December 28, 2009

Merry Belated Christmas!

Hoping everybody had a joyful Christmas and a well-deserved rest! And perhaps glowing that little bit extra after all the festive eating and celebrating! I've been spending my days working two jobs during this hectic time of year, so will be posting up stories and photos, back to normal very soon, hopefully by the new year! In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the warm weather forecast for weeks to come :)

December 22, 2009

Cutler & Co.

55-57 Gertrude Street,
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
(03) 9419 4888
Food: Modern Australian
Date visited: 13th December 2009

Last Sunday saw our long awaited dinner at the new Cutler & Co. With such rave reviews from renown food critics, praise from impressed customers and awards given by The Age's Good Food Guide, I was most curious to discover if the restaurant really deserves the hype and fuss it has received.

Inside the historic building that it inhibits, Cutler & Co. flourishes with warmth, elegance and style. Wood foundations are randomly exposed through its brick walls, which are covered with white, sanded down paintwork. The restaurant features two long, comfy, black leather banquettes against the walls and various types of custom-designed lighting. My favourite are the ones made of wire netting, which closely resemble puffed up tutus. There was also, notably, the absence of white table linen, which I guess accentuates the relaxed, yet buzzing atmosphere in the fine dining restaurant.

The dishes that we ordered tasted absolutely divine and were beautifully presented with a creative combination of colours, textures and flavours. It is no wonder why head chef and co-ownder Andrew McConnell is highly respected in this industry; his food is fresh, seasonal and cleverly executed on the plate with delicate embellishments.

To put the icing on the cake, the service was spot on - we were kindly greeted upon arrival, and throughout the night, the staff were helpful, friendly and efficient with every move, from gracefully maneuvering between tables to clear away plates to topping up waters.

However, there was a slight hiccup - we found a thin piece of plastic (looked like it was the corner, cut off from a packet of something) in the quail terrine! Although we still finished the dish to the very last bit and insisted on paying for it, the maître d' kindly deducted it from the final bill and sincerely apologised for the accident - a simple gesture, but one I know would not occur in many other restaurants of a similar calibre.

Crusty, house-baked Sourdough; Grain Bread from Baker D. Chirico (149 Fitzroy Street, St.Kilda)

Moonlight Flat Oysters - En Surface, Clair De Lune; both natural with lemon. I preferred the En Surface, with its softer, creamier and less-briny flavour.

Asparagus Salad, Seared Scallop & Picked Spanner Crab - The delicate garnish of the Nasturtium flowers and their peppery, green leaves made me feel like I had a slice of a pretty, summery garden on my plate!

Pressed Quail Terrine, Foie Gras Cigar, Orange & Pistachio - the cigar was my favourite part of this dish; the pastry was amazingly thin and the foie gras so soft and velvety.

Amuse Bouche of Crisp Crostini with Tender, Slow-cooked Octopus, Chorizo and Aioli - I would have happily obliged to have a plate full of these as my main!

Roast Suckling Pig, Sweet and Sour Onion, Prune Vinegar - The meat was so tender and moist, with the crispiest and tastiest crackling skin I have had!

Assorted Shredded Leaves, Red Wine Vinaigrette & Shallots; Apple and Cabbage Salad (which was served as an accompaniment to the roast suckling pig)

John Dory, Grilled Red Claw Yabby, Fennel & Nettle Butter - A warm Crustacean Bisque was skilfully poured in by the waiter at the table, which instantly melted the butter and moulded the flavours from the fennel and fish together. However, I wasn't a fan of the battered onion rings on top.

Dessert Amuse Bouche of Whipped Ricotta Cheesecake, Pumpkin Seed Crumble and Golden Delicious Apple - This was a mini version of one of the items from the Dessert Menu. We easily devoured this, it was packed full of flavour and so addictive!

Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich, Vanilla Parfait & Salted Caramel - I couldn't believe how silky smooth, shiny and rich that ice cream was!

Strawberry Sorbet, Vanilla Rice & Verjuice Jelly - The rice felt like rice bubbles in my mouth!

Chocolate and Peanut Cookies - These crunchy delights arrived with the bill :)

December 10, 2009

Sticky Baked Chicken Drumsticks

One of my all-time favourite dinners to make on a lazy night is adapted from a recipe in Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy. It incorporates a delightful combination of flavours - sweet honey, salty soy and fish sauce, tart rice vinegar, sour lemon and fragrant sesame oil. Leftovers can easily be frozen or reheated for a quick lunch the next day!

Serves 5:
- Olive oil, to drizzle
- 10 Chicken drumsticks
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- 6 tbs honey
- 3 tbs fish sauce
- 1½ tbs light soy sauce
- Juice of 1½ lemons
- 3 tbs rice wine vinegar
- 1½ tbs sesame oil

Heat the oven to 200°C. Lightly oil a large baking dish, season the drumsticks with salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer in the dish. Drizzle over a little olive oil and bake in the hot oven for 20 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the glaze by thoroughly combining the honey, fish sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar and sesame oil in a small bowl. Take the chicken out of the oven and pour over the glaze, to coat each drumstick. Return to the oven and bake for another 20-30 minutes, turning several times, until the chicken is tender and nicely glazed. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before serving.

