Friday 20 July 2012

Fortnightly round-up (July 20)

Wine header

Happy Friday everyone! It's been a while since I put out a round-up post (misleadingly labelled as a "fortnightly" round-up, hem-hem), so here goes.

Eat Drink Man Woman, the all day eating house that opened last year on Brunswick Street in the site that used to be Retro, traded for a bit over six months before closing. After a bit of a rethink, the EDMW team are renovating and reopening the venue as a burger bar (yep, another one Melbourne). Judging from the neon sign being installed last week, the burgerfication process is nearly complete.

Eat Drink Man Woman

It's been a few months since my first taste of the yum cha menu at Spice Temple, but I went back a few weekends ago with my family for my brother's birthday lunch. Very impressive (those braised lamb shoulder pot stickers, my God). Someone asked me online whether I thought it was better than traditional yum cha in the suburbs, and I have to say that I don't really consider the two experiences comparable - it's a completely different concept, quality of produce, price point etc. That said though it was less expensive than we'd anticipated (less than $70 a head with beers, two bottles of nice Pinot Noir and Rumpole getting carried away with ordering dishes).

Spice Temple Yum Cha

My love affair with The Moor's Head continues. They now have a banquet option which is insanely good value at $25 a head. When I visited last week I particularly enjoyed the little radishes sprinkled with black salt, and the Omar Sharif pide made with three cheeses (twisted halloumi, feta and ashawan), nigella, fresh mint and soused onions.

RadishesOmar Sharif pide

If your friends aren't home, we recommend simply posting the Warialda Belted Galloway beef you bought them at the farmers market through their mail slot. :) Congrats by the way, Warialda, on winning a medal on Monday night at the Delicious Magazine Produce Awards!

Warialda through the letter slot

Gratuitous comfort food shot, home cooking edition. Cauliflower cheese made with purple cauliflower > cauliflower cheese made with white cauliflower.

Purple cauliflower cheese

Last week I was invited along as a guest to a dinner at Heirloom. They've ditched the French-Japanese fusion concept that they opened with last year (I dined there once under its former guise, and didn't think the two cuisines sat well together) in favour of being a modern izakaya, headed up by Executive Chef Ryo Kitahara (direct student of Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai) and Chef Shigeo Nonaka (Shoya). I'd enjoyed the more Japanese aspects of my meal on my previous visit, so I was curious to see the new incarnation.

While I really loved the sashimi plate (theatrically served on a big block of ice), the yakitori and the tataki, I was less taken with some of the more creative dishes, like the potato dango (cubed Japanese 'gnocchi' with Roquefort cheese and Saikyo miso cream) or the sweet, quinoa-crusted salmon. What can I say, I prefer simple izakaya fare. They also have a good range of sake, shochu and Japanese beer - I tried one from Coedo, a microbrewery in Kawagoe-shi, Saitama Prefecture.

Heirloom sashimiHeirloom gnocchi

There's been a lot of buzz in the three weeks since Silo by Joost opened in Hardware Street. The cafe, run by hospo stalwart Danny Colls (most recently, you'd know him and his wife Siany from Liaison), translates many of Joost Bakker's sustainability concepts from the Greenhouse incarnations that you've seen pop up sporadically in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, and house them in a permanent cafe that creates zero waste. Read about how they've achieved that feat here: Danny gave me a tour on Tuesday, and as well as all the nifty tweaks they've given the interior (including the modified Wega), the food waste dehydrator they've got out the back that turns 100 litres of waste into 10 litres of clean, nutrient rich dry fertiliser returned to farms is very impressive.

But what I hope doesn't get overshadowed in amongst the sustainability jazz is how deft and interesting the food is, thanks to chef Douglas McMaster who over the last two years was a stagiaire in nine of the world's top 15 restaurants (including St John and Noma). From the short, simple lunch menu I chose one of the cheffier combinations: the $12 plate of braised leek, slow-poached egg yolk and seeds (mustard seed dressing and sunflower seeds), which I mopped up with bread made onsite from flour ground onsite. My lunch date had Sian's rainfed rice, which had been cooked in stock and topped with pine mushrooms, curdy quark and wood sorrel ($14). They'll be running intimate dinners soon too - if you want in on the action, get together 10-12 friends and talk to Danny.

Perspex Wega
Leeks egg yolks seedsSian's rainfed rice

Last thing before we get to the links of note: the Electrolux Appetite For Excellence national finalists have been announced, and there's a good representation from Victoria in the categories of Young Chef (Kah-wai Lo from Hare & Grace, Michael Fox from Henry & The Fox, Michael Demagistris from Sorrento Golf Club), Young Waiter (Simone Spicer from Pei Modern, Pierre-Etienne Geoffroy from Jacques Reymond, Damien Byrne from Lot 7) and Young Restaurateur (Dan Wilson from Huxtable). A Whet Your Appetite dinner put together by these young chefs and yound waiters is being held on the 31st of July - click here for details.

