They say weddings bring out the best and the worst in people. It has been two years since I married my long-time love in Thailand and this saying rang true right down to the last minute. Staying on a positive note, it was the best side of my family and friends that remain closest to my heart. One of the most supportive and loving people among these heroes was my Dad.
Prior to our wedding, I confess that I could sometimes go for longer than a year without seeing his face. Now in my post-wedding enlightenment somewhat exacerbated by the knowledge we are not getting any younger, I am determined to change my ways. I will no longer think it acceptable to go for greater than six months without seeing either of my parents. Looks like I will be making more trips to Adelaide and Melbourne!
I am always a woman of my word and following with this pledge the Boy and I whizzed over for a whirlwind weekender in Melbourne to celebrate my father’s birthday. The first night we celebrated at home with a party that ran well into the wee hours of the night. Early next day we were enthusiastically prompted by Dad to piled into the car to visit their new venture; a beautiful character property in the Yarra Valley. The Boy and I were seriously hungover and sleep deprived, and we were followed by a convoy of guests in similar states from the night before.
To introduce us to the Healesville area, lunch was booked at Coombe Farm Winery’s Melba Estate. The restaurant is located in a restored building that was once the home of Dame Nellie Melba, one of our most famous Australian opera singers from the early 1900s. The building is surrounded by formal gardens that were landscaped over 100 years ago. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side with blustering wind and rain preventing us from exploring the gardens so we all bundled quickly into the restaurant where we were shown to our private dining area.
Being a large group booking we were provided a set menu for three courses at $59 per head with three choices for each course. There was a gluten free option for each course although some dishes required a little adaptation. It took quite some time for our order to be taken which was extended by further delays because our drink order was forgotten and subsequently reordered.
For entrée I chose the roasted beetroot salad with Yarra Valley white savourine, candied walnuts and mixed leaves. Savourine is a locally made semi matured goats cheese and it paired well with the sweeter flavours from the beetroot and candied nuts. I was also able to get some toasted gluten free bread on request which helped greatly to soak up the previous night’s residual champagne in my stomach.
Other options included the Boy’s choice of crab filled crisp zucchini flowers with lemon yoghurt. Upon dissecting out his zucchini flowers there was very little crab inside which left him disappointed. Other guests at our table ordered the duck liver pâté with Merlot poached figs and Melba toast. The pâté was smooth and velvety and could be served with gluten free toast on request.
Conversation flowed easily across the table as we were among family and close friends so it took us a while to realise that once again our table had been forgotten. Our wine glasses were bone dry, empty plates remained on our tables and our mains were nowhere to be seen. Frustrated with the lack of service, Dad got up from the table and marched off to find a waitress.
Shortly after that, our main meals arrived along with another couple of bottles of wine. It was so cold outside that nearly everyone had opted for the winter warming dish of dry aged Porterhouse steak. It was served with smooth kohlrabi rémoulade, hand cut chips and anchovy butter. I was sold on the mere mention of anchovy butter as for me it is nearly up there with truffle butter. Now hold onto your horses, I did say nearly!
Our mains were accompanied by two side dishes: triple cooked Sebago potatoes chunks with rosemary and garlic confit, and garden leaves with radish, goats cheese and a verjuice dressing. The potatoes were bland in comparison to my hand cut chips and needed liberal addition of more seasoning.
For our last course there was a choice of two desserts or a cheese platter. None of the dessert options were gluten free however the chef was happy to adapt the Peach Melba to be suitable.
Poached peaches, scoops of vanilla ice cream and peach sorbet were served with lashings of syrupy raspberry sauce. Tumbled amongst the peaches were freeze dried raspberries and raspberry jelly and the dish was topped with thin, chewy straps of dehydrated peach and raspberry. It was truly the best dish of the day. The words “happy birthday” written on my dad’s plate was a lovely personalised touch.
Being one of my family’s new local eating options, we couldn’t hide our disappointment in the level of inattentive service we received. While we were mostly happy with our food and I’m sure we will return, it just might take a while for us to work our way through the rest of the local venues first.
