Friday, July 29, 2011

The Book Kitchen, Surry Hills

On the first Saturday of each month the Surry Hills Market makes an appearance on Crown Street.  The markets house a mixed bag of vintage items, handmade goods, second-hand goodies, a food few stalls and filled to the brim with loads of interesting people-watching moments.

I've been dying to check out the markets for months now so Niecy Poo and I make a date to "do brunch" and browse the markets looking for vintage finds or cute bits of bric-a-brac.

Before we get down to the business of shopping however the business of brunching must be seen to.  I'd spotted The Book Kitchen on my previous wander through Surry Hills and thought it would do just fine as it is just a hop, skip and a jump from the markets.

The Book Kitchen is a lovely mix of cafe and bookshop.  The books on offer are of the cookbook variety - not much interest to me given my failure rate in the kitchen, but there are a lot of brunchers happily sipping their coffees and flicking through the range of books on offer.

We start of with coffees which hit the spot. The coffee is aromatic and pleasant tasting , no bitter after taste at all - a perfect start to brunch.

As we are brunching just after noon Niecy Poo is still in the mood for breakfast, whilst I am hankering after lunch.  Niecy Poo opts for a lovely tasting Spanner Crab Omelette with enoki mushrooms, chives and asparagus served on sourdough toast ($17.50, or $20.50 if you choose a bio-dynamic version of the breakfast).

As I'm unable to make a decision as to what to eat (everything sounds so tasty) the waitress suggests the Poached Salmon with soba buckwheat noodles, cucumber, avocado, fine herbs and soy mirin dressing ($20.50). I'm in raptures over my salad, so much so that I'm going to attempt to replicate it at home (wish me luck folks - or give me some instructions on what to do...please)! The salmon was melt in the mouth tender, the soba noodles healthy, but filing, and the dressing was zesty and lifted the dish to a whole new level LOVE!

I decide to finish brunch/lunch with a Mixed Berry Frappe ($6.50)...I just needed something sweet to finish off my lunch. The frappe was a deep red colour and we agree this would be a perfect lipstick colour, don't you think?  Of course it was also very refreshing on what has turned out to be a rather warm winter's day.

Of course, if cook books are not your thing you make be as lucky as I was to spot these two cute-as-a-button Dachshund's soaking up the sun outside the cafe. The long-haired puppy was SO freaking cute and happily posed for all my photos. I think my squealing and cooing at their uber-cuteness had the short-haired puppy (Lola) hiding under her chair from the crazy lady with the camera.

The Book Kitchen is at  255 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills.

Book Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kings Indian, Parramatta

Well, if I thought I was a bad photographer after my recent dinner at East Ocean our visit to Kings Indian in Parramatta cemented this thought in my head once and for all.

After my East Ocean post, where I told a sob story of my photography woes,  I received great comments and helpful photography tips from readers and fellow bloggers on how to fall back in love with my poxy, stupid, evil, betraying Nikon D3000.

Armed with these tips & tricks I was feeling very chipper when The Boy and I settled into our seats at Kings Indian - ready to redeem YET ANOTHER meal deal voucher.  As an aside from my camera whinging (just for a second mind you), The Boy has decreed that I shall not be allowed to be in possession of any more than four meal deal vouchers at any one time - ah, never going to happen my friend?  Just saying!

This photo was taken at f/2.8, ISO 1600 and Shutter Speed of 1/15

We'd all established that I'd had the F Stop set too low at East Ocean (f/1.8), so I upped it a bit on this night, which did something wacky to the shutter speed - making it too slow for my shaky hands to hold. I turned up the ISO and "thought" I was getting great photos, but nearly 90% of those I took were too dark, blurry or just plain B.A.D!  To make matters worse Kings Indian was much much darker than East Ocean was. Argh!  Once again, I've try to adjust the colour of the photos in Picasa and crop them a little - they do look better than their original state...but not by much.

