Sunday, February 27, 2011

Feeling a bit Parched this March?

We’ve all heard of Dry July (going without alcohol in the month of my birthday? I don’t think so), but have you heard of Parched March?

Parched March launch party at The Argyle, The Rocks, Sydney
Another event named after a rhyming month, but the goal here is – rather than abstinence – to hit 30 bars in 30 days, promoting the fun and responsible enjoyment of bars and drinks.

That’d be my kind of challenge if I had the time, money and ability to rock up to work with a hangover every day for a month.

Parched March ambassadors Simon McGoram and Amy Cooper at The Argyle
(photo courtesy of The Cru Media)
But it is exactly what Amy Cooper and Simon McGoram are doing for the month of March, all in the name of charity. Their goal is to hit up a bar a day, somewhere in the glorious city of bars that is Sydney in a celebration of the city’s thriving and dynamic bar culture. And they're encouraging people and groups to join them.

Says Cooper: “While we commend the charitable motivation of fasting campaigns (Dry July etc), we’d like to see promotion of a healthy attitude to alcohol, rather than complete bans and scare stories, which can serve to encourage binge drinking.

“We aim to show by example that for the average person, drinking moderately is part of a rich and varied social life, not a destructive pursuit.”

Chef Miguel Maestre at the Parched March launch
Launched at a suitably boozy do at The Argyle, catered with a range of gorgeous tapas canapes from Argyle Bazar, Parched March conveniently offers you options for your support - nice.

Albondigas - meat balls canape by Argyle Bazar

Valencian bread salad canape by Argyle Bazar

Ceviche canape by Argyle Bazar
You can raise money for charities by visiting participating venues (Eau de Vie, The Argyle, Grasshopper and Bavarian Bier Cafe to name some) and choosing their Parched March specials.

Or you can sponsor the teams taking part in the drinking odyssey, or indeed start your own team and get sponsored for inflicting your liver.

Patron tequila Manzanero by The Argyle
Considering you’ll possibly be out and about for a drink sometime during March anyway (surely yes?), why not make it charitable and down one or two for Parched March. Cheers to that!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hmmm... Muum Maam

“I don’t know”. It’s been my default response to many a question from an early age, and is sadly becoming a bit of a mantra these days, generally to do with the future.

But how does one know anything? How do you know that the career path you’ve chosen/stumbled into is really what you want to do? How do you know when it’s the right time for a major capital investment? How do you know if a business venture will soar or flop? How are you supposed to know if this world is meant for ‘good times’ or something more? I can’t believe, with conviction, that anyone knows.

The unknown, rather than scaring me these days, just annoys me. Be something already.

Muum Maam, Holt Street, Surry Hills
Forward-looking grumbles aside, a visit to a Thai restaurant is rarely an adventure of the unknown anymore. Rather, it can be a journey of the tried and tested familiar favourites, with a twist if you please.

Muum Maam is such a place; a two-month old residing in Holt Street, backed by the A Tavola/Omerta/Gelato Messina guys, next to Jared Ingersoll’s Cotton Duck and Vini further down.

Mural inside
It’s a quiet street with lots of apartments and commercial office blocks. On a quiet Wednesday night we find ourselves in a particularly funky and stylish office building that houses restaurants and bathrooms, sitting at one end of a long communal table.

The look is industrial and modern with stylised hints of the homeland. By day, the restaurant plays to the lunch crowd as Tuk Shop, the daytime iteration serving more casual, lunch-friendly Thai dishes – many that also appear on the dinner menu.

Rice crackers
The complimentary rice crackers disappeared with speed; tri-coloured pieces of crunchy, salty and slightly sweet netted pieces.

Lemongrass sour
There’s no better place to start than cocktails, although I can’t have the mandarin and mint sgroppino due to seasonal unavailability.

I’m pretty satisfied with the lemongrass sour though, with its perfect layer of eggwhite foam on top (not entirely sure about the glasses). It’s a tad sour and unexpectedly sweet, though not nearly as much as the other cocktails.

Lychee and kaffir lime capriosca
The lychee and kaffir lime ‘capriosca’ seems to be the house favourite, with good reason. Filled with fragrant, ripped kaffir lime leaves that would try and sneak into the straw, this cocktail was sweet, fruity and full of citrusy perfume.

Pandan, coconut and pineapple spritzer
The spritzer was served icy and tall with a slight green tinge from the pandan. We were warned that this was a sweet drink, and it was. It also had quite a heavy coconut flavour that could be overwhelming after too many consecutive mouthfuls.

