Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Atlantic

Chef Donovan Cooke

The Atlantic in Crown is one of my favourite restaurants. You may remember I went there for my birthday in 2011, and since then it's become one of the default destinations for special occasion dinners with my friends. I was recently invited to a complimentary bloggers' dinner there, and thought it would be a good excuse to blog about it again! This post will include selected photos from three different visits: my friend An's birthday in October 2012, my friend Adri's birthday in May 2014, and the bloggers' dinner in June this year.

The Atlantic
Crown Entertainment Complex
8 Whiteman Street
Southbank, VIC 3006
Ph: (03) 9698-8888
The Atlantic on Urbanspoon

So, we took my friend An for his birthday back in October 2012. We started with drinks in The Den bar downstairs - I love the bar for its cosy atmosphere, plush couches, occasional live piano music and fab cocktails. The Bluegrass Blazer we tried that night tasted like Christmas, and was served ON FIRE!

Bluegrass Blazer - Woodford Reserve bourbon, Grand Marnier, cinnamon syrup, bitters and fire - $24

I know The Atlantic is famous for its seafood offering, but I've always been impressed by their desserts (especially their different flavoured ice-creams). This particular dessert isn't on the menu any more, but gives you an idea of the type and standard of desserts that are on offer. It was their "peanut butter and jelly sandwich" - raspberry jelly, salted peanuts, Valrhona chocolate fudge and croissant ice-cream. Croissant ice-cream! (I grilled the waiter and he said they make it by infusing cream with stale croissants and using the croissant-flavoured cream as the base for the ice-cream.) Woah.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich - raspberry jelly, salty peanut and Valrhona chocolate fudge, croissant ice-cream - $21

When we visited in May this year for my friend Adri's birthday, The Den was closed for a private function, so we just had a drink in The Oyster Bar (more casual than the restaurant) before heading to our table in the restaurant.

Pianist - Tanqueray gin, raspberry pure, sparkling wine - $19; Glass of sherry 

On this occasion, we were in a group of four people - we each had an entree, and then shared The Atlantic Seafood Platter (for two!) between three of us. (N.B. Non-seafood eater Sandra ordered off the "From the Land" section of the menu, as she always does - they do great non-seafood dishes too!)

It was a good thing we shared the platter for two between three of us - it was a huge amount of food, and we struggled to finish it! In addition to this two-tiered stand of seafood, a dozen oysters were included.

The Atlantic Seafood Platter (for two)- Served chilled with condiments. Selection of freshly shucked oysters, whole prawns, Moreton bay bugs, scallops in the shell, Alaskan King crab leg, spring bay mussels - $105 per person, $210 in total

Oysters Kilpatrick (included in the seafood platter)

I'm not a fan of oysters Kilpatrick, preferring my oysters natural, but the birthday girl likes them, and the birthday girl gets what she wants! She really enjoyed the oysters, so I was glad! I have to be honest though and say we weren't really wowed by the Seafood Platter overall - whilst most of the items were very fresh (the prawns were a standout!), on this occasion the crab legs were a little mushy, and we found some of the other items a little overcooked for our liking. I think we might have been better off ordering individual dishes - not only would that have been cheaper than the platter, but based on previous experience, they've also always been excellent.

As I mentioned above, I've always greatly enjoyed the ice-creams at The Atlantic, and we ordered a few different ones to try on this night. The "selection of seasonal sorbets" included blackcurrant, white peach and apricot, and they were all very impressive. The fruit flavours were all very strong and pure. Gorgeous!

Selection of Seasonal Sorbets - blackcurrant, white peach and apricot - $16

One of the desserts on the menu came with cheesecake ice-cream, and we were all really wanted to try the ice-cream, but weren't interested in the dessert itself, haha. We asked our waiter, and he kindly checked with the kitchen and said we could order a single scoop of the cheesecake ice-cream! Yay. From memory, I think they charged about $5 for it, similar to the per-scoop price of the selection of sorbets on the menu. It was beautifully smooth and had a nice prominent cream cheese flavour.

Single scoop of cheesecake ice-cream

And now onto the bloggers' dinner in June! We began with champagne and cocktails in The Den...

