Monday, May 25, 2015

Stimulatte & Tommy Sugo, Hay Street (corner Axon Street), Subiaco

Despite the proliferation of chic and high quality small eateries popping up around Perth (and some would say some of the best baristas in the world), I have long lamented the lack of truly great breakfast places which are located near the places I frequent, and which don’t cut off their breakfast menu at an ungodly hour.

Enter Stimulatte, an unassuming little joint on Hay Street in Subiaco (near the corner of Axon Street).  Not only do they serve breakfast until 11.30am, they offer excellent barista coffee all day, courtesy of the Stimulatte barista crew.

Why am I raving about this place?  Apart from the fact that you can enjoy a hot breakfast without being a morning person, the quality of the fare is really good.  By that, I mean not just the standard offering of bacon and eggs or eggs benedict (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those).

From the innovative The Italian featuring pesto-smeared slices of thick bread, slices of prosciutto and perfectly poached eggs to the Green Eggs and Salmon with pesto-scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, you can now enjoy a hearty and fancy breakfast fix without the indignity of waking up too early!
In fact, the coffee and food are so good you won't even realise that there's a funeral parlour next door ...

While all this is in itself makes for a great little establishment, there is a bonus!

At 5pm, the place transforms into Tommy Sugo as a “pop-up” operation. If you’re looking for something quick and simple for dinner (or indeed something to takeaway) but don’t feel like the traditional takeaway fare of pizza or fish and chips, Tommy Sugo offers an alternative.  The menu appears simple but there are a myriad combinations to be had:
  • first, you choose the pasta out of a list of 13, including the usual suspects like linguine, penne and spaghetti, to the more elaborate chicken or beef tortellini and even an exotic biodynamic lamb spelt ravioli;
  • then you choose a sauce with clever names, from the eponymous (and delicious and surprisingly meaty) Tommy’s Sugo, to Miss Piggy’s Carbonara, the Hulk Pesto and even the Italian Stallion featuring Italian sausage (go figure).

 Each dish comes in regular and large sizes, but I’ve found that the regular size is more than enough to leave you with a full belly, especially if you also scoff a few of their delicately delicious arancini balls.

The chilli that they provide in a little plastic cup for an extra 50 cents has a lovely fiery burn and adds an extra dimension of flavour to your pasta.

You can either dine in, in which case your food is served in rustic tin plates and it's nice to sit at the rustic wooden tables on the sidewalk outside and enjoy the quiet Subiaco evening, or order takeaway, in which case you only need to wait a few minutes before your food is ready to go!

The pasta is nicely cooked and the sauces are delicious.  I’ll certainly be heading down there again when I’m next in Subiaco and feel like a quick and tasty dinner which costs less than $15 (although some of the more exotic or elaborate pasta and sauce combinations will take you above $15).

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Standard, Northbridge, Western Australia

The dining and small bar scene in Perth, Western Australia has been leaping forwards in variety and quality over the last few years, and one of the latest additions to this scene is The Standard, located on Roe Street in Northbridge.

Occupying what used to be an old school “underground” gambling house (so I’m told), The Standard boasts a large outdoor courtyard area as well as a modern-looking indoor area with a long bar complete with mixologists standing behind it furiously shaking cocktail mixers.

I joined some friends there for lunch one lazy Saturday afternoon and we were not disappointed.  The drinks menu offered wallet-friendly yet delicious wines from Australia and all around the world and a selection of local and international beers, and the food menu offered many sharing-style dishes.

I couldn’t decide on what to drink, so I had something of everything; and my favourite dish was the garlic clams in a creamy cider sauce, although the house made potato and sweet potato crisps, as well as the crispy chunky fava chips were also superb.

As you can see from the photos, the food was so good that my fellow diners didn't care to wait while I took some photos; and who can blame them?

Needless to say, lunch turned into a messy but fun affair that went on for many hours ...


Friday, May 1, 2015

Milk the Cow licensed fromagerie, St Kilda & Carlton, Victoria

I heard about this amazing place from my mate Kev who travels to Melbourne a lot on business, and when I was last in Melbourne, I just had to spend some time there.  I was not disappointed.

