Tuesday, September 27, 2011

+39 (+30 minutes) = ?

Only joking - that equation doesn't really add up to anything :p (Lame?) Having said that, the LHS (left hand side) does have some meaning to it - had dinner with Shanika at +39 last Friday night and because we didn't make a reservation, and it was a Friday night, we had to stand around in the restaurant and wait for about 30 minutes!

The restaurant itself has a slightly rustic feel to it - I think it's from the warm lighting and wooden furniture. Close packed tables (all fully occupied), bustling waiters conversing in Italian to each other, the smell of freshly-made wood-fired pizza wafting in the air - I figured it would be worth the wait. And it so totally was!

We ordered the Roman Chips ($8) to start, because we were starrrving and figured it would be served to us pretty quickly. And we were right :) The chips were sliced thinly to just the right thickness that when deepfried would be crispy and light. It was served sprinkled with shaved cheese (I think it was mozzarella...) and freshly grated pepper. No doubt a promising start to our meal.

We ordered the Salsiccia pizza as our main meal ($25) - the toppings were tomato, mozzarella, Italian sausage, Porchini mushroom, and parmesan. Shanika and I thoroughly enjoyed it - I especially liked the crunchy (lightly charred) crust!!! YUM.

For dessert, we ordered the sweet pizza ($12), basically a dessert pizza that comes topped with nutella and strawberries and served with a generous amount of vanilla ice cream on the side. It was the perfect end to our meal. They still used the regular savoury pizza base for this dish - I liked the contrast of the flavour from the toppings with the pizza base.

All in all, a good place for a good meal. I am definitely going back :) (Especially for that nutella pizza!!)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Viennese High Tea at the NGV's Kaffeehaus

Not your usual high tea outing - JWT and I decided to check out the one on offer at the little pop-up Viennese-inspired cafe in the NGV, Kaffeehaus, (which I'm thinking translates to 'coffee house'). It's only open until 9 October, in conjunction with the Vienna Art & Design exhibition.

The cafe itself is very pretty! Lit-up facade, lots of large potted plants, black and white checked floor, and it's located under a breathtaking stained glass ceiling.

It was a slightly different kind of high tea compared to what I'm used to - no scones, instead we were served little mushroom and venison pies with relish.

The middle tier had chicken and mayonnaise finger sandwiches, mini smoked salmon and sour cream bagels (not so Viennese... aren't bagels a New York thing?), little ciabattas with roast capsicum, braesola (cured beef) and grain mustard mayonaise, and brioche with Tarrago triple cream brie and quince paste.

Had to take a picture of the bagel on it's own - so cuteee!
The bottom tier consisted of desserts - chocolate eclair, apple meringue pie (I think it was apple..), orange cupcake, and a little chocolate mousse thing.

Price: $35 ($45 if you want Not too bad.The pies were very tasty and the relish complemented them well. I loved the sandwiches (especially the chicken and smoked salmon ones!). The fact that I didn't have scones meant that I actually finished my share of the food! :) The desserts weren't anything too special, but I was satisfied with them - well prepared and presented, and fairly tasty.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

(Have a) Taste of Melbourne! :)

Taste of Melbourne kicked-off on Thursday, 15 September. It goes on until 18 September (Sunday) and is being held at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton. Such a pretty venue!

With Rachel's trained bargain-hunting eye on Groupon, we had managed to secure 2-for-1 tickets so entry was only $12.50 as opposed to the full price of $25 ($30 if you buy your ticket at the door). Win! Had to buy some 'Crowns' to spend on food inside the place. 1 Crown = $1. I personally think it's a bit of a waste of paper, and a bit mean because you might have extra Crowns left over and nothing to use them on. But it's probably done this way so that the organisers can keep track of the sales and performance of each participant in the Festival. That's my guess..

It was a Friday night that we went - 16 September, between 6pm and 9:30pm. The whole place was packed! And there were many booths that were serving cocktails and other alcoholic beverages, so there were a few tipsy people stumbling around. But overall, still a fairly maneuverable place - with sufficient dining space to sit down and consume our food purchases. Overall, the food was of fairly well-prepared in terms of taste and presentation - some were better than others, but given that the restaurants in the festival had to cater for the masses, it was a pretty good compromise between mass-production and quality.

