30 September, 2007


109 Lygon St, Brunswick East; 03 9380 4343

Although we’re in Brunswick East, when it comes to hamburgers our preference has been to head over to Dannys on St Georges Rd for special burger occasions. One night, after declining a 40-minute wait at Andrew’s in Albert Park, we popped into a previously untried takeaway shop much closer to home – Fishbone on Lygon St – for burger and chips. Things looked promising from when we saw the size of a small chips (more than the two of us could eat, not that we didn’t try!) They only got better when we started on the burgers.The patties are moist, flavoursome and made of quality mince. Along with the chips, they’re fried in cottonseed oil, which from my internet research has points for and against, but certainly neither burger nor chips leave a gluggy, oily feeling in the stomach. The buns aren’t toasted, a feature I love at Dannys, but they’re wonderfully fresh with a smattering of sesame seeds. The experience is further augmented by their sauce – is it homemade tomato sauce? The combination provides a subtly herbed and flavoured hamburger experience that feels more like a meat sandwich than a fatty indulgence.


50 Lonsdale St, City; 03 9662 3334

This coffee and snack experience is entirely owing to Mellie at tummy rumbles, who has an extensive and glowing post dedicated to the team at Espressino, augmented by comments from her many friends who have been inspired to check it out!

It was the perfect place for me to delve back into the Melbourne dining scene post-Europe. While the kitout of Espressino is very muchly in the minimalist, modern café style, the food and the service are much more Italian trattoria. On the day I visited, I had intended to grab a mid-morning snack, but what with jetlag keeping me in bed longer than expected, I hit a be-suited lunch rush. Every table taken, people queuing to order, waiting for takeaways, yet my coffee was still delivered by the ‘hunky Italian specimen’, as Mel so accurately describes him, with a decidedly cheery ‘here you go bella’.

I was there to sample the excellent coffee – rich, perfectly roasted, sweet not bitter – and the bombolone. Mmm, nutella and custard. Just three days previously I’d had a free ‘breakfast’ at a hostel in Rome, which had consisted of chocolate croissant and orange cordial. The croissant was a baked-by-the-thousand piece of pastry, with a huge wodge of nutella squirted in the middle. This bombolone, by contrast, was delicate, sugared dough surrounding a creamy chocolate custard filling, that was neither too sweet nor rich, but served perfectly for, um, lunch!

(Note, to get there, head down Madame Brussels Lane, next to the office building at 50 Lonsdale St)

26 September, 2007

European Food Experience - Italy

Where does one start? Italy just is a food experience, inherently and incessantly. This particular trip to Italy provided some slightly more upmarket experiences, rather than just astonishing pasta at €5 a bowl.

The first of note was in fair Venezia, where I spent four extraordinary days around my brother’s wedding. On one such sunny day, just perfect for stepping out in glad rags with a swagger, I lunched with Peter and his friends at Hotel Bonvecchiati. And did we lunch! 5 hours of wine, food, rapport, witticisms, and did I mention wine?

My starter was an artichoke pie, with a crispy parmesan top. Consistency-wise it was a lot like a tuna pie, but far tastier. It was wonderful to have such a strong hit of that almost nutty artichoke flavour, rather than it just being there to help along the other ingredients. (Btw, in the picture you can see I’m simultaneously working through a glass of prosecco and one of pinot grigio!)

Main course featured some favourite flavours of mine - pine nuts and currants - mixed up in flat spaghetti with sardines. As you can see, it was generous, not least in the distribution of sardines. My naturopath has been at me to eat them, and there’s an unopened packet in my pantry waiting for the craving to hit…I enjoyed this dish, with its appropriately al dente pasta, and the almost Moroccan mix of nuts and currants, but I don’t think it’s going to help with my sardine intake. The fish flavour lingered for some time, and got in the way of the very fine Brachetto (a sweet, red, sparkling wine, now being grown by Pizzini in King Valley) we drank with dessert.

Dessert…I could just show you the picture of the chocolate souffle reallyand that would tell you how fabulous dessert was. It was so rich on the inside, with a moussey, cakey outer layer. The raspberry sauce was just bitter enough to cut through the sweet chocolate, and the decadence of a spoonful of cream on top of all that chocolate was a perfect end to an lunch of indulgence.

The day’s food experience wasn’t quite over as that night we had drinks and canapes at Allegra’s mother’s house. There I discovered the deliciousness of pickled pumpkin with parmesan, the pumpkin combining its softness and sweetness with the nuttiness and grit of the parmesan. It went wonderfully with the Friuli wine, which I was to discover at the wedding reception, in the form of 2005 Ribolla Gialla, is a truly complex and complete white wine.

The food at the wedding reception was extraordinary. We started with tris di antipasti del Monaco - the local speciality of beaten cod, salmon topped with an egg pattie, and a disc of polenta topped with prawns.And we went up from there. The starter was risotto di pesce alla Veneziana. It's an interesting choice to serve shellfish to a group of 50, but I was not complaining! The only downer was when the waiters came around with serving platters full of the rich, moist, cheesy risotto, offering seconds; but knowing there was still meat and dessert to come I had to decline.

