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
The Secret Cake Club is a Perth based group of of keen bakers that were originally known as the Perth Clandestine Cake Club. The Clandestine Cake Club is a worldwide phenomenon that was created two years ago by cake lover Lynn Hill in Leeds, UK. Her aim was to get people together in a relaxed social environment so they could “Bake, Eat and Talk about Cake”. Her concept is strictly for cake only and no cupcakes, brownies, pies or tarts are allowed. After received a scolding from Lynn Hill herself after not adhering to these rules the CCC organisers decided enough was enough and the Secret Cake Club was born. This new group prides themselves on having no rules and has reached considerable popularity with avid bakers from all around Perth. Their events are held every 4-6 weeks and places fill up fast.
One night when the SCC girls were out on a bar crawl, they got the inspiration to create a similar styled group but not to eat cake, to bar hop and drink! The new group was christened the Secret Bar Crawl and they had their first official event on the weekend of Eat Drink Blog Conference. Our planned bar crawl was to take us across the City of Perth starting at Bobeche in Brookfield Place then moving onto Wolf Lane before ending the night at The Stables Bar.
I joined the crew for the first half of the bar crawl at Bobeche’s, a cute little basement bar tucked away off St Georges Terrace. Earlier that afternoon at work, I had to go through the heart breaking experience of putting one of my long term patients to sleep. He was a gorgeous sixteen year old dog that had captured many of our hearts but after braving a long battle with illness we all knew it was his time. Knowing this sure doesn’t make it any easier however and a whole bunch of us ended up blubbering at work. RIP dear Boofa.
To liven up my mood and be sociable I knew I needed a strong drink with a short, sharp and throat burning kick. I asked the gurning bartender for advice and she suggested “The Trilby”. The Trilby has Tanqueray gin, Noilly Prat vermouth, crème Yvette and Fee Brothers orange bitters all shaken with a high amount of vigorous energy and served in a Martini glass. No frills, bells or whistles this was exactly what I needed to cast away my thoughts of death and disease.
The girls had organised our own cordoned off area complete with bowls of complementary popcorn on the tables. The popcorn had been cooked in coconut oil and had a subtle coconutty after-taste. It was great to see some familiar faces there but also to meet some people that I had been following on Twitter for some time but never actually met. This is a common problem for social media addicts like myself, friends are easily made on Twitter but many of them you don’t meet face to face for some time if ever. I continued on for a short while at our second venue Wolf Lane before I received a phone call from the Boy wanting to meet for dinner.
After a five month hiatus from wearing my high heels due to the stupid broken toe, I have discovered that I am no longer accustomed to wearing them and I had to walk embarrassingly slow and carefully. It is a strange feeling being clumsy in heels. Having a shoe designer for a father meant that I worked out how to walk in heels from a young age. Being a bit of an unplanned night out we didn’t have any dinner reservations made so I suggested that we head over to Brookfield Place. Given how many restaurants they have in their complex I figured there was bound to be at least one that could fit us in.
After just a short wait at their bar we managed to score a table at the first restaurant we stumbled into; The Trustee. As I sunk myself into their Chesterfield-styled seating I gazed around the dining room and deduced that we were probably the most sober people in the room. And after several rounds of rocket fuelled cocktails we were definitely not THAT sober. The group of men at the table next to us were so amped up like they were at a football match and kept making loud whooping noises that could be likened to one of our primate counterparts. In fact, in the dim lighting they may have even resembled them…
It was late and neither of us were that hungry so we decided to share an entrée and ordered the tuna tartare. Lightly tossed in sesame seeds, the tuna was a deep red colour and buttery fresh. It was served with a peach puree and some icy cold Campari sorbet. We also ordered a serve of their fat chips which for $13 were quite possibly some of the most expensive potatoes in town. Disappointingly they were a touch undercooked and were very firm to bite into. They sure looked better than they tasted.
My main choice was the barramundi and the skin was cooked to a wonderful caramel colour whilst the flesh underneath remained smooth to the point of near creaminess. It sat on a bed of celeriac veloute and came with an apple, hazelnut and labna salad. Curiously, next to my fish two random fat chips sat innocently alongside for company. Maybe this was their rebuttal against my lack of acceptance.
The Boy had the prawn shiitake linguine which was filled with vibrant colours of spring. Whilst as I’m sure you all know we are always more that happy to pay a premium for good food, the Boy thought this small serve of pasta with a few teeny prawns was over priced considering its size and quality.
