Friday 31 December 2010

The year that was 2010

2010 is rapidly drawing to a close and I wanted to put up a short post thanking everybody for reading - and especially those of you that commented! - this year. It's been a big year, and I've still got several places I want to write about gestating in the drafts folder: hopefully I'll manage to write about them in early January. Later in January I'll be visiting New Zealand for the first time (Christchurch and Marlborough, so if you have any food and wine tips for me I'd LOVE to hear them).

A few extra morsels for thought:

Duncan's Christmas macarons

The week before Christmas saw Melbourne's macaron maestro Duncan go berserk with a bumper range of flavours, including the yuletide-inspired duo of cherry and Christmas spice, and some others laced with pop rocks for an (explosive!) taste sensation that reminded me of a Pierre Roelofs dessert I had in August. My favourites from the selection we bought were the cherry, the effervescent passionfruit and the violet & aniseed.

The weekend before Christmas I was up in Sydney for a family celebration and on the Sunday afternoon I introduced family and friends to Porteño, the Argentinian restaurant I raved about a few months ago. I was devastated to hear upon arrival at the restaurant that it was their last ever lunch service (from now on they'll be open only at night, seven days a week), but I'm just glad I got to sit in that sun-drenched atrium one more time!

Food-wise, my expectations for my second visit were SKY HIGH and Porteño DELIVERED IN SPADES. All of our dishes were excellent, but the crowning glory was the crisp brussels sprouts with green lentils and mint, deep fried and served with vincotto and mustard. Gourmet Traveller editor Pat Nourse named the dish one of his top 10 for 2010 and I can see why: they're insanely delicious and unlike any other brussels sprouts I've had before. The recipe can be found here!

Porteno brussels sprouts

And for a bit of end-of-the-year fun, here's a video slideshow of (just about!) all the Melbourne Gastronome-related photos I took in 2010. Regular readers will recognise lots of familiar dishes - and a few familiar faces! The video was made using Pummelvision (thanks to Hannahbabble for the link).

So it's goodbye from me and the ninjabread men for 2010, and I look forward to seeing you all over the intertubes in 2011!

Ninjabread menNinjabread man

Wednesday 29 December 2010

[TOYS] Collective Issue #4: Water


Three weeks ago I went along to the TOYS Collective dinner at Embrasse: a "water"-themed degustation showcasing the talents of six hot young chefs, four from Melbourne, two from Sydney. It cost $180 per head and I went along with Buster and the charming J. I've been keen to write about this dinner for weeks, even though some of the detail I wanted to include is sadly missing given the delay caused by busy weeks at work and the usual Christmas hullabaloo...

The cocktail upon arrival was the refreshing 'Water(Melon) iced tea' by Luke Ashton (from Duke Bistro and The Ivy in Sydney), made from bespoke watermelon syrup, NZ breakfast tea syrup, Square One organic cucumber vodka and mineral water.

WaterWater(Melon) iced tea

First course was by Darren Robertson (The Table Sessions and former head chef at Tetsuya's), entitled Bird Bath. It was composed of foie gras custard, fried bread, berries, flowers, nuts and seeds - some of the goodies on the plate were foraged the day before when Nic took Darren to some of his favourite foraging haunts. Expertly matched with the NV Gardet Brut 1er Cru from Hautvillers.


I'd heard in advance that each course would be served to the accompaniment of music selected by the chef. From what I'd read about previous TOYS events I expected there to be lots of hip hop, so I was greatly amused to hear over the restaurant din that the songs Darren chose to accompany Bird Bath were Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins and Bobby Darin's Splish Splash!

Embrasse TOYS

John Paul Twomey, head chef at Cutler and Co, went with a similarly nautical musical choice of The B-52's Rock Lobster to accompany his course, Shellpool. Stunningly presented within an iridescent abalone shell, it contained seaweed jelly, abalone, samphire, school prawns and "coral".