The main was a triumph: filetto di manzo con funghi porcini. How the chefs could prepare meat that well - thick cut, seared dark brown on the outside and perfectly pink - in that quantity I don’t know. My favourite taste experience of the whole night was the round of eggplant filled with tomato and mozzarella accompanying the meat. Dessert was sorbetto all uva fragola, but unfortunately my senses were overwhelmed by this point and there is neither photographic nor oral-sensory record.

What else was fab in Italy? Well, this fegato (liver) wasn’t, part of an uninspring Menu di Touristico. It tasted like, well, offal, without any of the subtleties of spice and accompaniments that normally make that a good thing. A dish that was in no way subtle was a spaghetti all’ amatriciana in Roma. I was in dire need of treatment for a cold, and my preferred method thereof is as much chilli and garlic as possible. The dish needed the addition of chilli flakes to fill the first ingredient requirement, but there was no such trouble with the garlic.The dish was laced with whole cloves, which I ate the same way.

This pizza was as surprising and flavoursome as the fegato had been disappointing and dull.My last food in Italy, it was bought by weight at a pizzeria on Merulana. Nothing more than dough, basil, mozzarella and tomato, popped in an oven for a few minutes, then cut and folded like a sandwich. And it was superb, a taste to last like the greatest of Rome’s structure, such as Santa Maggiore which it foregrounds in the photo.

20 September, 2007

European Food Experience - Estonia

The exchange rate is favourable for all Western travellers in Estonia, making the presence of a kitchen for prepping your own meals in the hostel quite unnecessary. But what’s the food like? There are plenty of places around town offering traditional Estonian food - there’s a lot of meat, especially pork, and potatoes involved, not surprisingly (I saw through a window of one restaurant people sitting down to a plate of shank the size of a log). Soups feature, as does fish, such as salmon. Although Tallinn is only on the cusp of mega-tourism, there are a lot of restaurants plying the cashed-up tourist trade, with waiters in costume, offering ‘traditional medieval banquets’.

Not my scene. I ate three times at Kompressor, on Rataskaevu. It’s one room, filled with large, sturdy, round wooden tables, and feels like a bit of a student haunt. There were always lots of locals. It’s known for its pancakes, which cost between EEK40-50 (about €3).
I sampled the smoked chicken and fetta, which came with a sauce that would have sat well with a prawn cocktail!. It perhaps wasn’t the greatest example, the fetta being relegated to one ‘corner’, and predictably the last one I ate, but it’s great value for money.

I was better served by their soups. First up I had sjetlana, a Russian meat soup (a quick google search came up with this recipe, in Estonian!) It came with a very tomatoey, spiced broth, covering diced sausage, olives, onion, celery, gherkin, lime and with sour cream (a ubiquitous Estonian ingredient) squirted on top. The olives didn’t really work - everything else was a much more sour taste and they were far too salty and, well, mediterranean. I was happier with the sauerkraut soup (again, note ever-present sour cream).
I ordered this with the fried potato balls with garlic sauce that I’d noticed on previous visits. Given the soup came, as always, with both white and rye bread, it was way more food than I could have eaten, and I was already pitying the person who would be sitting next to me on a plane in a few hours!

The day of pastry: On my third day in Estonia I went to Parnu, on the coast, breakfasting first in Tallinn at Cafe Matilda on Lühike Jalg. Just look at what I ate and tell me you don’t want one right now!
This was a pohla besee korv. It’s a tart base, layered with raspberry jam, then filled with blueberry, gooey meringue, almonds and redcurrants, then with the hard meringue shell on top. It was sweet, hearty, filling and felt entirely appropriate to start the day! The kiraleesai, or cinnamon scroll, I held over for lunch. Afternoon tea was a moosi pall, near enough to a jam doughnut.By dinner I felt the distinct need to rectify my exclusively pastry-based diet, and hit upon grilled pork with baked mushroom, onion and pepper mix, at Karja Kelder, reputedly Tallinn’s oldest pub.Sour cream on the salad, of course, but lots of well treated meat with fresh and crisp vegies. And it cost about €3.50.

Far more than the food though, what I loved in Estonia was the pear cider. Has anyone come across it in Australia? Saku Kiss was the most common brand over there, but I doubt it would be exported much.

03 September, 2007

European Food Experience - Germany

I’ve spent a good bit of time in Germany, and except for a surreal trip to a Japanese restaurant in Ulm on my first trip, my food experience hasn’t been much more adventurous than ordering two currywurst at once, and about as varied. I arrived in Berlin ready for a week of kebabs and sausage, but instead was pleasantly and wonderfully surprised by the diversification of food available.

