Thursday, September 30, 2010

a pizza this, a pizza that - 1889 Pizzeria Caxton Barracks

First Visit in October 2009 - Updated visit in September 2010 (the update is down the bottom guys!)

Pizza is something that is so simple, or it should be, and yet incredibly hard to perfect. It also happens to be most accessible take-away foods in Australia. Every town has their token eagle boys/pizza hut/dominos and if they are lucky a more authentic pizzeria type joint.

My main PIE does not really cook very well. Anything at all. Except Pizza. He has pizza down to a fine art and I'm judging by the queue coming from our door at the mention of pizza- our friends all agree. Although there have been some trials and tribulations- Last week, right when we were confident of showing our guest a good time- we had a pizzaster. C set about making the dough and gathering all the ingredients. Usually this involves a trip to Rosalie Gourmet Market as it is very close to where we live and we can gather a variety of ingredients including damn fine ham off the bone and buffalo mozzarella. We recently found out they sell frozen yeast which was a god send because we usually drive to South Brisbane to get it.

Anyway, whilst going in a mad flap to clean the house the lights suddenly outed. EEEK! I ran to the balcony to see that all the lights in the surrounding neighbourhood were also out- they were. Oh no! How can I

1) Clean when the lights are out and 2) How can I cook with no electricity?

1) was fixed by putting lots of candles around and
2) couldn't be solved so we planned out our options

Our guest arrived in the dark, only for the lights to come back on within 10 minutes of him being here. We breathed a sigh of relief and went to start making the pizzas- expecting the dough to have risen into a lovely yeasty ball but when we look under the tea-towel, a sad looking -deflated pile lay in the bottom of the bowl. Uh oh! Apparently the frozen yeast didn't work. Boom Boom.

Back to our options- 1)no brainer- Order pizza.
I have been wanting to try 1889 Pizzeria for a while, and seeing they are now at the Barracks, they are conveniently located close by.

We decided to keep it simple. I have often the best indication of the quality of the pizza is something basic, so margherita for $16.50 with basic napoli base, buffalo and basil it was. The boys wanted something a little meatier too, so we went for a diavola which was topped with salami, mozzarella, chilli and herbs.

The margherita was thin but it was not as crispy as it could have been. The toppings were simple but the taste fusion of the ingredients was not mind blowing. The menu was certainly well thought out, and the concept of the simple, elegant pizza was definintely evident but I'm not so sure the taste matched the tenacity of the menu. The thickness of the crust was good but the base was soggy rather than crisp and hard.

The diavola was good- the toppings were tasty. The salami and chilli added some much needed flavour but again the base was soggy and overall there was saltyness that was overwhelming.

1889 was better than any other Pizzeria I have visited in Brisbane lately but still- they didn't nail it. Getting the base nice and crispy would obviously go a long way, but there was something else lacking. The prices were reasonable and the menu was obviously well thought out- so points for this. Although we didn't eat in, the service appeared to be good and the place was packed. The barracks is a welcome addition to the dining scene in the western suburbs. I am left wondering if maybe it was an off night for 1889 because the place has potential.

I don't know how- but sometimes the same ingredients from one place taste a lot better than the same ingredients from another place. It obviously comes down to quality, but with pizza there is a X factor.

Where have you found the best pizza in Brisbane? Some where that has the X factor? Please let me and everyone else know! UPDATE - (I already have the answer to this question Here and Here.)

UPDATE: Almost a year after this visit, I convinced C to try it again, hearing raving reviews. C and I headed along, hopeful that things had improved and once again, our hopes were dashed. We ordered the polenta chips with aioli for $9 and a calabrese for $19. First complaint, the bench type chairs are REALLY uncomfortable- they either need  heaps of extra cushions or something because sitting here was no pleasure. The polenta chips were herbed, and a little grainy- but still quite good. Crunchy on the outside and mainly soft on the inside - these weren't a bad version at all. It's a shame the pizza didn't live up to the polenta chips.

The pizza arrived and I knew straight away that C - (who really does think he is a pizza  master) would not be happy with the amount of topping. The topping was slapped on, and the weight of it all would only mean that the base would be soggy. Taking a first bite revealed I was right. This pizza was supposed to have Italian sausage, olives, mushrooms, roast capsicums as the toppings. The Italian sausage turned out to be only a minuscule bit of mince from what could have been an Italian sausage, but one with very little flavour. The mushrooms were undercooked, so therefore waterlogged and the capsicum didn't do much to make up for the rest. The thickness of the base was good - but really the toppings just made the base rather soggy. Not only that, except for the olives, the other toppings were somehow flavourless.

I'm actually pretty sad. I love Pizza and would have loved for 1889 Pizzeria to blow my socks off, but sadly not. The pizza just failed to impress on a couple of levels and really, for $19, the pizza should be pretty good quality.

1889 Pizzeria
The Caxton Barracks
5-61 Petrie Terrace Paddington QLD 4064 
(07) 3368 3200

Pizzeria 1889 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Porchetta Day

So, as you all know, I was really really looking forward to Porchetta Day, pork, pork, wine, cheesecake, pizza, pork. I was working in regional Victoria for the week and managed to get two flights which took me only an hour from home (our town doesn't have flights going to it) and C's plane arrived the same day. Thursday and Friday were pretty manic- setting up everything - working early in the morning until late at night. C and Dad were down there for about 12 or 13 hours on Friday making sure the tables were set up accordingly, setting up the tents, making sure the little tents were in the right places, putting the signs up, turning the power on etc etc. It's amazing that this little festival has actually got off the ground, because it is a not for profit festival, but the volunteers are amazing, they all work SO hard. 

