Saturday, 26 March 2011

Quick tastes: a blog amnesty post

Time for another blog amnesty post! Here's an assortment of dishes I wanted to share on the blog, but rather than write individual posts I thought I'd stick them all together in the one place. Looking through the collection of photos, I realise that today's post has a strong focus on all sorts of weird and wonderful meats. You might like to look away, vegetarians...

First of all, how cute are these tiny native desert limes? Matt Wilkinson gave me a taste of them on my most recent visit to Pope Joan. At the time, he was experimenting with pickling them and putting them through a grain salad. Hopefully they'll also be muddled in cocktails at the bar he's going to be opening next door to Pope Joan, The Bishop of Ostia (named after the illegitimate son whose birth revealed Pope Joan to be female, if Wikipedia is to be believed).

Desert limes

The best thing on the current Auction Rooms brunch menu (apart from the knuckle sandwich) is the salmon pastrami on a potato and quinoa rösti (the quinoa gives the rösti a really interesting texture) with a poached egg, pink grapefruit, rocket and crème fraîche ($16). Auction Rooms has also added Bloody Marys to its brunch menu. This pleases me greatly.

Salmon pastrami

The Japanese/French hybrid thing they've got going at Heirloom extends to their breakfast menu. When we visited on one of our recent Bourgeois Breakfasts, a highlight was the panko crumbed free range egg and asparagus with smoked almond, preserved lemon and burnt butter ($16).

Panko crumbed free range egg and asparagus

Delicious horse tartare, at an Italian restaurant whose name I will not mention given that last year, following the legalisation of horse meat for Australian human consumption in July, death threats were sent to WA butcher Vince Garreffa from Mondo Butchers and to the other Melbourne restaurant which held a special horse meat dinner I attended.

I've eaten horse meat a few times in Italy and love the lean, mild, sweet taste of it. While I understand why some would have a cultural/sentimental aversion to eating horse (similarly, I could never bring myself to eat dog, because I love these two too much), I am bewildered by those who want to attack other people and restrict their freedom to choose whether or not to eat a meat which is perfectly legal (horse meat has been produced in Australia for human consumption for years, but prior to last July it was all exported). Given that these particular animals are slaughtered by Mondo Butchers under government-approved and closely scrutinised conditions, it also seems inconsistent to me that such people would protest outside a restaurant serving horse - as was the case at the horse dinner I attended last year - but not outside restaurants serving, say, lamb.

If dog meat were legalised tomorrow, I sure as hell wouldn’t be buying it (and would probably give Monty and Nessie an extra pat and cuddle next time I went to Mum and Dad’s) but I wouldn’t be protesting outside a restaurant serving it or sending death threats to the butcher!


Moving on to a different restaurant, the $15.50 vitello tonnato at Jorg consists of discs of poached veal interspersed with discs of pepper crusted, seared tuna. When I was taken there by M and Zia P, it was my favourite dish.

Vitello tonnato, pepper crust, capers and pickles

Mamasita braised veal tongue and ox cheek tacos with pickled vegetables and ghost chilli mayonnaise ($6 each). YES.

Veal tongue and ox cheek tacos

I've written before about the special four course Sunday lunch at Embrasse. What I didn't realise was that they also do lunch Thursday to Saturday, $38 for two courses or $45 for three courses - but of course in my opinion you MUST also order a serve of the aligot (crazily elastic, cheesy mashed potato) for your table to share.

A few weeks ago I organised a big group of people to have Saturday lunch at Embrasse to celebrate the lovely Chontoozie's birthday. The highlight for me this time was the dessert of local berries and cherries with honey custard - simple and beautiful.

Local berries and cherries, honey custard

How do you like your house martini? DECONSTRUCTED, that's how. From the new Autumn cocktail menu at Der Raum.


Gerald's Bar
386 Rathdowne St, Carlton North (map)
9349 4748

A few weeks ago I finally, FINALLY visited Gerald's Bar, the Rathdowne Village locale Gourmet Traveller dubbed its 2010 Bar of the Year (and which David Chang memorably likened to being on mescaline).

