Monday, February 28, 2011

Goodbye High Street, Hello Lunch

After a few months without a post, you might have wondered "what ever happened to Eat Our Way Up High Street?"

Well, you may not have wondered that much, but in the last few months there have been changes in the editorial office at Eat Our Way.

Michael has now eaten his way up High Street to his satisfaction and has popped off for lunch. More particularly, the Illusion of Lunch. He'll be writing about food and other stuff. Mostly food, because what else is there to write about, other than cheese?

Monday, December 6, 2010


Gingerboy. Go there. They have a big neon sign. It says, "Gingerboy".

In the early 16th century, the great Christian humanist Erasmus railed against printers, those anarcho-informationalists of his day, that worked to
“fill the world with pamphlets and books that are foolish, ignorant, malignant, libelous, mad, impious and subversive; and such is the flood that even things that might have done some good lose all their goodness"
I read those words and immediately thought of those who prattle and rant about food as though it was a religious experience while blogging about the most trivial of matters and expect a readership to be impressed by their delicate sensibilities and refined tastes.

Not that I'm talking about anyone I know. *blushes*.

Anyway, the last month has seen some mixed dining experiences, from the sublime to the, well, not sublime, and rather than spend 500 words per piece filling the world with words that were foolish, ignorant, malignant etc, I thought I'd cram a few into a single mix tape that you can play in the car or give to someone special as a taster of what "Eat our Way" is all about. Think of this as a touring melange of tastes and ideas.

Gills Diner

The night I went to Gills Diner I had my professional hat on, and was having dinner with a man considered to be a world authority on car parking. No, he doesn't park cars; he's studied the impact of car parking on cities - the financial, environmental and opportunity costs of car parking in our cities. Disclaimer - I was a guest of the extravagantly named 'Institute of Sensible Transport".

Our local professor on the left. Car parking professor not in shot.

Anyway, sensibility aside, Gills Diner is tucked away in one of Melbourne's hipster alleys and is appropriately hard to find. It's got a cool, ex-industrial feel and warm staff and the food is good bistro nosh. On a rainy Melbourne night I had pork belly with pan-fried apples on a bed of humorous little lentils and a couple of 3 Ravens. The food was simple but perfect for the evening, while the conversation was focussed on the complexity of car parking and urban form. Note to self: two professors per meal is probably my limit.

Thanh Thanh


If it wasn't already obvious, I'm a bit of a fan of the old pho and other noodle soups. So in the ever continuing quest for the perfect pho, I dropped in to Thanh Thanh on Victoria Street in Richmond. I'd love to say they were great, but they weren't.

The magic of pho is in the stock and the stock here wasn't up to much. It lacked depth, spice and most of all, magic. In summary, "meh".


Gingerboy, like Gills Diner, is Cool, and although the alley it's tucked away in is larger and easier to find than that of Gills Diner, that just means Gingerboy focusses on being just a gem rather than a hidden gem.

Gingerboy does wonderful, up-market versions of SE Asian street food without the humidity and with a greater range of cocktails. Dishes come in a potentially confusing (but well explained) mix of small and medium dishes, all of which had a complexity and a depth that comes with a blend of high-note herbs and the basso profondo of belachlan.

Silken tofu - the (almost vegetarian) bee's knees

We started with Chinese cabbage and chicken dumplings, which had a beautiful, essential filling, although the wrappers were a little chewy. Small, salt and pepper spiced chicken ribs in a crisp, light batter were served with a blistering and wonderful sauce - the Kentucky chicken of the gods. The last of the small dishes was soft-shelled crab with a green papaya salad - wonderful, with a papery shell and a tart salad.

Two large dishes finished the meal - a wonderful and rich salad of wagyu beef and soba noodles and some gentle kim chi (at least by kim chi standards!) and some beautiful silken tofu with mushrooms and XO sauce. This was the surprising and wonderful dish in its balance and complexity; almost the dish that could convert me to vegetarianism (except for the shrimp paste in the sauce).

Soft-shelled crab and papaya salad. Let's do this again!

Gingerboy is the standout of this bunch - a small but perfectly formed restaurant with attentive staff and a intimate (yet busy) room and truly wonderful food. A keeper.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Fairfield dog sculpture
FIDO, courtesy wispfox

Not in High Street perhaps, but a short ride away via traditional northern suburbs transport (Vespa or a fixie), Alfio's Cafe is in Station Street in Fairfield, just up from the glorious FIDO. Alfio's is a Fairfield stalwart and was one of the oldest of the current generation of cafes. It also hasn't changed much in years - it was much the same in 2005 and 2006 (and indeed, the blackboard behind me in 2006 has exactly the same cocktail list).