Coombe the Melba Estate
675 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream VIC 3770 | (03) 9739 0173 | www.coombeyarravalley.com.au
Not everyone marries their best friend and I am so grateful that I was blessed with the opportunity to be one of those lucky ones. Whilst our life is by no means perfect, for the major things we are invariably on the same page. Where we want to live. Our love for animals. Our passion for fine food. Particular black truffles and chocolate. Our core values. And, our love for staying at luxury lodges and hotels! 😉
For our Christmas present to each other we chose to forgo buying each other materialistic stuff, I mean who really needs stuff? We both work and play hard, sometimes too much so, such that our best gift to each other is just spending quality time together. I was once again reminded that I married my soul mate when he agreed without hesitation to go stay at the Lake House in Daylesford for a couple of nights squeezed in between our family Christmas in Melbourne and a friend’s wedding on New Year.
We booked a Luxury Package for two nights in a waterfront suite. Our package included breakfast and dinner for both nights and some spa treatments to enjoy together.
Our room overlooked the lagoon and the shores of Lake Daylesford and facilitated complete relaxation with a very comfortable king sized bed, sofa and armchairs. There were a pair of sunbeds out on our deck however the weather was scorching hot and no sane person would have basked in that heat.
There was a bottle of chilled complimentary champagne ready for us on arrival. The minibar was stocked with a small number of locally sourced drinks and nibbles, Salus Spa’s own sparkling mineral water and a Nespresso coffee machine. Unlike some of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, the minibar was not included as part of our stay. Considering the price was comparative with other Lodges, it would have been a nice touch if it was.
The bathroom was spacious with a dual shower, double spa bath and heated bathroom floors. There was a modest sized flat screen television, an iPod docking station to play our tunes and free in room Wi-Fi access.
Every evening between 6 pm to 8.30 pm cocktails are served in the Argyle Library along with some complementary canapés. I was hoping that the canapés would keep coming for as long as we ordered drinks however we quickly learnt that you get one round of delicious canapés and then that is it.
I am guessing they expect you to move through into the restaurant at that point. Nobody ever seems to understand that our appetites are not those of normal people!
After enjoying a round of nibbles and a few more rounds of Campari spritzers, we headed out for a walk around the Lake before returning to our suite for dinner. There are two Lakes to walk around each taking less than half an hour on a shaded and pretty path.
Our package included an in-room supper for two on the first evening with two glasses of house wine. We weren’t expecting such a feast to arrive and this seemed to make up for the feeling of wanting more of those canapés earlier on.
Everything was adapted to be gluten free including gluten free bread and crackers. There was creamy pea soup, an antipasto platter, a cheese platter and plate of fresh fruit.
Breakfast is included for both mornings of our stay and consisted of a continental buffet in addition to a choice of a main dish from their a la carte menu.
The buffet had an array of freshly baked pastries, sliced meats and cheeses with a few gluten free and vegetarian options.
For my main dish I ordered the house baked beans with goats cheese, wilted spinach and poached eggs on gluten free toast.
The beans had wonderful depth of flavour but sadly the gluten free toast let the dish down being quite tasteless and crumbly in texture.
We had minimal plans for our weekend, in fact I was hoping to do very little other than relax but as is always the case with us we cannot help but do a little exploring. The Daylesford Sunday Market operates each Sunday from 8 am to 3 pm and contains a wide range of stalls selling all sorts of antique bric-a-brac, locally grown produce, clothing and crafts. We already had suitcase filled with loot from Christmas so I made do with purchasing a refreshing beetroot, carrot and ginger juice. Oh, and I bought a book about cats
We also visited Lavandula, a Swiss Italian lavender farm. It was a melting 40 degrees Celsius and we lingered only long enough to smell the fragrant flowers, scull a lavender lemonade in the shade and then retreat back to our air-conditioned car.
For our second evening at Lake House, our package included an eight course degustation with matched wines in the restaurant. We started the evening off again in the Library with some canapés before taking a seat by one of the large windows to watch the reflections of the setting sun across the Lake.
Our degustation took us on a journey using local seasonal food some of which is harvested from their own gardens. This is a restaurant that has repeatedly earned two hats and as our dishes started to roll out I began to see why.
Our amuse bouche consisted of a mouthful of veal tartare and mojama which is a salt cured tuna. This was served with some bonito aioli on a nori crisp so light it dissolved on the tongue like a wafer.
Our second course of spanner crab and white fish sashimi had a Nobu-esque twist with the addition of jalapenos and an elegant dollop of green gazpacho. Some tapioca pearls on the side added another element of texture.
