Let your Wine Compass guide you

Pimpernel Vineyards

If there are 2 things the Yarra Valley has in spades, it’s beautiful wine and great food. Not to mention gorgeous scenery and the fact that it’s only an hour out of Melbourne. The only issues are: how to choose where to go with so many options, and getting safely home after you’ve indulged in all the things.

And that’s where Wine Compass comes in. I was recently invited on a day trip with a comfy little busload of like-minded foodie winos (I’m saying that like its a good thing because it totally is) to get a guided tour of the Yarra Valley, with Adam who has been curating and hosting tours of the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula since cocky was an egg.  The key is local knowledge, and being able to design a tour specifically tailored to the needs of each group, in a relaxed and informal style, but with plenty of information if and when you need it.

For our particular trip, we started out at Pimpernel Vineyards, a boutique winery a little off the beaten track and well worth the visit. We felt like we had uncovered a hidden gem (well actually Wine Compass did the uncovering, we just drank the wine) – their vines are non-irrigated,  essentially resulting in grapes which have to fight for their water and nutrients, and whilst there may be a lower yield, they are concentrated and more intense in flavour, i.e. delicious.

Their specialities are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and they also make a very lovely Viognier, one of my new favourite wines, with lovely perfume and complexity which you can only get from a good grape and a winemaker who knows what to do with it.

The next stop was Oakridge for lunch, home to wunderkind chef Matt Stone, which was predictably fabulous, elegant and colourful, from the house-made bread and butter, (they even mill the flour onsite to make the bread) , local Yarra Valley caviar, handmade pasta, and vegetables from their own garden. And of course some beautiful wines to match.


Last stop was the always fabulous Four Pillars Gin, where the super-smiley Cam Mackenzie was on hand to have a chat, we had a special gin tasting, and got to have a sneak peak at the new release Shiraz Gin (my favourite, because wine).


And in the style of all great road trips, it ended with us zooming down the freeway back towards the city with one of our guests (Melbourne Cocktails I’m looking at you) commandeering the stereo and turning the bus into a high-spirited karaoke disco.  You should book now. Click here . Cheers!

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Glenrowan & Glamping

 


 There’s nothing like an impromptu road-trip to discover yet another Victorian wine region where you also end up making friends with beer. When your accommodation is a romantic middle-of-nowhere glampsite complete with natural beauty and wildlife, where you can still be in time for dinner at a city-quality restaurant in just 20 minutes, it kinda feels like you’ve hit the adventure jackpot. This was our experience when we headed for Glenrowan this weekend.

Right now until the 18th of May you can stay at the Winton Wetlands (just over 2 hours from Melbourne, in Victoria’s North East, at the Mokoan Flash Tents camp, in luxury canvas tents, each complete with king-sized bed covered in soft warm fluffy doona, solar lamp, deck chairs, gorgeous Biology toiletries  and extra rugs for added warmth, for just $150 (for 2 ppl).

The campsite features a generator-powered hot shower, toilets, picnic tables, bikes, and a fire (wood provided).

A spectacular location and photographer’s paradise, activities at the Wetlands include walking, bike riding, bird watching, canoing and star gazing. Incredible natural beauty, year round.

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A stone’s throw from the camp is the Glenrowan wine region, where you’ll find deep, plummy shiraz, and dark berry durif, as well as some fantastic fortified and even a few good whites.

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Wangaratta and Benalla are both close by (roughly 20-25 minutes) so if you’re looking for either breakfast or dinner options, you’ll be spoilt for choice. We love Cafe The PreVue, Cafe DeRailleur or the newly opened Bertsy & Co for brunch or coffee, and for the classic Italian cucina experience you can’t go past Rinaldo’s for dinner.

But first, the wine!  We met Lennie at Baileys of Glenrowan, a winery that’s been around since 1870, and whose wines consistently rate a mid to high 90’s from Mr Halliday. Lennie was only too happy to take us through the range, we fell a little bit in love with the organic Shiraz and the 2013 Durif ( which we brought home with us)

Baileys also do a mean wood-fired pizza, as well as antipastos and cheeses at the Old Block Cafe, nestled amidst a gorgeous old garden.FullSizeRender-1

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Just up the road is Taminick Cellars where James Booth is continuing over 100 years of family winemaking tradition, producing Rose, Nero D’Avola, Shiraz and Durif.

