Get Some Balls – Meatball & Wine Bar

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I was a guest recently at the newly-opened Meatball and Wine Bar in Flinders Lane. I had no idea what to expect but my interest was piqued, and arriving to a long cosy room, exposed rough-hewn red brick, the gentle hum of conversation and a warm welcome, I was already feeling at home by the time they offered me an Aperol Spritzer and a seat.

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We started the meal with some San Daniele prosciutto and excellent truffle and fennel salamis, but my tastebuds are still talking about the ‘diavoletta’ that came after that…smoked and baked cheese studded with olives and tomato. By god, that was some chewy bitey cheesy goodness. The mozzarella is sourced from cheese makers in local Donnybrook who apparently beat off some stiff competition from Italian-made cheeses, to be included on the menu. Happy days.

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And so to the balls. The menu is thoughtfully put together so you can get a taste of everything if you fancy it. You can mix and match balls, sauces and sides, and great care has been taken with the selection of suppliers of each ingredient. Listening to our host, Matteo, describing the lengths they’ve gone to in terms of sourcing the meat, experimenting with mixing cuts and various grinds, to achieve the perfect meatball, you realize there is real passion behind this venture, and when we get our first taste of the beef meatballs, slider style, we couldn’t be more appreciative of their efforts. This ball is pasture-fed Angus, served up within a brioche bun, flanked by Italian tomato sauce and some pickles, perfectly executed.

We also try the chicken balls, made with pistachio, muscatels and Parmesan, which arrive nestled on some glorious folds of house-made pasta, with a creamy white bechamel-style sauce. Heaven.

Our third ball of the evening was the pork, and this was also bursting with rustic flavour. The pork comes from Byron Bay, and is minced together with sage, fennel and orange zest, which provides both acidity and sweetness. This is classic Tuscan fare, served with a pesto salsa verde, and sits atop gorgeous creamy polenta. Bellissimo.

I need to make special mention of the wines, which were also superb, complimenting each dish beautifully. The bulk of what we drank came from Quealy wines at Balnarring, on the Mornington Peninsula, and I’m now hooked on the nicest wine with the kookiest name: ‘Pobblebonk’, which is a Super White and includes a blend of Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Chardonnay (to name about half of what’s in there). A glorious, perfect match for the chicken balls, and a new favourite. We also drank Quealy’s ‘Rageous!’ Sangiovese, Shiraz and Pinot blend, which is their interpretation of a Super Tuscan and a delight to drink with the beef and pork meatballs.
The rest of the wine list features mostly Italian red and white varietals with a few Aussie heroes thrown in from the Barossa, and Heathcote.

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As for dessert, if your idea of heaven is a gorgeous giant globe of home-made icecream in a choice of coffee, burnt orange, vanilla or chocolate, sandwiched between two halves of a giant macaron (chocolate, pistachio, berry, or coffee) then you, my friend, have come to the right ball hall.

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And for those of us who just can’t get enough balls, they are opening soon for breakfast – the menu is already up on their website. I may or may not have created the Twitter hashtag #getsomeballs. But you really should. http://www.meatballandwinebar.com.au/ 135 Flinders Lane Melbourne ph. 9654 7545

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.

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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.

Silo by Joost

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I’ve already outed myself as a card-carrying member of the Joost Bakker fan club, after visiting the Greenhouse in Perth in 2011, and then hanging out daily at its temporary cousin at the Melbourne Food and Wine Fesitval in March this year (see here) so it will come as no surprise that I’ve been waiting eagerly for his latest project ‘Silo by Joost’ to open its doors on Hardware Street. 

Silo is setting the benchmark for a waste-free sustainable cafe model – there are no bins, milk is delivered in bulk, flour is milled on site for all their baking needs, and of course all the suppliers are local, organic and seasonal. 

The kitchen is headed up by Douglas McMaster, who holds the Young British Foodies award for ‘Most Irreverant Chef’, and you can watch him at work as the kitchen and communal table are all part of the same space, giving you an up-close and personal introduction to your meal.   Currently on the breakfast menu are coddled eggs with mushrooms, house-made muesli, porridge, toast, shortbread, and yoghurt, not to mention some sensational chocolate treats (breakfast dessert, anyone?).  Silo are also doing evenings from Thursday to Saturday, with salads, grains and soup, and a nice selection of good local plonk including beer, wine and cider.

Silo is run by the irrepressibly enthusiastic Danny Colls (ex Cafe Racer, Postal Hall, Liaison, Federal Coffee Palace etc). If you happen to catch Danny at Silo he’s more than happy to give you a tour, and the passion he has for this latest venture is infectious.  It was also lovely to see the same staff who worked so happily at the Greenhouse at MFWF this year, serving up breakfast at Silo the morning we visited, every bit as excited about this beautiful new venture as I certainly am.

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Hola, St Kilda! Radio Mexico

Much has been written about the explosion of Mexican eateries in Melbourne, and some are definitely better than others.

I travelled across town recently to try Radio Mexico and all I’ll say is that I’m jealous of the locals. JEALOUS.

Located just next to The Galleon in Carlisle St, this little taqueria is bound to charm you – casual, colourful and inviting.

I arrived early because we all know well enough by now that trying to get a table anywhere that doesn’t take bookings after about 6pm in Melbourne is about as pleasant as stabbing yourself in the eye with a cactus.

