Saturday, October 20, 2007

D.O.C. - Denominazione d'Origine Controliata

After a long week of studying with a few more weeks of study, essays and exams ahead of me, I've taken to getting up early in the mornings to get to the library first thing in the morning so I can work all day and afford to take nights off. So when B asked earlier today if I was free on Sunday morning for brunch, I asked whether he was free tonight for dinner instead. Fine by me, he said. After a failed attempt at convincing a few more friends to join us, I met him at 6.30 and headed down Lygon Street in search of a good feed.

We had planned on the un-original yet reliable Tiamo 2, but seeing the masses of people milling around the entrance on this comfortably cool spring night, we decided to search elsewhere. Stopping at the corner of Faraday Street, I suddenly recalled the new restaurant that Cindy and Michael, as well as Claire, had recently reviewed. Intruiged by the sound of a pizza and mozarella bar, I slyly suggested we try it out (as B, like most, don't know that my ulterior motives for trying out new restaurants is so I can come home and blog about them!).

D.O.C was still only half-full when we got there, so getting a table was the easy part. Perusing the menu, we were informed by the menu that D.O.C was named after the phrase used by various agricultural government bodies that set and oversaw the standards of some Italian foods, such as cheese and wine. The menu plugged "simple Italian food", and that was exactly what we got. B and I decided to go all out, and ordered something from the Mozarella Bar, which we thought was an entree, but turned out to be a main instead. B ordered an Assagio Di Salumi, an assortment of cured meats, and I went with the Bresaola, air cured beef. Both were accompanied by a ball of Australian Fior Di Latte mozzarella cheese and salted biscuits. B later mused that the mozzarella personally wasn't all that spectacular for him. I grudgingly agreed; though I was very enamoured by the idea of a Mozzarella bar, I had to admit perhaps my tastebuds weren't quite up to speed as to be able to appreciate the mozzarella for what it really was. Nonetheless, the cured meats were truly mouthwatering and eating a mouthful of mozzarella with melt-in-your-mouth meat on top of a chunk of the savoury biscuit was really an experience.

The pizzas, however, were on a whole new playing field themselves. B ordered the Pizza ai Porcini with wild mushrooms, truffle oil & mozzarella in bianco, whilst I went for the Pizza Soppressa with tomato, mozzarella, salame, provoloine, pesto di casa & olive. The toppings themselves were good, but the pizza dough and crust really stole the night. Though just a tad salty, they were crispy on the crust whilst satisfyingly chewy on the base. The greatest thing about them is how thin they are. Though B and I could only finish about half our pizzas after having eaten our mozzarella and meats, we ruefully looked back at the table when we were leaving to look at our half-eaten pizzas, a bit reluctant to leave them, but really just unable to ingest any more.

My only complaint about D.O.C was that service seemed a bit haphazard. For some reason, my pizza came out at the same time as the mozzarella "starters", which meant that by the time we got to it, the pizza had gotten cold. What showed how truly impressive the crust was, however, was that the coldness didn't detract from how good it was one bit. It was a bit hard to attract attention after our food had arrived. I couldn't figure out whether it was because we were seated in a nice cornered nook. Plus the price was a bit steep - the bill came to $40 each for two people. That being said, I would recommend it for the experience. And as B wisely said, you can judge how good it is by the number of Italians there were, and there were a lot of Italians. Not sure if I would go again in the near future - mostly due to the indentation it makes on my wallet - but worth another shot definitely.

--
D.O.C
295 Drummond Street, Carlton
93472998
No Bookings
Open 7 nights and Sunday lunch


Saturday, October 13, 2007

A taste of Spring (and a few bites of Winter too)

Spring is here. I can smell it in the nippy cloudy days where leaves are tossed down the street and into my face as I attempt to make my way to wherever I need to be. It's cold and very windy, but it's not quite the biting chilling cold of winter. Flowers are blooming, the nights are getting slightly warmer. That being said, winter is still lingering. It seems the cold fronts keep returning and Melbourne, and we along with it, are subjected to the short, periodic cycles of the days getting warmer, then colder, then warmer again. This little bee has been very busy in all the other aspects in her life, but very very slack in updating the blog. That being said, I've definitely been thinking about food - and this blog - quite a bit, and have eaten many things for the sake of writing about them later (he he).

The first thing that springs to mind is The Phantom of the Opera at Princess Theatre a few weeks ago. Those of you who have been thinking about it but haven't done anything about it, go and book your tickets now. I guarantee you, it will be a breathtaking experience, especially if you happen to have the privilege of catching the marvellous Anthony Warlowe as the Phantom. In fact, I want you to go see it so much, I'm willing to tell you that I cried. Three times. It was that good. The second best part of that experience, however, was that we had the chance to visit Longrain, which was just around the corner from the theatre. S had pre-booked, letting them know we needed to eat within an hour in order to mawwke the 7pm show. Arriving at 5.45, the place was empty and we were seated immediately. S, C and I ordered a drink, whilst R stayed on the water wagon. It being so long ago, I can barely remember what I drank (and the Longrain website doesn't help either), excepting for the fact that it was REALLY good. Like, orgasmically so. All I remember is that there was watermelon slivers in the glass, and they were very very good at the end after I'd had the alcohol, as they were infused with alcohol by then. Mmm. As for the food, we ordered 2 dishes and rice for the 4 of us. We barely managed to finish it all, as though the prices were steep, the portions were mighty generous. The caramelised pork hock with five spices and chilli vinegar was excellent, though we did have to pry the fat off the meat - but boy, was there a lot of meat. The second dish of beef ribs of some sort was similarly excellent. Both dishes were hearty and filling, especially with rice, and were just the things for ravenous little moi after a day of fasting in anticipation. Hee. We got to the theatre in time and enjoyed an excellent show.

I've also been on an ongoing hunt for cupcakes to cater for my upcoming birthday. I had originally planned on Sweet Source, who does vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with a variety of pastel-coloured icing piled high. Though they were a bit expensive, in my opinion, at $3.80, they were cute and individual and best of all, delicious. The first time I made enquiries, I was told delivery would be possible (as I don't have a car) to the venue, which was great. However, when I was putting in the order, I was then told delivery wouldn't be available. Hmph. After doing some online scouting, I decided to check out Let Them Eat Cake in South Melbourne (eliminating the famous Crabapple Cupcake Bakery for the sake of convenience, since they're so far away from Carlton). South Melbourne turned out to be a delight, despite the blustery and eventually rainy day. Let Them Eat Cake was a little bit of a disappointment. Their cakes, though highly reviewed and apparently recognised for its contribution to 'Cake' by Vogue Entertaining, Gourmet Traveller, Harper's Bazaar and our own Epicure, didn't really take my fancy. They just looked over-iced and over-hyped, and not at all the classy, simplistically decorated little cakes (like from Sweet Source) that I've come to prefer. Though I've never tasted LTEC's cakes or other items, I just wasn't all that taken by their presentation. Perusing the newspaper and magazine articles stuck up on the window outside, the wedding cakes did look nice - all iced white and pretty. Still... I just wasn't taken. Oh well. After talking to the lady for a bit, who informed me that to order cakes specially for my event would cost me $8, I was ready to hit the road and take my chances elsewhere, despite my lack of other options. Oh well, I thought.
Heading back into the city, I recalled seeing a cupcake shop opening on Degraves Lane just off Flinders Road and decided to check it out. Stepping into Little Cupcakes, I was enchanted to find a cosy little cafe with rows of beautiful little cupcakes providing a feast for my eyes. The prices seemed quite reasonable - $3.70 for a single regular cupcake and when ordering over 50, $3.20 each. I settled down to try out their $5.50 cupcake and coffee deal. Though the Red Velvet cupcake was just the tiniest bit dry, the creamy icing definately helped it go down easy. I was sold. Their flavours are Red Velvet, Creamcheese Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Mint, Banana, Strawberry and Teddy Bear (with a little bear biscuit sitting on top of the icing). They are relatively cheaper and though they could probably work on their recipe to make them just a tad more moist, they are perfect for what I need them for. I'm just itching for an excuse to try out the rest of the flavours. Has anyone else tried out this relative newcomer to the cupcake scene?

