Monday, April 30, 2012

The Unblogged Files: April

Another month, another "Unblogged Files". Let's go!  It was a pretty busy month, food-wise, but not quite as busy as mad March!

This first picture is actually from the last day of March, at The Reading Room Cafe, in the Footscray campus at Vic Uni, where we were meant to meet up with Adrian and Agnes.  But you know what, I got the days wrong!  The email said "Sunday", but I somehow read that as Saturday, and drove all the way to Footscray on the wrong day.  D'oh!  Lucky the staff there were really nice and both the food and coffee were great, so it was worth two trips!

Clockwise from left: Latte, Sweetcorn fritters; Chicken schnitzel sandwich

I loved the crunchy sweet corn, pumpkin and coriander fritters with poached eggs, avocado and tomato chutney, and was very impressed with the generous serving.  We drove back the next day (and yay! it was the right day), and had a great brunch with the guys.

Clockwise from left: Fruit soldiers with passionfruit yogurt and dukkah, BFG French toast with bacon & candied walnuts; filter coffee; Afternoon tea cakes; Banana bread with honeyed ricotta and bananas

I went for a sweet option this time, the deliciously moist banana bread with lemon curd ricotta, fresh banana and toasted coconut.  I also had a taste of Adrian's French toast with candied walnuts and bacon - both were really good!  I wasn't a huge fan of the high tea items, finding the scones cold and dry, and the mini carrot cakes not 'cakey' enough for my liking and oddly sour, but I can heartily recommend any of the breakfast dishes!

My reward for two trips to the Westside in two days was a super-tasty banh mi from Nhu Lan, which I took home for a late-arvo snack.
Roast chicken Banh Mi

This month, I also went to Shira Nui in Glen Waverley for lunch, where three of us ordered the chirashi sushi.  Mmm... check out all that fresh fish!
Left: Chicken Katsu Curry; Chirashi Sushi

The sides were quite interesting too - a cold pasta (tasting quite like spaghetti con cacio e pepe), a gorgeous softly-set chawan mushi and a miso soup with little strips of tofu.
Clockwise from left: Chawan mushi, amuse bouche; miso soup

Whilst we all enjoyed the lunch, we all found ourselves very thirsty that afternoon - there must have been a lot of MSG in one of the dishes, perhaps in the soup, or in the seasoning mix for the rice?

For Easter Sunday, we enjoyed a great lunch at my other friend Adrian's house.  He made a fab garlicky roast lamb with carrots, beans, roast pumpkin and roast potatoes.

Clockwise from top left: Roast lamb with carrots; roast potatoes; beans; roast pumpkin

We stayed til late in the evening, nibbling on hot cross buns from Baker D Chirico and a tsoureki...

Tsoureki; Baker D Chirico hot cross buns

...and finished the night with champagne and some trashy Chinese takeaway.  (And more than a few cold roast potatoes, hehe!)
Bollinger, special fried rice, sweet and sour pork

As I mentioned in my Good Friday post, we've started cooking Szechuan food at home - and guess what?  Sandra makes an amazing ma po tofu!  Better than a restaurant!
Sandra's ma po tofu
And speaking of cold-weather food, we recently rediscovered Thanh Nga Nine, on Victoria street in Richmond.  I love their beef stew with bread, and their vegetable pho is awesome!  (We like it with beef stock, but they do a proper veggie stock as well, which you can request).

Clockwise from left: Bread roll; Beef stew; Vegetable Pho

For some sweet indulgence, we hit up Burch & Purchese.  I wanted to buy everything in the shop, but in the end just (just!) got two cakes and some of their gold-lustre salted caramel chocolate bars.

Goodies from Burch & Purchese

How pretty is this cherry-chocolate cake?  It contained (among other goodies), chocolate and vanilla mousse, a liquid morello cherry centre and chocolate brownie.
Cherry, Chocolate, Cocoa Nib

Mango, milk chocolate, ginger cake
This cake had layers of Jamaican ginger cake, milk chocolate sponge, milk chocolate & mango cream, coconut meringue, mango cream, mango custard and a little chocolate gingerbread man, which had been topped with salted oat and ginger crumble.  (I thought it looked like a teddy bear).  I loved it!

