Category Archives: Fed

Fed at Restaurant As

Searching for Utopia, Apollolaan, Amsterdam

Seek, or Stumble Upon, and Ye Shall Find!

This week is restaurant week in the Netherlands. This twice yearly event is a great opportunity to find and try out new restaurants, as well as revisit some classics, without denting your wallet too much.

On Tuesday, I ventured south for some new discoveries. Firstly, I happened across this huge golden turtle being ridden by a man in an Elvis suit (the Vegas years). I only discovered it because I’ve managed to wrench my arm, and I was on the tram. Had I been using my usual form of transport (bike) I would actually have come a different way. A bit of a google later, and I have discovered that this is “Searching for Utopia”, by Jan Fabre, and apparently the man in the Elvis suit is the artist himself. It was a part of the last biennial artzuid sculpture trail. Apparently, the locals love it so much, that they are having a bit of a whip round so that the can purchase it. I really quite like this idea, and I hope they get to keep the sculpture. Sadly, this is quite far off the beaten track for many tourists, but the locals clearly enjoy it.

The second discovery was As, on the border of the Beatrix Park. Set in a circular room, and set up like a wheel, this is a restaurant that trades on its sustainable principles. I went along with a group of friends to take advantage of the restaurant week deal. It also meant that I could eat meat in this restaurant.

I may have mentioned before that I am not a vegetarian, but I do not really eat a lot of meat. There are many reasons for this, which include climate change, waste and welfare concerns, not to mention cost. When I do eat meat (in which I include fish – nothing irritates me more than asking for a veggie option and being offered a tuna sandwich, it brings out the worst in me, and I become really scathing) it has to be sustainable. I often describe myself as a fussitarian, because I hold the principles of local, seasonal, and sustainable food dear. This is not to say that I am difficult to feed, far from it. If I am a guest, I will eat whatever is put in front of me, but when I have a choice, I like to choose wild game, freshwater fish (not farmed), or organic meat. This is because welfare and environmental concerns are important to me. If I can not get this, I will simply eat vegetarian. I mostly eat veggie food at home too.

The set menu at As had a meat or a veggie option, and they were very happy to accommodate one of us who couldn’t eat cheese. There were four courses to choose from, or you could have all four.The waiting staff were also very friendly and patient. I arrived late due to a snarl up with the trams, but this did not really phase the waiter, neither did the fact that we stayed chatting and left long after the other lunch time patrons. Service in Holland can often be abrupt, and pretty blunt, so it was a really pleasant change to be helped through our choices, and not to be snapped at.

We chose to have three courses, and forewent the starter of a red cabbage, beet and red onion salad. Instead we had the fish course, main and dessert. I think this was a great choice, since I am not at all keen on beetroot, and I object to the habit of putting raw onion into lunch time meals. Who wants to go breathing onion fumes on friends and colleagues for the rest of the day?

Crab Ravioli with Lemon Oil

Crab Ravioli with Lemon Oil

(c) A. Dawe 2012

Of course, I managed to forget my camera, but luckily there were no shortage of smart phones, so my friends were happy to help out with shots.

We started with ravioli of crab. This was a good dish, they used the white meat only, and made a stuffing with this and some very finely chopped carrots and fennel. The pasta was thin, and the sliced raw fennel on the top was a great accompaniment. It sat in a very well done bisque, that was not too overpowering  and oily, as some of them can be. It was very well-balanced, the only thing that I could not detect was the lemon oil, but it didn’t matter.

Duck Leg, Braised in Chimay & Mustard

Duck Leg, Braised in Chimay & Mustard

(c) A. Dawe 2012

The main course was just beautiful. It was an excellently braised organic duck leg, which was neither too dry or too fatty. The braise was Chimay beer and mustard, which was subtle, and really brought out an almost smoky quality in the duck. Served on white beans, leeks and delicately cooked cabbage, I could have eaten two of these. A truly excellent dish. And my friend took a great photo of it too, which is no easy task for brown food!

