Sunday, 29 April 2012

Just a dollop about the Scallop...

Scallops with Cauliflower, Split Pea and Dill Cucumber
Whilst dining out a few years ago, I enjoyed my scallop entrée so much I asked the waiter where the scallops were sourced from. I was initially outraged to hear that they were from Canada; this revelation completely flew in the face of my determination to eat local produce. How dare this supposedly regional restaurant serve scallops from the other side of the world? However from that point onwards I noticed that restaurant after restaurant had begun using Canadian scallops, that was  why their scallops were so much fatter and juicier than the ones I’d been cooking with or had eaten at other restaurants. My own self-righteousness against imported seafood had to go.   Instead I began to smugly comment to waiters “I see your scallops are Canadian”.
Scallops are an easy way to turn your meal into restaurant quality. This summer my favourite way to cook scallops was to simply grill them in a hot skillet for a few minutes and serve with either a dill or lemon sauce. Now that the Melbourne weather is cooling quicker than the Labour Government’s approval ratings, I’m looking for warmer seasonal flavours to partner the scallop.
Cauliflower Puree
·         Boil cauliflower florets until soft, drain.
·         Whilst over heat, mix in some crème fraiche.
·         Transfer mix to a food processor, add in onion salt, white pepper and mild paprika to taste.
·         Blend until a smooth puree forms.
The split pea puree I found in a magnificent little book I was given named ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’ by Niki Segnit. The book is a wonderful compendium for finding inspiring flavour combinations. I was a little disappointed with the texture of the split pea puree, so next time I’ll make up my own recipe, but the split pea flavour worked well with the scallop regardless.
The scallops were grilled for a few minutes over high heat, and the pickled dill cucumber I added were Zimmy’s Sour Dill Cucumbers purchased in the Barossa Valley. The dill cucumber gave the dish a nice sour kick in contrast with creaminess of the purees.

Bottom line:  Scallop dishes are easy to recreate at home, ask your local fishmonger for Canadian scallops – they really are the best.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Moon - Part Three (Barossa Winery Précis)

"Wine is the most civilized thing in the world." Ernest Hemingway.

With The Husband's love of all things alcoholic a significant portion of the ‘Moon was spent sourcing new additions for our ever-growing wine collection. I’m no sommelier, but I know what I like. In general, the wineries we visited fell into three categories:
  1. Wineries that offered spectacular wines with long term value;
  2. Wineries that offered very enjoyable cellar door experiences with good wines on offer; and 
  3. Wineries that were thoroughly underwhelming. 
I’m not going to name and shame the latter, but here are the wineries in the former two categories, and favourite wines at each.
1.       Spend, spend, spend!
Torbreck Wines - online here or hear them tweet.
Torbreck is one of my favourite wineries to visit, their wine is sensational throughout the well-crafted range. You can spend $22 on the Woodcutter's Shiraz right through to $700 on The Laird.  Read various reviews on their range here

David Powell, the Managing Director and Chief Wine Maker is internationally acclaimed and has collaborated with the likes of Ferran Adrià at El Bulli in Catalonia Spain, Tetsuya Wakada and Luke Mangan. Torbreck at El Bulli? Surely a match made in epicurean heaven. Wines are distributed far and wide, and can be purchased online by those in Australia, UK and the US.

Torbreck Wines lined up for consumption by the Husband & I

Kabminye Wines - online here

Kabminye offers some great wines for a price far lower than some of the more well-known winemakers in the region. Rick Glastonbury is producing small quantities, which are generally only available at the cellar door or a few restaurants and bottle shops around Australia. All Kabminye wines are 100% Barossa fruit, many made with rare traditional grape varieties. One example being the 'Kerner' a hybrid grape variety, cross-bred from Riesling and late ripening black grape. Rick's also produced a smashing sparkling chenin blanc named 'the Tulia' after his second daughter.

Delivery can be arranged throughout Australia at a very reasonable price - so order up now. Your cellar will thank you!

Rockford Wines - online here
Ah – hello my old friend Alicante Bouchet Rose, the chosen poison for all Adelaide private school university graduates. We’ve had some good times in the past, but it’s not you, it’s me. You remain consistently drinkable, but now I’m on the other side of 25, your sexy older cousin, the Rockford Black Shiraz is far more appealing.
The Black Shiraz is literally the acclaimed Basket Press Shiraz made into a sparkling shiraz with almost a champagne like texture. The result is a wine which has become almost impossible to procure, is apparently stocked by few retailers and is also subject to a three bottle per person limit at the cellar door. So a visit in person is a must.

