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Category Archives: Reviews

Dinner by Heston, Melbourne, and other Melbourne Food Delights

I recently visited Melbourne, Australia’s southern foodie destination. It’s fair to say that in 48 hours my travel companion Ms D and I sampled quite a few notable Melbourne food institutions.

The Cellar Bar, the late night wine bar of its big sister Grossi Florentino next door, was a brilliant spot to eat in the city, on the pavement, after a show. Their spaghetti cacio e pepe was outstanding!

The next morning we lined up at Lune Croissanterie in Fitzroy, for their famous croissants. I had also wanted to try their kouign amann pastries, and cruffins, the first of which was created by Lune Croissanterie in 2013. I was disappointed that neither was available on that day, as I would have liked to taste as a comparison, as I have tried my hand at making my own kouign amann and cruffins, see my post. The croissant was very good, with excellent lamination, but worth traveling from Sydney for? Hmmm.

Croissant making on the premises.

The second breakfast that morning was at East Elevation, in Brunswick, a warm, rustic cafe in a huge open warehouse type space. The food was good! And they make chocolates too!

Some breakfast offerings at East Elevation.  Me – Ricotta Pancakes with Peaches and Berries; Ms D – Coconut and Lemon Tapioca

One of the main events of the trip was to dine at Maha, a sophisticated take on Middle Eastern cuisine in the heart of the Melbourne CBD. Ms D is a huge fan of Middle Eastern cuisine, even more so than me, so we were both looking forward to the experience. While really enjoying the banquet style dishes, the lighting was so dim you couldn’t really appreciate the visuals of the food properly. I would be keen to visit again, to see more! So no photos for this post.

Sunday lunch was the much anticipated visit to Dinner by Heston, one of Heston Blumenthal’s restaurants that is inspired by historic British gastronomy. Dinner, as defined on the Dinner website, is “the main meal of the day, taken either around midday or in the evening. A formal evening meal, typically one in honour of a person or event”.

Located at the Crown Towers in Melbourne, one could be forgiven for being turned off dinner or even lunch, on arrival, as the garish surrounds of a casino are not conducive to refined dining. However, once in the restaurant itself, calm and dignity prevailed,  as we were ushered to a large and comfortable table window-side, with a view over the river to the city.

I have photographed the menu for the day and the dishes we ate. The dishes are so intricate, clever and multi faceted, that describing them in any detail in this post would be a poor substitute to actually enjoying them. Which I did. Absolutely. While there are photos of Ms D’s courses, I only sampled a little of her dishes, being too intent on eating my own. However I believe she enjoyed her courses too.

First course for both of us – Salamagundy

Second course. Me – Chicken Cooked with Lettuces; Ms D – Slow Cooked Pork Belly

Third course. Me – Cherry Isle Bar; Ms D – Tipsy Cake

For me, ice cream is the Queen of Desserts, so the highlight of Dinner By Heston was the “extra” dessert, nitrogen ice cream made at the table Heston style! Our waiter explained that the custard base was given texture by the addition of sour cream, and the Madagascan vanilla really gave a rich, vanilla hit. We could choose from a variety of toppings – I chose freeze dried raspberries, which I use a lot in my own cooking, and popping candy.

The visual spectacular with clouds of nitrogen, as the waiter deftly poured the flasks of custard and nitrogen was amazing, but the taste of the ice cream was even better. Rich and velvety, with a soft texture, the ice cream had a proper consistency, and made for a heavenly eating experience. A fantastic way to end the “dinner” and our Melbourne food excursion.

 

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Three Blue Ducks

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Three Blue Ducks is an intriguing restaurant in an intriguing location in the lovely seaside suburb of Bronte in Sydney.

My long time friend Ms M was visting Sydney, her former home, from Cleveland Ohio, where she has lived for the last thirty plus years. We catch up every visit, and it’s lovely to hear her Australian accent to which she has stayed true all these years!

We met at the restaurant, tucked away in a suburban street, almost easy to miss. However the location is deceptive – much bigger than you think,  the restaurant is spread over 2 shop fronts with a little alleyway in between. Melbourne quirk meets Sydney trend – the alleyway is vibrantly decorated with street art and the ineterior is rustic and casual with bar and table dining.

The menu is flexible, designed for sharing or not, depending on the diners’ mood. Ms M and I shared some dishes with a Middle Eastern bent.

We started with sourdough bread from the famous Iggy’s Bread in Bronte,  with house-made cultured butter, which as a butter nut I found utterly delicious!

