Courgette, Canberra 09-2014

Reading through the lists of Canberra's best restaurants lists (eg. AGFG, SMH, GT, other), two recurring names seem to be the vegetables, Aubergine and Courgette. I couldn't find anything online suggesting these places are linked (which is surprising given the similar names) and Aubergine seems to always come out on top as #1 in Canberra. Maybe it's just me, but despite this, the online menu at Courgette always appealed to me more, and hence was the fine dining place I most wanted to try here. Now that I've had the opportunity to eat at Courgette, it seems natural that I'll have to try Aubergine sometime for comparison.

It was a small group dinner at Courgette, which meant the lucky use of the Boardroom - a private dining area that I imagine is usually filled by business people trying to impress each other. The room is beautiful and stylish, with equally impressive extra-wide chairs to fit the largest of fatcats. It does create a slight excessive distance between each guest but not really much of an issue.

The food presentation is classy and it was unfortunate I couldn't capture the pictures.

First Course
- Ricotta and sweet red pepper filled courgette blossom, heirloom tomato, garlic creamed spinach;

Second Course
- Roast quail breast and twice cooked golden plains pork belly, asian slaw, soy pearls, apple sauce - excellent flavoured quail, succulent pork belly, sadly let down by an Asian slaw that was too plain as it was without dressing;
- Seared scallops, smoked cauliflower purée, fennel crunch, fermented black garlic - perfectly cooked moderate cylinders of scallop, well supported by the other flavours and textures;

Third Course
- Mandagery creek venison loin with dijon mustard, beetroot, asparagus, sheeps milk fetta, hummus - cooked rare (which is ideal) but didn't seem to make the same impact as the entree meats or the fish main;
- Hiramasa king fish, scampi, pea puree, fennel, pomegranate, avruga caviar sauce - very nice combination of salty, sweet, slightly tangy to complement the soft fish and mildly crunchy scampi;

Fourth Course
- Windsor strawberries and cream meringue, custard, mint cloud, freeze dried mandarin - beautiful presentation, simple combination, but meringue isn't my thing;
- Caramelised nectarine, apple cinnamon pithivier, ginger and butterscotch ice cream - delicious winner, the name says everything.

The presentation is great, the food is tasty and the setting is lovely. I'd be hard pressed to say I found anything here especially unique or rare, but I'd certainly recommend it for an upmarket meal in the capital.

Courgette on Urbanspoon

Brodburger, Canberra 2014

Burgers - the craze sweeping the world. Long gone are the dirty McDonalds, Hungry Jacks and KFC burgers (although each with their merits I suppose) and in with as gourmet and expensive as they get. 

My USA trip in 2011 with a single savoury bite of In-&-Out and the more fancy Ahi Tuna Burger at Gott's Roadside Cafe (which inspired me to make my own version) started off my recent fascination. Melbourne's best seems to be Andrew's (dirty) or Huxtaburger (slightly less dirty). 

I still can't go past the London burger revolution over the past few years. MEATliquor (cookbook coming soon!) really brought out the grease and grime deliciousness that created the first "dining" burger experience that influenced me. Once it became available without waiting in Covent Garden, there was never an opportunity not to grab one when passing by. From there things exploded - the old chains of Byron and to a lesser extent GBK, the (average to me) Lucky Chip near Broadway Market, the great reputations I didn't get to try of Patty & Bun and Dirty Burger and Honest Burgers, the really expensive overly attempted fanciness of Bar Boulud, and finally my probably favourite in the end - the Icelandic inspired Tommi's. Finally the dominant reputation of Shake Shack (Covent Garden and Dubai airport) which I can safely say should be avoided, unless there are no other reasonable options. That's a lot of burgers tried in 2-3 years.

Canberra's own is Brodburger (not Broadburger - although someone can clarify if it has some kind of Nordic pronunciation), another foodvan turned permanent setup in much the same vein. Having managed to try most of them over the past 6 months, I am happy to approve the Brodburger, the Broddeluxe (although a bit huge), Brodveg (which is probably their most unique burger as compared to the field) and to a lesser extent the Brodlamb and Brodbattered Fin (upmarket Fillet-o-Fish).

