Monday, January 21, 2013

Ibuki House - Underground Restaurant Dining

Every once in a while, there is talk of the underground restaurant dining scene and how it will break out and become big business. There is Melbourne's Secret Dining Society, and previously there was buzz about Zingara Cucina. There's also underground dining overseas.

For those in the know though, they would laugh at all the talk of underground dining while happily eating their sashimi in the garage of Ibuki House restaurant. Friends of mine have gone to Ibuki House for many years before they moved to a restaurant in the city and then moved back to their Bentleigh East location. Basically, the restaurant is held in the renovated garage of the chef/owner and the room probably holds about 30 people. It's definitely pretty cramped but I guess you don't go there for the space.

The way the meal works at Ibuki is you get served a banquet meal, which cost about $80 depending on produce costs. The banquet, a perfect description, is epic. There is so much food that by course 3 you'll already be wanting to roll home.

The meal starts off with the table laid out with so much sushi and sashimi that you totally start salivating. There's lots of different types of nigiri sushi, and depending on how many people, a massive boat of sashimi. The sashimi has many varieties, even including lobster, abalone and yabbies. I liked most of the sashimi and especially loved the lobster and abalone.

The next few courses are also heavily seafood based. There's oysters with smoke salmon, chawan mushi and scallops with crab and bacon. I liked all the dishes as they were all tasty and well executed.

The seafood extravaganza keeps going with a seafood soup. The soup is served in a paper which is kept warm by a tea light. The broth is nice and the seafood in the soup is ok. Following the soup is the tempura of prawns and vegetables. The tempura is well done but this is the part of the meal that I really hated. The small kitchen in the enclosed garage meant that when they were frying the tempura, there was so much smoke in the room and it got really smelly and actually my eyes starting to sting badly. I'd rather they removed this item from the menu or cook it outside as the room became extremely uncomfortable to sit in the room.

The savoury courses ended with a beef sukiyaki. This dish was nice but was quite oily and fatty too.

After such a large meal, the simple dessert help to revive me. Nice green tea ice cream is served with a strawberry jelly and some fruit. A good clean end to the meal.

The ambiance in the room will vary greatly depending on who's there. I went with a large group of friends so it was really good and buzzing all night. The service from the staff was good and efficient. The restaurant does have a liquor license and you can order various drinks to go with your meal. Overall I enjoyed the meal. The most impressive part was the sashimi boat. Everything else was good without being amazing. I think the meal is worth the price and would recommend it.

For another opinion on Ibuki House, check out Winston's review.

Ibuki House Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Vanilla Meringue Cake With Cinnamon Sugared Almonds - Awesome Belinda Jeffery Recipe

I love cakes, of all types. While I like fine French gateauxs with multiple layers, I think the simplicity of a perfectly executed "home style" cake is my favourite. These types are cakes are within the realm of the home baker to make themselves. Made from a few quality ingredients, these "simple" cakes can be shared around with friends and family and thoroughly enjoyed. For these simple cakes to work, the recipe needs to be spot on as you can't hide the flaws with ten layers of ganache. And my favourite home style cake baker is without a doubt Belinda Jeffery.

I've got three Belinda Jeffery books (I think I should go and buy the other ones now) and the recipes are all wonderful. My favourite book of hers is Mix & Bake, where I've made so many recipes from it without fail. Each cake is wonderful and I've yet to find one I don't love. They're all very easy and use ingredients that are easily found. They're generally quite fast to make. For example, the Buttery Almond and Coconut Cake only takes me 30 minutes to get into the oven and is such a crowd pleaser.

Her latest book is called Desserts, which already captured my attention. The recipes are less cake orientated and more about general desserts from around the world. The book is split into categories that centre around a key ingredient, such as berries, nuts, stone fruits, honey etc. I've browsed through it and already I'm excited to try so many recipes. Seriously, do yourself a favour and buy Belinda's books, starting with Mix & Bake. I can't recommend them highly enough.

From this Dessert book, I decided to try the Vanilla Meringue with cinnamon sugared almonds just based on the look of the cake. My final version looked a lot like the photo, much like most of Belinda's other recipe as the items in the photos represent what is truly achievable rather than some version of the cake which you can never replicate. Below is what my cake looked like. Rather pretty I say.

