Archive | August, 2011

Attica

29 Aug

It must be somewhat bittersweet when you are lauded, applauded and awarded – on one hand it’s a celebration of achievement (sometimes after a lifetime of toiling), but on the other it raises the bar of expectation and opens up a whole new world of critique (often unfair).  I imagine this must be what Ben Shewry feels after having Attica make national, and international headlines over the last few years – including ranking 53 in San Pellegrino’s World’s Top Restaurants 2011 (the only Melbourne restaurant on the list), Chef of the Year and 2 ‘hats’ (Age Good Food Guide 2011).

What probably started as an assuming restaurant on a suburban strip in Ripponlea is now a heavyweight on the Australian restaurant scene.  But unlike some other big name establishments where the focus is more on building hype, with limited substance to back it up (cue anything by Andrew McConnell – sorry JL I am not a big fan), you get the sense that at its heart Attica is still about food that tests traditional gastronomic boundaries and doesn’t necessarily care too much about pleasing every patron.  Hence the pared back interiors of black painted walls with rather strong floodlights (which spotlight the food but can be a bit of a strain on the eyes), and a makeshift paintjob in the bathrooms (a garish purple with checked vinyl floor covering reminiscent of the bathrooms you would find at a gig in just any old bar).  Here there are no designer chairs and tables, no gleaming surfaces to indicate you are in one of the most highly restaurants in the country.

So all that’s left is the service and the food.  More on food later, but a quick word on the service, which is polite – almost to the point of being a little sterile.  The waiters rarely crack a smile and if they do, it’s as if they’ve been prodded with a Taser, and the description of each dish on the menu is somewhat rehearsed and delivered so slowly that you can almost see the words travelling from the brain to the mouth.  So whilst the service isn’t exactly bad, it would have been good to see a little more passion about the food and the process that’s gone into its creation.

Now to the food.  Put simply – I don’t see what the fuss is all about.  Yes its all very beautifully plated and the produce I am sure is the freshest of the fresh but taste-wise?  Let’s just say there were no fireworks.  No Meg Ryan When Harry Met Sally orgasmic sensations.

The Tasting Menu

We all opted for the 8 course degustation – unfortunately we couldn’t get in on the Tuesday that we wanted to try the Chef’s Table which is basically where Ben and his team test new menu ideas.  The girls shared a bottle of wine whilst JP opted for the matching wines.  A note on the wines – they were quite stingy with the servings and not exactly too knowledgeable either (apart from the scripted descriptions given at the pouring of each wine).  Also we found it a bit bizarre that the alcohol was served way before the food course, given that the point of matching the wine is to have it with the food (and there wasn’t enough wine to make it last until the food course came out).  Not exactly exceeding (or even matching) expectations here.

So back to the food – listed in order of eating:

Starter - Prawns

Starter – a beautiful prawn, done ceviche style with mustard seeds. Simple, beautifully presented (presenting the tiny morsel at the bottom of a large cylindrical, dark blue dish gave a touch of drama), but so small that I was worried JP might chuck a tanty and walk out before the first course!

#1 Snow Crab – often served as the first course crab, salmon roe, puffed rice and freeze dried coconut presented under a pile of snow like powder made from horseradish oil.  Certainly interesting texture wise (the powder against the crunchy puffed rise and soft flesh of the crab plus the burst in your mouth roe certainly made for a party in the mouth), but didn’t love the taste. The usual sweetness you usually get from crab was totally overpowered by the horseradish and after two mouthfuls the party in the mouth pretty much lost its novelty.

#1 Snow Crab

#2 Marron, Leek & Egg Yolk

#2 Marron, Leek, Egg Yolk – exactly what the menu says it is. Nothing terribly fancy, but certainly tasty! The leek was surprisingly gentle, and cut through the creaminess of the yolk nicely, and the marron was nice and juicy.  Win!

#3 A simple dish of Potato cooked in the earth it was grown – known as the piece de resistance at Attica.  Simple it certainly is – a shiny, waxy potato presented on a bed of dried leaves atop a dollop of sour cream and sprinkled with particles of trout and coconut.  The potato is apparently prepared using the Maori hangi method, and cooked for 13 hours at a low, constant heat, in a tray filled with dirt, which transforms the texture of the potato.  Sounds totally amazing – but I was disappointed.  Yes it looked pretty impressive, but to me it still tasted and felt like a potato.