This reminds me, I wanna bake a Jamaican ginger cake at home - anyone got a good recipe?

Whilst both the cakes were good, I must say that the chocolate bars were incredible, with a slight crunch from the salt in the flowing caramel.  It's lucky we only bought three!
Mmm... salted caramel chocolate bar

I also finally joined the Instagram bandwagon, and am already dreadfully addicted.  My user handle is sarahcooksblog if you wanna follow me!  Here are a couple of my retro square pics, from a brunch at Axil Coffee.

Latte at Axil

Baked eggs

I received a sample of Coles spices in the mail from Thrive PR, in this absolutely gorgeous packaging! Pretty, right?
Pretty pretty wrapping

I haven't decided what to cook with these yet, but I'm sure I won't run out of spices for ages now!
Coles spices

In super-exciting news, my friend Adrian (not the roast lamb-Adrian, but Adrian from Food Rehab!) released his cookbook this month: What the Heck is Filipino Food?  Yay!  You can read about his journey creating this book, and details on how to purchase it, in this post on his blog.

Picture republished with permission of Food Rehab
Cute cartoon!  Funny story - when I had my cousin Catherine and Adrian over one day, Catherine happened to see the book on my shelf and, not knowing that Adrian was the author, said: "Wow Adrian, that book looks like you!"  And he replied: "Er yup, that IS me!"

The first thing I made from the book was the Filipino bread pan de sal: sweet white bread rolls covered in breadcrumbs.  They're really fluffy and yum!  The dough was very, very moist, and it was pretty messy work, but I'm told that that's what makes the finished bread rolls so light and fluffy!  So, dust your bench well in flour and get stuck in!
Freshly baked pan de sal

These were great fresh from the oven, slathered in butter, and I've also had them as hamburger buns, as a base for grilled cheese toasties, and of course for breakfast with nutella.

Today is actually my birthday! YAY!  On Saturday night, I celebrated my birthday with friends, having dinner at Koliba Czech & Slovak restaurant in Collingwood, followed by drinks at Kodiac Club.

Clockwise from top left:
Home Made “KRANSKY” Sausages served with Red Cabbage and Mashed Potatoes - $19.90
Meat Platter for Two - Pork Knuckle, Home Made Sausages and Selection of Meat served on a Wooden Plate with Mustard, Pickle, Horseradish and Bread - $49.90
Slovak National Dish “Bryndzové Halušky” - Small Traditional Dumplings with Slovak Cheese and Fried Bacon - $18.90
Chicken ‘CHERNOHOR’ wrapped in Potato Pancake served with Potato Salad - $22.90
Pork Knuckle served on a Wooden Board with Mustard, Pickle, Horseradish and Bread - $28.90

My friends seemed to be drawn to the meat, with the Meat Platter, the pork knuckle, and the pork kranskys all being ordered.  I, on the other hand, was lured by the promise of carbs, and ordered the deeply fabulous chicken ‘CHERNOHOR’: chicken wrapped in potato pancake, fried and served with potato salad.  We also ordered a plate of dumplings served with Slovak cheese and fried bacon to share - all delicious!

Desserts weren't quite as good, but still decent.
Apple Strudel with Sultanas and Ice Cream - $7.90
Chocolate Mud Cake with Ice Cream - $8.90
Strawberries “Romanov” - Diced Fresh Strawberries with Meringue - $8.90
Unlike our last visit to Kodiac Club, we were too full for buffalo wings this time, but enjoyed the cocktails and the laid back atmosphere.  (Did you know that upstairs is a separate venue, with different food and a tequila bar?)
Federation Cocktail - Pepperberry infused 666 vodka, white grapefruit juice, Lillet & White Chocolate liqueur - $18
Today, my actual birthday, has been a relaxing day at home.  This morning I baked some banana scones - recipe from the Raspberri Cupcakes blog.  I literally read the post on my phone in bed this morning, realised I had all the ingredients at home, jumped out of bed and baked them!  Bang!

