Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Breakfast Date with Maggie Beer for Good Food and Wine Show 2013

So, I went on a breakfast date with Maggie Beer recently. It was an awesome date. Ok, so maybe 10 other people were also on this mass group date, but that ruins my story. So in my reality, it was just Maggie and I. So let me tell you how this date came to be. I first met Maggie ten years ago.....haha. Ok I'm kidding. I was invited by the Good Food and Wine Show organisers to meet Maggie for breakfast at the The Olsen Hotel, as Maggie is one of the stars of this year's Good Food and Wine Show in Melbourne.

There are a few food celebrities that I truly love, Heston (scientific food genius), Sue Perkins (a thinking man's crush), Poh (my darling), Shannon (awesome chef who's food I've got to taste) and Maggie (the nicest food celebrity ever). I really feel in love with Maggie on her show called The Cook and the Chef with Simon Bryant. She seemed like such an enthusiastic, kind, funny and loveable person. As it turns out, she is all those things and more. Maggie was so nice to everyone and had such interesting stories to share. Her candid honesty really endeared me to her and her passion for good produce really came through. Her passion for verjuice and fresh Barossa produce is famous, but her dis-passion (made up word) for Sauvignon Blanc, cigarette smoke and perfume was something I didn't know previously. She told us some hilarious stories about supposedly being caught eating at a Hungry Jacks (not true) and how utterly upset she was. She also told us about how she tries to stop everyone drinking Sauvignon Blanc as there are so many better wines. It's amazing how she was able to talk to everyone and make everyone feel included and special. That comes from being genuine I think. While Maggie won't remember me, I will remember my meeting with her as that's how we should all aim to act and be, passionate, kind and willing to have a laugh.

Of course I had to get a photo with Maggie and thanks to Sabrina for helping to take the photo. I think my laugh is not as big as Maggie's or when I met Poh, but I was just as happy.

If you want to see Maggie, you can find her at this year's Good Food and Wine show. She will be holding some hands on cooking demos for the public. A million other things will also be happening at the show but try to catch Maggie if you can. Below are the details of the show.

What: Good Food and Wine Show
When: Melbourne June 7-10
How Much: Tickets $33 for Adults
Where: Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre
2 Clarendon St, South Melbourne

As part of my date with Maggie, I also got to stay at the Olsen Hotel. The hotel is really beautiful and the views are great. The amenities are fantastic and I loved the high water pressure in the shower (a much often neglected item). I got room service for dinner and ate at Spoonbill for breakfast. Some items were very good (chicken taco, burger, corn fritters) while some lacked in flavour a bit (fish taco, paella). There was an amazing pool with a glass bottom that I didn't get the change to swim in. I'm definitely swimming in it next time I stay there. Overall, it was a great event and I loved it. I hope my path crosses with Maggie again in the future.

I stayed and dined courtesy of The Olsen Hotel.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bosch Cook Off with Ian Curley

Now we're cooking with gas.

That's a common saying you hear all the time, and it is very true. In the literal sense, you do need gas to cook your food, but technology is slowly changing. I was invited by Bosch Home Appliances to attend their cooking with chef Ian Curley at their Experience Centre. I'm an engineer by profession and really love appliances and technology so I was excited to attend. Also, knowing Ian Curley is one of the country's best chefs, I knew we'd be treated to some good food too.

Firstly, let me start with the experience centre. If you're into household appliances, in particular kitchen appliances, it's like heaven. All the latest and greatest appliances, shiny and enticing. I loved the in-built coffee machine. So sexy. There are also ovens, cooktop, fridges and rangehoods.

