When the Gastronomy guide for the 2013 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival arrived in my letter box, the timing could not have been better. We were just about to leave for Hawaii and seeing Ed Kenney’s name featured in the ‘Earth MasterClass’ section, (Huxtable are bringing him out for the event) reminded me that I needed to book dinner at his restaurant ‘Town‘, in Honolulu.
A couple of tweets and a 10 hour plane flight later, we turned up on Town’s doorstep, to a super warm Hawaii welcome from Ed, and settled in to read a menu full of ingredients I’d never heard of. Town, which has multiple accolades and awards to its name, is renowned for utilising local produce and promoting indigenous ingredients. Ed is not only passionate about the food he serves, but where it comes from. He is on the Board of Directors for MA’O Organic Farms, Kokua Hawaii Foundation & Sustain Hawaii. His philosophy is that “Food is the unifying fabric of humanity, connecting us to the earth and each other.” Word.
I quickly decided the way to get the most out of this visit was to ask Ed to feed us his favourite dishes until we fell into a food coma, and he was only too happy to oblige. He started us off with the ahi (Hawaiian tuna) tartare served on a risotto cake, with balsamic vinegar, which was superb, both in texture and flavour, and came at us soon after with the cured opah (Moonfish) with pa’ i’ ai (made from taro root), watercress and persimmon which all worked beautifully together. Our extremely sweet and friendly waitress Randi patiently explained each ingredient to us and answered my incessant questions throughout the meal.
The salad came full of avocado, papaya, butter lettuce, pecans, and cucumber, and was served with a ‘green goddess’ dressing (apparently a West Coast US staple but again something I’d never heard of, typically containing a range of fragrant herbs, spring onions and mayonnaise or similar). I’m offically a fan.
We also tried the hand-cut pasta, which was served with a south shore he’e (octopus) ragu, and it was a knockout. I probably wouldn’t have ordered this if I’d known what it was, simply because I couldn’t imagine how you could execute it – more fool me and lucky I wasn’t in charge of the food selection, because this was one gorgeous, rich, hearty bowl of goodness. Slightly salty, beautifully textured with silken ribbons of perfect pasta.
We then had some more opah, this time served with farro, roasted root vegetables, purslane and salsa verde which was moist, sweet and delicious, as was the mahi mahi dish, served with local veggies, limu (Hawaiian algae) and meyer lemon. Then came the extremely sensational shinsato pork chop, served with an ulu (breadfruit) mash and bitter greens. I was only a little mad with Ed that he’d left this til last when I was already getting full because this was some of the best pork I have ever eaten IN MY LIFE. Juicy, tender, with incredible flavour, and the breadfruit mash was like velvet. Oh my. I needed a little rest, and another glass of wine whilst contemplating how I would finish this plate. (I privately congratulated myself at this point for wearing a loose-fitting dress). But finish it I did (I had help), and then it was on to dessert – obviously utilising my altogether separate ‘dessert stomach’ to fit this in.
The meal lost none of its momentum in the ‘wow’ stakes when it came to the dessert. We were spoiled with 3 different dishes – the beautiful satiny buttermilk pannacotta was first, made with local nalo meli honey and served with fresh tropical fruit, and some figs from the tree right outside the restaurant. We then tried the ‘financier’ (from the friand family of French baked goods) made with browned butter and almond meal, and served with prunes which had been stewed in Earl Grey tea, and some whipped creme fraiche. I’m still dreaming about this fluffy treasure 3 weeks later. The piece de resistance for me however, being a self-confessed chocoholic, was the stunning salted dark chocolate pretzel tart which had wafer-thin slices of candied tumeric on top. The tart base was made up of crushed pretzels, offering its saltiness as the perfect foil to the rich, smooth dark chocolate filling. The tumeric was hot and sweet all at once and it just rocked. This was a flavour explosion of the highest order and one of the best things I have ever put in my cake hole.
