Category Archives: food

this weekend we ate!

Every weekend it seems we end up eating… rather a lot. This weekend was longer than usual and so we’ve eaten rather more than usual! Here’s a few highlights.

Sunday breakfast: superb batch of blueberry muffins – buttermilk makes them so moist and soft!

Rachel's sticky date puddSunday evening: Moussaka – haven’t made it for years, but it was a beauty. The eggplants at La Manna were smooth, dark and glossy, so I just did it simple and straight. Will definitely revisit that before the winter is out. After loosening my belt a stop we had dessert – Rachel was inspired by Masterchef and turned out a sticky date pudding that would have had the other contestants running home weeping!

Monday brunch with friends at GingerLee, I had poached eggs with field mushriim, avocado and coriander… excellent! All perfectly cooked and delicious, but the real highlight was the coffee: smooth, rich and full of flavour without a hint of bitterness.

It was a wickedly wintry day, but we braved the elements for a good long walk along the Maribyrnong river – ending up, mostly out of curiosity, at Gary Mehigan’s Boathouse for a coffee. I was surprised how much of a ‘family’ restaurant it was… chippies and pizza on many tables. Still, we placed our orders for tea and coffee and settled down to watch the weather pound the windows while we waited… and waited, and waited! Actually, my coffee came quite promptly, but it took 20+ minutes for the tea to arrive. Tea bag + hot water – obviously a difficult dish to get to the table. Meantime, I had just about choked on my coffee which tasted like it had been beaten with a burnt stick. I didn’t expect it to live up to GingerLee’s delicious brew, but this was burnt and over extracted – undrinkable! I don’t like to complain, but when I mentioned this to the waitress, she was simply charming and immediately offered another coffee, which, when it came was a huge improvement. Just goes to show, even the judges aren’t immune to slip ups in the kitchen, but their staff certainly know how to deal with them.

a meal to remember

It’s evening now, but I’m still slightly stunned by the lunch I ate today.

We received an impromptu invitation to a first brithday ‘celebration’ lunch for Shanghai Ling’s new premises – it was a set menu, but we were told not to expect anything we’d seen on the menu before. Sure enough, there was a menu, but no-one took an order, so we wondered if that huge list of dishes was coming to our table… well, they did!

I can’t remember all of them, but this was a degustation menu with a difference:

  • Starting with a Melon, Dried Shrimp, Egg and Char Grilled Pork soup. Light, tasty and delicious… a perfect start to the meal.
  • Chinese toast: a slightly sweet dough lightly fried – it looked like a tiny loaf of bread.

Then there were the mains:

  • Scallops wrapped in Nori, served with a tangy light mornay sauce and tender flowerets of Broccoli and Cherry Tomatoes. This sounds like a weird melange of flavours, but it was sensational! My favourite.
  • Prawns marinated in LongJing tea. These looked so simple on the plate, no visible sauce at all, but the flavour explosion of the tea had everyone on the table exclaiming as they tasted them.
  • Steamed Chicken with Caramelised Onions: just a superb combination.
  • Mushrooms with Bok Choi: a blend of the fresh and crisp green with dark, saucy, sumptuous chinese mushrooms.
  • Mushroom caps stuffed with prawn and fish paste, smothered in a silky ginger sauce.
  • Quail egg and Chinese sausage wrapped in a rice noodle.
  • Braised pork spare rib. A favourite, but perfectly executed.
  • Blue Grenadier in a grape bunch shape. A crisp fried fish, this was probably my least favourite, but still good nonetheless.
  • Stir fried Amaranth with garlic. This is one fragrant vegetable!
  • Sea Cucumber, Mushroom and Char Grilled Pork in a claypot. A real suprise: the sauce accompanying this was amazing. Bear in mind what we had just eaten, this was the last dish, you’d expect it to be hard to make an impression… oh, how sublime!

Finished off with a fruit platter – phew!

Well, we’ve known Ling for years and enjoyed the food cooked by her husband Mi Kun Wen on many occasions, but this one will stand out for a while to come.

Manly vs. Melbourne

I was in Sydney last week for the excellent WDS08, but it was some other aspects of Sydney that I want to write about this time.

1. Soul

Sydney doesn’t seem to have one. I find it an intensely sad city – I’m sure there are exceptions, but Sydney is beautiful in spite of what has been done to it, not because of it. I’ll admit that the areas I visited probably skewed my view, but at any time you can see thousands of people rushing along and not noticing the real world around them. It’s hard not to lust after harbour views, a fancy boat and a sports car when there is so much wealth so obviously on display, but I reckon Sydneysiders have forgotten how to be happy in themselves. A shame.

