Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2015

Food and beer matching dinner at Beer Deluxe

400 Gradi, Brunswick

The world's greatest margherita, both officially, and declared by me

Ottolengi's Soba Noodles With Eggplant and Mango

Tender eggplant, sweet mango, and delicious asian dressing

South Society

Bringing hipster cafe culture to the South

Thursday, April 16, 2015

'
There aren’t many local breakfast haunts near my place. Hyde and Seek is probably the closest, and it’s still a good 45 minute walk away, so when I heard that a new cafe had opened up a ten minute walk away, I was pretty excited. South Society is located in Pinewood, just around the corner from Proud Peacock (if you haven’t been to Proud Peacock yet, you need to do so ASAP!) and looks pretty fancy to be nestled in amongst the local shops.

We went on a public holiday, soon after it opened, and it was clear that we were slow on the uptake. The cafe was bustling and the clientele were varied. There were elderly couples enjoying their morning coffee, families making the most of the public holiday and enjoying time spent together and girlfriends catching up over brunch.


I was armed with my camera, so I walked in and tried to pick a table that would give me the best vantage point to take photos. The space was large, the windows light, and the fittings were modern and funky. It was comforting to know that this cafe looked like it was suited to the inner city, yet was just minutes from my doorstep.

A perusal through the menu revealed that they had cauliflower, carrot and quinoa patties, which sounded like they would resemble fritters, but I decided to deviate from my standard choice and went for smashed avocado, broad beans and peas on rye bread with pan fried haloumi, poached egg and truffle oil. The remainder of the menu had a decent selection of other sweet and savoury breakfasts, including the cleverly named Van Damme waffles which were in such a large serve that they looked like they would be impossible to demolish.

Our coffee arrived promptly and our space filled with a rich aroma. I am not sure what coffee beans were used, but a brief look at their Facebook page reveals that they may be using St Ali coffee. I’ve always held St Ali coffee in high regard, so this would explain why the coffee at South Society was pretty impressive for a little suburban shop.



The meals arrived soon after, and it was clear that this was a cafe that took its food seriously. A top a thick, toasted slice of rye bread was a beautiful mash of avocado, broad beans and peas. What made this mash perfect was the texture, there was the smoothness of the mash contrasted by interspersed bites of whole peas and broad beans that added bursts of sweetness to the meal. The haloumi was well fried, but then again, how can anything go wrong with fried cheese?


And then the ultimate test, the yolk porn test.


A clear pass.

The other half also went for a savoury breakfast, with bacon, because apparently bacon makes everything better. I tend to disagree, but each to their own! He had mushrooms on cornbread, served with char grilled peppers, bacon, poached egg and pesto. According to him, the char grilled peppers were the star of this dish, yes, they even beat the bacon! The were well charred, with plenty of olive oil and thyme, and full of flavour. This combination  has become such a favourite, that I now regularly char capsicums with olive oil and thyme, and they are always appreciated.


South Society also have great customer service. I saw quite a few people come in with dietary requirements, or they were just fussy eaters, and the wait staff had no issues adapting the menu to meet everyone’s needs. What won me over was the fact that when I pulled my camera out to take photos, they turned all the lights on, to make sure I got a good shot! A place that caters to a camera wielding vegetarian is always going to get my vote!

South Society on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 15, 2015

'
With Melbourne commonly accepted as the food capital of Australia, it is no surprise that the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival plays host to a range of fun and fabulous events that showcase Victoria’s restaurants and produce.  We took the opportunity to attend a beer and food matching dinner held at Beer Deluxe in Federation Square. Whilst matching food and wine is a concept that most are familiar with, the concept of matching beer with food is still largely being introduced to the general public by the beer connoisseurs.

We were seated at long communal benches, which created the initial atmosphere for the event. Sitting next to people you didn’t know, forced you to socialise, and pretty soon, the barriers were broken and laughs were heard all around. Our host, who’s name I can’t remember, but we referred to him as Alan due to the striking resemblance he beared to his Hangover namesake, started off the night with an introduction about beer, the brewing movement, and some fun facts like that beer is the oldest recipe in the world!


