Growing up in a small family unit means that when it breaks apart, the blow is a harder one to deal with. Having less people for the impact to disperse energy leaves each individual with a harder knock. This Christmas we travelled back to Melbourne to spend time with my family however the logistics of who sees who and when became even more complicated than ever before. My sister and I non-amicably parted ways in the lead up to my wedding, not my choice, and although time has passed the wounds still remain fresh for us both. To further complicate the issue, my parents are divorced which means we would normally spend Christmas with them each individually, dining with Dad on Christmas Eve and with Mum on Christmas Day.
Being estranged from my sister meant this usual arrangement would not be possible. Consequently, the plan was for the Boy and I to have Mum’s company for Christmas Eve whilst my sister spent time with our father, and then we would swap over for Christmas Day.
We organised to have Mum for the full day so I could maximise our time together, starting with a beautiful lunch booked at Stokehouse City. Being only minutes walk from where we staying it was the perfect location.
We both arrived laden with bulky gifts and beaming Christmas cheer smiles. I have laboured too long over the sadness of our family situation and am actively trying to move forward and embrace what moments I have with a positive mind.
Mum and the Boy started with the seared Harvey Bay scallops for entrée. This was an interesting mix of flavours with cauliflower purée, strawberries, macadamias and crisp pancetta.
I chose the steak tartare served with pickled shimeji mushrooms, horseradish and mascarpone. Plump, super sweet ruby grapes and wafery potato crisps garnished the dish. The beef was freshly diced and had a very clean aftertaste. This was a modern take of a classic done exceptionally well.
For our main course both Mum and I chose the John Dory fillet. I knew there was going to be some hard core feasting over the next few days and figured starting off eating light would be a kind way to ease my gut into it. The fish was tossed with peppery watercress, toasted almonds and local mussels and served on a bed of richly flavoured Romesco sauce.
The Boy ordered the O’Connor’s pasture fed beef tenderloin served perfectly rare to order and topped with a cascade of smashed roasted potatoes and herbs.
Feeling brief pangs of sadness that I wouldn’t be joining Mum for our traditional lunch at Vue de Monde the following day, I decided to push the boat out and managed to coerce her into ordering both cheese and desserts. I know, I know. I said I would stop this habit as I have put on too much weight this year but then isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
For dessert, we ordered the two gluten free options and shared them amongst the three of us. The lemon and raspberry Eton mess was like a garden of deliciousness with tumbles of fresh berries, champagne jelly and buttermilk ice cream. I nearly regretted electing to share as I savoured every mouthful.
Our second choice was “The Bombe”, Stokehouse’s take on a Bombe Alaska. It made a stunning sight although my drunken photography didn’t really do it justice. Sadly the toasted meringue tasted a bit too gluey and not very fresh. The meringue layered over a centre layer of strawberry sorbet and a white chocolate parfait base.
With full bellies and fuelled with champagne we exchanged our gifts before gathering them all up and walking over to the cinema to see a movie of Mum’s choice. It was late when the movie finished but knowing we wouldn’t get to see each other the following day none of us wanted this day to end. To finish the evening we travelled up to the Atrium Bar on level 35 at the Sofitel to enjoy a few nightcaps before finally bidding farewell and turning it in.
The following day was Christmas Day. Back in the day when I spent this with my sister, it would often be a day of extremes and drama; certainly not all bad but definitely not all good. Some people just don’t cope well under pressure and invariably I would end up bring the scapegoat for most of the day’s hiccups and problems.
Although it was sad and out of place to not be with Mum, this new way of doing Christmas Day was such a relaxed and chilled affair that it almost didn’t feel real.
We ate all day as one always does on Christmas; feasting on roasted goose, baked ham and the most addictive duck fat potatoes. But all this was done without a single element of drama.
Our hosts for the day were my Stepmum’s sister and her husband. My Stepmum’s sister is a master in the kitchen as well as also being the author of the blog Cioccolata Bella.