The burgers are large, the beef is cooked to default as medium-rare (I prefer rare, but there's no issue here), the buns and ingredients are fresh. It doesn't have the same dirtiness as the greasy London trend that leaves you feeling queasily guilty and satisfied and in need of wetwipes, and the seated area is clearly somewhere where you are there for food first, and socialising/drinks second.

It's very recommended to try and add to the list of burger comparators - I'm surprised there isn't more competition at the moment. MEATliquor - it's time to expand.

Brodburger on Urbanspoon

Regent Thai, North Adelaide 01/2014

There seems to be a lot of Thai restaurants in North Adelaide, all along the same street all within a few minutes walking distance of each other. It always intrigues me how this happens in any area - presumably one opens, has success and so the competitors come in? Maybe someone leaves the original and decides to try and steal the business away? Who knows. In any case Regent Thai seems to be one of the better reputed ones, but admittedly the decision to get takeaway from this place over the others wasn't overly pedantic.

The usual staples are the on menu and serve as my measures of judgement:
- Tom Kar Prawn (prawn in coconut milk flavoured with chilli, lemon, galangal, mushroom)
- Red Duck Curry (red curry, chilli, basil)
- Chilli Fish (deep fried barramundi topped with chilli sauce & basil)
- Regent Fried Rice (rice, prawn, chicken stirfried with chilli, garlic & basil)

I have recurring themes for my preferred classic Thai flavours - coconut milk, galangal, red curry and basil. The food was very nice and lasted around 4 meals. It would be difficult to say it was the best, but easy to say it was adequate and satisfying.

Regent Thai on Urbanspoon

Blue & White Cafe, North Adelaide 01/2014

One of the few "culinary(?)" delights of North Adelaide is the AB. Having never heard of it until reading up about the local area to my apartment, the AB apparently is an abbreviation for abortion - because the dish is likened to looking like an abortion. Perhaps it isn't the most appealing mental image, but the idea of chips, lamb giros and sauce on a plate doesn't sound too bad for the souvlaki-hungry person in me.

Blue & White Cafe is reputedly the original and the best, so there was no better opportunity to try it. I suppose eating this at 3am after a few drinks would enhance the experience, but it's always a good test of hangover food to try it when sober. For lunch. At 2pm.

Overall the dish is pretty average - standard chips (not as crispy on the outside as I prefer), relatively tasty lamb (not as tender or flavoursome as the souvlaki's in Melbourne I'm used to) with some garlic and chilli sauce layered on top. It isn't bad by any means, and the combination has promise, but better chips and meat would certainly elevate this further.

In any case it's always worth trying the local cuisine.

Blue  White Cafe on Urbanspoon

Italian & Sons, Canberra 08-2014

4 years accolade with a one-chef hat in the SMH guide probably means a little more in Canberra than it would in Sydney. I don't even know this restaurant had it until I looked on the website to make a booking. The counter argument is that a one hat standard in Canberra probably wouldn't be so in Sydney, but no matter. It's nice to know which restaurants around are more well regarded in order to test those opinions. It's pretty unusual that I go for a fine dining Italian experience - I'm much more partial to the homestyle cooking in Italy making exception only for truffles. My last fine Italian meal was probably Caffe E Cucina in Melbourne way back in 2003...

I've read some find the service to be not up to standard. It was a little unusual to have 3 different servers - a main one, one that assisted when the main one was attending another table, and another that tended to serve the food. It doesn't bother me at all. Some were more polite than others but none were rude. In any case I'm there for the food and the service is adequate enough not to detract from the experience.