Speaking of South Melbourne, I took my first jaunt around the market when I was there last Friday afternoon. Because it was cold, I looked around for a snack to pick me up and after hearing so much about the famous South Melbourne Market Dim Sim's, I scoured the place looking for it. There was a bit of a queue, but the line moved along quickly and 5 minutes later, I was holding two large fried dim sims with a bit of soy sauce. I'm not the hugest fan of dim sim usually, as growing up in a Chinese family quickly makes you a bit of a snob when it comes to pseudo-Chinese food. Yum Cha and authentic dim sum is usually more my scene. Dubiously, Ibit into the dumpling, nearly burnt my tongue and experienced somewhat of a food epiphany. It was... good. Really good. It was piping hot on the inside, great for a cloudy, rainy day, and though I couldn't exactly discern what most of it was aside from the pork, cabbage and strangely enough, a pea, all I could think that it was just really REALLY good. If you're ever around, seriously, do yourself a favour and get yourself one. It may be deep fried and not necessarily very healthy for you, but surely one won't hurt.

One last thing. I'm holding a fundraiser for the magazine I do some work for, Right Now Human Rights Law in Australia magazine at the Moroccan Soup Bar on Sunday, 28 October. Right Now is a student-run magazine, which publishes submissions from members of the legal community, students and human rights advocates about current human right issues. The fundraiser will include a banquet feast typical of the gorgeous Moroccan Sup Bar food, as well as many prizes like wine, basket of goodies, movie tickets that you could win simply by turning up to support us. Tickets are $25, so if you're interested in human rights, or simply in tasting really great food, email me at mel@rightnow.org.au to book your ticket now and support a good cause!

--
Longrain Restaurant & Bar
44 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne
http://www.longrain.com.au

Let Them Eat Cake
147-149 Cecil Street
South Melbourne
http://www.letthemeatcake.com.au

Little Cupcakes
#7, 250 Flinders Street
Melbourne

South Melbourne Market Dim Sim's
#96, South Melbourne Market
South Melbourne

Friday, August 31, 2007

Rumi

After rescheduling dinner with G and T 3 times, we finally settled on going out Wednesday night to celebrate G's conductoral debut. I've heard a lot about Rumi through the grapevine, and thought it might be nice to try someplace new. A phone call on the day of our dinner meant that I couldn't secure a table booking, but I was assured that they often left the outside tables and bar seats free for walk-in's.

By the time we got there, most tables were filled up even though it was only about 6.30. We vetoed the outside tables due to the windy weather, and settled down at the bar where we could watch the people go by. We got a lot of people waving to us through the window, for some reason. Heh. Though we were seated at the front of the restaurant, we didn't get to see the back, which obviously held more seating area than I had originally thought. The white-washed walls were decorated simply with beautiful green Arabic writing, which, I was told, was an extract from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. The decor was simple, with wooden chairs and bare timber tables, but somehow, it worked much better than over-clutter.

After perusing the menu, G and T quickly decided to leave the ordering up to me, which I was more than happy to do. After we did so, a beautiful green glass jug of water and little glasses were brought to us, as well as cutlery wrapped in linen napkins. That really got my attention. Lord knows I love a good linen napkin in any restaurant, and in one as quirky as this, it gave me a good feeling about the food that was to come. And I wasn't wrong at all.

A little dish of labneh quickly appeared on our table, accompanied by pieces of flatbread curled into a stainless steel container. The labneh, we were told, was made from their own home-made yoghurt and was splashed with a bit of fragrant olive oil on the top. Tangy and wonderfully fresh, they were beautiful together. The sigara boregi, cigar-shaped fried filo pastries, arrived next, wonderfully hot and beautifully soft and flaky and crisp all at once with the melted haloumi and pinenut filling scalding our tongues deliciously. G and T were raving about the food at this point, and we couldn't wait for more to come.

The fried cauliflower with pinenuts, currants and onions came next, accompanied by the Persian meatballs with saffron and tomato sauce and fried calamari with a thick almond dip. The cauliflower, though fried and crispy, was not at all oily and the crisp pinenuts, caramelized onions and sweet currants were a beautiful accompaniment. The meatballs were fantastic, and though delicate in its presentation, packed a real juicy punch, especially when eaten with a whip of the fresh yogurt dolloped on top of the bright red sauce. The calamari had us all salivating for more. Deep-fried to perfection in tiny slivers with a generous shake of salt, it was very satisfying indeed.

By this point, we were actually all getting to the satisfyingly-full stage, but we had, for fear of under-ordering, decided to order a plate of rice pilaf with chickpeas and a lamb fatteh. We loved the presentation of the lamb, as it came with fried spirals of onions that were gloriously piled on top of the stew itself. We tried as hard as we could, but could only manage about 3/4 of both dishes before we had to give up. This was a shame, as I'd been eyeing the turkish delight and pistachio halva since we'd gotten there, and I'd heard a lot about the Persian fairy floss too. The only other thing I'd heard a lot about was the tangy, hot yogurt soup, which I'd really wanted to try. We vetoed it for the reason that it was hard to share soup between 3 people.
Next time, perhaps. Because there will definitely be a next time.

---
Rumi
132 Lygon Street
Brunswick East
(03) 9388 8255

Monday, August 27, 2007

Chicken Congee

So Chicken Congee seems to be the new thing in the foodie world at the moment. After seeing mellie's post about making chicken congee and then reading the original recipe here, I figured if I could shell out $6 for a bowl, I may as well try and make my own.

Growing up, I was not the biggest fan of congee at all. Whenever I was sick in bed, the smell of steaming plain congee would come wafting up the stairs and I would inevitably be brought a large bowl. Eaten plain, it is nothing more than literally boiled rice porridge and doesn't have much flavour at all. My grandma's favourite garnish was flossed pork, which added to it a nice sweet meaty flavour. My mum, on the other hand, loved congee with a passion and whenever we went out for a traditional breakfast at our local wet market hawker stalls, she would inevitably work on a bowl of congee with sliced pork and century egg whilst my dad and I chowed down on plates of steamed rice rolls with soy sauce and sesame seeds. Thus when my mum heard of my newest cooking endevour, she started laughing down the phone, then proceeded to call my grandma, who commented that I was "finally becoming a real Chinese person" and perhaps given that I had started to cook Chinese food, maybe I could find a nice Chinese boy instead of the gwai lo that I am currently dating. Ha. (My grandma is, however, slightly mollified by the fact that A is studying medicine, which is apparently something that works very well in his favour. The Chinese are crazy (actually - just my grandma is).

My newfound love for congee was triggered by the cold winter that has thankfully been chased away by the warm shining sun, and was also spurred on by the wonderful sliced duck and lettuce congee I had a few weeks ago at Supper Inn. Yongtze's recipe was easy enough to follow, but I substituted with whatever I had, meaning I used chicken thigh fillets and minced ginger instead of chicken breast and the traditional sliced garlic. Also, I had unfortunately run out of soy sauce. However, I can tell you all that it still tasted delicious. Congee is one of those recipes, like pasta, where you can pretty much chuck anything into it and it will generally turn out OK. It's easy and warming and comforting and easy to store in the fridge to be heated up in the microwave when you get home after a long day. Plus, it can traditionally be eaten at any time of the day. I think I'll have some for brekky tomorrow morning!

