Sunday, April 24, 2011

So what makes for the 'Breakfast Spot of the Year' status?

Jackson Dodds was voted The Age Cheap Eats 2011 Breakfast Spot of the Year. No way could this award be about location, situated way our west north at the end of the number 112 tram line in West Preston (and I know that Preston is the new Northcote but this is West Preston which is nearly Reservoir, okay I should stop here as I'm definitely sounding suburbist!). And after my last little rave about poor service (See What's not to like??? post) I certainly wasn't expecting to have my socks knocked off by the service.

So what's on offer? Quirky or a tad eccentric would describe the decor, definitely quirky was our waiter and the menu ... well a mixture of  mainstream but also a little unconventional. So was it good? No, it was excellent!!! Jackson Dodds,  to borrow a well used phase, is a 'feel good' kind of place. It's open, bright and has a team of youngish men (no girls to be seen the day we were there) who seem to really 'get it'. No pretences, no platitudes just pleasing service and tasty, actually scrumptious food, exactly what I want for breakfast or lunch.

One really doesn't need to be highly trained to run a great cafe that's not to say there's no qual's here I couldn't say and nor does it matter because they're doing it right. However I'm sure success is assisted by what's on offer as well as how it's cooked and served. I'm a firm believer that it is in the construction of a menu that one creates choice not by the sheer number of dishes. This menu has Eggs Benedict for the traditionalists,  Bircher Muesli for the naturalists (not the nudy type!), Pea & Haloumi Fritters for those looking for something a bit different, 'sandwiches' with grunt and excellent coffee/tea - all on a menu that is compact on today's standards. As well as the quality ingredients like free range eggs, bread with body and good house made (or at least superior) relishes and jams as many of us have come to expect. Another plus is the range of dishes that have all the nutrients represented in reasonable ratios - so often I find myself searching for an appealing sounding breakfast dish that is not all protein/fat! Well done Jackson Dodds, I'm looking forward to a return visit to try the ricotta pancakes with REAL Canadian maple syrup or the Dukkah eggs or maybe the Kedgeree and the plum and star anise jam sounds interesting.

I have to say this visit was on a weekday and I've heard it can be somewhat busy on the weekends, hope that doesn't affect the standard as it was such a delightful change from my recent experiences.
Jackson Dodds, 611 Gilbert Road West Preston
Jackson Dodds on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What's not to like???

I've now completed the Jason Jones trifecta having dined at Porgie and Mr Jones, Snow Pony and now Friends of Mine. And there is indeed lots to like at each of  these establishments, top of the list is the quality produce featured on the menus. It is in this selection of ingredients that these business's stand out from many others. A simple salad at lunch time will always be better if the 'greens' are selected to match the flavours of the dish, peppery rocket with cheese, sweet butter lettuce with delicate seafood, tatsoi with pungent Asian dressings etc.  And no matter how talented one is at poaching, frying or scrambling the eggs they have to be good eggs!  My Salad of  Robs smoked eel, grannies pearls (tiny balls of granny smith apple), watercress, hazelnut, gypsy pear cider dressing was an excellent example of well chosen ingredients combined with well executed culinary skills. As were the other dishes shared by our table.

I've enjoyed an array of dishes from these enterprises including some of the favourites, each displaying solid skills and well balanced flavours.  The toasted banana bread with maple syrup, mascarpone and berry compote is delicious, Tom Coopers smoked salmon, corn pikelet, avocado, herbed creme fraiche & poached egg is an institution and the Smashed avocado with thyme buttered mushrooms & marinated feta a hit. 

And I particularly love the quaint nuances each offers like the hand felted, heart inlayed bill wallets, menu descriptions like' grannies pearls, and the reserved signs made up of scrabble pieces at Friends of Mine.
But I have to say there is one feature that this trio also share that I don't like and that's an inconsistency in the quality of the service. There is always elements of hospitality know-how on display and many of the staff are both efficient and 'hospitable', unfortunately delightful dining experiences are often marred by poor or inappropriate skills of one of the front of house members. At my most recent lunch the majority of the service was casual yet professional however my salad arrived in 'champion Frisbee thrower style' - I swear the server was already on her way back to the kitchen before the plate came to rest!  Perhaps it's my industry experience working at the more formal end of dining or maybe I'm just turning into a cranky old ... but poor service has become an all too oft conversation topic amongst my dining compatriots and we don't appear to be alone in this gripe if the number of comments on the net are testimonial. Is it ineffective hiring, limited pool to select from, poor training or merely a reflection of more modern ways of interacting; perhaps it's much more complex Sociologists may describe this behaviour as emotional dissonance. I'm curious...

Friends of mine - 506 Swan St, Richmond
 Friends of Mine on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Marvellous Melbourne

In the last few days I have been enjoying Melbourne in Autumn, crisp mornings, streets layered with falling leaves and searching the neighbourhood for neglected quince trees - it's amazing how many fruit trees adorn backyards laden with bountiful crops which go unharvested.  Autumn in this fair city is also rich in non-organic events - cultural festivals abound. So in just a few short days I have been soaking up the atmosphere (and a glass or two of Tempranillo) at 'La Mirada' Spanish film festival, belly laughing at Comedy festival gigs and concerting to the earthy blues vocals and guitar brilliance of visiting Ruthie Foster and Eric Bibb.