In 2011 he opened the Black Dog Brewery on site,  hand-crafting small-batch, preservative-free beers from premium malted barley, hops and yeast strains with pure Warby Ranges water. For a non-beer drinker I was pretty taken with the ‘Saison’! We picked up both the Shiraz and Durif, as well as a 6 pack of beers to enjoy at home.

Auldstone Cellars is also close by so we dropped in to have a chat with Nancy. As well as reds, Auldstone are producing some award-winning chardonnay and riesling. We even bagged 1989 (yep, you read that right) aged riesling that we opened when we got home and it took a few hours to wipe the smile off my face. Oh yeah.

Next time we’ll go back and visit Morrisons Winery which we just couldn’t fit in on the day.

If you’re camping, make sure you leave plenty of time for exploring the wetlands, just remember to pack a portable phone charger since there’s no electricity (although perfect phone/data reception to share your sunset pics on Insta!) and just revel in the sensation of being woken up by the birds instead of an alarm clock.

http://www.visitglenrowan.com.au

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Lady Carolina set to open in August

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Ahead of Lady Carolina’s much anticipated launch in August, Paul Wilson has snared pit masters and Peruvian enthusiasts Blair Williams (Piqueos and Bluebonnet BBQ) and former employee Cameron Dening (Circa and Acland St Cantina) to bring flair and excitement to the kitchen, and bolster the 160-seater Latin restaurant and bar.

Lady Carolina co-founder Alby Tomassi says, “With the calibre of the entire Lady Carolina team, under the
direction of Paul Wilson, guests can experience a celebration of culture, music, food and beverage from
all corners of Latin and Central America. With two very distinct offerings, customers will find themselves
exploring the Paladar Dining Room and relaxing in the Carolina Back Bar that will showcase the best Latin street food in Melbourne.”

The Lady Carolina indoor menu will allow diners to feast on the dedicated cevicheria, which will explore the depth of Latin cuisine, while highlighting cultural fusions of Peru through Chifa and Nikkei blends. The outdoor bar will showcase creative street foods with vibrant dishes including alpaca burgers with sweet potato slaw and Amarillo and criolla salsas.

The team is also introducing new superfood desserts, including the incaberry cacao crunch. Paul Wilson adds: “Incaberries are a powerful superfood packed with protein and antioxidants, offering a healthy dessert with a twist. Serving healthy superfoods is something that is very important to the Lady Carolina ethos; we are bringing healthy ingredients and Australian produce, which is also native to South America, to the forefront of the menu and demonstrating how diverse we can be with authentic foods.” Other new fun desserts include palettes – Mexican ice lollies made with Australian tropical fruits, including Jackfruit mojito flavour.

The exciting beverage offering includes an indoor pisco bar and an outdoor rum bar, serving up delicious cocktails on tap. The Carolina Back Bar will be transformed into a major Latin street food destination, bringing the grittiness of South America to East Brunswick.

Blair Williams

Hailing from New Zealand, Blair moved to Australia to pursue his passion for all things edible. Blair’s love for South American cuisine began at Piqueos, a Peruvian and Argentinian gem where he was head chef. Developing a love for all things meaty and delicious, Blair also went on to open northside favourite Bluebonnet BBQ with a string of pop-ups around Melbourne’s northern suburbs and has recently been head chef at Longhorn Saloon.

Cameron Dening

Cameron Dening, has trained with some of Brisbane’s hardest taskmasters at hatted restaurants Isis Brasserie, Bar Alto and Ortiga. When Cameron headed to Melbourne, he spent time at the two-hatted St Kilda icon, Circa. Cameron’s relationship with Paul Wilson flourished and he furthered his knowledge and love for regional Mexican food at the helm of Acland St Cantina. The next step in his food odyssey is to explore even more Latin American food with Lady Carolina.

Lady Carolina
August 2015
175 – 177 Lygon Street North, Brunswick East

www.ladycarolina.com.au

Information provided by Zilla and Brook PR

Smoke and mirrors – a food styling masterclass with Denise Vivaldo

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As a food blogger, trying to make food look good is what you do. Setting a scene. Changing angles. Rearranging or moving a plate to get the best light. Making sure your husband/girlfriend’s mobile phone/keys/hand are not in the shot. Using a shed-load of Instagram filters to make things appear even more amazing.  Then you meet a food stylist. And that takes things to a WHOLE.OTHER.LEVEL.

