Tuesday, 31 March 2009

King / Bourke Quest Part 23: +39

362 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne (map)
9642 0440

It's been ages since I've added an entry to the King/Bourke Quest, my ongoing search for good lunchtime fare walking distance from the building where I work on the corner of King and Bourke Streets, in the depths of the gastronomic wasteland known as the Melbourne Legal District.


Today's entry is +39, located on Little Bourke Street just down the hill from Sette Bello and (the now sadly defunct) Base Kamp. Thanks to mellie for alerting me to it last month!


Plus Thirty-Nine (or Più Trentanove, if we're going to get all mother-tongue about the Italian international dialing code) serves up wonderful, inexpensive pizzette, panini, piadine and pasta in a slick, modern vault of a place. It's run by Remo, one of the original Italian Stallions that used to charm me and chat in Italian at Carlton Espresso back when I was at law school.

One of the little touches I love at +39 is the pasta condiments: a tiny bowl of fresh cut chillies in olive oil, and a cheese grater doohickey dispensing Parmigiano Reggiano. Bravo.

Cheese grater, chilli oil

On my first visit there was no need for grated cheese - I had the Spaghetti Porri ($15) with caramelised leek and gorgonzola. Just brilliant!

Spaghetti with caramelised leek and gorgonzola

My colleague Miss B who was joining me for lunch enjoyed a hearty toasted panino with marinated capsicum, eggplant and potato.

Toasted pide at +39

I went back again last week with with O. We shared two pizze: one with fresh mozzarella, baby broccoli, anchovies and pine nuts, the other a Capricciosa with tomato, fresh mozzarella, leg ham, mushrooms, artichokes and Ligurian olives. Both were excellent - an authentic slice of Italy - and were only $10 each!

They'd run out when I was last there, but next time I'm keen to try the Gratin, which comes with fresh mozzarella, eggplant, breadcrumbs aromatised in garlic and olive oil with cherry tomato.

Pizza broccoliPizza capricciosa

We'd filled up on pizza so we didn't have any of the delicious cakes or bomboloni. If we had, I would TOTALLY have gone for the custard pear and fig tart on the right - it looked sensational!

+39 cake counter

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Oysters at Cumulus Inc: learning, tasting, shucking

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus IncOyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc
From the tasting notes:
Une huitre c'est un poisson fait comme une noix - An oyster is a fish posing as a nut
Jean-Charles, La Foire aux Cancres
Oyster masterclass at Cumulus IncShucking oysters with Andrew McConnell

I mostly gave the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival a wide berth this year. As mentioned in comments on a great post about the MFWF on Confessions of a Food Nazi, there's a lot of razzle dazzle, marketing hype and idolatry surrounding the many, many exorbitantly priced events in the program that rather turns me off them. And while I'm certainly not immune to becoming a ditzy fangirl of a chef whose food I've tasted and loved (Exhibit A: Mr Andrew McConnell *hemhem*), I generally dislike celebrity chefs and just couldn't work up any enthusiasm for any of the name-dropping Masterclasses.

That said, the one MFWF event that I went to that I loved was the Oyster Class run by Cumulus Inc and Moonlight Flat Oysterage: we learned about the history and cultivation of oysters, then had an oyster tasting and shucking lesson. I took as my guest my father (and oyster fiend) Rumpole, as a belated birthday present.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

Very cunningly, Cumulus Inc had arranged for the class to be held adjacent to the restuarant, in the exhibition space it had annexed from fortyfivedownstairs. It proved to be a fantastic chic venue.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

Throughout the night we were served wines supplied and presented by Scott Wasley from The Spanish Acquisition. First up was the 2006 Raventos Y Blanc De Blanc Cava 'Reserva' Penedes. I loved Rumpole's notes on the tasting notes.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

Just before the class began we were served delicious little pastries with anchovy, olives and onion. A girl on our table confirmed that these were the same anchovy pastries one can order as an appetiser at Cutler and Co, Andrew McConnell's other restaurant that I'd been to the night before (yes, it was a very Andrew McConnell intensive week!).

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

The other drinks we were served were the 2006 Castro Martin Albariño (Rias Baixas), the La Goya Manzanilla Sherry and a glass of Coopers Best Extra Stout. The Albariño was JUST SUPERB, and the stout was a great match for the oysters (as the tasting notes said, 'stout and oysters have shared a long association dating to the 1800's when oysters were not the delicacy we now consider, but a commonplace food served in pubs and taverns').