Alfio's is so much part of my mental landscape of Fairlfield that I wouldn't have bothered writing about it except that I've only just discovered they serve the best mega-breakfast in the northern suburbs. Not the best breakfast all up, but certainly the best mega-breakfast in the FEB-style.

Hail King George

Alfio's call their mega FEB breakfast, "The George". It contained a pile of wilted spinach; a couple of poached eggs (slightly over-done); two slices of pale toasted baguette; some sauteed mushrooms (good but not spectacular); two halves of grilled tomato (good but with extraneous cheese on one half); a pile of crisp bacon (excellent!); a Hungarian-style paprika and garlic partly-cured sausage (brilliant!); and a lamb kofta (not a lot of flavour but cooked perfectly). It also had, buried underneath, a superfluous, freezer-bag hash brown. When I can work up the energy I'll rail against these, but honestly, who cares enough?

Oh, and there were beans. Very good. Home made, not too light and not too stodgy either - Goldilocks beans.

All in all it was, well, huge. Pretty damn good for a late breakfast verging-on-lunch. Oh, and the coffee is, and always has been, fantastic. Go there, but expect to see some of your work colleagues striding past in their Saturday morning finest. Well, that's what I saw, anyway.

Stephen Colbert Scooby Snacks

Martha Stewart explains strangling turkeys to Stephen Colbert.

Stephen Colbert mushes Devon/Berliner/Fritz/Baloney with tomato sauce and serves it on crackers.

Stephen Colbert sucks the lapel of a 69-year old former stockbroker and jailbird.

Watch it here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

China Red

Technology has come a long way since I was a small, innocent child. Tonnes of metal fly through the sky every day (mostly safely); gamma radiation from galactic bubbles abounds; and people cheerfully wear clothes made of magical man-made fibres. At the same time, the intertubes have revolutionized our lives and information swirls endlessly through pipes, blessing us with almost instantaneous satisfaction and answers through tubes. Water, however, still comes in bottles.

I only raise this because I have this great idea that's going to make me rich. I'm going to tell you, discretely, but you have to promise not to keep it to yourself.

You see, it occurred to me that if everyone uses water every day, then surely it would be great if we had instant access to it, just like we have instant access to information. Indeed, what we need is some sort of "water internet". This "waternet" would be, like the internet, a series of tubes, but in this case delivering water, instead of information, directly to our houses! It's a crazy, science-fiction idea (I know!), but perhaps one day it will be more than fantasy. Maybe in the future we'll be able to abandon bottled water for a "waternet", where water is delivered through "pipes". Maybe not in my lifetime perhaps, but hey, we can dream.

The future of dumplings is here already

Of course, not all technology is fantasy. While the "waternet" eludes us, the great dream of a dumpling internet (the legendary "dumplenet") has already arrived. Somewhere in the world, the Tim Berners-Lee of the dumpling world is resting on his laurels and these laurels can be found at China Red.

China Red is a small, tastefully discrete modern restaurant in a mall between Bourke St and Little Bourke, just off Melbourne's China Town and is truly a marvel of modern technology. While one day in the future we will surely be able to access the dumplenet from home, in 2010 we are limited to dumplenet cafes and China Red is at the forefront of this exciting phase of civilization.

Spring onion pancakes. Donuts, but with onions and crisp.

Using the amazing touchscreen dumplenet technology, Miranda, Helen and I (early adopters all) ordered our dumplings "on screen" and without recourse to human interaction!! This felt both staggeringly modern and never too far from being exciting. Screens were touched; virtual buttons were digitally manipulated and food arrived shortly after, albeit delivered by humans rather than the robots I hoped for. You can check what you ordered at any time, with delivered dishes signified with a digital steaming bowl icon, while food you've ordered but is not yet delivered shows as a rather sweet animated chef cooking up a storm.

We ordered spring onion pancakes which were exceedingly crisp and onionesque; green (snake?) beans with minced pork and chili; some chili oil dumplings; and some pot-stickers. The beans were wonderful and smoky, although the pieces of chili they were served with was staggeringly, blisteringly hot, while the chili oil dumplings were somewhere greater than good but less than spectacular. The pot-stickers (I know they had a proper name but I can't remember what it was) were also good, but no more, and came with a chewy and gelatinous wrapper.