The perfect day arrived, in stark contrast to the ABC North West NSW forecast, there was not a shower in sight and we looked to be heading for 26 - beautiful Spring weather. I headed down early to put last minute things in place, and to set up the bread stand where I would be helping out for the first two hours. The hoards started to arrive, checking out the stands and asking lots of questions. We had lots of interest in 'The Little General Olive Oil' which we were also selling at the stand. Last year, Nadia Mancini from The Little General came to sell the oil, but this year, we did it on her behalf. In the first hour people were already getting in the spirit, most rushing to try Papa's cheesecake which AGAIN, ran out ridiculously early even though we tripled the amount we bought last year. Just as I was about to finish my shift, grab another piece of cheesecake and go and see my friends who had travelled from far and wide to be there, My poor Mumzy came running over to me saying, I've cut my finger really badly. There was blood everywhere.

One of our friends took her straight up to the hospital (3 minutes away) expecting that it would need to be stitched, but when the Doc tested the movement in her finger, it was suspected she had cut through the tendon in her hand, we were told we had to travel an hour away to a much larger hospital where there are orthopedic surgeons on staff. So - I went up and grabbed a very pale and continually apologising Mum and took her an hour away where we had to wait in the Emergency department for about 3 hours- then go in and have a ring block (which REALLY HURTS)put into hand and wait to see orthopedic surgeon to come out of surgery and assess! We then found out that she would have to come back the hospital the next day to have the tendons repaired and so at 6:30 p.m. we left to go home. Sigh- poor mumzy and poor my stomach- missing out on Porchetta Day.

Luckily my friends were having a little shindig at their house so I could pop in and catch up with everyone there, I'm really conflicted. I am sad I missed Porchetta, but happy I could be there when Mumzy needed me! Mum and Dad left to go back to the hospital (an hour away) the next morning, but by the time they had arrived, they had to go back home as a massive trauma had come in that needed priority. So... yesterday, Mum and Dad trundled back accross and my sister A (my other sister is O.S at the momento) and C and I went accross later, to drop C back to the plane and to go and see Mumzy. Mumzy had to have the tendons and nerves repaired and will be wearing a cast for the next 6 weeks. Argh- Poor Mum!  Mumzy HATES hospital and so luckily we convinced the doc and nurse to let her come home where she could have a good nights sleep. She certainly did a good job at hacking her finger whilst cutting some Ciabatta-- moral to the story- be careful when you are cutting people - you can seriously do some damage!

So instead of all the stories I was going to tell you about Porchetta Day, I'm going to get a few other people to do a little round up and do guest posts over the next week. I'm assured everyone else had a FABULOUS time and we more than doubled the attending numbers from last year- so it was a roaring success!!

Today though, I'm going to post one of the articles I wrote for a local magazine called 'Spring' that came out in the local Namoi Valley Independent in conjunction with Spring and Porchetta Day - hope you enjoy xx

There is nothing like home cooked food and it seems that Grandmothers have perfected the art of comforting fare. Even though there are plenty of ‘home style’ cooking products on the market and nanna food is being served in all the hippest restaurants, in my mind, nothing can come close to the real thing. Somehow, Gran just made it taste better. Maybe that clichéd ingredient, ‘love’, really does have something to do with it.

It pains me to serve one of Gran’s classics that I have spent hours trying to recreate, only to find that ‘something isn’t quite right.’ I follow the recipes to the scrawled letter and still, frustratingly, remove a meringue from the oven that has no chewy centre or try to work some disastrous pastry that has sunk far into the tin. Can I get away with blaming my being born into generation y, for the reason my version of lamb roast seems a little less great than the one Gran used to make.

Our Grandmothers grew up in very different times, and perhaps this is why their cooking seems to be so fabulous. Home Economics was compulsory for those that attended school and it was considered to be quite embarrassing if a lady did not have a decent repertoire of recipes to whip out when hosting a dinner party. There was no option of ducking down to the local takeaway for some mongolian lamb and eating out was a privilege saved for those few very special occasions every year. Entering some sweet treats in the local show was a rite of passage for many country women and preserving excess fruit and vegetables was just plain old sensible, making sure nothing went to waste, as tougher times could be just around the corner.

The irony is, the Grannies did the best with what they had. The culture of buying ‘couture’ ingredients to ‘star’ in dishes would have seemed ridiculous to a Gran, particularly those who came from humble beginnings or lived through the Great Depression. Paying $30 a kg for designer sausages would have been laughed at and dismissed as something someone with ‘more money than sense’ would do. Yet, in this day and age, it is easy to find ranges of sausages featuring ingredients such as free range chicken, organically grown macadamia nuts with magically healing manuka honey and this is what we generation y’s are conditioned to buy. Grannies, Nanas, Omas and Nonnas simply had plain beef or pork sausages but managed to make them taste so wonderful with rich, dark, oniony gravy that most certainly did not come from a packet.

By the time Grandmothers are Grandmothers, it seems they have a perfect recipe for every occasion, or at least Granny Pat always did. When we were sick with the flu, hearty beef and vegetable soup would nourish our aching bodies. For the day after the night before, the perfect bacon sandwich with hand cut chips and gravy on the side perked us up. For happy occasions like birthdays, there were meringues galore and fairy cupcakes with jam made from last year’s abundant strawberry crop. For more sombre meals suitable for occasions such as a teenage break up or when nothing seemed right in the world, creamy potato and leek soup would make the night just a little more bearable.

I know there were many more gorgeous Grannies around Gunny that also created exquisite dishes, one in particular Nanny Beryl, who sadly, recently passed away, was famous for her sponge cake. Whilst I was never fortunate enough to eat a piece, I believe they were glorious. It’s funny how the matriarch mafia managed to make these wonderful cakes flawlessly, time and time again, when everyone in the recent masterchef challenge failed time and time again, turning out cracked, sunken pavlovas and dry, crumbly mud cake. And yet, there was no Cordon Bleu Academy or classes at expensive after work gourmet haunts for these precious ladies, they just had to spend the time cooking, without taking shortcuts, and for many, you can tell it really was a labour of love.

