Monday, May 14, 2012

La Lola, Hampden Road - Revisited!

In my previous article on this delightful trattoria, I was waxing lyrical about the wonderful wine list, but totally forgot what was on it!  That alone was excuse enough for me to come back to sample La Lola's wares on more time.  Not that you really need an excuse, mind you ...

This time around, I was joined by fellow gourmet Venetia (who is not a gourmand, mind you, because she is impressively svelte - or maybe she secretly does spin classes twice a day ...)  The ever-observant Venetia remarked that this restaurant has a remarkably diverse collection of patrons - young people, professionals, families with older children and your affluent golden triangle baby boomer types - one of whom was at the table next to us and getting well-sauced ...

Luckily for us, we arrived minutes after someone had left, so we only had to wait 5 minutes for a table.  Just in the nick of time I say, because two other groups of diners turned up minutes after.  We got a table in a great location on the sidewalk, cleverly screened from the road by a light hedge in a row of planters.

So where was I?  Yes - the wine list.  For a small restaurant, this place boasts a most impressive wine list indeed.  Great names abound - Pol Roger, Howard Park, Grosset, Jim Barry, Punt Road, Ata Rangi, Torbreck, Majella, Charles Melton's Nine Popes, Yering Station and Dalwhinnie; plus a goodly selection of Italian offerings.

I chose a bottle of the Antinori Peppoli - we were eating in an Italian restaurant after all, and one of my favourite wines of all time is the legendary Antinori Tignanello.  And that winemaking skill is evident in the Peppoli - a delicious, palate filling sangiovese.  So good that we polished off the bottle before we realised it.

This time around, we chose the soft shell crabs and carpaccio as a shared entree.  The carpaccio was just as good as I remember - love the subtle aroma and flavour of the truffled oil!  And how can you not enjoy soft shell crabs deep fried in batter?  Ah, that sublime juxtaposition of crunchy battered exterior and soft, slightly chewy interior, with a flavoursome mix of crisp fried chilli, spicy rocket and a delightful aioli dip.

For my main, I ordered the risotto - featuring prawn, saffron, tomato, chives and mascarpone.  Sinfully rich mascarpone - but as Venetia remarked, all the good things in food are fatty, natural and delicious - butter, cream, cheese, and of course, mascarpone.  This was delicious - attested to by the fact that I completely cleaned out the plate with nothing but a fork.

Venetia ordered the linguine which I had the last time (clearly their best pasta dish, in my opinion!) and also thoroughly enjoyed it, although she promptly suffered from dish envy when she saw the well-sauced older fellow get his Strozzapretti: twisted pasta, Italian sausage, crushed peas, basil pesto and pecorino cheese; and again when someone else got their parpadelle with veal and porcini mushroom ragu, rosso vermouth, basil and grated parmesan.  Next time I say!

An excellent and enjoyable meal is of course not complete without entertainment.  Aside from great conversation and company, we also took great delight in people watching - there was a table of younger people, including a brash bloke who was clearly trying to impress one of the girls at his table - he asked the waiter to bring a spoon for her pasta.  And when the waiter gave it to her, the patron jokingly said to the waiter: "No spoon with the pasta?  Fail!".  To his credit, the waiter was very gracious and didn't say anything.  Seriously? Spoon with pasta?  Perhaps that slightly ignorant patron was also hoping for a spoon ...

La Lola - the place to go for great food, excellent wine and people-watching light entertainment!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Jeunes Commis competition, Western Australia

On the morning of Saturday 24 March 2012, I had the privilege of being a tasting judge at the Western Australian round of the La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Jeunes Commis competition.  Basically, the Young Chef’s competition, open to junior professional chefs.

The commercial training kitchen at Challenger Institute in Fremantle was abuzz with activity as things kicked off at 8.30am with the briefing and the unveiling of the “black box” of compulsory ingredients (and in case you were wondering, this format has been going on for years before popular TV caught onto it).

The ingredients
The six competitors had to prepare a 3 course meal for four persons over the course of the morning: half an hour to create their menu and three and a half hours to produce and plate it.  Their creations had to include the compulsory ingredients, which included a whole fresh snapper, a whole chicken, pernod ricard, hazelnuts, peach and saffron.  They would be judged on their actions in the kitchen – such as preparation, methods, cleanliness – and of course on the food they served up – for example presentation, taste, texture, uniqueness, among other factors.

Blake Gossop doing his thing
The clear winner of the day was Blake Gossop of Petit Mort, who was presented with a Rôtisseur medal, a cash prize of $300 and an autographed copy of Neil Perry’s Rockpool cookbook..  Yes, a far cry from buckets of cash or your own cooking show.  But it’s not about the material rewards (although I suspect that Blake considered the cookbook to be the most valuable prize of the lot) – it’s about the recognition and the glory.

The winning main:
Sous vide chicken with
saffron sauce
Blake will now represent Western Australia at the Australian national stage to be held at the Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE on 16 June 2012 during the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Grand Chapitre in Cairns (14-17 June 2012).  The winner of the national stage will then go on to represent Australia at the international Jeunes Commis competition in Berlin, Germany on 14 September 2012. 

Travis Simmonds of Burswood Resort took out second place and Danny Hoyes of Fort Mandurah Key Resort took out 3rd place.

