Monday, May 11, 2015

Box Hill Tour & Cooking Demo (Sneak Peek)

There are times where I really wish I'm back in Melbourne more frequently. These waves of home-sickness happen more often when I'm craving Melbourne's take on Asian cuisine - the US just doesn't do things the same way.

Box Hill really is a concentration of all things Chinese and Malaysian, from markets that are a source of Asian produce that's hard-to-find elsewhere, and restaurants that are frequently visited at all times of the day or night. I do have a soft-spot for their Mid-Autumn Festival, having performed there a few times myself - check it out if you get the chance. 

Box Hill Markets Bounty
Don't those vegetables look delicious? Dan will have the full scoop on a recent market tour and cooking demonstration with James Tan and Spencer Wong hosted by Box Hill Central so keep an eye out for that in the next week!

Box Hill Central
1 Main St, Box Hill 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Maude

How is it almost February already? Did January really disappear so quickly?

Reminiscing about the past isn't something I do outside of life as a food blogger, but there are times that I'm really, really glad that I reminisce about the meals I had because they were just damn awesome. And my credit card statement really does force me to think about some of them, like this one.

Due to quite a bit of coincidence, M and I managed to score a NYE reservation at the tiny, tiny restaurant Maude in Beverly Hills, LA. With a new menu every month focusing on a single star seasonal ingredient and headed up by Curtis Stone, this was a must try as soon as  we discovered its existence. 

The NYE menu was always going to be extra special (with an extra special/expensive price tag of $250 per head excluding tax and tips to match of course), and there was no better way to start than a glass of Krug. 

Krug
When I say Maude is tiny, I mean it's really tiny. At a maximum it seats 25 people and there's a clear view into the kitchen area.

Maude
Maude
This creates a comfortable sense of intimacy. The mellow lighting and vintage silverware and crockery also adds to this (although contributes to some less than perfect photos so you'll have to excuse me).

Being a fine dining restaurant, the menu started off with some amuse-bouche.

Pumpkin Packet
Eel
Uni
Oyster
Straight up we were incredibly impressed by how much flavour and texture each of these small dishes had, and the obvious care that had gone into crafting them. How can you not have fun with packets that burst with liquid flavour (the pumpkin packets) or foam (accenting oyster).

From there we moved onto pancakes.

Traditional Caviar
Yep, tiny fluffy pancakes (blini?). I prefer to think pancakes are the star of the show here because they're just too darn cute, but of course they're overshadowed by the indulgently delicious generous heaping of salty cavier. In keeping with a winter theme, there was some pumpkin puree to lend a touch of sweetness to the dish. 

Next up was a squash salad. 

Squash salad with farro, watercress and pumpkin
The presentation of these dishes really are beautiful. The composition is beautiful to look at and the colours were so much more vibrant in person (curse that yellow lighting). The textures also played nicely in this dish with the crunch of the farro contrasting nicely with the lightness of the squash foam and the crispness of the watercress.

Course 4 (if you count the amuse-bouche as a single course) was a Hiramasa Crudo.

Hiramasa Crudo with Bottarga, Pumpkin Cured Salmon Roe and Dashi Gel
The hiramasa, otherwise known as yellowtail kingfish, was delicately soft and a deceptively large serve. Accented with two types of roe, it was a great reflection of fresh seafood. The dashi gel is always great fun, although in this instance I'll admit it didn't have much of a flavour. 

More seafood for the next course:

Striped Bass with Little Gem, Anchovy and Chicken
Take a lightly seared fillet of bass with some little gem lettuce and chicken skin and you have another good tasting dish. I probably liked the other dishes more than this one, but it's not like this was skimping on taste or presentation in any sense.  

Lobster, Carrot, Buttermilk and Curry
How could I not like this next dish? Sweet, tender lobster, with slightly crisp/crunchy carrots and a slightly tangy sauce. I've only just started cooking with lobster myself, and am now determined to get my hands on some incredibly fresh lobster. Pity it's the wrong season though.  

When they brought the next dish out, I had flashbacks to Chemistry courses in university. 

