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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Melbourne Day 5 - Wednesday 20 May

AIX cafe creperie salon

We decided that Wednesday would be crepe-breakfast day, and so went for a wee walk down to Centre Place to have some of the creations at AIX Cafe Creperie Salon. Like most of the cafes in Centre Place, space was at a premium and we were happy to grab a table inside. My sister had forgotten to eat her usual banana when she woke up, so couldn't go past the banana, ricotta and honey crepe ($6.50). I had a bit more of a difficult task, as all the crepes sounded so good and I'd not forgotten to eat my morning banana. I finally settled on the smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers and lemon juice crepe ($8.00) and we also had our usual long blacks. The crepes came out quite promptly, and looked as good as we had anticipated. Freshly made crepes, hot off the cooking plate, wrapping fresh and tasty fillings. If I worked near here I think I'd have to go one of these at least once a week, and with such a variety of fillings it would be near impossible to get sick of them. So cheap too! And filling! Yum!

AIX - smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers and lemon juice crepe

After heading off down Bridge Road to check out the outlet stores (and peeking in the window of The Press Club as we walked past, to see if I could spy any failed MasterChef contestants sweating it out in the kitchen) we actually ended up coming back to Centre Place to grab some cheap and tasty lunch (a great lamb wrap for me, and a vege roll for my sister). No photos I'm afraid.. I was too busy chomping. I was so impressed with the wraps on offer in the cafes in Centre Place and Degraves St. Such fresh, interesting and delicious mixtures of fillings, all wrapped in what appeared to be freshly made wraps. The one I had for lunch confirmed this, with the bread being soft and fresh, and also very flavoursome, crusted with fresh herbs. And at roughly $6 each for a large filling lunch, I was starting to think that perhaps if I lived here I would not be taking my lunch in from home every day. Or eating breakfast at home for that matter. Although, I'm not sure how long I can go without a good dose of steel cut oats :D

Concerned that we would leave Melbourne without my sister getting a substantial amount of tasty pork and duck into her, we chose to go back to Chinatown for dinner this night. With too many choices of restaurant, we eventually settled on Dahu Peking Duck Restaurant, 171 Little Burke Street, as at least the name suggested we should be able to get our fill of duck. Although we knew full well we would not be able to get through all the food, we chose to go with "Banquet B" at $32.80 each, as it involved BBQ pork, peking duck and fried banana and meant we didn't have to think about what exactly to order. So, these two not-so-hungry girls (as we had just been eating free hors d'œuvre and drinking free champagne at the hotel) were served BBQ pork and duck meat san choi bao, Peking hot and sour soup, roast Peking duck, deep fried whitebait in salt and pepper, vegetable combination in spring onion sauce, special fried rice and finally banana fritter with ice cream.

Dahu Peking Duck Restaurant - BBQ pork and duck meat san choi bao

Peking hot and sour soup

Roast Peking duck (just imagine the little crepes and sauce and spring onions)

Vegetable combination in spring onion sauce

Deep fried whitebait in salt and pepper

Special fried rice

By the time I had gotten a good amount of san choi bao, soup, duck and perhaps some of the other dishes into me, I started to feel a little peculiar. I became quite hot and flushed, and the muscles in my jaw and shoulders started to tighten significantly. I started to tell my sister I was feeling a bit strange, and luckily she knew right away what was wrong with me, as she had a similar reaction when she ate a similar variety of dishes last time she was in Bali. Luckily we had some moist towelettes (actually more like wet towels, they were much more generous in size and wetness than their Red Rooster counterparts) so I wiped my face and my sister fanned me with the drinks menu until I felt better again. I then got stuck into some more food. I just couldn't help myself. Luckily I didn't have a repeat performance, although it did take a while to feel quite right again.

Luckily I picked up enough fairly promptly to enjoy my fried banana, and what a fried banana! After stuffing ourselves with the other dishes, and still leaving a disgusting amount of wasted food, we both started off eating the bananas by mainly eating the banana and just a little of the fried batter. This soon changed however, and we both found ourselves polishing off the lot.We could barely restrain ourselves from licking our plates clean, it was so good. Finished off with a drizzle of honey and served with some nice plain vanilla icecream, they were really so simple, and yet strangely so fantastic. We weren't sure if it was just that we'd only eaten bad ones before, but these were really good.

Banana fritter with ice cream

Suspecting that an overdose of MSG was to blame for my strange turn, I was a little worried about the night of fitful sleep and crazy dreams that may have been ahead of me (after eating far too much fried chicken at Sparrow in Northbridge I had a very unpleasant night of MSG-crazed dreams) but luckily I didn't have to stay up too late watching LA Ink to get myself sleepy, and didn't remember any significant craziness to my dreams when I awoke. Perhaps the banana fritter was the magic antidote?!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Melbourne Day 4 - Tuesday 19 May

Prahran Market

Although not as massively impressive as the Queen Victoria Market, I really loved the Prahran Market. If you were throwing a dinner party you could just pop down here, spend a bit of cash, and the job is done. Fresh fruit and veg, fresh dips and antipasti, fresh pasta, any meat or seafood you could possibly require, and quite possibly the most impressive homewares shop I have ever seen (with the exception of the restaurant wholesale place I went to in Montreal that had saucepans so big you could cook a whole person and their little dog too).

Naheda's Choice - Dips and yumminess

After a bit of a peek around the place we decided some breakfast would be required before a proper inspection of everything. Most of our breakfast fair was purchased at Naheda's Choice, where we chose some smoked salmon wrapped goat cheese, feta stuffed baby capsicum, marinated mushrooms, sardines and also some dried figs stuffed with a mascarpone mixture that also included crushed nuts and other tasty things I couldn't remember when I ate let alone now. We also bought an interesting spinach and ricotta bread 'thing' that looked tasty, from a different stall. Buying some coffee, we sat ourselves down at a wobbley old plastic table and tried to drown out the construction noise with our chewing and exclaimations of delight at our breakfast.

The bread thing seemed to be made of pasta dough, and could easily have served as a tasty breakfast in itself. Not for us gluttons though, as we followed it with the delicious smoked salmon and goat cheese parcels. These really were tasty, and yet so simple. Just chunks of good quality goat cheese wrapped in good quality smoked salmon. Both my sister and I decided to make these ourselves at home, though thought we'd jazz them up a little by adding something to the goat cheese. Perhaps some of those tiny baby asparagus we saw at the Queen Victoria Market the other day.

The stuffed baby capsicum, mushrooms and sardines were all very good as well, but I really liked the stuffed wild fig. It was a little sickly after all the gorging I had just done, especially as I had already reached my daily cheese limit, but I couldn't help but finish off a whole fig. They were pretty big too. I wish I could recall what was in the mascarpone mixture that filled them, as I'd also like to try recreate these myself. I guess I'll just have to experiment.

