Thursday, December 30, 2010

Careful What You Ish For (Cafe Ish)...

Whether it's due to a characteristic new year's eve tendency towards reflection, Arab melodrama - or the fact that certain religious groups always predict the ending of life as we know it on nights such as these, I really felt the sudden and painful urge to end 2010 with a blog piece. Since I won't be going out for a Big One, ie. pashing 3 English backpackers, hugging strangers, telling a cop he's a top bloke and spewing my guts out over an Eastern suburbs pavement sometime around 2 am - I think I am entitled to a little figurative vomiting, don't you? I know I can get away with it, you guys are always there to hold my proverbial hair back. 

2010. In my immediate circle of friends there's been a break up, an engagement, some new love, some missed jobs, some death, some almost PhD finishing, some indigestion and bloating, some being lost, some being found, a grey hair or two, some despair, a bit more hope and whimsy, a car accident at a round about, a new pair of jeans, some birthdays with cake and a hell of a lot of fat chewing over some strong lattes. This is my theory: fuck it. Actually, Fuck It. Fuck summing it up. Fuck proving to yourself it was a productive year. Fuck trying to see what you've gained and how you're different or wiser or more solid in the head.

Something that's always struck me about the 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2... feeling of twisted, anxious LoveHeartSinkPunch we all feel at the crucial minute is that as time is very conspicuously slipping from this moment to the next, the past submerging itself into the future, the end sinking down, under for a second, and then rising back up as a beginning, is this: Us. We're there. Alive. Alive and Possibly kicking, or at the very least, kicking it and not the bucket. Still, and watching the clock, present - in transience - against the inexorable surge of time's cruel tide - and possibly stoned off our asses. There's something magical about it (NYE, not pot), something human, something tribal. Be in it, but also stand back a little and Watch it. Don't control it or name it or make it something it isn't. Just Let It Be.
Dear Lord. Let it Be. Hmm, it's not often an Aussie yobbo WunderChef can make art out of his ass, but there you have it, ladies + gents. Ass as Art. Dear Lord. In case you can't recognize them from this angle - those two fleshy blossoms of creamy-pale buttock belong to the recently engaged DevlishDuoOfDeadlyDigestion Josh + Ai of the (still going strong at a new location around the cornerish) legendary Sydney Breakfast-Brunch-Lunch-And-Now-Dinner Outfit: Cafe Ish. Ish is hallowed breakfast territory. If William the Conquerer were alive and living in Sydney, this is where he'd get his eggs. It's hearty and heart felt. Ish is where the hungry come to feast, where the brave come to do battle, and where the strong of stomach come to die of pleasure. Dashing Dean of the Golfers Elbow and Dainty Mith Jo of The Louboutins were hungry and wanted a good, end of year breakfast and cup of coffee. Deciding we could brave Josh's smart ass attitude and potty mouth, we wandered into Ish hoping for some slight gastronomic satisfaction. It's true what they say

careful what you ish for, kids...
Josh won't admit it, but he's happy to see me. And I am happy to see them both - it's been a while! With Ai already having fixed us perfectly pitched coffee (mine, the signature Wattleseed), we're sipping a bloody beautiful brew as we peruse the new menu. A delicious and quirky page tells a tale of Mushy Brioche, Congee, crab omelette, toast, eggs, sweet, saucy, spiced, peppered, ricotta'ed with berry, trifle, oiled in avocado. Mmm. I think I actually heard my Pancreas tell my Stomach Oh Fuck, if she takes us too far i'm outta here. 

Menus are like falling in love. A quick scan of a page registers the same impression as a quick scan of a glance or the subtler workings of mutually felt presence. One or two lines, what they've put in, what they've left out, you know you're on to a good thing or not before you even deign to order. Sure Sign of a great menu: two or three options I can't possibly decide between. But there it is, beneath the eggs and above the omelette: Porridge. Oh, Porridge. How i've missed you.
Porridge, it's like the Game Of Love: there are winners, and then there are losers. But so many more losers! Like all truly simple dishes, porridge is exceedingly tricky to do well. Creamy, oaten, warmly sighing in steamed spice, light and floating, thick and slow and languid and sure. Wonderfully Anglo. Olden. Beckoning and Reckoning. Quiet comfort under studded, heaving blobs of gently stewed, shimmering fruit in a hollow of perfect, enveloping ceramic. Swirl, and swoop with spoon. Around and around, slowly and edgelessly. Smooth and chewy. Frothy, angelic grain. Nothing says good morning like some porridge. 

