Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nosh @ Newport: wine degustation dinner

A tiny kitchen is no limit to the imagination of great chefs. This was proved at the inaugural Nosh @ Newport wine dinner where chef David Azzopardi sent out seven tasting plates matched to wines from Red Hill Estate on the Mornington Peninsula.

Nosh is primarily a daytime cafe, serving excellent coffee and food to cafe-starved locals, who have flocked there since it opened in 2007. It's particularly popular with local mums and bubs because of its relaxed ambiance and healthy children's menu that offers no fried food.

Nosh now opens on Friday nights, where Azzopardi, who has cooked upstairs at the Stokehouse and at Ezard's, is given more of a chance to strut his dining stuff. The inaugural wine dinner was also a chance for him to display his talent. Forty people gathered at Nosh to eat Azzopardi's food and hear Red Hill Estate winemaker Michael Kyberd discuss the wines.

Dinner started with a glass of blanc de blancs, a dry aperitif wine, matched with a chestnut soup drizzled with truffle oil. Despite the soup's rich flavouring, it was quite a light broth and this married well with the dry wine, as there was no strong contrast between the two to produce disharmony on the palate.

Next were half-shelled scallops on baba ghanoush with parsley, pine nut and preserved lemon salad, matched with a pinot grigio. The wine was sweet at first sip but then dry, with no aftertaste. It was balanced perfectly by the smoky ghanoush and juicy scallops.

A glass of buttery, full-bodied chardonnay was paired with ocean trout on sauteed kipflers, cherry tomatoes, broad beans and lemon butter sauce. This was a strong dish but the flavours of both food and wine were of equal intensity. The lemon butter sauce highlighted citrus notes in the chardonnay.

Then it was time to move onto reds. In a classic pairing, confit duck leg with marinated beetroot and watercress was matched with pinot noir. The pinot's ripe cherry taste subtly counterbalanced the saltiness of the duck. If the trout and chardonnay were examples of flavours that bridge each other, this match was an example of flavours that complement each other.

A pink grapefruit granita was served as a palate cleanser before the next dish, which was voted by the audience as the dish of the night. Beef braised in black vinegar with coconut rice, broccolini, hot and sour salad and crispy garlic was an amazing dish in its own right but even more so when paired with a full-bodied shiraz. The tender melt fell apart at the touch of a fork and the coconut rice was sublime. The shiraz stood up well to these strong flavours and its slight sweetness was balanced by the savoury dish.

A very runny, salty soft brie, from Locheilan Kaarimba, was matched with botrytis semillon. On paper, it might sound like a strange combination, but the saltiness of the cheese was well balanced by the sweet, sultana-like wine.

The final pairing of the night was liqueur muscat, made with grapes from Rutherglen, matched with a rich chocolate fondant with orange semifreddo and honeycomb. Winemaker Michael Kyberd explained that, when matching desserts, the wine needs to be sweeter than the dessert or the wine's flavours will disappear. This dish was a good example of that.

Judging by the happy patrons spilling out onto the street, Nosh @ Newport's inaugural wine dinner was a success and many are eagerly looking forward to the next one.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My idea of heaven

The children are in bed, the house is quiet, I have a warm drink and I've been to the newsagent and library and stocked up on recent food magazines to peruse while the wind gusts outside.

Is there a better way to spend a winter evening than drooling over food magazines and making a list of recipes to try?

I don't think so.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Banana cake

There are very few food items that I dislike or don't eat but bananas are one of them. I've never liked them - can't stand the smell, especially when they're getting very ripe, nor the taste.

When I was a child, mum often used to make banana splits in special dishes, the banana covered by perfect scoops of vanilla ice-cream and a river of chocolate topping . I ate these under sufferance, gobbling the banana as fast as I could so that I could get to the ice-cream. But, alas, the banana flavour had already permeated into the ice-cream, so it really wasn't that enjoyable.

Mum also used to make a banana cake, which, as banana cakes go, was actually very nice. It had raisins sprinkled throughout the cake and it was iced with lemon-flavoured icing and dusted with cinnamon. Again, it was something I ate under sufferance, purely because I wanted cake and that was the only option.

While I tolerated bananas growing up, now I avoid them where possible, which is quite hard, given that my husband and children adore them. Adam has lately had a craving for banana cake and has been requesting a recipe from anyone who cooks. I persuaded Mum to pass on her recipe and she generously even cooked it for us recently while she was visiting. If you enjoy banana cake, this is a good cake, nice and moist, with the raisins adding interest, and the icing rounding it all off. If you don't like bananas, do what I do and make chocolate cake instead!

