Monday, 31 March 2008

Post-R4K brunch at Flavours of Lakhoum

Flavours of Lakhoum
175 Swan St, Richmond (map)
9425 9805

Caffe Latte at Flavours of Lakhoum

One of the (justifiably) famous coffees made by Flavours of Lakhoum's barista and co-owner, Chris Phillips. And the best part is that it tastes just as good as it looks!

Had brunch at Flavours of Lakhoum yesterday with six fellow Richmond Mafia members. Three of our group had just participated in the Run pour les Petits Enfants and after 14km running up and down the Bolte and through the Domain Tunnel (GULP), DJ, J and Z had well and truly earned a hearty meal...

Avocado on toast

Z, who is vegetarian, went for the Open Avocado Toast ($8.50), which looked just sensational. I'll be getting it next time for sure. Z reported back that the tomato and avocado were extremely fresh and tasty, and she loved the lashings of torn basil.

Eggs Benedict

J was halfway through eating these Eggs Benedict (about $12, from memory) when a serve of Eggs Florentine arrived at the table and he realised he'd been eating B's brunch instead... lucky B didn't mind. :) The meals DID trickle out of the kitchen in a rather ragged fashion, but Lakhoum was jam-packed full at the time. Clearly, determined weekend brunch punters aren't put off by the fact that Swan Street is hardly a pretty picture on a Sunday morning - especially since the Precinct opened... having to sidestep the dried pools of vomit outside the latter establishment on my daily walk to the station is hardly glam, but on the plus side I have Lakhoum a few minutes walk from my house, so can't complain too much I suppose...

Flavours of Lakhoum breakfast

My brunch, the Flavours of Lakhoum Breakfast ($13), consisted of eggs on Turkish bread, tomato, olives, sliced cucumber, fresh baby spinach leaves and a wedge of sharp-flavoured feta: it was excellent. I'll do a second post about Lakhoum sometime in the next few months to cover a few more overtly Middle Eastern dishes from their lunch menu. My advice is to try and visit the cafe outside of peak hours, so that Chris has time to create an artwork in ALL of your coffees!

Flavours of Lakhoum

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Bloggers Banquet Mark 2, etc

Rob's sketch #1

Just in case some of you fellow food bloggers haven't heard about it, next Saturday afternoon PG from the blog A Goddess in the Kitchen is hosting the second Melbourne Food Bloggers Banquet at her Dromana abode, Chez Fur du Mer.

The first Bloggers Banquet, organised by Ed from Tomato, was held last November - I wrote about the experience here. It was great to put faces to usernames, chat about our shared interests and of course eat some sensational food. I'm looking forward to seeing many of the nice folk I met last time again, as well as meeting some newbies... if you're thinking of coming but not sure, don't let the fact that it may feel a little like a blind date en masse put you off! I'm still trying to work out what the hell I'm going to bring along - I was thinking of making my Free Form Cheese Cake with stewed rhubarb and praline, but I'm out at a friend's birthday drinks the night before so not sure when I'll have the time to prepare it!

The event is open to all food bloggers; check PG's post on the banquet for details.

Rob's sketch #3

Easter was an epic gastronomic weekend - posts showing the fabulous meals we had will follow shortly. Much of this dining was with R & S, two family friends and gourmands from London who earned my undying love and gratitude many years ago for taking me into their home and under their wing, at a time of extreme emotional crisis on my part (never get your young foolish heart broken by an English drummer if you can help it!). Accompanying this post are sketches which R did earlier this month in Tasmania - aren't they brilliant? I'd give my right arm for the ability to draw like that but seeing as I'm right-handed it would rather defeat the purpose... :)

Oh, and just quietly, in between bouts of laughter watching Armstrong & Miller's WWII RAF sketches, I've been reading Jack's two posts about Giuseppe Arnoldo & Sons (see Ed's post on GA&S too) and I have to say, I'm getting seriously tempted to break my boycott of Crown and all establishments located in its Complex... whaddya think, worth it?

Rob's sketch #2

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

King / Bourke Quest Part 16: SMXL and Bambini Barrista

This installment in the search for decent food in close proximity to the corner of King Street and Bourke Street in the CBD (my King/Bourke Quest) is a double feature of the two cafes I visit most regularly, SMXL and Bambini Barrista.

542 Little Bourke St, Melbourne (map)
9642 8611

Freshly baked m'oaves

Freshly baked m'oaves.... mmmmmm....

J and I get our morning coffees just about every morning at SMXL (pronunciation of the cafe name varies: many spell it out "ess em ex ell", but we prefer to pronounce it "SMICK-sel" (except for DJ, who prefers to call it "SMACK-sel")). We've become friendly with Justin, Craig, Sylvia and the other staff who work there, and love being regulars who are known by name.