#3 Potato cooked in the earth in which it was grown

#4 Meat from the Pearl Oyster – the pearl meat was served simply with slivers of seaweed and had a distinctly Asian-ness to it.  Whilst it was nice enough – the pearl meat was cooked well with a good mouth feel to it, not mushy but not crunchy – again, it failed to ignite any fireworks.

#4 Meat from the pearl oyster

#5 Raw Chestnut, Celeriac & Pyengana

#5 Raw Chestnuts, salt baked Celeriac, Pyengana – the next dish was certainly visually interesting.  A simple egg yolk sitting in the middle of the celeriac and slices of the chestnut.  The Pyengana (cheese) which was poured on top of the dish at the table.  Extremely rich and texturally a bit of a mush, if you like cheese and cream you might like a few mouthfuls, but any more than that is too much.  Good idea, but execution left a bit to be desired – the liquid molten cheese taking away any crunchiness that you would expect from raw chestnuts.

#6 Beef Tongue

#6 Beef Tongue, Vanilla, Myrtus, Lettuce Stems – being the only one on the table that does not eat tongue, I was reticent to have the menu changed, and so having been assured that the tongue does not look like tongue (unlike ox tongue served at Japanese BBQ places) I hazarded to give it a try.  I’m glad I tried, although after two bites I couldn’t consume anymore – either because it was so rich or because I just couldn’t get around it mentally (probably more of the latter).  Served on a bed of parsnip puree with pickled lettuce stems the ‘tongue’ looked more like a small piece of eye fillet, but it was tender and pretty much melted in the mouth.  I was surprised at how large it was compared to some of the other dishes, and given its richness this is one dish that didn’t need to be big.  Otherwise it was a tasty dish.

#7 Winter Apples – the first of two desserts this was all about the apple.  Compressed pink lady apples served on apple brandy infused cream and Turkish apple tea were decorated with vine leaves and an avocado gel.  The apple was crisp and juicy with a perfect apple flavour and avocado gel was light and velvety providing an interesting textural complexity to the dish.  Definitely my favourite dessert course.

#7 Winter Apples

#8 Mandarin & Honeydew Honey

#8 Mandarin and Honeydew Honey – not a big fan of either mandarin or honeydew I was ready to be converted when I saw this on the menu.  But sadly it was not to be.  The dish consists of mandarin pieces, some fresh and some freeze dried and infused with honeydew honey, with a drizzle of mandarin oil on top of which some Sauternes cream is poured at the table.  The flavour of the mandarin was amazingly pure.  Probably would be appealing to mandarin fans!

With our eight courses completed and feeling surprisingly full we were informed that there was an after dinner treat.  And what a treat it was – the most delicately crafted white chocolate eggs with an oozy salted caramel centre, served in a nest of hay and inspired by the Pukeko bird of New Zealand, the hometown of Shewry’s father.

White chocolate eggs with salted caramel

Salted caramel inside!

So final verdict?  Would I go to Attica again – probably not in a hurry.  Yes the food was beautifully crafted, but for me there was something missing.  Perhaps its because of the unfair expectations that come with being named as one of the world’s top restaurants but for me Attica was a bit bland – neither theatrically luxurious (cue Alain Ducasse and perhaps even Vue de Monde) nor commercially trendy (cue anything with Andew McConnell’s name on it) or awe inspiringly down to earth (not even the potato cooked in its own soil could evoke this sort of feeling).  I would have liked to see more of Shewry’s gastronomic philosophy come through – his passion for food, the influences of his heritage (birds and chocolate eggs aside).  But maybe all those things have been swamped by the loud applause from everyone except our humble party of four.

74 Glen Eira Road
Ripponlea
(03) 9530 0111
Editor’s Note: Attica has just been awarded st restaurant in Victoria at The Age Good Food Guide awards.  DDO stands by its review – what is your verdict?
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Lunch at Freeman’s NYC

22 Aug

Entrance to Freemans

It’s day 4 of my New York adventure with G.  And I’d say we’ve taken to being New Yorkers with great success; ask for a ‘kawfeee’ instead of a latte (save yourself the pain and frustration), look left first when crossing the street, no-one understands  the meaning of ‘down the road’ as all streets are streets, pharmacies are a girl’s best friend… they sell EVERYTHING… from Neurofen to nicotine!! But although we’ve taken to these minor little colloquialisms with some what ease, we can’t help but seek out some things that remind us of home!!

Just when we thought we’d seen enough of that “hidden lane way” establishment, we seeked out Freemans for lunch tucked away at the end of an alley way off Rivington St.

