Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mints Vietnamese & Asian Cuisine - Rosalie Village

I love Vietnamese food. It's so simple, fresh and beautiful. Perfect for Australian Summer climate. Right now, I'm also rather interested in reading Luke Nguyen's new book- Songs of Sapa but it has been placed on the increasingly expensive and long list of wanted cookbooks (another blog on that later!)

Vietnam has such an interesting and varied history and French colonisation obviously had a huge effect on the food! I was very excited to hear that a new Vietnamese BYO restaurant had opened in the Rosalie Village. Rosalie/ Paddington area has been lacking a good Viet restaurant and I was hopeful that Mint could fill that void. Of course, there is Libertine at the Caxton Barracks but I mean a more casual place.

The restaurant is very simple and casual but modern. Light green is the theme. The menu is extensive and has Viet specialty sections as well as many items that aren't specifically Vietnamese. This is very common in Asian restaurants in QLD. I've never really seen this so often and I'm not sure it's such a good thing. I would like to go to a Vietnamese restaurant and see only Vietnamese dishes because every time I get a menu with other options, I get distracted. This is the same with Thai, Chinese etc etc....

I was also ordering take-away, but the staff were all really polite whilst I was there. I also noticed that some of the staff and some other Vietnamese people were all dining at the back of the restaurant together. I got in pretty early- 5:30ish and so they were obviously having their meal together before the evenings service. I love seeing the family that own the restaurant happily eating away- It shows such a sense of family and community and eating togeh.

That being said- I was really rushed and the menu was huge so I just picked the first things that popped out at me.

1) Pan friend pork dumpling (6 for $6.50) A very reasonable price but.... hmm... Not sure what I was thinking ordering these away from a Yum Cha Restaurant. I guess I got panicked and just went for something familiar. While these weren't altogether bad, the casing was a little undercooked so a bit chewy but the filling was nice and gingery.

Salt and Spicy quail 2 @ $5.50. The salt and spicy quail was very crispy however not too salty or spicy. The quail meat was quite tender and but a kick of chilli and salt would have done wonders.

From the Viet specialties section I ordered salt and spicy calamari for $15.90 and was once again underwhelmed by the lack of spice and salt. The calamari was heavily battered but the inside was tender and very easy to chew. Seeing I ordered two 'salt and spicy' dishes I must have really been lacking in salt!!

Last but not least I went for the wrap your own rice paper rolls with grilled marinated chicken for $13.90. This was by far the best dish. The chicken was beautifully marinated, delivering a nice lemongrass zing. The accompanying salad was fresh and plentiful and there was more than enough filling to do at least 10 rice paper rolls. I made these for C and I for lunch the next day!

I was not totally thrilled by my visit to Mints but have to confess that there were elements of promise and the rice paper rolls are enough to convince me to go back. I have spotted some dishes from the Viet Specialties section that I might try next time including the Viet Special King Prawn Clay Pot and the Viet Steam fish fillets with ginger and shallots both priced at a very reasonable $16.90.

The food was very cheap $32.00, including 10% off opening special which was enough for dinner for 2 and lunch the next day. All the items were all really fresh so I'm hoping the couple of problems were opening week jitters because there was definite elements of great fresh Vietnamese food. I don't know of any good Vietnamese restaurants over this side of town so I'm always happy to see new, good restaurants opening up!

Mints Vietnamese
Shop 4/21 Nash St
Rosalie Village
Paddington 4064
073367 8868

Mints Vietnamese & Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 23, 2009

My love affair with Simpatico

It's not easy to find a consistently good restaurant that you are happy to go back to time and time again. Simpatico in Brisbane is one such restaurant. In actual fact- I would have to say that it is possibly my favourite restaurant in Brisbane. The food is always good and the service is always impeccable. I love the atmosphere and I genuinely love eating there ALL the time without getting bored.

Simpatico offers food that is designed to be shared. The servings are bigger than tapas and I love the concept because everyone can have a decent bite of everything which finally stops me from eating off everybody else's plates. I hear my Pie's give a sigh of relief.

Speaking of PIES (partners in eating), My friend El and her boyfriend R invited C and I to dinner at Simpats and we happily joined them.

That being said, since my food blogging started, I have had to step out of my comfort zone and I have only been to Simpatico once in the last three months. So I was more than happy to go back. One problem that came with being away for so long was that I almost felt out of place when I stepped into the restaurant on Friday night and saw all new staff and an all new menu sans my favourite scallops in the whole world. Now you all know I have a scallop fetish as documented here, here and here and the scallops served at Simpatico, until recently, were among the best. They were served with seasme wakame and are the FATTEST, plumpest, most beautiful scallops. I LOVE them. In fact I almost cried when I couldn't have them and made a note in my mind to write a letter to get them put back on the menu. This has happened before, and the scallops did come back so when I calmed down, I was not AS concerned particularly when I spied another scallop dish on the menu.

There was also an awesome cocktail section addition which the menu noticeably lacked previously.

C and I usually eat about 4 dishes between us at Simpatico- With two hungry boys and El and I, we decided on 6 dishes and the olives.

The fried green olives stuffed with feta are a staple at Simpatico- they have always been there and they are fab. I love to get them to munch on them when deciding. I often get fried olives when I am out but these are the best I have had so far.

We each picked a dish that we wanted and agreed on two extra dishes. El is coeliac so we had to be mindful of that but luckily there were plenty of gluten free options. There is also a large variety of food available that all looks pretty good so usually everyone I dine with find it quite easy to agree. Depending on size, the dishes range from $7 (the olives) to $20. This is usually pretty cost effective because if we get two dishes per person that is $40 tops which is much less than I would usually spend getting an entree and main. In fact, I think the total bill was $202.50 which included our six dishes, the olives, beer for the boys and two cocktails each for El and I- pretty great, I say!

