Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

Want to know more about me? Friend me on facebook, follow me on twitter, or even look up my New Yorker cartoons on instagram! NB; different platforms not all food related)

A big thank you, as always, to my sponsors at Blue Vapours (use them for all your design and advertising needs - we are waiting for your call!).

Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Melbourne’s New French Quarter: Fitzroy / Collingwood

La Niche Cafe / Boire / Monsieur Truffle / Breizioz Creperie / De Clieu / Simon Johnson

Oh la la! Encroyable, zut allors! Blue Vapour’s neighbourhood is quickly becoming the French Quarter of Melbourne. Not that I mind, since I’m a francophile.

Some might argue it’s Carlton - with the Filou Patissserie on Lygon St, various cheese shops and the Theatre Francaise on Canning St – but I’m talking about a groundswell from Smith to Brunswick St, between Victoria and Johnston Sts, that’s fightening in its tectonic proportions.

Don’t believe me (about the French Quarter in Fitzroy / Collingwood… not me being a francophile)? Let’s look at the facts:

La Niche Café
67 Smith St
Ph: (03) 9418 3439
7 tentacles out of 8

One of my favourite places and for me top of the list not so much for the food but the friendliness. It’s an extremely casual place to eat, have a coffee or sit in the courtyard and drink a glass of wine while reading the papers.

The owner is Antonie Sargeant (hope I spelt that right), un homme from Brittany who moved to Australia and opened this little gem around five years ago… about the same time we moved in to BV HQ. Women flock from miles around to watch him pour coffee as he’s been likened to the thinking girl’s Gabriel Gate.

He’s ably assisted by Nora – a Parisian beauty who, let’s face it, has kept the tills turning by hapless older men who want tot talk to her if only briefly enough to order un tasse de café. They’ve had various qualified chefs in the back, all excellent, whipping up quiche lorraine, crepes , prosciutto and goat cheese salads, baguettes, croissants that are the real deal, etc. And they have a substantive bar with great local wines.

Last but not least, La Niche has bands on Fridays (Jane and I have played there twice), art openings and special menu nights with coq au vin and the like. Plus, the building is owned and houses the offices of comedian John Clarke, one of my heroes. You should go! (I have to mention them first as part of my loyalty program.)

92 Smith St
No phone
7.5 tentacles out of 8

Age Good Food Guide listed, and pretty fantastic, be prepared to reach into your wallet as the wine list is exclusively French. Don’t want to give the game away too much as I’m thoroughly reviewing this one for you next week** as I went there for a night with Stephane Reynaud (Parisian chef)… but more next week.

**My Dad said he read my last blog (“Hi Dr!”), but that it was bit long and he forgot what I was writing about by the end. Not sure if it’s me or my Dad, so will make the rest of this blog brief… ish!

Monsieur Truffle
90 Smith St
“Fins” chocolate and coffee. Or something. Never been there, but proportedly the very best drinking chocolate in Melbourne and a patisserie.

Breizioz Creperie
Corner Gertrude St and Brunswick
(03) 9415 7588
Near the corner of Gertrude and Brunswick Sts. Ditto Breizioz on my attendance, but definitely reinforcing of my argument.

De Clieu
Cnr Gertrude and George Sts
Is this even French? Something to do Frenchman Gabriel de Clieu who took coffee seeds from the French botanical gardens and took them to the French colonies (search me I Googled this from; http://myachinghead.net/2010/10/de-clieu-gertrude-st).

It just opened this week in the former real estate agent KP Smyth on the corner of Gertrude St and George Sts. It’s the same group that did the Seven Seeds coffee place in town and people are mooching out the front looking cool already. Open two days and there are people hanging from the rafters! Phew! My comedian landlord Tim Scally (“Hi Tim!”) suspects they have A-list tabs going on to create a vibe, so perhaps you should rush down and celebrity spot out the front with a bottle of water and a cut lunch (they use Fatto A Mano bread – too hard – and charge $10 a sandwich).

