Monday, December 22, 2008

Assiette: with a lot of help from my friends...

It was bound to happen: the cake + the knife + the guest blogger. Architect-to-the-stars, Cindy Bolomey, is a woman of many hidden talents (most of them are even legal)! My monkey assassin has been leaving a litany of rather amusing and anonymous comments on this hallowed site for quite a while now, and when she informed me that the Swiss Family Bolomey would be celebrating her father Francois' birthday at the spunky Assiette, I promptly commissioned her to write a piece for you gorgeous readers. Don't get me wrong, I love you guys, I really do, but you're a demanding lot, so it's nice to let someone else please you for just the tiniest while. Cindy didn't ask for anything in return, so be sure to lavish her with lots of deserved praise.

A couple of words of advice: Cindy has a killer french accent, so you have to read this piece to yourselves in the best imitation your cheesy imaginations can come up with! And for those who are considering leaving nasty comments, this elfen blonde with the twinkling brown eyes and the pixie grin is a fully fledged Tae Kwon Do black belt who likes to take things personally, so mind your manners, eh. Assiette by Cindy Bolomey: Let the games begin...

Monkey Assassin on Assiette:

You know you're in for a treat when it's a Friday night in December - another week is finally over and summer silly season is well and truly in full swing. You know you're in for a bigger treat when you're heading out for a decadent meal with the entire Australian Bolomey Assemblage. All coming together for a short time, in the same city, after a long arduous year. All here to celebrate head-Bolors' 60th. Nothing can top off the extravagance more than an exquisite dinner at Restaurant Assiette in Surry Hills. The last time I went to this little bistro it was a cold mid-august Saturday night. I had just turned another year older and the folks and I were going it all out - no messing about: ten courses, degustation menu, with matching wines! Bring it on. It was amazing...I think....!? From what I remember anyway - the wines obviously being the most memorable...everything else? A bit of a blur. Back then...

...Outside, the winter wind was blowing, birds were ruffling far into their nests and our fantastique French waiter even managed to obediently tuck us into our goose feathered doona beds. Sweet, soggy Assiette dreams were had by all. This time around, Jean-Marc had been deported and with summer-fun being around the corner, we opted for the lighter option and picked our delights from the a la carte menu. With my visiting Hanoian siblings at our table, I couldn't resist starting off with a dozen Sydney rock oysters dowsed in a beautiful Vietnamese dressing. These little pearlers were well worthy of an extensive dental chew rather than the more conventional, nauseating oyster eating method of Gulp And Swallow Whole. My oyster eating counterparts among you know what i'm talking about. For the rest of you, a few words of wisdom: Chew. Hard. Don't GSW unless you know what's good for you.

That was enough Nam-ness for the evening. After all, Sven and Clotilde did not have a bumpy Vietnamese Airlines flight over the Equator to dig into more rice, noodles, pho ga, rice with chicken, rice with pork, rice with beef, Vietnamese rolls with Vietnamese dipping sauce (all to be enjoyed with their Vitenamese colleagues under "sexy trees"...aka Vietnamese secretaries). It was  to be a Bolomey evening in a quaint French restaurant, with flowing French conversation, baguettes flying everywhere (although we were surprisingly shunned when we asked for more bread!?), pate, champagne, caviar, cabernet semillon sauvignon Blue-Blanc-Rouge, berets, canard, quack quack, ron-ron-ron...We moved straight to the entrees: Fresh salmon and beetroot sorbet chef d'oeuvres. Ink squid cannelloni sculptures. Prawn mousse jelly collages. The artists were working hard away in the studio-cum-kitchen...finger painting and cut and pasting a go-go, before we knew it, our piece de resistances were completed.

For the main event, the original foursome went for the crispy barramundi and john-dory fillets, while our newest Bolomey member tucked into the wagyu brisket fillets. A wisely chosen Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon certainly complimenting the nosh nicely. This little refurbished terrace on the corner of Albion and Mary streets was now nicely stuffed like juicy Tomate Farcies and conversations were loudly flowing through the mature clientele like a pack of pungent creamy triple-bries running a marathon. Between countless Amuse Bouches sorbets and pannacottas, we still managed to make space, pushpushshoveshove Nam-Style, for a final sweet Bolors Touch. The creme brulee, old favourite, a popular selection with the oldies, and a towering strawberry milles-feuilles, model like statuettes also a fashionable selection for the trendy Surry Hills Set.

Sven ventured for the white chocolate mousse concoction. For just sixteen dollars, he joined the mile high mousse club and came tumbling down back to earth soon after, a very different man...

After a long night from Bia Hoi Hanoi street eateries to Resto Assiette in central Sydney, the night was soon to come to a close. The unusually cool summer breeze was gently caressing our full-of-french-goodness bellies, with dreary conversation overtaking like a long, drawn out French film in subtitles. And even though Jean-Marc was not there to tuck us in this time, we all had delectable Assiette dreams, once again...

Restaurant Assiette: 48 Albion Street, Surry Hills, phone 9212 7979.