I was invited by Kirsty Bryson, a Melbourne/Sydney food stylist,  to participate in a food styling masterclass being run by the GODMOTHER of Food Styling, US-based Denise Vivaldo, author of  ‘The Food Stylist’s Handbook’ which is literally the bible for any budding stylist wanting to know everything from how to keep food looking appealing after hours under hot lights, to how to shoot cereal in a bowl without it going soggy (PVC glue apparently)

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I arrived in Sydney with only a brief outline of the course, and what ensued was 2 full days of laughter, enjoyment and enlightenment, with a room full of gifted, enthusiastic participants,  all as eager to learn as I was, and from all different backgrounds, including fashion and TV set stylists, bloggers, chefs, photographers, a cafe owner, and other food stylists wanting to add even more to their bag of tricks.

Denise Vivaldo is HILARIOUS. She has been in the food business in one way or another for about 30 years, is based in LA, and is full of energy, enthusiasm and juicy celebrity anecdotes from a career that has seen her cater for more than 10,000 parties and cook meals for everyone from George W Bush and Prince Charles to Bette Midler and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Originally trained as a chef, Denise Vivaldo opened a catering company in the 80’s and quickly built a reputation which gained her repeat business from high-profile clients all over Los Angeles. She started working with Aaron Spelling after catering for a Hollywood studio executive’s party where Spelling was a guest.  He loved what she had done with the food styling of the event and immediately asked her to work with him on Dynasty, and then his other TV shows including Melrose Place.

Since then Denise has styled countless TV sets all over America and beyond, appeared on numerous cooking shows, written half a dozen books, contributed articles to the Huffington Post, as well as assisting celebrities in developing recipes and styling their cookbooks.

For our masterclass she shared her insights from 30 years in the business, and revealed secrets that had me laughing in shock, as I realised I had taken for granted so many things in print and on TV. For example, an egg yolk in a picture of bacon and eggs is likely to be raw, with the white cooked separately, and hole cut out for the raw yolk to be dropped in. Who knew? Ha. That was only the start.

Icecream? No. It’s Crisco (Frymaster here) whipped up with icing sugar and then roughed up with a wooden skewer to look like a scoop. No melting under the camera, no drips, no mess and you can make it in as many colours as you like with food dye. Handy for that movie scene which has to be re-shot 15 times.

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Think that chicken is roasted? Think again. Try a raw chicken sprayed with browning essence, a shake of paprika and liberal application of a blow torch to tighten the skin.

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This appetising and carefully-crafted sandwich is filled at the front with real food and stuffed at the back with cotton wool balls to create height and depth for the photo, and toothpicks hold it all together.

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This is a bowl of canned minestrone soup, demonstrating the importance of props – with the right combination of napery, breadstick and crockery,and some beautiful natural light, it doesn’t look terrible.

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We also conducted an exercise in reassembling the contents of a box of Lean Cuisine to make it actually look like it does on the packaging. Anyone who at one time has eaten one of these sad looking meals would know it doesn’t usually. We actually rinsed off some of the sauce after separating all the individual components and reassembled it with some tweezers (a stylist’s best friend apparently, the tweezers).

IMG_0961There’s a lot to be said for the selection of the right colour of crockery when plating up a dish for maximum impact – you can see how the simple garnish of lime peel is set off beautifully by a green plate. This is a just frozen supermarket brand cheesecake and I used a scone cutter to make into an individual circular serve instead of the usual wedge.
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To see exactly what went down, check out this fantastic video by Dave Katague here .

Thanks to Kirsty and Denise for having me along, it was definitely a highlight of 2014, and I’ve certainly started looking at food advertisements in a whole new way now!
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All the Bubbles! La Dolce Vita Festival November 15-16, 2014.


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If this picture is making you thirsty, there are number of fantastic ways to get your bubbles on, Italian Style, at the annual Dolce Vita Festival in the King Valley, November 14-16.

Brown Brothers is celebrating 125 years of wine making at their 28th annual Spring Wine & Food Festival Opening Dinner, where you can dine with members of the Brown family at Patricia’s Table restaurant in the Epicurean Centre at  Milawa.