I may be remembering incorrectly, but I think the "coral" effect was from using beetroot (or something similar) to dye the seaweed pink. The Shellpool was matched with a kickass sake, the Uehara Soma no Tengu 2010.


The third dish was from the host chef, Embrasse's Nicolas Poelaert, and was called Pollution. In a fun, silly theatrical flourish in keeping with the pollution theme, the squid ink broth part of the dish was dispensed via a plastic tugboat.


A gastronomic interpretation of the Exxon Valdez!


In addition to the squid ink broth the dish had cauliflower, cabbage, Nic's signature burnt carrot purée, monkfish, seaweed and flowers. This was Buster's favourite dish: he exclaimed in wonder that it had actually made him like cabbage for the first time! We also both LOVED the wine matching: the 2007 Domaine Matassa Cuvée Marguerite (Côtes Catalanes), a vividly pungent, biodynamic Vigonier/Muscat blend that was unlikeable on first sniff (as it smelled, well, polluted) but tasted SENSATIONAL.

Nic's music selection was Break Ya from the album Away from the Sea by French DJ Yuksek.


There was a great vibe in the room, and it was good to see lots of familiar faces!

Embrasse TOYS

Next up was Daniel Wilson from Huxtable with a dish entitled Corny Kiss on the Cheek XO. Pork cheek, handmade xo chilli (Dan's latest culinary obsession), scallop, sweet corn puree and pickled okra (mmmm slimy). It's very hard to choose a favourite dish, but but this may have been mine.

It was accompanied by a 2008 Wittmann Westhofener Silvaner trocken (from Rheinhessen) and by Catcall's Swimming Pool.

Corny Kiss on the Cheek

Fifth was Aaron Turner from Loam. His course (served to the strains of Rancid's Time Bomb) was called Chef goes P(c)oastal, composed of veal, oyster, leek, curds and whey. This was J's favourite dish. The veal was beautifully tender and I loved that the oyster was covered with the Loam signature milk skin. It was served with the 2008 Pittnauer Saint Laurent Dorflagen 'Villages' (from Burgenland, Austria) - my first opportunity to taste Saint Laurent, a grape variety similar to Pinot Noir.

Chef Goes P(c)oastal

Last up was Morgan McGlone from Sydney's Flinders Inn, serving up a batshit-crazy dessert called Like Water for Chocolate: a chocolate soup laced with pig's blood and chilli, served with a coconut and sago ice block. I'd read about chocolate and pig's blood as a flavour combination but had never had the opportunity to try it - it was sweet and earthy and ever so slightly metallic. YOWZA.

According to a press release I was sent last week, chocolate and pig's blood macarons are going to be featured in Adriano Zumbo's TV series on SBS, starting in February.

Like Water For Chocolate

The dessert was matched with a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout (fromTadcaster, North Yorkshire) and Common's Cold Blooded (from the album Like Water for Chocolate).


At the end of the night all the chefs came around to each room, explaining their dishes and chatting about the drink matches that the sommeliers had selected. Thanks were also given to the eminently capable front of house team, who took good care of us all.

A Spoiled Cochon has some pics and videos of dishes being being plated that evening, for those that like the behind the scenes side of things.

TOYS debrief

Congrats to Mel and the rest of the TOYS Collective for putting together such a fun night, a great time was had by all! Future events for both Sydney and Melbourne are planned for 2011, you can sign up to their mailing list if you want to be kept in the loop. I'm looking forward to the next one!

TOYS debrief

Monday 27 December 2010

Christmas Day with the family


In keeping with tradition from the last three years, here's a post covering the Gastronome family Christmas lunch. The Anglo half of our family celebrated Christmas the weekend before up in Sydney, so Christmas Day we were with the Italian half, with Mum and Dad hosting.


Nonna loved the calendar Mum gave her featuring a different family photo on each page.


A good haul of food and wine books!


