Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Animal within (the Newtown Hotel)

There's plenty of life on Newtown's King Street but especially so when it comes to casual dining restaurants and pubs.

The Newtown Hotel has been resuscitated by Keystone Group (of The Loft, Bungalow 8, The Winery, Gazebo, Sugar Mill and so on and so forth), after a short stint as tiki bar Freaky Tiki, returning the pub to local drinking hole status without the kitsch (save for drag nights) and a casual Greek restaurant upstairs - The Animal, targeting relaxed group dining.

Chunky chips from The Animal, Newtown Hotel, King Street, Newtown
We got our orders to the kitchen just in the nick of time for a late Sunday night dinner. With a fairly reasonably priced menu, we unknowingly went a little overboard in ordering for two - although it would have been nice had the hip, friendly staff warned us about portion sizes.

We were however warned that there was no entree-then-mains order to the food coming out from the kitchen. The first dishes arrived mere minutes after ordering. About a minute after that, everything else arrived, including my glass of shiraz from the wine taps at the bar.

The chunky, skin-on potato chips were some of the best deep fried potatoes I've ever had. Appropriately seasoned and served thick and fluffy with an aioli, these were wolfed down with little regard for the feast to come.

Grilled scallops, trout pearls, tomato basil salsa
From the small plates section of the menu, the plump char grilled scallops were well priced for the size of the dish and looked a treat, each mollusc topped with bright little orbs of trout roe.

Sitting on a creamy taramasalata and scattered with the tomato and basil salsa, there was almost too much going on, but not quite so much that it distracted from the lukewarm scallops.

Mint and lemon grilled haloumi, red onion salad
The refreshing salad of fennel, beetroot leaves and other healthiness almost outshone the grilled haloumi cheese, which had an appreciated extra mint hit. It wasn't the best haloumi I've ever had but it's a solid dish for sharing nonetheless.

Beetroot, thyme, organic yoghurt, coriander
Beetroot appears to be the fashionable vegetable of 2012 - it's certainly made its way onto many menus beyond a burger bun. The Animal's salad of diced beetroot, natural yoghurt and coriander was an unexpected hit - and a healthy one at that.

Coal roasted suckling lamb, rubbed with lemon, garlic and bay leaf
I was hanging out for the roast suckling lamb, which was served as a huge portion for sharing. The $40 price tag should have alerted me to the size, but I was probably dreaming of lamb sandwiches for lunch the next day anyway.

Served with only a cheek of lemon, the lamb had subtle flavours of garlic and bay, but probably would have benefited from a tzatziki yoghurt sauce, especially to splodge on some of the drier edge bits.

We managed about half of the lamb and most of all our other dishes, despite what covered two tables and looked enough for four. But in a sense it was good that we stuffed ourselves as it turned out The Animal, almost ironically, does not do 'doggy bags' for customers to take leftovers home.

Labelled an "OHS issue", it was a situation that I've seldom encountered in NSW restaurants although it is understandable, especially for venues that are part of a bigger group it seems.

And so we left without lamb sandwiches for the next day, but still generally satisfied with the night's meal. The Animal has unleashed casual Greek dining onto Newtown, and next time, I'll be prepared with a group to attack the feast.

The Animal on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 26, 2012

Electrolux masterclass: Peter Gilmore's festive Christmas menu

At a month away, it's certainly not too early to be talking Christmas. But who has thought about Christmas dinner or lunch menus as yet?

Fear not, Peter Gilmore,  Electrolux cooking ambassador and executive chef of three-hatted Quay Restaurant, is happy to share some tips for stress-free (or at least stress-reduced) Christmas cooking.

Peter Gilmore for the Electrolux Masterclass, Quay Restaurant, Circular Quay
To me, Christmas food is synonymous with sunshine, children's laughter, water fights, the ripping of wrapping paper and a little bit of indulgence. So whether it's the full roast, a seafood feast or outdoor barbeque, the quintessential Australian Christmas lunch is less about the food than the company and surroundings.

Peter Gilmore preparing live marron
Nonetheless, Gilmore's festive season menu is relatively simple and all about letting our gorgeous local produce feature. Gilmore thinks roast turkey is boring, but he reasons that our summer Christmas is prime for devouring our excellent seafood choices.

With marron - best bought live, placed in iced water to induce a "coma" and killed swiftly with a knife down the middle of the head - it's such a beautiful and uniquely Australian crustacean that little needs to be done to it.