After the intro, we all split into groups to cook various dishes, using a different piece of equipment. Let me tempt you with the Paella that Kim, April and I cooked. Doesn't it look amazing? Yes? Well, all the credit goes to our chef who helped us and to Kim, who did all the work. April was pregnant so she sat down while I went about sampling food and having a drink. I didn't want to ruin the food with my bad cooking ya know haha. Anyway, our dish turned out really good, with the rice cooked just right and lots of sweet sweet seafood. We used an induction cooktop and it worked really well. The speed is very fast as there is direct heat transfer. One issue that we did have is if you splash water on it by accident, it stops as it loses the contact with the pan. You can wipe it off and the unit will start up again. It is super sexy to have induction cooktops as the slick black glass does make your kitchen look super streamline. The bosch staff did say that induction tops aren't the best for Asian cooking as you don't get that strong flame to give it that "wok breath" that Asian stir fries tend to require.

Ian cooked up some John Dory fillet using a standard gas flame burner and the fish were really good. Perfectly cooked with a really crispy skin. Served with a cauliflower puree and braised witlof, it was a great starting dish.

The best dish of the night for me was the Crab Linguini Pasta. The flavours were amazing. There weren't many ingredients but somehow the flavour was just so good. The pasta was made in a Bosch machine and then cooked over a gas burner. The pasta really had a great bite to it and it did look easy to make, but it helps to have a master chef helping out.

The Bosch ovens were used to make the Beef Wellingtons that we had. The ovens came in so many different configurations it'll take you 30 minutes to learn about them all. And learn I did as I'm really intrigued about them. The most interesting ones were the self cleaning pyrolytic ovens. Apparently they go up to 500C and burn off all the oils and you just have to wipe them down. That sounds good in theory but I need to see it before I convinced. The standard oven we used to bake the Beef Wellingtons worked well and the meat was nicely cooked with the brioche outer well cooked.

The last dish was a Trifle using a polenta cake cooked in the ovens. There was also ricotta and olive oil added. It sounds really weird but did taste good.

It was a really fun night and we got to try out a few Bosch appliances to cook and eat some delicious food. Overall I liked the appliances and do think they look great in any kitchen. Price wise, they do cost a bit more than your average brand I believe. It's worth checking out the Experience Centre if you're interested in anything as all the appliances work there and you can try them out yourself and ask the consultants any questions you have.

I attended the Bosch Cook Off courtesy of Bosch.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Vue de Monde - Part 4 Rialto Towers, Sensational

I love Vue de Monde. If you've ever spoken to me about food before, chances are you've heard me rave about how Vue de Monde is my favourite restaurant in Melbourne and that I *loveeeeee* Shannon Bennett, in a manly sort of way of course. As with my previous reviews, this review was really hard to write, not because my dining experience was bad, but because it was so good I just didn't know how to describe it all. As it is, this review just sat in my draft folder half written for the longest time until I actually forgot about it. It wasn't only when I was sorting out my photos that I saw the Vue de Monde photos, which reminded me of this review. So, here I present my review of my degustation meal at Vue de Monde, almost 16 months ago. Oops. I'm sure the menu itself has changed but I'm definite the quality will remain and that you can draw a good sense of how the restaurant is from my review still.

I've been to Vue de Monde a few times before, at the old Little Collins street location and you can read about the experiences via the links for my first, second and third visit.

As you will know, there's not much choice in the menu at Vue de Monde. You go in knowing that you will have the small or large degustation and leave it up to the chefs to create a meal and experience for you. Obviously, if you have allergies, they will tailor your meal. Below is a sample of the menu, in abbreviated form of what we had that night. There are so many ingredients in Shannon's menu that I couldn't recall them all, even when I wrote it down.

Vue de Monde Menu

* Appetisers
- Smoked eel with caviar
- Celeriac parcels
- Apple gel
- Venison rolls

* Savouries
- Crab salad with strawberry sauce and green strawberry meringue
- Mushrooms with walnut puree broth
- Marron with khalrahbi and caviar
- Duck egg with lamb sweetbreads, white truffle, onion rings and celeriac puree
- Stewed rabbit with asparagus, burnt butter tarragon sauce
- Snapper with prawn, bone marrow, chicken glaze and beet tuile
- Wagyu tenderloin with turnips done two ways

