Sunday, 21 October 2012

Rocking the Boat at North Melbourne's Spring Fling

Ok ... what a typical Spring day. Pockets of warm sun, with a cool breeze and the odd sprinkling of rain ... perfect for a Spring Fling ... which is exactly what we had at North Melbourne.

After a morning spent watching M and his workmates pick through the ashes of Billy Hyde in Blackburn, I was perfectly primed for a good bit of nosh.

So we wandered down over to North Melbourne's Spring Fling to hunt down krapow's Soi 38 Boat Noodles stand.

After standing in line for a few minutes, we had 2 plastic re-usable bowls (for those of you who are environmentally concerned) of yummy siam goodness.

Soi 38's version uses thin rice vermicelli served in a heavenly meaty broth topped with pieces of barely cooked beef, a fish ball and garnished with bean shoots, pork crackling, coriander, spring onion and what looked like caramelised onion oil. You had a choice of condiments including fish sauce, chilli powder, green chilli sauce and sugar.

We piled everything on top bar the sugar and stood at the side of road and slurped away, watching the impossibly fit young men perform balletic feats on a piece of rope.

We finished off our repast with a serve of their Dorayaki - 4 little poffertjes style buns filled with a variety of custard flavours. Delicious.

What a way to end an amazing weekend after an absolute fucker of a week. Rawk on North Melbourne, Rawk on!!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

I wanted to be Denise and wear drop crotch pants ... dinner at Huxtable

Ok ... didn't we all want to be Denise from the Cosby Show? Or at least own her wardrobe? No? Just me then! Fine.

I'd like to think that Daniel Wilson, chef and owner of Huxtable would have liked to have been Denise in a former teenage life himself. Or at least had one of her hairbands perhaps? And I'm tempted to make this post all about Lisa Bonet but I will resist.

I don't really know why this is, but everytime I see a pic of Daniel or on telly, I just want to give him a big wooly hug. I resisted the urge to go all fangirl when I attended a recent panel discussion on the Changing Menu at the State Library. (I should at this point mention that I held it all in when I met 2 of my culinary heroes - Andrew McConnell and Claire Davie)

Anyhoo, onwards and upwards. We booked a window nook at Huxtable for dinner on a Friday night. The place was already pumping when we got there with the smartly dressed set.

We settled into our corner bench and squinted our way through the menu. Having already perused through the options online we already had a fair idea of what we wanted to eat.

We started off with Champers of course as it was a celebration - a glass each of Biancavigna Prosecco from Veneto, Italy ($9.50 per glass). I am a big fan of Prosecco, and it was the only one on offer by the glass.

We also settled on a bottle of Remondo ‘la montesa’ tempranillo grenache blend frion Rioja, Spain ($65 per bottle) to accompany the rest of our meal.

Both wine choices were commendable.

We decided on a couple of bites to start with, and I threw one in at the last minute when our functional waitress took our order.

We had one Jalapeno and Cheddar Croquette ($3.50) to share. My tip for you is to order one each. Don't skimp. Its amazing. The Jalapeno and cheese flavours are a fried match made in heaven. This was the one I sneaked in and I'm so glad I did.

We then had the XO bun with crab, jalapeno & thai basil mayo ($6.50 per bun) - this is one of Huxtable's signature dishes and it is heralded for a reaon - and that is because its delicious. Definitely a must have when you go there. The flavours were all perfectly balanced. Jalapeno and seafood is a perfect match.

Our third bite was the dissappointment for me. But M loved the Crisp Filo log of lamb puttanesca, lemon yoghurt ($6.50). I found the lamb just a tad too rich for something that is billed as a bite. I'm glad we only ordered one to share.

For our mains, we opted for 2 choices, one "Sea" and one "Land". First up was the Roasted Blue cod, szechuan eggplant, pickled cucumber ($28).

The szechuan eggplant was suitably spiced and just the right texture. The lightly pickled cucumber provided just enough acidity. And the fish was perfectly cooked, but perhaps a little overwhelmed by the rest of the accoutrements.

Our "Land" choice was the Five spice quail, green mango, radish, palm sugar dressing ($27). As with the fish, the quail was cooked perfectly with just the right amount of five spice. The green mango had a bit of a cheesy hint. Not sure where that was from, I suspect that was the taste of the unripeness, as it were.

