Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mamasita, Melbourne

Right - as promised, I made sure to pop into Mamasita on my day-trip to Melbourne, straight after leaving Finucane & Smith's whimsical, mystical Carnival of Mysteries (quite possibly the best show of the 2010 Melbourne Arts Festival), and just before heading off to the airport to catch the last flight back to Perth.

I make my way under the dribbling Melburnian rain, to the unobtrusive entrance on Collins Street (near the corner of Spring Street), and walk up the narrow flight of stairs, finally emerging into a beautifully appointed bar/restaurant area.

At 7.45pm, the place was already full: mainly race-goers who had enjoyed a cold and wet Derby Day, but still sporting intact fascinators (why do that call them "fascinators"?!).  Fortunately there was no line (yet).

I tell the manager that I'm just after a drink, and he obligingly ushers me to the bar.  I find myself a spot to lean my elbow upon, and study the drinks menu.  The tequila list is certainly impressive - from your run of the mill $8 shots to a triple distilled $80 a shot monster!  I opt for something middle of the road, and order the $25 Don Julio 1942.  The barman nods his approval, and pours it for me in an interesting glass - akin to a brandy balloon, but half the size and considerably narrower.

This is really good tequila.  I take a long sniff of the meaty agave aroma, followed by a modest sip, and let the liquid swirl around in my mouth to take in the subtle, complex flavours.  A far cry indeed to the comatosis-inducing stuff I used to have to scull in my slightly misspent youth.

In between sips, I enjoy the fast-paced modern Mexican hip hop playing on the sound system. Taking Dario's advice, I try to imagine myself holding up the bar in a dusty Mexican cantina, while a moustachioed bartender behind the counter wipes a glass with a dirty rag and eyeballs me with a suspicious sidelong stare.  Sadly, the first thing that comes to mind is Cheech Marin in Desperado, and that small voice in my mind screams: "don't go to the toilet!!".  Quentin Tarantino - you and your mate Robert Rodriguez have a lot to answer for.

Sadly, one can only nurse 30mls of tequila for so long, and  I don't have time for a burrito.  As I head down the stairwell half an hour after I arrive, I note that the queue that has since formed covers two-thirds of the staircase.  Like all popular Melbourne places, you need to turn up early to avoid a half-hour wait, or at least to ensure that you enjoy the wait at the bar getting drunk, rather than staring soberly at someone else's bum in the stairwell.

Hopefully, I'll get a chance to sample the cuisine the next time I come here.  And there will be a next time!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Coffee review: Nicaragua v Ethiopia!

Alright, I've decided to bite the bullet and do a comparison this morning, between the two single estate coffees I purchased from St Ali:

  1. Ethiopian Yirgacheffe roasted on 7 Oct 2010 (20 days ago)
  2. Nicaraguan La Bendicion Lot 13 Cup of Excellence roasted on 14 Oct 2010 (13 days ago)
WTF is "Cup of Excellence" I hear you ask?  Well, it's an international coffee program (or competition, if you like) that selects the best coffees in each participating country, with a score of at least 84 points out of 100.  This year, 27 Nicaraguan growers received this award, with 8 of them scoring more than 90 points.  La Bendicion is the name of the farm, Misael Saucedo Olivera is the farmer, and Lot 13 means that it came 13th in the field (wth 87.19 points).  Kind of like a wine show, I guess.  La Bendicion is found in Las Manos, Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua.

As for Yirgacheffe - check out my Tartine post for more info.

I faithfully followed the instructions of St Ali barista Aaron - 14g double shot filter basket, pull 40ml for each cup.  Here's what it looks like.
Left: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.         Right: Nicaraguan La Bendicion

You'd think that coffee is all the same, but as you can see, the beans are very different - the Nicaraguan beans are much larger.

In fact, I keep having trouble with overpacking of the filter when I use the smaller Ethiopian beans, which means much less (or no) water flows.  It takes me 2 tries to get it right this morning.

Well, despite the super strong coffee, I can certainly pick a difference in flavour as well, although you'd probably be hard-pressed to pick it if you were drinking just one of these babies in isolation.

Both coffees exhibited that familiar lemony citrus overtone that I love so much in my coffee, backed up by the traditional coffee flavour (hmmm how else do you describe a coffee taste? coffee-like?).  But taking alternate sips show that the Ethiopian is decidedly milder in flavour across the board - the La Bendicion just jumps out into your face like an Ollie North-armed Contra rebel at a US Senate Committee hearing.  One might put it down to the fact that the Yirgacheffe was roasted nearly 3 weeks ago and is starting to decline in the flavour stakes, but the good folk at both St Ali and Tartine have said that the Yirgacheffe is certainly milder.

