Monday, August 30, 2010
If you're bored with toast, then head to Bruschetteria 102 in Surry Hills – it will flare up your enthusiasm for grilled bread.
As the name suggests, this Italian cafe offers many oil-drizzled variations on bruschetta, with charming and likeable results.
If you're in a breakfast mood, you can get a serve of the Will-approved Uova e Pancetta ($8), with bacon slices fanned out on a cloud of scrambled eggs. (If that dish is a dietary roadblock for you, don't worry – there's a vegetarian breakfast equivalent, too.)
Speaking of vego options, there's also the Vegetariana ($9.50), which is topped with grilled cubes of zucchini, capsicum, eggplant and tastes a tad like ratatouille on toast.
Will and I also shared a Pomodori ($6.50), an entry-level version of bruschetta: tomato cubes flecked with dried oregano flakes. Like most simple things – with their deceptive 'is that all there is to it?' sheen – this is lovely. Sometimes there's nothing better than the flavour-folds of good Italian olive oil, well-toasted bread, fresh jumbles of tomato and plucky herbs. This dish also comes with a surprising condiment-addition of tzatziki, which gives the bruschetta extra punch.
The yogurt-garlic pow is definitely a menu drawcard, as Will was almost enticed into ordering the Salsicca option, which combines Italian pork sausage with radicchio salad and tzatziki ($15). It now sits on the 'Things To Order Next Time' priority list.
Something Will did give in to, though, was the Nutella Coffee ($4), which is not frighteningly sweet at all, but has a nicely modulated flavour – like a semi-bitter hot chocolate. I'm not sure if the popularity of this drink has anything to do with the massive Nutella jar that sits on the counter of Bruschetteria 102, but its attention-seeking presence – whether as a prop or genuine XL-sized supply of hazelnut spread – adds to the quirky decor of the cafe.
There are also quite a few retro knick-knacks on display, their once-perfect forms sanded away by time. There are old suitcases, accessories and signs; a vintage sewing machine under a not-so-vintage iPod dock, which plays old-school jazz as we enjoy our brunch.
Other nice touches: the endearingly mismatched crockery pieces, which feel like granny hand-me-downs or well-hunted op-shop finds; the tables coated in blackboard paint, so you scribble away with colourful sticks of chalk; and it's nice how your cutlery comes out in a paper bag, like you're on an airplane.
I even have a soft spot for the knives, which are shaped like giant, jagged thumbs and are perfect for cutting up and sliding around your bread slices (meaning you don't have to endlessly saw away with a butter knife, with the shame of your toppings falling off from your concentrated bread-cutting effort – as can be the usual case with divvying up bruschetta). It makes it really easy to share food around (your orders are already half-sliced, to give you a headstart), and it would be fun to go to the cafe with a big group of flavour-adventurous people and order lots of different dishes and apportion everyone a lottery of many mini bruschetta choices.
Bruschetteria 102 doesn't limit itself to well-toasted options though; it also serves a rotation of soups and other Italian dishes. Most importantly, there are desserts, such as the Panna Cotta with Berries ($6.50), which we are sold on when the waiter proclaims it is – pause, sincere eyeroll just thinking about it – "awesome".
It comes in a vivid coating of berries, dusted with crunchy crumbles of biscotti, and very much lives up to his succinct endorsement of it.
Maybe we could say the same of Bruschetteria 102, with its charming menu, cute decor and guaranteed flashbacks of high school Italian lessons, as you hear the staff banter with each other as they bring out the orders.
Bruschetteria 102, 102 Albion Street, Surry Hills (this is the site of the old Cafe Ish), NSW (02) 92813 653, bruschetteria102.com. You can also follow Bruschetteria 102 on Twitter or on Facebook.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
During yesterday's hoodie-plus-coat weather (with its bonus blasts of hair-tangling winds), I sat at the bar of the new Eathouse Diner eating a Chilli Sans Carne. The spiced stew of beans provided some smoky warmth (and also led to a few wimpy 'this is hot!' pauses). I mashed in the half-avocado that you get to cut yourself, dunked in dollops of sour cream and pitched in corn chip after corn chip, until the point where only a spoon can finish off what is left. For company, I had a mug of sarsaparilla – one of those bar-shy drinks that's a bit to find, but something I immensely enjoy when I discover it on a beverages menu. I left, wishing I had room for the Banana Split, despite the outside chill.