Roselle water
A range of non-alcoholic flavoured waters were also available - this the roselle water which is one of the hibiscus-related flowers in a crimson coloured, slightly medicinally flavoured beverage, not necessarily everyone's taste.

Smoked ocean trout and caviar betel leaves
Girly conversation and catch-ups meant it took us a while to order, but we eventually selected a few entrees and mains to share, mindful of leaving room for dessert.

It’s been a while since I had one, but the ocean trout betel leaf miang didn’t enthral me like others have. In fact, the only thing I could really taste was the very sweet syrup drizzled over the cooked fish and salmon roe.

So overpowering was the sweetness, I can barely remember the rest of the fillings, which probably included coconut, lime, chilli and ginger.

Salt and pepper tofu and eggplant
The next entrée was much more satisfying, not the least because it included one of my favourite vegetables. The salt and pepper style deep fried tofu triangles and thick eggplant slices were more a triumph of texture than flavour.

The salt and pepper was a little lost on me, but not a concern given the sweet chilli dipping sauce. The thin layer of golden batter on the tofu contrasted perfectly with the soft, white, wobbling inside, while the eggplant is rarely awkward with its good flavour mate of oil.

Red curry of roasted duck and lychees
After an appropriate pause after the entrees and another round of cocktails, steamed rice was served to each plate, in preparation for the mains.

The soupy appearance of the red duck curry wasn’t helped by its serving vessel (which matched all the other crockery too), but there was a substantial amount in there: lots of skin-on small pieces of roast duck, pineapple pieces and lychee. The latter two ingredients made it quite a sweet and mild curry, comforting with sauce soaked rice.

Shredded banana blossom and prawn salad
A not-too-spicy curry was ideal given the heat of the banana blossom salad. Unsuspecting, I started with a mouthful of the heavily dressed salad of banana blossom juliennes and mint among other ingredients in a coconut-creamy peanut sauce that was spiced to the nines - only to numb my tongue somewhat before even getting to the fresh, crisp, tail-on prawns.

Crying tiger - grilled beef
The crying tiger was a good call, which you could smell a mile away. Slices of beautifully charred-edge beef was served alongside cucumber and raw cabbage, and a garlicky dipping sauce. Done in a simple fashion, the beef was the star of this show – tender and beefy sweet.

Morning glory stir fried with soybean paste, chilli and garlic
The vegetable fix came in the form of morning glory, otherwise known as water spinach, ong choy or kankung. These slightly chewy, hollow stems were flavoured well  in the soybean sauce with lots of flavour from garlic and a little from chilli.

Tuk Shop branded takeaway
Given the overzealous ordering (as is common), we requested takeaway for some of the leftovers, which returned in brown paper bags stamped with the restaurant's daytime alterego.

Black sticky rice with Thai custard and coconut sorbet
But there had to be room for dessert. A few had been earmarked from the first sighting of the menu, so sweets had to be done. The Thai classic of black sticky rice is usually my pick of the bunch, for the elongated, tender, sticky grains of red-black rice, sugary and doused in coconut cream

This Thai custard was unexpectedly brown, probably from palm sugar rather than coffee as someone supposed, and the gorgeous coconut sorbet was the perfect cool note to round it off.

Sticky rice with coconut jam and mango sorbet
More sticky rice in a sugary concoction, this variety was exceptionally sweet given the presence of coconut jam, if not a little too sweet. The slight tartness of the mango sorbet was a relief in this case - yet another outstandingly divine scoop.

After a good stuffing with some of the tried and tested favourites at Muum Maam, it's clear that there's absolutely nothing wrong with them. Why does the future have to be different? Indeed, why can't it just be what you enjoy and are comfortable with - sure, a funky setting helps - as long as it makes you happy, or content at the very least?

Muum Maam on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 21, 2011

Eau de Vie, where art thou?

Before dinner at Tomislav late last year, I decided to take the girls to nearby uber cool bar, Eau de Vie. I'd been to Eau de Vie once in their very early stages of opening and found it without trouble at the very back of the street level in the Kirketon Hotel.

Let's just say it wasn't quite as easy the second time, with the hotel's own bar in operation this weekday early evening.

Melbourne- or even New York-esque hidden entries aside, Eau de Vie was Gourmet Traveller's Bar of the Year most recently and favourite of many a serious booze connoisseur.

The Hendricks Tea Party at Eau de Vie, Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst
Eau de Vie is styled as a modern speakeasy but a serious drinker's place. Not that you can't have fun here - and indeed lots of it. While The Hendricks Tea Party looks like a scene out of the Mad Hatter's soiree, it's not really a drink for little Alice despite the adorable teacup cocktail 'glass'.

