Monday, September 27, 2010

Dinner party report: Russian salad, CSIRO eggplant moussaka, pork crackling and duck confit

I love dinner parties where people cook the food themselves.  It's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get!

So it was with great anticipation (did you know that the anticipation of a pleasure to come often creates more dopamine levels in your brain than actual participation in the pleasure itself? That's your basic Pavlov's Dog observation, and no Pavlov didn't invent the pavlova) that I popped around last night to the home of my personal trainer Tony and his Bulgarian wife Ati.  They also had Bruce and Xena over.  I love exotic names!!!  But I love exotic foods even better (yes, even when they aren't made of dubious animal parts!)

Tony had cooked a CSIRO eggplant moussaka deliciously gravied minced beef sandwiched between layers of egg plant, and Ati had made a Russian salad. a dense, richly flavoured affair of potatoes (hey it's Russian - but I bet Anzhela will reckon it's Bulgarianised), cream, and other colourful bits of plant material (it is a salad after all).  Both were so delicious that I wolfed down a monster-serving of moussaka and ate more than was wise of the heavy salad, which was surely expanding in my stomach as soon as it got there.  Who would have thought that a scientifically designed moussaka would taste so good?

Washed down with a 2004 Picardy Pinot Noir.  This is a subtle, refined and restrained wine - certainly not made in the big brash Antipodean pinot style, but leaning more towards your burgundian approach, albeit without the noseloads of aromatic perfume.  I do worry about my bottles of the 1997 and 1998 vintages - they may have faded away.

I alo brought a couple of things which had been knocking around in my fridge for the last couple of months, safely stored in a loving cocoon of duck fat - a sheet of pre-cooked pig skin, and a couple of duck breasts which had previously been stewed in duck fat on low heat (120 degrees Celsius) for a couple of hours.

The pork crackling, of course was my pride and joy. Based on a recipe from Fergus Henderson, chef of St John Bread & Wine, my favourite restaurant in the whole wide world, it requires one and a half weeks in the making. With most of the fat trimmed off at 3 different stages throughout the cooking process, this is a truly healthy dish, and I defy any naysayers to prove otherwise!  Given the fact that it is virtually pure protein, Tony thought it would be a great after work-out snack.  I agree, and don't care what anybody says.

Sorry - I forgo to take some photos.  When I next make my crackling for the Cook 2 Cure, I'll provide some photos of the whole process, and give you some details on the recipe too.

To wrap things up, we were treated to an ancient family recipe - Tony's mum's banana cake with chunks of organic chocolate mixed in, and made with organic butter (health is his business after all).  Delicious.  I'm munching on a takeaway slice right now, and I can tell you that it is superb.  A crusty crust (maybe that's why they call it a "crust".  Or is it because they call it "crusty"? Chicken and egg ...), with a chewy but moist interior, and a pleasant crunchy chocolate surprise with every 3 or 4 bites (of course, it was warm and thickly runny chocolate when it first came out of the oven - now that is a flavoural and textural delight!)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Best coffee in Perth: Tartine, Trinity Arcade (St George's Terrace end), Perth

Tartine has got to be the best coffee place in Perth, with a great vibe to boot!

Baristas Jo and Kyle are always chirpy and chatty, and Jo can sometimes be seen dancing around and singing away to the in-house music.

The secret to Tartine's great coffee is the fact that they use a double-shot quantity of grinds (think double-espresso), but only pull a slightly smaller than espresso amount of water through it.  The result is a richly flavoured cup of bliss that you simply cannot make at home.  Because less water is used, there is no bitterness at all - just sweet and citrus!

They are also perfectionists at their art.  Kyle told me today that first thing every morning, they recalibrate the grind depending on the temperature and air humidity, and go through around 7 pulls to do so.  And they often need to recalibrate again later in the day, when conditions change!

The other great thing is the fact that, in addition to their normal blend, they also offer a single estate coffee which differs from week to week.

Today's single estate is an Ethiopian roasted by Five Senses - Yirgacheffe, an ancient coffee varietal grown by the small village cooperative of Harfusa in Southern Ethiopia.  It's got a strong robust flavour (more robust than your average arabica), but not bitter, followed by nutty, pure chocolate (ie 99%) flavours, finishing off with a lemony mouthfull with a subtle sweetness to it.  Beautiful (said in the fashion of Con the Fruiterer - for my fellow Gen Xers out there).

Miss Silvia Rancilio: First place in The West Australian's 20 Most Wanted Homewares

Miss Silvia featured today in the number one spot of The West Australian's 20 Most Wanted Homewares.  Vindication!

I can't believe that it's only been 2 weeks since I took delivery of her - 2 weeks of coffee bliss, enhanced perhaps by the 4 weeks without a working coffee machine at home.

I'm still fiddling with the grind, quantity and tamp pressure, but really can't complain at all.  Every cup has tasted divine (well apart from that first cup which looked like the discharge from a home enema, which I didn't drink by the way).

There's so much to learn ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gentlemen's Poker Club: Week 3 Round-up (the Pirate issue)

[The following is reproduced from Action Man's post-game update]

Arrgahhhh !!

(in honour of “talk like a pirate” week)

19 Starters, and all the big guns are back in town.  Table One was littered with former champions... Supercoach, Garth, Sparky to name but a few.

Early action on table two saw a “BOOM” from old crowd favourite Dash (back from 3 months of date night), who once again showed playing bananas and hitting is sooo much more fun that real poker.