 Sticky Chicken Drumsticks with Steamed Rice

Sticky Chicken Drumsticks with Roast Vegetables and Couscous

Sticky Chicken Drumsticks with Carrot, Cabbage and Button Mushrooms - The vegies actually acted as a bed for the chicken when I baked it in the oven. I wanted them to soak up all the tasty juices from the drumsticks as they cooked.


Level 3, Crown Towers Hotel,
8 Whiteman Street,
Southbank, VIC 3006
(03) 9292 6886
Food: Japanese, Teppanyaki, Sake Bar, Sushi Bar
Date visited: 22nd November 2008

Koko was the chioice for a memorable dinner with professional, efficient service and superb food. With its teppanyaki and a la carte tables, sake bar, sushi bar and tatami and teppanyaki rooms, Koko beautifully overlooks the Yarra River and city skyline. It also features a charming Japanese water garden in the a la carte section, and decor that fuses traditional Japanese with contemporary design. 

We dined in the teppanyaki area, where an expert chef happily barbecued our food to perfection infront of us. Every element in the "Mori" Teppanyaki Set that we ordered was just divine and well worth the dining experience. Our menu for the night:

Zenzai - Three daily specials of prawn with lemon, oyster shooter and braised pork belly
Sashimi of the day - Sliced, fresh raw tuna, salmon and whitefish
Dobin Mushi - Dashi consomme with seafood, chicken and mushroom in a traditional clay teapot
Alaskan Crab Claw Tempura
Prawns, salmon, scallops
Australian Wagyu beef tenderloin
Sauteed beanshoots, assorted mushrooms
Fried rice
Trio of Ice Cream - Green tea, red bean and vanilla

Prawn with Lemon; Oyster Shooter; Braised Pork Belly

Fresh Salmon, Tuna and Whitefish with Sushi and House-pickled Ginger - The ginger was much more pleasant tasting than the pungent, artificially pink-coloured ones that are served in most other Japanese restaurants.

Alaskan Crab Claw and Asparagus Tempura

Dashi Consomme with Seafood, Chicken and Mushroom in a Clay Teapot

I was in sublime delight as we devoured this traditional Japanese soup. It was so delicate, with the perfect combination of  the slight burnt flavor from the dashi stock being cooked in the clay teapot, the earthiness from the mushrooms, and the citrusy tinge from the wedge of fresh lime juice that was squeezed in.

Eyeing our barbecued prawns, scallops, fish and mushrooms

My half-eaten dish of plump and delicious mushrooms and prawns


Succulent wagyu beef pieces, crispy prawn legs and juicy beanshoots

December 9, 2009

Saigon Rose

206 Chapel Street
Prahran, VIC 3181
(03) 9510 9651
(also at: 86 Victoria St, Richmond)
Food: Modern Vietnamese
Date visited: 3rd August 2008

Saigon Rose offers fresh authentic Vietnamese cuisine, with exceptionally priced meals of high quality and presentation. It is a step up from the traditional Vietnamese eateries, with their understated decor, that populate streets in suburbs like Richmond, Footscray and Springvale. The ambience is always warm and welcoming in this family-run restaurant, with helpful and polite staff. No wonder it is bustling with regulars on a daily basis!

I absolutely love Vietnamese Sour Soup (nothing beats mum's) and Saigon Rose serves one of the best that I've tasted, with sweet, juicy prawns bobbing about. Their spicy Tom Yum Soup also deserves a special mention.

Prawn Meat Wrapped with Crispy Roast Duck Skin; Prawn and Pork Rice Paper Roll; Ham Roll Stuffed with Prawn, Avocado and Carrot

 Crispy Skin Chicken with Fresh Lime and Szechuan Salt; Sizzling Garlic Prawns

 Vietnamese Coleslaw with Beef; Prawn Meat Wrapped with Crispy Roast Duck Skin

Sizzling Mongolian Pork with Sesame

Stir Fry Prawns with Oyster Sauce


1221 High Street
Armadale, VIC 3143
(03) 9824 8200
Food: Japanese
Date visited: 15th November 2009

After hearing rave reviews about Sozai, we gave it a go for dinner last week, following a window-shop down High Steet's vintage and boutique stores. Its promise of fresh seafood did not disappoint, with a Japanese chef deftly preparing sushi and sashimi to order. A huge chunk of the menu is dedicated to cold dishes from the sushi bar, with choices including seafood based salads and vinegared sushi rice combinations with raw salmon, tuna, sea urchin, oyster, salmon caviar, calamari, octopus, prawn and smoked eel.

