Sunday, March 16, 2008

if you can't stand the heat - get out of the kitchen

We are sweltering in Melbourne at the moment. Too many days topping 39C (102F). Not quite as extreme as Adelaide, where each day for almost 2 weeks the barometer has hit 35C (95F) or above, and will continue to do so for days to come. This is not a climate to cook in. It is the weather to drink beer (a strange beverage that I can only contemplate imbibing in such heat) and lots of water. It has also been visitor season – so the menu over the last few days have been as follows:

Thursday: Spaghetti Marinara. The Significant Eater’s uncle is not known for his love of vegetables. More than 50% of the time I’ve eaten out with him in the past he’s ordered this dish, so I thought I’d cook it up for him. I cannily picked up over the years that he likes fish and prawns but leaves anything in a shell on his plate. My marinara was made with lots of fresh prawns, a fillet of salmon and some flathead tails. I’d have loved to have just tossed them with a little chilli, lots of garlic and parsley cooked with olive oil and a splash of white wine. Instead I followed his uncle’s sauce – garlic, tomatoes, wine and mint. Yes mint. I couldn’t really detect the flavour, not sure if it really added to the dish. Regardless – everyone was happy – though it irked me to serve a meal without a veggie in sight.

Friday: Hot and tired after work, a very mild change came through which made it perfect weather to sit outside the Kent hotel for a drink and a meal that someone else had sweated over. I couldn’t quite stomach fish and chips (the Uncle did but complained that wedges weren’t “chips” despite the description of what he’d get being clearly written in the menu) but still wanted something seasonal along that line and opted for the calamari and salad. Though the seafood was perfectly cooked, a mix of tubes and tentacles there was just too much salt. I suspect a smoker in the kitchen. How can anyone who loves food blunt their senses with such a habit? It’s a pity – the meal just wasn’t up to scratch but the relative cool of the evening was perfect.

Saturday: Chin Chins on Rathdowne Street was packed but they graciously found us a table upstairs in one of the darker, calmer vibed rooms. It was pleasant and chilled out, though the staff were trotting at a fast pace serving a restaurant running 4 dinning areas at full capacity. We decided on a slow feast beginning with my favourite har gow (prawn dim sum) and spring rolls for the uncle. Then moving onto duck (for the SE), stir fried garlic prawns, vegetarian fried rice and stir fried rockling and vegetables with ginger. A glass of Asahi, some kiwi sauv blanc and a very content belly. I think Chin Chins just keeps getting better. The specials are becoming more diverse and tempting, while the old favourites on the menu stay true to form. I’ve seen the restaurant through it’s various owners (at least 3), since it first opened in the mid-90’s and would say the current crew have really hit their stride.

I am reluctant to talk up the delights of the North Carlton village. The home-grown pizza chain that has gobbled up too many shopfronts can happily suck in the tourists but I get into ‘protective local’ mode when I cautiously mention the quirky delights of Gerald’s Bar, the relaxed professionalism of the Kent Hotel, a plate of homemade beans for a late lunch at North or the joys of having Chin Chins as a great local Asian restaurant. It is very easy to support businesses within this community as most do an above average job. But would I drive across town to eat there? Probably not.

Sunday morning: the still night was sticky and the sun is beating down again. Will do my best to dodge the revellers who will drink themselves stupid at the nearby Irish Pub or stagger post Grand Prix down Lygon Street. The visitor is en route to the airport, heading off to a cooler northern city. I’m hanging out for fruit and salad but have some reluctance to reacquaint myself with the kitchen.

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Blogger Lucy said...

Our guest from New York has found the weather exhausting...if only we had air-conditioning...I feel wrung out, too.

Mint - interesting choice...I don't imagine that it did any particular favours. Garlic and parsley sounds more like it though!

9:23 am  
Anonymous kitchen hand said...

As a shopping strip, North Carlton is surely one of Melbourne's best, despite La Porchetta! With the trees down the middle it is also one of the prettiest. One hopes they don't start opening up Subways and Starbucks and the like.

4:42 pm  

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