Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chateau Yering (or Brillat-Savarin Gets Quite Excited in the Yarra Valley)

Monster Truffle!!!
“Whoever says “truffles” utters a great word which arouses erotic and gastronomic memories among the skirted sex, and memories gastronomic and erotic among the bearded sex."
Well %$#@ me silly and call me a mushroom, but Brillat-Savarin was on to something here (said the author as a beardy member of the bearded sex).
"This ... is due to the fact that the noble tuber is not only considered delicious to the taste, but is also believed to foster powers the exercise of which is extremely pleasurable.”
My word, is it hot in here? Anyway, last weekend we tested the power of these noble tubers at the 2010 Truffle Degustation lunch at Chateau Yering in the Yarra Valley. Chateau Yering's restaurant is a long, formal room with windows on all sides overlooking the Valley, and was a perfect setting for a grossly extravagant lunch. It was made even perfect-er because wines were provided by Domain Chandon, Moet and Chandon's southern offshoot.

The first real course was an Amuse Bouche (which is a French expression for "one who finds the Mighty Boosh amusing, but not particularly laugh-out-loud funny") of a Parmesan panne cotta with a noodle of truffle jelly. At the first spoon the warm, rich, underground scent of truffles was bursting out, and the panne cotta was creamy and resplendent with fat. Fantastic, and it went down a treat with the Chandon Brut 2006.

An amusing boosh
“It is safe to say that at the time of writing (1825), the fame of the truffle is at its zenith. Nobody dares admit to having been present at a meal which did not include a single truffled dish. However good in itself an entrĂ©e may be, it makes a poor show if it is not garnished with truffles."
Our entree met this criteria handsomely - it was a Persian feta cigar, made of brik pastry and filled with Yarra Valley Dairy feta and served with a salad of shaved beetroot and truffles. The cigar was lovely but not particularly worthy of words, but the salad was a crisp disappointment. Both the beetroot and truffles had a nice enough crunch but not a lot of flavour. Shame, but the benchmark had already been set pretty high. This came with a Chandon Brut Rose 2006.

Yarra Valley Dairy Persian Feta Cigar. Can I get you a light?

Having been brought a little way back to Earth, we were quickly elevated again with the next course - a potato and truffle ravioli with salsify, wild mushrooms and a nasturtium coulis. A single ravioli, stacked up and filled with potato foam had the potential to be a ball of fluff and nothing, but was soft, unctous and bursting with the magic scent of our deep-down friends, both tuberous and fungal. The pasta was, of course, perfect and its gay, verdant sauce was just verging on the underwhelming. Otherwise, wow.

Potato and Truffle Ravioli

And now onto the almost main course - squab roasted in liquorice, with a parsnip puree, truffle bread and butter pudding and violet emulsion. Let's dispense with the violet emulsion - it was an intensely floral foam, and in decades previous would have been used for washing your gran's hair. Nevermind - everything else was slightly magical. The squab was tender and the spicing was perfect, and the small cubes of bread and butter pudding were crisp on the edges and soft within. I could have eaten a pile of these. This came with a 2008 Chandon Pinot Noir.

Squab (and scented foam, alas)

Finally, the dish I'd been waiting for - a charcoal grilled wagyu beef fillet with a white onion puree, bone marrow jus and a Jerusalem artichoke gallette. This was the ultimate winter dish - beautifully coloured and browned winter root vegetables with a piece of perfect, tender pink beef with a thin sheen of charcoal to get the bitterness *just* right. The beef was beyond belief and the vegetables were heart-warmingly generous. This was a perfect way to finish the real (ie non-sugar) part of the meal, and although not strong in truffles, it neither needed them or would have been improved by them. Served with gusto and a glass of the same (or at least a 2006 Domain Chandon Barrel Selection Yarra Valley Shiraz).

Beef on a plate

Beef up close and deeply personal

Dessert was a Banana and Truffle Semifreddo. It was, quite frankly, beyond amazing. The truffles really worked well with the earthyness of the banana and the whole effect was lush and sensual. It was also wrapped in a cute ribbon of firm maple jelly, which failed to give it a "Hello Kitty" effect and so can be forgiven.

