Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chatter 44 The Future of Restaurant Reviewers.

Colman Andrews, a highly respected food writer, wrote an opinion piece in Epicure today in which he made the case that 'Restaurant critics must adapt or perish'. It's a nice article which delves a little into the history of restaurant reviewing. The guts of the argument comes from two directions. Firstly who would want the job. It destroys the joy of a meal to have to think about what you are eating in detail, possibly at places you never wanted to go to, and secondly can they survive with competition from bloggers, web sites offering dozens of opinions and social media. He concludes that they will have to lift their game, to write better and more intelligently. They will have to look at issues "raised by style and attitude of restaurants, by their hiring and sourcing practices, their cultural implications."
I disagree.
First of all I find reviewing a meal at a restaurant adds several more dimensions to the event. It changes eating a meal to dining. It causes me to think about the venue, how it presents its self, what sort of ambiance it creates. The table settings, crockery, cutlery, glassware all become of interest as does the manner of the service. Then there is the food. This is a highly subjective area. Journalists and print media food writers are very limited by their inability to show lots of photographs to illustrate, better than a thousand words, what they are saying. While some people may be interested in the living conditions of the chicken that laid the egg on their dish, and fancy restaurants like per se constantly tell you from which farm this or that product was sourced, I doubt that the average punter wants to know much about this in reading a restaurant review.
I like well written reviews that give me a picture of what my dining experience might be like, about the sort of things on the menu, how they are prepared and am I likely to enjoy it. Is it worth the effort of going and is it fair value.
All guides have their weaknesses. Crowd sourcing is not a bad thing at all. Zagat tends to go for the slick phrase and have an unintelligible system for converting contributors scores to the ones they publish. For all that I have eaten happily at many of the restaurants they have reviewed and find their assessments quite reasonable, although they rarely say much about more than one or two dishes anyway they're fun to read. Gault Millau only talk about food, Michelin is very oriented toward French cuisine although they have gone a bit overboard in Tokyo. Our own Age Good Food Guide has it's biases and loves a few chef's whose ratings are not always matched by their cooking. UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor, Yelp and bloggers have their place too. None of these replace well researched, intelligent attractive writing about restaurants, what they are trying to do and how well they are succeeding which is the province of the professional.
Colman Andrews and Co I think you have a long and interesting future. Do enjoy it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Simply Delightful, Delightfully Simple

It's not often that we offer recipes but we had a couple of unusual, quite easy and stunningly appealing dishes last week and we want to share them with you. The first was a char grilled vegetable terrine with smoked salmon, which we got from The Herald Sun. It was also in GoodTaste It can be made several days before needed and kept refrigerated.

This vegetable terrine is made up of layers of colourful vegetables wrapped in smoked salmon. 
Preparation time: They said 40 minutes but I'd give it at least an hour.
Cooking time: They say 45 minutes but you have to be very efficient to do it in less than an hour.
            Silver foil
            Glad wrap
            A loaf pan  6cm deep 20 x 10cm
            200gm smoked salmon sliced
            2 medium sweet potatoes (Kumara), peeled and thinly sliced
            2 yellow capsicum 
            2 red capsicum
           150 gm of goats cheese roughly chopped
           80 ml (1/3rd cup) pouring cream
           1 tbs freshly chopped dill
           2 bunches of asparagus, woody ends trimmed
           Olive oil spray
           2 tbs olive oil
           1 tbs balsamic vinegar
Spray the potato and asparagus with oil and grill on a medium heat on a grill plate or BBQ.
Pre heat the oven to 200 deg C. Line a baking tray with foil. Place the combined capsicum on the tray. Roast for 45 minutes or until the skin is charred and blistered. The original recipe suggested wrapping them in foil letting them cool before removing their skin, halving them removing their their pips however we find it efficient to remove their skin while they are still very hot.
Meanwhile preheat a barbecue grill or char grill on medium high. Spray the asparagus with olive oil. Cook on grill for 2 or 3 minutes until bright green and tender crisp. Transfer to a plate. Spray the sweet potato with oil. Cook on the grill for 3 minutes on each side or until tender and golden. Set aside to cool completely. Process the goats cheese and cream in a food processor until just combined. Stir in the dill and season with salt and pepper.

