At the very tail end of my annual leave I received a spontaneous call from one of my dearest friends and business partner Chris to join her on a lunch date. She was freed of the responsibility of her little offspring for the afternoon and wanted to make the most of it. She wasn’t fussy where we went and let me choose the venue. With so many new bars popping up around town it is hard to keep up despite being a food blogger. One bar that has sparked my interest is Shadow Wine Bar located in the new Alex Hotel. Moving away from the current trend of tight spaces and walk-ins, Shadow Wine Bar fills a large space with dramatic black and white interiors, massively high ceilings and an industrial warehouse-gone-chic feel.
I tend to avoid making an early judgement on the fluidity of service for new venues like this, not only are the staff new but everything is new and everyone deserves time to land on their feet. So I excused our waiter’s error in telling me all the pasta dishes were gluten free along with a dish with a rye crumb. It was even easier to forgive him quickly when the rest of our service was accompanied with smiles and attentiveness.
We started with the potato crisp topped with fresh crab and a lemon aioli. These morsels were a mouthful of flavour however the potato didn’t hold up to the weight of its toppings and became a little soggy in the middle.
The pan-fried haloumi was a squeaky treat matched beautifully with slightly sweet, slightly sour pink grapefruit and peppery fresh watercress. A simple collection of ingredients that balanced elegantly.
The veal carpaccio was the winner of the day. Nearly translucent slices of veal were marbled with spider thin strands of white fat and tore apart like tissue paper across the plate. Truffle mustard drizzled generously on top gave a subtle hint of truffiliciousness.
Shadow Bar’s crispy pork jowl is a must for pork lovers. The crackling was browned to a tooth-chipping, crunchable texture while the underlying unctuous goodness melted in the mouth without any lingering aftertaste.
A meal with Chris is never complete without sweets. In fact, over nearly two decades of friendship I cannot recall ever eating with her and not ingesting something saccariferous. Not that I am complaining because I am no different. After a round of giggles from us both trying to pronounce “tart tartin” properly in French, Chris ordered the pear tart tartin. It was served with tonka bean ice cream which had a similar flavour to vanilla with a hint of caramel.
The only gluten free dessert option was the poached rhubarb served with a scoop of mascarpone and shards of meringue. Whilst my dessert certainly looked the part, I found its flavours to be underwhelming with the creaminess and tartness unbalanced due to a distinct lack of sweetness. It almost felt like there was a missing ingredient.
Our lunch experience at Shadow Wine Bar left me undecided on my opinion so the following day I brought the Boy back there for lunch for a second chance. Our waitress was much more clued on about what was gluten free and sailed me through the menu without hesitation. Sadly only a handful of the small plates could be adapted and despite being a hotel there was no gluten free bread available.
We started with the jamon iberico which was served with fresh bread on the side for the Boy and some very tasty pickles. Like the carpaccio, the meat was high quality and similarly soft and flavourful.
The fish of the day was two fillets of pan-fried King George Whiting with a puttanesca sauce made with olives, eggplant, zucchini and capsicum. I picked out the fructose loaded onions easily. As the Boy devoured his share he wondered why I had any reservations about this venue as he had only experienced winning dishes.
Our next dish was the braised lamb neck ragu and this cemented his positive opinion on Shadow. Served on a bed of soft polenta, the lamb was delicately textured, moist and rich and we both savoured each mouthful.
In contrast to Chris, the Boy doesn’t have a sweet tooth except for his weakness for ice cream. I was happy to settle for some cheese instead especially as I had seen two of my favourites of all time on the menu; namely Manchego and Brillat Savarin. These are two very different cheeses but are both ground-shakingly amazing. The cheeses were served at the perfect temperature to maximise their flavour but sadly there were no gluten free crackers or bread to accompany. I am hoping this is just one small oversight that they plan to resolve.
I am glad I returned back to Shadow Wine Bar as I can now appreciate it has oodles of potential. Housed in an impressive space, with a short to the point menu and serving wines by the glass or carafe Shadow Wine Bar proves that our little city Perth is finally growing up. I am hoping that they will progress to becoming a little more gluten free friendly so that people like me can enjoy more of their European styled menu.
Shadow Wine Bar
214 William Street, Northbridge WA | (08) 6430 4010 | www.shadowwinebar.com.au
Back in March I attended a two-day feline veterinary conference in Kuala Lumpur. The Boy joined me at the end of the conference where we stayed on for an extra day to explore the city together before flying onto Vietnam for our anniversary holiday. As I’m not accustomed to sitting still for long periods, by the time the Boy arrived after my two conference days had finished I was full of energy like crazed, caged animal. We had only allocated one day for KL so to cover as much ground as possible I planned a busy schedule of eating with some sight-seeing and shopping thrown in for good measure.
We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel which was where the conference was held and was conveniently located within walking distance to the shopping areas and the monorail station. Our room was one of the “Lifestyle Rooms” which overlooks the beautiful Petronas Towers. The room gave us access to the Lifestyle Club floors however I felt this probably was a waste of our money as I only went in there once. The bathroom had a good range of Tokyomilk amenities which were refreshed daily.
The breakfast on offer in the club lounge was much smaller than the buffet downstairs and wasn’t worth returning for. We didn’t get a chance to check out their free afternoon cocktail hour. The gym was huge and certainly one of the better equipped, more modern hotel gyms that I have seen. It was nearly as big as my regular gym back home. The breakfast buffet had all the usual suspects that I would expect in a South-east Asian hotel however I would have preferred better quality. They had gluten free bread and muffins available on most albeit not all days.
1. Local breakfast snack at Nyonya Colours, Suria KLCC
Unless I’m staying five-star, hotel breakfasts are not really a deal clincher for me as I prefer to get out and about to sample the city’s cuisine. We skipped our hotel breakfast and headed off on foot towards the Petronas Twin Towers. Located at the base of the twin towers is Suria KLCC; six heavenly levels of shopping with something for everyone ranging from high ends brands like Tiffany, Chanel, Gucci and LV through to some more affordable fashion, sport wear and accessories stores. The Boy was kind enough to tolerate a short spurt of shopping before stopping in at Nyonya Colours for a quick morning snack.
I flashed my home-made Malaysian gluten free, fructose friendly eating card to the cashier to which he initially frowned and shook his head. After giving my request more thought he then pointed to the only two suitable options in the glass cabinet; a type of fish cake wrapped in banana leaf called otak otak and a rose sago dessert. Beggars can’t be choosers I thought to myself so I ordered them both.
If they are made traditionally, Otak otak should be naturally gluten free but as always if you are Coeliac or very sensitive please ensure to check with the seller before you buy. Otak otak are a type of spicy fish cake made with coconut milk, shrimp paste, egg, rice or tapioca flour and spices such as kaffir lime, turmeric, lemongrass and chilli. They can often contain some shallots so for those sensitive to onion be aware of this.
Rose sago is another traditional Malaysian dessert made from sago, coconut milk, palm sugar and fresh coconut. It is flavoured with rose essence for a subtle hint of floral flavour. I have been a big fan of eating these “kuih” since I first tried Red Hot Spatula’s some years back.
The Boy wasn’t keen on any of the vegetarian options from Nyonya Colours so after I finished my otak otak we headed downstairs to the food hall in search of something else for him to eat. As we entered the basement area I saw a post office and dashed over to send postcards home to family and friends. Meanwhile the Boy found a food stall serving some vegetarian sushi. Whilst the stall holder nodded to me that his selection was gluten free, I didn’t want to take the risk it as there was some suspect looking marinated tofu inside that looked like it contained soy sauce.
As the Boy sat down to eat his breakfast, my eyes gazed around the mall and caught sight of a brightly lit Garrett’s popcorn store. I have been lusting over this world famous popcorn for a very long time and was dying to try it. I ran over to the store like an excitable child and ordered a large bag of their popular Chicago mix to eat later back in the hotel room. Most of Garrett’s popcorn flavours are gluten free but once again be sure to double check before you order. Oh, and another warning…it is very addictive and once you open the packet you need to be prepared to be unable to stop until it’s all gone.
2. Petronas Twin Towers
Our first touristy stop was the Petronas Twin Towers; KL’s 88 floor 452 metre tall skyscraper. We were on a fairly tight schedule so had I pre-booked our tickets to go up to the top online the day before. For those less organised there are also a small allotment of tickets available every morning at the ticket counter but get there early as they sell out quickly. The tickets cost 80 RM per person.
Our journey consisted of two parts; the first was up to the 41st level where the twin towers are joined by a 58 metre sky bridge. We were given around ten minutes or so to explore the bridge and take photos.
After this we were escorted to the 68th floor which is the highest point in the building that the general public are permitted. Once at the top we were left to our own devices to explore, read the display information and take in the 360 degree view of Kuala Lumpur CBD.
After our Petronas experience was over we headed back down to the ground level to find ourselves a taxi to Batu caves. On our way we passed a macaron stall allowing me to have a quick impromptu mac attack. Well, it’s not like I could walk past and not try a couple of flavours, could I?
3. Batu caves
Our next stop was the Batu caves. These caves are accessible by either taxi or train with a substantial difference in price. We paid about 80 RM for one way by taxi however we made the mistake of catching it outside our hotel, you could probably get a metered taxi for half the price if you were a bit savvier.
The Kommuter train line runs right out to the caves with a direct stop and our return trip on the train only set us back 4 RM each. We are not the biggest fans of public transport and found the taxi much easier and more relaxing. Additionally the connection from the Kommuter train to the Monorail at KL Sentral station wasn’t the easiest to find as the signposting was quite poor.