Prahran Market - goat cheese wrapped in smoked salmon, baby capsicum stuffed with herbed feta, spinach bread thing, marinated mushrooms, sardines, mascarpone stuffed dried figs

After stuffing ourselves (with no less than four different types of cheese) we then went for a bit more of an exploration of the market, discovering to our dismay that freshly shucked oysters were on offer and we were now too full to enjoy any. To my delight however we also came across a Crabapple Cupcakes stall, the people behind the fabulous cupcake book that my carrot cupcakes are from. Our final stop in the market was at the aforementioned giant kitchenware store The Essential Ingredient. Stepping into this place, I felt a strong urge to stimulate the Victorian economy. I held myself back however from walking out with a KitchenAid stand mixer, the perfect vanilla slice tray and dried morel mushrooms and only purchased some of those little tongs for $2.75. Actually, we bought four of them between us, so I guess some stimulation occurred.

As we were waiting in line to pay, we eavesdropped on the conversation the woman in front of us was having with the cashier. Her membership card was a bit old and was not being accepted easily by the system, so her transaction took some time, and when I looked over at her card I saw that it said "Better Homes and Gardens TV"!!! Now, I don't actually watch this show as I get too annoyed with Johanna Griggs' ridiculous voice and that blonde woman buying perfectly nice things and turning them into shabby chic monstrousities, but sparked my interest. Turns out she was buying things to make a chocolate and macadamia tart, and she also had a huge bag filled with fresh mozzarella and a bunch of yellow flowers. What a cool job, though I think I'd rather be doing the cooking than buying the ingredients (and buying nice things only to have them ruined).

After lots of walking and a little bit of shopping down Chapel Street, which was actually a bit disappointing as it seemed largely to have chain stores that we also have in WA, I realised some lunch should be eaten before it got too late and our dinner would be ruined. We thus headed into Globe Cafe and found ourselves being served by Sam Simmons' doppelganger. My un-hungry sister ordered some raisin toast off the breakfast menu while I chose the "fried calamari salad with green paw-paw, cucumber, chilli, lime and cashews". The raisin toast looked nice and thick and fluffy and tasty, and apparently it was all of these things. My salad was a nice mix of refreshing flavours but some of the calamari was actually undercooked and translucent, which I guess is better than being overcooked but nonetheless was not entirely pleasant to eat.

Following our lunch, a large purchase may possibly have been made at Sole Devotion before we headed back for a little rest at the hotel, then a disappointing visit up to DFO, then another little rest at the hotel before meeting up with a friend (who I hadn't seen since she disappeared off to the bright lights of Melbourne last year) in ChinaTown for dinner. Following her recommendation we went to eat at Ants Bistro at 7 Corrs Place, picking up a bottle of sparkling on the way. We ordered dragon buns ("steamed mince meat buns, do not miss this" $4.80), salt and pepper calamari ("lightly battered and deep fried" $7.80), Szechuan duck ("fried duck meat (boneless) wrapped with crepes, served with plum sauce, similar to Peking duck" $24.80), stir fry vegetables with mushrooms and also some steamed rice. Everything was very nice, although I do prefer my crepe-wrapped-duck when it comes with little slivers of spring onions. The duck was great though - generously portioned, not overly fatty, and of course expertly served! It is amazing to watch them wrap the little crepes up using spoons.

Ants Bistro - Dragon buns

Salt and pepper calamari

Stir fry vegetables with mushrooms

Szechuan duck

After a most enjoyable evening catching up with my friend we made our way back to the hotel to finish off the rest of our baklava. Thank goodness for my separate dessert stomach.

Melbourne Day 3 - Monday 18 May

Monday morning brought with it the standout dish of the trip.

We decided to check out a restaurant that my googling of Melbourne restaurants had highlighted a few times - Cumulus Inc. on Flinders Lane. It was a bit of a trek for us hungry lasses, so our expectations were high once we made it up the other end of Flinders. Perusing the menu, I knew quite quickly what I wanted to try. I was feeling a little egged out following the previous two day's breakfasts, so although I was very curious about trying the 65/65 egg I decided to go with the "sardines with parsley, tomato and lemon on grilled sourdough" ($13). Luckily my sister was feeling like some egg action, so she went for the "smoked salmon, 65/65 egg, sorrel, apple and dill" ($17). Happy with our decisions we placed our order, only to be told that they were waiting on a tomato delivery and thus my sardines were not available. Wah! After much indecision I then chose the "Turkish baked eggs, spiced tomato, dukkah and labne" ($16). The sardine gods must have been looking down on me however, as the tomato delivery arrived during my indecisiveness, and thus I was able to get my precious sardine dish afterall. Hooray for little fishies!

Cumulus Inc. - Smoked salmon, 65/65 egg, sorrel, apple and dill

65/65 egg in all its mysterious glory

This is no ordinary egg. Apparently it is slow poached in its own shell for 65 minutes at 65 degrees. This begs the question of how it is shelled after this process without all the hard work being ruined in an oozy mess? My sister was a little concerned when the egg first came out, as the outside was a bit goozy, but cutting into it she discovered it was the perfect consistency all the way through. It really was amazing. And whilst the mixture of apple, sorrel and dill with the egg and salmon sounded a little strange at first (especially for my sister who is ordinarily not a fan of dill), the flavours all worked together beautifully to produce a refreshing, filling dish full of great textures.

Cumulus Inc. - sardines with parsley, tomato and lemon on grilled sourdough

Once my sardine dish came out I realised why they were unwilling to let me have it without the tomato! It was essentially a sardine bruschetta, and like my sister's dish, was really flavoursome and refreshing with the addition of the lemon and parsley. It was funny, as my sister doesn't normally go for dill, and I don't normally go for parsley, but we both enjoyed our meals so much. We were a little concerned with the dishes came out, as they looked a little small, but both ended up satisfying us very nicely.

Another reason why we enjoyed our Cumulus Inc experience so much, apart from the great food, great coffee, and fantastic toilets (with fancy pants soap) was that we saw what is quite possibly the most fashionable family on the face of the earth. They were mesmerising, like they'd just stepped out of the pages of a Parisian magazine. The mother was wearing a really interesting layered dress, the father was wearing a three piece suit with ribbon up the sides of the pants, and the two children were terribly well behaved and incredibly well dressed. One of the little boys seemed to be a bit poorly, as he had a bit of a cough, so they included a cape with his outfit to ensure he kept nice and warm. A custom cape. As we walked past them to pay, my sister also noticed the sick boy was keeping himself amused by reading Roald Dahl. Bless.

A bit of shopping in the CBD followed our breakfast, before we headed up Lygon Street, Carlton, finding ourselves in Little Italy around lunchtime. Of course I totally forgot that I wanted to try out Brunetti, so we just ended up checking out a few menus and going for one that looked half decent and had a few other diners. It was called Stuzzichino, and offered the usual Italian suspects apart from pizza. My sister chose the pesto (basil, pine nuts, garlic, white wine and cream) gnocchi ($16) and of course a Limonata, and I chose the Mediterranean risotto (eggplant, zucchini, artichoke, semi dried tomato, mushroom, olives and rocket) ($15.50). The gnocchi was very nice, but as overly rich as anticipated and thus could not be finished. The risotto had some great flavours, and although rice was a little underdone I still managed to polish off most of it!

