Welcome!!one!

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)


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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Paris! (with a side order of London)
















This episode finds us visiting Gay Paris, capital of France, meeting Matt Preston in some pub toilets in London and getting you the top tips on gourmet culture en Paris by remote control.


Paris. What do you think of when I say that magical word? Hilton? The Iliad? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m talking about the city, la ville. Tsk. What are you like?

The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge) ? That’s better. Monumental walks, that go on forever (perhaps you should have hired une bicyclette)? Large flocks of Americans at the Louvre looking for the Mona Lisa and the Da Vinci code? Maybe even hobos in phone boxes, sleeping on Metro exhaust grates to stop freezing in winter and cooking food in shopping trolleys?

That’s strange. Me too!

But there’s so much more. Food. Art. Fashion. Fancy ladies. People wearing lots of mushroom and brown. Neckerchiefs! Gerard Depardieu everywhere!! These things too await you in the world capital of “oh la la.”


We stayed in “gay Marais”, though on closer inspection we were closer to Temple than the Seine, on the Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth, and the people there didn’t seem happy so much as cold and exhibiting a particular penchant for crotchless lederhosen. We were, however, a short walk from the Pompidou Center, surrounded by spaghetti Metro lines and found ourselves in a pretty amenable part of town.

Apres Lyon, I had, to put it mildly, a jaded palate. Since we were there for a few days, and had a kitchen, I made more than a passing acquaintance with their supermarches. Monoprix(es) are everywhere, and did a very palatable line in pate en croute, stinky cheeses, saucisons and had wine aisles that were full of French wine (!), to which I dedicated thorough study. Needless to say, not all French wine is good wine, but their mid-price Côtes de Rhone Villages, at around 13 Euro, were knock out value.

Champagne Tours
While en Paris it had been a dream of mine to visit the champagne district, particularly with Blue Vapours relationship with the French studies department at the University of Melbourne (Hello Dr Jacqueline!) and Veuve Cliquot.

But since a day tour was 160 Euro, only took in a couple of wineries, and a decent bottle of bubbles like Mumm demands a mere 30 Euros or so, I decided to acquaint myself with champagne if not in body at least in sp… wine (spumante? - Ed).

If you want to find out about the champagne region, stay there for a few days. If you’d like to take a winery tour, however, check out:
http://www.parischampagnetour.com/

Paris was the business end of our trip, where we met our French contact in IT application roll out and financing Peter Savaas, who we were put on to by Austrade (Hi Peter!). Not only was he a font of knowledge on Parisian culture and the IT scene en Francaise, he also had some fantastic tips for where to go in Paris.

Paris Beaubourg
Place Igor Stravinsky

We met Peter at a bar outside the Pompidou Centre (which is itself a great place to pick up art chicks – see ‘the Official Slacker’s Handbook’). The bar is on a small square with a fountain featuring dada-esque sculptures, murals and Michael Jackson mimes. A very nice spot to drink beers as the sun goes down in the heart of happening town.
http://www.centrepompidou.fr/

Six tentacles.


MARAISE
Café Charlot
38 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris
http://www.cafecharlotparis.com/

This restaurant was recommended to us by Peter and was a ten minute walk from where we were staying. Located in an old bakery, it was frequented by a lot of locals. It was, in a word, great. Bustling with patrons, people even had the foresight to put little dogs under their tables. I ordered the most French things I could spot on the menu since we went there on our last night; pate de fois gras on toast, followed by Steak Tartare.

The waiter looked at me strangely:
“Are you sure?”
“I… think so.”
“Oh well.”

I should have known. By the time I’d finished the pate, I was not only full but water proof from lip to my nether regions internally.

Then the steak came, a lump of mince as big as both of my fists combined. Huge! And raw. I got about half way through and “that’s all she wrote.” While the small dogs at surrounding tables looked at me piteously, the extreme richness of their food prohibited their owners letting me feed it to them… no matter how much I begged.

Seven tentacles out of eight!


L’Entrecôte
Peter also told us about L’Entrecote. Apparently, accoridng to Wiki, L'Entrecôte is the nickname of the restaurant Le Relais de Venise – L'Entrecôte, founded by Paul Gineste de Saurs in Paris's 17th arrondissement near Porte Maillot. I think this MAY be it (correct me if I’m wrong Peter!):
http://www.relaisentrecote.fr/

It had previously had a limited menu, but ninety percent of people used to order the same thing – the steak. Now, two generations later, all they do is steak with pommes frites. As you line up for a seat the only choice you get is rare, medium or well done. Who would ever have thought that steak and chips would be a popular menu item?


Obviously, our trip to Europe wasn’t all play (take note Australian Taxation Office!). We zooshed over to London on the Eurostar (five tentacles) to visit the British Museum on a strictly hush hush job we’re working on for the Melbourne Museum that’s coming out in 2012! But, can you believe it, while I was there, I learnt some more things about Paris’ food scene! But first, some celebrity spotting…


London, England!
Wossy!
We arrived under the enormous Olympic rings of St Pancras, and walking to the Museum spotted a fantastic old, black Bentley convertible driving with the top down in five degree temperatures. Closer scrutiny revealed it to be driven by none other than Jonnathon Ross, celebrity television and radio host in the UK. He went on to stall his car in the intersection - he must have noticed me noticing him and choked under the pressure. But our star spotting didn’t end there!

Matt Preston – Mr Master Chef gives us his five bobs worth after spending a penny!
For lunch we went to Soho, and settled on the Coach and Horses.
http://www.coachandhorsessoho.co.uk

I tried three cask ales:
* the Gangly Ghoul (a toffee like dark ale);
* London ale (nice, easy drinking); and,
* Green Man IPA (“Indian Pale Ale” – I never knew! - not much chop).

These drinks combined to wash down some palatable fish and chips with mushy peas and is almost unworthy of mention... until we had the second celebrity spot of the day.

“Oh look, there goes Matt Preston, the guy with the cravat from Master Chef,” Jane said from her window seat. “Hang on, he’s coming back!”
The man himself came into the pub and made directly for the toilets. I decided to talk to him as he returned.
“Mr Preston! I hope you’re going to buy a drink and not use the facilities for free?”

He stopped and chatted with us, and was really quite charming. He was on his way to a TV meeting, and was very interested to hear we’d seen Jonnathon Ross (“Where???”), and commented it pretty much put their relative celebrity in proportion: Wossy stalling a convertible Bentley, him sneaking in for a free piss down the pub.

When we told Matt we were staying in Paris, he was full of great tips:

“Ah, you’ll have to look up this Australian woman’s tours of French bakeries. It’s a hundred pounds but absolutely worth it. Called UTE bakery tours.”

Here’s a link, but I see she’ll take you on a tour of anything you like:
http://www.uteinparis.com/WELCOME__.html

He followed it with another tip:
“If you don’t manage that, there’s this gorgeous bakery you have got to try at the edge of the twentieth arondisement. It’s called “of bread, of ideas or something.” Here’s the site:
http://dupainetdesidees.com/

So he did pay for his wee after all, and I pass on to you what Matt Preston passed on to us after passing water. (Hello Matt if you’re reading this!).

One train trip later, we were facing our last day in Paris. But what to do?

MONTMATRE
Mont Matre, where else? It is the highest point in Paris, though admittedly too far away from the beating heart to give you an impressive view.

But it’s a tourist hot spot of food, architecture and art! It’s a long held bastion of artists – who are now all up there begging you to do a portrait or a caricature for only a few Euros (I remember when you could be franc with them).

“I am going to do your portrait.”
“No you’re not.”
“Mais oui, I’m already sketching.”
“I am walking away…”
“The best depiction of a retreating head I have ever done! You, madame, I am doing your portrait…” etc.

This is also the area, however, where they filmed Amelie.
Amélie film location
Café des 2 Moulins
Montmartre, Paris


We thought we’d swan up there, dig the Amelie scene and buy some tourist trinkets for our return and had a very nice time.

Cafe Chappe
8 Rue Tardieu 75018 Paris

We went for our last supper in a café that, on photo, looked similar to that whole Amelie scenario, both enjoying a lunch of the salads that the French do so well. Combined with a rosé, the meal was a fitting finish to our trip and well rounded with a pastis and black coffee.

Six tentacles.