Cured King Salmon
Peanut butter parfait sandwich

We started off with food from The Millswyn. Rachel had the 10hr braised beef cheeks with beetroot, spinach & field mushrooms (12 Crowns). Rachel said it was a bit weird eating beef at room temperature - but she did think it was tasty. Chris had the Cured Regal King Salmon with pickled daikon, lime and vanilla cucumber (10 Crowns). It was very tasty, fresh salmon, lovely delicate flavour from the curing, and the dressing and pickled daikon went well with it - Chris really enjoyed it. I got the dessert - Peanut butter parfait sandwich with raspberry jelly (8 Crowns). It was very tasty, albeit small in portion size. It was served with raspberry jelly and salted caramel paste on top of it. The flavour and texture balance was definitely there sweet with salty with tangy, soft with crunchy.

We had all this while sipping mojitos! Rachel thought it was a bit strong, but I waited for the ice in mine to melt a little so when I drank it, it tasted pretty good to me.

Toulouse cassoulet
Next we tried the Libertine & Le Traiteur 'restaurant'. Chris had the 'Terrine du porc', pressed terrine of free range pork & veal, toasted brioche & dijon mustard (8 Crowns). She said it was pretty good - the brioche was a good touch. I had the 'Toulouse cassoulet' which was confit duck (I lurrrvveee confit duck), garlic sausage & white beans (10 Crowns). The duck and sausage were very tasty. But I had to add some (Murray River) salt to the beans to enjoy it properly. Rachel didn't have anything from here because she was running out of Crowns and had gone to find more...

She did however come back with more Crowns, and food from the Esposito & St Peter's booth - Fondant de chocolate with Earl Grey jelly (8 Crowns) and Carpaccio of farmed Barramundi with peas, mint & wasabi sorbet (10 Crowns). Chris and I tried some of it the fondant. Sooooo yummy! The fondant wasn't really a fondant, more like a very dense version of a dark chocolate mousse. But that combination of rich, smooth chocolate, Earl Grey jelly, and clotted cream was divine. I had to refrain from eating the whole thing before Rachel did! Rachel said her carpaccio was good - I tried some and agreed.

Fondant de chocolate

Barramundi carpaccio

After we wandered around more, sampled a few random things from the stalls, Rachel and Chris decided to try the Botanical wagyu beef burger (12 Crowns). I had the Turkish lamb dumplings, garlic yoghurt, sumac and dried fruit (10 Crowns) from St Katherine's. I was lucky enough to have my order taken by none other than Shane Delia!! Too shy to ask for a photo, I left to join Rachel and Chris, still slightly star-struck :p The wagyu beef burger was apparently not as good as expected - tasty, but I think Rachel and Chris had expected more. My lamb dumplings kinda grew on me. The first bite was a little confusing - I wasn't used to discovering the stringy texture of lamb within a dumpling. These dumplings were made with pasta skin, rather than the Chinese-style dumpling skin. But as I ate more of it, the dish grew on me - the yoghurt was a good complement to the dumplings, and the sumac added just the right amount of spice as well. In the end, I decided that I actually really liked that dish. Oh and I also liked that the dumplings were bite-sized. So cute!

Turkish lamb dumplings

Then we wandered around more, and stumbled upon a cooking demonstration by the chef of the European, Ben Keal. He showed us how to make Regal King Salmon fishcakes. It was quite fun to watch a real chef give a live cooking demo :) And we got free copies of this month's Gourmet Traveller!! LIKE :)

Cooking demo - bad photo... sorry!

After that, we decided to check out the real fishcakes at the European's booth. And since it was close to closing time, we got them for free! I grabbed a serving of the paella as well - called 'European' Kinkawooka paella after the place Kinkawooka, where the seafood in the paella is from. Good fresh mussels! And yummy prawns, I liked the paella. Just wished the rice had been a little less cooked. The fish cakes were very crispy on the outside (they'd been double-crumbed). But it was served on a pea puree, and I hate peas. Rachel and Chris agreed that the puree was good to balance the saltiness of the fish cakes, and the tartar provided the much needed tang. Pretty good for free food ;)

Kinkawooka paella

Salmon fishcake

Overall, we left the festival with our stomach filled to bursting point, happy with our taste trials and purchases (Chris bought some tea, and I bought a tub of ice cream :p). I'd recommend the Taste of Melbourne to anyone with a love of good food. Wish we'd had more time to try more things!!!

List of things I wish we'd had time to try:
  • Pistachio panna cotta with salted caramel popcorn from Sarti
  • Watermelon and Rose Jam Punch from The Millswyn Bar
  • Coq au vin from Libertine & Le Traiteur
  • Pulled pork paninis from The Kitchen Cat
  • much, much moreee!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Afternoon Tea at The Westin Melbourne

JWT and I had our monthly afternoon tea session last Sunday at The Westin on Collins Street. I actually prefer it to The Hotel Windsor afternoon tea... The Westin's afternoon tea is more value for money ($45 per person compared to Windsor's $79 pp), has an equally, if not more, exciting tea list, and runs from 12pm to 4pm - lots of time to chat and eat and sample different teas (Windsor's was strictly 2 hours long, and being the slow eater I am, I didn't have enough time to try everything - boo).