The cake is quite a strange in the way it's made. I was expecting to bake the sponge separately from the meringue. That would have been quite a bit more effort and having to use the oven multiple times. But instead, as usual, Belinda's recipe was super easy. The sponge layer is cooked together with the meringue layer and nuts. Everything in one go. How easy is that.

To the taste, wow wow wow. Everyone who ate this loved it, including me. My friend declared it in his Top 10 cakes ever. There's so many textures and flavours going on here, yet all made from a few ingredients and baked at the same time. I really did not expect the cake to be so intricate in flavour. I love the various layers of textures and flavours you get, and the cinnamon sugared almonds really top it all off perfectly with a fragrant splash.

As usual, I like to give tips for recipes I try to help you succeed.

*The cake is very sweet. You can drop the sweetness a bit but I wouldn't drop the sugar in the meringue as that's what help keep it stable. Drop the sugar in the sponge and topping on the almonds.

*Whip the meringue until stiff and keep whipping. You really want the meringue to be firm so when baked won't fall apart.

*I underbaked my cake a little and it tasted great. The sponge layer was a bit soft in the middle and I think that actually worked to the advantage of the cake with another texture element.

*The cake is really fragile and as Belinda suggests, you should assemble as late as possible and not keep for more than a day if you want to keep the beautiful look. Flavour-wise, it will taste awesome many days later but it will collapse a lot and not look so pretty.

*I found that if you are careful you can lift the cake out of the tins without having to invert the cake so the almonds and sugar can stay in place.

Vanilla Meringue Cake With Cinnamon Sugared Almonds
From Belinda Jeffery's "Desserts" book.
Serves 10-12

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g caster sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
1 cup self-raising flour

4 egg whites
180g caster sugar
90g flaked almonds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp caster sugar, extra

200ml thickened cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
up to 1 tbsp amaretto

1.Preheat oven to 180C. Butter two 24cm springform tins, lining base with baking paper. Dust sides with flour, tapping out excess.

2.Beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each. Reduce speed to low and add milk and vanilla. The mixture will be quite curdled but add the flour and mix until combined. The mixture should be quite thick.

3.Divide the batter evenly between the two tins and spread to a flat shallow layer.

4.To make the meringue, beat egg whites on a medium speed until softly fluffy. Add the sugar a bit at a time and continue beating until all the sugar is added. The meringue should be thick and glossy.

5.Divide the meringue evenly between the two tins and spread it flatly over the cake layer. Scatter the flaked almonds over each meringue layer. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the mixture.

6.Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

7.Removed the cakes and let cool on a wire rack.

8.Make the cream filling by whipping the cream and vanilla extract until thick and fluffy. Drizzle in the amaretto and whisk in.

9.To assemble, sit one layer on a plate or cake stand. Spread the cream filling evenly over the top. Carefully place the second cake over the first.

10.This is the best part. Cut out a huge slice and enjoy.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Ballarat Summer Fling – Great Melbourne Weekend Getaway

Summer, that glorious time of year when the weather is fine and the spirits are high. There’s something about long sunlit nights that make humans feel good. And when you feel good, you want to go and do things. It’s during this period that people, including myself, go on road trips and weekend getaways to seaside and country towns for some relaxation and recuperation. One getaway destination that you may consider is Ballarat, which is only about 75 minutes drive from Melbourne.

Like most people, the association of Ballarat that comes to my mind is Sovereign Hill. Yes, Ballarat was built on the glory of gold, but it also has lots of other fun things and Ballarat Tourism is helping to promote them in their Ballarat Summer Fling campaign. I was fortunate enough to be invited to try out some of the frivolous fun of their Ballarat Summer Fling campaign recently. This campaign continues all through Summer and events include Organs of the Ballarat Goldfield Music Festival, Ballarat Beer Festival, Ballarat Beat Rockabilly Festival where Miss Burlesque Australia 2013 will be crowned and many other events.

My trip consisted of three days and included a number of events. I’ve separated them into rough categories but really many places overlap into numerous categories so check them out separately to find out about everything on offer.