R decided on the pork belly with green papaya & nam jim for $16, El went for the Barramundi with shimjie mushroom, leek, asparagus and jus for $19. Both of these are old favourites of mine, so the choices were off to a good start. C went for his favourite (and my least favourite)- the wild mushroom risotto with goat curd $16, I predictably chose the scallops with polenta and chorizo (new) $20 and the other two dishes picked were the roast duck breast with pumpkin puree, cabbage and blackberries (also new) $20 and sauteed king prawns with basil, mint and cherry
tomatoes (new) $20.

I decided to order a lemon miss and El had a pimms cocktail.

First out were scallops. The scallops were, in usual Simpatico style, beautiful but I'm not sold on the accompanying chorizo. The chorizo was still good but I don't think they made a good fusion because the scallops are so delicate- and easily overpowered which is exactly what the chorizo did in this instance. The polenta was well cooked and the dish was ok- but I rate the scallops with seasme wakame much higher.

The risotto was next out- although I'm not sure risotto was a fair name for this dish. We have had this dish many many times before and this was not a good rendition of it. Not sure if something was going on in the kitchen but the risotto was soupy and the oil had visibly seperated from the cream. The flavours were still good and rich and the whole dish was eaten BUT it was not up to the usual standard The risotto is usually my least favourite anyway- hopefully I'll be able to talk Camb out of ordering it next time.

The basil and tomato prawns were next in line. They were good and the plate was almost christmassy with a mashing watercress, onion and tomato. The dish was simple and clean and fresh tasting and the prawns were well cooked.

The star of the night was the pork belly. It was crispy on top yet juicy and succulent in the middle. The squares of pork paired with the nam jim made a pretty sight, and the nam jim had a little bit of bite. The coriander provided a perfect accompanyment and this dish was noted around the table as the best of the night. Simpatico does the best pork belly I have ever had anywhere, and this dish lived up to my high pork belly expectation. Somehow they manage to get the crackling incredibly crispy which makes is the perfect contrast to the succulent flesh.

The duck arrived and was beautifully cooked but I'm not convinced that the cabbage and pumpkin puree showcased the duck very well. The blackberries were a nice addition but I think there could be something better than the cabbage and pumpkin, even though seperately they were quite good the fusion just didn't hit the spot.

The barramundi was so tender it was falling apart and was perfectly complimented by the vegies. The skin was crispy, the asparagus fresh and full of flavour and accompanying jus was just the right salty addition. This was my fave dish of the night and possibly in my top 5 Simpat dishes.

El and I did wait a long time for our second drinks- they seemed to maybe not adjusted to the new cocktail list that well yet. If you are in a hurry, I would go with something quicker but in the end, my lemon miss was well worth the wait. If it had been quicker, I would have had another! Perhaps it's I didn't because the next day I had to get up and cook Thanksgiving dinner!

Once again the service was really good, the dishes were all brought out in succession but not so quickly that everything sat on the table to go cold.

I was however, surprised and disappointed by the risotto. This dish simply wasn't up to scratch. The worst thing is, I have had this dish plenty of times before where it was cooked perfectly so you sit there knowing it could be much better- sometimes this is even more frustrating than when you get something that is just outright bad with no potential. I have NEVER had this experience at Simpatico before- everything is usually perfect.

I'm also not sold on the scallop and chorizo dish- mainly because I think that the scallops are too tasty to be paired with the strong chrozio.

The pork belly and barramundi were faultless. Next time I am steering well clear of the risotto- or maybe I should order it to see if this little problem is fixed up.

Some dishes we didn't eat but are fab are the braised beef cheeks which are cooked perfectly and have some serious depth- even better than the beef cheeks at Aria for about a third of the price.

Simpats, I have to say- I am a little disappointed in two of the dishes for the night which is uncharacteristic. I know you can do better- please don't fail me again or I will be forced to rethink my top Brisbane casual dining list. Once again, you nailed the pork belly and barramundi. and I have something else to say... PLEEEEEEEEEASE BRING BACK THE SCALLOPS WITH WAKAME!

Update: 3/3/11 - Have been back to Simpatico many times since this post and have enjoyed many different meals. It's a big call but I'm willing to say I think Simpatico probably hold the title for nailing the share food genre in Brisbane. Each dish is always good and importantly, the timing is always right. Nothing more horrible than having all dishes arrive at once and watching some go cold! Simpatico seem to 'nail it' every time.

SO readers- Do you have a favourite restaurant and have they failed you before? Have you got a favourite dish that has been taken off a menu before?

LaTrobe Terrace
Paddington QLD 4064
07 3367 1117
Simpatico Bar Bistro Espresso on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Aussie Thanksgiving

I'm not very good at history. I seem to have learned historical facts, only to have quickly forgotten them again. Whilst I'm not completely bad at Australian modern history- It seems that B.C to 1880 is one big muddled up blur in my mind.

It just so happens that a number of my co-workers are history buffs and I find myself trying to remember exactly who the Hapsburgs were when they seem to be able to argue which resource they think is most historically accurate for reasons a,b and c. It's not that I don't want to know- it's just that my brain seems to have a problem retaining the information.

I recently discovered that when food is involved, I found it easier to piece history together. Maybe not what year something occured or details of a particular battle but I could probably tell you about the people of the day because it seems to me that I am able to remember what they were eating. Whilst this is unorthodox it makes sense for me. I'm more about the people and now I have found a new way to learn that legitimises the year I am planning i.e. celebrating at LEAST one food based celebration every month! yeh yeh!