Chicken Congee
(modified from Yongtze's recipe)

1 cup Jasmine rice
Salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
10 cups water and/or chicken stock (I used a mixture of both)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 chicken thigh fillet
Sesame oil

1. Wash and drain the rice in a pot. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp vegetable oil, mix well and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
2. Add water/stock to the rice. Bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium low, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Marinate the chicken with sesame oil and minced garlic.
4. Add the chicken to the congee. Cook for 5 - 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Take the chicken out and set aside to cool.
5. Season the congee with salt and cook for another 30 minutes or so.
6. Shred the cooked chicken and throw into the pot. Cook for another 5 - 10 minutes until the congee reaches your preferred consistency.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New Experiences

After finding ourselves in the city after a lesson at CAE at 9.30 on Monday night, we were starving and frankly, the thought of food was the only thing keeping us from not going home due to exhaustion of busy-ness. C thought of Supper Inn, which excited me beyond belief. Supper Inn holds a bit of nostalgia for me, as it was the place where my parents took me the night before I was due to start orientation at uni a while ago. Also, in my two-and-half years in Melbourne, I had heard lots about the famed congee (or rice porridge) and I was itching to try it. At that point though, probably anything hot put in front of me would have been OK by me. Nonetheless, we trekked to Chinatown and up the rickety stairs, and after a 2 minute wait, we sat and ordered. C ordered a thousand-century egg and pork congee, whereas I went with the less conventional, but more appetizing (to me, at least) roast duck congee, as well as some fried dough sticks to go with it. Mmmm. The congee was flavourful even on its own, without any smidgen of MSG (or perhaps they just cooked it so well that I didn't taste it). The duck was delicious, tender and slim with barely any fat. The chinese donut, sliced into little bits, dunked into the congee was just the icing on top of the cake. Speaking of cake, we didn't have any cake, but we did have banana fritters with vanilla ice cream covered with some type of heavy syrup. I loved every bit about that meal, including the fact that it was mostly conducted in Cantonese, there were a large number of Caucasians there appreciating the authenticity of the food, and also I'd been waiting to eat this meal for a few years now. Though the congee was a little pricy ($6 each), the meal worked out to $10 for each of us, so we were pretty happy with it. Perusing the menu, C commented that a proper meal with dishes a la carte would probably have worked out to way more expensive. However, it was still delicious and I pronounce it one of the Best Meal Ever, the first of its kind here at The Secret Foodie. In fact, just thinking about it is making me hungry....

As for tonight, on the pretense of 'research', I trekked to the Moroccan Soup Bar accompanied with T, C and a bunch of other girls. We arrived at 6.20 to be told that they were all booked out (we forgot to book ahead of time), but if we could eat fast, we could have the tables that were reserved for 7.30 onwards. So we plonked down, and little glasses of sweet mint tea were handed to us as we waited for the rest of our group to turn up. I, of course, had heard all about this place for a long, long time and had, again, been meaning to try it out. We all decided to go for the $17.50 banquet, and platters of pita bread and dips were brought out to us. The hommus was a particular winner in my books, and other parts of the entree platter included marinated carrots, potatoes and olives, broccoli dip, tzatziki. As soon as we had wiped the last bit of hommus off the plate, more plates laden with beautiful looking food came out and were put in front of us. We had spicy vegetable stews with couscous, roasted eggplant, lentil stew with rice, a potato dish with rice, the famed chickpea bake and homemade dolmades. The meal became a bit of a blur, as everyone tried to juggle spooning food into their bowls, passing all the dishes around and trying to eat at the same time. Everyone loved the chickpea bake, whereas I, though enjoyable, had concluded that perhaps I just am not necessarily that partial to chickpeas. I don't know. It was still really very good though, and I loved the not-so-crispy-yet-not-soggy bits of baked pita bread in the dish. I particularly liked the spicy veggie stews with couscous. My utmost favourite part, though, was the cardamom sweetened coffee and the sweets that came at the end. We had a slice with pistachios, which was very nice. There was also a cream puff that looked rather like a spring roll which I didn't try, as I was more partial to the biscuit which was crumbly on the outside and had a nice dollop of sweet paste (perhaps date?) in the middle. Delicious. At that point, the 7.30 party arrived and we thought it might be prudent to scooch off so they could have their pre-booked table. Also we were just itching to go home to drink our bottle of wines in our bags.

--
Supper Inn Chinese Restaurant
15 Celestial Ave
Melbourne

Moroccan Soup Bar
183 St Georges Rd
Fitzroy North

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Catching up (yet again)

Yes, I know, I've been gone a while. I'm sure my readers (all 3 of you, maybe) will have missed me, but right after exams, I went gallivanting places with no internet connection, hence my disappearing act. As I write, I am sitting in a nice little room in Oxford, England, with the sun shining in from the window onto my desk. Looking out, I see beautifully lush green grass and a babbling little brook that bubbles merrily while snow white swans float down, surrounded by mallard ducks bobbing up and down. Why am I here? C, R (another friend from uni) and I are all here at Oxford University for a month long summer school program on Int'l Human Rights Law (since we're all in law school and stuff). On our way here, C and I decided to do a bit of travelling. Ergo, involuntary internet hiatus.

Leaving Melbourne about 3 weeks ago, C and I took 3 days in Hong Kong to see my family. Noy many (if any) of you may know this, but I lived in HK for 8 years after moving from Adelaide at the age of 10, after which I headed to Melbourne for uni. HK is possible THE BEST place for authentic Chinese food of any kind, and there is just so much of it everywhere. The entire culture is built around eating, resulting in a bustling, cosmopolitan city where East meets West, especially with regards to the food. I know you guys are hanging out for the food talk, so I'll get right down into it. We literally ate and ate and ate for those 3 days. We had authemtic yum cha in the morning surrounded by lots of old retired men and women gossiping and reading the paper, as steaming bamboo containers of har gow (prawn dumplings), mini glutinous rice packets wrapped in lotus leaves, malay cake (a beautifully spongy Chinese.. well, sponge, cake) and char siu pao were put before our hungry mouths as the smells wafted into our noses. The most unusual dim sum they had was a black and white sesame seed paste bun. I LOVE sesame seed generally, and sesame seed paste filled dumplings are my favourite Chinese dessert, so this was an absolute winner in my book. Beautiful.
We also had Shanghainese food, another one of my all-time favourite cuisines (right up there with Indian). We had succulent xiao loong baos (steamed pork dumplings - the special part is that there's a bit of tasty soup enclosed inside the dumpling when they steam it, so be careful when you bite into it lest a hot stream of soup squirts out onto your clothing, or even worse, into your eye) and dan dan noodles (Shanghai 'pulled' noodles in a spicy peanut-y soup), both favourites of mine.
Our last meal was at a local restaurant in Shen Zheng, an area whose restaurants specialise in roast goose. In my opinion, roast goose is a hell of a lot better than duck. The meat is more moist, there's a great depth of flavour and when you roast it the chinese way, the honey-glazed crispy skin (fat and all) is an essential part of the taste when eaten with the dark meat. Taken simply with plum sauce, steamed rice and some green veggies to balance it out, it makes one hell of a satisfying meal.

After leaving HK, our original plan was to head to London for a week. Whilst in HK, however, we decided that this, being both our first times in Europe, would be a great opportunity to see other parts of Europe. Somehow, with the help of lastminute.com, we found ourselves a few days later in Ibiza, Spain. Now this place is known mainly for the crazy insane all-night discos, beautiful beaches, hoardes of English tourists and the origin of many a Ministry of Sound music album. Those of you who know, the original Cafe Del Mar is actually here. I'm not really into techno or house music at all, so me? I was just there for the sun. Our days consisted of waking at noon, having a huge meal with sangria, margaritas, pina coladas or daiquaris, falling asleep on the beach for several hours in the afternoon, wandering amongst the rambling windy cobblestoned streets to do some shopping, snacking on some fresh watermelon, more cocktails or homemade icecream, tanning some more, watching the sun set with yet more cocktails, then heading to a club till sunrise when we would flop into bed - then do it all over again 6 hours later. Trust me, the best and surest way of getting over jetlag. But the food, oh, the food. We feasted on paellas, fresh calamari, fish and other seafood caught earlier that morning. We had some rather touristy, b ut still excelent, Tex-Mex food - burritos with chorizo, nachos with beans, cheese, sour cream and guacamole, tacos with chilli con carne. To commemorate our last night there, C and I indulged in the best Spanish food we've ever had at El Rincon de Pepe, allegedly the first tapas bar in Spain. Whether this is true or not, it was the best tapas I'd certainly ever had, and judging by the number of locals there, it was probably true in the town of San Antonio (and possibly Ibiza). Accompanied with a lovely white wine, we started with some bread and olive oil, as well as a marinated eggplant, peppers and capsicum salad. Gazpacho then arrived, as did a Spanish spinich omelette (more like a frittata than anything else). The best deepfried baby squid then arrived, all crispy and hot and tart from the lemon juice. Mussels cooked with vinegar followed, as did lamb kebabs with home-cut fries. Full as we were, C insisted on trying at least Spanish dessert, which turned out to be a version of creme brulee. It was served cold, but with a crisp toffee top and tasted deliciously cool, feeling more like a firm custard. We rolled home after that, perfectly content.


