Friday, 29 October 2010

Sydney Gastronome: Porteño Porteño Porteño

358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills (map)
(02) 8399 1440


It was a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon and I was in Surry Hills with the gorgeous Miss C, nearing the end of my somewhat hedonistic long weekend in Sydney. The smell of roasting meat was growing stronger as we approached the large, white-washed building.

Inside was Porteño, the new Argentinian barbecue and grill restaurant opened by Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz (the tattooed twosome from nearby tapas bar Bodega). As soon as we entered, the black and white tiles, heavy red velvet curtains, polished dark timber and black wrought iron helped put us in a South American mood.


We were meeting my housemate and some Sydney friends for lunch. On our way to our table, we checked out the kitchen and admired the asador pit and the slicked-back rockabilly vibe from the boys.


Thanks to the lovely Fooderati, Sydney food blogger/gal about town, for not only recommending that I try out the place but that I try to make it for Sunday lunch. The tiled sun-drenched courtyard/atrium was a sensational setting for my last meal in Sydney.


Cocktails to start: the menu described the Aereolineas Argentinas cocktail as an Aviation-inspired spin on an "outrageous" martini. My highly suggestible housemate and I nodded our heads approvingly - outrageous! Aviation gin, maraschino, lemon juice and cherry, lily and star anise syrup served with a touch of orange bitters.

Aereolineas Argentina's

Our friendly hostess was the COMPLETELY fabulous FOH manager Sarah Doyle, whose 50s-style dress, lipstick and immaculately styled hair made her a glam cross between Betty Draper and Eva Perón.


The waiters were similarly well groomed and dapperly attired.


To start with, we shared some marinated olives ($8) and two kinds of empanadas ($4 each), beef and broccoli & ricotta.


Because one at our table was not a meat eater we decided to get three seafood dishes, and I'm so glad we did. All three of them were excellent. The first was the ceviche peruano (Peruvian ceviche, $18) with kingfish, corn, cucumber, coriander, sweet potato chips and a sprinkling of rich bottarga shaved over the top.

Ceviche Peruano

Seafood dish #2 was pinkly pouting grilled tuna with tender asparagus and chargrilled jalapeño on a bed of thick, garlicky sauce ($22). The chargrilled jalapeños were a particular highlight, and we mopped up the very last of that sauce.

Grilled tuna

Our other seafood dish was BBQ calamari with pickled green tomato and chilli ($18). The serve was a little on the small side but the calamari that was there was beautifully tender, and the chilli had a real kick to it.

BBQ calamari

To balance all the MEAT on the second half of the menu, there are six different vegetarian accompanying dishes to choose from. We enjoyed the ensalada de remolacha ($14) of roasted beetroot, witlof, blood orange, radish and walnut.

Ensalada de remolacha

We ordered the cordero a la cruz, aka the woodfired Suffolk lamb ($42), which was brought to us on a heaped wooden board. Oh wowowowow. They grill it "on the cross", strapped to the rack over the asador, for over 6 hours. It tastes magnificent.

We also polished off a bottle of Argentinian Malbec.

Cordero a la CruzMalbec

The other meat we had was the bife de chorizo ($38), a dry aged Coorong Angus sirloin still nice and rare on the inside. My mouth waters at the memory.

Bife de chorizo

Neither Miss C nor I couldn't resist downing a quick glass of La Goya Manzanilla before dessert.

La Goya Manzanilla

At the start of the meal I'd told everyone that we HAD to make sure we tried the postre chajá ($14), the Uruguayan style pavlova I'd read about on The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry. OH MY GOD. It was as though they'd deliberately structured my dream dessert: sous vide mango cheeks, soft sponge, meringue, peanuts and dulce de leche. As you can imagine with an ingredients list like that, it's ridiculously sweet... but it was a tropical fruity, salted caramelly TRIUMPH.

Postre Chaja

If I hadn't been defeated by the pavlova I'd've tried a spoonful of R's outrageously rich looking chocolate pudding, oozing dulce de leche and accompanied by a scoop of banana sorbet ($14).

