Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cheese Club V - The Cheeses and Dairy Chain*

Cheese Club is back, this time with a hardcore experience for the strong of heart, steady of resolve and supple of liver. There were moments of calm and light, but most of all it was full-on, full-tilt, three-chord screaming and messing with your head. We were joined by Miranda, James and Felix, the Hyphen-Warlocks, and some continent-spanning wines, from the lovely Vasse Felix Shiraz in the west to the perky Brokenwood Cricket Pitch in the east. And so, down to business...

Le Chevrot. Yeah, ok....

Le Chevrot - you know the biggest problem with Cheese Club, apart from the cholesterol? Expectations are raised; raised some more; and, just when you think there's no cheese ceiling left to shatter, you're brought crashing down to Earth covered in feathers and goo. And that's what le Chevrot was to me - a nice enough surface ripened goat's milk cheese, but that's all. A gentle goaty tang; some almost interesting (but calming) white mould and a mostly uniform texture. With a ruffled skin it was largely homogenous, and most unlike some of the other more interesting surface-ripened goat cheeses we've tried (say, the Buche Chevre de Poitou). Like Richard Dawkins, it's enjoyable without recourse to magic.

Making moonlight music; mighty nice**

Fin Briard aux Truffe -This is basically just a brie with a layer in the middle infested with truffles. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it's a surface-ripened cow's milk cheese with some black bits in the middle. But... But.... What are those black bits again?

This is wonderful stuff. The texture is just like a lovely brie - creamy with a moment of chalk in the middle and a soft and fuzzy rind, but the flavour is deep, sweet and richly earthy. Most of the flavour is in your nose, and it's a warm, infused flavour that comes from underground. If chocolate, compost, damp gardens, beef stock and a touch of Vegemite could combine into something grand, it would be this. We didn't taste much but the memory remains...

Miranda told me the next day she dreamed of this

St Felicien - This made me feel like a cat in heaven, but only because it's like drinking cream from a saucer. I could nod politely; I could roll this around in my mouth while making "hmmmmm..." noises; I could "ummm" and "ahhhh...", but this is like nothing we've had in Cheese Club to date, and by criminy, it's amazing....

It comes in its own terracotta landing pod and with its wrinkled skin looks like a Dr Who brain-villain lurking in the bottom of a gravel quarry. To quote Felicity; "it tastes like it's alive!" But then when you stick a knife in it, it dies quickly and liquifies. This isn't eating cheese; it's drinking cheese. A mild, gentle flavour and texture like thin pouring cream, like a cheese-stick drinking yoghurt... A Lady Gaga cheese - sexy, but thin and a little bit disturbing.

Polish your shoes, guvvna?

Pave de L'Ayeron - Oh no... I'm getting the fear.... This is seriously weird stuff, man... Dennis-Hopper-in-a-tweed-jacket-and-tutu weird... This is a sheep's milk washed-rind cheese; a cheese that looks runny and gooey with a crust of soft, warm colour that speaks of a luscious mouth-feel and a gentle but assertive washed-rind flavour. And it is those things, but it's got something else that takes it beyond the creamy towards a perverse, glue-sniffing experience. It has undertones of industrial solvent and, to quote Emily, the scent of shoe polish. This cheese is beyond good and evil and anything we don't eat will need to be disposed of in a concrete and lead-lined pit. I will eat some more, but mostly out of morbid curiosity.

Careful with that axe, Eugene.

Lindenhoff Aged Boerenkaas - This is the cheese equivalent of an aging hippie turned into a knife-wielding lunatic. In theory it's a Gouda, so it's a cooked curd cheese made of cow's milk, but the Dutch have been keeping this one in their stash for the last four years, next to the golden hash from Morocco and the hydroponic skunk weed. It looks nothing like those soft, doughy balls of flab that I usually associate with Gouda, but instead crumbles like a hard cheese, while the intensity of the flavour is like being stabbed in the head with a windmill full of clogs. Crumbly, crunchy moments (of calcium crystals, apparently) in a rich, stewed, deep flavour with a vicious edge. I'll be cooking with the rest of this - it's far too intense to expose to the naked human taste bud, but should be fantastic in a sauce with broccoli...