Sunset with sangria

Paella, dispersed with beautiful prawns and mussels; and deep-fried calamari rings, eaten surrounded by a bunch of Spanish middle-aged men drinking coffees and no doubt gossiping about the 2 obviously foreign girls in their midst.

El Rincon de pepe - Best tapas EVER.

Unfortunately, all holidays must come to an end at some point, and ours unfortunately did. Heading into London was an interesting experience. I admit we were a bit biased against London, having just had the holiday of our lives in Ibiza. C was definitely not impressed with London, wanting to get out of there as soon as possible. As for myself, I enjoyed the architecture, the history, the museums and found everything fascinating. The British Museum and Library was awesome, as was Westminster Abbey and Cathedral. Hamley's, a children's toy store, was fun, even for grown-ups such as ourselves. Harrod's was ridiculously overpriced, though the famed hot chocolate is apparently to die for. Other foodie highlights weren't much to speak of, except for a fantastic
£4.5 full English brekkie at a random cafe - two pieces of toast generously buttered, sausage, fried egg, mushrooms, baked beans and bacon. Deliciously greasy and satisfying. C also managed to find the perfect muffin at EAT whilst waiting for our flight to Ibiza from Gatwick airport - i think it was something like bran, cherry and oatmeal. Absolutely wholesomely delicious. Despite all this, I'm not fully convinced by London. I've seen enough big cities, and with the exception of the history behind it, London seems to me just like any other big city - large, packed with people, sometimes unfriendly.

After arriving in the beautiful little town of Oxford, I have been impressed with the charm of this small town as well as the quaint little cobblestone streets and the beautiful Oxford campus that spans across the whole Oxford CBD. I'm living at St. Catherine's College, which, as a 'conference' guest, we have been getting the best treatment, and this means 3 meals a day, catered fully. Breakfast is a full smogasboard of cereals, pastries, cold meats, fruit and toast as well as hot breakfasts with sausages, beans, mushrooms, eggs and bacon. After our morning classes, we have coffee/tea with biscuits. At lunch, we have starters, then the main meal (yesterday was seared swordfish steak with some sort of creamy sauce, salad on the side, bread roll, cheese and crackers and icecream for dessert). And if that's not enough, dinner is pretty much the same as lunch. I mean seriously, yesterday was confit of duck with honey and ginger glaze, served with creamy mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy; topped off with banana cheesecake with caramel sauce. We are so well fed here that I'm positive if I eat everything, I will go home with added weight (the complete opposite of what I was hoping for), so I've taken to skipping lunch just so I will at least be hungry for dinner. That seems to have backfired against me today, as its 6.10pm (dinner's in 50 minutes) and I've been absolutely starving for the past 2 hours. It's been lovely recapping what I've been doing, but I've missed the foodie world. I'll keep you guys, whoever you are, posted on the highlights of English cuisine. Till then, cheerio!


The beautifully green Hyde Park Corner.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cooking up a Thai storm

Last Monday was A's birthday, and since he wanted something low key and chill, I decided to cook him up a feast and invite a few friends around instead of taking him out. He has a penchant for both Thai and Indian foods, so given our Indian adventures last week, I thought Thai would be a highly welcomed choice.

I spent a day or so digging up old recipes that I thought would fit the theme. It was actually more difficult than I thought to figure out an appetiser-main-desserts menu -- mostly because I wanted to spend more time on the desserts than anything else! After some deliberation, I decided on a fairly simple, but still fun and casual menu. Appetisers would be rice paper rolls with dipping sauce, while mains would be a simple green curry with coconut rice and a pad thai.
The rice paper rolls were easy - shredded chicken, grated cucumber and carrot, some lettuce and beansprouts all went onto the paper and were rolled up. I served them with a simple plum sauce and hoisin sauce. The curry was simply a matter of chucking any leftover veggies I had, some tofu, green curry paste and some coconut milk into a pot and letting it simmer. Pad thai, similarly, was just about stirfrying rice noodles with chicken pieces and beansprouts. All done (with the help of the 2 other girls; the 3 men just sat there chatting while we did all the cooking. Don't worry, we made them wash up) in a matter of half an hour.


Desserts was the main concern for me. I really wanted to make cupcakes, because a year ago, back when we'd only been going out for a week, I made - or rather, attempted to make - him cupcakes for his birthday. As these stories usually go, I ended up forgetting to put in baking powder (this WAS in my pre-baking/cooking days). I'm not sure if he ate them, but clearly was touched enough to stick around for a while. I had yet to attempt cupcakes again since that incident, but for the sake of continuity and tradition, I decided to give it another go.

After poring over the multitude of cupcake blogs out there, I decided to stick with something simple, not too fancy, yet rich and decadent. I was initially considering these Thai Tea Cupcakes, but ended up going with these cupcakes for the simplicity and apparent "never fail"ingness of the chocolate cupcake. Sounds good enough to me. I decided to forgo the mint buttercream and ganache, since some people don't necessarily like mint. I don't understand it, but hey, they're the ones missing out. No matter. I'll just substitute. I examined the fridge for something to flavour my frosting, and eventually found some lime juice that would go wonderfully with my cream cheese. I following the recipe to a T, the only chance being I made half a batch, 12 cupcakes, instead of the full 24. Chockylit was right when she called them "rich chocolate cupcakes", because they were definitely rich. A whole cupcake with icing was almost more than I could take. Nonetheless, they received rave reviews - definitely something to repeat again sometime.


Rich Chocolate Cupcakes with Lime Cream Cheese Frosting
(makes 24 regular cupcakes)
courtesy of Chockylit of Cupcake Bakeshop

200g bar chocolate (I used pretty average quality safeway cooking chocolate, worked wonderfully for me.)
3 sticks butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
8 eggs
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 package cream cheese (mine had about 250mL)
1/2 stick butter
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
3-4 tbsp lime juice (or as much as you like)

1. Chop chocolate and transfer into bowl. Add butter, and melt, stirring until both are combined.
2. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Let mixture cool for 10 minutes.
3. Beat with electric mixer for 3 minutes, or as much as you can by hand.
4. Add egg one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds between each.
5. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and pinch salt into the mixture. Mix until blended.
6. Scoop into cupcake cups and bake at 180C for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

7. Beat cream cheese and butter till creamy.
8. Sift in half the sugar, and beat until combined.
9. Stir in lime juice, then continue to beat in remaining sugar.

Because I only made half the cupcakes and the whole batch of frosting, I still have a little tub sitting in my fridge. I also could have done well to add more lime juice, as the three tablespoonfuls of lime juice wasn't necessarily enough to completely outdo the cheesiness of the cream cheese. Nonetheless, the cupcakes were given rave reviews. Everybody could only manage one after our meal, which was fine; more leftovers for me! I also served up a tropical fruit salad to cleanse our palates somewhat. Lychees, watermelon cubes, pineapple chunks, mango slices and passionfruit pulp was just what we needed to finish off a night of Thai goodness.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Liquid Bar - The (Real) Anniversary

A week after the 'failed' anniversary, A and I decided to give our Romantic Evening another go. This time, I declared, it would be on our real anniversary and it would be up to me to plan the date (because nothing can go wrong when I'm planning it, clearly). No bouts of indigestion, no problems with food allergies, nothing to spoil our perfect evening. Right.

(Note: Incidentally, whilst tramming down to our destination, A made an offhand comment about oil (don't ask), and something clicked in my mind - Indian food is predominantly cooked with peanut oil. Not especially helpful when the boy is allergic to peanuts, and thus the source of all our problems. Mental head thunk!)

I spent the week racking my brain, trying to come up with places that we'd both like. The boy isn't exactly only the level of food connoisseur (yet - I'm trying to change that, but baby steps), so places like Vue de Monde and Three One Two wouldn't necessarily be his scene. I wanted somewhere that was good and happening enough, but not so much that we wouldn't be able to have a quiet evening to ourselves, so Cookie (my next option) was out. He's also a bit of a vego-phobe, so Soul Mama at St. Kilda was also out.