- "Capesante saltati" seared sea scallops, celeriac puree, lemon & caper butter - excellent scallops cooked to perfect interior rareness, well accompanied by salted butter and capers. The puree added some texture but little flavour;
- Pressed quail & proscuitto terrine with pear, witlof & vincotto - very meaty cold slices with nearly undetectable proscuitto lining each layer, contrasted nicely by the sweet and bitter salad;
- Chestnut pappardelle, mushrooms, pecorino romano & truffle oil - truffle oil always makes me a little wary, but thankfully it was only a subtle hint in amongst excellent cheese and mushrooms, with a nutty pasta;
- Wood braised milk fed "capretto", tomato, olive & cannellini beans al uccelleto - nice savoury flavours let down by a generous portion of stringy, slightly dry goat;
- "Piattoni" braised green beans & basil pesto - simple beans with a surprisingly only mild touch of pesto. Could've used more pesto I think;
- Dark chocolate flourless torta, poached kumquats & vanilla bean icecream - dense heavy chocolate slice, delicious sweetened sour fruit and refreshing icecream.

Overall the meal was good with enough flavour satisfaction, a full stomach, but a little room for improvement.

Next time I would order an entree of pizza (which had a lovely fresh scent filling the airspace of the next table), my choice would be puttanesca (anchovies - can't beat that on a pizza) and any of the excellent sounding antipasti dishes. Time your visit with a piatti del giorno that suits your tastes - my choice would probably be rock suckling pig (Tuesday) or beef cheeks (Thursday).

Italian and Sons Vino e Cucina on Urbanspoon

Jamberoo Pub, Jamberoo 06-2014

A short weekend ended up in a small town called Jamberoo, near the NSW coast close to Wollongong. The airbnb was a nice self-sustained flat complete with log fireplace, secret kitchen and farm animals. Finding something to eat is slightly more challenging. The local town of Jamberoo is really a street comprising a pub, a petrol station and a few small cafes and shops. Slightly further out is Kiama which is a much more lovely coastal town complete with all the shops and food types to cover all whims.

Nonetheless it wouldn't have been right not to try the local Jamberoo pub, with its dedication to sport and particularly Johnny Warren.

Eggplant bolognese was a tasty (heavily salted) dish of fries, soft eggplant topped with bolognese sauce. Lamb stew was a reasonably nice and (heavily salted) meaty portion on top of mashed potato. Dessert was a searingly hot berry crumble and icecream which was very nice indeed.

Sit around, have some drinks, eat some food, watch some sport. The locals seem to.

Jamberoo Pub on Urbanspoon

Baan Latsamy, Canberra 05-2014

I've always been a fan of the Melbourne Entertainment Book. My parents were avid fans of one local restaurant in Doncaster and would buy 3 books per year under the logic that 3 means in that place plus a few Brumby's coupons was enough to justify the cost. I think it's popularity has slipped (in my mind at least) when the removal of many great Melbourne restaurants from it - Jacques Reymond, Koko, The Point were probably my pick. Nonetheless there's some bargains to be had if you're going to head out.

Similarly I was a bit reluctant to invest in the Canberra version. Considering the relative unknown names in it (as basically all the well rated restaurants in Canberra are noticeably absent from it), it seemed potentially poor value. However I must admit after giving it more thought, the fact that dining out in Canberra is so very expensive, it doesn't take much to make up the $50 cost (or so) for it.

If nothing else, it gives an excuse to try some local neighbourhood places and hope for the best. Baan Latsamy is quite average in its online rating. Luckily I didn't see it this way.

- Hot Pot Roast Duck (slow-cooked in Thai herbs & spices served with steamed vegetables) - tender duck meat, mushrooms and vegetables in a heavily flavoured masterstock;
- Som Tum (shredded green pawpaw salad in spicy sauce) - ordered it "hot" which had a nice kick to the sour salad. Definitely hot Thai-hot (which is a good thing);
- Whole Barramundi steamed - nicely cooked whole fish in a deliciously simple soy/ginger broth with coriander;
- Saffron rice - it has the colour of saffron but tastes like it has soaked up hours of coconut milk. Could not stop eating it.

Maybe the full price cost has caused some of the negative ratings? I'm not sure. I'd be happy to come back here. Entertainment book makes it better naturally.

Next time I would order any of the same dishes, perhaps try the tom kha (which is my standard for nearly all Thai restaurants).

