Monday, 29 September 2008

Grand Final day - brunch at Tom Phat

Tom Phat
184 Sydney Road, Brunswick (map)
9381 2374

Tom Phat

On Saturday I squeezed in a brunch at Tom Phat, in between an early morning Grand Final champagne breakfast at S's place (where we watched the DVD of the 1989 VFL Grand Final: "GASP as Ablett gets tackled by his brother-in-law and kicks nine awesome goals on a losing side, Johnny 'The Rat' Platten gets concussed and Dipper plays three quarters with a punctured lung! LAUGH at the tight tight short shorts and mullets! THRILL to the sight of Dermie spewing after being run through by Yeates at the opening bounce, then going on to kick three goals despite broken ribs and internal bleeding!") and then the 2008 big game in the afternoon, which was of course brilliant. :-)

Brunch was wonderfully relaxed. O had just returned from ten days in Sardinia, and was looking outrageously tanned in a crisp white shirt. We all started with lovely freshly squeezed juices. I'd heard plenty of good things about Tom Phat (particularly their breakfasts), but previously had only ever been in there for coffee and cake. I love the way the interior design mixes polished concrete surfaces and industrial light fittings with languid Graham Greenesque ceiling fans and bamboo ceilings.

Schatz had the sweet corn fritters with poached egg, smoked salmon, capers, rocket and crème fraîche ($13.90). She gave me a taste - they were delicious, right up there with the ones I love so much at Mart 130. The capers were an especially nice touch.

Sweet corn fritters

A had the big breakfast: poached eggs, crispy bacon, roasted tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, avocado, minus the hollandaise but plus hash browns ($14.90 + $3). He reported back to us very favourably, noting it was nice to order crispy bacon that actually comes out crispy.

Tom Phat breakfast

As for me, I wanted to try one of the several breakfast dishes at Tom Phat that had a tropical Asian spin on them. I was tempted by the Sri scrambled eggs (with spring onion, curry leaves and cherry tomatoes and crispy roti), the Viet eggs fried (with chilli soy and spring onion) and even Uncle Ho's breakfast (grilled marinated pork chop, crispy fried egg, tomato, cucumber and rice).

But in the end both O and I selected the clay pot baked eggs, with roasted tomato, caramelised onion and sweet tamarind minced pork and served with a hunk of crusty bread ($11.90). I loved it - the tang of the tamarind gave the dish a real lift, and matched the acidity of the tomato and the sweetness of the onion beautifully. I know the photo doesn't make the dish look especially appetising, but in this case looks are most certainly deceiving!

Clay pot baked eggs

When I got to work today and told C about the brunch, she practically smacked me for not trying her favourite dish at Tom Phat: the roti omelette (wok-tossed with bacon, chives and roasted tomato salsa). She orders it fortnightly!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Footy Finals Fever and lunch at The Grand


The Grand Hotel
333 Burnley Street, Richmond (map)
9429 2530

On Saturday I went with my ex-office-buddy J and his mates to the second preliminary final to see the Hawks SOAR to victory! The game started at 7pm, but we wanted to celebrate the lead-up to the game with a bit of style and panache this time (no marathon booze-up at The Corner today!) - so we had a leisurely late lunch at The Grand.

The Grand

Although I'd been a-drinking at The Grand before, I'd never dined at its hatted restaurant. The setting was relaxed/formal and the staff were great, happily accommodating our 2pm booking.

The Grand

We started with a dozen beautiful Tasmanian oysters:


Although I'd asked them when I'd made the booking to make sure there were still a few 500g steaks left (J's original plan had been to spend the afternoon devouring a big mofo of a steak at Vlado's, after all), we all ended up getting seduced by other items on the menu instead. I had the roasted lamb rack with a salad of frisella bread, artichoke, peppers and cherry tomatoes ($35.50) - it was the best lamb I've had in ages. So soft and tender and juicy, and yet really quite light with the vegetables, artfully soggy bread and piquant vinaigrette.


