Monday, July 31, 2006

tasty cross-posting

I’ve done one of my semi-regular reviews at our collaborative blog for hungry Melbournians, We do chew our food. The blog is one of those organic, internet things that I love so much. A Melbourne blogger was stuck on where to go for dinner and thought it would be good to get some recommendations, a rag bag of local (largely non-food) bloggers were contacted and asked to contribute. It’s an interesting process, not always unbiased, taking in the high and low lights of this town – from coffee, a workday sandwich, pizza with mates or a big night out.

Even if you never come to Melbourne, I enjoyed writing this review of one of my favourite lunch spots. I could taste the peanut sauce at the back of my throat while writing it. I hope you do too.

Address/Phone: 10 Manchester Lane (9663 0322)
and cnr Flinders Lane and Custom House Lane (9629 1466)
Hours: 8am – 5pm (Manchester Lane also Friday evenings)

The first time I had satay was in another century, in a NZ town where the most exotic thing to be found was the ubiquitous Chinese restaurant that still served sliced white bread with the meal. My brother made friends with a new boy in his class, he was Dutch and his family had lived in a far off place called Indonesia. One night we were all invited over to his house for a grand feast featuring exotic spices and flavours that I had never tasted before. The biggest hit of the evening was the skewers of chicken with luxurious peanut sauce. I had entered Satay Heaven!

These days neither peanuts nor chicken rate highly on my list of favourite foods. But for some time I had heard about a wonderful cheap eatery that devoted itself to satay worshipping and kept meaning to break out of my regular lunchtime circuit to trek over to a less familiar part of town to sample its wares. Before I had made it, the little beauties opened a second outlet right smack bang on my way to “Sushi 10” and “The Organic Food and Wine Deli”. How lucky was I!

The Manchester Lane Sataybar is a skinny rectangle of laneway real estate. It’s squeezy but groovy and as yet I’ve never heard a dud tune coming out of the stereo. The handful of tables lining one side of the place run on tracks to create flexible seating which sounds like a good idea, but unless you are really, really fat (and lets face it, too many satays and that could happen to the best of us) the gap between the fixed bench seat and the table is ergonomically uncomfortable and those itty bitty paper serviettes wont do much to stop the sauce splatters as the forkful travels from plate to mouth. That grumble aside the food is fab and the lustrous peanut sauce, they promise, is made fresh each day.

The menu is small and simple, revolving around – you guessed it – satay skewers with peanut sauce. The regular choices are chicken (regular or sweet), lamb, prawn, tofu, vegie or spicy beef. There are daily specials that often include kangaroo. You can just graze on 1 or a number of skewers at $2 a pop or grab a meal package. I have to admit I go there so often that I just need to nod and they know I want a “small tofu” – 2 skewers of tofu, rice, salad and the wondrous sauce. The large version is 3 of any skewers, rice, salad, sauce and krupuk (those tasty polystyrene like vegie crackers).

Beverage wise Sataybar boasts coffee java (including soy for the lactose intolerant), a range of local and Indonesian beers and non-alcoholic drinks. There is also tea, wine and $2 sweet bites of traditional delicacies.

What more can I say? The food is consistently good, despite the small menu it can suit both those who under eat (“just 1 vegie skewer please”) or like to gorge on a bigger meal. It will suit both vegans and carnivores. Though currently it’s only a lunch venue, the Manchester Lane branch is open on Friday nights for those who want to drink and graze after work.

Darn it, why did I review this place? I’ll never get a seat there at lunchtime now!

* The original review first appeared at We do chew our food.

Update: The Satay Bar guys got an offer too good to refuse on the Manchester Lane branch and closed ironically on the day The Age listed them as a hot bar to check out. The original venue is still in full swing and there are promises of a new CBD location opening early 2008. Watch this space!

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Monday, July 24, 2006

smoked eel

When I was a sweet young thing, 18 in fact, I went on a first date with a guy who’d turn out to be significant in my life. There had been other attempts at dates preceding this – to a concert (Madness – now that will give away what decade we are talking about here!), a movie (where he showed up with 8 of his mates) but this was the first going out to dinner type of date. Romantic. One on one.

His choice of restaurant seemed curious - the formal dining room of a modest hotel in the centre of the city. The type of place commercial travellers stayed and ate a steak at a corner table. I’d never gone beyond the tacky student bar or the family “Cobb and Co” restaurant at street level. I didn’t even know there was a dining room.

The place was a bit stiff, proper, without going over the top. White napkins. A traditional menu for the ‘80s. That is all I remember* except one thing – we had smoked eel on buttered brown toast as an entrée. My love for eel began there and then. My love for him would take another month before it began to kick in.