Baan Latsamy Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Temporada, Canberra 06-2014

Look into any online list of Canberra's "best" restaurants, and nearly every single one has Aubergine listed at the top. Despite this, I must admit the menu doesn't overly excite me (Courgette looks much better as a comparison). Perhaps it's partially due my swing away from fine and more towards comfort food. In any case the newly opened Temporada seemed to be much further up my alley. Given the owners are the same as Aubergine, it could be expected the quality of cooking would be also. I don't know where Canberra delivers news of recent restaurant openings but I'd be keen to know. The Hot Dinners website is still the most informative one I've seen worldwide.

On a quiet Monday night, walking in at 630pm to a nearly empty restaurant was quite surprising. Couples, friends and groups trickled in and by 8pm the tables were all full - not a bad effort for a Monday (maybe assisted by the fact that most other places are closed on Sundays/Mondays?). The room is nicely set with a central rectangular open bar, stools surrounding and chairs on the outside walls against a backing of wooden slats. If the management actually read this one day, I would only suggest possibly turning up the heating a little (big glass windows and a high ceiling made it slightly chilly inside).

- Woodgrilled oysters - I didn't expect these to be so good. The Coffin Bay oysters were beautifully strong and enhanced by warmth and smoked tones. Really excellent. Never thought I'd ever like any form of cooked oyster more than raw;
- Pig's head roll, kim chi coleslaw - sliders have always been a (novelty) weakness of mine. Head/cheek meat is an indulgence Hawksmoor created within me exactly a year ago. This was a nice deep fried patty with slaw (I didn't notice any kim chi flavour). The soft shell crab version on the table next to me wafted over to me also;
- Venison scotch egg, sauce gribiche - little quail egg surrounded by venison mince and deep fried served with a sauce reminiscent of tartare. A refined version that was nice;
- Jurassic quail, grilled polenta, radicchio, pear - grilled quail and grilled polenta with a few lighter flavours for balance. It was good but I didn't feel anything special;
- Grilled lamb ribs, spiced eggplant, lemon dressing - 13 rib bones coated with succulent soft meat, charred outsides and surrounded by the most wonderful mix of eggplant pieces in a dressing with slight lemon tartness and berry sweetness. I think the ribs needed a touch more salt to create the harmony of balance, but I'm not complaining;
- Jerusalem artichoke & mushroom gratin - when you have a crust of parmesan above any kind of baked dish, you'll have food flavours;
- Cider poached apple & quince, quinoa porridge, honeycomb - a dessert I haven't seen before of white quinoa porridge dotted with black quinoa, toasted puffed quinoa clusters, broken honeycomb and a mildly alcoholic-flavoured fruit. Great way to end the meal.

All washed down with a pear & sticky date mai tai. Perfect place for friends to sit around, eat, drink and be merry.

Next time I would order woodfired oysters (4pp may be enough), try the soft shell crab roll, and a main of either lamb ribs or beef ribs. The seafood plate looked nice but pretty standard of prawns/mussels/oysters (although if it's all woodfired, this could be unexpectedly unique like the oysters) and I'm always a bit hesitant to order fish mains at restaurants. There's enough variety to keep everyone interested though.

Temporada on Urbanspoon

Mr. Big Stuff, Melbourne 05-2014

I'm not sure what the inspiration (and the name) behind this week-old place is, but it seems to be all old school and funky. It's evident from the DJ playing soulful records in the corner of the dining room, the red-tinged lighting and one of the coolest decorated toilets I've ever seen. Fat Albert? Yep. Soul Glo?? Yep (watch Coming To America for all you youngsters).

Thankfully the food is good too. Just look at the menu for all the excellent cuts of meat that are underused - pig's ears, bone marrow, ox tail, beef cheeks (I hope they add some of my other favourites later on) - these actually sparked my intrigue and anticipation. There are of course some standards for the less adventurous.

