Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Speaking with Chefs - Who am I?

Born in Baden, Switzerland, in 1936
10 Marks
1954 Berne, Switzerland - Gold Medal for Hospitality at the International Swiss Tourism and Culinary Expo
1954 Munich, Germany - Gold Medal for "Hervorragende Leistungen" at the International Gastronomy and "Fremdewerkehr mit Konditoren Fachhausstellung"
1956 Frankfurt, Germany - Gold Medal at the International Culinary Competition in Germany 1956 Konstanz, Switzerland - Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution at the International Gastronomy Competition for Restaurants and Hotel
1977 French Festival Prix d'honneur
1982 Guide Bon Voyage for Consistence and Excellence in Cuisine
8 Marks
1980 - 1992 awarded Three Hats by the Age Good Food Guide for his restaurant
6 Marks
Owner and chef at his restaurant Two Faces
1981 - 1986 awarded Quelltaller Award Best Cellar National
1986 Club Prosper Montagne International Award and recognized as a Legend - Melbourne Wine and Food Festival
2000 Pioneer of Les Toques Blanches - Victorian Chapter

4 Marks
Retired in 2003
2 Marks
I am Herman Schneider
I had the opportunity to reminisce with Hermann Schneider, a legend on the Melbourne culinary scene, as chef and owner of Two Faces for 28 years. The Two Faces was the first restaurant in Australia to be invited to join the prestigious European and North American Chain – Relais Gourmande and Relais et Chateaux.
In the autumn of 1956, Hermann was selected by the Australian Government to travel to Melbourne and work as Chef for the European team at the 1956 Olympic Games. At the end of the Games, Hermann decided to stay in Melbourne and took on a position as Chef de Partie at the Chevron Hotel, Melbourne
When he arrived in Australia fine dining was almost non existent. The only common restaurants were very indifferent quality Chinese restaurants which were scattered through Melbourne and often offered Australian dishes like fish and chips or steak and eggs opposite their Cantonese menus. Gradually Italian restaurants were becoming popular and then everyone began to take an interest in French cooking. This was the era of rise to prominence of Madam de Stoop, Diane Holuigue and Beverley Sutherland-Smith who all had outstanding schools teaching Cordon Bleu style methods.
There was only a small range of spices available and relatively little in the way of hi-tech equipment.
The classical French sauces Bernaise, Hollandaise, Veloute and Espagnole were made daily by chefs. Could today's young chefs make them?

There was loyalty to restaurants and chef’s were missed if they took a day off.
The dining public did not seek theatre or extraordinary food combinations but consistent good food well prepared. There was no need to be constantly searching for new and unusual textures and tastes.
Despite retiring several years ago Herman continues to cook from time to time for special functions. The most recent was a meal for 32 for the Chaine des Rotisseurs at the home of Beverley Sutherland-Smith
How many of Melbournes celebrity chef's have a record to match Hermann Schneider?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jacques Reymond - Again

According to the somewhat biased AGF the only 3 star restaurant in Melbourne Jacques Reymond continues to produce exceptional menus that are a joy to the palate.
His approach to fine dining is to offer entree size dishes of a wide variety which can be a la carte - 3,4 or 5 courses or a degustation menu of 7 courses plus coffee and petit fours also available in vegetarian products
We had the Autumn Degustation with matched wines.
Beginning with his signature gougere, a classical French amuse bouche, before the soup of crunchy lettuce like a minestrone which sat on very tender pork belly and had a Parmesan foam and truffle salsify served with a 2006 Freycinet Chardonnay. This unusual combination was interesting but didn't stimulate any desire for more, or to have it again.
The black lasagna of blue swimmer crab and wasabi, Thai salad was wonderful. It sat on a slice of watermelon and the textures and tastes blended beautifully or you could deconstruct part of the dish to experience the individual flavours. All this served with moorish bread straight from the oven.Laquered salmon petuna trout, fennel and vanilla puree, oriental mushrooms served with a 2006 Farr Rising Pinot Noir was cooked through and replaced without hesitation with a perfectly prepared piece of salmon. A very good dish but not outstanding
Prime eye fillet of beef and kohlrabi, a carrot and daikon salad also fell into that class of very good but not outstanding.
I also had a good report on the 'Rigatoni' vanilla and crustacean sauce. Moloolaba prawns, not on this menu The Western Plains suckling pig, slow cooked and fresh lemon pasta, broken juices is another dish to die for. You can't describe it you just have to try it for yourself. Served with a 2001 Dalwinnie 'Jacques Reymond blend' shiraz which our waiter told me JR himself was involved in the blending. Maybe - who knows it was far to acidic for this dish. Perhaps it would have been better with the alternative to this course which was venison
Raclette cheese, spunta potato, organic prosciutto with a 2005 Louis Sipp Gewurtztraminer from Alsace was so good I'd happily have had three serves The cheese super and the combination great and that goes for the wine to.
Spiced pineapple and ginger cream, chocolate lemon myrtle and bush pepper berry ice cream with a Terte du Lys d'Or Sauterne a rich and pleasing dessert. The botrytis was rather prominent in the wine
Petit four and coffee completed an excellent meal
Price: $150 or $220 with wine
Vegetarian $98 Three courses $98, four $125 five $150
Score: 17.5/20