Simon Johnson
12 St David Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
(03) 9486 9456

The internet calls this place a “purveyor of fine food”, so you know it’s a wank. If I say the words “Pru and Trude” you’ll get the picture; hessian bags on the ceiling, boxes of biscuits called mother in law tongues for over $20 and middle class staff (am I allowed to say upper class – do we have that en Australie?) wearing black aprons. But… oh, yes, there’s a but…

They have a “fromagerie”, basically a walk in cheese fridge, that would make your eyes pop out of your head. French cheeses galore, including the stinky one in the wooden box. I’m told they have cheese tastings for most of the day Saturday and Sunday, and that they don’t mind you taking a bottle of wine along. An idea for a bored Sunday early afternoon perhaps.

Anyway, more next week. Get ready for a review on pork, blackboards and wine, wine, wine…

Au bientot!

Christophe (c’est moi!) ///

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Middle Park Hotel

102 Canterbury Rd
Middle Park VIC 3206
ph: 9690 1958

Hello mes amis! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve parlayed at ya, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the tedium of work and sorting through piles of filing and receipts.

“Don’t tell us about your humdrum existence, Christophe!” I hear you thinking. “What I want is some great food tips on eateries and other cake hole inspired topics.

Well you can relax. This is the first in a couple of entries, because now I’ve cleared a space on my desk I can now focus on everybody’s favourite topic: tuck!

OK; so recently I was puzzling over where (oh where???) could we book the staff from Blue Vapours (great guys, check them out) to go out for their annual corporate planning day lunch? To date we’d done Pearl, Ezard (basement of the Adelphi), and Madame Sousous (Brunswick St). How could we top them?

The gauntlet was thoroughly thrown down, and all eyes turned to moiself, the food guru. Could he do it again? And how much was he prepared to spend?

I tried hard and did my research, but seemingly to little avail. The winner of the Age Good Food Guide best restaurant 2010, the chef of the year award 2011 (Ben Shewry), and only Melbourne restaurant to get in the San Pelligrino international food guide (who even knew they had one? I wonder what Bislerri thinks?) – Attica – didn’t take bookings for lunch.

And call me crazy, but I kind of baulk at the very idea of Vue de Monde with it’s exorbitant price tag. Can it really be justified? Rockpool? Maze? But do I want to hang out at Crown, or make that wrinkle headed prune Gordon Ramsay any richer?

I started trawling guides and haunting the back streets of the CBD, the date drawing ever closer and my alarm bells ringing. Where would I book? Two and three hat restaurants looked like they were offering sculptural artworks in church where you pay a premium to be intimidated, steak houses just looked too awful. And then I found it. The Middle Park Hotel.

At this point in my review I have to declare my hand. My cousin Chris McKenzie (known as CJ to staff) is/was (?) the bar manager there. I was blowing the top off a couple of frothies with him, pretending to be Billy Brownless, when he said -
“Don’t go to any of those fancy pants places. Come here! We’ve got a top chef and I swear we’re about to get a hat. It’s really good.”

Well we did, and it was.

The first thing you need to know about the menu is that it’s all about the meat. And old world meat at that. The menu is littered with items like scotch eggs, ham hocks, black pudding and duck liver parfait (OK, vegetarians are now doing 360’s in their graves, but I’m salivating). Patrons? They were predominantly flush faced men over sixty with a predilection for fine meats and red wine. It was like hitting the jack-pot of a Chinese restaurant in Melbourne filled with Chinese diners. We’d clearly landed at a gastro-pub Mecca; heart attack ground zero.

Steaks? Oh yeah, you know it. I had the top of the line and have to say I probably would have been happier down a rung or two; it was a super aged hung steak with marrow and parsley. A bit too old world for my chops; I’m not a huge marrow man – though I did have flashes in my mind of M eating a marrow bone at his club with a long silver spoon. Still, delicious, and everyone was nodding their heads around the table.

Oysters? Four types – but don’t bother shopping around, take it from the horse’s mouth: the Tasmanian were plumpest, cleanest of palate and nicest of colour.

Wine? The restaurant had a French sommelier (wine waiter) and an impressive wine list; pages and pages. Thank heavens we were able to take direction.

Now I haven’t been paid a cracker for this review, but it really was worth a look; up there with the Station Hotel in Footscray. I give it seven tentacles out of eight.