Chocolate pudding

Porteño is definitely not cheap, but I'd return in a heartbeat. In the few weeks since I went, it's received restaurant review love letters from both Terry Durack and Pat Nourse, so I imagine it will be nigh on impossible to get a table for at least the next six months. But don't let that stop you trying - it's worth it.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Easy, Tiger: Smith Street mod Thai

Easy Tiger
96 Smith Street, Collingwood (map)
9417 2373
Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday,
lunch Friday and Saturday

Easy Tiger

On Saturday night while her husband was out of town the lovely Em (of It Pleases Us fame) and I had a hot date at Easy Tiger, the brand new Thai restaurant on Smith Street. We'd impulsively booked a table after I'd been babbling excitedly away at her about the Thai food I'd had the weekend before up in Sydney (will write it up on the blog posthaste!), and after we'd seen some Easy Tiger-related chitchat on the Twitters from a friend whose food opinions we value highly.

The restaurant is small (the room seats just 36) but I like what they've done with it, particularly the 1970s-esque green couch and the Spacecraft Zaishu stools from just around the corner on Gertrude Street. I didn't get the chance to see it, but apparently the restaurant also has a covered deck area out the back which seats another 40.

Easy Tiger

Em and I shared a longneck of Coopers, which we kept propped up on the shelf conveniently located next to our table. The excellent drinks menu includes a snappy list of wines, beers, ciders, classic aperitifs and even a couple of varieties of sake.


To start with we ordered two snacks each: the ma hor (little scoops of minced prawn, pork and chicken cooked in palm sugar and sitting on slices of fresh pineapple, $4 each) and a miang-like ensemble of betel leaves topped with prawns and fresh coconut ($5 each). Both looked fabulous, but were markedly lacking in the spice department. Without a chilli kick to balance the palm sugar, I found the ma hor slightly sickly sweet.

Ma hor

We also ordered a pair of son-in-law eggs ($4 each, listed with the side dishes rather than with the entrees). The runny son-in-law eggs schmeared with chilli jam at Gingerboy remain one of my favourite snacks/hangover-cures in town, so I was a mite disappointed to find that these were neither runny nor spicy – again, the little flecks of dried chilli seemed like they were more for decoration than anything else.

Son in law eggs

The list of mains was rather short (just five), but two dishes in particular caught our attention, possibly because they both contained melon. First was the duck and watermelon salad with green chilli, mint and peanuts ($25). I'd never tried duck and watermelon together before, and was surprised at how well they went with each other. I liked that the salad had a good whack of mint.

Duck salad

We also had red curry of grass fed beef shin, winter melon and snake beans ($28). Finally, a dish with some heat! The beef was beautifully tender, and the winter melon was an interesting (albeit rather firm) choice.

Beef curry

Ah, but dessert! Em and I shared a dessert that we instantly agreed was our favourite dish of the night: steamed duck egg custard with rice ice cream and steamed dragonfruit ($14). Turns out it was Joyce's favourite dish too! The steamed custard had a wonderfully smooth texture that contrasted with the puffed rice and lime sorbet sprinkled on top, and I loved the scrape of black sesame paste with the rich, creamy ice cream. I'd only ever eaten fresh dragonfruit before, and was charmed by its translucent appearance when poached.


We enjoyed Easy Tiger, and I'm keen to head back there soon to explore a few more items on their menu (expecially the other two desserts, the chocolate and pandanus leaf dumplings with melon and the sago pudding with coconut jelly and caramelised sugar banana). The chocolate comes from next-door neighbour Monsieur Truffe. The restaurant fitout is cute and the staff were bubbly and efficient.

