Thursday, 21 August 2014

zimari, prahran/windsor: a cretan restaurant

Warm pita bread at Zimari.

Another catch-up meal, this one from late July. By then, Simon had arrived in Melbourne, and my friend June happened to have an unshakeable craving for Greek food, specifically saganaki cheese, so I suggested the three of us make our way to Zimari (268 High St, Prahran/Windsor) for lunch.

Zimari's Facebook page describes themselves as "a modern Greek Restaurant with clean, simple flavours influenced from the Greek Island of Crete."

The decor is clean and simple, too; there is an airy feeling with the space and lots of natural light during the day.

The waitress who served us suggested that we try their assortment of dips with warm pita bread. We didn't end up ordering this, however they gave us a complimentary little sample plate anyway, which was lovely, in more ways than one. The pita was gratifyingly warm, dusted with spices and dotted with olive oil. The dips - a pretty purple beetroot dip, and a pale pink taramasalata dip (made with cured fish roe) - tasted fresh, and we happily mopped it all up.

Beetroot dip and taramasalata dip, served with warm pita.

Of course we also started with saganaki. Here, they fry it with graviera cheese, which is a specialty of Crete. It had a nice crust, texture, and the expected saltiness without being too over-the-top salty, which I appreciated.

Saganaki - grilled graviera cheese with lemon and oregano. ($12)

Their spanakopita - which boasts a homemade pastry and a filling of spinach and mizithra cheese, another famous Cretan cheese - is also delectable. 

Spanakopita - homemade pastry filled with spinach and mizithra cheese. ($9)

For something green and healthy we had the marouli salad with mixed greens, pear, dried figs and walnuts. Nothing remarkable, but fresh and pleasant.

Marouli salad - mixed greens, pear, dried figs and walnuts. ($13)

This stifado from their specials menu that day was homely and comforting - a braised beef stew cooked in red wine, tomato and shallots, served with potatoes on the side.

Stifado - beef braised in red wine and tomato salsa, shallots and oven potatoes. ($19)

We really enjoyed the tigania - pork fillets in a honeyed, herbaceous lemon-mustard-oregano glaze, so charmingly sweet and tender.

Tigania - pork fillet in a lemon, mustard and oregano glaze. ($14)

For desserts, we wandered over to the counter, where the options were explained to us. We were drawn towards the portokalopita, an orange yoghurt filo cake - something different and interesting to us. I had always associated filo pastry with crispy baked goods, but here it is soft, syrupy, and unexpectedly luscious. We went at the cake again and again with our spoons, which quickly disappeared. So glad we tried this.

Portokalopita - yoghurt, filo and orange syrup cake. ($7 by itself, $9 with ice cream)

As we paid for our food, we had a chat with the guy behind the counter, who I think is the owner. He tells us he came here from the island of Crete, Greece, and has now lived in Melbourne for about five years. I tell him that this was my first time to Zimari, and that I wished I had discovered it sooner. Next time I'm in Melbourne and craving Greek food, I know where to go.


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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

luo han guo tea / monk fruit tea

Luo han guo tea / monk fruit tea.

Here's another beverage that came about while I was clearing out my cupboards for the big move.

When my parents visit me every now and then in Melbourne, they invariably stock up my fridge and my pantry in their efforts to look after me. One of the ingredients they provided one time was dried luo han guo (also known as monk fruit, buddha fruit, or arhat fruit). The luo han guo beverage is something I drank often back in Malaysia, yet it was always prepared by someone else. I never got around to making it myself - so as an ingredient, the monk fruit remained so enigmatic to me.

But I was moving house and I couldn't bear to throw it away. That's as good a time as any to get out of my comfort zone, right? I vaguely remembered my mum's reassurances: "It's really easy to make luo han guo tea, just crack the fruit and simmer it in water until the flavour comes out."

So that was what I did, and it was truly that easy. Like so many things, it's not as scary or as mysterious as it seems, once you actually try it.

Dried luohanguo / dried monk fruit.

luo han guo tea / monk fruit tea

Use approximately 1 litre, or 4 cups of water, for every piece of whole dried monk fruit. Break open the fruit with your hands, so that the dried flesh inside gets some exposure. Bring the fruit and the water to boil in a pot, then cover and allow it to simmer for at least 20 minutes. The longer you cook it, the more intense the flavour is. If it becomes too strong, simply add more water to dilute it.

