Saturday, February 27, 2010

Peacock Inn Hotel & 303 High Street

According to their website, the Peacock Inn;
"was built in 1854 by Horace and Edwin Bastings. The following year they sold it to the 21-year-old George Plant. Plant was to become synonymous with the Peacock, holding the license until his death in 1895. His widow, Catherine then took over the hotel license until 1910."
Welcome to Northcote. Trains, trams and maybe a bus.

Cool. But Northcote has changed since then.

My mother tells the story of discussing Jane Austen in an English Literature tutorial at university. A young male student opined that Austen was clearly bourgeois rubbish, and believed he could smite a fatal blow against nineteenth century gentility with the profound and rhetorical question, "but where are the workers!?"

Fuck the workers; Lis declares victory over the lethargic

It was a fear of twenty-first century gentility that had made me reluctant to eat at the Peacock Inn Hotel. It's a lovely building with an almost Mexican, deco feel. As you walk past, however, through the window you can see the restaurant and its stark, modern furniture and hard surfaces. It bodes. Not of anything in particular; it just bodes. You expect the workers have well and truly been vanquished; gentrified away, somewhere well beyond the picket fences and sushi.

They had a groovy VicRoads/Metlink map of the northern suburbs. Cool, eh?

But no. Modernism aside, if you walk through the bleach-blond, overly thin, hatchet-faced restaurant, you get to the beer garden. A curvaceous, smiling and friendly beer garden with broad hips and.. oh, never mind. No "yummy mummies" here. No three-wheeled prams. A spacious beer garden full of... ummm... space... and... well... beer. People drinking beer, eating chips and smoking. Large people. Students. People talking philosophy, sports and shit.

*Smiles to self*

We also had great company - Lis, who has been with us on a previous journey to High Street, joined us for an evening high on the Hill.

Lis declares victory in general against, well, whoever

You don't go to a pub looking for authentic air-dried Japo-Scandanavian fish welts with a soupcon of green tea jus. No, you expect pub food; forty-seven varieties of schnitzel; the Ultimate Street Fighting Mixed Grill; chips with everything and maybe a token salad.

Lis ordered fish and chips, and by all reports these were pretty good. The fish was thick and moist and the chips were thick and crisp.

Al, F and I all ordered Veal Parmigiana (or in Al's case, chicken). Nothing says "pub meal" in Melbourne like Parmigiana. And this Parma (or Parmi?) was pretty good but not outstanding. Against it were a particularly sweet tomato sauce (although the tomato and onion were cheerfully and roughly cut), too much crumb; a slice of sandwich ham; and yearling masquerading as veal . In its favour, the beef was tender and the crumb was crisp.

I remember pub food in the 1980's as being utter, utter shit. These were the dark days of perverse liquor licensing laws in Victoria, and if you wanted to see a band, the pub was obliged to offer you food. Most of the time this meant getting a ticket when you paid the cover charge, which you could exchange for a plate of sandwich ham, potato salad and maybe some tinned three-bean salad. My expectations of pub food were set in this impressionable age, and they were set low. Since then, the food has only improved.

The Peacock Inn is not a gastropub (I still inwardly laugh, thinking "gastro-pub") but the food is decent pub food. The beer garden is spacious and there were a few free tables on Friday night, although plenty of people making plenty of atmosphere. Inside was similar, but with the now traditional large screen for sports. Charmingly, there are no poker machines.

We didn't stay for coffee or dessert. Knowing that there was an exhibition to support the opening of this year's Melbourne Ukulele Festival (MUF), we wandered down to 303 High Street for coffee. 303 has the ultimate location on High Street, being wedged between the Northcote Social Club and Lamb's (home of the second* best souvlaki on High Street).

We admired some hand-painted ukuleles.

My strong latte was good. F and Lis ordered some chemistry-set concoction called a "chai-latte-cino" (maybe). It was very milky and didn't have a lot of spice, strength or sweetness. Oh well. The band playing on the other side of the bearded door-bitch sounded fantastic, like a funky brass band on a billy-cart on their way to a hip-hop gig.

Lis has a collection of awesome tatts, but this is the best non-Escher one

It was a fun evening. In the absence of children I could have wandered into the back of 303 and enjoyed the band. But no, there were grumpy complaints, eye-rubbing and petulant foot-stampings. When the children had calmed me down, we agreed I needed to go home and have a nap.

*Ulysses is both the taxi driver's favourite and mine. One day I'll tell of our student days in the 1980's, eating double meat souvlakis and drinking chocolate milkshakes. On the basis of our then diet, I'm not sure how we lived this long... In the meantime, if your taxi driver smells of garlic at 4.00am, blame Ulysses.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

We went back to Thy Thy two weeks later...