We shared a “Big” roast barramundi, pumpkin, kale & chickpea salad and harissa. The barramundi was crisp skinned but still moist. The harissa was spicy rather than overly hot. I’m not a huge fen of kale so I missed out on this element of the dish.IMG_5860

The next “Big” dish was my favourite: pressed lamb shoulder, babaganoush, israeli cous cous salad & flatbread. The lamb was compressed into a rectangular slice, and was soft enough to eat with the proverbial spoon. It was served with a lovely flatbread to mop up the babaganoush and the lamb pieces.

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Along with these dishes we had the “Small” roast beetroot, goats curd, pickled carrot, grains & yoghurt, heirloom beets of different colours with a slightly sweet curd and an interesting carrot pickle.

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We finished with orange blossom baklava, berry labneh, fruit & pistachio, an additional Middle Eastern twist on a Middle Eastern sweet, perfect as a shared after dinner treat.

It was a great venue for a catch-up. Ms M was delighted to be eating out in Sydney, in seaside Bronte,  sampling the current food vibe in foodie Sydney. A nice memory to take back to snowy Cleveland!

Three Blue Ducks is located at:

Bronte
141-143 Macpherson st
Bronte NSW 2024
02 9389 0010

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Borough Market London – Foodie Heaven!

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The Borough Market in Southwark, London, was a destination I was really looking forward to when visiting the UK in December.

I’m a huge fan of markets, enjoying visiting local farmers’ markets in country New South Wales, as well as the city equivalent in Sydney. Orange Grove Market, mentioned in other  posts, is a great Saturday excursion to pick up organic fruit and veg, hot smoked fish, French cheese, farmers’ free range eggs and pastry and bread galore!

I’ve been following the Borough Market online for a while to prepare for the visit. I went twice, on a Saturday a couple of weeks before Christmas and a week or so later midweek. Saturday was buzzing, busy, and a bit tricky to navigate, but still heaps of fun! The next visit was a pleasant stroll and I got to see much more of the market’s delights.

The Borough Market is a little bit of old world London in that sophisticated metropolis. Arches and passageways, nooks and crannies, keep you guessing at what comes next, as you make your way around the market. After my two visits I finally got the hang of the geography. The charm of the Market lies in the mix of the old world with a plethora of multi cultural cuisines.

There is so much produce! I was bowled over by cheese vendor upon cheese vendor! And then the patisseries and bread stalls, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat of every kind, sausages and stews and curries.

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I liberally sampled the baked goods, filled focaccia, croissants, large sticky buns, packed full of fruit, that looked like miniature Christmas puddings, and real muffins.

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I found a little stall selling dried fruit and nuts, and wonderful candied fruit. Whole candied clementines were a great Christmas treat! Another stall sold home made fudge, of every conceivable flavour, which you could pick and mix yourself.

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Two highlights  – a salted caramel milkshake with Bath milk, and robust, fragrant Colombian coffee, much appreciated by this writer, who had been craving really good coffee since my arrival in London.

It was fun to be at the Market at Christmas – there was a buzzy, gregarious mood, and everyone seemed to be having fun shopping for the festive season.

 

 

Notting Hill Dining – The Shed

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Here’s another innovative and delicious dining experience I’d like to share with you.

In December 2016 in London, I was keen to eat at The Shed, in Notting Hill, one of the restaurants of the Gladwin Bros. The brothers hail from West Sussex, brought up on a vineyard and farm. Their restaurants feature produce from their farm in Nutbourne, in Sussex. Here’s the link to the website: http://www.theshed-restaurant.com/

I had read about their food philosophy using “seasonal farmed and foraged food”. It was with a sense of anticipation that I arrived for a late lunch not quite knowing what to expect! I love the idea of a restaurant called The Shed – was it in an actual shed? And is a shed in London the same as a shed in Australia?

I was not disappointed. The charming but unremarkable exterior – not very shed like – soon revealed a casual kind of lean-to interior that was definitely shed like!

The food was very good. Flavourful, generous, and with some innovative techniques in evidence. The menu, shown here, is made up of fast cooked and slow cooked dishes, as well as mouthfuls, cures, cheeses and puddings.

I went for a couple of slow cooked dishes with great sourdough bread, a wonderful pudding and a glass or two of wine including their own Nutbourne rosé sparkling.

