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

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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