Everything was made from scratch using local seasonal produce where ever possible, much of it just from her backyard veggie patch.
There was even some gluten free mince pies and plum pudding for me to enjoy. In fact, another guest was Coeliac so there weren’t just token gluten free options, everyone was very mindful of avoiding contamination in the kitchen.
Reflecting back in the peace of mid-January, I appreciate that our return home for Christmas wasn’t what I am used to in years gone by yet despite this change I still got to spend quality time with those I love. And that is the most important thing.
7 Alfred Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000 | (03) 9525 5555 | stokehouse.com.au/city
I have to apologise to you my dear readers for my recent habit of taking you back and forth in a time machine of my life. This ping ponging through space will continue until I finally manage catch up on sharing all the wonderful food experiences from these past few months. I blame my horrendous blogging back log on our wedding. Although tremendous fun, wedding planning was very time consuming stuff and something just had to give.
Today I take you back to one of my most favourite times of the year: Christmas. Every few years the Boy and I take a return trip back home to Melbourne to spend this festive time with my family. Last year I tallied our trip up with my wedding dress fitting. Strategically I ensured the fitting was done first thing on my arrival so I could let loose for the rest of our stay and make an absolute glutton of myself. It was Christmas after all!
In the lead up to our wedding we were faced with a number of difficult family dramas. It really is true what they say; weddings bring out the best and the worst in people. These sad events meant we were unable to spend Christmas Day with my Mum and were thus allocated time with her on Christmas Eve instead. The Boy and I were trying so hard to save all our pennies for Thailand so we agreed that there was no need to spoil each other with Christmas presents. We decided that our gift to each other was to be our Christmas Eve dinner with dearest Mum. To make the most of this occasion I booked us a reservation at Rockpool Bar & Grill in the Melbourne Crown Casino.
Every year we go completely over the top lavishing gifts for each other so seeing as this meal was our only opportunity to do so we took the liberty to order a lot of food! We really should have remembered that Rockpool’s meal sizes are not exactly tiny as by the end of the night we could barely walk!
I ordered the sautéed white asparagus for my starter. The dish combined my two favourite obsessions for the year; shiitake mushrooms and slow cooked eggs. How could it ever get better than this? The gentle flavours of translucent Onsen style eggs and earthy ‘shrooms are fine for a breakfast dish but add in the sharp bite of melted parmesan cheese and this seemingly simple entrée became so much more exciting. Burnt butter was drizzled over it coating every part of my asparagus in salty deliciousness. At least for my first course I was sticking to my Meatless Monday vow!
The Boy ordered the warm salad of wood fired grilled quail with smoked tomatoes and black olives. The dark meat flaked off the bone without encouragement and his plate promptly filled with its juices as he continued to cut the bird apart.
Mum decided not to order an entrée and was happy to wait for her mains as her choice sounded quite substantial. She ordered the Redgate Farm partridge with roasted eschalots, peas and house cured pigs cheek. Partridge is a pale pink coloured meat and has very tender flesh with a light but gamy flavour. I didn’t get a great deal of adjectives from her describing her dish but I can assure you that her plate was clean by the end. My mum is a light eater so I think that is saying something!
Where I go a bit nutty for my mushrooms and my slow cooked eggs, the Boy goes nuts for mangoes. Fresh mangoes, grilled mangoes, mango daiquiris, mango ice-cream you name it, he will love it. The duck confit was served very simply with a grilled slice of mango and apple balsamic. The skin was thin with a slight crunch yet the meat was smooth like butter. Total dish envy!
I confess that my dedication to the Meatless Monday movements went out the window for my main dish. Rockpool source their seafood from sustainable sources and although this wasn’t a vegetarian dish, I felt at least I wasn’t contributing to the demise of our fish stocks. My grouper was seared and served with tomatoes, peppers, capers and delicious crispy Fratelli prosciutto.
A meal at Rockpool is never complete without some of their sides. The problem with this is that they are all so good it is hard to choose. As always we order too many and struggle to finish all three. My two favourites that I order everything are the sautéed mixed mushroom and more importantly the pumpkin and sweet potato. They are not to be missed I tell you!