Big Thankyou to the Bolomey's for their monetary contribution and incomparable company on the evening. To Papa Bolors for making it to big 6-0: congratulations and keep up the good work. To Mama Bolors, for your culinary knowledge and appreciation of good food, lemon tarts and long walks by the beach. Sister-Clo, for the tummy emptying flight that got her to Assiette on time, and to Big Brother Bolors, for his fabulous photography skills and Vietnamese Sewerage Engineering Prowess. And obviously, a big thankyou to bechars, for allowing an amateur guest blogger like myself onto her page of wisdom, for being the beautiful person you are, while also being the bestest-best friend ever. I love you, my love.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cow, Bella! (aka Millevini)

Cindy, Tats and I are a naughty bunch. In our recent December excesses, we appear to be dining out on an average of about 5 or 6 times a week. Cheeses christ! We are all progressively becoming much more impoverished, pudgier versions of our former selves. Tatsu and Cindy probably think it's my fault, because I am organising all of the get-togethers. I could take responsibility, but I know there's always a better way than to blame yourself, I think i'm going to... blame it on the rain blame it on the stars whatever you do don't put the blame on you blame it on the rain yeah yeaaaah. I know. It's called Millevini and not Milli Vanilli, but what other opportunity was I ever going to get to make a tangental reference to that shameless pop duo that I equally shamelessly rocked out to in my younger and not so younger days? Ahhh Millevini: the busybusybusyinblackblackblack Italian Wine bar and tapas style dining spot enjoying pride of place on Surry Hill's Crown street. What? You haven't heard? Oh... what the hell, i'll give you the delicious debrief, but just this once, eh.

I had waddled by this spunky little neighbourhood nook of ebony and sandstone behind polished glass a few times, it's quite the split level stunner: copious bottles of curious wine, very European looking wait staff and a predominant clientele of those annoyingly good looking, intelligent 30 something types who look like they dressed for success and damn well got it. Cosy, cloistered, shadowy, polished, sophisticated. It's a tad posh spice, to be sure, but the vibe is so much more ginger, and not at all scary. Tatsu, who has always already tried every place you tell him you want to go to, had given Millevini two very informed thumbs up before he decided to meet Cindy and I for dinner here. It's a very Melbourne approach to eating out, the sophisticated restaurant/wine bar, which takes its cues from the more relaxed and spontaneous culture of less formal/structured dining: the focus being as much on some good drops of red and white as it is on little portions of Italian inspired loveliness. It's anything goes eating, centered on very simple and select ingredients, with a good dose of well directed class, and this is how it's done:

I wish the Millevini Lasagnette came with ears, because only then I could creep up behind it and seductively, in a slow, deep voice, winged upon the warmth of my baited breath, lean into it, closely, and with a quickened heart whisper my profession of undying love: My saucy little LasagnetteI am going to make you a star! Oh, this dish... It is every good cheese perverts Ultimate Fantasy. Don't even try and resist this steaming little halo of oven baked beauty. Lasagne is usually like any good Daniel Day Lewis film: it's hard not to get off on it, but this takes your average run of the mill cheesetomatobakebaby to an entirely new level. Besciamelle sauce and some incendiary pesto lusciously sway between delicate sheets of perfectly textured pasta. Unlike most pesto, which tastes more of oil than it does of basil, this is a fragrant, fruity and chaotic tongue song, its high notes dart into and out of some bass-y cheese like nobodies business. If you aren't already quivering at the thought, ensconed within the folds of this GodInCheese, ready to startle you with agonizingly nutty delight, are crunchy little clusters of baked walnut. When crispy nut shadows melting cheese, it's Texture Houdini at its very best. Mmm. 

Beef carpaccio is my favourite meal of all time. Millevini's comes as gorgeously tender folds of pink meat, gently caressed by whispers of parmesan and droplets of truffle oil. It's a grand carpaccio, a very clean beef, excellent quality. The parmesan is subtle, I usually like the cheese on my carpaccio to be a little sharper. It's a winning dish, regardless, so delicate and layered. Truth be told, I couldn't taste the truffle oil in this dish, I actually poured a little olive oil over it after a few bites because I don't like carpaccio that isn't heavilly drizzled. Honestly guys, if you've never tried cow carpaccio, what are you waiting for? It's the most delicious way to down a dead animal. Raw meat is enzymatically more compatible with our metabolisms, I always feel much lighter after a carpaccio than I do after a steak. I also feel a tad Hannibal Lecter right now, in a good way, I mean.

The caprese salad is your classic beauty. Sweet basiled tomatoes and golden olive oil make a perfect pillow for a luscious looking sphere of beautiful buffalo mozzarella. The cheese here is divine, very subtle and clean, fans of this dish will not be disappointed at all by Millevini's version. Delicate and refreshing, it's beautiful summer food. The Polpettine, veal meat balls that are baked in tomato, white wine and parmesan are a pleasant but unremarkable dish. The sauce could have been a little deeper, but still manages to remain wonderfully sweet and subtle, most tomato sauces are too overpowering for the dish they should only be a tempered presence in.