We both agreed though that if they had swapped the quail for the fish, both dishes would have made more sense. In other words, the fish would have gone very well with the green mango, and the szechuan eggplant would have suited the quail better.

But you know what ... we're just niggling.

To accompany our mains we ordered a side of Masala okra & morning glory, curry leaves ($16) from the "Earth" section on the menu. I really liked this. Its not usual to get these sorts of greens in a fanc-ier establishment like this, and a pretty big serve of it. But I kept wishing I had a bit of rice to go with it. Its an odd dish to put on the menu.

And finally for dessert, another of Huxtable's signature dishes, the Ice cream and fudge Sandwich ($12). The actual flavours keep changing. We had a chocolate and almond version, which was perhaps a tad underwhelming. And I really wanted to love this.

All in all, I can't honestly say that Huxtable wowed me, but its certainly a long way from passable.

And what the heck, here's a couple more pics of my teen girl crush.


Huxtable on Urbanspoon

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Danube Incident and Crate Diggers unite!

Ok ... so Clay is about 16 hours behind but nevermind ... I'm still hit up with vinyl fever ... and delirium has set in so deep that I fancy myself a crate digger eschewing the hip electronica and drone sections and heading straight to library and exotic with a soupcon of easy listening thrown in.

Remember a time when the world was loungecore mad? It was all those back-to-mine-chill-out-come-down comps that were everywhere. And DJs outdoing each other in the obscure stakes ... bloody show offs one and all.

But still, the end result was an Esquivel revival ... and that can only be a good thing ... babies!

Anyhoo, in one of those all purpose vintage stores on High Street, Northcote, I stumbled on these 2 half priced wonders which I'm suitably chuffed at acquiring.

I found a whole lot of dross elsewhere but I'm in the mood for revelling.

First up we have Andrew Lloyd Webber's Variations:

Andrew composed a number of variations on Paganinnin's 24th Caprice ostensibly for his cellist playing brother Julian. Its a little twee as are most attempts at melding classical to pop. But there's something about the mix of moog and acoustic that makes it even more endearing. Its so very Webber and by extension so very English. Oh and I love the cover. And Gary Moore played guitar!!

Secondly, we have The Walter Murphy Band with A Fifth of Beethoven:

One of those multi-instrumentalist types, Walter Murpy's discofied version of Beethoven's Fifth was everywhere when it was released in the mid-70s. Its cheesy disco at its best. The rest of the tracks are pretty throwaway including a few more classical pop cross-overs ... but California Strut was a bit of a revelation ... and has a groove in its own dorky way.

What really started this all off was rediscovering Lalo Shifrin's Danube Incident (a theme off a Mission Impossible episode) on a recent dj mixtape. And no prizes for guessing which hit is completely indebted to this sample.

Common Galaxia - early days yet

Ok ... so the Common Galaxia has been suitably buzzed and fettered. A recent review I read spoke more of its design ethos and its menu on paper, and really didn't give an indication of what the author felt about the quality of the food, and if indeed he or she had more than just a quick cup of coffee.

And thats kinda sorta my attitude to this place. So its the latest addition to a burgeoning suburb blah blah asleep already. Just a little bit of window dressing ... but not necessarily somewhere thats going to seal the deal.

Lets put this down to it being early days yet ... but they need to school their staff a little better. Don't put a word like SMORREBROD in caps on the menu and offer 2 price points without really explaining what it all means and implies.

I took the "double" to mean 2 and I didn't really want 2 of the same thing, I just wanted one. But I didn't realise that one meant something that took 2 bites to completely imbibe ... and I don't have a big mouth.

 Poached chicken, lemon creme fraiche, baby cos & crisp prosciutto

Apart from that the coffee is decent as it should be in this day and age and locality. As for the fit out ... well ... everyone has a fitout these days. Its the service and the food that really matter at the end of the day.

Oh and that common galaxia ... turns out ...  not so yummy after all.

Crispy Common Galaxia w shaved fennel, caper berries, lemon aspen berry mayo & shaved red onion 

PS ... I know she's actually singing "cosma shiva, galaxina" but that's what plays in my head everytime I see and hear Common Galaxia ... see ... just happened again!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Being Golightly over at Lennys - art/furniture auction at Leonard Joel

Ok ... in an effort to curb our cat's recent ablution patterns, we are currently forced to exist in a series of 2 room compartments, delineated by closed off doors in order to channel a pathway from loungeroom, up a homemade stepped ramp, onto window sill and out into the wild blue yonder that is our backyard ... aka the pussy toilet! So its fitting that my mind turns to other more shall we say, robust living arrangements, and possibly more aesthetic surrounds ... the kind you find south of the yarra.

