Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Trust

So much time has passed since I was last in Melbourne that I'm now thinking about when I should head back next for a visit. Which just goes to show how overdue this post is.

Selecting a location for a dinner with colleagues is always a challenge; the restaurant has to be close enough to the office, the space has to accommodate at least 10 people, food should be reasonably priced, there must be enough vegetarian choices available, there should be a decent wine list, and the menu should appear tasty enough to some of the fusspots in our group (ahem, me).

After a bit of searching, we decided on The Trust which appeared to at least satisfy all these requirements. 

The Trust
Walking into the big front restaurant, there was certainly enough space to seat all of us. Apart from a few other patrons enjoying after-work drinks, we were the only diners. Which suited us just fine. 

The menu has an Italian spin to it and is quite extensive covering antipasto selections, pastas, and fish, lamb, chicken and vegetarian mains.

To kick things off, we ordered a few items from the antipasto bar.

Salumi Misti
It's hard to go wrong with thinly sliced, well cured meats. I can't remember the exact cost, but the menu says it's $20, which in hindsight was way to expensive for this, no matter how good it was. 

For the benefit of the vegetarians, we ordered some chickpea chips.

Chickpea Chips
These were nicely crunchy on the outside, and by contrast, soft on the inside. I found them to be a little bland and the sauce only helped to add a little flavour. Much better were the gooey aracini balls. 

Aracini
Another vegetarian dish, these were stuffed full of cheese. Not a healthy choice by any stretch, but comfort food in small serves is always in fashion.

A beautiful demonstration in simplicity came in the form of a calamari entree.

Calamari Grigliati
With chilli, lemon, olives and parsley, in my mind this is a quintessential Mediterranean dish. I certainly can't vouch for the authenticity of this, but it was my favourite starter full of flavours and fresh-tasting seafood. 

We ended up getting almost all the mains available between us, however I only have shots that turned out well thanks to my colleague's camera (my iPhone failed to take decent photos in these lighting conditions). 

From memory, Agnello all Brace of 10 hour slow cooked lamb, chickpeas and mixed grains was rich and thick, with a generous portion of meat accompanied by a salty broth.  

I'd ordered the fish of the day, accompanied by roasted baby beetroot and potatoes, a lonely spear of broccolini, and a very odd tasting crab-quinoa concoction.

Fish of the Day
The fish was crisp and nicely salted, with a nice firm flesh, but really, I couldn't get over how jarring the crabby mousse thing was. Points for healthiness and creativity, but unfortunately no points for taste.  

Squid Ink Linguine
And for interest, the squid ink liguine was ordered. Because differently coloured pasta is always a hit (but of course it tasted like any other well-cooked pasta). Not as good as freshly home-made, but a decent dish. 

Overall, we had a good time at The Trust and would certainly recommend it for groups. The atmosphere is cosy but still professional (like an old library full of dark wooden furniture), the waitstaff are friendly and efficient, there's something for everyone on the menu and the food is satisfying and decently priced (average standard for a CBD restaurant). Nothing mind-blowing here, but sometimes that's not a requirement. 

The Trust
405 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 9am-12am, Sat 5am-12am

The Trust on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bella Vedere

Trips back to Australia are always such a gift and it's hard to believe that the visit to Bella Vedere in the Yarra Valley with M's family, on ANZAC day no less, happened so many moons ago.

Making full use of the wonderful local produce (from both his garden and the small businesses that populate the hills nearby), the lunch menu of starters, mains and desserts is extensive. I have been told that it changes every day based on what's fresh and what's available, so return visits are unlikely to get boring.

The space is large and airy with numerous rustically-classy wooden tables, and even a few situated outside where lunch can be enjoyed in the sunshine if desired. During our visit, a few of the tables were used when were arrived although the empty ones filled up as the day progressed. The most popular section of the restaurant actually appears to be the bakery. There was a constant stream of patrons buying loaves of fresh bread, and I must say that the smells wafting out were extremely enticing.

The day we were there, our lunch started beautifully with a bowl of fresh-baked bread.