Two of the other dishes sampled were the roast duck with cabbage, gnocchi (make that gnocco) alla Romana and orange juniper berry sauce ($33.50) and the veal, pot roasted with white wine and dill, served with silverbeet and parmesan ($29.50).


The dish I liked the look of most apart from mine was the tagliatelle (made fresh on the premises that morning) with a ragù that featured eggplant (about $26). S reported back that it was delicious.

Tagliatelle with ragu

We washed down our mains with a Mornington Peninsula pinot noir, then afterwards ordered a shot to steady the pre-game nerves. I had a glass of Poire Williams and the boys had a glass of Grappa each - except for Q, who ordered a ripper of a dark beer, the toffee malty Matilda Bay Dogbolter. I'd never had it before, but I'll certainly look out for it next time I'm down the grog shop...


After the meal, we walked from The Grand to the MCG, kicking the footy along Swan Street and stopping for a while to boot it up and down the alleyway between Dimmeys and the Vietnamese bakery.


The queue at the Members' entrance to get a reserved seat at 4:30pm was INSANE.

Queue for the Members, MCG

Because we had a few hours to kill before the game started but were too nervous about the game to have more than one beer in the Blazer Bar, I decided to potter around in the MCC museum.

MCC Museum

I love the revamped Members' section. I also really love living walking distance from the 'G - on a clear night I can sit in my back garden and hear the crowd roar "BALL!!". I've been getting back into footy this year thanks to J, but of course the promximity thing is particularly awesome in summer - roll on the cricket season!

MCC Members


Carn the mighty Hawks

Monday, 22 September 2008

Confession time: guilty pantry secrets

As a general rule, so-called foodies' tastes can acceptably encompass both cheap and expensive ingredients, and both wholesome and some rather unhealthy foods... but one of the big no-nos is trashy, instant, highly-processed food.

During the dinner party I hosted last Saturday, G was helping me out in the kitchen. Looking for the salt, she flung open the doors to my pantry and stood for a few moments surveying the contents. As she did so, I must confess that I felt slightly uneasy - what if she saw some of the non-foodie food items in my pantry? Items that no foodie worth her organically-certified sea salt should rightly own?

It got me thinking about guilty pantry secrets: food items you love even though they're highly unfashionable. The thought has been following me around all week, so without further ado I present to you three items in my pantry that I love but feel guilty about loving, in the hope that you (a) won't judge me too much, and (b) will share some of your own guilty pantry secrets in the comments section...


Old El Paso Pickled Sliced Jalapeños

One of my very favourite trashy snacks is a toasted cheese sandwich crammed full of Old El Paso pickled jalapeños. The ultra-tacky Old El Paso labelling always reminds me of a Mexican restaurant I went to in Edinburgh five years ago with my friend Sam, who was from San Diego and a champion yachtswoman. It was a freezing cold night and we happened upon a restaurant called The Tijuana Yacht Club - I insisted that we dine there, on the strength of the funny name alone, and after much protesting Sam agreed. We ate what would pass for a decent enough Mexican meal in Australia, and as we finished eating I said something along the lines of, well that wasn't half bad. Sammy gave a heavy theatrical sigh, dropped her fork with a clatter and looked at me with pity. "Claire, WHEN you come to So-Cal, and WHEN I take you to Mexico, then you'll understand what you're missing out on. Oh my GOD!"

And yes, when I did make it to Southern California and to Mexico I did appreciate good Mexican food. But that doesn't mean I don't still like the occasional Old El Paso meal! :)

Malaysian Creamy Satay

Continental Asian Recipe Base: Malaysian Creamy Satay

Yeah, I know. I KNOW. It's completely fake. It's powder you add to pan-fried onion, chicken, capsicum, water and peanut butter, for heaven's sake. But... I just love the taste of it! I used to make it for my brother and sister for dinner when I was first old enough to babysit by myself, and it remains a guilty comfort food I still love to whip up when I haven't got the energy to make anything else.