The interior is a mix of old taxidermy mixed with trophy room.  Filled with old wooden tables and distressed walls, walking into Freeman’s you’d expect to see men dressed in smoking robes, menus like leather bound books and maybe some cigar smoking.

We are seated and immediately told the specials of the day ( i  think it was some sort of braised shank thing with some sort of salad that undoubtedly involved arugula and kale – they are OBSESSED with that here).  Sounded AMAZING!  But even my “on VAY-KAYYYYY” mentality held me back from ordering a slow cooked hunk of meat at breakfast time.

More Interiors

The Brunch menu is divided into 4 main sections of Starters, Sweet, Savory and Dessert, as well as a column of sides.  You find starters like Hot Artichoke Dip with crisp bread and Mixed Greens, apples, radishes & lemon olive oil dressing.  Savory offers a quite a heavier meal, with the obligatory Burger (everywhere has a burger on the menu!  I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to find one amongst a Dumplings menu in china town… these people are OBSESSED!), Beef Brisket Hash and of course a few Egg options as well.

After much deliberation (ordering here takes me twice as long!! a) because the menu seems to go for days and b) because when i’d normally just go for the meatiest option… each menu offers me at least 5 meat options!!)  I decide on the Smoked Trout, and pass on the Bloody Mary.

Smoked Trout, Hard Boiled Egg, Horse Radish Cream and sourdough toast $11

My meal came out served on a round wooden platter, and you can’t really tell from this picture, but the serving was very American… super generous!  Reminder to self:  It’s named the Land of the Fat for a reason!  The trout had a wonderfully fragrant smokiness, and with the squeeze of lemon, a mouthful of pickle and horse radish cream jammed all together (…which is officially my new favourite condiment) in one oversized American mouthful… Flavour Nation!

George decided to go with the Grilled Egg Whites which came out PIPING HOT and smelled absolutely delicious.

Grilled egg whites with goats cheese, heirloom tomatoes and basil $12

Must be something about having to walk everywhere, but every time our food arrives on the table, we seem to inhale everything before the plate even begins to cool.  I got to have a little taster of his and (although it was vegetarian…) it was a well balanced mix of textures and flavours.

We continue to be astounded by how cheap brunch is here in comparison to Melbourne, even with the addition of tips and tax… we are loving eating our way around this new city (quite literally… walking.  eating.  Walking to our next eating place…) But it’s so nice to find little gems that remind us of home.

Freemans Restaraunt

8 Rivington St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 420-0012

DDO in NYC!

18 Aug

Keep an eye out for the latest on DDO in NYC…until then if you want to follow the adventures of one half of the DDO duo, visit Jade Rose Goes

Easy Tiger

7 Aug

After a month of pre-planning (and still 2 people dropped out – but I am not going to name and shame here…) we finally managed to get all 7 of us old uni mates (DL, OK, CT, TS and of course my DDO partner in crime JL and my love JP) to Easy Tiger, a much loved (Z practically lives there) but not enough lauded modern, Thai inspired eatery located in what is becoming THE culinary hub of Melbourne, north of the Yarra (not that I can really name any culinary hubs on the other side of the Yarra – touche).  The only problem with being a culinary hub is that parking is impossible and after a full 40 minutes of circling the blocks of Collingwood, we had to settle for a permit park and hope for the best.  But I digress.

I had been to Easy Tiger a couple of months back with a Z and Little ‘L’, after much harassment from Z to visit her much loved institution.  A little skeptical at first (everyone who knows me will have heard of my disdain for any type of modern / fusion / deconstructed Asian cuisine of any type), I was pleasantly surprised by the whole package that the place offers – fantastic food, great wine choices, intimate ambience and the accommodating staff who are genuinely excited about the food and making customers happy.  This latest visit was no different – which is refreshing, particularly when lesser institutions make a big fuss about booking changes with short notice (when I called to change from a table of 9 to 7 there was literally no fuss) and late arrivals (turns out we all had trouble parking).

On this occasion the 7 of us were seated outside in the covered and heated courtyard complete with fairy lights. It was a beautiful night to be sitting outside with the chimenea providing just adequate warmth and the spice in the food doing the rest of the heating.

To make things easy we had gone with the banquet option (the banquet is the only option for tables greater than 8, and also on Sunday nights).