But it usually is a case of That's not how you make porridge. 
Although an epic porridge gives the impression of a beautiful, ethereal milkiness, good porridge should be made with water and not milk. Cafes, which usually won't soak the grains or cook porridge as long as it should be cooked, only offer up a stodgy heavier version of the real thing if they boil the oats in milk. Porridge despite being warm and deep is very, very light food. Cooking it in water allows the heat to transfer more properly and lets the true taste of the oats come fully through, the creaminess is a natural product of properly cooked oats, it shouldn't be short cutted to. Ish's version is absolutely bang on. The base porridge is as it should be, very barely salted, a gorgeously bland canvas which is like Christian Bale on any good day: perfectly fine naked and probably better as is. But then you can toy with each bite and dress it up differently for simple and subtle variance of flavour, warmth and texture. Ish gives you a delectable and sensuous palate to play with: A sticky, treasure pot of honeyed-ochre hued stewed, syrupy fruit, a little serve of gorgeously dense and delicate brown sugar and a divine pot of some lusciously angelic yoghurt, rich and deep and sweet and true. Goad it from bland into to sweet, from smooth into voluptuously textured, from steaming hot into a yoghurt-subdued lazy luke-warmth. Dean and I were riding high the magical carpet of our collaborated sighs. Ten Out of Ten.
Full and happy, with smiling bellies, we were all set to get the cheque and call it a day. But Josh wasn't letting us off that lightly. That's the beautiful brioche, swathed in the richness of a generous buttering, iced and crowning a berried, passionfruited tangle in scarlet - with a dollop of trauma as ricotta. It was good. We were happy, but it's fate was wrecked by the fickle order of chance. What came next would ruin the memory of all that came before:
This is a benign looking chap Josh calls the Lemon Delicious. Believe me when I say it's an aptly named creation. This simple, humble looking shallow sphere of saccharine pleasure tastes a fuck load more unbelievable than it actually looks. It was startling. Like a cool breeze on a burnt back. Like a cop letting you off a speeding fine. This was love at first lick for what was to become the daze that settled upon our shaken tongues. Lemon-myrtled lyre bird of lusciously licked life. So smooth and agile and cutting, a swoop of sure sharp flavour, like a sudden flicker of lightning bolting through a strangely still sky. Lemon upon lemon. Within lemon. With a hint and a smack of Lemon. Lemon lying next to Lemon. Lemon as Love. A Citrus Song. Chiming in Lemon and rhyming in Lemon. Eyes agog. This is one of the most divine desserts I have had in a while. 
Whinging. People tell you not to. Don't listen to them. Whinge and the world shall be yours. Upon discovering that the set up of the new kitchen means that Ish no longer offers what were hands down the best pancakes you could get in Sydney, I whinged. In the space of ten minutes I complained several times. I tried every trick in the book. Guilt Trip. Pleading. Cajoling. Begging. Bribing. But it was whinging that did it. Josh came out of the kitchen, after our already staggering first rounds of porridge and brioche, bearing an improvised version of those lovely precious cakes of pan.
This tastes like the fall of Babylon along your tongue. Wicked and Perfect. Brilliantly buttered apples, rich and glistening and slippery with fullness, a pristine dollop of wattleseed ice cream, an oozey sticky, gently honeyed-candied haze and the most full and fluffy sumptuous pancakes beneath. Heaven is a place on earth. Sweet and Rich and Cold and Hot. Sticky and Smooth and Supple. Not quite dessert, but entirely breakfast. Creamy and Crisp and Tragic. My lips were juddering in agonied delight.
The new in house baked Ish bread comes and we are officially entering the domain of digestive dementia. Bloody Hell. Grief stricken. Josh and Ai, we love you - so much. I informed Josh that the food was so good that I still kept up an impressive gusto despite having to eat while facing an image of his artistically bared bottom. It was hard, but with focus, determination (and failing eyesight) you really can do anything.

