Jamie’s Italian

I’m back, finally, with another of my assignments – this time a restaurant review. I don’t mean to brag or anything (well, actually I do) but I got 95% for this one, which is a high distinction! To put that into context, I got just 70% for a journalistic article on Wagyu beef, which is only equivalent to a merit. I guess restaurant reviews are my forte!

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With the second Australian Jamie’s Italian opening in Perth later this year, adding to a thirty-something-strong international chain barely five years old, it’s timely to check out how the Sydney outpost is going.

Jamie’s Italian Sydney opened in late 2011 to great fanfare and it’s just as popular as ever, judging by the quickly growing queue under a sculptural, rusted J at just 6.15pm on a Wednesday.

A spunky, black-clad Brit moves down the line proffering a wooden board groaning with antipasti, explaining that the waiting time for a table is 45 to 50 minutes. It feels a bit like queuing for a fun-park ride but the snacks are a great touch.

Inside is a cavernous but narrow industrial space, all cast iron and tiling, with a bar up front and an imposing concrete staircase to a mezzanine. The pretty hostess calls the patrons ‘darling’, several times, hands them a bleeper and invites them to stay for a drink – or go and come back later. A peach Bellini with a curl of lemon rind eases the wait.

Small tables and red or blue studded leather banquettes run the length of the ground floor, sandwiched between distressed mirroring and caged, back-lit wine bottles. Young couples and groups of friends lean in under copper lamps to hear each other over the hubbub of chatter and soft rock.
A perky Canadian waitress brings charm, knowledge and a glass of zesty Victorian ‘Jamie’s Prosecco’ from a concise but rounded Australian and Italian wine list with many by the glass. The food menu, too, reflects Signor Oliver’s philosophy of simple Italian fare made from the best locally sourced produce. It’s reasonably priced too.

A ‘meat plank’ of nutty San Daniele prosciutto, earthy Wagyu bresaola, peppery finocchio (cheek and jowl meat), and capocollo with fennel and garlic also includes buffalo mozzarella from Victorian artisan cheese-maker Giorgio of That’s Amore. Milky and mildly acidic, from Australian-reared Asian water buffalo, it’s just as good as its Italian cousin. Tying in the inevitable British flavour, a wafer of pecorino is topped with chili jam made by ‘a couple of Jamie’s friends in London’.

Tomato bruschetta is luxurious with creamy ricotta beneath concentrated, garlicky roasted tomatoes. The bone in a sea of umami-loaded, saffron-yellow risotto Milanese promises gelatinous marrow but is filled only with crunchy gremolata. Wild McLeay Valley rabbit, slow-cooked with carrot, mascarpone and Amalfi lemon, is sweet and saucy atop fresh tagliolini. Overcooked veal saltimbocca disappoints with too little prosciutto, and the accompanying ‘spicy tomato salsa’ is scarcely more than halved grape tomatoes.

Desserts redeem the situation: an Italian ice cream bombe has panettone encasing candied fruit, ricotta and ice cream with a shot glass of bitter hot chocolate sauce. Eton mess (another nod to Jamie’s roots) is hard to get wrong and this one delivers, with raspberries, blueberries, pistachios, mint and candied citrus zest.

Shelves filled with Jamie Oliver cookbooks and other ‘merch’ suggest, once again, something of the theme park. It adds another bum note to the disconcerting feeling that this slickly run establishment, that doesn’t quite deliver on its food promise, is erring on style over substance.

Jamie’s Italian
107 Pitt Street, Sydney
Visited 13 March 2013

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My Life in Cheese

Hello, dear readers! Had you given up on me? I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve been starting a food writing course at the University of Adelaide, and also starting a new job! Sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to post very often over the next few months as I have so much study to do, but I will put up here the pieces I’m writing for my course. So, here goes with the first one…

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“There’s just bread and cheese for lunch,” my mother would say apologetically every Saturday when I was growing up. Often there was, in fact, something else too: a few slices of ham or salami, a pork pie, or a pot of fresh crab meat. But ‘bread and cheese’ was short-hand for a picnic at the kitchen table, and those two items were central.

I can tell you the story of my life through cheese, from early childhood around that table to adulthood far from my parents’ home. As I grew and matured and moved on, so did my taste in cheese.

It all started with foil-covered Kraft Dairylea triangles. They were impossible to unwrap; the only solution was to squeeze the glossy, cream-coloured gunk out of a tiny hole in one corner. Soon after, I ‘progressed’ to another great insult to the honour of cheese: square, shiny, bright-yellow Kraft Singles, best enjoyed in a floury white roll smeared with margarine. My father referred to them contemptuously as “plastic cheese”, but I wasn’t perturbed.