The Westin's afternoon tea is served in the hotel lobby lounge, which may sound a little unusual, but didn't turn out to be that way - the hotel lounge has a nice warm ambience, with high ceilings, full-length windows looking out onto the little square at the corner of Swanston Street and Collins Street, and a lovely bookshelf stacked against one of the inner walls. (Sorry I forgot to take a photo!)

Let's start with the teas - in the 3.5 hours that JWT and I sat there slowly working our way through the afternoon tea set (scones, sandwiches, etc.), I managed to sample 3 different blends of tea from the Westin's tea menu.

The first one I tried was the hibiscus and blackcurrant tea. This had the option of being served chilled or warm. I ordered the warm version as I was still recovering from a horrible cold/flu/randomviralthing. The tea was served in a clear diffuser pot with a giant clear teacup. The teacup was sooo cute! (Despite being giant-sized). It showed of the striking deep red colour of the tea - I already liked it the moment I saw that red! And the hibiscus and blackcurrant flavours worked very well together. I love flower-flavoured teas!

Hibiscus and blackcurrant tea

After finishing the hibiscus and blackcurrant tea, I tried the black tea with lychee. Omg LOVE. I didn't have it with milk, though I think it would have tasted quite nice with. I just wanted to enjoy the flavour of the tea itself, and enjoy I did. The smell of the lychee in that tea was sooooo good that I could have spent the whole afternoon just sniffing my teapot. But with much will power, I refrained from doing that - it wasn't easy, but I managed. Also, I didn't want to look like a psycho in front of the other people in the lounge. The lychee in the tea added that extra dimension of flavour that transformed a pretty good black tea into an amayzing one! (Yes, I spelled amazing that way on purpose - the tea was not just amazing, it was amayzing :p)

The final tea I tried was the Westin blend... If I remember correctly, I think that's what it was called. I didn't like it that much - it had a strong grassy taste, not my cup of tea. Pun intended.

Now on to the food! Here is what was on that 3-tiered serving rack:
  • Scones - cranberry & raisin, and traditional
  • Smoked leg ham, brie and semi-dried cherry tomato in a petit black olive ciabatta
  • Warm smoked salmon and dill mascarpone tart
  • Smoked chicken with apple and walnut compote in a mini sunflower and polenta bun
  • Free range egg, mayonnaise and peppered water cress finger sandwich
  • Belgian dark chocolate creme brulee
  • Vanilla mascarpone and fresh fruit tartlet
  • Cherry blackforest slice
  • Petit lemon tart
  • Pistachio and salted caramel macaron
I wish my stomach had more room in it. I was starting to get full after just having the scones!! The middle tier of the savoury stuff was very tasty - I managed to slowly make my way through the whole thing... But the dessert tier. What a struggle! Managed to finish the creme brulee, just had half the macaron to taste it, and only ate the fruits and a bit of the mascarpone on the tartlet. Did not even attempt the lemon tart - JWT told me it wasn't that great, so I didn't try to stuff myself with it.

The scones were just the right size for me, and fluffy! The cranberry and raisin scones were a very good idea - made for an interesting scone that went very well with the clotted cream and strawberry jam. Yummay. The savoury items were put together very well. I would have happily had seconds of the egg sandwich and the ham, brie and semi-dried cherry tomato mini ciabatta, despite not having much room in my stomach. Sad to say, by this time I was too full to enjoy the dessert items properly. But this meant that my opinion of them would have been very objective! Right? And they were good desserts. The macaron was very tasty - good texture, nice shape and form, and the pistachio flavour wasn't too overpowering. I still like Adriano Zumbo's macarons the most though :p The cherry blackforest slice was probably the winner amongst the desserts for me - but I could only manage 2 mouthfuls! Oh the shameee. The other desserts, whilst tasty, didn't really stand out much - thus I shall not elaborate further on them. I'll just say they were good.

Overall, I was very satisfied with this afternoon tea. Good value for money, awesome tea, yummy finger food combination, and just the right ambience. JWT and I were floating on a cloud after this meal. Then we proceeded to roll around on the grass at the Carlton Gardens, in the beautiful, warm spring sun. What a nice end to the day :)

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