Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ispahan Cake - Homage To Pierre Herme

There are many chefs that I admire, but only two who I totally revere. One is Heston Blumenthal, and the other is Pierre Herme. I think they both revolutionised cooking in their own way. Heston has brought science and history into cooking, while Pierre has made pastries a thing of utmost beauty and turned the macaron into an art. His most famouos macaron is the Ispahan. The Ispahan is a rose flavoured macaron, raspberry and rose buttercream, with lychee gelee and fresh raspberries. I was fortunate to eat one in Paris and it was utterly divine, everything that it has been hyped up to be. In fact, all of the various pastries that I tried by Pierre Herme was super delicious, and lived up to my very high expectations. Below is a photo of the Ispahan macaron.

I don't really like rose flavoured things but this combination worked so well that I decided to adapt it for a cake. I'm not game enough to try and recreate the flavour combination in macaron form. Cake form, I could do.

So my Ispahan Cake consists of:
* Victoria sponge cake by Nigella Lawson
* Whipped cream flavoured with rose water and mashed raspberries
* Lychees cut into pieces
* Lychee syrup (either from canned lychees or juices of lychees)
* Whole raspberries

Here is the finished cake. I found the cake so delicious, especially after a day or so. The flavours really melted together the next day and was delicious. I'll be making this cake again, experimenting with slight changes each time until I think it's perfect.

Ispahan Cake


Two 8 inch cake tins


225g unsalted butter, very soft
225g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
200g self raising flour
25g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder (only if using food processor)
3-4 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.

When using the food processor, put all the ingredients except the milk and process until you've got a smooth batter. Then pulse, pouring the milk in gradually through the funnel until your cake mixture is a soft, dropping consistency. It doesn't matter if it's too runny or looks curdled, the end result is still very good.

If you want to make this the traditional way, cream the butter and sugar, add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour between each. Fold in the rest of the flour and the cornflour, adding no baking powder, and when all is incorporated, add a little milk as you need.

Pour and scrape the batter into the tins and bake for about 25 minutes, until the cakes are beginning to come away at the edges, are springy to touch on top and a cake-tester comes out clean. Leave the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out and leaving to cool completely.


300ml thickened cream for whipping
100g raspberries
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp gelatin (if you want a firm consistency)

Whip the thickened cream until stiff peaks are formed.

Mash the raspberries using a food processor or just a fork. Fold the raspberries into the cream.

Fold the rose water into the cream.

If desired, you can make the cream a bit thicker by using gelatin like I did. Place one teaspoon of powdered gelatin into cold water. Let it bloom for 5 mins. Microwave the mixture for 10 seconds. Fold the gelatin water into the cream.

Cut both Victoria sponge cakes in half so you have four halves. Yes, my cake only has three layers because I messed up one layer of the cake.

Place the first layer on a plate. Spoon lychee syrup over the cake so that it is absored into the cake. Spread the cake with some of the rose and raspberry cream. Place pieces of chopped lychees and whole raspberries over the cream.

Repeat the process with another two more layers.

Finally, place the top sponge and spread some rose and raspberry cream over it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bashuge Sichuan Restaurant

74 Koornang Road
Carnegie VIC, 3163
Ph: 9568 8687

Bashuge Sichuan Restaurant is located on Koornang Road in Carnegie, one of my favourite streets for good cheap dining now. I used to lament how there were so few choices to eat from during lunch time, but now there's a whole host of them on Koornang Road. I have eaten at most of the places and they're regular haunts but I'm so used to them that I don't even bother blogging them. I must rectify that and blog them all, especially one of my favourites, Aunties Dumplings.

So on Koornang Road, some of the options are
Kimchi Grandma
JJ's Express
Aunties Dumplings
Kuala Lumpur Malasian Restaurant

Now I can add Bashuge Sichuan as one of the good cheap eats restaurants. Bashuge is fairly new, and so far, only I-Hua seems to have blogged about it. It serves traditional Sichuan food, with the dishes having a good fiery kick to them. At lunch time, they have really cheap lunch specials that come with a free drink. You heard right, you get any drink you want. Their is Asian drinks like plum juice, aloe vera juice, soy milk, various iced teas, grape juice and then regular soft drinks.

We always order a bunch of dishes and then share them. The Crispy Fried Chicken is perfectly cooked, with a spicy chilli powder dusted onto the chicken lifting it that bit more. The Sichuan Dumplings are always a favourite, with the garlic and chilli sauce being the highlight, making an otherwise simple dumpling into a sensational one. Soy Chicken Wings are gloriously coated in a thick soy sauce that you get all over your hands when eating the wings, unless you're like me and have mastered the art of using your chopsticks to eat them. I'm like a chicken wing eating machine. I stuff the wings into my mouth in various ways and out pops the bones. No hands needed.

