Monday, 30 May 2011

Starlight Five Chefs Gala Dinner 2011 Melbourne

Plating up

Last week I was invited along by the Starlight Children's Foundation to attend the media launch for their major fundraising event of the year, the Starlight Five Chefs Gala Dinner at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. It's a fundraiser I'm very happy to write about because I think it's an excellent event for an excellent cause: just about everything (including food, wine, staff, venue and auction items) is donated by some of the best names in the business, and the Starlight Children's Foundation doesn't receive any government funding for any of its core programs.

Each of the five chefs spoke to us afterwards, sharing stories about their visits to the Starlight Express Rooms the foundation has in paediatric hospitals around the country (in the photo below, Shane Delia was telling us about the teenage girl who repeatedly kicked his arse playing Super Mario on Wii).

The menu on the night (Thursday 16 June at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne) will be the same as we had at the media launch: I've included photos and descriptions below. Tickets to the event are $350 each: if you're interested in raising money for the cause and attending, further details and tickets can be found by clicking here and here.

Shane Delia

The course I was most eagerly anticipating was the first one, prepared by Dan Hunter (the head chef from a little place in Dunkeld that you may have heard of, called the Royal Mail Hotel). The degustation at the Royal Mail was my favourite meal of 2009, after all.

And boy, the dish did NOT disappoint: Jerusalem artichoke, roasted and stuffed with triple cream cheese, on hazelnut and thyme (served with the Dal Zotto NV Sparkling). The Jerusalem artichoke had been soaked for three hours in a calcium oxide (quicklime!) brine, which had the effect once roasted of forming a crust on the outside and turning the inside of the vegetable to the most amazing purée that has to be tasted to be believed. OH MY.

Jerusalem artichoke, triple cream cheese, hazelnut and thymeJerusalem artichoke, triple cream cheeese, hazelnut and thyme

Shane Delia from Maha and just-opened St Katherine's was responsible for the second course (which I also loved). Sous vide butter poached salmon (which had been rubbed in salt and cardamom, then honey) with vanilla-flecked fazolia, toasted cous cous, fennel seeds and almonds. The rich dish was matched with the 2010 De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Grown Chardonnay.

Butter poached salmon and cardamom, vanilla fazolia, toasted cous cous and almonds

Next course was from MoVida (one of Frank Camorra's chefs was standing in for him as he was in Spain). "Mont y mar", aka MoVida's delicious Catalan interpretation of a surf 'n turf. Baby calamari filled with a braised pork neck and pork belly farce then roasted, served with steamed mussels and slow cooked chickpeas. Matched with a bloody lovely pinot noir, the 2008 from Yabby Lake Vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula.

Catalan style pork filled baby calamari with mussels

Jason Camillo, the head chef at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, served the next course: corned Wagyu eye of rump served with a creamed onion soubise (which had a zing of horseradish) and roasted baby beets, carrots and pearl onions. A hearty dish matched with Best's Great West Bin No 1 Shiraz 2009.

Corned wagyu beef, horseradish soubise, baby beets, carrots and pearl onions

The final course was by Melbourne's Willy Wonka-esque dessert maestri, Burch & Purchese, and had many of my fellow diners moaning in pleasure. It was made from yoghurt sponge, pineapple jelly infused with Vietnamese mint, homemade pineapple jam, dried spiced pineapple, Heilala vanilla yoghurt crunchies made with maltodextrine & freeze dried yoghurt powder. A great combination of textures and flavours, and matched with a Campbells Rutherglen Tokay.

If you haven't already visited the Burchese & Purchese Sweet Studio on Chapel Street South Yarra, GET DOWN THERE. I visited this afternoon and bought an obscenely good miniature cake made from caramelised white chocolate & vanilla mousse, crunchy macadamia meringue, caramelised banana cream, passionfruit jelly, caramelised white chocolate velvet spray and caramelised milk solids.

Spiced pineapple, Vietnamese mint and vanilla yoghurt crunchies

Once again, if you'd like to attend the Starlight Five Chefs Gala Dinner on the 16th of June, details are here.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Melbourne restaurants open on Monday nights

UPDATED 29/08/11: more than doubled the length of the list from 52 restaurants to 107!