Interestingly, the guys at St Ali believe that beans are at their best when used within 10 days of roasting, while the guys at Tartine believe that beans peak in flavour at around 2 weeks after roasting.  Since coffee making is an art, not a science (any molecular baristas out there?!), I guess they're both right in their own way.

However, a double espresso of anything is still a damn strong coffee, and as I've had two double-espressos this morning, I expect to be bouncing off the walls very shortly.  In fact, my hand is starting to shake ...

Post-note: Ah yes I forgot the verdict (I blame my caffeine-swamped brain at the time) - go the Yirgacheffe if you prefer a milder, yet still full, flavour.  Go the La Bendicion if you want a big juicy citrus coffee experience.  No losers here - everyone's a winner!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Boucla, Rokeby Road, Subiaco

It's not often that I get overly excited about discovering a new place.  Well, after having dinner at Boucla tonight, I have to tell you about it!  What a little gem indeed.

This is a very funky little restaurant at the top end of Rokeby Road (between Nicholson & Hamersley Streets), far removed from the busy end.  The cuisine seems to be dominated by a mix of Turkish, Greek & Middle Eastern, with dolmades, turkish bread with tsatsiki, tagine cuisine and baklava on offer.  There's even a Sicilian apple cake.  This is a very chilled out venue, with lots of character; the lights dimmed way down, candles on the solid wooden tables, and an impressive array of fresh flowers on display.  Our table has a huge vase full of roses in bloom.  There's even a shisha sitting on the antique sideboard.

The venue was picked by my friend Claire, who's moving back to Melbourne after a stint at an infrastructure group which is restructuring to address the indigestion caused by too much cheap and easy debt in the years leading up to the GFC.  Joining us was her man Mike, the barrister who's come over to join her on their drive back to Melbourne "across the Nullabor" (umm guys ... if you're going along the Southern coastline via Esperance and South Australia, you're kinda going to miss the Nullabor, I think ,,,), and Suze, whom the offshore petroleum mining companies love to hear from.

Well, there's no risk of indigestion at Boucla, I'm glad to say!

We opt for the tapas/grazing approach, and get a whole bunch of dishes to pick at, ranging from the beef tagine, served on a bed of rice, to chickpea fritters, and even sardines with toast and cherry tomatoes. For dessert, we get the waiter to pull together a range of sweet delicacies, which included the aforementioned Sicilian apple cake, and also a monster homemade baklava, a custardy cake, a chocolatey cake with crunchy crust and two kinds of turkish delight.  I don't normally eat dessert, but this was way too good to pass up.

All the while, in between enjoying the great conversation and camaderie, we get to enjoy the highly electic but compelling music - a banghra version of la vie en rose, and then Bob Dylan.  But then Buena Vista Social Club's iconic and haunting Chan Chan comes on, and they change the song?!! Sacre bleu!

And not to forget the people watching.  I have never seen such a congregation of weird and wonderful examples of the hipster crowd in the one place, other than a Melburnian back alley bar.  Sitting outside with his two friends is this guy with hair carefully tousled to achieve the studied wild windblown look, wearing a baggy white thick-knit sweater.  In the other corner sit a couple of heavily muscled guys sharing the one girl, each of them trying to sit casually while surreptitiously positioning their arms to display their guns.  There's a guy paying the bill at the front counter, wearing what I can only describe as a faux fabric fitted jacket designed to look like shiny PVC material.

The service is friendly and excellent, and we are never waiting or trying to get someone's attention, and the waitstaff are relaxed and look like they're having fun.

The damage? $35 a person, and we all left leaving full.  Oh, did I forget to mention that this place is also BYO?  Now you know why I'm excited!

Tip #1: Boucla doesn't take bookings, so you'll want to get there early to make sure you get a table, unless you're happy to loiter around outside with the local hipsters while you wait for a table to become available.

Tip #2: Apparently, Boucla only opens for dinner on Thursday nights.  But you can still enjoy its great coffees, breakfast menu, and cake selection, during the day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mamasita, Melbourne

The sign is intruiging:

¿Un tacos? 

¿Un tequila?