We recently channelled our inner ponce and decided to puruse the items up for grabs as part of the Modern Design Auction at Leonard Joel. Ok that is a bit harsh as it turned out to be quite a lovely day out. And there are arguably price points to suit all budgets, although M and I have decided that we have expensvie tastes.

Leonard Joel is housed in an old school building, so walking up its wooden panel stairs and dim corridors didn't quite prepare us for the light filled space absolutely packed with the busy geometry and colour that is part of what is broadly termed modern design. Whether deliberate or not, it was good spacial psychology, as the heart fairly jumps at the prospect of finding something amazing in such a vibrantly packed room.

We didn't really know when to start, and we certainly did not want it to end.

There were quite a few items I could easily have bid on. And though we did return the next day for the auction proper and even registered for a number, we left empty handed, and I guess wisely so as our front verandah needs propping up and that is what in life is called a necessity! Terribly boring ... but vital.

Gordon from The Collectors was there filming ... so maybe you might see our ugly mugs in the shot at some stage. But regardless of whether you are a European car driving, armani dacks showing, vintage givenchy scarf and paint splattered overall wearing sort of person, you should check out these auctions every now and then, you may actually find yourself a bargain. Or at least something you would proudly consider displaying in your home at a comparatively inexpensive cost.

These were some of the items we lusted after ...

Lot 157A Poul Henningsen Artichoke Light - Designed in 1958 - this one is a c1990 repro

Hands down this was the most desirable item for me ... and the most expensive item sold at the auction. Estimated to cost about $3600, active bidding drove it up to a cool $13420 ... this for a repro. But it was in decent nick.

This mid-80s gold and chrome wall hanging caught my eye. Although manufactured in the mid-80s, it had more of the high gloss 70s disco-era vibe for me, although fan shapes were quite the thing in my teenage years.

Lot 79 Curtis Jere Wave Sculpture c.1985

This went for $480. The catalogue has it pictured in a horizontal fashion ... I quite like it in a vertical stance.

We briefly contemplated these white and black lampshades by Bertjan Pot made out of latticed fibreglass, epoxy resin and powder coated aluminium.

I liked the size of the white one but M reckoned it would have been disproportionate to the size of our room and obvously so. I thought the black version was a little too small. And as it turned out it was sold as a set of 3.

Lot 222 A Non Random Light by Bertjan Pot (c2010) - $780

The Black Version sold as a set of 3 - 1920

But if money was no object, and we had a suitably large house, we would have gone out on a stylistic limb and opted for the full-blown late 70s high gloss polished wood and chrome extravanganza that was the Paolo Barrachia loungeroom, dining and bedroom suite.

Photo taken from Leonard Joel catalogue showing sideboard and dining suite

Imagine the lines drawn on that table. I'm seeing Bee Gees unbuttoned satin shirts and Olivia Newton John hair. Amazing! And maybe KC spreading a bit of his sunshine.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Mamak or how I learnt to love the chain restuarant!

Ok ... Malaysian/Singaporean cuisine is so wrapped up in its socio-cultural and indeed contextual environs that its not the easiest to transplant, but ignoring the slight xenophobic tinge to the name, I think Mamak may have just about gone and done it.

Be warned. Its just opened, has an amazing reputation northside, and has been eagerly anticipated. So there are queues. But they're speedy queues. And the food comes quick but perhaps not quite in the most logical of sequences.

First and foremost, Mamak is known for its Roti in all its variants. While you wait in the queue you can watch them flip and twirl that oily dough and salivate in anticipation.

Mamak's Rotis come fresh of the gridle, served with a chilli sambal (similar to ikan billis sambal), a dahl curry, and oddly enough, a fish curry (just the sauce) which isn't exactly traditional. But I can, in all conscience say that the Fish curry was as good as my Mum's, and the dahl was ... well ... dare I say it ... as good as mine!