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This exclusive members-only event features a delectable four course meal with matched wines created by  award winning Head Chef Douglas Elder.
Over the weekend you can also experience some fantastic wine and food matching at Patricia & Co Pop-Up Wine and Food Bar, visit Epicurean Express for mouth-watering dishes direct from the delicious kitchen, or simply grab a picnic basket and get comfortable on the lawns listening to some wonderful live acoustic music. You’ll also be one of the first to get the chance to take a peek inside the beautiful, newly restored historic barn, the place where the King Valley wine adventure started. Drop in, relax, explore!

Dal Zotto Wines in Whitfield are celebrating their 10th Anniversary of producing Australia’s first Prosecco at their Primavera del Prosecco event this year.

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New release wines include 2014 Arneis, 2014 Riesling, 2014 Vintage Pucino and N.V. Pucino Prosecco. They are also very excited to announce the return of the ever popular Barbera Frizzante and an exciting new variety to the Dal Zotto range – the 2014 Garganega.

The Prosecco Cocktail Bar will be open again from 11 am until 8pm on Saturday and 10 am – 5 pm on Sunday, and for the kids, clown fun, with  2 x jumping castles (for big and little kids), face painting and craft activities.

“Wine Flights” will be served with food matches in the Trattoria by the winemaker and Dal Zotto family and team.

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House made Pizza, kids meals, delicious spring produce, together with famous Gelato Messina treats are only a few of the food options on offer, there will be music by local artists Tom Kline, Paul William Ray & Band and you can groove away the night with DJ Emlyn Andres at the  “Prosecco Nights” event (Sat 4pm-8pm)  where they will be crowning the King and Queen of Prosecco – and you can be assured I’ll be back defending my title as Prosecco Queen!

After 5pm on Saturday, enjoy Otto Dal Zotto’s now famous Tuscan Pork Roll – succulent spit roasted pork (that’s Eric below from the Trattoria doing a test run a few weeks ago), lovingly cooked all day and served up on house made bread rolls with Italian slaw….Bellisimo!IMG_1630

 

Pizzini Wines

 

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Every year Pizzini put on their ‘Gnocchi Carnevale’ as part of La Dolce Vita Festival. Along with Katrina Pizzini’s famous homemade gnocchi, there will be pork belly, Zatar crusted BBQ salmon, roast pumpkin and caramelised onion cannelloni, as well as a huge array of amazing desserts, and kids get to try Nonna’s bolognaise. There’s also an ice cream bar, market stalls, music, giant sandpit and art space for the kids as well as kite making, and roving entertainers teaching the kids circus art like hooping, enthralling with balloon art, face painting and magical tricks. All this means you will be free to sit and enjoy the sunshine, and all the wine. There’s also the annual gnocchi rolling and wine spitting competitions,

Fred Pizzini has grown over 275 kilograms of Dutch Cream potatoes especially for the gnocchi. It would be rude not to help them eat it.

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Just 5 minutes down the road you’ll find Politini Wines and Chrismont Wines, in Cheshunt.

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(image from Visit Victoria)

 

This year Politini are serving up a sensational southern Italian feast of seafood with a Mediterranean twist by the team of ‘Rinaldo’s Casa e Cucina’, plus Nonna Josie’s home-cooked fare and delicious Italian sweets including her ever popular amici & dolce platters.

IMG_0990Chrismont are celebrating with a two-day, lively affair brimming with exciting new release wines, top entertainment and dishes inspired by a southern Italian holiday, all with the region’s majestic vistas as your backdrop.

You can also experience a touch of Venice at the Bellini Bar with cocktails of La Zona Bellini and La Zona Spritz showcasing Chrismont’s La Zona Prosecco. This dry sparkling wine made in the authentic northern Italian style is shaping up to be the drink of summer – so jump in while it’s still spring and enjoy Prosecco ‘viva la vita’ style.

You can check out the entire Dolce Vita festival program HERE

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It occurred to me whilst finding images for this post that I have taken A LOT of photos of prosecco. And the King Valley. And I’m ok with that. It’s pretty. And I love it, so remember:

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* I was not asked to write this post, I am not being paid to write this post. It’s a public service announcement about all the bubbles. That is all. Prosecco Queen out…

Horsing around in Wangaratta

Regular readers of my blog will know how much I love North East Victoria, for its beautiful lush green landscape, gourmet food trails, warm hospitality, and of course the wineries of the King Valley, the home of prosecco. So it may surprise you to learn that I haven’t visited Wangaratta in about 2o years, despite it being located only 10 minutes from Milawa, the start of the King Valley Gourmet food and wine region.