Well, we did, but it was a night that was not really about the food, so you'll have to read about it elsewhere. But it looked like this.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cheese Club IV - Death to the Lactose Intolerant

Cheese Club has returned for the first time in a while but was well worth the wait. Joined again by the Urbane Parents and Penny and Kent, we glided our way through six wonderful cheeses and some wonderful wines (a 2007 Clockwork Cab Sauv (Margaret River); a 2000 Elizabeth Semillon (Hunter Valley) and a 2007 Scotchmans Hill Pinot Noir (Bellarine Peninsular)). So without further faffing about...

Cheese! In a box!

Holy Goat Eclipse - Kicking off with a surface ripened, fresh goats cheese, this was a sweet and ugly pyramid of joy. From central Victoria, this was a perfect balance of sweet and sour; lightness and depth. It had a consistent texture of tight, fresh curd (unlike the chalky centre and runny edges of, say, the Chabichou du Poitou), and the flavour was fresh and exciting. Very much a Quasimodo cheese - a little terrifying to look at with its curled, dark rind but sweet and gentle to know.

Holy Goat, Batman! It's as ugly as something really, really ugly!

That's Amore Smoked Baby Scamorza - The other Victorian cheese, this is a smoked and stretched curd cheese, bundled in to a little ball of mozzarella-like cuteness and burnished with a bronze sheen. The curd wasn't as stretched as mozzarella though, and although it had a bit of bounce it was softer than it looked. It had a salami-like, smoked smell, but the richness of the cheese is not overwhelmed by the burny stuff. Very popular on the night, and the best smoked cheese I've ever tasted (out of a small pool, to be fair...).

No ashtray necessary

Edel de Cleron - a washed rind cheese for those who don't necessarily believe that "washed rind" is the same as "biological warfare". This is a cow's milk, surface ripened and washed rind cheese that has all of the rich, gooeyness of a white mould cheese and the flavours of something heaven sent. The washed rind aspect was powerful but not overpowering and the texture varied from the ripe, gooey centre to the resisting rind. It had many layers of scent tussled together into a luscious whole. I think we'll leave the remaining half of this for a week to complete ripening - everything was so wonderfully complicated about this that a bit of time might produce something even more amazing.

Hmmmm.... Just you wait, my pretty...

Fougerous Rouzaire - a Brie, a lot like the Brie de Nangus - strong, earthy flavours; more salt than most local white-mould cheeses but not quite as salty as the Nangus. Popular with the white-moulders. Me? Yeah, as good as any, but I'm not really in a white mould mood. This wasn't on RHCL's recommended list but was an addition to satisfy those pesky white-moulders. Let 'em have their cheese I say. More of the others for me.

Quite nice, but you're going to have to get up earlier in the morning to impress me.

Casa Madaio Acacio de Bufala is made from Buffalo's milk and is a hard, cooked curd cheese from Eboli, Italy. This was definitely the most unusual cheese of the six. Penny described it as being "like a Manchego without the sheep's milk taste", which was a good call. It's texture was unexpected - while it looks like a hard granular cheese, it has a hint of resistance almost like a stretched curd cheese.

The flavour is big and round - the tasting notes talk about a "rich apricot fruity flavour". It certainly has a lovely acid balance and a bit of salt . I'm not quite sure what to make of this; I liked it, but ate it frowning in concentration. Not necessarily one I'd buy again, but only because there are so many other cheeses to try.

Things that make you "Hmmm?"

The last cheese of the evening was Onetik Bluette, a blue mould goat's milk cheese from the Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Quite frankly, this knocked everyone's socks off without the sense (or smell) that somebody had just taken their socks off, and was a perfect cheese to finish with. The texture was a blend of softly buttery paste and the slight grain of the mighty mould veins. A blue that everyone could enjoy, without it being bland - not so much sharp as tingly. This could easily become a new favourite and is on the "keeper" list and the "buying again" list and the "yes please" list.

Things that make you go "yummmmm..."

We also took delivery of some Aphrodite Haloumi, from Cyprus. I'll grill that and report back later. All in all an excellent haul.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Westgarth used to be called Northcote South, which you'd think would just be reduced to "Cote". But it's not, so applying the logic of the existing name, I live in Northcote North; Clifton Hill is, in fact, South Northcote South; and my former little house in Collingwood is in East South Northcote West. If Westgarth insists on being called Westgarth, where the hell is Garth?

Nice sign
Taxiboat, ideally, should be visited in a taxi, which would be a Taxiboat Taxi. In the perfect world you would get the taxi from the Princess Pier, having got off a boat, which would be a Taxiboat Taxi Boat. Anyway, I could be recursive (recursive all day) all day, so I'll stop.