A friend suggested that morning I try the Docklands, which sounded like quite a good idea. We made our way down there that evening to find that yes, it was definitely quiet enough. Man Mo looked interesting, A commented, and was half-full of customers. Whilst giving him a quick lesson on Asian food (I don't usually trust overly polished Asian restaurants - case in point, Red Emperor on Southbank was, in my opinion, not half as good as anything I've ever had in Chinatown), we happened upon Liquid Bar. The menu said it served tapas, and that cinched it for me.
Deciding to forgo the wine list, we perused the menu. The dinner menu comprised of tapas, starters, Coca's (Spanish pizza's), mains, pastas, salads and sides. Your average restaurant, really. In my opinion, everything except the tapas were things I could have ordered in any restaurant. The only dishes I could really have said to be 'spanified' was the Fresh Seafood Paella and the bowl of hot chilli as a side.

I had my heart set on the tapas, but A cited extreme hunger and decided to order a main of Crisp roasted chicken breast with fennel, celery, apple and spanish onion salad, finished with chorizo oil. More tapas for me, I told him. The dish itself was presented beautifully, with the crispy skinned chicken breast sitting proudly on top of the pale green salad. The bit of salad I tried (which, incidentally, is the part of the dish A didn't eat - boys) was quite tasty.

I ordered the grilled bread with dips as a starter. Tapas consisted of baby calamari with green apple aioli, saganaki fried with lemon and rocket, chorizo served warm with potato and mint salad; and sweet pork empanadas. I wish I had pictures to show you all, but photos would not have done them justice.

The grilled bread was quite a substantial dish, as they were very generous with the bread (and olive oil that was drizzled over them). The hummus was clearly home-made and very thick, whilst the tzatziki was very tart and very good with the hot bread. The calamari was fresh out of the fryer, all crisp and hot and wonderfully salted. It paired beautifully with the green apple aiolo (which had two little pieces of carved apple pieces on the side for decoration, how cute!). The saganaki proved quite rubbery in texture, but I enjoy having a bit of a chew on my cheese, especially pan-fried cheese. The lemon was a freshing tang on a moderately strong tasting cheese.

The chorizo slices were fried quite crisply, and had the little cubes of potato on top. I honestly couldn't figure out where the mint salad came in, as there was no taste of mint anywhere nor was there even a little pile of salad sitting on the side, as there was on the saganaki. The fact that they were sausage slices was probably the reason they became quite oily, but I quite enjoyed the spicy kick they provided. As for the empanadas, they came (3 to a serve) sitting prettily on a bed of what looked like a chunky tomato sauce. They provided a lovely dipping sauce for the empanadas, which had delightfully crunchy pastry.

The restaurant was very quiet, with only one or two other tables being occupied during our entire meal. The decor itself was very tastefully modern, just right for the type of night we were having. The wait staff, though not having much else to do, were very alert and came over periodically to ask if we needed water, or wished to order anything else. Usually I find this annoying, but the guy was so nice about it that we couldn't help but like him. The price was, to us poor uni students, quite expensive, but worth it for a good night out like ours. Between us, we paid about $80 for our meal. Upmarket, yes, but we figured it was a one-time thing anyway.
I didn't expect to be so full from my meal (I'd actually already picked up dessert before we even started the meal), but I walked out feeling pleasantly full. A nice romantic walk along Docklands after dinner was enough sweetness for me.

--
Liquid Bar
50 NewQuay Promenade
Docklands
www.liquidbar.com.au

Monday, May 14, 2007

Rathdowne Street Food Store - Sunday Breakfast

A catch-up meal with the girls means, for us, a different place to try every time. We've done AIX Cafe Creperie Salon in the city, Red Tongue Cafe and Vegie Bar on Brunswick Street; and who could forget Gluttony on Smith Street (we should've starved ourself for a day before our meal).

AH suggested, for this particular meeting, that we try Rathdowne Street Food Store - good things had been heard about the omelette. Having hit nearly every single other cafe on the Carlton North strip, I was eager to try what was supposedly the best one of them all. 8.30am on Sunday morning found four hungry (and cold) girls traipsing into the warmth of the Food Store. Smells of freshly baked bread, cakes and muffins were wafting through the air, and stacked up on plastic trays on a corner of the cafe, having clearly been delivered a few minutes before. The loaves of multi-grain bread, little lemon cakes, gorgeous berry muffins were making us salivate.

The place itself was quite empty save a few lone breakfasters with their papers, as it was too early for the Sunday breakfast crowd. We sat ourselves in a nice little nook that overlooked the front of the store, ordering coffees and teas to warm ourselves up whilst perusing the menu. My peppermint tea was continually being filled with extra hot water, and lasted me till the end of the meal. H had the same pampered tea experience with her English Breakfast, whilst C and AH assured me their respective coffees were excellent.

We had a bit of a hard time deciding on food. AH told us about rave reviews of an omelette with goat's cheese and smoked salmon, topped with hollandaise sauce and "overbaked", which sounded divine. Some previous research I'd done showed that the ricotta hotcakes with poached pears and lavendar icecream was also highly recommended.

AH ended up going with the omelette, which, although delicious, was quite oily from the baked hollandaise sauce. The serving was quite large, coming also with two pieces of "home-made" toast, which was nothing out of the ordinary, given so many other excellent bread choices available these days.
C went with the Food Store Eggs, which (from bad memory) had two beautifully poached eggs topped with spinach and hollandaise. The eggs, C told us, were great, but she could've done with some toast or even an english muffin that might have made the dish a bit more filling. H ordered herself a muesli (no mention on whether it was home-made) with fruit compote and yoghurt. It looked quite good, and after trying the muesli, I agreed that although I couldn't tell whether or not it was home-made, it was still delicious (though still not on par with the stuff I had on Flinders Lane).

I craved something wholesome, and since it was a cold morning, went with a simple porridge with compote, yoghurt and condiments. The porridge itself was quite substantial and portioned perfectly. It came steaming hot and had a hint of vanilla in the smell, though I couldn't actually taste much vanilla and the porridge itself wasn't particularly flavoured either. Stirring in the compote, however, was more than enough to provide me with a sweet fruit hit. It was made up of rhubarb, pear and some form of berry (either strawberry or raspberr), and I particularly enjoyed the large chunks of pear throughout. The condiments came on a wooden tray with little jars of honey and brown sugar. I was perfectly happy with the porridge, compote and yoghurt on its own, but the presentation was gorgeous and the little jars satisfied my love for cute ways of food presentation.

The service was good, and although the waiter took the prerogative of leaving us alone most of the time to catch up, it made it slightly more difficult when we actually needed some service. The place itself is decorated gorgeously, small-town rustic mixed with modernised deco. The place itself wasn't the cheapest we've ever been to, but the quality of food and feel of the cafe was enough to make it worth the price. We left the Food Store warm, full and happy with our brekky and agreed that it was definitely worth a repeat when we run out of new places to try. And I'm definitely going back for one of those little lemon cakes.

--
Rathdowne Street Food Store
617 Rathdowne Street
Carlton North

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Soothing my baking itch - Apple Muffins

After a long week at uni, I arrived home in the early evening, thankful to be home. However, half an hour later, I was suffering from a bad case of nothing-to-do's, which quickly turned into a large case of "baking itch". This is unfortunately (for my waistline - not so much for my housemates) a constant occurence, whereby I'm suddenly seized with a great urge to improve my baking prowess and whip up something fantastic that will have the house smelling wonderful and adoring people showering compliments upon my humble self (ha). I must admit that 'improvement' of my baking skills is not quite equivalent, in my case, to broadening my horizons and trying new things. Thus, my baking tends to be quite limited to the generic muffin and occasionally, fruit crumble or pie.

Another partial reason for the need to bake was because T, one of the housies, had brought from home a bag full of apples that weren't much good for eating, but fantastic for baking, stewing or cooking. After having stewed and frozen some, I thought it might be a good idea to use some of them up. After vetoing the idea of making a pie, I googled "apple muffins" and came up with quite an easy version.