First up was the cutest little appetizer called ‘ma hor’ – minced meat and prawn cooked in palm sugar atop a little round of watermelon.  The fresh, crisp taste of the watermelon provided the perfect backdrop to the smooth velvety taste of the palm sugar – the curious little dish was also texturally exciting with the slight crunch of the watermelon blending well with the soft minced meat.

'ma hor'

This was swiftly followed by the betel leaf with prawn, peanuts and fresh coconut – which I will call the  Z special for the amount of times she has mentioned it.  The betel leaf is probably one of two ‘in vogue’ things (along with son in law eggs – but more on that later) that crop up on any modern Thai / fusion / slightly Asian influenced menu.  The version at Easy Tiger is one of the better ones I have had – the leaf is a rich dark green and of a larger size than most, allowing one to properly wrap up the contents and consume without it erupting like a volcano.

Prawns on betel leaves

Oysters arrive next – freshly shucked and served with a red chilli nahm jim (what I would describe as fancy Tobasco), they’re nice enough but not particularly exciting.

Oysters with red chilli

Then we all burn our mouths on the chicken, coconut and galangal soup with shimeji mushrooms (like a tom ka gai), which are presented simply in deceiving double walled bodum glasses.

chicken, coconut and galangal soup

I actually really like the soup which has just enough small chicken bits and the freshest of herbs make it a tasty warming treat.

At this point the group have settled in nicely and polished off two bottles of wine from the predominantly Australian wine list (which offers a solid selection to suit all tastes), and we are all awaiting the main dishes with eager anticipation.  Fragrant jasmine rice (cooked surprisingly well for a non-Asian establishment – thank god for the Asians who introduced the rice cooker to this country!) arrives with two main share dishes – a red curry duck with mangosteen and baby corn and steamed snapper in a lemongrass and ginger broth – and two sides – the iceberg lettuce salad (simple but tasty) and those son in law eggs (one each)!!!  I had tried the son in law eggs on my first Easy Tiger adventure, and this second consumption was no less memorable.

Iceberg lettuce salad

Son in law eggs

Cracking open the softly fried outer shell the yolk oozes out like a river of gold – I like to have mine on some rice to make sure I soak up all of that gooey goodness!  Its amazing how a thing as simple as an egg is transformed into a culinary wonder just by frying it.

The red curry duck is perfectly fragrant, although a bit rich for my liking – and if you don’t happen on the one rogue chilli in the dish then you won’t have a problem, as its not really that spicey.  However if you are the lucky one (as I was), then beware – this chilli will literally set your mouth on fire! There is no easy cure but to drink lots of water (which doesn’t really help) and sit it out (hopefully this happens towards the end of the meal so that you can actually taste all the other dishes!).  Compared to the  green beef curry I tried on my first visit, the duck lacked a little spice (the beef was consistently spicey so if you don’t like it hot then go for the duck), but the mangosteens and baby corn adds textural interest.

Red curry duck with mangosteens and snake beans

The fish was fresh and succulent and the broth was the perfect balance of thai flavours – a little sour, a little sweet and with that quintessential thai herb, lemongrass.

Steamed snapper in lemongrass and ginger broth

Dessert was a coconut jelly with young coconut, pomegranate and puffed rice. The servings were just the right size (after a pretty big meal, we weren’t really wanting to eat a lot more), and the jelly provided the perfect relief to my burning mouth (from that damned chilli!).  The puffed rice and pomegranate added a great texture to the dish (crunchy balls of flavour that burst in the mouth to punctuate the velvety coconut).  This dessert is probably one that looks slightly less interesting on paper but is executed extremely well – on my first visit the duck egg custard looked particularly enticing on paper, but was much less amazing in my mouth (not an execution issue, just not to my palate’s liking).

Coconut jelly with pomegranate and puffed rice

All in all a great night with fantastic company at one of my new favourite places to eat.  It may not have any hats or stars but Easy Tiger has certainly got the approval of DDO and friends!

Easy Tiger

96 Smith St

Collingwood

(03) 9417 2373

Pizza Religion and a Cheekin’ Great Time

2 Aug

Like a Catholic praying to a Saint for a miracle, after today’s Roller Coaster of emotions I can confidently say I can rely on Pizza Religion for my miracle (…and Yes!  Today’s miracle was as simple as putting a smile on my dial!  Today proved to be an emotionally Terrible Tuesday!  Until I settled into the comforting embrace of P.R)   DDO had decided a night before it was time to revisit Pizza Religion – I’m trying to tick all my culinary favourites as frequently as my stomach can allow before I head for NYC – if not just to be extremely satisfied in the belly, to make sure we got to try the much talked about fortnightly specials.