Friday, April 25, 2008

Noise, NOISE, N_O_I_S_E and Other Irritations

After you read this you might wonder why I continue to go to restaurants.
I have often railed about the discomfort of eating in excessively noisy restaurants and the lack of consideration displayed, so frequently as the night passes, by gradually less and less inhibited patrons. Indeed I have walked out of several of them including Gingerboy and changed tables at quite a few others.
The article in this weeks Epicure (22/04/2008), 'It's Your Shout' by Michael Harden is worth reading and caused me to consider a few of the other things which turn me off the restaurant scene.
There are the failings of the venues.
Crowded tables one can barely squeeze past and to small to accommodate the crockery, uncomfortable seating, and cheap tinny cutlery. Even expensive stuff that slides into the plate as soon as you put it down is no joy. I also dislike finding myself sitting, cheek by jowl, next to shoddily dressed patrons e.g. in old jeans and sneakers at 'good' restaurants. Dim lighting is fine but menus should be able to be read without having to adjourn to the toilet where the lighting is so much more user friendly! And I certainly appreciate a bit of plain English.
There are the waiters.
Many are very professional but others so often exhibit patronising and/or excessively familiar behaviour, make vacuous comments such as excellent choice sir, see my article Homo Sapiens Patronisata, and not infrequently serve the wrong table with the food I ordered or vice versa and all to often bring a wine of a different year to the one I ordered. Wine by the glass not poured at the table is another occasional failing
On top of this some restaurants , where the food may be only moderately expensive, have terribly bloated prices for their wines.
Service can be appallingly slow, probably a function of the organization, or lack of organization, of the kitchen
I also detest very small serves and the absence of any salad or vegetable without it having to be ordered separately at 'top end' restaurants.
Finally I find the no reservation policy a pain. I deeply resent having to wait 30 or 40 minutes for a table. In my book restaurants are there for me and my convenience not vice versa.
Now if the dead tree media, which have no room for a letter from the public, get a look at this they might have fuel for some more articles of interest!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Speaking with chefs - Malouf

I revisited Stones of the Yarra Valley today and spoke with Greg Malouf. He's pretty pleased. His book Turquoise (written with Lucy) has just been awarded The Le Cordon Bleu Award, International Category, by the International Association of Culinary Professionals as the best cookbook focusing on a geographical region outside America - recognition of a terrific book! The new MoMo is scheduled to open in the Hyatt in August, he's off to Hong Kong soon to create the menus for a big event and then to America to promote his books, and Stones of the Yarra Valley is flying.
The problem for Greg, now, is to make his new restaurant an excellent venue that will not cost more to run than it brings in. Greatly increased costs of everything make this a problem for restaurateurs everywhere. The only clue I can give you is that the new MoMo will have a large bar with a mezza menu and the food will be along the similar lines to his former restaurant.
We enjoyed another great Arabesque Lunch, quite different from the last one there.

The Mezze began with
Hot yoghurt soup with silver beet and lamb dumpling - super. This I'm going to make at home
Quickly followed by
Little Turkish pide pies with haloumi, Melting salmon, beautifully prepared, with Turkish spoon salad Salt-cod preserved lemon fritters with green harissa mayonnaise.Something quite special.
Spicy Moroccan beef sausages with smoky Baba Ganoush and lovely little chicken bistayeea pies under a cover of pastry that retained all the flavour of the chicken and delicate spices Mains were
Rock flathead tails with dukkah crumbs on a bed of Pistachio pilau with spinach and herbs White cabbage salad with cumin and black pepper
Absolutely fabulous spiced roasted spatchcock with oregano and cardamonPotato, shallots and fennel with feta
Red oak and cos lettuce salad
Then dessert
Chocolate and Turkish delight tart with orange blossom cream and
Watermelon and berry salad with pistachio halva Followed by a sweet mint tea
We also enjoyed a couple of very palatable bottles of 2003 Hillcrest Cab.Sav ($70) but there are many less expensive wines on their list
Price: The Lunch is $75 and I still find it really good 14 months after my last visit
Comments: Xiao Xuan Liu, a young classical pianist gave a short recital at the chapel, the oldest building in the area, a few steps from the restaurant, to which we adjourned before the desserts. This was a welcome break from the one major problem here. The noise of conversation from other tables is so loud it's impossible to hear anything except from the person immediately next to you!
Score: still 16 /20