In front of us were placed menus, and soon it was time to eat.


Course 1:
Non veg option: Cured kingfish, fennel, dill, hops
Veg option: Marinated artichoke, fennel dill, hops
Matched beer: Moo Brew Hefeweizen


As with all the courses, the element of the meal that matched the beer was the sauce and accompaniments, so it made little difference that the protein was replaced in my meal. The use of hops in a meal was a new idea for me, but surprisingly, it didn’t dominate the flavours and instead complimented the other elements well. The beer, also added an additional dimensions, and it was easy to see how it enhanced the taste of the meal.

Course 2:
Non veg option: Confit pork belly, smoked cauliflower, lychee
Veg option: Pumpkin gnocchi, smoked cauliflower, lychee
Matched beer: Feral Hop Hog IPA


An explanation about the history of Indian pale ales from Alan, educated us about the origins of this style of beer. The IPA is a strongly hopped pale ale which was designed to survive the long sea journey from England to India, to satisfy the drinking requirements of the soldiers. Whilst many find the flavour of an IPA not palatable, the beer paired very well with the meal.
The sweetness of the lychee brought out a sweetness in the beer, and they accentuated each other. They were not however sickly sweet, as the smokiness of the cauliflower added an additional layer of flavour. Unfortunately, the gnocchi was slightly below my high expectations of pasta. They were a little stodgy, rather than the little soft pillows of goodness that I always hope for in gnocchi. Luckily, the other elements compensated for this significantly, especially the cauliflower puree. The smoked flavour is one of my favourites, so I really enjoyed it in this dish.

Course 3:
Non veg option: Grilled duck breast, pickled cherries, shallot puree, mixed radish
Veg option: Mixed mushrooms, pickled cherries, shallot puree, mixed radish
Matched beer: Moon Dog Mr Mistoffelees


Alan told us that they were keen on a course to divide the opinions of the guests, and this was the course. Mr. Mistoffelees was a sour beer, with supposed tones of mango and passionfruit, but for me, it was really not pleasant at all. I tried it with the meal, in the hope that the beer with the food would enhance the flavours, but unfortunately this was not the case. The dish by itself was delicious. I am a huge mushroom fan, so any dish with mushrooms is a sure fire winner with me, and one again, the puree was the real winner. But having the beer with the meal did not work at all, and infact I found that the sourness of the beer was accentuated, creating an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Course 4:
Meal: Stout cake, caramel Italian meringue
Matched beer: Cavalier Brown Ale

Unfortunately I must have forgotten to take a picture of this course :( You just have to trust me when I say it was delicious. Dark ales and chocolate desserts are always a great pairing, and this was no exception. The Cavalier Brown Ale is not extra dark or heavy, so satisfied the palates of even the drinkers who usually don’t like dark ales, and the stout cake accentuated the chocolate and coffee overtones of the beer.

The cake on its own was soft, moist and full of flavour. Unfortunately the Italian meringue that it was served with was all but a little dribble on the plate. I would have preferred a much bigger portion of meringue, or perhaps some rich chocolate sauce instead, after all what can beat chocolate with chocolate? Oh that’s right, chocolate with dark ale.

If there was one criticism to make, it was that the portion sizes were extremely small. Most of us finished the four courses still hungry, and we ended up ordering a bowl of chips to share. Whilst I understand that fine dining typically has small serving sizes, a little more food wouldn’t have gone astray given how much beer was consumed! Overall, it was a fabulous night. Kudos to Beer Deluxe for hosting such a fun evening. It could have gone horribly wrong by seating us on communal tables, but everyone was friendly and we all had a great time!

Beer DeLuxe on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 20, 2015

'
Photo Credit: The Telegraph UK
  Not every vegetarian is an angry, animal rights activist, out to convert everyone, type of vegetarian. Some of us choose vegetarianism for personal reasons, and we really don’t feel the need to explain ourselves. But for those of you who insist on asking a billion questions, here are some points to read before the next time you interrogate a vegetarian.

