Friday 30 August 2013

Rose veal with sherry and sage

There comes a time after a holiday when reality asserts itself. When, after weeks of lovely food, largely prepared by other people, you have to cook your own dinner.

For the first couple of days after I got home we ate barbecued meat with pre-prepared salads. But eventually I was recombobulated enough to attempt to cook a meal.

As soon as I'd got home, Paul demanded that we place a large order with ELSCo, and I had included a beautiful rose veal fillet (high welfare, grass fed, not crated). I froze it for 20 minutes to firm it up, then cut it into more-or-less even medallions. I initially thought of cutting it into delicate little scallopine, but I decided that my knife skills weren't up to the challenge.
Then I dusted the medallions in seasoned flour and fried them in a mixture of butter and olive oil. When I turned them, I sprinkled them with chopped garlic and sage, and then added some dry sherry. I pulled the veal out to rest while the sauce reduced and thickened a little. Some macaroni and a few snow peas and dinner was ready. A gentle easing back in to cooking!

Monday 26 August 2013

Land down under: 24 hours in Sydney

I changed my schedule a couple of times while I was away, which ended up leaving me only one day in Sydney before I flew home. It was, however, a very good day.
Impossible to get them both facing the camera and smiling at the same time
After a restorative cup of tea and a piece of cake, we (friend, her partner, adorable toddlers and dog) went over the road to the park. Despite having lived around the corner from this park for a while, I've never spent much time in it - I suspect possession of toddlers and dogs encourages familiarity with local parks.

A post-park gin & tonic and a couple of phone calls later, a group of old school friends assembled at Grappa for dinner. It just wouldn't be right to spend a night in Leichhardt and not have Italian food.
I had figs stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in proscuitto to start. The figs weren't at their absolute best, but this is always one of my favourite combinations, with the perfect balance of sweet, salt, creamy and crunchy elements.
Then, while I marvelled at how little people change in 20 years, I had a pizza topped with olives, aubergine and 'nduja. The crust was a little tough, but the toppings were perfection. Unfortunately, a very large starter and the accumulation of several weeks of large meals left me totally unable to finish it. The staff were gracious about packing the remaining third into a box for me to take for Andy, who had stayed home with the boys so Helen and I could play.

The following morning, we had the mandatory Inner West brunch. I miss brunch. There are probably places in central London that do it well, but in the outskirts where I live, they really don't get it. I've held forth before on my feelings about brunch - it really is one of my favourite ways to eat.
Helen did a quick recce to establish whether two highchairs were an option (having twins requires an extraordinary command of logistics) before we settled into Revolver.
A little taste of Shoreditch in Sydney...
I had the Big Breakfast - feeling that fortifying myself before an onslaught of aeroplane food was a good idea. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, it was better than that. Instead of a plate of eggs, bacon and the rest of it, a black metal skillet of deliciousness arrived on a wooden board, with rye sourdough toast on the side. The beans were a little underseasoned for my taste, but everything else was very good quality and well cooked. The egg yolks were cooked through, and I couldn't help thinking how much Paul would have liked them.
A short drive across Annandale brought us to the Glebe Foreshore Park. We walked off breakfast before heading back to the house so I could pack and get an eyewateringly expensive taxi to the airport.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Land down under: Brisbane Part the Third

A few last little bits and pieces to wrap up my stay in Brisbane!
Along South Bank are community tea, herb and salad gardens. Such a charming idea! The lemon verbena and spearmint in this bed were particularly aromatic
Bettina made these delicious mandarin and ginger braised beef cheeks - she told me about this recipe ages ago but I have never got around to trying it. I'm glad I have now! I'll definitely make it when the casserole weather comes back.
Maggie Beer's burnt fig, honeycomb and caramel ice cream. Divine. Worth a visit to Australia really! But in case that isn't achievable, there are a few "inspired by" recipes on the internet that look worth a shot. I am going to try this one.
A friend of mine moved up to Noosa a couple of years ago and opened a cafe/wine bar, so we went up for lunch. And I would say this regardless of my relationship with Gareth - Shades makes a damn fine BLT and excellent chips.
After lunch we had a bit of a drive around Noosa. And saw a koala. I don't think I have ever seen a wild koala before so it was a real treat!

Friday 23 August 2013

Land down under: Lurleen's at Sirromet

Lurleen's at Sirromet
A long time ago, at a restaurant in Kelvin Grove, Andrew Mirosch introduced me to kangaroo and emu as menu items, not just the Australian coat of arms. It was delicious and I have eaten both with enthusiasm ever since. I also remember how stylish his floor staff looked in long black aprons. When my mother suggested going to his current place, Lurleen's at Sirromet winery, those fond memories of good food and flair were more than enough to convince me.