I'm rather partial to gin these days as I move away from my vodka-spiked youth, so this Hendricks gin infusion of cucumber and rose petal is right up my alley.

Shaken with another infusion of berry with tea and topped up with fresh orange and mint, I recall that the dominant flavour was that of orange - which was an ideal shield for quite a hefty pour, it seems, of gin.

Ha Ni Gi (Daisy) by the Road Side
My pick of the night is bartender Elle Wormald's signature (it seems each bartender has a signature cocktail listed in the extensive menu).

Tanqueray No. 10 is the gin of choice, shaken with another tea of juniper, camomille and lemongrass. and then poured over lots and lots of crushed ice with white grapefruit juce and lemongrass syrup.

The lemongrass flavour is distinct, while the tea gives the icy, citrussy drink a fair bit of depth. I adore the tin cannister the drink is served in, even if it's so cold my fingers stick to it.

And finally, the signature drink of charming bar manager Barry Chalmers - a vodka cocktail at that.

Zubrowka vodka, lime juice and raspberry - so far, so good. Falernum syrup - huh? Apple and crushed pineapple round out the ingredients to complete the sweetie, which wouldn't look at of place coming from a barista or a pastry chef.

But really, Eau de Vie is not just about the drinks - and if you can find it, I think you'll know exactly what I mean.

Eau de Vie on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Asia tripping - part I: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I’m recently returned from an overseas jaunt to three countries in Asia, and probably a little heavier for it. This is the first of several brief posts of my trip: photos, food and a few thoughts.

The Petronas Towers or KLCC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
First stop was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city, known for cheap shopping and food abounds. By the end of the trip, I found it hard not to consider the capital as a giant shopping centre, for the amount of time I spent in centres scattered throughout the city.

Chicken rice from Mid Valley Megamall food court, Kuala Lumpur
My first meal in Malaysia invariably had to be chicken rice. Having heard so much about it and only tasting mediocre versions back home; the combination here of roasted chicken, cucumber, chilli sauce, flavoured rice and chicken stock turned out to be just the thing for brunch after a sleepless economy flight and arrival.

This was at Mid Valley Megamall, a behemoth shopping centre near Bangsar, where the food court is a lot like a hawker centre with tonnes of individual store fronts, each selling a different type of food - think chicken rice, laksa, yong tofu, hotplate, nasi kandar - under a united front; that is, signage and uniforms.

Young coconut
The exceeding heat of the fiery red chilli sauce from my chicken rice was tempered by the juice (and soft jelly flesh) of a young coconut.

Festive display at Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur

Pink dragonfruit gelato

Bak kwa (like pork jerky) from a Bee Cheng Hiang store
An entire day spent wandering Mid Valley Megamall was at least a week’s worth of exercise. Add to that an evening at Sungei Wang Plaza and a late dinner along Jalan Alor, and a seat, was more inviting than ever.

Restaurants and diners of Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur

Fruit stall on Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur

More restaurants and diners of Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur
Picking a restaurant out of the street lined with eateries was the hardest part. Although Jalan Alor is said to be rather pricey and targeting tourists, there seemed to be quite a few locals out for makan as well, filling the many plastic outdoor table sets in the sticky evening air.

Water snails at Shui Kee Restaurant, Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur
Finally settling on a restaurant that drew us in on enticing wafts from satays on the grill, we sat down next to a tank of water snails of some sort, quite seriously recommended by the friendly Chinese-Malaysian owners.

RestaurantTiger beer and peanuts
Our Tiger beer arrived with salted peanuts, and not long after, our ordered food hit the table before we even had time to touch the nuts.

Satay on the grill
The small skewers of chicken or beef are placed onto the grill as ordered and cooked over hot coals that are fanned to turn up the cooking temperature.

Chicken and beef satay
The meat skewers take in the smoky charred flavour from the coals and are tenderly dipped into a peanut-strong satay sauce, alongside sliced cucumber and Spanish onion. Seriously satisfying satay.

Fresh seafood including stingray (left) and chicken fish (right)
From the fresh seafood range (which included chicken fish, I was told), we had a portion of grilled stingray on my companion’s insistence.

Grilled stingray
Arriving fragrant and covered in a thickly ground brown sauce, this was the first of many stingray experiences in Malaysia, as well as my first ever. I found it similar to most flat fish with few bones in the way aside from the edges, though the skin was thicker than normal fish skin and the flesh a little meatier.

The grilled aroma came through the spicy and sour sauce nicely, enhanced with a squeeze of green kumquat and just a touch of the garlicky green chilli dipping sauce.