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I was invited by the Rural City of Wangaratta to visit the area for a couple of days, my trip coinciding with the High Country Harvest, which runs for 10 days from the middle of May each year, and showcases the region’s food and wine producers, in a series of fantastic long lunches, picnics, wine dinners, and a couple of extremely special events, including one that particularly sparked my interest,  ‘Packing Prosecco’.

The opportunity to finally explore some of Wangaratta itself was too good an offer to refuse so I packed up Mr 9 for some ‘school of life’ adventures and away we sped up the Hume Highway to arrive just in time for lunch at Cafe Derailleur, which amongst other things such as a completely crochet-covered mountain bike (yes, really), does excellent coffee, and according to my junior foodie, very excellent pancakes.

FORGE’S FARM – PACKING PROSECCO

Lunch done, we headed out to Oxley, just 15 minutes out of town, to meet with our hosts Graham, Anne-Maree and Tup Forge, of Forge’s Farm.  Anne-Maree grew up on their current farm, and Graham is from nearby Edi. Between them they know every inch of the King Valley and regularly run trail rides around the area, give horse riding lessons, and run annual cattle drives and team penning competitions. These lovely people are so friendly we literally felt like part of the family the moment  we arrived, which made it all the more difficult to leave.

For the High Country Harvest event, they’ve combined local produce from the Milawa Cheese Company with Dal Zotto prosecco, and teach visitors the lost art of packing a horse, before taking them on a beautiful, easy ride thorough paddocks and along the King River for a picnic either on the shady bank, or in a nearby woodshed.  It’s hard to say who enjoyed this more, me or my son Dylan, who appears to have a natural affinity for horses, and was off and trotting after only 5 minutes in the saddle. Whilst there he also got to feed baby lambs from a bottle, as well as helping Graham and Anne-Maree unsaddle the horses and put on their ‘pyjamas’ (saddle blankets) before leading them off to the stables for the night.

Dylan has already made me promise to go back to Forge’s for another visit, and with accommodation on site for only $80 a night for a very cosy little shed with comfy double bed and bunks in the middle of all the action, it won’t be too long before we are back in the saddle.

You can follow Forge’s Farm on Instagram and Facebook. Make sure you follow Tuppy Forge as well – she’s the one responsible for the gorgeous styling of the prosecco picnic, and with an eye for beautiful detail and a talent behind the camera, her feed is sure to be full of loveliness. You can thank me later.

THE OTHER GOOD BITS

Tarrawingee:

The Plough Inn Hotel in Tarrawingee is another destination that’s been on my North East bucket list for a little while now, so it was fantastic to have this on our schedule. Chef and owner Andrew Roscouet, is ex Pure South, and Sofitel Melbourne, and  The Savoy and Berkley Hotels in London before that. His fine pedigree shines through in food that is neither fussy nor pretentious whilst impressing the pants off you at the same time. With a wine list that beautifully demonstrates the great talents of several local winemakers, an inviting dining room full of exposed brick and gorgeous light even on a dreary Autumn day, and an excellent value tasting menu (5 courses for $65 or $90 with matched wines) this is somewhere I’ll be returning to again for a long and leisurely dinner, with a designated driver next time so I can drink a whole bottle of the local Eldorado Road Quasimodo Shiraz Durif Nero D’Avola which is my new favourite wine crush for the cooler months. Warning: food porn ahead.


IMG_9617Slow cooked Chicken Terrine with Buttered Onion Brioche and Cauliflower Chutney.

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Roasted Sweet Corn Croquettes with Garlic Aioli

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Vanilla Creme Brûlée with citrus mint salad

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Wangaratta:

No longer a sleepy country town, Wang is full of stylish little stores stocking homewares, kitchen stuff, local crafts, and some pretty sweet boutiques. The food scene is also much better than you might imagine, with some excellent choices for dining out, from casual to more ‘special occasion’.  On this particular visit we tried Watermarc and Precinct for drinks and a range of entrees and Cafe The PreVue for breakfast. Apart from an excellent standard of food, what really struck me was the professional service, which was anything but provincial. I’m looking forward to another visit already.

