Tuesday 27 July 2010

Macarons by Duncan at Liaison

Macarons by Duncan at Liaison

Well the cone of silence has been lifted and the news has gone public: Macarons by Duncan are being offered for sale to the public once more! As I wrote last month, in my opinion Macarons by Duncan are easily the best macarons in Melbourne.

Thanks to the macaron tower that Adriano Zumbo presented on a certain Channel 10 culinary reality TV show that ended last week, it seems that everybody and their dog is talking macarons at the moment (oh and speaking of A.Zum, reading 'Macarons or Macaroons? MasterChef judges should know better, says chef Adriano Zumbo' only made me love him MORE, if that's even possible).

So where can you buy Macarons by Duncan? They can be found at the CBD cafe Liaison (which I have previously written about here), but only on certain days of the week - be sure to read Duncan's announcement so that you're fully informed about when they're available. When I heard they were there, I got a couple last week (pictured above): 'Beth' is orange and milk chocolate, and 'Darcy' is vanilla with cocoa nibs. Both are exquisite. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Duncan has posted the following update on his blog. Please be nice, people!

Monday 26 July 2010

Go West and pay court to the Duchess of Spotswood

Duchess of Spotswood
87 Hudsons Road, Spotswood (map)
9391 6016

Those of you who've looked at the Melbourne Gastronome Google Map may have noticed (and tut-tutted) that the vast majority places I visit are concentrated around just a few inner-suburban areas. My feeble, mewling excuses for this geographic bias include the following:
  • I do not own a car;
  • I live in Richmond;
  • I work in the city;
  • my folks live out Hawthorn way and many of my friends live around Fitzroy, Brunswick and Windsor;
  • I do not own a car;
  • blah blah blah etc etc etc...
But even *I* was shocked when I realised that the western-most place I'd reviewed was Auction Rooms (luv ya AR but let's face it folks, Errol Street North Melbourne is not exactly the Western Heartland). So when best-friend-K suggested a few Saturdays ago that we brunch somewhere neither of us had been before, I suggested the Duchess of Spotswood. Location: Spotswood.


West Gate Bridge

Hudsons Road, Spotswood, is practically in the shadow of the West Gate Bridge, and easily accessible by car (first exit off the bridge) or by train (Spotswood station on the Werribee and Williamstown lines). As with Seddon and Yarraville, gentrification of the suburb is already well underway, but the strip still retains a bit of a retro 1950s vibe.


The cafe is operated by chef Andrew Gale (The Station Hotel, Footscray) and his wife Bobby, who I remember from her days working the tables at Auction Rooms. They did the fitout of the site themselves: "The renovation nearly ended our marriage", Bobby said to me with a cheerful grin.

Duchess of Spotswood

Well, the fitout is cute as a button. I love the way the 1950s mint green ceiling echoes the green tiles on the building's facade, and I love the chandelier and the gorgeous old butchers block that doubles as a newspaper table. The small room was filled with groups in their late twenties, thirties and forties with kids, and two couples in their sixties - refreshingly, not a single skinny-jeaned hipster in sight!

Duchess of Spotswood

The Duchess serves Auction Rooms' Small Batch specialty coffee, and the lattes we had were made by a barista who knew what he was doing (that's my second latte - a weak one - in the photo below).

Duchess of SpotswoodDuchess of Spotswood coffee

But the menu, oh my gosh, the menu. It's crammed full of all sorts of interesting dishes, many of them with noticeably English ingredients. House-made black pudding. Scotch woodcock with Gentlemen's Relish. English Stilton. Bacon dry cured in the English manner. Five grain porridge with poached pears and whisky syrup. I loved some of the names of the dishes too: 'Oat' Cuisine, Breakfast of Champignons. Heh heh.