Grilled vegetables in balsamic vinegar were lovely, earthy and flavoursome, a lighter dish to go with the richer lasagnette and carpaccio. The balsamic used is wonderfully sweet, good balsamic doesn't taste too astringent, it's sweet as well as sharp, and is a simple enhancement to the beautifully grilled vegetables. The peppers and zucchini are luscious, but no one will ever sell me on grilled eggplant, it's like oily rubber. A divine cheese plate ordered off the specials menu was the happiest ending yours truly has enjoyed in quite a while. I don't normally eat cheese, but I have become a tad more partial to it since hanging around the Swiss Miss (Cindy) so much. This plate is drop dead gorgeous, pots of orgasmic, screaming, orange marmalade (which I don't normally even like) and dreamy, floral organic raw honey, stand at the ready by delicate slices of wonderful cheese and pear. A basket of oiled, grilled bread is the perfect partner in crime to all of these glorious goos and slices. One of the cheeses was a delicate blue, I normally hate blue cheese but this was so subtle and delicate I found myself having more than just a bite. I got quite full arranging slices of cheese with smidges of pear and marmalade and honey onto crispy little circles of oily bread. I felt very adult having so much dessert fun with no chocolate in sight!

I waddled to Millevini again the following evening with Candice, I was a little sad the food didn't seem to be quite as sharp as it was the night before, but Tatsu has been several times and reassured me the quality has been consistent for him, so that must have been an off night. Don't be deterred, this is the perfect place to come in a little group or a terrific twosome, it's loud but still romantic and a lot of fun. You know i'm no wino, so all I can really say is that the drops hail mainly from Italy, France and Australia and they all come available by the glass and the bottle. They use specifically shaped glasses for different types of wine, different reds come in different shaped goblets, which is a sign they seem to know what they're doing. Millevini can be a pricey place, some of the dishes are better value than others, but the quality of the ingredients is evident, you're paying for really quite wonderful cheeses, meats and vegetables. And the olive oil is down right drinkable, but then again, maybe you have to have Lebanese parents or be Rebecca Eggers before you'll concur with me on that one.

Be sure to palm one of their business cards on the way out, they're a very cute keepsake, much more stylish than the rotund little belly you walk out with. So Full. If 2008 doesn't end soon, my stomach might actually grow spontaneous lacrimal glands and start bawling its eyes out. 

At 397 Crown Street, Give them a bell on 9357 3366 for a delicious night of funky dining, unlike Milli Vanilli, this is the real deal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

North Bondi Gitalian...

One of the best things I have discovered in my short career as a food blogger, is that once word gets around and people start to enjoy what you do, they sort of start to, well,...respect you. Can you imagine it? Very strange, indeed. Well, if any of you are at risk of putting me up on the proverbial pedestal, this post should restore me in your eyes as one of the last remaining, truly great idiots of our time. It was suggested to me by Miss Rebecca Eggers that a cake + the knife club should be started, what a great idea I thought! I lost no time inviting every man and his hungry dog to North Bondi Italian for the inaugural convening of this most gluttonous little enterprise. It was a lovely group of good and new friends who converged at this beach side bastion of Bondi dining to kick off the club. We had an amazing night, laughter, drinking, all the usual variables. We tried some sharp little dishes, quirky and saucy, it was blog gold waiting to happen...and then I, accidentally of course, deleted all the pictures on a little spontaneous bout of desktop spring cleaning...Motherf.... fdhdfhdafhdfvdzhdajhgjkhewq.

Alas, times are hard, people, and the state of financial affairs is not conducive to another stint at this place any time soon, so, the illustrations for this piece had to be salvaged from facebook uploads. Good old facebook, is there nothing you can't do? Most of the actual shots of the food got trashed, so the stars of the show are, unfortunately, going to be conspicuously absent. That being the case, it's time to go a tad John Lennon on you...imagine! I am going to ask you to really help me out here and dig deep into your dreaming minds to conjure up in mental images what I can not offer you in photographic ones. You're a smart, sexy readership, I have faith in you to not only move mountains, but to picture them as well! I will be extra descriptive, i'll use all the words and colours and senses I can come up with, i'll be gentle, i'll be slow, between my mouth and your mind, we'll get there in the end... 

You know my opinion on Italian food isn't very gratifying, so it was going to take a lot to get me excited. Sometimes a great dining experience starts with your waiter. Wait staff, in general, fall into two classes: those who are sharp, on the ball and spilling out witty rejoinders to meet your equally witty banter, and those for whom the spilling out is limited to icy/hot beverages, all over you and your fancy pants. Craig was the former, I liked him right away. He made us feel comfortable and at home and had no hesitation, upon being asked, in sharing his favourites from a rather exstensive and peculiar little thing of a menu. I am surprised by how little people seem to trust the staff when they go to new places, it's usually a good idea to ask what's recommended or really popular, it encourages you to be a bit more ambitious and try things you otherwise wouldn't, and when you've got a big group that's agreed to share, your bets are so sweetly hedged!

The one food shot I do have is of a very impressive little starter: the arancini, delectable balls of crumbed spinach risotto goodness. A timid bite into a crispy shell unveils a steaming and soft ball of wonderfully intense flavour, both deep and rich. These were so good that despite being a party of 9 with a serving of only 4, I managed, through very underhanded and subtle table tactics, to procure two all for myself: beware, the sharing machinations of Amanda! I could've mooched food for Russia during the Cold War. Upon Craig's suggestion, the dish line up went like this: Eggplant parmigiana, parmesan crusted milk fed veal cutlet, panfried whole red fish, Berkshire sausages, chargrilled rib eye and roasted spring bay scallops. Salivating much? And that's before I even mention the side of perfectly crisp potatoes with garlic and rosemary, divine sourdough dunked in deep olive oil and garliced, chillied olives in every shade of sour green you can come up with. 