Banana scone dough
I served them with Bill Granger's honeycomb butter, and they were super-delicious!  (Thanks for the great recipe Steph!) Despite mine being quite rustic looking, they were so light and fluffy, with a fab crust.  They were quite plain-tasting, and really come alive when slathered with the sweet butter.  Steph suggests adding sugar and cinnamon if you don't want to serve them with sweetened butter or jam - I think white chocolate chips in the dough would be a great way to add sweetness too!

Banana scones with Crunchie butter in my Le Creuset cocotte
I also had a spa treatment today, redeeming a voucher that some friends got me for my birthday (yes, I work quickly!)  It was at Endota Spa in Camberwell, and I was so impressed with the treatment and their service!  I'd definitely recommend it.  (PS I was really lucky to get some awesome food-related presents for my birthday; I've uploaded pics to my Facebook page).
Candles... aaaah....

After the spa treatment, I went for a coffee next door to the spa, at Degani.  (I know, I know, daggy, right?)  I wasn't expecting much, and was surprised by how good it was!  And just quietly, the coffee here was much better than some of the trendier cafes that have recently opened up in the Camberwell / East Hawthorn area!
Cappuccino - $3.50
Then it was time for birthday lunch at my parents' place: mee sua birthday noodles...
Mee sua, pork balls, hard-boiled eggs

... and char siew / siew yoke!

Tonight we're off for a birthday dinner, so if we enjoy the restaurant I'll be blogging it soon!  Next month is going to be more low key - I've got a dinner party, some blog events, some restaurant visits and a couple of weekends away planned.  Ok, so maybe it won't be low key after all!

Saturday, April 28, 2012


155 Fitzroy St
St Kilda, VIC 3182
Ph: (03) 9537 0001

I was recently invited along to try out the dinner menu at Fitzrovia, in Saint Kilda.  Having enjoyed chef Paul Jewson's previous venture, Outpost, as well as his cooking at events, I was keen to see what his own restaurant would be like.

Located on a relatively quiet stretch of Fitzroy street, Fitzrovia seems to be open pretty much constantly - serving breakfast and coffeelunchafternoon nibblesdinner, and cocktails!

The space has a very homey, low-key feel which I love.  At street level is the bar and some seating, and going further into the restaurant you'll see that the dining space is separated into distinct rooms, having kept the structure from the building's previous incarnation as a house.  My favourite feature is, unsurprisingly, the big open kitchen.

Before we started eating, Paul invited us into the kitchen so we could watch the following nectarine clafoutis tart being made.  Mmm... check out all that gorgeous ripe fruit!
Clafoutis nectarine tart in progress
For blogging purposes, Paul kindly arranged to bring out a selection of items from the menu, doing some in slightly smaller portions than normal so that we could try a larger range of different dishes.

First up, an amuse bouche of lime-marinated watermelon with goats curd and chard cress.  With the lime and watermelon flavours, this almost tasted like a cocktail - a refreshing little mouthful to begin proceedings.

Amuse Bouche: Lime-marinated watermelon with goats curd and chard cress
The first two dishes (brought out together) were Morton Bay bugs and a brawn terrine.
Roast Morton Bay bug tails with a cherry tomato gazpacho and shaved basil - $23.00

As always, I was eating with a non-seafood eater, which meant that I got to have this first dish all to myself!  Muahaha!  Morton Bay bugs aren't the type of thing I'd think to order myself, but I'm so glad I got to try them - they were fantastic!  The bugs were incredibly fresh, and a light prod with a fork removed the tender flesh from the shell.  Combined with the gazpacho and a salad of tomatoes, red onion and cucumber, this was a wonderful dish.

Fergus' brawn terrine with crispy pig's ear salad - $18.00
I enjoy all sorts of terrines, pâtés and rillettes, and this was a great version, with the crunchy croutons and crisp pig's ear strips providing a pleasing textural contrast.