I was hoping b-f-K would go for the sauteed potato with globe artichoke, creamy goat curd and roasted chestnut ($13.50) or the Fruit of the Forage (Mt Macedon wild mushrooms with soft semolina, crispy double smoked pork neck and poached egg, $16.50), but instead she went with the special. It was a trumpeter fillet served with a Welsh rarebit and a beautifully bulbous poached Green egg. She loved it.


And me? My EOFY-party hangover and I were immediately drawn to the English style gammon ($17.50), as the menu promised smoked pork neck and pickled pork rump, pan-fried and served with fried eggs and meat juices on toast. Awwww yeah, breakfast pork. The best kind! The mouth-watering pork was hearty but not stodgy, and tasted brilliant mixed in with the runny golden yolks.

Those intimidated by the thought of pork juices before noon can rest easy: there are more 'regular' brunch items on the menu too!

English style gammon

I was utterly charmed by the Duchess and intend to pay her another visit very soon: for lots of beautiful photos taken with an infinitely superior camera to mine, check out Espresso Melbourne's equally gushing review.

Duchess of Spotswood

Thursday 22 July 2010

Thailand (and KL) recommendations?

In eleven days - ELEVEN! - I will be here:

Panorama Railay seen from the Lookout
'Panorama Railay seen from the Lookout' by Steffen und Christina

My lovely travel companion and I are poised to flee Melbourne's winter for the warmer climes of Thailand's beaches for nine glorious days. Other than a few days in Bangkok I've never been to Thailand before, so am fairly ecstatic with anticipation (even if it means missing a week of MIFF).

We're flying in and out of Krabi and at this stage we intend to spend a few days in Railay, then head down to one of the less-touristy beaches on Ko Phi Phi, or maybe Ko Lanta. Or maybe somewhere else within easy reach of Krabi... it's all rather spontaneous for now. If any of you have any travel tips or foodie recommendations for that part of the world, I'd GREATLY appreciate them! We're also spending a Monday night at the end of our trip in Kuala Lumpur - we're thinking hawker food at a night market, then out for drinks. So any KL tips would be most welcome too...

Oh, and speaking of MIFF: this Saturday I'm going along to one of the film festival's special events, the 50th anniversary screening of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 'Psycho' with LIVE ORCHESTRA at the Regent Theatre. Yes, the score of the film will be performed live onstage! Tickets from Ticketmaster. My friend Nicholas Buc is conducting the orchestra, so send me an email if you're interested in attending either the afternoon or evening performance and I may be able to organise a special price on tickets... :)

Nick's concert

Sunday 18 July 2010

Blog Amnesty: Winter Edition

Le Petit Gateau tricouleur macarons

It's Blog Amnesty: Winter Edition today. There are lots of things I've wanted to write up in brief on the blog, so I thought I'd put them all here in the one post. Item 1: gorgeous Bastille Day tricouleur macarons filled with vanilla butter cream and a home made raspberry jam, from Pierrick Boyer's Le Petit Gâteau. Trop mignons ces petits macarons!

Cherry Tree

Cherry Tree Hotel
53 Balmain Street, Cremorne (map)
9428 5743

Item 2: One of my favourite places to hibernate this winter is in front of the fireplace at my beloved local, The Cherry Tree (which I have previously written about here and here). On Tuesday nights, Chrus saves me the food sections of the newspapers so I can read the reviews aloud to him and either enthuse over or decry them (or sometimes both) as he serves me a beer. It's a great pub and I can recommend their shepherds pie with buttered cabbage ($16) - the best thing on their winter menu, in my opinion.

Cherry Tree shepherds pie

Item 3: You heard it here first. 506 Swan Street, Richmond, the site next to the Burnley netball courts that was until recently home to Indian restaurant Fuzion, is being fitted out and transformed into a brunch cafe from the team that brought you Porgie & Mr Jones. I heard this from Mr Jones himself, Jason Jones, when I had brunch at P+MJ the other week. Given that P+MJ is one of my favourite brunch destinations (previously written up here), I was delighted to hear that his new cafe will be in my neck of the 3121 woods.

