Thursday, December 17, 2009

The West Australian: Things of Stone & Wood

Chef Matt Stone from Greenhouse. Image: Jenny Susanto-Lee

The restaurant's outside walls are covered in 4,000 drip-fed strawberry plants. A working garden borders the rooftop level, which doubles as the bar area. It is hoped native sting-free bees will soon be hard at work pollinating the plants and making honey for the freshly baked bread. And the worm farm that will live in the ceiling should be kept happy thanks to the kitchen's food scraps.

Welcome to the wild world of Greenhouse, which prides itself on being a sustainable restaurant.

Dreamed up by designer wunderkind Joost Bakker, who first came to prominence with his temporary Greenhouse installation-cum-cafe in Melbourne's Federation Square earlier this year, Greenhouse has been built using only recycled materials. Hay bales, beer bottles, road signs and old tyres have a found a new lease of life in the eatery.

According to head chef Matt Stone, everything about the restaurant is recycled, aside from the painting by (Australian artist) David Bromley.

Even the crockery?

I've been making platters out of scrap corrugated iron," he says.

"There were also off-cuts from the kitchen benchtops and timber walls that we cut into random shapes and sizes to serve as platters as well. There's not a lot that's going to be the same. We do have some standard crockery that we will use but as we evolve I'd like to keep making our own bits and pieces.

"The cutlery is bought, as the resin handles from the set we had originally made melted in the dishwasher."

Recycling feats aside, Stone also plans to make Greenhouse as renowned for its fresh food as for its sustainability.

The rooftop garden is already well underway, with much of the crop harvested for the kitchen.

"Because of the style of the menu, we're relying on fresh local produce," he says.

"We can grow all sorts of different things in the rooftop garden that aren't readily available in fresh markets and supermarkets.

"At the moment we are growing most herbs, heirloom carrots, baby beetroot and capsicums.

"There's also nasturtiums, which we'll use for garnishing, and apple, lemon and kaffir lime trees. And strawberries, of course. I'd also like to get in some heirloom tomatoes. Our grow lights should be going up shortly. Once they're installed the garden will go nuts, so we'll be able to turn out vegetables really fast."

Several of the dishes the restaurant will produce will be sourced entirely from the rooftop.

"I'll probably base two or three dishes from the menu around things that I can source from my garden. For example, we might have purple, orange and white carrots that can be used in a salad or for a roast baby carrot dish."

The artisan bread will also be made in-house.

"We'll be doing all our own breads. It's a full-day process. Yesterday we did our first batch. We started at 8am and were eating it by 10pm last night. It was a pretty long process.

"And we're wood-firing the bread too, so that's a learning curve in itself. There's no yeast at all, it's 100 per cent sourdough. We're also milling our own flour, which is pretty cool. You don't buy ground coffee beans, do you? It's essentially the same process. It's easy and the flavour is so amazing."

So the big question is, where are the now-famous bees?

"That idea has been put on the backburner for now while we get set up," Stone laughs.

"But definitely in the new year we will get the beehives. I plan to use the honey in ice-cream, on our bread and in salad dressings."

Harvey beef skirt, green mango, cashew & fragrant herb salad,
Image: Jenny Susanto-Lee

Link to Fresh, the West Australian, December 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Buzz Now: Jus Burgers Subiaco Review

Lounging around under the palm trees having lunch at this new burger bar somehow had me feeling I was anywhere but in Subiaco: this place is begging to be beachside. It's casually hip, with Day-glo orange furniture and graffiti art adorning the walls. The staff are cool and laid-back, and there is a nifty outdoor window for takeaway orders, which adds to the relaxed vibe. I felt I was back in St Kilda, Melbourne.

As is fitting with funky eateries these days, practically all of the ingredients are locally sourced, seasonal and organic, and there are gluten-free options too. Most of the drinks and juices are made on-site, and much of the fit-out uses recycled products.

The cheeseburger I ordered was the most real burger I have eaten in a long, long time and had me wondering how so many other places can get it so wrong. The presentation was great and has become their signature: burger perched on a wooden chopping board with a steak knife plunged through the centre.

The first thing I noticed was that the burger had very little grease, just the chargrilled smokey goodness from the beef pattie and burger bun. Secondly, the ingredients were super fresh - whole Swiss mushrooms, lettuce that didn't wilt, cheese that wasn't plastic and a Harvey beef pattie that actually tasted of meat. Added to that condiments of fresh tomato relish and a creamy aioli that are made in-house and I was in burger nirvana.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Buzz Now: Galileo review

Sequestered away in the leafy streets of Shenton Park is Galileo Buona Cucina, a rustic Italian trattoria that has been servicing its well-heeled locals for the past five years. The eatery does tradition with a capital T, with old-style washed yellow walls, uncomplicated table settings and flagged stone-look flooring.

