Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sydney - Vin de Champagne Awards

Every two years one of the most highly anticipated invites arrives the old-fashioned way - in my snail mail mail-box. 
The Vin de Champagne Awards celebrate the best champagne palates in the country in the student, amateur and professional categories.
This year's event was held at Alliance Francaise on Clarence St for canapes.. and then across the road at Becasse Restaurant.

 And of course champagne flowed throughout the night... matched to a six course meal designed by chef Justin North

Justin's creations are more like works of art. Marinated blue fin tuna with a salad of octupus, abalone and scallop with a mandarin and soy emulsion looked painted on the plate

 It was matched with a Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000 and a Henriot Brut Millesime 1998

 Next was caramelised pork belly, confit prawn, cauliflower puree and aged pork jowl (gotta love a bit of jowl!)

 ... all washed down with a Veuve Cliquot Vintage 2002, Pol Roger Brut Vintage 1999 and a Lanson Gold Label Vintage Brut 1998.

Our tasting notes would have made Shakespeare blush.

For the Veuve  ''the nose is very open, pure and complex.Aerating the wine reveals hints of yellow-fleshed fruit and pastries (brioche, marzipan). These give way to delicately spicy aromas, followed by elegant notes of liquorice and high-bred teas.''  No Liptons here!

The awards have been running for 30 years and attract entrants keen to experience the prize of a trip to Champagne in France. Participants are tested on their theoretical and practical tasting skills.

This year's student winner was 23 year old Yuri Burns (above) from WA, Prof Tim Sullivan also from WA took out the amateur section and Tetsuya's sommelier Glen Plowes won the professional category. 

 These were my favourite of the 16 wines we sampled - a Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2002, a Bollinger La Grande Annee 2000 and a very unusual G.H Mumm Cuvee R Lalou 1998.

and matched to the dish that excited my palate silken Glenloth chicken, slow-cooked lobster with chicken and crab jus.

a genius combination with the heady jus lifting all the elements to a magical level

 Dessert was artistically arranged on the plate as though all the ingredients had slide to one side.(or maybe they just had?)

 Lemon balm and vanilla nougat parfait with berry sorbet, champagne jellies and confit lemon


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Edible Balcony - Potato Progress

Harbour white-out  (photo:Mark FitzGerald)

Well it's two weeks since the seeded potatoes went into their planter bags.

After one week their thick spade-shaped leaves have popped through the straw mulch, compost, blood and bone and potting mix. The royal blue and banana varieties are going like gangbusters...

..the desiree and symphonia seem to be growing a little less robustly. This could be because the other bag is blocking a little of their light and heat from the spring sun.

These are the pics I took yesterday.

As you can see, the potato plants have quadrupled in size. The next step is to fill the bags up again with another layer of straw, manure, and potting mix leaving just the tips of the leaves exposed. This technique, I'm assured, will encourage more potatoes to take root. I should expect the first harvest in late November.

(photo: Mark FitzGerald)

Spring on the edible balcony couldn't have come soon enough for me. I know experienced gardeners say all seasons have their delights - even winter - but for me spring can't be topped. The air is sweet with promise.

(photo: Mark FitzGerald)

And what's at the other end of the rainbow? The Edible Balcony of course.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Melbourne - Movida Aqui

Of course I had to try the new jewel in the Movida Crown - Movida Aqui. In contrast to its other siblings, it's a huge warehouse space set up on a not-so-easy-to-find-floating terrace at Level 1 500 Bourke St.
This is tapas bar meets Hollywood.
There seems to be dozens of staff buzzing around as the Friday night crowd thickens.

I'm here with two of the best palates in the country - a former food reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald and a former chef now food photographer who's just finished shooting Movida Aqui's first cookbook. 

We begin with a tapas staple - a mixed dish of olives

Then share some smoked salmon with blood orange segments and freshly grated horseradish

Next is straight-from-the-ocean sea urchin with thin strips of pork belly on crostadas

some of the best sea urchin I've tasted

spikey bronzed casing

The restaurant is now heaving with over 150 diners and the kitchen kicks up a notch

Next to arrive is a terrine of pork and chicken with pine nuts and mustard fruits

at $50 a plate the iberico jamon needed to be mind-blowing for that price. It was.

Fried egg atop marinated ribbons of zucchini and asparagus spears

Grilled Asparagus with a tomato almond sauce

And a trio of desserts for the boys. I couldn't find anymore room!

Our meal (together with wines) was very pricey around $125 per head but we did splash out on all the high-end dishes on the menu and indulge in more wine and sherry than is responsible to do so. It's very easy to get carried away here.
Next time will be a slightly more sober and cheaper affair.
But the food won't be any less delicious.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Melbourne - Izakaya Den

Saucy Onion is in Melbourne for the Writers Festival. I'm hosting the In Conversation session with Matthew Evans about his brilliant new cookbook The Real Food Companion and taking part in a panel discussion (As Good As A Feast) on the proliferation of cooking books and cooking shows - not to mention food blogs - and whether this has brought us closer to our food or not.

I'm grabbing a quick lunch at the Izakaya Den near the corner of Russell and Collins St.

And it certainly is a den - a low-key entrance that's easy to miss, concrete stairs that lead to a door, through a mysterious curtain and into this industrial basement space.

Izakaya Den is run by the same posse that owns one of my other favourite Melbourne haunts Verge
It's loosely based on the traditional Japanese Izakaya eating house which serves sake with little nibbles.

The menu is cleverly projected onto the wall.

I choose the lunch set menu and start with some housemade tofu. Silky and clean nutty flavours.
Can't resist an accompanying glass of Moorooduc Blanc (chardonnay/pinot gris) from Mornington Peninsula

Next come the pickled vegetables and green leaf salad

Exquisitely prepared

Bandana-wearing chefs prepare dishes with quiet efficiency. No ego here. 

The main course is a fresh meaty chunk of Blue-eye fillet baked with shitake mushrooms, and some rice and ginger miso soup.

With so many restaurants trying to out foam, air, soil and vaporise eash other it is such a breath of fresh air to eat real food.

The Izakya Den is a small understated refuge for those who want clean, fresh flavours served in a calming environment.

grab a number......