As monk fruit is naturally very sweet, there should be no need to add any sugar. Strain out any bits and pieces of the broken fruit, and the tea is ready to enjoy immediately if you wish. This is a beverage which is delicious with its sweet herbal quality, at all temperatures. I had it hot on this occasion, but I love it really cold with ice.

Note: I just asked my mum and she generally uses 1.5 - 2 litres (6 - 8 cups) of water for each fruit, and simmers it for around an hour. I guess mine is the shortcut method, haha!

Luo han guo beverage / monk fruit beverage.

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Friday, 8 August 2014

tsukiji, prahran

Trays and trays of sashimi-grade fish and other seafood in the fridge - take your pick.

It's not the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, but Tsukiji grocery-cafe-restaurant (237 High St, Prahran) definitely has their fans amongst sashimi-lovers in Melbourne.

I only sigh because I never got around to visiting this place until the few weeks before I was due to move interstate, despite it only being half an hour's walk from my apartment for the past several years. But I made up for lost time, you bet I did. In the space of just 18 days, I managed to visit Tsukiji not once, not twice, but three times.

The first time around, my lunch date and I kept it simple by ordering one sashimi set each, which came with assorted sashimi, rice, miso soup, and a smidgen of seaweed salad. The fish was of excellent quality and tasted very fresh. My friend, upon taking a bite, exclaimed, "melts in your mouth".

Sashimi set ($15).

We enjoyed our meal so much that we decided to get takeaway for dinner, too. I grabbed a few trays of raw fish from the fridge, and had them slice it up for me - which they do for free - to take home.

A succulent, dewy, exquisite selection of sashimi ($11.90).

I chose the smallest pieces of raw fish - one modest portion each of sea perch, salmon, tuna, gurnard, and hapuka. After getting home, I put my sashimi treasures in the fridge, and opened it up not too long afterwards for an early dinner - I wanted to savour the fish while they were still reasonably fresh.

As expected, the tuna and salmon were beautifully creamy, like what I already had for lunch. As for the white fish, the gurnard and hapuka were firmer, and had more of a bite. The sea perch was surprisingly tender, delightfully gentle. It was a fun and tasty selection and I was happy with my choices.

Salmon, Hapuka, Gurnard, Tuna, Sea Perch.

The following weekend, a friend visited from Adelaide, just to catch up before I go - isn't that just awesome! - and I brought him and his partner to Tsukiji. We went all out - in addition to the usual suspects, we also had generous amounts of scallops, uni (sea urchin), and toro (tuna belly). I can't remember exactly how much it all ended up costing us but I believe it was around $25 per person. We would easily have paid twice that in any other Japanese restaurant in Melbourne, considering the luxurious, sought-after items that were on our plate.

One of the sections of our luxurious sashimi platter.

Seriously, my interstate guests went crazy at the fridge section, picking out two trays of toro, claiming that they can't get that stuff in Adelaide. The label doesn't specify whether it's chutoro or otoro, but looking at the marbling I'd say it's the latter. Fatty, rich, totally decadent - and I can only have a tiny bit before it becomes too much for me. No matter, for my friends merrily devoured it all.

Why, yes, there is such a thing as too much toro (tuna belly).

I went back to Tsukiji for a last hurrah when Simon came over, and we caught up with a friend there, too. They both ordered unagi don - yes, there is a hot food menu, even if I tend to neglect its existence - I had a taste of the glazed grilled eel, and it was delicious. But it is still difficult to go past the sashimi here...

Gorgeous ruby-red tuna sashimi.

Even though it was winter, I opted to have a dessert of their black sesame ice cream. It seems to be a homemade version that looks like it was frozen in a small plastic tub, before being turned out into a bowl. Needless to say, the presentation wasn't the most attractive, and the texture was a little hard. However, it had a nice subtle sweetness, and the black sesame flavour rang loud and clear. I had no problems finishing it at all.

Black sesame ice cream.

Anyway, I guess for the month of July, I had enough sashimi to tide me over for a while, in case I don't get any more raw fish for the rest of the year.

As for the rest of you who still reside in Melbourne - if you want to eat in at Tsukiji, get in right when they open at noon to secure a seat - just in case. Otherwise, there's always takeaway.


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