Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Favourite Post For 2010

This month's Nuffnang Christmas Bloggers Challenge is to pick our favourite blog post for the year and explain why that is so. The prize for the winning entry is an iPad, that magical device that will revolutionise the world. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit and showing that I'm an Apple fanboy, but it is an extremely beautiful device that I would love to get my hands on and play with. So here is my entry for the competition with my favourite blog post and why I thought it was the best.

Joy To The World
Joy to the world, the iPad is come!
Let earth receive her bling;
Let every heart prepare Apple room,
And geeks and housewives sing,
And geeks and housewives sing,
The iPad, is the, most beautiful thing.

Joy to the world, the iPad reigns!
Let me win this new toy;
With my blogging, I've racked my brains,
Thinking of my best post,
Thinking of my best post,
I have, found my, real mccoy.

My favourite post, was not about Poh,
Nor how Heston astounds;
Instead, it was, related to gateaux
The land where this chef was found,
The land where this chef was found,
France was, Nic Poelaert's, home town.

My interview with Nic had truth and grace,
And showed his passion and groove,
Discussions of Nic's restaurant Embrasse,
And all the food Nic loves,
And all the food Nic loves,
Made this post, my favourite, of the year.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Izakaya Den

114 Russell Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph:9654 2977
Website:Izakaya Den

It started with a tweet. That seems to be a recurring theme nowadays. I must say that I was anti-Twitter at the start, got Twitter addiction a month into it, weaned myself off cold turkey and now using it in a more moderate way. I still don't think it's the best tool for in depth discussion, but it does have its uses, such as finding out about interesting events/info and organising real life food blogger meetups. See our previous example of Cuttlefish and Dried Mango Tasting. This time Naomi and I were tweeting about Simon Denton's new Good Food Guide restaurant of the year Izakaya Den. We decided that we would go and check it out, and very quickly I-Hua, Penny,Suzanne and finally Agnes got on board the Izakaya train. Some brought partners and we had a merry group of 10 eagerly anticipating the much hyped food at Melbourne's latest sweetheart.

When you walk in, you definitely feel a sense of awe with the unusually long space having maximum impact. I didn't know where to look for a while and was absorbing the various decor and the smells emanating from the kitchen. Diners were seated at the extremely long bar counter and on high bench style tables that sat 4 people. The restaurant doesn't really cater for large groups, with only a couple of larger marble tables seating groups. The 10 of us were seated very closely ("stop touching me Penny") shoulder to shoulder at one half of one large table. We perused thorough the cute scroll menu and picked a huge variety of dishes to share.

We ordered sake to share, while I-Hua and I also go Sake Mojitos. I love mojitos and sake mojitos are fantastic as well. It had a smoother flavour and was totally delicious. The first sake we ordered (which of course I'm sure no one remembers the name of) was super smooth and went down a treat. The second one was harsher and most of the others didn't like it, but I really enjoyed it too.

Then it was onto the food, glorious food. In the top photo you see the Kingfish Sashimi. Kingfish is always one of my favourite fish for sashimi and this one was fresh and went beautifully with the light dressing. The Den Fried Chicken may as well have been called the "Den Crack" as it was so addictive, better than any Karaage you'll taste elsewhere. Even the Grilled Eggplant was quite nice (thanks I-Hua for the moody red pre-flash lighting of my photo). We all thought the Black Fried Rice would be interesting, and it was a bit different but wasn't mind blowing. What was mind blowing was the Lamb Ribs with red miso, which we ordered so many serves of. You should have seen everyone just deadly silent nibbling on these ribs. They were my favourite dish of the night amongst many great dishes.

The next dish up was the Tuna Tataki, which many had tasted and raved about at this year's Taste of Melbourne festival. Look at those beautiful maroon discs (can you still call a flat square-ish piece a disc?). We polished them off and indeed they were extremely fresh and sweet. The sweet corn "kaki-age" was again at the Taste of Melbourne and were balls of sweet fried goodness. I'm always a fan of any form of octopus and the Octopus with Pickled Cucumber was quite nice, with the tanginess of the dressing working with the octopus. The Ox Tongue and Grilled Chicken Ribs were still quite good with their charred flavour, but not at the standard of the other dishes I thought.

The Wagyu Tataki looked and tasted sensational. Fatty thin (yet more oxymorons although you all know I meant fat infused meat cut into thin slices) slices of slightly seared beef were served with a soy dressing and wasabi mayo. I loved it.

After so much food, what do we do? Of course we all shout for dessert. It's with a heavy heart that I have to report that although all the food was excellent, the desserts were not. Not only were they not great, they were actually bad. They sounded so good on paper and for me as a massive dessert fan, I was really disappointed when I tasted them. The Apple Millefeullie had the look of a tiny Christmas tree and wowed us all, but it was like mixing apple with sorbet, neither here nor there in terms of any defining flavours. The Ginger Creme Brulee was actually ruined by the ginger, which just didn't work with the creme brulee. The only dish that tasted at least good was the White Sesame Mousse with Tapioca, the soft mousse giving way to a sweet filling.