Consomme
Isn't that coffee siphon? Indeed it was, but the creative minds at Maude had appropriated it to make a consomme.

Consomme
A ramen-style broth (without any pork) heated heated through a combination of herbs including fennel and beech was entertaining to watch (and isn't fine dining about classy entertainment?). 

It was then poured over a combination of dried mushrooms (enoki & oyster) and squid to create a moorish Japanese-inspired broth. 

Consomme with Squid, Mushrooms, Fennel and Beech
I will take a detour and say that this was 'wine-matched' with sake. Different but somehow it worked!

The next dish was simply glorious. 

Truffle Ravioli with White Alba Truffle
Look at that ridiculous amount of white truffle! It was shaved at the table and the scent was overwhelmingly indulgent. M was in positive ecstasy, but then again he loves truffles more than the average person. 

The dish was comforting, and indulgent and made us incredibly happy. It had the side effect of making us incredibly full as it was unsurprisingly filling, not that we really cared.

We did have to soldier on through three other courses, not including dessert!

Pheasant with Kabocha Squash, Parsley Root and Pearl Onion
The next dish really couldn't hit the lofty heights of the truffle dish, but that was to be expected. It was nevertheless well balanced with pheasant cooked two ways, another riff on the squash theme and a slight tang from pickled onions.  Can we also just take another moment to appreciate the beauty of vintage silverware? Time to hit up some markets myself I think.

Wagyu Cheek with Nori, Radish and Turnip 
Whilst the puffy white thing is reminiscent of pork crackling, it's not. It was in fact beef tendon. Just let that sink in a bit. Beef tendon? How did they manage to do that to something that's meant to be tough and inedible until it's stewed to death? It worked incredibly well with the Australian Wagyu and so we had another great dish. 

Wrapping up a meal, it's almost expected that there'll be a cheese dish and indeed there was.

Vacherin with Pumpkin 'Caviar'
I'll admit that this was the only dish that I couldn't finish. After all, there's only so much rich dairy that I can take. The cheese was reminiscent of Camembert, but with a stronger flavour and was paired beautifully with the slightly sweet pumpkin 'caviar'. Once again, I have no idea what magic they used to turn pumpkin into tiny little balls of flavour, but it was gleefully impressive.  

Then it was on to dessert.

Pomegranate Sorbet
As a foreshadowing of the January menu, the first dessert was a refreshing pomegranate sorbet. Slightly bitter, it was nevertheless interesting and delicious.

The second dessert was significantly heavier. 

Kuri Squash Beignet with Rice Sorbet, Carmel & Cinnamon
A rich, rich dessert that had plenty of sweetness, it was perfectly accompanied by a bitter coffee.

Espresso
After all, this grandma needs some caffeine if staying up till midnight was required. 

Petit Fours
As a final bookend to our meal, we were served petit fours (or should it be petit threes?). The macarons could have rivaled any good bakery, and the gellies were a perfect sweet ending.

All that was left after this was a midnight champagne toast to celebrate the new year with other diners and the hardworking staff.   

Nightcap
We had a great time at Maude: it was our first fine dining NYE experience, first degustation experience in the USA and it did not disappoint. While expensive, it was a worthy investment for a night of culinary alchemy/magic, the best service you could hope for, and of course, great tasting food with plenty of indulgences sprinkled throughout. This is by no means a typical menu (because really, NYE is special) but looking at the menu for 2015, there's plenty to look forward to - truffles in November and December anyone? 

Maude Restaurant
212 South Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA
Tue-Sat 530pm-10pm (reservations required)

Maude on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Top Paddock

One critical item on any itinerary when in Melbourne is to enjoy brunch with some friends. Indeed, what better way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon than catching up with friends over a Melbourne coffee and good food.

Top Paddock was a central location and given we were after a late lunch, seemed a good option to for delicious grub and (hopefully) not to long of a wait. Getting there at 2pm meant we snagged a table without effort as their rush hours seem to coincide with more traditional brunch times.

First order of the day was to get some caffeine into me (long black, no sugar) - living in the US, you really appreciate how wonderful Melbourne coffee is. Don't you lucky Melbourne residents take this for granted, ok?