Sadly, it's closed on Sundays, as I discovered to my chagrin last weekend.
I'm told that it does the best Mexican in Melbourne, and stays open till late to boot. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to check this place out the next time I'm in town.

Cumulus Inc, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

One of the hippest wine bars in town is Cumulus Inc. (open on Sundays to boot!), where I have a great time catching up with my best chick mate Jacqui.  Might as well enjoy a good feed and drink while we ruminate on the philosophies of life.

Close-up of the crab
The best way to enjoy Cumulus is not to treat it like a restaurant. Sit at the bar, and order a handful of grazing plates, and select your drinks one at a time. I start with a couple of exotic beers, then move onto a glass of SC Pannell Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo (an offering by Stephen Pannell, son of Moss Wood founder Dr Bill Pannell). Yes I know I'm mixing, but mixing grape and grain is one of life's little luxuries, to be enjoyed especially when one is on holiday, with no car to drive!  I'd love to give you more detail on how the Nebbiolo tasted, and tell you exactly which beers I drank (one was Italian, and the other Victorian), but seeing as I'd mixed the grape with the grain, all I can tell you is each was a tasty beverage!

We enjoy a great range of tasty little treats, like deep fried soft shell crab with a chilli mayo dip and a wedge of lime (interesting how everyone has a slightly different take on this poor moulted crustacean, but in this case the chilli dip was the star - spicy but not hot enough to burn the lining off your tongue), slow cooked octopus with aioli & dehydrated (what?! how?!) olive oil, and even a Jean Faup Vache et Chevre ( a semi-hard cheese made from a both cow & goat milk, from France - merde oui!).  The cheese was a delightful discovery - piquant and subtly, but not nose-burningly pungent (not that there's anything wrong with that).

The European, Spring Street, Melbourne

For lunch, I head off to that bastion of Melbourne eating, The European.

The menu is eclectically continental. I opt for a Spanish theme; something from the breakfast menu, huevos madrilenes, a delightful mixture of black pudding and chorizo in a little earthenware thingee, topped off with a couple of eggs and popped into the oven, the lightly sprinkled with the crumbs of some cheesy bready thing and served with a slice of thick toasted bread. And on the side, pickled eel croquetas, which despite your uncontrollable cringe (yes I saw that - don't deny it!!) is absolutely delightful, served with a slice of lemon edged in chilling powder.

Just one thing about black puddings - there was a time when I used to eat a delicious serve of black pudding with a fried egg on a slice of toasted bread, and got stick for that. Well, it is good to see that black pudding has been the breakfast of champions for many centuries...

To wash it down, I've ordered a half bottle of 2008 Roland Tissier et Fils Sancerre, which is sauvignon blanc. I'm really developing a thing for French wines.  It's got a nice delicate floral nose, and when you drink it, you get a soft, fruity flavour which crescendos into citrusy lemon, ultimately ending in a crisp, clean, and almost fizzy (!) finish.

The service is great - it is friendly, and you never have trouble getting anyone's attention (well, the place is quite small after all, and the waitstaff have to walk past you whether they like it or not), and you're never left waiting for anything.  Order a wine - you get it.  Order a dish - you get it.  Ask for the bill - you get it too (read my other entries for my gripes about restaurants who fail to give you the bill when you just want to go home).  And the waitstaff are even happy to engage in some light banter, be it about the weird and wonderful offerings of the Melbourne Art Festival, or the fact that you're settling into a long lunch on your own.

St Ali Coffee Roasters, Yarra Place, South Melbourne: the best coffee in Melbourne!

After the South Melbourne Markets, I decide that it's time for my morning coffee. Yes it may be 11.30am in Melbourne, but it's 8.30am in Perth, which is just about right!!

Located just 5 minutes walk down York Street from the South Melbourne Markets, and conveniently located next to the 112 tram stop on Clarendon Street, this is a true artisanal coffee temple, where the beans are roasted on the premises. Everytime I come to Melbourne, I make it a point to come here for coffee at least once, and of course to stock up on sublimely good, freshly roasted, single estate coffee beans from exotic locales from around the globe. Yarra Place is a tiny little nondescript laneway in a neighbourhood of offices and warehouses, and the street front of St Ali itself is most unassuming. The first clue that you've stumbled on something special is the throng of people spilling out of the place, many of them waiting for a table in this little establishment. And of course, the beguiling aroma of freshly ground and brewed coffee.  Or maybe they simply enjoy loitering in a laneway.

This place not only makes unbelievably flavoursome coffees, there's also a bustling kitchen which churns out delicious fare.