But I wasn't sampling the usual fare Gerald's has on offer: Matt Wilkinson had taken over the kitchen to test out some dishes from his first draft menu for the opening-later-in-2011 restaurant, Hen & Coq. The meal was a bargain at $55 for five courses or $85 for nine courses, and my charming dining companions were Matt C and (frequent Melbourne Gastronome hand model) J, both Gerald's Bar devotees. As we walked in we sniggered at the sign in the front window: "To showcase Matt's new venture, we have suspended our usual menu. Tomorrow it's back to the slop Gerald cooks".

Gerald's Bar

The negronis were flawless. As we drank them, we munched on what Matt described on the menu as 'classic butcher pork scratchings'.

Negroni at sundownClassic butcher pork scratchings

Other highlights were the Cuban sandwich, and a dish which Gerald insisted everybody eat first before he'd tell us what it was: smoked ox heart and crumbed sweetbread salad. While I'm quite partial to sweetbreads in small doses and guessed what they were right away, I confess that I'd've approached the dish rather more tentatively if I'd known it was heart. But ignorance is bliss - we loved it!

The Cuban sandwichSmoked ox heart and crumbed sweetbread salad

By this stage in the meal we'd moved on to a bottle of Mornington Peninsula lagrein (I hadn't been aware that much lagrein was grown anywhere outside of Northern Italy, let alone in Melbourne's own backyard!). The high acidity helped with the outrageous richness of the next course: Warialda Belted Galloway bone marrow, crab and caviar. Oh, MR WILKINSON.

Bone marrow, caviar, crabA pot of custard or as the French say "creme Anglaise" with doughnuts

We finished off with what the menu rather conversationally described as 'a pot of custard or as the French say “crème Anglaise” with doughnuts'. Once again, J acted as the Melbourne Gastronome hand model. It was a fun night that not only made me look forward to the opening of Hen & Coq down the track, but keen to return to Gerald's ASAP. I keep reading Essjay's tweets about her frequent meals at Gerald's, and they always sound so bloody good!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

MFWF 2011: The rest of the festival madness

Broadsheet Cafe

Okay, here's one epic megapost covering the rest of what I got up to during the twelve action-packed days of this year's Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (apart from the Roy Choi dinner and the Sommeliers Australia Long Lunch which I've already written about).

Broadsheet Cafe popped up for the duration of the festival in the tiny site opposite Gingerboy that housed the Baker D. Chirico pop-up last year. I went along to the launch party. The cafe had a rotating cast of baristas from specialist coffee cafes around town - I popped in on one of the days Dead Man Espresso was calling (and pulling) the shots. They were serving up EARL Canteen sandwiches, as well as Heilala vanilla crème brûlée macarons from LuxBite that were criminally good.

Broadsheet Cafe

Crown hosted a diverse group of international chefs, dubbed the Stars of Spice, during the Festival. I was invited by the Festival to lunch with the chefs down at T'Gallant, which was a good opportunity for the chefs to get out of the kitchens and to see a bit of the countryside. I had an animated conversation with Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, the 'jungle chef' of Peru, about the horsemeat brouhaha that erupted in Australia last year, and about how he prepares guinea pig meat.


The spread they put on for us at T'Gallant's La Baracca Trattoria included a lovely panzanella salad with shaved kefalograviera, and blue eye done three ways (pan seared fillet, poached cheek and belly sashimi) with shaved fennel and black sesame salad.

Tomato saladFish salad

Oh and the slooooow roasted sirloin of beef (50 degrees for 14 hours) came with a spiced yoghurt crust, a toasted bread puree and a brilliant preserved lemon grape dressing. Suit you, sir!

BeefLa Barracca

An event I went along to with Mum and Dad was the Middle Eastern Bakery Tour along Sydney Road ($45 per head). It's been running for years and is good fun, whether it's your first visit to Sydney Road or your fiftieth.

Sydney Road tourLebanese bakery

Behind the scenes at A1 Bakery.


At Pamukkale Bakery (Turkish) we enjoyed freshly baked simit with grape molasses.

Simit with grape molassesSimits

These spinach and haloumi pies from Amir Bakery (Iraqi) were PERFECTION. I can't stop thinking about them and must go back for more.