The coffee is Five Senses, and much of the produce is locally sourced (from paddock to table, get it?). The menu itself is typical brunch fare;  almost all the dishes featured some kind of egg but there were still enough variety, and an interesting Spanish spin, that deciding what to eat was still a difficult choice.

I ended up with this:

Roasted kipfler potato & leek omelette with padron peppers & taleggio on toast
Not particularly pretty but very patriotic with the green and gold. Since my last trip to Spain, I've had a craving for padron peppers. This didn't really satisfy the cravings given they were really for the roasted peppers, smothered in salt, with the occasional hot one to spice things up. 

I digress however, and this omelette was rich and filling, and the flavours worked together quite well, although I wish I had added a sprinkle of salt over the top. Really, that was my fault given I had ordered it without the taleggio (and got teasingly reprimanded by the waiter for that). I can appreciate how the addition of the cheese would have completed the dish. 

My dining companion were happy with there orders too, and in the process, taught me quite a lot about all the different types of cheese on offer.

Grilled broccolini & sugar snaps with avocado, toasted almonds, poached eggs & heidi racelette on toast
White anchovies & Jamon serrano with fried eggs, padron peppers & manchego on toast
Eggs benedict: poached eggs with hamhock & béarnaise on toast
Did I mention that I really, really miss Melbourne brunches?

Overall, it's understandable why Top Paddock is so popular. The coffee is great, the produce is fresh and mostly local, the dishes are interesting and the waitstaff are friendly and efficient. The space is airy and on a beautiful day, the patio is wonderful to relax on. What's not to love about Top Paddock,  except for the almost guaranteed wait for a table that is. 

Top Paddock
658 Church Street, Richmond
Mon-Fri 7am-4pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm

Top Paddock on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 5, 2015

Supernormal

There are places that open up in Melbourne you hear the buzz about even while overseas. Supernormal is one of the those places, popping up in newspapers, Broadsheet, blogs and a million-and-one Instagram posts.

When a friend suggested we catch up there for lunch, I was keen to see what all the fuss was about and so quickly agreed. Even with a fairly pared down menu of Asian inspired foods which only bear some resemblance to the dishes that inspired them, and all with a fairly steep price-tag, it was difficult to decide what to order because everything sounded interesting and a ‘must-try’ once you got over the cost shock.

In the end, we decided to forgo the seafood-heavy raw bar section, and the meat and fish section and settled on a variety of dumplings, bao and plate/vegetable dishes.

The dumplings we ordered were, well, not my traditional idea of dumplings.

Prawn & chicken dumplings, chilli & vinegar sauce
But of course I’m just being pedantic, they’re wontons with their thin egg shells and the way they are wrapped, but ‘dumplings’ after all is a fairly generic term so I’ll let this one slide (mostly). The wrappers were delightfully thin, the meat was balanced and packed the little pockets well, and the chilli and vinegar sauce cut through the rich texture for a morish dish. Pity there were so few dumplings for quite a bit of cash, but there are times were you settle for quality over quantity.

The bao that we ordered were once again not my traditional definition of bao (where the meat is completely enclosed in a dough filling) but instead the Melbourne style of bao à la Wonderbao.

Pork bao, tamarind sauce
I was also surprised at the form the pork took – I was expecting a chunk of fairly unprocessed meat and was instead greeted by a heavily breaded and internally shredded meat cube. Strange, but delicious nevertheless. The dough was slightly sweet, and fairly light and springy and the tamarind added a distinctly Asian but definitely non-expected flair to the dish.

Whereas we unanimously decided that the dumplings and bao were tasty, the next dish divided our group. Some of us liked it, some of us were just plain confused by it.

White cut chicken, cold noodles, black sesame and cucumber
The chicken I get, the cold noodles I get, the cucumber I get (standard ingredients) but the black sesame sauce just threw me. Slightly floury, slightly tasteless, I just didn’t understand the appeal. Why couldn’t a simple broth do? But hey, that’s why I’m not a chef – I just don’t understand the art of experimentation like they do. This dish works for some, but definitely not for others. 