Heinz tinned spaghetti

Okay, this is the point in the post where I really hope my Mum doesn't read this, otherwise she may call up the carabinieri and arrange for my Italian passport to be revoked... I think it was the year of crappy college food in Adelaide that made me appreciate the occasional weekend breakfast of tinned spaghetti on toast. To be honest, this tin has sat unopened in my pantry for several months, so it's not even as though tinned spaghetti is high in my list of priorities. But yes: I do own a tin I hoped G didn't notice as she inspected my pantry contents.

Now that I've bared the most shameful items in my kitchen... what guilty pantry secrets do you have? :)

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Decadent Thursday at Maha

Maha Bar and Grill
21 Bond Street, Melbourne (map)
9629 5900


Best-friend-K and I had decided to have another Decadent Weeknight last Thursday, her last night in town before her four week trip overseas. She'd kiboshed my initial suggestion of Attica ("too far away!" whined the inner northern suburbs snob), but was just as excited as I was with my other suggestion: Maha Bar and Grill, the Middle Eastern sister to Der Presse-Club and first flagship restaurant of Shane Delia.

Maha interior

I'd met b-f-K at the other end of the city for a pre-dinner drink with a group of her friends at Meyers Place, which is where she dropped the bombshell: she'd resigned from her job that afternoon. And seeing as she'd already obtained four weeks of leave, that meant that she'd just had her last day! I'm thrilled for her - the new job she's got sounds awesome. Just as well, I thought to myself, that we were going somewhere a bit fancy to celebrate...

We trammed down Collins to Maha. We loved the sleek, sexy interior, ambient lighting and thick Persian carpet. We sat and told our smooth waiter we'd like to try the four course Soufra (banquet) menu ($65 per head). He immediately brought us a pair of shot glasses filled with a delicious iced tea - I think it was hibiscus?

Maha tea

Smooth Waiter returned and murmured "How would you like to start the evening? A glass of champagne, perhaps?". Buoyed by the two drinks we'd had at Meyers Place as well as the desire to celebrate b-f-K's big news, we looked at each other and both chimed "Yes please". SW glided back moments later with an open bottle of Veuve and poured us each a glass.

I took a sip and (as I always do) instantly regretted every glass of cheap nasty bubbly that has ever passed my lips, and made a vow (always quickly broken) to drink only top shelf sparkling, even if it means ordering them far less often.

I put the glass down and, in recounting some trivial anecdote, promptly gesticulated dramatically with my hands and sent my barely touched glass flying across the room and onto the carpet. SW materialised and swiftly replaced my glass and filled it up with more Veuve. And we were only charged for two glasses. Classy. (them, not me) :)

Maha Verve

First course was berid mezze (small cold dishes), served on a you-know-what (seriously, whole rainforests are being felled so that Melbourne's restaurants have wooden sharing platters). Clockwise from bottom left: mixed olives, a creamy dip, little couscous salad, felafel (or maybe they were kofte) labna balls rolled in sumac, hummus, really yummy foam thing (it had cubed cucumber and something memorably sweet at the bottom - was it honey?) as well as the most amazingly light chicken liver mousse. A side plate of pita bread arrived and was replenished throughout our meal.

Maha antipasti

Next course was sokhoun mezze (small hot dishes). The calamari was just incredible - the honey and almond batter was like nothing I've ever even thought of having before with calamari, but it really worked. The quail was also excellent, served on a sald which included crispy pancetta-like strips.

Maha calamariMaha quail

Third course was shahen kbeer (large dishes). Clockwise again from bottom left: a fattouche, butterfish with pine nuts and pomegranate, roasted red pepper dip and potatoes with coriander and lemon.

Maha mainsMaha mains

The butterfish was another real highlight. I'm crazy about pomegranates. The other main was a sweet, sticky roast lamb... but to be honest, we were getting very full by this stage, so were forced to leave most of it.