I don’t know what the prejudice is about eels. Sure out in the wild they are slippery slimy creatures, things you wouldn’t want to feel brush your leg while swimming in a lake. On the plate, though, is a different story.

New Zealand was never known for a culture of exotic food. The land of the long sliced, white loaf. Roast lamb with mint sauce. Pavlova with lashings of cream and passionfruit. Mostly imported English stodge. Although Maori cuisine is largely characterised by the hangi, they also has a long tradition of smoking foods – especially muttonbirds, rainbow trout and eels. Here in Australia I can find nothing that tastes remotely like the ambrosial quality of a trout freshly caught from a mountain stream and then hot smoked over manuka branches – but when I am homesick a little bit of smoked eel goes a long way.

There is at least one stall at Vic Market that sells whole, smoked eel. The supplier has changed since I last got one and instead of being assaulted with a strongly salted, smoky flavour – I was met with a delicate taste and decidedly less greasy than others I have eaten. I didn’t miss the jelly like layer of fat, but a little more salt would have lifted the flavour. The flesh however was pale and delicate, not as red tinged when filleted.

In New Zealand, I have found lovely little skinned and boned fillets, vacuum packed in the supermarket refrigerator. There is a particularly nice local brand I found in Greytown, which is worth a drive over the hill for. However here in Melbourne it’s likely you will have to get down and dirty with the beast. Don’t let it put you off. I promise the experience is worth the effort.

The fatty eels are easier to peel. After chopping off the head and the tail the skin comes off like peeling a banana, but you will need to scrape the jellied oil layer off with a spoon or a knife. Next slice out the backbone.

If you were the kind of kid who liked licking the beaters after making a cake or gnawing on a chop bone, you’ll love taking the spine and scraping off the flesh with your teeth. It is one of life’s primal, very satisfying experiences. Because of this it’s best preparing the eel alone, so there are no squabbles over the best bits!

Now you have some fillets of sumptuous smoked eel – what can you do with them?

The easiest is a return to the Dining Room of the St George Hotel (and how I ate it for years after), simply layer it on the best quality grainy, hot, buttered toast. A squeeze of lemon juice and some cracked black pepper completes the dish.

If you want to get fancier, it extends well to make a pasta salad – a good vinaigrette, parsley, cherry tomatoes, spring onions or chives. Play a little with the ingredients.

You can make a mousse. I’ve made a dairy-free version using good quality mayonnaise, finely sliced spring onions or parsley, with some garlic and lemon juice. But remember it is a rich and oily fish. While a little dab on crackers is great, too many and it will get your gallbladder working over time.

But for a simple entrée – on the weekend I put together a little eel salad.

Simple smoked eel salad
Smoked eel fillets, cut into strips or chunks
Spring onions (or garlic chives)
Cherry tomatoes (if out of season use some semi dried tomatoes)

Chop your salad vegetables into small to medium sizes. Assemble in small bowls with pieces of smoked eel on top. Dress with either lemon or lime juice, or a vinaigrette. A dollop of good quality mayonnaise is also worth trying. Some finely shaved fennel bulb would have been a great twist, but I was using what I had at hand.

Eel of course is not limited to the smoked variety. There is jellied eel, which for me the mere thought of causes a rather unpleasant shudder. But there is also unagi, the Japanese take on the mighty eel. Usually grilled with a sweet, teriyaki style sauce – I indulge occasionally in unadon (on rice) for lunch, or the delightful “boxed eel” sushi, with shitake mushrooms at my favourite Japanese restaurant.

And as for the man? Well, a bit like my love for smoked eel, my feelings for him have endured over time and space. A morsel now and then can be nostalgic, but not a dish to be dined on every day.

* update: The other side of the collective memory emailed me to let me know an important foodie fact - we drank Gewürztraminer. Now that really places the meal in time and space!

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Sunday, July 23, 2006


The one I love returned from Sydney a little shaken from 8 days of hell. As we drove home from the airport he said, “I’ve got you a surprise, to thank you for your help this week”. Other than muttering about no need for thanks, I said one word.


He sat stony-faced giving nothing away.

Once home he pulled out a huge white box, tied with a beautiful blue ribbon. I cracked a huge smile.

Inside was more chocolate than I can should eat in a month. Gorgeous, handmade chocolates from a modest Sydney suburb. He had picked all the dairy free goodies from their selection, including fresh dates, dried mango, candied slices of orange and hazelnuts – all dipped in Belgian coverture loveliness.

Give a girl chocolate and she will be your friend for life.