* Palette cleanser
- Liquid nitrogen cucumber sorbet with herbs and flowers

* Desserts
- Cheese platter served with fig jam, peach jam, onion jam, pear gel, rhubarb gel
- Lemon meringue with ice cream and white chocolate pastry
- Tonka bean chocolate souffle

* Petit fours
- Golden gay time
- Mousses lamingtons
- Eucalyptus jellies
- Mint marshmallows

Firstly, let me start with the setting. Level 55 on the Rialto building is sensational. The view, as expected, would be the premium view of all Melbourne restaurants. Depending on the time of year that you dine in, you will either see the skies change from light to dark and witness an amazing sunset, or be given the amazing Melbourne night lights. I was fortunate enough to watch the heavens transition through the full gamut of colour and light. It was indeed an awesome sight through the floor to ceiling glass windows. The room is very light and bright as you would expect and tables set fairly far apart so you feel like you're dining privately, but yet still part of the whole space. This is something that Vue de Monde has always done well, even at their previous location which I've remarked on in my previous posts. We were seated near the kitchen in a semi enclosed space as there were 5 of us. We had an excellent view of the kitchen team at work and also of the full dining room. I felt the restaurant had a great ambiance that was quite boisterous actually, but still you could hear your dining companions.

The much talked about table settings are spectacular, from the kangaroo leather tables to the comfortable chairs and place settings. Even small touches like the stones on the table or the beautiful water glasses just exude elegance and opulence. If you're going to say that it's not "value for money" and "excessive and over the top", I don't think this place is for you. Yes, it is definitely never going to be "value for money" in the sense of getting lots of food, but we all have different definitions of value. For me, I think it's a great indulgence to occasionally be able to enjoy such meals, as they leave an everlasting memory that 25 burgers just won't do. I personally loved the whole rich feel of the restaurant, and for one night at least, I felt like I was king of the world up there.

The food is immaculate in technique and execution and plating. Nothing about any dish could be faulted from those perspective. Yes, you probably won't love every dish, but I doubt that would happen at any restaurant. However, the whole meal works together and provides more than the sum of it's parts. I liked every dish and absolutely loved some. I don't think there was anything that I didn't like.

Right from the beginning, the appetisers were a delight that really tickled the senses. Brought out on an assortment of rocks and plates, they were playful yet tasted amazing. I loved the smoked eel, so smooth and with a hit of salty caviar. The venison was another highlight for me, so rich in flavour.

With the savouries, there were some surprises that really got me. I absolutely loved the mushroom dish. The walnut puree was heavenly and made that dish really pop. Something seemingly so simple but the flavours were so clear and I loved it. The marron dish, one I've loved before, was still amazing. A perfectly cooked marron, this time served with khalrahbi just oozed the flavours of the sea and was one of three stand out dishes of the night for me. I really liked the rabbit and snapper dishes and again so many complex flavours on those items. The next stand out dish was the wagyu tenderloin. The beef was so soft and had such great flavours, served with turnips done in such amazing ways. I couldn't get over how good the turnips tasted.

After all the savouries, there was some theatre as the liquid nitrogen came out. We each got given a mortar with some herbs and flavours in it. The liquid nitrogen was poured on them and we crushed up the herbs, which wafted their aromas straight to you. Next up, one single scoop of cucumber sorbet was placed into the dish. OH. MY. GOODNESS. It was like an awakening of your senses. Every single flavour just popped in my mouth and I loved it so much.

With the desserts, again there was some more theatre. A massive cheese cart was wheeled to the table and the waiter helped you choose a selection of cheeses depending on what you like. There were so many amazing cheeses that we tried and they tasted so good with the different jams and gels. The two actual desserts served were excellent and faultless, with the tonka bean souffle so rich and beautiful.

Just when you think the night is over, out comes the petit fours that would knock the socks off anyone. Re-invented old skool desserts in miniature form are a pure delight. The Golden Gay Time and Lamington re-invention are pure genius.