The big names slowly pealed themselves off and joined the cash table as a mixture of seasoned old vets (Charles) and upstarts that have trouble adding up (Winky) made up the final five.  Melvo the Frenchman moved all-in with AJ (top pair with a nut-flush draw) against Winky who’s bananaery A7 hit two pair, and was knocked out as bubble boy and the victim of a horrendous joke from the management (sorry French! I’ll make it up to you with a table of hot chicks on Saturday).

The Man of Sparks ran out of sparks to finish fourth and pick up one point, Dash moved all-in (like most of your recent Wednesday’s night eh?) with a courageous 10-2 to run into Charles 6-6.

The heads up saw Charles outwit and outplay Winky, which must be a bit like being armed with a bazooka and attacking a pikelet... in a bucket ... with no water ... which died three weeks ago... which according to all the other pikelets in the playground was never much of a fighter anyway..

Table will be sent when Elle gets around to doing it. 

Action Man

Note from the Frenchman: Yes I know this post has got nothing to do with food, but it makes for entertaining reading, and proves that Frenchman is indeed my poker handle!   And I was indeed robbed of a tournament point as a result of a cruel and misleading practical joke by Action Man.  I'm over it, but am still enjoying the mileage I get from guilt-tripping him.

Post Note 27 Sep 2010: Karma has truly intervened - while the Pies and Saints were beffudled by an almost unprecedented AFL Grand Final draw, The Frenchman has utterly crushed Action Man at the inaugural Devlins Grand Final Poker Tournament.  The last two players out of a field of 17 canny cardsharks and consummate actors, Action Man went into our heads-up war of wills with a bigger chipstack. I decided to call his raises while holding bananas (a technical poker term for crap cards), and without fail hit top pair each time on the flop.  Obviously, his Ace or picture cards were useless in a raggedy flop.  This slugfest of attrition poker finall wore him down to his last stand, when he deals me 8-8, and goes all in on 10-6.  Needless to say, he didn't pair up with anything on the board, and the rest is history ...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hong Kong barbecue: The Good One, Albany Hwy, East Victoria Park

Why is it that so many Chinese restaurants pick a highly ubiquitous name, which inevitably includes "Gold", "Palace", "Lucky" or "Dragon"?  Fortunately, I have yet to find one called Lucky Dragon Golden Palace.

Every once in a while, you come across one where the owners obviously have a sense of humour.  There's one in Mandurah whose name, loosely translated, means "fat bastard".

Today's restaurant, however, falls into the 3rd category - a purely descriptive name.  The Good One?  Actually, it is quite an apt name.  My mate Norman, who has been around the traps for many moons, reckons that this is one of the best HK BBQ places in Perth.  It's a family-owned restaurant run by a Perth couple who have run these types of restaurants since the 80's (it's a good thing they didn't recognise Norm, who was chased by a cleaver-wielding chef when he tried to evict them from their Northbridge premises a while back).

Like any self-respective HK BBQ establishment, it has various roasted bits of meat hanging in the window, focusing only on the key essentials - 2 kinds of pork, chicken and duck.  And the decor certainly isn't fancy.  But it is cheap.  And good!

The Good One is found on Albany Highway in East Victoria Park, across the road from the Park Centre Shopping Centre, in between Sussex Street and Mint Street.

22 September 2010

I pop in for lunch and the place is busy, with only 3 empty tables - lucky for me.  There's a broad spectrum of people dining at the place.  Mostly office workers, but with a healthy sprinkling of international students as well.  A necessary majority of Asian people to reaffirm the ethnic endorsement of the food quality, although there's also a large table of Americans, most of whom appear to be speaking with a strong Southern drawl.

I order a 2 meat and rice combo (at $9.50, it's great value).  I get the siew yoke (roast pork - did I mention it's my favourite?) and roast duck.  The owner-chef standing at the front in front of his gigantic round chopping block wields his seriously business-like meat cleaver with practised ease, hammering away at pieces of meat and then scooping them up with said implement and depositing them neatly on the plate of rice and a few blanched Chinese greens.

The duck is nice and succellent.  It's got a tasty ducky flavour, but not so gamey as to challenge the palate.  The siew yoke - well, what can I say?  Candy for meat lovers!

My only complaint is the insufficient amount of duck stock in the rice - it's been sparingly drizzled on, but my view is that more - much more - is needed.  Looking on the bright side, I was given a saucer of chilli oil without needing to ask for one - spicy and delicious!

18 September 2010

Ordered half a kilo of char siew (barbecued pork sliced thinly - it's got the distinctive red colour on the edges due to the special basting sauce) and siew yoke (roast pork, chopped up into cross-sections).  All this for $15.

The roast pork is my favourite - delightful morsels of pork belly with a rainbow spectrum of flavours and textures offered up by each piece.  Starting with an eminently crunchy layer of crispy skin, then followed by a layer of fat, soft white meat, more fat, more white meat, then a much firmer final layer of grey meat.

Ahhh ... it's hard to do a bad siew yoke, but the acid test is the crispiness of the skin.

Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps

Yeah I know that this isn't remotely food related, but after having watched a sneak preview of Wall Street 2 earlier tonight, I can't help but write about it!  Don't worry - no spoilers (not really anyway).

It's so secret that everyone had to turn in their mobile phones at the door (which were then individually sealed in brown paper bags) - did you know that handicam piracy in Australia is actually leading the world, because it is often the first country in which a new movie is screened?

I'd been looking forward to this movie for a long time.  The original Wall Street was one of my favourites, although not for the reason most of my fellow Gen Xers liked it.  For me, it was the reminder of the consequences of greed, not that I always heeded it, admittedly. My favourite quote from the movie was Bud Fox asking Gordon Gekko: "how many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough?"