- Pickled okra (no photo) - tastes like okra that's been boiled in vinegar but retains some crunch. It's a simple snack;
- Pig's ear chips with cayenne salt (no photo) - 4 serves of these were just enough for 8 people. Better than the Duck & Waffle version. The best accompaniment for cocktails;
- Sweetbread nuggets (lamb sweetbreads, honey & thyme glaze)(no photo) - you'll never go back to McNuggets after these fried salty sweet ones;
- Jerk chicken wings - little grilled chicken drumsticks;
- Mac & cheese (with 3 cheeses) - rich flavoursome with a nice crust topped with (more) cheese;
- Roasted bone marrow (with pickles, smoked salt, sourdough) - not a fan of this. It's essentially fat on toast (as it is everywhere) but the bread was average and the marrow didn't have much seasoning;
- Shoestring fries (with capsicum ketchup) - fries with a slightly spicy (paprika?) seasoning. Nothing special;
- Fried chicken and waffles (with spiced maple syrup) - very tasty crispy batter, tender chicken;
- Tongue & cheek (veal, grilled tongue, braised cheek, sweet potato puree) - the tongue wasn't so memorable, but the cheek was tender as expected;
- Pork ribs (slaw, bourbon BBQ sauce) - you can never go past pork ribs. I expected the typical pork rack of ribs, but this was actually (surprisingly) a short section of pork belly on the rib. The skin had a little crispiness, the meat was succulent and the little bits of fat in between the layers kept it quite moist;
- Apple pie (cinnamon, spiced rub) - 4 crusty fried puffs of hot apple filling. Reminded me like an upmarket version of McDonald's apple pie with more caramel tones. It was fine but I'm not enamoured. A more sharing way to end the meal;
- Quince & rhubarb cobbler - quince, rhubarb, icecream - a slightly more refined way to end the meal.

Go there to hang out and have some snacks and drinks. Enjoy the atmosphere. This place (with a few menu tweaks from various London influences on me) would be the type of thing I'd like to own myself. Will definitely be back.

Next time I would order Sweet bread nuggets and Pig's ear chips with pre-drinks or whilst waiting for other people to arrive. Mac & cheese (or the  Ox tail slider I didn't try) as a filler, and pork ribs to finish it off. Apple pie is easy to share, but otherwise I'd save dessert and have more drinks.

Mr Big Stuff on Urbanspoon

Wong's Lucky Bar, Melbourne 05-2014

I don't remember any restaurant being next to the tram stop at Box Hill. Honestly I've only ever caught a tram from there once in my life and figured any building on the median strip itself would be similar to everywhere else in the world - a milk bar, some takeaway food shops, maybe a newsagent. When I heard the cheapest lobster and crab place in town was there, I was surprised. 4 years it's been there? Even more surprised.

The place is a basic cafe, nothing more to expect. You aren't going for service or nice surroundings or to be seen. You go for two reasons - lobster ($25.80 per pound) and crab ($11.80 per pound). Manage your expectations accordingly. I've heard that some of the crabs only have one claw - that would be unfortunate given the most accessible meat in a crab is in the claw. I'd suggest requesting one with two claws (if they allow it) or stick to lobster under those circumstances. Otherwise go somewhere more reputable (and more expensive). XO sauce costs $10 more - I don't understand why, it just does. The usual thick ginger sauce it fine enough, although if you order too many serves of noodles you might find there isn't enough sauce to smother it.

How is the food? The crab is delicious. The meaty parts of it are at least. I've always had an aversion to picky tiny bits of crab meat in amongst spitting out bits of shell. It's why I avoid crab unless it had good claws (variable), thick meaty legs (eg. Scandanavian king crabs) or picked out and created spectacularly for me (eg. Cervejaria Ramiro in Lisbon). I can understand why one claw only would be annoying (we were lucky with 2 crabs and 4 claws).

The lobster is average. The meat is quite generous in amount, but unfortunately the texture lacks the spring and is closer to a thick chicken breast. The flavour is there at least.

I'd go back again for a crab (with 2 legs) and give the lobster another try. If it wasn't for the price I probably wouldn't.

Wong's Lucky Bar on Urbanspoon