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

The class itself was run by Steve Feletti from Moonlight Flat. He touched on flat vs cupped oysters, Pacific vs Sydney Rock, stick vs single seed, the process of affinage and the effect certain factors (eg temperature, sunlight, rainfall, salinity, water flow) can have on the finished product.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

As Steve spoke to us and we asked questions, a crack unit of Cumulus Inc staff were assiduously shucking a mountain of oysters for our tasting. We were given ten mystery oysters (to be consumed in a clockwise order, starting from the wedge of lemon). On hand was rye bread with good quality butter and petite radishes to nibble.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

As well as Moonlight Flat's Clair de Lune Bouton, Angasi, Moonlight en Surface, Label Rouge and Rusty Wire oysters (details of which can be found here), the tasting included oysters from Moulting Bay and Coffin Bay and triploids from St Helens. We were each given an oyster knife to take home with us: it assisted in dislodging any stubborn oyster muscles and in the shucking at the end of the evening.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

Steve Feletti explaining how to shuck oysters. It's all about wriggling and pivoting the knife, firmly but not violently.

Oyster masterclass at Cumulus Inc

We all had a go at the end with the leftover oysters, with varying degrees of success. Rumpole had to take off for a business dinner, but sent me some very sweet text messages thanking me and extolling the virtues of the Petit Clair versus the Angasi.

Shucking oysters

I was most chuffed when Andrew McConnell remembered me from when a mutual acquaintance introduced us at Cumulus Inc last July. He offered to supervise as I shucked my first oyster, giving me pointers and helping me adjust my grip. What a lovely man.

There's nothing quite like consuming an oyster mere seconds after you yourself have shucked it!

Shucking oysters with Andrew McConnell

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Get thee to Andrew McConnell's Cutler & Co, Gertrude Street

Cutler and Co
55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (map)
9419 4888

Aperol Spritz at Cutler and Co

Enjoying an Aperol Spritz in the front bar section at Cutler and Co, the latest baby of Andrew "Cumulus Inc" "Three, One, Two" McConnell.

You'll find Cutler and Co on Gertrude Street between Nicholson and Brunswick Streets, at the other end from Ladro, Birdman Eating et al. Yes, it's a restaurant (and a damn fine one at that, as best-friend-K and I discovered last Wednesday night), but it also has a generous bar which can be enjoyed in its own right rather than as a mere prelude to eating in the back dining room.

Cutler and Co

We couldn't make up our minds about the light fittings: b-f-K thought they looked like mushrooms, I thought they looked like shower caps.

Cutler and Co mushroom shower cap light fittingPimientos de padron

We had an appetiser before our entrées: I insisted we get the pimientos de padrón ($9). Borrowing from Wikipedia, this is what the menu had to say about them:
'Os Pimientos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non' - Galican for 'Padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not'.
The most famous produce of Padrón, which are small green peppers from the capsicum family. They are served fried with olive oil and salt. Most taste sweet and mild, though some are particularly hot and spicy.

All but one of them were sweet and mild and satisfyingly salty, but boy oh boy the single one that was spicy (which I had the "luck" of chomping) brought a tear to the eye!

For her entrée, b-f-K chose the tomato salad with fromage blanc, lemon basil and aged balsamic ($17). As she ordered it I thought to myself that it sounded like exactly the sort of ostensibly basic dish that Andrew McConnell would do really, really well. I was right! The salad was stunning, including black Russian and zebra tomatoes as well as the more common red varieties, and Thai basil and lime basil as well as lemon basil. Shards of rye wafers finished it off.

Tomato salad

Given my recent fanaticism for figs while they're in season, I couldn't go past the entrée of wood grilled quail ($20). It too was sensational. Spread on another rectangular plate of pleasing proportions was a smear of parnsip and vanilla purée (!), upon which were heaped fresh figs, leaves, pomegranate seeds, the portions of quail and a curious little pastry cigar.