In my ‘tweens, my Aunt would collect me after Saturday ballet class and take me back to her lovely neat flat for wholemeal toast, a cut-up apple and Jarlsberg, or ‘holey cheese’ as I called it. It was reassuringly always the same balanced lunch and I am very fond of Jarlsberg to this day. Gruyère was first encountered molten and bubbling on top of scalding hot onion soup at L’Experience, a favourite French restaurant for special occasions.

There was always a brick of tangy, bitey Cheddar (known as ‘mousetrap’) in the fridge. It was equally satisfying with my mother’s apple chutney or in a sauce blanketing cauliflower florets and browned under the grill. Powdered parmesan on top of our spaghetti bolognaise was replaced, once we were old enough to appreciate it, by real Parmigiano Reggiano that we grated ourselves.

Through my mother I learned to enjoy pungent washed-rind cheeses like Port Salut and Chaumes, and to glimpse the travelling and life abroad I, too, hoped to undertake one day. A flirtation with the mild, sweet soft blue Dolce Latte lead to a love of the more daring Gorgonzola and eventually, when I worked in France for three months post-school, a full-blown affair with the king of the blues, Roquefort.

It wasn’t until I moved to London, after university, that I properly discovered goats cheese. I still remember those musky, tart discs perched on top of a perfectly dressed salad, at an elegant West End lunch with colleagues from my first real job. And despite growing up in Europe I didn’t have my eyes truly opened to the joys of Italian buffalo mozzarella until recently in Sydney. The newly-opened mozzarella bar my husband and I discovered in Darlinghurst air-freights these magical, milky pillows from Naples three times a week.

Despite all these years of cheese adventures, I feel I’m only really beginning to get the hang of what’s out there. With so much yet to learn and love, I can only hope it continues to be a case of life imitating cheese imitating life.

Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Hosted by the Addison Road Community Centre every Sunday from 8am to 3pm, this market is a little slice of heaven. Under a leafy canopy in dappled sunlight you’ll find an assortment of stalls selling organic fruit and veg, meat, dairy products, bread, cakes and pastries, jams and chutneys, honey, pasta, nuts and dried fruit, olives, and a whole lot of tasty treats to eat on the spot including yum cha, enormous bacon and egg rolls, martabak (Indonesian pancakes), the ubiquitous gözleme, gluten-free and vegan options, smoothies and Belaroma coffee.

There’s also a beautiful flower stall and some recycled clothes, handmade jewellery, bric-a-brac and plants, especially as you get further into the fringes of the market. For the hippies there’s a chai tent and for the kids there’s a bouncing castle and face painting. Consequently, the market is visited by hippies and people with kids – and, the double whammy, hippies with kids. Sans kids, Mr T and I presumably belong in the hippies category – or wannabe hippies, anyway. Surrounded by the buildings of the community centre including Reverse Garbage, The Bower and Sidetrack Theatre, there’s a real and quite lovely feeling of, well, community. I think I’ll shut up now and let the photos do the talking…

Veggies, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Venus Whole Foods, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Veggies, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Venus Whole Foods, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Veggies, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

More veggies, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Oranges, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Oranges, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Handmade German bread, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Handmade German bread, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Cakes, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Cakes, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

NuttyLand, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

NuttyLand, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

The Pasta People, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

The Pasta People, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Crowds at Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Crowds at Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Gluten-free fare, Marrickville Organic Food Market

Gluten-free fare, Marrickville Organic Food Market

Gluten-free and vegan salads, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Gluten-free and vegan salads, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Martabak, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Martabak, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Flowers, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Flowers, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Responsibly Gorgeous, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Responsibly Gorgeous, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Tomato seedlings, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Tomato seedlings, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

African clothing, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

African clothing, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Face painting, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Face painting, Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Marrickville Organic Food Markets

Marrickville Organic Food Markets
Addison Road Community Centre
142 Addison Road, Marrickville
Visited 9 September 2012

A first flirtation with Ottolenghi

My very dear friend Christine, whom I’ve known since we were 11, gave me a beautiful new cookbook for Christmas/birthday – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem. I hadn’t even heard of Ottolenghi until last June when I was in London having dinner at the flat of another very dear friend, Henni. She showed me one of his earlier books, Plenty (which focuses entirely on vegetables), and told me he was basically ‘so hot right now’ in London, although she didn’t use those exact words! I’ve since discovered that his eponymous empire so far comprises three take-away shops in Notting Hill, Kensington and Belgravia (some with a few seats), a restaurant (plus shop) in Islington, and a brasserie (called Nopi) in Soho. If you know London you might surmise from this list of the city’s most thoroughly desirable areas that we’re talking about something quite upmarket here, and you’d be right. It’s not for nothing that they say on their website, “We like to think of ourselves as the haute couture of the food-to-go world”. I’ve yet to visit a single one of these outlets (which will be rectified on my next trip) but the descriptions I’ve read and the pictures on the website (and in the books) all speak of the most beautiful, sensual, vibrantly coloured and boldly flavoured food, all handmade from scratch from the best raw ingredients with the greatest of care and passion. Presentation is a big part of it too: the shops are well-known for their highly enticing window displays, a pyramid structure of platters and cake stands piled high with the prettiest tarts, meringues, cakes and pastries. I wish I could nick a few photos from the website but I think that might be a bit naughty so I’ll direct you there instead: ottolenghi.co.uk

