Friday, 30 March 2012

Dinner for three at Cutler & Co

Cutler & Co
55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (map)
9419 4888
Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday, plus lunch on Friday and Sunday

Cutler restaurant

Carla (author of the excellent blog Easy As Vegan Pie) and I had been talking for a while about going out for a nice lavish dinner together and each writing about it afterwards. Hopefully it'll turn into a semi-regular collaborative blog series. We decided on Cutler as our first destination and booked a table, advising them of our dietary requirements well in advance (me: omnivore but for mussels, her: wheat-free vegan). I was confident that they'd cater for an omni just fine, but was looking forward to seeing what they'd serve Carla.

We brought along Dan, editor of Milk Bar Mag, as our innocent bystander. Apart from the omnivore entrees and mains that Dan and I ordered, everything else that was brought to the table was both vegan and wheat-free.

Cutler bar

In the interests of transparency I'll point out too at the outset that we were treated very very well that night. While none of us sought special treatment (ugh, the tackiness of those who actually call up restaurants saying that they're food bloggers makes my skin crawl) a number of dishes arrived at our table compliments of the house. Upon review of the receipt some days later we noticed that there was an apparent mix up with one of the bottles of wine we'd ordered, but given all the little extras that came our way we still easily came out on top.

Crackers with smoky eggplant mousse

As we downed the Junipero gin and tonics we'd ordered from the charming Lachie, we were brought a trio of complimentary appetisers: seaweed crackers with smoky eggplant mousse and sesame, juicy Manzanilla olives and fried pimientos de Padrón with sea salt. Loved the smoky fluffy eggplant with the crisp crackers in particular.


I'd been sorely tempted to choose the pretty entree Dan decided to order, the smoked and fried duck with morcilla, golden raisin and beetroot ($27)...

Smoked and fried duck

...but I loved loved loved the entree I ended up ordering, a delicate arrangement of hand picked spanner crab, corn custard, mushrooms, sweet radish, pickled ginger and nasturtiums ($29), served cold. My new favourite dish at Cutler.

Spanner crab

Two small salads arrived unbidden with our mains, one crunchy with shaved cabbage and fennel, and the other with rather meaty heirloom tomatoes, muscatel vinegar, purslane and different kinds of basil.

FennelHeirloom tomato salad

For main course Dan ordered the pan roasted snapper ($44). It was served with mussels, slivers of cuttlefish, green tomatoes, pickled onions and parsley sauce. And foam (afraid I can't recall what the foam was). Dan confessed to being a little underwhelmed by this one.

Pan roasted snapper

I really enjoyed my main though. It consisted of two variations of beef: grain fed strip loin ever so lightly seared then sliced down the middle, and a wonderfully unctuous and rich braised short rib with onion and pureed cauliflower ($46).

Two ways beef

I asked our highly professional waitress to bring a vegan dessert for the three of us to share. It was composed of white nectarine, white peach, blackberries, frozen dehydrated raspberries and verjuice granita ($18). Delicious, but I confess to wishing I'd ordered whichever dessert includes the Cutler & Co violet ice cream, cos it is goddamned glorious.


Oh and some complimentary fig drizzled with thyme caramel (pictured here half devoured by Carla) and fudge arrived with our coffees.


Now click to read Carla's far more entertaining version of events and see what she was served for entree and main (I think the entree she had is usually served with raw Hervey Bay scallops). Carla is also running one of her vegan cooking classes in a few weeks, so make a booking if you know what's good for you...

And get yourselves down to Cutler! Head chef Jean-Paul Twomey and his kitchen are at the top of their game.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Fortnightly round-up (28 March)


So did you hear that St Ali will soon be opening on the northside? While the original St Ali continues to power on in South Melbourne, the site for St Ali North has been chosen in Carlton North: a long, skinny lot that runs alongside the bike path, behind Velo Cycles on Nicholson Street. To tap even further into the synergy that seems to exist in Melbourne between specialty coffee and cycling, blueprints of the new cafe tweeted by Sal Malatesta indicate a coffee "ride thru" for cyclists on the bike path wanting their caffeine to go.


On Saturday I went with Hannah to The Richmond Weekender in the old Channel 9 TV studios (for more info about the concept behind the month-long pop-up, see The Design Files). The Homemakers Market wasn't running while Hannah and I were there, but we stickybeaked inside the Speakeasy Cinema and shared a serve of Fancy Hank's Bar-B-Que at the Graham Canteen: pulled Otway pork, North Carolina ribs and Parwin Angus beef brisket (all sold by weight) with condiments and salads. Not bad by Melbourne standards, and for those who miss out at the Graham Canteen there's talk of Fancy Hank's putting in future appearances at Abbotsford Convent.