Their satays (we had 6 sticks of chicken) are the real deal - grilled rather than Fried (oh yes there are establishments out there who fry - you can tell as the meat comes in a congealed mess on the stick) with a decent ground peanut sauce. Not quite as dark and unctuos as I would prefer, but pretty delicious nonetheless.

I love the diced cucumber and slices of red onion ... but what would have really impressed would have been the inclusion of Ketupat or boiled rice cakes. Maybe they could put that as an extra on the menu at some stage.

We ordered the basic Nasi Lemak (you can add extras if you wish) which is exactly how I like it. Although it would have been a nice touch if it came wrapped in banana leaf and newspaper (I guess thats not allowed anymore) like in the old days. The rice was suitably lemak, the sambal could perhaps have been slightly more pungent, but the crunchy peanuts and crispy ikan billis were spot on.

Considering its one of M's ultimate favourites, we had to have the Murtabak, lamb of course. This was the only dissappointment. The filling was ok as far as taste goes, but the egg was a little too scrambly, and I think the pastry was rolled out a little too thin. So it ended up being just a fat soggy parcel. More pastry, less filling and perhaps just a couple more turns on the grill would have fixed it right up.

To wash all of this down, we had 2 mugs of Teh Halia (sweet milky ginger tea) ... and you know what? It was one of the better cups of ginger tea I have ever had.

Mamak. Welcome to Melbourne!!

Mamak on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Mee a rai mai bang Braybrook? Its "where the hell is it?" Jantra Thai!

Ok ... trong-pai*, now leaw sai ... wait I meant leaw kaw ... oh I give up, here M you take the wheel ...

Its probably easy to spot in daylight, but not so easy on a rain-swept night when reflections in pools of water hover like midnight oases, presenting road blocks or speed humps where none exist.

After a couple of mis-turns we finally made it through what looked like security gates into the generous carpark and space that is Jantra Thai Restaurant, Braybrook. We could have been in Doncaster, or Box Hill - its our Western version of an Eastern Suburbs Family Night out.

Ignoring the sickly vaguely-urinal yellow neon highlights, the restaurant feels roomy and has an enticing "lounge" section complete with a comfy living room settee. Its spacious but you're not so far removed from each other that you can't eyeball the other dishes being served at the table next to you.

Thanks to the intrepid Lauren of FFB fame, we trundled off down the road on a recent CBA friday in high hopes of discovering a Thai worthy of some interstate gloating ... and apologies to Lauren, we didn't quite get there.

Our Thai friend (who works in the business park) had one word to say about this place - overpriced. But then again we're no longer in downtown Bangkok, and I have left my resentment at paying more than S$1.20 for Roti Prata at a Customs counter in Tullamarine. So I have no further comment on pricing.

What I will say is that the Vegetarian Pad Thai is the bomb!! I suspect that some peops may prefer their noodles a little sweeter, but for me they got the balance right, and it was the perfect foil (we had this instead of steamed rice) for the other dishes that we ordered.

We sweated through our Crispy Fried Soft shell crab entree (both M and I had terrible food poisoning once on account of a soft shell crab) served curiously on a bed of fruit salad drenched in fish sauce. Oddly enticing for the first few bites ... then culinary sensibilities took over and I started to think that the combination of seafood and fruit was all kinds of wrong ... totally psychological of course ... but there you have it ... as usual, M was unaffected. We would have liked the crab to have been a little crunchier, and the head meat was a tad bitter ... which made us all the more apprehensive ... again ... Psychological!

For mains, we opted for a Chef's special - cripsy fried fish fillet in creamy coconut sauce. As prosaic as that sounds, the dish that arrived at our table fit the bill to a T. And it was exactly what we wanted ... or at least what we expect (questions on authenticity aside) from a Thai dish - spicy and coconuty, prefectly marrying the trifecta of flavour - sweet, salty and sour.

And I of course had to have a larb of some description, so we went for the minced chicken, which was a little on the light side, but a decent example nonetheless.

Despite how this post actually reads, we did enjoy our meal here at Jantra Thai and will most certainly be back - but again if this wasn't in easy close proximity, would I travel for the food? Of that I'm not so sure.

Everytime someone suggests a new Thai, I go in the hope that the restaurant delivers a whopping punch in the face with spice and chilli hits dialled up to 11. Jantra delivers a soft carress ... and sometimes a comforting touch is what you really need. Me? I want the total gut-stripping experience.
* Apologies for butchering the Thai language

Jantra Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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