These Grannies were a special breed, coming from the school of old before old school was cool. I’m really hoping they managed to pass on enough of their magic touch to ensure that for centuries to come, the sponge cake competition in the annual show will be just as fierce as it was 50 years ago. I want my children and grandchildren to grow up in a world where ‘baking your own’ isn’t a foreign concept and everyone can at least whip up some Anzac biccies or a made from scratch pie. It’s up to us now, to be the keepers of the recipes, spending the next 30 odd years practising, so by the time we are Grandmothers, we too can effortlessly prepare some signature meals that will nourish, console, placate, excite, fill and inspire the generations to come. I’m really hoping that practice does make perfect.
For Spring Magazine in the Namoi Valley Independent

Friday, September 24, 2010

esaurito ed eccitato - Exhausted and Excited before Porchetta Day

Over the last week I have been very disconnected. Limited access to the internet and phones whilst in regional Victoria has left me feeling a little lost. No reading of blogs or chatting on twitter to catch me up in the world that is increasingly becoming my world. Who would have thought an online presence would be so real? I can't believe, how after this short space of time, I literally feel like I need to spend a day trawling and catch up.

In some ways I'm sure it has been good for me. I was reading through meanjin and found this article by Kate Crawford particularly poignant, one of the quotes, bitingly so.  ‘We have become such experts at being always in touch, informed, connected. Now must relearn how to be silent, disconnected, alone.’ So, I'm going to be off the air for the next few days- to get ready for Porchetta Day. That is why I am exhausted but excited! Working away is always exhausting, but I'm home now, and I've had a few ok-ish nights sleep, and need to start seriously getting ready for the big event tomorrow!! Most of my 'home friends' are coming back for the weekend so I'm REALLY excited to see them too. It's the first time I have been home in six months - which is the longest it has ever been for me - and I've really missed the place, so I am going to try to relax and enjoy my short time here.

Don't forget- if you are in North West NSW you MUST come along for the day, It is going to be great- and no dust storms this year to scare you away! Check out last year's post for details on all the food and fun.
P.S. Come and say Hello if you come!
P.P.S I am going to annihilate a Papa's cheesecake.
P.P.P.S I will be back online for real at the end of next week hopefully !!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sails Restaurant Redcliffe

A couple of posts ago when I whinged about all my friends leaving Brisbane, what I didn't mention is that one of my good childhood friends, B, has recently moved to Redcliffe - which is only half an hour from Brisbane. His girlfriend is also moving up in a couple of weeks, so it is nice to see that he is bringing recruits! At this rate, I'm confident that we can have a whole new posse in time for the beautiful QLD summer.

B decided to move to Redcliffe for a job opportunity and has been loving the laid back lifestyle. He was living in Bondi and is now enjoying having a more calm existence. I must admit, I have been slack and have only been to Redcliffe once to see him, but will try and get back more often. He is living right on Marine Parade in a great unit that overlooks the beach. A couple of Saturdays ago when I visited, we decided to mosy on over to Sails Restaurant to sit and enjoy the sun, whilst grabbing a bite to eat.

From my observations, Sails seems to be a very popular spot. The restaurant was almost full when we arrived at 12:00 noon. It seems they also have a venue that is used for weddings, because there was a bridal party being photographed and signs pointing to their reception which was on the other side of the venue.

The restaurant sits right on Sutton's Beach and on this particular Saturday the water was really calm and looked blue and gorgeous. We chose to sit outside but in the shade, don't want my albino skin burning!!

We were seated and the waitress promptly took our order for drinks. I decided on a lemonade and lime even though I would have preferred a nice glass of wine. But... I did have the drive home to consider and one glass of wine makes me really sleepy! B had a cappucino.

Unfortunately the waitress messed up our order, with the lemonade arriving about ten minutes before the cappucino. They also brought the wrong drinks to our table and were a little flustered when we said we had not ordered a glass of wine and a beer.

This gave B and I ample opportunity to peruse the lunch menu, with B choosing the crispy tempura fish with thick cut chips and salad for $24.5 while I went with the crispy salt and pepper calamari with crunchy iceberg lettuce, aioli and chilli soy dressing for $16.9.

It took a reasonable amount of time before our meals arrived, but the place was packed, so I do believe it is fair to allow for a little extra time if the establishment is extra busy.

My crispy calamari was placed in front of me and looked impressive, served in a bamboo steamer basket. Chomping into the calarmari revealed that the batter was crunchy but lacked flavour. The calarmari itself was tender enough, but the amount there, was quite small for the price. As time went on, my mouth started to feel really parched and I resorted to drinking the whole bottle of water. The soy chilli dressing was a nice touch, but the aioli was sadly also lacking in flavour.

B's small piece of fish was well cooked, but the batter to me looked like general batter and was not light and crispy as tempura should be. The chips were good, potatoey and fluffy on the inside, and as the description noted very thick cut. The salad however, was very uninspired and unimpressive. I'm also not sure that this dish is worth the $24.5 price tag.

After clearing the table, the waitstaff were happy to let us sit and chat for an extra half an hour without bothering us at all. In fact, we ended up asking for the bill after we felt it was probably time to go.

I feel very conflicted about my visit to Sails. I can see the potential for a great waterfront venue but think that the food needs to be taken to another level to justify charging the current prices. Don't get me wrong, I don't think $17 and $25 are expensive prices to pay if the value is there, but something was missing. It's clear that someone has put some effort into the menu and I think the restaurant could really benefit from a bit of oomph in terms of flavour. The service was friendly enough and the view is lovely- it a really lovely place to sit on a lazy summer Saturday for a drink and lunch.

When to go: When you are in Redcliffe, on a sunny day, when you want to sit by the beach and be lazy.

Tell me readers, have any of you had friends move back?

Sails Restaurant and Function Centre Redcliffe
Sutton's Beach Parkland
Marine Parade Redcliffe
07 3284 3320

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Milk Cafe MilkBar Ashgrove

Poor C. It's not easy being the significant other of a food blogger. Sometimes he comes second to food, sometimes I subtly pay him out in these reviews, and sometimes I drag him around looking for food places/ingredients/restaurants on a calm Sunday when he would, I'm sure, much rather be doing other things.

