Sunday, February 12, 2017

Stellenbosch Wine Bar & Bistro, Windhoek, Namibia

Namibia offers a true cornucopia of meat dining options.  In addition to the usual staples of beef, pork and chicken, you can also partake of more exotic options like African antelopes (springbok, kudu and oryx), ostrich and even zebra!  Joe’s Beerhouse is the go to place in Windhoek for the more exotic meats, but sometimes, all you want is a damn good steak.  That is where The Stellenbosch Wine Bar & Bistro comes in.

Located at 320 Sam Nujoma Drive in the Bougain Villas complex (enter off Hebenstreit Street), this is one of the top dining venues in Namibia.  The thing I love about Namibia, though, is that top quality doesn’t mean silly prices.  An entrée and main at Stellenbosch, together a salad and their two most expensive wines available by the glass, altogether costs less than a good steak in an Australian restaurant.
For my entrée, I ordered the Beef Tartare, topped with the traditional egg yolk and accompanied by salsa (finely diced onions and tomatoes) and potato crisps.  The serving size is on the generous side, and the succulent raw meat is nicely seasoned.  Delicious to the last mouthful!  This was washed down by a glass of the Rust en Vrede Estate Vineyards Syrah, which at NAD97 is the most expensive choice available on the menu.

For the main, I ordered the obligatory 350g Namibian Beef Rib Eye, which had the bone carved out before it was plated, to make eating it less work and more pleasure.  Perfectly cooked to medium rare, I love the fact that some flavoursome flame-charred fat was left on the edges so that it wasn’t merely a meal of pure protein.  There is no way to adequately describe the flavour of a perfectly flame grilled rib-eye steak in words without overindulgence in purple prose – you simply have to try it for yourself to understand the ecstasy of taste.  At NAD164, it’s very well priced.  Accompanied by a nice dry glass of Stellenbosch Reserve Ou Hoofgebou Cabernet Sauvignon, I was happy to slowly savour one bite followed by one sip without regard for the time.

This was an excellent meal with very good and attentive service – never did I have to wait to order something, or even to get the bill and pay for it (often my pet peeve).

This is not the top-rated Windhoek restaurant on Tripadvisor by accident and it is not a tourist "trap" by any stretch – it is in fact a local dining establishment.  When you’re in Windhoek and craving a good steak (or even a meat salad featuring smoked game meats), Stellenbosch Wine Bar & Bistro is the place to go!  Just make sure you book a table beforehand to avoid disappointment, because it is always going to be packed.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Slowtown Coffee Roasters, Namibia

In my early visits to the beautiful Sub-Saharan nation of Namibia years ago, I once lamented the lack of quality barista made coffee.  You may think (rightly) that I'm being precious, but Australian café culture leads the world in the prowess of our almost ubiquitous baristas and the quality of the coffees they produce, so going cold turkey on readily available good coffee - especially a well-made espresso, where mistakes cannot be covered with loads of frothy milk - is painful.

I lament no more.

Slowtown Coffee Roasters is an artisanal coffee roasting outfit based in Namibia's second largest city of Swakopmund.  They have also opened a Windhoek outpost; a modern café sporting Nordic-style furniture, mirrors and clean lines at the edge of the CBD on Independence Avenue, just across the street from the Wecke & Voigts department store.  And most importantly, real baristas can be found behind the coffee machine, complete with hipster-ish regalia!

One can order their freshly roasted Slowtown blend, or a single origin roast, to enjoy on the premises or as takeaway.  The coffees are very competitively priced by international standards (starting at NAD10 for a single espresso), and great value for the quality that you get.

You can also buy bags of coffee beans, and this is where the attention to quality really shows through – instead of a use-by date, these bags show the roasting date; anyone who is serious about their coffee knows that this is an important factor in determining the freshness and quality of coffee beans.

While Ristretto Coffee Roasters in my hometown will always be number one in my books, Slowtown is my go-to place for a good coffee whenever I’m in Namibia.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Meat Candy - simple yet superb "Southern Comfort" food!

Meat Candy, located at 465 William Street (corner of William Street and Brisbane Street in Northbridge, Western Australia) is a compelling place.

Having heard about it from a friend and then reading Max Veenhuyzen's write-up about it in Broadsheet, I jumped at the first opportunity to check it out, which was its first night of trading for the year on 7 January 2017; I thought it would be the perfect early (and quick) dinner before I headed over to the Ellington Jazz Club to listen to Perth saxophonist Jamie Oehlers play some old jazz favourites.

The Broadsheet article mentioned that one of the owners, Ben Atkinson, used to be the chef at The Old Crow, whose simple yet delicious food I have thoroughly enjoyed on many occasions!

The place was well staffed and nobody waited to be served - in keeping with the American diner feel of the bar/entrance area, the staff were efficient and polite but not overly solicitous, which is how I like it.  Dining solo, I sat at the front bar, which sported a stack of moscow mule copper cups, hipster hairstyles (mullets and male hair-buns) and an UberEats back awaiting collection.

What I love about this place is that it doesn't try to be all things to everyone - it's about "Southern Comfort" food (ironically, that's the one thing you won't find on the drinks list, although they have a range of seriously good rye whiskey), and the food menu only occupies one-half of an A4-size menu, with the remainder (and the reverse side) taken up by the drinks list.

