Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cutler and Co - Degustation Dinner

55-57 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
Ph: (03) 9419 4888
Website: Cutler and Co

Cutler and Co is one of the hottest restaurant in Melbourne, and with good reason. The restaurant hasn't been opened too long, but it has maintained a constant buzz amongst the media and food blogosphere. It's head chef, Andrew McConnell has won numerous accolades, inlcuding The Age Good Food Guide chef of the year 2010. His working experiences from his stints in London, Hong Kong and China have translated in his food, with the degustation menu showcasing a variety of cuisines influences.

Cutler and Co is located in the not so trendy part of town, Gertrude Street. But the restaurant and bar itself is trendy to the max, with an ultra modern feel. Upon entering the restaurant, you are greeted by an inviting bar which opens into the restaurant. The layout of Cutler and Co is not what you would normally expect of a top end restaurant, with tables being place up against walls that provide booth seating. The lighting in the room is used to excellent effect, with the adequate amount of lighting provided by beautiful overhead lamps to create mood without making the whole room too dark. One of my pet peeves is definitely dark restaurants where you can't see anything.

We decided on the full degustation menu to get a feel for what the restaurant can do. The meal started with a entree that consisted of four small servings. The Moonlight Flat Oysters were extremely fresh and perfect with a squeeze of lemon. Calamari crackers were definitely something different to the usual prawn crackers that you find in most Chinese restaurants, but I actually prefer the prawn crackers. Maybe I'm accustomed to that flavour. The Wagyu bresaola was sublime, and when eaten with the anchovy pastry, a great blend. Finally, a soft octopus was paired with some spicy Chorizo and aioli, a bursting mouthful of textures and flavours.

Clockwise from Top Left: Oysters, Calamari Crackers, Wagyu Bresaloa with Anchovy Pastry, Octopus with Chorizo and Aioli

The next dish of kingfish loooked magnificent. The kingfish itself was already great on its own, but when paired with a touch of extravagence in the Aruga cavaiar and creme fraiche, it was further enhanced. The smoky flavour from the onions and the sharp acidity from the beetroot cut through the creme fraiche perfectly.

Cured kingfish, smoked onion, seaweed vinegar, beetroot & rye

The crab and abalone soup instantly comforted me as it conjoured up images of mum's comforting abalone congee. The abalone was so tender, but still maintaining flavour. The crab gave yet more seafood flavour, swimming in the clean tasting sweet corn soup. White cloud ear fungus and ginger made the soup even more comforting and reminiscent of a Chinese abalone congee. I'm sure Andrew picked up some of these flavours in his travels in China.

Spanner crab, abalone & sweet corn soup

This dish of vegetables was clearly my favourite of the night. I can't believe that a)I prefer any savoury dish over dessert, and b)a vegetable dish too. It was truly a highlight, and I still can remember all those flavours bursting in my mouth and melding together to produce a vibrant painting for the mouth. The combination of raw vegetables (providing crunch), cooked vegetables (providing softness) and pickled vegetables (providing sweetness) was all cut through by the sharp and acidic shanklish and some crispy items in the walnut and something that tasted like rice bubbles.

Raw, cooked and pickled carrot salad, walnut cream & shanklish

While I was still reminiscing about the previous vegetable dish, the mandarin duck was served and nearly wiped out the previous thought. An assiette of duck was presented. Each element was so brilliant it could easily have been the whole dish by itself. The duck leg was served with lentils and two types of caramelised onions. The sweet burnt flavour of the onions paired perfectly with the duck leg. I moved from the leg to the smoked fillet of duck, served with a mandarin sauce and mash, well matched again. I left the foie gras cigar for last, and that was indeed indulgent. The ultra crispy pastry gave way to a smooth foie gras parfait.

Mandarin duck — crisp leg, smoked fillet, foie gras cigar

When I hear Wagyu, my ears are already pricked up and my mouth salivating. The Wagyu steak with the nettle salad was good, but paled in comparison with the previous two dishes. The meat was unctuously soft, but for me, it needed a sharper sauce to offset it so it didn't taste a little bland. It was still a delicious dish, but not brilliant.

Slow cooked Wagyu oyster blade, potato, parsley root & nettle

I was very full by this stage, but dessert always kicks my second stomach into gear. This dish of sheep's milk yoghurt was a strange one for me. I wouldn't say that I disliked it, but I didn't necessarily like it either. The elements, separately, worked for me, but not together. The sheep's milk yoghurt was topped by a jelly, which didn't really add anything for me. The various textures of the carrot was interesting, with a biscuit like crumble, mandarin and some grains adding further interest. However, the whole dish tasted a bit muted. I would have loved the yoghurt to be paired with a stronger flavoured, extra sweet sauce to lift it up.

