Monthly Archives: August 2010

Melbourne – Izakaya Den

Saucy Onion is in Melbourne for the Writers Festival. I’m hosting the In Conversation session with Matthew Evans about his brilliant new cookbook The Real Food Companion and taking part in a panel discussion (As Good As A Feast) on the proliferation of cooking books and cooking shows – not to mention food blogs – and whether this has brought us closer to our food or not.
I’m grabbing a quick lunch at the Izakaya Den near the corner of Russell and Collins St.
And it certainly is a den – a low-key entrance that’s easy to miss, concrete stairs that lead to a door, through a mysterious curtain and into this industrial basement space.

Izakaya Den is run by the same posse that owns one of my other favourite Melbourne haunts Verge

It’s loosely based on the traditional Japanese Izakaya eating house which serves sake with little nibbles.

The menu is cleverly projected onto the wall.
I choose the lunch set menu and start with some housemade tofu. Silky and clean nutty flavours.
Can’t resist an accompanying glass of Moorooduc Blanc (chardonnay/pinot gris) from Mornington Peninsula
Next come the pickled vegetables and green leaf salad

Exquisitely prepared

Bandana-wearing chefs prepare dishes with quiet efficiency. No ego here. 

The main course is a fresh meaty chunk of Blue-eye fillet baked with shitake mushrooms, and some rice and ginger miso soup.
With so many restaurants trying to out foam, air, soil and vaporise eash other it is such a breath of fresh air to eat real food.
The Izakya Den is a small understated refuge for those who want clean, fresh flavours served in a calming environment.
grab a number……

Edible Balcony – Potato Plantings

Well, as I digest the Australian election results, I sense not only a change of season from autumn to spring but a change in political consciousness. From my edible balcony the future is looking exciting. After a dismal policy-free election campaign, the last few days have seen a reinvigorated national debate about climate change and ethical governance.
My philosophy is simple: If you want to change the world, change what you put on your plate.
My humble edibles, such as this dwarf meyer lemon tree, won’t feed the world or even my family but they have reconnected me with the natural order that cities have subverted and given me a sense of sovereignty over my food supply.
We are not separate from nature. We ARE nature. Watching my garlic grow over these six months reminds me that time can’t be rushed or controlled. Every living thing has a season.
And now it is potato season.
My four seeded potato varieites arrived in the mail yesterday from Diggers. Potatoes with seeds or eyes maximises the amount of potatoes in your crop.
I’ve selected desiree, banana, royal blue and symphonia.
I’m using recycled plastic potato planter bags.
They have several holes around the base for good drainage and their height allows for a larger crop (hopefully)
First in is some straw – in this case I’m using organic sugarcane mulch.

Then a layer of some wonderfully rich, aged cow manure from the Gundooee Organics Wagyu beef farm near Mudgee that my mate Rob Lennon dropped around on the weekend.

The seeded potatoes are lowered in and then topped with some blood and bone and about ten cenitmetres of potting mix. As their green shoots appear I’ll keep topping up the bag with more straw and manure and… viola! in three months’ time it will be time to dig up my crop!

Recipe: The Easiest Rabbit Stew

I have the sniffles this week. Nothing serious but if I leave it unchecked it could develop into a Dreaded ‘Flu that seems to be inflicting everyone at the moment.
In the absence of my mum’s restorative chicken soup, I went in search of something equally comforting…………. R A B B I T.
I know it’s not everyone’s idea of comfort food but that’s just because many people have a phobia about this delicious meat – my favourite white meat actually.
The key to enjoying the subtle succulent juiciness of rabbit is slow cooking. Either poach your rabbit pieces in a broth and then remove the bones to use in a pie or do what I did and go to your nearest farmers market buy a farmed rabbit, smoked pancetta, some fresh herbs, bay leaves, carrots, onions and potatoes and let your oven do the rest. This stew was so delicious – lovely fall-apart meat with a deep flavoursome sauce and sweet vegetables.

Recipe: Rabbit Stew
(adapted from a  recipe by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall)
Ingredients:
1 farmed rabbit,1.2 kg (or wild if you can get hold of one) jointed
2 tablespoons plain flour, for dusting
250g smoked pancetta, cut into lardons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 large carrots, diced
4 celery sticks, diced
4 potatoes, halved
2 fresh bay leaves
 2 sprigs of thyme ( more if you like its woodiness)
500 ml chicken stock ( homemade if you have a stash)
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
salt and freshly ground black pepper
boiling water

Method:
Set the oven to 120 degrees celsius.
Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a casserole pot and gently fry the pancetta until it crisps and releases a little of its porky fatty juices. Transfer the pancetta to a warm plate.
Now lightly dust the rabbit pieces in flour and brown them being careful not to crowd the pot. Place the rabbit pieces with the pancetta.If you have any burnt bits of flour in your pot wipe clean with some paper towel.
Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil  in the pot and sweat your onions, carrots, celery, thyme and bay leaves until they are translucent without any colour, about ten minutes.
Now add your red wine vinegar and honey and reduce by half.
Throw in your chicken stock, return your rabbit pieces and pancetta and check for seasoning. Throw in your potatoes, add enough water to just cover the rabbit and bring to the boil.
Take off the heat and cook gently in the oven for 1 and 1/2 hours or until rabbit is very soft. (I removed all the saddle and breast pieces and left the legs in for another 40 minutes until they were very tender. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of your critter)
Serve the stew hot with some rice, polenta or just on its own.
I can’t believe its not chicken
This dish will convert any rabbit phobe

Launceston – Strathlynn Restaurant at Ninth Island winery

We awoke Sunday morning to heavy heads and heavy skies.
Perfect weather for a long drive in our hire car through the Tamar Valley, a little wine tasting and a late Sunday lunch.