I grab myself 3x 250g bags. Firstly, the St Ali Espresso blend, freshly roasted 3 days ago. Next, the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, roasted a week earlier (I wanted to see how it compared to the Yirgacheffe-2 variant offered by Tartine), and certainly not least nor last, the Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence Lot 13 La Bendicion. The latter, at $27 a bag, is even more expensive than my $25 bag of monkey-picked coffee beans! But the friendly but no-nonsense boss lady with the curly dark hair thought it was the duck's proverbials, so I certainly had to try it for myself!!

I even got a special bonus. After asking Boss-Lady for her recommendation on load sizes for Miss Silvia, she called over Aaron the barista to provide some advice. Aaron kindly provided not one, but three valuable coffee tips for the aspiring home barista.

Coffee Tip #1: Aaron opined that a double-shot filter basket is the way to go. The problem with the single espresso basket, he explained, is deep in the middle but gets too shallow towards the edge, and this results in an uneven distribution of water. The double-espresso basket, on the other hand, is of even depth all across.

Coffee Tip #2: run 40 mls through the coffee, to extract the best flavor.

Coffee Tip #3: tamping is merely to create a seal between the coffee grounds and the inside edge of the filter basket, and it's unnecessary to use too much pressure.

What a bonus! Boss-lady was even impressed that I had Miss Silvia!

I'll tell you how I'm enjoying my coffees shortly.

Sunday in Melbourne: South Melbourne Markets

Sunday in Melbourne is a truly relaxed and sensory experience.

I hop on the 96 tram to my first stop, the South Melbourne Markets. I have my favourite things there - Pickndeli is in the food hall section. Great selection of things like gourmet biscotti (cranberry, or chocolate orange & hazelnut), macaroons, etc. Except today I can't resist getting a couple of slices of imported jamon and a Portuguese egg tart. I find myself a place to sit and scoff them to sate my hunger. The egg tart, having been sitting there for a few hours, has pastry that is no longer flaky and crispy. But it is still delicious nonetheless, least of all due to the fact that I hadn't eaten this morning!

I then find Mama Tran's store, which offers delightful handmade morsels of dim sum. You can buy them in trays to take away for steaming at home, or they can steam them on the spot for you. I get a serve of 4 siew mai (pork dumplings), and it is delightful. Right next door is an Eastern European small goods shop. I get some smoked polish hunter sausages and gypsy speck. Ahhh the diversity!

Next stop - St Ali's for the best coffee in Melbourne!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bar One, Milligan Street, Perth - An unexpected pleasure!

Who would have thought that a CBD watering hole in the West end of Perth city would lead a double life as a good restaurant? Well, that is certainly the case with Bar One when it's not catering to the throng of thirsty suits on Friday nights.

I caught up with my friend and mentor, Dario, for a long overdue lunch, and Dario, who is a believer in Steve Scaffidi's prowess as a restaurateur, suggested we check it out.

I was most impressed. Excellent service from the moment I walked in. Despite the fact that the place was busy, we were well attended to, not just at the start when hearing about the specials, but also when we wanted to order the wine, and subsequently our meals. There was even the one guy assigned to our table, which is what you would normally associate with a well run restaurant.

The style was bistro, but the food was modern continental. One would normally expect a wooden board full of sliced cured meats when you order the antipasto platter. But this was a tasting plate of 5 morsels. I ordered the duck (always a good test of e basic skills of the chef) and Dario got the lamb braised in red wine. The duck was excellent - succulent, soft yielding flesh that easily teased away from the bone, which suggests a couple hours of rendering in e oven. Love it. Dario's serve was not for the faint of appetite. A hugely generous serving that was served paso buck style, with bone and marrow to boot!

We had a delicious sangiovese from Southern Italy. Dario said something profound - when he drinks a good wine, it takes him away to the location. Smell the earth taste the air. Listen to the people, as if you were standing there.

It was well worth the walk, not just for the food, but more importantly for the impartation of wisdom!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gentlemen's Poker Club: Week 5 Round-up

[The following is reproduced from Action Man's post-game update]
End of week five, and the leader board has been shaken up !!

Still miles out front is Charles on 9 points, but some hot and heavy action from Bruno saw him muscle his way to a victory and a deserved 5 points. His K,10 smashed out Rents A,9… and then on final table his K,J smashed out Actions A,10.  In fact Bruno you were coming from behind more often than that time I saw you at Connections in those leather pants of yours …

Melvo the magnificent stormed back into contention with 4 points to leap frog from the bottom of the leader board to 9th spot (just behind me Melvo …..) SD took three points and Geeza chipped in for a useful 2 to take him to 4th on the ladder.  Some new dude called John took the last point.