Haloumi pie

At El Fayha Sweets (Lebanese) we learnt just how much sugar and butter goes into baklava and 'princess jewels' pastries (you don't want to know!).

Lebanese bakery

Later that afternoon I met Emily and went along to South Afrikaans, a South African wine tasting event held by Sommeliers Australia at La Vita Buona ($35 per head). We enjoyed pinotage, cabernet sauvignon and chenin blanc, but my favourite wine was definitely the puntastic Goats Do Roam.

AfrikaansGoats do Roam

Later in the week I went along to Reinterpreting Dessert ($150 per head), the collaboration between Der Raum and desserts gurus Burch & Purchese. Five cocktails and five desserts, it was madness I tell you.

Der Raum

Isn't it pretty? Forgive me for not remembering the precise ingredients, but I seem to recall it involved cheesecake and two kinds of cherries. It was matched with the Chicago 2300, one of the new cocktails on Der Raum's autumn menu.


This one was probably my favourite, as I loved the way the mint lifted the dish: a mint mousse sphere with lime shortbread, mint tapioca, compressed cucumber and sugar mint leaf. It was matched with Der Raum's Tzatziki Sour, which had been whipped up from its usual liquid state into a mousse-ier texture and sealed with a silver foil lid, like an old-fashioned milk bottle.


Another impressive dessert was the apple sugar tube which contained burnt vanilla cream, explosive hazelnut crumble (helloooooo Pop Rocks!) and acidulated apple. Matched with an appley cocktail that came in its own cardboard box (that looked suspiciously like a McDonald's hot apple pie container).

By the time the last course arrived (involving chocolate truffle and truffle truffle) we were all COMPLETELY wired from hours of consuming sugar. Getting to sleep that night was not easy!


I was invited along one morning to Breakfast Wine, a wine tasting and breakfast held at Le Traiteur at 8am (!!!). Because it was a working day I had only a few baby sips (obvs), but enjoyed the intimate group and the way Ben and Dan challenged us to think outside the box when it came to matching wines with breakfast (for example, the idea of pinot noir makes a bit more sense when you consider the tannins that exist in your mug of English Breakfast). I also loved loved loved the taste of the 2009 Greystone Dry Riesling from the Waipara.

Breakfast Wine

The other event I was invited along to was the 19th Century Decadence Degustation which was served on the balcony of the historic Werribee Mansion. We were put up in very comfortable rooms in the adjacent Mansion Hotel & Spa and had breakfast the next morning in the hotel's restaurant, Joseph's.

Werribee MansionWerribee Mansion

Joseph's newly-appointed executive chef Marcus Levy designed the 19th century menu (think sorrel and spinach soup with sheep's milk curd, quail stuffed with chicken liver, pheasant, venison etc). It was a perfect night for dining al fresco, and the surrounds were pretty damn magnificent.


As you can imagine, by the end of the twelve day festival I was BROKEN. The last event I attended (before collapsing in a heap) was pleasantly low-key: the Forgotten Fruits High Tea at Southpaw.

Southpaw blackboard

The event was $25 per head for high tea with a pot of tea, or $35 for high tea with a jug of Pimms. I gladly went with the tea option, (a) because my charming tea companion is expecting her first child, and (b) because I couldn't face any more alcohol.


The high tea included Daylesford charcuterie, scones, finger sandwiches (I particuarly liked the one with smoked chicken, crab apple chutney and chive crème) and a few sweets (including a lovely gooseberry and toffee tartlette).

CharcuterieHigh Tea tiers

The forgotten fruits preserves we got to try included rosehip, apple and date chutney, crab apple, pear and maple chutney, elderberry and rhubarb jam and cherry laurel, shadberry, vanilla bean and brandy jam. I liked the last one so much I bought a little jar to take home.

Southpaw wall

So there you have it! The MFWF event I wish I'd gone to was one of the Bombas and Parr events: despite all the hipster hype, the Sweet Architextural event they put on at the Espy with Burch & Purchese sounds and looks like it was a riot, or alternatively the Funerals and Food event sounded equal parts bizarre and interesting. And hey, maybe next year I'll finally make it along to some of the Masterclasses.