A little bit sexy, but only a little bit

Bonta Della Bontazola - This is a creamy blue cow's milk cheese that is near the bottom rung in the intensity hierarchy of Gorgonzolas. At the sharp, pointed peak sits the Gorgonzola piccante, a very blue cheese with a strong tang against a creamy base. In the middle is the Gorgonzola Dolce, just as creamy but with a milder blue mould tang. Almost at the bottom, just above cream, is this Bontazola - a rich, creamy and smooth cheese with just a hint of blue. This is very much the dessert cheese. Cheerful without being assertive, like that nice councillor you know, only a little more blue and without the sandals.

*I can't take the credit for this. It belongs to Alex James, Blur's bass player and cheesemaker.
** with apologies to Dr Seuss.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Yeah yeah, so Supermaxi's not on High Street, but it is on St George's Road, a ten minute stroll from the Westgarth end of the Street Referred To In This Blog's Name.

It's also in North Fitzroy; it's right next to the bike path; it's only been open a few weeks; and, between us booking and eating, got a good review in the broadsheet. In other words, it's exceedingly hip, extravagantly groovy and crowded with coolhunters. Which suits me just fine, because I am a coolhunter hunter, focused not on the next cool thing, but on the people who will find it. It's all very meta and self-referential, so from time to time you'll have to forgive me for talking total wank.

Somebody's talking wank here.
On this night we'd been invited by Suzanne and JB, who were seeking out my coolhunter hunter skills not because they needed them, but because are specialist coolhunter hunter hunters. Amazing really - sometimes I can't remember if any of us really exist or who's following who. Also in attendance was Mel* and Matt, who are just cool, three teens (or proto-teens) and two small humans.

Supermaxi 's minimalist decor and maximalist crowd noise provide an intense backdrop for the food and for a cheerful shouted conversation. Being coolhunter hunter hunters, Suzanne and JB reported that they'd been there a week or two earlier and that the food was worth the layers of self-referential, nested conversations about who was a coolhunter/hunter and who was just hungry and wanted dinner.

Battered Beetroot - earthy, powerful and red with an attractive exterior.
(Insert Julia Gillard reference *here*.)

Organising a table of 11 to get their act together to order is hard at the best of times, but Suzanne took charge of the situation and the entrees. The Cauliflower fritters were creamy and soft in the middle while still firm and the batter was perfectly crisp. The onion jam that came with them was sweet and tart. For a glorious colour hit, the Beetroot fritters were earthy and sweet. Simple, smoky grilled prawns in their shells quickly followed and were promptly devoured. Cool.

Cauliflower Fritters

The only thing that arched an eyebrow or two was the Oysters Kilpatrik, mainly because no-one could remember if they are meant to be retro-cool; nostalgically comfortable; neo-seventies or whether they've gone right through to "were popular years ago, then shunned before passing through charmingly naff and retro but are out the other side back to being mocked". That's the problem with being a coolhunter hunter - sometimes you have to draw a flowchart to remember where a particular meme is up to.

Anyway, although these were good, I prefer oysters to be a bit more like Ursula Andress - not covered in much and fresh out of the sea.

We ordered a mix of pizzas and other dishes. The pizzas are the best we have had yet in the area, edging ahead of both I Saluti and Pizza Farro . With thin and asymmetrical non-conformist bases, all were both comforting and interesting enough to hold your attention to the last bite. I had the pizza de jour, which had broccolini, anchovies and chili, and thanks to a mix up in the order, got to share it and the fish of the day with Matt.

The pan fried fillets of white fish had a glorious crispness and a lingering taste of butter. It was cooked perfectly.

Fish of the day, but I can't remember what kind it was
Others ordered the pescatore pizza, which was described as perfect; a "GTV" with eggplant and which was named after the chef's Alfa Romeo; and a beautiful pancetta and Gorgonzola pizza which I will definitely be ordering at some time in the future.

Idiosyncratic like an Alfa Romeo, but more reliable

I didn't get to taste Emily's artichoke ravioli, but after she'd eaten it she was sitting back in her chair and black leather coat, looking both satisfied and, of course, cool.