The Kung Pow Chicken is probably my favourite dish, with chicken tossed with fiery chillis and vegetables, full of wok breathe. A Stewed Eggplant is nice and soft, albeit on the salty side so you must eat it with rice. The Fried Rice may look quite ordinary but is surprisingly delicious. Again, it's that wok breathe that really makes the dish.

Other dishes you may find on the lunch menu (eaten previously but not photographed) include Dan Dan Noodles, which are extremely spicy and have a good bounce. Dumplings in soup are good but lack a bit of punch. Stir fried dishes of various meats are all tasty, and at $8-$10, are a bargain. Don't forget you get a free drink with that dish.

The restaurant is nicely decorated with heavy ornate timber tables and chairs. It's still new so is very clean, and the staff are extremely helpful. It's fairly quiet in the restaurant at lunch time so you can enjoy talking to your friends without having to shout. I really enjoy eating here and will continue to do so. Hopefully they get more customers as I don't want them to close. But at the same time, I hope it doesn't get too busy so I can never get a table. Oh the conflicts of a food blogger.

Overall Rating: 13/20, Good cheap Sichuan food in the suburbs.

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.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Macaron Masterclass - When Food Bloggers Fail

I really love macarons. They're quite simple in terms of the shell, consisting of just icing sugar, almond meal and egg whites, but they are so hard to make right. The texture and look of the macaron shell is the key to their success. The flavours of the shell is usually kept quite simple, with the filling bringing most of the flavour. However, that is not always the case, with Pierre Herme pioneering multi flavoured macarons by embedding glorious strong flavours into the shells. The macaron is currently the hottest pastry item in Melbourne, with many places jumping in on the fad and trying to make them, to varying success. I have been fortunate enough to try Pierre Herme and Laduree macarons in Paris, and those really are at another level to any other macarons I've ever tasted.

I first tried a macaron after being introduced to those made by Duncan. Duncan has a passion for them and makes wonderful macarons. I've attempted to make them using Duncan's recipes and even attended some masterclasses with him. I've had varying success and although I love to eat them, I don't really like to make them as I get so upset when they don't turn out as I want. Below are my various attempts.

Macaron Attempt 1
Macaron Attempt 2
Macaron Attempt 3
Macaron Attempt 4
Macaron Masterclass
Macaron Masterclass 2

To try and overcome our fears, a group of us decided to attempt making the macarons teogether, testing different recipes and flavours. So Agnes, I-Hua, Penny, Kat, Cherrie, Liz and I went to the The Cooking Space to cook up a storm.

So here was the fruits of our labour, chocolate and vanilla macarons. Aren't they pretty? Yes? Well, don't let the looks fool you, they tasted foul. They were bitter and rock solid. You could break a teeth eating them. I won't even mention which recipes we used as I don't think we did them justice. It was still an extremely fun day though.

Before we started baking, we also each brought food to share for lunch. Penny made some Beef Empanadas, I-Hua brought Curry Chicken Wings, Agnes brought Lamb Biryani, Liz made Soy Chicken Wings, I made Lamb Cutlets on Vegetables, Kat dished up some Spring Rolls, Cherrie made a nice Pasta and Liz and Agnes made Pineapple Tarts and Egg Tarts. Everything was really delicious, but I especially loved the Lamb Biryani, Soy Chicken Wings, Pineapple Tarts and Egg Tarts.

Below are photos of all the different flavours we tried for the macarons. We tried making Vanilla, Green Tea, Coconut and Rose flavoured shells. Penny even printed out templates so we could get the shells the same size.

Look at the failed macarons. They look so sad. The rose and coconut shells actually tasted good, but looked awful.

Cherrie cleaned up some coconut shells and we sandwiched a pandan buttercream into them. They don't look good, but actually tasted really good.

All in all, it was an extremely fun day and I once again was reminded how hard macarons are to get right. I might just stick to buying them for a while. Thanks to Kat for organising The Cooking Space and to everyone else for a fun day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pan Asian - Nuffnang Bloggers Meet Up

267 Chapel Street
Prahran, VIC 3181
Ph: 9533 7022
Website: Pan Asian

As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. That certainly can be applied to Melbourne's weather of late, during Summer of all times. But I'm referring to my visit to Pan Asian. Haven't only visited for the first time a couple of weeks earlier, I got to visit Pan Asian again for a lovely Nuffnang bloggers meet up. Vanessa from Nuffnang came to greet a variety of bloggers, ranging for community bloggers, to fashion bloggers to craft bloggers, to mum bloggers. It was definitely great to meet a variety of others all extremely passionate about their field of blogging.