Thankfully the last two dishes were rich, delicious, and kept my tastebuds very happy.

Sauteed mushrooms, rice cake & sweet soy
We’ve once again got the Asian influences of rice and soy but this dish was purely just a wonderful highlight of mushrooms. Meaty mushrooms, with different varieties lending different flavours and textures, offset by the crunch of the rice cake. Probably my favourite dish of the meal.

Silken tofu, marinated eggplant & coriander
The silken tofu dish came a close second, but likely only because of my affection for eggplant. The eggplant was silky, as was the tofu (which you may have gotten from the name) and were good foils for each other in terms of heavy and light flavours being balanced with the coriander was adding a refreshing highlight.

The whole experience is enjoyable if you just go with the fact that the dishes are very different to typical Asian food. Having never been to another Andrew McConnell restaurant, I don’t know if this is just what his style is like. Trying something new is always fun and worth a shot. The price tag is something you’d better be prepared for because that certainly doesn’t resemble the price tags you may be accustomed to seeing in most Asian restaurants. 

Supernormal
180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Sun-Thu 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-12am

Supernormal on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mamak

After all this time, I've only just got around to eating at Mamak. I remember the hype surrounding the restaurant when it first opened, and the corresponding lines, and I shudder just thinking about it. The experience was much more pleasant now that it's no longer the darling of the Melbourne dining scene (especially with the massive expansion of Pappa Rich everywhere).

I arrived there for an early 6pm dinner with a friend and were promptly seated. The restaurant was relatively empty and fairly spacious, although the tables were smaller than I was entirely comfortable with (I need space to make a mess after all!) but not a-typical of an inner city restaurant. The menu is very Malaysian and very manageable - just what I wanted.

On to the food. I couldn't dine at a Malaysian restaurant and not order some Roti.

Roti Canai
The Roti was perfectly flaky and I had great fun feeling the layers off the roti ball. The curries were pretty uninteresting being both thin in texture and flavour, but luckily I'd ordered some additional curry in anticipation.

Kari Kambing
The lamb curry was rich and tender, with the faintest hint of spice (rather than what I'd call 'spicy'). I miss Australian lamb (the lamb in the USA isn't as flavoursome, tender or as abundant) and was incredibly happy with my order. In hindsight, I should have ordered more roti to soak up the juices.

Rojak
My friend ordered the Rojak, a Malaysian-style salad with prawn and coconut fritters, fried tofu, hard-boiled eggs, yambean (jicama) and cucumbers and the requisite peanut sauce. I've never been particularly fond of Malaysian-style salads, but my friend demolished it in record time, which suggests that they liked it a lot.

The food was delicious (especially the roti), prices were reasonable and the service was fast. The nly blip was the confusion of whether iced black coffee should or shouldn't contain milk (some things just get lost in translation). I can understand the attention Mamak garnered when it opened was mostly worth it, but I think the lack of lines certainly makes for a more enjoyable dining experience.

Mamak
366 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Sun-Thu 1130am-230pm, 530-10pm
Fri-Sat 1130am-230pm, 530pm-12am

Mamak on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Healthy Fruit Cake


Oh my what a busy few months it's been. Oh my what a long time since I last posted! With a trip back to Australia just around the corner, I've been inspired to make more of an effort on this dear blog. 

What better way to revive the blog, and oneself, this time of year than with a fruit cake. Growing up, I was never a fan of fruitcakes; I found them all too sweet, all too dense and all too boring. A few years ago, I stumbled upon a recipe by Teresa Cutter than was neither too sweet, nor too dense, and definitely not boring. 

Last time I made this, I had to make a few adjustments because 1) I didn't have exactly the right ingredients and 2) I felt like adding my own ingredients. It still worked out superbly. 

First in the bowl is a medley of dried fruits: I used apricots, dates, raisins, goji berries (a Chinese herb/fruit) and longans (another Chinese herb/fruit which I absolutely love). 