Easy Tiger

If it isn't already obvious, my one gripe with Easy Tiger is the question of heat. I knew to not expect food so spicy it'd make us cry (like that AMAZING soup I had on my recent trip to Thailand). And I get that the trio running Easy Tiger are going for more of a "modern interpretation of Thai cuisine... like Longrain". But still, we couldn't help feeling that several of the dishes would be greatly improved by ratcheting up the heat just a few notches. I daresay the punters in this hipster 'hood could handle it!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Get the hell outta Dodge and down to Loam

650 Andersons Road, Drysdale (map)
5251 1101
Lunch Thursdays to Sundays
Dinner Fridays and Saturdays


For most of September I was under house arrest in order to write my masters essay, but when Tourism Victoria invited me as part of their Bellarine Taste Trail to join a group of journalists and bloggers at a dinner at Loam (a much-feted restaurant I'd been keen all year to visit), it was an offer too good to refuse. Many thanks upfront to Tourism Victoria for the dinner and for putting me up at the Vue Grand in Queenscliff.

Loam is located in an olive grove down an unmade road buried in the Bellarine Peninsula, a short drive from St Leonards, Portarlington and Queenscliff. Owners Aaron and Astrid Turner run kitchen and front of house respectively.


Rather than listing available dishes, the dinner menu suggests four, seven or nine courses ($60/$95/$120, or $100/$160/$200 with matched wines) and then alphabetically lists all the ingredients that are in season that month (the ones written in black are the ones in the kitchen that day). Let your waiter know if you'd prefer not to have any particular ingredients (one person at our table said he'd rather not have beef tongue), and then sit back and await your mystery dishes. At the end of your meal you get a printed menu giving some detail about what you ate.

Loam menu

The dining room is spacious and unfussy, with huge windows designed to show off the olive grove vista (sadly invisible to me visiting at night but check out Emily's review on It Pleases Us for an idea of how it looks during the day). Splitting up the space is a large trolley table housing the glasses, the wines by the glass and lots of fresh produce.


Storing the eggs in a nest was a cute touch.


We had four courses, preceded by an amuse-bouche of a couple of baby radishes topped with nori salt and little strips of lardo, that most sinful of salume. We ate them with bread, salt and a fluffy, twice-whipped butter.


Next we were served a cube of hiramasa kingfish, stained a vivid pink by the bulls blood beetroot it was sous-vided with. It was served with sesame, mussel foam and a sprinkling of foraged beach herbs (saltbush and tetragonia). Clean, punchy flavours matched nicely with a Beaujolais (2007 Domain des Nugues, Beaujolais-Villages).


The next dish was probably my favourite: the wagyu tartare. The wagyu was Sher and it had been scraped over a dull knife rather than chopped (the preferred Scandanavian preparation method for steak tartare, according to our waitress - perhaps a legacy from Aaron's tour of duty at noma?).

Underneath it was a generous smear of slow cooked egg yolk. I asked Aaron afterwards whether he'd done it 65/65, but he said it was a 60/67 egg (and of course now I can't remember whether it was cooked at 60 degrees for 67 minutes, or cooked for 60 minutes at 67 degrees... either way, it was bloody good). The white strips of squid prepared sous-vide gave the dish some textural depth and those little garlic flowers hit our tastebuds with a KAPOW! that belied their delicate appearance.

I'm going through a real Gamay phase at the moment, and the 2009 from Sorrenberg is a gem with just enough spice to match the wagyu. Loved it.

Steak tartare

I was very taken with the shape of these Plumm wine glasses.

Plumm wine glass

The third dish was veal rump, sitting on a bed of (hidden) Jerusalem artichoke purée and sheathed in a translucent milk skin. The spooky-looking milk skin was painted with squid ink and garnished with savoy cabbage and turnip flowers. Something of a signature ingredient at Loam (it has also been used with pink ling and with squab), the milk skin gave the dish a silky, slippery texture that I loved. The dish was served with a local wine, the 2008 Paradise IV 'The Bates' Ford' Shiraz.

Veal rump

The dessert was something very different, a sort of deconstructed herb garden. It was composed of a loose rosemary panna cotta, thyme granita, ewe's milk granita, blood orange and a few fragments of meringue with a startlingly sharp accent of white vinegar.

This was the one dish that didn't do it for me - the acidic meringue reminded me of the one Josh Emett did with dried passionfruit powder in his Eton messy dessert at Taste of Melbourne but in this case the meringue was astringent to the point where I felt it overpowered the other ingredients, and I didn't like the melty ice/milk combination of the granita. Like Emily, I'd been hoping to try the dessert with hay ice cream (the flavour all the cool kids are using). Guess I'll just have to revisit!