There are a few noteworthy things to see at the Batu caves. Your first hurdle is to climb the 272 steps to get to the caves. There is no lift available which is worth knowing in advance if you are injured, infirm or wheelchair bound. At the foot of the stairs is the world’s tallest statue of Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. He stands nearly 43 metres tall and it took 300 litres of gold paint to paint him!
After spending a few days cooped up in lectures, the stair climb was just the workout that I needed. I do have to confess that we both stopped halfway to catch our breath! Dotted all up the stairs were a multitude of long-tailed macaques all scampering about trying to forage amongst the rubbish left by messy humans.
The Cathedral Cave located at the top of the stairs is a huge area with an impressive high ceiling and was filled a number of Hindu statues and ornate shrines although they were not very well maintained with rubbish littered about the place.
After walking through the Cathedral cave, we also took a tour through the Dark Cave. Tours cost 35 RM per adult and last about an hour. Our tour guide Zarris was an entertaining chap who spoke excellent English and was very informative. In contrast to the cultural experience of walking through the temple, the Dark Cave tour is focussed on educating about conservation. It highlights some of the intriguing invertebrate wildlife living in the caves and if you are lucky you might get to sight a bat or two. We also got to view some beautiful large stalagmite and flow stone formations.
On our way to the Batu train station to return back to the city centre, the Boy stopped at one of the street food vendors to grab a quick on-the-go snack. Unfortunately the stall holder couldn’t read any of my translated eating cards meaning I couldn’t identify whether anything was gluten free.
Instead I settled for some durian popcorn. I can see why some people go nuts for this fruit, it has a very distinct and pungent flavour!
4. Shopping at the Pavilion and a Hello Kitty coffee at Komugi Cafe
My next checkpoint was to buy myself a Hello Kitty latte. As many of you know, I am a self-confessed crazy cat lady and whenever I’m on holidays I need to get a kitty fix from somewhere. A few weeks back I had seen a picture of cat coffee art at Komugi Café on my Instagram newsfeed and was determined to head there and score one for myself.
Komugi Café is a Japanese bakery selling a variety of Japanese baked goods including a lot of different types of breads and pastries. Regrettably none appeared to be gluten free so we settled on some chocolates instead.
The coffee tasted a lot milkier and was weakly flavoured, quite a contrast to my normal preferences. However the pure novelty of having a Hello Kitty face decorated in my coffee’s foam made this one of the best coffees I have ever had! 😉
Komugi is located in the Pavilion shopping centre which is also multi-level and has a different collection of shops to that in Suria KLCC. After doing a spot more shopping we were ready for something more substantial to eat having only nibbled on things throughout the day.
5. Jalan Alor Hawkers food
It was a short walk from the Pavilion to Jalan Alor where there is a wide variety of street food with prices that won’t break the travel budget. I brought with me all my translated eating cards written in Malaysian, Chinese and Thai and this made it a bit easier to find someone willing to help us.
Gluten free alcohol options are grim with most hawker restaurants only serving beer. I was happy to abstain and enjoy a fresh young coconut instead. Veterinary conferences can be quite heavy going with a lot of alcohol drinking so I’m sure my liver appreciated some time off.
Before choosing our dinner location we started off with some grilled corn and sambal stingray. After showing the stall holder my gluten free eating card I watched them carefully while they prepared our dishes to ensure there wasn’t any gluten containing sauces like soy added. The sting ray was a bit of a disappointment as it wasn’t as spicy as that I’ve had in Singapore and the meat wasn’t tender and flaky.
Our next round of meals were from Restoran Sun Chui Yuen who were very happy to accommodate and help choose some gluten free dishes for me. We ordered steamed ginger crab, prawns with egg yolk, fried tofu and fried rice. As we looked around us we saw that we had ordered a lot more dishes than any of our adjacent tables despite it just being for the two of us. Locals pointed at all our food and laughed while they rubbed their bellies to indicate our greediness. We smiled back sheepishly.
Whilst I had tried my best to explain to our waiter about potential contamination of gluten in food, this is the hardest part of ordering in a foreign country. Many waiters will understand about not including ingredients with gluten, but to ensure the frying oil and the chopping board is clean is much more difficult.
Later that night I did get a reaction however thankfully it wasn’t too severe and I am guessing it would have just been in the deep fryer rather than actually in the food. I should have used my common sense and stuck with steamed dishes.
6. Night cap at Marini’s on 57 Sky bar
The fact that the locals at Jalan Alor thought our eating habits were hilarious were well founded. We were feeling very full and ready for late night cap before hitting the sack. Before we did, I wanted to show the Boy how beautiful the Petronis Towers looked all lit up at night so we walked back to the city centre for a drink at Marini’s on 57 Sky bar.
Marini’s is located on the 57th level of Petronis Tower 3 adjacent to the Twin Towers and gives a spectacular view of the building and city below. It is claimed to be Malaysia’s highest rooftop bar and has floor to ceiling glass windows to maximise on the view. Marini’s has three areas with a funky bar, Italian restaurant and cigar lounge.
We made ourselves comfortable at the bar and I ordered a Mary’s Melon cocktail; made with 42 below Manuka honey vodka, Midori melon, rosemary syrup and vanilla syrup and garnished with a rosemary stalk and chunks of honey dew. Not exactly a fructose friendly drink but it was completely worth it.
Whilst it wasn’t easy to find a gluten free Kuala Lumpur; with eating cards in hand things were made a bit easier for me. For those foodies not restricted by the shackles of food intolerances it is definitely a city worth eating your way around. Street food vendors are everywhere and I wish I could have sampled more dishes. Alas I have learnt that whilst I can tolerant a bit of fructose here and there, gluten is my enemy and is simply not worth the pain.
Suria KLCC Shopping Centre | www.suriaklcc.com.my/index.html Petronis Twin Towers | Lower ground level, Petronis Twin Towers, KLCC 50088 Kuala Lumpur | +603 2331 8080 | www.petronastwintowers.com.my Jalan Batu Caves, 68100 Jalan Batu Caves, Selangor | +603 6189 6284 | en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batu_Caves | Dark Cave Educational Tour, Batu Caves | www.darkcavemalaysia.com Komugi Café | Lot 24/1A, Tokyo Street, Level 6, Pavilion Shopping centre, Kuala Lumpur | +603 214 80369 | www.komugi.com.my Jalan Alor Street Food | Jalan Alor Bukit Bintang, 50200 Kuala Lumpur Marini’s on 57 | Level 57, Menara 3 Petronis, Persiaran KLCC, 50088 Kuala Lumpur | +603 2386 6030 | www.marinis57.com
Despite living in Western Australia for nearly twenty years I am ashamed to admit that I have never journeyed further north than the seaside town of Dongara to visit my Bestie. Whenever I plan a holiday, the centre point of our activities is always based around experiencing the food of the places we visit. I didn’t feel any foodie gravitational pull coming from this region of Australia imagining it to be not much more than white sandy beaches, cattle ranches and red expanses of desert. The Boy on the other hand is a huge advocate of the North West and has tried to encourage me to go for years. He was over the moon to hear I was chosen to be the Gascoyne regional blogger for the Buy West Eat Best WA Signature Dish competition. He knew this would finally be the reason we could go up there together and he was convinced that I would love it.
After a number of hurdles tried to prevent us reaching our destination including missing a flight and battling a storm, we were incredibly relieved to finally drive into the pretty town of Carnarvon. Our first day was hectically busy with duties for the WA Signature Dish regional final which left our second day free to explore the area. With some help from the locals we managed to go on an extended version of the Gascoyne Food Trail; one unlike any other food trail I have gone on. Cast away images of your previous experiences visiting multiple tourist driven sites stocked with samples of artisan gourmet goods. Instead, this self-drive tour will give you a paddock to plate experience of the Gascoyne as you discover the region’s produce in its raw and naturally fresh state.
Our first stop for the morning was located down on Snapper Jetty to watch one of the local Abacus crab boats come in with their catch. Abacus Fisheries is a family run business owned by Peter Jecks and his wife. Living locally in Carnarvon Peter has been in the industry for over 20 years. Despite such a long time in the crab trade, he remains fiercely passionate being highly focused on producing a quality product in addition to proactively supporting the environmental sustainability of his fishing practices.
Peter is well known amongst Australia’s high profile foodies having featured on a number of television programs including Postcards WA and SBS’s Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia. I was very interested to hear that not a single part of the crab is wasted. The water that is used to cook the crab meat gets packaged and sold as crab stock in gourmet food stores. Even the shell is compounded to use as chitin in the medical industry for a number of applications including the manufacture of the dressings used as a second skin for burn victims.
That day, it turned out to be our lucky morning because not only did we get to see the crab fisherman come in with their haul, but we had timed our visit with one of the local fishing boats Cygnet Lass returning from a four day stint at sea.
This fishing boat provided the day’s fresh fish to Pickles Point Seafood which is located just doors down from Abacus crabs. Pickles Point is run by Gayle Dewar, one of our WA Signature dish contestants and they are renowned for providing the local Carnarvon residents with some of the freshest Shark Bay seafood.
Gayle was kind enough to take me behind the scenes where I saw a beautiful 3kg Red Emperor fish get neatly filleted in the blink of an eye with perfect precision. I made a mental note that next time upon our return to the region, we need to ensure arrange accommodation complete with a kitchenette! I would have loved to have bought some Red Emperor and cooked it up for dinner.