Fresh water marron with herb butter, aioli, young leaf and flower salad
Gilmore grilled the halved marron in a non-stick pan and served them with an exquisite herb butter comprising parsley, chervil and chives and Gilmore's favoured Girgar Danish-style Australian cultured butter.

Lobster and scampi are also ideal in this fashion, although the latter is difficult to source live, says Gilmore.

Alongside was a simply dressed micro herb, French breakfast radish and flower salad, in a naturalistic style that has become Quay's signature.

The result was a swoon-worthy dish: sweet with the freshness of the marron, boosted into uber-luxe territory with the herb butter, and brought back to earth with the refreshing salad.

Roasted rib of Angus beef
For the main meal, Gilmore had a huge roasted rib of Rangers Valley grain-fed Angus beef, sourced from Vic's Meats, ready and resting.

In the Electrolux convection oven for 30 minutes at 200 degrees Celcius, and then two hours at 150 degrees Celcius, the meat is cooked to a medium-rare when the internal temperature reaches 60 degrees Celcius.

Gilmore highly recommends a meat thermometer when it comes to roasting meats, as well as appropriate resting time for the meat - in this case, about 30 minutes under loosely-wrapped foil before 10 minutes' reheating ahead of serving.

Gilmore whisking a Bèarnaise sauce
Meanwhile, an array of young baby vegetables - orange and purple carrots, turnips, spring onions, asparagus, radishes, cauliflower, leeks -were steamed, and Bèarnaise sauce made from scratch.

Gilmore says that whisking Bèarnaise is an ideal job for two people: a whisker and a pourer of butter at precisely 60 degrees Celcius. Egg yolks, white wine vinegar, white wine and eschallots are whisked over simmering water, while melted butter and lemon juice are added slowly while whisking to an ideal texture.

Described as a "labour of love" by Gilmore, he says whisking too hard or too fast can split the sauce, which is definitely not what you want half an hour before Christmas lunch.

Potato and truffle gratin (back, left) and roasted rib of Angus beef
Prepared earlier was the most heavenly potato bake - already one of my favourite side dishes but pimped up via the addition of truffle, and probably a lot more cream and butter than I'd use at home.

But it's Christmas after all, and there's no better date in the year for a spot of indulgence.

Roasted rib of prime Angus beef with young steamed vegetables,potato and truffle gratin
and classic Bèarnaise sauce
Also served with a beef jus, it was traditional Christmas on a plate with a few improvements and some of the best meat money can buy. I'm dreaming, not of a white Christmas, but that potato and truffle gratin still.

Christmas pudding ice cream (left) and caramelised figs
The festive dessert that Gilmore had prepared is probably the recipe I'll most likely attempt, although I'd be using store-bought ice cream, not the vanilla bean and amaretto enriched ice cream that we had here.

With crumbled dark Christmas pudding frozen into a terrine of ice cream, this was only the beginning of the decadence.

Gilmore ran through the basics and dangers of caramel, producing a deeply tanned version in minutes, then adding halved fresh figs to the fold. Basted in caramel, the figs were allowed to set and harden a little before becoming the star on the tree that was Christmas pudding ice cream.

Christmas pudding ice cream with caramelised fresh figs
But there was more: fresh raspberries, crunchy caramelised almonds and a light 'snow' covering of icing sugar. Not being the hugest fan of Christmas cake, this was the most amazing version of it that I could possibly imagine.

Festive table setting for Electrolux Masterclass at Quay
Peter Gilmore's tips for taking the stress out of festive cooking while still impressing guests with a restaurant quality menu:
  1. Plan ahead for the festive season menu. Try to do as much as possible the day before so it is not too stressful on the day.
  2. Include dishes on your menu that can be made a few days ahead of time.
  3. Using high quality seasonal ingredients means you can do less preparation and yet achieve spectacular results.
  4. Incorporating a little tradition in a modern way has the effect of maintaining the essence of Christmas but making it new and exciting.
  5. Using the right kitchen appliances, such as the Electrolux Compact Combination Steam Oven or the Electrolux Induction Cooktop, will help you save time, create less of a mess and take the heat out of the kitchen.
  6. The resting of a large piece of meat is just as important as the correct cooking. Carving a piece of meat too soon may result in losing all of the precious juices.
  7. Using a small amount of a luxury ingredient like fresh truffles really gives your festive menu a sense of occasion.

White sourdough bread and butter
Following Gilmore's demonstration of his festive season menu, we were treated to a five-course degustation dinner in the upstairs private dining room of Quay. Christmas had indeed come early.

