Thursday, June 26, 2008
"They sat with their backs to the industrial estate and let themselves get hungry."
That's a line from a story by Roddy Doyle that ran in The New Yorker a while back. I like it because it reminds me of how often - when you're stuck somewhere boring on holiday - you spend so much of your time just waiting to be hungry again. Just so you have something to do, look forward to.
It's also true of vibrant, revved-up foreign places that you love - having that nervy next-meal anticipation charge you through your day. (Having said that, it can just as easily jumpstart a few unwanted "where do you want to eat?" arguments between tired-out travellers.)
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The Hare and The Tortoise sets a really bad example for people with appetites.
For ages and ages, I'd been meaning to table-hop to Sobo in Bondi. I was especially tempted by their Breakfast Tasting Plate for Two, which dished up blueberry pancakes with eggs, corn fritters and more - a bonus when menus are so segregated along the sweet-savoury divide, forcing you to loyally choose a side (unless you're cashed up to indulge in various picks from whatever flavour camp you like).
In my unthought-through mind, I kept putting it off because I always thought Sobo would be eternally packed (it is in popular beachfront Bondi and ranked in Good Living's Top 10 Breakfast Joints in Sydney list) and assumed we'd be too unstylish to ever get a non-designer-shoe in the door. (Stupidly, it never occurred to me to make a booking. I guess I dumbly assumed it would be one of those ubercool places that are too snobby to save seats for anyone.)
Anyway, by the time we shrugged off our hopelessness and got our act together, we did go to Sobo and enjoyed it a lot (and the Bondi-style pricetags didn't sting us, as we treated to the meal by a hugely kind friend).
As latecomers, the only remnant of the brekky menu left was the All Day Breakfast: Two Eggs Any Style, Bacon, Tomato, Sausage, Mushroom, Spinach, Avocado and Hash Brown ($19), which didn't have the sweet-savoury powersharing appeal of the Tasting Plate I'd thought about so much. So I went for Field Mushroom and Herb Risotto with Bulgarian Fetta and Parmesan Crisp ($21), while everyone else riffed on the various small tasting plate choices (ranging from bruschetta to pasta to honey mustard chicken skewers with tarragon aioli). Being a spud loyalist, I couldn't say no to the Chat Potatoes with Rosemary and Pink Murray Sea Salt ($8).
I also wished I had room for the dessert special - Raspberry and Milk Chocolate Mousse and Strawberry and Honeycomb ($12) - but carbs have a funny way of boarding up your stomach against more food.
As we left (a few of us a bit more blissed out on Peach Bellini than others!), we happily filed Sobo in some recess of our brains where we like to keep note of "Must Go Back Again" places. Which is sadly where this tale gets all moralistic in a wet-blanket fable-like way.
I read in today's Good Living that Sobo has decided to close for winter due to a big decline in dinner bookings. "Co-owner Steve Wales says they're taking time to decide whether Sobo will reopen," the news item says. Wales adds, "Consumer spending is tight and rents aren't easy on this strip... but there's [a chance] we'll open again".
I guess the point is that life is short and so is the existence of restaurants. So maybe it's not such a great idea to take a tortoise-like approach to dining out because by the time you get to the places you'd been meaning to, they might nearly be gone. (Although I'm sure I'm twisting Aesop's intent slightly here, 'cos the tortoise wasn't so much a champion procrastinator or one for the delay-button - which I definitely was in this case - it just happened to be naturally slow.)
And if we're going to continue mangling classic fables here, let's hope Sobo comes out of this winter with ant-like promise, having prepared smartly for the bleak climate they knew they'd have to endure.
Sobo, 70a-b Campbell Pde, Bondi Beach (02) 9300 8898, www.sobo.com.au
Monday, June 23, 2008
Here's a slight distraction - like someone knocking at your door when you're about to sit down for dinner.
I've just started another blog (or two!). One is semi (or fractionally) food related. You can get all mouseclicky with it over here. It's called Recommended Daily Intake and is all about asking people what their five favourite things are right now. Maybe you can take part!
The other one is a local music blog, semi-linked to my radio show, Local Fidelity on FBI 94.5FM. It doesn't have much to do with food - although maybe I should start quizzing bands about their riders (actually, that isn't a bad idea...)
Should be posting on this ole blog over the next day or so though...
Okay, resume dinner!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Sadly, I'm not one of those bright, perky people who gets all hopped up about leaving the house at 6AM to "make the most of the morning". I'm a sleepaholic, so am always pushing my luck being bedsnug for as long as possible. The only thing that can break me out of this pillowy trance is the lure of a bakery.