Put the camera away mum - it's very uncool

We had some beautiful Italian wines, but don't ask me what they were. Remembering wine labels is passe and verges on the gauche.

We almost all ordered dessert, which is a damn good sign, and these didn't disappoint. The fried custard was thick and gloriously unctuous, and was served with a drizzle of honey giving it a beautiful Moorish sense of mystery. Emily had the chocolate panna cotta and raspberry, and it had the light touch of a great panna cotta, perfectly balanced between richness and light with the slight bitterness of good cocoa.

The skeptical looks typical of coolhunter hunter hunters

In summary, Supermaxi has cool food, good service (although the night was frantically busy) but is amazingly loud and required some uncool raising of voices. There were no surprises either way with the bill, and in the best sign of a good night, it wasn't until I got home that i realised how amazingly tired I was. I'd go again, but once I've been somewhere it generally doesn't stay cool for much longer. However, I will be going again once it becomes passe, because that's when I feel most at home.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Downunder Curry

Friday night on High Street and it's time for further exploration. Tonight's fare is standard Indian food, augmented with a few Nepalese dishes from the convenient but regrettably named "Downunder Curry".

Smile! We've ordered!
Our guest for this evening was Ian (no relation). Ian (no relation) and I used to work together and share a surname, although not as far as we know, any genetics. Accordingly, we are (no relation).

Downunder Curry occupies a surprisingly large room which on a Friday night was moderately busy. Ordering took a bit longer than expected, but the manager's party trick of remembering seven or so dishes and a complicated round of drinks without notes was impressive (although it did result in us getting two paneer dishes instead of the one we'd ordered.)

"Do you have this roti?" I asked, pointing to a photograph of some beautiful, layered looking roti on the back of the menu.

"No, that's just a photo on the menu. It's not actually on the menu."

The same applied, less worryingly, to the apparently random photos of kangaroos, kookaburras and trams. Tram was not on the menu, although the manager did say if there was a call for kangaroo, he'd go and buy some. Finally, after the usual ration of us faffing about we got our act together and ordered.

To drink, Ian ordered a raspberry lassi which was made with ice cream syrup, and ordering a second said "surprise me." What came out was nothing if not surprising. With a layer of pink syrup on the bottom, a layer of custard-yellow lassi in the middle and topped with both froth and... wait for it... Milo! Ta-dah! Those glorious, malt-based crunchy granules that never fail to fail to dissolve in milk. The sight was not for the faint hearted, although Ian thought it "merely a trifle". And as the photo suggests, it could have easily passed for a 1970's trifle-parfait extravaganza. I was offered a taste but my teeth were aching just looking at it. Wow.

Entrees were ok but not spectacular by the standards of Melbourne suburban Indian food. The highlight was a perfectly tender lamb cutlet on the tandoor platter, but the sheek kebab was too dry (although gloriously coloured).

Mmmm... yeah, ok.
The rogan josh was ok but was a little sweet, which it could have done without. The Nepalese-style goat curry was strong with garlic and resplendent with depth and was far, far and away the most memorable dish of the night. The fish Madras was almost perfect- thickened with coconut with warm and lush spices, but lacking in any real heat.

Saag paneer was an excellent choice - the paneer was fresh and the spinach was rich. The (bonus) palak paneer, on the other hand, was sweet and bland. The naan was good but not particularly inspiring.

(No relation)

It wasn't until after we'd eaten we noticed that on the bottom of the menu was the offer of informing the staff how hot you'd like the dishes. And that's when I realised how mild everything had been. We hadn't been asked, and if we had would have asked for the dishes with a mix of heat - I'm a big fan of spicy fish curries in particular. Maybe a judgement had been made that we were anglos/had children/were religiously opposed to chili. I'm not a fan of other people making those judgements for me, especially when it's my dinner at stake.

Nepalese goat curry - one to order again

This blog is a week away from its first birthday and during the year we've shamelessly whipped out our camera and photographed food, the decor and each other, much to the consternation of the children. This was the first time, however, we'd ever been asked if we wanted a group photo. Although the service was a little slow to start, once they hit their stride they were efficient, charming and accommodating.