My sister Birdie's responsibilities were setting the table and glazing the ham. She claimed that the table setting design was "inspired by Lady Gaga", and did a great job of channeling Nigella when glazing the ham.

Christmas tableNigella

First course was "pesce misto", starting with Mum's excellent garlicky prawn pâté (recipe here).

Prawn pate

The other seafood we had was perennial Christmas favourite gravlax, Sydney Rock oysters that Dad shucked in the laundry, Nonna's folpo (dialect for octopus, which she had boiled, peeled, chopped and marinated in olive oil, garlic, peperoncino and parsley) and Paola's take on sarde in saor.

Sarde in saor is a traditional Venetian recipe of sardines marinated in a wonderfully sweet and sour combination of onions, pine nuts, raisins and peppercorns. Paola couldn't find decent sardines on Christmas Eve so she tried substituting flounder instead. My brother Buster went back for thirds, even though he knew we had another two courses left...


Second course was Birdie's glazed ham, stuffed turkey, fluffy roasted potatoes and pumpkin, peperonata, a salad of baby spinach leaves and a Black Russian insalata caprese.


Mum used Bill Granger's turkey stuffing recipe, with cranberries, pistachio and sage. It was bloody good.

Secondo piattoIspirato dalla bloody Gaga

Christmas Day this year was particularly poignant for my family because my Nonno has been unwell and had a major operation last week. Luckily for us, he was transferred out of hospital to a rehab centre on Christmas Eve and was allowed to come along to Christmas lunch. He requested that Dad open a special bottle of wine and so Nonno tasted his first Grange (1988). Turned out we liked the Bannockburn 2000 Pinot Noir better!

Nonno col Grange

Paola made a sensational dessert, semifreddo pralinato alla nocciola. The hazelnut praline was ground up until it made a thick paste.


Mum made shortbread and her friend Mandy's mince tarts, and we managed to find some decent cherries despite the damage to the Australian cherry crop.

Shortbread, cherries, mince tarts


Do you like our Christmas ribbons?Smooch

We finished off the evening in true Christmas style, playing a couple of rubbers of 500, listening to Handel's Messiah and drinking Le Brun-Servenay champagne. We had a lovely Christmas and I hope you did too!

Christmas Night 500

Thursday 16 December 2010

Macarons and Devonshire tea at the NGV

The Tea Room
Level 1, NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne (map)
8620 2431

NGV painting

A few Sundays ago, during one of those but-it's-late-spring-FFS-Melbourne cold snaps we were getting on the weekends, I caught up with Schatzi and her beautiful son. We'd earmarked the weekend months ago: our original intention had been to go away together for the whole weekend to Queensland, which was then whittled down to a day in Daylesford, and then to an afternoon's Devonshire tea in the Dandenongs, then finally down to a few hours at the NGV. You know how it is - life tends to get in the way.

Luckily, we could still get our Devonshire tea fix at The Tea Room.

NGV water wallBunny

The Tea Room is located up on the first floor of the NGV, just to the side of the water wall. As the name suggests, there are over a dozen varieties of tea to choose from (I tried a delicate Bai Mu Dan, or Chinese white peony tea), as well as a range of sandwiches, salads, quiches and handmade cakes and pastries. A selection of afternoon tea (with or without Deloraine Chandon Vintage Brut) can be served for two on a high tea cake stand.

The Tea Room

I was interested to try the macarons by Mauritian-French chef Selvana Chelvanaigum, as two Melbourne Gastronome readers had highly recommended them when I wrote my post about the best macarons in Melbourne. Selvana's macarons ($2.50 each, from memory) lived up to expectations: creative flavours, excellent textures, no air pockets. There were lots of different ones to choose from, but we tried the rosewater, the violet, the lamington and the (lurid) blueberry.

NGV macarons

My mother's formidable baking prowess means I've always been fussy with my scones, but The Tea Room got them just right: freshly baked, light, slightly fluffy, not at all chalky ($9.50 with cream and jam). I wish they wouldn't sprinkle sugar on them though.