Le Pain Quotidien in Surry Hills is handy in this regard, because it's equidistant between Will's workplace and mine and also has a good display of early-morning pastries worth eyeing. Even though the Hazelnut Flute ($2.50) is a dental struggle and there's a moment where your teeth might get ripped off trying to bite off this crusty treat, it is a wonderfully chewy reward. Studded through with hazelnuts, the flute has a surprisingly sweet note to it - so it feels like a win-win buy, where you pay for something that seems pat-on-back healthy for you yet it has all the tastebud fun of something more sugary (without any of the stickiness or guilt).
Once, our visit coincided with the cameo appearance of Coconut Macaroons ($3) on the sample plate and boy did we clear half that batch at a shamefully speedy rate. The lovely toasted-coconut texture meant our in-grained politeness was so roundly demolished by our uncontainable greed. Sample plates are a great example of how quickly manners can deteriorate.
Speaking of publically-disagreeable things we've done in the name of Le Petit Quotidien, I also once choreographed a dance to go with my purchase of their Pain Au Chocolat ($3). The routine wouldn't last a round of any of those TV dance shows, but is an easy number where you embarassingly move your arms up and down like a skier, to the unending chant "Pain-Au-Chocolat! Pain-Au-Chocolat!". Only good sweets can make you lose your dignity at such an early hour in the day.
We were more well-behaved when we went in for a proper breakfast. Besides the earlybird pastries you'd expect (and the fact you can raid their bread basket if you feel like a grainy start to the day), the choices are simple and to the point, rather than a neverending, choice-stunning list. Will had the Ham and Gruyere Organic Omelette ($13.50) and I decided on the Parmesan and Pesto Organic Omelette ($13.50). Both are served on two crusty slices of organic bread which is a wonderful, stomach-filling bonus - omelettes on their own are a bit lightweight because you're already hungry again only hours after dusting them off (and they're not exactly the cheapest menu option either). So, I'm a big fan of this development - it makes heaps of sense too, given you get eggs on toast usually, so why aren't omelettes often dished up with some sourdough loaf?
Importantly, the omelettes hold their own - mine is laced with a salty, basil-heavy hit of pesto and Will also approves of his combo (and his latte too). Not that we're moony-eyed about everything at this Belgian organic bakery chain - Will once bought the Organic Granola Parfait to dig into at work and was sorely disappointed. Not only was it untasty, the small serving size was dwarfed by its large pricetag ($10).
The other day, Grace and I tried out their lunch menu. It's a good roomy place to go for that time of day, plus the service is pretty speedy and efficient so you can be back at work before your hour is up. Grace had their Quiche Lorraine which came served with this architectural salad involving levitating cucumber. (Seriously, check out the pic at the top of this post, the slices do look like they've outsmarted gravity). She also had a satisfying Soy Flat White ($3.80), which was "creamy and nutty, as soy should be".
I had the Bean Hummus with Avocado and Tahini Tartine ($10.95), an open-faced sandwich sporting a freestanding bouquet of radishes, capsicum, tomato and more. It was a saintly, clean-tasting meal. The bean hummus was more like a subtle pate, a well-behaved counterpart to the common attention-seeking, garlicky, tahini-tart, chickpea variety. I'd prefer savoury unruliness to such restraint, but it still wasn't bad. It just tasted healthy in that good-on-you kind of way. I guess I had to save my kicks for dessert.
I wasn't brave enough yet to try their Pistachio Tart or Chocolate Mousse Dome ($6.50), so I went for the safe option: Bande Aux Fruits (Apple Tart) ($3.50), which tastes exactly like you'd expect apple slices baked on flaky pastry would.
I already have some dishes already pegged for my next visit to Le Pain Quotidien: the Ricotta and Dried Fig with Honey Tartine ($10.95) and Japanese Salad ($9.95). Oh and thankfully, LPQ is also open for certain nights for dinner, so I don't have to kick off the doona covers at some ungodly hour just to grab any of their treats. They might need to keep an eye on their sample plate (and Coconut Macaroon supply) though.
Le Pain Quotidien, Corner Fitzroy and Bourke Streets, Surry Hills (02) 9360 8460, www.lepainquotidien.com
There's also a smaller branch at 54 Norton Street, Leichhardt (02) 9564 0099
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
No self-respecting teen film can exist without those two special words: "FOOD FIGHT!" It seems like school cafeterias are purpose-built just for those moments of pie-flying, table-turning chaos. (Lunch orders are a lower priority.)
These following designs, I think, would put the class back into class room squabble. Or, in any case, be handy for standby military mode on any old table.
Actually, to be (faintly) serious, these items weren't designed for raining food across film cafeteria sets - they actually originated as centrepieces for an awards dinner at the Design Museum in London. It's a good pairing though: the threat of silly-cream annihilation should be present at every ceremony - it sure would make those smug televised awards broadcasts way more interesting.