If you go, say hi to CJ for me!! To find out more, visit:


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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Winter? Get happy!

Often known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) many people experience the "down in the dumps" complex in winter. Fortuitously Kit's Cucina has come up with a guaranteed way to lose those winter blues! Alright then! How? How?? You've made me click this friggin' link - now give me answers!

Well the first thing I'll say is calm down. It's OK. Why would I make a ridiculous claim like this unless I knew it to be true?

This won't be cheap,but follow these simple and guaranteed steps:
* Buy a plane ticket.
* Go to the airport with your hanky, scarf, sinex, hat, cardigan, coat, singlet, boots and thermal underwear.
* Climb on the plane and order a gin and tonic.
* Relax.
* Hop off plane.
* Walk down gang way and look at tropical flowers. See the sun?
* Start peeling off the layers because of the oppressive heat. Start laughing hysterically.
* Jump in a taxi - race to a resort, get your dackside poolside and watch people cavort in bikinis and budgy smugglers and try not to blind anyone from the reflection off your ridiculously pallid skin.

Now we can't always do this - money, work, kids, and more getting in the way - but believe me it works. And it may indeed be a deal cheaper than seeing a therapist, buying a special UV light and / or visiting a brothel and ordering up big on anything that's been through a spray tan booth a couple of times.

I couldn't afford the tropical getaway myself, but did find myself in Sydney for work. And what do you do when in Sydney? That's right: continually impersonate Samaranch announcing the Olympic winning bid! That and do what the Sydneysiders do. Sit in a tshirt in mid winter beside the water and enjoy the hospitality. I did just that and attach, for your amusement and edification, a short review of Nick's Seafood on Darling Harbour - a local institution. Bon appetit!

Nick's Seafood Sydney video review here!

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Monday, March 29, 2010

South Island New Zealand - food and the Marlborough Region wines

Gidday! And Kia Ora to a new blog. We've just returned from a whirlwind trip around the wineries of New Zealand, or should I say the Seth Island of New Zuland... or should I even say "South Kiwi"? (More than one person asked me "which part of Aussie are you from?" - I kid you not). My poor liver! Our trip was for a higher purpose, however, with the imminent launch of our new wine iPhone app and the pursuit of new business partnerships (please take note ATO!).

The Marlborough region is famous for its Sauvignon Blancs worldwide, and why not? The terroir is ideal; gravelly, minerally soil that makes the roots dig deep, a climate with warm days and cool nights - a veritable micro climate perfect for the sav blanc varietal. 85% of grapes grown and wine made come from the sauvignon blanc grape. But what else do they grow? And what are the wineries like? Well, you'll be glad to know the answers are all here. AND I take you on another video tour...

The cooler climes of the southern island suit themselves to cooler grapes. Varieties you can typically find include pinot gris, pinot noir, and chardonnay; all of which grow well in addition to the sauvignon blancs which are so omnipresent you begin to worry about genetic diversity on the planet. Some of the smaller wineries are turning their hands to white blends, one of which I enjoyed called a Torru - in the French style of just chucking in what you have to hand and making the best job of it you can.

New Zealand isn't quite as big on the BIG reds. The southern island doesn't suit shiraz grapes. Shiraz is grown on the North island, but for some bizarre reason they call their shiraz wines "syrrah". Someone told me there was a slightly different wine making process between shiraz and syrrah, but when I tried to pin them down on just what made it different, they were highly evasive. I think it might just be the country. After all, they also call milk bars "dairies" and cricket "crucket". And I never spotted a merlot.

To come with me on a bicycle tour around Blenheim, visit:


Wineries visited include:

Wither Hills
Villa Maria Estate
Isabel Estate
Te Whare Ra
Mahi Wine
River Farm Wines

and the bike tour organised through

Wine Tours by Bike

A couple of quick other notes.