So, bievenue Francaise, and merci beaucoup to you, you lovely person you, for sampling my humble ripailles d’Europe. A short hiatus in entries, as I’m now desperately putting the final touches on a short film for Tropfest, titled La Bicyclette. Never fear though, as I still think you are just wonderful and will send you some summer time eating reads in January! Have a great Christmas and a happy New Year! Au bientot! (your friend) Kit ///

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Lyon: The Two Faces of Food.
















From Arles we travel North, via train past lush farms and nuclear power plants covered in paintings of children on the beach, to the culinary capital of “die Welt”. It’s here that Kit keeps running into Paul Bocuse, cream, and discovers that there’s more to food than meets the eye…


Lyon: cosmopolitan, rich, sunnier than Paris. Statuesque ebony women walk by in haute couture, rubbing shoulders with young men sporting military hair cuts and hip hop track suits, traditional old men in flat caps and women in brown scarves. This buzzing metropolis may not be the political capital of France, but it’s definitely the gastronomic capital of a country obsessed with food.

After the sleepy back waters we’d been travelling in, I was google eyed and licking my lips in anticipation of the delights that awaited us. All I could think was “Maitenant nous parlons, baby!”

Gastronomically, Lyon sits firmly north of the olive oil equator: i.e. everything comes in animal fat of one type or another. I also discovered one completely surprising thing about this gastro-capital. There are two types of food in Lyon (gasp!).

There’s the real type; with local markets, and friendly and cheap little restaurants the locals use (possibly with a preponderance of offal).

Then there’s the “theme park” Lyon eating scene, which is like going to Disneyland with a food theme that features cream and heavy going four courses. Painted harlot tourist restaurants ply their wares loudly on the strips, gathered together en force, shouting to jaded tourists “come into my palour”.

It kept reminding me of Luka in Cagliari saying: “Well, you could go to the touristy places, or you could go to a place that I’d eat”. And that pretty sums up the restaurant scene here.

GEOGRAPHY
First a quick thumbnail of the town itself. Sprawling in size, at the centre lies the ancient seat of Rome in Gaul on a hill (Languedoc), which was later the habitué of silk merchants in the Renaissance. Beside the old town lies a thriving retail and central business district sandwiched between the Saône and Rhône Rivers. Finally, there’s the new retail section in Part Dieu, around the main railway station next to which is a huge retail shopping centre akin to Chadstone.

There’s a palpable ebb and flow to Lyon society over the week, which climaxes with the mad bustle of Saturday shopping in the city. This gives way to leisurely markets on the river on a Sunday morning, the Sunday afternoon stroll around scenic areas, then the complete shut down of the city on a Sunday evening (“a proper Sunday” – as Anthonie at La Niche would describe it). Then it’s back to business as usual during the week, with the build up to Saturday.

PAUL BOCUSE
How can you write a gourmet’s journey to Lyon without at least mentioning Paul Bocuse? Pardonez moi, mais ce n’est pas possiblement. Basically, Paul Bocuse owns Lyon.

Paul Bocuse is THE celebrity chef of the town. Avuncular, ancient (now in his mid-eighties), jovial, rich beyond the dreams of mere mortals, he made his name as a leading light in nouvelle cuisine, has cooked for Presidents and has been awarded the title ‘Chef of the Century.’

I first heard of Paul Bocuse through the Victorian Executive chefs’ organisation ‘Les Toques Blanches’, who sponsor and train a student to compete in the Bocuse D’Or, the world’s top chef competition.

His Michelin starred restaurant is located outside central Lyon. Those wishing to make a pilgrimage to the great man’s restaurant will need to take a trip by boat or road half an hour up the river. Apparently, he no longer ACTUALLY cooks there, but does come out and do hand shakes and photos with patrons.

Bocuse also has his own market in Part Dieu. I recall watching Maeve O’Meara’s terrific show French Food Safari (avec Guillame Brahimi), where they visited Lyon and “happened” to run into Paul Bocuse at the market. This should have been no surprise, since the man is a media machine and it is one of his private business affairs. Plus they rang ahead.

Want to find out more about the enigma? Visit his official site!
http://www.bocuse.fr

I leave it to you to decide which face of food Bocuse represents (see above).


THE MARKETS
On Sundays, there are markets – real markets - on either bank of the Saône.

On one side of the river lies the art market. Artists could variously be typified as:
“Oi make things out of wire, me!”
or
“Yeah hi, I’m a serious artist and would love to do your portrait if you could come to my studio… Oh her? She’s just my girlfriend, but don’t worry, it’s all art. You’ve got a great form for paint…”
or
“Hats! I’m just batty about felt hats!”

On the other side of the Saône on the Quai Saint Antoine lies a fresh produce market, which is absolutely amazing: chickens on rotisseries, goats cheese sellers, bakers, fresh fruit and vegetables, those yellow skinned chickens with the heads still on, ducks, oysters, you name it, it was there.

The produce market gets eight tentacles out of eight in my squidzy review scale (my first ever). French people, French food, a Francophile (moi), cheap, outdoors, beautiful. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.


BOUCHONS
There are signs on every second restaurant reading “original bouchon”, so I thought I’d better look it up just so I knew what was going on:

From Wikipedia:
The tradition of bouchons came from small inns visited by silk workers passing through Lyon in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

According to the dictionary Le petit Robert, this name derives from the 16th century expression for a bunch of twisted straw.[1] A representation of such bundles began to appear on signs to designate the restaurants and, by metonymy, the restaurants themselves became known as bouchons. The more common use of "bouchons" as a stopper or cork at the mouth of a bottle, and its derivatives, have a different etymology.

Since 1997, Pierre Grison and his organization, L'Association de défense des bouchons lyonnais (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons), bestow annual certifications to restaurants as "authentic" bouchons.[2] These restaurants receive the title Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais and are identified with a sticker showing the marionette Gnafron, a Lyonnais symbol of the pleasures of dining, with a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin bearing the Lyon crest in the other.[3]

The following list, subject to some fluctuation as the certification is bestowed annually, contains most of the certified bouchons: Abel, Brunet, Café des deux places, Café des fédérations, Chabert et fils, Daniel et Denise, Chez Georges le petit bouchon, Les gones, Hugon, Le Jura, Chez Marcelle, Le Mercière, La mère Jean, Le mitonné, Le Morgon, Le musée, Chez Paul, Les Trois Maries, A ma vigne, and Le Vivarais.[3]

Here are some reviews of places we went to that rate a mention. None have websites (quel dommage!), so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Les Enfants Terrible
58 Rue Merciere, 2nd, Lyon, France
Tel: 04 7842 8813

Disneyland, here we come! Our first dinner was at a little restaurant around the corner, in the midst of many amazing looking restaurants, called ‘Les Enfants Terribles’. I opted for the Menu Gatromonique. From the various choices, I ended up with:
* snails and mushrooms, cooked in cream;
* steak with truffle infused cream and daubes of fois gras;
* my choice of cheese, which ended up being the stinkiest of drippy stinky cheeses; and finally,
* sliced pineapple (I begged for forgiveness from the waiter, and he brought it to me in the shape of my dessert).

I arrived back to our room as full as the proverbial. A strong six and a half tentacles with a recommended dose of antacid powder, Metamucil and a possible colonoscopy or heart bypass chaser.


Le Musee
2 Rue des Forces 69002 Lyon
Tel : 04 7837 7154

Le Musee – rated a marionette bouchon, was the top rated restaurant in Lyon by Trip Adviser. It was shut when we tried our luck. It was small, unpresupposing, and looked kind of homely, completely unlike the other larger more touristy restaurants nearby.

I suspect high tentacles and would recommend it to anyone who wants to go to a bouchon…


L’epicerie – Bistrot à tartines
2 Rue Monnaie, 69002 Lyon, France
Tel: 04 7837 7085

Frequented by young uni types, l’epicerie is a bistrot that specialises in “tartines”: basically toast with toppings, that you have with a salad and chase down with a dessert and coffee. It’s cheap as chips.

They had a couple of soups, and very French drinks (pastis, Cinzano cocktails), etc. It was simple and excellent. Jane had a chicken coleslaw on toast (with corn and mayonnaise), I had the pork spread traditional with cornichons, and we shared a green salad, half bottle of rosé, and washed down the lot with a coffee, and fantastic tart with cherries and blackberries, and a calvados.

The really nice thing here was the atmosphere: great service, young and upbeat, and a young, skinny, and local crowd – it felt more like what you would expect a bouchon to be. Cheap, friendly, warm, local and traditional.