After a morning of photographing delicious fresh seafood, the two of us were desperate to grab a quick snack before we headed out onto the plantations. Harbourside Cafe is located along the same stretch of road as the fishing boat jetties so we ducked in there for a bite to eat. It has the vibe of a beach side fish and chip shop with simple décor and no table service. Their menu is literally pages long with an eclectic mix of local and imported seafood in addition to some Indian and Thai styled curries.
Avoiding the cheaper imported fish dishes, I chose the grilled Carnarvon snapper fillet served with salad and chips. The chef was happy to cook the chips in fresh oil to avoid any gluten contamination. My snapper was an enormous serve of two big fillets and I would have preferred a smaller size at a cheaper price. The fish was soft and flaked apart delicately under my fork.
The Boy ordered the crab cakes and prawn nori rolls. The crab cakes were topped with fresh prawns and a sweet chilli sauce. Obviously not being gluten free I didn’t try them but the Boy said they had a satisfying crunchy exterior with a creamy centre however didn’t have a lot of flavour.
The nori rolls were served deep fried which we both thought was quite curious. Stuffed with fresh prawns, seaweed and capsicum these non-traditionalist snacks were a novelty worth trying at least once.
Refuelled and ready for more exploring we headed out to the ring road affectionately known as the “fruit loop” by locals. The area is filled with fruit and vegetable plantations growing a wide variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs. The first stop heading out of town was Morel’s Orchard. Run by the absolutely lovely Jean and Doris Morel, this plantation is open to the public seven days a week including public holidays. Who needs a farmers market when you can buy your produce direct from the farmer? Honestly, it was like a dream come true for me!
Morel’s fruits were all so supersized and delicious looking but the most interesting of them all was the black sapote, or chocolate pudding fruit. This fruit is a species of persimmon with a yellow green inedible skin. The centre of the ripe fruit is a dark chocolate colour with the creamy texture of, yes you guessed it, chocolate pudding.
In addition to growing many seasonal fruits, the Morel’s property has row upon row of herbs and other vegetables growing lusciously. Everything looked so well-manicured and cared for as if it was just their own personal backyard veggie patch, but on a much larger scale. The Boy is an avid green thumb and his dream isn’t to be able to buy direct from farmers like me, but more so to be able to have his own veggie patch of this grand scale and get his veggies from his own backyard.
As we thanked Jean and Doris for their hospitality, Doris insisted that we try some of their chocolate coated frozen fruit before we left. I am so glad we did! Forget about Magnum ice-cream, these Morel freezer sweets are worth the visit in their own right. We struggled to choose which ones to eat and ended up greedily grabbing far too many; trying the chocolate coated black sapote, the custard apple, banana and strawberries along with some frozen mango. The smooth black sapote was definitely our favourite with the banana coming a close second.
Whilst many of you may never have heard of a chocolate pudding fruit before, you will be more familiar with one of Carnarvon’s biggest exports to Perth; the banana. I was grateful that Sweeter Banana’s business manager Doriana was happy to take some time out from her busy day to show us through the banana packing facility.
The Boy and I have had many a debate at home over which bananas are better; I love the smaller, sweeter ones and he prefers the picture perfect enormous ones. Whenever he does the grocery shopping he will always come home with the biggest bananas he can find which inevitably results in complaints from me because I think they taste powdery and bland. What I didn’t know was why this is the case.
Doriana was a proud advocate of the smaller banana which is characteristic of the Carnarvon-grown fruit. Their smaller size and better taste is all due to the different climate of the Gascoyne region in comparison to tropical North Queensland where the larger bananas come from. Carnarvon’s weather tends to be hot and dry having a much lower humidity level. The low humidity means that their crops do not suffer from the diseases and pests seen in the tropics making their produce pesticide free.
Because of these weather conditions, the banana plantations have to plant their trees much closer together than in the tropics. This creates a continuous canopy with the tree’s leaves which helps protect the fruit from the burning rays of the sun. As a result the bananas have a much longer growing time resulting in a smaller but much sweeter fruit. Next time you are buying bananas, look for the lunchbox sized versions and you can taste the difference for yourself. I am happy to say I have converted the Boy to eating our local WA sweeter bananas now!
Our final stop on the fruit loop was at the home store on Bumbak’s plantation. This plantation owner had become frustrated with the amount of good fruit she had to throw away year after year just because it wasn’t up to the commercial standard despite the fact it was perfectly fine to eat.
She created a way to value add to this large component of her harvest by making a variety of jams, sauces and marinades. Many of her natural home made products are gluten free and have won a long list of Awards at the Perth Royal Show. We grabbed a couple of jars to take home to try including her banana jam and some Thai coconut chilli marinade.
Heading back into town there is a cute little place worth mentioning called River Gums Café that is marked on the Gascoyne Food trail. It regrettably did not have a lot to offer gluten free so we didn’t stop there for a bite to eat but it is a very pretty location to stop for afternoon tea for those less restricted with their diets.
The last stop on the Gascoyne Food trail is “The Precinct”, Carnarvon’s Heritage area on Babbage Island. This area is home to the One Mile Jetty, a beautiful historical jetty built in 1897 and maintained in good enough condition to walk nearly the full length.
Until very recently you could buy yourself a drink and an ice cream from the Guardsmans’ Van kiosk to enjoy on your jetty walk. With the opening of the new Interpretive Centre, the kiosk has now been closed as it has been replaced with the One Mile Restaurant in the Centre. This restaurant was the location for our WA Signature Dish regional final. On the day of the final, the chef of One Mile Restaurant and I got chatting and I was excited to hear she plans to accommodate for gluten free customers. The restaurant was opening that week and I offered to return in order to try one of her first gluten free cake creations.
I’m glad we made the effort to return. She made a super moist orange almond cake that was different to your usual almond meal based cake. She included some gluten free flour to make it lighter and fluffier. Suffice to say I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it and the Boy who is “not a dessert person” was very happy to help me finish my generous slice. He even said it didn’t taste gluten free! Winning!
As we drove back to our hotel, the Boy looked over at me very satisfied with himself.
“Am I right?” he asked me.
All these years I had dismissed ideas of a trip up North with the perception that there was nothing up here that would interest me. Swallowing my pride humbly there was no way I could refute him; this is a place in Western Australia that every foodie needs to visit.
Gascoyne Food Trail | www.gascoynefood.com.au Pickles Point Seafood & Boatyard | Facebook Lot H Harbour Road, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 4078 | Open Mon-Sat from 9am-5pm (closed Jan-Feb) Harbourside Cafe 131 Harbour Road, South Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 4111 | Facebook Morel’s Orchard 486 Robinson Street, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 8368 | Open 7 days (incl. PH) from 8.30am-5.30pm Sweeter Banana Cooperative Carnarvon | (08) 9941 9100 | www.sweeterbanana.com Bumbak’s at Terra Temptations 449 North River Road, Carnarvon, WA | 0409 377 934 Available at IGA Cottesloe River Gums Café Turn at the Big Banana on Robinson Street then it 34 Margaret R.O.W., Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 8281 | Open Wed-Sunday from 10am-3pm during May to October www.carnarvonheritage.com.au The Precinct is open daily from 9am-5pm, April to November and on weekends only from December to March. One Mile restaurant will be opening mid-May 2014.
Gourmet Escape is a three-day food and wine festival held in Margaret River in November each year. It attracts foodies from all around the country and the world in order to feast on the finest this region has to offer. The core part of the festival is centred on the Gourmet Village which is held on the spacious grounds at Leeuwin Estate. I have written a full account of our experience at the Gourmet Village here.
Throughout the indulgent weekend there are also a number of satellite events held featuring world-famous chefs and offering experiences such as long table lunches, luxurious dinners and even pop up beach barbecues. These events sell out in a flash and for those who are keen, be sure to get yourselves on the pre-sale lists to avoid missing out. The day that all the key tickets were released for sale I was working a full day with a busy schedule so I left all our purchasing up to the Boy. One of our many compatibilities is our love for food so I trusted he would make some good decisions. His choices included two of the Food For Thought Sessions held at the picturesque Voyager Estate grounds.
Our first session was with the amazing duo of Heston Blumenthal and Harold Mc Gee titled “The Science of Cooking”. It was a glorious day with clear blue skies and as we walked onto the brilliant green grounds the wafting aromas of freshly brewed coffee teased our senses. It wasn’t before long we both had one in hand; a short mac for me and a latte for the Boy.
But in all honesty coffee schmofy; who needs coffee when you can have a freshly shaken grape juice cocktail? I knocked back my macchiato in a flash so that I could graciously accept our next round of beverage! With glass in hand we entered into the elegant, chandelier decorated marquee and found our way to our table.
Our waitress made a careful effort to identify the people with pre-notified dietary requirements on our table including the Boy’s vegetarian request and my gluten free. My morning tea included three components. The first morsel was called Spring in a Jar and contained thick avocado cream cheese with miniature vegetables and olive powder.
The second portion on my plate was a slice of delicately tender Margaret River Wagyu sirloin with oyster mushrooms and a horseradish emulsion. The original version of this was served on a crostini which they replaced with a gluten free rice cracker for me. The final component was an egg omelette rolled up with wakame seaweed and sweet Shark Bay Blue Swimmer crab meat.