Salad of preserved wild cherries, albino and chioggia beetroots,
treviso, crème fraiche, black truffle, violets
Starting on red with the 2010 Margan White Label Barbera matched wine, the exotic salad to start had a spring forest feel to it and was all about texture.

Soft yellow beetroot contrasted with insanely crisp bread dyed beet crimson, while crème fraiche softened the almost harsh tartness of the preserved cherries.

Congee of northern Australian mud crab, fresh palm heart, egg yolk emulsion
I was pretty excited to be served the mud crab congee next, with the 2010 Red Claw Chardonnay matched to the abundant crab flesh. It was watery for a congee, but with exceptional depth in sea flavours and made rich with the bright yellow egg yolk emulsion.

Smoked and confit pig cheek, shiitake, scallop, jerusalem artichoke leaves, juniper, bay
The internal excitement continued with the smoked and confit pork jowl dish, garnished with deep fried jerusalem artichoke skins I remember from last time.

Also layered atop the meltingly soft pork were two of my favourite things: barely-cooked scallop and mushrooms of the shiitake variety - both thinly sliced.

Served with my favourite wine of the night, the 2010 Sticks Pinot Noir, the delicate textures of the mushroom and scallop were the perfect accompaniment to the boldly smoky pork.

Poached fillet of pasture raised veal fillet, parsnip cream, roasted grains, mushrooms
And the food and wine kept coming; namely the big 2010 Two Hands Gnarly Dude Shiraz matched with a poched veal fillet.

The ridiculously tender meat was served on ridiculously creamy parsnip cream, with mushrooms and crisply puffed, roasted assorted grains on top, and just sneaking in to be my favourite dish of the night.

Jersey cream, salted caramel, prunes, walnuts, ethereal sheets
I was honestly thankful for what looked like a small, light dessert, but like everyone else, completely smitten with the 'ethereal sheets' that topped the jersey cream and blobs of salted caramel and prunes.

Crisp but impossibly thin, the sheets of milk, white and dark chocolate, and toffee / praline / brittle (I think) were a delight to look at and consume with a bit of everything beneath too. The golden brown Campbells Classic Topaque was a weighty sticky to end the meal.

First Christmas present - thanks Open Haus!
With tutelage from one of the nation's best chefs and that stunning degustation in mind, I'm more than ready for Christmas now.

See full recipes here and more photos from the Electrolux Masterclass on my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Electrolux Masterclass at Quay as a guest, with thanks to Open Haus.

Quay  on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 22, 2012

El Bulli: Bigger shoes to fill

Earlier this year Surry Hills restaurant veteran El Bulli Spanish Tapas moved into larger premises on the same stretch of Elizabeth Street, near Cleveland Street.

Expanding at least three-fold in size, the new El Bulli now easily caters for groups, which Saturday nights seem to attract. There's also now a full-size bar, live music and a private room which could host separate functions altogether.

Ensalada de tomate - Layers of vine ripened tomatoes, Spanish onion and fresh basil with
vinaigrette dressing
Booked for the early sitting (and needing to be out by 8.30pm), our large-ish Saturday night group left decision-making to one person for ease, given the dauntingly lengthy menu that's broken down into nibbles, skewers, small dishes, mains, salads and so on.

The rest of us focused on the sangria and earthy Doña Paula Los Cardos malbec, and not the neighbouring hen's party. From the ensalada section of the menu, the tomato salad of sliced tomato and Spanish onion was a healthy start.

Albondigas de Paella - Traditional paella with chicken and chorizo, rolled into balls,
fried and  drizzled with aioli
The paella balls were an interesting addition to the tapas menu (hello arancini?), with saffron-spiced rice innards to the crisp crumb and aioli topping.

Gambas al Ajillo - Pan fried prawns in garlic and oil with a hint of chilli oil
It's hard to go past prawns at tapas, especially when they're piping hot, huge, tail-on specimens with loads of garlic and parsley.

Champiñones al Ajillo - Sauteed mushrooms in garlic, parsley, white wine and olive oil
Then came the biggest dish of mushrooms I've ever seen, but particularly so in a tapas setting. I was glad we had a large group to polish off the fresh mushrooms, fragrant with garlic and parsley.

Albondigas al Tuco - Traditional Spanish meatballs served with tomato salsa
Albondigas meat balls are my must-order at tapas, as filling as they can be. There's something about minced beef in a rich tomato sauce that makes the likes of bolognese sauce and albondigas a winner.