My two stars were the Eggplant parmigiana and the Whole red fish. The eggplant was a beautifully layered rectangle of tomato sugo (read: sauce), basil and parmesan. You don't need to have any real knowledge of food to know good parmesan from bad, the cheese in the dish was wonderful, sharp and intense, so that the dish need not ooze oiliness for good depth of flavour. Most parmigiana dishes, like men in tight white jeans, are just a wee bit too slick for me, if they're slippery on the plate they tend to taste more like a hit of oil/cheese than anything else. Using a great quality parmesan in tempered amounts, allows the gentler and sweeter tastes of the tomato and eggplant to shine through, it was nice and thick, a very large serve, and the pepperishness of the basil throughout lent a nice fragrant, freshness to the heavier flavours. Jason, The Canadian, caught a super winner in the panfried whole red fish, "slashed and filled with herbs and lemon". Now, it's difficult for messed up people not to have a special predisposition for any food that has been slashed as part of its preparation, but this was ridiculously amazing fish! I really haven't tasted a better fried fish, it had a zest and a sharpness to it that it made me literally exclaim "wow" when I tried it. The fish was impeccably fresh, I was actually startled by how beautiful and lively it tasted. Fish that good isn't just eaten, the proper consumption of it requires that it be made love to. Troy McClure would've adored this dish.

I did enjoy the veal cutlet, but it wasn't varied enough for me as just a main on it's own, it's just a big plate of crumbed veal with lemon on the side, good if you like a very filling, very meaty meal. The sausages (like the salami) are Robert Marchetti's, I have no idea who Robbo is, but to have eponymous sausages, he must be doing something right! With a redyellowgreenpepperbasilandbalsamic thing happening around them, these bangers have more than just a bit of bang. I was also particularly enamoured with the crispy Italian style potatoes. They are crunchy little golden pockets of potatoed joy, whoever cooked these must have a PhD in commercial oven operation, i'd easily get them as an entree next time. The menu has other winners than routinely sell out, which is probably why our tardy tummys missed out on them. The snapper, steamed in a bag, and the spaghetti with crab, also cooked in a bag, are two such (ostentsibly) memorable dishes.

We rounded off all of this glorious food with some gorgeous bars of milk and dark chocolate, they arrive at the table decadently clad in thick cardboard boxes of promising loveliness that are hastily torn open. The milk chocolate didn't rock my world, but the flakey, dreamy dark one was so luscious and divine and sinister that the sheer recollection of it can carry me happily through another few solid months of celibacy at least. Mama Mia!
So, that's North Bondi Italian. Loud, very loud. And happening, very happening, all beautiful sea breeze blowing in, over and around the beautiful people with the beautiful clothes and the beautiful hair. The crowd is a bit Bondi, but that doesn't spoil the atmosphere or the taste. A little on the pricer side, but if you choose well, you'll justify the money spent. There's a 10% surcharge on Sunday and Public holidays, and no variations to the menu, thankyouverymuch. It's a nice place for celebrations and catching up, especially if you score one of the coveted balcony seats...something nice about the idea of eating plate after plate of Italian dessert while you watch evening joggers sweat and groan beneath you on the promenade.

There's much more to the menu than what you (don't) see here, antipasti, "salumi", soups, salads, pasta, and sweet, sweet dolci. They even have, for the Marilyn-Manson-At-Stomach, an Offal section that will leave you tied up, dried up and dead to the world. Pig trotter and braised tripe made me scrunch my nose in childlike disgust, but I should have lingered a little longer on the decision of whether to try the Crumbed Lamb Brains or not, if you are what you eat, perhaps ordering that dish would saved me from stupidly deleting all those bloody photos...

That's North Bondi Italian: slip, slop and snack it up, guys. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Love Supreme, AKA: The Stalker, The Scholarship Student and The Vietnam Vet

Pizza and Bert Newton have the unfortunate anomaly of sharing two things in common: cheesiness and a general inability to excite me in the least. The state of affairs in my increasingly shrinking jeans might lead you to think otherwise, but I have never been a pizza person. I find it very so-so food, something to be scoffed with beer and friends when you're really hungry and desperate, and despite a rather involved history with both hunger and desperation, I hardly ever eat the stuff. It's not so much the heaviness that deters me, but the fact that pizza is very rarely remarkable. Don't believe anything you see on cooking with Huey, great pizza is hard to make and even harder to find. Da Michele in Naples makes only two types of pizza and it remains the best I have ever tried, and here's why: they've had the odd century and a half to get it right. Yes, they've been in operation since 1870, apparently the hots for what's in the box with the dots is not a purely modern phenomena. Any money Benito Mussolini's dictatorship would have been a much more bloody and violent affair had he known what pizza would one day degenerate in to. 

Now, the best pizza in Sydney is a contentious topic, Arthur's had it for a while and Mario's is one I keep hearing about but haven't tried. I used to like Oscar's woodfired creations at Grappa back in the day, especially their garlic crust, Rosso Pomodoro in Balmain is holding its own (with a fairly wicked nutella calzone to boot), as is a lovely, darkened, drunken, noisy and narrow dining spot in Paddington called Love Supreme. Their motto is "Emotional Pizza for One and All"... well, I like the idea of food that can relate to me, and with the sorely missed Miss Cindy back from her Vietnamese sojourn and the delectably demonstrative Mr Ronan's Philosophy scholarship to celebrate, a drunk, ill-organised and sweaty bunch of us converged upon 180 Oxford street for a night of lactose induced madness.