Hooray for Ish! The promise to deliver impeccable breakfast with a twist is alive and well in Sydney today.
Ish now happens at 82 Campbell St Surry Hills, if you want good breakfast without the bullshit, skip the lines at Bills and head around the corner and down the road. Lunch and Dinner are happening here as well.

We staggered out after breakfast, grunting and making our way slowly and fatly along a city footpath, 3 foodie stooges - all a stupour. There was satisfaction, wonder, regret and rotundness. a mere few more hours this little aberration of moderation will have happened last year. Time's good like that. The breakfast pig out will have sunken to the murky dregs of all that was, with only the lasting memories of the taste, the joy, the wonderful company - and the knowledge of what Josh's ass looks like - naked, from the side and in black and white, forever.

Imagine there's no ass there, 
it's easy if you try. 
No ass below us, 
and where there's only Ai.
Imagine all the people, 
Living for Brulee
Imagine there's no bad cafes, 
it isnt too hard to do,
Nothing to whine or puke for
And no rip off, too
Imagine all the people,
Living life at Ish.
You may say that i'm a glutton,
But i'm not the only one
I hope someday you will join us,
We usually meet at 1
Imagine everyone sharing
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
Or the use of several pans
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the cake...

Thanks to Dean and Jo, I love our triple dates. And to Ai and Josh: xxx.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'Twas A Sydney Christmas.

Twas a while before christmas, 
when all through the house
A Leb she was stirring, a sweet Polish Mouse
Undies were hung, by the balcony (sans care)
The children were nestled, all snug in their heads
While kidnappers lay waiting, just under their beds
And Manda in her Zimmy, and Bub in the nude
Had just settled down, for some takeaway food.
When out from the street, there arose such a clatter,
I really didn't care what was the matter.
Away to the window, we lolled like dead Cows
Rolled open the blinds, what the hell was it now!
The moon, on the boob, of some soon fallen smog
Made the objects below look as dull as a bog.
When, what to our jaded eyes should appear,
But a drunken boozehead, smelling strongly of beer.
With a stumble and fall that was anything but quicked,
But there was still a small chance, our cars would get nicked.
More rapid than eagles his chunder it came,
As he gurgled and choked, and cussed them by name.
Now, Johnnie! Now, Jack! Now, VB and Jim!
Out, Vodka! Out, Scotch! Out Tonic + Gin.
To the bottom of the gutter, all the way down the street.
Now dash away, dash away, all the stuff I did eat.
As rubbish that before the wild winds does fly,
It splatters, and splotches and brings forth a cry.
All down the gutter those courses they flew,
With some choking, some gasping - to stagger the spew.
And In a twinkling, I heard through the ceiling,
Our bloody neighbours, with no neighbourly feeling.
As I drew in my tongue, trying not to say Fuck
Frustrated, angry and Shit out of Luck.
Came a parking inspector: Evil, from his head to his foot
Bending down near the tyres just under my boot.
A bundle of tickets, he had flung on his back
And he looked like a target, about to get whacked
His eyes, so beady, his forearms - so hairy!
His snarl like pythons, his eyes so damn stare-y!
His mean little mouth was drawn up like a fist,
The beard on his chin - clearly never been kissed.
The Stump of his pride, he held clenched in his jaw,
And the smugness it circled his head like the law.
He had a poxy face and a round little belly, 
That shook, when he smirked, like a chubby girl named Kelly
He was mean and unforgiving, a miserable elf
And I laughed when I saw him, In spite of myself
A wink of his eye, and a flash of a ticket
Made me aim daggers at him, as though he were wicket
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled in my rego, that insufferable jerk!
And laying his finger inside of his nose
And giving a nod, down the street he goes
He sprang to his ride, to his partner - fived high
And away they all flew, with my savings - Oh, My!
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight
I'm telling the cops, about your broken tail light.
Ah! Cake + Knifelfs! Truth be told, I've felt more christmassy than I do this year. Christmas hasn't been shaping up well here, no, not at all. We're doing alright, don't get me wrong. We're in a pretty good set up, no mangering going on - and there's certainly a lot to be happy about. But it's still not adding up! Failed jam and a case of ants in the pants. But besides some snide poetic offerings tinged strongly with cinnamoned-cynicism - I do have something from a friend of far purer heart than I, a Polish friend, who starts getting into christmas some time in mid-October. This is her hallowed, traditional recipe for Polish Christmas gingerbreadtypestuff. Spiced in nice, warm, sweet and innocent - and in all the playful shapes of seasonal cheer. Kinda makes me want to puke. 
Just kidding! These are whimsically wonderful little biscuits, pure and simple and gorgeous to make. Lets call them Edward Scissorhand Cookies - you don't need blades instead of digits to make them, but, if you do make them the trays and trays of the perfectly honey-nutmegged geometry flowing from the oven like Bach for the Nose, might remind you of the beautiful fancy of Tim Burton's flowery imagination and the opening scenes from the mansion high up on the hill, where the inventor lived. 