Despite all of us protesting loudly to our fun and friendly waitress that we had no room for dessert she still discreetly left us the dessert menus on our table for perusal. Curiosity always kills the cat and none of us could resist a quick peek to see what was on offer. Before we could stop ourselves we had ordered not one dessert to share, not even two desserts to split amongst ourselves, but proceeded to greedily order one each! Mum and the Boy ordered the profiteroles. Crispy outer shells of Choux pastry were piped with homemade vanilla ice-cream topped with hardened chocolate and hazelnuts set on top. They bore some resemblance to a classier version of the movie cinemas Choc-Tops.
My only gluten free option other than ice cream was the crème caramel. Not a bad choice to be left with but I do like to have a selection of gluten free dessert options. Growing up in a household with a French father, crème caramel was a dessert that was made to perfection at home. Flawlessly set like a slice of heaven Perry’s rendition of it was a match for my family’s chefs!
It was creeping past midnight and we all needed to head home to allow our bodies to perform some serious digesting before we would be able to have any room for the following day’s festivities. Once again, reliable Rockpool left me filled to the brim with a beaming smile on my face; a successful fine dining experience without the pretension and fanfare.Rockpool Bar & Grill, Melbourne Crown Casino, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank VIC 3006 | (03) 8648 1900 | www.rockpool.com Price: $$$$ (Entrees $19-30, Mains $23-115) Food: 5/5 (can I say perfection? This time round it was truly faultless) Service: 4/5 (impeccable and entertaining without being obtrusive) Ambience: 4/5 (relaxed but spacious with views right through the shining kitchen) Drinks: 4.5/5 (successful wine matching by the sommelier meant I could relax and enjoy the company) Total: 17.5/20
I am always a little torn having my homes in a number of places around our vast country. Having lived in Perth for most of my adult life it is obvious that this is the main place I love to call my home. However to add to this, my Mum lives in Adelaide and returning back there to the house I grew up in I get that familiar sensation like I am returning home. To complicate things further, my Dad has lived in Melbourne with my Step mum for nearly twenty years and in many ways staying with them also feels very homely! I often wonder when we eventually return back to London where the Boy and I lived for several years, would this feel like another home to me? How many places can one call home before it starts to get a bit over the top?
Over the past six months, I have been fortunate enough to have the need to return my “home” in Melbourne several times for my wedding dress fittings at Luci Di Bella. A bride needs sustenance for such endeavours and here are my recent top four Brunch Hot Spots in Melbourne.
Cooper & Milla’s
After a bit of an emotional experience at the first wedding dress fitting, Mum and I wandered down High Street in Armadale in search of some gluten free friendly fare. We stumbled upon Cooper and Milla’s and were drawn in by their spectacular window display of treats and salads.
Like children in a candy store we wandered in all wide-eyed and totally distracted by all the adorable cakes and tarts on the counter. I had to consciously remind myself that I had a wedding waistline to watch and physically forced my eyes away from the many delicious desserts. I shall make sure to return here again to sample some of their dulcet delights.
Thankfully not all their fare is sugar laden and piled high in the window was a stunning looking seared tuna Nicoise salad and once noticing it my attention was easily dragged away from the cakes and onto this seemingly healthy yet vibrantly coloured snack.
My Mum didn’t take much convincing and before long we were both enjoying the sunshine sitting outside at their alfresco dining area feeling proud of ourselves for our dietary choices.
The following day on Christmas Eve there was a lot of market shopping to do in preparation for our big day of feasting. Getting up bright and early the Boy and I walked down to the river with my Dad & Stepmum for some hearty breakfast. Right on the banks of the Yarra River near Federation Square is a gorgeous little spot Riverland.
My parents are regular locals there and the staff all know their three Cocker Spaniels by name. As we arrive one of the waitresses brings over a bowl of water for the pooches as Dad places our order to include toast for the dogs. (I might add that this is not something his diligent veterinarian daughter advocates as good nutrition for his dogs!)