Char kway teow
As if running through a list of Malaysian classics, I also have my first char kway teow in Malaysia; a flavoursome dish of thick, flat rice noodles with the ‘breath of the wok’, deeply coloured from soy and belacan (shrimp paste), with prawns, fish cake and bean sprouts scattered throughout.

Ais kacang
Upon questions about dessert, the friendly owners also offered to fetch us an ais kacang, a shaved ice dessert with pandan-green cendol noodles, red beans, grass jelly cubes, corn and more.

This version had the oddest topping over the ice – what seemed like a thick gula melaka, palm sugar syrup, that had hardened to a toffee-like state and which lifted off the top in one solid piece.

Tea and vanilla coffee ice blended drink from The Coffee Bean, Mid Valley Megamall
We woke up to another grey day and trundled into The Coffee Bean, a coffee franchise in similar vein to Starbucks, with prices to match. I think I could get a few chicken rices for the price of one ice blended coffee drink, but the drawcard for us and many local students was the free wi-fi.

Coffee Bean's Eggs Ben
Their rendition of eggs benedict wasn't too bad either; soccerball ham on a soft white bun with a nicel poached egg drowned in a pleasant hollandaise sauce.

The side salad garnish was also appreciated as I found my ordering of food in Malaysia involved little in the way of vegetables. After caffeine and a quick meal, we were ready to face the bus station.

More Asia tripping posts to come, including more Malaysia, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Good times collective #2

It's been the busiest start to the year I can remember: holidays, birthdays, weddings, heat waves and plenty of celebrations. This is summer - now if only I could find a free day to head to the beach.

Gelato from Grand Gelato, Glebe Point Road, Glebe
There really needs to be a Grand Gelato outlet near a beach - it would make a killing. The one in Glebe hasn't been there all that long, I think, but is part of the Amano Gelato group from Western Australia (and it's all a little confusing from there).

These three scoops were definitely the best gelato I've had all summer - just so good. On top was strawberry, a smoother sorbet I never have had. No iciness, no seeds - indeed the texture was so smooth it was almost creamy.

The macadamia was sweet and crunchy with the roasted bits of nut, while the banana bread - chosen for sheer uniqueness - rewarded with true banana flavour (I hate artificial banana flavouring), banana bread crumbs and even slightly dry chunks - all adding to the textural delight that was my 15 minutes at Grand Gelato. No doubt, I'll be back.

Chopped chicken livers cooking with onions, seasoning and butter
I'm not an offal person (I'm a nice person - ha ha). So imagine the look on my face when I see chicken liver pate being made at home. It's surprisingly easy - essentially cooked, seasoned livers solidified by butter. Cholesterol party anyone?

More butter
I don't mind small tastes of pate (not livers though). What's tougher to handle is the raw, slimey, red livers; the mini bags of glycogen, proteins, toxins and stuff - all over the chopping board. They don't smell much better cooking in the pan, though the perfume of black pepper, thyme and orange zest helps.

Livers and all, blended smooth

The end product under an orange and thyme jelly
But despite all, some think they make for a pretty tasty treat or starter, especially slathered over fresh baked mini baguette slices.

Solas Bar, Crown Street, Surry Hills
The small bar revolution is coming - you can feel it in the air, especially in the CBD, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. On Crown Street, taking over where the posh bottle shop used to be towards the Cleveland Street end, Solas Bar is doing its thing quietly and steadily.

Chalk walls
Those in white need beware of the chalkboards covering two large surfaces on the ground floor. Those wanting to show off some artistic flair, graffiti or leave a calling card should head to the bar for some chalk.

The shelf of booze

Drinks at the bar
Spirits, wine and beers by the bottle are the go, as well as a tapas menu of somewhat international bits to go with your drinks. The bar stools aren't much fun, but the balcony ones at least have a view of Crown Street and the upstairs couches are mostly comfy.

Chocolate cake crumbs
Over the festive season, I tried my hand at cake pops - which in theory sound easy enough. But after baking, processing to cumbs, processing with cream cheese, rolling and cooling, melting and dipping, cooling and serving, I realised it wasn't a treat for the lazy to attempt.

Rolled cake balls (I called them Rudolph droppings)
Next time I'd probably just buy a cake from the supermarket to turn to crumbs, rather than baking from scratch. I would also steer clear of food colouring for decoration and go with the easier, much fun hundreds and thousands.

End product cake pops (without green and red swirls but dots rather)
And maybe there's really nothing wrong with a plain, old slice of cake. But nonetheless, good times.

Grand Gelato on Urbanspoon

Solas Bar on Urbanspoon


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