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

Sunday, 15 September 2013

"Go into the garden, go under the ivy, go under the leaves ... with me"

Ok ... it sometimes feels like life has finally past me by, and all I'm doing is waiting for the final end ... but when Spring comes along and there is that first hint of what summer weather has to offer ... and then there is that heady lemon blossom smell in the air ... its time to rejuvenate and rebirth your surroundings as a way of reminding yourself that there is life in you yet ...

So the past 2 weekends we have been turning the sod in our woefully neglected garden, and who cares if finding pleasure in the scoop of trowel in hardened dirt is just one guernsey away from the geriatrics ward ... the urge to plant and harvest is one step in our evolutionary path away from swinging in the trees and scratching our arses in public ...

Taking inspiration from a morning at Poynton's on a wonderfully sunny day, we went for colour in the form of these scarlet Azalias ... right next to our replanted Bella Donna lilies ...

On the other end of the front garden we planted some lavender which will hopefully grow into a decent nanna-pants bush.

These will all go nicely with this blue thing that I don't know the name of ...

In the backgarden, we planted the edibles. Some lovely tomatoes, all neatly staked and fingers crossed will provide sufficeint bounty for salad and sauce alike.

There's a big bunch of thyme which hopefully won't die.

And Vietnamese mint, or Daun Kesom, or laksa leaf if you will. These can behave like a weed so hopefully the plank of wood will keep it in check.

There are some herbs which we have decided to pot, along with a few rosemary cuttings that we're hoping to sprout. These will need careful watching over along with our Curry leaf plant which is needing a bit of TLC ...

Finally, a couple of Boronias under the Magnolia tree to perfume the air ... right next to the stone cat we bought in Tyabb who is now keeping our dearly departed kitties company ...

We're hoping to score a purple Bougainvillea soon to spread along the fence and hopefully provide a riot of colour. Now we just have to be patient and alow time and the elements to do their thing.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Good Form in Essendon - lunch at Form Cafe

Ok ... its about time the North West had a decent cafe. And its a cute one called Form! Nestled in a short little strip on Albion Street, this charming converted shophouse serves up caffeine goodness in the form of roasted beans courtesy of NSW import Campos. So thats one big tick, with a confident baristic hand backing up from the rear.

The fit out, again, and it sounds so boring saying this, is all modernistic white with blond wood touches and a curiously shorthanded tree branch light fixture, which always makes me think of Edina in her newly refurbished bedroom taking a shower with birch twigs.

But go up the steps to the where the large communal table sits and there is still enough remnants of the old domicile to lend a certain unique charm to this already inviting cafe. But let me just say this, fuck the arsehole who scratched that insolent and imbecilic tag all over the front glass window.

The menu descriptions are intriguing but as with all trending cafes, strip away the hyperbole, and you have rather prosaic dishes in form and potentially in taste. But (and its a big But) here at Form, they have the culinary skills to back it up.

Take the dish I had for example - described as Cheese and Onion Sqaure, and looking very much like a toastie when it arrived a table! Oh but that Leek and Onion braised in White Wine filling was a masterstroke! It tasted wonderful. I wanted another one half way through munching on the one I already had. And those garlic chips were the perfect highlight for this not so ordinary grilled cheese on toast dish.

M had a special which was the braised goat and brioche - pretty much a pot pie. And again, perfectly balanced flavours, chunks full of tender goat in a not too rich sauce. Although I think M was in the mood for something spicy and this was more River Cottage than Luke Nguyen.

The servings were of the right size to allow us a shared sweet with our second cup of coffee. We chose the Rugelach, a cake filled with apricots, cream cheese and walnut of Jewish origin, something I've always wanted to try. It was beautiful. A lovely consistency in the bite, and again not overly rich or sweet, accented by just the right amount of cinnamon.

This is how you do a neighbourhood cafe.

PS ... those aren't cheapo disposable plates in the photos by the way ... we didn't do takeaway. Its part of this cafe's shtick that they use compostable dinnerware.

Form Cafe on Urbanspoon
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