 

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Poached egg with tomato, basil, fetta and chilli, and balsamic at Cafe The Pre Vue

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Sitting on the deck in the Autumn sunshine at Cafe the Pre Vue overlooking the Ovens River and boardwalk

We stayed at  Via Bella Vista – luxury boutique accomodation, close to the river, with a large terrace to catch the morning sun, beautifully styled with thoughtful touches like a coffee machine with milk and pods, a bottle of wine in the fridge and Mor toiletries in the bathroom (and even a hairdryer). The bed had the biggest, fluffiest pillows I’ve ever laid my head on, and was like sleeping on a cloud. Heaven!20140525-133838.jpg

Milawa:

There always seems to be so much to do in Milawa itself, and I never seem to have enough time to get around to everything. For example, if you start at Brown Brothers Winery, you can grab a bike and pedal up and down the country roads, in search of cheese, mustard, olive oil, honey, and ALL THE WINE. It’s a little initiative they like to call ‘Pedal to Produce’ and the bikes come equipped with a big basket that you can fill to the brim with all the delicious things. A highlight of this little expedition was trying the new ‘Bolle’ sparkling at Sam Miranda Wines. We also picked up some gorgeous creamed honey from Walkabout Apiaries.

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We stayed as guests of the Rural City of Wangaratta.

 

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Special thanks to the glamour farmer and tourism treasure, Emma Keith for hosting us so magnificently xx

 

Bar Nacional, Collins Square – it’s a ‘Si’ from me!

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From the ridiculously good-looking celebrity chef Pete Evans,  together with  the man responsible for the legendary ‘beef on toast’, and chicken-skin butter with pull-apart bread at Little Hunter, comes Spanish venue, Bar Nacional, located at Collins Square, the new development at 727 Collins St.

Chef Gavin Baker (ex-Fat Duck…swoon!) is at it again,  with inventive techniques, and flavours set to blow your mind and woo your tastebuds.  He’s also funny, passionate, and despite being from North Carolina, does a great Cockney accent, mostly when the food comes out, when he exclaims proudly “innit gaw-geous!!”  Manning the Josper oven and sending out seriously more-ish plates is Chef Alex Drobysz, who is ex- Bistro Moderne (Daniel Boulud) and Gordon Ramsay, and lovely bloke into the bargain.

My first meal at Bar Nacional was a Monday lunchtime, followed up with a long Friday afternoon/evening session, so I’ve managed to sample almost all of the menu, a fact of which I am infinitely proud.

The menu starts with a Charcuterie section, including chorizo, lomo (beef tenderloin) and 3 types of jamon, from  Serrano, through to Iberica and all the way to the mother lode – the Bellota Pura.

In the name of research I did my utmost to slay much of the tapas menu, including

  • Choricito – simple little sausages cooked in cider, onion and parsley
  • Croquettes of charred brussel sprouts, with preserved lemon aioli. Definitely worlds away from the 70’s ‘boil and serve method’ my mother employed (hi mum, love you but they were RANK).
  • Pan con tomate – simple but totally delicious toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and ripe tomato, then drizzled with olive oil and salt
  • Morcilla – spanish blood sausage, and it’s a rich, strong flavour that should be embraced, with a good wine (no problem here)
  • Patatas bravas – what’s not to love about potatoes?

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One of the highlights of the ‘rationales’ or mains,  was the wood-roasted fish.  It’s the first time I’ve come across this style of cooking in my  travels, and I was absolutely fascinated by the entire process. I even got to sneak into the kitchen and see it being prepared.  A trunk of wood is cut into thick slices, which are then rubbed with  garlic oil.  The fish is laid on the wood slice and roasted in the Josper oven, and  when the edges of the bark catch fire, the fish  infused with the ensuing smoke . The dish comes served  on the wood at the table, with the edges still gently smouldering, accompanied by roasted eggplant.  This technique imparts the most incredible, subtle but smoky flavour to the flesh of the fish, and at the moment the kitchen is are working with wood from 8 different varieties of trees, each with their own distinctive flavour characteristics – including orange and almond.

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Whilst there we also managed to put away the prawns with chorizo and patates bravas, with peppers and fried egg, and the pork belly with compressed pear and mint. Again, perfectly executed.  Speaking of perfect, there are 2 more things that make this place great. The first is the service.  The staff are engaging, knowledgeable, and genuinely excited about the food, as well as the wine. Which brings me to the second thing – the wine list. In the words of my esteemed colleague and partner in many drinking crimes, @ladyoenotria,  “it’s BANGING!”.   This is the work of sommelier and all-round nice guy Jeff Salt (ex-Golden Fields) who has curated a beautiful selection of  whites and reds, including some excellent Cava (Spanish sparkling, or as I like to call it,  Prosecco with a sombrero) and some heavenly tempranillo.