A couple of months ago I was driving around looking for this 'French looking shop' I had seen out on towards Ashgrove when I stumbled upon "The Milk Bar." This looked like a cute, retro styled little joint from the outside and I knew I just had to try it.

I was lucky enough to have THE CUTEST authentic Milk Bar in my town when I was growing up. It was called the Busy Bee Cafe and literally was still run by the same family that had been running it for 50ish years. They had booths, and cute milkshake machines and orange freezes. All they made were toasted sandwiches, but damn, they did them well. Underagers knew this was the go to joint to buy cigarettes- probably because the lady that worked there was so old, she couldn't really see very well and thought anyone that was taller than her was probably older than her. On top of all this, you could still buy chicos and jelly babies in boxes- I'm not sure if they specially ordered the stock or had them left over from the 80's, but these little touches just completed the place. Suffice to say I miss the little place, as it recently closed down after being converted to an awful hot box styled takeaway.

Anyway, Milkbar caught my eye, so after looking through 'The French Corner' as I found it was called when I arrived, C was more than happy to sit down for some refreshments. When i say the Milkbar Cafe caught my eye- I pretty much mean it. The sunshine yellow shades outside are a bright welcoming sign and when stepping in, it is clear the team at Milkbar have extended the concept well beyond the name. The shop walls are papered with old school black and white images and the display cases were filled with cupcakey treats. There were even yellow, cushy, boothy type seats that I got a little too excited about.

The menu offers a glimpse back into the 60's-80's, and (indeed my own childhood) with a whole list full of spiders- the ridiculously crazy mixture of soft drink and ice cream that usually ends with the kids drinking it, being coaxed down from the walls. I have to say though, the flavours available were less cherry cheer and more rose petal and lime, so perhaps a touch more sophisticated than back in my day(I'm sooo old to be able to write that). This was a nice touch- as was the milkshake selection. Except I'm still confused as to why they wrote - "flavours available (in reverse order of popularity)" on the menu- way to make things complicated.

C was tempted by the spiders but ended up going with a classic chocolate milkshake- which came served in glass with two straws along side a proper milkshake cup with the leftovers. This is exactly how Busy Bee used to serve too- bless! The milkshake was $4.5 and was made with syrup, one scoop of lite ice cream and milk for $4.5. C would probably prefer if Milk increased the cost of the milkshakes to $5 or reduced the cost of the thickshakes to $5 just so he can have a $5 shake. Just a pulp fictionised personal request. Aside from that- the milkshake was ok. It could have done with some extra chocolate and extra icecream i.e he probably should have ordered a thickshake because the milkshake for him, was a little lacking.

Given my aversion to ice cream, I went with a dairy free raspberry frappe, which I can't seem to remember the price of. It was from memory- around the $4- $5 mark too. Disappointingly, the frappe, I'm pretty sure,was from a packet mix and I have tasted identical versions before. I think it is made up from powder and blended with ice. It's a real shame this wasn't a fresh fruit version, which would have added to the authenticity of the place.

The lunch menu doesn't look very MilkBar 60's ish but does offer some modern, fresh options such as gourmet burgers, salads and sandwiches all of which are priced under $16.

The sweet selection is quite quaint and C and I decided to share a brownie for $4.5. The brownie was a fair size but generally lacked flavour and wasn't a fabulous treat. This was gluten free, but even so, I have had much better gluten free versions before. Gluten free should not be an excuse for second rate taste.

Funnily enough, when I went to order the brownie, I found $50 on the floor. This cafe is situated right next to Woolworths so I had horrible visions of someone not being able to buy groceries for the week because they had stopped in for a treat on the way and lost their $50. After enquiring with every other customer that had been before me, I handed it to the girl at the register -so I hope she has the good nature to keep it there just in case someone came looking for it. If you lost it, go claim! This, after all, would fit in with the theme of the Milk Bar, which is channelling, what I'm led to believe, was a more honest time.

The Milk Bar is a cute concept. If you want to show someone from the younger generation what Milk Bar's used to be like, this is probably the closest thing in Brisbane. There are two locations for the Milk Bar Cafe- one in Ashgrove and one at Newmarket. They offer a nice selection of lunch items (although you wouldn't find anything as healthy in a real Milk Bar) and have some old school options on the drinks/sweets menu. It's a shame they haven't perfected some of the options such as the frappe, because otherwise, it's a really nice place to hang out and listen to Buddy Holly.

When to go: When you want to reminisce or when you have borrowed someone else's kids for the day - to take them and hype them up on spiders knowing you can give them back at the end of the day.

Milkbar Cafe
Shop 9, 16 Ashgrove Avenue
(in front of Woolworths)

Milk on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tastings on Hastings - Noosa Jazz Festival

Noosa is usually my weekend haunt during summertime, when I just need to get out of the city. I hadn't visited for a while though- I really didn't venture north very often during winter. That all changes in September though- it's time to get back to the beach! C's family had a family Father's Day brunch planned so we had set aside the weekend to spend with them at the coast. It was a very lucky coincidence that the Courier Mail's Food Editor, @nataschamirosch, was giving away tickets to go to the Noosa Jazz Festival and the Tastings on Hastings event which I just happened to win! Woo hoo Twitter! I'm not sure I have ever won anything EVER before, so I was pretty stoked with this little giveaway.

Tastings on Hastings is a part of the Jazz festival, where they shut off the whole of Hastings Street (the main shopping strip in Noosa) and set up tables all along the road. There are different sections and different participating restaurants. What happens, is each of the participating restaurants set up their own section and set their own menu. The flat rate is $75 per person to attend including food and wine. Obviously all the sections have different menus, so the best way to pick your restaurant, is to have a look at all the menus on offer and see which one takes your fancy. C and I received tickets for Matt Golinski (shown on Ready Steady Cook and has the food range 'The Rolling Dolmade'- I've raved about his dolmades before) who was one of the celebrity chefs cooking at the festival. When I checked out the menus prior to the event, I was pretty happy that we got Matt because the menu looked simple but delish.