Porgie & Mr Jones

Tea House at China Town
11-17 Cohen Place, Melbourne (map)
9639 2526

Item 4: Next time you want to go somewhere a bit posh in Chinatown, go down the little laneway to the Chinese Museum and visit the restaurant opposite, The Tea House at China Town. Their fluffy omelette with lobster meat ($12.50) is *sensational*. The barbequeued pigeon and steamed scallops served three ways are very good too.

Tea HouseLobster omelette

MoVida Aqui
Level 1, 500 Bourke Street (access via Lt Bourke St), Melbourne (map)
9663 3038

Item 5: It's pretty easy to make me happy. For example, sit me down at the bar at MoVida Aqui with a glass of La Goya Manzanilla and a bocadillo de calamares and I am HAPPY AS A SANDBOY. But to make a visit to MoVida Aqui really *choice*, order a Martini Aqui: their crazy, fishy take on a dirty martini. Ask the charming Josh Begbie (former head bartender at Der Raum) to make it for you.

Martini Aqui

The glass is rinsed out with manzanilla rather than vermouth, and the garnish is not olives but rather a white anchovy and a pickled guindilla pepper. There ain't no anchovy like a gin-soaked anchovy! Just don't freak out when your glass ends up coated in a slight film of fishy oil.

Vegetarian drinking companions can opt to have a sans anchovy version.

Martini Aqui

Der Raum
438 Church Street, Richmond (map)
9428 0055

Speaking of Der Raum brings me to Item 6: I feel everyone needs to know immediately that the Der Raum winter cocktail menu includes a cocktail that is SERVED IN A MINIATURE WATERING CAN.

Oh yes. It's called Pushing Daisy's (sic) and it's an entirely delicious combination of Compass Box Asyla whisky, a house-made thyme syrup and a "soil" containing dark chocolate, almond and mushroom. The other cocktail from the winter menu that I just adore is the Big in Japan: made with saffron sake, Dubonnet, pressed citrus, palm sugar and artisanal winter aromatics, prepared in a coffee syphon and served warm.

Pushing Daisies

Ladro (Greville)
162 Greville Street, Prahran (map)
9510 2233

Item 7: The new Ladro (in Greville Street, Prahran) opened a month or two ago. I ducked in there the other week with an American gentleman of my acquaintance, old dependable D, on our way to watch Greta Garbo movies down at the Astor.


The interior is larger but from what I could see, the decor and menu at Ladro Greville is identical to that at the original Ladro Gertrude. A word of warning - the Ladro website streams clips from Ladri di biciclette, one of the more emotionally devastating Italian neo-realist films. Proceed with caution!


Old Dependable enjoyed the pizza with mozzarella, potato, taleggio, rosemary, truffle oil and basil ($22) and I went for one I'd never had before: the Lazio with mozzarella, parsley, carciuga (artichoke and anchovy paste) and lemon ($21.50). Loved the paste and lemon combo, and the wonderfully bitter flavours in the radicchio, chicory, fennel and witlof salad ($9.50) that we shared. Definitely worth a visit if you're jonesing for pizza south of the river.

Ladro pizze

Thanh Nga Nine
160 Victoria Street, Richmond (map)
9427 7068

Thanh Nga Nine

And Item 8: the place that's become my favourite Vietnamese on Victoria Street, Thanh Nga Nine. I've been there three or four times over the last six months, and each time the food has been excellent and the service frantic but friendly. Triet, who runs the front of house, is particularly nice and informative about the menu, which contains a number of items you don't see in your run-of-the-mill Vic Street joint.

Thanh Nga Nine

My picks are the Sóc Trăng style mini pancakes ($9, can also be ordered as a vegetarian dish). They're made from rice flour with a crispy base, and topped with prawns, mung bean paste and tiny orange sprinkles of dried crushed prawns. Use both sauces (the fish sauce and the coconut cream) for maximum awesomeness.