Sheep's milk yoghurt, mandarin and carrot granita

The final dish of the night was yet another dessert and I smiled from ear to ear. I was a little disappointed with the sheep's milk yoghurt and had assumed that was the only dessert. I still craved something sweeter and was delighted by this final dessert. As with all the other dishes throughout the degustation, the plating was pure art. A honeycomb cake sat between immaculately produced quenelles of violet ice cream and chocolate ganche. Some biscuit crumbs and sour cherry finished the desert. I love violet and tried to find it everywhere whilst I was in Paris recently, without luck. So when I heard that Cutler and Co used violet essence in their ice cream, I almost wanted to ask if I could buy a bottle off them. Anyway, I ate the wonderful violet ice cream and paired it with both the cake and ganache. What a sensational mix of flavours, textures and temperatures. I haven't mentioned it earlier but quite a few of the dishes had different temperatures, intentionally, to provide even more of a sensation. The abalone soup acutally had some granita in it and when you had the soup, there was a cold hit temporarily, which was nice. The sheeps milk dessert had granita too, again giving a quick cold bite.

Violet ice cream, chocolate ganache, sour cherry

The meal was an absolute delight and one I shall remember and compare a lot of future meals with. The hype surrounding Cutler and Co was met for me. At $130 for the degustation menu, I thought that was excellent value. There were some great pairings of flavours that I haven't tasted elsewhere, so I'll be trying to go back soon. Reading all the other dishes on the a la carte menu already had me wanting to return.

The ambience in the restaurant was excellent. We got there at half passed six and the room was still emptier. It was quieter but the music in the background kept a nice ambience. When the room filled up fully, it was extremely boisterous and buzzing. As mentioned earlier, I found their lighting levels to also be perfect for mood without making me want to sleep. The service was efficient, comfortable and informed. Water was replenished, requests met, meals brought over and warmly explained and even when I spilt my glass of water, it was quickly mopped up with minimum fuss.

Reviews from other bloggers highlight some other aspects of the resturant. Cindy from Where's The Beef loved their vegetarian degustation. Agnes from Off The Spork loved their Sunday lunch menu. Claire from Melbourne Gastronome is a massive fan of their a la carte menu, whilst Brian from Fitzroyalty provides an opposing view with some bad service issues. Read the other reviews to give yourself a more rounded assessment of Cutler and Co.

For me personally, I rank this restaurant right up there with any other current Melbourne restaurant and would go back anytime. I felt relaxed all night and the food was of the highest standard, with lots of surprises that I loved. Who would have thought I would ever like a vegetable dish the most. Andrew McConnell has definitely created a restaurant worthy of all the talk.

Overall Rating: 19/20, Food and service exceptional. Ambience is very relaxing.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Cutler & Co on Urbanspoon

Heston's Feast Returns August 19th SBS ONE 8:30pm

Image from SBS

The first series of Heston's Feast was an absolute delight. I loved it so much and watched every episode twice. It was amazing to watch such a talented experimental chef like Heston Blumenthal try to recreate (and usually successfully) some medieval feasts. My favourites were definitely the snow scene dessert, the exploding orgasmic pudding and the chicken crossed with the pig.

Now, I'm happy to find out that there is a second series of Heston's Feast, which promises to be even bigger and better. It starts on August 19th on SBS ONE at 8:30pm. Do yourself a favour and catch the series, it's should be fantastic. Below is a summary of this series adventures.

In each episode, Heston explores a period of extraordinary gastronomic innovation, recreating 'lost' recipes, and discovering forgotten flavours and ingredients. He also travels to remote areas to source unusual foods and along the way he meets some passionate food experts who help him in his quest. He then uses his unique scientific approach to cooking to assemble his own versions of great historical and mythical feasts.