Maha butterfishMaha lamb

Finally, helwayet (desserts). Somehow, we perked up again and found room for dessert. I'm not normally a fan of turkish delight, but the turkish delight-filled donuts were hot and delicious, expecially when combined with the two ice creams (one of which tasted sort of like those Pez lollies... but in a really good way.

Maha desserts

Also included was a diamond of baklava and two glasses of orange blossom homemade lemonade with pine nuts and mint, and a watermelon sorbet with finely chopped fresh strawberries, pine nuts (can't get enough of them!) and either mint or basil, can't remember which (probably mint). Which was the prefect, refreshing way to finish off the meal.

Maha baklavaMaha sorbet

Another lovely little touch: the bill came served inside a hollowed out old book. It also came with a silver vessel containing lemon oil, to rub on your hands to make them smell gooooood...

Maha pinotMaha lotion

We loved it. I'm most keen to go back soon to try some of the à la carte menu items. Want one more reason to love Maha? On Saturday nights they serve a midnight fest menu, called Sa'hra, from 11pm to 3am. In like Flynn, I tells ya!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Spring fling dinner party

Beetroot risotto

Last night I hosted the dinner party I alluded to here on Melbourne Gastronome earlier in the week, when I was trying to plan an easy-to-prepare yet hopefully somewhat fancy three course meal for some lovely friends of mine, two of whom had certain dietary restrictions. Lacking inspiration, I asked my readers for suggestions - my sincerest thanks to all of you who wrote with ideas, they have been duly noted and will all hopefully be trotted out at some stage in the future...

My favourite idea was that of Jack, who suggested a bright beetroot risotto, serving poached salmon (or steamed asparagus, for the vegetarian) on top. Thanks heaps Jack for writing that second post giving tips and pointers - I'd never cooked with fresh beetroot before, and was mighty glad to have your advice!

Spring fling dinner party

I had a lovely day on Saturday, soaking up the sun and preparing for the dinner. I planned to have the whole thing al fresco (seven people wouldn't have fit around my little white kitchen table indoors), so that meant giving the back courtyard the first bit of attention it'd had in months... I swept up all the winter leaves and pulled out all the weeds, including one which had grown so tall I'd given it a name...


Albert the weed, moments before his gruesome slaughter. The chair gives you some sense of scale. If he'd grown any bigger he'd have turned into a bloody triffid.

We started with a big jug of Year of the Rat, our house's signature cocktail, then over the course of the night worked our way though K's champagne, A&G's rosé and white, my Soave, A&G's pinot noir, my Moscato, San Pellegrino frizzante and cups of peppermint tea.

I'm really mad at myself for forgetting to take a photo of the first course! The company was too much fun for me to remember to pull out the camera. Basically I did a big antipasto spread - a platter of insalata caprese, a plate of sliced prosciutto, bresaola and pâté for us onmivores, mixed olives, caramelised onion pâté, balls of labna and a pumpkin and pepitas dip, served with warmed olive toscano bread and rice crackers. I believe it was F&M who brought the nuts.

I'm afraid the only photo I have is of the leftover remnants...

Remnants of antipasto

I was really happy with the way the risotto turned out. I'd roasted the beetroot wrapped in foil like Jack had instructed (they were big, so it took ages until they were soft enough), then peeled them (wearing rubber gloves, natch) and pureed them. Because K can't eat onion or spring onion or leek, I simply used a couple of chopped cloves of garlic as the base of the risotto, then gradually added the vege stock. Adding some fresh beetroot juice at the end really did bring the colour up again in a fabulously vivid fashion.

I decided to roast the salmon in the oven (just a thin slice each because we already had so much damn food), and G helped out by steaming the asparagus for me (thanks G!). Both were served with a dollop of mayo (to which I'd added fresh dill and pickled lilliput capers).