I did love the dessert wine though: the 2008 Foxey's Hangout Late Harvest Pinot Gris.

Despite not loving the dessert, I really enjoyed our meal at Loam: the food was intensely produce-driven but at the same time playful and experimental. The staff team working with Astrid were highly professional, knowledgeable about the food and wine, and friendly.

In a way I think it's almost a shame that Loam, in its first year, was so successful in the recent awards season - although of course massive kudos to Aaron, Astrid and their team for being awarded two Good Food Guide hats, winning Best New Country Restaurant AND Dish of the Year, and being judged Gourmet Traveller's #30 best restaurant in Australia - I only say that because now they may feel they have to provide the Two Hat Experience to expectant punters every time, when the kitchen clearly wants to play with dishes that are a little out there. Unlike somewhere like Attica which can run experimental Tuesdays, I imagine that Loam's rural location and mostly weekend clientele could make experimentation a bit more of a challenge. But I think it's fantastic that there's such interesting food down on the Bellarine Peninsula and I look forward to revisiting, maybe at the end of summer when the menu ingredients are completely different - and during the day so I can see that gorgeous view.

Loam table

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Food blogs I've been enjoying recently


Melbourne blogger Brian from Fitzroyalty recently set a virtual cat amongst the cyberpigeons with his post entitled 'when bloggers sell out audiences stop reading', discussing the increasing tendency for some formerly independent Melbourne blogs to take on a more commercial aspect, whether by featuring advertising on the blog, writing about freebies the bloggers have accepted or writing explicitly sponsored content (sometimes outside the stated ambit of the blog), with some blogs offering giveaways and/or branding the photographs in their sponsored posts and accepting payment to spruik a camera. Brian's post caused quite a bit of a commotion in the Melbourne blogging community (at last count the post had generated over 50 comments, some agreeing and some disagreeing with Brian's position on the topic). (Edited 18/10/10 to add: Duncan at the blog Syrup and Tang has also written an excellent, well thought out post on this topic here.)

As a blogger, I reflect upon this topic frequently. While I feel uncomfortable with the idea of writing sponsored content, when an invitation comes my way that particularly appeals to me I will generally accept it. If I feel strongly enough about the experience afterwards that I want to spend my precious free time blogging about it, I generally will. Case in point: appearing here on the blog shortly is a write-up of a meal I had at a Very Nice Restaurant I visited as part of a famil Tourism Victoria hosted for a group of journalists and bloggers. It's a restaurant I'd been dying to visit for months (and would always have written about, even if I had not been invited), so I felt comfortable accepting the invitation. I think every blogger has a right to draw their own line in the sand, and that's mine.

That said, as an avid blog reader, the simple truth of the matter is that I find I'm not interested in reading blogs that are increasingly filled with sponsored content. I thought I'd write a short post about some of the food blogs I have been enjoying recently - blogs that I love for their individual voices and distinctive approaches.


As someone who loves eating out and seldom finds takes the time to cook complicated recipes, I tend to read more "dining out" than "dining in" food blogs. Looking through my favourite recipe blogs in Google Reader I realise I'm a sucker for pretty pictures, as I tend to lean toward well-written blogs with beautiful photographs to match (eg Nourish Me, Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once and Momofuku For 2).

Speaking of beautiful photography, I don't know the coffee geeks who write Espresso Melbourne but I'm currently BESOTTED with their gorgeous blog posts about Melbourne "cafes that matter". The very functionally titled Melbourne Cafes Photo Blog is another recent find.

Mellie and EG's blog Tummy Rumbles has long been my favourite Melbourne food blog: as I've mentioned before, it was my direct inspiration for starting my own blog. I also love It Pleases Us, the blog my friend Em writes with her sister-in-law Sas, as it's very well-written and strikes a good balance between restaurant reviews and recipes (it was also a useful resource for my recent sea-salt-encrusted chocolate chip cookie recipe baking TRIUMPH). Oh, and the internet has spawned several pale imitators, but my friend That Jess Ho is the original Gonzo food blogger in Melbourne.

