Food and Wine

Crave Sydney Event: The Chef and the Gardener @ Chiswick

Kathryn and I took Wednesday off to mingle with the bold and the beautiful over in Woollahra at a Crave Sydney event.

Chiswick is the new restaurant owned by Matt Moran of Aria and Masterchef fame, and restaurateur Peter Sullivan.  The event proposed a tour of the restaurant garden and a 3 course lunch with matched wines.  Sounded pretty perfect to me.

It’s a beautiful, sunny Sydney day when we arrive.  Matt Moran introduces himself and welcomes us all to the restaurant.

He gave us some background – he originally wasn’t quite sure what sort of place he wanted.  He knew it wouldn’t be another fine dining-themed restaurant, so his partner suggested creating somewhere he himself would like to eat.  So that’s what they’ve done – good, simple food in a beautiful setting.

We started in the garden.

The garden came about because, due to noise restrictions, the space can’t be used for anything restaurant-y, so they created a kitchen garden under Pete Hatfield.

Pete, Head Gardener

We stood in the warmth, under date palms waving in the breeze, and spent an absorbing half-hour pottering around while he told us about his tomatoes, lettuces, the pests (white butterflies), herbs, artichokes and how he keeps it all healthy and thriving.

Space saving – herbs growing on the fence

The kitchen doesn’t dictate what’s grown – Pete works it out with them as they can have bizarre ideas of what’s possible.  Now that the garden’s up and running it takes him only a couple of hours 3 times a week to keep going. The chefs come out and help themselves to produce.

The restaurant menu is driven by what’s in season. The garden’s too small to supply all the kitchen’s requirements, but it essentially directs what gets onto the menu.

Next it was into the kitchen where we met Head Chef Simon Sandall.  He gave us a demo of how to peel a langoustine (use scissors) and I got to put the salad together while he made the dressing.

Simon’s pet peeve is people complaining about the scallops.  They’re expensive – $35 for 4 small ones.  But the reason they cost so much is that the restaurant’s ‘scallops bloke’ goes out diving 3 times a week to hand-collect them.  He sees at least 1 Great White every week.

Then it was time for lunch.  We all squeezed into one of the rooms, and despite being last in, we ended up on an excellent table and had a blast.

Kathryn and pudding

I had such a good time I wasn’t really paying attention to the food (or the wine)- which isn’t like me at all.

Starter:  kingfish, avocado, radish, nashi pear

Mains:  wood-roasted Moran family lamb, chick peas, mint; roasted Dory, little neck clams, curly kale, lemon;  green beans, confit eschallots & capers; rocket, parmesan and new season black grapes

Dessert:  Caramelia eclair with strawberry caviar and lemon tarte with coconut ice cream.

An excellent day:  great people, great food, great weather.

More please.

Health Kick

Cycled over to Sydney Markets this morning to get this week’s vegetable shopping – this  is what we got for $10:

Incredible – tons of stuff for curries, soups and stir fries.  There’s also a kilo of enormous apples at the back that you can’t see.  With this lot we’ll be making:

1. Leek and onion tart

2.  Vegetable rogan josh

3.  Brussel sprout, nutmeg and bacon soup

4.  Vegetable stir fry

5.  Leek and potato soup

Sydney Markets doesn’t quite provide the French market experience (or even Melbourne’s Victoria Market)  – it has all the charm of a council incinerator facility.

This latest health kick also includes not drinking alcohol while sitting at home attached to the sofa every evening – for the whole of May (gasp).

Results so far:  none.

This is day 13 and I thought I’d feel a bit zingier or something.  But no, life’s just the same – it’s just minus  the little bit of pleasure provided by a couple of glasses of decent plonk in the evening.  Is it worth it?  I’m not sure.  I think that must mean ‘no’.

Continuing with the vegetable theme, here is a picture of Neil’s carrots which he grew in pots on the balcony, alongside a normal carrot from the market.  Can you tell them apart?  No, I couldn’t either.