My mum's banana cake

125g butter
2 eggs
1 cup raisins, chopped
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/2 level teaspoon bicarb soda
3/4 cup sugar
3 bananas, mashed
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla, then eggs. Warm milk and stir in bicarb soda (it should fizz). Add mashed banana and flour at same time with raisins and milk. Cook at 180 degrees for 30-40 minutes in a greased and baking paper-lined ring tin.

Ice with icing made with 1 teaspoon of melted butter and 1 cup of icing sugar. Add a small amount of boiling water and lemon essence and mix to a smooth paste. Ice cake, allowing some to dribble down the sides, then sprinkle with ground cinnamon.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My new favourite thing

Anyone who knows me well knows that I much prefer home-baked biscuits and cakes to store-bought versions.

But I've lately discovered a sweet little biscuit that I'm quite partial to - and it's not home-made! It is petit ecolier, little chocolate-topped biscuits from France with a gorgeously intricate picture of a little schoolboy imprinted into the chocolate layer. The biscuit base is similar to a shortbread and the topping is either milk or dark chocolate.

These biscuits are perfect entertaining biscuits when there really is no time to bake something. We've been serving them at our French classes and they are the first thing to disappear from the plate. The crisp shortbread and good-quality chocolate combine together in the most pleasing way. It really is very hard to stop at one!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cafe review: Cornershop

Sometimes it's easier to identify when a cafe is doing something wrong, rather than when it's doing something right. Bad decor, poor lighting and acoustics, indifferent wait staff, bland food - these are all obvious markers. But a cafe that gets things right often does so in an unobtrusive way: the vibe just feels right, the coffee is good, the food is interesting and well executed, and you leave feeling upbeat.

Cornershop in Yarraville is a cafe that's doing things right. Run by a former partner at Le Chien, it ticks all the boxes. The vibe is warm and welcoming. Seating options include seats looking out of the big windows onto Ballarat St, at the rectangular communal table, at little tables along the wall or outside in the small, sunny courtyard which is heated with gas heaters in winter. Solitary diners tapping away on laptops, people reading books or newspapers and mums with bubs and prams in tow are all part of the mix.

Despite the large windows, the interior is quite dark but it's more welcoming and clubby than drab and uninviting. The dark floor and dark wooden tables are brightened by splashes of colour from the very busy, but not noisy, red coffee machine and the work/bar area is lined in pale-green pressed metal. The specials are featured on an old bookies' tote board , while the generous counter is lined with old-fashioned cake stands and platters full of cakes, biscuits and muffins.

A long black, made with the house Supreme blend, arrives quickly and is sweet on the palate, while the flat white is one of the best I've had in Yarraville. It's smooth and sweet, with no bitter aftertaste. Breakfast options include the usual suspects - scrambled or poached eggs, fruit toast and jam and Bircher muesli - plus some more special offerings such as ricotta hotcakes, Spanish beans with paprika and chorizo, and baked eggs, the composition of which changes each day. The lunch menu includes zucchini fritters, a steak sandwich, crystal bay prawns, salads and toasted pides.

Avocado on sourdough appears on both the breakfast and lunch menus. Rather than serving the toast with pre-mashed avocado smeared over it, this dish comes with a perfectly cut half of a large ripe avocado, topped with a jumble of rocket and fetta crumbles, beside two smallish pieces of thick sourdough, toasted to just the right golden-brown shade and generously buttered. It's a lovely and fresh summery dish, with the rocket and lemon juice adding a zing to the creamy fetta and smooth avocado.

Ricotta hotcakes come with fruit adjusted for the season: perhaps basil-poached peaches in summer and poached autumn fruits later in the year. Three misshapen ovals, shaped like pikelets but with a lighter texture thanks to the ricotta, are piping hot and barely any time must have elapsed since sliding them from the pan onto the plate and out the door to my table. The poached pears and dates are nicely spiced, with peppery star anise adding some bite to the soft cinnamon flavours.

There are several outstanding cafes already in Yarraville Village but Cornershop has carved out a comfortable niche for itself in a short time. Great coffee and an innovative menu ensures that this cafe is never short of a customer, despite the local competition and imminent demise of the restaurant industry predicted by pessimists spooked by the global financial crisis. Cornershop proves that cafe owners and operators who understand their market and get the fundamentals right will always have a loyal audience.

Cornershop, 9 Ballarat St, Yarraville.
9689 0052