The recipe itself was easy to follow, and were made from ingredients one usually has lying around the house. The recipe itself is labelled "Apple Muffins", omitting the cinnamon - and in terms of taste, it's probably the more accurate label for it. The cinnamon can't really be tasted, even though I added quite a few more shakes than called for in the recipe in an attempt to get a more spicy muffin. Next time, I might try adding cloves and perhaps some more nutmeg.

(N.B. I just noticed that under the recipe itself, the reviews aren't very supportive of the recipe, calling it "bland" and "heavy". I wouldn't call them heavy exactly, and those who called the muffin bland blamed the lack of sugar. I personally don't like my muffins overly sweet, so the low amount of sugar was preferable for me. The fact that I had one straight out of the oven was a plus for me, as warm anything muffin, especially with apple chunks, taste great. More spices is definitely needed to add more Zing to it.)


Apple Muffins
(courtesy of AllRecipes.com
submitted by Maria Evertsen)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (I used Mixed Spice)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup apple, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups.
  2. Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, spices and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together milk, egg, and butter.
  4. Combine the dry and wet ingredients. Fold in apple chunks.
  5. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, then sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top of muffins. Bake for another 5 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
(photo courtesy of AllRecipes.com)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Gaylord Indian Restaurant - Test-run Anniversary

After the boy and I decided on a date for Wednesday night, I met him to discover that he had (unintentionally mistakenly) thought that our one year Anniversary was in fact this week. Although I was quick to rag on him a bit about 'forgetting', it was pointed out to me that although I may go by the actual solid date, he was more about "celebrating our time together as a couple. I thought that was the point of an anniversary.". Um, yes, but dates matter. Particular dates. ESPECIALLY Anniversary dates, to the actual day.

We bickered (playfully - we do it a lot) all the way downtown in search of a nice dinner place before our movie at Melbourne Central. Being the indecisive couple we are, I decided to take charge and took him to Camy's Shanghai Noodle & Dumpling to introduce him to the wonderful world of dumplings, and in my opinion, some of the best Chinese food around. Plus it's a cheap satisfying feed. When we got there, the expected out-the-door-line was firmly in place. Not willing to hang around and wait (again, his call, not mine - can you see the pattern of blaming him for everything tonight? It only gets better), we walked the 5 feet to Gaylord Indian Restaurant.

It is impossible to miss the decor in this place as soon as you walk in the door. I think the best way to describe it is kitsch. Nonetheless, I'm all for the kitsch. The more outdated and slightly tacky the decor, the more character it adds to a place. The walls were brightly coloured, there were brass elephants and fairy lights and plastic flowers galore. It gave me a whole "it's cute, but..." feeling, and I only hoped that this was one of those places where people go because the food is so great that the owners didn't have time to modernise their restaurant. There were only a few tables occupied in quite a large restaurant area when we arrived, but the arrival of a party of 20 Indians a few minutes later was a bit more reassuring. After all, if the locals are eating there, it must be good, right?

We were served a basket of pappadums the instant we sat down, although the water arrived 20 minutes later, and only after asking 3 separate waiters - and, might I add, after the food arrived. After a short perusal, A decided on lamb vindaloo and shish kebabs while I went with a dish whose name I can't remember, but was eggplant cooked with tomato, ginger and peas. Naan and saffron rice were ordered as accompaniments.

The food arrived literally 5 minutes after we'd ordered, piping hot and filling the air with smells of spices and cooked meat. The shish kebab was apparently nothing too exciting, as was the lamb vindaloo. I tasted some of the sauce, and it was OK; not bad, not great, not too spicy, not too un-spicy either. I found myself using the vindaloo sauce as a dip for naan towards the end of the meal in an eating-absentmindedly kind of way, but I suspect this was because I wasn't really thinking about it as opposed to the dish being fantastic. My eggplant dish was nice, although it seemed like all the ingredients were simply cut up and cooked together into a mush without having the flavours and textures meld together. It was pleasant enough, but again, not fantastic. The best part of the meal was the naan - steaming hot, crispy in the middle and thick and chewy towards the outside.

Just as I had decided to write off our dinner at Gaylord as an experience, but never to be repeated, A told me quite frantically that he wasn't feeling too hot and dashed off to the bathroom. 20 minutes later, he reemerged with a slightly queasy look on his face, but determined to sit through our movie. Fair enough. Half way through Sunshine, he then disappeared for another 20 minutes. After we decided to head our separate ways home, he messaged me later to tell me that his dinner had come back up, but at least we got to spend the time together tonight. Sweet, but indigestion isn't really what I'd had planned for our Anniversary. Lucky I'm only counting it as a normal date.

--
Gaylord Indian Restaurant
4 Tattersalls Lane
Melbourne

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A Light Detox

After weeks of balls, 21sts, housewarmings and good times, I feel as though I've been steadily adding onto my winter bulk with my overindulgence of delicious, yet not figure flattering foods. What I need now whilst feeling bloated and overindulgent is a light soup broth that is easy to make, yet nutritional enough to make a meal out of it. I yearn for the days of living at home, where my detox diet would be substituting my dinner meal every day with a large platter of steamed vegetables, steamed tofu topped with soy sauce, a piece of fish and to finish off, a plate of assorted fruits. More often than not, there was also a large steaming bowl of soup broth left to boil on the stove for hours, slaved over lovingly by my grandma as she added corn on the cob, pieces of tender pork, pork bones that gave the soup such rich flavours and many other ingredients with high medicinal and nutritional value. I never quite knew what were in those soups, but I did know that they were light, yet filling and definitely good for me.

These days, I wouldn't dream of going to such lengths to produce a good bowl of soup. An easy alternative I've come up with is miso soup. I never used to be a big fan of miso soup, especially the complimentary soup that comes with bento boxes at Japanese restaurants. However, after buying a packet of miso, I figured I should probably do something with it. Because I often find miso soup too salty, I've remedied this by adding more water to the soup broth as I make it. I then add whatever I can find into the soup, depending on what I feel like - instant buckwheat ramen, vegetarian dumplings from Chinatown, wakame (Japanese seaweed), other veggies, slices of silken tofu. It makes for a warm, light, yet filling winter meal.


Miso Soup
2 tbs miso
2 1/2 cups boiling water
frozen vegetarian dumplings
silken tofu, cubed
wakame

1) Pour boiling water into a saucepan.
2) Add spoonfuls of miso into the water and allow to dissolve slowly. Add or omit water depending on personal preference for saltiness levels (typically, the packet advises 1 tbs of miso to 1 cup boiling water).
3) Once the soup is prepared, add other ingredients and let boil for several minutes.
4) Serve hot.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Cafe 639 - The Great Muesli Hunt III

Maybe it was the gorgeous autumn morning. Maybe it was the fact that I was strolling hand in hand with the boy down beautiful Rathdowne Street. Maybe it was the sleep-in. Or that it had rained the previous evening. Or the sun shining on my face. But despite the (minor) fact that it was more likely than not store-bought, I found myself really enjoying the wonderful muesli at Cafe 639 this morning. The lovely toasted concoction was liberally mixed with coconut shavings, raisins (which I don't actually really like generally, but I quite like in muesli and the occasional hot cross bun), seeds, almonds and dried paw-paw. I also particularly liked that it was served with a little jug of milk, plus tiny tubs of yoghurt and honey, on the side. I like that they don't presume I want the yoghurt on the muesli (because I don't, I like to eat it on the side, and that's my thing). Spoonfuls of yoghurt and honey, muesli and sips of a wonderfully hot latte, there's absolutely no better way to start the day.

--
Cafe 639
639 Rathdowne Street
North Carlton


Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Carlton Paragon Cafe - The Great Muesli Hunt II

On my way home last night, still disgruntled at my lack of muesli that morning, I stopped on a whim to look at the The Paragon's menu, and lo and behold, I saw "Muesli (toasted)". I was ectastic. In the year or so I've been living around the area, I've always meant to visit The Paragon. Somewhat of an institution on Rathdowne Street, it is always packed with people, even on weekday mornings when I walk past. The lure of toasted muesli was definitely enough to convince me it was time to visit.

