Sunday, March 29, 2009

Old Kingdom

197 Smith St
Fitzroy 3065 VIC
Phone: (03) 9417 2438

After our last Peking Duck sojourn at Quan Jude, the thirst for more duck was still high. So it was decided to try another Peking Duck house, Old Kingdom.

Old Kingdom is strangely located in Fitzroy. When you walk in, you are greeted by this cramped ridiculously dark room. It's like they have Earth Hour all year round. I really hate dark restaurants. There's a difference between mood lighting and not being able to see. Therefore I never felt truly comfortable all night.

We had ordered 4 whole ducks for the 7 of us. It was just going to be duck, duck and more duck. I had arrived late and by the time I got there, one whole duck had been consumed already. I was worried I wouldn't get my fill of duck, but I need not have worried. By duck three, we were really struggling.

The waiter came and carved each duck at the table. His skills wasn't quite as refined as the waiter at Quan Jude. The Quan Jude waiter wielded this beautiful long knife and cut each piece into a uniform rectangle with a piece of crispy skin on each piece of flesh. This waiter sort of hacked away at the duck and pulled it apart.

The pancakes, which I always thought was just the medium to hold the duck together, I have a new view of. Quan Jude's pancakes were so good and enhanced the whole parcel so much. These pancakes were more your stock standard pancakes, a bit oily and flour-y in flavour.

The Peking Duck was good, but nowhere near that of Quan Jude. The duck was a lot drier and the marinate wasn't as good flavour wise. The accompanying vegetables were cut in crude huge chunks, without the refined julienned slices that is required so that you can add just the right amount to your desire. The hoi sin sauce was stock standard and nowhere near the exquisite complex blend that Quan Jude make themselves.

After we eat the Peking Duck parcels, the rest of the meat is made into two other dishes and a soup. We are completely full by course 1 and obligingly eat a few bites of the other dishes, which are quite good.

I just didn't like the way the restaurant was lit so the ambience was all wrong for me. I just could not relax. The waiter tried his best to make jokes and it did lighten the mood but the fact that I could hardly see my friends across the table meant that it was hard to hold a conversation.

The Peking Duck was still tasty, but only marginally better than what I can do at home. It was very good value as each duck is $55 and the whole meal worked out to $35 for each of us. However, if I want a Peking Duck fix, I would definitely go back to Quan Jude, even if their ducks costs $90. The difference in quality level justifies the price in my mind. Peking Duck is something special and as I've found, over-indulging in it ruins the experience slightly. It's better to have one really good duck that many average ducks.

Overall Rating: 12/20, The Peking Duck is quite nice and good value for money. However, the restaurant ambience is uncomfortable and I would go elsewhere for truly spectacular Peking Duck.

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.

Old Kingdom on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Matteo's Express Lunch and Thai Festival

I had organised a lunch at Matteo's to capitalise on the great value offered by the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival express lunches. John, Esther, Ami, Kim Anh, Mai and myself all arrived at Matteo's only 5 minutes late, which wasn't bad. We knew we had to vacate the restaurant at 1pm so everyone made sure they go there on time.

The meal got off to a bit of a shaky start. As I had booked the table, I went up to the maitre d' and had the following conversation with him.

Thanh: Hi, I had a booking for the express lunch for Thanh for 7.
Maitre d': Yes, please come this way.
Thanh: Actually, we only have 6 today so you can move us to a smaller table if you want.
Maitre d': You should have rung to tell us.
Thanh: I'm sorry but I only found out this morning that my friend had food poisoning and couldn't make it.
Maitre d': You still should have rung us, even if it was 5 minutes before the reservation. I could have sat 8 at your table.
Thanh: I'm really sorry, but I only found out this morning and I didn't think it would make a difference if I rang.
Maitre d': We don't want excuses, we just want to know.

Gee, that was a great start. He could have handled it better by just saying in future if someone pulls out, we should let them know even if it's only 5 minutes beforehand. Instead he decided to make us all feel guilty. For the record, the restaurant wasn't even full during the first lunch session so it wouldn't have made any difference in this case.

