a gift from her daughter who kept us stocked up throughout the worst of the workload.

If you use this recipe, please make a donation to the Australian Red Cross Bushfire Appeal - every penny counts!

125g butter, softened, chopped
275g brown sugar
2 tbsp ground coffee
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
110g plain flour
110g self-raising flour

Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan forced.
Beat butter, sugar, vanilla and coffee until lightened and fluffy.
Add egg; beat until just combined.
Stir in sifted flours.
Roll teaspoons of mixture into balls; place on baking paper covered trays.
Bake for 10 minutes, stand on trays for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool.

Friday, February 27, 2009

fiddling while Rome burns

The Strand, Williamstown

It turns out I have a day off on Friday, a day with an extreme fire danger. Needing to go out into the fresh air rather than sit inside, despite the high temperatures, I head to Williamstown.

The Strand restaurant overlooks the marina and the city. On a Friday lunchtime it is quiet enough, with only two of the terrace tables occupied. I sit at the table with the best view and the further position from the crying baby, and settle in with my new copy of Vanity Fair.

The menu is short but appetising. An array of seafood, fresh pasta and steak proves difficult to choose from. I struggle to choose between a tiger prawn and rocket risotto and a seafood curry. The seafood curry wins out.

My starter, a Greek salad, is chunky and delicious, with just the right amount of olive oil and oregano but sadly missing the red onion promised on the menu. There could be a lot more feta cheese - two chunks is miserly even without considering the price.

The seafood curry, strangely, is served with risoni instead of rice, a bit like a bouillabaisse. I am put off momentarily but the dish wins out in the end. I scoop up tiger prawns, lumps of white fish, freshly steamed mussels and the odd scallop all swimming in a hot coconutty red curry gravy. It lasts an age.

Across the road a young man lets his girlfriend have a try on his shiny new motorbike. She wobbles wildly and he stops her before she topples over. Undeterred, she tries again, swerving madly behind some grasses which obscure her inevitable downfall. I, and the people at the table beside me, stop eating to watch the spectacle. The young bloke runs towards the girl, alarmed. We can't see the motorbike but can just about see the sun glinting off the top of her helmet as she sits, no doubt despondent, in the shrubbery. Moments later, he has the motorbike back on its wheels. He caresses it fondly. No sign of giving the girl a hand up. Both tables wail as a stationery van parks in front of us momentarily, blocking our view. You couldn't pay for this quality of live entertainment over lunch.

I finish my glass of Wild Duck Creek shiraz malbec and gaze across the city. The haze is partially from the weather and partially from the fires still going across the state, many today quite close to the city. My colleagues are watching the Country Fire Association fire list grow and deploying volunteers to where the people are congregating. Like Nero I sit and do what I do to relax. Today is not my day.

At just over $70, my two course lunch with wine was worth it. Discreet and friendly service, perfect setting, excellent food (notwithstanding my lack of red onion - I like red onion). I will be back for dinner some evening.

the traditional Irish-Australian barbecue

Take one Irish-Australian woman, a warm summer's evening, a pleasant bottle of 2000 Langhorne Creek shiraz, some sausages made by an Irish butcher in Sydney, a freshly-made Greek salad and a couple of steaks, and what do you get?

The perfect Thursday evening.

Monday, February 23, 2009

wbw #54 - a passion for Piedmont

It was all planned. Our monthly Wednesday-night catch-up fell on 18 February and we were good to go. Down to the City Wine Shop was the plan, browse the shelves, enlist the help of the staff to find ourselves a good Piedmontese wine, sit at the bar or outside overlooking Parliament, put the world to rights, and do our selected bottle proud.

Then, on 7 February, our world changed utterly. As the bushfires raged all around Melbourne, we got to work and didn't look back. WBW, in fact everything else in life, took a back seat. We worked fourteen hours a day, fell into bed, did it all again the next morning.

Ten days in one of us saw the diary entry reminding us of our original date. We were still swamped in Red Cross operations but decided to make our best effort to meet that night for a few hours of normality amidst the madness.

City Wine Shop was too ambitious an objective: too far away even though it is only a couple of miles. We needed somewhere closer to the office.

In the end, we grabbed a couple of hours at a local restaurant, Rubicon, on Errol Street. It has recently changed hands and the food was average at best but we didn't care.

Piedmontese wine was not in evidence on the limited wine list. No matter. We chose an old reliable, a bottle of 2006 Buckshot from Heathcote - nothing in common with the Piedmont region but the best we could do. That winery would have faced its own problems on 7 February. Much of Victoria's wine industry has been seriously affected, with vineyards gone up in flames and a lot of what is left shrivelled in the intense heat.

We sat quietly and raised our glasses, to each other, to those much more deeply affected than us, to the future.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

yarra valley after the fires

I had reason to travel to Healesville and Yarra Glen this week, ten days after the worst bushfires in Australian history hit.

Read more here.

We all want to help, so what should we do? Go there. Have a coffee. Go for lunch. Taste some wine. Buy something. Tell your friends.

We love our Victorian wines and our country towns. Now is the time to support them.

If we all promise to make at least one trip to a bushfire-affected town sometime between now and Anzac Day, spend some time and spend some money, maybe some of the local businesses will survive and life will be better for all of us.