Stuzzichino - Pesto gnocchi

Stuzzichino - Mediterranean risotto

Writing this now, I can only hope that the semi dried tomatoes in my risotto haven't given me hepatitis A. I just asked my friend sitting next to me if I look jaundiced and apparently I'm no yellower than usual so I guess I'm in the clear.

Although we had stuffed ourselves with tasty tasty carbs, our separate gelato stomachs were put to good use after leaving the restaurant, and provided us with enough sugary sustenance to see us through an exploration of Brunswick Street. A few clothes and a toothpick bird purchase later we found ourselves back down the Greek part of town and in search of some baklava for dessert that night. We bought our treats from International Cakes (185 Lonsdale Street) as theirs looked particularly gooey and delicious, my sister choosing the standard pistachio baklava while I was unable to go past the chocolate covered version. We packed our goodies away for later, hoping the gooey deliciousness did not dribble into our Brunswick Street purchases.

As we had walked everywhere this day, by this stage we were feeling quite weary and decided to give the restaurant at the hotel a go for dinner. After having a little rest in our room we headed down and started off with a drink - a cocktail of some sort for my sister, and a glass of red for me - Aerin's Vineyard Single Vineyard Grenache Shiraz Mouvedre. It was a great wine, and I hope I'll remember to hunt for it next time I'm at the bottleo. It is apparently a mellow and supple interpretation of the classic blend of Grenache Shiraz Mouvedre but seeing as I am pretty sure I've never even heard the word Mouvedre before I can't comment on this.

For dinner my sister chose the Thai beef salad with mesclun, bean shoots, green mango, spring onion, coriander, mint and nam jim dressing ($19.50) and I chose the 5 lamb cutlets with a red wine jus, roast capsicum couscous (written on the menu as "cous cous", tut tut) and panache of vegetables $32). The beef salad looked really good, and apparently tasted pretty damn good too. I was impressed with the amount of beef it contained - although it is difficult to tell from the photograph there was a lot of beef hiding under the mesclun. My dish was a bit of a paradox. The lamb chops were great, full of flavour and cooked very nicely to give a nice crunch on the outside whilst retaining an inner tenderness. Whilst associating the word "panache" with the vegetables was somewhat of an overstatement, they seemed fresh and were nicely cooked with a good bite to them. The couscous however was like a black hole of taste. It looked quite tasty, but was stone cold and completely devoid of any flavour whatsoever. Completely unseasoned, it even failed to taste of the capsicum that it contained. I then found a hair in it just to top things off. Luckily a waitress happened to walk past at this stage to ask how everything was, and after hearing my reply of "really good apart from the terrible cold, bland couscous and this hair I just found" she brought me some mashed potatoes. Perplexingly, the potatoes were so incredibly filled with flavour that my sister and I almost licked the bowl. We couldn't put our finger on why it was so good. It didn't seem to be buttery, or filled with cream, and we never got to the bottom of the flavour apart from (hopefully) joking that perhaps Vegeta was to thank.

Sirocco - Thai beef salad

Sirocco - Lamb chops with red wine jus, roast capsicum couscous and panache of vegetables

We didn't dilly dally in the restaurant as we were both very much aware of the baklava awaiting us upstairs. It did not disappoint, being deliciously wonderfully sweet and gooey and sticky and fabulous.

International Cakes - Pistachio baklava

International Cakes - Chocolate covered pistachio baklava

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Melbourne Day 2 - Sunday 17 May

Sunday morning was all about St Kilda. We headed down to check out the Esplanade Market, which is held every Sunday. Before checking out the arts and crafts on offer we needed some sustenance, and found ourselves at Barcelona on Fitzroy Street. They had a selection of Spanish breakfasts for those wishing to "try something different" such as Patatas Bravas (diced potatoes tossed in spicy sofrito sauce, served with garlic aioli), Barcelona style eggs (oven baked eggs with chorizo, mushrooms, spinach, red peppers in a sofrito sauce, with toast on the side) or churros con chocolate. We all ended up ordering from the non-Spanish style menu however, as although I was tempted by the Barcelona style eggs they sounded a bit too similar to the breakfast I had eaten the previous day. All our dishes were quite nice, nothing magnificent to say about them apart from the fact they were very large and filling and only cost $10. Oh Melbourne, why must you be so cheap compared to Perth?

After eating and braving the toilets which were accessed through a dingy little downstairs alley, and equally as dingy as the alley, we headed off down the esplanade and ended up buying some really cool bags from the Cybertart stall. In fact my bag is so cool that when grocery shopping with a friend the other day, she almost felt compelled to defend my honour after noticing a couple seemingly admiring my arse and smiling. Turns out it was actually my bag attracting the attention. I'll have to remember this lest I get cocky about having a super attractive arse.

Next on the list of must-do St Kilda attractions - the cake shops on Acland St. We thought it wise to give the main ones a going over before committing to any purchases, and then found ourselves unable to reach any easy decisions. My sister's friend decided to go with an iced cupcake and a slice of black forrest cake, my sister went for a chocolate wafer and cherry custard danish, and I chose a delicious looking almond twist, a slice of chocolate kugelhopf/babka and a brandy snap.

Clutching our loot we found a bench in the park near Luna Park and got eating. Disappointment quickly followed. The cupcake was too dry to eat, the black forrest cake had a weird layer of jelly running through it and the almond twist was so strong with the taste of almond essence it was inedible. Luckily the chocolate wafer and brandy snap were both fresh (with a nice crunch) and deliciously filled with a chocolate and coffee cream respectively. The chocolate kugelhopf/babka and cherry custard danish were saved for a late night snack, and miraculously survived being carted around Melbourne and sitting in a bag during a footy match at the MCG. Both were fantastic. I really need to find a recipe for the babka and try my hand at making it. I've not ventured into bundt cake territory in my baking repertoire yet, so I'm looking forward to it.

Acland St - cherry danish

Realising the time, we hightailed it to the MCG and spent the next few hours digesting the sweets and watching the Blues thrash the Pies. Although I would have preferred a closer game, it was pretty sweet to see the dejected faces of the Pies supporters, and sing my heart out to the Carlton theme song.

After seeing my sister's friend off safely to her train home, my sister and I headed back over the Yarra to enjoy dinner at BearBrass. The menu was quite good, with a range of small dishes, pizzas, larger dinner dishes and specials. Despite the pork belly pizza piquing our interest when we checked out the dinner menu while having breakfast the day before, we decided against it. We are both terribly picky about pizza, making it fairly regularly at home, although we did see a few come out of the kitchen during the night and they looked quite good.

We decided to share one of the specials to start with, the mushroom polenta with rocket and parmesan salad. The polenta was beautifully moist and very flavoursome, and quite a generous size for only $8.50. As with all the salads and garnishes we ate with our meals in Melbourne, the rocket was very fresh and contrasted nicely with the warm gooeyness of the polenta.

BearBrass - Mushroom polenta with rocket and parmesan salad

Feeling like some seafood, I chose the baked paella with chorizo, pippi clams, chicken and black tiger prawns. Like with the breakfasts the previously day, I also got an added bonus with the dish - some mussels this time. The paella was packed with flavour, and again I was very happy with the quality of the chorizo they used. I think chorizo should pack a nice strong punch, and this delivered. The rice was cooked well, with a creamy texture without being gluggy. All in all, an enjoyable dish which I ate too much of.