For the Boy’s vegetarian option the Wagyu was omitted and he was given a larger serve of oyster mushroom with the horse radish emulsion and his wakame egg roll omitted the crab meat.
It was entertaining listening to Heston and Harold talk, I believe they are close personal friends and have both in turn inspired each other’s careers. Whilst Heston was charming and humorous, I found Harold’s scientific approach to understanding the techniques used for cooking very interesting and he has motivated me to return to reading his enormously thick book “McGee on Food & Cooking” that I own at home on the shelf.
Desserts weren’t served until the talk had well and truly finished and by this point many attendees had to whisk away to attend their next foodie event. A perfect cube of Bahen & Co chocolate gateaux was just enough for about two mouthfuls and was adapted to be gluten free for me by omission of the ganache topping. I’m glad we had the time to stick around as this decadent treat literally melted in the mouth.
Our second Food for Thought session on the following day was with Miles Irving, Alex Atala and Matt Wilkinson and was titled “The Call of the Wild – Insects, weeds and the food of the future”. It was no surprise to me that the Boy chose us a session about eating bugs. Remember his insect devouring obsession in Thailand? He ate them at every opportunity that he could find.
This session was better organised than the previous day with both coffees and cocktails in abundance and the service even more polished and attentive. The food and drinks were created by the kitchen team from Morries Anytime. On arrival we were offered glasses of “Billy’s Punch” to accompany cubes of apple liquor soaked canapés. I had planned ahead for any inadvertent fructose exposure and brought some glucose tablets in my handbag. I downed a few before helping myself to some boozy apple delights. The punch was made with a generous amount of Aperol, some Voyager bubbles, sparkling grape juice, home-made rhubarb syrup and fresh orange and strawberry and was far too drinkable for the early morning. I was appreciative of the much larger serving compared to the day before and if it wasn’t before twelve I could have easier had another.
The wait staff team were much more on the ball and shortly after being seated platters of food were brought to the tables. I was informed that I was able to eat the pork and parsley terrine topped with spiced plum chutney as it was gluten free. The mini burgers containing Notting Hill marron and truffle were not suitable and we were told to hold out as our replacements were on their way.
For my replacement the bun was exchanged for toasted gluten free bread. My resulting sandwich was stuffed full of marron and truffle flavour. What a decadent way to start the day!
The Boy sunk his teeth into his vegetarian option before I even had a chance to photograph it and then tried to recreate it in its untouched state by swizzling it round on his plate so I couldn’t see the chomp marks. I never thought I’d hear the day that he would moan in pleasure over a vego burger but this haloumi slider did the trick.
The talk did somewhat digress away from discussing the potentially unpalatable sounding specifics of eating insects and weeds and onto its more worldly implications in providing more sustainable locally grown seasonal produce. We were made to think about not only what foods we choose to eat, but how that food is produced and what potential impact its production has had on the world around us.
Our desserts were discretely served in the latter half of the talk allowing all attendees to enjoy it for this session. The Boy received Bahen & Co chocolate fudge with salted caramel popcorn.
For my gluten free version the fudge was replaced with a scoop of caramel ice cream and topped with the salted caramel popcorn and fresh strawberries.
I found both sessions very informative and interesting and am keen to attend them again next year. The food served each day was very locally orientated, of high quality and was able to be adapted for food allergies provided notice was given in advance. The amount of food was enough for a light morning tea leaving enough room to attend another event in the afternoon or evening without feeling stuffed to the brim.
The 2013 Gourmet Escape Food for Thought sessions cost $100 per person including food and drinks.Voyager Estate 41 Stevens Road, Margaret River WA 6285 | (08) 9757 6354 | www.voyagerestate.com.au/the-estate/the-restaurant
For those of you living in Perth, think back to what it used to be like on a weeknight in our City five years ago. Once the day ended and the clock hit five, all the bustling daytime cafes and bars would shut and everyone would head straight home. Before long the streets of our capital would be stark empty and it was like you were standing in a ghost town. A rapidly growing city with a population of over one million people and yet we turned our backs on our own city centre!? Thankfully things didn’t stay that way forever and after some government incentives like the new small bars laws and the construction of flashy inner city apartment blocks; little sparks of life started popping up everywhere throughout the city. This energy has now burst into full flame and the memory of Perth’s once deserted streets is just an embarrassment of the past.
One of the most exciting new developments in the city is Brookfield Place situated on St Georges Terrace. This complex is based around the BHP skyscraper and is an entertainment hub filled with high end restaurants and bars. Print Hall is one of the more sophisticated new eating locations within the complex and is housed in the beautiful heritage listed Newspaper House. Print Hall recently won six awards at the Australian Hotels Association Western Australia Hospitality Awards for Excellence and has also received one star in the 2014 Good Food Guide. The kitchen team is led by David Coomer of iconic Star Anise fame and Executive chef Shane Watson and these talented guys are very focused on using Western Australian produce to serve European influenced dishes.
My first visit to Print Hall was earlier in the year when we stopped for a couple of quick drinks before seeing David Attenborough’s live show at the Perth Convention Centre. Immediately upon entering the bar I was wowed by its opulence and sense of grandeur; it is massive by Perth standards. Situated at one end of the luxurious bar is a permanent oyster bar manned by the lovely Jerry Fraser who is also known as the “King of Oysters”. Jerry is there nearly every day freshly shucking oysters on demand for hungry diners in addition to serving a variety of super fresh local seafood. On this night however we missed out on meeting the man himself and got his more than competent side kick Tony.
Like moths attracted to a bright light the Boy and I gravitated over to the neon “Jerry’s Oysters” sign and sat ourselves in front of Tony at the bar. Looking at my clock I saw we had exactly one hour until the show began and ambitiously ordered the biggest and most expensive seafood platter to share; “The Print Hall”. The Boy gave me a bit of a high brow look but didn’t make any attempts to stop me ordering it.
Tony assured us he would have our platter ready for us in a jiffy and made quick work preparing everything giving us plenty of time to make a total mess of ourselves as we devoured it.
Our enormous platter was piled high with all the delights of the sea including a full Western rock lobster, Blue Ridge marron, Blue Manna crab, Tiger prawns, mussels, cambinata yabbies and oysters. Nothing beats the taste of freshly shucked oysters in my humble opinion; I can eat them by the dozen. These combined with nearly every other tasty crustacean from the sea it was enough to send us both into a dizzy head spin. It was a fabulous experience and worth every single cent.
After our brief but awesome experience at Print Hall Bar, I was very eager to return. My Dad and Stepmum are two very well-travelled foodies who live in the heart of Melbourne just off Flinders Lane where they are surrounded by the City’s top end restaurants. I knew they would be hard to impress so when they came over for a whirlwind business trip to Perth I took a punt and booked a table in the Print Hall Dining Room.
We started the night off with a round of cocktails upstairs in the Apple Daily Bar overlooking Print Hall’s long bar. Dad and the Boy both ordered the daily special cocktail which was made with apple and rosemary. Not really the Boy’s thing however as you may know he is a purist strawberry daiquiri fan. This drink wasn’t pink enough for him!
I ordered the White Lady Boy made with white spirits, yuzu and ginger. It was topped with pretty little flowers and was fresh, light and far too easy to knock back. I could have gulped another down if it wasn’t a work night! My Stepmum ordered Milk of the Poppy with pandan, mandarin and coconut and her drink tasted like an alcoholic version of something you get off the dessert tray at Dim sum. Just minus the cubes and balls.
After our drinks we were escorted back downstairs to the Print Hall Dining Room. My heart sunk a little as I looked around and saw the dim level of ambient lighting as I knew my photography skills were in for a test. Not to worry, I’m always up for a challenge and what better way to create a beautiful mood than to turn the lights down real low?
After listening to our waitress give us a very polished but somewhat lengthy description of the three champagnes served by the glass, she brought our complementary amuse bouche to the table. A curious zesty tasting disc of fresh cheese made from a mixture of mascarpone, cream, feta and yoghurt and garnished with dried black olives, roasted parmesan, dill pollen and some fresh dill. It was so soft that it begun to melt sumptuously on the plate.
To scoop the cheese up we were given an enormous cracker that looks like something from another planet. It was gluten free and made from potato, tapioca and brown rice flours. It had a similar texture to a prawn cracker being light and easy to start. It was fun passing it around taking turns to snap off a piece.
We chose to have the four course meal option for $110 per person as there was something on the menu for everyone including both vegetarian and gluten free options. To start off with Dad and I chose the Blue Manna crab with curried egg, cucumber and avruga caviar. The crab was so sweet it was almost like eating dessert and the addition of the avruga gave it a wonderful salty finish. My gluten free version omitted the crisp bread however my dish didn’t feel unfinished without it. Our waitress gave me another giant sized cracker in case I wanted that textural crunchy component.
The Boy and my Step mum chose the tartare of Point Samson scampi. It came with a flavoursome carrot, ginger and orange puree and tiny slivers of seaweed and micro herbs.
The Boy chose the vegetarian option of wood grilled black salsify for his second course option. Black salsify is a root vegetable that belongs to the dandelion family and is also known as the oyster plant because it has an oyster like taste when it is cooked. It is considered to be very nutritious containing proteins, fats, essential amino acids, potassium, iron, and vitamins A, B1, E and C. It was served with brilliant green kale, hot smoked ricotta and meaty oyster mushrooms.