It seems to me that food has been something that has been unifying people since the beginning of time so therefore is the perfect way to help me learn and put things into historical context!

So to start off my education I decided to do Thanksgiving. My friend is visiting Australia and mentioned that she was getting a little bit sad thinking about Thanksgiving because it is such a big deal. There's nothing like a meal reminiscent of home to cure some of the homesickness blues and being selfish, I also want to learn as much as I can about traditions like this.The fact that Thanksgiving is focused around food and friends meant that it as a definite bonus!

Once I propsed this to Irma we both started to get silly with ideas and the planning started.

Events are so exciting. Who do you invite? What do you serve? Table decorations? Accompanying wine/cocktails? Do you risk hosting outside even though it is summer storm season? Oh goodness! The possibilities are endless.

I (my friend) and I (me) sat down and worked out who we would invite- obviously it would be fab to have about 40 people but our little apartment and our even so littlier, so small it's ridiculous kitchen just wouldn't cater for that. We narrowed it down to about 10 people with room for a couple of extras if necessary. Because I(my friend- ohh this is too confusing- let's just call her Irma) was the guest of honour for this celebration, she invited some of her friends, whom I didn't know, which was an exciting but daunting prospect.

I was a little stuck with the menu but ended up getting some great suggestions from Gourmet Rabbit as she grew up in the States and also hunted around on some U.S bloggers sites. Although I didn't get to cook any of the suggestions from Gourmet Rabbit- they were fab. She is going to post them on her blog soon and even had some interesting suggestions for Thanksgiving with an Aussie twist.

I've popped in a couple of the table decos so that you( if you can even make out the photo) may be able to get some idea!

I have some photos of the evening, however, regrettably, there aren't as many as I would like- to be precise there are none of the food when it was first cooked. So you have missed out on seeing the food in all it's glory! Sorry!!! I'm such a bad food blogger. And I haven't even got any shots of the table setting which was really nice! eek.. Damn. Anyway.. I woke up the next morning and snapped some of the leftovers. I guess I can only blame it on the fact that I spent the WHOLE day cooking and poor C had to run around and gather supplies I had forgotten and spruce the house up! I think it was his 5th trip when he decided that it would be the last. I'm going to give you a little rundown of the food we had and will pop in as many photos as I can!

The Turkey:
So according to Irma, we HAD to have turkey. I'm a fan of turkey but I did underestimate how hard it is to get fresh turkey when it's not the week before Christmas. Luckily I tweeted and some kind people tweeted in reply- Beeso from Mother Foccacia seems to have a good relationship with the Butcher at James Street Markets but I ended up going to Meat-ing Place in Paddo Central just because it was closer. Then came the problem- should I get a whole turkey or just turkey breast? I ended up going with 2kgs of turkey breast, only because not only am I a big fan of breast meat- but my little oven was getting a real workout and I needed to conserve as much space as possible. The butcher was really helpful and provided me with string and I ended up stuffing the turkey under the skin and then through the middle and tied it up nice and tightly.

According to Stephanie Alexander, butter is the way to go, so I basted in butter and then when the time came- popped it into the oven at about 220 for 20 minutes, took the oven back down to 180 and cooked for a further 80 minutes. I was really worried about drying it out and kept checking it, but eventually when I cut it, the meat was still beautifully moist and was cooked perfectly through. Woo Hoo! The only problem was- was 2kgs of breast meat going to feed 12 hungry people?!

Earlier in the day I had prepared a number of other dishes including mini corn and bacon quiches. A little bit boagn, but they are easy and oh-so-popular and I didn't have time to prepare the corn pudding I had intended on serving. I have made these little delights a hundred times before, but the first batch came out of the oven and tasted wrong. C, as always, was sneaking about the kitchen to try and snavel any morsels of food and had to break the news to me. I thought he was joking, and may have even let some expletives out when he told me- Sorry C- it wasn't you- it was me, but even now, I still can't figure out what went wrong. I went ahead and made a new batch which turned out perfectly(thank heavens) and everyone gobbled them down.
The quiches are pretty good if you need savouries. They are not especially sophisticated and use a lot of cheats like ready made puff pastry but they are really yummy! I got this recipe of a friend of my mum's and it's always well received. If you wanted to be extra cool you could cream your own corn and make your own pastry but I did cheat!

(makes about 36 +) But they will be devoured in no time.
1 packet of puff pastry
350 g bacon
500 g of cheese
250 ml cream
1 tin (or about 350 g) of creamed corn
plus anything else your little heart desires

1. Pre-heat oven to about 180 degrees
2. Cut out pastry with a circular cookie cutter and place into greased shallow muffin tins (not sure what they are called but they aren't the deep tins)
3. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and spoon into the pastry. Make sure you only put two teaspoons of filling into the pastry to avoid the quiches spilling over.
4. Cook for about 25 minutes or until cooked through and pull them out of the oven. Make sure you get the quiches out of the tins straight away to avoid the bases burning. Easy peasy (says me who stuffed up the first batch)

For the greens, we had a 'man' salad made by Irma's boyfriend J. It was very yum and there was really none left over! It contained bacon, feta and a couple of other secret ingredients. We also had cold beans with balsamic and garlic dressing. I blanched a massive pot of beans (maybe a kg at least) and then refreshed them. The dressing was a 1 part olive oil to 3 parts balsamic vinegar and had four cloves of crushed garlic mixed through. The beans were really easy- and were prepared well before everyone arrived. They had a bit of bite (if you don't like garlic, reduce the amount by 1/2) but were really refreshing. I tried to cook as much as I could before hand, and use as many different cooking devices as possible to get around the small oven situation.