BearBrass - baked paella with chorizo, pippi clams, chicken, black tiger prawns and mussels

My sister wasn't quite as hungry so she selected a dish off the "something small" section of the menu - lamb kofta balls topped with bocconcini, served with a garlic flat bread, and a mixed leaf salad to accompany it. She enjoyed the dish but found the tomato sauce a little overpowering and the amount of bocconcini somewhat stingy. The garlic flat bread however was fantastic, as was the salad. It was a salad that required no hard work of the eater. No cutting, no digging out brown bits, no crunching massive chunks of carrot. A user friendly salad. It was also served in the tardis, apparently, as it was seemingly neverending.

Bearbrass - lamb kofta balls topped with bocconcini served with garlic flat bread, and a mixed leaf salad

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Melbourne Day 1 - Saturday 16 May

My trip to Melbourne with my sister got off to an exciting start on Friday night when we had to evacuate Perth airport due to a suspicious package!!! This meant we had to trudge outside and stand in the cold for 45 minutes or so while the powers that be did whatever it is they do in these situations, but at least it took my mind off the dismal footy score. When we finally managed to board the plane we were happy to not be sharing it with a weirdo woman whom I had the pleasure of interacting with when she rammed me in the back of the legs with her trolley, then told me I couldn't say anything to her about it because she had a broken thumb. We later spotted her ripping up a newspaper in the newsagent, and then madly texting people with her phone (using her broken thumb), and then finally hassling out the news crew who arrived to film the suspicious package goings-on. Of course having witnessed all of this we were expecting to find her sitting next to us on the plane, carrying on like a pork chop, and were most relieved that she was nowhere to be seen. So, safe from the weirdo woman and dosed up on sleeping pills we actually managed to get some sleep on the plane! Truly a miracle given both of our track records with plane sleeping ability.

Our miraculous sleep meant that we were able to handle the fact that we had 6-7 hours to kill before we were able to check into our hotel room. After changing from comfy tracky dacks into more respectable jeans and dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we went in search of some breakfast. We decided to head over the river and walk along the Southbank Promenade. Checking menus as we walked along, nothing really piqued our interest until we came across a place called BearBrass, which we headed into and were warmly greeted. Although we were tempted by the breakfast cocktails, we thought it would not be wise to dose ourselves with booze given our sleep deprivation. After some perusal, I decided to try the "baked eggs with chorizo, bacon, mushroom, olives, rocket, cannellini beans topped with onion chilli jam" and my sister opted for the "bearbrass vegi breakfast with scrambled eggs, avocado, mushroom, tomato and spinach".

BearBrass - baked eggs with chorizo, bacon, mushroom, olives, rocket, potato and tomato topped with onion chilli jam

BearBrass - vegi breakfast with scrambled eggs, avocado, mushroom, tomato, spinach and hash brown

It is actually not until now, when I type this, that I realise the dishes we were served were a little different to what is written on the menu. My dish had potato instead of beans, and also had extra tomato, whilst the vegi breakfast had a hash brown and toast added for good measure. I guess we looked like we needed a good dose of carbs? Despite the departure from the menu descriptions, we were really happy with our meals and checked out the lunch and dinner menus, deciding to head back for dinner after the football the following night.

Energised from our hearty meals we wandered off through the CBD, finding ourselves at the Queen Victoria Market and unable to continue exclaiming about how much better the produce was than what we are used to at home. The selection, the quality and the prices all left us ready to head to the nearest real estate agency to put a deposit down on a nearby apartment. Surely we could afford one with the money we'd be saving on cheap food?

Queen Victoria Market - awesome tiny asparagus

Queen Victoria Market - awesome tiny bananas

Our nighttime festivities were organised in advance, as we had tickets to "Darling Vegas Saturday" at the Templebar Precinct, Collingwood. It turned out to be quite a bargain, with our $39 netting us a three course dinner and 2-3 hours of entertainment. The three courses were simple but well done, starting with a generous plate of freshly made garlic and herb bread, then a choice of either chicken parmi with chips and salad, beer battered flathead tails with chips and salad, or Tuscan penne pasta with pumpkin, spinach, pine nuts and parmesan, and then dessert was a choice of either coconut cake with berries and cream, or homemade chocolate mousse with cream and berries (as opposed to the aforementioned berries and cream). I had to go with the ubiquitous chicken parmi, as I couldn't let myself leave Melbourne without having had one (even if I wasn't having it for $12 with a "pot" of beer).

Templebar Precinct - Chicken parmi with chips and salad

We left with sore stomachs from laughing, well-worked quads from climbing up scaffolding steps to get up to the toilets, and I also left with the knowledge that I was not the "biggest slag of the night" as I failed dismally at the game I was pulled up to participate in (although my consolation prize was a nice glass of wine, and quite frankly I was not too distressed at being beaten at a dummy spitting contest (quite literally) by a couple of older gents).

DATE: So apparently the mysterious package was left by some German backpackers, and was actually a cooler bag marked "BOMB!". In fact it seems to have been a cooler bag filled with FOOD! which may well have been a fart bomb of bratwurst and sauerkraut. They ended up getting fined $1500.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Some sheets with your eggs sir?

This morning got off to a disappointing start as our pump instructor was off sick and they were unable to find a replacement. This meant that I actually had to use my brain at 6am and do my own weights session instead of blindly following along to the terrible music. As it turned out however I pushed myself pretty hard and managed to get quite a good workout, such that come 7am I was ravenously hungry and ready for a substantial cooked breakfast. Where to find such a thing? Why, the Country Road Cafe, finally!

As I've said before, the Country Road Cafe is hidden away within the Country Road building at 307 Murray St in the city. Although it opens for weekday breakfast at 7 (10 on Saturday, closed Sunday), Country Road doesn't actually open until 9:30 so you have to walk up the little alley to Wolf Lane and enter from the back entrance before this time. It is also possible to get to Wolf Lane by walking up Arcade 800 from Hay St, but I'm not sure when this opens in the morning. Besides, walking up Arcade 800 always gives me butterflies in my tummy as I've had all my piercings done at Primal Urge, and I wanted to conserve all available tummy space for my breakfast.

After having enjoyed some great lunches at Country Road Cafe over the past year I was excited about seeing the breakfast menu. As it turns out it is not terribly exciting, but covers all the basics nicely and, similar to the lunch menu, is very reasonably priced. I opted for the $13 "vegetarian breaky" of eggs, tomato, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach and toast. My friend chose the $14 "big breaky" of bacon, tomato, eggs, mushroom and toast. The toast was toasted Turkish bread, and was just the right amount to accompany the other components.

The Vegetarian Breaky (front) and Big Breaky (rear), about to disappear

I found every part of my vegetarian breakfast to be well cooked (perfectly poached eggs, hooray!) and tasty, and quite liked the addition of zucchini to the standard vegetarian breaky items. I was a little surprised however to see the usual Country Road Cafe salad garnish is included with their breakfasts, but sadly as I wasn't expecting it I failed to request it sans-dressing. Their creamy salad dressing can go down a treat at lunch, but I wasn't quite ready for the creaminess with my breakfast.