Lastly, the Dark Chocolate and Yuzu Fondue was just a massive fail. The yuzu were embedded inside gelatinous balls which you dip into the chocolate. The balls didn't really have much flavour and were such a wrong texture for me to go with melted chocolate.

The service throughout the night was very good, with waiters on the ball and making sure they refilled our water and came round to take orders (even when we kept changing it) and take away plates. The ambiance was really good inside the industrial type setting. The noise didn't get too intolerable and maintained a level of buzz and excitement that I really liked.

I absolutely enjoyed the food and would definitely go back for more. It's Japanese food that is a familiar yet different, and done at a much better level than most. I only hope they will fix their dessert menu so that it will be a great overall experience in terms of the food. Even boring old green tea ice cream will be a good option.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Great savoury dishes unfortunately let down by bad desserts.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

For other reviews, check out what some other food bloggers think.
It Pleases Us
Mel Hot or Not
Bear Head Soup
I'm So Hungree
The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua

Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

Cafe Vue St Kilda

401 St Kilda Rd
Melbourne, 3141
Website: Cafe Vue St Kilda

Everything that Shannon Bennett touches turns to gold. His food empire is growing rapidly and are critically and commercially acclaimed. I've dined at Vue de Monde, Vue de Monde Part 2 and Vue de Monde Cocktail Night and each occasion was extremely enjoyable. It was with very high anticipation that I attended his more casual restaurant in Cafe Vue in St Kilda.

The restaurant has the same clean and striking look of Shannon Bennett's restaurant. The semi birdcage structure at the back of the restaurant instantly draw your eye before you start to absorb the rest of the architecture. Simple tables and chairs are surrounded by large counters and an open kitchen.

A group of us met for a simple lunch and to bid Nelly bon voyage (sort of) as she was only going on a European holiday (jealous). Just another excuse to go out and eat. And any excuse to go out and eat is a good one.

Three of use opted for the Wagyu Burger, which was served with some chips. I loved the burger, with great flavour in both the meat and the other elements. However, despite the beautiful look of the chips, they tasted quite average. Four of the others chose the Lunch Box of the day, which consisted of a pasta, bread with ham, guacamole, potato chips and chocolate slice. I only tried the pasta and it wasn't that good. The flavour of the herb really overpowered the whole pasta. Lastly, one Duck Pie was ordered. I was told it was good, with pastry and filling tasting matching well.

I was looking forward to dessert most. The Pistachio Gateaux was my favourite. A soft pistachio sponge like casing held a filling of mousse with a pistachio centre. The flavours were subtle but delicious. Surprisingly, the Caramel Slice was also very good. It was rich and sweet, but not as sickeningly sweet as I thought it would be. Disappointly though, the Opera Gateaux looked sensational but was quite one dimensional in taste and wasn't very good, being left unfinished by everyone.

There were quite a number of other sweet items that we didn't get to try. There was another Caramel Cake, various types of pastries, tarts and macarons.

The service was quite mixed. A couple of the waiters were very good, but a third one who was full of personality was awful at his job. He messed up our drinks orders, the two food orders he took, forgot to bring things we asked and basically cause a lot of confusion due to his mistakes. The ambiance in the restaurant is light and airy and pleasant. I felt very relaxed and comfortable the whole time.

I was expecting a lot from this restaurant as it bears the Vue brand, but I think I won't necessarily be rushing back to eat again. I will give it another go but there wasn't anything super exciting about it. Even the desserts failed to impress me as I thought they would.

Café Vue at 401 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Indulgent Fantasy: Magnum Temptation Competition

This post is sponsored by Nuffnang.

The new Magnum Temptation has just been released and it’s pure indulgence. It’s a premium ice cream with chunks of white chocolate and brownie pieces swirled through the creamy choc centre and encased in Belgian chocolate. Even the shape is funky and the box just exudes indulgence.

What would my most indulgent fantasy be? It took me all of two nanoseconds to know that my indulgent fantasy would involve a combination of travel and food around the world. So I sat down and worked out this ultimate trip, all to be completed in “one day”.

My indulgent fantasy: Eating Around the World in One Day

I would own a super fast private jet, and would use it to travel against the world timeline, flying anti clockwise around the world so I would “gain” time due to world clocks and the position of the sun.

So here is my itinerary:

Melbourne – I would start at 7am in Melbourne and have a nice small breakfast and coffee in one of Melbourne’s many laneways, maybe at Hardware Societe for example.

