Thursday, 28 June 2012

bramble & vine, carlton north

On a recent weekend I met up with my friend Joanne for a long-overdue catch-up dinner at Bramble & Vine (749 Nicholson St, Carlton North).

I was looking forward to this dinner for some very good reasons.

1) Quality girl time with Joanne! It's just so cosy, chatting and musing about lifestuff with someone you've known for over a decade.
2) The enticing menu on Bramble & Vine's website, their attention to fresh, locally sourced products, and the magnificently positive ratings on Urbanspoon.
3) The hospitality I experienced in a mere phone call. It's almost impossible to not warm to a place when you call to make a booking and the response is an effeverscent exclamation of "Oh, that's wonderful!", as if you'd just informed your favourite aunt that you were coming to dinner.

I can say that the evening satisfied me on all counts. The conversation flowed, the food was delicious, and our hostess (whom I believe is co-owner Leila) was welcoming and enthusiastic.

This is what we had...

Chicken & pistachio sausage with barberries, pomegranate, rose petals & cous cous. A gorgeous dish with inspiration from the Middle East. Tangy, savoury, nutty... it was an artfully conducted orchestra of both bold and subtle flavours.

Chicken & pistachio sausage with barberries, pomegranate, rose petals & cous cous. $26.

Fish of the day served on red rice, quinoa & a seafood bouillabaisse. The first thing we noticed was the non-existent red rice - it turned out that they forgot to tell us beforehand that it wasn't available that day. Fortunately, taste-wise, we didn't really miss it. The rockling was decently cooked, and the fried ginger on top was a nice touch. The bouillabaisse was light, yet flavourful, and I mopped it all up with the quinoa.

Fish of the day served on red rice, quinoa & a seafood bouillabaisse. $26.

Kipfler potatoes with thyme, rosemary & bush lime aioli. Done the rustic way with thinly sliced, different-sized pieces, the textures vary, mostly crunchy, some just tender. There were a few pieces that were a tad greasy, but I enjoyed more than my fair share. They were quite dangerously moreish with their herb-infused goodness, and a fabulous alternative to regular chips/fries. The aioli was creamy, silky, and had a very sharp tang of bush lime.

Kipfler potatoes with thyme, rosemary & bush lime aioli. $8.

Apple & rosewater sorbet with vanilla geranium crumble. So very pretty; I can only imagine all the effort that went into it. The apple chips on top were light as a feather, sensationally crisp, and concentrated with a glorious natural sweetness. Beneath them, gentle apple sorbet is balanced gracefully on rosewater gel and shortbread. Scattered across the plate, the vanilla geranium crumble was intriguing and I wished there was more. I wasn't too keen on the shortbread (it had a distracting milk-powder quality to it), but other than that, this dessert was pure elegance.

Apple & rosewater sorbet with vanilla geranium crumble. $12.

As you may have noted, there were some little quibbles here and there; however, they hardly detracted from what was, overall, a truly sensuous and delightful meal. Joanne said, "I'm very impressed with the food here," and I have to agree. If you're looking for a north side restaurant that serves up harmonious flavours without the hipsters and the hype (for now, anyway), this is a good one to add to your list.

Bramble and Vine on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, 21 June 2012

of chervil, milk mayonnaise, and chicken burgers

chervil mayo chicken sandwiches on toasted seven-seed bread.

I have to confess that despite my apparent adventurous streak, I frequently use the same herbs over and over again. This is due partly to my cheerful reliance on my little windowsill herb garden, which currently flourishes with mint, rosemary and garlic chives, but let's face it... variety is fun, and there are only so many facets I can tease out of those three, awesome as they are.

So I've decided I should expand my repertoire and when I spotted chervil at the markets recently, it felt like the perfect challenge, because I knew absolutely zilch about it.