It's ironic that the movie which Oliver Stone made to highlight the consequences and pointlessness of greed in fact spawned a generation of stockbrokers and investment bankers who eagerly spouted Gekko's claim that "greed, for lack of a better word ... is good", conveniently ignoring the fact that he went to the Big House for 8 years as a result.  In the new movie, Gordon gets out of jail, becomes a famous financial markets author, and predicts the GFC.  Is he reformed?  Does a leopard changes its spots?

Perhaps that's why he chose to focus more on the personal relationships in Wall Street 2 rather than the corporate machinations, and deliver up a classic Hollywoodistic happy ending instead of the grim finish of the first instalment.  Therein however, lies the weakness - the movie glosses over the manouevering and the tangible effects of money that made the first movie so compelling.  The new movie fails to give one a good sense of the financial pain brought on by the GFC, as a result of reckless greed.  Jake owes half a million bucks on a margin loan when a big punt goes south, but you would have been forgiven for wondering if that actually happened, since he flits through the rest of the movie in a blissful state.

There's also a great deal of attention to the details.  It's interesting though that early in the movie, Gekko is smoking a Davidoff cigar made in the Dominican Republic, but later on when he's reaping it in, he lights up a Cohiba (although the band seems to be upside down - a Maduro perhaps, or a Behike?)

And like the original, this movie has a few great quotes.  One example is Jacob asking: "What's your number? ... The amount of money you need to walk away from it all and live happily ever after. Everyone has a number, and it's an exact one."

There's also a great cameo appearance, but I won't spoil it for you.  The only hint I will give is that it's a character from the original film, but you'd be wondering whether it's art mimicking reality mimicking art mimicking reality ...

A sequel to a great film always has a hard time meeting expectations.  If you liked the original, this film is a must watch, but I would suggest that you leave your expectations at the door and enjoy this pleasant candy-coated ride down memory lane.

As for me, I will be organising my Wall Street (the original) party shortly.

Additional note: I saw on Bloomberg this morning (22 Sep) that Warren Buffett attended the US red carpet premiere of Wall Street 2.  Go figure.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sous vide: an intro to molecular gastronomy

Yesterday, I decided to try my hand at sous-vide, that method of cooking made famous by the great Michelin chefs like the legendary Paul Bocuse, and also Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck) and Ferran Adria (El Bulli).

Wikipedia describes it thus: "Sous-vide (pronounced /suːˈviːd/), French for "under vacuum",[1] is a method of cooking that is intended to maintain the integrity of ingredients by heating them for an extended period at relatively low temperatures. Food is cooked for a long time, sometimes well over 24 hours. Unlike cooking in a slow cooker, sous-vide cooking uses airtight plastic bags placed in hot water well below boiling point (usually around 60 °C or 140 °F)."  See for more.

Not having precision sous-vide cooking instruments, I went for something more mundane - a fillet steak in a ziploc bag with all the air squeezed out.  I then boiled water in a saucepan, took it off the boil and popped it on the lowest heat setting, so that the water remained hot, but not simmering.  In went the bag of steak, and I left it there for a hour and a half.

When I took it out, I seared all sides of the steak on a very hot frying pan to caramelise the surfaces and kill any germs (read the bit on botox in the Wikipedia entry).

The meat was amazingly tender - my knife cut through it like butter, and it was buttery and juicy in the mouth.  Sadly, there was a bit of a catch - there was an acrid melted plastic tang at the back of my palate.  Not wanting to spend my weekend in hospital, I decided to turf the meat.

Hmmm ... methinks more experimentation is in order.  I guess the water was still too hot, or maybe I need a more robust plastic bag.  I'll get back to you on this.

Jura 10 year old single malt whisky

Ahhh single malt whisky ("whisky" for stuff from Scotland, "whiskey" for the Irish stuff) - the nectar of the gods.  Yes admittedly it's an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, the pleasures are boundless.

The Jura 10 year old single malt is a great way to start enjoying the wonderful world of single malt whiskies.  Jura is a little island off the coast of Scotland, a tiny community of less than 200 Diurachs (the Gaelic word for the locals) where the bank opens once a week, and Jura is the only distillery on that island.

When drunk neat, it's a robust mouthful, but with a splash of water, it transforms into something else altogether.  Unlike its cousins from the more famous island of Islay, there's not a lot of peat present, although it's still there.  Rather, a delicately sweet, nougaty flavour dominates.  That should be reason enough to go out and buy it!  You can get it easily from Vintage Cellars (yes another shameless plug).

Slainte mhath!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yum cha: dim sum at Royal Seafood Chinese, 91 Aberdeen Street, Northbridge WA

It's always great to discover a new yum cha place.  I caught up with my very old friend Roger (no he's  old but not that old, but we've known each other for nearly 20 years) whom I hadn't seen in a while.  In between co-running one of Australia's fastest growing building companies, raising two boys and keeping up with a wife who never seems to age, he's a very busy man, so it was great to get some of his time.

Rog suggested that we try Royal Seafood in Northbridge, which is right next door to European Foods on Aberdeen Street.

The quality of the food is excellent.  When the dumplings are in a thin, translucent casing, proudly displaying the whole prawn, scallop, meat pattie or whatever the filling is, you know you're eating quality (as compared to a thick opaque casing, in which case you know you're going to be eating flavoured dough).