Tangled Maze and Mini Golf
Tangled Maze is actually located in Creswick, a short drive out of Ballarat. As the name suggests, it’s a big maze all built from trees. It’s really pretty and a great place to “get lost” in exploring all the nooks and crannies. There’s also mini golf if you like to have a hit and giggle.
The maze sits next to a fully functioning reception area. As owner Judy told me, they can cater for any type of functions, including many wedding that they’ve had through the year. The reception is only open for pre-bookings for groups, so check out their website for all the details. If you want some food while at the maze, the casual dining area serves delicious homemade pies and scones and cakes. I recommend you try the Bolognaise and Cheese pie, something I’ve never heard of before but works a treat in the flaky pastry.

Tuki Trout Farm
Tuki Trout Farm, as the descriptive name suggests, is a trout farm where you can throw a line into one of the many ponds and catch a trout or two. What you do with that trout is up to you obviously, but I’d highly suggest you allow owners Jan and Robert to cook it for you and eat it in the restaurant. They’ll bake the whole trout and Robert will expertly remove the flesh from the bones and serve them to you. You’ll also get to sample some of their amazing lamb sausages, smoke trout pate and smoked trout. While trout is what the farm is known for (best smoked trout I’ve tasted anywhere), don’t miss out on trying the lamb and beef that they also raise. Son Alistair happily talked to me about his theory for raising good produce and I believe him as the lamb and beef were both so tender and flavoursome. They also age the meat themselves and that really helps to further enhance the produce.

Tuki Trout Farm also has some accommodation that overlooks the beautiful scenery. It’s a great place to stay for the weekend or any functions you may want to organise there. You can then eat all the delicious food non-stop and just rest in between. Doesn’t that sound like a perfect getaway trip? It does to me.

Ballarat Art Gallery
Ballarat Art Gallery sits on one of the main streets in Ballarat. The gallery is completely free and split over two levels with many rotating displays on. While I was there, there was a modern art display looking at surgery, life sized paper mache sculptures of automobiles, a photographic contest of the winners photos, works of Ballarat town and classical works from many eras. It’s a great art gallery and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I also learned a lot about the Eureka Stockade, with the original Eureka flag being an impressive display.

Food and Drink
Ballarat Farmer’s Market and Botanical Gardens
The Ballarat Farmer’s Market occurs on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. It is held next to the beautiful Lake Wendouree. There are a variety of different stalls, including lots of food and arts and craft. The second photo is actually of candles, not little cakes. Doesn't it look so real?

While you’re already there, why not walk across the road to the beautiful Botanical Gardens for a relaxing stroll. As you stroll, you may notice some familiar faces, as the gardens are lined with busts of past Prime Ministers of Australia. The likeness is really good. The garden also has this amazing greenhouse, which acts as the souvenir shop, café and greenhouse for flowers. It was so relaxing in there and I loved the seating scattered amongst the flowers where you can enjoy a coffee.

Captain’s Creek Organic Winery
Organic food is very popular but I can’t say I’ve seen many organic wines. So it was with much interest when I talked to Doug and Carolyn from Captain’s Creek Organic Winery. I learned that there’s an official accreditation body, NASAA, and that they do yearly checks to ensure you still meet the required standards to be able to claim organic. At Captain’s Creek, they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and blend a variety of wines. They all tasted really good and the Chardonnays were all really refreshing. The winery also sells food and the quiche, made with farm eggs, was one of the best I’ve tasted. The egg component just tasted so eggy, if you know what I mean. Like an amped up version of the eggs I usually eat. There’s also a number of cakes baked fresh each day and they all look fantastic. Of course I had to try one. You know I’m a huge fan of cake.

Captains Creek Winery on Urbanspoon

John Harbour Butchers
John Harbour Butchers source lots of local meats and also make their own smallgoods. Well worth a stop by if you are planning on cooking your own food.

Campana’s Fine Wine and Deli
Campana’s Fine Wine and Deli is run by Tony and Leanne and they sell a huge range of wines, many local ones as well as a variety of delicatessen. They also have some tables where you can grab a copy and a few items to eat. Twins Lou and Serge will look after you and are happy to explain about the shops history. You can tell the twins apart by looking for the one who’s posing for the camera. That will be Lou haha. I’m just kidding Lou, you were a good sport to pose for the photo.