Stepping into Galileo feels slightly voyeuristic at first because the space feels so personal. There are three small dining areas that are inter-connected: I felt like I was trespassing on an Italian family at mealtime. And so to the food. In true provincial style the serves were gargantuan and, from what I could see, taking home the leftovers was a common practice. The bruschetta was delicious and the kitchen was generous with the fresh Roma tomato topping. The special of roast duck in a reduced red wine jus was served without fanfare on a bed of mash. It had been slow-cooked in the wood-fired oven on a rotisserie for two hours, deboned, then returned to the oven to crisp up. It was sensational.

The main size serve of sagnette all' Aquilana (home-made pasta with pancetta, garlic, tomatoes and chilli in a napoletana sauce) was monstrous and, in retrospect, I should have respected the dish as a primi piatti and chosen a meat dish for my main instead.

The black and white-clad waitstaff were friendly, unobtrusive and more than accommodating. It was nice to see a good number of people on the floor.

The wine list is to be expanded shortly, with an additional fifty Italian wines being added from various regions of Italy.

Galileo magnifico.

Monday, December 7, 2009

SPICE magazine: Summer 2009

Restaurant Reviews: New Order

It's always tough to know how long a new restaurant might take to iron out the wrinkles. Some take a week, or two, some a couple of months. Some never do. Not one to enjoy throwing good money away at bad food, I prayed the new crop had hit its straps by the time I paid them a visit.

The Silver Spoon

Stepping into The Silver Spoon is like entering a giant glittering Christmas bauble - it's a very shiny space to be in. With the bi-fold doors wide open on a chilly Spring evening, we went for the warm and hearty sounding charcuterie sharing plate ($26) for a starter. It was generous and beautifully presented - dollops of olive tapenade and apple chutney balanced the assorted meat parfaits and rillettes out nicely, although the terrine needed more zing. Fortified by a protein overload, we soldiered on with mains. The crab with squid ink linguini ($26) was, according to my BFF, "mushy", but my Asian-influenced snapper in a tomato, chilli and lime broth ($35) hit the mark with its much-needed shot of warmth. To round it all off we went with a delicate white chocolate pannacotta and peach compote ($10), and a solid brick of date and pecan pudding with toffee sauce ($10) for dessert, which were both good. The prices are reasonable, the wine list is long and, judging by the crowd, the up-market presence is much appreciated in this neck of the woods.

The Cabin Winebar & Bistro

Much ado has been made about The Cabin since it opened its doors earlier this year, and fair enough too. It's a chic little fit-out that has the look and feel of a snowed-in hunting lodge, with modern touches added to prevent it from becoming too kitsch. The lunch menu is small and meaty, and beef cheeks aside, I couldn't go past a duck three-way ($18). The pate was excellent, and so fine it could practically have been re-listed as a duck dip if it had not held its form so well. I was ever-grateful for the carrot batons presented to me in lieu of baked goods thanks to my pesky new gluten intolerance. the slow-roasted duck was meltingly tender, although the pan-fried duck was a little on the dry side. The suggested side of Welsh rarebit and portobello mushrooms ($7) went swimmingly well with the whole ensemble. The wine list is a round-the-world experience, with a dazzling variety of wines by the glass. A return visit in the evening will be in order, if only to try the game-laden 'Hunter' tasting platter on the tapas menu.

Azure Restaurant

Azure has such a calm, cleansing feel about it that I felt I should be donning a robe in preparation for a massage. It is an oasis of tranquility. The menu has an Italian base and the enormous display of desserts is made entirely in-house. We had a small person in tow so could not meld into the experience entirely, but the kitchen took stock of our situation and plated up in short order. The porcini mushroom risotto ($34 for main) was a generous serve with good bite, although the baby chargrilled octopus in the salad ($19.50 tasted undercooked. Pork belly with alternating morsels of scallop and swooshes of pear dressing and jus ($32.50) was excellent - the pork was soft and tender, with layers of fat and crackling perfectly cooked. For dessert we shared a spectacular chocolate Black Forest dome ($12.50) that housed a rich mousse of white chocolate and cherries, all perched in a chocolate basket. Nyom.