I was distraught to find out I missed out on one of the great lobster eating experiences in life while there. Lobsters are prevalent on the west coast of the south island, around the whale watching town of Kaikoura. But when I asked about the price for lobster at lunch, I was disappointed to find out it would be $100! Forget it. But driving north along the wild coast (that looked a little like Scotland - heath and no one around), we passed a number of cute looking lobster caravans at 100 km/h. Man, I nearly cried when I found out what I'd missed. The most famous of these is called "Nin's Bin" (as opposed to Binh Minh). They take lobsters off the sea floor that day, and boil them in a drum. Take a bottle of chardonnay, a jar of mayonnaise, get them to cut the lobster in half for you and eat it on the sand dunes. A snip but still not sure how much you pay - $20? Sniff! Do it for me!!

A fantastic restaurant we visited on the East coast just out of Hokitika (or should that be Hock a tiki?) was called the Stations Inn which has alpacas and fine dining (NB no alpaca on the menu). The photos on the site are atrocious, but it was actually very good.


Last but not least, a quick note of apology. One of our readers recently took their friends out to Binh Minh based on my last food review, and before they walked in the door their guests turned up their noses and walked down the street to a more celubrious looking establishment. For this I apologise; but I did warn you it was cheap and cheerful! No more "hasty tasty" reviews from me, I promise.

Till next time we meet, ciaou for now and bon apetit!

Kit ///

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Binh Minh - a Hasty Tasty Review

Binh Minh
40 Victoria Street, Richmond

Hello Cucina-rs everywhere!

I was recently talking to one of our fraternity who opined "You must be made of money with the places you go out for meals". And indeed, I admit myself guilty of the crime of putting only premium eateries in this tome to date. I'm sorry, it's true! Guilty as charged! Hands up, I'm a snob!

But what about the every day affair? What if I've got $20 and a need to feed? Surely we don't have to resort to fish n chips or Maccas? Relief is at hand! I'm now doing my version of Cheap Eats - though for the purposes of plagiarism I'm calling it "Kit's Cucina Hasty Tasty!" And to celebrate, I'm even including a video!

I know, a video, on the computer? Qu'est qu si que ca? Well apparently there's this thing called You Tube, and I've included a trial video review of Binh Minh. Just like having a meal with me, without the calories (you lucky thing)!

But first a couple of notes about Victoria St and Binh Minh. Victoria Street, alleyway of Asian delights, has been a long established centre for Asian food in Melbourne - particularly Vietnamese food. The range is wide and prices modest. Many people new to the area are drawn to the glamorous looking establishments such as Tho Tho and the recently renovated Tran Tran with their brushed aluminium, white walls and Western sensibilities. Walking past you'll see predominantly white people eating, many after the football or cricket at the MCG and I like to think of these venues as the out of towners destinations.

The other extreme of restaurant are the "pho" (pronounced "fur?") shops - where you can buy noodley soups for about $7 which are probably the equivalent of a vietnamese hamburger. Great for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea after shopping, probably best avoided if you're out to impress.

In selecting a venue, I'd encourage you to take a few things in mind:

* Is it new? If so, go there! The old maxim "We try harder" is certainly true and you'll find yourself getting not only a new menu to look at but discounts, free soft drinks and super keen service!

* Is it packed? This could go either way. It won't assure you of good food, but will ensure long waits. If there is a heavy asian contingent (of customers, not waiting staff) inside, the signs are good.

* Is it clean? Enough said.

I find my preference for eating along the strip is to pick a place that is bright and cheery that smacks of up-town cafeteria. Plastic benches and tea cups are fine, so long as accompanied by fast service and a chatty atmosphere. Thy thy 1 is an old fave upstairs - the food is average to fair, but the staff are all related (to each other), and have been working there for at least ten years. I feel like I'm going to visit my uncles!

I've chosen Binh Minh to review predominantly because I like the owner Minh, an extremely personable man. Their menu is consistent, is a blend of vietnamese and malay food, and does have some gems for the gourmets. A recent highlight I discovered off the back of an Age food review is the prawn stuffed eggplant - a highly popular item on their menu since the review, and quite toothable. You'll note in the video that the food we ordered was mostly deep fried and pretty retro, but I think when dining out it's nice to follow your mood.

Apologies for the sideways view of the street shots. This is my first time, so we're all learning. Hopefully it doesn't make you sea sick! On the hasty tasty scale, I rate Binh Minh 6 tentacles out of 8, 5 on a bad day. Bon apetite!!

Binh Minh on You Tube!

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