The table pieces were curated by OKAY studio and their design friends, under the name, "It's OKAY to play with your food". (I came across it at work while doing some fact-checking the other day.)
The "Cream Shooter" by Raw Edges can be puffed up with thick dairy froth, so the bellows squirt and catapult streams of cream across a table. I like its medieval-meets-Double-Dare feel and think The Lord of the Rings trilogy could have benefited from some Orcs getting cream-blasted like an underdressed scone at high tea.
I also like the design firm's edible take on William Tell, with the bows made out of Italian bread sticks, ready to spear through a well-placed apple.
Oscar Narud opts for the old-fashioned defence strategies, with their Spoon Catapult. The multi-spoon structure means many 'rounds' of food can be launched in one flick of the wrist. Carpet-bombing looks pretty tame in comparison.
Okay Studio, www.okaystudio.org
Oscar Narud, www.oscarnarud.com
Raw Edges, www.raw-edges.com
Monday, June 2, 2008
It was knives out on Saturday morning when I had friends over for Kick Out The Jams 2008. The name sounds like an outdoor festival dedicated to anthemic guitar-shredding, but really it was an excuse to grill some bread and slather on the fruity spreads and weird condiments that I bought overseas. (How punk, I know.) It was a chance to toast toast with some good company.
So, there was no screechy feedback or knee-wobbling guitar solos or (not-so-)fresh-out-of-retirement headline acts. The closest thing we had to a bill was this line-up:
-Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter from The Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich Shop in New York
-Mango & Passionfruit Jam (the science-lab-like canister it comes in looks cool, but I'm not so sure about the berg of wax that floats in the jar), from La Grand Epicerie in Paris
-Peach Maple Jam from Premiere Moisson in Montreal
-Raspberry and Garlic Jelly from Union Square Greenmarket in New York
-Pear Jam from, um.... the Franklins supermarket in Newtown (just for some local representation, you know?)
-and many other screwtop breakfast surprises
Just so we wouldn't end up sugar-glutted with thick fruit gloop, I also prepared some bruschetta-esque toppings to steady the sweet-savoury balance - a bowl of zucchini relish here, a ramekin of shiitake mushrooms in garlic and lemon there, and so on.
This is an extremely fun and unfussy way to have breakfast - just clutter a table with immensely spreadable delights, savoury toppings, bite-sized toast and let everyone launch in as necessary. If you ever try it out home, you may not need the huge bread stockpile that I thought was necessary to go with all these condiments (by the time we finished eating, there were still enough loaves to see a polygamous family through a nuclear winter). I bought bagels, fruit scones and potato and herb sourdough from the Crispy Inn in Newtown, while Tabitha rustled up some great Sonoma nut-and-seed-studded bread from the Alfalfa House Co-Op in Enmore.
The judging panel was a little 12 Angry Men-esque on which condiments were most breakfast-worthy. I was smitten with the Passionfruit and Lemon Curd from the Rocks markets - and Nathan was such a fan that his toast looked like it had a skyscraping monument of curd on top - but we were its only cheerleaders.
Will was swooning over the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter (teamed nicely with banana slices) but it was a strictly monogamous affair, and not much group love for it. Similarly, Chris and I were swept in by the Raspberry and Garlic Jelly - an ingredient pairing that sounds eye-rollingly weird, but is so freakishly perfect on a crispy slice of roast potato and bread. It hits like an underhand pop lyric - all gooey sweetness to begin with, only for the tart finish to realign your tastebuds.
The only consensus our hung-jury could reach was that the Better Than Cream Cheese Tabitha bought was clonishly indistinct from the real, vegan-unfriendly original and that the Honey with Nuts from the Perigord was too strange for anyone to feel an allegiance to.
We finished off with Lego Fruit Ice which really has no sound link with jam at all, but really was a childish excuse for me to show off the ice tray I bought from Berlin's Legoland. Although, if I really wanted to stretch the menu segue, you could say that love for Lego is as universal as love for toast. (And you can build weird, slightly unwieldy things with both.) But really, it was just fun to plonk these colourful bricks in a teacup and get a cold summery kiss from each ice-sip.
Alfalfa House, 113 Enmore Road Enmore NSW (02) 9519 3374, www.alfalfahouse.org
Crispy Inn, 203 King Street, Newtown NSW (02) 9557 3910
La Grande Epicerie, 38, rue de Sevres, Paris France www.lagrandeepicerie.fr
Legoland Discovery Centre, Potsdamer Str. 4, Berlin Germany www.legolanddiscoverycentre.com
Premiere Moisson at Jean Talon Markets, 7075, rue Casgrain, Montreal Canada www.premieremoisson.com
The Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich Shop, 240 Sullivan Street, Greenwich Village, New York USA
The Rocks Market, Northern end of George Street, The Rocks, Sydney