Sunday, 8 December 2013

Co Thu Quan - another reason to love Footscray

Ok ... yes I know, you can see the tumbleweeds on the blog blowing through empty pages as the days drag on ... but let me try and put this to right ... slowly.

I haven't been suitably inspired to blog about anything much really until yesterdays CBA Friday's dinner at Co Thu Quan (Aunty Thu's Restaurant), over in the Little Saigon Market in downtown Footscray.

Only a month old and already packing in the crowds, our lovely waitress showed us to a table and said the words that every foodie longs to hear which is there's nothing like this anywhere in Melbourne - oh hun, Sold!!

Handing us the menu with a short and sweet list of Vietnamese street food, she pointed out the Banh Trang Tron as their signature dish, a sort of rice paper salad with green mango, which is sold in clear plastic bags as a takeaway lunch, very cute!

She was extremely patient with all of our questions, and made us feel comfortable and energised by her quiet enthusiasm, which was the perfect tonic for our frazzled nerves after having such a ratshit day at our respective jobs.

We were also excited by the presence of Kalamansi lime on the menu, including Kalamansi Lime Juice, which we promptly ordered. Kalamansi Lime is the holy grail for Temasek68 & co, and to date we have yet to encounter this amazing citrus fruit in Melbourne, at least not in the exact genus I grew up with. Co Thu Quan's version comes in this cute little round glass, and is jammed pack with preserved lime rind, but its not quite the kalamansi flavour we were hoping for. Thats not to say it wasn't good, but the preserved lime does add a tad too much saltiness to the mix, so it comes across tasting a bit like one of those sports drinks, which if you're in the mood for it, can be quite refreshing.

Most of the dishes are priced between $5 to $10 and the portions are perfect for a shared type meal - sort of a vietnamese tapas, if you will. We were tempted to literally just work our way through the entire list, but common sense reigned and we selected 4 to sample and then a sweet each.

After placing our orders, the food came out in almost too quick succession, starting with a glutinous rice ball filled with a bean paste and pork (I think) served with a dipping "sauce" of sesame seeds. I didn't take note of the name in Vietnamese, but whatever language you would like to call this, they should all mean delicious. Because that was exactly what it was. The flavour and texture was familiar yet different with the sesame seeds being a masterstroke of the entire eating experience. So those welcoming words were not just a PR soundbite; with that first mouthful we knew we were in for a special treat.

Next up was the Banh Trang Bo - Fried Shallot, butter, Vietnamese pork pemmican (i.e. fat concentrate) in a rice paper wrapper - these were the very definition of the perfect beer snack. The pork floss in these lightly crisp rice paper parcels was delicious and moreish - just crying out for an ice cold hop. M said that next time we were ordering 2 serves, one each ... trust me thats not being greedy, its simply being practical.

Next up was the Bap Xao which was spicy corn served with dried prawns. Another winner of a dish. Corn with dried prawns is a revelation, and something I'm eager to experiment with at home. I did think that it could have used a garnish of some kind of pungent herb (like vietnamese mint or Thai basil) as a counterpoint to the richness of the corn. I believe it had spring onion in the mix.

Finally, our last savoury was the aforementioned Banh Trang Tron, billed as a Rice Paper Salad consisting of Green Mango, beef jerky (watch this become the ingredient du jour), quail egg, dried shrimp, peanuts and vietnamese mint. You are encouraged to mix it all up before diving in. Be warned, the rice paper tends to stick so you'll probably need hands and chopsticks to pry the pieces apart. This actually tasted like a dry version of home cooked Mee Siam. I don't how or why, but again it was something unfamiliar yet so very nostalgic. (and I'm kicking myself for not having taken a photo!)

Having had our arms twisted ever so gently by our lovely waitress, we conceded to ordering a serve each of the two desserts on offer. M had the Sua Chua Mit - which was essentially Jackfruit yoghurt, sadly one of the few tropical fruits I do not like. And I had the Almond Panna Cotta in lychee syrup,

M's dish was amazingly pretty with the yellow of the jackfruit and the pink of the Dragon fruit puree. Visually enticing, M corroborated on its flavour.