Sunnybrae and The View From My Porch are two blogs I enjoy reading that are written by chefs who really "get" food blogging. On TVFMP, Steve's July post about his "small business dilemma" was a post that really stuck with me.

Foodhands is a lovely website started recently by Melbourne blogger Tresna about "food, people, and the stories that connect them", featuring interviews with growers, artisan producers, chefs, waiters, sommeliers, restaurant reviewers, baristas etc. It's the only site I know of that fills this particular niche in the Australian food blogging community.

As a Richmond resident, I was pleased to find SwanBridgeVic, a new hyperlocal site dedicated to the 3121, much as Fitzroyalty is dedicated to the 3065.

I tend to focus on Melbourne food blogs, but The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry is a fabulous Sydney food blog I only recently discovered for myself. Speaking of Sydney, I'm heading up there on Thursday: any food tips or links to good Sydney food blogs I may not already know about would be much appreciated.

There are LOTS of other Melbourne food blogs that I love, links to most of them appear in one of the boxes to your right.

Oh, and these aren't food blogs, but they're local blogs I love reading that I wanted to plug: Lucy's brilliant, brilliant design blog The Design Files, Caustic Cover Critic (an excellent blog about book design, written by a chap in Adelaide) and Ryan on Coffee, a frequently hilarious blog written by Cat Empire bassist Ryan Monro. As much as I enjoy his Brunetti Stopwatch Challenge posts, my favourite Ryan on Coffee entry would have to be a three-way tie between the footnoted post about Sensory Lab, the recent post about bills in Surry Hills (written entirely in lower case) and the post about the piano solo in Guru Josh's 'Infinity' ("the only thing that's more badly executed than the last two seconds of that solo is the first thirty-eight").

Which food blogs (other than your own!) do you think deserve a plug?


The gratuitous macaron and truffle photos used in this post were taken at Alana Kennedy's Orpheus Diningroom Project MMX, an art installation exhibition opening I attended recently at fortyfivedownstairs. The 300 macarons were made by Shocolate and the three flavours were Cherry Red B52, Macadamia & Vanilla Violet and Truffle & Chocolate Truffle. As you might expect, the truffle/truffle one was VERY earthy, but the other two were exquisite.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Beers and snacks at Little Press

Little Press & Cellar
72 Flinders Street, Melbourne (map)
9677 9677


This evening I had drinks and nibbles at Little Press & Cellar with the charming J prior to going along to ACMI to see a screening of La Haine with DJ Dexter remixing the film score live (which was AWESOME). I hadn't been to The Press Club since its refurb and J had never been, so it seemed like a good idea (even if George Calombaris does reportedly hate food bloggers).

Little Press

To the casual observer, Little Press looks very similar to its previous incarnation as The Press Club bar, only now they've got their own kitchen (separate from The Press Club restaurant) and a nice little private dining room bunker. We sat above ground and ordered several Greek lagers from the very capable staff.

Action shot of J pouring a Mythos (I should've turned the bottle so the label was facing the camera!).

Action shot

Neither of us was particularly ravenous (as we'd had lunch at Kinfolk earlier that day), so we just got two snacks to share. One was the taramosalata with hot chips ($13.50) - as at Hellenic Republic, the taramosalata is made with white fish roe, not pink, and has a wonderfully smooth, subtle flavour. Dipping the hot chips into it was ace.


We also shared a plate of octopus ($13.50), simply prepared with olive oil and lemon juice. Because the simplest things in life are often the best.


If we'd been hungrier, I would've suggested we get the wagyu bresaola with pickled mushrooms and organic egg... and maybe the dessert with vanilla ice cream, peanut praline and salt caramel. Like sorrel, macarons, parfait and slow cooked eggs, salted caramel is EVERYWHERE these days. Not that I'm complaining.

Oh, and what a treat it was to see La Haine up on the big screen! So many brilliant scenes. Nice work on the remixed soundtrack Dexter!

DJ Dexter La Haine