I suspect that the ones on the left are Neil’s – only because he’s managed to grow them into vaguely rude shapes.  He’s very talented that way.  I can’t wait to see what he’ll do with the parsnips.

Greek Sausages

I’m sitting in a café in Bondi watching all the hunky blokes go by, when I suddenly start thinking about Greek sausages. 

On a recent Maeve O’Meara Greek Gourmet Safari in Marrickville, Sydney, the highlight for me was a visit to a butcher where we tasted the world’s best sausages.  Yes, honestly; the best I’ve ever had in my life. 

Greek God No 1 brought out a tray of cooked sausages for us to sample; a lemon is sliced and the juice drizzled over them.  Sausages and lemon.  Genius.

These are not insipid supermarket snags which need drowning in tomato sauce to give them some flavour.  These are kick-ass sausages with an oopmh all their own. After one bite of meaty, garlicky, deliciousness – the richness perfectly cut by the lemon juice – we all know we’re onto something special and the whole tray quickly disappears down the greedy gullets of a crowd of people already stuffed full of wondrous Greek patisseries. 

With greasy fingers and chins we stand there expectantly, hoping for more.  Instead, Greek God No 2 hauls out an enormous tray of raw sausage links and we fall on them and buy the lot.  It isn’t quite as desperate a scramble as the first day of the Myer New Year Sale but I only manage to get my paws on a kilo of them.  The group buy everything.  Not a sausage left. 

News of a good sausage spreads quickly and on my next trip to Canberra I take 6 kilos to sausage-starved friends.  I usually fly down but I thought that the garlicky pong might cause offence, especially on one of the 19 seater planes; never mind trying to get them through the x-ray machine (I once tried to take a large haggis to France via Heathrow and it caused a bit of a  panic in the X-ray queue). 

Instead, even with the snags in an insulated box, they still stink the car out.  But in the big scheme of things, it’s a tiny price to pay for the pleasure of a good sausage. 

Maeve’s tours are great – even if you’re an experienced cook with an advanced case of culinary ennui, this will get out of your comfort zone and re-awaken your zest for exploring. 

Illawarra Meats, 368 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville – 9558 5473 (cash only); Saturday close at 1pm.

Life Lesson No.1 (of a very long list)

Bitter  experience has taught me one thing:  Don’t Cook Anything for Work Events.  Ever.  Getting home late after a full day at work does not make for a happy and relaxed evening.

Being pathetically susceptible to flattery though, I was talked into making chocolate mousse (plus raspberry coulis) for 20 people for a work thing.

7pm:   get ingredients on the way home.  The bus is full, I’m knackered and weighed down with plastic bags that are starting to shred.  First twinges of resentment appear.

8pm:  start making quintuple quantities of the mousse.  The kilo of chocolate won’t melt. Because it’s really good chocolate, it doesn’t have anything in it to melt; it’s solid. I stare at it hopefully for 30 minutes (a well known cooking technique) but it clearly isn’t getting any better; it’s still a near-solid mass.   Panicking slightly, a handmixer seems just the thing to sort it all out but only succeeds in getting blobs of chocolate in my hair and all over the kitchen.

I call Neil in and demonstrate how the handmixer’s not helping and he gets a bit cross at the mess.

I separate the eggs but two are off (this NEVER happens to me) and there are none left.

Neil recognises the signs of imminent nervous breakdown due to culinary overload.   In his calm and thoughtful way, he suggests putting some milk in the chocolate to help break it down.  This works.  He heads out into the night to find more eggs.

The chocolate melts, new eggs arrive and finally, it’s full steam ahead.

9.30pm:   All done. It dawns on me that I can’t carry this huge bucket of chocolate mousse in to work on the bus in the morning.

10pm:  Neil drives me into the city and I abandon the wretched thing in the office fridge.  I’m exhausted.  Neil’s not too chuffed either.