All competitors acquitted themselves admirably, with Chaîne WA Vice-Chancelier Chef Graeme Shapiro remarking that the standard across the board was higher than the already high standard set in the previous year’s competition.  It is worthy to note that after Blake, the other competitors’ scores were close to each other, although all of the judges were unanimous in their decision on the first 3 places.

Of special note was Wayne Watson’s (of Harvest Restaurant) beautifully light and fragrant saffron broth; Mitchell Hill’s (of the George Street Bistro) expertise in deconstructing a whole chicken in under a minute and the skill and care evident in Jonathan Khin’s (Jackson’s) creations.

First Prize!
Before the winners were announced, each judge provided some useful feedback to the competitors, for example Maître Rôtisseur Chef Soren Koberstein’s remark that it would only have taken 20 minutes to prepare a fish stock that would have imparted a richer flavour to the snapper dish.

The competitors then went back to their respective restaurants to prepare for the busy Saturday evening trade.  It is a testament to their dedication to the advancement of the culinary art that they spent their precious Saturday morning competing in the Jeunes Commis.

Special thanks must go to Vice-Conseiller-Culinaire Chef Phil Westwood and Challenger Institute Fremantle for providing the venue, and of course all of the veteran chefs who voluntarily gave of their time to be kitchen judges and tasting judges, including Chef Sean Marco, Executive Chef of Restaurants at Burswood Resorts, Chef Marco Bijl, Chef de Cuisine of the Atrium Restaurant, Burswood Resort, and Chefs Michael Canavan and Gerhard Steiner, training chefs at the Challenger Institute, Fremantle.
All the dishes!

And just in case you were thinking that being a tasting judge is a glamorous and easy job – imagine having to taste, judge and score 24 separate dishes within the space of an hour!  Talk about speed eating.  And no, this wasn’t a wine tasting, so there was no spittoon either – it would have been a travesty to spit out all that delicious food!

Coffee review - 2011 El Salvador Cup of Excellence #6

Man I really love this coffee!  Freshly roasted on 3 May 2012, just over a week ago, I had it for the first time this morning.

When I first cracked open the vacuum sealed bag, the aroma was rich and heady, yet delicate, and I thought: "hello?"  Then faithful Miss Silvia made me a cup (that reminds me, it's time to give her a bit of a back flush) and the liquor that slowly and gently eased out of her fonts was thick, rich and a warm chocolate colour, swirling in the cup with fresh, flavoursome oils from the coffee beans.

And then I took my first sip and said "hello!" (think Cat Empire).  This is amazingly good.  The nose is all rich cocoa powder - the kind of stuff that smells so sweet and good that you are compelled to just spoon the powder straight into your mouth.  The taste is a complex mix of more sweet, thick cocoa with loads of crisp citrusy goodness - the perfect thing to wake you up in the morning - and underlaid by soft caramel to put a smile on your face.

I certainly like this a lot more than the Brazilian Cup of Excellence #1 that I previously reviewed (don't get me wrong - that was good, but compared to this, it's like chalk and cheese!)

So what is it?  Brought to you courtesy of Sergio Reyes, a renowned El Salvadorian coffee farmer who has previously been a Cup of Excellence and Presidential Award winner.  His farm is located in the Alotepec-Metapan mountain range in El Salvador.

Go buy yourself a bag from Ristretto or the Howard Street cafe before it's all gone!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

RSS Feeds now enabled!

I'm excited to say that despite being a luddite, I have managed to muddle through the steps necessary to enable RSS feeds from this website.  Good old Google!  By subscribing for an RSS feed from The Frenchman, you get notified about the latest articles straight away!

To subscribe, simply click on the RSS icon that looks like this, which you can find on the right hand side of the webpage, and it's as easy as knocking back a ristretto!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Coffee musings: Fazenda Rainha, Brazil - First Place 2011 Cup of Excellence

After a long hiatus, I finally get around to purchasing another bag of coffee from that little shop of coffee delights, Ristretto on Howard Street, Perth.  Or is it now called the Howard Street Cafe?  Who knows and who cares.  The most important thing is that it's there and it's pumping out great coffee.

Imagine my very pleasant surprise when I find out that the coffee beans for sale won first place in the 2011 Cup of Excellence in Brazil!  These beans are from the Fazenda Rainha farm just outside the Brazilian city of Pocos de Caldas, which has a heavy Italian influence.  It has a delicate jaffa-like aroma when you open the bag, stick your nose in and breathe deeply.  Now that's special!

Here is the bag of beans with a doppio which Miss Silvia just made for me.  As you can see, being freshly roasted only a week ago, the coffee is thick, fresh and bubbly, and came out in a slow drip of sweet, thick nectar through the portafilter.

And here is a single espresso I made straight after - it's so good I had to try another one!

The flavour is robust yet slightly sweet with a crisp lemon-green apple finish and the texture is smooth and creamy.  It's even got some hints of grassy herbaceousness.  There's also a bit of burnt caramel aroma in the cup after I finish it the doppio, but maybe that's because I may have over-extracted it (hey I'm no barista!).

Even 10 minutes after drinking the coffee, as I'm typing this post, I am still enjoying the after-tastes, which include a hint of something elusive yet pleasant, which I'm struggling to put my finger on - the best I can think of is rose petal syrup.  Believe it!

There are few pleasures which are better than a great cup (or two) of coffee first thing in the morning!  I can think of a few others, but this blog is just for food ...