A couple of highlights were (a) the pork and coriander dumplings - boring name, but Tasty* morsel, with lots of flavour, and sporting not just coriander, but other bits like sesame seeds; and (b) the pork spare ribs. These were plumper and sporting more meat and much less bone than most other dim sum places.  The siew long bau was nice, but sadly had split and spilt its precious cargo of juices before I could even liberate them from the bamboo pot liner which refused to relinquish its sticky grip.  What is up with that?  Someone needs to come up with a better liner that doesn't hang on to the dim sum dumplings like velcro to a fuzzy surface.

The price was reasonable for the quality I thought - it aint' the cheapest, but it wasn't overpriced either.  All in all, a great lunch.

*Say it like Samuel L. Jackson did when he ate the soon-to-be-deceased Brett's burger in Pulp Fiction - that was a great scene by the way.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Miss Silvia makes the best cup of coffee yet!

This morning, I had the most amazing gift yet from my beloved Miss Silvia.  10/25 grind, heaped above the lip, very firmly tamped in.  Liquer starts flowing after 5 seconds, turn the water off at 30 seconds.

The quantity of coffee in the cup was somewhere between a ristretto and espresso, and it was the amazing multi-layered flavours that astounded me.

The first sip was a more robust coffee-like flavour.  But each subsequent little sip brought a new flavour, like climbing a spiral staircase up a tower with no walls - the view keeps changing everytime you look.  Next dark chocolate. Then caramel.  Then burnt caramel. Then a slight twist of lemon.  Then a mouthful of citrus.


Duck salad at The Western Australian Club, St George's Terrace, Perth

Wednesday, 15 September 2010:
I had a quick lunch today at my beloved Western Australian Club.  Unlike some other private clubs, it is an egalitarian club (they let me become a member after all) which has strong input from both men and women.  The Club itself is run by a highly competent female General Manager, there are two women on the governing Committee, and the Chairman of its Younger Members' Sub-Committee is a woman.  After all, why would I want to go to a club where there are only old men lounging around the place?  Oh well - to each their own I say.

Anyway, I need half an hour in the quiet haven of my club, away from the madding crowd.  So while I read my favourite comic strip (Alex in the Fin Review - don't laugh - it's really good, and I think very accurately represents its subject matter!), I ordered the confit duck salad for lunch.

What a delicious, light-ish dish!  A nice salad with various salady leaves and a sprinkling of sliced red onion for a bit a spice, and cranberries and pinenuts for additional flavours.  But the highlight was of course the very generous morsels of shredded, juicy, succelent, duck meat cooked for hours in duck fat (no the fat is left behind when the meat is put in the salad, but you should know anyway that duck fat is full of good cholesterol, which actually works to lower your bad cholesterol).

Ahh the simple joys - a juicy duck salad and a laugh over lunch.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kitsch Bar (Thai), 229 Oxford Street, Leederville: good food, great value!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010:
A little touch of Melbourne chic comes to Leederville, in the form of Kitsch bar right next door to the RE Store on Oxford Street.  It's a thai restaurant with a funky modern twist.  I liken it to a mini version of Gingerboy in Melbourne (and that's high praise indeed), albeit more casual and relaxed.

Tuesday night was the Phad Thai and Chang beer night.  The phad thai (always a barometer of the quality of a Thai restaurant) wasn't dry like I expected. There was actually quite a bit of juicy sweet and sour gravy lubricating the rice noodles.  Different but tasty, although there may have been just a bit too much lime - I found myself involuntarily making a lime-sucking face at a couple of points through the meal.  The Chang beer, from Thailand, was an easy to drink, crisp and refreshing lager, and went down well with the phad thai.  Sam ordered the deep fried salmon salad, and that looked really nice.  Whilst deep fried, the salmon didn't seem overcooked.

I'm not a fan of a sweet dessert (I know I keep saying this but appear to always order a sweet dessert, but I'm not a fan - really!), but couldn't help ordering the intriguing tapioca pearls and pandan icecream.  Wow it was nice cornucopia of texture (from the chewy pearls), flavour (I'll elaborate later) and aroma (from the delicately pandan scented ice cream), and beautifully presented to boot!  The flavour was underlaid by palm sugar hiding at the bottom of the glass, but the real sleeper was the unexpected saltiness!  Sweet and salty - a superb yin and yang combination indeed.  Anzhela and Gihan both ordered the choc ice cream sandwich with peanut brittle (Gihan because he wasn't game enough to tackle the texturous tapioca - what is up with that?!), and they reckoned it was the bee's knees.  I'm sticking to my tapioca, which I didn't offer to share with anyone.

The service was attentive, plentiful, enthusiastic and friendly, from a young crew.  Although I got my dessert shot of Patron XO Cafe Espresso tequila (rich coffee flavoured top shelf tequila - sip, not scull!) long after all of us had scoffed down our desserts, I no complain.  We had a great time, even though my dinner company failed to appreciate the delights of St John in London which I tried to describe to them - Brands and Yoko, I hope you guys had a chance to eat there this week (yumm pig ears terrine, crispy deep fried pig tails, sweet boiled heirloom carrots ... even Neil Perry's Rockpool has adopted the last one!)

And the price?  $36 all up for a main, beer, dessert (and including a $12.50 shot of tequila)!  What a bloody bargain.

Check it:

Eureka on the Rancilio!

Yes! I think I've finally worked it out ... 10/25 grind, fill the portafilter until the mound of coffee is just above the lip, then smooth it off and tamp with firm (but not heavy) pressure to pack it in.

Run the water for 30 seconds - liquer starts flowing in 5 seconds.

At the end of it, I have a ristretto sized quantity of coffee that tastes superb!  All of the caramel-citrus flavours that I enjoy in a good cup.