Bread Basket
The bread comes to the table warm, almost like it's been taken straight from the oven (which it probably has) with a side of creamy butter. The olive bread is the pick of the basket and I made the rookie mistake of eating more slices than I should have.

Our next appetizer was a single tempura prawn each with a crispy and sweet apple slaw.

Tempura Prawn with Apple Slaw
The prawn was meaty, tender and slightly sweet, wrapped in a delicately thin rice-flour skin. This was a great example of tempura, and an unlikely hit from the menu.

From there, it was a bit of chaos. We had a large party, and some of us ordered a single main, while others ordered two entrees instead. The way it panned out was that those with two entrees had their first entree delivered (although which one was deemed 'first' seemed arbitrarily chosen) with their second entree delivered with mains.

Our wine order was forgotten, and our water glasses were left unfilled. Apart from those glitches in the service, our meal was great.

I ordered a very hearty plate with a combination of pork sausages and sauerkraut.

Pork Sausages and Sauerkraut
I'm not usually a fan or sausages, and in all honesty, I ordered this dish because of the sauerkraut. I was pleasantly surprised at how moreish the sausages were (must be because the pigs were happy), high proportion of meat, different takes on pork and the generous serving size. I also appreciated the beautifully cut vegetables that accompanied the meats and of course, the satisfaction that comes with taking a forkful of sauerkraut. 

I sampled a selection of the remaining dishes that were ordered, and all I found to be both rich in taste and freshness.
Goat Cheese Frittata with Zucchini
Riccotta Gnocchi
Fish Pie
Beef Cheeks with Pasta
Everyone was satisfied with their meals, and quite full, myself included. This was however yet another occasion where I was happy that I had a separate dessert stomach.

Red Wine & Apple Tart
These beautiful dishes were staring at us the entire meal and had us salivating the whole time.

Fig Frangipane Tart
We tried all three desserts on offer and they were all delicious in their own way. The red wine and apple tart was my favourite, full of rich apple, berry and vanilla flavours with a nice, light addition of sugar enhancing the sweetness. The softness of the fruit was perfectly decadent.

The Fig Frangipane tart was heavy on the nuts with a nice contrast between the slick texture of the fig, crunchiness of toasted nuts and crumbliness of the frangipane.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake
The Lemon Curd Cheesecake was balanced between tart and sweet, with a crispy base and an accent of icing sugar. As you'd expect, this was smooth and creamy and all the things a good lemon cheesecake should be.

Overall, we had a great time at the Yarra Valley institution of Bella Vedere. Open for both lunch and dinner, the food was honest, fresh and satisfying and fairly important in this day and age, local. The surroundings are charming and homely, and the atmosphere is relaxed. The only let-down was slightly patchy service but provided you're not afraid to ask (a few times) for what you require and aren't in a rush, it's nothing too off-putting.

Bella Vedere
874 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream
Mon-Sun 10am-11pm

Bella Vedere on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Paperboy

Catering exclusively for the CBD lunch crowd, Paperboy is a new and very well regarded arrival on the Melbourne dining scene. When Libby suggested that we catch up there for lunch, there was every reason to go with the promise of good food 

Paperboy Kitchen
We headed there early to avoid the lunchtime crowd, and were rewarded with a relatively empty restaurant. 

Paperboy Kitchen
There are only a few seating areas, so I guess that Paperboy caters more towards take-away than dine-in, but I've always preferred the luxury of settling down and experiencing the atmosphere of a restaurant. 

The menu itself is relatively simplistic; rolls and bowls are the only mains on offer. You choose whether you want a roll or a rice noodle bowl, and then choose your topping. BBQ chicken, panko fish, pulled lamb, slow-cooked beef and red-curry cauliflower are the options and all come with asian slaw, carrot-daikon pickle, sriracha-mayo and coriander.

Libby and I made our choices and sat down by the window with this cute order number for company. 

Order 'number'
So not really a number, but a pretty unique identifier to help the waitstaff figure out which order belongs to who. After an incredibly short wait of around 5 minutes, our meals were on the table. 

I'd ordered the pulled lamb & hoisin rice noodle bowl.  