Red Blush Julep - Maker’s Mark infused with strawberry & vanilla, Orange Bitters, Mint
NV Laurent-Perrier Brut - Tours-sur-Marne

... before moving upstairs for dinner.

From the Field - Plymouth Gin infused with Lavender, Honey, Lemon, served over ice
2012 Kooyong Pinot Gris - Beurrot Mornington Peninsula

There was quite a big group of us, and we were split up over a few tables and were free to order from the menu. Between the five of us at my table, we managed to cover a good selection of the menu, starting with oysters! We got them natural (yay), and they were super fresh, briney and creamy. Love!

Smoky Bay SA; Wallis Lake from NSW; Moulting Bay from Tasmania

I ordered the Alaskan King Crab for my entree - and it was so, so pretty! Look at that perfect rectangle! I loved the combination of fresh crab meat against the creamy mascarpone and slightly spicy red capsicum coulis.

Alaskan King Crab -  red capsicum coulis, crab mascarpone, balsamic gel, smoked paprika - $26

Thanh graciously shared some of his scallops and calamari with me - they were cooked perfectly, slightly charred on the outside and quiveringly soft on the inside, and without even a hint of rubberiness.

Pan Seared Scallops and Calamari - celeriac and apple remoulade, squid ink mascarpone, salmon roe - $26

I'm glad I-Hua ordered the seafood cocktail, so I could get a photo of it. It's one of my favourite dishes at The Atlantic, and I've ordered it on pretty much all of my visits (except this one as I felt like trying something new!) As I've had it so many times before, I declined I-Hua's generous offer to try some, but I can tell you I love the generous amount and variety of seafood in it - scallop, crayfish, prawn and crab - as well as the refreshing cubes of fresh fruit and the lightly creamy sauce.

Atlantic Seafood Cocktail - crab meat, scallop, Moreton bay bug, prawn, iceberg, rockmelon, apple, basil, soft boiled quail egg - $30

I didn't taste the Moreton Bay bug spaghettini, but wanted to share the photo with you because it looked great, and it smelled fantastic when they brought it to the table!

Moreton Bay Bug Spaghettini - olive oil, garlic, chilli, parsley - $29

For our mains I ordered the lightly smoked confit Ora King salmon, which I totally loved! The salmon was incredibly tender and melting, and I enjoyed the rather wintry addition of grilled smoked bacon and braised baby savoy cabbage. It was quite intense, with all the smoky salty flavours, and the fattiness of the salmon and bacon, but I'm really into that.

Lightly Smoked Confit Ora King Salmon (NZ) - braised baby savoy cabbage, grilled smoked bacon, baby carrot and jus gras - $40

The Boy (from The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua and The Boy) ordered the pan-fried hapuka, which came with an aromatic pile of prawn-scented risoni and shellfish foam. He said it was very good, and I loved the sunny yellow colours.

Pan-Fried Hapuka (Portland, VIC) - risoni scented with prawns and aromatic vegetables, fennel salad, shellfish foam - $44

Two in our group ordered simple grilled fish - one baby snapper on the bone, another the wood-fired grilled barramundi off the bone. Both were done very well, but I personally prefer the cheffier dishes (like the confit salmon or hapuka above) - they're at a similar price point, but with the cheffier dishes you get to try something a bit more interesting and creative, with lots of different elements. Obviously the simple grilled fish dishes are great if you really want to appreciate the fish itself!

Baby Snapper (Port Phillip Bay, VIC) - delicate, soft textured, white fleshed fish with chilli and anchovy sauce - $41

Wood Fire Grilled Barramundi (WA) - mixed leaf salad, lemon - $39

One person on our table got a steak - I told you they do non-seafood dishes well too!

250g Sher Wagyu Sirloin Marble Score 8+ - sea salt, olive oil, lemon - $58 with Bordelaise sauce - $3

We also got a couple of sides to share - the thrice-cooked russet potatoes were quite nice, although I felt they could have been more crisp (especially with the "thrice-cooked" name).