To the service, well in my own personal opinion, it is perfect. The staff are warm, knowledgeable and still maintain some humour. We had a great laugh with some of the waiters, with any request fulfilled quickly and the most professionalism anywhere in Melbourne. The chefs also came around to explain some dishes and even Shannon himself came around twice to serve us. Of course I got a photo, and may have also been speechless and uttered the words "I love you Shannon". Never imagined myself to be star struck and such a groupie, but there you go. The man is one of my food idols.

The night was totally enjoyable and I loved almost every aspect of it. My one small complaint, and it's just a small one as I had come from work and was rather tired, was that the meal went on a bit too long. We started at 7pm and it didn't finish till 1am. I love long meals but I think even this one went about 1 hour too long. By that time we were all starting to yawn and having a hard time to stay awake. Apart from that, it was an utterly amazing meal that I still rate as the best in Melbourne.

Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Eat Street May 28th 2013 - Best Food Event of the Year, Go Go Go

So I hear you want to attend the best food event of the year as well as help out children's charities. Look no further, Eat Street is that event. In it's 13th year, the annual event has helped raised over $1 million dollars to so many different children's charities. This year, the charity is again Red Kite, a charity aimed at providing support to children with cancer. All proceeds from Eat Street will be going to Red Kite.

The details of this year's Eat Street are below.
What: Eat Street
When: Tuesday, 28th May, 2013 at 6pm.
Where: Sofitel Melbourne On Collins, 25 Collins Street, Melbourne
Tickets: $160 per person
Bookings: Ph (03) 9653 0000, or email:

I've been fortunate enough to be invited to attend in both 2012 and 2011 and it's my favourite and best food event of the year. Think of the best buffet you've ever had, then multiply that by 50. Because 50 of Melbourne's top restaurants are there to serve you food and it's a culinary feast. Also, if you're a bit of a chef groupie like me, you'll be able to talk to and get pics with all the chefs. Lastly, while you feast on amazing food, you know that you've also helped a really good cause. So what's not to like. I highly recommend you attend and I'll be seeing you there. I'm the one holding a camera and glass of wine in one hand and a dish of food in the other. Come and say hi, I'd love to meet anyone who reads this blog.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ayatana - Modern Thai Food

Ayatana, which means the senses, is what the restaurant tries to create and present to the customer according to their menu. The restaurant is modern Thai food, which means it can encompass many things. I'm not someone who insists foods need to stick to the traditional flavours and I like when people re-invent things and it works. So I went to Ayatana excited to try out something different yet grounded in Thai flavours.

The restaurant is located on Chapel Street, but in Windsor, so not at the busy end where people cruise their cars up and down the streets. The restaurant is a very cosy place, seating about 30-40 people. The room is setup nicely and looks very elegant with fairly dim lighting. As usual, I'll say that I'm not a fan of dimly lit restaurants, but this place was on the borderline ok for me as I could still see people's faces. The ambiance was rather boisterous, which was unexpected. The noise levels got quite high and we were all happily chatting away.

I went along with my friends and we decided to sample a selection of dishes as we all enjoy trying new things. For entrees, we sampled Roast Pork Belly, Beef Tacos, Crispy Soft Shell Crab and Tempure Prawns. As you can see, the styles are quite diverse, but all the dishes have flavours grounded in Thai flavours. The roast pork belly was good, with a tender belly, crispy skin and a nice sweet/salty sauce. The beef tacos did not work for me. The star anise flavours were far too dominant and the dish was too salty. The crispy soft shell crab had a good flavour and the batter was crispy, but we all felt that we couldn't quite taste the crab flavour anymore. Lastly, the tempura prawns are really good. A crispy batter covers some juicy prawns in again a sweet and salty sauce.

For the mains, the Crispy Barramundi again had great flavours, but the fish was a bit lost in the dish. The slices of fish could have been thicker so that the middle parts were not touched by the sauce and could be tasted more. A lighter pad thai with vegetables was very good and a papaya salad was really refreshing and zingy.

The two best dishes were the Red Curry Duck and the Seafood Tom Yum. The curry was nice and rich and smooth, with spicy hits and flavoursome duck. It went beautifully over rice. The highlight dish was the seafood tom yum. It wasn't a soup but more some seafood with a sauce. The seafood tasted great and the sauce was excellent. Again I loved the sauce over steamed rice.

