Monday, 19 May 2008

And the "E"-mie Goes To...!

The gracious Agnes, fellow Melbourne-based food blogger of the always very readable Off the Spork has passed onto Spot4Nosh the E for Excellent Blog award. Thanks Agnes! It is most gratifying to know that there are folks out there who enjoy the blog. I certainly enjoy adding to it since that means we've had yet another memorable (good or bad, no matter) food experience!


I would like to pass the E for Excellent Blog accolade on to Lucy and her blog Nourish Me, also from Melbourne. I'll have to be honest and say that I'd only recently truly discovered her blog, but have since remained charmed. Most of the meals we enjoy and write about in Spot4Nosh wouldn't exactly be classified as healthy or particularly nourishing (if that's all we ate!) so Lucy's poetic and meditative reflections on much more wholesome foods, and her lovely photographs, are all the more appreciated. I feel purged and refreshed everytime I visit!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Pies Ain't Pies - Joe's Garage

Weeks continue to merge at a rapid rate. It appears we're still on Brunswick Street though it's another weekend, but which one already? Today is more than grey. Windy, shiveringly cold, frozen ears, heavy drizzle and fog on breath. Weather that Melbourne used to be known for, though we haven't seen it for quite awhile. But isn't this just what we Melbournians live for, and hadn't we all missed it? Glorious...(?)

We're at Joe's Garage for lunch, a large cafe bistro marked by red and blue neon signage and very Fitzroy. The large wood dominated dining space is decorated by quirky art and Gen Y band posters. We especially like the Mamboesque works featuring the cafe's namesake. First priority was coffees which were quite passable, and reasonable ($2.90), Grinders 'European Blend'. An extra 50 cents will get you an extra tall glass's worth, enough caffeine to ensure insomnia for the next few nights. We don't often order pizza unless it was the specific purpose of the eat-out but decided to try the Joe's Special with hot salami, roasted peppers, olives, artichokes, chilli and mozzarella ($12.90). We shouldn't have strayed from our regular no-pizza habit really. The toppings were okay but Joe's pizza base was pretty terrible. Droopy and lacking of fresh oven-heat like it had been left at the pass for too long before being brought to our table. Perhaps our pizza was the reason for the series of angry "Tings!" coming from the kitchen's pass bell about 10 minutes before? The Soup of the Day of Smoked Chorizo and Capsicum ($7.90) was much better, a hearty blend of smoky and garlicky chilli flavours served with a couple of slices of toasted sourdough. Very filling.

Joe's Special in fact turned out to be rather ordinary, let down by its base

The place was buzzing with a Saturday lunchtime crowd escaping from the weather but the 'Garage's' young waitstaff were just as buzzy and up to the task, rushing quite efficiently around their tables with cheery smiles on faces. Perhaps they were happily anticipating the morning's wages spent on drinking along with one of those bands posted on the walls? We don't blame the pizza on them.

Food: 3 Spots - Go more for the crowds, buzz, and perhaps breakfast.
Service: 3.5 Spots - Designer jeans, cargos, Tee's, bandanas.
Value: 3 Spots - Typical bistro, better can be found elsewhere.
R-Factor: 3.5 Spots - For breakfast? For dinner?
Spot Score: 13/20

Joe's Garage
366 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, VIC.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Fine Blue Sunday - Scarpetta Ristorante

We woke late to rather bleak daylight, a weak almost noon sun struggling to break through the grey and with no hope of warming up the apartment. "What a delightful blue Sunday", commented KB half mockingly. But she was right, delightful enough motivation for us to attempt an escape from the chill with a leisurely walk somewhere out-of-doors. We ended up doing the entire stretch of nearby eclectic Brunswick Street (check out the link for a very cool virtual stroll along both sides of Brunswick Street), once known for its bohemian mix of locals and layabouts but nowadays somewhat redefined by the weekend jostling of late model European sedans as their very plebeian, nouveau rich middle-class owners explore the many restaurants on offer. As it was then almost 2, we were rather keen on somewhere for a late lunch as well.

