Monday, April 30, 2012

South Wharf Promenade - Progressive Dinner

The South Wharf Promenade is a newly developed area which is being quickly populated with great drinking and dining establishments. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a progressive dinner to visit a number of the South Wharf venues.

The places that we got to visit on the night were:
*The Boatbuilders Yard - A gastro pub venue with lots of outdoor seating.
*The Bridge - A pub with river views which serves pub food.
*Akachochin - A classy Japanese restaurant that specialises in sushi, sashimi and sake.
*The Sharing House - A casual style restaurant serving Modern Australian food to share.
*Melbourne Public - A massive bar and restaurant, serving an eclectic mix of cuisines from around the world.
*The Bohemian - An intimate restaurant serving authentic Spanish food.

We started off the night by admiring the amazing sunset along the river. With the striking bridge in the foreground, the scene made for a very relaxing mood. The South Wharf area is very beautiful, with the calm Yarra river to one side, the bustling Crown Casino across the road, the striking Polly Woodside as a backdrop, and the wonderful heritage listed buildings at it's heart.

Our tour started at The Boatbuilders Yard where we sampled some beers and wines from the extensive menu. A simple dish of school prawns simply fried showcased the freshness of the ingredients that the Boatbuilders pride themselves on.

We moved onto The Bridge were we sipped (ok we guzzled) numerous wines, which is the venue's speciality. We also sampled some canapes, which I thought were ok.

The next stop was my favourite of the tour and really excited me. Akachochin does Japanese food, amazing Japanese food. We tried out a few dishes in a Kingfish Sashimi, Stuffed Fried Chicken Wing and Seared Wagyu.

The kingfish was so amazing, matched with a rice cracker. I kept wanting more of it when it was finished. The chicken wing was also excellent. I love fried chicken wings, so imagine stuffing it with what tasted like dim sim mince, it was mind blowingly good. Then when I thought things couldn't get any better, we had the most sublime seared wagyu served with grilled mushrooms. Each dish was served with a sake that paired perfectly.

We moved to the next venue, which literally meant walking around a wall as The Sharing House was right next door. We shared a number of dishes, from Popcorn Rabbit and Cauliflower, Polenta Chips, Trout Gravalax and Mussels in Cream. All dishes were good, with the popcorn rabbit being so moreish I kept going back for more and the gravalax so pure and clean in flavour served with apple jelly that I kept going back for more of that as well.

At Melbourne Public, we sampled some cocktails and beer/wines. We were served some Seared Tuna, Pork Belly and Seafood Dumpling on one dish. I thought the mish-mash of food seemed rather strange at first but when I tasted every element, they were all lovely and worked together too. I was most surprised with the dumpling which I thought would be rather ordinary but instead turned out to be the star for me with a wonderful filling and fine skin.

Last stop was The Bohemian for dessert and I was in dessert heaven. The Cheese Platter and Trifle type dessert were good, but the Chocolate Donut and Brioche Pudding were amazing. The donut, which turned out to be ganache dipped in a batter and fried was oozing chocolate goodness. The donut was already great but brioche pudding was out of this world stunning. It was soft, fragrant, caramelised, smooth and simply delicious. You have to try it out and you will see what I mean.

We finished off with a Pedro Ximinez and that concluded a wonderful night of fun, food and drinks. I was very impressed with the whole South Wharf area and the various venues. Each place had positives which I would revisit. I will say that my favourites were Akachochin and The Bohemian and I have already vouched that I will definitely be going back to both places for a full meal.

EDIT: I just saw that The Age had just done an article on South Wharf which give more information about each restaurant and the chefs.

I dined courtesy of each venue.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Best Fudgey Chocolate Brownies Recipe

I've always liked brownies but have never been super excited about them. I thought they were a bit one dimensional and you couldn't do much with them. How wrong I am. Usually, you don't know the exact moment when you suddenly find that you love some food item. For me with brownies, I can clearly pin point that moment. It was when I first tasted a Bees Knees Dulce de Leche Brownie at an event at Pan Asian restaurant. I was totally blown away. I couldn't believe how nice a brownie could taste. I wanted to find a recipe but it turned out that the brownies were made by Barbara and were her own. You can read the full story in the link above.

I continued my search for the ultimate chocolate brownie recipe, including the recommended David Lebovitz Dulce de Leche recipe and The Age ultimate brownie recipe. The Lebovitz recipe was good, but still not amazing. The Age recipe was super temperamental and extremely hard to get the texture right as I enjoy a fudgey brownie rather than a cakey one. It also wasn't the perfect flavour I wanted. I tweeted my efforts with The Age recipe and luckily Viviane from Choc Chili Mango saw my tweet. After many exchanges, it turns out that she is a total chocolate brownie expert, having won a competition to have her recipe published in a book. She was kind enough to share her recipe with me and I have since used that recipe countless times for a simple treat to a sophisticated dessert.