Roasted shallot tart tatin with burrata and pea shoot salad - $16.00 
I thought the presentation of shallot tart tatin was really cute! With whole shallots nestled into the puff pastry, I was afraid it would be a bit strong, but the flavour was mellow and sweet.

Next came two pasta dishes.  (N.B. these were prepared in a smaller portion than usual for tasting purposes).
Spanner crab and homemade ricotta ravioli with salmon caviar, samphire, truss tomato and Prosecco
(N.B. this was a small portion designed for tasting; this dish is usually served in larger portions and priced at $24 for entree or $35 for main) 
I'd had my eye on the spanner crab ravioli when I saw it on the menu, and was super-happy when it was brought out.  I loved the silky pasta, and the mild, delicate flavours of the tomatoes and samphire.  I'll definitely be ordering this the next time I visit!

Egg pappardelle with wood roast field mushrooms, truffle oil and guanciale
(N.B. this was a small portion designed for tasting; this dish is usually served in larger portions and priced at $24 for entree or $35 for main) 
Whilst there were some great elements in the mushroom pasta, the flavours were very intense, so much so that the overall effect was too heavy for my liking.  It's lucky that we got this in a small portion - due to its richness, I would struggle to eat this as a main, or even an entree-sized dish, and would have hated to see any mushrooms, truffle oil or guanciale go to waste!

Cummin roast zucchini, butternut squash, fennel & Mossvale briq with ancient grain tabouleh, spiced pumpkin seeds and chipotle labna - $27.00
And now, the vegetarian option.  There was so much going on in this dish - in a good way!  The taboulleh had a mixture of crunch from seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and poppy), freekah and almonds; with bursts of sweetness from pomegranate, dates, sultanas and dried apricot; and the freshness of mint and coriander leaves.  The log in the centre comprised softly roasted pumpkin, wrapped in roast slices of zucchini and wafer-thin, crisp briq pastry.  The spiced pumpkin seed mixture placed on top provided a combo of crunch and an earthy spiciness that wouldn't be out of place as a fab bar snack.  And (finally!) all the elements were tied together with a nice heat from the chipotle labna that was zigzagged across the plate.  Phew!

I'm not vegetarian (clearly!), but I think it's great that so much thought and effort has gone into creating an exciting vegetable dish that is satisfyingly substantial, but not in the least bit stodgy.

Chef Paul wanted us to try his beef cheek, braised overnight in Red Hill Scotch ale, but with all that food before we sadly had to wave the white flag and move on to dessert.  (Next time, next time!)

Of course, we had to order that nectarine clafoutis tart.  I'm sure that sharing one slice would have been just perfect as a dessert, but I couldn't go past "Adam's ballistic baked cheesecake" when I saw it on the menu, so we asked if we could have a teensy-tiny slice of each one.

Adam's ballistic baked cheesecake
(N.B. this is a small portion for tasting; the cheesecake is usually served in a larger portion and priced at $10.50)
The name doesn't lie; this was a serious cheesecake.  Very rich, very dense, and with no added fruit or other flavourings to distract from the cake itself, this is a cheesecake for true cheesecake lovers.

Yarra Valley nectarine clafoutis tart
(N.B. This was a small portion for tasting; the tart is usually served in a larger portion and priced at $10.50)
The clafoutis tart was, as expected, fabulous.  I don't think you can go wrong with an abundance of fresh fruit, especially when combined with warm custard and pastry.

I loved Paul's approach of carefully crafted yet simple dishes, served generously and in a pleasant atmosphere.  His particular strength, however, appears to be with seafood, and I'd absolutely recommend any of his seafood dishes!  A big thanks to Paul Jewson for a lovely dinner and for guiding us through the menu!

