Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pommes de Terre Anna

An oldie but a goodie from Larousse Gastronomique, I've rediscovered this as a great way of turning out deliciously crisp potatoes. My research has told me that the original dish - a large layered potato cake cooked in heaps of clarified butter - was created for the 19th century Parisian courtesan, Anna Deslions, by chef Adolphe Dugléré at the Cafe Anglais. All I can say is that Anna must have been doing some serious 'exercise' to work that butter off. This version is truncated and adapted to make it easier to do at home and somewhat friendlier on the arteries. Two large potatoes will make about 6-7 individual serves as pictured here. I use unwashed sebago potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 180C (fan forced). Peel the potatoes and slice into thin rounds - you can use a mandolin if you have one but a sharp knife will do just as well. In a bowl add the potatoes, a tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Toss with your fingers separating all the slices so they are all coated with oil. In a non stick muffin tin, pile the slices into the holes and press down.

Add a teaspoon of cold butter to the top of each one and bake for one hour (I've tried it with just oil and the result is not as good. You do need that little bit of butter to produce the crisp burnished look at the edges). About half way through, remove them from the oven and press down gently with a small spatula or the back of a spoon to compact them slightly, then return to the oven. The resulting potatoes with be rich and crisp on the outside with a creamy interior. Serve them top side up for a rustic look or upside down for a more uniform rounded base. I usually make at least double the recipe because I've found no one can resist just ... one ... more.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pizza e Birra

I've been trying to get to this restaurant ever since it opened. So many good reviews coupled with the sort of atmosphere I was sure to love, but I've either been dragged elsewhere, it wasn't open when I could make it, or it was simply too full to get in.

So finally, as a last minute decision on a Saturday lunchtime, we made our move to sample the delights I've read so much about.

I know I'm not in Italy because I'm looking at Crown Street and the cars are driving in too orderly a fashion. If this were Italy there would be more shouting and beeping and ducking and weaving. But look inside or catch the attention of a waiter, and you're back in Italy. Uncle A (008) was down from BrisVegas and his mate M came along as well. Mmmm More pizza to share?

Left and below left: Olives all'ascolana - crumbed deep fried fat green olives, stuffed with seasoned pork and veal $5.00 for four.

Without even a second thought, two plates of stuffed olives ordered, tabled, chomped, great. Washed down with a Montenegro and soda, beer, whatever.

Kisses, hugs and two bottles of bubbles delivered by A, the trusty courier, as a pressie for me (thank you so much Madame B) for helping source some tricky historical menus for a new book. Delamotte Brut, and Henriot Blanc Souverain Brut - there's New Year's Eve set up, yum, can't wait.

I want to try so many things on this menu, but we decide shared pizza is best today.

It's an easy order - M's fave is the prosciutto and rocket - no arguments there. Luckily we are all anchovy lovers so the Napolitana goes down just as easily. I know many of you readers follow the same predilections as I in the thin crust scant topping temple of pizza worship. This will not disappoint. Crusty and smoky with delicious flavours.

We're all tempted by the white chocolate panna cotta with cherries, but evening engagements beckon and we know we'll be worse off if we over indulge. I'm coming back for the calamari, the papardelle with duck ragu ... I could go on, but definitely will will next time.

Pizze: Rocket and prosciutto ($18, right) and Napolitana with olives basil and anchovies ($16, left).

Pizza e Birra - Shop 1, 500 Crown St., Surry Hills.

New Zealand: Kaikoura and the Coast

The east coast of the south island continues to reward a traveller with spectacular vistas. Driving from Picton or Blenheim you’ll saunter through endless vineyards of the Awatere Valley and sheep-studded grazing country until unexpectedly, with a gentle rightward turn, you’re wedged within a slim roadway with dramatic volcanic coastline to the left and soaring snow capped peaks on the right. Wow.

Cloudy Bay and Clifford Bay comprise the top of the coastline, and the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean dump onto the black sand of the shallow beaches.

Left: fireplace inside The Store, Kekerengu.

This is crayfish country. Hooray.