Taken by mein host - there's a first time for everything

We took desserts home as Will was on his last, grumbling legs, and they could have come from any Indian take away or local restaurant.

Downunder Curry is a good, standard-fare Indian restaurant that offers no surprises, and that's ok. It's pretty cheap, the service is good and the food was alright, although with some dishes erring on the sweet and shying away from heat (unless, perhaps, you ask). I might be wrong, but I believe most dishes have a natural level of heat that balances with the rest of the dish, and for me that was lacking. It was certainly better than its nearest rival, Curry Masala, but the subcontinental favourite for us on High Street is still Sigiri.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sausage in a Pancake.

This blog didn't start out to be anything other than a collection of eating experiences from restaurants, grand and humble, from our neighbourhood. I certainly didn't see this as a sort of "amuse bouche" blog that just provides entre-like links to a lot of other people's work and is little more than an aggregation service.

However, today I feel compelled to offer you the following link to an article about convenience food in the US, using the product "Jimmy Dean's Pancake and Sausage on a Stick" (also seen here with chocolate chips) as its centrepiece.

Photo source here, thanks to littleREDelf

You can learn a lot about a culture by looking at the products (and food) that have proved popular over time (including the now decade-old pancake and sausage on a stick!) and those that didn't quite make the cut. Cheese-filled hot dogs and microwavable bread might have failed, but they have nothing on the extraordinary "IncrEdibles..."
"...a late '90s convenience food product. Packaged in cardboard tubes and available in flavors such as Macaroni & Cheese and Scrambled Eggs with Cheese & Sausage, IncrEdibles featured a stick at the bottom of the cardboard tube, so after you heated them up in the microwave, you could simply push into your mouth without utensils."
OK, so they failed, but clearly somebody (manufacturers, marketers etc) thought humanity had sunk to this pathetic and disgusting state. Now, it's easy to mock (and fun, too!), but clearly there is something pretty fucked up about this corner of the world if IncrEdulous IncrEdibles were contemplated for a nanomoment longer than anyone could say, "ewwwwww."

Yes, I love a good pizza and a Chinese take-away every now and then. Yes, I'll eat a homogeneous frankfurt and enjoy it. I'll always have a pie at the footy and sometimes I'll have oven chips at home. But Sausage in a Pancake? Madam, I may not have much self-respect, but I have just enough to say, "no thank you, I'd rather mince my own head and feed it to the cat."

Thursday, March 11, 2010


When we first moved into the house where we now live, my oldest and dearest friend dropped in for a cuppa and viewing. I did the two-minute tour of the house and being the middle of the day, we decided to walk down to High Street for coffee. Taking the shortest walk, we got to High Street next to Brown's Motors, opposite Crunch. Pointing at Crunch, Mark said, "let's go there." By complete coincidence, Crunch was owned by Mark's sister Jenny.

Seussian Eggs
I'd first met Jenny decades ago when I was a gormless teenager and she was one of the few groovy adults I'd met. We met again some years later in the late 1980's when Felicity and I moved into a house in Tanner Grove in Northcote and Jenny lived a few streets away. I remembered Jenny as cool and having a relaxed charm back then, and she was the same at Crunch in the early 2000's. We ate there a couple of times after, chatting briefly and always smiling.

Crunch changed hands a year or so ago and Jenny and her family moved to Queensland. The coffee's still pretty good, but despite being the closest great coffee to our front door, I can't say we frequent Crunch. There's no particular reason, mind you, it's just not something we do

So this time was the first for a while we'd been to Crunch but it still felt familiar and welcoming. The coffee was really, really good (which makes such a difference at about 11.00am); the food was wonderful, and the service was OK.

F had the Seussian "Greens, Egg and Ham", which was a cross between Eggs Florentine and Eggs Benedict. Perched on slivers of Turkish bread was some spinach puree, acceptable ham and a couple of perfectly poached eggs, complemented by a small dish of lovely rich Bearnaise sauce with *just* the right balance of acidity.