When we arrived at the festival, there was a huge kerfuffle (or however you spell it- Please my Grandmother uses this word so I don't know how to spell it, but I think it is an apt description for the next 20 minutes!). We presented our tickets to one of the volunteers only to find out that there was no actual booking for our seats. The lovely Kassie from The Dining Quarter and her boyfriend were also trying to find out what was happening with their seats too. It became apparent, pretty quickly, that the ladies had NO idea about our tickets, and we couldn't see any places that had been set. Both C and I and Kassie and D, didn't want to cause a fuss and told the lady that we really didn't mind forefeiting our tickets because it was obviously stressing everyone out. We had about 5 different people come to speak to us, and look at our tickets, before one lady told us that it was great we didn't mind about leaving, because they really had no other solution. We were happy to leave, but one kind volunteer wouldn't let us go until she had solved the problem.

The staff were even talking to the chefs, which was causing us some serious embarrassment because 1) we had not even paid for the tickets an 2) I'm pretty sure the chefs had more important things to be doing than worrying about people without seats! After we had decided it was probably time to just sneak away, the most mortifying thing happened. Matt McKenzie, the other celebrity chef came over, grabbed a table and started setting it up. Oh gosh- I think both Kassie and I almost died!! We were waving our hands madly telling everyone not to worry, but it became evident that now, it would be even ruder to sneak away. The lovely, but by this stage, very flustered, volunteer asked us to come back in ten minutes when the table was set. Oh my gosh. I can't believe Matt McKenzie was worried about finding us a table about 3 minutes before he was scheduled to be interviewed on TV. McKenzie graduated from Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Restaurant in Melbourne and has a pretty amazing career so far! He is now a private chef working at QLD Government House but also does celebrity appearances and has worked at Vue De Monde and I can't believe that he was nice enough to just grab a table and start setting it up.

C and I went for a short wander and contemplated the option of sneaking off, never to be seen again, but after all the trouble they had gone to, we could hardly be so rude. When we arrived back at the section of tables, we found out that we actually were to be seated at Matt Golinski's table after all, because the table had supposedly been booked under someone else's name. At least this is what the volunteers/events people thought had happened. I know that what actually happened, was someone didn't turn up for their booking!! Whatever the reason, we were grateful to be seated, and really thankful to all the effort everyone had gone to, just to accommodate us. It was a stroke of luck that we were seated at the same section of the table as Kassie and D, because I sort of knew them from Twitter, and in real life, they were just lovely!! Aside from the fact that both C and I and Kassie and D were the only people under 45 at the whole event, it was still a great atmosphere. The lady seated next to me, Jane, was lots of fun, and her husband and Mum and Dad were very intrigued to hear about the wonderful world that is food blogging! At one stage, her husband was even attempting food blogging phrases and I must admit he was doing quite well.

After we had been seated for about 1 minute, an amuse bouche arrived in front of us, a lovely soup topped with truffle oil. It had a great amount of garlic and really did awaken my palate.

Luckily, wine was being poured freely, and the water was being topped up continually, because it was a rather hot day. Massive umbrellas provided shade, but there were hints of sun creeping through so it was great to stay hydrated!

Our entree of seared ocean trout, with shaved fennel, semi dried tomatoes, ligurian olives with saffron vinaigrette was served and it took a me a little bit of convincing Jane's parents that this was actually an entree! The size was particularly large for an entree and could have easily been a smaller sized main. The ocean trout was perfectly cooked. My knife ran through it like it was butter, and inside had the barely cooked pink glow that it should have. The fennel made a nice addition, as did the lovely ligurian olives but I wasn't so sure about the semi-dried tomatoes and think a full sun dried tomato with a tad more flavour would have worked well. However, overwhelmingly the trout was really good- a lovely first dish.

Whilst waiting for our main dish, we weren't left bored. There were was plenty of wine being poured and quirky little acts coming around like a 'Manuel' from Fawlty Towers impersonator.

Being the Jazz Festival and all, there was also plenty of Jazz acts to entertain. These cute guys did a couple of shows - aside from the fact they were a quintet, some of the members would break out into song and they reminded me of Homer's Barbershop Quartet on the Simpsons!

On the other side of the road, there was a float driving down Hastings that would stop every hundred metres or so, with a Jazz singer and pianist on the back. They stopped right near us for at least 20 minutes, and even though this was probably a little too long, it was all part of the fun.

After a little while and a lot more wine and chatting, our monstrous main arrived. Oh my gosh- this were some serious sized chicken pieces!

Despite the size of both large pieces, the skin was crispy and the flesh was perfectly moist. This dish was very simple comforting, something that would be great to make at home. I loved the addition of the mustard which gave the dish some spark, even if it looked a little messy on the plate. The Toulouse sausage pieces went nicely with the chicken and the potatoes were good, but the beans were fabulous! They were fresh and crunchy and a great accompaniment - I would have sacrificed my potatoes for the beans and I know Kassie, C and D felt the same! The one problem with this dish was the pure size of the chicken pieces- I seriously could only get through one and a bit. It was nice to see generous portions or comforting, good, homely food instead of mere morsels!

At the end of the of the mammoth feast, we were still being served plenty of wine along side a somewhat smaller dessert- quince and almond friands with double cream. I had two bites and had to put the rest down because I was so full. I could tell that Matt Golinski must have known his meal was quite substantial and no one would have been capable of eating a huge dessert, including C!!

