Friday, March 20, 2009

Your Restaurants: The George


The George is the first of what is rumoured to be one of several Perth offerings from Melbourne restaurateur extraordinaire John Ahern and business partner Steve Garcia. Sequestered away in the heart of the very British London House, the eatery exudes a reserve and opulence that reeks of money and the made-man. Fittingly, a theme of "victory" runs through the decor, from the faux bust of a Roman emperor (named George) sternly overseeing proceedings, to a colossal commissioned Italian mural depicting the onslaught of battle back in the days of yore. It's all very divide-and-conquer.

The long room is split into two by an enormous set of black wrought-iron gates, with the main bar and grazing area at one end, and a more formal dining section at the other. The menu itself is exceptional, and surprisingly not at a price that will break the gold plastic. The marron, with its casing cleverly reduced with a pork rillette tian, is a faultless dish with the two flavours complementing each other well; the runny free-range egg, caviar and watercress salad with a smidge of truffle oil is another winner. Chef Brad Hatfield, who is no stranger to upmarket commercial kitchens, has already hit his straps in terms of creativity and attention to detail. The upscale, extensive wine list reflects John's penchant for a fine drop, and for those who like to covet, the personalised wine lockers are a must for the frequent diner.

A large corporate area complete with training room is also available, with a reviving bar and barbecue area to get stuck into after those long brainstorming sessions. There's a cocktail bar just for the ladies, private boudoirs for those wishing to clinch more intimate deals and a Scandinavian forest running rampant through the restrooms. Go forth and be conquered.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Practical Parenting magazine - Toddler Diarist #1




Sun, sun, sun, here we come! Now that Jordy’s a little older and wiser, Rob & I are hanging to get out into the great outdoors and broaden our horizons with him a bit. Beaches and swimming pools, community fairs, zoos and parks are all ripe for the picking. The Hooley Dooleys DVDs have received a right caning over the Winter months and I will be happy to pack them away…hmm, perhaps forever?


The Wednesday Wrap-Up

I must have done something right in a former life, because this time around I scored really well with my two guys. The little one is sweet and even-tempered, and breaks hearts with his high cuteness factor, while the big one is an absolute God-send. Thanks to Rob taking every Wednesday off work, my mummy week is broken up into two days on and one day off so that I can concentrate on my journalism. Plus, he gets a day off work to hang out with Jordy. Each Wednesday they head off on some father-and-son bonding adventure or other and get up to all kinds of mischief. One week it was testing out all the drums in a music store. Another week it was rides on three buses, two trains and a ferry boat. One memorable occasion found Rob trying to re-claim a Jordy floater at the local pool, which apparently proved quite difficult without his glasses on. They’re off on another one now: goodness knows what they’re up to. It’s a top set-up, and we feel blessed to be in a position to be able to do it.


The Dreaded Lurgy

It really has been the winter of our discontent, with two bouts of gastro and a houes redolent with the aroma of chunder and other bodily fluids. Needless to say, the candles and incense sticks have been on high rotation and Jordy's cot has been pulled apart, disinfected and re-assembled on more than one occasion. Thank you, Ikea. And after five months of an all day runny nose and an all night cough, we finally booked in an allergy test for Jordy and, hey presto, he has a gluten and dairy intolerance. So that has meant a couple of hundred bucks spent in te health food section of the supermarket. The good news is we can tell people he has an allergy and not a cold, as I was getting well tired of people glaring at his runny nose. Not to mention wiping it.


Love hurts

Actually, I shouldn’t complain. The beautiful thing about having a chatty toddler is that he can tell me exactly what’s wrong with him, and where it hurts. Naturally if there’s blood gushing out of an open wound it’s a no-brainer, but when the only clues are screams or a fever, a growing vocabulary sure helps. The other night Jordy woke up crying, and when I asked him what was wrong he bawled, “Sore head!” and pointed to his noggin, just in case Mummy was being a bit thick (which, at 2am, was quite likely). After a sip of strawberry Nurofen, a cuddle and a quick bedtime story he went back down like a lamb. Easy-peasy. Over the past 2.5 years I must have spent hours dreaming of this moment, when his wails would break my heart and sometimes have me wailing with him. At last, the moment has arrived! Making it all better just got a thousand times easier.


Purr-fect Pets

We recently found a massive young tom cat hanging about the place and Jordan took to him straight away. Sure, he had ear mites, fleas and odd behavioural quirks but my son’s love for ‘Tom-Tom’ knew no bounds. So we lugged him up to the vet and got him cleaned up. Now they are the best of friends and we’ve never seen Jordan happier. We’re unable to have any more children, and I have always felt guilty about not being able to give Jordy a playmate, but I hope Tom-Tom might make a nice replacement. Plus, no sibling rivalry!