For desserts, we tried the Boiled Banana, Sticky Rice, Ice Cream and Tapioca Pearls. The boiled banana was surprisingly not very good. I think it may be that the bananas weren't ripe as the flavour was quite strange. The sticky rice was really good, with a sweet egg custard and coconut. The ice cream consisted of two flavours. The vanilla was rich and creamy and the fig, pistachio and honey was good too. Lastly, the tapioca pearls with corn and coconut was excellent with the flavours combining well.

Overall, the food was mostly good. I wouldn't say the food was that Modern as in most of the flavours were quite traditional and I've tasted before. Some items need some tweaking so that they can be improved but mostly the flavours were good. The service was efficient and friendly and I good overall. On the cost side, I think the meal would be slightly on the expensive side, but if you feel like eating in South Yarra, this is an option worth considering.

My guests and I dined courtesy of Ayatana.

Ayatana on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Pinocchio's South Yarra

In the children's novel about Pinocchio, when he lies, his nose starts to grow. Well, my nose is not growing when I tell that Pinocchio's is a very vibrant place to have a meal at. I dined at the South Yarra location on a Friday night and it was bustling. A very boisterous ambiance with all different types of clientele. There were many large families drinking soft drinks, groups of younger people with their cocktails and assorted tables of older clientele drinking wine. People were chatting happily and it was a very comfortable environment for me. I like crowded restaurants with lots of noise as opposed to dead quiet rooms where you can hear a pin drop. It must be my Asian background but the noise doesn't bother me much at all.

The restaurant has been refurbished last year and definitely looks nice and contemporary. Semi industrial elements are scattered around the room, with the walls dominated by large drawings of Pinocchio in silhouette form, very nice.

The menu is split into a number of sections, from small appetisers to large main meals. A huge variety of pizzas freshly made from the wood fired oven cover one side of the menu. We decided to sample a bit of everything, so started with some Pulled Lamb Panini, Mussels in White Wine and Seared Scallops with Apple Puree. The mini panini were quite tasty. I liked the pulled lamb itself but found the bread a bit crunchy. You can't go wrong with a classics mussels dish and this one was really tasty. I loved the fresh mussels and the sauce was really delicious. Lastly, the scallops were pretty good but could have been seared more to get more caramelisation.

The Salami and Goat's Cheese Pizza had really great flavours for the toppings and the base was quite good. It tasted slightly doughy still for me so unsure if that's the recipe or the base could have been cooked a tad longer.

I was told that all the pastas were made in house, so I had to try some. We ordered the Agnolotti, which were stuffed with Moreton Bay bugs. The pasta was indeed very good and perfectly cooked. The filling wasn't too bad but I'd have loved to have some whole pieces of the bugs inside it for that textural change rather than just a paste alone. Presentation wise, this dish was an utter mess. It had this brown/green sauce over it, which while delicious, looked like you know what. And it was splashed across the black agnolotti pasta, so was not a good look. I didn't want to post that photo in case it put you off.

My favourite dish of the night was this really delicious 12 hour braised goat. It was so tender and the flavours were delicious with the peppers, olives and potatoes. I would definitely order this again. Not many places in Melbourne serves goat so if you want some good one, try this dish.

Lastly for dessert, I was really excited as the three items on the dessert platters were some of my all time favourites. However, the pannacotta and cannoli were rather disappointing. The pannacotta had savoury notes which I didn't like. Also, the presentation on this wooden board wasn't working for me. The white sauce splashed all over the board just looks awful. The cannoli was a chocolate one and I found it far too bitter and a bit overcooked for my liking. The tiramisu was the saving grace, and whilst it wasn't fantastic, was pretty good.