Taxiboat, as you may have guessed already, is in Westgarth, directly opposite the cinema in a groovy room with polished concrete and an enormous bar. As iSaluti does for its pizza oven, Taxiboat does for its bar, making it a major feature of a small room and giving it a remarkable amount of floor space. It's also a fairly loud space, even when seasonally adjusted for my hearing, and despite that there were only two tables and a scant dozen people.

We were joined by the Catman Malcolm, as well as Suzanne and John, having only recently discovered that not only did we work for the same organisation and share a love of BitTorrent for English panel shows, we also posted words about food. As Steven Wright says, it's a small world but I wouldn't want to paint it.

I'm not sure how Taxiboat describes itself, but I'd describe it as a mix of Chinese and south east Asian dishes, brought out to share (as God intended, or would have if he'd bothered to show up for work).

Suzanne, John and Malcolm

We were attended to quickly and the service was enthusiastic and good natured. We spent a bit of time futzing over the menu (which was always going to happen), ordered, and the food arrived fairly promptly.

Spring rolls, as has been noted, are an easy choice and pretty much set the tone for the night. They were crisp, light and... well... didn't have a lot of flavour. Compared to the spring rolls from Thy Thy 1, these were more cigars than cigarettes and weren't dense with filling in the same way the Victoria Street ones were.

OK, but suffered by comparison to these from two days earlier

San Choi Bow is not something I've ever been a big fan of, and by reports there was no reason to make an exception for this. F described it as unremarkable. And that was all she could muster up.

Making rice paper rolls is like using a parachute. It's a little bit tricky, and unless you get it *just* right, people will be left somewhat disappointed. By all accounts these were adequate. Do you see a theme emerging here?

The one thing I had heard about Taxiboat was that their dumplings were good, and they certainly have pride of place right up at the pointy end of the menu. Once again, however, the demon Bland visited the table, spread his cable-knit cardigan wings and exuded an uninspiring beige mist. I expected the ginger and seafood dumplings to have at least two flavours (don't make me explain which ones...) but we ended up with seafood and... And???....

Sigh. I thought about performing the Rite of AshkEnte to banish the demon Bland but couldn't remember which version it was that didn't cause instant death. That turned out to be my loss.

Bland turned up again for the main courses. A dish of Singapore Noodles looked lovely, but both of the prawns in the dish were sitting on top and although the noodles were cooked beautifully and their texture was perfect, they lacked any sort of real flavour.

A dish described as Chicken Teriyaki was softly sweet and apparently braised. The wagyu beef in sesame was similarly uninspiring. It was cut into small cubes, and although there was nothing wrong with the texture, there was no suggestion of browning or of the wonderful caramels of quickly cooked meat. Malcolm described it as wooden, but I think he was referring to flavour rather than texture. The dread demon Bland had done his job and had done it well.

The salt and pepper squid was certainly salty and surprisingly soft and had been cooked beautifully, but lack pepperiness. A plate of stir-fried pak choy and (I think) bok choy was recommended to us, and it was pretty good too.

The conversation was more interesting than the food

The highlight of the night was the Thai Red Duck Curry. Now, I have to say I've made this myself a few times and I'm not bad at it. A chopped up Chinese roast duck and lychees goes into a Thai red curry with the usual herbal extravaganza, giving a dish that's sweet, rich and complicated with the flavour of the roast duck and balanced with herbs. And this was good - it was sweet and rich and the flavour was lovely with an emphasis on the aniseed of Thai basil (although F felt that it lacked the requisite unctuousness). But the duck was thin slices of duck breast cut off the bone.

I often do the mental trade-off about the value of keeping the bone in when I cook a lot of things. Bone so often means moist and more flavour, but sometimes I want to be lazy when I'm eating rather than cooking. I've had beautiful pan-fried duck breasts (and if you want duck rare, it's the only way I trust myself to cook it that way), but my favourite duck dishes have all been on the bone (like this one).

Taxiboat was a bit disappointing, to be honest. The food certainly wasn't bad, but despite this writing, it wasn't (*irony spoiler*) worth writing home about. I'm trying to avoid damning with faint praise but that's about all I can do. The restaurant itself has a smart modern look yet is low on the wank factor, yet the clatter was a bit much and there wasn't much elbow room. The waiting staff were good-natured, but sometimes needed a reminder or correction (which is better in my book than the other way around); and all the food had lovely textures but tasted, well, bland. And in spite of the wonderful quirkiness of having a bath and shower in the lavatory, any bonus points were immediately lost by having nothing with which to dry your hands.