Melbourne Gastronome, over and out!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

MFWF 2011: Sommeliers Australia Long Lunch

Somms Long Lunch

Another highlight of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival for me was the Appropriately Long (Girl Power) Sommeliers Lunch, run by Sommeliers Australia. I was lucky enough to be invited along, and I brought best-friend-K along too. The event was held at Ormond Hall (behind the Belgian Beer Cafe), which turned out to be a fabulous venue that comfortably held about 200 people. This year each dish was prepared by a female chef and matched with two wines by a female sommelier.

Ormond Hall

The first course was prepared by Ocha chef Paula Lawdorn and included a juicy, crunchy prawn ball, a ponzu oyster and salmon tartare. Sonia Bandera, sommelier at Donovan’s, matched it with a 2010 De Bortoli Reserve Riesling and a kickass Uehara Soma No Tengu Sake.

The second course was by Rebecca Hoswell, chef at Ilona Staller (a restaurant I still haven't been to yet - I must rectify that soon): octopus carpaccio with shallots, celery leaves, chilli, lemon oil and exquisitely small baby shiso leaves. Gertrude Street Enoteca sommelier Jacqueline Turner matched it with a 2009 Hochkirch Riesling and a 2009 Dona Paterna Alvarinho 2009 from Portugal.

A Taste of OchaOctopus Carpaccio

The main course was prepared by (former Melbourne Wine Room head chef) Nicky Riemer from Union Dining, the Swan Street provincial European restaurant she is about to open with Adam Cash (bespectacled former front of house manager at Cutler & Co). Given that Union Dining will be only a short walk from my house, I'm pretty damn excited about it.

The dish Nicky prepared was capretto (baby goat) that had been slow cooked until very tender, served with braised peppers and olives. This was my favourite course - the bitter radicchio leaves cut through the rich meat beautifully, and I loved the sweet/salt from the peppers and olives. Adam later hinted to me that this dish may appear on their menu - I hope so. Circa sommelier Sarah Ward paired the goat with a 2005 Chalmers Aglianico from the Murray Darling and a 2008 Tuscan Brancaia ‘Tre’ (Sangiovese, Merlot & Cabernet).

Abbacchio o capretto

Throughout the afternoon, Somms Australia president and consummate showman Ben Edwards interviewed the sommeliers and asked each one to talk through her wine pairings. He also very naughtily sprang a blind tasting on them - a 2009 Pepper Tree Shiraz from the Hunter Valley, which Sarah Ward very impressively picked.

Somms Long LunchSomms Long Lunch
Somms Long LunchSomms Long Lunch
Somms Long LunchSomms Long Lunch

Next up was a cheese course supplied by the Calendar Cheese Company: Locheitan Wunghna and Calendar Farmhouse Cheddar. Matched by Leanne Altmann from Cutler & Co with a 2008 All Saints ‘Family Cellar’ Durif and a cider (Napoleone & Co, Punt Road Wines). Excuse the photo - I'd been called up to the stage to act as barrel girl for the raffle, and by the time I got back to my table this was all that remained!

The final course was the other real highlight for me: Rebecca Creighton, who works at Rookpool Bar & Grill, prepared a stunning coconut and pandan tapioca pudding with tropical fruits and ginger granita. As b-f-K remarked, I'm generally dubious when it comes to tapioca in desserts, but this one was creamy and silky and sublime. Simone Spicer, sommelier at The European matched it with a Punch ‘Berry’s Creek Vineyard’ Noble Riesling 2008 and a Schloss Lieser Riesling Auslese 2008 from Mosel, Germany.

Remnants of cheesePudding

The event was a hell of a lot of fun, striking a good balance between discussing the wines and just enjoying some great nosh and great company. A drink afterwards in the sunny courtyard was followed by a gin and tonic down in St Kilda. Any rumour suggesting that a small group of us started belting out showtunes in the middle of a crowded Melbourne Wine Room will be STAUNCHLY DENIED.

Somms Long Lunch