I've been meaning to write this post for over a year, but was prompted to do so today when my lovely friend H was racking her brains on Twitter trying to think of a nice restaurant where she could have a birthday dinner next Monday. Given that so many restaurants are closed on Monday nights (the traditional hospo night off), finding somwhere good to eat can prove a challenge.

So I thought I'd dedicate this post to listing Melbourne restaurants that are open for dinner on Mondays - and I'll do my best to keep the post updated. I've done a quick sweep of restaurants I can think of to get the list started, but if you can think of any other places in Melbourne to include (or if you know that one of the places listed is no longer open on Monday nights) please leave a comment letting me know and I'll update the list.


Albert Park Hotel (Albert Park)
Anada (Fitzroy)
The Atlantic (Southbank)
Bacash (South Yarra)
Bar Idda (Brunswick East)
Bar Lourinha (CBD)
Becco (CBD)
Benito's (CBD)
Birdman Eating (Fitzroy)
Bisto Guillaume (Southbank)
Bistro Thierry (Prahran)
Bistro Vue (CBD)
Bottega (CBD)
Cafe Di Stasio (St Kilda)
Chester White (Hawthorn)
Chin Chin (CBD)
Chin Chin's at Koto Moon (Carlton North)
China Red (CBD)
Chinese Jin Dumpling House (Kew)
Chocolate Buddha (CBD)
Cicciolina (St Kilda)
Circa, the Prince (St Kilda)
City Wine Shop (CBD)
Coda (CBD)
Collins Quarter (CBD)
Comme Kitchen (CBD)
Cookie (CBD)
The Court House (North Melbourne)
The Crimean (North Melbourne)
Crystal Jade (CBD)
Cumulus Inc (CBD)
Da Noi (South Yarra)
Dainty Sichuan (South Yarra)
De Los Santos (Fitzroy)
The Deanery (CBD)
DOC (Carlton)
Donovans (St Kilda)
Esposito at Toofey's (Carlton)
The European (CBD)
Ezard (CBD)
Flower Drum (CBD)
France-Soir (South Yarra)
Gami (CBD)
Gerald's Bar (Carlton North)
Gill's Diner (CBD)
Gingerboy (CBD)
Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons (Southbank)
The Graham (Port Melbourne)
The Grand (Burnley)
Grossi Florentino (CBD)
Hako (CBD)
Hare and Grace (CBD)
Hellenic Republic (Brunswick East)
HuTong Dumpling Bar (CBD)
HuTong Dumpling (Prahran)
Il Bacaro (CBD)
Ilona Staller (Balaclava)
The Italian (CBD)
Izakaya Den (CBD)
Josie Bones (Collingwood)
Kenzan Japanese (CBD)
Kumo Izakaya (Brunswick East)
Ladro (Fitzroy)
Ladro (Prahran)
Laksa King (Flemington)
Lamaro's (South Melbourne)
Longrain (CBD)
Maedaya (Richmond)
Maha (CBD)
Mama Ganoush (Windsor)
Mamasita (CBD)
Matteo's (Fitzroy North)
Maze (Southbank)
Merchant (CBD)
Mezzo Bar & Grill (CBD)
Middle Park Hotel (Middle Park)
MoVida (CBD)
MoVida Aqui (CBD)
Newmarket (St Kilda)
Nobu (Southbank)
North Fitzroy Star (Fitzroy North)
Omah's Malaysian (Hawthorn)
Omah's Malaysian (Port Melbourne)
The Palace by Luke Mangan (South Melbourne)
Pearl (Richmond)
Philhellene Provincial Greek Cuisine (Moonee Ponds)
PM24 (CBD)
The Point (Albert Park)
The Press Club (CBD) / Little Press (CBD)
Rice Queen (Fitzroy)
Rockpool (Southbank)
Rosa's Kitchen (Williamstown)
St Katherine's (Kew)
Saint Peter's (CBD)
Sarti (CBD)
Senoritas (CBD)
Shakahari (Carlton)
Sho Noodle Bar (Southbank)
Shoya (CBD)
Spice Temple (Southbank)
Station Hotel (Footscray)
Stokehouse (St Kilda)
Taxi Dining Room (CBD)
Thai Nee Cafe (Brunswick)
Verge (CBD)
Vue de Monde (CBD)
Yu-U (CBD)

So which ones have I missed? In particular, which cheap eats have I missed?