Make your plan. It's not a stay-or-go plan. It's a Go Plan.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

weird food in tins

Check out this photo album of weird food in tins. There were others in the photos I received that I didn't think were too weird - like haggis and crocodile green curry (which I have eaten and is lovely... if prepared fresh and not eaten from a tin!).

mmmm tasty

Friday, January 16, 2009

you'll never miss another post again

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Station Hotel

Station Hotel
59 Napier Street Footscray

Adam and I ventured into the inner west for dinner tonight. A convenient fifteen minute walk from my house turned out to be more like half an hour, so I was late for our date and I found Adam outside on the pavement. The bar at the Station is still a bit of a standard suburban Melbourne hotel, and a little less fragrant than the boy is used to... I concurred when I wandered in, I have to say. I would not have been too relaxed sipping a nice glass of red at the bar by myself.

Undeterred, we presented ourselves at the dining room which upon first glance appeared a little crowded, a little noisy, a little lacking in atmosphere. We are usually more interested in the gossip and the wine than the food, but we both noticed it. A glass of 2004 McLaren Vale Brini shiraz grenache soothed us as we perused the menu: heavy on the steaks, and to my alarm very heavy on the seafood as starters. Adam does not do fish. Ever.

He reassured me that he would not starve, and we both chose soup for starter: mine a provencal fish soup and his a traditional French onion soup. Both were excellent.

Our charming Mancunian waiter took us through the complexities of a menu with no less than eight steaks on there. The provenance of each was listed along with where it was farmed, what it was fed, and the length of time it was aged. The only thing we were not privy to was the beast's name.

Eventually we both settled upon the same thing: a 250g Sher Wagyu (Victoria) 450 day grain fed wagyu rostbiff. This means it comes from a cow from a particular breed which has been fed on a special grain diet for at least 450 days. A rostbiff cut is part of the rump - the rump without the cap, if that means anything to you.

For the uninitiated, wagyu beef is from a breed of cattle that is genetically predisposed to intense marbling of the flesh, giving the steak an incredible tenderness and flavour. I had never eaten one until tonight.

Our steaks were served simply, with a generous green salad, some chunky chips and some bearnaise and pepper sauces on the side. They did not disappoint. Without exception I can say this this was simply the best steak I have ever eaten. Adam reckoned a steak he'd been served in Chicago some months earlier came pretty close, but he was deeply impressed too.

We ate slowly, carefully. I put my knife and fork down after every second mouthful. This was a meal not to be rushed.

After carefully enjoying every morsel, we were tempted by dessert. My bread and butter pudding was feted as one of the best desserts in Melbourne: it was very good, but not the best I've had. Adam's dessert special of pannacotta, berry compote and blood orange sorbet went down a treat. Again, he savoured every mouthful, and declared it the best dessert he had ever had. The strange tiny red berry-type things in his compote we could not identify until the waiter explained that it was sago.

Food aside, the decor of the restaurant area was fine, but the layout of the tables was a little institutional. It needs something to break up the monotony of three simple columns of tables, and maybe make things a bit more intimate at least in places. Some more comfortable seating would also be welcomed. Both us had numb backsides after the first hour.

Not bad for a simple straightforward suburban hotel, even if the new owner used to be the executive chef at the Botanical. If they could just make the bar more welcoming to diners before and after dinner, they will really be onto a winner.
Nevertheless, I am delighted such excellent steaks are being served so close to home. This will become a regular haunt, no doubt.

Monday, January 12, 2009

new year's resolution

You know my theory: never make a resolution you won’t want to keep.

In years gone past I have come up with:

  • no more walking or cycling uphill
  • have a spa day every month
  • eat food from a new country at least once a month
You get the idea.

I have no idea what my new year’s resolution was for 2008, so I decided I would record my 2009 resolution here on these pages:

  • Eat more seafood.
It is an easy one to achieve - we love shellfish, and fresh seafood, but we don’t get around to going to the market often enough. For New Year’s Eve I hopped on the moped, went down to Footscray Market and bought up some rockling fillets, some fresh de-shelled prawns and a handful of scallops out of the shell. A trip to the vegetable stall for some fresh herbs and the makings of a Greek salad, and I was all set.

The prawns were marinated in chilli, garlic, coriander and some Punjabi Kitchen King masala from the local Indian supermarket, then panfried in their own juices. I served them with the Greek salad on New Year’s Eve for supper and realised I had seriously over-catered. The rest we left until this evening when we had the rockling fillets steamed in foil parcels in the oven with garlic, green chilli, spring onion, coriander and Chinese five spice. The scallops I tossed in chilli and garlic and threw them on the barbie. Divine.

Happy New Year everybody! What are your resolutions?

food for thought

My mate Charmaine O'Brien is the only published author I know (apart from one or two academics!). In addition to her other charms, Charmaine is an accomplished and enthusiastic Indian food expert, so you can imagine what we have in common...

However her new offering falls closer to home. "Flavours of Melbourne" charts the culinary history of Australia's food capital, from pre-European times through the influence of postwar immigration to today. Along the way, we meet curious characters from Melbourne's food scene and discover recipes from different periods in our city's colourful history.

Charmaine did " the walking tour of the book" during Melbourne Writers' Week a few months ago, which was really enjoyable. She even made sure she had samples of Melbourne's favourite lollies on hand halfway through to sustain us: Polly Waffles, Cherry Ripes and Violet Crumbles.

Her book is now on the State Library of Victoria's "Summer Read" shortlist. You can get on there and vote for this book, or browse through the shortlist to see what else they recommend.

Flavours of Melbourne is a great book to dip into, or to read all the way through. Worth it if you are a Melbourne foodie - and in this city, who isn't?