The remainder of us chose the roasted pigeon breast for our second course. The pigeon was cured in gin, juniper and sage and then roasted to a luscious ruby red rare. To further enhance the rich colours and flavours, a chunk of creamy rare seared chicken liver was buried in amongst the tender breast along with sweet pickled and pureed beetroot.
Some slightly bitter cooked radicchio leaves were also tossed in there giving a wonderfully diverse tickle to my taste-buds. As I savoured every twist and turn of this dish’s elements I looked up to see both my Dad and Stepmum’s facial expressions indicating they were doing the same!
The main course fish of the day was Red Emperor and have to I apologise to you my dear readers as you will only get to see and hear about one main dish despite there being a number of other beautiful options on the menu. It is a rare occasion that I dine out with my family and we all order the same thing but we did this time round. When I first moved out of home at the tender age of seventeen, the first whole fish I ever attempted to cook was an enormous Red Emperor. It barely fit into my oven and my fellow flat mates looked on with suspicion and doubt. Thankfully the fish turned out perfectly, I proved them all wrong and my love for this fish has stayed ever since. Print Hall did not disappoint and I was served an exquisitely cooked thick wedge of juicy fish topped on a neat pile of wood grilled mussels and squid. Brightly coloured and aromatic sofrito introduced a bit of a South American feel to this dish and it was so good I nearly wanted to lick my plate clean.
To accompany our mains a side serve of salad and a bowl of duck fat potatoes were brought to the table. Now if you bear in mind that my Stepmum has a well-known reputation amongst both friends and family for making the best duck fat potatoes these potatoes were up for some scrutiny. Thankfully they were damn good and although my Stepmum’s are definitely better, it was a pretty close call!
For dessert the Boy ordered the pumpkin pie with pepita sponge and maple ice cream. Not being a much of a sweet tooth, he isn’t really one to get into the whole concept of de-constructed desserts and I guarantee the only reason he chose this was because it said maple ice cream on the menu. He is very easily pleased for his sweets; give him ice cream and it will satisfy him every time.
For my dessert our waitress recommended for me to have the Valrhona chocolate mousse as she felt this was the best gluten free option to have. It sounded nothing short of amazing; Valrhona chocolate mousse, hazelnut, single origin coffee crème and milk sorbet. I have to say however, after enjoying a succession of very impressive courses, my dessert actually left me feeling somewhat under-whelmed. Even my chocoholic Stepmum agreed with me that it wasn’t that exciting. Please don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t anything specifically wrong with it; it just didn’t feel special like everything else did. After all our other dishes totally exceeded our expectations it was a shame to end the night on a bit of a fizzer.
Overall we were both very impressed on each of our evenings at Print Hall . These guys have nailed all the essential key elements for success; polished, knowledgeable service, interesting and creative food with fresh locally sourced produce where possible and an ambience that makes you feel like you are dining somewhere quite special. I look forward to returning but maybe I will go for lunch next time so that I can actually take some decent photos of their beautiful food!Apple Daily Bar & Eating House 125 St Georges Terrace, Perth WA 6000 | (08) 6282 0088 Print Hall Bar and Dining Room 125 St Georges Terrace, Perth WA 6000 | (08) 6282 0000 | www.printhall.com.au Price: $$$$ (2 courses $70, 3 courses $90, 4 courses $110, dego $150)) Food: 4.5/5 (creative but with classic elements) Service: 5/5 (faultless) Ambience: 4.5/5 (very romantic and opulent, just not great for a food blogger’s photos!) Drinks: 4.5/5 (extensive wine list, thank god Da chose because I got lost in it all) Total: 18.5/20
The exciting event of the wedding of a close friend brought us back to the lovely city of Singapore for the first time in over ten years. It was to be my first experience of a Chinese wedding banquet and was to be held at Szechuan Court, Fairmont Hotel, Singapore. I felt so privileged to receive an invite and prepared myself right from the outset that for that one night I was just going to have to eat gluten. Avoiding gluten in a Chinese banquet of any occasion is literally impossible due to the ubiquitous use of soy sauce. I knew that if I was to eat the banquet regardless of the gluten I was going to suffer for it the next day however I figured it would be worth it.
As we were shown to our seats I noticed that both our table and the bridal table next to us was much more lavishly decorated than the rest of the tablets. Our table was covered in a bright red table-cloth and decorated with bigger bouquets of flowers. As the night progressed I also observed that our plates were filled with more food and served to us in larger bowls.
In eager anticipation for the feast I forced myself to only graze on a few small snacks over the day. As we headed to Szechuan Court I was so hungry I could have nearly eaten my own arm. If only I had known before that it is common custom at these important Chinese events for there to be quite a wait before food is brought out! By the time our starter combination arrived I was so utterly famished that I demolished it all far too quickly. There were beautifully plated slices of roast duck sandwiched around a fresh sliver of mango, there was a richly coloured chunk of Soya chicken, a thick wedge of succulent honey glazed pork and a cute little lettuce cup of chilled spicy jelly fish. This was one of my favourite dishes for the night and I really regretted my gluttony wishing I had savoured its flavours for more than a millisecond.
I love the deception of clear soups. Gazing into my reflection in the bowl I always wonder how something so watery looking can manage to pack such a powerful punch of flavour. This crab soup was no exception and the table went silent for a few minutes while everyone slurped away hungrily.
Bamboo fungus is a type of mushroom that is claimed to have many medicinal properties including antibacterial and anti-cancer effects. Another more unusual fact about this fungus is that the smell of the fresh fungus has been reported to trigger spontaneous orgasms in women!
The next course was some lightly steamed live Marble Goby served in a broth of superior soy sauce. Marble goby is a type of freshwater fish that considered something of a delicacy by many Chinese as for its flesh is delicately tender yet has a lingering sweet flavour.
With a number of gluten containing courses now under my belt, I accepted my fate that in a few hours I would start to feel the aftermath of my indiscretions therefore I really had nothing to lose and must press on. I had psyched myself up for this banquet for months and certainly wasn’t going to turn any of these sumptuous dishes away! The next two dishes steered away from the more traditional Chinese style infusing some modern fusion flavours. The wasabi prawns crunched loudly as I bit into their crispy exterior and I couldn’t help but feel liberated to cast off the shackles of my allergies for one night even if it made me unwell and covered in eczema!
I was informed earlier that evening by the dear mother of the bride that sea cucumbers are very laborious to prepare for eating. There is an extensive amount of work involved over several days which include slitting them open, turning them inside out and then repeatedly washing and boiling them over a few days.
The Boy and I first tried eating sea cucumber many years back at Shung Fung in Perth and we both really loved its slippery, nearly rubbery texture and subtle flavour. Sea cucumbers are a highly nutritious food and contain large amounts of protein in addition to many essential compounds including iodine, calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, selenium, manganese, chondroitin sulphate, saponins and vitamins like vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.
The beauty of eating slowly is that you get full much more easily as your brain has time to actually register the food you are shovelling into it! The polite sized scoop of seafood fried rice was just enough to fill the last gaps in my stomach before dessert.
Many of my dear readers may recall my obsession with food shaped in tiny balls; tobiko, caviar, sago, tapioca, you name it I’m sure to squeak with delight if you serve them to me. I think this obsession is one of the main reasons I love Asian desserts so much! The chilled cream of mango was not overpoweringly sweet and the tang of the pomelo gave it more depth and flavour.
By this late stage of the night things had started to become quite rowdy, but in a good way. The bride’s father proudly led the bridal party in a procession to each table individually bearing a very elaborate looking bottle of whiskey. At each table he would stop, pour healthy size nips of whiskey to everyone before drinking some himself and then commenced to singing very loudly at the top of his lungs. No one required much encouragement to join in and before long dining room was filled with the booming voices of all the guests joyous for this wonderful marriage of two very beautiful people.Szechuan Court, Fairmont Hotel, Singapore 80 Bras Basah Road, Marina Bay, 189560 Singapore | www.fairmont.com/singapore Tripadvisor Price: $$$ Food: 8/10 (I am no expert on Chinese fine dining but my taste buds don’t lie!) Service: 3/5 (a little slow serving drinks) Ambience: 3.5/5 (the function room was filled to the brim with cheerful, noisy guests) Total: 16.5/20
After landing in Singapore on the overnight flight from Perth I was accompanied by the Boy and one of my business partners Woki to attend a friend’s wedding at the Fairmont Hotel. Not willing to be discouraged by our lack of sleep we refused to waste our free day and spent most of it exploring the city. We conveniently ended our self-guided tour at Ku De Ta which is situated on the 57th level of one of the three Marina Bay Sands (MBS) towers. Sipping our drinks we watched a blanket of dark ominous clouds slowly envelop the city from our viewpoint on high and by the time the tropical storm reached us we were all seriously hungry. We headed back downstairs in search of some food.
Back on the ground floor foyer, we were served by a small framed, elegant woman who kindly took great trouble to ring around a few restaurants in the complex in search of a table. She managed to secure us a booking at Guy Savoy, one of the “celebrity restaurants” at the Casino. The only time available was just an hour away yet there we stood all wind-swept, sweaty and in no way presentable for fine dining.
Jumping in a cab the Boy, Woki and I made a mad dash to return to our hotel but as we crawled inch by inch through peak hour traffic I started to feel the tension among us rising. By this point, the monsoonal downpour was in full force and I could barely see the road in front of us. Jumping out of the cab to proceed on foot was completely out of the question!