Give a girl Adora chocolates and there’s a good chance she’ll love you forever.

Featuring: the return of pictures and my favourite Wedgwood antique plates

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Friday, July 21, 2006

another market ode

It’s been a full on few days, an emotional week. I got back after midnight from an uncharacteristically cold and wet Sydney. In the morning I woke to Melbourne sunshine, chilly light maybe, but a glorious blue sky none the less.

There is much talk on this, and most, blogs about food and comfort. When the world feels like it is tilting a little precariously on its axis, rituals around what we eat and drink flood in.

For me it is the joy of browsing Vic Market for fresh produce. It’s exchanging some banter with a friend who works at one of the organic stalls, caressing the avocado while selecting whether it’s good enough to buy out of season, planning your meal from the ingredients at hand. I find the ritual of my weekly shopping deeply comforting. There is a security blanket effect from knowing there are healthy things in my fridge that will get me through a tough week. There is a sense of community coming from the market workers and fellow shoppers. There is the relief of routine even at an unpredictable time.

So on my return, I got myself back into check by sticking to my regular market date. I wrote my list and put it in my pocket. Mostly I don’t look at it and just go with the flow with what tempts me on the day.

We are still in the depths of winter here in Melbourne. Though the sun shone, you can only feel the rays if you stand directly in its path. I hadn’t eaten breakfast so grabbed a couple of delicious vegetarian nori rolls (from Tofu Trek) and found a seat in the alley, which was flooded with glorious sun. Across the road, next to the incongruous fast food outlet, a guy was wired for sound and busked songs from the 70’s. Sometimes such tunes irritate me, but not today. I felt buoyed by the warmth, the light and even the frivolity of cheesy music.

I made my way to the organic section and drank in the rich colours – deep greens, vibrant oranges, a splash of red rhubarb. I filled my basket with root vegetables to bake and leafy greens to sauté or put in a salad.

The garlic was the elephant variety and $30/kg. Each year about this time I curse myself for forgetting to stock up on the alliums before they become seasonally scarce. Under no circumstances will I stoop to buy the conventionally grown garlic from China, no matter what!

However, I do grab some shitake mushrooms, which I can never find at any of the organic stalls. Also some bright tangelos, to pad out my fruit bowl.

The rest of the shopping takes me indoors – a smoked eel as a special treat (eel blogging coming soon – I promise !), some green olives, various meaty delights for the cats.

Last stop is always the fish section. I go to the pickiest, freshest counter. I trust them when they say their produce is fresh not frozen. I am lured by a small, thick slice of Trumpeter, who’s name I know but whose taste I can’t place.

Then I am off home to fill the kitchen with fruit, stew some rhubarb, restock the fridge with delights and indulge some neglected felines.

On the menu:

Trumpeter steamed with chilli, coriander, fish sauce and lime juice*
Steamed basmati rice
Stir fried bok choy, shitake mushrooms, spring onions and garlic – with a touch of tamari*
Rhubarb compote with apple, dried sultanas, apricots and cinnamon.*

* go to the fab new drop down menus in the sidebar to recipes

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

what more could you want?

I head out for some serious tapas eating in one of those groovy Melbourne laneway bars. My shiny new camera sits in my bag, freshly loaded with a gig of memory. Despite it being a ridiculously early hour on a week night, we are informed that all the tables are booked but we are welcome to sit at the bar. That’s fine. There are only two of us, we have a lot to catch up with and the stools look comfy. What’s more, the staff behind the bar certainly qualify in the “eye candy” department.

We hungrily scan the drink and food menus. A Spanish sherry for me, an Italian beer to start with for her. The dishes on offer sound fabulous and very few mimic those at my current favourite Spanish restaurant. I get a little shiver of anticipation at trying new taste sensations.

It’s been over a month since we caught up and far too long since we’ve had a night out together, so we become more engrossed in story swapping than making decisions about food. Finally we pause long enough to negotiate shared choices from the menu, inform the cutie behind the bar as to our selection and launch back into our conversation.

The cutlery and the linen napkins are arranged before us, two types of bread sliced and placed on a dinky plate with built in well filled with fruity olive oil. We take little notice. The service is prompt and the hardware is all better than average. The water glasses that were immediately filled when we took our seats are rounded and pleasing. There has been obvious attention to detail.

I notice it, but only just.

Then mid sentence, the first plate arrives.

It is a safe bet, a tortilla de patatas. Their take on the national omelette is with very finely sliced potato and onion. We figured we needed a bit of ballast to soak up the alcohol, after all the stools are a little high and it would be rather embarrassing to end up in an inebriated state on the floor. Especially when wearing a skirt.