Shiraz grapes on their way to the Basket Press...
2.       Visit & Enjoy
Two Hands Wines - online here

Two Hands offers a slick, professional cellar door, catering well for Gen-Y trendy parents group. There are sleek front tasting rooms as well as deck and lawn area complete with cricket and pentaque sets. Yummy mummies can watch the little ones from the deck whilst sipping their Beautiful Disguise White Frontignac, whilst the fathers debate the merits of the different shiraz's from Barossa, Clare or McLaren Vale regions. If you feel like splurging, purchase the Barney's Block shiraz or Bella's Garden Shiraz.

Charles Melton Wines (pet friendly) - online here
Charles Melton has a lovely rustic-style cellar door, with beautiful views from the verandah dining area and a welcoming long tasting table in front of a huge fire. Two gorgeous Dalmatians preside over Charles Melton celler door, and you're welcome to bring your own furry friend along. The restaurant offers gourmet pies along with Saskia Beer products. Great place for lunching with friends, furry or not!
Tscharke - online here
If you're after something a little different, head to Tscharke's, where winemaker Damien Tscharke is developing alternative grape varietals in the Valley, including planting Tempranillo, Graciano, Montepulciano, Zifandel and Albarino grapes. These varieties are said to be better suited to the climate, and therefore more sustainable. This is a young cellar door truly enthused about their products, and excited about doing things a little differently.
Given the Husband's fondness for Barossa shiraz, his nose was slightly upturned at the small range including the 'Tscharke Syrah', 'Potter Granacha' and the 'Girl Talk Savagnin', but I enjoyed trying something different. The cellar door also resembles Hansel and Gretal house's and is well worth a viewing.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Moon - Part Two (Attica)

74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea VIC
We arrived back in Melbourne for one final Moon dinner at Attica. I’d been awaiting this dinner with great anticipation for two reasons: firstly, I’d read a great deal of favourable press and secondly because a friend I met over a decade ago, the very talented Banjo Harris Plane is the sommelier and restaurant manager at Attica. I knew Attica must be very special as he’d left Sydney to take up the role (Banjo formerly worked at Est of the Hemmes Group fame, and at Quay, home of the snow egg!).  Follow his musings here
In short, the experience lived up to my very high expectations. What is so special about Attica is that diners are challenged through the invention of dishes and flavour combinations, rather than by bizarre cooking methods. There is no foam or reconstructed molecularly modified ingredients. No ipod playing through a shell as you eat your meal (Heston’s Fat Duck style) or scented smoke rising from your dish. In some ways, this dinner is the antithesis to decadent frivolity but maintains an air of sustainable-luxe. Who know eating things found on St Kilda beach would ever be sexy? But that is exactly what Ben Shrewy is doing, collecting weird and wonderful things from around Ripponlea, the Bellarine Penninsula and who knows where else,  and adding them to his dishes.
Ben’s profile on the Attica website explains his belief that food can have a deeper meaning than just  being another item to consume. For Ben, it’s “important to have respect and empathy for animals and plants and a connection with the past, or an emotion felt through a memory of an event or culture experienced”.   He draws inspiration from his native Kiwi-land which is prevalent in a number of the dishes we had.  For the sceptics, I agree this all sounds airy-fairy, but his connection and feelings for food really shows through the dishes.
For those wanting more of this Willy-Wonka like chef, his cookbook will be out later this year and can be pre-ordered at Books for Cooks (233-235 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy online here) Not sure if you can pre order online, but a great site regardless.
Also check out this rather sweet short film entitled ‘Kobe and the Sea’ in which Ben takes his son, Kobe, gathering for ingredients! Kobe and the Sea
Our Attica Tasting Menu
·         The Walnut in its Shell & Sea Bounty Mussels - Billecart Salmon Brut NV – Mareuil-sur-Ay, France

There were two “starters” the first was a walnut puree you ate out of the walnut shell. At this point I was too excited to actually listen to what other ingredients were in it, but it was delicious!). Secondly was a raw mussel that was deep fried in a lovely light crisp batter, which in turn cooked the mussel during the deep frying process. A nice “New Zealandly” touch of a hand painted shell garnished the dish. This starter was not surprisingly, very “seafoody”, which was less to the Husband’s liking.