Attracted by the menu on its window we walked through the dark doorway of Scarpetta, a cute little Italian bar bistro. Inside we hesitated, we were the only customers! But it was too late, the Manager who was interupted at the bar with his ledgers looked up, grinned broadly and motioned for us to grab seats, "For two this afternoon?" Further in was a see-through pass to the kitchen where the chef and one other were looking out questioningly at us. No way we were backing out now, so we took the proferred menus and tried to relax. And we were glad we did. The Manager had time on his hands to be chatty and charming, and quickly made us feel at ease despite our lonesome visit during the late afternoon doldrums. KB's Orechiette with prawns, calamari, scallops, fish and spinach ($26) was brimming with fresh seafood and a fine clean olive oil version of marinara pasta, sufficiently garlicky and with plenty of just warmed-through fresh tasting diced tomato and basil. My Fish of the Day ($29) was rather surprisingly, Coral Trout, lightly flour-dusted fillets competently sauteed and served over wilted spinach, creamed mash and a very tasty ratatouille of eggplant, zucchini, red peppers and onion. A recommended glass ($8) of local Diamond Valley 'Blue Label' Pinot Noir complemented the oiled tomatoey flavours of the meal perfectly, and the long black coffee ($3.50) to finish was decent as well. We would be keen to return at a more regular and busier time to explore Scarpetta's pizza menu and test out its less 'personalised' service.

A tasty dish of simply pan fried Coral Trout fillets

Food: 3.5 spots - Simple Italian fare done competently; good list of wines by the glass.
Service: 3.5 spots - [Only the Manager was there on our visit].
Value: 3.5 spots - Quite regular bistro prices with fair sized dishes.
R-Factor: 3.5 spots - Place to consider if feeling like Mediterranean/pizza/pasta in an area not so known for Italian eateries.
Spot Score: 14/20

Scarpetta Ristorante
257 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, VIC.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

A Peek at Pearl on the Peak - Hong Kong Food

I did manage some free days in Hong Kong to play tourist and fortuitously, the last happened to fall on the first bright and sunny day following two dreary windless weeks of grey smog and misty drizzle. Of course one of my first destinations on the day was to catch the funicular tram up Victoria Peak to take in the famous views of Hong Kong Island and its city skyscrapers and across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon and beyond. Not being in my conciousness at the time, I was taken by surprise when I bumped into a familiar logo whilst wandering around the dominating anvil-shaped architecture of the Peak Tower terminus at the summit (has been described as wok-shaped). Among the expected tourist trap gift shops, themed attractions, cafes, and takeaway-food fronts, were several restaurants including the very upmarket Pearl on the Peak, chef Geoff Lindsay's collaborative project in Hong Kong.

Dramatic Peak Tower that is home to iconic Pearl (on the Peak) in Hong Kong

The look and feel of the restaurant projected the same cool sophistication as Lindsay's flagship Pearl Restaurant in Richmond Melbourne. A quick browse of the menu also sparked much recognition with only minor differences reflecting alternative sources of produce and perhaps catering to regional expectations of a Western fine dining restaurant. The menu of centrepiece offerings however, screams out at a substantive accumulation of food miles. Signatures like the wok-seared pearl meat was there, as was the one-side only seared yellowfin tuna. But what stands Pearl on the Peak apart would be the breathtaking views out its floor-to-ceiling glass windows. In the absence of a low level cloud cover or a high smog alert, I can only imagine the awesome glittering spectacle that a twilight or evening booking would offer to accompany your dinner and wine. Certainly leaves the dark vista across to the apartment carpark at the corner of Chapel and Howard Streets well and truly for dead!
Pearl on the Peak, 1/F Peak Tower, 128 Peak Road, The Peak, Hong Kong.

Views you'd expect to enjoy when dining at Pearl on the Peak may be worth the price of admission alone

With some regret I had neither the time, company, nor willingness of pocket to dine at Pearl that morning. Instead with stomach growling, I ducked into one of the tourist trap cafes and resigned myself to a comparatively humble breakfast of Tonkatsu Ramen, unremarkable reconstituted instant noodles in a salty dishwater broth though with passable panko crusted pork. Meanwhile, will be hoping that there'll be an opportunity to revisit Pearl on the Peak in a proper manner in the not too distant future.

Alas no dining in style for me on this occasion - very ordinary cafe-shop ramen instead

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Birds of the Orient - Hong Kong Food

Stone tablet motif of Shui Hu Ju's menu

The line-up of drafts that call for my attention here reminds me of the somewhat unsettling queue of floating planes I witnessed out my seat window only just recently, each held up in their allocated pocket of airspace as they await their turn to land at one of the busiest of airports. Which is a convenient segue onto my short stay in Hong Kong for work last month, though tight schedules and a lack of local knowledge meant that I barely touched the surface on the broad and exotic culinary opportunities on offer there. Despite this however, I did manage to grab a few interesting meals which on reflection appeared to be dominated by an avian theme. Poultry in its many forms is certainly the most popular meat consumed in the Far East, occasional outbreaks of bird flu notwithstanding.

