Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Oriental Tea House

At 455 Chapel St this restaurant is out of the usual mold. The front of the place is really a shop offering an large range of herbal teas
and a variety of Chinese herbal remedies.
Further back there are cloth covered tables in a split level room.
We went, mid week, specifically for yum cha. On the weekends they have trolleys and a wider choice but during the week one must order off a menu. Whilst this does not permit the instant gratification of seeing what you are getting and having it immediately it does ensure that whatever you do have has been cooked only a moment ago specially for you. The menu is divided into sections - cold, steamed, deep fried and so on
The result was that every dish was extremely fresh, of course it usually is at yum cha's, and had not been wheeled around waiting for a customer to choose it.
Everything was of superior quality which justified the slightly more expensive prices than at the average yum cha. The two stand out dishes for me were the fish cakes
and the egg custard tarts

Comments: I feel that I will have to revisit the Tea House before I can give it a fair review but for now lets just say it's very good.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Becasse - Sydney

This Australian Gourmet Traveller 3 star restaurant serves either a la carte or degustation menus. Multilevel with an open kitchen at the far end of the ground floor it has no bar so it's best not to come too early for later reservations which may depend on a table being vacated.

Salad of Belgian endive
Salad of Queensland spanner crab

Seared scallops with scampi beignets
Hiramasu kingfish with ham hock
Roast wagyu rump cap
Roast rib eye of castricum lamb - an alternative to the wagyu
Coconut panna cotta with salad of melon

Vanilla cream brulee

The degustation menu ($120/person or $170 with wines) is interesting without being exceptional and serves are a reasonable size leaving one satisfied at the end of the meal
I was extremely pleased that they were prepared to serve a la carte to two patrons and degustation to two others at the same table - flexibility that I have not experienced at other venues.
Comments Justin North occasionally comes to Melbourne as a guest chef to Fenix and foodies should take the opportunity to enjoy his food here

Score: 16/20

The Flower Drum

Under the aegis of Gilbert Lau, who is still a consultant to the restaurant, Flower Drum became one of the greatest Chinese (Cantonese) restaurants in the world. Recently it has been slipping down the ratings - I thought for good reason.
After my recent visit I've changed my mind. It's not just very good it's excellent.
There were the usual effusive greetings at the door before being ushered into the lift to go to the first floor where the major Domo met us again. A short wait for our table and we were ushered to the dining room. Red carpeted, quiet lighting, beautiful super long stem roses in one great vase and a second huge flower arrangements of colourful blooms speak of opulence. Tables are well spaced with white linen and comfortable chairs.
Service is extremely attentive.
The reason that Flower Drum achieved it's reputation was because of concentration on excellence in every aspect of the business. Waiters are thoroughly trained, and at one time Gilbert gave them fortnightly tests to keep them up to standard. Ingredients are the freshest and the very best available e.g. his chickens are flown in daily from South Australia (Barossa Chickens) because they regard them as the best in Australia. There are about 5 master chef's in the kitchen plus an army of helpers and all work to the highest standards
We had an exquisite meal
Two very large St. Helens oysters, steamed, one in a light chilli sauce the other in a gentle black bean sauce could not have been better
Seafood dumplngs - Crab with a sweet sauce, scallop and prawn are an expensive snack at $18 for three

Pearl meat a delicacy served with two well matched dipping sauces was new to me and most excellent. I've seen it on the menu at Pearl but not tried it there. Crayfish sashimi from the tail meat was fantastic. It could not have been fresher and would have graced the best Japanese restaurant. The remainder of the cray was removed and came back later in a crayfish noodle dish which we ate with sugar pea shoots - much finer than the more common Chinese broccoli.
BBQ roast duck was served with a sour plum sauce which was a welcome change from the usual sweeter sauces. Their fried rice is relatively free of oil and well filled with egg, prawn meat and pork Codfish with ginger and shallots with a mild soy sauce was as good as it getsWe finished the meal with Mango Crepes and a fruit platter and Chinese tea They recommend oolong with the evening meal as it is supposed to aid digestion.
Price Everything looks expensive but the final food bill at $155/head was half what it would have been at Vue de Monde
We had a bottle of Chandon DZ 2003 ($82) which went very well with the food
Comments Flower Drum at 17 Market Lane Ph. 9662 3655 continues to be the outstanding restaurant of its type. I have not eaten better anywhere

Score: 18+/20

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pizza e Birra

Relaunched by well pedigreed Mauro Marcucci, one of the founders of Cafe e Cuccina and part owner of Termini P e B occupies the front of the former St.Kilda railway station at 60A Fitzroy St.
He has installed a special wood fired oven and has an expert head Pizzaiolo, Giovanni Cristiano who comes from a family of several generations of Neapolitan pizziolas. Pictured below, next to him, is Silvana Iacobaccio, Mauro's business partner for Pizza e Birra.
Reasonable space for about 35 in an open room. The food offerings range through Pizze Antipasti, Salads and Sweets.
I enjoyed House cured salmon with ruby grapefruit and campari and vodka dressing

which was well balanced and blended well. The Gamberoni - grilled prawns with tomato and saffron salsa

was also tasty but rather a small serve for $17. I may have misjudged Mauro here as I was his guest to taste the food at the launch and the regular serve is probably larger.