·         Tomato, Smoked Seasame, Eleven Basils - Equipo Navazos La Bota No. 27 Fino – Jerez, Spain.
This dish was accompanied by probably the most pleasant sherry I’ve tried. Sherry is an interesting choice but dry and sweet enough to be a good accompaniment to the smokiness of the seasame and the freshness of the basils. Who know that there were eleven types of basil you could grow in Australia? Well it’s in the Attica kitchen garden!

·         A simple dish of Potato cooked in the earth it was grown - Moss Anjou 2010 - Anjou, France
The cooking process of the potato resembled that of a New Zealand ‘Hangi’ (hey bro!) whereby the potato is packed into the earth and slow cooked in it. The potato arrived like a glossy-golden egg nestled on a bed of crispy sage leaves and a smoked anchovy/olivey white cream.

·         Meat from the Pearl Oyster - Castagna ‘Allegro’ Rose 2010 – Beechwoth, Victoria
I’m well used to wearing pearls, but who knew you could eat Pearl meat? Attica source this pearl meat from Paspaley pearls none the less. The texture is reminiscent of a scallop, but perhaps slightly denser but with a subtle-oyster like flavour. The rose worked beautifully, it was the light pink/sunset colour rose rather than type that resembles red cordial.

·         Flinders Island Wallaby, Bunya Pine, Native Currant - Guiseppe Travesa ‘Sori Ciabot’ Barbaresoc 2006 from Piedmont, Italy and Cuvee Ripponlea Syrah 2011 – Heathcote, Victoria.

Wallaby meat was very succulent, like a cross between venison and kangaroo, but without the pungent taste of kangaroo. Worked well with the bunya pine which again was sourced locally. The wallaby was literally hunted down on Flinders Island and presumably shot down with a bow and arrow Hunger Games style.  Accompanied with wine made by Banjo and a couple of his mates(the Ripponlea Syrah) which is now stocked exclusively at Attica.
·         Raisins Whey & Hazelnut – Knoll Gruner Veltliner Beerenauslese 2007 – Wachau, Austria, Man O’ War ‘Ironclad’ Cabernet Blend 2008 – Waiheke Island New Zealand, New Zealand),
·         Afghan Biscuit  - Equipo Navazos ‘Casa del Inca’ Pedro Ximenez – Jerez, Spain (As drank at FermentAsian!) and Holgate ‘Temptress’ Chocolate Porter – Macedon, Victoria
·         The Pukeko’s Egg – Quinta do Noval 20 year old Tawny - Oporto, Portugal and Domaine La Barroche ‘Terrior’ 2009 – Chateauneuf-du-Pepe, France

All three desserts were delicious and inventive (especially the Afghan Biscuit, which we coined ‘grown up cornflakes’), but for me it was all about the mains. The desserts were just the icing on the cake of a truly spectacular meal.
Am I brave enough to cook with Port Melbourne sea lettuce or hunt down a native animal in Gasworks Park? Probably not. But Attica should inspire everyone to add something a little different their own dishes tonight, just for adventure’s sake.
What I loved: The incredibly innovative, yet delicious use of different ingredients, rather than use of the same ingredients in different methods.
What I’d like to see: The Husband taking me there weekly!  Note there is also a “tight-arse Tuesday” option of an experimental menu at a reduced price.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Moon - Part One