Pukka. Six tentacles, an extra tentacle for the laissez faire environment, and a great idea for anyone thinking of opening a restaurant here in Melbourne.


So, sated (and with colds), we packed our bags and fell toward the finish line of our trip, Paris, trundling our bags onto the Metro and departing to the ‘Fuck You!’-s of a beggar (I told you it was a cosmopolitan city).

Next episode: Gay Paris, Capital of France!

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Eau d’Arles? Oh, Darls!


In our last installment, we were in Alghero, in the north of Sardinia. From that Mediterranean island jewel we travel now, on Ryan Air bizness class (innit? – five knicker extra!), to Francaise, the home of “haute”, “nouvelle”, and “lean” cuisine. We landed in the famous port of Marseilles, drug importation capital of France… and then quickly clicked up the train line a few kilometers to the west to find ourselves in Arles.


“Bonjour! Ca va? C’est bon! Et moi? Tres bien, merci!”

At last we’d arrived, en Francaise. Did I ever tell you I’m a Francophile, particularly when it comes to food? Mais non? Bien sur, certainment!

France. Home of “viva” and “la”. Birthplace of Asterix and Gerard Depardiou. Repository of baguettes, and inspiration for great songs like “Fou de Fa Fa”. I was rapt.

Unfortunately, my year ten French was indecipherable to most native French people. I’d say “Bonjour” and nearly everyone would reply “How can I help you, M’sieur?” or just do the traditional lip spurt while holding their hands up, elbows “akimbo” (def: touching their hips - take note Age journalists).

Arles
Our first stop was Arles, en Provence. Picasso was a fan of Arles, probably because of the strong Catalan influence (an influence we spotted in Sardinia). There are Catalan colours in the Provence shield. They also have a strong bull fighting culture with bull fighting bars - showing bull fights on screen – and in the old town the ancient forum is used today for bull fighting.

Arles bullfighting is different from the Spanish style; they don’t kill the bull in the arena but pluck rosettes from its shoulders with pitchforks instead. After THAT they go out the back, kill it and have a steak dinner.

Speaking of famous artists and Arles, there’s a museum to Van Gogh in a former lunatic asylum where he was locked up. I’m not sure how much a mental sanatorium contributed to the career of a painter who ate lead based paints, but years after he was dead and famous, they built a temple to him (just like Jesus and the Romans!).

As a centre for famous artists, there’s a strong arts tradition in Arles, with art shops, art museums and a stack of arty graffiti that would make Banksy proud. But a strong art history also means something else. Retired Americans!

Flocks and flocks of people in their retirement years are lead around ancient sites by people waving hankies in the air, a daytime tourist crowd that disappears at night. There’s a reason older people are drawn to these destinations. They’re sick of doing it tough and just want the highlights. Well, if that’s your taste, you’ll love Arles as it has it all; luxury, taste and ease.


Our Hotel – Le Calandal

Jane did an excellent job as tour guide operator, and booked us into Le Calandal, un hotel connected to a day spa which was based on an ancient Roman bath with modern facilities (wet sauna, massages, giant spa pool, etc.). It was located smack dab in the centre of the old town, and the giant spa looks out on the forum. The pool is just like a James Bond set.

The hotel itself was old with incredibly thick walls; we had a three-foot deep windowsill. It’s a real rabbit warren, a kind of amalgam of different buildings. The corridors are windy, and we had to go up two flights of stairs, round a corner, and down another flight to get to our room, a bit like the University of Melbourne Club (hello Melbs!).

Like the rest of Arles old town, the clientele were predominantly in their seventies, and there for the lymphatic drainage and some wine.

I sat making these notes in our yellow room, the Provencal style window open, listening to children play at a local school (it sounded like a riot going on at the zoo), replaced by somebody very competently busking with a saxophone.

The Calandal has a good restaurant which serves lunch. The menu positioned itself as a macro-biotic-organic restaurant. In the courtyard garden I had the lamb salad (meat too tough, but tasty), a bottle of red, finished with a coffee, Calvados, and a “gourmet café” dessert which included a coffee ice cream, and some various other cakes including a macaroon (a dessert which is WAY to trendy these days by half, a treatise for another entry).

The lunch? A five and a half tentacles out of eight.

Want to see more? Visit:

http://www.lecalendal.com/


Food
There are hundreds of restaurants in Arles. But not THAT many good ones; I recall seeing the word Pizzeria a few too many times for comfort.

Arles is famous for its salt; it’s in close proximity to giant salt farms on marshy land to the west where French cowboys roam (assumedly rustling salt). Gourmet salts are sold profligately everywhere. I wanted some as gifts, but decided to wait till I got to Lyon or Paris. Don’t make the same mistake. It’s most easily found at the source.

So, where else did we eat?


L’Andaluz
A matador themed restaurant, so I chose the steak. The meat was too tough (again); it had been machined, not enough, but was still wonderfully tasty. It came with potato gratin (fantastic), mediterranean veg, and a simple green salad. Jane had a creamy chicken dish, and commented:
‘I should start my own journal and write: “Today I finally got to eat chicken”.’ (…which was all she wrote in her journal on our back packing trip in our twenties).

I couldn’t eat it all, but insisted on a coffee, a pastis (Ricard), and some lovely mini desserts that came as a selection.

Five tentacles out of eight.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187211-d1325866-Reviews-L_Andaluz-Arles_Bouches_du_Rhone_Provence.html



Lou Caleu
We had dinner at Lou Caleau, the most authentic restaurant among a clutch of bistros in an old town back street near a convent, where we talked to two retired Edinburgh teachers for an hour who lolly gagged around after they’d finished dinner to have someone else to talk to.

You get a bit fatigued only having the same person to talk to in your own language, so it must have come as a relief for them to have someone else to talk to (I, of course, always had you, dear reader). They were a nice couple, but again this demonstrates the kind of feel of the whole place.

I had the tourist menu, choosing the bouillabaisse style soup (blended, i.e. without any “chunks” of fish), into which you immersed small pieces of toast with an orange sauce and cheese. This was followed by the best rabbit I ever ate, the usual gratin and mediterranean veg, chased down by a bottle of white wine, then a “Baba” desert swimming in a pool of Grand Marnier with coffee.

A strong six and a half tentacles out of eight.

http://www.provence-hideaway.com/602.html



Petite Dejeuner?
A last note. We went to a creperie as we had a while till the train came to take us to Lyon. The guy behind the counter, when I asked him “ca va?”, shrugged and pointed around him, as if to say, “well, I’m still here”.

I asked him for petite dejeneur.
He was sorry, they didn’t have any croissants.
I asked him if they did crepes?
He asked his wife, who was having a conversation beside the counter to another woman, and she snapped “non”. He replied “in about fifteen minutes”.
How about some coffees then?
He thought about that for a while, and then decided that should be OK.

Phew! They managed to turn away another four tourists while we were there - they have a creperie that doesn’t make crepes opposite the forum. Basille Faughlty? One tentacle out of eight… with a view of the forum.

But hang up your hassles with you hair, my friends, we were heading off to the gastronomic capital of France, if not the planet.

Next episode: Lyon… Maintenant nous parlons, baby!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Alghero – Something Fishy in the Air! (Hooray!!)
















Alghero! Seat of Catalonian culture in Sardinia, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ themed lolly shops and an old town for pedestrians only. It’s also home to a massive marina loaded with millionaires’ toys, and features old men gathered in huddles on the broad boardwalks under palm trees doing absolutely nothing but talking.

The Costa Smerelda (Emerald Coast) on the north east coast is the place for the rich and famous (obviously we didn’t go there since we weren’t qualified), whereas Alghero is more the main port historically you needed to invade to take over the entire island.

Located in the north west corner of Sardinia, Alghero is the gateway port to fabulous islands and beaches, and is famed for the seafood which feeds off the constant ring of seaweed that grows outside the town (P-ew!) and may be the basis of the town’s name (Alghero, “the place of algae or seaweed”, don’t ask me what languages, like everywhere in Sardinia, everyone’s been here…).

Shall we take a dip?

I went for a swim on the local city beach a fifteen minute stroll down the road, nice but a bit too sea weedy and loaded with people with dark, tanned skins that looked a bit like handbags. Further up the coast beckon crystal clear waters, while tour boats offer day-long adventures to isolated beaches where you can escape the volleyball and on beach cafes with hire recliners.