The next course was a pasta dish which meant I received something different in replacement. The Boy’s pasta was a bug agnolotti, which are similar to ravioli. It was served with house made kimchi butter emulsion and crisp shallots.
My gluten free alternative was some mixed tempura served with the kimchi. I was so chuffed that they could do the tempura gluten free as this is so commonly off the menu for me. It was crispy and light and the kimchi had a decent kick to it.
The next dish was inspired by Chef Alla’s Russian heritage and we were told that a variation of this dish is always on the menu. Smoked eel is considered a delicacy and features in many Russian dishes.
The eel was sourced from the Victoria based Skipton eel factory. Wrapped in pancetta the smoked eel was paired with some locally grown organic beets and served alongside a toothsome mustard crème fraiche. This was one of my favourite dishes of the evening.
The next dish was some addictive little morsels of tempura quail wrapped in nori.
They were accompanied by dollops of umeboshi puree, coriander puree, wasabi mayonnaise and the cutest coriander flowers.
Our final main dish was locally sourced pasture fed beef; cooked carefully and slowly such that it had the consistency of melting butter. The hearty flavours of the beef had an added surprise of some chilli and togarashi for an interesting kick.
Pre-dessert consisted of a platter named “Playtime”. This consisted of a number of little palate cleansers including a strawberry compote with white chocolate sorbet and strawberry granita, a “plum shot” and blackcurrant marshmallow lollipops.
For our final course, the Boy and I had different dishes as mine had to be adapted to be gluten free. The Boy’s “Summer Ramble” was a garden of gorgeous components and I was gutted there was no more natural light for a stunning photo. His dish had pistachio sponge, almond praline, almond milk pannacotta, honey ice cream, almond tuille chocolate bark berries AND honey comb….all on one plate. It looked heavenly and despite all the different elements it didn’t taste over complicated or flamboyant.
I could have nearly developed a case of food envy if it wasn’t for my rich peanut butter parfait. It was topped with sesame ganache, peanut praline and sesame ice cream. A perfectly balanced blob of lemon curd added a hint of acidity and a black sesame tuille gave it some crunch and texture.
We had such a relaxing stay at Lake House in Daylesford giving the perfect amount of “us” time that we needed together. Having stayed in a number of Luxury Lodges around Australia now, I would have liked to have seen a bit more luxury in our rooms to justify the room price and feel that in these sort of “never want to leave” styled lodges a complementary minibar can encourage you to really enjoy your accommodation more.
We found the Spa to be of a high quality and actually went back for a second massage in the couple’s room. The restaurant is well deserved of its Good Food Guide Hats and is worth a visit even without a stay in the Lodge. Their wine list is enough to impress my father which is saying something and I heart how they focus on local and seasonal produce.
Disclaimer: Chompchomp and the Boy paid in full for a Lake House Luxury Package for $1200/night. This package included two night accommodation in a Waterfront Suite, light supper for the first evening and a degustation with matched wine on the second night, a full breakfast each morning and a massage and facial at Salus Spa.
4 King Street, Daylesford, Victoria 3460 | www.lakehouse.com.au
For some reason over the last couple of years I have become accident-prone. Don’t be alarmed, there has been no major incidents, but more of a succession of annoying injuries that have prevented me from running which in turn makes me very grumpy. To name a few, there has been a handful of broken ribs, multiple occasions of recurrently broken toes, countless bumps to the head, plantar fasciitis and most recently during our Melbourne trip, a torn quadriceps. It has got to the stage that I get more of an eye roll than any sympathy from the Boy because seriously…it is never ending and according to him somewhat preventable.
For my most recent injury it was a case of me being overambitious, which again the Boy believes is a common occurrence. My stepmum invited me out on a run with her one morning. As we walked out the door my father was chanting out retorts that she doesn’t really run suggesting I was in for an easy outing.
Eighteen rounds of interval training at a flat out sprint later I was left out of breath with a stitch and sweating profusely. My stepmum had barely worked up a sweat and had to slow down so I could keep up the pace.
Two days later, still stiff and sore the Boy and I hit the shops to do some clothes shopping. It is a rare event that the both of us are in the mood to shop and this day our minds were perfectly in sync. Winning. Just as we were getting into the swing of things with a number of bags in hand, I crouched down to pick up a pair of jeans and felt something in the front of my leg go “twang!”. Sharp bolts of pain radiated up my leg and I struggled to pull myself up.