As well as this branch in Little Bourke Street, there's another SMXL located behind the Rialto. The SMXL menus have an emphasis on good quality organic ingredients (which probably helped them win the Herald Sun CityStyle "Best Sandwich Joint" award), and use Baker D. Chirico bread because: a) it's excellent bread, and b) as one staff member cheekily put it, "their boss is sleeping with our boss" (ie they're partners). :)

M'oaves on offer at SMXL

My favourite snack on the menu are the m'oaves. What are m'oaves, I hear you ask? Well, you take muffins and combine them with loaves and you get m'oaves... loaf-shaped muffins. Every morning there's one savoury and two sweet varieties to choose from. Combinations include: raspberry and white chocolate, duo choc, fig and chocolate, pear and almond, orange and poppyseed, caramelised onion and fetta, pesto pinenut and cheese, sundried tomato and olive, etc. Getting a m'oave and a coffee costs $5.50 and makes a perfect naughty little breakfast or morning tea.

White choc and berry m'oave

This is a white chocolate and berry m'oave I brought back to my desk. J and I recently had the brainwave of asking for the m'oave to be lightly toasted, so that the chocolate just starts to go melty... GENIUS!

SMXL jaffle

Another great breakfast option at SMXL are the Jaffles for $6.50 - pictured here is my favourite, creamed corn and bacon, but they also do Eggs Benedict, home-made baked beans, or ham tomato and basil.

Moroccan lamb, caramelised onion, mint youghurt turkish bread at SMXL

They also do a wide range of salads and sandwiches at lunchtime. This is my favourite of their Turkish breads, containing Moroccan spiced lamb, mint yoghurt, caramelised onion and eggplant ($8.90).

Bambini Barrista
Shop 7, rear 530 Little Collins St, Melbourne (map)
9614 0023

I'll freely admit that of these two cafes, SMXL is my clear favourite... but when I'm meeting Schatzi I go to Bambini Barrista, because it's equidistant from our two offices. L also prefers BB to SMXL, mainly because at BB there's an open-air-yet-undercover seating area where he can smoke a cigarette in peace... :)

Bambini barrista

Tucked away at the back of a miniature food court on Little Collins Street near King Street, the BB ambiance is much less cosy and the barristas are somewhat brusque, but the coffee is good and so is the cheese and spinach borek - a hot steal at $2 per single and $3.50 per double portion!

Bambini barrista borek

Monday, 24 March 2008

Duck Duck Duck Peking Duck Extravaganza

Duck man distributing sauce

Old Kingdom
197 Smith St, Fitzroy (map)
9417 2438

The lovely and delightful Miss T, who was the first of my friends to organise a group to attend one of the Cafe Vue Cocktail Nights, corralled 11 of us the other week for a Duck Duck Duck Peking Duck Extravaganza at Old Kingdom.

Old Kingdom interior

Old Kingdom is in Smith Street Fitzroy, just down the road from Goshen, one of my favourite Korean restaurants. I had never been to Old Kingdom before, and was very excited about this opportunity to sample their legendary Peking duck. The duck at Old Kingdom needs to be ordered 48 hours in advance and as you will see, a $50 investment per duck gets you the whole freaking kit and kaboodle! The restaurant furniture and decor is seriously Old School Suburban Chinese which gave it a certain faded charm, even if the air conditioning unit above our table at one stage started drizzling fine rainforest mist upon us...

Crepey pancakesRipping off the duck's head

Once we were all seated and had cracked open the obligatory bottles of Pinot Noir (the liquid mate to Peking duck), our duck man arrived at the table, presented our "demonstration" duck to us, ripped its glazed head off with a flourish and proceeded to carve it up. We passed around the plate of thin crêpey pancakes and took one each (that's T on the left acting as my hand model!).

Carving up the duck

As he carved, our duck man kept up an obviously tried and true patter about the steps that would be required in the construction of our Peking duck pancakes. We weren't served by the original Duck Nazi owner (perhaps this young whippersnapper was his son?), but T assured me that the younger version's jokes were just as bad. :)

Laughing duck manStep one - quarter past three

"Step ONE," he proclaimed, drowning out all other table chatter, "spring onion and cucumber at QUARTER PAST THREE. Okay? Quarter past three."