The further you go from the old town, the more you run into our old friends “the abandoned properties of Sardinia” – this is a place looking for canny and far sighted investors.

Alghero was also where we found Jane’s much looked for iconic Sardinian chicken crockery and where I bought one of their famous handmade knives which is an absolute demon at slicing salami. Ask me for a demonstration!

The Old Town
A word of warning to those driving to Alghero: if you stay in the old town (recommended), you can’t drive your car in. We got as close to the walking district as we could, and found ourselves driving around in circles down little lanes through wandering herds of tourists with cameras, and driving multiple times past the same old man standing on a corner. With no map of the town, or an address of where we were staying, we parked near the sea and did a wiggly walk into the old town, where I heard the magic words:

“I know this square, I’ve seen it on Google Maps!”

God bless the internet (I never thought I’d write those words)! Then we found the building, and rang the bell!

Our Hotel
No answer. That was a low point. You know when you’re really tired? Like getting off an international plane when you expect there to be a driver to pick you up and they’re not there? It was one of those moments. We had about ten Euros between us, the car was miles away, no phone card, no phone, and no pen to write down the number to have someone come and let us in to our room. If I’d been twenty years younger, I would have collapsed, drunk heavily and then found the nearest backpackers and booked in there.

However, with some basic compass orientation we worked out where the car was, got a parking spot outside the battlement walls (about twenty metres) from where we were staying (despite there being double parked cars everywhere), bought a ticket from a ticket officer to leave the car there all night, got a pen, got the number, found a phone booth, and called “the guy” Giovanni. Giovanni was very slick, with white teeth and brilliantined doormat hair which made me immediately suspicious of Don-Lane-like extra-curricular activities. Ten minutes later we were in, showered and enjoying a glass of wine in what I’d have to say was one of the most excellent B&B’s I’ve ever been to. You can visit it at:

http://www.bblaterrazzasulportoalghero.it/home-en.html

Note: The next morning moving the car I was approached by a suit wearing Italian-speaking Jehovah’s Witness, so it was nice to know we’d finally arrived at an international locale: even the JW’s have got it on the map.


Alghero Cuisine – Seafood Specialities Ahoy!
As a Catalan influenced fishing port - distinct from wider Sardinia with its goats, cheeses, and kidnapping midgets - there are a number of fish dishes specialised to the town. These include:

  • Allada de peix: a red sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, and chilies, cooled and poured over small fried fish.
  • Capunada: a fisherman’s lunch featuring a potato and cucumber salad with softened salted fish and fresh tuna.
  • Cassola de Peix: a local fish soup with fried octopus, dried tomatoes, ground garlic and parsley base to which fish, crabs and whatever else they’ve caught is added. Served with toasted or day old bread soaked in the sauce.
  • Bogamari: local sea urchins, raw with bread and wine or served with pasta.
  • General grilled fish: whole or in steaks.

A Quick Word on Bread at Table with Olive Oil
I like bread. I like Italian and French breads. I like bread on the table while I’m waiting for the waiter (how aptly named) to bring me my food. And I love it with olive oil and some fancy salt on the side to wiggle it in. May I make a note here, if you are similarly inclined, that nowhere in France or Italy, at the high or low-end restaurants we visited, did I have one place serve olive oil with the bread. How disappointing, and a big tick to Melbourne!


Dining
We were in town for only a couple of days, but visited the restaurants recommended to us by Giovanni (always get a local’s advice then follow your nose), who recommended we avoid the port and stick to the old town for food.

Osteria Machiavello
Our first stop was to plunder (“Arrrrrr”) a seafood dinner at ‘Osteria Machiavello’. It was one of the first places I spotted on our walks along the battlement walls next to the sea and I was delighted to hear it recommended to us.

The staff were old school pros, but not chatty and bright – we had a grumpy old guy and a girl who wouldn’t know a joke if it bit her on the bum – but the seafood was excellent with an antipasto misto di mare, featuring most of the dishes listed above, followed by a whole grilled catch of the day which I cleaned myself having watched one of the waiters do it for some Germans at the next table. This was all washed down with a bottle of Sardinian white and coffee and liqueurs – I think Jane had a mirto.

Top marks for food and views, a deduction for stuffy waiters, I give it six and a half tentacles out of eight. There was even a wandering accordionist!

http://www.osteriamacchiavello.it/


Martini con olive?
The next night before dinner we tried to hold off going to a restaurant until a normal time (locals tend not to eat until after nine), so had an aperitif at a small café and read the Italian newspapers: Italy qualified for the European Cup by beating Northern Ireland 3-0 (who said “mi non parla Italiano, e tempo de vai, e questo con trove?”).

I ordered a vodka martini, reminiscing about the excellent one I had in Cagliari. When I asked the man at the bar if he made them, he smiled and said “si, una vodkatini!’ I asked for it “con olive” and it promptly arrived with a peel of lemon in it, with a side order of olives (!), but was excellent in every way.

Posada del Mar
In spite of the time wasting, we were still too early for tea (the worms were biting), so went to eat shortly after eight regardless, ahead of even the German tourists. The shame!

On the Via Roma, the Posada del Mar is, compared to Machiavello, a simple restaurant that still covers the local specialities (e.g. octopus in ink, squid in tomato sauce, etc.) and has a nice local feel inside. I had the pasta with scallops and eggplant, and would have taken the tourist menu, but we would have been there all night.

We found out the name of the home made semolina pasta as made by Angela at the farm stay – Malloreddus (a bit like a semolina gnocchi usually served in a tomato and sausage sauce); which Jane commented was very close to malodorous. At the time I thought she meant it was similar to another Italian word, but it transpired she was referring to an English one, which is often used in relation to yours truly!

Tasty, friendly, not too shabby, I give it a five and a half tentacle squidzy review. Visit it at:
http://www.posadadelmar.it/


Like to find out more?
It’s easy! Literally. They’ve got a magazine guide to Alghero called “easy alghero”. You can check it out online (the English is not as good as in the hard copy) at:

http://www.easyalghero.it/en


Next Stop: Francaise et Arles! May the Francophilia Commence!

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Agriturismi: or How to Get My Goat!


You May recall in our last adventure, we were in Cagliari. This article takes us for a drive up through Sardinia to the mountains and the sea for a stay with goats and farmers while scoffing the local produce.

Before going to Sardinia, Jane did thorough research and wanted a true Sardinian holiday; to stay in the mountains and to look at goats.

Who was I to argue? She was booking the trip and you do get to eat authentic local cuisine, so I was all ears (or should I say “all tongue?”… and enough with the rude comments).

The Italian government has been encouraging farmers to engage in agritourism to develop their tourism industry, and farm stay holidays have become highly popular for those travelling to Italy. My friend Owen (“Hi Owen!”) was staying in Tuscany at a farm two weeks before we left, so if we’ve both been doing it, you know it’s dead-set trendy.

But first we had to get there… cue car hire and several near-death experiences.

Nuraghe Su Nuraxi
On the drive north, we took a detour to see Sardinia’s largest existing Nuragic structure, Nuraghe “Su Nuraxi” – or “Nuraghe of the Nuraghe” (a mix of Italian and Sardinian languages here). I am convinced these ancient monuments are in such terrible repair because farmers and builders in surrounding fields have simply pinched the stone to make walls to hold in goats or to build their terrazzos overlooking the valleys.

Still, you could feel the spirit of the ancient Nuraghic people as we walked around the site: huddled in their giant stone conical tower, defending their well, praying the grain store would hold out until the pillagers grew bored, and picking lice out of their clothes (it wasn’t much of a spirit).

The tour was in Italian, so thank heavens we had our guidebook as well as having previously visited the archaeological museum. I could follow the talk, and I really can’t sprekken Italian (much)!

What You’d Typically Eat…
We had lunch near Su Nuraxi at a restaurant that was full of locals out on a Sunday drive. The building had “pizzeria” written on the roof and a whole page of pizzas listed in the menu, so Jane asked for a pizza. Apparently no pizza was available. Our waitress told us what you’d “typically have”, which is more common in Sardinia than you’d think.

Which leads me to this observation: Instead of a menu being a list of what’s for sale, it’s more a list of what a ristorante can make, or the staff know how to make, some of which may be available – depending on whether they can be bothered, or have the ingredients.