Monday, March 16, 2009

SPICE magazine: Autumn 2009


Restaurant Reviews: To Pasta Muster


Fresh pasta is a bit of a fixation with me. After spending two years of my misspent youth running an Italian restaurant in Melbourne, I found it tough going reverting back to the packet stuff. Happily, good quality fresh pasta is not as elusive as it used to be, and with places such as The Re Store and Golden Ravioli selling it by the acre to the public, people are getting a little more persnickety about the freshness of their fettucine. Which leads us, naturally enough, to Italian restaurants. Who makes their own? Who is still buying San Remo? I had to know.

Siena's

Perth institution and ultimate child-friendly Italian eatery. In a family session at the Leederville branch, our small child joined the mayhem in the playground while we read the menu. Straight to pasta (bypassing the entrees, which were originally what the pasta dish was meant to be before it started getting served by the ton, but there you go) with a classic spaghetti marinara ($20.50). It was good, with half the ocean on top of a pile of al dente spaghetti straining at the confines of the plate. Still-in-their-shell mussels were small and tasty. The baby octopus and rings of calamari weren’t too rubbery, and there was just enough tomato sauce to cover the bottom of the plate. The spaghetti wasn't homemade but nor does it profess to be (although the gnocchi and lasagna are). Siena’s pushes great Italian fare in vast quantities at reasonable prices, and that’s exactly what you get. The service is great too.

Siena’s of Leederville, 115 Oxford Street, Leederville. Tel: (08) 9444 8844.



Maretti Caffe Cucina

I had wanted to get to Maretti Caffe Cucina in Mosman Park since forever, after learning that the owner, Matteo Maretti, wakes before the crows each morning to make his own pasta and desserts. That’s dedication. We arrived at the restaurant amid the usual Continental kerfuffle, eventually got weeded out from the departing pack and shown to our seats. I was desperate to try the spaghetti ai crostaci ($30) and if I’m ever offered a last meal I think this might be it. The spaghetti had bite and held its shape beautifully – clear signs of good homemade pasta. Generous chunks of lobster and shredded crab were tossed through it and enhanced by a fantastically light tomato sauce. It’s so rare these days to find a light pasta dish that is refreshing and doesn’t leave you wishing you had worn your elasticised pants. The hand-made desserts, which seem to be all made with mountains of cream, also rate a mention. The crème brulee and caramel mousse were both absolute sensations.

Maretti Caffe Cucina, 120 Wellington Street, Mosman Park. Tel (08) 9286 1899.



Catalano's Cafe

Catalano’s Café in Victoria Park is a perennial fave and is perennially bursting at the seams. I know already that not all of its pasta is made in-house, but I also know that the gnocchi, cannelloni and ravioli are the exceptions. I also have it on good authority that the recipe for their lasagna ($18) spans three generations of the Catalano family, so this is what I went with. In keeping with their other dishes, the portion is enormous. Oh, my giddy aunt. Around five inches thick, it is top notch, with enough cheese to make a fondue and a good, chunky tomato sugo. I was straight back in my old Italian neighbour’s kitchen, chowing down on her original recipe and getting sauce stains all over my face. Great stuff.

Catalano’s Cafe, 266 Albany Hwy, Victoria Park. Tel (08) 9362 1121



Viva

Viva is a big, friendly trattoria-style eatery in Applecross. It attracts large and lively crowds. The service is good. And yet it's a place that left me mightily confused. When we visited, the claim of home made pasta is plastered everywhere, from menu to walls, so my appetite was well whetted and expectations raised. I opted for the calabrese with homemade fettucine ($22) and, while the serving was gargantuan, there was absolutely no bite, flavour or texture to the pasta itself. Even so, the osso bucco with risotto was a winner, as were the chili mussels and the stuffed mushrooms. I might try the goat next time.

Viva Restaurant, 24 Kearns Crescent, Applecross. Tel (08) 9364 8688



Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cravings Magazine, Autumn 2009: A Molecular Maestro





Star chef Ferran Adria visited Australian shores recently and, while Western Australia was unable to secure a visit from the great man this time round, he did leave behind his new book, A Day at elBulli, for us to linger over and savour.

Arguably the most celebrated and creative chef on the planet at the moment, Ferran is maestro to one of the most extraordinary restaurants in the world - elBulli. This three Michelin-star eatery is huddled in a secluded bay on the Costa Brava in northern Spain, and opens its doors for dinner for only six months a year. The rest of the time Ferran spends secreted away in a laboratory with his dedicated team, inventing new ways to prepare and serve food, and creating a fresh, innovative menu for the coming year.

The restaurant receives over two million reservation requests each year, and accepts only 8,000 placements. Needless to say, elBulli is a tough nut to crack, and hence the reason for the book.

For the rest of us who will probably never live long enough to enjoy the elBulli experience or even be able to garner a reservation, we are treated instead to a voyeuristic peek inside the restaurant's machinations. The 600-page tome covers just one day, from daybreak at 6:05am to curtains at 2am, and walks the reader through an average elBulli morning (creative food sessions), afternoon (menu and dish preparations) and evening (dinner). It is a visual feast of beautiful imagery, menus and concepts as Ferran, who has been referred to as 'the Salvador Dali of the kitchen', shares a slice of his life.