This photo was taken at f/1.8, ISO 1600 and Shutter Speed of 1/40
Our meal deal voucher included either a glass each of the house red or white wine.  Neither The Boy and I felt much like drinking wine, but were told we couldn't substitute the wine for soft drinks - interesting, as most other voucher deals don't mind this at all.  The wine was actually quite nice - crisp and dry, and I enjoyed drinking it.

This photo was taken at f/1.8, ISO 1600 and Shutter Speed of 1/30

The voucher allowed us to choose anything we liked from the menu - two entrees and two mains.  We had free reign of the menu and it took us AGES to decide what to order as everything sounded so nice. In the end we settled on two of our favourite entrees - Chicken Tikka and Tandoori Barah (Lamb) Kebab.  

We were impressed to see that the Chicken Tikka was free range (happy chickens - yay). The chicken had been marinated in yoghurt, "exotic spices", ginger and garlic then roasted in the tandoor oven. The meat was slightly charred in places and really flavoursome.  The Tandoori Barah Kebab, also marinated in spices and cooked in the tandoor, was amazingly juicy and tender - I adored these lamb cutlets and wish that we had received more than just one each.

This photo was taken at f/3.2, ISO 1600 and Shutter Speed of 1/5
The Boy was fixated on ordering his favourite Butter Chicken as one of the mains - until I pointed out we had the option of trying Butter Prawns - something which neither of us had ever sampled before.

This photo was taken at f/3.2, ISO 1600 and Shutter Speed of 1/10
I decided to go the vegetarian option as I really love Malai Kofta - a mild curry of cottage cheese croquettes mixed with potato, cashew nuts and spices.  We even spotted the odd raisin in the croquette which gave it a lovely sweet taste. The sauce is a smooth and luscious mix of cream, almond meal and crushed tomatoes. 

This photo was taken at f/2.8, ISO 1600 and Shutter Speed of 1/25
The meal also came with rice, as well as our choice of Garlic Naan or Plain Naan.  We decided to order one of each type of naan bread - just because we could. I really loved the way the Naan bread was slightly crisp, which made it perfect for dipping into the left over curry sauces.

This photo was taken at f/2.8, ISO 1600 and Shutter Speed of 1/25
This photo was taken at f/2.8, ISO 1600 and Shutter Speed of 1/25
Despite its dim light and my terrible photography, I really loved the food at Kings Indian. The restaurant is really just a 15 minute walk from our house and The Boy and I both agreed we'd be back sample more of their soon as I've used up all my meal deal vouchers that is.

This photo was taken at f/2.8, ISO 1000 and Shutter Speed of 1/15 - in the rain, brrr.
Kings Indian is at 40 Phillip Street, Parramatta. Phone them on 9635 9677.

Kings Indian on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 25, 2011

Paper Cup, Stanmore

We're brunching with Niecy-Poo and she has suggested we meet up at Paper Cup in Stanmore.  She assures me it is a cute-as-a-button cafe and well worth the schlep to Stanmore from Parramatta.

We arrive at Paper Cup right on the dot of noon only to be told that the cafe has shut the kitchen for the day - they're over it and are shutting shop early - fair enough, we all have days like that after all.

That said, when I wail sadly that we've driven all the way from Parramatta to try out the cafe the man-in-charge takes pity on us and declares breakfast shall be served to the Westies. The cafe's other patrons - lined up at the bench seat and happily tucking in to the last of the Croque Madam's - have a chuckle at our theatrics and thank their lucky stars they live within walking distance of this neighbourhood gem.

We all order coffee to start with - The Boy and I opting for a skinny cappuccino each and Nicey-Poo for a large latte. We all have a bit of a chuckle when the Barista jokingly tells her that large lattes may work at Gloria Jeans at Parramatta but not at the Paper Cup in Stanmore. She quickly points out she lives in Enmore, but I don't think this diminishes her coffee faux par in a place as serious about coffee as Paper Cup.