My panna cotta wasn't entirely successful in my opinion as the agar like cubes were a little lacking in flavour, and I know its traditionally served like this, but I'm not a fan of having ice cubes in a dish. Still its been a long time since I've had lychee syrup in anything, so I did enjoy that aspect most of all. And the toasted almond flakes worked well in the mix.

I think this joint is the new wave of gentrification happening in the Western suburbs - let the other places have their white walled blonde wood brunchers, we'll have our street food cafes thank you very much! Check out Cu Thu Quan quicksmart people.

Cô Thư Quán on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Christmas Comes Early at the Temasek Household ... and Paul Smith Concurs!!

Ok ... in a world of shrinking resources, you can sometimes find yourself inadvertently owning a piece of high fashion without the associated branding, nor the fiscal implications that accompany findings of exclusivity. Alright yes I'm trying to impress with my ten dollar words and my desolate turn of phrase, so lets just cut to the chase.

Over the last couple of years or so, me and M have gravitated towards the convenience and expediency of the group present. Birthdays are still sacrosanct, but Christmas and Anniversaries are exempt, and its always fun trying to think of things to shop for together, or discovering a "need" that could turn into a congratulatory present to ourselves.

This was definitely a "need" in inverted commas! I mentioned Quazi Designs in a previous post. Well we went back there on a recent weekend and cooed over the very same Dining Table set that they still hadn't been able to shift. To sweeten the deal, Shane knocked a reasonable amount off the going price and then left us alone to stew and simmer. I thought M was going to have a coronary so torn was he between excitement and trepidation.

But, it wasn't too long before shaky hands were pulling out the old plastic fantsastic, and one swipe and a few button pushes later, we were the proud owners of this (photo taken in final situ):

And so to lessen the impact, I suggested that we treat this as our Christmas present, so that's the festive season sorted for the year.

So what has this all got to do with the first paragraph of this post, well at lunch time I did the ho-stroll through DJs, and walked past this Paul Smith bag ... see anything familiar?

Yes they both use that high falluting Swedish fabric that is supposed to be tough and fade proof!! It certainly looks like it would last the distance, and its a pretty, and I think a rather timeless pattern.

Merry early Christmas!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Feast Day at St Crispin's

Ok ... after having had such an amazing time at Estelle's, we were genuinely excited at the prospect of dining at St Crispin's - and we managed to score 2 spots at the bar on a Saturday night at the reasonable seating time of 7pm. After recently being awarded Best New Restaurant by The Age Good Food Guide, we didn't think this was going to be that easy a task.

But on a lovely spring night we wore our loosest clothing to accomodate the eventual culinary bloat and propped ourselves up at the bar ready for our tastebuds to be impressed.

We had already decided on having the Chefs Tasting Menu at a cool $120 a pop, so after reassuring the waitress behind the bar that we had no food allergies either real or imagined, we started off our celebratory evening with bubbles of course - a glass each of NV Guerrieri Rizzardi Prosecco from Veneto, Italy. Not as "extra dry" as it was made out to be, but the fruitiness suited the Amouse Bouche that emerged from the open kitchen in what seemed like no time at all - Black Olive Macarron with Hibiscus Marshmallow (you will have to excuse me with these descriptions - there was too much to take in and I was typing into the phone without the aid of my glasses).

There would have been a time, not so very long ago, when I would have turned my nose up at this post-modern melding of sweet and savoury, but I am chipping away at such prejudice and now actually enjoy having my tastebuds challenged. Besides which, that initial sugar hit developed more complexity with each successive bite. Both M and I did not want the flavour to end. It was a very promising start.

Barely having time to utter more than a few excited sentences to each other about our starter, they were pouring our first proper glass of wine - a 2010 Portuguese White from Alantejo, Esperado Pe Branco Antao Vaz blend, and serving our first proper dish - Wagyu bresaola, shallot rings, purple cauliflower and hay ash.

I'm not entirely a fan of the air-cured beef and the way wagyu has inveighled its way into practically every vaguely beef related dish I find a little tiresome. Partly because I'd be hard pressed to pick between a richly veined piece of wagyu beef and a nice juicy plastic wrapped steak from the local supermarket if they've both been treated with respect and temperance.