Next comes espinacas con garbanzoa, a bowl full of sauteed spinach with chickpeas & spices. I taste cumin. The flavours are wonderful, turning 2 rather ordinary ingredients into a stand out dish.

I can’t remember the name of dish number 3. Despite the tough competition it was my favourite. There were 2 slices of square toast, packed full on walnuts. I’d recognise that bread if I’d seen it before, I’d love to know where they sourced it. On top was a salt cod spread. A brandade, generously heaped. These were a meal in themselves.

Our final selection was marinated white anchovies. Very vinegary, They reminded me a bit of roll mops. More of an aquired taste, but still worth a try.

Our plates were empty. My camera still firmly tucked away in my bag. I just couldn’t do it – break the flow of conversation, pause long enough before devouring each plate, look like a tosser photographing food in such an uber cool bar.

So, imagine the dishes or even better, check out MoVida yourself next time you are in town.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

whizz bang nerdie stuff - but what about some food?

Yes - drop down menus here at all things food nazi! All but the bottom box has been filled with the recipes that previously adorned the sidebar. They will expand with more exciting categories of culinary goodness in the near future.

Let me know if you have any problems.

Thanks to Catherine at Albion Cooks for illuminating me of the wonders of "view source".

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Stir fry – a Mee Goreng variation

Every now and then when I eat Malaysian I will order a Mee Goreng, mostly out of nostalgia for my student days when this made a tasty but cheap treat. When it arrived it was always 1 part positive taste memory and another part disappointment at how strongly it tastes of ketchup.

The other night I wanted to capture some of the positive elements of a vegetarian (but with no added egg) mee goreng – keeping the noodles, potatoes and sweet chilli, but dropping the taste of tomato sauce.

This is what I came up with. We both pronounced it not just edible but down right yummy. It was filling, but next time I’d make more because it tasted so good we wanted seconds, just for the hell of it.

Malaysian stir fry – a relative of Mee Goreng

Light oil eg: peanut or raw sesame
Tofu, cubed
Potato, diced into small sized chunks
Chilli, a little fresh finely chopped
Garlic, as much as you can tolerate, crushed
Carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal or julienned
Broccoli shoots and any other greens that take your fancy, cut into bite size pieces
Spring onions
A dash of roasted sesame oil
Fresh egg noodles, or dried if you can’t get them fresh

Sweet chilli sauce
Tamari or soy sauce

Prepare the noodles according to the manufacturers instructions, so they are ready to use once the vegetables are done.

In a clean wok shallow fry the tofu (patted dry so it doesn’t splatter) until it is golden brown on all sides. Set aside and drain on kitchen paper. Now put the potato into the wok. You can either set the heat on low and cover with a lid to steam a little (like how you would cook spuds in a tortilla Espanol) or keep tossing them on a high heat. They take about 10-15 minutes to cook through. Reserve on kitchen paper. Add oil to the wok if needed and start cooking the carrot, add the next densest vegetables then garlic and chilli. Splash in a little dark sesame oil. Lastly add any leafy greens if you are using them (eg: bok choy) and spring onions. When these are cooked throw back in the tofu and potatoes. Add the well drained egg noodles. Stir through then add seasoning – a generous amount of your favourite sweet chilli sauce and a few splashes of tamari, to taste.

By no means would I claim this is an authentic dish, just one of those fortunate kitchen experiments. It is a great vegetarian meal which could be easily made vegan by substituting udon for egg noodled. Though this dish wouldn't suit the carb nazis!

Update: I've been playing with variations of this - brown onion for spring onion, different vegetables, smoked tofu, a handful of fresh corriander - yum!

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Friday, July 07, 2006

From the sublime to the ridiculous

After weeks languishing on the couch picking at a bit of soup, I am back in the world. With 3 lots of interstate visitors passing through, the timing couldn’t be better. I have cooked only once in the past week – the other meals have been provided by 4 better than average pubs and my favourite Thai.

So for my one spot of cooking this week, there wasn’t a lot in the pantry. I wanted some comfort food and I was hankering for a bit of fish at a time of day when the fishmonger was shut. We keep being told to eat more fish, salmon in particular. I like seafood so it’s not a hardship. But here in Australia, all things salmon are not as they seem. Instead of swimming contentedly in streams, ours sluggishly hang out in fish farms. Unlike the wild kind, these ones eat commercial food, not their natural diet. As a result dye makes the flesh it’s trademark orange, sometimes the fat is so heavy it seems more akin to that of a land animal and flavour is uniformly bland. More importantly it seems that this kind of fish isn’t living up to the nutritional good-oil promise.