We start the adventure on our Honeymoon, a.k.a “The Moon”.  The Moon took place in two parts across two states, commencing in the Barossa Valley and finishing with a drive along the Great Ocean Road. The Moon was a chance to escape airports which we frequent fair too often for business purposes and voluminous trips back to our home state. The Barossa Valley was therefore the perfect escape. Baggage check-in and token cheese and crackers in the Qantas lounge need not apply!
The Barossa is a region we both love, and did not frequent nearly as often as we should have whilst we lived in Adelaide. Here are our most memorable experiences during the Moon.
90 Murray Street, Tanunda –
This is a dining experience not to be missed whilst in the Barossa. In a region traditionally dominated by Germanic influenced cuisine (think wiener schnitzel and smoked meats in many different forms!), fermentAsian is spicing up valley produce with south-east Asian flavours.  
Chef/owner Tuoi Do together with her partner Grant Dickson have created a formidable menu and wine list, and believe in supporting local producers whom share in their ethical beliefs (think organic, biodynamic producers). Every dish is characterised by such an intense freshness and perfectly formed flavours. The key to these dishes is the quality of produce grown by Tuoi’s parents, whom have created a kitchen garden producing the exotic herbs and vegetables intrinsic to the dishes.
Grant also works for Rockford Wines, and has assembled an incredibly comprehensive wine list. The wine list showcases Barossa favourites, exciting newcomers as well an array of imported wines and wines from other Australian regions.
The restaurants flair far surpasses the South Australian Gouger Street crowd. A dining experience at fermentAsian is an absolute must.
We shared
·         Thit lon cuon la lot- Fresh betal leaves with sticky caramelised pork and incendiary components
Perfectly fresh crisp betal leave with a sizeable whack of chilli. Explosive start!

·         Gio mia Sai Gon – Saigon sugar cane prawns with lime-chilli-salt
Loved the sweetness of the prawn meat and sugar cane combined with the DIY sauce flavours
·         Lon voi gung va cam – Barossa Berkshire pork belly with ginger and orange sauce
Beautifully cooked succulent pork belly with crispy glazed top, fantastic marriage of marinate and the meat.
·         Goi Nam – Warm mixed mushroom salad with galangal dressing
 A unexpected highlight of the meal. The depth of flavours created by different mushrooms and sourness of galangal is remarkable.

·         Ca ri bo – Penang peanut curry of Barossa black Angus beef ribs
Decadent and creamy, meat falling from the bone. Good dish and again perfectly cooked, but not as strong or original as the other dishes.
·         Banh Chocola va xa – Chocolate and Lemongrass mousse
Freshness is created by the use of lemon grass, great texture to the mousse. A good play on a more traditional dessert.

We drank
To begin: 2011 Rockford White Frontignac, Barossa Valley SA.
In the middle: 2010 Radford ‘Quartz Garden’ Riesling, Eden Valley, SA.
To end: NZ Radford Fortified Riesling and 2009 Navazos ‘Casa Del Inca’ Pedro Ximenez black grape cherry sherry
What I loved:  It all – but especially the incredibly freshness and attention to detail in every dish, flavours are perfectly explosive in every dish.
What I’d like to see:  A chef’s tasting menu or the option of smaller serves so that we could have tried more of the amazing menu!
Comparable to: Longrain (Melbourne & Sydney), Coda (Flinders Lane, Melbourne)

Appellation at the Louise
Corner Seppeltsfield and Stonewall Roads, Marananga, Barossa Valley SA
 We stayed at the Louise during the Barossa Valley portion of the Moon. The Louise is a luxury boutique hotel beautifully perched above vineyards and rolling countryside. The views are spectacular, but the standout feature of the hotel is the privacy offered by the opulent suites. The Louise offers a large range of services and tours of the local area, as one would expect from a luxury boutique hotel of its character.
Having read many favourable reviews I was greatly anticipating dining at Appellation.  The menu is based around local ingredients sourced from an extensive network of local suppliers and Appellation’s own kitchen garden. More than 85% of the menu travels less than 30 km’s to the table, and the focus is on flavour, texture, diversity and sustainability. The daily chef’s tasting menu is billed as a premier degustation showcasing the particular season, outstanding and unique produce accompanied by the world class Barossa wines.  An  a la carte menu of small plates is also on offer, with recommendation of three plates per person.