Oh, and for those who didn't see me note it on Twitter/Facebook, I thought I'd just mention in passing that Monday was the four year anniversary of the start of Melbourne Gastronome. Thanks to all for reading!

I'll leave it to my Nonno (pictured here celebrating his 90th birthday on the weekend) to blow out the candles... :)

Nonno birthday cake

Monday, 16 May 2011

Golden Fields: first peek at Andrew McConnell's St Kilda restaurant

Golden Fields
157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda (map)
No phone
Bookings restricted to 8-14 people set banquets (book via email)
Open noon-midnight, Tuesday-Sunday
(from June, open for breakfasts Friday-Sunday)

Golden Fields

It hasn't officially opened yet (well, it's still in soft opening mode), but on Saturday night Jack, best-friend-K and I braved the brutal Melbourne weather conditions to check out the Cumulus of the South, Golden Fields. As Jack commented on Twitter, it takes a special kind of restaurant to get her out on public transport on a night like that! Discretionary taxi afterwards.

Let me point out at the outset that I have a mental block with the name of this restaurant... EVERY damn time I go to say the name aloud, I mistakenly call it Golden Plains instead of Golden Fields. It's a really annoying habit I don't seem to be able to shake.

Golden Fields interior

The restaurant's interior has been designed by Projects of Imagination (who set up a Tumblr photo blog detailing the fitout process), but is remarkably similar to Cumulus Inc: the coat hooks, the white marble and tiles, the minimal signage, the clean lines, the round high table in the corner with stools. It has the unmistakeable feel of an Andrew McConnell restaurant. A golden lucky cat statue presides over the kitchen, and I was rather taken with the golden rollerskate over the bar.

Golden Fields bench

The menu is divided into sections labelled Raw, To Start, Salads & Vegetables and Meat & Fish. There were so many small dishes we liked the sound of that we decided to skip getting a big meat or fish dish and just graze on things to share. To start with, I had a kickass martini, the Big Boss Impressionist (Miller's, Lillet Blanc and orange blossom, $18) and we were brought a little plate of pumpkin seeds as an appetiser.

Golden Fields interiorPumpkin seeds

We noted with interest that the white wine list was divided into Riesling (of which there were over a dozen) and Other, and were happily nudged into ordering a bottle of German Riesling.

A pleasing starter of fresh sea urchin, flat bread, crisp lardo, escabeche ($5 each).

Sea urchin

Like the other Andrew McConnell restaurants, oysters from Steve Feletti's Moonlight Flat oysterage up in Batemans Bay are on hand. We went with a trio of the special not listed on the menu, the angasi oysters ($6 each). We also ordered a single bowl of the white onion and conpoy soup with shredded pearl meat ($10), just so we could each have a taste of the velvety broth given an umami kick in the pants from the conpoy. I loved it and would definitely order it again next time.

Angasi oystersWhite onion and conpoy soup

Along with the sea urchin and pearl meat, there are other rather posh seafood items on the menu including Moreton Bay bugs and crayfish. The crayfish is in a starter I suspect could become a Golden Fields signature item: a New England lobster roll ($15), consisting of a hot buttered bun with cold poached crayfish, watercress and Kewpie (love that the menu specifies that it's Kewpie mayo). The little bun is sweet, the crayfish is fresh and together with the mayo it made me wish we'd ordered more than one to split three ways. When Epicure does its next round-up of Melbourne's top 10 sandwiches, this one ought to make the list.

New England lobster roll

The school prawns were retired from the Cumulus Inc menu a little while ago, but they've popped up again down at Golden Fields, and this time they've been sexed up with one of the Dude Food flavours du jour, PIG TAIL SCRATCHING. Yep, they're "pork and prawn" fried school prawns, served with garlic mayo ($12). Dirty and delicious.

Pork and prawn

The salad we ordered was described on the menu as shredded chicken, sesame paste, house-made cold rice noodles, chilli oil ($12). It was presented to us in layers: the cold rice noodles, Sichuan pepper and chilli oil, shredded poached thigh, tahini, cucumber, coriander and sous-vide breast on top.

The use of tahini as the sesame agent in a dish featuring Sichuan pepper and chilli oil is a good example of the way the Golden Fields menu interprets its Shanghai/Hong Kong focus in a creative way.