Mini pancakes

My other favourite dish is one of the special dishes, the pork casserole in claypot ($25). The soy/fish sauce is sticky and the slow-cooked pork is beautifully tender.

Pork casserole

They also do a particularly good coleslaw, about three or four different types of phở and have an extensive vegetarian menu. And I'm yet to visit upstairs but apparently there's free karaoke up there if you book a function. Score!

Friday 9 July 2010

Embrasse me, night and day

312 Drummond Street, Carlton (map)
9347 3312

Meli Melo

I visited Embrasse for the first time a few weeks ago, but that wasn't the first time I'd sampled chef/owner Nicolas Poelaert's food: that happened back in February, at the lunch that he and Provenance chef Michael Ryan prepared for the MFWF media launch. I met Nic at the end of the lunch and we talked about restaurants and his passion for growing heirloom and unusual herbs and vegetables to use in his cooking.

Nic's impressive credentials include time cooking with three Michelin star chef Michel Bras at his prestigious, eponymous restaurant in Laguiole, France (also home of everyone's favourite insect-adorned knives), at the original Vue de Monde in Carlton, and at Circa the Prince. His restaurant, Embrasse, opened in early 2009 in the building that was formerly home to Andrew McConnell's Three, One, Two and last September Nic was awarded Young Chef of the Year 2010 by The Age Good Food Guide.


I'd been saving a visit to Embrasse for one of my dinners with the charming A, who I hadn't seen in forever. When I arrived at the restaurant he was already sipping on a glass of bubbly and he immediately ordered one for me, cos that's the kind of guy he is. He's also the kind of guy who, when we are brought the à la carte and degustation ($90/5 course or $120/8 course) menus, decided with a smile that we just had to have the eight course degustation with matching wines. The wines were well selected by Embrasse's accomplished and congenial manager Camm Whiteoak (who was previously working his FOH manager magic at Attica).

Confession time: I never visited Three, One, Two (shocking, I know, given I'm such an Andrew McConnell fangirl), so the last time I'd been here was when the building was the restaurant Mrs Jones. I like the intimacy of the room, and the banquette seating in the front window.


To begin with, we were brought little balls of sweet buttermilk bread (studded with roasted raisins and dusted with red pepper powder) and pairs of cute appetiser spoons, filled with roquefort & apple and kingfish & beetroot jelly respectively.


The first dish knocked it out of the park in terms of presentation and subtle flavours: it's a méli-mélo ('mish-mash') of vegetables, emulsions and purées, homegrown herbs and flowers. Almost all of the vegetables, herbs and flowers Nic and his team use are grown in his gardens in Donvale and Warrandyte, and the importance of vegetables in the Embrasse kitchen is declared upfront in the menu's manifesto. The vegetables are blanched with a little salt and then cooked with a dab of butter. There were so many interesting things on the plate, at first I just tasted each paste, crumb and purée on its own before then experimenting with mixing them with other elements (as I like to do with Pierre Roelofs desserts). When you come to dine here, make sure at least one of you orders this dish, cos the vegetables need to be tasted to be believed.

Meli Melo

The next dish was kingfish "steamed for just a little bit" (as the menu put it) and topped with panko crumbs and seaweed. It came with spinach leaves, steamed kohlrabi, rosy pearls of fingerlime, warm parsley water poured from a beaker into the bowl, and a pinch of powdered anis on the bowl's lip. The fingerlime gave the dish a zing and a pep that I really liked.


The kingfish was followed by one of Nic's signature dishes, which I'd tried at the MFWF media launch: john dory semi fried and semi steamed, stained with squid ink and served with pink grapefruit and a troupe of Daylesford heirloom beetroots standing at attention on a scrape of burnt carrot purée, which Nic makes in the Thermomix. The burnt carrot purée looks and sounds slightly bizarre, but tastes incredible (the recipe can be found here). The fish was just as moist and tender as I remembered it from last time.