If a restaurant chooses to price themselves in the higher price bracket I expect them to fulfil two simple conditions; awesome food AND awesome service. Simple. Our recent meal at Print Hall which is only metres away from The Trustee is the perfect example of this. Despite reading so many positive things about The Trustee from mainstream food critics, we were surprised how poor their service was throughout the whole evening. It was consistently slow, jolted and totally disorganised. On multiple occasions waitresses would walk past our empty plates, look down at them and then walk off empty handed. Once our plates were eventually cleared, we waited forever for the dessert menus and then when I enquired about what was gluten free, my waitress said she would be right back with my options but then never returned! After a half an hour wait we had finished our wine, got up and left. Not ordering dessert is an unusual occurrence for me indeed!Bobeche 131 St Georges Terrace, Perth WA 6000 | (08) 9226 5596 | www.bobeche.com.au www.thetrustee.com.au Price: $$$ (Entrees $20-26, Mains $38-50) Food: 3/5 (get the simple things right) Service: 2/5 (inattentive, disorganised) Ambience: 3/5 (subdued lighting, opulence and luxury) Drinks: 4.5/5 (allow yourself some time to peruse the 40 page wine list!) Total: 12.5/20
Our post wedding stopover in Singapore consisted of four days of non-stop eating, drinking and sleeping. After having our whole week in Thailand planned down to the minute, it felt like a luxury to be somewhere on holiday without any schedules and we made the most of it. One of the few tourist attractions I wanted to see was the new marine park S.E.A. Aquarium opened on Sentosa Island. Just a tip, there are two marine parks on Sentosa. The original one is called Underwater World is hideously out-dated and not worth wasting your time. S.E.A. Aquarium in Resorts World is the second addition and is contrastingly modern, huge and very impressive.
S.E.A. Aquarium is home to over 800 species of marine animals which are divided up into regions around the world. Amongst its many breathtaking tanks, S.E.A. has the world’s largest aquarium which you can view from a massive viewing panel measuring about 36 metres long and 8 metres in height. Swimming in this vast man-made structure are many of the gentle giants of the sea including a “flock” of graceful manta rays, leopard sharks, saw fish, mahi mahi and goliath groupers.
Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora is the Aquarium’s celebrity restaurant located inside the venue directly facing the main tank. Cat Cora is the only female chef from Iron Chef America and her signature dishes tend to reflect her Greek heritage and southern US upbringing. Her restaurant strives to help protect our world’s marine ecosystems and only serves sustainable seafood.
The marine park is quite a size and took us some time before we found ourselves at the restaurant by which we were informed we only had half an hour to order and eat our meals as they were to shut the restaurant for 1 hour before reopening for dinner service. To maximise our dining experience on such a strict time restriction we ordered three entrées to share between us and asked for them all to be brought out a once.
Cat Cora’s signature dish of sous-vide King Salmon may as well have been butter it was so soft. It needed no encouragement with a knife and was slipped onto our forks and down our hatches perhaps a little too quickly to truly allow us to appreciate its perfection. This slice of heaven was served with a generous scoop of sustainable black caviar, a dwarf little pear marinated in Prosecco and coated in crushed almonds, some tart vine tomato jelly and what was meant to be water cress but really looked more like chicory.
The tuna tataki salad was also made using sustainable tuna and came with cucumber mint yoghurt and curried oil. A couple of pixie sized pickled sumac onions created a bit more balance on the plate. Seared lightly on the outside the tuna was delicate and soft but nowhere near as impressively velvety as the salmon. Each condiment brought an interesting layer of flavours and left us feeling teased as we knew our half hour was soon to be up.
Our trio of soft tacos included a perfectly browned Hokkaido scallop with pineapple salsa, diced Japanese sweet prawn with asparagus verde and the third one came with more of that silky salmon topped with some avocado. Each taco tasted like its ingredients were plucked fresh from the sea making this was a hard dish to share as each taco was a stand-out in its own right.
As we tried to divide up each taco the aquarium suddenly burst into life. It was feeding time and the previously calm fish quickly grouped into schools and started to swim themselves into a frenzy. The manta rays began gracefully swimming large loop-the-loops scooping up all the debris from the mêlée. It was quite a sight to watch as we finished of our meals. We had barely raised the last mouthful to our lips when our waitress came over informing us we had to make our way to leave shortly. I found it odd that we weren’t allowed to sit in the empty restaurant for a bit longer to digest our food and gaze on the spectacle in the tank. Upon asking this request I was told there was some training held during the hour they are closed and so all customers have to leave.
Despite being a bit of a whirlwind experience for us we thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Ocean. If fish are your thing, a visit to the S.E.A. Aquarium is an absolute must-see sight of Singapore. Be sure to book a reservation at the Ocean restaurant at a time that affords a more relaxed normal style of eating than we had.
Travelling to Singapore? Be sure to checkout the Lonely Planet Singapore City Travel Guide before you go!Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora S.E.A. Aquarium Resorts World Sentosa, 8 Sentosa Gateway, Singapore | 65-6577 8888 | www.rwsentosa.com/language/en-US/Homepage/ThingsToDo/MarineLifePark/SEAAquarium Price: $$ Food: 3.5/5 (not exactly a fine dining experience but fresh produce and clean presentation) Service: 2.5/5 (maybe would have been less abrupt if we had dined at a more appropriate time) Ambience: 4.5/5 (be sure to get a table next to the aquarium) Drinks: 3/5 (hard to fully assess as ordered a glass of house white in a hurry) Total: 13.5/20
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
This winter I have had a terrible time with my allergies. My knuckles are often cracked and bleeding and my face can just erupt into hives without any real warning. What has made it all even more upsetting and frustrating is that I cannot seem to identify my triggers. I know very well I cannot touch gluten, but to complicate things I also seem to flare up if I have too much dairy or soy. The problem with those allergens is I can actually have a small amount, says a small piece of cheese or a couple of splashes of soy sauce and I’ll be fine. But if I have loads of cheese, or if I eat a gluten free muffin with soy flour…..scratch, scratch, scratch ALL night for days on end.