The breakfast menu is short but sweet. I was all set to try my first Croque Madam, but sadly we missed out due to our late attempt at brunch.  The second item to grab my eye is the Smoked Salmon Toastie with Fresh Ricotta, Free Range Eggs and Capers ($10.00). Niecy-Poo likes the look of this also - so we order one each. The sandwich is neatly presented in four little squares of toasted Turkish Bread. The yolk of the egg is still a soft, the ricotta lush and creamy, and the capers offer the perfect salty compliment to the tender salmon.

The Boy orders the Pesto and Goats Cheese Omelette with Roasted Capsicum ($12.00) and is thrilled to see it served in a fry-pan. He's confessed to me before that one of his food dreams it to be able to eat straight out of the fry-pan in a restaurant without be sent to wait in the car for a display of bad manners.

In my typical "diet starts tomorrow" frame of mind I decide that I need something sweet, and another coffee to end my meal.  Although there are range of cookies and sweet treats in glass canisters on the counter, this truffle cookie takes my eye - oh so good!

Paper Cup is at 157/161 Cambridge Street, Stanmore.

Paper Cup on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 22, 2011

East Ocean, Chinatown

I think I'm falling out of love. It's taken less than two weeks for the glow of my new camera love to become slightly tarnished. You see, the first few times the camera and I dined together were on sunshiny days, with loads of natural light beaming through the windows and illuminating my photos to perfection. For the first time ever I felt like that perhaps I could actually take a decent photo. 

How quickly that all unravelled when the BFF and I took the camera for a night-time outing to East Ocean. I actually thought most of the photos looked okay when I looked at them on the display screen; it wasn't until I got home and loaded them onto the computer that I saw how truly awful they really were. The vast majority of them were blurry, and I mean really blurry, or dark. Oh how my little heart was breaking. Why is my DSLR betraying me like this? What had I ever done to it, except for by it new lenses, as well  as a lovely new camera bag, and love it like I would box of Adriano Zumbo macarons!

In hindsight I think I had the F Stop set too high at f/1.8 (as I thought that is what you did in dim lighting). I was also too close to the food for most of the photos making everything out of focus and something “not quite right” was happening with the ISO. Looks like it's back to the beginners classes for me. I've fiddled around with most of the photos here, trying to lighten them up in Picassa – so hopefully they look somewhat decent.

Now, enough whingeing about the photos (or my retarded camera - I know I know, "a bad workman blames his tools, blah blah blah" but I'm not falling for that line...this had nothing to do with me and my inabilities) and on to waxing lyrical about the food at the epically huge Chinatown restaurant, East Ocean

Not surprisingly we were dining out on another one of my meal deal vouchers – this one was for a Peking Duck Pancake and San Choi Bow banquet for just $38 to 2 people. Best of all the BFF and I each got to eat three entire Peking duck pancakes to ourselves – oh, I was in heaven!

The meals starts with a pot of jasmine tea, which was really welcomed on this horrible wet, windy and rainy night. The deal actually included two glasses of wine (as well as the tea) and the wait staff couldn't believe it when we told them we didn’t want to drink the wine, "but it's free" they kept telling us over and over again.  In hindsight I should've guzzled both glasses and maybe my photos would've turned out better?  Hindsight...isn't it a bitch.

Next, a huge plate of prawn crackers comes towards us – looks like there's more food to this deal than I had expected, excellent!

But who can think about prawn crackers when the fixings of Peking Duck Pancakes come marching towards you? Not me that is for sure.

Probably the funniest thing about the evening was the waiter arriving at our table with six side plates (in addition to the bowl and plate we already had) and proceeding to slowly make the pancakes for us – each pancake receiving its own plate. Our table became very crowded very quickly – which just meant we had to eat faster.

The pancakes were lovely, fatty slivers of crispy skinned duck nestled on a warm pancake accompanied by Spring Onions and Hoisin Sauce.  These really have to be one of the most sinfully delicious foods on the planet.

Next course is a Duck San Choi Bow.  We just get one lettuce cup each, but it is overflowing with filling – so much so that we need to eat most of it before we can roll the lettuce cup up for eating.