Shredded chicken

The other vegetables we shared were beans braised simply with garlic and ginger ($13 - according to the menu usually served "spicy as", but the spicy version wasn't available on the night we visited), and a dish of steamed eggplant, silken tofu and pickled chillies ($14).

Braised beansSteamed eggplant

We hadn't ordered it, but a serve of rustic pork dumplings with Shanghai chilli vinegar arrived compliments of the kitchen. I gave a happy yelp when they arrived - they're my favourite dish on the bar menu at Cutler (and yes, as Andrew explained when he gave the recipe to Gourmet Traveller last month, they're technically steamed buns but he calls them dumplings). Thanks chef!

Rustic pork dumplings

For sweets we'd ordered the peanut butter parfait with salted caramel and soft chocolate ($10 and pretty much my wet dream of a dessert). We were also brought (compliments of the kitchen again) a dessert of soft black sesame cake with lime ice cream and yoghurt which, while less obviously a crowd-pleaser than the caramel/chocolate, was delicate and unusual in the way that the best desserts at Cutler are. For the adventurous, you might like to try the dessert described on the menu as green tea ice cream, pumpkin and liquorice.

Peanut butter parfaitBlack sesame

So it's pretty much a rave review from me - not a dud dish and the service was excellent. Very eager to revisit and work my way through more dishes (like the shredded cabbage with Moreton Bay bugs, Kampot pepper and mint, or the slow-roast lamb shoulder with cumin seed and salted lemon). Oh, and the weekend breakfast menu once it starts up in June!

ps Remember - no bookings unless you're in a group of 8-14 and want a set banquet. To maximise your Golden PlaiFields dining experience, get there early or late on a night where you're not pressed for time, and enjoy a drink at the bar if you have to wait. Try that Big Boss Impressionist martini.

pps Oh, and suckling pig junkies: they're offering a whole suckling pig banquet. Shall we book one?!


Thursday, 12 May 2011

The tale of Darac and the mystery dish

Darac Grill & Bar
51 A'Beckett Street, Melbourne (map)
9662 2441
Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat


From about Little Lonsdale Street in the CBD to Victoria Street in North Melbourne, the Queen Victoria Market district is increasingly becoming Melbourne's Little Korea with a swag of great little student-packed restaurants and cafes where you can bibimbap to your heart's content.

The fabulous H & F introduced me to their favourite of these restaurants a few Fridays ago, after we'd been along to the kozyndan exhibition opening at Outré. Darac is casual and friendly, with a loft-like interior dotted with artwork and knick-knacks. Although they don't do Korean BBQ, there are plenty of grilled and unusual dishes on the Korean/Japanese menu that caught our eyes as F and I necked beers and H drank a cocktail that tasted exactly like an alcoholic lemonade spider.

Foodwise, we started with the pork shabushabu salad (poached pork belly and green salad with a sesame dressing, $11) and the Korean hamburger steak ($16) which was flame grilled and served with a spicy sauce. Both cracking dishes, particularly the delicate shavings of tender pork belly.

Pork shabushabu saladKorean hamburger steak

Next we ordered one of the grilled sashimi sets ($21), the one with salmon and soured mackerel. Oh yeah, and the sashimi was grilled before our eyes by a waitress wielding a blowtorch. For all the theatre, we were underwhelmed by the dish (H in particular disliked the texture of the mackerel), and debated whether or not the grilling disqualified it from the definition of "sashimi".

Grilled sashimi set

We also ordered a serve of the cheese fire chicken ($16). Buldak (fire chicken) consists of pieces of boneless chicken which are marinated in chilli sauce and seared. This process is repeated several times with several layers of chilli sauce until the dish is insanely spicy. It's a recent trend in Korean cuisine and particularly popular with students. Incongruously, the chicken was covered with grilled mozzarella cheese as though it were American pizza. It sounded all kinds of Wrongtown, but the cheese turned out to be just what the dish needed - not for the faint-hearted, but strangely addictive. I'd totally order it again, though it feels like the sort of dish best enjoyed drunk.

Cheese fire chicken

One dish I'm not certain I can brave though is the "beondegi tang". It was the only dish on the menu that didn't have an English translation, so naturally our curiosity was piqued. Upon our inquiry, our sweet waitress gave a timid giggle and said it wasn't for foreign people. When we pressed her, she said it was "difficult to explain in English... it is... the flying people?"