Love Supreme is a great place for big groups. It's loud, rollicking, busy and jovial, part dining room, part sourdough bakery/laboratory. Under honeyed golden lighting, big Silver mixers and whizzbangsomethingorothers adorn beautifully wooden and marbled surfaces and function as much as art as they do tools of the Delicate Craft of the Dough. LS takes its cues from the Naples school of dough, which prefers softer, chewier bases that sink under the weight of their luscious bounties, to the Roman, which usually involves a crisper base that retains its shape when you pick it up. Most of the better Pizza restaurants usually feature the softer, chewier bases, I don't think I can ever recall eating a crisp based pizza that was amazing.

Now, it is a fairly impressive line up, but I have no qualms about playing favourites! Having 3 vegetarians present with us on the table (including the 'vego' who eats horses, our little Neigh Sayer, Cindy), did not prove a successful deterrent to me making a gastric beeline for my Italian sausage filled Favourite: The Smiley. The smiley makes you so, so happy. It's the beautiful result of sparse chunks of meaty, salty sausage, lusciously deep tomato, sparks of red onion and some divine pecorino (a hard Italian cheese made from sheep's milk) all kicking it back, lazy and lovely, on a beautiful, gentle base that crispifies in a perfect circle of crunchy pizza-perimeter. It's mouth sex. Cheesy, salty, meaty, spikey, but all balanced beautifully. LS uses impeccable ingredients, they ooze flavour, so there is no need for overcrowded toppings, the Smiley especially is the perfect amount of top to bottom, it cuts a culinary hourglass figure worthy of the envy of all. You can get all the pizzas in small, medium, or large. When dining with people who don't eat meat, I suggest you order the large and do your absolute darndest to pretend to struggle to finish it because you "can't stand wasting food".

The VIP is a very ingestible pizza as well, adorned with fireenginered roma tomato, meltingly creamy bocconcini and oily leaves of fragrant basil, it is a classy classic, and, unlike my academic history, never fails to disappoint. Tostar is a beautiful bastard of a pizza, oven roasted vegetables mosh it out with some subtle goats curd, it's a generous and full bodied taste, without being too cheesy, which is the downfall of many vegetarian pizzas. The cheeses used here are gorgeous, because of the quality and the strength of flavour, less cheese is needed which makes for a much healthier pizza. I have also tried the Big Brother, which, as an organza in potato, gorgonzola and caramelised onions, is a hell of a lot more appetizing than my own. For the Fungus Amongus, Dario Fo has swiss brown, field and oyster mushrooms to wow you, I didn't enjoy this quite as much as the other pizzas, but it still cuts a highly decent slice. There's even a surprise pizza filled with ??? for the Cowboys among you that are living it fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style.

One thing all of these variations have in common is that top quality, organic ingredients are used very sparingly. When you assemble the topping on a pizza too uniformly, every bite tastes the same and it doesn't challenge the palate enough. Heh. Jesus. How Foodie Wanker did that one sound? Seriously though, when you place the topping sparsely and irregularly so that some bits are much more tomatoish, others more cheesy, others meatier still, it's a woven taste that digresses beautifully into and out of flavours, subtle, varied and generally more interesting and satisfying to eat. Food that tastes the same all the way through just becomes a bit of a succession of bites, you don't taste or enjoy it nearly as much.

For those of you who want something nonpizzaesque: The Rigatoni with pork sausage and tomato or the orrichiette with zucchini flowers, roast capsicum, garlic, chilli and ricotta are yummy harbingers of Italian delight. Salads, antipasto and a little Bruschetta are also pleasant little belly fillers. Try the battered zucchini flowers with chilli, lemon and ricotta at least once, they're a little pricey but a novel idea and very delicious. The tiramisu and vanilla bean pannacotta are waiting for you at the end, surrender without a fight, there's no turning back now...

Love Supreme has my R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I have found out what it means to me! They use organic and biodynamic produce where ever possible and they are open 7 nights, just like my raging appetite. Brunch is running in the same kitchen on Sat-Sun, I prefer it as a night spot, although I have had some delicious Sourdough Sisters' breakfasts here with Tatsu. 

Love Supreme happens at 180 Oxford Street, Paddington. Call them on 9 33 11 77 9 and they'll tell you they don't take bookings, but they do do free home delivery, for those of you that have eaten too much pizza already and are far too doughy of leg to leave your house.

You know about the Scholarship and the 'Nam Vet, the stalker, you ask? Well... the Earth Cafe, which is the cafe I go to every day, was coincidentally having its staff christmas party at the table behind us. I get teased more than I should about how much time I already spend at that place, even the people who work there feel sorry for me, I actually had to tell them that it was mere chance that I ended up at their christmas party, and no, I am not a stalker. It was the darndest thing though, all night I was craving an earl grey in the worst bloody way...