It was rather a lot for this solo diner, but as the purpose of my UK food adventures was research for The Quirk and the Cool, I really felt I needed to research properly! Or perhaps I’m just greedy…

The pumpkin gnocchi with Tunworth crispy sage and seeds, was a knockout. Nothing insipid about these gnocchi – their flavour was every bit as intense as their colour. The dreamy creamy sauce that accompanied them was delicious. I’m not sure of its composition, and regret I didn’t ask.

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The beef cigars, with Shed mustard and tarragon, were a revelation. They were suggested by my helpful waitress  – I was dubious about what they actually were – but on arrival they looked sensational and tasted the same. The photo says it all! They seemed to be slow cooked beef, finely shredded, and condensed into crisp pastry “cigars”.

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I am a huge bread fan – so I must make mention of the Shed Maltstar sourdough bread. And the butter. I could probably have an entire meal of quality bread like this offering! But I wouldn’t, as then I would have no room for pudding, which was definitely worth having.

The Shed Magnum Viennetta parfait was a recreation of the commercial classic, which I actually don’t remember having eaten, so I have no basis for comparison. But as a lover of ice cream, it was luxurious, textured, creamy, very “home made”.

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I stayed for an hour and a half, just enjoying the quirky and quaint atmosphere.  When you dine alone, you get to people watch, and I was interested in my fellow diners – who seemed quirky too – they looked creative, and right at home in the shed, which had been turned into a very creative eating space.

I loved the whole experience. Eating at The Shed is another reason to return to London in the near future!

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Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in Cornwall

I’ve recently been traveling in the UK, to sample restaurants, street food and local markets, and to do a really wonderful cooking course at John Whaite’s cooking school, recently blogged about here.

So I should do a few quick reviews, to keep those memories fresh and give my readers a sense of how my experiences gelled into a view of what I liked about the food scene in the UK.

No one who reads my blog could fail to miss that I’m a Jamie Oliver fan! If there was one Jamie Oliver restaurant I wanted to try, it was Fifteen in Watergate Bay Newquay, Cornwall. Fantastic food, located in beautiful Cornwall and on the beach – what more could an Australian want!

I had lunch. The food was fabulous, the service impeccable  and the vibe warm and friendly. From the moment I walked in I was looked after and made to feel at home, even though I was dining solo. Picture perfect window table in a prime position.

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Photographed here is the menu for the day, to give you an idea of what the style of food is at Fifteen in Cornwall. The food is very Italian – with some intriguing dishes that needed some translation even for this seasoned diner and lover of Italian food.

I went for the three course option at a very reasonable £32. I began with two antipasti – artichoke caponata and clementine and pomegranate. The artichoke was  well seasoned and tangy and herby; the clementine and pomegranate so simple and so refreshing.

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The chargrilled Cornish chicken with inzimino di ceci (chickpeas with Swiss chard) and ‘Nduja (a spicy spreadable salami ) was superb – full of robust flavours with none of the flavours taking over.

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Then dessert. I  was tempted by the apple and plum  crumble with clotted cream – well I was in Cornwall – but on the advice of my charming and knowledgeable waitress I had the tiramisu with amaretto. As the photo shows, it was more cake-like than the traditional trifle-like layers of coffee soaked sponge and mascapone, but this layer cake version had been liberally dowsed in amaretto and yielded to my spoon without resistance. Yum!

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A “proper” cappuccino, the second best I had in the UK, (the best was Colombian at the Borough Market) finished the meal. A great end to a great meal.

The philosophy behind the Fifteen restaurants is admirable, and I would happily eat at one to support the concept. But I had the best meal of my travels at Fifteen Cornwall – honest, authentic Italian food, locally sourced, cooked impeccably and served with a warmth and charm that made me want to visit again…soon!

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John Whaite’s Kitchen School – a Fabulous Cooking Course

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Thursday 15 December – and I ventured north into deepest Lancashire to Wrightington, to the John Whaite Kitchen for a one day cooking course making delicate afternoon tea delights. See here for the link.

And this was a really big adventure for this quirky writer – I had travelled all the way from Sydney, Australia to do this course! And of course I’ve also been doing heaps of foodie stuff in the UK along the way, to be featured in later posts.

John was the winner of the Great British Bakeoff 2012, and I am a huge fan of Bakeoff.

“Festive Afternoon Tea with John Whaite” was held in a converted barn on John’s family property, and the vibe from the get go was warm, welcoming and very pre-Christmas festive.

Wonderful smells wafted my way as I entered and sat down with 9 other jolly and eager cooks! Coffee and cinnamon rolls began the day at the big communal table.

