Sunday, June 20, 2010

chez olivier

121 Greville Street, Prahran

Winter Solstice is upon us again. Well: officially tomorrow is the shortest day, but my trip to Sydney tomorrow put the kibosh on our usual 21st June celebration of winter. So a Solstice Eve Sunday luncheon was in order.

Eileen suggested Chez Olivier in Prahran, a tiny slice of France in Greville Street surrounded by chi-chi boutiques and jewellery shops. We found Mena sipping a Baileys at a window seat by the bar, surrounded by pastis bottles, fifties French posters, urns full of wine corks, and French waiters wearing black waistcoats with the tricolour on their breasts.

We gathered at an upstairs table, by a huge picture window - great for natural light. We had the whole floor to ourselves. Mena, in her element, ordered escargots for a starter. Each snail came served in a tiny steel jug, drowning in butter and laced with garlic. My warm goat's cheese salad had a centrepiece of crusty bread smothered in beautiful chevre. Onion soup, a seafood millefeuille, seafood bisque and a caramelised onion, anchovy and olive tart completed the traditional French fare for first course, all washed down with a good pinot chosen by Kelvin (of course).

After a decent interval, the mains arrived, all accompanied by a 2006 bottle of Sanguine Estate's Heathcote shiraz. Duck ruled, with Mena choosing the magret of the day served on creamy mash and wilted greens, Robyn choosing the "Frozzie duck", double-roasted and served with lemon and pepper mash, bok choi and pickled ginger, and a few more opting for the cassoulet a la "Jacky", with duck confit and pulses.

My bouillabaisse was full of fresh salmon, prawns, mussels and scallops, but could have been a lot more tomatoey and a lot more garlickey. Orlando's baked salmon was served with creamy mash, and looked good but Orlando thought it ordinary. A second bottle of the Heathcote was ordered, but like a lot of the wine list they were out of stock so we upgraded to a 2006 Sanguine Estate d"Orsa shiraz which did very nicely.

Desserts looked and tasted good for the most part. The mousse au chocolat (Orlando's choice, naturally) was a huge helping served with fresh strawberries. A few chose the "self-saucing, self-indulging chocolate fondant" which lived up to its legend. My tarte tatin was a little disappointing: none of the bite of a good cooking apple in there. And Mena completed her classic French lunch with crepes Suzette complete with flaming Grand Marnier, which she pronounced divine.

Interestingly, from Sunday to Thursday the restaurant charges $11 a head for whatever wine you have chosen, so despite the wine list suggesting a total bill of about $200 for the wine alone, that is all we were charged - $11 a head. This certainly made up for the limited availability of some wines on the list. Total bill for seven came to $598, which was about $85 a head.

By then, we were alone in the restaurant, the wait staff had mostly gone home and those remaining were preparing for the evening's sitting. The light was fading as we wrapped ourselves in coats and scarves against the chilly evening air. Quite a civilised solstice lunch to mark the passage of time in winter. Tomorrow, the days will get longer by a cock's stride, and we can look forward to spring.

As for Chez Olivier, despite one or two pedestrian meals, our overall experience was lovely, and fantastic value too. I can imagine this will become a favourite winter haunt.

Chez Olivier - Le Bistro on Urbanspoon

Blu Ginger Canberra

5 Genge Street

A farewell dinner with the lovely Shanna before her Grand Tour of Europe, meant no Italian or French food for us. On a chilly Canberra night, we settled into Blu Ginger with a couple of glasses of bubbly, and toasted our friendship and the joys of travel.

The staff at this modern city centre restaurant were lovely: friendly bit not overly so, professional but warm. Our Blu Ginger platter of chicken tikka, tandoori prawns and steamed fish wrapped in a banana leaf was a good way to start. Our mains were well chosen. The delightfully-named aloo mattar tamatar (peas, potatoes and tomatoes) was a perfect foil to our lamb vindaloo, which was spicy but not too hot. The plain naan we shared was cooked perfectly.

The kitchen is visible from the restaurant through a large window, where you can see the chefs hard at work in a spotless space. Even mid-week, this space was buzzing with both businessmen and groups of friends.

There are not many places would entice me to dine in Canberra's CBD, but I'll definitely be back to Blu Ginger.

Monday, June 07, 2010

winter hibernation food

Charmaine and I were out for our Indian Food Odyssey a couple of weeks ago when we got onto the perennial subject of hibernation food. The temperature goes down, the days get shorter, and even before real winter kicks in many of us seem to lose our healthy eating initiative and dive headlong into stodge.

It got me thinking that there has to be a way to avoid this by making a few changes to our diets early enough to second-guess our bodies. I'm thinking we have to make these changes in early May (or October for the northern hemisphere) so our good habits remain intact when hibernation mode seriously kicks in.

The first rule that springs to mind is seasonal produce. There may be no science behind this, but surely eating the fruit and vegetables which are naturally occurring at each time of year must be good for us? We are better at heeding this lesson in spring and summer, when asparagus, strawberries or green beans start sprouting from our kitchen gardens (or the aisles in Queen Victoria Market). So perhaps embracing those apples, pears, pomegranates, nuts and pineapples will help - think of the traditional Hallowe'en party. And those wonderful autumn and winter vegetables will be a joy to cook with in all those hearty stews and curries - think beetroot, pumpkins, kale, turnip and of course tiny sweet brussels sprouts.

The second rule is something about the type of carbs we eat. When hibernation mode kicks in, we tend to carb-load and often get it seriously wrong. Again, I've nothing but instinct to suggest that if we tend towards really high-quality carbs early enough, we will stave off that craving. Think pulses, high-fibre options like brown rice, squashes and whole-grain anything.

This year I am on a mission to find the rules to help us all pre-empt those winter blues by healthy and delicious eating before our stodge-fests kick in- so that this year will be the last time I get to winter solstice feeling unhealthy and lethargic.

Anybody got any ideas for more winter food rules, or ways to keep motivated to do even a little exercise once the autumn equinox has been and gone?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

the noodle house

1 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank

A drunken start to the evening saw Eileen and Kelvin escorting me down Southbank away from the Melbourne Good Food & Wine Show, to fill me up with food before sending me home. The Noodle House is a newish addition to the restaurants along Southbank, near World and Il Primo Posto. It's a franchise operation, most of its sister restaurants being in the Middle East: Dubai, Muscat, Kuwait and the like.

Wagamama-like benches and tables lined up inside a warm, weloming space; mad diners sat outside in the freezing cold under gas heaters. We used the tick-box order form to get some dumplings and pork buns going. Later, a platter of Peking Duck with pancakes didn't have enough hoi sin sauce or shredded vegetables to accompany it, but they went down well nonetheless. Out char kway teow didn't look like the classic recipe, but it was piping hot and tasty as hell.

Service was pretty good until we wanted the bill, then there was nobody to be found. I can't comment on value for money as my dining companions very nicely picked up the tab.

The Noodle House is definitely worth another look when slightly more compos mentis, and likely to be a good back-up option when stuck for choices on Southbank.

Good Food Show 2010 - before and after

I started blogging about the Melbourne Good Food Show before this blog existed, so I've kept those posts with their older sisters on my other blog.

Follow these links to get the before story and the after story!