Just when we think the meal is over the waiter delivers a small plate of cut fruit, and another plate that has some delicate cakes and pastries on it.

Although I've had fruit to end a meal at a Chinese restaurant before this is the first time I've ever been served cakes.  One cake is a pastry with a red bean filling - delicious, and the other a small biscuit dotted with sesame filling.  Both were lovely and sweet, and I loved how they were "just bite sized"...enough for a sugar hit without feeling too guilty about it. 

Now we weren't starving after our dinner, but I was feeling a tad...greedy, so we marched up to the QVB in the pouring rain and ducked into Nazimi for a quick Agedashi Tofu and some sushi.

East Ocean is at 421 Sussex Street, Haymarket.

East Ocean on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Issus Cafe, Melbourne

One of the things that appeals to most about Melbourne is the network of laneways that weave and wind their away across the city, like giant spiderweb. I find nothing more intriguing, or appealing, than wandering up and down these narrow little streets - it's a delightful way to spend a morning, afternoon...or evening.

One of my favourite laneways is by far Centre Place - a narrow, crowded laneway bustling with cafes, tiny quirky shops and people just wandering and soaking up the vibe.  This little pedestrian thoroughfare reminds me a lot of wandering through the laneways of Barcelona - it has a distinctly European vibe happening.

There are at least twenty or so eateries in Centre Place so The Boy and I just took a punt and picked a cafe that had a free outdoor table where we could people watch and soak at the uniquely Melbourne atmosphere - this is how we ended up at Issus Cafe.

First order of the day is coffee which ticks all the basic requirements - hot, nice flavoured roast as well as being a good caffeine fix to get us going on our first morning in Melbourne.

When The Boy isn't indulging in his quest to try every Big Breakfast in the world his other weakness is usually Eggs Benedict ($13.90). The offering at Issus Cafe is as good as any with premium smoked ham atop a toasted English muffin and doused with Hollandaise Sauce.  A side of hash browns and sausages are thrown in for good measure.

I'd spent quite some time perusing the menu without being able to make a decision on what to have. Just as I was about to put in my order for Eggs Benedict too The Boy points out the specials board which is sitting literally adjacent to our about blind! How could I have not noticed the breakfast special of Pan Fried Mushrooms with Spinach and Thyme with Poached Eggs and Pan-fried Haloumi ($16.90).  Haloumi is one of my favourite foods and I nearly always order it when it's on offer.  I was pretty happy with my breakfast and the Haloumi was as good as I could've hopped for...nice and squeaky!

Our brunch at Cafe Issus was great, friendly service and nice food, but for me the experience was all about grabbing a table in the laneway and watching the world go by. A blissful way to spend a morning.

Issus Cafe is at 8-10 Centre Place, Melbourne (just off Flinders Lane and behind Swanston Street).

Issus on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 17, 2011

MUMU Grill and Heart of Food Photography Class, Crows Nest

I’d luckily purchased my new DSLR just a week before I was due to attend a food photography course being run by Simon from the Heart of Food. The photos on Simon’s food blog are pretty drool worthy so I knew I was going to come away from the class with some tips and tricks on how to operate my new baby.

The class was a mix of food bloggers, a few food technology teachers, a chef and other food industry people. I think my jaw nearly hit the floor when some asked half way through the class what a food blog was? OMG – you mean you don’t read my blog? Heartbroken!

Simon did a sterling job teaching the class – especially as we sidetracked him by asking a million questions, telling anecdotes, and asking about things there were going to be talked about later on.  His teaching style is great, very casual and patient with no jargon to confuse us.

The course was being run at MUMU Grill in Crows Nest, a restaurant that had always interested me because a) it serves tapas b) it serves meat, and lots of it and c) it has a strong philosophy on sustainable produce. Not only that, their beef is all grass-fed which means no nasty feed lots associated with “grain-fed” beef. I try to eat free-range meat and eggs whenever I can (it’s mostly what we eat at home when we can get our hands on it but it’s not always possible when you live in the wild wild west – a place not exactly heaving with eco-butchers). When I eat in a restaurant like MUMU Grill I feel happy knowing that the meat I’m eating has had a happy life...for its entire life.