These are magical to smell, magical to watch being made and even more magical to bite into. Battered shapes become golden and full with the breath of baked life. If you want to get your festive cheer on, this is one way to do it...
My little inventors will need:
400g good raw honey
250g brown sugar
100g butter
Charming Cinnamon
Some Quaint Ground Cloves
1kg plain flour + 6 tspn baking powder (or 1kg SR flour)
2 eggs
A pinch of Salt
Some festive Love (ah, who are we kidding, good ol' fashioned Hate'll do)
Wonderously sweet cookie men and moons and stars and trees begin by bashing the honey, sugar and butter into a warmed pan and letting it all lusciously melt over a steady heat. Once melted, add the cinnamon and the cloves, mix it, let it cool. Once the mixture is cool mix in the flour, the eggs and the baking powder with hands. Hela does this with some good polish pounding technique that I doubt any Australian could easily imitate. Let this all rest for one day. If you live in Poland where it is cold, you put it in plastic bag on your doorstep. In Sydney, doing so would cause the mixture to melt, assuming someone didn't St Nick it first - hence, in our Southern Hemisphere, Polish Accent: We Use Fridge. 

Take it out of the fridge the next day. Let it acclimatize itself back to room temperature, then roll it good, like a teenager with some new Nikeys, onto a floured surface. Push it down into about a 0.5cm thinness, you don't want a bulky cookie. Well, you little gluttons probably do! But that's not how they roll in Poland (that was a pun). Pick your shapes, any shapes you like, I have little puppies and turtles etc, anything goes. You could find guns and daggers and guillotines depending on your mood. Smash it, upon lined baking paper, into a 200 degrees celc. preheated oven for about ten minutes, and then put in the next tray and the next. 
Believe it or not, you're actually not supposed to gobble these right away. You let them cool, like Fonz. Hela then dips hers into melted chocolate with just an Eastern European dash of milk, or leave them as in, but closed in a tin. They taste delicious the next day but you're supposed to have enough will power to leave them in the tin for a whole week, allowing them to soften into perfect, traditional Polish cookie delight. The entire tin above was polished by Papa Bechara in about 3 minutes when my body tells me to eat something sweet, I listen to my body, that's why I'm 72 and I've never been in Hospital. Not Once...That's why I can't fit into my Nudies, Dad!

There you have it, polish shapes and bits and clovely pieces. Hooray for Hela!

That's about all the cheer you bastards are getting from me. Have a great christmas, lots of turkey, lots of mince pie and even more subtle (or depending on your origin: blatant) family tension around the festive table. Do try not to kill any relos or gouge out any eyes, now for some of you, I know that'll be a big ask - but for crying out loud, it's christmas! God damn It! 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

To Victor The Spoils, aka Johnny Had a Little Lamb..