We were talking and enjoying the food so much that we didn’t get a photo of the dessert. Most of us had an Eccles cake served with a wedge of Lancashire cheese. It sounded odd, but actually worked well. The cheese was a very good Lancashire, which was sourced from the UK. A little surprising, considering the Dutch love of their own cheese, but actually the crumbly texture and the sourness was a good foil for the Eccles cake. I have not yet come across a similar Dutch cheese, so this was a good choice.

One friend had a slice of pecan pie, which looked a lot more like a treacle tart to me, as there were more rich, treacley breadcrumbs than pecan nuts. However, I am not American, and not all that familiar with this dessert, so it could be that this is a more normal incarnation of the dish than the one that I tried. In any case, she enjoyed it, and it was good that they were accommodating for her.

With a good atmosphere, even for a lunch time, and lovely waiting staff, we really enjoyed our meal at As, and the food sang for itself. I like the restaurant a lot, and will definitely be back.

As with all restaurants participating in restaurant week, the lunch was €22.50 for three courses, but I will be interested to see what sort of prices they have for à la carte.

At first, I thought s was an odd name for a restaurant, but it turns out that unlike most places you are not left thinking “as if” about any part of the experience!

Restaurant As
Prinses Irenestraat 19
1077 WT Amsterdam

T: 020 6440100

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Perusing the Prahran Market, Melbourne

Prahran Market Stalls

Plenty

I do love a good food market. On our recent trip to Australia, we found ourselves in the Prahran market in Melbourne. It is the oldest market in Australia, although, of course, other markets are available.

The stalls heave with fruits and vegetables. There are butchers and fishmongers, organic stalls and delis, cafés and street food. There are specialist stalls for wine, coffee, tea, chocolate, ice cream, pasta, asian products, you name it.

If it weren’t for the Big Guy’s relatively low capacity for putting up with my geekery (well, we did manage to stay here a good couple of hours, so perhaps that is a little harsh…), I could stay in a place like this all day, wandering around, sampling the produce, chatting to people, and planning meals from all the things I found.

Instead, we purchased some items for a good lunch, and some more of the lovely summer fruits that were in season. These included some small pears, the name of which I forgot to note down, but they were delicious. Really sweet, and not at all grainy, like larger pears can sometimes be.

Pacific Oysters from Prahran Markets

A Well-Earned Breakfast

We also picked up a dozen Native Oysters. I first tried oysters about ten years ago, when I shared a dozen with a boy I was trying to impress (this was about a year before I met the Big Guy). My love of oysters has lasted far longer than that particular infatuation!

I enjoy oysters from all over the globe, especially when I happen to find some on a beach forage. But Native Oysters are really the best, as they are creamier and meatier than their North Sea counterpart. I prefer them raw as opposed to grilled with a topping, like in Oysters Rockerfeller, or Kilpatrick. I just feel that this is gilding the lily, and something this good does not really need embellishment further than a squeeze of lemon, or a splash of champagne, if you want to push the boat out!

I have already mentioned the importance of checking out your seafood before you buy it. Our oceans are a precious resource, and currently, they are being exploited horribly, with no real eye to the future of fish stocks, or the fishing industry itself. Damaging catch methods are putting species at risk, as well as destroying the habitat where they live and breed, and catching fish and sea mammals that were not the intended catch, meaning that they are thrown back, often dead or dying. It is so important to make sure that you are not adding to the problem and supporting these practices by eating unsustainably harvested fish.

Luckily, like a lot of shellfish (but not all), the oysters are sustainably managed and harvested.  As are the Blue Mussels that we also picked up, along with the rest of the ingredients for this tasty little lunch:

Mussels with Pasta

Market Dinner

Recipe: Mussels Pasta

Ingredients

1 kg mussels

Glass of white wine

1 garlic clove, minced with a little salt

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

A little oil for frying

Juice and zest of one lemon

Bunch chervil, finely chopped

Bunch tarragon, leaves removed from stalks and finely chopped

Bunch parsley, finely chopped

2 serves linguine, fresh from the Pasta Shop, if you are in Melbourne

Method

Prepare the mussels. Remove the “beard”, which is the green fibrous stuff at the pointy end, it will come away if you tug it. Of course, with any shellfish, you need to be sure that you are getting them alive. If any of the shells are cracked, then discard them. I hate waste, but not even I will mess with this one, because dead mussels decay quickly, and you risk a nasty case of food poisoning. If any of the shells are open, give them a sharp tap on the counter. If they do not close,  then discard them. Give them all a good rinse, to eliminate any grit, but don’t leave them soaking in fresh water, because they may die.