I bit into the cigar. "Ohmygodb-f-KyouHAVEtotrythisimmediately!" It was made from Tunisian brik pastry and filled with parfait de fois gras. *swoon*

Wood grilled quail

Given that we'd ordered the appetiser and two entrées AND were planning on desserts, we decided to share just the one main course, washed down with an Albariño. We opted for the grilled rock flathead, served with a salad of school prawns with a honey and chardonnay vinaigrette ($36). We'd explained when ordering that we'd be sharing the main, so when it came out it arrived pre-divided on two plates. Aw, bless.

Photo of half below. B-f-K didn't like this one much (she felt the prawns "didn't do much")... while I agree that it didn't quite live up to the entrées, I quite liked the fish mixed with the smear of whipped potato and shellfish reduction with tomato that surrounded it.

Grilled rock flathead

When I'd told him that I was going to Cutler and Co, Ed had recommended the ginger granita ($16). Just as well he told me, because it's the sort of dish I probably wouldn't have ordered, but I'm certainly glad that I did!

The ginger granita is served on a bed of creamy coconut tapioca, with fresh lychee and baby basil seeds looking like they're about to sprout tadpoles at any moment (an aside: like salted caramel, baby basil seeds seem to be what all the cool kids are using these days - they're also featured in the smoked trout broth at Attica).

It was the perfect combination of sweet creaminess and refreshing palate cleanser, with a wonderfully clear flavour of fresh ginger. The texture of the basil seeds and tapioca against the icy granita was brilliant.

Ginger granita

Aha, but that wasn't all - we also ordered the chocolate ice cream sandwich which came with vanilla parfait and *cough* salted caramel ($16). Completely different to the granita, but equally fabulous. The ice cream sanga was every bit as sweet and indulgent and caramelly as it looks... a must for you dedicated sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) out there. It also went extremely well with the complimentary sticky our lovely waitress brought out for us. :)

Chocolate ice cream sandwich

So, hie you hence to Andrew McConnell's Cutler and Co: it may be one of the most expensive restaurants on Gertrude Street, but it's very probably also the best.

Cutler and Co

We'll have Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too...

Brancusi exhibit

O HAI... I'm sorry I haven't been tending to the backlog of reviews I have up my sleeve, I've just been a little preoccupied LOOKING FOR APARTMENTS TO RENT IN NEW YORK! Yes, I am NYC-bound in June and needless to say, I'm deliriously excited about my upcoming holiday and can't stop singing jaunty NYC-centric showtunes, much to the irritation of those around me.

Brownstones in Brooklyn

Our plans only crystallised a week ago, but now the tickets and annual leave have all been booked: best-friend-K and I are going to be in New York for FIFTEEN GLORIOUS DAYS, and then I'm going to my beloved San Francisco for five days, chiefly to see my dear friend E. Rather than stay in a wallet-gougingly expensive New York hotel b-f-K and I are going to sublet an apartment (we're thinking downtown Manhattan or parts of Brooklyn), so I've been scouring Craigslist, VRBO, HomeAway and AirBnB, and have found lots of gorgeous places to put on the shortlist to show b-f-K when she gets back from Timor-Leste.

San Francisco skyline downtown

If anyone has any foodie tips (or recommended blogs) for New York or San Francisco, they'd be GREATLY appreciated. I've been to both cities before and have already done most of the obvious touristy stuff, so any other slightly unusual non-foodie tips are also welcomed!

View of Coit Tower and Bay Bridge

We have booked our apartment! We're going to be staying Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just one block from the Bedford L subway in a private, bright and sunny, top floor loft with a sunken living area with high ceilings, wood floors and white washed brick walls, located in one of Williamsburg's original brick warehouse loft buildings. The loft has wi-fi and a claw foot bathtub! I've ALWAYS wanted to have a bath in a claw foot bathtub but never have (I think my fascination with them stems from the fact that I was scared of them as a child). Here are some pics, eeeee so excited!!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Ladies Who Lunch: charcuterie dinner at Comme

7 Alfred Place, Melbourne (map)
9631 4000

Bubbles for Miss TMiss T, Hand Model

I attended a dinner the other week in honour of the lovely Miss T, soon-to-be-lawyer and sometime Melbourne Gastronome hand model.


She'd chosen Comme as our dining venue. I must confess that I had some doubts beforehand, given that my previous Comme experiences had been confined to fighting my way through crowds of investment wankers from 101 Collins at the Comme bar on a Friday night (shudder). But I'm pleased to report that the restaurant is really rather lovely, and does some damn nice charcuterie.