Love Supreme, Delicious night out or the nemesis of Bikini Season: You Decide.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Balmain Tiger

With a name like Adriano Zumbo, there was no way we weren't going to hit it off. Zum-bo! Hitler, Stalin, Dostoevsky...those are names that make you a little anxious, a little apprehensive, 'Zumbo' leaves you with an entirely different sort of expectation of the person you are about to meet. What two syllables could be more laden with whimsy or with fun? Make no mistake, the man lives up to the name. Cake + Knifelings, meet Zumbo, Adriano Zumbo: International Man of Creative Cake Mystery. Zumbo is so much more than the most exciting cafe and patisserie to ever happen in sleepy little Balmain, it is the sugared, rollicking and startling incarnation of one hell of a bright, playful and restlessly creative mind. I have never dabbled in drugs (they haven't come up with an earl grey version of anything illegal yet), but eating at Zumbo is what I image an acid trip feels like. Surely, Adriano Zumbo's frontal lobes put the honourable Willy Wonka's to absolute, sugary shame, and he has done it all himself, with not an Oompaloompa in sight.

Adriano is a playful, prolific, friendly and curious man, I had a 3 minute exchange with him and I walked away smiling. He is gentle and brilliant, generous and inspired, he is having a ball sharing his creations, and you can just see it in his twinkling eyes. You get the sense upon meeting him that this dream has been brewing for a long time, it's like the brilliant birth of a life time of ideas and inspiration, constantly constantly constantly, from everywhere, even the local Supermarket gets this boys brain buzzing like a bee on speed. Zumbo is little short of an edible Guggenheim, a foodies answer to Post Zen Pastry Perfection, Zum is soooo much better than Zen. Nothing simple, nothing underdone, nothing quiet and unassuming here. It's a Baz Luhrmann film on a plate. This is voloptuous, sexy, tarty, wink-at-you-wicked, playful dessert, dressed to the nines. It's in your-face-heavy-metal-marie-antoinette-let-them-eat-cake-oh-so-so-so-decadent choas in confection. I can actually picture Marie Antoinette firing Adriano from Versailles as her head pastry chef because he was just too much for her, too over the top, just too decadent, too excessive for her relatively simple, spartan ways. This guy takes cake to completely new heights. It's what Max Brennar tried to do, but didn't pull off with nearly quite so much deliciousness or spunk. I am surprised the entry to both of these establishments is not marked by some kind of inter-planetary portal, because what greets you as you step inside isn't the every day, it's a new, crazy world through a hungry looking glass, and it is a wonderful thing to behold...

Before you even set lips on one of the gorgeous little Zumbo Mind Babies, the desserts, cakes, ecclairs, tarts, slices, and other dishes which I will have to call an ecstatic 'What-The F?', do a bit of a number on your awed, unexpecting eye. Those of you that aren't comfortable with drooling or panting in public should stay home and stick to frozen Sara Lea, you commit yourself to a Public Display of Affection the moment you pick up a Zumbo menu. Adriano is a culinary messiah, and I am preaching his pre-diabetic word. 

Here is a man who gets it, who understands that beyond taste, food is art, not pretentious art, fun art, it is about reducing fully grown, functional and responsible adults with mortgages, insurance payments, cheating spouses and snot nosed ankle biters, to partially pulverised puddles of anticipating awe and excitement. We all have it in us to get really excited about pretty cake, and that's half the brilliance of the Zumbo way of doing things, before you eat, you will be seduced: the desserts are so maddeningly pleasing to look at, it's not pushing it much to say that they positively lap dance in front of your gobsmacked jaw. So, losing your Zumbo virginity with your new flatmate, your lovely friends and an adorable bunch of Sydney food bloggers that you are meeting for the first, glorious time on a Sunday morning, goes a little something like this...

That's Wheely Wildly Wendy, on the left, she's a bit of a looker, aint she? Hey, hey, she's pretty on the inside too, and gluten free! Wendy is what happens when Zumbo mixes fresh roasted peach in, oh say, some tonka bean creme legere (!?) and then enscones it all in some almond dacquoise discs followed by a quick decadent dip in some crumbly almond dreaminess. For the love of God. My taste buds have been yapping to each other about it ever since. The texture is beyond my meagre grasp of the flimsy language of English. I actually believe happiness would be the feeling on laying your wearied soul, physically, down to sleep on a beautiful bed of this stuff. Give me an Adriano Zumbo afterworld, so I can sigh eternally...

When Passionfruit and Cream get it going on, the above is what happens. Oh, delight of delights! I had a tiny spoonful of this achingly orange treat, and the bright burst of tart passionfruit that releases itself like the singing note of an abandonded, angelic lyre bird from a luscious mouth bath of sweetdreamcream, is perfection, cakeified. It is balanced so artfully, tartness and creaminess each playing their role without one overshadowing the other, it's like romeo and juliet in dessert, and it ends in the premature death of your will power to not have any more. A delicious plague on all our asses.
 
Those are the gentler baked, berry beauties. Berry custard brioche, strawberry and peach danish. Seriously, why are you people still reading this and not all making a mad dash to darling street for a hit of this stuff. These desserts were gorgeous, ripe, heady fruit playing peekaboo with you through luscious folds of golden pastry. Not too sugared either, I loved the danish and brioche because the flavour of the fruits is what you taste more than the gentle sweetness that cautiously minds its own business in the base notes.