After the disappointment of missing out on the flavour slice that was the special of asparagus, goats cheese, egg & truffle oil upon our last visit, I made sure I made it clear to the masterminds behind my prayers being answered, Kris and Matt, that I was there for the Special.  And only The Special!  They were kind enough to ensure they’d save a serve for me.  Prayers already answered… or so I thought!!

We entered to the ever friendly faces of Matt and Kris, were promptly seated and then, out of no-where, like they’d heard my cries from my day of despair… “We’ve also made the Braised Beef Cheek for you!”  Like music to my ears, my frown was officially turned upside down!! This Braised Beef Cheek had been on my carbo-lovin-Meat-crazed mind since first hearing about it on my first ever visit to P.R.  And – much to the annoyance of the PR crew – I’d been begging/pleading/praying to the Pizza Gods that they bring it back before I go.  My prayers were answered… There is a God (?)

Super Special: Sherry Braised Beef Cheek with Celeriac Puree & Gremolata

As we settled into our wine, it didn’t take long for our 3 pizza’s to arrive.  The Braised Beef cheek was first of my priorities (… meat…Slow cooked!   Livin’ the dream!!)  As this was not meant to be served until the next day, our pizza’s Cheek had only being cooking for a little over 4 hours (normally they leave it on for 6-7 hours).  But coming out on that bed of celeriac and perfectly fresh pizza base, the braised beef cheek was soft as a cloud and fell apart in the mouth with ease!  If you’d ask my DDO counterpart, she’d say it was too rich.  Enjoyable!  But rich!!! I say the richer the better! The fatty in me wishes i didn’t have to share this pizza…

Special: Char Sui Pork Belly with corriander, bean shoots and fried noodles

Next on my plate was the other special, the Char Sui Pork Belly.  Normally I DIE for some pork belly!! And this was enjoyable, what with that fresh corriander to balance out the sweetness of the Char Sui dressing and the crispy noodles to create that TEXTURE bomb with each bite.  Along with all the other elements the pork belly is thinly sliced but generously placed right to the edges.  Well  balanced and very refreshing (…although I would have liked CHUNKS of pork belly as opposed to slices… which would probably translate more like a pork belly souvalaki then a pizza!!  Which is exactly why I do the eating!! and NOT the cooking!!)

Chorizo, Prawns, Chipole sauce & Jalapenos $18

Our last flavour is one of JP’s favourites (and also a meat option) which is a constant on the menu.  Each element of these toppings works so harmoneously.  Spicy, fresh, sweet and the kick of the occasional Jalapeno makes for a pleasant flavour bomb every few bites!

Savoy cabbage, fresh herbs, parmesan, Lemon $7

To help balance our Meat Crazed meal we also ordered a Savoy Cabbage salad.  I’ve always been a strong believer in the saying (or was it a song…?) “You don’t win friends with Salad!” but this was kind of small, and more like a chop salad… which Jamie Oliver makes… which makes it more than okay in my book!! The parmesan slices add for a nice bitey element to the otherwise ‘healthy’ tasting cabbage.  It is a surprisingly inoffensive, if not pleasant, accompaniment to our otherwise flavour/meat rich meal.

As we manage to work through all those amazing pizza’s and come to the bottom of our wine (did I mention Pizza Religion is B.Y.O…), we’re all more then sufficiently satisfied.  Despite this, the “i’ve had a rough day and I need to eat my emotions” side of my brain tells me I need dessert!!

So I convince JP to have a long Macchiatto with me and sneakily order some Jock’s Ice Cream (they sell it by the tub 500mls).  In addition to a selection of Ice Cream flavours, there is also a Pizzette special of apple and rhubarb crumble and flourless chocolate pudding.  Considering I was already kind of forcing the other 2 into eating dessert,  I figured the ice cream (which 500ml tub shared between 3 is nothing….) was the most humane choice for people not suffering my rather unhinged emotional appetite!

Jocks Choc Mint Ice Cream 500ml $8.50

While some people like to base their religious beliefs on faith… a greater power or divine intervention, my belief is not only more substantial, but also instantly gratifying.  Like winning one’s heart through their stomach, Pizza Religion has won not only my heart, but also an undying faith!  Pizza Religion’s Braised Beef Cheek Pizza; my divine intervention!!

Pizza Religion

493 Tooronga Road, Hawthorn East | 03) 9882 2555