First highlight came at Ständige Vertretung, a riverside bar/restaurant in the city, where, finding ourselves very comfortable after a couple of Kölsch beers, we ordered a Flammkuchen. This is essentially a pizza, in that it’s a dough base with melted cheese and other toppings. These were no ordinary toppings however. We had the house special, which came with Apfelkompott und Blutwurst. Yes, I kid you not, black pudding and stewed apple (oh, and ‘gratinated’ cheese, as it said on the menu). It was delicious, so much so I want to add it to my cooking repertoire. The flavours worked perfectly together, as unlikely as that may seem.

Pizzas were actually a bit of a theme during the week. The next day for lunch we had stoneoven pizzas in Mitte, at a stand-up kiosk near Sergi’s work. They had really simple toppings - all with mozza, and then maybe mushrooms, or salami, or basil and tomato. They were pre-prepared, but cooked to order and a filling, thrice-sliced slab was €2. Absolutely perfect for an outdoor lunch on one of the most perfect days of weather I can remember. Afterwards the others had to go back to work and I whiled away the afternoon dozing and reading Hemingway on some grass in Potsdamer Platz!

My favourite pizza experience though came a few nights later at a il Casolare, a trattoria in Kreuzberg. I think this is now my favourite restaurant in the world (yes, I would even eat there in preference to il Carusi). The restaurant is kitted out very authentically and unaffectedly. The walls are covered with leftist propaganda posters and the scribblings of who knows how many guests (we added our own Vicky Leandross quote in German and Spanish ) I stole a copy of the menu, because it’s a wonderful document. You know how much fun Italian menus are to read, how appetising everything sounds? Well this one was in Italian and German, and it was just wonderful to read all the pizza descriptions side-by-side in the two languages (eg would you prefer ‘fagioli’ or ‘bohnen’?!), and even more fun were the ‘useful Italian expressions’ translated into German, eg ‘Sei molto carino’ = ‘Du bist sehr hubsch’ (you are very handsome). And then the pizzas.
I don’t know which was more striking - the size or quality. They are all huge, and I may not be Italian, but I live in Melbourne and know a good pizza and these were very very good pizzas. All served by rude, brash, Italian speaking waiters. Fantastisch!

Speaking of Italians, there’s a couple of quality Italian cafes these days in Kreuzberg. We had Saturday brunch in Principe di Napoli - ciabatta with prosciutto crudo and pecorino for €2.50, thank you very much. More interestingly, they served Prosecco vom Fass (on tap), from a huge barrel in the corner. You could have a glass with breakfast or take a litre bottle home. And, they had a pump action coffee machine - very impressive for Germany. Unfortunately though they still served German style latte macchiato - a tumbler of hot milk with an espresso poured in the top. I’ll stick with just the espresso.

We also ate Moroccan in Mitte. A mixed tasting plate was €20. I was excited that it included bastilla pie, although this wasn’t the best version I’ve tried. It was a bit heavy on the cinnamon (popular ingredient here), light on the sugar and almonds, and the chicken was a little dry. Diced carrot marinated with garlic, lemon and parsley made up for it though, along with a smoky eggplant dish. I also had the first-time experience of having my hands washed with rosewater before we ate - I had no idea what the waitress was asking me to do, so it was a bit embarassing, but lovely as well

European Food Experience - France

The France food experience started very well, with a late breakfast in Vernon. It was Saturday morning and we stumbled by chance on a big food market. Check out these artichokes - what’s in the soil over there? We went to the butcher, the baker and the cheesemaker, and using my bestest French collected a long baguette, some local soft cheese, and some €17 a kilo ham. In truly gorgeous European summer sunshine, we sat by the river and toasted the start of our four day trip through Picardie, Normandy and Flanders. We spent three nights in Amiens, a very pleasant city, and on our first morning found a wonderful cafe, which set a precendent for petit dejeuner that we didn’t match again. For €6.50 we leisurely made our way through cafe au lait (or a stand-your-spoon-up thick chocolate chaud), croissant, pain viennoise (baguette), jam, butter and an orange juice. With a breakfast like that we were ready to face the day of driving, hopelessly lost, through the idyllic French countryside. We always got to where we wanted to be eventually.

Our most significant evening meal in Amiens was taken at A la Capitainerie in St Leu (the website has some nice pictures of the area). They had a menu that had been ambitiously translated, and I felt I had to order their terrine de lapin, which they had intriguingly translated as ‘pot of rabbit in its jam of onions’.It was good terrine, and the onions were wonderfully caramelised. I had moules mariniere for main, which was both less intriguing and less well executed.

It’s not French, rather Austrian, but my drink recommendation from the France section of the trip is Edelweiß beer, a very refreshing, citrussy weizbier. We tried it in a pub in the Saint Leu area of Amiens, where they were also playing the very highest quality 80s film clips. Very, very good entertainment. If you’ve seen ‘Music and Lyrics’, the film clip Hugh Grant does in that had nothing on these.