Saturday, January 21, 2012

Restaurant Reviewing

I try to stay away from restaurant reviewing. Perhaps its knowing the hard slog in the kitchen or having experienced first hand, a chef calling, completely bereft, to say if I published a bad review it would be the end; that he would lose his house. We pulled the review. But another publication did not and he closed doors. I was comfortable not publishing the review - he would have lost his restaurant anyway - as I see it diners vote with their feet and the reality is restaurants are being reviewed at every meal every day. Which brings me to one of the most heartfelt brilliant reviews written by a diner,not a "professional" to Rockpool Bar and Grill, Sydney. Its brilliant and kudos to Rockpool for publishing it. Its a great read.

Dear Rockpool Restaurant,
On Saturday the 28th of May, 2011 I attended your fine establishment with my girlfriend, Laura, to celebrate our 2 year anniversary.
We had a wonderful time, and I was inspired to give you some feedback in case that sort of thing matters.
I am not a restaurant reviewer, or a journalist in any capacity, and I must confess; restaurants of Rockpool’s standing are not venues I attend with any frequency or experience.
I am a young man (a ‘dude’ or ‘bloke’, if you will) from the western suburbs of Sydney, and if I might call your eatery a “fancy restaurant”, I think that may be the best way to convey my personal perspective and context for this review, gleaned from my sum life experiences of steakhouses, fashionable sushi joints, and maccas drive-thrus (which are largely expertly managed by Kristys, but frequently let down in the ordering department by Nathans and Beths).
We ordered the 8 Course Grand Tasting Menu which was overall exceptional, but I will comment on each course if you do not mind, because they were not all equal.
Sterling caviar on prawn toast
This opening dish was fabulous. Mum used to put anchovette paste on Jatz crackers when we were kids, and I thought that was alright until tasting the Sterling Caviar.
Wow! Turns out mum was just cheap and lazy.
I could have eaten ten of these babies, alas only one each came out.
Perhaps mum had the edge on quantity, but Rockpool definitely wins in the quality stakes. I would be sure to order these specially, in the future.
Queensland spanner crab with broccoli and jerusalem artichoke
Another great tasting dish.
I can not stand unflavoured seafood. Without being too narcissistic to believe it is impossible for me to be uncouth, I still think there are a lot of wankers out there who love crab and lobster because they are told it is crab and lobster.
You could probably serve them diced Vietnamese lung fish, call it Macedonian Reticulated Shellblob, and they would fall over themselves to comment on it’s texture and timbre on the palette.
Please note, this is not a suggested ingredient change. The crab was excellent, and the point to my diatribe is that it was superbly accompanied to form a complete dish, instead of something that would require an assertive personality-type to order lemon juice to the table.
Chirashi zushi of kingfish, bonito, prawn and squid
The zushi was a cool, refreshing dish, and showcased the high quality of ingredients that Rockpool uses – and raw fish MUST be high quality, because when you are making sushi you can not just chuck some garlic and butter in the wok when you reckon the squid’s a bit iffy… but I am sure your chefs know this.
Perfect heat to the kimchee. Whoever is dicing the chili down there has the same taste I do, which makes a nice change from ordering the “spicy” dish and then having your tongue punished with the fire of a thousand hells.
Green lip abalone, red braised thirlmere goose, chicken crisp and fine noodles with xo dressing
Wonderful again. The abalone was excellent and xo sauce just speaks to my taste buds on a magical level, which is your chef’s luck and my gain.
I understand there is some controversy about the inclusion of goose in certain restaurant dishes. This is probably because geese are pretty (although tempermental)… which may also be why a lot of women identify with them.
In case you were worried about such public opinions, please be reassured: I rate animals on their deliciousness only, and the way that goose was prepared leaves me as a reliable vote in the “OK to eat” camp, and a full supporter of the inclusion of water fowl on your menu.
The chicken crisp was intriguing, though. How is that made?
I told Laura that a whole baby chicken is liquified then pumped into a shallow biscuit mold and baked, but she accused me of just making that up, and well, she was right.
John dory and scampi with macadamia, bamboo pith, scampi broth and tofu made at the table
By far the best smelling dish that arrived at our table. The john dory and scampi was rich, and served steaming hot which tempered perfectly with the cooled tofu.
The macadamia nuts really set it off, and I do believe everyone this dish passed by on the way to our table was wondering “Ooooh, what is that?”
Quail hot pot with eight treasures and quail tea egg
I have been quite complimentary up until now. Please remember that.
It would be unbearable to have your chefs hate me, as I hold them in extremely high regard.
I have not eaten quail egg before, so perhaps that makes my opinion on this dish, ahh, “disadvantaged”?
Well anyway, here we go:
Overall the quail hot pot’s flavour was singular and underwhelming. I did not find myself picking out ingredients, or appreciating how they blend. It just tasted of ordinary all over.
The quail tea egg did look and behave more like a raw human eye, than I could have imagined, but tasted a lot less like I would imagine a human eye would taste (if I were to imagine such a thing) which might be actually be a plus, I am not sure.
The ginger crisp was a most considerate inclusion, as one could use it to cover the uneaten remainder of the ey… I mean, quail tea egg, and get on with finding the eight treasures.
Now Treasure is a beautiful word one naturally affiliates with wealth and discovery. Unfortunately everything in this dish tasted the same – except the tofu, for as most know: tofu avoids flavour better than society avoids personal responsibility.
One could probably be forgiven for feeling misled by the menu at this point.
I do not believe tofu can be classified as a ‘treasure’ in the rich and romantic sense.
I think the only thing tofu has in common with treasure, is that it should be buried in dirt, on a far away island, and separated from innocent people by the gypsy curses of one-eyed, sea-faring bandits.
 The best thing about this dish, was that it was not the last one.
Rangers valley beef short rib, braised and barbecued, with old skin stir fry, snake beans, soy milk skin and hakka nam yee sauce
Now this was something special.
Many people go to expensive restaurants to experience meals they have never had.
My secret pleasure is to experience a meal I have had a thousand times, but have it the best I have ever tasted.
This is one of those dishes.
Again, superb ingredients, and a perfectly cook cut of meat. We were given very sharp knives for this dish, but with meat this tender you could easily use a spoon, or a fish-knife, or your TV’s remote control, instead.
This dish totally ruined the conversation at our table. All we could manage were approving noises, for a good 5 minutes.
Green apple sorbet with bircher muesli
This lovely, light dessert, rounded out a delicious and filling menu.
I would not normally think to mix sorbet and muesli, but it works perfectly.
Jasmine candle scented brulee with quince, grapes and almond sorbet
As I am not a brulee person, I will just let you know what Laura thought:
“It’s incredible.”
Coffee and petits fours
Perfect and well presented.
Your staff
In case anyone who works at Rockpool is still reading this after my possibly offensive quail egg review, I would like to make the following points:
- I have never experienced a higher standard of service at… well, anywhere.
- Every staff member I encountered was smiling, friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful.
- Our water glasses never reached empty.
- When we were discussing a dish and had forgotten one of the ingredients mentioned (apparently loud enough to be overheard) a menu was kindly placed back on our table so we could see what had arrived and what was on the way.
- Every little thing was taken care of.
If I write any more, I think I will run out of compliments.
Thank you for an amazing dining experience.
We will be back.
Best Regards,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Adelaide & The Barossa