The next morning, the steady drizzle of rain didn't even make me think twice about my morning breakfast trip. Despite the drab weather, the place was half filled with young families, couples and early-morning bikers. I found myself a table in the corner, first ordering a soy latte, then the muesli. I was quite impressed that the waitress took the initiative to ask if I wanted soy milk with my muesli - it was probably quite an obvious thing to ask, but I was still touched that she did. Good service is getting harder to find these days. Bet the waitress at The Element wouldn't have bothered to ask. I was also impressed with the waiter who, though wasn't even serving me, came over to drop off some honey for me without even asking. I think perhaps he was intrigued by the fact that I was the only customer dining alone. The service, and coffee, was quick, friendly and served with a smile - both factors that earnt thumbs up in my book.

However, determined as I was to enjoy my toasted muesli, something wasn't quite right from the moment I took the first spoonful. It was good enough muesli, sure, stuff I actually liked. The problem was that it tasted exactly like (and probably was) stuff you buy at the supermarket. Now I'm all for supermarket muesli, especially since you can actually get a massive range of choices these days. My housemates could tell you that I could get through an entire pack of Lowan Swiss Muesli in less than a week (which is why I don't buy it anymore, because if it's not in the house, I won't eat it. Good preventative measure.). Perhaps I had high expectations since I was paying money to have it served to me, or perhaps I (mistakenly) thought everywhere that served muesli for breakfast should have homemade stuff. Whatever. Point is, it was good, but it just didn't satisfy. There was no satisfying extra-crunch from the muesli being crisped to perfection after toasting. Nothing against The Paragon itself, which is a lovely, cosy little cafe, close and homey enough that I'd happily visit again. Although, on my next visit, I probably won't order the muesli..

--
The Carlton Paragon Cafe
651 Rathdowne Street
Carlton North

The Element - The Great Muesli Hunt I

This morning, I woke up with an intense craving. As I was heading to the library which opened at 11 anyway, I decided to find a way to satisfy this craving for a big bowl of homemade toasted muesli, preferably liberally doused in milk. MMmmm. It didn't help that I kept getting flashbacks to a particularly wonderful version I'd had several week's ago at Degraves Espresso Bar, which was absolutely divine. I had a mind to head into the city purely to satisfy this urge, but decided it would be too much out of my way, especially since I actually had work to do.

I headed for Big Harvest on Elgin Street, vetoing all the lovely cafes on Rathdowne Street which were inevitably packed with families, only to find that it was actually closed. Bugger. I called in at Thresherman's Bakehouse, but they only had natural muesli. I then wandered down Lygon Street and Grattan Street, all the way heading towards Melbourne Uni, getting increasingly desperate about my chances of finding the elusive muesli.

With no luck anywhere else, my last resort was The Element, conveniently located a few blocks parallel to my destination. The big plus was that it was empty and quiet, allowing me to read my paper and eat my breakfast in peace. After sitting down, however, I asked about the muesli on the menu ("Is it toasted or natural?") to which the waitress then replied "... what do you mean toasted or natural?". Now, this is not a hard question. I was especially irked purely because I had spent so long looking for this muesli and my patience was running thin. But after several minutes consultation with someone unseen in the kitchen, the answer came back that it was, in fact, natural muesli. The world is clearly against me this morning.

I did end up ordering a toasted basil pesto pide bread with olive oil, which came served on a wooden block (very impressive looking - simple, yet elegant) and was still hot from just coming out of the oven. It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it was still okay. Not fantastic, but okay. My 'Extreme C' juice, comprised of guava, apple and some sort of berry juice, was also tasty and was enough to keep me occupied until my pide bread came. At $7.40, it was okay. It seems highly unlikely, though, that I'll be back in the near future. Not until they figure out the difference between toasted and natural muesli.

--
The Element Bar Bistro
604 Swanston Street
Carlton
www.theelement.com.au

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Enoteca Sileno - Foodies Dinner Fun

There is never any excuse other than love of food needed, in my opinion, for foodies to meet up to eat, talk, take photos and generally have a great time together. So when I heard from Thanh from I Eat Therefore I Am that Swee (of A Self-proclaimed Foodaholic fame) was going to be in Melbourne, I jumped at the chance to tag along. Being a newbie in the foodie world means I have to try everything, right? Right. And so it transpired last Saturday night that four Melbourne (and one Sydney) foodies met up at Enoteca Sileno in Carlton North for a night of fine foodie dining. My lovely dinner companions for the night were Thanh, Swee, Shirley, Yvonne.

Located on Lygon Street, it sits in the midst of a residential strip closer to the Brunswick end away from the city. Primarily a wine bar, it also has a restaurant serving various foods from all regions of Italy, as I read in The Age review. I've passed Enoteca a few times before on my way back and forth from Brunswick, and have also read several reviews from other bloggers. I loved the look of the restaurant itself, which presented itself as authetically Italian without going overboard. It also had a lovely food store attached that unfortunately closed before we finished our dinner, but really just provides me with an excuse to go back.

Now onto the food.
We spent quite a long perusing the menu, because, well, it all sounded amazing. In the end, we all ordered different things so we could share and try out everything. I'm sure it probably wasn't the 'done' thing, but hey, we're Asian - we eat family-style. Plus it was extremely amusing that the moment the food arrived, all 5 of us whipped out our cameras and pressed them up close to the food to take various pictures. We made sure not to cross-flash and in waiting for everyone to be satisfied with their photos, ended up waiting a good 10 minutes after the food arrived before we actually ate!


The menu, specifically the assaggini - Italian starts or entrees. The page-ful of choices were all enticing and seemed moderately well-priced but for the smaller than average portions. If you order a few to share between you, though, it works out fairly well if the purpose is just to try a little of each.

(Photo courtesy of Thahn)
We ordered the Involtini di prosciutto e carciofi alla Romana (Preserved, stemmed artichokes wrapped in Prosciutto), Carpaccio di pagello con pesto di ortaggi (Red Emperor Carpaccio) and Involtino di pesce spada (Baked swordfish involtino). I was set to enjoy the fish more, and I did quite like the baked swordfish, but I was most impressed by the artichokes wrapped in prosciutto. It also looked the most impressive, albeit, like Yvonne mentioned, rather like a heart.


Our mains, chosen after careful scrutiny of the menu, were varied and impressively all quite different. I chose the Risotto con pere e gorgonzola piccante (Risotto of pear and gorgonzola piccante), purely for the sake of curiosity and variation. As Thanh and Swee have both mentioned, we all found this 'interesting'. I wasn't quite sure in the beginning, but ended up quite enjoying it the more bites I took. The sweetness of the pear certainly made a nice contrast with the creamy and very cheesy rice. Refreshing in a heavy sort of way.

(photo courtesy of Thanh)
Swee's choice was Stracotto d'agnello al vino rosso e vincotto originale con farro mantecato allo stracchino erba cipollina e pinoli tostati (Lamb slow-braised with red wine, cloves, juniper berries and Vincotto Originale served on farro with chives, toasted pine nuts and stracchino cheese). The sauce, as Thanh pointed out numerous times, had the aroma and sweet taste of hot cross buns, probably due to the juniper berries and cloves. I quite enjoyed this, as the lamb was quite tender and I liked the sweet sauce on the lamb. We had trouble figuring out, when the dish arrived, what the farro was - we guessed either risotto or barley. Nonetheless, it worked quite well.

(photo courtesy of Thanh)
Shirley went with the Risotto con pure di porri e polpa di granchio (Risotto with leek puree and blue swimmer crab meat). I wasn't a big fan of this, given that I'm not highly partial to crab. It did have quite a clean flavour that fresh seafood often does. There was also quite a lot of crab meat within the risotto, which was impressive.

Thanh had the Coniglio ripieno con finocchio brasato (Saddle of rabbit with a thyme and onion stuffing, olive oil poached rabbit leg and braised fennel). I tried both some of the leg as well as the saddle, and although both cuts were very tenderly cooked, the saddle was complimented nicely by the flavours of the stuffing. Despite my childhood experiences with rabbit (another story for another day - heh), I really enjoyed this.