Chervil looks like a tinier, daintier version of flat-leaf parsley, and upon sampling it I found that it has a similar taste too, but gentler and with a bonus hint of anise. Now I have to say that my feelings toward parsley and aniseed are lukewarm at best - I'll accept small amounts in my food, but I don't go out of my way for them - however, I have developed quite an affection for chervil, perhaps because it has a much subtler magic to it. In fact, I bought it again at South Melbourne Market the very week after my first purchase, and I can see it sneaking into my meals more often in the future.

A few simple ideas for chervil? Chop it up and toss it together with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and almond flakes to create a simple salad. Serve it fresh atop a hot noodle broth. Use it anywhere you can imagine using parsley. Trust that it will deliver. It did for me.


But wait, there's more! I did a bit of poking around online to see what others have done with their chervil and came across David Lebovitz's chervil mayonnaise recipe, which is basically a chervil-ised adaptation of David Leite's milk mayonnaise - an intriguing eggless mayonnaise recipe of Portuguese origins that uses milk in lieu of yolks.

This milk mayonnaise, it works. If you feel a bit iffy about raw eggs, it will change your life. Fresh mayo, no eggs, no worries - and if you're vegan, soy milk will do, too!

I decided to start with Leite's mayonnaise, with the idea that I would just dress some roughly chopped chervil with it afterwards, instead of incorporating finely chopped chervil as per Lebovitz's way. Initially, I foolishly attempted this by hand with a balloon whisk, which took me nowhere, but once I transferred the mixture to a little blender, it emulsified beautifully, smooth and thick. I then foolishly washed my chervil just before dredging it through the mayonnaise (instead of doing it earlier and letting it dry). The excess moisture undid my efforts and I ended up with a slightly watery concoction.

Oh well, live and learn. By the way, if you're suspiciously wondering why my milk mayonnaise is so vibrantly yellow, it's due to the carotene-rich oil I used. It's all legit, I promise!

Despite my gaffes, dinner was served. Toasted organic sourdough seven-seed bread. Pan-fried free-range chicken patties. Freshly blended milk mayonnaise. Garlands of chervil. Simon helping me out with the photographs, because he knows better on how to fight the curse of artificial lighting, and because I could really use a break after all my travails. Standing by the kitchen bench together as we devoured our burgers. Happiness.

chervil mayo chicken burgers on toasted seven-seed bread.

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Thursday, 14 June 2012

movida bakery, south yarra

Gleeful anticipation. That was what I felt when I heard that the new Movida Bakery (3 Tivoli Road, South Yarra) was set to open in my 'hood. As a ravenous food blogger, having a Movida outlet in my suburb is like winning a hot dinner date with a celebrity.

The nice thing about getting to know a celebrity better with a few more dates, though, is that this blog post, written over a month later, is considerably less fan-girly, and more rational and measured. Gladly, even though the initial starry-eyed excitement is over, this is a largely positive relationship and one that I am happy to keep going for as long as it remains warm, convenient and delicious.

My first purchases? The much-hyped doughnuts. They kept me in good company as I awaited my friend Leon to arrive, reliably late, for our catch-up brunch.

The salted caramel has been getting a lot of attention in the press. This is a doughnut for those with a sweet tooth - check out that rich, glossy caramel.

The very popular salted caramel doughnut ($3.5).

I've always tended more towards lighter, fruitier treats rather than rich ones, though, for the most part, so I was keen to try the others. So here we have the lemon doughnut, with a very, very lemony curd filling for those who like a robust sour hit.

The boldly tangy lemon doughnut ($3.5).

The rhubarb doughnut has a graceful acidity in the curd and just the right amount of sugar for me. At this point in time, it's probably my favourite, though my cravings do change depending on my mood.

The rather charming rhubarb doughnut ($3.5).

As a side note, while the doughnuts are tasty, at $3.50 a pop I don't see myself buying them often. Also, I'd like to see them kept in a warmer so you're not at the mercy of lucky timing to get a piping hot one. Because we all know a good doughnut is always a hundred times better when it's at that perfectly snug 'n' toasty temperature.