I had also planned to cook broccolini with lemon, honey and walnut dressing, but this one just didn't happen. It sounded like a good combo though so may try it out another time.

In true style we had lots of corn! Corn plants were very important in the inception of thanksgiving and so I parboiled some corn cobs and then wrapped them individually in foil (and a lot of butter and salt) and bbq'd them. Nothing better than bbq'd corn and the individual foil packets meant that each corn cob was well seasoned.

Sweet potato is also another Thanksgiving favourite. I aspired to make sweet potato chips with sea salt and rosemary but ended up eating the whole tray whilst I was cooking, and didn't have enough oven space to cook the other 4+ trays, so I served mashed SP with lashing of butter and cinnamon to add some orange to the table.

Potato bake, another rather yummy but boganish dish took care of the potato element for the evening. I cut the potatoes into really thin strips and parboiled them, then layered them in a dish with lashing of bacon, cream, french onion soup stock, cheese, onion and stacks of fresh herbs. This dish was not that great in the end, because it didn't have enough time to cook through properly. It still tasted ok and I have to admit, I did eat the leftovers yesterday and it was better cold. Next time I might try something less creamy and go with scalloped fennel potaoes or some such variation.

The stuffing was great in the turkey, but the bit that was cooked just in foil was a bit dry. Nothing a bit of butter wouldn't fix and I do love my mum's stuffing recipe which is very simple- but really yum. Chuck a whole load of butter in with lots of salt and pepper, fresh herbs (whatever takes your fancy- we had sage, thyme, flat leaf parsley, onion chives, garlic chives, with some day old, torn up bread and stuff into the cavity. I am such a stuffing fiend- I literally eat more stuffing than meat at Christmas time, and I have to say that Thanksgiving was no exception. I know this is something I seriously shouldn't admit- but I have been known to eat the stuffing raw. I have another friend who also loves doing this, but most people shake their head.. Anybody?!

For nibblies, we had a cheese platter also brought by Irma and J which had a nice brie and blue cheese, with quince paste ! We also had sour dough with dukkah and balsamic and olive oil. Of course there was other additions like cranberry sauce, which was store bought because cranberries are NO WHERE to be found in Brisbane for at least another three weeks.

Ally from EatDrinkBrisbane has become my buddy and came along with a PUMPKIN PIE! I know, I know, the essential element of Thanksgiving dessert. Ally's Mum is Canadian so she is well heeled in tradition and I have to say that my first taste of pumpkin pie was great. She served it with lashings of cream and whilst pumpkin pie conjures up weird images- it was a delight.

Cheesecake was also on the menu- and an addition of lots of lemon and a touch more vanilla through the filling meant it was even better than last time. Plus I'm getting quite good at baking cheesecakes.. Maybe the baking curse has left me.

My worries about too little food now seem ridiculous, especially when the guests came bearing so much to offer too!

The hit of the night award is awarded to the "Gobble-Tini" cocktails made by Irma and her friend Kelly. They consisted of cranberry juice, raspberry vodka, chamboard, a raspberry rimmed with salt and tajin- a mexican spice that Irma brought from Mexico. It added the perfect kick and was oh so right for the night.

Irma also cut out some cute turkey and pilgrim hat cut outs and pasted the story of thanksgiving on the back for all the Aussies- very cute!

Part of the protocol of Thanksgiving is that everyone tells one thing they are thankful for. On the night I said that I was thankful for new friends and old friends - and - I meant it. I'm also happy that I'm fortunate to have enough food to eat, enough food to share with friends and enough food to even have leftovers. I think too often we think about the things that we don't have, the things we want and not the things we are thankful for, so a moment of sober reflection about how lucky we really are was rare but lovely in our consumer driven world.

I think I'm going to like my year of celebrations- aside from learning to cook and eating some fabulous food, I hope it is going to give me a greater understanding of different cultures and the significance of their celebrations.

So tell me, What is your favourite celebration readers? Is it Easter or Christmas or something special your family celebrates? Let me know!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pit Stop: Milmerran

Last weekend, C and I had a big drive home. A 16 hour round trip + 40 degree heat in one weekend is what I would describe a killer- but one of my good friends was getting married so the trip was totally worth every km. We could have flown, but in true country airline style, it was literally cheaper to fly to NZ.

Prior to a long trip, the Gran in me sometimes take over and I think about packing lunch. This is usually to ensure we don't have to eat at the Caltex/BP/ Fast food outlet, all of which would be very suitable for Sunday Shocker, but it was not Sunday and I'm not starting any new 'eating crappy food traditions.' I was pretty unorganised and so didn't get a chance to pack and when we arrived in Milmerran, It was time for lunch (or it wasn't but it was 1.5 hours till the next town.) I usually go to the Mil Bakery but this time we parked in front of the Passchandale B&B and Coffee Shop.

Stepping into the cottage was like a step back in time. There were farm style table cloths and old records all over the ceiling!! The owners were really sweet and gave us what could only be described as top notch country hospitality. We were seated and the given the menus but there were heaps of specials on the board. I stood up to look at the board and the owner informed me that he cooks the corned beef in ginger ale alone to tenderise the meat. Usually I wouldn't touch corned beef with a ten foot pole, but I was sold- so I settled on the corned beef and pickle sandwich ($6.90) (what I call a farm sandwich) and a homemade iced tea for $4.50/. C went for the Coffee Shoppe burger off the main menu and a lemonade.

Apparently the Coffee Shoppe is the place to stop because just as our drinks arrived, some friends who were travelling back up from Wee Waa stopped in too. Small world!