They tell me ‘postres’ is Spanish for dessert. At Bar Nacional, it actually means ‘food porn of the highest order’. With Chef Shaun Quade (ex Quay, Royal Mail, Urbane and Biota) at the sweet end of the kitchen, you know you are in good hands and in for a good time.

We need to talk about the Tocino del Cielo – translated to  ‘Heaven’s Bacon’.  This is made with pig fat. Which makes it awesome. Salted maize caramel lies underneath shards of feather-light biscuit, and a lemon sherbert.  Oh my sainted aunt.  I don’t care where you live. Get up off your chair and get there NOW.

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The bitter chocolate liquid cake, with green aniseed olive oil and lemon marmalade ice cream is nothing short of a party in your mouth. The caramel ooze that issues forth from the cake once you slide your spoon into it is smooth, and velvety and I would bathe in that goodness if I could. The lemon marmalade ice-cream is the perfect foil for all the richness – it is  tart, refreshing, yet super creamy.  I perhaps even recall being told it was made with sour cream, although I may have dreamt that whilst in my food coma.  Superb.

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There are some mighty fine  Quesas (cheeses) on offer as well – we tried the blue cheese which was served on a wooden board with some fresh honeycomb, a perfect combination of sweet and bitey – my lunch date is not a dessert person (I know, what the?) so he was super happy to get stuck into the cheese whilst I inhaled all the cake.

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On Friday nights they also have all sorts of excellent bar snacks – including the decadent chocolate churros truffle, with a caramelised white chocolate centre.  This you must not leave without trying. And DO NOT SHARE.   They also do a mean Sangria, made with D.O.C  vino rosso from the King Valley, Dom Benedictine, citrus, cloves, and cinnamon.

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Here are the Twitter handles of the main suspects. Give them a follow if you want to play along at home. Or better yet, get your butt on a bar stool and eat ALL the tapas.  I’ll be the one drinking sangria straight from the jug. In a totally classy way of course. Ole!

@barnacional

@shaun_quade

@jeff_salt

@PeteEvansChef

https://www.facebook.com/barnacionalmelbourne

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Breakfast Balls – Meatball and Wine Bar

This morning, amidst a torrential downpour, Melbourne-style, I made my way to The Meatball and Wine Bar to try out the new breakfast menu. Having previously sampled the dinner balls (see my post here), there was no way I was going to turn down this invitation so I presented my bleary-eyed self at 7.30am and prepared to get my balls on with the lovely @FiBrook who was already wide awake and ready to party.

Things started well as our delightful waitress could sense my immediate need for caffeine and brought me a sensational piccolo (coffee by Dukes). As the good stuff hit my veins I gradually regained the ability for cognitive thought and grown up conversation, and started on menu perusement and at the same time caught up on Oscars goss with @amystown and @sarahcooks.

The principle of the breakfast menu is the same as for dinner – choice of balls, sauce and sides. Between us we tried:

1. Egg, charred corn and aged cheddar with hollandaise sauce and a side of smoked salmon
2. Creamy egg with pesto sauce and a side of avocado
3. Green eggs with hollandaise sauce and a side of mushroom with taleggio
4. A creamy egg slider with italian tomato sauce and a side of bacon

The balls in this equation were actually a gorgeous scrambled egg mixture which is slowcooked in a mould so it comes out in the shape of a ball. Genius. Perfectly sized portions, seemingly endless combinations, delightful happy staff even at such an ungodly hour, and damn fine coffee.

Breakfast jackpot hit again, balls and all. Loved it.

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The Great Truffle Caper (AKA The Power of Twitter)

This is the story of how Twitter saved my marriage. Rewind to 2 weekends ago when we were visiting my sister in Canberra. The Truffle Festival just happened to be on at the same time, and we decided that before we left we simply had to bring a truffle home to Melbourne. We ended up at the Fyshwick market, which is home to the lovely 3 Seeds – a cooking school, store and canteen.

Not only were they holding truffle cooking demonstrations, they also had truffles (amongst other glorious items) for sale. We watched eagerly as the lovely lady there weighed up a nice chunk of truffle for us on her scales, and we decided impulsively (and expensively) to get some extra, so we could try our hand at making truffle butter and truffle salt as well.