To go along with lots of chatting, there was a stack of delicious appetisers to eat, courtesy of Li and Robert from Pan Asian. Li sheepishly admitted that she had used the leftover duck from the Peking Duck fest to make some beautiful Peking Duck Buns. The buns were gloriously soft and housed the yummy duck. Some Cauliflower Wontons were brilliantly crispy and I really liked it. I'm not so sure about the Asian Bruschetta though. I'm not sure which part made it Asian, with guesses leaning towards the shallots. I found the shallots too overpowering.

The Deconstructed Spring Roll was a great idea and tasted good, albeit hard to shove into your mouth without dropping some on your shirt. I guess there's a reason people make the spring rolls in nice cigar shapes for easy eating. A refreshing Gazpacho really cleansed the palate. Fish and Chips were the last item, with fresh fish matching crispy chips, lovely.

For dessert, Li served Bees Knees Chocolate Caramel Brownies. Oh. My. Goodness. Macarons may be the latest fad in Melbourne, but boy, a great brownie can match it punch for punch. This brownie was so amazing, it's like I tasted brownies for the first time again. Something about the dense texture and mix of caramel really caught me. I sneaked in three, so apologies to anyone who missed out due to me taking more than my fair share.

I had a great time and it was good to catch up with some people I already knew and meet some new people. You can read some other wrap ups at Nuffnang and Sarah Cooks. Thanks to Nuffnang and Pan Asian for holding a fun and delicious meet up.

Pan Asian on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bistro Vue

430 Little Collins St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph: 9691 3838
Website: Bistro Vue

I'm a big fan of Vue de Monde, which means that I'm also intrigued by its offshoot restaurants. My friend raved about how great his Bistro Vue meal was and that he thought it was his favourite meal last year. How could I not go and try it for myself.

The restaurant is located in the same premise as Vue de Monde, sitting at the back end. The room is a very warm and inviting space, with a rustic, yet sophisticated Parisian feel. We were seated at a table near the kitchen. Usually, you would feel quite isolated at the corner of a room, but it actually felt cosy and private.

The menu is quite simple and printed on a small postcard size pamphlet. We each decided to drink some beer while we ordered an entree and mains each. My entree of Garlic Snails was beautifully presented of all snails I've had anywhere. I loved the flavour, with an extra hint of something that made it stand out from numerous other garlic snails elsewhere. With both of us being huge fans of smoked salmon, the House Smoke Salmon was slightly less than what we expected. It was still good, served with a mousee and various condiments, but it lacked a more smokey punch. I actually prefer Regal Smoked Salmon more.

For mains, I got the Confit Duck. Again, this is a simple dish that is served in bistros around Paris. This confit duck was excellent, with great flavours and not too dry. The potato crisps and salad really accentuated the duck. The Truffle Pasta was excellent too. The flavour of the truffle really make the dish so fragrant, blending perfectly with mushrooms and the al dente pasta. The only complaint was that the serving size was a bit small. Sides of Beetroot Salad and Green Beans were elegantly simple and perfect.

The Creme Brulee was good, although the sugar topping was a bit too thick. The Chocolate Fondant was sensational. The centre was perfectly oozy. The problem with many a chocolate fondant is that to keep the centre molten, it's usually way undercooked so it still tastes a bit raw. This had the perfect ratio of cooked exterior to molten (not runny) interior. The biscuit and almond ice cream really enhance this simple dish into something very elegant.

The service here is good, although nowhere near the excellence of Vue de Monde. The staff are knowledgeable and efficient. The ambiance in the room during a lunch service is very relaxed, with a nice feel to it. I think the whole experience in Bistro Vue can be summarised as simplistic elegance. Simple dishes are made a bit more special by being done well and adding small touches of difference here and there. Although I think the food is really good, the pricing is a bit expensive and I would choose other establishments for a more exciting meal. However, if I wanted to eat some classic French bistro food and be assured of consistency and quality, I would come back to Bistro Vue.

Overall Rating: 14/20, Great classic French bistro food, a tad expensive.

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.