Today was all T-shirt weather – a bizarre about-turn in temperature, but perfect for lunch at Eathouse Diner. I sat by the window, with its rewarding breezeways and sunlight, with a glass mug of icy ginger beer, a flavour-jammed sandwich and great book. It was one of those moments where everything conspired to be awesome.
My return to the diner partly had to do with the Borscht with Hot Potato and Sour Cream ($13) that I saw on the menu last night – it'd sounded so tempting then, but now – when you were turning the nearest sheet of paper into a makeshift fan, feeling pretty dumb-ass about bringing along a back-up jumper and worried about incidents of untoward sweating (a paranoid feeling that'd been dormant since February) – the desire to order beetroot soup seemed kind of misplaced.
I did get my red-veg fix, though, with the lovely Labne, Shredded Beetroot and Roasted Hazelnuts ($10) on Sonoma rye sourdough. I like how labne has gone from an obscure reference on The Simpsons ("now that's good labne!" says Bart, to impress a girl with worldly food tastes; gourmet props to Conan O'Brien, who penned that ep way back in 2004) to a cafe regular, a stand-in for sour dollops of yogurt or salt-screechy smears of goat's cheese. The labne is made by Eathouse Diner, and its mild tang folds in well with the hazelnut crunch, sun-dried tomato jolt and fresh beetroot. This is a nice sambo, but if you're prone to turning your sandwich into a landslide of fillings (as I am), this might not be entirely compatible with wearing a white shirt.
The breezy feel of the diner was so nice, I stuck around for another drink – the Blood Orange Juice that the bar folk hand-squeeze themselves.
So, somehow I've rambled this far without pointing out that Eathouse Diner is run by three friends, Age Durrant (who has worked as a chef at Sean's Panorama and Longrain), Selena Murray (previously a manager at Fratelli Fresh) and Lenna Boord (whose background is styling), and it's located on a low-key corner opposite Redfern Park. My limited camera skills don't really show this, but the space is full of retro character, filled with colourful knick-knacks, bizarre masks and old-school pendant lights and bar stools. It's the kind of '50s-style hang-out that movies dream of conjuring up.
On the weekends, the eatery will also be open for a South-American-inspired brunch. But if you're hanging out to try the banana split (as I am - can I blame Betty & Veronica-inspired nostalgia?), you'll have to head there during the evening. And given Sydney's crazy at-whim switches from cold to sweaty, I hope it's a weatherproof dessert.*
Eathouse Diner, 306 Chalmers Street, Redfern, www.eathousediner.com.au. There's also a Facebook page. Note, Eathouse has recently stopped its lunch service (sadly).
*I recently got to try the banana split, which placated my Archie--reading nerd past, but now I'm smitten with the excellent Mexican rice pudding – even if it comes without a festive mini-umbrella and comic-book cache.
I'm a bit of a no-hoper when it comes to TV shows. In fact, I could be classifed as a small-screen deadbeat, unable to commit proper time to many of the shows that often leave people a-buzz and couch-glued until the final credits roll. This means I frequently miss good things and I really regret not catching the much-talked-about first season of Heston's Feasts. Luckily though, I've had a chance to play catch-up, thanks to a preview of the latest series, which starts on SBS this evening from 8.30PM.
Each episode is an invitation into the culinary wonderland of Heston Blumenthal, who is famous for his mad-scientist/magician-like reign at his world-famous restaurant, The Fat Duck.
The first episode is inspired by his "childhood hero", Willy Wonka, with Heston taking a page from Charlie & The Chocolate Factory to create actual Lickable Wallpaper, applied with apple-sauce-flavoured glue and stencilled with edible patterns of prawn cocktail and cocktail sausage. He follows it with a magic mushroom extravaganza, by handpainting enoki caps and using rarities bought at an Italian black market auction performed by the "fungus underworld". Then there's his transformation of Duck a l'Orange into actual confectionery, with the sauce served as boiled sweets melting through a gumball machine.
Unlike those suspiciously perfect 'here's one we prepared earlier' food programs, you see things go wrong here – like when Heston tries to "smoke bomb" a duck at a firestation, using military techniques. He's also unafraid of the gross-out factor, particularly with serving dishes like the fairytale-inspired Magic Beans which cleverly camouflage their actual origins (punchline: they're actually made of chicken testicles).