Prepare the herbs, lemon, chilli and garlic. If you have dried pasta, you will need to get this going now, and cook according to packet instructions. Get it to the point where it has five minutes left to cook before you move onto the mussels.

We got fresh pasta from the Pasta Shop in the market, if you are using fresh pasta, just get the pot of salted water on a rolling boil. It is fine to cheat, and boil the water in a kettle beforehand.

Heat a little oil in a large pan, and fry the garlic and chilli in it for a couple of minutes, until the scent fills the air. Add the mussels, wine lemon juice, herbs and zest to the pan. Cover and allow to cook.

If you are using fresh pasta, then add it to the boiling water now.

When the pasta (either variety) is finished, drain, but keep some of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the mussels, which should mostly all be open by now. Give it a good stir around for a minute or two on the hob. If the mixture is dry, add some of the pasta water, although I would try to avoid this if possible. The liquor in the pan is aniseedy and soupy from the herbs, and you risk diluting its delicate flavour.

Have a quick check for any mussels that have not opened. There is  some debate as to whether these are safe to eat, but I really think that the risk is not worth it. I recommend that you discard any unopened mussels.

Serve in deep bowls, making sure that you get a good ladleful of the herby juice in each bowl.

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The Farm Café, Melbourne

The Farm Café, Melbourne

Lovely Outdoor Eating

The Farm Café is located at the Collingwood Children’s Farm, on the banks of the Yarra river. It is a beautiful spot, whether or not you have children. The cafe is situated to one end of the farm, and it does not overlook the main area where the larger animals are, so you don’t have to come into direct contact with them if that is not your thing.

It is actually very close to the city, although we reached it via the Yarra Trail on bikes. The trail feels like you are out in the countryside, as does the cafe and the farm itself. You get a lovely view of the Yarra river, and the surrounding trees as you eat impeccably sourced, mostly very local, organic, homemade food. The staff are very friendly, and the atmosphere relaxed. It goes without saying that the café is family friendly, but there are also enough smaller tables for two to catch those who may not have children.

They try to make everything at the café, even the chai tea, from what I can make out. I had two pots, which were beautifully spiced with cinnamon, but also citrus peel, and fennel seeds. I am going to be playing about with a mixture of my own, to try to recreate this lovely blend. If I can get it right, I will share it here.

Anyway, onto the food. It was a tough choice, as there were very many items on the menu that I would have quite happily eaten, especially after the two hour cycle that had preceded it.

Farmer's Breakfast at the Farm Café

Farmer's Breakfast

The Big Guy ordered the Farmer’s Breakfast, which is a take on the Full English (Or Full Aussie, I guess), with homemade beef sausages, a  tomato chutney, and a herby potato cake as the point of difference. The eggs were well poached – still soft, but not too runny. The sausages were really good – meaty and balanced, just very small. The potato cake was tasty, but was bound with egg, which did make the texture a little pappy. The real star was the chutney, well spiced, yet subtle, and the tomato really sang in it. A great version of the all day breakfast classic.

Grass Is Greener at Farm Café

The Grass Is Greener

I chose a dish that really was called The Grass is Greener, and as you can see, there was no grass, but the plate was several shades of green. Seasonal asparagus is one of my favourites. The Black Russian tomatoes were not too sweet, and a good heirloom variety. Unfortunately, being in a place where they can grow avocados and pick them ripe has ruined the European versions for me forever. There was a delicate herb salad of dill, parsley and chervil, dressed with good quality sunflower oil that was just perfect. The mayonnaise was pistachio, homemade and really, really good. The dish is not complicated, but it uses quality ingredients, doesn’t muck about with them, and just lets their natural flavour really sing.

We couldn’t resist desserts either.