Aside from the mix up at the start, I had a really lovely lunch. I will happily pay the $75 next year and head back with some friends. It was such a great atmosphere and it really didn't matter that all the other guests were a fair bit older- everyone was just there to have a long boozy, cruisey lunch which is exactly how the afternoon panned out. The event started at 11:15 a.m. and went to about 2:30 so setting aside the afternoon to eat great food, talk to great people and listen to some great Jazz was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

So, tell me readers, have you have had a mix up at a restaurant that just makes you want to sneak away quietly without causing a fuss?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sono Brisbane City

All my friends are leaving Brisbane. Yes, I know it is a movie title, but if they do a remake- I could star. In the last 12 months, twelve (12!!) of C and I's rather close friends have left Brisbane. Why this sudden rushing away? Well, various reasons. 2 moved to WA for work, 2 went overseas, 4 finished Uni and had to relocate to regional areas for their first jobs, 2 moved up north and 2 moved back out to the areas they originally came from. Sob sob.

Don't get my wrong, I still have enough of my old cronies that I kick about with, but the group dynamics have definitely changed. I'm not sure whether this just happens sometimes, as in-it is a phase of life, but I'm sad I don't get to see all my old friends very often anymore.

Seeing it's just C and I living together, I try to make sure I have a really active social life- I guess wanting to have people around all the time is a product of growing up in a house that never houses sleeps. My family home is a drop in centre for everyone, and its rare that my family are home together, by themselves. There are always plenty of cars in the driveway and at holiday times, there are always streams of people passing through. That's just the way it has always been.

Going to boarding school also meant that I was used to being around people all the time too, so in a funny way, my 20's and living with C has been one of the quieter living situations I have been in. I do like the peace and quiet sometimes, but also crave the old times where people were just hanging out. It seemed a morning visit to the markets could become an all day affair, ending with a glass of dodgy red on the verandah after a long day doing nothing but talking, laughing, reminiscing and planning.

That's why I was really happy when my friend El (who moved to WA)announced she would be visiting for a week so we could catch up for dinner. Shame it was on a weeknight, so I couldn't really cut loose with her as I'd have liked, but still exciting! El is seriously allergic to gluten so that immediately cuts out some dining options that don't really cater very well towards allergies, but I knew El would probably suggest going to Sono in the City as she loves Japanese food. As I had been thinking about and talking about visiting Sono I was very happy about that.

Actually El originally picked another dining option, but acting on advice coming from good authority, we decided not to go there, and to indeed, go to Sono.

Sono has two restaurants, one at Portside Wharf and one in the City. Brisbane isn't exactly renowned for it's high quality Japanese, but Sono is a name that is synonymous with consistently good, high quality food and is more authentic than most.

Sono is located above the Queen Street Mall in the Tattersalls Arcade. The entrance is via a very mirrored stairway just next to BankWest. When entering we are greeted with a flurry of いらっしゃいませ(i think that is how it is written) from the staff and shown to our table.

When we got to the table we removed our shoes, and then sat down. The seats are sort of situated on the floor in a traditional style, but under the table, there is a little hollow for your legs so it is still pretty comfy.

Before we got to Sono, I had already perused the menu. Hmmm now when I say perused, I should admit to, in true food blogger style, studying the thing for at least about 20 minutes, as coincidentally I was talking to another food blogger friend earlier in the day about going with her sometime too. I already knew that we would have one of the Sashimi platters and El suggested ordering the large sashimi platter ($48) and the appetiser platter for $18. I wanted some miso, so we both ordered miso and to finish off, a sake tasting kit for (about) $28. The waitress suggested sharing the sake tasting kit instead of having one each, and trying some Umeshu Wine. After some deliberation, we decided on the green tea version for $9 a glass.

The sake tasting kit arrived, as did one glass of green tea Umeshu. We realised there had been a little bit of a 'lost in translation' moment i.e. the waitress thought we only wanted one glass of Umeshu. After tasting it- and revelling in it's beautiful fresh green tea goodness, we realised we needed another quick smart. Although it took a while for the drink to arrive and we had to prompt a second time, the waitress more than made up for the little mishap with her polite apologies. Actually, I loved that Umeshu so much, I wouldn't mind buying a bottle to keep at home. It was served on the rocks and was totally different to any alcohol I have ever tasted, I guess a little like chilled green tea but more alcohol. The wine is made from Ume which is a Japanese apricot or Chinese plum, both from the plum family, so is often referred to (in Australia) as plum wine. Umeshu is made by steeping still green ume fruits in alcohol and sugar. The alcohol content is fairly low compared to other liqueurs and the taste is delicious, you should definitely try, especially if you are a fan of green tea.

The sake was quite um... sakeish. Sorry guys, I'm really not much of a Sake expert so I'm not going to pretend I am. I'll have to learn a little bit more before I feel qualified to comment. What I can tell you is that the sake tasting set consists of three glasses of sake ranging across different styles and grades for you to taste. There is Suishin Junmai, Echigo Toji No Sato Ginjo and Kamotsuru Hojun Reishu on offer. The waitress suggests that you try in a particular order, and we both like the third option the best.

Our appetiser platter was very quick to appear, closely followed by the miso soup and the Sashimi platter. I decided to drink my miso first, which was delicious. Very fresh tasting with a nice bit of shallot and tofu added for interest.

The appetiser platter consisted of five different elements. The edamame was tender, and even though I know that you are only supposed to eat the peas inside, I really feel the urge to chew the whole bean sometimes. Don't worry, I don't do it when I'm dining out, but at home, I really don't mind chewing on the bean and just removing the stringy pieces- there is something quite satisfying about the fibrey bean.

El ate the oyster with ponzu sauce noting that it was fresh and plump. She also had the pork simmered in sweet soy and really enjoyed how tender the pork was.

I had the Kani cream korokke which is similar to a croquette. The filling was creamy and contained crab. Although I couldn't really taste the crab, I enjoyed the deep fried ball which oozed creamy innards. Quite delish.

I also had the soft shell crab with shiso sauce which was quite good too. The crab was crunchy, and even though it was only a small part of the crab, I did get quite a large chuck of deliciously sweet meat. The shiso sauce added freshness - I think I have a new found love for shiso sauce!