But no drive along this coastline is complete without a stop at The Store at Kekerengu. Set as close to the water as you can get without getting your toes wet, and with beach walk access, this restaurant come café satisfies food and bevvie requirements no matter what the time of day or the weather. Sit near the raging fireplace as the grey clouds roll in and the rain and wind pounds the windows, or catch the sun in the garden or on the deck as you gaze across the infinite sparkling blue water horizon that envelopes you.

Left: View from The Store.

Richard and Sue Macfarlane serve a range of local seasonal produce, as well as staple favourites, and the counter bristles with home made pies, cakes and tarts in an endless fresh baked procession from the kitchen. Exactly half way between Blenheim and Kaikoura, it is irresistible as a stopping point to replenish your energy with sustenance and breathe in the relaxing salt spray. A tip: Don’t eat before you set off because you won’t be able to resist the feast laid out for you here. The coffee is fantastic too.

The front of The Store opens onto a deck and the beach.

Baked on the premises: Blueberry and pear tart above,
Greek syrup cake and coconut syrup cake below.

Warming welcome: Eggs Benedict,
scrumptious and comforting on a cold morning.

But back to the crayfish.

As you near Kaikoura, lobster shacks dot the beaches. You can pick up a fresh cray, caught and steamed within a few hours, for $35-45 depending on the weight. You can take it away or they’ll also heat it through with a sauce of your choice so you can eat on the beach (well, not what Aussies would call a beach, but it is a strip of sand near the water). I like to stop at Nin’s Bin (left) because of the fun you can have saying it with a New Zealand accent.

Kaikoura is a seaside resort town. It doesn't take long to work out that the main industry here is marine tourism, but the most dominant is whale watching. The whale watch operation is possibly the most streamlined, best organised tourism venture I have ever experienced. The three hour tours leave on the hour (except in bad weather when tours can be cancelled), they have up to four boats out at any one time, and the entire process runs like clockwork. Although you get a partial refund of you see no whales, the geological and marine features of this part of the coast provide a supply of of resident cetaceans. A 2000 metre ocean trench mixes warm currents from the north with cold, nutrient rich Antarctic waters to create a stream of food that attracts everything in the food chain. Including a permanent population of single male sperm whales. Like a huge bachelor pad … or pod.

Left: Sperm whale diving, Kaikoura ranges in the background.

If you’ve never been near these amazing creatures in the wild, don't go past Kaikoura without booking a whale watch experience. You’ll travel a few kilometeres off the coast in a luxury purpose-rigged catamaran and chase whales as they surface to breathe before diving to feed. When you see that tail rise up out of the water and plunge into the icy depths you will come away a changed person. This time out we saw four whales, a pod of dusky dolphins annoying a diving whale, and albatross. We were two weeks shy of Orca season and the humpbacks, which migrate past here, were away up north. I’ve been on whale watch tours here before and always marvel at their majesty and beauty. How anyone could contemplate killing them is beyond me.

But maybe I’m a hypocrite because crayfish are another thing altogether. No compunction about putting one steaming on my plate any day. The Pier Hotel is recommended as serving some of the best seafood in Kaikoura, and on this visit I have to agree 100% on the New Zealand Cuisine magazine Restaurant Guide recommendation.

The Pier is an old Victorian era pub, shifted to the waterfront in pieces and re-assembled. It offers a traditional ramshackle, quirky pub atmosphere, the walls littered with briny mementos, where you can sink a cold one and gaze at the mountains and the sea, as well as a restaurant brilliantly served by French chef David Gondohla, and budget accommodation. Another brilliant plus is that they serve lunch all day. Yes, wander in at 3pm and there’s no 'sorry the kitchen's closed' futzing around, just sit down and have a meal, no problems. And what a meal. The John Dory was airily crisp, moistly fried in a diaphanous batter. The crayfish was – no kidding – the best I have ever had. Straight out of the water, steamed. Scattered with chives and served with a simple butter or aioli. I’m a sucker for legs, a leg woman if you must. I feel cheated if even one of those spiny appendages has been lost in transit to my plate. I crack and break and wrangle and slurp the sweet interior from the chitonous tendril from root to tip. Often when you get to the thinnest extremity all there is to reward you is a dried husk. Not so with this beauty. Succulent to the last morsel. I wish I’d had the time or the appetite to try the Paua ravioli on the Summer menu, but it was not to be.