In preparation for step twoStep two

He then distributed the bowls of hoisin sauce and deftly placed a piece of duck, crispy skin face upwards, over each person's vegetables. "Step TWO, teaspoon of sauce over the pancake. Hey - HEY! HEY!" he shouted at best-friend-K, with duck-bearing chopsticks poised over her plate. "What?" she responded, looking slightly perturbed. He looked down at her pancake and the askew vegetables and exclaimed "Spring onion and cucumber at QUARTER PAST THREE position! Quarter past three, or NO DUCK FOR YOU!". Only when she had righted her vegetables would he place the duck on her plate.

Step threeOpen mouth

When we had all completed Step Two, he further directed us: "Step THREE - fold the pancake. Six o'clock UP, twelve o'clock DOWN, nine o'clock ACROSS, then open mouth and duck goes in, HAHAHAHAHA!"

You can find an old clip on youtube showing the whole Old Kingdom duck experience here! :)

Sooo much duck

And how was the Peking duck, I hear you ask? It was PRETTY DAMN GOOD, up there with the Peking duck at Pacific Seafood BBQ House and (predictably) Flower Drum, but you get much more bang for your buck here.

On this blog I recently hypothesised that if I had to plan my final meal on earth, zucchini flowers stuffed with goats cheese would probably feature as an entree. Well, add to that really good Peking duck (and some amazing sashimi like the stuff I tasted from the Sydney Fish Market in December)... haven't decided on what the main would be yet. What would feature on the menu at your Last Supper?

Gai lan with oyster sauce

We'd foolishly decided to order a side serve of vegetables - gai lan with oyster sauce. It tasted fine, but what with the enormous amount of food produced from the ducks, turned out to be wholly superfluous.

Duck with bean shoots

Just as we thought we couldn't eat another bite of duck for a good long time, the second duck course came out - yes, when you pre-order your Peking duck at Old Kingdom you sign on for THREE duck courses! The second course was a somewhat more prosaic but still very nice stir fry of the leftover duck meat with bean shoots.

Duck soup

The final course was a duck and tofu broth, which was a great way to kick start the digestive process. When the soup was finished, we tottered out of the restaurant, stopping by the kitchen to pick up plastic bags of the leftover duck bones (all the better to make duck stock with) for L and T: "It's an Asian parents thing", they explained with embarrassment... :)

We made our way up the road to the Panama Dining Room and for once I was able to snag a table and couches right next to one of their magnificent Play School Arched Windows. We sat and drank to recover from the Duck Duck Duck Peking Duck Extravaganza, and girded our loins for the French Film Festival screening we were attending at 9:30 up at the Westgarth: Paris. I reckon Paris sorely lacked the energy of Cédric Klapisch's earlier films but hey, you can't have everything in one night, can you? :)

Old Kingdom exteriorArch window at Panama Dining Room

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Being interviewed on ABC Radio today!

Eek! I'm being interviewed today on ABC Radio Canberra about the facebook group I started called "The Women's Weekly Birthday Cake Book is awesome" (which I have already written about on Melbourne Gastronome here).

I'm due to be on the Afternoon Show sometime between 1:30-2:30pm local (and Melbourne) time (luckily, I can work my lunch hour around this)... and the big news is that hopefully Pamela Clark, the author of all the Australian Women's Weekly recipe books and director of the AWW test kitchen, will also be on the air with me!!

You can't listen to it on the radio unless you live in the 'berra, but it can be streamed live online here, so listen in if you've got the time. Wish me luck!!

Well, unfortunately for ABC listeners Pamela Clark had a scheduling conflict, so it was just me as Genevieve Jacob's guest. I hope I sounded okay... Genevieve was lovely and friendly, and my favourite part of the interview was when we joked about how creepy the Rubber Ducky cake looks with his popcorn afro, liquorice eyeliner and salty chip beak! It was good hearing her dial-in listeners sharing their AWW birthday cake stories on air too. The producer has promised to email me a recorded copy of the interview so that Mum can have a listen. Now, back to work!! :)

Fully Sikh wedding


Although I find bridezillas completely insupportable, I generally quite enjoy attending weddings. It's just as well, cos I've reached the age where I'm being invited to more and more of them. I thought I'd been to all kinds of weddings, ranging from the good (at one I sang Al Green's Let's Stay Together - if the name doesn't ring a bell you may know it as track 3 from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack - and at my friend Gumby's wedding her dancer sister performed an awesome interpretive dance to the string arrangement of Bjork's Hyperballad), the not-so-good (I can't forget that misogynistic Bible reading that made a row of us squirm with discomfort a few years ago) and the near-disastrous (Aunty J's wedding was flooded, the marquee literally washed away, but after cancelling the whole thing the rain stopped we were able to reconvene/reschedule for later in the day and it was beautiful)... but a few weeks ago I went to my first ever Sikh wedding!