I'm happy to report that the rest of the lunch went very smoothly after that and the service was very good.

Esther and Kim Anh both giving me the stare off, eyeing my delicious desserts.

There were a couple of entree options. The Carpaccio of Semi-Cured Hiramasa Kingfish was served with a prawn remoulade sauce with kaffir lime and lemongrass, "shiso" Japanese basil pesto. Wow, that was a mouthful, in name more and flavours.

The Air-Dried Wagyu Bresaola was served with spring onion and coconut pancake. I loved the beautitful oily richness of the wagyu.

The mains of Slow Braised Beef Cheek with wasabi flavoured mash and Thai style coleslaw didn't really work. The cheek was beautifully soft, but did not combine well with the other flavours at all.

The Seared Ocean Trout was served on a fritter and Japanese style salad from memory. Kim Anh said it was quite good, but again the accompanying flavours didn't work perfectly with the main dish.

Although the previous dishes were a tad disappointing, dessert more than made up for it. Each person was served three almost full sized desserts. There was a Nougat Parfait with Candied Fruit and Pistachi Praline, a Chocolate and Coconut Milk Panna Cotta and a Berry Tartlet with Framboise Scented Mascarpone. The parfait was very smooth and I loved the chunks of fruit, however, when I was chowing down on the second one (Ami didn't want her desserts so I had them, oh I'm such a glut), it was getting a bit sweet. The Panna Cotta had just the right amount of sweetness and a great texture. The Persian floss was a nice touch. My favourite was definitely the berry tartlet. Fresh berries on a wonderfully fragrant mascarpone with the Framboise giving it the most delightful scent that just hung on the tongue a bit.

Overall, the meal was good value. But the savoury dishes didn't really work for me. It was all a mish-mash of too many competing flavours that sounded better on paper than on the plate.

So despite being really full, we still couldn't help ourselves and walked to the Thai Festival at Fed Square. We passed the Greek Festival on Russell Street and I was so tempted by the loukamades, but was so full that I just couldn't.

When we got to the Thai Festival, we watched some kickboxing and a beauty pageant. Then it was off to get more food. My stomach had eased a tad so I tucked into some Mangosteen ice cream. Boy was it good. Esther had some tropical ice cream while John had the coconut ice cream. The coconut ice cream was good, but was no match for the coconut ice cream we had at Wicked Sunday from Gundowring. That coconut ice cream was amazing, and they stock it at Chadstone. Go get yourself some.

After eating some more Thai snacks, we called it a day and went home. I couldn't helpt but pose with the glass. I should have sucked in my stomach though.

Matteo's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 21, 2009

These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty

When the sprightly Herr Doktor Duncan invited Sarah, Sandra and myself to make Pretzels, or as Sandra and Duncan call it "Brezels", there was an instant reply of yes from all of us.

Sarah has already blogged about it much more thoroughly than I could, with better photos too.

I just have a few points to make.

I did in fact arrive a tad (give or take 60 minutes) late. It's definitely not my style to be late. I'm always on time or early even. However, a series of incidents (some late Friday work to do since we got a report back, changing to my new iPhone and not transferring Sarah or Duncan's phone numbers, getting lost) conspired to mean that I was destined not to help make the pretzels, but just eat them, awwww, what a shame. :-)

The pretzels turned out magnificent. We kept Sandra far away from the caustic soda used to coat the pretzels in case she had the urge to splash it into her eyes again. I must say that the pretzels with just salt was good, but a bit salty (yes yes, I know it has salt). However, once it was combined with the Lurpak butter that Sarah brought, it made the pretzels amazing. The only way it could have been better was if we used Lescure butter, which is insanely good. Otherwise, we could have doused the pretzels in chocolate, but Germanphiles (is that a word?) Sandra and Duncan would not allow it. :-( The penalty for dousing chocolate on pretzels was a caustic soda shower.