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Speaking with Chefs - Bacash

After an outstanding meal, marred only by the very slow service, chef Michael Bacash came to our table to apologize and shared some of his views with us.
His approach. as with all chefs, is excellent products handled with respect but he doesn't care for the creative endeavours at restaurants that promote molecular gastronomy and, to some extent, degustation menus.
I was surprised that he believes that the unrestricted ability of anyone to open a restaurant has a destructive influence on the ability to provide good service. The market is not efficient in these things so it takes some time before many of these restaurants fail. In the meantime they both take a considerable amount of money out of the system that would have helped support other restaurants and they dilute the numbers of good professionals available to work making it particularly difficult to maintain excellent staff. Add to this the erratic number of reservations, the people who cannot be contacted to confirm their booking and occasionally don't show, or leave because their table is not ready, and the pressure to keep prices down, and you can see that life can be extremely difficult.
This is what we ate.
Bouillabaisse - in a rich saffron soup very good
Crab Gratin - delicate well balanced exquisite Duck confit with cherries in an excellent jus - as good as it gets
Spaghetti Marinara - packed with seafood, in a garlic sauce
Hazelnut chocolate mousse - again couldn't be betterClassical tart tatin - worth the 15 minute wait, it was so very good
There is a reasonably good and wide ranging wine list at fair prices

Price Entrees about $22 Mains about $36 Desserts about $18
Comments Some places get better, some worse and some stay much the same. Bacash is one that is better than last time I visited. It's more expensive now but so is everything else.
The staff are a happy
We'll certainly be back
Score: 16/20

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bistro Guillame

Supposedly another jewel in the collection of upmarket restaurants at the Crown entertainment Complex a $10 million makeover of the space formerly occupied by Prada has produced a venue which I found pleasingly understated. Good sized tables, adequately spaced with double linen cloths and napkins, comfortable seating, striking light fittings and unusual shaped structures that serve to both divide the space and provide a surface on which to rest bottles and decanters produce an air of quiet sophistication.
We arrived punctually and were seated promptly. The wine and food menu's and crusty bread, brought in by the way, butter and salt also appeared quickly. We were not rushed to place orders for drinks, for which I was grateful as they have an extensive, and expensive, wine list (even sparkling water is a hefty $10.00/bottle) with a concentration on Australian wines with a small offering from other countries, including French.
The menu included some dishes to be shared by three or four people and included a plat de jour which changes daily.
The chef's offering of pre dinner gougers was stone cold which did nothing for the taste
We tried several starters. The French onion soup ($16), served with blue cheese rather than the more common Gruyere, was overwhelmingly sweet because the onions had been over caramelised. A dozen oysters with a vinaigrette and a half a lemon ($42) were small and of indifferent taste and texture. I would not serve oysters like that to guests at home and certainly expect better a these inflated prices.
All was not lost though.
The sweet bread mille feuille was absolutely wonderful. If you like sweet breads ($25), cholesterol permitting, you will never get them better than this. Superlatively prepared I certainly have never had better. Mains are somewhat variable too.
The now famous fish and chips - crumbed deep fried boned whiting ($45) arrived on it's pedestal of broad chips reminiscent of a mastless ship on display. French food is famous for its' sauces but for this there was only a lemon butter sauce however a Bearnaise actually for the steak was available. The more common sauce Tartare was not available.
The fish had retained moistness and good taste beneath the copious crumbs.
The duck confit ($35), only one leg and thigh, was very good but no better than at several other French restaurants. For dessert I tried the Creme cassonade ($18) a custard which was very rich and smooth contrasting with the crunchy topping of sugared nuts.
The Poire Belle Helene ($18) was the classic cooked pear with rich chocolate poured over it at the table accompanied by a scoop of ice cream. The sorbet selection ($18) - chose three, lemon, chocolate and strawberry in this case, was three small scoops of sorbet quite nice but most distinguished by the price
A bottle of Denis Ciarre red burgundy ($80) was unimpressive and I ended up with dregs in my glass!
As they've said on many a report card: can do better must work harder
Score 14.25/20