Charles Du Jour, or Chuckie, as I like to call him, is my new boy toy. I love him in look and in taste more than anything else I tried on this fateful day. The little balls poking up from the splendid snow white coating strike me as a bit funny in a sadistic way, don't know why, but I giggled over this treat a fair bit. It's basically a living testament to the judicious joys of the vanilla bean. Vanilla every way it can be had, held and handled, all combining into one Vampire in Vanilla that sucks every last drop of disillusionment from your formerly embittered heart. Taste this and you will know love. Taste this and the world will be new again. Taste this and there will be angels dancing on your palate. Taste this, concede to its breathless power over you for ever more. It draws a deep, satisfied Oink from even the harshest of cake critics.

That's just a funky patisserie mirror shot to give you a little intermission, I don't want you climaxing on me and Adriano when we are only half done...

Lavender. Truffles. Lavender Truffles. Lavender Truffles. Taste and smell are already twin sisters, and Zumbo plays with this union so artistically. Chocolate + Lavender = Happy Amanda. These are messy, moorish and divine, but the chocolate they always sell out of, the one evil Adriano does not let his poor mother take any of when they are running low on the stash (she told me this herself mind you), is the 'innocently' named Camel Toe:

For those of you that like to be sinful efficiently, this is the Two In One Devil Dropper: red wine and chocolate. The Dark Side of The Force. These are the perfect gift for Satan when he's holed up in bed with the flu. They are a hard coated shell with a naughty, sticky, dripping sweetsweetsweet center, dark and lustful. They only had 4 left and we scored them. Mother Zumbo and I might join forces to arrange some sort of midnight Camel-Toe heist when the stocks get replenished. 

That is more pretty chocolate with deliciously different spices and tangents, there's a whole case of them grinning at you from under sparkling glass. That's Ronan and Sally, Zumbo didn't make them, but they're pretty delicious any way.

Macaroons in all the pretty colours of the rainbow. These are luscious little bastards. They have perfect denseness and teeth sinkability, the colours are vivid and true, they don't taste fake or artificial at all. I tried the rose macaroon in its supporting role in the Paris dessert, so, so, so Yumbo.

The range of treats all lined up in a pretty row like wall flowers that want this dance with you. Very impressed that Zumbo is doing so much gluten free. The range is ridiculous guys, there is so much to try.

That's just the case in patisserie...

See...
Told you so. That's not even touching on the dessert menu, which is as fanciful and as hardcore as cake gets. Come in a big group if you can and get a whole crazy range of things, that way you can ooh and ahh and try the lot of it without feeling like you missed out on something. Despite the range we got, there was so much I did not get to try and have a trip planned back in the next week or so with Mum and my cousin Carol. Don't worry, it's not all cake, you can get pies and tarts and brekkie and coffee and tea from Elmstock. Regarding the tea, the herbal infusions are great but I usually find Elmstock's Black blends a little on the weaker side, which actually might be a good thing in Adriano's set up, you'll get more than enough of a caffeine hit from a camel toe, or two.

That is the best portrait I could get of the Paris, this dessert was so light, refreshing and beautifully pinkity pink. Barbie would've loved this, she would have traded in annorexia for bulimia at the mere sight of it: raspberry sorbet paired with rose brulee (ronan: "are they real rose petals"), sporting a rose macaroon, lychees and a coco-strawberry sago pool on the side. Adriano, are you bloody kidding? I am proposing to you, officially, here and now, as a result of the genius of that combination alone. 

Zumbo...He makes you so happy and so fat. There were some bloggers there who put me to absolute shame, I was dying of sugar overload, but Karen was washing down all the cake with a chocolate milkshake, and one of the boys was having the blackest, thickest looking dark hot chocolate I have ever seen while he devoured a plate of the most caramellishious looking chocolate something or other.

296 Darling Street, Balmain is where this all happens, and this is his site

I am genuinely gobsmacked. Yes, I am smacked in the gob. This is the kind of place you'd expect to find in New York and London, the imagination of it all is enough to dazzle you, even without the perfect execution. There's no nice way to put this, but Colour, Texture, Taste and Form are all Zumbo's bitches, he works them fluently, fluidly and what seems like effortlessly, all for your sensory pleasure. This is a wonderful place to take old and young people for an experience that glorifies everything food is about. Everyone around me and in my group looked like they were having so much fun. Adriano draws you into the way he sees the world, it's fun, crazy and decadent, a bit like being a kid again.

If you do manage to see Adriano in store, go and introduce yourself if he doesn't look too busy, he is great fun to chat with and most of the girls who have been here are as enamoured with the man as they are with the creations.

Adriano Zumbo, would a rose macaroon by any other name smell as sweet? 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cake To Go

C + K is on the move again, new HQ: Surry Hills. Not sure if you can call SH greener pastures, what with all the rodents, homeless people and traffic, but I am excited. The bad news is, the wonderful place I am moving in to is ovenless. Yeah. Not so good. But, the housemates are so lovely and warm hearted that I am thinking if I can just get them to stand near a tin of uncooked flourless cake mix, extremely still and for long enough, they will cause the cake to rise by sheer osmosis. The dangerous news is that I am moving smack bang into the middle of the most concentrated square mile of eating out spots in Sydney, for the first few weeks at least, you might see more reviews than usual. I have friends who read this that don't really do the eating out thing, don't worry, i'll keep cooking (stovetop style) and cranking out some ideas for you. 

The amazing news is, I will now be closer to The Earth Cafe. I'll only have to get up at 6.45am or so to make the 7am start, thats 30 minutes more sleep! Tragic, but true.