We’re both big fans of Jansz sparkling. The Jansz winery is nestled in the hills just beyond the Tamar Valley near the north-east coast of Tasmania. The climate and grey clay soil are remarkably similar to the Champagne region of France which was why Louis Roderer together with the Hill-Smith family established vineyards here in 1998. We tried the vintage Cuvee 2005 (yum) and the Premium rose (refreshing)

 It certainly was duck geese weather

And negotiating them was a little tricky. They weren’t moving for anyone.

Luckily there was a table available for lunch at Strathlynn Restaurant (formerly Daniel Alps at Strathlynn). It’s perched high up on the Tamar riverbank on Rosevears Drive just 20km north of Launceston. It’s part of the Ninth Island winery complex but should be a destination in its own right. Although Daniel Alps recently departed, the head chef and most of the staff have remained.

Of course we had to have some Ninth Island bubbly as we soaked in the moody clouds and greys of the sky and water.

Peppery new season olive oil with house made crusty bread rolls

Mark had the roast chicken breast on the bone with seasonal baked vegetables in a mustard cream sauce

I didn’t hear a peep out of him it was that good.

Organic leaf salad with radish, fried shallots and parmesan

The cold weather had built up my appetite so I was confident I could tackle the Roast Venison with lentils, baked beetroot, spinach, broccoli and fetta.

The venison cut like butter and worked beautifully with the lentils and the rich red wine jus. Magnificient earthy flavours.Could have done without the fetta though.
Strathlynn is compulsory for anyone who wants to experience the best of Tassie produce prepared with passion and restraint. And that view is a killer.
I offered to be designated driver so Mark could enjoy a few glasses of red before our short drive back to Launceston.
It’s been a perfect three-day getaway. We’ll be back – when it gets a little warmer!

Launceston – The Reunion

Not hard to spot me in the class photo is it? Tasmania in 1980 wasn’t very multicultural.
When some of us met up for lunch at Mud Bar on Saturday time had certainly passed. But not to us.
Old reminiscents, shared memories, anecdotes about detentions and odd teachers made 1980 feel as recent as yesterday.
After lunch I revisited my old home in Beulah Gardens, East Launceston….

and the old school grounds which is now the junior school…
The reunion dinner that night was held in the assembly hall
small things amuse small minds….
the girls had arrived ready to party..
I had the honour of giving the toast from the stage before dinner… although Libby had a better technique.

As the alcohol flowed…
we became nostalgic….

the words to the school war cry were debated…
and then – as is the tradition with all reunions – we got really silly…

What an amazing group of women. Smart, gorgeous and sassy. I already miss them.

Launceston – brekkie at Silt

I know it’s winter in Tasmania but how cold is this? -1 degree celsius actually. Sydney has ruined me. How did I live and function in this bracing climate?

Luckily we don’t have to brave the elements for too long. Breakfast is being served next door at silt at seaport restaurant.

The huge glass windows, concrete floors and high ceilings would be more appropriate for a tropical climate.

It’s still an interesting space – especially the light fixtures which have been fashioned from upturned canoes.
anyone missing some shoes?
Breakfast arrives pronto.

no surprise Mark orders his favourite – the full cooked brekkie. Deep rich flavoured yolks and crispy bacon are the highlights.

I order the thick toast with conserves which would have been slightly more special served in jars.

All fuelled up it’s time to explore the old haunts….

Launceston, Tasmania – The Northern Club

We’re in Launceston this weekend for my 25th Anniversary High School Reunion.
I know. Do any other three words in the English language evoke as much dread and angst as HIGH SCHOOL REUNION?

I’ve bribed Mark to come along with me promising him great Tamar Valley wines and fresh organic Tassy ingredients.

We’ve booked in for three nights at Peppers Seaport resort on Launceston’s North Esk River. Our one-bedroom apartment is modern, spacious and very comfortable. Highly recommend it. Peppers is part of a new marina development consisting of riverside penthouses, bars and restaurants.
But, as I soon discover, it’s about the only thing that has significantly changed in Launceston since my childhood.
We’ve flown in on an icy Friday night at 9pm but there are no restaurant kitchens still open! The concierge does a ring around and finds a restaurant willing to take us in.
Launceston’s city centre is desolate. The only sign of life outside The Northern Club on Cameron St are three inebriated lads.
We are led into the Northern Club’s dining room.
It’s like stumbling into an Edith Wharton novel. We are greeted by a large crackling open fire, high ceilings with intricate plaster mouldings, potted palms and a deep red painted feature wall. There is a raucous table of local winemakers finishing off their dessert wines. We are seated next to a table of three 40-something women gossiping about their blokes. Tassie men don’t get a good wrap.
Because it’s late we order something light – some warmed cobb bread with a tsadziki sauce, St Helen’s oysters – natural and kilpatrick – and some smokey salt and pepper squid….
… all washed down with a Tamar Ridge chardonnay.
The house-made bread was delicious and well-textured.
The St Helens oysters were magnificent – fresh and full of briny seawater.
 The kilpatrick oysters were served with a tangy worcestershire sauce and smokey lardons of local bacon.
    The salt and pepper squid was melt-in-the-mouth tender with a lovely light spicy crust and a sauvignon blanc dressing.
We didn’t sample a broad range of dishes but if the quality of fresh produce, the deft touch shown by the kitchen and the warm engaging floor staff is any indication, The Northern Club should be a compulsory stop for you the next time you’re Launceston way.