I'd welcome any tips from baristas out there who are reading this post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My new obsession: Miss Silvia Rancilio

I get home from Falls Creek to discover that Miss Silvia has arrived.  She is a thing of natural beauty - sleek, smooth, petit, yet bridling with raw power. Questa perfetto di macchine per caffe.

I am compelled to spend the next two hours experimenting with her ... only giving her bottled spring water, priming her boiler, coaxing the steam out of her wand, twisting her group head firmly into the socket for each shot, trying different grinds ...

180 grams of the last of my precious St Ali single estate Brazilian beans later, I have drunk the equivalent of about 6 cups of coffee, and my head is buzzing, but I may have worked out something I'll be happy with in the morning.  A grind factor of 11 (out of 25) on my Sunbeam Cafe Series EMO480 conical burr grinder seems to deliver a reasonable balance between a delicious coffee liquer and enough liquid to qualify as an espresso.

My first two tries on superfine grind ended in disaster. Got an insipid liquid that looked like Turkish coffee without the flavour.  My next two tries with a 5/25 and 10/25 grind but hard-packed resulted in no water at all!

Then I try 10/25 several times without packing it in (I just let the weight of the tamper do its thing, rather than try to squash it in), and things start to happen.  I get a few precious drops around 15 seconds after I start the water, and turn off the water at the 35-45 second mark.  I only get a small thimbleful of precious, rich, dark, creamy liquid (barely a mouthful - not quite even enough to pass as a ristretto).  It doesn't seem right, but when I taste it, the flavour is sublime - an intensely sweet caramel balanced off with tangy, lemony acidity.  This is almost on par with the flavour that I enjoy from a barista-made coffee from my fav Perth coffee shops Tartine or Tiger Tiger!

12/25 yields an espresso quantity in 35 seconds, but the flavour just isn't there.

I'm going to have to let common sense prevail and stop drinking more coffee - I'll try 11/25 tomorrow morning and see how that tastes - hopefully a goldilocks moment.

It is simply amazing that the same coffee beans yield such a huge range of flavours, depending on the fineness of the grind and how much water you run through the coffee.  My faithful Saeco Magic (who is being retired after 8 years of reliable automatic service), on the same beans, yielded a marginally tasty coffee, but nowhere near the subliminity (is that a real word? If not, it should be!) of the Rancilio's liquid ambrosia.  A thermoblock that artifically creates crema simply cannot compare to the real thing.

If you love your coffee, I would certainly recommend taking your relationship to that next step - give in to your inner barista, and get your very own Miss Silvia.  As George Harrison observed, it's going to take a lot of money (for all those wasted beans) and precious time to work out how to get her to deliver the goods, but it'll be well worth the effort!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Winterhaven Restaurant & Bar, Falls Creek Victoria

There's hardly anybody around!
What does one do after a confidence-crushing day of accidentally skiing down insane black runs (some of them diabolically masquerading as blue runs) to the point of getting cramps in your quads, stacking it John Woo-style with a vertical spin in the air while your right ski is jammed into the ground and refusing to release the boot until after your knee has popped, and doing a face plant at speed because your skis plough into a snowbank and stop dead, while inertia keeps you flying ahead?

Well, having dinner at the Winterhaven, which is a short stroll up Falls Creek Road (at the corner of Christie Street), will certainly ease both the physical and mental anguish.  At least it did for me.

This is a restaurant with a cosy alpine decor you would expect to see in the Italian alps, excellent service, and top shelf food.

My entree was a wasabi pea crusted calamari with lime mayo, delightfully presented in a paper cone. The coating of the calamari was a warm dark brown, and nice and crunchy, although I didn't really notice any wasabi flavour.  Deep fried calamari is one of the world's great comfort foods - and much lower in calorific value (and it doesn't weigh down your tummy) than other traditional comfort foods at that.
My main was pork belly cooked in master stock with sticky rice.  A brave dish, given that most restaurants feel compelled serve up pork belly with crispy skin of some sort.  The skin here was the piece de resistance. A slight resistance when you bite down gives way to a soft, chewy-gummy textural first layer, which is nicely set off by the flesh below that is firm enough to stay on the fork, but tender enough to fall apart as you chew on it.  This must be a cut of lean pork, because there wasn't much to be seen of the layer of fat between the skin and the flesh.  Normally, I'd be disappointed to miss out on the juicy, soft nougat texture of good firm fat, but in this case, the flavours and textures were so good I didn't even notice!

Look at that layer of fat: almost none!

The service was good too.  Despite the fact that there only appeared to be 2 waitstaff serving 7 groups (around 30+ covers in total), and a bit of a wait at the front desk to be shown to a table, our waiter was chatty and attentive and there was never a moment where you felt ignored or over-serviced, not even when we wanted to get the bill!

And in case you were wondering about the skiing ... it was a perfect balance between a quiet patch in the season and reasonable conditions. No queues at all!!!  There hadn't been any new snowfall for several days, and the spring sun had created crystalline snow, but there were plenty of runs sporting vigin snow, untouched by anybody else's skis. Or face, for that matter.  Boy am I glad I wore my ESS Tactical XT military ballistic goggles - the extra protection came in handy during my spectacular faceplant halfway down the South Face run (near the Ruined Castle chairlift).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chilling with Curtis Stone

One of the privileges of my job is that I get to experience some really special things.  One of these things is to watch Curtis Stone carry on with Raymond Capaldi (George Calombaris's mentor).  Another is to eat a meal cooked by Curtis Stone.  Well, at least, it was a team of chefs at the Peninsula (self described as "Melbourne's most glamorous and avant-garde waterfront event space") supervised by Curtis, with Capaldi apparently also in the kitchen.  The great thing about Curtis is that he's just your everyday gregarious bloke who wants to share the joy of food and cooking with the world.  And to show Australians how to feed your family for under $10.  What's more, this guy's even been on Oprah!!
This guy is a giant!!