The same cannot be said for my friend, who found that the "big breaky" wasn't quite big enough to fill the hole, and decided to try a slice of their lemon torte, served with a big dollop of thickened cream. He didn't quite manage to finish it all off, and when I nibbled on a little bit when he was up paying the bill I found it to be deliciously moist and tangy. Just as well.. if it were dry I may have coughed and given myself away.

When the breaky ain't quite big enough

Whilst it was perhaps not impressive enough to warrant a special trip into the city, I found breakfast at Country Road Cafe to be reasonably priced, well cooked and tasty. I can now happily recommend it as a good place for both breaky and lunch, although I have to say their lunch menu rocks my socks a fair bit more than the breaky one. Seriously, if you work in the city and haven't been here for lunch, you're missing out. Just make sure to book a table for lunchtime or you may have to resort to stealing torte crumbs off the plates of strangers.

Country Road Cafe
Up the back of the Country Road store, 307-313 Murray Street, Perth
Entrance through Country Road, or from Wolf Lane which is accessible from King St, Murray St or up Arcade 800 off Hay St
Ph: 08 9321 3982
Hours: Weekdays 7 - 3 (kitchen open) 3 - 4 (coffee and cakes); Saturday 10 - 3; Sunday closed

Country Road Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Calling all porridge people!

What you are about to read may revolutionise the way you eat breakfast. A big call I know, but seeing as I have changed the breakfast eating habits of four friends in one week with this information, I think I have some evidence to back up my wild claims. Three words: steel cut oats.

Now, I first heard about these bad boys on Oprah a few years ago when she had one of those doctors on, trying in vain to get the viewers to stop enjoying such delicious breakfast treats as Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausages on a Stick and start eating things like porridge (well, they probably said oatmeal) instead. As a porridge eater I took notice when they mentioned the magical marvellous qualities of using steel cut oats as opposed to rolled or instant oats, but I don't think I really ever followed up on it as I was reluctant to do anything that was recommended by Oprah.

Since then however I have heard about them a few more times but it wasn't until I came across this post on fellow food blog Pinch My Salt that I actually took proper heed and decided to go a-searching for this supposed king of grains. IGA, Coles and Woolies all failed to provide me with my fix, but my local health food store down at Dog Swamp Shopping Centre came up trumps. $3.75 later and a 500 g bag of perplexing oats were all mine. Perplexing because they just don't look oaty, it is really is more rice-like in appearance. Astonishingly, this is because the grains are cut instead of rolled.

Steel cut oats, anticipating their imminent transformation into tasty tasty porridge

Steel cut oats take longer to cook than your standard rolled oats, and presumably much longer than instant oats, but the real beauty of it is that the finished product, true to its rice-like appearance, has a risotto-like texture yet still retains the creaminess of your standard porridge. It even keeps this lovely risotto-esque chewiness when reheated days later, so you can make up a week's batch in advance when you have the time, and then just pull it out of the fridge to reheat for your breaky in the morning. I've been testing this out this week, bringing in a little container of porridge, and a little container of yoghurt, fruits and stewed rhubarb to add to it once reheated for a perfect easy/yummy/healthy post-gym breaky.

Steel Cut Oat Porridge

To cook my oats I have been using the ratio of 1/4 cup oats to 1 1/4 cups water for each serving.

I just add these to a pot, bring it to the boil and then let it simmer uncovered until cooked (one serve takes around 25-30 minutes), giving it a good stir every so often.

You'll want to keep an eye on it when you've got the heat up high at the beginning, as it can bubble up quite quickly once the water starts to boil.

It can also develop a bit of a skin on top during the non-stirred periods, and unlike my father who has a bit of a soft spot for the skin that can develop on custard when it cooks, I am not a fan of the pan skin and so I just skim it off occasionally.

If you are going to make fresh batches up in the morning, you can leave the oats to soak overnight to shorten the required cooking time. In fact, apparently this also has nutritional benefits, if you can trust Sue Gregg (looking at her photo, I think it's fair to say she spends more time concerning herself with cooking and less with keeping abreast of current trends in hair and fashion), as soaking the oats in an acid medium like water with some whey, lemon juice or vinegar, or buttermilk or yoghurt assists in releasing the nutrients from the grains.

Other ideas for cooking it include leaving it to cook in a slow cooker or rice cooker so that it is ready when you get up. I also read about someone leaving the oats and boiled water in a thermos overnight and then waking up to perfectly cooked, warm porridge in the morning! Having not tried these methods I am not sure of the oat:water ratios involved so some experimentation would be required.

The things you can add to your porridge are of course limited only by your imagination (and possibly budget and location and level of motivation and cooking skills) but some ideas are:
  • Yoghurt and fresh fruit,
  • Milk, brown sugar and sultanas,
  • Stewed rhubarb,
  • Golden/maple syrup and banana,
  • Vanilla, cinnamon and mixed dried fruit,
  • Grated apple, cinnamon and milk,
  • Coconut milk and banana,
  • Butter, brown sugar and hazelnuts.

Steel cut oat porridge with chopped plum, natural yoghurt, stewed rhubarb and a sprinkling of muesli

My favourite way to have it is with Mundella Natural Yoghurt, fresh grapes and berries (although with the season on the way out this will be soon changing), stewed rhubarb and a little sprinkling of muesli on top for some added crunch. I prepare the stewed rhubarb in advance too, so all of these elements are waiting in the fridge come breakfast time.

To make the rhubarb I simply give it a good wash, chop it up and simmer gently with a tiny bit of water, a splash of vanilla extract and something sweet (last time I used golden syrup, but brown sugar or honey are also good) until it has softened. In addition to adding some tasty tartness (ooh la la) to your morning porridge, it is also pretty awesome with icecream or yoghurt for a sweet treat.

Having gone through my 500g bag of oats, and finding myself a steel cut oats convert, I thought it best to go searching for a cheaper supplier than my local health food store. It was marginally cheaper at the health food store at Broadway Fair Shopping Centre, at $3.50 for a 500g bag, but then I discovered it is available at The Angry Almond for $2.99 per kilo. For you sandgropers not living in Perth, they deliver anywhere in Western Australia for $3.50. Full of excitement at discovering this cheap supplier, I called one of my (fellow porridge eating) friends who I had been raving about these oats to, to let them know I had found a cheaper supplier and that I would be buying them some to try. In a strange twist of oaty fate he happened to be, at that exact point in time, at Kakulas Brothers in Northbridge checking out the oat selection and discovered they sell them for $2.50 per kilo. It was a sign! A beautiful oaty sign.

I am happy to say this fellow porridge eater is now also a steel cut oats convert, and as the porridge maker of his family he has also converted his wife and daughter. I've also got my friend, whose house I'm currently staying in, including it in her rushed workday breakfast by putting little serves in cups for her. She just heats it up, adds yoghurt and rhubarb and fruit (oh my!) and gets stuck into it whilst hooning down the freeway.