Banana and truffle semifreddo

Brillat-Savarin tells the tale of a woman “who is witty but unpretentious, virtuous but no prude, and for whom love is now only a pleasant memory.” In the story, the woman dines with her husband and his friend, described as “harmless”. The husband is called away, and after a truffle-fuelled meal, the friend metamorphoses from complimentary to expansive to affectionate to tender to importunate. Ever after she ate truffles with a sense of deep mistrust.

Not making a gesture

I know what you're thinking, but I'm far too much of a gentleman to say. Nor will I be photographed making gestures. To change the subject quickly, I''l leave the final words to Brillat-Savarin, who clearly thought of himself as a voice of authority:
“It only remains for us to discover whether the truffle is indigestible. Our answer will be in the negative. This official and final decision …”
No, I didn't think so either, but I'm not sure I can sound so definitive. Or official.

Waiting for dessert

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unicorn - The Other White Meat

After having read this story there were a few moments there that I was really getting excited by an inspiring recipe using an exotic ingredient which, apparently, is "an excellent source of sparkles". I've never eaten unicorn before, although I've had Mock Unicorn a few times, and once eaten Dugong, which was distressingly wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that at the time of tasting I was beginning to see the causal chain between "delicious" and "endangered".

Alas, it turns out that unicorn is not "The Other White Meat"... That honour belongs to Eat Our Way's favourite animal, the pork-beast. Oh glorious pig...

The official apology for any confusion can be found here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cheese Club Seven - Whey to go, dude!

Friday night was Cheese Club night, and on this night we shared it with Suzanne, aka essjay, some lovely wine, the usual accompaniments and were aided by a copy of French Cheeses by Kazuko Masui and Tomoko Tamada (which we will return shortly, promise). As Cheese Club goes, this was heavy on the semi-hard and hard cheeses and with a preponderance of Appellation d'Origine Controlee cheeses. AOC, for those who don't know, is a French expression translating roughly as "we know where it came from because it says so on the label". This edition of Cheese Club was an intense, high-powered occasion with some strident flavours wearing the gastronomic equivalents of shoulder pads and power suits, and was joined with some vin-not-so-ordinaire, including a jolly 2005 Curly Flat Pinot Noir. Noice.

Saint Mercellin. Think you're a tough guy, eh?

Saint Marcellin - Superficially, this comes from the same family as the Saint Felicien we've previously loved. But this is the younger brother - the one with short-guy Napoleon complex. Like the Saint Felicien, it comes in its own ashtray and looks like its skin is the only thing holding it together. Underneath, however, it's aching for a fight and is ready to punch you in the face before running away and taunting you from *just* outside striking distance. Like the best French cheeses, it comes with a legend involving a bear, a future King, two woodsmen and a particle accelerator (OK, so I made up the last bit) but the legend is more than 500 years old and so can be described as "venerable". The cheese is smooth and thin-creamy like the Felicien, but has a much stronger and intrusive flavour.

Agour Pur Chevre

Agour Pur Chevre - This has the lovely white, near-translucency of a semi-hard goat's cheese and is from the Basque Pyrenees in France. Amazingly nutty and smooth, almost-hard texture with just the barest whisker of crystalline crunch. If it wasn't for the ivory colour, I would have assumed this was cow's milk. Nutty and smooth like a cooked curd cheese, but with a lighter finish. Lovely.

Comte heaven

Will Studd Select Comte (AOC) - This is a Gruyere of mighty power and lusciousness and is the most popular of all cheeses in France (I read it in a book so it must be true). It's a Gruyere, so it's smooth and a bit nutty, but this one was stratospherically luscious, moist and sweet as well. The flavour had a slight caramel and the texture was as smooth as a very smooth thing that was having a particularly smooth day. Fondue heaven awaits, and it's not in the back seat of a limo - it's in a slice of this.

Heidi Tilsit - relax...

Heidi Tilsit - This is a Tasmanian semi-hard washed rind cheese of cow's milk. In previous editions of Cheese Club, I've mocked Heidi as various Swiss cheeses have come up, but I haven't actually had a cheese named after the lass herself. This is much more of a soft, elastic cheese than most Swiss-style cheeses, and although it has a rich flavour with a nice follow-up tang, it just didn't come together as well as some of the others. A good cheese, to be sure, but on this night we tasted so many similar cheeses that were much more intense and exciting. The RHCL tasting notes talk about a wet-hay flavour, and who am I to argue? But equally, who am I to care?