However my canned salmon claims to be proudly "Wild Alaskan", so for now I choose to open a tin rather than buy the fresh variety.

Old fashioned Salmon Patties

mashed potato
canned red salmon (the best you can afford)
Semi-dried tomatoes (optional)

beaten egg
olive oil

While the potatoes are simmering, dice the onion and fry on a moderate heat. As I was going to braise some cabbage to eat with the patties, I did a double lot of onion – 1 red and 1 brown (just for the hell of it), which I cooked slowly with olive oil and crushed garlic til it was almost caramelised. Usually I’d just fry it quickly til the onions are transparent.

Pick over the salmon. Give the cat the skin and she will be your friend for life (or at least til her stomach is full). Take out the bones (unless you like the crunchy texture) and eat them as calcium boosted snack (or pass them on to the feline). Flake the flesh and combine with the cooked onion, garlic and mashed potato. Combine well and add a little cracked pepper, chopped parsley and if you like them finely chopped semi dried tomatoes.
Now how does the mixture feel? Is it hanging together well? If it falls apart when you roll it into balls, beat an egg and add a little to bind the mixture,

Shape into patties.

You can fry them as is or dip in beaten egg then roll in polenta. This gives a crispy coat to the patties yet keeps them gluten-free.

Fry in some olive oil til golden brown on both sides.

The cabbage cooked with onion, garlic and anchovies made a great side dish and hit the spot as an all round comfort food meal.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

a long lunch

My appetite is returning.

It’s a long story – so if for some odd reason tales of misfortune regarding health and renovating interests you, read the extended version of this post at my non-food blog.

Here we can skip to the chase and talk of celebrations and great food.

My partner’s family has been visiting and for a belated birthday treat we headed to the country for a lunch at our favourite winter restaurant – the Healesville Hotel. Healesville is a small town, nestled in the hills, about 75 minutes drive from the city. The dinning room is warmed by a roaring fire, which makes it such an appealing spot on a chilly day.

The food is not country fare. This is the best of Melbourne dining transplanted to the rural fringe. I’d hazard a guess that every one of the avid guests came from out of town. However almost all the produce is local .

The lunch began with drinks. A robust dark beer and some aperitifs. Some had entrees. There was a creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup, Tasmanian oysters and Yarra Valley salmon, cured then slightly grilled. The salmon came up as a favourite on the table. It tasted of fennel and lemon.

The menu* is quite small, a handful of dishes and a couple of specials. Always a vegetarian and a fish meal. The meat ranged through rabbit, duck, chicken and 2 beef dishes. Although the food is not simple, it seems to combine original ingredients without being too rich. Though the blue cheese polenta that accompanied the huge chunk of roasted rib eye was pronounced too over powering by those who tried it. I settled for kingfish, which was grilled, a little more cooked than I would have liked, but still very tasty. It was the most modestly sized of the mains, 2 small pieces of fish with a little pan fried silverbeet and some crispy chunks of potato. This serving size just right for someone facing a real meal for the first time in a week. The vegetarian risotto and carnivorous dishes were generous. The steaks looked a good 3 times larger than a recommended serve of protein.

Having eaten so conservatively, I found there was just enough room in my “dessert stomach” to contemplate sweets. I am not big on puddings, but have a weakness for fruit and pastry and as always, the Healesville Hotel didn’t let me down. I wish I had the recipe for the baked apples. Sadly I can’t remember what they were stuffed with, marinated dried fruits of some kind. A new twist on a classic home cooked dish. It was spectacular and perfect with a little calvados as the menu suggested. There was a crispy fried citron ravioli that I was disappointed no one tried, or the pear tart that sounded wonderful. The others munched Yarra cheeses, a fig linzertorte and a chocolate crème brulee.

There was nothing left on the plates.

A slow, 3 hour lunch with good company is a special thing. We live in such a busy world where too often eating is done hastily. Such a meal at night often begins too late, when my palate is jaded by a long day and a multi-coursed meal is too large to digest. I’m not a night creature, sadly. But it means I am someone who enjoys breakfast (how I pity those who skip one of the best meals of the day) but will fast in the morning to truly enjoy such a spectacular lunch.

So, here’s to what I dearly hope is the return of my appetite, a speedy completion of the last 2 spaces to be painted and to a long lunch with friends in my new kitchen at the end of it all.

Now, I am going to scurry off and search baked apple recipes, something I hadn’t eaten since childhood. I look forward to beginning a winter romance with baked, poached and other warm fruit dishes.

*if you want to drool over the menu it is downloadable at the Hotels website.


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