But after all that wonderful entertainment one gets a little peckish and there's always sustenance to consider. Between comedy festival shows we have a very quick but tasty Gorgonzola gnocchi at Rosati.  But there's no problem finding somewhere open for satisfying food after all this 'culture', even at 11pm, even on a Monday night and even in suburban Box Hill. On offer at Oriental Inn (open until 2am) is simple yet delicious Cantonese fare with the added bonus of an array of wonderful roasted meats. Our usual is a bowl of steamed rice with some crispy salted roasted pork or roasted duck or soy chicken or a mixed platter and some garlicky vegetables most often Chinese broccoli but this time we had the snow pea shoots which were excellent.

Oriental Inn, 29 Carrington Rd Box Hill 
Oriental Inn on Urbanspoon

And as for those quinces I had to travel a little further a field but now have some jars of luscious Quince Jelly for my morning toast (courtesy of my sister) and a few left over for another of Greg Maloufs recipes - Slow cooked lamb and quinces but that's tomorrow so that's another food story!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Love and dedication

Its 6pm on a Friday night, no plans for dinner, no cash for home delivery and the troops are beginning to 'hang around' which means its not long before the age old question "what's for dinner?'. Cheese Toasties are looking likely but I scan the book on top of the inspiration pile, Greg Malouf's Saraban, in case I find something that contains ingredients I already have.
Yes I have artichokes (hearts in a can), pumpkin, waxy potatoes, carrots, shallots, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, dried mint, olive oil, sea salt, saffron threads, lemon, tarragon leaves, broad beans (well not quite but canned legumes should work) and peas, no turnips or fresh green beans but 16 out of 18's not bad. And my clever partner suggests we get some flat bread from the Afghani restaurant just up the road and yes I have $2.00 for that.

An hour later, its only after we've enjoyed a beautiful Persian vegetable Khoresht (stew) with some Afghani flat bread straight out of the tandoor that I think 'wonderful food takes so much dedication' especially if ones culinary preferences are as broad as mine. And its not all about the kitchen skills.

It's pretty straight forward in the pantry of most homes I visit but mine is chokka block full of the components needed to make dishes from the cuisines of  Turkey, China, Italy, France, Lebanon, India, Malaysia, Japan etc etc ....... And then there's the cookbooks, my bookshelves are bowing from the sheer weight and the cost of all that gastronomic beauty! Although I have to say I am a little more savy these days, restricting my purchases to tomes that are actually going to get used. I supplement these treasures by borrowing from the local library (our library has a great online facility for 'suggesting' new purchases) and of course 'the net'. And there's the time needed to explore our town so I know there's a little gem of an Afghani restaurant 'just up the road' for freshly baked flat bread or a kebab when desired, how far I have to travel to get good saffron or which fruit and veg shop has artichokes when they are in season. No wonder I get labelled as food obsessed! I'm not really!!! Well maybe just a little, it was the impetuous for the last overseas trip and the last road trip to Adelaide and I'm sure it's were most of my money goes. Okay I could admit I have a food obsession but I prefer to believe its love and dedication! Come dine with me, let's dine, let's dine away - or was that fly that Frank Sinatra was singing?!*/!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A tourist in my own town.

I often find upon returning from a holiday I am reminded of how much Melbourne has to offer and I am inspired to play 'holiday at home'. Miss Marples teahouse in Sassafrass is a example of one of the many 'institutions' that tourists and Melbournians alike visit in hoards. So on a coolish autumn day we set out for a 'drive in the hills' complete with wandering in the fresh air, visiting little what-not shops and afternoon tea at Miss Marples.

Honest fare at reasonable prices but that's about it and I make better scones - not something that comes from my chef pedigree but more to do with growing up in the country and narrowly escaping from taking my place as 3rd generation CWA constituent. I'd have to say the raspberry jam was very tasty, a little thin in consistency but only if I was being really picky. So for this food lover I can tick the box, I've now been and don't need to go back. Finding a CWA afternoon tea is probably a better bet for good scones (or there's my recipe - Nov 2009) and my favourite tea regularly arrives neatly wrapped via Australia Post from The Tea Centre. My everyday cup is the flavoured black tea called Monk and for a treat Darjeeling Goomtee FTGFOP (a first flush tea). I've tried all the speciality tea shops in Melbourne but keep heading back to:

But all was not lost as it's never far in Melbourne to a good food experience and just a few doors up from Miss Marples I discovered a lovely shop full of epicurean delights. It was obviously the owners held the belief that food is for sharing as everything in this delicious little shop is available for tasting not just the obligatory three or four items on the display table, although there was one of those as well. And yes even those illusive sealed jars of preserves with brands like Cunliffe and Waters. And no shortage of tasting sticks. I was also 'just a little' excited to find Willabrand chocolate enrobed figs on their shelves - something a hadn't seen since I was last at the Adelaide Showgrounds farmers market. It wasn't long before we were indeed chatting away to one of the owners (Leenah) about her food philosophies as she shared some thoughtful food combinations with us, including the sticky pear and saffron syrup on Serendipity vanilla bean icecream! What scones!!!!!! We might try a Cream at Sassafras picnic next time.

Cream at Sassafras
Shop 3, 372 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras

Miss Marples
382 Mount Dandenong Tourist Rd, Sassafras
Miss Marple's Tearoom on Urbanspoon