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Absynthe makes the heart grow fonder

When I question what it is that Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, van Gogh, Verlaine and Tolouse -Lautrec Dumas and Guy de Maupasant have in common it is not only that they are all renowned in the arts but also, as the title suggests, they were all great lovers of Absynthe. (Also known as Absinth, Absinthe and Absint) There has been a resurgence of interest in this unusual drink, also known as La Fee Verte or the Green Fairy, in the last few years. It, of all alcoholic beverages, has the most intriguing mythology which led to it being banned, as a toxic substance in the early 1900's changing the face of alcohol consumption and destroying a huge $100 million industry at that time.
This resulted from a French farm worker who, after an argument with his wife, shot killed her and his two small children. He had a regular and enormous consumption of alcohol beginning with Absynthe each morning and eventually this became the scapegoat for his behaviour.
The levels of Thujon, an extract of wormwood thought to be the cause mind altering qualities of Absynthe, is now regulated to the extent that it is no longer harmful.
There is a great deal of ritual associated with drinking Absynthe with the use of special perforated spoons to drop water through sugar into the appropriate glass. The end product is judged on colour, taste, feel in the mouth and so on and one unbelievable characteristic - Louche which speaks of decadence and a certain disrepute! Absynthe has an infusion of many other herbs before being distilled to about 136 degrees proof and has curative and aphrodisiac qualities attributed to it as well as being an aperitif and digestif.
If all this has roused your interest in Absynthe you could have a look at my link http://www.buy-absinthe-alcohol.com/ to learn, more or purchase some at extremely reasonable prices, or explore further through your search engine. I've experimented with some lately and it's very interesting.
Perhaps the saying should be Absynthe makes the fond heart wander!
I might add that I have no commercial interest in this product or the above link

Monday, April 07, 2008

Harbourkitchen and Bar - Sydney

"harbourkitchen&bar, Park Hyatt Sydney's stylish Tony Chi designed restaurant takes in a spectacular view that is unmistakably Sydney where lapping water can be heard through the floor to ceiling folding glass windows. The clean open design allows you to watch food being prepared by Alessandro Pavoni and his team, offering a seasonal menu of modern Australian cuisine with Mediterranean inspired flavours. Call 9256 1660 to reserve your table and receive free valet parking at lunch Monday to Friday." This is what the Park Hyatt spiel says on its' web site AND I couldn't agree more!
Day or night it is a superb venue looking across the harbour to the Sydney opera house and the gardens of Government House. Yachts, small boats and ferries are constantly passing by giving diners an ever changing scene.
The food is more than passable but a bit expensive by most standards and even more so with a 10% surcharge on Sundays
We started with a chicken fettuccini with plenty of chicken liver, cooked rare, chicken pieces and a pleasing white sauce ($28) and a quail saltimbocca which was hard and dry and rather than being wrapped in prosciuto rested on a scrap of prosciutto, tho it was hard to find ($22). The miniature gnochi with this dish were superb
The spit roast baby chicken (baby chicken hmm) was a considerable improvement ($34) and the tenderloin really good ($38). A good serve of Chat potatoes ($9) was followed by a lovely Lychee pannacotta ($18) of excellent texture and consistancy, however the delicate lychee flavour was overwhelmed by the mango accompaniment. An additional, requested, scoop of ice cream was served at no charge! Wow
Service was outstanding. Black garbed waiters with white shirts under black vests and white aprons were always close by but not in your face.
One irrition was that the entree plates were to large for the knives and forks which tended to slide into the plate resulting in sticky cutlery
There is a decent wine list. Strangely the French Mont Redon Cotes du Rhone at only $12 / glass was an excellent quaffing lunch time wine whilst the heavier Willow Creek Cab/Sav ($15) might have been better at night.
Add a $17 surcharge and it all came to a little over $200 before the gratuity which is a lot for a casual Sunday lunch but I loved the total experience.
You could buy a hamburger and walk along the quay but it would not be the same.
No way
Score: 14.25/20