Unfortunately they do not stock any gluten free bread so I always come prepared and bring a couple of slices of my own. They have always been happy to toast this for me. I love their poached eggs with roasted mushrooms topped with a big glob of feta. The mushrooms can be a little oily sometimes however and I occasionally need to blot the oil off with a serviette!
Lindt Chocolate Café
After a full day of last-minute Christmas shopping the Boy and I headed back home which took us up Collins Street and past the Lindt Café. Now before any of you say anything, I understand that this café cannot really be classified as a brunch spot but being a ridiculously obsessed Lindt chocolate addict I felt it would be negligent for me to pass this café by. The interior of the café is initially quite impressive with high ceilings and everything seemingly glittering in gold. We made our way through to the back of the store into the café and were shown to our seats. After this we appeared to become invisible for quite some time despite the appearance of adequate staff and minimal customers. I hate that feeling when you try to catch a waiter’s eye and they look right through you like you are not even there.
As this place is well known for its hot chocolate the Boy simply couldn’t resist. Piping hot milk served with molten Lindt chocolate on the side; this decadent treat filled the hungry hole in his belly satisfactorily. Not wanting to eat too much dairy as I tend to get eczema outbreaks, I avoided the milk and satisfied myself by licking the remaining chocolate from his little jug with my finger! Such bad manners!
After the hot chocolate the Boy protested that he really did not need the St Moritz cake I had strongly encouraged him to order. Hey, if I can’t enjoy any of the cakes (as they are not gluten free) at least I can live vicariously through his gastronomic experiences! Despite his complaints he still managed to eat his way through the silky layers of alternate dark, milk and white chocolate mousse each separated by a thin layer of almond cake. The cake was topped with ultra-thin squares of Lindt dark chocolate with a generous dusting with cocoa powder.
Now don’t be fooled into thinking I sat there empty handed watching the Boy indulge. Other than buying some chocolate for the road, my main reason for entering the café was to stop for a “Mac attack”. The Christmas Delice macaron is seasonally exclusive and is filled with Christmas spices and a white chocolate filling. Although it had a good layering of flavours it was a little lost on texture and lacked the thin outer crisp sensation. It also was an unusually shaped with one side half the size of the other!
After a memorable time on Christmas Day with my family eating and drinking all the excesses imaginable, Boxing Day quickly followed and I realised it was soon time for the Boy and I to jump on a jet plane and head home. I was torn between the emotions of being sad it was all over whilst excited that the next family celebration would be our wedding day! Despite feeling very hung over and sluggish, we managed to squeeze in a last minute brunch catch up with Mum at The European on Spring Street.
The European is one of my favourite regulars in the Melbourne CBD and this French-Spanish-Italian hybrid is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week making it easy to slip in a visit each Melbourne trip. Although they do not have gluten free bread, there are a number of gluten free breakfast options and their menu goes well beyond the standard choices. Their coffee is particularly moreish and after drinking the A to Z of booze the day before I quickly ordered a second macchiato while we waited for our meals.
As the three of us sat in the sun in silence I started to the caffeine course through my veins and push my sleepy brain kick into gear and wake up. We hadn’t seen Mum on Christmas Day as she had spent the day with my sister so we had much to catch up on; what we ate, what presents did we received and what memorable good times we all had. I was feeling a little on the queasy side so I ordered the goat’s cheese omelette which had all the light fluffiness my delicate stomach lining needed and helped make me feel human again.