1.    I am a vegetarian. I am not a vegan. Therefore I eat milk and eggs. Yes, this means that I eat cheese, and ice cream and quiches. Yes, I also know that many cheeses contain rennet and most ice creams contain gelatine, but I have chosen not to extend my vegetarianism that far. I’m allowed to choose what I do and don’t want to eat.

2.    I am a vegetarian for spiritual reasons. Somewhere in my psyche, the thought of eating another soul doesn’t quite gel with me. I feel as though each body (be it of feather, fur or fin variety) was created to house a soul, and I don’t feel that it’s my place to decide when that body’s time is up.  I’m well aware that may make me sound like a tree hugging hippie to you, but just let me be. I’m also an engineer, so clearly there’s some rational thought in my head too, right?

3.    I am a vegetarian because I believe in animal rights. I don’t believe animals should be hurt, much less killed for me to eat them. I don’t need to eat them to survive, so there is no reason for them to suffer or die for me.

4.    I am a vegetarian because I don’t like the taste of meat. Even as a child, before the issues about spirituality and animal rights came into my head, I never really liked the taste of meat. The chicken curry was always pushed to the side of the plate, the lamb curry was always palmed off to my mum because I was too full, and the smell of fried fish made me dry reach. Believe it or not, not everybody like the taste of meat, so when you ask me how I could possible enjoy life without bacon in it, you need to understand that the smell of bacon makes me feel ill.

5.    I am a vegetarian. That’s right. ME. Not you, not my family, not my partner, not my friends. Their dietary choices are theirs to make. I do not want to influence them, or force them into changing their ways. I can enjoy a meal and their company at a table despite that fact that I am eating a different meal. It doesn’t make a difference.

6.    Yes, I understand that plants have feelings too. But plants don’t have a central nervous system. Besides, let’s be a little bit practical here. Remember that rational thought that’s in my head? That’s what kicks in. I need to food to survive. If I’m not going to eat animals, then my only other option is plants. So I’m going to eat plants.

But the most important this I wish people would remember is that this is MY choice that I’ve made for MYSELF. I’m not hurting anyone, or trying to influence anyone, so please just let me be.

Monday, December 29, 2014

'
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to win a voucher to dinner at 400 Gradi from Sweet Cherrie Pie. At the time, 400 Gradi had just been crowned as having the world's best margherita pizza, and as a result bookings were scarce, so it took us this long to use our prize.  Even months down the track, I had to make a reservation 3 weeks in advance for a Tuesday night, and the only slot they could give me was 8:15pm! I decided this was a good sign to indicate that the food should be good (because being deemed as having the world's best margherita is obviously not enough).

We arrived at 8:15pm on the dot, and the restaurant was packed! We hadn't anticipated this at all! We were quickly shown to our table, handed menus, offered drinks and we set out to make decisions on what we should order.

The menu offered all the standard Italian options, starting with antipasti, pizza, pasta, risotto, the more substantial meaty mains, and desserts. We settled on a couple of pizzas to share. The margherita was obviously the first choice, and for the second pizza, we decided on a pumpkin and rocket pizza.

The pizzas arrived in about 20 minutes, piping hot and with oozy cheese. We wasted no time in digging in, starting with the famous margherita.


Now I know I've already mentioned the margherita half a dozen times already, but let me assure you, it is worth every mention. I'm lucky enough to regularly have homemade woodfired pizzas which I thought were the best in the world, but the 400 Gradi pizza was even better than what I'm used to (let's hope there aren't any Russo's reading this!).

Let's start with the dough; it was bready without being too chewy, thin enough without being too crisp and it had the beautiful smokiness that the woodfired cooking process imparts. All a margherita has is sauce, basil and mozarella, so you'd think that there can't be much variation, but 400 Gradi had perfected each of these elements to create the perfect combination. The sauce was full of flavour, the basil was fresh and imparted a beautiful aroma and the fresh mozarella was soft and oozy, just the way I like it. I really can't express how delicious this pizza was, no amount of flowery language will do it justice.

After the margherita I wasn't sure if it was worth trying another pizza, after all, I had already hit the jackpot, but since when have I ever said no to food?!