After the dory plates were cleared, Camm approached us and murmured with a faux-serious expression on his face: "I've got a problem: my chef's gone rogue on me. He's sneaking an extra course into the degustation cos he wants you to try the pigeon. What would you like me to do?" Camm was tossing up whether or not to break with convention and serve a red before the white wine he'd selected to match the following pork dish. With a sommelier as capable as Camm, we knew we were in good hands either way. :)

And wow wow wow how gorgeous was the presentation of the pigeon?! Bendigo pigeon breast, Daylesford organic carrots, edible flowers and shiny coffee-flavoured dots that stuck to the plate like icing. The white kernels on the plate are last season’s dried apricot kernels (to be consumed in moderation, of course). The pigeon was full of flavour and went particularly well with the carrot, and the little bit of wrapped foil was a very cute touch.


After a palate cleanser of celery granita, the next dish was pork cheeks and crispy ear "cooked for a very long time", salmon roe, parsley root, wood sorrel and crumbled wasabi peas. Totally unctuous pork, and the unusual pairing with the salmon roe kept you on your toes in the texture department.

Palate cleanserPork

Next was the Jacksons Creek rump cooked sous-vide until perfect, served with a rich scoop of potato and yoghurt cream, toasted malt brioche crumbs, celeri rémoulade (my favourite French salad!) and a Thermomix-ed watercress and lentil coulis.


The beef was followed by an excellent cheese platter (which included more house made bread studded with sultanas) and then we were brought the first dessert: "taken on the idea of a snow ball... soft meringue, rhubarb cooked with elderflower, almond gateau, white chocolate". The meringue had a decadent texture and was a great match for the slightly tart rhubarb.


The final dish, which Nic brought out personally, was another I'd had the opportunity to sample previously: chocolate mushrooms (meringues with hazelnut parfait caps) on a chocolate crumb forest floor with tuile twigs and leaves and a sorrel and mint granita moss. BEAUTIFUL and DELICIOUS. Nic has just this week revamped the Embrasse menu, and I am relieved to see that this dessert survived the cut!

It was a sensational dinner, both A and I loved every dish.

Forest floor

Ah, but the other side of Embrasse that I also want to show you is the Sunday lunch, a relatively recent innovation. For $62 a head you get a four course French rustic lunch, served communally according to your table size. The week after my degustation with A, I went back to Embrasse with three girlfriends for a cosy, casual Sunday lunch.


Having been to a somewhat wanton 30th the night before, I arrived feeling wretchedly hungover and subdued. Camm sized up my condition and decided to prescribe a glass of pastis - STAT! - to send me on the road to recovery. Whaddya know, it worked and I was soon chattering away and able to enjoy the delicious lunch we were served up.


The soup course was pumpkin and pine mushroom soup, made according to Nic's mother's recipe. I loved that the bread rolls accompanying the soup were stuck together and arranged on a curved piece of bark, and that we were given a serve of shaved pine mushrooms and a jug of cream to add if desired.

BreadPine mushrooms

The soup for our table of four arrived in a communal pot, which we ladled out between us.


For the Sunday lunch, wine is offered in 500ml carafes for $19.

Carafe of pinot noir

The salad course had a base of burghul, buckwheat and green lentils. It also included little nuggets of crumbed pork belly and the most vivid purple potatoes I'd ever seen.


The meat course was a whole roasted wagyu rump cap from Jacksons Creek, with a jus gras. There was also Dijon mustard, relish and a side serve of heirloom carrots, braised fennel and potato croquettes. Hearty fare.


The dessert course, four pieces of pear and persimmon tart, was probably my favourite (though I do hate to play favourites): I think it's the butteriness of the pastry that did it. Added persimmon and Chantilly cream on the side.


Such a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon! I'm keen to get a big group together and head back there for another Sunday lunch soon.


Oh, and if you're at a loss for what to do next Wednesday to celebrate Bastille Day, I heard through the twitters that Embrasse will be holding a special French traditional banquet ($90 a head, see details and preview the menu on the Special Events page of their website).