Darwin – I would then fly to Darwin, where I would definitely eat a witchetty grub and climb Uluru.

Tokyo – I would fly by Tokyo for a taste of glorious charshu ramen and a visit of the hustle and bustle of Ginza. I might even buy myself some high tech piece of personal equipment.

Beijing – Beijing would be next and I know I’m having some beautiful Peking duck and wandering around the amazing grounds of the Forbidden Palace to see how my ancestors lived.

Mumbai – I have always been intrigued by the famous slums of Mumbai, so after a calming Indian tea, I would look at the poverty and community of the slums and feel so lucky to live the life I have.

Moscow – The next stop at Red Square in Moscow would give an insight into one of the most closed places in the past. This would have to include a sample of caviar and some Russian vodka, just a bit of vodka.

Cairo – A world tour wouldn’t be complete without visiting the most stunning man made wonders of the Pyramids. I would love to try some camel if it was available.

Athens – From one stunning man made wonder to another, I would visit the Acropolis and marvel at the foundations of modern society, from democracy to philosophy. I would eat some freshly grilled octopus and wash it down with some ouzo with lemon.

Paris – My next stop is a must visit, which is my favourite city of Paris. I don’t even need a nanosecond to know what I’m doing here. It would be to eat Pierre Herme macarons while at the top of the Eiffel Tower, perfection.

London – From Paris it’s only a short trip to London, where I’m definitely drinking ales and then walking through the majesty of Westminster Abbey.

Rio de Janeiro
– I would fly to Rio next and go to Corcovado, to view the huge Christ statue. A bit of grilled meat would be my chosen food.

La Paz – The next city isn’t very well known, but I’d love to visit La Paz in Bolivia and see Lake Titicaca. The perfect clear lake was around since the earliest civilisations and I would sample some beef jerky while enjoying the serenity and sunset.

New York – From the serenity of La Paz, I would go to the craziness of New York. It’s night time now and I would eat a massive steak while atop the Empire State Building.

Mexico City – It is now night time and I would visit the National Museum of Anthropoloy in Mexico City and imagine all the people who had come before us.

Los Angeles – It is well and truly night time now and I would visit the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. I would stare down on a city full of lights and imagine all the people running around filled with hopes and dreams of making it big in Tinseltown. I would have a glass of fine champagne while staring off into the night.

Honolulu – Finally, to finish off my indulgent fantasy “day”, I would sit and relax on Waikiki Beach, drink a pineapple cocktail and listen to the waves crash against the beach and slowly drift off to sleep on a hammock on the beach. And that would end my perfect “one day”.

Dear readers, if you managed to get through my indulgent fantasy, you can now start to think about your own. To make it a closer reality, Magnum are giving away a $1000 prize to one winning reader.

Competition - How To Enter

To win the $1000 cash prize, here is what you need to do.
- Play the game below and obtain your high score.
- Leave a comment with your high score, contact method (email, blog address, twitter) and answer the question:
"What will you indulge in with $1000?"
- The most creative response (as judged by Magnum) across all 23 blogs taking part in this campaign will win $1000.

Conditions of Entry
- For full Terms and Conditions, see HERE
- Australian readers only.
- Competition closes December 14th 12pm EST.
- Winners will be announced on December 17th and notified personally.

Middle Park Hotel

102 Canterbury Rd
Middle Park, VIC 3206
Website: Middle Park Hotel

Ever since he smiled warmly at me during the Middle Park Hotel Launch from across the kitchen counter and stared deeply into my camera lens, I had a chef crush on Paul Wilson. Our paths crossed again at the Duck Duck Goose Launch where I actually got to speak to him and have my photo taken. Finally, I got to sit next to Paul at the Mount Zero Olive Oil Masterclass and pick his brains about food. So it was with much excitement when I saw Paul again at Middle Park Hotel when I went there for lunch. I casually waved at him from my table and he beamed his trademark warm smile at me again. Chef crush re-ignited.

Middle Park Hotel is one of Paul's many consulting venues and I decided to go there for breakfast initially. However, that Saturday was raining like crazy and Ling and I got there a bit late. Not to worry, we remembered how Paul said the steaks were fantastic so decided to do lunch instead. The dining room side of the hotel is fairly small and cosy. The room is decked out in rich dark colours, with dark walls matched by heavy dark tables. The antler light fixture certainly tells you that this is no vegetarian restaurant. It's meat, meat and more meat on the menu.

We were seated at a corner table so got a great view of the kitchen. The room was fairly empty when we were seated, but was soon to be filled with many people, especially a group of burly blokes who all ordered the largest steak (600g) and polished them off completely. Wow, that's some effort. They were also very joyous as they had won money on the horse races and so the noise levels in the room was through the roof.