Line the base of the pan and and the long sides with glad wrap allowing the sides to over hang. Arrange the smoked salmon, overlapping slightly, to completely cover the base and long sides. Top with half the sweet potato, overlapping slightly. Top with red capsicum. Spread the goats cheese mixture over the capsicum. Place asparagus side by side on top. Top with yellow capsicum and the rest of the sweet potato. Fold over excess salmon to partially enclose. Fold over plastic wrapping to cover filling completely. Place a heavy object, such as 2 or 3 cans, on top to compress the terrine and refrigerate over night to chill.
Turn the terrine out onto a chopping board. Trim he ends and cut into slices. Combine the oil and vinegar in a small bowl and drizzle around the terrine.
Source: Australian Good Taste, Sept 2010, p 97
Recipe by  Gemma Luongo
You'll have to wait for the other one!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Eugenius (Windsor) 09/2012

TimeOut published this story, revised on Sept 5, 2012, and we think it fitting that our readers see it. Coincidentally we had a reservation there for Thursday night. They are only open on Thursday and Friday for dinner. Eugene is certainly an unusual fellow and the dinner we had was a little unusual too. When we arrived Mary had her recipe book open making her chocolate dessert, which, if the cake was turned over and removed from its dish, could have been a self saucing chocolate cake. Any way here's the story and we'll tell you about the place vide infra as the Romans used to say.
Meet the man doling out coffee with a fat side of philosophy
  • Eugenius0001.jpg
Eugene Shafir isn’t your typical beardy, bike-loving barista. He’s a web-designer, self-published author and chilli sauce maker, and he only opened Eugenius (café for geniuses) because passers by kept wandering into his machine-equipped design studio at the base of his Prahran apartment and asking him to make them coffee. Which he would do. He’s a nice guy like that.
The arrangement has worked out well. The café, which he runs with his business partner Mary Snee, allows him to display his art collection, sell his sauces and Speciali-teas (his own blends) and drink Bloody Marys with the locals.
It’s a kind of café utopia. Customers vote items on and off the menu. Outside in the alley there’s a ‘Before I die…’ dedication wall, where you can chalk up your life aspirations, while inside, people read, write and chat. It’s a far cry from the pair’s first operation. They used to run Manna café on the grounds of the Toorak Uniting church, but the Lipton tea posse froze them out. “It got a bit too political,” as Shafir diplomatically puts it.
Everything on your plate and in your cup is made in-house. “I blend my own coffee, we bake everything, and Mary has a garden – that’s where we get the silver beet, herbs and so on. She’s obsessed with where things come from,” says Shafir. And so is he.
“I like researching dishes that are named after people – like the Peach Melba, and I had the idea that that would appeal to someone who yearned for recognition.” So he wrote a book: Harvey Shmidlap Seeks the Perfect Cheesecake. It’s the story of a rotund, Polish underachiever. Grandparent-less because of the Holocaust (like Shafir), he is a man singularly obsessed with finding a cheesecake recipe to hang his name on, thus legitimising his shambolic life and ensuring the Shmidlap name will survive him. “On one hand it’s a story about desserts, but it’s also quite deep. It's about the search to find what you want to achieve,” says Shafir. “It’s sweet, but it’s heavy. Just like life. Just like a cheesecake.”

It's a small place, at 99 Hornby St. This strange street has no entry at either end and has to be entered from a side street! The outside wall is covered in graffiti and messages from patrons.