I cannot rate this restaurant highly enough, and it was truly one of the highlights of our visit to Hawaii. The hospitality at most of the places we ate was excellent but Town’s waitress Randi took it to a whole new level of awesome, to the point where when we left we were hugging her goodbye. For me, Town feels like that place that no matter who you are, or where you come from, you’ll feel right at home. And I can’t wait for Ed Kenney to come Down Under in March 2013 so we can return the favour, take him out and show him our town.
“Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always”. Amen.
The Greenhouse by Joost has been delivered into my lap so to speak – assembled literally outside my building, so that I pass it 3 or 4 times a day. I’ve been delighted to be able to sneak a quick piccolo in each morning before work, and just soak up the green-ness of it all, enjoying the warm welcome of a cheerful team who appear as happy to be there as I am, as well of course as admiring the work of infamous Iron Chef/Perth Greenhouse/Danish master shoulder-rubbing Matt Stone and his killer ink. For a more detailed post on the actual Greenhouse concept see my previous entry here.
Lunch has inspired a second post, just simply because I love it, it’s too pretty not to take pictures of, and I can’t get enough of the place.
We started off with some sublimely refreshing drinks, a house-made lemonade and a ginger ale, served in the ubiquitous jam jars, and decided between us to have the spicy chicken, with quinoa and yoghurt, and the pumpkin, chickpea tagine with green chilli yoghurt.
Both were bursting with flavour, fresh, spicy, healthy and quite perfect in their simplicity. Gorgeous.
Oh, and did I mention you can buy the lovely dishes, coffee cups and glasses at the counter, and take a slice of the green heaven home with you? The philosophy behind the design, according to the man Joost himself, is presenting food in pots and terracotta makes you think back and connect with how your food is grown and where it comes from.
They also have organic cotton t-shirts for sale, emblazoned with ‘green’ messages, including the one I bought which says ‘Imagine buildings that grow food’. Imagine indeed.
If you’ve been anywhere near Queensbridge Square on the Yarra River this week you would have seen a hive of activity as the Greenhouse by Joost was built for this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
Today it is open, and is a magnificent homage to sustainability in its entirety.
From the building materials used, to the food sourcing and production, to its furniture design, it is a lesson in green awesomeness. And the coffee is ACE.
Chef Matt Stone (from the Greenhouse in Perth) will be cooking up a green storm, with a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu using only fresh local ingredients, so local the wheat is being milled on site, and the yoghurt and butter is made from organic milk and cream delivered daily.
There is a gorgeous rooftop garden and bar overlooking the river, full of plants for the kitchen, and herbs line the exterior walls in terracotta pots in a vertical garden. The electricity comes from unrefined canola oil, the walls are formaldehyde-free plywood and the glue is made entirely from soybeans. This place is so sustainable they’re even harvesting human urine to use as crop fertilizer for a farm in Daylesford. I’m probably a little more interested in this than I should be – if you are similarly fascinated, you can read more about this in detail here.
Joost Bakker is the visionary architect of the Greenhouse space, having created the original back in 2008 in Federation Square in Melbourne, and then creating the whole restaurant in Perth.
He is quite simply my HERO, and I’ve never been so proud to be Dutch!!
As anyone who knows me can tell you, my 2 biggest passions are food and sustainability so this has me jumping out of my skin with excitement, much like I did when I first visited the Greenhouse in Perth last year.
The calendar of events for the Greenhouse over the coming weeks is nothing short of senstational, naturally the dinner with great Dane Rene Redzepi is sold out, however there is a veritable smorgasbord of other options to whet your appetite.
I’m booked in for lunch with Rosa Mitchell, for some homestyle Italian cooking on March 14th.
You can view the whole timetable here.
There’s even a free iPhone app for the MFWF which you can download here.
Get involved Melbourne, this one’s going to be HUGE! Much like my waistline after all the eating I’m going to be doing. Buon appetito, y’all!