Anyhoo, I have to admit that the combination of Wagyu and the Bresaola method, if you may, was apt and provided a salty counterpoint to the richness of the mound of steak tartare underneath. Oh and that Tartare sauce gel - a combination of all the usual tartare sauce flavours, worcestershire, tabasco and olive oil - yum!

Before I go on, make sure that when they ask whether you want bread your answer is a resounding Yes! Otherwise you miss out on the Caramelised Onion and Cream Cheese spread - thats a definite must try in the home kitchen one lazy afternoon.

I was really hoping for the Pullet egg, but next up we got the Spring Vegetable Salad with Cos Lettuce Puree ... so so fresh it was literally raw ... no I mean that, nothing was cooked on the plate. (And right about now there should be that soft sibilant voice of doubt quietly whispering "and you paid $120 for that!") But I say kick those doubting thomas's to the kerb! Because yes yes it wasn't cooked, and i.e. was just prettily plonked on a plate, but those raw peas and shaved zucchinni and asparagus in combination with whatever yoghurty thing that was and the subtleness of the pureed cos lettuce ... it just all worked! (Especially with the little bits of crunchy toast!)

Besides which it needed to be the quiet foil to the show stopper that was our final of the entrees - Atlantic Salmon confit, shaved calamari, oyster,squid ink and saffron. I can even taste it now as I write this description. The confit Salmon was super soft and velvety with a surprisingly fresh taste, but that bed of slippery shaved calarami absolutely made the dish - these were lightly poached so we were informed. The less said about my oyster the better, but it certainly changed the timbre of our Portuguese white. The Squid ink just added to the briny seaside feel of the dish. Order it when you're there.

Thankfully, they gave us a bit of breathing space after this, before Scott himself served the first of our mains - Flinders Island lamb, wild garlic, gnocchi and broad beans. This had a number of different cuts of lamb, shoulder, cutlet and leg - they didn't really do much with it, in fact I'm surprised our cutlet didn't jump off the plate and walk away in indignation, but there you have it. If you're not a fan of lamb, then perhaps this would have been a struggle for you. We love lamb, so it was torture sublime! The wild garlic puree was a revelation ... I've got to get into these unguents! And the gnocchi - perfection.

Our second main was the Swordfish with mashed "some kind or other" potato, crispy whitebait and pickled onion. I'm still trying to figure out what went into the mashed potato, besides potato! It was delicious, and had an extra sort of cheesey nitrogeny earthy hit. The fish was of course cooked just right.

To accompany this phase of the meal, we switched to a red - 2011 Francois Labet Vieilles Vignes Burgundy - a rich complex red, that perhaps our terroir does a little better here than over in its European counterpart. You can be the judge - because as always at this stage in proceedings, one grape blends pretty much well into another.

With another brief pause to gird our loins, it was onto the first of our desserts - Vanilla and White Chocolate Panna Cotta served with mango chunks, coconut foam and ginger puree jelly. You really just have to say Panna Cotta and my pants are halfway down my knees ... but you add Vanilla and White chocolate into the mix, and honey I'm spent even before you've had a chance to unzip yours! This is the rhythm of a great meal - begin with amazing starters to excite the palate, and end with the blingiest final act on steroids so that they leave you wanting more! Is that hyperbolic enough for you? Need I say more about this amazing dish? The proof is really in the pudding here.

The second sweet offering was a bit of a let down after that in some respects, but the chocolate was rich and unctuous and it made your mouth do that aristo pout purse of the lips ... chocolate, earl grey, milk and ginger. M really enjoyed that ginger and milk smear, and the crunch of the chocolate crumble under the earl grey ice cream.

M rounded his meal off with a glass of Laphroag with a tap water chaser! On recommendation of the resident somellier, I opted for a sweet German Rhiesling - Shloss Lieser Rhiesling Kabinett 2011.

According to Mr Somelier, the key word is Kabinett, if ever you are after a sweetish Rhiesling. It wouldn't matter which winery, where the grape is from, and what the price point is, as long as it states Kabinett, you can be assured of a decent drop. And apparently, the maker of Coca Cola was inspired by a Kabinett Rhiesling when he developed the Coca Cola recipe. Fun Fact (?) Perhaps. But lets not try this out at Trivia night anytime soon.