I asked for the tourist menu, which simplified things extraordinarily, but did mean you didn’t get much in the way of trimmings; a salad made of shredded iceberg lettuce only with your osso bucco, and an entrée of fraggole - a simple Sardinian pasta with mushrooms and cheese. Peasant food that was filling, tasty and swelled in your stomach when you drank liquids.

DRIVING AND ARRIVAL
The drive to our agriturismo was breath-taking. “Honestly, Kit?” I hear you think. “Breath taking?” Well, yes. In a number of ways.

First, the hair-pin turns and huge drops over the edge as you drive into the mountains make you gasp. We passed an abandoned silver mine near Montevecchio, with smashed windows and its concrete structures tumbling down the mountain sides, having to drive under its crumbling frame. Breath-taking!

To get to our farm, we also had to drive on narrow roads with Italian drivers coming the other way, then dirt tracks with goats on them, coming over the hills. Breath-taking!

Finally, on arrival, there was a large group of locals leaving a huge Sunday lunch (or collazione Domenica), and our hosts were kind enough to offer us a drink on arrival. I had the aqua vita. Breath-taking!

THE FARM
About a quarter of the way up Sardinia near the west coast, we stayed at Oasi del Cervo (Oasis of the Deer), which is located in the Medio Campidano region. It’s located near the Sardinian town of Montevecchio (the Old Mountain).

Montevecchio, once quite prosperous when the mine was running, has little mining carts and memorabilia out on the street. Now there’s little business, few people, and plenty of abandoned buildings, some of which have the roofs missing. It reminded me of Christchurch (though one twentieth the size); i.e. you can see there was a time when money was pouring in, and then one day the bottom dropped out and people just started leaving buildings empty behind them.

We were the only guests staying at the farm, and had a choice of rooms. We chose one with an authentically “Mediterranean” floral bed spread and amazing views out the window over mountains, rolling valleys, and the sea. We woke to the sound of goat bells going to be milked and the calls of birds, the sunsets fell over the sea, and the air positively smacked of bucolic tranquility.

The farm is home to numerous dogs of all shapes and colours, who are very friendly and accompanied us on walks to look outs. Our hosts, Angela and Giuseppe, were a couple with grown up children. Giuseppe works on the farm while Angela looks after the agristurismo side of things, cooking and cleaning, etc. They were both very welcoming and Angela was the life of the party.

CUCINA DELLA FATTORIA
Angela had done a qualification in baking (or “bake-ology”, I forget which) meaning there were custard doughnuts, tarts, and various other baked goods packing out breakfast and dinner menus.

Dinners were slightly more challenging than breakfasts: with the two of us sitting up at the table with Giuseppe, while Angela cooked in her massive kitchen and came and went with dishes, occasionally popping her head in to watch TV. We struggled through conversation, using Jane’s Italian, mime, and a phone dictionary, which was effective but exhausting.

For dinners we started with an antipasto of vegetables in a light tomato sauce (carrots, peppers, celery), as well as olives, salami, crusty bread and fried eggplant in breadcrumbs that was simply delicious and the winner of the whole meal.

I will be including a recipe for crumbed eggplant with my newspaper article, but the secret is to slice the eggplant very thinly (Angela used a motorised deli slicer), crumb it with egg and bread crumbs (mixed with polenta, pepper and herbs) and fry in olive oil.

The main courses on the first night were a home made semolina pasta with chunks of meat from a wild boar Giuseppe had shot with his 22 calibre rifle, followed by roast piglet with a simple green salad. All washed down with a jug of rough red wine.

The second night’s dinner featured the same entrees, followed by freggola with mushrooms and meat (there is a variant with fish), and finally roast goat, washed down with aqua vita at the end. We were spared a long conversation with Giuseppe as it was action night on television and we sat up and watched Texas Ranger followed by a Steven Segal movie with Italian overdub. Much hilarity ensued after every kiss when I would declaim ‘Non che credo!’ (I don’t believe it). Who says “non habla Italiano”?

BEACHES AND GHOST TOWNS
We drove to the nearby coast while staying at the farm, passing cycling groups and driving across creeks, before arriving at a beach with little cabanas and a hotel built right on the sand called ‘the Dunes’. This is the area where they shot the ‘Black Stallion’, and the coast is very nice – but, coming from Australia, it’s hard to compete. We walked a fair way looking for somewhere safe to swim, since the sand dropped and the waves were closing out where they’d set up the snack shacks and umbrellas. It was extremely hairy; on the west coast there’s nothing between you and Spain, so there was a bit of a swell, but there was an uneven bottom.

Speaking of extremely hairy and uneven bottoms, we walked past a blonde and tanned couple in the nude who smiled at us. We’d accidentally ventured onto the naturists’ beach, and they looked like Adam and Eve on a Metamucil ad. I could just imagine them saying (in German) “I can’t believe I had to go all the way to Sardinia just to be myself” while they enjoyed natural yoghurt and wheat germ for breakfast.

Further down the coast we ran into ghost tourist towns, collections of beautiful buildings that were completely abandoned. We were there on the shoulder season, and it was a Monday, but there was nobody around.

Feeling peckish we headed inland towards larger towns for lunch, but guess what? Everything shuts between 13.30 and 16:30. We drove from town to town, finding shutter after shutter down– restaurants, supermarkets, everything – though the streets still featured mad drivers in small cars and giant busses. On return we told Angela, our host, that everything was shut and she was appalled. Apparently, during the high tourist season, everything is open - but come September, the shutters bang down everywhere but the beach shacks.

The Cucina Score!
So my score on the Oasi del Cervo? For a couple of nights it’s pretty good. Not high food, but authentic, and accompanied by delightful hosts and stunning surrounds. Your diet might become a bit repetitive after a week, and the facilities are pretty basic, but I give it six tentacles out of eight!

To Book Your Holiday

Check out numerous agriturismi at:
http://www.agriturismo.it

Or look up the Oasis of the Deer at:
http://www.agriturismo.it/en/farmhouse/sardinia/medio_campidano/OasidelCervo-1120219/index.html

They also have their own website, but since they’re farmers it’s totally amateur hour and doesn’t tell you anything (and is in Italian)
http://www.oasidelcervo.com


Next episode: Alghero – Coast of the Millionaires!


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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

SARDINIA PART 1 - Cagliari













Sardinia. The cradle of civilization, located at a historical path of intersecting ways. The holiday retreat of Silvio Berlussconi and Johnny Depp, Sardinia is a popular European travel destination. But in Australia the first thing most people ask is “Where is it? Near Sicily?”

Kind of. Take a look at a map of the Mediterranean. Go up and to the left. See the biggest island, right in the middle of the Sea? That’s Sardinia. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t not see it.

Slap dab in the middle of the Mediterranean, close to Africa and most of Western Europe, accessible to the Middle East, Sardinia has an archaeological history that predates the Bronze Age and has the fingerprints of every major culture from the surrounding regions all over it. Civilisations have spanned through the Nuragic people and their stone fortresses (with between 6,500 – 8,000 “nuragi” ruins around the island, depending on who you talk to), up to the Phoenicians, then the Romans (Sardinia was the wheat bowl for ancient Rome), and finally Christian cultures coming through – including a dose of Catalan culture, the Aragons, and let’s not forget the modern Italian twist.

With its location and constant invasion, with locals retreating to the tops of hills and inland, traditional Sardinian food does not feature sardines, despite the name. Sardinia is more known for its goat meat, cheeses, salamis and hard breads (and goat stealing and the occasional kidnapping). The knives of Sardinia are famous: hand made, curved, and folding down into horn handles, they are perfect for slicing salami or killing someone. But that’s all in the past now.




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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rome... If You Want To!

When it comes to coffee, it seems that Melbourne has overtaken Rome. Kit Fennessy meets RRR’s Johnny Topper in Tridente, where they discuss the finer points of civilization.

Rome!
That eternal city, home to the Trevi fountain, infants suckling at distended wolverine nipples and of course, that most European of all aromas… collapsed sewerage tunnels.

Our room was on the fifth floor overlooking Via Gulius Caesar, and there were plane trees along the wide avenue outside that reminded me of home.

Let’s face it, Melbourne is like Rome in many ways – we both have Italians, coffee, gelati, Catholic churches, plane tress and parks, though Rome might just pip us at the post for archaeological diggings.


I had an appointment to meet our friend Johnny Topper for lunch; a radio announcer from Melbourne who works at Northside Records in Fitzroy. Famous for his significant pauses on ‘New and Groovy’, he’s done the hard yards of the Australian music scene and has played in numerous bands, including the Pete Best Beatles. But when we met him on the Ponte Regina Margherita, he was a changed man, squinting, fumbling in front of him and bumping into things. He’d lost his glasses!