Pulled Lamb & Hoisin Rice Noodle Bowl
The meal was satisfying although not spectacular in my opinion. The serving was of a decent size and they were fairly generous with the meat, but I felt there was too much reliance on the sauces to add flavour rather than doing something interesting with the meat. The noodles themselves were cooked well though being neither soggy nor too crunchy. The popcorn on the side was a eccentric touch but welcome and memorable nevertheless. 

Slow Cooked Beef Rice Noodle Bowl
Libby ordered the slow cooked beef bowl and also seemed satisfied with her order. I took a bite and found that the beef too suffered from a lack of flavoured, but the sauces and the pho dipper (a little mug of pho-broth-style soup) made up for it. 

No restaurant in Melbourne would be complete with some caffeinated offering, and Paperboy Kitchen delivers with Vietnamese style iced coffee. Perfect for a summer day (although maybe not the almost-winter that this autumn has been).

Viet Iced Coffee
Paperboy Kitchen is a welcome addition to the fairly lackluster, west-side CBD lunchtime dining scene and serves up filling dishes in record time. The meats themselves could do with an injection of flavour, and I would expect more for $9-$13.5 a meal. Still, with friendly and fast service and a hard-to-mess-up offering, it's not a bad lunchtime option.

Paperboy
320 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 1130am-3pm

Paperboy Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fudgy Chocolate Muffin Cakes

It's been quite a while since I did any baking, but sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery and a little bit of external motivation to kick me back into gear. 

As it was, right before I planned to return to Australia for a few weeks, I was contacted to try out Well Naturally Sugar Free Dark Chocolate Melts. 

Sugar Free Dark Chocolate Melts
Not being one who naturally turns down chocolate, I was interested to see how these would taste on their own. Could 70% dark chocolate sweetened with Stevia rather than sugar and designed to melt easily taste good enough to consume on its own? Almost. 

I must say that the chocolate wasn't quite 'rich' enough for my liking and there's an almost imperceptible chalkiness from the Stevia, but of course that would be completely unnoticed in dessert concoction.

Whilst I was sent plenty of sugar free recipes to try, I instead turned a staple recipe in order to satisfy my curiosity of whether this could taste as good as your standard dark chocolate. Fudgy chocolate muffin cakes with added sugar) was the result. With a very toothsome texture, these beauties are a heavy-hitting chocolate fix in a small package. Chocolate cakes are always better when they're slightly underdone and very fudgy in my opinion. 

To begin, I melted dark chocolate with butter (in the microwave) and was pleasantly surprised at how easily the chocolate chips melted.

Dark Chocolate with Butter
To this was added the mixed dry ingredients....

Dark Chocolate, Butter, Flour, Sugar, Cocoa Powder, Salt
... followed by eggs, cream and vanilla (I used vanilla paste because I absolutely adore using it in baking). Mixing gently resulted in a smooth, slightly fluffy batter.

Fudgy Chocolate Batter
Usually I would bake a chocolate cake, but this time smaller cakes made in a muffin tin (henceforth called muffin cakes for all eternity) just felt more appropriate. Easier portion control I suppose.

I divided the batter evenly into a 6-hole muffin tin and then popped them into the pre-heated oven. 

Batter in a 6-hole muffin tin
Out of the oven came these glorious muffin-cakes, with their rich chocolate aroma and slightly cracked tops that promised a super-dark indulgent experience (with half the sugar that these would usually contain).

Fudgy Chocolate Muffin Cakes
A smear of dark chocolate ganache and these were ready to be devoured. And with sugar-free chocolate replacing the standard dark chocolate called for in the recipe but without a noticeable difference in flavour, these aren't as sinful as they taste!