I was lucky enough to spend a few delightful days in the Barossa Valley for a story I am writing. After much wine tasting, some amazing hospitality and enjoying some of the best produce I have ever tasted, I am sadly back home. 
I lived for a relatively short time in another Australian wine region and hand on heart had said that it would never be the life for me but the Barossa changed everything. Here those marketing terms that we so often hear bandied about are actually a genuine way of life. Premium produce. Community. Artisan. Seasonal. There is no beating of the chest here, deals are still done on a handshake and the locals are so damn friendly it hurts. I am already plotting my next trip back.

Pit stop at Adelaide's Central Market for road trip supplies

Heaven found in the Barossa

Thursday, January 12, 2012

R.I.P Foodie

A piece I wrote for Urban List on the death of the foodie. Enjoy.

I love food. I truly do. I do not love being labeled a foodie. The term is an abomination. It is a vernacular I would like to see die a painful death of 1000 paper cuts at dawn.  Fixing 'ie’ to an energy source suddenly implies that I, amongst others, am one of ‘them’. Perhaps it is my abomination of crowds but I get nervous when bound to a group. And not a group carved by the Darwinism inspired forces of friendship or profession; but one of those horrid mass media terms that puts “foodies” right up there with “devastating” (insert any natural event involving water be it a flood or wet creek bed) and “horrific (insert fire and do not discriminate - bbq, back burning, flash fire, volcano or inferno.  

Foodie is also an ugly word. It insinuates all those guilty lifestyle traits one does not possess or doesn’t always want to own up to – privileged, well-travelled and over indulged. Hands down foodies are the new wine wankers – they throw around words like “terroir” and “paysanne” or god forbid “fusion”. They also invariably have their secret little spots to eat, generally down Matrix inspired laneways, that only 5 other people in the universe know about and they begrudgingly hand over the details, barely concealing their desire to shout  “you see, I know all there is about food, I am the epitome of good taste. I am truly glorious.”
It gives me the right royal irrits because “foodie” is so far removed from the real world of food production. Professional kitchens for instance, are full of tattooed madmen, drug fiends, knife-wielding obsessives, big tempers and open flames.  The hard work, ugly shoes and dismal pay are glossed over by “foodies” busy enjoying their line caught fish and talking about their boutique farmed sheep – a piece of meat many would struggle to identify even if Mary bitch slapped them in the face with her little lamb.