The second pizza was lined with a white sauce, thinly sliced roast pumpkin, soft goats cheese, pine nuts, and dressed with rocket. I'm a big fan of fresh greens on a pizza post cooking, and the rocket worked beautifully with all the other ingredients. It made for a delicious pizza, but alas, for me, it didn't compare the the margherita.


After the pizzas we decided to indulge in some dessert. The menu was full of scrumptious options, so we did what any indecisive people would do, and ordered a tasting platter. The platter came with three different desserts, a honey pannacotta, a lemon tart and a nutella crepe.


The honey pannacotta was perfect, full of honey flavour and the right amount of wobble. The lemon curd in the lemon tart was also delicious, but the pastry was not the greatest. And the nutella crepe was great, but seemed a little less refined in comparison to the other two desserts.

The meal at 400 Gradi was definitely on the steep side, especially for pizza, but it was delicious. If you could ever imagine a fine dining pizza experience, 400 Gradi is it. And if you can't imagine it, get yourself to 400 Gradi, because it is an experience everyone should undergo.

400 Gradi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 11, 2014

'
Ashamed as I am to admit it, I am a relatively new convert to Ottolenghi and his recipes. I've already bought a copy of Plenty More, his second vegetarian cookbook, as an early Christmas present to myself, but I'm still getting through recipes from Plenty, which was my first Ottolenghi purchase. I had come home from from the market with various fruits and vegetables, including eggplants, mangoes, and herbs which needed to be used up, and this soba noodle dish seemed perfect. I have never cooked with soba noodles and too be honest, I think any thin non-egg noodles would work just as well, perhaps even vermicelli.

Ingredients:

Sunflower oil for frying

2 eggplants, diced into 2cm cubes


300g soba noodles

1 large ripe mango, cut into cubes


1 cup basil leaves, chopped (if you can get some use Thai basil, but much less of it)
1 cups cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced

Dressing:
1/2 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime

Method:

1. First make the dressing. In a small pan, heat the rice vinegar, sugar and salt, until the sugar has dissolved completely.


2. Add the garlic, chilli and sesame oil, and remove the pan from the heat.

3. Allow the dressing to cool, and once cooled, add the lime zest and juice.

4. While the dressing is cooling, shallow fry the eggplant in batches and drain on paper towels. As i try to avoid using too much oil, I lightly fried the eggplant, and then covered the pan to allow the eggplants to cook in the steam.

5. Cook the soba noodles according to the instructions. I cooked mine in salted boiling water for about 5 minutes and then drained them and rinsed them well in cold water and allow the water to drain completely.


6. In a large boil, toss the noodles, eggplant, herbs, onion and dressing. Ideally you should let the salad sit for an hour or so, but I was in a rush and served it 10 minutes later. It still tasted great!


This is probably the first of quite a few Ottolenghi recipes I will be blogging, so stay tune!

Monday, December 01, 2014

'
Now in their second year, the Melbourne Night Noodle Markets have become an important fixture of the Good Food Month calendar in Melbourne. This year the organisers were better equipped to deal with the crowds and moved the markets to Birrarung Marr across three separate areas. It was a beautiful atmosphere, with open grassy spaces, the backdrop of the Melbourne skyline with the MCG, the Arts Centre spire and the Eureka tower in the background, and most importantly some of the best Asian food traders we have, there to showcase their food.


We started our foodie adventures with some dumplings at New Shanghai. This is the new dumpling place that has opened at the Emporium. I got the vegetarian dumplings, of which there were three in a serve. The dumplings were quite flavoursome but rather small, but still a good start to the evening.

New Shanghai on Urbanspoon

Next up was Le Bangkok where we tried the tofu pad thai. Pad thai is one of our favourite noodle dishes, and this was a good one. There was a good amount of tofu which was contrasted by the freshness of the bean shoots and spring onion. I would definitely consider going back to the Le Bangkok restaurant to get some more.


