The things I love

I haven’t posted anything since last September. Time tends to get away from you a bit… family, work, moving house. One month becomes two, then six. I haven’t really been eating out as much either. A few places, but nothing new… except for a trip to New Zealand. Cibo in Parnell, just out of the Auckland CBD, was great, but I forgot to take photos, otherwise I would have written a review.

There have been a few articles of late that spruik the latest and greatest food fads, which are more or less titled [insert number here] of the [best / weirdest / latest] foods you need to eat before you die. I don’t want to think about dying in that way. On my deathbed, with tubes inserted into every orifice, connected up to a machine that goes ‘ping’, the last thing I’d be thinking about would be a truffle-filled cronut wrapped in lardo. Maybe.

But it did get me thinking about my top 5 things that I love. The things that I tend to revert back to and revere. They’re not necessarily fancy or expensive, nor would they rate too highly on someone’s culinary bucket list (some might).

My Top 5... make that 4

So, without trying to sound like John Cusack in High Fidelity, here is my all-time, desert island foodie top 5…

5. Bread
Coeliacs, look away now. I’m not talking about your standard Wonder White variety that I feed to my kids. I’m talking about bread with character. Stuff that’s been made with love. A Treat of France is a Boulangerie and Patisserie that is only a few doors down from my place. They make the best olive sour dough I’ve ever eaten. Hit that shit up with some Myrtleford Butter, Pepe Saya or at the very least, Lurpak.

Random bread pic from Google

Northcote Bakeshop make the bestest, densest fruit loaf. Cut thin and crisped up in a low oven. Forego butter and opt for a tangy, creamy blue or a perfectly ripe triple cream brie.

Toasted sandwiches also rate a mention… on Wonder White if that’s all you have. I originate from Adelaide, so it’s not a jaffle either. Nan used to make us toasties with that Kraft processed cheese that you bought in the aisle, near the Vegemite or with tinned braised steak and onion that was so hot, you couldn’t taste anything else for a week until your tongue healed.

 

Kraft Cheddar anyone?

These days, simple ham and cheese is just fine or at the very least, the perfect medium for left-overs… like the meat from the previous night’s lamb shanks with cannellini beans. The best baked bean toastie there is.

4. Coffee
I only started drinking coffee when I started my first full-time job in 1994; nearly half my life ago and of course, it was Nescafé from one of those cafébar things where one click of the dial dispensed the recommended amount.

One click or three?

Way back then, I think my three clicks into a plastic disposable cup bred my love of a strong coffee. Fortunately, my tastes in coffee have matured, as has my passion for making the best coffee I can. I use St Ali’s Steadfast Blend, (formerly known as Orthodox and before that, known as Chompy) and with my Breville Smart Grinder and Gaggia Classic, I can belt out a most very decent, rich creamy shot, time after time. It seems more satisfying with the more tactile process of making an espresso with a manual machine. People may scoff at the rest of the process. Skinny milk in my favourite rabbit mug, heated in the microwave for 70 seconds, topped with a double shot and half a teaspoon of panella sugar. Hey, that’s how I like it.

STSKFW 0.5

I also feel like a bit of a wanker when it comes to ordering my small strong skinny flat white with half a sugar. I always have this feeling that then they write STSKFW 0.5 on my coffee lid with a sharpie it could also mean stupid skanky fuck wit. I hope they don’t mean that.

3. Condiments
I know that’s a pretty broad brush to paint with, but life without condiments would be joyless and somewhat less tangy, fruity, sweet and delicious.

I moved house recently and it was a good time to take stock of what lived in my fridge. Six kinds of mustard; Sweet Alstertor Mustard (that comes in the small beer mug), which we slather on sausages to get our German on, Maille Dijon and wholegrain mustards for cooking, Masterfoods Mild English for Lily’s ham and cheese roll for school, Hot English (Colman’s, of course) and that yellow stuff you put on hotdogs.

condimentspoons

There is also Gochujang chilli paste, hoi sin, miso, pickles in many forms. Countless jars of preserves, chutneys, sauces. Hank’s Chilli Jam goes with practically everything. They will all be required at some point… maybe to make up a quick BBQ sauce for ribs with tomato sauce, mustard, plum sauce and sriracha. I also keep a big jar of homemade chimichurri sauce in the fridge too. It goes with everything. I start with this recipe from Matt Preston, but vary the heat and herbs depending on how I’m feeling at the time.