Next day I’m in early to check on the mousse (am obsessed by this point). I use a tin of that aerosol plastic cream muck and decorate the top. After 5 minutes it loses its shape and turns the top of my precious mousse into white soup.

But ultimately, despite not looking crash hot, everyone loves it and the bowl is licked clean.  The raspberry coulis was a less than sparkling success though – a colleague asking “what’s that red stuff – tomato sauce?”

Peasant.

Thank you Neil for your (so far) limitless patience.  I won’t do it again.

Hunter Valley Road Trip

Kathryn, Daina and I went up to the Hunter Valley on Thursday to stalk our prey – cheese, wine, olives and good food.  Talking too much (really???), we drove well past the turn-off for the  Hunter and were heading for Darwin.

Just a little bit lost

A u-turn and some backtracking took us to Tempus Two.  I don’t usually buy their stuff but it was the first one we got to, so out of the car and into the tasting room.

Kathryn & Daina - Tempus Two

Nothing wonderful on the wine front so we headed into the huge cheese/deli area – but it was so crowded we didn’t stop.  Instead we had lunch on site at Goldfish.  Wonderful food – betel leaves stuffed with pork belly in an asian dressing, whitebait with aioli, gratin dauphinois and hot dried chilli beef. A bit of Atlantic/Pacific fusion.

Whitebait and dried chilli beef

We then headed off to Tintilla.  It was all good – I ended up with some  chardonnay, the Rosalind pink fizz, the 2007 reserve shiraz and the 2004 Justine merlot.  The winery itself is a beautiful old house right beside the vines.

Daina suggested Pigg’s Peake as the next stop so in we trooped.

Piggs Peake Pig

I liked a lot of what we tasted here but only bought the 2011 Silk Purse verdelho – Neil and I are supposed to be ‘not drinking’ and I had already bought half a case at Tintilla.

Piggs Peake vines

Next was cheese at Binorrie Dairy for their marinated goat’s cheese and ashed chevre (goat’s cheese added to scrambled eggs along with some pesto is my favourite weekend breakfast).

Last stop of the day was Peppers Creek Winery for coffee and cake.

Daina had a creme brulee; Kathryn and I were going to share a chocolate cheesecake but it was so good that I ordered my own (I’m a reluctant and resentful sharer anyway).

Afternoon tea

We didn’t get to all the wineries we wanted to but we’ll do more next time.  

A really excellent day – thanks to Kathryn for doing all the driving and to Daina for insights into her Lithuanian heritage, including literal  translations of common Lithuanian sayings.  Possibly a bit too literal 🙂

Molecular Gastronomy

Last night, an exclusive gathering of Sydney’s social flotsam congregated in the Great Hall at Sydney Uni for ‘an explosive night of molecular gastronomy’ as part of the International Year of Chemistry.

Professor Hervé This, a French chemist whose interest is the science of culinary phenomena, was the keynote speaker, assisted by chef Martin Benn of Sepia restaurant.

Benn came across as a thoughtful kind of bloke while the Prof was Inspector Clouseau on speed.

Benn didn’t stand a chance.  Ignored;  talked over;  his demo and background to the process for making his famous ‘Japanese stones’ dessert hijacked.  But it wasn’t in a bad way – the Prof’s high-octane passion and enthusiasm for his subject was uncontainable, his excitement steamrollering joyfully through and over everything.

We careered haphazardly through the pack of 127 powerpoint slides, ate a Japanese pebble and some ‘moss’ and had a demo of the wonders of liquid nitrogen.

After the 90th slide featuring a chemical equation, Neil started sniggering at the look of confusion on my face (he’s the scientist in the family).  I suddenly realised how bizarre the whole set up was – the Hogwarts venue, the mad professor with his chemistry set laid out on the bench, the whole concept of eating Japanese pebbles,  plus Martin Benn’s  by now stoic presence which quietly emanated ‘physically I’m present, but mentally I’ve nipped out round the back for a quick fag’.