We ordered a dish each, with Ling going for the dainty Tuna Sashimi Salad and I went for the New York Steak (I think, may have been a different cut) with Salad. Ling said her dish was very fresh and delicious. My steak was super tender and cooked perfectly medium rare. I loved the flavour and enjoyed the accompanying salad with tangy dressing.

For dessert, Ling got the Trifle. It looked really great, and she liked it. I found it ok, with the layers of jelly, mousse and cake not really exciting me too much. Instead, I loved my Bread and Butter Raisin Pudding. It was super rich and indulgent. With the syrup and custard poured over the top, it was extremely beautiful, and also sweet. I could only manage half of it.

The service was acceptable, with our waiter being quite the serious type. He did a fairly good job, although did leave us hanging after our mains until we finally asked another waiter to see the dessert menu. The ambiance in the room was originally very nice and then got boisterous, and finally back to a more relaxed feel. Overall I enjoyed the meal and think if you like meats, give it a try. The look of the Sunday roasts on the menu also caught my eye and I'd like to try that one day too.

Overall Rating: 14/20, Great steak and a nice feel in the restaurant.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Middle Park Hotel on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cooking The Books - Jamie's America

A while back, I was talking to Kat at the Mad Hatter Spring Picnic and she mentioned how she was organising a blogger meetup called "Cooking The Books". The basic premise is that a book is chosen and everyone cooks up a recipe from it. That way, you can get a feel for that authors cooking style and hence can decide whether to buy their books in future or cook other recipes from it if you already own it. What a great idea. I was intrigued and hence said I would love to attend. We did the first Cooking The Books and Jamie Oliver's America book was chosen. On the day Michele & Hamish, Emma and April & Laik also attended.

Let me start off by showing you the savoury fruits (is savoury fruit an oxymoron) of our labour. Look how absolutely stunning it looked. Trust me when I tell you it was equally delicious. I ate the leftovers from this meetup for the next two days, happily. You'll know what each item is as I go through the post. Look at us all standing around praying at the almighty food. What a spread to behold.

We coooked and reheated the food at the kitchen in which Kat works, The Cooking Space, which can be hired out. It's such a brilliant space, with commercial ovens, heaps of utensils and equipment, and even pantry items if we needed. Kat got the ball rolling with a plethora of dishes. She made Roast Lamb with sweet potato, Cajun Crocodile, Tomato Salsa and Watermelon and Goats Cheese Salad. The lamb was melt in your mouth goodness and I had that for dinner the next night as well. The crocodile was quite nice, with the cajun flavours not too prominent. I was surprised at how firm the texture was. The salsa worked really well with the crocodile. Even more surprising than the crocodile was the watermelon salad. Who knew goats cheese goes with watermelon, with the melon's sweetness balancing out the goats cheese pungent tastes and giving it a softer taste.

Michele rocked the house (or should that be kitchen) with two sensational dishes. The Meatballs would have to be my favourite dish of the day. The meat was beautiful and firm and the sauce had such great flavour. Michele said there was coffee in the mixture, but I would never have picked that. The Mac and Cheese was also full of cheesy goodness. These two items were lunch for the next two days, yummo.

April again showed her baking skills by producing a really hearty Corn Bread/Cake. I'd never tasted corn bread before and it was really good. It wasn't dry as I was expecting and the chunks of corn were really good. It mopped up the sauce from the meatballs perfectly. April's second dish of Red Velvet Cupcakes was super indulgent. Her frosting was out of this world, and I rationed the two cupcakes I got over a whole week. A whole week people, that's how disciplined I was! I only ate a small portion each day. Emma wowed us all when she revealed her Lemon Meringue Cheesecake out of this origami fold-it-yourself cake box. This cheesecake was classicly perfect, rich in lemon flavour with sweetness from the meringue and crunch from the base. I rationed my slice of this cheesecake to last three whole days. Lastly, my own efforts looked utterly pathetic. I didn't even bake it. All I did was melt the chocolate, cut up the nuts and fruit and made this Rocky Road. The chilli wasn't prominent at all, but the rocky road still tasted good. I promise to make better things at the next Coooking The Books and not be a freeloader haha.

And what do any self respecting food blogger do after eating all that food, you go in search of more food. We were near Costco and I wanted so badly to buy the Philippine Brand Dried Mangoes, so off we went to get some. I bought three large packets of the dried mangoes, smoked salmon, dried blueberries and Glick's bread. Everyone else also bought essentials too like Ham Rolls, 1.5 kg blocks of butter, Alaskan king crab legs and poppycock aka popcorn crack. You can see how useful Costco is for buying essential food items.

It was an absolutely sensational day and I can't wait for the next one. Huge thanks to Kat for organising the event, and the kitchen, and inviting me. Thanks too to Michele, Hamish, April, Laik and Emma for attending and making such wonderful food that I enjoyed and the great company.