Abondance. &^%$ yeah.

Abondance (AOC) - From the same family as the Comte, another mountain cheese. This one's made from raw cow's milk, so in theory (according to Quarantine), this one should taste of instant lactic death. While many of the cheeses in this family look pretty similar, this one has distinctive concave sides and it is obviously a drier cheese than the others. Of the four semi/hard fondue-style cheeses, this is far and away the most intense, with less nutty-smoothness and more a vigorous tang. This is a sharp and big, pointed cheese which should be approached with caution and much respect.

Blue de Laqueuille

Bleu de Laqueuille (AOC) - When I was growing up there were (as far as I can remember) about three different types of cheeses. One of them was a blue cheese, and it tasted remarkably like the Laqueuille, although it was called "Danish Blue". This is a lovely cow's milk blue cheese that has soft and rich paste without being buttery and can still crumble, and a strong but not frightening degree of blue mould. Not quite the blue cheese of my childhood, but a lot like it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Baccala al Prezzemolo

This recipe is a long-time favourite from Elizabeth Romer's "The Tuscan Year", and attributed to her friend (and subject of the book) Silvana. It takes a bit of preparation and time but not a lot of effort - it's a good one for the weekend.


It always feels slightly ridiculous to pay more for baccala than for most kinds of fresh fish but it should be no great surprise. After all, prior to refrigeration a lot more effort was required to make sure fish could be kept for the innumerable Catholic fasting days (which, for Fridays at least, are still recommended).

Cod was plentiful through the middle ages, but not everywhere and not throughout the whole year, so for many centuries baccala was a major source of Friday protein. Baccala can safely be eaten during Lent without fear of The Man Upstairs Who Could Visit You With Plague And Could Do Scary Stuff With Lightning, so for most of history, baccala was what you ate when you were doing penance or abstinence. It is to fresh fish what ham is to pork - a means of once tiresome preservation, no longer required but still desired for its flavour.


Pellegrino Artusi, the nineteenth century author of La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiare bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well) managed his reader's expectations by telling them not to expect too much of baccala, and that seems to have been the spirit of the times. Like going to Church, it was dead boring but you did it because you had to. Artusi actually says at the end of his recipe for Baccala Fritto, "If ... you still find this to be an inferior dish, it is your fault for wanting to try it." So, having dampened your enthusiasm, why not try this wonderful dish? The fish has a dense, almost chewy texture and soft, creamy-fish flavour.

Layered fish and potatoes

So, the recipe.
  • 1kg or so of baccala. Whatever you do, remember baccala's the salty one - don't try and use stockfish which have been mummified instead of salted.
  • 500-700g potatoes
  • an onion
  • half a bunch of parsley
  • olive oil
  • a few ripe tomatoes
The day before, take the fillets of baccala and soak them in a lot of water for a day. Change the water a couple of times - there's a shirt-load of salt in them and things will get nasty if you don't. Gently simmer the fish in just enough water to cover for about 30 minutes and cool in the liquid. Flake the fish (removing the bones) but not too finely. Chop the parsley finely.


Thinly slice the potatoes and the onion, and in a heavy casserole lubed up with olive oil, make layers of potato, fish, onion, parsley, anointing each layer with a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of pepper. Drizzle a little (a few tablespoons only) of the liquid the fish was cooked over the top and then add the sliced tomatoes. Stick into the oven for an hour or so until the potatoes are soft and have absorbed the flavours of the fish, onion and parsley. Fragrant and comforting - not a grand and pretentious dinner, but a warm and friendly dish for a cold winter weekend.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Anada Bar & Restaurant

A sign!
I know it appears our devotion to High Street waxes and wanes, and I know that Anada is technically not on High Street. It is, however, on the same tram route as High Street, and the very same tram (Route 86, for the Melbournians) that takes us from home to work every day passes Anada. That's damn close to close enough for us to meet our mission statement, so we'll treat it as being in the general purview of High Street. (See that? I wrote "mission statement" without vomiting!)