W was so disappointed he tried to hide

We didn't stay for dessert, instead walking up the hill to Coco Loco, which we will post about at some other time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thy Thy 1

Despite rumours to the contrary, we have NOT been banned from restaurants in the northern parts of Melbourne; we just haven't been out much. That fabricated tissue of farragoes you may have heard about me losing my temper with a waiter because of a live lobster, the widow at the next table, dirty wine glasses and a rolled-up copy of Guns 'N' Ammo is almost certainly untrue. Nor do I have anything to apologise to Nicole Kidman for. My statement stands, and that's all I'm saying on the matter.

Now we've cleared up that little mess, we've decided to make a bit more of an effort and let other people cook. Today was a test run in order to limber up the blogging muscles, stretch the jaw tendons and give the taste buds a slight sanding and a freshen up. So where better than old favourite (and nowhere near High Street), Thy Thy 1 on Victoria Street in Richmond, in Melbourne's Vietnamese centre.

Reasons to love Victoria Street #7: Vegetables on the street

Thy Thy 1 is about as casual as you can get and although it's always busy, there's never any problem getting a table, although you might be kissing a stranger's elbow (no, that rumour's not true either). You ascend the pink staircase from the street to be greeted by laminex tables, gaudy painting and glowing paper lamps as colourful as a box of crayons after a mouthful of disco biscuits.

The magical staircase is all you can see from the street

Jars of chili, bottles of sauces and vinegars sit in a plastic peg bucket on each table. All very casual and very, very welcoming. Tea comes out and gay, chipper menus are distributed and orders are taken quickly. Food generally arrives within 10 minutes, today even faster.

Chili, sauces etc in a bucket

Although Spring rolls are an easy-cop-out cliche in many South East Asian restaurants, here they are beautiful, petit and come with a table salad to wrap them in. Lettuce, bean shoots and Vietnamese mint, and a nuoc mam cham dipping sauce. Crunchy, light and fragrant... Because we arrived late in the lunch session, we were the last to leave, and got to watch them being rolled at the next table.

We followed this up with fried egg noodles with seafood, which was pretty good, and a curry made with sliced barbecue pork and curry powder, cheered up with fresh herbs.

Neither were fantastic dishes, but they were good and very comforting. Thy Thy 1 is not fine dining, nor is it elegant, neuvo anything. Minimalist decor has been ignored for hallucinogenic colour and easy-to-clean surfaces. If it's a bit hip (and how the fuck would I know?), then it's because it's not trying to be. You get what you expect, as long as you were expecting cheap and cheerful food stripped of all pretension and stuck at the top of a magical staircase in Richmond. There's one or two decent bottle shops within a hundred metres or so, so you can get a bottle of wine at the last moment should you want.

Of course, you also get a walk along Victoria Street. Priceless.

Food we have et...

So in the absence of real postings (real in the sense of "what we started this blog for"...), we have been doing a bit of cooking at home, plenty of which has been captured through the magic of the modern technique know as "Photo-Graphy". Here are some modest samples. Those of you only vaguely familiar with the emerging art of "Photo-Graphy" may rest assured that, despite current thinking, it does not "steal your soul". However, it is widely understood by learned Gentlemen that it may disturb the luminiferous aether, so all caution is advised.

Grating tumeric for a paste, which would then be pounded with coriander roots, garlic, cumin, ginger. The poundation was then mixed with tomato, saffron threads, salt, pepper and white fish cubes (of gummy shark) were marinated, later to be very slowly cooked. Chick peas were added to warm through; then chopped coriander.

I vouchsafe, Sirs, that it was Good.

Later, chicken salad was prepared upon an Indochinese basis. Cabbage, carrot, poached chicken breast, handfuls of herbs (mint, coriander, basil), thinly sliced red onion marinated in rice vinegar, sugar and salt, lots of ground pepper, lime juice and fried shallots from a packet. Lots of fish sauce, chili, sugar and vinegar to dress...

Black mussels, always to be preferred, were from the fishmongers adjacent to Psarakos in Thornbury, but a hop, step and swagger from here. Alas, F refers to them only as "Psoriasis Brothers". We've had them often, but today (being a holiday), Alex and I stuffed them with pork and either a pounding of green herbs and pepper or a mix of red curry paste and other accouterments . Truth be told, the hard work mussels (green) were not nearly as good as the slap-dash, liaise fare (red) ones... All good, but a lot of work and, methinks, one to do once a decade or so.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cooking Quail

I know, I know... It's a been a bloody long time since the last post. This week, however, we've got two kidlets in new schools and time to burn. Ecce homo, ergo elk, it's lots of time for cooking and for eating. Let's start with quail....