The recipe below is wonderful in both the flavour and texture. The use of the brown sugar adds that hint of something to it that I really love. The high ratio of chocolate to flour means that you can achieve the wonderful fudgey texture consistently. I find there is quite a wide window of time when the brownie will stay fudgey rather than other recipes where it's extremely hard to time it right for the texture I want. The brownie also has a nice thin crispy top.

I've made this recipe a number of ways. So far I've tried

* Plain chocolate brownie
* Peanut butter chocolate brownie
* Walnut chocolate brownie
* Raspberry chocolate brownie
* Dulce de Leche chocolate brownie
* Salted peanut dulce de leche chocolate brownie
* Salted caramel chocolate brownie

All the flavours I've tried have tasted amazing. Each has their own appeal. If I had to pick one that I like best, it would be the raspberry one, as the tart flavour from the raspberry contrasts well with the chocolate. I have yet to try using ground nuts instead of flour but I can imagine that the final result will be even more decadent and fragrant.


* Use high quality 70% cacao chocolate. You really taste the difference with the quality of the chocolate. I thought 70% chocolate would be too dark for my liking but when cooked, it loses some of the bitterness and tastes fantastic. I've tried it with 40% cacao chocolate and it's just not as good.

* Use a square cake tin. I usually make a double batch and initially used a large tray to put both batches in at once. This meant that when I got the centre to the right consistency, the edges were far too cooked. A square tin means the edges are not too overcooked when the centre is fudgey.

* Always undercook the brownies. Even if they are really sloppy, leaving them in the fridge overnight will make them lovely and fudgey. Check the brownies after about 20 minutes (at least that's what works for my oven) with a wooden skewer. Take them out when there is a thick mayonnaise consistency batter sticking to the skewer. The brownies will continue to cook a bit more when out of the oven. This will give the perfect fudgey brownie.

* If you are going to add things into the batter, such as peanut butter, dulce de leche, choc chips etc, go heavy handed. Add far more than what you think is adequate or the flavour gets lost amongst the chocolate.

* In the original recipe, the chocolate and butter was melted over a double boiler. I did this initially but thought it would be easier to just melt them directly in a pan. I couldn't taste any difference so I suggest melting directly in a pan as it's much easier. Just keep the heat low so as not to burn the chocolate.

* You may be tempted to reduce the sugar, but don't. The brownie is rich and sweet but the sugar helps to give it the right balance with the dark chocolate. If you want to be healthy, don't make these brownies. I would only drop the sugar if you intend to add other sweet things to the brownies, such as the dulce de leche.

* The brownies taste far nicer when left overnight. They don't taste super awesome when warm, so I suggest you make them a day earlier for whenever you want to eat them, if you can resist chomping into them. I've left them for as long as a week and they're still very good.

That's pretty much all I can tell you about these brownies. They are seriously awesome and you can add anything to them. The flavour combinations are only limited by your own imagination. Go forth and experiment. I'd love to hear about and try out any of your attempts that turn out well so please feel free to leave comments. If you have any problems and questions, I'd also be happy to answer them so leave a comment. I'd like to thank Viviane Buzzi for sharing her recipe with me so in her honour, I am going to call this recipe VB Chocolate Brownies so it has a unique name and people can refer to it and know which recipe is being discussed.

VB Chocolate Brownies
300g bittersweet chocolate
125g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp liqueur or brandy (Grand Marnier, Tia Maria etc)
1/2 cup plain flour sifted (or finely ground nuts)

1. Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a 23cm square cake tin.
2. Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat until smooth.
3. Beat eggs with sugar until thick and light.
4. Add liqueur.
5. Fold in chocolate-butter mixture to eggs.
6. Fold in flour or ground nuts.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes. A wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the brownies should come out still a bit wet.
8. Do not overbake the brownies so keep an eye on it after about 15 minutes. The brownies also do not rise.
9. Let cool in tin for about 10 minutes and turn out onto wire rack to cool. Cut into squares to serve.

Spoonbill Restaurant and Bar at The Olsen Hotel

Art and food. What do they have in common? Well if you’re John Olsen, you combine abstract style food elements into your artwork. John’s art is the focus of the The Olsen Hotel where his pieces of nature and food inspired paintings are displayed throughout all corners of the hotel, including the newly opened Spoonbill restaurant. I was invited to an art tour of the hotel and to dine at Spoonbill.