Anada is a small Spanish restaurant with a menu of tapas and raciones (which are, basically, big tapas) in the short, sexy segment of Gertrude St in Fitzroy. I booked an hour or two before (we were skiving from an official Event) and we were offered an early sitting. I was a bit concerned about being rushed given recent experience, but I will generally crawl naked over broken glass for great Spanish food and a glass of fine fino sherry so we pressed ahead. Luckily the evening we were not rushed, no-one was required to go tackle-out and broken glass was not involved.

We snacked high on the food chain and the souls of many dear, departed woodland creatures and their seaside brothers were dispatched in the interests of.. well... yum, basically. We ate:

  • Barbecued and stuffed calamari with sumac - these were tiny and wee, with a softly-scented fragrant filling. Cooked perfectly - we ordered a second.
  • Salt cod and garlic shoot croqueta - I'm a sucker for salt cod (more of which in the coming weeks) and salt cod croquettes are one of those favourites that I could never be bothered making myself. In this case they were crisp on the outside and creamy-smooth on the inside - almost too creamy-smooth, like custard. Nice, but not outstanding like so many of the other dishes.
  • Rabbit empanadilla - Yum! Perfect light pastry crunch with meaty filling that had the subtle game-like smell of pounced bunny with a gentle sweet spice (cinnamon?).
Sweet little quail
  • Grilled quail with frekeh and pomegranate salad - Another that we ordered twice. The quail was juicy, charcoaled goodness, although was probably cooked slightly longer than it needed, but the salad was gorgeous. F, who has no qualms about noshing sweet little birdies (despite the plaintive looks of the woman at the local butcher's shop), and who generally turns up her nose at the word "salad", rated the salad on par with the quail. Wow.
Even the salt was pretty
  • Crumbed lambs brains with pork belly red lentils -The crumb was large-grained and perfectly crisp and the brains were as rich as brains should be. The highlight was the balance between the lushness of the brains and the (what I think was) sauce of bread and sherry vinegar. I could be wrong on the sauce, but not on the strength of this dish.
Serrano Jamon
    • Serrano Jamon - This was paper-thin and almost melted in our mouths. The flavour was perfect - just enough salt to balance the dry ham while still being joyfully fatty enough to melt away.
    • Beetroot and mint salad with labne - A lovely foil to the some of the more rich dishes.
    Eating pork belly
    • Pork belly with fennel seeds - see that expression up there? That was the pork belly. The skin was light and crunchy while I could have eaten the meat with a teaspoon it was so soft and unctuous... The almost licorice-flavour of the fennel was pronounced but not overpowering while the lusciousness of the meat and fat was almost overwhelming. Now, I confess that I'm a big pig fan, but this was something else. Extraordinary.
    All in all a huge success. The service was fabulous (despite the time pressures); the food was brilliant and the atmosphere, even in a packed restaurant where we sat very closely to our neighbours, was intimate. The service was wonderful and attentive without being weird; the room was intimate without being perverse and both the noise and the light was low. We felt welcomed. We'll go back, but we'll take others with us to share.

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    Pizza Meine Liebe

    With wonderful English understatement, Pink Floyd's drummer Nick Mason once described the months before the band tore themselves apart in a whirlwind of mutual loathing with the sentence, "things got so bad, someone almost said something." And that's how we felt about Pizza Meine Liebe and why we won't be going back.

    Pizza Meine Liebe is a few doors up from the brilliant Estelle, and has a plain but inviting front room surrounding its pizza oven. It looks like a suburban pizza shop from 1980 set in a shopfront from the 1960's, which is obviously very Northcote, what with nostalgia having only been invented in 1952.


    We'd been told over the phone that they had two sittings and we booked for an earlier sitting, knowing we wouldn't be able to linger. That should have been ok.

    Only once before on High Street had we been told we were booking in the earlier of two sittings and that was at Otsumami. Our experiences couldn't have been more different. At Otsumami we never felt rushed; we were served quickly but not once did we feel under any pressure to order or to eat faster. At Pizza Meine Liebe, however, we felt continually pressured to order, to eat and to leave. We were not even half way through our pizza when we were asked if we wanted dessert. We declined.

