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.

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