Saunter around after lunch to the seal colony and see NZ fur seals rolling around sleeping off lunch (like you wish you were) right next to the car park.

Deep fried John Dory $18.90

Steamed half cray with butter or aioli $45.00.

Closer to the main strip of the town is The Olive Branch (54 West End) an Italian style café, where the menu is ambitious but not al all touristy, sensibly relying on the best of NZ produce. Run by Jo Broadhust with chef Hamish King at the pans, an early dinner was very satisfying and the casual feel of the venue adds to the seaside vibe. The cray was good, but not as outstanding as The Pier, but that was a very hard act to follow. The food presentation was superior as you can see from the picture below, but in a sense who needs a pretty plate when you only have eyes for the cray? The pork was succulent and the accompaniments were well suited to the dish, the veg on the side a little tired.

Above and below: Confit of tender belly pork,
apple and pear compote, crispy crackling, lemon and sage jus $26.00.

Locally caught steamed crayfish, wasabi and lime sauce $35 half/ $69 whole.

Crispy garlic and rosemary rubbed potatoes
and seasonal veg (included with mains).

Down at the tourism business end of the strip, the Café at Encounter Kaikoura (96 Esplanade) holds multiple interests. The main booking agent for swimming or kayaking with all manner of marine life including dolphins and seals, it also houses a gift shop with local arts, craft and souvenirs, as well as being a great place for a quick meal. Counter food, a la carte and specials cater for a range of tastes, with outward folding doors onto the terrace which looks straight across the beach, perfect for fine weather.

Hoki gougons with salad, fries and tartare $14.00

Grilled asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto
with Greek salad and New Zealand feta $15.00.

Where I stayed: Room With a View. Yes, the view. Oh, The View - the pictures here are what you see from the blacony (see the link above for pictures of the interior and booking details the interior). I’ve stayed here a few times and while not apparently on the seaside, it offers one of the best views you’ll experience in the area. It’s a small freestanding unit next to a house that accommodates a couple easily, but also has a fold out lounge in the main room. The balcony is secluded enough with vines and plants to have a fully functional claw footed bathtub on it that you can fill with bubbles and gaze at the sea and the mountains as you relax, iron out the kinks of the day and fill yourself with bubbles. It’s a few minutes drive from the town and gets you that little bit further away from the bustle of the main drag. At NZ$120-150 per night for two (we paid $135 in November) it’s hard to get better. The weather was gloomy when we arrived (see pictures below) and dark clouds dumped a few metres of snow on the peaks overnight. In the morning (picture above), it was clear and sublime with the snow covered peaks and flat azure sea looking intoxicatingly inviting. Just right for catching a glimpse of the whales.

Eating and Food Shopping in Wellington
Picton Havelock and Marlborough Sounds
Blenheim and the Wairau Valley Vineyards

Green Shelled Mussel Cruise

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Clock Hotel

The Clock Hotel has been around for yonks.

Nestled in one of the most populated restaurant strips in Sydney, it still holds its own in terms of cool atmosphere and good food. Several renovations - probably to keep up with the Joneses in the rest of the street - keeps its look contemporary and the vibe swingng.

With a choice of bars, and balcony or indoor dining, it suits most tastes on any day. The food is still reliable, and although I haven't been here for well over a year, is as easy and satisfying as I remember, with a few suprise tastes thrown in. Perfect for a Xmas lunch catch-up.

Oysters natural with wakame and rice wine vinaigrette $2.50 each

Parmesan and lemon crumbed sardines $16 (entree size)

Salmon fritters with lychees and witlof $16.80 (entree size)

Asian style prawn and slow cooked pork salad
with coriander and peanuts $16.80 (entree size)

Wild rocket, pear and parmesan salad $7.00

Luscious and light: Passionfruit meringue filled with cream $9.00.

The entree sizes of most dishes are well suited to a light lunch on a warm day. And of course that means you have room for a tastebud tempting dessert.

The Clock Hotel
470 Crown St.,
Surry Hills.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Menu For Hope III

Menu For Hope III Prize:

One place in a Food Writing Course at the Centre for New Writing, University of Technology, Sydney.