I had a BLT augmented with avocado (aka "the BLAT"), again served in a modest Turkish roll with a thick layer of mixed baby salad leaves and some freshly made mayo. It wasn't intense, and the balance of bacon and tomato/avocado/salad erred towards the herbivorous. We got everything we ordered without hesitation but without a lot of good cheer either.

Crunch has great coffee, good cafe food and a view from one side of High Street to a slightly more appealing side. It's a funny, empty kind of room that feel like a small box with some modest, modern Scandinavian furniture and few pretensions. Crunch is groovy without trying too hard, in a strip where 1970's sparkle Laminex is revered and mixed crap chairs are de rigeur. Even putting aside the distant friendly connections (that have long since expired), I really enjoy Crunch and the warm, familiar sensation I get when I sit down.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pizza Farro

It's a warm, humid Thursday night and we're walking down to the nearest pizza place on High Street to home. And the nearest pizza place happens to be Pizza Farro. Pizza Farro prides itself on making pizza bases from spelt. Well, you might ask; "what the %$# is spelt and why should I care? Is it some sort of hippie rubbish from the mountains of Tibet, only eaten by goatherds and unlucky goats?"

Alternatively, in a more polite universe, you might have wondered more discreetly... " What is this thing, this spelt? What does it spell? What did it spelt? What will it.. ummm... Spool? Spult?""

Spelt, according to the collective oracle, is apparently a hexaploid species of wheat. So there you go. Wikipedia says it is "a wheat species known from genetic evidence to have originated as a hybrid of a domesticated tetraploid wheat such as emmer wheat and the wild goat-grass Aegilops tauschii. "

Or maybe it was delivered unto us by aliens. Or maybe it's some sort of manna gifted unto us by the flying spaghetti monster. I'm not convinced by the theory of genetics - like the creationists, I think we need to give equal time to the theory of alien-gifted grain. Nor do I subscribe to the so-called "theory of gravity".

Sweet decor
And while I don't want to be drawn into religious matters, on the subject of the flying spaghetti monster, surely a flying pizza monster would be both more aerodynamic and more likely to be closer to divine perfection?

A family affair

Penny and Kent are about to fly into earthquake-prone Santiago. And when I say "earthquake-prone", I mean, "had a major one last week.. and.. well... just watch out, ok?". Tonight is about wishing them farewell, bon voyage and a degree of geological stability. It's a bit tough to organise a holiday and then discover your destination has been picked up by the ankles and given a rough and ready shaking until all city's loose change is rattling around your feet.

Anyway, we were there with Penny, Kent, Judy and nephew Matt who was staying with Judy.

Pizza Farro is directly opposite our favourite cheap and familiar pizza place, La Casareccia, which takes a more traditional Australian approach to home delivered pizza, if that's not an oxymoron, so the night made for an interesting comparison.

The first thing you notice about Pizza Farro is the warm and comforting decor. In the front half there's a bunch of friendly crap hanging from a rail (upside-down pot plants, nouveau-rustic implements); while in the longer rear section there is a wonderful collection of rolling pins hanging from the ceiling in elegant rows.

I wish I'd thought of that. It's perfect.

The staff are charming in a perfectly natural way (no artificial ingredients or training in how to smile) and efficient. Ordering was easy and drinks were brought out swiftly.

F, Judy and Will all had pasta. Contemporary accounts spoke highly of the spelt pasta, although from across the table the pasta looked a little grey. But F's marinara was very fresh with large pieces of seafood and a light lemon tang, and Will's special order of cheese only was accommodated without any hesitation.

The rest of us had pizzas to share, and they were pretty damn good. We ordered a pizzas with prosciutto, broccoli, pancetta, ossobucco (?!) and sausage.

All the pizza bases were thin and slightly crisp -just perfect. Must be the spoolt. The prosciutto was light and salty; the pancetta had (I think) some melted nuggets of blue cheese that gave it another dimension and the ossobucco was rich and hearty while maintaining the grace of a thin pizza with a crisp base.

The broccoli pizza was wonderful, and so much better than I'd expected. The firm texture of broccoli, almost crisp, was balanced with formaggio and chili flakes - one I will order again.

Broccoli pizza - who would've thought?