Will the Cottesloe crew return?  Will the Murphy brothers find some form?  Will the old hands…  Diesel, Supercoach start to fire?  Can you really believe that its not butter?  All these questions will be answered on Wednesday night !!

Action Man

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Lapin à la moutarde (rabbit with mustard sauce)

This is classic Burgundian farmhouse cuisine, kindly shared by Leigh Ann, a Frenchwoman whom my best mate Brandon met during his circumnavigation of the bohemian party circuit in Prague almost 2 years ago.  Leigh Ann found the recipe at this website:, although I have, through trial and error, come up with my own little variations on the recipe (as described below).

Despite the daunting look of the recipe, don't fret. It's actually very easy to cook!  The hardest work is right at the beginning when you need to quarter the rabbit and carve out the saddle (which comprises the backstraps and belly meat), because you can only buy whole rabbits in Perth.

It does take quite a bit of time, although you don't really need to do much for most of that time.  Allow around 5 hours preparation time: 45 minutes to carve up the rabbit and prepare the vegies, 3.5 hours to make the stock, and another 50 minutes to finish off the dish.  You can prepare the stock and the raw mustard-coated rabbit pieces the night before, and bake it the next day just before the meal.

All ingredients (except Bugs) can be easily found in your friendly local Coles store - I paid $25.73 for it just last Thursday.

Rabbits, however, are harder to come by.  It's obviously best to procure a fresh. locally bred rabbit (no - don't look at the neighbours' kids' pet rabbit like that), rather than settle for a frozen one.  I like the ones from Baldivis Rabbits, who supply to a number of butchers around town.  I get mine down the road from Aggie's Meats, the local butcher on Preston Street in Como (it's in the same little shopping complex as the Karalee Tavern), and they get a delivery of freshly butchered bunnies every one or two weeks.  You'll pay by weight, but the average cost of a bunny is $25.

Optional: Get a dozen or more freshly pulled white onions 1-2 inches in diameter, peeled but left whole, cooked with water to cover, 1 Tablespoon butter and 1½ teaspoons sugar.  Boil it (but not violently) until the water is evaporated and the onions start to caramelise.

Prepare the rabbit: Cut off the thighs and forelegs, and the saddl.  I recommend a heavier knife for the legs, and a thin, sharp filleting knife for the saddle, because farm-bred rabbits don't have much meat on their ribs.  Most of the time, I just leave the meat on the ribs and fillet out the backstrap and belly in separate pieces.  Cut up the saddle depending on how you want to serve them (ie bite sized pieces as finger food or halved as a table dish).  If you really want to go the extra mile, you can debone the thighs and forelegs too, although this is quite tricky, and it has to be done very carefully with a sharp knife.  I cheat with a pair of kitchen shears (okay okay it's just a pair of good scissors, but it does the job!)  Reserve these pieces of meat, and save the kidneys as well.

The Stock: The recipe calls for a heavy dutch oven, but I've found that using a big steel pot works just as well (I just didn't want to risk my precious Le Creuset pot with the next step!).  Heat the oil over medium heat, and brown the remaining carcass of the rabbit (ie the ribcage, etc, including the head if you could get it).

When the rabbits are browned on all sides, at the vegies (except the bouquet garni), and brown lightly, stirring, for 5-10 minutes.

Add the bouquet garni and water to cover.  Bring to a boil and skim for the first 10 minutes or so, depending on how much scum floats to the top.  Don't worry if you can't get it all - you just want to get the more solid bits of scum out.

Turn down the heat enough to bring it to a simmer (I actually prefer a vigorous simmer, or a low boil). Partially cover the pot and simmer for 3 hours.  It doesn't need to be an exact science.  Cut it down to 2.5 hours if you're in a hurry; leave it for 4 hours if you're feeling generous with your tiem.  Go watch some TV, do the gardening, read the paper, or catch up on your chores - there's not much to do other than occassionally watch the pot to ensure that it is happily simmering away.

Take the pot off the boil, and strain it into a large saucepan, pressing down firmly on the solids to squeeze out the juicy goodness..