Claude's - Sydney

Behind a locked door in a demur two story Federation terrace house at 10 Oxford St. Woollahra Chui Lee Luk weaves her food magic. Claude's French restaurant serves a tasting menu, with matched wines if desired, of the highest quality, deserving of the highest accolades. Tuesday to Friday an a la carte menu is also available.
It begins with scrumptious small choux pastry balls stuffed with fried roe in cheese before the first course which is the famous and surprising smoked salmon consomme- simple and pleasing with the thinest strip of seasoned pastry atop the demi tasse.
Blue swimmer crab egg roll was excellent and, as with all the dishes, simply and beautifully presented. The accompanying strips of carrot and parsnip were a little over roasted and slightly dryThe rest of the menu and photographs follows.
Bitter and sweet salad of ocean trout - superb. This photograph doesn't do it justice
Whitefish, squid & shiitake The small pieces of crunchy fried squid gave this special character
Crepinette of duck a slight error in description a crepinette is small crepe but the taste excellent again Beef in suet pastry. Actually a slice of beef and a suet pudding with a stuffing of intercostal (i.e. rib) muscle. The only dish that I did not care for because of the strong taste of the suet and I would have liked a larger piece of the Angus beef Blancmange dressed with muscatel grape sauce Perfect consistency Pineapple soufflé. Could not be better.

We also had the matched wines which were mostly French with an Australian, New Zealand and Austrian contribution.
Except for the Jurancon dessert wine, which was not sweet enough for the soufflé, the wine selection was very well matched to the food and the amount served was generous. They were
2007 Kilikanoon Mort's Reserve Watervale Riesling S.A.
2005 Francois Chidaine Montlouis sui Loire 'Clos de Breuil' Fr. A pleasant Chenin blanc
2006 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner Heligenstein At. Slightly sweet, reminicent of some reislings
2004 Ransom Dark Summit N.Z. Rather dry
2003 Laurent Miquel St. Chinian 'Bardou' Fr. Gentle balanced with no obvious acidity
2004 Charles Hours Jurancon Uroulat Fr.
Price: Tasting menu $165, matched wines $85. Patrons are welcome to bring their own special bottle of wine!

Comments: The understated setting of this small venue encourages a clientele who displayed more respect for the food, and the other diners, on the night we ate there, than many larger restaurants.

An outstanding dining experience Claude's certainly rates in the top few restaurants in Australia or, indeed, anywhere.
Score: 18.5/20

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Catalina Sydney

Wonderfully situated, overlooking Rose Bay, with a couple of sea planes bobbing in the water, moored just outside the full length bay window, this restaurant comes with a bloated reputation from Gourmet Traveller. At 1 Sunderland Ave, Lyne Park, Rose Bay GT categorizes it as"A genuinely superior dining experience worthy of a detour" On the night I dined there it was worthy of a detour - somewhere else! The menu begins with a lengthy paragraph lauding the quality of their oysters. Au natural or with light pickles you can't do much wrong but they were very ordinary oysters. For only 20cents more per oyster you can have them crumbed and grilled with a leek fondue. We got shrivelled, overcooked, unrecognizable 'things' which tasted like nothing more than toasted crumbs ($48 a dozen)
The octopus carpaccio ($25) was a tiny serve of wafer thin octopus covered by eight little vongole with a few specks of caviar, probably lump fish roe, on one half of the shell and a couple of mussels with avruga and paprika oil. This was about as undistinguished a starter as you could get. "You'll be sorry" my companion said when I ordered it and I was.
For mains the flounder ($40) was as small a flounder as I have ever seen. I think they should have thrown it back. At least it was nicely cooked and tasted fine. The roast snapper filet on a potato and garlic mash with lemon caper butter ($42) would be better described as a bit of a fillet. It had the texture of a black cod. It was nicely cooked and I'm still wondering what it was! A mix up in the kitchen resulted in rather good looking rack of lamb being served when Angus sirloin beef ($42) had been ordered. This was promptly replaced.

Desserts generally failed to impress. The souffle ($22) was particularly poor, overcooked, rather tough and tasteless.
the fig tartelet ($19) was OK and the dessert special a chocolate mousse cake ($19) wonderfully rich
Catalina is deservedly noted for its' wine list. Beginning around $50 up to about $5000 there is a wide and excellent range. We had a Phillip Jones Cellar style 2005 Pinot Noir ($70) which was sour. The waiter agreed but the sommelier claimed that this was the wine style. Regardless he replaced it with a Carlei pinot noir which all found much more agreeable
Price At around $125/head this is a hell of a lot to pay for poor food with a view!
Pretentious and overpriced
Score: 13.25/20