And thus our shopping expedition ended. Within minutes a very focal hard area of swelling and bruising came up on the front of my leg and I was unable to extend my leg out. Yup, I tore a quad. Awesome.
As my eyes watered with pain the Boy tried to distract me from my injury with offers of a lunch date instead. We were minutes shuffle from Supernormal on Flinders Lane so I plucked up my courage and hobbled along gritting my teeth. Supernormal serve Modern Asian share plates, with a lot of Chinese influenced dishes as a result of the Head Chef’s time spent in Hong Kong.
As we were seated we were given some complementary pumpkin seeds to nibble on while the waiter went through the gluten free options for me. I was finding it very hard to concentrate with pain shooting up and down my leg and not knowing whether I should sit or stand I kept shuffling about at our table with an unattractive grimace on my face. To buy us some time the Boy ordered some pickled vegetables and oysters to start along with a strong hit of gin for me. I downed a couple of pain killers in one gulp and waited for my pain to subside.
As the gin coursed its way through my veins, my pain gave way to discomfort allowing me to sit back on my bar stool and knock back some Sydney Rock and Pacific oysters. I could take my focus away from my torn muscle and concentrate on the menu enough to select a couple of larger dishes to share. We started with the silken tofu with marinated eggplant and coriander after being advised it was gluten free. It wasn’t until the waitress actually brought the cooked dish to our table that she then paused and exclaimed “Oh! This isn’t gluten free!” and whisked it away quickly. I wish I hadn’t got to smell and see the dish because it looked amazing and I really felt like I had missed out. Boo hoo to gluten.
I had heard many good things about Supernormal’s lobster rolls so you can imagine my joy when our apologetic waitress told me they could do a gluten free version of this dish using a lettuce leaf cup instead of the brioche bun. The Boy ordered the standard version which although small for the price did get a number of exclamations and groans of pleasure out of the man.
Whilst not getting to enjoy the texture and flavour on the brioche bun, I was hardly missing out with the sang chow bow styles lettuce cups. The lobster was sweet, fresh and all the colours of delicious. For a brief moment there I could almost forget I was a cripple again. Food has a wonderful way of making things better in the short term.
I will definitely be returning for a few more rounds of these next trip to Melbourne hopefully without any injuries to distract me!
180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIA 3000 | (03) 9650 8688 | www.supernormal.net.au
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
As years pass me by, I find myself gravitating more and more toward people with two of my common interests; cats and food. Aside from my family and loved ones, these are the two things in my life that really rock my world. I recently whizzed over to Melbourne for the weekend on official cat vet business and caught up with three other like-minded crazy cat people. After a long day of meetings, we were all very keen for a bite to eat and moved out of the board room and onto dinner. In preparation for hungry appetites, one of my colleagues had already organised a reservation at Saint Crispin in Collingwood. Run by a couple of Melbourne chefs Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac, these guys trained at the same Michelin starred London restaurant called The Square where they were inspired to create a menu that followed the seasons.
Within minutes of arriving at Saint Crispin, the four of us agreed on the tasting menu choosing the five courses for $100. A bargain by Perth price standards I have to say. To commence the gastronomic journey, our amuse bouche for the evening were cute fluffy green olive and cocoa nib Madeleines. They were served with a slightly sweet, smoked hay foam with dehydrated black olive grated on top.
Our first course was presented immaculately; a lightly seared chunk of yellowfin tuna still dark pink in the centre which dissolved on contact with my tongue. It was served with some anise braised fennel, mussels and poached calamari.
Perched on top of the tuna was a snap-crackle-and-pop squid ink and tapioca cracker. A carefully placed dollop of rocket emulsion added a subtle pepperiness to balance the flavours.
Fresh seasonal ingredients continued to feature heavily on the menu with our next dish focusing on new season asparagus. With some asparagus blanched and some shaved raw they were dressed in an asparagus gazpacho and served with an unusual roasted parmesan custard. The custard was as smooth as silk and contained flaked almonds for added crunch.
As each dish was as delicately perfect as the next, I could feel a sense of warm pride across the table. Some of them follow the blog and know very well that I enjoy eating damn fine food! Seeing me impressed and highly satisfied with our meal so far meant their delegated job of choosing a restaurant was a job well done.