Upon our return to Fairmont Hotel we quickly raced upstairs dripping wet to our rooms. With my heart pounding in excitement I flurried about spraying my hair with a ton of hair products and my face with a lathering of makeup. After the finishing touch of a smear of bright red lipstick I prayed my transformation into something more elegant was successful.
However, our building anticipation was not to end there. It almost felt like fate was against us as we ended up taking the wrong train, got off on the wrong station and then took a full circle route on foot of the entire MBS complex before we could actually find the restaurant. Let me tell you, it is not well signposted and MBS is huge!
A little flustered and nauseatingly hungry we were seated at our table ready for the fun to begin. Our meal was kick-started by a few adorable bite size canapés.
The gluten eaters received a pint-sized foie gras club sandwich and similarly Lilliputian cube of parmesan waffle.
My gluten free canapés included a spoonful of miniature cubes of beetroot sprinkled with black truffle on a herb purée and some finely grated apple with baby celery leaves on an almond crumble.
As we allowed these flavours to entertain our palate, our waiter wheels out an old polished wood trolley with a whole leg of Joselito’s Ibérico de Bellota Jamón. Ibérico jamón is a type of ham made from black Iberian pigs that are kept free range on pasture and oak groves where they feast on a diet of acorns, grass, herbs and roots. Joselito’s Ibérico jamón is world famous for being the best ham in world and wholesale prices start at around $600 for a small leg and can get well over $3000-4000 for an aged leg. They pride themselves on raising “happy pigs” and believe this is a major factor in their meat quality.
The waiter carved in front of us about a dozen slices straight off the bone. Dark purple in colour and with multiple thread-like veins of white fat coursing through the meat; the wafer thin slivers of ham nearly dissolved on contact with my tongue. Eating Joselito jamón is quite an unforgettable foodie’s experience and I highly recommend that you try it yourself if you ever have the chance.
The unusual pretzel shaped bread was unfortunately not gluten free and as there wasn’t any gluten free bread option I had to satisfy myself by just having a brief sniff of its fresh doughy aroma. I cannot deny it is always a little disappointing when I visit fine dining institutions such as this and a gluten free bread option is overlooked. Not that I really needed bread given the enormous meal we were about to enjoy!
Our Amuse Bouche was a chilled Vichyssoise-styled soup made from leek, potatoes and cream. The addition of fennel gave a slightly sweet and refreshing after-taste. Curiously hidden under the small mug of thick soup contained two little half spheres of fennel and leek “royale”, basically a smooth lime green custard topped with minuscule little micro herbs and pea sized blobs of herb purée. With the subtle sweetness of the fennel in the soup still lingering, this little dollop served to extend and enhance the ambrosial experience with utmost precision.
Both the Boy and Woki ordered the “crab with multi-coloured beetroot variations” for their entrée. The concept of this dish was to “marry land and sea”. The blood red and lemon yellow shavings of roasted beets were curled into cone like flowers. Each little beet “flower” was filled with a foamy light beetroot blancmange followed by delicate portions of the cooked Australian Spanner crab meat. Savoury shortbread crumble and flecks of beetroot crisps sprinkled over the dish to add more complexity.
Alongside the salad was served a warm golden beetroot tartlet containing hints of cardamom and orange. The pastry collapsed in the mouth like fairy floss. It lay on top of a wafer thin square of transparent paper that looked a bit like cellophane. We were informed this was salt paper and was entirely edible. Despite the tart being the accompaniment, both the boy and our companion agreed it was the star of the two components.
This photo of my entrée is not my own and is courtesy of the restaurant. My mosaic of poulard, foie gras and artichoke was by far and by large the highlight of the evening yet for some strange reason it completely bypassed me to take a photo. Like a bizarre form of savoury layer cake, thick door stop-sized slices of young fattened poulard, wedges of soft foie gras and similar textured artichoke sat relatively unimpressively on my plate. They were accompanied by two precisely equal sized blobs of black truffle vinaigrette. The appearance of this dish does in no way make one’s mouth water; which is perhaps why my photography was overlooked. However just one mouthful of these three simple ingredients with a conservative smear of the vinaigrette and you will change your mind forever. This dish was absolutely mind-blowing; the rich buttery elegance showed true respect for the ingredients with no need for embellishment.
As we waited for our mains to arrive out came a little prequel, some sort of intermission entertainment I guess; named the Chestnut Royale. Now I am quite partial to chestnuts, yet I rarely see them feature on the menus in Australia. They always conjure up memories of walking down the streets of Paris where street vendors roast them everywhere in the winter. This innocent looking dish was quite a taste sensation. A perfectly formed dome of smooth chestnut custard sat swimming in a light bed of chestnut milk. Carefully placed on top a milk glazed chestnut glistened under the dim lighting garnished with tiny little pygmy sized celery leaves and chestnut chips.
Woki thoroughly enjoyed his “Shoulder of Australian Wagyu in two preparations”. By using an oyster blade steak or “paleron” as it is called by the French, the meat contained wondrous marbling and flavour. The first portion was braised in a red wine jus topped with baby carrots and a black pepper mignonette. The second portion of beef was purely just seared and garnished with dollops of wasabi. Both portions of beef sliced like butter at room temperature as good Wagyu should.
The accompanying side dish of potato Maxim’s and bitter greens was comparatively lacklustre and did not wow Woki at all.
I ordered the pan seared duck breast with eggplant “gianduja” sauce and “au poivre”. I was informed by our waiter that in order to achieve the creamy pate-like texture of the meat the duck breast was seared, then cooked sous vide, and then finally seared again. On my plate balanced so carefully like a stack of cards were thin slivers of eggplant served with gianduja chocolate sauce. The sauce tasted a little reminiscent of Nutella due to its high hazelnut content. Tiny little purple delight flowers scattered amongst the eggplant giving a splash of colour and bitter flavour. The duck was richly flavoured and buttery tender and left me wanting more.
My side dish was potato tagliatelle; thin ribbon like curls of deep fried potato. This was the only dish I ate that I felt was a little lacking. Perhaps some seasoning would have improved this element however even if that were the case it felt a little mismatched to the fabulous duck dish.
The Boy ordered the “Saddle, rack and shoulder of lamb; Land and Sea”. Unfortunately for him, after being left relatively unimpressed with his entrée choice his main didn’t manage to suitably wow him either. The main part of his dish contained a roasted rack of lamb placed on an almond and hazelnut praline. The saddle of lamb was stuffed with bamboo clams and pan roasted. Next to the lamb I recognised some emerald-green samphire on his plate; something we were introduced to during our beautiful lunch at Millbrook Winery last year where the chef forages it from the banks of the Swan River.
The second part to his dish was his favourite. The shoulder of the lamb was braised and wrapped in thinly sliced potatoes and topped with sprinklings of purple potato crisps. I recall the waiter mentioned that this component contained melted onions so I didn’t get to taste it! This dish was apparently seasoned in the bamboo clam jus.
By this point in time in the night I was starting to receive a number of subtly concerned looks from the Boy and knew he was worried as to how much this meal was going to cost us. He is never been one to be a killjoy by any means and during our near fifteen years together we have shared some highly priced memorable meals together. But he is also a sensible man, and he knew all too well that just coming over to Singapore alone was breaking the budget so close to our wedding, so enjoying a four figure fine dining experience was definitely going to break the bank. A smart move from me at this would have been to proclaim total fullness and call it a night.
And then out came the cheese trolley. And all my sensibility went out the window. My thoughts of finances, savings and budgets temporarily felt incredibly less important. Our dinner companion Woki was no help either. Being a father to two little ones means he rarely gets to experience such incredible culinary excellence and wanted to make the most of our evening. After a long consideration we settled for three cheeses: the curious looking Mimolette, Fourme d’Ambert and most dear to my heart Saint Marcellin; a cheese produced by my late uncle Jeannot’s factory in the Alps of France.
The Fourme d’Ambert is a very mild blue cheese that is considered to be one of France’s oldest cheeses dating back to Roman times. It is a semi-hard cheese made with cow’s milk and has a luscious creamy texture and leaves a slightly sweet earthy mushroom after-taste.
The Mimolette had such a curious appearance that it was our wild card choice for the evening. The cheese looked like a cross between a rock melon and a dusty cannonball. It was a hard round ball with a pocked dimpled surface. I later learnt that the dimpled appearance is actually due to the activity of surface mites that burrow their way through the surface rind which in turn allows the cheese to breathe and mature. From the heart of this bizarre rock, our waiter scooped out some bright orange brittle cheese. It tasted quite unexpectedly sweet and caramelised, and felt like you were eating a hybrid of fudge and cheese, but in a good way.
Our portion of the Saint Marcellin cheese regrettably wasn’t warmed to room temperature and thus failed to relax into that sexy goo I have enjoyed many times before. I was very disappointed because for a number of years I have been talking up about this cheese to Woki. It is not easy to come by in Australia and this was his first time trying it.
For some reason the next two following pre-dessert dishes managed once again to escape my camera. I think I was a little distracted by my growing concern as the impending bill. Our first pre-dessert was so delectable that Woki jokingly exclaimed to the waiter that it was “no good” and that we all requested another one. His sarcasm was lost on our waitress and with a worried look she scuttled away to get us another serve.
We were too full to order a dessert but were tempted by the trolley of “petit fours”-styled mini-serves of ice cream, sorbet and biscuits and each tried a little portion for ourselves.