Pizza's are thin crust, crisp and lightly spiced and the salads also show a light hand in their preparation.
Who can resist marinated strawberries , Gran Marnier and orange in this case, with mascarpone The wine list is not large but quite wide ranging and everything is available by the glass at very reasonable prices. Bottle prices largely $30 to $45
Apart from a variety of international beers they serve a local beer specially bottled by a boutique Gippsland brewery, 'Birra' a light ale with a slightly sweet background.

Pizza e Birra has an extremely popular sister cafe/restaurant in Sydney which is always crowded and is well placed to do well here too

Score 13.25/20

Beppi's - Sydney

Beppi's is all about ambiance. As you pass by a huge platter of anti pasta facing the entrance
through the rather ordinary front room along a brick paved floor one enters a new world. Three interconnected dimly lit rooms the walls lined with bottles of wines of all ages and qualities.

The bottles mostly lie flat against the wall held in place by narrow strips of wood. A strange system of labelling and lots of dust adds to the atmosphere of this most appealing old cellar.

Waiters were not dressed up and did not adopt Italian accents. Service was friendly and informative however a request for lemon butter sauce was forgotten and after the delectable grilled baby snapper was served it took another 5 minutes for the sauce to arrive. This turned out to be a wonderful sauce and it was the best dish of the night
The menu lacked variety and whilst the food was generally good it rarely excelled.
The angel hair pasta with crab and saffron sauce was of good texture but bland
The huge very tasty fleshy mushroom entry looked impressive and tasted good

Three zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and porchini lacked taste from the mushrooms and the cheese was rather crumbly.

Entrees can also be had as mains
The veal costata was a plain grilled veal chop - tasty but unexciting and the plate looked very bare without a side order of vegetables.
The snapper was superIf you want to experience the perfect zabaglione this is the place to come.
The white chocolate brullee was pretty ordinary

as were the crepes.
There is an extensive wine list with prices from about $40 up
Price: With mains at around $42 the food bill for three courses comes to around $80/head

Comments For a special night at a restaurant with great atmosphere Beppi's at 21 Yurong St. East Sydney, a restaurant that has lasted 50 years, this is a beaut venue (make sure you're seated in the cellar)
Score: 13.75/20

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Homo Sapiens Patronisata

As a former student of sociology and anthropology I have been intrigued to be the discoverer of as new, rather special, group of people scattered among out population.
They share some quite unique characteristics. They are a sort of sub group, possibly two subgroup, within those who cook, own or serve in restaurants or bistros and occasionally other styles of eatery. Generally confined to the more expensive end of the restaurant spectrum they may not be readily recognised by their appearance but a short conversation or a look at the menu will make them immediately obvious. It is really surprising that they have not been previously recognised and described. For want of a better name, I have have called them homo sapiens patronisata.
They have acquired strange customs and use language in a peculiar fashion
Distinguishing Characteristics:
In ethnic restaurants they often greet you, sometimes quite effusively' in the language of the restaurant food. "Seniora's", "Gracia's", "Madam's" and "merci's" pour from their lips even though they may be born and bred down the road and only know half a dozen words that are not english.
They generally do not trust you to place you napkin and a soon as you are seated, occasionally with a bit of a flourish, place it across your knees. This behaviour however is not seen at those establishments that offer paper serviettes! Even before this, before you are even seated they may ask " Can I get you a drink?"
One may say "My name is Ben and I am your waiter tonight". Is the appropriate response "My name is John and I am your customer tonight"?
They are prone to a certain form of meaningless compliment such as "excellent choice sir" or "perfect". Since this occur regardless of what you ordered and I guess just patronising their restaurants must have been an excellent choice and I suppose no serious inference can be drawn about those dishes that you did not order.
The use of the royal "we" is another giveaway. For example "are we finished with the bread?" This may be combined with another greatly overworked word "enjoy!". "Did we enjoy the salmon?" "Would you enjoy coffee with the dessert sir?" How would I know? It depend on how good the coffee is. Other indication of failure to recognise the relationship between the staff and the restaurant patron emanate from the kitchen, for example "chef does not allow his food to be eaten with tap water" or, "the porterhouse is served medium rare" almost daring you to request it any other way. Another line of dictation directs how the food is to be "enjoyed". "This dish should be enjoyed starting from the left". Is this a prediction or an order?
Sometimes front of house staff appear quite normal but the menu shows telltale signs.
These menus consist of totally irrelevant names, here are a few examples - Spear, Shield. Sphere, Fire, Water, Sculpture and Ripple attached to lists of ingredients. Waiters assiduously describe the dishes, often in places so noisy that they can barely be heard, and sometimes in accents that could not be understood even under the cone of silence. The description usually amounts to a recitation of ingredients. I confess that I often report these in reviews even though they bore me stupid. Imagine this conversation. I had a strange meal at ABC. Oh! What did you have? Something called Wind. Really. What was that? I have no idea. The waitress told me it was aerated whatever but nothing was recognizable, including the taste!
Another area of unintelligible use of language on which I will not dwell at present is that of sommelliers and wine writers. Descriptive terms for wine such as aristocratic, regal, zesty, juicy, and dozens of other other normal english words used in a context that is beyond criticism because it is meaningless. I'm waiting to hear someone describe a wine as canine - at least I'd know it meant a wine with a bite to it!
Despite all this I do appreciate that it must be very difficult to find the best way to provide a pleasing service, which is what these people are really trying their best to do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Questions and Answers to the Inaugural Bloggers BBQ Quiz