Links of Note:

- A voice sorely-missed from Melbourne's food blogging scene over the past two years, Eating With Jack is back from hiatus and writing a food blog about her baby Z's first forays into eating solids (taleggio and eel at 18 weeks!).

- Next time you hear people complaining that the burgers at Huxtaburger or Trunk Diner are too small, bear in mind that burgers have tripled in size since the 1950s.

- Read about Gillian's misadventures making a cake from the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book (hint: a cat is involved) on My Square Frying Pan.

- Billy writes about the Footscray gentrification trap on Half Eaten.

- The Naked for Satan folks are building a gigantic rooftop garden and they're blogging the construction process on a blog called Naked in the Sky.

- My aunt Paola is currently visiting our Italian relatives in Friuli Venezia Giulia, and she's driving me crazy with jealousy as she chronicles her trip on her blog Italy on my Mind. See her beautiful posts on breakfast with zio Livio in Monfalcone and a seafood lunch in Grado.

- Do I go with the safe option? Everyone likes a chicken Caesar so it makes sense to put that on the menu. The accountant smiles contentedly. Or
I haven’t worked for x amount of years and pushed myself hard in order to put a bloody chicken Caesar on my menu. The accountant looks anxious. My point is: Is the safe choice always the best one?

Chef Steve Cumper puts his serious face on for a moment and writes on The view from my porch about the recent spate of restaurant closures.

- Ai-Ling finds the best bánh mì in Perth on Blue Apocalypse.

- Read about how the design and branding of Melbourne newcomer Patricia Coffee Brewers was developed on Identity Designed.

- In the first Fortnightly Round-up that I wrote in November I mentioned the food policy that was being developed by the City of Melbourne. It has now been published - check it out here.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Online reviews and the race to be first

Melbourne Writers Festival

A quick plug on a related issue: I'm speaking at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year, as part of the New News conference. The panel, called Everyone's a Critic, will be discussing criticism and the effect the online world of blogs, social media and crowdsourcing is having on professional criticism. As well as me the panel will feature Ed Charles, Alison Croggon, The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones, freelance travel writer Tom Neal Tacker and Herald-Sun restaurant critic Stephen Downes. The event is on Friday 24th August at 1pm at Fed Square and it's FREE but you need to make a booking (here). Hope to see some of you there!

One of the first food blog posts I clearly remember reading (a year before I started Melbourne Gastronome) was Ed Charles' September 2006 post about Lau's Family Kitchen, written ten minutes after he got home from the opening night. As a restaurant enthusiast largely unaware of the nascent food blogging scene at the time, I remember feeling really excited by the fact that I could already see photos and read descriptions of a restaurant I'd been anticipating for months, knowing that it'd most likely be some weeks (or possibly months) before I'd see a review in the newspaper. This excitement about what blogs could offer readers was a key inspiration for starting my own blog.

A desire to be seen as a pioneer with a finger on the pulse of what's new and shiny, coupled with the easy immediacy offered by the internet, means that the temptation to be the first to write online about a new venue (and to benefit from the resulting SEO perks) can be great. I'm no angel: I've been guilty of it myself a few times, when it's a place I've been particularly excited about (see, eg, my first glimpse of San Telmo post).

But the race to be first seems to be reaching new, hilarious heights in Melbourne. Take the case study of Nama Nama (the new Japanese cafe from Izakaya Den owners Simon Denton, Miyuki Nakahara and Takashi Omi): it opened its doors for lunch on Thursday 21 June. The Three Thousand review went up by about 2:30pm that same day, the Milk Bar review went up at about 9:30am on Friday, and the Broadsheet review went up around Friday lunchtime - all three within 24 hours of the venue trading. Nina Rousseau's review was published in Epicure this week, 26 days after it opened.

Or take the example of Seddon cafe Common Galaxia, which reportedly had reviewers from two websites show up at the door at 7am on opening day. Or the reviewer at another venue's recent opening day, asking only half-jokingly whether "any of those [rival website] bastards" had been spotted yet!

Some publications, particularly the old-school ones, have policies of waiting some weeks after a venue has opened before visiting to review it, even if it means getting gazumped by others: Zoe Curtis from the Herald-Sun confirmed to me that their policy is not to visit in the first month. And as Stickifingers pointed out when we were discussing this issue on Twitter, many pieces being referred to as "reviews" are more properly characterised as mere opening announcements, with fleshier stories coming later (I'd say though that all too often there *aren't* fleshier stories - after the initial flurry of fawning publicity when a place opens, most tend to drop off the radar).