The sashimi platter was beautifully presented on ice, with nine types of fish/seafood on offer. All the sashimi was sliced beautifully and thinly- this for me, is a prerequisite to eating sashimi. There is nothing worse than trying to gulp down huge chunks of raw fish, it is much more appealing when delicately presented, as was done at Sono. My favourites from the platter were the scallops (surprise surprise) and the kingfish which were extremely silky and tender. There was a fair helping of wasabi which (both being big fans) was used not-so-sparingly.

If I had to fault the platter, I would say that it was brought out a little too quickly, but this didn't really matter as everything was served on ice anyway. For me, the tuna was a low point, but I really don't like tuna AT ALL, in fact tinned tuna is one of the very few things I can say 'Yuck' to and really mean it. I am trying to come around though, and to do so, I would prefer really thinly sliced tuna pieces, although I'm not sure if this is customary!

The best part about this whole meal was it was incredibly fresh. Sometimes when you leave a restaurant, you feel uncomfortably full, but I felt really good, and maybe even, if I was being a glutton, could have fitted in dessert. Not that it was needed, but you know, it is always tempting to eat until you are really full. Next time I will try some other options like the gyoza and some of the chicken or beef, which all looked tantalising.

I can't believe I waited so long to visit Sono. This is a great Japanese restaurant with really good food, polite service and a lovely atmosphere. I particularly like the attention to detail including the beautiful plates and sake cups. I have heard some feedback suggesting others thought the restaurant was a little pricey, but El and I discussed this and we disagree. We both thought it was reasonably priced, particularly for the quality of food and service you are provided with. I think you should visit Sono soon if you are in the mood for Japanese. Actually, just get in the mood for Japanese! In fact, I liked Sono so much, that any time one of my other friends visit, I might just have to take them there too and I don't really mind if that does mean I'm visiting 12 times a year!

When to go: When you want fresh delicious, nutritious sashimi and to try some Umeshu green tea wine. Book ahead- they are usually busy, particularly on weekends.

So tell me readers.. Have all your friends left Brisbane (or your home town) at some point or another? How did you cope?

Sono Restaurant
Level 1, Tattersalls Building
Corner of Queen and Edward Streets (Entrance is through door via the Queen Street Mall)
Brisbane QLD 4000
07 3220 1888

Sono (Tattersall's Building) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse- Eagle Street Pier

As you probably know by now, we Brisbane Food Bloggers are becoming quite the social butterflies. We have dinners every month, and there are inevitably times within each month you see familiar faces about at other food events. It's lovely to go to the organised food blogger dinners, but it's even nicer when someone else organises an event, and all you have to do is go along. (Warning!! Crap photos alert- sorry - I promise- one day I will get a good cam!)

That's why I was a little surprised, but generally happy to receive an invitation for a 'Dinner on Us' evening from Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse in Eagle Street. I'm glad they stumbled upon my blog and decided to invite me, as I had been meaning to visit for a while.

To be honest, I was also a little apprehensive because I have heard both good and bad things. One of my bloggy friends has had a couple of bad experiences but others I know have visited regularly and rave about everything from the steak, to the service.

Time to try it out for myself! The invitation specified the date and time, and included some of the menu that would be on offer, which I must say looked very tantalising. I'm also glad that it was on a night I could go because the last few weeks, and next few months, are going to be extremely busy at work (STRESSFUL!- Don't panic or rejoice... I'm going to try and schedule some blogs ahead of time so I don't fall behind!). Also, C was pretty happy too, because the invitation specified a +1, so obviously, as my main P.I.E (partner in eating) he could come along too.

We arrived at the restaurant about 15 minutes later than the specified 6:30 p.m. I'm glad it was 6:30 p.m. for 7:00 p.m. because even though I try, that extra 15 minutes is very valuable! As we walked in, we were shown to the table where the some of the other food bloggers and their guests were already enjoying a drink. Most of the other peeps were familiar faces, but there were a few new faces too. Apparently the general manager was going to be hosting the evening, but due to her having to leave because she was sick, the lovely Belinda had taken over duties. Belinda introduced herself and proceeded to ask questions about 'Porchetta Day and my P.I.E etc making it very clear that she knew her Bris Food Blogs- she must have a fabulous memory!

After a drink we were seated in a private dining room, and Belinda explained to us that she is really interested in food bloggers and what they have to say because she believes they are far more influential than food writers - she certainly knew her audience well, and I actually think she wasn't just pulling our legs or BSing on. The fact that Kingsley's decided to, under their own steam, invite bloggers along indicates that they really do value Food bloggers. Apparently they hosted a dinner Food Blogger Dinner at the Kingsleys in Sydney not long ago, which was a huge success so they wanted to continue on with the theme in Brisbane. I have to say- I'm glad that Brisbane restaurants are really starting to 'get' the whole blogging thing- instead of just fearing because they misunderstand.

The menu sitting in front of us looked impressive, and when the food was brought out there were a couple of extra surprises like the tasting platter. Matt Yurko, Kingsleys Brisbane's head chef also came out to talk us through the menu. It was funny watching him, as he was definitely a little bemused with all the attention he was getting, and a little shocked when all the food bloggers stepped into action, snapping away photos whilst he was explaining the menu. Ha he probably wasn't prepared! Head Chef's are food blogger versions of celebrity!!

The tasting plate or 'Raw Bar' section included coffin bay oysters done three ways- a la natural, an oyster shooter and a salt and pepper tempura oyster served on wakame. The oysters were nice and fresh, and the natural oyster went down nicely with a splash of lemon. The oyster shooter had just enough tang and the cucumber was cooling. C's favourite was the tempura oyster, and although I think oysters are something that should be left as untainted as possible, this was a really nice version of a tempura oyster. The seasme wakame was great- I love wakame- and the fusion of the crunchy and the somewhat slimy was actually pretty good! The oysters are $19.9 for half a dozen.