We went for lunch at the Ristorante Enzo, which felt like eating in someone’s lounge room with a lot of men in waist coats topping up your Bisleri. If not the height of culinary excellence, it was at the very least authentically Italian. I had the pasta marinara misto, and as usual it proved the litmus test for all restaurants, which in this case was average. Jane had a pasta with cheese, quite plain and her fantasy food, Topper the risotto con artichokes. The culinary revelation of the meal was the dessert which was a cake dripping in honey, alternate portions stuffed with custard and cherry.

As we reclined over coffees, thoughts turned to our observations of Rome and how it is, and is not, like good old Melbourne town.

CULTURE
Cardinal Sins

When Jane and I arrived at St Peter’s square, or la Piazza de Basillico Pietro, there were queues and police everywhere. Going in the back way, we found they were set up for a Papal mass, and so scored an unexpected audience with the Pope.

Johnny: “Oh man, back in 1983 I was living in Sydney. I couldn’t believe it, I saw the Pope mobile driving through the streets of Sydney after John Paul II’s appearances at Randwick. It was surreal. I’d be coming out of a pub, and there was the pope mobile, driving through the red light district! Two nights in a row!”


For the first time in my life I felt sorry for Cardinals. OK! I know they’re career politicians pushing a conservative agenda, BUT they did have to sit out in the sun, wearing black, waiting for the Pope to come out. Those cardinals had to sit there and bake for around two hours, then watch their boss being cheered as he rolled around the crowd in the Pope-mobile. As the Pope’s head drifted above the crowd, he reminded me of the nun in ‘the Blue Brothers’, the penguin who never seems to walk but just rolls everywhere. The Pope was dressed in white and got to sit in the shade.

Australian politicians take note! Trouble with the back benchers? Time for a public rally. Somewhere really hot.


Public Monumental Phallicism
What is it with the Italians and… enormous columns and obelisks? Everywhere we went there were massive stone erections shooting up into the sky, phallocentrism in its purest form and simpatico with Italian consciousness.

Lift your game Melbourne! With the exception of the Cheese Stick, I cannot think of a single massive pillar erected anywhere in the public forum.


Toilets
Surprisingly, there aren’t enough toilets in Rome, but more than enough churches. I wonder if it’s anything to do with the denial of the physical form and an embrace of the spiritual life that’s lead to this situation? Probably not. Still, you never see any paintings of toilets in heaven at churches… though baptismal fonts are very high profile.

Footpath traders

African men are all over the place standing around with knock off YSL leather handbags at their feet. Elsewhere, people walk around tourist districts trying to flog bubble guns, or flying saucer toys that glow in the dark and shoot up into the air.

Another area we need to improve! We might have the occasional Vietnamese woman sitting on the footpath selling her home made confectionary, but the border line begging that these sales amount to is rarely in evidence. If we just have straight begging, how can we be considered a truly international city?

I didn’t see any gypsies, despite premonitions of babies being thrown at me around the train station, a la circa 1997.

Johnny: “Berlusconi had a real campaign over here. Picked them all up and shipped them out to Romania. That’s why they used to call them Romani gypsies. I think the same thing has happened in France.”


FOOD
The Cost of Food

True of Rome, true of all Italy, and indeed France, I was surprised just how affordable food is there compared to Australia. The most expensive meal we ate on the trip came to 95 Euros, which equates to roughly $150 for a four course dinner for two, including wine in the heart of the tourist district.

In stores the cost of fresh produce was astoundingly cheap, and fresh. Alcohol? Try 17 Euros for a 700 ml bottle of Tanqueray Gin, or should I say around $23 Australian? Your taxes at work.

Crudo vs Caldo
A short note on the lingua franca. I went to a deli where we ordered prosciutto, and caused some confusion. What did we want? Prosciutto crudo or prosciutto caldo? It transpires the Italians call all hams prosciutto, the difference being the crudo (crude or salt cured ham) and caldo, or cooked, which is your more traditional “ham”. We bought both, and with cheese, olives, some bread and the remains of the bottle of chianti it made a stunning lunch.

Drinking in Parks

We walked all over the Villa Borghese, seeing (variously) the old Villa, which is now a museo with a beautiful and productive vegetable garden, caribinari on horse back, the Italian Globe Theatre, and people riding around on four seater bikes and Segues, which was highly reminiscent of ‘Arrested Development’.

We stopped and had a couple of beers in the park at a small garden shed, not as good as the Austrians do it, but pretty good. It occurs to me that there are not many drinking and dining establishments in Melbourne’s park lands, the exceptions being the café beside the Fairy Tree in the Fitzroy Gardens, the Kent Hotel next to a median strip in Carlton, and at a pinch the Sky High Restaurant in Dandenong. Take note Parks Victoria!


Dinner
An excellent dinner near la Plaza Popolo at a small ristorante where I had the grilled fish, a bottle of wine, profilterols and a coffee, and an ameretto. Jane had the pasta matriciana and a salata verde misto. Six tentacles!


Coffee:

‘You know, I’ve been here for three days, and I’ve yet to have a really good coffee,’ Johnny opined as we replaced our cups to their saucers.

And indeed the coffee culture in Europe is a million miles from that of Melbourne. Order a latte, and you’re either corrected into having a cappuccino or presented with a Viennesse style coffee. There’s no such thing as a long black (unless you go to a tourist savvy purveyor of coffee and order a “café Americano”, which is anathema to me). And the espressos can be disappointing.
But like everywhere, quality varies from store to store.

We ambled back towards the Vatican precinct, and found Johnny a coffee shop Jane was fascinated by because of the produti Italiano (little tins of sweets with paintings on them) and signage. The coffee there was heaven, and we left Johnny to find his way back across the river.

But we couldn’t help him, glasses or no. We had a flight to catch…


Next episode: Cagliari!

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Monday, September 5, 2011

The Atlantic


Crown Entertainment Complex
8 Whiteman Street
Southbank VIC 3006 Australia


http://theatlantic.com.au

OK. So it was Father’s day. I don’t have any kids, and so had no one to say “Well done Kit-Dad!” Add to the mix that Jane was sick (down with the flu), and that I’d been doing house work all weekend, you might understand that I was feeling, if not unloved, at least a little neglected. (OK, OK, I can hear you all rattling out your tiny violins).

It was time, come Sunday afternoon after shopping and cleaning and looking after a sicky, to do something for me. To let me know I was someone I liked anyway.

Cue tram ride and a quick disappear to the Crown Casino for a movie and dinner on my own. Never one to do things by halves, I booked a gold class film and had an hour or so to kill and take myself out for dinner. But where to go? I absolutely refuse to go to that scrotum-browed Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant.

Enquiring at the box office for a good place to have seafood, the cinema staff unanimously directed me to the Atlantic. Well, if you like seafood and are looking for ego support through food, let me tell you - you could do a lot worse.

The Atlantic is a relatively new restaurant down at Southbank. A stunning trio of hostesses (blonde, brunette and Asian) in short silver skirts greeted me at the door – turning a blind eye to my lack of sartorial elegance (I was wearing a hoody and crocs), and sashayed me to table 15, my lucky number, past piles of oysters on ice.

The kitchen is an open plan affair, with the head chef yelling out orders to the return choruses of “yes chef!”. It was just like being on TV!

The view looks, appropriately, straight across at the Melbourne Aquarium, and as each hour struck that night, the gas flames of the casino lit up the sky outside through huge windows that extend into the roof.

One of the waiting staff told me they’d only received one hat from the Age this year, as they were reviewed in the first few weeks of opening, but that they were batting hard for a second hat. I don’t doubt they’ll get there. The food is art of the highest order, particularly if you’re like old squid lips here. And their chef is some superstar called Donovan Cooke, who has worked in the UK, France and Hongkers, and is responsible for Melbourne restaurants including Est Est Est, Luxe and Ondine (winner of best new restaurant 2002).

After the half dozen Dunally (Tasmanian) oysters, I had the “Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare”, a kind of pressed square of tuna with black garlic, confit tomatoes (and, I suspect, dill), served with a parsnip and horseradish cream with delicate wafers draped in slivers of Iberian jamon. Just a starter with a rocket, parmessan and apple salad. I still had some time to kill before the movie, so I finished with a coffee, Grand Marnier and their home made nougat with cranberry pieces in it (yum!).