The industry argument that it's unfair to rush to judge a place that's brand new and still working through its teething problems is countered by the view that if that you're open to customers and charging full prices, you're open to reviews. And in any event, reviewers tend to be overwhelmingly compliant and uncritical, only too happy to feel part of (and feed) the hype.

But c'mon, isn't this competitiveness getting just a tad ridiculous? In a recent interview, I pretentiously characterised the internet as providing a welcome democratisation of the public discourse about food in our city. The ability to widely broadcast opinion is no longer confined to a precious few, and many of the newcomers feel they don't need to play by the old conventions. But in terms of this race to be first, maybe a bit more common sense should prevail, hmmm?

Thursday 12 July 2012

MIFF 2012: films showing at the Melbourne International Film Festival that already have release dates

We interrupt the usual food-related content on this blog for a quick post about another obsession of mine: the Melbourne International Film Festival!

Happy MIFFmas, everyone!! If you're not a MIFF member already smugly clutching an advance copy of this year's program to your bosom, there's a copy in tomorrow's Age (Friday 13th). I look forward to setting aside several hours over the weekend to curl up with my copy and go through it with a fine-tooth comb, narrowing down the list of films I want to see and coming up with a workable schedule (extra degree of difficulty for me this year as I'll be away in Hong Kong (!!!) for the first week of the festival).

Because I like to maximise my chances of catching films that can ONLY be seen at the festival, I tend to exclude from my shortlist films that I know already have an Australian cinematic release date. I do this by checking the film release date schedules on websites like AtTheCinema and atonalFILM, and cross-referencing them with the MIFF 2012 program. This year, I thought it may be helpful for other similarly-minded MIFF nerds if I presented my findings on the web.

These lists are correct to the best of my knowledge based on what I've found online (EDIT: I've now also included films that have distributors but don't yet have release dates, thanks to the excellent list on Mel's blog A Wild Young Under-Whimsy). If you know of any additional films that should be on the list, dates/distributors that have changed or any other relevant information, please let me know! Updated as at 24/7/12.

The following films screening at MIFF are scheduled to screen later in the year at either the Nova, Palace Cinemas, or both:

The following films have been picked up by distributors in Australia, but I don't know where/if they will be screening outside of MIFF (some of them will end up straight-to-DVD):

So, film nerds: what films at MIFF this year do we HAVE to see? I can strongly recommend using this extremely useful FestivalSessions festival online planner - it's brilliant!

And for the foodies still reading: any dining tips for me for Hong Kong??

(Other random non-food-related research I've been doing recently that I put online in case some readers may find it useful - I'm researching options that would allow the choir I sing in to sell our music online. iTunes, digital distributors CD Baby, TuneCore and ReverbNation, and direct-to-fans sales platforms like Bandcamp: here are my findings.)

Monday 2 July 2012

Sydney Gastronome: Momofuku Seiobo

Momofuku Seiōbo
The Star casino, 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont (map)
$175 dinner tasting menu Monday-Saturday, $100 lunch tasting menu Friday-Saturday
Bookings via the highly regulated booking system on their website

Momofuku Seiobo

On my trip up to Sydney a few weeks ago I finally visited Momofuku Seiōbo, the much-ballyhooed restaurant from US/Korean chef, Lucky Peach co-editor and gastrohipster cultural icon David Chang. And as hesitant as I am to add my voice to the fawning cheersquad, it really was an exhilarating dining experience: food that was fun and intelligent without being cerebral, served in a polished but unstuffy environment with a killer soundtrack. Chang may spend most of his time back in New York, but he leaves the Seiōbo kitchen in the clever, capable hands of chef Ben Greeno and his team.

Rather than the $175 a head dinner we went for the $100 a head lunch, which proved to be fantastic value for money. We navigated the online reservation system and were able to get a booking for four with a minimum of fuss, but when one of our party had to pull out at the last minute, the lovely Lee Tran Lam from Sydney blog The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry graciously stepped in and took her place. LTL's vegetarianism gave us the advantage of seeing other dishes in addition to the ones served to us omnivores (photos of the vegetarian dishes at the end of this post).

Momofuku Seiobo

The four of us were stoked to be seated in prime position along the corner of the bar, with a great view of the kitchen team preparing our dishes.

Momofuku Seiobo

The tasty snacks to begin with were blood crackers, chicharrónes (fried pork rinds) and nori chips.

Nori chip, blood cracker, chicharones

The chips were followed by the inevitable Momofuku pork bun. Originally an eleventh-hour addition to the Momofuku menu, the fluffy steamed bun filled with pork belly, hoisin and cucumber took New York by storm and became David Chang's signature dish, whether he wanted it to or not. For months before Seiōbo opened Chang claimed that the bun wouldn't be on the Sydney menu, and yet here we are. And yes, it's sinfully delicious (just as good as when I first tried it in New York at Momofuku Ssäm three years ago). Best enjoyed with a little hit of Sriracha sauce.