If Jennifer Aniston can talk about acting, if Cher can talk about growing old naturally, if Berlusconi can talk about virtue, if people who spend lots of time stoned on beaches complaining about The Government, Maaaaannnn can talk about what's wrong with the world today - then I can talk about meat. I can. I bloody well can damnmoo! I know I don't eat it anymore, but that's not going to stop me from getting my creative writing fangs into a nice, juicy, bloody rare slab of it - figuratively speaking, of course. Alas, gorgeously glistening thick slabs of beautifully marbled red meat might not feature on a recent pescetarian's shopping list, but when a beloved Lebanese father, too full of baba-garlicked-shawarma 'casually' laments (while directly looking at you with all of the histrionics of the mock Arabic Innocence that constitutes the Parental Guilt Trip) that it's been a while since he sampled some of your lovely lamb, that how come you don't cook it for me anymore, you are on holidays aren't you - what's a gal to do?  
Use it as an excuse to visit culinary versailles/cum local butcher: Woollahra's Victor Churchill - that's what! The chance to go here again, to this beautiful bastion of interior-designery-finery: so exciting it was almost traumatic. Come along for the ride, its carnivore carnivale. And no, my silly sausages, you don't have to have graduated from Bovine University (BU) to get your Moo On. 
Vic's Meat set the standard yonks ago for select cuts, it was always hallowed Eastern Suburbs Pleased to Meat You turf - but a little bit of cosmetic surgery always makes good things better in the East, doesn't it Darling. The renovations....ah... who knows why they went ahead? Maybe Vic's Meat was sick of getting rejected from the Ivy every weekend and decided it was time to have some work done, maybe it's ex husband was recently married to a buxom 17 year old and it was time to get revenge, well - Either way, Holy Hell. More Temple than Butcher, I know this'll make Mad Little Cows of my Vegan/Vegetarian friends, but if I was a slaughtered cow, this is definitely where i'd want to end up. This shop is an unmitigated stunner. Forget fluro lights and smelly fridges against dull white tile. This is much, much more Tiffany and Co, but instead of carats (or carrots) its eye fillet, sirloin and T-Bone (in Da House). Make no mistake, if buying your lamb and steak was a Miss Universe Contest, this hushed little space of gloriously gilded and gentle beauty is not only winning the Swimsuit Competition, but it has got brains to boot - sheeps brains (and figurative brains)! What more could you want? Go on, whack out your Black Amex, it's not necessarily cheap, but hence the naughty smile!
What a styled sign of the times. Food has Arrived. Eating has always had a little something to do with status. Pizza for the poor and Creamed Ices for the Court of Charles the King. Lately, food is about status in an entirely different way. Food as 'lifestyle' has become another way (besides your jeans) of wearing what you are (or who you want to be). I'm not sure it's a good thing. My Mum calls it One Big Wank (my words, not hers), and she's right, she's old school. All quality, no frills, she wants the best for the cheapest and she doesn't talk about it or put it in her status update, she eats it, cooks it and then goes to sleep knowing she's taken good care of her family. The less simple we make food the more I think we displace ourselves from its essence. 

But heck, there's something nice about knowing you're a wanker and forgiving yourself enough to revel in it a little - it's a good bit of decadent fun in an otherwise complicated universe. 
Vics flagship takes this vogue of Designer Groceries to a whole new level, it unapologetically makes art - high art - of food. If you've never been here, it's quite an experience. There's some space beyond the pushed, heavy door, almost stage like, a barren vacancy that forces you stand and gasp before you are beckoned in. You are supposed to stop. Supposed to pause. Supposed to take it all in and forget why you are there before you suddenly remember again. You are supposed to be overcome and buy things, Just Because. Clean lines, hushed and not hectic, sharp like a blade, an orchestra in edges, glints of gleaming, polished brass playing with the light, shelves of cool clear crystaline glass and the intelligent wink of well placed mirrors. Tables of clean marble for cutting, hooked carcasses of aging, prized meat - suspended against a luminously ebullient tile, Shimmering and pristine. Even the air has a chilly incandescence.
Things bought here must be wrapped in layers of waxed paper and tied with careful brown string. The lighting itself is startling, it cascades over the surfaces, shadowing the meat and making the pieces look bejeweled, precious and hidden. Your vision leaves you and undulates back, swimming across the textures and surfaces, lost in a silent breath-held haze, you could be forgiven for forgetting that all of those colours and shapes comprise everything you could want for an opulent, sumptuous meal. Gorgeous space. Minimal and not. Ordered and thoughtful - and award winning as well.
I still love the aesthetics of meat, I love how angloriffic and simple it all is. Classic food cooked perfectly still excites me more than anything exotic, probably because it carries its own rich symbolism. 