Chorizo a la Sidra - Pan fried chorizo and Spanish onion in a cider glaze
I wouldn't be surprised if chorizo is Australia's most popular sausage now, having well and truly taken off and invaded menus and dishes of all sorts.

Personally, I like them sliced and well-charred while the version cooked with cider makes it a less intense porky experience.

Asparagus con jamon - Asparagus wrapped in jamon with balsamic glaze
The artful presentation of the asparagus wrapped in jamon cured ham somewhat made up for the petite serving.

We also had quite the sizable pot of nicely cooked mussels in a tomato and parsley sauce, and patatas bravas which were not crisp and completely unexpectedly, crazy spicy.

It was a nice surprise seeing the tapas dishes go so far in a group setting, with some extra-huge sized tapas dishes like the mushroom and even the mussels satisfying the group.

Churros to share was the call from the dessert fiends, served warm with ice cream, piped dulce de leche caramel, and a shower of sugar and cinnamon.

The new, bigger El Bulli seems to be operating smoothly in its new, bigger digs and certainly taking to the challenge of groups, hen's nights and bigger shoes to fill.

El Bulli Spanish Tapas on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Movie ticket giveaway: Step Up To The Plate

"To serve customers and give them the happiness they've come looking for, you have to understand the power of cooking. The strength of a restaurant is its soul."
- Michel Bras, father to Sebastien Bras

So says one of Europe's most celebrated three-star Michelin chefs. In cinemas from 29 November, Step Up To The Plate (Entre les Bras) is a film that follows the story of the Bras family and restaurant over three generations in southern France.

Step Up To The Plate (Entre les Bras)
(Image courtesy of Curious Film and TM Publicity)
"The story of the Bras is that of a family, a place, and the handing-down from generation to generation. We inevitably have a relationship with the place we live in and with our forefathers, as well as a sense of wonder at elsewhere. It's a coherent, uncomplicated whole." - Sebastien Bras, son to Michel Bras

"It's above all a film about the relationship between a father and his son. But I think the question is well defined thanks to cooking, which is at the heart of the filial relationship - after all, we feed our children, don't we?"
- Paul Lacoste, writer and director of Step Up To The Plate (Entre les Bras)

Win one of 10 double passes to see Step Up To The Plate!

Food, Booze and Shoes is giving away 10 double passes to see Step Up To The Plate, with thanks to Curious Distribution and TM Publicity.

To enter the giveaway, email  foodboozeshoes @ gmail . com (without the spaces) answering the below:

"Name three emotions you expect and want to experience when dining in a restaurant."

Giveaway closes on Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 8.30pm AEST. Food, Booze and Shoes will randomly select and notify winners on the same day. Winners have 48 hours to provide postal details to receive their passes.

Terms & conditions
Giveaway only open to Australian residents. Postal details will be used for the purposes of sending the giveaway tickets only.
Passes not valid Saturdays after 5pm, public holidays or cinema discount days.
Not valid for Gold Class or Vmax at Event Cinemas, Greater Union, Birch Carroll & Coyle or Village Cinemas, Hoyts La Premiere, Directors Suite, Bean Bag Cinema, Xtremescreen, IMAX or special events, Regency Cinelounge, cinema Euroipa, hayden Cremorne orpheum, Roseville Cinema, State Cinema Hobart, Nova Deluxe, United Avalon or United Collaroy.
Valid even with No Free Ticket restrictions.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Japan times - part 10: Michiba Washoku Tateno, Ginza

Earlier this year I spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the tenth of several posts of foodbooze and sights in Japan.

I was determined to try Japanese kaiseki style multi-course dining. One Saturday night we trawled online for something in Ginza that would have availability at late notice, which is how we came across the vaguely familiar-sounding Michiba Washoku Tateno.

Michiba, as in Rokusaburo Michiba of the original Iron Chef fame. Apparently, his style of traditional Japanese cuisine has spawned a professional following and as an avid fan of the 1990s Japanese television cooking series, I was sold.

First course at Michiba Washoku Tateno, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan
We had no trouble getting a reservation, except perhaps the language barrier, which then transpired into a 12-course dinner with complete Japanese menu and very little English spoken.

The restaurant is fairly compact, featuring counter seating at the semi open kitchen, and a few rooms with sliding doors - each room hosting a number of tables. It was all quite formal so we chose to sit at the counter where the chefs could watch us with as much interest as we them.

With sake ordered from an extensive drinks menu, we started with tiny, deep fried ayu sweetfish, artfully coiled this way and that. The three very crisp, whole fish were served with a young ginger shoot, possibly pickled, and a most unusual, skin-on potato-like vegetable that was mysteriously delightful.