Thrice Cooked Russet Potatoes - rosemary, garlic, sea salt - $11

The potatoes were quite nice, but the cauliflower was amazing! I love cauliflower in general, but here it was roasted in brown butter for extra deliciousness, and had capers, chopped hardboiled eggs, onion and garlic. I totally want the recipe!

Brown Butter Roast Cauliflower - chopped egg, capers, onion, garlic - $12

And then it was time for dessert. First up was a chocolate delice, which had a hint of spice from the chilli chocolate soup, and the tangy flavour of passionfruit. It was both rich and refreshing.

Valrhona Chocolate Delice - passionfruit centre, coconut foam, chilli chocolate soup - $23 

The next two desserts are ones I'd already tried on Adri's birthday, so I knew I'd like them. The champagne and strawberry parfait was very summery, and I liked the savoury, herbaceous, addition of the basil and orange ice-cream.

Champagne and Strawberry Parfait - basil and orange ice-cream, strawberry salad - $22

The pistachio cassonade was a rich pistachio cream, topped with pistachio praline and a scoop of wonderfully dark and bitter chocolate sorbet, and with crisp espresso crackers on the side. I'm usually wary of pistachio desserts - I hate that artificial pistachio essence taste - but this one was beautiful and had a very mild, natural pistachio flavour.

Pistachio Cassonade - Valrhona bitter chocolate sorbet, pistachio praline, coffee chocolate crackers - $20

Wow, writing up this post has made me really want to visit The Atlantic again. Ok, whose birthday is next???

Sarah visited The Atlantic twice as an anonymous paying customer, and once on a bloggers' dinner as a non-paying guest.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spiral Pasta with Red Kale, Feta and Pine Nuts

Spiral pasta with red kale, feta and pine nuts

Okidoki, so I know this purple-stained pasta isn't the world's most attractive dish, but bear with me because it tastes so good! I made it dish for dinner last Sunday, with lots of leftovers for weekday lunches. I just wanted to use up ingredients I had in the fridge, and was not expecting it to be any good, but it was actually totally awesome! I couldn't stop eating it and thought I wouldn't have any left for the week!

The story goes like this: I'd planned on making Nigella's curly pasta with feta, (frozen) spinach and pine nuts - simple but classic combo - but discovered half a bunch of wilting red kale in my vegetable crisper, and thought I should make use of it rather than chucking it out. We'd bought it ages ago with grand plans of making kale chips, but never got around to it.

Shredded red kale

Raw red kale kinda looks and smells like silverbeet and chard (two vegetables that I detest), and I was worried the end result would be a bitter mess that I'd be self-sacrificingly eating throughout the week to save money, when what I'd really want would be Nando's or ramen. Luckily, this wasn't the case. I thought I only liked kale when roasted or deep-fried, but turns out that it's nice when sauteed in a pan too! Upon cooking, the red kale goes soft and sweet, marrying fantastically with the creamy melted feta and slightly crunchy buttery pine nuts. (Indeed, if you had some currants I think you could chuck them in once the kale is cooked to amplify the sweetness). Grated parmesan adds a deeply savoury touch. I made the original version once, when I first bought Kitchen, but I think it's even nicer with red kale. I found red kale at my local supermarket, but I'm sure green kale would work well too. As for the pasta, I used this Vetta High Fibre rollini that a PR company sent me - tastes just like regular pasta to me, which is a good thing!

With the high fibre pasta and loads of vitamin-rich red kale, I'm thinking this is a pretty nutritious option for weekday lunches that still feels comforting and can be inhaled with a spoon at your desk. (It's just as nice cold, by the way). I thought of calling it: "Purple Pasta Salad" (ooh, alliteration!), but the title I've gone with is more descriptive, so it won. Enjoy!