    We ordered four pizzas, a truffle-paste-and-potato pizza that was resplendent with the heady scent of the great black stuff; another with potato, caramelised onion and Taleggio (which was beautiful); one with mozzarella, mushrooms and rocket; and something called a superMario which, although generous with anchovies, was not nearly as interesting as the ingredient list had suggested. The bases were lovely - just thin enough and chewy with puffy edges and the toppings erred on the side of excess.

    The truffle and mushroom paste one

    A pear, walnut and fetta salad was alright. Nothing more to say. The wine list was short but good and we had a bottle of breezy sangiovese.

    The service wasn't rude, but it was perfunctory and focused on getting us out of the door. Pizza Meine Liebe was also, without question, the noisiest place we've been to on High Street and the volume was, frankly, unbearable.

    The mushroom one

    It's a shame, really. Pizza Meine Liebe makes good pizzas that compare well to its neighbours, although it's nowhere near the best in the area. Both I Saluti and Pizza Farro are on par, with Pizza Farro being better than Pizza Meine Liebe, but both have the bonus of welcoming service and not feeling like you're in cattle class. At Pizza Meine Liebe I felt like just another inconvenient customer gumming up the efficient operations of a restaurant.

    Of course, if you don't mind going a little further to North Fitzroy, Supermaxi is in a different class altogether. Their pizzas are a little better but their other dishes are suburb and the service, even in a place so busy, was excellent.

    Pizza meine liebe? Nein danke.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Brillat-Savarin and the very bonnest of mots

    A small divertissement, if you will be so kind as to indulge me.

    This week I’ve been reading Brillat-Savarin’s “The Philosopher in the Kitchen” and it’s wonderful. I have a modest passion for the history of cooking and attitudes towards food and I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, but F dropped a copy in my lap and it’s been good cheer ever since.

    Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote at a time when hyphens were plentiful and Napoleon was fading from memory. He was a lawyer and a politician, a violin player and teacher. His legend was written with the release of his “The Physiology of Taste” and dashed when he became the spiritual leader of Iron Chef.

    It’s fun in the twenty-first century to read Brillat-Savarin and to savour the gap between his world and ours. For example, he offers a typology of gourmands which elevates the love of food to something close to deity. Some of us are doomed to be denied the pleasures of the (cooked) flesh, whilst others are born to lustfully enjoy oral (and gastronomical) sensual pleasures. To quote the man, “I believe in innate tendencies.” You either have it or you don’t.

    Savarin (the cake, not the man)
    photo by flickr user open-arms

    The revolution is clearly long gone in France by the time Brillat-Savarin writes, and for him a man must be measured by his birthright (and his inherited assets). You can either enjoy the culinary arts with a pleasure that glides from the curves of velvety sensuality to the apex of fiery lust, or you can eat shit and die like a peasant. Are you with us, or do you smell like a turd in a barn? Anyone who calls financiers “the heroes of gourmandism” did not live in the same century as Macquarie Bank or Goldman Sachs.

    Brillat-Savarin’s taxonomy of gourmands suggests his higher thoughts were well and truly taxed. Gourmands were born, and these could be spotted at a distance by their “ unusually acute perception of certain sensations” and a passion that “acts on the muscles… and… leaves visible traces, and so give a permanent and recognizable character to the physiognomy.”

    Indeed, those predestined to be gourmands are “generally of medium height; they have round or square faces, bright eyes, small foreheads, short noses, full lips, and well-rounded chins.” Except, of course, for the women who love sweet things, for they, “have finer features, a more delicate air, neater figures, and above all, a very special way with their tongues.” Nurse!

    Of course, those who “refused an aptitude for the pleasures of taste, have long faces, noses and eyes, whatever their height”… I’ve got a bad feeling that could be describing me.

    In any event, Mr Brie has been a jolly good read and there’s much I want to share, cut into fat slices as befits a nineteenth century gentleman and gourmand, so over the next few weeks I’m going to dip into the old Jean-Anthelme Yeast-Cake and pull out some of the bonnest of mots. Bon appetite!