Eating there so soon after our meal at Stokehouse led, I think, to unfortunate comparisons. We probably would all have enjoyed our meal more had we not had such a high benchmark fresh in our minds. It was all quite good, but not quite good enough.
It's a massive development. The owners must have extremely deep pockets. There are a couple of outdoor pavilion areas, one of which was hosting a wedding reception, several private and semi-private dining rooms and a huge main dining area. And absolutely nothing to deaden the noise. It was so loud that we couldn't really chat. Every remark had to be said at least twice, which is so discouraging for conversation.

The menu looked good but was probably a bit long to be assured of quality across the board. And despite the high number of staff on the floor, it took a long time before we got drinks. There is a suggested glass of wine for each dish, and my mother and I both went with those, but Bill selected his own wines, which seems to have confused them a bit.
An amuse-bouche of goats cheese arancini looked good and had a great texture but were let down a bit by the flavour. Perfect crunch outside, creamy but not mushy inside, insufficient goats cheese and not enough seasoning.
Bettina's starter of Andrew’s line caught, cold smoked Spanish mackerel with  asparagus, soft poached egg and hollandaise was definitely the pick of the starters.
Bill's tortellini and prawn starter, from the specials list, was less successful. He really knows his seafood, so if he says the prawns had been cooked twice, leaving them rubbery and flavourless, I believe him.
I committed a rooky error in choosing my starter. I was so won over by the idea of stuffed zucchini blossom and savoury baklava that I didn't read the description of the trio of vegetable tastes properly. "Crisp fried zucchini flower with vine ripened tomato peperonata, salsa verde and aioli, Goats fetta, egg, leek and filo baklava, with roasted grape tomatoes and balsamic, Warm asparagus and poached egg, with sansho pepper hollandaise" - the repetition of egg and two egg-based sauces should have warned me that this was going to be a very rich and substantial portion. It could really have done without the slice of soggy brioche toast under the asparagus, and putting layers of sodden, leathery filo pastry on either side of a frittata really does not a baklava make. The zucchini flower and the egg and asparagus hollandaise really were lovely though.
Bettina's main course of spinach and ricotta gnocchi suffered by comparison with the delicate gnocchi I'd eaten earlier in the week at 1889 Enoteca. These were more of a spinachy cannonball.
And compared to the mulloway at Stokehouse, Bill's main course fish only rated 5/10. It was overcooked and looked a bit of a mess even before he started to pull it apart.
After my enormous starter, I really couldn't do my grass-fed eye fillet and baked wagyu cottage pie justice. I also didn't consider that this would be my third egg-based sauce of the meal... My steak was sublime. I ordered it rare, following my principle that unless it is a specialist steakhouse, they always cook it a degree more than you ask for, so what arrived was a perfect medium rare. I only managed half of it, but Bill polished the rest off. The onion rings were probably the best I have ever had, and the mushrooms and bearnaise were just what the dish wanted. The wagyu cottage pie was misguided. The pastry wasn't short enough or crisp enough and the meat was chewy without any of the melting characteristic that is the whole point of wagyu. The mash was good, but I think the dish would have been better off with just a spoonful of that. 

Even though a couple of the tables nearest us had emptied, the noise levels were still so high that we weren't inclined to linger over coffee or anything, and I certainly didn't have any room for dessert. Bettina and Bill both said they thought that Lurleen's had deteriorated since their previous visits, and I certainly wouldn't rush back when there are so many other restaurants in more convenient places doing it better.

But we did get to see wallabies grazing in the vineyard.
The circle marks a wallaby. I promise.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Land Down Under: Stokehouse Brisbane

Stokehouse Brisbane
For about 20 years now, reviews singing the praises of Stokehouse restaurant in Melbourne have been a regular feature of the Australian food landscape. Unfortunately, I've never had the pleasure, as I've only been to Melbourne once, for the weekend of my 30th birthday, and that trip involved several other excellent meals.