 .The place is intensely personal from the decor to the cooking and the service. Where ever you look this is Eugene's place but for the food which his partner Mary is cooking in a very small open kitchen. Ambiance scores well created by the dim light and various artifacts. The menu, which was more of a guide than a precise list of dishes available, was supported by a bit of cardboard cut from a box. Presentation is not really a strong point  although food is sustaining, fresh and tasty, We had a minestrone and a borscht followed by a bruscetta.       a roast vegetable dish was rather colourful if not elegant.We had several other dishes  including kangaroo and beef

and finished with a chocolate pudding.   This is an eccentric situation. A small interesting venue run on an unusual business model producing meals akin to home cooking run by a web designer and a business partner who does the cooking. Open only two nights a week we were the only customers. Although only ten days ago I have a vivid memory of the evening but not of the food. I guess we'll have to go again!
Score: 12.25/20

Friday, September 07, 2012

Fish Dish (Melbourne CBD) 09/2012

*for a magnified view click on the photo.
Without Groupon vouchers for either a four course dinner with a glass of wine or all you can eat prawns both at very competitive prices, indeed enough to send them broke if enough customers turn up, I cannot see much future for a place like this. It's a small unimpressive split level cafe/bar at the foot of the Crossley Hotel at 51 Little Bourke St.
The decor is very simple,
the fittings very ordinary and this is in keeping with everything else about the place. Service was pleasantly inattentive. Our waitress was most obliging when we did get her attention. Their normal menu, on a rather grubby sheet of paper is very small. We had the Groupon all you can eat prawns which is a steal at $39 for two. The wine was OK and the prawns were quite excellent. Accompanied by heaps of toasted Turkish bread, lemons and a very pleasant sea food sauce. Paper serviettes and finger bowls completed the table setting.Whilst there was nothing remarkable here I enjoyed it but would only go with a discount voucher and with friends!
Score: 12.75/20

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Are They Worth Their Stars The Lake House (Daylesford) 09/2012

This lovely old hotel has been an icon in Daylesford for decades. Something like a country guest house cum chalet of the 1940’s it has been built from the ground up by Chef Alla Wolf-Tasker and her artist husband Allan and constantly upgraded with new cabins being added and facilities improved. We had a lake view room with a great view over the Daylesford Lake with it’s geese, ducks swans and pheasants roaming freely about the gardens or swimming in the attractive artificial lake.
There is a common guest lounge a tennis court and a highly regarded spa ($95 for half an hour)
A la carte or a degustation menu is available ($135) with a vegetarian option ($125) and matched wines. ($80)
Meals are served in several dining areas. The main room being a very large open room with floor to ceiling windows looking over the gardens and lake, which is not visible at night. Tables are set with show plates with prints of Allan's paintings, which can be purchased ($70). The Early Spring degustation menu offers included Egg, anchovy, brioche. This delicious small bite demonstrates another great thing to do with anchovy which brought the whole dish to life. We started with a crisp Jim Barry Riesling which matched the sea food dishes. Trout sushimi. smoked trout dumpling and broth. Here the flavour of the shredded smoked trout in the dumpling was lost and was overshadowed by the sushimi and broth. Smoked Skipton eel, pancetta, heirloom beets was sublime. Picture perfect, beautifully presented, a wonderful combination but the eel alone would be enough to put Skipton on any ones food map.With the meat dishes we moved to a very pleasant Pinot Noir. after which we enjoyed a 2010 Syrahmi Siren Shiraz. They do have an extraordinary wine list extending over 34 pages.
Rabbit-cassoulet, loin and cottechino salad was another fabulous dish. The loin had been cooked sous vide and lay beneath the salad. The cottechino was crisp with a little chili sharpness which contrasted with the rabbit. The cassoulet was also superb, covered with a crust of crunchy fried parsley and chives it was moist and delicate. By far the best I have ever eaten. What can a chef do after that. Another super dish. 12 hour Mt.Mercer pig, blood pudding crumb. A rolled pork belly with a crisp thin covering almost melts in the mouth on a slightly spicy bean salad, a carnivores delight. Kangaroo, smoke native spice was only slightly gamey. Cooked rare, without an ounce of fat it was remarkably tender. Lollipop. an Italian meringue covering a ball of lemon curd amounted to a palate cleanser was followed by a very delicate dessert simply and well described as citrus, white chocolate with a Stanton and Killeen Classic Tokay. and a second dessert as we wanted to have a Pedro Jimenez sherry, described as 'Violet crumble' textures of chocolate, winter violets, honeycomb. What was outstanding here was not mentioned on the menu. It was a small quenelle of violet ice cream which was out of this world. Coffee and sweet indulgence from the bon bon trolley completed the meal.
Another day another dinner, lunch actually. The vegetarian menu is another remarkable indulgence.. Here there is an initial offering of mixed olives in oil. They bake bread twice daily too. First course is quail egg, green olive brioche. This has a distinctive garlic flavour and looks identical to the quail egg with anchovy.
Chestnut/Armangnac veloute, wild rice, chestnut blinchik, truffle. . The blinchik, normally a fairly prosaic Russian accompaniment balanced the veloute which one of the richest Sandra has ever tasted, luxurious with a wonderful aroma from the mushroom grounding the chestnut flavour which further stabilized this wonderful dish.
Crisp crumbed hens egg, pumpkin currants, seeds. A perfectly cooked egg covered in contrasting panko crumbs and seeds that confirmed it's crunchy texture. Tempura tofu, yellow bean paste, funghi. This was the sexiest dish, the earthiness of the beans and the silken tofu, also a bean product and the crisp tempura created a dish made in heaven.
Goat curd, tortellini, mushrooms. The goat curd over powered the mushroom a little This was a dish with powerful earthy flavours, a great vegetarian dish.
Falafel, hummus, winter salad, spiced carrot custard, labna. This pretty dish consisted of just what the menu described BUT the spiced carrot custard, those little yellow cubes, was the most mouth melting delicacy you could ever imagine. I did try one more dish which was not on the degustation menu. Moreton bay bug, black bream, fennel tagliatelle, which was actually squid and some sort of kale. This was not quite as good as I would have hoped. I find bugs very often have lost their flavour by the time they get to the table and, although the rest of the dish was great, the bug was disappointing.The meal was completed with the same lollipop chocolate mint and coffee and sweets as in the other degustation menu.
A totally satisfying culinary experience, beautifully presented, every dish a small masterpiece of art and taste. This was an outstanding restaurant experience. Was it worth it's stars? The Age good Food Guide under rates it at two hats. In our book it's worth three!
Score: 18/20