SconesThe Tea Room

Even if you're not going in to the gallery itself, The Tea Room is a nice place to cosy up on an armchair and while away an afternoon. Next time you're in the 'hood, scoff a macaron then run around like a mad thing under Leonard French's stained glass ceiling, like we did.


Someone fell in love with the water wall!

Water wall

Tuesday 7 December 2010

So you want a sandwich in the legal district of the Melbourne CBD

It's no secret that my default lunch place is EARL Canteen: I am there with terrifying frequency, and not just because I am friends with Jackie and Simon, the proprietors. It's because their sandwiches really are THE BEST SANDWICHES IN TOWN. I've written about their sandwiches before, so I'll limit myself today to saying that you HAVE to try two of the new additions to their menu: the baguette with organic asparagus, mushie peas, slow cooked egg, taleggio cream and hazelnuts ($13.50) and the Earl Grey macaron ($2.50). Both are sensational.

Organic asparagus

But today I wanted to write a post about some of the other lunch places in the city's legal district, where I work. Some time ago I wrote a series of blog posts I called 'The King / Bourke Quest', which catalogued my at times futile attempts to find a decent lunch in the vicinity of the corner of King Street and Bourke Street. How times have changed! I'm happy to report that in the last six months a string of new places has opened, providing much more choice. Here's a round-up of the most noteworthy over the last few months.

673 Bourke Street, Melbourne (map)
No phone, open 6:30-3:30 Mon-Fri

A feel-good, not-for-profit haven in the corporate jungle.


Kinfolk is sunny little cafe in Donkey Wheel House, the gorgeous Venetian Gothic building at the very end of Bourke Street near Southern Cross Station. The cafe redirects its profits to selected local and international development projects (by adding a coffee bean to one of four jars when paying the bill, patrons can have input into which projects get the funding). It's staffed partially by volunteers so service levels can vary at times, but the place is so cute and well-meaning that it'd be churlish to let that bother you.


The changing menu will generally feature half a dozen sandwiches and salads, always with a few unusual ingredients. In the past I've enjoyed zucchini and goats curd frittata and red pepper relish on rye ($8.50) and poached chicken, celeriac shavings, frisee and mustard aioli on sourdough ($8.50).

Zucchini and goats curd frittata, red pepper relishPoached chicken, celeriac, frisee, mustard aioli

Salads have been good too: radicchio, white anchovy, soft boiled egg and mustard cream dressing ($9.50) and a corn and mint salad whose details are sadly lost in the mists of time.

Radicchio, white anchovy, soft boiled egg and mustard cream dressingKinfolk salad

The chairs are mismatched and the vinyl can be crackly, but the coffee is good and Kinfolk is often the perfect antidote to a hectic working day.

Kinfolk coffee

Le Traiteur
552 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne (map)
9670 0039
7am-6pm Mon-Fri

About six months old, Le Traiteur is owned and run by the team behind North Melbourne bistro Libertine. The selection of $9 baguettes include some great combinations like salted beef, Emmenthal, gherkins and mustard mayonnaise (left) and rabbit terrine with bitter leaves and hazelnut dressing (right).

Salted beefRabbit terrine

They also have a substantial breakfast menu featuring dishes like oeufs en cocotte and semolina porridge. I say go for the pikelet stack with Calvados apples and crème fraiche ($11).

Le TraiteurPikelet stack

I like popping in on my way from Flagstaff station to the office in the mornings to grab a cup of coffee and to try resisting the freshly made pastries. If you ARE going to get a pastry, try the white chocolate and almond croissant.

PastriesLe Traiteur

585 Little Collins Street, Melbourne (map)
0407 527 135

Elevenses is a tiny, endearing cafe run by an enthusiastic young couple who love their coffee (they serve fair trade organic Toby's Estate coffee, offer a single origin of the day, and reconditioned their vintage coffee machine themselves). They originally set up shop in Kensington, but a hail storm earlier in the year LITERALLY destroyed their cafe (!!). They recently reopened in a bluestone building down the far end of Little Collins Street, in a somewhat bizarre arrangement whereby the interior space is shared with a printing and parcel packaging business.