So, in the last week I’ve made three dishes from Jerusalem, his latest book, which as you might guess focuses on food from this city. The first was a very good basic hummus recipe and the second was roasted chicken pieces with fennel, clementines (or, at this time of year, oranges) and Pernod, which I marinated one night and cooked for friends the next – a delicious and simple entertaining dish as all it needed was 45 minutes in the oven and some rice and green veg to go with it. The third recipe I attempted was for a late post-food-shop breakfast last Sunday which I practically inhaled, it was so delicious, and I can’t wait to make it again. I facebooked about it at the time, so excited was I, and had requests (including from Christine, the giver of the book) for the recipe, so here it is…

Shakshuka is, according to the book, originally a Tunisian recipe which has become very popular throughout Israel. There are many variations on this egg dish, the following being the one for summer and early autumn, with potatoes used in winter and aubergines in spring. These quantities will feed two to four people, depending on hunger levels. (I made half the amount and ate the lot myself, which was quite piggy!)

Shakshuka from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Shakshuka from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Dice two large red capsicums (peppers) into 0.5cm dice and sauté in two tablespoons of olive oil along with two tablespoons of harissa paste, two teaspoons of tomato purée, four cloves of garlic, finely chopped, one teaspoon of ground cumin and ¾ teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, over a moderate heat for about eight minutes until the capsicum has softened. Add five large very ripe tomatoes, chopped, or two tins of chopped tomatoes, bring back to simmering point and cook for a further ten minutes, creating a thick sauce. Check for seasoning and then make eight little wells in the sauce. Take four eggs and four yolks and drop them into the sauce, one in each well. (When I made it I used all whole eggs but less of them). Simmer for eight to ten minutes until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny – covering the pan with a lid will hasten the process, if you want to do that. Remove from the heat and allow to settle for a couple of minutes before spooning onto plates and eating with buttered toast or bread. Enjoy!

Shakshuka from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Shakshuka from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

A celebration at MoVida

(Apologies that the photos in this post are so garish – I only had my iPhone on this occasion!)

In celebration of accepting a new job this week (finally, after almost six months of hunting) Mr T and I went to MoVida for dinner. When I rang, on the day, they were fully booked but advised us to pitch up between 5pm and 5.30pm to try for one of the tables they keep for walk-ups. A review I read claimed that in fact they keep half the restaurant unreserved for this purpose. Nevertheless, and in spite of the door-guy’s approval of Mr T’s unmatching Converse sneakers, we were too late for one of said tables when we arrived at 5.30pm. However, there was a spot at the bar with our name on it and we climbed onto high but comfortable chairs, breakfast-bar style, and settled in for the long-haul.

The bar is often the best spot to sit in some places. One great night at Bodega, also in Surry Hills, Mr T and I had the best seats in the house from where we could see all the clashing of pans and careful presentation in action – and even got an extra dish which had been a wrong order for another table. While the cooking at MoVida happens behind closed doors, the bar (two sides of a rectangle near one end of the room) is still a fun place to be, peopled by friendly, knowledgeable staff and decorated with bright patterned Spanish tiles, one of the few design nods to the restaurant’s country of homage. MoVida executive chef and owner Frank Camorra has four hugely popular eateries as well as a bakery and a deli in Melbourne, and the Sydney spin-off opened just last year to the delight of Sydney’s foodies.

While some at the bar are clearly here for just a drink and a nibble, we, on the other hand, mean serious business and order accordingly from most sections of the menu: embutidos (cured meats and sausage), tapas, raciones (share plates) and postres (desserts). We start with the jamon Iberico, a cured ham made from black Iberian pigs. At $50 for 50g it’s an investment, but we’re celebrating after all, and I’ve been wanting to try this ever since watching Rick Stein wax lyrical about it last year in his Spanish TV show. Plus, our lovely bar attendant tells us it’s “life-changing” so there’s no going back. Deep rose-pink with a slightly lacquered appearance and edged in fat, the ham comes in bite-sized slices in a chunky earthenware dish. It tastes sweet, nutty and deeply umami without being overly salty, rounded out by the rich creamy fat; Mr T likens it to Vegemite with butter, which is inspired! The texture has qualities of biltong but it’s moist and tender. It comes with a large square of toasted Turkish bread soggy with tomato and garlic, which cleanses the mouth (or as Mr T puts it, “scrapes the tongue clean”) between bouts of ham worship.