And now, about the pies...

The lamb pie is gently spiced with notes of paprika. It was pleasant enough, I suppose, but it didn't particularly grab me. (The nicest lamb pie I've had is probably still the one from French Fantasies.)

Lamb pie (I think it was around $6.5).

Leon went for the PX beef pie, which had a billowing pastry that was quite a sight to behold. I was offered a bite, which culminated in a silky, luxurious filling, dark and exotic with hints of Pedro Ximenez sherry and star anise. We both agreed that we preferred this pie.

(By the way, try a bit of their sauce with your pie - it comes in that red plastic tomato you can just barely see in the background, and has a relish-like flavour. As Leon exclaimed, "Even their sauce is good!")

PX beef pie (I think it was around $6.5).

I've returned by myself a couple of times since that first visit. A recent favourite is the egg and chorizo mini sandwich. The simple pairing of delicately herbed and seasoned scrambled egg with the gorgeous smokiness of the chorizo made my tram ride to work so much more fulfilling.

This egg and chorizo mini sandwich ($5) lifts my spirits in the morning.

Also winning my heart is this flourless almond orange cake with vanilla-flecked buttercream and candied pistachios. A lovely moist crumb, just the right amount of zestiness, and that lush topping... I don't know if it's a regular item on the menu, but I hope we meet again.

Orange cake ($5), flourlessly beautiful.

In any case, Movida Bakery is a great addition to South Yarra - despite the star status of the Movida name, it exudes neighbourly charm and the gunny sacks of organic flour that compose part of their decor make me feel a little less guilty about all the carbs I'm consuming. I look forward to trying more of their goodies in the ensuing months.

MoVida Bakery on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

spring onion & radish salad in soy-lemon-sesame vinaigrette

Amazingly - given their popularity in Australian cuisine - I've never bought little red radishes before. I've always been more of a daikon kind of girl. But when I saw bunches of radishes going for cheap, cheap, cheap at the market the other week, I thought it was high time I experimented with them.

spring onion and baby radishes.

Radishes, when raw, have a sharp, spicy flavour which mellows down to a gentle sweetness if cooked. For this recipe, you may use either raw radish, cooked radish, or a combination of both, depending on your preferences. If you serve this salad soon after preparation, the difference will be fairly distinct in both taste and texture, but if you leave the radish slices to marinade overnight, the dressing so infuses them that it becomes much of a muchness - in which case, just leave 'em raw and save yourself the trouble.

This incredibly easy recipe is really just a combination of sliced radishes and spring onions tossed in a vinaigrette of shoyu, lemon and roasted sesame oil. Very simple. Very refreshing.

asian-inspired spring onion & radish salad in soy-lemon-sesame vinaigrette

1 bunch (12 - 15) young radishes about 2 - 3 cm / 1 inch in diameter
2 spring onions (aka scallions)
1 teaspoon shoyu, tamari, or light soy sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice, or lime
1 teaspoon Chinese sesame oil / roasted sesame oil

Trim the leaves and ends of the radishes. Thinly slice. Leave them raw, or if you prefer, you may boil or steam them till just tender.
Finely slice the dark green part of the spring onions. Don't discard the white parts, though - you can use them in future soups, stocks and stir-fries. Alternatively, you can also boil or steam the white parts to take away their edge, and use them in this salad as well.
Toss together radish and spring onions with soy sauce, lemon or lime juice, and sesame oil, making sure they mix well.
Let the salad marinade serenely in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or leave it overnight before serving. Makes a great little side dish!

To make this recipe gluten-free, use wheat-free tamari soy sauce.
Use less of the lemon or lime juice if you prefer a less acidic taste.
If you have sesame seeds (I wish I did!), lightly toast and sprinkle through the salad just before serving, for extra flavour and crunch.

asian-inspired spring onion & radish salad in shoyu-lemon-sesame vinaigrette.

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