Much has been made of whether art, cooking or science is at the heart of the elBulli kitchen, and readers can make up their own minds about what it might be. The frigid temperatures of liquid nitrogen in conjunction with traditional heat-cooking methods are used to squeeze every conceivable permutation out of the most humble ingredients. Forget poached, roasted or coddled: there are also the creative methods of deconstruction, minimalism and symbiosis to consider that take cooking as we know it into a whole new stratosphere.

Of course, it is the dishes themselves that will have this book flying off the shelves. Ferran is the godfather of foam, and began his foray into all things molecular by famously blowing up a tomato with a bicycle pump to try and capture its essence (the tomato, not the bicycle pump). Parmesan marshmallow, hibiscus infusions and edible paper are all part of the madness that is elBulli, as is chocolate air, monkfish liver fondue and hazelnut foam.

Willy Wonka would have been so proud.

Cravings Magazine, Autumn 2009: Bangers & More


Australians like sausages a lot. At least 70% of households eat them for dinner each week. We enjoy them fried in a pan or on the barbie grilled, in hotpots, at charity sausage sizzles and when visiting hardware superstores. We like them for breakfast, lunch or dinner and most of all, we like them nestled in a soft white roll with optional onions and an obligatory dollop of sauce.

The word 'sausage' is derived from the Latin word salsus, meaning salted. The sausage was originally invented as an efficient means for butchers to sell the parts of an animal that were high in nutritional content, but low in visual appeal. Organs, blood, fat and meat scraps were salted, minced and stuffed into casings, then either cooked or, in the case of salamis, hung up to cure and dry.

This is one of the oldest known methods of preserving food, and is a practice that has been replicated around the world for centuries. The practice of sausage making is believed to have originated in the region that is now home to Iraq, in around 3000BC. Sausages were a predominant dish on the menu throughout the Greek and Roman empires, and the Chinese version, la chang, consisted of goat and lamb meat.

Historical literature has also been instrumental in guiding us along the sausage's journey. During 500BC, Greek dramatist Epicharmus wrote a comedy titled 'The Sausage', while in 8th century BC, the Greek poet Homer mentioned blood sausages in his epic poem 'The Odyssey'.

Over the years, Australian tastes have gentrified and diversified, thanks in part to multiculturalism. No longer does the traditional beef sausage reign supreme; joining it is a dazzling array of gourmet sausages. Now the local butcher stocks varieties such as lamb and rosemary, bush tomato, spicy Italian, chicken, pork and fennel, chilli, chipolatas, chorizo, bratwurst and the list goes on.

What's in a sausage?

We've all heard the urban myths about what goes into sausages: lots of fat, gristle and nasty bits. The 'snag has always had a bit of a reputation for being a 'non-food' that the kids enjoy, with very little nutritional content.

Nowadays, however, sausages have come of age and any good butcher would be aghast at the very idea of using inferior products.

David Torres, from Torres Butchers in Northbridge, is one such butcher.

"We don't compromise with our ingredients," says David. "We only use new season baby beef and veal in our shop, so all the secondary cuts are taken out and trimmed of all gristle and fat. Even with our pork sausages, we only use baby female porkers. We don't just buy male pork trim in," he says.

"Our barbecue sausages are 90% lean. When you put them on the barbecue, they don't start doing backstroke. There are a lot of barbecues and sausage sizzles where there is just too much oil and fat. It's up to each and every retailer to specify to their customers exactly what is in their sausages".

Preserving Tradition

In these fast-paced days, there are not too many among us who have the time to shop for food on a daily basis. Preservatives have received a bad rap over the years, yet they are vital to extend the life of some produce.

"We try to stay as natural as we can with our preservatives," says David.

"We use Vitamin C extract to control the life of our sausages. Preservatives will generally give them seven days of life. In all honesty, it's a very small amount. It retains the integrity of the product.

"The only option for making sausages without preservatives is to freeze them as soon as they are bought, then thaw them and use them immediately.

It's advisable to ask your butcher what ingredients and preservatives are in their sausages. Many sausages contain traces of soy, wheat, bread or gluten extract, so it's always best to check.

"If kids are a little bit intolerant, we suggest parents go for the Italian-style sausages, because they don't contain any gluten, wheat or bread", says David.

The Seamless Snag

Joe Princi, from Princi Butchers in Beaconsfield, believes there is an art to cooking the perfect sausage. This starts with giving them top priority on the barbecue.

"Its quite a fine line. But, if you get it right, the sausages should be very juicy on the inside," says Joe.

1. Always put sausages on first. Cook them over a very low heat, or the outside will burn without any heat penetrating inside. Steaks, chops and other meats can then be added to the hot plate so that everything is ready to eat at the same time.

2. Keep the turning to a minimum. Don't be tempted to prick them or the juice and flavour will run out. To check if they are cooked, break one in half to see that it's cooked through to the centre. If it isn't, leave the remainder to cook. When sausages are ready, the skin will start to shrivel a little on the outside, forming a slight crust.