But Brisbane now has a Stokehouse of its own.
We'd been to the excellent Quilts: 1700-1945 exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery, and my mother suggested a wander along the South Bank Parklands, culminating in lunch at Stokehouse. This seemed like a good idea to me. I don't know the South Bank area at all - when I lived in Brisbane, oh so many years ago, it hadn't really established itself as anything other than a tourist trap. Now, it seems to just be part of the fabric of the city. There were loads of local office workers having lunch in the sun and students from the conservatorium practising in the park.
"Streets Beach" - not many people there because it was mid-week and, of course, the middle of what passes for winter in Queensland. A chilly 28C...
View of the Goodwill Bridge
Restorative (and reasonably priced) Tanqueray and tonic
Lots of tempting things on the menu
Bill and I both had the crudo of seafood - scallops on romesco, yellowtail kingfish topped with some sharply-dressed microgreens and Tasmanian salmon with horseradish mayonnaise and salmon roe, served on this wonderfully organic-looking ceramic plate. The scallops were divinely sweet - it was all good but that was my favourite taste.
Bettina had oysters with a mignonette dressing
Bill had mulloway, caught just down the coast in Ballina. He was still raving about it days later
Bettina had pasta in a broccoli sauce with hot-smoked salmon
I couldn't go past the battered flathead. For me, flathead is the best fish-and-chip fish in the world and I miss it. The batter was supposedly flavoured with lemon and dill, which I couldn't taste at all, probably because of the lemon and dill in the salad dressing. The batter was slightly over-browned but the fish inside was moist and cooked to perfection. The chips, salad and tartare sauce were also brilliant: the salad reminded me of the salad of English herbs that they do at Hawksmoor, which is the best salad ever.
The service was excellent - attentive without hovering or obsequiousness. Our waiter could have done with a little more training on some of the menu items, as there were a few things which he explained (unnecessarily) without mentioning that they contained a lot of chilli and garlic, which are the two things that I would have thought people generally would want to know about. But that really was the only possible minor quibble with an absolutely superb lunch in a magnificent location. Well worth a visit.

Friday 16 August 2013

Land down under: 1889 Enoteca

My mother took me to the dentist this week. She was horrified by how long it has been since my last visit, and since she has already got a substantial investment in my teeth (years of orthodontic work as a child) she decided that something had to be done about it.

As a sweetener, she suggested lunch afterwards at her favourite Italian place.

Now, I knew that the food would be good, but I confess that I was pretty much imagining checked tablecloths, pasta pomodoro and veal scallopine. Had I known how fancy 1889 Enoteca was, I would probably have put on some mascara at the very least. 

The streetlights in this area have these red shades - they look really lovely! And I do love this cracked old facade.

Roman-inspired menu - just lovely.
See? Definitely worthy of mascara.
Unfiltered organic prosecco.
My mother had vitello tonnato - veal with tuna mayonnaise - to start. She said it was lovely.
My starter was Carciofi alla giudia - artichoke fried in the Jewish manner. Superb. The leaves were crisp and light, the heart was perfectly tender. The smear of rich mascarpone and little tangle of blanched lemon zest and mint leaves were just the right things to complement the salty crunch.

My mother's risotto with mushrooms and truffles.
I also had truffles in my main course - so the whole table was fragrant. The lightest possible gnocchi, which I think had been boiled and then grilled (each feathery bite was marked with lines from a griddle pan), in a truffle sauce with little bites of fennel-rich Italian sausage. Faintly over-salted, but the salad of mixed leaves that we had along side was just the thing to cut through the salt and richness.
Oh, in case you were wondering, other than needing a bit of a scrape and polish, the dentist couldn't fault my teeth.

Land Down Under: China Kitchen Sunnybank Hills

For years my folks frequented a Chinese restaurant in Toowong called The Bamboo Shoot. The decor was tired and the menu was pretty standard but the food was very good. It's now known as China Kitchen and apparently has had a total make-over. When they found out that Jack, the owner, had opened a second restaurant in an unprepossessing building in Sunnybank Plains they wandered over there to check it out. They've been heading back there ever since. It is, as the Michelin guide says, "worth a detour".

The menu is short and doesn't really pander to Anglo-Saxon squeamishness. I don't know anything about Szechuan cuisine, but I am going to go out on a limb and make the gross generalisation that any menu with that much tripe and sea-cucumber has to be authentic. Right?

We ordered a lot of food for three people. Some things I'd never seen before, all absolutely delicious. The waitress didn't speak much English and we were the only people there on a quiet weekday lunchtime, but the restaurant looks like it is really designed for evenings (garish red banquettes studded with rhinestone buttons, shiny lacquered walls, colour-changing neon lights around the cornices).
Yes, this is fried rice. No, this was not one of the unfamiliar dishes. Very, very nice though.
Hot & sour potatoes. Extraordinary. The potato has the crunch of being undercooked but without that "yuk, raw potato" thing. With vinegar, garlic and chilli. I will order this in a flash if I ever see it again.
Chicken hotpot. Not as sauce-y as I expected a hotpot to be, and not as spicy as you would imagine from all of that chilli. And those white-ish bits? yes, they are garlic cloves, but cooked gently so they were quite mellow.
Gai larn with garlic is always good, but this was cut up into much more convenient pieces than I am used to! Much easier for picking up with chopsticks than the stuff usually served at yum cha.

Lamb with cumin. Absolutely divine. SO tender and almost crusted with crunchy toasted cumin seeds. I'd imagine that this is a dish of Islamic origin.
Aubergine with pork. I have had other versions of this dish, but this was the best I have tried - perfectly silky aubergine with pork as a flavour, not the main event, and a very well-balanced slightly sour sauce. I think this is an example of "fish flavour" sauce which doesn't actually have any fish products in it...


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