Thursday, April 21, 2011

Passover Degustation

It's this time of year that the Jewish festival of Passover dawns upon us.

The main prohibition on Passover is that you are not meant to eat bread (and other food products that rise, expand, etc) for a couple of weeks, to reflect that the Jews had no time to bake bread before exodusing Egypt. So I was deeply embarrassed Tuesday when my regular barista asked me why I had just ordered a sandwich when passover had just started. I quickly responded with an unconvincing medical excuse - although when you are ordering a proscuitto, cheese and roasted vegetable roll, it is difficult to sell yourself as a devout practicing Jew at the best of times.

Anyway, Monday night was the first night of passover and we were fortunate enough to have my Mum prepare a Passover degustation. After a very paraphrased abridged summary of the story of exodus (the Haggadah) having been read, we moved straight into the important part of the evening - the food. A lot of the food eaten on Passover is to remind us of what the Jews went through in slavery in Egypt. So, for example, we eat bitter herb, or horseradish, to remind us of the bitter times. We eat "charoset" (a mixture of walnuts, raisins, apples, cinnamon, honey, etc) which looks like brown sludge and intended to mirror mortar to remind us of the bricks and mortar that the enslaved Jews used to build the pyramids.

So the meal went us follows:

1. Boiled Eggs and Saltwater (to remind us of the tears cried in slavery)

2. Gefilte fish (essentially sweet minced fish) - Note: must be served with strong horseradish. These are bitter-sweet for me - I used to get called this as a kid (in a teasing sense) - see picture for why. Jewish private school kids can be cruel.

3. Matzah ball soup - a staple in any Jewish household. They are light and fluffy on the outside and a bit chewy on the inside. A great effort by Mum this year. These were previously made by her mother using Chicken schmaltz (fat) and for years she had insisted that they were vegetarian notwithstanding.

4. Roast chicken, sweet carrots, home-made pickles & potato kugel - It really doesn't get more Eastern European Jewish than this dish. The highlight is by far the pickles which are strong flavoured, garlicky and with a hint of spice. Kugel was a nice starchy block of grated potatoes and combined with the honey sweet carrots, I managed to overcome my impending fullness and push through Man Vs Food style.
5. Apple Compote - Another staple in the Jewish meal. Really just a clandestine way for Jewish Mothers to sneak in a course between Main and Dessert.

6. Cake - too full to recall how this was but know it was good because I managed to have 2 slices.

Overall a great degustation, rivalled only by my diametrically opposite degustation experience at Attica in Ripponlea.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Hepburn Springs Review + RECOMMENDATIONS

Hepburn Springs has a soft spot in my heart - it was the place my family went for weekends, school holidays and the like. Since then, the place has changed somewhat. What used to be a quiet rural day-trip for migrant European families to fill up empty soda bottles at the mineral springs, has turned into a Tourism Victoria campaign (with Isabel Lucas cameo) encouraging holiday-makers to "lead a double life" at the health and well-being capital of Australia. Sea-changers seeking a quiet life out of the rat-race have hired agents to week-end let their properties, whilst opening up massage/day-spa/mud-wrap/hot-rock treatment facilities.

A weekend in Hepburn Springs is a great way to get out of Melbourne, particularly with a significant other. It is a short 1 and a bit hour trip down the Western Highway, meaning it is easily accessible for a post-work departure so that you arrive just in time for a late evening romantic country dinner (or in time for the start of Friday Night Footy).

The highlight of any trip to Hepburn comes in the way of food. Saturday morning involves a late leisurely sleep in, followed by a gentle stroll up the street to Chowder House for breakfast - they make a strong Melbourne-worthy coffee and rustic home-style breakfast. I had the Chowder House Breakfast (Poached eggs, mushrooms, wilted spinach, home baked generously buttered sourdough, fried tomatoes, bacon and a salty hash brown) - the lovely Ms G's similarly savoury breakfast came with beautifully cooked sweet apples slices.

Following breakfast we walked to Hepburn Springs and sampled the local mineral water (hint - Wyuna Spring has the best tasting mineral water), checked out some statues by local Hepburn artist Petrus Spronk, then picked up a newspaper at the Hepburn General Store (also a good source of freshly baked bread bread and quality produce), to spend a lazy afternoon reading on the balcony overlooking Doctor's Gully, watching the Rosellas flying into the trees.