Among the lavish banquets Heston prepares for series two are a Willie Wonka feastbased on Roald Dahl's famous novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, an Edwardian Titanic Feast, a Fairytale feast inspired by his favourite stories which thrilled and scared him as a child, and Heston goes ghoulish in an eye-popping Gothic feast that takes inspiration from iconic works of horror such as Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

The culmination of each of Heston's culinary quests is a spectacular banquet laid on for a boisterous bunch of diners.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Photography Friday #1 - A Winter's Day In Melbourne

I've always loved taking photos, but ever since I got my new DSLR, I've loved it even more. The camera and lenses have allowed me to capture the scene the way I visualise it in my head. Inspired by Anh's wonderful "A Moment In Life" photos, I've decided to post some of my photos too. I'm hoping to post photos every Friday to hopefully (occasionally) provoke some thoughts about life, love and everything in between for you to take into the weekends.

My first post is entitled "A Winter's Day In Melbourne". It shows some sights around my home town of Melbourne, with the typical backdrop of grey skies.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Indya Bistro - Six Wines Six Dishes

643 Rathdowne Street
North Carlton VIC 3054
Ph: (03) 9347 3054
Website: Indya Bistro

Indian food and wine. Oxymorons right? That's what I thought. But apparently Indian food can be matched with wine. That's what Indya Bistro set out to do at their Six Wines Six Dishes night. Cellarhand’s director and sommelier, Patrick Walsh worked with Indya’s Head Chef, Wilson Gomes to produce a six course dinner that highlighted the match between wine and Indian food.

Indya Bistro is located on the middle stretch of Rathdowne which comprises quite a few small eateries. It markets itself as Modern Indian Cuisine. The restaurant definitely looks modern, with full floor to ceiling mirrors covering one side of a light and bright space. I attended the dinner with Sarah, Sandra and Ling. We were seated at the furthest table so had a great view of the room.

In terms of the food, it was generally good, but I'm not sure if it's entirely modern. The dishes seemed to be fairly standard Indian dishes, with some highlights. The spinach and paneer was matched best to the wine in my opinion. The fresh palate of the brut worked well with the spinach and paneer. The Stir Fried Prawns, Chicken Chettinad and Marinated Lamb were all good. However, the massive highlight, as Cindy wrote about, were the Honey Garlic Gobi Florettes, deliciously addictive. I just couldn't get enough of it. I could have eaten 3 more serves of what they gave me. The one disappointment of the meal was the Pondicherry Fish Curry, which was quite salty, a bit dry and didn't have the fresh taste that I want in fish. The meal as a whole, was a success in proving that you definitely can match wines with Indian food. The wines you choose generally has to be more crisp and citrusy to cut through the rich Indian food.

Left: Spinach Paneer Delight with NV Stefano Lubiana Brut, Granton, Tasmania
Right: Spicy Stir-Fried Prawns with 2008 Dr Loosen Riesling, Mosel, Germany

Left:Chicken Chettinad with 2009 Hunky Dory Tangle, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand
Right: Honey Galic Gobi Florettes with 2009 Pittnauer Blaufränkisch Rosé, Burgenland, Austria

Left:Pondicherry Fish curry with 2008 Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer, Pfalz, Germany
Right:Marinated Lamb with 2008 Delta Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand

I would go back to Indya Bistro, if only for their Honey Garlic Gobi Florettes alone. However, I do find it funny if the comments on Cindy's second post, as well as my initial are in any way linked to Indya. The comments do sound a bit spam-my, as people usually don't go to so much details as mentioning that you can win 6 bottles of wine by joining the Facebook group of the restaurant. If the comments are from Indya, it would tarnish their image a little in my eyes. Why don't they just come out and defend their food or accept any constructive criticism. If they aren't related to Indya, then the restaurant definitely has some passionate customers, which must be a good sign.

EDIT: Following a comment from Jim Best and being contacted by the owner of Indya himself, I have been assured that Jim Best is not in any way linked to Indya, but merely a loyal customer. To have such a loyal customer base is surely a confirmation of Indya's good food, so go and check it out for yourself. Make sure you order the gobi florettes, you won't regret it.

Thanh and Ling dined as guests of Fiona Brook from Harvey Publicity and Indya Bistro.

Indya Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Langham Christmas In July Pudding Masterclass

1 Southgate Avenue
Southbank VIC 3006
Ph: (3) 8696 8888
Website: The Langham Melbourne

Christmas in July? I wonder how that got started. Regardless, I love it. How can you have too many Christmases right? Christmas is about all things decandent and gluttinous in regards to food, so when I got an invite to make Christmas pudding at The Langham Melbourne, I was extremely excited.

The Langham is one of Melbourne's premier hotels, and when you are greeted by the glorious lobby, you can't help but feel transported to another era of grandeur and refinement.