Simmer (or low boil) the contents of the saucepan until it is reduced to by two-thirds.  You'll be left with a slightly opaque, still watery mixture, with a rich fragrance.  Try some of it - it's delicious!  There's a natural sweetness imparted by the carrot.  Don't over-reduce it, because you're going to need the moisture for the final step.

Marinating the meat: 3 hours before serving, combine the two mustards with a generous pinch of salt and grindings of black pepper.  Smear the remaining rabbit pieces with the mustard mixture, until each piece is completely covered on all sides, and lay them out on a gratin or baking dish.  A casserole dish can work just as well, I'm sure.  Set aside in a cool place for 2-3 hours.  The purpose of this is to allow the mustard mix to marinade the meats.  In this regard, I fnd that leaving it overnight in the fridge works just as well, or if you are in a hurry, less than 3 hours is still fine.

The final step: This is the easiest part of it all, because you don't have to get your hands dirty, or wait around for hours!  50 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius (the original recipe calls for 175 degrees), but I find that the extra heat gives the surface of the rabbit morsels a nice crispy texture.  Bake the rabbit, uncovered, for 15 minutes.  Open the oven, take out the dish and gently pour the wine and reduced rabbit stock over the rabbit (taking care not to wash off the mustard coating), then bake for another 20 minutes.

Take the dish out again, drizzle the crème fraîche over the pieces of meat, which by now are looking absolutely compelling, and return to the oven for another 5 minutes (for this last step, I like to dial up the heat to 250 degrees celsius for that final crisp).  Oh, and this is also where you toss in the rabbit kidneys, also smeared in mustard mix (you don't want to overcook them, otherwise it'll just be tough and chewy - with just the right amount of cooking, they'll be juicy and delicious, and slightly springy when bitten into).  If you prepared the caramelised onions earlier, and they're now cold, this is where you also chuck them in amongst the rabbits, for a 5 minute solarium treatment.

The trick to good rabbit is not to overcook it.  Like all lean, game meats, it doesn't have much fat content, and overcooking with dry it out and leave you with a tough, stringy jaw-strengthening exercise.

The presentation: Take it out of the oven and sprinkle with snipped chives (again, a pair of scissors does wonders).  If you cooked it on a baking dish or oven tray and want to transfer the meat to a more presentable serving vessel, add the chives after the meat has been transferred.

You will also find that the stock and wine mixture has mostly bubbled away, leaving a thick, syrupy coating of sweet mustard sauce on the bottom.  Don't be shy about liberally smearing your rabbit bits into this fantastically unctuous and flavoursome reduction before eating it!  And if you cooked your rabbit on an oven tray, just scrape it all off the tray and pour it into a small bowl or gravy boat for liberal drizzling purposes.

To enjoy this as a meal in itself, serve with pappardelle noodles or simple steamed potatoes (although I like to finish off the potatoes in the oven coated with duck fat ...).

Wash it all down with a glass or top quality chablis.  the recipe recommends a Chassagne-Montrachet, but it's all well and good if you live in France and don't have to pay an arm and a leg for it.  I think that the Pierro Chardonnay will do just fine, having been made in a drier, more chablis-like style than your usual flabby Aussie kardies.  I'm also quite happy to drink a nice, earthy Aussie pinot while enjoying this dish. Something from Picardy, Moss Wood or Bass Philip is just sublime.

I'm also pleased to report that this dish also won the 1st prize at the office's Masterchef challenge last Friday!

As they say in the old country, bon appetit!

The ingredients are listed below:

Serves 4 (or 2 very hungry people)
Or if you are after finger food, one rabbit provides approximately 22 bite-sized pieces (or 24 if you chop the forelegs in half).
1 rabbit (hopefully one from a good home.  Just kidding!  A farm-bred rabbit doesn't have the gamey flavour that wild rabbits do - choose according to taste and availability!)  Include the head if possible (for the stock), but this is usually hard to get.
½ cup smooth Dijon mustard
½ cup grainy Dijon mustard
½ cup dry white wine
Sea salt flakes
1 cup crème fraîche
1 splash olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, sliced
1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped (no you don't feed it to the rabbit beforehand! Unless you're thinking of a rabbity version of haggis ...)
2 leafy celery stalks, sliced
Bouquet garni of 6 parsley sprigs, 1 bay leaf & 6 leafy thyme sprigs
6 peppercorns

All ingredients available from Coles except the rabbit
Total cost (except rabbit): $25.73
Cost of rabbit: $25

Friday, October 8, 2010

Monte Cristo Edmundo Dantes cigar - exclusively for the Mexican President (not!)