Steamed bun, pork belly, cucumber, hoisin

The sashimi course was striped trumpeter, paired with rhubarb and a few torn corners of salt bush. The delicate flavours suffered from arriving hard on the heels of the fatty fireworks of the pork buns.

Striped trumpeter, rhubarb, salt bush

Next came a plate of baby confit potato with watercress, segments of quandong and dainty shavings of yolk. While pretty, it was probably the least memorable of the dishes we were served - perfectly pleasant but eclipsed by the other dishes.

Potato, quandong, watercress, yolk

Do you ever come across a dish you just want to wrap your hands around and embrace? That's how I felt about the tender, juicy shreds of crab with warm miso cream and crunchy panko crumbs. This was my favourite course, the highlight among highlights.

Crab, miso, panko

The pasta course was pea agnolottini in a buttery sauce, sprinkled with small cubes of jicama and microscopic cubes of Serrano ham, and topped by a squirt of cold Parmesan foam dispensed from a soda siphon before our eyes. The word "foam" fast became a dirty word back when so many chefs jumped onto the molecular bandwagon, but this was a good example of how the technique can still be used to impressive effect.

Pea agnolotti, parmesan, serrano

The mulloway fillet, crisped golden brown on one side, was another highlight, served with technicolour pickled turnips and a refined eel dashi.

Mulloway, turnips, eel dashi

At this stage in the meal we'd just remarked to each other that it hadn't been a particularly meaty meal, and were forced to eat our premature words when the next course came out (though the scimitar-like knives placed before each meat eater should've tipped us off).

The shortrib had been slow cooked until its obscene ribbons of fat had dissolved (see the cross-section photo!), then had been seared to give it a lovely black crust. It was matched with burnt eggplant and strands of pickled kohlrabi. The blast of Metallica that suddenly boomed over the restaurant speakers as we took our first bite seemed somehow apt.

Shortrib, burnt eggplant, kohlrabi
Shortrib cross-section

Next was a cheese course - shredded C2 cheese with spelt crackers, to be precise. C2 is a hard, cooked-curd cheese from Tasmania's Bruny Island Cheese Co, made from cow's milk and currently the only nationally available unpasteurised cheese made in Australia (read more about it in John Lethlean's recent article). Picking our way through it with a teaspoon, we were delighted to find little nuggets of crab apple jelly hidden inside, providing a sweet counterpoint to the nuttiness of the cheese.

C2, crab apple, spelt

The sweet dessert was a relatively simple affair consisting of honey, muntries and hazelnut.

Honey, muntries, hazelnut

And to finish off, pieces of honey liquorice, stamped with honeycomb-like hexagons and dusted with bee pollen.

Honey licorice

Because I was nursing an epic hangover - my friends in Sydney are all boozehounds - I skipped the optional alcohol pairing ($60 with lunch) in favour of the optional juice pairing ($30 with lunch) and really enjoyed it. The juices included cucumber, watermelon, mandarin, red currant and my favourite, apple and parsnip (which tasted like a Sunday roast in liquid form, only more zingy and refreshing). My boozehound friends who went with the alcohol pairing were impressed with the wines and sake they were served.

Cucumber juiceWatermelon juice
Apple and parsnip juiceMomofuku Seiobo

Most of the action at Seiōbo is up at the bar, but there are also a handful of separate tables alongside a poster of AC/DC's Angus Young. Service was unfailingly professional and thoroughly informed - but I couldn't help feeling the green caps worn by some of the chefs as part of the kitchen uniform were a little naff.

Momofuku Seiobo table area

And briefly, here are the vegetarian alternatives Lee Tran ate. Some of the dishes were the same: the potato/quandong, the agnolotti (minus Serrano ham), the C2, the muntries, the liquorice.

Alongside the nori chip LTL had a stub of smoked potato and a shitake chip with such an amazing intensity of flavour that she insisted I try it (very kind of her!).

Nori chip, shitake chip, potato

Her steamed bun came with shitake instead of pork belly.

Steamed bun, shitake, cucumber, hoisin

Tomato, dollops of yuzu and sesame. LTL was in raptures.

Tomato, yuzu, sesame

An amazing dish of burnt watermelon with fermented black bean, covered by thin discs of radish and watermelon 'ash' (a variant of this is served with wagyu beef as part of the dinner menu, I believe).

Watermelon, radish, blackbean

Smoked squash, cabbage and hazelnut with a roasted pumpkin broth.

Smoked squash, cabbage, hazelnut

Cauliflower, raisins and capers.

Cauliflower, raisin, caper

And at the end of the meal, all four of us were each given a packet of Momofuku kimchi to take home.

Takeaway kimchi

To conclude: make sure an advance visit to the Momofuku Seiōbo online booking system forms part of the planning for your next Sydney trip!