Jamon Iberico, MoVida

Jamon Iberico, MoVida

Next up, artisan Cantabrian anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet on a wafer-thin crispbread, scattered with baby capers. From all that I’ve read about MoVida this is the dish I’ve been most anticipating and it more than fulfills expectations. Mr T says it looks “extraordinarily sexual”, but we won’t go there. The succession of sensations is as follows: cold, crunch, sweet, smoke, salt and, finally, what I can only describe as grunt. If you’re keen on anchovies it’s worth coming here just to sample this one dish.

Artisan Cantabrian anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet, MoVida

Artisan Cantabrian anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet, MoVida

Zucchini hollowed out and filled with crab and a pea and mint gazpacho is fresh, light, cool and cleansing, topped with popping pink pearls of salty fish egg.

Zucchini filled with crab served with pea and mint gazpacho, MoVida

Zucchini filled with crab served with pea and mint gazpacho, MoVida

I slip down a Sydney rock oyster with manzanilla jelly and compressed watermelon. Manzanilla, I later discover, is a Spanish fino sherry. I wish I’d known this before I tasted it so I could have been conscious of the flavour. It could be I drowned it with lemon juice. Nonetheless, it’s a very fine oyster.

Sydney rock oyster with manzanilla jelly and compressed watermelon, MoVida

Sydney rock oyster with manzanilla jelly and compressed watermelon, MoVida

Mr T, not an oyster fan, goes for a grilled chorizo and padron (a small green pepper) sandwich which is, essentially, a slider. He lets me taste a corner for the sake of my blog. The soft white bun gives way to a slab of chorizo that is smokey-verging-on-burnt (in a good way), salty and oily with a hint of peppery bitterness, all enhanced by a good dollop of mayo.

Grilled chorizo and padron sandwich, MoVida

Grilled chorizo and padron sandwich, MoVida

A goat’s curd and quince cigar is a small cylinder of dehydrated sweet-and-sour quince purée filled with musky, tangy goat’s curd, topped with a dusting of chili flakes. The king of fruit roll-ups.

Goat’s curd and quince cigar, MoVida

Goat’s curd and quince cigar, MoVida

Moving on to the ‘raciones’, we sample salt-cod fritters: little soft-crunchy clouds of creamy, salty fish pie, with a light lime mayo, fresh parsley and chili to cut through the richness.

Salt cod fritters with Basque pil pil sauce, MoVida

Salt cod fritters with Basque pil pil sauce, MoVida

From the same section, we choose rabbit leg braised in an Andalucian sweet and sour sauce with pine nuts and raisins. The sweet and sour of the sauce comes from honey (plus the raisins) and sherry vinegar, finished with a squeeze of lemon juice at the end. It’s a deliciously warming and rustic dish but rabbit is a dense, slightly dry meat and it feels a bit heavy-going getting through the generous serving.

Rabbit leg braised in an Andalucian sweet and sour sauce with pinenuts and raisins, MoVida

Rabbit leg braised in an Andalucian sweet and sour sauce with pine nuts and raisins, MoVida

Mr T is quite defeated by this point but I insist on dessert – churros con chocolate and flan. The churros (Spanish doughnuts) are very light and crisp and the bitter, slightly aniseed hot chocolate is beautiful to drink but not quite viscous enough to properly coat the churros.

Churros con chocolate, MoVida

Spanish doughnuts with rich drinking chocolate, MoVida

My flan (crème caramel) is a mound of smooth, sweet, chilled egg custard in a pool of good, not-too-burnt caramel syrup. It comes with pestinos: tiny, sweet, flakey Christmas biscuits flavoured with cinnamon, popular in Andalucia.

Crème caramel served with pestinos, MoVida

Crème caramel served with pestinos, MoVida

This feast, along with two glasses of delicious Spanish rosé for me (2011 Espelt ‘Lledon’ Garnacha Rosado Emporda), comes to $200 including tip. Considering we have totally pigged out on fabulous food – including some very expensive pig – I think this is entirely reasonable. I’d bet the same again that we’ll be back in the not too distant future.

MoVida
50 Holt Street, Surry Hills
Visited 15 January 2013

Birthday lunch at Sumalee Thai and oysters for dinner

So, I had a rather big birthday last Wednesday. Mr T was working all day but I had decided to take the day off (I really couldn’t spend SUCH a big birthday in the office), so what to do with myself? Obviously the answer was ‘eat!’, so I invited a few girlfriends to join me for lunch at Sumalee Thai at the Bank Hotel in Newtown. My thinking was that it was quite close to home (a bus-ride away from Marrickville), laid-back in atmosphere, outdoors (in a sunken courtyard at the back of the pub) and, plus, it’s Thai food (my favourite) and it’s delicious! I’ve been there numerous times before and it’s one of my fave Thai eateries in Sydney (along with Spice I am and Let’s Eat Thai). The menu features all the usual favourites and a few extras, plus there’s always a specials board with several more options. The prices (which might appear a little high) are deceptive because the portion sizes are huge and one serving is easily enough to fill two people. This makes it a great place for sharing a few dishes amongst a group since you end up with more than a tiny spoonful of each thing.