Just when we thought the near theatrical dining experience was over, as I sipped on my peppermint tea an Earl Grey Sorbet was delivered to our table for a final palate cleanse. Served on top of a black pepper crème anglaise the subtle flavours of the bergamot from the tea left a very refreshing end to our wondrous meal. Suffice to say, the Boy was right; we are still paying back our share of the meal to Woki!Guy Savoy The Shoppes, Atrium 2 L2-01, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018956 | +65 6688 8513 | www.guysavoy.com Price: $$$$$ Food: 4.7/5 (my choices were nearly faultless but there were some hits & misses at my table) Service: 5/5 (very knowledgeable and attentive with a noticeable lack of any pretension) Ambience: 3.5/5 (a little formal and stuffy but some fabulous views) Drinks: 4/5 (very extensive wine list but a considerable mark up on bottle prices) Total: 17.2/20
A very close friend of ours moved away from Perth to the central NSW coast nearly ten years ago to be with the love of her life. Although Facebook has allowed us to both stay in nearly daily contact, we haven’t cast eyes on each other since she left many years ago. She is one of those kindred souls that when you are lucky enough to cross paths in life you never want to let them go. There is just one thing about her that we both hate; she has cystic fibrosis. Not that in the past that ever seemed to stop her living her life to the fullest. She is by far and by large the most positive, brave and strong willed person I know, occasionally to her detriment! But there is only so much a pair of lungs can take and since the birth of her gorgeous doe-eyed daughter, her lungs have been on a slow and steady decline. She has been on the transplant list for the better part of a year now and we are all crossing every finger and toe that some beautiful brand new shiny lungs will be on her doorstep soon.
My conference lectures were held at the Sydney University which is conveniently located right next door to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where my dear friend was currently staying. The luxury of being able to pop “next door” and see her after lectures was a privilege I didn’t want to waste so I tried to get over there as many times as possible. After our initial tears of joy in seeing each other for the first time in so long, we easily slipped into our old habits as we joked and laughed the afternoons away. This wasn’t without receiving a few frowns from the surrounding patients in the ward as we are invariably very loud together.
The Boy arrived on the Friday ready for a short weekend city getaway and was able to join me for my last afternoon hangout with her the following day at the Hospital. It was so sad to say farewell as I had been having such a fabulous time seeing her but I have vowed to myself to not leave it so long between visits. What better reason to return to Sydney!?!
In a delayed Valentine’s celebration, I had made a reservation several months ago at Marque knowing it to be in San Pellegrino’s World’s 100 Best Restaurants. Over the years, we have enjoyed visiting a wide range of fine dining establishments all over the world. Much of this has been prior to the first seed of Chompchomp being planted. There are some attentions to detail during these experiences that I have come to expect as standard, especially when consider the cost of your meal. One of these details is the execution of unfaultable and impeccable service. The wait staff should literally gush over their guests and make them feel like royalty. Having this above and beyond approach to customers forms nearly as big a part of the wow factor as does the food and is a vital part of the whole experience.
Upon arrival to Marque we were greeted with just a stern nod by a staff member that the Boy and I later named “The Matron”. She left us standing in the doorway nearly on top of customer’s tables long enough to be a little uncomfortable. We were ushered to our seats after a brief delay and started to take in the atmosphere, or lack of it. The dining room felt fairly barren and clinical however I tried to look past this detail as I have found some incredible restaurants where the dining room is very simple and basic. For example Restaurant Amuse; where each of my three visits has left me completely awestruck with the fabulous experience.
I started the night off with the only type of Champagne available by the glass; some René Geoffroy Purete Brut which was quite vibrant and crisp with a dry finish. The perfect way to start a meal! Our amuse bouche looked a bit like a clam shell and consisted of two truffled potato crisps with bonito and foie gras inside. Unfortunately as I was trying to photograph it I was sternly told off by The Matron like a naughty little school child that there is to be no flash photography. Consequently my photos for the evening are nothing short of horrendous – I am so sorry dear readers! (For the full album see my Flickr account.) Now I understand that some customers may find a flash disrupting to their meal and accept this request is totally reasonable. However for the remaining duration of the evening on several occasions I caught “The Matron” giving me disapproving looks across the dining room. This made for a fairly unpleasant vibe. To add to this the remainder of the wait staff were cold and almost snooty giving an air of pretension that in no way added to the experience.
The sommelier of the night was the only exception to the team and I was drawn to a heightened level of excitement for each wine he introduced as he described it and why it complements the food so eloquently.
This first course dish was quite amazing having quite distinct separate layers of flavours almost like you get with some macarons! The initial strong flavours of the soft crab were lifted by a layer of light almond foam, progressing on the palate to the salty fresh sea taste of the avruga and ending with the sweeter butter popcorn aftertaste. Magic! The wine was matched beautifully (as were all the wines of the evening) and its oily aftertaste lingering on the palate with the corn flavours was divine.
The marron course was the Boys favourite. The marron was so tender and was lightly dusted with tomato dust. Each dollop of accompaniments on the plate were absolute delights in their own right and individually married with a morsel of marron to create its own little world of taste sensation spanning from dulcet sweet to buttery and ending with an acidic tomato flavour.
The Wagyu was marbled perfectly and was accompanied with tiny little pencil thin dill cucumbers which were sliced into miniature little medallions packed with a zing. Following on from the beef was the Dutch Cream Potatoes with Bone Marrow, Sea Urchin, and Coffee. (It was matched with 2008 Heymann-Lӧwenstein ‘Schieferterrassen’ Riesling, Mosel, Germany.) This was one of our waiter’s favourite dishes. These potatoes were a hearty delight and made me wish the Boy’s mum (who is Dutch) would serve them at our next family dinner! They were so smooth and delectable!
In the aftermath of the delicious potatoes, the grouper didn’t excite either of us much at all. Although it looked quite attractive on the plate, but it was fairly bland and was made even less inspiring by the following duck egg dish which was outstanding.
Wow. This was my favourite dish of the night by far. The smokey duck egg combined with tart sour cherries was out of this world. My egg wasn’t dusted in the leek ash due to my onion intolerance but the boy said this addition made it even more sumptuous. This course was served with home-baked bread to lash smatterings of duck liver onto.
Unfortunately for me, despite making our dinner reservation no less than five months in advance there was no gluten-free bread option to offer me. I think this would probably have to be one of the first fine dining establishments that this has happened to me since my diagnosis 3 years ago. I couldn’t hide my disappointment watching the Boy eagerly smear his liver onto his own hot steaming bread.
I had not tried Brunet before and given I love goat’s cheese I was excited to try it. Similar to many goats cheese, it was quite tangy and lemony, with sour cream notes, but also with some earthy depth to it. It was topped with tiny slivers of raw velvety mushroom.
The first dessert course was right up my alley of dessert styles; there is something about combining sweet yet piquant berry flavours with contrasting tangy yoghurt tastes that really hits the spot for me.
The second dessert course was different for us both and unfortunately I was only given a menu for the courses served to the whole restaurant not with my variations (unlike at Amber in Hong Kong where we each got our own copy ready printed in an embossed folder…..). The Boy doesn’t recall much about his as by this point understandably, all the courses start to blur together a little for him.
The night ended on Mark Best’s Signature Sauternes custard. I had read a number of amazing recounts of this dessert and was keen to see if it lived up to the hype. Despite all the food in our bellies we both struggled to hold ourselves back from gobbling this down greedily. It was served in an egg-shell with the top precisely cut off at a neat and sharp angle. I almost thought it was a fake egg-shell until I saw the Boy accidentally crack his as he eagerly spooned out the delicious silky custard. Before I could even giggle and comment I broke mine too!
Unfortunately for Mark, visitors to his restaurant are going to continue walk away underwhelmed if he is unable to obtain staff with the right attitude to serve his customers in the front of house. Despite most of the dishes being quite outstanding certainly not all were so, and when coupled with the lack of personalised service and cold attitudes Marque would not be somewhere I would be keen to return to in a hurry. I have since spoken to two of my relatives who live in Sydney and after dining at Marque twice have formed similar impressions to me each time. Sadly, I walked away disappointed especially as I thought it would be the highlight of my time in Sydney. On a much brighter note, it turns out hanging out with my pal in the Respiratory ward of RPA took first place as the most wonderful experience in a long time. By several miles. (Totes smoop, love ya Garnet Girl xx….)
Check out my other Sydney postsMarque 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills, 2010 | (02) 9332 2225 | www.marquerestaurant.com.au Price: $$$$ (Degustation $150 excluding cheese course, extra $85 for matched wine) Food: 4/5 (definitely some winners here but some that were just ok) Service: 2/5 (for this calibre of restaurant I expect much more) Ambience: 2.5/5 (stark and uninviting) Drinks: 5/5 (my first 5 in some time – matched wines were exceptional – kudos to the sommellier) Total: 13.5/20
I simply love the concept of wine bars. Imagine a relaxing atmosphere without all the hype and pretention of a formal dining establishment, then add in a well thought out wine list plus some quality food and there you have it….the perfect relaxing quiet night out. Establishments such as Must Wine Bar have mastered this idea to perfection – providing awesome food and service in the best locations and venues. I know I can go to Must on any night of the week and be guaranteed a reliably fabulous night without disappointment. I really wanted to add Clarence’s Bar to my list of wine bar favourites in Perth, especially in light of the recent poor experience we had at Five Bar. In fact I really wanted to love it so much that at the start of our evening there I found myself almost starting to make excuses for all their shortcomings before the Chompchomp voice inside me screamed back “NO! Don’t do it!”