2. Rugby

While I was in Sydney, there was an incredible build up to the Rugby League Semi Final between the Cronulla Sharks and (the common enemy), Melbourne Storm. I honestly don’t give a toss about Rugby – the game bores me to tears, but I was amazed at the level of vitriol and wildly biased reporting that flooded the press and airways before the game. They had totally written Melbourne off well before the game started. Of course, Melbourne trounced Cronulla something like 26-0. I went back to my hotel room and watched the last 30 minutes or so, but the commentators wouldn’t give up… with literally minutes to go and a huge deficit – they continued to call the Melbourne players slow and tired. Obviously not as slow and tired as the Cronulla players, but that didn’t seem to register.

I can sort of understand the controversial comments from Melbourne Storm’s coach and Manager, I’ll be they get thoroughly sick of listening to that sort of garbage all season. Anyway, it’s all down to a Grand Final against Manly, who also thrashed their opposition, so they seem to be a worthy opponent.

3. Coffee

It’s a long standing joke that you can’t get a decent coffee in Sydney. I don’t think it’s really that bad, but there are still plenty of fancy cafés that don’t seem to worked it out. However, I am delighted to report that things are improving and I have found at least one place where the fussiest coffee snob can get a brew that is nothing short of superlative. It’s Manly once again – hmm… is there a pattern here? no! – but tucked away, just off the garish Corso, is Scuzi Mi (sorry, I can’t remember the name exactly) in Darley Road. You really can’t miss it – amongst the franchise cafés Sydney seems to be flooded with it, stands out like a sore thumb. I chose it because it looked like it belonged in Sydney Road and the long macchiato I had was nothing short of sensational.

Ballina’s last resort

Well here I am at Ballina Beach Resort, the venue for Ausweb08 – one of the world’s oldest internet based conferences. It doesn’t have the cachet of the newcomers like Web Directions, but it still attracts some good thinkers and some interesting topics.

One of the features of this conference, however, is that it is always in rather nice beachside locations. This gives the poor old academic a welcome break from the humdrum of campus, but I suspect it has in some ways cheapened the message being delivered.

Anyway, this one, as I said, is in Ballina. The location is just a few minutes walk from the beach, the venue is comfortable, but – and this is a big but – why do conference venues think it’s OK to serve such god awful food? I’ve had bad, but this is utterly woeful. The breakfast this morning nominally cost $20. What I got was a choice of: toast with peanut butter and jam; some basic cereals; a bain-marie which was mostly empty but occasionally topped up with some greasy bacon, and rubbery scrambled eggs; no decent fruit; no pastries. Totally pathetic, when you consider that just up the road in Byron Bay, there are creators of some of the best coffee, jams, spreads, muesli, and organic foods in Australia.

The empty bain-marie at Ballina Beach Resort
The most pathetic breakfast ever!

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Before the conference program kicked in and I was able to choose my own food, we found some absolute gems. Thai by Night, on the main stret in Ballina served up the best Thai food I’ve had since I left Chiang Mai. Then we had breakfast at The Harvest Cafe in Newrybar just a few k. north of Ballina. Sensational… utterly beautiful. Oh, and after that we went on the the Byron Bay Sunday market – more great food and snacks. While I’m stuck in the conference my travel partners have sampled the excellent food at the local RSL. So there’s plenty of choice if you look around – just don’t even think about eating at Ballina Beach Resort… they don’t deserve a second chance.

Chokolait – delicious!

ChokolaitHow spoiled are chocolate lovers in Melbourne? There’s plenty of good retail chocolate – my favourite, the South Australian import, Haighs. But more and more, chocolate shops are about the experience of sitting down, drinking and eating in cosy surroundings – the whole indulgence thing wrapped up.

Until now, Koko Black had this wrapped up – still do really, but there’s a new contender on the scene, just around the corner from Koko Black in the Royal Arcade, you’ll find Chokolait. I really can’t say which is better, and that alone is high praise. Chokolait matches it’s nearby neighbor in almost every aspect and is ahead in one : a lack of queues! Yes, for now at least, the location in a less fashionable arcade has left it relatively undiscovered. So, if you haven’t already made this your own discovery, it’s time you did.

From their card:
The Chokolait Hub
Shop 8, The Hub Arcade
318 Little Collins Street
Ph: +613 9639 6188
www.chokolait.com.au
(at the moment the website seems to be down!)

very old noodles

very old noodlesBeing a big fan of Chinese Food (inserts plug for our favourite local restaurant), and living in a very ‘Italian’ area of Melbourne, I have followed with some interest the debate about who invented the noodle. The Italians insist that Marco Polo introduced it to China, the Chinese argue the reverse. Even the Arab countries in between get into the act, saying he picked it up on the way through. Well, wonder no more; according to this article from the BBC, some noodles have been uncovered in an archeological dig in China that are returning radio carbon dates of around 4,000 years ago.

I always suspected the Chinese had the edge ;-)