And then the sight of the Sydney foodie faithful, still doggedly hanging onto the Prof’s every mangled Franglais utterance after 2 hours.  I started giggling;  I couldn’t stop.  It got worse.  I ended up crying with smothered laughter.  I started to calm down and get a grip but the next words I heard were ‘arn zees ees wut coostar (custard) luke lerk unner zee meekroskop’.  I lost it again.

The end of the evening arrived like a motorway pile up.  As the MC edged across the stage in an effort to signal a polite  ‘shut up toot sweet, mate’, the Prof began hurtling through his remaining slides at warp factor 9.   He started cramming in frenzied orders:  ‘YOU MUZ  DO ZIS’ and ‘YOU MUZ NOT DO ZAT’, his articulation becoming ever more incoherent and confusing.

While the audience tried to translate the verbal onslaught, Martin Benn stood impassively at the back of the stage;  arms folded, oblivious, in some cheffy zen state, focussing a Mogadon stare out over the audience.

The talk was followed by demonstrations outside in the quadrangle, including chocolate and blue cheese ice cream (yummy with an interesting mental twist eg ‘will it stay down, because it tastes a bit like vomit smells’) and making sherbet with sugar and other chemicals.

This was a highly entertaining evening, extremely well organised.  Despite the comprehension issues,  it was a very good intro to the world of culinary possibilities.  And it was all free.  Genius :).

Evian les Bains – Drop Dead Gorgeous

I’m here in ELB to spend a couple of days with my parents before heading off to Paris tomorrow. 

ELB is in France on the shores of Lac Leman – up the lake a bit is Geneva and directly opposite is Lausanne.  It’s a very pretty town – red geraniums on every balcony, very sunshiney – plus a lot of the major buildings are in the belle époque style – it’s completely gorgeous.  And due to it’s location, the air fairly honks of money.Holidays with my parents revolve around great food, excellent wine and conserving energy by doing as little as possible between meals. 

Over the years they’ve honed this into a fine art – they recently went on their first cruise and didn’t bother getting off the ship at any of the ports;  just stayed in their suite and summoned food and wine whenever they felt like it.   

I arrived yesterday and was immediately whisked off to lunch at the Hilton. The food was great and Dad ordered a bottle of Chassagne Montrachet.  After 3 courses plus digestifs, they went back to the hotel for a lie down.  Then we went out for dinner at 7pm (preceded by aperitifs).  I couldn’t cope with another 3 courses so only had 2 (pudding is non-negotiable on holiday no matter how stuffed I am – and this was pear sorbet with Poire William liqueur over it – one of my all time favourites).  This morning I couldn’t face breakfast as I was still too full.  So next we get on a boat  and head up the lake to Ivoire, a beautiful ‘village fleurie’, and gosh, what a surprise, the boat gets in at 11.45, just in time for lunch.  It was a repeat of yesterday – with a very nice bottle of Vire Clesse.After a really excellent lunch, Mum and I left Dad with a brandy and a copy of yesterday’s Telegraph and went for a wander round the village – it’s a complete tourist trap but it’s so beautiful you don’t mind.  I’m always seized by the desire to urgently acquire French tablecloths in these places but I managed to restrain myself.Went back down the lake to Evian later in the afternoon and the parents head off for a snooze. 

We’re meeting up at 8pm to go back to the Hilton. Gulp.

This morning I woke up and realised that I had to get out and do some exercise so I went out at 6.30am for a good long walk along the lake and this is what I saw:

It’s just as well I’m leaving tomorrow because I can’t keep up with my parents.  I love it of course but Neil only ever eats 1 course so he’s always a bit shellshocked at what my family can hoover through at one sitting.

I love Evian les Bains – it’s quiet, it’s sedate, it’s charming, it’s beautiful – it has loads to do on the lake, in the spa and in the surrounding areas. 

I will definately come back.    Next time I won’t eat so much though 🙂