Friday, January 16, 2009

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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?