I also don’t like foodie because it insinuates fatty. And if you love food invariably you are not thin. We should be. We need to get it right. There are old crack addicts. There are old vagabonds, old soldiers and even old bogans. But there are absolutely no old fat people. None. Good food - will kill you quicker than anything for sure.
We eat better than ever but our professions also no longer see us working a field, or down a mine banging bits of industry together. Foodie is not a by-law that can disregard the importance of being the right weight, and by right I mean healthy.

So R.I.P foodie. It’s 2012. And while it’s been swell, it is time to coin another nonsensical term for an amassed group of people who eat. Preferably one that doesn’t end in ‘ie’.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Leaving Tijuana - Coconut, Mescal and Citrus Cake

It must be that last gasp of holiday goodness that reminded me to post a recipe for a cake I have been working on - one of those Mexicana, hot summer type numbers. A coconut, mescal and citrus cake. Holidays on a plate. Now where is the Le Tan and a beach.

Photo by Danny Eastwood

Leaving Tijuana
Coconut, Mescal and Citrus Cake
250g butter
250g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
zest of 2 limes
5 eggs
60ml mescal
250g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
190g caster sugar
4 eggwhites
1 tsp lime juice
1 teaspoon coconut essence
1 teaspoon mescal
Toasted coconut chips

Preheat the oven to 160C.
Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper and set aside.  Beat the butter, vanilla and sugar in a mixer using the paddle attachment until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the zest and mescal. Sift in the flour and baking paper and gently stir to combine.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes or until it springs back to the touch and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
Prepare the meringue by combining the sugar and 50 ml water in a saucepan over high heat and stir gently until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook until syrup reaches 115C on a sugar thermometer. Once the temperature is reached, begin whisking the eggwhites and lime-juice in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Once the sugar syrup reaches 121C remove from heat and pour gently into the eggwhites, whisking continuously. Continue whisking on high speed until the mixture appears thick and glossy and has cooled to room temperature, then stir in coconut essence and mescal.
Cut the cake in half and ice the top of one half then gently press the other half on top. Ice the rest of the cake and sprinkle over coconut chips just before serving.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Eating Pants

The feeling one gets from a full stomach is wondrous.  I know very little about a lot, except when it comes to the consumption of food, a topic I think everyone should share in glorious over-consuming detail. I think it’s because consuming food is necessary, like chatting over cups of tea, in keeping us alive; and because it is a completely pleasurable form of entertainment. Overeating however is a bit of a sensitive topic. Much like the other deadly sins – jealousy, coveting neighbours wives and such, gluttony is the number one contender (let’s not forget Facebook over-sharing) as our most unappealing trait.
But we all do it. Yes you too, so save your disdain for some other disgusting bodily function like pretending you don’t fart (ever) or do those weird stinky burps where you wonder if something has died. I think it is high time we celebrate the glutton in all our over eating glory, ensuring a comfortable and safe passage for our fatty habits. The perfect solution being the eating pant. Our go to item of clothing when the tum is full and comfort is at a premium. Could you please stop shaking your head, I saw you smash many a kebab in your day. You eat like a pig. You make me feel sick. 

Being a new year and all of that, I thought I'd kick off with a handy top five most comfortable pants to wear when over-eating in a blatant disregard of all new year diety-type things. Feel free to weigh in if you think something has been missed.
1. The Qantas PJs.
Photo from:  
Many of us who ride zoo class wouldn’t be aware of these grey delights but holy snapping duck shit, these pants are an elasticized revelation worthy of the ticket price and snooty co-passengers. And lets celebrate for a moment the fact that they come in 2 relaxed fit sizes – L/XL and M/L. I know, I know...

2. Bonds trackies 

  Oh yes, that bit of Aussie/Kiwi (do the Chinese own it yet?) cotton generated comfort is all about happy eating. Thick elasticized bands that contain and support rather than constrict, bright cheery colours, and occasionally slimming designs that make you look like you’ve shed a kilo or two – and that’s before you’ve even been to the toilet. (Refer back to over sharing point, paragraph 1) A gluttons dream. 
  3. Nappy pants
Image from:
Those trendy overpriced nappy pants that look like you are trying to hide a weird front bum or schlep around the shops like a celebrity. Its safe to say you’ll look like a bit of a twat but you’ll be comfortable in these come what may, I don’t care how weird I look stretching odyssey. 

         4. MC Hammer pants. 
M.C.Hammer Pants
Image from:
   AAhh the 80s. We have so much to be thankful for. These pants are hands down one of the best inventions for those of over eating inclination. You almost want to (over eating permitting) do a spin in front of those portion control loving types while singing “you cant touch this.” If only you weren't so full.
   5Harem pants

   Harem pants from those lentil eating, hemp loving, reef sandal baring hippy shops. If you can bare the scent of cheap incense, and don’t mind the odd scratch of cheap cotton against skin then these bad boys are made for the over eater. They stretch for days with the fajihita expanding freedom one could only dream of. Good times.