The restaurant itself is a luxurious series of rooms creating different dining spaces maintaining the Louise’s privacy attributes. When dining, guests should arrive at least a half an hour early to enjoy an aperif on the outdoor lounge area overlooking the spectacular countryside and kitchen garden.
After much deliberation, the Husband and I chose the chef’s tasting menu and accompanying wine flight.
We ate and drank
·         Pastry wafer with caramelized onion, olive and anchovy (2008 Bethany Brut)
·         Salad of mushroom with goats curd, roasted almond and raspberry dressing (2011 Spinifex Rose)
·         Twice cooked belly of Berkshire pork with braised cabbage and dill pickles (2011 Pewsey Vale ‘Prima’ Riesling)
·         Rare fillet of beef with braised beetroot  and buttered potato puree (2008 Maverick ‘Twins’ GSM)
·         Peach and almond flan with Jersey cream

The quality of produce was exceptional, and every dish was cooked perfectly. The menu is perfectly pitched at an international or interstate guest who would no doubt be highly impressed. Whilst I enjoyed every course, I was a little disappointed that the dishes lacked a creative element present in the best degustation menus. The creative element is present in the a la carte offerings with dishes such as ‘mildly spiced Spencer Gulf Prawns with spinach and almond milk infused with citrus’.
The wine matching and service are both exemplary, and overall Appellation offers a fine dining experience comparable to the best in Australia.
I loved: The quality of the produce, exceptional service.
What I’d like to see: More adventure in the chef’s tasting menu.

20 Bank Street Port Fairy, Victoria –
Port Fairy is a quaint fishing village 300 km’s from Melbourne. Historically, the town was settled for the purposes of sealing and whaling. Now it is quiet town with wide streets and a large number of impressive heritage listed buildings. The town population swells during the annual Port Fairy Roots Festival by around 40,000 people, as well as during Easter and summer breaks.  It appears the normal crowds may not support a extensive number of quality restaurants during non-peak times as the dining options were some what limited.
L’Edera is a gem hidden amongst the few take away fish and chip shops in the town. Nestled in the original Council chambers for the Belfast Municipal District, the bluestone structure was also the local post office. Now it houses a front bar/ lounge, a medium indoor dining area leading to a outdoor dining area.
Chef Giovanni De Cicco uses fresh local ingredients to create authentic Italian dishes. He appeared to both the chef and kitchen hand, working diligently in his kitchen alone.  There were two other staff, a front of house and a waitress – although the service was exceptionally friendly and warming, the restaurant was not adequately staffed.  A number of dishes and wine options were unavailable due to a busy proceeding weekend. One couple rather rudely left the restaurant when their chosen chardonnay and fish dishes were unavailable.
However, all complaints are abated when the food arrives. Flavoursome, fresh and balanced are thoughts that come to mind when remembering the dishes. Care and thoughtfulness is evident in the four dishes we ordered. The food produced is truly delicious and satisfying.
The wine list is well constructed with carefully selected wines that match the food and are reasonably priced. Surprising omissions are a champagne option and more than one chardonnay option. Both would be popular with the city tourists who venture from Melbourne to  frequent the million dollar beach houses of Port Fairy.
We ate
·         Carciofi di Ripetta from Rome, crispy fried baby Artichoke Hearts served with a Tallegio sauce (shared)
Cooked to bring out the very best of a difficult, distinctive vegetable. Tellegio sauce is a great accompaniment, flavoursome without overpowering the delicate artichoke flavour.
·         The Husband: Saltinbocca all Romana from Rome, thinly sliced Milk Veal layered with Proscuitto and Sage pan cooked in white wine sauce
Devoured with great acclaim by the Husband!
·         Risotto Nero con Zuichini from the Amalfi Coast, organic black wild rice folded with sliced Zuichinni, fresh tomato, basil, buffalo mozzarella and a touch of white wine
Delicious bursts of fresh summary vegetables, buffalo is pleasantly evident without over powering the other flavours. Wild rice is cooked to maintain a slight crunch, bringing a delightful texture to the dish.
·         Pere al Prosecco, pear poached in Prosecco wine with Cinnamon and a touch of chilli, rosemary, bay leaf and served with marinated strawberries (shared)
Good dessert, but would be greatly improved by a more prominent kick of chilli and a more ‘al dente’ pear which was slightly too soft.
We drank
 La Riva dei Frati Prosecco, Santa Christina Sangiovese.
What I loved: The entrée and mains clearly demonstrated such skill and care, and were a very delicious thoughtful interpretation of authentic Italian cuisine
What I’d like to see: Attention to detail in the service provided and general restaurant set up. Bar / Lounge area was cold and the dining area was split into two distinct sections, creating an artificial feeling of bistro and fine dining elements which doesn’t really work. Attention to the last 5% would turn this great dining experience to an exceptional one.
Comparable to: Ambrosini’s (Norwood, SA)