I arrive first and order a bottle of bubbles to get the party started! Once everyone is present we order food. Chicken satay skewers (which unfortunately I forget to photograph) are tender pieces of breast meat coated generously in a very moreish creamy, nutty, sweet, slightly spicy sauce, with a perfectly dressed cucumber salad on the side. Red curry with barramundi fillets and king prawns (the go-to dish here, as far as I’m concerned) doesn’t disappoint with beautifully cooked pieces of fish in a creamy orange bath of thick, fishy, coconuty sauce, topped with three huge prawns and sprigs of fragrant Thai basil.

Red Thai curry with barramundi fillets and king prawns

Red Thai curry with barramundi fillets and king prawns

We go for another fish dish, fried this time: pan-fried salmon steaks swimming in jammy, garlicy, spicy tamarind sauce – like a fancier version of sweet chili sauce. It’s divine.

Pan-fried salmon with tamarind sauce

Pan-fried salmon with tamarind sauce

Our final dish is a green curry of soft, white tofu cubes and mixed vegetables, milder than the red curry but no less flavoursome. The tofu almost has a dairy quality and the vegetables are perfectly al dente.

Green Thai curry with tofu and mixed vegetables

Green Thai curry with tofu and mixed vegetables

My other favourite dish here (which is usually on the specials board) is their pork spare ribs with sweet curry paste: an enormous bowl of meaty bones slathered in a sweet, spicy paste the consistency of treecle tart filling, topped with deep fried crispy basil leaves. Bowl of those and a couple of beers – job done!

It’s the perfect balance of flavours in the cooking that makes Sumalee more sophisticated than the myriad of Thai restaurants on King Street, no one flavour overshadowing the others but all melding beautifully to create a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. Well, I feel far greater (in size!) than the sum of my parts after all that and we don’t even finish it all. Apart from rice there’s a lonesome fillet of barra left, still in quite a lot of that delectable sauce. I’m tempted to ask for a doggy bag, loathe to let it go to waste, but I refrain.

By evening I’m still full but I’ve bought oysters, smoked salmon and brie for an evening picnic with Mr T. The weather is cool and quite blowy so we camp indoors for our picnic, trying to make Downton Abbey season 3 play on the computer since our DVD player appears to be kaput. Eventually, by about 8.30pm, I feel that I might be able to squeeze in an oyster or three, ably assisted by a couple of glasses more bubbles! I’ve got a dozen and they’re not going to be as good tomorrow so I manage to work my way slowly through them, savouring the smell of the sea and the taste of the plump, creamy bivalves in their briny juices. Or is that the tears wrung out of me by the emotional drama of Downton Abbey? I’m told there’s plenty more of that to come in this season. Can I fashion that into an excuse for more oysters?

Sumalee Thai at the Bank Hotel
324 King Street, Newtown
Visited 2 January 2013

Christmas food Aussie style

We had such a fabulous feast of food over Christmas that I couldn’t resist taking photos of it all. And it seems a shame to have a bunch of food photos and not write a blog post to show them off! This will probably be of most interest to my British family and friends, for whom the notion of a hot Christmas and all that entails is still something of a novelty. I hope the rest of you will find something to enjoy too.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and we all gathered at Watergums, a large, gnarly timber cabin by a platypus-inhabited billabong off the Barrington River, where half our party was staying for our festive family get-together. We sat around a big wooden table on the deck, a game of Scrabble in progress, surrounded by the heat and the din of cicadas. Dinner was Uncle Barry’s famous tomato bruschetta, followed by barbecued steak and chorizo sausages with baked sweet potato and coleslaw, topped off with peach trifle. Trifle is a particular Christmas favourite of mine. Granny always used to make our Christmas trifle, served in a beautiful crystal bowl. After Granny moved off the island my mother made it, to much the same recipe, and I always got to decorate the top with amaretti biscuits and tinned mandarin segments.

Christmas Day began with the traditional swim – not at Freshwater Beach where we go when Christmas is at Barry and Penny’s, but in the aforementioned Barrington River, down at Rocky Crossing, a couple of hundred metres from the turnoff to Lorna’s (my mother-in-law’s) farm. Back up at the farm, we breakfasted on Bourke Street Bakery croissants and mince pies before the Watergums mob arrived to fire up the barbecue for the turkey. The enormous free-range bird was swathed in two large pieces of pig skin before being consigned to the fiery innards of the Weber! At midday we judged the sun to be over the yardarm and broke out the champagne and orange juice, squeezed from oranges from Lorna’s garden, and also Lorna’s delicious homemade camembert.