Sikh templeAltar

The groom in question was my good friend and work colleague T who looked very dashing, and his bride J was extremely gorgeous and radiant. The ceremony took place at the gurdwara (Sikh temple) on the Hume Highway in Craigieburn - a huge fantastical building with a large central dome and four smaller cupolas in each corner (currently undergoing renovations). A big group of us from work attended, and we were careful to obey Sikh temple etiquette so we all wore head scarves (girls as well as boys, the latter group looking like extras from an amateur production of Pirates of Penzance) and left our shoes at the door.

PriestMarriage ceremony

The wedding ceremony, surrounding rituals and music were all extremely interesting to an outside observer like myself. You can read about what the ceremony entails here.

Preparing food

At the end of the ceremony, the priests handed out Parshad, a sweet flour-based dough which is regarded as food blessed by the Guru. The Parshad was prepared and distributed by the priests into our cupped hands from the silver bowls in the above photo. It was served warm, was very oily because of the ghee content (a recipe can be found here) and was not really to my taste, but I'm glad I decided to eat it rather than just wrap it up in a napkin and stash it in my purse.

Temple lunch

When the ceremony was over we all sat down on the floor in the outer hall and had a delicious vegetarian lunch. The chickpea and mixed veggie curries were accompanied by saffron rice and an unusually spongy bread - sort of a cross between naan and injera. For dessert, we each got a laddu, a flour-based ball dipped in sugar syrup and fried in ghee (a recipe is here). sinful but soooo good! :)

Altar and cameramanTemple musicians

Monday, 17 March 2008

King / Bourke Quest Part 15: Oriental Tea House

AY Oriental Tea House CBD

Oriental Tea House
378 Little Collins St, Melbourne (map)
9600 4230

I'd walked past it once and hadn't really paid attention, but it popped into my head when M, C and I were casting about trying to think of a new lunch venue that was roughly equidistant to our three offices. Luckily M and C successfully found it, despite my rambling description ("that big new yum cha-looking place on Lt Collins just uphill from Commercial Bakery"). Turns out that big new yum cha-looking place is another branch of the Oriental Tea House, from whose Chapel Street store I bought some oolong tea a few months back.

"Oh stewardess?"

It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon and although we hadn't booked (advisable with this place), we managed to score a table outside. Alas, no yum cha trolleys, but at lunchtime the dishes are brought round on trays by the wait staff. Each table also has a hilarious "Oh, stewardess?" button you can press for attention (and one button to ask for the bill)...but even with the "Oh, stewardess?" button we found the service very slow: you're hard pressed to get in, eat, and get out within the hour, especially if that hour is 1-2pm!

Crispy prawn rollsVegetable dumplings

The yum cha dishes at Oriental Tea House are modernised and Westernised, but we rather liked most of them. We started with some crispy prawn rolls (we don't normally get much of the deep fried stuff, but these looked really fresh and the pastry was nicely crinkly) and some steamed vegetable dumplings.

Yum cha mushrooms

This was in my opinion the most interesting of the dishes - stewed mixed mushrooms. The enoki mushrooms had a great texture.

Variety (gingery) dumplingsChicken dumplings

I also really liked the variety baskets. The ones on the left were simply called "Variety dumplings", and all had quite a bit of ginger in them - I baggsed the pink one. The ones on the right were variety chicken dumplings: I had the triangular one in the waxy casing. The folk at Oriental Tea House are on to a good idea having these variety baskets - because it's more of an informal cafe, with lots of tables for two, variety baskets mean that small tables still get to try heaps of different dumplings which, let's face it, is one of the key goals at any yum cha... :)

Shark fin dumplingsPork dumplings

The shark fin dumplings and the pork dumplings weren't too bad, but we felt the casing on the shark fin dumplings was a little too thick.

Asian greens with oyster sauceFried taro puffs

We also got the old favourites of greens with oyster sauce and yam/taro puffs. Both were very good.

Shredded steak

The only dodgy dish was the shredded steak, well fried with traffic light capsicum slices and drowning in gloopy, sickly sweet 'n sour sauce. I won't be ordering this one again. (*** UPDATE: I have been contacted by the good folk at Oriental Tea House who assure me that upon reading this review, the head chef went in to investigate what was up with the shredded steak, and the recipe has now been rectified! I haven't tried the shredded steak since then, but if you do decide to order it then rest assured that it should be nicer than the version I had. ***)

But apart from the misfire with the shredded steak, we enjoyed the other dishes. To be honest I prefer more traditional yum cha, but the slick Westernised version had a certain charm, which makes for a nice occasional change... plus I love that there's such a wide variety of teas to choose from. We chose the Iron Buddha Oolong tea, which was delicious!

Iron Buddha tea