Dark Chocolate Ganache

Adapted from Scientifically Sweet

Ingredients:

Cake:
  • 85 g unsalted butter
  • 85 g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa, sugar-free if you prefer)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar (or equivalent sugar-free sweetener if you prefer)
  • 30 g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup thickened cream
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
Frosting:
  • 200 g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
  • 35 g butter
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • pinch of salt
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C and grease and butter a 6 hole large-muffin tin.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter very gently in a microwave (in 20 second bursts), or in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth (either after each 20 second burst or continuously if using a saucepan). Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and baking soda a bowl and whisk together.
  4. Add chocolate mixture, eggs, cream and vanilla extract/paste to the flour mixture and mix gently until you end up with a smooth batter (do not over-mix).
  5. Divide batter evenly into the prepared muffin tin and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (roughly 15-20 minutes).
  6. Make the frosting by combining chocolate, butter, coffee and milk in a double boiler and heating it gently (without stirring) until the chocolate begins to melt. Alternatively heat the mixture gently in 20 second bursts in the microwave. When melted, stir until smooth and glossy. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Add salt and beat vigorously for 30 seconds then set aside to cool and thicken until it's a spreadable consistency. 
  7. Spread frosting over the top of the muffin cakes. 
Fudgy Chocolate Muffin Cakes



Thanks to Well Naturally and WordStorm PR for sending me samples of Well Naturally Sugar Free Dark Chocolate Melts to try!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pizza Capers Flavourendum

I believe there are 3 types of people in the world; those who like simple pizzas, those who like gourmet pizzas, and those who only like pizzas at 3am in the morning. I fall in the middle-camp so was super-stoked to be offered the opportunity to try a few of the new pizzas on offer by Pizza Capers and vote in their Flavourendum to pick my favourite!

Three very different pizzas were up against each other in the taste test: Tuscan Pesto Chicken & Bacon, Reef & Beef and BBQ Bonanza.

First up to the stage, the Tuscan Pesto Chicken & Bacon. 

Tuscan Pesto Chicken & Bacon
With tender chicken and sizzling bacon pieces on a medium-thick base smeared with tomato sauce, accompanied by red onions, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, garlic, mozzarella, Parmesan, fresh herbs and creamy pesto, it was a brilliant combination of flavours. It made me realise that after months of American pizza, Australian pizza is just that much better.

The next contender: Reef & Beef.

Reef & Beef
A fairly classic pairing often seen in pub meals but rarely seen on pizza, the Black Angus Beef, Cajun prawns, bacon, shallots, red onions, red capsicum, tomato sauce, mozzarella, lemon pepper, hollandaise and fresh lemon was quite good. Sizeable chunks of steak made an appearance alongside the sweet and spicy prawns. My only complaint was that the steak was on the dry side, but it was a good pizza nevertheless.

The final contender: BBQ Bonanza.

BBQ Bonanza
This is definitely a gourmet take on meat-lovers pizza. 100% Angus beef, sizzling rasher bacon, smoke cured pepperoni, leg ham, herbs, mozzarella and BBQ sauce is miles better than the not-quite-meat seen on many pizzas. For those who want more meat and more meat on pizza, then this is winner, but for someone like myself who prefers a more balanced meal, I did find it overpowering. Regardless, I did decide that the salty meats of varying textures, a hit of herbs to freshen up the slice, and sweet BBQ sauce is a decent offering.

All pizzas are available on a delicious gluten free base which I don't think is as delicious as a traditional base, but which is convenient for all you gluten-free folks out there.

As for the champion? Colleagues who I invited to sample the pizzas with me (what, you didn't think I ate three pizzas myself did you?) voted for the Reef & Beef but my favourite was the Tuscan Pesto Chicken & Bacon as I thought the flavours were more interesting and always like plenty of vegetables on a pizza. 

In a fairly crowded pizza delivery service market, Pizza Capers stands out with their interesting menu options and quality ingredients. Now if only they had a Melbourne city branch, and could change pizza offerings in America to be similarly delicious.

Thanks to Pizza Capers and Retail Food Group for this fun opportunity!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Brenda's French Soul Food

It's always a challenge finding a place to take out-of-town visitors for brunch when you still don't know the city yourself very well. This time though, I outsourced location-finding duties to the said visitors, mainly because I knew they'd be both thorough in their research, and interested in finding good food.

So we ended up at the very well reviewed Brenda's French Soul Food for a weekday brunch. A busy day was underway so I was thankful to start with a large cup of black coffee.