Heston's Feasts isn't perfect – the gushy celebrity diners don't really add anything much besides predictable squeals and repetitive praise – and the commentary and format can feel very workman-like at times. But if you enjoy the idea of someone experimenting with how to create a confectionery-sweet house from Hansel & Gretel (chocolate scaffolding and boiled-sweet stained-glass windows, anyone?), purely so guests can break it apart and eat the shortbread tiles, then keep your TV on SBS on Thursday nights at 8.30pm.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
You can safely say we've never had an overdose of coverage on Swedish cuisine. Although, Kanye West, whose hyper-impulsive thoughtstream seems to never go un-Tweeted, has kinda chimed in on this topic. Last month, he wrote:
@kanyewest THAT MEANS TOAST IN SWEDISH!!!!
This outburst (not sure if there is any other Kanye style of tweeting) ended up re-broadcast by more than 100 followers.
I can't confirm if skal (or Kanye's full-volumed enthusiasm for it) makes an appearance in the Kikki K undated 'My Planner' that's just come out, but the journal does feature lots of Swedish food and illustrations – a theme that reflects the background of company founder Kristina Karlsson, who was born in Falkenberg, south-west of Stockholm. The creative spark behind this foodie planner, though, is designer Shelley Cox – here, she brings us up to speed on everything from when to drink glogg or deploy the handy phrase, "Jag äter inte goodis".
Did you know much about Swedish food before you started designing this?
Yes, I love Swedish cuisine! For the Swedish treats planner, I did a lot of research and quizzed all the Swedish staff at Kikki K about traditional recipes and their favourite dishes to ensure it was authentic. I also researched Swedish kitchens and tried to make all the utensils and bits and pieces Swedish-themed, as well. We have a book I love called Stockholm's Apartments, where I got the inspiration for all the utensils. Staff also made suggestions about certain ones, too - like a cheese slicer which features in every Scandinavian kitchen!
With the planner featuring Swedish recipes – did your inspiration come from actual taste-tests or flicking through Swedish cookbooks?
I got a lot of inspiration from the Swedish cookbooks and magazines. Whilst I was designing the book, a group of us celebrated the Swedish holiday Lucia, where we made recipes from the planner – cooking Swedish dishes and drinking glogg (although in December, it's a bit hot to drink!). My favourite dish was Jansson’s Temptation, a creamy potato dish with anchovies, yum!
Which were your favourite food items to draw? And the hardest?
I really enjoyed drawing the floral sausages, which came from a traditional Swedish children’s song. I also enjoyed researching the different types of teacups found in Swedish kitchens. The hardest items to draw were the sandwich cakes (smörgåstårta)!
Does food usually inspire your design?
I don’t have any particular ‘food rituals’ while designing, but I enjoy having miso soup or mixed nuts as a snack at my desk.
Do you know where the recipes came from?
Many of the recipes are personal family recipes of [Kikki K founder] Kristina’s. The meatballs (mammas svenska köttbullar) are Kristina’s mother's recipe. The Swedish expressions in the planner are to do with Swedish traditions (fika = coffee break), expressions found on packaging (jag äter inte goodis = I don’t eat candy) or Swedish names of food.
Which of the Swedish recipes are you looking forward to trying next?
I would love to make my own Swedish sandwich cake, full of prawns, mayo, egg and salad.
Here is a recipe for Jansson’s Temptation (Jansson’s Frestelse) from the planner*:
125g anchovy fillets
500g potatoes, julienned
1 small onion, finely chopped
250ml thick cream
2 tbsp butter
·Preheat oven to 200°C
·Sauté the onion in half the butter
·Chop anchovy fillets finely, and keep the juices
·Butter a shallow baking dish with remaining butter
·Layer 1/3 potatoes in the dish, and top with ½ the onions and ½ of the anchovies. Repeat layer, and cover with the remaining 1/3 of potatoes.
·Mix cream and anchovy juices and pour on the dish.
·Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 20-30 minutes until potatoes are tender and golden brown.
Note: I asked Shelley if there was a vegetarian option for this – she didn't think so, as fish is a big part of the Swedish diet. She added that it could be "just as tasty without the anchovies".
For details on the Undated 'My Planner', contact Kikki K.