Le Peche Gourmand
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a massive Francophile. I’m such a French wannabe that I’ve always said I should have been born in Paris. Imagine my utter delight when I found out that there’s a fantastic French pastry shop in the form of Le Peche Gourmand in Creswick. This shop is a must visit if you’re in Ballarat. The shop sign is hard to see so the address is 69A Albert Street.

At the cute French style shop, you will find Paul and Marie making many classic French pastries. There’s Salted Caramel Chocolate Tarts, Opera Gateaux, Fruit Tarts, Lemon Tarts, Millefeuille, Eclairs, Religieuse, Paris Brest etc. It was pastry heaven for me. I got to try and the Coffee Religieuse and Paris Brest. And boy, how good were they. The choux were perfect and the fillings just the right amount of sweetness. The café also does coffees and really awesome lunch rolls. Simple ingredients are sandwiched in perfect French loaves. The Lamb and Chicken rolls I had were simply divine and reminded me of the simplistic goodness I sampled on holiday in Paris.

The Lane Restaurant
The Lane Restaurant is located on the bottom level of the George Hotel. I believe the restaurant also does dinner but I went for breakfast. The space and is nice and bright with floor to ceiling glass walls. It made for a great atmosphere to have breakfast. I tried the Big Breakfast and the Buttermilk Pancakes. The pancakes were good although I felt cream would have worked better on it than the ricotta which was slightly grainy. The big breakfast was excellent, with the eggs perfectly cooked and excellent sausages and beans. A highlight was the bacon. Ballarat seems to do excellent bacon for some reason. Maybe I’ve just had bad bacon in Melbourne. Anyway, the meal was great and so was the service. The best service of the whole trip, so a special shoutout to my waitress Sophie.

The Turret Café
If you want to sip your coffee and imagine yourself as a Lord or Lady of the manor, Turret Cafe is the place for you. The heritage building is stunning, with ornate architraves outlining the high ceiling space. I tried the Eggs Hollandaise with Smoke Salmon and French Toast. The eggs were cooked perfectly but I found the smoked salmon a bit disappointing. It wasn’t bad, just not good. The hollandaise was also rather weak in flavour and texture. The French toast was really good and the balance between sweet and salty with the bacon was balanced perfectly. Again, really good bacon.

The Lake View Hotel
The Lake View Hotel is both a hotel and restaurant. It’s a casual style restaurant, sitting beside Lake Wendouree so the view is really good. It looked to be a very popular place for families and young adults. With the food, the entrees I tried of Oysters Kilpatrick and Fried Calamari were quite disappointing. The oysters were not that fresh, but the bacon was excellent so I kept nibbling on that. The calamari was really tender but had no flavour at all. I was about to write the restaurant off but thankfully the mains were really good. The Lamb Rump was tender and went well with a vinegared vegetable salsa and parsnip chips. The Pork Rib Eye was excellent with the apple flavoured cabbage. The Eton Mess dessert was as an Eton Mess should be, a mess of meringue, berries and cream. You can’t go too wrong with an Eton Mess and this one was good. The ambiance here is good with the lake side view but service was a bit lacking. There were lots of wait staff but they all loitered around the bar and it was really hard to get anyone’s attention.
Lake View Hotel on Urbanspoon

The Forge Pizzeria
The Forge Pizzeria is definitely the hottest place in Ballarat. The huge expansive shed style room was completely packed on a Sunday night and there was a constant queue waiting for a table. The restaurant serves just pizzas and a few entrees. The pizzas are all wood-fired, with a number of chefs cooking the pizza all night. I tried the Charcuterie Platter and Buffalo Mozarella for entrees. The charcuterie platter of prosciutto, capocollo and salami was good. The buffalo mozzarella by itself was nice, but completely ruined by the burnt hazelnut and sesame seeds over the top of it. I don’t think all that was needed for such a perfect thing already, but that’s just my view. The Pork Belly and Peach pizza was a revelation. I didn’t think such a combination would work, but combined with some gorgonzola, chilli and rocket and it was a great pizza. The pizza base itself was good, half way between thin and thick crust. It was a bit like naan in texture. Desserts of Tiramisu was excellent but the Cannoli wasn’t that good. Service was a real mixture. While all the wait staff were friendly, it was rather disorganised and really really hard to grab anyone’s attention. Once I did get their attention and made a request, they were good at following through.
The Forge Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

