Friday, December 30, 2011

Got what you need @ Fitzrovia

Just as Collins Street has its Paris end (being the Spring Street side), so too does Fitzroy Street (being the St Kilda junction side).  It's amazing how different the street is once crossing Grey Street.  On the Paris end, the honour roll starts with Andrew McConnell's Golden Fields, upper market Chinese specialist Mahjong through to The Melbourne Wine Room at The George and Pizza E Birra on the opposite side of the street.  Cross Grey Street and the mood changes quite distinctively - Archie's, Leo's Spaghetti Bar and many others.  

In the month when North Korea farewelled it's dear leader, Kim Jong-il, the North and South of the Korean peninsula resembles the Eastern and Western parts of Fitzroy Street.  And when it comes to a Saturday night on Fitzroy Street, you sure as hell don't want to piss anyone on the other part of the street off, especially on the Eastern side (ask Ron Barassi).  Just like the South never wanted to piss off Kim Jong-il.  

Anyway, there was no such international brinksmanship on the occasions I visited Fitzrovia in the Paris end, adjacent to Golden Fields.  Fitzrovia's niche is that its produce is sourced from free range and organic ingredients with minimal food miles.  This place ticks all the boxes.  Hearty breakfast, leisurely catch-up, salubrious lunch, afternoon snack, early evening aperitifs or wholesome dinner. 

For lunch I had a Coconut poached Bacchus Marsh free range chicken salad with nuoc cham, cashews and snow pea sprouts (pictured above) - this is a dish I've had many times at Vietnamese restaurants but I feel like I never gave the dish much credit until I tried it here.  The chicken was supremely tender and the coconut flavour complimented the nuoc cham - a perfect Summer dish. 

My companion had Otway free range pulled pork shoulder ploughman’s, with Pyengana cheadar, Scotch quail’s egg, sourdough bread and  an apple, sour cherry and fennel chutney (pictured left). This was like a picnic with lots of different components, each excellent, especially the pulled pork.

The second trip was breakfast with a big group - in addition to the exemplary company, the coffee was as good as your top end places and the the food was impeccable (pictures left and below). 

Although we (being my initial companion, the Cook and I) did learn a valuable lesson - never publicly slander a decaf latte because the person next to you could have ordered it! 
Overall, I strongly recommend this place.  Great quality produce, friendly service and, one of my favourites, no 20 minute wait. 
On the left are free range poached eggs with House sugar cured Tasmanian salmon on sourdough with avocado and fetta mash and home made tomato relish.

This is Crème brulee French toast with vanilla poached pear, frangipani crust and rhubarb mascarpone.  
This is Istra Daylesford drycured bacon, smoked mozzarella and pear 
relish toasted doorstop sandwich.  This is like a croque monsieur on steroids. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Dumplings @ Auntie's Dumplings

Boxing Day - notwithstanding the online shopping epidemic, we thought it best to avoid Chadstone on the 26th of December this year.  We had planned a nice venture out to Windsor to see what bargains we could track down and support the Occupy Christmas movement (i.e. the movement asking shoppers to support independent local retailers). Even though the Boxing Day cricket test was warming up, we had been sitting around eating since Xmas morning and thought it best to get out of the house.  But in true Melbourne fashion, the rains came and our plans were dashed.  What to do? Where to go?  Boxing Day - what's open?  Hmm....With a movie booked for that afternoon, we decided that the best way to kill an hour would be dumplings. 
My last blog about dumplings was from Yokohama near Tokyo where I experienced some incredible Xiao Long Bao dumplings. Since then, I have gone through countless plates of the delectable morsels throughout Melbourne.  There was a professional work lunch at Hutong's off-shoot China Red, there was a mid-week catch-up of old friends at Flinders Lane dumpling strong-hold North East China Family and of course a late evening snack at Hutong itself.  Dumplings are now, and have been for a long time, an integral part of the Melbourne culinary experience.  
What about non-Melbourne CBD dumplings?  My experience so far has been limited.  But I was recommended Auntie's in Koornang Road, Carnegie and was told to prepare to queue.  Fortunately this Boxing Day, the rush for dumplings was not as manic as the Myer's rush for discounted underwear.  We walked straight to a table.  

In typical dumpling house tradition, the place was squalid with all the atmosphere of an opium den (if you were in China, and the place was empty, you would walk past) - dirty plates strewn everywhere, waiters run off their feet and service demanded not offerred.  But that's what you expect so you don't complain about it.  The junkies in an opium den don't care about the decor - they are there for the goods, and at Auntie's the dragon being chased is ingested, rather than inhaled (although sometimes you may think otherwise).

We shared steamed beef dumplings, steamed chicken & prawn (perfectly cooked, light pastry, reasonably good quality stuffing) and Shanghai mini fried pork buns (lightly fried, very generously proportioned, and overall excellent).  

Auntie's rates highly on the dumpling scale, probably behind Hutong but definitely well in front of North East China Family, Shanghai Village and China Red.  Do you have any other dumpling suggestions, particularly non-CBD? Happy to hear them!  