The fried chicken beckoned to me, so I ordered it hot (it comes in 3 heat choices: southern, medium or hot - no half measures for me).  The Broadsheet article reported that there is a fourth secret "you're an idiot" heat level, but I decided to save that experience for next time.
 I'm not one for fruit drinks, but since I didn't feel like a beer and wine or spirits didn't feel right with a chicken, I went for the house-made watermelon soda spiked with a shot of vodka.  Refreshing indeed!

The fried chicken was a sight to behold - a glistening, crunchy looking chicken haunch (well that's what it is isn't it?) served on a super-thick slab of white bread (which I understand as baked on-premise) and topped with three generous slices of pickled cucumber, impaled together by a bamboo skewer in the fashion of a hipster burger.

The first thing I have to say is that the skin on this thing was utterly perfect.  No soggy bits, with every bite yielding a crisply satisfying crunchiness.

The chilli coating was indeed hot (I detected the tang of habanero?) albeit not hot enough to bring beads of sweat to my forehead (I'll have to see how heat level 4 measures up ...), and delightfully savoury.

The meat beneath was tender and juicy, with the "real chicken" flavour of a chook that only had one bad day in its life.

As if that wasn't enough, the verde aioli was light, flavoursome and so delicious that on my first taste, I mentally vowed to wipe the saucer clean.

Since the slice of bread was drenched in the delicious hot sauce, the only right thing to do was to bid goodbye to my slow-carb dietary ambitions and save some meat and a pickle to make a chicken sandwich dressed with the remainder of the aioli.  Delicious!  Finger lickin' good indeed.

There will definitely be another visit in the near future, although I will have a scrounge around for a few friends to join me so that we can order all the other things on the menu.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ramen Lab, Mount Lawley - best ramen in Perth?

I heard about Ramen Lab from a good mate of mine, to whom iconic Perth chef Neal Jackson declared that Ramen Lab was the place to go for good ramen with technical excellence.  With that kind of recommendation, how could I resist?

Located at 602 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley (south of Walcott Street and north of Vincent Street), the decor at this small restaurant is a blend of modern glitz and traditional Japanese accoutrements; and the patrons an eclectic assortment of families, couples and single diners.

I ordered the gyoza (which I suspect is made daily fresh on-premise because it's limited to 50 serves per day) and the "Classic Hakata" ramen bowl.

The gyoza is served like nothing you've experienced before.  Three delectable morsels arrive in a shallow bowl sitting in a pool of dipping sauce and garnished with herbs and micro greens; the filling is very clearly made from hand-chopped pieces of pork and mushroom - no food processed minced fillings here!  Delicious umami flavours abound.

The ramen (I order their "classic" Hakata version) itself comes beautifully presented, with the "chashu" (pork belly sliced razor-thin, yet so tender and soft that it falls apart if you pull a piece away from the whole with your chopsticks) presented in a neat row accompanied by half a soft-boiled soy marinated egg.  All the ingredients, such as black fungus mushroom, seaweed and bamboo shoots, are presented in separate sections, so that you have to mix it all up yourself: part of the ritual of the meal.  The broth is thick, rich, opaque and delicious.

The true joy, though, is the hand-made ramen, which to my pleasant surprise was perfectly al dente, which introduces even more textural complexity to an already texturally rich dish.  No soggy noodles here.  All for $15.50 a bowl!

I do enjoy a good bowl of ramen, and am happy to declare that this could well be the best bowl of ramen you will find in Perth!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Halo Espresso, South Perth - food that punches above its weight!

Halo Espresso, located on 82 Angelo Street, South Perth, Western Australia, is a great coffee shop in the urban-village-style Angelo Street area.  While they make a good coffee, you wouldn't at first glance realise that they've got a seriously good chef working in the kitchen.

As if the fact that 100% of their profits go towards charitable work isn't a good enough reason to choose to spend your money there, I recently discovered that one of the top young chefs in the world, Morgan Keyte, has started working there.  In 2014, Morgan won the Western Australian and then the Australian national stages of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Young Chefs Competition to earn the right to represent Australia in the international Concours International des Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs, held that year in Durban; where he went on to win best in kitchen and make some invaluable connections with chefs from all around the world.  A quiet, modest and hardworking fellow who takes his craft seriously, there is much to like about Morgan.

What could someone like that do to what is necessarily a limited and modest cafe menu?  To find out, I ordered their Halo Burger, which is filled with chipotle pulled pork in a black sesame seed bun.

The bun alone tells you that this meal was designed by someone with an attention to detail: the sesame seeds impart a lovely toasted aroma and flavour, and the aioli is tasty with a distinctly delicious garlic flavour.  The pork itself is flavoursome, moist and nicely seasoned.  The rasher of bacon, which makes an already good burger even greater, together with red onions, are a nice touch which introduce additional layers of flavour.

The polenta chips are a nice change from the ubiquitous potato version you would normally see accompany a burger, and are also nicely seasoned to boot (while other restaurants may serve polenta chips/sticks, they are more likely than not to be bland and require dipping sauce to work from a flavour perspective).  What's more, these ones maintain structural integrity and don't fall apart when poked with a fork (I dunno - I like structural integrity ...).

While it's one thing for a good chef to be able to create works of art with a generous budget/price-point on hand, I'd like to suggest that it is an even bigger challenge and achievement to successfully pull off something special when you have to create a burger at a $20 price point.  Morgan has certainly done it here.

While I do hope that Morgan does eventually move onto a restaurant that allows him to develop his great potential, I look forward to my next delicious meal at Halo Espresso!