Le Bangkok on Urbanspoon

I decided it was important to try a variety of cuisines, so after hitting up the Chinese and Thai stalls, I decided to move on to Sri Lankan. Lankan Tucker was there, and watching them use their skills to make kothu roti was enough to make me salivate. Unfortunately they only had chicken kothu roti, so I had to settle for a pan roll, but this was pretty damn good. Infact it was so good that it went down before I could get a photo.


We then moved on to our second area up on the hill of Birrarung Marr. This was definitely the premium area with both Kong and Chin Chin setting up shop here. Both had long lines, but I was adamant that we had to try at least one. Given that I still haven’t been to Kong, we decided to try their famous buns. Let me tell you, they were definitely worth the wait. I had the peanut butter salt and pepper tofu bun, with pickled mustard crushed peanuts, chilli mayonnaise and some fresh coriander to cut through it all. It was amazing and I could have eaten ten of them, but I forced myself to exercise some self control and stopped at just one.

Kong BBQ on Urbanspoon

And needless to say it would have been sacrilegious for me to walk past an Indian stall and not indulge in any Indian street food, so I made a stop at Overdosa. This was an all vego stall so I had a full menu to choose from, and I opted for the Bombay Burger. This was an aloo bonda (or spiced potato patty) in a vada pav roll (sweet milk bun), which was liberally slathered with tomato sauce and garnished with fresh green chilli. Definitely took me back to my Indian street food roots...


Overdosa on Urbanspoon 

And of course we had to finish with dessert. Whilst the majority of the crowds flocked to the Gelato Messina stall, we opted for crème brulee at the Brulee Cart. We had a Dulce de Loco crème brulee which was a cardamom spiced custard sitting on a bed of poached pears and topped with some salted caramel popcorn. Unfortunately our crème brulee standards are pretty high, and whilst the flavours worked well together, the custard seemed a little runnier than we would have liked it. Still we polished it off quite easily, so I definitely wouldn’t call it all bad.



The Brûlée Cart on Urbanspoon

All in all it was a great evening. Perhaps some tips for people going next year:

Go on a weekday, go early in the season, and get there by 6pm at the latest. The people who went at about 7pm on the last Friday almost gave up waiting in hour long queues.

Take cash. There are only a handful of Citibank ATMs and they have massive queues.

See if you can get yourself into a marquee to secure a seat. This year both the Citibank and The Age marquees were available. The Citibank marquee required you to show your card, and The Age marquee required pre registration for subscribers.

And most importantly, go with an empty stomach. There is so much food, and it would be a sin not to make the most of it!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

'
The address says Malvern, but I’d be more inclined to say it’s in Tooronga, given that it is directly opposite Tooronga Station. But technicalities aside, let’s focus on what 30 Mill Espresso is there for, and that’s good breakfast and great coffee.

30 Mill Espresso serve Five Senses coffee which is full bodied with a rich aroma. I never used to be a coffee snob, but these days, I can definitely tell a good coffee from an average one. This coffee was on the high side of good. I was already winning, which is unusual for early on a Saturday morning.


The menu had a mixture of sweet and savoury options but as expected my eyes gravitated towards the corn fritters. The corn fritters were served with dollops of creamy labneh, confit cherry tomatoes, a delicious red onion jam, and dusted with dukkah. Unfortunately the fritters were less like the crunchy fritters that I expected and more like corn cakes. The flavour was great, and I could taste hints of coriander and cumin, but the texture was not there. The onion jam was the highlight though, and I was almost tempted to ask if it was house made, or whether I could purchase it.



The other half went for the blackboard special which was sliced chorizo on sourdough, served with avocado and feta mash, rocket salad, corn relish and a poached egg. He declared this a winner, mainly due to the avocado and feta mash which he said tasted pretty amazing.


There was also a delicious selection of fresh croissants and pastries on the counter, but unfortunately we were too full to try these. Perhaps next time...


Overall 30 Mill Espresso was a pretty good option for breakfast. Whilst I probably wouldn’t have the fritters again, I would go back and try something else. After all, they do serve some awesome coffee that’s worth making a second visit for.

30 Mill Espresso on Urbanspoon