While Sarah and Duncan discussed cookbooks, Sandra and I compared notes on Wicked, yes I'm a fan while Sandra's obssessed about it. Idinia Menzel is both our favourite Elphaba.

We discovered that Duncan is a great cook, not just a baker. His Pork Paprika Stew was hearty and hit the exact right spot. The Peach Crumble was quite good. I have to be honest, I think we overdid it with the caramel (*gasps of horror, how can you have too much sugar*), but the home made ice cream was so good, I would have eaten it even if it was three weeks old, let alone one.

Finally, I never got tired of uttering "These pretzels are making me thirsty" all night.

I had a really great time, thanks to Duncan, Sarah and Sandra. So what are we making next Duncan?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wicked Sunday 2009

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival has rolled around once again. Wicked Sunday was on again, and being a massive fan of all things sweet, how could I not attend.

So Esther, Minh, John and myself met up for lunch first at HuTong Dumpling. I had warned them all that everytime I've been there, it was so crowded so we should get there early. When we arrived, we found that people must like not like eating dumplings on Sunday, because it was nearly empty. That's even better as we got to talk without shouting and faster service.

Minh and Esther smiling at the sight of the Shanghai Fried Noodle. I think fellow blogger Karen summed it up best when she said the noodles were "al dente". Esther and I were both commenting that's exactly what we thought, as the noodles were still firm and not soggy. The dish was very good and we ate it in quick time.

You can't go to HuTong Dumpling Bar and not have the Xiao Long Baos. They were again really good. John had read the instructions on how to eat the baos, slurping the soup out after biting a small hole. However, his chopstick skills aren't honed enough yet, and he broke the dumplings lifting them into his bowl.

The Pan Fried Pork Dumplings with the spectacular pan stickers. These dumplings must also be the best in town, as they aren't excessively oily, have a nice thin skin, the pork tastes like real pork and has texture and doesn't stink.

Finally, the Crispy Duck was crispy on the outside without being dry inside, very good.

After lunch, and ten minutes circling the city for a park spot because we (read Esther) refused to pay for parking, we were at Wicked Sunday. First off, we each armed ourselves with a coffee to keep us going. Then it was a meticulous stroll down the path of temptation.

We started with the Proffertjes. They were very good paired with fresh strawberries. However, I have to *tsk *tsk them for the use of canned cream.

Next we were drawn by the beautiful cake displays of Lollipop Cakes.

We bought two Double Chocolate Cupcakes to share. I'm usually not a fan of chocolate cupcakes as the icing is way too heavy and sickeningly sweet. When John offered me half, I cautiously took it. I watched him eat it first and the sounds of "mmmmm" exuding from him was enough to make me take a bite. Soon Esther, Minh and I were all going "mmmmm" as well. The cupcake was moist and light and the icing was really smooth, fragrant and had that ooomph factor that made it really good. The cupcakes were good value too at $2.50 each. We vowed to come back and buy more to take home, which we did, only to find they had sold out. Moral of the story is to buy it when you can and carry it all day.

Next up, we had some Gundowring Ice Cream. Many shops all claim their ice creams are hand made the finest. Gundowring had the same claim, but their ice cream was truly luscious and we couldn't get enough. The Coconut was all our favourite, and the scoops we were taking were getting bigger and bigger. The Toasted Honey and Walnut was still really good, but compared to the coconut, just seemed like a poor cousin.

When I saw Crabapple Cupcakes, I couldn't help but be curious. I had seen their book and having never tried one, was determined to see what their cupcakes were like. A wave of sudden rain did not stop us from queueing. Their cupcakes certainly looked good.

We decided on a Double Chocolate Cupcake and a Passionfruit Cupcake. We wanted to compare their chocolate cupcake to Lollipops'. Let's start with the Passionfruit cupcake though. It was a vanilla base, which was fairly light but a tad dry. The passionfruit icing had a good heavy passionfruit taste. The Double Chocolate Cupcake was a dense mud cake base, with an even denser frosting. The base was ok, but nowhere near Lollipops version. The frosting wasn't very good, tasting a lot of icing sugar. And Crabapple's cupcakes were $4 each. I know which one I'll be buying in future.

