Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Gospel According to Michael (aka, Fast Food Feasting @ Bistro Moncur, Woollahra)...

Michael Jackson was music's answer to haloumi: everyone wanted a piece of him. They loved him too. He was a bit of a genre bender. Didn't matter whether you were trying to do the dark-droopy-goth-emo-urban-industrial-heavy-metalled-black-black-long-hair-it-used-to-be-about-the-music-maaaan-so-so-stoned-afro-happy-no-cry-marley-punked-skinny-skinny-sweat-jeans-eazy-rapped-snoopy-dusty-dolly-johnny-country-noveaux-European-classic thing, everyone was partial to a bit of Michael. A great, great man. Well, the best way to honour the noble dead is never simply to remember them, it is to try and live whatever it was that they imagined that made us love them so much in the first place. We have to walk what they spoke. I am very mindful of the lessons of the dead. Very mindful, indeed. My grandmother reminds me to have fun and not take life so seriously. Johnny Cash reminds me to do what needs to be done and to be whatever the hell it is you are. Nietzsche reminds me that it's the little things that make happiness. Marie Antoinette reminds me to think before I speak. Julius Caesar reminds me to think twice about who I trust. Henry the VIII reminds me to keep it in my pants. And Michael...
 Lovely is the feeling now
Fever, Temperature's rising now
Power (ohh Power) is the force the vow
That makes it happen asks no questions why ooohh
So get closer closer now
To my body now just love me
Til you Don't know how ooooh
Keep on with the force Don't Stop
Don't Stop til you get enough
Keep on with the force Don't Stop
Don't Stop til you get enough...
Don't stop til you get enough? Maybe he was preaching to the converted, I don't know if this is Michael's take on life or mine. The Sydney Festival people kindly requested that I cover a few of the Fast Festival Feast restaurants. FFF is a pretty rad idea. It's a restaurant's chance to tell you (for not too much of your hard earned mula) just a little about itself. It gives it to you in a nutshell, on a plate and with some plonk to boot. It's a great way to introduce yourself to a place you've never tried. I am always behind anything that gets people eating (and talking). But Sydney Festival's FFF presented just one little snag for a spoilt Sydney glutton: limitation. Limitation shmimitation. It's my appetite's Achilles heel. I don't just want some more, Sir, I want something else as well.
I don't much fancy the idea of being limited to one choice. It makes me feel the same as that empty plate. No choice? So barren a notion. How awful. How hurtful. How unLebanese. How horrid. A menu is an ocean of senses that I want to drown in, not just dip my toe into. It's like one thousand crazy winds for the kite of my own inner longing and whimsy to get lost upon. I want to choose anything and everything. Choice is fundamental. Don't believe those fatalists. It's what makes us who we are! Don't get me wrong, i'm grateful for the opportunity to eat for free (not as grateful as Dr Danny), but there was no way in hungry hell that this little project was ever going to go down without an express agreement between Dan and I: we would order the special FFF dish from every place we tried but only on the solemn and legally  enforceable condition that I was free to order any extra entrees and sides - and as much dessert as took my wicked fancy. This was the understanding. We weren't going to stop until I got enough. Until I got enough. Until I got enough. 

We spat and shook on it. We signed on the dotted line. We set it in stone. We double pinky promised. We ratified it. We agreed. We concurred. We concurred... before we Moncur'd.
Bistro Moncur is Classic Eastern Suburbs Eating and it's been putting the aaaaaaahhh into Woollahra for quite a while now. Saucy minute steak meets sumptuous blue swimmer-crab omelette. Beurre Noisette. Bearnaise and Consomme and Tapenade. Expensive, expensive ingredients. Tres Francais. Regal and full and perfect. Basiled Tomato. Nubile Leeks. so, so Souffle. Saute and pan-roasted. Think heavy, gorgeous and rich plates of wonderful classics. Voluptuous flavours, large and round and classic. Moncur is all about no nonsense opulence. It's casual, effortless resplendence. It's luxurious dining but without any of the fuss or pomp that usually accompanies it. It aint cheap, but as Mum always warns me: if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys...
Moncur's FFF relatively well priced $30 offering (this dish is usually $42 without the wine) goes a little something like this:

Seared Kingfish Fillet w Sauce Vierge, 
White Anchovies, Green Beans + Roasted Capsicum
- Served w -
2010 Stoneleigh Pinot Gris (Marlborough, NZ) or
Kronenbourg 1664 or
Tasmanian Rain Sparkling or Still.
I don't usually like Kingfish and I don't usually like anchovies, but Moncur still managed to wow me with this tender take on fish. What a dishy, dishy pretty-plate dish. A little charming garden of colour on shy ceramic. It looks like spring and happiness and being outside. Amidst all of that beautiful RedGreen tangle is a plump, seared fillet of pale kingfish. It's cooked a little more than I usually like my fish, but is wonderful all the same. The sauce vierge is a dazzling tomato-basil spangled spleandour in lemon and olive oil. It artfully lightens what is usually a very rich, meaty fish with a gentle, fragrant freshness that wakes the heaviness up in an instant. Alert and Alive and Snappy. 
!! I don't know what is going on with Moncur's vegetables. The gardener must be playing them lots of Beethoven and talking to them about how they feel, he must be taking them on longs walks and feeding them caviar or something. Moncur Veggies are and remain: bloody unbelievable. They are always perfectly cooked, buttery and rich and suspended between softness and crunch. Ample and inviting, they fill the plate and make it shimmer through all of those shining colours. These beans were simply aghast with their own vivid colour. The other vegetables, too. Green is green. Red is red. Yellow is yellow. You don't eat Moncur vegetables quickly, you linger over them, you think about what they tasted like in between the dazed swordplay of knife and fork. The beans texture out the smooth, oiled creaminess of the fish and give it a bit of sharpness. Pepper and salt fall stunned upon these long lines of languid green. Divine. 
The anchovies were much less salty and intense than the more common variety. They added a salty spunk to a very classic combination. Their cool/hot silvery velvet flesh was a surprise to eyes and mouth and gave a good pinch of Lavern to the Shirley. 

My Pinot Gris was a SubtleSweet sidekick, not overpowering or sickly like some whites. It was a peppery full bodied bouquet of tantalizing tannins that showed a slight but shy promise of blah blah blah. Just Kidding. I like wine but I sure as hell can't talk about it with a straight face. I may be a food wanker, but I am definitely drawing the line then and there. 

So, here is the end of the FFF, and the beginning of all that lay beyond...
A Sigh-Slicked Side of Snow peas with corn and almond continue The Moncur Vegetable Spectacular. They were thrilling. Luscious and buttery with moist kernels of intense corn and gentle, wafer thin almond crunch. The nuts weren't too heavy at all as they are usually are when cooked with. Jesus. These disappeared quickly.
Persian Fetta, Spice Carrot + Mint Tortellis w a Green Pea Veloute, Flageolet Beans, Baby Carrots, Oyster mushroom + Cheery Cherry Tomatos. Don't bother looking any of those words up. Don't waste your time. It's not about the mind. It's all in the eyes and the mouth. I don't want you to analyze, I want you to imagine it. This dish was giddy with deep flavour. Gentle and layered, soft skin against smooth pea and dotted with balls of bright red, summered tomato. 
Jesus christ. Winsome. You could die here happy. This is Thriller enough, isn't it? But no, i'm not stopping here. Want to know why?

Well they say the sky's the limit
And to me that's really true
But my friend, you have seen nothing
Just wait til I get through
Because I'm bad I'm bad.