My Iced tea was ok- it was not overly packed with sugar and had a nice hit of mint which was really good, but it did have a little bitter twang.

The sandwich arrived and the corned beef was nice and tender. The flavour of the ginger ale didn't seep through and I'm not sure how healthy it is to cook in ginger ale, but what the hell! The sandwich was on fresh white bread but the disappointing factor was the store bought pickles. If homemade pickles had been used it would have transformed the sandwich into true farm sandwich fame.

C's burger was packed high with homemade patty and homemade coleslaw and all the trimmings. It was too big for him to eat as a burger so he deconstructed it. The patty was quite moist and the burger was a good solid meal.

What a treat! Simple home cooked fare, in a really cute coffee shoppe (which joins onto a B'n'B if you are in Mil and need to stay the night.) People expect prices to be cheaper in the country but this is sometimes not the case. I'd say the food was priced at city prices which was pretty reasonable. I think the total was about $22- probably a similar amount to if we had stopped at Red Rooster or an equivalent but much better service and homemade food.

The trip to the loo was interesting too. The 'dunny' was an outhouse in a very nice little garden but once you step into the loo- travelers and passers by had signed their names ALL over the interior of the toilet. I tried to make my mark but unfortunately had run out of ink and so only got half way through. There were some funny little poems and some witty character had written, KEVIN RUDD in huge letters on the toilet seat- quite the genius so it seems! Really, despite my political beliefs, I have to admit I did chuckle whilst sitting on the toilet seat! I have to say, the service was impeccable. Was it formal and starchy? No. But I think they had nailed the essence of customer service which was to make the diner feel comfortable and happy during their stay and the hosts certainly achieved this- it wasn't hard to be happy with their cheer in the room.

So tell me reader, is there anywhere you have eaten that is really cute with good old fashioned service and simple but yummy fare? And have you run into friends at a very odd place?

Coffee Shoppe and Passchandale B'n'B
57 Campbell St
QLD, 4357

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thanksgiving menu plan

I admit that sometimes I am a bit rash. I make big plans and the problem is, once I have made a plan, I will go to ridiculous lengths to keep them.

Recently at morning tea time, my work colleagues were discussing different celebrations that are held around the world and I studpidly piped up- well I'm going to celebrate 1-2 each month (that revolve around food- obviously) next year!

O dear.. another moment without thinking and now I am excited by the prospect there is NO GOING BACK. By the end of next year I expect to have doubled in size and at this rate my 'new year financial overhaul' is unlikely to happen anytime soon but never mind- I'm sure I'm going to have a fab time and have lots of tidbits of information to share with you in A-Z Gastronomy segments. Gee I'm dedicated, breaking new years reso's two months before it's time to start!

I decided to have start early and celebrate Thanksgiving. One of my American friends mentioned that she might be homesick around Thanksgiving time so I thought it would be the perfect start to my food celebrations.

Right now though- I'm asking for your help. I know I have some readers from the USA/Canada so I'm hoping you guys- or anyone really, will be able to give me some hints for the menu. I'm actually having Thanksgiving this weekend (because it's not a holiday here ..) and so have the traditional turkey in mind but am stumped with idea for the side dishes.

Essentially I would like the menu to be a modern take on Thanksgiving food- and really yum. My Oven is also ReALLY small so I have to take that into consideration too!

Due to this- I was thinking of cooking a turkey but also doing rolled turkey breast because it will fit into the oven a lot better. Anything I can BBQ/pan fry/steam would be awesome too. There are going to be about 12 people coming.

Readers, can you share some of your Thanksgiving expertise with me please?!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fratellini Sunshine Beach

After a stressful week in the city, C and I crave some downtime, somewhere to relax. Most weekends, Noosa is the destination. Noosa has a host of good restaurants and some of the best produce in Australia. I absolutely love going to the Noosa Farmer's Markets and bringing home fresh produce for the week.

We walked around Sunshine Beach at 8pm on a Saturday night looking for somewhere to eat. Probably not the smartest move... Squid Ink couldn't fit us, Coconut Grove looked full so to up Fratellini we went.

Fratellini is a staple for us. It is probably the third time I have been there in as many months. Fratellini is anything but neat but it is quite lovely. The setting is very eclectic - it features odd chairs and tables, a wall mural with quotes and some really interesting hanging mobiles. The atmosphere is relaxed and chilled and the staff at Fratellini know how to set the mood. When we walked in Neil Young was the music so C was already very happy. The staff are friendly but VERY relaxed and stepping into Fratellini makes you chill out too.

The food is Italian but none of that poncy stuff. Fratellini specialise in hearty meals. They have an extensive pizza and pasta menu and the pizza is not half bad. I haven't ever eaten the pasta but it looks good too. The pizzas are square and have a wide range of toppings available. Previous experience dictates that eating in = better food.

The entree list has options such as Fennel and Pork meatballs, Prawns, a trio olives and dusted squid which all range from $12-$16.

There is a standard list of mains but there are also always a number of options on the board. I like to pick from the specials because they are always fresh and seasonal and use some really good local produce.

I decided to have Quarto of scallops wrapped in prosciutto served on the half shell for $16 as an entree to share and the special veal scallopine, herb crumbed and smashed on chat potatoes with silver beet and feta. My main PIE (partner in eating) C went with another of the specials- the lemoncello and saffron roasted chicken supremo on zucchini ribbons and kifler potatoes.

I had the cocktail of the day- a mojito made with mount gay rum.