Precooked porridge, ready for a rushed morning breakfast

With the power of porridge, anything is possible.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

...and thanks for all the fish

Our unseasonably warm Autumn means it is taking a bit longer this year to get stuck into the wintery dishes, and I am yet to make a big soup or curry. This is probably for the best, seeing as I have been living with friends since getting back to Perth in February, and monopolising valuable freezer space may not constitute the best guest behaviour. In fact, yesterday's warm weather led me to free up some freezer space by pulling out some of the lovely snapper I managed to scab off my brother-in-law last time I was up for a visit. Leaving it out to defrost, I headed down to the shops to stock up on vegies to prepare an Asian noodle salad to serve with it, and when I returned was happy to discover that a certain little cat didn't discover a fishy treat in my absence.

Pan fried Snapper with Asian Noodle Salad

Serves 4

2 handfuls Chinese cabbage, sliced
1 handful English spinach
1 handful grape tomatoes (sliced in half if large ones)
1 handful bean sprouts
1 small handful snow peas, topped and tailed, sliced in half if long
Half a red capsicum, diced
1 small Lebanese cucumber, sliced
1 celery stick, finely sliced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
50 g vermicelli (I used mung bean vermicelli)

4 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, microplaned
1 small clove garlic, microplaned or crushed
1 fresh chilli, seeded and finely sliced
Small bunch coriander, chopped

8 small pieces snapper (or any tasty fish)

1. Cook the vermicelli according to the packet. I just sat mine in boiled water for a couple of minutes, then refreshed with cold water and drained well.
2. Mix together salad ingredients.
3. Prepare dressing. Taste it and adjust ingredients accordingly!
4. Dress and toss the salad, and divide amongst four plates.
5. Fry the snapper over a medium heat in a little olive oil (and a little butter if you like) until just cooked.
6. Serve two pieces of fish per plate and top with a little salt and pepper and some coriander.

The salad will keep much better if it is naked so don't dress all of it if you're too weak to eat it all at once.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Don't roll this baby down the aisle

Every two weeks my research group has a regular meeting, and as we nourish each other's brains with interesting scientific discussion it is my task, as the official baker, to provide physical nourishment. This gives me a regular opportunity to try out new recipes that I've come across, and also gives me opportunities to watch weird late night TV as I stay up to all hours of the night baking, waiting and icing. Happily the late night shenanigans have not been such a regular occurrence as my casual job has quietened off a bit, but I may find myself missing Beauty and the Geek.

Given that today's meeting centred largely around one of the members practising her proposal defence presentation on us, I thought it fair to ask if she had any special requests. Cheesecake was the answer, which filled me with a mixture of excitement and fear. Cheesecake? I think I've only ever made cheesecake once in my life, and it was when I was about 10 years old. To be perfectly honest the memory is a little hazy, although I do remember it was my Aunty Suzannah's lemon cheesecake recipe. Well, anything my 10 year old self can do, I can do better, right? Exceptions to this rule may or may not include the wearing of fluoro bikepants.

So in my search for a nice, interesting cheesecake recipe I came across a Marbled Jaffa Cheesecake on Taste.com.au, my first port of call when hunting for a recipe. I figured it covered a few bases, with chocolate for the taste-conscious, orange for the health-conscious, and Grand Marnier for the unconscious. I altered the recipe slightly as is my wont, to create the following recipe.

Jaffa the Cheesecake

Cheesecake Ingredients
375g biscuits (I used a combination of Nice and Granita, IGA had no digestives!)
185g butter, softened
500g cream cheese, softened (I used the light stuff, they had run out of normal)
1 cup (215g) caster sugar
3 eggs
300g sour cream (I used light sour cream)
300ml thickened cream
1/4 cup (60ml) Grand Marnier (holy shit this stuff is expensive)
1 tbs finely grated orange rind
100g 70% cocoa dark chocolate, melted

Cheesecake Method

1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line the base of a round 23cm springform pan with butter then baking paper.
2. Place the biscuits in the bowl of a food processor and process until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Add the butter and process until well combined. If you don't have a food processor, you can smash the biscuits using a mortar and pestle, or a ziplock bag and rolling pin, then just mix together with the butter.
3. Place biscuit mixture in the prepared pan and use a straight-sided glass to spread and press it on the base and side. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill.
3. Meanwhile, place the cream cheese and sugar in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, processing well between each addition. Add the sour cream and thickened cream and process until combined. Pour evenly among two medium bowls. Add the Grand Marnier and orange rind to one portion and stir to combine. Add the chocolate to the remaining portion and stir to combine.
4. Pour half of the chocolate mixture in the prepared base. Pour half of the orange mixture over the top. Continue layering with remaining orange and chocolate portions.
5. Bake for 60 minutes or until just set. Turn off the oven and set aside for 2 hours to cool, letting it cool gradually to prevent cracking and the need to dash to the shops for crack-hiding cream and chocolate (note: while the cheesecake is cooling you may want to prepare the glace oranges so they are ready to go when you are ready to garnish). Transfer to the fridge to chill completely.

Garnish Ingredients
Bag of Jaffas
Orange, sliced
250 g caster sugar
250 mL water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Garnish Method
1. Blanch the orange slices 2-3 times.
2. Mix sugar, water and vanilla extract in a large pan, stirring over a medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add sugar slices and simmer gently, turning occasionally until the rind softens and becomes translucent. This took me an hour, but my slices were pretty thick.
3. Remove orange slices and allow to cool on a rack/plate until ready to garnish cheesecake. (Note: if the slices are stuck to the rack/plate when you are ready for them, just warm a little in the microwave to loosen up the syrup).
Decorate the chilled cheesecake with the glace oranges and jaffas (either whole or pieces - banging a Jaffa with a pestle tends to split it very neatly in half! Magic!) and maybe a little drizzling of melted chocolate too. If one or two Jaffas happen to end up mysteriously disappearing during this process no questions will be asked.
5. Cut into wedges of deliciousness to serve.

Okay, so I guess my 10 year old self was a little more trusting of recipes (plus probably less inclined to fiddle with them), as I don't recall the stress of trying to figure out if the bloody thing was cooked enough or not! It is quite difficult to tell, even after a thorough googling for assistance. Unfortunately a cooked cheesecake jiggles quite a lot, looking undercooked. I just ended up hoping for the best and turning off the oven once the edges started to look cooked and the jiggle was not so crazy when I prodded the pan. I guess it continues to cook a little when it is cooling, and also will set much more once cool, so you just have to hope that you didn't prematurely turn off the oven and end up with an oozing mess when you serve. What with this big decision making, and all of the warnings of horrendous cracking on every baked cheesecake related website, it is a wonder I didn't calm myself down by eating the whole thing last night.

Happily, I am able to report that after all of this, the cheesecake was a chocolatey, orangey, non-oozing success story! I was particularly happy with how the glace oranges turned out, as I had not made them before either, and I managed to create orange slices that you could happily eat pith and all! The orange and chocolate layers in the cheesecake married very nicely, and were offset really well with the biscuity crunch of the base. I think I will definitely be making this again, particularly as I have now invested in a bottle of Grand Marnier and I'm not exactly a regular Crêpe Suzette eater. Although, in a chicken-or-the-egg type conundrum, perhaps I am not a regular Crêpe Suzette eater due to a lack of Grand Marnier and now this will change. Only time will tell...

