Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A significant birthday @ the Flower Drum

No not mine but there is another one of those on its way for me later in 2012 so stay tuned.

After 32 years in and around the Melbourne hospitality scene dining at Flower Drum was long overdue. If you haven't been and want a hint of what to expect then my best suggestion is check out their website. No more required than clicking Flower Drum here and the link will take you on a short journey into the elegant and refined world created by Gilbert Lau in 1975 and now continued by Chef Anthony Lui and a small army of professionals.

But better still make a booking to experience part of Melbourne's rich culinary diversity. Balance some of the spectacular cheap and grungy haunts with an evening of style, classical Cantonese fare and of course a bill to match. We did not indulge in the entrée serve of Shark fin soup at $160 per person, the sweet birds nest soup at $135.00 or order the whole suckling pig 2 days in advance at $500.00 nor did we choose the degustation option. Instead we ordered dishes to share although its silver service all the way here so every morsel is precisely portioned. 

Quail Sang Choi Bao
Duck wontons in broth
Calamari with spicy salt
Stuffed Eggplant (devoured before pic taken)
Coral trout in seasoned soy
Crispy skin chicken
Stir fried wild Barramundi noodles
Hong Kong style beef hor fun (not pictured)

We each had our favourites but the crispy skin chicken was a absolute winner, the skin as promised crispy, but the moistness of the flesh stunning and the extra salty tang mmmmmm. Not every dish was a knock out but all were professionally executed, melt in the mouth calamari, full bodied broth, delicate pastry and lettuce cups all the same size. I wonder how many icebergs are on their Fruit & Veg order each week? There didn't seem to be a table without the delicate little San Choi Bao.

A few before me have chosen to make comparisons with cheaper versions of these dishes but I don't believe there is much to gain from this exercise. I'm happy to reminisce separately about the street food of China (and my other travels in Asian) and the enjoyable evening of elegance we had at Flower Drum.

I was looking forward to a trip down memory lane with the Peking Toffee Apples for dessert but the birthday girl had other ideas and was planning to restaurant hop for a bit of gelati to finish the meal. It's probably my own doing in exposing her from an early age to a diversity of wonderful food. A trip to the rural  'Chinese' [restaurant] of my youth was special fried rice, combination omelette, sweet and sour pork or chicken, Cantonese beef and fried banana fritters - and just quietly still is for the locals still there, lucky I escaped to 'the big smoke'.

 Flower Drum on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 4, 2012

No black sheep to be seen!

Sorry for the pun, just can't help myself sometimes, even though I know it will get me into trouble. I'm regularly told there is no place for clichés in good writing.
Three Bags Full is a delight. The drizzle outside had us sitting inside but no bother as the setting is open and spacious, a bit of a treat for popular cafes which tend to be jam packed shoulder-to-shoulder dining. The decor is modern albeit with a hint of retro - the sugar bowls from an earlier era - my mum had a set of these ramekins, black on the exterior and shades of the 60's on the inner - burnt orange, mission brown, old bath green.

Our brunch was fresh and tasty, a plate of seasonal summer salads  including barley and corn, pea & feta fritters topped with beetroot cured salmon (very pretty), avocado, rocket & dill sour cream. Ample size portions for the price and importantly the service is as it should be - efficient and warm. All good really.

I was tempted to take a little of this place home with me and there was plenty to choose from waiting at the till upon bill paying but I resisted the cakes and preserves vowing instead to crank up my own relish or jam production. Three Bags Full on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 2, 2012

The negligent blogger

No excuses.... well a few... another unit completed in my post grad studies in Nutrition (my first exam since 1979)... an engagement and associated celebrations... and .... that's enough... time to get back to it.

 I think a few random pics are in order to kick it off again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ode to my sister's jelly slice

Its afternoon tea on the farm - my sister's dairy farm that is. And in true CWA (Country Women's Association) style the glistening jelly slice has just be removed from its tin and awaits slicing into delicious morsels to accompany our tea - with fresh un-pasteurised milk provided by the girls! I'm sure this one would win a blue sash first price at any rural show but it's just for us and the farmer (my brother in law).

Now I have to say that unlike my mother, and her mother before her (that would be my grandmother and kitchen mentor), my sister has a much more diverse culinary heritage. With a apprenticeship at a city boutique hotel, a stint working from the reknown Walter Bourke, cooking for a major catering outfit, producing gourmet take home diners and hand making chocolates for one of the first Chocolatiers in Melbourne, this is no average farmers wife.