We placed our order of dishes to share, but at the last minute I interjected and ordered us some little crostini as well, with spiced eggplant and minted yoghurt ($2 each). To think that two years ago I hated mint!! I must have been mad. Needless to say, these little morsels were scrumptious.

Crostini of spiced eggplant, minted yoghurt

One of the specials was a rabbit and prune rillette with caper berries and cornichons. I'd pricked my ears up when our rather dishy waiter mentioned it, and luckily the girls were all down with the whole rabbit thing. The rillette was still rather rough and chunky, but lovely and rich. The tart cornichons and caper berries were a great match.

Rabbit and prune rillette with caper berries and cornichons

Also very very good was the kurobuta capocollo with manchego, quince paste and pickled chillies ($14, 40g). From the neck of the pig rather than the leg (the latter used for prosciutto), capocollo is one of my favourite cuts of charcuterie. Luckily my nonno makes one for our family every year!

Kurobuta capocollo, Manchego, quince paste, pickled chilli

Also ridiculously good in its simplicity and quality was the salad of mozzarella di bufala and fresh figs ($16). Don't you just LOVE fig season?

Italian buffalo milk mozzarella, fresh figs

I liked the tempura of zucchini flowers, goats cheese and Provencal relish ($5.50 each) but they were perhaps a tad boring (I know, this sounds strange coming from the gal who once said that if she had to plan her last meal on earth then zucchini flowers stuffed with goats cheese would be the entree). I think in this case the tempura batter was a bit too thick for my liking.

Tempura of zucchini flowers, goats cheese, Provencal relish

The only dish that I was actively disappointed in was another special of poached baccalà, served with roasted red peppers and deep fried oysters. Being the good Italian girl that I am I usually love baccalà, but this one didn't have much flavour, and the deep fried oysters seemed plonked on the dish as an afterthought.

Baccala with roasted red peppers and fried oysters

However all was forgiven when the Spanish mackeral arrived at our table, served with smokily seared witlof and a sinful Sauternes beurre blanc ($17 - we got two of them for the four of us). I don't order white fish that often but I'm very glad B suggested we get it.

Spanish mackeral, seared witlof, sauternes beurre blanc

We didn't order any other mains or meats, just ordered some sides of runner beans with hazelnut butter ($8, dee-licious) and Russet Burbank potatoes roasted in wagyu fat and rosemary salt (also $8). Allow me to drool Homer Simpson style when I tell you - and this may sound like an insult, but I mean it as a compliment - that these roast potatoes tasted like the most delicious posh potato cake the world has ever seen!

Roast potatoes and runner beans with hazelnut butter

None of us could resist the dessert menu when it was passed around. The guest of honour Miss T selected and enjoyed the pannacotta of summer berries and champagne granita ($15).

Pannacotta, summer berries, champagne granita

I'd looked up the menu on Comme's website the week before our visit and had announced to the LWL that I'd simply HAVE to order the chocolate, almond and salted caramel delice, served with milk chocolate malted ice cream ($15). And oh my it was good. Rich as all hell (practically fudge, and with a runny salted caramel centre!) and highly recommended.

Oh, and it seems that (along with manchego) salted caramel is totally the new black. Not only was it present in two scandalously good offerings at the recent food blogger banquet, I had it last week at Cutler & Co as well (review coming very soon!). Four times in one week! Perhaps we're seeing an Australian trickle-down effect of its increasing trendiness in the US, especially since Obama professed it was his favourite candy? Whatever the reason, I adore it and am thrilled to find it popping up more often.

Choc almond salted caramel delice with milk chocolate malt ice cream

Partly because the delice sounded incredibly rich just from the description, and partly because the fresh figs in the salad had been so lovely, I suggested to B that we go half-half on two desserts rather than have one each... so we shared the delice and the millefeuille of figs, honey and mascarpone ($14). I think I enjoyed the millefeuille even more than the delice, if that's possible - just look at that delicious stalactite of honey! Again the freshness of the fruit really cut through the dish, and the pastry (which can so often be a let-down) was excellent.

Millefeuille of figs, honey and vanilla mascarpone

Very keen to head back there in a few months to hopefully try new dishes. You were right Jack, their charcuterie was fantastic!