Our third course was the Atlantic salmon served with a parsley risotto. The salmon was cooked sous-vide giving it a wondrous buttery texture. Fresh spring vegetables including zucchini, broad beans and peas mixed into the creamy risotto along with some fresh prawns.
Unlike many of my blogging foodie friends, I am not really a pork lover. Whilst I would never refuse food that I wasn’t allergic to, I would never actively chose to order pork for myself off the menu. Additionally I feel it needs to be jaw-droppingly amazing for me to enjoy it to any large degree.
For our fourth course, we were served a crispy pork jowl with miso marinated cubes of pork neck. Was this going to be a hit or a miss for this ambivalent pork eater? Well a winner it was, such to the point that I even offered to finish off the tooth-chipping crackling from my friend sitting next to me. I shared it with the others of course 😉
The pork accompanied an heirloom carrot salad with star anise and finished with a white soy and sesame gel. It was absolutely heavenly.
I didn’t want the magic to end but as each course was a reasonably substantial size for a tasting menu I was starting running out of room. Our dessert was the perfect finisher.
Smooth mango creamoux was served with small chunks of diced mango, caramelised milk crumble yoghurt pebbles and a scoop of jasmine ice cream. With all that mango, this was not exactly a fructose friendly dessert but I was prepared with glucose tablets that I chugged back on the drive back to Dad’s apartment. Some things are worth a belly ache for and this was one of them.
We ended the night with some house made passionfruit jubes. A little bit salty and a little bit sour, I wasn’t expecting such a flavour punch from these innocent little cubes.
Saint Crispin is a class act, following all the principles in modern dining that I love. Lots of small tasting dishes, fresh seasonal and local produce, and photogenic food presentation. To add to all this, the staff were relaxed and knowledgeable without any pretension. If only it wasn’t so far from Perth!Disclaimer: Despite Chompchomp carrying the flag for the cats of Australia, her own two feline fur-children are yet to earn their keep and help fund her valiant efforts to improve the health and welfare of cats. Consequently this meal was funded for by herself but she has been assured it is only a matter of time before the two lads start bringing home the cash. In fact, her youngest fur-son Eddie has already been attaining some cameo appearances on Channel 7! 😉
300 Smith Street, Collingwood VIC 3066 | (03) 9419 2202 | www.saintcrispin.com.au
Shortly after my relaxing weekend down south with Mum I flew over to Melbourne on a whirlwind business trip and managed to squeeze in time to hang with my Dad and Stepmum. The old saying that the apple never falls far from the tree rings true with me and my father with specific respect to our love for food. He is the sole person responsible for introducing me to a wide range of exotic foods as a child, some of which weren’t always easy to get hold of in Adelaide back in the 80’s. By the time I was ten, I had tried foods such as snails, foie gras and even raw sea urchin and we bonded over every one of those foodie moments. He always seemed to proud that I was open minded to eat new things as my sister was the total opposite being so finicky she wouldn’t even eat plain cooked fish.
Dad and Tess live in a modern apartment just off Flinders Lane so when I stay with them I never have to travel far for something good to eat. They eat out a lot, probably even more than the Boy and I do, and are well known regulars in most of the good restaurants in their area. For our night together Tess booked us in at one of their current favourites Tonka, a modern Indian-Asian restaurant run by the team behind the famous Coda. We were warmly greeted as if we were family and after some air kisses and smiles we were shown to our table.
The waitress informed me that catering for gluten free was no problem for them at all and they would bring out a succession of share plates for us all to enjoy. We started off with the tuna tartare mixed with tart pomegranate, ginger and fresh wasabi and served with rice pappadums. Whilst not the most generous serve, the tuna was fresh and succulent with each cube melting in your mouth.
Our second starter was the smoked trout. With flavours more likely found in Thailand than India, I appreciated that this was indeed Asian fusion. The soft shreds of trout mixed with pomelo, coconut and a hint of chill were served on a betel leaf making each one a perfect bite sized morsel.
The zucchini flowers were prepared with a rice flour batter making them totally gluten free much to my delight. It isn’t often I get to enjoy tempura. The batter was a tad thicker than I would prefer, I like my tempura to be super light. They were stuffed with gooey smoked paneer and urad dal, a type of bean similar to mung beans.