The Boy wanted something a little more substantial and enjoyed his “Huevos madrileños”; baked eggs with black pudding and chorizo served with toasted ciabatta. I wish I had room for his choice as it looked amazing. I am in love with Spanish style baked eggs and his oozy gooey eggs didn’t disappoint. True food envy plagued me for most of the day and my only consolation was thanks to my gorging efforts the day before, I doubt I had any room in my tummy for them anyway!Cooper & Milla’s 1094 High Street, Armadale VIC 3143 | (03) 9500 8127 Price: $$ ($10-16.50 breakfast) Food: 4/5 (I need to get back and try some sweets!) Service: 3.5/5 (casual, no table service) Ambience: 3/5 (hive of activity, funky) Drinks: 3/5 Total: 14/20 Riverland Vaults 1-9, Federation Wharf, Melbourne VIC 3000 | (03) 9662 1771 | www.riverlandbar.com Price: $$ ($7-20 breakfast) Food: 3/5 (not bad, a little heavy on the grease, BYO gluten free bread) Service: 3.5/5 (relaxed and friendly) Ambience: 4/5 (sitting by the river watching boats go by…) Drinks: 3.5/5 Total: 14/20 Lindt Chocolat Café 271 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD VIC 3000 | (03) 9667 0900 | www.lindt.com.au Price: $$ Food: 3/5 (it’s Lindt chocolate, it was always going to be amazing, pity about the macaron) Service: 2/5 (get better service at McDonald’s) Ambience: 2/5 (surprisingly poor) Drinks: 4/5 (get the hot chocolate) Total: 11/20 The European 161 Spring Street, Melbourne CBD VIC 3000 | (03) 9654 0811| www.theeuropean.com.au Price: $$ ($8-19 breakfast) Food: 4/5 (interesting breakfast options, no gluten free bread) Service: 4/5 (quick and efficient) Ambience: 3.5/5 (sit outside for breaky, a bit too dark inside) Drinks: 4.5/5 (coffee is the bomb!) Total: 15.5/20
It was the weekend before Christmas and I had flown into Melbourne a day earlier than the Boy in order to attend to some “secret wedding business”. It was for my final dress fitting at Luci Di Bella and despite enduring a terrible flight with crying babies, vomiting toddlers and a delay on the tarmac for nearly an hour I remained hyped with excitement.
My Dad and Stepmum’s apartment is very conveniently located just off Flinders Lane; meaning with a short skip and a jump you can find yourself submerged in one of Melbourne’s hottest spots for restaurants; PM24, MoVida, Chin Chin, Cumulus Inc, Coda, Ezard…need I go on?
Despite their close proximity, I have not had the fortune to visit many of these fine establishments as my family are also star entertainers. They are well known for throwing many fabulous dinner parties that often carry well on until the wee hours of the morning. As a result when I am in Melbourne, I rarely get the chance to check out the local eateries because there is too much good food to eat at home!
Arriving late on a Friday night we were all in agreeance that cooking would prove to be too much of a hassle and headed out to one of their favourites: The French Brasserie. We were greeted by the owner of the restaurant like we were family, which is not an uncommon occurrence when out with these two. They get a similar reception from many of the fresh produce sellers at the Prahran Markets which is something you wouldn’t expect in a big city like Melbourne. We were given some complimentary champagne to celebrate the beginning of the silly season with him and sat out in the alfresco dining area sipping away before being ushered to our table.
After enjoying some freshly shucked Sydney Rock and Pacific Oysters I started to feel the warmth of the champagne glow through my veins and all my stress from the crazy, hectic week slowly drained out of me. Living in separate cities makes it hard to keep my family up to date with all my wedding plans. As a result there was a lot of catching up for us to do! What made this moment even more special to me was that all my bridal babble was met with excitement and genuine interest. As not all my close family members have been by my side during this precious time, so their love and support has been worth its weight in gold. Or black truffle even 😉
Knowing there was a long weekend of Christmas feasting ahead of us we scanned the menu for something light. My Stepmum and I chose the filet de bouef. My thickly cut tender yearling eye fillet was seared to a firm crust on its surface yet carved smoothly like pate under my knife. An elegant smear of ruby red beetroot purée gave a hint of sweetness to the delicate meat. It was exactly what I felt like. The dish is normally accompanied by a long block of potato salardaise; potatoes cooked in duck fat. I was unfortunately informed that the potato contained gluten or onion, I can’t quite remember, but basically it wasn’t suitable for me. They served us an extra dish of French fries to make up for this.