Community Coffee with Chicory
The coffee was more interesting than the usual fare I've been drinking with the hints of chicory, but my opinion that Melbourne does a better coffee is thoroughly in place. Still, caffeine is caffeine.

The first section on the brunch menu are beignets; New Orleans flavoured donuts. They were incredibly tempting but this was one day where a sugar-rush would just not do. An order for a return visit perhaps? 

The remaining sections of the menu are more standard brunch options with plenty of egg dishes, pancakes and french toast, and sides including grits (ground-corn) and biscuits. 

Having never had Creole food before, I played it safe with a Creole Veggie Omelette (which made me feel like I was branching out a little, but not so far as to have crispy oysters for breakfast).

Creole Veggie Omelette
Creole Veggie Omelette
With plenty of vegetables in the form of corn, tomato, bell peppers and spinach, it was light but satisfying. I opted for an omelette without cheddar cheese so the omelette itself needed quite a bit of salt/Tabasco. I think it would have been great with the cheese though if that's your thing. 

On the side were breakfast potatoes (great and crispy) and a biscuit (not so great being too sweet for my liking).

One of my dining companions ordered 'Two Nice Big, Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes' and that's exactly what arrived at the table.

Buttermilk Pancakes
These are monstrously sized pancakes by my standards but they were incredibly fluffy and so didn't sit too heavily. With some maple syrup and a size of bacon they were a great pancake dish.

My other dining companion ordered the egg and bacon tartine with grits on the side.

Egg & Bacon Tartine
With bacon, scrambled eggs, gruyère and tomato-bacon relish on toasted french roll, this was a proper breakfast open-face sandwich. It's hard to go wrong taste-wise with crispy bacon, creamy scrambled eggs and melted cheese. A side of grits adds a serving of almost-vegetables, making this a complete meal. 

Overall I was impressed with Brenda's French Soul Food and certainly intend to return for brunch and to try the interesting donuts. The place was cosy, with high quality food, large servings and efficient service. It can get pretty busy though, so if you plan on going, plan on waiting in line for a while.  

Brenda's French Soul Food
Mon-Tue 8am-3pm, Wed-Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 8am-8pm
652 Polk St, San Francisco

Brenda's French Soul Food on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 31, 2014

La Méditerranée

It's been quite a while since I've had decent Middle-Eastern food. We're royally spoilt in Melbourne with our delicious 24/7 purveyors of gyros and mezze plates within the city and out of shifty-looking food trucks that seem like the greatest idea in the world at 2am.

Berkeley doesn't quite run along the same lines. Indeed, I went to La Méditerranée for a lunch on a Saturday in much more respectable surrounds at a much more respectable time. In this case perhaps, respectability means a less delicious meal.

Heralded as the best Middle-Eastern restaurant in Berkeley, it's been around for 30 years and has won numerous awards. My friend who brought me here, raved about how much she loved it. The menu looked very promising indeed - mezze plates, kebabs, and fillo plates galore.

My friend ordered a chicken kebab plate with a side of soup (not shown), while her husband ordered a chicken kebab plate and salad.

Chicken Kebab
The serving sizes are nothing if not generous! Two full skewers of chicken on a bed of rice and a few pieces of fresh fruit. Both of them enjoyed their meals heartily.

Perhaps my expectations for the lamb kebab I ordered was too high, because I was disappointed with the end result.

Lamb Kebab
Maybe I'm just used to fattier cuts of Australian lamb but I found the meat tough and dry here. The salad was miserable in my opinion and I would probably have been better off with the soup as well. The hummus was delicious however - silky smooth and perfectly creamy (without even the tiniest bit of cream). 

While I was disappointed with my meal, it was perhaps more due to my expectations rather than the actual quality. The food is reasonably priced with large serving sizes, and the service is fast. The fillo pastries look decadently tasty, so those seem worth a try. 

As for myself, I'm unsure whether I'll return here, but at least I know what I'll be getting for dinner the first night I'm back in Melbourne.

La Méditerranée
2936 College Ave, Berkeley
Mon-Thu 10am-10pm, Fri-Sat 10am-11pm, Sun 10am-930pm

La Mediterranee on Urbanspoon