It became apparent that the Weber was not getting up to temperature and the turkey would take longer to cook than previously anticipated. Meanwhile we tucked into the first course, supplied by cousin Cameron – three kilos of plump, sweet, Australian wild-caught tiger prawns with Penny’s Marie Rose sauce (mayo, tomato sauce, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and possibly other things I’ve forgotten).

Australian wild-caught tiger prawns

Australian wild-caught tiger prawns

Eventually the menfolk gave up on the barbecue and transferred the turkey to the oven to finish it off and brown it. The Weber may not have cooked the bird but it did turn the pig skin into fantastic light, puffed-up, crunchy crackling, albeit it hadn’t been salted since its purpose was not for eating. Didn’t stop us eating some of it, however!

Pork crackling

Pork crackling

Free-range turkey

Free-range turkey

Beside the turkey our spread included free-range ham (glazed by yours truly in apricot jam and stuck with cloves)…

Free-range ham glazed with apricot jam

Free-range ham glazed with apricot jam

…Lorna’s mixed salad with homemade lemon myrtle mayo from her grandmother’s recipe, Penny’s legendary Hawaiian salad (sour cream, tinned crushed pineapple, tinned mandarin segments, desiccated coconut and miniature marshmallows) and equally popular onion salad…

Hawaiian salad

Hawaiian salad

…my mixed tomato and home-grown basil salad dressed in olive oil and top quality balsamic vinegar…

Mixed tomato and basil salad

Mixed tomato and basil salad

…and a huge fruit platter including watermelon, pineapple, grapes, cherries, nectarines, lychees, mangoes and strawberries.

Fruit platter

Fruit platter

Cameron had stuffed the turkey with a sweet, herbaceous mixture of ripe pear, bread crumbs, rosemary and oregano from the garden, and an egg to bind. Photographing this array of food I was struck by the Summery colours, the traditional turkey and ham from ‘the Motherland’ set off by a brighter, more vibrant palette than you’d see on a British Christmas lunch table. Eating this array of food, on the other hand, I was merely struck by how delicious it all was and how quickly I could go back for seconds!

Our Christmas spread

Our Christmas spread

Following a considerable break to allow all this to settle, we squeezed in some pudding – steamed Christmas pud (made by Lorna’s neighbour in return for a homemade Christmas cake) with Penny’s fabulous passion fruit ice cream and my brandy butter. Traditionally my mother and I would make the brandy butter together, without the aid of electrical appliances (hence the need for two pairs of arms), adding as much brandy, teaspoon by teaspoon, as we dared before it threatened to curdle! It’s also de rigueur, as far as I’m concerned, to feed oneself a little brandy in the process.

As is the way with Christmas food there was plenty left over for lunch on Boxing Day, with the addition of a potato salad and finished off with leftover trifle, ice cream and my Stephanie Alexander Christmas cake. The cake was a triumph, even if I do say so myself; wonderfully moist and dense with fruit. Good old Stephanie – hers will be my go-to Christmas cake recipe for evermore.

Stephanie Alexander Christmas cake

Stephanie Alexander Christmas cake

So, our Christmas viands (which word, incidentally, earned Mr T and I an awesome score in Scrabble on Christmas Day!) were a true blue team effort, provided by all, sourced as ethically as our purses would allow, and cooked and presented with love. It felt – and tasted! – great to be a part of that. For me, food and family is what Christmas is all about, and this one certainly made the mark. Thank you, one and all!

My apple chutney - presies for the family

My apple chutney – presies for the family

Cornersmith, Marrickville

There are other good cafés in Marrickville but this is the one, I think, that has really put our home suburb on the map, such is its popularity. Mr T and I wandered down there today for only the second time since it opened almost exactly a year ago. On my first visit I was a bit nonplussed, slightly put off by the lack of meat options – there was only some organic salami that day. Today they had wagyu corned beef and pasture-raised ham (all their meat is organic and sourced from local providore Feather and Bone) as well as house-smoked ocean trout. What’s on the menu entirely depends on what seasonal, local produce they’ve bought in.

Menu

Menu, Cornersmith

On arrival we add our name to the list on the blackboard beside the door but we don’t have to wait long to get a table in a perfect spot from which I can see all the action and take photos. It’s a small light-filled room with white-tiled walls, an ornate ceiling and funky bare light globes hanging down above the counter. You can sit on high stools at said counter or at little tables that line the floor-to-ceiling window that runs the full length of the café on the Illawarra Street side. On the counter is a big Italian coffee machine churning out great coffee and behind are several black-boards displaying the menu, and below them shelves filled with jars of pickles, chutneys and jams, all made on the premises. Run by a husband and wife team, Cornersmith is open for business Tuesday to Sunday and on Mondays they close for pickling. Whatever fruit and veg is in season features heavily on their menu, and come Monday is also turned into various preserves which are served with the meals and also bottled and sold to visitors. According to articles I’ve read, some of their produce is grown and given to them by locals who have a glut of something or other, in return for lunch or a jar of pickles. I love that kind of community spirit. They even use and sell honey from bee hives on their roof, supplied and tended by a company called The Urban Beehive. It’s altogether a thoroughly feel-good kind of venture!