Variety of dried fruits
To this we add eggs (fresh from the chickens in the backyard in this case), with a whole orange and Christmas-sy spices (nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and cloves). I snuck in a little bit of liquor here, but I won't tell if you don't. There's double the amount of eggs called for by the recipe in the photo because I made a double batch.

Eggs
Some flour/nut meal of your choice - I used freshly ground almond meal here which resulted in a coarser than usual texture. 

Almond Meal
Mix it all together...

Fruit Cake Mix
...then prepare for baking!

Fruit Cakes Ready to be Baked


Healthy Fruit Cake
Adapted from Teresa Cutter

Gluten-free

Ingredients:

  • 650g dried fruits 
  • 1 whole orange, peeled
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract/paste
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 100g flour or nut-meal
  • 120g melted butter or oil
  • 80g nuts (optional) 
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 150 C.
  2. Combine dried fruits in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Crack eggs into a blender and add the peeled orange, vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Blend until smooth and combined.
  4. Pour the liquid mix over the top of the dried fruits and add melted butter/oil. Mix in well.
  5. Add flour/nut-meal and mix through. Optionally add nuts to the mix. 
  6. Line a 18 cm ( 7 1/2 inch ) baking tin with baking paper.
  7. Spoon in the cake mix and flatten over the top. 
  8. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until cake is cooked through.
  9. Remove from the oven and cool.

Healthy Fruit Cake


Friday, October 17, 2014

Villagio

You know that moment when you're stuck in a mall, and can't find anything other than fast food? Yeah, I hate that and avoid it at all costs. So what I end up doing is organising any essential mall trips (and by essential, I mean there's stuff I need, but don't know where to get it from) around meal times. 

As was the case last Sunday, I organised to meet up with a few friends for lunch, then tackle the shopping list. For convenience sake, we ended up at a mall restaurant that was relatively well reviewed on Yelp, Villagio, that's tucked into a corner of the upper level of Fashion Outlets of Chicago. 

It's fairly obvious that the restaurant is part of the mall, but if you choose an inner table, it definitely doesn't feel quite so much like a food court.

The best thing by far at the restaurant was the bread baskets.

Bread
Not satisfied with just giving out slices of crusty, warm bread, they're also generous enough to provide flat bread with a delightful, vinegar and tomato-centric bruschetta topping. If you do happen to devour the basket and plate like we did, then they're happy to provide you with more. 

The menu is extensive and focuses on Italian cuisine. There are cold platters, warm appetizers, salads and soups kick the meal off, followed by the usual pasta, pizza and Italian-style meat mains like Parmigiana and Scaloppini, and paninis.

Seeing as I'd gorged  myself on the bread, I ended up ordering a seafood soup.

Zuppa Mare e Monti
With mixed fish, rice, calamari, shrimp, clam broth, tomato and zucchini, it really is a throw-whatever-you-can-find-into-the-pot kind of soup. While warming and flavoursome (the seafood and tomato combination just works), I was hoping that it would both be thicker in texture and larger in size. 

The dishes enjoyed by my companions were much more substantial:

Pizza Pepperoni
Linguine Nettuno
I  tried neither of the pizza or pasta dishes but what struck me most as they came out where how big the servings are. This is America after all, so I shouldn't be surprised. 

The pizza base was unfortunately soggy, but apart from that, both companions seemed to enjoy their meal enough. Both ended up with take-home boxes of food.

Dessert was somewhat disappointing.

Tiramisu
While pretty enough to look at, the tiramisu was heavy on both liquor and cream, and lacking in substance and interesting flavours. What a shame in my eyes, because tiramisu isn't really that hard to get right.

Villagio does decent food for a decent price. Given its location in a food court, it certainly stands a class above the other options. The service was friendly, although somewhat haphazard (requests were frequently forgotten) and that seemed to be due to the inexperience of some of the servers. Regardless, we came out with our bellies full and happier than if we had eaten at the food court so I'd definitely recommend Villagio if you're in the mall. I'd skip dessert though. 

Villagio
Fashion Outlets of Chicago
5220 Fashion Outlets Way, Rosemont, IL
Mon-Sun 1130am-11pm


Villagio on Urbanspoon