John introduced the day in the way he continued throughout our course – friendly, knowledgeable and with a boyish grin. And his naughty sense of humour made the day very entertaining…

Under John’s guidance we made three recipes with a Christmas twist, as well as having John demonstrate an additional recipe.

So Gingerbread Latte Cakes, little Mont Blancs and Fig Prune Port and Stilton Tartlets, plus John’s Cranberry and Orange Scones were created by the class and John during the day. And to add to the Christmas cheer there was mulled cider, its heady scent permeating the cooking space.

What was so impressive about the course was the balance between learning through demonstration and actually using the techniques, as well as John being on hand to troubleshoot our queries.

We made the recipes together, utilising the blast chiller, fridge and ovens to prepare the different stages of each recipe concurrently.

We learnt how to make genoise sponge, short crust pastry and sablé, frangipane, mousse, chocolate ganache and buttercream, all basic techniques of patisserie making.

I have a pretty good understanding of cooking – but this course showed me so many additional techniques, tricks and really good tips!

As readers of this blog know, refinement is not my thing – but John showed me how finessing patisserie is not as difficult as it looks.

One of my culinary aims is to pipe accurately and well. While this is a work in progress, I  think that John’s instruction and demonstrations have given me a lot of confidence to get this skill under control.

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After all the rolling, mixing and piping, and flour, sugar, eggs, cream, chocolate and spices were all fragrantly combined into our afternoon tea delicacies, we sat down at the communal table for our own afternoon tea washed down with glass or two of prosecco. This was a lovely way to finish the day – plus we got to take our beautiful bounty home!

I had a ball! My partner for the day, Kathryn, was delightful and very patient with my piping efforts. The rest of the group were fun and  very supportive too.

I loved the whole thing. Hats off to John for being a great cook, teacher and host!

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Restaurant Hubert: Sydney Quirk Meets French Chic

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Imagine an underground venue in the heart of the legal and financial district in Sydney, that’s part restaurant, part bar, part theatre, and you have Restaurant Hubert at 15 Bligh St Sydney. The people behind the venture are Jason Scott and Anton Forte from the Swillhouse Group, with chef Dan Peperell in the kitchen. If you’ve been to Frankie’s Pizza or Shady Pines you will be familair with the quirky style of the Swillhouse Group. I love Frankie’s Pizza and have blogged about it here.

Hubert feels like walking back in time into a slightly decadent, old fashioned French restaurant. The decor alone is moody and seductive…dim lighting, dark corners and intmate booths, lots of period pieces. A great place for an “amour rendez-vous”…love tryst…or just a casual get together with friends.

I had several reasons to celebrate with my colleague Ms R,  as we dined together on this particular evening.  In our booth, adjacent to the Bar Normandy, we  perused the excellent wine list from a leather bound tome, the title page of which is pictured here.

wine-listWe began with a delightful sparkling from the Loire, moved on to a fresh and fruit sauvignon blanc from Tasmania and finished with a refined Muscadet dessert wine. All perfectly suited our dinner choices. The menu is based around the sharing of plates, small and large.

We started off with crusty bread – I’m presuming sourdough – and cultured butter. We shared a couple of small dishes: anchovy pain perdu, a wonderfully soft and flavoursome “eggy” bread and the Malakoff – a deep fried Gruyere cheese ball with Dijon mustard and pickle. Of the two, my fav was the latter – very cheesy, very oozy…yum. Our large plate (note only one – we were saving room for dessert) was the Bavette steak, flank steak cooked pink, with bordelaise butter. We had a dish of creamed spinach, to accompany it as well as a salad. Sadly I can’t remember what the salad was. Hmm. Must take notes in future! The steak was my least favourite dish. I’m not overly fond of tougher cuts of beef cooked À la Minute, the result is sometimes chewy.

There were just 3 desserts on the menu, and a cheese platter.  The Santa Claus melon with finger lime, sorrel jelly and young coconut sorbet, sounded intriguing. What is a Santa Claus melon?? But we decided to go down a more traditional path with the creme caramel and le grand macaron – a giant macaron filled with rice cream and raspberries. I ate the latter, and it’s fair to say I haven’t yet met the dessert that could beat me, but this one came close on size alone! Both desserts are pictured here.

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The service was lovely, attentive without being intrusive. The wait staff were young and hip. We really felt looked after with the VIP service.

Judging by the way the venue had filled up by 7.00pm, other Sydney-siders were appreciative of this amazing restaurant too.  Sydney needs more places like Hubert  – great French food, stunning venue and a lovely mix of authentic cooking mixed with a theatrical presentation. Well done!

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