We remained uncomprehending, so a waiter came over to help her out. "Oh, it's um... beef. We don't have it today." His evasive tone aroused our suspicions so we turned to the internet for enlightenment, where we discovered that beondegi tang is in fact stewed silkworm pupae soup. Which explains why they don't translate it for round-eyes. Who's game to try it with me??

DaracKorean cocktail

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Quick housekeeping post


Just a quick post to update you on two fronts:

The Moonee Valley Library Writers Panel I've been asked to speak on this year is on this Saturday 14 May at 2pm, at the Sam Merrifield Library in Moonee Ponds. It's called "Food on the Page", is about food and writing, and will include Rita Erlich and Charmaine O'Brien, plus me. It's free but bookings are necessary (call 8325 1950 - further details on the library website). If you're not doing much on Saturday afternoon and want to attend, please come and say hi to me.

Thanks to those who entered the Melbourne Gastronome Bourdain/Gill giveaway! The lucky recipient of the tickets was Tom from the Canberra blog Capital Gourmand, who will be making a trip to Sydney that weekend. Congratulations Tom and hope you enjoy the event, be sure to report back!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Nonna's fritole

Cara Nonna

This afternoon I went with my sister Birdie and her boyfriend to visit our gorgeous Nonna, Livia, for (Grand)Mother's Day. When we arrived, we discovered to our delight that she was making fritole for us.

Fritole (depending on the dialect, sometimes known as frittelle) are a kind of doughnut from the North-East of Italy (my Nonna had them when she was growing up in a small village near Treviso, in the Veneto). In Venice they're traditionally eaten during Carnevale. Sometimes they're made with rice (yuk) or ricotta and pine nuts, but Nonna makes them with sultanas swollen with grappa.

The fritole I see out and about in Melbourne always look greasy and gluggy (same goes for most of the ones in Italy), but Nonna's are always beautifully light and fluffy. She used to make them for us as a treat when we were children, but before today she hadn't made them in over three years. Along with her crostoli, they're just about my favourite Italian sweet treats, so I grabbed a pen and paper and did my best to take down the recipe (sorry about its imprecise quantities and vague method!).

Nonna with fritoleNonna making fritole

Before you start be sure to grab a jar, fill it with sultanas, cover the sultanas with grappa, and leave them to soak in the fridge. Actually, you should soak some sultanas in grappa even if you're NOT going to make this recipe - you never know when they're going to come in handy. Every household should have a jar of drunken sultanas in the fridge.

Fritole della Nonna Livia
4-6 tablespoons self-raising flour
4 tablespoons white sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
approx half a glass of milk
dash of vanilla extract
finely grated zest of one orange
finely grated zest of half a lemon
1 apple, peeled and roughly grated (granny smith or pink lady)
handful of sultanas pre-soaked in grappa
olive oil for deep frying
icing sugar to serve

Fritole batter

Mix the flour and sugar. Lightly beat together the eggs and the milk. Make a well in the flour and add the egg mixture, stirring to obtain a smooth batter that is not too thick, with a consistency like wet porridge. If it's too dry, add more milk. If it's too runny, add more flour.

Add the vanilla extract, orange zest, lemon zest, grated apple and sultanas. Stir until smooth.

Sultanas in grappaFritole in oil

In a small pan, add about 6-7cm olive oil for deep frying. Heat the oil slowly and gently on a medium-low heat, making sure it doesn't burn. When the oil is hot, use an ice cream scoop or largeish spoon to carefully add dollops of batter into the pan.

Deep fry 'em in batches, turning them occasionally with a spoon (heat the spoon briefly in the oil before touching the dollops of batter, or the batter will adhere to the spoon).

Nonna making fritoleAdding more flour

When the fritole have turned a deep golden brown, fish them out and onto a plate covered in a few sheets of kitchen paper. Press them with kitchen paper to remove any excess oil, then transfer them to a clean plate. Continue cooking the rest of the fritole, adding a bit of extra milk or flour if the batter gets dry/runny.


Before serving, sprinkle with icing sugar. Best served warm. Warning: IMPOSSIBLE to eat just one.

Icing sugar