Monday, September 03, 2012

Imperial Chinese Sea Food Restaurant 08/2012 (Glen Waverley)

Suddenly, without notice, one of our most favoured destinations for Chinese cuisine, Imperial Kingdom, was gone. Equally suddenly, with no obvious fanfare, it was reborn as Imperial Chinese. The place has been beautifully renovated. It's been partly opened up with the removal of the island bar and the side area has been set up as three private dining areas each for 12 customers.
They have new lights,
new modern curtains,
a new reception area
and a new shrine next to where the former reception counter was. The lobster aquarium has been enlarged to carry fish and abalone and moved too
opening the entrance foyer a little.
We went for a yum cha and were surprised that there were so many customers for lunch on a Wednesday. The system remains as before with trolleys of small serves constantly passing.

If something was not visible it could be ordered and turned up quite promptly. We were very impressed with this yum cha. Every dish we had was excellent. The serves were larger than usual and the price much the same or a little cheaper than before. We tried a fair sample and nothing disappointed.
Meat balls.

Pork and peanut dumpling.
Prawn, deep fried in batter.
Prawns rolled in a soft noodle pastry.
Eggplant stuffed with prawn.
Pork ribs, as good as ever. Stuffed scallops.
And custard tarts.
And all this cost us less than $50.
If you were going to award a hat to a suburban Chinese restaurant this would be the one.
We'll be back often and for the a la carte too.
Score: 14.75/20
We did come back and had a few different dishes that did not all work as well as they might have. In particular the Shanghai dumplings
failed to retain their soupy juices because the pastry was breached! Salt and pepper octopus, or was it calamari, were under seasoned and unusually chewy.Parsnip cake never seems to change, always moorish. Chicken pie excellent but don't let them get cold. Chicken feet, yum. And the dessert trolley!