In summation, although St Crispin's offering is slightly more muted than the quirky experimentationat Estelle's, its still an amazing menu nonetheless and well worth checking out. Yes its expensive, but not quite as expensive as some other restaurants dealing in the genre Degustation. Forego that extra daily coffee for about a month and you're nearly there!!

Saint Crispin on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Yarra Yerring and the Medhurst Burger

Ok ... I'm not sure how it happened but I think I may have possibly led someone to believe that me and M have our own bespoke Coffee roast. Small talk can be dangerous in the mouths of the inexperienced and/or socially inept.

Still it was nice to have a week day off to frolick about like the ladies who lunch ... and they don't do it much better than in those "cotswolds" style country areas like the Yarra Valley.

There are dollar signs in them there hills of undulating green. "Pour it Up" like Riri says. And we certainly did at first stop Yarra Yerring on Briarty Road. I first saw a bottle of Yarra Yerring at Seddon Wine store and was intrigued by the label looking like an old bookstyle plate and sounding like a diarist's byline .... Yarra Yerring or the Story of a Dry Red No. 2 ... something like that.

But with the sort of heartstopping prices (how does $80+ a pop sound?) that only the very select can stomach, the bottles remained securely on the shelf and out of reach. However the young guy with the floppy hair was so enthused about the winery itself that we had to experience it for ourselves.

Thankfully Melbourne threw us a lovely sunny and calm spring day and we toodled off down the Chandler onto Maroondah Hwy into wine country!

I don't really have to wax lyrical about the beauty of Yarra Valley ... its lush greeness and penchant for flooding, oh and not to mention the very real threat of bush fire in those hot dry spells of summer. But there are pay-offs - amazing panoramic views, delish produce and delectable wines.

Yarra Yerring sits on 70 acres with about 26 varieties (I believe) and all that earnest and careful viticulture produces some amazing wines but in limited supply, hence the almost shameful price points. Even the cellar door tastings aren't free, unless you actually seal the deal with a purchase. Its a $10 deposit as it were. But its worth it. They are different. The perfume hits you well before you lift the glass to your lips, and you need to take your time with these as they do change with each successive sip. Of course if you think its all a big wank, and you're happy enough with plonk in cardboard, then avoid like the plague.

I won't list all of the wines we tasted although I should mention that we were lucky enough to partake of their haute couture line - the Carrodus wines - Shiraz and Cab Merlot 2010 - both around the $250 mark. Yes ouch indeed! The Shiraz was heaven, the Cab Merlot ... well the jury's still out on that one.

Of the "standard" (remember that price point I mentioned before) wines we tasted, both me and M liked the Underhill Shiraz, I preferred the Dry Red No. 2 to M's No. 1, and M really loved the Portuguese blend which is Dry Red No. 3. Confusion much? Get into the spririt of things and you'll be fine.

So, we did end up spending a bit too much, but hey ho - dare I say it - yolo!!!

On Janice's recommendation we drove back out to Medhurst Winery for some lunch. They have the cutest little cafe/restaurant, situated just so up on the hill to afford spectacular views to go with your vittles. You can choose to sit inside, or if the weather is nice, there is outdoor seating, and you can even byo rug and set up your own little picnic. Its a wonderful spot and the staff are friendly and welcoming.

We had a chance to sample one of their wines, prices of which are less hazardous to your health. We had the Medhurst 2011 Pinot Noir - a perfectly acceptable quaffing wine - along with the special of the day - the Medhurst Burger.

The burger was thick and juicy and not overly salted which is how I like it. There are some lovely mild pickled red onions and a cornichon or 2 with a bit of plonked green salad (I forgive them this because of the pickles). Mustard out of a squeeze bottled (less said the better) and some homestyle relish were the condiments offered. In combination, it turned out to be a more than satisfactory lunch.

We made room for the recommended coffee - Coffee Supreme beans - lovingly barristed by the winemaker himself, and also for a slice of lemon semolina cake - nicely warmed up and served with cream.

After lunch, we took in a little bit of the grounds including the sharply modern winery itself, and several of the sculptures dotted around the hillside - I guess someone here likes the Heide!