But so, so good. Well, to you anyway. Dessert tonight is Black + White, it's sticky and gooey and rich enough to die for. Drool will flow, eyes will roll into the back of heads, and spoons will droop...
Holy Shit. This is Royal Highness as Apple Tartlet. It's God as cream. It's all of the sweet tomorrows of this wonderful world encased in a perfect circle of honeyed pastry. It's cream-cream-SCREAMY-dreamy vanillaed heart. So soft and thick and luminous, so heavy and dense and smooth. So smooth. So soft. So beautiful and perfumed and fecund. Jesus Christ. Forget Jeffery Dahmer, this little crown jewel of curious confection has killed more people than the cops are ever likely to find out about.
Perfect cream breaks through a fractured shell, it doesn't drip or flow or smudge. Nu-uh. So whipped and full and thick and languid in its own firm sweetness that it barely moves at all. Dip a shy spoon into the glazed surface, quiver as you brace yourself, bring it to your mouth, draw it in slowly - don't rush. Make every move deliberate and sensual. You are about to succumb, you are about to see what happens when time forgets what it is and reality becomes deja vu-like dreaming.
Trance. Flickers of toffeed burnt apple, buttery and spiced and simple, soft apple, hot apple, agonizing apple. Apple-Pie-Oh-My baked appley goodness. Honey-hued golden slices of thin sticky, butter slicked apple slipping into and against dazed cream. Rich and pure. White White White. Innocent and lovely. Pretty and pale but so fucking smoldering. This is gorgeous. If it toured around Australia and you ever saw it on stage, you'd probably have to throw your knickers at it.
This perfect tartlet is a staff favourite. I make it my business to institute dessert inquiries. I always ask what the best two are. This one made eyes light up when it was spoken off. It's a princess among desserts. Classic perfection. It is so unashamedly rich you'd do best to share it with someone. Cream + Apples. It's Empire caking. God Save The Queen.
God Save Eve, as well. Eve's Chocolate cake is like Skase in the 80's: rich, excessive, indulgent and likely to get you into trouble if you spend too much time with it. You've got to give it to any girl that can still not blink when ordering a dessert like this. It is heavy and decadent and oh-so over the top. It's like making your tongue bench press 200. But God It's Gooooood.
Bitter-bitter-bitchy-bitter dark chocolate, cloudy-frothy eggwhites and butter butter butter. These are staples on The Food Pyramid of Reckless Pleasure. If Tartlet was White, then this is as black as black can be, baby.
Moussey, creamy. Chocolately lathered cake. Smooth and light but so bloody intense. And no fruit to dumb it down, just a dollop of unapologetic cream. This is hardcore caking, fruit salad types shouldn't even dare, I mean, who are they kidding? It's melting and dangerous dessert, not too sweet, but recklessly rich. It's a melange of different chocolate, foamy chocolate, sprinkled chocolate, swirly-stick chocolate. This is Eve's chocolate cake, and it is down right edenic. Apple, my foot, she probably tempted the fall of Adam with this.
Bistro Moncur happens at The Woollahra Hotel, 116 Queen St Woollahra. Ph 09 327 9713. FFF goes from 12noon and 1pm and/or 6pm to 7pm every day. This means you'll have to be early birds to catch your well priced worms. Moncur is usually quite busy from 6pm in any event, as it's a no booking set up, so be extra-extra punctual. The staff are gorgeous people, don't let the prices fool you, it's relaxed and welcoming. All of the staff seems to be on remarkably friendly terms with the many locals that Moncur as a mere matter of course.
Thanks to Dan for company and smiles, to Sydney Festival people for thinking of me and Extra Super Special Thanks to the Lovely (one eye brown-one eye blue) Michelle who took such great care of us last night. Toe Scrunchingly Delicious Times.

If you do drop int0 Moncur for a Fast Festival Feast (which you really should), I honestly won't forgive you for not ordering the Tartlet on top of the special offer before you Beat It. This piece of advice continues to apply even if it means that the man in the mirror will be slightly pudgier the next day. Don't let me down, now.

For more FFF locations go here.

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