Spiral Pasta with Red Kale, Feta and Pine Nuts
Adapted from Nigella's Curly Pasta with Feta, Spinach and Pine Nuts (Kitchen)

1/3 cup pine nuts
250 grams spiral pasta (I used Vetta High Fibre rollini, but any one you like will do)
1 teaspoon garlic-infused olive oil
1 small onion
1/2 bunch red kale
100 grams feta cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan until golden brown and fragrant, then tip onto a cold plate and set aside.
Put a large pan of water onto boil, salt generously and add the pasta. Boil according to packet directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the garlic oil in a large frying pan. Finely chop the onion and cook it in the pan with a pinch of salt until softened and translucent.
Peel the kale leaves off the stems. Discard the stems and finely shred the leaves. Add the shredded kale to the fry pan, and cook, stirring often, until wilted down and cooked through. Add some hot water from the kettle if the pan gets too dry.
Crumble in the feta, stirring until it is melted and combined with the sauce.
Off the heat, stir in the grated parmesan cheese and pasta. Taste and add salt, pepper or extra parmesan cheese as necessary. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves approx. 4 as a light meal

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Prix Fixe - "An English Midwinter"

The Cheese Course - $18
English cave aged, cloth-bound Cheddar, Sauternes-pickled quince, oat cakes

Prix Fixe
Alfred Place
90 Collins Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Prix Fixe on Urbanspoon

So my friend Alaina and I went to Prix Fixe last night and had a ball! Normally there's a bit of a delay between me eating somewhere and my blogging about it - usually a couple of weeks, sometimes months! - but I thought I'd try writing this one up quickly, while y'all can still try the Narnia-inspired "English Midwinter" menu at Prix Fixe. (It's available until the end of August!) You can read my previous post on Prix Fixe's "Whole Hog" menu to read the lowdown on the ticketing system, the decor yada yada yada. Today, I just wanna talk about the food!

Because we've visited before, I'm on the Prix Fixe mailing list, so I get email notifications when each month's new menu is announced. Dangerous! Lots of my foodie friends went gaga for July's "Vive la France" menu, and whilst it did look amazing, the "An English Midwinter" menu one really spoke to me. Scotch egg? Lamb suet pudding? Yes please! Y'all know I'm a big Anglophile and love stodgy traditional British food, thanks in no small part to my Sarah Discovers How to Eat project - steamed suet puddings, rich cheese, crumbles, roasts, Yorkshire puddings, pies, whatever. How fabulous.

Few people I know share my enthusiasm for all things stodge, so I was thrilled when Alaina said she was keen and I hurriedly booked us a place. That's one of the positives of the pay-in-advance ticketing system - no backsies! Of course, the inflexibility is also a negative - on the evening of our dinner I happened to be really under the weather with a cold, but did not want to miss out, so I just took it easy that day, slapped on a lot of makeup and headed to the restaurant! (Truthfully, I'd have probably slapped on heaps of makeup anyway - I'm really into makeup right now).

Given my condition, and the theme of the night, I was hoping there'd be some kind of hot cocktail on the menu that night - a hot whiskey toddy or something similar - and was really pleased to see a hot mulled cider for two. (Alaina graciously shared with me!) It had a beautiful, Christmassy aroma: brandy, candied fruit, honey and spices.

Mr Tumnus' Punch (Hot mulled cider for two) - Binet Rouge cider, Applejack, apricot brandy, D.O.M. Benedictine, honey, winter spices,  candied apricot - $32

I'd tried a decidedly average mulled cider at the Madame Brussels Lane Christmas market the week before, and Prix Fixe's mulled cider was in a totally different league. It was quite alcoholic, but all the flavours were restrained and blended together really well. (We chose a themed cocktail instead of the matching wines, and I think we made the right choice).

Mr Tumnus' Punch (Hot mulled cider for two) - $32

Actually, before the night I was wondering if they'd have a Tilda Swinton-themed cocktail. They didn't, but in my mind, a Tilda Swinton cocktail would be made of extremely dry, expensive gin with a twist of ginger. Hehehe. Argh, Tilda is so awesome.


So it seems that the structure of the menu each month stays constant: a small soup, a plate of three or four small bites, a main and a dessert. Let's have a look.

First Course
Cream of Celery Soup
Cream of celery soup, Stilton ice-cream, candied walnuts and crisp celery leaf

Cream of Celery Soup

I am not the biggest fan of celery, but loved this soup! It was rich and creamy, and the scoop of Stilton ice-cream inside had a similar texture but contrasting temperature - lovely! There were also little pops of sweetness from candied walnut and (I believe) candied celery leaf.