2. Asian Food

And you thought condiments was a pretty broad brush. Unfortunately there’s no better way to describe so many dishes that I love that cross Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian and Thai borders. There are probably more too. It’s safe to say that of the 14 lunches and dinners available to me per week, some form of Asian cuisine would take up at least 10 of these spots.

I love dumplings. But then if I just had dumplings on my list, I couldn’t have pho or sashimi or bibimbap or any of the meats that feature in the window of a good Chinese restaurant.

Mmm... window meats

Other favourites are Hainanese chicken and rice, Korean fried chicken (and beer) with pickles and kimchee, a laksa that blows your head off, crispy crunchy Vietnamese coleslaw and rare beef salad with roasted rice, broken rice with a perfectly cooked pork chop and a punchy nuoc cham, freshly made banh mi with lots of coriander, pickled carrot and chilli, gua bao, agedashi tofu, My discovery of the raw prawn dish, Gung Chae Nam Pla, Karē Raisu, okonomiyaki, satay, red duck curry, chicken skin yakitori… any yakitori!

Gung Chae Nam Pla

A fresh Thai dish that can nail the perfect combination of hot, sour, sweet, bitter and salty can be just as exciting as a simple and comforting congee. I love it all – I’m enjoying a Bulgogi Hot Pot for lunch even as I write this; rich, sweet stock, a little heat from chilli, slippery sweet potato noodles, tender beef… You don’t get that from a salad sandwich or something from Red Rooster.

So what’s number one? Number one is tough. There are many things I’ve missed, like beer, potatoes in many forms, good hamburgers, ice cream, eggs, pigs, fresh strawberries at their prime, roast chicken, a perfect steak, ribs… or fancy stuff like truffles or even the Chinese deliacy tong zi dan, where every spring in the city of Dongyang, eggs are boiled in the urine of young schoolboys (I’m not making this up).

Sadly, there is no number one. Yet… and this remains a top 4 for now (sorry John Cusack). Fact is that there are so many things in the culinary world that I revert back to and revere and I guess that’s part of being a so-called foodie.

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Who is reading your reviews?

I didn’t intend to post a review for Richmond’s Prince Alfred on farfromfamished. It was a pretty poor experience and I didn’t believe it warranted the time and effort to produce a full post; however in my opinion, it did necessitate a review on urbanspoon.

What I didn’t expect was a phone call from the Prince Alfred, on the same day I posted the review.

This post is not about the review. It’s more about the events that followed and observing how influential social media is these days. I guess some context will better establish my rationale for this post, so you can find the review here.

So, on the evening of the day I posted this review to urbanspoon, I received a phone call from Caroline at the Prince Alfred, who not only apologised for the indiscretions we experienced in both the meal and the service, but also confirmed that a number of actions had taken place since the review was posted; including agreeing the paella was bad and it should have never been on the menu. Although she was also at a loss as to what alleged pre-mixed shandy might have actually been lurking downstairs in the cellar and I still am unsure as to whether the ‘wine guy’ is actually on the payroll at the Prince Alfred.

We continued to chat about what did work, what the Prince Alfred was aiming for in terms of offering its customers and it all sounded favourable.  

On the back of our conversation, Caroline offered the opportunity to prove themselves in both the food and service that they feel they can offer by way of complimentary food and beverage for me and three guests, which after some thought and discussion with a few people, including a couple of bloggers, I politely declined.

If I wasn’t a blogger, I probably would have taken up this offer. As a blogger, even through it’s not my profession, integrity and balance in what I write comes first and I don’t want to compromise this.

In no disrespect to the Prince Alfred; it’s always going to linger in the back of my mind that although they might be going out of their way to ensure everything for me on this complimentary visit is just perfect, are all diners going to receive the same experience?

Complimentary meals aside, the important thing is that instances like this demonstrate that in a time where diners are more discerning than ever before and referring to ‘non-professional’ reviews as a means to deciding where they’ll spend their dining dollars; it’s gratifying to see that the Prince Alfred is taking the feedback from its patrons seriously to get it right.