Milk the Cow is a unique proposition in the Melbourne hospitality scene – a licensed fromagerie with two locations: on Fitzroy Street in St Kilda (kinda across the road from the St Kilda Sports Club) and Lygon Street in Carlton (across the road from the iconic Nova Cinema).

Yes, you can buy cheese to take away from a mind-boggling array of Australian and international delights (anything from an entire wheel to a small slice of heaven), but because it is a licensed venue, you can also sit there and order a bottle of wine from their extensive wine list, or beer or spirits if you’re that way inclined.

But the most compelling offering by far is their selection of tasting flights: 4 varieties of cheese paired with 4 varities of liquor.  You can choose from a red wine flight, a white wine flight, a sparking wine flight, a whisky flight, a beer flight, and even a sake flight!  Each with a different selection of cheeses that complements the particular beverages selected.

Needless to say, I chose the whisky flight for a quick lunch ...

Both venues also boast alfresco seating on the sidewalk, which is cigar-friendly.  In fact, they have a small selection of cigars available on their menu although your own cigars are welcome.  In my case, I enjoyed a beautifully aged 1998 Le Hoyo du Roi from Wal Baranow's private collection (from iconic Melbourne cigar lounge Baranows, which has sadly closed because Wal has decided to move to Cuba - tough life indeed!).  If you happen to be squeamish about smoking, that is also fine: both venues have plenty of comfortable indoor seating as well.
While I was sitting on the sidewalk enjoying the various delights on my table, a couple of people walked past and started chatting to me - they too had come in search of this wonderful place!
If you like cheese, make sure you set aside an hour or two to savour the delights of Milk the Cow next time you have a chance to visit St Kilda or Carlton!

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Cobb Oven - review

Barbecues have always stymied me.  When I was younger, I had a go at trying several different models of wood or briquette fired barbecues, and the results were always woeful ... more smoke than heat generated, my hands stinking of firestarters, uneven heat leaving meat on the grill half-burned and half-raw, or the heat just didn’t last long enough and went out before the meat was finished cooking.

I don’t even trust gas fired barbecues: no matter how fancy or expensive they might be, they always seem to end up being too hot, even on the lowest heat settings (hey I don’t like burning my cooking).

So it was with some hesitation that I accepted the gift of a Cobb Premium outdoor cooker from Cobb Australia, even though it was on a no-strings-attached basis (the only deal was that I would write a review, good or bad, based on my experience with the thing).

What an epiphany!  To call this a “barbecue” is to do it an injustice.  It is so much more than that: an outdoor cooker that doesn’t need gas, which comes with special environmentally friendly pressed-bamboo briquettes that catch fire ridiculously easily and burn evenly to generate a “Goldilocks” heat for around 2 hours, which emits virtually no smoke (nothing that you would notice unless you were paying close attention), super-simple instructions and most importantly of all, cooks things to perfection!

And all without any practice or dry-runs.  In one sitting, I literally unpacked the brand-new Cobb and assembled it together in a few minutes, then spent a few more minutes reading the instructions before placing the special briquette at the bottom and lighting it.  It lit up with a nice flame upon contact with my lighter, which spread across the entire briquette to turn it into a pleasantly watchable red-glowing heat source.  I then put on the non-stick grilling plate, added my meat and put on the dome cover.  Then forgot about it for two hours while I did other things.  Okay, I did check in on it a couple of times early on, but honestly did forget about it after that!

So what did I cook?  My favourite pork belly recipe which was designed for cooking in a conventional oven – with the pork belly marinated with olive oil, salt and various spices for a couple of days, before being plopped onto the grill plate straight from the fridge.

The Cobb also features a “moat” around the briquette which I filled with water to ensure that the meat didn’t dry out.