The Ansonia on Lydiard
My accommodation was the really beautiful The Ansonia on Lydiard. The hotel sits one street outside of the main Ballarat centre so provided easy access while maintaining peace and quiet. The heritage building houses a number of rooms and apartments around a central corridor. I stayed in the downstairs room, which was quite large and had an extremely high ceiling. A double bed, lounge and desk occupied my room, with a large bathroom container a bath/shower. The bed was really comfortable but the best asset of the room was the high ceilings. It made the room feel so large and spacious, which made me really relaxed. The brick building also stayed so cool, such that when it was 30+ degrees outside, I didn’t even have to turn on the air conditioning and the ceiling fan was sufficient.

So that wraps up the various things I did, what I ate and where I stayed. Just generally, I liked Ballarat as a town. It was peaceful and relaxing. Everything happened at a slower pace, which is good for a getaway when you want to unwind. The town centre was a good mixture of old buildings and new shops. Obviously, Sovereign Hill is a big attraction in Ballarat and I would recommend you go there. It’s very close to the town centre, as I was able to walk there one night for some exercise. However, there are a lot of other attractions worth exploring inside the town itself. I didn’t even get round to visit other markets, shops and many other dining options. Ballart is also surrounded by many small towns worth a drive to. Each place is less than 30 minutes drive so you can easily visit them during the day and get back to Ballarat at night. I’d highly recommend you go to Ballarat for a day trip or weekend stay. The Summer period would be a great time to go with the numerous events happening at Ballarat.

My friend and I visited Ballarat courtesy of Ballarat Tourism and Media Moguls.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Holland Work Trip - Herrings, Olibollens And Stroopwafels

For anyone who's been on a work trip, you know that it can be hard. There's a strict deadline to complete something and it can get stressful. You work long days as you usually deal with the client/project work during the day and send updates, write reports at night. I recently went on a trip to Holland and that's exactly what happened. But being the tough food blogger that I am, even when I was super tired after work each day, I still dragged myself out to see the sights while I had such an opportunity and definitely did not regret it. It's not often those of us located in Australia get to go to Europe. It's a big trip that you may only get to do a few times in your lifetime.

Why don't I start with the work aspect. I had a week to solve a client issue they were experiencing. I won't go into any details, but it's safe to say they were not happy and I was there to try and fix it. So I was already stressed. As I literally took a 40 hour flight from door to door in economy class and then went straight to the client site after landing, I was not the most rested.

Upon landing at Schiphol Airport, I was greeted by the torrential rain and extremely cold weather. I hate cold so it wasn't a good start. I went straight to the hotel, out in Zootermeer and quickly had a shower and brushed my teeth before heading to the client site. I lived off adrenalin for the first day before I completely crashed in the hotel that night. The hotel isn't exactly the prettiest and my view out of the windows made me feel like a prisoner.

Below you see a shot of the client site where I went to troubleshoot the issues each day.

And my wonderful view out of the hotel room.

I worked 16-18 hour days on the first 3 days, and thankfully found the problem on the 3rd day so the pressure eased immensely. From that point on, I got to enjoy Holland a bit. So I managed to convince the guy who I was working with from Holland to take me around one day. My enthusiasm for food was rubbing off on him by the end of the week.

Let's start our food journey at Zootermeer where I was situated. I was at the Golden Tulip Hotel, which was conveniently near Zootermeer station. Apart from that, it was a non-descript hotel which was nice enough for work purposes. You wouldn't be going there for pleasure that's for sure. They had a restaurant which was where I ate 3 completely forgettable meals. I thought the meals were reasonably priced (we do pay comparatively expensive prices for food in Australia) until I went out and found out it was a total rip off. Luckily work paid so no skin off my back, except for eating bad food. One sample dish I had was this monstrosity of Mixed Grilled Meat. The meat wasn't good I tell ya.