UPDATE: Fringe Food Festival Event – Beer & Cheese 17 April 2012

Blogging friend and Fringe Food Festival co-founder, SJ, fresh(?) from last night’s Four x Four (by 4) Nebbiolo & Beef Dinner has kindly released further information on Beer & Cheese, which is less than three weeks away.

Here’s the high-level stuff…

What: Tutored Beer and Cheese tasting, Dinner with drinks.
When: Tuesday 17th April 2012; 6pm start for Beer and Cheese Tutorial, 8pm start for dinner.
Where: Union Dining Terrace. 270-272 Swan Street, Richmond (enter via Brighton Street, head straight up the stairs)
How much:   $107  a person plus $0.30 booking fee
Booking:  ONLY VIA TRYBOOKING
Note: Please do not contact the venue about this event.  All enquiries are to be emailed to fringefoodfestival@gmail.com.

Some extremely passionate experts in their respective fields of cheese, beer and cheese with beer have generously given their time on the night, which will guarantee you an evening of fun, learning and absolute deliciousness.

Here’s the roll call…

Anthony Femia is the cheese guy. Anthony was recently inducted into the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers as a Garde et Juré and is an internationally recognised Cheesemonger who is passionately dedicated to the promotion and education of the wonderful array of farmhouse & artisan cheeses available from Australia and the world.

Dave from Mountain Goat Beer is the beer guy. ‘nuf said.

Scott Thomas is from the The Courthouse in North Melbourne, which is famous for its eclectic selection of craft beers and pioneer of the ‘gastro’ pub’ in Melbourne. It therefore stands to reason that Scott knows lots and lots about good beer and good food, so he will educate us with what works and what doesn’t and more importantly why.

The night will be hosted on the al fresco Terrace at Union Dining in Richmond, tasting and enjoying your way through nine specially selected cheeses that have been aptly matched with some craft brews. There may be things you’ve seen or tried before… Most likely things you haven’t seen or tried before and most definitely not at the same time (unless you’re Anthony. Probably.)

Once you’re all cheesed and beered out, the remaining room in your partially full tummies will be filled with a share-plate provincial European meal, served upstairs at Union Dining.

Yummo! Can you wait? I can’t. So, buy your tickets NOW… otherwise I might not be allowed to help with future events and that would make me sad. You don’t want me sad.

Fringe Food Festival Event – Beer & Cheese 17 April 2012

Next to loaves and fishes, beer and cheese are two of the great staples of life and the similarities between beer and cheese go way, way back. We can actually go as far back as the discovery of preserving food… in this case by transforming surplus grain into beer and very fragile milk into the longer-lasting form of cheese.

A second and pretty important similarity is the key process to their respective creation, which of course is through fermentation.

For the uninitiated, to brew beer, simple sugars from grain are converted by yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In cheese, it’s the conversion of milk by a bacterial culture that makes it acidic, turning the milk sugar lactose into lactic acid, blah, blah, blah and so on.

However, the similarities do not end there. The most important similarity is the not the process, but arguably the art of their creation; how grains or milk are chosen and handled, plus the selection and addition of other flavours and of course, their conditioning to create something that from it’s initial and humble origins can become the most wondrous culinary experience.

So it begs the question; with so many similarities, why do we not pair cheese with beer more often?

As someone that probably drinks far too much beer and has a tendency to over indulge when a cheeseboard is placed on the table, I’d like to know a little more beyond unwrapping a Kraft Single to compliment my Carlton Draught.

With the great support and effort of the Fringe Food Festival, we’ve gathered some of Melbourne’s (and possibly, Australia’s) top aficionados and experts on beer, cheese and food matching, who will guide you through the whys and wherefores of matching, as well as take some time to appreciate the care, effort and passion that has gone into the products that we will be sampling on the night.

As a blogger, I am passionate about Melbourne and Victoria’s food culture, particularly at a grass roots level and I am a great supporter of the events that the Fringe Food Festival organise.

I am honoured to be involved in helping to organise this event that will again showcase some of our best local produce and its providores. And I can guarantee that there will be no Kraft Singles involved.

Advance tickets for April 17 are available here and stay tuned either via farfromfamished or via the most excellent Fringe Food Festival website for more details in the lead up to the event.