The sashimi prepared was ultra fresh - vivid coloured and so smooth and moist

The restaurant's eccentric furnishings complete the oriental dining experience, with excellent table service, even on such a hectic night - people were waiting in line for a free table, customers were coming and going for their take away orders and the waiters appeared to be very frantic amongst each other!

Nama Kaki - I could have easily enjoyed another serve of these fresh oysters. The tangy, citrus flavours of the ponzu dressing tasted great with the added sprinkle of mild chilli powder and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Gyu Tataki - Sliced and perfectly seared Porterhouse beef with a complimenting ponzu dressing

Gyoza - Pan-fried home-made dumplings filled with pork and vegetables

Unagi Don - Sizzling, smoked eel on steamed rice

Sukiyaki - Thinly sliced Porterhouse beef with vegetables and udon noodles, cooked in a soy-based sweet sauce. The texture of the noodles was just how I prefer them - soft but still slightly chewy to the bite.

Wafu Salad - Beanshoots, beans and tofu with a light soy dressing

A refreshing salad to break up the sweet, salty flavours from our mains. I mixed some into my Sukiyaki!

December 8, 2009

Apple Tarte Tatin

For my brother's birthday today, instead of baking a classic cake, I attempted an Apple Tarte Tatin, showcased on Masterchef in Season 1. What seemed like a real challenge turned out to actually be one of the simplest desserts I've come across, with stunning results. The aroma from the juicy apples as they caramelise is just so mouth-watering; teamed with fresh vanilla bean ice-cream, this dessert is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!

Serves 2:
- 3 Golden Delicious apples
- 1 tbs lemon juice
- ½ cup caster sugar
- 20g unsalted butter, chopped
- Ready-rolled puff pastry sheet
- Cream or Ice-cream, to serve

Preheat oven to 200ºC. Peel apples, cut into quarters, remove cores (cutting each quarter at the core so it has a “flat” side), and toss the quarters in a large bowl with the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the sugar.

Using a 20cm frying pan as a guide, cut pastry into a round slightly larger than the pan, prick with a fork. Melt butter in a 20cm non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Cover with the remaining sugar. Cook over medium-low heat, shaking pan occasionally to spread around any dark spots that appear, until a rich caramel forms.

Place apple quarters into pan, rounded side down, arranging them around pan. Cut remaining apple to fill gaps. Cook the apples over medium heat for about 10 minutes until caramel is bubbling up in the pan, shaking pan occasionally to prevent burnt spots.

Lay the pastry over the apples, tucking any protruding edges around edges of pan.

Place the pan in the oven, cook for about 25 minutes, or until the puff pastry has risen and cooked. The pastry should be dry and flaky. Stand tarte in pan for 10 minutes before carefully turning out onto a serving plate.

 Apple Tarte Tatin

Unsure of how the butter caramel would behave, I didn't want to simmer it for too long in fear of burning the sugar. Next time, I will definately take it further and cook the caramel until it reaches a more dark and richer colour. A few more minutes in the oven would also improve the golden-brown colour of the pastry. It is also important to ensure that the caramel completely covers the apple quarters when placing down the puff pastry, so that it can act like a glue to hold the apples to the base.

December 7, 2009

Gingerbread Biscuits

With a welcoming cheer to the festive season, I made a batch of gingerbread biscuits, using an old recipe from my scrapbook. I playfully decorated them with lemon icing and colourful embellishments, bought from Wheel & Barrow. Fun and quick to bake, gingerbread biscuits make the perfect Christmas present, wrapped in baking paper and packaged into cute little gift boxes. Merry Early Christmas!

For the biscuits:
-125g butter
- ⅓ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- ½ cup golden syrup
- 3 cups plain flour
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 180°C. Heat butter, sugar and syrup in small bowl in microwave on high for about one minute, stirring once, or until mixture is melted and smooth. Cool to room temperature. Sift flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a larger bowl, then stir in cooled butter mixture. Add egg and beat with wooden spoon until dough is smooth.

Knead dough lightly on floured surface and roll to 5mm thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes until there is no dough left. Place the shapes onto greased (or non-stick, or lined with baking paper for a healthier option) oven trays and bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes until lightly golden. Use this time to make the icing.

I used angel, candy-cane and heart-shaped cutters

Wiltshire makes these really handy insulated non-stick baking trays that slide right into the oven's grooves (for the racks)

Delicate and golden brown

For the lemon icing:
- 1 egg white, beaten lightly
- 1 ½ cup icing sugar
- 2 tsp plain flour
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Food colouring

Place egg white in small bowl, stir in half the sifted icing sugar, then stir in the remaining icing sugar, flour and enough juice to make a spreadable icing. Tint with colour.

Once the gingerbread cookies have cooled, decorate with the icing and any other frills you'd like to add - my favourite was the Cookies and Cream sprinkles!

Gingerbread Biscuits with Lemon Icing