It ain't posh...

it's Viet Nosh. Although it is conveniently located a short stroll from UWA at 43 Hampden Road, I only ate at Viet Nosh for the first time a few weeks ago. Although it is nothing fancy inside, and you have to hope you've got some scrap paper in your bag to stop the table from wobbling, I was at first pleasantly surprised to have table service. The service itself is a bit hit and miss however - you seem to have to flag someone down to get your order taken, and the meals tend to come out at random times so one person is left starving whilst the other stares forlornly at their cooling lunch, but I wasn't exactly expecting silver service at this cheap and cheerful restaurant. Well, to be honest the dine-in dishes aren't as cheap as I would expect them to be, and as far as tasty value goes it has nothing on Hawker's Hut at Broadway Fair Shopping Centre ($6.50 for massive plates) but they do have $5.50 takeaway lunch specials that I am yet to try.

The first time I was at Viet Nosh, my friend and I shared some of the fresh prawn spring rolls with soy dipping sauce to start with, and they were so good that I have had them the two times I've been back. Viet Nosh is apparently owned by the same people who own Spices supermarket up the road, and they sell their fresh spring rolls there as well. I've bought them quite a few times in the for a quick fresh lunch, and have always found them fresh and tasty. I had a strange experience the last time I bought them, though. As I was waiting in the line to be served I noticed that the cashier was being terribly friendly to the woman in front of me in the line. After she was done, I put my spring rolls up on the counter and said a friendly hello, only to be met with silence. After ringing up my purchase, the cashier stuck out her hand for my money, not looking at me, so I had to kind of poke it into her hand to get her to grab it. After giving me my change she, amazingly, asked if I wanted a bag to which I replied that yes I would (didn't want to spill any precious dipping sauce now did I?), so she kindly got a bag, dumping the spring rolls and sauce on top of it (not inside) on the counter. I left feeling quite perlexed by the whole experience, and wonder if perhaps I have a doppelganger who slept with her husband?

Actually, that is a bit of a worry, as perhaps this same woman works in Viet Nosh. Hmmm... I don't think I noticed any extra hatred in my meals, I'll have to be on the lookout next time. Ah yes, the meals! I totally forgot to take photos the first time, so you'll just have to imagine the tasty (and generously portioned) serving of Chilli Chicken that I enjoyed. It had a lovely thick sauce with lashings (yes, lashings) of ginger. Very tasty.

At my second visit I went for the Sweet and Chilli Squid, and although I found the serving to be not as generous as I was hoping for, it was quite tasty. The sweetness came primarily from the inclusion of fresh pineapple chunks, and again the sauce was quite thick and clung nicely the the squid. The squid itself was cooked well, with a good (non-chewy) texture. Although I enjoyed this dish, I would not order it again as I found it a bit pricy ($14.50) for the overall quality.

On Monday my fellow diner chose the Chicken with Soft Egg Noodle, and although he reported that at first there was a component to the flavour he really didn't like, he managed to get past this and eat most of it. He actually didn't tell me what the nasty component reminded him of, as he said it might ruin my appetite, and then I forgot to ask later. I can only hope it is not the bitter tears of a woman scorned.

I was really happy with my latest meal, the Grilled Chicken Salad. It comes with a choice of either rice or chicken broth, and I opted for the broth (it seems like this was the smart choice, as it was actually a bowl of broth filled with rice, so I got the best of both worlds). The salad was fresh, and the chicken cooked and seasoned well. I am quite picky with fat on meat, so had to do a bit of work to remove all the fat and skin from the chicken before eating it, but was left with a good portion of meat. The salad dressing was nice and light, with a nice sweet spiciness to it. The broth was also nicely seasoned, and lightened up with some coriander. I found this dish to be a perfect lunch dish and would happily order it again.

So all in all I guess you could say I have mixed feelings about Viet Nosh. The dishes I have tried have ranged from good to quite good, particularly the chicken salad and fresh spring rolls, but I just find the price is a little high for lunch, given the size of the dishes and the location (meaning that around this area you can get some good specials aimed at the student population). I have yet to try the $5.50 takeaway lunch specials however, so perhaps these are a better option for a tasty, cheap lunch.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dr Swinelove (or how I learned to stop worrying and eat the pig)

Yesterday I moved house for the fifth time in three months. Well, 'moved house' may be a slight overstatement, as I currently only have a car's worth of belongings that I've been dragging around with me. In any case, I am now imposing myself on yet another friend in my homelessly destitute state and figured I should start off proceedings by making a tasty dinner.

Part of my carload of things I have been lugging from house to house includes a freezer bag for my frozen and refrigerated foods, and a large box of pantry foods. Well, I had some some pork loin steaks in my freezer bag loot, some organic soba noodles in my pantry type food, and thus decided to make a nice vegie/noodle stir fry with marinated pork.

Swine Flu Revenge
Serves 4

(these are approximate, sorry, I didn't measure anything - please adjust to taste!)
5 cm fresh ginger, grated
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp crushed dried chilli
2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
Pinch pepper
1 Tb oyster sauce
1 Tb brown sugar
1 Tb sesame oil
2 Tb soy sauce
1 Tb Worchestershire sauce

Stir Fry:
2 carrots,
2 sticks celery
4 spring onions
3-4 garlic shoots
Small red capsicum
Half a brocolli
2 bunches baby bok choy
Good handful of bean sprouts

Finishing sauce:
2 Tb oyster sauce
1 Tb sesame oil
1 Tb soy sauce
1 Tb Worchestershire sauce
2 cm fresh ginger, grated

180g soba noodles (they tend to come in 90g servings in the packet)

3 pork loin steaks (although a nice tenderloin would be better, I think!)

Plan of Attack:
1. Mix all the marinade ingredients together, add the pork and leave to marinate in refrigerator for at least one hour. I did mine in the morning while my porridge was cooking, and it was all ready to go for dinner when I got home from uni.
2. Wash and chop up all your vegetables however you like!
3. Cook the noodles according to the packet, then rinse with cold water. The standard soba noodles you find at Coles/Woolies need cooking for 3 minutes in boiling water.
4. Cook the pork over a medium heat for a few minutes each side until just cooked through. Transfer to plate/board and leave to rest.
5. Stir fry the vegies over medium heat until still crisp (adding the vegies at different times to adjust for different cooking times), then add noodles and finishing sauce and mix through well.
6. Slice your pork into 1-2 cm thick slices, cutting at an angle.
7. Serve sliced pork over stir fry mix, topping with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and some fresh coriander leaves if you have some handy!
8. Chomp. Nom nom nom...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Nine - Fine in name, fine in nature

If I had to name one Perth restaurant as my favourite, it would be Nine Fine Food on the corner of Lake and Bulwer Streets in Northbridge. Every time I have dined here over the past few years I have been struck with how consistently well presented and delicious each dish has been. In fact, the only two things I can fault with the restaurant are the less-than-glamorous toilets and the one time that my dining partner and I were aurally assaulted by a fellow diner keeping himself amused whilst waiting for his food by tapping his metal chopsticks together over and over and over... Oh, and one time I was there we were in such a daze from the dishes we accidentally left our wine cooler bag behind and never got around to picking it up again, so perhaps you shouldn't be going here if you are a Forgetful Jones and were thinking of taking your favourite jacket or bag.