And since we were in the area, we had to visit the gift shop at Yarra Valley Dairy. Sadly the old restaurant is no longer, but it still operates as a cafe and you can have tasting plates and a range of confectionaries with your glass of wine or coffee. We guiltily snuck away 2 salted caramel tarts garnished with black ash salt and inhaled them in the car.

Beautiful day, beautiful food, wonderful company - if I could bottle this I think I would be a very rich man indeed.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Kerala Foods at Tomboy - I'm missing my mother so much right now!

Ok ... apart from Malaysian cuisine, we're always on the lookout for good honest South Indian, the kind I grew up with and the fraction that M gets to sample everytime we're in Singapore. I must tell you that writing this post is a bittersweet affair for me, because this is something I would in the literal sense have written home about. But sadly as you may know from following my blog, I recently lost my mother, who would have been the most excited about our night at Kerala Foods popup restuarant over at Tomboy in Smith Street.

Tomboy is situated on that other end of Smith Street - the sportswear shopping-bus price scamming side past Johnston Street. But its a cute little place with an OTT bathroom that I adore! As we got there a little early (doors opened at 6-ish) we scoffed a glass of red at the Birmingham pub along with the rest of the winos (don't knock it, it was decent wine and at only $6 a glass - outrageous!!!) beforehand.

There was already a group of people milling outside chatting convivially when we returned, and that friendly vibe continued into the night, especially once the food (ok drink) started arriving. Its just as well, as they pack you in at a series of communal tables. Its cosy, but we're certainly not talking battery hen levels. Although you do get to learn quite a bit about your fellow diners inadvertently.

The menu and the drinks list is small and efficient, but here are some pointers. Do start with the Bhaji ($4), and Don't share. Everyone should get their own serve because the battered cauliflower and eggplant pieces are fried to perfection, and the Kasoundi that comes with it is heaven! It looks like its a big jar for just 2 people, but you will be spooning that onto your plate and eating it long after the last piece of bhaji has been consumed. And they leave it on the table for you to use as a condiment for the rest of the meal (Big Tick on that!). Needless to say, empty jars at empty tables at the end of the night! Oh but if you don't like ginger, you're probably going to hate the Kasoundi, and hell gurl, whatcha doin' readin' this anyways ... ain't nobody got time for that!

Our tipple for the night was a Pinot Gris from Cake Wines. They're a boutique winery with the cutest labels and a cool website ... oh and amazing wines! You need to check them out stat. And I think calling your label Cake is a masterstroke of marketing persuasion. Cake is one of those food words that conjures up a myriad of associations, most of them positive - like childhood, sunday teas, weddings, birthday parties, and pastel coloured frosting of course! (maybe thats just me, but I hope its you as well). Cha-ching! Our wines were served in little jam jars, like the water - cute - but lets keep these sorts of affectations in check Melbourne!

The vegetarian options on the menu were quite appealing but we were feeling carnivorous so we opted for the Chicken Badami ($14.00) - Free range chicken, with sweet spice in a creamy almond curry.

You know how you have quaffing wines? Well this is the curry equivalent. Its not a bold curry by any means, but the sweetness and the nuttiness from the almonds were well-balanced and moreish. Chicken pieces were tender and the potatoes had soaked up the curried goodness nicely. To soak up all that delicious sauce, we ordered the safron and cardamom infused basmati rice ($3 pp) which was perfectly cooked.

For our second main, we had the Dahl Gosht ($14.00) - Spiced organic lamb in a rich tomato and lentil curry. We ordered this mainly for the Dhal, as I'm not entirely a fan of tomato based curries. But again, although redolent of the South Indian triumvirate of curry leaves, mustard seeds and dried chilli, it wasn't overpoweringly spicy, so much more refined than the rawness (M's description) of the curries I grew up with and perhaps prefer. I would have liked the lamb to have had a bit more depth of flavour, but I'm glad that the tomatoeyness (?) was kept in check. No heavy handed globs of tomato paste in this one I don't think.

To round off the evening, we had a serve each of the Kashmiri Coconut Ice Cream ($5.00) - Two scoops of delicious coconut ice cream, with saffron, rosemary and cardamom. First a warning, if you don't like rosemary, then be warned that its not just a garnish, but a flavour right through the ice cream - and also please refer to my ghetto rant about ginger above as the same applies to you.