Fitzrovia on Urbanspoon

Sarah and Sandra dined as guests of Fitzrovia.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vintage High Tea at The Werribee Mansion

I love the above photo - the delicate china teacup, the glass teapot, the three-tiered cake stand, and the almost cartoon-like bright blue sky.  It all feels a bit Alice in Wonderland, doesn't it?  This was at the Vintage High Tea event at Werribee Mansion and Park, which I was invited to attend as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.  I actually received the invitation while I was in Penang, in the midst of visiting all those wonderful historical sites, including the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion - I was super excited about the opportunity to see another historic mansion on the Lonely Planet top 10 list!

The Accommodation

The invitation included an overnight stay at The Mansion Hotel, located behind the Mansion itself, in a separate wing originally built by the Catholic Church as a seminary.  We arrived on the Saturday afternoon, to be greeted by this lovely chocolate platter in our room.

Welcome platter of chocolates and strawberries
Far from its austere origins, the room was compact but very comfortable, complete with modern furnishings and luxurious bedding and pillows.

The super-comfy bed
The clever architects managed to fit a whole (comfortable!) bathroom, in what essentially looked like a large cupboard from the outside.  Very nice!
The cleverly designed bathroom

The bathroom

Most of the hotel has free Wi-Fi (so good - I wish more hotels provided this!), but our room happened to be just out of range of the signal - boo!  Happily though, an Internet cable was provided in the room, so I could access the internet for free on my laptop.  However, there was no time for going online yet... as I had to get to the Afternoon Tea!  (Fret not, gentle readers, I did make use of the free Internet - I completed and published this post later that night, hehe.)

The Vintage Afternoon Tea

I met Patty from Q Strategies and Michelle in the lobby, and we made our way through the Mansion to the balcony, where we were greeted with glasses of sparkling wine and the strains of classical music from a string duo.
Sparkling wine and tea cup
Chamber music duo
From the description on the event website, I had expected it to be a stand-up affair, with canapes and sweet treats being served in various rooms of the Mansion.

"Enjoy sparkling wine and cucumber sandwiches amongst the beautiful manicured gardens, perhaps even a game of croquet or badminton. Wander through to the magnificent historic Mansion where you can sip tea and graze on delectable treats in the lavish dining room, ball room and private sitting areas."

However, it turned out to be an altogether more sedate experience, with guests sitting down on the balcony to enjoy traditional afternoon tea treats.  We were lucky to have beautiful clear blue skies, and the hotel even provided umbrellas for those who wanted to shade themselves from the strong sun.

The Vintage Afternoon Tea Event

We drank T2 Melbourne Breakfast tea - one of my favourites! - in pretty china teacups, poured from lovely clear teapots.

Now, let's have a closer look at the treats on the cake stand!  It would have been great if they'd included little menu cards - the event description had said: "chefs will take cues for the menu from old Werribee Mansion cooks’ and housekeepers' records of the 1870s", and I would have loved a bit of background on any historical culinary influences.  (Food dork alert!)

I worked strategically, starting with savouries and working my way up the cake stand.
On the savoury plate were three kinds of sandwiches: smoked salmon, egg, and chicken.  (There were two of each sandwich; I ate one before I took this picture!)  Whilst all the fillings were great, the bread had unfortunately dried out a little.  (I wonder if bread stales faster in the heat?)  The warm offerings were mini quiches, chive muffins, and miniature beef pies.

Like the hilarious Miranda, I don't ordinarily like savoury muffins, but these were actually delicious - very moist, and with a nice flavour from the chives.  The mini beef pies were high quality but bought in - the same ones are served by the corporate catering at my old work, and I've had them before at the Kaffeehaus Vienna pop-up cafe in the NGV.

The items on the second plate were all fabulous.  There were light lemony madeleines, moist apple frangipane tartlets, pink macarons generously filled with soft buttercream, and the most delicious lamingtons, made with pieces of chocolate sponge cake, dipped in ganache and dessicated coconut.
Petits Fours
Each cake stand had both plain and sultana scones, as well as a quenelle of gorgeously thick clotted cream.  Jam wasn't provided on the table, but was brought out quickly when requested.