I'm not a big fan of a sweet dessert, but I must say that the Curtis Rhubarb and Custard in a light crispy pastry has got me liking rhubarb (when it never even registered in my consciousness before!).  It's described on the menu as a "fuilletage of burnt orange custard, poached rhubarb, almond crumble, mascapone".  But to me, it was really just a sweet veg on a bed of TASTY (expressed a la Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction) custard in a light pastry box.

This is an amazing little veggie that only needs to be poached to be ready to eat as part of your dessert, and the custard provides a nice complementary flavour.  And as for the custard - well, You'll Love Coles custard is a nice and easy way to get it sorted (yes shameless plug I know).

Copyright Melvin Yeo 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Beaufort Street Steakhouse (corner Brisbane St), Perth

5 September 2010

I enjoyed a Father's Day dinner at the Beaufort Street Steakhouse earlier tonight.

Friendly and amiable service. The staff were young backpackers but had a fantastic, positive attitude, and I never had a problem getting staff attention - not even the bill!!

The steak was good - I had the 220gm tenderloin from Cape Grim, Tasmania, where only the top 4 MSA grades (out of 18) are ever allowed, and purebred European cattle enjoy the purest air in Australia. I ordered mine cooked medium rare of course, and it came cooked just right.  I am pleased to observe that many restaurants nowadays don't stuff this up (years ago, most restaurants would either overcook or undercook, but never give you the Goldilocks treatment - just right).

Sadly, the chips looked promising but were soggy with oil.  Not that I don't like oil, but I expect a good chip to be crispy.  Then again, there are probably oily-soggy-chip aficionados out there who would be outraged by my views.

The bearnaise was good - nice and light as it should be.  There were even special condiments available - $1.50 each or $4 for a selection of 4; all "homemade" on premise.  The caraway sauce was a standout - piquant and flavoursome.

And the price?  $50 a head.  A fantastic bargain, considering that most of us had dessert as well.  I have to admit though that I was the only one who had a glass of red, but it was tasty.

Copyright Melvin Yeo 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The 2010 Great Shiraz Tasting at Peel Estate - 2004 Vintage

It's 11.45pm and my mouth is still feeling the tannic grip of so many great and powerful shirazes, many of them still in their infancy with another 10-15 years (at least) of bottle ageing to come.  I should be at DJ Dow's 10th wedding anniversary partay but I just can't handle any more alcohol.  As it is, I'm just getting over the seedy feeling that one gets when one starts drinking at 11am and doesn't stop until 5pm.

It's my second year at Peel, and I'm more relaxed and able to soak in the atmosphere now that I know the format for the day.

One of the great things about Perth is that you always bump into people you know.  I had a good chat to Michael Hollingdale, who was very nice to me when I was a nobody law student/articled clerk back in the day, but to whom I hadn't spoken to in a long time.  He epitomises how I think an accomplished, well-respected lawyer should behave - dignified, courteous, well-spoken and with a great love of wine.  I have hope yet, since I've managed to achieve one of those attributes so far.

There were of course the usual suspects - my good friend Lynton Barber among them: purveyor of the fine and wonderful, aged and ancient, weird and quirky.  Wines, that is.  I really don't want to share this link, because it'll mean more competition for the good stuff, but check out his website:  Sterling is the secret to many of the gems in my wine cellar (E&E, Fox Creek and Isole e Olena from the 1990s among them).

David Jones, owner/winemaker at Dalwhinnie (his two Moonambel reds are among my favourites - and so fantastically well-priced to boot!), was the guest of honour this year.  I had the pleasure of chatting to him about some of the wines we were tasting.  David reckoned 2004 was a "true vintage", where the characteristics from each vineyard can be allowed to express themselves.  Lynton, of course, couldn't help having a name-play jest at David's expense.  The department store stuff I can't reproduce here, and yes, they make great whisky too (NOT).

The start of the day
The Great Shiraz Tasting is an annual event that has been ongoing since 1992, and is a labour of love by WA wine industry stalwarts Bill Nairn, Nevile Phillips, Michael Tamburri, et al.  It has seen wine doyens like John Glaetzer, Stephen Henschke, James Halliday, Peter Lehmann and Kevin Mitchell (ahh how I love Kilikanoon) as guests of honour over the years.  According to Nevile this morning, it all came about when he and Bill attended a cabernet tasting at Cape Mentelle, and they had a brainwave - what if Peel Estate hosted an annual shiraz tasting?  It was comforting to see these guys get up and take the piss out of each other - just a bunch of mates having a great time.

Here's how it works - the organisers spend lots of time tasting shiraz from all over Australia, and the best from the old world, and pick the 17 best shirazes.  These join the 3 compulsory shirazes - Peel Estate, Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace.

The first flight
3rd row from the bottom (left to right):

  • Pemberley

  • Chateau D'Ampuis

  • Hill of Grace

  • Octavius

  • Grange

On the day itself, around a 100 attendees work their way through a blind tasting of these 20 wines in 4 flights of 5 wines at a time.  The fun comes from ranking and scoring these wines, and trying to work out what they are.

As you can imagine, there is great bonhomme and camaraderie, especially as the day goes on, fuelled by the excessive consumption of palate wrenching tannic monsters, and the fun of being fully comfortable with displaying your purple lips and teeth, because everyone else has them too!

