Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Fortnightly round-up (23 May): Melbourne Gastronome 5th birthday edition

Former milk bar detail

I'm afraid to report that life (and a trip to Sydney) got in the way over the past few weeks, so I decided to skip the previous scheduled fortnightly round-up and pick things up again this week. Today is the day Melbourne Gastronome turns five years old! I've jotted some fifth anniversary reflections at the end of this post.

Post-it note art mural

Who needs meat on the BBQ when the mushrooms taste so freaking good? Every Saturday, from about 9:30am until they sell out (generally around 2pm), Market Lane Prahran sells a mushroom burger to end all mushroom burgers. It was created by "Mr Barbecue" Bob Hart, costs $8 and comes with chipotle mayonnaise, Parmigiano-Reggiano 18, finely sliced salad onions, herb butter and a Damian Pike-sourced portobello mushroom in a Dench bun.

MushroooomMushroom burger

Speaking of delicious mushrooms, at a family dinner the other week we had a sensational wild mushroom ragu with wet polenta, mascarpone and thyme (adapted from an old Karen Martini recipe).

Wild mushroom ragu w wet polenta and mascarpone

Although L'atelier de Monsieur Truffe is best known for the chocolatier's sweet skills, it does a great sideline in savoury too. One of the brunch specials the other week was truffled eggs, potatoes and chives served in a jar (about $14, methinks). Dipping the toasted corners of bread into that gooey richness was a real treat.


And even more obscenely decadent is Truffe's tartine au chocolat ($7): slices of brioche topped with house-made chocolate chips and toasted so that the chips go all melty. Chocolate-wise, it's your choice between milk 38%, dark 52% or dark 70%, and of course it tastes best with a lil' pinch of the sea salt served alongside. If eating more than one piece defeats you (as it did me), ask one of the many attractive men who work there to box up the rest of it, then scoff it at home at 2am after a night of LuWow dancing.


Since my trip to Japan in January I've embarked on a (mostly fruitless) search for great ramen in Melbourne. It's a curious blind spot in Melbourne's otherwise shining culinary landscape, it grieves me to say (Sydney claims to do much better ramen - of course they do - and I've been meaning to check out Gumshara Ramen up there for ages). Ramen Ya, Menya and Ajisen have been variously recommended to me as dishing up Melbourne's best, but I find them all to be wildly inconsistent - usually falling short in the broth department. The most consistent place I've found in Melbourne is newcomer Kokoro Ramen and at $9, their lunch special is also cheaper than most. The noodles are handmade, the ajitama (flavoured soft boiled eggs) are delicious and you get to choose from four different stocks, all of which are MSG-free (but none of which are vegetarian): tonkotsu shio, tonkotsu shoyu, tonkotsu miso and Tokyo (pure chicken and seafood). After trying all four on four consecutive visits, using pork as a control substance, shio is my preferred stock.

Kokoro Ramen

But the Japanese cafe that's really swept me off my feet this month is Purple Peanuts, right down at the Southern Cross end of Collins Street. I seem to be the last food blogger in Melbourne to have heard about this spunky little cafe, but everything about it is just perfect. Dishes I've tried and loved so far are the tsuke don (sashimi marinated in sake, sesame and soy and served with a salad on vinegared rice, $10.90) and the char-grilled chicken kare don ($9.20, or pay an extra dollar and get it with brown rice).

Purple Peanuts
Tsuke donMiso
Bat-manga!Chicken kare don

And finally if it's high end Japanese you're wanting, I can strongly recommend the recently opened Akachochin, one of the suite of restaurants in the beautifully restored heritage cargo sheds at South Wharf Promenade, hugging the Yarra just past Jeff's Shed and the Polly Woodside. I attended as a guest, part of a journos and bloggers progressive dinner thing, and I'm going to head back there soon under my own steam so that I can properly explore the interesting menu by Head Chef Kengo Hiromatsu (previously Head Sushi Chef at Nobu). But even on this initial visit, the sashimi, hiramasa namerou (Japanese tartare with delicate rice crackers), stuffed chicken wing dumplings and seared wagyu with mushrooms all impressed.