Following the cupcake was the cheese pavillion. We sampled lots of goats cheeses and all ended up buying some fabulous goats cheese from Meredith Dairy. I got the Chevre and the Marinated Goats Cheese in Olive Oil. The flavours and textures were really good, and you get to sample first too.

We were getting really full now, but our eyes weren't full yet. We got Hot Chocolates and Ensaimadas from San Churro. The hot chocolate was so rich that I was starting to feel a bit sick by the end. It was a case of sugar overdose. The ensaimadas were really soft and tasted great with the dark chocolate. But again, I was overdosing on sugar.

We watched some Dessert Demos and marvelled at how many ingredients go into a fine dining restaurant dessert. The Chocolate Pavlova dessert contained a chocolate pavlova, chocolate ash, orange caramel, burnt anglaise and chocolate sauce. I can't imagine making that ever. Guess that's why I go out to restaurants to eat that.

Finally, it was off to the Chocolate area where we once agained sampled even more chocolate despite our sugar rushes. The chocolates looked amazing and John bought some.

Overall, it was a truly "wicked" Sunday where we all ate way too much food and consumed enough sugar, which when converted to energy, could power a small car. I've discovered a couple of great places in Lollipop Cakes and Gundowring Ice Cream which I will be visiting again soon.

Note: Quick question, in the first chocolate photo, it shows a sign saying "These chocolates are best eaten not photographed!!!". What do you think it means? We were debating whether it meant we couldn't take photos. I didn't think so and so snapped a photo. Were they being cheeky, presumptuous, arrogant? What was the purpose of the sign, complete with three exclamation marks?

Melbourne Bloggers Eat and Greet Round Up

Duncan, Sarah and myself had organised a food bloggers meet up and The Commoner joined the party by generously allowing us to use their courtyard. Many thanks to Jo and the team at The commoner for being so generous.

A good number of people turned up to indulge in the food and make some more food friends. Who said blogging was anti-social and isolating. Instead it helps bring people with common interest together.

So those in attendance that day are listed below. Google is your friend if you want to find all the blogs. Or Claire, Sarah and Jess have already written very detailed posts with links to everyone.

Thanh - I Eat Therefore I Am
Duncan - Syrup and Tang
Sarah - Sarah Cooks
Jackie - Eating With Jack
Ed - Tomato
Claire - Melbourne Gastronome
Jess - Fatty McBeanpole
Fiona - Words and Flavours
Agnes and Alastair - Off The Spork
Brian - Fitzroyalty
Asti - Ice Tea: Sugar High
Cathy - Everything Goe With Cream
Christy - 5 Types of Sugar
Joel - Global Cobbler
Michael - My Aching Head

There was so much food that day and you can see them at Claire, Sarah and Jess' blogs. I'll just post a few pics of the foods that really captured me. Everything was delicious, but these were my personal favourites that had me going back for more, and more, and more.

Duncan's macarons were again, abso-freaking-lutely-mazing. The "Subtle Cinnamon and Peach", "Chocolate and Passionfruit (Perhaps)" and "Vaguely Violet" were all insanely good. I loved the violet macarons the best ever since I tried them at the last bloggers banquet and again at the Macaron Masterclass. However, the Cinnamon and Peach ran a very close second as I love peaches. I may have consumed more than my fair share of macarons (3 violet, 2 peach and 1 passionfruit) but all's fair in macaron and war.

My other favourite item of the day were the delicious Soy Chicken Wings from Agnes. I just love chicken wings and these ones from Agnes were deliciously moist and flavoursome. I consumed three of these alone.

My final favourite thing was the wonderfully textural Red Capsicum Dip from Fiona (red tub in the far right back of the photo). The dip worked amazingly well with bread from Brian and Crackers from Asti. I'm definitely going to make that capsicum dip.