My first meal of note was a work related function, a full dinner banquet at the Cantonese restaurant of the Royal Park Hotel located deep in the New Territories. An all expenses paid procession of courses so I certainly had no complains! Regrettably each dish was only presented to the table briefly then whisked away to be portioned out for each diner, and I had to be on my best behaviour, so there was little opportunity with the camera. But we had shark fin soup, scallops in XO sauce, salt and pepper fried prawns, whole steamed grouper, beef stir-fried with vegetables, BBQ duck, wok-tossed noodles and something I’d never tried before, claypot braised duck feet and sea-cucumber (beche-de-mer). The sea-cucumber was ho-hum, it was the not unpleasantly gelatinous webbed duck feet that was a new textural experience.
Royal Park Chinese Restaurant, The Royal Park Hotel, 8 Pak Hok Ting Street, Shatin, Hong Kong.

Here’s hoping Donald scrubbed between his toes

Another evening I caught up with some folks for pre-dinner drinks in Central district, Hong Kong’s tourist and business inner-city heart. The maze of upmarket pubs and clubs gave the area away as the premier hangout for the professional expatriate population. Allow me to confirm that any typical ‘Suit’ in a bar there can be just as pretentiously obnoxious as ones you’re likely to brush pelvises against in downtown Little Collins Street, a universal breed to be sure. Dinner post-drinks was at a rather upmarket establishment famous for its specialty Northern Chinese cuisine.

Meaty treasures found in Stewed Beef Rib Wrapped with Lotus Leaf

The restaurant Shui Hu Ju is part of the Aqua Group, a conglomerate of hip restaurants and bars located around the city. SHJ is quite a stylish replica of a traditional Chinese teahouse, discreet entrance marked by period red lanterns and upon entry, dark moody corners with period timber screens and antique furnishings and artefacts to match. We sampled signature dishes such as the Stewed Beef Rib Wrapped with Lotus Leaf, a huge green parcel opened at the table by our waitress to reveal headily spiced meat shredded off the bone to be picked at with our chopsticks at leisure and dipped into a soy vinaigrette with fresh bird’s eye chilli. Then there was a show stopping dish of Deep Fried Chicken with Sichuan Chilli, crispy fried pieces of exotic black skinned Silkie chicken poking through a sea of fiery peppers. Biting through the deliciously light crispy coating on the meat, a faint pleasant tone of Chinese medicinal herbs could be detected. For about 10 seconds...then the chilli kicks in and nostrils flare to the sharp fumes while tastebuds are cauterised by the lethal coating of powdered Szechuan pepper and chilli. The trick here was to attempt to recover quickly from the shock and ignore the burning pain. Then when our tastebuds surrendered to a dull throbbing numbness, the buried rich flavours would start registering in the brain receptors once again. Phew, and what a trip it was. We finished to the last piece in nose sniffing and lip trembling satisfaction.
Shui Hu Ju, 68 Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong.

A volcanic plate of Deep Fried Chicken with Sichuan Chilli

On my last evening in Honkers, I gathered with a bunch of like-minded colleagues back at Central for a booking at Yung Kee Restaurant, world renowned for its Cantonese-style roasted goose. How famous? Just google the words “roast goose Hong Kong” and you’ll be led directly to Yung Kee, and the exultations of the multitudes that have made pilgrimage there and been touched by ‘the goose’. Our waitress knowingly confirmed that we’ll want to book a whole goose for our meal even before we were properly seated to be handed menus, such was the confidence that the signature dish was what all customers come to the restaurant for…as highlighted by this excerpt from travel writer and expatriated New York native, Daisann McLane in her Hong Kong Blog “Learning Cantonese”.

“...I remember that bird flu period. It was a sad time in Hong Kong. You’d enter Yung Kee, and before the grey-haired bespectacled waiter even handed you a menu, he’d be apologizing: "Sorry, no goose today". And then he would nod, understandingly, so that his customer would not feel any embarrassment or qualms about walking out of the restaurant on the spot. Such honor and candor is rare among restauranteurs.”

Yung Kee's roasted goose, has been listed as one of the 'must-try-before-you-die' food experiences

Anyway the roasted goose at Yung Kee was an impressive bird indeed, succulent and meaty with sweet crispy skin to savour with each mouthful. Compared to the more familiar roast duck, the goose was sweeter, less gamey and much richer. It’s definitely a meal to be shared, as its richness could easily become too much of a good thing. We also sampled Yung Kee’s equally famous preserved century duck eggs that were served as a sulphurously pungent amuse bouche eaten with loads of pickled ginger, followed by Chinese five-spice roasted pigeon, prawns with XO sauce, and several other Cantonese dishes. But the waitress was right, we were there mainly for the goose and did not leave disappointed.
Yung Kee Restaurant, 32-40 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong.

Succulent and meaty roasted pigeons - solution for tackling the 'rats of the skies' problem?