Beetroot risottoBeetroot risotto

Frau F brought a gorgeous salad containing croutons that were made from gluten-free bread. Danke, Schatzi! :-)

Schatzi's saladSpring fling dinner party

K brought some magnificent Jindi Triple Cream Brie, which had been out of the fridge for a while and was oozing like anything. I still have some leftover, might dig it out of the cheese box later this week... thanks K!

Cheese platter

The dessert I served was the semifreddo I'd made that afternoon. I'd chosen to make a double chocolate and hazelnut semifreddo (inspired by a recipe in an old Donna Hay magazine), topped with the dried cranberries I had leftover from last Saturday's dinner party. My recipe is as follows:



250g dark chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 eggs
2 extra egg yolks
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 and 3/4 cups cream
1 Milky Bar and 1 Cadbury Dream Bar, finely chopped (couldn't decide between them, so got one of each)
50g hazelnuts, chopped roughly

Place the chocolate and cocoa in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until smooth. Set aside.
Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in another heatproof bowl. Place over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk the mixture for 4-5 minutes or until heated through and frothy. Remove from the heat and beat with an electric mixer for 5-6 minutes or until pale and thick. Gently fold through the melted chocolate mixture and set aside.
Beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until very soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg mixture half of the white chocolate and half of the hazelnuts through the cream until just combined.
Line the base of a 8x26 cm loaf tin with non-stick baking paper. Arrange the remaining white chocolate pieces and hazelnuts in the base of the tin, the pour in the rest of the semifreddo mixture. Cover with foil and freeze for 4-6 hours. To serve, remove from tin and upend.

Spring fling dinner party

Again, I was very happy with the way the semifreddo worked out, and am determined to try making a range of semifreddo flavours all summer long. We ended the night with Ferrero Rochers that S had brought. Everyone was in fine form, and I had an absolute ball. Thanks once again to my guests for their valuable dinner party contributions, and my readers for their menu ideas!

King / Bourke Quest Part 20: Portello Rosso

Portello Rosso
15 Warburton Lane, Melbourne (map)
9602 2273

Portello Rosso

A Melbourne Gastronome reader suggested I check out newish (5 weeks) city pizzeria and jamón bar, Portello Rosso (thanks Andrew... oh, and everyone should check out Portello Rosso's very nifty website).

Portello Rosso

Portello Rosso is tucked away in Warburton Lane, just below one of my favourite CBD cocktail bars, Murmur. The restaurant was airy and light-filled during a sunny lunchtime when CJ and I visited last week, and I think it'll prove to be a great evening venue too.

Portello Rosso

The centrepiece on the downstairs communal table was a huge bouquet of flat leaf parsley. The two women who served us (one dreadlocked, one tattooed, both lovely and friendly) suggested CJ and I sit upstairs on the mezzanine level.

Portello Rosso

We were just nipping in for lunchtime express pizze, but had we had more time I would've loved to try out some of the tapas and jamón/prosciutto on offer - they slice up Jamón Serrano, Jamón Ibérico Joselito, Paleta Joselito and 24 month Fratelli gold prosciutto.

Portello Rosso

Drawing attention to Portello Rosso's laneway location, almost all of the pizze are rather cutely named after Melbourne laneways (eg Meyers, Crombie, Bennetts) - but alas there is no ACDC pizza. :)

I had the Highlander pizza ($10 for the lunchtime sized version, and it costs $14.90 for a bigger size). It featured jamón, manchego, rocket and olive oil, and had a wonderfully thin crust. I loved it.

Portello Rosso pizza

CJ had the Waratah pizza ($9/$14) with leg ham, tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, anchovy and fior di latte. I had a taste, and it was also very good. As CJ says: "Yeah, I love anchovy. And I don't care WHO knows it!"

Portello Rosso pizza

I reckon Portello Rosso is a most worthy addition to the CBD pizzeria scene, and I predict many a future lunch down there...

Portello Rosso