For those still keen to check out The Richmond Weekender, its last days of operation are this Saturday and Sunday - and on the Sunday they're running The Homemakers Market again, from 10am-3pm.

The Richmond Weekender
Graham CanteenBBQ

Anyone else noticed that Brunswick Bitter on tap is popping up at almost every new restaurant? Someone's brand ambassadors sure have been hard at work getting tap visibility. In the past fortnight alone I've spotted it at Pei Modern, Touche Hombre, Choo Choo's and Albert St Food and Wine. It's brewed by shiny newcomers Thunder Road Brewing Company and made from all-Victorian ingredients.

Brunswick Bitter

I put it to you that buying a haloumi pie from Al-Alamy in Coburg for the princely sum of $2.50 will be the best $2.50 you'll spend this week.

Al-alamy bakeryHaloumi pie

On Sunday my mother made Poulet aux Quarante Gousses d'Ail (roast chicken with forty cloves of garlic), with predictably delicious results. Technically this batch had 46 gousses.

Poulet aux quarante gousses

Oh, and apologies for the delay of this Fortnightly Round-up. I blame Mad Men.

Links of Note:

- Beautiful Pantone tarts by French food designer Emilie De Griottes.

- Allan Campion wrote a handy little list of Melbourne CBD Highlights on The Melbourne Foodie that you can recommend to your visitors from out of town. Reminds me that my own Visitors Guide is in dire need of an update!

- Cook Republic has a recipe for quinoa and m&m cookies. Gulp.

- Eileen from Melbourne coffee blog Birds of Unusual Vitality was part of the Coffee Common team at TED 2012 in Longbeach, California.

- TIME magazine says chefs are taking nature worship too far.

- Milk Bar Mag has revamped their website, and started producing a great series of short videos about Melbourne locals and businesses. The first one is about Burch & Purchese, the second one is about Der Raum.

- The blog Inside Cuisine posted a nice piece about the making of Pepe Saya cultured butter (a product I fell in love with last year).

- LOVE Dave Robert Clark's flowchart illustrating The Melbourne 3rd Wave Coffee Cartel, but think it needs to be updated...

- Lessons learned from lunch: the onion, the pear, and the emperor's new robes.

- Two Munch reviewed the Fringe Food Festival's Don't Mess With Texas dinner. I'm going along to the third of these dinners - looking forward to it!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Thai in Hawthorn at Bangkok Terrace

Bangkok Terrace
415 Riversdale Road, Hawthorn (map)
9882 5995
Open 7 nights

Bangkok Terrace kitchen

The open kitchen, sharp fitout and zippy black-clad staff calling out in Thai makes Bangkok Terrace feel more Haymarket than Hawthorn. I went there with my family the other week, my expectations raised because I'd heard that that one of the owners cheffed at Sailors Thai in Sydney for several years. Maybe Melbourne now had a Sydney Thai restaurant to call its own?

Bangkok Terrace

The highlight of the meal was the mouth-watering steak Laos ($18.90): Wagyu rump cap marinated, grilled rare, sliced and served with salad and nam jim jaew (a dipping sauce made from ground rice, roasted chillies, palm sugar, tamarind essence and tomatoes).

Steak Laos

Also excellent was the roasted duck salad ($18.90) with coriander, mint and eschallots. Beautifully crisp lacquered skin.

Roasted duck salad

My take on the other dishes was less enthusiastic: the salt and pepper calamari ($10.90) was pretty good, but the betel leaves with prawns and roe ($3 each) lacked the chilli kick I was hoping for. Both the Panang curry ($17.90) and Pad See Ewe ($18.90), in sorry Melbourne Thai restaurant tradition, were too sweet. I wish they wouldn't play it so safe, but instead dial up the sour and the chilli on some of the dishes, à la Chin Chin or Middle Fish.

Salt and pepper calamariBetel leaf with prawn
Penang curryPad See ewe

There's the usual bitching about poor service on Bangkok Terrace's Urbanspoon entry, but we found the staff to be friendly and efficient despite the clamour of the full restaurant. I'd happily go back to Bangkok Terrace (the siren song of the steak Laos is calling), but I'd steer clear of the mild and sweet dishes. Reader recommendations for best Thai in Melbourne warmly received...


I haven't been to either yet, but if you're in the neighbourhood you might also like to check out Firechief pizzeria and adjoining cafe Goldilocks, two of the six businesses Melbourne chef Paul Mathis is opening this year.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Fortnightly round-up (12 March)

Royal Mail Hotel dessert

The last fortnight has been a little overwhelming for me, due to previously mentioned family events.