The town of Zootermeer itself is rather small and I managed to see most of it on my walks around it over a few days. On the first walk, I thought I was walking on the footpath (which you can just see on the left side of the photo) only to find out I wasn't walking on the footpath. The big wide perfectly paved path was for cyclists. No wonder people were ringing their bells incessantly at me and looking at me weirdly. Only when I asked the guy I was working with did he laugh heartily and tell me the footpath is to the right of the bicycle path. It's only know that I have read up more do I findout how obsessed with bike riding the Dutch are, hence the beautiful path for bike riders and the less beautiful path for people walking.

The main town of Zootermeer was pretty dead by 7pm. It consisted of a few streets with some shops and a few restaurants.

I managed to sniff out what looked to be the most happening restaurant, called Bo En Ro near the lake, which looked to be where all the rich people lived. The food on the menu was modern, the ubiquitous cuisines at a lot of restaurants which is a fusion of many things. They tried to do new style small sharing dishes. It was ok, not the worst but not the best. I had a Scallop and Pork Belly dish, a Roast Lamb dish and a Creme Brulee dessert. All dishes were quite good, technically executed quite well but lacked some pizazz in the flavour stakes. A pleasant enough meal, but again I found out later how expensive it was despite my initial thoughts of the price being reasonable.

Den Haag
I got to visit Den Haag (The Hague) twice, once with the guy I was working with, and once by myself via train. I did get lost on the train home as I got confused between what a Sprint train is and what an Inter-city train is. One is an express and doesn't stop at all stations. I think that was the inter-city train which I took by mistake. Again, you learn something all the time.

Den Haag itself was a really pretty town. I couldn't get over how beautiful the old part of the town looked with the classical facades on the buildings. We drove around and I saw the old town as well as the harbour area for which the town is famous for. Numerous restaurants were near the harbour, all serving something seafood related.

For lunch, my work mate and I went to a place called HK Visspecialiteiten, which Google translator tells me is a fish specialty shop. We ate a variety of seafood dishes, of which some are pictured below. Everything was freaking delicious and so fresh, and this is the type of local cuisine that I hope to eat. Simple but fantastic. This gave me hope that I could find good food in Holland after my hotel experience.

On my second visit to Den Haag, I walked all around the town at night. It was so pretty to see everything up close. There were so many amazing looking boutique art, books, sculpture, toy shops that I wanted to slowly browse through had they been open. If I'm ever back, I'm definitely going through all those shops.

For dinner, I Googled and saw good reviews on a place called It Rains Fishes, so off I went. It again looked to be a restaurant serving modern style food. I went with the set 4 course degustation, but had ordering envy when I saw the table next to me get the salt baked whole fish. Anyway, my meal was very good. The Seafood Starter was simple and refreshing and very nice. The next two dishes of Mussels in Wine and Seared Cod were great. I loved the Cod with the samphires, which I had never tried before. The fish was stunning and beautifully cooked. The samphires really added good flavour and texture. Lastly, dessert was again Creme Brulee. This one was much nicer and creamier, but mine's still better. Instead, the biscuit sandwich was really yummy. This meal was expensive at about 50 Euros I remember.

I visited Rotterdam with the work mate who I met. It was his home town so he knew all the places to show me. It was again a very lovely looking town. We walked around all the streets where he explained all the various buildings and sites. Two things caught my attention in Rotterdam. Firstly, the parking was excessively expensive, which outraged me as I hate unnecessary parking fees. Secondly, they had these stand up exposed urinal things that men could use out in the open. Wow, I guess the Dutch are less shy. It's weird but I guess if I was busting (which I constantly am) I would be super thankful for those urinals.

We, well I, got to do some shopping in their main shopping strip. There were lots of nice shops, with many of the same brands that now dominate globally.

One of the things I had wanted to try in Holland was Poffertjes as I had tried those in Melbourne. I definitely enjoyed the ones we had at Dutch Diner. The poffertjes were soft and completely covered in icing sugar, which really works. We also had Crepes with Hagelslag, which are chocolate hundreds and thousands basically. The Dutch love hagelslag and they come in so many varities that adults buy and eat with numerous things. I love it. Whereas you would be laughed at eating hundreds and thousands as an adult in Australia, here it's perfectly normal.