Although expectations were high for the sausage pizza, it disappointed only by comparison to everything else. It was ok. The sausage was nothing special and the slices were thin. No other flavours set it on fire, and in the absence of fire...

A largely conventional sausage pizza

I was a bit surprised at the number of pizzas that had rocket dumped on top. Half of the pizzas brought to us were smothered in rocket. Now, I think the invention of rocket sometime in the last decade or so has been one of the great achievements of mankind. How else would I have taught my children about adult concepts like "bitter" and "salad"? But this time too many pizzas were given the rocket treatment and it gave them a homogeneity that they didn't deserve.

And then, in the middle of food and general bonhomie, O-week made it's appearance by virtue of a band of undergraduates marching up High St in identical t-shirts and diverse voices. I can't identify any of the many songs they sang concurrently in the moments they passed Pizza Farro, but that wasn't really the point.

The bon voyagees

I was a bit green and timid to really get into O-week celebrations, but by half way through my undergraduate year was traipsing through Fitzroy and Carlton with fellow students of physics and chemistry, engaged in both bold neurochemical empiricism (n=1) and lustful experiments in the most physical of physics.

But on this night the students were charming, chanting and deeply inoffensive. They marched past us in the restaurant, chanting something or other, looking young and perky, and it saddened me that I was not outraged.

The author, nephew Matt, Kent and Penny

Desserts were had by the few, and the reports were all positive. A rich, moist beetroot chocolate cake was enjoyed, and the gelati had both an intense flavour and just the right texture.

Pizza Farro is now the second quality pizza place we've visited on High Street (I Saluti was the other) and it compares well. The pizzas are great; those that ordered pasta dishes all spoke highly of them (putting aside the undead colour of the spelt pasta). It also has the advantage of being within walking distance from home, and that's got to be good. We'll be going again, and we'll enjoy it.

What are you looking at?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A diversion - Yum Cha at Plume

My sister invited us to yum cha in Doncaster with mum and dad. We went; how could we not?

One of those... you know.. ummm....

We go a few times a year and I suspect I enjoy it more than others. For me it's a particular heaven - lots of new flavours, textures and tea. Regrettably, as my love of the conversation has grown my hearing has declined. Welcome to "being old".

Eggplant. Succulent and wonderful...

Late Sunday morning at Plume in Doncaster is usually a loud, rambunctious affair. The floor captains (there must be a real name for them) with their Secret Service earpieces shout instructions to a team of crack waiting staff, gesturing like semaphore across the floor, or as though they are guiding a helicopter to land behind the kitchen. The tables are full and the conversation is loud; family groups are everywhere and children tumble across the floor. The trolley traffic is chaotic but inevitably seems to work without roadkill, road rage and with a minimum of swearing. It's absolutely fantastic.

But this Sunday was different. Things were quiet; maybe too quiet. The wind gently whistled between the tables and tumbleweeds blew across the floor. The listless bang of a saloon door. A tall, silent stranger looked at me from across the table before finally speaking. "It's very quiet today. Everyone must be recovering from Chinese New Year," said my brother-in-law, before picking up some gai lan with his chopsticks and dipping it in oyster sauce.

Roger and the Urbane parent

Very clever that man, and he was right. There were a few empty tables in a room where I had never seen tables empty for more than a few minutes as crockery was cleaned away for the next sitting. Nevertheless, it was busy enough to be lightly manic with a side order of screaming from the kitchen.

I used to be pretty indiscriminate about yum cha, but now I know what I like and can tell it from "meh, yum cha..." yum cha. A mix of the familiar and unfamiliar; a few fried dishes but mostly not; a catholic mix of flavours and textures; chaos, conversation and chili. Plume hits the mark perfectly for me - the dishes are either warmly familiar or charmingly unexpected. The food is just fantastic.

Tofu with prawn stuffing. Whoa....

Plume is often rated among the best of Melbourne's yum cha venues and the food and the crazymad atmosphere make it irresistible. Doncaster's not too far from High Street and once you experience the indoor street theatre that is Plume, you'll know it's well worth getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning. Oh, and by "early", I mean 11.00....

Dumple, now!