Course Title: Writing About Food with John Newton
Location: UTS, Sydney
30 January - 6 March 2007 (6 weeks), Tuesdays 6-8 pm

More info: click here

Menu for Hope Prize Code: AP35
Prize value AUD $345.00

Sharpen your writing skills and hone your food and taste knowledge in this compact short course run by the Centre for New Writing at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). Now in its third offering, the course comprises an introduction to a range of food writing styles and sub genres along with exercises to enhance your skills as a food writer and critic. In practical sessions, using Max Lake’s organoleptic principles, learn how to connect with your own sense of taste to differentiate and communicate subtleties in flavour and sensation.

Using a range of international and Australian texts you will discuss and analyse food history, the place of food and food writing in society, and implications for politics and policy. Applying critical writing skills, you will construct your own pieces for publication on the course blog, ranging from commentary to food and restaurant reviews.

The course is led by John Newton, food journalist and editor of the Sydney Eats Restaurant Guide. Note: this is not an online or distance learning course. You’ll need to be able to attend the Broadway Campus at UTS in Sydney for all classes.

All money raised goes to the United Nations World Food Program. If you want to buy tickets for this or any other prize click the Donation Page link below and follow the instructions. Remember to specify code AP35 for this prize.

Raffle ticket sales (US$10 each) are available now until December 22, 2006Winners will be announced on January 15, 2007 on Chez Pim

Donation Page

Global prize round-up on Chez Pim

Asia Pacific Prizes

More general information on Grab Your Fork

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Picton, Havelock & Marlborough Sounds

Unless you fly, the only way from the North to the South Island is on a passenger ferry that takes commuters, tourists, vehicles and cargo from Wellington to Picton. It’s a three hour trip on an enormous inter-island ferry that has many decks, bars, snack food shops, entertainment – even a movie theatre for those blasé about the magnificent scenery. Wellingtonians are always interested in ‘the crossing’ of the ferry and will animatedly ask you when you’re going, have you checked the Cook Strait shipping forecast and so on.

Left: The InterIslander Ferry in Queen Charlotte Sound.

As you contemplate boarding the vessel they will commence a sentence with “When the Wahini went down …” which is not the start of a bawdy Maori story, but a reference to the ferry disaster of April 1968 when the Wahini ferry sank after hitting a reef in Wellington Harbour, killing 51 of the 700 or so passengers on board, as Cyclone Giselle battered the boat with 200kmph winds. I’ve heard this story every single time I’ve travelled on this ferry and I have come to believe the locals get some sort of perverse sadistic pleasure out of recounting it at just the right moment, in the same way children tell ghost stories at sleep overs. The end of the sentence is usually “…but it should be ok today … unless the weather changes suddenly.” Great. Four seasons in one day.

Adding to the fun stories this time were two recent ferry incidents, one where under similar conditions a ferry nearly capsized in March and another where the ferry couldn’t enter the harbour due to the 14 metre waves battering it, as it bobbed around for 10 hours in the Pacific Ocean. Undaunted, we carried on and a bottle of Bensen Block Sauvignon Blanc helped our nerves somewhat.

Left: Queen Charlotte Sound from the Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock

One of the most spectacular travelling sights you will see is the moment you turn into Queen Charlotte Sound as the ferry glides from the bumpy Cook Strait into the serenity of this weather protected waterway. The gasps among first timers are audible. The cameras click and snap. The photo ops of rail hugging smiling tourists attest to its memory-worthy vista. I can’t take photos of this sight. A photo of the sound does as much justice to the spectacle as saying the food at El Bulli is ‘nice’.

Left: Waikawa Bay Marina.

After an hour long cruise through the sound you arrive at Picton. It's is a transient sort of place, full of people either coming back from or going to somewhere else. A holding pen for eager tourists exploring the region. Good dining is limited, unless you like that particular brand of fast and pub food that’s appealing to families with small children or denizens of all you can eat club buffets. Two sure things are Le Café on London Quay (the main street towards the water) which in the six years I’ve been visiting this region has never failed to put an interesting, up to scratch meal on the table, and make the best coffee in town. Run by the same guy ever since I’ve been visiting, and with a vibrant and happy team, the kitchen devises and serves great casual dishes, in what is usually a chaotic and unpredictable shift, due to the ferry disgorging unknown numbers of unbooked diners into their midst. During busy times, staff will try to tell you how much of a wait you might have for a meal and this management of expectations adds to your ability to relax, have a glass of wine, and take in the buzzy seaside vibe endemic to this terrific café. They’re open breakfast til late, make their own cakes and muffins fresh each day, and support local visual and musical artists with exhibitions and concerts.