And there in lies one of the fabulous capacities of a cooks life, it takes one on so many journeys and yet sometimes seems to take us right back to where it all started. As my sister and I discuss the tricks of jams, relishes, scones and sponges it is a reminder of a rural childhood cooking with Grandma on the wood burning Aga stove. Not so dissimilar to talking to fellow cooks Greg Malouf about his Middle Eastern heritage or George Calombaris about growing up in a Greek Cypriot household.  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cheers, Salute, Kanbei, Prost, Campai, Bottoms up or Chin Chin

In whichever language you choose I'll drink to a table or barstool at Chin Chin. Fresh and vibrant dishes with staff to match!!! (More about the cheeky 'as long as you're happy' barman later). Nestled against the wall at the back of the bar watching the world go by, tonight was when dining solo had an advantage. The snaking queue heading down Flinders Lane was being informed that it was a 1 to 2 hour wait for a table, depending on how many friends you were dining with, but for me on my own it was straight in. Occasionally I rather enjoy 'a table for one' and with the trend towards bar dining it seldom ends up a lonely experience.

The major disadvantage kicks in when having to choose just a dish or two with a menu focused on sharing. However not only did I thoroughly enjoy my silken tofu and banana blossom salad and pork "roll ups" I visually devoured the Massaman curry, salt and pepper squid, crispy chicken wings and pat Thai of my bar dining 'neighbours'. Luckily they were sociable so my culinary surveillance didn't get creepy - and a happy 9th anniversary to the 'floral bouquet' couple. 

Now dessert is not normally a big priority but sometimes I can be tempted and my lone dining status was receiving ample enticement. Plenty of banter with the barman/waiter about our respective travels in India combined with a little up-selling. So Layered jellies of coconut milk and passion fruit with slow poached pineapple it was and a good excuse to have a sticky, a rather delightful Frogmore Creek Iced Riesling (and an interesting lesson on the origins of Iced Riesling from my friendly compatriot). Definitely worth it the wine, the chitchat and the oh so creamy and refreshing coconut jelly. Yum

There seems to be a few complaints about the queuing. Well really....... the restaurant game is a tough gig and if it takes a no booking policy and table turn over to make it viable then so be it. The reliance on degustation/set menus or minimum spend or booking months in advance to allow the dining public the quality we seek seems fair. We are so lucky in Melbourne to have so many dining experiences to choose from - so if queuing isn't to your liking dine elsewhere I reckon.

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

There's cake and then there's.....

Macarons! The affair with cupcakes has waned and one can feel the love  - of macarons - in the streets of Melbourne. In amongst busy Hardware Lane, overflowing with eateries, is a whole shop dedicated to just this one French pastry. There is a chic austerity upon entering the pastel palace that is home to arguably some of the city's best - La Belle Miette. The uninitiated peer through the pristine shop window and the first time visitor battles to decide between the Salty Caramel, vibrant Raspberry and the decadent ‘Bastille’ (Moet et Chandon and Blackcurrant) or other 10 or so flavours. Patiently waiting in the queue is the addicted anticipating their next fix. 
Customers are rewarded with beautifully boxed crunchy intense sweet chewiness no matter what their flavour preference and in just the right portion to avoid feelings of guilt. Unless of course one attempts to try too many flavours or the entire selection! I'm glad my addiction to food is broad so I can enjoy just one -  the 'Bastille’ –  and I don't feel compelled to travel around Melbourne tasting each and every flavours on offer. Although LuxBite is on my list next time I'm on that side of town and the Kaffir Lime is inviting - uh oh.....
La Belle Miette on Urbanspoon 

Hopetoun Tea Rooms
And just in case your sugary fetish is not appeased by the simplicity of La Belle Miette then perhaps you'd better head off to another of Melbourne's emporiums of sweetness, The Hopetoun Tea Rooms, where the variety on display looks more like the Myer Christmas windows.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

a glimpse of Loam

Well the first trimester of my Grad Cert in Human Nutrition is complete and the final essay is in the process of being graded. That leaves me with some extra time to indulge in blogging and there are plenty of photo's attesting to my non academic pursuits stored on the camera just waiting to have their stories told. The first a 'field trip' for the culinary obsessed to the Bellarine Peninsula. The day included:

A visit to Sea Bounty Mussels - a family owned business where Lance shared his wealth of knowledge about a life time of commercial fishing in Victoria. Scallops being his first mollusc followed now by the local blue Mussels of Port Phillip Bay. Now that I know spawning around this time of the year decreases the size of the meat I'll wait to Novemberish for my next mussel cook-up. Even the child one is looking forward to a bowl of plump mussels in a garlic infused broth.
Next was feeding and nattering with Corrine and the goats at Drysdale Goats Cheese; the fresh curd cheeses a revelation- but then fresh is .... And there were plenty of nettles in the paddocks for an eager goat or chef.

Loam on UrbanspoonBy then it was time for a spot of
lunch; which was a sneak peak at Loam. The Loam philosophy to forage, fish and hunt, especially locally, was truly reflected in the mini menu we experienced; savoury morsels thoughtfully structured into refined dishes. I look forward to a future degustation dinner.

Beautiful food was the order of the day although there were rumblings of 'lots of protein' (meaning of the animal kind). Perhaps a fruit producer needed to be included to round out the trip although it was bit early in the year for the blueberry farm we drove past. Nonetheless I feel spending time at the source is valuable for young and 'old' cooks alike.