My Nonno was a keen vegetable grower, so at his funeral on Friday we gave out packets of Italian parsley seeds and chicory seeds to guests, to plant in his memory.


Out of necessity I cancelled attending a number of Melbourne Food and Wine Festival events, including the Sommeliers Australia Long Lunch and the audience with Bourdain. But the week before I did go to the launch party for the Broadsheet Bar (you should get down there while the Festival's still on, it's being run by the best cocktail bars in Melbourne).

I also dropped in briefly to the Greenhouse by Joost for some grilled corn and delicious Custard Cider (also well worth a visit before the end of MFWF, if only to marvel at the building design and the sustainability/recycling principles it puts into practice). Open every day until March 21 on Queensbridge Square, Southbank.

Broadsheet Bar openingCorn and custard cider

The Satuday before last I passed by the MFWF's much-hyped Food Trucks Unite event, which was unfortunately an almost total washout due to the constant, teeming rain. Luckily the weather improved for Sunday! My friend and I enjoyed the aloo tikki and butter chicken from the Dhaba curry truck (which normally resides in Kyneton).

Food Truck Jam

I was called upon in my Melbourne Gastronome capacity to judge the cake baking competition at the MFWF Bikefest Village Picnic on Saturday. Judging a cake competition on a brilliantly sunny afternoon may sound like a dream job to some, but let me assure you that after all the fun the resulting sugar headache was *intense*. The competition winner was a lemon and hazelnut cake, with a pear, cardamom and chai ganache coming a close second. A special prize for "most ridiculous" went to a cake containing figs allegedly stolen from Tony Mokbel's garden (!).

Bikefest Village Picnic
Bikefest Village Picnic

On Sunday Tom and I had a great time down at the MFWF lunch organised by Epicure at the Newmarket: a BBQ battle royale between the Newmarket's own Paul Wilson and North Carolina barbecue pitmaster Ed Mitchell.

Hillbilly Hog Throwdown

Aussie trio Collard Greens and Gravy provided the perfect swampy blues soundtrack to get us all in the mood.


Smoker pit hardware used by Ed Mitchell during his stint in Melbourne was provided by Silver Creek Smokers (who also offer a catering/hire service for those of you wanting to run your own Southern BBQ event).

Silver Creek SmokersSilver Creek Smokers

We ate a whole lotta barbecued meat (and plenty of sides), including brisket and two sets of ribs. Each guest was asked to vote with either a US or Australian flag...

MainsRibs vs ribs

...but in the end only one man's barbecue could reign supreme!

Hillbilly Hog ThrowdownHillbilly Hog Throwdown

Links of Note:

- I love it when figs are in season. Lisa from Spicy Icecream wrote a good 13 ways with figs post the other day.

- Essjay wrote a great blog post about the MFWF incarnation of the Greenhouse by Joost.

- Cara Waters (aka food blogger Gourmet Chick) wrote an article for The Age about Melbourne food bloggers working for restaurants.

- Can copyright exist in a recipe, even when the ingredients have been tweaked and the method has been converted for different cooking equipment? A chef's management gets threatening in the comments on the food blog Lambs' Ears and Honey.

- I like The Vegan Stoner's simple approach to recipe presentation.

- Thang Ngo from Sydney blog Noodlies takes food bloggers Billy and Penny on a Vietnamese Cabramatta crawl (video clips included).

- Where The Truck At is a new website plotting where each of Melbourne's food trucks are on any given night.

- The latest in the Stencil cafe saga.

- The most recent edition of the TOYS Collective looks like it was one helluva night: see the photo gallery here.

- “Kobe and the Sea”: a beautiful short film in which Ben Shewry teaches his son about abalone fishing. Its sequel "Spindrift", a short film about sustainable mussel farming, was shown at the MFWF Theatre of Ideas session on the weekend.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

In memory

Nonno and prosciutto

In the early hours of this morning, with my mother and me at his hospital bedside, my Nonno Nello passed away peacefully after a battle with cancer. He would have been 91 in May.

Today the family is gathering to remember him. As with any Italian family, many of the favourite memories tend to revolve around food and wine: Nonno dipping his finger in wine to give each grandchild our first taste (but no more than a taste) when we were a year old; his pride in the produce he grew in his garden ('Forty five minutes ago, that rucola you're eating was still growing! You eat bloody well here, don't you forget!'); Nonno presenting us at Christmas with the delicious prosciutto or capocollo that he made in his garage; Nonno sitting at the kitchen table helping Nonna make crostoli. Nonno holding me close as a child, calling me 'stellina' and singing 'I've Got You Under My Skin'.

Ti voglio bene Nonno. Un grande abbraccio e tutto il mio amore, da Chiaretta.

Nonno's 90th birthday