At $245 a ticket, it's not cheap, but it is amazing value for money given the wines you get to drink, and the great lunch that accompanies.

My top 3 picks at 19 points each were:

  1. Penfolds RWT, Barossa Valley
  2. Yalumba Octavius, Barossa Valley
  3. Penfolds Grange, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Magill

The very close next tier at 18.5 points each were:

  • Rockford Basket Press, Barossa Valley
  • Henschke Hill of Grace, Eden Valley
  • Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz, Pyrenees
  • Wolf Blass Platinum Label, Barossa Valley & Eden Valley (the 2003 vintage was my stand-out favourite last year)
  • Guigal Chateau D'Ampuis, Cote Rotie
  • Pemberley, Mt Barker
While I picked the flight which had the Hill of Grace and Grange, I couldn't work out which was which. I am, however, very pleased with myself for having picked the Rockford Basket Press (one of my all time favourite reds) just by its nose - Jacqs I bet Fred would be impressed!
The aftermath

The other 11 wines were:

  • Clyde Park, Geelong
  • Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge, Frankland Valley
  • Majella, Coonawarra
  • Hewitson Mad Hatter, McLaren Vale
  • Moppa Wilton Maczos. Barossa Valley
  • Peel Estate, Peel
  • Isole e Olena, Toscana
  • Evans & Tate Reserve, Margaret River
  • Seppelt Mount Ida, Heathcote
  • Peter Lehmann Stonewell, Barossa Valley
  • Auguste Clape, Cornas

The thing to remember is that all of the shirazes are top shelf stuff, but even with the same grape variety, it sometimes feels like trying to compare apples and oranges.

For example, the $150 a bottle Chateau D'Ampuis, its paler red, savoury biscuity aroma and restrained plummy savoury attack, morphing into loads of restrained pepper, fine tight tannins and soft, full mouthfeel, and a seriously long lingering, big tannic savoury finish; is a completely different, albeit still exemplary, beast from the $600 tannic monster that is the Grange, with its blackcurrant leaf nose, very dark, dense colour, with a dark choc (think Lindt 99%) and blackcurrant, shock and awe tannic attack, continuing into a MASSIVELY tannic, leafy, powdery dark choc and plum flavour, and finishing with a lingering tightness of leaf and plum that kept going for the next 15-20 minutes while I chatted to Lynton and David Jones outside.

And then you have the amazingly priced $60 Dalwhinnie, with its deliciously milky vanilla nose, restrained savoury plum attack that leaves you unprepared for the big tannic charge which brings with it a complex, multi-faceted mid-palate of plummy vanilla, powdery dark choc & cherry, and a balancing crisp acidity, finishing with a tight tannic finish of vanilla cherry, that promises many more years of cellaring joy to come (David picked his own wine blind, which is always a reassuring thing for a winemaker to do).

It's all good!!

Lunch was served in a marquee in the paddock a short stroll from the tasting barn.  Once again, we were treated to the culinary skills of Andrew Peaston, from Chanterelle at Jessica's (Grand Hyatt complex in Perth).  This big Scotsman was obviously a devotee of the purple, because he would tell all and sundry about Fremantle's 11 goals to 4 lead against the Hawks (it was towards the end of 3 quarter time).

Simple is best - the highlight was the massive slab of roast beef, where very generous slices were carved off for hungry winos.  Perfectly cooked, showing juicy pink on the inside but caramelised crusty (almost crunchy) goodness on the outside!  I don't normally eat dessert, but I had to go for the bread and butter pudding and apple crumble - each a delightful of juxtaposition of crunchiness and creaminess, and not overly sweet (too many people - Peaston isn't one of them - go overboard on the sugar, thinking it makes their dessert taste better - in my view, it makes the whole dish sickening to eat).  Man I have been eating a lot of crumbly stuff lately!

Discarded carcasses ..
Of course, all of the remaining wine also gets divvied up amongst the tables - we had a Grange, RWT and Isole e Olena amongst our stash.

Here's a tip for the unaware - make sure you head back to the tasting area by 3pm to savour the remainder of your wines with the knowledge of what they are.  I am ashamed to say that despite my vow not to use the spittoons, I found myself first needing to spit out the water used to cleanse my palate, and subsequently (at around 4.30pm) I couldn't down another glass of wine!  Fortunately, I'd already quaffed all my favourite ones by then.

The afterglow of the day's excitement continues to follow me around.  And despite the initial seediness, I don't feel hungover at all!  Must be the Munro Multi-Faceted Hangover Prevention Method doing its thing - more on that another day.

Copyright Melvin Yeo 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The day has come!!

I awake bright and early (well, by my standards anyway), like a kid on Christmas morning.  Despite feeling a bit seedy from the day and night of victuals yesterday.

Today is the day ... The Peel Estate Great Shiraz Tasting!

Today, I join my fellow Araluen Botanic Park Foundation Councillor Ian and his friends and family, and embark on the annual pilgrimage to Peel Estate Winery.

Today, we blind-taste the 2004 vintage of 20 of the greatest wines from Australia and around the world.  I would expect Hill of Grace, Grange and RWT to be in the list.  But what other delights might be awaiting me?

I have a hearty breakfast of my own design - minced Linley Valley free range pork cooked simply in a pot on the stove with sauteed garlic (to boost the immune system against the ravages I am subjecting my body to this weekend), diced habaneros (to kick start my metabolism), chia seeds (for an antioxidant boost), diced tomatoes (for more antioxidant and vitamin goodness), aged balsamic (for flavour) and dollops of truffle butter and generous shavings of parmigiana reggiano (being a necessary part of my high-fat breakfast diet - tests in lab rats at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have shown that eating fat for breakfast primes the body to more effectively metabolise both fats and carbohydrates during the day - hey I am born in the Year of the Rat after all!  Think I'm making this up to justify my penchant for fatty foods? Well here's the proof:

I will report on my experiences when I get home tonight.