I was led upstairs to beautifully decorated room with Christmas wreaths and candles throughout. A glass of wonderful champagne was presented to me, which got topped up many times throughout the night. I chatted to the other food bloggers invited, as well as food industry writers and editors. Canapes were served (and only some of which photographed as I was too busy eating them), all very different, beautifully presented and tasty. The best part was, we were continued to be served champagne and canapes whilst we were downstairs in the kitchen and making the pudding. Now that's indulgence.

Top centre large photo: Prosciutto with Cheese and Herb on Toast
Clockwise from top left: Cucumber, mozarella and tomato, Seaweed wrapped in Salmon, Roasted Lamb with chutney, Seared scallop with pea puree, Fried lamb wrapped in zucchini, Sushi roll

After eating canapes, it was time to do some "work", as head chef Anthony Ross told us. We were split into two groups. My group first learnt to make chocolate truffles with Zara. Zara told us about tempering chocolate using the seeding technique. Tempering chocolate is the process of changing the molecular chemistry such that the chocolate forms a stable solid with a smooth and shiny surface. This is a must if you want good looking chocolates with a great texture. The seeding method involved heating two thirds of the chocolate until melted, and then adding one third off the heat. To test that the chocolate is tempered properly, Zara said to test a bit of it on your lip. If you cannot notice any temperature difference, it means the chocolate is at about 37 degrees and the perfect temperature. You have successfully tempered chocolate. We made White Chocolate Truffles which contained elderflower and raspberry ganache. The second Milk Chocolate Truffles we made contained rum. A few of us had a turn at making the truffles, after which we got to eat them of course. They were both sensational, and as a reward for our hard work, we got to eat florentines and nut clusters. It was such hard work, seriously.

After our chocolate making efforts, we had some quick sips of champagne and then went to see head chef Anthony Ross to make our pudding. Anthony was such a funny and joyous man. He made the whole pudding making so much fun. First we saw the massive amounts of sugar, butter and fruits that went into the pudding. That then all got heaped onto the table, and off we went. Hands went in and started squishing everywhere. Whilst I dove in with both hands and squished butter like no tomorrow, Sarah adopted a one handed technique. She finely balanced between squishing butter with the left hand and photographing with the right. Michele took a more stand back approach and got some fantastic photos of all the booze that went into this pudding.

After all that work, here is the final result. One totally boozy, delicious pudding. I licked my fingers clean of all the batter, and even that was tasty. I can't wait to see how it matures in 5 months time. We each put a little charm into our puddings, and below is my one, with a little Santa Claus charm in it. You heard right, Sarah, Michele, Agnes, Penny and Joyce, that specific pudding is mine, so keep your grubby fingers off my perfect pudding when it comes time to collet them.

Thanks to Caryn Ng, Tina Orr from Media Moguls and The Langham for inviting me to this delicious masterclass.

Masterchef Season 2 - And The Winner Is...Channel 10

So another season of Masterchef has finished. Just like last year, I was totally addicted to the show, as was many millions of others around the nation. Masterchef has kept up the momentum this year and maintained it's strong viewership. I wanted to discuss some of my points of views on this season.


*Last season, I thought the show started a bit too slowly. This year, they bypassed that by not showing any of the auditions at all. Instead, they flashbacked to the auditions when doing exposition on the contestants. I thought this worked really well.

*The casting for this year was again a good mix of people. Some I was immediately drawn to (I loved Marion and Alvin by the end of the first week) and some I was really drawn to as the show progressed (Adam and Callum). Some I never liked (Jake and Claire) and some made good TV (Joanne and Jonathon).

*I loved the challenges. Every challenge was just bigger and better. I thought last year's Hong Kong challenge was amazing, but what can I say about Paris and London. Having recently gone to those two places (blog post to come still, I'm a bit behind) and loved them, the Paris and London challenge literally made me ache to go back. Besides the overseas challenge, massive challenges on a cruise ship, kids party and army barracks made for great viewing.

*I liked how they removed the vote each other out part in the elimination challenges. I also acutally liked the "fix this dish" challenge.

*The removal of Sarah Wilson was a must do move. She really didn't add anything to the show (besides being eye candy) and just slowed it down. The three judges do a great job already in hosting.

*The calibre of this year's celebrity chefs was astounding. Due to the success of last season, every chef with half a marketing sense wanted to get involved. The quality was through the roof, with not only Australia's top chefs, but even Michelin star chefs like Heston Blumenthal and the one and only Hiroyuki Sakai appeared on the show.