I was early enough in fact to have a good chat with the very friendly staff, who mentioned that despite being open just a short time, it feels like they have always been in the neighbourhood. Their prediction was that within the hour, the place would be jam-packed. Inside was quiet (ish) but outside, with a fireplace on the deck, which overlooks the taco-truck styled kitchen, it was already over half-full with punters enjoying a cerveza with their tortillas. In any case they were spot on. As my dining companion and I chowed down on spectacularly good tacos, oblivious to the building crowd behind us, when we turned around, the place was overflowing.

That brings me to the staff, who could not have been more pleasant, enthusiastic, and attentive. Despite people waiting for tables, there was no pressure at all, and we were encouraged to keep ordering tacos as long as we felt able to fit them in. They recommend you order your tacos one at a time, since they come out super-fast, and whilst you could be forgiven for thinking with a crowd this big you may be forgotten about when time came to order your next one, you would be dead wrong. We couldn’t fault it.

The tacos themselves were just bursting with fresh, crisp ingredients, and between us we sampled free range pork with jalapenos/black beans with avocado /bbq bugmeat with habanero slaw as well as street-style corn on the cob and a wonderful ceviche of rockling, ruby grapefruit and avocado.

We finished with the most DIVINE coconut icecream sundae with cajeta caramel and roasted coconut. Ariba! Which may or may not be Mexican for ‘do it’.

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Marmalade and a whole lotta Soul

Now HERE is a gem. Owned by Raymond Capaldi (renowned chef of many years repute both overseas and here in Melbourne, not least including co-owning Fenix, and now owner of the very fabulous Hare & Grace in Collins St), Marmalade and Soul is located on Queens Parade in Clifton Hill, a stone’s throw from Brunswick St.

The first thing that hits you, aside from the gorgeous fit-out (thankfully not too cliched, with some nice vintage touches, and cleverly-designed light shades made from colanders and other kitchen utensils, as well as an open kitchen and a fabulous communal table) is the incredible menu.

I’ve never seen anything like it, and I eat breakfast out alot. Probably way more than I should. In any case, apart from a few staples, and an offering for the kidlets of either googie-eggs with soldiers or Coco-Pops, we were in uncharted territory. It was impossible not to succumb to the adventure. Presented with such confidence, the sheer balls of it had me going ‘hell yes, I WILL have some scrambled eggs cooked in burnt butter with curry powder’. Thank God I did because that, my friends, was some curry, eggy goodness right there. It also probably didn’t hurt that our waitress was ridiculously lovely, friendly and FRENCH, which meant when she recited the specials <yes they also have breakfast specials> we asked her to do them again, just to hear her accent.

The coffee was SPLENDID. I think it’s worth saying that again. Splendid. So good, I had 3 piccolos and was pinging off my head by the time I left.

But back to breakfast. Between us we also tried the caramelised orange and olive cake, with burnt orange custard, and maple bacon, and the corned beef jaffle with baked beans and salted egg yolk marmalade. My brain hurt trying to think about how this was all going to work, but BAM! Out it all came, on beautifully mismatched vintage crockery, my heart just told me to go with it and my tastebuds happily followed. Everything was fabulous. Loved it all.

Friendly welcome: check. Great service: check. Awesome coffee: check. An utterly original menu that makes you go WHOOOOO! Checkmate.

Good god. After a truly spectacular lunch at Hare & Grace last week with my new food partner in crime, and now this breakfast magnificence, I’m officially a Ray Capaldi groupie. And considering he’s kinda like a rugged Billy Bob Thornton, that may not be bad thing. Unless of course, you’re my husband. Shhhh!

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Greenhouse by Joost – Part II

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.

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Green Awesomeness at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival

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!

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The Sustainable Living Festival, Melbourne

Birrarung Marr on theYarraRiver in Melbourne was transformed over the weekend into a festival of awesomeness – 2 long rows of marquees displaying unimaginable goodies, winding along the river, and tantalising with the aromas of local, healthy food.

The happens every year in February, and is jam-packed full of fantastic events, speakers, information-sharing and workshops, all well as stalls stocked with new and innovative products and services and people just bursting to share the love.

During the course of 3 hours we saw Perma Pete giving a talk on how to make your own cider, learned that we can plant complimentary herbs around our citrus trees from the folk at http://www.VeryEdibleGardens.com, saw the gorgeous Joyce from http://cyclestyle.com.au/ with her glamorous array of bike accessories, and fell in love with the most stunning Bachhara www.bachhara.com silk kaftans made in Bangladesh from the ladies at http://sevencanaries.com.au/marketplace/sevencanaries/ .

I tried locally-made, cruelty free mineral make up from http://www.adornmineralcosmetics.com.au/ (it was excellent), found sweat-shop-free organic fair-trade undies from Etiko http://www.etiko.com (they were funky!) and got some fantastic solar energy information for our home, as well as beautiful raingarden inspiration from Melbourne Water http://raingardens.melbournewater.com.au/, and picked up my much coveted copy of the Field Guide to Victorian Produce from the Locavore Edition http://www.locavored.com/field-guides/. Make sure you check out their beautiful website!

I also grabbed a rad bumper sticker from the rock chicks Victorian Farmers Market Association at the which is now proudly proclaiming from the rear of my car that ‘I don’t buy food from strangers’. Classic. (photo credit for this particular image goes to VFMA) . We topped this off with a chat to the lovely ladies at making sensational curry mixes right here in Melbourne at No Worries Curries which are going straight into my slow cooker!

And to keep our strength up we visited http://www.misterniceguy.com.au for a spectacular coconut and lime creation, and the lovely folk at AllPress made us a cranking piccolo late, no mean feat considering they were making it in a tent.

We came home energised and excited about all the cool stuff we saw and sampled and inspired by the passion and creativity of all the exhibitors and participants. Mission accomplished!

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