For dinner, we went to a place called Dudok, which was a completely terrible meal. I take all the blame as the work mate was going to take me to an Italian restaurant that he frequently visits and who make fresh pasta. But I'm like "that's so boring, can't we go somewhere else". So when we walked past this hip looking place with heaps of people, I suggested we try it. Dudok turns out to be full of style and no substance. Hipster looking waiters serve equally hipster looking clients. The food is suppose to be French, but is instead shit. My Duck with Lentils was one of the worst duck I've tasted. It was pink but yet tasted raw and was really grainy and bloody in taste. Even the lentils were crunchy. The Steak with Chips that my work mate had was again awful. Hard chewy steak with super starchy limp chips. If I sound like I'm being harsh, if you tried the food, you would think otherwise. For the prices they were charging, it was robbery. And me being the cake lover that I am thought we should try some Apple Pie as that may be better. Boy, even that was bad. The pie pastry was raw and the apple crunchy. So if you by chance ever happen to be in Rotterdam, do yourself a favour and skip Dudok, unless you want to go there to be seen by other people who go there to be seen.

Favourite Dutch Treats
So, if you've managed to make it this far through this long post, I've got some treats for you. More accurately, some amazing Dutch treats that you must try if you go to Holland.

Herring, this small smelly fish are totally adored by the Dutch. I do like sardines so I thought I must give these herrings a try. Typically, a raw herring is covered in onions and you grab it by the tail and then pop it straight into your mouth. I think during May to July, this particular herring is referred to as a "Hollandse Nieuwe" Haring, but someone please correct me if I'm wrong. I ate my herring, and far from being disgusted from it as some people may, I found it the most wonderful thing. The flesh is firm, which I like. It has a flavour that I liken to a cross between an oyster and raw fish. I absolutely loved it and really like the onion flavour on it too. I've since bought pickled herrings here in Melbourne but it's not quite the same as eating a fresh one. Anyone know where you can buy such herrings in Melbourne as I totally miss it?

Oliebollen are these fried donuts which are eaten on New Year's Eve traditionally. I say forget New Year's Eve, these beauties should be eaten all year round. Unlike a donut, I found it less fluffy and more dense. I was super lucky that there was an Oliebollen truck in Rotterdam. Apparently that truck moves around constantly. I tried the traditional flavour oliebollen with sultanas and heavily dusted with icing sugar. What a total mouthful of awesomeness. I've bought a packet mix for Oliebollen recently and hope to try making them. I hope I can emulate how delicious I remember it tasting. Again, anyone know somewhere that sells Oliebollen in Melbourne?

My favourite items of the whole trip, and my current addiction was introduced to me by Esurientes. She recommended that I try out stroopwafels, and I've never looked back since. Basically a stroopwafel is two wafels that sandwich a caramel. It is simply stunning. They're made fresh in Holland at some places but otherwise, the next best thing is packet stuff. I've tried a few brands now but seriously, none of them even come close to the Gouda Gilde brand. The Gouda Gilde stroopwafels just have the most amazing aroma, perfectly balanced in flavour and sweetness. The caramel is slightly chewy but won't break a teeth and it stays a soft texture unlike some other ones that become like bricks. They are not sold in Melbourne, or any Australian websites. Thanks to TheIndolentCook who informed me they are sold on Typical Dutch Stuff website but the shipping is very expensive. If you can afford it, I'd highly recommend you buy some to try. I still wavering as to buy them from the website or not. Once I finish my last pack, I'll need to make a decision.

The way to eat them properly according to me is a 4 step process.
1. You have to open up the packet and really smell the amazing aroma that comes out. I just savour that smell before I do anything else.
2. I then put the stroopwafel over a glass of my favourite hot tea. Leave this for a minute or two to let the wafel and caramel soften.
3. Take a small bite of the stroopwafel. The flavours of the rich caramel will marry with the wafel's cinnamon flavours to produce the most amazing taste.
4. Take a small sip of tea to help cleanse your palette ready for the next aromatic bite of the stroopwafel. Now just keep repeating steps 3 & 4 until you finish the whole packet of stroopwafels haha.

So there you go. That ends a brief, but in the end, thoroughly enjoyable work trip of Holland. I can't wait to go back to try out even more food and see even more sights. It wasn't on list of places I wanted to visit but now I really want to go back. It's such a beautiful place and the small sampling of food I tried was so good.