Pan-fried dumplings (pot-stickers) and the blistering beans

All up the food was good city lunch time fare. Good dumplings, but not great, with a bit of digital fun watching the little man on the screen. Go, have lunch and pay very little, but most of all marvel at the first fledgling steps of what will become the great and ubiquitous dumplenet.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Christmas in November - Reflections on Panettone

Well, Christmas is only months and months away so the shops are in full Christmas swing. Decorations that look like elves have been dropping LSD; hampers full of the stuff they didn't sell last year; and belt-fed plastic machine guns that fire whistling foam bullets in the toy catalogs (oh to be young again...).

Panettone bread and butter pudding - the true spirit of Christmas on a plate

Luckily, there is one aspect of Christmas that can't come soon enough, and that's panettone season. The smell.... The texture.... The bread and butter pudding..... So in the lead up to the festive season, here are a few thoughts from the gluttons at Eat Our Way regarding this highlight of Saturnalia. These were all purchased from the local big-name supermarket.
  • Ital Traditional Panettone - This was not a great way to start the season. This spoils Christmas as much as Scrooge McGrinch and, quite frankly, it can $%$#@ my &^%$. Dry, only a faint smell and not much fruit, it completely lacked that overwhelming moist, boozy, vanilla-toasty smell that shakes you by the neck and says, "IT'S FUCKING CHRISTMAS!!!" Instead all it could offer was, "Christmas? Oh yeah, I bought you a sack of charcoal. By the way, it's your turn to take out the rubbish bins."
  • Buinissomo Panettone Classico - My word, this is indeed the shizzle, as Mr S Dogg would surely attest. It looks as if Michelangelo had designed the packaging for Paris Hilton, as it comes in a cardboard Sistene Chapel of glory. Definitely better than the Ital, it offered fruit and a much more traditional panettone smell with an added citrus perfume. If anything, it erred slightly on the side of being a little too moist, so that it compressed in your mouth. All up, very good and made a truly excellent Bread and Butter Pudding.
  • Bauli il Panettone - The curate's egg of a panettone; it had an excellent moist but open texture and was generous with the fruit, particularly the orange peel. It also had a lovely citrus scent which, although it was very appealing (pun intended), it lacked the overwhelming panettone aroma that the Buinissomo had. A delicious fruit bread but without that merged magic vanilla-toasty-citrus smell that makes panettone what it is.
But apart from eating it, toasting it and generally elevating a humble cup of tea to a religious experience, there's one thing you can do with panettone that takes it from a bread-based confection to the food of the gods. This dessert is truly salvation in a baking dish.

Bread and butter pudding

Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding

Take the best part of a panettone and slice it thickly. Toast it lightly if you can be bothered, but it's not necessary. Butter each slice lightly and spread with a favourite preserve - we use either the quince jelly or kumquat marmalade we make.

Lay the slices in a buttered baking dish and cover with a rich custard mix - maybe 10 eggs to a litre of milk, with a few tablespoons of sugar and some vanilla.

Allow it to soak for a few minutes before putting into a slow-medium oven until its almost firm in the centre and golden on top. Serve warm or cool, but not hot.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cooking with Al

Al is learning to cook, partly through school, but also with us as well as a great big dose of teaching himself and practicing. There are few things more satisfying than watching someone try cooking a dish for the first time, practice the technique, try the result and then comment sagely on possible improvements. If I sound like a very proud parent, I am, but I'm also trying to be restrained in my comment so I don't embarrass him out of the kitchen....

He made Beggar's Chicken, something I've wanted to try since, well, I was probably about his age and saw it in a Women's Weekly cooking book. It looked magical, yet in my teenage mind was wildly profligate (throwing away a kilo of salt?) and required a lot of faith. Al, on the other hand, leaped after the briefest of looks and was well rewarded. In fact, we all were...

The result was worth the palaver. It looked roasted but was floating in juices and was the most incredibly tender chicken I've ever tasted, as though the meat fibers had been individually softened. The flavour was perfect - the smell of a little soy, ginger, spring onions and five spice wafted above the juices. It was truly wonderful.

Vanilla Slice - You'd have to drive a long way to get one this old school

He also made a Vanilla Slice worthy of a country baker and last week made a goat curry (he has no fear). All wonderful, and I am hoping for much more.

Goat curry - rich and heady with fragrance. Everyone loved it (except the goat).