Palais 85

Formerly The Oyster Bar, Palais 85 has been turned into a beautiful, opulent space with padded flocked chairs and sofas, chandeliers and vast swathes of silk suspended from the ceiling. Perfect for an intimate soiree. I was surprised that, on a Saturday night, it wasn't busier. Our group started with large, creamy oysters served with a piquant marsala aioli ($16 for half a dozen). Marron salad with tabouli $28) was neither here nor there, as was the goat's cheese salad ($28.50). The venison on potato cake ($38.50), served medium rare, was exquisitely tender, although the pile of accompanying chopped raw onion was completely bewildering. Desserts consisted of a delicious tasting plate of rich chocolate mousse, Indian pistachio kulfi ice cream and flourless orange cake ($18), while the pannacotta ($13) was a bit of a let-down with no evidence of the promised vanilla bean. Despite having to wait forever for somebody to notice our empty glasses, the service was professional and knowledgeable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The West Australian: Secret Ingredient

There are a number of new dishes to try at Japanese restaurant Ha-Lu, which has just released its new-season menu. Top billing goes to the 'Zukushi' tastings - a variety of dishes derived from the one key ingredient, all served on one plate. For anago eel lovers, for example, there is anago and mashed potato 'Dango' dumplings, anago and aubergine in a soy, mirin and sake 'Nikogori' gelatine, and anago tempura with teriyaki sauce.

"It's a unique menu and different to any we've done before," says owner Yutaka Yamauchi.

"We've very much enjoyed devising several different dishes out of the same ingredient,"

Other new dishes include finely chopped sashimi tuna with a poached 'onsen-'style egg, and sweet 'datemaki' egg roll with grated oyster.

Ha-Lu is open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday at 4.401 Oxford Street, Mt Hawthorn.

The West Australian: Thai Ties

Expat chef David Thompson lives in Thailand and has written a second book about its food.

Australian chef David Thompson first visited Thailand more than 20 years ago and, since that fateful journey, has never really returned to our fair shores.

Seduced by the people and their traditions, he decided to stay and now calls Bangkok - and, these days, London - home.

But, being a chef, what Thompson really fell in love with was the food.

"Its just so bloody delicious," he declared during a recent visit to Perth.

"Thai cuisine has a broad repertoire of recipes, with both ancient techniques and sophisticated techniques. This all contributes to a fantastic cuisine".

It is this ongoing love affair with Thai food that culminated in Thompson's first cookbook in 2002, 'Thai Food', which comprehensively documented the traditional recipes he learnt working alongside cooks who had perfected their culinary techniques in the royal palaces of Thailand. Thompson has now written a second book, 'Thai Street Food', which explores the curry shops, street vendors and markets of Thailand.

"This book is different from my previous book because it's so current, so now," he said.

"It's about what's available and out there on the street. It has that immediacy. It's a different aspect of Thai cooking and it reflects the different ways that people eat. The book is broken down into different meal categories, and there are several recipes in each category of what you are most likely to find around that time. It's by no means comprehensive. It's just a nice range of recipes.

"One of the things that is happening in Thailand these days is a change in the way people eat and their dietary habits, or culinary culture. Previously the used to eat at home, and used to be traditional Thai food, whereas now more and more people eat on the streets and in fact, when I'm living there, my partner and I rarely cook at home, if ever. We simply go down and eat from the streets as most Thais do."

The book is sure to be a success thanks to the myriad Thai food lovers in the West. But Thompson isn't happy to sit back and take all the credit. He gives heartfelt thanks to photographer Earl Carter, his collaborator on the first book, for the exquisite photo essays that make the book come to life.

"The pictures are great," Thompson said.

"Earl has done such a sterling, sterling effort in showcasing a remarkable cuisine. He has effectively captured a sweep through the day, from how Thais eat in the morning to how they finish their day in the evening. It's a feed throughout the day. The Thais are inveterate snackers, so they not only have breakfast, lunch and dinner but also morning and afternoon tea, pre-dinner, late supper and a few other dishes in between."

When asked what his own favourite Thai food might be, he is quick to endorse another project that brings him back to Australia, the newly launched Megachef fish sauce.

"It's a damn fine sauce. The factory that manufactures it in Thailand is located about two hours from where the best fish is landed," he said.

"Once it's landed, it goes into good sea salt for around two years.

"I begged the guy to change the name from Megachef because it's so embarrassing. But I can put up with that because it makes cooking such a pleasure. You'll become addicted to it. In fact, I can't wait to get back to Bangkok to get a transfusion."

Link to Fresh, The West Australian, Dec 2009