Yvonne's Risotto allo zafferano con garretto di vitello (Saffron risotto with slow-cooked veal shank) was my favourite dish of the night. The risotto was beautifully coloured and was also complimented nicely with the spicy tomato broth. It had somewhat of a cheesy flavour to it as well, which reminded Yvonne of macaroni and cheese. Whatever it was, it was nowhere as strong as the Pear and Gorgonzola risotto. Best of all, the veal shank was so very very tender. Mmmm.

When at a dinner like this, it seems almost blasphemous not to order dessert. Thanh immediately zoned onto the Tiramisu, which, judging from his blog, he seems to have a penchant for! It was quite heavy on the coffee, which I liked. Could be addictive.. if I wasn't so full.

I found the lightest thing on the menu, which was the Sorbet. It came in 3 scoops, all different flavoured - lemon, blood plum and (what we eventually figured out to be) watermelon. The lemon isn't as fresh and tangy as Il Dolce Freddo further back down Lygon Street, values I hold highly in my lemon sorbet. My favourite was the blood plum, very refreshing. The watermelon was interesting, but more 'fake' than the other two. It was garnished with candied orange and syrup.

(photo courtesy of Thanh)
Shirley decided on the Zambaglione with a toffee crust and berry sorbet. The Zambaglione itself was kind of like an overly-runny creme brulee (I didn't enjoy the runniness of it all that much), but when all parts were eaten together, it was really quite good. Not something I would personally order, but a surprising find.

I so enjoyed meeting up with Melbourne foodie bloggers, and I hope to do it again in the future! I quite liked Enoteca, although I can't say I was convinced enough to return in the future of my own accord. It was a lovely experience and the service and atmosphere were wonderful, but I personally think there are better restaurants out there. That being said, it's still making me hungry looking back over these pictures!


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Enoteca Sileno Vino Bar
920 Lygon Street
Carlton North
Price: about $40 each, between 5 of us

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Perfect Moment


In the ever demanding world of reality, sometimes the deadlines, engagements, people, things threatens to overwhelm you and you can feel yourself bursting at the seams as the pressure mounts. And you know if you don't find release, any release, it can be difficult to go on like you did before.

My own personal release this afternoon was a stroll down beautiful Rathdowne Village on this gorgeously warm autumn day. After finding a few treasures at the library (among of which includes a copy of Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion!), I wandered in search of solitude and something to sweeten my soul. After vetoing the Rathdowne Street Food Store for its overflow of people, I discovered the delightful Sweet Source.

Sweet Source is a rustic-ly lovely little cafe, small and homey enough to sit in a corner by one self, but groomed enough to be sophisticated and beautiful - 'high art' of the dessert world. Most of the tables were half filled by mothers and children after a library expedition, couples enjoying the beautiful afternoon and people at the end of a (very) late lunch break. The food itself comprises of a mix of both sweet and savoury, and the savoury looks substantial enough for a nice meal (baguette rolls, quiches, tarts, etc.). There is no question, however, that the sweets are the main event in this place. The beautiful tarts, pies, cakes, muffins had me drooling the moment I walked in.

I ordered an iced coffee, and the waitress was nice enough not to mind as I stood around for about 5 minutes trying to decide between all the lovely sweets on display. Ooh, maybe an almond and orange friand, but perhaps too cakey. The chocolate brownie with smarties looked deliciously satisfying, but perhaps too heavy. I was very nearly tempted by the gorgeous cupcakes on display (both full-sized and miniature - so cute!), but decided in the end on a piece of the apple and blueberry crumble pie.

Oh was this pie worth it. The beautifully stained apple slices and blueberries were tart and fresh paired with the sweet crumble topping, and even better with a whip of the homemade freshly whipped cream that came in a little dish. The base was not the crumbly biscuit base I imagined, but made of puff pastry instead. I don't particularly have a preference for either, but the fruit and crumble was enough to make me love this pie no matter what. I spent a lovely hour people watching and reading Oscar Wilde and it was exactly what was needed to invigorate me. All in all, a perfectly lovely afternoon.

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Sweet Source
288 Rathdowne Street
North Carlton

Friday, March 30, 2007

Love the Earth, and the Earth will love you back

Planet Earth has done its bit to help us survive for the past few million years. Let's do what we can, however small, to try and make up for the irrepairable damage we've done.

Earth Hour - Saturday 31 March 2007, 7:30pm-8:30pm

Switch your lights off for just one hour. It will barely make a difference to us, but will do Earth a whole world of good.
(Besides, it gives you an excuse to play by candlelight :-))

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Catching up...

So the funny thing about life is as soon as you make a commitment to something, many many more things come along to try and upset that life balance. Unfortunately, this baby of a blog has suffered greatly in place of life and everything else that entails. However, the eating most definitely does not stop.

Sunday, 18 March - Thai Culture & Food Festival
Being, of course, the "secret foodie", I try and exercise some discretion by hiding from friends and family the true extent of my foodie craziness. I love food festivals with a passion and after an unfortunate incident several years ago involving triple chocolate brownie samples, mexican hot chocolate and make-your-own-s'mores... well, let's just say I'd like to keep what reputation I have intact.
Thus on a beautiful Sunday morning, I found myself wandering down Swanston Street and into Fed Square (after telling my housies that I, um, had to visit the library. It's important. Really.)

The disadvantages of attending such festivals yourself, of course, is that there is nobody to remind you to take photos. It was only after I'd wolfed down a vegetarian Pad Thai that I remembered the camera in my bag. Doy. While eating my dessert, however, I did manage to befriend a pair of Irish backpackers who were extremely interested in a) why I was alone at the festival and b) why I was taking photos of my dessert. After informing them what this foodie business was all about, they asked me to blog about the 'thai taster' box of goodies they were each chowing down, which looked delicious in their wonderfully greasiness. Steve particularly enjoyed the chicken satay and curry puff while Dave was more partial to the fish cake. The box also included a pork spring roll and golden bag (which looked just like a deep-friend dumpling). The boys informed me that it was a bargain at $7 for 5 samples of different entrees. The stall included a vegetarian option - which sounds more delicious to me. Mmmm.

This interesting dessert was simply labelled "Black Cake". That would probably put off most people, but my Asian heritage has left me with an inherent curiosity for most random asian things (I do draw the line at chicken feet. And abalone. And shark fin... Let's just play this one by ear). It did look gloriously gelatinous and I do so love anything gelatinous. The cake itself was quite sweet, topped with some salted coconut shreds and came with a satchet of black sesame seeds to sprinkle on top. The sweet and salty mix was very interesting, and coupled with the texture of the cake, made for a wondeful end to the meal.

I was intruiged by a roti with condensed milk as a dip, so I bought one to use up the rest of my money tokens. Unfortunately, the girl informed me, they didn't have condensed milk. Hmmm. Odd, considering that was half of the dish they were selling.. but no matter. I took my roti and went and ate it down at the shore of the Yarra watching rowers go by. And although it was slightly cold(er than I usually eat roti's), it was wonderfully flaky and chewy at the same time. Mmmm.

I
HATED that I missed the following week's International Flour Festival and Wicked Sunday -- they were the ones I was looking forward to the most of the entire festival. Unfortunately the entirety of the weekend was taken up by an assignment (which I procrastinated on until Monday morning, when it was due that afternoon anyway, so I might as well have went..). I did wander on down as far as Lonsdale Street and popped into the Greek Festival, but was severely disappointed by the atmosphere. There was practically nobody there, the mechanical rides had nobody on there, barely any 'cultural' stands were up. Hell, the only food stalls I could see were two souvlaki stands and a 'hot food' truck, but that was about it. I couldn't even bring myself to buy a souvlaki (also because I had no cash at that particular point in time). It was sad.

Since I've been practically living in the library for the past two weeks or so, I haven't done anything else much food-wise. Most notable mentions have been a randomly thrown together thai green curry (made with green curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce, onion, capsicum, carrot, mushroom, potato and tofu) and also a rather delicious roasted pumpkin I had at
Thresherman's Bakehouse one night.

I promise from now on, I will blog regularly
and photo-document my eating. And now to find some dessert..