After being greeted down at the bar area of Spoonbill, I was led around the hotel to look at numerous pieces of art by John Olsen. I really loved his artwork, as it was full of bright colours and I liked the slight abstract nature of the landscape or food he was painting. We were told to pay attention as after the tour, we would be allowed to create our own masterpieces, which would be displayed in the driveway of the hotel. Finally, someone has recognised my artistic talents and was willing to display it for all the world to see. We all enthusiastically got our hands dirty (some of us metaphorically, others like Agnes more literally) and let our artistic juices flow onto canvas. Look at my amazing effort below. You must be amazed at all the intricacies and trying to decipher all the hidden meaning of my masterpiece. Can you tell what it is?

With our artwork completed, it was time to taste some art on a plate. We started with a number of entrees such as Fish Tacos, Mini Wagyu Burgers, Roasted Quail, Seared Scallops and Mussels in Broth. While I was too slow to wrench a mini burger out of the fingers of my fellow food bloggers, I did manage to try everything else. All the food was quite good or very good. The fish tacos was a bit bland for my liking, but the scallops, quail and mussels were excellent. The mussels were my favourite as they were super plump and flavoursome in the broth.

For mains, we tried some Poached Fish, Slow Cooked Pork Belly and the signature John Olsen Paella. The poached fish was really bland and had lots of bones. I had a tiny piece but otherwise left that alone, as did everyone else. Instead, I tucked into the really tender pork belly. It had a good flavour, similar to Chinese Soy Braised Belly I thought. The John Olsen Paella, which John used to love eating and painting, was good. The seafood was really fresh and the rice had good flavour. It could have been improved slightly for my liking if there were some nice burnt crispy pieces of rice at the base. I normally love picking at those crispy bits of rice in a paella. There may have been a salad or three but seriously, WHO WINS FRIENDS WITH SALAD right? So I may have forgotten what the salads were.

While I was already quite full from the savouries, when dessert arrived, my stomach immediately found space again. We got to try the Hazelnut Meringues, Apple Delicious and A Taste of Chocolate. All desserts were amazing. The hazelnut meringues were light and covered in coffee cream and espresso syrup. A perfect balance of flavours. The apple delicious contained a millefuille, a jelly and a sorbet. While the millefuille and jelly were already good, the sorbet was what surprised me. The apple flavour was so clear and crisp and hence my favourite of the three items. Lastly, the taste of chocolate was just pure chocolate indulgence. There was a chocolate fondant which oozed a chocolate lava when you stabbed at with a spoon. It was served with a lusciously smooth ice cream and honeycomb. We finished the meal with some cocktails, of which I chose a Violet Crumble, delicious.

Overall, I liked the food. For me, the highlights were the super plump fresh mussels dish, the paella and the all the desserts. We were seated upstairs in a corner table so I’m not sure what the atmosphere in the restaurant below is like. I would think it will be nice as the d├ęcor is very striking and I could hear quite a lot of noise from downstairs of people laughing and talking. Service is hard to judge as I was there for an event but the wait staff did seem to know their wines and food when questioned, which is a good sign.

My guest and I dined courtesy of Spoonbill Restaurant.

Spoonbill Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Raspberry Cream Cheese Breakfast Buns - Magnolia Bakery Recipe

I had heard about how great Magnolia Bakery is from numerous people, so I was especially excited when my friends gave me The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
as a present. Having baked quite a number of recipes from the book, I would highly recommend that you buy it. The recipes are simple but the results are totally divine due to its perfect execution. Both the vanilla and chocolate cupcakes and matching frosting are excellent and the bases are now my default cupcake/cake base to add any flavouring to. I can't wait to visit Magnolia Bakery in person one day. It would be one of many of my culinary dreams come true.

I read from the book how one of their most popular items are the Raspberry Cream Cheese Breakfast Buns. I wasn't quite sure how this would work with the cream cheese in it, so was intrigued to try it out. The resulting item is shown below.

It's an awesome bun, soft, moist, smooth and with a wonderful fragrant flavour. It's sort of like a sponge cake-ish fruit jam muffin haha. You can't really taste the cream cheese flavour, more feel the smooth texture. The raspberry jam gets caramelised a bit and burnt and gives the whole bun the most wonderful flavour that I can't stop eating.

- Don't fill up the muffin tins with too much batter as it rises quite a lot. About 2/3 full is enough.
- I found it easier to work with the jam if I left it out of the fridge for a while to soften.
- Don't overstir the raspberry jam to get a nicer pattern but you do need to push some of it under the batter or it will sort of roll off the bun and all onto the sides.
- It's worth putting a tray under the muffin tin as some of the jam may overflow and it's hard to clean off the oven.
- The buns are quite sweet, so if you prefer it less sweet, reduce the sugar, or use 2 teaspoons of jam like I do.

That's all the tips I have as this recipe is so easy and tastes so amazing. I've made this many times and even tried other jams. While they are all nice, I like the slight tart flavour of the raspberry jam most.