Cornersmith

Cornersmith

Today the menu features a lot of zucchini – roasted with okra as a side dish with harissa, feta and mint; in a salad with asparagus and grapefruit; and in the form of zucchini pickles. Everything that comes out of the kitchen is as pretty as a picture, full of vibrant colour, a love letter to fruits and vegetables, like a harvest festival on a plate! It’s very wholesome and healthy, but not even a little bit puritanical or worthy – it’s just fresh, beautifully presented, delicious food. We start with a latte for me, a strawberry, green apple and beetroot milkshake for Mr T, which comes in a glass jar with a straw (to me it’s just strawberry flavoured but Mr T can detect the earthiness of the beetroot), and a muffin to share.

Latte and strawberry, green apple and beetroot milkshake

Latte and strawberry, green apple and beetroot milkshake, Cornersmith

The muffin is a thing of beauty: topped with pumpkin seeds and a slice of oven-dried nectarine, just below the crunchy surface is a well of ricotta (from local Italian cheese factory Paesanella) and then big chunks of fresh juicy nectarine, all subtly flavoured with cardamom.

Nectarine, cardamom, banana and ricotta muffin

Nectarine, cardamom, banana and ricotta muffin, Cornersmith

We also order one each of the two ‘plates’ to share – the ploughmans plate and the Cornersmith plate. The ploughmans is meant to feature the wagyu corned beef but in fact comes with ham. When Mr T points this out later we receive an apology and a little dish of the beef to try – it’s full of flavour but a little dry and powdery on the tongue. The ham is moist and smokey and is accompanied by crumbly, bitey Maffra cheddar, dressed heirloom tomatoes with basil, zucchini pickles, a perfect sliced nectarine and toasted sesame seed sourdough. The Cornersmith plate consists of a little glass jar of chunky, herb-flecked house-smoked ocean trout terrine, creamy labneh sprinkled with caraway seeds, sharp pickled celery, a delightful salad of rocket, watercress, finely sliced blanched asparagus, zucchini and flaked almonds, and sesame seed toast drizzled with olive oil. I am absolutely in heaven as we pick, using only our hands, at these two laden wooden boards, vocal in our appreciation of the quality and flavours of the food.

Ploughmans plate (ham, Maffra cheddar, heirloom tomatoes, nectarine, zucchini pickles, sesame seed toast)

Ploughmans plate (ham, Maffra cheddar, heirloom tomatoes, nectarine, zucchini pickles, sesame seed toast), Cornersmith

Cornersmith plate (house-smoked ocean trout terrine, asparagus salad, pickled celery, carraway labneh, sesame seed toast)

Cornersmith plate (house-smoked ocean trout terrine, asparagus salad, pickled celery, carraway labneh, sesame seed toast), Cornersmith

I am entirely won over by my experience at Cornersmith today and it’s officially my new favourite Marrickville café. I want to eat there, support them, tell everyone about it and buy their pickles and jams. I’m a committed Cornersmith convert!

Cornersmith

Cornersmith

Cornersmith
314 Illawarra Road, Marrickville
Visited 16 December 2012

Spooning Goats, Sydney

It’s a cracker of a name, you’ve got to admit! However, for some reason the liquor license crew don’t like it so the official name of this small, basement-level retro bar is simply The SG. Its secret Moniker was dreamed up by owner Jason to encompass his Nan’s marvellous teaspoon collection which hangs on several wooden display boards behind the bar (yes, one of them is in the shape of Australia), and his love of goats. There is even a trifle bowl full of little ‘I heart goats’ badges on the bar for guests to take home as souvenirs. When I arrive Mirelle is already best buds with an awesome pommie lass who has been handing out the badges to passers-by on the street and is now sitting at the bar enjoying a few drinks. It’s got to be good if the staff drink here, right?

Mirelle and I cosy ourselves into two cream, embossed vinyl recliners with a faux wooden coffee table for a jolly good chin wag and a catch up. It’s a small, dimly lit space filled with mismatched suites of 70s furniture and brown geometric wallpaper to match. It feels like a cross between your Nan’s living room and a student common room. Jason, on one of a couple of occasions that he pops over for a chat, tells us that all of the furniture, in fact everything in the bar, is sourced second-hand, mostly on eBay. We comment that it feels very homely and relaxed and he says that’s exactly the effect he was going for.

We try a few of the cocktails, every one of them delicious and served in wonderful Granny glassware. (Unfortunately there’s no menu on the website and I can’t remember any of the names or ingredients.)