If you're after a casual meal in a very vibrant environment in South Yarra to catch up with friends, this would be a great place as the way the menu is structured gives you a lot of options for ordering and sharing. The food is on the whole pretty good, with the goat that I tried a real highlight. For me, none of the desserts excited me and I'd probably skip them and have some ice cream instead. Pricing wise, I think it's on the expensive side. The prices are probably representative of restaurants in that area but for similar prices in other suburbs, you'd get more for your money. If you need to eat in the area, it would be a place I'd go to, otherwise I personally wouldn't make a special trip for it.

My guest and I dined courtesy of Pinocchio's.

Pinocchio's Pizza Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 03, 2013

King Oscar Brand Brisling Sardines

I have been saying for a while how sardines are such an underrated fish. Here in Australia, sardines are seen as cat food, and most people tend to not want to eat it. Me, I've grown up eating sardines and I love them. Most Asian countries and many European ones treat sardines as a beautiful source of food. As it's hard to buy fresh sardines here, all my sardine consumption is from the canned variety. I like to add things to the sardines to make it even tastier sometimes.

I was approached by King Oscars to review their new range of sardines. I had never tried their brand before as I usually get the Asian brands from the Asian grocers. I was definitely willing to try out some different sardines to see how they all compared. I noticed on the King Oscar sardine cans that their sardines were labeled as brisling. I had no idea what this meant, so it was off to Google to learn some more. As it turns out, sardines ain't sardines. I had always assumed that sardines were synonymous with herring. That basically it was a canned herring. However, it turns out that 11 different species of fish can be classified as sardines. They include herring, sild, pilchard, and brisling, also known as sprats. As I've noticed personally, the fish range in sizes and I now know they're from all over the world. Nordic brisling are fished from the Norwegian fjords and are rather small when fully mature. They're caught when the fish are mature, which is claimed to give them a better more delicate taste. The fish are also high in Omega-3 I read.

With all this new knowledge, it was time to put these brisling to the ultimate test, my mouth and stomach. Firstly, I noticed that the packaging was really beautiful, but that it also had this year on it. It turns out the actual vintage of the sardines is captured. That was something I had never seen before. I think it's a great idea. If wines have vintages so people can gauge which year's was better, why not other things. Surely the weather conditions causes changes in taste from year to year, so it's good to know if you liked a particular year's produce.

Upon opening the can, I found the sardines were packed beautifully. They were all so uniform in size. When I buy the Asian style sardines, they usually all different sizes and broken into many pieces inside the can. The smell from the sardines was very nice, a slightly smokey smell.

I took each sardine carefully out of the can as I didn't want to break these little beauties. To start off with, I wanted to taste them as they were to get a feel for the flavour. So I put some sardines onto my homemade wholemeal bread with some capsicum. The sardine flavour was really delicious. The flavour was quite delicate and the texture really nice, a slight firmness that gave away as you started to bite into them.

Next up, I decided to try them in a dish that I normally use tuna for. I made a simple spaghetti where I mixed the oil from the sardine can into the spaghetti, added some sliced Spanish onion, coriander and the sardine pieces. It was absolutely delicious. The olive oil the sardine had been marinated in had such a wonderful flavour. The fish paired beautifully with the onion and coriander. It was such a simple lunch made in well under 30 minutes, Jamie Oliver eat your heart out. I really loved this dish, even more than when using tuna. I love the texture of the sardines way more than tuna, which I find a bit more "chunky" and dry sometimes. Flavour wise, again I really enjoy the sardines flavour. Maybe it's because I've grown up eating sardines and only started eating tuna not too long ago or maybe sardines are just the poor cousin to tuna and not respected enough. Either way, I really loved this dish more with sardines than tuna.

From my own personal experience, I highly recommend you try out sardines, especially these beautiful King Oscars sardines. These King Oscar sardines are like the "high-end" of sardines, yet are still extremely affordable. The sardines can be eaten in so many ways, but are also great just out of the can. Be adventurous and try them in place of other fish. They work great in salads, with pasta, anything to do with eggs, and in a multitude of sandwich combinations. I will definitely be buying and eating these King Oscar sardines again as I really loved the taste. An added benefit is that they're a healthy food source as well. Winning.

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