Second and third courses
The next two courses arrived as tall shot glasses chilling in a huge bowl of crushed ice. The first was a fish paste or custard, topped with a dashi stock-based sauce and a sea grass, I think, eaten from the glass using miniscule teaspoons.

Third course
The other glass featured a colourful skewer of prawn, daikon pickled radish, onion, carrot, crab leg and cornichon, submerged in a lightly tart sauce. Eating the bite- sized pieces from a stick added an air of casualness to the solemn ambience.

Fourth course
I was quite excited at the sight of the next course: a sea urchin topped with layers of lightly salty seaweed. Despite not being a big fan of uni sea urchin roe, I was looking forward to tasting cooked uni for the first time.

Steamed uni sea urchin roe
Carefully working around the black spikes of the sea urchin shell, the very soft uni was sweeter than its raw version, and without the sometimes bitter, iodine flavour which I so detest.

In fact, after this steamed version served with a touch of a complex soy-based sauce to each mouthful, I could say that I actually like uni.

Uni - all gone

Fifth course
After the enlightening sea urchin course came another learning experience: a sashimi course served with a Himalayan salt block.

While there was also traditional soy sauce and wasabi, the concept of the salt block was an exciting, new approach to raw seafood.

Squeezing lime onto a Himalayan salt block
The idea was to squeeze some of the small, green-skinned citrus (more tart than a lime) juice onto the salt block, and use chopsticks to swipe the sashimi over the salt and juice a two or three times, depending on your salt eating preferences.

The sashimi selection included a whole, large raw prawn, hiramasa kingfish and a white fish that was sliced with skin intact and poached lightly so that it resembled a flower. It was quite remarkable, and served with a dot of umeboshi pickled plum sauce, if my memory serves me correctly.

Most familiar was the slice of raw kingfish, which was lightened with the citrus and capable of holding up to three salty swipes of the block.

The poached fish had a chewiness to it, which I would probably put down to the skin while the large kuruma ebi prawn was my favourite: creamy, sweet, firm and sea fresh.

Main course/s
A collection of five small dishes formed the main offering - each looking painstakingly and artfully pretty and petite.

From the top, there was a gorgeous, delicate chawanmushi steamed egg custard flavoured with soy - one of my favourite Japanese dishes where it's all about subtlety. To its left was an interesting, hand-formed corn tofu, studded with kernels of sweet corn.

Shishito pepper with mochi cheese
This lightly battered shishito green pepper as split and stuffed with the curious mochi cheese, which combines a sticky glutinous rice texture with mild cheese. In essence, the filling tasted like cheese but had a glutinous mouth feel that was a few steps past cheese stringiness.

In the cute, bright yellow vessel was a piece of anago salt water eel, which is less fatty than unagi fresh water eel. Indeed, I prefer the anago's soft, flaking texture and sweet flavour over the usual grilled fresh water varieties.

Dried fish
Most unusual as part of the main course was the long, narrow, needle-like fish, served dried on a pile of grated and seasoned daikon radish. Tasty as it was, it seemed less like a dinner option than a traditional breakfast one.

Eleventh course
The next course of okra soup was certainly a first for me. Just imagine the gooey, snotty texture of okra blended into a soup with a few prawn pieces. The bubbly, sticky, green soup didn't go down all that easily.

Twelfth course
The Himalayan salt block reappeared for our final savoury course. I'd gotten a taste for good soba buckwheat noodles in Japan, and these, made fresh in-house, were excellent.

Eaten cold, zaru soba style, you can really taste the buckwheat flour and even the water they're made with when eaten in this textural fashion, with finely sliced shiso leaves and wasabi on the side to taste.

The dainty sizes of the previous 12 savoury courses meant there was no issue squeezing in dessert: a milky pudding topped with a nutty bean caramel, and served alongside a segment of watermelon that was likely to be one of those insanely-priced ones from depa-chika department store basement food halls.

Green tea
We were also offered matcha green tea made in traditional style with powdered green tea and a chasen bamboo whisk. The end result presented to us was a bowl of foamy-topped hot tea, restorative and comforting from the first sip.

In true Michiba style, we were provided with paper menus with our courses listed in traditional Japanese calligraphy: vertically down the page from right to left.

With a few new food experiences and unfamiliar sights, it was a special meal that definitely ranked as our most expensive in Japan.

More Japan posts to come. See photos from my Japan trip on my Facebook page.


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