Monday, 25 June 2012

Fortnightly round-up (25 June)


There was a bit of a stampede on Thursday and Friday as foodies rushed to be among the first to check out Nama Nama, the new Japanese cafe opened by Izakaya Den owners Simon Denton, Miyuki Nakahara and Takashi Omi on the old Verge site. I like that there's now a cafe serving Market Lane Coffee so close to my office, and I'll definitely be signing up for bento membership with my very own reusable bento box! Will report back, readers.

Speaking of coffee, there are two serious coffee cafes due to open this week: Common Galaxia and Clement Coffee. Common Galaxia will be open from Tuesday at 130 Victoria Street, Seddon, brought to you by the folks from Dead Man Espresso. Its name comes from a type of native fish found in the Maribyrnong River.

Clement Coffee is opening in a tiny site in South Melbourne Market by Kris Wood (who you may recognise from his previous stints at Proud Mary, Sensory Lab and St Ali). He'll be doing his own roasting off-site.

Common GalaxiaClement Coffee

It was a close call, but I hereby decree that The Cornish is the best sandwich at Pope Joan. Roasted Milawa chicken, stuffing, lettuce and jalapeño ($12).

Pope Joan Cornish

You know that slightly funny-looking apartment building in Collingwood on the corner of Peel Street and Cambridge Street, the one with the wavy facade and porthole windows? A great little Japanese cafe called Akasiro opened on its ground floor a few months ago. They serve eleven kinds of teishoku (set menus): on a cold Sunday afternoon I enjoyed the buta-kakuni teishoku with slow-cooked pork belly and daikon in a soy and sweet sake sauce ($18 with all the rice, salad, miso trimmings). They also do a very good curry based on the chef's grandfather's recipe ($8).

Akasiro doesn't have a website or a phone number but you can find them at 106 Cambridge Street Collingwood, Tuesday to Sunday 11am to 4pm. If they swing a liquor license they hope to open at night down the track as an izakaya.

AkasiroButa-kakuni teishoku
Navy curryTips

There's nothing wrong with going next door to Bill's Bar for a quick single malt while you're waiting for your take away Huxtaburger, is there? I'm not necessarily saying that I did... but I will note that the Yamazaki 12 year old they're serving is velvety smooth. Oh, and Bill's flat pricing structure (all spirits $9 each) means that you can get some really interesting drops for a very good price.

Bill's Bar

The Farm Barn Restaurant dinner at Embrasse the other week was a lot of fun (for those keeping score at home I paid for my dining companion's seat, but my seat was on the house): we were seated on hay bales and surrounded by farm equipment and giant pumpkins. Chef/owner Nic Poelaert welcomed us and spoke passionately about the local producers who supply Embrasse and about the rustic meals he enjoyed growing up in France that had inspired the dinner. Menu highlights included Nic's father's onion soup, roasted Bendigo chicken with aligot and the pear & frangipane tart. I've previously written about Embrasse here.

EmbrasseEmbrasse Roast Collection

Links of note:

- Heading to Barcelona soon? You should take a market tour and cooking class with Papa Serra (run by a lovely guy who used to write a Melbourne food blog).

- This week in depressing news: there will be a pop-up Masterchef restaurant in Sydney next month (via Prick With A Fork).

- A great article by Jancis Robinson on what Twitter has done for wine.

- My favourite new Melbourne food blog: Croissant Smasher, in which a Frenchman rates the croissants of Melbourne looking for the perfect buttery/flaky specimen.

- Submissions have opened for the Eat Drink Design awards, the inaugural awards program dedicated to hospitality design. Is there an Australian or New Zealand hospitality project you think deserves recognition?

- Eating local hurts the planet: two scientists challenging the locavore philosophy.

- Did you hear about Argyll and Bute council, the Scottish council that provoked an uproar by banning a nine year old food blogger from taking photos of her lunches at school? Read about how the story progressed here, here, here and here.

- Tips from the HiP Paris blog on avoiding bad food in Paris.

- Former Aussie-based, now Korea-based blogger Pikelet & Pie writes about gopchang, one of the uglier delicacies in Seoul (cow’s small intestine, for those who were wondering).

- Haha, Amateur Gourmet: how to fake your way through law school while secretly becoming a food writer.

- The last link is a bit of self-promotion: I was interviewed by Milk Bar as part of their Melbourne blogger profile series. See below: Milk Bar is bringing you the latest news about sourdough, Melbourne Gastronome and Aussie p**n. Something for everyone!