Cocktails, Spooning Goats

Cocktails, Spooning Goats

Getting peckish, we also order a charcuterie and cheese platter which comes served on a fabulous gilt-edged dish with compartments for the various things: salted wagyu beef, smoked salmon, Persian feta, a creamy blue goats cheese (from a choice that also includes triple cream brie and vintage cheddar), and small green olives, along with a generous quantity of crackers and crispbreads.

Charcuterie and cheese platter, Spooning Goats

Charcuterie and cheese platter, Spooning Goats

This keeps us amused for quite a while but an hour of gossip later we’re still a bit hungry so we get a pie to share – a veal and roasted tomato one served in a small white Pyrex bowl with two dainty teaspoons and a dollop of tamarind chutney on top. The richness of the meat filling and the tart chutney go surprisingly well together.

Veal and roasted tomato pie with tamarind chutney, Spooning Goats

Veal and roasted tomato pie with tamarind chutney, Spooning Goats

It’s not until we go to leave that I notice the window above the bar displays, along with some old candy-coloured glass jugs and matching glasses, two Star Wars Snow Walker models and a Hot Wheels plastic toy car track. This now makes greater sense of the lone Space Invaders machine in the corner. We’re also invited to admire Jason’s burgeoning collection of string art. It’s the perfect Gen X den of nostalgia! I’m envisioning (and hoping for) John Hughes movie nights right around the corner.

Spooning Goats (The SG)
32 York Street, Sydney
Visited 21 November

Reuben Hills, Surry Hills

The Italian cooking theme has slightly fallen off the radar of late with my intense focus on job hunting, but a girl’s gotta eat! And so it was that I finally found an excuse to try out Reuben Hills a couple of weeks ago for lunch with a fellow redundancy victim. One may as well do a bit of ‘ladies who lunch’-ing while one can!

A long, narrow industrial space, Reuben Hills plays its music quite loud and has an air of hipness which I find slightly intimidating on arrival. However, the friendly girl who greets me and guides me to a table quickly dispels any fears. The lovely Renée arrives soon after and we fall into catch-up mode over a coffee before checking out the food. They roast their own coffee on site – we could see a dark, bearded man checking the machines upstairs – which they sell wholesale and they also hold public cuppings every Friday at 10am. I wish I could tell you what the coffee was like but I can’t remember. I certainly didn’t have any complaints.

When we finally stop talking long enough to look at the menu, we discover that it features lots of Mexican and Spanish ingredients: jamon, ranchero sauce, Manchega (a cheese made from the milk of sheep that roam the plains of La Mancha), queso fresco (a Mexican fresh cheese), chimol (a radish salsa from El Salvador), jalapeños, chipotle (smoke-dried jalapeños) and pico de gallo (a Mexican fresh salsa made from tomato, onion and chilis). There’s a mixture of breakfast and lunch items which, pleasingly, are all available all day. I do hate going to a café feeling like eggs at lunch time only to find I’m too late.

But today I don’t feel like eggs and I go for the cafe’s ‘signature dish’, the NOT Reuben, so-called because it’s a bit of a variation on the famous sandwich. According to Wikipedia the Reuben is a hot sandwich of corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut with Russian or Thousand Island dressing, on rye bread. The Reuben Hills’ NOT Reuben comes in a plastic lattice basket, topped with radishes, and has wagyu salt brisket, pickled slaw, Manchega and horseradish cream on rye. Jolly tasty it is too, especially the thick slab of salty beef. However, at $16 a pop I feel it’s a bit on the small side.

NOT Reuben (wagyu salt brisket, pickled slaw, Manchega and horseradish cream on rye), Reuben Hills

NOT Reuben (wagyu salt brisket, pickled slaw, Manchega and horseradish cream on rye), Reuben Hills

Renee’s corn tortillas with fried chicken, salsa verde and pico de gallo are again very small for the price (also $16). She finds that the flavours are well balanced with no stand-out flavour, ingredient or texture. The fried chicken is not greasy, thankfully.

Corn tortillas with fried chicken, salsa verde and pico de gallo

Corn tortillas with fried chicken, salsa verde and pico de gallo, Reuben Hills

An amiable woman, who I presume is one of the managers or owners, offers us (and persuaded us to have) dessert. I’m up for sharing but Renee’s attitude is ‘no way, Jose!’ to that, so we order two of their Doggs Breakfast – an ice cream sandwich with salted caramel. Who could resist? If I’m entirely honest it’s the principal reason I wanted to come here! The quenelle of solid caramel is divine – rich, full-bodied and slightly grainy. The Maxibon-style processed chocolate biscuits that encase the ice cream, though, are soft and pappy and let the dish down; it could have done with some crunch to add textural variety. But I do love the blue enamel spoon!

Doggs Breakfast (ice cream sandwich with salted caramel)

Doggs Breakfast (ice cream sandwich with salted caramel), Reuben Hills

Reuben Hills
61 Albion Street, Surry Hills
Visited 7 November 2012