Chocolate Brownie at Farm Café

Obvious Choice for the Big Guy

The Big Guy will always go for the chocolate choice on any dessert menu, so of course, he had the brownie. Chocolate and Hazelnut. He said it was nice, but he is not really a man of many superlatives, so we can assume that is a good thing. He would definitely have been quick to judge faults.

Salted Caramel Peanut Slice at Farm Café

An interesting choice for me

I had the salted caramel peanut slice.  The shortbread on it was lovely. I could probably have done with slightly fewer peanuts and slightly more caramel, but it was very good, and well-balanced between salt and sweet, which I like a lot. It was also a great accompaniment to that second pot of chai.

Reasonably priced, very well sourced,  well made food and in a lovely location. The Farm Café is well worth seeking out if you are in Melbourne, the locals shouldn’t be able to keep this to themselves!

The Farm Café

18 St Heliers Street

Abbotsford VIC 3067

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Fed at Chinese Noodle Restaurant

Dinner at the Chinese Noodle Restaurant, Sidney

Noodles for you

This is apparently a bit of a Sydney institution. Nestled among other similar asian eateries under a load of escalators up to a shopping centre is the Chinese Noodle Restaurant. Famous for its brusque service, especially during busy periods, the staff will not think twice about asking you to move, mid-meal to shuffle things around a bit to enable them to accommodate a group that has just arrived.

They have a lady at the door who waves you to a seat. You may have to queue a little while, but no-one steps out of line, thanks to her abrupt style. I am told that there was an older lady who would shout at you, and took no nonsense from the students and after hours crowd that this restaurant is popular with, but she seems to have retired, so we didn’t get to meet her. However, we were treated to the gentleman at the door giving us a little violin concerto, which started with happy birthday (as far as I could make out, it was no-one’s birthday in the restaurant), and jingle bells, before moving onto what sounded more traditional eastern music.

Violin playing host at the Noodle restaurant, Sydney

Our violin-playing host

The tiny interior is decorated with interesting tapestries, and the ceiling is adorned in the traditional style… with a plastic grape vine! You can watch them make their noodles by hand through a small window into the kitchen. You get a pot of tea as you are seated, but you can also bring your own if you want alcohol. The place buzzes with the chatter of the patrons and the shouts of the usher at the door. I found it fascinating, then, that orders are placed by the waiting team in a much quieter voice, delivered just outside the kitchen door, but with a cupped hand around their mouth. Given how frantic the kitchen looks through that tiny window, there must be an interesting acoustic quirk of the restaurant for everyone to be able to the right orders, which they do.

The style is Northern Chinese, and you can choose from the hand-made noodles (with or without soup) steamed, boiled or fried dumplings, and some interesting looking pancakes. There were three of us that went, and we chose egg and chive fried dumplings, vegetarian noodles, seafood noodles, and an amazing dish that they describe as braised aubergine. As far as I could tell, it had been braised in soy and garlic, but it was so good. I am sure it is one of those dishes that I will never be able to reproduce at home.You get to make your own strength dipping sauce from fiery dried chilli, black vinegar and soy sauce, I guess that way there is no complaints if it is too hot.

The bill for this was just $4o, and the food was far too much for us to eat in one sitting. Luckily, the team are happy to have the table clear quickly, so there are never any objections if you want to take the rest of your meal home to finish off later, and it returns to you boxed and ready in mere seconds.

Great value, a great atmosphere – people really do enjoy the abruptness, and they are right to – and great food. Locals tell me that you should beware of close-by imitators, and go for the real thing at the Chinese Noodle Restaurant every time.

Chinese Noodle Restaurant
Shop TG7, Prince Centre, 8 Quay Street Haymarket
Tel: 02 9281 9051

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Adriano Zumba Cakes

Adriano Zumbo Cake Collection

Cake-ucopia!

I have decided to add a new category to the blog, which I am calling Fed, as a way of indicating that I have been nourished by other people’s food, and one that goes with the alliterative themes of the blog. This will be a place to put recommendations. I like to eat out, and I thought that this would be a good place to discuss the food that I eat. This is an issue that many bloggers look at and think about, in a bid to decide how to do it. I have decided that I am going to write about places and food experiences that I love, and save you the average, the mediocre and (sometimes) the poor. This is because I have no desire to set myself up as a critic. Goodness knows, I was afraid enough of criticism that it stopped me from publishing this blog for such a long time. I am neither in the position nor have the desire to knock others who put themselves out there on a much more public scale. So, this will be a category about the great food I have had. And where better to start than with a trip to the Adriano Zumbo Patisserie, in Balmain, Sydney?