Seared sashimiHiramasa Namerou
Chicken wing dumplingsSeared wagyu, king oyster mushroom

Links of Note:

- Last year I was one of the guest judges in the Sommeliers Australia 'Best Sommelier of Australia' grand final (noted in a previous fortnightly round-up). Last week Sydney's Franck Moreau from the Merivale Group and Melbourne's Mark Protheroe, head sommelier of the Grossi Group, travelled to South Korea for the Best Sommelier of Asia-Oceania Competition: read Somms Australia president Ben Edwards' write up of how they fared on The Wine Guide.

- Lauren from the Footscray Food Blog has found the best breakfast in Footscray (hint: it doesn't involve smashed avocado, poached eggs, pulled pork or ricotta hotcakes).

- From French for Foodies, a list of the best places in Paris for coffee and cheese.

- From yellowtrace: a cookbook you can read, bake AND eat as lasagne!

- A great list of Michelin starred restaurants in the UK, ordered by affordability of their set lunch menus.

- In the US, FTC guidelines on endorsements are getting more specific: the FTC can fine both the blogger and the company for not disclosing an arrangement where the company compensates the blogger for a review, positive mention, or sponsored post.

- It seems like old news now, but Stephanie Wood's article gave a neat summary of the Matt Moran "cash for tweet" brouhaha.

- Excellent article in the NYT on Craig Claiborne and the birth of modern restaurant criticism.

- The Big Fat Undertaking: one blogger's attempt to cook all the recipes in Heston Blumental's The Big Fat Duck Cookbook.


Poppy's 6th birthday

As the fifth anniversary of writing Melbourne Gastronome has rolled around, I've been thinking a lot about the evolving food blog landscape. Both of the food blogs I wrote about in my first post in 2007 and wished to emulate have long since stopped writing. Recent well-intentioned emails from fledgling food bloggers in their early 20s telling me that they've been reading Melbourne Gastronome since they were in high school make me feel ancient (even though I know some other blogs have been around even longer). When I started blogging in my corner of the internet half a decade ago, nobody had heard of Twitter, nobody used Facebook beyond their immediate friendship group, and no PR agency would ever DREAM of emailing a food blogger. Life events coupled with the inevitable ebb and flow of writing means that at times over the years my motivation to keep blogging has waned, but for now I'm keen to continue. There's just so much to write about in this great city of ours!

Anyway, to those of you still reading... I just wanted to say thank you for reading.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Besito brings Colombia to West Footscray

590A Barkly Street, West Footscray (map)
9689 0586
Open Tuesday-Sunday 8am-4pm

Besito wall

The lovely Lauren first alerted me to the existence of Besito in February, shortly after it opened. A cafe serving up a little slice of Colombia in West Footscray, just a suburb over from Los Latinos (another place I've been meaning to visit for ages)... colour me keen.

Huevos rancherosCalentao

A group of us visited one Saturday morning and ordered a range of dishes. Highlights included the huevos rancheros (fried eggs on a corn tortilla with salsa verde and cheese, $12.50), the calentao (a hearty bowlful of beans, rice and avocado served with mini-arepa 'arepitas', $10.50) and the snacky fried green plantains ($3) which we ordered with a side serve of char grilled corn and pimentos salsa ($4.50). The Colombian favourites, arepas, are also excellent at Besito: prick them while they're still hot with your knife or the tines of your fork, apply butter liberally so that it can melt down through the holes, add pink sea salt and eat. Both the white corn arepas and the tortillas are gluten free, and made by hand.


Traditional Colombian hot chocolate - containing cheese, that's right you heard me - is on offer for $4. Unlike the version at Sonido where the queso comes in a solid block, this traditional hot chocolate comes with the queso pre-blended. It's delicious. Besito also serves 5 Senses coffee (Dark Horse blend and a rotating single origin) with golden unrefined panela on the side as a healthy sweetener.

A small range of sauces and other Colombian produce is also available for purchase.

Hot chocolateAmazon sauces

The cafe is a brightly painted gem, and owner Andres and his bubbly front of house staff are only too happy to guide you through some of the more unfamiliar menu items. In addition to breakfast items there are salads and other lunchier dishes also available, and a liquor licence is hopefully on its way. Definitely worth a visit to the westside.

BesitoBesito coffee