We were seated outside and there are big window spaces which allow you to see into the restaurant. This really adds to the feel of the place and the bar was right next to me. My mojito was passed out the window and onto the table which, anywhere else, might seem a bit strange. At Fratellini- it just seemed really normal.

The mojito ($14) was served in a short glass and was absolutely delicious. My only complaint was that I wanted more more more. It was a little short for $14 but was one of the better mojitos I have had lately.

Next the scallops were delivered. You may have figured out that I am an absolute scallop fiend and these were really great. They were cooked perfectly and the prosciutto with garlicky sauce made the perfect accompaniment without overpowering the scallops. The presentation was also nice.

The scallops were devoured in about a minute and I spent the next ten minutes wishing I hadn't shared with C.

Our mains arrived and I revised my decision because my plate was stacked up. I have to admit my dish was less than pretty- in actual fact it was pretty ugly. But I am not one to shy away from the ugly and I tackled that sky high pile head on. The silver beet was really filled with flavour- loved it. The feta only added to the flavour and even though it is a well known combo, this version was really good. The veal was pedestrian. I thought it was overcooked, the crumbing was flavourless and I wound up feeling disappointed by what should have been the star of the dish. To be honest, I was a little bit shocked given the calibre of the other dishes.

C's chicken was moist and well cooked. The food was no frills and the lemoncello sauce wasn't as tangy as I'd have liked but basically C summed it up by saying the dish was very hearty and was a pleasure to eat.

I actually think this sentiment suits Fratellini down to the ground. Even though my veal lacked panache it was a pleasure to dine at Fratellini.

36 Duke Street
Sunshine Beach
(07) 5474 8080
Fratellini on Urbanspoon

Salt Rosalie For Dinner

Salt at Rosalie are well known for their breakfasts. The hoards point to gold and weekends at Salt are hectic- sometimes with 30+ people lining Nash Street.

Although I have been to Salt many times for breakfast I have never ventured there for dinner. I'm not quite sure why but when I am thinking of places to go- Salt is never really an option. The other night, I was lazing around Rosalie and decided that it was time to tackle the dinner menu at Salt.

It's funny how a place can be so contradictory. In contrast to the extra busy days, Salt is pretty quiet at night. They have very little lighting with candles on the tables but whenever I am in Rosalie, there are rarely more than 5 or 6 tables filled. There were two waitstaff on- one provided fantastic service and the other was quite aloof and uncaring. As my main PIE C summed up really well- It's the little differences. The breakfast menu is original, artistic and fun and the nighttime menu very uninspired.

Upon opening the menu I was confronted with the choice to either have an entree and a main or to share the 'deluxe tasting platter' with C. Although there were a couple of entree choices for $15.90 that I would have ordered - The pork belly (honestly I realise I have an obsession) or the salt and pepper squid (another regular menu choice for me) the mains were pretty uninviting. I did like the look of the duck but they had run out so I decided to coax C into the share platter.

In theory, the platter menu looked good and at $28 it was reasonably priced but I'm not sure I made the right choice.

I'm sorry to say that I have had a head cold and so didn't even take a look at the wine list. I can't even tell you from previous experience because the wine doesn't usually come out at Breakfast time!

The kitchen sent out a complimentary started - brie and asparagus arancini. I love complimentary starters because I think they can tell you a lot about a Chef's style. The arancini was nice although could have had more flavour. The outside was crisp but the brie and asparagus were barely distinguishable .

Our platter arrived very quickly, delivered by a very polite waiter.

I went straight for the oysters kilpatrick which were disappointing. The oyster had that stewed flavour and the dressing/sauce was pretty tasteless.

Next bite was the scallops which were cooked perfectly. By now, you will know that I LOVE a good scallop and these were plump and fresh. Unfortunately the accompanying rocket dressing was quite bitter and the scallops tasted much better without.

The barramundi spring rolls were good. The fish was nice and sweet and the sauce had chilli and coriander which was a great addition to the flavours in the spring roll.

The fishcakes were piled two high and didn't really take my fancy. I only had a small bite, as by this time, I was feeling quite full. C noted that they were 'average' but it should be recognised that he either wants 'fish' or 'cake' not a fish cake, so obviously not a real fan.

Feta and tomatoes featured in the cous cous which was topped with crispy chorizo. The cous cous was well cooked but I didn't really think the flavours meshed effectively.
The lamb and haloumi skewers were also disappointing. The haloumi was fine but the lamb was overcooked and chewy.

The prawn cocktail was ok- but only just. C ate and enjoyed three of the prawns but I really feel like the dressing was pretty tasteless and the prawn I had didn't impress me much.

My dining experience at Salt has left me confused. Some aspects were good whilst others were disappointing. One of the wait staff was fantastic and had great attention to detail whilst the other was borderline rude. The food was very 'hit and miss' unfortunately the bad outweighing the good. Even after the summary I'm still confused and I can't imagine how you, the readers, are feeling. Salt has potential because their breakfasts are fab but they haven't really nailed the dinner service yet.

Have you had any confusing dining experiences where you just can't make up your mind?

Nash St,
Rosalie Village 4064

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gorgeous George: The George at Perth

Booking a restaurant seems like a simple task. Do some research, pick somewhere appropriate, book, inform people of the choice. Sometimes this process runs smoothly- other times each step is fraught with frustrations that make the booking of the restaurant, when it finally happens and you have agreeance on the issue it feels like you have finally suceeded! Except- that is only the first molehill out of the way. The next challenge, albeit out of your hands, is getting people to like the place. aye aye aye.