Left: Garlic bread for the peckish explorers.

A new find is Spinnaker, five minutes drive from the town centre in the Waikawa Bay Marina complex, where chef Hilary Weaver has constructed a manageable menu of four entrees and four mains, consisting of excellent locally sourced seasonal produce, competently prepared and presented. You're in store for a serene dining experience overlooking the bobbing masts of the neighbouring yachts, great food and brilliant value. This is really what you want from holiday dining: a focus on the best that the region offers and a menu small enough for everything to be done to perfection. The venison, lamb and chicken we tried (see pictires below) were superbly cooked, with contemporary approaches to finishes and garnishing. We didn't get a chance to sample the yummy sounding desserts.

If you don’t try these two Picton highlights I’m afraid you’ll be chowing down on ordinary fish and chips, pepper steak, and ham and pineapple surprise.

Venison chargrilled on kumara rosti with
rhubarb chutney and merlot jus (entree) $15

Side of spring vegetables with hollandaise (complimentary)

Lamb rack, parmesan crusted on rosemary rosti,
slow roast tomato, minted pea salsa and pinot noir jus, $26

Above and below: Chicken breast, roast, marinated in preserved lemon
with Moroccan cous cous, green beans and pomegranate molasses jus, $26.

Havelock lies at the end of the spectacular Queen Charlotte Drive, about 40 minutes travelling by car from Picton. Previous pilgrimages to Havelock have been solely to lunch at The Mussel Boys, famous for serving fresh green shelled mussels, but alas Mussel Boys are no more. The site has been renamed The Mussel Pot and is now for sale and looking for staff. Not a great draw card for a diner. The rumour is that the franchise they tried to grow has collapsed, but I can’t find too much more information about it other than local anecdotes. I just hope they recover because to have no restaurant serving good mussels in the Green Shelled Mussel Capital of the World seems a great shame. We dined at another recommended restaurant near the water (probably best to remain nameless in case this was a one-off bad experience) where the mussels were so bad I fed them to the restaurant cat, who also had a hard time chewing them. We had to ask for our ($15) change as it was not provided after paying the bill and to add insult to injury we had to point out they overcharged us by $10 on the bottle of wine we ordered, and ask for the amount back. We then boarded our Green Shelled Mussel Cruise of the Pelorus and Keneperu Sounds, which I’ll post about in a separate entry.

Where I stayed: Whatamonga Homestay is 15 minutes drive from the touristy strip of Picton, around Waikawa Bay. Rates including breakfast are $155 per couple for the first night and $125 for each subsequent night, subject to seasonal changes (see the website link above). Two self contained and immaculately presented one room units each fit a couple easily and comfortably, with a balcony, lounge, and small galley kitchenette. The stand out feature is the view, which looks unobstructed from the deep water frontage across Waikawa Bay and Queen Charlottle Sound. Qualmark, the NZ agency responsible for rating accommodation, gave Whatamonga 3/10 for the view. Because Krakatoa wasn’t erupting that day? You can’t see Sydney Opera House on the opposite shore? As you can see from the picture this rating seems ridiculous. Maybe the Qualmark reviewer’s white harnessed Labrador could see the view better. Your hostess, Collette, will bring down a tray the night before for your breakfast, including her beautiful homemade bakery goods, like muffins and croissants, accompanied by homemade preserves, fruits, juice, cereal and plunger coffee. You can enjoy them on the balcony and wave at the inter island ferry as it glides past in the distance. Collette can also give you the heads up on local dining establishments and news of what’s going on Blenheim and surrounds.

The view from Whatamonga homestay

Related posts:

Eating and Food Shopping in Wellington
Kaikoura and the Coast
Blenheim and the Wairau Valley Vineyards

Green Shelled Mussel Cruise