After digesting the newsprint (and breakfast), it was time for a massage, as you do in Hepburn - see recommendations below. Then, the most highly anticipated part of the weekend, dinner at the Farmers Arms in nearby Daylesford.

The cosy pub comprises a communal local pub front bar (perfect for a pre-meal drink) and the well-renowned restaurant in the back (bookings a must). The food here is outstanding - the descriptions on the menu are daunting in their complexity, but once you delve into the food you forget the verbosity and just enjoy.

Here is the run-down:


- Butter poached prawns with kipfler crush, avocado, celeriac remoulade, seawater dressing & baby herbs

- Ocean trout, limoncello & vanilla cervice with shaved fennel & peach salad

- Angus fillet on herb roasted field mushroom, spinach, double whipped mash and Periguex
- Hard herb crusted lamb rack, rock & walnut pesto, grilled pear, walnut & pes tendrill tart.


Where to stay?
Clifden Lodge ( or Kauhi Cottage (* or plenty of others around

Where to get massages/treatment/etc?
Hepburn Spa Resort
Shizuka Ryokan

Where to eat?
Dinner - Farmers Arms
Brunch - Chowder House / Breakfast & Beer

Where to drink?
A Perfect Drop, Horvat's Wine Cellar Door, Old Hepburn Hotel

What to do?
- Check out the Sunday Market in Daylesford and buy Des O'Toole's famous locally made honey
- Visit the Convent Gallery
- Walk around Lake Daylesford and check out the old bookshop next to the late
- Stroll around Lavendula Lavender Farm
- See Kangaroos relaxing on the Hepburn Golf Course
- Check out neighbouring country towns like Maldon, Castlemaine, Malmsbury, Creswick and others.

*This is a shameless plug. If you mention my name (Simon Schenkel) to the agents (Daylesford Cottage Directory - p: 5348 1255), you can get a 10% discount.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Remembering Colombia @ Sonido (69 Gertrude St, Fitzroy)

Sonido means "sound" in Spanish - travelling through Colombia about 4 years ago, one of my distinct memories was the sound of blaring Vallenato music coming out of tiny grocery shops at all hours of the day in Taganga, a small coastal fishing village, in the north of the country. Colombia is one of the great travelling destinations in the world. It has beautiful beaches on the Caribbean north coast, bohemian city university life in the capital Bogota and incredible partying in the city of eternal spring Medellin.

Melbourne is proud to be a multicultural melting pot - we are certainly a migrant city here. Immigration has come to this city in waves, starting with the Italians, Greeks, Jews, then from Asia, the Sub-Continent and Africa. The next wave is already underway - the South Americans are coming (if they aren't already here) and we are the ones who are going to benefit. The injection of the Latin American culture, can only add more to this city.
And so with the next wave starting, I was overjoyed to read that a Colombian cafe had opened up in Fitzroy. So on a lazy Saturday morning a good mate of mine and I ventured north of the Yarra - the lowlight of the day was the drive cross-town which is surely the worst drive in Melbourne. 45 minutes after setting off (yes, to get from Elsternwick to Fitzroy), we arrived.

The place really took me back to a small student cafe/restaurant in Bogota called Dos Gatos Y Simone which was constantly packed with trendy Colombians in the grungy Candelaria area. Bogota's Candelaria and Melbourne's Fitzroy share a lot of great qualities - great food and small dirty bars serving cheap beer. Perfect.
My mind always wanders when I think of Colombia, so back to Sonido itself. Colombians are renowned for their hospitality and Sonido is no different. The staff are all friendly and when we asked to sit inside (which can trigger death stares at other places), they were more than happy to accomodate. Similarly when we asked for advice on the menu, we were given some really helpful recommendations.

The major highlight for me was the coffee - great deep flavour and served with a note on its origin which was a unique and interesting touch. I'd rate it up there if not better than the usual suspects.

The food itself was ok but nothing to get too excited about - we both had a scrambled egg / arepa (traditional Colombian maize pancake basically) / salad combination with an empanada. Both me and mi amigo were thinking the dish was lacking a bit of balls that some sliced chorizo would have easily fixed.
The empanadas were flavoursome, one filled with chorizo and fried, the other filled with mince and baked - good but not as quality as I remember them bought from the road-side in South America (nor were the pico di gallo / guacamole sides that special, but passable).

After flicking through the pages of a travel book with images of Bogota, and looking wistfully out the window recalling vivid memories (some more vivid than others), I was happy that there was a place in Melbourne which would take me back there, albeit without serving the traditional Agua Ardiente!