Last week in Perth, Luckily I was in charge of booking the restaurant for our work dinner. This was music to overbearing, very particular, food loving ears. My boss usually lets me pick now as I'm pretty sure she can't stand to hear my whining if we end up going somewhere I'm not too fond of. I say luckily because I am a bit crazy/obsessive when it comes to eating out. Maybe it is, to be more truthful, unluckily because it causes me much distress. The above summary of booking a restaurant was particularly true in this instance. Coupled with the fact that I simply cannot settle for what I think is second best and I get a little mad if people don't like my suggestions. Even though I usually say 'whatever you think' i really mean 'whatever you think so long as it is somewhere I agree.' I don't mind if people surprise me with a good choice, but am internally annoyed if they surprise me with what I consider to be a less than reasonable option.

Another dilemma that plagued this particular dinner was the differences people were willing to pay for the dinner. As it was a work dinner, they should be claiming the funds back, however, it all depends on what limit their company gives for eating away when travelling.

As I had never been to Perth before, I started checking our some Western Australian food bloggers sites to see If I could find somewhere appropriate. We were heading to dinner with our counterparts from similar companies and these colleagues were mainly coming from Brisbane/Melbourne. An additional criteria was that the restaurant had to be located in the CBD

After about 2 hours of trawling through reviews, I came up with what I thought was a really great list. 1) Halo 2) Fraser's 3) CRestaurant.

I looked up the menu at Halo and it looked fab, so I sent out an email to my colleagues informing them. Turns out this list wasn't so fab. Too expensive for some and they couldn't fit us in.

Back to the blogging board? Or is it the twitter board? Twitter.... After trawling through more blogs, and asking around on Twitter- I finally found The George.

For Brisbanites- The George is a similar styled place to (maybe?) Mirasoul on Caxton Street. It has the mood lighting thing going on- but is set out nicely with a mixture of fab chandeliers, comfy box seating, high bench marble top cocktail seating and normal seating. The interior was very chic and gave off the cool but not too cool vibe.

The reason I arrived at The George as our destination of choice was basically the menu. The wine list was good and had several WA wines but also featured SA, Marlborough and some South American wines. The cocktails were really interesting and according to an accompanying beer lover, the beer choices were great too. Most importantly the food looked to be contemporary without being alienating, feature modest pricing and have a wide range of dishes- perfect for trying to please 16 people!

From the moment we arrived, the service was impeccable. We were seated and ordered drinks straight away and the wait staff suggested we get a mixed plate of (from the menu) 'gorgeous little nibbly things' for each table. I happily agreed, however was made aware later that some people didn't like this decision. Most did- and my motto is, if they don't want it- don't eat it.

The a la carte menu is divided into two sections- 'The gorgeous little nibbly things' section with prices ranging from $7-$19 and the 'For those with a Larger appetite section which is reasonably priced from $13-$38. They also have tapas available on Friday nights and an interesting breakfast menu. To start, I ordered a Mandolin cocktail to go with which was fresh and delicious although I can't quite remember (give me a break- it was at the beginning of the night!) every ingredient..... I know it was minty!

The share plate arrived in hasty time and had some good options. Sorry about the terrible quality of the photos- I am taking a photography course soon so shall hopefully improve but this time i'm going to blame the lighting. The lamb cutlets were perfectly cooked- very pink in the middle and really tender. The spanish paprika rubbed on the outside had flavour- could have done with a bit more kick but these were a crowd pleaser. The oysters were wonderfully fresh and I was lucky enough to score one natural and one kilpatrick with pancetta- which was really good. The pancetta had good bite and the tomatoey sauce wasfresh and the flavour had a lot of character. Some of best kilpatrick sauce I have ever had in fact. The salt and pepper squid was really tender and the coating was more exciting than usual salt and pepper. The prawns were again, really fresh. I was well impressed with the quality of seafood on this little plate.

Predictably, I ordered the pork belly with scallops and apple confit. I also liked the look of the amelia park lamb rack on caponata but the scallops and pork won me over. The pork arrived and was absolutely perfect. The top was crispy and the fatty content was not overpowering. The pork fell apart easily. The scallops were a little overdone and the dressing lacked oomph but the salad made a nice addition. My main complaint was that I wanted more than was on the plate because it was so good- but for $19- I can't complain.

I love when dining with a large group as I feel less conspicious taking photos and I get to try heaps more of the options on offer. The Sashimi looked fresh and apparently tasted really silky- although I did not get to taste this dish.

The risotto had a good mushroomy flavour although I felt that the rice was a little underdone for my liking. The mascapone also added another dimension to the dish.

One of my colleagues ordered the angel hair pasta with scallops and prawns but ditched the option of mussels. The pasta was well done and whilst I didn't really taste enough of the dish to really comment, the sauce was not overwhelming and matched the dish well. With beautiful fresh scallops and prawns it would be a crime to mask the flavours.

The black angus tenderloin was possibly the dish that caused the most jealousy at the table. One of my pies happily feasted on this option that lay atop a caramelised balsamic shallot mash folded with persian feta. The mash was great and the persian feta was a seriously good addition. The steak was the most expensive meal at $38 but a number of PIE's suggested that they would be ordering the angus next time around.

The pan fried snapper with scallops and prawns was also a hit. The snapper was well cooked and the lime naga added some nice citrusy flavours to the seafood.

I was really quite impressed with the food at The George. There was a wide range to choose from and it was really reasonably priced. The service was faultless and most people enjoyed themselves. There were certainly no complaints about the quality of the food- only the atmosphere being too dark etc.

I used to be so upset if ANYONE gave bad feedback. After being in events/comms for a while now I know that I simply cannot please everyone. I can try my best to accomodate their every wish but despite my best efforts not everyone will be happy. I know that I expect a High standard of food and I believe The George delivered. I also believe that most people really enjoyed the food and so that was good enough for me.