This was actually meant to be a review of Nahm Thai, also located on Bulwer St a (very girly) stone's throw from Nine. However after calling Nahm to make a reservation I discovered that they have a set menu on Friday and Saturday nights, which if I recall correctly is $65 per person. Given that some online reviews of Nahm suggested that the food takes some time to come out, and that our dinner on this particular night was not going to be overly leisurely as my friend and I had a cocktail party to get to, we decided that perhaps a $65 dinner that would have us eating at least three courses (more by the time we shared dishes) was not the best idea and we may have paid for this decision by missing out on valuable bar tab time at the cocktail party.

There was a small moment of disappointment when I called Nine on Friday afternoon to book a table for 6pm on Saturday and was told they were fully booked, but after promising to have the table free by 8pm we were granted a table. Huzzah! So, first lesson in eating at Nine - book ahead! Not really necessary on weeknights, but in my experience it is essential to book for Saturday nights. I have been disappointed on two occasions when trying to organise an impromptu dinner for non-Nine-knowing friends and being thwarted by my lack of foresight.

Another thing to mention while I think of it - Nine is only BYO, a fact which they remind you of when you make a reservation and again when they call you on the day to confirm your booking (even if you only called to book the day before). So if you are planning to pair your fabulous Japanese fusion meal with some alcohol, you'll need to take it with you.

The decor of Nine is nicely understated - mood lighting, dark warm colours, some Japanese style floral arrangements. The tablecloths are made of leather, which I don't recall seeing elsewhere and I think is a great idea. It feels nice to lean on, has a bit of grip to it and cleans easily when you've had a chopstick related mishap. Not that I would ever experience such a thing but I could imagine that it would be useful in this manner. Yes.

The specials at Nine are always displayed on two blackboards on one side of the dining room, and always described to you by your waiter. There always seems to be at least one tasting plate special - one hot and sometimes one cold. These are a great option for a shared entrée, as my friend and I chose to do this time. Last time I was there was with 3 friends, so we went for the hot tasting plate and the "Sashimi Nine Style" to share as an entrée. The actual menu also has the option of paying (I think) $55 per person and choosing from a couple of options for entrée, main and dessert. They also now have an "Omakase" option for (I think!) $70 where you essentially trust the chef to give you a number of tasty courses. Not sure how many courses exactly, but I know that I trust the chef at Nine and thus will happily put myself in their hands next time I am there.

The hot tasting plate on this occasion consisted of (starting from the bottom of the picture) seared tuna on little dollops of creamy sauce, chicken karaage, marinated beef with scallops, Japanese omelette, tempura prawns, tempura barramundi fillets and barramundi mash (all sitting on a little sauce).

The tuna was perfectly cooked, with a wonderful texture. The best of both worlds - a lovely seared outer layer with a beautifully soft rare centre. The outer crispy fried deliciousness of the chicken karaage was perfectly complemented with the tender meat inside. I am sometimes disappointed with chicken karaage (on the rare occasions I allow myself the guilty pleasure of eating it, most often after my sister has twisted my rubber arm) when all you seem to get is the fried fat and no decent amount of chicken. At least when you have a good mouthful of meat inside you're able to somehow justify eating it by telling yourself you're getting some protein.

Onto the beef. I don't eat beef, hence the title of this here blog. I used to, but haven't enjoyed eating it for the past nine years or so. I've had a few experiences of eating it during this time, such as when my Italian friends (in Sweden) made a traditional lasagne and proudly served me up a big slice, and I just didn't have the heart to tell them I don't eat beef. I think I even managed to eat most of it. I mean, I can eat beef, I would just really prefer not to. However, the beef served on the tasting plates at Nine seems to fall outside of this blanket discriminatory ban. Over these past nine or so years, there have been three occasions when I have tried beef and quite enjoyed it. All three of these occasions involved tasting plates at Nine. It is very thinly sliced, beautifully marinated, and cooked to produce a meat that does not remind you you're enjoying a nice slab of cow muscle with every difficult chew. The fact that it is so cunningly disguised as to appease a non beef eater may well turn off those of you who love nothing more than to get stuck into a nice slab of cow muscle, but you could satisfy this urge by choosing the steak for your main.

Anyway, I digress..
The scallops sitting atop this magical beef were just cooked, and thus had a very soft, almost creamy texture. The tempura batter for the prawns and barramundi was nice and light and the Japanese omelette was pretty much like you'd expect it to be. The barramundi mash (the little croquette in the top left of the photo) presented a little problem as there was only one, so we had to get the knife out to share in the little tasty, although not terribly memorable, little parcel.

Onto our mains! Boringly, we both chose to go for the special as it just sounded too damn good. It was cutely described as a "team" dish, with the team members of red emperor (three pieces), soft shelled crab, scallop and prawn. The team's entourage included lightly spiced potato mash, creamy basil and ricotta sauce, and what I guess you could call a fruit salsa. The flavours all worked well together, letting the fresh seafood speak for itself, and again all of the seafood was nice and moist and nowhere near overcooked.

After having such lovely dishes we could not resist going for a dessert even if it meant possibly missing out on the bar tab at the cocktail party we were due to attend. Dessert wins out over potential free drinks, in my opinion. Well, maybe not lumpy custard and tinned fruit but as this wasn't on the menu we decided to forgo free booze for more food. There was a selection of gelati to choose from, where you can go for the "Ichi" and have two scoops of one flavour, or "San" and have one scoop of each of the three flavours. Alternatively you could go for the fried banana and red bean roll served with gelato and fruit. Of course this was our selection, although we restrained ourselves to just sharing the one serve.

Quite simply, it tasted as good as it looked. The banana and red bean was a deliciously gooey mixture and married well with the crunch of the roll, the hazelnut gelato was so good it had little chance to melt before we polished it off, and the little pieces of fruit were all fresh and met a similar fate. To our delight amongst the fruit lineup we discovered a square of coconut jelly, which my friend actually introduced me to last weekend after recently discovering it himself. Clearly we are at the cutting edge of cuisine.

The service at Nine, as always, was excellent. Extremely friendly, eager to please and with great timing, I have never had reason to be anything but very happy with how I have been served here. The last time I was there was on a Tuesday night, for my birthday, and even though we lingered much longer than the other diners as we finished our wine we were never rushed to leave. In fact, as we left we guiltily realised the staff must have been just waiting for us to leave so they could follow suit but we never picked up on this vibe whilst we were in the restaurant.

The cost is not exactly cheap, but neither is it expensive and I am more than happy to pay these prices for the consistently high quality food and excellent service. I think in our three course meal would have been approximately $110 in total.

I really can't recommend this restaurant highly enough! Gush gush gush..

(as a side note, and nice contrast to this meal, I also discovered last night that the catering for functions at The Deen really goes above and beyond. I had no idea there were so many varieties of ready made, foul smelling deep fried hors d'oeuvres on the market.)

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