Copyright Melvin Yeo 2010

Suckling pig at Villa D'Este, West Perth

Ahh Villa D'Este - an old Perth favourite, although many people mistake it for French and drop off the "e" at the end when pronouncing it.  Unsurprisingly, it was packed this Friday night, and unsurprisingly, Geezer was there at another table with his lovely wife Claire, entertaining his brother David and sister-in-law Helen.

We came here to enjoy a celebratory dinner for Benji's birthday.  After labouring over my account of the long lunch at Balthazar (and the fact that I have drunk more wine than would be advisable within the course of a day, I'll stick to the highlights).

2006 Cullen Diana Madeleine - thinner than I expected, but loads of tannins - needed some time to breathe before it started to show plummy fruit flavours.

I ordered the Lumache (snails) as an entree - what else? Who can go past the snails?!  Always delicious, swimming in the garlic juices on the plate.  To avoid a Julia Roberts/Pretty Woman incident, maintain some tension on the snail tongs so that the full pressure doesn't force the slippery shell to pop right out over to the neighbouring table.  Another tip - keep some bread so that you can mop up the delicious garlicky juices that are left behind!

I was in for a treat tonight - there was suckling pig on the rotisserie.  Or was, since I ordered the last portion available.  A beautiful confection of thick crispy skin, soft nougaty fat and tender flesh.  Ahhhhh.  Are you salivating yet?

 Crostata dolce for dessert - a slice of apple crumbly type thing - the highlight was the crumble crust (or whatever you're supposed to call it).  A nice strong crunch!

Copyright Melvin Yeo 2010

Long lunch at Balthazar, The Esplanade, Perth

I took a day off today for the annual Balthazar long lunch with a few of my mates - Gumi, Vaughanie, Len and Rob.

Vaughanie, with his usual impeccable good taste, kicks things off with a 2008 Pierro Chardonnay - the latest vintage, I believe.  Truly a world class wine - more akin to a good Chablis than the flabby, oily offerings that we too often find in Australia.  A clean, crisp attack,with onlythe slightest (but unmistakable) hint that this is a chardonnay - vanilla on the tongue and a (not overly) creamy texture. But as the flavours develop, there are also hints of fruity white wine flavours (I'm not going to bother to try to compare them to actual fruits, as I was enjoying the wine too much to care), all of it nicely balanced off by a backbone of good, crisp acidity.  It was so good we polished off 2 bottles.

We had the chardonnay with appetisers of two dozen oysters au naturel from Cowell, South Australia, each served with a dollop of stuff that looked like salmon roe, but didn't taste or pop like them. Instead, they felt more like sweet, chewy gelatin-based faux roe.  Must have gone through some curing process.

For my entree, I had the steak tartare, obligatory quail's egg on top of the patty in the middle of the plate, with around 8 condiments tastefully arranged like wheel spokes around the plate - not a lot of each, but just enough for flavouring, which is as it should be.  Rob ordered his without the egg.  That's just minced meat, I said.

Vaughanie then, no doubt inspired by his recent trip to Lake Como, ordered the 2005 La Serre Nuove dell'Ornellaia - 2nd label of that famous super Tuscan winery Tenuta dell'Ornellaia from Bolgheri, by the central Tuscan coast.  It was a flavoursome affair, with that trademark Italian deep earthy rich flavour set-off against balanced tannic tightness.

The Ornellaia washed down my baby goat, which was served with a condiment of something very tasty - I'm sure there was parsley and pinenuts in it, but as I was already on my 5th glass of wine, with a glass of pedro ximenez queued up behind it, I didn't care too much about the details.  Suffice to say that it was delicious - a nice amount of chewy texture, but not so much as to make eating laborious.

I saved some Ornellaia to go with the cheese platter - Len chose the manchego (hard sheep milk with a mild flavour), I picked the St Agur (nice semi-firm blue), and Vaughanie picked something with a complicated name that I can't remember (details are starting to get fuzzy for obvious reasons), but it was a white, semi-firm cheese with a dark purply crumbly crust.  I love the flavours that mixing good cheese and good red wine will bring out - somehow it enhances the sweetness, even though you wouldn't think of cheese as sweet!

I finished the cheese with the Alvear 1927 Pedro Ximenez. It's not pure 1927 vintage, but has been made via a solera process that started back in 1927 - I'm sure that there are decent traces of 80 year old pedro in the 2 bottles we quaffed.  I've always enjoyed pedro ximenez (pronounced "zimenez") more than port - it's sweet without being too heavy or cloying - raisins and fruitcake flavours. Check out that font of collective knowledge, Wikipedia, for more info on how the solera process works:

Gumi and Rob each ordered a Japanese inspired assiette. Gumi was sad that Balthazar had discontinued their superbly rich and tooth-rotting chocolate assiette, but I personally think that a less sweet dessert is a better end to a good meal (or maybe it's just because I'm getting old and have lost my sweet tooth).  A bit of molecular gastronomy made an appearance on their dessert plates - pink foam abounded!  i wonder if it was extruded through a can of N2O. Sadly, we weren't in a position to fully appreciate the delicate flavours by that stage.

The service, as always, was excellent - unobtrusive but ever-present, knowledgeable, amiable and at times cheeky - quintessential Balthazar!

Copyright Melvin Yeo 2010