And if you like your ice cream not too sweet but just as creamy and delicious, then this is for you. It was a great way to end the meal. Oh but chatting to the bright young things next to us made us feel so old! I could see my age in their eyes. Which reminds me, if you are wanting to check this out, you'll need to get your skates on because time is running out on this venture as it is for me and M. Last orders on the 12th of October.

Tomboy Hosts Kerala on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Doing a Thai Run in Springvale

Ok ... so we were on a bit of a wild good chase hunting down a Kalamansi lime tree in Mulgrave when we decided, since we were in the area and all, to check out Ma Dee Thai in downtown Springvale for lunch.

I first read about Ma De Thai's existence in an article on Vipoo Srivilasa in The Design Files. Vipoo is, as you can ascertain, of Thai origin and this was one of his recommendations. Although I'm not really into ceramic objet d'art, I would certainly love to own one of his pieces. And if I was anyway creatively inclined, I would also love to take one of his workshop classes, but sadly I have not been blessed. Anyways, Ma Dee Thai serves up homespun food that hits all the right asian cuisine notes.

We scored a table by the window of this unassuming corner shop and started our meal with a glass of refreshing iced milk tea, Thai style, made with that special denture staining orange tea dust.

I opted for their special - Khao Khloo Ga Pi ($12.80) - which was essentially a mound of prawny rice served with some sticky pork, omelette strips, slices of Thai sausage, cucumber and red onion slices along with a few shards of green papaya.

A microcosm of Thai street cuisine on a plate is how I would best describe this. Ok so the portion is a little small blah blah blah and its bordering on the cool side of lukewarm. But all the flavour notes are here - sweet, salty, sour and hot. It comes with a bowl of meaty soup which had little clumped bits of minced pork and slices of silken tofu. A tad salty perhaps but so yummy.

M had the Khao kana moo grob ($10), which was Stir fried crispy pork and Kai Lan on rice. Lovely combination of flavours, both pork and greens were suitably crunchy, and the salted soy bean and oyster sauce flavours were spot on. He loved it.

We also ordered the Papaya Salad ($7.00) to share. And I don't believe I'm exaggerating when I say that this was the best Papaya salad I have had, well to my taste anyways. It wasn't too tart like some of the others and the Papaya tasted fresh along with the raw snake beans. The unpickled cabbage chunks were a little wierd and perhaps didn't quite contribute to the whole than if they had been pickled. Anyhoo, delicious!

Again I'm not going to claim authenticity, but at the end of the day, if it tastes good, then we should simply just let it be. Don't forget to check out the in house jerky that they sell at the cashiers. We chose the pork jerky, a bit like Bak Kwa, but perhaps not as sweet. There's also a range of sweet cakes to be had, but we were being good (and don't you just hate that phrase and state of being!!!)

We had some time to walk around Springvale's environs and also do a bit of Thai grocery shopping (quite a few round here). I haven't really been here since my Uni days when I used to grocery shop in Clayton and than train it here to have my Stir Fried Beef and Kai Lan on rice fix. But that was 20 years ago or so. Things look a little bit different now.

In our childlike enthusiasm to try everything, we bought this bottle of Palms Juice Coconut Nectar to quench our thirst, which was a bit of a mistake because it was just sugar water in a bottle. Still it was cute.

We also bought a requisite tin of Police Dog denture staining Thai tea dust - well actually 2 large tins! I only hope that there's nothing cancerous in the tea leaf detritus that may cause harm with extended consumption. But as the young kids say, or should that be abbreviate ... yolo!

More importantly we discovered this bottle of Ground Chilli with Fried Garlic - brand name concealed by pricetag!! We have already inhaled half the bottle its so addictive. The last few meals have been dictated by the need to incorporate this as a condiment. Definitely a staple for your cupboard.

So Springvale is a little far from where we are, but until Bangkok comes to Footscray, I think we may make this sojourn every now and then.

PS If anyone is feeling generous out there, I would like this piece of Vipoo's called "If all else fails, marry a millionare" ... Snap!

Me Dee Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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