Jams and teapot

The scones were so good!  They were crusty on the outside with soft, fluffy middles.  I slathered mine thickly with cream and raspberry jam - wonderful!

Although this event was a once-off for the MFWF, I've been told that The Mansion is planning to launch a recurring high tea soon.  I'm not sure of exact dates, inclusions or prices - check their website for up-to-date info - but to give an indication of price, this event was priced at $90 per person, with each three-tiered cake stand being shared by two people.

Lovely view of the perfectly manicured gardens and parterre from the balcony
The afternoon tea finished a bit earlier than expected, which gave us time to enjoy the beautiful grounds in the sunshine.

The Grounds

The Mansion on the left, the Cafe in the centre, the Hotel on the right

We had a quick stroll through the mansion itself - visiting the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion in Penang has awakened my interest in history - and I loved seeing the exhibitions of old clothing, historical artefacts and the recreated bedrooms and living rooms, giving an indication of what life was like back in the 1800's.

The view from my hotel room was the back side of this statue!

I particularly enjoyed the Rose Garden, with over five thousand roses and the most incredible frangrance.

The gazebo in the centre of the Rose Garden, set up for a wedding


A few of my favourite roses


The next morning, we went downstairs for a buffet breakfast - on offer were juices, toast, cereals, pastries, fruit, and hot breakfast items.

As you can see, I went for a big savoury breakfast: the hash brown (again, bought in but high quality) was particularly impressive, very crispy. You'll see I didn't have any toast - smart girls avoid bread at buffets!

Lazy Pedal Package

And as if that weren't enough indulgence for the weekend, a Lazy Pedal package was also included in our stay.  As part of this package, guests are given a picnic hamper and the use of bicycles to explore the gardens of Werribee Park.

Pretty bicycle

I can't actually ride a bike (embarrassing!), so we just walked with our picnic hamper and found a nice spot on the lawn behind the hotel.

The picnic hamper itself was a red insulated bag, and whilst it was perfectly serviceable and practical, I must say it looked a bit incongruous against the beautiful historic buildings!

Picnic hamper
Inside our picnic hamper were sandwiches (chicken with curried avocado, and tuna), some salami and ham, cheeses, lavosh and quince paste.  For sweets, there were cut up pieces of fresh fruit, as well as some of the same petits fours that were served at the afternoon tea.  Again, a little menu card would have been great.

For some reason, there weren't any cutlery or napkins in the hamper - this made it a bit tricky to eat the cheese and quince paste!  When we picked up the hamper from reception, we were told that everything was included, so hadn't thought to ask for anything extra, and by the time we'd found our picnic spot and set ourselves up, it was too much effort to go all the way back to reception.  Oh well!

We also hadn't been told that drinks weren't included, which was a bit of a shame - I would have been happy to purchase a bottle of wine or sparkling water at the bar next to reception if I'd been made aware of this!

On a more positive note, I was so glad that the delicious frangipane tarts, chocolate lamingtons and macarons were included in the picnic!

Mmm... petits fours

We took some photos of the insides, so you can see how yummy they were!  I loved the short, crumbly pastry on the apple frangipane tart, and the ganache-coated moist chocolate lamington was a deluxe version of what can often be a dry disappointment!  The macaron, whilst having a rather prominent flowery flavour (I'm pretty sure it was musk), had a fantastic texture: the shells were very lightly crisp on the outside and soft within, and the buttercream was smooth and creamy.

I think the Lazy Pedal package must be quite new, as I couldn't find any information about it on the hotel's website to link to.  However, according to a media release I received in conjunction with the weekend, the Lazy Pedal package starts from $269 per couple, including use of the bicycles, picnic hamper, and overnight accommodation at the Mansion Hotel with buffet breakfast.  (I'd suggest calling the hotel directly to get up-to-date information.)

You can see Michelle's fab write-up of the weekend here.  Thanks to Patty from Q Strategies for organising a fun and indulgent weekend!

Sarah and Sandra stayed at The Mansion Hotel & Spa at Werribee Park as guests of The Lancemore Group.