Also on the tasting platter was the hiramasa kingfish sashimi, steak tartar and a prawn and peach salad. The kingfish was soft and silky, and the dressing didn't mask the taste of the actual fish, which is really important for me. The Mooloolaba king prawn, szechuan salt, white peach and green mango salad was simple and delicate but perhaps not enough pepper punch for me. There is an interesting story behind it though. Kingsleys, in conjunction with Summit Winery, have paired this dish with their Pinnacle Classic Dry White and have put the recipe onto the actual wine bottle. What a super cute idea. Summit Winery is in the Granite Belt in QLD so it is fabulous to see some classic QLD ingredients like Mooloolaba prawns being matched with a local wine.

The last element of the tasting platter, the steak tartar was beautiful- in fact, it was my favourite dish from the whole evening. Sadly, there was just a mouthful on the spoon and I could have eaten a bowl full! (Not sure what that would do to my stomach and digestive tract though... TMI??) The steak was incredibly tender and the tomatoey, peppered sauce was thick yet not overpowering. I would love to find out the recipe behind this little dish because it seems relatively simple, yet is totally full of flavour- perfect for a BBQ or dinner party- I might just try and track it down for you guys! Usually this dish is $23.9 for 120 g and I will definitely order it when I go back.

Kingsleys pride themselves on their crab, and served some Alaskan King Crab legs to show us what all the fuss was about. The legs were so large in comparison to muddys! They were packed with fresh, sweet meat and paired with a simple but yummy mayo. I have to be honest and say that these weren't the best crab legs I have ever tried and I probably wouldn't order them again. I would be tempted to try the mud crab and snow crab that they have on offer, as I think it was just a personal preference of not particularly liking the Alaskan crab over my Aussie favourites such as blue swimmer or mud crabs. I think seafood that has been frozen can sometimes taste a little water logged. Now I know that is a funny comment to make about something that lives in water- but I'm not sure how else to describe it. The crab was still good- and some of the other bloggers thought it was the best they had tried, but I think I have to remain loyal to our local crab meat! 200g of Alaskan crab legs will set you back $19.9.

Aside from the crabs, Kingsleys are pretty serious about their steak, and so, that was next on the menu. We were given a choice between a 300g striploin, a 350g scotch fillet and a 500g t-bone- all with marble scores of 2. Although I initially had my eye on the scotch fillet, I was feeling pretty full by this stage and went with the marginally smaller, but chef recommended, striploin (also known as a New York cut). The striploin is priced at $34.9 but you have to remember that the steak is served by itself, and you are encouraged to add sides such as the steakhouse chips, green beans, broccolini or roast beetroot with goats cheese and spinach that were on offer ($6.9-$7.9). The chips were a little potatoey for me, again a funny thing to say about a chip, but they just lacked crunch. The beans with slivered almonds were moreish and the beetroot salad was good but the broccolini was absolutely beautiful. A strong hit of garlic had helped transform the broccolini from an ordinary veggie into a delicious, very sought after attraction.

I managed to only eat half of my steak, because by this stage, I was getting rather full. The steak was good, although not overwhelmingly fantastic. The knife cut through very well, and it was truely medium rare. However, I would not expect anything less when you were (I didn't but you would) pay $34.9 for the base steak. There was a good selection of condiments on offer like seeded mustard and kym chee relish for an additional $2.5.

This never ending feast still had a cheese platter to go- and by this point, I could only manage a few mere morsels of each piece of cheese, and one lavosh smothered in the deliciously thick but runny quince paste. Out of the Heritage white brie, the Fourme D'Ambert and the Maffra Dairy Cloth Cheddar, I definitely felt the cheddar was the best finish to the meal. It was bitey and the texture was so lovely.

Even though I had really enjoyed the evening and the company of everyone around, by this point, I was really starting to tire and I had to get a move on because of an impending 5:55 a.m. flight to Melbourne the next morning. Just when I was about to say goodbye to everyone, one last surprise was bought out.

The staff at Kingsleys had prepared great gift bags for us which included a bottle of the Summit Wine (complete with recipe on the label), a wine bottle opener, some Byron Bay chocolate coated coffee beans (which C has already bagsed) and a beautiful looking 650g strip loin packed in a black Kingsleys gift pack with some dry ice. The bags also included a super sized menu and 8 steps to cooking the perfect steak. Wow. I was totally blown away. These guys had gone to some serious effort, and I really appreciated it.

Now I know it is in a restaurant's best interest to make a food blogger happy, but it also takes some confidence in your restaurant and the service and product you provide. If you invite food bloggers in, you have to be fairly confident that your food is going to be up to scratch, otherwise you risk a pretty bad rap. I know there are some people that believe bloggers are easily bought, and whilst this may be the case in some isolated incidences, most of the Brisbane bloggers are very fair with their reviews, whether they paid for it or not. I know I try to be as honest as I can be, and I'm certainly not swayed by gift packs etc however appreciative I am of them!! Most of the bloggers in Brisbane blog as a hobby and don't make money from their blogs, so it nice to receive a little gift from time to time.

I really enjoyed my evening at Kingsleys. The service was attentive, the food was generally good and it was nice that they took initiative to invite the food bloggers along to sample their produce. I was particularly impressed with the steak tartar and have (when I took a break from writing this blog post) emailed to see if I can get the recipe- if I can- I will post in a couple of days. Kingsleys are a good option for waterfront dining in Brisbane if you are after steak (don't forget the broccolini) and I'm particularly keen to go back and try some of the different versions of crab- the singapore mud crab has caught my eye! I'm also looking forward to trying my steak for dinner tonight! UPDATE- I have now had the said steak for dinner and it was absolutely FABULOUS- seriously a gorgeous steak- I just followed their 8 steps and it turned out so well! Really tender- definitely worth buying if you go to Kingsleys.

When to go: If you are in the mood to sample some super fresh seafood, swift service or a succulent sirloin.

So.. Tell me readers, do you think it affects a bloggers credibility if they dine for free? Do you think acknowledging is enough or should freebies be a no go zone?

Gastronomy Gal and C dined courtesy of Kingsleys.

Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse
71 Eagle Street
Brisbane City
1300 546 475
Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse on Urbanspoon
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