Picking a good steak or rack of lamb is simple - good cuts always look good to the eye. You want a pinkness in the flesh, it shouldn't be too dark, the lighting in most butchers is designed to make this difficult to determine, but if you spend some time looking you should be able to discern whether the complexion is good. Trick lighting is also a sign your butcher might be a dud, they wouldn't need it otherwise.
The fat itself is the other way to discern quality. You want white and not yellow fat, it's difficult to describe what you're going for here, but good meat will have fat that looks lustrous and rich, not sparse but solid and velvety. Yellow fat is a sign that the meat comes from an older animal and may not have been fed grain. These pieces are gorgeous, heavy and perfectly coloured. This is simply beautiful meat. I selected some Scotch Fillet to make mum (and I hate her for this) a well done steak with a rich, creamy and peppered mushroom sauce - spiked with marjoram. 
For Johnny's Little Lamb, I always look for a delicate rack (har har). You don't want too much thick fat on lamb, and the bones that form the cutlet shouldn't be too thick or rectangular, beautiful lamb always has smaller and more dainty bones. 
Lightly glazing them both with a SharpYellowGreen film of beautiful olive oil, sea salt and pepper and letting it marinate in the fridge all day is the perfect way to woo your meat. Always take it out of the fridge about 20-30 minutes before you cook it, you want to goad it gently back to room temperature before cooking - any sudden changes in temperature render the flavour cruder and less full.
After searing the lamb it only needs about 15-20 minutes on 180 to become a mesmerizingly rare parcel of sheepish perfection, which almost makes me miss meat. A good shallow bowl of Dijon on the side is a must - I prefer to lace the lamb with marjoram, but rosemary is like Chanel No. 5 or a Christian Bale film - you really can't go wrong.
The well done steak (Jesus, Mum) gets an 8 min grilling on each side. 8 minutes. Joan of Arc was probably burnt for less! Then into the same oven it goes for about the same time as the lamb. Patrick Bateman's among you will be satisfied with just a smidgeon of sharp Dijon, but Mum likes her mushroom sauce thick and creamy and with a splash of some heady Penfolds CabSav. I pepper the bejesus of the sauce and use different mushrooms - shiitake, enoki - mixed with the more common varieties. The amounts of organic butter and cream I add almost make me feel like looking over my shoulder. It's a guilty, hushed sauce to say the least.
A side of perfectly crisped twice cooked potatos, a pot of baby peas with chives and some gently cooked and blissfully buttered broccolini make the perfect, classic accompaniments - as does a solid, crusty sourdough with a generous spreading of salted butter. Bin 389, some lecturing on the state of my life - and both my parents and Aunty Laura are in heaven. I just ate the veggies - with a lot of Dijon. I still have to make room in my life for mustard even though meat and I have kissed goodbye. Decadent and perfect, rare and gentle pink flesh and the intense yellow scream of smeared mustard against BrightSparkPeaGreen - I can't even begin to tell you how exciting roasts are for people who didn't grow up on them.
Keep it classic, keep it simple, round it off with a few squares of spiced, dark chocolate and dollops of deep, spoon maddening vanilla ice cream. I never add too many twists to this kind of meal, its power is in its simplicity. Rich and sure and luscious and smooth. And so, so elegant - in a dead carcassy kinda way. Bones and flesh and blood and sauce and herbs and green. Until pescetarian's get a similar aesthetic, i'm still entitled to swoon.
This is a sometimes shopping place for most of us - but still worth it for a treat, you'll appreciate the meat more - as you should, and you'll feel like a princess/prince buying it. If you do enjoy meat, eat the best you can, when quality becomes the focus you really don't need so much. I'm not going to make you vomit your carnivorous guts out by telling you it'll be better for you and the environment. 
Ohhh. Picture me. A sigh, a single tear and a stormy seascape longing. And memories. Always, always the memories. Raging rack. Sweet, sweet steak. I did stop myself from fondling the flesh lovingly. Who knows when we will meat again, either way, I manage not to be too cut about it - as I hope you aren't about my bad puns.
They sell great condiments and some beautiful bread from Bronte, as well as pre-made sauces and desserts, and chicken and sausages as well. The Woollahra store happens at 132 Queen St, Woollahra*. * = Westies (and former Westies are allowed). Go on, Do it! Die at The Steak.