The Hervey Bay scallops were small but plump served on a spiced cauliflower puree with sweet peppers and crispy fried pancetta. Although each serve was barely a mouthful, the flavours complemented each other beautifully leaving a rich creamy after-taste.
The final savoury dish of the night was the Rajasthani duck curry which stood out as the most exceptional dish for the evening although my stepmum informed me that the duck curry at Coda is even better. The meat slithered clean off the bone and the curry sauce was an interesting mix of sweet, tangy and spicy flavours. The waitress brought roti to the table for Dad and Tess in addition to some gluten free pappadums for me. This popular dish was featured as a recipe in Gourmet Traveller last year.
Tonka’s gluten free dessert consisted of a play on banana, chocolate and coconut flavours. Banana parfait was made using jaggery, a traditional sweetener popular in Indian cuisine made from a concentrated product of sugarcane and date palms. This was paired with some rich chocolate mousse, coconut sorbet and sprinkled with zingy lime sherbet.
My Dad often claims that he is not a dessert person although I have busted him on several occasions devouring a whole bag of liquorice to himself in one sitting. Apparently this doesn’t count as dessert. Happy to take a hit for the team, Tess and I shared the dessert together leaving him to enjoy his late night espresso instead.
After spending a weekend relaxing with Mum down south and then another with my Dad in Melbourne I feel content to have reconnected with them both. It has pricked my guilt conscious and reminded me to be a better daughter and make more effort in the future to travel across our vast country to visit them.Disclaimer: My father is well known for his generosity and gave me no option of paying for our dinner despite me offering. Also, it is important to note that the venue was made aware they had a food blogger in the house as my Dad took great pride in announcing this to our waitress as we were sat down at our table. Whilst I generally try to dine incognito so I can get a feel for what it is like for every customer, I cannot help but smile at his zeal for Chompchomp’s existence. Tonka 20 Duckboard Place, Melbourne VIC 3000 | (03) 9650 3155 | tonkarestaurant.com.au
We all have our own addictions and vices. Things we simply cannot live without, things we cannot control ourselves around and things that make our life complete. Chocolate is one of these things for me. Whenever it is in the house it haunts my every waking thought until I know it has all been eaten. I can eat it in the early hours of the morning for breakfast, I can eat it before and after a run, in fact I’m sure I could find anytime of the day to eat it. I struggle to stop at just one piece and on many occasions have made myself sick by bingeing on it. Despite being a mad chocoholic, over the years I have grown to fine-tune my palate to chocolate in a similar fashion as to wine.
I first became introduced to the bean to bar concept at Gabriel Chocolate in Margaret River last year. Prior to this visit I was naïve to this concept and had little appreciation for the difference that region and climate can have on the flavour of chocolate. Gabriel has a wide range of chocolate from a variety of plantations around the world and it was fascinating to taste all the different types. Additionally by sourcing single origin beans, producers can make sure that their product supports ethical farming processes and allows the farmers to get an honest price for their hard work.
Matale chocolate is a newcomer onto the artisan chocolate scene and I was recently contacted by their producers Thibault and Eloi to sample some of their gluten free, fructose friendly and dairy free chocolate. How could I refuse such an offer? I was sent two luscious bars of chocolate to try.
The first bar was made with 68% cocoa and the beans are sourced from the certified organic Somia plantation in Madagascar. Smooth and surprisingly silky for a dark chocolate; there was no bitterness or sickly sweetness and it ended with a very clean and fresh citrusy finish.
The second bar was made using beans from the organically grown Malekula Plantation in Vanuatu. It was a darker chocolate containing 72% cocoa yet it still lacked that sharp bitter taste you can find in mass-produced dark chocolate. The flavour of this chocolate was a bit more complex than the Somia chocolate with distinct coffee notes and hints of spice.
The Boy and I sat down on the floor in the sun room to taste these chocolates, relishing in our attempts at describing the layers of flavours whilst enjoying their velvetiness. Twenty minutes later we realised we had devoured both bars in one sitting. I guess that says it all.Disclaimer: Chompchomp received both Matale Chocolate bars complimentary from Thibault and Eloi. They offered them to me without any obligation to write a blog post be it either negative or positive. I truly found each bar delightful enough to binge on regardless whether it was free or not and wouldn’t hesitate to order more.
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