Should be back up some time in the next week, if you never hear from me again, it's cause I died at Mohr Fish, right around my new corner, from how crispy the hot chips were. If anyone needs to discuss food (lunatic style), in the meantime, Ms Eggers will be scheduling chats in between root canal surgeries. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Defence of the Humble Potato

You can't claim to really, truly love a philosopher until you own them in finger puppet form. That's Nietzsche, my favourite thinker, writer, philosopher and psychologist of all time. Reading Nietzsche is punk rock. It takes any chair you are sitting in and makes it electric. Time and circumstance can not separate us, he is, has been and always will be, my philosophical godisdead father. Candice witnessed the stricken, digusted look on my usually controlled face when a dinner guest of my father's once tried to tell me that the gist of Nietzsche was that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Gist, gist, gist!? There is noooo frickin gist. Friedrich is a sea on a page, a sky between the covers, he is beyond reduction, beyond comprehension, all you can hope to do is to allow the magnitude of his mind to surround you, and to be awed. One of his (many) central concepts was the idea that things are neither good nor evil. That good, bad, ugly, beautiful is a mere interpretation of the world, and a narrow one at that. He believed that beyond this way of seeing things, were things, just as they are, and they are neither good nor bad, but rather good for what, or bad for what, things are what we place on to them. Our interpretation of a thing can not be divorced from its meaning for us, from our relationship to it. Just like Posh and Becks can't be divorced from each other, even though they really should.

Nietzsche would've been most frustrated if he lived in our times. I don't think he could've handled eating in this day and age, let alone living in it. Good fats. Bad carbs...no, no, no. Poor Freddy would've gotten incredibly hot under the mo and under the collar at all of those people who divide things into the good and the bad, and this is something i'm guilty of every now and then. And so, to honour this wonderful, hairy little German with the vivid eyes and the famous dancing madness, I am going to launch a beyond-good-and-evil defence of potatoes, a much vilified little vege that just wants a bloody chance!

Potatoes are acidic. People with food sensitivities can find them uncomfortable to process, they share that similarity with tomatoes and eggplant, they are all members of the deadly nightshades, botanically linked to the poison ivy plant. The health conscious among us, even those crazy Irish, seem to be eschewing potatoes more and more, potato PR isn't great you see, they've been dubbed too carby, bland, white starchy, and with dangerous GI levels. Just like people, you've got to take the 'good' with the 'bad', and potatoes have a few great things going for them. Assuming you're not eating them in chip form (Mohr Fish makes amazing hot chips), or mash form (Centennial mmmmash) or Stolichnaya (Cindy that's you), all of the time, what you've got under that layer of muddy skin is a fiber packed, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, copper, potassium and manganese power house, and all for relatively few calories. 

Roy Navarre is a bit of a whiz bang plant geneticist who has identified over 50 different kinds of phytochemicals rocking it out in the humble spud, the phenolic content of some species actually rivals that of broccoli! This is good news for people with high blood pressure and people who want to do their body a nice turn. The antioxidant list is as long as it is boring, but impressive to say the least. A long time ago, I learned to view all natural, whole foods, as useful in different ways. When science dubs a fruit or a vegetable 'bad' for some reason or another, it usually does a complete U turn a few years later when a new approach is taken or a new type of compound is discovered. 

Our generation needs a little more of the wisdom of the older cultures in this regard. Asian, Indian and Arabic cooking make use of so many different types of natural foods, they find moderation in variety, and enjoy a range of fruits and vegetables and pulses and oils that put the modern Western diet to shame. That being the case, I am going to share a healthy way of spudding it up with you, it's one of Mum's simplest and most devoured dishes, she literally makes it in 20 minutes or so whenever anyone has the urge. The urge gets had alot! So, get your potatoes off the couch and do this to them:

This one hails from Lebanon, so i think we'll call it:

The Fully Sick Salad and you will need:
4 or 5 potatoes (try different types for some nice textural variety, skins off)
lashings of olive oil (get a good, strong one, it blends sharply with the creaminess of the potato)
pepper (if you can get some Lebanese pepper it's that much more authentic)
purple onions
salt 

It's easier than a dodgy back compensation claim: all you do is boil the potatoes (or microwave them, if you'd like to kill most of the nutrients), let them cool a little, toss in chopped onion, lots of oil and salt and pepper to taste. I am not going to lie to you, i've tried making this and it never tastes quite as good as Mums. She has some creepy ability to make it just so, she and no one else. It's a phenomenal tasting salad, and so simple. I love it on a hot day straight from the fridge. Mum usually serves it with cold boiled eggs for breakfast. The devout Lebanese among us use leb bread and not a fork to eat it. It's beautiful in any type of sandwich, I like it with dark rye and hummus. Mmm, it's one of the better things about being an Arab, kind of puts the Giant Nose Thing into perspective.

Try making it at home, perfect summer food, even nicer after it's been in the fridge for a day, the flavours settle in and make gorgeous taste babies. What do the rest of you do with potatoes? Share away, I need some more ideas. The Fully Sick Salad has to be tried to be believed, if your version fails then invite yourself and everyone you know over to my parents, they don't need any notice at all to cater for hundreds. It's kind of embarassing. 

The Fully Sick Salad: so yummy, it would've brought Zarathustra down any mountain much sooner. And Thus Spake Amanda.