My other Vue de Monde posts:
Vue de Monde
Vue de Monde - Part 2
Vue de Monde - Part 3
Cafe Vue Cocktail Night
Cafe Vue 401

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Rockpool Bar and Grill Melbourne - Part 2, Extremely Disappointing

Crown Casino 8 Whiteman St
Southbank, VIC 3006
Ph: 8648 1900
Website: Rockpool Bar and Grill Melbourne

It's been two years since I've been to Rockpool. It seems like their menu hasn't changed much at all, but my opinion of it sure has. On my first visit, I absolutely loved it and couldn't rave about it enough to everyone I knew. Wind the clock forward two years and upon my current visit, I was so disappointed that I didn't even stay for desserts. That's right, me, dessert freak, didn't want dessert.

My friend Dan was visiting from Sydney and wanted to go somewhere, specifically requesting to eat a great lamb dish. I wanted to go to The Point originally as the Spring Lamb is sensational. But unfortunately, The Point wasn't open during that Christmas period. So I thought of the next best thing, which was Rockpool. We turned up exactly on time and announced ourselves at the front desk. The hostess on the left was nice and greeted us, while "Door Bitch" (not my nickname, see comments from previous post) was as cold and aloof as ever. Not to worry, I totally ignored her too and was led to my table. The table was on the bar side and right in the corner. I loved the other side of the room with the view of the river but sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

Our waitress was very professional while also being warm with personable. I really liked her, and we even talked about our love of The Supersizers. She explained how the menu worked, asked us what drinks we wanted and left us some time to chat and browse the menu. Throughout the night, the wait staff were all very professional. The atmosphere in that part of the restaurant obviously wasn't as good as the other side, but that didn't really bother me. My sole disappointment was all about the food. It was terribly overpriced for the quality (not just referring to the quality of the produce but instead how it is put together as a whole dish) of meals that we got. We were both gutted and felt totally ripped off. Let me go through the food we ate and explain what I mean.

The Cured Meats Platter was suggested to us by the waitress as we said we wanted something light to share. For $37, you would think that you'd get something amazing. I know that jamons and prosciutto are expensive, but this was a joke. Please go look at the post on The Point and see what you get for $29 dollars with their Charcuterie Board. One of the jamons were good, but the prosciutto and salami were actually no better than what my local deli does, and that would cost a fraction of what we paid.

We then shared the Wagyu Bolognaise. To say it was disappointing is being generous. It was awful. As Dan commented, it tasted worse than store bought packet pasta, and I definitely agree. The bolognaise lacked any flavour and the supposed "hand made pasta on the premises" was super dry and had no flavour. Dan is Italian and I've had hand made pasta made by his Nonna and that kicked butt over this pasta. And Nonna just does a simple sauce, no fancy wagyu beef in it. We felt super ripped off for $25 when we could have eaten better, and way more of it, at home.

I ordered the Lamb Cutlets and Chops, expecting something amazing. I know that Rockpool does their meat simply, but surely for $40 I can get more than just a couple of grilled cutlets slapped on a plate. Again, look at what you get for $40 at The Point. That lamb dish had so many different flavours, textures, sauces and was super moist and full of flavour. This lamb was by no means bad meat, but seriously, that afternoon I was at a BBQ and the lamb cutlets there were quite similar. Dan got the Wagyu Topside Steak. The meat was cooked correctly to order, but there were some really charred bits that were bitter and hard to eat. The steak comes with a lemon wedge and mustard if you want. For $49, that's simplicity. I know that you don't want to ruin meat by doing too much to it, but there is also a point when it can be underdone. The steak lacked proper seasoning even, so tasted bland.

The sides that we got were the Sauteed Mushroom and the Mac and Cheese. The mushroom was a pile of soggy, super salty mush that I couldn't eat. I had to leave most of it as it was just so salty. The Mac and Cheese was similar to packet stuff. It was terrible. The macaroni was super tough, and the cheese were burnt bits on top of it. There was no creamy flavour from the cheese coating the macaroni. Please, please, please, Rockpool, consult Iron Chef Shellie on how to make a Mac and Cheese that's full of flavour and texture.

By the end of the savoury food, despite suggestions from many Twitterers about what desserts to have, I just wasn't in the mood for it. This truly disappointing meal cost a whopping $120 each, and we each only had one beer. The food was where all the disappointment was. Looking back at my previous visit, I was lucky to pick entrees that were either simple or luckily done well. The mains I had then was the super expensive wagyu so of course I'd like it. I was seduced by the wagyu and failed to notice that it wasn't even served with a salad. Lastly, classic desserts that I had last time would probably still be good now, but I didn't get round to trying them. I can now see why Rockpool has such mixed reviews from people. I won't be back at Rockpool for a while, and my patronage will definitely be at The Point, whose quality has risen greatly since Executive Chef Scott Pickett took over the reigns.

Overall Rating: 11/20, Extremely disappointing overpriced food.

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.

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