Learning about ISO, White Balance, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Rule of Thirds and Composition can sure make a girl hungry! The sight of the MUMU Grill staff marching in plates of food for our lunch was a welcome sight.

Of course there was no eating until a thousand photographs were taken of each dish which gave us a chance to test out the various rules and techniques we had just learnt. I set my dial to Manual, set my own aperture and shutter speed, but cheated by leaving the white balance on Auto as well as avoiding Manual Focus at all costs (I think my eyes are fully dodgy, so Manual Focus usually means fuzzy pictures no matter how clear they seem through he view finder). I took all of these photos using my new 35mm f/1.8 lens (that I bought brand new for $320), and set the Aperture to between f/1.8 - f/2.4 for most of the shots so I could get a really shallow depth of field (which means all the stuff in the background is soft and out of focus).

Lunch starts with the softest, fluffiest wood fired bread I’ve ever eaten which is served alongside a selection of dips. It was a pretty hard task to not to scoff all the bread and pile it high with the creamy bean dip, or slightly spicy capsicum dip.

Dainty little bowls of Sicilian Green Olives accompany wooden boards piled high Jamon Serrano.  The Jamon, which means Mountain Ham in Spanish, is sliced wafer thin after being salted, washed and dried for 18 months. The Jamon melts like butter in the mouth - so good!

The Szechuan Fried Prawns with Pickled Chilli and Soy was one of my favourite dishes of the day – even though by the time we got to eat the dish it was stone cold - probably as they had a slightly salty taste to them!

I’m such a bogan that I thought the Duck and Shitake Mushroom Empanadas were Curry Puffs – I’m quite the foodie aren’t I? Again these were stone cold by the time we ate them, but the flavours were still lovely. I’d like to go back to MUMU and try these babies whilst they are hot hot hot.

The first main of the lunch was the Organic Chicken with Maple Roasted Sweet Potato and Spinach – look at the charring on the chicken, lovely! The sweetness of the sweet potatoes was accentuated by the maple syrup and formed a nice outer crunchy crust.

What can I say about the Sirloin Tagliatta with Duck Fat Potatoes and Greens other than it was AMAZING! Now, I’m normally not a fan of meat that hasn’t been cooked to charcoal point (or beyond) so I was a bit hesitant to try this dish as I could see pink bits...and lots of them. But oh my, the beef was melt in the mouth soft, tender and so flavoursome. Cooking the potatoes in duck fat takes them to a whole new level – whoever came up with this concept deserves a Knighthood! I like that the restaurant popped some “token greens” on the plate to help alleviate any guilt by those who scoffed more than one tatter (which I didn't, just for the record).

The Cherry Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese was a light, simple accompaniment to the meaty mains. Enough said.

Class resumes for a while and we all get a chance to digest lunch before dessert rolls on in which means a chance to take more food photos.

The first dessert item to arrive is a simple fruit platter dusted with icing sugar.  The platter contains a selection of pear, pineapple, watermelon and a fancy orange segment to make it pretty as a picture.

The arrival of the Dessert Platter gets our full attention - wow what a spectacle.  The Dessert Platter has a selection of three of MUMU's desserts: the Chocolate Mole Tarte with Hazelnut Gelato, a Brown Sugar Pavlova topped with fresh Pineapple and Passionfruit sauce; and, a Ginger Bread and Vanilla Ricotta Sandwich with Poached Peach and Spiced Vanilla Syrup.  My only complaint with dessert is that there was only two platters to share between the group - I could have quite happily polished off a platter all to myself...or at least had full possession of the Ginger Bread and Vanilla Ricotta Sandwich.

MUMU Grill is at 70 Alexander Street, Crows Nest.  You'll find them on the corner of Alexander Street and Ernest Place.

Mumu Grill on Urbanspoon

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