The night was a glut of mistakes and delays to the point that it became quite a comical conversation topic for the evening. As per usual I had notified the kitchen well in advance of my no gluten and no onion requirements. My sister also suffers from fructose malabsorption and I wanted to ensure that she could enjoy her time eating out in Perth as much as she does in her foodie hometown of Melbourne.
The night began with us being seated in one of their booths. The design of these booths was quite curious and I’m not sure what unusually proportioned people they had in mind to sit in them. They are meant to sit four people in them however realistically only four miniature people could successfully squeeze in and still be able to raise their arms up to eat their meals. I felt so sorry for the boy as he really struggled to actually fit into the booth at all – he is a strong, broad shouldered man and stands at 6 feet 3 inches tall – certainly not a small person by anyone’s definition. The poor love shuffled and wriggled in his failed attempts at getting comfortable. Fortunately my sister, Mum and I have all have quite small frames so we managed to crowd in tightly around him. But the bizarreness of the booths did not stop there. The table is set as an oddly high level and the seats are very low – giving one the impression the table is like a bib. It actually came up to the top of our chest. Coupled with being jammed in like sardines it did not make for easy eating.
Our waitress was very well prepared to go through their menu with us and she knew all the dishes on the menu thoroughly. She proceeded to read it out dish by dish, informing us that nearly every dish contained either gluten or onion. There were a small handful of dishes that she explained the onion (or gluten) could be omitted by leaving out particular key ingredients such as the accompanying sauce or base. I get frustrated when this happens – I feel like I’m punished because of my allergies with a more bland or tasteless version of a potentially great dish just because the chef won’t offer substitutions. It’s easy enough to leave an ingredient out – but a talented and creative chef can offer alternatives to ensure the dish flavours remain. This is why I always notify the venue in advance to give the chef time to think and plan.
For entree I ordered one of the few dishes that could be served unaltered which was the barbecued squid. Unfortunately it had been barbecued a tad too long and although I don’t mind a little chargrilled flavour, squid does not do well once it ventures into the well-done and chewy side. I felt the dish had so much potential if cooked correctly as the chermoula spices were uplifting however there is no coming back from tough tentacles.
My mum ordered the seared scallops served on a creative cauliflower brulee with shavings of pork crackle. The feeling of lost potential came through even more strongly with this dish as it was served meagrely lukewarm and on a cold plate. It left us with that sinking feeling of knowing we missed out of something amazing due to oversight and poor timing.
Following along the cold dish vibe, the boy’s soup was similarly served at a tepid temperature and I was unable to get any positive comment out of him about this dish. Unlike pasta, no matter how great a soup is, if it’s meant to be hot, it is rarely enjoyable cold. His bowl for the soup was also cold leaving us thinking someone must have forgotten to turn the heat lamps and plate warmers on.
Our dishes came out at haphazard times, so by the time I had finished my cold tough squid; my sister had only just received her order of the gnocchi. On inspection they looked like the familiar soft and fluffy pillows you would expect, however on tasting the dish my sister questioned to us whether the peas contained in the dish tasted frozen. Upon tasting a few of them I had to agree; there was no burst of flavour as I squeezed the pea between my teeth and they left a distinctive floury after-taste in my mouth. Thank goodness the company was great because the food was heading down a one way street to nowhere! To add to the errors of the evening, as we were sipping on our second glass of Chardonnay, I started wondering to myself why it tasted sweet. Had all this mishmash of tasting and scrutinising everyone’s meals confused my palate? Surely not! Then my sister piped up: “This doesn’t taste like the Chardonnay we ordered! I think they have given us the wrong wine!” We called our waitress over, informed her of our cold meals and asked about our strange tasting wine. Off she quickly went to go and check with the bar staff from which she returned promptly with fresh glasses of Chardonnay in hand.
It was at this point in time, we desperately started wishing that sight of me taking photos of our dishes coupled with our polite complaints would ensure that the remainder of night would proceed with minimal more mistakes. Our hopes were in vain as the next agglomeration of errors proceeded to pan out. Our next round of meals were brought out at staggered times and once again on stone cold plates. At the beginning of the night when she went through the menu in detail with us, she stipulated we couldn’t eat one of the side dishes of chickpeas because it had onion in it, so obviously we didn’t ordered this. Instead we chose the green beans and some parmesan fries for our side dishes plus we each ordered a second entrée for our main dish.
Despite having a whole discussion with her about the chickpeas unsuitability for us, lo and behold some chickpeas get placed on our table. We had to send these back only to have them replaced with a dish of undercooked, tough woody beans that were barely edible. After some considerable wait, some of our meals followed along with the serve of fries. All the fries were cold, yes cold fries. Now honestly, cold fries amount to nothing but grossness. There is no excuse for that surely.
Lucky for me for my second course I had ordered the house cured venison, a dish that was meant to be served cold! It was the only dish that deserved any praise for the night. The sweet beetroot sauce nearly got licked off my plate and softened the saltiness of the cured venison.
The boy ordered the risotto which was of course served on a cold plate. It was at this point we called the waitress over once again and questioned her whether they had heat lamps in the kitchen. She commented to us that they do. We then delved further to explain to her that unfortunately all of our meals were served to us lukewarm. She interjected this feedback by remarking to us that my dish was meant to be served cold, and then proceeded to gloss over the fact that the remainder of the table’s dishes were not. She appeared to only listen to what she wanted to hear. After my comment that the flavours of our dishes had so much potential if only they were served at the correct temperature, she latched onto this feedback as positive and as she cleared the table she nodded her head saying: “Oh well, that’s good, as long as the flavours were delicious!” Huh? It was hard to know if she was being serious with such a ridiculous response!
Over all it was a meal that could have been amazing. The thought that was put behind the creation of the menu was inspiring but the execution was a complete failure. Was the chef just having a bad day? I’m not sure I want to find out and next time I’ll just head over the road to Must where I know I will walk away content.Price: $$$ (Entrée $19-23, Mains $23-38) Food: 4/10 Service: 4/10 Venue: 2.5/5 (for the insane booths) Total = 10.5/25 Clarence’s Bar 566 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley, WA 6050 | (08) 9228 9474 | clarences.com.au
As a surprise birthday present for the boy I organised for us a relaxing two nights stay at The Richardson with their Autumn Escape package which included degustation for two in their restaurant Opus. The rooms were well appointed, they were certainly not as new and fancy as some other five star locations we have stayed at however we didn’t seem notice or care as their customer service was beyond impeccable. The minibar was very well stocked and quite fairly priced. Even the freezer was filled full of food for purchase. The Nespresso machine was a great hit with me and thankfully the room came with free selection of pods to use! We stayed in one of their deluxe rooms and despite not getting the room upgrade to one of the suites that I was wishing for, there was an adequately equipped kitchen for the stay complete with microwave oven, plates, cutlery – all the things that are often quite annoying left out of rooms and only put into the suites. Our room had glimpses of Kings Park and overlooked leafy Richardson St. Overall the hotel experience was highlighted by unfaultable excellence in customer service – something that can be a little uncommon in Perth.
The restaurant Opus replicated the hotel’s high standard of customer service and once again we were very impressed with the level of personal attention from all the staff. I emailed the restaurant in advance to notify them of my food intolerances and despite the fact restaurant was full to capacity, the head chef made an effort to come out and speak with me personally to ensure my dining experience was enjoyable. The restaurant itself has a very cosy and romantic atmosphere which was accentuated by the storm brewing outside.
The first dish was a terrine of tomatoes, with morels and a goat’s milk pudding. This dish was surprisingly one of the best of the night, the sharp acidic tomato flavours blending with the creamy tang of the sweet goat’s milk pudding was a taste sensation.
The second dish was a roast butternut pumpkin soup with lemongrass and crab. The heartiness of the thick pumpkin with a delicate background of lemongrass complimented the crab wonderfully. The first main was my least favourite dish of the night – it was a pan-fried fillet of rainbow trout served with wilted baby cos, peas and mint. Although the fish was cooked perfectly, it was very heavily seasoned and the saltiness took away from the subtle flavour of the trout. The wilted cos lacked the imagination and presentation shown in the previous dishes. Some orange and Campari sorbet was served prior to the second main it was nothing special but cleansed the palate nicely.
The second main dish was beef tenderloin served with sweetbreads. Now I actually had no idea what sweetbreads were up until this night. To calm my initial fears of all things gluten, my love tried to suggest to me that sweet breads are actually just offal and not some potential gluten containing carbohydrate! I simply couldn’t believe him as they certainly didn’t look like any kidney or liver I have ate in the past. Thank goodness for Google and iPhones! He set the record straight quickly to clarify that we were actually eating pancreas. They were very tasty. The cut of beef was of high quality and melted in the mouth like a fillet should. We both really enjoyed this dish.
Finally the night ended with Bitter Chocolate Cream and Vanilla Marshmallows with Raspberry Gel and Liquorice. Unfortunately for me this dish was unable to be served gluten free as there was a very thin sponge base on the bottom so I just scooped off the top layer and left the rest for the boy. It was wonderfully rich and not too sweet – I wished I could have had more! Despite being at the full end of a dego the boy managed to polish off both our serves so I’m presuming it was delicious! The birthday candle on his dessert was a thoughtful touch. We are already wishing when we can stay at the Richardson and eat at Opus again!
Opus at The Richardson | 32 Richardson Street, Perth ,6005 | (08) 9217 8888 | www.opusrestaurant.com.au