Now, the food usually makes many appearances on blogs whenever we have these meet ups. But this time, I thought I would try and capture the spirit of the individuals behind the keyboard who write the blogs. Here goes, with apologies to Cathy, Jess and Christy as I didn't get any photos of them.

Charlie's Angels at the wood oven, Fiona, Sandra and Sarah.

Ed and Sarah giving contrasting expressions for their audition for "Australia's Favourite Food Blogger" award.

Mickey and Asti and half of Christy showing us how good the drinks were at The Commoner.

Michael and Joel showing us that black is indeed the new black.

Myself and Sandra dueling it out with our cameras for best "Self Taken Photo".

Jackie showing us the smile that got her through her MasterChef auditions.

The life of Brian.

The "choice" team of Alastair and Agnes eatin' "fush and Chups", with Duncan providing background scenery.

Finally, Joel, Claire, Ed, Jess' back, Sarah, Duncan's arm and Alastair make an appearance.

I think everyone had a great time and it was lots of fun to chat about all aspects of food and get to know the faces behind the blogs. I hope we can organise another meet up soon.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Peach Tart

If I had to choose one and only one fruit that I could eat for the rest of my life, I think it would have to be a peach. As much as I love tropical fruits, when I have lots of it, I tend to get sick of it. Not a peach though. I love cling stone peaches that have that slightly sweet and sour flavour with a firm texture.

Since they were season during the summer and were at an amazingly cheap $0.99 per kilo, I stocked up on heaps of them and was eating 4-5 a day. Even then, there was lots left, so I made a peach tart. I tend to steer clear of tarts because they're so much effort to make the pastry, the filling, and then the topping. However, the baked peaches were so delicious that I would make this tart again, but not often. It was heaps of effort to make all the components and then get it all together.

Peach Tart
From Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2

1 quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (use whatever recipe you have or store bought)
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg
1 egg white, extra
1 tbsp sugar
6 peaches, stoned and sliced
1 tbsp sugar, extra, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface until 3mm thick. Place in a 23cm fluted removable base tart tin. Line with non stick baking paper and fill with pastry weights or uncooked rice or beans. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the weights and bake another 10 minutes or until pastry is golden.

2. Place the sour cream, caster sugar and egg in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour into tart shell and bake for 10 minutes.

3. Remove from oven and increase temperature to 200C.

4. Place egg white in large bowl and whisk until soft peaks. Stir through sugar and peach slices until coated and then spoon on top of cream filling. Sprinkle with extra sugar and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

5. Cool completely before serving.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Accidental Berry Trifle

I had decided to make a light and fruity cake, and finally settled on the Mixed Berry Cake with Vanilla Bean Syrup from Women's Weekly Bake book. This meant I got to use some of the fragrant vanilla beans I had.

The cake was easy to make and tasted great too, being extremely light and soft. That's where the problem lied. I made two cakes, one in a Bundt tin to get a nice shape. However, I hadn't greased the Bundt tin enough, and when I went to turn it out, half the cake flopped out while the other half stayed in the tin. A moment of panic rushed through me, before my instincts snapped into action and I immediately thought of Nigella Lawson and how she always say that "No problem cannot be solved with trifle." In my case, this was figuratively and literally true. So I rummaged through the fridge, got some cream and more fruit and voila, I had made a wonderful luscious Berry Trifle.

Here's what the cake should look like.

The bruised and torn apart cake.

Turned into a wonderful berry trifle, which actually tasted even better than just the cake itself. Accidents can produce some wonderful things sometimes.

Accidental Berry Trifle
Adapted from Women's Weekly Bake

125g butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 self raising flour
1/2 almond meal
1/3 sour cream
1 1/2 cups frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup drained canned seeded black cherries
1 1/2 cups of whipping cream
100g mixed berries for trifle topping

Vanilla Bean Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 vanilla beans

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Grease 20cm pan well.