The Inaugural Bloggers BBQ Quiz 12/11/2007

`1. Name a (different) restaurant at which each of these chef’s work
Paul Prudhomme
Susan Spicer
2. What is Emeril’s family name
3. Who designed the toque
4. Of whom did Wilhelm 2nd say “I am the Emperor of the Germans you are the Emperor of the Chefs”
5. Who introduced the style of eating to the French known as ‘Service a la Russe’
6. What is that?
7. Careme classified sauces into 4 groups. What were they
8. Escoffier added another what was it
9. What is a Bouchon
10. What does Nebbiolo mean
11. In what area, supposedly, are the best Nebbiolo grapes grown
12. Name 5 different sorts of French restaurant
13. True or false
Horse radish and Wasabi are really the same plant
Careme studied architecture in his spare time
Majoram, oregano basil and sage are part of the mint family
14. In cooking what does ‘macerate’ mean
15. What is/are
Rocky Mountain Oysters
16. Name 3 fruits commonly found in Egyptian burial chambers.
17. Where did the wild cacoa tree come from
18. Where does coffee come from originally
19. Bael leaves are used as a vegetable in Thailand and a seasoning in Indonesia What are they used for in India.
20. Which well known restaurant reviewer acknowledged that he did not know that Shandong was a province of China.
Lastly the famous question for a bonus of zero marks
21. How many holes in a crumpet
One mark for every correct answer or part there of. Maximum score 39
Highest scoring blogger wins a bottle of wine courtesy of
The author of which will be the sole arbiter however correspondence is welcome!!
Name and contact details

Good luck
The winner of the quiz was Neil from At My Table

1. K-Pauls Louisianna Kitchen
Bayona, Herbsaint, Cobalt
2. Lagasse
4. Escoffier
5. Attributed to both Careme and Escoffier!
6. Eating one course at a time
7. Allemande = Hollandaise, Bechamel, Veloute Espagnole
8. Tomato
9. A type of French restaurant
10. Little fog
11. Piedmonte
12. Restaurant
13. False
14. To marinate usually fruit in alcohol or liqueur to soften and absorb taste
15. a) Poppy seed
b) a Mexican fruit
c) a fruit related to the avocado
d) a soup usually beetroot or cabbage based
e) a spice like garum masala
f) Fertilised duck or chicken eggs near maturity cooked live
g) Bulls testicles
16. Dates, Sycamore figs (not the usual ones) olives, pomegranates persea
17. Yemen
18. Brazil
19. Placed at the feet of the Goddess Shiva on a special festival
20. He who shall be nameless
21. Aw c’mon

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fenix - Spring Tasting Menu

Calling this his Pollination Menu this is an eight course total delight created by Raymond Capaldi.
The opening palate cleanser, a lime parfait frozen at the table in a bowl of liquid nitrogen, works well. Each of the dishes that followed was both a pleasure to look at and a joy to the palate. Capeldi has made an attempt to produce a more balanced menu than expected for tasting menus leaving me satisfied in every way.

The names don't tell you much but the pic's should help.
Spring/Summer was cucmber, yoghurt mozzarella.

Pork belly was just that with coconut noodles, fish coral (potato crisp I think) laksa.

A salad dish called Lime Pith made up of white radish, broad beans, onions and lettuce was a sort of palate cleanser that preceded an unusual but successful combination
Blue Eye accompanied by chorizo, rehydrated potatoes, grapefruit and date.

The lamb rump with well prepared sweetbread, lavender and fenugreek was was cooked to medium which was much more than I would have liked but I forgot to mention it. The waitress was very ready to replace it but I felt that would not be fair.

Snow because it was white, I suppose, was a Milawa goat cheese and blueberries

and then there were four desserts with 2 choices. Bubble Gum - wild strawberries, ile flottante and mango or Buffalo milk - the details are no more helpful than the names

Violet Crumble or Sacha Torte. The torte slipped out of the pic on the left it was excellent,

and last of all Petit Fours
Thank god for photo's, which will help to give readers a view of these dishes because the menu descriptions really don't tell us much.
Never mind the weird titles and lists of ingredients this to me was a great meal and I would recommend it to food lovers anytime they have $135 to spare
There is also a 5 course menu for $100

Score: 17.5/20

Apparently Fenix is offering a 'blogger special' 5 course menu with wine for $85 in November for blog readers if you have even the tiniest inclination to go to Fenix take the opportunity
Look forward to an article on restaurant speak in the very near future