I know, what a lush. Hey, I’m not perfect, but I’ve never felt so loved in all my life. Like the universe was opening up it’s portals and pouring down its munificence on me. I kept having little “I’m not worthy of food this good” feelings, which I quickly assuaged by having another drink or thinking “If not me, who?”

So do yourself a favour, give yourself a treat, and spoil yourself. Again! I highly recommend the Atlantic if you’re feeling neglected. Tentacles? Forza. Does anybody ever get eight? Not yet. I’ll give them a strong seven and a quarter!

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Scusa Mi Ristorante


Mid-level, Southgate
Southbank
www.scusami.com.au




OK, how do you know when the restaurant trade has been taking a hammering?

When you walk into one of the best places you’ve ever seen, with great service, beautiful outlook, good food and the place is nearly empty. But surely we should take a look inside? Look at the lunch special!

OK, admittedly it was a Tuesday, down at a Southbank undergoing various renovations, but the sun was shining bright and, as I sat out on the verandah I felt like I was on holiday in Sydney, or maybe that it was my birthday. But no. It was just me and a book, catching a lunch special at Scusa Mi and catching a few rays.

The balcony overlooks Flinders St Station, the lunch special was great value (glass of wine, entrée – I had the octopus, and main; followed by the seared Salmon - $26!).

The name pretty much tells you it’s Italian food, and their card has three comedy chefs, so it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

As a quick aside, I'm amazed at how far Southbank has come as a dining precinct in the last decade. I’m beginning to suspect Southbank is becoming Melbourne’s version of Las Ramblas, the touristy walk flanked by the homes of jet-setty millionaires through the centre of town, and where you will increasingly find some of the very best restaurants going around.

OK, my particular lunch wasn’t the pinnacle of art in food – I did just have the special and I can’t recall seeing any “foams”, or titrations from the lab of some genius – but it was pleasant fare, a great view and attentive service. Plus, looking through their gallery, they look like they can rise to just about anything and match it with the foam/blindfold/food as painting and sculpture-ness-ness of any of them.

Thank God they are there.

Six tentacles out of eight!

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Persimmon

The National Gallery of Victoria
http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/visit/places-to-eat/persimmon
11am–4pm
+61 3 8620 2434


This article is about going out for something to eat when you’re at the NGVi… you know, the international one, which is the old one on St Kilda Rd? Grey cinder blocks with the big arch window? The window with the waterfall on it that you used to stick your tongue on when you used to go there for excursions as a kid?

Look, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, move along, I don’t want to know you anymore. Oh go on, come back then, there’s hope for you yet. At least you’re keen!


Jane and I went there relatively recently for the Vienna exhibition. It’s pretty good, BTW (that means “by the way” – I’m one of these hipsters*). You should go while it’s still on:

http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/vienna/exhibition/index

But it is loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong (the exhibition, that is). You’ll probably find when you’re half way through the tour that you need to go and get something to eat. But I had absolutely no desire to go to one of the obvious caf type nosheries on show around the gallery.

Never one to shirk talking to complete strangers, I asked one of the security guards where the best place was to go for a meal. Who better to ask than “the man on the ground” (though you’d think he could at least have sat on a seat as a matter of decorum).

‘What kind of lunch are you looking for? A sandwich?’ he asked, blinking up at me from the floor through milk bottle glasses.

I used to drive trucks for Peter Rowland catering, so can tell you a thing or two about their chicken sandwiches, but they just didn't seem to fit the bill.

‘Nah. Something with a couple of courses, sit down, with a glass of wine.’
He nodded affirmatively, cracking his head lightly on the cement floor. ‘In that case go to Persimmon. You can walk to it through the sculpture garden.’

Great advice!

The day was sunny, the garden looking tip-top with bits of sculpture (hence the name), and we walked in to be seated by a waitress in a corner in the sun looking out at the Concert Hall. Our waitress was studying opera and was extremely theatrical, so I felt right in my element.

The clientele, much like the gallery as a whole, is predominantly female and well turned out. Jane suggested that going to the NGV is a great place to research what you might like to look like in your autumn years and pick up a few fashion tips. Well, if the men are anything to go by, it’s either a biliously large gay theatrical producer with a comb over, or a skinny Asian guy in a tight t-shirt for me.

The food was great! They had a bunch of themed dishes to go with the exhibition, so you could tuck into schweinfleisch and knock it back with a chilled glass of Osterreich riesling. Ist gut, ja?

We got steered toward the lunch special by our charming waitress, two courses with a glass of Saloman Gruner Veltiner each for $40. We shared the chacuterie of Austrian cured meats which I followed up with the fish – I think it was Rainbow Trout with mash – while Jane enjoyed the Otway pork chop. Can I just say, what an absolute surprise the quality of the food was, and ultimately not bad value for money.

So next time that you’re feeling arty,
Spoil all your senses and add a food party
(thank goodness I didn’t have to resort to using the rhyme farty).

“So, what will be tentacle score?” I hear you ask with baited breath (you do know it’s supposed to be bated breath, don’t you?... and please remove those worms from your tongue – you’re putting me right off). I’m going to give it six and a half tentacles for the restaurant, view and service, with an extra half a tentacle because it’s located in a top cultural institution. Seven tentacles!

(*No you're not - Ed)

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Cavallero


300 Smith St, Collingwood VIC 3066‎
(03) 9417 1377‎
us@cavallero.com.au
http://www.cavallero.com.au/


So, where do you go when it’s the end of financial year AND you’ve finally sent out the email about your new website? (I speak, of course, about bluevapours.com, you silly person! If you haven’t seen it, go there and check it out… NOW!!).

Well somewhere in Fitzroy, close to work, obviously. But we’ve been everywhere. Wabi Sabi? Nah, done it to death. Half the joints were shut, including Huxtable and Easy Tiger. Even the Chinese joint that’s never ever open was shut (what a surprise!). Press on. But wait a moment! What’s that tune I hear rising from the chorus line? Ah yes:

‘I’ve been undressed by kings
And I’ve seen some things
That a woman’s not supposed to see (a king’s penis?)
I’ve been to paradise
But I’ve never been to Cavallero.’


Cavallero. Bar. Brekky. Brunch. Lunch. Dinner. C’est cool man, and nestled on the mean streets of Collingwood. But what is it? Cavallero? It means horseman in Spanish. Do they serve horse? And there’s a quote from Wind in the Willows on the menu. What is going on? Let’s take a look, shall we?

Cavallero is nestled at the Johnston St end of Smith St, between the artist formally known as Safeway and the one hour photo developers that sells the cheap picture frames. Hardly the top end of town, but discretely far enough from drunky’s corner (near the TAB) to prevent any blatant change begging or general groping as you walk in the door.

I know the bar as the habitué of one of my television working confreres, who has his morning latte there as he reads all the newspapers before going to work. Well, the Herald Sun, anyway. They know him by sight and just make the coffee without him saying anything.

There’s a bar along one wall, with a large antlered deer head looking down at you dramatically over bottles of spirits. There’s a large communal table at the rear, if you miss out on a booth, high ceilings and an arched window that looks like it might have been an archway to the stables back in the olden days.

The shop floor is industrial, the ceilings high, the walls white, like so many places in Fitzroy; a converted shop that may be a hundred year old factory space or warehouse and subsequently a rooming house, gambling den, brothel, butchers and haberdashery in all its various manifestations.

The glass narthex at the front, a kind of recessed door from the original shop, lets tonnes of light into the space and is the architectural highlight.

But what is it? A bar, a breakfast club, a light noshery for brunchenette, a tea time swank-a-thon? Surprisingly, it’s all of the above. As the day progresses, the staff and the offerings change, to make it more of an “every moment of the day we’ve got you covered” kind of feeling.

Breakfast and lunch dishes, ‘Brunch’, are served till five, and then a dinner menu starts at six.

First stop, the bar. Beers on tap, including a very nice porter / dark beer that was highly reminiscent of chocolate. And for the ladies? Bubbles ahoy! We (I managed to sneak a glass) enjoyed a Prosecco, which is a dry sparkling wine from Italy (prosecco means dry, apparently, in Italian – who knew?). And affordable at around thirty bucks and would give many French champagnes a fright.