Adriano is a highly skilled pâtissier. I first heard about him on Masterchef Australia (sadly, not during my travels, but I have a secret addiction to most of the series in this franchise), where his challenges were always the most technical, time-consuming, likely to get your fingers burnt, and feared by the contestants. When I arrived to stay at my friend’s house here on holiday, I was delighted to find a branch of his modest pâttiserie chain, and vowed to give them a go. So one morning, the above selection was our breakfast. Obviously, we were a little greedy. The Big Guy has the sweetest tooth of anyone that I know, but even he couldn’t manage his half all in one sitting! That said, they were so delicious – you could taste the skills and the love that went into each one.

Zumbarons

Zumbarons - tiny bits of delightful!

We had to try the famous macarons, which they call Zumbarons after their chef. They had an array of lovely sounding flavours, but we plumped for Lime & Mint Mojito, Coconut, Green Chilli & Lavender, and a Salted Caramel one each, given that we are bang on-trend with salt and sweet flavours.

The Salted Caramel were the perfect mix of salt and sweet, and you would expect. There is something about a salty kick at the end of the sweet caramel that prolongs the flavour. Whoever started that trend really knew what he was talking about!

The Lime & Mint was very tasty too.  The lime hits you first, and the mint flavour is lasting. Really well-balanced.

The Coconut, Green Chilli & Lavender  Macaron was subtle. Tastes floral rather than distinctly of lavender. The coconut is in the shells. The chilli is a subtle heat that comes at the end of each bite. My favourite.

Tastes Like Doris by Adriano Zumbo

Tastes Like Doris, Looks Like a Comet

The first one we ate was actually the Taste Like Doris. It was beautiful, but the delicate chocolate daquoise was already beginning to melt on the short walk home. It was a caramel , rum, orange and chocolate concoction, that tasted like the poshest jaffa cake in existence.

Ssnowmanorr by Adriano Zumbo

Snowball in Sydney

This is the Ssnowmanorr. It is a choux bun filled with bubble tea custard, lychee coconut crème, and a lychee gel. The lychee paste is delicious. I didn’t really get the tea flavour, but coconut and lychee were made for each other. Only thing I was happy to give away to the Big Guy was the white chocolate square.

Whizz Fizz by Adriano Zumbo

Whizzy Fizzy, Let's get Busy

At first, I was dubious about this one. As soon as the lovely cake lady mentioned the liquorice crème in this little pastry, I was a bit put off. I couldn’t really see how that could work with raspberry. But the Big Guy was sold, so we added the Whizz Fizz to our little box of delights. The liquorice is really subtle, but works brilliantly. The raspberry coulis is very jammy. The pastry is light, crisp and melty, as all the best sable pastry should be. Beautiful to look at , and beautiful in your mouth. Not too sweet, despite jam, sable, and meringue! This is probably due to the almost invisible sherbet. This is very sharp if you can pick it up minus the cake. An amazing balancing act.

V8 By Adriano Zumbo

V8 - VaVaVoom!

Adriano Zumbo is probably best-loved for his V8s of different varieties. People all over Sydney always talk about them whenever you mention that you have been. And now I know why – This. Was. Incredible. Warming and fruity, this was reminiscant of mulled sherry or cider.It had plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg, to make it festive, but really incredibly light cherries and the lighter than air vanilla sponge keep it away from cloying. I have never had anything like this before, a definite favourite. Good job I don’t live in Sydney…

UPDATE: I can also report that we couldn’t resist temptations, and had some more Zumbo treats a few days later. we were on our way for a drive South, and picked up some quiche and the New York Eclair. Another goodie! a classic eclair on the outside, but filled with a lovely fruity raspberry compote, and the slightly sour taste of New York cheesecake, rich with vanilla seeds. Even better than the classic French version.

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