3 Seeds in Canberra

Next came the instructions on how to store our precious brown lump – and I have to admit that verbal information retention is not my strong point. I’m better with a leaflet that I can re-read later. So in the end what I actually heard was “wrap the truffle in paper towel and put it in a jar with some eggs, and change the paper towel every day..something, something… white noise…” Clutching our little bag we made a dash for the airport, and I cleverly remembered that I had a truffle in my handbag when we got home, followed the instructions I could remember and that was that.

That evening, elated by our purchase my husband told close friends we were going to cook them a dinner of epic proportions later in the week, with said truffle. So plans were made, eye fillet was procured, along with shallots, and veal stock. The night before the truffle extravaganza was scheduled I decided to take a peek at our little brown friend, and to my horror discovered it was now a very mouldy, furry little friend. Apparently the white noise I had heard at 3 Seeds was ‘and put it in the fridge’. Doh.

My husband to his eternal credit, worked hard at this point not to have a heart attack, but it was clear that the blame rested solely on my shoulders for not refrigerating our precious treasure, and my suggestion that he had been more than welcome to check on my work, and the state of the truffle at any point between purchase and the present, was met with expletives I won’t print here for fear of breaking the internet.

So it began. My remorse was sent into the Twitterverse thus:

The next morning, when we were talking again, I assured my husband “I can fix this, just give me a few hours”.

So I sent a Twitter SOS at 7.54am:

In total, with 2 retweets, my distress call reached over 3042 people in those first few minutes before 8am on Thursday morning.

I boarded my train and within 3 stations, the replied started flooding in…

And then, at 8.11am my salvation came, in the form of the wonderful Sara, of A Table Cooking with this little beauty:

A phone call was made, and then a flurry of texts followed over the course of the morning, to enable the lunchtime hook-up. I traipsed from one end of the CBD to the other, cash and gratitude cupcake in hand, to meet Sara at the appointed time and place. She’d even texted me a photo of my truffle, already nestled in a little gift box, waiting for me.

Sara also assured me that I was not the first person to have neglected their fungus, which made me feel slightly better. With my replacement truffle safely packed away in the fridge at work, it was time to let the Twitterverse know that things had worked out, and thank people for their help. (And a special shout out too here to ‘Truffle Daryl’  at Aureus Park Truffles who also offered assistance)

And of course, now to go home and serve up the promised truffle extravaganza to our guests, who were enormously appreciative, even more so when regaled with the tale of how their dinner came to be, because (to borrow from Caroline Tunnell-Jones of First Growth Communications, another of my lovely Twitter buddies) “FOOD tastes better with a story”. But it didn’t hurt that we had some damn fine wine to go with all this either.

Dinner is served!

And finally here is the recipe, so you can see exactly what we did with the truffle, from Gabriel Gate http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipe/457/Beef_fillet_with_truffles_and_foie_gras

PS: We didn’t actually use the foie gras

Beef fillet with truffles and foie gras recipe

Ingredients

2 medium potatoes
Salt
1/4 cup milk
40 g butter
1 small shallot, finely chopped
10 g truffles
2 pieces of eye fillet, each about 200 g
2 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tsp oil
2 tbsp Madeira wine (we used Buller Wine’s award winning Muscat instead – considering how much trouble we’d gone to with the truffle, we decided to go for gold here)
1/4 cup veal stock
Freshly ground black pepper
2 slices of foie gras, each about 20 g

Preparation

Cut potatoes into quarters and place in a small saucepan. Cover with cold, salted water, bring to the boil and cook potatoes until done.

Bring milk to the boil in a medium saucepan.

Drain potatoes and pass them through a mouli over the milk. Combine mashed potato with hot milk and mix in two-thirds of the butter. Put mashed potato aside.

Chop shallots and cut truffles into small strips.

Season eye fillets with salt and cracked pepper.

Heat oil and half the butter in a small pan and cook eye fillets on high heat for 3-5 minutes on each side. Transfer steaks to a plate and cover with foil.

Add half the remaining butter to pan. Add shallots and stir for 2 minutes. Add Madeira and bring to the boil. Add stock, return to the boil and boil for 1 minute. Add remaining butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in sliced truffles.

Serve a little hot mashed potato onto 2 plates. Top with steak. Place a slice of foie gras on top of steak, spoon a little sauce over and serve.