Truffle infusions seem to feature prominently on the menu, and I wonder if they get them from Tasmania? I bet they do. Hey! No horse on the menu. Gah! What did we have ,and was it any good? Short answers: Food, It was.

It was excellent. Drool-able. I am now wiping down my keyboard.

Jane had the chicken and coleslaw sandwich; they apparently knew about super tasters and which buttons to push. But not just any chicken and coleslaw sandwich: “Herb & parmesan crumbed free-range chicken breast with dill and yoghurt coleslaw.” Enviro, humane, kind of boom-shanka, almost guilt free.

Simone? The tasting board which came with olives, dips, risotto balls, salad, and the most delicious looking terrine.

Me? I had the pan fried barramundi that sat on a bed of hummus (the texture was heavenly), and a parsley, sumac and pomegranate salad. Yum!

Dessert? Cue internal dialogue:

Ring the bell!
Cor, someone is going to end up the size of a gorilla.
Do you have to ruin everything? Just eat it and enjoy it and don’t mention the “f” word.
Saturated fat – oops!


I had the pistachio frangipani tart with crème anglaise – a bit like a crumbly and slightly overcooked muffin (meh!), Sim the candied walnut and chocolate genache tart (hers looked better)… and Jane just had a black coffee because she is good, and pure, and doesn’t like having the nice savoury tastes washed out of her mouth by the cheap prurience of sugar.

So the judgement? Go! Go there soon. It’s a jeans more than a suit place, but they take anyone. If you go for a meal, try and arrive early or late, because it’s just not the sort of place that seems to take bookings. I’m sure you can, you’d just feel like you were overcooking it a bit by making one. Tentacles? Let’s call it a six; it’s not fine dining but casual grazing, but none the less a fine experience for all of that.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Metropolitan Hotel


36-42 Courtney St (Cnr Blackwood St)
North Melbourne
http://www.metrohotel.com.au

Have you ever had one of those moments, walking into a restaurant or hotel you’ve never been to before and felt like yelling out ‘Darling, I’m home!’ as you toss an imaginary brown leather satchel into the corner and recline onto a leather chaise lounge and tilt your hat over your eyes?

Well that’s how I felt when I walked into the Metropolitan Hotel for lunch the other day. Fan-friggin-tastic. Want to come in and take a look?

What can I say? Old stain glass windows. Traditional wooden bar. Beer. And what beer! Taps and taps of it. An old dining room, reminiscent of my Mum’s dining room, with old furniture, white table clothes and playing Nat King Cole over the audio system as we were seated.

But the pièce de résistance? What the restaurant specialises in. You know I am going to hell for this, and the planet getting burned to a cinder by our profligate farming practices, but I don’t care if this is what it means. You got it. Steaks!

Oh gosh, just even writing these words makes me come over all gushy and want to skive of down the pub… again.

OK, now I’d better just lower your expectations a little. It’s not perfect. The staff say things like ‘Have youse decided what to order yet?’ The antique chairs in the dining room are beginning to go in the bum a bit (like us all), and the tables are a little rocky. The floor creaks and there are fat blokes sitting around in suits.

But this place is about nostalgia. Pub nostalgia for an era that may never have existed but is even more glorious for that. You know, that kind of yellow light memory you have while you’re experiencing something? Golden and glowing and pure, because you realise you’re witnessing the end of days of something; a perfect pearl sitting in a glass of vinegar that Cleopatra holds while licking her lips. Something pure and refined, but kind of sad too. With beer on tap.

I’ve noticed recently that North Melbourne has a treasure trove of gourmet pubs. There’s the Royal Park hotel about two blocks from the Metropolitan (OK, a bit uni style, with hand crotched art on the walls and used brown couches – but carpet bagger steaks! – like the seventies never ended!), and I suspect dozens more venues hiding around the back streets. This may in fact be one of my new ventures, to go out and seek every back street North Melbourne gastro pub scenario. And then maybe I’ll turn my sites on Seddon.

I had the aged poterhouse with red wine jus and side orders of rosemary potatoes and a green salad, washed down with a very serviceable Heathcote Shiraz. There were five of us (rather than the four in my previous entry), we drank more, and it still came out to cost less than Shakahari… and animals gave their lives for our meals! (Bless them, they did not die in vain).

So obviously, you know I liked it. Stuff it, I loved it. Give me more please. This isn’t fine dining. Not in the strict sense. There are no velvet gloves emptying your pockets, and it’s a bit too earthy to be posh. But it’s my style. I guess I must be a fat gutted, middle aged bloke (on the inside, bursting to get out through the veneer of urbane and svelt intelligentsia) who really likes drinking beer, red wine and eating steaks in convivial surrounds. The verdict? A strong six and a half tentacles out of eight. Forza!

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Shakahari


201 Faraday St
Carlton VIC 3053

www.shakahari.com.au

I know what you’re thinking!
Shaka Zulu? Hari Kumar? Kit has gone all African-y/Indian on us!
But nothing could be further from the truth! Shakahari is the name of a vegetarian restaurant in Carlton I went to with some friends for a vegetarian meal the other night, and I thought you might be interested.

I’ve had complaints about this blog previously (hello Dharamjot!) that everywhere I pick is polluted by the corpses of our animate brethren. But far be it for me to be said to be biased agin vegetables. Hey, I don’t mind lentils and mung beans. Let’s see how the herbivores do it, baby! (Answer: on the grass… much like the reviewer - Ed).

Located in a terrace house opposite Brunetti’s, Shakahari was the only vegetarian restaurant in my copy of the Age’s Good Food Guide. The only one? Yes! And a hat! So let’s take a look at the ONLY vegetarian restaurant in Melbourne that made the cut for the Age Good Food Guide, shall we?


Shakahari has been around for donkey’s years (read around twenty), and some of my older pals had heard of it. Ask a Gen Y-er about vegetarian food, though, and they all say ‘the Veggie Bar’ (Brunswick St).
So how would you describe Shakahari? In one word? Hippies. In a few words? Vegetarian hippies who have a predilection for Asian grub. I should have been twigged right off when I called to make a booking.

“Hello? I’d like to book a table for four tomorrow please.’
(Longish pause…) "Sigh. Alright.”
“Um, would you like my name?”
“I suppose.”
“Kit. For four.”
“Fine.”
“Would you like a mobile phone number?”
‘I guess... You know there’s no BYO?”
“That’s OK. See you tomorrow!”


How’s the ambience, I hear you ask? My initial reactions were positive. Wood floors, wood furniture, carved elephant statues, orange walls. But the tables? Too high. Chairs? Too hard. Lighting? Too bright. Porridge? Too hot… oh no, that’s another story. But you do have to go into the back garden and trip over loose bricks to go to the loo, though, so there is an element of a bear in the woods… if you get my drift.

And the other clients? Nutty. As in as nutty as a nut cutlet. It did make for an entertaining floor show though; people with anaemia saying things like “I’ve just been really stressed, you know?”, rockabilly boys chatting up tattoo girls, and same sex couples holding hands over lentils. You know. Cool people. Vegetarians.

The food is Asian inspired with a western influence. This can pretty much be distilled down to “Eastern food, Western plates”. Not a share thing, although the entrees said ideal to share and each one came with four portions. But then they came out on massive bits of white crockery, we had to decant them onto side plates, the serving was a disaster.

The menu has V (vegan), D (dairy), and E (egg) written against the various dishes, so you can work out what is least offensive to your sensibilities and or delicate digestional situation. I did, however, find myself with a tummy upset after going here (whether it was the food or not I’m unsure, so am unwilling to litigate); I guess the moral is just because something’s vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean your body won’t reject it.

We had the mushroom dumplings (yum), the fried five C’s in pastry (I dunno what the five C’s were – and stop being rude), and the avocado magic (deep fried with capsicum and eggplant). For mains, I tucked into something called the Shaolin Treasure Chest – basically tofu with mushrooms (Asian) with five types of rice grain. Dessert was a lactose intolerant person’s wet dream, with tofu based baked goods that were delish.

The verdict? I thought it was a little bit on the expensive side, especially considering that no one died in the preparation of my dishes. If you HAVE to take out a vegetarian, or even better a vegan, GO! Go gangbusters. But if you’re looking for a fine dining experience, cross the road to Brunetti's and have a cake and coffee. Hard core vegetarians would no doubt give it a seven and a half out of eight. Me? A confirmed mollusc eater and lover of luxury? Meh. Let’s call it a scrape-y five tentacles out of eight.

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