Second Course
A Winter Picnic
Scotch egg, potted shrimp, cucumber sandwiches 

A Winter Picnic

How pretty was the second course? Alaina loved the potted shrimp: prawns covered in a buttery sauce and smothered with fresh chives. We could take or leave the cucumber sandwiches. They were done well, with soft fresh bread cut into perfect triangles, two different types of cucumber inside and some pretty radish slices, but they just didn't wow us like the other elements did. The Scotch egg was my favourite, with the crisp crumbed carapace, spicy sausage mince and soft egg. Come to think of it, I have no idea how the chefs managed to boil the egg, peel it, cover it in raw sausage mince and crumbs and then deep-fry it until the sausage was cooked but the yolk was still perfectly, quiveringly liquid. Bravo. (Much more elegant than Keith from The Office's scotch egg, don't you think?)

Third Course
Tea with Mr Tumnus
Lamb Suet Pudding with pickled onions, minty peas and carrots

Tea with Mr Tumnus

The main course, a lamb suet pudding, was brought out unsauced, with the intense jus poured over at the table. The pudding was chock full of tender slow-cooked lamb, and the pastry was both light yet rich. Overall it was very heartwarming, with the pickled onions cutting through the richness. How is it that lamb fat creates such light pastry? (I asked the waitress, and the pastry was made with lamb suet, rather than the more usual beef suet).

Lamb suet pudding

Eating this gorgeous pudding makes me want to make something similar at home - the last time I made suet pastry was nine years ago, when I made a steak and kidney pie for my beloved Uncle Mike, who, sadly, is no longer with us. Miss you!

Onto happier topics - accompanying the pudding was a simple and delicious cocotte of peas, snowpeas and carrots.

Minty Peas and Carrots

Halfway through the mains, we decided we felt like a glass of wine each, and just went with the suggested wine match: a 2011 Lefage 'Tesselae' Carignan, from Roussillon. It was a medium bodied, quite fruity wine. It matched well with the lamb suet pudding, and with the cheese course.

Speaking of which...

The Cheese Course 
($18 supplement)
English cave aged, cloth-bound Cheddar, Sauternes-pickled quince, oat cakes

The Cheese Course - $18
English cave aged, cloth-bound Cheddar, Sauternes-pickled quince, oat cakes 

The cheddar was slightly creamy (for a cheddar), but still nice and pungent. The crisp little oat cakes were the perfect accompaniment (different, but no less delicious, than the thick stodgy oatcakes I normally bake), and I loved the Sauternes poached quince. (N.B. the menu says "pickled" quince, but I believe the waiter said poached). Either way, the quince was super soft and gorgeous.

Fourth Course
Snow Queen
Turkish delight, pistachio frangipane, meringue wands, espresso and cardamom ice-cream, tempered white chocolate 

Snow Queen - Turkish delight, pistachio, white chocolate

We were both super impressed by the dessert! Neither of us really like Turkish delight so we were on the fence when we saw it on the menu before booking - but neither of us like liquorice, and we loved the liquorice allsort dessert the last time we were at Prix Fixe, so we were more than happy to give it a go.

Snow Queen - Turkish delight, pistachio, white chocolate

The description on the menu was simply: "Turkish delight, pistachio, white chocolate", but there was a lot more going on in this dessert! On the base was a diamond of pistachio frangipane cake, topped with pieces of nougat and rose Turkish delight, meringue wands and a scoop of espresso and cardamom ice-cream. This was all decorated with shards of tempered white chocolate, which was decorated with edible glitter. Alaina normally lives by the "Eat it, don't tweet it" motto, but even she had to take a photo of this one, angling the plate so she could get the green cake and glittery white chocolate shard in the same shot.

I really enjoyed the dessert, and loved how the spiced espresso ice-cream brought all the sweet elements together. If I was being super nitpicky about the dessert, I'd say it was a little sweet for me, and the nougat was a touch on the chewy side (I didn't eat it all), but I loved it overall.

Thanks to Alaina for coming with me! And congratulations to Chef Philippa Sibley for winning Chef of the Year at the Time Out Melbourne Food Awards!