The reasonably-priced lunch menu consists of a small number of sandwiches (made fresh) and a few salads. On my first visit I really liked the "Rooben" rye sandwich ($8.40): pan-seared kangaroo topside with swiss, sauerkraut and Zing mustard pickle. On my second visit, when I took my charming colleague J along with me, I resisted the temptation to get the roo again (he ordered it, and loved it), and I tried the bunny instead. The braised rabbit sourdough sandwich ($8.40) comes with alfalfa sprouts, swiss, tomato, lemon, rosemary and drizzled with honey. Another great combo - the sharp lemon and sweet honey worked so well with the braised meat.

Rooben ryeBraised rabbit sourdough

There is a perpetual Scrabble game being played at Elevenses, and patrons are invited to play a turn while waiting for coffee. The Chilean chanchitos statuettes (a wedding present for the owners) bringing good luck to the cafe are a cute touch.


When I lunched there with J, we sat at a table out on Little Collins Street to enjoy the sunshine, and were promptly serenaded by a bloke with a guitar. Romantic!


The Tuck Shop
500 Bourke Street, Melbourne (map)
7-5:30 Mon-Fri

My favourite thing about the latest cafe opened by Melbourne coffee tycoon Sal Malatesta, The Tuck Shop, is the stack of fluoro lunch trays. I love how they evoke childhood memories of queuing in the school tuck shop.

Tuck Shop tray

The Tuck Shop is situated on the ground floor of the NAB Bourke Street building (behind which both MoVida Aqui and EARL can be found). It has a glass ceiling so on a cloudless day the tables are drenched in celestial light.


The lunch menu boasts a selection of wraps and salads, a pie, a hotdog and a hot dish of the day. There were a few pre-prepared panini, but they didn't really grab my fancy. Instead I tried the "original" salad ($8.50): broccoli, alfalfa, green peas, cucumber, avocado, quinoa, merediths goat cheese, fresh mint and toasted seeds.

Tuck Shop sandwiches

The salad that arrived was rather disappointing: it was undressed and dry, and instead of broccoli there were big chunks of pumpkin (unpeeled). My lunch companion Miss C fared better, enjoying the chunky Black Angus beef pie with Tuck Shop tomato sauce ($6).

I wasn't very impressed on my initial visit, but I'll return to give it another try (if only to order the breakfast of fresh cut papaya with Greek yoghurt, pomegranate and raw honey - YUM).

Tuck shop salad and juiceTuck Shop pie

K.Shock Bento Box
Shop 8, 530 Little Collins Street, Melbourne (map)
8686 5664

It's a bit of a stretch to call it a sandwich, but the tatsuta burger at K.Shock Bento Box ($6.50) is bloody delicious and, according to a guy I know who lived in Tokyo, pretty damn authentic. I follow his suggestion and ask for it to be made with wasabi mayo (rather than regular mayo).

Tatsuta burger with wasabi mayo

In terms of other King/Bourke-vicinity places I've reviewed in the past, I can report that the curry don at Don Bay Japanese Lunch Place continues to be excellent, and that Espressino outside the Rialto has added proper thin crust pizzas (made in the oven downstairs) to its menu.

In the food court at 530 Little Collins Street, the place next door to Yen Sushi & Noodles serves authentic Sri Lankan food. It's called Cinnamons and their eggplant curry is brilliant, as are the hoppers. See Penny's review here.

And last but not least, Hardware Societe is a great lunch (and breakfast) option. On my most recent visit I was most impressed with the expansion of their macaron operations, and the improvement in quality (both in terms of smooth shells and nuanced flavours). That lemongrass and coconut macaron was to die for!

Hardware Societe macarons