Friday, December 16, 2011

11 Awards for 2011

As the end of 2011 approaches and new years' resolutions are being prepared to be broken, we can reflect on what was a superb year, particularly on the dining front.  There have been some incredible highs (as you can see below), some definite lows (read my Paco's Taco's / closure of Movida Terraza blog) and of course, an earth shattering Tokyo earthquake.  One of my good mates always gets really excited to watch any tv montage highlighting the best of the year that was, so I thought  I would give some awards for 2011 reflecting on the year that has passed:

1.  Best Winter Dish - Gnocchi Tricolore with oxtail ragout and parmesan (The Mess Hall)
This is the ideal winter dish - each colour gnocchi is a different flavour (e.g. red - red capsicum) and the rich deep flavoured ox tail ragout melts.  The Mess Hall has earned my respect over 2011, they managed to deal with a big group of hungry family members on what had to be one of their busiest nights of the year, their jenga like polenta chips are outstanding as are most of their other dishes.  Overall, one of my top 2011 picks and the best part is you generally don't have to wait an hour for a table. Honorable mention goes to the recently crowned dish of the year by The Age - Rotisserie Chicken at PM24 and a bowl of steaming salty Ramen from Ippudo in Tokyo (try Ramen Ya in Melbourne). 

2.  Best Summer Dish 2011 - Muoy Grande Paella (Movida Aqui)
There is nothing better than seeing the sun creep out behind the clouds and basking in the sunshine on the outdoor terrace at Movida Aqui with one hand on a Moritz beer and the other hand furiously scraping at the crunchy rice at the bottom of a big paella dish.  This is the perfect way to not be working on a Friday afternoon.  

3.  Best City Lunch Venue - The Old Chamber / Manchester Press
I really can't split these two places for a city lunch.  Both offer incredible coffee at locations that are just so Melbourne - The Old Chamber being an old bank on Collins street, Manchester Press being in an old building down a ubiquitous Melbourne lane.  The Old Chamber serves beautifully freshly made sandwiches, roti wraps and a wide array of incredible salads.  Manchester Press doesn't mess around - your choice of bagel served with generous helpings of either salmon, cream cheese and capers or pastrami or plenty of others. The highlight was the Coronation Chicken special served during the Royal Wedding earlier in the year.  
4.  Best Coffee - Sonido
This Colombian treasure in Gertrude street won me over, not just for its chilled rustic vibe and exceptional Arepas, but the coffee was out of this world (as was the hot chocolate).  I have certainly drunk my fair share of coffee over the course of 2011 and I put this well ahead of the usual suspects in the coffee stakes. See here for more. Honorable mentions go to Manchester Press and The Old Chamber.  And as a prediction, the newly opened Patricia in Little William Street will be the place in 2012.
5.  Best Steak - France Soir
I still haven't had a steak that beats it and until I do France-Soir will retain its mantle. Perfectly cooked, classic atmosphere and served with perfectly crisp Pomme Frites.  If anyone asks you for a steak at Squires, the response should be: "How about France-Soir?" See here for more.

6.  Best breakfast venue - Hardware Societe
I can't go past Hardware Societe in the city.  This place consistently makes excellent coffee and perfect inventive breakfasts. I most recently had Bircher muesli served with pistachio nuts, yoghurt and stewed fruit which was a great way to start the day.  Previously I've seen companions devour baked eggs with chorizo right before my eyes without breathing.  Note, really not a great place for a catch-up because you end up not talking due to the quality of the food! 

7.  Best High End Restaurant - Golden Fields
Andrew McConnell's Golden Fields in Fitzroy Street won my heart this year for doing great simple, natural and fresh food.  Sitting at the bar watching the chefs preparing such incredible food that really looks straight from the ground, field or water makes your mouth water.  An easy winner (although I didn't make it to Attica this year!). Honorable mentions go to Maha and Giusseppe Arnaldo & Sons.

8.  Best Dessert - Cannoli (Farmer's Arms, Daylesford)
Just look at the photo - nothing more to add.  See here for more about the Farmer's Arms. 

9.  Best home-cooked dish - My mum whipped up Moroccan Fish tagine with chermoula, preserved lemon and green olives in May and I'm still thinking about it in December - the tagine was layered with flavours, the sour acidity of the preserved lemon mixed with robust Moroccan spices meant a different and complementary flavour emanated from within each heaped spoonful.  I have to give a very seriously honourable mention to my lovely girlfriend's sister Talya who presented an incredible chocolate pavlova at a recent barbeque held at our place - yes, chocolate pav, it was like chocolate mousse but lighter, textured with the mereingue and just wow.  

10. Best Beer - Moo Brew Pilsner This is the perfect beer - don't need to say any more.  If you find it outside of Tasmania, let me know where I can get it! The Sardinian Birra Ichnusa is one of the great pale lagers and goes perfectly with the pizza served at I Carusi II on a hot night in St Kilda.  
11. Best Wine - Mayer Bloody Hill Pinot Noir - I tried this earlier in the year at Chin Chin and really haven't been able to ween myself off it since.  I drank it again at Gill's Diner and then picked up a couple of bottles recently and am still drinking it.  Reasonably priced, great flavour and most importantly, a name you can remember when you're looking through an extensive wine list! 
So thanks everyone for reading my blog over the course of 2011.  I am looking forward to continuing the journey (as we referred to the recent series of the Bachelorette in our household) through 2012.  Have a great break and see you next year!!