If I am in Perth again- I will go back to The George, maybe even for breakfast.

So tell me? How do you go about booking a restaurant and do you manage to please everyone?

The George
London House
216 St Georges Tce
Perth 6000
08 6161 6662

The George on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mecure Perth: $25 bucks for THAT? Are you kidding me?

I have just arrived back from a work trip to Perth. I have some good and bad news stories from Perth but I'm going to get this one out of the way first. I don't like giving bad reviews but this one is needed.

When complaints/constructive criticism are given to establishment, in my opinion, they are usually discarded. I am not quite sure what happens when people fill in a feedback from at a hotel. Do they read through or do they just go into a black hole? Are the comments taken into consideration or dissmissed? A friend of mine shared a helpful tip, make sure you always send the information to the corporate comms/pr person because they will take action. In a perfect world every establishment would be fantastic and a bad review would never be written, but as my experience reminds me, we are a long way from living in a perfect world.

As a blogger I guess I have a power to get my message out to a selected number of people - so I'm going to use it. When looking for places to eat/book accomodation I relied on other bloggers.Before not, I really was not up on the Western Australian scene so if you are search of somewhere to eat/stay when heading west- hopefully these reviews help you out.

I understand that places sometimes have a bad day- that is understandable. Everyone can't be on top of their game all the time. I also like to think that I am pretty understanding. I can usually tell if a place has potential that has been stifled by an unfortunate incident, understaffing etc. I also think that how a place responds to drama/criticism tells a lot about the character of the establishment.

That being said, I will give you a rundown of the Mecure Perth........ Usually I only review food but as food/hotel crossed over I'm going to include both.

I am not sure that I have ever been more appalled by a hotel. Mecure Perth is set in down town Perth at the service at the check-in desk was flawless. Heading up to the rooms was like any other hotel- except I was in the wrong tower. One of my colleagues was in the second tower and I had mistakenly followed her up. I checked out her room, which was fine and headed back to my tower.

I immediately noticed that something was very wrong. I was a little confused to which fairy tale I was featuring in? Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. On my floor these bright almost yellow kitsch doors kept popping up- the first signs of terror. Going into the room was not that bad. The room was pretty standard, not worth what we were paying for the accomodation, but nothing to complain about. About five minutes after stepping into the room a loud buzzing sound started. Similar to the hum of a fridge but about 100 times louder. I dismissed it as commercial noise but already had a headache after a quick change of clothes.

We headed out for dinner to a place nearby- a quick bite to eat seeing it was already 11 p.m QLD time -we were pretty tired. I noticed that a couple of my colleagues were staying on the same level as me, and a few were staying in the lower levels. The level 8 colleagues had a quick chat about the noise and we suggested that we could ask to be moved when we got back.

When we arrived back in my room- the noise had only intensified. I called reception to ask if they could do something about it. They came up to the floor to check and called me back to say that it was 'one of the neighbouring buildings vibrating.' Unconvinced. I asked if I could be moved- and he said 'Well I would like to move you but I don't have anywhere to move you to.' I asked if he had earplugs and he said no. Then the phone call ended. I knew I was in for a night of pain so I walked up to a convenient store and bought some earplugs (they only had the crappy yellow foamys) and headed back. I lay trying to get to sleep and basically couldn't drown out the sound- even when opening all the windows, turning the tv up and on very loud etc etc. Oh gee. After a restless nights sleep- I ordered in room breakfast.

As an already very tired, cranky and frustrated person - food is usually the quickest way to cheer me up. Good food- not horrible, basically inedible, are you kidding me food? This kind of food is usually the quickest way to make me remember, in vivid detail, my night of the unsleeping.

I ordered the cooked breakfast for $25. The menu was pretty limited but this is quite standard for a hotel breakfast.

When the plate of food arrived, I was a little shocked. $25 bucks basically wasted. I chomped into the sausages which were so overcooked and oily they were basically inedible. They left a nice smear of oil on the plate.

The eggs were plastified on the outside and should have been called hard boiled because I'm pretty sure that no delicate poaching process was taken with these babies. The tomato was over fried lumps of flavourless red sitting on my plate. There was no toast, no nothing else. Gross. Admittedly, I didn't order a hash brown which was an option, but i did order bacon and that was obviously absent.

Pretty unimpressed at this stage. Went down to meet my colleagues and heard their horror stories also. One phoned reception at 2a.m only to be told nothing could be done- and one was up at 4 a.m walking around because it was just impossible to sleep. The Mecure did agree that we should be moved and asked us to pack our belongings- but this arrangement was sorted out with no apology. At all. I'm pretty sure I would have been much more understanding if the staff had been understanding of the situtation. It's pretty unfair to be staying somewhere for $200 + a night and not be able to sleep or have any talk of retribution from the staff. Even a complimentary bottle of wine or some indication that the staff were incredibly sorry for our lost night of sleep would have helped immensely.

Instead I was served the world's crappest breakfast and moved to a room that had this in the bathroom as in the in-room hair dryer. I almost choked laughing by this stage through my delirium. Is it from Ghost busters or doctor Who?

I know that one lost night of sleep and a crappy breakfast isn't the end of the earth. But when you lie there for about 8 frustrating hours trying to sleep and you are offered no apology, i wind up very cranky. My colleagues did not receive an apology either.

Mecure, even your old 70's-esque in room dryer would have been not that big of a deal if you had apologised and showed us that you cared about us. Instead you showed me that you do not care with the world's worst breakfast and didn't apologise at all. To me, that is the worst of your crimes.

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