Eczema sufferers will empathise with this. When your skin is bad, you become overwhelmingly self-conscious of your appearance such that all you want to do is hide away in a dark cellar where no one can see you. You are so sleep deprived, distracted and on edge because you just cannot stop that burning desire to scratch even though your damaged skin is weeping and sore. With my up and coming wedding, my anxiety levels heightened even more; I don’t want to be a blotchy scabby bride! My mind was in a dark and not so attractive place all week, and so it was a complete relief to learn the Bonsai Restaurant in Northbridge not only have gluten free soy available, but have much of their menu easily adaptable to accommodate for difficult people like myself. Praying for dim lighting I made a partially successful attempt at covering up my skin with some makeup and headed out with the Boy.
To try and get myself in a better mood I started off with ordering some sparkling Yuki sake. The waitress described this drink as Bonsai’s take on an alcoholic bubble tea. In the brief time we sat waiting for our drinks, I envisioned a glass of amber coloured liquid with clear balls of jelly floating around curiously. What arrived was not what I expected and looked like nothing more than some lemon soda in a wine glass. I can’t deny I was initially disappointed by its appearance as it was, well, kind of boring. But upon sipping my drink I was taken by surprise as I felt various sized gloops of invisible jelly slurp into my mouth. I was hooked.
We started off with the roast duck slices dressed with garlic soy caramel and shichimi. Shichimi is a Japanese 7-spice blend typically containing ground red chili pepper (the main ingredient), roasted orange peel, yellow and black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper (sansho), ground ginger and nori. It gave an obvious heat to the tender duck breast yet the flavours were freshened by additional citrus notes and more oceanic layers from the nori.
I used to hate all things pork but recently I confess I have had some mouth-watering experience and I think my tastes are a turning. But I have now learnt that cold pork belly however is not my thing. Pale, fatty slices of blanched pork belly were topped with a shichimi flavoured salsa dressing of red onion, red capsicum, cucumber and olive oil. I should have thought more carefully before ordering this one.
The tuna tataki was seared and served on a bed of avocado wedges and thick teriyaki sauce. The tuna had a wondrous rich dark pink colour and practically dissolved on the tongue.
Of course once again the Boy had to order the soft shelled crab. It is rare that I get to share this dish as it is deep fried and usually coated in a wheat flour batter. This dish was no exception and although there were loads of gluten free options, all the fried dishes were off the menu for me. A big helping of crispy, meaty crab served with some wasabi mayonnaise quickly vanished off from his plate accompanied by much lip smacking and finger licking. I was very jealous!
What is a meal without mushrooms? I am starting to wonder if I can actually survive for more than a few days without my mushroom fix. Being involved in Mushroom Mania month earlier this year has only proved to make my addiction worse as I feel like I need to continue to “do my bit” to promote their awesomeness! The pan fried mushrooms came topped with a mustard miso dressing and a sprinkle of shichimi.
The seared scallops were cooked perfectly with a small amount of bouncy firmness to the outside but soft tenderness on the inside.
The eggplant and capsicum namura was unexpectantly one of my favourite dishes of the night. The eggplant had an amazing texture that was close to that of set custard, held together only by its soft but firmer skin. The goma miso sauce was slightly sweet and salty with a nutty aftertaste. Goma miso is a thick sauce that is made with miso and sesame seeds.
I have to admit I didn’t really read the description of the seaweed salad before ordering and I expected a standard small bowl of brilliant green seaweed. Out came an enormous salad bowl filled with a variety of seaweeds in addition to cabbage julienne, Swiss chard leaf, mizuna, coral lettuce, tat-soy and red radish all coated well with a sweet mustard miso dressing. It was really easy to eat and we both crunched and munched happily away like rabbits .
Although we had ordered a lot of food, neither of us were overly full and agreed there was a tinsy bit of room left to share dessert. There was only one gluten free option; the crème brûlée. The surface of our dessert was hot to touch proving that it was indeed torched traditionally to get the burnt crust that makes crème brûlée such a treat. With a gentle tap of the spoon the wafer thin caramelised shell cracked and broke into bite sized geographical shaped pieces. Underneath the custard was tasty but its texture wasn’t smooth enough and actually looked a little on the lumpy side. It was still delicious however, and certainly didn’t go to waste.www.the-bonsai.net/ Price: $$$ (Share dishes $7-20, Mains $17-29, accepts Entertainment Card) Food: 4.5/5 (must try the eggplant and the duck) Service: 5/5 (impeccable, attentive without being obtrusive) Ambience: 4.5/5 (funky, busy but can get quite noisy) Drinks: 4.5/5 (LOVED the sparkling Yuki saki!) Total: 17.5/20