Milk Bar

Friday, 8 June 2012

Fortnightly round-up (8 June)


I'll try to keep this short and sweet today, as I have a head cold and my brain feels like it's wrapped in layers of cotton wool.

I'm one of the contributing reviewers in the inaugural edition of The Age Good Bar Guide (2012) and on Monday night I went along to the awards night and launch. Pictured below is Michael Madrusan from The Everleigh accepting the award for Bar of the Year, and Mario Di Ienno accepting the award inducting Gerald's Bar into the AGBG Hall of Fame (other award winners listed here). The Guide is a handy pocket-sized volume that goes onsale tomorrow, June 9: you can get a copy from your local newsagent, $9.95 or $5 with tomorrow's Age - clip the coupon if you get your paper delivered. There's also an iPhone app due out in a few weeks.

You know what else happens tomorrow? WORLD GIN DAY! Get a martini in you.


There are over 80 events on in June as part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival's Roast Collection. Pictured below is Judy Crough from Western Plains Pork: she helped kick off the Collection at Bottega, handing out free roast pork rolls to Bourke Street passersby.

A list of all the Roast Collection events can be found here. I'm booked in to take a friend to Embrasse's Farm Barn Restaurant next week (tickets still available I think): apparently we'll be sitting on hay bales!

Roast collection

My friend Burger Mary is teaming up with the Red River BBQ boys to set up a permanent BBQ residency every Wednesday night at The Workers Club in Fitzroy, dishing up Americana meat treats like sliced brisket sandwiches ($15), pulled pork sandwickes ($14), crispy fried chicken wings smothered in habanero hot sauce ($8, pictured below) and weekly Texan specials. Every Wednesday from 6pm to 10pm or until they run out, full details here.

Hot wingsPulled pork

It was Hannah's birthday last weekend, and a group of us celebrated with a long lazy lunch at The Commoner. I'd never gotten around to eating there before, but holy hell was the food good. This was the fried soft shell crab with celeriac remoulade and lemon (usually served as part of a $16 entree with shoestring fries).

Soft shell crab

The other highlights: the omfg Berkshire pork belly, fennel and cider sausages (made in-house, natch), cavolo nero and shallot puree ($32 for a regular sized main, we were having it as part of a special banquet menu). For dessert, we shared a plate of beignets with lemon sherbet and lemon verbena curd ($4 each) and brown ale pudding with salted caramel and cream ($13 for a regular serve). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Pork and sausagesBeignet and brown ale pudding

And to finish off this round-up's pics, some food shots from the family lunch we had the previous weekend. It was a special occasion for us as it would have been my Nonno's 91st birthday, so we held a fancy Italian lunch in his honour.

Mushroom bonanza

My aunt Paola made a superb "risotto rosso" with radicchio, pancetta, red onion, red wine and balsamic (recipe hopefully coming soon on her blog Italy on my Mind). The quails about to go in the oven.

Risotto rossoQuails about to go in the oven

Plating up the quaglie.

The roasted quail and wild mushroom ragu using the mushrooms above, served with mascarpone and white polenta (adapted from an old Karen Martini recipe).

Serving upQuail, mushroom ragu, white polenta

For dessert Nonna made her special apple strudel (recipe now on Paola's blog!), and we also nibbled on cantucci (traditional Tuscan biscuits) dipped in Vin Santo.

Nonna's apple strudelVin Santo and cantucci

Links of Note:

- Remember that photo of the fish post-it note art mural in Meyers Place that I included in my last fortnightly round-up? Here's a nice little blog post about the making of the mural.

- The lovely Roshena, former Melbourne food blogger and MTR radio food reviewer, has just returned from a trip overseas (three months living in New York and several weeks jetsetting through places like Spain and Italy). Her blog The Trip is filled with pretty photos of idyllic destinations, but the page you'll most want to bookmark is the fantastic New York City Guide: 60+ reviews of the latest and best places to eat, drink and see in NYC.

- "Many natural winemakers are simply making bad wine, and if they think they're revealing the terroir, they're deluding themselves." Huon Hooke gets inflammatory about natural wines.

- Stunning artistic photos of food in extreme close-up.

- US chefs and a blogger on the topic of guests taking photos of food in restaurants. As Jane commented on Twitter, a lot has changed over the last two years.

- The Great GoogaMooga and elitism: what Brooklyn's food festival says about foodies.

- Jay Rayner on why people prefer reading bad reviews to good reviews.