*The masterclasses were still fantastic, and I learnt so much from them. There was a mixture of some easy and complex dishes. I think I shall attempt some of them eventually.

*I still loved the judges. They're all still so cute. Matt's turn of phrase and expression still makes me laugh. Gary and George work so well together as a team and really brought so much enthusiasm, mentoring and when needed, a shoulder to cry on (Callum crying on George's shoulder was a season highlight).

So, there were many many positives. I probably could have gone on and on as I thought this season's show was even improved on last season. But there were still a few negatives.


*I still don't like the taste test eliminations. It's still too flukey a way to be eliminated. One slight wrong guess and you're out. Even the best can slip up easily.

*I still don't agree with bringing back eliminated contestants. They had their chance and failed, so why should some get a second chance whilsts others didn't. I was still a bit bitter that someone can sit out 5 weeks and come back whilst Marion got so close to the end to only be eliminated and not get another second chance.

*Difficult challenges are exciting to watch, but when it's so difficult that there is no way to finish, that's just silly and making it hard for the sake of drama rather than finding the best chef. The macaron tower and V8 cake, both from Adriano Zumbo, comes to mind. The contestants were never going to finish and it didn't really demonstrate who was the better chef, just who made less errors.

*The recap before episodes and after ad breaks are still annoying.

*The amount of crying was sometimes a bit too much. Emotions are all good, but it seemed like a criteria for getting on the show was the ability to turn on the waterworks whenever needed.

*The product placement was still extremely excessive and sometimes a bit out of context. How many times do I need to see the contestants use Campbell's real stock. Ok, I mentioned Campbell's real stock now, so can someone from Campbell's contact me to offer me advertising money for Campbell's real stock.


All in all, I thought this season of Masterchef was great, with the big winner being Channel 10 of course. In a few months time, no one will remember the contestants, but we will all still remember the show and watch it next season, helping Channel 10 reap heaps of advertising dollar. The show definitely caused a lot of water cooler talk, and even people who aren't really into food got into it. For food loving people like myself, it's always great to watch a show about food and learn a lot more about it. It's especially rewarding to hear from top end chefs and learn about their experiences, skills, views and imaginations in the wonderful dishes they come up with. All involved in the show will ride their short fame and maybe go on to a successful career. The judges will reap their rewards in the form of books, more diners to their restaurants, promotional deals and media appearances. The general audience, hopefully, has learnt more about food and will in turn expect more of restaurants and further build the food culture that currently exists in Melbourne. I can't wait to watch the next season of Masterchef. Bring it on!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vitasoy vs St Ali - Celebrate The Bean

12-18 Yarra Place
South Melbourne 3205 VIC
Ph: (03) 9686 2990
Website: St Ali

St Ali, in conjunction with Vitasoy, held a graffiti art, performance, cocktail and food party in the St Ali East warehouse. It was a fun night that brought together various elements. Throughout the night, the talented Drewfunk covered a massive wall of the new Vitasoy Organic Soy Milk cartons with his graffiti.

Whilst the graffiti was occurring throughout the night, guests were able to sample cocktails made by the world reknowned cocktail bar, Der Raum, that featured Vitasoy soy milk. The cocktails were delicious and consisted of white chocolate and vitasoy milk warm foam on top of a mixture of rum, pineapple juice and agavae juice. It was their interpretation of a classic Pina Colada. It was a hit with the guests, with everyone going back for thirds at least.

The food that night was provided by St Ali head chef Ben Cooper and Outpost chef Paul Jewson, and the heavenly dessert by Philippa Sibley of il Fornaio. The food was spectacular, with dishes such as Pulled pork with Asian Mint on Crisps, Oysters with Soy and Mirin, Mushroom Pies, Miso Soup and Fried Chicken Wings. The dessert by Philippa was equally spectacular. A soft donut was filled with passionfruit custard and glazed with pineapple syrup. I loved them so much I had four.

The performance art was provided by Phire Kat and Bernn. They did numerous shows outside the warehouse and also one inside. The fire twirling was risky and the lighting of fire onto the skin was a delight.

It was such a fun night and highlighted how good Der Raum cocktails are, the wonderful food from Ben Cooper of St Ali and Paul Jewson of Outpost, addictive desserts from Philippa Sibley of il Fornaio, and an inventive use of Vitasoy Organic Soy Milk.

Thanks to Fiona Brook, Clemence Harvey from Harvey Publicity and St Ali for inviting me to the launch party.