After dinner, we adjourned to Geezer's apartment down the road (well it's really a penthouse), where he generously breaks out a special treat - the Monte Cristo Edmundo Dantes (named after the hero of Alexander Dumas's famous book, The Count of Monte Cristo), which is a regional edition made exclusively for Mexico.  Geezer picked it up in Hong Kong, where the owner of the cigar shop reckoned that this cigar was made specially for the Mexican President, and because they're good mates, he managed to wangle a hundred boxes.  Hmmm ...

Leaving that aside, the Dantes is an impressive cigar.  It's a double robusto - big ring gauge and lots of smoking value.  I knew that they made the Edmundo in a bigger size, but this is a new level (sorry that was an in-joke).  And it was a very pleasant smoke indeed, washed down by some Glenmorangie 18yo,  It started off surprisingly mild for this line, when the garden variety Edmundo is quite a strong cigar indeed.  But nice and complex.  Smooth creamy smoke, with light coffee and cocoa flavours.  And a very easy draw (a tight draw is always a risk with longer cigars, and can leave you blue in the face from over-puffing) to boot.  The smoke was woody, cedary and very pleasant, as a good cigar should smell.

The I hit the last third of the cigar, and this beauty turned into a beast.  There was the Edmundo I knew - big and in your face, and threatening to blow your head off.  It was so nice that I didn't want to chuck it into the ashtray, then when I felt the beginnings of a tiny bead of sweat start to form on my left temple, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

What a pleasure to enjoy this cigar, which thankfully for me isn't quite that exclusive for the Mexican Prez. Thanks Geezer!

Villa D'Este, West Perth - Quaglie Con Uva

Villa D'Este is one of the few classic Perth restaurants which has stood the test of time, renowned for its fabulous offerings from its rotisserie and volcanic rock oven.

Service and food quality remains consistently high - check out my post from last month: 3 September 2010 - Suckling Pig at Villa D'Este.

7 October 2010
I catch up with Geezer and Greg for a quiet weeknight dinner.   I swear Geezer seems to eat here most of the week, now that he's living in the vicinity! The weather is feeling mild-ish, so we get a table outside on the terrace.  Michael the Sommelier has recommended the Max V from Robertson of Clare.  This wine is a deep, brooding, almost black colour, with spiced dark berries on the nose, teasing at what is to come.  It's made from the 5 noble grape varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot - in a Bordeaux style blend.  The first mouthful tells you in no uncertain terms that this wine will cellar well for many more years.  It's very dense and tightly wound with tannins, but you can taste the flavour starting to come through.  There's even a delightful spicy burn down your throat as you swallow it.  Geezer reckons it'll open up, and he's right.  Over the course of the night, the wine starts to open up more, and unveils its spicy berry flavours - cinnamon, nutmeg, blackberries, blueberries.  There's even a sweetness at the front.  Great drop - certainly give it a try!

Alright - onto the food!  I usually order the snails, swimming in a delightful sauce of melted butter and sauteed garlic.  But tonight, a special catches my eye - little parcels of agnolotti pasta with venison filling, also swimming in a butter sauce - how could I refuse!  Geezer and Greg follow suit.  This thing is so wrong on many levels (minced bambi for one, and the fact that you're slathering it in sauce made from a respectably-sized slab of butter, for another), but it was delicious.  The pasta was tender and giving, the venison filling juicy, and the butter sauce nearly gone.  I'm glad we didn't order any bread, because I would have used it to soak up the remainder of the butter, which cannot be good for anybody's arteries.

 For the main, I order an old stalwart of the Villa D'Este menu - Quaglie con uva. 2 little quails stuffed with grapes and grilled with a cherry glaze.  The quails are boneless except for the legs, and you are given a handy saucer of water with a slice of lemon, so that you can use your hands.  Finger-licking good, like the Colonel never imagined.  Greg orders the suckling pig from the rotisserie - all good, as reported in my 3 September post.

We finished up with an espresso, which unfortunately was the only downside to the meal.  Given all the great coffee I've been enjoying lately from Tartine, and from Miss Silvia, the espresso I received didn't have much of a crema, and tasted weak (not enough grounds maybe?) and slightly over-extracted (too much water?).  But after such a delightful meal like that, I can't complain.  $100 a head excluding wines, and well worth it!