- I must confess to being a little freaked out by the sound of the 'laksa sorbet' Celeste had recently in Adelaide.

- The Guardian's Sejal Sukhadwala on the bogus quest for 'authentic' food. Related: is it fair for chefs to cook other cultures' food? Sample quote: "Then, to have these CIA grads come through, repackage the food, and sell it back to me at a premium is just ludicrous. You made fun of us until we were embarrassed about our food and changed our menus to appease your HORRIBLE taste in shrimp with lobster sauce, now your kid grows up and wants to tell ME what Chinese food is because Bear Stearns sent him to Shanghai for six months?"

- Loved this blog post about Prinzessinnengarten, a not-for-profit organic community garden in Berlin's Kreuzberg district that is also fully mobile. Check out the second-last photo of the garden being transported!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Shu Restaurant in Collingwood: modern Sichuan on the northside

147 Johnston St, Collingwood (map)
9090 7878
Open Wednesday-Monday 6-11pm, closed Tuesday

Shu exterior

A few weeks ago I was tipped off about a new restaurant opening on Johnston Street between Wellington and Hoddle, serving modern Sichuan food. Modern Sichuan eh? My curiosity was piqued: there's nothing else quite like it in Melbourne.

Chair sculpture

I was invited along to the launch of SHU last week, but with over 200 people there imbibing Champagne and posing for photos it was hard to get much of a sense of the place. There were lots of fabulous fashionistas wearing outré ensembles, but this dapper little fellow being photographed below was easily my favourite.

Shu launchShu bar

I went back for dinner with two friends on Friday night, the third night that the restaurant was officially open for business. The site, once a pizza parlour, has been transformed by first-time restaurateur Shu Liu into a decidedly modern space with nods to Shu's background in fashion: all stainless steel countertops, hanging lamps and beams, coloured light and Philippe Starck-esque clear plastic chairs (which, despite being slightly uncomfortable to sit in for long periods of time, make for a visually arresting window installation).


There's also a nifty little art gallery space at the back of the restaurant. Love the shadows cast by the wire coat hangers.

Shu gallery

The menu begins in an eclectic fashion (I was surprised to see items like sashimi, edamame and prosciutto on the menu) but becomes more traditionally Sichuan by the main courses. Apparently the Sichuan recipes used in the restaurant come directly from Shu's mother, and where possible the ingredients used are organic/free range. Of the appetisers we had, we felt the King George whiting sashimi with mandarin, cinnamon and dressing (2 pieces for $5) was a citrussy misfire, but loved the lip-tingling slow cooked quail with Chinese five spice, spring onion and ground Sichuan peppercorn (2 pieces for $8).

Whiting sashimiSlow cooked quail

My favourite of the appetiser/entrées we ordered was the curious-sounding intercontinental ensemble of pan-seared shishito peppers with prosciutto and Chinese black vinaigrette ($10). Shishito peppers come from Japan, but taste-wise bear a close resemblance to their Spanish cousins pimientos de Padrón. As with Padrons, you're playing Russian roulette with the heat levels of these peppers, but they're also beautifully sweet. Pairing them with the saltiness of the prosciutto and the piquant vinaigrette was unorthodox but rather brilliant.

Shishito peppers

The poached organic chicken salad with spicy sesame and pink radish ($12) had a pleasant thick sauce a little like what you'd smear over nasu dengaku, but the portion felt on the small size (more radish please!). I couldn't go past the main of char grilled tiger prawns with cumin, dried chilli and Sichuan peppercorn ($35): the three different sources of heat reminded me of my favourite dish at Dainty Sichuan. As much as I liked the prawns, I'd've preferred the intensity of the heat nudged up a few notches.

Poached chicken saladTiger prawns

I was a huge fan of the other main we had, crispy free range pork belly stir fried with Pixian broad bean paste and snake beans ($22). The pork belly was crispy yet succulent, and the paste gave the dish richness and depth. Read more about how Pixian broad bean paste, dou ban jiang, is made here.

Pork belly

In addition to steamed jasmine rice there's also a steamed brown rice option ($4). The other side dish you have to order is the excellent noodles with walnut oil, roasted peanuts and preserved Oriental mustard ($8).

Brown riceNoodles

It's only been open five minutes, and some of SHU's first steps feel a little faltering, but I think the restaurant shows great promise. I admire Shu Liu a great deal for trying something modern and different: it's a hope of mine that once the Mexican wave ballyhoo dies down, regional Chinese cuisines could become the next Melbourne food trend.