2. Beat butter and sugar in small bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time.

3. Stir in sifted flours, almond meal, sour cream, berries and cherries. Pour mixture into pan.

4. Bake for 40 minutes or until an inserted wooden skewer comes out clean. Stand cake in pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto rack over tray.

5. Make vanilla bean syrup and pour hot syrup over hot cake.

Vanilla Bean Syrup
1. Place water and sugar in small saucepan. Split vanilla beans and scrape out seeds. Add both seeds and pods into pan. Stir over heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolves. Simmer, uncovered, without stirring, 5 minutes. Discard pods.

1. Place pieces of cake into the bottom of a large bowl.

2. Whip some cream with a bit of sugar to soft peaks. Place cream all over cake.

3. Scatter berries over top of cream.

4. Freeze a few hours for everything to hold it's shape.

Lemon Madeleines

I had wanted to make madeleines for the longest time and had many email exchanges with Pat from Cooking Down Under about it. The one thing holding me back was shelling out (pun intended!) for the madeleine trays. I just couldn't justify buying a tray that made one thing only. But when I finally saw them on sale at DJ (David Jones for the uninitiated), I couldn't resist and bought two trays.

To start, I thought I would do the simplest version of madeleines, lemon. The batter itself was ultra easy to make. However, the fiddly work to grease all the shells and put in the mixture was rather time consuming. However, the final results made it all worth it. The madeleines looked amazing and tasted good too. But it was the look that just kept me admiring them for ages ("My preciousssssssssssssss....."). I decided to dip the bottom tip in chocolate to make it look like those cockle shells with the black tips on the bottom.

Lemon Madeleines
Adapted from recipe on Tartlette's blog

Makes 14 large madeleines

2 eggs
80 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
80 g caster sugar
80 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
pinch of salt
3 tbsp lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/2 lemon (for squirting after they are baked)
extra melted butter for greasing madeleine molds


1. Preheat your oven to 200C.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, pinch of salt.

3. Separate the egg whites from the yolks, and whisk in the yolk to the flour mixture. The mixture will appear quite thick, do not feel like you have to whisk in all in thoroughly.

4. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until foamy, and add a small amount first to the egg yolk/flour mixture and whisk vigourously with a whisk to break the flour/yolk lumpy mass. Fold in the rest of the whites with a spatula.

5. Add the lemon juice, zest, and butter. Whisk the batter until everything is incorporated and smooth.

6. Grease the madeleine molds with melted butter. Drop one tablespoon or so into the madeleine molds, depending on their size. Do not fill them to the rim though as they will rise and spill over the edge, looking very ugly.

7. Bake for 8 minutes or until golden brown. As soon as they come out of the oven, squirt the half lemon over the madeleines and let cool completely before proceeding with the glaze.

Vanilla Panna Cotta

So after getting my massive packet of vanilla beans from Duncan, I finally could make vanilla panna cotta, which I love.

As I've never made panna cotta before, I thought I would start with the simplest sounding recipe, which was the one from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2 book. The panna cotta was extremely easy to make and was quite fast too. In terms of taste, it's good if you pair it up with fruit or something a bit sour to break up the ultra creamy flavour and texture. This panna cotta was a lot creamier than ones I've tasetd in restaurants. As much as I love cream, even a small ramekin panna cotta is too much. I need to find a recipe with a version that's slightly less creamy.

Vanilla Panna Cotta
From Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2

1/4 cup water
3 1/2 tsp powdered gelatine
3 1/4 cups single (~18% fat) cream
3/4 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1. Place water in bowl and sprinkle in gelatine. Set aside for 5 minutes.

2. Place cream, icing sugar and vanilla beain in a saucepan over medium-low heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Add the gelatine mixture and cook, stirring for two minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.

3. Pour the mixture into moulds and refrigerate for 4-6 hours to set.

4. To serve, cut around edge of panna cotta and invert onto plate. Serve with berries or fruits.