And so we go on our merry way to Geezer's place around the corner to enjoy an after-dinner cigar (more on this in a separate post!).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival March 2011 - pre-release gastronomy tickets are out!

The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival is in mid-March 2011, but pre-release tickets are already available for the special chef dinners, where a world class chef is flown in from another part of the world and set to work in a Melbournian restaurant to bring something special to the punters in Australia.

The highlight has certainly got to be Thorsten Schmidt, of Mailing & Schmidt in Denmark, who has even been compared to Heston Blumenthal!  Thorsten will be cooking at Attica, which is a must eat-at even on a normal night.  Sadly, tickets to this dinner sold out on the first day, even at $295 a pop.

However, I've managed to secure spots to Jun Yukimura, of the 3 Michelin-starred Azabu Yukimura restaurant in Tokyo, cooking at Koko; Zak Pelaccio, of the Fatty Crab and Fatty 'Cue restaurants in New York (lots of fat - love it!), cooking at Longrain, and Atul Kochhar, the first Indian chef to win a Michelin star, of Benares in London, who's cooking at Breezes.

I'm still trying to work out whether to go for a full-day (or even a full-weekend) masterclass on top of that.

March next year is certainly going to be busy!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Coffee: Monkey picked coffee beans anyone?

Coffee ... enjoyed by billions around the world, adored by millions and abused by more (I'm not admitting to anything!!).

With this kind of following, purveyors of coffee have the luxury of offering weird and wonderful stuff.

I'm talking Monkey Picked Arabica beans from Merthi Mountain Estate, India, brought to us by Fiori Coffee.  Wild monkeys (as opposed to the trained ones who can supposedly type Shakespeare's collected works off the top of their collective heads, or the gambling ones who call Action Man's K-9 top pair with a 9-7 to hit the gut-shot straight on the river) abound in the forest bordering the coffee estate, and treat themselves to a snatched handful of coffee beans when the guards aren't looking.  I supposed it's kind of like olives for monkeys.

Monkey beans on the left
Fortunately (or not), these beans are not produced in the ablutionary manner of the Indonesian civet cat, but are instead very simply spat out onto the forest floor once the monkeys have chewed the flesh off the beans.  There they lay for a while, fermenting in monkey spit (one can only speculate) until an enterprising person from the coffee estate collects them so that they can be sold to unsuspecting coffee wankers for a massive mark-up.  Yours truly is living proof that someone will buy it!

Monkey bean on the left
Because it's been fermenting away, it's supposed to have a milder, delicate flavour, as compared to your standard arabica. When I tasted this during a special tasting with the Perth Food Festival late last year, it was a tasty cup, although the chap from Fiori was at pains to point out that this was simply a novelty one-off that they thought people might find interesting.

These beans appear darker than your garden variety beans.  The other thing is that some of the pits in the coffee beans are supposed to be caused by the monkey's teeth.  But when I compare it with "normal" beans, I struggle to pick the difference.

28 Sep 2010
I use a 9/20 fine grind, double-pack a 9 gram filter basket, and pull for 30 seconds.

Hmmm ... a very subtle, light coffee-caramel aroma.  But what's this? There's an unexpected robustness in the flavour - bitter around the edges.  Slight citrus towards the bottom of the cup, but still bitter all the way through.  Perhaps I've pulled it for too long or used too much coffee?

29 Sep 2010
Okay.  This time, I go with a 1.5 packed 9 gram filter basket, and pull for 29 seconds.  Hey I forgot to switch off the water earlier, okay?

Not much change from yesterday's coffee.  Still tinged with bitterness, like a choking Collingwood Grand Final draw despite a strong first 2 quarters.

30 Sep 2010
Okay, this time I'm drinking coffee when I get home at night (never a good idea if you want a good night's sleep).

Monkey on the left
Monkey on the left
To be sure, I decide to make a control cup using the Tartine Five Senses house blend.  And this time, I pull for 25 seconds.  And despite my better judgment, I drink both cups, alternating sip-by-sip.

The monkey coffee has a richer-looking crema, and is a lot more approachable, but still very robust and I'm not picking much complexity.  The flavour picks up towards the end, but it's still not something to write home about.

On the other hand, the "normal" coffee tastes great, starting with nice toasty caramel, through to lemony citrus at the bottom.

The verdict?  Monkey beans are an interesting experience, but it doesn't make a great cup of coffee (in fairness, I must say that Fiori do make good coffee beans).  Then again, it might be due to the fact that I'm no barista.