Around two hours later, when I took the pork belly off the grill plate, it was just perfect – the flesh was soft, moist and tender, and literally falling apart when handled (it would probably have been fine it I had taken it off half an hour earlier).  The skin was soft and unctuous with a soft and easily chewable texture, like a warm gummy bear left in the car during summer.  I know that some people are squeamish about non-crispy pork skin, but this texture was just sublime!  Nonetheless, after slicing off a few chunks, I put the rest into the oven for 20 minutes to puff up the skin into crisp golden joy, because even I can’t resist the siren call of crispy pork skin, especially when it is only 20 minutes away.

Well, there’s nothing left to say – the pork belly was perfect, the Cobb oven was perfectly easy to assemble and use, and also ridiculously easy to clean!  This is not just some rough and ready invention, and it’s not just something you use for cooking sausages while camping.  It perfectly handles recipes that are supposed to be cooked in a conventional oven.  I am certainly looking forward to more experiences with my Cobb oven.

I’ll leave the pictures to tell the rest of the story ...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

il lido Italian Canteen, 89 Marine Parade, Cottesloe, Western Australia

Western Australia is the land of an unending stretch of coastline boasting some remarkable beaches, so if you like being at the beach, it’s not hard to find a perfect patch of sand to park yourself upon.

It is, however, a fair bit harder to find an establishment along the beach which offers something more than just ice cream, frozen yoghurt or fish and chips (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  It seems, though that most restaurants which do open up along the beach complacently rely on the mesmerising azure views of the Indian Ocean to plaster over the indifferent or pedestrian fare that they churn out.

I’m pleased to say that il lido, a self-styled “Italian Canteen” is certainly not pedestrian or indifferent by any measure.  Located in a nondescript old single-storey building on the corner of Marine Parade and Forrest Street in Cottesloe, this establishment is renowned for its excellent food and perfect coffees.  Even the alcoholic beverages are “cheaper” by Perth standards (although the same can’t be said for the food, but the price is well worth it).  It is also one of the first eateries in Western Australia to have long casual trestle tables (ubiquitous in hipster Melbourne and Sydney eateries) that diners have to share with each other in the “canteen” part of the restaurant, as well as in the alfresco area outside (which can be a variable experience depending on the combination of heat and windspeed at any given point in time).  There are a few high tables at the entrance area of the restaurant which are more suited to a casual coffee or more private-ish meal, if that’s what you’re after.

One of my favourite things to do on a quiet day “at the office”, when there are no troublesome afternoon meetings to interrupt the day, is to enjoy a lazy lunch at il lido sitting at one of the high tables; looking out over the ocean and indulging in a bit of people watching, with my view occasionally punctuated by the odd car driving by.  Lunch at il lido is also a lot more relaxed than dinner; given its popularity, you will struggle to get a table at dinner time unless you turn up really early or have made a booking.  On the other hand, you can just stroll in at lunchtime and be assured of getting a table.

Of course, the view alone isn’t enough to justify braving the harrowing drive down Stirling Highway (a hopelessly overloaded road that is no "highway" by any standard, and which is inexplicably terrorised by a large number of reckless or feckless drivers), so it is for the perfectly cooked hand made pasta that I come to this place.

My favourite is the crab linguine: a dish so simple, yet boasting myriad versions all over Perth.  il lido’s version of the crab linguine is exquisite in its simplicity, relying on the quality of its ingredients to tell the story: perfect al dente linguine that is actually chewy (that’s what al dente is after all), roasted halved cherry tomatoes for tangy acidity, shredded fennel tips to counterbalance the flavour, tasty olive oil, enough chilli to gently sting the tastebuds but without dominating the dish, and of course, large succulent chunks of crab meat.  This crab certainly didn’t come out of a can – and you keep getting surprised by yet another massive chunk of crab meat hiding under the linguine, until all you have left is more crab meat, when the pasta is all but eaten.  Now that is a truly pleasurable experience!

If you happen to be at the beach and want to enjoy some simple but high quality cuisine, or even just a good barista-made coffee, head down to il lido.  But if you don’t like it, then maybe you’ll feel more comfortable at the fish and chips shop down the road (not that there’s anything wrong with that …).