Dad ordered the paillard de boeuf, a yearling beef minute steak served with marrow and bordelaise sauce. The decadent flavours of the bone marrow gave a richer and bolder flavour to the beef and if his dish wasn’t laden with onion I would have loved to have given it a try. I cannot remember that last time I tried bone marrow, possibly it was at the family table as a child? What a perfect start to what was to prove an incredible Christmas weekend. Let the eating begin!!French Brassiere 2 Malthouse Lane, Melbourne CBD VIC 3000 | (03) 9662 1632 | http://www.thefrenchbrasserie.com.au/site/ Price: $$$$ (Entrée $16-20, Mains $34-43) Food: 4.5/5 (ultra-fresh cuts of meat, faultless preparation) Service: 4/5 (I almost felt like family, I love that all the wait staff are French!) Ambience: 4.5/5 (hidden down a little lane way, has a bistro vibe) Drinks: 4/5 (Dad picked the wine, it was something scrumptious from Bordeaux) Total: 17/20
Christmas is the time of year when the distance that separates me from my family feels the longest. December is our busiest month at work so I can only return back home for the silly season once every few years. This year I had booked our flights well in advance to avoid the last-minute price blow outs; flights across the continent triple in price around this time of year as people arrange to visit their family and friends.
Because we would not be in Perth to join the Boy’s family for Christmas Day, we agreed to celebrate our family lunch the weekend before our departure in a casual pool party affair at our house. However, in the lead up to flying out my work pressures were at boiling point so in order to avoid having a mental breakdown I opted for simple fresh dishes that were bound to please the Boy’s very hungry family!
These wasabi devilled eggs were so quick to prepare and were snuffled up in minutes. Even by those who don’t really like wasabi!
To replace the classic blinis that smoked salmon is traditionally served on, I baked these little potato “blinis”. They turned out a bit more like a rosti but still managed to complement the flavour of the fish without overpowering it. Being baked and not fried they were light and not oily at all.
For mains I cooked a prosciutto wrapped beef eye fillet using some of my Dairy Free Pesto Sauce sent to me complementary to try by Roza’s Gourmet Sauces. The original recipe used a Wattle Valley Chunky dip so I adapted and added chopped cashews. I was secretly hoping that after all our starters the Boy and I would end up with a fridge full of left overs but everything obviously tasted too good because alas there was slim pickings in the fridge the next day.
The following weekend we jetsetted over to Melbourne where we were to celebrate with my family. My Mum had also flown in from Adelaide so we could all be together. The schedule was a busy one: wedding dress fitting on day one, followed by some last-minute Christmas shopping, an indulgent night out on Christmas Eve at Rockpool with my Mum and then a day of festivities with eleven people and seven dogs at my Dad and step mum’s house on Christmas Day. Here are some more snap shots of our memorable day!
I apologise for the lack of photos of our mains; but for those interested we feasted on honey roasted ham, cranberry and macadamia stuffed turkey and roast pork with crackling. In my eagerness to get stuck in and eat I totally forgot to take photos! The best I can offer you is a shot of the duck fat potatoes.
My Step mum’s sister owns a cake shop and so it was logical that she was delegated to make the Christmas pudding for everyone. I have grown accustomed to missing out on this fabulous end to a traditional Christmas feast but this year I was so lucky as the lovely folks from Just In Time Gourmet had kindly delivered to my front door a sample of Newcastle’s Pudding Lady gluten free pudding for me to taste test.
Moist, rich and overtly fruity I accepted that while a fructose overdose was inevitable (and tolerable) I was to relish in the knowledge that no serious gluten aftermath would follow. With freshly made brandy cream drizzled on top this was a delightfully decadent way to end a feast. For those gluten intolerants out there…grab one while you still have the chance or risk having to wait another whole year!
Hoping all my lovely readers had a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for a fabulous New Year!