Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pause, eat, breathe

I have a theory that life is a zero sum game; if you take from one area, you give to another. And I mean this in the sense of oneself as well, whereby if one increases attention to one area of life, it's usually at the sacrafice of another. It comes down to the hours in a day and in another sense, the kilojoules and energy of the being. It simply isn't possible (usually) to add new facets and attend to them and the old with the same intensity. Potentially possible in the short run, but just in the end, tiring.

A break is such an underrated notion. Not like a hiatus as such, but just a short refresher. A pause; a breather. It allows one to keep the momentum while taking the necessary rest for the body and mind. And when the objective is eating and you're darting around Melbourne for a weekend, maybe you need a holiday afterwards too.

So I find myself doing the Friday evening dash to the southern city, arriving rather late but in good time for supper - another underrated notion. Admittedly, I still don't enjoy sleeping on a very full stomach and I keep getting told about cheese and crazy dreams although I'm yet to experience it.

Manchego with fig salami from The European,
Spring Street, Melbourne

And not this night either, despite the nutty and smooth manchego cheese served with the novel-sounding fig salami. The latter menu item had us pondering whether the word 'and' was omitted from the menu, but upon its arrival to our rustic wooden table at The European, the fig salami was confirmed as a salami of fig. However, it was much more fig than salami; somewhat disappointing the eager awaiters of cured pork. Teamed with the manchego and French merlot blend, it screamed of sophisticated snacking.

The European itself is an intriguing mix of boho wine bar and CBD suit hangout; plus its multicultural offerings travelling from Spain, France, Italy and Greece - at the bare minimum. All rustic chic, its double doors are welcoming as is its 3am closing time - both more so than the black-clad staff.

Duck terrine with chutney

The terrine was a slightly more substantial dish featuring a earthy, duck-chunky, savoury slice with a delighfully contrasting chutney and lemon-dressed greens. Like my slow progression to enjoying natural oysters, I'm slowly growing fond of terrines and their ilk; although liver and other offal still give me the shivers. In the darkness we didn't see, but eventually tasted, the slick of hot English mustard across the plate. Overall it was a serious lesson of making disparate items work together exceptionally well.

Potato gnocchi with tomato, mozzarella and basil

The gnocchi teased and tempted from the menu and despite the ridiculously late hour (or early morning, I guess), all thoughts of carbs and heavy meals before bed went out the window. Besides, we had to keep the French company for a little while yet - those bottles of merlot can get mighty lonely.

First attack on the terracotta dish yields meltingly stringy mozzarella, topped off with a garlic-spiked crunchy bread crumb topping. Finding the submerged potato gnocchi was a surprise in two ways: they were very, very soft (think almost mashed potato) and they were in large and long rectangular blocks. They were pleasing with the simple tomato sauce and fresh basil, but went above and beyond when paired with the saltiness of the melted mozzarella.

Lemon tart with clotted cream

Half the point of supper is having sweets at crazy hours of the day; night - whichever. It's like a touch of rebellion, against all those adults who said you couldn't have sweets then. Well, buttery lemon curd with a tart kicker, in a short, buttery pastry and a perfect quenelle of clotted cream to that! Actually, while I adored the impeccably smooth texture of the cream, its unsweetened state drove me to the tart, which was unfortunately overly buttery for my tastes.

Creme brulee

The creme brulee comes in a shallow dish - all the better for more toffee on top, we all think. However, the caramel is a few moments - or several - away from the cracking hard top we're anticipating. But the custard is a thickly smooth vanilla burst that almost makes up for the lack of toffee. Almost, but not quite.

By the end of the sweets, staff are stacking chairs onto tables and we're feeling slightly northern-hemispherian in that its chilly outdoors and dark, warm and cosy where we are. The European has provided the ideal opener for a weekend of eating and life's new facets and priorities included in consideration, there's always time for good food and good friends.

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