Magnolia Bakery's Raspberry Cream Cheese Breakfast Buns
Makes 12

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
230g cream cheese, softened
115g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup raspberry preserves

Preheat oven to 175C. Line 12 muffin cups.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese, butter, and sugar until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and beat well. Add the dry ingredients in two parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full. Drop 3 small dollops (about a teaspoonful each) of raspberry preserves onto the top of each bun and, using the tip of a sharp knife, swirl the preserves into the batter, forming a decorative pattern. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the bun comes out clean. Allow the buns to cool for about 30 minutes before serving.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Singapore Takeout In Sydney

London, Paris, Moscow, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Delhi, Dubai and Sydney.

What do these places have in common?

While they are all fantastic holiday locations, another thing that links them is that they have all been visited by the Singapore Takeout extravaganza. Singapore Takeout is a mobile pop-up kitchen that is touring the globe to showcase Singaporean food and food products. The final stop on this tour was Sydney, and I was invited to attend. I was flown up to Sydney, accommodated at the Sebel Pier One and ate food from the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants number 27th ranked Iggy's with head chef Ignatius Chan. It was a surreal food dream, but one that I could totally relive forever. The only thing that could have made it better was if Jessica Alba was my date for the dinner, but that's another dream.

Singapore Takeout is an initiative of SPICE, Singapore International Culinary Exchange. It is a collaborative between International Enterprise Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board and SPRING Singapore. The aim is to promote Singapore as a culinary heaven and a perfect destination for any food lover.

At the Singapore Takeout event, I got to meet many other wonderful food bloggers, including my food blog inspiration, Helen, whose food blog was the first one I took inspiration from. I also caught up with Penny and Simon. I finally got to meet other food bloggers who I've admired in Suze, Simon and Thang. I even found out that Thang was the creator of SBS PopAsia, one of my favourite TV shows. Lastly, I got to meet new bloggers in The Food Pornographer, Christina, Tina and Minh.

The chatty group of food bloggers listened to the very funny Ignatius explain about Singaporean food and his own cooking style and passion. Ignatius also explained a bit about the menu he was cooking for us, comprising of classic dishes with a modern interpretation. We were going to watch a demonstration of the Nasi Lemak being cooked, but due to the mobile kitchen not having adequate cooking facilities, we watched a beautiful video of Singapore instead.

The meal started with the Nasi Lemak in question, which was a deconstructed dish. It was quite nice.

A Sushi dish followed which was inspired by Tetsuya. Instead of using rice, a meringue was used, which was interesting and good.

A Cold Capellini was extremely refreshing and left my palette wanting more.

Beef Cheeks with vegetables was really comforting and good.

The re-interpreted Kaya Toast with a brioche base and teh terik ice cream was excellent and my favourite item of the night.

While the food was nice, the Singaporean food message may have been pushed with even more impact. The addition of Ignatius to the event was obviously an impressive addition and he was extremely funny, but I think his food was a little bit compromised with the mobile kitchen. The event was a bit lost between trying to showcase Ignatius' high end food and capturing the essence of Singapore. I think a beautiful Nasi Lemak or Chili Crab being cooked in front of us so we can see and smell the wonderful ingredients and then eat it, would have had a stronger impact.

Overall, I would still be interested in going to Singapore again as I know how good the food is. I would recommend you check out the various websites and plan your own holiday there. I had a fantastic time at the Singapore Takeout, and in wonderful Sydney.

While my trip to Sydney was only short, I still managed to squeeze a bit more into it. On day 2, the wonderful Simon was kind enough to show myself and Christina around the Sydney Fish Markets. We ogled all the fresh seafood and took lots of photos, experimenting with subjects, composition and lighting.

Despite it being breakfast time, we all wanted to try the super fresh oysters, so settled on trying 4 varieties. They were really different but good.

After our market tour, Christina went to meet her friend while Simon and I dropped by Cre Asion for some absolutely amazing macarons. The 8 flavours I got were Lychee, Guava, Peanut Butter, Hoji Tea, Roasted Soybean, Caramel, White truffle hazelnut, pistachio. I loved every flavour but was most surprised by how good the truffle hazelnut combo was and the excellent pistachio. I don't think I've tried a better pistachio anywhere, except maybe Laduree in Paris. The textures on the macarons were a tad crunchy for my liking but after the second day, they were perfect.

The last pit stop was the famous Cafe Ish, where Christina rejoined us for lunch. We both had the famous Crab Omelette, which I did think was expensive when I saw it on the menu. But once I tasted it, it was worth every single cent. It was an utterly awesome dish, with crispy soft shell crab nested inside an egg omelette with soft avocado and a great sauce.

That concluded an amazing trip where I quickly got to see a bit of beautiful Sydney, attend Singapore Takeout and meet Ignatius Chan, met a lot of wonderful food bloggers and eat heaps of wonderful food.

Thanks to Frank PR for the invitation and SPICE for my flights and accommodation.